The Propaganda Feedback Loop

I really hope you all clicked & read the L.A. Times story on propaganda Kerry linked to below. Among other revelations comes word that the military has secretly bought an Iraqi newspaper and radio station, knowing full well that the "news" funneled through them will eventually filter back to the States:

One of the military officials said that, as part of a psychological operations campaign that has intensified over the last year, the task force also had purchased an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station, and was using them to channel pro-American messages to the Iraqi public. Neither is identified as a military mouthpiece.

The official would not disclose which newspaper and radio station are under U.S. control, saying that naming them would put their employees at risk of insurgent attacks.

U.S. law forbids the military from carrying out psychological operations or planting propaganda through American media outlets. Yet several officials said that given the globalization of media driven by the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, the Pentagon's efforts were carried out with the knowledge that coverage in the foreign press inevitably "bleeds" into the Western media and influences coverage in U.S. news outlets.

Previous Hit&Run tracing of related WoT/propaganda developments can be found here, here, here, here, here and here, for starters.

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  • ||

    I'll repost what I posted in another thread on this:

    If anybody here thinks that this is actually A Good Thing (I'm not talking about the people who dislike it but don't deem it a high priority), I have a few questions for you:

    First, do you approve of it because you think the free press is inadequate for the needs of a free society? If so, in what ways is it inadequate?

    Second, is active meddling by the state the best or only way to deal with inadequacies of the free press? For that matter, is it even a desirable way to deal with those alleged inadequacies?

    Finally, can any of this justify the use of deception as opposed to more open methods, e.g. media that openly identifies itself as an organ of the state?


    Extra Credit: What do you think of PBS? NPR? What about Qatar's state-founded Al Jazeera? (which I recall has either privatized or is expected to privatize soon)

  • Matt Welch||

    thoreau -- Over at InstaPundit, there are links to full-throated defenses of the move by Stephen Green and Jeff Goldstein.

  • ||

    In war, truth is the first victim.

    No, I don't have a problem with this. It's war. Mouthpieces aren't even on the top 100 list of worst things.

  • ||

    (a) I don't see why this surprises anyone (especially those who supported the invasion).

    (b) One has to ask how effective this stuff is?

    (c) In line with the efficacy query, how dangerous is it?

  • ||

    Toxic-

    You say that truth is the first casualty in war, and you are right. So, let's take the use of propaganda as a "proxy casualty rate": If the truth is still under assault, does that mean that we are far from victory?

    If we are indeed far from victory, how does this square with the assertions of those who insist that the media is making things look worse than they really are?

  • gaius marius||

    Over at InstaPundit

    big surprise there.

    In war, truth is the first victim.

    as long as no one believes anything they hear, i suppose that's just fine. however, fortunately or unfortunately, most people aren't going to sit in a vacuum and ignore iraq -- this is ostensibly a democracy, after all. they're going to get information. the government is going to give a lot of it to them. and they're going to be making decisions with it.

    if you think it's just normal for government lies to be the basis for the evaluation of government, i don't see how you could argue that democracy is a good form of government. is there any difference between democracy and tyranny if the government is essentially self-evaluating?

  • Matt||

    I read "the needs of a free society" in the first comment and "naming them would put their employees at risk of insurgent attacks" in the Times piece and my head hurts. So on to another point: if, as the post suggests, the nefarious part of this is that the pro-U.S. coverage might "bleed into" American media coverage, is that because U.S. journalists are prone to take everything reported in Iraq at face value, without any, let's call it, "value added"? If so, that would be news to me.

  • ||

    Another question: Truth has always been a casualty, but does that mean that every assault on the truth should be shrugged off? Leaving aside ethical concerns, what about resource allocation concerns?

    It's one thing for official spokesmen to spin things. It's another thing to purchase a radio station and newspaper.

  • gaius marius||

    how dangerous is it?

    potentially very, of course, gg, if the populist complicity of europe in the 1930s is any marker -- though we may still be some ways from that point.

    the question is, once the government is setting the terms of the debate -- even if it doesn't control all information but frames the debate, something recent american administrations have been perilously good at -- can government be considered something other than self-evaluating?

  • ||

    Toxic,

    I perfer Sun Tzu's though: all warfare is based on deception. Those committing themselves to war should not expect wartime to be conducted like peacetime.

  • ||

    First, do you approve of it because you think the free press is inadequate for the needs of a free society? If so, in what ways is it inadequate?

    Second, is active meddling by the state the best or only way to deal with inadequacies of the free press? For that matter, is it even a desirable way to deal with those alleged inadequacies?

