Yet more on Paul Moran

If you thought the Paul Moran story on B2I was over, guess again. Sheldon Rampton, who’s work I based the original story on, weighs in with a pretty interesting rebuttal to ABC TV reporter Eric Campbell.

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.

1585422762.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpgAs 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” � he seemed able to contact important people with little bother � 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/
B1B47ED7DABBEDBCCA256D480013C030?OpenDocument

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:
http://www.theadvertiser.news.com.au/printpage/ 0,5942,6239116,00.html
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:
http://www.sbs.com.au/dateline/
trans.php3?dte=2003-07-23&title= Paul+Moran+Story

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 did�nt 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:
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/01/18/eveningnews/ main324937.shtml
http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/01122107.htm
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/worldview/story/ 0,11581,669024,00.html
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:
http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s832032.htm
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.

Sheldon Rampton
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.

Story in CJR on weblogs, credibility and Jayson Blair

New article examines the terms of engagement between journalists and their readers.

Just a quick pointer. The _Columbia Journalism Review_ devoted its latest issue to alternative media. The chairman of NYU’s journalism department and, full disclosure, now my boss, offered Emerging Alternatives: Terms of Authority to try to make some sense of what’s happening in the world of journalism today. Back-to-Iraq.com is a central part of his article, but it’s more interesting because of his exploration of the interaction between the public and the reporter. It’s a good — if lengthy — read.

Mea culpa on Paul Moran

I apologize for the Paul Moran piece last week.

I’d like to apologize about the Paul Moran piece below. I don’t know that Paul Moran was working for Rendon Group at the time of his tragic death and I should not have said or insinuated that he did. I stepped over the line from valid criticism of government and private firms to smearing a man who can’t defend himself, and that was wrong.
A commenter, calling himself Eric Campbell, who was the reporter with Moran at the time of his death, wrote in and said this:

I am the ABC reporter who was working with Paul Moran when he was killed. The immense grief his family is suffering has been compounded by the unending repetition of false claims about him on the internet.
It is probably too late to repair the damage, but in the interests of decency, people should recognise the following:
Paul’s assignment for the ABC in northern Iraq Iraq was as my cameraman. He was not the reporter. It is absurd and wrong to say there was a conflict of interest.
Paul was not working for the Rendon Group at the same time. He was never any employee of the Rendon Group. Like many freelance journalists, he did occasional audio visual production work Rendon and other PR companies.
His work was never propaganda. It was corporate videos, news webs-sites, and in the case of his original work in Kurdistan, production and training work to help the Kurds set up a TV station.
He rightly felt sympathy for the plight of Kurdish civilians after seeing the suffering they had been through under Saddam Hussein. He felt the media should do more to report this, as well as many other issues he felt strongly about such as the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. There is no contradiction between that and his work as a cameraman or reporter for such broadcasters as the BBC and ABC.
He obtained the interview with an Iraqi defector through a contact at the INC he had worked with in Kurdistan. That is not sinister. It is how journalists get stories.
Paul never made any secret about his freelance production work. He simply did it to pay the bills betwen broadcast assignments, like any other freelancer.
He was a man of great integrity who was widely loved. The fact that John Rendon came to his funeral in Adelaide, along with dozens of others from around the world who had worked with him, is simply a reflection of that.
Go ahead and criticise the INC, the CIA, the Pentagon, whoever. But do not make Paul the villain, because he wasn’t.
He took on a risky assignment to work for the ABC during the war Kurdistan because he believed the Kurds were an important part of the story. He was disdainful of journalists who just got news from press briefings, believing they should always go to where the story was. He paid for this with his life.
Eric Campbell
Reporter
ABC TV

The IP number that showed up with the comment traceroutes back to a machine in Australia, so I’m going to accept that Campbell is the author of this note.
I’d like to extend my apologies to Moran’s family and to his friends. But most of all, to my readers. It was shoddy journalism.
However, I should have made it more clear that I did not consider Paul a “villain” in this. I felt that the most stinging criticism was rightfully aimed at Rendon and the Pentagon. I still consider it questionable for a journalistic enterprise such as ABC to hire someone with ties to a PR firm so closely tied to the Washington power structure, but that should not be read as a criticism of Moran. As Campbell pointed out, he took jobs to pay bills — something every freelancer has to do. Including myself. (Never for a PR firm, but for magazines that don’t contribute to my foreign policy aspirations.)
My sincerest apologies to Moran’s friends and family.

