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Domestic Propaganda and the News Media

Marketing and Public Relations

Project: Domestic Propaganda and the News Media
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Upton Sinclair.Upton Sinclair. [Source: NNDB (.com)]Upton Sinclair, the author of Urban Jungle and a well-known “muckraking” journalist, runs as a Democratic candidate for governor of California. Sinclair has previously run failed campaigns for political office as a Socialist. He runs on a platform of eliminating poverty in California. To beat him back, the California Republican Party hires an ad agency and the first political consulting firm in the country, Whitaker and Baxter. The consulting firm decides that the best way to beat Sinclair is to portray him as a crazed Bolshevik—a “Red.” The firm produces phony newsreels of staged events, and pays for them to be shown at movie houses throughout California. One newsreel depicts crowds of bedraggled hoboes leaping off of a freight train, and one hobo telling the camera, “Sinclair says he’ll take the property of the working people and give it to us.” Another ad depicts an actor with a heavy beard and a thick Russian accent explaining why he will vote for Sinclair: “His system worked well in Russia, so why can’t it work here?” Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM and a powerful California Republican, ensures that the newsreels get near-saturation coverage throughout the state. Sinclair is defeated. In 1990, media pundit Roger Simon will write, “Though more than a half-century has passed, the fundamentals of that first negative video commercial are the same that are used in negative TV ads today: fear, danger, and stereotyping of the enemy.” [Regardie's Magazine, 10/1/1990]

Entity Tags: Republican Party of California, Louis B. Mayer, Upton Sinclair, Whitaker and Baxter, Roger Simon

Timeline Tags: Elections Before 2000

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Media Complicity

The New World News, a British Moral Rearmament publication, prints what it calls the “Communist Rules for Revolution,” claiming that the “rules” were captured during a raid on a German Communist organization’s headquarters in Dusseldorf in 1919 by Allied forces during World War I, and published in the Bartlesville, Oklahoma (US) Examiner-Enterprise that same year. In 1946, the NWN writes, the attorney general of Florida, George A. Brautigam, obtained them from a known member of the Communist Party, who told him that the “Rules” were then still a part of the Communist program for the United States. According to the NWN, the “Rules” are as follows:
bullet Corrupt the young; get them away from religion. Get them interested in sex. Make them superficial; destroy their ruggedness.
bullet Get control of all means of publicity, thereby:
bullet Get people’s minds off their government by focusing their attention on athletics, sexy books, plays, and immoral movies.
bullet Divide the people into hostile groups by constantly harping on controversial matters of no importance.
bullet Destroy the people’s faith in their natural leaders by holding the latter up to contempt, ridicule, and obloquy.
bullet Always preach true democracy, but seize power as fast and as ruthlessly as possible.
bullet By encouraging government extravagance, destroy its credit, produce years of inflation with rising prices and general discontent.
bullet Incite unnecessary strikes in vital industries, encourage civil disorders, and foster a lenient and soft attitude on the part of government toward such disorders.
bullet Cause breakdown of the old moral values—honesty, sobriety, self-restraint, faith in the pledged word, ruggedness.
bullet Cause the registration of all firearms on some pretext, with a view to confiscating them and leaving the populace helpless.
The “Rules” are a hoax invented by NWN writers: there was no German Communist “Spartacist” headquarters in Dusseldorf, the Examiner-Enterprise never published such a document, and Russian experts at the University of Chicago will label them an “obvious fraud,” “an obvious fabrication,” and “an implausible concoction of American fears and phobias.” In 1970, the New York Times will investigate the document; no copies of it exist in the National Archives, the Library of Congress, or any of the university libraries it examines. Montana Senator Lee Metcalf (D-MT) will look into the document’s existence around the same time, and will learn that both the FBI and CIA have already investigated it and found it to be “completely spurious.” (Brautigam did endorse the “Rules,” and his statement and signature avowing the legitimacy of the “Rules” will give the document a veneer of legitimacy.) However, the “Rules” will continue to be used to claim that Communists are for a number of ideas unpopular among European and American conservatives, most frequently gun control and sex education. The National Rifle Association is one organization that frequently cites the “Rules” in its arguments against gun-control legislation, citing the Communists’ “secret plans” to “confiscate” Americans’ guns and thus “leav[e] the populace helpless.” American and British lawmakers regularly receive copies of the “Rules” in letters and faxes citing their opposition to gun control, sex education, support for labor, or other “Communist” ideals or entities. In 1992, University of Oklahoma political science professor John George and his co-author Laird Wilcox will write in their book Nazis, Communists, Klansmen, and Others on the Fringe, “Widely distributed since the mid-forties, the ‘rules’ have been trundled out at various times when they ‘fit’ or ‘explain’ the issues of the day, especially to argue against firearms control and sex education.” In April 1996, George will say: “These people [meaning far-right American extremists] would love for the document to be real. But it has been exposed again and again as a phony.” Folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand will write: “The rules have to do with dividing people into hostile groups, encouraging government extravagance, and fomenting unnecessary ‘strikes’ in vital industries. What we have lost, the list suggests, is a world without dissent, budget deficits, inflation, and labor unrest. I just can’t remember any such Golden Age.” [Stickney, 1996, pp. xx; Free Inquiry, 1999; Rosa Luxemburg, 2003; Snopes (.com), 7/10/2007]

Entity Tags: George A. Brautigam, John George, Jan Harold Brunvand, Lee Metcalf, Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise, National Rifle Association, University of Chicago, Laird Wilcox, New York Times, New World News

Category Tags: Gun/Second Amendment Rhetoric, Marketing and Public Relations

President Harry Truman triumphantly displays a newspaper headline declaring victory for his opponent, Thomas Dewey. Dewey lost the election.President Harry Truman triumphantly displays a newspaper headline declaring victory for his opponent, Thomas Dewey. Dewey lost the election. [Source: Electoral-Vote (.com)]Advertising executive Thomas Rosser Reeves Jr. approaches Republican presidential candidate Thomas Dewey and offers to produce television ads for the Dewey campaign. Dewey is even with Democratic incumbent Harry Truman in the polls. “This could be a close election,” Reeves says. “I can pretty much tell which states are going to be close. If you would start two or three weeks before Election Day and saturate those critical states with spots, it could swing the election.” Reeves may be aware of the powerful impact negative newsreels had on the 1934 California gubernatorial election (see 1934). Dewey refuses, saying, “I don’t think it would be dignified.” Dewey subsequently loses one of the closest presidential elections in US history. In 1990, media pundit Roger Simon will write: “In 1948 there were fewer than 500,000 TV sets in America. Four years later there were nearly 19 million. And nobody ever said no to television again.” [Regardie's Magazine, 10/1/1990]

Entity Tags: Roger Simon, Thomas Dewey, Harry S. Truman, Thomas Rosser Reeves, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Elections Before 2000

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations

Roger Ailes, the senior media consultant for the Nixon administration (see 1968), writes, or helps write, a secret memo for President Nixon and fellow Republicans outlining a plan for conservatives to “infiltrate and neutralize” the mainstream American media. The document will not be released until 2011; experts will call it the “intellectual forerunner” to Fox News, which Ailes will launch as a “fair and balanced” news network in 1996 (see October 7, 1996). John Cook, the editor of the online news and commentary magazine Gawker, will call the document the outline of a “nakedly partisan… plot by Ailes and other Nixon aides to circumvent the ‘prejudices of network news’ and deliver ‘pro-administration’ stories to heartland television viewers.” The document is entitled “A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News.” Ailes, currently the owner of REA Productions and Ailes Communications Inc., works for the Nixon White House as a media consultant; he will serve the same function for President George H.W. Bush during his term. Ailes is a forceful advocate for using television to shape the message of the Nixon administration and of Republican policies in general. He frequently suggests launching elaborately staged events to entice favorable coverage from television reporters, and uses his contacts at the news networks to head off negative publicity. Ailes writes that the Nixon White House should run a partisan, pro-Republican media operation—essentially a self-contained news production organization—out of the White House itself. He complains that the “liberal media” “censors” the news to portray Nixon and his administration in a negative light. Cook will say the plan “reads today like a detailed precis for a Fox News prototype.” The initial idea may have originated with Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, but if so, Ailes expands and details the plan far beyond Haldeman’s initial seed of an idea. [Roger Ailes, 1970; Gawker, 6/30/2011] In 2011, Rolling Stone journalist Tim Dickinson will write: “This is an astounding find. It underscores Ailes’s early preoccupation with providing the GOP with a way to do an end run around skeptical journalists.” [Rolling Stone, 7/1/2011]
Focus on Television - Ailes insists that any such media plan should focus on television and not print. Americans are “lazy,” he writes, and want their thinking done for them: “Today television news is watched more often than people read newspapers, than people listen to the radio, than people read or gather any other form of communication. The reason: People are lazy. With television you just sit—watch—listen. The thinking is done for you.” Ailes says the Nixon administration should create its own news network “to provide pro-administration, videotape, hard news actualities to the major cities of the United States.” Other television news outlets such as NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, and PBS News, are “the enemy,” he writes, and suggests going around them by creating packaged, edited news stories and interviews directly to local television stations. (Years later, these kinds of “news reports” will be called “video news releases,” or VNRs, and will routinely be used by the George W. Bush administration and others—see March 15, 2004, May 19, 2004, March 2005, and March 13, 2005. They will be outlawed in 2005—see May 2005.) “This is a plan that places news of importance to localities (senators and representatives are newsmakers of importance to their localities) on local television news programs while it is still news. It avoids the censorship, the priorities, and the prejudices of network news selectors and disseminators.” Ailes and his colleagues include detailed cost analyses and production plans for such news releases. In a side note on the document, Ailes writes: “Basically a very good idea. It should be expanded to include other members of the administration such as cabinet involved in activity with regional or local interest. Also could involve GOP governors when in DC. Who would purchase equipment and run operation—White House? RNC [Republican National Committee]? Congressional caucus? Will get some flap about news management.”
Dirty Tricks - Ailes suggests planting “volunteers” within the Wallace campaign, referring to segregationist George Wallace (D-AL), whose third-party candidacy in 1968 almost cost Nixon the presidency. Ailes knows Wallace is planning a 1972 run as well, and is apparently suggesting a “mole” to either gather intelligence, carry out sabotage, or both. (Wallace’s plans for another run will be cut short by an assassination attempt—see May 15, 1972.) Ailes also suggests having his firm film interviews with Democrats who support Nixon’s Vietnam policies, such as Senators John Stennis (D-MS) and John McClellan (D-AR). Though Stennis and McClellan would believe that the interviews were for actual news shows, they would actually be carried out by Ailes operatives and financed by a Nixon campaign front group, the “Tell it to Hanoi Committee.” In June 1970, someone in the Nixon administration scuttles the plan, writing: “[T]he fact that this presentation is White House directed, unbeknownst to the Democrats on the show, presents the possibility of a leak that could severely embarrass the White House and damage significantly its already precarious relationship with the Congress. Should two powerful factors like Stennis and McClellan discover they are dupes for the administration the scandal could damage the White House for a long time to come.”
Volunteers to Head Program - Ailes writes that he wants to head any such “news network,” telling Haldeman: “Bob—if you decide to go ahead we would as a production company like to bid on packaging the entire project. I know what has to be done and we could test the feasibility for 90 days without making a commitment beyond that point.” Haldeman will grant Ailes’s request in November 1970, and will give the project a name: “Capitol News Service.” Haldeman will write: “With regard to the news programming effort as proposed last summer, Ailes feels this is a good idea and that we should be going ahead with it. Haldeman suggested the name ‘Capitol News Service’ and Ailes will probably be doing more work in this area.” Documents fail to show whether the “Capitol News Service” is ever actually implemented. [Roger Ailes, 1970; Gawker, 6/30/2011]
Television News Incorporated - Ailes will be fired from the Nixon administration in 1971; he will go on to start a similar private concern, “Television News Incorporated” (TVN—see 1971-1975), an ideological and practical predecessor to Fox News. Dickinson will write: “More important, [the document] links the plot to create what would become Television News Incorporated—the Ailes-helmed ‘fair and balanced’ mid-1970s precursor to Fox News—to the Nixon White House itself.” [Gawker, 6/30/2011; Rolling Stone, 7/1/2011] A former business colleague of Ailes’s will say in 2011: “Everything Roger wanted to do when he started out in politics, he’s now doing 24/7 with his network [Fox News]. It’s come full circle.” [Rolling Stone, 5/25/2011]

Entity Tags: John Cook, George C. Wallace, Fox News, Bush administration (43), Ailes Communications, H.R. Haldeman, George Herbert Walker Bush, Tim Dickinson, Television News Incorporated, Tell it to Hanoi Committee, REA Productions, John Stennis, John Little McClellan, Nixon administration, Roger Ailes

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups, Conservative Media Pundits, Fox News, Media Complicity

A 1979 portrait of Justice Lewis Powell.A 1979 portrait of Justice Lewis Powell. [Source: Public domain.]Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer who sits on the boards of 11 corporations, writes a memo to his friend Eugene Sydnor Jr., the director of the US Chamber of Commerce. The memo, titled “Attack of American Free Enterprise System,” posits that the US business culture “is under broad attack” from a number of venues. [Reclaim Democracy, 4/3/2004] Powell is a conservative Southern Democrat and former American Bar Association president who turned down a 1969 offer to sit on the Supreme Court. [Media Transparency, 8/20/2002]
Corporate Capitalism under Broad Attack - Powell is worried about “attacks” from left-wing political and social interests and organizations, whom he says want to institutionalize “socialism or some form of statism (communism or fascism)” in the stead of US capitalism, but is more concerned with a few “extremist” critics who strive for many of the same goals as the “statists.” “We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre,” he writes. “Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.” Powell points to a “varied and diffused” number of attackers, including “not unexpectedly, the Communists, New Leftists, and other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic. These extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed, and increasingly are more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society than ever before in our history. But they remain a small minority and are not yet the principal cause for concern. The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.” Television gives these voices a prominence that their numbers and ideologies should not have, he says. Powell cites university campuses and the national news media as the most troublesome and “dangerous” sources of anti-business sentiment. He cites consumer advocate Ralph Nader as “[p]erhaps the single most effective antagonist of American business,” a “legend in his own time” who, Powell writes, wants to “smash… utterly the target of his hatred, which is corporate power.” Nader and his colleagues want to radically revamp the corporate tax system, Powell says, to gut tax loopholes and “incentives” that keep corporate profits high and tax burdens relatively low; the same tax revisions would harshly impact America’s wealthy. Powell calls these effots “either political demagoguery or economic illiteracy,” and warns, “This setting of the ‘rich’ against the ‘poor,’ of business against the people, is the cheapest and most dangerous kind of politics.” Most corporate entities and personnel have paid little to no attention to these attacks, Powell says; he acknowledges that “businessmen have not been trained or equipped to conduct guerrilla warfare with those who propagandize against the system, seeking insidiously and constantly to sabotage it.” But, he says, this training must commence, for the survival of America’s corporate business culture.
Fighting Back - Individual businesses must designate senior executives “whose responsibility is to counter—on the broadest front—the attack on the enterprise system,” perhaps through the various corporations’ public relations departments. The Chamber of Commerce, both the national entity and its local affiliates, must take a leadership role in organizing, streamlining, and effecting these countering activities.
Countering University Opposition - American college campuses must be targeted, Powell writes, with a particular eye to social science departments, whose members “tend to be liberally oriented, even when leftists are not present. This is not a criticism per se, as the need for liberal thought is essential to a balanced viewpoint. The difficulty is that ‘balance’ is conspicuous by its absence on many campuses, with relatively few members being of conservatives or moderate persuasion and even the relatively few often being less articulate and aggressive than their crusading colleagues.” Attacking academic freedom itself would be a “fatal” mistake, Powell notes, but the “liberal” and “anti-business” voices on university faculties must be “balanced” by Chamber of Commerce speakers and scholars who challenge the rhetoric coming from the universities. College textbooks must be “evaluated” by these Chamber-employed scholars to ensure that they reflect “balance,” in many instances challenging what Powell calls the rewriting of textbooks by scholars affiliated with the civil rights movement. “If the authors, publishers, and users of textbooks know that they will be subjected—honestly, fairly, and thoroughly—to review and critique by eminent scholars who believe in the American system, a return to a more rational balance can be expected,” he writes. Powell says that “avowed Communists” make a large number of speeches and presentations on college campuses every year—over 100 in 1970 alone—and are augmented by “many hundreds of appearances by leftists and ultra-liberals who urge the types of viewpoints indicated earlier in this memorandum.” Such presentations must be “balanced” by pro-business, pro-conservative speakers, put forth “aggressively” by the Chamber and other organizations. College faculties must be “balanced” by the hiring of pro-business professors. One venue that entities such as the Chamber could successfully work through is a university’s graduate school of business. And the Chamber scholars must publish in academic journals and consumer publications such as Life and Reader’s Digest.
High School Efforts - Such efforts must be tailored and implemented on a high school level also, Powell writes.
Public Outreach - The public must be reeducated, Powell writes, to see business and corporate interests as inherently good for America. The obvious and most effective venue, he says, should be through the means of television, using educational programs, paid news analysts, and advertising as much as possible—“[i]f American business devoted only 10 percent of its total annual advertising budget to this overall purpose, it would be a statesman-like expenditure,” he writes. News forums such as Meet the Press should be constantly urged to provide “equal time” for pro-business analysts. Radio and newspaper outlets are also important for promulgating the message. Books and pamphlets made widely available are quite necessary, Powell notes.
Political Arena - Only “Marxists” insist that “capitalist” countries such as the US are controlled by big business. Indeed, Powell says, “leftist” and “socialist” interests control much of American politics, particularly in the area of messaging. “One does not exaggerate to say that, in terms of political influence with respect to the course of legislation and government action, the American business executive is truly the ‘forgotten man,’” he writes. Advocates of “consumerism” or the “environment” dominate the political discussion, Powell states. This dominance must be challenged, and Americans must be “enlightened” as to the positive role of a powerful business culture in US politics. Business must adopt some of the more direct tactics now used by US labor groups.
The Judiciary - The US judicial system, he writes, “may be the most important instrument for social, economic, and political change.” Left-wing groups have long “exploited” the judiciary for their own ends, he says; it is time for business to exert some of the same influence in the courts and fight for its own prerogatives. “This is a vast area of opportunity for the Chamber, if it is willing to undertake the role of spokesman for American business and if, in turn, business is willing to provide the funds,” he says. A large and competent cadre of lawyers is necessary to this end, trained to argue pro-business viewpoints in front of “activist” judges, and carefully selected cases should be advanced in the judicial system.
Neglected Stockholder Power - Powell continues: “The average member of the public thinks of ‘business’ as an impersonal corporate entity, owned by the very rich and managed by over-paid executives. There is an almost total failure to appreciate that ‘business’ actually embraces—in one way or another—most Americans. Those for whom business provides jobs, constitute a fairly obvious class. But the 20 million stockholders—most of whom are of modest means—are the real owners, the real entrepreneurs, the real capitalists under our system. They provide the capital which fuels the economic system which has produced the highest standard of living in all history. Yet, stockholders have been as ineffectual as business executives in promoting a genuine understanding of our system or in exercising political influence.”
The Influence of the Stockholder - Twenty million voters are stockholders, Powell says. These people can be a powerful force for pro-business change, if educated and mobilized. Individual corporations can reach out to their stockholders through their stock reports and news publications.
A New Aggression - Corporate interests must, Powell says, “attack [those] who openly seek destruction of the system. There should not be the slightest hesitation to press vigorously in all political arenas for support of the enterprise system. Nor should there be reluctance to penalize politically those who oppose it.” The AFL-CIO labor union is a past master of using this kind of political pressure, Powell writes. Its practices and techniques can be adapted to serve business ends.
Relationship to Freedom - All of this must be characterized as an essential “return” to the fundamental tenets of American freedom, Powell writes. “The threat to the enterprise system is not merely a matter of economics. It also is a threat to individual freedom. It is this great truth—now so submerged by the rhetoric of the New Left and of many liberals—that must be re-affirmed if this program is to be meaningful. There seems to be little awareness that the only alternatives to free enterprise are varying degrees of bureaucratic regulation of individual freedom—ranging from that under moderate socialism to the iron heel of the leftist or rightist dictatorship.” America is well on its way to institutionalized socialism, Powell warns. It is up to American business interests to counter that shift. [Powell, 8/23/1971]
Effects - Powell’s memo triggers a seismic shift in the way business and corporate interests function, though the Chamber of Commerce proceeds more cautiously than Powell may hope. As a result of Powell’s memo and other influences, the Chamber, wealthy businessmen such as beer magnate Joseph Coors and Richard Mellon Scaife, and an array of corporate activists create, among other entities: the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, Citizens for a Sound Economy, the Analysis and Research Association (ARA), Accuracy in Academe, the Pacific Legal Foundation, and other powerful organizations. When Ronald Reagan takes the presidency in 1981, they will begin to solidfy and extend the reach of their efforts. In 2002, progressive journalist Jerry Landay will write that Powell’s memo will spawn “a well-paid activist apparatus of idea merchants and marketeers—scholars, writers, journalists, publishers, and critics—to sell policies whose intent was to ratchet wealth upward. They have intimidated the mainstream media, and filled the vacuum with editors, columnists, talk-show hosts, and pundits who have turned conservatism into a career tool. They have waged a culture war to reduce the rich social heritage of liberalism to a pejorative. And they have propagated a mythic set of faux-economic values that have largely served those who financed the movement in the first place.” Landay calls Powell’s language and proposals “baldly militant” with “authoritarian overtones.”
Powell Joins Supreme Court - In January 1972, Powell will join the Supreme Court, where he will become regarded as a moderate-to-conservative justice, sympathetic to business interests but not unwilling to consider other points of view. (Though the press will subsequently publish leaked copies of the memo, no senator will ask Powell about his memo or his business interests in his confirmation hearings.) One of his most pro-business decisions is his majority opinion in 1978’s First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, in which Powell will create a First Amendment “right” for corporations to influence ballot questions. [Media Transparency, 8/20/2002; Reclaim Democracy, 4/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Citizens for a Sound Economy, AFL-CIO, Analysis and Research Association, Accuracy in Academe, Cato Institute, Ronald Reagan, Richard Mellon Scaife, US Chamber of Commerce, Pacific Legal Foundation, Eugene Sydnor, Jr, Ralph Nader, Jerry Landay, Heritage Foundation, Lewis Powell, Joseph Coors, Manhattan Institute

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups, Labor/Union Rhetoric & Actions

Roone Arledge.Roone Arledge. [Source: Slate (.com)]Roone Arledge, the president of ABC Sports, becomes president of ABC News as well. Arledge brings some of the techniques he pioneered as head of the sports division to ABC’s news broadcast practices, including what many call his “up close and personal” approach to politicians and others of interest to the news. Many at ABC opposed Arledge’s ascension, as he lacks any formal training as a journalist, and they fear Arledge will “dumb down” the way news is presented. Many fear he will bring “glitz, glamour, and lower standards to the network,” as Ken Bode will write in 1994. ABC anchor Ted Koppel will later remember: “Peter Jennings and I were convinced hiring Roone was a big disaster. We went to see Fred Pierce, who was then president of ABC.… Roone was famous for having the vision in sports to look at things like slow-motion television and the ability to freeze a frame and the instant replay that flowed out of that. Others invented those technologies; Roone was the man who saw them and said, ‘Here’s a way of doing something on television that’s never been done before.’ And we all gave him credit for that. But we didn’t believe that was what was needed to turn ABC News into a more powerful news division.… [Pierce] listened to us explain why Roone should never become president of ABC News. Then he very politely ushered us out and ignored us.” Arledge will function as head of both the news and sports departments for 17 years; under his guidance, ABC News will earn a number of prestigious awards and lead the ratings for many years against its two network competitors. “Roone created the forum for each of us,” Koppel will later say. “Barbara Walters got 20/20, Peter Jennings got World News Tonight, I got Nightline, Sam Donaldson got PrimeTime Live, and ultimately Roone created This Week With David Brinkley.” CBS News producer Don Hewitt will say after Arledge’s death in 2002, “Just about everything that’s good in television has a Roone Arledge trademark on it.” [New York Times, 3/13/1994; New York Times, 12/29/2002; Disney Legends, 2007] Jennings will recall, “There are only a few people in the business who are really good at looking at a piece in draft, either on paper but particularly on tape, and moving it around so that the up-close-and-personal nature of journalism was front and center.” Arledge will focus ABC’s news broadcasts far more on personalities, sophisticated camera and electronic innovations, and “feature” presentations, and less on issues and so-called “hard news,” transforming the way Americans perceive the news. [New York Times, 12/29/2002] In 2002, Robert Weintraub will deplore Arledge’s penchant for turning journalists and news anchors into celebrities. “[S]ome of his schemes, however brilliant at the time, have made TV sports painful to watch and news almost impossible to finance,” Weintraub will write. “If network executives want to know why TV news is hemorrhaging money, they can start by looking at the anchors’ movie star salaries.” [Slate, 12/29/2002] Bode will write in 1994: “He [was] determined to give the viewers what they were interested in, not necessarily what they needed to know. On the day Elvis [Presley] died in 1977, Mr. Arledge made that the lead story on the ABC evening news; the other networks led with a Washington story about the Panama Canal treaties. It may be the truest measure of Mr. Arledge’s influence on television that on a comparable news day today, all the broadcasts would lead with Presley’s death.” [New York Times, 3/13/1994]

Entity Tags: Barbara Walters, ABC News, Ted Koppel, ABC Sports, Roone Arledge, Robert Weintraub, Sam Donaldson, Ken Bode, David Brinkley, Don Hewitt, Fred Pierce, Peter Jennings, Elvis Presley

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations

Cato Institute logo.Cato Institute logo. [Source: Cato Institute]The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, launch the libertarian Cato Institute, one of the first of many think tanks and advocacy organizations they will fund (see August 30, 2010). While records of the Koch funding of the institute are not fully available, the Center for Public Integrity learns that between 1986 and 1993 the Koch family gives $11 million to the institute. By 2010, Cato has over 100 full-time employees, and often succeeds in getting its experts and policy papers quoted by mainstream media figures. While the institute describes itself as nonpartisan, and is at times critical of both Republicans and Democrats, it consistently advocates for corporate tax cuts, reductions in social services, and laissez-faire environmental policies. One of its most successful advocacy projects is to oppose government initiatives to curb global warming. When asked why Cato opposes such federal and state initiatives, founder and president Ed Crane explains that “global warming theories give the government more control of the economy.” [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]

Entity Tags: Center for Public Integrity, Cato Institute, Ed Crane, Charles Koch, David Koch

Category Tags: Conservative Opposition to Obama, Marketing and Public Relations

Oil billionaire David Koch runs for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket. David and his brother Charles are the primary backers of hard-right libertarian politics in the US (see August 30, 2010); Charles, the dominant brother, is determined to tear government “out at the root,” as he will later be characterized by libertarian Brian Doherty. The brothers have thrown their support behind Libertarian presidential candidate Ed Clark, who is running against Republican Ronald Reagan from the right of the political spectrum. The brothers are frustrated by the legal limits on campaign financing, and they persuade the party to place David on the ticket as vice president, thereby enabling him to spend as much of his personal fortune as he likes. The Libertarian’s presidential campaign slogan is, “The Libertarian Party has only one source of funds: You.” In reality, the Koch brothers’ expenditures of over $2 million is the campaign’s primary source of funding. Clark tells a reporter that the Libertarians are preparing to stage “a very big tea party” because people are “sick to death” of taxes. The Libertarian Party platform calls for the abolition of the FBI and the CIA, as well as of federal regulatory agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Energy. The platform proposes the abolition of Social Security, minimum-wage laws, gun control, and all personal and corporate income taxes; in return, it proposes the legalization of prostitution, recreational drugs, and suicide. Government should be reduced to only one function, the party proclaims: the protection of individual rights. Conservative eminence William F. Buckley Jr. calls the movement “Anarcho-Totalitarianism.” The Clark-Koch ticket receives only one percent of the vote in the November 1980 elections, forcing the Koch brothers to realize that their brand of politics isn’t popular. In response, Charles Koch becomes openly scornful of conventional politics. “It tends to be a nasty, corrupting business,” he says. “I’m interested in advancing libertarian ideas.” Doherty will later write that both Kochs come to view elected politicians as merely “actors playing out a script.” Doherty will quote a longtime confidant of the Kochs as saying that after the 1980 elections, the brothers decide they will “supply the themes and words for the scripts.” In order to alter the direction of America, they had to “influence the areas where policy ideas percolate from: academia and think tanks.” [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]

Entity Tags: Libertarian Party, Brian Doherty, Charles Koch, Ronald Reagan, David Koch, William F. Buckley, Ed Clark

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Gun/Second Amendment Rhetoric

Several hundred influential conservatives launch what they call “Peace Through Strength Week,” at a week-long conference in Washington, DC, held by the American Security Council (ASC—see 1978). The primary mission is to convince a majority of senators to vote against the SALT II (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) arms-reduction treaty, which President Carter had signed five months before. Although the treaty sets equal limits on the number of nuclear missile launchers the US and the Soviet Union may possess, the conventioneers believe that, in the words of author J. Peter Scoblic, “it merely enshrine[s] American weakness in the face of a growing Soviet nuclear threat.” The convention is timed to coincide with Governor Ronald Reagan’s (R-CA) announcement that he is running for president, and borrows his signature phrase to describe his position on arms control.
'The SALT Syndrome' - The focal point of the ASC’s message is a half-hour film entitled “The SALT Syndrome.” Scoblic will describe it: “Set to a soundtrack fit for a horror movie, it featured image after image of missiles launching, submarines creeping, and nuclear weapons exploding, punctuated by commentary from retired generals and intelligence officials. The ‘syndrome’ was the American tendency to ‘unilaterally disarm,’ which had gripped Washington policy makers after the United States decided to follow [former Defense Secretary Robert] ‘McNamara’s theory of “no defense,” which is called “Mutual Assured Destruction.”’ The movie was a concise, vivid statement of conservative nuclear thought: MAD was a choice.” The movie tells its viewers that US citizens “play an important role in US strategy—that of nuclear hostage.” The film goes on to avow that the Soviets have produced far more missiles, long-range bombers, nuclear submarines, and various missile defenses than the US is willing to concede, giving the Soviets the capability of coercing the US into doing pretty much whatever they demand. “The movie,” Scoblic will write, “was a remarkable, and remarkably effective, piece of propaganda. It combined fact, exaggeration, and outright nonsense—one interviewee claimed the Soviet Union was on the verge of deploying particle beams that would shoot down all incoming missiles—to argue that the United States had left itself nearly helpless against a Soviet behemoth bent on world domination.” The film will play on American television stations some 2,000 times, and will reach, ASC chairman John Fisher will estimate, at least 137 million Americans.
Millions of Dollars Raised to Fight SALT II - The film successfully solicits millions of dollars in contributions from concerned and frightened Americans, much of which will go to advertising efforts to combat SALT II. The ASC will outspend pro-treaty forces by a ratio of 15 to 1. [American Security Council, 3/30/1980; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 72-73]

Entity Tags: John Fisher, Ronald Reagan, American Security Council, Robert McNamara, J. Peter Scoblic

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Marketing and Public Relations

