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[infowar.de] NYT 25.03.03: Using The News As A Weapon
New York Times
March 25, 2003
Using The News As A Weapon
By Lucian K. Truscott IV
LOS ANGELES -- Neither Clausewitz nor Sun Tzu had any advice for military
commanders on how to manage the news media during time of war. But both
agreed that strategic information about battle plans, troop strength,
disposition of forces and so forth should be denied the enemy so as to
enhance an army's ability to use deception and the element of surprise.
Pentagon war planners have turned this ancient military maxim inside out.
From the first moments of the war, television screens and newspaper pages
around the world have shown and described with images of exploding palaces
and an armored phalanx rolling rapidly toward Baghdad. Reports from the
Third Infantry Division do everything but cite highway mile-markers of
their progress. Reporters are "embedded" so deep into the war that they are
subsisting on the same dreadful rations eaten by the troops.
The Pentagon may have been dragged kicking and screaming into its current
embrace of the news media. But it is making the most of it. Planners must
have contemplated advances in media technology and decided that if they
can't control the press, they may as well use it.
And make no mistake: the news media are being used in more ways than they
realize. When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld first announced that
reporters would be welcome in the trenches, members of the media were
suspicious. After all, this was the same Pentagon that kept journalists far
from the front lines during the Persian Gulf war. Yet from reporters
inhaling the exhaust of infantry units to bleary-eyed New York anchors
spellbound by squads of generals analyzing the data stream, the news media
have marched practically in lock step with the military.
Not since the halcyon days of Ronald Reagan has an administration been so
adept at managing information and manipulating images. In Iraq, the Bush
administration has beaten the press at its own game. It has turned the
media into a weapon of war, using the information it provides to harass and
intimidate the Iraqi military leadership.
None of the early attacks on Baghdad destroyed the power or communications
infrastructure, as they did in the early hours of the gulf war. As bombs
fell on palaces and government ministries, the real war was being brought
to Baghdad via satellite dish. Images that had been curtailed in the gulf
war are now being used as a force-multiplier.
Knowing that Iraqi military leaders are watching the same satellite feeds
as they are from CNN as well as from Al Jazeera and other cable networks
Pentagon officials have been in contact with Iraqi generals by radio, cell
phone, even e-mail. The message they are sending is simple and direct:
Surrender your forces. Opposition is hopeless. If you don't believe us,
just turn on your TV.
Iraqi leaders have made their own attempts to manipulate the media, of
course. They have provided Al Jazeera footage of American prisoners of war,
downed aircraft and injured and dead civilians. But the audience they're
trying to influence doesn't wear stars. Iraq is trying to influence the
so-called Arab street inside Iraq and elsewhere in the Arab world. And they
are no doubt attempting to counter the depressing effect of the
bombs-over-Baghdad footage on their own beleaguered forces.
Both sides are taking an enormous gamble by using the news media. But it's
an especially risky gamble for the Pentagon. The same satellites that
transmitted images of United States armor rolling easily across the sand
last week are now carrying images of dead and captured American soldiers.
And now American commanders have to worry not only about embedded
reporters, but also about embedded Iraqi fedayeen forces left in cities
passed by during the American advance on Baghdad. All the Iraqi fighters
have to do is sneak a dish up on a rooftop in the dark, and they will have
access to much of the same information as their enemy.
So maybe the American news media were suspicious of the Pentagon's newly
permissive policy for the wrong reasons. They thought the administration
had the same goal as they did: high ratings not necessarily for the war
coverage, but for the war itself. But it turns out that the Pentagon had a
different audience in mind. At this point in the war, it is entirely
unclear whether its strategy will achieve the results that were intended
when the media was weaponized.
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a 1969 graduate of West Point, is a novelist and
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