This article is set to distinguish the narrow border
between information and propaganda in today's
"The U.S. Department of Defense plans to add more sites
on the Internet to provide information to a global
audience -- but critics question whether the Pentagon is
violating President Bush's pledge not to pay journalists
to promote his policies.
The Defense Department runs two Web sites overseas, one
aimed at people in the Balkan region in Europe, the
other for the Maghreb area of North Africa.
It is preparing another site, even as the Pentagon
inspector general investigates whether the sites are
The Web sites carry stories on subjects such as
politics, sports and entertainment.
The sites are run by U.S. military troops trained in
"information warfare," a specialty that can include
Pentagon officials say the goal is to counter
"misinformation" about the United States in overseas
At first glance, the Web pages appear to be independent
news sites. To find out who is actually behind the
content, a visitor would have to click on a small link
-- at the bottom of the page -- to a disclaimer, which
says, in part, that the site is "sponsored by" the U.S.
Department of Defense.
"There is an element of deception," said Tom Rosenstiel,
director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
"The problem," he said, is that it looks like a news
site unless a visitor looks at the disclaimer, which is
"sort of oblique."
The Pentagon maintains that the information on the sites
is true and accurate. But in a recent memo, Deputy
Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz insisted that the
Web site contractor should only hire journalists who
"will not reflect discredit on the U.S. government."
The Defense Department has hired more than 50 freelance
writers for the sites.
Some senior military officers have told CNN the Web
sites may clash with President Bush's recent statements.
"We will not be paying commentators to advance our
agenda," Bush told reporters on January 26. "Our agenda
ought to be able to stand on its own two feet." (Full
Bush made those comments after it came to light that the
administration had paid several commentators to support
U.S. policies in the U.S. media.
Many Democrats have called for an end to what they call
administration propaganda within the United States.
But many lawmakers view the rules for handling
information overseas as a separate issue.
On Thursday, Lawrence Di Rita, the principal deputy
assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, asked
the Pentagon inspector general to examine Defense
Department activities, including the Web sites in
question, to see that they fall within the guidelines
Bush laid out.
Di Rita said the department wanted "to make sure that we
are staying well within the lines, and I believe we
Rosenstiel said there is a reason why rules exist to
separate journalism from government information.
"Anytime that the government has to assure you, 'Believe
me, take my word for it, I'm telling you nothing but the
truth,' you know you should be worried"."