Shocked, Shocked! The Pentagon Is Profiling Journalists!

Published originally @TAC

I am glad that Stars and Stripes has nailed the story about the Pentagon profiling journos headed overseas for embed duty, not only because it is only fair that we know how our taxpayer dollars are being spent in so-called military “strategic communications” and that the Fourth Estate knows exactly where it stands with the military establishment, but that it was Stars and Stripes, virtually inoculated from any rightwing sniping about ‘flyover’ and ‘driveby media’, that has been bird-dogging this latest example of government manipulation of the news in wartime.

Simmering for over a week, the story is starting to sprout earnest legs, but given a few more hours and days, will likely slide off into familiar media narcissism, as more reporters begin demanding their profiles and posting them online. Given the hyper-competition in the foreign policy reporting space, one can easily imagine one scribe scrambling over the other with contempt for the Pentagon out of one side of his face, using the other to call attention to his overseas bonefides. Not all are that egotistical, of course, and seeing your life’s work clinically analyzed like a FBI background check has to be quite disquieting. Nevertheless, some may want to think twice before broadcasting their profile: the Pentagon may like you and that could be kind of icky, especially when you’re trying to pay it cool.

The thing that gets me is none of this is really a surprise. The Rendon Group didn’t come out of a hole in the desert, it helped start the war. In fact its propaganda and message management work for the government goes back decades. Meanwhile, the military has put all sorts of restrictions on its official embeds and that’s why we have independent reporters who risk life and limb to get the story. The military hired a covert PR firm to plant “good news” in Iraqi papers — why wouldn’t it want to keep tabs and try to manage journalists it couldn’t outright buy or silence?

It’s amazing, as I see the first signs of this profiling story on major television news networks, I recall how none of them — save PBS — would touch the explosive Message Force Multipliers story of 2008. Because it involved the corporate broadcast media participating in the Pentagon/Bush Administration-led Spin of the Century, they acted as though it never even happened. Now that they are the victims, it is a different story?

Eli D. Greenberg to Bring ‘Transparency’

Eli D Greenberg – the former attorney and listed contact for the Clarion Fund – has resurfaced as the head of an independent committee tasked with policing and encouraging greater transparency in the nonprofit foundations within the Sephardic communities in New Jersey and New York according to an article last week in Jewish Week. Non-profits operating in Syrian, Egyptian, Moroccan and Israeli Sephardic communities in the US have been on the receiving end of increasing criticism for their secretive operating structures since the arrest last month of three Syrian rabbis for an alleged money-laundering scheme.

For those who don’t remember, the mysterious Clarion Fund produced the anti-Muslim documentaries The Third Jihad and Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West and funded a massive distribution of 28-million DVD inserts of Obsession in swing state newspapers shortly before the 2008 presidential election.

Greenberg is an interesting choice for an attorney to help promote transparency and good governance since the Clarion Fund was widely seen as serving to hide the identity of wealthy donors who wished to influence the presidential election and spread unsubstantiated fears about Muslims in America.

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) investigated accusations that Clarion may have violated its non-profit 501c3 status by explicitly endorsing John McCain in a statement on one of its websites,

The statement, which was later removed, read:

“McCain’s policies seek to confront radical Islamic extremism and terrorism and roll it back while [Barack] Obama’s, although intending to do the same, could in fact make the situation facing the West even worse.”

Further muddying the waters was the appearance that Clarion was not only trying to influence the presidential election but that the funding – or at least the organizing – for the effort was coming from Aish HaTorah, a Jewish Orthodox Ashkenazi organization based in Israel.

Clarion has denied any organizational links but its four listed directors all have had close relationships with Aish. Clarion’s assertions that Aish and Clarion are completely independent entities are undermined by the facts that: Rabbi Raphael Shore, Clarion’s founder was employed as Aish HaTorah International’s executive director; Gregory Ross, Clarion’s spokesman and communications director was a fundraiser for Aish HaTorah International and the Clarion Fund shares a mailing office with Aish’s office in Manhattan.

All of the above doesn’t mean that Clarion necessarily did anything illegal but it does suggest that Clarion isn’t the poster-child for transparency and that its counsel didn’t impose the stringent ethical and good governance guidelines that presumably he will impose on the Sephardic charities in New York and New Jersey.

Greenberg seems to have a specialty in nonprofit foundations within the Syrian and Sephardic communities.

Four Mamiye brothers – Charles M., Charles D., Hyman and Abraham – gave $25,000 to the Clarion Fund in 2007 through their nonprofit foundation. Their nonprofit—Mamiye Foundation—gives primarily to the Sephardic Syrian communities in New Jersey and New York.

Greenberg serves as an attorney for a Mamiye held company.

Torturous Odds for Justice?

So the Obama administration is moving forward with a plan to prosecute some CIA agents who went beyond the guidelines the Bush administration authorized for extreme interrogations. This is good news.

