Al Qaeda’s killer ad campaign courtesy the fourth estate

At TCS Daily, J. D. Johannes writes:

In the first month of full implementation – June, 2007 – the “surge” strategy of General David Petraeus resulted in a 32% decline in Iraqi deaths. An anti-al Qaeda alliance of Sunni chiefs, Coalition forces, and the Iraqi Army drove the insurgency out of most of al Anbar, and much of Baghdad.

Over the past three months, I was privileged to observe “surge” operations as a reporter embedded with combat units. I assure my readers: these operations were no mere repetition of the futile “clearing” raids of the past. General David Petraeus has implemented a regimen based on a career-long study of counterinsurgency. The revised tactics include meticulous census taking of persons and vehicles; skilled, persistent diplomacy with tribal leaders; incorporation of local intelligence; constant foot patrols in the residential areas from platoon and squad sized outposts; and persistent perimeter control of areas cleared and held. […]

But in the flush of battlefield success, public perception of American military progress continued its calamitous decline. According to Pew Research, the percentage of Americans who opine that America’s military operations are “going well” slid from 38% in May ’07 to 34% in June; those who believe our military operations are “not going well” increased from 57% of respondents to 61%.

Johannes goes on to describe the concept of Gross Ratings Points, used in advertising and political campaigns, and estimates that “from May 2003 to June 2006 a net 56,556 pessimistic Gross Ratings Points caused a 34 point swing [downward] in the polls.” These were the GRPs from CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC alone. GRPs from broadcast networks and other cable channels are not included. The estimate was conservative in that it was based on the negative slant in stories from Fox News while the negative slant from CNN and MSNBC is much more pronounced.

Political consultants also deal in GRPs. For a handy reference, Congressional and Senate Campaigns tend to buy 800-1,200 points a week for advertising on TV. A campaign would want at least 800 points behind each message/ad. (When I managed campaigns I liked to run 1,000 GRPs a week in every applicable media market.)

If a message has thousands of GRPs behind it, you will be able to sing the jingle along with the commercial.

How this works is obvious. With over 55,000 GRPs behind the “Quagmire” message it’s no reason that the American public has been sold on the idea that Iraq is unwinnable. Yet it is quite winnable, though within the United States it has so far lacked an effective PR campaign to allow it the political space in which it can be won.

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