I may very well regret this, but in the interest of fairness and/or throwing gasoline on a dying fire, I’m reprinting Sheldon Rampton’s email to me — with his full permission — in which he responds to Eric Campbell, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reporter who defended Paul Moran’s work in Iraqi Kurdistan. (And whose criticism led me to apologize.) Rampton is the co-author of “Weapons of Mass Deception,” which was the original prod to this whole Paul Moran imbroglio.
As the co-author with John Stauber of “Weapons of Mass Deception,” I read with interest your recent apology about Paul Moran, the Australian TV cameraman who was killed in Iraq and who also worked for the Rendon Group. However, I think you have apologized excessively and prematurely.
In “Weapons of Mass Deception,” John and I describe Moran’s work for Rendon very briefly, but there is more to the story than we tell there. We decided not go go into further detail, partly because a more extensive telling didn’t seem to fit within the flow of that chapter. However, the facts in total are actually MORE disturbing than you would imagine from the brief mention that appears in our book. Moreover, I would challenge some of the statements that Eric Campbell made in his comments to you.
To begin with, Campbell refers to an “unending repetition of false claims” about Moran. However, Colin James, the reporter who first wrote about Moran’s relationship with the Rendon Group, continues to stand by his story. James works for the “Adelaide Advertiser,” and he learned about Moran’s work for Rendon when he attended his funeral. According to “The Bulletin,” an Australian news magazine, James sat down with “two close friends and two of Moran’s brothers” the day after the funeral:
They drank coffee and reminisced about their friend the altar boy, the sea scout, the livewire. The journalist was inquiring of the cameraman’s work in northern Iraq when one of the friends mentioned that Moran worked for a “shadowy” company. Shadowy company, wondered the journalist. Whatever could you mean?
The friend mentioned a name: the Rendon Group. He talked of Moran’s involvement in helping an Iraqi defector escape and Moran’s work with the INC. Moran, he said, had helped mobilise a popular uprising against Saddam Hussein’s regime and trained dissidents in the use of hidden cameras. There were the renowned “Paul Moran channels” ï¿½ he seemed able to contact important people with little bother ï¿½ and the “James Bond lifestyle”. In short, Moran had spent a decade, on and off, trying to destabilise Saddam Hussein’s regime for a company hired by both the CIA and Pentagon.
Perhaps Moran’s death wasn’t so random, after all. Perhaps this nice guy had a secret. Well, that’s how the journalist reported it, anyway. Colin James, an Adelaide Advertiser reporter with a 1994 Walkley Award, stands by his story. No one demurred while one friend spun tales about Moran, he says. James’ main fear during the interview was that his eyes might turn into saucers. He rushed back to the office and punched “Rendon Group” into an internet search engine. And his eyes grew wider.
The URL for the above story is as follows: http://bulletin.ninemsn.com.au/bulletin/EdDesk.nsf/0/
It should be noted that Colin James did not intend his story to be any sort of attack or criticism of Moran’s work. To the contrary, it was headlined “Moran’s secret crusade against the tyranny of Saddam,” and it is full of laudatory comments about Moran by his grieving friends. You can read James’ story at the following URL:
Clearly, James’ account differs from Eric Campbell’s claim that Moran merely “did occasional audio visual production work [for] Rendon and other PR companies.” Moreover, James’ account is corroborated and amplified in a TV segment for the Australian news program Dateline. You can read a transcript of the program and view the video at the following URL:
The Dateline program interviewed Zaab Sethna, a longtime spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress. According to Sethna, he and Moran began working together more than a decade ago, prior to Operation Desert Storm:
When I first met Paul we were working for the government of Kuwait. That ended after Kuwait was liberated by the Americans and then the Rendon group came back us to.
We weren’t employees we were on contract. The Rendon group came back to us and said, “We now have a contract to bureaucracy, to kind of do anti-Saddam propaganda on behalf of the Iraqi opposition.”
