August 27, 2003
Propaganda masquerading as opinion
Law Professor Jonathan Turley wrote an op-ed piece in the August 19 edition of the Los Angeles Times that was reprinted in today's edition of Stars and Stripes. In it, he excoriates the Pentagon's policy of exchanging script approval for DoD support and access. He blasts the "propaganda efforts" that sound to me to be a fair tradeoff.
With the reality of entrenched opposition in Iraq resulting in increasing U.S. fatalities there, the opposition at home to the occupation is hardening by the day. The military appears to have come up with a solution: Change reality.
Well, at least he addresses his agenda right off the bat.
In what has been described as a "Pentagon infomercial," the Defense Department has hired a former producer of the TV show "Cops" to film postwar Iraq from its perspective. Though producer Bertram van Munster has denied that he is shooting a propaganda piece, it is clear that the Pentagon is gearing up to frame its own account — and history — of the Iraq war.
The Pentagon has a long history of propaganda efforts. Indeed, the Pentagon is hard at work participating in a number of movies that will deliver its message on the legitimacy of the war and its own conduct in Iraq.
Apparently, only Hollywood screenwriters and their associates should be allowed to write scripts about war and military issues. After all, we can't have those bloodthirsty warriors collaborating in out entertainment, can we?
Some of these efforts are already the subject of controversy. For example, military and intelligence sources framed an account of Pfc. Jessica Lynch that was almost entirely manufactured for public appeal.
With a headline proclaiming that Lynch was "fighting to the death," the Washington Post cited military sources to give a breathless account of how the supply clerk fought Rambo-style in close combat until she was wounded and captured. The tale of her rescue was equally breathless and equally false — based on an edited Pentagon video showing Special Forces giving the appearance they were under fire as they whisked away the heroine.
It now appears that Lynch may not have engaged the enemy at all; she was not shot and stabbed; and there was no hostile fire (or any hostile forces) at the hospital. Even so, a "Saving Private Lynch" TV movie project is slated, with the account supported by the Pentagon. Other projects are also in the works.
Interestingly, the second and third paragraphs of the above excerpt were not in the Stars and Stripes version of the op-ed (which is not available on-line). Stars and Stripes is authorized by the DoD, but the DoD has no control over editorial policy. Nonetheless, the excision of those two paragraphs is likely to be viewed as "censorship" by Turley and his leftist colleagues in the anti-Pentagon grievance industry.
Most Americans are unaware that the U.S. military routinely reviews scripts that might require Defense Department cooperation and that the Pentagon compels changes for television and movies to convey the government's message.
This is a vile misrepresentation of the facts. The DoD never COMPELS any changes to scripts. They simply trade access to our facilities and personnel for a say in the script. If the writers refuse (on artistic or ideological grounds), they can film whatever they wish, but it won't be on military property, or with military assistance.
Although rarely publicly acknowledged, major films have been rewritten to remove negative but historically accurate facts to present a more positive military image. This work is done by a team of military reviewers "embedded" in Hollywood. Most recently, the military quietly worked on a script for the television program "JAG" to present its controversial military tribunals as something of an ACLU lawyer's dream.
(The last sentence of the above paragraph was also omitted from the S&S version.)
Again, the DoD has a vested interest in how it is portrayed in movies. Considering the anti-military bias that exists in Hollywood, it is not unreasonable to have people versed in military issues to act as consultants or lobbyists. At no time are any of the creative types required to make changes that they do not wish to make. They have to decide whether or not they wish to have Pentagon cooperation.
This work thrives in the shadow of the 1st Amendment. Though the Constitution generally bars the government from preventing or punishing free speech, it is less clear about the degree to which the government may assist speech that it favors. To that end, the military uses access to military units, bases and even stock military footage and open areas such as the Presidio to force prepublication review and script changes. This access is vital for many films on military subjects, so producers yield to the demands.
M*A*S*H*, Three Kings, Apocalypse Now, and many other acclaimed films were made without Pentagon cooperation. In fact, if there is an anti-military bias to a film, you can rest assured that the DoD did not assist the filmmakers. Pentagon assistance is helpful, but is not a requirement to make a film about war.
Viewers, of course, are never informed that the movies were subject to military revision or censor. This is essential in the propaganda business. The degree to which a message is absorbed by a viewer depends in large part on his or her initial resistance or skepticism. By ensuring the propaganda value of films that are ostensibly the work of independent producers, the role of military censors is hidden from the viewer. Congress should act to prohibit the Pentagon from editing scripts and punishing producers who do not yield to their changes.
Once again, a leftist confuses censorship and cooperation. "One can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" is an old adage that is appropriate in this case; the military is more likely to withhold assistance to a movie that contains themes that they oppose, just as advertisers shy away from controversial or vulgar projects, or shows which attack their products or their corporate behavior. (Do you think GM was a big advertiser on Dateline:NBC after the staged gas tank explosion fiasco?) withholding support is NOT censorship, and Professor Turley should know better than to resort to falsehoods to support his case. By calling it censorship, Turley is implying that the military goes in and edits the film directly or deletes the offending material from the finished product, something that does NOT happen in this country.
Turley's arguments are rooted in the same mindset that fostered the late, unlamented "Fairness Doctrine", in which opposing points of view had to be given equal time, regardless of the PoV of the context in which they were presented. Turley is saying that the Pentagon should allow all filmmakers full access, even if their aim is openly hostile to the DoD and its mission. This PoV is common among a broad spectrum of the extreme left, from the Indymedia idiots to the loons at FAIR, and among self-described intellectuals everywhere, and it is simply absurd. They seem to want it both ways, as they would howl if the government imposed standards on THEIR little fiefdoms, but they want the DoD to participate in their little propaganda efforts, to the military's detriment.