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Spin machine slips a cog

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This Administration has the best PR and spin machine I have ever seen, truly,
but even it runs into the occasional glitch:

A Gannett News Service search found identical letters from different soldiers
with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, also
known as "The Rock," in 11 newspapers.
The five-paragraph form letter talks about the soldiers’ efforts to re-establish
police and fire departments and build water and sewer plants in the northern
Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
It describes people waving at passing troops and children running up to shake
their hands and say thank you.
It’s not clear who wrote the letter or organized sending it.
Six soldiers reached by GNS directly or through their families said they agreed
with the letter’s thrust. But none of the soldiers said he wrote it, and one
said he didn’t even sign it. A seventh soldier didn’t know about the letter
until his father congratulated him for getting it published in the newspaper
in Beckley, W.Va.
"
When I told him he wrote such a good letter, he said, ‘What letter?’ " Timothy
Deaconson said Friday, recalling the phone conversation he had with
his son, Nick.

Sgt. Todd Oliver, a spokesman for the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which counts
the 503rd as one of its units, said he was told a soldier wrote the
letter, but he didn’t know who.[Gannett
News Service, Oct. 12, 2003 12:00 AM]

 [Images
of letters received in the other Washington]

And nobody knows who wrote it. Who’d have thought? Think it might tie in to
another story in the Washington Post?

Bush Courts Regional Media
President Aims to Bypass Large News Outlets’ ‘Filter’ on Iraq

The Bush administration, displeased with the news coverage of the war in Iraq,
has accelerated efforts to bypass the national media by telling the administration’s
story directly to the American public.

You think?

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About Hal

  • http://shortstrangetrip.org/ Joe

    Apparently the battalion commander is part of the vast conspiracy. Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    “…the commander of the battalion, Lt. Col. Dominic Caraccilo, said the “letter-writing initiative” was all his idea.” [from your link]

    Yup, looks like that’s what he said. Here’s what someone else said: “Repeat a lie five times and it becomes the truth.”

  • Eric Olsen

    I like this part from Joe’s link: “I knew my son didn’t write the letter because he’s too stupid.”

  • Eric Olsen

    Well, I paraphrased.

  • http://shortstrangetrip.org/ Joe

    I’d chalk it up more to good initiative/poor execution.

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    I’d chalk it up to more than a coincidence that the letters appeared in local media at the same time the administration started concentrating on local media:

    Bush Courts Regional Media… Yesterday, Bush granted exclusive interviews to five regional broadcasting companies — an unprecedented effort to reach news organizations that do not regularly cover the White House. Washington Post

  • http://shortstrangetrip.org/ Joe

    Are you basing that conclusion on anything more than the curious timing? Or do you have some experience with LTC Caraccilo that would make you feel justified in implying that he’s a liar?

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    My comments are based on my experience watching the way this administration’s communications machine has operated so successfully (71% of US believed Saddam was responsible for 9/11, etc.) I’ve been in communications professionally for 35 years and these people are the best I’ve seen.

    The effort by Bush to reach out to about 10 million Americans through the regional broadcasters — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer had similar sessions previously — came two days after it emerged that soldiers in Iraq have sent form letters home to local newspapers asserting that the U.S. troops had been welcomed "with open arms" in Iraq.
    Washington Post

    The timing could, of course, just be coincidental.
    As far as the troops go, I sincerely believe they’ve done an excellent job and they have my full respect for what they’ve achieved. It’s the political situation that bothers me.

  • JR

    Since LTC Caraccilo was apparently willing to try to pass a form letter off as a personal account from his soldiers, one might have good reason to question his honesty.

  • mike

    I’m sitting here in Iraq, and I’m being shot at on a regular basis. My commander just gave me a letter and said I can “choose” whether to sign it. Of my own free will, I think I will sign it. I’m not being coerced at all. Today we painted a school. Then we shot up a group of 10 year olds from a terrorist gang. We are the good guys. Our cause is just.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    Perhaps, JR, but he didn’t shy away from taking responsibility for the letter, either. My point is just don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions.

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    “he didn’t shy away from taking responsibility for the letter”

    Saying “I’m guilty” after you get caught and getting a free pass seems to be more and more common in this country (e.g., Arnold), but do you consider that admirable?

  • http://shortstrangetrip.org/ Joe

    No, but from what I read I didn’t see it as playing out that way. It seemed like the letter went out, it raised questions, and the commander answered the questions. I didn’t see any “I’m guilty” in it. I don’t disagree that it was stupid, I just don’t think it has the nefarious underpinnings that are being attached to the situation.

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    Perhaps, but based on the performance of this administration and the politicization of the invasion, there could well have been a “meeting with management” before the idea for the form letter mailings sprang full-blown from the commander’s mind.

    No way to know, really. All you can do is stay alert.

