The Qatari government is running sponsored messages on a widely read American political newsletter in the latest step of its propaganda campaign in the context of the Qatari Emir’s visit to the US. Politico’s Playbook newsletter ran several sponsored messages and ads from the Qatari government promoting Qatar’s relationship with the US.
Politico, a Virginia-based political news organization, ran messages sponsored by Qatar which emphasized the strength of US-Qatari relations, despite key US allies boycotting Qatar because of its sponsorship of terrorism. One sponsored advert, titled “A Message from the Government of Qatar,” included the statement: “Qatar and the United States enjoy a strong counter-terrorism relationship, one that includes military and intelligence cooperation integral to achieving peace and stability to the region.”
Politico also published a sponsored article written by a “POLITICO Focus contributor, sponsored by the government of Qatar,” titled “Al Udeid: Home to 11,000 US troops and critical to winning the War on Terror.”
The article emphasized Qatar’s importance to the US and suggested an itinerary for the Qatari’s visit: “issues that include security, counterterrorism and the ongoing international pressure on Iran to discontinue its nuclear programs.”
‘Throwing its money’
Politico has been criticized for promoting Qatari propaganda through sponsored-generated content. Politico identifies sponsor-generated content as “content produced or curated by an advertiser that lives on POLITICO and is promoted alongside POLITICO’s own editorial content. The content will be identified as ‘sponsor-generated content’ anywhere it may appear on the website. POLITICO’s editorial department has no involvement in the creation of this content.”
Erick Erickson, a CNN and Fox News contributor, criticized Politico for publishing the sponsored content from the Qatari government, saying that Doha is “willing to turn a blind eye to terror networks operating from within the country.”
“While no disrespect is intended towards Politico’s Playbook, it is worth noting that Qatar is sponsoring it with a propaganda effort that denies its ties to terrorism,” Erickson wrote in his blog, The Resurgent.
“There has been a growing suspicion within national security corridors that Qatar is throwing its money around American news outlets to either suppress stories about Qatar or amplify stories about Saudi Arabia and other American allies that have turned on Qatar,” Erickson added.
Qatar’s lobbying efforts have been documented elsewhere.
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In a scene from the documentary “Blood Money: How Qatar Bought off the D.C. Media Establishment,” filmmaker Mike Cernovich discusses the process of how the Qatari government pays US media outlets and Washington DC lobbyists in its efforts to push out their agenda.
“A funny thing happened. When I told a POLITICO reporter yesterday that I was doing an exposé on Qatar, he said ‘oh s***, who’s paying you?’ I was like nobody, he was like ‘oh come on man, if you’re making a documentary on anything, then there must be foreign… they just take it for granted. He wasn’t even accusing me. He was like ‘oh that’s cool, you must be getting paid a lot of money by the Saudis because it’s against Qatar. I was like no but that’s the first place their head goes,” he said in the film.
Increasing lobbyist efforts
In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt severed ties with Qatar, accusing Doha of threatening stability and security in the region and embracing various terrorist and sectarian groups.
In recent years, Qatar has been increasing its lobbying efforts in the United States. According to federal filings on payments to registered foreign agents seen by the Wall Street Journal, Qatar spent $16.3 million on lobbying efforts in the US in 2017, an increase from $4.2 million during the prior year.
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Recently, top US lawmakers have also been pushing for the US Department of Justice to list the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera Media Network as a “foreign agent” for its content that promotes the policies of the state of Qatar, including its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.
“Qatar’s officials have said that government-controlled media is a form of “soft power.” As such, one can reasonably infer that Al Jazeera is a messaging tool for the Qatari government, and, on its behalf, has engaged in inherently political activities and sought to influence public opinion in the United States,” a letter signed by several congressmen on Jun 18 read.
According to David Reaboi, founder of the US-based think tank Security Studies Group, Qatar’s influence and information operations is “one of the least-covered and least-scrutinized stories of the past few years.”
“That slowly is changing. Because of Qatar’s promotion of the Muslim Brotherhood and its alliance with Iran, more Americans are coming to understand Qatar is a malign force, not just in the Middle East but in this country,” Reaboi wrote on July 5.SHOW MORE