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Rapid Response Is The New Black

(AP Photo)
The White House Communications Office's latest strategy – rebutting news coverage with its "Setting The Record Straight" press releases -- mirrors the "rapid response" methods used in campaigns. And now it appears that the Pentagon is employing similar tools to address negative publicity. In response to questions about the new strategy, Pentagon press secretary Eric Ruff invoked the same language, saying that the program "will help the department 'set the record straight' and provide accurate, timely information," wrote the Associated Press.

The AP obtained a memo from Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Dorrance Smith describing the program. The Pentagon press office will be expanding its operations to include "new teams of people [who] will 'develop messages' for the 24-hour news cycle and 'correct the record,'" writes the AP. The plan also includes dispatching "surrogates" who would speak on behalf of the Pentagon and a focus on "new media," such as blogs. The changes have apparently "been in the works for months," and construction of offices for the expanded staff commenced Friday.

According to Ruff, the program was not initiated to respond to sagging support for the war or to aid in next week's elections. Instead it's a response to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's criticism of how the Pentagon communications department is working to combat the messages that terrorists are effectively sending to the world. For months, Rumsfeld has been speaking publicly about such agitation, including a recent speech during which he said that terrorists had been successful in "manipulating the media." Months before that, he was addressing publicly his frustration with what he called an overemphasis on negative information about the war in the press. He wrote in a Los Angeles Times editorial this summer: "Consider that a database search of the nation's leading newspapers turns up 10 times as many mentions of one of the soldiers punished for misconduct at Abu Ghraib than of Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, the first recipient of the Medal of Honor in the global war on terror. … With examples like these prevalent in the world media, I do worry about the lack of perspective in our national dialogue — a perspective on history and the new challenges and threats that free people face today. Those who know the truth need to speak out against the myths and distortions being told about our troops and our country."

Indeed, this seems to be an effort to address something that has clearly been irking Rumsfeld for some time. As the strategy unfolds, it should be interesting to see whether the public tunes in or tunes out.

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