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Bush backer sponsoring pro-war rallies

Oliver Burkeman in Washington
Wednesday March 26, 2003
The Guardian

They look like spontaneous expressions of pro-war sentiment, "patriotic rallies" drawing crowds of tens of thousands across the American heartland.

In a counterpoint to anti-war demonstrations, supporters of war in Iraq have descended on cities from Fort Wayne to Cleveland, and Atlanta to Philadelphia. They wave flags, messages of support for the troops - and also banners attacking liberals, excoriating the UN, and in one case, advising: "Bomb France Now."

But many of the rallies, it turns out, have been organised and paid for by Clear Channel Inc - the country's largest radio conglomerate, owning 1,200 stations - which is not only reporting on the war at the same time, but whose close links with President Bush stretch back to his earliest, much-criticised financial dealings as governor of Texas. The company has paid advertising costs and for the hire of musicians for the rallies.

Tom Hicks, Clear Channel's vice-chairman, is a past donor to Bush's political campaigning. The two were at the centre of a scandal when Mr Bush was governor and when Mr Hicks chaired a University of Texas investment board that awarded large investment-management contracts to several companies close to the Bush family - including the Carlyle Group, on whose payroll Mr Bush had been until weeks previously, and which still retains his father.

"Should this be happening? No," said Dante Chinni, a senior associate with the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a Columbia University programme based in Washington. "What kind of company is Clear Channel? What's their mission? Are they a media company, a promotional company? For some people, Clear Channel's reporting, for want of a better word, may be the reporting that they're getting on the war in Iraq."

Amir Forester, a spokeswoman for Premiere Radio Networks, a subsidiary of Clear Channel, said the rallies - which the company calls "patriotic", not "pro-war" - were the idea of Glenn Beck, a syndicated talk radio host.

"He's paid to express his opinion, just like a newspaper columnist...There's no corporate mandate going on here."

The idea came about "when he had a caller on his programme saying, 'Gosh, I saw Tim Robbins making a comment on the war, and who elected him to represent me'?" Ms Forester said.

"Glenn Beck is not a journalist, he is a talk-radio host. He has a message that resonated with the average American, and he's out there showing support for our troops...what's amazing to me is that there's an effort to take away from the goodness of what Glenn Beck is doing for his listeners."

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