Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Iraq: Pentagon Pays for Good Press

Expand Messages
  • World View
    U.S. Pays Millions to Plant Articles in Iraq Papers By JEFF GERTH and SCOTT SHANE, The New York Times
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2005
      U.S. Pays Millions to Plant Articles in Iraq Papers
      By JEFF GERTH and SCOTT SHANE, 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

      Getty Images
      A vendor shows newspapers for sale at his stall in Baghdad. The
      Pentagon is paying millions to a public-relations firm for work that
      appears to violate fundamental principles of Western journalism.

      "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

      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

      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.


      Propaganda - nobody does it better than America
      By Paul Weber, 9th August 2002

      Over the years, I have had the privilege of meeting and having
      discussions with people who came to America from countries known for
      their adherence to totalitarianism: China, Russia, and former east
      European satellites of the Soviet Union. When we discussed how the
      state managed to control public opinion under totalitarianism, these
      people would usually produce a weary, knowledgeable, cynical smile and
      point out that propaganda in those countries was really done quite

      If you really want to know propaganda, they said, you need to study
      American propaganda technique. According to them, it is, undeniably,
      the best in the world.

      "How can that be?" I asked, honestly puzzled.

      Propaganda in those countries was too obvious, they told me. As soon
      as you read the first sentence you knew it was a bunch of propaganda,
      so you didn't even bother to read it. If you heard a speech, you knew
      in the first few words that it was propaganda, and you tuned it out.

      "But," I then queried, "How do you know when it's just propaganda?"

      The expatriates explained that bad propaganda uses obvious terminology
      that anyone can see through. Anyone hearing the phrase "capitalist
      running dogs", knows he's listening to incompetent propaganda and
      tunes it out. Lousy propaganda, these knowledgeable but jaded
      individuals would tell me, appeals to an abstract theory, to a
      rational thesis that can be disproved. Even though communists had
      total control of the press, the people just tuned it out (except for
      those who were the most mentally defective). Most people, they assured
      me, just went about their lives as best they could, paid lip service
      to the state, and just tried to keep out of the way of the secret
      police. But hardly anyone really believed the stuff. The result, after
      many decades of suffering, was the eventual collapse of the old order
      once The Great Leader expired, whether his name was Brezhnev, Mao, or

      American propaganda, however, is much cleverer. American propaganda,
      they patiently explained, relies entirely on emotional appeals. It
      doesn't depend on a rational theory that can be disproved: it appeals
      to things no one can object to.

      American propaganda had its birth, so far as I can tell, in the
      advertising industry. The pioneers of advertising - a truly loathsome
      bunch - learned early on that people would respond to purely emotional
      appeals. Abstract theory and logical argument do nothing to spur
      sales. However, appeals to sexiness, to pride of ownership, to fear of
      falling behind the neighbors are the stock in trade of advertising
      executives. A man walking down the street with beautiful women hanging
      on his arms is not a logical argument, but it sure sells after-shave.
      A woman in a business suit with a briefcase, strolling along with
      swaying hips, assuring us she can "bring home the bacon, fry it up in
      a pan, but never let you forget you're a man" really sells the perfume.

      Let's take a moment and analyze the particular emotions that this
      execrable ad appealed to. If you guessed fear, you win the prize.
      Women often have a fear of inadequacy, particularly in this confused
      age when they are expected to raise brilliant kids, run a successful
      business, and be unfailingly sexy, all the time. That silly
      goal-foisted upon us by feminists and popular culture - is impossible
      to reach. But maybe there's hope if you buy the right perfume!
      Arguments from intimidation and appeals to fear are powerful
      propaganda tools.

      American advertising and propaganda has been refined over the years
      into a malevolent science, based on the assumption that most people
      react, not to ideas, but to naked emotion. When I worked at an ad
      agency many years ago, I learned that the successful agencies know how
      to appeal to emotions: the stronger and baser, the better.

      The seven deadly sins

      The seven deadly sins, ad agency wags often say, are the key to
      selling products. Fear, envy, greed, hatred, and lust: these are the
      basic tools for good propaganda and effective advertising. By far, the
      most powerful motivating emotion - the top, most sought-after
      copywriters will tell you in an unguarded moment, is fear followed
      closely by greed.

      Good propaganda appeals to neither logic nor morality.

