Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Lincoln Group Whitewash: I wasn’t going to say anything about the exoneration of the Lincoln Group after an inquiry into its activities in Iraq, paying for favorable editorial coverage of the U.S. occupation. First, because the finding was utterly predictable—sorry if I don’t trust this administration to investigate itself—and second because my disgust might just overcome my usual circumspection.
But a couple of people have e-mailed me asking for my opinion, so here it is: what the Lincoln Group did was despicable and dishonest, and it brought dishonor on the United States and its military.

Some additional thoughts: First, it would be nice if the media would stop referring to this activity as public relations. It’s not. When you pay to place information in a news outlet, it’s advertising, not PR. And second, stop referring to the Lincoln Group as a public relations firm. Whatever shoddy, disreputable craft the people there practice, it’s not the discipline I write about.

Second, the argument that the information placed in Iraqi media is factually accurate is irrelevant—even if true. The fact that this is paid material masquerading as independent journalism is fundamentally dishonest. The lie is not in the information, but in the presentation. It’s a lie nonetheless.

Third, we should be ashamed that we are treating people who we are supposedly there to help with such contempt. They have as much right to an independent media as Americans, and by denying them that right—by corrupting one of the most vital pillars of democracy—we are undermining an institution we claim to be there to build.

And finally, this is on purely pragmatic grounds incredibly destructive to the very image of America that the Lincoln Group was hired to project. Will Iraqis who hear that America is paying reporters to sing its praises think more highly of us as a result, or less? Will they find us more credible, or less? Will they believe us when we talk about the importance of freedom and democracy, or will they see cynicism and self-interest?

This is not just a waste of money, it is actually counter-productive.

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