Title: CNN and PSYOPS
Author: Alexander Cockburn
Foreign coverage: Trouw (Dutch daily newspaper) 2/21/2000, Japan economic Newswire, 4/5/2000, Le Monde Du Renseignement 2/17/2000, The Guardian 4/12/2000
U.S. Coverage; National Public Radio, 4/10/2000, 4/16/2000, Tampa Tribune 4/23/2000, pg.6, TV Guide 4/2000
Faculty Evaluators: Andy Merrifield Ph.D., Elizabeth Burch Ph.D.
Student researchers: Molly Garrison and Bruce Harden
From June 1999 to March 2000, CNN employed military specialists in ‘psychological operations’ (Psyops) in their Southeast TV bureau and CNN radio division.
“Psyops personnel, soldiers, and officers, have been working in CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta through our program ‘Training With Industry,’” Major Thomas Collins of the U.S. Army Information Service said in a telephone interview on February 18, 2000. Collins asserted, “They worked as regular employees of CNN. Conceivably, they would have worked on stories during the Kosovo war. They helped in the production of news.”
CNN had hosted a total of five interns from U.S. Army Psyops, two in television, two in radio, and one in satellite operations. The military/CNN personnel belonged to the airmobile Fourth Psychological Operations Group stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. One of the main tasks of this group of almost 1,200 soldiers and officers is to spread “selected information.” The propaganda group was involved in the Gulf War, the war in Bosnia, and the crisis in Kosovo.
The military personnel stayed with CNN for at least two weeks “to get to know the company and to broaden their horizons.” Collins maintains that “they didn’t work under the control of the army.” The temporary outplacement of U.S. Army Psyops personnel in various sectors of society began a couple of years ago. Contract periods vary from weeks to one year.
Colonel Christopher St. John is commander of the Fourth Psychological Operations Group. In a military symposium on special operations that was held behind closed doors in Arlington, Virginia, in early February, Col. St. John said the cooperation with CNN was a textbook example of the kind of ties the American army wants to have with the media. Still, the Psyops people in Arlington were not entirely satisfied with news handling during the war on Serbia. In their opinion, too much information about the results of the bombings came to the surface.
CNN and other media coverage of the war in Kosovo and of other media, has attracted criticism for having been one sided, overly emotional, over simplified and relying too heavily on NATO officials. On the other hand, journalists have complained about the lack of the reliable information from NATO; for almost all of them it was impossible to be on the battlefield and file first-hand reports. The question remains: Did the military learn from TV people how to hold viewers’ attention? Or did the Psyops people teach CNN how to help the U.S. government garner political support?
TV Guide reported in April that Psyops also had team members working at National Public Radio (NPR). This prompted two NPR stories on the program “All Things Considered.” Jeffrey Dvorkin, NPR’s vice president for news, stated, “We recruited from the army and got three interns, and that was a mistake. And when we discovered that they were from Psyops branch, we finished the arrangement, and it won’t happen again.”