Bloggers Now Weapons in Information War

Jonathan Finer and Doug Struck report on the ever-intensifying fight to shape the flow of information on the Iraq War–including the use of bloggers.

Retired soldier Bill Roggio was a computer technician living in New Jersey less than two months ago when a Marine officer half a world away made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Frustrated by the coverage they were receiving from the news media, the Marines invited Roggio, 35, who writes a popular Web log about the military called “The Fourth Rail” (http://www.billroggio.com ), to come cover the war from the front lines. He raised more than $30,000 from his online readers to pay for airfare, technical equipment and body armor. A few weeks later, he was posting dispatches from a remote outpost in western Anbar province, a hotbed of Iraq’s insurgency. “I was disenchanted with the reporting on the war in Iraq and the greater war on terror and felt there was much to the conflict that was missed,” Roggio, who is currently stationed with Marines along the Syrian border, wrote in an e-mail response to written questions. “What is often seen as an attempt at balanced reporting results in underreporting of the military’s success and strategy and an overemphasis on the strategically minor success of the jihadists or insurgents.”

Roggio’s arrival in Iraq comes amid what military commanders and analysts say is an increasingly aggressive battle for control over information about the conflict. Scrutiny of what the Pentagon calls information operations heightened late last month, when news reports revealed that the U.S. military was paying Iraqi journalists and news organizations to publish favorable stories written by soldiers, sometimes without disclosing the military’s role in producing them. “I am convinced that information operations from both sides are increasing and intensifying. I think both sides are beginning to understand that this struggle will be waged in both the kinetic and informational realms, but that the latter is the decisive area of operations,” wrote Daniel Kuehl, a professor at the National Defense University in Washington who specializes in information operations. “The insurgents target several audiences, including the Islamic world and the American populace.”

In addition, the military has paid money to try to place favorable coverage on television stations in three Iraqi cities, according to an Army spokesman, Maj. Dan Blanton. The military, said Blanton, has given one of the stations about $35,000 in equipment, is building a new facility for $300,000 and pays $600 a week for a weekly program that focuses positively on U.S. efforts in Iraq. The names of the city and the television station are being withheld because the producer of the show said he and his staff would be seen as collaborators and endangered if identified.

[…]

He said he recently began distributing his news releases to military bloggers and organizations such as veterans associations. The Marines also took a more direct approach by inviting Roggio to cover their operations. “A thorough review of his work was taken into account before authorizing the embed,” said Pool. “Overall, it has worked out really well.” Pool also praised the work of Michael Yon ( http://michaelyon.blogspot.com ), an independent author and blogger who embedded for almost a year with a U.S. Army unit in the northern city of Mosul. “His reporting was objective, credible and compelling. But most of all, it was independent,” Pool said. “He didn’t have to worry about some editor back in the States altering what he wrote before it got published. Plus, he had no competition from other news sources to churn out a ‘marketable’ product on a day-to-day basis.”

After military officials in Baghdad said Roggio could not be issued media credentials unless he was affiliated with an organization, the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning research organization in Washington, offered him an affiliation, according to an entry on Roggio’s blog. He and two other bloggers launched a new Web site a month ago ( http://threatswatch.com ), where he has posted many stories about his time with the Marines. Most provide detailed accounts of patrols or other outings on which he accompanied U.S. forces. When news organizations began reporting about the insurgent activity in Ramadi on Dec. 1, Roggio posted “The Ramadi Debacle: The Media Bites on Al Qaeda Propaganda.” “The reported ‘mini-Tet offensive’ in Ramadi has turned out to be less than accurate,” he wrote, citing information provided by Pool. “In fact, it has been anything but.”

Quite interesting. Politicians and their handlers have understood the power of the “alternative media” going back at least to the 1992 presidential campaign, when Bill Clinton used back door venues like the Don Imus and Arsenio Hall shows to reach voters. Given the rise of the blogosphere as an information medium, it was only a matter of time before those seeking to get their message out would turn there. Indeed, I’ve been getting emailed press releases from congressional offices, party officials, interest groups, and others for months now.

Cori Dauber focuses on another angle to the story:

On the one hand, finally, there’s a recognition that the enemy is engaged in information operations, that there needs to be some critical reflection regarding what they do and how they do it, that there’s a strategy underlying their behavior. On the other hand, that’s treated with equivalence to information ops American forces engage in. The difference is American forces are trying to influence the way articles are placed by, you know, influencing the way articles are placed, while the enemy are trying to influence the way articles are placed by staging events — meaning by killing people.

It ain’t quite the same thing.

