Trylon Communications  - December 2005

Dirty PR Tricks?

The U.S. Defense Department has allegedly used questionable PR tactics in Iraq. Positive articles about the war written by U.S. troops have appeared in Iraqi newspapers under the guise of independent journalism -- part of a coordinated effort by the U.S. military to win over Iraqi civilians, according to military officials.

U.S. officers in Iraq say the program is an essential element of an "information war" against an insurgency adept at using violent acts to spread its message through local and international media. The newspaper articles promote positive aspects of the U.S.-led coalition's work and encourage Iraqis to take part in their burgeoning democracy.

"This is a military program to help get factual information about ongoing operations into Iraqi news," said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman in Baghdad. "Because this is part of our ongoing operations and an important part of countering misinformation in the news by insurgents, I can't provide details of what that entails. I want to emphasize that all information used for marketing these stories is completely factual."

The program has been run out of the Multinational Corps commanded by Lt. Gen. John Vines in Baghdad, with the help of a Washington-based contractor, Lincoln Group. The company translates the articles and markets them to Iraqi media outlets without indicating the material came from the U.S. military. This lack of clear attribution resembles a similar tactic used by the U.S. for domestic video news releases. (see story.)

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said officials are looking into the matter and that "some things about it, if true, are a bit troubling." Media experts decried the practice of planting articles by the military as undermining the newly emerging free press in Iraq.

"In the very process of preventing misinformation from another side, they are creating misinformation through a process that disguises the source for information that is going out," said John Schulz, dean of Boston University's College of Communications and a veteran journalist. "You can't be creating a model for democracy while subverting one of its core principles, a free independent press."