Profile: Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke
Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke was a participant or observer in the following events:
Victoria “Torie” Clarke joins the Defense Department. She is a public relations specialist who served as press secretary for President George H. W. Bush’s 1992 re-election campaign, worked closely with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and was an Assistant US Trade Representative during the first Bush’s presidency. In the private sector, she was president of Bozell Eskew Advertising, Vice President of the National Cable Telecommunications Association, and the Washington director for the PR firm of Hill & Knowlton, the firm so heavily involved in promoting and selling the 1991 Gulf War (see January 16, 1991 and After). She brings strong ideas to her new position about achieving what she calls “information dominance” in both the domestic and foreign “markets” (see February 2003). She directs what John Stauber, the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, calls the “twin towers of propaganda” for the Pentagon: “embedding news media with the troops, and embedding military propagandists into the TV media” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). [Stennis Center for Public Service, 8/17/2007; New York Times, 4/20/2008; Bill Berkowitz, 5/10/2008]
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]
Larry Di Rita. [Source: US Department of Defense]Larry Di Rita, a special assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has sent a note to Rumsfeld to inform him of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. Although some initial reports suggest the WTC may have been hit by just a small plane, according to Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, “Even in the accidental crash scenario, the military might be involved in some way. Rumsfeld needed to know.” Rumsfeld, who is currently hosting a breakfast meeting with several members of Congress (see (8:00 a.m.-8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001), later acknowledges having received this note. Yet apparently he does nothing in response. He recalls, “Everyone assumed it was an accident, the way it was described.” He says only that “we adjourned the meeting, and I went in to get my CIA briefing.” [Larry King Live, 12/5/2001; 9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004; Clarke, 2006, pp. 217-218; Vogel, 2007, pp. 428]
Victoria Clarke. [Source: US Department of Defense]Just minutes after the second plane hits the World Trade Center, the Executive Support Center (ESC) within the Pentagon goes into operation. The ESC is located next door to the National Military Command Center (NMCC), and comprises several conference rooms that are secure against electronic eavesdropping. The Pentagon’s state-of-the-art communications hub, “Cables,” is establishing secure two-way video links with the White House and other key agencies. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke arrives at the ESC soon after the second crash, accompanied by Larry Di Rita, who is Donald Rumsfeld’s personal chief of staff. They have just visited Rumsfeld and informed him of the second crash, but he has remained in his office to wait for his daily intelligence briefing (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Also at the ESC at this time is Rumsfeld’s closest aide, Stephen Cambone. According to Clarke, the ESC is “the place where the building’s top leadership goes to coordinate military operations during national emergencies.” Yet supposedly the Secretary of Defense does not join them there until about 10:15 A.M. (see (10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2006, pp. 218-221; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 5-6]
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has recently left a meeting with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld around 8:46 a.m. (see (Before 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Wolfowitz will later recall: “We were having a meeting in my office. Someone said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Then we turned on the television and we started seeing the shots of the second plane hitting, and this is the way I remember it. It’s a little fuzzy.… There didn’t seem to be much to do about it immediately and we went on with whatever the meeting was.” [Vanity Fair, 5/9/2003] Around this time, Rumsfeld is receiving an intelligence briefing from Denny Watson, his regular CIA briefer. [Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 335] Rumsfeld will recall, “I was in my office with a CIA briefer and I was told that a second plane had hit the other tower.” [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke headed to Rumsfeld’s office right after the second plane hit. She will recall: “A couple of us had gone into… Secretary Rumsfeld’s office, to alert him to that, tell him that the crisis management process was starting up. He wanted to make a few phone calls.” Rumsfeld tells Clarke and his personal chief of staff, Larry Di Rita, who is with her, to go to the Executive Support Center (ESC) located near his office and wait for him. “In the meantime, he would get his daily intelligence briefing, which was already scheduled for nine thirty.” Di Rita and Clarke head off down the hallway to the ESC, while Rumsfeld stays in his office. Apparently Rumsfeld will not go to the ESC until around 10:15 a.m. (see (10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [WBZ Radio 1030 (Boston), 9/15/2001; Clarke, 2006, pp. 218-219]
NEADS commander Robert Marr. [Source: Dick Blume]During the course of the morning, there are “multiple erroneous reports of hijacked aircraft in the system,” according to the 9/11 Commission. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Around 9:09 a.m., the FAA Command Center reports that 11 aircraft are either not communicating with FAA facilities or flying unexpected routes. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] NORAD’s Major General Larry Arnold will later claim that during the “four-hour ordeal” of the attacks, a total of 21 planes are identified as possible hijackings. [Filson, 2002; Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 71] Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander, will recall, “At one time I was told that across the nation there were some 29 different reports of hijackings.” [Newhouse News Service, 3/31/2005] Officials will later claim that these false reports cause considerable chaos. Arnold says that particularly during the time between the Pentagon being hit at 9:37 a.m. and Flight 93 going down at around 10:06 a.m., “a number of aircraft are being called possibly hijacked.… There was a lot of confusion, as you can imagine.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 71-73] He says: “We were receiving many reports of hijacked aircraft. When we received those calls, we might not know from where the aircraft had departed. We also didn’t know the location of the airplane.” [Code One Magazine, 1/2002] According to Marr: “There were a number of false reports out there. What was valid? What was a guess? We just didn’t know.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 73] Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke, who is in the Pentagon during the attacks and for most of the rest of the day, will recall: “There were lots of false signals out there. There were false hijack squawks, and a great part of the challenge was sorting through what was a legitimate threat and what wasn’t.” [CNN, 6/17/2004; Clarke, 2006, pp. 215-231]
