When David Barstow’s remarkable New York Times investigative pieces on corrupt propagandizing by the Pentagon first appeared, they became required reading for my students.
And it wasn’t even the propaganda that was the mortal sin. Our system is one in which politicians and agencies are allowed to vigorously promote their point of view while we are obligated to vigorously monitor their output for spin and fluff and other self-serving nonsense. I have occasionally helped government agencies shape messages about safety and health emergencies.
But the “sins” uncovered in Bartow’s brilliant series “Message Machine” went way beyond the pale. The paid military analysts were misrepresented by the networks as neutral experts. In fact, a number of them were shown to directly financially benefit from defense contractors when they promoted a certain point of view. Sure, we are all drowning in phoniness. But this was phoniness for bucks that had life and death implications.
If you have any interest in the role of the press in society, the Barstow series is a must read.
A confession: I am not naive about news management and spinning and lying and payoffs and all the rest. May God forgive me any spinning I have ever done that, well, spun more than it should have.
But this story shocked me.
Tonight David won a coveted 2008 Polk Award.