Pentagon Employees Urged to Counter Media Negativity

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT


(CNSNews.com) - The establishment news media places too much emphasis on the negative events happening in Iraq, so Defense Department employees need to side-step the media and get a positive message out to the American people, said Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Speaking at a town hall meeting with Pentagon employees, Pace was asked by a soldier what the department is doing to confront what the soldier called the "negativity in the press [that] is absolutely detrimental to the morale of our forces."

Pace said that early in the war in Iraq, the media covered it "24-7" and Americans were able to make their own opinions about how it was going. But, he said, "News is a business and now the news cycle is such that only certain amounts every day are allocated to cover the war." He said the limited coverage now tends to focus on what "captures people's attention" and "not the schools being built."

Members of the military and civilian DoD employees at the Pentagon "can complain about access [in the media] or you can change how you operate," Pace said, adding that the military has chosen the second option.

He said the military is finding ways to have soldiers bring good news about the war directly to the American people. "One of the things we've changed," Pace said, "is as troops come home ... they are given the opportunity to take an extra day or two of leave if they will stay at home and just talk to their local communities, not from a script ... [but] tell the people in their hometown what their experience was like."

Soldiers and others from DoD, according to Pace, have the responsibility "to be very open, forthright about not only the bad, but the good and to present it in a way that our fellow citizens can understand and accept."

In a paper written in the Autumn 2006 Washington Quarterly, Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Michael O'Hanlon agreed with Pace's assessment of media coverage in Iraq. "As viewers of almost any nightly news broadcast know, televised news reports in particular tend to lead with violence rather than with positive stories," he wrote.

"Thus," O'Hanlon added, "at some level the media do emphasize the negative more than the positive, especially when visual imagery is required." But O'Hanlon said the media's coverage reflects reality in Iraq and it's the DoD officials' job, not the media's, to show the positive side of war.

"It is true that morale and patience are important in war," he wrote. "It is natural and appropriate, therefore, for the country's leaders to work to build up the confidence and optimism not only of the troops but also the public supporting them.

However, reporters, editors, and news anchors do not have the same responsibility, O'Hanlon argued. "Their most important job is to provide independent and objective information and assessments.

"Iraq is a war zone in which progress has been largely elusive," O'Hanlon wrote. "Given this reality, accurate reporting naturally places more emphasis on the negative aspects than on the positive ones."

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