Thursday, December 01, 2005

U.S. Is Said to Pay to Plant Articles in Iraq Papers

This is from the New York Times:

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 - Titled "The Sands Are Blowing Toward a Democratic Iraq," an article written this week for publication in the Iraqi press was scornful of outsiders' pessimism about the country's future.

"Western press and frequently those self-styled 'objective' observers of Iraq are often critics of how we, the people of Iraq, are proceeding down the path in determining what is best for our nation," the article began. Quoting the Prophet Muhammad, it pleaded for unity and nonviolence.

But far from being the heartfelt opinion of an Iraqi writer, as its language implied, the article was prepared by the United States military as part of a multimillion-dollar covert campaign to plant paid propaganda in the Iraqi news media and pay friendly Iraqi journalists monthly stipends, military contractors and officials said.

The article was one of several in a storyboard, the military's term for a list of articles, that was delivered Tuesday to the Lincoln Group, a Washington-based public relations firm paid by the Pentagon, documents from the Pentagon show. The contractor's job is to translate the articles into Arabic and submit them to Iraqi newspapers or advertising agencies without revealing the Pentagon's role. Documents show that the intended target of the article on a democratic Iraq was Azzaman, a leading independent newspaper, but it is not known whether it was published there or anywhere else.

Even as the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development pay contractors millions of dollars to help train journalists and promote a professional and independent Iraqi media, the Pentagon is paying millions more to the Lincoln Group for work that appears to violate fundamental principles of Western journalism.

In addition to paying newspapers to print government propaganda, Lincoln has paid about a dozen Iraqi journalists each several hundred dollars a month, a person who had been told of the transactions said. Those journalists were chosen because their past coverage had not been antagonistic to the United States, said the person, who is being granted anonymity because of fears for the safety of those involved. In addition, the military storyboards have in some cases copied verbatim text from copyrighted publications and passed it on to be printed in the Iraqi press without attribution, documents and interviews indicated.

In many cases, the material prepared by the military was given to advertising agencies for placement, and at least some of the material ran with an advertising label. But the American authorship and financing were not revealed.

So this is how we create a "free press" and "free democracy" in Iraq. We spend millions of Pentagon dollars to a public relations firm to plant stories in Iraqi papers that favor the U.S. government's views on the war.

The funny thing is, the more the U.S. military plays this game of paying to plant stories into Iraqi papers, the deeper the hole the U.S. digs in losing its war in Iraq. This goes against every journalistic standard this country was built upon--it shreds the Constitution and destroys whatever credibility we might have had in the world. How can we be credibly honest with our espousing the rights of a free press, when we're paying to plant stories in another country's paper? And what's more, whose to say that the Iraqi people are going to believe these stories--they'd believe Al Jazzera more than they'd believe some fake news stories.

Here's the Pentagon's response regarding the Times story:

Military spokesmen in Washington and Baghdad said Wednesday that they had no information on the contract. In an interview from Baghdad on Nov. 18, Lt. Col. Steven A. Boylan, a military spokesman, said the Pentagon's contract with the Lincoln Group was an attempt to "try to get stories out to publications that normally don't have access to those kind of stories." The military's top commanders, including Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, did not know about the Lincoln Group contract until Wednesday, when it was first described by The Los Angeles Times, said a senior military official who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Pentagon officials said General Pace and other top officials were disturbed by the reported details of the propaganda campaign and demanded explanations from senior officers in Iraq, the official said.

When asked about the article Wednesday night on the ABC News program "Nightline," General Pace said, "I would be concerned about anything that would be detrimental to the proper growth of democracy."

I wouldn't be concerned about anything that would be detrimental to the proper growth of democracy? Excuse me? Planting fake stories is detrimental to the growth of democracy in Iraq. But it gets worst here. This whole thing was planned out a year ago. Continuing on:

The Lincoln Group, whose principals include some businessmen and former military officials, was hired last year after military officials concluded that the United States was failing to win over Muslim public opinion. In Iraq, the effort is seen by some American military commanders as a crucial step toward defeating the Sunni-led insurgency.

Citing a "fundamental problem of credibility" and foreign opposition to American policies, a Pentagon advisory panel last year called for the government to reinvent and expand its information programs.

"Government alone cannot today communicate effectively and credibly," said the report by the task force on strategic communication of the Defense Science Board. The group recommended turning more often for help to the private sector, which it said had "a built-in agility, credibility and even deniability."

The Pentagon's first public relations contract with Lincoln was awarded in 2004 for about $5 million with the stated purpose of accurately informing the Iraqi people of American goals and gaining their support. But while meant to provide reliable information, the effort was also intended to use deceptive techniques, like payments to sympathetic "temporary spokespersons" who would not necessarily be identified as working for the coalition, according to a contract document and a military official.

In addition, the document called for the development of "alternate or diverting messages which divert media and public attention" to "deal instantly with the bad news of the day."

Laurie Adler, a spokeswoman for the Lincoln Group, said the terms of the contract did not permit her to discuss it and referred a reporter to the Pentagon. But others defended the practice.

Government alone cannot today communicate effectively and credibly. The reason that government cannot communicate effectively and credibly is that government has been constantly exposed to lying to the public. Look at the Bush administration's constant lying regarding why we even invaded Iraq in the first place? First, the Bush White House lied by saying Iraq was accumulating weapons of mass destruction. Then the Bush White House lied, saying Saddam was harboring terrorists. Then the lies were Saddam was responsible for September 11th. Then Saddam was an evil man--a Hitler--who was torturing his people. When you constantly exposed to lying as a means to manipulate the public to accepting your version of events, the public will soon no longer accept your propaganda--no matter what you say. And now, the American government has been exposed to planting false stories in the Iraqi press, while lying by not saying these stories were generated by the American government. Guess what? The U.S. government has exasperated this "fundamental problem of credibility" in this major screw-up by the Pentagon, and perhaps sanctioned by the Bush White House.

We've lost the propaganda war in Iraq.

No comments: