Monday, May 12, 2008

Propaganda - - WARNING - - I'm Trying to Wash Your Brain

A couple weeks back, I read this article in USA Today about the Pentagon starting Foreign News Sites and how journalism groups were calling the sites a "deceptive effort to control message abroad." I gotta tell you this article got me hot. I think I spent my entire lunch hour writing my thoughts in the margins of the story.

About a year ago, I blogged on my old Yahoo 360 blog about the inability of the US and the US military to use the Internet to get their side of the story across - - the terrorists were sure good at it. This February, I spoke at length with Marine Corps combat correspondent legend, Norm Hatch, about this very topic (a future blog is in the making). Well, low and behold, the DoD has had such sites - - they were just under the radar of mainstream media. Those existing sites were:

Southeast European Times (target audience - - the Balkans) and Magharebia (target audience, North Africa).

This past October, Multi-National Force - Iraq, launched
Mawtani (target audience Iraq and the Middle East).

Are these sites a bad thing? I think its great! But all these media experts think its BAD! One expert says its "deliberate deception and weakens the image of journalism as an objective bystander".

Um, since when has a journalist been an objective bystander? Journalists have been spinning the news since the beginning of the profession.

The point is brought up that the target audiences are used to having their governments control their news. The US is the exception and these sites make it look like the US is like the rest of the world and controls the news media.

Clearly these journalism experts didn't pay attention in history class. World War I and II journalists were subject to censorship. That is unheard of today. Or is it? The first Gulf War saw the U.S. military controlling who was embedded with the troops, not necessarily the story that was told. Funny thing though, journalists who spend time with the troops, tend to report more favorably toward the military than journalists who are cozy and warm in the safe zones.

Are these sites propaganda. You betcha. All news is propaganda. Every news outlet has an angle - - no one is impartial. You can't be. If journalists were, the news would read like a police blotter, just the facts. Boring.

Small town American newspapers are slanted to that hometown. Boy, let me tell you, in small town America, if you write something against the local sports team - - they'll practically run you out of town. I learned this lesson when I was a sports reporter (yes, I was once a member of the hated mainstream media). The girls basketball team had lost another game. It was halfway through the season and they hadn't won one yet. I asked the coach for any comments on the game and she said, "I have nothing to say. I'll comment when they start playing better." Well, being a freshly minted journalism graduate, that was my lead sentence. Harsh, but it summed up the game. You can pretty much guess they lost. Needless to say the basketball coach refused to talk to me the rest of the season. There are other lessons in that quote as well. For instance, don't say anything to a journalist you wouldn't want printed.

Now, if there wasn't some journalistic integrity in these sites, and if the message was not slanted toward the interests of the local population, the first two sites wouldn't be getting a combined vistorship of 1.2 million a month.

I think mainstream media is having a difficult time finding the 'bad' in our involvement in Iraq - - and with competition.

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