Mullen Says the Military Still Needs the Media

Mullen Says the Military Still Needs the Media - David Ignatius, Washington Post opinion.

For the military, it's like a grisly death in the family: How did Gen. Stanley McChrystal, one of the most respected soldiers of his generation, blow himself up in a magazine profile? It's a puzzle to McChrystal's colleagues here, and understandably, there's a new wariness in dealing with the media.

The relationship between the military and the press could probably use a little adjustment. The Rolling Stone article was a wake-up call for both sides that the coziness that has evolved over the past decade, as "embedding" of reporters became more widespread, can cause problems. Now there's likely to be a tilt back toward more traditional ground rules and a little more distance. We'll see whether that leads to better reporting or just a chillier relationship...

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Comments

Ken, you're right again - when I said insubordination, I chose the wrong word.

Robert:

Thanks for the kind words. Hate to introduce a petty quibble after that but I do not agree with the media pundits that any insubordination was shown. Disrespect and extraordinarily poor judgment, yes. IMO based on open sources relief for cause of at least the General was merited on the basis of poor judgment alone -- and somebody was not deterring their Boss from doing dumb things...

To return to the subject, you're absolutely correct that media operations need to be executed with the same level of discipline as any other operation. We continually see the results of carelessness and flawed logic in not only media operations but in mere contacts with journalists.

Ken White

Ken White is correct - again.

As I mentioned in a comment on a recent post, media operations merit the same kind of analysis and planning as any other operation in an op-plan. And media operations need to be executed with the same level of discipline as any other operation. It appears as if Gen McChrystal and his staff failed in that regard with respect to this media engagement. Perhaps that failure of planning and discipline in execution is as much a firing offense as the displays of insubordination.

The most important quote from that article:

"He (ADM Mullen) has been a skeptic about the broad new "strategic communications" approach, which sees the media as a tool in bending public opinion in protracted counterinsurgency campaigns. Instead, he prefers a more traditional approach to public affairs, in which military spokesmen provide as much information as possible, and offer access to the media, but without the "stratcom" ambitions and dangers."

Wise words. One hopes they will be heeded. "Managing information" as some would see it is a very dangerous and probably counterproductive approach. One of the problems with manipulating is that one can get so busy admiring one's brilliance that one misses the fact that manipulation is a two way street...

It can also be hoped that we would learn to avoid coverups -- the truth always comes out -- and that the more truthfulness in rapid replies to requests for information from us, the better. The bureaucratic layers of 'protection' and the holding of release approval at high levels probably do more harm than good.

The media has a job to do. That job today consists of trying to beat competitors in a high speed 24 hour news cycle; thus all one need do is realize that the old saw "If it bleeds, it leads" is emphatically true, that 'off the record' is meaningless, that the media type is not your friend and that while many are honest, most are relatively ignorant in regard to military matters. That has not changed since Korea and as Viet Nam and Desert Storm showed the rapid pace of today's news cycle has only exacerbated the problems...

All that translates into a simple rule:

Do not try to dazzle them with footwork, be careful what you and your subordinates say and do in their presence, expect to be misinterpreted on what is done and misquoted on what is said.

Ken White