Those inside the Pentagon’s Executive Support Center (ESC) feel and hear the impact when the building is hit, yet supposedly do not realize what has happened. Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, who is in the ESC at this time, calls the center “the Pentagon’s war room, with instant access to satellite images and intelligence sources peering into every corner of the globe.” She describes it as “the place where the building’s top leadership goes to coordinate military operations during national emergencies.” In it with her are Stephen Cambone, Donald Rumsfeld’s closest aide, and Larry Di Rita, Rumsfeld’s personal chief of staff. They’d been discussing how to go about getting every plane currently in the air back on the ground when, according to Clarke, “we felt a jarring thump and heard a loud but still muffled explosion. The building seemed to have shifted.” Yet, despite all the ESC’s resources, they supposedly do not initially realize exactly what has happened. Clarke says to the others, “It must have been a car bomb.” Di Rita replies, “A bomb of some kind.” But one unnamed staffer who frequently uses the ESC for meetings points to the ceiling and says, “No, it’s just the heating and cooling system. It makes that noise all the time.” Clarke later claims, “The notion of a jetliner attacking the Pentagon was exactly that unfathomable back then. Our eyes were glued to television screens showing two hijacked planes destroying the World Trade Center and it still didn’t occur to any of us, certainly not me, that one might have just hit our own building.” Clarke guesses aloud that the noise was something other than the heating and cooling system. In the ensuing minutes, she and the others with her will scramble “for information about what exactly had happened, how many were hurt or killed, and [analyze] what we could do to prevent further attacks.” Yet, she will later claim, it is only when Donald Rumsfeld comes into the ESC at 10:15 a.m., after having gone to the crash scene, that they receive their first confirmation that a plane has hit the Pentagon (see (10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2006, pp. 219-221] Those inside the National Military Command Center (NMCC), located next door to the ESC, supposedly do not feel the impact when the Pentagon is hit, and one officer there claims he only learns of the attack from television reports (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/4/2002; American Forces Press Service, 9/7/2006; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 5] But Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who is in his office about 200 feet away from the ESC, feels the building shake due to the explosion. After seeing nothing out of his window, he immediately dashes outside to determine what has happened (see 9:38 a.m. September 11, 2001). [WBZ Radio 1030 (Boston), 9/15/2001; Parade Magazine, 10/12/2001; Washington Post, 1/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004]
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld heads for the crash site immediately after the Pentagon is hit. At the time of the attack, Rumsfeld is in his office proceeding with his regularly scheduled CIA briefing, despite being aware of the two attacks on the World Trade Center earlier on. Waiting outside his door is Officer Aubrey Davis of the Pentagon police, who is assigned to the defense secretary’s personal bodyguard and has come of his own initiative to move Rumsfeld to a better-protected location. According to Davis, there is “an incredibly loud ‘boom,’” as the Pentagon is struck. Just 15 or 20 seconds later, Rumsfeld walks out of his door looking composed, having already put on the jacket he normally discards when in his office. Davis informs him there is a report of an airplane hitting a section of the Pentagon known as the Mall. Rumsfeld sets off without saying anything or informing any of his command staff where he is going, and heads swiftly toward the Mall. Davis accompanies him, as does Rumsfeld’s other security guard Gilbert Oldach, his communications officer, and the deputy director of security for the secretary’s office. Finding no sign of damage at the Mall, Davis tells Rumsfeld, “[N]ow we’re hearing it’s by the heliport,” which is along the next side of the building. Despite Davis’s protests that he should head back, Rumsfeld continues onward, and they go outside near where the crash occurred. [Cockburn, 2007, pp. 1-2; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 130; Democracy Now!, 3/7/2007] The Pentagon was hit on the opposite site of the huge building to Rumsfeld’s office. [Reuters, 9/11/2001] Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke will say that Rumsfeld is “one of the first people” to arrive at the crash scene. [KYW Radio 1060 (Philadelphia), 9/15/2001] He spends a brief time there (see Between 9:38 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. September 11, 2001), before returning to the building by about 10:00 a.m., according to his own account (see (10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] Rumsfeld will later justify his actions following the attack, saying, “I was going, which seemed to me perfectly logically, towards the scene of the accident to see what could be done and what had happened.” [US Department of Defense, 8/12/2002] As journalist Andrew Cockburn will point out, though, “[T]he country was under attack and yet the secretary of defense disappears for 20 minutes.” [C-SPAN, 2/25/2007] John Jester, the chief of the Defense Protective Service, which guards the Pentagon, will criticize Rumsfeld for heading to the crash scene at this time. He will say: “One of my officers tried to stop him and he just brushed him off. I told [Rumsfeld’s] staff that he should not have done that. He is in the national command authority; he should not have gone to the scene.” [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 10/19/2001] The numerous reports of Rumsfeld going outside to the crash scene are apparently contradicted by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. In his 2004 book Against All Enemies, Clarke will give the impression that Rumsfeld never leaves a video conference for very long after the Pentagon is hit, except to move from one secure teleconferencing studio to another elsewhere in the Pentagon. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 7-9] However, video footage confirms that Rumsfeld does indeed go to the crash site. [CNN, 8/17/2002]
Rumsfeld show on a video broadcast on CNN helping carry a stretcher shortly after the Pentagon attack. He is in the center of the picture, wearing a dark jacket. [Source: CNN]Within seconds of the Pentagon being hit, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld rushed out of his office and headed toward the crash scene (see 9:38 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to Officer Aubrey Davis, who is currently accompanying Rumsfeld as his bodyguard, when they reach the site, “There were the flames, and bits of metal all around. The secretary picked up one of the pieces of metal. I was telling him he shouldn’t be interfering with a crime scene when he looked at some inscription on it and said, ‘American Airlines.’” According to Rumsfeld, a person who’d seen the attack on the Pentagon informs him a plane had flown into it. Rumsfeld later recalls: “I saw people on the grass, and we just, we tried to put them in stretchers and then move them out across the grass towards the road and lifted them over a jersey wall so the people on that side could stick them into the ambulances. I was out there for a while, and then people started gathering, and we were able to get other people to do that, to hold IVs for people. There were people lying on the grass with clothes blown off and burns all over them.” [Parade Magazine, 10/12/2001; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 1-2] Versions of this story will appear elsewhere. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 9/12/2001; Larry King Live, 12/5/2001; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Vanity Fair, 5/9/2003] Video footage confirms that Rumsfeld helps carry a stretcher at the crash scene. [CNN, 8/17/2002] One report will even describe him pulling budget analyst Paul Gonzales to safety from the burning wreckage. [Daily Telegraph, 9/16/2001] However, Gonzales later offers his own detailed recollections of pulling other people to safety, which fail to involve Rumsfeld in any way. [Washington Post, 3/11/2002] Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke will say Rumsfeld is gone from the building for “about half an hour.” [WBZ Radio 1030 (Boston), 9/15/2001] A Pentagon spokesperson has Rumsfeld helping at the crash site for “15 minutes or so.” [Reuters, 9/11/2001] Another account will claim he loads the wounded onto stretchers for 15 minutes. [Scripps Howard News Service, 9/11/2001] However, considering the time it would have taken to walk to the crash site—each side of the enormous Pentagon is the length of three football fields—journalist Andrew Cockburn later concludes that Rumsfeld could only have been at the crash scene for a brief period. [Cockburn, 2007, pp. 3] Rumsfeld reportedly heads back into the Pentagon at the urging of a security agent, though in an interview soon after 9/11 he will claim the decision to go back inside was his own, saying, “I decided I should be in [the building] figuring out what to do, because your brain begins to connect things, and there were enough people there to worry about that.” [Parade Magazine, 10/12/2001; Washington Post, 1/27/2002] He tells the 9/11 Commission, “I was back in the Pentagon with a crisis action team shortly before or after 10:00 a.m.” (see (10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] While Rumsfeld is at the crash scene, others are frantically trying to get in touch with him but are unable to do so (see (9:38 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld returns from the Pentagon crash site “by shortly before or after 10:00 a.m.” Then he has “one or more calls in my office, one of which was with the president,” according to his testimony before the 9/11 Commission. [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] The commission later concludes that Rumsfeld’s call with President Bush has little impact: “No one can recall any content beyond a general request to alert forces.” The possibility of shooting down hijacked planes is not mentioned. