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[] WPO 15.11.03: Pentagon Plans Iraq Channel,

Pentagon Plans Iraq Channel
Satellite Link Allows White House to Bypass TV Networks

By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 15, 2003; Page A17

In an escalation of White House efforts to circumvent what President Bush 
calls the news media "filter," the Pentagon plans to launch a 24-hour 
satellite channel from Baghdad to make it easier for U.S. television 
stations to air government-authorized news about Iraq.

The satellite link, dubbed "C-SPAN Baghdad" within the administration, is 
to go on the air in a week or two. It begins at a time when guerrilla 
violence in Iraq is increasing and the White House is revising and 
accelerating plans to transfer governing authority to Iraqis.

Administration officials assert that U.S. news organizations have 
emphasized violence and setbacks in occupied Iraq while playing down 
progress. The officials say the satellite capability is designed to help 
local stations interview U.S. authorities in Iraq and offer live coverage 
of military ceremonies and briefings relevant to their geographic areas.

The channel is the most aggressive yet of several administration efforts to 
bypass national news organizations, including a succession of interviews 
for local television stations with Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. 
Rumsfeld and others.

One Republican strategist expressed skepticism about the project, saying it 
appeared to be an effort "to improve public opinion back home" before 
Bush's reelection campaign gets fully underway.

The officials said the channel will offer uncut coverage of government 
briefings and other events, and they plan to notify U.S. stations when an 
enlisted person, general, official or business from their area is 
participating. The project, they said, would have the effect of cutting the 
broadcast networks out of news transactions between the administration and 
affiliate stations.

"We want the stations to show not just the shocking picture but the whole 
picture," said a senior administration official who refused to be named. 
"Car bombs are news, but there's a journalistic responsibility to paint a 
more comprehensive picture."

White House communications director Dan Bartlett said a shortage of 
reliable satellite conduits from Iraq "often makes it difficult for people 
to follow briefings and the progress that's being made."

"The better technology will make it easier for reporters from news 
organizations, big or small, to cover the story as it unfolds," Bartlett 
said. "News organizations will still make the decision whether to use it or 
not. That's not control. It's access many reporters currently don't get 
because they are back in the United States."

The project is being headed by J. Dorrance Smith, who was assistant to the 
president for media affairs in George H.W. Bush's administration and 
advised the younger Bush on his Florida recount strategy in 2000. Smith was 
a longtime executive for ABC News, producing Olympics and political 
convention coverage and serving as executive producer of "This Week With 
David Brinkley" and "Nightline."

Smith has been working in Iraq since September as an adviser to the 
Coalition Provisional Authority, headed by L. Paul Bremer. Officials said 
Smith's mission is to promote what the administration considers to be a 
more realistic picture of events.

The new channel was first reported by the New York Observer, which quoted 
Smith as saying that removing the network intermediaries would help prevent 
news conferences and other events from "getting chopped up in New York."

The administration officials said they will make the satellite coordinates 
of the transmissions widely available so that stations, government offices 
and conservative interest groups can pick up the coverage at will. The 
events also could be picked up by cable and broadcast networks.

Dave Busiek, news director of KCCI, the CBS affiliate in Des Moines, said 
local TV journalists will be "cautious about this new approach, 
particularly if there's a widespread feeling that the government is trying 
to go around the networks."

"Part of the argument is that those of us in local TV ask softball 
questions and aren't skilled enough to separate the real news from the pure 
spin," he said. "It's pretty insulting. That being said, if I could have a 
live interview with Ambassador Bremer, for instance, in my 6 o'clock 
newscast, that's a tempting possibility and I have no doubt it would be 
valuable for our viewers."

Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors 
Association, said several local stations have aired stories about the bleak 
conditions being endured by military families, and she said administration 
officials might find themselves answering tough questions.

But many stations with large military bases in their areas cannot afford to 
send a reporter to Baghdad, she said, and would have "tremendous interest" 
in interviews with local people in the armed services.

The channel is starting amid changes in the administration's communications 
team. Tucker A. Eskew, director of the White House Office of Global 
Communications, told officials yesterday he will leave on Dec. 7. He plans 
to open a consulting firm and serve as a senior adviser to Bush's campaign.

Margaret Tutwiler, who was Bush's ambassador to Morocco, is awaiting Senate 
confirmation as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public 
affairs; she is expected to start work this month. Sources said she plans 
to focus on the Middle East, beginning with an assessment of the audience 
the United States will try to reach and ways to measure the impact of programs.

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