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Context of 'After May 31, 2001: White House PR Group Successful at Marketing War on Terror, Iraq Focus'

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’Nayirah’ testifying before Congress.’Nayirah’ testifying before Congress. [Source: Web Fairy (.com)]An unconfirmed report of Iraqi soldiers entering a Kuwaiti hospital during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990) and removing newborns from their incubators causes a sensation in the US media. The rumor, which later turns out to be false, is seized upon by senior executives of the PR firm Hill & Knowlton, which has a $11.9 million contract from the Kuwaiti royal family to win support for a US-led intervention against Iraq—the largest foreign-funded campaign ever mounted to shape US public opinion. (Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the firm should have been held accountable for its marketing campaign, but the Justice Department fails to intervene.) The firm also has close ties to the Bush administration, and will assist in marketing the war to the US citizenry. [Christian Science Monitor, 9/6/2002; Independent, 10/19/2003; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007] Hill & Knowlton uses a front group, “Citizens for a Free Kuwait” (see August 11, 1990), to plant the stories in the news media.
Congressional Hearings - Hearings on the story, and other tales of Iraqi atrocities, are convened by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, chaired by Representatives Tom Lantos (D-CA) and John Porter (R-IL). Reporters John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton will later characterize the caucus as little more than an H&K-funded sham; Lantos and Porter are also co-chairs of the Congressional Human Rights Foundation, a legally separate entity that occupied free office space in Hill & Knowlton’s Washington, DC offices. The star of the hearings is a slender, 15-year old Kuwaiti girl called “Nayirah.” According to the Caucus, her true identity is being concealed to prevent Iraqi reprisals against her or her family. Sobbing throughout her testimony, “Nayirah” describes what she says she witnessed in a hospital in Kuwait City; her written testimony is provided to reporters and Congressmen in a media kit prepared by Citizens for a Free Kuwait. “I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital,” she tells the assemblage. “While I was there, I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns, and go into the room where… babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/6/2002; Los Angeles Times, 1/5/2003; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007] The hearings, and particularly “Nayirah’s” emotional tale, inflame American public opinion against the Iraqis (see October 10, 1990 and After) and help drum up support for a US invasion of Iraq (see January 9-13, 1991).
Outright Lies - Neither Lantos, Porter, nor H&K officials tell Congress that the entire testimony is a lie. “Nayirah” is the daughter of Saud Nasir al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US. Neither do they reveal that “Nayirah’s” testimony was coached by H&K vice president Lauri Fitz-Pegado. Seven other “witnesses” testify to the same atrocities before the United Nations; the seven use false names and identities. The US even presents a video made by Hill & Knowlton to the Security Council. No journalist investigates the claims. As author Susan Trento will write: “The diplomats, the congressmen, and the senators wanted something to support their positions. The media wanted visual, interesting stories.” It is not until after the war that human rights investigators look into the charges. No other witnesses can be located to confirm “Nayirah’s” story. Dr. Mohammed Matar, director of Kuwait’s primary care system, and his wife, Dr. Fayeza Youssef, who runs the obstretrics unit at the maternity hospital, says that at the time of the so-called atrocities, few if any babies were in incubator units—and Kuwait only possesses a few such units anyway. “I think it was just something for propaganda,” Dr. Matar will say. It is doubtful that “Nayirah” was even in the country at the time, as the Kuwaiti aristocracy had fled the country weeks before the Iraqi invasion. Amnesty International, which had supported the story, will issue a retraction. Porter will claim that he had no knowledge that the sobbing little girl was a well-rehearsed fabricator, much less an ambassador’s daughter. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporters will ask al-Sabah for permission to question his daughter about her testimony; he will angrily refuse. “Naiyrah” herself will later admit that she had never been in the hospital herself, but had learned of the supposed baby murders from a friend. In a subsequent interview about media manipulation during the war, Fitz-Pegado will say: “Come on.… Who gives a sh_t whether there were six babies or two? I believed her.” She will later clarify that statement: “What I meant was one baby would be too many.” [CounterPunch, 12/28/2002; Independent, 10/19/2003; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Susan Trento, Tom Lantos, Sheldon Rampton, US Congress, United Nations Security Council, Saud Nasir al-Sabah, US Department of Justice, Mohammed Matar, Lauri Fitz-Pegado, Citizens for a Free Kuwait, ’Nayirah’, Amnesty International, Bush administration (41), John Stauber, Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Fayeza Youssef, John MacArthur, John Porter, Hill and Knowlton, Congressional Human Rights Foundation, Jack O’Dwyer

