Operation Vigilant Correction

The Pentagon's public affairs office admitted to reporters today that it had created the equivalent of a rapid reaction force to strike back at media coverage it considers inaccurate and to harness new technologies like "instant messaging" and "podcasting."The Pentagon has been punching back at reporters and columnists recently with letters to the editor which have gotten prominent treatment in Early Bird, a daily clipping service intended to keep the military and contractors intended to keep them abreast of military news.The first item in Monday's edition was an unpublished letter to the Washington Post, which read:

To the Editor:Your article and the accompanying headline ("Rumsfeld Tells Iraq Critics to 'Back Off,'" October 26, 2006) said incorrectly that the Secretarys comments in his Thursday press conference were aimed at "detractors" and "critics." In fact, the Secretary was referring specifically to journalists seeking to create a perception of major divisions between the positions of the U.S. and Iraqi governments. Secretary Rumsfeld was not referring to critics of the administration's Iraq policy.Sincerely,Dorrance Smith, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs
Riiiight. Well, glad that got cleared up. As Sharon Weinberger pointed out last week, this emphasis is becoming a trend.From Agence France-Presse:
Eric Ruff, the Pentagon press secretary, insisted that the new public affairs program was not prompted by either the elections or polls showing that only about 37 percent believe the war is going well."What were looking at doing is, 'How can we get better, how can we get faster, how can we transform public affairs?'," he told reporters."And we're looking at being quicker to respond to breaking news. Being quicker to respond, frankly, to inaccurate statements," he said."And we're looking at this whole issue of new media -- podcasting, and IM-ing and all those kinds of things, where people are basically running circles inside us," he said.Ruff disclosed the expanded operations after questions were raised about a wall being built in the Pentagon press operations center that will separate the new unit from Pentagon public affairs officials who deal with the media.
Hunh, and this has nothing to do with low poll numbers at all? Sorry, Ruff's denials don't pass the smell test.Combine the news of this new nitpicking operation with the Pentagon's crackdown on milbloggers and its continued heavy-handed treatment of reporters embedded in Iraq, a death toll of 101 American soldiers so far this month, deteriorating relations with the Iraqi government, and a CNN poll registering domestic support for the war at 34%, and you have a stew with the rather unpleasant odor of desperation. Is this really what Rummy wanted when he begged public affairs to "adapt to today's media age?"I expect my first missive from the Delta Force-esque PR flacks will be in my inbox pronto.- Ryan Singel
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