Smear campaigns are now endemic to our twittering world of 24-hour news cycles.
Not smear campaigns by the media, but smear campaigns against the media. Or, at least, the few intrepid reporters still trying to dig deep into stories and come up with something resembling truth. (For a real eye-opener read, Into the Buzzsaw, a stark exposé of the myth of a free press.)
This week we have a stunning and instructive case in point. This time it’s not a corporation targeting a reporter with a negative public relations campaign. No, this time it’s the Pentagon’s propagandists turning their massive messaging machine on the very reporters who dared to criticize it.
We all know that the Pentagon is the largest contractor in the world. Many of their contracts go to propaganda campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. That much the Pentagon admits.
So, USA Today reporter Tom Vanden Brook and editor Ray Locker investigated whether or not those propaganda campaigns were actually helping anyone and how much they cost American taxpayers. Then they wrote a story. But, apparently, the Pentagon didn’t appreciate what the report uncovered.
According to Locker, they found “little proof that the programs work and they [Pentagon officials] won’t make public where that money goes.”
What happened next is all too familiar to any reporter who has tried to investigate public or corporate malfeasance, or any suspected abuse of power. Almost immediately, Vanden Brook and Locker were victimized by a variety of scurrilous online attacks. The plot got thick—very quickly. In what would’ve once been thought to be an ironic twist, but today is just “business as usual,” the reporters became the targets of the very sort of propaganda they reported on in the first place.
Suddenly, fake websites (with inaccurate reports they never wrote) were opened in their names. Twitter accounts and message forums posted lies in transparent attempts to discredit them. Potentially career damaging Wikipedia entries were posted.
This is how it works today, folks.
The town crier—the reporter who really makes an effort to protect you and track spending of your tax dollars—is likely to be the victim of a public smear campaign conducted by those they try to hold accountable.
This is one serious and very important reason Americans are so ill-informed. It’s why many corporate newsrooms “play it safe” by firing the investigative reporters and instead use the money to buy a shiny helicopter to repeatedly report on traffic jams.
After all, who wants the Pentagon after them, right?
Reporting on malfeasance by corporations, on government abuse of power, or on any threat to public well-being, all too often ends with a nasty “take down.” Today, the reporter goes from hunter to hunted faster than you can click a mouse. This is totalitarian regime-type behavior–is it not?
Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1786: “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
Our free presses have been taken over by pay-for-play corporations who make weapons of war (GE receives multi-billion dollar Pentagon contracts and still owns nearly half of NBC) or by companies selling nothing but cross-promotion and infotainment. The USA TODAY story is another good example of why real reporters are rarely allowed to challenge anyone with power anymore.
It takes a bold commitment to journalism to do the investigative reporting done by Vanden Brook and Locker.
But keep in mind the price that they have paid.
To them, “Bravo, and sleep with your eyes open.”
Thank you for trying to open ours.