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Friday, August 28, 2009


Stars and Stripes, the editorially independent newspaper serving U.S. armed forces worldwide, reported this week that the military is in effect screening journalists who wish to embed with troops. Triggered in part by an interview on this program, Stars and Stripes confirmed that a Washington PR firm has provided evaluations of reporters’ relative degrees of positivity. Stars and Stripes senior managing editor Howard Witt explains. Meanwhile, Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, military spokesperson for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, says official DOD policy forbids restricting access to reporters based on their past coverage.

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Comments [12]

Carissa from Portland

That was really interesting stuff. She couldn't keep pace, you'd think they would give her more than 3 auto responses "it's our policy" "it's the facts" "no I don't think so" are not savvy at all.

My favorite question: Is that not a smoking gun?
Her: No, I don't think so.

Sep. 16 2009 06:21 PM

On the September 2 edition of the CBC's excellent radio show As It Happens, it is mentioned that the Rendon Group is the same PR firm that represented Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress. Did you all realize this?

A quick look at the Rendon Group's Wikipedia page also turns up a reference to a March, 2002 New Yorker piece by Sy Hersh which states that the Rendon Group was "paid close to a hundred million dollars by the CIA" for its work with the INC.

More attention to this matter is needed...

Sep. 04 2009 11:40 AM

Looks like the military is ending the contract with the PR firm.

@Robin: I think he did a good job even though he dropped some questions. The way she did not answer them said more than enough really. Him pressing it would have just broken down the interview at that point. It was devastating to the military.

Sep. 01 2009 05:00 PM
derek monroe from Round Lake , IL

Mr Wagner assertions goes into academic agonizing of form vs substance. Military, the whole world over is not a democratic institution and it perceives the media coverage as part of its worth effort (bombing of Al-Jazeera office in Baghdad is part of it). So in their minds they use the misinformation campaign as presented Ms Sidenstricker as part of its efforts on "war on terror," (Gee, did anybody notice that this term is not used anymore?") I very much appreciate Robin's insight as she shows to be a very bright and knowledgeable person. Das III Reich's own minister of propaganda , Dr Goebbels once said (in translation): "the lie repeated numerous times takes a life on its own and then it becomes the truth." It's very sorry that the majority of fellow Americans have naturally induced historical amnesia that prevents them remembering issues from 10 minutes ago, not to say milennia. The same with Tea parties, national healthcare debate that started in 1915 and not in 2009, etc. As far as OTC is concerned, a very good job since nobody else reports on issues such as this. Our folk prefers to be entertained, not informed.

Aug. 31 2009 01:38 PM
Randy Wagner from Reading, PA

I was really surprised that the elephant in the room was completely ignored. Aside from a media outlet's intention there is also self-interest on the part of the reporter to be taken into account. Clearly the big names in the business didn't get to where they are by chasing bake sales and other positive-type stories.

The underlying question was one of bias but, to my mind, not a liberal bias. Clearly dramatic stories sell better so an upwardly-mobile reporter is going to spend his/her time and effort in that vein. And in a warzone dramatic is typically not positive for the military. In that way, it may be difficult for a reporter to be "unbiased" when self-interest is so clearly in play.

Personally, I know if I had a choice to be interviewed by a Nancy Grace or a Terry Gross, I'd go with Terry because I think the other would be more inclined to use me instead of reporting evenly. I think there's room in the discussion for questioning a reporter's objectivity as much as expecting openness from the military.

Aug. 31 2009 11:36 AM

After listening to the interview with the "military spokewoman" I walked away with two distinct desires -- 1) Take a shower; 2) Run out and buy that used car or some of that snake oil she was selling. It was impressive. It made Harold Hill of "The Music Man" look like an amateur.

The continual responses to the "Why was this done?" questions with the "It's not our policy..." were maddening. Jeez, Louise! Read the news. It WAS done. Res ipsa loquitur. Additionally, the host's hesitancy to challenge her assertions in light of the facts instead letting the well-rehearsed talking points be repeated was disappointing.

To us in fly-over country, the “corporate PR” answers from a military spokesman were extremely transparent; they reveled people still have to learn the lesson of Watergate - it's not the crime, it's the cover-up.

It is everybody’s responsibility to not allow the insights of Aeschylus from over 2,000 years ago that, "In war, truth is the first casualty" to become or remain a norm.

Aug. 31 2009 07:54 AM
ken jacobsen from tempe, az, usa

Why pay an outside PR firm? "...they are analyzing media coverage trends ...that's overall what's being reported on given issues."

Am I missing something?

Isn't this an admission, not only that the military is conducting propaganda on Americans, but hiring a PR firm to check out just how effective that propaganda is?

Aug. 30 2009 05:42 PM
Bob Garfield

@Mario and E.L.:
As you have yourselves realized, non-answers or evasive ones often are as revealing as can be. There is no point to badgering.

Aug. 30 2009 04:04 PM
E.L. from Here

Good People,

I have to agree with Mario's assessment of the interview with Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker.
Why did you let that "PR mission" question drop, she clearly evaded it?

Still it was a great segment, but it would have been a knock out if you had pursued that question just a bit more. . . not badgered , but make her answer the question you asked.

Still a good job



Aug. 29 2009 05:38 PM
mario durham from dc

Dear Mr. Garfield
I am a big fan of the show. I really enjoyed your interview with Christine S. Question: Why did you let your excellent question drop? You asked something to the effect of, "if this is not used why does it exist?" She did not answer. Why did you not press for a direct reponse? It's very easy for me to be an
"armchair inteviewer," but it drives me crazy, and probably many audience members, when reporters don't repeat the important question after it is clearly evaded.

Best to you and keep up the good work.

Aug. 29 2009 05:26 PM
Nathalie Applewhite from Washington DC

Nir Rosen has an excellent post about this issue, and his own report based on his work in Afghanistan and Iraq, on the Pulitzer Center's Untold Stories blog:

Aug. 29 2009 04:12 PM
Steve from Austin, TX

Hey Lt. Cmdr. Sidenstricker! The BS Detector went off the scale.

Aug. 29 2009 11:15 AM

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