The Free Press, or Not

Late last year the Lincoln Group, a Pentagon contractor, attracted notoriety for planting pro-American stories in Iraqi newspapers. Now the Defense Department has decided that the Lincoln Group did not violate any of the government’s rules by doing so. Pentagon contractors are free to misrepresent themselves in the foreign press.

That’s bad enough; what’s worse is the pattern of Bush administration subversion of the press here at home, paying journalists like Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher to shill for the president’s legislative agenda and giving White House press privileges to a pseudonymous reporter from a dubious internet news service sympathetic to the administration. That reporter, Jeff Gannon, happened to be a former (or maybe not-so-former) homosexual prostitute and had falsified a military record.

And let’s not forget WHIG, the White House Iraq Group, operating out of Cheney’s office and tasked with spinning the press into supporting the Iraq invasion. And of course Scooter Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff (and sometime dirty novelist) who used the press to reveal Valerie Plame’s work for the CIA in an effort to cause problems for her husband, administration (and Iraq War) critic Joseph Wilson. Wilson’s scuttling the Niger-uranium nonsense threatened to undo all WHIG’s hard work. Good thing New York Times reporter Judith Miller was undetered.

We hear a lot about the liberal media, and the press certainly is not culturally conservative. What it is, however, is dangerously accommodating to and uncritical of government. (How many newspapers actually came out against the Iraq War before it began?) The American media are plenty credulous enough to begin with, but the Bush administration has made, by the looks of it, a concerted effort to turn them into outright organs of propaganda.


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