Fighting Propaganda With Propaganda

Yesterday, I posted an article here concerning a piece by Jonathan Alter of Newsweek. The inherent hypocrisy of Alter's column generated the following op-ed from me that I wanted to share for those that might be interested:

America’s mainstream media are in high dudgeon over efforts by our military to get its story out in Iraq, where winning hearts and minds is an important component of victory. Typical is Newsweek’s senior editor Jonathan Alter, who wrote an article for this week’s issue entitled “The Real Price of Propaganda.” In it, Alter came down strongly against the behavior alleged last week by the Los Angeles Times - that the Pentagon is buying placement of articles in Iraqi newspapers.

On the one hand, there is some excruciatingly delicious irony in seeing an anti-propaganda column in an American periodical that is periodically so full of propaganda itself. Yet, maybe more curious is how singularly disgusted Alter seems by the amount of money the Pentagon appears to be paying for such an exercise, without recognizing how inexpensive this effort is, compared to the cost of waging a war measured in both dollars and lives.

From the onset, even the most casually interested reader would get the sense that Alter’s disgust was on weak footing given the sole example of such “propagandist” article topics presented: “heralding the opening of a school.”

Oh, the humanity.

Just imagine the unmitigated gall of the Defense Department spending American tax dollars to place an article in an Iraqi newspaper “heralding the opening of a school.” This seems to be the entree that follows the previous irony given how the party Alter reveres doesn’t think government could ever spend too much on education.

Other clearly objectionable subject matter that Alter didn’t share with his readers included articles entitled “Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism,” and “More Money Goes to Iraq’s Development.”

How despicable.

It is, however, quite interesting – and, maybe, quite telling – that one of Alter’s major sources for this piece is that venerable bastion of geopolitical research and opinion, Rolling Stone magazine:

“We got into the war with the help of something called the Rendon Group, a secretive firm that won a huge government contract to ‘create the conditions for the removal of [Saddam] Hussein from power.’ (According to an article by James Bamford in last week’s Rolling Stone, Rendon invented the ‘Iraqi National Congress’ and put Judith Miller and other reporters in touch with their bum sources on WMD.)”

Having got that off his chest, Alter then decided to confront the financials of this situation head on:

“This year, the Pentagon granted three contractors $300 million over five years to offer ‘creative ideas’ for psychological operations aimed at what the PR experts call ‘international perception management.’”

Wow. $300 million over five years. Without even pulling out a calculator, I can figure out that this is $60 million a year. Our defense budget for 2006 is $447 billion, and Alter is worried about $60 million? He must think this money is somehow going to a subsidiary of Halliburton for his dander to be this up.

Mercifully, Alter did eventually cut to the chase. After stating what appeared to be a peculiarly lucid explanation for this strategy (“If it helped build Iraqi democracy or blunted anti-American propaganda, it might even be worth it”), Alter allowed his disgust for this war to undermine whatever was left of his reasoning skills:

“But exporting a bunch of budding Jayson Blairs simply feeds the perception of Americans as inept and hypocritical puppetmasters. If we won’t withdraw our troops, can’t we at least withdraw our ham-handed propaganda efforts?”

With this rhetorical question, Alter missed the possibility that such a strategy might further the goal that he supports, namely, withdrawing American troops. Moreover, such psy-ops missions might in fact save the lives of some of said troops until the time comes when they can be brought home. Finally, as a magazine that has regularly complained about the billions of dollars being spent on this war, doesn’t it make sense to spend $300 million on such a strategy if it leads to a more expeditious resolution that saves America billions of dollars down the road?

What the obviously tenuous nature of Alter’s arguments tells us is that they are all a smokescreen for what is truly bothering the senior editor of Newsweek, and likely the collective left-wing in America that seems so in a tizzy over these revelations: they don’t want the Defense Department, or the Administration, horning in on their propaganda machine.

After all, up to this point, it’s only been our enemies and the mainstream media – assuming that one can discern a difference – that have been able to effectively propagandize the world’s population concerning this war. If the Defense Department gets into the act, Iraqis, as well as right-thinking people across the globe, might actually be informed of a different side of this debate.

To be sure, Alter and his ilk don’t want any of that.

Iraq Newsweek Government & Press Journalistic Issues
Noel Sheppard's picture