White House message control on Iraq

Published October 1, 2004 10:33PM (EDT)

In a story yesterday -- likely buried by all the media coverage of the presidential debate -- the Washington Post reported that the Bush administration is redoubling its efforts to control and put a positive spin on public perception of the situation in Iraq. They're concentrating on Americans who are working the front lines:

"The Bush administration, battling negative perceptions of the Iraq war, is sending Iraqi Americans to deliver what the Pentagon calls 'good news' about Iraq to U.S. military bases, and has curtailed distribution of reports showing increasing violence in that country.

"Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's office has sent commanders of U.S. military facilities a five-page memorandum titled 'Guidance to Commanders.' The Pentagon, the memo says, is sponsoring a group of Iraqi Americans and former officials from the Coalition Provisional Authority to speak at military bases throughout the United States starting Friday to provide 'a first-hand account' of events in Iraq. The Iraqi Americans and the CPA officials worked on establishing the interim Iraqi government. The Iraqi Americans 'feel strongly that the benefits of the coalition efforts have not been fully reported,' the memo says.

"USAID said this week that it will restrict distribution of reports by contractor Kroll Security International showing that the number of daily attacks by insurgents in Iraq has increased. On Monday, a day after The Washington Post published a front-page story saying that 'the Kroll reports suggest a broad and intensifying campaign of insurgent violence,' a USAID official sent an e-mail to congressional aides stating: 'This is the last Kroll report to come in. After the WPost story, they shut it down in order to regroup. I'll let you know when it restarts.'"

And while President Bush chastised John Kerry during the debate Thursday about the notion that interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is some form of "puppet" leader, the Post reports that the Bush team in fact had a heavy hand in crafting a speech that Allawi gave during his recent visit to Washington.

"The unusual public-relations effort by the Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development comes as details have emerged showing the U.S. government and a representative of President Bush's reelection campaign had been heavily involved in drafting the speech given to Congress last week by interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Combined, they indicate that the federal government is working assiduously to improve Americans' opinions about the Iraq conflict -- a key element of Bush's reelection message."

Bush administration spokesman Scott McClellan denied any White House involvement in the Allawi speech, according to the Post, "but administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the prime minister was coached and aided by the U.S. government, its allies and friends of the administration. Among them was Dan Senor, former spokesman for the CPA who has more recently represented the Bush campaign in media appearances. Senor, who has denied writing the speech, sent Allawi recommended phrases. He also helped Allawi rehearse in New York last week, officials said. Senor declined to comment."

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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