Bob Franken

The Smokescreen

October 24, 2007
The Smokescreen (Bob Franken)
@ 11:39 am

It’s an article of faith that it’s only the adversaries of the United States who engage in propaganda. We have been conditioned to believe that the bad guys hide the truth and misrepresent it. It’s a big part of what makes them bad. No matter how far you go back, our enemies always had this insidious “Propaganda Machine.” That was one thing that set us apart as the good guys. So we were told.

So what do we call the control and manipulation of today? What do we call the White House censorship of congressional testimony by a government expert who wanted to report on the public health implications of global warming? What do we call the Pentagon’s orders to block news media from showing the caskets returning from Iraq?

I was at Guantanamo Bay covering the prisoners. I had reluctantly signed on to the long list of restrictions that journalists must accept before they’re even allowed to set foot on the base. What we end up seeing is commonly called by reporters the “Dog and Pony Show.”

Part of the deal was that we had to submit all our tape and news pictures so the commanders could determine we hadn’t broken any of the rules.

But I was taken aback when a colonel, a West Point graduate, by the way, said we would not be allowed to send out a certain bit of video. What startled me is that we had fastidiously complied with all the conditions. This particular scene showed a “detainee” sitting forlornly in the prison yard. It was shot behind the back so we wouldn’t violate the Geneva Conventions that our government had said don’t apply anyway.

Why couldn’t we use that scene? The colonel was adamant: “It doesn’t convey the message we want.” In other words, we were there to promote the party line. That officer genuinely believed reporters should function as, dare I say it, propagandists. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Forget the moral questions. The harsh reality is that propaganda is a house of cards. Now that it has become acceptable it has inevitably collapsed, and the United States is vulnerable to accusations that it lies, just like the rest of them.

It helps explain why our government is so distrusted not only abroad but here too. A belief in our system is the glue that holds the country together. What’s happening now might be one of the reasons we seem to be falling apart.

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