Sunday, March 13, 2005

REMEMBER THOSE PHOTOS and television footage of jubilant Iraqis welcoming U.S. troops with open arms, giving them flowers, and holding up signs saying, "Thank you, Bush! Thank you, U.S.A.!"? More likely than not they were produced by the Defense Department, the State Department, or any one of over a dozen other government agencies, given to local television stations, and aired as straight news, with no acknowledgment that the government had made and distributed them. Even the "reporters" were public relations professionals working for the Bush administration.

Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production.

This is arguably worse than state control of the press in the Soviet Union. There, the tv stations and newspapers had no choice but to report what the government told them to. If they didn't, they would be arrested and thrown into prison, or maybe even vanish into the gulag archipelago. Here, although the Bush administration HAS been doing everything it can to bully the press into following the party line, it's still not politically feasible for the government to arrest and imprison journalists or news producers for refusing to air government-produced "news" segments, "reported" by pr flacks, and beamed into Americans' homes with no disclaimer that what people are seeing is basically a commercial, and not actual objective information or news.

Centralized governments will always try to take away individual and intellectual freedom, if they can. That is the nature of governments. It's up to the people to recognize and appreciate their obligation to be vigilant against intrusions on freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and all the rest. Too many Americans in the late 20th and start of the 21st centuries have come to believe that love of country means trusting, believing, and obeying our government without any serious questioning or opposition, because we elected them and that means we have to allow them to do whatever they want. Jefferson, Adams, Madison, and our other founders would have been shocked to their very cores at such attitudes.

And it IS truly shocking that a country where freedom of the press and the obligation to question authority is enshrined in that country's founding documents, has become a place where the press willingly allows itself to become a tool of government propaganda.

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