Published: August 31, 2009
Updated 7 hours ago
Saying the issue has become “a distraction from our main mission,” the US military says it has canceled its contract with The Rendon Group, the PR firm revealed last week to be screening prospective embedded reporters.
“The Bagram Regional Contracting Center intends to execute a termination of the media analyst contract … for the convenience of the US government,” military spokeswoman Lieutenant Commander Christine Sidenstricker told Reuters.
The military newspaper Stars & Stripes first reported last week that The Rendon Group had been given a contract — now known to be worth $1.5 million — to develop profiles on journalists and rank their coverage of military issues as “postivie,” “negative” or “neutral.” The PR firm also offered advice on how to neutralize bad press from embedded reporters.
That resulted in an outcry from media advocacy groups, who said the attempt to “filter” which journalists get access to the military amounts to censorship and promotion of propaganda.
Military spokespeople argued last week that the profiles were rarely used.
“For me, a tool like this serves no purpose, and it doesn’t serve me with any value,” Stars & Stripes quoted Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. “I haven’t seen anything that violates any policies, but again, I’m learning about aspects of this as I question our folks in Afghanistan.”
But “a public affairs officer with the 101st Airborne Division said that when his unit was in Afghanistan and in charge of the Rendon contract, he had used the conclusions contained in Rendon profiles in part to reject at least two journalists’ applications for embeds,” Stars & Stripes reported Monday.
Last week, Kabul-based journalist P.J. Tobia published on his blog a copy of the Rendon Group’s profile of his work, a document he described as “creepy … like perusing the diary of your stalker.”
“Based on his previous embed and past reporting, it is unlikely that [Tobia] will miss an opportunity to report on US military missteps,” his Rendon Group profile states. “However, if following previous trends, he will remain sympathetic to US troops and may acknowledge a learning curve in Afghanistan.”
For his part, Tobia appeared to be sympathetic to the notion of monitoring journalists’ activities in relation to the military.
“I don’t really think the reports are some kind of violation, in fact, I think the military is smart to look into the background’s of people who will be writing about them,” he blogged. “Rating the coverage that reporters give the military–”positive,” “neutral,” “negative”–seems a bit silly and slightly Orwellian, but if thousands of reporters were covering my organization, I would want a simple shorthand to identify them as well.”
As RAW STORY reported last week, The Rendon Group has allegedly been involved in a number of controversial public relations efforts for the military. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the group was reportedly part of an effort to create an “office of disinformation” inside the Pentagon, which would spread falsehoods through the media for strategic purposes.
The Rendon Group is also said to have been active in the development of the Iraqi National Congress, a dummy parliament composed of opponents of then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.