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 Good News — at a Price 

December 6, 2005 
The Washington Post reports that the Bush administration has been planting positive coverage of its conduct of the Iraqi war in the press — the Iraqi press, that is. Defenders of the practice (the usual suspects) say that the stories were factually accurate, necessary to the success of the war, Today's column is "Good News -- at a Price" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.and justified by the precedent of Franklin Roosevelt in the Holy War.

Well, if all this is true, why did Iraqi editors have to be paid to carry the stuff? Ethics aside, didn’t their own news judgment tell them it fell under the heading of “all the news that’s fit to print”? After all, the happy-talkers of the administration keep assuring us that the war is going well, that new democratic institutions (such as a free press) are thriving in Iraq, that the Iraqi people are solidly against the tiny minority of terrorists, and all that, though it’s easy to get a different impression.

The stories are supplied by, among others, the Lincoln Group, a Washington-based outfit whose spokeswoman, Laurie Adler, explains the company’s mission this way: “We counter the lies, intimidation, and pure evil of terror with factual stories that highlight the heroism and sacrifice of the Iraqi people and their struggle for freedom and security. We are encouraged by their sacrifice and proud to help them tell their side of the story.”

Their side? Help them? They can’t tell their side for themselves? Adler’s words reek of venality. No wonder Senator John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says he is “gravely concerned about the situation.” This brilliant propaganda operation has handed the resistance a propaganda victory. Couldn’t anyone foresee what would happen if it backfired? As the Frenchman said, “It was worse than a crime — it was a blunder.”

Not that the Arab world is receptive to the official American side of the war to begin with, but from now on it will be doubly suspicious that any news favorable to the U.S. Government is phony. Then there is the rest of the world to think of — including the swelling majority in this country that doesn’t trust the administration.

Does anyone remember the word payola? The mass media suffered one — no, two — of their worst scandals during the late Fifties, when it transpired not only that the immensely popular TV quiz shows had been rigged, but also that record companies and sponsors had made large covert payments to have their products plugged without informing the public. These converging scandals caused shocks that reached even schoolchildren.

[Breaker quote for Good News -- at a Price: Worse than a crime]Now we learn that payola has become a weapon in the war on terror. For President Bush, this revelation comes at an unfortunate time. Not only is his own honesty under a cloud, but three top members of his inner circle, including Vice President Dick “Velcro Veep” Cheney, and the two top leaders of his party in Congress face criminal investigation or prosecution.

You have to marvel that any group can be so unaware of (or is it just indifferent to?) its own reputation for arrogant mendacity as the Bush crowd is; and Cheney in particular, whose thuggish demeanor is enough by itself to make a joke of “compassionate conservatism.” You might grudgingly respect the unapologetic and uncompromising way he stuck to his principles, but for one problem: though he’s certainly unapologetic and uncompromising, he also appears to be unprincipled.

Cheney’s conservatism, such as it is, seems to consist entirely in growling “Bah! Humbug!” to liberalism. But though we can all agree that this is a good start, it’s only the beginning of wisdom, not the end. Honest conservatives had better start thinking about what they mean to stand for after the Bush crowd has left town, possibly — at the rate things are going — on a rail.

Self-described conservatives in the American media aren’t helping. They’ve adopted the administration’s bullying style and, claiming victory and vindication on all occasions, have abandoned any attempt to converse with simple civility. Now that the policies they’ve tried to justify since 9/11 are failing in Iraq and in domestic politics, they don’t know what to do except to raise the volume even more, blaming the news media and critics of the war for all the bad news.

But in the long run, as the Bush White House may be learning, paying people to run good news is a costly way to get it.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2005 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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