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Pentagon's Fine Line: War Machine, P.R. Machine

The U.S. military doesn't do all its public relations work overseas -- it's also investing in grass-roots efforts here at home.

The Pentagon's "America Supports You" program employs Pentagon staff and private PR contractors to coordinate activities that support the armed forces. "Freedom Walk" marches, letter-writing campaigns, even supplements in kids' Weekly Reader, are all paid for by the Pentagon itself.

One recent effort is a campaign to get people at major league baseball games to "text-message" their support to the troops on their cell phones... even though those messages aren't actually sent to the troops.

Plenty of people in the armed forces say they're grateful for the effort, but there are some at the Pentagon who have come to believe the effort verges on tax-payer-funded propaganda. The fear is that an appeal to support the troops could also be seen as a call to support the war in Iraq.

Much of the publicity work has been farmed out to a private firm, Susan Davis International. For the first year of America Supports You, the firm signed Pentagon contracts for at least $2.7 million.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.

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