Building on a theme identified in Quillnews' post New Battlefield (Part 11), it seems several thoughtful journalists are beginning to "connect the dots" about the uses of professional communications strategies and PR techniques in building public support for the war. One of the latest is Michael Wolff whose column on Page 66 in the January 2006 edition of Vanity Fair entitled How to Sell A War uses the Scotter Libby/Judy Miller imbroglio as a spring board to discuss contemporary journalism's professional practices when covering government in DC. It is an excellent essay and offers useful insights -- particularly about the lack of widespread understanding about the linkages between professional advocates paid to promote public policy goals, and the elite DC press corps whose writings and opinions help set the agenda in the public square and who presume to be disinterested or unbiased referees in the "debates" between what is good and what is bad... This world of background briefings, anonymous sources, confidential secrecy agreements for the purposes of advancing a story in the press with the understanding the reporter will keep all these background machinations secret in exchange for a story deserves all the exposure it can get -- particularly because it is this hidden world reporters refuse to explore that provides the economic basis for the for-profit journalism practiced in today's competitive media's corporate environment. In today's mass media markets, stories about secrets sells like sex! In order words, journalists treat this entire area of public policy development as a secret -- an unreported story -- because there is money in keeping their information gathering practices hidden from the public. During the Post Sept 11 War on today's "new battlefield," the people need to wise up fast about how the media is manipulated for political purposes. Of course, Quillnews readers won't be surprised when I say the reason the people need more information is not because - as Wolff would have us believe -- that shadowy dark forces are involved in an amoral quest to fool honest journalists. On the contrary, I believe these practices need to be exposed because the current standards practiced by the high end professionals of the MSM in covering DC political debates are a threat to the people's freedom. Rather than being threatened by paid policy advocates who whisper secrets, today's journalistic standards instead are a hazard to freedom because they allow all manner of enemy propaganda, disinformation, sedition and lies to co-mingle as equally valid in today's debates with the real life facts of the war being waged to kill our enemies. This is not Wolff's intent, however. He would have the reader believe the danger are the secret briefers, not the terrorist enemy. His essay makes this point perfectly by revealing his anti-war bias.
Wolff begins by saying that noting within hours of the Libby indictment, former Clinton spin doctor Lanny Davis wrote an essay for the NYT Op-ed pages calling attention to the widespread and widely accepted uses of press backgrounding. Wrote Davis: “I can remember all the times I picked up the phone and talked ‘on background’ to reporters, ‘pushing back’ against rumors damaging to President Clinton and citing information that I thought was ‘out there.’" According to Wolff:
"There is, of course, a qualitative, even moral difference as Lanny Davis and other Democrats have been trying to point out, between the Democrats’ message trade craft and the Republicans’. The Clinton people, at their most unforthright, used the manifold arts of press manipulation to hide the truth about their man’s sex life. The Bush people have these dark PR arts, these black-ops communication-control skills, to persuade everybody who was anybody in the theoretically skeptical press to embrace at least one if not all of their cockamamie reasons to commence a war that has now cost more than 2,000 American lives…
“…the relationship of political hacks to political flacks seems too central to the reasons for the hideous and ridiculous and unnecessary war for the backstory not to be told, for the world of PR and media spooks not to open up enough for everyone to see that this is a place where a rarefied bunch of morally dubious men and women now reside. We’re in the new shadow world…”
Check Wolff's red hot rhetoric: "dark PR arts, black-ops communication-control skills, cockamie, hideous and ridiculous and unnecessary war... morally dubious... new shadow world." Quillnews advice to Mike: give it a rest!!! Your bias is so complete against the Bush war policy, you are forcing your insights through press's obsessive prism that has all government actions equate to the Vietnam quagmire, Watergate scandal, government lies, black bag spooks sneaking in shadows. Puh-lease! This is, as your fashion conscious editors at Vanity Fair might snip, so yesterday! The Sixties and the paranoid pols like Johnson and Nixon who poisoned our polity and their delusional enforcers like Hoover are gone -- long gone. Today is a new day and requires a new press template, a new context. We have been attacked by a murderous enemy and the American people -- the people, not the government -- are going to make war on that enemy until they are dead and gone. Media or no media. (And given journalism's current low-standing in public esteem, the people are moving ahead with or without the DC and NY media elites approval). Wolff and his anti-military media pals need to understand that sometimes war isn't about just a storyline for fashion-conscious public posers to retell their favorite political narratives. Sometimes a war is a test of survival. And, as written in Ecclesiastes, sometimes, like the laws of God, the requirements to secure freedom must be endured, whether it is fashionable or not.