A Free Press Isn’t Free: US Military Paying for Favorable News Coverage in Iraq

I saw this the other day, and wanted to mention it before I forgot: U.S. military covertly pays to run stories in Iraqi press.

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.

That’s from reporters Mark Mazzetti and Borzou Daragahi of the LA Times. Here’s another piece about the story, this time from the not-so-Web-challenged Guardian Unlimited, for when the original disappears behind the LA Times’ for-pay barrier: Pentagon pays Iraqi papers to print its ‘good news’ stories.

Draw your own conclusions about the larger implications of this. I think I need to lie down for a bit.

Update: Again from the LA Times, this follow-up story: Probe sought into stories planted in Iraqi media.

WASHINGTON — The White House said today it has demanded information from the Pentagon about a secret U.S. military offensive to plant stories in the Iraqi media, and senators are planning to meet privately Friday to hear details about the information operations campaign underway in Iraq.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the White House was “very concerned” about reports that a defense contractor in Iraq, working with U.S. troops, was paying newspapers in Baghdad to run positive stories written by U.S. soldiers.

“We are seeking more information from the Pentagon,” McClellan told reporters.

Pentagon officials said they were scrambling to get information from commanders in Baghdad about the arrangement between the U.S. military and Lincoln Group, a Washington-based contractor that specializes in “strategic communications” in combat zones.

Senior Pentagon officials, including Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have said they had no knowledge about the secret campaign before the Los Angeles Times reported it in Wednesday’s editions.


U.S. military officials in Baghdad offered no new details about the operation today. When asked about it during a press briefing, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq responded by quoting a letter from Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, Ayman Zawahiri, to Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi.

“He says, ‘Remember, half the battlefield is the battlefield of the media.’ And what Zarqawi is doing continuously is lying to the Iraqi people, lying to the international community,” said Army Maj. Gen Rick Lynch. “We don’t lie. We don’t need to lie. We do empower our operational commanders with the ability to inform the Iraqi public, but everything we do is based on fact, not based on fiction.”

Oh, hey. That’s good to know. For a second I thought maybe our side lied sometimes, too.

Sorry, Craig. It turns out I was wrong all along. Our side never lies. Everything we say is 100% truthful.


Later update: I sure keep hearing a lot about that Zawahiri letter. I noticed it the other day, too, in some piece of Cheneybabble I was compelled to talk back to on NPR. The Bush people sure like to talk about that letter. Odd, though, how Juan Cole (who actually has some expertise in the languages and cultures of the region) doesn’t find it so credible:

My gut tells me that the letter is a forgery. Most likely it is a black psy-ops operation of the US. But it could also come from Iran, since the mistakes are those a Shiite might make when pretending to be a Sunni. Or it could come from an Iraqi Shiite group attempting to manipulate the United States. Hmmm.

2 Responses to “A Free Press Isn’t Free: US Military Paying for Favorable News Coverage in Iraq”

  1. Craig Says:

    Well, if true, that certainly isn’t good. It could be a classic case of a well-intended initiative (to get Iraqi journalists to cover US briefings and provide some balance to what is printed), that gets warped by those who want to take a more agressive approach to promoting favorable stories.

    I’m sure its fustrating to get that balance naturally right now, but it’s too easy of step to go from factual to straight-out propaganda if left in the wrong hands. Democratic principles can be uncomfortable when it comes to cultivating free press in Iraq, but this isn’t the best way to teach journalistic ethics.

  2. rainforest Says:

    An (?) example of freedom of speech of USA.
    Double standard towards the ME countries (I think towards everyone, even to themselves).

    Only thing that matters is the price of the oil per barrel. And for any previlege, free to break any human right (bla bla bla … does not matter), Geneva conventions (Abu Gharib, Guantanamo etc).

    No matter how worse the foreign policy is, if anybody responds (u r either with us or against us, democratic rhetoric!) he is the terrorist. One countries freedom fighter is another countries terrorist.

    But the position of the famous american democracy is at stake now, so buying the press (US people does not mind, the pople who have accepted the abus in Abu Gharib will not mind this of course) will not hurt the american sentiment (except it increses the price of the oil by some cent, then some people might react improperly).

    And actually saying these odd words, Im wasting my time with thes hypocrite people. I hope one day, u get yr answers the same way u ve answered.

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