Monday, April 17, 2006

Following Embarrassment, NASA Changes Policy To Allow Free Speech Among Its Scientists

NASA is touting a more accessible public information policy after acknowledging that a political appointee in its public information department attempted to silence one of the agency's experts on climate change.

The new policy clarifies the right of NASA experts and others to express their own opinions on policies without political vetting. It follows an embarrassment at NASA, when in January physicist and climate expert James Hansen was blocked from being interviewed by National Public Radio by Bush appointee George Deutsch. The reason: Hansen believes the Bush Administration has not acted aggressively enough to address global warming.

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Of course, you have to question why Deutsch was ever put in a position to have any control.

Deutsch, just 24, was offered a job as a writer and editor in NASA's public affairs office last year after working on President Bush's re-election campaign and inaugural committee. After being accused by NASA scientists of trying to limit discussion of "topics uncomfortable to the Bush administration, particularly global warming," it was learned that Deutsch lied on his resume about graduating from Texas A&M. He resigned immediately thereafter.

Upon Deutsch's resignation, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin ordered a review of NASA's policies for communicating science to the public.

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Will NASA's new policy work? Griffin says it will ensure that "(s)cientific and technical information concerning agency programs and projects will be accurate and unfiltered."

But watchdog OMBWatch doesn't agree. It said the new policy "remains too vague and contains too many loopholes to fully function as a vehicle for public disclosure."

Monday, April 10, 2006

Cincinnati Newspaper Failed To Note Columnist Is Military Spokeswoman

The Cincinnati Enquirer's "Grandma in Iraq" blog is literally true in that Suzanne Fournier is a grandmother.

But she is also a spokeswoman for the U.S. military. Which may explain why the blog is relentlessly upbeat about what a great job American soldiers are doing.

Enquirer Editor Tom Callinan told Editor & Publisher that he had to change the description of Fournier: "She never hid the fact that she worked for them. But we did not put a disclaimer at the top, we had overlooked that. We have now corrected it."

-- Washington Post "Media Notes," April 10

Friday, April 07, 2006

Did Scooter Tell The Truth? Will Americans Demand That Bush, Cheney Be Held Accountable?

The White House today declined to challenge assertions that President Bush authorized the leaks of intelligence information to counter administration critics on Iraq.

Court papers filed by the prosecutor in the CIA leak case against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby said Bush authorized Libby to disclose information from a classified prewar intelligence report. The court papers say Libby's boss, Vice President Cheney, advised him that the president had authorized the leak to the press to strike back at administration critic Joseph Wilson.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan volunteered that the administration declassified information from the intelligence report -- the National Intelligence Estimate -- and released it to the public on July 18, 2003. But he refused to say when the information was actually declassified. The date could be significant because Libby discussed the information with a reporter on July 8 of that year.

Logically, would President Bush go through the charade of having the leak investigated, if he knew that he had declassified the information being leaked?

Or is it more likely that Bush didn't count on Libby not taking the fall?

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Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said that "in light of today's shocking revelation, President Bush must fully disclose his participation in the selective leaking of classified information. The American people must know the truth."

There's no clearer way to say it. Americans need to know if their government is honest. Either Libby is lying through his teeth -- a definite possibility -- or Bush and Cheney are in very big trouble.

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The Washington Post reports that "legal experts say that the president had the unquestionable authority to approve the disclosure of the information, but added the leak was highly unusual and amounted to using sensitive intelligence data for political gain."

That Bush authorized the leaks "buttresses the contention that many media leaks come from official sources, not whistle-blowers."

"At a minimum it is hypocritical coming from an administration that has claimed that leaks are anathema," Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the nonpartisan Federation of American Scientists told the Boston Globe.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

DeLay To Announce Plans To Resign

Succumbing to scandal, former Majority Leader Tom Delay is scheduled to announce today that he intends to resign from Congress within weeks.

DeLay is expected to appear via a taped message on Fox News Channel some time this morning. In that message, DeLay will say he is stepping down out of loyalty to the Republican Party after it became clear to him that his mounting legal troubles would make it difficult for him to maintain his seat and help preserve a GOP majority in Congress.

