Just when you thought the Bush administration couldn't possibly appear any more corrupt, another scandal surfaces that further demonstrates the unethical and possibly criminal lengths this unsavory bunch will go to to promote and protect its selfish interests. The latest controversy involves the Pentagon's $100 million classified contract awarded to Washington, D.C. public relations firm The Lincoln Group to write pro-war propaganda articles, translate them into Arabic and have them published in Iraqi newspapers, appearing to be written by legitimate reporters of the mainstream Iraqi press.
Appearing on MSNBC's Hardball Thursday, correspondent Ron Reagan Jr., a truly solid citizen, called this campaign of deception "a disaster," saying it undermines the entire mission in Iraq at this point to create a legitimate Democracy and a free and independent press. "We're supposed to be setting an example for these people. They've lived under a dictator for years who tortured people; for whom the news was whatever he said it was. These people are looking to us for something better, and what do we give them? We give them Abu Ghraib and this kind of nonsense."
Late Thursday Sen. John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said an inquiry will begin Friday into the Pentagon's campaign to covertly plant stories and pay reporters for the bogus news. Warner issued a statement that said "A free and independent press is critical to the functioning of a Democracy." Exactly. Up to now we have the president, who's sent 160,000 troops into battle under the new justification of spreading Democracy (2100 of them to die), secretly undercutting his own mission by manufacturing and buying his own press coverage, and in the process severely undermining the goal of creating a legitimate, credible mainstream press in Iraq.
In his speech Wednesday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, Bush said: "We will help the Iraqi people lay the foundations of a strong Democracy that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself." Apparently, Bush's idea of a strong Democracy is one where its citizens have little trust in the garbage they read in the so-called free press because its crammed with American propaganda.
What this administration is doing here is reprehensible, and adversarial to what we say we're doing in Iraq. And as Reagan Jr. pointed out, it's further inciting the insurgents, which ultimately places our troops in greater danger. "If you were part of the insurgency right now you couldn't have asked for a better story to undercut what the president was saying Wednesday, and you couldn't have asked for a better story to say to your constituency, 'I told you so.'
Additionally, editors of Iraqi newspapers that have published the Pentagon propaganda have been receiving death threats for appearing to be too close to, and controlled by, America. This will also hamper Iraq's ability to build a free and independent press. If editors are not safe, or if they cannot be trusted, and if the Iraqi people have little faith in the integrity and independence of its media, there's little hope for a legitimate press thriving in that country.
So far, senior Pentagon officials are saying little and denying involvement in the propaganda scandal. But it's hard to imagine that a $100 million classified contract's been doled out and the higher-ups don't know about it. Further, anything war-related that's released to the media must first be cleared by the Pentagon's Office of Public Affairs. This is not the sort of project that could've squeaked by unnoticed at the top.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Wednesday attributed the positive news to Iraq's burgeoning legitimate press, citing its 100+ newspapers, 72 radio stations and 44 television stations. "The country has a free media; it's a relief valve. They're debating things and talking and arguing and discussing." Sure. And Armstrong Williams was simply speaking his own mind too. Liars, liars, liars! Man, will it ever stop?
Regarding the alleged progress we're making in Iraq, the most salient point comes again from Reagan Jr.: "If there's so much good news coming out of Iraq, why do we have to pay Iraqi journalists to report it? They should be doing it on their own. Maybe there just isn't a lot of good news over there to report."
As for the Bush culture of corruption and cronyism, the head of The Lincoln Group, 30-year-old Christian Bailey, is a former hedgefund operator who's previously run four companies and is a director and NYC co-chair of Lead 21, an organization of young, affluent Republicans. Apparently his GOP connections helped bag him a nice fat $100 million contract.
The stench of corruption emanating from the White House is enough to make you sick.