True enough. Plus, the implication always seems to be that the American ops, because they are putting out a slant on the stories different from what one gets from the dominant media, are therefore propaganda, lies, and half-truths.

Update: Welcome InstaPundit and Michelle Malkin readers. See, too, Michael Yon‘s related piece.

Update: Welcome Lucianne readers!

See other OTB posts on these topics: Blogosphere, Media, and National Security.

Update: See my follow-up post, “Bad Information on Information Operations.”

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, General, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tano says:

    Not necessarily lies and half-truths, but propaganda – certainly. Roggio was hired because he has a particular point of view that he brings with him into the situation, and that colors everything he writes. The Marines would not have hired him otherwise. Can anyone have any confidence that he will honestly report a story that isn’t part of the larger script that the military wishes us to read?

    This is not journalism. It is public relations, bought and paid for. Caveat emptor.




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  2. barnabas says:

    OMG! The Marines didn’t”hire” Roggio — they offered him the opportunity to blog from the front lines. They’re not paying him a salary, by the hour or by the article. They didn’t buy any of his equipment. They didn’t even pay his air fare.

    Claiming the Marine hired Roggio — now that’s real propaganda.




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  3. mikem says:

    Now, Dan Rather and CBS, there’s journalism.




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  4. Insufficiently Sensitive says:

    Opines Tano: “This is not journalism. It is public relations, bought and paid for. Caveat emptor.”

    And the same goes double for the MSM, whose editors and publishers have gone off the deep end with ‘news’ articles intended to weaken or topple the Bush administration.

    With all due consideration to dupes like Tano, when the entire ‘news’ industry is locked under the control of the Vietnam journalism club – the least diverse mindset in the country – it’s a breath of fresh air to read Michael Yon, Bill Roggio & company.

    When the MSM – the LA Times, the NY Times, the WaPo, NPR, CBS etc etc – begins to honor independent reporters for furnishing news beyond the capabilities or closed mindset of the ‘professional journalist’ herd, they may again become worth reading.




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  5. moneyrunner says:

    “That’s not journalism…” No, and thank God. Journalism – like Liberalism – is now a dirty word, made dirty by “journalists.” It’s time we found a new and better word for getting information to the public. Ideas are welcomed.




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  6. Michelle says:

    Ummm – how about calling them reporters – they, um, report the facts – novel idea don’t ya think.




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  7. exhelodrvr says:

    It’s not propaganda if it is putting out an accurate picture, regardless of whether or not it is being paid for by the U.S. Army. Both Roggio and Yon put out negative stories/info as well as the positive. The fact is that overall, the story of OIF and Iraq in post-OIF is far more positive than negative.




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  8. rich says:

    Roggio’s blog provides better context on Iraqi operations than the MSM, who put a Walter Duranty slant on everything from Iraq.




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  9. Kilo Echo 4 says:

    The military is definitely paying attention to the blogs. When I first began my web journal, I noticed in my logs that certain U.S. intel agencies were checking me out – both my website AND my personal computer. The first time they came around was when one of my posts triggered an “active threat indicator’ relating to our Seahawks during the tsunami relief operations in Aceh province of Indonesia.

    Shortly after that I was on the distribution lists for all the photos and releases coming out of Iraq, CENTCOM, DOD, and DVIDS, I even received an email from CENTCOM thanking me for my support.

    The military has never offered to pay me a dime, but I guess they like the fact that I don’t concentrate on just the negative news events.

    Nor have I ever been shy about voicing my opinions on defense issues, or trying to be an armchair general at times! So called ‘think-tank defense experts’ are among my favorite targets for ridicule.

    I think the military just wants a fair shake. Personally, I don’t have a problem with information ops, psy-ops, and “propaganda.” They are as old as war itself. I don’t see them as dirty words at all. They are vital to any war effort.

    And when you look at all the flap over the NSA’s surveillance activities, it really makes you wonder what in the world some people are thinking. To pretend that the President, as Commander-In-Chief, does not have the power to use the nation’s military and intelligence assets to spy on the enemies of this nation, and those who have contact with that enemy, especially during a time of war, is ludicrous on the face of it. To NOT use our intelligence assets against our enemies would be insane (not to mention negligent)! Same thing applies to the radiation monitoring.

    When the intel people checked me out, I was not upset at all. They were doing their job. They were protecting this nation. That’s what they get paid for, and that is their patriotic duty.

    And honest to God, there are some mainstream reporters who can’t tell the difference between a Humvee and an Abrams tank! I about fall out of my chair laughing over some of the stupid remarks I’ve heard on CNN, FOX, and MSNBC.

