Over the weekend, Rolling Stone magazine published a full copy of the unclassified report that Lt. Col. Daniel Davis submitted to Congress. Davis is of course the army whistleblower who has written and spoken out against the “rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground” in Afghanistan, which he claims bear “no resemblance” to the truth.
Unlike other recent leaks – like the January National Intelligence Estimate that concluded the war is still a “stalemate,” or the highly classified report that revealed most Afghans expect the Taliban to retake control of Afghanistan once the U.S. leaves – Davis’s report is not necessarily an expose of the failures on the ground. At its core, the report is a window into the propaganda that the U.S. military continuously disseminates to the American people, which is then eaten up by cowardly politicians and a gullible, uninformed public. And it is not couched in delicate language. He is straightforward.
“Our current military leadership,” Davis writes, “is so distorting the information it releases that the deterioration of the situation and the failing nature of our efforts is shielded from the American public (and Congress), and replaced instead with explicit statements that all is going according to plan.”
Davis goes into the genesis of how the U.S. military handled the media during the first Gulf War as it “began to pay more attention to the role of media in conflicts and how it could be used to support operations.” The Pentagon calls it Information Operations, defined by Brigadier General Ralph O. Baker as “activities undertaken by military and nonmilitary organizations to shape the essential narrative of a conflict or situation and thus affect the attitudes and behaviors of the targeted audience.” The U.S. military considers this a “core competency” in wars that is “on a par with ground and air forces.”
None of these propaganda efforts could work, of course, without a compliant news media. As Davis explains:
The first point is also probably the most obvious: in today’s world of major journalism, it’s all about viewership ratings which directly drive the bottom line: advertising revenue. If CNN doesn’t put more news shows on that draw larger audiences than FOX News, they’ve got to adjust. One of the key permutations of this requirement comes in which reporters get the best, most accurate news and in the world of military and defense news, that means access to senior leaders, whether uniformed or civilian.
The military, of course, is well versed in this game and is keenly aware of the power that gives them. If reporter A does not cover a story the way senior military leader B desires, reporter A suddenly finds his access to B greatly reduced – or in some cases outright eliminated – even if A works for a major outlet. If reporter X shows he or she will routinely give the slant that is supportive of the IO outlined in the section above, military leader Z will not only find time for them, but will from time to time give them a scoop. Other times reporter Z will be invited to a VIP-level tour of certain locations on the battlefield, sometimes with a three-star general as an escort.
That a Lieutenant Colonel with multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan is explaining these propaganda models to Congress, I think, is remarkable. Most Americans get turned off even by the word propaganda, certain such deviousness is only utilized in authoritarian states like North Korea. It gives incredible weight to media criticisms that have been coming from sensible, antiwar voices for years. Or rather, it would…if the media had chosen to highlight Davis’s dissent, which it has not. Instead, a smear campaign has been waged against him by the Pentagon and has been dutifully amplified by the news media, almost exemplifying the predictive power of Davis’s report.