What do people hear when the news says the "the Pentagon now admits using white phosphorus despite earlier denials"? It sounds a lot like the United States Armed Forces lied. What the public hears, both foreign and domestic, is another cover-up. Critical to the real story, especially this one, is who really said what and what is the "Pentagon".
An analysis on the BBC News website (16 Nov 05) used that exact phrase (emphasis mine):
The Pentagon's admission - despite earlier denials - that US troops used white phosphorus as a weapon in Falluja last year is more than a public relations issue - it has opened up a debate about the use of this weapon in modern warfare.
The admission contradicted a statement this week from the new and clearly under-briefed US ambassador in London Robert Holmes Tuttle that US forces "do not use napalm or white phosphorus as weapons".
From a news story on the BBC News website the same day (16 Nov 05) (emphasis mine):
The US has now admitted using white phosphorus as a weapon in Falluja last year, after earlier denying it.
In both of these, just two samples among a huge number of news stories and blogs on the subject, switch between military and civilian personnel without care or knowledge.
The Eccentric Star Public Diplomacy blog has an excellent list of news stories on this and some very good analysis about conflicting information within the "monolithic", per foreign audiences, US government. The foreign press and public do not discern a difference between military and civilian in the United States because either a) the military elites are the civilian elites or b) military statements come through civilian channels either implicity or explicitly. In the US, the fraying civil-military relationship pushed the military to make its own statements.
As is the case for the last several years, the civilian leadership disregarded input from the military leadership, likely not even asking about before responding. The Administration's demonstrated distrust and lack of faith in the military tears at the foundational civil-military relationship on which democracy is built. This situation, if one simply scratches the surface, is indicative of the friction between civil and military leaderships.
The evidence used by the military and the media to show the "US Government" know of the use of "Willie Pete" is a journal article, "The Fight for Fallujah". The public relations "issue" created by the civilian leadership failing to properly research the question led to the negative reaction by the world press and global public. This could have been diffused earlier by establishing credibility and emphasizing the miscommunication.
Rarely included in the news or blogs is a quote by Pentagon spokesman, Lt Col Barry Venable, stating "earlier denials had been based on "poor information"". The public relations problem is mostly because the Administration does not forcefully move to correct the misinformation or, more importantly, lend credibility to the reason why the improper denial was advanced in the first place.