Correction to This Article
A Dec. 26 article misstated the accreditation of Web journalist Bill Roggio when he was embedded with U.S. Marines in Iraq. He was accredited by the Weekly Standard. The article said that Roggio was embedded with the Marines at the time of publication, but Roggio had returned to the United States. The article also described Roggio as a retired soldier; he served four years on active duty and two years with the National Guard, which is short of the 20-year minimum for retirement.

Bloggers, Money Now Weapons in Information War

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By Jonathan Finer and Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 26, 2005

BAGHDAD -- Retired soldier Bill Roggio was a computer technician living in New Jersey less than two months ago when a Marine officer half a world away made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

Frustrated by the coverage they were receiving from the news media, the Marines invited Roggio, 35, who writes a popular Web log about the military called "The Fourth Rail" ( http://www.billroggio.com/ ), to come cover the war from the front lines.

He raised more than $30,000 from his online readers to pay for airfare, technical equipment and body armor. A few weeks later, he was posting dispatches from a remote outpost in western Anbar province, a hotbed of Iraq's insurgency.

"I was disenchanted with the reporting on the war in Iraq and the greater war on terror and felt there was much to the conflict that was missed," Roggio, who is currently stationed with Marines along the Syrian border, wrote in an e-mail response to written questions. "What is often seen as an attempt at balanced reporting results in underreporting of the military's success and strategy and an overemphasis on the strategically minor success of the jihadists or insurgents."

Roggio's arrival in Iraq comes amid what military commanders and analysts say is an increasingly aggressive battle for control over information about the conflict. Scrutiny of what the Pentagon calls information operations heightened late last month, when news reports revealed that the U.S. military was paying Iraqi journalists and news organizations to publish favorable stories written by soldiers, sometimes without disclosing the military's role in producing them.

"I am convinced that information operations from both sides are increasing and intensifying. I think both sides are beginning to understand that this struggle will be waged in both the kinetic and informational realms, but that the latter is the decisive area of operations," wrote Daniel Kuehl, a professor at the National Defense University in Washington who specializes in information operations. "The insurgents target several audiences, including the Islamic world and the American populace."

In addition, the military has paid money to try to place favorable coverage on television stations in three Iraqi cities, according to an Army spokesman, Maj. Dan Blanton. The military, said Blanton, has given one of the stations about $35,000 in equipment, is building a new facility for $300,000 and pays $600 a week for a weekly program that focuses positively on U.S. efforts in Iraq. The names of the city and the television station are being withheld because the producer of the show said he and his staff would be seen as collaborators and endangered if identified.

A local U.S. Army National Guard commander acknowledged that his officers "suggest" stories to the station and review the content of the program in a weekly meeting before it is aired. Though the commander, a lieutenant colonel whose name is being withheld because he is based in the same area, denied that payments were made to the station, the Iraqi television producer said his staff got $1,000 a month from the military. It does not disclose any financial relationship to viewers. There was no explanation of the discrepancy between that amount and the figure of $600 per week provided by Blanton.

"The coalition forces support us," said the producer, who added that while the U.S. military reviews each program, "they don't change anything."

But he also said military commanders suggest stories, often about U.S. reconstruction projects or community efforts by the military. He acknowledged that the program portrays American military projects in a positive light.

The commander said: "We want a free and independent press. We found this small little TV [station] and asked if they are able to work with us. Our only guide to them is to tell our story, good or bad."

Military officials say they have stepped up their responses to insurgent groups' attempts to influence news coverage -- including attacks aimed at media organizations, such as a pair of recent bombings at Baghdad hotels where journalists stay, attacks that officers and analysts said were designed to generate large-scale coverage.


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