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Halt Pentagon Payoffs To Iraqi Journos, DoD Report Recommends

Editor And Publisher | May 25 2006

CHICAGO The Department of Defense investigation into revelations the U.S. military was paying for favorable Iraqi press concludes the propaganda effort could harm American credibility -- and the payments should stop, according to a portion of the report disclosed in a New York Times article Wednesday.

According to a summary of the investigation led by Rear Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, the Pentagon failed to consider whether the payments would "undermine the concept of a free press in Iraq," and must now implement procedures to "ensure proper oversight" of the private contractors leading the propaganda effort.

This appears to be a reference to the Lincoln Group, a Washington-based firm that, according to press reports last fall, was paid to plant articles in Iraqi newspapers without revealing the stories were written by the military. The Lincoln Group also paid some Iraqi journalists directly for favorable press.

The Times article, by David S. Cloud, says the Lincoln Group is not specifically mentioned in the summary of the investigation.

However, the summary is highly critical of the military's creation in 2004 of the "Baghdad Press Club," which paid Iraqi journalists for reporting on American reconstruction efforts, the Times said.

It quotes the report as saying he military's "direct oversight of an apparently independent news organization and remuneration for articles that are published will undoubtedly raise questions focused on 'truth and credibility,' that will be difficult to deflect, regardless of the intensions and purpose of the remuneration."

As the Times noted, the disclosure last November that the Lincoln Group had been paid tens of millions of dollars under a Pentagon contract to plant stories in the Iraqi press and produce pro-military advertisements produced a firestorm of controversy, with even President Bush being described as "troubled" by the revelations.

However, the Lincoln Group continues to operate in Iraq -- placing stories and buying advertisements -- and the senior American commander in the war, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., has said he would like to keep using the Iraqi media to influence public opinion. It was Casey who appointed Van Buskirk to review the process.

Van Buskirk's summary, the Times reported, "over all...concludes that American commanders in Iraq did not violate military regulations when they undertook a multipronged propaganda campaign beginning in 2004 aimed at increasing support for the fledgling Iraqi government."

And it is not clear what immediate effect the report will have on the military, the Times said. Spokespersons for the military in Iraq and the Lincoln Group declined to comment on the Times report.

The report summary was hailed by the International Press Institute (IPI), which welcomed the "acknowledgement that such propaganda operations could have a damaging impact on the credibility and reputation of the United States."

But there are other reasons to stop the propaganda effort, said IPI Director Johann P. Fritz. "At a time when journalists are being targeted by the insurgency, I am deeply concerned that such propaganda operations damage the Iraqi media's independence, increasing the likelihood that they will be attacked," he said in a statement released by the Vienna-based organization.

The propaganda operation "also exposes contradictions" in U.S. Iraqi policy, Fritz added: "It is the declared aim of the Allied forces operating inside Iraq to introduce democracy to the country, but this cannot be achieved if the work undertaken by organisations to improve press freedom is, at the same time, undermined by the work of the military."




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