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Larry Kilgore. [Source: Republican Party of Burleson County, Texas]“Consultant” Larry Kilgore, running on a platform to have Texas secede from the US and become a nation governed by “biblical law,” wins over 225,000 votes—18 percent of the total vote—in Texas’s Republican Party primary for the US Senate seat held by John Cornyn (R-TX). Cornyn wins the primary and eventually wins re-election. Kilgore’s showing prompts two campaign Web sites to proclaim the results as a victory for “Texas independence.” Kilgore’s proposed “sovreign state of Texas” would, according to his campaign platform, execute adulterers, free all prisoners, eliminate all social welfare programs, eliminate public education, and institute public flogging for illegal immigrants. Kilgore said as a US senator he would negotiate with the “US empire” for Texas independence, and would not vote on any legislation unrelated to the creation of an independent state of Texas. Kilgore has run unsuccessful campaigns for the Texas State House and for governor. During the campaign, Kilgore touted the support of a number of prominent figures in the Christian far right, including anti-abortion leader Michael Marcavage and ministers Dave Daubenmire and John Weaver. [Anti-Defamation League, 3/10/2008]
President Bush vetoes legislation passed by Congress that would have banned the CIA from using waterboarding and other “extreme” interrogation techniques. The legislation is part of a larger bill authorizing US intelligence activities. The US Army prohibits the use of waterboarding and seven other interrogation techniques in the Army Field Manual; the legislation would have brought the CIA in line with US military practices. Waterboarding is banned by many countries and its use by the US and other regimes has been roundly condemned by US lawmakers and human rights organizations. The field manual also prohibits stripping prisoners naked; forcing them to perform or simulate sexual acts; beating, burning, or otherwise inflicting harm; subjecting prisoners to hypothermia; subjecting prisoners to mock executions; withholding food, water, or medical treatment; using dogs to frighten or attack prisoners; and hooding prisoners or strapping duct tape across their eyes.
Reasoning for Veto - “Because the danger remains, we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists,” Bush explains. The vetoed legislation “would diminish these vital tools.” Bush goes on to say that the CIA’s interrogation program has helped stop terrorist attacks on a US Marine base in Djibouti and the US consulate in Pakistan, as well as stopped plans for terrorists to fly hijacked planes into a Los Angeles tower or perhaps London’s Heathrow Airport. He gives no specifics, but adds, “Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.” John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, disagrees, saying he knows of no instances where the CIA has used such methods of interrogation to obtain information that led to the prevention of a terrorist attack. “On the other hand, I do know that coercive interrogations can lead detainees to provide false information in order to make the interrogation stop,” he says. CIA Director Michael Hayden says that the CIA will continue to work within both national and international law, but its needs are different from those of the Army, and it will follow the procedures it thinks best. Bush complains that the legislation would eliminate not just waterboarding, but “all the alternative procedures we’ve developed to question the world’s most dangerous and violent terrorists.” [Reuters, 3/8/2008; Associated Press, 3/8/2008]
Criticism of Veto - Democrats, human rights leaders, and others denounce Bush’s veto. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says, “This president had the chance to end the torture debate for good, yet he chose instead to leave the door open to use torture in the future.” Feinstein notes that Bush ignored the advice of 43 retired generals and admirals, and 18 national security experts, who all supported the bill. “Torture is a black mark against the United States,” she says. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she and fellow Democrats will try to override the veto and thus “reassert [the United States’s] moral authority.” Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First says, “The president’s refusal to sign this crucial legislation into law will undermine counterterrorism efforts globally and delay efforts to rebuild US credibility on human rights.” [Associated Press, 3/8/2008] New York Times journalist Steven Lee Myers writes that Bush vetoes the bill not just to assert his support for extreme interrogation techniques or to provide the government everything it needs to combat terrorism, but as part of his ongoing battle to expand the power of the presidency. Myers writes, “At the core of the administration’s position is a conviction that the executive branch must have unfettered freedom when it comes to prosecuting war.” [New York Times, 3/9/2008]
Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Human Rights First, George W. Bush, Elisa Massimino, Dianne Feinstein, Central Intelligence Agency, John D. Rockefeller, Michael Hayden, US Department of the Army, Senate Intelligence Committee, Steven Lee Myers
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
In remarks to the National Religious Broadcasters Association, President Bush misrepresents two important aspects of the US-led occupation of Iraq.
Misrepresenting the 'Surge of Their Own' - Referring to the so-called “surge” of US troops into Iraq (see January 10, 2007), Bush says: “As you can imagine, during that period of time a lot of folks were wondering, is America going to stay with us? Do they understand our deep desire to live in freedom? Can we count on them? And when they found out they could, they launched a surge of their own. Increasing numbers of Sunni leaders have turned against the terrorists and begun to reclaim their communities… . Folks who were involved in the insurgency have now decided they want to be a part of their government… . I strongly believe the surge is working, and so do the Iraqis.” Bush is referring to the Iraqi counterattack against al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Islamist terrorists—the so-called “Anbar Awakening.” He is wrong in saying that the Iraqis “launched a surge of their own” in response to the US troop escalation. The “Iraqi surge” against al-Qaeda in Iraq predates the US surge by months. In fact, two years before the “Iraqi surge,” Bush had rejected offers of similar assistance from Sunni leaders eager to bring Sunni-led terrorism in Iraq to a close. Instead, the Sunni leaders took action without US approval. Bush is now linking the Sunni initiative to the US “surge,” and in the process misrepresents both the chronological chain of the events and the forces driving the “Iraqi surge.”
Misrepresenting the Effectiveness of the US 'Surge' - Bush also says that some US forces are coming home as “a return on our success” in the surge. That implies that because the “surge” is successful, Bush and US military commanders are beginning to bring some troops home. “And as a return on our success, as we get more successful, troops are able to come home,” he says: “They’re not coming home based upon defeat, or based upon opinion polls, or based upon focus groups, or based upon politics. They’re coming home because we’re successful.” In reality, Bush has been quite reluctant to bring any troops home, only grudgingly giving way to the recommendations of US commanders such as General David Petraeus, the head of military operations in Iraq, and Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Petraeus, Fallon, and other US military commanders have long said that the surge is designed to be temporary, with drawdown dates of early 2008 built into the planning from the outset. [Salon, 3/11/2008]
President Bush, in a videoconference with US military and civilian personnel on the problems in Afghanistan, says that he is “envious” of those working in the war-torn country. “I must say, I’m a little envious,” he says. “If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed.… It must be exciting for you… in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You’re really making history, and thanks.” [Reuters, 3/13/2008] As of March 12, 2008, at least 418 US soldiers have died in Afghanistan as a result of hostilities there. [Associated Press, 3/12/2008]
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage says of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, “I think he was hand-picked by some very powerful forces both within and outside the United State of America to drag this country into a hell that it has not seen since the Civil War of the middle of the 19th century.” Savage is referring to controversial statements made by Obama’s former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, whom Savage calls “the soul of Barack Obama’s movement.” Savage goes on to claim that Wright, and by extension Obama, align themselves with historical enemies of the United States: “And if you want a man who says not ‘God bless America,’ but ‘God d_mn America,’ if you want a man who takes the side of the imperial Japanese army, an army that killed not only hundreds of thousands in the Bataan Death March, but hundreds of thousand of Koreans, an army that operated on people while they were alive in Manchuria, a man who takes the side, in essence, of the Japanese Nazis of World War II, if you want a man who takes the side, in essence, of the Hitlers of the world, then you’ve got it in Barack Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, of the Trinity United Church of Christ.” Obama is merely “an ordinary apparatchik of the Democrat machine in Chicago” whose handlers intend to use Obama to bring upheaval and chaos to the nation. [Media Matters, 3/19/2008]
Fred Hollander, a New Hampshire resident, files a lawsuit challenging presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ)‘s ability to serve as president. Hollander names the Republican National Committee (RNC) as a co-defendant. [Hollander v. McCain et al, 3/14/2008] Hollander’s challenge hinges on a February 2008 report from conservative news blog News Busters that said since McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 (his parents, both US citizens were stationed on a Navy base in Panama at the time), he may not be eligible under Article II of the Constitution to be president. News Busters went on to report that McCain’s claim to have been born in the Coco Solo Naval Hospital in the Canal Zone was false, since that hospital was not built until 1941, and the nearest hospital at the time of his birth was not on a US military base, but in the Panamanian city of Colon. Therefore, the report concluded, “we were lied to” about McCain’s birthplace, and News Busters speculated that McCain’s citizenship was in question. However, News Busters was in error. According to subsequent investigations by the press, the Panama Canal Zone did contain a small hospital at the Coco Solo submarine base in 1936, and McCain was born in that hospital. Archival records also show the name of the Naval doctor who signed McCain’s birth certificate, Captain W. L. Irvine, the director of the facility at the time. News Busters, and Hollander, are in error in their reading of the law. Both of McCain’s parents were US citizens, and McCain was born on a US military base, which qualifies under the Constitution as “US soil.” The McCain presidential campaign has refused to release a copy of McCain’s birth certificate, but a senior campaign official shows Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs a copy of the McCain birth certificate issued by the Coco Solo Naval hospital. [News Busters (.org), 2/21/2008; Washington Post, 5/20/2008] Additionally, the Panama American newspaper for August 31, 1936 carried an announcement of McCain’s birth. [Washington Post, 4/17/2008 ] Two lawyers interviewed by CBS News concur that under the law, McCain is a “natural born citizen” and eligible to serve as president. Theodore Olson, the solicitor general for the Bush administration, and Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor generally considered to be a liberal, agree that challenges to McCain’s citizenship are specious. [CBS News, 3/28/2008] Hollander files what is later determined to be a fake birth certificate with the court that purports to prove McCain has Panamanian citizenship. The court throws Hollander’s lawsuit out on the grounds that Hollander has no standing to challenge McCain’s citizenship. [US District Court, District of New Hampshire, 7/24/2008 ; Obama Conspiracy (.org), 2/27/2009; Obama Conspiracy (.org), 4/24/2010] The lawsuit is similar in nature to numerous court challenges to McCain’s Democratic opponent, Senator Barack Obama (see August 21-24, 2008, October 9-28, 2008, October 17-22, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 31 - November 3, 2008, October 24, 2008, October 31, 2008 and After, November 12, 2008 and After, November 13, 2008, and Around November 26, 2008).
John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, speaking to reporters in Amman, Jordan. [Source: Raw Story]Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the presumptive Republican nominee for president, repeatedly conflates the two main warring branches of Islam in statements made while visiting the Middle East. The quickly planned trip was designed to showcase McCain’s foreign policy sagacity, and contrast him with his Democratic opponents Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL), whose relative lack of experience in foreign policy is being negatively portrayed by the McCain campaign.
Allegations of Cooperation between Iran and al-Qaeda - McCain twice says while in Jordan that it is “common knowledge” that Iran, a Shi’ite-led theocracy, is training al-Qaeda terrorists and sending them into Iraq to wreak havoc. Al-Qaeda is a Sunni organization. Sunni Muslims have contended for primacy with Shi’ite Muslims for centuries; much of the violence in Iraq is between Sunni and Shi’ite insurgents. “We continue to be concerned about Iranian[s] taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back,” he says in one instance, and adds: “Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.” His traveling companion, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), whispers a correction in McCain’s ear, and McCain promptly corrects himself, “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.”
Criticism of McCain - The Democratic National Committee responds to McCain’s statements by saying: “After eight years of the Bush administration’s incompetence in Iraq, McCain’s comments don’t give the American people a reason to believe that he can be trusted to offer a clear way forward. Not only is Senator McCain wrong on Iraq once again, but he showed he either doesn’t understand the challenges facing Iraq and the region or is willing to ignore the facts on the ground.” [New York Times, 3/18/2008; Raw Story, 3/18/2008]
Previous Similar Comments - McCain made a similar statement the day before while calling in to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s talk show, saying, “As you know, there are al-Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they’re moving back into Iraq.” Hewitt did not correct the error. [Town Hall (.com), 3/17/2008] And on February 28, McCain told an audience in Texas, “But al-Qaeda is [in Iraq], they are functioning, they are supported in many times, in many ways by the Iranians.” [ThinkProgress (.org), 3/20/2008] McCain’s own campaign notes that McCain “immediately corrected” the error—a misstatement, as McCain made the mistake three different times in two days—and attacks the Democrats for McCain’s blunder by stating, “Democrats have launched political attacks today because they know the American people have deep concerns about their candidates’ judgment and readiness to lead as commander in chief.”
Media Reaction - Many in the mainstream media forgive or ignore McCain’s repeated gaffe. The Atlantic Monthly’s Marc Ambinder calls it “momentary confusion” on McCain’s part, again ignoring the fact that McCain made the same mistake three times in two days. [Atlantic Monthly, 3/18/2008] ABC’s Jake Tapper blames the blunder on “jet lag.” [ABC News, 3/18/2008] Both the Associated Press and CNN misreport McCain’s statement. Associated Press reporter Alfred de Montesquiou inaccurately reports that McCain “voiced concern that Tehran is bringing militants over the border into Iran for training before sending them back to fight US troops in Iraq, and blamed Syria for allegedly continuing to ‘expedite’ a flow of foreign fighters.” [Associated Press, 3/18/2008] And CNN’s Emily Sherman rewrites McCain’s statement, reporting, “During a press conference in Amman, Jordan, the Arizona senator also said there is a continued concern that Iran may be training Iraqi extremists in Iran and then sending them back into Iraq.” [CNN News, 3/18/2008]
Entity Tags: Joseph Lieberman, John McCain, Marc Ambinder, CNN, Hillary Clinton, Alfred de Montesquiou, Associated Press, Barack Obama, Democratic National Committee, Emily Sherman, Hugh Hewitt, Jake Tapper
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
US News and World Report interviews three US soldiers once held captive in the first days of the Iraq invasion: Private Jessica Lynch, Specialist Shoshana Johnson, and Private Patrick Miller. Lynch was captured and held for nine days in an Iraqi hospital before being rescued (see June 17, 2003); her story was quickly inflated by military public relations officials and eager media representatives into a fabricated tale of torture and derring-do (see April 3, 2003). Johnson and Miller received much less press coverage during their 22 days in captivity. Rear Admiral Frank Thorp, then a captain and a senior military spokesman, told reporters when Lynch was rescued that “she fired until she had no more ammunition.” That report was untrue. Thorp now says, “There was never, ever any intentional deception involving Lynch.” But the Pentagon and the news media alike were hungry for a telegenic hero, he notes. “That’s America. We want heroes, in baseball, in politics, in our day-to-day life.” [US News and World Report, 3/18/2008] Thorp, now a rear admiral, became the top public affairs official for then-Joint Chiefs Chairman General Richard Myers. [Editor & Publisher, 7/14/2008]
Lynch: Weathering the Controversy - Lynch, who has weathered years of controversy about her unwitting involvement in a Pentagon PR campaign, is not convinced that there was no deception, as Thorp insists. “They wanted to make people think that maybe this war was a good thing,” she says. “Instead, people were getting killed, and it was going downhill fast. They wanted a hero.” All three say that they were no more heroic than any of the soldiers who fight every day. “It’s nice that people remember and stuff, but the way I look at it was I was just doing my job as a soldier,” says Miller, whom Lynch has cited as displaying outstanding bravery the day of their capture. Johnson adds: “I think we tossed around the hero word a little too much. I got shot and caught, and that’s it. [T]here are loads of soldiers out there who deserve all the props, and they don’t get enough.” Lynch, who was discharged from the Army months after her rescue (see August 22, 2003), does not watch television coverage of the war. “Honestly, it’s hard; it’s depressing,” she says. Five years after her capture, she still faces numerous physical disabilities and more surgery in the weeks and months ahead.
Miller: Wants to Return to Iraq - Miller, who shot several Iraqi soldiers before being, in his words, “gang-tackled” and captured, is still in the Army, having refused a medical discharge and needing to continue his wife’s medical insurance coverage. He recalls one conversation with an Iraqi during his captivity: “There was one who asked me why I came to Iraq, and I told him that I was told to come. He was like, ‘Why didn’t you just tell them no?’ I told him that if I tell them no, I go to jail. He couldn’t understand that.” Miller, now a staff sergeant, wants to return to Iraq, though Army regulations forbid a soldier once kept as a POW from returning to the country of his capture.
Johnson: Permanent Disability - Like Miller, Johnson’s captivity was relatively uneventful. She recalls one doctor in particular, “an old man with two wives and 11 children, who was really nice to me.” He protected her during her stay, even sleeping outside her door. “I don’t know if he thought somebody would come in, or something would happen to me,” she says. “When people start talking to me about Islam, that’s who I think of—a very nice man who took a big chance.” Johnson was going to write a book about her captivity, but her publishers backed out after Johnson did not give them the story they wanted. “They wanted this really religious book,” she says. “I’m a Catholic and my faith is important to me, but as a single mom with tattoos, I can’t be writing a book telling people how to live their life.” Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, she has succeeded in winning permanent disability status from the Army after a long, bitter struggle (see October 24, 2003). She is raising her 7-year old daughter, studying to be a caterer, and says that in general she is coping well. [US News and World Report, 3/18/2008]
A recent spate of chain email attacks on presidential contender Barack Obama (D-IL) include claims that Obama may be the Antichrist of Biblical prediction. PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, notes that the email entirely distorts the words of the Book of Revelation to make its claim. The email reads: “According to The Book of Revelations the anti-christ is: The anti-christ will be a man, in his 40s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal.… the prophecy says that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace, and when he is in power, will destroy everything is it OBAMA??… I STRONGLY URGE each one of you to repost this as many times as you can! Each opportunity that you have to send it to a friend or media outlet… do it! If you think I am crazy… Im sorry but I refuse to take a chance on the ‘unknown’ candidate.” PolitiFact notes that there are at least 635,000 hits on Google for the search term “Obama + Antichrist,” indicating that the subject has a certain interest to many. There are also literally thousands of blog posts about “Barack Obama the Antichrist” and such. PolitiFact states flatly, “Nothing about this detailed allegation is true.” According to PolitiFact’s research, which includes interviews with two religious scholars, the email makes a number of egregious errors.
The email misstates the name of the “Book of Revelation” as “Revelations.”
The email falsely says that the Book of Revelation uses the term “anti-christ” or any such term. Religious studies professor Dr. James D. Tabor tells PolitiFact: “The word Antichrist is not used in the Book of Revelation so this is important to point out. Everybody thinks the word is used.” Dr. L. Michael White, a professor of classics and religious studies, adds, “First and foremost, the word Antichrist and a figure called the Antichrist never occurs in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament.” There are characters in Revelation that some interpret as being the Antichrist, particularly one beastly figure in Chapter 13 “having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy” that some consider to be an allusion to the Antichrist. “It’s only in Chapter 13 and you could almost miss it,” Tabor says. White notes that most Biblical scholars do not consider that figure to represent the Antichrist. “It wasn’t there in the Bible,” he says. “It emerges in the Middle Ages. It’s something historians deal with.” The term does appear a few times in other books of the Bible, specifically First John and Second John.
The Bible does not identify the Antichrist as a man of any particular age. Nowhere does it describe “a man, in his 40s,” as the e-mail alleges. “As you notice, there’s nothing about being age 40,” Tabor says. “This is completely wrong. The Book of Revelation doesn’t say that. It says it’s a male, so I guess they got that right. It says ‘he,’ ‘he,’ ‘he.’”
The Bible does not identify the Antichrist as being Muslim; Islam was not founded as a religion until 400 years after the completion of the various books of the Bible. “A Muslim would be a monotheist and the last thing a Muslim would do is have anyone worship anyone other than God,” says Tabor. And Obama is a Christian, not a Muslim (see October 1, 2007, December 19, 2007, and January 11, 2008).
According to White, the email lifts much of its information from the Left Behind series, a group of post-apocalyptic novels written by Christian-right preacher Tim LaHaye and his co-author, Jerry Jenkins. The email is, White says, “a jigsaw puzzle of bits and pieces all filtered through the kind of end-of-world scenarios we get in the theology that is the underpinning of the Left Behind novels.” He says this kind of “patchwork interpretation of the Bible” is used by groups who wish to justify certain beliefs. “Of course, they never bothered to read the Scriptures carefully,” he says, “so it’s kind of a system of interpretation. That if you start with that presupposition… it’s all there you can just find it.… That description [in the chain email] never occurs anywhere in one place nor are the component parts really about the same situation. It’s a cherry-picking through Scripture to get it all to fit together.” PolitiFact calls the email’s claim “egregiously inaccurate.” [St. Petersburg Times, 3/19/2008]
Vice President Dick Cheney, on a trip to the Middle East, meets with Saudi King Abdullah on Abdullah’s horse farm for about four hours. Cheney also meets with his long-time friend, Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Nuaimi. The conversations between the men are not reported in any depth; a senior US official says the discussions are “confidential and private.” Cheney will then leave for discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. [Agence France-Presse, 3/22/2008] Interestingly, after Cheney’s meeting with the Saudi leaders, the Saudi Shura Council, the governmental group that implements the decisions of the Saudi leadership, plans to secretly meet to discuss “national plans to deal with any sudden nuclear and radioactive hazards that may affect the kingdom following experts’ warnings of possible attacks on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactors,” according to the Saudi newspaper Okaz. A leading Saudi agency, the King Abdul-Aziz City for Science and Technology, has prepared a plan to deal with the probability of radiation hazards in case of any unexpected nuclear attacks on Iran. [Deutche Presse-Agentur, 3/22/2008] Certainly a swift and massively destructive US strike against Iran is possible. Author and military expert William Arkin wrote in 2005 that the US could strike Iranian targets within about 12 hours from the time President Bush gave the final order (see January 25, 2005). Arkin quoted Lieutenant General Bruce Carlson, commander of the 8th Air Force, as saying that his fleet of B-2 and B-52 bombers were on, essentially, perpetual alert: “We have the capacity to plan and execute global strikes,” Carlson said. He added that his forces were the US Strategic Command’s “focal point for global strike” and could execute an attack “in half a day or less.” [Washington Post, 5/15/2005] And in 2006, reporter Seymour Hersh noted that US Air Force planning groups had drawn up detailed lists of Iranian targets as part of the military’s plan to launch major air attacks against Iran. Teams of US combat troops had clandestinely entered Iran to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic minority groups; US warplanes were making repeated practice “nuclear delivery” runs near the Iranian border in preparation for air strikes. [New Yorker, 4/17/2006]
Vice President Dick Cheney says that President Bush, not the US soldiers serving in Iraq, bears “the biggest burden” of the war. ABC reporter Martha Raddatz asks Cheney about what effect he believes the “milestone” of 4,000 US soldiers killed in Iraq has on the country. Cheney answers: “Well, it obviously brings home, I think for a lot of people, the cost that’s involved in the global war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. It places a special burden, obviously, on the families. We recognize, I think—it’s a reminder of the extent to which we’re blessed with families who have sacrificed as they have. The president carries the biggest burden, obviously; he’s the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans. But we are fortunate to have the group of men and women, the all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm’s way for the rest of us. You wish nobody ever lost their life, but unfortunately it’s one of those things that go with living in the world we live in. Sometimes you have to commit military force, and when you do, there are casualties.” [White House, 3/24/2008]
'Jaw-Dropping' Insensitivity - The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin writes that Cheney’s statement “crystallizes [his and Bush’s] detachment and self-involvement” quite vividly, illuminating the “bubble of flattery and delusion” in which he says they live. Froomkin adds: “And in an era where failing to support the troops is the ultimate political sin, Cheney’s breezy dismissal of their sacrifice—heck, they’re volunteers, and dying goes with the territory—was jaw-dropping even by the vice president’s own tone-deaf standards. Does Cheney really believe that Bush’s burden is so great? The president tells people he’s sleeping just fine, thank you, and in public appearances appears upbeat beyond all reason. Or does Cheney simply have no idea what it means to go to war? He and Bush, after all, famously avoided putting themselves in the line of fire when it was their time. Or are they just so wrapped up in themselves they can’t see how ridiculous it is to even suggest such a thing?”
