It’s disturbing enough to read Chris Tomlinson’s account (Huffington Post, 2/5/09) of the fact that “the Pentagon now spends more than $550 million a year–at least double the amount since 2003–on public affairs, and that doesn’t including personnel costs” and how “over the past two years, the number of public affairs officers trained by the Defense Information School has grown by 24 percent to almost 3,500” but also consider that “along with putting out its own messages, the public affairs arm tries to regulate what other media put out.” Some anecdotes from these efforts:
In mid-2008, Associated Press reporter Bradley Brooks was stepping off a cargo plane in Mosul en route to an embed when he saw pallbearers carry the flag-draped coffins of dead soldiers from Humvee ambulances onto a plane. Brooks talked to soldiers, who mentioned their anger with political leaders, and wrote a story. Within 24 hours the military had expelled him from northern Iraq. He was told he had broken a new rule that embedded reporters could not write while in transit.
In 2008, eight journalists were detained for more than 48 hours, according to cases tracked by the AP, more than in any other year since the war began. Since 2003, the AP alone has had 11 journalists detained in Iraq for more than 24 hours. And a Reuters journalist has been detained by U.S. forces as “a security threat” since Sept. 2. “All of these journalists, with the exception of the one being held now, have been released without charge.”
What really “troubles” the Committee to Protect Journalists about that last bit is that it “suggests that they are not able to successfully charge these journalists with anything.” Meanwhile, on the other side of the same coin, Tomlinson tells us that “the public affairs department has even arranged to fly friendly bloggers to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to documents made available through the Freedom of Information Act.”