EDITORIAL: WHEN THE 'NEWS' IS PRE-PACKAGED 

EDITORIAL: WHEN THE 'NEWS' IS PRE-PACKAGED

While we at The Flyer do enjoy poking fun from time to time at our colleagues at the local daily, we rarely if ever find cause to question their sanity. Or common sense. But this week gave us pause. Someone has to call the community's attention to an egregious breach of journalistic protocol (or worse) on the front page of today's [Monday's] Commercial Appeal, and it might as well be us....

As regular CA readers may have observed, the paper's lead article was a profile entitled [sic] "A Medal of Honor first -- Iraq war." Written by Eric B. Cramer, the story details the heroism of Army Sgt. Paul R. Smith of Tampa, FL, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on the second anniversary of his death in combat in Iraq.

Far be it from us to do or say anything that detracts from Sgt. Smith's sacrifice on behalf of his country; we do not intend to demean his valor. But this particular "news" story on the CA front page was not independent news at all; as the byline clearly indicates, the article was in fact generated by the Army News Service, part of the U.S. Army Public Affairs office.

In other words: Monday's lead CA story was actually written by someone who was paid for his efforts by the U.S. government, and whose reportorial output was clearly monitored by army officials, part of an organization whose Web site (www.4.army.mil) mission statement includes a reference to "(helping) to establish the conditions that lead to confidence in America's Army."

Are we the only ones in town troubled by this? Since when does a credible daily newspaper accept official government "reporting" verbatim, under any circumstances?

The good news here is that The Commercial Appeal isn't blurring the line between independent journalism and government propaganda; it's eliminating that line altogether. It's one thing to run, occasionally, as the CA and many of its peers do, press releases masquerading as news in the back of the paper; it's another thing altogether to get your lead story directly from the U.S. Army Public Affairs Office.

Literally a mountain of misinformation has emanated from that office in recent times, most notably the Private Jessica Lynch fable, a propaganda monstrosity that will go into the history books as one of the most disgraceful instances of deliberate media distortion in American history. In light of all this, the CA's decision to lead Monday's paper with a story from the same source is beyond unfathomable; it's an embarassment to all serious journalists in our community.

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