• For sale: Truth about war in Iraq
For sale: Truth about war in Iraq
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 5, 2005
Military commanders in Iraq and a slick public relations contractor were caught last week in a bogus image-building campaign, a sleazy operation that dishonors the sacrifices of U.S. soldiers and the ideals of the United States. Americans — like the 10 Marines who were killed Thursday when a roadside bomb exploded in Fallujah — sign up for military service because they believe in what America stands for. It’s bad enough for the Education Department to pay $240,000 to commentator Armstrong Williams to say nice things about the “No Child Left Behind” program, but it’s worse when you subvert the democratic process to spread democracy.
The story broke Wednesday, as President George W. Bush was heading for Annapolis to defend the U.S. effort to bring democracy to Iraq. The Los Angeles Times hit the streets with the news that the military was paying off Iraqi newspapers and reporters to run positive stories about U.S. operations. Even as the Bush administration was complaining that the press was missing the progress in Iraq, the Pentagon was planting stories in the Iraqi press saying the same thing.
The stories reportedly were written by American psychological operations troops and turned over to operatives of the Lincoln Group, a Washington-based PR firm. The contractors kept a string of corrupt editors who’d run the stories and disguise them as legitimate journalism. In other cases, the military and its PR firm created the “Baghdad Press Club,” which kept selected Iraqi journalists on the payroll. They lifted text and pictures from legitimate newspapers and passed it off as independent reporting.
A military spokesman in Iraq defended the practice, saying that control of “the information environment” was almost as important as the “combat environment.” Said Major Gen. Rick Lynch, “We don’t lie. We don’t need to lie … everything we do is based on fact, not based on fiction.”
Gen. Lynch is missing the point, as is Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who told The Associated Press, “Things like this happen. It’s a war. The disinformation that’s going on in that country is really affecting the effectiveness of what we’re achieving, and we have no recourse but to try and do some rebuttal information.”
But at the Pentagon, at least one surprised senior official got the point, telling The Times: “Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we’re breaking all the first principles of democracy when we’re doing it.”