Friday, November 03, 2006

Pentagon wants to control the news: How can it be a disinterested source?

We have been relieved that finally the administration is admitting how serious the problems are in Iraq and Afghanistan. The President has stopped criticizing the “liberal press” for its reports on the number of deaths of Iraqis and Americans. For once the President and the “liberal press” are living in the same world. A forthcoming election at a time when the public is unhappy with events in Iraq and Afghanistan has focused the attention of the administration in a new way. Attempts to represent reality in such terms as “mission impossible” and “last throes” have been abandoned for a bracing encounter with the world as it is rather than as they wish it to be.

But now we learn that the Pentagon is not satisfied with the reporting and wants to control the news. “The Pentagon is reorganizing its public affairs operation in an attempt to influence news coverage, amid internal frustration at the tone and substance of reporting on Iraq and on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.” The plan is even “to recruit ‘surrogates’ who are not on the department’s payroll to defend its policies.” The main concern is to dispute “stories about the war in Iraq and about Mr. Rumsfeld that [the Pentagon] deem[s] to be inaccurate.” According to an unnamed senior military officer “They are completely consumed with trying to control the message on Iraq.” So they are “adopting tactics more often associated with a political campaign, rather than the military.” An example of their new attempt to control the news: Last month when a reporter quoted “the military’s top spokesman” in Iraq as saying that “the results of recent security operations [were] ‘disheartening,’” the report was challenged by the Pentagon. Why would they challenge reports on what was actually said openly and publicly?

This kind of drift toward controlling information is extremely worrisome because the Pentagon is a profoundly interested party in the reporting of events. Like other political figures who want to control the news (for example, Slobindan Miloshivic when he was orchestrating genocide in Serbia, Fanjo Tujman, involved in genocide in Croatia, and other political figures like Ahmadenijad in Iran, Musharraf in Pakistan, Kim Jong-il in North Korea, Umar Hasan Al-Bashir of Sudan, for instance) the Pentagon has many reasons for wanting to withhold unseemly reports on its behavior and to present their behavior in a favorable light. As they say, generals bury their mistakes.

The reason the founding fathers in the United States left room for a free and independent press was because, in the words of the ancient wisdom, “men loved darkness rather than light; they would not come into the light lest their deeds be exposed.” There is no other way than to allow an open free press that, whatever their limitations, seeks to represent events and statements as they actually take place, embarrassing as they may be to certain interested parties. This is the way of a free society.

“Pentagon Widens Its Battle to Shape News of Iraq War”
By David S. Cloud and Thom Shanker
Published: New York Times, November 3, 2006

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