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The US Military is Blackballing Journalists

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If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Or to bring this thought experiment into the modern age—if it happens in the forest, does it stay in the forest? I ask this question because it has a bearing on the article to come. Specifically, what if an article of mine on the U.S. military appears somewhere in our media world and that military refuses to notice? Does it have an impact?

Before I explain, I need to shout a little: AFRICOM! AFRICOM! AFRICOM!

Any media monitoring service working for U.S. Africa Command, the umbrella organization for American military activity on the African continent, would obviously notice that outburst and provide a “clip” of this article to the command.

But just to be safe: AFRICOM! AFRICOM! AFRICOM!

Now, there is no excuse for this article not to appear in AFRICOM’s clips, which are packaged up and provided to the Africa Command’s media relations office in Stuttgart-Moehringen, Germany, on weekdays as the “AFRICOM Daily News Review.” In fact, including Africa Command or its acronym 11 times in the first 200 words of this piece must be some kind of record, the sort that should certainly earn this article the top spot in tomorrow’s review.

But no matter how often I mention AFRICOM’s name, I know perfectly well that’s not going to happen. Let me explain.

The “Elimination” of “Tom’s Dispatch”

“Like every organization that has a role in the public sphere, it is important to maintain awareness of events, incidents, and the atmospherics in order to participate tactically and strategically in the ongoing discussion,” AFRICOM’s present chief spokesman, John Manley, told me when I asked about the command’s media-tracking efforts. “We need to monitor events occurring in our AOR [area of responsibility], which is one of the most dynamic and complex regions on Earth, in order to provide the most appropriate and effective counsel for leaders to make informed decisions.”

Who could argue with that? And yet documents I obtained from AFRICOM via the Freedom of Information Act indicate that the command may never know this article even exists, even though it’s already mentioned AFRICOM 15 times.

How could that be? As a start, don’t blame some project manager at the Fairfax, Virginia-based ECS Federal, LLC (now ECS), a military contractor and “leading provider of solutions in science, engineering, and advanced technologies” hired to monitor the media and provide the command with news clips. Presumably, that person had been conscientiously taking your tax dollars in exchange for checking what outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and TomDispatch had to say about AFRICOM—until, that is, U.S. Africa Command put an end to it.

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