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Secretary Rumsfeld and The New Media

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I interviewed Secretary Rumsfeld today, and spent the bulk of the time on the Pentagon’s efforts to win the information war in which the jihadists are fully engaged. The transcript will be up at later.

As I stated to him, the Pentagon seems mired in 20th century media tactics, incuding confrontational pressers, 10 minute interviews and Sunday morning show appearances. Secretary Rumsfeld does not disagree, and admits that the Pentagon is in many ways fighting the last media war.

The SecDef has staked everything on transforming the way the American military fights wars. I worry that all those efforts will be at least compromised unless the Pentagon gets its best minds thinking about how to explain the conflict and its many dimensions to the American public. In passing I suggested his team would be well advised to consult Austin Bay, Mudville Gazette and CentCom’s Specialist Flowers –I can just about hear the Secretary thinking to himself “Who are these people?”– among many others.

The information war –fought not just by the Pentagon, but also by the White House the Department of Justice, the intelligence ommunity–has become, like logistics, the realm of professionals. Let’s hope the U.S. gets as serious about it as it is about logistics.

Some suggestions:

The Secretary of Defense and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs are the two most important voices in the military. They need to engage media in lengthy, one-on-one question-and-answer sessions at which other journalists are allowed to attend but not participate.

Volume is not a substitute for quality. The DoD does in fact put out an avalanche of information every single day –too much, in fact. The Pentagon all too often steps on its lead story, and all too often does not respond to breaking information that the terrorists lob on to the battlefields of the information war. The rapid response of the military to such disinformation has to improve.

Finally, the particulars of any day’s battles does not matter nearly as much as the strategic overview of the course of the war. Repetition is hated by the Beltway press corps, always eager to get a scoop or at least a new lede.

But repetition is the core of information war.

Finally, new media is far more powerful in its reach than the credibility-challenged and ideologically-compromised old media. The old press rules from the days when the New York Times or the Washington Post made the weather are still in place. They can be upended.

Others with thoughts on how the Pentagon can improve its information war capabilities are welcomed to send me links to their posts.


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