Thursday, March 23, 2006

"nontraditional means"

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has sanctioned the use of what he calls "nontraditional means" of reporting the war in Iraq, in that nation's newspapers, in an effort to counter what he considers to be a widespread disinformation campaign on the part of Iraqi insurgents. And, as the Associated Press also reports today, a top military commander has called for a Pentagon review into cooking the news about U.S. forces in Iraq. General Peter Pace says he believes there needs to be an investigation to get at the truth about whether the U.S. military pays Iraqi media to print positive stories in their newspapers. Clearly, the general is on to something. But, while we're at it, maybe we ought to also see who's paying O'Reilly, and other reporters for Fox, to spin the war in this country.

Propaganda, in any war, is nothing new, but it never ceases to amaze how guys who trip over words like nuclear show such immense linguistic prowess when it comes to how they designate detainees so as to bypass lawful "prisoner of war" status. While we already know about the Lincoln Group, and their ongoing shenanigans to spin the war in Iraq, what is extraordinary here is that that none other than the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is taking his home boys at the Pentagon to task, and urging a formal inquiry into Mr. Rumsfeld's "nontraditional means" of depicting the civil war that has resulted from American invasion, and occupation of that country. Undoubtedly, a formal review into these charges is a good thing, but better still is the assurance that the investigation the good general has in mind is an independent one, and not one in which the military brass gets a pat on the wrist.

Officials in the Pentagon justify their propaganda campaign as necessary to "get the accurate message out to Iraqis about what the U.S. is doing in Iraq." (AP) Indeed, if the message were to get out accurately to the Iraqi people, the ranks of insurgents would swell to tsunami levels.

For a top official and a general, no less, to rebuke his superiors, and call for a review into their practices, while a war is in progress is stunning, and something no card-carrying journalist in Iraq, or this country, can afford to ignore. After all, a representative from the Defense Department met with an editor for The Washington Post to complain about the way in which a staff reporter covered the Gulf War more than a decade ago. You'll recall, too, that this president called the publishers of The New York Times, The Washington Post, as well as other newspapers, to meet with him after the NYT broke the NSA electronic surveillance program suggesting, ironically, that the leaking of this story was "shameful," and not domestic surveillance, and harassment, of ordinary citizens.

As the Associated Press story today affirms, the larger issue here is whether journalists, and members of the media should be paid to report, or not report, the news in a way that is favorable to this administration.