Sunday, January 11, 2004

Sins of Omission 
Compare and Contrast last December’s “Anatomy of a Decision II: the Rally,” with this press release from the 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs office:

December 10, 2003


AR RAMADI, Iraq – Wednesday afternoon, Iraqis of the Al Anbar province gathered at the provincial council headquarters in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, to protest against terrorist actions in a peaceful demonstration.

Approximately 200 men, women, and children gathered together with raised banners and chanted slogans condemning terrorism. Ar Ramadi, a former Ba’athist stronghold located approximately 60 miles west of Baghdad, has been a site of persistent anti-Coalition activities since post-war reconstruction efforts began.

Not only was disapproval of terrorist actions expressed, but some speakers urged Iraqis to take action against anti-coalition forces. The outward display of coalition support demonstrates increased cooperation between local Iraqis and coalition forces. This cooperation has resulted in greater information from local tips and clearly shows the Iraqi’s desire for a safe and secure environment.

What’s missing? There’s no mention whatever of the violent counterdemonstration which occurred immediately afterwards.

Now, I don’t think the Division Public Affairs Office ought to feel obligated to provide free advertising for anti-coalition demonstrations. But I do think it’s worth considering where the Army’s Public Affairs system’s responsibilities lie.

Informed citizens are the foundation of democratic societies.

Birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim, and PR guys gotta spin. But the counterdemo out of the story is a glaring sin of omission in any context.

Here’s a better way:

I would rather have skipped the glurgy bit about ‘increased cooperation,’ and the Iraqi’s desire for ‘a safe and secure environment.’ No newspaper editor would have run it anyway, unless they could get it in quotes from an expert or someone on the scene.

Instead, I’d just stick to the facts:

Soon after the demonstration, a smaller counterdemonstration of conservative Muslims marched on the provincial council building. Things threatened to turn ugly when demonstrators threw rocks at Iraqi government employees and a U.S. Army government assistance team inside the compound, causing several minor injuries.

The coalition troops held their fire, and the Ar Ramadi Police, newly recruited and trained over the summer by Florida National Guardsmen, dispersed the crowd without further violence.

See?—the 82nd Airborne Division gets even more positive spin that way. The idea is to make the divisions troops inside the compound seem like the restrained professionals they are (these civil affairs troops are super soldiers!) but also share the credit with the division’s subordinate units and the Iraqi police.

And because it reads less more like a news story and less like a press release, the story is actually more likely to get told, since harried news editors on tight deadlines can run it with few or no revisions.

Most importantly, though, the absence of sins of omission preserves the credibility of the Army’s officer corps, and ensures that the citizenry we serve is properly informed.

Splash, out


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