    You will often get better news on the war from the milblogs than you will on the MSM channels. The big advantage the MSM has over the bloggers is money, and the fact that they can get “credentials” and pay for embedded reporters. Some of them are damned good as “war correspondents,” and some of them are downright clueless. But they have a lot of technical assets not available to the bloggers. And still, a lot of people are getting their news from the blogs more and more. That tells you something.

    The MSM is losing audience share to the bloggers, and that means they cannot control and set the terms of the debate and the agenda like they once could.




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  10. Silicon Valley Jim says:

    Roggio’s arrival in Iraq comes amid what military commanders and analysts say is an increasingly aggressive battle for control over information about the conflict.

    “Control over information”? I don’t see a battle for control over information here. I see the US military offering somebody who appears to want the United States to win this war the opportunity to report on the scene. Neither the military nor any other agency of the federal government is seeking to control information. The reporters from Reuters, the AP, MSNBC, the New York Times, etc., are quite free to continue telling us what a disaster this is.

    That’s just the most glaring (to me) example of the slant of the WaPo article.




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  11. …and for the record, not only did the Marines not hire Bill (nor pay a red cent in expenses, real or in-kind), they exercised absolutely zero editorial review and/or control…which is more than can be said for the established media’s contributors.

    To that extent, it should also be noted here that surely not all journalists in Iraq are necessarily bad guys or doomsayers. But, for those who are not (whoever they are), they surely don’t stand a chance once their work is in the hands of their editors. For that reason, we may never know who sees things differently but either has been shot down or simply given in to the will of their editors.




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  12. Ron Wright says:

    Kilo Echo 4

    I totally agree you might me interested in my comment on this issue over at Atlas Shrugs:

    The rise in anti-Americanism as a new form of virulent anti-Semitism.

    Let’s make it clear I’m not Jewish nor am I under the influence of anyone who is.

    With that said I wrote this essay back in July 2004, re the sentencing words of Judge Young in the Shoebomber Case.

    […]

    See my excerpted comments re the state of the MSM.

    If you tire easily of boring diatribe, then forget my rant and go directly to this new piece by citizen journalist Michael Yon:

    Montage Or Mirage

    Link

    Our media may no longer be a relevant provider of information. A new communication medium is now emerging. People are interconnecting via The Net, blog sites, and email just as this letter. News of events, ideas, and thoughts are freely flowing, unimpaired by political boundaries, or constraints and biases of the editorial and corporate boardrooms. This new collective medium has little overhead and has less need to generate a profit. It attracts audiences on value of the content. There is an inherent self-righting ability that limits extremes of thought and flawed group think.

    […]

    The news media has abdicated its role and journalistic responsibility given it by the 1st Amendment. The news media as we know it may no longer be relevant as the provider of our news. Our cherished 1st Amendment right should not be twisted to justify the interests of media conglomerates.

    This is a right given by a free people to the press as a fundamental check on the abuse of power by those who WE CHOOSE to govern. With a strong and unbiased free press we will not suffer the tyranny of fanatics who rule by fear, torture, genocide, deceit, and perversion of culture and religion to remain in power, like the people of Iraq we have just liberated. Once the “truth” is told, the power of the “great lie” to control evaporates. There no longer can be without the world’s knowledge, “The Final Solution.”

    […]

    Read More

    Here




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  13. hripka says:

    I think both sides are beginning to understand that this struggle will be waged in both the kinetic and informational realms, but that the latter is the decisive area of operations,” wrote Daniel Kuehl
    ‘Even in war moral power is to physical as three parts out of four.’ by Napoleon I (1769 to 1821)
    In other words ‘Morale is to material as is the ratio of three to one.’
    Funny how generation has to figure this one out.




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  14. Hank says:

    So, the Pentagon bought a blogger. Big Deal.

    What’s the difference between that and placing articles in the media or buying off columnists?

    That blogger is on the same payroll with the others that dispense pro-Bush propaganda.




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  15. p2 says:

    think of how much money we save for use by the welfare state by just PAYING the bastards into thinking right for once.
    the premise is that we’re hostage to leftist opinion. who says?




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  16. marine dad says:

    One of the biggest differences between Bill Roggio’s work and that of the MSM is the experience Bill brings to the task of describing this war.

    the folks that do most of the reporting in Iraq appear to this observer to be little more than green zone lounge lizards. Show up after the smoke clears and say empty words to the camera.

