Baghdad Press Club
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The Baghdad Press Club was created in 2004 with the full support of the US Army in Iraq. According to the official investigation into club activities which was overseen by US Navy Admiral Scott van Buskirk, the club’s ostensible mission was to promote progress amid the violence and chaos of Iraq." The Baghdad Press Club was the brain child of National Guard officer and attorney, Major John Fuhrman. The club consisted of handpicked Iraqi reporters from both the dominant print and electronic media within Iraq. Arab reporters from other countries within the region were also used. The US Army offered payments, reimbursement of expenses and equipment to “pro-democracy journalists. These journalists were often transported by the US Military to various US sponsored projects throughout the greater Baghdad area. These projects often involved the US efforts to rebuild Iraqi infrastructure or stories involving humanitarian missions such as the US Army medics providing health care and medicine to local Iraqis. Members of the Press Club were afforded special access to US Army commanders and could often be summoned to show up for Army sponsored press conference.
While it is unclear as to whether or not these journalists were specifically paid for writing positive stories, it seems undisputed that these journalists were carefully handled and escorted to pre-planned media events which tended to avoid controversy and portray the US effort in the most positive light. The fact that reporters were paid to attend events and prepare stories also would suggest that less than favorable coverage might result in a member of the press club not being invited back. In addition to screening the club’s membership, Major Fuhrman created, organized and oversaw the club's day to day operations. He also was successful in making the case for the actual funding of the group with money from the Department of the Army. Major Fuhrman, a former Republican Party Worker, also played a role in the US Army's "Information Operations" within the greater Baghdad metropolitan area.
Membership in the Baghdad press Club was strictly limited to "pro-democracy" journalist who tended to be more sympathetic to US efforts. The press club was also supported by members of the 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, an Army National Guard unit, commanded by Major Fuhrman. In addition, Fuhrman created and oversaw numerous Iraqi focus groups of mixed demographics in order to gain insight into Iraqi opinions and prevailing rumors circulating among the local populace in order to influence "Information Operations" (IO) and shape Iraqi public perceptions throughout the greater Baghdad area. The Iraqi leader of the press club was Mr. Udday Ali Lutfi an Iraqi national who had formerly live in exile for nearly six years. Prior to his fleeing Iraq, Mr. Lutfi ran one of the prominent television stations in Iraq. The club, at its zenith, grew to include 90 members of the local Iraqi media. These included most of the pro-democracy print press, all of the national and regional television (save Al Jazzera) as well as radio. In fact, some of the members from Baghdad radio belonged to the two different stations which were set up by the CIA.
"A U.S. investigation into allegations that the American military is buying positive coverage in the Iraqi media has expanded to examine a press club founded and financed by the U.S. Army," reports USA Today.
A military spokesperson said "members are not required nor asked to write favorably" about the United States. According to a reporter at the U.S.-funded television station Alhurra, "press club members were invited to cover U.S.-led reconstruction efforts, such as restored sewage plants and newly-opened schools." Print reporters were paid $25 for each story, or $45 if the piece included photos, while television reporters were paid $50 per story. A Lincoln Group spokesperson said the firm "was not involved with the Baghdad Press Club."
- Baghdad Press Club : "a group of prominent print, television and radio media from Baghdad" --Defend America, Department of Defense, April 11, 2004.
"In Iraq, public affairs staff at the American-run multinational headquarters in Baghdad have been combined with information operations experts in an organization known as the Information Operations Task Force," Jonathan Landay reported November 30, 2005, for Knight Ridder Newspapers. "U.S. Army officers have been secretly paying Iraqi journalists to produce upbeat newspaper, radio and television reports about American military operations and the conduct of the war in Iraq."
"U.S. officials in Washington said the payments were made through the Baghdad Press Club, an organization they said was created more than a year ago by U.S. Army officers," Landay wrote. "Members of the Press Club are paid as much as $200 a month, depending on how many positive pieces they produce."
"Many military officials, however, said they were concerned that the payments to Iraqi journalists and other covert information operations in Iraq had become so extensive that they were corroding the effort to build democracy and undermining U.S. credibility in Iraq. They also worry that information in the Iraqi press that's been planted or paid for by the U.S. military could "blow back" to the American public," Landay wrote.
"Moreover, the defense and military officials said, the U.S. public is at risk of being influenced by the information operations because what's planted in the Iraqi media can be picked up by international news organizations and Internet bloggers. ...
"Finally, military and defense officials said, the more extensive the information operations, the more likely they'll be discovered, thereby undermining the credibility of the U.S. armed forces and the American government," Landay wrote.
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