"He has served our nation with integrity and honor," was the empty conservative spin offered by Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), who succeeded DeLay in his leadership post earlier this year.

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Why is "The Hammer" resigning, rather than continue his bare-knuckled political style?

Forget all the spin. Here are three probable reasons:

-- He knows that would be prosecuted by Travis County (Texas) District Attorney Ronnie Earle. DeLay is charged with one count of criminal conspiracy in an alleged scheme to launder corporate donations through the Republican National Committee for distribution to seven Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature.

-- He knows that he will struggle to be re-elected to his House seat. Recent polls show him trailing his Democratic opponent, former Rep. Nick Lampson -- a situation that would only get worse as his legal troubles take center stage.

-- He knows he represents the worst of the Republican Party, and that his continued presence in the House gives Democrats a free pass to talk about corruption within the GOP. DeLay's continued presence could have single-handedly assured Democrats would take back the House in November.

Pentagon Says Lincoln Group's Iraqi Propaganda Is Fine. You Decide. Do Iraqis Deserve More Than Pro-U.S. Propaganda Posing As News?

The Pentagon recently concluded Lincoln Group, an American public relations firm, did not violate military policy by paying Iraqi news outlets to print positive articles.

The probe was ordered by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander in Iraq, after it was disclosed in November that the military had used the Lincoln Group to plant articles written by American troops in Iraqi newspapers while hiding the source of the articles.

As the liberal writer Molly Ivins wrote last week: "(T)he Pentagon investigated its own habit of paying people to make up lies about how well the war in Iraq is going, and then paying other people to put those lies in the Iraqi media, thus fooling the Iraqis into thinking everything in their country is ticketyboo."

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that the Pentagon found nothing wrong. It has changed its story several times.

As JABBS wrote in December, U.S. military officials in Iraq were fully aware that Lincoln Group regularly paid Iraqi newspapers to publish positive stories about the war, and made it clear that none of the stories should be traced to the United States, according to documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

When the propaganda effort was first revealed, the Pentagon distanced itself from Lincoln Group, suggesting the company violated its contract by masking the origin of stories placed in the Iraqi press. But by Dec. 2, Pentagon officials told Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-VA) that all of the published materials were supposed to be identified as originating with the U.S. military but that identification was occasionally omitted by accident. By mid-December, Casey said a preliminary assessment found that the Army was "operating within our authorities and the appropriate legal procedures."

In other words, the Pentagon investigation had to conclude Lincoln Group did nothing wrong, because if it had found wrongdoing, it would then have to determine who at the Pentagon was at fault.

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Sadly, for Americans to find out what Lincoln Group produced, they have to turn to a British newspaper, The Independent. It published several examples of Lincoln Group's "happy news." Other than a few blogs, the story hasn't made any significant headway in the U.S. print media.

You can come up with theories about this. The New York Times broke the story about the results of the Pentagon investigation, and that story got lots of play nationwide. Maybe printing examples of Lincoln Group's work was deemed unnecessary.

But we just saw how quickly things can change when Americans have a voice. The White House last month was fully behind the sale of London-based Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. to Dubai Ports World. President Bush threatened his debut veto in order to support the takeover of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports.

But the Republican-controlled Congress -- hearing loudly from constituents angered at the idea of a questionable ally in the war on terror having access to U.S. ports -- said no. And very quickly, plans were changed, and the proposed transfer of ports never happened.

So, yes, the Pentagon said all is well with Iraqi propaganda. But what if Americans saw examples of Lincoln Group's propaganda, and reacted with a protest as loud as when it came out against the ports transfer? Would the Pentagon listen? Would the Bush Administration, fully aware of the tough fight its party faces this November, change U.S. policy?

I'd love to see this scenario play out to see what would happen.

And before you ask, "How does Iraqi propaganda affect me?" consider that propaganda experts believe that in the age of the Internet and satellite news channels, propaganda aimed at Iraqis can easily wind up on U.S. television screens -- and then receive a warm welcome from the "conservative media," which is unabashedly pro-Bush Administration and pro-happy news about the war.

"In this age of the Internet and instant access, it's of great concern," Nancy Snow, a propaganda expert at California State University-Fullerton, told Media General News Service for a June 10 story. "If you plant false stories, how can you control where that story goes? You can't."

