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[] 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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