      Morality and ethics are the death of sales. This is why communist
      propaganda actually hastened the collapse of communism: the creatures
      running the Commie Empire thought they should appeal to morality by
      calling for people to engage in sacrifice for the greater good. They
      gave endless, droning speeches about the inevitably of communist
      triumph, based on the Hegelian dialectic. Not only were they wrong:
      their approach to selling their (virtually unsellable) theory was not
      clever enough. American propagandists (we can be jingoistically proud
      to say) would have been able to maintain the absurd social experiment
      called communism a little longer. They would have scrapped all the
      theory and focused on appealing images. Though the Commies tried to do
      this through huge, flag-waving rallies, the disparity between their
      alleged ideals and the reality they created was just too great.

      One tyrant who did take American propaganda to heart was Adolph
      Hitler. Hitler learned to admire American propaganda through a young
      American expatriate who described to him, in glowing detail, how
      Americans enjoyed the atmosphere at football games. This American
      expatriate, with the memorable name of Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstängl, told
      the Führer how Americans could be whipped up into a frenzy through
      blaring music, group cheers, and chants against the enemy. Hitler,
      genius of evil as he was, immediately saw the value in this form of
      propaganda and incorporated it into his own rise to power. Prior to
      Hitler, German political rhetoric was dry, intellectual, and
      uninspiring. Hitler learned the value of spectacle in whipping up the
      emotions; the famed Nuremberg rallies were really little more than
      glorified football halftime shows. Rejecting boring, intellectual
      rhetoric, Hitler learned to appeal to deeply emotional but meaningless
      phrases, like the appeal to "blood and soil." The German people bought
      it wholesale. Hitler also called for blind loyalty to the
      "Fatherland," which eerily echoes our own new cabinet level post of
      "Homeland" Security.

      If you study Nazi propaganda, you will be struck by how well it
      appeals to gut-level emotions and images - but not thought.

      You will see pictures of elderly German women hugging fresh-faced
      young babies, with captions about the bright future the Führer has
      brought to Germany. In fact, German propaganda borrowed the American
      technique of relying, not so much on words, but on images alone:
      pictures of handsome German soldiers, sturdy peasants in native
      costume, and the like. Take a look at any American car commercial
      featuring rugged farmers tossing bales of hay into the backs of their
      pickups, and you've seen the source from which the Nazis borrowed
      their propaganda techniques.

      The Germans have a well-deserved reputation for producing a lot of
      really smart people, but this did not prevent them from being
      completely vulnerable to American-style propaganda. Amazingly, a
      nation raised on the greatest classical music, the profoundest
      scientists, the greatest poets, actually fell for propaganda that led
      them into a hopeless, two-front war against most of the world. Being
      smart is, in itself, no defense against skilled American propaganda,
      unless you know and understand the techniques, so you can resist them.

      Emotional, gut-level appeals

      American politicians learned, early in the twentieth century, that
      using emotional sales techniques won elections. Furthermore, they
      learned that emotional appeals got them what they wanted as they
      advanced towards their long-term goal of becoming Masters of the
      Universe. From this, we get our modern lexicon of political speech,
      carefully crafted to appeal to powerful emotions, with either no
      appeal to reason, or (better yet) a vague appeal to something that
      sounds foggily reasonable, but is so obscure that no one will bother
      to dissect it.

      Franklin Roosevelt understood this, which is why he called for Social
      Security. Security is an emotional appeal: no one is against security,
      are they? Roosevelt backed up his campaign with a masterful appeal to

      images of happy, elderly grandparents smiling while hugging their
      grandchildren, with everything in the world going right because of
      Social Security. All kinds of government programs were sold on the
      basis of appealing images and phrases. Roosevelt even appealed to
      America's traditional love of freedom, spinning that term by
      multiplying it into the new Four Freedoms, including Freedom from Want
      and Freedom from Fear. Well, what heartless human being could possibly
      be against that? The Four Freedoms were promoted with images of
      parents tucking their children cozily into bed, and a happy family
      gathered around a Thanksgiving dinner, obviously free from want. The
      campaign was also based on that most powerful of all selling emotions:
      fear. If you don't support Social Security, the ads suggested, you
      will live your last years in utter destitution.

