Pravda on the Potomac

Well, it’s about time.  In light of the McChrystal fiasco, the Pentagon has suddenly discovered that its 60,000 or so PR flacks must have been lying down on their multibillion dollar jobs, perhaps on Facebook or Craigslist, and has a new plan to prevent any more Rolling Stone episodes upsetting its most sacred moss, the $600-odd billion borrowed dollars it greedily consumes each year, by making sure that the only news people hear about their wars is the  good kind.  No talking about personal problems in front of the servants, you know.  Here’s Thom Shanker in the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Nine days after a four-star general was relieved of command for comments made to Rolling Stone magazine, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates issued orders on Friday tightening the reins on officials dealing with the news media.


The memorandum requires top-level Pentagon and military leaders to notify the office of the Defense Department’s assistant secretary for public affairs “prior to interviews or any other means of media and public engagement with possible national or international implications.”

Uh, you’re the Pentagon, not a burrito cart.  Everything you do, by definition, has national and international implications, most of which are grave indeed.  All the more reason not to talk about them…  Too depressing.  As though this weren’t bad enough, Gates tosses in the word “possible,” which basically means burrito carts are to be included in the clampdown as well.


Just as the removal of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal from command in Afghanistan was viewed as President Obama’s reassertion of civilian control of the military, so Mr. Gates’s memo on “Interaction With the Media” was viewed as a reassertion by civilian public affairs specialists of control over the military’s contacts with the news media.

Yay!  We get our own Baghdad Bob!


Senior officials involved in preparing the three-page memo said work on it had begun well before the uproar that followed Rolling Stone’s profile of General McChrystal. But they acknowledged that the controversy, and the firing of one of the military’s most influential commanders, served to emphasize Mr. Gates’s determination to add more discipline to the Defense Department’s interactions with the media.


“I have said many times that we must strive to be as open, accessible and transparent as possible,” Mr. Gates wrote in the memo, which was sent to senior Pentagon civilian officials, the nation’s top military officer, each of the armed-services secretaries and the commanders of the regional war-fighting headquarters. “At the same time, I am concerned that the department has grown lax in how we engage with the media, often in contravention of established rules and procedures.”

Of course, “open as possible” doesn’t in this case mean what you think it means, clearly.  Rough translation:  We will henceforth speak with Fox News-like unanimity, on Fox News.  It’s that hopey-changey thing again.


The memo by Mr. Gates, a former C.I.A. director, also demanded greater adherence to secrecy standards, issuing a stern warning against the release of classified information: “Leaking of classified information is against the law, cannot be tolerated and will, when proven, lead to the prosecution of those found to be engaged in such activity.”

No wonder David Ellsberg is so exercised at the moment.  Sounds like Nixon to me.


A copy of the unclassified memo by Mr. Gates was provided to The New York Times by an official who was not authorized to release it. Douglas B. Wilson, the new assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, and Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, verified its content.

Nyeah, nyeah, you fascist douchebag…  A real American just gave you the biggest finger.


Mr. Gates’s memo “is based primarily on his view that we owe the media and we owe ourselves engagement by those who have full knowledge of the situations at hand,” Mr. Wilson said.

That is, only those that read the memo may speak, and repeating tired, counterfactual Bill Kristol talking points to a rightly disgusted public is somehow doing people a favor.


Mr. Gates was particularly concerned that civilian and military officials speaking to reporters sometimes had only a parochial view of a national security issue under discussion. The new orders, Mr. Wilson said, were devised to “make sure that anybody and everybody who does engage has as full a picture as possible and the most complete information possible.”

“Parochial” in this case means actual combatants.  The Big Picture guys are found in green rooms and think tanks.


The repercussions of the Rolling Stone profile have included heightened concerns that military officers will become warier of the press — and it is expected that many officers will read the new memo as an official warning to restrict access to reporters.

Is this article written for the retarded?


Mr. Wilson and Mr. Morrell rejected those assumptions, saying Mr. Gates would remain committed to having the Pentagon work closely with reporters.

That’s worked out so well so far, why not continue?  After all, now that war is a permanent thing, and the only media outlet able to expose its futility and the cynical arrogance of its promoters has ads for bongs in it, who cares?  Evidently not the NYT, as evidenced by the bland tone of this astonishing article.


“From the moment he came into the building, this secretary has said that to treat the press as an enemy is self-defeating,” Mr. Morrell said. “That attitude has been reflected in his tenure: he has been incredibly accommodating, incredibly forthright and incredibly cooperative with the news media. That said, he thinks we as a giant institution have become too undisciplined in how we approach our communications with the press corps.”

Never have I hear such errant nonsense, coming from the outfit that gave us Pat Tillman, Jessica Lynch, Judith Miller, Mission Accomplished, and on and on.  Stupid, yes.  Undisciplined?  Hardly.


