Prior to the War in Iraq, met with Iraqi government officials and publicly denounced American plans for invasion
Sponsored actor Sean Penn’s celebrated visit to Baghdad in 2002
Sponsored visits to Iraq by Democratic Congressmen Nick Rahall and former Democrat Senator James Abourezk
The Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit media clearinghouse that was founded in mid-1997 with the support of grants from the Stern Family Fund and the Florence & John Schumann Foundation (now known as the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy). As a consortium of independent public-policy researchers, analysts, and activists, IPA claims to work on behalf of “progressive and grassroots organizations” whose “voices are commonly excluded or drowned out by government or corporate-backed institutions.” To address this perceived problem, IPA seeks to “increas[e] the reach and capacity” of progressive groups by “getting them and their ideas into the mainstream media.” Toward that end, the Institute distributes, on these groups' behalf, news releases to thousands of journalists and television producers on a regular basis. IPA also makes available a “roster of experts” who are prepared to provide journalists with “insights” that do not “ordinarily get through the various media filters.”
One of the first major issues that IPA tackled in its earliest days was campaign finance reform—i.e., the effort to minimize the political influence of big money. In 1998, for instance, the Institute aggressively promoted Public Campaign—now known as the Every Voice Center—a Schumann Foundation grantee that by 1999 developed a reputation as America's leading authority on the issue.
Whenever the United States is involved in a military conflict, IPA invariably sides with America's enemies. After the Clinton administration began its bombing of Kosovo in March 1999, for example, the Institute promoted the antiwar rhetoric of the radical historian Howard Zinn, who claimed that Clinton had “deceived” the United States into combat. When the Bush administration subsequently invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, and Iraq in March 2003, IPA likewise highlighted the opinions of leftist ideologues who opposed those wars.
The day after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, IPA issued a press release summarizing the positions of a number of IPA-affiliated “experts,” one of whom declared that the events of 9/11 served as “a mirror to” the flawed “U.S. policy” of economic sanctions that allegedly had caused “massive civilian suffering in Iraq.”
Prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, IPA collaborated with Saddam Hussein's regime to organize “fact-finding” trips to Iraq for American political figures and entertainers. In September 2002, for example, the Institute sponsored a visit to that country by a delegation that included Democratic Congressman Nick Rahall of West Virginia, former Democratic Senator James Abourezk of South Dakota, and IPA's own Norman Solomon. Their travels and activities were tightly controlled by the Iraqi government, which exploited them for propaganda purposes.
While Rahall declared that he wanted to “give … peace a chance,” Abourezk blamed the United States and the sanctions regime (rather than Saddam Hussein) for the Iraqi people's suffering and asserted that an American invasion of Iraq would constitute an “unprovoked war … in violation … of basic humane values.” Norman Solomon, meanwhile, alleged that: (a) the weapons inspectors in Iraq were in fact American military spies; (b) the U.S. was “determined to inflict a horrendous war” on the people of Iraq; and (c) “the idea of pre-emptive strikes is … insane” as a matter of principle. Baghdad exploited the foregoing comments in an effort to elicit public sympathy for the Iraqi regime and to weaken American resolve. Just before the Christmas season of 2002, Solomon and IPA sponsored a trip to Baghdad by Sean Penn, in hopes that the film star could, as Solomon put it, “inspire many Americans from various walks of life to explore how they can impede the momentum toward war.” When Penn, near the end of his stay in Baghdad, said that “the blood of Americans and Iraqis will be on our [Americans'] hands” if the U.S. were to invade Iraq, the Iraqi News Agency reported that the actor had “confirmed that Iraq is completely clear of weapons of mass destruction.” In late 2002 and early 2003, IPA’s press office worked to build public credibility for leftist radicals who now sought to portray themselves as moderate leaders of a national peace movement. One such individual was Nancy Lessin, an AFL-CIO coordinator who, with the help of IPA's media machine, was re-branded as the head of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO). After an IPA media campaign disseminated Lessin’s name and contact information to newsrooms across the United States on January 17, 2003, she and MFSO became widely quoted in anti-war coverage in American newspapers and in publications abroad.
Another longtime agitator whose views were frequently cited in IPA’s war-related press releases was the communist Leslie Cagan, whose United For Peace and Justice(UFPJ) anti-war coalition counted IPA as one of its members. The Institute also quoted a number of “experts” from approximately a dozen organizations that formed the backbone of UFPJ. Several of those groups were members of the International ANSWER coalition as well.
Penn made a return trip to Iraq in late 2003, with help not only from Norman Solomon but also from Medea Benjamin. As in his previous trip, the actor again made statements that had great propaganda value to Saddam Hussein. Penn said, for instance, that while “the insurgency movement builds every day in manpower and organizational strength,” many Iraqis were telling him that “there is no freedom in occupation, nor trust in unilateral intervention.”