The Nip-and-Tuck War

All propaganda has to be popular and has to adapt its spiritual level to the perception of the least intelligent of those towards whom it intends to direct itself.

A. Hitler, Mein Kampf

Facts need friends. With the right kind of friends facts can alter their appearance. The Bush administration has gone out of its way to create friends for facts and the altered facts in turn have befriended the Bush administration.

The public first became aware of the administration’s skill in early 2005 when it was disclosed that Armstrong Williams (a conservative television commentator in need of material to fill his show) was paid $240,000 to present as fact what was in fact propaganda put out by the administration to demonstrate how successful the No Child Left Behind Act was.

Shortly thereafter it was disclosed that Maggie Gallagher, a marriage expert, was handsomely paid by the Department of Health to promote the Healthy Marriage Initiative making, among other things, seven appearances on CBS, CNN and MSNBC to promote the initiative. There was no disclosure that she was being paid to promote the initiative rather than acting as an independent reporter reporting on the success of the program. In her efforts on behalf of the initiative she was joined by Mike McManus, the writer of a weekly newspaper column, who tor who accepted $10,000 from the Department of Health and Human Services to promote the Healthy Marriage Initiative.

When the Government Accountability Office learned of the payments to Armstrong Williams, it conducted an investigation. It issued a report on September 30, 2005 saying the Bush administration violated the law by buying favorable news coverage of the President’s education policies. The auditors said: “We see no use for such information except for partisan political purposes. Engaging in a purely political activity such as this is not a proper use of appropriated funds.” It said the Education Department had no money or authority to “procure favorable commentary in violation of the publicity or propaganda prohibition in federal law.” What is permitted, however, is for the administration to pay for propaganda prepared by it and its agents to be published abroad under the guise of being news stories.

According to the New York Times, the Pentagon has something called a “storyboard”. This is not the same thing as the now legendary “waterboard” although there are some similarities. Each deals with information. Information obtained from the waterboard is said to be frequently unreliable and information provided by the storyboard is often no better.

The military’s “waterboard” extracts information from unwilling sources by strapping them to a board and immersing them in water leading them to believe they are about to drown. In the hope of avoiding that fate, those strapped to the boards provide information to the interrogators. The “storyboard”, by contrast, is prepared by the Pentagon and given to the Lincoln Group, a Washington based public relations firm that, among other things, translates the stories into Arabic and uses its connections to get them published in Iraq under the bylines of Iraq writers. According to reports the contract with the Lincoln Group calls for “alternate or diverting messages which divert media and public attention ” to “deal instantly with the bad news of the day.”

On the day the disclosure of the Pentagon’s contract with the Lincoln Group was made, gunmen killed eight Iraqis. Although I have not seen any stories disseminated by the Lincoln Group, here is how the Lincoln Group might respond to that sad news in order to divert attention from the event. Instead of reporting the deaths (which would depress the Iraqi reader and add to the instability of an already unstable country) the Lincoln group might give its Iraqi reporter a story about the beautiful flowers in the garden adjacent to the home of one of the victims. The obliging reporter would put the story in the paper for which the reporter works thus diverting attention from the deaths and filling the Iraqi reader with pleasant thoughts. That is only one example and the pentagon will certainly come up with dozens more. Last year it paid the Lincoln Group $5 million, which is more than enough to place lots of stories in lots of papers.

Press spokesman, Scott McClellan could not tell reporters whether the president approved of such propaganda. He said he needed to know more about it. Patrick Butler, vice president of the International Center of Journalists in Washington didn’t share Mr. McClellan’s reticence. “Ethically, it’s indefensible” he said. “You show the world you’re not living by the principles you profess to believe in, and you lose all credibility.” In the case of the Bush administration that is, of course, no loss. It lost its credibility shortly after it came into office by telling us all lots of stories.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a lawyer in Boulder, Colorado. He can be reached at: or through his website:


Christopher Brauchli can be e-mailed at For political commentary see his web page at