Monday, December 13, 2004

Managing Information

A month or so ago, I published a post on Liberty Street about a debate taking place within the Bush administration on whether to put out deliberately false information in order to influence world opinion in favor of the United States. In the New York Times today, a piece written by Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt reports that the debate continues and is heating up.

The issue being debated concerns the line between tactical lies and misinformation carried out in the context of combat in order to gain an advantage over the enemy, and using false or misleading information in the arena of public relations, for the purpose of shaping a positive image of the United States among the general public here and abroad.

Blurring this line, or erasing it, would violate a sharp distinction the Pentagon has always maintained between battlefield propaganda, or "psy-ops," meant to influence the enemy, and public affairs, meant to inform the public. This is not a mere semantic distinction. The U.S. military has specific and clear ethical codes requiring that any information meant for the public be truthful and accurate.

Aside from the very real issue of credibility -- if Americans and the rest of the world are aware that the Pentagon twists the truth to sway public opinion, then anything the Pentagon says will start to be disbelieved -- there is the issue of truth for its own sake, as a positive value. George W. Bush claims to be a Christian who takes the Bible not only seriously, but literally. One wonders how he could or would condone a formal program based on deliberate lies and misinformation, given the Ninth Commandment: You shall not bear false witness.

1 comment:

Crepuscule with Nellie said...

Hey Kathy,

I was going through my bookmarks, cleaning things up a bit and rediscovered a good one. Thought I'd pass it on in case you hadn't read it before.

Hope you're well