The Associated Press reports on a new investigation by the Pentagon into the military's practice of paying journalists to write articles and commentary for a Web site particularly aimed at influencing public opinion in the Balkans. The Balkans website, called Southeast European Times, as well as a second with similar intentions called Magharebia, aimed at audiences in North Africa, have no immediate obvious connection to the U.S. government. Yet each site contains a linked disclaimer that says they are "sponsored by the U.S. European Command." The command is an organization based in Germany responsible for U.S. forces and military activities in Europe and parts of Africa. Both websites constitute what the military calls "information operations," designed to counter what the Pentagon considers misinformation circulating in the international news media. The Pentagon's use of the web sites has raised questions about blurring the lines between legitimate news and what some may consider government propaganda.
This should not shock anyone, though it should continue to disgust us. On my old Blogalization blog--I still have to import all the old entries into the new site--I translated an interview in Brazilian paper with a former FBI senior agent at the U.S. Embassy in Brazil who said bluntly that his main job was manipulating the press in favor of U.S. interests.
Heck, if the Web site had a disclaimer saying "This site brought to you by your friendly neighborhood smart-bomb-dropping gringo," then ethically, they're all right. Here's how they work, according to the AP/E&P story:
Kaufman said information warfare experts at European Command do not edit the stories written by contributing journalists for Southeast European Times, but they ?review? the stories after they are processed by Anteon editors, and they sometimes change the headlines. He cited as an example a proposed headline that originally read, ?Croatian Prime Minister Remembers Holocaust Victims,? which European Command changed to ?Croatian Prime Minister Remarks on Dangers of Extremism,? which Kaufman said ?more closely reinforced? the U.S. message.
That's actually not so awfully bad, if true. Of course, this Pentagon has a reputation for epistemological equivocation--i.e., lying their asses off--so we'll have to stay tuned.