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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Defense Department is beefing up its public affairs staff in an effort to communicate better.

In an Oct. 3 memo, Dorrance Smith, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, writes the new effort will focus on four areas:

New media.Booking Defense officials on television and radio shows.Providing information to surrogates, such as military analysts.Rapid response.The last area of focus will include correcting “inaccurate statements” by the news media, Defense officials said.

“So if somebody writes an editorial that’s factually incorrect or if there’s a columnist that takes a position that we disagree with, then we disagree with it,” Pentagon spokesman Eric Ruff said Monday.

Ruff noted the increased “operational tempo” for letters to the editor but did not say why.

Since The Associated Press and others wrote about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speaking Aug. 29 at the American Legion Convention at Salt Lake City, the Defense Department has stepped up efforts to challenge the accuracy of news and opinion pieces.

The day after Rumsfeld’s remarksin Salt Lake City the Defense Department posted a lengthy rebuttal to an Associated Press story on the Early Bird, the department’s online compilation of Defense-related news stories.

The rebuttal said that the AP story mischaracterized Rumsfeld’s remarks about the era leading to World War II as an attack on war critics and demanded a correction, but several other media outlets published similar stories.

And on Monday alone, five letters to the editor demanding corrections to stories appeared on the Early Bird,.

Asked if the Defense Department views the media as the enemy, Ruff said no.

“The fundamental issue here is accuracy, and we’re all about accuracy and you guys are all about accuracy. So the fact that we are tying to increase our capabilities should not be seen in any way as what you described,” he said.

Smith said in the memo that the initiative aims to allow the Defense Department to respond more quickly to breaking news and distribute more information worldwide.

Officials could not say how many people are being brought on board, what their responsibilities will be or how much money has been allocated to the extra staff.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman explained that transformation is a “process,” not an event.

“We’re not going to show up one day and I’m going to announce that OSDPA (Public Affairs) is now transformed today,” Whitman told reporters on Tuesday.


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