Information Warfare: April 19, 2005


Not aggressive enough. Thats the major reason the American military repeatedly gets bad press coverage. Military PAO (Public Affairs Officers) have, for generations, been largely reacting to requests, or attacks, from the media. Even the brilliant idea of embedding reporters with American troops during the invasion of Iraq, was forced on a reluctant military by civilian consultants. This move brought about a very positive portrayal of the fighting, but was still basically defensive. 

The Department of Defense is trying to reorganize the military approach to media relations. This has proved to be a minefield, as the press bristles at the potential for media manipulation. This in spite of the fact that the media is spun daily by corporations, politicians, and even practical jokers. But there are plenty of PR (public relations) techniques that PAOs could use to simply pitch mutually useful stories to the media. For generations, PR people have been exploiting desperation and laziness among journalists. Put together a story that journalists will see as career enhancing, and they will run with it. Build it, and they will come. This, despite the fact that the most prized military stories are those that make the military look bad. On a slow news day, any kind of exciting military story can be pitched, and get accepted. Moreover, there are media outlets in many parts of the country that prefer positive stories about the military. But if you work these outlets right, you might get a buzz going, have the story picked up by the networks, and youre off. 

The main problem the military has with PAOs is that they are officers first, and PR specialists second. PAOs are competing with some very skilled civilian PR people. What the Pentagon is moving towards is bringing in civilian hot shots to find the promotable stories, and train the PAOs to hustle them. That risks some blowback from the media, but journalists tend to shy away from stories that delve too deeply into how they are played by the PR crowd.


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