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Archive for the ‘PAOs’ Category

Noah at Danger Room is smacking military PAOs around a little:

Forget the drone stuff. Here is your eye-popping statistic of the day: “This year, the Pentagon will employ 27,000 people just for recruitment, advertising and public relations — almost as many as the total 30,000-person work force in the State Department.”

That’s from an Associated Press investigation, “which found that over the past five years, the money the military spends on winning hearts and minds at home and abroad has grown by 63 percent, to at least $4.7 billion this year.”

Staff costs take up most of the money, more than $2 billion. Another $1.6 billion goes into recruiting. About a half-billion goes towards “psychological operations, which targets foreign audiences.” And, finally, “$547 million goes into public affairs, which reaches American audiences.”

That last one may be the most amazing figure of ’em all. Because getting a straightforward answer out of most military public affairs shops is still a root-canal-painful procedure. You’d think it’d be easier, with all those resources brought to bear.

Come on, Noah. You’re being a bit unfair. My response:

First, as already noted that the 27,000 includes recruiters — which mean staff in small towns peppered across the country. The actual communications apparatus is SIGNIFICANTLY smaller.

Even if you took the whole 27,000 though, which may seem like a lot, you need to consider that there are about 1 MILLION soldiers and nearly that many government civilians that are in or work for the Army. This means recruiting and communications make up a scant 1% of the organization.

And last, I understand the challenge getting answers from military PAOs. But you know as well as anyone that there are laws governing release of military information. Violating those laws can put Soldiers’ lives at risk — and, from their personal perspective, is punishable by fines and prison.

Given what is on the line with release of information, I don’t begrudge a PAO spending a little time fact checking, getting security review and legal take before putting information into the public domain.

No matter what you think, I’d definitely read the AP article that inspired Noah’s post.

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Happy birthday, Morrell

Hello again, blogosphere!

Haven’t finalized my decision to come back to regular milblogging or not yet, but I am starting to lean toward it. Having been employed at BAE Systems for three months now, I feel as though I have gotten to know the lay of the land to the point where I can both be a blogger and corporate spokesman without the roles interfering with one another.

So, as a possible entry back into the blogosphere, I have a quick post to send a shout-out to Geoff Morrell, the country’s top military communicator, as he celebrates his 40th birthday Sunday.

Morrell has been the spokesman at the Pentagon for over a year now, and when it comes to professional flacking, he is one of the best. Rumors are that should Sen. Gates be asked by President-elect Obama to stay at the helm of DOD, Morrell will be a hold-over into the next administration as well.

So Geoff, enjoy your weekend. You deserve a day off.

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Army of Four

My boss at Edelman (you know, the one who co-founded that little conservative political blog…) used to joke that I write in a niche of one. The world of military public affairs writers is so small that no one else would write about it, he reasoned.

Then I found this guy. And this one.

And today, we have another in our ranks.

Check out Beyond Blather, written by a 24-year military communications veteran and instructor at the Defense Information School.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Chad.

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Don’t spam bloggers. Especially with 35MB worth of e-mail attachments that end up clogging up their in boxes.

I might have been interested in what you were sending me had it been presented in a more audience-friendly format. Instead, your e-mails got the boot.

Better luck next time,
Steve

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A while back, Matt at Mountain Runner wrote an amazing post about the failures of Karen Hughes as America’s ambassador to the world as the Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the State Department.

He said that we had no general in the war for the hearts and minds of the world.

After reading this post, I nominate Seth.

Update: Hello, readers from the State Department. Welcome to the D-Ring.

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Bob Burns, the esteemed Pentagon correspondent for the Associated Press, is reporting that the Pentagon is narrowing in on a strategy that will likely reduce the number of troops in Iraq.

He quotes “a senior military official.” Odds are 100-to-1 that that official is Dorrance Smith, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs

This appears to be a commonly used tactic in government media relations known as “softening the ground.” A senior spokesperson, generally the press secretary or communications director, will leak a story that has potential to be challenging or difficult for the administration on the condition that the person’s identity is kept secret. Why do this? So that the government can take the temperature of the public and see how they react to the news — and also to ease expectations.

The timing makes sense. September has been the month that the White House, the Pentagon and the media have identified as “zero hour” for the next steps in the Iraq experiment. It appears that they are bracing for, at worst, a negative report from General Petraeus or, at best, a report that is viewed skeptically by the Democratic congress.

Check out the article for yourself, and let the D-Ring know if you think this effort will be successful.

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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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