Backhanded Agreement - Retired General Wesley Clark agrees with Cheney, in a backhanded fashion: “Well, I guess you could say [Bush] does bear an enormous burden of guilt and responsibility, for misdirecting the resources of the United States and for the travesty of going to war in Iraq.… But that’s not a burden that’s anything like the burden these families bear when their loved ones are overseas, and they suffer losses, or they come back home and they’ve got post-traumatic stress disease and other problems, when the little kids don’t recognize the parents when they come in the door because of the frequent deployments and so forth. This is an entirely different kind of burden. So I think that Vice President Cheney is not being fair to the men and women who serve. He should recognize the enormous sacrifices they’re making.” [Washington Post, 3/25/2008]
The Supreme Court dismisses an appeal by the political advocacy group Citizens United (CU) that argued the group’s First Amendment rights had been violated by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The Court had agreed to hear CU’s case that it should be allowed to broadcast a partisan political documentary about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Hillary: The Movie, on cable television networks in the days before critical primary elections (see January 10-16, 2008). The Court did not rule on the merits of the case, but instead ruled that CU should have filed its case first with the federal appeals court in Washington. The ruling does not dismiss the case entirely, but makes it unlikely that the Court will rule on the campaign law issues surrounding the case (see March 27, 2002) before the November 2008 elections. Lawyer James Bopp, representing CU, says, “It is our intention to get the case expeditiously resolved on the merits in the district court, and then if we are unsuccessful there, to appeal” again to the Court. Bopp accuses Justice Department lawyers of trying to slow down the case to prevent it being resolved before the election. CU also wants to release a similar documentary about the other leading Democratic presidential contender, Barack Obama (D-IL—see October 28-30, 2008), in a similar fashion to its planned widespread release of the Clinton film. Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the Court’s more liberal members, says in the order dismissing the appeal that had the case been taken up, he would have affirmed the previous decision in favor of the FEC. None of the other justices made any public statement about the case. The case will be heard by the Washington, DC, federal appeals court. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/24/2008] The appeals court will find against CU, and the organization will reapply to the Court for a hearing, an application which will be granted (see March 15, 2009).
Norman Solomon, author of War Made Easy, a study of the military’s influence on the US media and American public opinion, observes that while some commercial news networks are pointed out as unduly biased in favor of the administration’s viewpoint on Iraq, National Public Radio (NPR) is often viewed as a source of left-wing, anti-administration opinion. Solomon shows that just the opposite is usually the case. He begins by noting an NPR reporter’s comment on the Iraqi government’s large-scale military assault against Shi’ite insurgents in Basra today: “There is no doubt that this operation needed to happen.” Solomon writes, “Such flat-out statements, uttered with journalistic tones and without attribution, are routine for the US media establishment.” Solomon observed in the documentary film made from his book: “If you’re pro-war, you’re objective. But if you’re anti-war, you’re biased. And often, a news anchor will get no flak at all for making statements that are supportive of a war and wouldn’t dream of making a statement that’s against a war.” Solomon says that after considerable examination of NPR’s flagship news programs, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” “the sense and sensibilities tend to be neatly aligned with the outlooks of official Washington. The critical aspects of reporting largely amount to complaints about policy shortcomings that are tactical; the underlying and shared assumptions are imperial. Washington’s prerogatives are evident when the media window on the world is tinted red-white-and-blue.” Like other news networks, NPR routinely uses Pentagon-approved “military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) to give commentary and analysis that is almost always supportive of the administration’s Iraq operations and strategies. Solomon writes: “Such cozy proximity of world views, blanketing the war maker and the war reporter, is symptomatic of what ails NPR’s war coverage—especially from Washington. Of course there are exceptions. Occasional news reports stray from the narrow baseline. But the essence of the propaganda function is repetition, and the exceptional does not undermine that function. To add insult to injury, NPR calls itself public radio. It’s supposed to be willing to go where commercial networks fear to tread. But overall, when it comes to politics and war, the range of perspectives on National Public Radio isn’t any wider than what we encounter on the avowedly commercial networks.” [CommonDreams (.org), 3/27/2008]
John Kasich, stumping for governor in 2010. [Source: CleveScene (.com)]Fox News contributor John Kasich (R-OH), a former US representative and a current managing partner of the financial firm Lehman Brothers, announces that he intends to challenge Governor Ted Strickland (D-OH) in the 2010 midterm elections. Basic journalist ethics require Fox News to terminate its contract with Kasich and treat him as a candidate for office in future broadcasts. Instead, Kasich remains a Fox News employee until June 1, 2009, when he formally launches his bid for governor of Ohio. He regularly promotes his candidacy on Fox broadcasts, most often on the highly rated O’Reilly Factor, where he is a frequent guest and sometime guest host. Fox News commentators frequently laud Kasich; on June 17, 2008, Republican political analyst and paid Fox contributor Frank Luntz says he is “hoping that Kasich runs for governor of Ohio. I think John would be an outstanding candidate.” On July 15, 2008, talk show host Sean Hannity tells Kasich: “I’m advocating that you run for governor one day. And you’re not.… You’re not going along at all.” Kasich will continue to appear as a regular guest on Fox News programming after he formally launches his bid and Fox terminates its contract with him. He will make frequent appearances on Hannity’s show, where Hannity calls him “governor” and “soon-to-be governor,” and holds a fundraiser for Kasich in October 2009. On The O’Reilly Factor, Fox will show the URL for Kasich’s campaign Web site. On July 8, 2009, Hannity will tell Kasich on air: “You do me a favor. Go get elected governor, although why you would ever want that job, you’re out of your mind, but good luck. And I’m supporting you in the effort.” Kasich will also receive two $10,000 contributions from News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News. [Columbus Dispatch, 3/27/2008; Media Matters, 9/24/2010] Kasich will narrowly defeat Strickland in the 2010 gubernatorial elections. [Associated Press, 11/3/2010] After two months in office, his draconian budget cuts, insults to law enforcement officials and minorities, and heavy-handed attacks on unions will send his popularity plummeting and in April 2011 will spark a recall effort. [Think Progress, 4/11/2011]
Navy Lieutenant Commander Brian Mizer, the lawyer for Guantanamo detainee Salim Hamdan, says that senior Pentagon officials are orchestrating war crimes prosecutions for the 2008 presidential campaign. In a court brief filed on this day, Mizer describes a September 29, 2006 meeting at the Pentagon where Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England asked lawyers to consider 9/11-related prosecutions in light of the upcoming presidential campaign. “We need to think about charging some of the high-value detainees because there could be strategic political value to charging some of these detainees before the election,” England is quoted as saying (see September 29, 2006). Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman refuses to discuss specifics of the case, but says that the Pentagon “has always been extraordinarily careful to guard against any unlawful command influence” in upcoming military commissions trials. Mizer says that because of England’s instructions, and other examples of alleged political interference, his client cannot get a fair trial. Three weeks before England’s observation about the “strategic political value” of the trials, President Bush disclosed that he had ordered the CIA to transfer “high-value detainees” from years of secret custody to Guantanamo for trial.
Issues 'Scrambled' - Attorney Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, says the Hamdan motion exposes the problem of Pentagon appointees’ supervisory relationship to the war court. “It scrambles relationships that ought to be kept clear,” he says. England’s statement, says Fidell, is “enough that you’d want to hold an evidentiary hearing about it, with live witnesses. It does strike me as disturbing for there to be even a whiff of political considerations in what should be a quasi-judicial determination.” Susan Crawford is the White House-appointed supervisor for the court proceedings; England is a two-term White House appointee who has supervised the prison camps’ administrative processes. Crawford, England, and other White House officials have crossed the legal barriers that separate various functions of a military court, Mizer argues. Mizer plans to call the former chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo trials, Morris Davis (see October 4, 2007), who first brought the England remark to light. Davis resigned his position after contending that political influence was interfering with the proper legal procedures surrounding the prosecution of accused war criminals.
Motion for Dismissal - Mizer’s motion asks the judge, Navy Captain Keith Allred, to dismiss the case against Hamdan as an alleged 9/11 co-conspirator on the grounds that Bush administration officials have exerted “unlawful command influence.” Hamdan is a former driver for Osama bin Laden whose lawyers successfully challenged an earlier war court format (see June 30, 2006). Hamdan’s case is on track to be the first full-scale US war crimes tribunal since World War II. [Miami Herald, 3/28/2008]
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Eugene R. Fidell, Central Intelligence Agency, Bryan Whitman, Brian Mizer, George W. Bush, Gordon England, Keith Allred, US Department of Defense, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Susan Crawford, Morris Davis, Osama bin Laden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
David Petraeus. [Source: Princeton ROTC]General David Petraeus, the newly named commander of CENTCOM and the supreme commander of US forces in the Middle East, takes time out from testifying to Congress to speak in a conference call to a group of the Pentagon’s carefully groomed “military analysts,” whom it uses regularly to promote the occupation of Iraq and sell the administration’s Middle East policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). John Garrett, a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst, tells Petraeus to “keep up the great work.” In an interview, Garrett reaffirms his intention to continue selling the occupation of Iraq: “Hey, anything we can do to help.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Darrell Issa. [Source: Washington Post]Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) says during a House subcommittee meeting that he does not understand why the federal government should pay any more money to assist 9/11 emergency responders who have become ill after working at Ground Zero. Hundreds of firefighters, police officers, and paramedics have become ill, some terminally so, from exposure to smoke and toxins released in the collapse of the World Trade Center; the subcommittee is considering whether to reinstate federal funding for the 9/11 victims’ fund. Minutes after a retired New York City police officer, Michael Valentin, speaks of the serious health problems he has suffered since responding to the attacks, Issa says: “I have to ask why… the firefighters who went there and everyone in the City of New York needs to come to the federal government… How much money has the federal government put out post-9/11, including the buckets of $10 and $20 billion we just threw at the State and the City of New York versus how much has been paid out by the City and the State of New York?… It’s very simple: I can’t vote for additional money for New York if I can’t see why it would be appropriate to do this every single time a similar situation happens, which quite frankly includes any urban terrorist. It doesn’t have to be somebody from al-Qaeda. It can be someone who decides that they don’t like animal testing at one of our pharmaceutical facilities.” The attacks on the World Trade Center did not involve a dirty bomb or chemical weapons, Issa notes. “It simply was an aircraft, residue of the aircraft and residue of the materials used to build this building,” he adds. Issa’s colleague, Anthony Weiner (D-NY), is visibly enraged at Issa’s comments, replying, “The notion that this is the City of New York asking for more money because we were the point of attack on this country is absurd and insulting…. There are people every single day, bit by bit by bit, who are dying from that attack.” [Newsday, 4/1/2008; New York Post, 4/2/2008] A day later, Issa will retreat from the harshest of his comments after enduring a withering barrage of criticism (see April 3, 2008).
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage repeats the false assertion that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Muslim, a trope repeated by many conservative radio hosts (see January 22-24, 2008). In reality, Obama is a practicing Christian and a member of the United Church of Christ. The allegations that Obama is, or ever was, a Muslim have been debunked by, among others, CNN, the Chicago Tribune, and the Associated Press. Savage again lies to his listeners by telling them another oft-repeated falsehood, that Obama was educated in a radical Islamist “madrassah” during a childhood stint in Indonesia. Savage tells his listeners: “Look who we inherited in this country, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Hussein Obama, in one generation. A war hero to—a war hero who commanded the Allied operations against Nazi Germany was running for the presidency then. Now we have an unknown stealth candidate who went to a madrassas in Indonesia and, in fact, was a Muslim.… Yes, check it out.” [Media Matters, 4/7/2008] Weeks before, Savage told his listeners that Obama and his former pastor supported the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese, and Obama would bring chaos and devastation to the United States on a scale not seen since the Civil War (see March 13, 2008).
Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) tries to back away from his comments from the day before, where he disparaged New York City first responders who are now suffering long-term disabilities and illnesses stemming from the 9/11 attacks (see April 2, 2008).
Firestorm of Criticism - Frank Fraone, a California fire chief who led a 67-man crew at Ground Zero after the collapse of the World Trade Center, says: “That is a pretty distorted view of things. Whether they’re a couple of planes or a couple of missiles, they still did the same damage.” Republican colleague Peter King (R-NY) notes: “New York was attacked by al-Qaeda. It doesn’t have to be attacked by Congress.… I’m really surprised by Darrell Issa. It showed such a cavalier dismissal of what happened to New York. It’s wrong and inexcusable.” 9/11 victim’s relative Lorie Van Auken calls Issa’s comments “cruel and heartless.” She adds: “It’s really discouraging. People stepped up and did the right thing. They sacrificed themselves and now a lot of people are getting really horrible illnesses.”
Partial Withdrawal - Issa withdraws some of his earlier statements, now saying, “I want to make clear that I strongly support help for victims who suffered physical injury as a result of an attack on America, including support from Congress and the federal government.” Yet he refuses to withdraw his comments that the 9/11 attacks were little more than unremarkable plane crashes unworthy of any federal financial response. He now says that he only “asked tough questions about the expenditures.” Health officials estimate that it could cost up to $1 billion to properly care for survivors of 9/11 suffering from physical and emotional disabilities. A new bill to fund that care is being prepared for House debate. [New York Daily News, 4/3/2008; New York Post, 4/3/2008] A New York Daily News op-ed accuses Issa of “demeaning 9/11” and calls his remarks “callous in the extreme.” [New York Daily News, 4/3/2008]
Patrick McHenry. [Source: Patrick McHenry]The Pentagon tells Republican congressman Patrick McHenry (R-NC) not to re-air a video he had shot in Baghdad after he was accused of breaching operational security by giving detailed information about enemy rocket attacks. McHenry traveled to Iraq on March 22, where he made news by berating and insulting a guard for not allowing him into a gym because he lacked the proper identification.
YouTube Video - On April 4, after returning to the US, McHenry uploads a video he had shot while in the Green Zone onto YouTube and his Web site. The video shows McHenry pointing to a building behind him and telling viewers that a rocket had “hit just over my head” earlier. McHenry also names two more locations struck by rockets.
Veterans' Group - On April 6, a veterans group accuses McHenry of giving away intelligence information that can help insurgents better target positions inside the Green Zone. “The bottom line is that whoever launched that strike could take the information McHenry provided and use it to kill Americans in the Green Zone,” writes Brandon Friedman of VoteVets.org, an antiwar organization that calls for troop withdrawals and promotes veterans for public office, on the organization’s Web site. “This is why professionals operating in a combat zone are trained not to reveal any battle damage after an attack.” [McClatchy, 4/8/2008] Friedman adds: “McHenry—a fervent war supporter who has never served in the military—was apparently content to promote his Baghdad adventures at the expense of US troops on his Congressional website, during public appearances, and on YouTube. He did this until he got called out today.” [Brandon Friedman, 4/7/2008]
Pentagon Review - After Friedman’s post, McHenry pulls the video and sends it to the Pentagon for review. McHenry’s spokesman says he was not briefed on withholding its publication, but a Pentagon spokesman says he doesn’t know what McHenry was told: “but we routinely brief our operational rules to our visitors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military officials and soldiers are never allowed to publicly speak about battle damage. This is not the first time McHenry has violated security protocols in talking about his visit to Iraq. A Republican opponent for his seat, military attorney Lance Sigmon, recently uploaded a video to YouTube showing McHenry discussing his trip to Iraq with local Republicans. In the speech, McHenry gives actual distances of how close the rockets came to hitting the building that he and other visitors were sleeping in. That kind of information is very useful for the insurgents in targeting future rocket barrages. Sigmon, an Air Force veteran, calls McHenry’s actions “absolutely reprehensible.” [McClatchy, 4/8/2008]
No Apology - After McHenry pulls the video, Friedman notes that no apology accompanied the withdrawal, and “That leads me to believe that McHenry pulled the video because he’s more worried about the damage this could do to him politically.” Friedman adds, “In a bumbling attempt to make himself look braver and tougher than he really is, Congressman McHenry put US troops at further risk by publicly revealing details about the success of an enemy rocket attack.” [Brandon Friedman, 4/7/2008]
Representative Geoff Davis (R-KY) calls presidential contender Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) “that boy” in a speech. “Boy” is a well-known racial slur, especially among Southern Americans. At a dinner commemorating “Lincoln Day” in northern Kentucky sponsored by the state GOP, Davis tells his listeners that he once participated in a “highly classified national security simulation” with Obama. “I’m going to tell you something,” he says. “That boy’s finger does not need to be on the button. He could not make a decision in that simulation that related to a nuclear threat to this country.” Once the slur is reported by Politico, Davis sends a letter of apology to Obama over his “poor choice of words.” He adds, “I offer my sincere apology to you and ask for your forgiveness.” Davis does not refer to his characterization of Obama as unable to protect the nation based on his assessment of Obama’s actions during a national security simulation. [Politico, 4/14/2008; Politico, 4/14/2008]
A portion of Barack Obama’s marriage certificate. The full-size original can be viewed online. [Source: St. Petersburg Times]PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, debunks a recent spate of claims that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, has ties to Islamist radicals in Kenya. The claims appear to be sourced from a letter sent by American missionaries in Kenya, saying that Obama has ties to a Kenyan opposition party and warning its readers “not to be taken in by those that are promoting him.” The email also claims: “By the way. His true name is Barak Hussein Muhammed Obama. Won’t that sound sweet to our enemies as they swear him in on the Koran! God bless you.” PolitiFact writes: “The e-mail reads like a bad game of ‘telephone,’ its claims drawn from assorted people and sources that have been stitched together. And yet, because it is signed by real people, who have a life in Africa, it somehow carries more credence than your average blog posting—and it’s spreading rapidly.” PolitiFact has debunked this claim before (see January 11, 2008), but notes that the claim continues to spread. PolitiFact posts a copy of Obama’s 1992 marriage certificate, which states “Barack H. Obama” married “Michelle L. Robinson” on October 3, 1992, in a ceremony officiated by Trinity United Church of Christ pastor Jeremiah A. Wright (see January 6-11, 2008). Obama’s driver’s license record in Illinois identifies him as “Barack H. Obama.” His property listings name him as either “Barack Hussein Obama” or “Barack H. Obama.” His registration and disciplinary record with the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois notes that Obama was admitted to the Illinois bar on December 17, 1991, and has no public record of discipline. PolitiFact was unable to secure a copy of Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate (see June 13, 2008). PolitiFact has located the originator of the email, Celeste Davis. Her husband Loren Davis confirms that he cannot substantiate the claims in the email. “That was what we heard there [in Kenya],” Davis tells a PolitiFact interviewer. Davis says he and his wife have lived and worked in Kenya for the past 12 years, and says his wife’s message was from a personal letter “never intended to be forwarded or sent out to the Web.” [St. Petersburg Times, 4/18/2008]
The various news networks cited in this day’s New York Times expose of their involvement in a overarching Pentagon propaganda campaign to promote the Iraq war by using retired military officers as “independent military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) say that, by and large, they were unaware of their analysts’ connections with both the administration and with defense contractors. (Many analysts used their access to the Pentagon and the networks to drum up business for themselves and their firms.) The networks say they are always concerned about conflicts of interest, but it is up to the analysts to disclose any such possible conflicts. As for the analysts, they say that the networks had only a dim awareness of their connections either with defense firms or the Pentagon. The networks don’t realize, the analysts claim, how frequently they meet with senior Defense Department officials or what is discussed. One NBC analyst, Rick Francona, says, “I don’t think NBC was even aware we were participating.” Many analysts say that the networks did not inquire deeply into their outside business interests and any potential conflicts of interest. “None of that ever happened,” says former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard. “The worst conflict of interest was no interest.” Allard and others say their network liaisons raised no objections when the Pentagon began paying for their trips to Iraq, a clear ethical violation for any serious news organization. The networks’ responses are limited at best: ABC says it is the analysts’ responsibility to keep them informed of any conflicts of interest; NBC says it has “clear policies” that ensure their analysts are free of conflicts; CBS declines to comment; a Fox News spokeswoman says that network’s executives “refused to participate” in the Times article. As for CNN, it requires its military analysts to disclose in writing all outside sources of interest, but like the other networks, it does not provide its analysts with specific ethical guidelines such as it provides to its full-time employees. In mid-2007, CNN fired one analyst for his conflicts of interest (see July 2007). [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Author and civil litigator Glenn Greenwald writes of today’s revelations about the Pentagon’s six-year Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) that the new information serves as “a far greater indictment of our leading news organizations than the government officials” who actually perpetrated the program. Greenwald writes: “In 2002 and 2003, when Americans were relentlessly subjected to their commentary, news organizations were hardly unaware that these retired generals were mindlessly reciting the administration line on the war and related matters. To the contrary, that’s precisely why our news organizations—which themselves were devoted to selling the war both before and after the invasion by relentlessly featuring pro-war sources and all but excluding anti-war ones—turned to them in the first place.” The New York Times, which published the expose, still relies on the same military analysts for commentary and insight about the war in Iraq who are revealed as Pentagon supporters in its own reporting. And considering the reporting from five years previously (see March 25, 2003 and April 19, 2003), Greenwald notes that neither the Times nor anyone else should be particularly shocked at the unveiling of such a propaganda operation. What Greenwald does find “incredible” is the refusal of the news organizations to comment on the Times story. “Just ponder what that says about these organizations,” Greenwald writes: “[T]here is a major expose in the [Times] documenting that these news outlets misleadingly shoveled government propaganda down the throats of their viewers on matters of war and terrorism and they don’t feel the least bit obliged to answer for what they did or knew about any of it.” Only CNN provided any substantive response, but denied any knowledge of their analysts’ connections to either the Pentagon or to defense firms. Greenwald concludes, “The single most significant factor in American political culture is the incestuous, extensive overlap between our media institutions and government officials.” [Salon, 4/20/2008]
Neoconservatives Max Boot and John Podhoretz weigh in on the New York Times story exposing the Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Boot writes that the program is nothing more than “the Pentagon tr[ying] to get out its side of the story about Iraq to the news media.” “[I]t’s no secret,” he writes, “that the Pentagon—and every other branch of government—routinely provides background briefings to journalists (including columnists and other purveyors of opinion), and tries to influence their coverage by carefully doling out access. It is hardly unheard of for cabinet members—or even the president and vice president—to woo selected journalists deemed to be friendly while cutting off those deemed hostile. Nor is it exactly a scandal for government agencies to hire public relations firms to track coverage of them and try to suggest ways in which they might be cast in a more positive light. All this is part and parcel of the daily grind of Washington journalism in which the Times is, of course, a leading participant.” Boot believes he has found “the nub of the problem” further into the article when reporter David Barstow wrote that the Pentagon’s operation “recalled other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism.” Boot retorts, in a backhanded criticism of the Times’s patriotism: “[I]t’s one thing to subvert one’s country and another thing to subvert the MSM [mainstream media]. We can’t have that!” Boot concludes: “The implicit purpose of the Times’s article is obvious: to elevate this perfectly normal practice into a scandal in the hopes of quashing it. Thus leaving the Times and its fellow MSM organs—conveniently enough—as the dominant shapers of public opinion.” [Commentary Magazine, 4/20/2008] Writing for the influential conservative blog PowerLine, Boot’s fellow neoconservative John Podhoretz echoes Boot’s dismissal of the Times’s expose: “Barstow’s endless tale reveals nothing more than that the Pentagon treated former military personnel like VIPs, courted them and served them extremely well, in hopes of getting the kind of coverage that would counteract the nastier stuff written about the Defense Department in the media.” [Think Progress (.org), 4/20/2008]
Katrina vanden Heuvel. [Source: PBS]The editor of The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel, pens an incensed op-ed about the Pentagon’s recently revealed propaganda campaign designed to manipulate public opinion concerning Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Vanden Heuvel calls the operation “an all out effort at the highest levels of the Bush administration, continuing to this day, to dupe, mislead and lie to the American people—using propaganda dressed up and cherry-picked as independent military analysis.” Vanden Heuvel calls for an “investigation by all relevant Congressional committees—from Intelligence to Armed Services. The networks must also be held accountable for their role in duping Americans.” She writes that networks should immediately “fire those analysts who concealed their links and then refuse to hire analysts, military or other, without full conflict of interest disclosures. (They should also open up the airwaves, which belong to the people, to a full range of views!)” The analysts themselves “should be hauled up before the judgment of the institution they claim to revere and represent. [T]hese corrupt men… violated a sacred trust, putting their wallet, their access and the Pentagon above their duty and honor to the men and women they claim to revere.” [Nation, 4/20/2008]
Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times receives 8,000 pages of Pentagon e-mail messages, transcripts and records through a lawsuit. It subsequently reports on a systematic and highly orchestrated “psyops” (psychological operations) media campaign waged by the Defense Department against the US citizenry, using the American media to achieve their objectives. At the forefront of this information manipulation campaign is a small cadre of retired military officers known to millions of TV and radio news audience members as “military analysts.” These “independent” analysts appear on thousands of news and opinion broadcasts specifically to generate favorable media coverage of the Bush administration’s wartime performance. The group of officers are familiar faces to those who get their news from television and radio, billed as independent analysts whose long careers enable them to give what New York Times reporter David Barstow calls “authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.” However, the analysts are not nearly as independent as the Pentagon would like for Americans to believe. Barstow writes: “[T]he Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse—an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.… These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.”