When is a reporter not a reporter?

Journalist Paul Moran, killed in northern Iraq on March 23, 2003, had more to his story than was initially reported.

I just started reading Weapons of Mass Deception, by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, of the Center for Media & Democracy. For those who don’t know who these guys are, they’re two of the few watchdogs of the PR industry, and their latest book looks at the PR campaign to sell the Iraq war to the American people and the world. Through meticulous documentation and witty verbiage, Stauber and Rampton — unlike Ann Coulter — document instance after instance in which the drive to oust Saddam Hussein was packaged, marketed and sold. With no return policy.
I’m still early into the book, but in the second chapter, I came across a startling revelation.
moran_boat2.jpgWho remembers Paul Moran, a television cameraman on assignment for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in northern Iraq? He was killed March 22, 2003 by a suicide car bomb at a PUK checkpoint by an alleged member of Ansar al-Islam.
It seems there may have been more to Moran than meets the eye. In addition to his work as a cameraman, he was also “a self-described crusader for the Kurdish people in northern Iraq.” He helped an Iraqi scientist and his family defect. And most important, as the obituary in his hometown paper, the Adelaide Advertiser, notes, he was also involved in work for the Rendon Group, an American public relations firm.
Who is the Rendon Group? Stauber and Rampton reveal that in October 2001, the Pentagon awarded the Rendon Group a $397,000 contract “to handle PR aspects of the U.S. military strike in Afghanistan.” They further write that in February 2002, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon was using the Rendon Group to help it with the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI). You remember that office, don’t you? It was the the office the DoD hastily — and noisily — disbanded after the _Times_ reported that it would provide foreign reporters with “news items, possibly even false ones.” The Office was met with outrage by journalistic organizations around the world.
Why the outrage? Because it would have endangered journalists by tainting them with Pentagon disinformation; it would have undermined the fledgling media in other countries; because it was almost a foregone conclusion that the American media would have picked up a false story intended for the foreign press; and because it’s just damn undemocratic.
Rendon’s contract wasn’t cancelled, however, the authors say. “Let me just say that we have a confidentiality/nondisclosure agreement in place” with the DoD, said company spokeswoman Jeanne Sklarz.
Getting back to Moran, the _Advertiser_ points out that “Company founder John Rendon flew from the US to attend Mr Moran’s funeral in Adelaide.”
“A close friend, Rob Buchan, said the presence of Mr Rendon — an adviser to the US National Security Council — illustrated the regard in which Mr. Moran was held in U.S. political circles, including the Congress.”
Oh, and another, minor, point that Stauber and Rampton point out: In 1992, the Rendon Group helped organize the Iraqi National Congress. The PR firm, in fact, came up with the name and channeled $12 million in CIA funds to the group between 1992 and 1996. In October 1992, John Rendon chose one of his protégés, Ahmed Chalabi, to head the group.
Just to be clear: Paul Moran, a “journalist” who was killed in northern Iraq was working for the same people who helped found the INC _and_ an office of disinformation that was “disbanded” but apparently kept contracts going long enough to hire Moran and get him into northern Iraq — more than a year after the Office was officially shuttered.
My point is not to disparage Moran or to somehow insinuate he deserved to die. I’m not at all. But I have to admit that I cast a very skeptical glance at his connections to Rendon and his activism for the Kurds — so much that PUK Prime Minister Barham Salih said in a letter that a statue would be erected in Moran’s honor. I have to wonder why a serious journalistic organization such as the Australian Broadcasting Corp. would hire someone with ties to _any_ PR firm, much less one with such tight ties to the U.S. government and the war effort. (Interestingly, the ABC story on Moran makes no mention of his involvement with Rendon.)
I have to wonder why the founder of the Rendon Group would come to a freelancer’s funeral — in the middle of a war, no less. But most of all, if Moran was working for Rendon Group at the time of his death, as John Rendon’s visit strongly suggests, does that mean the suspicions held by many in the blogosphere that the OSI was never shut down at all were right? And if that’s true, who else in the field might be working for that “disbanded” Office of Strategic Influence?
*UPDATE:* Hm. Found this transcript from the DoD dated Nov. 18, 2002. It was made while Rumsfeld was en route to Chile for a hemisphere defense meeting. The section that pertains to this issue reads thusly:

And then there was the office of strategic influence. You may recall that. And “oh my goodness gracious isn’t that terrible, Henny Penny the sky is going to fall.” I went down that next day and said fine, if you want to savage this thing fine I’ll give you the corpse. There’s the name. You can have the name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have.
That was intended to be done by that office is being done by that office, NOT by that office in other ways.

