Media Blog

Propaganda and the Press

So far the commentary on Eric Boehlert’s latest essay has failed to address the heart of his argument. First, Boehlert posits that conservative bloggers have been far too reckless in alleging collusion between insurgent/militia/terrorist groups and stringers who report for Western media outlets. Although Boehlert unfairly quotes some conservative bloggers out of context to exaggerate what they’ve written, he’s right: At times, the allegations and rhetoric have been far more sweeping in their condemnation of the media than the evidence allows.

But after accusing conservative bloggers of painting with too broad a brush, Boehlert commits the same blunder by arguing that it is absurd to think that any insurgent/militia/terrorist group would ever use a sympathetic stringer to dessiminate propaganda. Here is the paragraph in which Boehlert draws his conclusion:

Something doesn’t add up here, and I assume it’s something warbloggers don’t want to address, as they cling to their anti-press fantasy to explain the Iraq debacle. Namely, if insurgents view journalists as their allies — weapons in their sophisticated propaganda war against the United States — then why are insurgents killing journalists at an alarming rate? The entire premise of the warblogger theory makes no sense.  

The answer to Boehlert’s rhetorical question is embarrassingly obvious: Insurgents don’t kill journalists who are sympathetic to their cause. Take Bilal Hussein, the AP photographer who was with two insurgents when he was captured and detained by the U.S. military for suspected involvement terrorist activity. Or, for a less controversial example, take Joao Silva, the New York Times photographer who took this intimate portrait of a Mahdi sniper in the act of firing on American troops. Silva is the author of In the Company of God, a paean to the “indomitable spiritfaith, sacrifice, war and martyrdom” of these enemies of the United States.
It’s not just incorrect to argue that insurgents never use friendly journalists this way; it’s preposterous. We know it happens. But serious press-critic Boehlert would rather engage in a little flame war with the conservative blogosphere than address such a glaring and complicated moral problem.