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ICG Risk Blog - [ There are no rear areas in the media war either ]

There are no rear areas in the media war either

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Given the media fishbowl in which the Iraq has long immersed, tugged at every turn by protagonists of every stripe, it is remarkable that US forces at the soldier level are joining the media war. A process commenced in October 2004, nearly two years in the Iraqi war, is now public:

media training for soldiers going into the war zone has been stepped up, becoming mandatory for Army troops. "Talking point" cards for military personnel, meanwhile, are being updated regularly as the war progresses -- often as much as once a week -- to keep up with the conflict's changing issues and the proximity of embedded reporters. Among the current talking points: "We are a values-based, people-focused team that strives to uphold the dignity and respect of all."

What was once an elective available upon request to interested military units has become a mandatory requirement for all army troops deploying to Iraq, and its intent is to serve each individual soldier, not just officers and senior enlisted, as a "standard part of deployment preparation." Public-affairs specialists from the Defense Information School at Fort Meade, Maryland, now deliver one to two hours of briefings. During these briefings, soldiers are urged to "speak with the press as a way of promoting the positive elements of the operation, but not to lie or speak about issues with which they are not familiar." Soldiers are not to discuss classified information, "to confine comments to their area of knowledge, and to stay on the record."

Under the expectation that audio and video media teams could be in a position to interview soldiers at any time, the training includes media savvy tips that any corporate titan would recognize:

[Talk] to the interviewer, not the camera; avoiding acronyms, profanity, or a "no comment"; and not arguing or answering a question they do not want to answer.

The Marines have given their long extant media training a higher profile in recognition of its rising importance. Getting to the point, they start with, "We are not an occupying force." Marines now receive tailored talking points, "as much as every week" if situations demand it. A group of marines departing Fort Bragg for Iraq have been given "wallet-card" talking points that included:

  • The Marine Corps is trained, resourced, and ready to accomplish its missions. We are committed to the cause and will remain in Iraq as long as we are needed.
  • The fight in Iraq is tough, but we will remain steadfast and not lose heart.
  • We are moving forward together with the Iraqi government as partners in building a future for the sons and daughters of Iraq.
  • Coalition forces will help our Iraqi partners as they build their new and independent country and take their rightful place in the world community.
  • Our troopers and their families are our greatest and most treasured resource.
  • The Corps is a national institution -- it has never failed to do the will of the American people.

Concerns have been raised over situations in which troops have to misrepresent facts, perhaps even lie, in order to fulfill these 'media' duties of presenting a perpetual positive outlook. Not to diminish such concerns but to put them in perspective, where would we be had we trained troops in basic prisoner treatment, especially when they are the common criminals of Abu Ghraib.

I believe that those so concerned fail to recognize the military sea change. Media training, like basic training, has now a become necessary skill, a "common task, much like firing your rifle" for every soldier.

Exclusive: Media Training Now Required for Iraq-Bound Soldiers
By Joe Strupp
Editor & Publisher
January 18, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Gordon Housworth



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