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New Blog Name and site January 21, 2010

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I’ve changed the name of my blog and its location.  Please see “Strength Through Truth”,  http://strengththroughtruth.wordpress.com for my new blog posts.

Blog posted Jan. 21, 2010, “Proof Positive; You never know where the next crisis will come from”

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Army’s Use of Social Networks During a Crisis Event; a Mixed Bag December 7, 2009

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     Leveraging Social Networks or New Media is all the buzz across the military.  With the Department of Defense delaying for months now in issuing a social network use policy, we lack a definitive plan of action of how to use social networks as an effective communications tool.  Teaching at the Defense Information School, we embark in January teaching Social Networking to new Public Affairs Officers.  However, lacking any research on best practices or measurements of effectiveness across DoD commands, we’re prepared to do little more than preach the gospel, “social media is good, use social media platforms in your communication programs, the world is connected through social media and the military needs to be a part of it.”  If asked, “how do I make my social media endeavors effective,” we’re not yet prepared to answer that.

     What did the shooting at Virginia Tech, the Buddhist Monk protest in Burma and the terrorist attack in India teach us?  That Social Media platforms are a valuable tool to communicate during crisis events.  So using that criteria, how have we done using social media to communicate effectively during a crisis event?

Fort Hood

Face Book:  Fort Hood employs their Face Book fan page in very routine way.  Postings include links to press releases as well as information nuggets useful to Fort Hood residents not news worthy of a press release, like discounted tickets at the Morale, Welfare and Recreation office and Red Cross blood drives.  On Nov. 5, the first posting referring to the shootings was a ‘condolence’ post at 1:14 pm.  First local post came from a Fort Hood family member a 2:28 pm stating the post was “Locked Down and she’s scared.”  48 posts in all on Nov. 5, none from the Fort Hood command.  68 posts before 10:00 am Nov 6 before the first official post from Fort Hood at 10:14 thanking the many who had expressed their condolences and announcing that Army Chaplains were accepting donations for the victim’s families.  126 posts of condolences throughout the day.  Next official post by Fort Hood was Nov. 9, announcing the Memorial Ceremony for the next day.

Twitter: Nov. 5, nothing.  Nov. 6, an announcement of Chaplains donations and links to press releases for the day.  Nov. 6 – 10, nothing.

Headquarters, Department of the Army

Face Book: Undetermined.  I spent 55 minutes click the “more items” tab on the FB wall trying to get through the thousands of posts for the month of November only for the page to crash scrolling through posts on Nov 7.  Since there were no official postings from Nov. 7 forward, I deduce FB was not used as a communications tool.

Twitter:  Faired much better.  Nov. 5, tweets began at 1:53 pm.  19 in all.  Most were up to the minute updates including errors like, “shooter dead…” and “two other suspects in custody…” to later be corrected.  That’s OK.  The picture are never crystal clear during the emergency event however, Dept. of the Army seems to have used Twitter quite effectively during a crisis event.  I cannot determine however, how many of the Army’s 19,000 + followers we’re getting their information from Army tweets.

     Emergency events are clearly an opportunity to employ social networking to share information, and neither Fort Hood nor the Army used these platforms very efficiently. 

     To date, the implementation of Social Media seems to be headed in the same direction of Strategic Communications.  From 2005-2008, “STRATCOM” was the top buzz word.  No briefing, meeting, or operational plan would be complete without a good sprinkling of the term STRATCOM.  To date, the services can’t agree on a definition, let alone a plan of action for planning, executing and evaluating Strategic Communications.  Social Networking is currently on the same glide path, a slow decent into the ground of irrelevancy.  If someone out there is demonstrating effective use of Social Media, I haven’t found it.  It certainly is not universal.

     I welcome your comments, or better yet, your examples of effective Social Networking by a military organization.  We could all stand to learn from a good example.

You can’t demand warp speed from a sub-light ship: The dichotomy of the demands for instant public affairs execution and the reality of an institution that doesn’t support it November 30, 2009

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     The tragic shooting spree at Fort Hood, TX, November 5, 2009 resulting in the deaths of 13 and wounding 30 allegedly at the hands of Army Maj Nidal Hasan represents, from a public affairs perspective, the most recent example of the Army’s inability to respond quickly to a crisis communication event. 