    I don't agree with having a secretly-American Government news outlet (or even an open one, really), but this question bugs me. Is the presumption that speech by the state is active meddling in free speech and thus a violation of it?

  • ||

    You know, there have been many, many threads about the media's portrayel of conditions in Iraq, and many, many other threads that have been hijacked into discussions of same by the hawks.

    But this is the first time I've seen any of them shrug their shoulders and say "Hey, man, no big deal. Media's always partisan."

    Funny, that. The media doing straight reporting that doesn't square with their preferred narrative, they freak right the hell out. Media outlets actually being paid to promote the government's line while pretending to be independent, hey, what's the big deal.

    Did I mention that there are a lot of sickening hypocrites supporting this war?

  • ||

    It doesn't surprise me that they are doing this. It is a recurring disease of the 'psy ops' types to think this sort of thing will really turn the tide of public opinion. They seem to miss the point that propaganda is largely a way to address external opinion, and is only effective in that role to the extent that you have a media monopoly.

    It just seems so ... 1950s.

  • ||

    I wonder who the hawks here are?

    gaius marius,

    But it clearly isn't setting the terms of the debate. A heck of a lot of negative news comes out of Iraq obviously. So far it seems that we have the Keystone Cops working at these broadcast sites if its an issue of framing the debate.

  • ||

    Hak:

    I would be one. If I thought this sort of goofiness would help us attain credibility, I would support it. Then again, if I thought that this sort of thing would gain us credibility, I would implicitly believe that Iraqis were idiot monkeys.

  • ||

    Is the presumption that speech by the state is active meddling in free speech and thus a violation of it?

    Sorry if I gave that impression. I mean that the state clearly believes that the free press needs to be supplemented by something that serves the needs of the state but in the guise of an independent outlet. I don't consider this meddling in free speech or a violation thereof, but it is definitely an attempt to infiltrate a vital institution, creating mouthpieces that pose as something other than organs of the state.

  • ||

    Is the presumption that speech by the state is active meddling in free speech and thus a violation of it?

    Sorry if I gave that impression. I mean that the state clearly believes that the free press needs to be supplemented by something that serves the needs of the state but in the guise of an independent outlet. I don't consider this meddling in free speech or a violation thereof, but it is definitely an attempt to infiltrate a vital institution, creating mouthpieces that pose as something other than organs of the state.

  • ||

    Sorry about the double post. I tried posting, waited a while, then tried again. Locke almost forgot to enter the numbers, putting the server on the fritz.

    Remember, when the alarm sounds you have to enter 4 8 15 16 23 42.

  • ||

    Can I ask a question?

    Given that there isn't a single *named* source in the piece except for an Iraqi editor who said he publishes every pro-american piece he can find...

    Given this lack of named sources, and a lack of other documentation, why reason do I have for believing the article is factually accurate?

  • ||

    From the LA Times article:

    "Though the articles are basically factual, they present only one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the U.S. or Iraqi governments, officials said." (emphasis mine)

    So nothing is made up, but they only present one side. That seems no more biased than CNN or any other news organization who is only reporting the negative events. Case closed for me. Non-issue.

  • ||

    I don't really have a problem with this from a military perspective. Yes, it's unethical, but so is war. Has there ever been a war without propaghanda?

    This tactic is certainly at odds with our stated purpose but, again, that's part of the complexity of war. The real question is why do all our dirty, little secrets keep getting published as front page news? Is our military that incompetent?

    Don't get me wrong, one of the reasons for a free press is to uncover things of this nature, but it just seems that we used to be better at keeping certain things mum.

    As for any bleed-over, I'm just not concerned.

  • ||

    So nothing is made up, but they only present one side. That seems no more biased than CNN or any other news organization who is only reporting the negative events. Case closed for me. Non-issue.

    What if on September 12 a news outlet reported "Manhattan residents now have clear view of Statue of Liberty"?

  • Matt Welch||

    JonBuck -- There's also this passage:

    According to several sources, the process for placing the stories begins when soldiers write "storyboards" of events in Iraq, such as a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid on a suspected insurgent hide-out, or a suicide bomb that killed Iraqi civilians.

    The storyboards, several of which were obtained by The Times, read more like press releases than news stories. They often contain anonymous quotes from U.S. military officials; it is unclear whether the quotes are authentic.

    "Absolute truth was not an essential element of these stories," said the senior military official who spent this year in Iraq.

  • gaius marius||

    Those committing themselves to war should not expect wartime to be conducted like peacetime.

    which begs the question, gg -- if the war on terror has no effective end, should we simply expect this to be the way of it in perpetuity?


