Bloggers' Roundtable

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DoD Bloggers' Roundtable Podcast icon, DefenseLink.mil

The Bloggers' Roundtable is a program of New Media Operations (NMO) within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (OASD) for Public Affairs.[1]

By February 20, 2007, when then White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was telling a National Press Club roundtable "You’ve got this wonderful, imaginative hateful stuff that comes flying out. I think one of the most important takeaways is — it's the classical line — not only should you not believe your own press, you probably shouldn’t believe your opposition blogs either,"[2] the NMO's Public Affairs office had already "hosted" three weekly Bloggers' Roundtables—"conference calls for bloggers writing on Defense Department issues."[3]

In April 2007, Roxie Merritt, Director of New Media Operations at OSD for Public Affairs, told Robert Bluey of the conservative Townhall.com that the "military’s embrace of bloggers extends far beyond putting them on the ground in Iraq." Merritt told Bluey "she was able to convince top brass at the Pentagon to reach out to bloggers after bloggers broke stories ignored by the mainstream media, such as Iran's meddling in Iraq and the infamous doctored Reuters photo[4][5] in Lebanon."[6]

In May 2007, Merritt told Nikki Schwab of the Washington Post that "while bloggers aren't being credentialed like media, the military is taking more time to communicate with bloggers to ensure that they post accurate information. She said the U.S. Central Command was the first command unit to reach out to bloggers. A command team was created to refer bloggers to information generally already available on one of the military's Web sites," Schwab wrote.[3]

The Roundtables were described June 21, 2007,[7] by the American Forces Press Service (AFPS) as the "centerpiece" of the Pentagon's new New Media office. The "program -- in which citizen journalists are put into discussions with senior military and political leaders around the world -- was founded on the creation of individual relationships between the department and members of the online community."


OSD's New Media Outreach

OSD's New Media Operations, launched in October 2006,[8] was overseen by Allison Barber, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Internal Communications and Public Liaison, AFPS reported. "Barber described the New Media program as a complement to the department’s traditional public affairs outreach through television, radio and print channels.... [and] gave the example of Multinational Force Iraq moving to post its own videos onto YouTube.com."

"The office came about as part of a wider 'public affairs transformation' being pushed by the department’s leadership to make the military’s primary public face more forward-leaning in its approach to disseminating information.

"Barber characterized the global communications situation as moving quickly toward a point where media consumers will have so many choices and such pervasive news feeds that they will both seek and be able to personalize their interaction with information."[8]

"For the Record" blog

Between October 18 and November 21, 2006, the Department of Defense attempted something it called "For the Record",[9] which essentially posted a clipped news item called a "Claim" from the mainstream media which it attacked with what it called "Facts".

"The military's latest move is this: a website solely dedicated to rebutting claims made by the mainstream media. Check it out. It's a gas," David Axe of DefenseTech.org commented November 5, 2006:[10]

On November 19, 2006, Steve Field of The D-Ring Blog wrote:[11]

I’m not sure anyone in OSD Public Affairs would call it a blog (or are especially aware of the blogosphere). But people in the blogosphere are calling it a blog.
I say if it is, it needs a lot of work. ...
For the Record misses the whole point of a blog — community. There is no blogroll, no ability to comment, no conversation. It follows the traditional DoD model of communication that says "we will send our messages to the people from up on high."
Online communication is not so simple. When you start communicating in the online world, it is not enough to talk at people; you need to have a conversation with them.

War propaganda program

The Bloggers' Roundtable is a unit of the Defense Department's "Communications Outreach" war propaganda program operated by the Pentagon's Office of Public Affairs and "headed up by Erin Healey [sic], a former junior assistant press secretary at the White House," Ken Silverstein wrote July 19, 2007, in Harper's Magazine.[12]

"In 2006, when the press and retired senior military officials were pummeling Donald Rumsfeld," Dorrance Smith, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, "created a rapid-response team of die-hard loyalists to defend the then-defense secretary," Silverstein wrote in a July 16, 2007, Harper's Magazine article.[13]

"The rapid-response team has been shut down but several sources tell me that another of Smith's spin projects is ongoing," Silverstein wrote.[13]

Originally named the "Surrogates Operation", the unit "seeks to bypass the mainstream press by working directly with a carefully culled list of military analysts, bloggers, and others who can be counted on to parrot the Bush Administration's line on national security issues," Silverstein wrote.[12]

