‘Message Force Multiplyers’ Tell It Like It Isn’t

The New York Times reported that the Pentagon is employing an information apparatus that uses military analysts in “a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance.” These men appear on television and radio to provide “authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.” Despite the appearance of objectivity, these analysts are part of a campaign to analyze the news, specifically terrorism, inside the networks before information is revealed to the public.
Who are they, you ask? They are retired military officials who are used as “the ultimate ‘key influential’—authoritative, most of them decorated war heroes, all reaching mass audiences.” Furthermore, many analysts are connected to or involved in helping companies gain military contracts. Others are defense-industry lobbyists who represent military contractors. Most, if not all, are men who share the same ideology as the George W. Bush administration. They share the belief that “pessimistic war coverage broke the nation’s will to win in Vietnam.”
That’s not all. Military analysts possess a “symbiotic” relationship with the government, as they receive generous gifts from the administration while working as “message force multipliers”; that is, delivering war policies to the public in the form of their own opinions. Not only are they paid by network consultants per appearance, but some gain special access to classified intelligence, tours in Iraq and high-level policy-makers in the administration.
Take John C. Garret. As a lobbyist who helped defense firms win Pentagon contracts, he had weekly access to the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Thus, Garret was more than willing to support the administration’s efforts with his television and radio commentary. In fact, before President Bush made his television appearance for the surge strategy in 2007, Garret wrote, “Please let me know if you have any specific points you want covered or that you would prefer to downplay.” Garret, when did you assume the role of a puppet and sign your life away to the Defense Department?
Like the Electoral College, the Defense Department seems to think that it is its civic duty to keep Americans in check. Just in case we are too stupid to choose the right president, we can take comfort in knowing that we have top elites who will do the job. Similarly, if the public becomes too critical of the administration’s wartime performance, what better way to solve the problem than to skew the news coverage to make it more favorable for the Pentagon? Our “free” democracy has turned into a narcissistic monster that has taken on the responsibility of reformulating our opinions to reflect positively on the government.
In its defense, Paul E. Vallely, a Fox News analyst, explains his approach to “Mind War,” which uses television and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.” According to him, the United States lost the Vietnam War because “we were Psyoped.” Therefore, he suggests a new approach—selling the war to a domestic audience. This consists of portraying Iraq as a pressing threat while pounding the message of progress. General William Nash, who participated in the trip, observed that the briefings were so “artificial” that he joked “that they were on ‘the George Romney memorial trip to Iraq.'” As Robert De Niro once said, “It’s just business.”
Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. For years, network journalists have put their lives on the line to cover the war in its entirety—including fear and complexity. Since our government fails to provide unfettered news, we will simply have to make do with what we have, and that’s quite a lot. Instead of gluing ourselves to the television, we need to research many different sources to get the clearest picture possible. One day, hopefully, the media will realize that Americans don’t always want fluff. Sometimes, you’ve got to give them the cold, hard truth.

Elysabeth Hahm is a third-year political science and literary journalism double-major. She can be reached at ehahm@uci.edu.