This sort of news doesn’t help us.
As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.
The articles, written by U.S. military “information operations” troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Apparently military brass didn’t know about it:
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.
And this is just sad:
U.S. officials in Washington said the payments were made through the Baghdad Press Club, an organization they said was created more than a year ago by U.S. Army officers. They are part of an extensive American military-run information campaign – including psychological warfare experts – intended to build popular support for U.S.-led stabilization efforts and erode support for Sunni Muslim insurgents.
Members of the Press Club are paid as much as $200 a month, depending on how many positive pieces they produce.
Let’s imagine that you’re Joe Q. Iraqi. You’ve just heard about this story, and then you pick up your copy of the Baghdad Times. Page 1, above the fold, has a feelgood piece about an American Colonel who donated two month’s pay to help a center for battered women get on its feet. What’s your reaction? Be honest. Maybe the day before you would have decided to cut off your 15-dinar-a-month donation to the local Sunni resistance cell, and screw their damn tote bag. Now, you probably feel jaded and more than a little manipulated.
This story discredits every positive thing that’s ever been written about us in Iraq, whether Americans had anything to do with it or not. How can Joe Iraqi know if the story’s real or if the writer’s on the take? He can’t. So our brilliant imagemeisters in DC have once again managed to achieve precisely the opposite of what they set out to do. Now comes the wait to see who will be the first to blame the press for reporting it.
*** Update ***
This part is written by John:
I was tempted to just leave this issue alone, because I am grossly indifferent to this ‘shocking’ (SHOCKING!) story. However, since Tim has brought it up, let me add my two cents.
1.) To our media darlings at the LA Times and NY Times who apparently are just shocked and appalled that the military might engage in psyops to accomplish the nefarious deed of swaying public opinion towards embracing democracy rather than chaos, I just want to say- “Stop it.” This is par for the course, and if they were not trying to sway public opinion in Iraq with whatever means necessary, they would be derelict in their duties.
2.) I do wonder, were this 1944, if whether or not the American national press would run stories with a headline that stated:
I just watched Hardball with Chris Matthews, and Matthews and Ron Reagan (“We’re supposedto be fighting for truth and freedom and liberty and JUSTICE over there!”) were simultaneously mortified and gleeful that this had been uncovered. Mortified, because how dare the Pentagon try to do something like this and undermine the ‘pillar of democracy’ (yeah- look at our national media and say that again to yourself without giggling). Gleeful for the obvious reasons- another reason to bash the Pentagon, this administration, the CIA, and the war effort in Iraq.
3.) I find it amusing that this is the same press that was HORRIFIED that Al Hawza, the vile front for Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, was shut down, and that entire paper served as nothing but a COMPLETE AND TOTAL purveyor of propaganda against the United States. Apparently, if we just set up newspapers that were disseminiating OVERT propaganda, it would be ok. Or maybe it isn’t that it was propaganda, it was that it was not anti-Bush. Take your pick.
4.) None of this mitigates what Tim stated above, that the exposure is going to probably have a negative effect on our efforts. If it was uncovered by our lazy and mendacious press, it was a clumsy effort, and the Pentagon should be hit across the knuckles for that.
5.) I should also point out I have seen nothing that says anything in these stories was untrue, just that they were lopsided in support of the US. In other words, the kind of one-sided view you see EVERY FLIPPING DAY in the pages of the US press. Go count how many times you have read a special interest groups PR release re-written as a ‘news piece.’
I am just waiting for the rhetorical overreach for some on the left to begin, and the claims that we are ‘no better than Saddam’s state-run media.’ Because you know that the useful idiots will be unable to control themselves, again.