Pentagon tries to steer media coverage on Iraq

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By WALTER PINCUS
Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Pentagon may be sharply reducing its combat forces in Iraq, but the military plans to step up efforts to influence media coverage in that country -- as well as here at home.

"It is essential to the success of the new Iraqi government and the USF-I [U.S. Forces-Iraq] mission that both communicate effectively with our strategic audiences (i.e. Iraqi, pan-Arabic, international, and U.S. and USF-I audiences) to gain widespread acceptance of core themes and messages," according to the pre-solicitation notice for a civilian contractor or contractors to provide "strategic communication management services" there.

Calling strategic communications "a vital component of operations in Iraq," the notice says one goal is "to effectively build U.S. decision makers' and the public's understanding of Iraq's current situation, future and strategic importance as a stabilizing presence and ally against terrorism in the Middle East."

The notice is a prime illustration of how the military is increasingly integrating information operations into the heart of its commands. The contractor team of 10 to 12 people is expected to provide work of "executive level quality, commensurate with that of a four-star military headquarters command." And, this being a military activity, the "personnel must display the highest degree of professionalism in appearance, personal behavior . . . with no more than one personal conduct incident occurring over the period of performance."

The contractor is to serve as "a media advisor/speechwriter for the USAF-I spokesman and shall provide support to the J9 STRATCOM media outreach section," including prepping military officers for news conferences.

Before interviews with USF-I commanders or spokesmen, the contractor will have the task of talking with reporters ("pre-engagement with media outlets to determine the nature of the interview and the questions that will be asked by the media during the interview . . . to ensure that USF-I spokesman has maximum situation awareness prior to the interview").

When interviews are concluded, the contractor will be responsible for submitting an "electronic report capturing the key questions from the media and answers from the interviewee within 24 hours" with "a detailed recap of the interview [as] the core component of the report."

The contractor can expect to prepare for "between 20-40 media engagements per month" and to write "10-20 single or double page talking point summaries monthly."

Another major effort for the contractor will continue to be "media monitoring, assessment and reporting." Both Arabic and Western sources are to be monitored, including CNN, Fox News, and other U.S. and British television channels, plus the major wire services and the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. The assessments will cover the effectiveness of USF-I strategic communications as well as attitudes among the Iraqi population toward USF-I. Another element is to be the "attitude of pan-Arab/Western media and professionals" toward the government of Iraq.

Interestingly, the notice recognizes that other media analyses are being done, saying the contractor should do a cross-check "against DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] media monitoring reports and other USF-I contracts having media monitoring activities." It says this contractor's monitoring "must have at least 95% similarly categorized media" as found in the other contractor reporting.

In developing the longer-term strategic communications plans and campaigns, the contractor is to focus on areas such as "national loyalty and communal factors, inclusion or exclusion of factions within the GoI [government of Iraq] and/or ISF [Iraqi security forces], capacity building." But the contractor must also work as a team player with the State Department and other U.S. governmental and nongovernmental agencies.

Finally, the contractor is to serve as Web site manager for USF-I's unclassified English and Arab sites, delivering products under Defense Department standards and guidelines for the protection and release of information. This involves "continuous updates on a 7-day, 24-hour basis."

It's not surprising that the notice adds: "All personnel assigned under this contract will be expected to work a minimum 72-hour workweek."


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