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Rumsfeld then goes to the Executive Support Center (ESC) located near his office, arriving there at around 10:15 a.m. In the ESC already are Stephen Cambone, Rumsfeld’s closest aide, Larry Di Rita, Rumsfeld’s personal chief of staff, and Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. Rumsfeld had instructed Di Rita and Clarke to go to the ESC and wait for him there when they’d come to his office soon after the second WTC tower was hit at 9:03 A.M. (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Presently, Rumsfeld gives them their first confirmation that a plane hit the Pentagon, saying, “I’m quite sure it was a plane and I’m pretty sure it’s a large plane.” According to Clarke, he pulls out a yellow legal pad and writes down three categories, “by which his thinking would be organized the rest of the day: what we needed to do immediately, what would have to be underway quickly, and what the military response would be.” [Clarke, 2006, pp. 221-222; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 5-6] The Executive Support Center has secure video facilities, and while there, Rumsfeld participates in the White House video teleconference. This is the video conference that counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke claims Rumsfeld is a part of much of the morning (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Then at around 10:30 a.m., he moves on to the National Military Command Center NMCC, located next door to the ESC (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Times, 2/23/2004; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 43-44] Those in the NMCC are apparently unaware of Rumsfeld’s whereabouts during the half-hour from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.: Brigadier General Montague Winfield later recalls, “For 30 minutes we couldn’t find him. And just as we began to worry, he walked into the door of the [NMCC].” [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
Donald Rumsfeld speaking at his 6:42 p.m. news briefing. Behind the secretary of defense, left to right, are Thomas White, Henry Shelton, John Warner, and Carl Levin. [Source: Bob Houlihan/US Navy]Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and four other senior officials give a news briefing at the Pentagon, which is broadcast live around the world, to reassure the public that the US government is still functioning and the nation is strong, and during the briefing Rumsfeld says that, despite the devastating attack there, the Pentagon will reopen the following day. [Government Executive, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001; Giesemann, 2008, pp. 34; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 436] Joining Rumsfeld in the Pentagon press room to give the briefing are Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John Warner (R-VA), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the committee’s ranking minority member, respectively; General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has returned to the US after his flight to Europe was aborted (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001); and Secretary of the Army Thomas White, who has come to the Pentagon from the alternate command location. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 145] Levin and Warner called Rumsfeld earlier in the day, promising him their wholehearted support, and he had suggested they come over to the Pentagon. [Clarke, 2006, pp. 228]
Officials Addressing Millions of Americans - As Rumsfeld and the four other men stood outside the press room before the briefing, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke informed them, “Gentlemen, you are about to address 320 million Americans who have witnessed an unspeakable tragedy today.” [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 34]
Pentagon 'Will Be in Business Tomorrow' - Rumsfeld begins the briefing, reading out a statement he has written by hand. He says, “This is a tragic day for our country,” and adds, “We have taken a series of measures to prevent further attacks and to determine who is responsible.” After summarizing some of the Defense Department’s actions throughout the day, Rumsfeld gives reassurance that the Pentagon is still up and running, pointing out that “the briefing here is taking place in the Pentagon. The Pentagon’s functioning,” and, he adds, “It will be in business tomorrow.” Shelton calls the day’s terrorist attacks “an outrageous act of barbaric terrorism carried out by fanatics,” and states, “I have no intentions of discussing today what comes next, but make no mistake about it, your armed forces are ready.”
'No Information' that Military Shot Down Any Aircraft - Rumsfeld takes a number of questions from reporters, but refuses to speculate about any uncertain information. When asked: “What about Osama bin Laden? Do you suspect him as the prime suspect in this?” Rumsfeld answers, “It’s not the time for discussions like that.” One reporter says, “[T]here were rumors earlier in the day that the plane which crashed in Pennsylvania had been brought down by the United States, either shot down or in some other manner,” to which Rumsfeld responds, “We have absolutely no information that any US aircraft shot down any other aircraft today.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001; Clarke, 2006, pp. 230-231]
Briefing Would Be a 'Powerful Statement' - The briefing has come about because Clarke felt earlier on that Rumsfeld should do a media briefing today and that, despite the objections of others, it should be conducted at the Pentagon, as this would be “the most powerful statement we could deliver that we were open for business.” Rumsfeld agreed with Clarke’s suggestion to hold such a briefing. [Clarke, 2006, pp. 229-230] Shelton will later recall that the feedback the briefing generates “by far surpassed any other I have ever received. The nation was obviously shaken and looking for reassurance that their government was still functioning.” [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 436]
Pentagon chief of public relations Victoria Clarke. [Source: Department of Defense]While detailed plans for the upcoming invasion of Iraq are well underway, the administration realizes that the American people are not strongly behind such an invasion. They aren’t convinced that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and unsure about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. White House and Pentagon officials decide that using retired military officers as “independent military analysts” in the national media can help change hearts and minds (see April 20, 2008). Assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Victoria “Torie” Clarke, a former public relations executive, intends to achieve what she calls “information dominance.” The news culture is saturated by “spin” and combating viewpoints; Clarke argues that opinions are most swayed by voices seen as authoritative and completely independent. Clarke has already put together a system within the Pentagon to recruit what she calls “key influentials,” powerful and influential people from all areas who, with the proper coaching, can generate support for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s agenda. After 9/11, when each of the news networks rushed to land its own platoon of retired military officers to provide commentary and analysis, Clarke saw an opportunity: such military analysts are the ultimate “key influentials,” having tremendous authority and credibility with average Americans. They often get more airtime than network reporters, Clarke notes. More importantly, they are not just explaining military minutiae, but telling viewers how to interpret events. Best of all, while they are in the news media, they are not creatures of the media. Reporter David Barstow will write in 2008, “They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.” And even those without such ties tended to support the military and the government. Retired Army general and ABC analyst William Nash will say: “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army. It is my life.”
