By Dahr Jamail and Jeff Pflueger Truthout 6/9/06

“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”
– Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister during World War II

    Propaganda is when the Western corporate media tries to influence public opinion in favor of the Iraq War by consistently tampering with truth and distorting reality. It is to be expected. And it is to be recognized for what it is. On occasions when the media does its job responsibly and reports events like the November 19, 2005, Haditha Massacre, it must also be willing and able to anticipate and counter propaganda campaigns that will inevitably follow. It is to be expected that the responsible members of the media fraternity will stick to their guns and not join the propagandists.

    This piece is a summary of five most commonly deployed crisis management propaganda tactics which the State and Media combine that we can expect to see in relation to the Haditha Massacre. Listed in a loose chronological order of their deployment, the tactics are: Delay, Distract, Discredit, Spotlight and Scapegoat. Each of the five public relations campaigns will here be discussed in the context of the Haditha Massacre.


    Al-Jazeera channel, with over 40 million viewers in the Arab world, is the largest broadcaster of news in the Middle East. It has been bearing the brunt of an ongoing violent US propaganda campaign. Their station headquarters in both Afghanistan and Baghdad were destroyed by US forces during the US invasions of both countries. In Baghdad, the attack on their office by a US warplane killed their correspondent Tareq Ayoub. Additionally, al-Jazeera reporters throughout Iraq have been systematically detained and intimidated before the broadcaster was banned outright from the country. These are somewhat contradictory actions for an occupying force ostensibly attempting to promote democracy and freedom in Iraq.

    On November 19, 2005, the day of the Haditha Massacre, al-Jazeera had long since been banned from operating in Iraq. The station forced to conduct its war reporting from a desk in Doha, Qatar, was doing so via telephone. Two Iraqis worked diligently to cover the US occupation of Iraq through a loose network of contacts within Iraq. Defying the US-imposed extreme challenges, al-Jazeera, by dint of its responsible reporting, had the entire Haditha scoop as soon as it occurred, which they shared with Western and other media outlets, while the latter were content to participate in delaying the story nearly four months by regurgitating unverified military releases.

    Two days after the massacre, was the only free place on the Internet that carried al-Jazeera’s report translated into English (it could be viewed at for a fee).

    The anchorperson for al-Jazeera in Doha, Qatar, interviewed journalist Walid Khalid in Bahgdad. Khalid’s report, translated by, was as follows:

Yesterday evening, an explosive charge went off under a US Marines vehicle in the al-Subhani area, destroying it completely. Half an hour later, the US reaction was violent. US aircraft bombarded four houses near the scene of the incident, causing the immediate death of five Iraqis. Afterward, the US troops stormed three adjacent houses where three families were living near the scene of the explosion. Medical sources and eyewitnesses close to these families affirmed that the US troops, along with the Iraqi Army, executed 21 persons; that is, three families, including nine children and boys, seven women, and three elderly people.

    Contrast this to the reportage of the slaughter by the New York Times, the “newspaper of note” in the United States. Unquestioningly parroting the military press release, their story of November 21, 2005, read: “The Marine Corps said Sunday that 15 Iraqi civilians and a Marine were killed Saturday when a roadside bomb exploded in Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad. The bombing on Saturday in Haditha, on the Euphrates in the Sunni-dominated province of Anbar, was aimed at a convoy of American Marines and Iraqi Army soldiers, said Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool, a Marine spokesman. After the explosion, gunmen opened fire on the convoy. At least eight insurgents were killed in the firefight, the captain said.”

    The organization Iraq Body Count (IBC) immediately endorsed this, clearly demonstrating how its tally of Iraqi civilian deaths due to the war is way below the actual numbers. Exclusively referencing samples from the Western media that willingly embrace the official propaganda, IBC can hardly constitute an unbiased or truthful source of information.

    In April 2006, their database of media sources cited an AP story and a Reuters story from November 20, 2005, along with a March 21, 2006, London Times article. This is how IBC distilled the stories; “Haditha – fighting between US Marines and insurgents-gunfire” and the number of civilians killed was recorded as 15. It is difficult to understand why IBC has once again opted to cite US fabrications mindlessly repeated by the Western media rather than take into account the readily available English translation of al-Jazeera’s Haditha report.

    On June 6, 2006, the Haditha Massacre is recorded by IBC as “family members in their houses and students in a passing car” and the declared number of victims is 24. One cannot help wonder how many uncorrected, unverified and unchallenged pieces of US military propaganda lurk in IBC’s database. Haditha could be just the tip of the iceberg.

    It wasn’t until four months after the event that the Western corporate media started to straighten out the story. On March 19, 2006, it was Time Magazine that “broke” the Haditha story in a piece titled “Collateral Damage or Civilian Massacre in Haditha.” The primary sources for this piece were a video shot by an Iraqi journalism student produced the day after the massacre and interviews conducted with witnesses. Another glaring evidence of how a few simple interviews with Iraqis and some readily available photographs and video can drastically correct the glaring errors in the Western media’s representations of the occupation.

    It is significant that this “exclusive” story came from the same publication that graced its cover with George W. Bush as the 2004 Person of the Year for “reframing reality to match his design.” That brazen advertisement for the most unpopular re-elected US president in history more than establishes the fact that the magazine has an agenda that has less to do with responsible journalism than it does with influencing public opinion. That Time set its clocks back four months in regard to Haditha, when evidence was readily available the day after the event, only supports the charge that it willingly participates in US state propaganda. Journalists should aggressively expose the truth that Time, like its acclaimed 2004 person of the year, also reframes reality to match its design. If journalists do not look at Time’s story with a skeptical eye as an exercise in PR before jumping on the Haditha bandwagon, they too risk shortchanging the public’s trust with a meaningless opportunity to participate in a PR crisis anagement campaign.

