Global Integrity considers press freedom to be a key driver of accountability in any country. Most Western nations offer a largely unrestricted press environment — intimidation of journalists is almost unheard of, with some notable exceptions. However, press freedom is a necessary condition, not the whole story.
The press has to use this freedom to full effect, as watchdogs of government and corporate power. An uncritical press that parrots government talking points isn’t advancing the cause of accountable government. In this area, the Western media has rather less enthusiasm than they could.
The latest drama comes in two parts.
1) A hard hitting story by the New York Times, published Sunday, exposes a coordinated effort from within the Pentagon to manipulate US television networks’ and newspapers’ coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, using retired military officers who frequently appear on news programs as “independent” analysts to counter growing criticism of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Kenneth Allard, a former NBC military analyst who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, said the campaign amounted to a sophisticated information operation. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he said.
2) Despite the impressive legwork done by the Times, the US television networks have apparently taken a pass on this story. While coverage critical to the government may be welcome, coverage critical of the media itself is exiled to overseas and small town papers. The Times, to its credit, points out the numerous times the paper has published Pentagon-groomed material as supposedly independent op-eds. Will the cable news networks do the same?