The following is an excerpt from The Best war Ever: Lies, Damned Lies, and the Mess in Iraq by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber (Tarcher, 2006).
The danger of negative news, according to President Bush, is that it may undermine morale and support for the war, as Americans “look at the violence they see each night on their television screens and they wonder how I can remain so optimistic about the prospects of success in Iraq.” But propaganda itself is a danger to the nation, as the United States has long recognized, both in theory and in law. In 1948, Congress, concerned by what it had seen propaganda do to Hitler’s Germany, passed the Smith-Mundt Act, a law that forbids domestic dissemination of U.S. government materials intended for foreign audiences.
The law is so strict that programming from Voice of America, the government’s overseas news service, may not be broadcast to domestic audiences. Legislators were concerned that giving any U.S. administration access to the government’s tools for influencing opinion overseas would undermine the democratic process at home. Since 1951, this concern has also been expressed in the appropriations acts passed each year by Congress, which include language that stipulates, “No part of any appropriation contained in this or any other Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States not heretofore authorized by Congress.”
Economic and media globalization, however, have shrunk the planet in ways that blur the distinction between foreign and domestic propaganda. This has been acknowledged in the U.S. Defense Department’s Information Operations Roadmap, a 74-page document approved in 2003 by Donald Rumsfeld. It noted that “information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and PSYOP [psychological operations], increasingly is consumed by our domestic audience and vice-versa. PSYOP messages disseminated to any audience… will often be replayed by the news media for much larger audiences, including the American public.”
This ought to be of particular concern to Americans because the Pentagon’s doctrine for psychological operations specifically contemplates “actions to convey and (or) deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning. … In various ways, perception management combines truth projection, operations security, cover, and deception, and psyops.”
An example of a psyops operation that used “deception” in Iraq occurred during the 2004 preparations for the U.S. military assault on Fallujah, which had become a stronghold for insurgents. On October 14, a spokesman for the marines appeared on CNN and announced that the long-awaited military campaign to retake Fallujah had begun. In fact, the announcement was a deliberate falsehood. The announcement on CNN was intended to trick the insurgents so that U.S. commanders could see how they would react to the real offensive, which would not begin until three weeks later. In giving this bit of false information to CNN, however, the marines were not merely reaching a “foreign audience” but also Americans who watch CNN.
Much of the U.S. propaganda effort, however, is aimed not at tactical deception of enemy combatants but at influencing morale and support for the war in the United States. The Office of media Outreach, a taxpayer-funded arm of the Department of Defense, has offered government-subsidized trips to Iraq for radio talk-show hosts. “Virtually all expenses are being picked up by the U.S. government, with the exception of broadcasters providing their own means of broadcasting or delivering their content,” reported Billboard magazine’s Radio Monitor website.
Office of media Outreach activities included hosting “Operation Truth,” a one-week tour of Iraq by right-wing talk-show hosts, organized by Russo Marsh & Rogers, a Republican PR firm based in California that sponsors a conservative advocacy group called Move America Forward. The purpose of the “Truth Tour,” they reported on the Move America Forward website, was “to report the good news on Operation Iraqi Freedom you’re not hearing from the old line news media… to get the news straight from our troops serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, including the positive developments and successes they are achieving.” Even before the trip began, however, the radio talkers’ take on Iraq was already decided. “The war is being won, if not already won, I think,” said tour participant Buzz Patterson in a predeparture interview with Fox News. “[Iraq] is stabilized and we want the soldiers themselves to tell the story.”
In September 2004, the U.S. military circulated a request for proposals, inviting private public relations firms to apply for a contract to perform an “aggressive” PR and advertising push inside Iraq to include weekly reports on Iraqi public opinion, production of news releases, video news, the training of Iraqis to serve as spokesmen, and creation of a “rebuttal cell” that would monitor all media throughout Iraq, “immediately and effectively responding to reports that unfairly target the Coalition or Coalition interests.”
According to the request for proposals, “Recent polls suggest support for the Coalition is falling and more and more Iraqis are questioning Coalition resolve, intentions, and effectiveness. It is essential to the success of the Coalition and the future of Iraq that the Coalition gain widespread Iraqi acceptance of its core themes and messages.”
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