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Hullabaloo


Sunday, August 26, 2007

 
Cover Band

by digby

You can tell it's almost September. The Bush administration is going back to the only thing it's ever been successful at --- rolling out product and marketing it. The AP reports that the Pentagon is creating a new Propaganda War Room to bring us the good news:

According to a memo circulated Thursday and obtained by The Associated Press, Dorrance Smith, assistant defense secretary for public affairs, is looking for personnel for what he called the high-priority effort to distribute Defense Department information on Iraq.

The move _ requested by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England _ comes as administration officials are gearing up for a rash of reports on progress in Iraq and recommendations from the military on troop levels going into next year.

[...]

The Pentagon dismissed suggestions that the communications desk will be a message machine or propaganda tool, and instead said it is being set up to gather and distribute information from eight time zones away in a more efficient and timely manner.

"I would not characterize it as a war room," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Friday. "It's far less sinister than that. It's more like a library."

[...]

Defense officials familiar with the plan said it will provide information to other federal agencies, including the White House and State Department, so that officials can speak more consistently and accurately about the war.

The plan would put a team of people in the Joint Chiefs of Staff top-secret operations center.

Less than a year ago, Smith developed plans for teams of people to "develop messages" for the 24-hour news cycle and "correct the record" when news agencies put out what the Pentagon considered inaccurate information.

At the time, he outlined an operation that resembled a political campaign _ such as that made famous by Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign war room _ calling for a "Rapid Response" section that quickly answers opponents' assertions.

It was set up to focus more resources on the Internet and blogs and book civilian and military guests on television and radio shows.

While portions of the plan were put in place, much of it was shelved when Donald H. Rumsfeld stepped down as defense secretary and Robert Gates took over.

Let's talk about Dorrance Smith for a moment. Here's what Harper's wrote about him last month:

Dorrance Smith, a former ABC News producer, has been close to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld since the Ford Administration. Which probably explains why the Bush Administration picked him to be assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.

In November 2005, shortly after President Bush nominated him for the post, Smith wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal claiming American television networks—including Fox News—had an “ongoing relationship” with the pan-Arab news network Al-Jazeera. That prompted Senator Carl Levin, then the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to put a hold on Smith’s nomination. Smith, Levin said, believed that “Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and Al Qaeda have a partner in Al-Jazeera and, by extension, most networks in the U.S.” And such a person, Levin reasoned, should not be given a senior Pentagon press-relations job.

But the Bush Administration had other plans, and Smith was named to his job in a recess appointment in February 2006. Recess appointments are the Bush Administration’s preferred method for installing hacks into key positions (see John Bolton), and Smith hasn’t disappointed: even though he heads an agency that is meant to be the main liaison between the Pentagon, the media, and the American public, he has, we’re told, yet to hold a single press briefing.

[...]

The stated mission of the Public Affairs office is to provide accurate information to the media and the public. But Smith’s aim seems to be to turn his office into a political spin operation that serves the White House. For example, he posted “Five Myths About the War on Terror” on a Defense Department website, a document greatly lacking in facts. Two of the “myths” he seeks to debunk: that “Secretary Rumsfeld ignored military advice to increase troop levels in Iraq,” and that “the administration has been distracted from waging an effective war in Afghanistan by Iraq.”

Smith has also sought to turn the Early Bird—a daily collection of articles on defense and national security issues assembled by the Pentagon—into what one reporter called “an in-house propaganda rag.” Smith has used the Early Bird to circulate letters he has written to newspapers that criticize media outlets for allegedly misreporting the situation in Iraq. (Apparently some of these letters were so ridiculous that no newspaper would publish them.) Smith also created a rapid-response team of administration loyalists who craft emergency spin on news stories that don’t reflect well on the war effort.

He sounds like the perfect guy to help us all get the good news about the surge. In fact his operation takes me back to the good old days of 2002:

"We’re getting the Band together," White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett told the group on their first conference call last week.

The "Band" is made up of the people who brought you the war in Afghanistan—or at least the accompanying public-relations campaign. Their greatest hit: exposing the Taliban’s treatment of women.

Now, they’re back for a reunion tour on Iraq. The Band's instrument, of course, is information.

They aim to use it against Saddam Hussein, respond to his disinformation and control the message within the administration so no one—not even Vice President Dick Cheney—freelances on Iraq.

That’s no easy task. The members talk every day by phone at 9:30 a.m.

The key players are a handful of rising stars in their early 40s and under:

For starters there’s Deputy Communications Director Jim Wilkinson, 32, a fast-talking Texan who has become an unlikely but keen student of Islam. He recently got back from a trip to Morocco where he continued his study of Arabic (which he can now read and write pretty well).

It was Wilkinson who spearheaded the successful Afghan women’s campaign last year. A Naval Reserve officer, Wilkinson got his start working with Bush ally Texas Rep. Dick Armey. He’s the go-to guy when the White House needs information against its enemies.

In the last few weeks, he and his underlings have weeded through hundreds of pages of news clippings, U.N. resolutions and State Department reports to compile an arsenal of documents against Saddam Hussein. They released the first round last week: "Decade of Defiance and Deception" (a broken-U.N.-resolutions hit parade).

Then there’s Tucker Eskew, 41, a savvy South Carolinian, who will soon be named the director of the new Office of Global Communications, which will be formally launched this fall. Neither a Texan nor a lifelong Bushie, he earned his stripes during the Florida election mess by becoming the campaign’s tropical smooth-talker.

[…]

The White House is sending administration bigwigs to hearings this week and next to help make Bush’s case against Saddam Hussein—not just to Congress, but to the American people. It’s the Band's job to make sure that case gets heard.



There are two things the administration does very well: stealing from the taxpayers and giving the money to their rich contributors and rolling out new product with PR and propaganda. The problem is that over and over again their product is not just defective, it's toxic and deadly. Caveat Emptor.


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