Thursday, December 01, 2005

Price of Press

The N.Y. Times reported today (as its tabloid counterpart the LA Times did earlier this week) that the Pentagon has been paying Iraqi journalists to report optimistic articles on a democratic Iraq. The Pentagon actually writes the articles up themselves, then pays the Lincoln Group, a public relations firm, to translate them into Arabic and submit them to Iraqi newspapers and advertising agencies.

Since the unveiling of this news, there have been mixed feelings in Washington. Some believe it is an effective way to spread propoganda, while others believe it is "ethically despicable." Ok, "ethically despicable" may be going a little far, guys, but I see your point. I think there are compelling arguments both for and against the Pentagons actions, but personally I don't think theres anything wrong with it. Propoganda has been a weapon of war for a very long time, and an effective one. Muhammad Abdul Jabbar, the editor of one Iraqi paper, thinks the US is wasting its money, but I would disagree. The control of information is a very powerful weapon, and I think it was being effectively in this case.

Its also worth pointing out that this is not a violation of freedom of press or freedom of speech, taking these as basic rights in a democratic nation. Paying for "advertising" in Iraq does not forbid editors from printing anything. If the US is doing this, then yes that would be a violation of those hypothetical rights. They're spreading their propoganda, not censoring anything. As far as we know at the moment, anyway.

I certainly see the other side of the argument as well. This would be illegal in the US, but it isn't illegal for the US to do it in Iraq. I think mostly I'm ok with it because I see it as an effective and peaceful way to build up support for a democratic Iraq, and thus get US soldiers out of there sooner.

Its all a moot point now that the Times broke the story. Any article printed in an Iraqi newspaper supporting the new Iraqi government will now be met with heavy criticism and accusations of bribery. Even if it is a sincere account of the authors opinion.

I actually read in the Times that they were the ones to break the story, so as for that fact I just took their word for it.