10/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Pentagon Caught, uh, Promoting Its Interests

In what may mark the official demise of investigative journalism, a story "broke" online late last week revealing that the Pentagon was "profiling" reporters covering the war in Afghanistan. The piece had the whiff of a targeted assassination program or white vans tailing reporters' kids to kindergarten just in case pockmarked Delta Force commandos had to make a quick snatch if a problem reporter wrote a story critical of the military.

Well, not exactly. The explosive memo on which the stories were based "proved" that the Pentagon was monitoring whether reporters and media outlets' coverage of Afghanistan was "positive," "neutral," or "negative."

The Pentagon Papers it ain't.

Nevertheless, coverage of this prized discovery repeats the radioactive code words, which include Dr. Evil-esque references to "profiling," "manipulation," "neutralizing" bad coverage (presumably for a fee of one meeeelion dollars) along with the requisite histrionic allusions to the Constitution being violated. Apparently, muzzling the Pentagon's right to free speech is constitutionally peachy.

A few journalistic organizations predictably blasted the Pentagon's media monitoring program betraying that it is perfectly acceptable for the media to use invasive means to obtain highly sensitive national security plans for global broadcast, but it is immoral for a media target to analyze news stories entirely in the public domain in order to defend its interests.

For reasons that can only be attributed to the DNA-imprinted instinct of flacks to obfuscate, the Pentagon denied engaging in a program of this nature rather than telling the reporters who inquired, "What are you, morons?" and admitting it.

News flash: Any organization engaged in endeavors where public opinion can make or break its fate keeps track of how it's being covered, "media monitoring" line items being a staple of nearly all PR programs. And, if an organization doesn't follow its press, its management is richly in need of replacement.

As a rule, the more hated an organization is, the more vigilant it has to be with the media because of the near certainty its message will be met with intense -- and sometimes deserved -- resistance. After all, what is the likelihood that the Washington Post will blare "U.S. Military Even More Awesome Than Previously Reported" or the New York Times will announce "High-Five!: All Pentagon Strategic Objectives Achieved (Sweet!)"?

Communications has historically been a major component of warfare, its main missions being 1) to rally one's countrymen and allies and 2) intimidate one's enemies into either not fighting in the first place or surrendering, thereby saving lives. It is undeniable that sometimes governments deliberately lie in order to accomplish their objectives, but that's not even remotely what the leaked Pentagon memos showed.

Profile-gate is emblematic of a pandemic of "news" stories where the publication of internal memos by cultural villains, usually corporations or industry associations, outlining programs that - push back from your computer screens because what you are about to read is not for the faint-of-heart -- PROMOTE THEIR INTERESTS!

A particular premium is placed on public relations memos because such is the shape-shifting power of flacks to brainwash the public against its will that during the height of an anti-trust battle, a newspaper headline read "Microsoft Hires Public Relations Firm to Improve Image" (Well, yeah). The article went on to discuss how the company's then-CEO, Bill Gates, was wearing more Mister Rogers-style sweaters to soften his image. Will these bastards stop at nothing?

In the past few weeks alone, major media have broken stories based on leaked memos from oil and chemical industry concerns apparently on the basis that the public is in imminent danger of developing a crush on ExxonMobil and Union Carbide. These news reports frame the very existence of these memos as per se evidence of malfeasance in the same manner that TV magazine shows are able to convey villainy simply by filming a target getting into a dark sedan and driving away.

There are a handful of reasons for the broader crisis in investigative journalism, but one, albeit secondary, variable is surely the frustration of news consumers with the total predictability of the unfettered agendas at work. Going forward, it would be an interesting challenge to the "old media" to seek, obtain and publish memos and plans from:

  • America's enemies to kill and maim our troops and attack U.S. interests;
  • Plaintiffs' lawyers and labor unions on how they plan to leverage their exhaustive symbiotic relationships with reporters who have been reliable allies in facilitating massive settlements and favorable jury verdicts for more than thirty years;
  • Issue-driven Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) whose handmaidens in the press have rightly demanded transparency of corporate and government targets, but not of the NGOs, their affiliates, contributors, fronts and agents, whose steady drumbeat of white papers and studies are embraced as holy writ.

This challenge, of course, is already being met by enterprising and unconventionally pedigreed online journalists who need not be profiled by the Pentagon or anybody else because they are not reliably beholden to any particular clients.

In the meantime, we can all rest easy in anticipation of a future leaked, explosive memo revealing that somewhere a mendacious politician is plotting to persuade his constituents to vote for him -- get this -- at the expense of his opponent.