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Archive for the ‘Harpers’ Category

Ken Silverstein from Harpers is at it again, accusing the DoD’s blogger outreach program of being a right-wing propaganda machine (even though there are liberals on the e-mail outreach list, including me).

This time, Ken set his sights on Michael Allen Leach (right), who is working for the DoD’s new media operation. Media reports from the 2000 election brought him 15 minutes of fame in 2000 when they reported that he, while a staffer for the Florida Republican party, spent days salvaging incorrectly filled out absentee ballots, the majority of which — but not all — were Republican ballots.

Never mind that there are roughly a dozen people working in that department of the Pentagon’s public affair’s shop, or that several of them are Democrats. It is important to single out this one guy!

Still, this story, and Silverstein for that matter, aren’t going away. So Roxie and Allison, the way I see it, you have two options:

  1. Actively recruit someone from Daily Kos, MyDD, The Huffington Post or another liberal blog to be a part of the blogger roundtables.
  2. Make a high-level liberal hire on your staff. Do it quickly, and parade him/her and his/her liberal credentials in front of a few journalists.

Hopefully that will be enough to kill this story. For good.

Update: I have modified the post from its original version after an e-mail conversation with Leach. I won’t get into all the details, but I will say that, after hearing from him, I think he was a great hire for the blog team. Even if he is a Republican partisan.

Update 2: Mountain Runner has a great post about Silverstein. Go check it out.

Update 3: Another great post from Jason at Armchair Generalist, the doyen of liberal milbloggers.

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This morning, I read Ken Silverstein’s latest contribution to Harpers Magazine criticizing the Pentagon’s blogger engagement program. He says that the program is designed to preach to conservatives and administration champions (even though I mentioned this week that I am on the list and by no means a conservative).

I was all set to critique his piece when Noah Shachtman (blogger/journalist and editor of Wired Magazine’s Danger Room blog) e-mailed me the response he posted to Silverstein:

What’s more, Silverstein calls critical pieces which come out of the blogger conference calls — here’s one David Axe recently wrote for DANGER ROOM — “an exception that proves the rule. By invoking the rare critic, the Pentagon is able to say, ‘We’re balanced. This is not just a PR exercise.'”

Could be. But how hard is it, really, to get other critical voices added to the conference call list?

Well, it took exactly 23 minutes to get Jason “Armchair Generalist” Sigger and Matt “Mountain Runner” Armstrong signed up. And neither is what you would call a fan of this administration.

And Noah proceeds to publish the time stamped correspondence between him and Jack Holt, one of the Pentagon’s primary liaisons with the blogosphere.

Now THAT’S what I call journalism, Mr. Silverstein.

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A journalist has tried to shine a spotlight on the Pentagon’s blogger relations program — and failed miserably.

Recent postings to Harpers.com (here and here) by Ken Silverstein suggest that the Pentagon is engaged in a propaganda campaign, managed by junior political appointees, to seed its message among conservative bloggers.

As someone who has participated in the “surrogate outreach” program, I can tell you first hand that Silverstein’s reporting is sensationalized drivel.

Who is running the show?

Mr. Silverstein makes much ado about a junior political appointee who supposedly runs the program named Erin Healy. She may have a toe dipped into the waters of online outreach, but I can tell you that if she does have anything to do with the program, it is cursory at best.

The real key player in the Pentagon’s online communications strategy is Roxie Merritt, a retired Navy Captain who was brought by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Allison Barber on to manage the Pentagon’s new media operations. Merritt is a savvy and seasoned professional communicator who understands the importance of online outreach. It is she, and not Healy, who is responsible for executing this program.

Political Leanings?

Despite Mr. Silverstein’s claim that the blogger engagement strategy is limited to righties and an occasional moderate, I have never, never, been mistaken for a conservative. (Proof in point — I was reading Harpers).

In a personal conversation at this year’s milblogging conference with Jack Holt, who helps orchestrate the program’s operations, he noted that they have been trying, with limited success, to reach out to liberal bloggers as well.

Granted, my blog does not carry a political tune. I try and keep my observations neutral, as I think that military communications should be devoid of politics. However, having corresponded with numerous staff members from blogger outreach team, I know that several are aware of my political ideology and personal opinion on the Iraq war. In spite of this, I continue to receive invitations to blogger conference calls.

For example, I was on the blogger call with a Navy admiral after the Pentagon’s decision to ban MySpace, YouTube and other social networking sites. Almost everyone on the call was critical of the decision, and the blog coverage reflected it.

A chilling effect?

I hope that the Pentagon’s new media operation takes this hit piece with a grain of salt (which I am sure they will considering the major errors in reporting).

OSD(PA) has made great strides in reaching out to and engaging online influencers. These new online opinion leaders are a key audience to communicate with — and the Pentagon should be applauded for including them in their communication planning, not vilified. From my experience, articles like these do nothing but chill creative communications programs.

Granted, the Pentagon’s outreach is not perfect. Silverstein’s point about the transparency of the program is valid. While most bloggers do disclose that they are getting information directly from Pentagon sources, not all do, so the Pentagon should specifically request that they disclose that fact on every conference call.

And the new media program has other blemishes, such as the For the Record “blog.”

Still, the online outreach program is OSD’s greatest success in dealing with new media. And all that these inaccurate Harpers “exposes” do is discourage communication innovation.

Next time, dig a little bit deeper to find the facts before you go to press, Mr. Silverstein.

Update: Grim’s post about the Harper’s piece at Blackfive. He looks at the article for its implied assumption that bloggers aren’t worthy of talking to the administration, only journalists are. Which I think is funny, given the gross errors in fact in his “journalism.”

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