KochPAC logo.KochPAC logo. [Source: KochPAC (.com)]After their stinging loss during the November 1980 presidential campaign, the billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, decide that they need to work to inculcate their brand of hard-right libertarianism into the electorate through indirect means (see 1979-1980). Therefore, they begin spending vast amounts of their personal fortunes on what purport to be independent think tanks and other political or ideological organizations. At the same time, the brothers become political recluses, rarely speaking in public and rarely acknowledging the breadth or the direction of their donations. It is hard to know exactly how much the Kochs spend and where they spend it, though public records give some of the picture. Between 1998 and 2008, Charles Koch’s foundation spends over $48 million on political funding. The Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, controlled by Charles and his wife, spends over $28 million. David Koch’s foundation spends over $120 million. Koch Industries, controlled primarily by Charles, spends over $50 million on lobbying efforts. Their political action committee, KochPAC, donates around $8 million, almost all of it going to Republicans. In 2010, as in other years, Koch Industries leads all other energy companies in political donations. The brothers spend over $2 million of their personal fortunes on political donations, almost all of it going to Republicans. Ari Rabin-Havt of the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will say that the Kochs’ effort is unusual in its marshalling of corporate and personal funds: “Their role, in terms of financial commitments, is staggering.” Lee Fang, writing for the liberal blog ThinkProgress (an arm of the Center for American Progress), calls the Kochs “the billionaires behind the hate.” Some believe that the Kochs have either skirted, or outright broken, laws controlling tax-exempt giving. Charitable foundations must conduct exclusively nonpartisan activities that promote the public welfare. But in 2004, a report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a watchdog group, describes the Kochs’ foundations as being self-serving, and concludes, “These foundations give money to nonprofit organizations that do research and advocacy on issues that impact the profit margin of Koch Industries.” The Kochs also use their charitable foundations to fund hard-right political organizations that, according to reporter Jane Mayer, “aim to push the country in a libertarian direction,” including: the Institute for Justice, which files lawsuits opposing state and federal regulations; the Institute for Humane Studies, which underwrites libertarian academics; and the Bill of Rights Institute, which promotes a conservative interpretation of the Constitution. David Koch acknowledges that the family exerts tight ideological control. “If we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent,” he tells a reporter. “And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don’t agree with, we withdraw funding.” [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]

Entity Tags: Institute for Justice, Charles Koch, Bill of Rights Institute, Ari Rabin-Havt, Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, Institute for Humane Studies, Koch Industries, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Jane Mayer, David Koch, Lee Fang, KochPAC

Category Tags: Conservative Opposition to Obama, Marketing and Public Relations

Citizens for a Sound Economy logo.Citizens for a Sound Economy logo. [Source: Greater Houston Pachyderm Club]The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, launch the first of a number of “citizen advocacy” groups they either found or fund, Citizens for a Sound Economy. The Kochs are staunch right-wing libertarians determined to successfully combat government regulation and oversight of businesses, government taxation, and government funding of social programs (see August 30, 2010). Between 1986 and 1993, the brothers will provide $7.9 million to the group, even as it promotes itself as a “grassroots,” “citizen-driven” organization. (Such organizations that call themselves “citizen-based” while actually being founded, operated, and funded by corporate interests are called “astroturf” organizations.) Matt Kibbe, who will go on to head a Koch-funded lobbying organization, FreedomWorks, will later say of Citizens for a Sound Economy that its driving force was to take the Kochs’ “heavy ideas and translate them for mass America.… We read the same literature Obama did about nonviolent revolutions—Saul Alinsky, Gandhi, Martin Luther King. We studied the idea of the Boston Tea Party as an example of nonviolent social change. We learned we needed boots on the ground to sell ideas, not candidates.” One organization participant will say that the brothers are “very controlling, very top down. You can’t build an organization with them. They run it.” By 1993, the organization will become powerful enough to successfully thwart the Clinton administration’s efforts to place a “BTU tax” on energy, and mounts successful “citizen protests” against Democrats, sometimes funnelling millions of Koch monies into the political campaigns of their Republican opponents. [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Charles Koch, David Koch, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Matt Kibbe, FreedomWorks

Category Tags: Conservative Opposition to Obama, Marketing and Public Relations

The Bush presidential re-election campaign, trailing Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, in the polls, decides on a “two-track” campaign strategy. The strategy is crafted by campaign manager Lee Atwater. The “high road” track will be taken by President Bush and the campaign directly, attacking Dukakis’s record on law enforcement and challenging his reputation as having led Massachusetts into a period of economic growth (the so-called “Massachusetts Miracle”). The “low road,” designed by Atwater to appeal to the most crude racial stereotypes (see 1981), is to be taken by ostensibly “independent” voter outreach organizations. Because of a loophole in campaign finance rules, the Bush campaign could work closely with “outside groups” and funnel money from “independent” organizations to the outside groups, while denying any connections with those groups were they to run objectionable or negative political ads. Atwater wants to avoid a potential backlash among voters, who may turn against the campaign because of their antipathy towards “attack politics.” Atwater and his colleagues determine that the outside groups will use “brass knuckle” tactics to attack Dukakis, and because the ads come from these “independent” organizations, the Bush campaign can distance itself from the groups and even criticize them for being too negative. In 1999, InsidePolitics.org will write: “In so doing, Bush’s presidential effort would train a generation of campaign operatives how to run a negative campaign. Its ‘two-track’ approach would become a model of how to exploit campaign finance laws and use outside groups to deliver hard-hitting messages on behalf of the candidate. Over the course of the following decade, this strategy would become commonplace in American elections.” The idea of “outsourcing” attack ads had been popularized by the 1980 Reagan presidential campaign, which used what it called “independent expenditures” to finance “outside” attacks on its Democratic opponent, President Jimmy Carter. In 1988, “independent” conservative groups spend $13.7 million on the Bush campaign, most of which goes towards attacks on Dukakis. In comparison, progressive and liberal groups spend $2.8 million on behalf of Dukakis—an almost five-to-one discrepancy. Most of the outside money is spent on television advertising. InsidePolitics will write, “Increasingly, candidates were discovering, electoral agendas and voter impressions could be dominated through a clever combination of attack ads and favorable news coverage.” [Inside Politics (.org), 1999] The result of Atwater’s “two-track” strategy is the “Willie Horton” ad, which will become infamous both for its bluntly racist appeal and its effectiveness (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). An earlier “independent” ad attacking Dukakis’s environmental record provides something of a template for the Horton ad campaign. The so-called “Boston Harbor” ad, which depicted garbage floating in the body of water, challenged Dukakis’s positive reputation as a pro-environmental candndate. The ad helped bring Dukakis’s “positives” down, a strong plus for Bush, whose record as an oil-company executive and reputation as a powerful political friend to the oil companies hurts him in comparison with Dukakis. In July 1988, Readers Digest, a magazine known for its quietly conservative slant, publishes a profile of Horton titled “Getting Away With Murder.” The Bush campaign reprints the article and distributes it by the tens of thousands around the country. [Regardie's Magazine, 10/1/1990; Inside Politics (.org), 1999]

Entity Tags: Readers Digest, InsidePolitics (.org), George Herbert Walker Bush, Lee Atwater, National Security Political Action Committee, William (“Willie”) Horton, Michael Dukakis

Timeline Tags: Elections Before 2000

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups, Race-Based Rhetoric

The image of Willie Horton as shown in the ‘Weekend Pass’ campaign ad.The image of Willie Horton as shown in the ‘Weekend Pass’ campaign ad. [Source: University of Virginia]A political advertisement on behalf of the George H. W. Bush presidential campaign appears, running on televisions around the country between September 21 and October 4, 1988. Called “Weekend Pass,” it depicts convicted murderer William “Willie” Horton, who was granted 10 separate furloughs from prison, and used the time from his last furlough to kidnap and rape a young woman. The advertisement and subsequent media barrage falsely accuses Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts, of creating the “furlough program” that led to Horton’s release, and paints Dukakis as “soft on crime.” It will come to be known as one of the most overly racist political advertisements in the history of modern US presidential politics.
Ad Content - The ad begins by comparing the positions of the two candidates on crime. It notes that Bush supports the death penalty for convicted murderers, whereas Dukakis does not. The ad’s voiceover narrator then states, “Dukakis not only opposes the death penalty, he allowed first-degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison,” with the accompanying text “Opposes Death Penalty, Allowed Murderers to Have Weekend Passes” superimposed on a photograph of Dukakis. The narrator then says, “One was Willie Horton, who murdered a boy in a robbery, stabbing him 19 times,” accompanied by a mug shot of Horton. The voiceover continues: “Despite a life sentence, Horton received 10 weekend passes from prison. Horton fled, kidnapped a young couple, stabbing the man and repeatedly raping his girlfriend.” At this point, the ad shows another picture of Horton being arrested while the accompanying text reads, “Kidnapping, Stabbing, Raping.” The ad’s narration concludes: “Weekend prison passes. Dukakis on crime.” The ad is credited to the “National Security Political Action Committee.” [Inside Politics (.org), 1999; Museum of the Moving Image, 2008; University of Virginia, Introduction to American Politics, 11/18/2009]
'Soft on Crime' - The ad is a reflection of the measures the Bush campaign is willing to undertake to defeat the apparently strong Dukakis candidacy. Dukakis is a popular Democratic governor and widely credited with what pundits call the “Massachusetts Miracle,” reversing the downward economic spiral in his state without resorting to hefty tax increases. At the time of the ad, Dukakis enjoys a 17-point lead over Bush in the polls. Bush campaign strategists, led by campaign manager Lee Atwater, have learned from focus groups that conservative Democratic voters, which some call “Reagan Democrats,” are not solid in their support of Dukakis, and are swayed by reports that he vetoed legislation requiring teachers to say the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the school day. They also react negatively when they learn that during Dukakis’s tenure as governor, Horton had been furloughed and subsequently raped a white woman. Atwater and the Bush campaign decide that Dukakis can successfully be attacked as a “liberal” who is “not patriotic” and is “soft on crime.” Atwater, who has a strong record of appealing to racism in key voting groups (see 1981), tells Republican Party officials, “By the time this election is over, Willie Horton will be a household name.” Although Dukakis had vetoed a bill mandating the death penalty for first-degree murder in Massachusetts, he did not institute the furlough program; that was signed into law by Republican governor Francis Sargent in 1972. The ads and the accompanying media blitz successfully avoid telling voters that Sargent, not Dukakis, instituted the furlough program. [Regardie's Magazine, 10/1/1990; Inside Politics (.org), 1999]
Running the Horton Ad - The ad is sponsored by an ostensibly “independent” political organization, the conservative National Security Political Action Committee (NSPAC), headed by former Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Thomas Moorer. NSPAC’s daughter organization “Americans for Bush” actually put together the ad, created by marketer Larry McCarthy in close conjunction with Atwater and other Bush campaign aides; Atwater determined months before that the Horton ad should not come directly from the Bush campaign, but from an “independent” group supporting Bush, thus giving the Bush campaign the opportunity to distance itself from the ad, and even criticize it, should voters react negatively towards its message (see June-September 1988). The first version of the ad does not use the menacing mug shot of Horton, which McCarthy later says depicts “every suburban mother’s greatest fear.” McCarthy and Atwater feared that the networks would refuse to run the ad if it appeared controversial. However, the network censors do not object, so McCarthy quickly substitutes a second version of the ad featuring the mug shot. When Democrats and progressive critics of the Bush campaign complain that Bush is running a racist ad, Bush media adviser Roger Ailes says that neither he nor the campaign have any control over what outside groups like “Americans for Bush” put on the airwaves. InsidePolitics will later write, “This gave the Bush camp plausible deniability that helped its candidate avoid public condemnation for racist campaigning.”
Accompanying Newspaper Reports, Bush Campaign Ads - The ad airs for the first time on September 21. On September 22, newspapers around the nation begin publishing articles telling the story of Angie and Clifford Barnes, victimized by Horton while on furlouogh. On October 5, the Bush campaign releases a “sister” television ad, called “Revolving Door.” Scripted by Ailes, the commercial does not mention Horton nor does it show the now-infamous mug shot, but emphasizes the contention that Dukakis is “soft on crime” and has what it calls a “lenient” furlough policy for violent convicts. The central image of the ad is a stream of African-American inmates moving slowly in and out of a revolving gate. The voiceover says that Dukakis had vetoed the death penalty and given furloughs to “first-degree murderers not eligible for parole. While out, many committed other crimes like kidnapping and rape.” At the same time, Clifford Barnes and the sister of the youth murdered by Horton embark on a nationwide speaking tour funded by a pro-Bush independent group known as the Committee for the Presidency. Barnes also appears on a number of television talk shows, including those hosted by Oprah Winfrey and Geraldo Rivera. Barnes and the victim’s sister also appear in two “victim” ads, where Barnes says: “Mike Dukakis and Willie Horton changed our lives forever.… We are worried people don’t know enough about Mike Dukakis.” In 1999, InsidePolitics will write that the media gives the “Revolving Door” ad a “courteous reception,” and focuses more on the two ads’ impact on the election, and the Dukakis campaign’s lack of response, instead of discussing the issues of race and crime as portrayed by the ads. It is not until October 24, less than two weeks before the election, that anyone in the mainstream media airs footage of critics questioning whether the ads are racially inflammatory, but these appearances are few and far between, and are always balanced with appearances by Bush supporters praising the campaign’s media strategy. [Inside Politics (.org), 1999; Inside Politics (.org), 1999; University of Virginia, Introduction to American Politics, 11/18/2009]
Denials - Bush and his vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle will deny that the ads are racist, and will accuse Democrats of trying to use racism to stir up controversy (see October 1988).
Failure to Respond - The Dukakis campaign will make what many political observers later characterize as a major political blunder: it refuses to answer the ads or dispute their content until almost the last days of the campaign, hoping that viewers would instead conclude that the ads are unfair without the Dukakis campaign’s involvement. The ads will be hugely successful in securing the election for Bush (see September-November 1988). [Museum of the Moving Image, 2008]

Entity Tags: Angie Barnes, Clifford Barnes, Committee for the Presidency, Dan Quayle, George Herbert Walker Bush, Americans for Bush, InsidePolitics (.org), Francis Sargent, Michael Dukakis, William (“Willie”) Horton, Lee Atwater, National Security Political Action Committee, Thomas Moorer, Roger Ailes, Larry McCarthy

Timeline Tags: Elections Before 2000

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups, Race-Based Rhetoric, Media Complicity

The “Willie Horton” (a.k.a. “Weekend Pass”) campaign ad, produced by an “independent” political organization on behalf of the Bush re-election campaign (see June-September 1988 and September 21 - October 4, 1988), and the Bush campaign’s accompanying ad, “Revolving Door,” draw accusations from the Democratic challenger, Michael Dukakis, that they are racist in their appeals. President Bush denies the accusations that race has anything to do with the ads, or even that racism exists. He calls the Dukakis accusations “some desperation kind of move,” and says: “There isn’t any racism. It’s absolutely ridiculous.” Dukakis is leveling these accusations, Bush says, because he “is weak on crime and defense and that’s the inescapable truth.” Bush accuses Dukakis of lying about his record, and accuses the Democrat of both racist and sexist behavior, though he gives no details or evidence. Bush’s vice-presidential candidate, Dan Quayle, agrees, and accuses the Dukakis campaign of behaving in a racist manner, saying: “It’s totally absurd and ridiculous. I think it shows just how desperate they really are, to start fanning the flames of racism in this country.” Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson has accused the Bush campaign of trying to incite racial fears through the Horton ad, and Dukakis’s vice-presidential candidate, Lloyd Bentsen, says there seems to be “a racial element” in the Bush campaign’s strategy. In contrast to Bush’s denials, Bush media adviser Roger Ailes jokes with reporters about the ads, saying that the campaign’s only question about the Horton ad was whether to portray Horton “with a knife in his hand or without it,” and accuses Dukakis’s campaign of spreading racism about Hispanics in its own ads. Bush states that he is “fully behind” both the “Weekend Pass” and “Revolving Door” ads. [New York Times, 10/25/1988]

Entity Tags: Lloyd Bentsen, Dan Quayle, George Herbert Walker Bush, Jesse Jackson, William (“Willie”) Horton, Michael Dukakis, Roger Ailes

Timeline Tags: Elections Before 2000

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Race-Based Rhetoric

Two Democratic organizations in Ohio file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in the matter of the now-infamous “Willie Horton” ads used to great effect by the Bush re-election campaign (see June-September 1988 and September 21 - October 4, 1988). The complaint alleges that the ostensibly independent political organization that created and financed the first ad, the National Security Political Action Committee (NSPAC), violated the law on independent expenditures (see May 1990 and After). The complaint uncovers numerous connections between NSPAC and the Bush campaign. However, the FEC refuses to charge the Bush campaign with campaign finance violations. [Inside Politics (.org), 1999]

Entity Tags: National Security Political Action Committee, Federal Election Commission, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Elections Before 2000

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups, Race-Based Rhetoric

African-American writer Anthony Walton writes for the New York Times Magazine his thoughts on the overtly racist “Willie Horton” ad campaign launched the year before by the Bush re-election campaign (see June-September 1988 and September 21 - October 4, 1988). Walton writes: “George Bush and his henchmen could not have invented Willie Horton. Horton, with his coal-black skin; huge, unkempt Afro, and a glare that would have given Bull Connor or Lester Maddox [infamous white supremacists who abused African-Americans in the 1950s and ‘60s] serious pause, had committed a brutal murder in 1974 and been sentenced to life in prison. Then, granted a weekend furlough from prison, had viciously raped a white woman in front of her fiance, who was also attacked. Willie Horton was the perfect symbol of what happened to innocent whites when liberals (read Democrats) were on the watch, at least in the gospel according to post-Goldwater Republicans. Horton himself, in just a fuzzy mug shot, gave even the stoutest, most open, liberal heart a shiver. Even me. I thought of all the late nights I had ridden in terror on the F and A trains, while living in New York City. I thought Willie Horton must be what the wolf packs I had often heard about, but never seen, must look like. I said to myself, ‘Something has got to be done about these n_ggers.’” Walton recounts several instances where he himself has been the victim of racism, and notes that in many eyes, he and Horton are interchangeable: “If Willie Horton would become just a little middle-class, he would look like me.… [I]n retrospect, I can see that racism has always been with me, even when I was shielded by love or money, or when I chose not to see it. But I saw it in the face of Willie Horton, and I can’t ignore it, because it is my face.” [New York Times Magazine, 8/20/1989]

Entity Tags: William (“Willie”) Horton, Anthony Walton

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Race-Based Rhetoric, Media Opposition

The “astroturf” lobbying organization Citizens for a Sound Economy (see 1984 and After) founds a spinoff group, Citizens for the Environment. This group will quickly begin calling acid rain and other environmental problems “myths.” An investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette discovers that the organization has “no citizen membership of its own.” [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]

Entity Tags: Citizens for the Environment, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Citizens for a Sound Economy

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations

The Ohio Democratic party and a group called Black Elected Democrats of Ohio file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) over the infamous “Willie Horton” campaign ad of 1988 (see September 21 - October 4, 1988), claiming that the “outside” organization that released the ad, the National Security Political Action Committee (NSPAC), violated the law on independent expenditures, and that NSPAC functioned as an arm of the 1988 Bush presidential campaign. According to the complaint, it was legal for NSPAC to expend funds criticizing Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis and supporting President Bush’s election only if the expenditures were independent and uncoordinated between the two organizations. Any spending that was made “in cooperation, consultation, or concert, with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, his authorized political committees, or their agents,” represented an illegal “in-kind contribution” in excess of federal contribution limits. The FEC conducts an investigation into the relationship between NSPAC and the Bush campaign. The investigation uncovers several ties between the two organizations. For example, Larry McCarthy, the NSPAC media consultant who, as a top marketing expert for the NSPAC’s “Americans for Bush” organization, created the Horton ad, worked for top Bush campaign adviser Roger Ailes; McCarthy was a former senior vice president of Ailes Communications, Inc. (ACI), which functioned as the main media consulting firm for the Bush campaign. McCarthy tells investigators he worked at ACI until January 1987, but continued to work with ACI on “a contractual basis” until December 1987, when he began working as Senator Robert Dole (R-KS)‘s media consultant. McCarthy admits to having a number of contacts with Ailes during the Bush-Dukakis campaign, but says some of them were “of a passing social nature,” such as “running into one another in restaurants or at airports.” He denies discussing “anything relative to the Bush presidential campaign, NSPAC, or political matters.” McCarthy’s story is contradicted by Ailes, who tells the FEC that he had talked to McCarthy twice about opportunities to work for the Bush campaign, opportunities Ailes says McCarthy lost by working for NSPAC. The FEC also discovers that another former ACI employee, Jesse Raiford of Raiford Communications, worked on the Horton ad, and while doing so “simultaneously received compensation from NSPAC and the Bush campaign.” Raiford also “expended NSPAC funds for the production of the Willie Horton ad.” Though there is clear evidence of illegal connections and complicity between the Bush campaign and NSPAC, the FEC’s Board of Commissioners deadlock 3-3 on voting whether to bring formal charges against the two organizations. The swing vote, commissioner Thomas Josefiak, says the explanations from Ailes and McCarthy about their lack of substantive contacts during the campaign “were plausible and reasonably consistent.” Josefiak says both were guilty of “bad judgment” and may have acted “foolish[ly],” but did nothing warranting legal action. The FEC also determines that Raiford only “performed technical tasks” for the two organizations, “and played no role in any substantive or strategic decisions made by either organization.” The commissioners conclude that neither organization violated campaign finance law. [Inside Politics (.org), 1999]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, Americans for Bush, Ailes Communications, Thomas Josefiak, Democratic Party of Ohio, Roger Ailes, National Security Political Action Committee, George Herbert Walker Bush, Jesse Raiford, Raiford Communications, Larry McCarthy, Black Elected Democrats of Ohio, Michael Dukakis

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Elections Before 2000

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Race-Based Rhetoric

GOPAC logo.GOPAC logo. [Source: Mullings (.com)]A New York Times editorial derides a recent effort by a conservative political action committee to label political opponents with slanderous epithets. According to the editorial, GOPAC, the GOP Political Action Committee chaired by Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA), has issued a glossary mailed to Republican state legislative candidates urging them to use the following words to characterize their Democratic opponents: “sick,” “traitors,” “bizarre,” “self-serving,” “shallow,” “corrupt,” “pathetic,” and “shame.” GOPAC later “regretted” including the word “traitors” in that list of characterizations, the editorial reports, but has continued to back the use of the other epithets. The glossary is part of a pamphlet entitled “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” and features a letter from Gingrich advising the candidates to step up the personal invective against their opponents because, he writes, vilification works. The Times writes: “Mr. Gingrich’s injunction represents the worst of American political discourse, which reached a low during the dispiriting presidential campaign of 1988 (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Then, more than ever before, negative argument displaced reasoned discussion about how a nation might best be governed. The sound bite reigned. Attack commercials flourished. The signs this year aren’t any better. Evidence that negative campaigning can come back to sink the sender has had little impact. The races for governor in California and Texas have already seen the same slash and burn. No doubt the proceedings will grow more rabid still as November nears. Negative discourse serves democracy poorly. The temptation to avoid serious debate is already great. It increases as the stakes soar and slander becomes a rewarding, easy option. The issues of the day go untended. The whole affair takes on the character of the gladiator’s art. The GOPAC glossary may herald a descent into even lower levels of discourse. It comes blessed by a politician of some influence—the Republican whip in the House—and it is intended for candidates on the state level, many of them presumably running for the first time. Even though Mr. Gingrich himself may not have seen the list before it was mailed, this is a disturbing document. The nakedness of the GOPAC offering also makes it useful. There must be limits to the negative politics that voters will bear; the bald appeal to invective will certainly probe those limits. For now, it should be said that some adjectives in the glossary aptly describe the glossary itself: shallow, sensationalist, and, yes, shame(ful).” [New York Times, 9/20/1990; Propaganda Critic, 9/29/2002; Propaganda Critic, 9/29/2002] Later in the year, the pamphlet will win the Doublespeak Award from the National Conference of Teachers of English. [Propaganda Critic, 9/29/2002] Gingrich and GOPAC will expand upon the original pamphlet in 1995, after Gingrich becomes speaker of the House (see 1995).

Entity Tags: National Conference of Teachers of English, New York Times, Newt Gingrich, GOP Political Action Committee

Timeline Tags: Elections Before 2000

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations

’Nayirah’ testifying before Congress.’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

Category Tags: Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups

President George H. W. Bush signs a covert “lethal finding” authorizing the CIA to spend a hundred million dollars to “create the conditions for removal of Saddam Hussein from power.” [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] The CIA forms the Iraqi Opposition Group within its Directorate of Operations to implement this policy. [Ritter, 2005, pp. 128] Awash in cash, the agency hires the Rendon Group to influence global political opinion on matters related to Iraq. According to Francis Brooke, an employee of the company who’s paid $22,000 per month, the Rendon Group’s contract with the CIA provides it with a ten percent “management fee” on top of whatever money it spends. “We tried to burn through $40 million a year,” Brooke will tell the New Yorker. “It was a very nice job.” The work involves planting false stories in the foreign press. The company begins supplying British journalists with misinformation which then shows up in the London press. In some cases, these stories are later picked up by the American press, in violation of laws prohibiting domestic propaganda. “It was amazing how well it worked. It was like magic,” Brooke later recalls. Another one of the company’s tasks is to help the CIA create a viable and unified opposition movement against Saddam Hussein (see June 1992). This brings the Rendon Group and Francis Brooke into contact with Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi (see After May 1991). The CIA will soon help Chalabi and Rendon create the Iraqi National Congress (INC) to further the goal of toppling Hussein. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] Author and intelligence expert James Bamford will later say, “Chalabi was a creature of American propaganda to a large degree. It was an American company, the Rendon Group, that—working secretly with the CIA—basically created his organization, the Iraqi National Congress. And put Chalabi in charge basically.… From the very beginning Chalabi was paid a lot of money from the US taxpayers. The CIA paid him originally about 350,000 dollars a month, to Chalabi and his organization.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Rendon Group, Iraqi Opposition Group, James Bamford, George Herbert Walker Bush, Francis Brooke, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: CIA Disinformation Campaigns, Marketing and Public Relations

During the Republican National Convention, Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA) challenges the Democratic Party’s claims to embrace the values of the family. In a speech to the party faithful, Gingrich derides the Democrats’ claim that “governments don’t raise children, people do,” and says: “If they had tried to use the words ‘families raise children’ in Madison Square Garden [which hosted the Democratic National Convention days before], half their party would have rebelled and they would have had a bloody fight. So they tried to finesse it, to sound conservative without being conservative.” Gingrich gives the following example of what he calls Democratic “family values”: “Woody Allen having non-incest with a non-daughter to whom he was a non-father because they were a non-family fits the Democratic platform perfectly.” [Media Research Center, 3/12/1998; ABC News, 3/9/2007] (Gingrich is referring to film director and comedian Woody Allen’s affair with Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his former lover Mia Farrow. Previn was of the age of consent when she and Allen began their affair, though Allen had served as Previn’s putative stepfather and many perceive the relationship as incestuous; they will eventually marry.) [Time, 8/31/1992; CNN, 12/24/1997] The Washington Post’s David Broder calls Gingrich’s charges “feeble,” and Newsday writes, “For spewing the weekend’s best non sequitur, Trash Watch nominates Newt for the Hall of Surly Surrogates.” Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton (D-AK) says that Gingrich’s remark is “off the wall and out of line,” and says Gingrich “has no shame.” [Media Research Center, 3/12/1998]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Democratic Party, David Broder, Newsday, Republican Party, Newt Gingrich

Category Tags: Gender-Based Rhetoric, Marketing and Public Relations, Conservative Media Pundits

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) links Democrats to Susan Smith, a South Carolina woman who murdered her two children in 1991 and attempted to blame the killings on an unnamed black male. “I think that the mother killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things,” he says. “The only way you get change is to vote Republican.” Referring to the upcoming midterm elections, Gingrich says, “That’s the message for the last three days.” Asked if Republicans being voted into office would stop such crimes from being committed, Gingrich says: “Yes. In my judgment, there’s no question.” Investigators learned that Smith was repeatedly brutalized and raped by her stepfather, Beverly Russell, a South Carolina Republican leader and local organizer for the Christian Coalition; Russell was still abusing Smith just two months before she murdered her children. [AlterNet (.org), 4/26/2000; ABC News, 3/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Christian Coalition, Newt Gingrich, Susan V. Smith, Beverly Russell

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) expands on his 1990 pamphlet advising Republican candidates for office to characterize their opponents as “sick” “traitors” (see September 20, 1990). His political action committee, GOPAC, in a package given to freshmen House and Senate Republicans, includes a video, “We Are a Majority,” and an accompanying memo written by Gingrich that avows the committee is working to fulfill the requests of candidates across the country, who, according to the memo, have flooded its offices with “plaintive plea[s]” of “I wish I could speak like Newt.” The memo responds: “That takes years of practice. But, we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created this list of words and phrases.” The memo advises candidates to “[r]ead them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used.” The list is divided into two parts: “Optimistic positive governing words and phrases to help describe your vision for the future of your community” and “Contrasting words to help you clearly define the policies and record of your opponent and the Democratic Party.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 2/1995; Information Clearinghouse, 1996] Communications professor Margaret Zulick will later call the package “a rudimentary rhetorical handbook, providing inexperienced political speakers with a lexicon of terms that drive a wedge of distinctions between themselves and members of the opposing party. At the same time it educates them in a common language that will give evidence of their solidarity with the speaker of the House and his goals for the Republican majority.” [Zulick, 2010]
"Optimistic Positive Governing Words - The memo states: “Use the list below to help define your campaign and your vision of public service. These words can help give extra power to your message. In addition, these words help develop the positive side of the contrast you should create with your opponent, giving your community something to vote for!” The words include: activist; building; candid(ly); care(ing); challenge; change; children; choice/choose; citizen; commitment; common sense; compete; confident; conflict; control; courage; crusade; debate; dream; duty; eliminate good time in prison; empower(ment); fair; family; freedom; hard work; help; humane; incentive; initiative; lead; learn; legacy; liberty; light; listen; mobilize; moral; movement; opportunity; passionate; peace; pioneer; precious; premise; preserve; principle(d); pristine; pro- (issue): flag, children, environment, reform; prosperity; protect; proud/pride; provide; reform; rights; share; strength; success; tough; truth; unique; vision; and we/us/our.
Contrasting Words - The memo states: “Often we search hard for words to define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals, and their party.” The words include: abuse of power; anti- (issue); flag, family, child, jobs; betray; bizarre; bosses; bureaucracy; cheat; coercion; “compassion” is not enough; collapse(ing); consequences; corrupt; corruption; criminal rights; crisis; cynicism; decay; deeper; destroy; destructive; devour; disgrace; endanger; excuses; failure (fail); greed; hypocrisy; ideological; impose; incompetent; insecure; insensitive; intolerant; liberal; lie; limit(s); machine; mandate(s); obsolete; pathetic; patronage; permissive; attitude; pessimistic; punish; (poor…); radical; red tape; self-serving; selfish; sensationalists; shallow; shame; sick; spend(ing); stagnation; status quo; steal; taxes; they/them; threaten; traitors; unionized; urgent(cy); waste; welfare. [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 2/1995; Information Clearinghouse, 1996]

Entity Tags: GOP Political Action Committee, Newt Gingrich, Margaret Zulick

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations

Ron Paul.Ron Paul. [Source: Think Progress]Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) takes full credit for the racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic content featured in his newsletters (see 1978-1996), and says that he writes the material. Paul, on his own and through his campaign staffers, denies that the content is actually racist, saying that the material as quoted in the press is taken “out of context.” Paul’s opponent for his House seat, Charles “Lefty” Morris (D-TX), has released some of the newsletter material to the Texas press, prompting Paul to accuse him of “name-calling,” “race-baiting,” “political demagoguery,” and “gutter-level politics.” Morris says of Paul’s statements: “Many of his views are out on the fringe.… His statements speak for themselves.” The NAACP has also questioned Paul’s stance on race; a Texas NAACP spokesman says of Paul, “Someone who holds those views signals or indicates an inability to represent all constituents without regard to race, creed, or color.” Paul repeatedly denies being a racist, and says to “selectively quote” from his newsletters is “misrepresentation.” He says that articles in his newsletters that claim “95 percent of the black males” in Washington, DC, “are semi-criminal or entirely criminal,” that “it is hardly irrational… to be afraid of black men.… Black men commit murders, rapes, robberies, muggings, and burglaries all out of proportion to their numbers,” that blacks only commit “crimes that terrify Americans,” and other such claims are not his beliefs, but “assumption[s] you can gather” from reports on crime; he also claims that civil rights leaders such as Jesse Jackson have made similar claims. A 1992 claim that “[o]pinion polls consistently show that only about 5 percent of blacks have sensible political opinions” is Paul’s work, says campaign spokesman Michael Sullivan, but the issue is political philosophy, not race: Sullivan says Paul does not believe that people who disagree with him are sensible. Sullivan goes on to say: “You have to understand what he is writing. Democrats in Texas are trying to stir things up by using half-quotes to impugn his character. His writings are intellectual. He assumes people will do their own research, get their own statistics, think for themselves, and make informed judgments.” His newsletter’s name-calling of Representative Barbara Jordan (D-TX) as “Barbara Morondon” and its claim that she is the “archetypical half-educated victimologist” whose “race and sex protect her from criticism,” a “fraud,” and an “empress without clothes” is merely an attempt to portray Paul’s “clear philosophical difference” with her. He does not deny a 1993 accusation that Representative Jack Kemp (R-NY) “made a pass at a female reporter young enough to be his daughter.” Nor does he deny a number of newsletter items offering to help readers avoid paying taxes to the IRS and supporting violent attacks on IRS offices, though Sullivan says such claims were written in an “abstract” sense. Paul also says he has no idea why he is listed in a directory by the Heritage Front, a Canadian-based neo-Nazi group, which lists his newsletter under the heading “Racialists and Freedom Fighters.” [Dallas Morning News, 5/22/1996; Houston Chronicle, 5/23/1996; Reason, 1/11/2008]

