Thursday, March 16, 2006

Hearts and Minds?

In Shakepeare's Hamlet, his Father tells the forlorn prince that by a "forged process of my death" - a lie - the ears of Denmark are being "rankly abused." Lemme borrow from the bard and set a few things straight -- I am NOT a propagandist. I never have been one and I don't plan to start regardless of who is in the White House.

In a Washington Post column earlier this month, David Pitts said that Voice of America - the place where I have worked for 17 years - is to some degree "a propaganda organ." I Googled David Pitts, and turns out he is a prolific writer, who used to work for the USIA - the U.S. Information Agency, which was VOA's 'parent' organization when I arrived in 1989.

However, I have never - never - been interested in the hostile overthrow of a foreign power, I don't give a whip what the official policies of the U.S. government are, and I am not a diplomat. I am a reporter - I report.

I report on what I see, what I learn from sources, and on what happens. My job is not to try to persuade someone to believe something or change their way of life or anything like that. My job is to tell people what happened.

Pitts goes on to say that the BBC - the British Broadcasting Corporation - has "a well-earned reputation for fairness and impartiality, much more so than the Voice of America." I find his choice of words and the idea they convey an insult.

I have stood next to the BBC reporters in mixed zones at sporting events - as well as the AP, AFP, Reuters, UPI (when it existed), and other journalists and we all shared the same information, the same interviews with the same sports figures. The other reporters didn't seem to think me less than credible - in fact some of them used quotes I got because I was in the right place at the right time with a tape machine and they were not.

So to be labeled - as many misinformed people do - as a propagandist pisses me off. The only idea I advocate is the truth - whether the White House, Congress, James Dobson, Hollywood, or Madison Avenue likes it or not. "Truth is an anvil that has worn out many hammers." As a matter of fact the first ever VOA broadcast contained the words "the news may be good, the news may be bad; we will tell you the truth." I still hold to that credo. The idea is that if you are honest with people, if you tell them the truth, they will respect you. And you can have a dialogue with them even if you disagree.

You might hear some news stories in the coming months about VOA terminating its flagship English broadcast VOA NewsNow. That will happen unless Congress tells the Broadcasting Board of Governors - which ironically is supposed to protect VOA and other U.S. Government broadcasters from political influence, but has sadly become a sandbox for those in power - to stop the madness.

VOA has broadcast in English for 64 years now - since 1942. By the end of September, most of that broadcasting will be silenced - Special English and English to Africa will remain. Secretary of State Rice has asked the Senate for an extra $85 million this year, most of which will be dedicated to building a Farsi language broadcast service to Iran. But English will die. Who knows, maybe then people will stop calling the dedicated journalists with whom I work propagandists.

1 comment:

Danger Boy said...

Hey, man, thanks for the poem/song lyrics -- that was great!