In early 2002, the Pentagon began cultivating retired military officers who frequently serve as media commentators, so that they would help make the case for invading Iraq.
Remember the New York Times expose on the Pentagon's use of retired military officers who frequently appear as "military analysts" on television and radio news shows? The program was launched in 2002 to help sell the Iraq war, but soon expanded to other controversial issues.
As reporters and researchers know all too well, releasing information isn't necessarily the same thing as releasing useful information.
Case in point: the Pentagon's military analyst program. In early 2002, the Defense Department began cultivating "key influentials" -- retired military officers who are frequent media commentators -- to help the Bush administration make the case for invading Iraq. The program expanded over the years, briefing more participants on a wider range of Bush administration talking points, occasionally taking them overseas on the government's dime.
In April 2006, the group was used to counter criticism of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The apparent coordination between the Pentagon and the pundits piqued the interest of New York Times reporters. Two years later -- after wresting some 8,000 pages of internal documents from the Defense Department -- the Times exposed the Pentagon's covert attempts to shape public opinion through its so-called "message force multipliers." A few weeks later, the Defense Department posted the same documents publicly.
It wasn't the high-octane data dump it first appeared to be. Sure, paging through the emails, slides and briefing papers is interesting, and occasionally you come across something noteworthy. But the documents are formatted in such a way that systematically exploring them via keyword searches is impossible. A cynic (or realist) might think the Pentagon was doing damage control by putting the documents out in the open, while making it near-impossible to find crucial needles in a very large, chaotically-compiled haystack.
It's an "open secret of lobbying," writes Jeffrey Birnbaum. "Public relations firms regularly solicit authors of opinion-page articles, draft the pieces for them and place the articles in publications where they will have the most impact -- all for a fee." Recently, an op-ed criticizing a bill that would reduce credit card fees appeared in Southern newspapers, attributed to Charles Steele Jr., the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).