THE PLANK AUGUST 24, 2009
Rendon Group, a P.R. firm that has been running the government's propaganda efforts abroad for years, will dig into the backgrounds of would-be embedded journalists, according to a Stars and Stripes article today. The firm, which has been criticized for its involvement in creating an opposition group in Iraq that later supplied false information, will look at a reporter's past work and determine "whether the coverage was 'positive,' 'negative' or 'neutral' compared to mission objectives, according to Rendon officials." Based on their assessment, the armed forces will determine if they can report from the front lines.
Do we want to give Rendon Group that kind of power over reports from the war? Franklin Foer wrote a piece on the firm in 2002 and questioned its focus on being first to the story:
Of course, there's value in shaping news coverage. But Rendon makes a fetish of it, focusing on winning the daily sound-bite battle rather than the war of ideas. He tends to overrate the power of media outlets (in particular Al-Jazeera, which is about the tenth-largest Arabic broadcaster, behind the London-based Middle Eastern Broadcasting Corporation) and underestimate the deeper sources of anti-Americanism in the Middle East that express themselves in educational curricula and Arab intellectual life. There's a reason, after all, that absurd stories--e.g., that Mossad perpetrated September 11, that Purim pastry is made from the blood of Muslim children--thrive in the Muslim world: They jibe with strongly held, deeply ingrained worldviews. And changing a worldview requires more than a series of press releases or televised interviews with American officials. It requires the gradual cultivation and propagation of an alternative worldview--exactly what the CIA did during the cold war. Rendon's approach, by contrast, can be summed up by his comments in a 1996 speech at the Air Force Academy: "In news, speed is more important than substance.... Getting it first is more important than getting it right, and herein lies a threat." Rendon is half-right; he just has the nature of the threat backward: Our propaganda apparatus has become so obsessed with getting it first that it has ceased to get it right.
It's worth reading the whole piece, which you can find here.