At The Washington Independent, Spencer Ackerman flags a pair of stories from Stars and Stripes reporting that journalists who seek to embed with U.S. troops in Afghanistan are screened by a D.C.-based PR firm, which examines “whether their past coverage has portrayed the U.S. military in a positive light.”
Military spokesmen insisted to Stars and Stripes that the profiles are innocuous, and that, to the extent a journalists’ prior reporting is evaluated, it is for accuracy only. But those claims seem to be undermined by the preamble of one of the profiles obtained by the paper, which reads, “The purpose of this memo is to provide an assessment of [a reporter from a major U.S. newspaper] … in order to gauge the expected sentiment of his work while on an embed mission in Afghanistan.” In a subsequent story, the paper writes that “it remains unclear whether military commanders in Afghanistan have ever acted on [the firm’s] suggestions about how best to steer journalists toward ‘positive’ coverage.”
As it happens, the September/October issue of CJR—arriving soon!—contains a story by veteran Iraq correspondent Jane Arraf about how the U.S. military is now discouraging almost any coverage of the war there. After a period of openness during the “surge,” the military now offers “reduced access and reduced engagement with reporters” in Iraq, Arraf writes. And it’s not just the embed process that’s more difficult—simply getting information from the central press office has become a challenge. In light of that fact, news that the Pentagon is paying a PR company $1.5 million to pull together information on reporters—whether or not “rating” is occurring—is disconcerting.
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