Well, this is the final blog post featuring the final propaganda analysis. Enjoy, and have a great summer.
Government Hero: A Propaganda Analysis of Pat Tillman
On April 8, 2002, National Football League (NFL) defenseman Pat Tillman typed a personal document, thoughtfully deliberating his future. The document read:
For much of my life I’ve tried to follow a path I believed important. Sports embodied many of the qualities I deem meaningful: courage, toughness, strength, etc., while at the same time, the attention I received reinforced its seeming importance. In the pursuit of athletics I have picked up a college degree, learned invaluable lessons, met incredible people, and made my journey much more valuable than any destination. However, these last few years, and especially after recent events, I’ve come to appreciate just how shallow and insignificant my role is. I’m no longer satisfied with the path I’ve been following…it’s no longer important;…(Krakauer 138).
Reflecting on the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and President George W. Bush’s subsequent demand for military intervention, the aforementioned “recent events,” Tillman decided to voluntarily serve four years under the respectable United States Army Rangers (Krakauer 137). The typed document was his final confirmation.
At the time of Tillman’s decision, he had graduated from Arizona State University and was experiencing an illustrious football career with the Arizona Cardinals, starting games at the linebacker and safety positions. Though the young Cardinals were continually developing, changing management and, consequently, losing, Tillman still impressed. Tillman’s remarkable talent further complicated his choice, as the Cardinals offered him a three-year, $3.6 million contract to continue playing. Tillman declined the offer, explaining his intent to join the military to the organization’s head coach, Dave McGinnis, who empathized (Krakauer 143). The media, upon hearing of Pat Tillman’s early exit from the NFL, immediately expressed interest in the rare occurrence, portraying Tillman as an American hero.
An Associated Press report on ESPN.com focuses on Pat Tillman’s bold move and upcoming military challenges in a July 8, 2002 article titled, “Basic training starts for former NFL player” (Associated Press). The article displays an intrepid image of Tillman in his Arizona Cardinals uniform, from the shoulders up, hustling down the field, his eyes permanently and determinedly fixated on the incoming football. This image purposely characterizes the article’s altruistic perception of Tillman and supports textual segments like, “Tillman, the 25-year-old starting safety for the Arizona Cardinals, turned down a $3.6 million contract for $18,000 a year and an uncertain quest to become an Army Ranger” (Associated Press). Generally, Tillman’s money and occupation abandonment elicits astonishment, and the article capitalizes on these responses by promoting quotations of Tillman’s friends and family.
For the Associated Press to further authenticate Tillman’s chivalrous persona, reliable sources close to Tillman bountifully permeate the writing. “I respect his decision. I think it’s honorable,” said Arizona Cardinals head coach Dave McGinnis, discussing Tillman’s departure and upcoming military service (Associated Press). “When I heard what he was doing, I knew it was perfect,” remarked Arizona State University associate athletic director, Mark Brand, reiterating McGinnis’ claims (Associated Press). Arizona State University defensive coordinator Phil Snow, who coached Tillman, commented, “You don’t find guys that have that combination of being as bright and as tough as him. This guy could go live in a foxhole for a year by himself with no food” (Associated Press). The addition of these quotations and more, with their perceived transcendence from opinion to fact, supports what the text cannot, injecting personal accounts of Tillman into an impersonal report. The successful employment of these methods created a propaganda frenzy which the media used to rally the American public.
Psychologists Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson, in their book, Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion, scrutinize the propagandizing efforts of media through four “stratagems of influence” (Pratkanis 51). The first stratagem is the element of pre-persuasion, or “how the issue is structured and how the decision is framed.” The ESPN.com article utilizes pre-persuasion in portraying Tillman as an accomplished professional, trading his lucrative and prestigious lifestyle for a financially and mentally depraved one. Source credibility is the second stratagem, relying on sources that “…appear likable or authoritative or trustworthy or possessed of any other attribute that would facilitate persuasion” (Pratkanis 51). The quotes in the Tillman article exist specifically because of their source credibility, personalizing the report. The third stratagem is message construction and deliverance, which “focuses the targets’ attention and thoughts on exactly what the communicator wants them to think about” (Pratkanis 51). The Associated Press carefully describes Tillman’s statistic achievements and daring military choice to eliminate his imperfectness and create an endearing symbol of heroism. Finally, the fourth stratagem of propaganda must “arouse an emotion and then offer the target a way of responding to that emotion that just happens to be the desired course of action (Pratkanis 51).” With mediocrity and scandal plaguing Iraq military briefings and news broadcasts, Pat Tillman became the vehicle for igniting passion and boosting public morale, which caught the attention of the Bush Administration.
Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, read a newspaper report highlighting Tillman and was immediately impressed. On June 25, 2002, Rumsfeld gave the report with an attached note to Secretary of the Army, Tom White, saying, “Here is an article on a fellow who is apparently joining the Rangers. He sounds like he is world-class. We might want to keep an eye on him” (Krakauer 150). Lieutenant General Bantz Craddock, Rumsfeld’s personal assistant, recalled the memo as the only time the Secretary of Defense personally commended a recruited soldier (Krakauer 150).
In the November 17, 2005 issue of Rolling Stone, writer James Bamford further dissected Rumsfeld’s interest in Tillman by debunking the administration’s covert Office of Strategic Command in an article titled “The Man Who Sold the War.” Bamford, aware of the negative publicity surrounding the Iraq War, explained:
According to a secret Pentagon report personally approved by Rumsfeld in October 2003 and obtained by Rolling Stone, the Strategic Command is authorized to engage in “military deception” — defined as “presenting false information, images or statements.” The seventy-four-page document, titled “Information Operations Roadmap,” also calls for psychological operations to be launched over radio, television, cell phones and “emerging technologies” such as the Internet. In addition to being classified secret, the road map is also stamped noforn, meaning it cannot be shared even with our allies;…(Bamford).
Tillman, a politically educated individual, understood the propagandistic campaigns integral to preserving public war support, despising them profusely for fear of being targeted. While stationed in Afghanistan, Tillman discussed this fear with Army bunkmate, Jade Lane, who recalls, “I don’t know how the conversation got brought up, but one night he said he was afraid that if something were to happen to him, Bush’s people would, like, make a big deal out of his death and parade him through the streets” (Krakauer 295). Unfortunately, this is exactly what the United States government did.
A dense, purple fog enveloped the firing area, expelled from a military-issued smoke grenade. Concealed behind an impenetrable boulder, Private First Class Pat Tillman and Private First Class Bryan O’Neal lay terrified, having witnessed their own platoon murder Sayed Farhad, a colloquial Afghan Military Force (AMF) ally a few feet away. As Tillman predicted, his grenade halted the previously unceasing fire, but only momentarily. As hundreds of thunderous bullets began to bombard their position again, Tillman raised his hands defiantly, signaling his teammates to yield. An incoming bullet penetrated Tillman’s right forehead, forcefully blasting him backward (Krakauer 275). Jon Krakauer, author of biography Where Min Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, vividly described the death, saying, “…when the high-velocity, copper-jacketed bullets collided with the frontal bone of Tillman’s skull, they broke apart and began to tumble wildly, with devastating effect. As they careened through his flesh and then exited his body, the bullet fragments obliterated much of the cranium, expelling his brain onto the ground” (Krakauer 275). Against the foreign Afghanistan landscape, Pat Tillman was dead, a victim of fratricide.
As Tillman’s platoon leaders surveyed the situation, they immediately decided to conceal the cause of his death until a proper investigation, to maintain morale and prevent Kevin Tillman, Pat’s younger brother in the same platoon, from potentially harming himself and others. Thus, the majority of the platoon soon learned of Pat Tillman’s inspiring fight with insurgents, while the few who knew the truth remained quiet (Krakauer 280). Bryan O’Neal, the soldier next to Tillman when he died, repeatedly received calls from Kevin Tillman, but was always ordered to lie about Pat’s death. O’Neal said, “I wanted right off the bat to let the family know what had happened, especially since I worked with him the platoon…And I was quite appalled that when I was able to actually speak with Kevin, I was ordered not to tell him what happened” (Krakauer 292). The United States Army, upon hearing the tragic news, secretly conducted an investigation but perpetuated Tillman’s glorified fallacy, hoping to elude the inevitably tragic truth.
As the chief of the Armed Forces medical examiners, Dr. Craig Mallak, prepared to examine Pat Tillman’s body, he was stunned. Tillman’s clothes had been completely removed, against protocol, by Sergeant James Valdez. In his testimony, Valdez explained that Captain Wade Bovard “came to me with an orange plastic bag containing Tillman’s clothes. He then related that he wanted me to burn what was in the bag for security purposes. Additionally, Captain Bovard related he wanted me alone to burn what was in the bag to prevent security violations, leaks and rumors” (Krakauer 291). Mallak, concerned with the missing forensic evidence and constant discrepancies between Tillman’s wounds and his supposed death by insurgents, never signed the finalized autopsy report (Krakauer 293).
