The US propaganda machine: Oh, what a lovely war

The Independent, 30 March 2006

The Lincoln Group was tasked with presenting the US version of events in Iraq to counter adverse media coverage. Here we present examples of its work, and the reality behind its headlines. By Andrew Buncombe

This is the news from Iraq according to Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush administration.

A week after the US Defence Secretary criticised the media for ” exaggerating” reports of violence in Iraq, The Independent has obtained examples of newspaper reports the Bush administration want Iraqis to read.

They were prepared by specially trained American “psy-ops” troops who paid thousands of dollars to Iraqi newspaper editors to run these unattributed reports in their publications. In order to hide its involvement, the Pentagon hired the Lincoln Group to act as a liaison between troops and journalists. The Lincoln Group was at the centre of controversy last year when it was revealed the company was being paid more than $100m (£58m) for various contracts, including the planting of such stories.

The Pentagon – which recently announced that an internal investigation had cleared the Lincoln Group of breaching military rules by planting these stories – has claimed these new reports did not constitute propaganda because they were factually correct. But a military specialist has questioned some of the information contained within their reports while describing their rhetorical style as “comical”. Furthermore, it has been alleged that quotations contained within these reports and others – attributed to anonymous Iraqi officials or citizens – were routinely made up by US troops who never went beyond the perimeter of the Green Zone.

What seems clear is that, taken by themselves, these reports would provide an unbalanced picture of the situation inside Iraq where ongoing violence wreaks daily chaos and horror. Three years since US and UK troops invaded, more than 2,500 coalition troops have been killed. How many Iraqi civilians have died is unclear. The Iraqi Body Count puts the minimum at 33,773, but this figure is based on media reports and the group admits “it is likely that many if not most civilian casualties will go unreported by the media”. An extrapolation published in The Lancet 18 months ago said more than 100,000 had been killed.

A former employee of the Lincoln Group, who spent last summer in Baghdad acting as a link between US troops who were part of the Information Operations Task Force and Iraqis contracted by the company to establish contact with Iraqi journalists, said his job was to ensure “there were no finger-prints”.

“The Iraqis did not know who was writing the stories and the US troops did not know who the Iraqis were,” said the former employee, who declined to be named. It is not known whether the stories included here were ever printed or simply prepared for publication, but he said it was normal for around 10 stories a week to be printed. He said US troops routinely fabricated their quotations.

The former employee said the Lincoln Group paid up to $2,000 for the publication of each article – a sum that had risen from when he started working, suggesting the Iraqi editors realised who was behind the articles and knew there was plenty of money. The Lincoln Group was paid $80,000 a week by the military to plant these stories.

The former employee said the stories – which often feature phrases such as ” brave warriors” and “eager troops” – were designed to bolster the image and purported efficiency of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and their involvement in operations. The Bush administration says the ability of Iraqi security forces to deal with insurgents remains the key to a withdrawal of US troops.

In reality, while one article describes the ISF as a “potent fighting force”, the training of Iraqi forces has been a slow and troubled process. The Pentagon recently said the only Iraqi battalion judged capable of fighting without US support had been downgraded, requiring it to fight with American troops.

John Pike, the director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington-based defence think-tank, who reviewed some of the Lincoln Group stories, said he found them unconvincing. “Anybody who knows about propaganda knows the first rule of propaganda is that it should not look like propaganda,” he said. “It’s embarrassing enough that [the US military] got caught … but then for their product to be so cheesy … It’s just embarrassing.”

He added: “Some of the vignettes are cartoonish. The ISF? Many of them are surely brave. But a potent fighting force? I think that’s a little clearer than the truth. It’s propaganda.”

Another story mentions the Iraqi oil industry and calls it “unique in that it is the only sector in which every dollar invested, either directly or indirectly, provides direct revenue to Iraq for future reconstruction” .

Yet a report published last November by a group of aid agencies and NGOs claimed that production-sharing agreements (PSAs) proposed by the US State Department before the invasion and adopted by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), could see Iraqis lose $200bn in revenue if the plan comes into effect.

Data collated by the Brookings Institution says oil production in Iraq remains below the estimated pre-invasion levels. At the moment, Iraq annually spends $6bn to import oil.

The Lincoln Group is headed by Christian Bailey, a Briton with no experience in PR, and a former US Marine, Paige Craig. The company failed to respond to a call seeking comment yesterday. A spokesman for the US military in Iraq, Lieut-Col Barry Johnson, said last night: “The results of the investigation have not yet been made public while the report undergoes final review by Multinational Force leadership. I am unable to comment on unsubstantiated allegations.”