     Eight years of armed conflict where the U.S. military has faced global media scrutiny on a daily basis combined with the information technology innovations of new media, social networking and micro blogging have laid bare our Achilles Heal, that large institutions like the Army, are woefully slow to change direction and inevitably lack the decentralization necessary to respond quickly to today’s immediate communication needs. 

     Our most senior leaders across the Department of Defense, both uniformed and civilian, express the need to be fast and agile in today’s global information environment (GIE).   Where ever I go, senior leaders repeat the mantra that public affairs needs to be faster than the speed of light to succeed in today’s GIE.  I am in total agreement with the need, however the institution is not on board with the execution.

     Institutions like the Army are steeped in layers of authority that would appear mind boggling to the outsider, but make perfect sense to those of us in uniform, reared in our hierarchical system.  These institutions are saddled with vast authority and responsibility and at each layer resides a burden of accountability both revered and staunchly protected that become barriers to swift action. 

     Under routine conditions (BTW: combat operations are today’s routine conditions), the number or rungs to climb up the hierarchical ladder for Army Public Affairs to engage in the GIE is relatively low.  As the Combined Joint Task Force spokesman in Afghanistan, I routinely conducted phone and email questions and answers engagements with reporters with no additional approval and only had to receive oversight on press releases from my immediate supervisor (Chief of Staff), an unnecessary but minor inconvenient homage to the “institution”.   However, the less routine the event, the higher the climb and the barriers at each level increase in resistance.  In moments of crisis where speed of communication is most critical, the barriers to that communication flow in an institution become increasingly harder to overcome.

     The shooting incident at Fort Hood began at 1:34 pm CST and lasted less than 10 minutes.  By then Hasan was critically wounded by police Sergeant Kimberly Munley and the shooting had stopped.  News media outlets across the country were breaking news of the Fort Hood shooting within minutes.  The first official communications from Fort Hood was produced in the form of press release at 3:17pm followed by a short news briefing conducted by Fort Hood Commander, Lt Gen Robert Cone at 3:50pm.  Cone did not speak again to the media until 8:30pm that evening.

     Although the Army was slow and methodical to engage in the GIE, the media were not.  Cable news outlets carried continuous coverage of the Fort Hood shooting regurgitating the meager details, some true, many false, known about the incident for hours.  Broadcast networks and affiliates dedicated a preponderance of coverage in the first few hours, as did print outlets through their on-line proxies.  In an effort to scratch out any new detail to “feed the beast”, news media outlets talked to anyone they could get their hands on, including each other, inevitably morphing rumors and hearsay into presumed facts only later to be nullified.  Watching the breaking news coverage, I heard media outlets circulating the rumor the shooter was dead more than an hour before Cone would repeat that error in fact at his initial news brief.  Cone was unjustly criticized for this error by the same news organizations that had been circulating that very assumption on their own well before Cone ever spoke.

     To the Fort Hood command and the Fort Hood Public Affairs Office credit, they handled this crisis event extremely well within the reality of the institutional barriers that exist in the Army.  The ladder of authority within the institution extended all the way to the top, the Secretary of Defense and then bridged institutions to the Office of the President.  Considering the enormity of the situation, Fort Hood conducted a venerable crisis communications operation from November 5-10 concluding with the Memorial Ceremony attended by President Obama.  During those 5 days, they pushed and sometimes exceeded the institutional boundaries in an effort to meet the communication goals chanted by Army leadership from the corridors of the Pentagon to the dusty villages in Afghanistan.

     In the conceptual world where Army leadership espouses public affairs to operate at warp speed in the GIE, that assessment would fare far less favorable.  In a perfect world, Col. Benton Danner, Public Affairs Officer for Fort Hood, would have dispatched himself to the incident scene immediately upon notification of the incident.  He would have collected information from witnesses, ambulatory victims, law enforcement and emergency services personal to quickly construct a firsthand account of the incident just as the news began breaking nationwide.  Those he talked to would have without hesitation, provided him with the best information they had and not asked, “who are you and why do you need to know?”  By 2:00pm, with the unsolicited, implicit consent of the entire institution, Danner is conducting his initial news briefing to whatever news outlets he can reach by whatever means are available to him.  He remains on scene aided by additional public affairs staff collecting and disseminating official statements and responding to queries within his capability for approximately the next three hours.  Some of the data he releases might later turn out to be less than 100% accurate, but he has tempered his comments with qualifiers like, “as I understand the information available at this time…”  Now that’s Public Affairs at warp speed!