  • http://shortstrangetrip.org/ Joe

    True, but if that were the case, the administration could have simply provided the letter, focus group tested and DOD approved, and told the commander to execute or, better yet, assign the task to one of the psyops units which have a mission more closely suited to that type of undertaking.

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    No, the way they did it was better, except for the part where it came out (speaking from the perspective of former senior management).

  • JR

    Joe: “My point is just don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions.”

    This is good advice.

    Actually I think if this came from the top, the order would have gone out to more commanders. When we see evidence of similar letters from other units, then I’ll be really suspicious. Until then, I picture this guy as a “lone gunman”, so to speak. We’ll see.

  • http://www.shortstrangetrip.org Joe

    There’s that, and the Army now has public affairs officers organic to units (although I don’t think down to battalion level), if they were going to mount a concerted charm offensive PAOs would probably be heavily involved and use a less obscure unit such as a battalion from the 101st or 82nd.

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    The administration would not be naive enough to promote their political agenda through the military that way (see 15, 17 and 18).

    They especially would not use the official chain of command as that would leave a paper trail.

    And they wouldn’t have to, because they could easily achieve the same results without issuing any orders at all.

    Jerry Bremer and/or some of his minions could have a sit-down, perhaps over a glass of arak, with some of the commanders on the ground. The discussion would turn to the unfair treatment of the military by the media, how they reported only the bad things, but 90% of what was happening was good, how the vast majority of Iraqis really did sing and dance in the streets, etc.

    With “the facts” (talking points) in place, Jerry would then bemoan the fact that helpful actions weren’t happening (e.g., “Golly, gosh, it’s too bad our soldiers aren’t writing more letters home about [previous facts] …”).

    Not too long after, some of those desired actions would be taken with not a single order issued.

    I know it works in a corporate setting, and am confident it would work the same way in the military/political mileu, since the same basic organizational principles and human behaviors apply.

  • Eric Olsen

    Hal, I think your last scenario is absolutely plausible, but what’s the problem with it? All of what you said IS basically true and is underreported in the press because traumatic events are much easier and more dramamtic to report than prosaic “progress.”

    So if someone in the military chose to respond to such a recitation of imbalances with an effort to add balance, how would that be wrong, or even an action by the administration – wouldn’t it be the independent action of that officer? Just because something may be preceived as “good” for the administration doesn’t mean it’s wrong, or sinister, or somehow a usurpation.

  • http://shortstrangetrip.org/ Joe

    Sure, it could happen, but Bremer sitting down with battalion commanders would analgous to the CEO sitting down with organizational department heads in a large corporation. You’re talking about a skip level several orders of magnitude. Additionally, the scenario you propose seems a little more arbitrary than your initial premise. Bremer making a “suggestion” is a little different than a tightly orchestrated administration effort.

    I’m a former Army officer, so, perhaps, I’m just making allowances based on my own experiences and biases. I just don’t see it going down that way.

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    "Hal, I think your last scenario is absolutely plausible, but what’s the problem
    with it?"

    Dishonesty, deceit and a destruction of public trust by the current administration.

    These seem to be hallmarks of this administration, going back to the way they used 9/11 as a reason to invade Iraq, something they had wanted to do since at least the mid-1990s.

    If that sounds implausible, find a copy of Bob Woodwards book "Bush At War.” If you’ve read it, you know that this is actually pretty much a puff piece and not an attack on Bush or his administration.

    Yet on page 49 you read that on September 12, 2001, the day after 9/11/01 attack: “Rumsfeld raised the question of Iraq. Why shouldn’t we go against Iraq, not just a lQaeda? … Rumsfeld was raising the possibility that they could take advantage of the of the opportunity offered by the terrorist attacks to go after Saddam immediately.”

    The false form letters are more of the same.

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    “…analgous to the CEO sitting down with organizational department heads in a large corporation. You’re talking about a skip level several orders of magnitude.”

    No. The CEO in this instance is George W. Bush. Jerry Bremer is just a senior manager. When I was Senior Vice-President of Marketing I had numerous direct meetings with employees several levels below that of my direct reports. It’s not a stretch and not a skip.

    “Additionally, the scenario you propose seems a little more arbitrary than your initial premise. Bremer making a “suggestion” is a little different than a tightly orchestrated administration effort.”

    Not much different. A Senior Vice-President of Marketing making a “suggestion” to a District Sales Manager carries more freight than the word implies.

    In this case, the letter writing is only a small part, but a part nevertheless, of a broad and very tightly orchestrated administration effort. As I said in my post, this administration has the best PR and spin machine I have ever seen.

