This article from CJR's archives is presented as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
Since I’m already in Baghdad, armed with credentials, clearances, and badges, it might make some sense to fold me into CPA’s strategic communication (Strat Comm) office, headed by Gary Thatcher but really under the discipline of a White House official, Dan Senor. Technically, I’m already assigned to Strat Comm, on loan to Nash. My job is to help Nash explain technical construction issues to the trade press and others interested in the nuts and bolts of business news. This frees Thatcher and Senor to deal with issues under the White House communications microscope.
Nash and I have the same chemical relationship that Torie Clarke had earlier with Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, when she was the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. Once I coveted that position myself.
Senior officials deserve a trusted PAO to hold the trivial at bay so that they are free to worry about the job. Too many meetings, too little time. In the case of Nash and me, I quickly became an unfettered spokesman who didn’t have to check every time I opened my mouth or dispatched an e-mail. If this lasts, it promises to be a productive relationship. Our project is too big not to be noticed. Criticism being a more natural state than praise, I assume my hands will be busy juggling media balls, just as Nash predicts.
I wrote my views on this in an unpublished letter to the editor of The New York Times, triggered by an article suggesting there was too much politics in the public affairs establishment in Baghdad:
The program is headed by a retired Admiral, David J. Nash. I am his public affairs assistant, and my role is to translate what we’re doing to the media for wider dissemination to the people who are footing the bill. Reelecting the President is not part of my job description, although I am a political appointee. I am also a retired soldier who believes unconditionally that war is a national commitment, absorbing the combined resources of all the nation, not just its partisan components.
I’ve been a Republican all my life. But as a taxpayer-funded public affairs officer, I know that the party and the country are best served when people in my position act as a funnel, not a filter. If we do the public’s business well, facts speak for themselves. In the end, the truth comes out anyway, so if one starts with the truth, there’s no need to worry about facing a painful moment of reconciliation later.
I confess to being a news freak. And most of my friends are also afflicted. News is our narcotic. When it comes to the Army, I’m better informed than almost anyone I know outside my circle of friends. We use, need, and trust one another. For instance, I’ve known for several months about Time magazine’s project to pick as its Man of the Year an Army platoon serving in Iraq, because I helped Time embed a team there. Around Thanksgiving I received a note from Michael Duffy, Time’s Washington bureau chief. ‘We have made great progress on our previously discussed idea about The Squad,’ he wrote. ‘Our guys are now embedded and will be for the next month. Please keep that under your hat, but I wanted you to know that it is going well.’