If at First You Don’t Succeed

If at First You Don’t Succeed


Okay, it wasn’t on the front page of my hometown paper, but maybe it should have been. How many of you remember the fun folks at the Lincoln Group, an outfit that bills itself as “a strategic communications & pubic relations firm providing insight & influence in challenging & hostile environments.” You said it! And the last time around, on a $5 million-plus yearly Pentagon contract to produce a little good news in Iraq, they did a great job of adding to the general hostility of several environments.

Using US military personnel to write “news” stories, they had them translated and (for a price) slipped into the new “free” Iraqi press. It was a fine lesson in the spread of democratic habits, Bush-style. (After all, the same administration was paying columnists at home to slip a little of that good news our way.) The Lincoln Group’s modus operandi blew up into a little scandal. The result? According to Rebecca Santana of the Associated Press, based on the Brownie-you’re-doing-a-heck-of-a-job school of government — what US military spokesperson in Iraq, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, simply terms a “standard contracting process” — they’re back for more. The Group just got a new, two-year, approximately $6.2 million annual Pentagon contract “to monitor a number of English and Arabic media outlets and produce public relations-type products such as talking points or speeches for U.S. forces in Iraq.” A Lincoln Group spokesman put it eloquently: They are “proud to be trusted to assist the multinational forces in Iraq with communicating news about their vital work.”

Who knows exactly what this means, but it can’t be good.

Still, using the same principle on which the Bush administration awarded the new contract — if at first you don’t succeed, try, definitely try again (and spend an absolute boodle on your cronies in the process), let me, for five cents, offer some advice of my own. After all, I’ve been monitoring the press for a while and military spokespeople as well.

Now, we all know that imagery is important in the process of producing “public relations-type products” that will turn the tide of the media war (especially here at home). So, here are some images and claims that have worked — for a while, at least — these last years. They may still be useful for military spokespeople eager to put the best twist on a situation that was, from the beginning, twisting, twisting in the wind:

*Suggest that you want to help the Iraqi child get on that bike of democracy and remove “the training wheels”

*Insist that we are working to “put an Iraqi face on” [choose an Iraqi event]

*[Choose an Iraqi moment or event, but do it quickly before things go sour] and label it a “milestone” or a “landmark”

*Suggest that, thanks to [choose your event], we are finally “turning a corner” (but don’t look around that corner, not without body armor anyway)

*Suggest that [choose your enemy method of attack], these are “last ditch efforts” aimed at “bolstering flagging insurgent moral”; speak of whatever disaster has just happened as “predictable” or “an indicator of insurgent desperation”

*Claim that [whatever bad stats may be spiking at the moment] will probably decline in [choose another moment perhaps three to six months away]

*Assert that however bad the news may seem, “we” are “making progress” in certain areas (about which you can remain suitably vague)

But above all, retain anonymity. Insist on being called a “senior military official.” You don’t want to be held responsible for the ensuing mess.

Now, that’ll be $6.2 million dollars, please…

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