"Media Matters"; by Jamison Foser

››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Quote of the week: "It's dishonest, it hurts the country, and I'm gonna bring those people down. Mark my words. I'm gonna take 'em down, because nobody else will. I'm gonna do it. And that's what I was talking about last night in the coalition of the willing. We're gonna go after those people where they live." -- Bill O'Reilly

This Week:

U.S. military propaganda aimed at Iraqis shapes congressional opinion about Iraq

O'Reilly ... or Matthews?

Time reporter aided Rove's defense

Wall Street Journal grudgingly corrects editorial -- but ducks blame for mistake

Quote of the week

"It's dishonest, it hurts the country, and I'm gonna bring those people down. Mark my words. I'm gonna take 'em down, because nobody else will. I'm gonna do it. And that's what I was talking about last night in the coalition of the willing. We're gonna go after those people where they live."

-- Bill O'Reilly (click here for audio)

U.S. military propaganda aimed at Iraqis shapes congressional opinion about Iraq

This week brought news of yet another example of the Bush administration's use of fake "news" to win support for its policies. The Los Angeles Times reported on November 30:

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.

[...]

One of the military officials said that, as part of a psychological operations campaign that has intensified over the last year, the task force also had purchased an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station, and was using them to channel pro-American messages to the Iraqi public. Neither is identified as a military mouthpiece.

The official would not disclose which newspaper and radio station are under U.S. control, saying that naming them would put their employees at risk of insurgent attacks.

[...]

"Absolute truth was not an essential element of these stories," said the senior military official who spent this year in Iraq.

While demonstrating that the U.S. military is manipulating the Iraqi media by paying for fake news stories -- news stories in which "absolute truth was not an essential element" -- the Times noted that the Bush administration has used the "free media" in Iraq as evidence in its argument that things are going well in Iraq, that Democracy is burgeoning:

Underscoring the importance U.S. officials place on development of a Western-style media, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday cited the proliferation of news organizations in Iraq as one of the country's great successes since the ouster of President Saddam Hussein. The hundreds of newspapers, television stations and other "free media" offer a "relief valve" for the Iraqi public to debate the issues of their burgeoning democracy, Rumsfeld said.

The administration isn't alone in pointing to the "free" -- actually, it turns out, "bought-and-paid-for" -- media as evidence of things going well in Iraq.

In a November 10 speech, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) touted Iraq's "truly free press":

Despite bombs, daily attacks, and untold threats against the democratic process, Iraq has held free elections, with open campaigns and a truly free press. Iraq has ratified the most progressive constitution in the Arab world and instilled justice in a country that for so long lacked it. Iraq has put Saddam on trial and held his henchmen accountable for their murderous rule. In doing all these things and more, the Iraqi people have issued to their more peaceful, prosperous neighbors a profound challenge.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT) recently returned from a trip to Iraq and wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal in which he pointed to Iraq's "independent television stations and newspapers" as evidence of the "remarkable changes" there:

I have just returned from my fourth trip to Iraq in the past 17 months and can report real progress there.

[...]

Last week, I was thrilled to see a vigorous political campaign, and a large number of independent television stations and newspapers covering it.

None of these remarkable changes would have happened without the coalition forces led by the U.S. And, I am convinced, almost all of the progress in Iraq and throughout the Middle East will be lost if those forces are withdrawn faster than the Iraqi military is capable of securing the country.

Lieberman went on to tout the results of public-opinion polling in Iraq:

While U.S. public opinion polls show serious declines in support for the war and increasing pessimism about how it will end, polls conducted by Iraqis for Iraqi universities show increasing optimism. Two-thirds say they are better off than they were under Saddam, and a resounding 82% are confident their lives in Iraq will be better a year from now than they are today.

Of course, those polls lose a great deal of meaning now that we know that public opinion in Iraq is being shaped by Pentagon propaganda masquerading as "independent television stations and newspapers" in Iraq.

The strong impression the (not-so) "independent television stations and newspapers" in Iraq apparently made on Lieberman is demonstrated by how often he mentioned them. A November 29 Hartford Courant article quoted Lieberman describing the presence of "a lot of independent television stations and newspapers covering" the December 15 elections as among the "most exciting" developments in Iraq. In a press conference the same day, Lieberman pointed to the "slew of independent television stations, newspapers, and radio stations" covering the elections as evidence of "a remarkable transformation" from the Hussein dictatorship. Lieberman also mentioned the "independent" Iraqi media in separate appearances on CNN's American Morning and The Situation Room; he mentioned Iraqi opinion polls on the November 30 broadcast of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes.

