The president's big Iraq speech today won't be getting rave reviews from the U.S. news media. The Washington Post has already declared that the speech "broke no new ground." The Associated Press says the speech didn't "break new ground or present a new strategy." Reuters notes that the president "has made several such speeches before." And NBC says flatly: "Bush Iraq victory strategy not new."
But the Bush administration has ways of getting its side of the story out, and we're not talking here about the "fair and balanced" reporting of Fox News. As the Los Angeles Times reports today, the U.S. military is secreting paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by U.S. information officers.
In a practice that harks back to the pay-for-play scandals back home, the Times says that many of the stories "are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists." Independent journalists, that is, who just happen to "trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country." The Times says that the Iraqi pay-for-play plan is "designed to mask any connection with the U.S. military." The military funnels the stories through a Washington-based defense contractor, whose employees or subcontractors sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives.
Even some Pentagon officials wonder about the wisdom of the program -- and the hypocrisy inherent in it. As Donald Rumsfeld trumpets the benefits of a "free media" in Iraq, his underlings are working to undermine it with planted stories from U.S. public relations writers. One senior Pentagon official complains: "Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we're breaking all the first principles of democracy when we're doing it."
In the words of one legendary Marine, "Surprise, surprise, surprise."