When the tale is told, I predict that we will learn that
* a system designed to indoctrinate the American people and indeed the world has been in place for many years;
* that it has been occasionally hacked back but never crushed; and
* that under George Bush this weed of tyranny has grown and flowered to a size that it did not enjoy even in the Soviet Union.
Like touch free torture, designed to maximize pain while minimizing bruises and scars, this will be touch free prevarication. And many, many journalists will be found to have been a part of it.
Like many Germans of a bygone era, they will tell us they had no idea what was going on under their noses. Now the story has exploded into a political landscape in which the corruption of the Republican party and of the journalists who exalted and protected them is established fact. And so now the story must be recaptured, contained, re-written to minimize the damage, so that this poisonous weed can be protected from being properly uprooted and destroyed for good.
But this is my prediction, not a fact. The fact is that Jeff Gerth, the man who transformed the politics of destruction from a political into a journalistic phenomenon, has written on military propaganda
. And this is what he says:
There are 1200 people working at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to produce material that they say is "'truthful messages' to support the United States government's objectives."
This is disseminated in an untruthful manner, hiding the source from the outlet that the military uses.
Col. Jack Summe equates what is produced with propaganda indistinguishable except in content from what the "enemy" produces. Some public affairs professionals, the Colonel says, sees this operation as "lying, dirty tricksters."
Gerth says, "In Iraq and Afghanistan, the focus of most of the activities, the military operates radio stations and newspapers, but does not disclose their American ties. Those outlets produce news material that is at times attributed to the 'International Information Center,' an untraceable organization."
Some of this has emerged as work done by the Lincoln Group and the Rendon Group. But Ft. Bragg's psyops operation is distinct (emphasis added): "Like the Lincoln Group, Army psychological operations units sometimes pay to deliver their message, offering television stations money to run unattributed segments or contracting with writers of newspaper opinion pieces, military officials said."
The propaganda network is even deeper than Ft. Bragg and the consultants. "The United States Agency for International Development also masks its role at times. AID finances about 30 radio stations in Afghanistan, but keeps that from listeners. The agency has distributed tens of thousands of iPod-like audio devices in Iraq and Afghanistan that play prepackaged civic messages, but it does so through a contractor that promises 'there is no U.S. footprint.'"
To anyone who pays attention, all this was obvious long ago. The Ft. Bragg psyops was exposed years ago when they sent a team to CNN. The bitter joke at the time was the question of who was training whom.
"While advising the White House, Mr. Rendon also signed on with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, under a $27.6 million contract, to conduct focus groups around the world and media analysis of outlets like Al Jazeera, the satellite network based in Qatar. About the same time, the White House recruited Jeffrey B. Jones, a former Army colonel who ran the Fort Bragg psychological operations group, to coordinate the new information war. He led a secret committee, the existence of which has not been previously reported, that dealt with everything from public diplomacy, which includes education, aid and exchange programs, to covert information operations....The panel, later named the Counter Terrorism Information Strategy Policy Coordinating Committee, included members from the State Department, the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies. Mr. Rendon advised a subgroup on counterpropaganda issues....In mid-2004, [Iraqex] formed a partnership with the Rendon Group and later won a $5 million Pentagon contract for an advertising and public relations campaign to "accurately inform the Iraqi people of the Coalition's goals and gain their support." Soon, the company changed its name to Lincoln Group. It is not clear how the partnership was formed; Rendon dropped out weeks after the contract was awarded. Within a few months, Lincoln shifted to information operations and psychological operations, two former employees said. ...The employees would take news dispatches, called storyboards, written by the troops, translate them into Arabic and distribute them to newspapers. Lincoln hired former Arab journalists and paid advertising agencies to place the material. "
This is news, but one has to read carefully. Is Gerth drawing a connection between Rendon and Ft. Bragg? Does such a connection exist? What Rendon is described as doing is perfectly legal. It's called "intelligence," and it stands within a long line of precedent, while Jones's "information war" does not. Is that all that Rendon was doing? James Bamford says they were engaged in placing false information in US papers. Rendon denies this. Gerth's presentation supports Rendon, while the journalistic records of Gerth and Bamford support Bamford. And why did Rendon go in on a rich contract and then drop out?
There's a good anecdote, the kind of style detail for which the New York Times is justly famed: "To show off the new [trained puppy] media in Afghanistan, AID officials invited Ms. Matalin, the former Cheney aide and conservative commentator, and the talk show host Rush Limbaugh to visit in February. Mr. Limbaugh told his listeners that students at a journalism school asked him 'some of the best questions about journalism and about America that I've ever been asked.' One of the first queries, Mr. Limbaugh said, was 'How do you balance justice and truth and objectivity?' His reply: report the truth, don't hide any opinions or 'interest in the outcome of events.' Tell 'people who you are,' he said, and 'they'll respect your credibility.'"
Very funny. Gerth is telling us that the media people we control in Afghanistan are getting their cues on what constitutes truth from Rush Limbaugh.
But is this news? The provision of a monopoly on Armed Forces radio to Limbaugh makes it very clear that Orwell runs the Pentagon.
Gerth includes a bit of candor to bait the hook:
"Many Muslims today view Washington as too close to what they characterize as authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere."
Not many Americans understand this. One can disagree with their perception or not, but the fact is that they view the Iraq invasion exactly the way that the Afghans viewed the Soviet invasion of their country.
Americans need to know this and they do not know it because our media has consistently hid the state of Arab/Muslim opinion from us. Occasionally we will get a poll saying that opinion in the Arab world is 5% favorable to Bush or whatever. But nowhere do our media show us as we are seen.
And now we get to some Gerthian reality massage: While the United States does not ban the distribution of government propaganda overseas, as it does domestically, the Government Accountability Office said in a recent report that lack of attribution could undermine the credibility of news videos. In finding that video news releases by the Bush administration that appeared on American television were improper, the G.A.O. said that such articles 'are no longer purely factual' because 'the essential fact of attribution is missing.'"
When our military lies to an enemy, that is legal. When our military lies to Americans, that is a crime.
The problem occurs when it is foreseeable that a lie told abroad will be picked up in the American media. The problem is not, as Gerth says, just stripping attribution from news. News was presented under the bylines of supposedly independent journalists. That was a lie.
We are being asked to believe that proven professional liars have told the Iraqi people the truth. We are being asked to believe they haven't lied to the American people.
When will someone, anyone, make the connection between whatever the military is calling the now-defunct Total Information Awareness program and the fact that most of the American people believed that Saddam had WMD and Al Qaida ties even long after the invasion. Explain why a major American newspaper would publish a piece like this from Victor Davis Hanson just days ago if there were not a massive propaganda operation directed against the American people.
Gerth has told a bit of truth. But I predict that this is a sanitized version, that like Abu Ghraib, we will never be permitted to see the ugliest aspects.