Sunday, March 30, 2008

“Tennessean” Gets Astroturfed

Can you smell the propaganda? The Tennessean apparently can’t: our daily fishwrap just got astroturfed by GOP front group Veterans For Freedom. The Sunday local news section featured a story on the group’s visit to (where else?) a church in Williamson County. The headline says it all: "Veterans tell 'true story' of Iraq.” This part is priceless:
The good news, Hegseth said, is that since June, attacks in Iraq and sectarian violence have decreased 70 percent.

"We're combating the talking points of 2006, which was outright civil war in Iraq, and if folks haven't gotten the memo, civil war in Iraq is over," he said.

Uh, right. I guess Hegseth hasn’t gotten the memo about what’s happening with the Mahdi Army.

Anyway, it would have been nice if someone at the paper had done the most cursory check of Veterans For Freedom before filing this propaganda piece. If they had, then maybe they would have mentioned VFF's ties to the Bush Administration, the GOP, and partisan activities targeting anti-war Democrats. Sadly, The Tennessean's reporters and editors never bothered to check into VFF at all. They failed to do even the simplest Google search; heck, they probably didn't even spell check the thing.

Sad, but not surprising.

Typical of astroturfers, VFF presents itself as a non-partisan, grassroots organization. Instead, they are a GOP front group familiar to the netroots for their efforts to defeat anti-war Senate candidate Ned Lamont in 2006.

The group started out with the help of former White House spokesman Taylor Gross’ PR firm, the Herald Group. They tried to get newspapers to embed their Jeff Gannon-like mouthpieces in Iraq until they were busted by Buffalo News reporter Jerry Zremsk:

WASHINGTON - A former spokesman for President Bush recently offered to several newspapers supposedly objective freelance stories from Iraq by two combat veterans who lead a pro-war group with deep Republican ties.

Several months after revelations that a Pentagon contractor was paying Iraqi news outlets for favorable war coverage, former White House spokesman Taylor Gross approached at least four major newspapers, including The Buffalo News, with the offer.

Gross' pitch to The News said the two highly decorated veterans could serve as embedded correspondents and "offer balanced and credible viewpoints gained directly from those closest to and most affected by the Iraq War." One of the reporters, former Marine Lt. Wade Zirkle, helped run Republican Jerry Kilgore's 2005 campaign for governor of Virginia.

Zirkle and the other reporter, David Bellavia of Batavia, are top leaders of Vets for Freedom, a new group with a highly polished Web site hosted by a firm that previously worked for the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee.

Yes, that would be Campaign Solutions:

The group’s Website is hosted by Campaign Solutions, a high-profile political consultancy that does Republican-campaign Web work. Clients have included Bush-Cheney ’04 and the Swift Boat Vets. “Vets for Freedom are the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” of the ’06 cycle, says Stauber.

Zirkle no longer works for Vets For Freedom--he’s been replaced by Pete Hegseth, quoted in the Tennessean article--but Hegseth is a former policy specialist for the right-wing Manhattan Institute, a think tank started by William Casey, Ronald Reagan’s CIA director.

Dan Senor, who worked for the Bush Administration in Iraq as a Senior Advisor to Paul Bremer III , was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying he was advising the group. Nope, no partisanship there.

Perhaps the weirdest thing I found out about VFF is that one of their spokes-vets/anti-liberal agitators is a former gay porn star.

It doesn’t take any magical google-fu to find this stuff. But apparently even that is beyond the abilities of the crack stenographers at The Tennessean.