Entity Tags: Michael Quinn Sullivan, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Barbara Jordan, Charles (“Lefty”) Morris, Heritage Front, Ron Paul, Jack Kemp

Category Tags: 'Tea Party' Movement, Faith-Based Rhetoric, Gender-Based Rhetoric, Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups, Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits

The Senate launches an investigation into what a minority (Democratic) report calls “an audacious plan to pour millions of dollars in contributions into Republican campaigns nationwide without disclosing the amount or source” in order to evade campaign finance laws. A shell corporation, Triad Management, is found to have paid more than $3 million for attack ads in 26 House races and three Senate races. More than half of the advertising money came from an obscure nonprofit group, the Economic Education Trust. The Senate minority report finds that “the trust was financed in whole or in part by Charles and David Koch of Wichita, Kansas” (see August 30, 2010). Many in the investigation believe that the Koch brothers paid for the attack ads, most of which aired in states where Koch Industries does business. The brothers refuse to confirm or deny their involvement to reporters. In 1998, the Wall Street Journal will confirm that a consultant on the Kochs’ payroll had been involved in the scheme. Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity will describe the scandal as “historic,” explaining: “Triad was the first time a major corporation used a cutout (a front operation) in a threatening way. Koch Industries was the poster child of a company run amok.” [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]

Entity Tags: Charles Lewis, Charles Koch, Triad Management, David Koch, Economic Education Trust

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Elections Before 2000

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) blames the recent high school shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on the “liberal elite.” In a speech to a woman’s organization, Gingrich says, “I want to say to the elite in this country—the elite news media, the liberal academic elite, the liberal political elite—I accuse you in Littleton and I accuse you in Kosovo of being afraid to talk about the mess you have made, and being afraid for taking responsibility for the things you have done.” The Columbine shooting took place in part because Democrats have taken prayer and God out of the classroom, Gingrich says. [CNN, 5/12/1999]

Entity Tags: Newt Gingrich, Columbine High School

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations

Virtual First DownVirtual First Down [Source: Princeton Video Image]Following the publication of a front-page article in the New York Times on the use of fake, digitally-created images in some CBS programs like “The Early Show”, CBS executives call a press conference to defend and explain the practice. While the technology has been used in sports broadcasting for several years now (see 1999 and After), many are troubled by its use in news programs. CBS Television used the technology developed by Princeton Video Image to superimpose a digitally created CBS logo to block out an NBC-sponsored sign in Times Square during its news coverage of New Year’s Eve celebrations. Dan Rather, the CBS anchor, calls that “a mistake”. “At the very least we should have pointed out to viewers that we were doing it.” Both NBC and ABC told the New York Times that they had not used the technology in their news broadcasting. But CBS defends the practice. “Anytime there’s an NBC logo up on our network we’ll block it again”, says Leslie Moonves, the president of CBS Television. Andrew Heyward, the president of the news division, acknowledges the potential for abuse or deception: “He said that he understood the argument against the use of the technology—which is widely employed in sports and some entertainment shows—on news programs. The danger is ‘that it looks too real and therefore it’s wrong or potentially wrong,’ he said. ‘I certainly agree it’s potentially subject to abuse.’ He noted that advances in computer-generated techniques had made things like missiles hitting Baghdad and airplanes crashing look so real that it was incumbent on networks to underscore that these were not real images. ‘We’re not sitting here rubbing our hands, saying how can we use this again,’ Mr. Heyward said. ‘We are not in the deception business. We’re in the reality business; we’re in the accuracy business. To the extent that this technology interferes with that core belief we’re not going to do it. We will absolutely take seriously the use of this tool.’” [New York Times, 1/12/2000; New York Times, 1/13/2000; Independent, 1/24/2000; New York Times, 1/27/2000]

Entity Tags: Dan Rather, Andrew Heyward, Princeton Video Image, Inc., CBS News

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, 'Dodgy Dossier'

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]

Entity Tags: Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, John Stauber, US Department of Defense, Bush administration (43), Center for Media and Democracy, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns

According to the trade publication PR Week, the ad hoc government public relations organization dubbed “The Rumsfeld Group” (see Late May 2001) is quite successful at sending what the publication calls “messaging advice” to the Pentagon.
Marketing a Link between Iraq, Islamist Radicals - The group tells Pentagon PR chief Victoria Clarke and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that to get the American public’s support for the war on terror, and particularly the invasion of Iraq, they need to fix in the public mind a link between terror and nation-states, not just fluid and ad hoc groups such as al-Qaeda. Reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write, “In other words, there needed to be a fixed target for the military campaigns, some distant place to drop cruise missiles and cluster bombs.” The Rumsfeld Group comes up with the idea of labeling Iraq and certain other nations “rogue states,” an idea already extant in Rumsfeld’s mind, and the genesis of the so-called “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002 and After January 29, 2002).
Veterans of the Gulf War - The government allocates tens of millions of dollars, most of which is handed out to private public relations and media firms hired to spread the Bush administration’s message that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein must be taken out before he can use his arsenal of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons on US targets. Many of the PR and media executives are old friends of senior Bush officials, and many had worked on selling the 1991 Gulf War to the public (see October 10, 1990).
Media Complicity Ensures Success - St. Clair will later note that while the PR efforts are, largely, failures with US allies, they are far more successful with the American population (see August 13, 2003). He will write: “A population traumatized by terror threats and shattered economy became easy prey for the saturation bombing of the Bush message that Iraq was a terrorist state linked to al-Qaeda that was only minutes away from launching attacks on America with weapons of mass destruction. Americans were the victims of an elaborate con job, pelted with a daily barrage of threat inflation, distortions, deceptions, and lies. Not about tactics or strategy or war plans. But about justifications for war. The lies were aimed not at confusing Saddam’s regime, but the American people.” St. Clair places as much blame on the “gullible [and] complicit press corps,” so easily managed by Clarke (see February 2003). “During the Vietnam war, TV images of maimed GIs and napalmed villages suburbanized opposition to the war and helped hasten the US withdrawal,” St. Clair writes. “The Bush gang meant to turn the Vietnam phenomenon on its head by using TV as a force to propel the US into a war that no one really wanted. What the Pentagon sought was a new kind of living room war, where instead of photos of mangled soldiers and dead Iraqi kids, they could control the images Americans viewed and to a large extent the content of the stories. By embedding reporters inside selected divisions, Clarke believed the Pentagon could count on the reporters to build relationships with the troops and to feel dependent on them for their own safety. It worked, naturally.” St. Clair notes the instance of one reporter on national television calling the US Army “our protectors,” and NBC’s David Bloom’s on-air admission that he is willing to do “anything and everything they can ask of us.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Jeffrey St. Clair, US Department of Defense, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, “The Rumsfeld Group”, Bush administration (43), David Bloom

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, White House Involvement, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns

Paramount’s Sherry Lansing at a 2001 meeting to discuss the media’s role in battling terrorism. She is flanked by Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger, Karl Rove, and CBS owner Sumner Redstone.Paramount’s Sherry Lansing at a 2001 meeting to discuss the media’s role in battling terrorism. She is flanked by Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger, Karl Rove, and CBS owner Sumner Redstone. [Source: Fred Rouser / Reuters]Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, a group of senior media executives meet repeatedly with White House officials, including top political strategist Karl Rove, to discuss ways that the entertainment industry can help improve America’s image in foreign markets. The gathered officials discuss the use of “soft power”—using the influence of American movies and television shows to sway public opinion, especially among Muslim and Arab populations. Television producer Bryce Zabel, the chairman of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, says in a memo that the US must regard itself like a consumer brand: “Products like Coca-Cola are far more effectively branded around the globe than the United States itself. The American entertainment and communications industry has the technological and creative expertise to improve relations between our country and the rest of the world.” Hilary Rosen, the chairwoman of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and a participant in the meetings, recalls in 2008 that Rove and other White House officials wanted support similar to that provided by Hollywood to the US government during World War II. “They wanted the music industry, the movie industry, the TV industry to produce propaganda,” she will recall. “Rove was putting a lot of pressure on us.” A 2008 New York Times report will conclude, “There were few tangible results from the meetings.” Harvard professor Joseph Nye, who coined the term “soft power” in 1989, will observe in 2008: “[W]hat’s interesting about the last eight years is that polls show a decline in American attractiveness.… But then you ask the follow-up questions and you see that American culture remains attractive, that American values remain attractive. Which is the opposite of what the president has said—that they hate us for who we are and what we believe in.” [New York Times, 11/30/2008]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Bryce Zabel, Joseph Nye, Karl C. Rove, Recording Industry Association of America, Hilary Rosen

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, White House Involvement

Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) says that newsletters printed for decades under his name that racially disparaged black lawmakers such as Representative Barbara Jordan (D-TX) were not actually written by him. He tells reporter S.C. Gwynne: “I could never say this in the campaign, but those words weren’t really written by me. It wasn’t my language at all. Other people help me with my newsletter as I travel around. I think the one on Barbara Jordan was the saddest thing, because Barbara and I served together and actually she was a delightful lady.” (Paul’s newsletter called Jordan “Barbara Morondon” and the “archetypical half-educated victimologist” whose “race and sex protect her from criticism.”) The item slighting Jordan was published, Paul says, because “we wanted to do something on affirmative action, and it ended up in the newsletter and became personalized. I never personalize anything.” He attempts to explain why he never publicized his claimed lack of involvement with his own newsletter, saying: “They were never my words, but I had some moral responsibility for them.… I actually really wanted to try to explain that it doesn’t come from me directly, but they [campaign aides] said that’s too confusing. ‘It appeared in your letter and your name was on that letter and therefore you have to live with it.’” Gwynne writes: “It is a measure of his stubbornness, determination, and ultimately his contrarian nature that, until this surprising volte-face in our interview, he had never shared this secret. It seems, in retrospect, that it would have been far, far easier to have told the truth at the time.” [Texas Monthly, 10/1/2001; Reason, 1/11/2008] In 1996, Paul admitted to writing the newsletters (see May 22 - October 11, 1996). In 2008, a New Republic article (see January 8-15, 2008) will document a raft of crudely racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and far-right conspiratorial content from years’ worth of Paul’s newsletters (see 1978-1996).

Entity Tags: Ron Paul, S.C. Gwynne, Barbara Jordan

Category Tags: 'Tea Party' Movement, Faith-Based Rhetoric, Gender-Based Rhetoric, Marketing and Public Relations, Race-Based Rhetoric

Charlotte Beers.Charlotte Beers. [Source: New York Times]Former advertising executive Charlotte Beers officially assumes her duties as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. Beers, the former head of ad agencies Ogilvy & Mather and J. Walter Thompson, and who is best known for “branding” products like American Express credit cards and Head and Shoulders shampoo, was named to the position days after the 9/11 attacks, in part to help refurbish America’s image overseas. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who met Beers in 1995 when they both worked on the board of Gulf Airstream and who proposed her for the position, defended her selection in the Senate by explaining: “Well, guess what? She got me to buy Uncle Ben’s rice and so there is nothing wrong with getting somebody who knows how to sell something.” Powell says Beers’s job is to focus on what he calls “the branding of US foreign policy.” Time reporter Margaret Carlson will write that Beers’s new job is much different from selling rice or shampoo to American consumers: “Now Beers has to rebrand Osama bin Laden as a mass murderer to millions of Muslims who have never seen a 767 or a skyscraper, much less one flying into the other. She has to do it in languages, like Pashto and Dari, that don’t even have a word for terrorist. And all this without having control over Voice of America or Radio Free Europe.” Congress grants Beers over $500 million for her Brand America campaign. She says: “Public diplomacy is a vital new arm in what will combat terrorism over time. All of a sudden we are in this position of redefining who America is, not only for ourselves, but for the outside world.” Beers has no diplomatic experience. Her first efforts as undersecretary will be to provide a 24-page booklet in 14 languages accusing bin Laden of masterminding the 9/11 attacks, and, with the help of the Ad Council, to create and disseminate a poster throughout Arab countries offering up to $25 million for information leading to the arrest of highly placed terror suspects. Beers says that “sell might not be the operative word” to describe her job, she uses marketing vocabulary to describe her efforts: the US is an “elegant brand,” Powell and President Bush are “symbols of the brand,” and she wants to use athletes such as the NBA’s Hakeem Olajuwon to help market the American “brand.” [Time, 11/14/2001; New York Times, 3/3/2003; CounterPunch, 8/13/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 31-32] Columnist Jeffrey St. Clair will observe: “Note the rapt attention Beers pays to the manipulation of perception, as opposed, say, to alterations of US policy. Old-fashioned diplomacy involves direct communication between representatives of nations, a conversational give and take, often fraught with deception… but an exchange nonetheless. Public diplomacy, as defined by Beers, is something else entirely. It’s a one-way street, a unilateral broadcast of American propaganda directly to the public, domestic and international—a kind of informational carpet bombing.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Jeffrey St. Clair, Charlotte Beers, Colin Powell, Ad Council, Hakeem Olajuwon, Margaret Carlson

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, White House Involvement

The Pentagon secretly awards the Rendon Group a $16.7 million contract to test public opinion and track and analyze foreign news reports in places like Cairo; Istanbul; Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Islamabad, Pakistan; and Jakarta, Indonesia. One of Rendon’s main targets will be Al Jazeera. The contract specifies that Rendon will track “the location and use of Al Jazeera news bureaus, reporters and stringers, both regionally and globally. The… effort will provide a detailed content analysis of the station’s daily broadcast. TRG [The Rendon Group] will also chart event-related regional media coverage to identify the biases of specific journalists and potentially obtain an understanding of their allegiances.” Rendon will land many more contracts from the Pentagon over the next few years including ones that call on the firm to plant television news segments in the foreign media promoting US positions and to “push” stories favorable to the US. According to Rendon, in some cases the firm helps “foreign governments to correct things that are bad or wrong in the news cycle, and amplify those things that are not bad.” [New Republic, 5/20/2002; Chicago Tribune, 11/13/2005]

Entity Tags: Rendon Group, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Marketing and Public Relations

Family Research Council logo.Family Research Council logo. [Source: Mediamouse (.org)]The Family Research Council (FRC), a Christian conservative organization headed by the Reverend James Dobson, authorizes an advertisement linking Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) to Saddam Hussein. The ad is triggered by Daschle’s opposition to the Bush administration’s desire to drill for oil in the protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The ad is released by American Renewal, the lobbying wing of the FRC headed by Richard Lessner, who formerly headed the editorial page staff at the Manchester Union Leader. In a press release announcing the ad, Lessner asks: “What do Saddam Hussein and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle have in common? Neither man wants America to drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” It juxtaposes photos of Daschle and Hussein, and charges that American buys 725,000 barrels of oil a day from Hussein because Daschle “won’t let America drill for oil at home.” Daschle spokesman Doug Hattaway calls the ad “an outrageous, extremist attack at a time when the nation is unified.” Lessner calls the ad an example of “telling the truth” necessitating “tough talk.” Washington Post pundit Dana Milbank says the ad has all “the subtlety of a Scud missile.” [Washington Post, 11/9/2001]

Entity Tags: Family Research Council, American Renewal, Dana Milbank, Doug Hattaway, Tom Daschle, James Dobson, Richard Lessner

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Media Complicity

Pentagon chief of public relations Victoria Clarke.Pentagon chief of public relations Victoria Clarke. [Source: Department of Defense]While detailed plans for the upcoming invasion of Iraq are well underway, the administration realizes that the American people are not strongly behind such an invasion. They aren’t convinced that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and unsure about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. White House and Pentagon officials decide that using retired military officers as “independent military analysts” in the national media can help change hearts and minds (see April 20, 2008). Assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Victoria “Torie” Clarke, a former public relations executive, intends to achieve what she calls “information dominance.” The news culture is saturated by “spin” and combating viewpoints; Clarke argues that opinions are most swayed by voices seen as authoritative and completely independent. Clarke has already put together a system within the Pentagon to recruit what she calls “key influentials,” powerful and influential people from all areas who, with the proper coaching, can generate support for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s agenda. After 9/11, when each of the news networks rushed to land its own platoon of retired military officers to provide commentary and analysis, Clarke saw an opportunity: such military analysts are the ultimate “key influentials,” having tremendous authority and credibility with average Americans. They often get more airtime than network reporters, Clarke notes. More importantly, they are not just explaining military minutiae, but telling viewers how to interpret events. Best of all, while they are in the news media, they are not creatures of the media. Reporter David Barstow will write in 2008, “They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.” And even those without such ties tended to support the military and the government. Retired Army general and ABC analyst William Nash will say: “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army. It is my life.”
'Writing the Op-Ed' for the War - As a result, according to Clarke’s aide Don Meyer, Clarke decides to make the military analysts the main focus of the public relations push to build a case for invading Iraq. They, not journalists, will “be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Meyer recalls. The military analysts are not handled by the Pentagon’s regular press office, but are lavished with attention and “perks” in a separate office run by another aide to Clarke, Brent Krueger. According to Krueger, the military analysts will, in effect, be “writing the op-ed” for the war.
Working in Tandem with the White House - The Bush administration works closely with Clarke’s team from the outset. White House officials request lists of potential recruits for the team, and suggests names for the lists. Clarke’s team writes summaries of each potential analyst, describing their backgrounds, business and political affiliations, and their opinions on the war. Rumsfeld has the final say on who is on the team: “Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees,” Krueger will say. Ultimately, the Pentagon recruits over 75 retired officers, though some only participate briefly or sporadically.
Saturation Coverage on Cable - The largest contingent of analysts is affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the networks with 24-hour cable news coverage. Many analysts work for ABC and CBS as well. Many also appear on radio news and talk broadcasts, publish op-ed articles in newspapers, and are quoted in press reports, magazine articles, and in Web sites and blogs. Barstow, a New York Times reporter, will note that “[a]t least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.”
Representing the Defense Industry - Many of the analysts have close ties with defense contractors and/or lobbying firms involved in helping contractors win military contracts from the Pentagon:
bullet Retired Army general James Marks, who begins working as an analyst for CNN in 2004 (until his firing three years later—see July 2007) is a senior executive with McNeil Technologies, and helps that firm land military and intelligence contracts from the government.
bullet Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general and Fox News analyst, sits on the boards of several military contractors.
bullet CBS military analyst Jeffrey McCausland is a lobbyist for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he is director of a national security team that represents several military contractors. His team proclaims on the firm’s Web site, “We offer clients access to key decision makers.”
bullet Shortly after signing with CBS, retired Air Force general Joseph Ralston became vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by former Defense Secretary William Cohen (also an analyst for CNN). The Cohen Group says of itself on its Web site, “The Cohen Group knows that getting to ‘yes’ in the aerospace and defense market—whether in the United States or abroad—requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers.”
Ideological Ties - Many military analysts have political and ideological ties to the Bush administration and its supporters. These include:
bullet Two of NBC’s most familiar analysts, retired generals Barry McCaffrey and Wayne Downing, are on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House encouragement in 2002 to push for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. [New York Times, 4/20/2008] Additionally, McCaffrey is chief of BR McCaffrey Associates, which “provides strategic, analytic, and advocacy consulting services to businesses, non-profits, governments, and international organizations.” [Washington Post, 4/21/2008] Other members include senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and prominent neoconservatives Richard Perle and William Kristol. [Truthout (.org), 4/28/2008] Both McCaffrey and Downing head their own consulting firms and are board members of major defense contractors.
bullet Retired Army general Paul Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 through 2007, shares with the Bush national security team the belief that the reason the US lost in Vietnam was due to negative media coverage, and the commitment to prevent that happening with the Iraq war. In 1980, Vallely co-wrote a paper accusing the US press of failing to defend the nation from what he called “enemy” propaganda—negative media coverage—during the Vietnam War. “We lost the war—not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. Vallely advocated something he called “MindWar,” an all-out propaganda campaign by the government to convince US citizens of the need to support a future war effort. Vallely’s “MindWar” would use network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
bullet Ironically, Clarke herself will eventually leave the Pentagon and become a commentator for ABC News. [Democracy Now!, 4/22/2008]
Seducing the Analysts - Analysts describe a “powerfully seductive environment,” in Barstow’s words, created for them in the Pentagon: the uniformed escorts to Rumsfeld’s private conference room, lavish lunches served on the best government china, embossed name cards, “blizzard[s] of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, says: “[Y]ou have no idea. You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” Allard calls the entire process “psyops on steroids,” using flattery and proximity to gain the desired influence and effect. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’” Allard says. “It’s more subtle.”
Keeping Pentagon Connections Hidden - In return, the analysts are instructed not to quote their briefers directly or to mention their contacts with the Pentagon. The idea is always to present a facade of independent thought. One example is the analysts’ almost perfect recitation of Pentagon talking points during a fall and winter 2002 PR campaign (see Fall and Winter 2002). [New York Times, 4/20/2008]

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announces the closure of the Office of Strategic Influence (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), after news of the Pentagon propaganda initiative causes a public stir (see February 19, 2002). “The office has clearly been so damaged that it is pretty clear to me that it could not function effectively,” he tells reporters. “So it is being closed down.” Asked if he instructed Rumsfeld to close the office, President Bush says: “I didn’t even need to tell him this. He knows how I feel about this.” [New York Times, 2/27/2002] Nine months later, Rumsfeld says that after the OSI was closed, “I went down that next day and said fine, if you want to savage this thing fine I’ll give you the corpse. There’s the name. You can have the name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.” [US Department of Defense, 11/18/2002] Much of its operations are apparently shifted to another unit called the Information Operations Task Force. Some operations are farmed out to the Rendon Group, a private public relations firm with extensive experience marketing wars and foreign policy for Republican administrations (see May 1991 and Late May 2001). [Rolling Stone, 11/17/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 189]

Entity Tags: John Rendon, Office of Strategic Influence, Rendon Group, Donald Rumsfeld, Information Operations Task Force, James R. Wilkinson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns

In his 2004 book The Politics of Truth, former ambassador Joseph Wilson will reflect that by this time, it has become “clear that there were few forces willing to confront the neoconservative juggernaut” and its drive towards war with Iraq. “They had mastered the art of marketing their policy prescriptions and were aggressive and intimidating in debate. Their strategy, as I discovered, was to make an opening statement, interrupt the person making a different argument, and then filibuster to the end of a five-minute television segment. That domination of the available time, coupled with aggressively stated talking points and ad hominem attacks on the credibility and intelligence of their interlocutors, was designed to leave viewers with the impression these neocon experts were the only ones who knew what they were talking about. After a while, many of the genuine experts on the region, people who had spent their careers living and working in the Arab world, simply refused to subject themselves to such demeaning behavior and retired to the sidelines.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 292]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Marketing and Public Relations, Media Coverage of Iraq War

86 percent of those polled in a CNN/USA Today Gallup poll say they believe that Saddam Hussein supports groups “that have plans to attack the United States” and 53 percent think Saddam Hussein was “personally involved in the September 11 attacks.” The results are based on telephone interviews with 801 adults and the margin of error is estimated at 4 percent. [Gallup News Service, 8/23/2002]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Bush giving his speech in front of the Statue of Liberty.Bush giving his speech in front of the Statue of Liberty. [Source: September 11 News (.com)]The Bush administration’s public relations team decides to kick off its push for a war with Iraq, and its drive to the midterm elections, with President Bush’s speech commemorating the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. After much deliberation, Ellis Island in New York Harbor is chosen as the setting for Bush’s speech; the Ellis site won out over nearby Governors Island because the senior public relations officials want the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop. “We had made a decision that this would be a compelling story either place,” White House communications director Dan Bartlett will later recall. “We sent a team out to go and look and they said, ‘This is a better shot,’ and we said okay.” Leading that team is Scott Sforza, the former ABC producer who will later oversee the May 2003 “Mission Accomplished” event (see May 1, 2003 and April 30, 2008). [Rich, 2006, pp. 57-58] (Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write of Sforza, “Reagan’s team had perfected this art of stagecraft, and the man in charge for Bush, deputy communications director Scott Sforza, took it to new heights.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 82] Sforza is joined by former Fox News producer Gary Jenkins and former NBC cameraman Bob De Servi. They use three barges laden with stadium lights to illuminate the Statue of Liberty for the shoot. Former Reagan administration public relations chief Michael Deaver will later observe that the Bush team is far better at this kind of marketing presentation than the Reagan, Bush I, or Clinton public relations teams ever were. “[T]hey’ve taken it to an art form,” Deaver will say. The speech is designed to push Congress towards authorizing the war before the midterm elections (see January 19, 2002 and October 10, 2002), when, as author Frank Rich will later write, “the pressure on congressmen facing re-election to prove their war-waging machismo would be at its nastiest. Any weak sisters could expect a thrashing much like that Republicans inflicted on Democrats who had failed to vote for the ‘use of force’ resolution sought by the first President Bush after the Persian Gulf War in 1991” (see January 9-13, 1991). A senior administration official says, “In the end it will be difficult for someone to vote against it.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 57-58] In other preparatory moves for the speech, the government raises the National Threat Level from yellow to orange (see September 10, 2002), and announces the death or capture of some 2,700 al-Qaeda operatives since 9/11 (see September 10, 2002). The administration will also attempt to significantly revise its account of events on 9/11 itself (see September 11, 2002).

Entity Tags: Frank Rich, Dan Bartlett, Bob De Servi, Michael Deaver, Scott Sforza, Gary Jenkins, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 2004 Elections

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, White House Involvement, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Saxby Chambliss celebrates his victory over Max Cleland.Saxby Chambliss celebrates his victory over Max Cleland. [Source: USA Today]Incumbent Senator Max Cleland (D-GA) angrily defends himself against a television ad that implies he lacks patriotism. Cleland is a triple amputee, having lost both legs and an arm in a grenade explosion in Vietnam. The television ad is sponsored by the campaign of Saxby Chambliss, a House Republican who did not himself serve in Vietnam. The Chambliss ad puts pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein next to Cleland’s, and accuses Cleland of being soft on homeland security. Cleland favors the creation of a Department of Homeland Security (see November 25, 2002), but will not vote for a bill creating such an entity without an amendment guaranteeing labor rights for federal workers. Cleland has also advocated a more deliberate approach to dealing with Hussein instead of joining the push to invade Iraq, and favors the resumption of open UN inspections. “To put my picture up there with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and insinuate I’m not fighting hard enough for national security, I just find that this is an incredible low in Georgia politics,” Cleland says. Chambliss retorts, “Georgians deserve to know—all Americans deserve to know—why Max Cleland is more concerned with protecting federal bureaucracy, rules and regulations than creating a department that can respond effectively to future threats of terrorism.” [Associated Press, 10/11/2002; Unger, 2007, pp. 256] Zell Miller (D-GA), Cleland’s fellow Georgian senator, defends Cleland, calling the ad “disgraceful.… [Chambliss] should be ashamed.” Cleland campaign consultant Karl Struble calls the Chambliss ad campaign “some of the ugliest stuff I’ve ever seen.” Nevertheless, the ad is apparently effective; Chambliss makes up a relatively large deficit to defeat Cleland in the November elections. [PBS, 11/6/2002] In 2007, author Craig Unger will write that few voters in Georgia “realized [Cleland’s] views were similar to those held by the president’s father.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 256]

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security, Craig Unger, Saxby Chambliss, Karl Struble, Zell Miller, Max Cleland

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Media Complicity

A State Department program designed to “market” America as a “brand” to Arabs is greeted with skepticism and, sometimes, derision. The advertising campaign, called “Shared Values,” was conceived by Charlotte Beers, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and a former advertising executive (see October 2, 2001). The concept is to “sell” America in the Arab world by emphasizing the “shared values” held by both Americans and Arabs. [Rich, 2006, pp. 31-32] The program is based on four videos, centering on the lives of four “average” American Muslims—a schoolteacher, a doctor, a baker, and the director of the National Institutes of Health. [New York Times, 10/30/2002] Beers said in a June Senate hearing that the US must pay closer attention to expanding communication with “the mainstream of young adults” so as “to give them, ultimately, a new world view.… The young will lead us.” The “Shared Values” program is the central thrust of that effort. [Office of International Information Programs, US Department of State, 6/11/2002] The videos show American Muslims in their homes, at softball games, and at their jobs. They tell Arab viewers that they have experienced no prejudice against them after the 9/11 attacks, and describe how they live and work well with Christians, Jews, and Hindus. “I don’t think there is any other country in the world where different people from different countries are as accepted and welcomed as members of a society,” says one. But many Arabs do not believe the rosy depiction of life as an American Muslims, and call the videos patronizing and simplistic. (Some State Department officials privately agree with that characterization, but were powerless to influence their creation and dissemination.) Other Arabs call the videos nothing but American propaganda. [New York Times, 10/30/2002] In 2006, author Frank Rich will call the videos akin to “testimonial commercials for new household products.” Many Arab countries, particularly in the Middle East, refuse to run the videos, saying that they do not adequately address the US’s policies in that region. [Rich, 2006, pp. 31-32] In September 2003, the “Shared Values” program and other such public relations initiatives will be judged to be failures by the General Accounting Office (see September 15, 2003).

