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The History Commons -- an online tool for journalists

SHOWCASE | July 10, 2008

Individuals do research to create aggregated, searchable timelines for major events and stories, creating a resource for reporters and editors.

By Michael Tuck

On April 20, the New York Times published a revelatory, and since then largely ignored, article detailing the Pentagon's systematic propaganda campaign to promote the Iraq war and manipulate public opinion through the use of retired military officers as "independent" network analysts and commentators

Shortly afterward, citizen journalists and researchers at the History Commons began aggregating any pieces they found that had a bearing on the subject. The result at this point, from hundreds of sources, is an in-depth look at the Pentagon campaign—much more than a single media outlet might provide. Our examination, which is still ongoing, can be found here.

The military analysts issue led to an additional Commons investigation into U.S. government use of propaganda. That investigation goes back (so far) to late 1990, when the government used false stories of Iraqi atrocities against Kuwaiti infants to inflame public opinion against Iraq in preparation for the first Gulf War. It includes material about the government's use of public relations firms such as Hill & Knowlton and The Rendon Group, the Pentagon's introduction of psyops officers into CNN and other broadcast media outlets, how government and military officials intimidated and cajoled media executives and journalists into presenting the government's messages, the influence of Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress in the run-up to the Iraq war, the White House Iraq Group, the use of surrogate "journalists" by the government to influence and falsify media reports, and more.

The Pentagon Military Analysts Program: What We Know

The profile of the Pentagon propaganda operation is incomplete. It has been reported that a former Pentagon public relations official, Torie Clarke, originated both the military analysts program and the "embedded journalists" program, and envisioned them as "bookends" for the same overall propaganda operation. We know that many of the media's military analysts have ties to defense contractors, and that many of these contractors have financial interests in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have learned of connections between the propaganda campaign and White House political guru Karl Rove. We have been deeply disappointed (but not particularly surprised) to see the virtual shunning of the story by the broadcast media, and the backhanded attention paid it by the print and Internet media, but we continue to dig for information.

What is the History Commons?

The History Commons has tracked issues like this for years. The organization is an experiment in open-content civic journalism, where anyone can investigate political and social issues, and collaborate with others to produce in-depth coverage of issues and events. Contributors own their content; the Commons provides a searchable information base where disparate material can be brought together in a single repository. It has been cited by investigative journalists and authors such as Peter Lance, Anthony Summers, and Craig Unger as a resource for their own research. Unger, the author of "House of Bush, House of Saud" and "The Fall of the House of Bush," has written of the Commons: "For serious research, it's hard to think of a more valuable resource than the timelines assembled by the History Commons. The material they provide is a welcome antidote to the misinformation and disinformation that has been coming out of Washington in recent years and they are essential tools in assembling a counternarrative that more honestly addresses the crises we face." Currently the site is undergoing a redesign to make it more user-friendly.

The 9/11 Project

One of the largest areas of the Commons is its 9/11 project, perhaps one of the most comprehensive information resources about the events and issues surrounding that tragic event. The project manager, Paul Thompson, testified in a 2005 Congressional briefing on the 911 Commission's final report.

Other Investigations

The site also hosts in-depth examinations of the Iraq invasion and subsequent occupation, the nuclear network hosted by Pakistani black marketer A.Q. Khan, the erosion of American civil liberties, the torture and abuse of prisoners by the U.S., and many others. Recently created projects range from a Watergate timeline to an examination of the 2008 credit crisis and the documentation of the neoconservative influence on U.S. foreign policy. The projects are updated regularly, with new events and information constantly augmenting older material. A reader can browse a wealth of information on a topic, arranged chronologically and interlinked for easy perusal.

The military analysts story and others are still developing. Click here to see the History Commons, or to take part in it.

Posted by Michael Tuck
07/20/2008, 01:51 AM

Don, everyone in my family, including my dad, brother, and wife, served in the military. I'm virtually the only civilian in the bunch (so I say I outrank them all). I know what you mean about cynicism in uniform.

Marvin, thanks for your kind words. Paul's is an excellent book, but of course there's been a ton of material added to the 9/11 project since that book was published. I have plans for my own book from the Commons, though it's still in gestation. Don't wish me luck; wish for me the time to get it written.

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