Thursday, December 01, 2005

Planting Democracy by Planting News

Funny, Pres. Bush did not mention this as one example of how the United States is helping the Iraqi people build a free and democratic society.

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.

Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.

Though the articles are basically factual, they present only one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the U.S. or Iraqi governments, officials said. Records and interviews indicate that the U.S. has paid Iraqi newspapers to run dozens of such articles, with headlines such as "Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism," since the effort began this year.

The operation is designed to mask any connection with the U.S. military. The Pentagon has a contract with a small Washington-based firm called Lincoln Group, which helps translate and place the stories. The Lincoln Group's Iraqi staff, or its subcontractors, sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to Baghdad media outlets.

The military's effort to disseminate propaganda in the Iraqi media is taking place even as U.S. officials are pledging to promote democratic principles, political transparency and freedom of speech in a country emerging from decades of dictatorship and corruption. [Emphasis added.]

The San Francisco Chronicle today quoted a military official defending the planting of news stories as "an important part of countering misinformation in the news by insurgents." So who counters the misinformation in the news by the U.S. military presenting propaganda as real journalism? Even more to the point, if the U.S. military thinks the insurgents are spreading misinformation and want to counter it, why don't they write an op-ed and ask to have it published? Why don't they ask the paper to do a straightforward feature article with both sides fairly represented? Answer: Because then they couldn't present what is actually one side's biased viewpoint as objective truth.

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