While the Lincoln Group has been cleared by one Pentagon inquiry, it remains the subject of a separate inquiry being conducted by the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). A spokesman, Gary Comerford, said that the OIG had been asked by the Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy to review how the company had won its contract.

Criticising the media last week, Mr Rumsfeld said: “Much of the reporting in the US and abroad has exaggerated the situation… Interestingly, all of the exaggerations seem to be on one side…. The steady stream of errors all seem to be of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists.”

‘AL-QA’IDA THREATENS ALL IRAQIS’ 24 October 2005

The Lincoln version

The chief murderer of al-Qa’ida in Iraq has declared war against all Iraqis. They have also lamely attempted to justify the murder of civilians. Some websites featured the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s praise of his heathen deeds. The people of Iraq have had enough.

“These thugs clearly hate us; they do not share in our national pride or our belief in a unified Iraq,” said one Iraqi. “They only wish to kill our women, our children, our future. We must not and will not let them.”

Horror stories are told in homes and shops of friends and family members casually murdered while going about their daily business. These … are simple folk trying to make the best of their lives. How many more suicide bombs have to go off before al-Qa’ida realises that there is no room for them in the land of the two rivers? In one particular attack, terrorists murdered a young boy and stuffed his body full of explosives in an attempt to lure security forces into an ambush. Is this the only future terrorism has to offer?

The reality check

At least 20 people were killed and 42 others injured when three suicide bombers targeted Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel, used by media and contractors. A dozen construction labourers were killed in an attack on Al-Musayyab, south of Baghdad. Muhammad Ali Nu’aymi, secretary of the director-general of al-Mansur municipality, was killed by gunmen. Bodies of six Iraqi citizens were found in al-Mahmudiyah, southern Baghdad.

‘IRAQI ARMY DEFEATS TERRORISM’ 26 October 2005

The Lincoln version

With the people’s approval of the constitution, Iraq is well on its way to forming a permanent government. Meanwhile, the underhanded forces of al-Qa’ida remain bent on halting progress and inciting civil war. The honest citizens of Iraq, however, need not fear these criminals and terrorists. The brave warriors of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are hard at work stopping al-Qa’ida’s attacks before they occur.

On 24 October, soldiers near Taji received a report that terrorists were stockpiling dangerous weapons. The soldiers found over 150 tank and artillery rounds. These munitions are similar to the ones that al-Qa’ida bomb-makers often use to construct their deadly bombs. The troops destroyed every last round, ensuring they will never be used against the Iraqi people.

Three al-Qa’ida mercenaries in Baqubah were planning to conduct a suicide vest attack. Officers of the Iraqi Police Service (IPS) spotted them as they drove towards their target. But then something happened. The would-be murderer lost his faith and leapt from the moving vehicle. One of the other suicide bombers panicked and detonated his vest while still inside the car, instantly killing himself and another accomplice.

The reality check

At least five Iraqis killed by suicide bomber on bus in Baqubah, north-east of Baghdad. Bodies of nine Iraqi border guards, who were shot dead, found previous day. Joint US-Iraqi convoy targeted by car bomb in al-Ma’mun area of Baghdad.

‘QUICK REACTION CAPTURES BOMBER’ 12 November 2005

The Lincoln version

In conjunction with operation El-Sitar Elfulathi in Husaybah and Karabilah, Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are sweeping across Iraq in a series of continuous operations aimed at disrupting insurgent activity. Through diligent patrols, organised raids and searches, vehicle checkpoints and interaction with the Iraqi people, Iraqi Army (IA) units have taken down terror cells and removed dangerous criminals from Iraq’s streets.

In Baghdad, a quick response to a terror attack led to the arrest of the culprit. On 10 November, terrorists detonated a car bomb in eastern Baghdad wounding three Iraqi women. Immediately the ISF responded, securing the area and treating and evacuating the injured. The soldiers quickly examined the site of the bombing, discovering evidence that led them to the arrest of the suspected bomber. Because of their quick reaction, there was no loss of innocent life and another terrorist is in prison and awaiting his trial.

The ISF has quickly developed into a viable fighting force capable of defending the people of Iraq against the cowards who launch their attacks on innocent people.

The reality check

Ten people were killed when a car bomb exploded at a market in Baghdad. Bodies of three men tortured to death discovered in Shula. Coalition troops killed four alleged insurgents in “safe house” near Ramadi. On November 10, 7 Iraqis killed 30 wounded by car bomb near Al-Shuruqi Mosque, north of Baghdad.

