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Profile: John Stauber
John Stauber was a participant or observer in the following events:
’Nayirah’ testifying before Congress. [Source: Web Fairy (.com)]An unconfirmed report of Iraqi soldiers entering a Kuwaiti hospital during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990) and removing newborns from their incubators causes a sensation in the US media. The rumor, which later turns out to be false, is seized upon by senior executives of the PR firm Hill & Knowlton, which has a $11.9 million contract from the Kuwaiti royal family to win support for a US-led intervention against Iraq—the largest foreign-funded campaign ever mounted to shape US public opinion. (Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the firm should have been held accountable for its marketing campaign, but the Justice Department fails to intervene.) The firm also has close ties to the Bush administration, and will assist in marketing the war to the US citizenry. [Christian Science Monitor, 9/6/2002; Independent, 10/19/2003; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007] Hill & Knowlton uses a front group, “Citizens for a Free Kuwait” (see August 11, 1990), to plant the stories in the news media.
Congressional Hearings - Hearings on the story, and other tales of Iraqi atrocities, are convened by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, chaired by Representatives Tom Lantos (D-CA) and John Porter (R-IL). Reporters John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton will later characterize the caucus as little more than an H&K-funded sham; Lantos and Porter are also co-chairs of the Congressional Human Rights Foundation, a legally separate entity that occupied free office space in Hill & Knowlton’s Washington, DC offices. The star of the hearings is a slender, 15-year old Kuwaiti girl called “Nayirah.” According to the Caucus, her true identity is being concealed to prevent Iraqi reprisals against her or her family. Sobbing throughout her testimony, “Nayirah” describes what she says she witnessed in a hospital in Kuwait City; her written testimony is provided to reporters and Congressmen in a media kit prepared by Citizens for a Free Kuwait. “I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital,” she tells the assemblage. “While I was there, I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns, and go into the room where… babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/6/2002; Los Angeles Times, 1/5/2003; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007] The hearings, and particularly “Nayirah’s” emotional tale, inflame American public opinion against the Iraqis (see October 10, 1990 and After) and help drum up support for a US invasion of Iraq (see January 9-13, 1991).
Outright Lies - Neither Lantos, Porter, nor H&K officials tell Congress that the entire testimony is a lie. “Nayirah” is the daughter of Saud Nasir al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US. Neither do they reveal that “Nayirah’s” testimony was coached by H&K vice president Lauri Fitz-Pegado. Seven other “witnesses” testify to the same atrocities before the United Nations; the seven use false names and identities. The US even presents a video made by Hill & Knowlton to the Security Council. No journalist investigates the claims. As author Susan Trento will write: “The diplomats, the congressmen, and the senators wanted something to support their positions. The media wanted visual, interesting stories.” It is not until after the war that human rights investigators look into the charges. No other witnesses can be located to confirm “Nayirah’s” story. Dr. Mohammed Matar, director of Kuwait’s primary care system, and his wife, Dr. Fayeza Youssef, who runs the obstretrics unit at the maternity hospital, says that at the time of the so-called atrocities, few if any babies were in incubator units—and Kuwait only possesses a few such units anyway. “I think it was just something for propaganda,” Dr. Matar will say. It is doubtful that “Nayirah” was even in the country at the time, as the Kuwaiti aristocracy had fled the country weeks before the Iraqi invasion. Amnesty International, which had supported the story, will issue a retraction. Porter will claim that he had no knowledge that the sobbing little girl was a well-rehearsed fabricator, much less an ambassador’s daughter. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporters will ask al-Sabah for permission to question his daughter about her testimony; he will angrily refuse. “Naiyrah” herself will later admit that she had never been in the hospital herself, but had learned of the supposed baby murders from a friend. In a subsequent interview about media manipulation during the war, Fitz-Pegado will say: “Come on.… Who gives a sh_t whether there were six babies or two? I believed her.” She will later clarify that statement: “What I meant was one baby would be too many.” [CounterPunch, 12/28/2002; Independent, 10/19/2003; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007]
Entity Tags: Susan Trento, Tom Lantos, Sheldon Rampton, US Congress, United Nations Security Council, Saud Nasir al-Sabah, US Department of Justice, Mohammed Matar, Lauri Fitz-Pegado, Citizens for a Free Kuwait, ’Nayirah’, Amnesty International, Bush administration (41), John Stauber, Congressional Human Rights Caucus, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Fayeza Youssef, John MacArthur, John Porter, Hill and Knowlton, Congressional Human Rights Foundation, Jack O’Dwyer