Entity Tags: Charlotte Beers, Frank Rich, General Accounting Office, US Department of State

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, White House Involvement

Bush administration officials launch what appears to be a concerted effort to discredit the inspections after press reports indicate that inspections are going well and that Iraq is cooperating. The Washington Post reports, “In speeches in London, Washington and Denver, Bush, Vice President Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz sought to increase pressure on Hussein in advance of a Sunday deadline for the Iraqi leader to declare his inventory of weapons and missiles.” The paper adds, “The coordinated speeches… seemed designed to preempt any positive sign from the UN inspection teams about Iraqi compliance and to set the stage for an early confrontation with Hussein.” [Washington Post, 12/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, White House Involvement, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns

On December 6, 2002, conservative media pundit Bill O’Reilly says about Saddam Hussein, “I can’t, in good conscience, tell the American people that I know for sure that he has smallpox or anthrax or he’s got nuclear or chemical and that he is ready to use that. I cannot say that as a journalist or an American.” O’Reilly is far more certain on February 7, 2003, when he tells his listeners, “According to the UN, he’s got anthrax, VX gas, ricin, and on and on.” On February 23, 2003, he says flatly, “This guy we know has anthrax and VX and all this stuff.” Then on March 18, 2003, just two days before the US invades Iraq, he says that he isn’t sure what kind of WMDs Saddam Hussein may possess: “Here’s the bottom line on this for every American and everybody in the world: Nobody knows for sure, all right? We don’t know what he has. We think he has 8,500 liters of anthrax. But let’s see.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), 5/2003]

Entity Tags: Bill O’Reilly, Saddam Hussein, United Nations

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Conservative Media Pundits, Marketing and Public Relations

Jerry Bruckheimer.Jerry Bruckheimer. [Source: Thomas Robinson / Getty Images / Forbes]ABC airs the first of a six-episode reality series entitled Profiles from the Front Line, which purports to document the war in Afghanistan from the soldiers’ point of view. It was conceived and produced with the extensive help and oversight of the Pentagon. [Chicago Tribune, 2/26/2003] Filming for the show began in May 2002. [Los Angeles Times, 2/6/2003] ABC executives say that the show will tell the “compelling personal stories of the US military men and women who bear the burden of the fighting” in Afghanistan. The series was quickly approved by Victoria Clarke, the head of the Pentagon’s public relations office (see Early 2002 and Beyond), and by Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, the public relations commander of US Central Command. Clarke and Quigley granted the series producers unprecedented access to the troops, technical advice, and even the use of aircraft carriers for filming. In return, the Pentagon received the right to review and approve all footage before airing (in the interests of national security, Pentagon officials said). [Rich, 2006, pp. 32-33] The Pentagon denies that it asked for any changes in the series’ broadcast footage. [Washington Post, 3/9/2003]
Producers Insist Show Not Propaganda, No Censorship from Pentagon - Though the show is widely considered to be tied in to the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq (some question the fact that the show was shelved for months before suddenly being approved just as news of the impending invasion began hitting the news), series producer Bertram van Munster says he came up with the idea after 9/11. “We were all kind of numb, I certainly was extremely numb for two or three weeks,” he will recall. “And I said I’ve got to do something.” Van Munster and his co-producer, famed movie and television producer Jerry Bruckheimer (an acknowledged Bush supporter best known for his action-film blockbusters such as Top Gun, Black Hawk Down, and Pearl Harbor, as well as the CSI television series), put together a proposal that van Munster says does not necessarily support President Bush’s war plans. Instead, he says, the show is intended to personalize America’s fighting forces. “There’s nothing flag-waving about death. We have people getting killed on the show,” he says. “In many ways, I see this thing as much anti-war as it is a portrait of what these people are doing out there.” Bruckheimer insists that the Defense Department did not exercise any censorship whatsoever except in minor instances, such as the withholding of a Special Forces soldier’s last name. “They didn’t use any censorship whatsoever,” Bruckheimer says. “They were very cooperative.… They were very receptive to the concept of showing what US forces were doing in Afghanistan.” The show’s own film, shot on location in Afghanistan, is bolstered by Defense Department footage. [Los Angeles Times, 2/6/2003; Chicago Tribune, 2/26/2003; Washington Post, 3/9/2003; Progressive, 4/1/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 32-33] The Progressive’s Andrea Lewis calls the show “reality television, war movie, documentary video, and military propaganda all rolled into one.” Other critics call it “a Pentagon infomercial.” Bruckheimer denies that the show is propaganda, but admits that he ensured the show would present the positive face of the military: “Put it this way. If I were to rent your apartment, I’m not going to trash it. It wouldn’t be right. So I’m not going to go and expose all their blemishes.” [Progressive, 4/1/2003; Television Week, 7/14/2003]
Documentary or Reality TV? - Chicago Tribune reviewer Allan Johnson writes of the first episode: “Stirring orchestral music and editing, framing and [quick] pacing… succeed in instilling enough patriotic feelings so that Bush should give the producers a cheer. Which raises the question of whether such advocacy is appropriate in these sensitive times.” The first episode provides what Johnson calls a reflection of standard reality-show characters: the serious-minded father figure (a captain who commands 150 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division); a gung-ho aircraft mechanic who tells the camera that the terrorists “had better be ready for some payback, and it’s going to continue until we end it;” a roguish Special Forces sergeant who says his job is to “find and kill all al-Qaeda;” the stockbroker-turned-soldier whose wife weeps uncontrollably as he leaves for Afghanistan; and others. One soldier says with a smile, “I couldn’t think of any place I’d rather be than right here doing my job, knowing I’m doing my part to keep America free.” Lewis calls the soldiers who are profiled for the series “good looking, articulate, and enthusiastic about what they’re doing… archetypes of characters you’d expect to see in a big-budget Bruckheimer film.” Answering the question of whether the show is reality television or straight documentary, Bruckheimer says, “I think it’s a little bit of both.” Van Munster adds: “I think documentary and reality are actually brother and sister. And it’s also cinema verite.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/26/2003; Progressive, 4/1/2003] Others disagree. “It raises all sorts of questions, which are exacerbated by the entertainment factor,” says Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. “One check on war news becoming propaganda is the professionalism of journalists, which will be ostentatiously lacking.… Documentaries are inherently more informative than entertainment. ‘Reality’ programming turns the tables.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/6/2003]
Journalists Shocked at Wide Access Enjoyed by Show's Producers, Camera Teams - Many war correspondents are shocked at the level of access, and the amount of cooperation, between the Pentagon and ABC, especially considering the difficulties they routinely encounter in getting near any battlefields. Even a complaint from ABC News regarding the show’s broad access as contrasted to the restrictions forced upon their reporters is rejected by ABC’s parent company, Disney. “There’s a lot of other ways to convey information to the American people than through news organizations,” Quigley says. [Rich, 2006, pp. 32-33] Lewis writes: “During the months when Profiles was filmed, ‘real’ journalists weren’t allowed anywhere near the front lines, and news organizations had to survive on a limited diet of highly coordinated military briefings. Meanwhile, Profiles camera crews were given nearly unlimited access to US soldiers in Afghanistan.” CBS anchor Dan Rather says: “I’m outraged by the Hollywoodization of the military. The Pentagon would rather make troops available as props in gung-ho videos than explain how the commanders let Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda leaders escape or target the wrong villages.” [Progressive, 4/1/2003]
Show Used to 'Train' Pentagon for Embedding Journalists in Iraq - The Pentagon’s project officer for the series, Vince Ogilvie, later says that the interactions of the Profiles film crews and military personnel provided “a prelude to the process of embedding” media representatives in military units for war coverage in Iraq. The series had a number of different crews in different military units over its shooting schedule, Ogilvie will say: “Though they were not reporting on a daily basis, they were with the unit—living with the unit and reporting on what different individuals or units were involved in. With each passing day, week, month came a better understanding.” [Washington Post, 3/9/2003]
Show Not Renewed - The show will do extremely poorly in the ratings, and after its six-episode run is completed, it will not be renewed. [Rich, 2006, pp. 32-33] Van Munster will become involved in a shadowy Pentagon-driven project to document the Iraq occupation, of which little will be known. A Cato Institute official will say of that project: “This administration is fighting a PR battle over weapons of mass destruction and whether we’re getting bogged down in a quagmire. So maybe they want to frame their own message and own history about their time in Iraq.” [Television Week, 7/14/2003]

Entity Tags: American Broadcasting Corporation, Allan Johnson, Andrea Lewis, Cato Institute, Bush administration (43), Craig Quigley, Bertram van Munster, Robert Lichter, Jerry Bruckheimer, Dan Rather, Vince Ogilvie, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, White House Involvement, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

The cover of an April issue of Entertainment Weekly featuring nearly-nude depictions of the Dixie Chicks, all with words written on their skin used in commentaries about the band.The cover of an April issue of Entertainment Weekly featuring nearly-nude depictions of the Dixie Chicks, all with words written on their skin used in commentaries about the band. [Source: Associated Press / Guardian]The Dixie Chicks, a modern country band from Texas, plays a concert in London. The band consists of three singers and multi-instrumentalists, Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire, and Emily Robison, and backing musicians. During the show, Maines says to the audience: “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.” The London Guardian, in a review of the show, reports the comments on March 12. Within days, Maines and the Dixie Chicks become the targets of intense and heavy criticism from conservative commentators and Bush supporters in the United States. Country music radio stations across the nation begin dropping their songs from their playlists, even though the Chicks currently have the top song in country music airplay, “Travelin’ Man.” Radio stations set up trash cans outside their stations for listeners to publicly discard their Dixie Chicks CDs, and some radio stations hold “disc-burning” and “disc-smashing” festivals featuring bonfires and tractors. Two radio station chains, Cox and Cumulus, ban the Chicks from being played on all the stations they own. Critics on Fox News and conservative radio shows nickname the band “the Dixie Sluts,” “Saddam’s Angels,” and other monikers. Country musician Toby Keith, a conservative and frequent guest on Fox News and radio talk shows, begins using a backdrop at his concerts featuring a photo montage putting Maines together with Saddam Hussein. Maines reluctantly accepts 24-hour security from the barrage of death threats she receives. She quickly issues an apology, saying, “Whoever holds that office [the presidency] should be treated with the utmost respect,” but the apology makes little difference to many. Indeed, the band does not back away from its position: Robison will later say: “Everybody talks about how this war was over quickly and not that many people died. Tell that to the parents of people coming home in body bags.… Natalie’s comment came from frustration that we all shared—we were apparently days away from war (see March 19, 2003) and still left with a lot of questions.” Maines will later say: “The thing is, it wasn’t even a political statement. It was a joke made to get cheers and applause and to entertain, and it did. But it didn’t entertain America.” Maines will later say the controversy starts on a right-wing message board and blog called Free Republic. Music producer and comedian Simon Renshaw, a close friend of the band members, agrees with Maines, saying: “The extreme right-wing group, for their own political reasons, are attempting to manipulate the American media, and the American media is falling for it. The Free Republic is very well organized. There’s definitely a Free Republic hit list with all of the radio stations they’re trying to affect, and they are totally focused, and the girls are going to get whacked.” Documentary maker Barbara Kopple, who is making a film about the group, will later say: “[The c]ountry music [industry] put[s] sort of their musicians in a box, and they’re expected to be very conservative in their leanings, and these were three all-American girls that nobody ever expected this from. So when Natalie made her statement, it was as if she had betrayed country music. There was a massive boycott on playing any of their music. There was this group called the Free Republic that immediately got on Web sites and blogs and everything else to make sure that their music was not shown, their CDs were trampled, and for this, they even got death threats. So they had to have bomb-sniffing dogs, they had security, and nothing could stop these women from playing.” Kopple cites one example of a very specific and credible death threat issued for a July 6, 2003 concert in Dallas, but the three band members insist on playing, and the concert goes off without incident. In April 2003, Maines says: “People think this’ll scare us and shut us up and it’s gonna do the opposite. They just served themselves a huge headache.” [Guardian, 3/12/2003; Guardian, 4/25/2003; Democracy Now!, 2/15/2007] Eventually, their CD sales begin to rebound, and in 2007, they will win five Grammy awards, an accomplishment many will see as a vindication of the Dixie Chicks’s music and their right to freedom of speech, as well as something of a repudiation of the Nashville-based country music industry. Music executive Jeff Ayeroff will note that “the artist community… was very angry at what radio did, because it was not very American.” Music executive Mike Dungan, a powerful member of the country music industry, says of the awards, “I think it says that, by and large, the creative community sees what has happened to the Dixie Chicks as unfair and unjust.” [New York Times, 2/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Martie Maguire, Dixie Chicks, Barbara Kopple, Emily Robison, Jeff Ayeroff, Simon Renshaw, Toby Keith, Mike Dungan, Natalie Maines, Free Republic

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Conservative Media Pundits

Sheldon Rampton.Sheldon Rampton. [Source: Sheldon Rampton]Author Sheldon Rampton, an expert on public relations and propaganda, observes that the Bush administration uses what he calls “the framework of a ‘propaganda model’ of communication” in releasing information to the public and coordinating communications between administration officials and outsiders (see Early 2002 and Beyond, January 2003, and March 6, 2003). Rampton says such a model’s “strategies and assumptions are fundamentally contrary to a democratic model.… The goal of the propaganda model is simply to achieve efficient indoctrination, and it therefore tends to regard the assumptions of the democratic model as inconvenient obstacles to efficient communication.”
Inherent Contradictions - Rampton notes that using the propaganda model as a communications strategy on such a large scale is impossible in the long term. One problem the Bush administration is facing is in countering the growing disaffection with the US among other nations while simultaneously refusing to listen to criticism from these nations. He cites as examples Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s contemptuous dismissal of European opponents to the Iraq invasion as members of “old Europe” (see January 22, 2003), and Bush’s dismissal of recent worldwide protests with over 11 million participants by saying he doesn’t “decide policy based upon a focus group.” Rampton writes, “Bush’s statement speaks volumes about his inability to think outside the framework of a propaganda model of communication.” The Bush administration is an avid consumer of polls, though it goes to extraordinary lengths to give the impression that it does not. Columnist Joshua Green recently wrote that instead of using polls to determine policy, as the Clinton administration was often accused of doing, in the Bush White House, “[p]olicies are chosen beforehand [and] polls [are] used to spin them.… Because many of Bush’s policies aren’t necessarily popular with a majority of voters, [his pollsters’] job essentially consists of finding words to sell them to the public.” The administration has similar problems with spreading propaganda among foreign nations, particularly among Middle Eastern nations. Rampton writes: “The real problem with the Bush administration is that it doesn’t listen to anything but focus groups. It never thinks of public opinion as worth considering in its own right, and instead merely uses it to refine the message points that go out each day in its ‘Global Messenger’ emails” (see January 2003).
Self-Indoctrination - Rampton notes that while the Bush administration’s propaganda efforts often fail to produce the desired effects, at least to the degree desired, such persistent propaganda practices often have more success in “indoctrinating the propagandist themselves.… The discipline of ‘ensuring message consistency’ cannot hope to succeed at controlling the world’s perceptions of something as broad, sprawling, and contradictory as the Bush administration’s foreign policy. However, it may be successful at enabling people like George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld to ignore the warnings coming from Europe and other quarters. As our leaders lose their ability to listen to critics, we face the danger that they will underestimate the risks and costs involved in going to war.” [PRWatch, 4/2003]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Joshua Green, Sheldon Rampton, Bush administration (43), Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations

The toppling of the Firdos Square statue (see April 9, 2003) is presented as an iconic moment in history by many US media outlets. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cues the news analysts by saying of the “spontaneously” celebrating Iraqis, “Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain.” NBC analyst Tim Russert says shortly afterwards, “Not since the fall of the Berlin Wall have I seen anything quite like this.” CNN’s Bill Hemmer says, “You think about seminal moments in a nation’s history… indelible moments like the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that’s what we’re seeing right now.” David Asman of Fox News tells viewers, “My goose bumps have never been higher than they are right now.” Fox anchor Brit Hume says, “This transcends anything I’ve ever seen.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 83] Al-Jazeera news producer Samir Khader will later say: “The Americans played the media element intelligently.… It was a show. It was a media show.” Al-Jazeera producer Deema Khatib will agree. Referring to various elements shown on American news broadcasts, he will say: “I bet you they brought in those teenage guys who broke the statue, they brought them in with them, because if you notice, they are all sort of the same age, no women, and they all went in and it was the same people on the square. You couldn’t see more people gathering from the houses around. No one came down to the street to see what was happening, because people were scared. And those people who came in, how come one of them had the flag of Iraq before 1991 in his pocket? Has he been waiting there for 10 years with the flag on that square? I don’t think so. But this is not something the US media will talk about.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 84] Most US news outlets dramatically cut back on their war reporting after the fall of the statue (see April 9, 2003).

Entity Tags: Fox News, CNN, Brit Hume, Bill Hemmer, Al Jazeera, David Asman, Donald Rumsfeld, Samir Khader, Tim Russert, NBC News, Deema Khatib

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Fox News

Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief.Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief. [Source: Yuri Gripas / Reuters / Corbis]Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, the Iraqi lawyer who provided intelligence leading to the rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003), arrives in the US with his wife and daughter. Al-Rehaief is granted political asylum under the “humanitarian parole” program, which is usually used to expedite entry into the US for medical emergencies. A spokesman for the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services says, “Quite honestly, it was the fastest way to get him and his family to safety in the United States.” Al-Rehaief is provided a job with the Livingston Group, a Washington lobbying firm headed by former US representative Bob Livingston (R-PA). He is also given a $500,000 book contract by HarperCollins, which as reporter Robert Scheer notes, is “a company owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox network did much to hype Lynch’s story, as it did the rest of the war.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2003; Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2003]

Entity Tags: Rupert Murdoch, Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Bob Livingston, Fox News, Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, HarperCollins, Livingston Group, Jessica Lynch, Robert Scheer

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Marketing and Public Relations, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns

Some in the press, overtly admiring of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz as the “architect” of the Iraq invasion, have given him an interesting nickname. During a press conference in Washington, Wolfowitz is asked: “And on a lighter note, sir, some people are calling you Wolfowitz of Arabia. How would you respond to that?” After the laughter subsides, and answers to more serious questions are given, Wolfowitz says, “Oh, and on your last question, I think it’s amusing but not very accurate.” [US Department of Defense, 4/11/2003] Apparently the sobriquet was first given to Wolfowitz by the New York Times, which published an article with that title in recent days. [National Public Radio, 5/3/2003]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, White House Involvement, Media Complicity

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld lauds “the humanity” of US weapons pinpointing non-civilian targets in Iraq. ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, reporting Rumsfeld’s statement, observes, “No offense to the secretary, but at this moment we simply do not know if that is the case.” The New York Post calls Jennings’s comment “America-bashing, pessimism, and anti-war agitation.” [US Department of Defense, 4/28/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 79]

Entity Tags: ABC News, New York Post, Peter Jennings, Donald Rumsfeld

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition

The Bush administration will later deny that it planned the “Mission Accomplished” banner that was used during Bush’s public relations event aboard the USS Lincoln (see May 1, 2003), and instead blame the banner on the crew of the Lincoln, who supposedly want to celebrate the end of their own uneventful mission. However, aside from the careful, micromanaged stagecraft used in every moment of the presentation, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will later tell reporter Bob Woodward that the banner was a Bush administration PR element. According to Rumsfeld, he had the words “mission accomplished” removed from Bush’s speech: “I took ‘mission accomplished’ out,” he will recall. “I was in Baghdad and I was given a draft of that thing and I just died. And I said, it’s too inclusive.… They fixed the speech, but not the sign.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 305] Five years later, the White House will still insist that it had nothing to do with the creation of the banner (see April 30, 2008).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, White House Involvement

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. [Source: Broadcatching (.com)]The media response to President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” event (see May 1, 2003) is overwhelmingly positive. Of his entrance in a fighter jet, the Detroit Free Press writes that Bush brought his “daring mission to a manly end.” The Washington Post’s David Broder, the dean of the Washington press corps, says that the “president has learned to move in a way that just conveys a great sense of authority and command.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 304]
Matthews Lauds Bush's 'Guy' Status - One of the most effusive cheerleaders for Bush is MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. On an episode of his Hardball broadcast, Matthews gushes about Bush’s “amazing display of leadership” and his appearance as a “high-flying jet star.” Bush “deserves everything he’s doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief?” Matthews compares Bush, who sat out Vietnam in the Texas Air National Guard, with former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who commanded US forces in Europe during World War II. But, Matthews observes: “He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West.” His “performance tonight [is] redolent of the best of Reagan.” Guest Ann Coulter, a staunch conservative, calls Bush’s performance “huge,” and adds: “It’s hard to imagine any Democrat being able to do that. And it doesn’t matter if Democrats try to ridicule it. It’s stunning, and it speaks for itself.” Democratic pollster Pat Caddell says when he first heard about it, he was “kind of annoyed” because “[i]t sounded like the kind of PR stunt that Bill Clinton would pull. But and then I saw it. And you know, there’s a real—there’s a real affection between him and the troops.… He looks like a fighter pilot.” Matthews continues, “[H]e didn’t fight in a war, but he looks like he does.” Later that night, on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown, Matthews waxes poetic about Bush’s manly qualities: “We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern [whom Matthews does not identify as a pilot during World War II]. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple. We’re not like the Brits. We don’t want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.”
'Fighter Dog' - CNN’s Wolf Blitzer refers several times to Bush’s days as a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, without referring to the swirling controversy over whether he used the Guard to get out of serving in Vietnam, and calls Bush “a one-time fighter dog.” Other media pundits and journalists use Bush’s appearance and service record to laud his performance. NBC’s Brian Williams says: “And two immutable truths about the president that the Democrats can’t change: He’s a youthful guy. He looked terrific and full of energy in a flight suit. He is a former pilot, so it’s not a foreign art farm—art form to him. Not all presidents could have pulled this scene off today.” Fox News’s Jon Scott says that Bush “made just about as grand an entrance tonight as the White House could have asked for.… Now, of course, President Bush flew fighters in the Air National Guard, but no pilot, no matter how experienced, can land on an aircraft carrier first time out. The president did take the stick for a short time during his flight, but he let another pilot handle the landing.” Fox’s Wendell Goler continues the tale of Bush actually flying the fighter plane by saying that Bush “took a 20-minute flight to the ship during which he briefly called on his skills as a pilot in the National Guard.” Goler quotes Bush as saying “he flew the plane about a third of the way from North Island Naval Air Station to the carrier Lincoln. He says the pilot asked him if he wanted to do some maneuvers, but he flew it mostly in a straight line.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2003; Media Matters, 4/27/2006]
Dowd's Rhetorical Excesses - One of the more extreme reactions comes from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. She writes of the jet landing and Bush’s exit from the plane: “The tail hook caught the last cable, jerking the fighter jet from 150 mph to zero in two seconds. Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone, out along the edges where he was born to be, the further on the edge, the hotter the intensity. He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick [a reference to the iconic action film Top Gun] was back, cooler and hotter than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics. Compared to Karl Rove’s ‘revvin’ up your engine’ myth-making cinematic style, Jerry Bruckheimer’s movies [Bruckheimer produced Top Gun] look like Lizzie McGuire (a Disney Channel show). This time Maverick didn’t just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning.” [Editor & Publisher, 5/3/2008]
Press Coverage and Later Response - The next day’s press coverage is equally enthusiastic. PBS reporter Gwen Ifill says Bush was “part Tom Cruise [another Top Gun reference], part Ronald Reagan.” The New York Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller calls Bush’s speech “Reaganesque.” New York Times reporter David Sanger writes that Bush’s entrance echoed the movie Top Gun. The Washington Post also reports Bush’s claim of having actually flown the fighter for a period of time. On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer calls the image of Bush in the flight suit “one of the great pictures of all time,” and adds, “[I]f you’re a political consultant, you can just see campaign commercial written all over the pictures of George Bush.” Schieffer’s guest, Time columnist Joe Klein, adds: “[T]hat was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day.… And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb.” Fox News anchor Brit Hume says Bush was brave for risking the “grease and oil” on the flight deck while “[t]he wind’s blowing. All kinds of stuff could have gone wrong. It didn’t, he carried it off.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham tells CNN viewers: “Speaking as a woman… seeing President Bush get out of that plane, carrying his helmet, he is a real man. He stands by his word. That was a very powerful moment.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2003; Media Matters, 4/27/2006; Editor & Publisher, 5/3/2008]

Bush wearing his flight suit. The equipment below his belt is a portion of his parachute harness, which is normally removed upon landing.Bush wearing his flight suit. The equipment below his belt is a portion of his parachute harness, which is normally removed upon landing. [Source: Associated Press]Many in the media are still gushing over President Bush’s recent “Mission Accomplished” PR presentation from a week before (see May 1, 2003). One of Bush’s most enthusiastic supporters has been MSNBC host Chris Matthews (see May 1-4, 2003). Matthews and his guest G. Gordon Liddy, the convicted Watergate criminal (see March 23, 1973) and current right-wing radio host, discuss the event. Liddy calls the backlash against the stunt “envy,” and says that Bush’s 2000 Democratic opponent “Al Gore had to go get some woman to tell him how to be a man.” (It is not clear to what Liddy is referring.) Liddy goes on to extol Bush’s manly virtues, noting that the flight suit he wore “makes the best of his manly characteristic. You go run those—run that stuff again of him walking across there with the parachute. He has just won every woman’s vote in the United States of America. You know, all those women who say size doesn’t count—they’re all liars. Check that out. I hope the Democrats keep ratting on him and all of this stuff so that they keep showing that tape.” [Media Matters, 4/27/2006]

Entity Tags: Chris Matthews, George W. Bush, G. Gordon Liddy

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

The liberal news publication CounterPunch profiles the “Rumsfeld Group,” a government public relations group put together after the 9/11 attacks to manipulate the media’s reporting of the Bush administration’s war on terror (see Late May 2001). One noteworthy aspect of the profile is the success the “Rumsfeld Group” has had in working with the press to spread its message.
Benador Associates - One of the most effective “perception managers” for the Bush administration is Elena Benador, the media placement expert who runs Benador Associates. She oversees the Middle East Forum, an organization CounterPunch reporter Jeffrey St. Clair calls “a fanatically pro-Zionist paper mill,” and has close connections with some of Washington’s most influential hardliners and neoconservatives, including Michael Ledeen, Charles Krauthammer, Alexander Haig, Max Boot, Daniel Pipes, Richard Perle, and Judith Miller. Benador is given the task of getting these pro-war hawks on the air and in the press as often as possible. She does an excellent job in both getting the placements and crafting the message to ensure that they all make the same points. “There are some things, you just have to state them in a different way, in a slightly different way,” Benador explains. “If not, people get scared.”
Washington Post Particularly Compliant - Many press and television news outlets help promulgate the Pentagon’s story, but, St. Clair will note, few are as reliable or as enthusiastic as the Washington Post. He mentions the example of Private Jessica Lynch, whose story was fed for weeks by an over-the-top report from the Post that was fueled entirely by PR flacks from the Pentagon’s Combat Camera operation (see April 1, 2003 and April 3, 2003). In the months leading up to the Iraq invasion, the Post’s op-eds ran 3 to 1 in favor of attacking Iraq. St. Clair notes that in 1988, the Post shrugged off reports of Saddam Hussein gassing Iranians and his own Iraqis as “a quirk of war”; at that point, the US wanted close relations with the Hussein regime, and wanted to play down Hussein’s depredations. The Post echoed the government’s lack of interest.
Firing of Donahue - St. Clair points to MSNBC’s firing of liberal talk show host Phil Donahue on the eve of the Iraq invasion (see February 25, 2003) as another example of the Pentagon’s reach into the mainstream US media. At the behest of the Pentagon’s PR officials, MSNBC fired Donahue and replaced him with a pro-war broadcast called Countdown: Iraq. While MSNBC blamed “poor ratings” on the firing, in reality Donahue’s ratings were MSNBC’s highest. Instead, the network did not like what it called Donahue’s propensity to have “anti-war, anti-Bush” voices on his show. [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, Jeffrey St. Clair, Elena Benador, Daniel Pipes, CounterPunch, Charles Krauthammer, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Jessica Lynch, Max Boot, Judith Miller, Washington Post, Middle East Forum, MSNBC, Richard Perle, Phil Donahue

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, White House Involvement, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns

Print ad for the ‘Shared Values’ videotapes. The videos are distributed by the Council of American Muslims for Understanding (CAMU), an organization created by the US State Department.Print ad for the ‘Shared Values’ videotapes. The videos are distributed by the Council of American Muslims for Understanding (CAMU), an organization created by the US State Department. [Source: Council of American Muslims for Understanding / Sheldon Rampton] (click image to enlarge)The General Accounting Office (GAO) releases a report showing that the $1 billion spent annually by the Bush administration to polish America’s image among Arab populations has largely gone to waste. Polls in predominantly Arab and Muslim nations show anti-American sentiments are steadily rising despite the US’s advertising efforts. (In many of these nations, Osama bin Laden has higher favorability ratings than President Bush.) The GAO report finds numerous reasons for this widespread failure. Among them are:
bullet The State Department’s scattershot, uncoordinated efforts;
bullet Foreign service officers charged with promoting America’s image spend too much time on paperwork, and 20 percent of those officers do not fluently speak the language of the country in which they are stationed;
bullet The US government’s failure to not scientifically measure the effects of its public relations programs, instead relying on anecdotal evidence. [USA Today, 9/15/2003]
Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is at a loss to explain the problem. “Americans are brilliant at communication,” he says. “Why in the world we are all thumbs in this particular area just strikes me as one of the anomalies of history. But it’s an important one to solve pretty fast.” The State Department’s first Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, Charlotte Beers (see October 2, 2001), resigned in March for what the administration called “health reasons,” and has not yet been replaced. Beers is responsible for the failed “Shared Values” program, which relied on commercially slick video reports to sway Muslim and Arab public opinion (see Late October, 2002). [New York Times, 3/3/2003; USA Today, 9/15/2003; Center for Media and Democracy, 10/17/2007] Beers’s biggest success may have been Radio Sawa, an American radio station broadcasting throughout much of the Middle East that broadcasts US-based pop music, with 10-minute news broadcasts every hour from American government sources. [USA Today, 9/15/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Radio Sawa, Charlotte Beers, Bush administration (43), General Accounting Office, Richard Lugar

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, White House Involvement

Arnold Schwarzenegger.Arnold Schwarzenegger. [Source: Los Angeles Times]Six women report being touched in a sexually inappropriate manner by actor and California gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger over the last three decades. The women say Schwarzenegger groped and fondled them on movie sets, in movie studio offices, and in other settings, all without their consent. The Los Angeles Times writes that three of the women say Schwarzenegger “grabbed their breasts,” a fourth says Schwarzenegger “reached under her skirt and gripped her buttocks,” a fifth reports reports that Schwarzenegger “groped” her and tried to pull off her bathing suit in a hotel elevator, and a sixth, according to the Times, says “Schwarzenegger pulled her onto his lap and asked whether a certain sexual act had ever been performed on her.” The incidents go back to the 1970s, with one taking place in 2000. One woman says of her encounter with Schwarzenegger, “Did he rape me? No. Did he humiliate me? You bet he did.” Schwarzenegger, a Republican, is the front-runner in the gubernatorial recall elections, to be held on October 7. A campaign spokesman, Sean Walsh, says Schwarzenegger never engaged in any inappropriate conduct towards women, and adds that he believes California Democrats are “trying to hurt [his] campaign.… We believe that this is coming so close before the election, something that discourages good, hard-working, decent people from running for office.” None of the women were identified by any of Schwarzenegger’s rivals, and none came forward on their own; they were all found and interviewed by Times reporters. Schwarzenegger has a history of being accused of sexual impropriety, with accusations ranging from lewd and inappropriate comments to physical assault; the Times reports some of those older allegations as well. No one has ever filed legal charges against Schwarzenegger, and many of his Hollywood colleagues defend his behavior, calling him “fun” and “charming.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/2/2003] Within hours, the Schwarzenegger campaign will launch a powerful counterattack against the charges, and conservative pundits, backing the actor’s campaign, will accuse the Times and other media outlets of “liberal bias” and of attempting to destroy Schwarzenegger’s political career with unfounded accusations (see October 2-October 8, 2003).

