Apparently, PAOs bear the sole responsibility for the fact that the military is losing the battle for America’s hearts and minds.
A few things to consider:
1. Public affairs officers may be professional communicators, but they don’t own the media. The media is independent, and decide what they will write on their own.
2) Public affairs officers may know how to position a message, but in the famous words of Ms. Torrie Clarke, former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, you can’t put lipstick on a pig. (Or in the words of Ms. Stephanie Hoehne, principal deputy to the Chief of Army Public Affairs, you just can’t buff a turd.) Sometimes, bad news is just bad news.
3) Public affairs officers are only as good as their leadership. The PAO serves the commander. Bottom line. And if their commander is stifling their creativity and their ability to get the message out, then passing the blame to the PAO is simply unfair.
4) For that matter, public affairs officers seem to be institutionally devalued, which undermines their contribution to the fight. When I was at Fort Lewis, the I Corps commander (a three star general) had 0-6 colonels as his lawyer, chief of staff and chaplain. All of the brigade commanders were obviously full-birds. But his PAO? A lieutenant colonel.
I’m not suggesting that everyone in the public affairs community is at the top of their game. Or that even everyone is decent. But I do think that the PAOs have been getting a bad rap lately. And it pisses me off. Because overall, these guys are working their asses off to help support the fight.
Its easier to pass the buck. But true leadership requires looking in the mirror and saying “I’m going to fix this.”