Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Thursday, July 20, 2006

  Uncle Don Talent Quest

Rumsfeld gave a pair of intriguing radio interviews nearly two weeks ago. Though not in the same league as The Lone Ranger, Fibber McGee & Molly, The Green Lantern, It Pays to be Ignorant, Lum’n Abner, Easy Aces, Ma Perkins, The Texaco Star Theater, or Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy, the Rumsfeld interviews were heavily scripted. They were as hammy as Bob Hope, as cloying as Just Plain Bill, and as far-fetched as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. And like the Uncle Don program, they seemed to anticipate an audience of children.

I want to focus on the questions asked, however, more than Rumsfeld’s tedious answers. When did it become acceptable for interviewers, even Bush apologists like Monica Crowley and Eileen Byrne, to take instructions from administration officials about which questions to ask them on air? Because the questions ‘put’ to Rumsfeld had his fingerprints all over them.

How do you do, I’m sure.

I’ll be curious to know what MSNBC has to say in defense of Crowley, whom the network recently promoted to the rank of an occasional ‘news’ anchor. Are NBC’s journalists permitted to read from Pentagon scripts?

Well, now, I wouldn’t say that!

The facts are these. On July 7 Eileen Byrne, Bush-shill and host of a radio program on the increasingly right-wing WLS station in Chicago, interviewed Donald Rumsfeld. The next day, the notorious Nixon-protégé Monica Crowley interviewed Rumsfeld on her own radio program.

Thoroughgoing masochist that I am, I set about reading through the transcripts of both programs. What I discovered were two interviews that were largely identical in the subject matter they discussed. Rumsfeld’s answers, clearly talking points, remained essentially the same from one day to the next. Most strikingly, the order in which the subjects were brought up by the two interviewers was virtually identical.

The Shadow knows!

Even if these subjects were all the most obvious issues of the day (and they are not, or not exclusively), it is nearly impossible that two interviewers on two successive days would just happen to arrange - entirely by chance - the nine or so subjects in (nearly) the same order. The only credible explanation for the parallelism between the two interviews is that the two interviewers were working from the same model.

I see only two possibilities. The first, the most likely, is that both interviewers were furnished fairly explicit instructions or guidelines about the questions they were supposed to ask.

The other possibility, that the second interviewer (Crowley), copied her questions from Byrne’s program, seems pretty remote. It would have been more work to get a copy of Byrne’s Chicago broadcast, listen to it and take notes, than simply to sit down and think of nine subjects to ask the Secretary of Defense about. Besides, even for the pampered Crowley it can’t be often that one gets a member of the ruling triumvirate on one’s show.

Ah, but there’s good news tonight!

Here are the subjects raised by Eileen Byrne, in order. As you can see from the transcript, the questions are canned.

1. North Korea
2. William Perry's op-ed on striking NK
3. diplomatic efforts on NK
4. stability of Iraq
5. political pressure in U.S. for withdrawal
6. U.S. troops' morale
7. American journalists giving away state secrets
8. Iraq War is being fought at home, in the media
9. Hamdan decision


Compare the foregoing list to the subjects broached by Monica Crowley on July 8. Notice that subjects #6 and #9 have been interchanged, but otherwise the list remains the same. Crowley’s questions to Rumsfeld are just as leading as Byrne’s.

1. North Korea
2. William Perry's op-ed on striking NK
3. diplomatic efforts on NK
4. stability of Iraq
5. political pressure in U.S. for withdrawal
6. Hamdan decision
7. American journalists giving away state secrets
8. Iraq War is being fought at home, in the media
9. U.S. troops' morale


The same essential subjects, in the same order (save a single switch, as noted). That is the decisive evidence that the two interviewers are working from the same guidelines.

Given how leading the questions are, it’s nearly impossible to avoid the conclusion that the administration had a big role in drafting the script. Here is one flagrant and typical example, where a softball from Byrne/Crowley gives Rumsfeld the opportunity to portray the Bush administration as avoiding confrontation with North Korea while cautiously using diplomacy to build international consensus.

From the Byrne interview

BYRNE: What do you make of former Secretary Perry going unilateral with a strike on North Korea, wrote about in The Washington Post? He says diplomacy has failed.