‘TRAINING PREPARES IRAQI MARINES’ 13 November 2005

The Lincoln version

Terrorist attacks often result in damage to Iraq’s infrastructure, but the Ministry of Defence is determined to keep that from continuing. The brave men of the Iraqi Marines are one step closer to taking charge of the security mission at the Al Basrah and Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminals.

Recently, soldiers from the 6th Platoon Iraqi Marines completed the oil platform defence training at the Al Basrah Oil Terminal.

Their main focus was to acquire the necessary skills to effectively protect the oil terminals. The students trained up to three to four times a day, working closely with the instructors. The intense training they received included how to stand a proper watch, how to work and fight as a team, and how to defend against terrorist attacks on the terminals. When these soldiers assume control of security on the terminal, they will ensure the safety and stability of the maritime environment.

These operations complement counter-terrorism and security efforts as well as deny international terrorists use of the waterways as an avenue of attack.

The reality check

Deputy health minister, Jalil al-Shammari, and his bodyguards are killed north of Baghdad. Amir Al-Saldi, Baghdad municipal official, is killed in Ghazaliya. Clashes in al-Qadiyah district of Samarra leave three dead. An Iraqi soldier is killed and six others wounded, three seriously, in a roadside bomb explosion in Kirkuk.

A DANGEROUS DEVELOPMENT AT CNN.

Lou Dobbs, Anchor-Advocate on Immigration, Wins Viewers

March 29, 2006 – New York Times

By BILL CARTER and JACQUES STEINBERG

The nation’s most prominent opponent of current immigration policy began his day yesterday on the “Today” show on NBC, debating a Hispanic defender of illegal immigrants. He moved on to “American Morning” on CNN to denounce a bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday as “an amnesty program.”

By nightfall he was on a plane headed to Mexico, where he intended to assess critically the planned discussions on the issue between President Bush and President Vicente Fox of Mexico.

This central figure in the increasingly fractious debate over future immigration policy was not a senator or congressman, nor even a lobbyist on either side of the issue. It was instead, a television news anchor, Lou Dobbs of CNN.

In the course of insistently offering his ever more passionate views on immigration all across the television landscape in just one 24-hour period, Mr. Dobbs underscored that what works in cable television news is not an objective analysis of the day’s events but hard-nosed, unstinting advocacy of a specific point of view on a sizzling-hot topic.

While its competitors, the Fox News Channel and to a lesser extent, MSNBC, have consistently built successful programs around aggressively opinionated hosts like Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann, CNN has maintained that its mission remains offering straight news coverage, unseasoned with sharp points of view.

Except for Lou Dobbs. On CNN only Mr. Dobbs’s 6 p.m. nightly news program comes accompanied with the disclaimer that it will contain “news, debate and opinion.” That is not a new development for Mr. Dobbs. He has had that freedom at CNN for years and his advocacy approach on the immigration debate has been widely discussed in recent months.

But in the past several weeks, Mr. Dobbs has ratcheted up his criticism of Bush administration policies, first on the Dubai ports deal and now on immigration, to a point where in the view of many he has become a significant factor in shaping public opinion on these issues.

“He has got a lot of listenership, and he is not a nut,” said Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi. “He is a very thoughtful guy, and he feels very strongly about this issue.”

Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican and a leading opponent of the Dubai port deal, appeared repeatedly on the Dobbs show during that controversy and said he believed lawmakers were watching closely.

“He definitely influenced politicians who were watching him and listening to him,” Mr. King said. “I think he had an impact.”

Mr. King said that Mr. Dobbs was better able than other network reporters to “grab the issue, be able to keep it going and stay excited about it every night.”

The management of CNN denied yesterday that Mr. Dobbs’s soaring profile on the immigration issue ó and the increased ratings he has garnered along with it ó would steer the network toward adding more opinions on other news programs.

“Lou’s show is not a harbinger of things to come at CNN,” said Jonathan Klein, the president of CNN/U.S. “He is sui generis, one of a kind.”

But CNN was hardly holding back yesterday on giving Mr. Dobbs opportunities to unleash opinions on the immigration debate, views that seem to have only grown more vociferous in reaction both to last weekend’s mass marches in Los Angeles and other cities in support of illegal immigrants and the action Monday by the Senate committee.

On the CNN morning show he called the Senate bill “an unconscionable act” and “a sellout.” He appeared again on CNN’s midday “Live From…” program, saying, “I think illegal immigrants are a burden to the taxpayer, unequivocally.”

Later, the network’s “Situation Room” program displayed a clock counting down to the hour when Mr. Dobbs would be arriving in Mexico.