Administration 'Surrogates' - The documents repeatedly refer to the analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who can be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.” According to the records, the administration routinely uses the analysts as, in Barstow’s words, “a rapid reaction force to rebut what it viewed as critical news coverage, some of it by the networks’ own Pentagon correspondents.” When news articles revealed that US troops in Iraq were dying because of inadequate body armor (see March 2003 and After), a senior Pentagon official wrote to his colleagues, “I think our analysts—properly armed—can push back in that arena.” In 2005, Ten analysts were flown to Guantanamo to counter charges that prisoners were being treated inhumanely; the analysts quickly and enthusiastically repeated their talking points in a variety of television and radio broadcasts (see June 24-25, 2005).
Ties to Defense Industry - Most of the analysts, Barstow writes, have deep and complex “ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.” The analysts and the networks almost never reveal these business relationships to their viewers; sometimes even the networks are unaware of just how deep those business connections extend. Between then, the fifty or so analysts “represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.” Some of the analysts admit to using their special access to garner marketing, networking, and business opportunities. John Garrett, a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst, is also a lobbyist at Patton Boggs who helps firms win Pentagon contracts, including from Iraq. In company promotional materials, Garrett says that as a military analyst he “is privy to weekly access and briefings with the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high level policy makers in the administration.” One client told investors that Garrett’s access and experience helps him “to know in advance—and in detail—how best to meet the needs” of the Defense Department and other agencies. Garrett calls this an inevitable overlap between his various roles, and says that in general, “That’s good for everybody.”
Exclusive Access to White House, Defense Officials - The analysts have been granted unprecedented levels of access to the White House and the Pentagon, including:
hundreds of private briefings with senior military officials, including many with power over contracting and budget matters;
private tours of Iraq;
access to classified information;
private briefings with senior White House, State Department, and Justice Department officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Conversely, analysts who do not cooperate take a risk. “You’ll lose all access,” says CBS military analyst and defense industry lobbyist Jeffrey McCausland.
Quid Pro Quo - Fox News analyst and retired Army lieutenant colenel Timur Eads, who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a rapidly growing military contractor, later says, “We knew we had extraordinary access.” Eads confirms that he and other analysts often held off on criticizing the administration for fear that “some four-star [general] could call up and say, ‘Kill that contract.’” Eads believes that he and the other analysts were misled about the Iraqi security forces, calling the Pentagon’s briefings about those forces’ readiness a “snow job.” But Eads said nothing about his doubts on television. His explanation: “Human nature.” Several analysts recall their own “quid pro quo” for the Pentagon in the months before the invasion (see Early 2003). And some analysts were far more aboveboard in offering quid pro quos for their media appearances. Retired Army general Robert Scales, Jr, an analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio, and whose consulting company advises several firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, asked for high-level Pentagon briefings in 2006. In an e-mail, he told officials: “Recall the stuff I did after my last visit. I will do the same this time.”
Repeating White House Talking Points - In return, the analysts have, almost to a man, echoed administration talking points about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, even when some of them believed the information they were given was false or inflated. Some now acknowledge they did so—and continue to do so—for fear of losing their access, which in turn jeopardizes their business relationships. Some now regret their participation in the propoganda effort, and admit they were used as puppets while pretending to be independent military analysts. Bevelacqua says, “It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you.’” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, calls the campaign a sophisticated information operation aimed, not at foreign governments or hostile populaces, but against the American people. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he says (see Late 2006). The Pentagon denies using the military analysts for propaganda purposes, with spokesman Bryan Whitman saying it was “nothing other than an earnest attempt to inform the American people.” It is “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department,” Whitman says. And other analysts, such as McCausland, say that they never allowed their outside business interests to affect their on-air commentaries. “I’m not here representing the administration,” McCausland says. Some say they used their positions to even criticize the war in Iraq. But according to a close analysis of their performances by a private firm retained by the Pentagon to evaluate the analysts, they performed to the Pentagon’s complete satisfaction (see 2005 and Beyond).
Enthusiastic Cooperation - The analysts are paid between $500 and $1,000 per appearance by the networks, but, according to the transcripts, they often speak as if the networks and the media in general are the enemy. They often speak of themselves as operating behind enemy lines. Some offered the Pentagon advice on how to outmaneuver the networks, or, as one said to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world.” Some alerted Pentagon officials of planned news stories. Some sent copies of their private correspondence with network executives to the Pentagon. Many enthusiastically echoed and even added to administration talking points (see Early 2007). [New York Times, 4/20/2008] Several analysts say that based on a Pentagon briefing, they would then pitch an idea for a segment to a producer or network booker. Sometimes, the analysts claim, they even helped write the questions for the anchors to ask during a segment. [New York Times, 4/21/2008]
Consequences and Repercussions - Some of the analysts are dismayed to learn that they were described as reliable “surrogates” in Pentagon documents, and some deny that their Pentagon briefings were anything but, in the words of retired Army general and CNN analyst David Grange, “upfront information.” Others note that they sometimes disagreed with the administration on the air. Scales claims, “None of us drink the Kool-Aid.” Others deny using their access for business gain. Retired general Carlton Shepperd says that the two are “[n]ot related at all.” But not all of the analysts disagree with the perception that they are little more than water carriers for the Pentagon. Several recall being chewed out by irate defense officials minutes after their broadcasts, and one, retired Marine colonel Wiliam Cowan of Fox News, recalls being fired—by the Pentagon, not by Fox—from his analyst position after issuing a mild criticism of the Pentagon’s war strategies (see August 3-4, 2005). [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Entity Tags: Thomas G. McInerney, Stephen J. Hadley, Timur Eads, wvc3 Group, William Cowan, Robert Scales, Jr, US Department of Defense, Robert Bevelacqua, Robert Maginnis, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, CBS News, CNN, Carlton Shepperd, David Barstow, David Grange, Bush administration (43), Bryan Whitman, Fox News, Jeffrey McCausland, Alberto R. Gonzales, New York Times, Donald Rumsfeld, National Public Radio, Kenneth Allard, John Garrett, NBC, Rick Francona
Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
CNN media critic Howard Kurtz writes a scathing op-ed expressing his dismay at the extent of the Pentagon’s secret propaganda operation to sell the Iraq war, and its use of retired military officers to promote its agenda and make its case on nightly news broadcasts (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Kurtz observes: “It’s hardly shocking that career military men would largely reflect the Pentagon’s point of view, just as Democratic and Republican ‘strategists’ stay in touch with aides to the candidates they defend on the air. But the degree of behind-the-scenes manipulation—including regular briefings by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other officials—is striking, as is the lack of disclosure by the networks of some of these government and business connections. With an aura of independence, many of the analysts used their megaphones, and the prestige of their rank, to help sell a war that was not going well.… [T]he networks rarely if ever explored the outside roles of their military consultants.” While both the Pentagon and the various networks have defended their use of the military analysts, and the networks have tried to explain their failure to examine their analysts’ connections to an array of defense firms—“it’s a little unrealistic to think you’re going to do a big background check on everybody,” says Fox News executive producer Marty Ryan—the reality, as Kurtz notes, is far less aboveboard. Kurtz adds, “The credibility gap, to use an old Vietnam War phrase, was greatest when these retired officers offered upbeat assessments of the Iraq war even while privately expressing doubts,” a circumstance reported on the part of numerous analysts in the recent New York Times expose. [Washington Post, 4/21/2008]
The Pentagon’s program for using “independent military analysts” to shape public opinion on the various news broadcasts and editorial pages (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) continues. According to New York Times reporter David Barstow, under Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the analysts still get weekly briefings from senior Pentagon officials, though they no longer have the kinds of regular meetings with Gates that they had with Rumsfeld. And the networks continue to broadcast interviews and segments with the analysts on a regular basis. [New York Times, 4/21/2008]
In the hours following the New York Times’s article about the Pentagon’s propaganda operation using retired military officers to promote the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), a number of press officials express their concerns over the operation and the media’s role in it. The report “raises a red flag,” says Cox Newspapers bureau chief Andy Alexander. The editorial page editors at the Times and the Washington Post, both of which have published op-eds by some of the same retired officers cited in the Times story, say the report raises concerns about such access. The Times’s editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, says, “It makes you suspicious, absolutely.” Rosenthal’s bureau printed at least nine op-eds by some of the generals cited in the report. “When generals write for you now, you have to look at that. But you have to do that anyway. Anybody who participated in that program has to be scrutinized more closely.” Rosenthal’s counterpart at the Post, Fred Hiatt, whose pages have run at least one such op-ed, says, “Retired generals are entitled to speak out like anyone else, but I would have the same expectation of them to disclose anything that might be relevant.” He goes on to defend the Post op-ed, written by retired general Barry McCaffrey, saying that McCaffrey’s words demonstrate his independence from the propaganda operation. Rosenthal also defends his paper’s publication of the nine op-eds and also states that the writers clearly demonstrate their independence. Rosenthal refuses to divulge the names of eight of the nine op-ed authors. Neither the Times nor the Post ever disclosed the close ties their writers maintained with the Pentagon, nor did they disclose their ties to an array of military contractors. Rosenthal says that such connections are irrelevant because their op-eds were not necessarily about Iraq: “There is no instance in which a general who attended a briefing at the Pentagon repeated it on our Op-Ed pages.” He also says that none of the authors have any conflicts in their business relationships. The Times will probably continue to use retired officers for commentary, Rosenthal says. McClatchy News bureau chief John Walcott says that as long as the public knows who is writing a particular op-ed and what their connections are, publishing material from retired military officers is acceptable: “The reader is entitled to know where this or that commentator is coming from on an issue. It doesn’t necessarily disqualify them from commentating, it must be transparent.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/21/2008]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Andy Alexander, Andrew Rosenthal, Barry McCaffrey, Bush administration (43), Cox Communications, Fred Hiatt, Washington Post, McClatchy News, New York Times, John Walcott
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Defense Secretary Robert Gates urges retired officers serving as “independent military analysts” for the news networks to make it clear that they are speaking for themselves, not their military services, in supporting political candidates, giving opinions, or providing commentary. Gates’s remarks come on the heels of a New York Times report that documents an overarching propaganda campaign by the Pentagon to use such “independent” analysts to promote the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Gates says he sees nothing wrong with the Pentagon briefing such retired officers to prepare them for their network appearances. “I did read the article,” he says. “And frankly, I couldn’t quite tell how much of it was a political conflict of interest or a financial conflict of interest. The one service they owe everybody is making clear that they’re speaking only for themselves.” His main concern, he says, is “when they are referred to by their title, the public doesn’t know whether they are active duty or retired officers because those distinctions tend to get blurred.” [Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2008]
New York Times reporter David Barstow discusses his recent article about the Pentagon’s covert propaganda operation using “independent military analysts” to shape public opinion about the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Barstow explains that the Times took “so long” to report the program because “it took us two years to wrestle 8,000 pages of documents out of the Defense Department that described its interactions with network military analysts.” The Pentagon refused to turn over any documents until losing in federal court; even then, it failed to meet a number of court-ordered deadlines to produce the documents. It was only after the judge in the case threatened to sanction the department that the Pentagon finally turned over the documents. [New York Times, 4/21/2008]
Matthew Yglesias, the associate editor of the Atlantic Monthly, notes that the Bush administration and Defense Department have very good reasons for instituting a systematic campaign of media manipulation and disinformation about their Iraq policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Yglesias writes, “If you think, as John McCain and George Bush and about 30 percent of Americans do, that an indefinite American military operation in Iraq is a good idea then you need to engage in a lot of propaganda operations. After all, realistically we are much more likely to leave Iraq because politicians representing the views of the 70 percent of the public who doesn’t think that an indefinite American military operation in Iraq is a good idea than we are to be literally driven out by Iraqis who oppose the US presence.” [Atlantic Monthly, 4/21/2008]
The Boston Globe publishes an editorial criticizing the Pentagon and the media alike for the Pentagon’s recently revealed Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The operation “is no subtle attempt to influence public opinion,” the Globe editors write. “It is a government program to corrupt the free flow of information that serves, in a healthy democracy, to inoculate the public against official lies, bad policy, and misbegotten wars.” The editorial is harshly critical of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s use of “independent” military analysts to spread his praises through the media (see April 14-16, 2006), calling it “a tactic more suitable for Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In fact, the Pentagon’s manipulation of the media has been more deft than the Kremlin’s because it was better hidden.” The editorial concludes, “In the end, the government’s disguised lies have done more damage to American democracy and the national interest than to any foreign enemy. History’s epitaph for the Pentagon’s psywar operation will be: ‘We fooled ourselves.’” [Boston Globe, 4/22/2008]
William Arkin. [Source: New York Times]Washington Post columnist William Arkin writes that from 1999 until late 2007, he was a military analyst for NBC News, “one of the few non-generals in that role.” Arkin writes that he worked with several generals retained by NBC and MSNBC, “and found them mostly to be valuable.” Arkin writes that “[t]he problem is not necessarily that the networks employ former officers as analysts, or that the Pentagon reaches out to them. The larger problem is the role these general play, not just on TV but in American society. In our modern era, not-so-old soldiers neither die nor fade away—they become board members and corporate icons and consultants, on TV and elsewhere, and even among this group of generally straight-shooters, there is a strong reluctance to say anything that would jeopardize their consulting gigs or positions on corporate boards.”
McCaffrey a Consistent Voice of Criticism - Retired general Barry McCaffrey (see April 21, 2003) stands out in Arkin’s recollection as one of the most consistent critics of the Pentagon, “and to this day he is among the most visible of the paid military analysts on television.” Arkin recalls McCaffrey as well-informed and sincere, but writes that “much of his analysis of Iraq in 2003 was handicapped by a myopic view of ground forces and the Army, and by a dislike of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that was obvious and outspoken. (To be fair to McCaffrey, few former or active duty generals read the war or its aftermath correctly.)”
Analysts 'Invaluable' during Hostilities - In 2003, the reporters and camera crews embedded in the particular military units “gave an almost-live view of a war at the tactical level.” The generals were on the air to make sense of the ground-level tactical information, and translate it into a more general understanding of events and strategies. “The generals would use their knowledge and plumb their contacts to get a sense of what the divisions and corps and the coalition formations were doing at a higher level.” Arkin writes that, considering the obfuscation and deliberate deception routinely practiced by Rumsfeld and US commander General Tommy Franks, “the generals were invaluable. When they made the effort, they could go places and to sources that the rest of us couldn’t. That the Pentagon was ‘using’ them to convey a line is worrisome for the public interest but not particularly surprising.”
Pushing the Pentagon's Viewpoint - Arkin continues: “On the war itself—on the actions of the US military in March and April of 2003—there was an official line that was being pushed by the Pentagon and the White House. I’m not convinced that the generals (at least those who were serving at NBC) were trumpeting an official line that was being fed to them, but neither am I convinced that their ‘experience’ or professional expertise enabled them to analyze the war any better than non-generals or the correspondents in Washington or out in the field.” McCaffrey stands out in Arkin’s mind as one analyst who “publicly lambasted the war plan—during a time of war! In the grand scheme of things, though, I’m not sure that McCaffrey was right—and I’m not sure that having more troops then, given our assumptions about what would happen in postwar Iraq and our ignorance of the country and its dynamics, would have made much of a difference. In other words, we still could have won the battle and lost the war.”
Diminished Value as Occupation Continued - Once “major” fighting was over and other issues besides battlefield outcomes dominated the news—the disastrous occupation, the developing insurgency, the torture of prisoners—“the value of the American generals as news commentators diminished significantly,” Arkin writes. “They were no longer helping us to understand battles. They were becoming enmeshed in bigger political and public policy and partisan battles, and as ‘experts’ on the military, they should have known better not to step too far outside their lane. The networks should also have known this, and indeed they did learn eventually, as there are certainly far fewer generals on the payroll today than there were at the height of the ‘fighting.’”
A Broader Perspective - Arkin concludes: “It’s now clear that in the run-up to the war, during the war in 2003 and in its aftermath, we would have all benefited from hearing more from experts on Iraq and the Middle East, from historians, from anti-war advocates. Retired generals play a role, an important one. But for the networks, they played too big of a role—just as the ‘military’ solutions in Iraq play too big of a role, just as the military solutions in the war against terrorism swamp every other approach.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2008]
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]
Barry Sussman. [Source: Nieman Watchdog]Former Washington Post editor Barry Sussman, the head of the Nieman Watchdog project at Harvard University, asks a number of pertinent questions about the recently exposed Pentagon propaganda operation that used retired military officers to manipulate public opinion in favor of the Iraq occupation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Sussman notes that “[t]he story has implications of illegal government propaganda and, possibly, improper financial gains,” and asks the logical question, “So what happened to it?” It is receiving short shrift in the mainstream media, as most newspapers and almost all major broadcast news operations resolutely ignore it (see April 21, 2008, April 24, 2008, and May 5, 2008). Sussman asks the following questions in hopes of further documenting the details of the Pentagon operation:
Does Congress intend to investigate the operation?
Do the three presidential candidates—Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and Republican John McCain, have any comments (see April 28, 2008)?
Since the law expressly forbids the US government to, in reporter David Barstow’s words, “direct psychological operations or propaganda against the American people,” do Constitutional attorneys and scholars have any opinions on the matter? Was the operation a violation of the law? Of ethics? Of neither?
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld created the Office of Strategic Influence in 2001 (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), which was nothing less than an international propaganda operation. Rumsfeld claimed the office had been closed down after the media lambasted it, but later said the program had continued under a different name (see February 20, 2002). Does the OSI indeed still exist?
Did the New York Times wait an undue period to report this story? Could it not have reported the story earlier, even with only partial documentation? Sussman notes: “Getting big stories and holding them for very long periods of time has become a pattern at the Times and other news organizations. Their rationale, often, is that the reporting hasn’t been completed. Is reporting ever completed?”
Many of the military analysts cited in the story have close ties to military contractors and defense firms who make handsome profits from the war. Is there evidence that any of the analysts may have financially benefited from promoting Pentagon and Bush administration policies on the air? Could any of these be construed as payoffs? [Barry Sussman, 4/23/2008]
Entity Tags: Free Press, Office of Strategic Influence, Nieman Watchdog, Donald Rumsfeld, David Barstow, Barry Sussman, Barack Obama, John McCain, US Department of Defense, New York Times, Hillary Clinton
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Ike Skelton. [Source: Washington Post]Representative Ike Skelton (D-MO), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, says he is angered by the allegations of a secret Pentagon propaganda operation using retired military officers as supposedly independent media analysts (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). “There is nothing inherently wrong with providing information to the public and the press,” Skelton says. “But there is a problem if the Pentagon is providing special access to retired officers and then basically using them as pawns to spout the administration’s talking points of the day.” Skelton adds that he is deeply disturbed by the ties between the retired officers and various defense contractors. “It hurts me to my core to think that there are those from the ranks of our retired officers who have decided to cash in and essentially prostitute themselves on the basis of their previous positions within the Department of Defense,” he says. [Stars and Stripes, 4/26/2008]
Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) asks five different television news networks for explanations of their roles in the Pentagon propaganda operation recently revealed by the New York Times (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). DeLauro sends letters to Steve Capus, the president of NBC News; David Westin, president of ABC News; Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports; Roger Ailes, president of Fox News; and Jim Walton, president of CNN News Group. Her letters, which use fundamentally the same wording, conclude: “When the American people turn on their TV news, they expect coverage of the Iraq War and military issues to be using analysts without conflicts of interests. When you put analysts on the air without fully disclosing their business interests, as well as relationships with high-level officials within the government, the public trust is betrayed. Now that the full extent of the Department of Defense’s domestic propaganda program has been revealed, I strongly encourage you to make the necessary policy changes to ensure proper vetting of those you wish to put on the air so that the viewers can get the objective analyses they deserve.” [US House of Representatives, 4/24/2008] As of mid-May, only two of those networks—CNN and ABC News—will respond to DeLauro (see May 2, 2008 and April 29, 2008).
