The New York Times
"Western press and frequently those self-styled 'objective' observers
But far from being the heartfelt opinion of an Iraqi writer, as its language implied, the article was prepared by the United States military as part of a multimillion-dollar covert campaign to plant paid propaganda in the Iraqi news media and pay friendly Iraqi journalists monthly stipends, military contractors and officials said.
The article was one of several in a storyboard, the military's term for a
list of articles, that was delivered Tuesday to the
Lincoln Group, a Washington-based public relations firm paid by the Pentagon,
documents from the Pentagon show. The contractor's job is to translate the
articles into Arabic and submit them to Iraqi newspapers or advertising
agencies without revealing the Pentagon's role. Documents show that the
intended target of the article on a democratic
Even as the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development pay contractors millions of dollars to help train journalists and promote a professional and independent Iraqi media, the Pentagon is paying millions more to the Lincoln Group for work that appears to violate fundamental principles of Western journalism.
In addition to paying newspapers to print government propaganda,
In many cases, the material prepared by the military was given to advertising agencies for placement, and at least some of the material ran with an advertising label. But the American authorship and financing were not revealed.
Military spokesmen in
President Bush's chief spokesman, Scott McClellan, was besieged with questions about the propaganda campaign at this afternoon's White House news briefing. "We're very concerned about the reports," he said. "We have asked the Department of Defense for more information. General Pace has asked people to look into the matter and get the facts."
Asked whether the president would approve of such propaganda in the guise of journalism, Mr. McClellan said, "I'm not going to engage in a hypothetical. Let's find out what those facts are."
The State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, had a similar reaction to similar questions. "Let's let the Department of Defense look into the facts," he said.
Pentagon officials said General Pace and other top officials were disturbed
by the reported details of the propaganda campaign and demanded explanations
from senior officers in
When asked about the article Wednesday night on the ABC News program "Nightline," General Pace said, "I would be concerned about anything that would be detrimental to the proper growth of democracy."
Others seemed to share the sentiment. "I think it's absolutely wrong
for the government to do this," said Patrick Butler, vice president of the
Mr. Butler, who spoke from a conference in
"You show the world you're not living by the principles you profess to believe in, and you lose all credibility," he said.
The Government Accountability Office found this year that the Bush administration had violated the law by producing pseudo news reports that were later used on American television stations with no indication that they had been prepared by the government. But no law prohibits the use of such covert propaganda abroad.
The Lincoln Group, whose principals include some businessmen and former
military officials, was hired last year after military officials concluded that
Citing a "fundamental problem of credibility" and foreign opposition to American policies, a Pentagon advisory panel last year called for the government to reinvent and expand its information programs.
"Government alone cannot today communicate effectively and credibly," said the report by the task force on strategic communication of the Defense Science Board. The group recommended turning more often for help to the private sector, which it said had "a built-in agility, credibility and even deniability."
The Pentagon's first public relations contract with
In addition, the document called for the development of "alternate or diverting messages which divert media and public attention" to "deal instantly with the bad news of the day."
Laurie Adler, a spokeswoman for the Lincoln Group, said the terms of the contract did not permit her to discuss it and referred a reporter to the Pentagon. But others defended the practice.
"I'm not surprised this goes on," said Michael Rubin, who worked in Iraq for the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 and 2004. "Informational operations are a part of any military campaign," he added. "Especially in an atmosphere where terrorists and insurgents - replete with oil boom cash - do the same. We need an even playing field, but cannot fight with both hands tied behind our backs."
Two dozen recent storyboards prepared by the military for Lincoln and reviewed by The New York Times had a variety of good-news themes addressing the economy, security, the insurgency and Iraq's political future. Some were written to resemble news articles. Others took the form of opinion pieces or public service announcements.
One article about
The editor of Al Sabah, a major Iraqi newspaper that has been the target of many of the military's articles, said Wednesday in an interview that he had no idea that the American military was supplying such material and did not know if his newspaper had printed any of it, whether labeled as advertising or not.
The editor, Muhammad Abdul Jabbar, 57, said Al Sabah, which he said received financial support from the Iraqi government but was editorially independent, accepted advertisements from virtually any source if they were not inflammatory. He said any such material would be labeled as advertising but would not necessarily identify the sponsor. Sometimes, he said, the paper got the text from an advertising agency and did not know its origins.
Asked what he thought of the Pentagon program's effectiveness in influencing Iraqi public opinion, Mr. Jabbar said, "I would spend the money a better way."
The Lincoln Group, which was incorporated in 2004, has won another government information contract. Last June, the Special Operations Command in Tampa awarded Lincoln and two other companies a multimillion-dollar contract to support psychological operations. The planned products, contract documents show, include three- to five- minute news programs.
Asked whether the information and news products would identify the American sponsorship, a media relations officer with the special operations command replied, in an e-mail message last summer, that "the product may or may not carry 'made in the U.S.' signature" but they would be identified as American in origin, "if asked."