This followed by just a day a confrontation between Mr. Dobbs and a guest on his own program, Janet Murguia, the president of the Hispanic civil rights group National Council of La Raza, during which he lectured her on immigration policy.

“I want you to look me right in the eye, and I want you to hear me loud and clear,” Mr. Dobbs said to Ms. Murguia, who replied, “I’m right here.”

Yesterday, Ms. Murguia said, “There’s no question he’s branded a unique format.”

Mr. Dobbs, who previously had a long-running and successful financial news-based program on CNN, said he had never held back on offering his opinions.

“I’ve been doing this three decades,” he said. “I know whereof I speak on the political economy. I don’t come to a conclusion out of thin air because of some partisan or ideological viewpoint, but rather with an analysis of the facts.”

He said he did not believe that traditional objective journalism brought people closer to the truth. Asked if he himself knew what the truth was, Mr. Dobbs said: “I have strong feelings that I do. I have strong evidence I do.”

CNN certainly has reason to celebrate Mr. Dobbs’s expanding profile on the immigration issue. His program, which was up 24 percent in total viewers over the same period last year, is the only good news story in CNN’s evening and prime-time lineup, which was otherwise down across the board in ratings for the past quarter.

Notably, for the first quarter of the year, Mr. Olbermann’s show on MSNBC beat the 8 p.m. CNN show with Paula Zahn for the first time in the audience that matters most to news programs ó viewers ages 25 to 54. But both still trailed far behind Mr. O’Reilly’s dominant show at that hour.

Even as Mr. Klein conceded that “there is certainly a correlation between Lou’s outspokenness and the ratings he has gotten,” he reasserted that CNN would not be turning to opinion-based programs beyond the Dobbs newscast.

“Cable has always been, certainly for the past 10 years, a hospitable home to outspoken, over-the-top figures,” Mr. Klein said. “It cuts through the clutter.” But, he added, “What is suitable for Lou is not necessarily suitable for many other, if any other, talent on the network. It is not a signal for some sea change at CNN.”

David D. Kirkpatrick and Carl Hulse contributed reporting for this article.

THE POWER OF LOCAL RADIO.

Los Angeles Times: How DJs Put 500,000 Marchers in Motion

By Teresa Watanabe and Hector Becerra
Times Staff Writers

March 28, 2006

He’s one of the hottest Spanish-language radio personalities in the nation. So when Los Angeles deejay Eddie Sotelo joined hands with his radio rivals to urge listeners to turn out for a pro-immigrant rally in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, organizers hoped for a big turnout.

But many said Monday that they were stunned by how many responded to the call to march against federal legislation that would crack down on undocumented immigrants and penalize those who assist them.

As a result, what was initially expected to draw fewer than 20,000 ballooned into a massive march that police estimated at 500,000 and said was one of the largest demonstrations in Los Angeles’ history. The march topped a wave of protests drawing hundreds of thousands of participants in cities around the nation, which organizers said influenced the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s approval Monday of legislation that includes legalization for undocumented immigrants.

Rally supporters, including immigrant-rights activists, churches, and labor and community groups, agreed that the active advocacy of the region’s top Spanish-language radio personalities was critical in drawing the enormous crowds, who marched more than 20 blocks along Spring and Main streets and Broadway to City Hall, wearing white “peace” shirts and waving American and Mexican flags.

The promoters included such on-air celebrities as KHJ’s Humberto Luna, KBUE’s Ricardo “El Mandril” (The Baboon) Sanchez, Renan “El Cucuy” (The Boogeyman) Almendarez Coello ó whose often risque show has cast him as a sort of Latino version of Howard Stern ó and Sotelo, better known to listeners as “El Piolin,” or Tweety Bird. Coello’s and Sotelo’s morning talk shows are among the highest-rated programs in any language in Los Angeles.

“They were the key to getting so many people out,” said Mike Garcia, president of Local 1877 of the Service Employees International Union. “If you listened to Spanish-language media, they were just pumping, pumping, pumping this up.”

For his part, Sotelo said he decided to promote the cause ó by calling a summit of his rival deejays to encourage them to do the same ó after rally organizers told him about the ramifications of the legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last December. The bill, by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), would make undocumented immigrants and those who assist them felons and erect a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexican border.

“I told God that if he gave me an opportunity as a radio announcer, I was going to help my people,” said Sotelo, who himself illegally crossed the border in the trunk of a car in 1986 and gained legal status a decade later. “I think we have to make sure the message went through to Washington, to let them know we’re not criminals.”

