Robert Greenwald and Reporter Michael Hastings Take on the Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War Machine
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It's common knowledge about Iraq, but I think the price that we've paid for the press being stenographers, or as you call it, the “media military industrial complex,” is significant. And I do not think it's a question of just sort of attacking some bad journalists, although that can be done, but I'd like you to talk about the institutional way that Pentagon approaches this.
MH: Well, one point on Stephen Colbert's speech: it's now considered sort of this amazing speech because it was, but at the time a lot of journalists panned it. Oh, they hated it because it hit too close.
I mean, look, there are a lot of excellent journalists doing great, great work. But the reason I called it the “media military industrial complex,” and one of the sort of insights that I have had is that they call it the Pentagon Press Corps, right? And you sort of think, oh, well it means the people who kind of watch over the Pentagon and perform the media's watchdog function, but no, it's an extension of the Pentagon. For the most part.
I mean, when was the last time anyone at the Pentagon broke a story that wasn't pre-approved? It's very, very rare. And the reason why it's so difficult -- and this gets to the information operations and the public affairs -- it's a very difficult story to tell because you're lifting up the curtain on what have become very common practices for journalists to do.
And I noticed this first in Iraq when things were going horribly -- this is in 2005, 2006, 2007 when I was there. And the spokespeople in the military public relations apparatus would just lie to your face. Every day they would lie. It was general Caldwell who was one of the spokes people there who I would sit next to at these briefings and he would say everything's fine, you know? And there might have been four car bombs that morning.
And what's been scary is that these sort of information operations tactics ... most journalists consider them no big deal. And when you try to point out, 'hey, this isn't right.' you get your head chopped off.
I did a story about this information operations team trained in psychological operations that was being asked to spin and influence visiting senators. Did the media respond by saying, 'let's launch an investigation, let's make sure we don't do this?' No, they responded by attacking the whistle blower and then at the same time saying, 'oh, it's no big deal, this is fine. Of course generals use their information operations psy-ops guys to put together material, it's not a big deal, it's just normal public relations.'
But wait a second here. This is not just normal public relations -- there are entire operations in the Pentagon whose goal is not just to influence the enemy's population but in fact the more important goal is to influence the U.S. population. And the line that used to be, or was supposed to have been the red line between public relations and information operations, meaning one you use on Americans and one you use on the enemy, they are tearing that firewall down. So you have generals with public media handlers and they have these contracting companies that are collecting data on who's tweeting what and they have different Twitter “sock-puppets” that they've put up to try to manipulate all these different social media.
And at some point they're essentially waging this global information war against their own citizens. So that, to me, is the most disturbing trend of it all. And General Petraeus at one point said the most important thing about Iraq was information operations, information operations, information operations. And in the context he was saying it, he meant in terms of convincing the Iraqi people that things were going well. But the real people he was convincing were back in Washington. That's who the target of all the spin really is.