Entity Tags: Rosa DeLauro, David Westin, CNN, CBS News, ABC News, Fox News, Roger Ailes, Jim Walton, US Department of Defense, New York Times, Steve Capus, Sean McManus, NBC
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Paul Hodes. [Source: Washington Post]US Representative Paul Hodes (D-NH) asks Congress to investigate how the Pentagon may have improperly influenced so-called “military analysts” to give inaccurate information to the press (see Early 2002 and Beyond). [Associated Press, 4/25/2008] In a letter to Representative John Tierney (D-MA), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Hodes asks for hearings on the program as recently revealed by the New York Times (see April 20, 2008). “If these reports are true,” Hodes writes, “it is unacceptable that the Bush administration would attempt to manipulate the public with false propaganda on matters of war and our national security.” He adds: “A hearing also could examine whether some of these analysts were given military contracts with the Defense Department in exchange for reading Bush administration talking points on the public airwaves. The issue at stake here is the public’s right to the truth about our security, our military, and what their government is doing.” [US House of Representatives, 4/24/2008] The House will pass an amendment prohibiting the Pentagon from conducting propaganda operations and requiring the General Accounting Office (GAO) to investigate the program (see May 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
The Center for Media and Democracy’s John Stauber and author Sheldon Rampton lambast the Pentagon for its recently revealed propaganda program that, in their words, “embed[s] military propagandists directly into the TV networks as on-air commentators” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). But Stauber and Rampton are even more critical of the media’s refusal to deal with the story. They note, “In 1971, when the [New York] Times printed excerpts of the Pentagon Papers on its front page (see March 1971), it precipitated a constitutional showdown with the Nixon administration over the deception and lies that sold the war in Vietnam. The Pentagon Papers issue dominated the news media back then. Today, however, [New York Times reporter David] Barstow’s stunning report is being ignored by the most important news media in America—TV news—the source where most Americans, unfortunately, get most of their information. Joseph Goebbels, eat your heart out. Goebbels is history’s most notorious war propagandist, but even he could not have invented a smoother PR vehicle for selling and maintaining media and public support for a war…”
Journalistic Standards Violated - According to the authors, the news outlets who put these analysts on the air committed “a glaring violation of journalistic standards.” They cite the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, which enjoins journalists and news outlets to:
Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived;
Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility;
Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity;
Disclose unavoidable conflicts;
Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable;
Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage; and
Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money.
Networks' Silence a 'Further Violation of Public Trust' - The networks who used these analysts observed none of these fundamental ethical guidelines. “They acted as if war was a football game and their military commentators were former coaches and players familiar with the rules and strategies,” Stauber and Rampton write. “The TV networks even paid these “analysts” for their propaganda, enabling them to present themselves as ‘third party experts’ while parroting White House talking points to sell the war.” Stauber and Rampton call the networks’ decision to almost completely ignore the story a further “violation… of the public trust…” They fix much of the blame for the Iraq debacle on the media, noting that the war “would never have been possible had the mainstream news media done its job. Instead, it has repeated the big lies that sold the war. This war would never have been possible without the millions of dollars spent by the Bush administration on sophisticated and deceptive public relations techniques such as the Pentagon military analyst program that David Barstow has exposed.” [PRWatch, 4/25/2008]
Entity Tags: Joseph Goebbels, Society of Professional Journalists, New York Times, John Stauber, David Barstow, Center for Media and Democracy, Nixon administration, Sheldon Rampton, US Department of Defense, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
The Republican National Committee (RNC) demands that the Democratic Party stop running a political ad that it says misconstrues Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s words. The ad says that President Bush has talked about staying in Iraq for 50 years, then plays a clip of McCain saying: “Maybe 100. That’d be fine with me.” The announcer then says, “If all he offers is more of the same, is John McCain the right choice for America’s future?” RNC chairman Mike Duncan says the ad deliberately distorts what McCain actually said. RNC lawyer Sean Cairncross says he has written to NBC, CNN, and MSNBC demanding that those networks stop airing the commercial. Interestingly, the Associated Press, in reporting the story, seems to concur with the RNC’s position: its story lede is, “The Republican National Committee demanded Monday that television networks stop running a television ad by the Democratic Party that falsely suggests John McCain wants a 100-year war in Iraq.” But in fact, McCain said just those words in January, and has repeated them since (see January 3-27, 2008). McCain said in response to a question about Bush’s claim of US troops being in Iraq for the next fifty years: “Maybe 100. As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, that’d be fine with me, and I hope it would be fine with you, if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where al-Qaeda is training, recruiting, equipping, and motivating people every single day.” Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean says “there’s nothing false” about the ad. “We deliberately used John McCain’s words. This isn’t some ominous consultant’s voice from Washington. This is John McCain’s own words. And we’ve been very upfront about everything that he’s said.” [Associated Press, 4/28/2007]
Rosa DeLauro. [Source: Washington Post]A group of Democrats in Congress, dismayed and angered by recent revelations of a secret Pentagon propaganda campaign to manipulate public opinion regarding Iraq (see April 20, 2008, Early 2002 and Beyond, and April 24, 2008), calls for explanations from the parties involved. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, asks Defense Secretary Robert Gates to investigate the program. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) writes to the heads of the five major television networks, asking each to provide more information about their practices for vetting and hiring so-called “independent military analysts” to provide commentary and opinion about Iraq and other US military operations and strategies. DeLauro writes, “When you put analysts on the air without fully disclosing their business interests, as well as relationships with high-level officials within the government, the public trust is betrayed.” [New York Times, 4/26/2008] Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calls on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct its own investigation. Kerry asks for “the names of all senior Pentagon officials involved in this effort, and the extent of that effort; [t]he extent of the contact between Pentagon officials and the military analysts in question regarding what was said by the analysts over the public airwaves”; what financial interests the analysts had “that were in some way linked to their analysis, including a list of federal contracts that are in any way linked to the companies that employ any of the analysts in question”; to what extent those financial interests were used by Pentagon officials “to promote misleading, inaccurate or false information through the media”; how much, if any, of those interests were disclosed to the media outlets and to the public; if the propaganda program is in any way illegal; what procedures ensure that the analysts aren’t using their access to further their own business interests; and what steps Congress and the Pentagon can take “to ensure that this type of effort is not repeated.” [Senator John Kerry, 4/28/2008]
Authors and columnists Diane Farsetta and Sheldon Rampton show that the Pentagon’s recently revealed covert propaganda program using “independent military analysts” to promulgate Pentagon viewpoints about Iraq and the war on terror (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) is “not only unethical but illegal.”
Congress Prohibitions Since 1951 - According to every appropriations bill passed by Congress since 1951, “No part of any appropriation contained in this or any other Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States not heretofore authorized by the Congress.”
Congressional Research Service Finds Government-Funded Propaganda Illegal - A March 2005 report by the Congressional Research Service defines “publicity or propaganda” as either “self-aggrandizement by public officials… purely partisan activity… covert propaganda.” Farsetta and Rampton explain, “By covert propaganda, GAO [the Government Accountability Office] means information which originates from the government but is unattributed and made to appear as though it came from a third party.” The GAO has determined that government-funded video news releases (VNRs) are illegal when an agency such as the Defense Department fails “to identify itself as the source of a prepackaged news story [and thusly] misleads the viewing public by encouraging the viewing audience to believe that the broadcasting news organization developed the information. The prepackaged news stories are purposefully designed to be indistinguishable from news segments broadcast to the public. When the television viewing public does not know that the stories they watched on television news programs about the government were in fact prepared by the government, the stories are, in this sense, no longer purely factual—the essential fact of attribution is missing.” Farsetta and Rampton argue that the supposedly “independent” commentary by the complicit analysts is little different from the VNRs. The GAO has also noted, “The publicity or propaganda restriction helps to mark the boundary between an agency making information available to the public and agencies creating news reports unbeknownst to the receiving audience.”
Justice Department Finds Propaganda Cannot be Funded by Government - And in 2005, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) found that after the Bush administration had been caught paying pundits to write op-eds favorable of administration policies, “OLC determined in 1988 that a statutory prohibition on using appropriated funds for ‘publicity or propaganda’ precluded undisclosed agency funding of advocacy by third-party groups. We stated that ‘covert attempts to mold opinion through the undisclosed use of third parties’ would run afoul of restrictions on using appropriated funds for ‘propaganda.’” Farsetta and Rampton write: “The key passage here is the phrase, ‘covert attempts to mold opinion through the undisclosed use of third parties.’ As the [New York] Times report documented in detail, the Pentagon’s military analyst program did exactly that.” [PRWatch, 4/28/2008]
Pentagon Says Program Legal - Former Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says the program is simply a “mirror image” of the Pentagon’s program of embedding journalists with combat units in the field, and Pentagon spokespersons insist that the program was merely to ensure that the US citizenry was well informed about the war. [New York Times, 4/21/2008]
Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama. [Source: Boston Globe]Two of the three major presidential candidates speak out against the Pentagon’s propaganda campaign to manipulate public opinion about Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond).
Clinton - Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) says the program raises questions of “credibility and trust at the Pentagon,” and calls for an investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general. The Clinton campaign says that, considering the Bush administration’s record on intelligence and misinformation, an investigation of the operation is necessary to determine how the Pentagon manipulated the “commentary of putatively independent television military analysts” for “‘selling’ the Iraq war and our country’s defense policy now.” The campaign also says that “serious questions” have been raised “about the potential linkage of government contracts to favorable public commentary by military analysts.”
Obama - Democratic Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) says he is “deeply disturbed” that the administration “sought to manipulate the public’s trust,” and says the program “deserves further investigation to determine if laws or ethical standards were violated.” The Obama campaign calls for “greater transparency to ensure that those who lobby the Pentagon are not rewarded for favorable commentary about the administration’s policies.”
McCain - Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has as yet said nothing about the program. [Nation, 4/28/2008]
Fox News graphic illustrating the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Depicted on the left is Frederick Douglass, the civil rights champion who did not debate Abraham Lincoln. [Source: Huffington Post]Fox News reports that presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has challenged fellow candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) to a “Lincoln-Douglas style” debate. Clinton is referencing the classic two-person debates between Senate candidates Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas of 1858. However, Fox News, on its Fox and Friends morning broadcast, reports on Clinton’s challenge. It illustrates its report with a picture of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, the former slave who is considered the “father” of the American civil rights movement, but who never ran for the Senate. Two MSNBC news and opinion shows—Verdict with Dan Abrams and Countdown with Keith Olbermann—later report Fox News’s choice of illustrations. Abrams will observe that the Fox News hosts “don’t even seem to know that the wrong Douglas is up” during their broadcast. Apparently Fox News never acknowledges or corrects the error. [Crooks and Liars, 4/29/2008; Huffington Post, 5/7/2008]
Brian Williams. [Source: The Onion.com]NBC News anchor Brian Williams staunchly defends NBC’s use of two military analysts, Barry McCaffrey and the late Wayne Downing, in his response to recent stories about the Pentagon’s well-orchestrated propaganda campaign using retired military officers to promote the Bush administration’s agenda in the mainstream media (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Williams notes that he quickly became friends with both analysts, and toured Iraq four times with Downing. Williams says that neither Downing nor McCaffrey ever “gave what I considered to be the party line,” and both, particularly McCaffrey, often criticized the administration’s policies in Iraq. He calls them “tough, honest critics of the US military effort in Iraq,” “passionate patriots,” and “honest brokers” of information. He says that when they went to the Pentagon for briefings, “[t]hey never came back spun, and never attempted a conversion.” He calls them “warriors-turned-analysts, not lobbyists or politicians.” Williams also lauds a third military analyst, retired Army colonel Jack Jacobs. Jacobs, a Medal of Honor winner, is a “rock-solid” analysts who “has never hesitated to take a whack at the Pentagon brass.” After his defense of NBC’s analysts, Williams writes: “I think it’s fair, of course, to hold us to account for the military analysts we employ, inasmuch as we can ever fully know the ‘off-duty’ actions of anyone employed on an ‘of counsel’ basis by us. I can only account for the men I know best. The Times article was about the whole lot of them—including instances involving other networks and other experts, who can answer for themselves. At no time did our analysts, on my watch or to my knowledge, attempt to push a rosy Pentagon agenda before our viewers. I think they are better men than that, and I believe our news division is better than that.” [MSNBC, 4/29/2008]
Author Tom Engelhardt explores the connections between the retired military analysts recently exposed as part of a Pentagon propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion regarding the war and occupation of Iraq (see Early 2002 and Beyond) and “America’s General,” David Petraeus. Petraeus, slated to become the commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), has long been a media darling, Engelhardt notes. For the last three years, Petraeus has been touted as virtually the only hope for an American victory in Iraq. Engelhardt writes, “Petraeus is the president’s anointed general, [President] Bush’s commander of commanders, and (not surprisingly) he exhibits certain traits much admired by the Bush administration in its better days.”
Petraeus Turns to Analysts to Promote Surge - In the New York Times article exposing the Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008, one event has as yet gotten little attention: the fact that when Petraeus was appointed the commanding general in Iraq in January 2007, one of his first acts was to meet with a group of the Pentagon’s military analysts (see January 2007). Engelhardt explains, “In other words, on becoming US commander in Iraq, he automatically turned to the military propaganda machine the Pentagon had set up to launch his initial surge—on the home front.” Petraeus was by then a willing, and a key, participant in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation, which itself dovetailed with the Bush administration’s attempt to market the escalation of US troops—the “surge” (see January 10, 2007)—as the latest attempt to turn the corner in Iraq. President Bush himself was, by that point, “a thoroughly tarnished brand,” Engelhardt writes, not the person to launch such a marketing campaign.
Petraeus Is Administration's "Face" - Bush and the Pentagon both looked to Petraeus, who quickly “became the ‘face’ of the administration (just as American military and civilian officials had long spoken of putting an ‘Iraqi face’ on the American occupation of that country).” In the following months, Bush cited Petraeus over 150 times as part of his attempts to paint the US occupation as a success. Petraeus himself quickly turned to the Pentagon’s cadre of retired military officers, now network analysts reliably providing the administration’s talking points on the news broadcasts, to help him promulgate the surge. Engelhardt notes that one of those analysts, retired Army general and ABC News analyst Jack Keane, was himself the co-author of the “surge” strategy (see January 2007). Between the president, the administration officials, the military analysts, and the enthusiastic media reporters and talking heads, establishing the surge as a putative success and Petraeus as a name brand with a positive image was achieved in relatively short order. [Asia Times, 4/29/2008]
David Westin. [Source: ABC News]ABC News president David Westin responds to a letter from Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) demanding an explanation of his network’s involvement in the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 24, 2008). Westin says that ABC employs two of the military analysts cited as being part of the Pentagon operation, retired Army General Jack Keane and retired Army Major General William Nash. Westin acknowledges that Keane was one of the architects of the Bush administration’s “surge” in Iraq (see January 2007), and says, “On several occasions when General Keane appeared in an ABC News program we specifically disclosed to our audience his position as an (unpaid) adviser on the subject.” Westin concludes, “From what I know of our reporting involving our military analysts, I am satisfied that ABC News has acted responsibly and has served its audience well.” [Westin, 4/29/2008 ]
Author Tom Engelhardt, reflecting on the recent exposure of the Pentagon’s propaganda campaign using retired military officers to promote the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), writes that this is but one of possibly many such operations. The others, if they exist, remain to be exposed. The military analysts operation is “unlikely to have been the only one,” Engelhardt writes. He has his suspicions:
Selling the 'Surge' - “We don’t yet fully know the full range of sources the Pentagon and this administration mustered in the service of its ‘surge,’” he writes, though he notes how quickly General David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in Iraq, was to turn to the analysts for support in their nightly news broadcasts (see April 29, 2008).
Sunnis and Shi'ites - Engelhardt notes that it is possible that a similar propaganda campaign helped transform Iraqi Sunni insurgents into heroes—“Sons of Iraq”—if they joined the “Awakening” movement, or members of “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia” if they did not join the movement. Similarly, it may have been a propaganda campaign that encouraged the media to quickly label every Shi’ite rebel as an Iranian agent.
Iran's Influence - “We don’t know what sort of administration planning has gone into the drumbeat of well-orchestrated, ever more intense claims that Iran is the source of all the US’s ills in Iraq, and directly responsible for a striking percentage of US military deaths there,” Engelhardt writes. The New York Times recently reported that, according to “senior officers” in the US military in Baghdad’s Green Zone, 73% of attacks on US troops in the past year were caused by roadside bombs planted by so-called “special groups,” a euphemism for Iraqi Shi’ites trained by Iran.
Guided Tours - Many influential Washington insiders have been given carefully orchestrated tours of Iraq by the Pentagon, including former military figures, prominent think tank analysts, journalists, pundits, and Congressional representatives. Many of them have been granted a special audience with Petraeus and his top commanders; many have subsequently lauded the “surge” (see January 10, 2007) and praised the US policies in Iraq.
Successful Marketing Campaign - Engelhardt writes, “Put everything we do know, and enough that we suspect, together and you get our last ‘surge’ year-plus in the US as a selling/propaganda campaign par excellence. The result has been a mix of media good news about ‘surge success,’ especially in ‘lowering violence,’ and no news at all as the Iraq story grew boringly humdrum and simply fell off the front pages of our papers and out of the TV news (as well as out of the Democratic Congress). This was, of course, a public relations bonanza for an administration that might otherwise have appeared fatally wounded. Think, in the president’s terminology, of victory—not over Shi’ite or Sunni insurgents in Iraq, but, once again, over the media at home. None of this should surprise anyone. The greatest skill of the Bush administration has always been its ability to market itself on ‘the home front.’ From September 14, 2001, on, through all those early ‘mission accomplished’ years, it was on the home front, not in Afghanistan or Iraq, that administration officials worked hardest, pacifying the media, rolling out their own “products”, and establishing the rep of their leader and ‘wartime’ commander-in-chief.” [Asia Times, 4/29/2008]
Second Author Concurs - Author and Salon commentator Glenn Greenwald concurs with Engelhardt. Greenwald writes, “It should also be noted that this military analyst program is but one small sliver of the Pentagon’s overall media management effort, which, in turn, is but one small sliver of the administration’s general efforts to manipulate public opinion. We’re only seeing these documents and the elaborate wrongdoing they establish because the [New York Times] was so dogged in attempting to compel the [Pentagon] to disclose them, even while the Pentagon fought tenaciously to avoid having to do so, to the point where they were threatened with sanctions by a federal judge. But this is just one discrete, isolated program. Most of what this government has done—including, certainly, its most incriminating behavior—remains concealed by the unprecedented wall of secrecy behind which this administration operates.” [Salon, 5/12/2008]
Five retired military officers respond harshly to a recent New York Times article that revealed a systematic propaganda operation conducted by the Pentagon and carried out, in part, by retired military officers serving as military analysts for the print and broadcast media (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). All five have performed as analysts for a variety of US media outlets; some still do. The five are:
Retired Air Force general Thomas G. McInerney;
Retired Army general Paul Vallely;
Retired Navy captain Charles Nash;
Retired Marine lieutenant colonel William Cowan; and
Retired intelligence officer Wayne Simmons.
Intelligence Summit Members - All five are part of an organization called the International Intelligence Summit, which describes itself as “a non-partisan, non-profit, neutral forum that uses private charitable funds to bring together intelligence agencies of the free world and the emerging democracies.” McInerney and Vallely are executive board members, as is retired Navy commander Richard Marcinko, author of the Rogue Warrior series of pulp fiction novels.
Criticism of NYT Article - The five accuse the Times article, by reporter David Barstow, of “malign[ing] virtually all military analysts, accusing some of being tools of a Pentagon propaganda machine,” an assertion that they state “is flatly wrong.” They state: “We have never stated anything about defense or national security that we did not believe to be true. Equally important, we also have served the essential wartime function of helping civilians be better informed about our military, our enemies, and how the war is being conducted.” They note that some of them had “similar arrangement[s]” with the Clinton administration.
'Unconscionable Libel' - They accuse Barstow of reporting “old news,” and call his assertion that they “intentionally misled the American people for partisan political purposes or some quid pro quo personal gain… an unconscionable libel of our honor and long service to this nation.” They explain their participation in Pentagon public relations briefings as stemming from the Pentagon’s belief that “we had the credentials to do so as military professionals,” and argue, “When it comes to discussing needs and tactics of the US military, who is better suited to give advice and reliable commentary on war and peace issues than those who have spent so much of their lives in this profession?” They assert their belief that the US must “defeat Radical Islam which threatens our nation and the Free World,” and say that they “will continue to speak out honestly to the American people about national security threats” because it is “our duty.” [Tom McInerney, Paul Vallely, Charles Nash, Bill Cowan, and Wayne Simmons, 4/2008]
Reporter Eric Brewer asks White House spokesman Dana Perino about recent reports of the Pentagon’s systematic propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion about the war in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). After briefly summarizing the story, Brewer asks, “[D]id the White House know about and approve of this operation?” Perino stumbles through her initial response before recovering: “Look, I didn’t know—look, I think that you guys should take a step back and look at this—look, [the Defense Department] has made a decision, they’ve decided to stop this program (see April 26, 2008). But I would say that one of the things that we try to do in the administration is get information out to a variety of people so that everybody else can call them and ask their opinion about something. And I don’t think that that should be against the law. And I think that it’s absolutely appropriate to provide information to people who are seeking it and are going to be providing their opinions on it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that all of those military analysts ever agreed with the administration. I think you can go back and look and think that a lot of their analysis was pretty tough on the administration. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk to people.” [White House, 4/30/2008; Raw Story, 4/30/2008]
Bush, wearing his flight suit, before giving the ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech. [Source: MSNBC]Reporter Helen Thomas, the grande dame of Washington reporters who is not popular with the Bush administration, asks White House spokesman Dana Perino about the five-year anniversary of President Bush’s declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Thomas asks, “How does the president intend to commemorate ‘Mission Accomplished’ after five years of death and destruction?” Perino responds with the explanation that the banner was merely to acknowledge the completion of the mission of the aircraft carrier on which the ceremony was conducted. “President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific and said ‘mission accomplished for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission,’” Perino says. “And we have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner. And I recognize that the media is going to play this up again tomorrow, as they do every single year.” [CBS News, 10/29/2003; White House, 4/30/2008]
The memo from Rumsfeld to Hadley. [Source: Department of Defense] (click image to enlarge)White House Press Secretary Dana Perino denies that the White House had any prior knowledge of the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). A reporter asks, “Did the White House know about the program?” Perino answers, “I just said: no.” [Raw Story, 5/14/2008] But a memo in the Pentagon’s own “document dump” about the program (see May 9, 2008) proves otherwise. A July 12, 2005 memo from Donald Rumsfeld to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley reads, “Attached is a summary of the effects of the military analysts we took down to GTMO [Guantanamo] earlier this month.” Rumsfeld was presumably referring to the Pentagon-sponsored trip to Guantanamo (see June 24-25, 2005 that was carefully analyzed for its effects in manipulating the media (see June 24, 2005). [Rolling Stone, 5/15/2008]
Former Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan, in his book What Happened, provides his observations on the so-called “liberal media.” McClellan writes: “I’m often asked about the ‘liberal media’ critique. Is it true? Is the problem with Washington in part a result of the fact that left-wing journalists are, in effect, at war with conservative politicians and trying to bring them down? My answer is always the same.”
