[Mb-civic] The War on Fog
michael at michaelbutler.com
Thu Dec 23 17:39:00 PST 2004
The War on Fog
By Rory O'Connor, MediaChannel.org
Posted on December 20, 2004, Printed on December 23, 2004
Whether it involves embellished stories of heroism meant to drum up
patriotic sentiment (Jessica Lynch, Pat Tillman) or sophisticated
"psychological operations" to spread false information the militarization
of the media continues to undermine the credibility of both the military and
As noted in a recent USA Today editorial: "Both forms of misinformation have
their short-term appeal. Embellished stories of heroism generate favorable
press when much of the news is bleak, and first impressions are the ones
that stick. Psy-ops campaigns can give soldiers a tactical advantage or
produce valuable intelligence."
But both do more harm than good a lesson that should have been learned
from the war in Vietnam, with its phony body counts and inflated assessments
of how the war was being won.
The Vietnam experience, USA Today recalled: "gave the Pentagon a credibility
gap that lasted nearly a generation." And credibility is crucial in such
conflicts, which are as much wars of words and perceptions as of bombs and
Now the military is merging psy-ops and information operations with public
affairs to create a seamless strategic communications "core competency."
While the Pentagon insists that deliberate falsehoods are rare, and initial
battlefield accounts are often clouded by the "fog of war," its commitment
to truthfulness is suspect at best. Meanwhile, the yawning credibility chasm
it is creating for this generation's media may be best viewed as collateral
A case in point: The Iraqi Media Network, and the contract to run it.
Supposedly modeled on the BBC, the Iraqi Media Network includes a radio
network, the Al-Iraqiya television network, which includes the news channel
Al-Hurra, and the Al-Sabah newspaper.
The California-based Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) was
awarded the original network contracts totaling $108.2 million in March
2003 by the Defense Contracting Command-Washington on behalf of the Office
of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Iraq.
Although SAIC, a U.S. defense contractor and technology research engineering
firm, had virtually no prior media experience, the contracts were issued
with no competitive bidding. Soon complaints arose that the network's
content was so far from being fair and balanced that in reality it was
A year ago, the Harris Corp, a Florida-based defense contractor and
information technology company, took over after landing a $96 million
contract to equip, rebuild, operate, program and manage the troubled media
The re-awarding of the contract to Harris was supposed to quell the
complaints. Harris partnered with Middle Eastern media firms to run the
media side of the network while it focused on infrastructure. The Lebanese
Broadcasting Corporation programmed the radio and television networks, and
Al Fawares, a Kuwaiti-Iraqi publishing and telecommunications company,
operated the newspaper.
But problems persist, and criticism of the pro-United States content
continues. In May, the staff of the newspaper walked out, and last month,
the general director of the television network resigned after just six
months on the job.
As the Orlando Business Journal recently reported, "Many media observers are
wondering why Harris, which specializes in designing, manufacturing and
installing communications equipment and infrastructure, was chosen by the
federal government to run a media corporation in a foreign country... simple
politics may be the reason."
Not surprisingly, Harris is a big Republican supporter. The Journal noted
that during the 2004 election cycle, Harris donated $263,570 to GOP
political action committees and candidates, and only $8,200 to Democratic
candidates or causes.
Meanwhile, for fiscal 2003, Harris received $1.47 billion in total U.S.
Government work 70 percent of the company's annual revenue.
Choosing Harris to run a media network "doesn't make a lot of sense,"
according to Kelly McBride, ethics group leader for the Poynter Institute
But company spokesman Tom Hausman insists Harris is the right company for
the contract. "Harris is very experienced in large communications
integration projects. We've done significant projects worldwide. We know
broadcast equipment and how to integrate it," Hausman told the Business
And Sherrie Gossett of Accuracy in Media, a conservative media watchdog,
told the paper the government's reliance on known defense contractors like
Harris is no mistake.
"The primary goal of the U.S. government's media expansion in Iraq always
has been a military and political one: to quell unrest, win the minds of the
people and combat anti-American propaganda from other sources," Gossett
said. "The fact that the U.S. started the job with a defense contractor ...
and then chose Harris...underscores those priorities."
"If journalism is going to have any value, it is going to have to have
credibility," counters McBride. "Right now, the U.S. government has zero
credibility in Iraq, and anything it touches, including the media, is going
to have a credibility problem."
"A free press is not created by sophisticated telecommunications
infrastructure and government fiat," responds Gossett. "It's clear in the
chaos of the current Iraq, a free press is not a priority."
What about in the chaos of the current United States of America?
© 2004 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/20799/
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