The unit "also reportedly provides talking points and briefings to retired military officials who now support the administration in appearances as media pundits," Silverstein wrote.[13]

"Surrogates Operation" members

Members of the "Surrogates Operation", Ken Silverstein wrote, include the following.[12]

Criticism

The Department of Defense was using "selected military analysts, bloggers, former defense officials, opinion-makers, and others who are almost all highly sympathetic to the Bush Administration's national security agenda and initiatives," Ken Silverstein wrote in August 2007 in Harper's Magazine.[14]

Clearly stated by one of the "selected" bloggers, Ward Carroll, editor of Military.com, "an online military and veteran membership organization, some of the best milbloggers have the ability to shape opinions on the war."[3]

Silverstein wrote three articles about the Bloggers' Roundtable in July 2007, followed by an August 2007 article in which he reported on a conversation with David Axe, an administration critic who had "participated in the conference calls". Silverstein, who has been critical of the program from the beginning, was told by Axe "A lot of the conference calls are very clearly PR ... The more I've thought about it the more it becomes clear that something is fishy and that [the conference calls] are part of an orchestrated agenda."[14]

For example, Axe said, "some military officials who have already briefed the bloggers are returning for repeat appearances and they talk about subjects that have been well covered at past events." One officer, speaking with the Roundtable for the second time, "basically repeated himself". Also, Axe said, "the format and design of the program almost inevitably produces, on balance, Pentagon-friendly outcomes."[14]

Note: A read through of the conference call and teleconference transcripts indicates, at the very least, that some officers were reading talking points rather than honest opinions, particularly in their introductory and summary statements.

Viral communicators = blogger embeds

2007

In late March 2007, Alexander Paul Melonas (a "first year graduate student at American University in Washington D.C.") at The Gun Toting Liberal blog reported[15] on an upcoming trip for "several bloggers" to Iraq organized by the Department of Defense, with the bloggers having been selected via invitation and "through active petitioning as occurred with both The Gun Toting Liberal and RedState, will be included."

Melonas, who was going to begin the vetting process, said that selection was based on "viral potential: consideration was given to technocrati ratings proving a large viral effect, depth of thought displayed within the contributions, large readership, or simply a weblog’s effective display of their status as important viral communicators."[15]

"As The Gun Toting Liberal has been identified as an important viral communicator, the opportunity to participate in a weekly conference call between those selected by the D.O.D. in the New Media Operations endeavor, and commanders on the ground in Iraq, has been presented to me (representing the G.T.L.). The prospect of articulating questions regarding ground operations, rebuilding efforts, etc., actively participating in conversations with those in the fight so to speak, and report on the results, is an offer I simply cannot refuse," Melonas wrote.[15]

In late March 2007, right-wing RedState.com, owned by Eagle Publishing, first informed that it had been invited to send embeds to Iraq at the end of April. It then asked for funding of the trip for two prominent RedState bloggers, Jeff Emanuel and AcademicElephant (a.k.a. Victoria Coates).[16][17]

Additionally, RedState informed that "The military will take Victoria and Jeff around Iraq and they'll get the word out to all of us on what's really going on over there -- no filter through the mainstream media." The Daily Kos poster sharris0512 asked "why is the military promising an escort? Again, this is an openly partisan outfit. Why are Americans paying tax dollars (that's right, the time and energy spent on pushing these morons around Iraq) for more propaganda?"

2006

In November 2006, Mark Finklestein of NewsBusters was the "first Pentagon-credentialed blogger" to travel to Iraq. He was followed by "popular conservative blogger Michelle Malkin embedded with Army troops at Forward Operating Base Justice in Baghdad."[6]

About the conference calls

"When the program was started in February [2007], the calls occurred approximately once a week; since September, the Defense Department PR team has surged the roundtables’ frequency to nearly every day.[18] Many of these conservative bloggers regularly appear on the calls, receiving unfettered access to military strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan," Satyam Khanna wrote October 24, 2007, at Think Progress.[19] "One military official explained the real intent:[20]

"'[W]e’re trying to do as many of these type of blogger calls as possible to let folks know what is really going on out there and to provide the opportunity for people to hear and write about it.'

"Despite the regular frequency of the 'Blogger Roundtables,' progressive bloggers or anti-war military bloggers are rarely featured. Furthermore, small blogs like that of Fox News anchor Griff Jenkins are featured on the calls while more prominent progressive blogs are not," Khanna wrote.

