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Tuesday, April 15, 2003

GOP Flack

Following this Atrios post I see that Robert George of the NY Post writes to Romanesko’s Media News in response to Michael Wolff's article and my post speculating that the unnamed "uber-civilian" is Jim Wilkinson:

Michael Wolff probably should have named who he was having trouble with -- it would hardly be the first time that a journalist has complained about how much (or how little) information that they are getting from official sources (or for that matter, how much they are being "spun"). It seems to me that the biggest problem that Wolff (and many in blogworld) have with Jim Wilkinson (if that is indeed the person to whom Wolff is referring) is his "uber-civilian" and "Republican operative" status. First, there seemed to be a hint that it is wrong for a civilian to be doing public affairs. But the simple fact is -- as has been reported elsewhere and I can confirm -- is that Wilkinson is a Navy reservist. Now, that doesn't make him active duty, but it doesn't make him a total "civilian" either.

As for Wilkinson's alleged party affiliation, well before heading to CENTCOM, he worked out of the White House press operation. I'm sure the WH people felt that the combination of military and political background made him a good pick to flack for Tommy Franks. Kinda makes sense to me. Besides, are we to be shocked -- shocked!!!! -- that a press person representing an administration's viewpoints (even those in a war zone) might have been involved in politics earlier?

I don’t know why a civilian reservist who is not on active duty would be wearing a uniform, but perhaps that’s just an odd vainglorious affectation rather than an attempt to appear to be DOD instead of White House. In any case, it is just a little bit of delicious detail and holds no real importance.

What I find really amazing is that George acknowledges Wilkinson is representing the “administration’s viewpoint” when he says:

"I have a brother who is in a Hummer at the front, so don't talk to me about too much fucking air-conditioning." "A lot of people don't like you." "Don't fuck with things you don't understand." "This is fucking war, asshole." "No more questions for you."

I always felt that the administration acted like a bunch of cheap movie gangsters, but it’s quite refreshing to see a Republican concur.

However, he still does not really understand why people object to a partisan hack like Wilkinson being influential in the war zone. It’s not just that Wilkinson characterized the bourgeois rioters as “volunteers” when everybody knows that they were virtually all paid congressional staffers. It’s because his job is to spin the war and control the message and that’s just a little bit offensive to old fashioned people who still think that the military should not be explicitly political, particularly in wartime. And it’s all the more objectionable when this very same fellow is the one who was in charge of compiling the report "A Decade of Defiance and Deception that included so many of the now disproved allegations about aluminum tubes and the like.

Here are some excerpts
of an internet cache of this archived article
from Newsweek written by Martha Brant last September:

Ladies and Gentlemen ... the Band: Selling the war in Iraq

"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.


It was Bartlett, Bush’s right-hand man and the 31-year-old leader of the Band, who has insisted that this and all documents be sourced. Wilkinson spent hours footnoting the 22-page "Decade of Defiance" document released last week, for example. "We compiled every single possible bit of research we could find and then set out to verify, verify, verify," Wilkinson explains.


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.

They’ll be playing soon at a TV, newspaper and radio near you.

I would have thought that once the invasion was underway that the DOD could be depended upon to handle the press. Why a costumed White House "band member" needed to be there is still not clear, George's oh-so-world weary Raines impression notwithstanding. Perhaps it is standard in all wars for the White House to have a representative at Central Command to coordinate "the message" and tell reporters "don't fuck with things you don't understand" and "no more questions for you." But, that wouldn't make it any less disturbing.