Stars and Stripes is reporting a disturbing initiative emanating from the Pentagon’s communications office:
“As more journalists seek permission to accompany U.S. forces engaged in escalating military operations in Afghanistan, many of them could be screened by a controversial Washington-based public relations firm contracted by the Pentagon to determine whether their past coverage has portrayed the U.S. military in a positive light.”
This is another example of the government attempting to color the coverage of military affairs in favorable terms. It is nothing short of propaganda, which is illegal when conducted by government agencies and aimed at the American public:
“No part of any appropriation contained in this or any other Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States not heretofore authorized by the Congress.” [Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005, Pub. L. No. 108-447, div. G, title II, 624, 118 Stat. 2809, 3278 (Dec. 8, 2004). (The language of the prohibition has remained virtually unchanged since 1951.)]
What makes this story something of a surprise is that this isn’t the Bush Defense Department implementing this policy – it’s the Obama administration. And to add further to the offense, the contractor hired by the Pentagon to perform these screenings is The Rendon Group, a PR firm that was used by the Bush administration to justify the phony war in Iraq by producing false reports that asserted the presence of weapons of mass destruction. Rendon was also responsible for the Iraqi National Congress, a front group formed to oust Saddam Hussein. Ahmed Chalabi, a criminal, liar, and, not surprisingly a favorite of American neo-cons, was installed as the head of the INC.
There is no justification for the sort of manipulative practices revealed by Stars and Stripes. The press should not permit themselves to be controlled by government and/or military bureaucrats. And there is no excuse for the current White House to affiliate itself in any way with the disreputable likes of the Rendon Group. If this President expects to be taken seriously as a reformer, and an advocate of transparency and honest governance, this relationship with Rendon must be discontinued immediately.
Update 8/30/09: Good news. The Pentagon has canceled the Rendon contract. That was fast.