Tillman was posthumously promoted to the rank of Corporal and given both a Purple Heart, for sustaining injury during battle, and a Silver Star, the third-highest military award available for an individual’s valor. The two selected witnesses to sign the award were Private First Class Bryan O’Neal and Sergeant Mel Ward. O’Neal wrote a statement, but, as Krakauer states, “…his words were embellished so egregiously that he never signed it” (Krakauer 298). Mel Ward testified, “When they showed me a silver star recommendation that I supposedly wrote for Pat, it was unsigned, which is a big red flag for me, because in the Army you can’t submit anything without signing it” (Krakauer 298). Despite these witness oppositions, Les Brownlee, acting secretary of the Army, signed the commendation.
On May 1, 2004, President George W. Bush held a correspondents dinner, where he recognized Tillman’s patriotism:
The loss of Army Corporal Pat Tillman last week in Afghanistan brought home the sorrow that comes with every loss, and reminds us of the character of the men and women who serve on our behalf. Friends say that this young man saw the images of September the 11th, and seeing that evil, he felt called to defend America. He set aside a career in athletics and many things the world counts important: wealth and security and the acclaim of the crowds. He chose, instead, the rigors of Ranger training and the fellowship of soldiers and the hard duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Corporate Tillman asked for no special attention. He was modest because he knew there were many like him, making their own sacrifices. They fill the ranks of the Armed Forces. Every day, somewhere, they do brave and good things without notice. Their courage is usually seen only by their comrades, by those who long to be free, and by the enemy. They’re willing to give up their lives, and when one is lost, a whole world of hopes and possibilities is lost with them.
This evening, we think of the families who grieve, and the families that wait on a loved one’s safe return. We count ourselves lucky that this new generation of Americans is as brave and decent as any before it. (Applause.) And we honor with pride and wonder the men and women who carry the flag and the cause of the United States;…(Kutzman)
Bush used Pratkanis and Aronson’s stratagems to effectively deliver this speech. Tillman’s heroic death had spread throughout the media, increasing audience adoration for the military and for freedom. With the public already supporting Tillman, Bush already had the element of pre-persuasion, and only needed to mention Tillman’s name. By being the President of the United States, Bush had the utmost authority, even despite liberal muckrakers’ insinuations of corruption. He was the definitive credible source exemplifying a definitively admired soldier. Bush’s message solely focuses on Tillman’s positive attributes, like his selflessness and sacrifice. More importantly, Bush mentions the “evil” from “September 11,” inciting anger and support for the War on Terror. Afterwards, Tillman is mentioned as part of a larger, unified group possessing the same honorary characteristics as Tillman, “making their own sacrifices.” Bush ends Tillman’s subject disheartened, “…when one is lost, a whole world of hopes and possibilities is lost with them,” attempting to garner more hatred for the enemy and support for the Army and his administration. The final paragraph demands participatory action from the audience, the fourth stratagem. Bush asks Americans to empathize with grieving families and “honor with pride and wonder the men and women who carry the flag and the cause of the United States,” thereby solidifying indirect approval for the wars by directly supporting the troops. Noticeably absent is any mention of how Tillman died, an omission due to a private memo sent to Bush indicating the Army report on Tillman’s death would soon reveal fratricide (Krakauer 299).
On May 3, 2004, a memorial was held for Tillman, with an encomium provided by Navy SEAL Steve White, a close friend of Pat and Kevin. White communicated with a Ranger in the same battalion as Pat and Kevin, hoping to correctly describe Tillman’s death in front of nearly two thousand mourners. White rephrased the given information and asked, “if it was an accurate summarization, and he said it was, and that is what I went with in my speech” (Krakauer 301). White began speaking:
The Silver Star and the Purple Heart that Pat has earned will be given to Marie at a private ceremony. The Silver Star is one of the nation’s highest awards; the Purple Heart is rewarded for wounds received in combat. If you’re the victim of an ambush, there are very few things that you can do to increase your chances for survival, one of which is to get off that ambush point as fast as you can. One of the vehicles in Pat’s convoy could not get off. He made the call; he dismounted his troops, taking the fight to the enemy, uphill, to seize the tactical high ground from the enemy. This gave his brothers in the downed vehicle enough time to move off that target. He directly saved their lives with that move. Pat sacrificed himself so that his brothers could live;…(Krakauer 302).
This was the first time Tillman’s immediate family, including his mother and brother, heard specific details surrounding his death. Kevin had been present during the firefight, but was on the last convoy and arrived after the battle. For many in attendance, White’s description quelled any angst, provoking respect and celebration for Tillman’s heroics (Krakauer 303). However, this admiration was only temporary.
On May 29, after discarding the first investigation due to possible inconsistencies, Lieutenant General Phillip Kensinger Jr. stood before a podium surrounded by hungry media reporters, and reiterated the same conclusion developed by the previous investigation: “While there was no one specific finding of fault, the investigation results indicate that Corporal Tillman probably died as a result of friendly fire while his unit was engaged in combat with enemy forces” (Krakauer 308). Kensinger said Tillman probably died of fratricide, though this had been confirmed multiple times, displaying the government’s unstoppable attempts to avoid responsibility. Steve White, after learning of Tillman’s actual cause of death, confessed, “I am the guy that told America how he died, basically, at that memorial, and it was incorrect. That does not sit well with me” (Krakauer 308).
Kevin Tillman subsequently testified against the Army’s investigation after a third and fourth report continued to reveal inconsistencies reeking of government cover-up. Tillman’s testimony came after the media firestorm over Pat’s death revelations, so the American public strongly supported the search for answers. With the media’s support, Kevin attacked the Army and Bush administration, displaying professional prowess and credibility since Pat and him were close brothers. Tillman attacked Kensinger with specific allegations, stating, “He stated, “There was no one specific finding of fault,” and he “probably died of fratricide.” But there was specific fault, and there was nothing probable about the facts that led to Pat’s death…” (Krakauer 319). Kevin’s message was completely clear during the testimony, indicating punishment for those who deliberately deceived. “…Writing a Silver Star award before a single eyewitness account is taken is not a misstep,” Kevin proclaimed. “Falsifying soldier witness statements for a Silver Star is not a misstep. These are intentional falsehoods that meet the legal definitions for fraud” (Krakauer 319). By using Pratkanis and Aronson’s three stratagems of influence successfully, Kevin applied the fourth, appealing to Americans’ emotions and will to act. Kevin continued, “Pat and these other soldiers volunteered to put their lives on the line for this country. Anything less than the truth is a betrayal of those values that all soldiers who have fought for this nation have sought to uphold” (Krakauer 320). After Tillman’s testimony, the intensive media and public scrutiny soured the Bush administration’s ratings and public perception, proving that the Tillman propaganda worked both ways.
Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, on July 31, 2007, held a press conference stating, “No one has found evidence of a conspiracy by the Army to fabricate a hero, deceive the public or mislead the Tillman family about the circumstances of Corporal Tillman’s death” (Krakauer 321). This statement obviously did not pacify the media or the Tillman family, initiating another military investigation.
The results are still pending…
Associated Press. “ESPN.com: NFL – Tillman Starts Quest to Join Army Rangers.” ESPN: The Worldwide Leader In Sports. ESPN, 8 July 2002. Web. 03 May 2010. <http://a.espncdn.com/nfl/news/2002/0708/1403113.html>.
Bamford, James. “The Man Who Sold the War.” Rolling Stone 17 Nov. 2005. Commondreams.org. 18 Nov. 2005. Web. 3 May 2010.
Krakauer, Jon. Where Men Win Glory: the Odyssey of Pat Tillman. New York: Doubleday, 2009. Print.
Kurtzman, Daniel. “Bush’s 2004 White House Correspondents Dinner Speech – About.com.” Speech. White House Correspondent’s Dinner Speech. Washingtown Hilton, Washingtown. 1 May 2004. Political Humor – Jokes Satire and Political Cartoons – About.com. The New York Times Company, 1 May 2004. Web. 03 May 2010. <http://politicalhumor.about.com/cs/bushcomedian/a/bushwhca2004_2.htm>.
Pratkanis, Anthony R., and Elliot Aronson. “The Four Stratagems of Influence.” Age of Propaganda: the Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion. Revised ed. New York: W.H. Freeman, 1992. 51. Print.