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

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    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2005
      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.

      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."

      Mr. Butler, who spoke from a conference in Wisconsin with Arab
      journalists, said the American government paid for many programs
      that taught foreign journalists not to accept payments from
      interested parties to write articles and not to print government
      propaganda disguised as news.

      "You show the world you're not living by the principles you profess
      to believe in, and you lose all credibility," he said.

      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.

      The Lincoln contract with the American-led coalition forces in Iraq
      has rankled some military and civilian officials and contractors.
      Some of them described the program to The New York Times in recent
      months and provided examples of the military's storyboards.

      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.

      "I'm not surprised this goes on," said Michael Rubin, who worked in
      Iraq for the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 and
      2004. "Informational operations are a part of any military
      campaign," he added. "Especially in an atmosphere where terrorists
      and insurgents - replete with oil boom cash - do the same. We need
      an even playing field, but cannot fight with both hands tied behind
      our backs."

      Two dozen recent storyboards prepared by the military for Lincoln
      and reviewed by The New York Times had a variety of good-news themes
      addressing the economy, security, the insurgency and Iraq's
      political future. Some were written to resemble news articles.
      Others took the form of opinion pieces or public service
      announcements.

      One article about Iraq's oil industry opened with three paragraphs
      taken verbatim, and without attribution, from a recent report in Al
      Hayat, a London-based Arabic newspaper. But the military version
      took out a quotation from an oil ministry spokesman that was
      critical of American reconstruction efforts. It substituted a more
      positive message, also attributed to the spokesman, though not as a
      direct quotation.

      The editor of Al Sabah, a major Iraqi newspaper that has been the
      target of many of the military's articles, said Wednesday in an
      interview that he had no idea that the American military was
      supplying such material and did not know if his newspaper had
      printed any of it, whether labeled as advertising or not.

      The editor, Muhammad Abdul Jabbar, 57, said Al Sabah, which he said
      received financial support from the Iraqi government but was
      editorially independent, accepted advertisements from virtually any
      source if they were not inflammatory. He said any such material
      would be labeled as advertising but would not necessarily identify
      the sponsor. Sometimes, he said, the paper got the text from an
      advertising agency and did not know its origins.

      Asked what he thought of the Pentagon program's effectiveness in
      influencing Iraqi public opinion, Mr. Jabbar said, "I would spend
      the money a better way."

      The Lincoln Group, which was incorporated in 2004, has won another
      government information contract. Last June, the Special Operations
      Command in Tampa awarded Lincoln and two other companies a
      multimillion-dollar contract to support psychological operations.
      The planned products, contract documents show, include three- to
      five- minute news programs.

      Asked whether the information and news products would identify the
      American sponsorship, a media relations officer with the special
      operations command replied, in an e-mail message last summer,
      that "the product may or may not carry 'made in the U.S.' signature"
      but they would be identified as American in origin, "if asked."

      Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington for this article,
      and Kirk Semple and Edward Wong from Baghdad.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/01/politics/01propaganda.html
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