The Pentagon Wants You…

…to link to its websites.

I thought I’d start off my guest hosting of the Wonk’s blog by a little navel-gazing. Join with me, won’t you?

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM)’s public affairs office has been working since last summer to get information out through the blogosphere, reports InsideDefense.com (“U.S. Military Targets Blogs To Shape Opinions On Iraq, Afghanistan Operations,” March 1, 2006, subscription required).

I’m sure that the selected bloggers can’t help but feel a little flattered. CENTCOM’s efforts to send out press releases to bloggers and treat them the same as big boy media probably does a lot to make them feel important and validated. So there – it’s not just your mom who thinks you’re important.

Furthermore, CENTCOM’s public affairs officers have been encouraging blogs to link back to them. They’ve had some limited success: over 300 blogs have links to the public affairs’ website, while 9,300 blogs have links to the CENTCOM main site, which then allow a second set of sites to link to another 270,000 blogs.

Turns out that links from blogs are how more people stumble upon CENTCOM’s site than through the mighty search engines of Yahoo or Google.

The problem? Lt. Col. Richard McNorton, a CENTCOM spokesperson, admits that the blogs who link back to them are mostly supporters. Says McNorton:

They will pretty much post anything…The problem with that is the readers are already pro-military. It’s almost like we’re preaching to the choir.

Sounds like a bunch of self-affirming Fox viewers, but what do I know?

I would like to think that the reason why less than ten blogs critical of the Pentagon link to CENTCOM websites is that the readers of those types of bloggers (called “determined detractors”) (is there any other kind?) are much smarter and capable of finding the CENTCOM without having their hands held.

It’s interesting that the Pentagon exerts so much effort on its image in the blogosphere and yet does so little to answer criticisms of its actions. Sure, disseminating information is a good thing, and I’m glad that at least one branch of the Pentagon is indulging in it.

But there’s only so much that CENTCOM can do to improve people’s concerns about the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan when the news coming out of there is so dire. Facts on the ground will eventually overtake whatever kind of spin is put on them state-side.

Comments

  1. James W (History)

    I think CENTCOM is still trying to get a handle on the strengths and weaknesses of blogging. Most of my favorite blogs have comments sections in which people exchange their views of the subject matter and in which the blogger himself steps in to defend his work and respond to detractors.

    This is a full-time job. If CENTCOM were to assign someone to answer critics they would get a hell of lot more traffic. Even a moderated blog, such as this one, would attract a lot more attention from Pentagon critics than your typical one-way press release site.

    For all Rumsfeld’s posturing about the changes in the media, he’s clueless about what’s really going on. He thinks that he’s merely dealing with new media outlets that have to be contained and influenced in the same way the old ones were. But blogs serve a more engaged audience and they see it as a sort of town meeting on a subject. Not the sanitized, pre-screened town meetings organized for the President these days, but one in which everyone is invited and expects to get a chance to say something.

    Against that, of course, you do tend to attract a lot of kooks. When you get a good audience, you also tend to get a lot of tough questions which, as you’ve noted, are hard to silence with stock answers. Unlike typical press conferences, there are tough follow-up questions and the thread doesn’t end until the audience finds a fresh story to dissect. Press briefings are much more formal and rigid and I think, at this point, all the government agencies are reluctant to plunge into a new medium now that they got the old ones pretty much figured out.

  2. gator (History)

    I noticed a change in the “about ACW” box on the upper left side of the page: the phrase “too wonky or obscene” has been revised to read “too wonky or obscure.”

    No doubt Dr. Jeff’s newfound respectability accounts for the change.

    But that raises the question: where do we turn for obscene arms control news?

  3. J. (History)

    I know that this CENTCOM effort contacted Blue Force, and we didn’t respond. I haven’t gone to look at their site, but don’t hold out much hope that it offers anything but official news reports. Many of the official DoD news reports take days to come out, and that’s just not good. I like what James says – if CENTCOM had a comment log and responded to reader input, that’d be different. But don’t hold your breath on that point.

  4. /pd (History)

    this is interesting info. “Turns out that links from blogs are how more people stumble upon CENTCOM’s site than through the mighty search engines of Yahoo or Google.”

    Thanks for the post.

  5. SGT Gehlen (History)

    J.

    My name is Sgt. Gehlen from the CENTCOM public affairs office. To correct some misinformation, Blue Force did respond to my email on 01FEB06. Here is the message:

    Thank you.

    I do have one suggestion- if you think that you’ll be updating the content on the site on a regular interval, you should consider using a rss feed, so that those of us who use feed readers will be able to keep up.

    Thanks for reaching out!

    Alex

    To update you, we have added an RSS feed and have taken steps to improve the overall speed of our site. Visit us at:

    http://www.centcom.mil

    Thank you for your interest.

    SGT Gehlen

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