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AN AGGIE LINE: USU cheerleaders perform during the Aggies' final exhibition game. It's time to cheer for basketball. / Photo by Brianna Mortensen

Today's word on journalism

Friday, November 10, 2006

Q&A with Ed Bradley:

Q: What single issue should be covered more at CBS News?
A: Foreign news.

Q: Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to? How did you deal with it?
A: When I first started in New York at WCBS radio, the assignment editor automatically assigned any story that had a minority in it to me. I objected to being typecast and told him if I didn't get a variety of stories -- as other reporters did -- then I would take it up with the news director.

Q: If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
A: If I had the talent, I'd play bass guitar and sing in a kicking band.

--Ed Bradley, reporter, "60 Minutes," died yesterday of leukemia at age 65 (2006)

'Strong' PR, bad strategy

Editor's note: USU journalism graduate Leon D'Souza now serves in the U.S. Army.

By Leon D'Souza

October 30, 2006 | Not long ago, on what might otherwise have passed as another sedentary afternoon spent honing my Solitaire skills, I came upon a curious bit of news.

It was contained in an e-mail message from Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey, although I suspect the hyperbolical proclamation was more likely the oeuvre of a flack for the service's well-endowed public affairs office. Oyez, oyez, the missive thundered, Uncle Sam's green-suiters have a new clarion call: It's "Army Strong."

"For 231 years our Army has been the vanguard of freedom around the globe," Harvey began. "Our ability to fulfill this vital role . . . depends on our ability to fill the Army's ranks in the future with committed and capable volunteer soldiers."

A new ad campaign, the secretary reasoned, was in some way central to this momentous mission.

"'Army Strong' stands for a big idea," he went on. "It speaks to the truth about the U.S. Army -- that soldiers develop mental, emotional and physical strength forged through shared values, teamwork, experience and training."

Then this impassioned avowal: "I firmly believe 'Army Strong' is the truth. I speak often with soldiers as I know you also do. In different words and in different ways, over and over again, I hear the story of strength."

Huh, I mused, it's funny I haven't drawn the same conclusion.

My numerous exchanges with fellow soldiers on the question of enlistment have suggested a more practical, financial motive. After all, what can be more enticing than thousands of dollars in bonuses, paid tax free, during some stage-managed overseas deployment?

It's a shot at that swanky car or a mortgage on a house -- pieces of the American dream that ordinarily might seem out of reach.

In truth, I have yet to encounter a soldier who cheerfully relinquished his civil liberties to don the uniform owing to some snazzy catchphrase. Perhaps Mr. Harvey has, I thought, but I have a sneaking suspicion he's making this one up.

Of course, I couldn't help but wonder how much the Army had spent on its newest recruiting mantra.

Naturally, Google had the answer.

Turns out, the slogan, which replaces the familiar "Army of One" campaign, is the result of a $200 million-a-year contact with the McCann Worldgroup, a communications firm hired by the service last December after a particularly disappointing recruiting year. The overall five-year contract, according to the Associated Press, is valued at $1 billion.

To put this in perspective: In a year of widening trade deficits, wildly fluctuating oil prices, surging war costs and declining dollar valuations, Army bigwigs -- bureaucrats and brass alike -- thought it wise to bet a shocking $1 billion on what might well amount to a reckless gamble.

To be sure, a glossy ad campaign will do little to obscure the stark reality of a war that has cost us nearly 3,000 American lives. And even our most selfless patriots will ultimately yield to the discouraging prospect of death in a hostile foreign street.

The best spin doctoring, in the end, is powerless against the grim foreboding of a mounting body count.

So why, then, splurge on fancy advertising?

I could go on about fiscal responsibility, but I won't belabor the point.

Suffice to say that if "Army Strong" is the Pentagon's idea of prudent spending, it's time American taxpayers clamored for a hefty refund.


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