Mizgin’s Desk Reports:
Does anyone remember the Rendon Group? If not, let me refresh your memory.
The Rendon Group is a public relations firm that has specialized in creating propaganda for various US military interventions over the last few decades in places as varied as Panama, Haiti, Colombia, Zimbabwe, and Puerto Rico. Most recently, the Rendon group helped the US government to win hearts and minds for the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. Because it has worked with the US government for a long period of time, it has been willing to justify US military actions for both Democratic and Republican administrations, although the Rendon Group’s founder, John Rendon, got his start in the propaganda business back in the 1970s as a campaign consultant for the Democratic Party.
There is a lot more information on the Rendon Group at Sourcewatch. James Bamford, whom many will remember as the first guest on The Boiling Frogs podcast interviews, wrote what may be the most definitive article explaining the raison d’etre for the Rendon Group. Bamford named John Rendon as “The Man Who Sold the War” to the American public for the Bush Administration. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, indeed, long before September 11, the Rendon Group created the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and appointed Ahmed Chalabi as the head of the organization. It created the Iraqi Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) and Radio Hurriah, both of which ineffectively broadcast propaganda against the Saddam regime in the early 1990s, first from Kuwait and later from Arbil in the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region. In 1996, Saddam’s army invaded Arbil and killed the vast majority of Rendon’s IBC employees and some 100 INC members. What prompted the response by Saddam’s army had less to do with the content of Radio Hurriah’s propaganda, which was described as “poorly run” by one Iraqi Harvard graduate student, and more to do with the fact that the CIA had poured millions of dollars into the Rendon Group, which then funneled the money into the INC.
According to Bamford, while the CIA dumped money into the INC through the Rendon Group, Ahmed Chalabi dumped questionable “intelligence” information into the New York Times’ now discredited war drummer, Judith Miller. Bamford later wrote about Chalabi’s secret dealings with Iran, including the possible passing of NSA code-breaking information.
As a result of the Rendon Group’s deep and widespread involvement with those who want to maufacture consent for any goal of any American administration, it should come as no surprise that last week the Reuters and the Washington Post revealed news from the US military’s Stars and Stripes indicating that the Rendon Group has been hired by the Pentagon to vet journalists for embedded reporting from Afghanistan. From the Reuters article:
The U.S. military in Afghanistan defended itself Thursday against accusations that a company it employs was rating the work of reporters and suggesting ways to make their war coverage more positive.
Stars and Stripes, a newspaper for U.S. troops, said it had obtained documents prepared for the U.S. military by the Rendon Group, a Washington-based communications firm that graded journalists’ work as “positive,” “neutral” or “negative.”
The newspaper, partly funded by the Pentagon but editorially independent, said the journalists’ profiles included suggestions on how to “neutralise” negative stories and generate favourable coverage.
It published a pie chart which it said came from a Rendon report on the coverage of a reporter for an unidentified major U.S. newspaper until mid-May, judging it to be 83.33 percent neutral and 16.67 percent negative with respect to the military’s goals.
The U.S. military command in Afghanistan said the Rendon Group provided a range of services under a $1.5 million (921,330 pound) one-year contract, including analysis of news coverage — but it did not grade journalists.
Neither the Reuters report nor the Washington Post noted the Rendon Group’s previous propaganda work, particularly it’s long fiasco with planning regime change in Iraq. Unsurprisingly, National Public Radio, also failed to mention the Rendon Group’s history in a story it aired on its “All Things Considered” program on 27 August. It did include a quote from a press officer from the 101st Airborne Division, in which he admitted he relied on Rendon’s ratings:
Maj. Patrick Seiber, the press officer for the 101st Airborne Division, says that during his time in Afghanistan, he dealt with 62 different news agencies and 143 different reporters. He says he relied on the Rendon reports.
“Well, you got to have something, because we don’t have enough public affairs guys that can go through and do it our own self,” he says. “You got to know what you’re dealing with. Our soldiers are at risk. Information is also a risk.”