     Unfortunately, that world presently only exists in slide presentations and the hopeful words of senior leadership demanding warp speed, but continuing to man a sub-light ship.  In the echo of the call to action, you hear the reverberation of reality that the institution has yet to relinquish the authority those PAOs need to function at the speed of light. 

     There have been areas of improvement, but Scotty can add all the power you want to sub-light engines, but she still will only go sub-light.  If you want warp speed, you have to redesign the ship and equipped it with warp engines.  The public affairs actions being demanded require institutional redesign of the ship we crew.  It will require delegation of trust and authority to the PAO charged “to boldly go”… and forgive him when he ruffs up a Klingon now and then.  No we’re not there yet, but it’s just a frontier away.

Whose Line is it Anyway May 1, 2008

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              The Department of Defense now hosts three foreign language news and information websites with perhaps three more under development.  Some journalism and political critics charge the Pentagon with conducting deceptive operations by hosting websites that might be received as open source journalism versus a U.S. Government hosted site.  The Pentagon is identified as the host on the “About” page.  Is the enough?

            The U.S. Government has long sponsored media outlets aimed at foreign audiences intended to promote U.S. interests.  Radio Free Europe was a mainstay of the Cold War and Voice of America has been broadcasting around the world for nearly as long.  The U.S. has also sponsored television programming aimed at foreign audiences.  Al Arabiya has been broadcasting across the Middle East as long as Al Jazeera.  Al Jazeera is funded by the government of Qatar, Al Arabiya is run by the U.S. Department of State.  In fact, the State Department has traditionally run all the afore mentioned media outlets on behalf of the U.S. Government.  DoS used to have a separate agency dedicated to influencing foreign publics, the United States Information Agency, (USIA).  Although the agency was disbanded a decade ago in a management streamlining effort at State, the USIA mission continues as an integrated part of Embassy activities overseas.

            So why all the hubbub over the Pentagon’s websites?  Frankly, I believe there is adequate disclosure regarding the websites’ hosts.  I routinely review who’s responsible for website content whenever I view a new site.  Sometimes it’s listed right there at the bottom of every page, others are disclosed on their “About” page, still others are less forthcoming, especially sites that tout consumer products.  Many websites providing product reviews are really sponsored by the products themselves and some can be darn sneaky in the minimalist ways they disclose such facts.  Fine print has been replaced by multi mouse clicks by cyber lawyers.

            Although communicating directly to foreign audiences through mass media platforms has traditionally been a Department of State responsibility, the Department of Defense is really no new comer.  In 1999, the military launched the Southeast European Times, a website to counter, then Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s, anti-Kosovo rhetoric.  By 2002 it had morphed into a news website and boosts today 800,000 hits a month.  DoD’s mandate for these websites is to provide factual information to level the cyber playing field against extremists propaganda. 

            What’s the military public affairs professional to do?  Be aware that these sites are out there.  Provide non-participatory advise and guidance that the mandates for factual information are maintained.  Many stories are undoubted sourced from within theater, so it’s incumbent on the PAO the provide some oversight that ensures these sties stay true to form.  Finally, embrace the concept of DoD venturing out into the untested waters of ‘new media’.  Observe the use of new media as a way to discover new ways to employ public affairs operations across the spectrum of new media.  The Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs has a small directorate devoted to New Media.  When I say small, I’m talking a dozen.  These folks are breaking new ground in the venues of new and social media networking like the DoD bloggers roundtable.  But, it’s going to take a while to develop and vet best practices into doctrine.  Don’t wait!  Take the cyber-bull by the horns and open the gate.  You may get thrown once in a while, but nobody is going to do it for you.  Saddle up and take a new media ride.

 

Sailing a True Course April 28, 2008

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Military Public Affairs professionals across all the armed services have debated amongst themselves whether or not we “influence” or “inform”.  The debate has always existed, but never more prevalent than the past six years as our nation remains embroiled in a war whose end state will become something other than the traditional physical defeat of a nation-state, but rather the seizing and controlling an ideology. 

