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Hey! Isn't That Illegal?

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Hey! Isn't that Illegal?

There was a curious article in the Kansas City Star on June 13, 2007. It was written by Warren P. Strobel of the McClatchy Newspaper syndicate, and titled "Fighting terror with better PR."

According to the story, the Bush administration created a new State Department office called the "Counterterrorism Communication Center, which is to be run by Karen Hughes. The office is intended to counter the ideology and propaganda of terrorists groups.

Huh, what? I mean, I can point out lots of "propaganda" messages from the White House, but I am at a loss to identify a single example of media propagandizing from Al Qaeda.

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The Reagan administration set up a similar office called the Office of Public Diplomacy in the 1980s. The OPD was organized by CIA propaganda expert Walter Raymond and directed by Otto Reich. Their professed job was to "glue black hats on the Sandinistas and white hats on the Contras," in support of the administration's policies in Central America. The messages from the OPD were directed at the American public, and they were also intended to influence members of Congress.

There's the rub. It is illegal for the Executive Branch to spend money to influence votes in Congress, at least in an obvious, direct way. When an investigation of the actions of the OPD began, the office was quickly closed.

The same should be true of this new office, except quicker. "Propaganda" is in the eye of the beholder, and if you define an opponent's message as propaganda, it tends to give you license to oppose that "evil" with messages that are themselves highly slanted or even entirely untrue.

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A quick bit of research will show that the OPD used whatever messages they thought would be effective, regardless of truthfulness. Reagan himself called the Contras "Freedom Fighters," which they were not. They were terrorists-murderers, rapists, torturers, plunderers-and they were partly supported by the message generation system at the OPD. Let's not do it again.


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Robert Thatch is a peace activist in Kansas City, MO, interested in events and policies concerning Latin America.

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