True democracy depends upon the electorate being well-informed. And so, first, the bad news. Reports have come out that the United States military has been paying Iraqi newspapers to print positive reports on events in country, such as the opening of new schools, hospitals, and power stations in and around their respective cities. It's being called a propaganda war.
On the Left side of the political scales, this is seen as an abomination, because nobody in America has the right to level propaganda at an enemy, especially during wartime. On the Right, 'tis nought. I don't reckon it will come to anybody's surprise that, by and large, I would be siding with the Right. But that's only insofar as our country has the right to let the public know what, precisely, we are doing over there. We should be telling the world what we are helping to rebuild (and sometimes, build up from scratch). Nevertheless, our propaganda experts over there made one very big mistake: they didn't make it clear that the press releases were press releases. When the Daily Review Atlas* runs an article by somebody from the public relations office of, say, the college, it runs a by-line indicating its origins. Even when the paper's strapped for experienced editors, they usually manage to give credit where credit is due. This, our military geniuses seem to have forgotten, paying for the press releases to be published as straight news articles by local reporters.
I don't approve.
News media in general are already suffering from crumbling credibility, whether we're talking about Rathergate, or Eason Jordan's unsupported public accusations against the troops, or the multitude of fictions published around hurricane Rita, or Al Jazeera just in general.
The Iraqi electorate should have been informed that the pro-US publications were not plain reporting, but were, instead, paid advertising. Hey, commercials have occasionally been known to tell the truth! Nevertheless, it deserves investigation, and the practice must be stopped. The truth about success needs to stand on its own merits, and not be sold as a commodity.
Which leads us to the second event of last week: Senator Joseph Lieberman returned from his Thanksgiving trip to Iraq, and his (unpurchased) words were frank and positive. In fact, in the second paragraph of the report he published in the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, Lieberman said, “Progress is visible and practical.” He then went on to enumerate a few ways this is so, from a booming new economy to an actual decrease in terrorist attacks and the recent and upcoming elections, concluding his list with, “These are new ideas that are working and changing the reality on the ground, which is undoubtedly why the Iraqi people are optimistic about their future--and why the American people should be, too.”
ABC was the only mainstream media outlet to mention Lieberman's words, briefly, on one evening news program. It didn't even create a blip in the programming -- let alone an actual mention or a quote -- at the other two nets. It also hasn't been mentioned in most of the major national papers. And, yet, they managed to cover, every day for a full week, the “surprise” statements from traditionally anti-war “hawkish” Democrat John Patrick Murtha, that our troops were in disarray and we should withdraw from Iraq immediately (the rest of his party liked his idea so much that, when it was put to the vote, they were only a handful of votes away from being unanimous -- against it). And, this made the news for five days. It's still being talked about in the Mainstream Media. Where is Joe Lieberman's press? Didn't he create enough of a scandal, by speaking out of turn, by saying the opposite of what the so called leaders of his party are declaring? Are the media hounds just not interested in a “maverick” if he's not John McCain?
There is good news coming out of Iraq, on a daily basis. It is only right that the Iraqis should know of it, and Americans should hear it, too, by honest means. Our troops are doing truly great things, in small steps. They are succeeding, and they are building a quiet alliance with the 27 million Iraqis who chose to vote in their elections. I realize it may actually stick in some folks' craws to allow that something President Bush planned may be going right. But, if such good news bothers them too much, maybe they can wash it down with some of the continuing reports on Muslim “youths” and their nightly car-burning frenzies in France, or the death threats against Dutch cartoonists and filmmakers who “dishonor Muhammed”. Just because we're heading toward greater individual freedom in one section of the world doesn't mean it's not being killed off in others. That ought to please the nihilists out there.
*whose editors kindly print my column weekly, at no cost to me.