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Pentagon Revulsion, diabolical PR

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I have done Public Relations for more than a decade and never have I been more thoroughly repulsed by the practice than after reading David Barstow’s piece “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand” in the April 20th New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/washington/20generals.html?_r=1&hp=&pagewanted=all&oref=slogin. 

Eisenhower must be spinning in his grave. 

To be honest, I didn’t have to finish the article to be repulsed.  The moment I recognized tactics I’d used my entire career directed towards an end so diabolical in a manner so cynical with results so breathtakingly sad, well the sick feeling in my stomach (not to mention my need to get my 6-year old ready for school) kept me from reading to the end.

When it comes to PR I know from whence I speak.  Among other work (PalmPilot launch, VeriSign/Network Solutions merger) I drummed up “awareness” of the Y2K problem, now infamous as a non-event.  At the time, though, my client the COBOL compiler company Micro Focus had a product that fixed a problem they helped create.  Could there be a more apt comparison? 

The Pentagon, this article states, from before the attack on Iraq, had used "neutral" military experts to drum up the need for war, the need to depose Saddam and discover those elusive, yet imminently dangerous, weapons of mass destruction.  They “influenced the influencers” prior to launch.  PR 101.  Exactly as I’ve done dozens of times.  The term used by Chomsky and Herman, “Manufacturing Consent,” is only part of the story.  Yes, you build fear and yes you get “unbiased” third-party experts to back you up and tell people to be afraid, and then, yes, you get people to buy it.  This is all standard operating procedure.  And, when all is said and done the sellers reap the profits.  Fine.  Micro Focus had a cash cow with their Y2K remediation tool and who could begrudge them a little cash when they did provide a service and who knows whether or not some of their work, well…worked, and prevented problems.   In fact, I’m sure they could prove it did. 

The Pentagon; however, by almost all accounts has been egregiously wrong.  This administration, our entire government, led by a monstrous PR program of their own making, has drunk the Kool-Aid, they’ve been forced to eat their own dog food, they read their own press clippings and got lost in the hype.  It is possible to have a PR program that is too good.  The Pentagon’s nefarious PR program has succeeded beyond all reasonable expectations.  They sold the war and they’ve continued to sell the fear and the concomitant armaments to assuage it.  The difference between any other PR program and this successful PR program, is that what the Pentagon has perpetrated has resulted in thousands of US deaths, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties, and untold suffering - a debacle with no end in sight.  The only people benefiting are the same people who keep selling this mess.  Infuriatingly, what they are selling is being paid for by us, the US taxpayers.  After awhile a product loses its effectiveness, it is outdated and new solutions take its place.  COBOL is an old (by computing standards) language, its usefulness, where it exists at all, exists on the periphery.  Java, Visual Basic, a host of other languages have stepped in to take its place for the simple reason that they are better.

We’re presently being told to pay for something we don’t want, to do something we don’t want done.  It’s time for this to stop.  It’s time for us to start speaking a different language, otherwise we’re the suckers providing “recurring revenue” for old technology.  And, that’s just plain stupid.



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jeffreyleonard is a writer and PR guy living on an island in Puget Sound. Born in Los Angeles on the same day California was admitted into the union (but not the same year), graduated from Berkeley with a degree in History (Russian), walked the (more...)
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