We know this only because the media stunt was reported as such in the AP, the Washington Post, on NPR and, even "The Today Show." Such dogged objectivity is a new tack for many of our colleagues in the mainstream. But by revealing the man behind the curtain, they also lay bare the machinations of their own public deception.
That some in mainstream media are no longer giving this president a free pass to the front page is news in its own right. Bush's plummeting approval rating might have something to do with their newfound skepticism, which raises another issue altogether: It seems our media eagerly pile scorn upon a president when his numbers are down, but give him the benefit of the doubt when they're up.
This would suggest that mainstream media don't inform the public based upon the objective merits of a story, but merely tailor their reporting to respond to the flux and flow of popular opinion.
I'll leave that frightening theory to be sorted out by the media analysts at Pew and PEJ. For now, let's look at the propaganda at hand:
Reporting on yesterday's Bush-Iraq video-op, the Village Voice's Ward Harkavy finds that it involved an actor from within his own sausage factory. "The soldier on the left side of the front row was actually a flack herself, though she didn't reveal it during the regime's 24-minute infomercial."
The soldier in question is Master Sgt. Corine Lombardo; she works in public affairs for the military as spokesperson to the media. While she's emerged elsewhere in mainstream reports on Iraq, she hasn't always been identified in her role.
A New York Times' story from April correctly cited Lombardo as a "military spokesperson." Another report in the Albany Times-Union merely cited her as a "24-year Guard veteran." In his report, Times-Union scribe Tim O'Brien quoted Lombardo extensively as she praised the hard work of her division and drew special attention to their successful cooperation with local forces to "rebuild Iraqi infrastructure."
"I enjoy what I'm doing over there and enjoy getting to know the Iraqi people," Lombardo tells the Times-Union stenographer. "The support of my family has been tremendous."
It tugs at the heart, but there are likely more insidious forces at play. Lombardo's job is to make the handover to Iraqi forces look good. During yesterday's PR stunt, she got into a pre-scripted back and forth with the president:
SERGEANT LOMBARDO: I can tell you over the past 10 months we've seen a tremendous increase in the capabilities and the confidences of our Iraqi security force partners. We've been working side-by-side, training and equipping 18 Iraqi army battalions. Since we began our partnership, they have improved greatly, and they continue to develop and grow into sustainable forces. Over the next month, we anticipate seeing at least one-third of those Iraqi forces conducting independent operations.
THE PRESIDENT: That's important. The American people have got to know — and I appreciate you bringing that up, Sergeant Major, about how — what the progress is like. In other words, we've got a measurement system —
SERGEANT LOMBARDO: Well, together —
THE PRESIDENT: I'm sorry, go ahead.
SERGEANT LOMBARDO: I'm sorry, just, together with our coalition forces, we've captured over 50 terrorists, as well as detained thousands of others that have ties to the insurgency. And I believe it is these accomplishments and the numerous accomplishments from our task force that will provide a safe and secure environment for the referendum vote.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate that. There's no question that we need to stay on the offense, and we need to stay on the offense with well-trained Iraqi forces, side-by-side the finest military ever — ever to exist, and that's the United States military.
SERGEANT LOMBARDO: That it is, Mr. President. Thank you.
Bush could have let the American people in on this political theater. He could have pointed out the flack as that person in military garb regurgitating the White House line. Instead, he pretended that Lombardo was a grunt, like the other soldiers seated at her side, engaged in a frank conversation about the state of the war. MediaCitizen has since discovered that Lombardo may not have been alone (read "Soldier Propagandist").
When prodded by reporters about the staged nature of Thursday's press event, White House press secretary Scott McClellan took offense: "I'm sorry, are you suggesting that what our troops were saying was not sincere, or what they said was not their own thoughts?"
"But I also asked this morning, were they being told by their commanders what to say or what to do, and you indicated, no," responded a reporter in the White House press gallery. "Was there any prescreening of -- ?"
"I'm not aware of any such -- any such activities that were being undertaken," McClellan interjected. "We coordinated closely with the Department of Defense. You can ask if there was any additional things that they did. But we work very closely with them to coordinate these events, and the troops can ask the President whatever they want. They've always been welcome to do that."
McClellan added that the president wanted to talk with troops on the ground who have first-hand knowledge about the situation.
Lombardo's only fist-hand knowledge is in spreading propaganda. David Axe, the Village Voice's reporter in Iraq, told Harkavy: "Her job when I was with the 42nd Infantry Division included taking reporters to lunch. She lives in a fortified compound in Tikrit and rarely leaves. Many public-affairs types in Iraq never leave their bases, and they're speaking for those who do the fighting and dying."
Lombardo joins Karen Ryan and Armstrong Williams as the poster children for the White House's vast propaganda campaign. As more evidence comes into view, we're able to assemble a case against an administration that has gone too far, involving a systemic and quiet campaign to manipulate the Fourth Estate and sell the electorate on presidential policies. Though, if Bush’s sagging approval rating is any guide, Americans are no longer buying.
1. MediaCitizen outs another propagandist in the mix of soldiers.
2. The Pentagon's laughable denial comes via Fox News.
10-17 UPDATE -- See the videos, hear the rehearsal:
1. On MSNBC
4. NPR (See link in left column)
5. and, of course, The Daily Show