Friday, September 01, 2006

spinning Iraq, again and again

It is no wonder this guy wore a "Bullshit Protector" over his ear during the president's address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars this week. We're going to need a lot more of these things.

In the run up to the first Gulf War, a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl identified only as Nayirah provided tearful testimony before the House of Representatives' Human Rights Caucus in which she claimed that Iraqi soldiers had torn hundreds of babies from hospital incubators and killed them. Her lurid testimony made a compelling argument for military action. You bet it did, because that was the point. Then-President Bush quoted Nayirah at every opportunity. In six speeches over the course of one month after the testimony, he referred to the "312 premature babies at Kuwait City's maternity hospital who died after Iraqi soldiers stole their incubators and left the infants on the floor."

A year after the start of the war, Harper’s Magazine publisher John MacArthur wrote in the New York Times that, after extensive investigation, he discovered that no such thing ever happened, that Nayirah was the daughter of Kuwait's Ambassador to the US and Canada, and that her fabricated testimony was part of PR firm Hill and Knowlton’s campaign to drum up support for the war. Ambassador Saud Nasir al-Sabah denied the charge, saying "If I wanted to lie, or if we wanted to lie, if we wanted to exaggerate, I wouldn't use my daughter to do so.” You can read more about it here.

The second President Bush has enjoyed the same heady mix of Iraq + war + PR. The Washington Post reported yesterday that the US-led military force in Iraq is looking to pay a PR firm $2 million "to effectively communicate Iraqi government and Coalition goals and to build support among our strategic audiences." The contract asks the winning firm to monitor international news in Arabic and English as well as US national and local news. An anonymous PR practitioner told the Post that military commanders want news "to be received by audiences as it is transmitted [by government writers] ... because they don't like the way it's been turning out."

In this case, as in most, the word "monitor" is code for "control" -- the message and its reception, to whatever extent that may be possible. I can just imagine the mad creative frenzy of proposal writers at those PR firms today, poring over reports of Hill and Knowlton’s Nayirah, hatching all sorts of similarly plotted faux news stories full of blood and tears, while that $2 million contract dances like sugarplums in their heads.


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