- Raw Story -
In Part I of this series, Raw Story revealed that Bryan Whitman, the current deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations, was an active senior participant in a Bush administration covert Pentagon program that used retired military analysts to generate positive wartime news coverage.
A months-long review of documents and interviews with Pentagon personnel has revealed that the Bush Administration's military analyst program -- aimed at selling the Iraq war to the American people -- operated through a secretive collaboration between the Defense Department's press and community relations offices.
Raw Story has also uncovered evidence that directly ties the activities undertaken in the military analyst program to an official US military document’s definition of psychological operations -- propaganda that is only supposed to be directed toward foreign audiences.
The investigation of Pentagon documents and interviews with Defense Department officials and experts in public relations found that the decision to fold the military analyst program into community relations and portray it as “outreach” served to obscure the intent of the project as well as that office’s partnership with the press office. It also helped shield its senior supervisor, Bryan Whitman, assistant secretary of defense for media operations, whose role was unknown when the original story of the analyst program broke.In a nearly hour-long phone interview, Whitman asserted that since the program was not run from his office, he was neither involved nor culpable. Exposure of the collaboration between the Pentagon press and community relations offices on this program, however, as well as an effort to characterize it as a mere community outreach project, belie Whitman’s claim that he bears no responsibility for the program’s activities.
These new revelations come in addition to the evidence of Whitman’s active and extensive participation in the program, as Raw Story documented in part one of this series. Whitman remains a spokesman for the Pentagon today.
Whitman said he stood by an earlier statement in which he averred “the intent and purpose of the [program] is nothing other than an earnest attempt to inform the American public.”
In the interview, Whitman sought to portray his role as peripheral, noting that his position naturally demands he speak on a number of subjects in which he isn’t necessarily directly involved.
The record, however, suggests otherwise.
In a January 2005 memorandum to active members of both offices from then-Pentagon press office director, Navy Captain Roxie Merritt, who now leads the community relations office, emphasized the necessary “synergy of outreach shop and media ops working together” on the military analyst program. [p. 18-19]
Merritt recommended that both the press and community relations offices develop a “hot list” of analysts who could dependably “carry our water” and provide them with ultra-exclusive access that would compel the networks to “weed out the less reliably friendly analysts” on their own.
“Media ops and outreach can work on a plan to maximize use of the analysts and figure out a system by which we keep our most reliably friendly analysts plugged in on everything from crisis response to future plans,” Merritt remarked. “As evidenced by this analyst trip to Iraq, the synergy of outreach shop and media ops working together on these types of projects is enormous and effective. Will continue to examine ways to improve processes.”
In response, Lawrence Di Rita, then Pentagon public affairs chief, agreed. He told Merritt and both offices in an email, “I guess I thought we already were doing a lot of this.”
Several names on the memo are redacted. Those who are visible read like a who’s who of the Pentagon press and community relations offices: Whitman, Merritt, her deputy press office director Gary Keck (both of whom reported directly to Whitman) and two Bush political appointees, Dallas Lawrence and Allison Barber, then respectively director and head of community relations.
Merritt became director of the office, and its de facto chief until the appointment of a new deputy assistant secretary of defense, after the departures of Barber and Lawrence, the ostensible leaders of the military analyst program. She remains at the Defense Department today.
When reached through email, Merritt attempted to explain the function of her office's outreach program and what distinguishes it from press office activities.
“Essentially,” Merritt summarized, “we provide another avenue of communications for citizens and organizations wanting to communicate directly with DoD.”
Asked to clarify, she said that outreach’s purpose is to educate the public in a one-to-one manner about the Defense Department and military’s structure, history and operations. She also noted her office "does not handle [the] news media unless they have a specific question about one of our programs."
Merritt eventually admitted that it is not a function of the outreach program to provide either information or talking points to individuals or a group of individuals -- such as the retired military analysts -- with the intention that those recipients use them to directly engage with traditional news media and influence news coverage.
Asked directly if her office provides talking points for this purpose, she replied, “No. The talking points are developed for use by DoD personnel.”
Experts in public relations and propaganda say Raw Story's findings reveal the program itself was "unwise" and "inherently deceptive." One expressed surprise that one of the program's senior figures was still speaking for the Pentagon.
“Running the military analyst program from a community relations office is both surprising and unwise,” said Nicholas Cull, a professor of public diplomacy at USC’s Annenberg School and an expert on propaganda. “It is surprising because this is not what that office should be doing [and] unwise because the element of subterfuge is always a lightening rod for public criticism.”
Diane Farsetta, a senior researcher at the Center for Media and Democracy, which monitors publics relations and media manipulation, said calling the program “outreach” was “very calculatedly misleading” and another example of how the project was “inherently deceptive.”
“This has been their talking point in general on the Pentagon pundit program,” Farsetta explained. “You know, ‘We’re all just making sure that we’re sharing information.’”
Farsetta also said that it’s “pretty stunning” that no one, including Whitman, has been willing to take any responsibility for the program and that the Pentagon Inspector General’s office and Congress have yet to hold anyone accountable.
“It’s hard to think of a more blatant example of propaganda than this program,” Farsetta said.
Cull said the revelations are “just one more indication that the entire apparatus of the US government’s strategic communications -- civilian and military, at home and abroad -- is in dire need of review and repair.”
Please read all of it.