            I have always been in the “influence” camp.  Regardless of how idealistic some would portray the Department of Defense “Principals of Information” policy, we wear the uniform, we swore the oath of office, we are heart and soul, members of the United States Armed Forces and are partial to our institution.  Therefore, when we ‘inform’ the public about the actions of our military, we are doing so to present our service in the best possible light.  I have never taken any issue considering myself an ‘influencer’.  I have always known and understood my limits.  My ethical and moral compass has always provided me a clear azimuth.

            The debate within the public affairs community has really been about where the line exists between influence that is transparent, honest and morally just and manipulation whose workings are hidden from view and whose objectives are intended to deny disclosure of facts that would allow the public for formulate informed opinion. 

            David Barstow of the New York Times published a story Sunday, April 20th claiming the Secretary of Defense ran a campaign to co-opt former military officers currently serving as Military Analysts for many major news agencies to serve as third party surrogates to influence the American public to support the Administration’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I make no assertions to the validity of Barstow’s claims because I have no first hand knowledge of the interworkings of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, but as a consumer of news and an American citizen, it does raise concern.

            As with many NY Times articles, Barstow’s is long and at times preachy, but I recommend you give it a read.  For those of us in uniform, and those who once wore the uniform, it’s easy to read the article and think, even if the Pentagon did actively pursue military analysts to carry the government’s messages to the public, it’s OK because Americans should support the war on terror.  To those, I ask that you replace the word “Iraq” with an issue that you personally disagree on whether it be pro-life/pro-choice, gun control, stem cell research, gay marriage or gas prices.  Read the article on those terms and see if the prospect doesn’t make you just a little bit uneasy.

            More recently, the Pentagon announced that it has suspended briefings to retired military officers pending an investigation.  It will be interesting to see if the number and frequency of military analysts declines on the major news networks.  To think that news networks were unaware of their military analysts’ access to Pentagon information would be absurd.  They were hired specifically because of their access to Pentagon decision makers.  They were also fully aware that those retired officers would have a predisposition to a certain level of loyalty to their former service.  For the any news outlet to feign their lack of knowledge would be absurd.  Of greater concern are the defense related businesses many of these analysts are associated with.  But again, where else would you expect retired generals to be employed, the ice cream industry, perhaps?

            If you prefer a fast read, Ralph Peters’ Op-Ed in Tuesday’s New York Post might float your boat.  I’m no fan of Monday morning quarterbacks riding the coattails of real news as a spring board to launch antagonism for antagonism’s sake, but it’s a quicker read.

            Although the relationship of the Defense Department and military analysts doesn’t have a practical application to the working stiff Public Affairs Officer, it should remind us all that perception is reality.  The military PAO is in the influence business. No doubt in my mind about that.  We are however, mandated to conduct ourselves out in the open, up front and transparent as to our objectives and motivations.  We don’t work our trade through slight of hand.  Leave that to magicians.  We must let our moral compass be our guide and make assertive corrections when outside factors would steer one off course.

Air Force out of step with the times April 5, 2008

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The “Aim High” United States Air Force has recently blocked access to most blogs.  Airman and Air Force civilian employees are forbidden to access any blog site that is not officially affiliated with either the US Government or a “recognized” news media outlet.  This move puts the Air Force further out of step with reality and stands to alienate a generation of young men and women so very important to the Air Force, their current and further Airman.

            The Air Force Network Operations Center recently instituted a block on all sites containing ‘blog’ in their URL as well as multitudes of other sites based on subjective content review.  Many legitimate and even official government sites have been caught up in the dragnet.  In an article published on Wired Blog Network February 27th, AFNOC spokesman stated, “Often, we block first and then review exceptions,” said Tech. Sgt. Christopher DeWitt. 

             DoD has blocked other sites like UTube, My Space, Facebook and others stating access to these sites can drain too much band width on government servers, but there is also an undercurrent impression that service members waste government time on these sites when they should be pressing their noses to the grindstone.  Truth Be Told, countless hours of government time is lost on uniformed and civilian employees perusing internet sites like USA Today, ESPN, Monster, Craig’s List, Drudge Report, etc… purely for personal interest.  Not that long ago, I was dabbling with the thought of retirement from government service and posted my resume on Career Builder.  I regularly checked my resume alerts at work.  Nobody is out to block those sites.             

