ANALYSIS: Client Profile - Pentagon's public affairs plan shiftswith new world

Americans may be getting back to work, but it certainly isn't

business as usual for the Department of Defense. And the new and

reorganized public affairs effort marks only the very beginning of the

changes ahead. Julia Hood reports



When the Department of Defense (DoD) hired Victoria "Torie" Clarke from

Hill & Knowlton, she assumed the top public affairs job with a call for

new ways of doing things.



"Our challenge is change," she said in April at nominations hearings

before the US Senate Committee on Armed Services. "Changing an

institution whose roots in our communities and our consciousness runs

deeper than perhaps any other: that demands an aggressive program of

outreach and education."



Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, reports to

secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld. But Clarke never could have

imagined just how much would be demanded of her department, never mind

the extent to which the day-to-day routine would be altered.



The entire DoD, in fact, has a new mission: to work with the President

to develop a response to the terrorist attacks that hit New York,

Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania on September 11. It has become clear

that relationships with the media will have to accommodate new

priorities. And some of the reforms within the communications department

may be influenced by the events themselves.



Even before the terrorist attacks, the DoD had hired unnamed consultants

to help review its public affairs functions, though the department

declined to name any PR agencies involved. However, Lt. Col. Vic

Warzinski, military assistant in the office of public affairs, admits

that the DoD "may not have thought (about strategy) as much as we should

have." He says the DoD needs to be more focused on "messaging - the

whole idea of figuring out what we need to say and when."



Controlling the flow of information is paramount at the DoD right now,

but back in July 2001, transparency was the priority. For the first

time, reporters were allowed to watch the strategic missile defense

system tests from the Pentagon instead of from Roslyn, VA. Reinvigorated

by the President's clear commitment to the missile defense system, the

public affairs team devised a strategy to improve the flow of

information to the press. "We felt we would get a straight shot from the

press that covered it because they had access," says Rear Admiral Craig

Quigley.



From transparency to murkiness



But as plans are made for a possible military response to the September

11 attacks, transparency may not be the biggest priority. In fact, the

media is already concerned that information will be limited, and that

misinformation could spread.



An article in The Washington Post in September stated, "Many journalists

are growing concerned they will have less information and less access to

US troops than ever before ... even the use of deliberate disinformation

cannot be ruled out."



The Post also reported that Clarke has been meeting personally with

journalists and bureau chiefs to reassure them that the DoD remains

committed to supplying as much information as possible without

undermining military plans. And while the President himself has warned

that his administration will not talk about intelligence gathered, the

media simply cannot be shut out. The DoD, like any other government

office, relies on public favor.



"There's a very delicate balance that must be struck," explains former

Pentagon spokesman and White House assistant press secretary James

Fetig.



"There is a dichotomy for the Pentagon in that they must maintain public

confidence and political support for the actions they have been asked to

undertake, and that requires them to be forthcoming."



The rough road ahead



The challenge, according to Fetig, will be to develop a strategy that

will maintain the integrity of the military campaign while continuing to

reach out to opinion leaders and the public. "It's a two-way process.

Senior officials should be out among the people, speaking and

interacting."



However, it's not always easy to bring out the brass and the press

together. "Generals by their nature are reticent," Fetig says. "When I

was at the Pentagon, we had editorial board quotas. You had to get a

certain number of four-star generals out to a certain number of

meetings. They kept a scorecard."



Along with the public initiative, the DoD had also planned to improve

its communications with Congress. To that end, Clarke has been talking

more regularly with press secretaries on the Hill, and is keen to

improve coordination with other government agencies. And knowing that

change begins with small steps, some of the department's stiff

nomenclature was recently abandoned: the Directorate for Defense

Information is now simply called the press office.



On a typical day in the past, there were 19 information officers working

out of the Pentagon, including civilian personnel and members of the

three main military branches - Army, Navy (including the Marine Corps),

and Air Force - and one staff member would always work a night shift.

But after September 11, the PR team was split into three groups of eight

to 10 offices working round the clock. And in addition to the DC staff,

there are thousands of public affairs personnel stationed in units and

military bases around the world.



So as the DoD has faced news crises, it has learned new lessons about

communication. The Gulf War, for example, introduced the Pentagon to the

24-hour news cycle, as well as to the importance of a news outlet (like

CNN) in shaping public opinion.



But now, the pundits are talking about a new kind of war - one that

might necessitate new PR thinking. The DoD's public affairs team is

already evaluating its response to the present crisis, and "there is a

feeling at least that we were very reactive, but not as proactive as we

need to be in tomorrow's and the next day's issues," Warzinski says. "If

that process is continuing, it's a real likelihood that the lessons we

learn now will be incorporated into how we structure things."



But the task of preparing the public for a new breed of war is a

challenge no one could have prepared for. "This will be different from

the Gulf War," Fetig says. "It won't be over in 100 hours. It may not be

over in 100 years."



DEPT. OF DEFENSE



Secretary of defense: Donald Rumsfeld

Assistant secretary of defense, public affairs: Victoria "Torie" Clark

Deputy assistant secretary of defense, public affairs: Rear Admiral

Craig Quigley

Military assistant to the assistant secretary of defense, public

affairs: Lt. Col. Vic Warzinski

Deputy director for press operations: Bryan Whitman

PR budget: not available

PR agencies: not disclosed



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