Pentagon Buying Good News Coverage From Iraqi Media
While the Bush Administration and its supporters within the Mighty Wurlitzer complain that the American media is missing the real story in Iraq, we now find out that the guys who gave us the Armstrong Williams fiasco and the Office of Global Communications are manufacturing good news in Iraq to convince weary Iraqis to ignore that car bomb that just killed their neighbors. The Los Angeles Times broke the story last night that the Bush Administration has been using an outfit called the Lincoln Group under a multi-million dollar contract to place news stories in Iraqi papers, written by the Pentagon, that tout the “improvements” taking place in the country.
As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.
Kinda puts that right wing talking point about the media here at home not covering the successes in Iraq in a different light, huh?
The articles, written by U.S. military "information operations" troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.
Though the articles are basically factual, they present only one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the U.S. or Iraqi governments, officials said. Records and interviews indicate that the U.S. has paid Iraqi newspapers to run dozens of such articles, with headlines such as "Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism," since the effort began this year.
The operation is designed to mask any connection with the U.S. military. The Pentagon has a contract with a small Washington-based firm called Lincoln Group, which helps translate and place the stories. The 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 military's effort to disseminate propaganda in the Iraqi media is taking place even as U.S. officials are pledging to promote democratic principles, political transparency and freedom of speech in a country emerging from decades of dictatorship and corruption.
And all of this comes at a time when many in the country have to rely upon the local papers for news, because the electronic media of Al Jazzeera and other voices can't reach Iraqis in places like Ramadi due to American failures in restoring communications.
We shouldn’t be surprised at this behavior from the Bush Administration, which has taken the approach here at home that news should be bought and shaped, but what is somewhat funny in this story is the reaction by the Iraqi newspaper editors to the news that they are being paid to spread government propaganda, when they used to be threatened by Hussein to do the same thing. Yet how much “we’d never do that” sniffery from our own media here at home is warranted, when in fact the Post, the NYT, and most of our other media has been a willing accomplice to an ongoing government disinformation campaign here at home for these last five years? Imagine this story with a different cast of characters, closer to home:
Iraqi newspaper editors reacted with a mixture of shock and shrugs when told they were targets of a U.S. military psychological operation.
Some of the newspapers, such as Al Mutamar, a Baghdad-based daily run by associates of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, ran the articles as news stories, indistinguishable from other news reports. Before the war, Chalabi was the Iraqi exile favored by senior Pentagon officials to lead post-Hussein Iraq.
Others labeled the stories as "advertising," shaded them in gray boxes or used a special typeface to distinguish them from standard editorial content. But none mentioned any connection to the U.S. military.
Hell, at least the Iraqis identified the pieces as advertising. Our own local TV stations didn’t even do that when the Bush Administration sent out video press releases packaged as news segments for local TV news.
One Aug. 6 piece, published prominently on Al Mutamar's second page, ran as a news story with the headline "Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism." Documents obtained by The Times indicated that Al Mutamar was paid about $50 to run the story, though the editor of the paper said he ran such articles for free.
Nearly $1,500 was paid to the independent Addustour newspaper to run an Aug. 2 article titled "More Money Goes to Iraq's Development," the records indicated. The newspaper's editor, Bassem Sheikh, said he had "no idea" where the piece came from but added the note "media services" on top of the article to distinguish it from other editorial content.
The U.S. military-written articles come in to Al Mutamar, the newspaper run by Chalabi's associates, via the Internet and are often unsigned, said Luay Baldawi, the paper's editor in chief.
"We publish anything,"
heRupert Murdoch said. "The paper's policy is to publish everything, especially if it praises causes we believe in. We are pro-American. Everything that supports America we will publish."
After he learned of the source of three paid stories that ran in Al Mada in July, that newspaper's managing editor, Abdul Zahra Zaki, was outraged, immediately summoning a manager of the advertising department to his office.
"I'm very sad,"
heLen Downie said. "We have to investigate."
The Iraqis who delivered the articles also reaped modest profits from the arrangements, according to sources and records.
Employees at Al Mada said that a low-key man arrived at the newspaper's offices in downtown Baghdad on July 30 with a large wad of U.S. dollars. He told the editors that he wanted to publish an article titled "Terrorists Attack Sunni Volunteers" in the newspaper.
He paid cash and left no calling card, employees said. He did not want a receipt. The name he gave employees was the same as that of a Lincoln Group worker in the records obtained by The Times. Although editors at Al Mada said he paid $900 to place the article, records show that the man told Lincoln Group that he gave more than $1,200 to the paper.
So now we know what Steve Schmidt and Karen Hughes have been spending their time on these days.
Al Mada is widely considered the most cerebral and professional of Iraqi newspapers, publishing investigative reports as well as poetry.
ZakiBill Keller said that if his cash-strapped paper had known that these stories were from the U.S. government, he would have "charged much, much more" to publish them.
As you read this story and see that our soldiers and their commanders are “storyboarding” their own news stories for planting in the Iraqi media, doesn’t this put the right wing complaints about our media not covering the “true” situation on the ground in Iraq in a different light? How can we here at home trust any news story from Iraq that has its sources in Iraqi media after this, knowing that there is a good chance that the stories were born as propaganda aimed at convincing the Iraqis that things were getting better?
From now on, whenever you hear a freeper or troll repeat the GOP talking points that the media isn’t covering the real story in Iraq, simply dismiss their bullshit with two words: Lincoln Group.