The Pentagon is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish dozens of “good news” stories, written by American troops, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
The articles are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a Washington-based defense contractor, Lincoln Group. Many are falsely presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists — such as in Al Mutamar, a Baghdad-based daily owned by friends of Bush Administration ally Ahmed Chalabi. Other Iraqi newspapers, not buying the spin, present the items as advertisements. Lincoln Group’s Iraqi staff, or its subcontractors, sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to Baghdad media outlets.
The lopsided stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country. Several officials said that given the globalization of media driven by the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, the Pentagon’s efforts were carried out with the knowledge that coverage in the foreign press inevitably “bleeds” into the Western media and influences coverage in U.S. news outlets.
Maybe that’s how Fox News Channel and other conservative “media” get their happy news about Iraq.
Don’t look out your window, Iraqis! Don’t pay attention to the dead and dying! Just read this article about President Bush’s strong leadership fighting the war on terror!!!
The propaganda effort — one of several the Pentagon is trying in the Middle East, and one of several involving Lincoln Group — has sparked a backlash among some senior military officers in Iraq and at the Pentagon. They rightly argue that violating one of the basic tenets of our democracy — a free press — could destroy the U.S. military’s credibilty in Iraq.
“Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we’re breaking all the first principles of democracy when we’re doing it,” one senior Pentagon official, who opposes the practice of planting stories in the Iraqi media, told the Times.
Another senior military official who spent this year in Iraq told the Times that it was the strong pro-U.S. message in some news stories in Baghdad that first made him suspect that the American military was planting articles.
“Stuff would show up in the Iraqi press, and I would ask, ‘Where the hell did that come from?'” the official said.
According to several sources, the process for placing the stories begins when soldiers write “storyboards” of events in Iraq, such as a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid on a suspected insurgent hide-out, or a suicide bomb that killed Iraqi civilians.
The storyboards, several of which were obtained by the Times, read more like press releases than news stories. They often contain anonymous quotes from U.S. military officials; it is unclear whether the quotes are authentic.
“Absolute truth was not an essential element of these stories,” said the senior military official who spent this year in Iraq.
The U.S. military got in trouble this summer when it included nearly identical quotes — supposedly from unidentified Iraqi men — in July 13 and July 24 news releases that regarded separate incidents.
At the time, the apparent duplicate quotes were blamed on an “administrative error.” But in light of the recent revelation, it would seem that the quotes were fake, just another piece of propaganda to try to fool the Iraqis.
When the Bush Administration tried to plant stories in the U.S. media last year, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office labeled it “covert propaganda.” The administration said it learned its lesson, but maybe they just meant propaganda inside the U.S.
The saddest thing about this effort to spin the Iraqis — and perhaps, others around the world via “bleeds” into the Western media — is that there’s no indication the propaganda is working.
Daniel Kuehl, an information operations expert at National Defense University at Ft. McNair in Washington, is among those who question whether the propaganda effort will help turn the Iraqi public against the insurgency.
“I just question whether it’s effective,” he told the Times.
This item first appeared at Journalists Against Bush’s B.S.Powered by Sidelines