Entity Tags: Sean Walsh, Los Angeles Times, Arnold Schwarzenegger

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Gender-Based Rhetoric

A 2004 photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver.A 2004 photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver. [Source: Peace Corps Online (.org)]The campaign of Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), the leading contender in California’s gubernatorial recall election, launches a strong counterattack against a Los Angeles Times story that reported six women’s accusations that Schwarzenegger sexually assaulted them (see October 2, 2003).
Candidate Apologizes - The campaign denies the accusations, but Schwarzenegger backs away from his campaign’s initial insistence that he had never acted inappropriately around women. He now says that he had “behaved badly sometimes” and “done things which were not right, which I thought [were] playful [on movie sets]. But I now recognize that I have offended people. And to those people that I have offended, I want to say to them I am deeply sorry about that, and I apologize.”
'Complex Strategy to Minimize' Impact of Allegations - Authors and media observers Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will later write: “Schwarzenegger’s supporters engaged in a complex strategy to minimize the effect of the allegations. The response included testimonials from the candidate’s wife, newscaster and Kennedy family member Maria Shriver, that Schwarzenegger was a good father and husband and an ‘A-plus human being.’ Shriver also claimed that many of the stories had been fabricated and attacked the Los Angeles Times for the investigation and for publishing the story so close to the election.” Conservative media outlets quickly move to support Shriver’s attacks, and add a new wrinkle: that the Times was quick to print such allegations against Schwarzenegger, but was refusing to print allegations that Democratic Governor Gray Davis had engaged in abusive behavior against women on his staff. Therefore, they say, the Times is engaging in a double standard. Jamieson and Cappella will write: “The conservative claim was a standard one: the ‘liberal media’ were eager to undercut conservatives and protect ‘liberals.’ And voters were encouraged to reject the Schwarzenegger groping allegations but trust those about Davis’s supposed staff abuse.” Columnist Jill Stewart of the Los Angeles Daily News accuses the Times of “sitting on” the Davis story “since at least 1997… that [Davis] is an ‘office batterer’ who has attacked female members of his staff, thrown objects at subservients and launched into red-faced fits, screaming the f-word until staffers cower.” Fox News reports the Davis allegations, and conservative talk show hosts, led by Rush Limbaugh, repeat and embellish the story. Mainstream cable TV outlet MSNBC, in shows hosted by conservatives Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan, also report the Davis allegations. On Fox, Stewart accuses the Times of “journalistic malpractice” and “horrible, horrible bias.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 152-154]
Strategy Successful - The strategy is apparently successful, with Schwarzenegger ousting Davis and 134 other challengers in the recall election. CNN exit polls show that despite the sexual harassment charges, around 47 percent of women voters cast their ballots for Schwarzenegger. [CNN, 10/8/2003]
Times Defends Reporting, Limbaugh Warns Listeners to 'Remember This Business' - Days later, the editor of the Los Angeles Times, James Carroll, will defend the Schwarzenegger sexual harassment story, describing the seven weeks of meticulous interviewing and fact-checking that went into it, and reveal that the Times had twice investigated the allegations of Davis’s supposed ‘office battering’ and found nothing to support the charges. Limbaugh, however, will remind his listeners: “The next time the LA Times or any other mainstream liberal institution starts talking to you about the aftermath in Iraq or the war on terrorism, I want you to remember this business of what they did with Schwarzenegger, and I want you to tell yourself, ‘Schwarzenegger is not an isolated episode.’ If they’re doing it there, where else are they acting as Democrat house organs?” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 154]

Entity Tags: Kathleen Hall Jamieson, James Carroll, Gray Davis, Fox News, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jill Stewart, Joseph Scarborough, Rush Limbaugh, Joseph N. Cappella, Maria Shriver, Patrick Buchanan, MSNBC, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Gender-Based Rhetoric

Gannett News Service discovers that identical letters purporting to be from different US soldiers in Iraq are being published around the country as supposed “letters to the editor.” The Pentagon later admits that it released the letters as part of what it calls its “hometown news release program.” The letters are signed by different soldiers with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry. At least 11 copies of the letter have appeared at a variety of small-town newspapers, including two (with identical copy but different signatures) coming to the Olympia-based Washington Olympian. That newspaper refused to run either letter because it considered them “form letters,” not actual letters from independent sources. But many other newspapers did run the letters. [Gannett News Service, 10/11/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 107] One of them was the Boston Globe. [Boston Globe, 9/14/2003]
Troops Mobbed by Happy Iraqis, Proud of Accomplishments, Letter Says - The letter, written in five paragraphs, discusses soldiers’ efforts to re-establish police and fire departments, and rebuild water and sewer plants, in Kirkuk. “The quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored, and we are a large part of why that has happened,” the letter says. “The fruits of all our soldiers’ efforts are clearly visible in the streets of Kirkuk today. There is very little trash in the streets, many more people in the markets and shops, and children have returned to school. I am proud of the work we are doing here in Iraq and I hope all of your readers are as well.” It goes on to describe crowds of happy Iraqis waving at passing troops, and soldiers being mobbed by children grabbing their hands and thanking the troops in broken English.
Some Willingly Signed, but None Wrote Letter - Six of the soldiers who “signed” the various copies of the letter say they agree with its content, but deny writing it. Some admit to signing it. One, Private Nick Deaconson of Beckley, West Virginia, denies anything to do with the letter through his parents. Deaconson is hospitalized, recovering from shrapnel wounds in both legs. Another, Sergeant Christopher Shelton, who supposedly authored a letter that appeared in the Snohomish Herald, says his platoon sergeant distributed the letter and asked his soldiers for the names of their hometown newspaper. Shelton and others were asked to sign it if they agreed with it. Shelton calls the letter “dead accurate.”
Source Disputed - When the letters are revealed to be fakes, Army spokesman Sergeant Todd Oliver tells a reporter that an individual soldier wrote the letter and asked some of his fellow soldiers to sign it. “Someone, somewhere along the way, took it upon themselves to mail it to the various editors of newspapers across the country,” he says. Sergeant Shawn Grueser says he talked to a military public affairs officer about his unit’s accomplishments for what he thought was a news release to be sent to his hometown paper in Charleston, West Virginia, but says he never saw, much less signed, any letter. The Pentagon later says that “several soldiers” collaborated on the letter. [Gannett News Service, 10/11/2003; CBS News, 10/14/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 107] Days later, the 2nd Battalion’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Dominic Caraccilo, says his staff wrote the letter. He says his intent was to get “good news” back to the US more efficiently. He says he gave it to his soldiers and told them they could send copies home if they liked. “We thought it would be a good idea to encapsulate what we as a battalion have accomplished since arriving Iraq and share that pride with people back home,” he says. [BBC, 10/14/2008] The New York Times calls the “orchestrated campaign” of letters “disturbing.” It observes: “[T]he misleading letter… coincides with the Bush administration’s renewed program of defending the war in an ambitious speaking campaign across the nation. With polls registering rising public doubts, the president and his aides are claiming that the news media unfairly play up negative developments and ignore progress in Iraq” (see Mid-October 2003). It concludes, “Fakery is the worst possible way to answer the public’s rising demand for information about the true state of affairs in Iraq.” [New York Times, 10/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Boston Globe, Nick Deaconson, Gannett News Service, Bush administration (43), Dominic Caraccilo, Shawn Grueser, New York Times, The Olympian, Snohomish Herald, US Department of the Army, Christopher Shelton, US Department of Defense, Todd Oliver

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, White House Involvement, Media Complicity, Media Opposition

President Bush holding the fake turkey.President Bush holding the fake turkey. [Source: AP / Anja Niedringhaus]President Bush makes a surprise visit to Iraq to have a carefully staged “Thanksgiving dinner with the troops” at the Baghdad International Airport. [White House, 11/27/2003] Most of the 600 or so troops present for the meal are from the Army’s 1st Armored Division and 82nd Airborne units. For security reasons, Bush never leaves the airport, and leaves shortly after the meal. Bush’s entrance is carefully choreographed, with Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer telling the gathered troops that the most senior official present should read Bush’s Thanksgiving proclamation. Then, turning to a curtained-off area and asking, “Is there anybody back there who’s more senior than us?” Bush enters the area wearing military fatigues. [USA Today, 11/27/2003]
Fake Turkey - Bush poses with a lovely, huge, golden-brown turkey. The turkey is not real, but merely a prop prepared by the food service arm of Kellogg, Brown and Root. The troops actually eat turkey and vegetables from a cafeteria-style steam tray. White House officials later claim not to have known about the enormous decorative bird, and say that Bush’s memorable photo-op of him holding the fake turkey was an impromptu moment that was not planned in advance. Military sources later say that such decorative turkeys are standard features of holiday “chow lines.” [CBS News, 11/27/2003]
Some Soldiers Denied Dinner - Not all the soldiers at the airport are able to eat with the president, or in fact are able to eat at all. In December, Sergeant Loren Russell writes in a letter to Stars & Stripes that soldiers from his unit were denied entrance to the Bob Hope Dining Facility, where Thanksgiving dinner was being served, “because they were in the wrong unit.” Russell writes that his soldiers “understand that President Bush ate there and that upgraded security was required. But why were only certain units turned away? Why wasn’t there a special meal for President Bush and that unit in the new dance hall adjoining the 1st Armored Division’s band building? And all of this happened on Thanksgiving, the best meal of the year when soldiers get a taste of home cooking.” [Stars and Stripes, 1/27/2007]
Secret Flight - The trip to Iraq is conducted under conditions of extreme secrecy; only Laura Bush and a very few top officials are told of the planned visit. Had word leaked of the trip, it would have been canceled. Most White House officials and reporters are told that Bush would spend the holiday at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Instead, Bush, accompanied by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, is driven away in an unmarked vehicle. At a nearby airport, he boards Air Force One from the back stairs instead of the usual front entrance. After stopping at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, where the entourage picks up a few aides, and four reporters and one camera crew sworn to secrecy, the aircraft departs for Iraq. In all, the press corps traveling with the president totals five reporters, five photographers, a TV producer, and a two-person camera crew. All the media members in the group had agreed to surrender their cell phones and wireless e-mail devices beforehand in order to keep them from surreptitiously reporting on the impending trip. [USA Today, 11/27/2003; PressThink, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 6/14/2006]
Public Relations Effort - According to New York Times columnist and media reporter Frank Rich, the trip was set in motion by the White House’s public relations team and its desire to chase the Chinook tragedy (see November 2, 2003 and November 2, 2003) off the front pages. [Rich, 2006, pp. 110] White House officials say that Bush had been talking about such a visit for weeks, and the final decision to go was reached the day before in a conference call between Bush and Vice President Cheney. [USA Today, 11/27/2003] Journalism professor Jay Rosen later observes that the willing participation of reporters in this kind of event destroys the boundaries between reporters and the subjects they cover. Rosen will write: “The whole notion of the trip as an independently existing thing that could be ‘covered’ is transparently false, as the White House warning to journalists demonstrates. If word leaked out, the trip was to be canceled—it would no longer exist—and the airplane would turn around and head back to Washington. That does not mean the trip was illegitimate to undertake or to treat as news; but it does mean that its potential legitimacy as news event lies outside the logic of ‘things happen and we cover them’ or ‘the president took decisive action and the press reported it.’ Here, the press took action and it was equally decisive. It agreed, first, to go along and record the scene and then to keep the flight a secret; and these decisions by journalists were not incidental to Bush’s decision to go but integral to it. Would the trip have made sense, would the danger have been justified, if reporters and camera crews were not taken along? The answer is clearly no. But this means the press is part of the presidency, an observation that, while true enough, makes it harder to cover the presidency as an independently existing thing.” [PressThink, 12/3/2003]
Negative Reactions - An Army nurse at the American hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, which receives and treats wounded US troops coming from Iraq and Afghanistan, has a different take on Bush’s visit. In an e-mail to the Boston Globe, the nurse, who does not wish her name made public, will write: “My ‘Bush Thanksgiving’ was a little different.… I spent it at the hospital taking care of a young West Point lieutenant wounded in Iraq. He had stabilization of his injuries in Iraq and then two long surgeries here for multiple injuries; he’s just now stable enough to send back to the USA. After a few bites of dinner I let him sleep, and then cried with him as he woke up from a nightmare. When he pressed his fists into his eyes and rocked his head back and forth he looked like a little boy. They all do, all 19 on the ward that day, some missing limbs, eyes, or worse.… It’s too bad Mr. Bush didn’t add us to his holiday agenda. The men said the same, but you’ll never read that in the paper. Mr. President would rather lift fake turkeys for photo ops, it seems. Maybe because my patients wouldn’t make very pleasant photos… most don’t look all that great, and the ones with facial wounds and external fixation devices look downright scary. And a heck of a lot of them can’t talk, anyway, and some never will talk again.… Well, this is probably more than you want to know, but there’s no spin on this one. It’s pure carnage.… Like all wars, the ‘shock and awe’ eventually trickles down to blood and death. But you won’t see that. I do, every single day.” Globe columnist Joan Vennochi will add: “How much of this is enough for the president of the United States? It depends whether the goal is public relations for a presidential campaign or public acknowledgment of the consequences of war—the human consequences. They are convalescing in places like Landstuhl.” [Boston Globe, 12/11/2003] In 2007, author Annia Ciezadlo will recall her Thanksgiving in Baghdad during the same time. Ciezadlo, who spent the holiday with an Iraqi family, will write: “We saw pictures of him later, serving Thanksgiving dinner to American soldiers, posing like a waiter with a great big [turkey] on a tray. He never left the base. ‘You are defeating the terrorists here in Iraq,’ he told the troops, ‘so we don’t have to face them in our own country.’ An Iraqi friend once told me it was that line about fighting in Iraq to make America safer that turned his adoration of Mr. Bush into hatred.” [New York Times, 11/27/2007]

Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Frank Rich, George W. Bush, Annia Ciezadlo, Kellogg, Brown and Root, Condoleezza Rice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of the Army, Loren Russell, Laura Bush, Jay Rosen, L. Paul Bremer

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, 2004 Elections

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Marketing and Public Relations, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Clips of Thompson, Bush included in VNRs provided to local TV stations.Clips of Thompson, Bush included in VNRs provided to local TV stations. [Source: New York Times]New York Times reporter Robert Pear discovers that the Bush administration has employed two fake “reporters,” Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia, who have appeared in administration-produced television “news” segments—“video news releases,” or VNRs—designed to promote the administration’s new Medicare prescription-drug policies. (Garcia primarily appeared in Spanish-language Medicare VNRs.) HHS had budgeted $124 million for the fake news segments, more than most real news organizations can provide. The segments are under investigation by the General Accounting Office (GAO) for possible violation of government statutes prohibiting the use of federal money to produce propaganda or partisan presentations. The Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS), Tommy Thompson, appears in one of the segments, saying, “This is going to be the same Medicare system only with new benefits, more choices, more opportunities for enhanced benefits.” Several others show a crowd giving President Bush a standing ovation as he signs the new Medicare bill into law. Another segment shows a pharmacist talking to an elderly customer. The pharmacist says the new law “helps you better afford your medications,” and the customer says, “It sounds like a good idea.” The pharmacist agrees, “A very good idea.” The segments, professionally produced and ending with tag lines such as “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting,” were regularly aired by at least 50 local television news broadcasts in 40 cities around the country. The government also provides scripts that can be used by local news anchors to introduce, or “walk up,” the VNRs. One script suggested that anchors read the following: “In December, President Bush signed into law the first-ever prescription drug benefit for people with Medicare. Since then, there have been a lot of questions about how the law will help older Americans and people with disabilities. Reporter Karen Ryan helps sort through the details.” A VNR is then broadcast explaining how the new law benefits Medicare recipients.
'Infoganda' - Ryan is a freelance journalist, the administration claims, and using her for such fake news segments is perfectly acceptable. But cursory investigation reveals that she was once a freelance reporter, but has for years worked as a public relations consultant. Her most recent assignments include appearing in marketing videos and “infomercials” promoting a variety of pharmaceutical products, including the popular drugs FloMist and Excedrin. Perhaps the most telling reaction is from Comedy Central’s comedy-news program The Daily Show, where host Jon Stewart can’t seem to decide whether to be outraged or flattered by what Rich calls “government propaganda imitating his satiric art.” (Daily Show member Rob Corddry calls the HHS videos “infoganda.”) Administration officials also insist that the VNRs are real, objective news releases, but the company that produced the segments, Home Front Communications, confirms that it had hired Ryan to read a script prepared by government officials. The VNRs give a toll-free phone number for beneficiaries to call. To obtain recorded information about prescription drug benefits, the caller must speak the words, “Medicare improvement.” The Columbia Journalism Review writes, “The ‘reports’ were nothing more than a free advertisement for the legislation, posing as news.”
Legal? - GAO lawyers say that their initial investigations found that other fliers and advertisements disseminated by HHS to promote the new Medicare policies are legal, though they display “notable omissions and other weaknesses.” Administration officials claim the VNRs are also a legal, effective way to educate Medicare beneficiaries. The GAO is still investigating the VNRs. GAO investigators believe that they might violate the law in at least one aspect: misleading viewers by concealing their government origins. Federal law expressly forbids the use of federal money for “publicity or propaganda purposes” not authorized by Congress. Earlier investigations have found government-disseminated editorials and newspaper articles illegal if they did not identify themselves as coming from government officials. The GAO will find that the VNRs break two federal laws forbidding the use of federal money to produce propaganda (see May 19, 2004).
'Common Practice' - HHS spokesman Kevin Keane says the VNRs are well within legal guidelines; their only purpose, he says, is to inform citizens about changes in Medicare. “The use of video news releases is a common, routine practice in government and the private sector,” he says. “Anyone who has questions about this practice needs to do some research on modern public information tools.” Congressional Democrats disagree with Keane. “These materials are even more disturbing than the Medicare flier and advertisements,” says Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). “The distribution of these videos is a covert attempt to manipulate the press.” Lautenberg, fellow Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and seven other members of Congress requested the GAO investigation. Keane is correct in one aspect: businesses have distributed VNRs to news stations as well as internally for years, and the pharmaceutical industry has been particularly successful in getting marketing videos that appear as “medical news” or “medical features” aired on local and even national news broadcasts. And government agencies have for years released informational films and videos on subjects such as teenage smoking and the dangers of using steroids. Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, says HHS’s VNRs have gone far beyond what the government has previously provided. “Those to me are just the next thing to fraud,” he says. “It’s running a paid advertisement in the heart of a news program.” [New York Times, 3/15/2004; Columbia Journalism Review, 3/15/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 164]
Media Responsibility - The Columbia Journalism Review’s Bill McDermott writes: “[F]or our money, the villains here aren’t the clever flacks at HHS—they’re supposed to be masters of deception. Nope, the dunce hats go to the local TV station editors willing to slap onto the air any video that drops in over the transom.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 3/15/2004] Ryan is relatively insouciant about the controversy. “Stations are lazy,” she says. “If these things didn’t work, then the companies would stop putting them out.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, US Department of Health and Human Services, Committee of Concerned Journalists, Bush administration (43), Bill McDermott, Bill Kovach, Alberto Garcia, Tommy G. Thompson, Columbia Journalism Review, Robert Pear, New York Times, Jon Stewart, Home Front Communications, George W. Bush, Karen Ryan, General Accounting Office, Kevin Keane, Frank R. Lautenberg, Rob Corddry

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations

An image from the ABC broadcast ‘The Fallen.’An image from the ABC broadcast ‘The Fallen.’ [Source: ABC / Poynter (.org)]ABC News reporter Ted Koppel, the anchor of the network’s late-night news show Nightline, marks the first anniversary of the end of what President Bush called “major combat operations” (see May 1, 2003) by reading alound the names of the US troops who have died in Iraq, and showing their pictures as he goes through the list. After the 35-minute segment, which Koppel titles “The Fallen,” he explains the rationale behind it. “Our goal tonight was to elevate the fallen above the politics and the daily journalism,” he says. “The reading tonight of those 721 names was neither intended to provoke opposition to the war nor was it meant as an endorsement. Some of you doubt that. You are convinced that I am opposed to the war. I am not, but that’s beside the point. I am opposed to sustaining the illusion that war can be waged by the sacrifice of the few without burdening the rest of us in any way.” [CNN, 5/1/2004]
Heavy Conservative Criticism - Author and media critic Frank Rich will call it “an unbelievably poignant roll call.” Others, mostly conservative pundits and lawmakers, disagree. Neoconservative pundit and editor William Kristol calls Koppel’s tribute a “stupid statement.” Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly says the show might undermine morale if it tries to “exploit casualties in a time of war,” but fails to mention his own tribute to slain soldier Pat Tillman (see April 23, 2004 and April 29, 2004) the night before. [Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, criticizes what he calls the program’s “partisan nature,” and says its only goal is “to turn public opinion against the war.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Station Owners Order Broadcast Censored - The Sinclair Broadcast Group, a large regional consortium of local television stations whose executives are heavy donors to Republican campaigns, orders its eight ABC affiliates not to air Koppel’s broadcast. In its statement, Sinclair writes: “The action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.… Mr. Koppel and Nightline are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq.” The statement goes on to ask why ABC does not read the names of the thousands of Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks. Sinclair spokesman Mark Hyman says the broadcast is irrelevant: “Someone who died 13 months ago—why is that news? Those people did not die last week. It’s not an anniversary of the war, it’s not Memorial Day—so why this day? If this is Memorial Day, then go ahead and do it.” Hyman goes on to say of Koppel, “I think clearly here’s a guy who is opposed to the war and is trying to stir up public opposition to it,” and says that ABC is obviously trying to boost its ratings. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the Sinclair decision “deeply offensive,” writing in a letter to Sinclair Broadcast Group president and CEO David Smith: “Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war’s terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves.” Smith replies: “Our decision was based on a desire to stop the misuse of their sacrifice to support an anti-war position with which most, if not all, of these soldiers would not have agreed. While I don’t disagree that Americans need to understand the costs of war and sacrifices of our military volunteers, I firmly believe that responsible journalism requires that a discussion of these costs must necessarily be accompanied by a description of the benefits of military action and the events that precipitated that action.” [Greensboro News and Record, 4/30/2004; CNN, 5/1/2004; Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004; Associated Press, 5/1/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Jane Bright, who lost her son Sergeant Evan Ashcraft, writes in response: “The Sinclair Broadcast group is trying to undermine the lives of our soldiers killed in Iraq. By censoring Nightline they want to hide the toll the war on Iraq is having on thousands of soldiers and their families, like mine.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004] Koppel says that any suggestion by Sinclair that he is “unpatriotic” or trying to “undermine the war effort” is “beneath contempt.” [CNN, 5/1/2004]
Media Watchdog Group Alleges Underlying Agenda - Robert McChesney of the media reform group Free Press says that Sinclair has an underlying motive in censoring the Nightline broadcast: “No one thinks for a second this decision has anything to do with journalism. It’s a politics-slash-business decision that Sinclair made because they don’t want to [anger] the White House.” Sinclair, a political supporter of the Bush administration, is trying to curry favor with the White House to bolster chances of gaining changes in station ownership rules, McChesney says. “The stench of corruption here is extraordinary.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Political Statement? - Koppel says he has no intention of making any sort of “political statement” by airing the segment. “I don’t want it to make a political statement. Quite the contrary,” he says. “My position on this is I truly believe that people will take away from this program the reflection of what they bring to it.… Why, in heaven’s name, should one not be able to look at the faces and hear the names and see the ages of those young people who are not coming back alive and feel somehow ennobled by the fact that they were willing to give up their lives for something that is in the national interest of all of us?” New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen disagrees. “Despite what he said about it,” Rosen writes, “Ted Koppel and Nightline were making a political statement last night by reading the names of ‘the fallen’ in Iraq. And there is nothing wrong with that—although it is risky because many will object.… By refusing to air the show… Sinclair Broadcasting, the country’s largest owner of television stations, was making a political statement right back.… Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, either, although it is risky and many will object.” ABC makes a political statement by choosing to air the segment, not only on the airwaves, but on the Jumbotron in New York City’s Times Square. And ABC affiliates who decide to ignore Sinclair’s order and air the broadcast are making their own political statement. [Al Tompkins, 4/30/2004; Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004]
Undermining Public Support of War? - Many pundits who argue against the Nightline memorium say that to air such a segment would undermine public support for the war, an argument which Rich later answers: “If the country was as firmly in support of this war as Bush loyalists claimed, by what logic would photographs of its selfless soldiers, either of their faces or their flag-draped coffins (see April 18, 2004 and After), undermine public opinion?” [Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Sue Niederer, who lost her son, Second Lieutenant Seth Dvorin, to a roadside bomb, says: “I feel it’s extremely important that the American people put a face and a name to the dead. When you just listen to a number, you don’t think about what may be behind that—that there’s a family, that there’s actually a person who has lost their life.” [CNN, 5/1/2004] Tim Holmes, who lost his son, Specialist Ernest Sutphin, says of Koppel’s broadcast: “That’s something I’d like to see. I feel like people have a right to see something like that—what’s going on over there.” Marine reservist Chief Warrant Officer David Dennis adds: “Let the American people know the Marines who have died, and everyone who has died. The people need to know who it is that is going out there and making the ultimate sacrifice for them.” [Greensboro News and Record, 4/30/2004] “We should be honoring all the men and women who have served,” says Ivan Medina, who lost his twin brother, Irving Medina. “My hat goes off to Nightline.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Fox News Responds - Fox News reporter and anchor Chris Wallace says his network will “answer” Koppel’s broadcast by airing its own segment: “[W]e here at Fox News Sunday are going to put together our own list, a list of what we’ve accomplished [in Iraq], with the blood, sweat, and yes, lives of our military.” [Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004]

Entity Tags: William Kristol, Fox News, Tim Holmes, Ted Koppel, ABC News, Bill O’Reilly, Brent Bozell, David Smith, Sue Niederer, Evan Ashcraft, Chris Wallace, David Dennis, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Ernest Sutphin, Robert McChesney, Ivan Medina, Irving Medina, George W. Bush, Seth Dvorin, Frank Rich, Jane Bright, Jay Rosen, Free Press, Mark Hyman, John McCain, Media Research Center, Pat Tillman

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition, Fox News

The General Accounting Office (GAO) finds that the Bush administration broke two federal laws as part of its publicity campaign to promote its new Medicare prescription drug policies. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) illegally spent federal monies on what amounts to covert propaganda in producing and distributing “video news releases,” or VNRs, to local television news broadcasters around the country that were designed to look like objective news reports (see March 15, 2004). The GAO findings do not carry legal weight, because the GAO acts as an adviser to Congress. The viewers in the more than 40 cities who saw the reports did not know they were watching government-produced videos anchored by public relations “flacks” paid by HHS who were not real reporters. The VNRs have only fueled criticism of the Medicare prescription drug coverage program, which gives private health care firms and prescription drug companies a much larger role in providing and setting prices for Medicare recipients’ prescriptions. Democrats have long insisted that the law cripples Medicare beneficiaries’ ability to receive low-cost prescriptions in favor of funneling Medicare dollars into the pharmaceutical companies’ coffers; with the GAO findings, Democrats now say that the government used illegal propaganda tactics to “sell” the citizenry on the new program. The administration has already admitted that the program will cost hundreds of billions of dollars more than originally claimed. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) calls the videos “another example of how this White House has misrepresented its Medicare plan.” Kerry’s Senate colleague, Edward Kennedy (D-MA), says: “The new GAO opinion is yet another indictment of the deception and dishonesty that has become business as usual for the Bush administration. It was bad enough to conceal the cost of the Medicare drug bill from the Congress and the American people. It is worse to use Medicare funds for illegal propaganda to try to turn this lemon of a bill into lemonade for the Bush campaign.” The Bush administration continues to insist that the VNR program is legal. “GAO opinions are not binding on the executive branch. That’s an opinion of the GAO. We don’t agree,” says HHS spokesman Bill Pierce, who justifies the VNR usage by pointing to their ubiquitous usage in corporate settings. Asked if he understands that a viewer might be angry at being led to believe that the VNRs were real news stories, Pierce replies, “If I’m a viewer, I’d be angry at my television station.” [Washington Post, 5/20/2004; Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2004]

Entity Tags: John Kerry, Bill Pierce, Bush administration (43), Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, General Accounting Office, US Department of Health and Human Services

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations

According to OpenSecrets.org, Sproul & Associates—a political consulting firm run by 32-year-old Nathan Sproul, a former Christian Coalition activist and one-time director of the Arizona Republican Party—receives $812,864 from the Republican National Committee to do voter outreach and $736,665 for political consulting. [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/28/2004; Center for Responsive Politics, 1/19/2006] During the months preceding the election, the firm is accused of instructing its workers to register only Republican voters, and in one case actually destroying registrations forms filled out by Democrats. The alleged activities reportedly occur in Nevada (See October 12, 2004), Oregon (See Early September 2004, October 2004, and (October 12, 2004)), Pennsylvania (See Before September 6, 2004, October 19, 2004 and October 19, 2004) and West Virginia (See Before August 20, 2004). The company—which operates under several names, including Voters Outreach of America, America Votes and Project America Votes—denies these charges. [Mercury News (San Jose ), 10/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Republican National Committee, America Votes, Sproul & Associates, Nathan Sproul

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, Marketing and Public Relations

Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), an “astroturf” advocacy organization funded by the Koch brothers (see 1984 and After), is accused of breaking campaign laws to support the Bush re-election campaign. Oregon’s CSE branch had attempted to get consumer advocate Ralph Nader on the presidential ballot, in an attempt to dilute Democratic support for presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA). Critics argue that it is illegal for a tax-exempt organization such as CSE to donate its services for partisan purposes. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) dismisses a complaint brought against the organization. [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]

Entity Tags: David Koch, Charles Koch, Citizens for a Sound Economy, John Kerry, Federal Election Commission, George W. Bush, Ralph Nader

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups

Americans for Prosperity logo.Americans for Prosperity logo. [Source: Americans for Prosperity]After the 2004 presidential election, the “astroturf” organization Citizens for a Sound Economy (see Late 2004) splits due to internal dissension. Oil billionaire David Koch and Koch Industries lobbyist Richard Fink (see August 30, 2010) launch a new “astroturf” organization, Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009)). They hire Tim Phillips to run the organization. Phillips (see August 6, 2009) is a veteran political operative who worked closely with Republican operative Ralph Reed; the two co-founded the political consulting firm Century Strategies. Phillips’s online biography will describe him as an expert in “grasstops” and “grassroots” political organizing. Conservative operative Grover Norquist will call Phillips “a grownup who can make things happen.” In 2009, Phillips will claim that AFP has “only” 800,000 members, but its Web site will claim “1.2 million activists.” A former employee of the Cato Institute, a Koch-founded libertarian think tank, will say that AFP is “micromanaged by the Kochs” (indicating involvement by both David and Charles Koch). [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]

Entity Tags: David Koch, Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Century Strategies, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Koch Industries, Charles Koch, Tim Phillips, Ralph Reed, Richard Fink, Grover Norquist

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups

Jared Taylor.Jared Taylor. [Source: Jared Taylor]The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publishes a profile of Jared Taylor, an academic often seen and heard on news and opinion broadcasts as a “race-relations expert,” but called by the Post-Gazette “a racist in the guise of [an] ‘expert.’” The profile follows a number of radio appearances made by Taylor on January 17, the federal holiday honoring the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Taylor, according to the Post-Gazette, told his audiences that King “was a philanderer, a plagiarist, and a drinker who left a legacy of division and resentment, and was unworthy of a national holiday.” Taylor heads the New Century Foundation (NCF), a Virginia-based organization that promotes the ideas that blacks are genetically less intelligent than whites, are sexually promiscuous because of hyperactive sex drives, and other pseudo-scientific ideas about blacks and other minorities. The Post-Gazette writes that “Taylor keeps company with a collection of racists, racial ‘separatists,’ and far-right extremists,” including some of the NCF board members, who have included members of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), the successor to the White Citizens Councils of the 1950s and ‘60s; a member of the American Friends of the British National Party (BNP), a far-right neo-Nazi political party in Britain; and an anti-immigration author who has reviewed books for a Holocaust denial journal. Taylor publishes American Renaissance magazine, which regularly publishes “academic” follies that “prove” multiculturalism is wrong. He once wrote for the magazine, “If whites permit themselves to be displaced, it is not just the high culture of the West that could disappear but such things as representative government, rule of law, and freedom of speech, which whites usually get right and everyone else usually gets wrong.” Taylor, like former Klan leader David Duke, Web site owner and former Klansman Don Black (see March 1995), and others, is among the leaders of what the Post-Gazette calls “the new tactics of white supremacy.” Taylor and his confreres eschew the crude race-baiting and calls for explicit violence for more dispassionate, pseudo-academic and media-friendly presentations that use false science and “moderate” language to push their racist views. Taylor’s staff secured a half-dozen radio spots for King’s holiday by sending out the following email to dozens of radio stations: “Not everyone celebrates the legacy of Martin Luther King. Editor of American Renaissance magazine and race-relations expert Jared Taylor would be pleased to offer your listeners a view of Dr. King that challenges conventional wisdom.” The email listed Taylor’s resume: degrees from Yale and the Institute for Political Study in Paris, business consultant in Japan, author of four books. “Jared Taylor is the cultivated, cosmopolitan face of white supremacy,” says Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “He is the guy who is providing the intellectual heft, in effect, to modern-day Klansmen.” Taylor denies ever being a member of the Klan, or even knowing any Klan members, but both Black and Duke have appeared at his American Renaissance conferences; Potok has a photograph of Black having a beer at Taylor’s kitchen table. Taylor routinely denies publishing racially inflammatory material in his magazine, even when confronted with the actual published material, and denies writing white supremacist material for the BNP’s monthly magazine, Spearhead, even though his work (published under his “other name,” Samuel Taylor, is readily accessible). He says that those who call him a racist merely want to avoid having a rational discussion about his ideas. However, his ties with racist organizations are easily proven. Taylor has hosted former BNP leader John Tyndall at his home in Oakton, Virginia. The NCF’s 1999 tax returns list the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) as an organization to which the NCF is “related… through common membership, governing bodies, trustees, officers, etc.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1/23/2005] The Anti-Defamation League will later write, “[Taylor] maintains ties to a variety of racist organizations, publications, and individuals, both domestic and international, and many of North America’s leading intellectual racists have written for American Renaissance or have addressed the biennial American Renaissance conferences.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2011]

Entity Tags: John Tyndall, Anti-Defamation League, American Friends of the British National Party, Council of Conservative Citizens, Don Black, Mark Potok, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, New Century Foundation, Samuel Jared Taylor, David Duke

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups, Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits

As part of the shakeup of the White House staff for President Bush’s second term, Karl Rove replaces Harriet Miers as deputy chief of staff for policy. Rove, widely viewed as an entirely political official, now has a role in coordinating domestic policy, economic policy, even homeland and national security. The Washington Post’s Peter Baker will soon observe: “During President Bush’s first term, outsiders often suspected that Karl Rove was really behind virtually everything. Now it’s official.… [T]he new position largely formalizes what was already true, noting that Rove has quietly played a vital role in shaping domestic policy from the inception of the Bush presidency. Now, for the first time, he will have a formal hand in foreign policy as well.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “[Rove’s appointment] reconfirmed and strengthened the sense that the Bush administration was deeply committed to maintaining the permanent [political] campaign as normal operating procedure in Washington. Not only would governing continue to be an offshoot of campaigning, but the master campaigner would now be openly in charge of governing—thus discarding even the pretense of a separation between the two disciplines.” Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe says: “Empowering Rove in this way shows that Bush cares more about political positioning than honest policy discussions. Bush knows that Rove is neither an economic nor a national security expert; he’s simply an ideological strategist who has a history of bending the truth and using dirty tricks to get his way.” Rove’s predecessor, Office of Management and Budget chief Joshua Bolten, retorts: “Karl’s always been a very substantive contributor on the policy side. He’s better known for his political hat, but he knows how to take that hat off.” [Washington Post, 2/9/2005; McClellan, 2008, pp. 246-247]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Bush administration (43), Joshua Bolten, Peter Baker, Terry McAuliffe, Harriet E. Miers, Scott McClellan

Category Tags: 2008 Elections, Marketing and Public Relations

Fox News senior anchor Brit Hume and Fox analyst William Bennett both make the false claim that former President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to replace Social Security with private accounts. In fact, Roosevelt, who implemented Social Security, was in favor of “voluntary contributory annunities” to supplement Social Security benefits, but never proposed replacing Social Security with private money. Hume and Bennett both support President Bush’s plan to partially “privatize” Social Security; Bush himself has asserted, equally falsely, that Roosevelt supported privatization. On Fox’s political talk show Hannity and Colmes, Bennett tells viewers: “Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the guy who established Social Security, said that it would be good to have it replaced by private investment over time. Private investment would be the way to really carry this thing through.” That same evening, Hume tells his audience: “In a written statement to Congress in 1935, Roosevelt said that any Social Security plans should include, quote, ‘Voluntary contributory annuities, by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age,’ adding that government funding, quote, ‘ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans.’” Hume fails to point out that Roosevelt was not talking about “supplant[ing]” Social Security with any “self-supporting annuity plans,” but instead was talking about a different fund that provided pension benefits to Americans too old (in 1935) to contribute payroll taxes to Social Security. In 1935, Edwin Witte, the director of the Committee on Economic Security, told Congress flatly that voluntary accounts were intended as a “separate undertaking” meant to “supplement” the compulsory system, not replace it. [Media Matters, 2/4/2005] Days before the Fox broadcasts, Roosevelt’s grandson James Roosevelt Jr., a former Social Security associate commissioner, noted that “Bush invoked the name of my grandfather… as part of his campaign to privatize Social Security,” and added, “The implication that FDR would support privatization of America’s greatest national program is an attempt to deceive the American people and an outrage.” [Boston Globe, 1/31/2005] Liberal pundit Al Franken calls on Hume to resign over his historical distortions; MSNBC host Keith Olbermann calls Hume’s statements “premeditated, historical fraud,” and Roosevelt Jr. says that “outrageous distortion… calls for a retraction, an apology, maybe even a resignation.” [Media Matters, 2/18/2005] Influential conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds will acknowledge that Roosevelt was not advocating for the privatization of Social Security, instead noting that Roosevelt’s plan “would have involved, essentially, a sort of government-supplied 401k plan.” [Glenn Reynolds, 2/4/2005]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Al Franken, Brit Hume, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, William J. Bennett, Fox News, Glenn Reynolds, Keith Olbermann, James Roosevelt Jr

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Marketing and Public Relations, Fox News

Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a finding that the government’s use of “video news releases” (VNRs—see March 15, 2004 and May 19, 2004) is not propaganda and therefore not illegal. The VNRs might be “covert,” he writes, since the government actively misled viewers as to their source, but they are not “propaganda,” since they merely explain government programs and facts, and do not espouse a political point of view. Because OLC opinions are legally binding, Bradbury’s “advisory opinion” effectively precludes White House and other agency officials from being prosecuted for authorizing the VNRs, and the practice continues. The General Accounting Office (GAO) rejects Bradbury’s finding and continues to insist that the VNRs are unethical and illegal. [Savage, 2007, pp. 172-173] Two months later, Congress will prohibit the government’s use of VNRs (see May 2005).

