Information Warfare: April 4, 2005

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: When the media reports on a study, it is a good idea to double-check things. This is usually because each reporter is going to have a slant on the study. For instance, look at the recent Rand Corporation report on Iraq, covered by the Washington Post. The study was concluded a couple months ago, and had been sent to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.

It needs to be first noted that in a number of cases, a lot of news reports tend to miss two key details. First, the media will focus primarily on what went wrong. This is particularly noted in the Washington Posts coverage of the use of air power in Iraq. If all you read was the Washington Post, you would get the impression that the Air Force didnt get much right. On the contrary, the Rand report points out that air power was coordinated extremely well with the land forces during the major combat operations. That coordination meant there were very few risks and the ones that were there often had very low cost. This is something the media did not report on. The second thing not often reported in the press is that a number of the problems "discovered" by the media are already being discussed and debated inside the Pentagon. Numerous lessons learned studies and past experience (the RAND letter with the study mentioned that there had been 20 studies conducted) are generally ignored by the media. This study was not intended as an outside review of the conduct, but instead as a new perspective. This was also missed by the media.

This is not the only case where the media has blown things up to make a weapons system look bad (see the case with the M-2 Bradley armored vehicle in the 1980s as a classic example). This makes them look like watchdogs serving the public interest. Instead, it tends to show that they are usually behind the curve. The recent reports detailing alleged problems with the Stryker is another example. The media went on a feeding frenzy for a couple of days. What was not widely reported was that the internal report was widely criticized by soldiers in Iraq. Some of the points raised in the report turned out to be minor issues at best (they didnt affect the overall performance of the vehicle in combat) or were seen as acceptable trade-offs (the extra tire-pressure checks were not a big problem in the minds of the troops since the extra, and heavier, armor provides superb protection from RPGs). This is something that doesnt often turn up in the initial reports, usually on the front page. When this does turn up, its buried deep inside. Even some figures are misleading: while eleven tires are replaced daily, this is on 311 of the eight-wheeled vehicles. This means that out of 2488 tires, 11 (or 44 hundredths of one percent) are replaced every day. It should also be noted that the report does not mention the number of daily replacements that would occur without the added armor.

The medias reports on numerous studies are to be taken with several grains of salt. They rarely get the facts straight, they are often behind the curve, and often, these deficiencies are blown out of proportion. The media always tends to focus on what has gone wrong, and all too often will gloss over what has been going right or the fact that trade-offs are sometimes required, and accepted by the troops on the spot. The Rand report and the Stryker report are just two of the most recent cases where this has happened. Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)

 


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