The US military is investigating allegations that the Pentagon is buying positive coverage in the Iraqi media.
The ever-expanding investigation into US propaganda efforts is being headed by Rear Adm. Scott Van Buskirk and will include an investigation of a press club founded and financed by the US Army. Van Buskirk will look into whether there were efforts to place US-produced stories into the local press without identifying the United States as the source. Paying reporters directly to write positive stories might also violate ethical guidelines.
If true, it doesn’t say much for US credibility as a purveyor of democracy, given that one of our nation’s founding principles is a free press.
The Baghdad Press Club was created last year by the US military as a way to promote progress amid the violence and chaos of Iraq, said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman.
The Army acknowledges funding the club and offering “reporter compensation,” but insists officers did not demand favorable coverage. ” Members are not required nor asked to write favorably,” said Lt. Col. Robert Whetstone. “They are simply invited to report on events.”
To JABBS’ ears, that spin sounds all too familiar.
It’s a similar concept to what President Bush said in March, defending the administration’s use of undocumented video news releases – something the nonpartisan General Accountability Office labeled “covert propaganda.”
BUSH: “There is a Justice Department opinion that says these pieces are OK so long as they’re based upon facts, not advocacy. And I expect our agencies to adhere to that ruling.”
Amazingly, Bush was suggesting that propaganda created by the government was not “advocacy” – as if the administration would pay a journalist or create a video news release to oppose the administration.
Similarly, it’s hard to believe the Army would pay Iraqi journalists to write “negative” stories about the US-led effort in Iraq.
But according to Iraqi reporters, the Army is paying Iraqi reporters to avoid actual war coverage and focus on “good news” stories, such as restored sewage plants and newly opened schools.
Baghdad Press Club members – 25 to 30 freelance reporters and staff employees for television stations and newspapers – were paid about $25 for each story and $45 if the piece ran with photos. Television reporters were paid $50 for pieces. That’s a handsome amount of money, given that the average Iraqi earns less than $300 per month.
The Army spin also is hard to believe because it comes on the heels of an investigation concluded this month by the Los Angeles Times, which obtained documents revealing that the Pentagon is paying Iraqi newspapers secretly to publish dozens of “good news” stories written by American troops.
The articles are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a Washington-based defense contractor, Lincoln Group. Many are presented falsely 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.
Van Buskirk is also examining the evidence obtained by the Times.
This item first appeared at Journalists Against Bush’s B.S.