Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Get Over It! Message Management vs. the 21st Century

The Canadian Department of National Defence, a squarer, politer and quieter version of the Pentagon, is most frustrated by its inability to do "message management."  That is, it cannot control information.  The latest story has DND frustrated by retired soldiers talking to the media.  My first thought: join the club.  American generals and secretaries of defense have been most frustrated by retired officers becoming media mouthpieces. 

My second thought: suck it up.  As a government agency in a democracy, there are some inconvenient truths for a military to consider.  That freedom of the press means that reporters are going to ask pesky questions.  That freedom of speech means that lots of people can speak to those pesky reporters.  Sure, those in government service have legal restrictions, but any large agency is going to have some people speak out.  And militaries tend to be very large agencies.  So, there is only so much message managing one can do. 

What can DND do?  Besides not whining about it?  The radical suggestion would be to be ... transparent.  If you do not deny, deny, deny especially when it comes to stuff where there are good sources of information elsewhere, and anticipate the likely stories ahead so that you can spin but spin openly, reporters will chase the story but will probably not be as enthused.  Coverups are much tastier for the Woodward and Bernstein wannabees (whatever the Canadian equivalent might be) than open info.

I get it that the government prefers for bad news not to get out, but much of it does.  And bad news is like fish--the longer one keeps it, the smellier it gets.  And if you are telling the truth, then there is far less need to coordinate.  Lies require much cooperation so that everyone gets the story straight and keeps it straight.  Telling something closer to the truth means people don't have to remember the lies and stay on the same page. 

Obviously, military operations, vulnerabilities and plans should remain secret, but the whining described in this article and others is entirely about bad news/embarrassment and not about stuff that needs to be secret.

Of course, this government is obsessed with message management, which seems to work for it.  It has won a few elections, but this strategy is costing it a heap of credibility and causes far more smoke to come out of the inevitable fires.  I know that they will not change their ways, but these folks should stop whining about leaks and about retired soldiers speaking up.  It is the price for doing business at any time and especially when people have to look elsewhere to get anything close to the real story.

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