'Writing the Op-Ed' for the War - As a result, according to Clarke’s aide Don Meyer, Clarke decides to make the military analysts the main focus of the public relations push to build a case for invading Iraq. They, not journalists, will “be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Meyer recalls. The military analysts are not handled by the Pentagon’s regular press office, but are lavished with attention and “perks” in a separate office run by another aide to Clarke, Brent Krueger. According to Krueger, the military analysts will, in effect, be “writing the op-ed” for the war.
Working in Tandem with the White House - The Bush administration works closely with Clarke’s team from the outset. White House officials request lists of potential recruits for the team, and suggests names for the lists. Clarke’s team writes summaries of each potential analyst, describing their backgrounds, business and political affiliations, and their opinions on the war. Rumsfeld has the final say on who is on the team: “Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees,” Krueger will say. Ultimately, the Pentagon recruits over 75 retired officers, though some only participate briefly or sporadically.
Saturation Coverage on Cable - The largest contingent of analysts is affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the networks with 24-hour cable news coverage. Many analysts work for ABC and CBS as well. Many also appear on radio news and talk broadcasts, publish op-ed articles in newspapers, and are quoted in press reports, magazine articles, and in Web sites and blogs. Barstow, a New York Times reporter, will note that “[a]t least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.”
Representing the Defense Industry - Many of the analysts have close ties with defense contractors and/or lobbying firms involved in helping contractors win military contracts from the Pentagon:
Retired Army general James Marks, who begins working as an analyst for CNN in 2004 (until his firing three years later—see July 2007) is a senior executive with McNeil Technologies, and helps that firm land military and intelligence contracts from the government.
Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general and Fox News analyst, sits on the boards of several military contractors.
CBS military analyst Jeffrey McCausland is a lobbyist for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he is director of a national security team that represents several military contractors. His team proclaims on the firm’s Web site, “We offer clients access to key decision makers.”
Shortly after signing with CBS, retired Air Force general Joseph Ralston became vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by former Defense Secretary William Cohen (also an analyst for CNN). The Cohen Group says of itself on its Web site, “The Cohen Group knows that getting to ‘yes’ in the aerospace and defense market—whether in the United States or abroad—requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers.”
Ideological Ties - Many military analysts have political and ideological ties to the Bush administration and its supporters. These include:
Two of NBC’s most familiar analysts, retired generals Barry McCaffrey and Wayne Downing, are on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House encouragement in 2002 to push for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. [New York Times, 4/20/2008] Additionally, McCaffrey is chief of BR McCaffrey Associates, which “provides strategic, analytic, and advocacy consulting services to businesses, non-profits, governments, and international organizations.” [Washington Post, 4/21/2008] Other members include senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and prominent neoconservatives Richard Perle and William Kristol. [Truthout (.org), 4/28/2008] Both McCaffrey and Downing head their own consulting firms and are board members of major defense contractors.
Retired Army general Paul Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 through 2007, shares with the Bush national security team the belief that the reason the US lost in Vietnam was due to negative media coverage, and the commitment to prevent that happening with the Iraq war. In 1980, Vallely co-wrote a paper accusing the US press of failing to defend the nation from what he called “enemy” propaganda—negative media coverage—during the Vietnam War. “We lost the war—not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. Vallely advocated something he called “MindWar,” an all-out propaganda campaign by the government to convince US citizens of the need to support a future war effort. Vallely’s “MindWar” would use network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Ironically, Clarke herself will eventually leave the Pentagon and become a commentator for ABC News. [Democracy Now!, 4/22/2008]
Seducing the Analysts - Analysts describe a “powerfully seductive environment,” in Barstow’s words, created for them in the Pentagon: the uniformed escorts to Rumsfeld’s private conference room, lavish lunches served on the best government china, embossed name cards, “blizzard[s] of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, says: “[Y]ou have no idea. You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” Allard calls the entire process “psyops on steroids,” using flattery and proximity to gain the desired influence and effect. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’” Allard says. “It’s more subtle.”
