Here’s the problem with being deceitful, it becomes hard for people to know when you’re telling the truth.
The flack over “pay for play” in the Iraqi press is a serious problem. As Richard Edelman and others have noted, you cannot on the one hand cite the rise of free media in Iraq as an example of Iraq has improved since the invasion and on the other seek to undermine journalist independence. This gives us and the Iraqi press the credibility of “Comical Ali.”
I don’t have a problem with US government making a concerted effort to improve its image in Iraq and the rest of the world. I don’t object to their hiring of commercial agencies to do this. This is exactly what they should be doing, the effort becomes ham-fisted when the lines between advertising and editorial aren’t respected.
This gives government, journalists, advertising, and public relations a black eye and leads to exactly the type of mistrust people harbor towards each.
I’ve heard it said that during the Nazi terror bombings of London the BBC reported the facts, whatever they were, accurately. The German propaganda machine reported much the same thing, albeit with a grossly more festive ring to their reports. When the tide of the war changed, the German people and those living under their tyranny knew the truth because they listened to the BBC even as the Nazis played the same cheery song. When it came to knowing who was telling the truth the answer was obvious because even in the darkest hour of war the BBC reported the truth.
People have to be able to trust the media so they can hear what are the actual facts, this is no less true in Iraq as it is here. Collectively (PR, advertising, media, and government) we have already destroyed the credibility of the press to the point where it is difficult to ascertain who – if anyone – is telling the truth. Personally, I think there probably are an underreported number of inspiring and positive stories coming out of Iraq, I imagine there is also an underreported number of truly awful stories. But by attempting to buy more stories, I end up inclined to believe that maybe there aren’t enough good stories.