The idea for the march first sprouted in February in the oldest church in Los Angeles: Our Lady Queen of Angels, which has historically served as a sanctuary for undocumented migrants.

The church near Olvera Street has become one of the city’s organizing hubs against the House bill, playing a leading role in promoting the Roman Catholic Church’s national “Justice for Immigrants” campaign. Cardinal Roger M. Mahony last December appointed a committee to promote the national campaign throughout the 5-million-member Los Angeles Archdiocese.

The coalition of religious, community and civil rights activists meeting at the church had begun planning several small-scale events: news conferences, a petition drive and protest marches to Republican and Democratic party offices.

But when two visitors joined the group in January, the vision suddenly expanded.

Jesse Diaz, a doctoral candidate in sociology at UC Riverside, had worked with day laborers in Pomona and organized marches against Proposition 187, the 1994 state initiative that cut public benefits to undocumented immigrants but was struck down in federal court. Javier Rodriguez, a journalist, had also worked with immigrants and organized black-Latino political alliances.

The two men called for something dramatic: a massive protest march.

“It was time,” Diaz said. “The Sensenbrenner bill had passed. We have 10 [million] to 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country, but their voice can’t be heard at the ballot box. We felt a march would be a way for them to speak out.”

The coalition was initially wary, he said. The group had little money or organization. At the time, none of the big labor or civil rights organizations had yet signed on, such as the service employees union or the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. At the table, aside from the Catholic priests and some Spanish-language journalists, were such groups as the Central American Resource Center, Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana, the Pomona Day Labor Center and the Southern California Human Rights Network.

But Diaz and Rodriguez kept pushing. On March 2, the group held a news conference at the church to announce the march and call for political and Spanish-language media to get involved.

On March 13, the group got extensive coverage from KMEX-TV Channel 34, including promos, leading up to a “media breakfast” the next day. Later that day, Rodriguez and other leaders spoke to a producer on Sotelo’s program. The day after that, they were on “Piolin Por La MaÒana” for four hours, Rodriguez said.

“That was it, man!” Rodriguez said. “They gave us four hours and we went at it. We talked about the need for people to come out.”

The next day, Rodriguez and other leaders went on the air with Sanchez of KBUE-FM (105.5) “Que Buena.” During that show, Rodriguez said, he proposed that the deejays join together for the cause.

Sanchez called Sotelo and they had an on-air conversation during their programs, Rodriguez said. Later that day, Sotelo would make the calls that would bring the other deejays together on the air.

By March 20, all of the major Spanish-language disc jockeys got together on City Hall’s south steps to promote the big march.

“From there, it just blew up,” Diaz said.

The deejays did more than publicize the march. Working with the organizers, they also helped develop some ground rules: Marchers had to be peaceful and clean up after themselves.

They were also encouraged to wave American flags.

“We wanted them to show that we love this country,” Sotelo said. “Bringing the U.S. flag, that was important. There are so many people who say, ‘I’m glad my parents came here and sacrificed like they did for us.’ “

By this time, other organizations had begun to join the effort.

Local 1877, which represents janitors, took care of security. The union trained nearly 500 people in how to deal with conflicts and herd marchers along the route, posting nearly two dozen on each block in orange T-shirts donated by an L.A. apparel firm, according to union organizer Ernesto Guerrero.

The union also coordinated the more than 100 buses that dropped off marchers from throughout California, Las Vegas and a few Southwestern cities, he said.

All of the planning paid off. The “Great March of March 25,” as some dubbed it, was peaceful.

“I was saying, ‘Man, we did it, we did it!’ ” Sotelo said.

The strong advocacy of the disc jockeys and other Spanish-language media contrasted sharply with other outlets, said Felix Gutierrez, a journalism professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

“The Latino media played it more as how will this affect you, how will it affect your job, how will it affect your kids,” Gutierrez said. “They were much closer to their audience, in terms of the direct effect.”

Gutierrez lauded the organization behind the event and contrasted it with the angrier assemblies of the Chicano movement of the 1960s, in which he was a media liaison.

By comparison, Saturday’s rally was festive, featuring kazoos, mariachi music, cotton candy and families with children. “The messages I heard last week was show up, bring your family, bring your children, don’t get pulled into violence, there may be people trying to provoke you,” Gutierrez said.

Meanwhile, Diaz and Rodriguez planned to announce today their next major action: a call to boycott work, school and all consumer activities May 1. They are calling it “The Great American Boycott of 2006.”

Times staff writer Scott Martelle contributed to this story.