Mr. Silverstein has a rebuttal to the earlier piece I wrote on his attack on the Bloggers' Roundtables. This one is somewhat more measured and careful, so I'll meet him halfway and attempt a measured discussion of the topic. It is an important topic because, as I mentioned below, it is important for the country that the people understand that the military belongs to all Americans. It is not opposed, even politically, to any group of Americans; it takes its oath to the Constitution, and our common liberty.
Mr. Silverstein wants you to consider this:
Hence, no matter how participants would like to describe the effort, it’s quite clear that the Pentagon views it as a propaganda program. Just look at the titles of the talks:
- Iraq Training Team Commander Expresses Confidence Iraqis Will Succeed
- Afghan Police Training Mirrors Army Success
- Iraq Rebuilding Progress Should Be Taken in Context, General Says
- Soldiers’ Armor Best in the World, General Says
- Iraq Situation ‘Winnable,’ Multi-National Force Official Says
That’s why it’s hard to agree when Grim at Black Five says that the bloggers aren’t briefed by administration officials, but by career military men who are not “political figures.” The briefers may not be elected, but they do seem to be spinning (unless, of course, Iraq is going great and every major news outlet, including many on the right, is lying to us)....
It all comes down to a simple question, one I’ll let the reader answer on his or her own: are you comfortable with the Pentagon, under any administration, picking its personal media intermediaries in an effort to get its message out?
Well, let's answer that question. Are you comfortable with the existence of the American Forces Press Service?
I ask that because the titles to which Mr. Silverstein refers are the titles of the AFPS articles generated by what are in fact professional journalists, not by the bloggers or the civilian leadership. If you look at the Blogger's Roundtable Homepage, you'll see the titles to which Mr. Silverstein refers. They are followed by a blurb, and then a link that says "Story." Follow that, and you're taken to the AFPS article, as the AFPS writes up every one of these talks as a news story for its news service.
Now, as far as I know, there's no controversy about the existence of the AFPS. That is precisely "the Pentagon, under any administration, picking its personal media intermediaries." They're the ones who generated the headlines and whatever "spin" is in the AFPS articles, not the military officers quoted.
What the Bloggers' Roundtables are most like is like a general visiting the VFW or some other citizen organization for a chat, or to give a talk and take questions. The AFPS would probably write that up too, and give it a similarly glowing headline, without it generating controversy. The general might take hard questions or relatively easy ones -- Navy Captain Gilbeau felt my last question to him was a softball, but that's only because he had a good answer to my question about microloans in Iraqi rebuilding. I gave Col. Bouchard a similarly basic question about his operations, and he -- I think I can say this in fairness to the gentleman -- didn't have an answer.
We're citizens here, as I said, engaged in citizenship. If a military officer or NCO wants to talk to us, given that we have a wide readership among current and former military, it's like being able to get thousands of vets into a room for the American Legion. And if the AFPS writes it up with a pretty headline, that's what the AFPS does.
Mr. Silverstein originally tried to write this up as some sort of sinister conspiracy at DOD to manipulate public opinion or something like that. In fact, they're just participating in and informing the public debate, as they have always done with bricks-and-mortar citizen organizations. The full transcripts and audio recordings of these meetings are published online for the world to see and consider, and respond to if they like. The military is not engaged in politics here: it's engaging interested citizens, which it has every right -- and indeed a certain duty -- to do.
UPDATE: Danger Room notes that OSD approved their request to add two progressive milbloggers to the roundtables in under half an hour. I'm not actually familiar with either of these writers -- although I look forward to talking to them -- but that would tend to undercut the idea that there is some sort of "conservatives only" approval process. In fact, the quickness of the reply suggests there's not much of an approval process at all, beyond confirming that you're both a blogger and someone who writes about military affairs.