Video: Pentagon propaganda?
updated 12/2/2005 11:41:30 AM ET 2005-12-02T16:41:30

It's an issue that raises questions on the ground in Iraq about whether U.S. forces are sacrificing credibility in exchange for possible security.

The Los Angeles Times was the first to report the Bush administration has spent tens of millions of dollars pushing covert propaganda through supposedly independent Iraqi news organizations.

Their independence is something Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld publicly praised as recently as Tuesday.

Rumsfeld said the country's free media provides a "relief valve."  He continued, "There's 72 radio stations. There's 44 television stations.  And they're debating things and talking and arguing and discussing."

This year, however, as the violence in Iraq intensified the Pentagon's effort to plant positive stories about the U.S. occupation intensified as well.

Pentagon documents indicate the Lincoln Group, a Washington based PR firm received a $100 million contract to help produce favorable articles, translate the articles into Arabic, get them placed in Iraqi newspapers and not reveal the Pentagon's role.

A year ago, The Chicago Tribune reported that Lincolns' PR workers in Iraq included three Republican operatives who helped run the Bush campaign in Illinois and had no apparent experience in Iraq.

NBC News has learned the Lincoln group, on top of paying Iraqi newspapers to print U.S. Military propaganda, paid a dozen Iraqi journalists several hundred dollars a month each.

There is nothing illegal about using propaganda during war time.

In Afghanistan, U.S. aircrafts jammed Afghan radio stations and dropped thousands of leaflets repeating the friendly messages about U.S. forces.

Decades ago, in Southeast Asia, the CIA planted stories with Vietnamese reporters.

And during the Cold War, the U.S. Information Agency created Voice of America and Radio Free Europe to beam American-friendly broadcasts behind the iron curtain.

But critics say the problem in Iraq is that the Pentagon's secret effort to buy favorable coverage undermines the independence at the heart of western journalism, and undercuts pledges of a sovereign Iraq.

Bush declared, "We will help the Iraqi people lay the foundations of a strong democracy that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself."

The revelations about U.S. sponsored media prompted Republican Sen. John Warner, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, to promise an investigation.

On Wednesday’s edition of “Hardball,” Warner said, “we’ll look into that because I’m concerned that our credibility abroad is very important."

White House officials today said they are also concerned about the reports and asked the Pentagon for more information.  In the meantime,  the story has been picked up by television channels in the Middle East, raising the possibility that an effort to help U.S. troops in Iraq will, in the end, cause them more harm than good. 

Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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