But correspondents who cover national security issues, a realm that routinely requires delving into the classified world, have come to rely on unofficial access to senior leaders for guidance and context — and for information when policies or missions may be going awry.


Officials involved in drafting Mr. Gates’s memo cited several recent developments as central to his thinking. They included disclosure of the internal debate during the administration’s effort to develop a new policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, similar public exposure of internal deliberations over the Pentagon budget and weapons procurement, and, among others, an article in The Times describing a memorandum on Iran policy written by Mr. Gates and sent to a small circle of national security aides.

Ah, just niggling things that are none of our business like the current and next few wars, the earth-shattering amounts of money to be flushed down the toilet on ridiculous toys of war, and the way in which the booty is handed out to self-interested cronies.  Nothing in that could possibly be interesting to anybody.


On behalf of the military, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was consulted during the drafting of the memo on media relations and “fully supports the secretary’s intent,” said Capt. John Kirby, the chairman’s spokesman.


He cited Admiral Mullen’s visit to Kabul, Afghanistan, last weekend, in which the admiral told American military officers and embassy personnel that “we must continue to tell our story — we just need to do it smartly, and in a coordinated fashion.”

Hello, earth to New York Times.  Haven’t you shamed yourself, your country and your craft enough, slavishly telling the Pentagon’s “stories?”  Printing an article like this, basically describing the spoken intent of the giant, unaccountable US military to just, well, drop out of this whole, “quaint” free press thing, without rebutting its falsehoods and contradictions is bad enough.  But not at least getting a little balance, however false, from someone, anyone, who agrees with the majority of Americans who think that both the wars and the Pentagon are crazy, is pretty danged pathetic.  They even do that on Fox.

Thom Shanker, please make a note of it.


The memo is expected to reanimate the professional public-affairs cadre among the Pentagon’s civilian and military staffs, who have made no secret that they have felt challenged by the growing numbers of contractors hired for “strategic communications” issues. It was one such contractor who brokered Rolling Stone’s profile of General McChrystal.

From Halliburton, perhaps?

13 Comments

  1. nailheadtom says:

    I get it now. This is just like “Mystery Science Theater 3000″, only instead of riffing on B-movies, you’re tootling newspaper articles. But where are your robots? Or are they dirigo and The Heel and William Timberman? Interesting concept but it might be a little hard to translate to TV or the movies. Keep trying, though, there’s a real shortage of moronic thought these days.

    • cocktailhag says:

      You’re obviously too dense to notice, Tom, but the lame acquiescence of the media is exactly what led us to this sorry pass, and is thus important. I have no robots; the most robotic thing here is you, always carping, repetitively, about me rather than the topic at hand.
      Do you think it’s appropriate, in a democracy, for a powerful arm of the government to deliberately deceive the voters via the media, and say so? Do you think clamping down on openness is good, or even neutral, as this reporter seems to?

      • dirigo says:

        Tom keeps wading into something which I assure you he knows nothing about: contemporary media strategies and practices.

        Sorry, Tom. I know the truth hurts, but there it is.

        Propaganda and media massaging has come much farther than you want to admit. Benign it never was; and it is even less so now.

        Ask the turtles in the gulf.

        Wake up.

  2. dirigo says:

    What? There are media “contractors” brokering interviews of generals conducted by radical journalists? Not to mention arranging for other “strategic communications” events.

    When did this happen and how soon will it be stopped – dead in its tracks?

    This third party propaganda enabling must stop.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Fat chance of that. It’s far cheaper to talk to a couple of Pentagon flacks and write your whole front-page story based on their handout, offhandedly mentioning that someone did try to get you to see the point of the story, and apparently failed dismally. Quelle surprise.

      • dirigo says:

        Quite apart from catch-up Pentagon directives, we still need to put Hunter Thompson and Tom Wolfe into a new media mix-master and see what happens.

        That’s the ticket! A thousand more young, hungry, hip, tech-savvy Hastings – blooming.

        It comes down to good writing.

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  4. Casual Observer says:

    I’m glad somebody has finally addressed the issue of burrito carts, what they’re up to, and whether they may be a threat to our national security. For some time now I’ve noticed that these carts appear to be manned by people who are not quite American. I’m glad the marketing and communications resources at the Pentagon may be utilized to assess this potential threat.

  5. I agree CO. The Burrito Cart(el) represents a serious threat to all that we hold dear in this country. It’s about time that our government addresses this sinister group, who are obviously seeking to destroy truth, justice, and the American way of life.

    Thanks CH for bringing this to our attention.

    • cocktailhag says:

      You’re both welcome…. I have been very suspicious of burrito carts ever since I ate at one and dodn’t have a solid poop for a week afterward.