Washington Babylon — July 11, 2007, 5:57 pm

Dorrance Smith’s Department of Propaganda: Meet the American “Baghdad Bob”

dorrance_smith

Dorrance Smith, a former ABC News producer, has been close to Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld since the Ford Administration. Which probably explains why the Bush administration picked him to be assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.

In November 2005, shortly after President Bush nominated him for the post, Smith wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal claiming American television networks—including Fox News—had an “ongoing relationship” with the pan-Arab news network Al-Jazeera. That prompted Senator Carl Levin, then the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to put a hold on Smith’s nomination. Smith, Levin said, believed that “Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and Al Qaeda have a partner in Al-Jazeera and, by extension, most networks in the U.S.” And such a person, Levin reasoned, should not be given a senior Pentagon press-relations job.

But the Bush Administration had other plans, and Smith was named to his job in a recess appointment in February 2006. Recess appointments are the Bush Administration’s preferred method for installing hacks into key positions (see John Bolton), and Smith hasn’t disappointed: even though he heads an agency that is meant to be the main liaison between the Pentagon, the media, and the American public, he has, we’re told, yet to hold a single press briefing.

Several journalists who cover the Pentagon – all asked that their names not be used, for obvious reasons — said that Smith rarely speaks to reporters at all. “I‘m not really sure how he fills his day, [but] it’s not helping us,” said one reporter of Smith. Another said that Smith’s predecessors in the Bush Administration, Torrie Clarke and Larry Di Rita, had their faults, “but you could go to them for help and for information. We see the cleaning lady more than Dorrance.”

The stated mission of the Public Affairs office is to provide accurate information to the media and the public. But Smith’s aim seems to be to turn his office into a political spin operation that serves the White House. For example, he posted “Five Myths About the War on Terror” on a Defense Department website, a document greatly lacking in facts. Two of the “myths” he seeks to debunk: that “Secretary Rumsfeld ignored military advice to increase troop levels in Iraq,” and that “the administration has been distracted from waging an effective war in Afghanistan by Iraq.”

Smith has also sought to turn the Early Bird—a daily collection of articles on defense and national security issues assembled by the Pentagon—into what one reporter called “an in-house propaganda rag.” Smith has used the Early Bird to circulate letters he has written to newspapers that criticize media outlets for allegedly misreporting the situation in Iraq. (Apparently some of these letters were so ridiculous that no newspaper would publish them.) Smith also created a rapid-response team of administration loyalists who craft emergency spin on news stories that don’t reflect well on the war effort.

Many defense reporters now routinely bypass Smith’s office, knowing there’s no chance of getting anything other than the party line, and seek information instead from the press offices of the individual military branches and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And, last month, former ABC correspondent Geoff Morrell was installed as a Pentagon spokesman and on-camera briefer—perhaps because even the Pentagon itself is embarrassed by Smith’s refusal to do his job.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2014

Israel and Palestine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Washington Is Burning

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On Free Will

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

They Were Awake

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
“There was torture by the previous regime and by the current Iraqi regime,” Dr. Amin said. “Torture by our Kurdish government, torture by Syrians, torture by the U.S.”
Visiting His Own Grave © Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Article
On Free Will·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Philosophers have labored for more than two thousand years to explain consciousness. Innocent of biology, however, they have for the most part gotten nowhere.”
Collage (detail) by Frederick Sommer
Post
Introducing the September 2014 Issue·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

 
Where Israel and Palestine can go from here, Washington D.C.’s enduring legacy of racial strife, Edward O. Wilson on free will, and more
Criticism
The Soft-Kill Solution·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Policymakers, recognizing the growing influence of civil disobedience and riots on the direction of the nation, had already begun turning to science for a response."
Illustration by Richard Mia
Article
Israel and Palestine·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If Israel believes it needs to make a wall eight meters high between us and them, let them have it eighty meters high. Under one condition: It has to be on the international border.”
Photograph (detail) © Ali Jadallah / APA Images / ZUMA Wire

Chances that an applicant to a U.S. police force in 1992 was found to be “overly aggressive” on psychological tests:

1 in 2

Engineers funded by the United States military were working on electrical brain implants that will enable the creation of remote-controlled sharks.

Malaysian police were seeking fifteen people who appeared in an online video of the Malaysia-International Nude Sports Games 2014 Extravaganza, and Spanish police fined six Swiss tourists conducting an orgy in the back of a moving van for not wearing their seatbelts.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today