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Pentagon starts spin unit to target talk radio, bloggers
Will Menaker
Published: Tuesday July 17, 2007
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With public opinion on both the President and Iraq war cratering, it's hard to imagine any amount of PR could turn back the tide. But don't tell that to the Pentagon's public affairs division. Ken Silverstein reports on the latest efforts to spread the good word on Iraq in Monday's Harper's.

The new “Communications Outreach” program is the latest effort to bypass the traditional media and work directly with talk radio and bloggers. The project was originally called "Surrogates Operation" and is the brain child of former ABC executive and assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Dorrance Smith.

Less kindly, Silverstein remarks that "the Pentagon’s public affairs division has become a dumping ground for administration cronies."

Silverstein reports that the "Communications Outreach" program "reportedly provides talking points and briefings to retired military officials who now support the administration in appearances as media pundits." The genesis of the idea came in 2006, "when the press and retired senior military officials were pummeling Donald Rumsfeld."

Also on board are Erin Healey, a former junior assistant press secretary at the White House, Julie George, who formerly worked as deputy coalitions director for Rick Santorum, and perhaps most telling is another person reportedly involved with the operation is the presence of Jocelyn Webster, "who formerly worked in the White House’s political operation for Sara Taylor, the Karl Rove aide who now finds herself in a bit of hot water."

The relative inexperience of these true-believers is an old theme for the Bush administration, Silverstein writes.

"Healey may have some knowledge of defense matters, but she’s certainly no expert," he says. "Webster and George were described to me by one well-informed source as 'very young with no background in national security or foreign affairs.' This person said that some defense officials have been 'put off to say the least by these neophyte political appointees telling retired and active personnel in uniform what to say and what to think.'"

Webster is also among those whose name has surfaced in Democratic investigations. She's on the list of current and former White House staffers who used Republican National Committee email addresses and was among those dealt with a controversial Powerpoint slideshow that involved briefing the General Services Administration about Republican prospects for the 2006 election cycle.

“Please do not e-mail this out or let people see it," one of the emails said, according to Harper's. "It is a close hold, and we’re not supposed to be e-mailing it around.”

Know what blogs the Pentagon's strike force may be working with? Contact Ken Silverstein at ken@harpers.org.