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S ince the inception of the Iraq war, and even during the runup to the invasion, the Bush administration aimed to control the news about and from Iraq. Early on, embedded reporters told stories about the toppling of Saddam’s statue and the heroism of individual soldiers. Over the course of the subsequent occupation, several hundred million dollars have been spent on an assortment of media projects specifically designed to sell “good” news about the occupation. Perhaps the most notorious U.S. effort involved a U.S. public relations company that was contracted to pay for positive news stories—written by U.S. military personnel—to be placed in Iraqi publications.
In late-September, the Pentagon once again signed a contract with the Washington DC-based Lincoln Group, which “put together a unit of 12-18 communicators to support military PR efforts in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, from media training to pitching stories and providing content for government-backed news sites” (see ODwyerspr.com). According to the information service of industry publication O’Dwyers PR Report , the “contract with the Multi-National Force-Iraq is valued at more than $6 million per year, although contracting documents indicated that additional efforts could be ‘ordered’ from the Pennsylvania Avenue firm for up to $20 million.”
Company representative Bill Dixon said, “Lincoln Group is proud to be trusted to assist the multi-national forces in Iraq with communicating news about their vital work.” According to its website, the Lincoln Group is a “strategic communications and public relations firm providing insight and influence in challenging and hostile environments.”
The company claims that its “employees and consultants have worked, and continue to work, around the world in such places as Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Colombia, Indonesia, and elsewhere. While others may view these locations as ‘inhospitable’, we prefer to call them ‘challenging’.”
A Fortune magazine story dated January 20, 2006 pointed out that the Lincoln Group “says it has entered into more than 20 Defense Department contracts (the biggest of which could be worth as much as $100 million) and a similar number of commercial and nonmilitary government deals. It has more than 40 employees in the U.S. and 200 overseas, mostly in Iraq, doing research, communications, and even some investing.”
According to SourceWatch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy, O’Dwyer’s reported in March 2006 that the Lincoln Group was “working to boost economic development in Pakistan. Lincoln is working with former U.S. diplomat Carol Fleming to increase ‘investments in the country’s textile, energy, technology and telecom’ industries. The firm produced ‘a documentary’ of areas devastated by the October 2005 earthquake ‘to remind countries to honor their pledges to support the victims.’ Lincoln has also ‘expressed interest’ in a contract to help the U.S. Army Reserve communicate its ‘vision of the future.’ The contract includes ‘speech writing, research, development of a comprehensive... communications plan,’ support for ‘national outreach programs,’ and media outreach for Army Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. James Helmly.”
While no stranger to government contracts, the company is also no stranger to controversy. In November 2005 the Los Angeles Times revealed that the U.S. military was “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.” Mark Mazzetti and Borzou Daragahi reported in the LA Times that the stories were authored by U.S. military “information operations’ troops” and “translated into Arabic and covertly placed in Baghdad newspapers.”
The Lincoln Group has acted as an intermediary between the U.S. military and media outlets. Company staff and subcontractors wrote and translated stories, then paid local editors varying amounts to run them, pretending to be freelance reporters or advertising executives.
In their recently published book, The Best War Ever: Lies, Damned Lies, and the Mess in Iraq (Tarcher/Penguin, 2006), co-authors Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber document how Pentagon money was “thrown” at the Lincoln Group and other public relations outfits to promote the war in Iraq: “In September 2004, the U.S. military awarded a $5.4 million contract to Iraqex—which soon after changed its name to The Lincoln Group—a ‘newly formed’ Washington, DC-based company ‘set up specifically to provide services in Iraq.’” A year later, the New York Times’ Jeff Gerth reported that Iraqex’s winning of the contract was “something of a mystery” given the fact that the “two men who ran the small business [Christian Bailey, a young businessperson from England, and Paige Craig, a young former marine intelligence officer] had no background in public relations or the media.”
