Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Freedom Of The Press Isn't Always Free

This is the danger in allowing an American military that is well-versed in the art of propaganda and public relations (as it invariably must be at the dawn of the 21st century) to also be the sole arbiter of who can and can not cover the actions of that same military during a time of war:

As more journalists seek permission to accompany U.S. forces engaged in escalating military operations in Afghanistan, many of them could be screened by a controversial Washington-based public relations firm contracted by the Pentagon to determine whether their past coverage has portrayed the U.S. military in a positive light.

U.S. public affairs officials in Afghanistan acknowledged to Stars and Stripes that any reporter seeking to embed with U.S. forces is subject to a background profile by The Rendon Group, which gained notoriety in the run-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq for its work helping to create the Iraqi National Congress. That opposition group, reportedly funded by the CIA, furnished much of the false information about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction used by the Bush administration to justify the invasion.

Rendon examines individual reporters’ recent work and determines whether the coverage was “positive,” “negative” or “neutral” compared to mission objectives, according to Rendon officials. It conducts similar analysis of general reporting trends about the war for the military and has been contracted for such work since 2005, according to the company...

...U.S. Army officials in Iraq engaged in a similar vetting practice two months ago, when they barred a Stars and Stripes reporter from embedding with a unit of the 1st Cavalry Division because the reporter “refused to highlight” good news that military commanders wanted to emphasize.

Professional groups representing journalists are decrying the Pentagon’s screening of reporters.

As well they should. Now, I understand the need for positive propaganda and effective PsyOps to win a war but the ability of a free American press to document and report on the activities of its government halfway around the world should not be subject to military approval based on their history of "pro-military" stories. If George W. Bush had run his White House press corps this way during his tenure as president FOX NEWS, the National Review and The Wall Street Journal op/ed page would have been very lonely in that room all by themselves with the Press Secretary.

And even more disturbing is that this business with The Rendon Group is still going on a full seven months after Barack Obama entered office. Yes, as the Commander-in-Chief it's obviously now his military to command so I can see why he would want it portrayed in the best possible light but manipulation of the press on any level is something that should be avoided by any honest administration, regardless of the subject matter and location. And the fact that very few Americans read Stars and Stripes and thus will never hear about this officially sanctioned practice of military censorship only makes it that much worse.

1 comment:

magpie said...

I would have thought the motivations here would be complex.

What a military force engaged in active combat wants, above all, is material support. If "negative" news means that which shows they do not have all the required resources is this or that warzone... would they not want to highlight that?

In any case the military officials who bar individual reporters are not answerable directly to the reporter's audience. What is their real concern? Their career prospects? Morale?