      Putzi Hanfstängl, viewing Roosevelt's evil brilliance from Nazi
      Germany, was probably jealous.

      American advertising executives learned the value of presenting a
      single image or slogan, and repeating it over and over again until it
      became ingrained in the public's consciousness.

      Thus we are all aware that Ivory Soap is so pure that it floats: a
      point that has been repeated for the better part of a century. I'm not
      sure why I should be impressed that a bar of soap floats, but on the
      other hand, it's not intended that I think that far. Politicians now
      sell their programs the way the advertising creeps sell soap: they
      dream up a slogan and repeat it over and over again. Thus we get empty
      slogans like The New Frontier, The New World Order (that one was
      poorly chosen; it sounds too much like an actual idea), or Reinventing
      Government (an idea that everyone should favor, except that the idea
      behind it really means Keeping Government the Same, only no one is
      supposed to think that far). Empty grandeur sells political products.

      Both German and American politicians carried the use of banners to new
      heights. Flags are impressive emotional symbols, particularly when
      waved by thousands of enthusiastic people: it's a rare individual who
      can resist the collective enthusiasm of thousands of his fellow human
      beings, cheering about their collective greatness. Putzi Hanfstängl
      understood this, advising Hitler to fill his public spectacles with
      not just a few, but countless thousands of swastika flags. The
      swastika, too, was a brilliant stroke of advertising and propaganda:
      it has become, in the public consciousness, the official emblem of
      Nazism, even though it had nothing to do with Germany. In fact,
      swastikas were used by ancient Hindus and American tribes, but I'm not
      aware of it being used by anyone in Germany prior to Hitler.

      Now observe how Americans in the current crisis have taken to
      displaying huge flags on their cars. Flags are not rational arguments;
      they are instruments for whipping up the Madness of Crowds. Observe
      how many Americans have, with a straight face, called for a
      constitutional amendment to outlaw flag desecration, oblivious to the
      obvious contradictions such an amendment would have with the rest of
      the Constitution. But again, if you learn nothing else about
      propaganda, learn that it must not appeal to rationality.

      Politicians don't just use warm, fuzzy images to sell us on the road
      to tyranny. They also need emotional appeals to intimidate their
      enemies. Thus the small percentage of the population that really does
      use thought and reason more than emotion must be demonized. Roosevelt
      managed this with some masterful propaganda strokes. Those who opposed
      him were Isolationists, and Malefactors of Great Wealth! (The
      gut-level emotion appealed to here is envy.) Roosevelt thus showed
      himself to be an early master of what former California Governor Jerry
      Brown called "buzz words"; that is, words intended to silence
      counter-argument by appealing to unassailable emotional images. No one
      is for Isolation, and almost everyone reacts to an appeal to hate
      anyone who has a lot of money. The latter appeal, of course, had great
      power during the Great Depression, which Roosevelt managed to maintain
      for the entire length of his presidency, all the while blaming others
      for its evils. Was this guy an evil genius, or what?

      The propaganda cleverness used in successfully branding anti-war
      people as Isolationists is breathtaking. After all, a rational person
      (ah, keep in mind, that's not a common individual) realizes that those
      who oppose war are the exact opposite of isolationists. The Old Right
      at the time called for peaceful, commercial relations with all
      nations, based on neutrality in foreign affairs. If anything, those
      who oppose war and meddling in other countries' affairs are the
      opposite of Isolationists as they really stand for open, profitable
      relationships with other countries. The people who stand for such
      ideas do not "sell" them by means of strictly emotional appeals, so
      they tend to lose the propaganda wars. When Roosevelt succeeded in
      whipping the country up into a war-frenzy after steering us into the
      Pearl Harbor fiasco, the Old Right realized their opposition to the
      war was hopeless.

      Schools - propaganda camps

      The role of the government propaganda camps known as public schools
      cannot be discounted in all this. Schools are not so much centers of
      learning as they are behavior conditioning camps in which children are
      taught to be unquestioningly obedient to authority. Since reason and
      morality are the death of propaganda, schools busy themselves with
      systematically stunting students' ability to reason and think in moral
      terms. Because the government owns the propaganda camps, it's not
      surprising that the beneficiary of the propaganda is almost always the
      government. Americans accept obvious absurdities because they were
      drilled into their heads, year after year, in the government
      propaganda camps until they became true and unquestionable.

