The Army's 4th Psychological Operations Group, the only US active-duty unit dedicated to psyops, is conducting a campaign to persuade Afghan Taliban troops to defect to the opposition and Afghan civilians to join with the United States in ousting the Taliban. The group consists of about 1,200 soldiers, selected from among Army's brightest, and about 35 civilian analysts, two thirds of whom have doctoral degrees.
The totalitarian Taliban regime has never been friendly to human rights or UN relief organizations, but now that it serves their propaganda they are demanding that UN relief agencies that they have consistently harassed "help the people of Afghanistan." A statement released by the Taliban appears aimed primarily at outside media and public opinion.
"We all know truth is the first casualty of war. But which side in this conflict is the bigger liar?" writes Andrew Gumbel for the Independent. With al-Jazeera the only television reporting coming from the Taliban territory in Afghanistan and the Pentagon carefully spooning out information to US journalist, it's hard to know what's true. Gumbel looks at a few examples of what the Taliban said, what the Pentagon said, and what we now know.
"How and when does journalism become propaganda?" asks Jasmina Teodosijevic-Ryan. "As a writer, broadcaster and media analyst from the former Yugoslavia, I have observed the process first-hand. It starts slowly, then spreads like a stain. The transformation from objective journalism to propaganda begins with the addition of adjectives when referring to the other side. The 'enemy' becomes 'merciless' or 'hate-filled.' Then comes the shaping, cutting and editing reports to benefit one side. 'Our' victims have names, faces and grieving families; they must be avenged. 'Theirs' do not exist.
The Bush administration has belatedly deployed its forces for a propaganda war to win over the Arab public. But the campaign, intended to convince doubters that the American attacks on Afghanistan are justified and its Middle East policy is evenhanded, has so far proved ineffectual. Thousands of words from American officials, it appears, have proved no match for the last week's news, which produced a barrage of pictures of wounded Afghan children and of Israeli tanks rolling into Palestinian villages.
Military analysts say propaganda is especially critical in a war against those isolated from Western views and infused with a dogmatic hatred for the United States. But is the military up to the task? A Pentagon report commissioned after psyops failures in the 1999 Kosovo conflict criticized the military for failing to keep pace with advances in electronic communications. It also called the equipment the Air Force is now using to broadcast radio and perhaps TV messages to Afghans "outdated and inadequate."
The Bush administration and members of Congress have called for renewed efforts to improve America's image in the Islamic world, with Bush worrying aloud that the U.S. is losing the propaganda war to Islamic extremists. "I'm amazed that there's such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us," Bush said. "We've got to do a better job of making our case." An expensive advertising campaign in the Arab world, coupled with beefed-up Voice of America broadcasts, is making little headway as these PR efforts encounter a skeptical audience.
MediaChannel has put together a special online feature that examines "propaganda, censorship, bias, the challenges of covering a global war and its context, implications and cultural roots."
Dr. Nancy Snow spent two years working within the ranks of America's official propaganda organ, the United States Information Agency, and then surgically exposed the inner workings of the organization in her acclaimed publication, Propaganda Inc. In this interview with the Guerrilla News Network, Dr. Snow breaks down the covert history of U.S. propaganda efforts both inside and outside of the country's borders. Tracing the strategies employed by top propagandists like George Creel and Walter Lippman, Dr.