Seiber says he did pay some attention to negative ratings. If someone had many negative ratings, he says, he would want to know why.
“This didn’t happen that often,” he says. “Out of all those news agencies, I can only remember a couple of times there was somebody we didn’t take … because of their bent.”
Both times, he says, the news agencies sent a different reporter.
Seiber doesn’t know when the ratings started, but says Rendon has been doing the work for eight years.
So, they did use the Rendon Group’s “secret” profiles and they did deny reporters on the basis of their views. It must be problematic to have reporters who might not be willing to sell the Pentagon’s angle on a war to an American public that increasingly sees as “not worth fighting”.
One reporter working in Afghanistan managed to obtain a copy of his Rendon-generated dossier from a friend in the military. Here’s what he has to say:
Most reporters in Afghanistan know about these reports. I obtained a copy of my Rendon report about three months ago from a friend in the military and I’ve posted excerpts below. I don’t really think the reports are some kind of violation, in fact, I think the military is smart to look into the background’s of people who will be writing about them. Rating the coverage that reporters give the military–”positive,” “neutral,” “negative”–seems a bit silly and slightly Orwellian, but if thousands of reporters were covering my organization, I would want a simple shorthand to indentify them as well.
I do think the reports are creepy though. These guys have read almost everything I’ve written in the last few years, even interviews I’ve given to local news blogs. Reading this report is like perusing the diary of your stalker. Rendon also classifies certain publication as “left leaning” which I find odd.
Most troubling by far is that when S&S [Stars and Stripes] asked the military about Rendon, they denied the existence of these reports. I’m holding one of these reports in my hand right now, trust me, it exists. I’ve also met people who work for The Rendon Group in Kabul. In conversations, they deny that there is any nefarious objective to what they do. “We just help the military figure out what embed is right for a particular reporter,” one Rendon employee told me over drinks. “If a reporter is classified as “negative” they are less likely to go where the action is and more likely to be covering a platoon that guards sandbags in Herat.”
Other reporters, like freelancer Nir Rosen, were less than enthusiastic about their dossiers:
Last week Stars and Stripes reported that the Pentagon is employing Rendon to profile reporters. I was shown a copy of the memorandum the Rendon group prepared about me. It is two and a half pages. A public affairs officer told me it was the most alarming report about a journalist that he had ever seen, and as a result I was grateful that Colonel Bill Hix was open minded enough to approve my embed despite the red flags raised about me.
“The purpose of this updated memo is to provide an assessment of freelance journalist Nir Rosen, and give a profile of his work, both through a summary of content and analysis of style, in order to gauge the expected sentiment of his work while on embed mission in Afghanistan.”
In the background section the memorandum describes some of my past work, experience and skills. It also warned that “in late 2008 Rosen ‘embedded’ with the Taliban in several areas of Afghanistan. A lengthy report on his embedded experience appeared in Rolling Stone and was highly unfavorable to international efforts in Afghanistan.”
Despite denials from the military in both the Reuters and the Washington Post reports, it’s obvious that reporters and news corporations know that they are “rated” so that those providing reports that are most favorably viewed by the Rendon Group are assigned with units in the hottest areas. The “trustworthy” ones are given the plumb embeds, in other words. In fact, that’s exactly what Stars and Stripes reported on 29 August:
The secret profiles commissioned by the Pentagon to rate the work of journalists reporting from Afghanistan were used by military officials to deny disfavored reporters access to American fighting units or otherwise influence their coverage as recently as 2008, an Army official acknowledged Friday.
What’s more, the official said, Army public affairs officers used the analyses of reporters’ work to decide how to steer them away from potentially negative stories.
“If a reporter has been focused on nothing but negative topics, you’re not going to send him into a unit that’s not your best,” Maj. Patrick Seiber, spokesman for the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, told Stars and Stripes. “There’s no win-win there for us. We’re not trying to control what they report, but we are trying to put our best foot forward.”