Archaic a policy that it is, how does this affect military public affairs?  The services senior leadership have been enlightened to the revelation that, times, they are a changing. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, former spokesman for US forces in Iraq and now the Chief of the Army’s Combined Arms Center recently posted in his official blog that soldiers should be encouraged to blog.  He also is a proponent of soldiers posting video on UTube, although soldiers cannot access UTube from their government computer.  Other members of the DoD senior leadership echo Caldwell’s view.

            What the AFNOC has done to the Air Force is say to their Airmen, we don’t trust you.  We want to restrict your access to the world around you.  We can’t restrict your internet access at home, but we sure can at work.

            That leaves a pretty negative impression on the 18-25 year old airmen whose knowledge base of information gathering is one of unfettered freedom.  How does the Air Force PAO encourage airmen to tell the Air Force story through blogs without coming off as a hypocrite?

            This all leads back to two organizations with competing priorities, professional communicators and computer network organizations.  Every service has their own AFNOC agency for network control and security.  They all have the same self interest priorities.  Preserving bandwidth and providing information security.  Both are extremely important to the military’s need to communicate, but they are very narrowly focused on what their coveted bandwidth is used for.  Professional communicators require a wider variety of access to communicate the military’s value to a global public.  The former own the networks the latter require, so guess who has the upper hand.

            AFNOC’s move to block the majority of blog access sets a two steps backwards precedence.  It’s not likely that other services will follow in the Air Force’s footprints because I believe the sister services have adopted a more open approach to new media.  I do think Air Force PAOs have had their wings clipped and the ability of the Air Force to communicate their messages to both internal and external audiences have been compromised.  As time goes by, I should hope the Air Force will realize the negative impact this policy will produce and back off to one degree or another.  In the mean time, Air Force PAOs will be forced to struggle through the roadblocks facing them making little progress in communicating through new media as they watch their Army brethren steadily rolling along.  

 

 

Always leave them wanting more February 26, 2008

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             It’s an iconic phrase in the entertainment industry encouraging the performer to never fully satisfy the audience less, he have nothing more to offer in the future.  That phrase does not work as well when describing Army Doctrine.  In an era where the tenants of warfare are changing at a breakneck pace and we are threatened with our own obsolescence if we don’t create, practice and validate Army doctrine that works not only for this current conflict, but for the next, and next and next conflict down the road, we want and need clear, tangible, unambiguous doctrine that will resonate throughout our Army.  “Close but no cigar,” also comes to mind.

            Field Manual 3-0 “Operations” is out in approved final draft with a planned publication date of February 28, 2008.  For those non-Army readers, FM 3-0 is in a sense the “Owners Manual” for how-to operate your United States Army.  In broad terms, this manual provides the fundamental “how to” for the Army to train, equip and fight our nation’s adversaries in the 21st century.  The 217 page volume is undoubtedly a good publication, (I’ve only had time to concentrate on Chapter 7 as it relates to public affairs) the Army has invested a lot of gray matter into developing a road map that keeps the Army relevant in our national defense into the next millennium.  Chapter 7, Information Superiority, is also well thought out and, I dare say, more congruent than earlier draft versions I have read.  Truth be Told, some of the Army’s proponents, with an investment in the information fight, had been trying to hoard as much of the Information Superiority pie as they could grab and that was reflected in previous draft versions.  The Army got it about right in this chapter.  Well, almost…

  Missed it by that much – Maxwell Smart 

            For all the 217 pages of sage doctrine within FM 3-0, my angst might seem inconsequential since it boils down to the ambiguity of merely two sentences in two separate paragraphs.  But what these two sentences lack in word count in respect to the entire FM, speaks volumes to the unresolved issue.  In the descriptive paragraph defining what Public Affairs brings to the Information Superiority fight, paragraph 7-14 states, … “Specifically, public affairs facilitates the commanders obligation to support informed U.S. citizenry, U.S. Government decision makers, and as operational requirements may dictate, non-U.S. audiences.” 

            In the very next section regarding the mission of Psychological Operations, paragraph 7-16 directs, …”Commanders focus psychological operations efforts toward adversaries, their supporters and their potential supporters.” 

 Who’s on First? 

