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Local news stations training psychological ops soldiers: report

By Daniel Tencer
Saturday, October 2, 2010 20:08 EDT
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Two CBS affiliates have been helping train US Army psychological operations soldiers, says an investigative report at Yahoo! News.

According to documents obtained by John Cook through a freedom of information request, WRAL in Raleigh, North Carolina, and WTOC in Savannah, Georgia, have both hosted psyops soldiers as part of the Army’s Training With Industry program.

The soldiers “used WRAL and WTOC to learn broadcasting and communications expertise that they could apply in their mission, as the Army describes it, of ‘influenc[ing] the emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign audiences,’” the report states. The arrangement reaches back at least to 2001.

It is yet more evidence of an increasingly cooperative relationship between the US military and news media, that has led some media critics to question whether news organizations are becoming tools of military policy.

Cook reports that Raleigh’s WRAL says it hasn’t hosted a psyops soldier since 2007, but WTOC in Savannah currently has a psyops trainee in the newsroom.

Rick Gall, news director at WRAL, told Yahoo! News that the psyops interns’ work consisted primarily of “shadowing” employees to see how news is gathered and delivered.

“My sense was, this was an educational opportunity to see how the broadcasting industry operates,” he said. “They’d spend time in the various departments of the station, including the newsroom. I wasn’t concerned about having someone learn what we do, and there was no influence on newsgathering.”

But that will likely not satisfy media critics who have been raising the alarm about the increasingly close relationship between the military and the media. Among other things, critics point to the relatively recent practice of “embedding” reporters within military units as a sign that the military wants to shape the nature of news coverage.

In 2008, the New York Times caused a firestorm of controversy when it reported that the Pentagon had been running a program that used retired military officers as a way of planting its talking points in the news — what the Times described as a “media Trojan horse.”

And, as Yahoo!’s Cook notes, in 2000 a Dutch newspaper reported that CNN had allowed psyops officers to operate in its newsroom “for a short time.” The newspaper suggested that the soldiers’ presence “could have influenced CNN’s news reports about the crisis in Kosovo.”

Last year, the Associated Press reported on a mushrooming military budget for public opinion operations, with the budget for such operations hitting $4.7 billion in 2009 — “almost as much as it spent on body armor for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2004 and 2006.” Some $489 million of that went to psychological operations.

 
 
 
 
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