With effective PR, the US military could win the war in
The United States military, has struggled with how to manage
media coverage of the war in Afghanistan - and even the most basic
approaches to an effective public-relations campaign.
A haphazard approach causes significant harm to the war effort:
Coverage of repeated televised apologies overshadows progress made
by troops on the ground, and effective Taliban propaganda continues
without adequate repudiation. With an effective media/public
relations policy, the military could leverage news organizations to
be an invaluable resource in fighting the Taliban.
As it stands now, however, the military's PR incompetence makes
the media akin to a lead weight on the shoulders of a marathon
Since the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the military
and media have shared a rocky relationship characterized by periods
of mutual benefit, but also mutual hostility. Unprecedented access
for reporters allows for never-before-seen coverage: Few of us can
forget, for instance, the live reporting from a tank speeding toward
Baghdad at the outset of the Iraq war.
The downside now to giving "embedded" reporters such access,
however, is that every mistake and miscommunication in Afghanistan
is captured and instantly beamed to televisions around the world or
disseminated across the Internet, weakening public support for the
war, while providing a free recruiting tool to the Taliban.
Despite what polemicists on both sides claim, the media has not
been motivated by political bias in its coverage of Iraq and
Afghanistan. Rather, ratings - and the advertising dollars they
command - have been the driving force shaping media coverage.
As the public's attitude toward the mission in Afghanistan has
soured, so, too has the tone taken by the media in its coverage of
the war. News coverage is dominated by stories of corrupt Afghan
officials and the newest trend, civilian deaths, leaving coalition
commanders to engage in an endless cycle of public apologies.
Even during the fierce fighting last month in Marjah,
Afghanistan, the media was filled with stories of civilian
casualties, forcing repeated apologies and pledges of restraint from
Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
Therein lies the first problem with the US military's media
strategy: It is impossible to win a war if one spends half the time
apologizing. Compounding this, pledges to avoid civilian deaths,
short of a stop to all military operations, are unfeasible. What the
military ends up with is a public relations disaster and essentially
"wins the battle, but loses the war."
Coalition troops may have scored a solid tactical victory in
routing the Taliban from Marjah, but that triumph was overshadowed,
even characterized, by coverage of civilian deaths and Gen. …