Less Pronounced Leftward Tilt to Reporting - “It’s probably true that most reporters, writers, and TV journalists are personally liberal or leftward leaning, and tend to vote Democratic,” he writes. “Polls and surveys of media professionals bear this out (see February 24, 2009). But this tilt to the left has probably become less pronounced in recent years, with the ascendancy of a wider variety of news sources, including Fox News.… And more important, everything I’ve seen, both as White House press secretary and as a longtime observer of the political scene and the media, suggests that any liberal bias actually has minimal impact on the way the American public is informed.” McClellan notes that, in his opinion, “the vast majority of reporters—including those in the White House press corps—are honest, fair-minded, and professional. They try hard to tell all sides of the stories they report (see March 6, 2003), and they certainly don’t treat information or statements coming from a conservative administration with excessive harshness or exaggerated skepticism. And even when a bit of bias does seep through, I believe the public sees it exactly for what it is.”
Press Corps 'Too Deferential to the White House' regarding Iraq - McClellan writes: “We in the Bush administration had no difficulty in getting our messages out to the American people. If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war with Iraq. The collapse of the administration’s rationale for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should have never come as such a surprise. The public should have been made much more aware, before the fact, of the uncertainties, doubts, and caveats that underlay the intelligence about the regime of Saddam Hussein. The administration did little to convey those nuances to the people; the press should have picked up the slack but largely failed to do so because their focus was elsewhere—on covering the march to war instead of the necessity of war. In this case, the ‘liberal case’ didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”
'Liberal-Oriented Media ... a Good Thing' for Countering Right-Leaning Administrations - He continues: “I’ll even go a step further. I’m inclined to believe that a liberal-oriented media in the United States should be viewed as a good thing. When I look back at the last several presidential administrations—the two Bushes, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford—I see conservative/centrist leaders, either right of center or just left of center, who pursued mainstream policies designed to satisfy the vast bulk of middle-class American voters. All of these presidents were at least moderate on economic policy, generally pro-business in their orientation, and within the mainstream in most other issues, from foreign policy to education to the environment. And the Congressional leaders they worked with were, generally speaking, from the same mold—conservative or centrist. Over the past 50 years, there have been no flaming liberals in positions of greatest power in American politics.”
'Comforting the Afflicted and Afflicting the Comfortable' - “Under these circumstances, a generally liberal or left-leaning media can serve an important, useful role,” McClellan writes. “It can stand up for the interests of people and causes that get short shrift from conservative or mainstream politicians: racial and ethnic minorities, women, working people, the poor, the disenfranchised. As the old saying goes, a liberal reporter ought to take up the cause of ‘comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable,’ speaking out on issues that otherwise would be neglected or ignored, exposing wrongdoing, and helping to keep the powerful in government and business honest.”
Welcomes 'Skeptical, Untrusting' Media - McClellan continues: “Furthermore, I welcome media that are skeptical and untrusting. The more so the better—as long as they are honest and fair. Those who are in positions of power should have to continually earn the trust of the governed. They should be constantly challenged to prove their policies are right, to prove they can be trusted, and to prove they are accountable. That is the way we are more likely to get to the important, sometimes hard truth.”
Fixation on 'Controversy' Obscures 'Larger Truths' - He concludes: “So I don’t agree with those who excoriate the ‘liberal media.‘… The real problem with the national media is their overemphasis on controversy, the excessive focus on who is winning and who is losing in Washington, and the constant search for something or someone to pick on and attack. These bad habits too often cause the larger truths that matter most to get lost in the mix.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 156-158]
Former Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan, reflecting on the buildup to the Iraq invasion, says that President Bush “managed the [Iraq] crisis in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option.” Between the increasingly belligerent rhetoric, the UN ultimatum (see September 12, 2002), and the “massive buildup of American arms and military forces in the region, which, for logistical reasons, couldn’t remain in the area indefinitely without being used,” war became the only viable option. McClellan blames Bush’s advisers as much as Bush, and observes: “[D]uring the buildup to war, the president’s advisers allowed his own hands to be tied, putting Bush in a position where avoiding conflict was more difficult than launching it. By creating this enormous momentum for war, the president and his advisers achieved several things. He made the job of his political opponents extraordinarily difficult, putting those who opposed the war in the position of arguing against what was almost a fait accompli. He trapped Saddam Hussein in a shrinking box, making it less and less acceptable for the dictator to continue to temporize and play games with his neighbors. He forced other countries… to make hard decisions as to whether or not they would permit a US-led invasion absent a clear imminent threat. Most important, the White House forestalled any debate about the fundamental goals and long-term plans for such an invasion. By pushing so hard on the WMD issue, reducing the larger issue of the future of the Middle East into a short-term emergency threat that must be dealt with now, the president and his advisers avoided having to discuss the big issues of what would happen after the invasion. Who would rule Iraq? How would the region respond? How long would the United States have to remain on the ground? How would tensions among the nation’s ethnic and religious groups be resolved? Few of these questions ever appeared on the national radar screen during the run-up to war. But they would come back to haunt the president, and the nation, in years to come, when it became clear that the stated rationales for war—the WMD threat and Iraq’s link to terrorism—were less than convincing. The lack of candor underlying the campaign for war would severely undermine the president’s entire second term in office.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 142-144]
Steve Sailer. [Source: Steve Sailer / VDare (.com)]An email makes the rounds of the Internet claiming to “prove” President Obama is a racist by “quoting” him directly. The quote, supposedly from Obama’s memoir Dreams from My Father, reads, “I found a solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against my mother’s race.” (Obama’s mother was white.) The quote actually comes from a March 2007 article in American Conservative magazine that reads: “In reality, Obama provides a disturbing test of the best-case scenario of whether America can indeed move beyond race. He inherited his father’s penetrating intelligence; was raised mostly by his loving liberal white grandparents in multiracial, laid-back Hawaii, where America’s normal race rules never applied; and received a superb private school education. And yet, at least through age 33 when he wrote Dreams from My Father, he found solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against his mother’s race.” The author of the article was Steve Sailer, who according to right-wing terrorism expert David Neiwert, has long claimed that Obama is a racist, and has often misquoted Obama or fabricated quotes from him to prove his point. (Sailer once called Obama a “wigger,” combining the word “white” with a well-known racial slur.) Neiwert calls Sailer “a racist, a white supremacist in pseudo-academic clothing.” Sailer’s 2007 article prompted fellow American Conservative writer Alexander Konetzki to leave the magazine; Konetzki explained at the time, “I realized that, in addition to the racist associations he employs, Sailer frequently quotes Obama out of context and makes assertions about Obama’s racial identity that the book flatly contradicts.” [American Conservative, 5/26/2007; PolitiFact, 5/19/2008; David Neiwert, 6/12/2008] Sailer is also a frequent contributor to the openly racist VDare (.com) Web site and blog. [Steve Sailer, 10/20/2008]
Former CBS News president Andrew Heyward calls the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda program for the promotion of the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) “a deliberate attempt to deceive the public,” adding, “Analysts whose real allegiance was to the Pentagon and who apparently were given at least special access for that allegiance were presented as analysts whose allegiance was to the networks and, therefore, the public.” Heywood left CBS News in 2005. Former Army Major General John Batiste calls the operation “a very deliberate attempt on the part of the administration to shape public opinion.” Batiste, who commanded an infantry division in Iraq before retiring from the military in 2005 to speak out against Bush administration policies in the Middle East, was an analyst for CBS News for a brief time. However, unlike the analysts in the propaganda operation, Batiste was never invited to any Pentagon briefings and thus not exposed to the full brunt of the Pentagon’s public relations messaging offensive. “It also sounded to me as if they were parroting administration talking points,” he says. “It sounded very much to me like I was up against an information operation. I had no idea that it was so extensive.” National Public Radio’s managing editor, Brian Duffy, says that in light of the revelations about the propaganda operation, NPR is reviewing its policies towards using retired military officers as analysts and “asking more rigorous questions about anyone that we’re paying as a consultant.” [PBS, 5/1/2008]
John Murtha. [Source: ABC News]Representative John Murtha (D-PA), a hawkish military veteran who has built a long political career on supporting the military, says that he is “disappointed” in both the US military and the news media for being part of the Pentagon’s recently revealed Iraq propaganda operation (see Early 2002 and Beyond). Murtha says that he was struck by the fact that, in the New York Times article that revealed the operation (see April 20, 2008), even some of the military analysts who most enthusiastically repeated the Pentagon’s talking points on the airwaves “didn’t even believe what they were saying.” Murtha says: “Well, the military’s held in the highest level and the highest esteem in this country. All of us appreciate their sacrifices. I’ve gotten to the point where I now distrust the military because they have been dishonored by these kind of untruths. It used to be that I could listen to the military, they would come to me, and what they said privately they were willing to say publicly. With [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld’s tenure, they distorted everything. And that’s the way they got by for four years because the public said, well, the military’s saying that. Well, the public’s no longer accepting that. The public realizes we made a mistake when we went in, much of the information was inaccurate and they continue to say these kind of things. So, I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed in the news media. I tell ya, till I spoke out, the news media was not honest—or afraid to come forward. And I think the tactic was, ‘we don’t give them access if they say anything bad about us.’”
Credits Blogs - Murtha credits the political blogs for keeping the story alive: “The blogs have been so important to bringing out the truth. I didn’t know what a blog was till a couple of years ago. Now, I not only know, I understand how important they are because people have an opportunity to hear the other side of what they’re saying.” (Notably, Murtha gives this interview to a news blog, the left-leaning ThinkProgress.)
Propaganda Effort in Vietnam Did Decades of Damage - Murtha reflects on the tremendous damage done by military and government propaganda campaigns during Vietnam (see March 1971). “It took us 20 years to get over Vietnam,” he says. “It took us through the Ford administration, the Carter administration, it took us into the Reagan administration because we didn’t pay for the war and the public was misled. Now the public recognized it very early on in Vietnam because they casualties were so heavy. Because of the technology increases, they didn’t recognize it as quickly in Iraq. But until the end of the Clinton administration, where we had a budget with a surplus, we were paying for the Vietnam war. We’re doing the same thing now.… I mean, nobody recognized we’re paying now with inflation, we’re paying all the expenses in Iraq. We’re paying $343 million dollars a day because of Iraq. So, it’s unfortunate and it just makes it that much more difficult for us to overcome this, because people who don’t believe it now, believed it for a while and they don’t want to be misled again.” [ThinkProgress (.org), 5/1/2008]
Jim Walton. [Source: CNN]CNN president Jim Walton responds to a letter from Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) demanding an explanation of his network’s involvement in the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 24, 2008). Walton says that his network fully cooperated with the New York Times’s investigation of the operation (see April 20, 2008), but CNN was not a part of any such operation. Indeed, Walton claims, “[m]ilitary analysts, and the handful of generals on CNN, contribute only a small portion to CNN’s overall coverage.” He acknowledges that CNN was not always as alert as it should have been to its analysts’ financial connections to defense contractors, and notes that the network fired one of its analysts after discovering “the extent of his dealings” (see July 2007). Walton concludes by assuring DeLauro that the network is committed to “protecting the public trust” and holds itself to “the highest ethical standards” of journalism. [Walton, 5/2/2008 ]
In response to a Supreme Court decision allowing states to require photo ID for voting, Fox News states as fact the theory that photo ID requirements would have prevented a case of voter registration fraud in Washington State, in which seven ACORN workers were convicted. Fox News writes, “But if photo ID requirements had been the law in Washington State, the voter fraud scandal involving ACORN in 2006 would never have happened.” [Fox News, 5/2/2008] The report continues: “According to Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, the incident ‘was the worst case of election fraud in our state’s history. It was an outrage’.” Reed is both misquoted and quoted out of context. He was not referring to photo ID. The Seattle Times version of the same quote reads: “‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is the worst case of voter-registration fraud in the history of the state of Washington. There has been nothing comparable to this,’ state Secretary of State Sam Reed said at a news conference.” [Seattle Times, 7/6/2007; Fox News, 5/2/2008]
CBS News and Washington Post media commentator Howard Kurtz is asked during an online question and answer session about the Pentagon’s recently reported propaganda campaign mounted through the mainstream news media (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The questioner asks, “Why do you think the networks still are silent on this?” Kurtz replies, “I can only conclude that the networks are staying away from what would otherwise be a legitimate news story because they are embarrassed about what some of their military analysts did or don’t want to give the controversy more prominence.” Another questioner asks if he has missed coverage of the story, and Kurtz replies: “You didn’t miss it. It’s just not there. The networks are ducking this one, big time.” [Washington Post, 5/5/2008]
John Dingell. [Source: MSNBC]Democratic representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and John Dingell (D-MI) write a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Kevin J. Martin, urging that his agency begin an immediate investigation of the Pentagon’s recently revealed propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). DeLauro has already written requests for explanations to five different networks, and has received only two responses (see May 2, 2008 and April 29, 2008). DeLauro and Dingell want to know whether the operation violated the Communications Act of 1934 and/or FCC rules, particularly the sponsorship identification requirements. “While we deem the DoD’s [Defense Department’s] policy unethical and perhaps illegal,” they write, “we also question whether the analysts and the networks are potentially equally culpable pursuant to the sponsorship identification requirements in the Communications Act of 1934… and the rules of the Federal Communications Commission.… It could appear that some of these analysts were indirectly paid for fostering the Pentagon’s views on these critical issues. Our chief concern is that as a result of the analysts’ participation in this [Defense Department] program, which included the [Defense Department]‘s paying for their commercial airfare on [Defense Department]-sponsored trips to Iraq, the analysts and the networks that hired them could have run afoul of certain laws or regulations.” DeLauro and Dingell conclude: “When seemingly objective television commentators are in fact highly motivated to promote the agenda of a government agency, a gross violation of the public trust occurs. The American people should never be subject to a covert propaganda campaign but rather should be clearly notified of who is sponsoring what they are watching.” [US House of Representatives, 5/6/2008]
The story of the Pentagon’s propaganda operation—using military analysts in media outlets to promote the administration’s policies in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond)—is going remarkably unreported in those selfsame media outlets. Political bloggers are keeping the story alive, and Democratic congressmen are beginning to call for investigations (see April 28, 2008 and May 6, 2008)), but remarkably little about the operation has appeared either in the mainstream press or on broadcast news shows. One such lawmaker, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), says that he “decided to push this issue hard because ever since the New York Times expose appeared, the silence has been deafening.” Kerry says there needs to be a “thorough investigation” into government contracts and “whether Americans’ tax dollars were being used to cultivate talking heads to sell the administration’s Iraq policy.” But unlike the pre-Internet paradigm, this story may not be so quick to disappear. Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, says, “We are in a time when stories can have a second life.” Political bloggers on the Internet, who keep chipping away at stories long after they have disappeared from the headlines, can give stories another chance, says Rosenstiel, citing the example of bloggers reviving the story of the US attorney firings in 2007 (see November 8, 2007). Rosenstiel says that his organization tracked the mainstream media for a week after the Times story was printed. Out of around 1,300 news stories, only two touched on the Pentagon analysts report, and both of those were on PBS’s Newshour (see April 24, 2008). Independent television analyst Andrew Tyndall says it would be too much to expect for any broadcast news outlets to engage in the story over the airwaves, as they almost never do what he calls “self-criticism stories,” but, he says, “this is really the sort of thing that all of the networks should have addressed online.” Virtually the only mainstream response from the broadcast news has been a short piece from NBC anchorman Brian Williams, who responded on his blog ten days after the Times story ran, and generally extolled the virtues of the analysts with whom he had worked (see April 29, 2008). Former CBS editorial director Dick Meyer, who oversaw CBS’s “Public Eye” blog before it was discontinued due to cutbacks, says that would have been the perfect place to examine the story. “This controversy about military analysts would have been right in our ballpark,” says Meyer, who now works for National Public Radio. “It’s irresponsible for a modern news organization to not have some kind of readers’ advocate, some kind of public editor function,” he says. [Politico, 5/8/2008]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Brian Williams, Andrew Tyndall, CBS News, Project for Excellence in Journalism, Dick Meyer, New York Times, John Kerry, Tom Rosenstiel, Public Broadcasting System
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Michael J. Copps. [Source: Cable's Leaders in Learning (.org)]The Pentagon’s propaganda operation—using military analysts in media outlets to promote the administration’s policies in Iraq (see Early 2002 and Beyond), as recently revealed in the New York Times (see April 20, 2008)—draws a sharp reaction from Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Michael J. Copps. Copps, a Democrat, applauds the efforts of Democratic lawmakers and political bloggers to keep pushing for accountability (see May 8, 2008), saying: “President Eisenhower warned against the excesses of a military-industrial complex. I’d like to think that hasn’t morphed into a military-industrial-media complex, but reports of spinning the news through a program of favored insiders don’t inspire a lot of confidence.” The propaganda operation was “created in order to give military analysts access in exchange for positive coverage of the Iraq war,” Copps adds. [Politico, 5/8/2008]
The Pentagon posts the more than 8,000 pages of documents, transcripts, and audio tapes it was forced to release to the New York Times as evidence of its ongoing propaganda campaign to manipulate public opinion concerning Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The only explanation given on the Web site is, “These documents were released to the New York Times regarding the Pentagon’s Military Analyst program.” [Staff, 5/9/2008]
Salon columnist and former civil litigator Glenn Greenwald, after reviewing the more than 8,000 pages of documents and audio tapes released by the Pentagon (see May 9, 2008) concerning its ongoing Iraq propaganda campaign (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) says bluntly, “Anyone who reads through them, as I’ve now done, can only be left with one conclusion: if this wasn’t an example of an illegal, systematic ‘domestic propaganda campaign’ by the Pentagon, then nothing is.” Greenwald continues: “As corrupt as the Pentagon was here, our nation’s major media outlets were at least just as bad. Their collective Pravda-like suppression now of the entire story—behavior so blatantly corrupt that even the likes of [Howard] Kurtz (see May 9, 2008) and The Politico (see May 8, 2008) are strongly condemning them—has become the most significant and revealing aspect of the entire scandal.” [Salon, 5/9/2008]
Society of Professional Journalists logo. [Source: Society of Professional Journalists]Executives of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) urge the US media to hold their military analysts to the same ethical standards that journalists are required to meet concerning possible conflicts of interests, financial ties, and relationships with government agencies. The warnings come after the exposure of a Pentagon propaganda operation involving retired military officers being hired by television news broadcasters and using their position to promote the Bush administration’s war policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). SPJ president Clint Brewer says: “The Pentagon’s practices to co-opt military analysts should end and be replaced by an honest, open dialogue with representatives of the media about the facts of the war. In addition, the country’s news organizations should disclose the ties of their analysts both past and present. America’s news media should hold these analysts to the same ethical tests they would any journalist.” [Editor & Publisher, 5/12/2008]
An editorial from the St. Petersburg Times rails against the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda operation that uses retired military officers to promote the administration’s policies in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). “We were duped,” the editorial begins, and calls the Pentagon program a “spin operation.” The retired military officers serving as network analysts “are not as independent or as objective as they are portrayed,” the editorial continues. “They are feeding the public the Bush administration line just as they have been encouraged to do. The shilling then bought them plum access to the Pentagon that could be traded on later, giving them a leg up in securing large military contracts for their companies and clients.” The editorial calls the networks and cable news outlets that hired and televised these analysts “enablers in this propaganda campaign,” and lambasts them for not bothering to investigate their analysts’ connections to either the Defense Department or to defense contractors with vested interests in Iraq: “These former military officers were unlikely to give a fair reading of the war in Iraq when their corporate clients were paying huge sums for friendly Pentagon access so they could win business off the war.” [St. Petersburg Times, 5/12/2008]
Former Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita denies that the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation recently exposed in the New York Times (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) ever excluded critics of the Pentagon. Di Rita is proven wrong by the Pentagon’s own documents concerning the operation (see May 9, 2008). Moreover, one of those military analysts, Fox News’s William Cowan, was fired in 2005 for criticizing the US’s progress in Iraq (see August 3-4, 2005).
No Recollection - In an e-mail exchange with Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald, Di Rita claims, “I simply don’t have any recollection of trying to restrict [Cowan] or others from exposure to what was going on.” Di Rita cites two supporting sources, fellow analyst Barry McCaffrey and McClatchy war correspondent Joseph Galloway, as examples of the Pentagon “reaching out to people who specifically disagreed with us.” Three days later, Galloway responds in his own e-mail to Greenwald, and disputes Di Rita’s veracity.
Laughter - Galloway says he “howled with laughter” when he read Di Rita’s attempt to “cite me as proof that [the Defense Department] did so reach out to military analysts who were anything but friendly to [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld & Co. I was never invited to any of those hush-hush briefings of the favored military analysts/retired generals and colonels.” Galloway recalls attending “an off-the-record lunch with Rumsfeld in the early summer of 2003,” and “was astounded by his failure to grasp the reality of the situation on the ground in Iraq; even more astounded by his flat declaration that the US was NOT going to do any ‘nation-building’ there.”
