a.k.a. “Bush and Rumsfeld and Iraq and Troops and “Terror! or Insurgen!” and “Mess”

In what was dubbed a “referendum on Iraq,” voters in the midterm elections were characterized in mainstream media as casting votes not necessarily for a particular candidate, but against the war in Iraq. And while in some cases such a blanket statement is inaccurate, the very fact that it is was mentioned with such recurring frequency suggests it played a materially significant role.

The GOP was battered with barbs from both the right and the left in the weeks leading up to the election. The generic charge was that they were “out of touch” with reality. One of the chief targets of criticism was the recently-retired Donald Rumsfeld. In what may be viewed as an appropriate parting gift, The BBC reported the Department of Defense established a new program at the Pentagon to “boost its ability to counter ‘inaccurate’ news stories and exploit new media.”

The program is designed to counter “inaccurate” stories and is said to target “weblogs and…employ ‘surrogates,’ or top politicians or lobbyists who could be interviewed on TV and radio shows.” Rumsfeld had commented earlier this year that he was concerned about “the enemy” manipulating the media, calling it “the thing that keeps me up at night.”

The week before the project was announced, Vice President Cheney suggested that insurgents were stepping up attacks in Iraq in an effort to influence public opinion in the United States. He explained the problem on Fox News: “It’s my belief that they’re very sensitive of the fact that we’ve got an election scheduled and they can get it on the websites like anybody else. There isn’t anything that’s on the internet that’s not accessible to them. They’re on it all the time. They’re very sophisticated users of it.”

David Cloud and Thom Shanker of the New York Times reported that when the program was announced, it was “not primarily a response to negative coverage but rather is aimed at more aggressively challenging articles and broadcasts deemed inaccurate and at making better use of podcasts, blogs and other new outlets.”

With a new Secretary of Defense, a new House of Representatives, and a new Senate en route, many are predicting that an exit strategy will be on the minds of most lawmakers over the next few months. It will be interesting to see if the infusion of new ideas and personnel will result in a renewed focus on changing the facts, rather than trying to change the way they are reported.

This post was written by Nathan Rodriguez, PBB Research Associate]

Originally posted November 16, 2006 at PolicyByBlog

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