The possible effect that U.S. propaganda efforts aimed at the Iraqi people have apparently had on a senior U.S. senator is not a trivial matter. Lieberman bases his view of what our Iraq policy should be in part on his view of the progress being made there; his view of the progress being made there is likewise dependent in part on what he saw of the Iraqi media -- a media that, it turns out, may not be so "independent" after all. Thus one of the most prominent and influential backers of the Bush administration's Iraq policy -- one whose support President Bush talked about during his November 30 speech -- might be basing his support in part on Pentagon propaganda.

Lieberman's views of the situation in Iraq, in turn, drove news coverage about the war for much of the week: He made multiple appearances on CNN on the same day, appearances the network replayed and quoted throughout the week; he appeared on Fox News and on MSNBC and was mentioned in The Washington Post, the Associated Press, and several other major news outlets.

So news about Iraq this week was largely shaped by Lieberman's positive assessment of progress in Iraq, an assessment that relied in part on his having seen Iraq's "independent" media for himself. But the Los Angeles Times made clear just how hollow claims of a free and independent Iraqi media are:

The U.S. military-written articles come in to Al Mutamar, the newspaper run by Chalabi's associates, via the Internet and are often unsigned, said Luay Baldawi, the paper's editor in chief.

"We publish anything," he said. "The paper's policy is to publish everything, especially if it praises causes we believe in. We are pro-American. Everything that supports America we will publish."

Yet other Al Mutamar employees were much less supportive of their paper's connection with the U.S. military. "This is not right," said Faleh Hassan, an editor. "It reflects the tragic condition of journalists in Iraq. Journalism in Iraq is in very bad shape."

Ultimately, Baldawi acknowledged that he, too, was concerned about the origin of the articles and pledged to be "more careful about stuff we get by e-mail."

After he learned of the source of three paid stories that ran in Al Mada in July, that newspaper's managing editor, Abdul Zahra Zaki, was outraged, immediately summoning a manager of the advertising department to his office.

"I'm very sad," he said. "We have to investigate."

Lieberman and Rumsfeld certainly haven't been alone in touting a free Iraqi press as evidence of success. The Bush administration's "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" claims: "A professional and informative Iraqi news media has taken root," adding:

Signs of a vibrant political life are sprouting. The constitutional drafting committee received more than 500,000 public comments on various provisions. More than 100 newspapers freely discuss political events every day in Iraq.

Ironically, the "National Strategy" document portrays "propaganda" as a tactic "The enemy" uses:

  • Enemy Lines of Action. The enemy seeks to ...
    • Weaken the Coalition's resolve, and our resolve at home, through barbaric mass-casualty attacks, public slaughter of Iraqi civilians and hostages, infliction of casualties on Coalition forces, and use of the media to spread propaganda and intimidate adversaries.
      [...]
    • Damage trust in Iraqi Security Forces through propaganda, infiltration, and barbaric attacks on the weak and the innocent.
    • Sabotage Iraqi unity through propaganda against the Shi'a majority punctuated with attacks intended to spark sectarian conflict and civil war.

The disclosure of the military's practice of paying for "news" stories in the Iraqi media has drawn the attention of U.S. news outlets and members of Congress. But little attention has been paid to the fact the "free" and "independent" Iraqi media has frequently been cited by supporters of the administration's Iraq policy as evidence of our success in Iraq -- evidence that now seems irrevocably tainted.

O'Reilly ... or Matthews?

Each of the following are direct quotations of either Fox News host Bill O'Reilly or MSNBC host Chris Matthews. Can you tell which host made which comments?

1) "I think this is the brilliant political move here by the president, forcing the Democratic carpers and complainers to come forward, and say, 'All right, you don't like my strategy for victory in Iraq? Vote against it. Go ahead, make my day.' This is Clint Eastwood stuff."

2) "Enough's enough. We got people with lives on the line. We got people wanting to kill us where we live. And we gotta put up with this kind of crap on the Internet funded by George Soros? Not gonna happen."

3) "Everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs, maybe on the left."

4) "Now, outta the 20 percent base of people who say they're liberal, I would say about 10 percent of those, half, are crazed -- loons. Just nuts ..."

5) "I don't understand this kind of politics, unless they got some thimble-wit over there ..."

6) "These pinheads running around going, 'Get out of Iraq now,' don't know what they're talking about."

7) "Do you think the Democrats are a little bit stupid ...?"

8) "This is so incredibly stupid I can't believe it."