            OK, here’s the rub.  Abbott and Costello’s legendary baseball routine exemplifies the quagmire imposed by ambiguous definitions where the receiver (Costello) simply cannot comprehend the sender’s (Abbott) team line up because the players names are misunderstood as common words, “Who, What, Why, I don’t know”.  So here’s my dilemma…

            Who are the non-U.S. audiences as apposed to our adversary’s potential supporters?

            What differentiates a non-U.S. audience receiving public affairs messages in a Global Information Environment (GIE) from an adversary’s “potential” supporters being targeted with PSYOP messages?

            Why couldn’t we resolve the fundamental point of contention between Public Affairs and Information/Psychological Operations?

            I don’t know“Third Base!”

            We, PAOs, IOs, PYSOPs, Effects Coordinators, and all the other cats and dogs that have a finger in the Information Pie will continue to wrestle with the ambiguity of this one, most important point, vying to define it on their own terms.  I’m no less opinionated.

            Public Affairs is responsible for all non-U.S. audiences communicated through traditional media and new media forums to include, what many military leaders like to think of as, “local media”.  Period.  Whether they be friendly, or the adversary’s supporters/potential supporters, if they are communicated with through any forum of open source, public domain medium, the responsibility falls on public affairs.  Unfortunately, that is not the practice in much of both theaters of operation.

            In Iraq and Afghanistan, Information Operations staffers and PSYOP members are directly interfacing with host nation media and in many cases representing the Army as the “official liaison,” unrestricted by the DoD Principles of Information that ensures the Army’s credibility.  The IO guys believe they should own host nation media so they can have access to those “potential supporters” they have the authority to influence with, less than completely truthful, material. 

            Truth be Told, converse to the adage all politics are local, all media is strategic.  Every message that reaches the public domain has the potential to reach all audiences.  Do we want or need PSYOP messages injected in an Anbar newspaper reappearing on FOX’s Family & Friends?  The PYSOP message injected Today (“Catcher”) in a supposed local media becomes Tomorrow’s (“Pitcher”) news fact for American consumption.  The media discovers the untruth and demand to find out Who’s (“on First”) to blame, What’s (“on Second”) going to be done about it.  I don’t know – “Third Base!

            FM 3-0 is a good document and much needed as our Army enters 21st Century warfare.  This one ambiguous point however will continue to hamper our grasp of the Information fight.  I charge all public affairs professionals with the task to stand up and be counted in this debate to bring it to its proper resolution. 

             I’ll have made Field Manual 3-0 Operations, available as of March 13, 2008.

 

 

 

 

The mystical Editorial Board February 10, 2008

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            Fourteen years as an Army Public Affairs Officer and Editorial Boards have always been an enigma to me.  Truth be Told, until recently, I didn’t realize how much I did not know about Editorial Boards.  Last October I attended my first Public Relations Society of America conference, Philadelphia, PA.  Among the dozens of first-rate seminars, the Editorial Board panel was the most eye opening. 

            As a former student of the Defense Information School http://www.dinfos.osd.mil/ and now a faculty member, I know for a fact that we don’t teach soon-to-be public affairs officers how to navigate the Ed Board beyond defining what it is.  Although I believe myself to be well versed as a PAO, I have never pitched an Ed Board myself.  More enlightening was that when I polled some of the most senior military public affairs officers in search of Editorial Board examples for inclusion in new curriculum, I found that Ed Board experience was more the exception than the rule.

            The article in the January 7th issue of PRWeek, the professional weekly for the Public Relations Industry, offers some good tools the PAO might use in the endeavor to get published in  the editorial page of the major newspaper in your market. 

            How can you and I leverage the editorial page?  First we have to narrow our commander’s bucket full of good ideas and key messages to a topic that can find roots in the Op-Ed page.  Good news stories are for the news pages.  Editorials have to delve deeper, go beyond the command messages and self-promoting themes.  Pick a topic that the public and the newspaper have developed an interest in through previous “news” coverage and then find the issue that is both important to your command and relevant to the public.  If you intend to pitch the topic to the Editorial Staff for one of them to write about your issue, then your command must be prepared to open the back door and let the writer, like one of the family.  If you choose to present the Ed Board with a submission, you must choose the right messenger and detail the message. 