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What did Lincoln Group write? The Independent offered several examples, some with quotes attributed to anonymous Iraqis -- quotes which some allege were fabricated. The U.S. military, you may remember, was caught last year similarly manufacturing quotes and attributing them to anonymous Iraqis.

You decide. Is Lincoln Group writing "happy news," or just trying to fool Iraqis? Here are two examples of Lincoln Group's "news."

IRAQI ARMY DEFEATS TERRORISM (Oct. 26, 2005)

Lincoln Group story:

Three al-Qa'ida mercenaries in Baqubah were planning to conduct a suicide vest attack. Officers of the Iraqi Police Service (IPS) spotted them as they drove towards their target. But then something happened. The would-be murderer lost his faith and leapt from the moving vehicle. One of the other suicide bombers panicked and detonated his vest while still inside the car, instantly killing himself and another accomplice."

The real story:

At least five Iraqis killed by suicide bomber on bus in Baqubah, north-east of Baghdad. Bodies of nine Iraqi border guards, who were shot dead, found previous day. Joint US-Iraqi convoy targeted by car bomb in al-Ma'mun area of Baghdad.

QUICK REACTION CAPTURES BOMBER (Nov. 12, 2005)

Lincoln Group story:

In Baghdad, a quick response to a terror attack led to the arrest of the culprit. On 10 November, terrorists detonated a car bomb in eastern Baghdad wounding three Iraqi women. Immediately the ISF responded, securing the area and treating and evacuating the injured. The soldiers quickly examined the site of the bombing, discovering evidence that led them to the arrest of the suspected bomber. Because of their quick reaction, there was no loss of innocent life and another terrorist is in prison and awaiting his trial.

The ISF has quickly developed into a viable fighting force capable of defending the people of Iraq against the cowards who launch their attacks on innocent people.

The real story:

Ten people were killed when a car bomb exploded at a market in Baghdad.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Stewart Quips At Bush's Expense About Border Security

"We talked about security. Look, we got long borders, and we got to make sure we work hard to secure the borders. We also have got to make sure we got smart borders."

-- President Bush, speaking in Mexico, March 31

"That's why ... that's why I've proposed a new program: 'No Border Left Behind.'"

-- Jon Stewart (imitating Bush), Daily Show, April 3

Zinni Calls For Rumsfeld's Resignation, Calls Rice's Statement "Ridiculous"

From yesterday's edition of NBC's Meet the Press:

FORMER CENTCOM COMMANDER GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI: There’s a series of disastrous mistakes. We just heard the Secretary of State say these were tactical mistakes. These were not tactical mistakes. These were strategic mistakes, mistakes of policies made back here. Don’t blame the troops. They’ve been magnificent. If anything saves us, it will be them.

TIM RUSSERT: Should someone resign?

ZINNI: Absolutely.

RUSSERT: Who?

ZINNI: Secretary of Defense to begin with.

RUSSERT: Anyone else?

ZINNI: ... The point is, those that are in power now that have been part of this are finding that their time is spent defending the past. And if they have to defend the past, they’re unable to make the kinds of changes, adjustments, admit to mistakes and move on. And that’s where we are now, trying to rewrite history, defend the past. Ridiculous statements that well, wait 20 years and history will tell you how this turns out. Well, I don’t think anybody wants 20 years to continue like it is now.

Zinni: Unfair To Blame Media For Iraqi Coverage

From yesterday's edition of NBC's Meet the Press:

TIM RUSSERT: Do you believe the American media is distorting the news from Iraq or presenting an accurate picture?

FORMER CENTCOM COMMANDER GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI: Well, I think the American media is being made a scapegoat for what’s going on out there. At last count, I think something like 80 journalists have been killed in Iraq. It’s hard to get outside the Green Zone and not risk your life or risk kidnapping at a minimum to get the story. And it’s hard to blame the media for no good stories when the security situation is such that they can’t even go out and get the good stories without risking their lives. And you have to remember that it’s hard to dwell on the good things when the bad things are so overwhelmingly traumatic and catastrophic. So I think that’s an unfair blame that’s put on the media.

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