The US military plans to spend more taxpayer money in an effort to influence media coverage on Iraq. The Washington Post reports that the military command in Baghdad has issued a request for bid on a two-year, $20 million public relations contract.
Apparently the incumbent PR firm, the Rendon Group, isn't doing a good enough job.
There is a concern that existing media coverage does not adequately present the official perspective on events in the Middle East. And apparently Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is none too happy about that. As the statement of work asserts,
Therefore, it is essential to the success of the new Iraqi government and the Coalition mission that both communicate effectively with our strategic audiences (i.e., Iraqi, pan-Arabic, international, and U.S. audiences) to gain widespread acceptance of their core themes and messages.
The successful contractor will be tasked with providing
the full range of strategic communication, media relations, communication research, and public relations services required to meet Coalition mission, monitoring and reporting Arabic and Western print and electronic media, including gathering raw data, analyzing and reporting effectiveness of communication programs, developing and staffing communication plans, developing and providing public relations products, and identifying methods for applying products to improve MNF-I’s mission performance.
The services provided by the contractor(s) have a core objective…engage and inspire targeted audiences.
The project is expected to require a team of 12-18 PR professionals, who will monitor US and international news sources and develop "product placement" that supports the Bush administration's "core themes and messages" on Iraq. Product placement will include preparing press releases, developing talking points and FAQs, writing op eds for publication, providing media training to officers, etc.
The worse things get on the ground, the more the administration spends ramping up the propaganda machine. And with with that machine in full force, the specter of media intimidation and censorship cannot be far behind.
As the Washington Post reports,
The monitors are to analyze stories to determine the "dissemination of key themes and messages" along with whether the "tone" is positive, neutral or negative. The media outlets would be monitored for how they present coalition or anti-Iraqi force operations.
What will happen to those outlets who are perceived to be too negative in tone or not sufficiently appreciative of the administration's "core themes and messages"?