Pentagon kills Rumsfeld 'propaganda' unit
Current Defense Secretary Robert Gates has scrapped an institution established by his predecessor Donald Rumsfeld to rapidly counter messages in the press that the Pentagon considered negative, according to a report in Friday's Washington Times.
"Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has shut down a rapid-response press operation run out of the Pentagon speechwriting shop because it is not suited to his style of press relations," reports Bill Gertz in his weekly 'Inside the Ring' column.
A former Pentagon official explained to Gertz how the rapid-response unit worked.
"The unit would monitor U.S. and foreign press reports and highlight stories that were 'missing key elements,'" he writes. "It then would quickly send information to congressional and press contacts 'so people could see the rest of the story.'"
Rumsfeld during his tenure spoke vocally about America needing to win its wars in the media as well as on the battlefield.
"[T]hese are terrorists and they have media relations committees that meet and talk about strategy, not with bullets but with words," he warned in a February 2006 speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. "They’ve proven to be highly successful at manipulating the opinion elites of the world. They plan and design their headline-grabbing attacks using every means of communication to intimidate and break the collective will of free people."
The ex-Defense Secretary tried to use torture and inhumane treatment by the US military to prove the imbalance in the press against the United States.
"Consider for a moment the vast quantity of column inches and hours of television devoted to the allegations of unauthorized detainee mistreatment," he said. "But weigh the numbers of column inches and hours of television involving that event, for example, against the discovery of Saddam Hussein’s mass graves, which were filled with literally hundreds of thousands of human beings, innocent Iraqis who were killed."
And, at the time, he outlined some of the requirements for the Pentagon to respond to such challenges.
"The U.S. government will have to develop an institutional capability to anticipate and act within the same news cycle," he said in the address. "That will require instituting 24-hour press operation centers, elevating Internet operations and other channels of communication to the equal status with the traditional 20th Century press relations. It will result in much less reliance on the traditional print press, just as the publics of the U.S. and the world are relying less on newspapers as their principal source of information."
While Rumsfeld's media response unit is gone, Gertz noted that Gates had some of its operations "folded into other elements of the Pentagon"s public-affairs office."