Propaganda has become a dirty word to Americans. It conjurs up images of Joseph Goebbels, and movies by Leni Riefenstahl. But the truth is, propaganda is essential to winning a war. It can provide a warring nation with a sort of psychological momentum, while denying this to an enemy.
Our enemies in the war on Islamic extremism have made excellent use of propaganda. The infamous sniper videos, for instance, can be used to recruit troops for their cause (when shown on Arabic news channels) and to demoralize their enemies (when shown on CNN). War crimes by Americans are played up, exaggerated, or even completely fabricated.
And what is the American media's response to this? Why they lap it up, of course; always willing to be spoon-fed any story that paints the US military or the current situation in Iraq in a bad light, regardless of the source.
If we're going to win this war--not just the war in Iraq, but the global war on terrorism--we're going to need to learn wage a propaganda war. In his recent Townhall.com column, Michael McBride takes a hard look at what he calls the "information war," and the role that our news media has played in it so far.
Vietnam forever changed the relationship between the military and the Mainstream Media. I think that the case can be made to some degree that the real issue is between various administrations, their Pentagon inhabitants, and the media…not between the media and the troops on the ground. But what happens in this food fight is that the cafeteria fare almost always ends up on the faces, and uniforms of the troops. (good references here…A Bright and Shining Lie, Dereliction of Duty, Once Upon a Distant War, The Best and the Brightest, The Pentagon Papers) And all the troops I know are pretty unforgiving when their uniform is stained by someone else’s careless behavior, or their reputation is smeared through careless and biased reporting. (Hugh Hewitt’s interview with LtGen Mattis makes the case here.)
This fissure, first noticed after ApBac in Vietnam, and widened irreparably by Walter Cronkite’s 1968 Tet reporting, has only festered since. The military has done its part…successful campaigns in Panama, Grenada, Desert Storm and the current war in Iraq. There have been setbacks, Iranian Hostage Rescue, Beirut (driven by political constraints of the day, see The Root by Eric Hammel ), the USS Cole, but-by-and large, the military has more than upheld its contract with the citizens of this country by responding superbly when tasked by the nation Command Authority.
Their reward?...continuous deriding and minimalization of their accomplishments by the MSM corps. The badgering of generals, the callous showing of soldiers and Marines dying at the hands of snipers, the blatant disregard for other metrics of success other than US casualty counts, only reinforces the utter disrespect and disdain that the MSM has for the military, and by extension…the troops in the field.
As a result of the MSM messaging, our field generals, and our troops are being portrayed as failing. I think this is an incorrect representation of what is happening…we are really losing the information war, and as with Vietnam, if we don’t adjust fire soon, we may lose the war in Iraq…a vital battle in the Global War on Terror.
McBride goes on to outline what needs to be done to turn things around. Among other things, he suggests cutting much of the mainstream media out of the loop. That's a pretty radical solution, but I don't see any other choices. As things stand now, I have serious doubts about our ability to wage an extended war. No matter how much the country may be behind a war, the media--always in search of another scandal, higher ratings, and more awards--will turn on the military. It's not they they won't aid in spreading propaganda, it's just that they tend to do it for the wrong side.