Now, that certainly _sounds_ like Rumsfeld just admitted that the OSI was still alive in function if not in its old office. And it means Moran was likely _not_ acting as a journalist when he died, but in some other function. I don’t know what it was, but if he was presenting himself as a journalist while working in some other capacity, he was endangering every other journalist in Iraq. This was — and is — a central argument to making it illegal for the CIA to recruit journalists as spies. Terry Anderson, former Beirut bureau chief for the Associated Press, was held hostage in Lebanon for nearly seven years because Islamic militants falsely accused him of being a spy.
This cynical use of journalists is wrong. Journalists, when they’re doing their job, are not only agents of their readers, wriggling their way into situations like Iraq where their readers can’t or won’t go, but they’re also agents of the body politic when they demand answers of the policy makers. Truth matters. Lying to a journalist or using journalists as spies or disinformation conduits is wrong and it subverts democracy because it clogs the media outlets — the circulatory system of the body politic — with crap.
But journalists aren’t off the hook either. Moran should not have worked for Rendon and ABC at the same time. He should have chosen whether to be a Rendon employee and a Kurdish activist or a journalist. The ABC should not have hired him, frankly. At the very least, the broadcaster should have made his ties to Rendon Group public so his viewers could make up their own mind as to his credibility. Journalists should flatly refuse to accept money or work for any group that could lead sources to suspect the reporter is not what he or she seems. It’s one thing for a reporter and a CIA bureau chief to swap information — that happens all the time and it’s probably not so bad. It’s quite another to be on the CIA’s or the Pentagon’s payroll.

The Way We Were…

How optimistic Kurds and Iraqis were back in April. A story I wrote for Scholastic is full of optimistic quotes — mostly from Kurds, admittedly — but how representative are these opinions now? Looks like it’s time for another trip to Mesopotamia.

Man, I gotta get back to Baghdad. (New title for the site?) The reason I post this is because I finally got around to posting the link to one of the stories I did for Scholastic while I was over there in April.
DSC00703.jpg
Baghdad residents greet me in April. (® 2003 Christopher Allbritton)
How optimistic the Iraqis (mostly Kurds, frankly) sounded!

“Everything will be OK,” said Wuria Ahmed Ameen, a Kurdish translator and professor in the northern Iraq city of Arbil. “There is still certain resistance, but even those that belonged to the Ba’ath Party [Saddam Hussein’s party] are very, very happy about the situation.” The only reason Saddam’s supporters backed him, he said, was because they feared him. Now that he’s gone, “They will accept what happened….even the Arabs will realize how oppressed they were.”

Obviously things haven’t worked out quite that smoothly. I wonder what they think now, really. I read the _Times_ and the _Washington Post_ and much of the coverage focuses on the negative. This is to be expected and it’s how news works. It’s not an anti-American bias or anything like that — it’s a bias every reporter has that defines news as anything that goes against the expected grain. Full disclosure: I do it, too. Thirteen years of journalism and two degrees in journalism die hard.
This bias is, of course, one reason people like to call their local papers and demand less emphasis on “bad news.” Well, things in the America are generally expected to work out OK. When they don’t, that’s news — by definition. And “bad news” is generally more important than “good news.” Who wants to read a paper that tells readers, “everything’s cool,” when things aren’t cool at all?
And in parallel, foreign media in Iraq are focusing on the horrible stuff because _that’s news._ That’s what they do. But is there a silent Iraqi majority that supports the CPA? Or are the angry and resentful people quoted in the papers truly representative of public opinion? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I’d like to find out.
Anyway, my book proposal is in my agent’s hands, and I’m waiting to hear now. Here’s hoping a decent advance is forthcoming and it will be enough to allow me to set up shop in Baghdad for two or three months to finish up the research.