    It's one thing for official spokesmen to spin things. It's another thing to purchase a radio station and newspaper.

    indeed -- but a lot of folks are pretending that this isn't a slippery slope we're on, mr thoreau.

  • ||

    gaius marius,

    Heh. Its kind of difficult to put genies back into bottles. Like I wrote yesterday, we still have rent control even though in most places it was created as a "temporary" wartime measure during WWII.

  • ||

    Sorry if I gave that impression. I mean that the state clearly believes that the free press needs to be supplemented by something that serves the needs of the state but in the guise of an independent outlet. I don't consider this meddling in free speech or a violation thereof, but it is definitely an attempt to infiltrate a vital institution, creating mouthpieces that pose as something other than organs of the state.

    That makes more sense, thanks.

    Also, that makes more sense. Thanks. ;)

  • ||

    On the one hand, CNN reports mostly bad news from Iraq because there _is_ mostly bad news from Iraq. This makes right-wingers like Jon Buck mad. On the other hand, the Pentagon PAYS Iraqi papers to publish propaganda. This makes everybody except those same right-wingers mad. Therefore, both sides are equal. A pox on both their houses!

  • rox_publius||

    well, at least CNN doesn't confiscate the product of my work in order to feed me their bullshit.

  • ||

    It was done in Kosovo with no problem or outrage at the time.

    http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0PBZ/is_5_84/ai_n7069240

    I dunno if they "paid" media to run their stories but I bet that they did.

    No named sources in the LA story. Yet it is being spun as fact by anyone who has a bone to pick with Bush and quickly being turned into anti-US propaganda (e.g. using the word "bribed" when talking about the this anonymously sourced story).

    Yay! Another propaganda victory for the terrorists....supplied by our own media!

  • ||

    Yay! Another propaganda victory for the terrorists....supplied by our own media!

    Even if the story turns out to be false, I fail to see how it's a victory for our enemies.

  • ||

    This would be a propaganda victory for da terraists whether it was true or not. The stories about Abu Ghraib, Baghram (where they beat a man to death and laughed at his screams), and Gitmo were huge propaganda victories for anti-Americans.

    I'll come out right now for truthful, accurate, and fair reporting, regardless of who appears to benefit. How about you, This&That?

  • ||

    I'm no fan of deception and dirty tricks at any time, but I accept that they happen to some degree during a war. However, there's a difference between dropping leaflets on populations while we're invading and forcing the media of a country we're occupying to make stuff up. It's bad for a variety of reasons, not the least of which that it's obviously intended to make its way back home. Nice end-run of U.S. laws against this sort of thing. Also, what system are we selling to the Iraqis if we treat them as not having the kinds of rights we're supposedly fighting for?

  • ||

    Pro Libertate-

    It's also telling that the propaganda continues. Like you said, dropping leaflets during an invasion is one thing. But some people here keep saying that the news is actually really good, despite what the media says. If the news is so good, and the situation is well in hand, then why do they feel the need to manipulate the Iraqi media?

    Yeah, I know, the darn Iraqi media is reporting the negative. Well, so what? If the situation is under control then the situation is under control, and controlling the news shouldn't be necessary.

    Or maybe the situation isn't under control...

  • ||

    thoreau, Pro Libertate, etc. are confusing perception with reality. It may be that things are just peachy in Iraq, but the perception may be skewed in the entirely opposite direction.

  • ||

    Pro Libertate,

    It would also be useful to know how this bled back to the U.S. Did it change the nature of the debate?

  • ||

    Pro Libertate,

    Oh, have you read Charles Perrow?

  • ||

    It just seems so ... 1950s.

    Actually, it just seems so...Wiley Coyote to me. The Latest Stroke of Genius! If only we buy, say, the Baghdad Tibune-Times, and plant bogus stories about how Iraqi schoolkids are greeting Sergeant Steve with hand made cards, and their smiling parents are coming up to the GIs saying "Tank yu veddy veddy much for giving us demokrazee"! Some of these stories have got to get out to the wire services and get picked up by MSM stateside, right? Yeah, that's the ticket...

    Until the broadsheet editors start noticing that none of the warm fuzzy stories in that rag are being confirmed by anyone else, and the Baghdad Tribune-Times has as much journalistic credibility as the Weekly World News. That's when the Acme rocket skates explode, and the coyote has to go back to his lab...