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Bush administration (43), Steven Bradbury, General Accounting Office, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations

Stations such as Los Angeles’s KABC-TV routinely re-edit graphics to fit their own formatting. The graphic on the left was part of a VNR produced by a private firm; on the right is KABC’s edited graphic.Stations such as Los Angeles’s KABC-TV routinely re-edit graphics to fit their own formatting. The graphic on the left was part of a VNR produced by a private firm; on the right is KABC’s edited graphic. [Source: PRWatch (.org)] (click image to enlarge)An investigation by the New York Times reveals that the government’s use of “video news releases,” or so-called “fake news” reports provided by the government and presented to television news viewers as real news (see March 15, 2004), has been used by far more government agencies than previously reported. The Times report finds that VNRs from the State Department, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Agriculture Department are among the agencies providing VNRs to local television news broadcasters. Previous media reports focused largely on the VNRs provided by the Department of Health and Human Services to tout the Bush administration’s Medicare proposals. The Times finds that “at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years.… Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production.… [T]he [Bush] administration’s efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.”
VNRs Presented as Actual News - While government VNRs are generally labeled as being government productions on the film canister or video label, the VNRs themselves are designed, the Times writes, “to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the ‘reporters’ are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government’s news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.” The VNRs often feature highly choreographed “interviews” with senior administration officials, “in which questions are scripted and answers rehearsed. Critics, though, are excluded, as are any hints of mismanagement, waste or controversy.”
Benefits to All except News Consumers - The Times explains how VNRs benefit the Bush administration, private public relations firms, networks, and local broadcasters: “Local affiliates are spared the expense of digging up original material. Public relations firms secure government contracts worth millions of dollars. The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them. The administration, meanwhile, gets out an unfiltered message, delivered in the guise of traditional reporting.” News viewers, however, receive propaganda messages masquerading as real, supposedly impartial news reports.
Ducking Responsibility - Administration officials deny any responsibility for the use of VNRs as “real” news. “Talk to the television stations that ran it without attribution,” says William Pierce, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. “This is not our problem. We can’t be held responsible for their actions.” But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has disagreed, calling the use of government-produced VNRs “covert propaganda” because news viewers do not know that the segments they are watching are government productions (see May 19, 2004). However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Justice Department (see March 2005) have called the practice legal, and instructed executive branch agencies to merely ignore the GAO findings.
Creative Editing - The Times gives an example of how seamlessly government-produced propaganda can be transformed into seemingly real news segments. In one segment recently provided by the Agriculture Department, the agency’s narrator ends the segment by saying, “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting for the US Department of Agriculture.” The segment is distributed by AgDay, a syndicated farm news program shown on some 160 stations; the segment is introduced as being by “AgDay’s Pat O’Leary.” The final sentence was edited to state: “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting.” Final result: viewers are unaware that the AgDay segment is actually an Agriculture Department production. AgDay executive producer Brian Conrady defends the practice: “We can clip ‘Department of Agriculture’ at our choosing. The material we get from the [agency], if we choose to air it and how we choose to air it is our choice.” The public relations industry agrees with Conrady; many large PR firms produce VNRs both for government and corporate use, and the Public Relations Society of America gives an annual award, the Bronze Anvil, for the year’s best VNR.
Complicity by News Broadcasters - Several major television networks help distribute VNRs. Fox News has a contract with PR firm Medialink to distribute VNRs to 130 affiliates through its video feed service, Fox News Edge. CNN distributes VNRs to 750 stations in the US and Canada through its feed service, CNN Newsource. The Associated Press’s television news distributor does the same with its Global Video Wire. Fox News Edge director David Winstrom says: “We look at them and determine whether we want them to be on the feed. If I got one that said tobacco cures cancer or something like that, I would kill it.” TVA Productions, a VNR producer and distributor, says in a sales pitch to potential clients, “No TV news organization has the resources in labor, time or funds to cover every worthy story.” Almost “90 percent of TV newsrooms now rely on video news releases,” it claims. The reach can be enormous. Government-produced VNRs from the Office of National Drug Control Policy reached some 22 million households over 300 news stations. And news stations often re-record the voiceover of VNRs by their own reporters, adding to the illusion that their own reporters, and not government or PR employees, are doing the actual reporting.
Office of Broadcasting Services - The State Department’s Office of Broadcasting Services (OBS) employs around 30 editors and technicians, who before 2002 primarily distributed video from news conferences. But in early 2002, the OBS began working with close White House supervision to produce narrated feature reports promoting American policies and achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq, and supporting the Bush administration’s rationale for invading those countries. Between 2002 and now, the State Department has produced 59 such segments, which were distributed to hundreds of domestic and international television broadcasters. The State Department says that US laws prohibiting the domestic dissemination of propaganda don’t apply to the OBS. Besides, says State Department spokesman Richard Boucher: “Our goal is to put out facts and the truth. We’re not a propaganda agency.” State Department official Patricia Harrison told Congress last year that such “good news” segments are “powerful strategic tools” for influencing public opinion. The Times reports that “a review of the department’s segments reveals a body of work in sync with the political objectives set forth by the White House communications team after 9/11.” One June 2003 VNR produced by the OBS depicts US efforts to distribute food and water to the people of southern Iraq. The unidentified narrator condluded, “After living for decades in fear, they are now receiving assistance—and building trust—with their coalition liberators.” OBS produced several segments about the liberation of Afghan women; a January 2003 memo called the segments “prime example[s]” of how “White House-led efforts could facilitate strategic, proactive communications in the war on terror.” OBS typically distributes VNRs through international news organizations such as Reuters and the Associated Press, which then distribute them to major US networks, which in turn transmit them to local affiliates.
The Pentagon Channel and 'Hometown News' - In 2004, the Defense Department began providing The Pentagon Channel, formerly an in-house service, to cable and satellite operators in the US. The content is provided by Pentagon public relations specialists who produce “news reports” identical to those produced by local and national news broadcasters. And the content is free. The Pentagon Channel’s content is supplemented by the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service (HNS), a 40-man unit that produces VNRs for local broadcasters focusing on the accomplishments of “hometown” soldiers. Deputy director Larry Gilliam says of the service, “We’re the ‘good news’ people.” Their reports, tailored for specific local stations, reached 41 million households in 2004. But the service’s VNRs sometimes go beyond celebrating a hometown hero. Weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, HNS released a VNR that lauded the training of military policemen at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, where many of the MPs involved in the scandal were trained. “One of the most important lessons they learn is to treat prisoners strictly but fairly,” the “reporter” in the segment says. A trainer tells the narrator that MPs are taught to “treat others as they would want to be treated.” Gilliam says the MP report had nothing to do with the Pentagon’s desire to defend itself from accusations of mistreatment and prisoner abuse. “Are you saying that the Pentagon called down and said, ‘We need some good publicity?’” Gilliam asks the Times reporter. He answers his own question, “No, not at all.” [New York Times, 3/13/2005]
Congress Bans Use of Government VNRs - Two months after the Times article is published, Congress will ban the use of government VNRs for propaganda purposes (see May 2005).

The ‘Kill Bush’ T-shirt as sold on CafePress.The ‘Kill Bush’ T-shirt as sold on CafePress. [Source: WorldNetDaily (.com)]Rush Limbaugh’s monthly e-mail newsletter, the “Limbaugh Letter,” includes the charge that “mainstream Democrats” endorse calls to assassinate President Bush and for the suicide of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
'Kill Bush' T-Shirts, Wishes that Bush Had Been Aborted - Limbaugh tells his readers, “Dingy Harry Reid [D-NV, the Senate Minority Leader] and those absolute wimps have nothing positive to offer anybody in this country. They’re doing nothing but trying to instill fear and loathing, forming coalitions (i.e. their new bosom buddies MoveOn.org) built on seething hatred and rage. That is why it was no real surprise when CafePress.com began selling a yellow T-shirt with a red gash and the slogan, in big words, “Kill Bush.” The whole message was, “For Gods [sic] Sake, Kill Bush, Save the United States and the Rest of the World.” This was the same website that earlier posted a T-shirt for sale with the message, “Dear Tom DeLay, Please Commit Suicide. Sincerely, Everyone.” The same left-wing inhumanity was on display last year when [Democratic Senator] Hillary Clinton spoke at the pro-abortion ‘March for Women’s Lives.‘… [P]lacards held by the marchers read: ‘If Only Barbara Bush Had Choice;’ ‘Barbara Bush Chose Poorly;’ and ‘The Pope’s Mother Had No Choice.’ As I said, no shocker. This is the mainstream of the Democratic Party and their wacko voters and supporters.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 177-178] (CafePress removed the “Kill Bush” shirt after receiving numerous complaints; after removing it, the online store noted that CafePress “is an automated service” and “[h]ate related materials are a violation of its terms of service…” [WorldNetDaily, 4/13/2005] Washington, DC, artist Christopher Goodwin created the Tom DeLay shirt and marketed it on CafePress. He removed the listing after a week, during which he was the only one to buy a shirt and he received numerous complaints about the shirt being in poor taste. But before removing the listing, his shirt was the subject of an article on the conservative Drudge Report, after which he received a torrent of angry e-mails—and six more shirt sales. [Washington City Paper, 4/15/2005] )
Exaggerating Differences, Drawing Extreme Conclusions - Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will later observe, “This is an in-group rhetoric seeking to reinforce the views of a like-minded audience eager to draw extreme conclusions about Democrats. The strategy capitalizes on tendencies scholars of in- and out-groups have repeatedly observed: that members of a group exaggerate their differences with out-groups, believing out-group members to be rather homogeneous and in-group members less so, and believing members of out-groups to be less human than those in the in-group. Studies also show that people in one group think that the attitudes of an opposed group are more extreme than they actually are…” Jamieson and Cappella argue that Limbaugh’s “in-group” of listeners and readers, often agitated by what the authors call “visceral” language and emotion, has less trouble believing that the “out-group,” Democrats, would solidly back such extremist calls for presidential assassinations and coerced suicides, than would a more disparate group of political observers. “Flooded by the evocative cascade,” they will write, “the reader is likely to grant the implications in the ambiguously referenced (Is Senator Clinton the object of the same left-wing inhumanity or the sentiments expressed in the placards at the rally?) bridging inference (“the same left-wing inhumanity”) and conclude that Hillary Clinton abetted, if she did not outright endorse, the notion that the incumbent president and the pope should have been aborted and the incumbent president killed. At the same time, the audience is unlikely to challenge the conclusion that the T-shirt statements reflect the Democratic mainstream… If these are the sentiments of the Democratic mainstream, then, of course, the Democratic Party is the home of ‘wacko voters and supporters.’” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 177-178]

Entity Tags: CafePress (.com), Christopher Goodwin, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, George W. Bush, Joseph N. Cappella, Tom DeLay, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, MoveOn (.org), Rush Limbaugh, Harry Reid

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Marketing and Public Relations

President and Mrs. Bush enjoy a laugh at the Correspondents’ Dinner.President and Mrs. Bush enjoy a laugh at the Correspondents’ Dinner. [Source: MSNBC]The highlight of the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner (an annual fete where, as author and media critic Frank Rich will write, “reporters suck up to people in power [and] clamor to rub shoulders with… C-list celebrities”) is the scripted comedy stylings of First Lady Laura Bush. The media will report that Mrs. Bush “steals the show” with her jibes at her husband. She “interrupts” President Bush as he is beginning his address to the assemblage; Rich will write that her move “prompt[s] the ballroom full of reporters to leap to their feet and erupt in a roar of sycophancy like partisan hacks at a political convention.” She tells a risque joke involving her husband, a horse, and masturbation, receiving roars of adulation. The entire act is carefully scripted and staged, but reporters gush over it in the next morning’s news, even as they acknowledge it for the public relations stunt it truly is. “We truly saw the real Laura Bush,” one reporter writes. Others write of Mrs. Bush’s “most humanizing populist riff, [her] affection for the runaway new television hit Desperate Housewives,” but few note that her press secretary later acknowledged that Mrs. Bush had never actually seen an episode. Rich wonders at the reception such a performance, featuring off-color masturbation jokes and lies about television-watching habits, might have received from conservative journalists had the performer been named Hillary Clinton. “The press corps’ eagerness to facilitate and serve as dress extras in what amounted to an administration promotional video,” Rich will write, “was a metaphor for just how much the reality-based community had been co-opted by Bush’s own reality over the past four years.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 174-175]

Entity Tags: White House Correspondents’ Association, Frank Rich, Laura Bush, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, White House Involvement, Media Complicity

Congress passes a law clarifying and expanding its earlier ban on government propaganda. The new law bans the use of federal money to produce any news story (see March 2005) that does not openly acknowledge the government’s role in producing and slanting that story. The new law dramatically restricts the ability of the federal government to produce and disseminate fake news stories (VNRs—see March 15, 2004 and May 19, 2004) in local news broadcasts. [Savage, 2007, pp. 173]

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations

President Bush, on a tour to promote his administration’s proposals to privatize Social Security, tells an audience in Greece, New York, “See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.” [White House, 5/24/2005] Washington Post reporter Dan Froomkin calls the line “a revealing ad-lib.” [Washington Post, 5/25/2005] Author and media critic Frank Rich later notes that “catapulting the propaganda” does not have the desired effect in this instance: “Support for his plan actually declined as his tour played out, and it was dead on arrival in a Congress his party controlled.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 197]

Entity Tags: Frank Rich, George W. Bush, Dan Froomkin

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, White House Involvement

An employee of the Lincoln Group, which has a contract with the Defense Department to do information operations within Iraq, submits an article with the headline “Terrorists Attack Sunni Volunteers” to the Al Mada newspaper in downtown Baghdad. According to the newspaper’s editors, he pays them $900 to run the piece. Lincoln Group records obtained by the Los Angeles Times also show the transaction, though it is recorded that the payment was $1,200. [Los Angeles Times, 11/30/2005]

Entity Tags: Lincoln Group, Al Mada

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Drudge Report logo.Drudge Report logo. [Source: Wikimedia (.org)]The Drudge Report, a conservative news Web site often touted as “the most successful independent news site on the Web,” vastly inflates its claims of readership, according to the Valleywag technology blog. The Drudge Report is operated by Matt Drudge and an assistant, and claims (as of February 2007) to have a readership of around 1.2 million unique visitors a month. However, Drudge and marketing research firm Comscore are apparently inflating the figure by as much as 2,000 percent. Drudge uses what Web site owners call a “meta-refresh,” which automatically “refreshes” a Web page already loaded in a user’s browser. Most sites let a user refresh the page on their own, but many news sites assume that visitors leave their sites open for hours, and have the site refresh on a periodic basis. Drudge has his site automatically refreshed 20 times an hour, or once every three minutes—a refresh rate considered quite aggressive in news site circles. Technical reporter Nick Denton writes: “What’s the effect on the site’s traffic? Each refresh counts as a new pageview, whether or not the user is watching, or the window remains visible. And there must be plenty of these inattentive readers: one site owner I know experienced a 20 percent jump in traffic after he introduced, as an experiment, an automatic refresh every half hour. Drudge loads anew every three minutes.” Denton concludes that while Drudge’s site is undoubtedly quite popular, his readership claims have been “hyped up to the point of misdirection.” [ValleyWag, 3/12/2007; FireDogLake, 3/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Drudge Report, Comscore, Nick Denton, Matt Drudge

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Media Complicity

Representative Ron Paul, profiled in a New York Times article, answers a question about his connections to the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961, 1978-1996, August 4, 2008 and December 2011). “Oh, my goodness, the John Birch Society!” Paul replies in what the reporter calls “mock horror.” “Is that bad? I have a lot of friends in the John Birch Society. They’re generally well educated and they understand the Constitution. I don’t know how many positions they would have that I don’t agree with. Because they’re real strict constitutionalists, they don’t like the war, they’re hard-money people.” [New York Times, 7/22/2007] The JBS is, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a prominent right-wing extremist group that has accused a number of lawmakers, including former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, of being “closet Communists,” and promotes “wild conspiracy theories” such as the “international Jewish” conspiracy to control the global economy and the idea that the World War II Holocaust never happened. The JBS has been a pioneer in what an analysis by Political Research Associates (PRA) will call “the encoding of implicit cultural forms of ethnocentric white racism and Christian nationalist antisemitism rather than relying on the white supremacist biological determinism and open loathing of Jews that had typified the old right prior to WWII.” PRA will note, “Throughout its existence, however, the Society has promoted open homophobia and sexism.” [Political Research Associates, 2010; Southern Poverty Law Center, 8/17/2010]

Entity Tags: Ron Paul, John Birch Society, Dwight Eisenhower, Political Research Associates, Southern Poverty Law Center

Category Tags: Faith-Based Rhetoric, Gender-Based Rhetoric, Marketing and Public Relations, Race-Based Rhetoric

At least one supporter of far-right libertarian Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) argues that a recently published article in the New Republic that exposed the overtly racist and conspiratorial content in Paul’s newsletters (see 1978-1996) was the result of a conspiracy by “beltway libertarians” from the Cato Institute to discredit Paul. According to Thomas DiLorenzo, the Koch family (see 1979-1980), who provide much of the funding for the Cato Institute (see 1977-Present and 1981-2010), is behind the conspiracy. “Proof” of this conspiracy, according to DiLorenzo, is that James Kirchick, the author of the article, has said he found many of the newsletters in the University of Kansas library; Charles Koch “is a major patron” of that university. DiLorenzo asks, “How on earth would a kid just out of college know to go to a library in Kansas, of all places, to dig up such stuff?” DiLorenzo goes on to say that he “recognized a paragraph [in Kirchick’s article] that was identical to one written on several occassions by one of the especially hate-filled Beltway losers who works at a DC ‘think tank’ on his spleen-venting personal blog. Either he wrote it or coached the author.” Author David Bernstein, who notes that the Cato Institute is preparing to publish a book of his, speculates that Kirchick may have used an Internet database called Wordcat to find the Paul newsletters, and writes, “Even ‘kids just out of college’ often know how to use the Internet, I believe.” And Kirchick calls DiLorenzo’s conspiracy theorizing “comically credulous.” [New Republic, 1/8/2008; Thomas DiLorenzo, 1/12/2008; David Bernstein, 1/12/2008; New Republic, 1/15/2008] DiLorenzo publishes his theory on the blog of former Paul chief of staff Lew Rockwell, who runs the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a libertarian think tank in Alabama closely allied with Paul. [Thomas DiLorenzo, 1/12/2008] A week after the publication of the first New Republic article, Paul will deny having virtually any involvement with his newsletters (see January 16, 2008).

Entity Tags: Ron Paul, James Kirchick, David Bernstein, Charles Koch, Cato Institute, Lew Rockwell, Ludwig von Mises Institute, Thomas DiLorenzo, The New Republic

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Faith-Based Rhetoric, Gender-Based Rhetoric, Marketing and Public Relations, Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits

A September 2007 photo of Ron Paul and Don Black, the former Klansman who runs the racist Stormfront.org Web site.A September 2007 photo of Ron Paul and Don Black, the former Klansman who runs the racist Stormfront.org Web site. [Source: BTX3 (.com)]An article in the libertarian newsletter Reason discusses the controversy surrounding the racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic material printed in newsletters issued by US Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) from 1978 through at least 1996 (see 1978-1996). The controversy has erupted in recent weeks after an article by the New Republic publicized the newsletters and prompted Paul’s disassociation from those publications (see January 8-15, 2008). Paul, a self-described libertarian, has waffled on claiming authorship of the newsletters; he has gone from saying in 1996 that he wrote all the material in them (see May 22 - October 11, 1996) to more recently claiming that he wrote virtually none of their content and knew little of what was being published under his name for nearly 20 years. (In 2001 he told a reporter that in 1996 he did not admit that a ghostwriter wrote most of the material because to do so would have been “confusing” for voters (see October 1, 2001); this year, Paul is claiming to have virtually no knowledge of anything printed in the newsletters.) In mid-January, he told a CNN reporter that he had “no idea” who wrote some of the racially inflammatory rhetoric in his newsletters, and said he repudiated the flagrantly bigoted material printed therein.
Conservative Libertarian Said to Be Paul's 'Ghostwriter' - According to Reason reporters Julian Sanchez and David Weigel, some libertarian activists, including some close to Paul, name Paul’s “ghostwriter” to be Llewellyn “Lew” Rockwell Jr. Rockwell is the founder of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a libertarian think tank in Alabama with which Paul has maintained close ties. Rockwell was Paul’s Congressional chief of staff from 1978 through 1982, and was vice president of Ron Paul & Associates, which published two of Paul’s newsletters before its dissolution in 2001. Sanchez and Weigel note, “During the period when the most incendiary items appeared—roughly 1989 to 1994—Rockwell and the prominent libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard championed an open strategy of exploiting racial and class resentment to build a coalition with populist ‘paleoconservatives,’ producing a flurry of articles and manifestos whose racially charged talking points and vocabulary mirrored the controversial Paul newsletters unearthed by the New Republic.” Rockwell is to this day a close friend and adviser to Paul, accompanying him to major media appearances, promoting his presidential candidacy, publishing his books, and selling Paul’s writings and audio recordings. Rockwell has denied writing any of the newsletters’ content, and refused to be interviewed by Sanchez and Weigel. He has called discussion of the newsletters “hysterical smears aimed at political enemies” of the New Republic. Paul himself calls the controversy “old news” and “ancient history.” A source close to the Paul presidential campaign says Rockwell indeed wrote much of the newsletters’ content, and says: “If Rockwell had any honor he’d come out and I say, ‘I wrote this stuff.’ He should have done it 10 years ago.” Former American Libertarian (AL) editor Mike Holmes says that Rockwell was Paul’s chief ghostwriter as far back as 1988, when Rockwell wrote material for AL under Paul’s name. “This was based on my understanding at the time that Lew would write things that appeared in Ron’s various newsletters,” Holmes says. “Neither Ron nor Lew ever told me that, but other people close to them such as Murray Rothbard suggested that Lew was involved, and it was a common belief in libertarian circles.” A Rockwell associate, Wendy McElroy, says Rockwell’s identity as Paul’s ghostwriter is “an open secret within the circles in which I run.” Timothy Wirkman Virkkala says he and members of the libertarian magazine Liberty, which he used to edit, knew that Rockwell wrote material under Paul’s name, as did Rothbard on occation.
Change in Strategy: 'Outreach to the Rednecks' - Sanchez and Weigel note: “The tenor of Paul’s newsletters changed over the years. The ones published between Paul’s return to private life after three full terms in Congress (1985) and his Libertarian presidential bid (1988) notably lack inflammatory racial or anti-gay comments. The letters published between Paul’s first run for president and his return to Congress in 1996 are another story—replete with claims that Martin Luther King ‘seduced underage girls and boys,’ that black protesters should gather ‘at a food stamp bureau or a crack house’ rather than the Statue of Liberty, and that AIDS sufferers ‘enjoy the attention and pity that comes with being sick.’” They also note that the newsletters were a significant source of funding for Paul’s campaigns. Former Paul campaign aide Eric Dondero, who after leaving the organization in 2004 has become one of Paul’s most notable critics, says that Paul’s staff learned between his stints in Congress that “the wilder they got, the more bombastic they got with it, the more the checks came in. You think the newsletters were bad? The fundraising letters were just insane from that period.” Ed Craig, the president of the libertarian Cato Institute, says he remembers a time in the late 1980s when Paul boasted that his best source of Congressional campaign donations was the mailing list for The Spotlight, the conspiracy-mongering, anti-Semitic tabloid run by Holocaust denier and white supremacist Willis Carto until it folded in 2001. Rockwell and Rothbard broke with the Libertarian Party after the 1988 presidential election, and formed what the authors call “a schismatic ‘paleolibertarian’ movement, which rejected what they saw as the social libertinism and leftist tendencies of mainstream libertarians. In 1990, they launched the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, where they crafted a plan they hoped would midwife a broad new ‘paleo’ coalition.” Rockwell wrote in 1990 that his new libertarian movement must embrace overtly conservative values, including values he called “right-wing populism.” The strategy was codified in what he called “Outreach to the Rednecks,” and embraced overtly racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic views. Rockwell looked to Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), the leader of the 1950s “Red Scare,” and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke as models for the new strategy. The newly, flagrantly racist material in Paul’s newsletters were apparently part of Rockwell’s “paleolibertarian” strategy. The strategy encompassed values espoused by Paul, including what the authors cite as “tax reduction, abolition of welfare, elimination of ‘the entire ‘civil rights’ structure, which tramples on the property rights of every American,’ and a police crackdown on ‘street criminals.’” Rockwell envisioned Paul as the leader of the new movement until 1992, when Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan convinced Paul to withdraw from the 1992 campaign and back his candidacy instead. At that point, Rockwell called himself and his fellow “paleolibertarians” “Buchananites” who could choose “either Pat Buchanan or David Duke” to represent them.
Change in Tone - In recent years, Paul has suspended his newsletters, disavowed the racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism of their content, and presented himself as a conservative libertarian who idolizes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and embraces people of all races and religions. Sanchez and Weigel conclude that Paul is trying to bring a new generation of minorities into the libertarian fold, and write: “Ron Paul may not be a racist, but he became complicit in a strategy of pandering to racists—and taking ‘moral responsibility’ for that now means more than just uttering the phrase. It means openly grappling with his own past—acknowledging who said what, and why. Otherwise he risks damaging not only his own reputation, but that of the philosophy to which he has committed his life.” [Reason, 1/16/2008]

Entity Tags: Mike Holmes, Julian Sanchez, Joseph McCarthy, Eric Dondero, Ed Craig, David Weigel, David Duke, Ludwig von Mises Institute, Willis Carto, Patrick Buchanan, The New Republic, Wendy McElroy, The Spotlight, Ron Paul and Associates, Reason, Murray Rothbard, Timothy Wirkman Virkkala, Lew Rockwell, Ron Paul

Category Tags: 2008 Elections, Faith-Based Rhetoric, Gender-Based Rhetoric, Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups, Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Media Opposition