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Newly hired Defense Department public relations chief Victoria Clarke (see May 2001) begins a series of regular meetings with a number of Washington’s top private PR specialists and lobbyists. The group is tasked with developing a marketing plan for the upcoming war in Iraq. It is remarkably successful in securing press cooperation to spread its message (see August 13, 2003 and After May 31, 2001).
Bipartisan Makeup - Reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will later write, “The group was filled with heavy-hitters and was strikingly bipartisan in composition.” The group, later informally dubbed “the Rumsfeld Group,” is made up of, among others, PR executives John Rendon and Sheila Tate, Republican political consultant Rich Galen, and Democratic operative Tommy Boggs (brother of NPR’s Cokie Roberts and a PR consultant for the Saudi royal family; St. Clair believes Boggs may have had a hand in the decision to redact 20+ pages concerning the Saudis from Congress’s report on the intelligence failures leading to the 9/11 attacks—see April 2003 and August 1-3, 2003). The direct involvement, if any, of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is unclear.
Rendon's Involvement - John Rendon, the head of the Rendon Group, is a noteworthy veteran of the 1990-91 PR efforts to market the Gulf War (see August 11, 1990), has worked for both Democratic and Republican politicians and lobbying groups, and was instrumental in creating Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (see May 1991). Rendon, already under contract with the Pentagon to help market the US bombing of Afghanistan, is one of the key players in marketing the upcoming Iraq invasion. Though Rendon refuses to discuss his work for the Pentagon, St. Clair believes he will be partially or completely responsible for some of the invasion’s signature events, including the toppling of the statue of Hussein in Firdos Square by US troops and Chalabi associates (see April 9, 2003), and video-friendly Iraqi crowds waving American flags as US Army vehicles roll by. Rendon explains his role like this: “I am not a national security strategist or a military tactician. I am a politician, and a person who uses communication to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior and a perception manager.” The Pentagon defines “perception management” as “actions to convey and/or deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning.” St. Clair adds, “In other words, lying about the intentions of the US government.” One of the biggest instances of Pentagon “perception management” is the Office of Strategic Influence (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), also developed by Rendon. [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Tommy Boggs, Iraqi National Congress, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), “The Rumsfeld Group”, Jeffrey St. Clair, Sheila Tate, John Rendon, US Department of Defense, Rich Galen, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, Office of Strategic Influence

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

According to the trade publication PR Week, the ad hoc government public relations organization dubbed “The Rumsfeld Group” (see Late May 2001) is quite successful at sending what the publication calls “messaging advice” to the Pentagon.
Marketing a Link between Iraq, Islamist Radicals - The group tells Pentagon PR chief Victoria Clarke and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that to get the American public’s support for the war on terror, and particularly the invasion of Iraq, they need to fix in the public mind a link between terror and nation-states, not just fluid and ad hoc groups such as al-Qaeda. Reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write, “In other words, there needed to be a fixed target for the military campaigns, some distant place to drop cruise missiles and cluster bombs.” The Rumsfeld Group comes up with the idea of labeling Iraq and certain other nations “rogue states,” an idea already extant in Rumsfeld’s mind, and the genesis of the so-called “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002 and After January 29, 2002).
Veterans of the Gulf War - The government allocates tens of millions of dollars, most of which is handed out to private public relations and media firms hired to spread the Bush administration’s message that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein must be taken out before he can use his arsenal of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons on US targets. Many of the PR and media executives are old friends of senior Bush officials, and many had worked on selling the 1991 Gulf War to the public (see October 10, 1990).
Media Complicity Ensures Success - St. Clair will later note that while the PR efforts are, largely, failures with US allies, they are far more successful with the American population (see August 13, 2003). He will write: “A population traumatized by terror threats and shattered economy became easy prey for the saturation bombing of the Bush message that Iraq was a terrorist state linked to al-Qaeda that was only minutes away from launching attacks on America with weapons of mass destruction. Americans were the victims of an elaborate con job, pelted with a daily barrage of threat inflation, distortions, deceptions, and lies. Not about tactics or strategy or war plans. But about justifications for war. The lies were aimed not at confusing Saddam’s regime, but the American people.” St. Clair places as much blame on the “gullible [and] complicit press corps,” so easily managed by Clarke (see February 2003). “During the Vietnam war, TV images of maimed GIs and napalmed villages suburbanized opposition to the war and helped hasten the US withdrawal,” St. Clair writes. “The Bush gang meant to turn the Vietnam phenomenon on its head by using TV as a force to propel the US into a war that no one really wanted. What the Pentagon sought was a new kind of living room war, where instead of photos of mangled soldiers and dead Iraqi kids, they could control the images Americans viewed and to a large extent the content of the stories. By embedding reporters inside selected divisions, Clarke believed the Pentagon could count on the reporters to build relationships with the troops and to feel dependent on them for their own safety. It worked, naturally.” St. Clair notes the instance of one reporter on national television calling the US Army “our protectors,” and NBC’s David Bloom’s on-air admission that he is willing to do “anything and everything they can ask of us.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Jeffrey St. Clair, US Department of Defense, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, “The Rumsfeld Group”, Bush administration (43), David Bloom

