Friday, May 8, 2009

Truth will out: Pentagon Pundit Propagandists and Customer-Generated Reviews

The blogosphere and search might just turn us into truth tellers—or am I being way too hopeful?

Google will shut you out if you load up your page descriptions with terms not found on your web pages. Page ranking cannot be bought off. Only the most popular and most relevant sites find their way to the top. And paid-off citizen reviewers are eventually discovered, given the number of reviews generated on a product. In the review process, the outliers—those with opinions that are extreme—may be viewed within the context of the majority of the reviewers.

But who protects us from misinformation on mainstream media? Now it appears that the blogosphere has stepped up to be democracy’s watchdog. Clearly, many mainstream journalists have abandoned that role.

Case in point: All the major broadcasters—ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN, and MSNBC—used ex-military men who were briefed by the Pentagon prior to their appearances on television in the period leading up to the Iraq War. This policy of disinformation shaped American opinion and also lined the pockets of many of these generals posing as media consultants, some of whom also served on the boards of companies whose businesses profited by the Iraqi war.

The Pentagon during the Bush Administration developed a policy to use ex-military men—usually generals—to act as objective commentators—hence, key influencers—to sell the war product in a manner that even the most manipulative of brand managers would think twice about. Truly, an expert campaign aimed at penetrating the distrust of spin by providing the appearance of objectivity and truth.

Listen to 2009 Pulitzer Prize winning, NYT investigative reporter David Barstow today on Democracy Now to see how the tactics of product evangelism can go awry. It appears now that only bloggers and alternative media (much of which is found on the internet) are giving Barstow’s reporting and his receiving such a prestigious prize any airing. Although found on cable, the internet, and radio, Democracy Now! is the only television broadcast to interview this Pulitzer Prize winner.

You might think that comparing Pentagon propaganda to product review or site padding trivializes the seriousness of the charges against mainstream media. It’s offered as a comparison only to show that the mechanism for uncovering the truth is pretty much the same and to sound a plea for our continuing to keep the internet as democratic as possible. It may just be our last hope.

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