The cover of Jamieson and Cappella’s ‘Echo Chamber.’The cover of Jamieson and Cappella’s ‘Echo Chamber.’ [Source: Barnes and Noble (.com)]Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, authors of the media study Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, find that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh excels at using what they call “insider language” for his listeners “that both embeds definitional assumptions hospitable to his conservative philosophy and makes it difficult for those who embrace the language to speak about Democrats and the presumed Democratic ideology without attacking them.” They cite three examples from Limbaugh’s June 2005 newsletter which contains the following statements:
bullet “Democrats are the enemy.”
bullet “When she first ran for her Senate seat, Hillary Rodham Clinton told citizens of the Empire State [New York] that she had been endorsed by environmental wacko-groups because… in her words, ‘I’ve stood for clean air.’”
bullet After Harvard president Lawrence Summers commented on the intrinsic differences between the sexes, Limbaugh wrote, “Led by foaming-at-the-mouth feminists, the liberal elite experienced a mass politically correct tantrum.”
Jamieson and Cappella write: “Identifying terms such as ‘foaming-at-the-mouth feminists,’ ‘liberal elite,’ ‘enemy,’ and ‘environmental wacko-groups’ both create an insider language and distance those who adopt the labels from those labeled. One of the ways Limbaugh’s supporters telegraph their identification with him is by adopting his language.”
Identifying Nicknames - They cite the 1995 statement of freshman House Representative Barbara Cubin (R-WY), who proudly proclaimed of her fellow female Republicans, “There’s not a femi-Nazi among us,” using one of Limbaugh’s favorite terms for feminists. “Listeners say ‘Ditto’ or ‘megadittoes’ to telegraph their enthusiasm for Limbaugh, his latest argument, or his show in general,” they write. Limbaugh refers to himself as “the MahaRushie” with “talent on loan from God.” Callers often refer to Limbaugh as “my hero.” Denigrating nicknames for Limbaugh’s targets of derision work to bring listeners into the fold: the new listener must labor to identify the people termed (and thusly become part of the Limbaugh community): “Clintonistas” (supporters of Bill and/or Hillary Clinton), “Sheets” (Senator Robert Byrd, D-WV), who in his youth wore ‘sheets’ as a Ku Klux Klan member), “the Swimmer” (Senator Edward Kennedy, D-MA, in reference to his involvement in the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident), “Puffster” (former Senator Tom Daschle, D-SD), “the Breck Girl” (former Senator John Edwards, D-NC), and “Ashley Wilkes” (retired General Wesley Clark, in a reference to what Limbaugh called “the wimpy, pathetic Gone with the Wind character”). Some of the nicknames are physically derogatory: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) became “Senator Leaky, a.k.a. Senator Depends,” and former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) became “‘Little Dick’ Gephardt.” Such use of “insider” nicknames indicates an identification between the listener and Limbaugh, and an affiliation with the Limbaugh community of supporters.
Redefining and Relabeling - Limbaugh routinely redefines and relabels his political enemies in the most derogatory terms. Pro-choice supporters are termed “pro-aborts,” and Democrats are supported by “beggar-based constituencies.” As noted above, feminists are “femi-Nazis” (though Jamieson and Cappella note that Limbaugh has used the term less often since it became a topic of criticism in the mainstream media).
Gender Identification - One of Limbaugh’s strongest attacks is on gender roles. In Limbaugh’s continuum, Democratic women are, the authors write, “either sexualized manipulators or unattractive man haters.” A 1994 Clinton tribute to women’s accomplishments became, in Limbaugh’s words, “Biddies’ Night Out.” Other times, Democratic women become “babes,” as in “Congressbabe Jane Harman.” (On his Web site, Limbaugh often shows Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)‘s head affixed to the body of a Miss America contender.) The authors note, “Neither label invites the audience to take these leaders seriously.” Women with whom he disagrees, such as liberal blogger Arianna Huffington, are “screeching,” and others are “broads,” “lesbians,” or “femi-Nazis.” The National Organization for Women (NOW) becomes, in Limbaugh’s vocabulary, the NAGS. Attacks and innuendo about women’s sexuality are frequently used by Limbaugh: during the Clinton administration, for example, Limbaugh often implied that Hillary Clinton and then-Attorney General Janet Reno were closeted lesbians. On the other hand, Democratic men are routinely portrayed as “two-inchers,” derogatory references to their physical attributes and sexual capabilities (as with the Gephardt nickname above). Jamieson and Cappella note that “Limbaugh’s attempts at gender-based humor are of the locker room variety,” noting several references to California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante as a Democrat whose name translates into “large breasts,” and referring to pop singer Madonna’s 2004 endorsement of General Wesley Clark for president by saying she had “opened herself” to Clark. In 2004, he said that Democratic presidential contender John Kerry, married to wealthy heiress Teresa Heinz-Kerry, “does his fundraising every night when he goes to bed.” (The authors write, “Why the vulgarity in this message does not alienate the churchgoing conservatives in his audience is a question for which we have no ready answer.”)
Impact - Far from merely giving a laundry list of Limbaugh’s derogatory and offensive characterizations, Jamieson and Cappella note how Limbaugh and the conservative media “wrap their audiences in a conversation built on words and phrases that embody conservatism’s ideological assumptions,” using “naming and ridicule to marginalize those named as part of an out-group,” and using “coherent, emotion-evoking, dismissive language” to denigrate and dismiss the liberals he routinely attacks. “Because language does our thinking for us,” they write, “this process constructs not only a vocabulary but also a knowledge base for the audience. That language and the view of the world carried by it are presumed by loyal conservatives and alien to the nonconservative audience. These interpretations of people and events also reinforce Limbaugh’s defense of conservatism and its proponents.” [Washington Post, 2/15/1995; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 184-190]

Entity Tags: Richard Gephardt, Robert C. Byrd, Wesley Clark, Tom Daschle, Teresa Heinz-Kerry, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, National Organization for Women, Nancy Pelosi, Rush Limbaugh, Larry Summers, Madonna, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Cruz Bustamante, Arianna Huffington, Barbara Cubin, Hillary Clinton, Patrick J. Leahy, Janet Reno, John Kerry, John Edwards, Joseph N. Cappella, Jane Harman, Kathleen Hall Jamieson

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Marketing and Public Relations, Gender-Based Rhetoric

Ron Paul (R-TX), a US representative and candidate for the Republican nomination for president, gives the keynote address to the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011)‘s 50th Anniversary Celebration. [New American, 10/8/2008] The JBS is, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a prominent right-wing extremist group that has accused a number of lawmakers, including former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, of being “closet Communists,” and promotes “wild conspiracy theories” such as the “international Jewish” conspiracy to control the global economy and the idea that the World War II Holocaust never happened. The JBS has been a pioneer in what an analysis by Political Research Associates (PRA) will call “the encoding of implicit cultural forms of ethnocentric white racism and Christian nationalist antisemitism rather than relying on the white supremacist biological determinism and open loathing of Jews that had typified the old right prior to WWII.” PRA will note, “Throughout its existence, however, the society has promoted open homophobia and sexism.” [Political Research Associates, 2010; Southern Poverty Law Center, 8/17/2010] The New American, the online magazine of the JBS (though the publication’s Web site downplays its connection to the JBS), will cover Paul’s speech. Paul speaks on the topic, “Restoring the Republic: Lessons From a Presidential Campaign,” where he discusses how America can be “restored” with groups such as the JBS and his own Campaign for Liberty “leading the way.” Paul is introduced by John McManus, the president of the JBS. According to the New American report: “Dr. Paul made evident his affection for the JBS by stating at the outset, ‘I am delighted to help celebrate this birthday.’ And when he moved on to talk about his first successful campaign for Congress in 1976, he said, ‘I’m sure there are people in this room who probably helped me in that campaign, because I know that so many of you have over the years.’ He then described his first press conference at the Capitol Hill Club, during which an antagonist from Houston asked him: ‘Mr. Paul, are you a member of the John Birch Society? Have you ever been a member of the John Birch Society?’ Dr. Paul recalled his response: ‘No, I am not a member of the John Birch Society but many members of the John Birch Society are friends of mine and they have been very helpful in my campaign.’” Paul credits the JBS “for keeping alive the freedom fight through its programs to educate and motivate the American people. He went on to point out that the JBS had planted a lot of seeds over the years and that his presidential campaign was able to tap into the sentiment that sprouted from those efforts.” Paul repeatedly cites what he calls “the remnant,” which he defines as those who remember and respect the values upon which the United States was founded: self-reliance, personal responsibility, limited government, sound money, the gold standard, etc. Paul lauds the JBS for nurturing that “remnant,” adding, “The remnant holds the truth together, both the religious truth and the political truth.” He concludes with an exhortation for the audience to “continue what you have been doing,” and says, “I come with a positive message and congratulations to you for all you have done.” [New American, 10/8/2008] Paul’s newsletters contain a raft of bigoted material (see 1978-1996), though Paul denies writing almost all of his newsletters’ content (see January 16, 2008). In 2007, he readily admitted his support for the John Birch Society (see July 22, 2007).

Entity Tags: Southern Poverty Law Center, Political Research Associates, Ron Paul, John Birch Society, John F. McManus, The New American

Category Tags: Faith-Based Rhetoric, Gender-Based Rhetoric, Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups, Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits

The conservative “astroturf” advocacy organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004) holds a conference of conservative political operatives and pundits in a Marriott hotel outside Washington, DC. Right-wing blogger Erick Erickson of RedState.com thanks oil billionaire and AFP co-founder David Koch (see August 30, 2010) from the podium and promises to “unite and fight… the armies of the left!” The rest of the conference is spent planning how to battle the policies that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama might implement if he wins the November election. AFP will be instrumental in the Koch brothers’ battle against Obama administration policies (see August 30, 2010). [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Americans for Prosperity, David Koch, Erick Erickson, Obama administration

Category Tags: 'Tea Party' Movement, Conservative Opposition to Obama, Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups, Conservative Media Pundits

McCain-Palin campaign strategist Steve Schmidt.McCain-Palin campaign strategist Steve Schmidt. [Source: Los Angeles Times]Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), the Republican candidate for vice president with presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ), learns of a recent CNN report about her ties with the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party (AIP—see October 14, 2008) and the Salon.com article that sparked the report (see October 10, 2008). Palin is on a campaign jet en route to New Hampshire when she sees part of the segment, along with a graphic on the bottom of the screen touting “The Palins and the Fringe.” The segment discusses her husband Todd Palin’s former membership in the AIP, and her own videotaped message to the 2008 AIP convention (see March 2008). During a rally this afternoon, someone on the rope line shouts a question about the AIP. Palin determines that the campaign is not working hard enough to downplay her connections to the AIP, and quickly sends an email to Steve Schmidt, the campaign’s chief strategist, and to campaign manager Rick Davis and senior adviser Nicolle Wallace. The email, titled simply “Todd,” reads: “Pls get in front of that ridiculous issue that’s cropped up all day today—two reporters, a protestor’s sign, and many shout-outs all claiming Todd’s involvement in an anti-American political party. It’s bull, and I don’t want to have to keep reacting to it.… Pls have statement given on this so it’s put to bed.” Palin is worried in part because her vice-presidential debate with Democratic contender Joseph Biden (D-DE) is coming up in hours, and she has no desire to delve into the Palins’ associations with the AIP during it. Five minutes after Palin sends the email, she receives a reply from Schmidt, saying: “Ignore it. He [Todd Palin] was a member of the aip? My understanding is yes. That is part of their platform. Do not engage the protestors. If a reporter asks say it is ridiculous. Todd loves america.” Palin is unsatisfied, sending another email to the three original recipients and cc’ing it to five other campaign staffers, including her personal assistant. CBS News will later report: “Palin’s insertion of the five additional staffers in the email chain was an apparent attempt to rally her own troops in the face of a decision from the commanding general with which she disagreed. Her inclusion of her personal assistant was particularly telling about her quest for affirmation and support in numbers, since the young staffer was not in a position to have any input on campaign strategy.” Palin writes: “That’s not part of their platform and he was only a ‘member’ bc independent alaskans too often check that ‘Alaska Independent’ box on voter registrations thinking it just means non partisan. He caught his error when changing our address and checked the right box. I still want it fixed.” Palin is misrepresenting the nature of Alaskan voter registration documents: they contain the full name of the Alaskan Independence Party, not “Alaska independent,” as she seems to assert. Schmidt sees Palin’s second email as an attempt to mislead the campaign and sends a longer response about the AIP, which says: “Secession. It is their entire reason for existence. A cursory examination of the website shows that the party exists for the purpose of seceding from the union. That is the stated goal on the front page of the web site. Our records indicate that todd was a member for seven years. If this is incorrect then we need to understand the discrepancy. The statement you are suggesting be released would be innaccurate. The innaccuracy would bring greater media attention to this matter and be a distraction. According to your staff there have been no media inquiries into this and you received no questions about it during your interviews. If you are asked about it you should smile and say many alaskans who love their country join the party because it speeks to a tradition of political independence. Todd loves his country[.] We will not put out a statement and inflame this and create a situation where john has to adress this.” CBS will call Schmidt’s pushback against Palin’s insistence on a correction “particularly blunt in that it implicitly questioned her truthfulness. Furthermore, his unwillingness to budge an inch on the matter was a remarkable assertion of his power to pull rank over the candidate herself.” Palin does not respond to the email. [CBS News, 7/1/2009] The McCain-Palin campaign will issue a brief statement denying that Palin was ever a registered member of the AIP. “Governor Palin has been a registered Republican since 1982,” campaign spokesman Brian Rogers will say. “As you know, if she changed her registration, there would have been some record of it. There isn’t.” AIP chairperson Lynette Clark will confirm Rogers’s statement. [ABC News, 9/1/2008; Alaskan Independence Party, 9/3/2008]

Entity Tags: Lynette Clark, CBS News, Brian Rogers, Alaskan Independence Party, CNN, Joseph Biden, Sarah Palin, Steve Schmidt, John McCain, Todd Palin, Nicolle Wallace, Rick Davis

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: 2008 Elections, Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups

Los Angeles Times columnist James Rainey lambasts CNN for what he calls an attempted “smear” against Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-AK). Rainey is referring to a segment recently aired on CNN (see October 14, 2008) that interviewed author and columnist David Neiwert, who recently co-wrote an article about Palin’s connections to the far-right, secessionist Alaskan Independence Party (AIP—see October 10, 2008). Palin has already demanded that the McCain-Palin campaign issue a statement repudiating the CNN segment, a decision the campaign did not acquiesce to (see October 15, 2008); it is unclear whether Rainey had any knowledge of Palin’s demand, though McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb sent a message to CNN calling the segment “a smear” that was aired during the segment itself. Rainey writes that the Neiwert interview was little more than “a reheated, overwrought, and misleading story that seemed designed to yoke Sarah Palin and her husband to the most extreme secessionists in Alaska.” He acknowledges that Palin’s husband Todd Palin once belonged to the AIP, and writes, “[H]is wife, the governor and now Republican vice presidential nominee, has been friendly with some of its members.” (The article by Neiwert and co-author Max Blumenthal goes into significant detail about how AIP leaders such as Mark Chryson have steered Palin’s rise to power from her days as a Wasilla city council member.) Rainey accurately notes that neither Neiwert, Blumenthal, nor CNN have shown that Palin has echoed the AIP’s central platform call for Alaska’s secession from the United States. He calls Alaskan politics “eccentric,” and says that in Alaska, the AIP “is not so far out on the fringe. An AIP member won the governorship in 1990. And party members have been in the thick of the state’s public life for decades. Members run the gamut from states-rights enthusiasts to radical secessionists who have advocated extreme measures to free Alaska from the United States.” Rainey criticizes CNN interviewer Rick Sanchez for “front-loading” his segment with “outrageous pronouncements from AIP founder Joe Vogler, now deceased,” including Voger’s famous pronoucement: “The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government. And I won’t be buried under their damn flag.” Rainey draws a comparison to Democratic candidate Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s “old pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.,” then writes, “[T]o my knowledge, no direct connection between Vogler and Gov. Palin has been reported.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/15/2008] In a rejoinder published on the liberal news blog Crooks and Liars, Neiwert notes that in the CNN interview, he was careful not to associate Palin directly with far-right radicals such as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), as Sanchez attempted to do, and notes, “Part of covering and writing about the Patriot movement involved listening and watching carefully to distinguish them, because to some extent, you had to give the mainstream conservatives the benefit of the doubt when it came to their actual intent in getting involved with these groups.” However, Neiwert goes on to say, the connections between Palin and the AIP are quite strong and well detailed. He also notes that AIP vice chairman Dexter Clark said flatly in 2007 that Palin “was an AIP member before she got the job as a mayor of a small town (see Mid and Late 1996)—that was a non-partisan job. But you get along to go along—she eventually joined the Republican Party, where she had all kinds of problems with their ethics, and well, I won’t go into that. She also had about an 80 percent approval rating, and is pretty well sympathetic to her former membership.” He also notes that Clark later disavowed his claim of Palin’s membership in the AIP. However, Neiwert writes, “it’s clear that Clark and many others within the AIP viewed Palin as ‘one of ours.’ And as we have demonstrated, they did so with good cause.” He concludes that it is a “cold reality that Palin has a real history of empowering these extremists, and pandering to their conspiratorial beliefs, from her position of public office. And the question is whether that would continue from a position of real power in the White House.” [Crooks and Liars, 10/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Mark Chryson, David Neiwert, CNN, Alaskan Independence Party, Dexter Clark, Joe Vogler, Michael Goldfarb, Rick Sanchez, Max Blumenthal, Sarah Palin, James Rainey

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: 2008 Elections, Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups

A photograph of Ashley Todd, with a backwards ‘B’ scratched into her face. Todd claims an Obama supporter beat her and scratched the letter into her face.A photograph of Ashley Todd, with a backwards ‘B’ scratched into her face. Todd claims an Obama supporter beat her and scratched the letter into her face. [Source: Dan Garcia / Hollywood Grind]Twenty-year-old Ashley Todd, a volunteer for the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ), tells Pittsburgh police she was attacked, beaten, and robbed by an African-American male who claimed to be a Barack Obama (D-IL) supporter. According to Todd, the man accosted her at a Citizens Bank ATM in Bloomfield, Pennsylvania. He was brandishing a knife, Todd claims. Todd gave him $60. When the man saw a bumper sticker on her car supporting McCain, she says, he punched her in the back of the head, knocked her down, and beat her, saying, “You are going to be a Barack supporter.” He then pinned her down and used the knife to scratch a “B” (for Barack) into her right cheek; she attempted to fight back, but he said he was going “to teach her a lesson for being a McCain supporter” before actually cutting her. He then fled, Todd says. Todd’s left eye is also bruised. The attack happened around 8:50 p.m.; Todd calls the police around 9:30 p.m., after the attack. She initially refuses medical attention. The next day, however, she will receive a full checkup at a local hospital, including an MRI. Todd says she is not a member of the McCain campaign, but went to Washington, DC, in June for training with the College Republicans. She posted pro-McCain and anti-Obama comments on Twitter in the hours preceding the attack, the last one coming just minutes before she alleges she was accosted. She describes her alleged assailant as a dark-skinned black man, 6 feet 4 inches tall, 200 pounds with a medium build, short black hair and brown eyes, wearing dark-colored jeans, a black undershirt, and black shoes. She emphasizes that her assailant is an Obama supporter. Within hours of the alleged attack, Todd posts comments on Twitter about it, along with allegations that she was targeted deliberately by members of the local Obama campaign and exhortations to support McCain in the upcoming elections (see October 23-24, 2008). The Hollywood Grind, reporting on the incident, observes: “Despite the information we’ve gathered above, there are three things that make us skeptical. First, Ashley is a hardcore McCain supporter, as evidenced by her Twitter updates… that show her posting Twitter updates right up until the alleged attack, then the last post three hours after the attack. Second, she initially refused medical attention, but finally got it the next morning. Third, the ‘B’ scratched on her face is backwards, making it look like it was done in a mirror.” [Associated Press, 10/23/2008; Hollywood Grind, 10/23/2008; Fox News, 10/24/2008; London Times, 10/25/2008] Todd acts suspiciously almost from the moment the police respond to her complaint. She goes to the house of a friend and fellow College Republican, Dan Garcia, a University of Pittsburgh law student. After being told of the alleged attack, Garcia treats her wounds and contacts the police. When an officer arrives at Garcia’s house, Todd becomes belligerent when asked where the attack took place. “I don’t know!” she shouts, using an expletive. “I’m not from here.” Todd, Garcia, and the officer then drive through Bloomfield, the town where Todd alleges the attack occurred, until they arrive at the Citizens Bank on Liberty Avenue. Todd then tells the officer that the Citizens Bank ATM is where she was attacked. She refuses medical attention offered by the officer, and instead leaves with Garcia to go eat at a diner, apparently making some of her Twitter posts during her time at the diner. It is during this time that Garcia takes the photograph of Todd with the scratched “B” on her face. Garcia then persuades her to go to a nearby hospital. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/24/2008] The next day, Todd will admit to lying about the incident, and will admit to inflicting the “B” on herself (see October 24, 2008). It is unclear how much of her story as reported in the press comes from Todd, and how much of it is embellished by a McCain campaign operative (see October 23-24, 2008).

Entity Tags: John McCain, Ashley Todd, Dan Garcia, Hollywood Grind

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: 2008 Elections, Conservative Opposition to Obama, Marketing and Public Relations, Race-Based Rhetoric

Within hours of Pittsburgh resident Ashley Todd’s claim that she was attacked by a black Barack Obama supporter whom, she says, carved a “B” (for “Barack”) into her face during the attack (see October 22, 2008), conservative blogs and political Web sites begin an outpouring of enraged and supportive posts and articles supporting Todd and lambasting the Obama campaign and the “liberal media” which, they say, will do its best to cover up the alleged attack. Todd uses her Twitter account, and her connections as a member of the College Republicans and a McCain campaign volunteer, to spread the word about her alleged attack. The photograph of her and her wounds, taken by her friend Dan Garcia and given to police and the College Republicans, is quickly posted on the popular conservative news and gossip site Drudge Report, which calls the attack a “mutilation.” The Drudge article takes the controversy to a national level. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/24/2008; TPM Election Central, 10/24/2008; Media Bistro, 10/24/2008]
Bloggers Respond - Conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds, writing for the popular blog Instapundit, uses the Drudge article for the basis of his own post (repeating the claim that Todd was “mutilated”), and writes, “This is so serious that I predict it will get almost one-tenth as much national coverage as something some guy may have yelled at a Palin rally once.” He repeats a comment from another blog that says, “But, were it a black woman with an ‘M’ carved in her cheek [presumably for ‘McCain’], we’d be getting 24/7 coverage.” [Glenn Reynolds, 10/23/2008] Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey, writing for another popular blog, Hot Air, calls the attack a “maiming,” though he does not blame the Obama campaign for it, instead writing that “this particular criminal sounds like he’s a couple of bricks short of a load even for that crowd.” Morrissey initially resists the idea that Todd may be perpetuating a hoax, writing, “Not too many young women would scar their faces just to create a political hoax,” but later admits that Todd lied and calls her a “very, very disturbed young woman.” [Ed Morrissey, 10/23/2008] A blogger for College Politico calls the attack “horrifying” and derides bloggers at the liberal Daily Kos for being “unsympathetic,” citing comments that expressed doubts about Todd’s veracity, calling them “deprived” (apparently intending to call them “depraved”) and saying that the Kos bloggers “have absolutely no reason to doubt her.” He goes on to criticize conservative bloggers who also express their doubts about Todd’s story, calls some of the skepticism “idiotic,” and says the fact that the “B” is carved backwards “MEANS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING” (caps in the original). The blogger later posts updates acknowledging that the story is a hoax, and calls Todd “the lowest level of scum.” [College Politico, 10/24/2008; College Politico, 10/24/2008] A blogger calling himself “Patrick” for the conservative Political Byline posts the picture of Todd and writes, “So, this is what they do to people who support McCain.” In his title, he says Todd’s attacker is “One of Barry’s fans, I’m sure,” referring to Senator Obama, and calls Obama the “Marxist Magic Negro.” Like the others, he eventually acknowledges that the story is a hoax. [Political Byline, 10/24/2008]
Malkin Expresses Doubts - One conservative blogger who does not immediately leap on the Todd story is Michelle Malkin. When the story breaks, she writes of her suspicions about the “B” being carved so neatly into Todd’s face, and carved backwards, and how she finds Todd’s initial refusal to accept medical treatment questionable. Before Todd admits to the fraud, Malkin writes: “We have enough low-lifes and thugs in the world running loose and causing campaign chaos and fomenting hatred without having to make them up. I’ve been blowing the whistle on the real, left-wing rage not on the front page and in-your-face tactics throughout the election season. Hate crimes hoaxes—by anyone, of any political persuasion, and of any color—diminish us all.” [Michelle Malkin, 10/23/2008]
Presidential Campaigns Respond - The McCain campaign issues a statement denouncing the attack as “sick and disgusting”; the Obama campaign issues a statement deploring the attack and demanding that Todd’s assailant be quickly brought to justice. Both McCain and his running mate, Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), telephone Todd with expressions of concern and support. The Pennsylvania communications director for the McCain campaign, Peter Feldman, quickly spreads the story, along with the photo of Todd, to reporters around the state, along with what reporter Greg Sargent will call “an incendiary version of the hoax story about the attack on a McCain volunteer well before the facts of the case were known or established.” Apparently Feldman is the person who first tells reporters that the “B” stands for “Barack.” [TPM Election Central, 10/24/2008; Media Bistro, 10/24/2008; London Times, 10/25/2008]
Obama Campaign Demands Explanation, Corrections - Todd soon admits that she lied about the attack, and though she claims her memory does not well serve her, says she probably scratched the “B” into her cheek herself (see October 24, 2008). When the national press learns that Todd lied about her attack, the Obama campaign becomes incensed, demanding that the McCain campaign explain why it was pushing a version of the story that was, in Sargent’s words, “far more explosive than the available or confirmed facts permitted at the time.” The Obama campaign also pressures some news outlets, including KDKA-TV and WPXI-TV, to rewrite their reports to remove the inflammatory and “racially charged” information concocted by Feldman, including claims that the alleged attacker told Todd he would “teach [her] a lesson” about supporting McCain, and that the “B” stood for “Barack.” There is no evidence of the national McCain campaign becoming involved in promulgating the falsified Todd story. [TPM Election Central, 10/24/2008]
'Okay Obama Frame-Job. ... I'd Give You a 'B' - After the story is exposed as a fraud, many post irate or sarcastic rejoinders on Twitter, using the hash tag ”#litf08” to ensure their viewing on the College Republican Twitter account, “Life in the Field,” where Todd made many of her Twitter posts. A former blogger for the Senate campaign of Christopher Dodd (D-PA), Matt Browner-Hamlin, asks: “Anyone know which Rove protege is responsible for #litf08? Because they lack the execution skills of the man himself.” Browner-Hamlin is referring to former Bush administration campaign manager Karl Rove. Another commenter writes: “Hmm, it was an okay Obama frame-job, just a few inconsistencies snagged you. Overall I’d give you a ‘B.’” And another commenter asks, “Do 50 College Republicans [the description of the ‘Life in the Field’ volunteers] try this kind of stunt often?” College Republicans executive director Ethan Eilon claims his organization “had no idea” Todd “was making this story up.” [Wired News, 10/24/2008]
Pittsburgh Councilman Demands Apology from McCain Campaign - The Reverend Ricky Burgess, a Pittsburgh City Council member, will demand an apology from the McCain campaign for deliberately spreading a story it had not confirmed, and for embellishing it to make it even more racially inflammatory. “That one of your campaign spokespersons would spread such an incendiary story before any confirmation of the facts is both irresponsible and runs counter to our nation’s constitutional guarantee that no one be denied life, liberty, or property without due process,” Burgess writes. He demands an apology for “inflaming the divisions of this country,” and later says: “I don’t know why they chose to push this story. But it just seems suspicious to me that they would target this story, which has a fictional African-American person harming a non-African-American person in this city.” A McCain campaign spokesman initially derides Burgess and his source, the progressive news blog TPM Election Central, writing: “The liberal blog post that the councilman cites has no basis in fact. The McCain campaign had no role in this incident. We hope the young woman involved in the incident gets the help that she needs. It’s disappointing that Pittsburgh law enforcement time and resources were wasted by her false allegations.” [WTAE-TV, 10/27/2008; Burgess, 10/27/2008 pdf file; Burgess, 10/27/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, College Politico, Ed Morrissey, College Republican National Committee, Daily Kos, Dan Garcia, Drudge Report, Ethan Eilon, Ashley Todd, Ricky Burgess, Glenn Reynolds, Sarah Palin, John McCain, Greg Sargent, Michelle Malkin, Political Byline, Peter Feldman, Matt Browner-Hamlin

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: 2008 Elections, Conservative Opposition to Obama, Marketing and Public Relations, Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits

A handcuffed Ashley Todd is escorted from a Pittsburgh police station by detectives.A handcuffed Ashley Todd is escorted from a Pittsburgh police station by detectives. [Source: Keith Srakocic / Associated Press]Ashley Todd, the Pittsburgh woman who told police she was beaten by an African-American Obama supporter who carved a “B” (for “Barack”) into her face (see October 22, 2008), admits she lied about the incident. She was never attacked, she admits, and cut the “B” into her right cheek herself, though she says her memory is faulty on the subject.
Serious Inconsistencies Lead to Polygraph, Questioning - Though Pittsburgh police began by treating Todd as the victim of a crime, they noted serious inconsistencies in her story from the outset. Originally she told a story of being mugged by a black man who, after threatening her with a knife, then struck her in the back of the head with an unknown object and knocked her to the ground, where he punched, kicked, and threatened to “teach [her] a lesson” for being a McCain supporter before kneeling and scratching the “B” into her face. Police administered a polygraph test to Todd, though they have refused to release the results of that test; police spokeswoman Diane Richard says Todd’s story began to change after the polygraph was administered. Photographs from the Citizens Bank ATM that she claimed was the site of the attack do not verify her claim. Lieutenant Kevin Kraus, who heads the major crime squad for the Pittsburgh Police Department, says, “She told lie after lie, and the situation compounded to where we are right now.” He says Todd is being kept in custody for her own protection, and says the police are considering whether she may need a psychiatric evaluation. “We don’t feel she should be able to walk out onto the street,” says Pittsburgh Assistant Police Chief Maurita Bryant. “We wouldn’t want any further harm to come to her.” Kraus says: “She hasn’t really shown any obvious remorse. She’s certainly surprised that it snowballed to where it is today.” Kraus says she is angry with the media for blowing the story out of proportion (see October 23-24, 2008). Bryant says: “The backwards ‘B’ was the obvious thing to us when we first saw her. Something just didn’t seem right. And, first of all, with our local robbers, they take the money [and flee]. They’re in and out. They’re not stopping to do artwork.… We suspect she may have inflicted the injuries herself. We don’t think anyone else is involved.” Bryant says that Todd’s story changed more than once while she was with police. During points in the questioning, she said, among other things: she was attacked before, not during, her visit to the ATM; she was hit from behind and rendered unconscious; she didn’t know she had been cut or robbed until she went to the apartment of a friend, Dan Garcia; the attacker sexually fondled her. “After a while, she just simply stated that she wanted to tell the truth,” Bryant says. Under questioning, Todd abandoned her story of being brutalized by a black Obama supporter, and then told police she was driving alone, looked in the rearview mirror, saw her black eye and the “B” on her face, and didn’t know how they got there. She assumed she could have done it herself, she said, and then she made up the story about the attacker as she was driving to Garcia’s house. “She saw the ‘B’ on her face, and she immediately thought about Barack,” Bryant says. Kraus says the letter’s appearance made him instantly suspicious, both because of it’s being backwards—as if it were done by Todd while looking in a mirror—and because of its unusual neatness. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/24/2008; Fox News, 10/24/2008; Hollywood Grind, 10/24/2008; WTAE-TV, 10/27/2008] Richard says: “Miss Todd stated she made up the story, which snowballed and got out of control. Miss Todd stated she was not robbed and there was no 6-foot-4 black male attacker.” [WTAE-TV, 10/27/2008] Garcia says while he initially supported Todd, he is now furious with her and wants no more contact with her. “I don’t know why she would do this,” he says. “I would think that she needs help. I had red flags going up, but I didn’t think it was prudent of me to ask the truth. I wanted to make sure she was OK.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/24/2008]
Area of Alleged Attack Heavily Traveled - The area at Liberty Avenue and Pearl Street where Todd had said the attack took place is heavily traveled in the daytime, full of traffic, pedestrians, restaurants, and stores. Doug Graham, a local resident, says it is unlikely any such assault at the Citizens Bank would go unnoticed, as Todd originally claimed. “There ain’t no way nobody saw that,” he says. “It’s always hopping up there. Something fishy, I knew the first second I saw [her story]. Something fishy.” [Fox News, 10/24/2008]
Huge Waste of Money, Man-Hours - Bryant says Todd’s false report created “a huge waste of time, with many man-hours and people coming in on overtime just to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.” Kraus adds: “It created intensive national and international attention. We’ve had detectives working around the clock since she made the bogus allegation. The cost to the city of Pittsburgh has been many, many dollars and resources.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/24/2008]
Todd a McCain Campaign Employee - Ethan Eilon, executive director of the College Republican National Committee, acknowledges that Todd is working as a field representative on behalf of the McCain-Palin presidential campaign, and has taken a year off from her studies at Blinn College to work on the campaign. [Fox News, 10/24/2008] Ashley Barbera, the communications director for the College Republicans, says: “We are as upset as anyone to learn of her deceit. Ashley must take full responsibility for her actions.” McCain-Palin campaign spokesman Peter Feldman says in a statement: “This is a sad situation. We hope she gets the help she needs.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/24/2008; Fox News, 10/24/2008] However, it later emerges that Todd is not just a volunteer, but a paid campaign worker earning a stipend of $3,600 from the College Republican National Committee (CRNC). The CRNC will announce Todd’s employment in a statement announcing her termination from the organization, but will later remove the statement from its Web site. The liberal news and opinion Web site Buzzflash will preserve a portion of the CRNC’s statement. [Buzzflash, 10/24/2008]
Previous Incidents - In March 2008, Todd was asked to leave a group of Ron Paul (R-TX) supporters in Texas after using dishonest campaign tactics (see March 2008).
'MySpace' Description - Todd has a MySpace profile under the screen moniker “Italian Pajamas.” She lists her occupation as “Being a bad_ss.” Next to her picture, she references the title of a song by the group Panic at the Disco, “Lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her cloths [sic] off,” but adds to it “but its [sic] better if you do.” She lists as one of her favorite books The Scarlet Letter. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/24/2008]
Faces Charges of Filing False Police Report - Police say that Todd faces criminal charges for making a false police report, and is being held in the Allegheny County Jail in lieu of a $50,000 bond. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/24/2008; Fox News, 10/24/2008] The next day, Todd is charged (see October 25-30, 2008).