According to Rampton and Stauber, “In its various [pre-war] incarnations, Iraqex/Lincoln dabbled in real estate, published a short-lived online business publication called the Iraq Business Journal , and tried its hand at exporting scrap metal, manufacturing construction materials, and providing logistics for U.S. forces before finally striking gold with the Pentagon PR contract.”
Rampton and Stauber report that at first the Lincoln Group worked with the Rendon Group, “a public relations firm that had already played a major role in leading the U.S. into war through its work for Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress.” After Rendon left the project, Lincoln “hired another Washington-based public relations firm as a subcontractor—BKSH & Associates, headed by Republican political strategist Charles R. Black, Jr. BKSH is a subsidiary of Burson-Marszteller, a PR firm whose previous experience in Iraq also included work for Chalabi. Other Pentagon contracts for public relations work were awarded to SYColeman Inc. of Arlington, Virginia and Science Applications International Corporation. PR contracts added up to $300 million over a five-year period.”
In late May 2006 David S. Cloud reported in the New York Times that, “A Defense Department investigation of Pentagon-financed propaganda efforts in Iraq warn[ed] that paying Iraqi journalists to produce positive stories could damage American credibility and call[ed] for an end to military payments to a group of Iraqi journalists in Baghdad, according to a summary of the investigation.”
All in all, as the New York Times reported, the Lincoln Group managed to place more than 1,000 stories in the Iraqi and Arab press.
The review was ordered after news the previous November disclosed “that the military had paid the Lincoln Group to plant articles written by American soldiers in Iraqi publications without disclosing the source of the articles. The firm’s work also included paying Iraqi journalists for favorable treatment.”
Though the document prepared by Rear Admiral Scott Van Buskirk doesn’t mention the Lincoln Group by name, it nevertheless found that the military should scrutinize contractors involved in the propaganda effort more closely “to ensure proper oversight is in place,” Cloud reported. Van Buskirk also blamed the military for not investigating whether paying for placement for articles would “undermine the concept of a free press” in Iraq, according to the summary.
Cloud reports that, “Overall, the report conclude[d] 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.
“The most critical portion of the report concerns the military’s creation in 2004 of an entity called the Baghdad Press Club in which Iraqi journalists were paid if they covered and produced stories about American reconstruction efforts, such as openings of schools and sewage plants.... The 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,’ the report says.”
T he war in Iraq has spawned a new industry in Washington that could be called psy-ops journalism,” Alvin Snyder, a former executive of the United States Information Agency (USIA) and a senior fellow at the USC Center for Public Diplomacy, recently wrote on the Center’s website. “The new breed of journalists are following the money trail to the Pentagon.”
Psyops is, of course, not a new phenomenon. An Air Force document published in 1994 titled “Air Force Intelligence and Security Doctrine: Psychological Operations (PSYOP)” pointed out that psychological operations aim to “convey and (or) deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning.... In various ways, perception management combines truth projection, operations security, cover, deception, and psyops.”
In the information age, psyops, or the effective manipulating of information for political gain, knows no borders. A Defense Department document titled “Information Operations Roundup,” approved in 2003, acknowledged that “information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and PSYOP, increasingly is consumed by our domestic audience and vice-versa. PSYOP messages disseminated to any audience...will often be replayed by the news media for much larger audiences, including the American public.”
Snyder writes that, “Some $400 million in media consulting contracts has been awarded during the past few years by the Pentagon, for the purpose of helping ‘to effectively communicate Iraqi government and Coalition goals with strategic audiences’.”
Over the past three-plus years, the Pentagon has initiated an endless stream of public relations efforts aimed at stemming the tide of negative news from Iraq. As The Best War Ever points out, “much of the U.S. propaganda effort”—from manipulating events, creating heroic stories for domestic consumption, sitting on negative information as evidenced by the slow initial response to torture at Abu Ghraib prison—“is aimed not at tactical deception of enemy combatants but at influencing morale and support for the war in the United States.”
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.