During the height of the Iraq war, you couldn’t turn on the TV or listen to the radio without hearing a military analyst make pronouncements about the war. What we didn’t know at the time was that many of these analysts were spouting talking points provided by the Pentagon.
The New York Times last Sunday reported on an extra cozy relationship between retired military officers and the Pentagon, who recruited the officers as shills for the administration’s wartime progress. The retired officers, who frequently had ties to military contractors, were often paid by the TV and cable networks to provide analysis of military issues. Meanwhile, the words they were uttering as their own were often warmed over talking points provided by the Pentagon.
The campaign, according to the Times, was the brainchild of a Pentagon PR person, and was a way to gain “information dominance” over military news. Unfortunately, the campaign didn’t simply try to get across the Bush administration’s point of view but also according to the Times, passed off as fact false or inflated information
According to one PR person, the Pentagon simply practiced good public relations by using the retired officers to spin the news.
As a fellow PR person and personal branding specialist, frankly, I find that point of view disturbing. The bottom line is that the retired officers’ hands often were dirty. They were helping fill the pockets of military contractors they worked for with their Pentagon access and TV pronouncements. And, the ultimate victims were the American people, who were fed false and biased information by seemingly independent spokespeople who were actually Pentagon shills.
There is a fine line in personal branding and public relations where promotion gives way to unethical distortion of the facts. To me, public relations and personal branding, advances a point of view. Certainly in doing so there is some bias. But the perceptions are supported by facts, not half truths gussied up as objective statements.
What the Pentagon did with the TV and other media’s unwitting help is bamboozle the American people. That’s neither good public relations or ethical behavior.