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
Victoria “Torie” Clarke joins the Defense Department. She is a public relations specialist who served as press secretary for President George H. W. Bush’s 1992 re-election campaign, worked closely with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and was an Assistant US Trade Representative during the first Bush’s presidency. In the private sector, she was president of Bozell Eskew Advertising, Vice President of the National Cable Telecommunications Association, and the Washington director for the PR firm of Hill & Knowlton, the firm so heavily involved in promoting and selling the 1991 Gulf War (see January 16, 1991 and After). She brings strong ideas to her new position about achieving what she calls “information dominance” in both the domestic and foreign “markets” (see February 2003). She directs what John Stauber, the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, calls the “twin towers of propaganda” for the Pentagon: “embedding news media with the troops, and embedding military propagandists into the TV media” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). [Stennis Center for Public Service, 8/17/2007; New York Times, 4/20/2008; Bill Berkowitz, 5/10/2008]
PBS reports on the recent revelations about a Pentagon propaganda operation that uses retired military officers as “independent military analysts” to further its goal of promoting the Iraq war and occupation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Reporter Judy Woodruff notes, “And for the record, we invited Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC and NBC to participate, but they declined our offer or did not respond.” Neither does the Pentagon send anyone to take part in the report. Woodruff discloses that PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer put five military analysts on retainer in 2003, but says that none of them attended Pentagon briefings while being paid by PBS, as so many of the other network analysts did.
Selling and Managing the War - The Center for Media and Democracy’s John Stauber says, “[S]hame on the networks who were duped this way that they didn’t show up to defend or explain their actions.” Stauber calls the Pentagon operation “a psyops campaign, an incredible government propaganda campaign whereby Donald Rumsfeld and Torie [Victoria] Clarke, the head of public relations for the Pentagon, designed a program to recruit 75, at least 75 former military officers… most of them now lobbyists or consultants to military contractors, and insert them, beginning in 2002, before the attack on Iraq was even launched, into the major networks to manage the messages, to be surrogates. And that’s the words that are actually used, ‘message multipliers’ for the secretary of defense and for the Pentagon. This program continues right up to now.” Stauber says that the Pentagon program is patently illegal (see April 28, 2008), though the Pentagon may dispute that contention. “It is illegal for the US government to propagandize citizens in this way,” he says. “In my opinion, this war could have never been sold if it were not for this sophisticated propaganda campaign. And what we need is congressional investigation of not just this Pentagon military analyst program, but all the rest of the deception and propaganda that came out of the Bush administration and out of the Pentagon that allowed them to sell and manage this war.”
Full Disclosure Needed - Former ABC news correspondent Robert Zelnick, now a professor of journalism at Boston University, says the only thing that surprised him about the New York Times report that broke the story was its length. Zelnick says that when he covered the Pentagon: “I often sought information from retired generals and admirals and colonels because I knew they were well-informed. I knew they kept in touch. I knew they had drinks at the Army-Navy Club. I know they went to Army-Navy football games on special trains together. I knew that many of them were serving as what we called Beltway bandits or consultants.” Zelnick says: “[I]f you have an admiral on who is or a general who is currently a consultant to the Pentagon, that should be disclosed right at the top of the interview. But we don’t—as networks, we didn’t have these people on because they were neutral; we had them on because they knew what they were talking about. They had spent their lives in military affairs.” Zelnick says that to conclude the Pentagon actually “recruited” analysts for ABC or another network or cable broadcaster is an overgeneralization; the Pentagon merely “recommended, perhaps, former generals or admirals to the various networks and, once they had them, they kept them informed. And I think that’s to the good. It meant that more information was available. If occasionally a general or an admiral or a colonel who was retired and used in this fashion allowed himself to be dictated to, that’s his fault. And I think any solid news person or executive editor running one of these programs would have discerned that early on and quit using him.”
