Pentagon Channel provides PR for military


October 07, 2005|By MELISSA HARRIS

The news anchors and reporters dress in uniform. The commercials promote companies and nonprofits donating to the military. But other than that, the Pentagon Channel - the 24-hour news network added to Comcast cable in Prince George's County this week - looks an awful lot like C-SPAN.

If producers were to shed the uniforms and add a news ticker, the Defense Department's network could pass for CNN.

Produced by the Pentagon's public relations maestros, the network doesn't ignore bad news, but the spin is pro-military. It's also a way for top brass to boost morale, by airing shows such as celebrity concerts, and to communicate to the rank-and-file.

Some argue that the message should come through a closed-circuit network rather than being sent into more than 12 million living rooms.

"It's clear that this administration is putting more effort than ever into what's called public diplomacy, such as Karen Hughes' listening tour in the Middle East," said Shawn Parry-Giles, director of the Center for Political Communication and Civic Leadership at the University of Maryland.

"They see communication as part of the problem. They think the U.S. is misunderstood at home and abroad, and that if you don't agree with them, then you don't understand. Given the state of our involvement in Iraq, they need to be persuasive now more than ever. And efforts like this will increase."

The channel offers dozens of programs, including Battleground, a weekly showing of combat films; the biweekly Stallion Report, with news from the Mosul region of Iraq; Around the Services, the daily half-hour equivalent of World News Tonight; and The American Veteran, according to the Defense Department's Web site.

The network, which made its debut last year, can be viewed on Channel 185 on Comcast's digital plus tier system. The expansion marks an 85,000-household increase, including Andrews Air Force Base.

The network also can be viewed at

Drug booklet error

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have caught an error in their handbook describing the prescription drug benefit for the elderly that will start Jan. 1, but not before shipment of 35 million booklets began. They could arrive in mailboxes as early as this weekend.

The approximately 100-page handbook lists all the plans available to people with low incomes as having no monthly premium. Only about 40 percent of those plans have no premium.

Gary Karr, a spokesman for the Baltimore County-based agency, said the large amount of accurate material circulating on the subject should minimize the confusion. He also said that the agency would ensure that companies offering the benefit notify low-income enrollees that they were choosing a plan with a premium and that plans without one exist.

The extra low-income subsidy, which is being administered by the Woodlawn-based Social Security Administration, is available to those whose annual incomes do not exceed $14,355, or $19,245 for a couple.

Poor proofreading allowed the mistake, which appears in a chart on Page 97, to remain, Karr said.

Employee raises

Next year's raises for federal workers are one step closer.

Workers in the Baltimore area would get a 3.44 percent raise under a recommendation this week from the Federal Salary Council, a board composed of members from labor groups and agencies, along with pay experts. That raise would include a 2.1 percent across-the-board increase and a boost in locality pay that would narrow the gap between government and corporate wages.

The House has approved it. Senators vote next. If they pass it, Congress will send the measure to President Bush. Every year, he has approved raises that are larger than the ones that he originally proposed.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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