So, there was some radio, some television, there was like a travelling human rights exhibition around the world to show Saddam’s human rights violations. There was sending out press releases, kind of standard public relations. What we didï¿½nt know, what the Rendon group didn’t tell us, was in fact it was the CIA that had hired them to do this work so we hired on…
Moreover, Moran’s relationship with the INC and the Rendon Group led to one of the high-profile international news stories that purported to document a covert Iraqi program to develop weapons of mass destruction. As Sethna explains in the Dateline piece, Moran was chosen by the INC as one of only two reporters (the other was Judith Miller of the New York Times) invited to interview Adnan Ihsan Saeed al Haideri, an Iraqi defector who claimed that he had been used by Saddam to build specialised bunkers and other facilities for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons research. After Miller and Moran did their separate stories on al Haideri, he disappeared into a U.S. witness protection program. You can see some of the stories about Iraq that were based on al Haideri’s allegations at the following URLs:
As this example illustrates, it is inaccurate for Campbell to characterize Paul Moran as merely a cameraman. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation also treated him as a reporter and allowed him to break a story that was of major importance in making the case for war with Iraq. To have this story reported by someone who has worked closely with both the Rendon Group and the Iraqi National Congress is a clear case of conflict of interest. Eric Campbell is merely blowing smoke when he tries to use the distinction between a “contract worker” and an “employee” as his basis for claiming that no such conflict existed. It is also striking that no one has been able to substantiate al Haideri’s detailed descriptions (including locations) of an extensive weapons program that included underground storage facilities. As Scott Ritter has pointed out, it would have been impossible for Saddam Hussein to destroy such facilities quickly without leaving a trace in the days preceding the war. There is a good chance that al Haideri’s claims about weapons facilities were the basis for Donald Rumsfeld’s claim on March 30 that “We know where they are.” But if we knew where they are, why haven’t we found them by now?
I think that it is also rather disingenous for Campbell to complain that it is now “too late to repair the damage” of allegedly “false claims” about Moran that have circulated on the Internet. Following the publication of Colin James’s story in the Adelaide Advertiser, Moran’s family and friends were asked repeatedly to clarify the facts about his life and work, and they repeatedly declined to do so, usually citing their grief as the reason for remaining silent. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has also been very “economical with the truth” in its comments on the matter. For example, here is the URL to a transcript from ABC’s “Media Watch,” which comments on the Adelaide Advertiser:
The ABC response consists of calling Colin James’s story “a superficial piece” and then declining to comment further on grounds that it wasn’t “a story most of the Australian media followed” — a classic “non-denial denial” that fails to identify a single error of fact in James’s story while insinuating that something was wrong with it. And how can Moran’s people have it both ways? If the Colin James story wasn’t followed by most of the media, how can it have caused the intense grief and suffering of which they complain? And if they can’t be bothered to publicly correct any errors in the story, why should we take them at face value now when they complain that errors have gone uncorrected? And what errors specifically are they talking about? The only error that Campbell mentions in his complaint to you is that Moran worked on contract for Rendon rather than being an “employee.” That’s arguably an error on your part (not ours), but it’s a pretty nit-picky complaint, given the extent of Moran’s relationship with the Rendon Group.
As for the complaint that Moran is being villainized, John and I never characterized him as a villain, and neither did you. I think Campbell brought up that claim for the purpose of emotional intimidation. I have no doubt that Campbell liked Paul Moran and resents reading criticism of his work. I also have no reason to doubt that Moran believed in the cause of the Kurds, and he probably also believed in the work he did for the INC. People who work on public relations campaigns often internalize the beliefs of their clients. “Sincerity of belief,” however, is not a valid defense against the specific charge of conflict of interest, and by any reasonable interpretation, Moran crossed that line. To say that this is the case does not mean that Moran was a villain, and it is not intended to convey any disrespect for the dead. Out of respect for the LIVING, however, I think the public is entitled to know the full story of how we were sold the war on Iraq.
Editor, PR Watch (www.prwatch.org)
Author of books including:
Friends In Deed: The Story of US-Nicaragua Sister Cities
Toxic Sludge Is Good For You
Mad Cow USA
Trust Us, We’re Experts
Weapons of Mass Deception
There is obviously more to this story than a first — or second or third — glance shows. I’ll be working on this one over the next few days.