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

President Bush’s State of the Union speech describes an “axis of evil” consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Osama bin Laden is not mentioned in the speech. [US President, 2/4/2002] Bush says: “States like these and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.” Bush goes on to suggest for the first time that the US might be prepared to launch pre-emptive wars by saying, “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004] When Bush advisor Richard Perle was asked one month before 9/11 about new challenges the US faced, he replied by naming these exact three countries (see August 6, 2001). Michael Gerson, head of the White House speechwriting team at the time, will later claim that, as Newsweek will later put it, “Bush was already making plans to topple Saddam Hussein, but he wasn’t ready to say so.” Iran and North Korea are inserted into the speech in order to avoid focusing solely on Iraq. The speech is followed by a new public focus on Iraq and a downplaying of bin Laden (see September 15, 2001-April 6, 2002). Prior to the speech, the Iranian government had been very helpful in the US fight against the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran were enemies. [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] At the time, al-Qaeda operatives had been streaming into Iran from Afghanistan following the defeat of the Taliban. Iran has been turning over hundreds of suspects to US allies and providing US intelligence with the names, photographs, and fingerprints of those it is holding. [Washington Post, 2/10/2007] Newsweek will later say that it is “beyond doubt” the Iranian government was “critical… to stabilizing [Afghanistan] after the fall of Kabul.” But all this cooperation comes to an end after the speech. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Hossein Adeli will later say that “Those [inside the Iranian government] who were in favor of a rapprochement with the United States were marginalized. The speech somehow exonerated those who had always doubted America’s intentions.” [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] In August 2003, reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write that “the Axis of Evil [is not] an ‘axis’ at all, since two of the states, Iran and Iraq, hate… each other, and neither [have] anything at all to do with the third, North Korea.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Mohammad Hossein Adeli, Jeffrey St. Clair, Michael Gerson

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations

When asked why he included Iran in the “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), President Bush answers: “It is very important for the American president at this point in history to speak very clearly about the evils the world faces.… I believe the United States is the beacon for freedom in the world. And I believe we have a responsibility to promote freedom that is as solemn as the responsibility is to protecting the American people, because the two go hand in hand.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 247]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Victoria “Torie” Clark, the head of public relations for the Defense Department (see May 2001), develops the idea of embedding reporters with troops during the US invasion of Iraq. In a memo for the National Security Council, Clarke, with the approval of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, argues that allowing journalists to report from the battlefields and front lines will give Americans the chance to get the story, both “good or bad—before others seed the media with disinformation and distortions, as they most certainly will continue to do. Our people in the field need to tell our story. Only commanders can ensure the media get to the story alongside the troops. We must organize for and facilitate access of national and international media to our forces, including those forces engaged in ground operations.” [US Department of Defense, 2/2003 pdf file; Bill Berkowitz, 5/10/2008]

Entity Tags: National Security Council, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

The liberal news publication CounterPunch profiles the “Rumsfeld Group,” a government public relations group put together after the 9/11 attacks to manipulate the media’s reporting of the Bush administration’s war on terror (see Late May 2001). One noteworthy aspect of the profile is the success the “Rumsfeld Group” has had in working with the press to spread its message.
Benador Associates - One of the most effective “perception managers” for the Bush administration is Elena Benador, the media placement expert who runs Benador Associates. She oversees the Middle East Forum, an organization CounterPunch reporter Jeffrey St. Clair calls “a fanatically pro-Zionist paper mill,” and has close connections with some of Washington’s most influential hardliners and neoconservatives, including Michael Ledeen, Charles Krauthammer, Alexander Haig, Max Boot, Daniel Pipes, Richard Perle, and Judith Miller. Benador is given the task of getting these pro-war hawks on the air and in the press as often as possible. She does an excellent job in both getting the placements and crafting the message to ensure that they all make the same points. “There are some things, you just have to state them in a different way, in a slightly different way,” Benador explains. “If not, people get scared.”
Washington Post Particularly Compliant - Many press and television news outlets help promulgate the Pentagon’s story, but, St. Clair will note, few are as reliable or as enthusiastic as the Washington Post. He mentions the example of Private Jessica Lynch, whose story was fed for weeks by an over-the-top report from the Post that was fueled entirely by PR flacks from the Pentagon’s Combat Camera operation (see April 1, 2003 and April 3, 2003). In the months leading up to the Iraq invasion, the Post’s op-eds ran 3 to 1 in favor of attacking Iraq. St. Clair notes that in 1988, the Post shrugged off reports of Saddam Hussein gassing Iranians and his own Iraqis as “a quirk of war”; at that point, the US wanted close relations with the Hussein regime, and wanted to play down Hussein’s depredations. The Post echoed the government’s lack of interest.
Firing of Donahue - St. Clair points to MSNBC’s firing of liberal talk show host Phil Donahue on the eve of the Iraq invasion (see February 25, 2003) as another example of the Pentagon’s reach into the mainstream US media. At the behest of the Pentagon’s PR officials, MSNBC fired Donahue and replaced him with a pro-war broadcast called Countdown: Iraq. While MSNBC blamed “poor ratings” on the firing, in reality Donahue’s ratings were MSNBC’s highest. Instead, the network did not like what it called Donahue’s propensity to have “anti-war, anti-Bush” voices on his show. [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, Jeffrey St. Clair, Elena Benador, Daniel Pipes, CounterPunch, Charles Krauthammer, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Jessica Lynch, Max Boot, Judith Miller, Washington Post, Middle East Forum, MSNBC, Richard Perle, Phil Donahue

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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