Answers: Odd numbers are Matthews; even numbers are O'Reilly.

In claiming that only "real whack-jobs" on the left dislike Bush, Matthews was only demonstrating how out of touch he is. In fact, the majority of Americans not only disapprove of Bush's job performance, but also they have an unfavorable view of him personally. A recent Diageo/Hotline poll reported that 56 percent of Americans have an "unfavorable" opinion of Bush; an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey reported that a large plurality have "very negative" feelings toward Bush.

In recent weeks, Matthews has also said that Bush sometimes "glimmers" with "sunny nobility" and praised a recent Bush speech as a "brilliant political move" -- before the speech was even delivered. Now he is calling the majority of Americans "whack-jobs" and deriding critics of the Iraq war as "carpers and complainers."

When it comes to insults and invective, Matthews has put up a good show recently, but his attacks on "real whack-jobs" and "carpers and complainers" can't hold a candle to O'Reilly's bottomless pit of bile. O'Reilly's angry, screaming November 29 rant on his radio program is a masterpiece of the genre; you can practically see his face redden and the spittle flying from his lips:

CALLER: And I think that, you know, when you talk about the people in America who are spewing this filth, you know, that's arising from pure ignorance --

O'REILLY: No, it's not. No, no, you're wrong. It's arising from hatred. Here's the point. You can dissent about the war and feel it is not a good policy for America and they screwed it up. And that's absolutely legitimate dissent. Absolutely legitimate. OK? But you can't accuse Bush and Cheney of lying purposely to get people killed, because they wanted Halliburton to make money. You can't do that unless you have proof. Once you start down that defamation lane, then you have to be held accountable for what you say. That's what I'm talking about. Not honest dissent. I'm talking about blatant propaganda spit out there on a daily basis by hateful liars, picked up by the mainstream media and rammed down the public's throat. That's what I'm talking about. And you know who I'm talking about too. You know the newspapers that do it, you know the radio people that do it, you know the TV people that do it. And you should be as angry about it as I am. It's dishonest, it hurts the country, and I'm gonna bring those people down. Mark my words. I'm gonna take 'em down, because nobody else will. I'm gonna do it. And that's what I was talking about last night in the coalition of the willing. We're gonna go after those people where they live.

If mainstream media continues to run out this slander and run out this defamation, I'm gonna name the name, put their face on television, and tell you about it on the radio. So you walk away from them, so they fail in the marketplace. Enough's enough. We got people with lives on the line. We got people wanting to kill us where we live. And we gotta put up with this kind of crap on the Internet funded by George Soros? Not gonna happen. No spin zone. I'll be right back.

Time reporter aided Rove's defense

A December 2 New York Times report indicates that Time magazine reporter Viveca Novak assisted Karl Rove's defense by telling Rove's lawyer that her colleague, Matthew Cooper, might have interviewed Rove about Valerie Plame:

A conversation between Karl Rove's lawyer and a journalist for Time magazine led Mr. Rove to change his testimony last year to the grand jury in the C.I.A. leak case, people knowledgeable about the sequence of events said Thursday.

Mr. Rove's lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, spoke in the summer or early fall of 2004 with Viveca Novak, a reporter for Time. In that conversation, Mr. Luskin heard from Ms. Novak that a colleague at the magazine, Matthew Cooper, might have interviewed Mr. Rove about the C.I.A. officer at the heart of the case, the people said.

Time reported this week that the prosecutor in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has summoned Ms. Novak to testify about a conversation she had with Mr. Luskin, but provided no explanation of what Mr. Fitzgerald might be looking for. The account provided Thursday by people with knowledge of the discussions between Ms. Novak and Mr. Luskin suggests that Mr. Fitzgerald is still trying to determine whether Mr. Rove was fully forthcoming with investigators and whether he altered his grand jury testimony about his dealings with reporters only after learning that one, Mr. Cooper, might identify him as a source.

[...]

Months before the conversation between Ms. Novak and Mr. Luskin, Mr. Rove testified to the grand jury that he had held a conversation about the C.I.A. officer with only one journalist, Robert D. Novak, the syndicated columnist. Mr. Rove did not disclose that he had also spoken to Mr. Cooper either in his first grand jury testimony, in February 2004, or in an earlier interview with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

But after his conversation with Ms. Novak, who is not related to the columnist, Mr. Luskin asked Mr. Rove to have the White House search for any record of a discussion between Mr. Rove and Mr. Cooper around the time that Ms. Wilson's identity became public in July 2003.

