WASHINGTON – President Bush is disturbed by the U.S. military's practice of paying Iraqi papers to run articles emphasizing positive developments in the country and will end the program if it violates the principles of a free media, a senior aide said Sunday.
"If it is inconsistent with the policy guidance it will be shut down," Hadley said on ABC's "This Week."
Hadley acknowledged there is a need to counter the disinformation campaigns of U.S. enemies in Iraq. "But the message we need to get out has to be truth and facts," Hadley told "FOX News Sunday."
Even if the stories are factual, "it's got to be done in a way that reinforces a free media, not undermines it," Hadley said.
Military officials on Friday detailed and generally defended the program under which a Washington-based contractor was authorized to pay Iraqi papers to run articles, compiled by coalition forces. The stories often praise the activities of U.S. and Iraqi forces, denounce terrorism and promote reconstruction efforts.
The Lincoln Group has a contract for $6 million to perform public relations and advertising work in Iraq.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the legality and policy ramifications of the program were unclear. "Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's the right thing to do," he said.
But lawmakers and Pentagon officials also offered defense of the program, which U.S. military officials in Iraq described as "a function of buying advertising and opinion-editorial space, as is customary in Iraq."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he did not know if that was standard procedure in Iraq. But, he said on NBC's "Meet the Press," if the stories were accurate, "if that's the way to get stories, I'm not terribly offended by it."
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee visited the Pentagon on Friday to discuss the information campaign. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., said the practice of planting favorable stories without disclosing the source was wrong, but "the disinformation that's going on in that country is really affecting the effectiveness of what we're achieving, and we have no recourse but to try and do some rebuttal information."