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Pentagon To Hire PR Firm To Monitor Media Coverage Of Middle East
Chicago Tribune.com
September 9, 2006

The Pentagon is taking bids for a two-year, $20 million contract to read newspapers and watch TV news and rate the daily coverage of the war in Iraq. The "tone," "key themes" and "messages" of coverage in the U.S. and the Arab world are to be evaluated as positive, negative or neutral.

This project has the aroma of a public-relations boondoggle.

Pentagon brass are understandably frustrated that the media do not always report the war's daily events in positive terms. "They want [war news] to be received by audiences as it is transmitted" by the military, as one public relations expert explained to the Washington Post, "but they don't like how it turns out." That happens. President Abraham Lincoln was notoriously frustrated and angered by coverage of the Civil War, including coverage by this newspaper.

It's apparent that the Pentagon has already been doing some analyzing of press coverage. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld complained in a recent speech that "a database search of America's leading newspapers" found 10 times more coverage of a soldier who had been punished for misconduct than of the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in the war on terror.

Drawing conclusions from the number of hits in a Google search (if that's how the Pentagon did it) is an inexact science.

But we have to ask--as an editorial page that has supported the Iraq war effort--why is the Pentagon doing this?

That $20 million would be far better spent on fighting the Iraq insurgency than on fighting the news media.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

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