            Ed Boards frown on PR guys writing copy.  Although military PAOs are not usually looked upon with the same suspicion, we’re still too close to being the ‘fox in the hen house’ for most Ed Boards to happily print our bi-line on their Ed page.  Employing a senior leader is a solid approach.  He/she carries the credentials of representing your command and a certain amount of influence on the board merely by their position.  However, the best opportunity may lie in engaging the support of a key figure in the community to write your Editorial.  We all have them.  Local influential people we refer to as our “key publics”.  They are not only friends of the fort/post/base, they are also recognized members of the community and likely know, and/or are known by, the Editorial Board.  These people might just be our franchise Designated Hitters that we can call to the plate when we really need that RBI.

            One word of caution.  Don’t let your commander confuse the difference between editorial content and opinion.  Truth be Told, I’ve had several commanders wanting to submit articles the newspaper attributed to the commander or perhaps me, but those can be almost always categorized as “opinion” submissions.  Everybody has an opinion (if you’re familiar with the old adage), but editorials are opinion based on merit.  I recommend PAOs ply the editorial trade and share their outcomes with others.  It’s a realm few of us are adept at.  So, get out there and break new ground.

Shooting ourselves in the foot February 5, 2008

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            Lt. Col. Robert Bateman is an Infantry Officer and a former Military Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies as well as a former professor of History at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  Although not a PAO, I’m happy to see him asking solid public affairs or rather public information policy questions of our Army. 

            His article posted December 17, 2007, “Is this any way to win a war” http://www.concernedjournalists.org/any-way-win-war asks such a simple question that the current Army policy seems to defy any semblance of common sense in answering.

            Bateman refers to the current Army policy that blocks the release of “Narratives” for soldiers who have received the Silver Star and similarly other awards for bravery and heroism.  Narratives are the detailed chain of events that occurred during combat that explains, to the individuals in the approval chain for a particular award, those acts and actions taken by that soldier warranting him/her recognition for such award.  Only the upper tier of awards require a descriptive narrative, Bronze Star (for Valor), Silver Star, Medal of Honor.

 the Army out of step

            Other services transparently provide narratives for awards of valor, but the Army singularly restricts this information to the point of denying Freedom of Information Act requests. (see David Wood, Baltimore Sun, Dec. 9, 2007 http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/nationworld/iraq/bal-te.silverstar09dec09,0,5160472.story)  What’s the deal here?  How can we as a service, complain the media are not telling “our” story when we refuse access to the stories of our greatest American heroes?

 you want to know what I think?

            Army senior leadership still stings from debacles like Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman.  Both were officially portrayed as great American heroes, puffed up bigger-than-life, one for the notoriety of being a woman the other to mitigate the public relations fallout that Army Special Forces let their famous NFL player, turned Army Ranger, get killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.  The fallout from the unscrupulous leveraging of falsified acts of heroism has been endured by the Army as an institution rather than punishing the few individuals within our institution for their sins.  To further protect and insulate those individuals responsible for the above debacles and presumably for the discretions yet to come, the Army forbids access to narratives.  Why?  Obviously, to protect those responsible for compiling and approving those false narratives up the chain of command.  Not to protect the privacy of the award nominee or those he/she risked, and in some cases, sacrificed their lives for. 

            Face it.  We have screwed up in the past on recommendations for awards of heroism.  But those are few and far between and I would envision, are limited to high profile individuals, like Tillman, that a misguided few believed PR spin is more important than the truth.  I’m confident that there is no motivation to falsify narratives compiled for the average soldier whose superiors have recommended such an award purely on the basis of the heroism he/she displayed under fire.  Let’s take our lumps and move on. 

 stand up and be counted

            Bateman asks a lot of questions of our Public Affairs community, but we only deserve a fraction of the blame.  It’s not PAOs who inflicted the black-eyes the Army has suffered from these spin-fiascos.  It is however, our fault for not being heard at the table where these superfluous policies are made and maintained.  All the uniformed services are doing their part in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Army puts more men and women in harms way everyday, than all the other services combined.  Army men & women, husbands & wives, sons & daughters, fathers & mothers are at the point of the spear by the tens of thousands 24/7, 365.  Hundreds of selfless acts of heroism are preformed for every one soldier that is justly recognized for their bravery.  When one of those countless acts of self-sacrifice has been ratified in an award for heroism, shouldn’t their story have the chance to be told? 

            What are you doing to fix it?

