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Context of 'Mid-October 2003: White House PR Campaign: ‘Good News’ in Iraq'

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President-elect George W. Bush meets with Donald Rumsfeld in Washington, and offers him the position of secretary of defense. Insiders are amazed that Bush would even consider Rumsfeld, the chief of staff for former President Ford (see September 21, 1974 and After), after Rumsfeld’s open contempt and enmity towards the elder Bush, the “Team B” onslaught against the elder Bush’s CIA (see Late November 1976 and Late November, 1976), and his attempts to keep Bush off the presidential tickets in 1976 and 1980 (see Before November 4, 1975). “Real bitterness there,” a close friend of the Bush family later says. “Makes you wonder what was going through Bush 43’s head when he made [Rumsfeld] secretary of defense.” The Bush family’s great friend and fixer, James Baker, even tries to dissuade Bush from choosing Rumsfeld, telling him, “All I’m going to say is, you know what he did to your daddy.” But Bush chooses Rumsfeld anyway. Not only does Rumsfeld have a long and fruitful relationship with Vice President Cheney (see 1969), but Rumsfeld, described as always an ingratiating courtier by author Craig Unger, plays on Bush’s insecurity about his lack of experience and his desire to be an effective commander in chief. Rumsfeld is also a key element of Cheney’s long-term plan to unify power in the executive branch (see 1981-1992), to the detriment of Congress and the judiciary. [Unger, 2007, pp. 186-187]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Craig Unger, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, James A. Baker

Timeline Tags: US Military

George W. Bush taking the oath of office.George W. Bush taking the oath of office. [Source: White House/ Wally McNamara]George W. Bush is inaugurated as president, replacing President Bill Clinton. Bush is sworn in after a tumultuous, sharply disputed election that ended with a US Supreme Court decision in his favor (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). He takes the oath of office on the same Bible his father, George H.W. Bush, used in his own 1989 inauguration; the oath is administered by Chief Justice William Rehnquist. In his brief inaugural address, delivered outside the US Capitol, Bush asks Americans to “a commitment to principle with a concern for civility.… Civility is not a tactic or a sentiment. It is the determined choice of trust over cynicism, of community over chaos.” In words apparently chosen to reflect on the criticisms surrounding former President Clinton and his notorious affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Bush says, “I will live and lead by these principles—to advance my convictions with civility, to pursue the public interest with courage, to speak for greater justice and compassion, to call for responsibility, and try to live it as well.” He continues addressing the American people, saying: “I ask you to be citizens. Citizens, not spectators. Citizens, not subjects. Responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character.” At a post-ceremonial luncheon, Bush issues a series of executive orders, some designed to block or roll back several Clinton-era regulations. He also acknowledges that because of the election turmoil, many Americans believe “we can’t get anything done… nothing will happen, except for finger-pointing and name-calling and bitterness.” He then says: “I’m here to tell the country that things will get done. Republicans and Democrats will come together to do what’s right for America.” [New York Times, 1/21/2001]
Thousands of Protesters - Thousands of protesters line the streets during Bush’s ceremonial drive to the Capitol, a fact not heavily reported by many press outlets. Salon reports, “Not since Richard Nixon paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue in 1973 has a presidential inauguration drawn so many protesters—and last time, people were out to protest the Vietnam War.” Though Capitol Police refuse to estimate the size of the crowd lining the street, Salon reports that “many thousands of protesters were in evidence.” Liz Butler of the Justice Action Movement, the umbrella organization that helped coordinate the protests, says: “The level of people on the streets shows that people are really upset about lack of democratic process. They took it to the streets. We saw tens of thousands. We saw far more protesting Bush than supporting him.” Some of the people on the streets are Bush supporters, but many more are not, and carry signs such as “Bush Cheated,” “Hail to the Thief,” “Bush—Racism,” “Bushwhacked by the Supremes,” and others. The crowd, though outspoken in its protests and unrestrained in its heckling of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, is generally peaceful, and no serious violence is reported, though a few minor altercations do take place, and large contingents of police in riot gear—including personnel from every police department in the District of Columbia as well as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and from departments in Maryland and Virginia—are on hand. At least one protester throws an egg at the limousine transporting Bush, Cheney, and their families to the inaugural ceremonies; perhaps in response to the protests, Bush breaks with tradition laid down by earlier presidents and does not walk any large portion of the parade route. Nine people are arrested for disorderly conduct, most for allegedly throwing bottles and other debris. Bulter says: “Of course, we’re ashamed that Bush has decided to be a ‘uniter’ by uniting people against him. They all chose to come out in the freezing rain—even the weather couldn’t stop these people.” Protester Mary Anne Cummings tells a reporter: “I think it’s important to remind the incoming administration the country does not want a right-wing mandate. They did not vote for a right-wing mandate.” [Salon, 1/20/2001; CNN, 1/20/2001; New York Times, 1/21/2001] Thousands of protesters march in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other cities as well. [CNN, 1/20/2001]