    But the Haditha Massacre is far from being the only story that the Western corporate media has delayed covering. On May 4, 2004, journalist Dahr Jamail, one of the authors of this piece, wrote “Telltale Signs of Torture Lead Family to Demand Answers.” The story, published by the NewStandard, was about a 57-year-old Iraqi named Sadiq Zoman, who was detained at his residence in Kirkuk on July 21, 2003, when US troops raided the Zoman family home in search of weapons and, apparently, to arrest Zoman. Over a month later, on August 23, soldiers dropped Zoman off, comatose, at the main hospital in Tikrit. His body bore telltale signs of torture: point burns on his skin, bludgeon marks on the back of his head, a badly broken thumb, electrical burns on the soles of his feet and genitals and whip marks across his back.

    Jamail originally wrote the story in January 2004 and shared the information with over 100 newspapers in the US for them to report on. The story was conveniently ignored by the US corporate media until it was forced to run other torture photos from Abu Ghraib after journalist Seymour Hersh threatened to scoop 60 Minutes II by running his piece about torture in the New Yorker, in late April 2004.

    Another example of this delayed “reporting” involved the report on the use of white phosphorous by the US military against civilians in Fallujah during the November 2004 assault on the city. Jamail originally reported a story titled “Unusual Weapons Used in Fallujah” with Inter Press Service. US corporate media ignored the story until the Independent in the UK ran his reporting about the atrocity. Even after this, aside from a few token editorials that mentioned this war crime, most major news outlets continued in their silence. This despite the fact that the Pentagon admitted to the use of these weapons, and residents of Fallujah like Abu Sabah had long since told a reporter, “They used these weird bombs that put up smoke like a mushroom cloud, then small pieces fall from the air with long tails of soke behind them.” He also described pieces of these bombs that exploded into large fires that burnt the skin when water was thrown on the burns.

    There are countless other stories which the US corporate media has deliberately delayed from their reportage and which may never reach the wide US audience that they deserve. It is necessary to ask, when will the corporate media report on stories such as the following:

November 19, 2004: “As US Forces Raided a Mosque,” Inter Press Service (At least four worshippers are killed and 20 wounded during Friday prayers when US and Iraqi forces raided Abu Hanifa Mosque in Baghdad.

April 19, 2004: “US Troops Raid Abu Hanifa Mosque, Destroy Fallujah Relief Goods,” The NewStandard News (Tanks and Humvees are used to crash through the gates of a mosque in the middle of the night. Foodstuffs stockpiled for Fallujah relief are destroyed, worshippers are terrorized, shots fired, copies of the Holy Qu’ran are desecrated.)

December 13, 2004: “US Military Obstructing Medical Care,” Inter Press Service (US military prevented delivery of medical care in several instances and regularly raided hospitals in Iraq.)

April 23, 2004: “Fallujah Residents Report US Forces Engaged in Collective Punishment,” The NewStandard News (Despite what Marines called a “ceasefire” in Fallujah, refugees trapped outside and Fallujans still under siege continued to face measures of collective punishment.)

January 3, 2004: “US Military Terrorism and Collective Punishment in Iraq” (Mortars fired at a farmer’s home and land in al-Dora, near Baghdad. As Jamail wrote in the aforementioned web log at that time, residents reported, “We don’t know why they bomb our house and our fields. We have never resisted the Americans. There are foreign fighters who have passed through here, and I think this is who they want. But why are they bombing us?” When the farmer was asked what happened when he requested that US military remove the unexploded mortar rounds, he said, “We asked them the first time and they said ‘OK, we’ll come take care of it.’ But they never came. We asked them the second time and they told us they would not remove them until we gave them a resistance fighter. They told us, ‘If yo won’t give us a resistance fighter, we are not coming to remove the bombs.'” He held his hands in the air and said, “But we don’t know any resistance fighters!”)

November 18, 2004:“Media Repression in ‘Liberated’ Land,” Inter Press Service (Journalists increasingly detained and threatened by the US-installed interim government in Iraq. Media were stopped particularly from covering recent horrific events in Fallujah. The “100 Orders” penned by former US administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer included Order 65, passed March 20, 2004, to establish an Iraqi communications and media commission. This commission has powers to control the media because it has complete control over licensing and regulating telecommunications, broadcasting, information services and all other media establishments. Within days of the “handover” of power to an interim Iraqi government in June 2004, the Baghdad office of al-Jazeera was raided and closed by security forces from the interim government. The network was banned initially for one month from reorting out of Iraq, subsequently extended to “indefinitely.” The media commission ordered all news organizations to “stick to the government line on the US-led offensive in Fallujah or face legal action.”)

February 14, 2005: “Media Held Guilty of Deception,” Inter Press Service (A people’s tribunal held much of Western media guilty of inciting violence and deceiving people in its reporting of Iraq. The panel of judges in the Rome meeting of the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI), an international people’s initiative seeking to unearth the truth about the war and occupation in Iraq, accused the United States and the British governments of impeding journalists in performing their task, and intentionally producing lies and misinformation.)

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