Roundtable participant McQ (Bruce McQuain) responded to Think Progress's posting on October 25, 2007, writing:[21]

"I've been a participant in this program for 3 to 4 months now. To say Think Progress doesn't know what it is speaking about would be to understate the point. It also wouldn't be unusual.
"First, there is no 'reserved space' for anyone. You get a notice by email that a particular person is available for a half-hour during a time (usually morning if the person is in Iraq) and date and you send an email back saying you'll be on-line or not. It could be 15 or 2 and I've been on calls with both size blogger contingents. You never know until you call in."

It should be noted that, although it is possible that as many as 15 bloggers could be listening to the conference calls, the transcripts do not reveal more than a maximum of 8 participants at any one given time. Additionally, Bruce McQuain did not start participating in the conference calls until the end of July 2007, nearly six months after the Bloggers' Roundtable began.

On the matter of "liberal bloggers are rarely featured", McQ writes:[21]

"How do I know liberal blogs were invited. Because I've been on a call with at least one - Nicholas Beaudrot with EzraKlein.com was on a call with Jason Hyland, the Ninawa PRT leader on August 30th.
"To my knowledge, that is the only call he was on, and, I've not been on a call with any other liberal blogger, even though I know they've gotten invitations (as proven by the fact that Beaudrot was on). So what's the problem? Well if I had to guess, it's that the liberal blogs simply don't answer the invitations to participate. That isn't DoD's problem or fault."

In an update to its original posting, Think Progress reported that it had contacted the Pentagon and "they have agreed to allow us to participate in the bloggers roundtables," Khanna wrote.[19] As of November 5, 2007, no one from Think Progress had participated.

Bloggers' Roundtable DoD website

The Bloggers' Roundtable website "provides source material for stories in the blogosphere concerning the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Global War on Terrorism by bloggers and online journalists. Where available, this includes transcripts, biographies, related fact sheets and video."

Bloggers' Roundtable blog roll

Beginning in February 2007, the OSD's New Media Operations Public Affairs office has arranged conference calls and teleconferences "during which senior Pentagon officials brief retired military officials, civilian defense and national security analysts, pundits, and bloggers. A few moderates are invited to take part, but the list of participants skews far, far to the right. The Pentagon essentially feeds participants the talking points, bullet points, and stories it wants told," Ken Silverstein wrote in July 2007.[12]

The following blog roll of participants in conference calls and teleconferences with military and civilian personnel in both Iraq and at the Pentagon was compiled from session transcripts. Note that only a few bloggers participated on a regular basis, while most participated infrequently or as little as one time.

  • Jonathan Gurwitz, editorial writer for the San Antonio Express-News and contributor to the Wall Street Journal's editorial page[27]
  • Cynthia Morgan, White Rose's Adventures Blog (CindyInIraq.com) and Noble Duty Milblogger Coalition
Quidnunc wrote in July 2007[28] "The Pentagon has been active participants in what Tony Snow described as a 'surge of facts' from Iraq to hold the line against the Democratic congress and their calls for withdrawal/redeployment/change of strategy/surrender. I've been on several conference calls this week with Lt. Generals, Lt. Colonels, Rear Admirals, and others who are sharing status updates with mil-bloggers like those at BlackFive US Cavalry OnPoint, The Belmont Club, and others."
  • Paul Silva (Silver?)

Bloggers' Roundtable conference call and teleconference sessions

Charts of Bloggers' Roundtable sessions provide an overview by date (month/day/year), military or civilian contact, and the individual bloggers who participated in the conference calls or teleconferences. A link is provided for either the accompanying transcript, if it is available, or a news release covering the topic(s) discussed. Additionally, participants' blog postings are added as/if located and can be compared to actual session transcripts.

Transcripts and Participants: February-July 2007

Transcripts and Participants: August-October 2007

Transcripts and Participants: November-December 2007

Transcripts and Participants: January-March 2008

Podcast

The Pentagon Channel podcasts the Bloggers' Roundtable as "a weekly feature that sits senior military and civilian leaders down with bloggers, to provide updates, and frank and first hand perspective about ongoing operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere."[29]

Video clips

U.S. Department of Defense video clips from the Bloggers' Roundtable can be accessed here.