    The standard for “journalists” is Ernie Pyle and I am certain that he is rolling in his grave at the way reporters have simply ignored their “duty” to get the facts right and be where the action is.

    Bill has a tremendous opportunity now and I am certain that we will learn more from a half a dozen of his posts than we will from all the empty words spewing forth from the MSM’s lackies.




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  17. MSM is an oxymoron!
    Bloggers and other non-establishment commentators are far more mainstream and attuned to the real feelings and values of our country!
    How about LME = Liberal Media Establishment … or another acronym which more accurately describes the ignorant fools who posture as “journalists!”




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  18. David H. says:

    Jeebus, why don’t you read Roggio’s response to the Washington Post article. Finer has proven himself to be a biased hack of a writer who would rather report what he believes than the truth. This shouldn’t surprise anyone because whether you choose realize it or not bloggers are waging a war against MSM. If bloggers win the influence of the MSM will be diminished dramatically and hacks like Finer will find their earning power significantly diminished. When you attack someone’s paycheck you better be prepared for a “real” fight.




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  19. sam basso says:

    Like many people, I learned I could no longer just read or watch the MSM to get a realistic picture of the news. The more I read things from the blog world, the more I understood the Leftist propaganda being pumped out every day by our enemies and their “oh me, oh my” sympathizers.

    I have become a blogger to counter the misinformation in my realm, which is the world of dogs. Even in that world, so much is spewed out by the eco-communists and animal rights wackos, that it is going to take a long while to get things in balance again. As a dog trainer and pro-dog activist, I can’t count on the MSM to do a fair, realistic, and educated story on any real dog story… so, I found I had to start speaking out. Thus, http://www.poochmaster.blogspot.com was formed. I had even tried, like a lot of other people, doing public access TV, with the same aims… to counter the lies and distortions of the MSM. But the audience wasn’t big enough, the production time was too great , and you weren’t allowed to advertise and make money to support your show. Thus, the blog world is the latest way that people like myself have gone out to influence public opinion.

    So, too, people have decided to start fighting back regarding the war in Iraq. With the two major newspapers, the NY Slimes and the WaCompost, purposely publishing lies, distortions and our battle secrets to our nation and the world, the blog world has come to be the standard bearer of freedom of the press, free speech, and patriotism. A day can’t go by without reading a new distortion from the MSM, which needs to be taken apart, fact checked, and put through the washing machine of public opinion.

    I look forward to the day when the NY Times is so marginalized, that they go out of business. In fact, I’m hoping that they are forced into bankruptcy, and charged with a felony, for publishing top secret information. They are endangering lives, our lives.

    Long live the Blog World!




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  20. ColfromColorado says:

    The Lying Liberals can just keep on telling lies. But boy, no independent reporter like Bill Roggio better show up! Why, he is nothing but biased reporting!! 🙂
    The Battle for the Mind of America is going on right before our eyes. And we are a part of it. And each of us by ourselves is next to nothing. But when you put all of us together, the Lying Liberal MSM better watch out. They are becoming the OM. And they will continue to lose their influence.
    And it is a Battle for the Mind of America. The only agenda the Lying Liberals have is to tell more lies. Besides Hillary’s Communist Manifesto ‘Common Good’, they stand for nothing. Of course, communism has proven itself such a total failure, what else could a good Lying Liberal want? Of course, they are the elites, they will rule the rest of us, tell us what time to get up in the morning, where to go to put our eight hours in, and what we can have for dinner that night.
    So as long as they are the elites, everything is ok. And the truth never supports those people. The truth supports President Bush and Conservatism. And the blogs are what are setting us free. Along with Rush & Hannity. ‘The People’ can communicate with each other. ugh…gasp!! They really need to learn their place. 🙂
    Besides that, it is a Battle we must win if America is to go on anything like we remember it. So we will keep fighting the Lying Liberals and keep fighting them and keep fighting them.
    May the best man win.




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  21. julia says:

    I think our information techniques are pretty flaky. Karen Hughes is a catostrophe. The Egyptian station we run out of Washington is evidently controlled by their secret police. Most of the things we put out are clumsy. And I’m with General Pace that there are problems with placing unattributed stories in the Iraqi press.

    I think our system over the long term speaks for itself so I’m saddened we don’t give Saddam a trial for all his crimes with full rights to cross examine witnesses, he’s still guilty. I think defence of torture is a flub and so on.

    But Roggio while biased is relatively competent, I have no reason to doubt his integrity, and he is being slimed.

    It just shows our left is as incompetent as our right and in the battle for the hearts and minds of the world we’re going to have to rely on Bart Simpsom.




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