Hogan's Alley

Thursday, December 01, 2005

US Planting Paid Articles in Iraqi Press

The NY Time is all a twitter over their discovery that the Defense Department has contracted with a company called The Lincoln Group to write and pay journalists to print articles in Iraqi newspapers. The article is replete with quotes by journalism "experts" who assert that this violates the principles of western journalism.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Iraq is not the West. Even when and if it emerges as a democracy, it will still be very much part of Arabic culture.

It is also a fact that in time of war, propaganda is an essential part of military operations. Is there any real difference between planted articles and flyers dropped from airplanes? The only acknowledgement of this possibility is buried after the jump:

"I'm not surprised this goes on," said Michael Rubin, who worked in Iraq for the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 and 2004. "Informational operations are a part of any military campaign," he added. "Especially in an atmosphere where terrorists and insurgents - replete with oil boom cash - do the same. We need an even playing field, but cannot fight with both hands tied behind our backs."

The implication of Rubin's quote is that pay for play is the coin of the realm in Iraqi journalism. The Times fails to address this point, believing that the US should function at all times and places as if the world were just like us. The argument goes that if we are proposing to be an example to the world we must be purer that Caesar's wife. Any chink in our armor undermines our shining example.

We must compete in the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. Failure to understand this necessity will doom us to lose to those for whom freedom and democratic ideals are anathema.

This issue is not the same as the torture issue. Torture is directly harmful to human beings and counterproductive, since prisoners will lie and dissemble to avoid the pain while growing ever more defiant of the torturer. No person is harmed by propaganda. The error in this plan was in not knowing that 21st Century America every action that is disliked by any individual in government will be leaked to the press. You can take that to the bank. Now the calculus must include a weighing of the possible benefits against the potential embarrassment when, not if, the enterprise is outed in the media. That was not done in this case. Now no one in Iraq will trust a positive story about the progress of the country.