NYT: U.S. Defying 'Freedom of the Press' in Iraq

December 2nd, 2005 11:03 AM

The New York Times claims "An American-backed program appears to defy the basic tenets of freedom of the press" as it continues to play catch-up to the Los Angeles Times, which had the dubious honor of breaking the story of the Pentagon-led PR-journalism campaign in support of the U.S. effort in Iraq.

On Friday, NYT reportrs Eric Schmitt and David Cloud file "Senate Summons Pentagon To Explain Effort to Plant Reports in Iraqi News Media." The text box: "An American-backed program appears to defy the basic tenets of freedom of the press."

From the actual text of the article:

"Under the program, the Lincoln Group, a Washington-based public relations firm working in Iraq, was hired to translate articles written by American troops into Arabic and then, in many cases, give them to advertising agencies for placement in the Iraqi news media. At a time when the State Department is paying contractors millions of dollars to promote professional and independent media, the military campaign appeared to defy the basic tenets of Western journalism."

The Times ran the same loaded line in its front-page story on Thursday, with the phrase "fundamental principles" in place of Friday's "basic tenets," making journalism sound more like a religious calling than a fact-gathering process:

"Even as the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development pay contractors millions of dollars to help train journalists and promote a professional and independent Iraqi media, the Pentagon is paying millions more to the Lincoln Group for work that appears to violate fundamental principles of Western journalism."

But as the Los Angeles Times reports today, the information being planted in Iraqi papers isn't false:

"Since early this year, the military's 'Information Operations Task Force' in Baghdad has used Lincoln Group to plant stories in the Iraqi media that trumpet such things as the successes of U.S. and Iraqi troops against insurgents, U.S.-led reconstruction efforts, and rising anti-insurgent sentiment among the Iraqi people, according to senior military officials and documents obtained by The Times."

Does relaying such accurate information in a sneaky way during wartime truly defy "basic tenets of freedom of the press," as the NYT's headline suggests? No newspapers are being shut down by the Lincoln program. Content is not being controlled. Pressure is not being applied to journalists or editors. Rather, pro-U.S. submissions are being made to papers without acknowledgement that they are from an American P.R. firm, and Iraqi newspapers are being paid to run the stories. It's certainly not the American way of journalism, but then again, there is a war on, and war propaganda has a long history.

For more instances of bias in the New York Times, visit TimesWatch.