Translator note: First I found this story in the Swiss press, Tages Anzeiger, Zurich. I translated the German, then found an account in a Harper’s Magazine article from 2009. I present both, first, from the Anzeiger:
27,000 PR consultants polish the image of the United States
A chief editor complains about the immense influence of the American Department of Defense on his journalists. Finally, he’s had enough: he reveals almost incredible facts about the Pentagon’s PR work.
Journalists can’t do their job: the U.S. Department of Defense is putting massive pressure on reporters in war zones. Picture: Keystone
The Bush administration has turned the U.S. military into a global propaganda machine. Tom Curley, head of the American news agency AP, can no longer remain silent about this. At the University of Kansas last weekend, he lectured to journalists about the pressure from the US Department of Defense on his reporters in war zones like Iraq or Afghanistan. His conclusion: “It is slowly becoming unbearable.” High generals had threatened to ruin the AP and him if the reporters continued to insist on their journalistic principles.
Since 2003, eleven AP journalists have been arrested in Iraq for more than 24 hours.
27,000 PR consultants collect $ 4.7 billion
The US military has expanded its propaganda department enormously. Nothing is left unturned to influence public opinion. According to AP research, the Pentagon has 27,000 people who are exclusively responsible for public relations (PR, advertising, recruitment). For comparison The entire US State Department headed by Hillary Clinton employs around 30,000 people. The military’s PR machinery costs taxpayers $ 4.7 billion a year. Spending has grown by 63 percent since 2004. Exactly what these funds are used for remains mostly secret.
PR headquarters at a remote Air Force base
An information warfare agency called the Joint Hometown News Service is located at a former Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas, according to AP information. Word or picture reports would be produced there, which would be passed on to the media with a faked source. For 2009, 5400 press releases, 3000 television spots and 1600 radio interviews are planned – twice as much as two years ago. This service is only a small part of the constantly growing Pentagon media empire. It is already bigger than most of the press groups in the USA. AP boss Tom Curley advocates new, clear rules in investigative journalism. “Because we are the only force that the government can control.”
And from Harper’s:
Associated Press head Tom Curley charged that the Bush Pentagon had systematically targeted and mistreated journalists as a part of a propaganda program developed by Donald Rumsfeld. He called on President Obama to end this approach.
Curley, speaking to journalists at the University of Kansas, said the news industry must immediately negotiate a new set of rules for covering war because “we are the only force out there to keep the government in check and to hold it accountable.” Much like in Vietnam, “civilian policymakers and soldiers alike have cracked down on independent reporting from the battlefield” when the news has been unflattering, Curley said. “Top commanders have told me that if I stood and the AP stood by its journalistic principles, the AP and I would be ruined.”
Answering questions from his audience of about 160 people, Curley said AP remains concerned about journalists’ detentions. He said most appear to occur when someone else, often a competitor, “trashes” the journalist. “There is a procedure that takes place which sounds an awful lot like torture to us,” Curley said. “If people agree to trash other people, they are freed. If they don’t immediately agree to trash other people, they are kept for some period of time–two or three weeks–and they are put through additional questioning.” His remarks came a day after an AP investigation disclosed that the Pentagon is spending at least $4.7 billion this year on “influence operations” and has more than 27,000 employees devoted to such activities. At the same time, Curley said, the military has grown more aggressive in withholding information and hindering reporters.
The Associated Press’s special report on Pentagon “influence operations” can be read here. The Pentagon’s Public Affairs Office has been one of the last redoubts of the Neoconservatives. Burrowed Bush era figures remain in key positions in the office, which had responsibility for implementation of some of the Rumsfeld Pentagon’s most controversial strategies in which the American public was targeted with practices previously associated with battlefield psy-ops.