Keeping Pentagon Connections Hidden - In return, the analysts are instructed not to quote their briefers directly or to mention their contacts with the Pentagon. The idea is always to present a facade of independent thought. One example is the analysts’ almost perfect recitation of Pentagon talking points during a fall and winter 2002 PR campaign (see Fall and Winter 2002). [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Paul Vallely, Thomas G. McInerney, William S. Cohen, Wayne Downing, US Department of Defense, William Nash, William Kristol, New York Times, Joseph Ralston, Kenneth Allard, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Brent T. Krueger, Barry McCaffrey, ABC News, CNN, Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, David Barstow, Don Meyer, Joseph Lieberman, John McCain, NBC, Jeffrey McCausland, Fox News, Donald Rumsfeld, James Marks, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke
Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
As the administration’s push to convince Americans that the Iraq war is necessary is reaching its height, the Pentagon sends its military analysts out to the television networks and the press (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) with talking points portraying Iraq as an imminent threat. The analysts are to emphasize that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons that it can and will use, that it is developing nuclear weapons, and that it is sure to provide these weapons to al-Qaeda. A military invasion, the talking points state, is not only a necessity, but will be a relatively quick, relatively bloodless, and relatively inexpensive “war of liberation.” Pentagon public relations chief Victoria Clarke and her staff are thrilled at how well the analysts incorporate Pentagon talking points into their own presentations. Clarke’s aide Brent Krueger recalls: “You could see that they were messaging. You could see they were taking verbatim what the secretary was saying or what the technical specialists were saying. And they were saying it over and over and over.” Some days, “We were able to click on every single station and every one of our folks were up there delivering our message. You’d look at them and say, ‘This is working.’” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Alberto Mora, the Navy’s general counsel, learns to his dismay that the torturing and abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay is continuing (see December 17-18, 2002), even after a meeting with the Pentagon’s chief counsel, William J. Haynes. Mora had hoped that Haynes would put a stop to the extreme techniques being used (see December 20, 2002). Mora has read an article in the Washington Post detailing allegations of CIA mistreatment of prisoners at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan; the story notes that the director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, believes that US officials who knew about such treatment could be charged with crimes under the doctrine of command responsibility. [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; New Yorker, 2/27/2006] The specific allegations detailed in the story closely parallel what Mora knows were authorized at Guantanamo Bay. Mora continues to argue against the intense interrogation techniques, and his arguments quickly reach the ears of top Pentagon officials such as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Captain Jane Dalton, the legal adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke; and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who had authorized harsh interrogation techniques at Guantanamo a month before (see December 2, 2002). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
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 ; Bill Berkowitz, 5/10/2008]
Jerry Bruckheimer. [Source: Thomas Robinson / Getty Images / Forbes]ABC airs the first of a six-episode reality series entitled Profiles from the Front Line, which purports to document the war in Afghanistan from the soldiers’ point of view. It was conceived and produced with the extensive help and oversight of the Pentagon. [Chicago Tribune, 2/26/2003] Filming for the show began in May 2002. [Los Angeles Times, 2/6/2003] ABC executives say that the show will tell the “compelling personal stories of the US military men and women who bear the burden of the fighting” in Afghanistan. The series was quickly approved by Victoria Clarke, the head of the Pentagon’s public relations office (see Early 2002 and Beyond), and by Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, the public relations commander of US Central Command. Clarke and Quigley granted the series producers unprecedented access to the troops, technical advice, and even the use of aircraft carriers for filming. In return, the Pentagon received the right to review and approve all footage before airing (in the interests of national security, Pentagon officials said). [Rich, 2006, pp. 32-33] The Pentagon denies that it asked for any changes in the series’ broadcast footage. [Washington Post, 3/9/2003]
Producers Insist Show Not Propaganda, No Censorship from Pentagon - Though the show is widely considered to be tied in to the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq (some question the fact that the show was shelved for months before suddenly being approved just as news of the impending invasion began hitting the news), series producer Bertram van Munster says he came up with the idea after 9/11. “We were all kind of numb, I certainly was extremely numb for two or three weeks,” he will recall. “And I said I’ve got to do something.” Van Munster and his co-producer, famed movie and television producer Jerry Bruckheimer (an acknowledged Bush supporter best known for his action-film blockbusters such as Top Gun, Black Hawk Down, and Pearl Harbor, as well as the CSI television series), put together a proposal that van Munster says does not necessarily support President Bush’s war plans. Instead, he says, the show is intended to personalize America’s fighting forces. “There’s nothing flag-waving about death. We have people getting killed on the show,” he says. “In many ways, I see this thing as much anti-war as it is a portrait of what these people are doing out there.” Bruckheimer insists that the Defense Department did not exercise any censorship whatsoever except in minor instances, such as the withholding of a Special Forces soldier’s last name. “They didn’t use any censorship whatsoever,” Bruckheimer says. “They were very cooperative.… They were very receptive to the concept of showing what US forces were doing in Afghanistan.” The show’s own film, shot on location in Afghanistan, is bolstered by Defense Department footage. [Los Angeles Times, 2/6/2003; Chicago Tribune, 2/26/2003; Washington Post, 3/9/2003; Progressive, 4/1/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 32-33] The Progressive’s Andrea Lewis calls the show “reality television, war movie, documentary video, and military propaganda all rolled into one.” Other critics call it “a Pentagon infomercial.” Bruckheimer denies that the show is propaganda, but admits that he ensured the show would present the positive face of the military: “Put it this way. If I were to rent your apartment, I’m not going to trash it. It wouldn’t be right. So I’m not going to go and expose all their blemishes.” [Progressive, 4/1/2003; Television Week, 7/14/2003]
Documentary or Reality TV? - Chicago Tribune reviewer Allan Johnson writes of the first episode: “Stirring orchestral music and editing, framing and [quick] pacing… succeed in instilling enough patriotic feelings so that Bush should give the producers a cheer. Which raises the question of whether such advocacy is appropriate in these sensitive times.” The first episode provides what Johnson calls a reflection of standard reality-show characters: the serious-minded father figure (a captain who commands 150 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division); a gung-ho aircraft mechanic who tells the camera that the terrorists “had better be ready for some payback, and it’s going to continue until we end it;” a roguish Special Forces sergeant who says his job is to “find and kill all al-Qaeda;” the stockbroker-turned-soldier whose wife weeps uncontrollably as he leaves for Afghanistan; and others. One soldier says with a smile, “I couldn’t think of any place I’d rather be than right here doing my job, knowing I’m doing my part to keep America free.” Lewis calls the soldiers who are profiled for the series “good looking, articulate, and enthusiastic about what they’re doing… archetypes of characters you’d expect to see in a big-budget Bruckheimer film.” Answering the question of whether the show is reality television or straight documentary, Bruckheimer says, “I think it’s a little bit of both.” Van Munster adds: “I think documentary and reality are actually brother and sister. And it’s also cinema verite.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/26/2003; Progressive, 4/1/2003] Others disagree. “It raises all sorts of questions, which are exacerbated by the entertainment factor,” says Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. “One check on war news becoming propaganda is the professionalism of journalists, which will be ostentatiously lacking.… Documentaries are inherently more informative than entertainment. ‘Reality’ programming turns the tables.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/6/2003]