Lunch - Over two years later, Galloway declined an invitation to join Rumsfeld on a trip to the Middle East and Australia because of a previous commitment, but accepted a November 2005 invitation to have a “one-on-one” lunch with Rumsfeld. The “one-on-one” consisted of Rumsfeld and four other senior Pentagon officials, who spent an hour and a half battling Galloway on war policies (see November 1, 2005). Galloway writes, “I remain puzzled at their motives in this so-called reach out to me in fall of 2005 after they had so steadfastly ignored two and a half years of my weekly columns pointing out everything they were doing wrong. I suppose they thought [Rumsfeld] could somehow ‘handle’ me or impress me or scare me. Whatever it was it didn’t work.” [Salon, 5/15/2008]
'Horse Manure' - In his own column on the Di Rita incident, Galloway writes, “So much for the Rumsfeld/DiRita outreach to their critics. They were much too busy hand-feeding horse manure to their TV generals, who in turn were feeding the same product to the American public by the cubic yard. There’s little doubt that this program violated the laws against covert propaganda operations mounted against the American public by their own government. But in this administration, there’s no one left to enforce that law or any of the other laws the Bush operatives have been busy violating. The real crime is that the scheme worked. The television network bosses swallowed the bait, the hook, the line and the sinker, and they have yet to answer for it.” [McClatchy News, 5/15/2008]
President Bush says that the election of a Democrat in 2008 might lead to another 9/11-like attack on the US. Reporter Mike Allen asks: “I wonder if you—various people and various candidates talk about pulling out next year. If we were to pull out of Iraq next year, what’s the worst that could happen, what’s the doomsday scenario?” Bush replies, “Doomsday scenario of course is that extremists throughout the Middle East would be emboldened, which would eventually lead to another attack on the United States.” After making this statement, Bush repeats several statements that he has been making for years: Iraq “just happens to be” part of the global war on terror, Iraq “is the place where al-Qaeda and other extremists have made their stand,” and terrorists “can’t stand to live in a free society, that’s why they try to fight free societies.” [Associated Press, 5/13/2008] MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann calls Bush’s claim “ludicrous, infuriating, holier-than-thou and… bone-headedly wrong,” and says, “Terrorism inside Iraq is your creation, Mr. Bush.” [MSNBC, 5/14/2008]
The anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) issues a press release praising the loss of life resulting from the Sichuan earthquake that killed at least 68,000 Chinese. The WBC refers to the Chinese people as “slant-eyed b_stards,” and says that it praises God for the “Great Killer Earthquake that He sent to kill thousands of stiffhearted Chinese rebels against God.” According to the press release, WBC members are praying for “many more earthquakes to kill many more thousands of impudent and ungrateful Chinese.… God hates China.” Shanghai journalist Kenneth Tan writes in response: “Vile, vile words that could only have come from the pits of hell, and the devil himself. These guys know not who it is they are worshipping. Their words would all be very funny if their hatred were not so real.” [Shanghaiist, 5/16/2008; New York Times, 5/7/2009] In another response, Michael Standaert, a Western journalist living in China, challenges Chinese computer hackers to “take down” the WBC Web site (see 1997). [Huffington Post, 5/14/2008]
Keith Olbermann, the host of MSNBC’s Countdown, gives over a portion of his broadcast to savage President Bush’s recent claim that he gave up golf as his personal sacrifice for the Iraq war (see May 13, 2008). After lambasting Bush for his doomsday rhetoric over the possibility that electing a Democratic president would lead to another 9/11-like attack on the US (see May 13, 2008), Olbermann calls Bush’s golf claim his “final blow to our nation’s solar plexus, his last reopening of our common wounds, his last remark that makes the rest of us question not merely his leadership or his judgment but his very suitability to remain in office.” Olbermann then asks incredulously: “Golf, sir? Golf sends the wrong signal to the grieving families of our men and women butchered in Iraq? Do you think these families, Mr. Bush, their lives blighted forever, care about you playing golf? Do you think, sir, they care about you? You, Mr. Bush, let their sons and daughters be killed. Sir, to show your solidarity with them you gave up golf? Sir, to show your solidarity with them you didn’t give up your pursuit of this insurance-scam, profiteering, morally and financially bankrupting war. Sir, to show your solidarity with them you didn’t even give up talking about Iraq, a subject about which you have incessantly proved without pause or backwards glance, that you may literally be the least informed person in the world?… Four thousand Americans give up their lives and your sacrifice was to give up golf!” [MSNBC, 5/14/2008; Raw Story, 5/15/2008]
Washington Post political reporter and columnist Dan Froomkin, in an online chat with Post readers, gets the following question: “It looks like the Pentagon may have been behind ‘planting’ retired officers as analysts for news outlets (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Do you think this can be tied to the White House? Is their any evidence of White House involvement?” Froomkin responds, “There’s no question at all that the Pentagon organized it. As for White House involvement, that’s a very good question. There’s no hard evidence thus far, but I’m not sure anyone’s really digging for it—and it’s hard to imagine they weren’t plugged in to some extent.” [Washington Post, 5/14/2008]
Angela McGlowan. [Source: Women of the GOP]Fox News political analyst Angela McGlowan announces on the air that she is going back to Mississippi to “beat” US Representative Travis W. Childers (D-MS). Appearing on America’s Election Headquarters, she tells fellow contributor Bob Beckel: “That’s all right, sweetie, that’s my district, and I’m going there soon to beat your Democrat colleague, honey. I’m going soon. 2010 is my year. Announcing it right here.” Ethically, Fox should immediately terminate its contract with McGlowan, as she is now an announced candidate for public office. It is improper for Fox or any other journalistic outlet to continue having McGlowan on the air as a paid analyst or commentator once she announces for public office. Instead, Fox continues to pay McGlowan to appear on its programming until her contract expires in February 2010 and she “officially” announces her candidacy in Mississippi. Between May 2008 and February 2010, McGlowan makes dozens of appearances on Fox News and Fox Business Channel, where she regularly touts her candidacy and speaks as a candidate; on January 15, 2010, appearing on Fox Business with Neil Cavuto, she says she has held “four health care town hall meetings in the state of Mississippi” and adds: “[A] lot of people don’t want this health care bill. They want health care reform but they want the right type of reform.” During a February 6 appearance on America’s News Headquarters, McGlowan, still a paid contributor, actively solicits tea party votes and explains, “What I’m doing in essence is I’m concerned about Mississippi and the issues.” Even after she announces her candidacy and “terminates” her contract with Fox, she will continue to appear on its broadcasts as a candidate, including appearances on America’s Newsroom and Hannity; the first line of her first campaign release will reference her former Fox News employment. She receives a late endorsement from Fox News paid contributor Sarah Palin (R-AK). [Media Matters, 2/9/2010; Media Matters, 9/24/2010] On May 27, 2010, McGlowan will appear on America’s Newsroom, where host Bill Hemmer will introduce her as a “Fox News contributor” and ask her opinion of the Gulf of Mexico oil crisis. While she will criticize the Obama administration over it, calling it “Obama’s Katrina” and “Obama’s Watergate,” a chyron will identify McGlowan as a Congressional candidate. At the end of the segment, Hemmer will say, “Angela, I know you’re running for Congress in Mississippi, in the interest of full disclosure, we mention that, and thank you for coming on today.” [Media Matters, 5/27/2010] On June 1, 2010, McGlowan will come in a distant third in the Mississippi Republican primary, and will endorse Republican candidate Alan Nunnelee against Childers. She had previously refused to endorse Nunnelee after her loss, calling him a “RINO” (Republican In Name Only) and warning that he “would run amok in Washington, DC, the same as any other incumbent politician.” [TPMDC, 6/11/2010] McGlowan will return to work as a Fox News and Fox Business analyst, and will serve as CEO of the lobbying firm Political Strategies and Insights (PSI). [BuzzTab, 4/7/2010]
President Bush, speaking to the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding, accuses Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and other Democrats of favoring “appeasement” of terrorists in the same way some Western leaders “appeased” Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler in the days before World War II. Bush does not name Obama or any other official specifically, but White House aides soon acknowledge Bush intended the remarks to apply to Obama. Bush tells the Knesset: “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared, ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is—the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.… There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain their words away. This is natural. But it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.” CNN calls the remarks “a not-so-subtle attempt to continue to raise doubts about Obama with Jewish Americans,” and a follow-up to similar remarks made by Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has charged that Obama enjoys the support of Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas. Obama called McCain’s Hamas allegation a “smear” and says of Bush’s remarks: “It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack. It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel.… George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.” Obama’s campaign says Obama favors “tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, and is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe.” Obama has never said he favors talks with any radical group such as Hamas, which both he and the US State Department have labeled a terrorist organization. [CNN, 5/15/2008]
Angry Responses from Democratic Lawmakers - The response from Democratic lawmakers, Bush administration critics, and Democratic supporters is quick and angered. One of the harshest responses is from Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former presidential contender himself. Biden minces few words by saying: “This is bullsh_t, this is malarkey. This is outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset… and make this kind of ridiculous statement.” Of Bush, Biden says: “He is the guy who has weakened us. He has increased the number of terrorists in the world. It is his policies that have produced this vulnerability that the US has. It’s his [own] intelligence community [that] has pointed this out, not me.” He also notes that Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have both suggested opening dialogues with their enemies. “If he thinks this is appeasement, is he going to come back and fire his own cabinet?” Biden asks. “Is he going to fire Condi Rice?” Biden later says he regrets the use of the profanity, but then says that Bush is engaging in “long-distance swiftboating” of Obama, referring to Bush’s 2004 campaign strategy of telling false stories about his Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Kerry’s Vietnam service. Kerry says that Bush “is still playing the disgusting and dangerous political game Karl Rove perfected, which is insulting to every American and disrespectful to our ally Israel. George Bush should be making Israel secure, not slandering Barack Obama from the Knesset.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says: “Not surprisingly, the engineer of the worst foreign policy in our nation’s history has fired yet another reckless and reprehensible round. For the president to make this statement before the government of our closest ally as it celebrates a remarkable milestone demeans this historic moment with partisan politics.” For a brief time, the White House attempts to deny that Bush was referring to Obama, a denial that Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) does not believe. “There is no escaping what the president is doing,” he says. “It is an attack on Senator Obama’s position that we should not be avoiding even those we disagree with when it comes to negotiations and diplomacy.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), also a Democratic presidential contender, says: “President Bush’s comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is both offensive and outrageous on the face of it, especially in light of his failures in foreign policy. This is the kind of statement that has no place in any presidential address and certainly to use an important moment like the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel to make a political point seems terribly misplaced. Unfortunately, this is what we’ve come to expect from President Bush. There is a very clear difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy and that difference will be evident once we take back the White House.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Bush’s remarks are “beneath the dignity of the office of the president and unworthy of our representation” at the celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary. Referring to McCain, Pelosi says, “I would hope that any serious person that aspires to lead the country, would disassociate themselves from those comments.” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) says: “The tradition has always been that when a US president is overseas, partisan politics stops at the water’s edge. President Bush has now taken that principle and turned it on its head: for this White House, partisan politics now begins at the water’s edge, no matter the seriousness and gravity of the occasion. Does the president have no shame?” [Politico, 5/15/2008; Politico, 5/15/2008; Politico, 5/15/2008]
Other Responses - Democratic columnist and political strategist Paul Begala writes: “George W. Bush is unworthy of the presidency. He is a disgrace to himself, our nation, and the high office he holds.” Bush “dishonor[ed] himself”, Begala continues, “by using one of the world’s most important pulpits to launch a false and vicious political attack against Barack Obama.” Begala notes that he is a staunch supporter of Israel, and writes: “It is especially appalling to supporters of Israel that Mr. Bush would stand on a hilltop in Jerusalem to invoke the Holocaust in order to make a cheap and deeply dishonest political point. I am a person of faith, so it is especially galling that a man who calls himself a brother in faith would stand in the Holy Land and violate one of the Commandments God gave to Moses: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.‘… As an American I am ashamed that such a man represents me.” [Huffington Post, 5/15/2008] The Boston Globe publishes an editorial accusing Bush of breaking “an unwritten rule against partisan politicking on foreign shores. He also displayed confusion about his own policies—and about the cause of his calamitous foreign policy failures.” Like others, the Globe notes that Bush officials have engaged in talks with Iran, and says that by overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has done a great deal “to enable Iran.” The Globe compares Obama’s foreign policy to the “tough and prudent statecraft in the mold of Bush’s father and his secretary of state, James Baker.” The Globe concludes: “Maybe the worst thing about Bush’s Knesset attack on Obama is that it shows how oblivious Bush still is to his own failings. His unilateral military ventures, his disdain for international treaties and organizations, his refusal to negotiate with Iran when the regime in Tehran was eager to cut a deal with the United States—these mistakes produced the disasters that Obama or another successor will have to overcome.” [Boston Globe, 5/16/2008] Columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes: “President Bush went on foreign soil today, and committed what I consider an act of political treason: Comparing the candidate of the US opposition party to appeasers of Nazi Germany—in the very nation that was carved out from the horrific calamity of the Holocaust. Bush’s bizarre and beyond-appropriate detour into American presidential politics took place in the middle of what should have been an occasion for joy.” As others observe, Bunch writes that Bush crossed a line that previous presidents have tried to avoid: criticizing members of the opposing party on foreign soil. He writes: “As a believer in free speech, I think Bush has a right to say what he wants, but as a president of the United States who swore to uphold the Constitution, his freedom also carries an awesome and solemn responsibility, and what this president said today is a serious breach of that high moral standard.… [W]hat Bush did in Israel this morning goes well beyond the accepted confines of American political debate. When the president speaks to a foreign parliament on behalf of our country, his message needs to be clear and unambiguous. Our democracy may look messy to outsiders, and we may have our disagreements with some sharp elbows thrown around, but at the end of the day we are not Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives. We are Americans.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/15/2008]
Republican Responses - Few Republicans speak publicly regarding Bush’s comments. One who is willing to do so is Ed Gillespie, an advisor to the White House. He attempts to deny that Bush meant the remarks to apply to Obama—a denial soon contradicted by other White House officials—then claims that Bush and the White House want to stay out of the presidential campaign. Instead, Gillespie says: “The president is stating American policy and his policy toward Iran and toward Hezbollah and toward al-Qaeda.… We are happy to allow for Senator Obama and others to express their own points of view on these things.” McCain refuses to distance himself from the remarks, and instead attacks Obama for expressing a willingness to open talks with Iran. McCain does not note that Bush administration diplomats have held three rounds of discussions with Iranian officials in the last year. [CNN, 5/16/2008]
Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Boston Globe, Hamas, Harry Reid, Condoleezza Rice, Ed Gillespie, CNN, Will Bunch, Hillary Clinton, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Joseph Biden, John McCain, John Kerry, Robert M. Gates, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, Paul Begala, Rahm Emanuel
Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections
’AngryRenter.com’ logo. [Source: AngryRenter (.com)]The Wall Street Journal learns that a supposedly amateur-based, citizen-driven protest Web site is actually a product of a professional public relations and lobbying organization, FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). The site, AngryRenter.com, is designed to look like something an “ordinary citizen” would produce. Michael Phillips of the Journal writes, “AngryRenter.com looks a bit like a digital ransom note, with irregular fonts, exclamation points, and big red arrows—all emphasizing prudent renters’ outrage over a proposed government bailout for irresponsible homeowners.” The site’s home page proclaims, “It seems like America’s renters may NEVER be able to afford a home,” and exhorts visitors to sign an online petition directed at Congressional Democrats. (The petition, with some 44,500 signatures, was delivered to Senate leaders earlier in the week.) “We are millions of renters standing up for our rights!” the site proclaims.
'Astroturf' - However, it is designed and hosted by FreedomWorks, which the Journal describes as “an inside-the-Beltway conservative advocacy organization led by Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, and publishing magnate Steve Forbes, a fellow Republican. [Forbes is an unpaid board member.]… [AngryRenter.com is] a fake grass-roots effort—what politicos call an astroturf campaign—that provides a window into the sleight-of-hand ways of Washington.” FreedomWorks opposes the proposed government bailout of the housing industry, and says it plans to oppose any further bailouts. AngryRenter.com is copyrighted by FreedomWorks, which discloses its ownership of the site on a page deeper into the site. However, Phillips writes, “The site is nonetheless designed to look underdoggy and grass-rootsy, with a heavy dose of aw-shucks innocence.” The site says: “Unfortunately, renters aren’t as good at politics as the small minority of homeowners (and their bankers) who are in trouble. We don’t have lobbyists in Washington, DC. We don’t get a tax deduction for our rent, and we don’t get sweetheart government loans.” Most visitors to the site have no idea that lobbyists for FreedomWorks actually wrote that copy, nor that FreedomWorks garnered $10.5 million in lobbying fees in 2006, most of which came from large donors the organization is not obligated to disclose.
FreedomWorks Operated by Millionaires - FreedomWorks president Matthew Kibbe says the site is an attempt to “reach out” to disgruntled renters who share the free-market views of Armey, Forbes, and others. Kibbe calls himself “an angry homeowner who pays his mortgage.” He lives on Capitol Hill in DC, in a home valued at $1.17 million. Forbes lives in a home in New Jersey worth $2.78 million, and owns, among other properties, a chateau in France. (The Forbes family recently sold its private island in Fiji and its palace in Morocco.) Armey earns over $500,000 a year working for FreedomWorks, and lives in a Texas home valued at $1.7 million. Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) says he finds it amusing that Armey is portraying himself as a champion of ordinary renters. “I worked a long time trying to improve the condition of renters,” he says. “Dick Armey has usually been on the other side.”
Looking Out for the 'Poor Devil' Who Can't Afford to Buy a Home - Armey says he’s looking out for “the poor devil” who can’t afford to buy a house. “From our point of view, we have an industry in which people were very careless, very reckless—both lenders and borrowers. What various policy makers are saying is we need to rush in here with a program to protect people from the consequences of their own bad judgment.”
Deliberately Misleading? - Armey defends AngryRenter.com’s deliberately amateurish appearance, and calls it “voluntary” for civic participation. San Diego financial adviser Rich Toscano, who rents his home, thought the site was an amateur venture similar to his own blog, Professor Piggington’s Econo-Almanac for the Landed Poor, which chronicles foreclosures and other financial misfortunes suffered by real-estate brokers whom Toscano says helped inflate the area’s real-estate bubble. AngryRenter.com appeared to Toscano as genuinely citizen-produced: “It looks like a young person did it,” he says. He still supports the site even after learning that it is a production of a DC lobbying firm, saying the message is more important than the identity of the bailout. Web designer Chris Kinnan, a FreedomWorks employee, actually designed the site. Of himself, he says: “I’m a renter. I’m not an angry renter.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/16/2008]
YouTube logo. [Source: YouTube.com]Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asks Google, the parent company of the online video-sharing site YouTube, to “immediately remove content produced by Islamist terrorist organizations” from YouTube and prevent similar content from reappearing. The company refuses Lieberman’s request. Lieberman writes a letter to Eric Schmidt, the CEO and chairman of Google, saying in part that YouTube “unwittingly, permits Islamist terrorist groups to maintain an active, pervasive and amplified voice despite military setbacks or successful operations by the law enforcement and intelligence communities.” Lieberman also asks that Google identify changes it plans to make in YouTube’s community guidelines and delineate exactly what it will do to enforce those guidelines. Lieberman says removing such content ought to be “a straightforward task since so many of the Islamist terrorist organizations brand their material with logos or icons identifying their provenance.” However, YouTube responds by saying that taking such actions is not as simple as Lieberman believes, and refuses to remove any videos from anyone without consideration as to whether the videos are legal, nonviolent, or non-hate speech videos. “While we respect and understand his views, YouTube encourages free speech and defends everyone’s right to express unpopular points of view,” the company says. YouTube has removed a few videos that Lieberman identified last week after determining that the individual videos violated the company’s community guidelines. However, “most of the videos, which did not contain violent or hate speech content, were not removed because they do not violate our Community Guidelines,” the company says. Lieberman’s committee recently released a report that indicated some Islamist terrorist groups used Internet chat rooms, message boards, and Web sites to help recruit and indoctrinate members, and to communicate with one another. Some critics have said that the committee’s report unfairly singles out Muslims as possible extremists. Additionally, civil libertarians and privacy activists speak out against what they see as Lieberman’s attempt to restrain freedom of speech. John Morris of the Center for Democracy and Technology says that Lieberman’s request is a practical impossibility; worse, to have sites such as YouTube pre-screen content would radically change how the Internet is used, he says. “The government can’t get involved in suppressing videos if the content is not illegal.” [Federal Computer Weekly, 5/19/2008; US Senate, 5/19/2008; YouTube, 5/19/2008]
’Gunny’ Bob Newman. [Source: Newsradio 850 KOA]As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host “Gunny” Bob Newman, the host of a popular Denver talk show, responds to a Tennessee Republican Party ad attacking presidential contender Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s wife Michelle to accuse Obama of behaving like a stereotypical black street hood. Calling Obama a “clown” and asking if he is “some sort of a bad _ss,” Newman then addresses Obama directly, demanding: “What are you gonna do, Obama, come to Denver and try, key word try, to whip my white _ss? Son, you are not some sort of macho tough guy, trust me. You are just another blowhard, make-believe thug who wants to be the most powerful man on Earth. You’re a far-left, terrorist-hugging politician, not the bad-boy gangsta you want people to believe you are.” Obama called Republican attacks on his wife “unacceptable” and “detestable,” apparently provoking Newman’s response. [Media Matters, 5/20/2008] In previous broadcasts, Newman accused Obama of dressing like a terrorist sympathizer (see February 25, 2008).
William Odom. [Source: Brendan Smialowski / Bloomberg News]Retired Lieutenant General William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency (NSA) under Ronald Reagan, says that he is “shocked” by the revelations of a propaganda campaign mounted by the Pentagon to manipulate public opinion regarding Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Odom says: “Well, I was a little shocked by it.… My own sense of my obligations and my officer’s honor in the past would make me think that’s not a proper thing to do.… But I don’t think they’ll be able to defend that position publicly very well, particularly because of its sort of conspiratorial nature. I think it’s quite legitimate for military officers to talk to a number of people in the Pentagon, but to be part of a recurring meeting that is designed to shape the public opinion—that’s a strange thing for officers to be willing to do, in my view.” [WAMU-FM American University, 5/19/2008; Think Progress, 5/19/2008]
The Department of Justice (DOJ) releases a long-anticipated report on the alleged torture and abuse of terrorist suspects in US custody. The report was spurred by a Congressional request after Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests showed that FBI agents at Guantanamo had raised concerns about CIA- and military-conducted interrogations. The report identifies then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as a recipient of complaints of torture. [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008] The report, issued by DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine, shows that CIA officials regularly ignored DOJ warnings that the interrogation tactics they were using amounted to “borderline torture.” The report also concludes that the Defense Department is ultimately responsible for how prisoners in military custody are being treated. As a result, the report finds no reason to bring criminal complaints against CIA officials or interrogators.
'Seven Months of Foot-Dragging' - The report documents what CBS News calls “seven months of foot-dragging” by the Pentagon, which attempted to water down the report. Failing that, the report cites numerous instances where Pentagon officials attempted to redact information in the report from public view. The report is lightly redacted.
