Council Welcomes Decision to Abandon Propaganda Office
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Council Welcomes Decision to Abandon Propaganda Office

The Council of Public Relations Firms has welcomed the Pentagon’s decision to close its controversial Office of Strategic Influence, which had attracted a firestorm of criticism.

Paul Holmes

NEW YORK—The Council of Public Relations Firms has welcomed the Pentagon’s decision to close its controversial Office of Strategic Influence, which attracted a firestorm of criticism after reports that it was planning the distribution of false news items to foreign media.
 
A report in The New York Times a week ago suggested the new office would disseminate misinformation in both friendly and hostile nations, and the official in charge of the project had suggested that, to keep the Pentagon’s role covert, he was considering asking outside contractors, including public relations firms, to disseminate the false or misleading information to foreign news agencies.
 
Many in the Bush administration expressed concern that the existence of the office would reduce the credibility of all communications coming out of the U.S. government, and eventually Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced the plans had been scrapped.
 
“It is reassuring that common sense has prevailed and that the credibility and reputation of the United States government are not being put at risk by a plan would almost surely backfire,” says Council president Kathy Cripps.
 
“The suggestion by one Pentagon official that public relations companies be retained to mislead the media by serving as the Pentagon’s surreptitious messengers of misinformation was patently offensive. The suggestion that responsible public relations firms would intentionally mislead and misinform is disturbing. The mission of our member firms is to help clients establish and maintain trust based on truth and credibility.”
 
There had been reports that The Rendon Group, a Washington-based public affairs firm, might be involved in the initiative. Rendon was retained in October to monitor news media in 79 countries; conduct focus group to assess public opinion in Islamic countries; create a website that will provide information about U.S. efforts to fight terrorism; and recommend ways in which the military can counter disinformation
 
Says Cripps, “Had the office gone ahead with its disinformation plans, the Pentagon would have been reminded that, once reputations for integrity and honesty are tarnished by deceit, it is all but impossible to restore their original brilliance.”
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