Mike Allen and Hugh Hewitt on the politicization of the military

"The military organized the O'Hanlon-Pollack tour."

Published August 3, 2007 10:39AM (EDT)

(updated below)

Mike Allen of The Politico visited in person yesterday with Hugh Hewitt for a radio interview. As one would expect, the deeply partisan and press-hating Hewitt is a big fan of The Politico, and told his readers:

If you want to get a sense of what is going on in Campaign 2008, you have to visit Politico every day -- sometimes a few times because of bloggers Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin post early and often. The team there is deep, but Mike Allen is a wonderful talker who has an energizer bunny approach to political information.

Throughout the interview -- just as was true when Allen visited with Matt Drudge in March -- Allen did not hide his deep affection for Hewitt, which was clearly mutual:

* MA: "it's fun to be face to face with you";

* MA: "So we look around and try and figure out what people will blog about. You beat me with the link, for instance the other day, on the Pollack-O'Hanlon article";

* MA: "Senator Obama sounded like a Republican. . . . now I read your post, and I read about the first rule of holes. Now the first law of holes is stop digging, right?

HH: Right, right. . . .

MA: And Hugh, in your post, you asked what about the high value targets in Iraq?

HH: Yeah. I did -- wow, you are reading this.

* HH: Are you going to be out for the Romney swing?

MA: It sounds like I should be.

HH: Yeah, that would be a good one. I'll take you out to dinner afterwards [ etc. etc.].

In the middle of the interview, Allen and Hewitt began discussing Bush/Cheney '04 media strategist Steve Schmidt, a former top aide to Dick Cheney for communications strategy (i.e., media management). Allen and Hewitt both heaped great praise on Schmidt as a brilliant media strategist, and Allen claimed that the current GOP campaign operatives "are schooled in the Bush-Cheney school . . . all of them learned under Schmidt's rules." Allen is very excited about the fact that a whole new generation of GOP media strategists are becoming so well-practiced in "the Bush-Cheney school" of media manipulation: "the great thing of it is he's populated his ideas into these young people who are out there today, Matt David [of the McCain campaign], Kevin Madden [communications Director for Mitt Romney and formerly for Tom DeLay], all these young people are out there. They sort of have the Schmidt credo."

The most significant revelation occurred during the following exchange, when Allen excitedly reported that Schmidt's media management techniques have been adopted not only by the GOP presidential campaigns, but also recently by the U.S. military in Iraq, with one particularly large payoff this week:

HH: Schmidt's -- by the way, I've never met him. I've heard about him for years. He went out and he ran Arnold's campaign, and he did a tremendous job.

MA: You have a great memory, and Steve is awesome.

HH: Where'd he go?

MA: He was a consultant to the McCain campaign, but he has his own business, they're in Sacramento, California, and he works a little bit with the Mercury Public Affairs group. But Steve is awesome, he's a bulldog, he's intense. He will call you up about these stories like, remember the story about John Kerry's house and the taxes on it?

HH: Yeah, yeah.

MA: I was so tired of hearing about that house, like I thought that whatever we were going to learn from that we'd already learned. But Steve was relentless about it, and --

HH: Why don't they put him in charge of war message management, because the Bush White House is just not good at this.

MA: Right, and this is part of the talent drain that's occurring in this White House -

HH: Yeah.

MA: - because as you know, Steve was a very high official in the Vice President's office -

HH: Right.

MA: And he also went over to Iraq to look at the communications capabilities, and he came back with a number of recommendations about even some of the logistical things to help people get those stories out. Now I think the military's getting smarter about it, as you know. . . .

HH: Yeah.

MA: The military organized the O'Hanlon-Pollack tour, and I didn't know until I read your interview with Mike O'Hanlon that they'd had an interview with General Petraeus . . . .

HH: Right.

MA: That had not been reported before. That was very fascinating. But I think that shows you that the military's getting better at this.