      Use of propaganda by "great presidents"

      Thus, everyone knows Roosevelt got us out of the Great Depression,
      even though the worst depression years were precisely those in which
      he and his party controlled every branch of government. Everyone knows
      Lincoln was a great president because he saved "government by the
      people" and freed the slaves, even though he became a war tyrant and
      only freed the slaves when it was politically convenient to do so.
      Wilson, everyone knows, made the world "safe for democracy", evidently
      by instituting a draft and getting America involved in a European war
      that was fought for reasons no-one to this day can fathom. When minds
      are young and pliable - government experts understand this principle -
      you can fill them with nonsense that is practically impossible to root
      out. Laughable falsehoods in effect become true because everyone knows
      them to be true.

      The role of "independent experts", housewives and "the guy on the street"

      Advertising executives learned, early on, that companies could not be
      too obvious in using their propaganda. If their agenda could be
      clearly seen, then it could also be rejected. The answer to this
      problem was the American propaganda technique of the "independent
      expert" and the "guy on the street." One of these appeals to our
      timidity before authority, and the other to our smugness when dealing
      with someone at or below our perceived social level. Of course, these
      two techniques are really just two sides of the same coin. In product
      advertising, sports heroes and celebrities are used to sell corn
      flakes because no one would listen to the president of Kellogg telling
      us why corn flakes are so good. In selling detergent, plain-looking
      housewives are preferable to sexy models because they look just like
      us. In political propaganda, "experts" are often trotted out to tell
      us, in convoluted, circular reasoning, why minimum wage laws are
      really good for us, why a little bit of inflation is good, or why we
      just can't rely on the free market for something so crucially
      important as education. Or, using the "guy on the street" approach, we
      are told to support idiotic wars because the common soldiers ("our
      boys"), cannot function unless they know we stand united behind them.
      If the rare sensible person tries to argue against war, he is accused
      of making things harder for "our boys."

      War on Terror

      This brings us to the latest iteration of masterful American Propaganda:

      the War on Terrorism. Any attempt to explain why the terrorists
      (crazed as they obviously were) felt motivated to attack the World
      Trade Center is looked on as "siding with the terrorists." Indeed,
      Ashcroft and Bush have said, in so many words, that if you don't
      support them in everything they do, you stand with the terrorists.
      Ashcroft and Bush have evidently studied their propaganda lessons from
      World War II, when Roosevelt silenced all opposition by accusing
      anyone who stood against him of undermining the war effort. Anyone who
      suggests we should not risk World War III by invading the Middle East
      is alternately accused of siding with the terrorists, of slandering
      the memory of those who died, or (of course) of not "standing by our
      boys" in times of great need. It's easy to feel alienated in a nation
      of flag-wavers singing patriotic hymns. The fact that they are
      marching lockstep to a world in which the government will monitor
      their e-mail, snoop into their bank accounts, and eventually throw
      them in jail for voicing opposition doesn't seem to bother them one bit.

      Now, most libertarians or otherwise thoughtful people will react with
      dismay when told that most of their fellow human beings react so
      unthinkingly to sock-you-in-the-gut emotional propaganda.
      Unfortunately, most people are not capable of really thinking things
      out. Most people really do buy perfume because of the emotional
      imagery. Most people really do believe the "independent expert",
      whether in politics or buying a car.

      Most people want to go with the crowd, or follow the leader. To do
      otherwise requires independent thought and the willingness to be
      ostracized, which is an unbearable psychological burden for many.

      If you want to take heart, remember that the Vietnam War ended because
      a few people just continued to speak against it, despite the
      overwhelming government propaganda for it. The fact that a lot of the
      anti-war protesters were motivated by the wrong reasons (support of
      commies), doesn't matter in light of the fact they were able to turn
      the tide. They were right, even if for the wrong reasons. If advocates
      of freedom continue to speak against the creeping tyranny that our
      masters justify on the phony grounds of the War on Terrorism, we might
      just be able to prevent the transition from Republic to Empire.

      The thing about propaganda is that, once it is exposed for what it is,
      no one listens anymore. People tune it out, just as the slaves in
      Russia and China learned to tune out their official propaganda.

      Paul Weber's novel, Transfiguration, is available at



      To subscribe to this group, send an email to:

    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.