A recent news story revealed more less then positive actions by the public relations agency the Rendon Group. The Rendon Group has a long a profitable association with the US government. Its most recent activity was helping to assess journalists to be embedded in Afghanistan. The Rendon Group reviews stories written by the journalists and classifies the content as positive, negative, or neutral of the military. US officials say the information is not used to deny access to journalists.
“The military says no reporter has been turned down. ‘We have not denied access to anyone because of what may or may not come out of their biography,’ said Air Force Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a public affairs officer with U.S. Forces Afghanistan in Kabul. ‘It’s so we know with whom we’re working,”’reports USAT writer Michael Winter.” http://bulldogreporter.com/ME2/Audiences/dirmod.asp?sid=2436B6EB9392483ABB0A373E8B823A24&nm=&type=Publishing&mod=Publications%3A%3AArticle&mid=8F3A7027421841978F18BE895F87F791&AudID=213D92F8BE0D4A1BB62EB3DF18FCCC68&tier=4&id=25DDD0D6845A4E478E5D5C1AF8873842
Later US officials said they were considering a change to evaluating if the content of the stories was accurate or not. Starts and Strips, a US military publication, claims one of its reporters was denied access in Iraq because of one of these story content backgrounds by the Rendon Group. http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=64348
But the story brings back unpleasant memories for the Rendon Group as the media and bloggers recall their involvement with the Iraqi National Congress, an ex-patriot opposition group to Saddam Hussein formed in the 1990s. The concern is that the Iraqi National Congress was and remains a frontgroup built in large part by the Rendon Group. Moreover, intelligence provided by this group, including weapons of mass destruction, was used to justify the US invasion of Iraq. However, the evidence was faulty. The Rendon Group is reported to have trained the members of the Iraqi National Congress on their intelligence.
Many claim the Rendon Group was simply using perception management. The US Department of Defense defines perception management as follows:
“Actions to convey and/or deny selected information and
indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective
reasoning as well as to intelligence systems and leaders at all levels to influence official
estimates, ultimately resulting in foreign behaviors and official actions favorable to the
originator’s objectives. In various ways, perception management combines truth
projection, operations security, cover and deception, and psychological operations. See
also psychological operations.” http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/new_pubs/jp1_02.pdf
The downside of perception management is that is gets confused with public diplomacy. However, public diplomacy has or should have concern for the truth while perception management is about results, not truth. It is part of information warfare so everything is fair game. Public diplomacy, on the other hand, is aligning with public relations and should be based on truth—the ends should not justify the means. The actions of the Rendon Group raises ethical concerns as it gives an insight into a rather dark and disturbing application of public diplomacy and public relations.
Here is how the Rendon Group describes itself:
“The Rendon Group’s expertise is based on 25 years of political and communications consulting experience, a proven approach to media analysis, and demonstrated success implementing imaginative and multilayered public relations initiatives.
To date, we have worked in 91 countries planning and managing strategic and tactical communications programs across Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. The global experience of our seasoned staff maximizes the precision of our analysis and the value of our counsel.
The Rendon Group office in Washington, DC, operates a 24/7 media monitoring watch-center in support of both clients and TRG personnel working on location worldwide.” http://www.rendon.com/about.php
Questions to Consider
- How is the Iraqi National Congress similar and different from the Citizens for Free Kuwait?
- Why might people confuse perception management with public diplomacy or public relations?
- What is the danger of allowing the ends to justify the means?
- How is perceptions management similar and different to public relations?
- Why would people be concerned about how the Rendon Group was evaluating reporters?
- Why might accuracy be a better evaluative tool when doing background checks on journalists?