A few days ago, we noted the revelations by Stars and Stripes that the Pentagon was using a shadowy PR firm to identify the political leanings of journalists trying to cover the "Good War" in Afghanistan (as well as the "Forgotten War" in Iraq). The idea, clearly, was to encourage and reward "pro-war" reporters while planting a big red flag on the backs of any writers considered less than gung-ho about the imperial bloodshed in Muslim lands.
Naturally, the Pentagon denied that the vetting program operated by the Rendon Group – which was hired by the Bush gang to help instigate the mass murder in Iraq – was in any way a sinister, slimy attempt to manipulate the news in order to make the endless slaughter of the Terror War more palatable for the folks back home. Perish the thought! declared the brass. Why, goodness mercy me, the only aim of the program is to help reporters tell the truth, and let the chips fall where they may. As Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman put it after S&S first broke the story: "It’s a good article if it’s accurate. It’s a bad article if it’s inaccurate. That’s the only measurement that we use here at the Defense Department." Makes you want to puddle up, don't it?
Well, Stars and Stripes has done something almost unheard-of in modern journalism – followed up on a story with a skeptical stance toward the bland assurances of authority – and guess what they found? Go ahead, try – you'll never guess. They found that the Pentagon was lying! From S&S:
Contrary to the insistence of Pentagon officials this week that they are not rating the work of reporters covering U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Stars and Stripes has obtained documents that prove that reporters’ coverage is being graded as “positive,” “neutral” or “negative.”
Moreover, the documents — recent confidential profiles of the work of individual reporters prepared by a Pentagon contractor — indicate that the ratings are intended to help Pentagon image-makers manipulate the types of stories that reporters produce while they are embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Well, I never! The Pentagon -- run by honest Brother Bob Gates, who is such a straight arrow that the saintly progressive Barack Obama carried him over from the Bush Regime to keep running our "overseas contingency operations -- has been caught lying through its teeth! What next? Obama spending his vacation playing golf with sleazy Swiss bankers or something?
Back to S&S:
“The purpose of this memo is to provide an assessment of [a reporter from a major U.S. newspaper] ... in order to gauge the expected sentiment of his work while on an embed mission in Afghanistan,” reads the preamble to one of the reporter profiles prepared for the Pentagon by The Rendon Group, a controversial Washington-based public relations firm.
S&S also shreds the post-revelations denials by the Pentagon and Rendon, including the lie by Gates' mouthpiece that the vetting program (that isn't a vetting program, of course) ended last October, in the bad old Bush days:
But the Rendon profiles reviewed by Stars and Stripes prove otherwise. One of the profiles evaluates work published as recently as May, indicating that the rating practice did not in fact cease last October as Whitman stated.
And the explicit suggestions contained in the Rendon profiles detailing how best to manipulate reporters’ coverage during their embeds directly contradict the Pentagon’s stated policies governing the embed process.
By week's end, the Pentagon was in full retreat on the story (in public, at least), pulling out the old stand-by used to cover a multitude of sins, from torture to corruption to atrocity to systematic deceit: a "review" of the program. Whitman, who days before had been loudly trumpeting the program's decency and goodness, was now declaring -- what else? -- that he didn't know the first thing about it, but he was sure enough gosh-dang-diddley-darn going to find out:
“For me, a tool like this serves no purpose and it doesn’t serve me with any value,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters as some of the affected war correspondents began demanding to see their secret military profiles....“I haven’t seen anything that violates any policies, but again, I’m learning about aspects of this as I question our folks in Afghanistan,” Whitman said. “If I find something that is inconsistent with Defense Department values and policies, you can be sure I will address it.”
And we're sure a grateful nation gives its thanks for this great diligence. Whitman, a former Special Forces op whose last wetwork was back in the bug-out from Somalia, has long shown a dogged fealty to the truth: here, for example, planting stories of Iranian "threats" to U.S. boats in the powderkeg of the Strait of Hormuz; or here, early on in the mass murder in Iraq, ardently peddling the Pentagon's knowingly false stories about the "heroic" rescue of Jessica Lynch. There is perhaps one aspect of his promised "review" that might trouble a cynic, however:
Whitman told Pentagon reporters that he was inquiring about the issue, but he added that the Pentagon is not launching any formal inquiry to the matter.
No "formal" review, then. No official inquiry. Just a couple of phone calls from good old Bryan to a few top brass and their mercenary manipulators: "You doing something dirty over there?" "Nope. Everything's jake." "Cool."
Whitman, by the way, is not really a holdover from the Bush Administration, like his boss, Bob Gates. He is actually a holdover from the Clinton Administration, having ascended into the higher Pentagon PR ranks back in 1997, where he helped shape the presentations of Clinton's "good war" against Serbia in 1998, then went on to serve the the cause of imperial message massage into Afghanistan and Iraq.
As we always say around here: Continuity! It's what makes America great!
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on August 28, 2009.