Entity Tags: Doug Graham, Diane Richard, Maurita Bryant, Kevin Kraus, Ethan Eilon, Dan Garcia, John McCain, College Republican National Committee, Ashley Todd, Ashley Barbera, Peter Feldman

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: 2008 Elections, Conservative Opposition to Obama, Marketing and Public Relations, Race-Based Rhetoric

Ashley Todd, a volunteer for the John McCain (R-AZ) presidential campaign, is charged with filing a false report to police after falsely claiming that a black Obama supporter mugged her and carved the letter “B” (for “Barack”) into her face (see October 22, 2008 and October 24, 2008). The Times of London observes: “The incident illustrates the depth of hatred of some McCain supporters towards the Democratic nominee, who would become America’s first black president if he wins the November 4 election. Race has been a sensitive issue in the contest and a number of prominent Republicans, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, have criticised the increasingly divisive tone of the McCain-Palin campaign. Some supporters have been freely expressing their distaste for a black president to reporters attending McCain rallies, while cries of ‘terrorist!’ and ‘kill him’ have been heard from the crowd at televised events.” Fox News executive vice president John Moody says that, if the incident is proven false, it could do irreparable damage to the McCain campaign. “This incident could become a watershed event in the 11 days before the election,” he writes. “If the incident turns out to be a hoax, Senator McCain’s quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting.” [London Times, 10/25/2008] Tood soon agrees to enter a program for first-time offenders in return for being allowed to leave jail. She also is required to accept mental health treatment. If she accepts treatment, completes the program, and stays out of further trouble with the police, her record will be expunged. Todd still says she cannot explain why she invented the story. [Associated Press, 10/30/2008; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 10/30/2008]

Entity Tags: John Moody, Ashley Todd

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: 2008 Elections, Conservative Opposition to Obama, Marketing and Public Relations, Race-Based Rhetoric, Fox News

The conservative “astroturf” advocacy organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, October 2008, and August 6, 2009) launches a multi-pronged attack on every major policy initiative attempted by the Obama administration. Within weeks of Obama’s inauguration, AFP holds “Porkulus” rallies protesting Obama’s stimulus spending measures. The Koch-funded Mercatus Center (see August 30, 2010), working in concert with AFP, releases a report that falsely claims stimulus funds are being disproportionately directed towards Democratic districts; the author is later forced to correct the report, but not before conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, citing the report, calls the stimulus program “a slush fund,” and Fox News and other conservative outlets repeat the characterization. AFP vice president Phil Kerpen is a Fox News contributor; AFP officer Walter Williams is a frequent guest host for Limbaugh. AFP soon creates an offshoot organization, Patients United Now (PUN—see May 29, 2009), designed to oppose the Obama administration’s health care reform initiatives; PUN holds some 300 rallies against reform efforts (see August 5, 2009), some of which depict Democratic lawmakers hung in effigy (see July 27, 2009) and others depict corpses from Nazi concentration camps. AFP also holds over 80 rallies opposing cap-and-trade legislation, which would force industries to pay for creating air pollution. AFP also targets individual Obama administration members, such as “green jobs” czar Van Jones, and opposes the administration’s attempt to hold international climate talks. AFP leader Tim Phillips (see August 6, 2009) tells one anti-environmental rally: “We’re a grassroots organization.… I think it’s unfortunate when wealthy children of wealthy families… want to send unemployment rates in the United States up to 20 percent.” [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]

Entity Tags: Patients United Now, Americans for Prosperity, Fox News, Obama administration, Phil Kerpen, Van Jones, Mercatus Center, Walter Williams, Rush Limbaugh, Tim Phillips

Timeline Tags: 2010 Elections

Category Tags: 'Tea Party' Movement, Conservative Opposition to Obama, Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups, Fox News

Mark Ames.Mark Ames. [Source: Guardian]CNBC’s Rick Santelli has become something of a superstar among conservative media pundits and others exasperated by the Obama economic bailouts, after engaging in a purportedly impromptu “rant” during an on-air broadcast (see February 19, 2009). Investigative reporters Mark Ames and Yasha Levine discover that Santelli’s rant may have been a pre-planned incident timed to coincide with the launch of a so-called “tea party movement” predicated on opposing the Obama administration and supporting conservative and Republican ideas and agendas. In the hours and days following Santelli’s appearance on CNBC, the authors write, “[a] nationwide ‘tea party’ grassroots Internet protest movement has sprung up seemingly spontaneously, all inspired by Santelli, with rallies planned today in cities from coast to coast to protest against Obama’s economic policies.”
Connections to the Koch Family - Ames and Levine write that Santelli’s CNBC “rant” was “a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a ‘Chicago Tea Party’ was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest right-wing oligarch clans this country has ever produced.” Ames and Levine are referring to the Koch family, headed by Fred Koch (see 1940 and After), the billionaire co-founder of the extremist John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) and whose sons are heavy donors to right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups such as the Cato Institute (see 1977-Present) and FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After).
ChicagoTeaParty.com - On the air, Santelli said, “We’re thinking of having a Chicago tea party in July, all you capitalists who want to come down to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.” Within minutes, Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report had posted headlines about the “tea party” rant on his Web site. Within hours, a new Web site, chicagoteaparty.com, had appeared, featuring a YouTube video of Santelli’s rant and calling itself the official home of the Chicago Tea Party. The domain name had been registered months before by right-wing media figure Zack Christenson (see August 2008), but had remained dormant until after Santelli spoke on CNBC. Ames and Levine note that Christenson bought the domain around the same time that Milt Rosenburg, the Chicago talk show host whom Christenson produces, began attempting to link then-presidential candidate Barack Obama with “left-wing terrorist” William Ayers (see August 2008). Ames and Levine write: “That Rosenberg’s producer owns the ‘chicagoteaparty.com’ site is already weird—but what’s even stranger is that he first bought the domain last August, right around the time of Rosenburg’s launch of the ‘Obama is a terrorist’ campaign. It’s as if they held this ‘Chicago tea party’ campaign in reserve, like a sleeper-site. Which is exactly what it was.”
The Sam Adams Alliance - The ChicagoTeaParty.com Web site, Ames and Levine report, is part of a larger network of conservative Web sites set up over the last few months under the auspices of the “Sam Adams Alliance” (SAA), an organization linked to the Koch family and to FreedomWorks, a public relations group funded by Koch and headed by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey (see April 14, 2009). The SAA is a Chicago-area libertarian/conservative group named for Samuel Adams, who led the Boston Tea Party protest in 1773. [Playboy, 2/27/2009] In 2008, the New York Times described the SAA as having “started an ambitious project this year to encourage right-leaning activists and bloggers to get online and focus on local and state issues.” [New York Times, 7/19/2008]
OfficialChicagoTeaParty.com - Another Web site, officialchicagoteaparty.com, went live on February 19 as well. That site is registered to Eric Odom, a Republican specializing in faux-grassroots PR campaigns sometimes called “astroturf” (see April 15, 2009). Odom has worked with Koch Industries, a large oil and natural gas corporation and the source of the Koch family fortune, in supporting offshore oil-drilling legislation. Odom was, until January 2009, the “new media coordinator” for the Sam Adams Alliance. Upon his departure, the SAA removed Odom’s name from its Web site. The SAA also removed any mention of Koch’s funding, or any other connections between Koch and the organization, from its site. Two of the SAA’s board members, Eric O’Keefe and Joseph Lehman, are tied both to Koch and to FreedomWorks.
FreedomWorks - In the hours after Santelli’s rant, FreedomWorks posted a large photo of Santelli on its Web site’s front page with the caption: “Are you with Rick? We are. Click here to learn more.”
Other Sites - In the hours after Santelli’s rant, other Web sites such as Right.org, promoting a tea party support group that purports to be a citizen-launched organization “created by a few friends who were outraged by the bailouts” and headed by “Evan and Duncan,” and numerous pro-tea party Facebook pages, were launched. Right.org is sponsoring a $27,000 prize for an “anti-bailout video competition.” Ames and Levine ask: “Who are Evan and Duncan? Do they even really exist?”
No Connections on the Surface - Ames and Levine note that the numerous Web sites and Facebook pages have remarkable similarities in language and appearance, “as if they were part of a multi-pronged advertising campaign planned out by a professional PR company. Yet, on the surface, they pretended to have no connection. The various sites set up their own Twitter feeds and Facebook pages dedicated to the Chicago Tea Party movement. And all of them linked to one another, using it as evidence that a decentralized, viral movement was already afoot. It wasn’t about partisanship; it was about real emotions coming straight from real people.”
Santelli and the Tea Party Organizers - Ames and Levine ask why Santelli, and CNBC, would “risk their credibility, such as it is, as journalists dispensing financial information in order to act as PR fronts for a partisan campaign.” Santelli’s contract with CNBC is about to expire, they note. Until the “tea party” rant, Santelli was an obscure financial commentator with few prospects. Now, though, he is a “hero” of the right. As another Chicago tea party organization, the Daily Bail, wrote on its site: “Rick, this message is to you. You are a true American hero and there are no words to describe what you did today except your own. Headquartered nearby, we will be helping the organization in whatever way possible.” Ames and Levine speculate that Santelli may have been brought into the fold by one of his CNBC colleagues, Lawrence Kudlow, who himself has strong connections to FreedomWorks. [Playboy, 2/27/2009] Steve Megremis of the Daily Bail will call Ames and Levine’s allegations about his Web site’s involvement “categorically untrue,” writing: “It’s unfortunate because I believe that the article did some great investigative work and then at the end they threw me under the bus for no apparent reason. Apparently, the authors just assumed we were part of this conspiracy because of my own personal excitement about the prospect of a mid-summer tea party.” Megremis will post a response on his site, but the response will soon disappear. [Barry Ritholtz, 2/28/2009]
Playboy Removes Article - By March 2, Playboy will remove the Ames and Levine article from its Web site. No explanation is offered. The article will instead become available on a Web site called “The Exiled,” which bills itself as an “alternative” press outlet. [Jeffrey Feldman, 3/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Rick Santelli, William Ayers, Playboy, Sam Adams Alliance, Yasha Levine, The Exiled, Steve Megremis, Zack Christenson, Obama administration, Milt Rosenburg, Right.org, Mark Ames, Dick Armey, CNBC, Cato Institute, Eric O’Keefe, Chicago Tea Party, Eric Odom, FreedomWorks, Lawrence Kudlow, Joseph Lehman, Matt Drudge, John Birch Society, Fred Koch

Category Tags: 'Tea Party' Movement, Conservative Opposition to Obama, Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups, Conservative Media Pundits

Two of the signs being carried by ‘tea party’ protesters at the Santa Monica event.Two of the signs being carried by ‘tea party’ protesters at the Santa Monica event. [Source: GayPatriot (.net)]Yasha Levine, co-author of a Playboy article alleging that the Rick Santelli “tea party” “rant” on CNBC was part of a pre-planned rollout of corporate-funded tea party organizations (see February 27, 2009), attends a tea party event at the Santa Monica pier. The event, planned as a “spontaneous” citizen protest of the Obama administration’s economic policies, was planned and supervised by Tony Katz, who organized it through a Facebook page. The event is planned to last 45 minutes, and consists of a quick “meet and greet,” three keynote speakers (an actor, a writer, and a comedian), and as a finale, a quick teabagging ceremony. Levine says the event’s timing is not conducive to attracting large numbers of protesters, being as it takes place at the beginning of a workday. However, she notes, it is quite conducive for media coverage: journalists would “get the material and be back in the office before noon, enough time to write and edit their segments to appear that same day.” Levine arrives late, but in time to witness Katz finishing his closing speech and event organizers passing out tea bags. She estimates the crowd size at about 50, “not what you would expect from a grassroots movement that supposedly tsunamied so fast that a whole network materialized in just a few days” (see February 19-21, 2009). Some protesters hold anti-Obama signs, others wave signs with anti-tax slogans. At least a third of the crowd, Levine writes, is made up of reporters and other “media types.” At 9:35, Katz exhorts the crowd to throw their tea bags into a pot of water (as throwing them in the ocean constitutes littering) and scream out their anti-tax demands. Levine observes: “It was a total sham, a front in order to get TV facetime. It worked, too. Fox News sent a camera crew. So did NBC. Koch [the Koch family, whom Levine has accused of clandestinely funding many tea party organizations] was teabagging the media, and the media loved it.” [Yasha Levine, 2/27/2009]

Entity Tags: Tony Katz, CNBC, Fox News, Fred Koch, Yasha Levine, Rick Santelli, NBC News

Category Tags: 'Tea Party' Movement, Marketing and Public Relations, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Media Opposition, Fox News

The Weekly Standard, in a column by Jonathan Last, promotes and celebrates the nascent “tea party” movement that started as a reaction to an on-air “rant” by CNBC commentator Rick Santelli (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009) against the government bailouts of large corporations. (The article is dated March 9, but is posted on the Standard’s Web site on March 2.) Last notes that previous organizations opposing the bailouts had been proven to be “astroturf” groups pretending to be grassroots, citizen-driven organizations, but in fact owned and operated by such conservative public relations firms as FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). Now, however, Last says the “tea party” organizations springing up around the country are actual grassroots organizations with no affiliations to conservative PR firms or political organizations. Last notes that conservative radio producer Zack Christenson had indeed bought chicagoteaparty.com in August 2008 (see August 2008), as noted by progressive reporters who have alleged that the “tea party” movement—and Santelli’s “spontaneous” rant (see March 2, 2009)—were part of a pre-planned launch effort (see February 27, 2009), but claims that Christenson merely bought the domain “thinking it might be a good name for a group,” and “retooled the site” hours after seeing Santelli’s rant. Last claims that dozens of other sites, including reteaparty.com (see March 2, 2009), were bought and posted “spontaneously” within hours of Santelli’s broadcast, as were dozens of Facebook “tea party” and Santelli fan sites. Last claims that reteaparty.com owner Anthony Astolfi, with the help of “his roommate and a cousin,” bought the domain, designed and posted the site, and promoted it on dozens of “high-ranking results pages” within 12 hours of Santelli’s rant, and awoke the next day to find they had had 40,000 visitors to their site and become “a minor sensation.” Last concludes by writing: “[I]t’s easy to see the groups that might make up a real grassroots movement: the Ron Paul libertarians, renters, housing bubble obsessives, disillusioned Democrats, stat-head financial types, and, of course, rich, heartless Republicans. And then there is Santelli, who, if so inclined, might put himself forward the way Howard Jarvis did with his property tax revolt in California in 1978. The question is whether or not these people can find each other and figure out a way to push back.” [Weekly Standard, 3/9/2009] Investigative reporters Mark Ames and Yasha Levine note that Astolfi’s Web site is indeed funded by a conservative political action committee (PAC), a fact that Last either does not know or chooses not to report. [Mark Ames and Yasha Levine, 3/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Mark Ames, CNBC, Anthony Astolfi, FreedomWorks, Jonathan Last, Rick Santelli, Zack Christenson, Howard Jarvis, Ron Paul, Weekly Standard, Yasha Levine

Category Tags: 'Tea Party' Movement, Marketing and Public Relations, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Media Opposition, Political Front Groups

CNBC financial commentator Rick Santelli, who caused a media sensation with his anti-bailout “rant” in mid-February (see February 19, 2009), and whose commentary has been alleged to have been part of a larger “tea party” rollout by several well-funded conservative organizations (see February 27, 2009), pens a disclaimer for the CNBC Web site. He writes that he has “NO affiliation or association with any of the Web sites or related tea party movements that have popped up as a result of my comments on February 19th, or to the best of my knowledge any of the people who organized the Web sites or movements.” He describes his on-air style as “aggressive and impassioned,” and says his February 19 rant was neither staged nor deliberate. “It was unique in that it obviously struck a chord with the public, thus inciting what can only be described as a groundswell of feedback from the public, the White House (see February 20, 2009), the Internet, and the media at large (see February 19-21, 2009). The president’s plan addressing issues in the housing market was the topic; but only the tip of the iceberg in fact. The real nerve struck seems to be the pent up emotions felt by millions of Americans regarding spending TRILLIONS of dollars to fix the housing market, the banks, and the economy. SPECIFICALLY WHO WILL PAY… WHO WILL BENEFIT.… and above all the government’s role in all of this.” He says he never supported government bailouts of any kind, neither by the Bush administration nor the Obama administration. His “rant,” he writes, “was spontaneous… not scripted… and any person, organization, or media outlet that claims otherwise IS INACCURATE.… Though it has been reported that I am a registered Republican, I have no political agenda and any person, organization, or media outlet that claims otherwise IS INACCURATE. I hope that the president and the final stimulus plan succeed.” [CNBC, 3/2/2009] The same day that CNBC posts Santelli’s column, it also issues a denial to the press that Santelli has any connection to the “tea party” organizations (see March 2, 2009).

Entity Tags: CNBC, Rick Santelli

Category Tags: 'Tea Party' Movement, Marketing and Public Relations, Media Complicity, Media Opposition

Megan McArdle.Megan McArdle. [Source: New Economist (.com)]The Atlantic’s business blogger, Megan McArdle, lambasts Playboy for publishing an article that claims the Rick Santelli “tea party” “rant” (see February 19, 2009) may have been a pre-planned incident designed to coincide with the launch of a number of “tea party” Web sites and “grassroots” organizations (see February 27, 2009). McArdle says that the suspicious timing of the chicagoteaparty.com Web site launch, hours after Santelli’s “impromptu” rant on CNBC, was nothing more than an example of someone “leap[ing] in when opportunity arose.” McArdle denies that oil giant Koch Industries, or the Koch family, funds the conservative lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), and says, “[A]stroturfing [the practice of forming fake ‘grassroots’ organizations clandestinely organized and funded by lobbying groups or corporate entities] doesn’t really seem like their style.” McArdle may not be aware of a recent Wall Street Journal expose of a FreedomWorks “astroturf” endeavor (see May 16, 2008). She does acknowledge that since FreedomWorks does not publicize its donor list, she cannot be sure Koch is not funding the group. She admits that many “tea party” organizations are funded and operated by large conservative PR and lobbying firms, and writes: “So what? Groups—often funded by God knows who—coordinate protests.” McArdle calls the article’s allegation that Santelli participated in a pre-planned, scripted event “potentially libelous,” and writes, “If I were Santelli, I’d sue.” At the very end of her column, McArdle admits that she lives with a former FreedomWorks official, Peter Suderman. She denies that Suderman influenced her writing in any way except to give her an e-mail address of “the right employee to… make inquiries” of at the firm. “I haven’t asked him about his former employer, and he hasn’t told me anything. I debated whether to write about this, but since I’m not actually defending FreedomWorks, I think it’s kosher.” [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2/2009] Shortly after posting her column online, McArdle posts a follow-up, with details of her conversation with FreedomWorks official Brendan Steinhauser. She identifies Steinhauser as “the chap at FreedomWorks who has helped organize the tea parties.” She calls the firm “completely open about their interest in furthering the tea parties” (see May 16, 2008 and March 13, 2009 and After). She says Steinhauser got the idea for the “tea parties” from Michelle Malkin’s blog, which is at odds with Santelli’s claim of “spontaneously” using the term (see March 2, 2009). [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Megan McArdle, CNBC, Brendan Steinhauser, Fred Koch, Koch Industries, Peter Suderman, The Atlantic, Michelle Malkin, FreedomWorks, Playboy, Rick Santelli

Category Tags: 'Tea Party' Movement, Marketing and Public Relations, Media Complicity

CNBC denies that its financial commentator, Rick Santelli, has any connection to the “tea party” organizations that apparently spontaneously erupted within hours of his February 19 “rant” against the government bailouts of banks and automobile manufacturers (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009). Santelli has also denied any affiliation with any “tea party” organizations (see March 2, 2009). The Associated Press notes that the Web site of one such organization, reteaparty.com, removed Santelli’s name from its front page after CNBC made it aware of its “dissatisfaction.” The site referred to “Rick Santelli’s Re-Tea Party” four times on its home page, urging people to organize for protests, featured an “About Rick” link with his CNBC profile, and said Santelli “voiced the sentiment of millions of Americans on the stock market floor.” The site is operated by an organization called the Political Exploration and Awareness Committee, and, in small type at the bottom of the home page, states that the “opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Rick Santelli.” The Re-Tea Party Web site is operated by California Web developer Anthony Astolfi, who worked for the 2008 presidential campaign of Representative Ron Paul (R-TX). Astolfi tells reporters that he put together the site overnight after seeing Santelli’s rant. According to the Associated Press: “He and others online are using Santelli’s statement to promote a Boston Tea Party-style protest against the government plan. Using Santelli’s name was the most effective way of drawing attention to his site, Astolfi said. He denied it was an attempt to mislead people into believing Santelli supported what they were doing.” [Associated Press, 3/2/2009] CNBC has cancelled Santelli’s upcoming appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, with a spokesman saying, “It was time to move on to the next big story.” [New York Times, 3/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Political Exploration and Awareness Committee, Anthony Astolfi, CNBC, Rick Santelli, Re-Tea Party

Category Tags: 'Tea Party' Movement, Marketing and Public Relations, Media Complicity

Mark Ames and Yasha Levine, the reporters-turned-bloggers who recently caused a firestorm of controversy with their article on Playboy.com accusing CNBC commentator Rick Santelli of colluding with FreedomWorks and the Koch family in launching the anti-Obama “tea party” movement (see February 19, 2009 and February 27, 2009), discuss Playboy’s recent unexplained deletion of their article from its Web site. AlterNet editor Jan Frel writes that Playboy’s action was likely taken due to fear of libel suits. In an e-mail to Frel, Ames and Levine write: “There has been a lot of speculation as to why Playboy removed our original article from its site. Let us put it this way: When you look at the fallout from our article—FreedomWorks admits its role in the teaparty, Santelli issues a giant lawyer-penned opus about how he loves Obama (see March 2, 2009), and CNBC (whose parent company is the megaconglomerate General Electric) frightens a bunch of Astroturfing Web sites into dropping Santelli’s name and into revealing their own PAC sponsors (see March 2, 2009)—then it’s clear we hit the bull’s-eye and stirred up the wrath of a very scary monster. Given all of this, it would not be unreasonable for one to consider the possibility (as many have) that the multigazilliondollar megabeast GE threatened the much smaller independent media company Playboy with a terrifying and expensive lawsuit, which, given the current financial crisis, is not something anyone but another GE-sized megabeast could cope with. ‘Nuf said on that.” Frel notes that some of the critics of Ames and Levine have their own ties to the subjects of the controversy. Playboy has a film deal with NBC Universal, the parent company of CNBC. The New York Times, which has been critical of the story, has disclosed its content-sharing agreement with CNBC. And Atlantic Monthly blogger Megan McArdle, who has attacked the credibility of the story, has disclosed that she lives with a man who used to work for FreedomWorks and who has engaged in similar “astroturfing” incidents as the ones Ames and Levine reported on in their article (see March 2, 2009). [AlterNet, 3/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Jan Frel, Fred Koch, Atlantic Monthly, General Electric, Rick Santelli, Yasha Levine, New York Times, Mark Ames, FreedomWorks, NBC Universal, Megan McArdle, Playboy

Category Tags: 'Tea Party' Movement, Marketing and Public Relations, Media Complicity, Media Opposition

Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House Minority Whip, while appearing on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal,” agrees with a caller that the Obama administration is moving the US towards one-party fascist rule. The caller says: “But what really is scaring the rest of us, the other half of us, is the fascism. I mean the true fascism that is happening in this country today.… The belligerent takeover of a one-party system.” Without repeating the terminology, Cantor agrees: “Now as far as a one-party government in here, I think what the public is doing, they’re finally waking up and everybody is realizing that checks and balances are a part of the system and divided government is something that is beneficial to a balanced debate, and something that can produce a better outcome. Which is exactly why Republicans in the House have said, ‘Look, we want to work with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle. We want to try to bring this president back into the mainstream.’” [Think Progress, 3/25/2009]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Eric Cantor

Timeline Tags: 2010 Elections

Category Tags: Conservative Opposition to Obama, Marketing and Public Relations

Americorps/VISTA logo.Americorps/VISTA logo. [Source: Americorps]Congress sends the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act to President Obama, who will sign the act into law sometime in April. The bill passed both houses of Congress with large majorities. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who co-sponsored the Senate legislation, says the bill is “probably the most bipartisan bill we will see on the Senate floor this year.” House Republicans wrote in the House committee report: “[W]e applaud the inclusion of reforms that Committee Republicans have long championed to ensure that recipients of taxpayer funds are held accountable for results. We are pleased to join with the Majority in supporting bipartisan efforts to strengthen the national service laws and improve service delivery throughout the country.” The bill provides for the expansion of the AmeriCorps program from 75,000 to 250,000, creating new groups of volunteers focusing on health care, education, renewable energy, and veterans, and reauthorizing such AmeriCorps organizations as VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) and the National Civilian Community Corps. The Kennedy Act also calls for awarding college students who complete a full-time national service job an “educational award having a value equal to the maximum amount of a Federal Pell Grant.” AmeriCorps says this would increase the amount its members receive upon completion of service from $4,725 to $5,350, which they can use to pay for school or pay back student loans. First Lady Michelle Obama says the bill is of particular concern to her, as volunteerism is one of her priorities. The legislation was originally known as the “Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education (GIVE) Act,” but senators renamed it in honor of ailing Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who helped craft the bill. Kennedy says of its final passage in the House of Representatives: “Today’s House vote again demonstrates the high priority Congress gives to encouraging citizens of all ages in all communities across America to participate in public service. This legislation will enable many more Americans to do something for their country to meet the many challenges facing us. I look forward to the president signing this bill into law so that a welcome new era of national and community service can begin.” The bill also establishes September 11 as a national day of service. [New York Times, 3/31/2009; Annenberg Political Fact Check, 3/31/2009]
'Re-Education Camps' - Some Republican lawmakers, along with a variety of conservative pundits and radio show hosts, have claimed that the bill is far more sinister than it seems. House Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) says the bill will allow the Obama administration to create what she calls “re-education camps for young people…” Bachmann tells a Minnesota radio audience: “It’s under the guise of—quote—volunteerism. But it’s not volunteers at all. It’s paying people to do work on behalf of government.… I believe that there is a very strong chance that we will see that young people will be put into mandatory service. And the real concerns is that there are provisions for what I would call re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward and then they have to go to work in some of these politically correct forums. [Minnesota Independent, 4/6/2009] The Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org receives numerous letters asking questions such as: “Is Congress creating a mandatory public service system? Are participants not allowed to go to church?” One writer tells FactCheck: “I have been getting all kinds of e-mails from people claiming that bill calls for mandatory service and in violation of our 13th amendment, and that I should call my congressman and tell them that this bill is modern day slavery. I have also received e-mails saying that service would still be voluntary and that the bill is just expanding current volunteer opportunities.… There is a lot of confusion out there right now regarding this very important legislation and was hoping you guys could shed some light.”
Debunking Claims - FactCheck reports, “The national service bill does not mandate that youth must participate nor does it forbid anyone who does participate from going to church.” It notes that many conservative pundits and bloggers have claimed that the bill “requires the government to draw up plans for a ‘mandatory service requirement for all able young people.’ Others say the bill forbids participants from attending church. These claims are false. Neither the House-passed bill nor the Senate-passed version says these things.”
'Mandatory Service Requirement?' - Bachmann and others have also claimed that the bill provides for a “mandatory service requirement for all able young people,” but that provision is not in any version of the bill. The original House bill did advance that as an idea worthy of study, and called for a “Congressional Commission on Civil Service” to “address and analyze” several topics, including “issues that deter volunteerism” and how they can be overcome, how expanding international public service might affect diplomacy and foreign relations, and “[w]hether a workable, fair, and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people could be developed, and how such a requirement could be implemented in a manner that would strengthen the social fabric of the Nation.” The proposed commission would also investigate “[t]he need for a public service academy, a 4-year institution that offers a federally funded undergraduate education with a focus on training future public sector leaders.” However, that entire section was removed from the final bill. Hatch has confirmed that the bill contains no such provisions, saying on the floor of the Senate: “Consistent with our All-Volunteer Army and volunteer opportunities and individuals’ choice in communities, nothing in this legislation is mandatory. This bill simply provides more Americans more choices and opportunities to give back to their neighborhoods and their country all through the means which they freely choose.” The bill does provide for the inclusion of service-learning programs in public schools.
Church Attendance Prohibited? - Perhaps the most inflammatory claim is the one promulgated on conservative blogs and talk radio shows claiming that the bill would prohibit volunteers from attending church. FactCheck notes that such a provision “would be an incredibly draconian law—and a clear violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of religion, upon which this country was founded…” The claim seems to originate from the Jonas Clark Ministries, which has made Web postings and sent out mass e-mails claiming that the language of section 125 of the bill “prohibited activities and ineligible organizations,” and as such volunteers would be prohibited from attending church. The bill makes no such prohibition. It does, however, says that national service volunteers cannot attempt to “influence legislation,” organize “protests, petitions, boycotts or strikes,” promote “union organizing,” engage in “partisan political activities, or other activities designed to influence the outcome of an election to any public office,” and engage in “religious instruction, conducting worship services, providing instruction as part of a program that includes mandatory religious instruction or worship, constructing or operating facilities devoted to religious instruction or worship, maintaining facilities primarily or inherently devoted to religious instruction or worship, or engaging in any form of religious proselytization.” The language is virtually identical to what AmeriCorps and Senior Corps has told their volunteers for years. FactCheck writes: “In other words, public service activities can’t include anything overtly religious or political. And this is nothing new.” AmeriCorps spokesman Sandy Scott later tells FactCheck: “Both House- and Senate-passed bills codify long-standing regulatory restrictions on engaging in certain activities while ‘on-duty’ as an AmeriCorps member. They do not cover what individuals do on their own time at their own initiative.” [Annenberg Political Fact Check, 3/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Annenberg Public Policy Center, AmeriCorps, Volunteers in Service to America, Barack Obama, Senior Corps, Orrin Hatch, Michelle Obama, Michele Bachmann, National Civilian Community Corps, Sandy Scott, Obama administration, Jonas Clark Ministries

Timeline Tags: 2010 Elections

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Labor/Union Rhetoric & Actions

The right-wing advocacy group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), funded largely by Koch Industries (see August 30, 2010), has worked closely with the “tea party” movement since its inception (see February 27, 2009 and April 15, 2009). In the weeks before the first Tax Day protests (see April 8, 2009, April 15, 2009, and April 15, 2009), AFP hosts a Web site offering its visitors “Tea Party Talking Points.” The Arizona branch of AFP urges people to send tea bags to President Obama. The Missouri AFP urges its members to sign up for “Taxpayer Tea Party Registration” and provides driving directions to nine protests. After the protests, the North Carolina AFP will launch a “Tea Party Finder” Web site, advertised as “a hub for all the Tea Parties in North Carolina.” [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]

Entity Tags: Americans for Prosperity, Koch Industries, Barack Obama

Category Tags: 'Tea Party' Movement, Conservative Opposition to Obama, Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups

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