Journalists Shocked at Wide Access Enjoyed by Show's Producers, Camera Teams - Many war correspondents are shocked at the level of access, and the amount of cooperation, between the Pentagon and ABC, especially considering the difficulties they routinely encounter in getting near any battlefields. Even a complaint from ABC News regarding the show’s broad access as contrasted to the restrictions forced upon their reporters is rejected by ABC’s parent company, Disney. “There’s a lot of other ways to convey information to the American people than through news organizations,” Quigley says. [Rich, 2006, pp. 32-33] Lewis writes: “During the months when Profiles was filmed, ‘real’ journalists weren’t allowed anywhere near the front lines, and news organizations had to survive on a limited diet of highly coordinated military briefings. Meanwhile, Profiles camera crews were given nearly unlimited access to US soldiers in Afghanistan.” CBS anchor Dan Rather says: “I’m outraged by the Hollywoodization of the military. The Pentagon would rather make troops available as props in gung-ho videos than explain how the commanders let Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda leaders escape or target the wrong villages.” [Progressive, 4/1/2003]
Show Used to 'Train' Pentagon for Embedding Journalists in Iraq - The Pentagon’s project officer for the series, Vince Ogilvie, later says that the interactions of the Profiles film crews and military personnel provided “a prelude to the process of embedding” media representatives in military units for war coverage in Iraq. The series had a number of different crews in different military units over its shooting schedule, Ogilvie will say: “Though they were not reporting on a daily basis, they were with the unit—living with the unit and reporting on what different individuals or units were involved in. With each passing day, week, month came a better understanding.” [Washington Post, 3/9/2003]
Show Not Renewed - The show will do extremely poorly in the ratings, and after its six-episode run is completed, it will not be renewed. [Rich, 2006, pp. 32-33] Van Munster will become involved in a shadowy Pentagon-driven project to document the Iraq occupation, of which little will be known. A Cato Institute official will say of that project: “This administration is fighting a PR battle over weapons of mass destruction and whether we’re getting bogged down in a quagmire. So maybe they want to frame their own message and own history about their time in Iraq.” [Television Week, 7/14/2003]
Entity Tags: American Broadcasting Corporation, Allan Johnson, Andrea Lewis, Cato Institute, Bush administration (43), Craig Quigley, Bertram van Munster, Robert Lichter, Jerry Bruckheimer, Dan Rather, Vince Ogilvie, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, US Department of Defense
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, War in Afghanistan
US broadcast and cable news outlets begin covering the first US strikes against Iraqi targets (see March 19, 2003 and March 19-20, 2003), but, as author and media critic Frank Rich will later note, their coverage often lacks accuracy. News broadcasts report “a decapitation strike” (see March 20, 2003) that lead US viewers to believe for hours that Saddam Hussein has been killed. CNN’s title card for its strike coverage reads, “Zero Hour for Iraq Arrives”; during its initial coverage, CNN features New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who credits “a slew of information from defectors” and other “intelligence sources”—those who had provided the foundation for Secretary of State Colin Powell’s “impressive speech to the United Nations” (see February 5, 2003)—with the imminent discovery and destruction of Iraq’s WMD stockpiles. “One person in Washington told me that the list could total more than 1,400 of those sites,” Miller says. Pentagon PR chief Victoria Clarke, who had created both the Pentagon’s “embed program” of reporters going into battle with selected military units (see February 2003) and the “military analysts” program of sending carefully selected retired flag officers to the press and television news programs to give the administration’s views of the war (see Early 2002 and Beyond), has overseen the construction of a briefing room for press conferences from US CENTCOM headquarters in Qatar: the $200,000 facility was designed by a production designer who had worked for, among others, Disney, MGM, and illusionist David Blaine. Clarke and the Pentagon marketing officials succeed in having their term to describe the initial assault, “shock and awe,” promulgated throughout the broadcast and cable coverage. (Fox and MSNBC will soon oblige the Pentagon by changing the name of their Iraqi coverage programming to the official administration name for the invasion, “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”) During the assault, as Rich will later write, “the pyrotechnics of Shock and Awe looked like a distant fireworks display, or perhaps the cool computer graphics of a Matrix-inspired video game, rather than the bombing of a large city. None of Baghdad’s nearly six million people were visible.” Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon later says, “If you had hired actors [instead of the network news anchors], you could not have gotten better coverage.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 73-75]
Victoria Clarke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, says during a televised briefing at the Pentagon that the administration knows about “a number of sites” where Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Clarke refuses to provide any estimate of how many sites the US knows of. [Washington Post, 3/23/2003, pp. A27]
Army Private Jessica Lynch, rescued from an Iraqi hospital by US Special Operations forces (see April 1, 2003), arrives at a US military hospital in Landestul, Germany. Military officials describe her as in “stable” condition, with multiple broken limbs and multiple gunshot and stab wounds. Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke tells reporters that Lynch is “in good spirits and being treated for injuries.” Another military officer tells reporters that she is conscious and was able to communicate with her rescuers, but “she was pretty messed up.” Lynch has spoken with her parents by telephone, who describe her as in good spirits, but hungry and in pain. [Washington Post, 4/3/2003] The New York Times reports that Lynch suffered from gunshot wounds: “Details of what happened to Private Lynch were scarce. An Army official said Tuesday night that Private Lynch had been shot multiple times. The official said that it had not been determined whether she was shot during the rescue attempt or before it.” The Associated Press reports, “Officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said she was suffering from broken legs, a broken arm, and at least one gunshot wound.” [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003] It is later determined that Lynch was not, in fact, shot (see April 15, 2003).
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, pleased with the propaganda effort of his assistant Victoria Clarke and her use of retired military officers as media analysts to boost the administration’s case for war with Iraq (see Early 2002 and Beyond), sends a memo to Clarke suggesting that the Pentagon continue the propaganda effort after the war has run its course. He writes, “Let’s think about having some of the folks who did such a good job as talking heads in after this thing is over.” As the occupation lasts through the summer and the first signs of the insurgency emerge, the Pentagon quickly counters with its military analysts to reassure the American populace that everything is going well in Iraq (see Summer 2003). [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke lambasts Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer for his reportage on the Jessica Lynch story (see April 3, 2003 and May 30, 2003). Scheer is frankly disbelieving of the sensational reporting surrounding Lynch’s capture and rescue, especially in light of recent reports that indicate the Pentagon’s version of events is anything but accurate (see May 4, 2003). In a letter to the Times, Clarke calls Scheer’s recent work a “tirade” and adds: “Scheer’s claims are outrageous, patently false and unsupported by the facts.… Official spokespeople in Qatar and in Washington, as well as the footage released, reflected the events accurately. To suggest otherwise is an insult and does a grave disservice to the brave men and women involved.” [Nation, 5/30/2007] It is later shown that Clarke, who heads the Pentagon’s military analyst (see Early 2002 and Beyond) and journalist embed (see February 2003) programs, is entirely wrong about her claims as to the accuracy of the Pentagon’s depiction of events (see June 17, 2003).
Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer, one of the first American political reporters to question the official Pentagon version of the capture and rescue of Private Jessica Lynch (see April 3, 2003), provides an overview of the personal and professional attacks launched against him by the Pentagon and by right-wing pundits (see May 27, 2003). Scheer, an unabashed liberal, notes that many of the attacks come from newspapers and news broadcasters owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose HarperCollins book publishing firm is preparing a book to be written by Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief. Al-Rehaief is the Iraqi lawyer who provided key information leading to Lynch’s rescue and was rewarded by being granted asylum in the US, given the book deal, and given a job with a Washington lobbying firm (see April 10, 2003 and After). Scheer is more discomfited by the attack from the Pentagon, whose public relations chief, Victoria Clarke, called Scheer’s reporting a “tirade… unsupported by the facts” (see May 29, 2003). Further reporting will show that the official story did not accurately reflect the events (see June 17, 2003). Scheer observes, “[W]hat is a grave disservice is manipulating a gullible media with leaked distortions from unnamed official sources about Lynch’s heroics in battle.” He notes that the Pentagon refused to allow the BBC or any other news organization to view the complete, unedited video footage of the April 1 rescue (see April 1, 2003), instead insisting that the media use only the edited footage provided by the Pentagon. Scheer adds that Clarke and other Pentagon officials continued to insist that the original reporting—Lynch had fought fiercely with her attackers and finally succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds—was accurate long after reports from US military doctors disputed those claims, and even after top US military officials began questioning that version of events. The Pentagon, Scheer writes, was intent on producing what “quickly became the main heroic propaganda myth of the US invasion of Iraq.” Scheer concludes: “What is particularly sad in all of this is that a wonderfully hopeful story was available to the Pentagon to sell to the eager media: one in which besieged Iraqi doctors and nurses bravely cared for—and supplied their own blood to—a similarly brave young American woman in a time of madness and violence. Instead, eager to turn the war into a morality play between good and evil, the military used—if not abused—Lynch to put a heroic spin on an otherwise sorry tale of unjustified invasion.” [Nation, 5/30/2007]
As the first signs of the insurgency in Iraq begin emerging, and journalists begin reporting on the increasing violence in that supposedly liberated country, the Pentagon quickly counters with propaganda from its proven cadre of “military analysts”—returned military officers who proved during the run-up to war that they could present the Pentagon’s message about the invasion and occupation in an independent, authoritative, and effective manner (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). An internal Pentagon memo encourages its public relations officials to “re-energize surrogates and message-force multipliers,” beginning with its military analysts. The PR staff, led by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clark, suggests taking a group of analysts on a tour of Iraq timed to coincide with President Bush’s upcoming request for $87 billion in emergency war financing. [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Victoria “Torie” Clarke, the Pentagon’s former public relations secretary who developed the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation (see May 2001), joins CNN as a political and policy analyst. Her propaganda operation relied on retired military officers to serve as network analysts, promoting the administration’s Iraq policies and touting the occupation as a success. [New York Times, 9/23/2003] Several months later, Clarke will also join Comcast Communications, the nation’s largest cable television corporation, as its senior adviser for communications and government affairs. [PRWatch, 12/15/2003]
White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who has faced an increasingly disbelieving and hostile Washington press corp in his role as Bush administration spokesman in handling the Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 11, 2005), announces his upcoming resignation. Possible successors include Fox News commentator Tony Snow, former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke, and Dan Senor, a former coalition spokesman after the invasion of Iraq, though Clarke says she is not interested in the job. President Bush says McClellan has had “a challenging assignment.” He adds: “I thought he handled his assignment with class, integrity. It’s going to be hard to replace Scott, but nevertheless he made the decision and I accepted it. One of these days, he and I are going to be rocking in chairs in Texas and talking about the good old days.” McClellan tells reporters that he has been considering leaving for weeks, ever since chief of staff Andrew Card announced his own resignation. “With a new chief of staff coming on board,” McClellan says, “it was a good time to make this decision. And three years would have been an awfully long time in this position. I’ve been at this for a long time and I didn’t need much encouragement to make this decision, even though you all [reporters] kept tempting me.” [MSNBC, 4/20/2006; New York Times, 4/20/2006] Neither Bush nor McClellan tell the press that McClellan did not decide on his own to leave, but was asked to resign by Card’s successor, Joshua Bolten. In his 2008 book What Happened, McClellan will write that he had indeed considered leaving his position, perhaps by July 15, 2006, but was taken aback when Bolten informed him the week before that he had made the decision for him to leave. “[T]his is a White House that is severely crippled and in need of change,” Bolten told McClellan. “One area that I have decided needs to change is your position.” McClellan will write that his first, emotional response was, “He’s ready to throw me to the wolves,” but rationally, he understands that Bolten is just making a decision he feels he needs to make. “I had been on the defensive too often since the Rove revelations in July” (see July 10, 2005 and July 10, 2005), McClellan will write. “A press secretary cannot survive for long under such circumstances.” McClellan will add that when he discusses his upcoming resignation with Bush, the president seems regretful that he is leaving, but McClellan is not entirely convinced of Bush’s sincerity, even when Bush tears up during their brief conversation. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 298-301]
Peter Hart. [Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer]Following up on the New York Times’s story of the Pentagon “psyops” campaign to manipulate public opinion on the Iraq war in 2002 and beyond (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), Democracy Now! examines the almost-total lack of antiwar voices “analyzing” the Iraq war and occupation on the mainstream news broadcasts and in the nation’s newspapers.
Disdain for Democracy - Retired Air Force colonel Sam Gardiner, who has taught at the National War College, says the program—which is still in effect—shows a “painful… disdain of the Pentagon for democracy.… They don’t believe in democracy. They don’t believe that the American people, if given the truth, will come to a good decision. That’s very painful.” He is disappointed that so many retired military officers would present themselves as independent analysts without disclosing the fact that they were (and still are) extensively briefed by the Pentagon and coached as to what to say on the air. The networks and newspapers function as little more than cheerleaders for the Pentagon: “[t]hey wanted cheerleaders, and they could have—without knowing the background that the analysts were being given inside information, they wanted cheerleaders, and they knew that cheerleaders gave them access.”