  • http://shortstrangetrip.org/ Joe

    Sorry, poor analogy, I suppose, Bremer meeting with a battalion commanders is not as common as you seem to believe. First, because he’s a high ranking civilian his contact with the military is primarily with high-ranking officers and tightly controlled, and, second, because any time that he does get with them is going to be more likely spent conducting dog and pony shows. The military is somewhat more ardent about the chain of command than what your corporate experience reflects and I would have to reiterate that, indeed, it is a stretch and a skip.

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    “Sorry, poor analogy, I suppose, Bremer meeting with a battalion commanders is not as common as you seem to believe.”

    I’ll have to take your word on this one as I can only go by all the videos I see of him in his trekker boots walking around among the field troops, a man of the people :-)

    Personally, I don’t believe it’s very common either, but I do believe it’s very possible when he has an axe to grind, a political mission to accomplish.

    And I did say “Jerry Bremer and/or some of his minions.”

  • Eric Olsen

    I still fail to see how this action – even if it happened exactly like you averred – is in any way “Dishonesty, deceit and a destruction of public trust by the current administration.”

    It seems to me it’s just setting the record straight, and again, the action was taken voluntarily by the military man. The “administration,” as you present it, just laid out the facts.

    Now, it is a completely separate matter that writing a form letter and having people who didn’t write it sign it as a personal message is misleading at best, but how is that the administration’s fault?

    Regarding Iraq: who has tried to hide that fact that key members of the administration have viewed Iraq as unfinished business? It was, and still is, unfinished business. What does this have to do with the question of whether or not military action there was a good idea? There were many reasons to invade Iraq – it was the right thing to do.

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    “Regarding Iraq: who has tried to hide that fact that key members of the administration have viewed Iraq as unfinished business?”

    You raise a different issue.

    The “Dishonesty, deceit and a destruction of public trust by the current administration” comes from the administration’s use of the 9/11 terrorist attack as an excuse to invade Iraq.

    That’s just a cynical, deplorable use of a major national tragedy to further their own narrow political purposes.

    You either see it or you don’t.

  • Eric Olsen

    “Using 9/11 as an excuse” for military action in Iraq is not the same thing as misleading the American public by stating or implying that Iraq had something to do with 9/11, which is what the administration often is accused of.

    The relationship between iraq and 9/11 is that 9/11 proved we can’t sit around and wait for those who hate us to take action upon that stated hatred, we can and must protect ourselves by doing whatever is necessary to best prevent that action. The former government of Iraq can now be crossed off that list.

    The American people fundamentally understand this and I have very little problem with them conflating 9/11 and Iraq: it’s the same war even if Saddam had NOTHING whatsoever directly to do with 9/11, which the administration has never claimed anyway.

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    “it’s the same war even if Saddam had NOTHING whatsoever directly to do with 9/11, which the administration has never claimed anyway.”

    No, it’s not the same war.

    At least it wasn’t until the invasion made Iraq the center of current terrorist activities, and painted targets on thousands of heroic young Americans. That result was predicted in advance by opponents of the invasion.

    “‘Using 9/11 as an excuse” for military action in Iraq is not the same thing as misleading the American public by stating or implying that Iraq had something to do with 9/11′

    It is the same duplicity, only even more cynical and reprehensible.

    As for whether the administration “claimed” that Saddam was connected to 9/11 or not, I told you they had the best spin machine I’ve ever seen: they deliberately and purposefully communicated that connection.

    And it worked.

    “The American people now fundamentally” misunderstand a great deal about the situation surrounding Iraq, as the “71%” figure attests.

    Surely you wouldn’t claim that opponents of the invasion got the American public to believe that connection?

  • Eric Olsen

    No one got them to conclude anything – that’s my point.

  • http://www.tude.com/ Hal Pawluk

    There’s convincing evidence contradicting that opinion, but we’re at about the “Yes they did, no they didn’t” stage so I’m out of this portion of the thread.

    I had fun while it lasted :-)

  • mike

    “The relationship between iraq and 9/11 is that 9/11 proved we can’t sit around and wait for those who hate us to take action upon that stated hatred, we can and must protect ourselves by doing whatever is necessary to best prevent that action. The former government of Iraq can now be crossed off that list.”

    But thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Iraqis can now be put ON the list because they hate us BASED ON CONCRETE ACTIONS WE’VE TAKEN, such as occupy their country, kill their children at checkpoints, steal their oil, and uncritically support Israel, the sworn enemy of the majority of the Iraqi people. Large numbers of these people are going to be coming for us, and that is why I feel less safe as a result of the war. We’ve created untold numbers of new terrorists.

  • debbie

    “Dishonesty, deceit and a destruction of public trust by the current administration.”

    If what they are saying is true, if they really are making good progress, if they really are repairing the infrastructure as they say they are. If services are pretty much back to normal then how is it dishonest? How is it deceit to counter the negative publicity that they are getting from the news?