1st Edition

War and Media Operations The US Military and the Press from Vietnam to Iraq

By Thomas Rid Copyright 2007
    240 Pages
    by Routledge

    240 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This is the first academic analysis of the role of embedded media in the 2003 Iraq War, providing a concise history of US military public affairs management since Vietnam.

    In late summer 2002, the Pentagon considered giving the press an inside view of the upcoming invasion of Iraq. The decision was surprising, and the innovative "embedded media program" itself received intense coverage in the media. Its critics argued that the program was simply a new and sophisticated form of propaganda. Their implicit assumption was that the Pentagon had become better at its news management and had learned to co-opt the media.

    This new book tests this assumption, introducing a model of organizational learning and redraws the US military’s cumbersome learning curve in public affairs from Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, the Balkans to Afghanistan, examining whether past lessons were implemented in Iraq in 2003. Thomas Rid argues that while the US armed forces have improved their press operations, America’s military is still one step behind fast-learning and media-savvy global terrorist organizations.

    War and Media Operations will be of great interest to students of the Iraq War, media and war, propaganda, political communications and military studies in general.


    Why did the Pentagon decide to embed the media in the Iraq War? The introduction explains why the decision was surprising, sketches out the conceptual approach, and describes the structure of the book.

    Part I: The Military as a Learning Organization

    1 Perspectives on Military Learning

    The first chapter reviews the scholarly research on doctrinal change, innovation and military learning.

    2 A Model of Organizational Learning

    The second chapter draws on the discipline of knowledge management and organizational learning and introduces a spiral model of organizational change. The model identifies several drivers of change, external as well as internal ones, and distinguishes four forms of institutional memory. Accordingly, three types of organizational learning are introduced, experiential, conceptual and systemic learning, differentiated by the level of hierarchy on which the new knowledge is created, stored and used.

    Part II: The Trajectory of Military Public Affairs

    3 Disastrous Public Affairs: Vietnam

    Chapter three reviews the U.S. military’s experience with the press in Vietnam, the body-counts, the "five-o’clock-follies" as well as the Tet offensive, and discusses the lessons the armed services learned from that experience. The media coverage, soldiers concluded, was a stab-in-the-back of the army and responsible for the American defeat in Southeast Asia—a lesson that was historically ill-conceived but highly influential in the U.S. military.

    4 Restrictive Public Affairs: Grenada, Panama, and the Persian Gulf

    Chapter four discusses how the lesson of Vietnam, "keep the press out," was applied in the operations in Grenada, Panama and the Persian Gulf War. In all three interventions the U.S. military exerted a high level of control over the operation’s media coverage. A strict denial-of-access policy dominated Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, a badly planned pool system and unforeseen incidents with public affairs implications beset Operation Restore Hope, and a significant difference in media savvy between the Army and the Marine Corps characterized Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf. The lessons learned from each operation are reviewed based on extensive research of primary sources.

    5 Experimental Public Affairs: Somalia, the Balkans, and Afghanistan

    Chapter five looks at the turbulent period at the turn of the century. Several small-scale military operations were rich in lessons for public affairs officers and commanders. Somalia demonstrated that the media—and the enemy—could penetrate the American military’s decision loop; in the wars in the Balkans various ways to react to the new information environment were experimented with; and Afghanistan saw a reluctant test of the idea to embed the media with military units. Each operation’s lessons are illustrated in detail.

    Part III: A Case Study of Military Learning: Iraq

    6 Retrieving Past Experiences?

    Chapter six analyzes the body of doctrinal knowledge on public affairs management at the onset of the Iraq War, the condensation of the organization’s explicit lessons of the past. In a second step it examines if this body of knowledge was used in the public affairs planning process of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Based on extensive interviews with decision makers and planners in the U.S. military, it analyzes the prelude to the embedded media program, its origin, the development of new guidelines, orders, discussions, communications, and its internal obstacles.

    7 Strategic Public Affairs: Operation Iraqi Freedom

    Chapter seven reviews the implementation of the embedded media program during the Iraq War’s first phase. Based on interviews with soldiers and journalists, first-hand accounts and memoirs, this case study of the media management in Operation Iraqi Freedom looks at the three levels of war and their public message, the strategic, the operational, and the tactical. It finds a surprisingly high level of improvisation by military units on the ground despite the extensive and detailed planning phase.

    Part IV: Discussion and Outlook

    8 The Friendly Learning Loop

    Chapter eight discussed the book’s findings in the light of the theoretical model. Its core insight contradicts conventional wisdom on two accounts. The embedded media program was not an instrument of sophisticated co-option and it was not a top-level initiative by cunning politicians or senior soldiers; the innovation was a slow and reluctant reaction of the military’s middle-management to fundamental changes in the information environment, media technology and media savvy adversaries. The initiative came from engaged "communities-of-practice" on the military’s middle-management level.

    9 The Adversarial Learning Loop

    While the book’s main theme is the "friendly" learning loop of the U.S. military that led to the embedded media program, chapter nine examines the adversary’s reaction and organizational adaptation to the 21st century information environment. Terrorist networks, it argues, are able to adapt and use their enemy’s information infrastructure to run their own decision loops and learning cycles in what can be termed a parasitic organizational adaptation. Their decentralized and bottom-up organizational form turns into an operational advantage.


    Thomas Rid

    'War and Media Operations is must-reading for anyone who wants to understand
    how modern wars are sold to public opinion.'
    Jamie Shea, Director of Policy Planning at NATO, alliance spokesman during
    the Kosovo War

    'Those who support or oppose 'embedded' journalism will find ammunition here
    but Rid himself doesn't take shots.'

    Steven Komarow, USA TODAY, embedded with the US Army's V Corps during
    the Iraq War

    'thought-provoking, insightful, and deeply engaging'
    Ikujiro Nonaka, Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy,
    Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo, former Xerox Professor of Knowledge, Haas
    School of Business, University of Berkeley, author of The Knowledge Creating

    'Thomas Rid demonstrates how nimble adversaries such as Al-Qaeda are coming
    up with their own information strategy.'

    James Mann, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins
    University, author of Rise of the Vulcans

    'The best analysis I have yet seen of the role of Public Affairs within the wider
    context of Information Operations.'

    Philip Taylor, University of Leeds, UK, author of Munitions of the Mind: A History of Propaganda