'Pentagon, Media Clash Over Control of Information
BAGHDAD, (AP) – The black-and-white video starts with a mini-van locked in the crosshairs and the sound of a missile launching. A ball of fire suddenly consumes the van and a palm grove somewhere in Iraq.
"Good shot," says a voice squawking over what sounds like a military radio.
Before the one-minute video clip is over, two more SUVs are destroyed by Apache helicopters.
The video is one of dozens brought to viewers around the world by Maj.
Alayne Conway, the top public affairs officer for the 3rd Infantry Division. When her unit was in Iraq, her office sent out four to six videos a day to media outlets around the world, as well as posting them on YouTube.
"You want to make sure you edit it in the right way," Conway said. "You have to go through the steps. ... Is this something that is going to make Joe Six-Pack look up from his TV dinner or his fast-food meal and look up at the TV and say, `Wow, the American troops are kicking butt in Iraq?'"
Critics say the purpose of such violent material is not to inform the public about what the military is doing, but to promote it. Public affairs officers argue that they are in a battle with insurgents to shape the public perception of the wars they are fighting, and they will use every means available to push the military's version of events.
The Pentagon now spends more than $550 million a year — at least double the amount since 2003 — on public affairs, and that doesn't including personnel costs. Public affairs officers are, in the words of the military's training manual, a "perception management tool." Their job is to provide facts but not spin to American audiences and the American media.
Over the past two years, the number of public affairs officers trained by the Defense Information School has grown by 24 percent to almost 3,500. The military is also expanding its Internet presence from 300 to 1,000 sites and increasing its free cable programming on the Pentagon Channel by 33 percent to 2,080 programs.
Along with putting out its own messages, the public affairs arm tries to regulate what other media put out.'