  • ||

    What better way to show we believe in what we preach than to take some bitch slaps from the Iraqi media? Not to mention, our total lack of interest in what they say would demonstrate our strength, not impair it. It's not like the Iraqis are cut off from the rest of the world's media, anyway, so they can hear what they want. . .just like us :)

    It takes a lot of strength of character to live up to your principles, even when it's tough to do so. I'm not some yellow-bellied idealist, either, but I think people just assume that we have to take the gloves completely off just because the military is involved. Nonsense. We're insanely powerful in comparison to the whole planet and can probably afford to exert our will with a hand or two tied behind our back.

    As an aside, if I were writing fake stuff in the Iraqi media, I'd say something about God obviously favoring the West, since they keep winning, and winning, and winning, are insanely rich, have the best toys, and dominate the world in babe-a-liciousness. I bet a lot of people in the Middle East secretly wonder about that, anyway. Oh, and I'd suggest that they should try to help the West recover from its decadent ways rather than kill 750 million people.

  • ||

    "...forcing the media of a country we're occupying to make stuff up"

    Nice propaganda.

    The US is not doing that, even the LA story says that the stories are factual. And paying someone to run a story is not forcing them to do anything. It is not like we are going to run them though a shredder if they refuse.

    There are 100's of newspapers. IF the story is true then the US bought two media sources to put out factual stories. Obviously that equates to domination of the media market and forcing everyone to print their stories.

    Not that it matters now. Damage done. Score another one for the Terrorist's media allies.

  • ||

    Hakluyt,

    The sociologist? No.

    As for perception vs. reality, I'm not sure what you mean. I don't think things are super bad over there, though they certainly could be better. This occupation is so tied into domestic politics that it's hard to figure out what's really going on. I'm of the we-shouldn't-have-gone-in-when-we-did-but-let's-make-
    the-best-of-it-shall-we school, and I'm pretty sure that we've given a lot of people a chance to live in a less oppressive system. I'd do things a lot differently, but, aside from my lapses with Weber and Perrow, I'm a super genius. At least compared with the people you usually see running this country :)

  • ||

    This&That, for the record, I'm only responding to this whole thing in theory at this point. I haven't read much about what we're doing (or not doing). There may very well be a less insidious angle to what's happening over there.

    I do think it's silly to say that the "terrorists' media allies" have scored a point, though. People have all sorts of reactions to breaking news, then calm down and figure out what really happened. Or not, depending on the people in question :)

  • ||

    Pro Libertate,

    As far as I can tell the Iraqi media hasn't kept the gloves on re: the U.S.

    ...but I think people just assume that we have to take the gloves completely off just because the military is involved.

    I think that's uncharitable and probably wrong.

    Perrow would help you in that bureaucracy quest you set on yesterday.

    As to perception, well, I was really running against thoreau's argument about these actions having the underlying meaning that things are quite terrible over there. It could be that things are peachy and that the military sees a need for message control to get the word out.

  • theOneState||

    What's up with the top pentagon official who doesn't like this occuring leaking the story and then saying he won't name a U.S.-run station because it could endanger it's operators?

    I call BS.

    If it was even possible to endager all of the Iraqi media further, he did it by leaking the story and creating doubt about EVERY Iraqi media outlet with any "positive" news. If this story is remotely accurate, this guy's an asshole and ought to be punished.

    He's also stupid if he thinks that discrediting the Pentagon publicly on this issue will create better conditions for whatever way he would prefer to do things.

    This is really just amazing.

    All that being said, how funny would it be if right wing bloggers get all of their "unreported good news from Iraq" from these pentagon-employed writers?

  • Dave W.||

    "Did I mention that there are a lot of sickening hypocrites supporting this war?"

    And John Kerry, too and john Edwards, too. So, to be clear, its not *just* hypocrites.

  • ||

    Hakluyt, in the light of day, I'm begining to see a pattern to my ignorance--I clearly forgot to take Bureaucracy 101. Not a good idea for someone who, at this moment, is trying desperately not to write a memo on administrative law. I miss being an in-house counsel :(

  • ||

    Among other revelations comes word that the military has secretly bought an Iraqi newspaper and radio station, knowing full well that the "news" funneled through them will eventually filter back to the States

    So, anyway, where are all these stories funnelled back to the US by the Em Ess Em? I thought the only people reporting any good news in Iraq were the poor, deluded warbloggers.

  • ||

    On further reflection, this might not be a nefarious thing. It's possible that this is just another way to spread lucre.

  • ||

    "The official would not disclose which newspaper and radio station are under U.S. control, saying that naming them would put their employees at risk of insurgent attacks."

    $50 says every Iraqi with a radio knows exactly which station is owned by the Americans.

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