Media Complicity - Peter Hart, a senior official of the media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), says that the Pentagon’s propaganda operation isn’t as shocking to him and his organization as is the level of complicity and enthusiasm from the news media. “They didn’t care what military contractors these guys were representing when they were out at the studio,” Hart says. “They didn’t care that the Pentagon was flying them on their own dime to Iraq. Just basic journalistic judgment was completely lacking here. So I think the story is really about a media failure, more than a Pentagon failure. The Pentagon did exactly what you would expect to do, taking advantage of this media bias in favor of having more and more generals on the air when the country is at war.”
Psyops Campaign - Gardiner says that the way he understands it, the Pentagon’s psychological operations (psyops) campaign had three basic elements. One was “to dominate the news 24/7.” They used daily morning briefings from Baghdad or Kuwait, and afternoon press briefings from the Pentagon, to hold sway over televised news programs. They used embedded journalists to help control the print media. A Pentagon communication consultant, public relations specialist John Rendon, said that early in the program, the Pentagon “didn’t have people who provided the context. We lost control of the military analysts, and they were giving context.” The Pentagon quickly began working closely with the networks’ military analysts to control their messages. The Pentagon’s PR officials rarely worked with analysts or commentators who disagreed with the administration’s stance on the war, Gardiner says, and that included Gardiner himself. “People that were generally supportive of the Pentagon were the ones that were invited.” Gardiner notes: “We’re very close to violating the law. They are prohibited from doing propaganda against American people. And when you put together the campaign that [former Pentagon public relations chief] Victoria Clarke did with these three elements, you’re very close to a violation of the law.” [Democracy Now!, 4/22/2008]
PBS reports on the recent revelations about a Pentagon propaganda operation that uses retired military officers as “independent military analysts” to further its goal of promoting the Iraq war and occupation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Reporter Judy Woodruff notes, “And for the record, we invited Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC and NBC to participate, but they declined our offer or did not respond.” Neither does the Pentagon send anyone to take part in the report. Woodruff discloses that PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer put five military analysts on retainer in 2003, but says that none of them attended Pentagon briefings while being paid by PBS, as so many of the other network analysts did.
Selling and Managing the War - The Center for Media and Democracy’s John Stauber says, “[S]hame on the networks who were duped this way that they didn’t show up to defend or explain their actions.” Stauber calls the Pentagon operation “a psyops campaign, an incredible government propaganda campaign whereby Donald Rumsfeld and Torie [Victoria] Clarke, the head of public relations for the Pentagon, designed a program to recruit 75, at least 75 former military officers… most of them now lobbyists or consultants to military contractors, and insert them, beginning in 2002, before the attack on Iraq was even launched, into the major networks to manage the messages, to be surrogates. And that’s the words that are actually used, ‘message multipliers’ for the secretary of defense and for the Pentagon. This program continues right up to now.” Stauber says that the Pentagon program is patently illegal (see April 28, 2008), though the Pentagon may dispute that contention. “It is illegal for the US government to propagandize citizens in this way,” he says. “In my opinion, this war could have never been sold if it were not for this sophisticated propaganda campaign. And what we need is congressional investigation of not just this Pentagon military analyst program, but all the rest of the deception and propaganda that came out of the Bush administration and out of the Pentagon that allowed them to sell and manage this war.”
Full Disclosure Needed - Former ABC news correspondent Robert Zelnick, now a professor of journalism at Boston University, says the only thing that surprised him about the New York Times report that broke the story was its length. Zelnick says that when he covered the Pentagon: “I often sought information from retired generals and admirals and colonels because I knew they were well-informed. I knew they kept in touch. I knew they had drinks at the Army-Navy Club. I know they went to Army-Navy football games on special trains together. I knew that many of them were serving as what we called Beltway bandits or consultants.” Zelnick says: “[I]f you have an admiral on who is or a general who is currently a consultant to the Pentagon, that should be disclosed right at the top of the interview. But we don’t—as networks, we didn’t have these people on because they were neutral; we had them on because they knew what they were talking about. They had spent their lives in military affairs.” Zelnick says that to conclude the Pentagon actually “recruited” analysts for ABC or another network or cable broadcaster is an overgeneralization; the Pentagon merely “recommended, perhaps, former generals or admirals to the various networks and, once they had them, they kept them informed. And I think that’s to the good. It meant that more information was available. If occasionally a general or an admiral or a colonel who was retired and used in this fashion allowed himself to be dictated to, that’s his fault. And I think any solid news person or executive editor running one of these programs would have discerned that early on and quit using him.”
'Agents of Pentagon Propaganda' - Stauber retorts that he is “shocked to hear Bob Zelnick depict and misrepresent what’s going on here. And I have to wonder, Professor Zelnick, if you even read the New York Times article very closely. This is an instant where these people were recruited by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld as agents of Pentagon propaganda and inserted into the networks. Now, you can fault—and we should fault—the networks for not vetting these people properly, for not being much more careful about their credentials. But the fact is this program began with the Pentagon, with the Bush administration, recruiting these people to be their surrogates. And those are the words that the internal documents used. This is the Pentagon Papers of this war.” Zelnick responds that the networks had just as many analysts on their payrolls during the 1991 Gulf War, “[s]o it was something that the networks perceived was in their own interest to develop these kinds of contacts. And it was in their interest. It certainly was in my interest as a Pentagon correspondent.” Zelnick says that while the networks should always disclose their analysts’ business connections with whatever defense firms they represent, “what do we expect these guys to do after 30 or 40 years in the service, during which time they’ve risen to the ranks of the most senior officers? We would expect them to wind up as consultants or, as I said, we call them Beltway bandits. I just don’t get upset over something that’s completely natural, completely to be expected, and widely known throughout the industry.” Stauber disputes Zelnick’s characterization, and notes that the structure of the operation was guided from Rumsfeld and Clarke, not from the networks initiating contact with the Pentagon on behalf of their military analysts. “The flow was illegal government propaganda, recruiting these people, and inserting them into the news, and then hiring a company to measure and quantify how good a job they did of selling the war and managing press and public opinion. This is Goebbels-like.” [PBS, 4/24/2008]
Entity Tags: Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, Robert Zelnick, US Department of Defense, Judy Woodruff, Donald Rumsfeld, Center for Media and Democracy, CNN, CBS News, ABC News, Fox News, John Stauber, New York Times, MSNBC, NBC, Public Broadcasting System
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.