RIGGING THE NEWS IN IRAQ
- Suppressing The Iraq Story
October 03, 2006
Paul McLeary writes for CJR Daily and co-writes the weekly "Think
Again" column with Eric Alterman for The Center for American Progress.
This article is reprinted from CJR Daily.
Three-and-a-half years into the war in Iraq, a cursory look at the
nightly news shows, opinion magazines and the blogosphere shows that,
at least in some respects, the national debate over the war has become
more about the politics of the debate itself, rather than the grim
realities of the occupation and how to successfully wage a protracted
While the debate has come to revolve more around the political
posturing of a small group of Washington politicos, there are some
D.C. insiders, like Sen. Trent Lott, who apparently don't even want to
debate the debate. To hear Lott tell it, there is no debate over Iraq,
just obsessive, news-hungry reporters. After a meeting with President
Bush and a group of GOP congressional leaders on Thursday, Lott lost
his cool when a reporter asked him if they had talked about Iraq in
the private conference. Lott shot back, "No, none of that ... You're
the only ones who obsess on that. We don't and the real people out in
the real world don't for the most part."
Got that? Nosy reporters "obsessed" with Iraq, rest of the world
shrugging it off. And Lott wasn't done. "It's hard for Americans, all
of us, including me, to understand what's wrong with these people," he
said, referring to Iraqis. "Why do they kill people of other religions
because of religion? ... Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell
the difference? They all look the same to me."
Lott's characteristically empty remarks typify what we've been hearing
for three years about the press and Iraq from conservative
politicians, think tanks and talk radio hosts.
So, in the interest of reality, we decided to step outside of the
"debate" and point outto Lott and anyone else who may need a reality
checka few ground-level truths from Iraq that should explain the
In the first place, on Friday, Congress approved another $70 billion
for funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which, according to
Reuters, brings the total spent on the two wars to about $507 billion,
"with the bulk of that spent in Iraq where costs are averaging $8
billion per month, according to the Congressional Research Service."
Add to that the fact that there are currently over 140,000 American
servicemen and women serving in those two countries, and it seems like
something that at least a few people outside the press might be
If all that seems too abstract, let's be a little more specific. We've
been following an alarming trend on the part of the Iraqi government,
and the American forces occupying the country, of harassing
journalists and stifling the very thing President Bush tells us we're
supposed to be building there: free speech and a free press.
Lott might be interested to learn about Al Arabiya, a Dubai-based
satellite news channel whose Baghdad bureau was shut down by Iraqi
police on September 7, for what the Iraqi government called
What's more, back in April Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi who was working as
a photographer for the Associated Press, was arrested by the U.S. Army
because his photos of insurgents led the military to believe that he
was somehow involved in the insurgency. He has yet to be charged with
any crime, and has not been allowed to respond in court.
Last Friday, AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll told Mark Jurkowitz
that the AP has investigated Hussein's photos, and "found absolutely
nothing, absolutely nothing that would lead us to believe his
relationships were anything other than those of a native son
committing journalism in his hometown and then later in a town up the
In a further show of solidarity, Tom Curley, the president and chief
executive of the AP, took to the pages of the Washington Post last
weekend with a call for the military to either charge Hussein with a
crime or let him go.
In the end, maybe journalists in the United States should be grateful
that they're not being thrown in jail for asking questionsor taking
picturesas The New York Times reports is happening to some Iraqi
journalists. According to Paul von Zielbauer, three Iraqi journalists
are currently on trial for writing articles that violate Paragraph 226
of the penal code, "which makes anyone who 'publicly insults' the
government or public officials subject to up to seven years in prison."
And this isn't an isolated case. "Under a broad new set of laws
criminalizing speech that ridicules the government or its officials,"
von Zielbauer writes, "some resurrected verbatim from Saddam Hussein's
penal code, roughly a dozen Iraqi journalists have been charged with
offending public officials in the past year."
It sounds all too real to us, Sen. Lott.
RIGGING THE NEWS IN IRAQ
Katrina vanden Heuvel
You remember the Lincoln Group? The guys the Pentagon paid tens of
millions of dollars to pay-off Iraqi media and plant stories favorable
to the U.S.?
The same guys The New York Times revealed to have lied about
"partnerships with major media and advertising companies, former
government officials with extensive Middle East experience, and
ex-military officers with background in intelligence and psychological
warfare" in order to receive those hefty contracts?
In short, just the kind of guys Bush, Cheney & Co. enjoys working with.
So it's hardly surprising though completely outrageous to read
Walter Pincus' story in yesterday's Washington Post that the Lincoln
Group has been handed a new "two-year, $12.4 million contract to
handle strategic communications management ." Lincoln competed against
seven other groups and was the lowest bidder "to help military
commanders in Baghdad get what they consider the positive side of
their operations in the news ."
At least one competitor might challenge the contract decision based on
Lincoln's record. But when one considers Kellogg Brown and Root,
Blackwater, Custer Battles, Bechtel and others one can't be too
terribly optimistic about the outcome of any appeal.
Pincus also notes that one day after the State Department poll
revealed that the Iraqi people want U.S. forces to withdraw
immediately and would feel safer if they did, the military now aims
"to hire a private firm to conduct polling and focus groups in Iraq
`to assess the effectiveness of operations as they relate to gaining
and maintaining popular support.'"
Once again, the modus operandi of this administration is perfectly
clear: if you don't like the news delivered (in this case, by the
State Department), contract out to a hired gun (or Rummy). And if you
don't like the news reported by Iraqis, hire the Lincoln Group.
And if you don't like the twisted thinking of this sick bunch, vote
Democrat in November. It's the only way we will achieve any oversight
of this continuing debacle in Iraq.
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