When Allen gushes that "the military's getting better at this," what he means by "this" is "media and political messaging about the war." As has been evident for months now, the U.S. military in Iraq has been devoting far more efforts to all sorts of propaganda campaigns designed to shape American public opinion about the war. Many of those media management efforts by the (absolutely nonpolitical) U.S. military have been shaped by the same individual responsible for media management in the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign and, subsequently, in Dick Cheney's office.

And it was as part of exactly that newly shaped campaign that -- to use Allen's words -- "the military organized the O'Hanlon-Pollack tour." During the U.S. media part of their "tour" after they returned from Iraq, O'Hanlon and Pollack tried to create the impression -- with the able help of their very-impressed media interviewers -- that they were intrepid war reporters who practically fought their way into the war zone and dug deep into the gritty realities of the front line and came back hardened and a bit shell-shocked but nonetheless so impressed by the military progress they saw first-hand that they had no choice but to admit that the Surge is Succeeding.

What they actually did was prance around on a meticulously calibrated path shaped by a Bush-Cheney P.R. operative and U.S. military communications strategists in order to view what Sen. Jim Webb recently called the "dog and pony show" -- the same show that the U.S. military produces for war-supporting political and media figures who take a trip for a few days to Iraq so that they can come back and begin every pro-war sentence with "having just returned from Iraq." O'Hanlon and Pollack saw what the U.S. military communications team wanted them to see, and that, in turn, was shaped by the same individual whose job it was to manipulate the media for the Bush/Cheney '04 campaign.

One would be remiss here if one failed to note the obvious and quite extreme admiration which Allen harbors for Steve Schmidt. During the 2004 election, Allen was a staff writer for The Washington Post and thereafter for Time, and his relationship with Bush media operative Steve Schmidt -- just as was true for Allen's relationship with Bush communications advisor Dan Bartlett -- is steeped in reverence and is both close and personal. Thus: "Steve is awesome" - "he has his own business . . . he works a little bit with the Mercury Public Affairs group" - "But Steve is awesome, he's a bulldog, he's intense" - "But he is doing business in Sacramento, he's got a young family . . . ." etc. etc.

Allen's personal relationship with, and great affection for, Bush aides produces "reports" like the following, which was the interview-closing exchange between Hewitt and Allen:

MA: I think different presidents have different needs at different times, and I think that Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan did a great job at the time that they were there. Obviously, this is a time of testing for the President. You were with him today. You know that he is as resilient as you can imagine.

You wouldn't -- he does read the papers, as you well know. But you might think that he didn't, because it's amazing that he's able to keep up his spirits the way he is.

We were out at Camp David the other day, you maybe saw the video of when he picked up Prime Minister Gordon Brown in his golf cart, which had a Golf Cart One and presidential seal on the front. He drove by the press, waived, sped up a little bit, and then did a 360. It wasn't quite a donut, because he didn't spin out, but he did a little circle right in front of us, just because he could, gave us a little mischievous smile, and a waive, just to remind us that he's there. So that's his mood, and I think Tony Snow reflects that. He is a happy warrior.

HH: Mike Allen, great to have you come by, thanks for stopping by Heritage to do this, and I'll look forward to talking to you many times between now and the election.

One can only imagine the giddy gratitude of the White House Press Corps as they stood by while George Bush rode by them in a golf cart, spun around, and then smirked "mischievously" at them -- "just because he could." That is how he has been treating them -- and the country -- for the last six years, "just because he could." And throughout that time, and still, the "journalists" who cover him glow with respect and admiration. Because George W. Bush is a "happy warrior" and that is a happy warrior's entitlement.

* * * * *

Today, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, I will be on a Yearly Kos panel discussing the relationship between blogs and the media with the aforementioned Mike Allen, as well as Time's Jay Carney and Jill Filipovic. Some of the panels are being broadcast on C-SPAN and this one may be as well.

UPDATE: In comments, Che Pasa reviews some of the media strategies employed by the Awesome Bulldog, Steve Schmidt, in California.

The Yearly Kos panel I am doing, as well as many other of the conference's panels, can be viewed live here (h/t EJ).

By Glenn Greenwald

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