Moscow Times won a great victory this week, when the Pentagon and White House were forced into a most craven climbdown over their plans to launch a new propaganda operation designed to manipulate the foreign and domestic press with secret spin and outright lies. Obviously, the heat generated by the Times' plucky "Global Eye" column -- which excoriated the "Bush Liars" in print last week -- wilted the Washington power structure like so many daisies drooping in a drought.

What's that? Oh, all right, it's just possible that the Regime was slightly more affected by the New York Times story, the Washington Post hammering away at it, and editorialists across America lambasting the program. At any rate, Daisies Bush and Rumsfeld were both backtracking like crabs on a hot plate, crying that they never, ever intended to deceive a soul.

So it's a victory for the watchdogs of the press, right? Perhaps -- but let's parse a bit before we crow. First, take the statement of the Great Daisy himself, the usual two-minute muttering uttered during the course of his primary means of communicating with his subjects -- a photo op. "We'll tell the American people the truth," Bush declared, adding that Rumsfeld was "just as amazed as I was about reading some allegation that somehow our government would never tell the American people the truth."

Bush's easily evoked amazement aside, the statement is notable for its careful elision. Daisy says he'll tell the American people the truth -- when of course, planting false stories in the foreign press was the heart of the plan. Rumsfeld's non-denial denials were along similar lines. And both men carefully omitted another key element of Mission Mendacity: the use of nongovernmental sources to plant supposedly objective stories -- laced with lies if need be -- in reputable foreign outlets.

Indeed, a close reading shows that the operation has not even been shelved; its various elements have just been "privatized" or parceled out to existing agencies. For even as Rumsfeld was ostentatiously closing the "Office of Strategic Influence," the Pentagon quietly announced that it was retaining the private PR firm it had hired -- at $100,000 a month -- to "help" the office in its work. This work, we might note, includes "coercing foreign journalists and opinion makers" and "punishing" those who peddled the "wrong" line, according to classified Pentagon documents.

The Bush regime already has experts at this in place. Take Otto Reich, newly appointed assistant secretary of state. He's an old Iran-Contra hand who once ran the "Office of Public Diplomacy" for Ronald Reagan and Daddy Bush. The OPD was officially condemned for, er, planting stories and black op propaganda in the U.S. and world press and for "punishing" journalists who peddled the "wrong" line.

Meanwhile, the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- last noted in these pages for plotting a terrorist campaign on U.S. soil to whip up panicked support for an invasion of Cuba -- assures us this week that its long-running task force for "developing, coordinating, deconflicting and monitoring messages to targeted international audiences" is still firmly in place.

So to sum up: the Office is dead but its operations are still very much alive -- and its most nefarious elements have not even been denied by the denier-in-chief. That's the kind of "victory" normally associated with Pyrrhus, isn't it?

Salted Fish