Gannett News Service discovers that identical letters purporting to be from different US soldiers in Iraq are being published around the country as supposed “letters to the editor.” The Pentagon later admits that it released the letters as part of what it calls its “hometown news release program.” The letters are signed by different soldiers with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry. At least 11 copies of the letter have appeared at a variety of small-town newspapers, including two (with identical copy but different signatures) coming to the Olympia-based Washington Olympian. That newspaper refused to run either letter because it considered them “form letters,” not actual letters from independent sources. But many other newspapers did run the letters. [Gannett News Service, 10/11/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 107] One of them was the Boston Globe. [Boston Globe, 9/14/2003]
Troops Mobbed by Happy Iraqis, Proud of Accomplishments, Letter Says - The letter, written in five paragraphs, discusses soldiers’ efforts to re-establish police and fire departments, and rebuild water and sewer plants, in Kirkuk. “The quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored, and we are a large part of why that has happened,” the letter says. “The fruits of all our soldiers’ efforts are clearly visible in the streets of Kirkuk today. There is very little trash in the streets, many more people in the markets and shops, and children have returned to school. I am proud of the work we are doing here in Iraq and I hope all of your readers are as well.” It goes on to describe crowds of happy Iraqis waving at passing troops, and soldiers being mobbed by children grabbing their hands and thanking the troops in broken English.
Some Willingly Signed, but None Wrote Letter - Six of the soldiers who “signed” the various copies of the letter say they agree with its content, but deny writing it. Some admit to signing it. One, Private Nick Deaconson of Beckley, West Virginia, denies anything to do with the letter through his parents. Deaconson is hospitalized, recovering from shrapnel wounds in both legs. Another, Sergeant Christopher Shelton, who supposedly authored a letter that appeared in the Snohomish Herald, says his platoon sergeant distributed the letter and asked his soldiers for the names of their hometown newspaper. Shelton and others were asked to sign it if they agreed with it. Shelton calls the letter “dead accurate.”
Source Disputed - When the letters are revealed to be fakes, Army spokesman Sergeant Todd Oliver tells a reporter that an individual soldier wrote the letter and asked some of his fellow soldiers to sign it. “Someone, somewhere along the way, took it upon themselves to mail it to the various editors of newspapers across the country,” he says. Sergeant Shawn Grueser says he talked to a military public affairs officer about his unit’s accomplishments for what he thought was a news release to be sent to his hometown paper in Charleston, West Virginia, but says he never saw, much less signed, any letter. The Pentagon later says that “several soldiers” collaborated on the letter. [Gannett News Service, 10/11/2003; CBS News, 10/14/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 107] Days later, the 2nd Battalion’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Dominic Caraccilo, says his staff wrote the letter. He says his intent was to get “good news” back to the US more efficiently. He says he gave it to his soldiers and told them they could send copies home if they liked. “We thought it would be a good idea to encapsulate what we as a battalion have accomplished since arriving Iraq and share that pride with people back home,” he says. [BBC, 10/14/2008] The New York Times calls the “orchestrated campaign” of letters “disturbing.” It observes: “[T]he misleading letter… coincides with the Bush administration’s renewed program of defending the war in an ambitious speaking campaign across the nation. With polls registering rising public doubts, the president and his aides are claiming that the news media unfairly play up negative developments and ignore progress in Iraq” (see Mid-October 2003). It concludes, “Fakery is the worst possible way to answer the public’s rising demand for information about the true state of affairs in Iraq.” [New York Times, 10/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Boston Globe, Nick Deaconson, Gannett News Service, Bush administration (43), Dominic Caraccilo, Shawn Grueser, New York Times, The Olympian, Snohomish Herald, US Department of the Army, Christopher Shelton, US Department of Defense, Todd Oliver

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The White House launches a media campaign designed to spread the “good news” from Iraq. The campaign has two centerpieces: a squad of Republican congressmen and White House cabinet members (see Mid-October 2003) making brief visits to Iraq and coming back with “good news” to tell. Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) complains, “I was not told by the media in my country that thousands and hundreds of [Iraqi] children went back to school this week.” (Newspapers across the US did indeed report the reopening of Iraqi schools, according to the Associated Press.) The leader of the Congressional delegation, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), directly attacks the media for not reporting “good news” from Iraq: “Journalism schools teach that news means bad news.” One House member, George Nethercutt (R-WA), undercuts the message when he tells reporters the successes are more important than the loss of US soldiers: “The story of what we’ve done in the postwar period is remarkable. It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day.” The stories from the Congressional members are further undermined when the media reports that while they might have spent their days in Basra or Baghdad, they spent their nights in the safety of Kuwait. The second focus is on President Bush, who flies around the US giving interviews to carefully selected anchors and reporters from regional TV news providers such as Tribune Broadcasting, Belo, and Hearst-Argyle. These “heartland” news providers will presumably provide softer interviews than the Washington press corps. Bush’s main message is how much “good progress” is being made in Iraq. [Associated Press, 10/17/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 104-105]

Entity Tags: Hearst-Argyle, Belo, Associated Press, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Larry Craig, Mitch McConnell, Tribune Broadcasting, George Nethercutt

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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