FBI Praised for Legal, Non-Coercive Interrogation Techniques - The report generally praises the FBI’s own interrogation efforts, methods, and results. It confirms that when CIA officials became impatient with what they were calling “throwaway results” by FBI interrogators, particularly in the case of Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002), the CIA took over interrogations of prisoners such as Zubaida and began using harsh, torturous techniques. The FBI pulled its agents from the ongoing interrogations, refusing to participate in what it considered to be illegal actions (see May 13, 2004). (In 2009, a former FBI interrogator will confirm that the FBI gathered far more useful information from its non-coercive techniques than the CIA did with its “borderline torture” methods—see Late March through Early June, 2002 and April 22, 2009.) [CBS News, 5/20/2008; Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Witnesses to Torture - However, the report makes clear that FBI agents witnessed harsh interrogations that may have constituted torture at three locations—Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base facility, and Guantanamo Bay. FBI agents are explicitly banned from using brutality, physical violence, intimidation, or other means of causing duress when interviewing suspects. Instead, the FBI generally tries to build a rapport with suspects to get information. “Beyond any doubt, what they are doing (and I don’t know the extent of it) would be unlawful were these enemy prisoners of war,” one FBI employee, senior FBI lawyer Spike Bowman, reported. Bowman worried that the FBI would be “tarred by the same brush,” when asked whether the FBI should refer the matter to the Defense Department Inspector General, and added, “Were I still on active duty, there is no question in my mind that it would be a duty to do so.” The report cites two FBI agents at Guantanamo who “had concerns not only about the proposed techniques but also about the glee with which the would-be [military] participants discussed their respective roles in carrying out these techniques, and the utter lack of sophistication and circus-like atmosphere within this interrogation strategy session.” [CBS News, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Blocking Access to Zubaida - CIA general counsel John Rizzo refused to let DOJ investigators interview Zubaida for the report. The CIA has admitted that Zubaida was waterboarded (see Mid-May, 2002, March 2002 and April - June 2002). The report says that the CIA’s denial of access to Zubaida was “unwarranted,” and “hampered” the investigation, and contrasts the CIA’s actions with those of the Defense Department, which allowed DOJ investigators to interview Guantanamo prisoners. Rizzo told the DOJ that Zubaida “could make false allegations against CIA employees.” [Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Split over Al-Khatani - The rift between the CIA and FBI came to a head over the treatment of Mohamed al-Khatani, one of several suspected terrorists accused of being the fabled “20th hijacker” for the 9/11 attacks (see December 2001). According to the report, al-Khatani was abused in a number of ways by military interrogators at Guantanamo; the report cites the use of attack dogs, shackling and stress positions, sexual humiliation, mocking al-Khatani’s religion, and extended sleep deprivation among other tactics. FBI officials complained to the White House after learning that military interrogators forced him to “perform dog tricks,” “be nude in front of a female,” and wear “women’s underwear on his head.” Al-Khatani did eventually “confess” (see July 2002), but FBI officials expressed serious doubts as to the validity of his confession, both in its accuracy and in its admissability in a criminal court. The then-chief of the Guantanamo facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, ordered a “relentless” and “sustained attack” on al-Khatani. “The plan was to keep him up until he broke,” an FBI agent told superiors, and some of those superiors worried that those techniques would render his confession inadmissible. Al-Khatani was hospitalized for hypothermia during those interrogations. His lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, says her client recently attempted suicide because of his treatment. “The tactics that were used against and the impact, the pain and suffering it caused him and the damage that it caused him does rise to a level of torture,” she says. The government recently dropped all charges against al-Khatani (see October 26, 2006 and January 14, 2009), because if he had been brought to trial, all of the evidence of his treatment would be made public. [CBS News, 5/20/2008; Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Glenn Fine, John Rizzo, Marion (“Spike”) Bowman, Gitanjali Gutierrez, Geoffrey D. Miller, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Mohamed al-Khatani, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Defense
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The House passes an amendment to the 2009 Defense Authorization Bill; the amendment, written by Representative Paul Hodes (D-NH), will, if it becomes law, prohibit the Pentagon from engaging in propaganda programs like the one revealed by the New York Times (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The amendment also requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to launch an investigation of the Pentagon’s propaganda program. Hodes says on the floor of the House: “In a free and democratic society, our government should never use the public airwaves to propagandize our citizens. Congress cannot allow an administration to manipulate the public with false propaganda on matters of war and our national security.… This amendment will ensure that no money authorized in this act will be used for a propaganda program, and require a report to Congress by both the Defense Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office on whether previous restrictions on propaganda have been violated. It’s time for the American people to finally know the truth.” [US House of Representatives, 5/22/2008]
Tom Brokaw. [Source: David Shankbone]NBC anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw defends the media’s performance during the run-up to the Iraq war, and says that it was too much to expect that the media be able to cut through what he calls “the fog of war,” even before the war. In an interview with his successor, Brian Williams, Brokaw says that the coverage “needs to be viewed in the context of that time. When a president says we’re going to war, that there’s a danger of the mushroom crowd. We know there had been experiments with Iraqi nuclear programs in the past. Honorable people believed he had weapons of mass destruction. But there’s always a drumbeat that happens at that time. And you can raise your hand and put on people like Brent Scowcroft, which we did, a very creditable man who said this was the wrong decision.… There was this feeling, that this was a bad man, he had weapons of mass destruction, we couldn’t make the connection that he was sponsoring terrorists or harboring them, we raised that question day after day. But this president was determined to go to war. It was more theology than it was anything else. That’s pretty hard to deal with.… [T]here is a fog of war, Brian, and also the fog in covering war.” Many Democrats, too, went along with the Bush administration’s push to war, Brokaw adds.
Brokaw Considers War Propaganda Standard Procedure - Williams notes that former press secretary Scott McClellan has said that the war was “based on propaganda.” Brokaw replies: “All wars are based on propaganda. John Kennedy launched the beginning of our war in Vietnam by talking about the domino theory and embracing the Green Berets. Lyndon Johnson kept it up and so did Richard Nixon. World War II—a lot of that was driven by propaganda, and suppressing things that people should have known at the time. So people should not be surprised by that. In this business we often bump up against what I call the opaque world. The White House has an unbelievable ability to control the flow of information at any time but especially at a time when they are planning to go to war.”
Rebutting Brokaw - Editor & Publisher’s Greg Mitchell calls Brokaw’s arguments “bankrupt,” and counters several specifics. For Brokaw to say that it was “hard to deal with” the administration’s “drumbeat” for war is specious, Mitchell says: “NBC and others chose to focus on the ‘evidence’ of WMD rather than the evidence that the administration was simply bent on going to war, WMD or not.” Neither Brokaw nor most of his colleagues spent much time focusing on the fact that UN inspectors had found no evidence whatsoever of the WMD programs being hyped by the administration. Mitchell finds Brokaw’s dismissal of the administration’s propaganda efforts disturbing, and writes: “For Brokaw, who has embraced the notion of [World War II] being the ‘good war,’ to put the Iraq invasion in the same class is outrageous. There is a huge difference between admitting that there is a propaganda element to every war—and pointing out that certain wars are mainly based on propaganda and that a country has been misled, or lied, into war. Surely, Brokaw doesn’t think FDR hyped the Japanese and German threat—or was hellbent on war.” Mitchell finds Brokaw’s note that NBC allowed war critic Brent Scowcroft on the air to be disingenuous: “Studies… have shown that such critics were vastly—hideously—outnumbered by war supporters who got face time.” As for Democratic complicity, Mitchell retorts, “What kind of journalist explains a failure to probe the real reasons for a war on others who may not be doing their own due diligence?” [Editor & Publisher, 5/31/2008]
Discussing the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama (D-IL), conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells listeners that the Democratic Party is “go[ing] with a veritable rookie whose only chance of winning is that he’s black.” Limbaugh’s comments are reported by progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters. [Media Matters, 6/2/2008]
Mark Levin. [Source: 640 WHLO-AM]As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, nationally syndicated radio host Mark Levin tells his listeners that presidential candidate Barack Obama “lied to” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) when he “told them today that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards should be designated a terrorist group after voting against a bill designating them a terrorist group a year ago.” Fox News anchor Martha McCallum echoes the accusation a day later on her show The Live Desk, saying that Obama “seems to be changing his tune on the significant issue.” Both Levin and McCallum are misrepresenting Obama’s voting record. He has consistently voted to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, and co-sponsored a November 2007 bill to do just that. Levin and McCallum are referencing a 2007 bill that Obama says he would have voted against, a bill that, Obama said, “states that our military presence in Iraq should be used to counter Iran.” Obama disagreed with that portion of the resolution, not another section that advocated for the designation of the Guards as a terrorist organization. The false characterization of Obama’s stance on the Guards may originate with Obama’s opponent John McCain, who says just before Levin’s broadcast that Obama “was categorical in his statement when he opposed that legislation. Then he goes before AIPAC and supports it. I know he’s changing on the surge, he’s trying to change on his pledge to negotiate with dictators without preconditions.” Levin flatly calls Obama “a liar… he’s a radical extremist and he’s a liar.” [Media Matters, 6/6/2008]
Bill Moyers, John Walcott, Jonathan Landay, and Greg Mitchell on PBS’s ‘Journal.’ [Source: PBS]In his regular “Journal” broadcast, PBS political commentator Bill Moyers focuses on the role of the media in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. “America was deceived, with the media’s help,” Moyers declares, and interviews three media figures to help explain how: John Walcott, Washington bureau chief of McClatchy News; Jonathan Landay, one of Walcott’s “ace reporters;” and Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher, “known to many of us as the watchdog’s watchdog.” Part of the discussion focuses on the failure of most media reporters and broadcasters to question the Bush administration’s assertions about the Iraq war. Landay says, “I was just I was left breathless by some of the things that I heard where you heard correspondents say, ‘Well, we did ask the tough questions. We asked them to the White House spokesmen,’ Scott McClellan and others. And you say to yourself, ‘And you expected to get real answers? You expected them to say from the White House podium—“Yeah, well, there were disagreements over the intelligence, but we ignored them”’ when the President made his speeches and the Vice President made his speeches. No, I don’t think so.” Mitchell agrees, noting that ABC reporter Charles Gibson said that we “wouldn’t ask any different questions.” Mitchell says he found Gibson’s remarks “shocking.” Mitchell continues: “[T]hat someone would say we would even with the chance to relive this experience and so much we got wrong—going to war is—which is still going on over five years later, all the lost lives, all the financial costs of that. And then to look back at this, you know, this terrible episode in history of American journalism and say that if I could do it all over again, I’m not sure we would ask any different questions.” Walcott takes a different tack, saying that reporters “may have asked all the right questions. The trouble is they asked all the wrong people.” Landay notes that “you have to take the time to find those people,” and Mitchell adds that when you do find real information, “[y]ou can’t bury it.” Landay adds that some powerful, public admission of error and self-examination might go far to counter the perception that the media is just as untrustworthy as the government.
Drowned Out - Walcott notes that even when reporters found informed sources willing to talk about the realities behind the push for war, they were drowned out by “Donald Rumsfeld at the podium or Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice saying, ‘We can’t allow the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud’” (see September 4, 2002 and September 8, 2002). “Over and over again,” Moyers notes. “Over and over again on camera,” Walcott continues. “[T]hat trumps the kind of reporting that John and [Landay’s partner] Warren Strobel did from these mid-level guys who actually know that there’s no prospect of any smoking gun let alone a mushroom cloud. And so when it gets to packaging television news, it’s picture driven, it’s celebrity driven, and that doesn’t allow much room for this kind of hard-nosed reporting under the radar.” Mitchell says, “There’s been at least six opportunities in the last two months for the media to do this long delayed and much needed self-assessment, self-criticism to the American public and it hasn’t happened.”
Liberal vs. Conservative Media - Moyers notes that many conservative media outlets “do not believe they got it wrong. I mean, Fox News was reinforcing the administration’s messages back then and still does today.” Walcott notes, “You know, if Fox News’s mission is to defend Republican administrations then they’re right, they didn’t fail.” He notes that in his book, McClellan draws a distinction between the conservative and the “liberal” media (presumably the New York Times, Washington Post, etc). “I don’t understand what liberal versus conservative has to do with this,” Walcott says. “I would have thought that conservatives would be the ones to ask questions about a march to war. How much is this gonna cost us? What’s the effect of this gonna be on our military, on our country’s strength overseas? I don’t think it’s a liberal conservative question at all. I think that’s, frankly, a canard by Scott.”
Celebrity 'Experts' - Moyers asks about the “experts” who predicted that the war would be quick, bloodless, and successful. Even though they were “terribly wrong,” Moyers notes that most of them are “still on the air today pontificating. I mean, there seems to be no price to be paid for having been wrong about so serious an issue of life and death, war and peace.” Walcott says they are not news analysts so much as they are celebrities. Big name actors can make bad movies and still draw million-dollar salaries for their next film: “It’s the same phenomenon. A name is what matters. And it’s about celebrity. It’s about conflict. It’s about—” Landay completes Walcott’s sentence: “Ratings.”
'Skunks at the Garden Party' - Perhaps the most disturbing portion of the discussion is when Walcott notes that the kind of old-fashioned investigative reporting exemplified by Landay and Strobel is “by definition… unpopular.… Because the public doesn’t wanna hear it.… Doesn’t wanna hear the President lied to them. Doesn’t wanna hear that the local police chief is on the take. You know, people don’t like necessarily to hear all that kind of stuff. And when you’re worried about, above all, your advertising revenue, you become more vulnerable to those kinds of pressures.… Well, the skunks don’t get invited to the garden party. And part of our job is to be the skunks at the garden party.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Gibson, Bush administration (43), Bill Moyers, ABC News, Fox News, Washington Post, Public Broadcasting System, Editor & Publisher, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, McClatchy News, Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay, Greg Mitchell, Scott McClellan, John Walcott, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
PBS political commentator Bill Moyers hosts a wide-ranging discussion of the media’s role in legitimizing the Bush administration’s military interventionism in the Middle East (see June 6, 2008). Joining Moyers are John Walcott, the Washington bureau chief of McClatchy News; McClatchy reporter Jonathan Landay; and Greg Mitchell, the purveyor of the media watchdog site Editor & Publisher. The four spend a good part of their time discussing the US’s attempt to “sell” a war with Iran. Moyers says the administration is having trouble pushing such a war because the American public is leery of more dire administration warnings, “given how we were misled about Iraq.” Walcott points out that Iran is a more imminent threat than Iraq, “a much tougher problem than Iraq ever was,” and notes that while Iraq never supported terrorists or had WMD, Iran supports terrorist groups “with a fair amount of enthusiasm” and has a nuclear energy program with the potential to cause grave harm. Landay notes that one big difference in the way the administration is handling Iran as opposed to how it handled Iraq is the fact that the administration is now working with the UN Security Council and even the International Atomic Energy Agency, whereas with Iraq the administration displayed a belligerent, “go it alone” attitude.
They're a Bunch of Crazy Shi'ites - Walcott notes that he finds one argument about Iran particularly disturbing: “[T]hat’s the one that says the Iranians would use nuclear weapons against us or against Israel. Well, both Israel and the United States have the capability to turn Iran into a skating rink. When you explode a nuclear weapon over sand, it turns into glass. And the counter to that from some quarters has been as crazy as anything I’ve heard, which is, well, that we can’t deter the Iranians because they’re Shi’ites and they’re all eager to commit suicide to hasten the arrival of the 12th Imam. So deterrents won’t work against Iran because they’re a bunch of crazy Shi’ites. That to me is as crazy as anything we heard about Saddam [Hussein] and his ties to al-Qaeda. That one, the fact that that one’s out there concerns me.”
Military Strike against Iran? - Walcott says he knows for a fact that there is a large and influential faction within the Bush administration that is determined to force a military strike against Iraq before Bush’s term of office ends. This faction has the support of influential Israeli government officials, even hints of support from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. “[T]hat issue’s gonna be on the table until January 20th [2009, when the next US president is inaugurated] because one of the things we’ve learned is these people don’t go away,” Walcott says. “They’re still out there. They’re still advocating.” Landay notes that many of the same people who advocated for the invasion of Iraq are the ones pushing for a strike against Iran, “[a]nd yet they keep being brought on television and quoted in newspaper stories, when their, you know, now, after this horrendous track record they had in Iraq. So you wonder how it is that there are people who have been fanning the flames for going after Iran. Some of them the very same people.” Mitchell notes that the questions that should have been asked and re-asked by the media before the Iraq invasion—will military force neutralize the threats, what will be the aftereffects and ramifications of military strikes, how many will die—are not yet being asked about Iran. Walcott notes how easily Iran could retaliate for US strikes: “sink one oil tanker in the Persian Gulf or the Strait of Hormuz, just one, and the insurance rates will take care of the rest. And you’ll have $200, $250 a barrel oil. So that’s one thing to think about.”
Iran and the NIE - Moyers asks why it was so easy for President Bush to simply disavow the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear weapons (see December 3, 2007) just by saying that, in essence, “the NIE’s conclusions don’t reflect his own views, that there is an ongoing threat.” Moyers says that Bush does not care “what the facts are, this is [his] reality.” Mitchell notes that NBC anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw called it more of a matter of “theology” (see May 29, 2008). But Landay says that just as interesting is the fact that, if Iran indeed is building nuclear weapons, which it well may be, “the administration’s having a really hard time getting traction for its case. Why? Because it’s lost its credibility on Iraq.” Mitchell adds, “And the media has lost credibility.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]
Conservative radio host Michael Savage says that homeless Americans should be put in “work camps.” As documented by progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Savage, answering a caller’s question about how he would address the “problem with the homelessness in this country,” says: “Why not put them in work camps? Most of them are able-bodied.” When the caller asks, “How much do you plan on paying them in these work camps, sir?” Savage responds, “Well, since they’re already receiving public assistance, I’d pay them nothing.” He continues: “Why do you have to pay a man who’s right now living off the fat of the land? And he’s sucking the fat of the land for, you know, a fairly small check—it is true—but he is a leech. He is not a productive member of society. Where is the money supposed to come from? No, I’ve studied the homeless problem for many years, Ed, because I live in one of the most infested cities in the United States—San Francisco—and I’ve observed the bums for many years. And the good—the largest portion of them are able-bodied. They’re drug addicts or alcoholics. There’s no reason they could not be put into work camps and do much of the labor that our illegal aliens are doing. Now, who do you think did this labor in previous generations? It was ne’er-do-wells, who today are basically able to live on the fat of the land and then drink or use drugs because they’re getting a check for nothing. In the old days, they’d pick the crops and they would spend their money on alcohol.” [Media Matters, 6/9/2008]
During a PBS broadcast of a panel discussion about US interventions in the Middle East, host Bill Moyers observes that the hidden costs of the Iraq war are staggering. He notes that the huge number of suicides among US soldiers in Iraq as well as those who have come home is “the dirty little secret of this war.” The broken Veterans Administration, and its inability to provide decent medical care for the troops, is another, he says. Not only are these underreported in the US media, he says, even the economic costs get relatively little play, despite the fact that “The war’s costing us $5,000 a second, $12 1/2 billion to $13 billion a month,” with the costs ultimately soaring into the trillions of dollars. “[T]hat would seem to hit people in the viscera,” he says. Guest Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher says that the economic issues of the war are one of the biggest reasons why President Bush’s approval ratings stay below 30 percent, even as the media touts the “surge” (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007) as such a success. “[T]he reason is the people figured out long ago, long ago that the war was a mistake and that it’s incredibly costly in the human and financial and even moral terms.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]
Conservative radio host Michael Savage repeatedly refers to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as an “Afro-Leninist.” As reported by the progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Savage asserts: “If the other side [the Republican Party] had one decent candidate, one real conservative, he would win 70-30. But because we have a retread, a Bush III [referring to Republican candidate John McCain], it’s going to be very doubtful as to whether or not we can avoid outright Marxism and Afro-Leninism running this country.” Later in the broadcast, he calls Obama “[a]n Afro-Leninist who’s achieved nothing” and “the most narcissistic candidate in the history of the presidency.” [Media Matters, 6/10/2008]
The recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on misleading, exaggerated, and inaccurate presentations of the prewar Iraqi threat by the Bush administration (see June 5, 2008) leaves out some significant material. The report says that the panel did not review “less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the executive branch.” The committee made no attempt to obtain White House records or interview administration officials because, the report says, such steps were considered beyond the scope of the report. Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus notes that “[o]ne obvious target for such an expanded inquiry would have been the records of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a group set up in August 2002 by then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.” WHIG (see August 2002) was composed of, among other senior White House officials, senior political adviser Karl Rove; the vice president’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas Calio; and a number of policy aides led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley.
WHIG Led Marketing of War - Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, recently wrote in his book What Happened that WHIG “had been set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the war to the public.… The script had been finalized with great care over the summer [for a] “campaign to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary.” On September 6, 2002, Card hinted as much to reporters when he said, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). Two days later, the group scored its first hit with a front-page New York Times story about Iraq’s secret purchase of aluminum tubes that, the story said, could be used to produce nuclear weapons (see September 8, 2002). The information for that story came from “senior administration officials” now known to be members of WHIG. The story was the first to make the statement that “the first sign of a ‘smoking gun’ [proving the existence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program] may be a mushroom cloud” (see September 4, 2002); that same morning, the same message was repeated three times by various senior administration officials on the Sunday talk shows (see September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 8, 2002). WHIG did not “deliberately mislead the public,” McClellan claimed in his book, but wrote that the “more fundamental problem was the way [Bush’s] advisers decided to pursue a political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people.… As the campaign accelerated,” caveats and qualifications were downplayed or dropped altogether. Contradictory intelligence was largely ignored or simply disregarded.”
