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Gov't taxes us so it can persuade us Iraq war is justified
Orlando Sentinel
Manning Pynn
September 3, 2006

For the longest time, I thought people read newspapers to find out what was going on in the world around them.

As I started to practice journalism, it became clear that some people -- politicians, businesses, interest groups -- would like to "shape" the news to make it reflect favorably on their positions or interests.

Now, as I spend much of my time reading and listening to what's on readers' minds, I find that many of them, too, see the newspaper not so much as a means to become informed but rather as a vehicle to influence their neighbors. As often as not, they won't ask for information; they'll send in essays expressing ideas they'd like the Sentinel to publish and others to read.

News organizations, though, generally don't operate that way. Instead of accepting and repeating frequently expressed views, they look into issues for themselves and publish what they find -- even if it contradicts popular opinion.

That may be what prompted the United States military to seek bids on a $20-million public-relations contract for the next two years designed to encourage more positive coverage of Iraq. Reporter Walter Pincus wrote about that plan in Thursday's issue of the Washington Post.

Pincus quoted a "statement of work" describing the objective as being to "develop communication strategies and tactics, identify opportunities, and execute events . . . to effectively communicate Iraqi government and coalition's goals, and build support among our strategic audiences in achieving these goals."

To a lot of people in the military's "strategic audiences" -- I think that means you -- that may seem like a pretty good idea. Pursuing the Iraq War for any extended period requires support from the people back home, and that support is at a low ebb right now.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who very much favors continuing to pursue the war, has complained repeatedly of the lack of reporting of good news from Iraq and likely sees that as a factor in the dwindling public support. He may be right.

Does that justify taxing you and your fellow "audience" members $20 million so the government can persuade you that the war is worth fighting?

I don't think so. News organizations expend significant energy each day separating fact from "spin." Now the government apparently not only wants to spin the war into acceptability, it expects Americans to pay for that circular ride.

No, thanks.

This seems like a familiar approach from the folks who not long ago gave us "video news releases," ready-to-air reports extolling the virtues of government proposals and performance without a hint that not everyone agreed.

This is not about the worth of the war. It's about one more effort to shape people's perception of the news -- at their expense.

If the war is worth pursuing, Americans shouldn't have to pay $20 million to be convinced of that.

Manning Pynn can be reached at Public@orlandosentinel.com or 407-650-6410.

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