'Agents of Pentagon Propaganda' - Stauber retorts that he is “shocked to hear Bob Zelnick depict and misrepresent what’s going on here. And I have to wonder, Professor Zelnick, if you even read the New York Times article very closely. This is an instant where these people were recruited by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld as agents of Pentagon propaganda and inserted into the networks. Now, you can fault—and we should fault—the networks for not vetting these people properly, for not being much more careful about their credentials. But the fact is this program began with the Pentagon, with the Bush administration, recruiting these people to be their surrogates. And those are the words that the internal documents used. This is the Pentagon Papers of this war.” Zelnick responds that the networks had just as many analysts on their payrolls during the 1991 Gulf War, “[s]o it was something that the networks perceived was in their own interest to develop these kinds of contacts. And it was in their interest. It certainly was in my interest as a Pentagon correspondent.” Zelnick says that while the networks should always disclose their analysts’ business connections with whatever defense firms they represent, “what do we expect these guys to do after 30 or 40 years in the service, during which time they’ve risen to the ranks of the most senior officers? We would expect them to wind up as consultants or, as I said, we call them Beltway bandits. I just don’t get upset over something that’s completely natural, completely to be expected, and widely known throughout the industry.” Stauber disputes Zelnick’s characterization, and notes that the structure of the operation was guided from Rumsfeld and Clarke, not from the networks initiating contact with the Pentagon on behalf of their military analysts. “The flow was illegal government propaganda, recruiting these people, and inserting them into the news, and then hiring a company to measure and quantify how good a job they did of selling the war and managing press and public opinion. This is Goebbels-like.” [PBS, 4/24/2008]
Entity Tags: Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, Robert Zelnick, US Department of Defense, Judy Woodruff, Donald Rumsfeld, Center for Media and Democracy, CNN, CBS News, ABC News, Fox News, John Stauber, New York Times, MSNBC, NBC, Public Broadcasting System
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
The Center for Media and Democracy’s John Stauber and author Sheldon Rampton lambast the Pentagon for its recently revealed propaganda program that, in their words, “embed[s] military propagandists directly into the TV networks as on-air commentators” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). But Stauber and Rampton are even more critical of the media’s refusal to deal with the story. They note, “In 1971, when the [New York] Times printed excerpts of the Pentagon Papers on its front page (see March 1971), it precipitated a constitutional showdown with the Nixon administration over the deception and lies that sold the war in Vietnam. The Pentagon Papers issue dominated the news media back then. Today, however, [New York Times reporter David] Barstow’s stunning report is being ignored by the most important news media in America—TV news—the source where most Americans, unfortunately, get most of their information. Joseph Goebbels, eat your heart out. Goebbels is history’s most notorious war propagandist, but even he could not have invented a smoother PR vehicle for selling and maintaining media and public support for a war…”
Journalistic Standards Violated - According to the authors, the news outlets who put these analysts on the air committed “a glaring violation of journalistic standards.” They cite the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, which enjoins journalists and news outlets to:
Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived;
Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility;
Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity;
Disclose unavoidable conflicts;
Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable;
Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage; and
Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money.
Networks' Silence a 'Further Violation of Public Trust' - The networks who used these analysts observed none of these fundamental ethical guidelines. “They acted as if war was a football game and their military commentators were former coaches and players familiar with the rules and strategies,” Stauber and Rampton write. “The TV networks even paid these “analysts” for their propaganda, enabling them to present themselves as ‘third party experts’ while parroting White House talking points to sell the war.” Stauber and Rampton call the networks’ decision to almost completely ignore the story a further “violation… of the public trust…” They fix much of the blame for the Iraq debacle on the media, noting that the war “would never have been possible had the mainstream news media done its job. Instead, it has repeated the big lies that sold the war. This war would never have been possible without the millions of dollars spent by the Bush administration on sophisticated and deceptive public relations techniques such as the Pentagon military analyst program that David Barstow has exposed.” [PRWatch, 4/25/2008]
Entity Tags: Joseph Goebbels, Society of Professional Journalists, New York Times, John Stauber, David Barstow, Center for Media and Democracy, Nixon administration, Sheldon Rampton, US Department of Defense, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
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