Public Affairs and Agenda Setting:

Passive On-Lookers or Active Participants?
Case Studies & Hypotheses 2

Public Communications Case Studies

     At least two military public affairs communications campaigns using the DOD model suggest public affairs professionals can help shape the agenda and have a positive effect on public opinion (USAOCPA, 1998; SPACECOM, 2000). The U.S. Army Office of the Chief of Public Affairs (1998) used an extensive communications campaign to help restore public confidence in it as an institution after the sexual misconduct scandals of 1996-97 (Gallup, 1999, July). The majority of editorials, while condemning the individual transgressors, reacted positively to the Armyís aggressive stance. The combined efforts of the North American Aerospace Command, U.S. Space Command, and Air Force Space Command (2000) to mitigate Y2K hype resulted in a decrease by half of public concern for the effects of Y2K on United States strategic systems (Gallup, 1999, December).

The U.S. Army and Sexual Harassment

     The U.S. Army (USAOCPA, 1998) faced harsh criticism across the ideological spectrum in early 1997 with the discovery of widespread sexual misconduct primarily throughout the Armyís training installations. An institution entrusted with Americaís sons and daughters was losing its image as a trustworthy institution and a declining pool of recruits seemed imminent (USAOCPA, 1998). The Army studied the lessons of the Navyís Tailhook sexual harassment episode, its own West Point groping scandal, and other public affairs case studies and quickly understood that recovery was possible as long as the Army maintained its credibility. 

     The U.S. Army (USAOCPA, 1998, p.1) believed credibility would only come from "quick, forthright, contrite admissions of deficiency, media access to senior leaders, and unfettered access to service personnel and their daily business." The U.S. Army (USAOCPA, 1998) set three main goals for its communications plan: (1) rebuild and regain Americaís trust, (2) recover recruiting targets, and (3) retain independence in corrective actions.

     The communications methodologies employed by the U.S. Army (USAOCPA, 1998) ensured aggressive and open communications with the public, cultivating confidence with each audience, and providing a framework of expectations regarding resolution. The primary tactic was ensuring "everyone spoke with one voice." This required a convenient, centralized database of public affairs guidance with themes and responses to queries (USAOCPA, 1998). 
Executing the plan required balance between the publicís right to know and rights of the accused and the victims. After the initial announcement by U.S. Army leadership in the Pentagon, several Army leaders quickly seized the opportunity to speak on major network news of what the Army was doing about the misconduct. 

     Army leaders conducted 212 live interviews, including 16 in 17 days by the Army Secretary Togo West, and facilitated 223 visits to affected posts. The primary target audience, the American public, was served through these interviews with directed messages of regret and a commitment to correct the problem (USAOCPA, 1998). 
Media analysis determined a positive reaction to the U.S. Armyís aggressive course of action. The Army enhanced its standing with the public, female recruiting surpassed recruiting goals, and re-enlistment was up. Army public affairs determined their goals had been met and the communications plan a success (USAOCPA). 

Y2K and U.S. Strategic Systems

    The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), U. S. Space Command (USSPACECOM), and Air Force Space Command (AFSPCOM) faced a daunting task as the new millennium approached. The tri-commands, led by a single commander-in-chief, are responsible for strategic warning, defense satellite systems, and strategic response systems. In early 1999, they set about the task of reassuring national and international publics that widespread predictions permeating the news cycle of catastrophic civil and defense infrastructure failure due to Y2K computer problems were simply not true. 

     Of particular public affairs significance was the concern for similar Russian systems and a Gallup (1998, December) poll showing nearly one-third of the American people believed a nuclear power or defense accident was likely. To assuage the fears, the two nuclear superpowers agreed to establish a Center for Y2K Strategic Stability (CY2KSS) to share missile warning information and guard against strategic miscalculations. The CY2KSS was to be located on the same installation as the tri-commands headquarters, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. These factors convinced the tri-commandís public affairs officials to develop a comprehensive communications plan to educate the public.

     The tri-command public affairs communications plan (SPACECOM, 2000) envisaged a dynamic, year-long campaign to educate the media and reassure national and international publics that there would be no inadvertent nuclear exchange between the superpowers. The plan was flexible to deal with changing information and new measurement results as the tri-commands completed operational evaluations on their strategic computer systems. To ensure public confidence, the media had unprecedented access to normally high-secure areas (SPACECOM, 2000). 

     The year-long execution phase culminated in a five-day media event leading up to the millennium rollover. Media had access to senior leaders of the United States and the visiting Russian delegation who consistently portrayed confidence in their countries systems. Access was given to national and international media to strategic sites in Wyoming and Colorado including missile silos, underground command and control centers, satellite operation centers, and the historic U.S./Russian CY2KSS. Media were present in the CY2KSS and the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC), an underground strategic missile warning center in Colorado Springs, during the rollover (SPACECOM). 

     NORAD, USSPACECOM, and AFSPCOM clearly exceeded their objectives (SPACECOM, 2000). Two-thirds of the news coverage contained at least one of the tri-commandís messages and an astounding 97% of the stories were positive or balanced. Most importantly, the number of people who believed a nuclear power or defense accident was likely dropped to 15% with a constant 3% having no opinion (Gallup, 1999, December).
 Our second hypothesis we advance is:

H2: Defense appropriations are positively correlated with public opinion of the military.

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