[ . . . ]
The revelations are the latest twist in the controversy over how the military is gathering and using reporter profiles compiled by The Rendon Group, a Washington, D.C. public relations firm contracted by the Pentagon to rate journalists’ work.
[ . . . ]
Pentagon officials repeatedly denied this week that the Rendon profiles are being used to rate reporters or determine whether they will be granted permission to embed with U.S. units in Afghanistan.
“There is no policy that stipulates in any way that embedding should be based in any way on a person’s work,” Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters on Monday.
The only one who makes sense in this entire fiasco is Admiral Mullen:
Meanwhile, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Friday published an essay in a military journal that was sharply critical of the U.S. government’s attempts to use “strategic communications” to shape messages directed at the Muslim world.
“To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate,” Mullen wrote in the essay in Joint Force Quarterly.
“I would argue that most strategic communication problems are not communication problems at all,” he wrote. “They are policy and execution problems. Each time we fail to live up to our values or don’t follow up on a promise, we look more and more like the arrogant Americans the enemy claims we are.”
It may be that Admiral Mullen’s words were heard loudly and clearly by the US military command in Afghanistan because on 31 August, Stars and Stripes reported that the contract with the Rendon Group in Afghanistan had been cancelled:
The U.S. military is canceling its contract with a controversial private firm that was producing background profiles of journalists seeking to cover the war that graded their past work as “positive,” “negative” or “neutral,” Stars and Stripes has learned.
[ . . . ]
“The decision to terminate the Rendon contract was mine and mine alone. As the senior U.S. communicator in Afghanistan, it was clear that the issue of Rendon’s support to US forces in Afghanistan had become a distraction from our main mission,” said Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, in an e-mail sent Sunday to Stars and Stripes.
TIME reported that the effective date of the cancellation of the contract would be 1 September.
Given Rendon’s history with the Pentagon, particularly its assistance to Donald Rumsfeld’s Office of Strategic Influence (OSI), one has to wonder what it really means to cancel Rendon’s contract for the vetting of reporters in Afghanistan. The OSI was established in February of 2002, with Douglas Feith–whom a less diplomatic American general called “the f***ing stupidest guy on the face of the earth”–assuring the Defense Writers Group of this:
“First of all I want to clarify that when Defense Department officials speak to the public they tell the truth, and despite some of the reports about the Office of Strategic Influence that I’ve read over the last day or two, Defense Department officials don’t lie to the public. And we are confident that the truth serves our interests in the broadest sense of national security and specifically in this war.”
Oh, I know I believe him.
The fact is that Donald Rumsfeld merely killed the OSI in name only:
And then there was the office of strategic influence. You may recall that. And “oh my goodness gracious isn’t that terrible, Henny Penny the sky is going to fall.” I went down that next day and said fine, if you want to savage this thing fine I’ll give you the corpse. There’s the name. You can have the name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.
According to James Bamford, the job that the OSI was intended to do was eventually transferred to the Information Operations Task Force. Where will the Rendon Group’s work on “secret” profiling be transferred now?
In spite of the claim that the Rendon Group’s contract is now terminated, the mainstream media should be held accountable for what it failed to say in any of its reporting of Rendon’s recent activity in Afghanistan for the Pentagon, particularly when the general consumer of American media has a notoriously short memory. Why didn’t the mainstream media remind the American public of the Rendon Group’s shady dealings in the past, how it helped manufacture consent for unpopular wars, how it funneled money for CIA operations, and how it promoted an Iranian double-agent to a position to hand over NSA code-breaking information to Teheran, or how it was involved with the Office of Strategic Information? Were these facts overlooked because of amnesia on the part of the mainstream media? Or was this oversight a case of the mainstream media’s bootlicking of the propaganda firm that can veto any reporter?
It’s ironic that the one publication to publish the truth about the Rendon Group’s operations in Afghanistan is the one publication whose reporters are not vetted by Rendon–the Stars and Stripes.