Yesterday, I blogged an item about suspiciously similar letters to newspapers by US soldiers in Iraq. The letters all touted US successes in rebuilding Kirkuk and appeared in about a dozen different newspapers. After reading a couple of pieces about it, I decided that the scariest implication of the story–that the Bush administration was involved in a pretty bizarre and disturbing propaganda campaign–was not true. While that still seems to be the case, the actual origins of the letter are still pretty damn disturbing.
"All we know here is that some unit's commander decided that what he wanted to do was write a letter to some of the Gannett newspapers … and a number of people in his unit decided that was a good idea and they wanted to do it too," Air Force Col. Jay DeFrank, the Pentagon's director of press operations, said Monday.
The Times' account also includes a quote from the mother of one of the "letter-writing" soliders, who said that while the letter was not actually authored by her son, it was "gospel truth."
That the letter may have been factually accurate is not particularly comforting, especially since a letter from a soldier overseas is clearly designed to pull emotional heartstrings that, say, a straight newspaper account wouldn't.
In his Newsday column, persistent war critic (and former henchman of George H.W. Bush), Jim Pinkerton sees the letter-writing campaign as part of a larger pattern of dissembling. He writes:
Yesterday, the Gannett News Service reported that 11 different U.S. newspapers had unwittingly printed identical five-paragraph letters-to-the- editor from soldiers in Iraq. The letters were full of upbeat puff—"the quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored"—the kind that some PR blitzer might dream up.
None of the soldiers contacted by Gannett for comment said that they had written the letter; it had been handed to them for signature, they said, by Army superiors. Indeed, one soldier said he hadn't even seen the letter before it appeared in his hometown paper.
Somewhere, Orwell's ghost is smiling grimly. In his novel "1984," the British writer imagined a Ministry of Truth that would be responsible for manufacturing news of victories and triumphs. Now, it's no longer fiction; it's your tax dollars at work.
Give him a pass for the invocation of Orwell and read the rest of his col, which talks about several ways in which the Bush admin is playing switcheroo with the past.
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