Snowflakes can obsure your vision November 30, 2007

Posted by Truth Be Told in Military and the Media.
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Snowflakes can obscure your vision

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was a master in the art of deflecting, dodging and manipulating the media for his own gains.  Rumsfeld’s nach for saying only what he wanted to say and propensity for browbeating journalists out of getting the answers they sought is a talent you either have and can pull off or you don’t.  However, Mr. Rumsfeld’s tight grip on the media, as well as the Department of Defense, may have helped to taint the relationship the armed services have with the media.  Rumsfeld’s impact on the media climate can be gleamed through some of the internal memos released earlier in November. 

The memos, referred to by Defense Department staff as “snowflakes” because Rumsfeld was known to produce so many, (20-60 per day), often blanketed the inboxes of Pentagon staff like a never-ending Nor’easter.  In these memos, Rumsfeld often acknowledged his distain for media criticism and an unrelenting drive to reshape the public’s view on the war in Iraq. 

Rumsfeld often publicly chided the media for getting it wrong or pandering to sensationalism during news conferences held at the Pentagon, attempting to strong arm the media into seeing his view of the world.  His drive to manipulate public perception extended into every facet of the Defense Department’s interaction with the media.  In a series of snowflakes he directed his staff to “keep elevating the threat”, “link Iraq to Iran” and “Talk about Somalia, the Philippines, etc… Make the American people realize they are surrounded in the world by violent extremists.”  Though these memos were produced over time and appear not related to any master communications campaign, they seem to reveal Rumsfeld’s will to create the perception that we are so threatened by extremists terrorism (the wolf being at the door) that the Iraq war is directly linked to our own national survival.  Truth be told, there were no global terrorists in Iraq prior to the adventure we call, Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Rumsfeld’s dislike of a media institution free to disagree with his view of the world was well known and documented in many snowflakes.  “I think you ought to get a letter off about Ralph Peters’ op-ed in the New York Post. It is terrible,” he wrote on Feb. 6, 2006.  Later in March he ordered a point-by-point analysis and written response to the seven “mistakes” (in Rumsfeld’s opinion) columnist Trudy Rubin, Philadelphia Inquire, made in her essay contending that the Iraq war had “gone sour”.  It is, of course, important to correct the record when errors in fact are made.  It is a different matter altogether to pursue a course to restrict opinion or limit alternate views.

I knew colleagues in the Pentagon serving across the Department of Defense as well as within the Office of the Secretary of Defense during Mr. Rumsfeld’s tenure.  Secretary Rumsfeld’s ‘snowflakes’ were both unrelenting and un-negotiable.  An unrivaled workaholic, Rumsfeld wielded power standing behind a desk elevated to waist level since he rarely sits down.  His memory, as active as his feet, seemed incapable of forgetting any of the hundreds of tasks he directed weekly.  The Pentagon spun like a tornado throughout his tenure.  Unfortunately, the vortex may have drawn so many eyes and ears into the heart of the funnel that they couldn’t see the potential pitfalls in trying to strong-arm both American and international media in order to control public perception. 

As military Public Affairs Officers, it’s completely within our scope of activity to aggressively present our mission and service in the best possible light, promote the missions and objectives of our leaders and support our national defense strategy.  However, we must resist the temptation to recreate circumstances, reorder events or cherry pick selected facts in order to manufacture a perception, however favorable, that is an adulteration of the truth. 

Clear and definitive guidance from the top is required for any organization to run effectively.  Too much guidance however, can be as troublesome to the operation of an organization, as too little guidance.  The swirling vortex born and perpetuated, in part, by former Secretary Rumsfeld’s ‘snowflakes’, coupled with his desire to create and manage public perception may have contributed to the undercurrent driving military commanders to press their Public Affairs, Information Operations and Psychological Operations to manipulate the media and influence reporting that is pro-American to a fault, both inside Iraq and Afghanistan.  This is a slippery slope that many leaders don’t recognize they are already sliding down to a perilous bottom.  The loss of public’s confidence in the integrity of the Army and armed services is not something we can afford to mortgage.  Although the Military remains the most trusted institution in American society, according to a June 2007 Gallup Poll, we must open our eyes to the risk we take in maintaining the public trust if we accept the proposition that perception of the world around us (in particularly the Global War on Terror) can and should be shaped unquestionably by the military fighting the conflict.