Bad News About Good Press

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
Dec. 2 2005 5:17 PM

Bad News About Good Press

Bloggers discuss several related reports that the Department of Defense is planting favorable stories in Iraqi newspapers. They also continue to debate the case of Crips founder-cum-anti-gang crusader Tookie Williams and stay up late to watch Oprah Winfrey make up with David Letterman.

Bad news about good press: On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the U.S. military has been paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories, written by defense contractors, supportive of the American mission. Later that day, Knight-Ridder followed up; the related New York Times report arrived yesterday.

"It's an outrage … and possibly illegal, but hardly unexpected," writes Bradford Plumer at Mother Jones' liberal wheelhouse MoJo Blog. Many more on the left are similarly dismayed. At War and Piece, journalist Laura Rozen says the news destroys American credibility abroad. "The thing is, once you're caught doing something you said you weren't doing, no one will believe you once you stop doing it," she writes. PR magnate Richard Edelman agrees. "This is utterly unacceptable behavior," he insists. "If a free media is a central aspect of a democratic society, then we cannot allow our PR industry to impede its development."

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Some committed supporters of the war are more ambivalent. "On one hand, it's easy to dismiss this as a tempest in a teapot," writes spirited conservative Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters. "What we're talking about with this kind of effort is propaganda, and in a war on terrorism, this could be one of the least lethal battlegrounds we'll face -- but one of the most important." Nevertheless, Morrissey finds the reports worrisome. "The problem with propaganda is that it only works for a short time, until it gets discovered. When that happens, the propagandist soon discovers that their ability to tell the truth has been hopelessly compromised."

Others on the right agree that planting stories is a tactical error but not a moral blunder. "So we're spinning the Iraqi press by planting propaganda in its pages?" asks frequent administration critic Andrew Sullivan. "BFD. The problem is that media is now global, the free citizens of Iraq can access information from almost anywhere on earth, and these stories will leak and backfire."

Pushing aside questions of ethics, Washington MonthlyPolitical Animal Kevin Drum suspects a domestic turf war behind the leaks. "All of these articles are the product of weeks of research, and it's not just coincidence that all of these reporters have been working on the exact same story," he notes. "Somebody's been trying to get the word out about this. Somebody who's not very happy with this program. But who?"

Read more about the payola scandal here, here, and here.

The case of Tookie:Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the Crips founder who became an anti-gang activist while in jail for murder, had an appeal rejected by the California Supreme Court Wednesday. Williams will have a final chance to convince Gov. Schwarzenegger to commute his death sentence to life in prison on Dec. 8. "Williams's case is about the power of redemption, his supporters say, but I think it's more about the power of celebrity," Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote today.

"Williams has never admitted guilt for the murders he committed or apologized to the families of the people he killed," writes John Hawkins of Right Wing News. "Even though he certainly must have known about countless crimes and murders committed by other Crips, he never helped the innocent people that they victimized get the justice they deserved. He just said the right things, wrote a few children's books, got nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and next thing you know he has celebrities…pleading for his life. But what about the families of the people who were murdered by Tookie Williams? What about the thousands of families of people who have been murdered by other Crips?"

"The Tookie that thousands are fighting to keep from a December 13 date with the executioner is not the same Tookie that decades ago wanted to smash everyone," insists Earl Ofari Hutchinson at BlackNews. "Yet there are still thousands like him that do. A very much alive Tookie who understands their anger and alienation could help lesson their numbers." The Populist at Rhode Island's Future credits reports of Williams' influence. "I think that Williams does more good for our society staying alive and educating our youth on the dangers of gang life. To kill him would be absolutely contrary to the principles of punishment and their goal of deterrence."