US military's placement of paid stories draws debate

WASHINGTON - The US military's alleged combination of public affairs and psychological operations in the war on terror has become a heated topic in mainstream media and the subject of a potential congressional investigation.

Last week, the LA Times reported that the US military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to print articles written by US troops to "burnish the image of the US mission in Iraq."

According to the article, the Pentagon has a contract with Washington, DC-based Lincoln Group, which helps to translate and place the stories.

Laurie Adler, a spokeswoman for the Lincoln Group, would not comment on existing contracts with the US government and referred all calls to Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesperson for the US Command in Baghdad. Johnson could not be reached by press time.

A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment, saying the department had to determine the veracity of the article first.

The Associated Press reported that Congress is asking for an investigation into the matter.

This comes as Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal told the Arab media forum that one of the US mistakes in Iraq was allowing hundreds of newspapers and several television stations to be set up.

"Right now, the last thing Iraqis need is so many voices quarrelling through the media. This is not the time for the luxury of having so many TV channels and 200 newspapers, you can't impose U.S. democracy in Iraq," said Alwaleed, who owns stakes Time Warner and News Corp.

Earlier this year, Lincoln Group was one of three firms awarded a $1m psy-ops contract by the Pentagon.

The scope of that work was "media approach planning, prototype-product development, commercial quality product development, product distribution and dissemination, and media effects analysis," according to a statement from the Department of Defense.

Adler said the work described in the Times article was not part of this contract.

"The practice of paying for what appear to be editorial placements is wrong, and is clearly inconsistent with the Page Principles, whether done in Iraq, the US, or anywhere," said Arthur W. Page Society president Tom Martin, SVP and director of corporate relations at ITT industries. "We can be passionate advocates for a particular position, and we should be. But we must also make clear the source of that advocacy and any relationships, paid or otherwise, that may exist."

News of Lincoln Group's contract comes on the heels of another DC firm's relationship with the government receiving unusual media attention.

The Rendon Group and its president, John Rendon, were the subject of a recent Rolling Stone profile, "The Man Who Sold the War," which describes him as President Bush's "general in the propaganda war."

The article maintained that the Rendon Group has received millions of dollars in DoD contracts to target Iraq and other adversaries with propaganda. The Rendon Group is currently conducting the work under a 15-month, $8.2 million contract.

The increased press attention paid to the Rendon Group coincides with the US Strategic Command (Stratcomm) decision to revise an RFP it issued in August for foreign media analysis.

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