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, you know, in a sense, he is right that diplomacy has failed in the past. They had a -- in his administration -- the Clinton administration, they had an agreed framework that which the North Koreans violated and broke. In fact, they violated three or four agreements they had. They had a North-South Agreement as well.

On the other hand, you know, it seems to me at least -- and I think the president's exactly right in this case that the diplomatic path is the correct one - and that a pre-emptive strike against that missile launch, while it was still on the stand was not appropriate, and that was the decision the president made and I certainly agree with it.

From the Crowley interview

CROWLEY: Well, Mr. Secretary, one of your predecessors, the former Secretary of Defense William Perry under President Clinton, recently suggested that we ought to take some preemptive action here, that we ought to think about perhaps blowing some of these long-range missiles right off their launching pads. What do you think about that?

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, I read that article. And Bill Perry's a thoughtful person, and clearly one can make that case. President Bush has made a different case. His view is -- first of all, there are no Taepodong-2s on launching pads at the present time. The one they fired didn't work and it failed. They do -- we do believe and they're assessed to have, oh, something like three or four or five additional Taepodong-2 airframes somewhere in their country.

The president believes that the proper task -- approach is to work with the six nations -- the South Koreans, the Chinese, the Russians, the Japanese, the United States and the North Koreans -- and attempt to persuade them that they have options other than being bellicose. Time will tell whether that'll work.

When the William Perry op-ed appeared, you may recall, some commentators speculated that his bizarre proposal to launch a pre-emptive strike against the North Korean test missiles was made in consultation with the Bush administration, as the bad cop to Bush’s good cop routine. The insertion of this leading question by the Dept. of Defense into two of Rumsfeld’s interviews supports that interpretation. The propagandistic elements in these interviews were directed partly at American audiences, and partly at foreign governments.

It would be tedious to analyze the many parallels between the two scripted interviews. Instead, I’ll point toward one other revealing element. In both interviews, there’s talk of a support-the-troops website, Byrne mentions the website herself so as to cue Rumsfeld that it’s time to wrap himself in the sacrifices being made by the troops in the field. Crowley, rather interestingly, stops just short of mentioning the website and lets Rumsfeld run with the topic. Then she adds that she’s put up a link to at her webpage.

The program’s going to be different tonight, Graham.

Clearly, then, both Byrne and Crowley had been advised that Rumsfeld wished to put in a plug for his feel-good website. And that is not unusual. A few days earlier, Rumsfeld gave an interview on ABC radio to Fred Thompson in which that interviewer also brought up America Supports You. It’s a sign that Rumsfeld regularly exercises influence over the questions he’s asked by the radio interviewers he agrees to speak to.

But it’s one thing to include a single soft-ball question upon instructions from the DoD, as Thompson did. It’s quite another to work through an entire script written by the Great Man himself or his staffers. Thompson’s interview is, apparently, conducted according to the rules of journalism. Byrne’s and Crowley’s interviews, however, are flagrant propaganda.

Recently, Columbia Journalism Review had an excellent survey of the troubling and often illegal innovations in propaganda as practiced by Rumsfeld’s Department of Defense. This Pentagon does not seem to care that it is prohibited from spreading propaganda inside the United States. It regularly disseminates propaganda abroad that it knows will make its way back to America.

Meanwhile, the concept of military information operations, or IO, was undergoing a remarkable transformation. On October 30, 2003, Donald Rumsfeld signed a secret Pentagon directive, in the works for at least a year, known as the Information Operations Roadmap….

The roadmap recognizes that the globalization of the information environment has eroded boundaries that have protected the public and the press from consuming propaganda aimed at foreign populations, making it likely that “psyop messages . . . will often be replayed by the news media for much larger audiences, including the American public.”

The Smith-Mundt Act, signed into law in 1948, was designed to prevent the American people from being targeted with propaganda meant for foreign audiences (specifically, it prohibited the broadcast of the Voice of America within the U.S.). But technology has rendered it effectively moot. The question of legality may now rest on the very subjective test of whom the government means to influence. The roadmap itself, which was recently declassified, puts it this way: “The distinction between foreign and domestic audiences becomes more a question of USG [U.S. government] intent rather than information dissemination practices.”

