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US Paying Iraq Media for News
By Will Dunham
February 21, 2006

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Tuesday he was mistaken when he stated last week that the U.S. military had stopped paying Iraqi newspapers to publish pro-American articles.

Rumsfeld had said in a television interview on Friday that the U.S. military had ceased paying to place positive stories in Iraqi media after criticism in the U.S. Congress and press. Rumsfeld made similar comments the same day to the Council on Foreign Relations.

"I just misstated the facts," Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing on Tuesday.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said the military command in Iraq was still paying to plant positive stories, even as U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Scott Van Buskirk investigates it.

Rumsfeld said he did not know whether Van Buskirk's inquiry would be completed soon. The review was ordered by Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, officials said.

On "The Charlie Rose Show," aired on PBS stations, Rumsfeld said, "The press got it, then the Congress starts calling for hearings and fussing about this, and complaining about that, as though it was something terrible that happened."

"It wasn't anything terrible that happened. When we heard about it, we said, 'Gee, that's not what we ought to be doing.' And we told the people down there, and they -- they told the contractor who did it -- it wasn't a military person -- and they stopped doing that," Rumsfeld added in the interview.

The stories were placed with the help of Lincoln Group, a Washington-based defense contractor.

Van Buskirk's inquiry was announced in December after the military confirmed U.S. troops in an "information operations" task force wrote articles with positive messages about the U.S. mission that were translated from English into Arabic and placed in Iraqi newspapers in return for money.

The U.S. command in Iraq at the time said "articles have been accepted and published as a function of buying advertising and opinion/editorial space, as is customary in Iraq."

Some U.S. lawmakers have said the practice could undermine U.S. credibility as American officials try to foster democratic institutions in Iraq and tout its emerging free press.  

Rumsfeld told the Council on Foreign Relations that the military command in Iraq "has sought nontraditional means to provide accurate information to the Iraqi people in the face of (an) aggressive campaign of disinformation."

"Yet this has been portrayed as inappropriate -- for example, the allegations of someone in the military hiring a contractor, and the contractor allegedly paying someone to print a story -- a true story -- but paying to print a story," Rumsfeld said.

The U.S. military has argued it is important to counter what it calls misinformation spread by insurgents.

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