IT’S A REVERSE-VIETNAM: On Reliable Sources I said that the Plame scandal was a reverse-Watergate, with the press, not the White House, keeping the important secrets about what happened. But looking at the transcript, I see that Iraq is also a reverse Vietnam, as made clear in this statement from UPI correspondent Pamela Hess:
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
Pam Hess, during Vietnam U.S. officials were often accused of distorting or even lying to the press to try to make it look like the war effort was going better than it was. When you were in Iraq did you feel like you were getting the straight story?
HESS: Certainly from the militarily I did. They have no interest in cooking the books, as it were, they — they understand that they were blamed for Vietnam and what happened, and they don’t want that blame again.
They want people to understand the kind of enemy that they are facing and how long it’s going to take. And frankly, most of them said to me, “Please go back and tell them not to pull us out because we are finally at a point where we have enough people here now on the ground between soldiers and Iraqis that we can actually start doing some good and start turning things around. And if you pull us out, we’re just going to be back here three years from now.”
KURTZ: More optimistic, at least than some of the journalists.
(See it on video here.) In Vietnam, the brass talked happy-talk, the press talked to grunts and reported that the war was going worse than we were told. But now it’s Americans who are talking to the grunts, and, as StrategyPage noted last year, getting a different picture of how the war is going:
So you donâ€™t have to wait for the official version of whatâ€™s going on, or for reporters on the scene to get their stories to the folks back home. The troops send email, or pick up the phone, sometimes a cell phone, and call. This has caused a lot of confusion, because the media reports of whatâ€™s happening are often at odds with what the troops are reporting. This has been particularly confusing in a year where thereâ€™s a presidential election race going on. The Democrats decided to attack the way the war on terror, and particularly the actions in Iraq, was being fought. Part of that approach involved making the situation at the front sound really, really bad. But the troops over there seemed to be reporting a different war. And when troops came home, they were amazed at what they saw in the newspapers and electronic media. Politics and reality donâ€™t mix.
It’s not surprising, then, that the more connection people have to the war, the better they think things are going. That’s precisely the opposite of what we saw in Vietnam, of course.
Maybe the troops have been reading their own clippings:
As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.
The articles, written by U.S. military “information operations” troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. . The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents, and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.
While the articles are basically truthful, they present only one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the U.S. or Iraqi governments, officials said. Records and interviews indicate that the U.S. has paid Iraqi newspapers to run dozens of such articles — with headlines such as “Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism” — since the effort began this year.
The operation is designed to mask any connection with the U.S. military. The Pentagon has a contract with a small Washington-based firm called Lincoln Group, which helps translate and place the stories. The Lincoln Group’s Iraqi staff, or its subcontractors, sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to Baghdad media outlets.
Each Iraqi newspaper should come with a paper strip across it reading: Sanitized for your protection.