Thursday, December 1, 2005

The Ministry of Propaganda

From the New York Times:

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.

[…]

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.”

Others seemed to share the sentiment. “I think it’s absolutely wrong for the government to do this,” said Patrick Butler, vice president of the International Center for Journalists in Washington, which conducts ethics training for journalists from countries without a history of independent news media. “Ethically, it’s indefensible.”

The Government Accountability Office found this year that the Bush administration had violated the law by producing pseudo news reports that were later used on American television stations with no indication that they had been prepared by the government. But no law prohibits the use of such covert propaganda abroad.

Indefensible? Of course. Surprising? Of course not.

It’s kind of quaint to think that planting propaganda in the American press is illegal but it’s okay to do it in the “foreign” press. Welcome to the global press, folks; even this humble little blog gets hits from Australia, Saudi Arabia, and Sweden (yumpin’ yiminy!). So what makes the Pentagon think that the people who read the local newspaper in Iraq aren’t going to figure out that they’re being fed propaganda? You’d think after all the years of Saddam Hussein and that clown from the Ministry of Information they’d know it when they see it, and all they have to do is turn on CNN or simply look out the window to see that the rosy Lincoln Group scenario is a steaming pile of bullshit.

By the way, Josh Marshall points to the inevitable Bush insider connection to this contract.