Critics Call Radio Hosts’ Trip Propaganda Mission
The planned trip of some third tier conservative talk show hosts to Iraq is drawing fire from many on the Left.
A contingent of conservatives talk radio hosts is headed to Iraq this month on a mission to report “the truth” about the war: American troops are winning, despite headlines to the contrary. The “Truth Tour” has been pulled together by the conservative Web cast radio group Rightalk.com and Move America Forward, a non-profit conservative group backed by a Republican-linked public relations firm in California.
“The reason why we are doing it is we are sick and tired of seeing and hearing headlines by the mainstream media about our defeat in Iraq,” Melanie Morgan, a talk radio host for KSFO Radio in San Francisco and co-chair of Move America Forward, said. Morgan said the media is “imposing a Vietnam template on this war.” “This is not Vietnam,” she said. “War is war, and it’s dangerous, and the killing is taking place all of the time. At the same time, where there is danger, there is success and there is a mainstream media that is determined to shut out that success.” She said the group is going to Iraq to support American troops, who see a disconnection with what they experience and what’s being reported in the United States. She said the incongruence is leading to “morale problems.”
But critics, including independent journalists who have reported from Iraq, say the trip is a propaganda mission for the U.S. military and the Bush administration and cannot be considered “journalism” by any standards. “This is the most pathetic thing I’ve heard in a long time. They should be ashamed of themselves,” Peter Beinart, editor of left-leaning The New Republic magazine, said. “They have no idea what journalism is, and to pretend they are journalists is laughable,” Beinart said. “You do not achieve victory by not facing reality. I think these are the kinds of people that will lead us to lose there.”
The delegation, which Morgan said is being funded by individual radio stations and the hosts themselves, will be leaving on Friday for about a week. They will be broadcasting from U.S Central Command headquarters in Baghdad’s Green Zone and will be traveling with the troops daily.
The group will kick off the trip with a “Thank You BBQ” for the troops at Centcom headquarters in Tampa, Fla., before traveling to Kuwait to visit with soldiers. They will be flown from there to Iraq via military transport and will be sleeping in tents inside the secured Green Zone.
I’m not sure that this constitutes “propaganda” any more than a concert trip headlined by Ted Nugent and Toby Keith, which happened over a year ago. Presumably, these folks are going over as entertainers, not “journalists.” Indeed, with a handful of exceptions, I can’t imagine that many troops would line up to go see journalists.
Certainly, the bringing over of conservative talk hosts rather than liberals has a propagandistic element. But, since the purpose of these events is to entertain the troops and raise their morale, one wouldn’t expect the Pentagon to invite Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo over to tell them that they are criminals fighting an illegal, immoral war that is responsible for more Iraqi deaths than Saddam Hussein. They can get that from journalists, after all.
Correction (1149): A commenter notes below that Al Franken has in fact been to Iraq several times on USO tours, which I’ve verified. CNN’s Paula Zahn had an interesting interview with Franken on the subject in January 2004.
Franken: USO tour in Iraq ‘very moving’
Comedian Al Franken, known for his criticism of President Bush, recently wrapped up a tour of Iraq, where he entertained U.S. troops.
ZAHN: Let’s talk a little bit about the reaction of the troops to your visit and your reaction to them.
FRANKEN: Well, this is my fourth USO tour, and I love doing the tours. This is my first time in an active theater of battle. I was in Kosovo in ’99, but it was very different.
It was very moving, to see these guys who are — and women — who are in harm’s way. And also very moving to see — like on the first show we did in Kuwait, we sang “God Bless America” every night at the end of the show. And looking at the guys in the front row, I saw there was a black soldier with his arm linked with a white soldier, with a woman, and going back and — and swaying back and forth, and really, this was America to me. And thinking that, you know, the military can really teach a lot of college campuses a lot about affirmative action.
ZAHN: Can teach us all a lot of things.
ZAHN: Let me ask you this: You’ve been highly critical of the president, as this march to war went on. What do you say to the folks who in spite of your history of doing these USO tours, found your appearance in Iraq disingenuous in some way?
FRANKEN: I don’t know anyone who has. I know that the USO invited me, and when they did, I said yes immediately. They don’t know me. I mean, I support our troops. I’m from the Vietnam generation. I didn’t serve. This is my way of serving. I tell a few jokes and leave very quickly. I was there eight days. These guys are there for nine months.
The soldiers themselves — and there are soldiers who came up to me and said, I don’t agree with anything you say politically, but I really appreciate your coming. And that, you know, then I say, well, it’s my honor. And they’d say, no, it’s my honor. And then I’d say, no, no, no, it’s my honor. And they’d say, no, it’s my honor. And it went on like that for hours, until I said, let’s stop it.
Not what I’d have expected, to be sure. My apologies to Franken.