Saturday, 14 May 2011

The Medium Recognizes the Message (Sort Of)

Well, this is just adorable. NPR ran a story this morning called "Spinning the bin Laden Tale" that is a pretty fair and accurate summary of the military's strategic communications operations, and how the death of bin Laden has kicked off a second battle to control the narrative (beginning with that debunked 'he used a woman as a human shield' story and continuing right up to the 'porn stash found in OBL's compound' trash that ran yesterday). As NPR notes:

The war on al-Qaida is in part a propaganda struggle, fought with the aim of changing attitudes in the Muslim world.

Finding and killing bin Laden was not enough. Almost as important was what came afterward: the work of telling the story of the operation in such a way as to advance U.S. interests.

That's decent reporting. It's definitely an insider's perspective, arguing that the recent glut of propaganda is designed to change Muslim attitudes, without acknowledging that the STRATCOM (and some, including myself, would argue PSYOPS*) currently employed is aimed at least as much at the American civilian population as at the Muslim world.

NPR then hits us with this little gem:

Propaganda and spin are generally seen as efforts to manipulate or even deceive people. But in this media age, there is little disputing the notion that any organization — from al-Qaida to the U.S. presidency — needs to have a message and put it out clearly.

NPR's message has been put out quite clearly, indeed: on a number of topics ranging from "enhanced interrogation" (the lengthy debate amongst NPR's editorial staff over the use of the word "torture" mirrors similar discussions and decisions made at the New York Times) to bin Laden's alleged porn stash, NPR has so far consistently repeated the government line without substantial questions or analysis.

It's great to see a news story about message manipulation and bin Laden's death. It's just too bad that NPR is fixated on the mote in "the media's" eye but unconcerned with the beam in their own.

*: PSYOPS = "psychological operations." A quick and dirty definition (thanks, Wikipedia!):

[Psychological operations are] planned propaganda operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behaviour of foreign governments, organisations, groups, and individuals.

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