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.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Paying Journalists is Wrong on Ethical and Pragmatic Grounds: Retired army public affairs specialist Charles Krohn launches a spirited defense of efforts by the Pentagon to buy favorable coverage in Iraq, in a Baltimore Sun column that ran under the headline "Paying foreign media makes sense if it helps us win the war."

I'll get back to what I consider to be a mighty big "if" in a minute, because we can deal with the ethical aspect of this first. The only reason to buy editorial coverage (rather than ad space) is because editorial coverage is inherently more credible. The intention is to deceive people into believing you earned coverage, when in fact you bought it.

Moreover, at a time when the U.S. military claims to be on a mission to bring democracy to Iraq, there is surely no ethical defense for activities that seek to undermine one of the most important cornerstones of democracy: an independent media.

That brings me to my main objection to this effort, which is that it is colossally counterproductive. You buy editorial coverage because it's credible, but now everyone in Iraq knows that editorial coverage is for sale, and so it's credibility is zero -- and so is that of the people who bought it. The U.S. military's message is surely less likely to be accepted by the Iraqi public today than it was when this misguided campaign to corrupt the media was hatched. Claims that the U.S. is there to build democracy must now sound absurd to Iraqis who hear of these activities.

As an effort to influence hearts and minds, this was worse than a failure: it was a gift to the enemies of America and the enemies of democracy.


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