The most abusive and dangerous forms of Pentagon propaganda these days are disinformation campaigns, generally floated abroad but sometimes even to US news media. That, rightly, is the focus of the CJR piece. What we’ve seen by comparing the Byrne and Crowley interviews is another small piece in that picture – that the Pentagon manipulates interviews with at least some right-wing radio hosts in ways that can only be described as propaganda. And with the reference to William Perry’s opinion piece, as I said, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Rumsfeld no longer distinguishes in any meaningful way between propaganda directed abroad and that which is directed at Americans living in America. You cannot get much more American than Chicago (WLS).

That’s a joke, son.

A side note: The thing which first attracted my attention in these interviews was an egregious comment by Rumsfeld in the Crowley interview:

CROWLEY:On this question of how much damage we're actually doing to ourselves here in our ability to fight this war, how damaging are these front-page disclosures of state secrets by The New York Times and other newspapers?

SECRETARY RUMSFELD: Well, you know if you have an enemy that is vicious; is determined; that is uncompromising and is -- has demonstrated a willingness to kill tens of thousands of people -- clearly what you want to do is to find ways to learn what they're doing and prevent them from doing it before they kill additional thousands of Americans.

To the extent they are then advised as to what it is we're doing to keep track of them, their lives are made easier. I mean, our goal is to make their lives more difficult - to put pressure on them - to make it harder for everything they do; make it harder for them to move between countries; harder for them to raise money; harder for them to recruit people; harder for them to communicate with each other; harder for them to get weapons. And to the extent people get up in the morning and decide they want to make it easier for them by telling them exactly how we put pressure on them that clearly advantages the enemy and the terrorists.

Get up in the morning and decide to make things easier for terrorists. It’s hard to decide which is worse, whether Rumsfeld believes that slander or not. Anyhow, the statement reveals a lot about his attitude toward real journalism as practiced by people other than his mouthpieces on right wing radio.

To return where we started: How can it be acceptable for Byrne and Crowley to be interviewing Rumsfeld using a script that almost certainly was prepared in the DoD? It was a sorry joke when recently MSNBC began promoting Monica Crowley as an authentic news anchor. Her performance on Connected Coast to Coast was always rabidly partisan, such that you sometimes got the impression that Ron Reagan was embarrassed for her.

But for MSNBC to be trying to promote her now as a serious journalist? To my mind, the kind of evidence I laid out here ought to be grounds for sacking Monica Crowley.

Update: At Unbossed, commenters made important observations. First, BobB crunches the numbers on the probability that both interviewers happened by chance to raise the 9 issues in (nearly) the same order. Bob puts the probability that this occured randomly at 1 one-hundredth of 1 percent (.0001). In other words, this fact alone puts the probability at 99.99% that Crowley and Byrne worked from the same model or guideline. (Bob sets aside the curious fact that they both came up with an identical list of 9 issues to discuss with Rumsfeld; the improbability of that also is great, but much harder to express mathematically.)

Secondly, em dash points out that NPR has reported that Rumsfeld's feel-good website is an obscenely expensive propaganda campaign begun in 2004 as the nation was losing patience with the Iraq occupation. It encourages citizens to submit messages for the troops overseas, but these simply go into a database where they're counted AND NOT forwarded to any actual troops. A few are posted on the website, though it turns out these are edited by Pentagon propagandists, as Martin Kaste reports:

... their online "message to the troops" system, which apparently edits out all political content, with the exception of sentiments in praise of President Bush, finishing the job in Iraq and criticisms of antiwar protestors. Those comments are left in.

Much of the PR work has been let out to private contractors and some in DoD are fed up with this boondoggle, which serves as a vehicle for administration propaganda:

One recent effort is a campaign to get people at major league baseball games to "text-message" their support to the troops on their cell phones... even though those messages aren't actually sent to the troops.

Plenty of people in the armed forces say they're grateful for the effort, but there are some at the Pentagon who have come to believe the effort verges on tax-payer-funded propaganda. The fear is that an appeal to support the troops could also be seen as a call to support the war in Iraq.

Crossposted at Unbossed.


  • Although Monica Crowley is a notoriously rabid partisan of the Nixonian wing of the GOP, it is still remarkable that in the introductory chapter to his new book, Conservatives without Conscience, John Dean identifies her along with a small, select group of people who illustrate the idiocy and lack of principle of the ascendant true believers in today's Republican Party. Here is a link to that text.

    By Blogger : smintheus ::, at 10:31 PM  

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