U.S. Command in Iraq Offers $20 Million to Watch Press

The U.S. military command in Baghdad wants to know how the news media is covering Iraq and is willing to pay someone $20 million to tell them.

A solicitation last week requested that companies interested in providing "continuous monitoring and near-real time reporting of Iraqi, pan-Arabic, international, and U.S. media," submit proposals by Sept. 6, the Associated Press reported Friday.

Contractors also will be evaluated on how they will provide analytical reports and customized briefings to the military, "including, but not limited to tone (positive, neutral, negative) and scope of media coverage."

The winner of the $20 million contract also will likely be required to develop an Arabic version of the multinational force's web site.

The military last year was criticized for a public relations program in Iraq that included hiring a consulting firm that paid Iraqi news media to carry news stories written by American troops.

Pentagon officials have defended the program as a necessary tool in the War on Terror. Critics have said it contradicts American values of freedom of the press.