Media help launder US military PR on joint drills with Israel

Media help launder US military PR on joint drills with Israel

Three separate reports from CNN, NBC News, and Reuters were almost identical in repeating official talking points and ignoring criticism.

JANUARY 24, 2023

Written by
Ben Armbruster

Political media critics often accuse journalists of being “stenographers” for those in power when they are seen as regurgitating what a government official says in an article without offering any critical assessment of that official’s claim or providing a counter claim from someone of similar expertise. 

But sometimes, media outlets take this practice to a whole other level and effectively serve as government public relations firms, as illustrated when CNN, NBC News, and Reuters published stories this week on a joint U.S.-Israel military drill in the Middle East. 

All three articles made exactly the same four points. First, that this was a “massive” drill that came together quickly: 

CNN: “The US and Israel launched their largest joint military exercise ever on Monday … The exercise, which marks a major increase in cooperation between the US and Israeli militaries, came together quickly, the official said, especially for something of this scale.”

NBC: “The United States and Israel began a massive joint military exercise in Israel on Monday. …An exercise of this size would normally take a year or more to plan, but this came together in a matter of months.”

Reuters: “The United States and Israel on Monday launched what one U.S. official described as the allies’ most significant joint military exercise to date. … The planning for the exercises began only a couple of months ago. …”

Second, all three reports said the exercises were meant to demonstrate Washington’s commitment to Israel, despite its controversial incoming far right government

CNN: “The US official acknowledged the possibility for disagreements with the nascent government but stressed the non-negotiable bipartisan commitment to Israel.

NBC: “‘This is a sign that we continue to have Israel’s back at a time where there’s a lot of turbulence and instability across the region,’ the official said, and this is a chance to show that the U.S. and Israel can work together on a large scale in a short period of time.”

Reuters: “The senior U.S. official said America’s commitment to Israel’s security was ‘ironclad.’ ‘We have Israeli governments of one flavor or the other. They come and go. But what doesn’t change is our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security,’ the official said.”

Third, all three outlets stressed that the exercises were meant to show Washington’s adversaries that the United States is not overcommitted elsewhere or bogged down in Ukraine: 

CNN: “The exercise also comes as the Pentagon shifts its focus away from the Middle East and central Asia. … [T]his exercise is intended to show the ability of the US to move large forces into the region in a short period. ‘We still have the excess capacity to be able to flex to another high-priority area of responsibility and conduct an exercise on this scale,’ said the senior US defense official.”

NBC: “‘What we think this exercise demonstrates is we can walk and chew gum at the same time,’ the senior defense official who spoke to NBC News said, citing the focus on China and the roughly 100,000 forces in Europe to support NATO and Ukraine.”

Reuters: “The official said the drills would show how the United States could effectively surge large numbers of battle-ready forces into the Middle East, even as Washington focuses on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and intensifying competition with China.”

And finally, the CNN, NBC, and Reuters reports on the joint U.S.-Israel military drills this week all made sure to point out that this wasn’t about Iran, but — wink, wink — the Iranians aren’t blind:

CNN: “The US official stressed that this exercise was not intended to be a simulation of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but the official acknowledged that Iran would be watching and taking note.”

NBC: “The official said that the exercise is not oriented around a particular nation, but that regional adversaries like Iran will take notice.”

Reuters: “Although the drills will likely draw interest from Tehran, the U.S. official said there would be no mockups of Iranian targets and that the exercises weren’t oriented around any particular adversary. ‘I do think that the scale of the exercise is relevant to a whole range of scenarios, and Iran may draw certain inferences from that,’ the official acknowledged.”

None of these articles contain any sense whatsoever as to whether these exercises might not be a good idea. No one is quoted giving an opposing view, which essentially means that these stories are press releases for the U.S. military disguised as legitimate news reports. 

It wouldn’t have been too much of a lift for these reports to include at least ONE voice of criticism, a point that I put to the test. It took me about 30 seconds to write an email to Paul Pillar, a Middle East expert and non-resident fellow at the Quincy Institute. He responded shortly thereafter: 

“While Netanyahu’s government no doubt is delighted to draw the U.S. military into its business,” Pillar said, “nothing about this exercise explains how it advances or protects U.S. interests.” 

Pillar added: “To the contrary, a tight military relationship with Israel — which has initiated more hostilities and fought more wars against more countries than any other state in the Middle East — only increases the risk of the United States being dragged into yet another war in that region.”