Records Perusal Would 'Shed Light' - If indeed the White House “repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even nonexistent,” as committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) has said, then an examination of WHIG’s records would, Pincus writes, “shed much light” on the question. [Washington Post, 6/9/2008]
Entity Tags: New York Times, Karen Hughes, John D. Rockefeller, James R. Wilkinson, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Karl C. Rove, Mary Matalin, Senate Intelligence Committee, Stephen J. Hadley, Walter Pincus, White House Iraq Group, Nicholas E. Calio, Scott McClellan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Right-wing blogs begin reprinting and recirculating an email that claims presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) is somehow responsible for at least 19 mysterious deaths. Right-wing terrorism expert David Neiwert will compare the “Obama death list” to the equally spurious “Clinton death lists” that circulated throughout the two terms of the Clinton administration and still survive in some places today. The email falsely claims that the fact-checking Web site Snopes.com has validated the list. The email reads in part: “Please send this to as many people as you can, especially those who might be thinking of voting for B. Hussen Obama. We cannot have a man like this in office.… The following is a partial list of deaths of persons connected to Barack HUSSEIN Obama during his time inside the United States. Read the list and judge for yourself.” The list includes a number of known and supposed Obama associates, all of whom “died mysteriously” from a variety of causes, from “suspiciously timed” heart attacks and car crashes to drug overdoses. According to the list: an author died in 2003 after supposedly “exposing” Obama as a secret “radical Muslim” (see October 1, 2007, December 19, 2007, Before October 27, 2008, January 11, 2008, Around March 19, 2008, and April 18, 2008), as did a supposed FBI informant. Another died before he could share “sensitive information about meetings Barack Obama had with arms smugglers,” and that person’s father died “four hours after” his son made an appearance on right-wing talk show host Michael Savage’s broadcast. One woman died after filing and then dropping rape charges against Obama. A former Obama office secretary was murdered after meeting with a reporter to discuss Obama’s secret connections to black militants. A “childhood classmate” of Obama’s was beheaded before he could present evidence that Obama had attended a radical Islamist madrassa in Indonesia. One person, a former reverend of Trinity Baptist Church (see January 6-11, 2008), was allegedly murdered so the Reverend Jeremiah Wright could take over as head of the church; the pastor’s son was also murdered before he could expose Wright as a murderer. Another person died before he could expose his homosexual love affair with Obama. Another was shot to death before she could expose Obama as a frequent client of prostitutes. Another went missing after telling friends that she was carrying Obama’s “love child.” Bloggers for the progressive Sadly No site say they have tried and failed to authenticate most of the “deaths” of the people on the list, including author Sarah Berkley, whose alleged book The Jihad at the Ballot Box does not seem to exist. [My Right Wing Dad, 7/15/2008; Sadly No, 7/26/2008; David Neiwert, 7/28/2008] One blogger later finds that one person on the list, who supposedly died because of sinister Obama machinations in 2003, also supposedly died in 1994 from equally sinister Clinton machinations. [Civilization Fanatics, 7/26/2008]
Stormfront logo. [Source: Don Black]According to an article by the Washington Post, owners and operators of racist, white supremacist Web sites such as Stormfront (see March 1995) report a large increase in traffic, apparently sparked by Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s recent naming as the Democratic nominee for president. Billy Roper, a former member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance (see 1970-1974 and Summer 2005) and now the chief of an Arkansas group called White Revolution, says: “I haven’t seen this much anger in a long, long time. Nothing has awakened normally complacent white Americans more than the prospect of America having an overtly nonwhite president.” Deborah Lauter, the civil rights director for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), says: “[W]e’re finding an explosion in these kinds of hateful sentiments on the Net, and it’s a growing problem. There are probably thousands of Web sites that do this now. I couldn’t even tell you how many are out there because it’s growing so fast.” The white power organizations acknowledge that they have little chance to derail Obama’s candidacy, so instead some of them say they are using it to energize their membership and reach out for new members. The Post reports, “[t]he groups now portray [Obama’s] candidacy as a vehicle to disenfranchise whites and polarize America.” The groups have helped foster the debunked rumors that Obama is a Muslim, that his books are overtly racist, that his wife Michelle is a radical black activist who hates “whitey,” and other claims. Stormfront’s owner, Don Black, says that since 1995, he has tried to make his site a “central meeting place for the white power movement.” Obama’s nomination is helping him fulfill his vision, he says. Black has 40 moderators running 54 message boards that welcome over 40,000 unique visitors every day. Posters on Stormfront complain that Obama represents the end of “white rule” and the beginning of “multiculturalism.” They fear that he will promote affirmative action, support illegal immigration, and help render whites, who make up two-thirds of the US population, “the new minority.” Black says: “I get nonstop emails and private message from new people who are mad as hell about the possibility of Obama being elected. White people, for a long time, have thought of our government as being for us, and Obama is the best possible evidence that we’ve lost that. This is scaring a lot of people who maybe never considered themselves racists, and it’s bringing them over to our side.” David Duke, Black’s former mentor and a former Ku Klux Klan leader, says his Web site’s traffic has doubled. White supremacist Dan Hill, who runs an extremist group in northern Michigan, says his cohorts are more willing to “take serious action” and plan rallies to protest politicians and immigration; he says he recently drove to an Obama rally and tried to “get a riot started or something.” Roper says White Revolution receives about 10 new applicants each week, more than double the norm. Ron Doggett, who helps Duke run a white power group called EURO in Virginia, says: “Our side does better when the public is being pressured, when gas prices are high, when housing is bad, when a black man might be president. People start looking for solutions and changes, and we offer radical changes to what’s going on.” Duke says: “One person put it this way: Obama for president paves the way for David Duke as president. This is finally going to make whites begin to realize it’s a necessity to stick up for their own heritage, and that’s going to make them turn to people like me. We’re the next logical step.” Doggett worries that an Obama presidential victory may doom the white supremacist movement, saying: “What you try not to think about is that maybe if Obama wins, it will create a very demoralizing effect. Maybe people see him in office, and it’s like: ‘That’s it. It’s just too late. Look at what’s happened now. We’ve endured all these defeats, and we’ve still got a multicultural society.’ And then there’s just no future for our viewpoint.” [Washington Post, 6/22/2008]
Entity Tags: National Alliance, Dan Hill, Billy Roper, Barack Obama, David Duke, Don Black, Ron Doggett, White Revolution, Deborah Lauter, Stormfront, Washington Post, Stormfront (.org)
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his audience that the Islamic terrorist organization Hamas has endorsed Democratic candidate Barack Obama. A Hamas spokesman had made positive comments about Obama in April, but after Obama stated his support for Israel against Hamas and other Islamist terror organizations, a Hamas spokesman stated that his organization “does not differentiate between the two presidential candidates, Obama and [Republican John] McCain, because their policies regarding the Arab-Israel conflict are the same and are hostile to us, therefore we do have no preference and are not wishing for either of them to win.” As reported by progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Limbaugh says: “I will guaran-damn-tee you there will not be a terrorist attack before the election. And you know why there won’t be one? Because they want Obama elected.… Hamas has endorsed Obama. Hamas has endorsed Obama. Do you think they’re going to do anything to upset the apple cart of Obama’s election? Why do you think they’ve endorsed Obama? Because they want a very strong ally for Israel in the White House?” Limbaugh expands his rhetoric to equate Democrats with Islamic terrorists: “[E]very time I hear [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad speak, every time I hear a tape from [al-Qaeda leader] Ayman al Zawahiri or a so-called dispatch from [Osama] bin Laden, whenever I hear from any of these Middle East al-Qaeda terrorists, I think I’m hearing Democrat [sic] Party talking points.… Am I politically incorrect for saying this? We all know it to be true.” Limbaugh has previously asserted that “Islamofascists are actively campaigning for the election of Democrats.” [Reuters, 6/4/2008; Media Matters, 6/24/2008]
A 2003 publicity photo of Monica Crowley. [Source: 96.9 FM WTKK]Fox News commentator Monica Crowley, guest-hosting conservative radio host Laura Ingraham’s show, tells her audience that Democratic candidate Barack Obama is not African-American, but “Arab African.” Crowley admits that she has done no research to verify her claim, but is quoting conservative blogger Kenneth Lamb, who himself provided no verification to his February 2008 claim. Crowley says: “[A]ccording to this genealogy—and again, because I haven’t done the research, I can’t verify this—but according to this guy Kenneth Lamb, Barack Obama is not black African, he is Arab African.… And yet, this guy is campaigning as black and painting anybody who dares to criticize him as a racist. I mean, that is—it is the biggest con I think I’ve ever seen.” (Lamb has consistently refused to provide the research to back his claim, but has instead challenged critics to do the research themselves—including surreptitiously obtaining samples of Obama’s DNA for testing—and accused the administration of Harvard University of complicity in perpetuating the “sleight of hand.”) [Media Matters, 6/26/2008] In September 2008, radio host Rush Limbaugh will repeat the falsehood (see September 22, 2008).
David Addington and John Yoo before the House Judiciary Committee. [Source: Washington Post]David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney and one of the architects of the Bush administration’s torture policies (see Late September 2001), testifies before the House Judiciary Committee. He is joined by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who authored or contributed to many of the legal opinions that the administration used to justify the torture and “extralegal” treatment of terror suspects (see November 6-10, 2001). Addington, unwillingly responding to a subpoena, is, in Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank’s description, “nasty, brutish, and short” with his questioners. [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] He tells lawmakers that the world has not changed much since the 9/11 attacks: “Things are not so different today as people think. No American should think we are free, the war is over, al-Qaeda is not coming.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/27/2008]
Refusing to Define 'Unitary Executive' - Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) peppers Addington with questions about the Bush administration and its penchant for the “unitary executive” paradigm, which in essence sees the executive branch as separate and above the other two, “lesser” branches of government. Addington is one of the main proponents of this theory (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But instead of answering Conyers’s questions, he slaps away the questions with what Milbank calls “disdain.”
Addington: “I frankly don’t know what you mean by unitary theory.”
Conyers: “Have you ever heard of that theory before?”
Addington: “I see it in the newspapers all the time.”
Conyers: “Do you support it?”
Addington: “I don’t know what it is.”
Conyers (angrily): “You’re telling me you don’t know what the unitary theory means?”
Addington: “I don’t know what you mean by it.”
Conyers: “Do you know what you mean by it?”
Addington: “I know exactly what I mean by it.”
Open Contempt - He flatly refuses to answer most questions, and treats the representatives who ask him those questions with open contempt and, in Milbank’s words, “unbridled hostility.” One representative asks if the president is ever justified in breaking the law, and Addington retorts, “I’m not going to answer a legal opinion on every imaginable set of facts any human being could think of.” When asked if he consulted Congress when interpreting torture laws, Addington snaps: “That’s irrelevant.… There is no reason their opinion on that would be relevant.” Asked if it would be legal to torture a detainee’s child (see After September 11, 2002), Addington answers: “I’m not here to render legal advice to your committee. You do have attorneys of your own.” He offers to give one questioner advice on asking better questions. When asked about an interrogation session he had witnessed at Guantanamo, he replies: “You could look and see mouths moving. I infer that there was communication going on.” At times he completely ignores questions, instead writing notes to himself while the representatives wait for him to take notice of their queries. At other times, he claims an almost complete failure of memory, particularly regarding conversations he had with other Bush officials about interrogation techniques. [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] (He does admit to being briefed by Yoo about an August 2002 torture memo (see August 1, 2002), but denies assisting Yoo in writing it.) [Los Angeles Times, 6/27/2008] Addington refuses to talk more specifically about torture and interrogation practices, telling one legislator that he can’t speak to him or his colleagues “[b]ecause you kind of communicate with al-Qaeda.” He continues, “If you do—I can’t talk to you, al-Qaeda may watch C-SPAN.” When asked if he would meet privately to discuss classified matters, he demurs, saying instead: “You have my number. If you issue a subpoena, we’ll go through this again.” [Think Progress, 6/26/2008; Washington Post, 6/27/2008]
Yoo Dodges, Invokes Privilege - Milbank writes that Yoo seems “embolden[ed]” by Addington’s “insolence.” Yoo engages in linguistic gymnastics similar to Addington’s discussion with Conyers when Keith Ellison (D-MN) asks him whether a torture memo was implemented. “What do you mean by ‘implemented’?” Yoo asks. Ellison responds, “Mr. Yoo, are you denying knowledge of what the word ‘implement’ means?” Yoo says, “You’re asking me to define what you mean by the word?” Ellison, clearly exasperated, retorts, “No, I’m asking you to define what you mean by the word ‘implement.’” Yoo’s final answer: “It can mean a wide number of things.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] Conyers asks Yoo, “Could the president order a suspect buried alive?” Yoo responds, “Uh, Mr. Chairman, I don’t think I’ve ever given advice that the president could order someone buried alive.” Conyers retorts: “I didn’t ask you if you ever gave him advice. I asked you thought the president could order a suspect buried alive.” Yoo answers, “Well Chairman, my view right now is that I don’t think a president—no American president would ever have to order that or feel it necessary to order that.” Conyers says, “I think we understand the games that are being played.” Reporter Christopher Kuttruff writes, “Throughout his testimony, Yoo struggled with many of the questions being asked, frequently delaying, qualifying and invoking claims of privilege to avoid answering altogether.” [Human Rights First, 6/26/2008; Truthout (.org), 6/27/2008]
Logo for the Hawaii Department of Health. [Source: Baby Guard Fence (.com)]PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, publishes a scathing denunciation of so-called “birther” claims that presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is not a legitimate American citizen. The story has gained traction mostly through Internet blogs and emails circulating among far-right and “tea party” organizations and figures, making wildly varying claims—Obama is a Kenyan, he is a Muslim, his middle name is Mohammed, his birth name is “Barry Soetoro,” and so forth. PolitiFact’s Amy Hollyfield writes: “At full throttle, the accusations are explosive and unrelenting, the writers emboldened by the anonymity and reach of the Internet. And you can’t help but ask: How do you prove something to people who come to the facts believing, out of fear or hatred or maybe just partisanship, that they’re being tricked?” Hollyfield notes that PolitiFact has sought a valid copy of Obama’s birth certificate since the claims began circulating months ago. PolitiFact has already secured a copy of Obama’s 1992 marriage certificate from the Cook County, Illinois, Bureau of Vital Statistics, his driver’s license record from the Illinois secretary of state’s office, his registration and disciplinary record with the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois, and all of his property records. The records are consistent, all naming him as either “Barack H. Obama” or “Barack Hussein Obama,” his legitimate, given name. PolitiFact ran into trouble with the birth certificate. Obama was born in a hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii, and according to Hawaiian law, that state’s birth certificates are not public record. Only family members can request copies. The Obama presidential campaign originally declined to provide PolitiFact with a copy, until the campaign released a true copy of the certificate (see June 13, 2008). When PolitiFact received the document, researchers emailed it to the Hawaii Department of Health, which maintains such records, to ask if it was real. Spokesman Janice Okubo responded, “It’s a valid Hawaii state birth certificate.” Instead of settling the controversy, the certificate inflamed the so-called “birthers,” who asked a number of questions concerning the certificate, including queries about and challenges to:
the certificate’s seal and registrar’s signature;
the color of the document as compared to other Hawaiian birth certificates;
the date stamp of June 2007, which some say is “bleeding through the back of the document,” supposedly calling into question the validity of the stamp and, thusly, the entire certificate;
the lack of creases from being folded and mailed;
the authenticity of the document, which some claim is “clearly Photoshopped and a wholesale fraud.”
Further investigation by PolitiFact researchers supports the validity of the certificate and disproves the allegations as cited. Hollyfield writes: “And soon enough, after going to every length possible to confirm the birth certificate’s authenticity, you start asking, what is reasonable here? Because if this document is forged, then they all are. If this document is forged, a US senator and his presidential campaign have perpetrated a vast, long-term fraud. They have done it with conspiring officials at the Hawaii Department of Health, the Cook County (Ill.) Bureau of Vital Statistics, the Illinois secretary of state’s office, the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois, and many other government agencies.” Hollyfield notes that the Hawaii Department of Health receives about a dozen email inquiries a day about Obama’s birth certificate, according to Okubo. She tells Hollyfield: “I guess the big issue that’s being raised is the lack of an embossed seal and a signature.” On a Hawaiian birth certificate, she says, the seal and signatures are on the back of the document. “Because they scanned the front… you wouldn’t see those things.” Hollyfield concludes that it is conceivable “that Obama conspired his way to the precipice of the world’s biggest job, involving a vast network of people and government agencies over decades of lies. Anything’s possible.” But she goes on to ask doubters “to look at the overwhelming evidence to the contrary and your sense of what’s reasonable has to take over. There is not one shred of evidence to disprove PolitiFact’s conclusion that the candidate’s name is Barack Hussein Obama, or to support allegations that the birth certificate he released isn’t authentic. And that’s true no matter how many people cling to some hint of doubt and use the Internet to fuel their innate sense of distrust.” [St. Petersburg Times, 6/27/2008]
The cover of Jamieson and Cappella’s ‘Echo Chamber.’ [Source: Barnes and Noble (.com)]Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, authors of the media study Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, find that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh excels at using what they call “insider language” for his listeners “that both embeds definitional assumptions hospitable to his conservative philosophy and makes it difficult for those who embrace the language to speak about Democrats and the presumed Democratic ideology without attacking them.” They cite three examples from Limbaugh’s June 2005 newsletter which contains the following statements:
“Democrats are the enemy.”
“When she first ran for her Senate seat, Hillary Rodham Clinton told citizens of the Empire State [New York] that she had been endorsed by environmental wacko-groups because… in her words, ‘I’ve stood for clean air.’”
After Harvard president Lawrence Summers commented on the intrinsic differences between the sexes, Limbaugh wrote, “Led by foaming-at-the-mouth feminists, the liberal elite experienced a mass politically correct tantrum.”
Jamieson and Cappella write: “Identifying terms such as ‘foaming-at-the-mouth feminists,’ ‘liberal elite,’ ‘enemy,’ and ‘environmental wacko-groups’ both create an insider language and distance those who adopt the labels from those labeled. One of the ways Limbaugh’s supporters telegraph their identification with him is by adopting his language.”
Identifying Nicknames - They cite the 1995 statement of freshman House Representative Barbara Cubin (R-WY), who proudly proclaimed of her fellow female Republicans, “There’s not a femi-Nazi among us,” using one of Limbaugh’s favorite terms for feminists. “Listeners say ‘Ditto’ or ‘megadittoes’ to telegraph their enthusiasm for Limbaugh, his latest argument, or his show in general,” they write. Limbaugh refers to himself as “the MahaRushie” with “talent on loan from God.” Callers often refer to Limbaugh as “my hero.” Denigrating nicknames for Limbaugh’s targets of derision work to bring listeners into the fold: the new listener must labor to identify the people termed (and thusly become part of the Limbaugh community): “Clintonistas” (supporters of Bill and/or Hillary Clinton), “Sheets” (Senator Robert Byrd, D-WV), who in his youth wore ‘sheets’ as a Ku Klux Klan member), “the Swimmer” (Senator Edward Kennedy, D-MA, in reference to his involvement in the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident), “Puffster” (former Senator Tom Daschle, D-SD), “the Breck Girl” (former Senator John Edwards, D-NC), and “Ashley Wilkes” (retired General Wesley Clark, in a reference to what Limbaugh called “the wimpy, pathetic Gone with the Wind character”). Some of the nicknames are physically derogatory: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) became “Senator Leaky, a.k.a. Senator Depends,” and former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) became “‘Little Dick’ Gephardt.” Such use of “insider” nicknames indicates an identification between the listener and Limbaugh, and an affiliation with the Limbaugh community of supporters.
Redefining and Relabeling - Limbaugh routinely redefines and relabels his political enemies in the most derogatory terms. Pro-choice supporters are termed “pro-aborts,” and Democrats are supported by “beggar-based constituencies.” As noted above, feminists are “femi-Nazis” (though Jamieson and Cappella note that Limbaugh has used the term less often since it became a topic of criticism in the mainstream media).
Gender Identification - One of Limbaugh’s strongest attacks is on gender roles. In Limbaugh’s continuum, Democratic women are, the authors write, “either sexualized manipulators or unattractive man haters.” A 1994 Clinton tribute to women’s accomplishments became, in Limbaugh’s words, “Biddies’ Night Out.” Other times, Democratic women become “babes,” as in “Congressbabe Jane Harman.” (On his Web site, Limbaugh often shows Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)‘s head affixed to the body of a Miss America contender.) The authors note, “Neither label invites the audience to take these leaders seriously.” Women with whom he disagrees, such as liberal blogger Arianna Huffington, are “screeching,” and others are “broads,” “lesbians,” or “femi-Nazis.” The National Organization for Women (NOW) becomes, in Limbaugh’s vocabulary, the NAGS. Attacks and innuendo about women’s sexuality are frequently used by Limbaugh: during the Clinton administration, for example, Limbaugh often implied that Hillary Clinton and then-Attorney General Janet Reno were closeted lesbians. On the other hand, Democratic men are routinely portrayed as “two-inchers,” derogatory references to their physical attributes and sexual capabilities (as with the Gephardt nickname above). Jamieson and Cappella note that “Limbaugh’s attempts at gender-based humor are of the locker room variety,” noting several references to California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante as a Democrat whose name translates into “large breasts,” and referring to pop singer Madonna’s 2004 endorsement of General Wesley Clark for president by saying she had “opened herself” to Clark. In 2004, he said that Democratic presidential contender John Kerry, married to wealthy heiress Teresa Heinz-Kerry, “does his fundraising every night when he goes to bed.” (The authors write, “Why the vulgarity in this message does not alienate the churchgoing conservatives in his audience is a question for which we have no ready answer.”)
Impact - Far from merely giving a laundry list of Limbaugh’s derogatory and offensive characterizations, Jamieson and Cappella note how Limbaugh and the conservative media “wrap their audiences in a conversation built on words and phrases that embody conservatism’s ideological assumptions,” using “naming and ridicule to marginalize those named as part of an out-group,” and using “coherent, emotion-evoking, dismissive language” to denigrate and dismiss the liberals he routinely attacks. “Because language does our thinking for us,” they write, “this process constructs not only a vocabulary but also a knowledge base for the audience. That language and the view of the world carried by it are presumed by loyal conservatives and alien to the nonconservative audience. These interpretations of people and events also reinforce Limbaugh’s defense of conservatism and its proponents.” [Washington Post, 2/15/1995; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 184-190]
Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, Robert C. Byrd, Wesley Clark, Tom Daschle, Teresa Heinz-Kerry, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, National Organization for Women, Nancy Pelosi, Rush Limbaugh, Larry Summers, Madonna, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Cruz Bustamante, Arianna Huffington, Barbara Cubin, Hillary Clinton, Patrick J. Leahy, Janet Reno, John Kerry, John Edwards, Joseph N. Cappella, Jane Harman, Kathleen Hall Jamieson
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, authors of the media study Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, draw some tentative conclusions about the impact that conservative talk radio, specifically the broadcasts of Rush Limbaugh, and conservative news outlets such as Fox News have on their regular listeners. They find both positive and negative effects on the audiences.
Positive Impact - The conservative broadcasters have a positive impact, Jamieson and Cappella conclude, by helping their listeners “make sense of complex social issues on which elite opinion is divided. They accomplish this when they:
Consistently frame arguments from conservative assumptions
Build a base of supportive evidence for conservative beliefs and in the process distinguish them from ‘liberal’ ones
Semantically and affectively prime key advocacy and attack points
Arm their audience to argue effectively
Minimize the likelihood of defection from conservatism by creating a sense of community among listeners who share a worldview, if not every political policy preference.”
The conservative radio hosts “protect their audience from counterpersuasion by inoculating it against opposing messages; at the same time, they increase the likelihood that the audience will try to persuade others. Conservative viewers, readers, and listeners are told by these media outlets that they are part of a much larger community… The belief that they are part of an army of others of like mind should increase their disposition to talk politics with those with whom they disagree. Finally, they stabilize the conservative base. This effect is produced at a cost: Those in the fold see ‘liberals’ and politicians as further from them—hence less worthy of support—than they actually are.”
Negative Impact - Jamieson and Cappella then turn to the negative impact on the audience. “We find other moves more problematic,” they write, “including those that:
Insulate the audience from alternative media sources by casting them as untrustworthy, ‘liberal,’ and rooted in a double standard hostile to conservatives and conservatism
Protect their audience from the influence of those opposed to the conservative message by balkanizing and polarizing their perception of opponents and their arguments
Contest only the facts hospitable to opposing views
Invite moral outrage by engaging emotion. This produces one advantage and one disadvantage: emotional involvement invites action and engagement rather than distancing and lethargy. On the downside, a steady diet of moral outrage feeds the assumption that the opponent is an enemy
Replace argument with ridicule and ad hominem [arguing against an assertion by attacking the person making the assertion, not the assertion itself]
Often invite their audiences to see the political world as one unburdened by either ambiguity or common ground across the ideological divide.
Liberals Imitating Conservatives' Success - Jamieson and Cappella conclude: “Democrats are, of course, more likely to accept the contested facts offered by their party and so are Republicans. We find it worrisome that the audiences for both Fox and Limbaugh were more likely than comparable conservatives to accept the Republican view of the contested facts in the 2004 election and more likely in the process to distort the positions of the Democratic nominees. But those who, with us, find the pro-Republican distortion among Limbaugh and Fox audiences should, with us, find the pro-Democratic distortion equally troubling among NPR listeners and CNN viewers.… What the conservative opinion media do for the Right and CNN and NPR do for the Left is increase a tendency to embrace the arguments and evidence offered by those with whom their audiences already agree. Fox and Limbaugh have also created a commercially viable model of partisan media that has elicited the sincerest form of flattery. On the Left, ‘Air America’ on radio and Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC are both experimenting with ways to translate their blend of entertainment and political advocacy into profits. Consistent with the model developed by the conservatives, Olbermann regularly features ‘Air America’ hosts.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 244-245]
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