Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Thinking like a Colonel 

By now you are aware of the propaganda effort that the Pentagon is/was running in Iraq to pay for placing good stories in Iraqi newspapers. A PR firm was/is writing and translating those stories. My friend, Peter Shinbach, noted that the PR firm was not invited to explain itself in a TV debate last week on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Instead, the program used a retired Colonel who defended the value of propaganda in wartime.

It is disappointing that the PR firm wasn't on. I would like to hear how they justify their activity. On the other hand, lest we forget, this is how PR firms started in the modern era -- paying editors to place stories. So what the PR firm did was a throwback activity. The problem was that it was caught doing it, which destroyed the credibility of the effort both here and in Iraq. While the colonel has history on his side, his opponent in the debate, the dean of the college of communications at Boston University, noted that in the process of implanting democracy, the US is destroying it through biasing free speech.

I would like to come out and blast both the PR firm and the Pentagon for stupidity, but I can't. Wartime is different and freedoms are often curtailed as President Abraham Lincoln understood. Perhaps, the colonel was correct in saying that the Pentagon was simply doing a bad job of it. Then he took a shot at the PR firm, which is worth quoting.

Well, again, I believe that working in the media sphere is fine, but you have got to do it competently, and I'm concerned that we're just not good enough - you know, as evidenced by Karen Hughes' disastrous visit to the Middle East. We have got to get much more sophisticated at cultural understanding, and also I want to know about the Lincoln Group, the carpet-bagging contractors who planted these stories. I would have rather have things done by the military who tend to act ethically than by pirates.

So, there you have it. Those of us who work in PR are carpet-baggers and pirates.


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