Originally published February 7, 2009 by Scott Horton in his blog No Comment on Harpers.org
In an important speech delivered at the University of Kansas, Associated Press head Tom Curley charged that the Bush Pentagon had systematically targeted and mistreated journalists as a part of a propaganda program developed by Donald Rumsfeld. He called on President Obama to end this approach.
Curley, speaking to journalists at the University of Kansas, said the news industry must immediately negotiate a new set of rules for covering war because “we are the only force out there to keep the government in check and to hold it accountable.” Much like in Vietnam, “civilian policymakers and soldiers alike have cracked down on independent reporting from the battlefield” when the news has been unflattering, Curley said. “Top commanders have told me that if I stood and the AP stood by its journalistic principles, the AP and I would be ruined.”
Answering questions from his audience of about 160 people, Curley said AP remains concerned about journalists’ detentions. He said most appear to occur when someone else, often a competitor, “trashes” the journalist. “There is a procedure that takes place which sounds an awful lot like torture to us,” Curley said. “If people agree to trash other people, they are freed. If they don’t immediately agree to trash other people, they are kept for some period of time–two or three weeks–and they are put through additional questioning.” His remarks came a day after an AP investigation disclosed that the Pentagon is spending at least $4.7 billion this year on “influence operations” and has more than 27,000 employees devoted to such activities. At the same time, Curley said, the military has grown more aggressive in withholding information and hindering reporters.
The Associated Press’s special report on Pentagon “influence operations” can be read here. The Pentagon’s Public Affairs Office has been one of the last redoubts of the Neoconservatives. Burrowed Bush era figures remain in key positions in the office, which had responsibility for implementation of some of the Rumsfeld Pentagon’s most controversial strategies in which the American public was targeted with practices previously associated with battlefield psy-ops.