But will the torture policymakers be exempt from the law?

If so, maybe the pimp media will bring West Virginia’s Lynndie England, the star of the first round of Abu Ghraib court martials, back for an encore.

Many of the top officials in the Justice Department and the White House knowingly conspired to violate federal laws and the Geneva Convention. If the Justice Department refuses to look beyond the actual enforcers, then today’s apparent breakthrough will be simply another variation of a coverup.

Where’s the Coverage of Cindy Sheehan?

With President Barack Obama heading to Martha’s Vineyard for a long vacation away from touting the “success” of the Iraq War and promoting the Afghan War’s escalation this weekend, he is going to be greeted with a lot of ads critical of his health care plan. And something else, or rather someone else.

Cindy Sheehan.

Remember her? The public face of the antiwar movement who hounded President Bush for years after her son was killed in Iraq in April 2004. The woman who expressed exasperation when the Democratic Congress which was swept to power largely on antiwar sentiment failed to do anything about ending the wars.

She’s back, or really she never left, but you might not have heard anything about her in awhile. And you might not be hearing about her now, unless you’re reading sites like ours or the Washington Examiner. The Bush Administration gave way to the Obama Administration, and while the wars are going as strong as ever, being antiwar is just so… passé now.

At least that’s the impression you’d get watching the cable news. According to Sheehan, the mainstream media “wants me to go away like most of the rest of the anti-war movement has done under the Obama presidency.” Cindy isn’t going away though, and she’ll be shadowing the president’s vacation just as she did with the last one. The only question is, will anyone cover it?

Will The Wall Street Journal Denounce Alvaro Uribe?

Reuters reports:

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe stepped closer to re-election on Tuesday when a congressional committee approved a bill aimed at allowing him to run for a third term next May, but a tough vote looms in the full House. The measure, calling for a referendum to change the constitution, had been stalled for weeks in the committee but the government has launched an all-out lobbying effort. Congress already changed the constitution once to allow Uribe, a U.S.-backed conservative, to stand for re-election in 2006.

Although the committee’s approval of the bill on Tuesday was not decisive — as Reuters notes, the real test will be the full House vote — the right’s silence throughout Uribe’s campaign against term limits has been striking. None of the self-styled champions of Latin American democracy in the U.S. — the Wall Street Journal editorial page, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, and so forth — have seen fit to criticize Uribe’s move.

Compare the reaction when Uribe’s left-wing colleagues made similar efforts. In February, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez won a referendum striking down term limits and permitting him to run for office again in 2012. The move was roundly denounced on the right as proof of Chavez’s dictatorial tendencies. “Like his idol, Fidel Castro, who reigned in Cuba for a half-century, Mr. Chávez can now move toward his goal of becoming President for life,” the Wall Street Journal editorialized. Chavez’s previous attempt to abolish term limits was similarly depicted in the press as a “president-for-life bid.”

In June, Honduran president Manuel Zelaya’s attempts to hold a referendum on a constitutional amendment to end term limits — this one non-binding, and thus with no concrete political ramifications — were used to justify the military coup that deposed him. National Review opined that the referendum “would set [Honduras] on the path to Chávez-style authoritarianism” and that the “soldiers who escorted Pres. Manuel Zelaya from his home on Sunday were acting to protect their country’s democracy, not to trample it.” When Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega called for the abolition of term limits in July, Costa Rican rightist Jaime Darenblum took to the Weekly Standard to accuse Ortega of “following the Chavez playbook” and moving “one step closer to creating an autocracy.”

These critics denied any partisan motive, insisting that their only concern was for democratic institutions and constitutional procedure. Mary Anastasia O’Grady, the Wall Street Journal editorial writer who has been the most ardent American defender of the Honduran coup, proclaimed in its wake that “The struggle against chavismo has never been about left-right politics. It is about defending the independence of institutions that keep presidents from becoming dictators.”

But when Uribe takes identical steps? Not a peep. The message is clear: the term-limits issue is fair game when it can be used to foster hysteria about chavismo and paint every left-of-center Latin American leader as a would-be totalitarian. When the leader in question is a right-wing U.S. ally, however, there is no need to worry about such procedural niceties. An enemy of Hugo Chavez is a friend of ours, regardless of how he stays in power.

The hypocrisy on display is noteworthy, if not particularly surprising. Although they may wax rhapsodic about democracy promotion, American hawks have never really gotten over their soft spot for right-wing Latin American authoritarians. (Recall that the neoconservatives cut their teeth in the 1980s as supporters of Pinochet, the Contras, and any number of other murderous military juntas.) Still, if rightists want their denunciations of Chavez and his allies to be taken seriously, they should try to exercise a little more consistency.

[Cross-posted in slightly expanded form at The Faster Times.]