The search turned up an e-mail message from Mr. Rove to another senior White House official, Stephen J. Hadley, who was the deputy national security adviser, that recounted a conversation between Mr. Rove and Mr. Cooper. On Oct. 14, 2004, Mr. Rove went before the grand jury again to alter his earlier account, by saying he had also discussed the C.I.A. officer with Mr. Cooper.

Associates of Mr. Rove said that he did not initially recall the conversation with Mr. Cooper amid the hundreds of calls and e-mail messages he deals with each day, and that once the message to Mr. Hadley was uncovered he took it to prosecutors and testified fully.

In other words, Rove testified to the grand jury that he discussed Plame with only one journalist, Robert D. Novak (no relation to Viveca Novak). In fact, he had also discussed the matter with Cooper. Viveca Novak then told Rove's lawyer about that conversation, whereupon Rove miraculously remembered it. By telling Luskin about the conversation between Cooper and Rove, Viveca Novak essentially told Rove that his testimony might be contradicted, giving him a chance to change his testimony and potentially avoid a perjury charge.

And, while Novak was helping Rove's defense, she was keeping her readers in the dark: Though Viveca Novak apparently knew Rove was Cooper's source, she didn't report that fact.

Time still hasn't explained why it deceived its readers by printing White House denials of involvement by Rove that the magazine knew to be false. Instead, the magazine has claimed it didn't seek a waiver from Rove to allow Cooper to testify in 2004 because "Time editors were concerned about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year" -- though, by printing White House denials it knew to be false, Time did take a side, and actively aided Bush's re-election efforts. Now the magazine and Novak owe readers an answer to this question: Why did Novak take sides in the Plame investigation, aiding Rove's defense efforts while keeping readers in the dark about what she knew?

Wall Street Journal grudgingly corrects editorial -- but ducks blame for mistake

A December 1 Wall Street Journal editorial attacked Atlantic Monthly national correspondent James Fallows:

In the latest issue of the Atlantic Monthly ... James Fallows purports to explain "Why Iraq Has No Army." But the public affairs office of the Multinational Security Transition Command in Iraq (or "Min-sticky") says Mr. Fallows not only didn't visit but didn't even contact them while reporting the article or at anytime during at least the past nine months.

By the standards of the Journal's editorial page, that's not particularly stinging criticism. But it turns out it is yet another example of the page's complete lack of interest in quaint notions of "journalistic ethics" and "the truth." Turns out, the Journal's editors didn't bother contacting Fallows for comment before writing about him -- the very journalistic sin the editorial accused Fallows of. But, unlike the Journal, it turns out Fallows wasn't guilty.

Atlantic Monthly managing editor Cullen Murphy's letter to the Journal was quoted by National Review's Rich Lowry:

You said that according to the training organization, the Multinational Security Transition Command in Iraq, Fallows "didn't even contact them while reporting the article or at anytime during at least the past nine months."

That is untrue. Mr. Fallows had extensive email correspondence, starting last August, with the Public Affairs Officer for that organization, Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Wellman, who arranged an interview with its commander, Lieutenant General Dave Petraeus, in September. Mr. Fallows spoke with General Petraeus by phone for more than an hour, and checked quotes from that interview via Lt. Col. Wellman before using them in his article.

He also interviewed one of Petraeus's deputies, Colonel John Martin, and had not-for-attribution discussions, via phone and email, with other members of the organization. As Mr. Fallows pointed out in his article, and as he has records to demonstrate, the Pentagon's press office turned down his requests to interview Major General Paul Eaton and others who had been involved in the training effort.

At no point before printing this false statement did you contact Mr. Fallows or me to determine whether what you intended to publish was true.

The December 2 edition of the Journal didn't include Cullen's letter, though it did contain partial acknowledgment of the mistake -- in the form of a correction on the letters page:

Due to inaccurate information from a source, yesterday's editorial on Iraq, "'Complete Victory'," misstated information about James Fallows's reporting for his essay in the Atlantic Monthly, "Why Iraq Has No Army." While Mr. Fallows did not go to Iraq, as we reported correctly, he did interview U.S. military officers involved in training Iraqi forces by phone and email, including Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, then-head of the Multinational Security Transition Command in Iraq.

While grudgingly correcting its false claim, the Journal pins the blame on "inaccurate information from a source," rather than on its own apparent failure to contact Fallows for comment. Still, a correction of an error in a Journal editorial is encouraging. We assume Journal editors are still working on a six-volume collection of corrections of the paper's Whitewater editorials.

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