Contact information

Department of Defense New Media Team
Phone: 703 325-0103
Email: bloggeroutreach AT hq.afis.osd.mil
URL: http://www.defenselink.mil/Blogger/Blogger.aspx

Resources

Related SourceWatch articles

References

  1. This is according to conference call and teleconference transcripts.
  2. Faiz Shakir, " Think Progress, February 20, 2007.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Nikki Schwab, "Blogs Chronicle War from Soldiers' Perspectives," Washington Post, May 2, 2007.
  4. "Reuters Doctoring Photos from Beirut?" Little Green Footballs Blog, August 5, 2006.
  5. "Reuters drops Beirut photographer," BBC News (UK), August 8, 2006.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Robert Bluey, "Blogging war," Townhall.com, April 13, 2007.
  7. Tim Kilbride, "'New Media' Program Seeks Opportunities in 24/7 Global Networks," American Forces Press Service, June 21, 2007.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Tim Kilbride, "‘New Media’ Program Seeks Opportunities in 24/7 Global Networks," American Forces Press Service, June 21, 2007.
  9. "For the Record", DefenseLink.mil.
  10. David Axe, "Pentagon Fights Back," DefenseTech.org, November 5, 2006.
  11. Steve Field, "DoD: For the Record Blog," The D-Ring Blog, November 19, 2006.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Ken Silverstein, "How the Pentagon’s 'Surrogates Operation' Feeds Stories to Administration-Friendly Media and Pundits," Harper's Magazine, July 19, 2007.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Ken Silverstein, "Meet the Pentagon’s New Spin Unit: Bush Administration hacks court bloggers, talk radio," Harper's Magazine, July 16, 2007.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Ken Silverstein, "Dissent from the Pentagon’s Blogger Roundtables: David Axe has second thoughts about DoD effort," Harper's Magazine, August 13, 2007.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 "Followup To 'Send A Liberal Blogger To Iraq' - DOD Receptive, Invites GTL Writer To Participate In Weekly Conference Calls," The Gun Toting Liberal Blog, March 31, 2007.
  16. sharris0512, "Updated 5:37 PM: RedState invited by Pentagon to report on Iraq (but Congressional auditors denied)," The Daily Kos, March 28, 2007. Also see "Help Send RedState To Iraq," RedState.com.
  17. "Will Bloggers Get it Right in Iraq?" Opinion Talk/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 2, 2007.
  18. Compare dates at Blogger, DefenseLink.mil. There are no archived postings for October 2007. On the subject of "Iraq Operations," there have been frequent interviews with military officers: 10 in June, 8 in July, 11 in August, but only 6 in September 2007.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Satyam Khanna, "Pentagon Holds ‘Bloggers Roundtables’ To Cater To Right-Wing Noise Machine," Think Progress, October 25, 2007.
  20. "Department of Defense Bloggers Roundtable with Stephen Fakan, EPRT Team Leader, RCT 6 Via Conference Call from Fallujah," DefenseLink.mil, October 4, 2007.
  21. 21.0 21.1 McQ, "Bloggers RoundTable and Think Progress, qando.net, October 25, 2007.
  22. 22.0 22.1 It would appear that following Ken Silverstein's July 19, 2007, article, Jason Sigger of Armchair Generalist Blog and Matt Armstrong of Mountain Runner Blog got themselves invited to participate in the conference calls. Read "Selective Public Outreach," Armchair Generalist Blog, July 25, 2007.
  23. 23.0 23.1 "Bloggers' Roundtable: PRTs in Iraq," Jig's Old Saws Blog, August 5, 2007.
  24. See Creators.com website.
  25. FWIW, "RedState Is Already In The Pentagon," The Daily Kos, March 28, 2007: Coates participated in the February 28, 2007, roundtable with Gen. Michael Walsh; March 16, 2007, roundtable with Brig. Gen. Terry Wolff, and the March 7, 2007, roundtable with Maj. Gen. William Caldwell.
  26. 26.0 26.1 "Scott Thomas = Pvt Beauchamp = Liar?" D-Ring Blog, August 6, 2007.
  27. Bio: Jonathan Gurwitz, San Antonio Express-News website.
  28. Charlie Quidnunc, "Bloggers Roundtable with the Commanding Generals," Wizbang Blog, July 19, 2007.
  29. Podcasts, Pentagon Channel. Subscription is required.

External articles

External resources