The Army and the age of transparency

April 25, 2007

I watched in fascination yesterday morning the live coverage of Kevin Tillman and Jessica Lynch’s testimony to the Congress re the Army fabricating stories of heroism. It struck me how strange it was to be observing this huge and fundamental shift in public expectations and acceptance. Propaganda has always been a part of political/military life and activities. Not just in the Goebbels/Hitler mode, but also in the US–witness the enlisting of Hollywood greats such as John Ford to make what in retrospect were outrageously propagandist films during WWII.

We now live in the age of transparency. We live in the age of embedded reporters who share the frontlines with soldiers dodging bullets and living in constant fear of IEDs. And we have no tolerance for spin–not even from our military leaders. I can imagine the Army Public Affairs officers in the 50+ category shaking their heads and wondering, what is happening here. The ground has shifted under our feet and we naturally feel unsteady. And the problem is, it keeps shifting.

As another example, I am about to lead a conference call with approximately 40 university leaders from across the country talking precisely about this shifting ground. Events like the Virginia Tech horror, change the landscape forever. Universities will never be the same in terms of what is expected from them in major events involving safety and health.

Communicators: nimbleness is more important than ever.

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