As the occupation of Iraq continues, the death toll rises and rises “over there.” Now, cynical Americans and our shameful press are ignoring the ugly news of how we have been deceived by the mouthpieces of the country’s most powerful institutions.
Recently, The New York Times sued the Pentagon and then used 8000 pages of email transcripts and records to expose illegal covert propaganda paid for by U.S. tax dollars.
On April 20, The Times reported on its front page that top officials working for Donald Rumsfeld recruited military analysts to espouse optimism and spin about the invasion and occupation of Iraq, even when sometimes they suspected the information was false. Many pundits delivered talking points on American television and in newspapers while working for companies competing for military contracts.
At the same time that many of these shills were looking to cash in on the war privately, and following the public relations advice of the Pentagon while paid with American tax dollars, they were being treated as reliable sources by the television networks and even National Public Radio.
NPR’s Ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, admitted on her blog that Robert Scales, who founded the defense consulting firm Colgen in 2003,
NPR’s new guidelines for “vetting guests” aside, the public radio network plans to retain Scales, despite his involvement in the Pentagon’s program. The news chiefs and on-air hosts at CNN, FOX, ABC, NBC, and CBS have not apologized for this flagrant violation of any meaningful democratic principles.
Speaking on my radio program, Digital Crossroads, last Friday on KAOS, author and journalism professor Robert Jensen said,
While it may come as no surprise that the managers of America’s corporate newsrooms are at best ethically challenged, the Pentagon program clearly violates legal restrictions Congress has been placing in its appropriation bills annually since 1951.
In a report April 28, Center for Media and Democracy research director Diane Farsetta extrapolated,
The Government Accountability Office has three definitions of “publicity or propaganda”: either (1) self-aggrandizement by public officials, (2) purely partisan activity, or (3) “covert propaganda.” The Pentagon “message multiplier” strategies unveiled by David Barstow in the New York Times violate GAO legality standards because they are covert attempts to mold opinion through the undisclosed use of third parties.
U.S. Senators Russ Feingold and John Kerry have written letters requesting legal opinion from the GAO. It is unlikely any true justice will come of this. After the Reagan administration was caught using third-party surrogates to promote the Contra war in Nicaragua in the 1980s, promises were made to comply in the future and no one was punished. As of now, there are no confessions and no promises.
In an interview with Think Progress, Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha said,
The covert media analyst program was launched in 2002 to sell the invasion of Iraq. According to Barstow’s article, it was then used to convince Americans of progress in Afghanistan, to defend warrantless wiretapping and to whitewash Guantanamo Bay.
John Stauber of the Center for Media and Democracy calls it “a psy-ops campaign.” At least 75 former military officers were invited to become “message multipliers” for the Secretary of Defense and the Pentagon. One analyst who dared to criticize the Pentagon in a TV appearance was kicked off the propaganda bus shortly after.
Many Americans heard so-called experts during the build up to the invasion. Particularly egregious was retired general Barry McCaffrey on MSNBC early in the war.
“Thank God for the Abrams tank,” he intoned. “And the Bradley fighting vehicle.” Both pieces of hardware relied on parts sold by Integrated Defense Technologies, on whose board McCaffrey was sitting at the time, according to the Nation magazine.
Amy Goodman and other independent journalists have repeatedly called attention to the lack of antiwar voices on the networks. Phil Donahue and Dan Rather claim they lost their jobs because of their lack of perceived patriotism. Instead, the networks preferred war coverage reliant on Pentagon talking points, voiced over the air by surrogates.
The Society of Professional Journalists issued a statement of collective outrage on May 9, calling for networks to conduct ethical autopsies on their coverage and source selection.
Meanwhile, Americans need to think critically. We are faced with government spin and one-sided corporate news. We can expect no apology from either institution. The credibility gap between official statements and reality grows right along with the deficit, while our taxes fund lies and deception intended to fool us into supporting brutal U.S. foreign policy. We should not accept the marginalization of war criticism, and if we continue to ignore the real stories, the Iraq War and its death toll will not go away.