Newsweek and various other sources report on a year-long AP investigation of the $547 million the Pentagon is paying to feed news "stories" about the Iraq war into the American news media. Here's an excerpt, which I find sickening:
Do we really want the Pentagon telling us what to think about Iraq? For that matter, do we want anyone with a vested interest in the outcome of a message -- from peanut butter to health care -- to control that message? I find this latest Pentagon maneuver hideous in the extreme.
On an abandoned Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas, editors for the Joint Hometown News Service point proudly to a dozen clippings on a table as examples of success in getting stories into newspapers.
What readers are not told: Each of these glowing stories was written by Pentagon staff. Under the free service, stories go out with authors' names but not their titles, and do not mention Hometown News anywhere. In 2009, Hometown News plans to put out 5,400 press releases, 3,000 television releases and 1,600 radio interviews, among other work — 50 percent more than in 2007.The service is just a tiny piece of the Pentagon's rapidly expanding media empire, which is now bigger in size, money and power than many media companies.
In a yearlong investigation, The Associated Press interviewed more than 100 people and scoured more than 100,000 pages of documents in several budgets to tally the money spent to inform, educate and influence the public in the U.S. and abroad. The AP included contracts found through the private FedSources database and requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. Actual spending figures are higher because of money in classified budgets.
The biggest chunk of funds — about $1.6 billion — goes into recruitment and advertising. Another $547 million goes into public affairs, which reaches American audiences. And about $489 million more goes into what is known as psychological operations, which targets foreign audiences.
The disturbing thing is that I'm not surprised. Just fired up: This is why we can't let journalism die, why we have to figure out a way to pay the folks who do the work. Otherwise, I give you press releases. Or Joe the Plumber. bk
Photo of newsroom of Joint Hometown News Service In San Antonio, Tex. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)