Thursday, March 30, 2006

Bush spends heavily to get message out
Bush spends heavily to get message out

The Bush administration, amid record budget deficits, has been spending huge amounts on advertising and public relations contracts to counter a hostile media environment.

The administration spent $1.62 billion on advertising and public relations contracts over two and a half years. Most of the money was spent by the Defense Department amid its efforts to recruit soldiers for the war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"The extent of the Bush administration's propaganda effort is unprecedented and disturbing," said Rep. George Miller, California Democrat.

Mr. Miller and other Democrats ordered a study of the administration's PR budget. In January, the Government Accountability Office issued a report that examined the media budgets of seven federal departments.

In all, the seven departments reported a total of 343 media contracts from 2003 to mid-2005. Forty percent of the contracts were with advertising agencies and 38 percent were with media organizations.

Another two percent of the contracts were with "individual members of the media." They were not identified in the report.

The Pentagon hired agencies to do everything from designing Web sites, drafting a logo for the Air Force to placing ads for leisure travel, bowling and "football frenzy." The U.S. Army spent millions of dollars in media messages and staff to promote the "strategic perspective in the Global War on Terrorism."

Officials were also coached on how to be interviewed, the report said. Several other departments hired media consultants to present a positive spin on their performance.

In November 2005, the U.S. military was found to have used the Lincoln Group to plant articles written by American troops in Iraqi newspapers. An inquiry ordered by Gen. George Casey, the commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, found that the Washington-based public relations group did not violate policy by paying Iraqis to post the articles.

But Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called for a Pentagon review of the practice of paying the Iraqi media to plant pro-American stories.