Friday, December 02, 2005

Propaganda or Journalism?

Senator John Warner (R-VA) has asked the military to provide a briefing on the use of a government contractor to distribute war stories written by soldiers to newspapers in Iraq. (Washington Post: Senator Seeks Answers on Iraq Stories). Warner expressed concerns that this program could undermine US credibility in the region. Said Warner, "Further, a free and independent press is critical to the functioning of a democracy, and I am concerned about any actions which may erode the independence of the Iraqi media."

The only thing being undermined by Warner is the US' ability to use the media as a propaganda tool while not restricting the enemy's ability to do so. Warner has apparently forgotten Ayman Zawahiri's words to Zarqawi, "Remember, half the battle is the battlefield of the media." Right now, the terrorists are winning that portion of the battle, due in no small part to the extremely slanted view of the war being portrayed by the American press.

Still, let's take Warner's statements at face value. What aspect of the program violates the independence of the Iraqi media? There is no coercion involved in running the stories. Positive stories were written by American soldiers and forwarded to Iraqex, the government contractor responsible for promoting the war effort in the Iraqi media. Iraqex, in some cases, paid different newspapers in Iraq to print the stories. How is that different from what goes on at virtually every newspaper in the US?

The only issue would have been if the military were forcing the papers to run the stories. They were not. These newspapers willingly ran the articles written by US soldiers knowing full well that Iraqex was responsible for distributing positive propaganda to the Iraqi media. No violation of an independent press - which only means a press not restricted by government control - is evident in Iraq.

What Senator Warner doesn't seem to acknowledge is that virtually every article written in every newspaper is propaganda in some fashion. The concept of an independent journalist is a fantasy. There is no objectivity in journalism. Every paper, every journalist, indeed every reader has their own political slant that colors what is printed and what is read. All having an independent press means is that those papers are immune to government control regardless of their political slant. It does not mean that what gets published is devoid of bias, be that personal or corporate.

The news media is by far the best propaganda tool available to all sides in a war. It would be foolhardy to restrict the US Military's ability to utilize that tool, especially when the largest battles in Iraq and in the War on Terror are not for territory, but for the hearts of the people.


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