Friday, July 21, 2006

U.S. News Networks Conducting Information Warfare

Wittingly or unwittingly, at least two major U.S. news networks are conducting a major information operation in support of the Israel-Lebanon War.

All morning, MSNBC and CNN have been broadcasting footage of Israeli tanks and troops forming up on Lebanon's southern border. (I haven't been watching Fox, for all I know they're doing the same thing.) On scene reporters and analysts are describing how engineering units are moving up, ostensibly to clear away any mine fields or other obstructions prior to the launch of an assault, raid or full scale invasion.

A number of things could be going on here, none of which bode well for the post conflict analysis of the news networks' ethical behavior.

It may be that the network is broadcasting these images and information without Israel's knowledge or permission. If that's the case, they are providing real time tactical intelligence on Israel's movements and intentions to Hezbollah. But I think it highly unlikely that Israel hasn't given the networks to make footage of its troop movements, or that the networks would know anything about deployment of engineers and other details that the Israeli's haven't told them.

I find it even less likely that the Israelis are dumb enough not to realize that their enemy is seeing and hearing everything broadcast on U.S. network television.

A more probable scenario is that the Israelis are using the networks as part of an overall psychological and/or deception operation. In that case, the networks have in effect made themselves a part of the Israeli Defense Force. And make no mistake, there's a huge difference between reporting on operations that have already taken place and operations that are about to. The former is journalism. The latter is an essential element of modern war fighting.

It could be that the cable news giants are simply trying to report news, and don't realize what they're doing. But I find that a little hard to accept as well. I'm not familiar with CNN's stable of military experts, but it is inconceivable to me that MSNBC's Jack Jacobs, Rick Francona and the rest of them don't understand the implications of what's going on. Is anybody going to the senior producers and network executives and asking, "Hey, what are we doing here?"

I hope so, because at the end of the day, a whole lot of people will look back on this and notice that major U.S. media outlets picked a side in a war that America, in theory, is not a party to.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.


  1. Is anybody going to the senior producers and network executives and asking, "Hey, what are we doing here?"

    Reporter: "Hey, what are we doing here?"

    Sr. Producer: "Making money, asshole! Get back out there and sell that war, dammit, before Fox News beats us to the invasion!!! The advertisers want a show, and we're gonna give it to 'em!"

  2. Trouble's ahead. If this turns out to be part of a major deception op, the networks have quite arguably committed an act of war.

  3. Where's Col Solis when you need a legal opinion. I've seen him on there, MSNBC. We served together at CamPen...he as a judge, me as a court-martial stenographer.

    Nice and provocative, Jeff, thanks.

  4. I have no idea where Solis or any of the rest of them are.

    But Solis works for MSNBC now, so what do you reckon his opinion would be?

  5. I suspect that the Israelis are quite aware of what the networks are broadcasting. Last I heard the Israelis get CNN and CNN International off the sat feed. You have to assume the broadcasts are acceptable to Israeli censors, either as a propaganda tool or as a matador's cape.

    Interestingly, Abu Aardvark had a post yesterday detailing front page coverage of the Israeli assault on Lebanon in various major Arab newspapers. Many of the semi-official anti-Hezbollah papers prominently featured photos of war-shattered infants and young children. But one featured a photo of Israeli AFVs parked on a highway.

    Would one think much of the Arab press is anti-Hezbollah out of self-protection? Does this equate to pro-Israeli, or just "the enemy of my enemy"?

  6. Don't know, Lurch, but I'm not so concerned about the behavior of the foreign media as I am about the bahavior of our own.

  7. Thank you for pointing this out. Having no TV, I only know the coverage from the clips I catch on the net and printed descriptions, but I don't think I would have recognized the significance of it if I had seen the coverage you're referring to.

    What you've said makes perfect sense and I greatly respect your knowledge of military matters, and this seems quite a serious and interfering blunder, as you describe (and it is even more disturbing than MSNBC's "music video" montage of the war that Jon Stewart showed). I have also noted a strong element of glee in the network reportage that I've seen and heard, and this puzzles me even more than it troubles me (which is saying something).

  8. Needless to say, I see this as a total lack on journalistic integrity, and a lot more besides.

    And I am not happy about it.

  9. The media are suckers for a good photo op. I don't think it is necessary to read anything more into the media's side of the story than that. They probably know full well they are being played, but just can't allow some other outlet to get the good photos. Americans have become very militaristic. Martial scenes rank just "behind babies trapped in holes" and "missing white girls" as must-show TV.

  10. Good point about reading too much into intentions, Sargash.

    But the effect is the same if they're intending or just yupping along.

    One of Lebanon's ministers just gave Tucker Carlson a gentle lecture on just that issue, saying that Israel was getting the bulk of the coverage.

    Tucker said that he's coming to Lebanon tomorrow.

    The minister said, "Watch out for friendly fire."

  11. Question: Why is friendly fire called friendly fire? When there is nothing friendly about it???

  12. Tahnia,

    I should have gone into more depth on that.

    "Friendly fire" is but one of several terms describing the danger to forces from other forces on the same side.

    This is also referred to as "blue on blue" attrition, and is the kind of thing that happened to Pat Tillman.

    By cautioning Carlson about "friendly fire," the Lebanese Minister, if I read his intent correctly, was a statement that he considered the US media to be on the side of the Israelis.

  13. My question was probably phrased wrong (I'm boiling - its hot in Britain and we r not used to it!). It was a more of why the word "friedly" is used to describe this term. Its just curiorsity. I get the fact that is fire by your own forces, but still - "friendly"? Hmmm... mayb the heat is getting to me.... its a sily Q.

  14. Jack Jacobs was just on there, MSNBC, saying it was foolish for the Israelis to allow TV to show where they're staging.

  15. Thanks Zeb, I missed that.

    But I'm really surprised that Jacobs, who I believe is a former Army War College instructor, hasn't considered the deception/psyop angle.