Monday, December 12, 2005

Guest Contribution: News Makes News: Info War

A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
by Danny Schechter

New York, December 11: The new bible on how to massage the media begins with a quotation from Cosmo: “There is a war out there, friend, a world war. And it’s not about those who got the most bullets; it’s about who controls the information: what we see and hear; how we work, what we think. It’s all about the information.”  

The quote appears in a book called “Information Operations.” Edited by Leigh Armstrong, its focus is “warfare and the hard reality of soft power.” Published in 2004, it is a textbook produced in conjunction with the Joint Forces Staff College and the National Security Agency.  

Soft-power sounds like something out of William Burroughs “Soft Machine.” And we are not talking about ice cream here, but rather a set of well-hidden techniques designed to put real news, as we once knew it, on ice.   

Soft power no longer even top secret. I found it via Google for sale on Amazon.com  

It’s been out for more than a year. It describes itself as a “book about power and how the face of power has changed over the last fifteen years.” The authors have a thesis, namely that “information AS AN ELEMENT OF POWER is the most transferable and USEFUL force, at all political levels including the systemic structure of international relations in the post cold war era.” (Emphasis mine.) This book updates arguments put forth in a seminal study by John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt called “The Emergence of Noopolitik: Toward an American Information Strategy.” (Noopolitik? That’s a noo one!)  

It took The New York Times several years to catch on but on this Sunday December 11, 2005 the lead story on the front page is Military's Information War Is Vast and Often Secretive. 

Jeff Gerth reports:

The Bush administration has been conducting an information war that is extensive, costly and often hidden, according to documents and interviews with contractors, government officials and military personnel.  

 The campaign was begun by the White House, which set up a secret panel soon after the Sept. 11 attacks to coordinate information operations by the Pentagon, other government agencies and private contractors.  

This secret war was perhaps a secret to The New York Times but not to those of us tracking the deployment of information warfare for several years. It’s a sign of the times (and the TIMES) that our media is just getting hip to a multi-million dollar government strategy designed in part to spin news, reinforce message points, cover up crimes and plant information that ends up being punted by analysts on Fox News and other TV outlets. It is part of the methodology for turning lies into “credible” news.  

According to the report, at least l000 articles have been planted in the Iraqi and Afghan  but widely acknowledged,  if unstated,  is that much of it “blows back” into US media as news, a practice winked at by government officials.  (To challenge this disinformation Mediachannel.org has launched its “Tell The Truth About The War” campaign recommending websites like http://www.iraqproject.org/ for more accurate news.)

Why is it that we are just learning about this vast undertaking now? It is not because information about information war was not out there.  

Writing in my new book When News Lies (Select Books), Retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, who teaches at our war colleges, relays his experiences in trying to alert major media outlets about his own detailed study how the Pentagon constructed and distorted major stories during the Iraq war. He references meetings with the Washington Post, The Atlantic, 60 Minutes, The LA Times and The News Hour at PBS where he tried to interest journalists in blowing the whistle.  

He walked away totally frustrated. "By this time, I’d had enough," he writes, "I had to get this monkey off my back. I had to move forward rather than to keep looking back. I had to have some closure. My solution was to publish my stories on the web.”

I saw a small reference to his study buried in US News & World Report. The magazine cited it but did not give it much visibility. I was dumbstruck.  Here was what I considered possibly the “Pentagon Papers” of the Iraq War and yet it was being totally downplayed.

Having been among the first in Boston in 1970 to name Daniel Ellsberg as the leaker of that Vietnam War investigation, I knew the importance of hard-hitting studies by military insiders.

So should The New York Times and Washington Post, or so you would think? They defied the government to publish the Pentagon Papers and were willing to go to jail to do so. Today, they are busy keeping journalists collaborating with the government out of jail.

I tracked Sam Gardiner down and visited him in his Virginia home just ten miles from the Pentagon. He is very articulate and impressive. He showed me documents and shared his well-informed deconstructions of news stories. He agreed to appear in my film WMD (Weapons of Mass Deception) that reveals part of the Information warfare story.

Confirms Gardiner: “That was when Danny Schechter and I became acquainted. We talked by phone. Exchanged emails. He came to Washington. We discovered a kinship. We shared a passion for truth. We shared a belief that the line had been crossed.”

I wasn’t the only one trying to alert the public. There were many stories here and there but few were followed up. Almost none ‘blew up’ to the top of page one. Even among anti-war activists, it was more common to argue endlessly about the contrived pre-war coverage of those fearsome WMDS and the role played by now former Times reporter Judith Miller than to look at how the military-industrial complex had become a military-industrial-MEDIA complex. It’s easier to focus on culpable individuals than complicit institutions.

Our media has clearly crossed a line too—unable to recognize a major story even when it stares it in the face. When WMD came out in 2004, reviewers for both the Times and the Washington Post, two newspapers that carried mea culpas for their own distorted coverage, predictably and arrogantly dismissed WMD as nothing new.

Since then I alerted a prominent Times reporter and editor about this missing story. I urged them to pursue it. Both admitted it should be explored. Now it has been, or at least the tip of a melting iceberg has been exposed. This overdue disclosure is happening because this vast operation's own blunders,  not through any “power” of persuasion on my part. When the NY Times was scooped by the LA Times on the planting of stories in Iraq, you knew the Times would be back with a bigger blockbuster. Competition, not consciousness, drives the media agenda.

Over a year after my film came out, and after two and half years of war coverage and extensive criticism of that coverage, America’s newspaper of record has established prominently that the best funded news operation in America in this land of the free (press) is run secretly by a government that knows how to deploy “soft power” against its enemies, which seems to now include the American people. 

Heed the warning: “There is a war out there, friend, a world war … it’s all about the information.”

To borrow a line from another documentary of note, George Orwell must be rolling in his grave.

A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org. He is the author of When News Lies (Select Books) and The Death of Media (Melville House Publishing). See www.newsdissector.org/store.htm. Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org

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