White House 'Concerned' About Paid Stories

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
WASHINGTON - (AP) Demands for details from the White House and
Congress were building Thursday over a U.S. military program whose
multimillion-dollar contracts include money for paying Iraqi newspapers and
journalists to plant favorable stories about the war and rebuilding effort.
Citing increasing concerns about the matter, the Senate Armed
Services Committee summoned Defense Department officials to Capitol Hill for
a briefing Friday.
"I am concerned about any actions that may undermine the credibility
of the United States as we help the Iraqi people stand up a democracy," said
Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., adding that he has no information to
confirm or refute the reports. "A free and independent press is critical to
the functioning of a democracy, and I am concerned about any actions which
may erode the independence of the Iraqi media."
Defense Department officials in Baghdad continued to defend the
program, saying it is a necessary tool to provide factual information to the
Iraqi people.
One of the companies involved _ the Washington-based Lincoln Group _
has at least two contracts with the military to provide media and public
relations services. One, for $6 million, was for public relations and
advertising work in Iraq and involved planting favorable stories in the
Iraqi media, according to a document.
The other Lincoln contract, which is with the Special Operations
Command, is worth up to $100 million over five years for media operations
with video, print and Web-based products. That contract is not related to
the controversy over propaganda and was not for services in Iraq, according
to SOCOM spokesman Ken McGraw.
The Lincoln Group shares that Special Operations contract with two
other firms: SYColeman, a division of L-3 Communications, and Science
Applications International Corp., a San Diego-based defense contractor.
The program came to light just as President Bush released his
strategy for victory in Iraq, which includes the need to support a "free,
independent and responsible Iraqi media" and a vow to help the Iraqi
government communicate in a "professional, effective and open manner."
Across the government Thursday, officials said they were still
looking for more information about the Iraq program.
"We're very concerned," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
"We are seeking more information from the Pentagon."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., slammed the program a devious
scheme that "speaks volumes about the president's credibility gap. If
Americans were truly welcomed in Iraq as liberators, we wouldn't have to
doctor the news for the Iraqi people."
At the Pentagon, spokesman Bryan Whitman said, as he did a day
earlier in response to reporters' inquiries about the reports, that he was
seeking details from U.S. military officials in Baghdad. "I have very few
facts," Whitman said, adding that he would not confirm the essence of the
story until he learned more from Baghdad.
"It's certainly an issue that's easy to get emotional about, and we
need to understand the facts, and when we do I'll provide you as much
information as I can," Whitman said.
When a senior military spokesman in Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch,
was asked whether he thought the program undercuts the credibility of either
the American military or the new Iraqi news media, he did not answer
Instead, he quoted a senior al-Qaida leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as
having told Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the main terrorist leader in Iraq,
"Remember, half the battle is the battlefield of the media."
Lynch said Zarqawi lies to the Iraqi people and he said the American
military does not.
"We do empower our operational commanders with the ability to inform
the Iraqi public, but everything we do is based on fact, not based on
fiction," Lynch said.
Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman in Iraq, said he was
"not aware of any formal review of the program, although it is constantly
being assessed for effectiveness." Whitman said Defense Secretary Donald H.
Rumsfeld was "aware of the issue," but he would not say whether Rumsfeld had
expressed concern about it or whether the secretary had asked for additional
information about it.
Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said
Wednesday that he was not aware of the matter until he had read a newspaper
account of it that morning. Asked on ABC News' "Nightline" whether he
thought the practice was appropriate, Pace replied, "Anything that would be
detrimental to the proper functioning of a democracy in Iraq would worry
Details about the program were first reported Wednesday by The Los
Angeles Times. It marked the second time this year that Pentagon programs
have come under scrutiny for reported payments made to journalists for
favorable press.