Sunday, January 08, 2006

The deadly Kool Aide of Payola PR

In a recent podcast Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson criticize the Lincoln Group’s practice of paying for favorable stories in Iraqi news media. Edelman has also denounced this pernicious practice. Holtz, Hobson, and Edelman all expose payola PR as shortsighted and self-defeating. They recognize its threat to the long term interests of our industry.

Were it only a matter of the image of our industry. It is far more serious than that. Stories planted in Iraqi news media will find their way back into our news media. (Indeed, given the present degraded state of the American news media, such an indirect route may not be necessary.)

To understand how serious the consequences of payola journalism can be, consider this passage from Berntsen and Pezzullo’s Jawbreaker, describing Berntsen’s arrival at the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center on the morning of the bombings of our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam:

I felt a jolt of energy as I entered the Crisis Center. Chief CTC Jeff O’Connell stood in the dimly lit conference room speaking on a secure phone directly to the White House. Especially at that early hour of the morning, it was an intensely focused group. Ted (my FBI deputy) as well as the top officers in CTC were already there. News reports from CNN were being projected on the wall behind the head of the table.

While the CIA has access to a vast store of communications and satellite monitoring equipment, commercial newscasts sometimes provides the first view of an incident. Therefore we all have an interest in a news media that is independent, fair, and accurate. It is a matter of national security and we must defend independent journalism as if our lives depended on it.

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