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Press Freedom: Drug-induced Terror (12/98)

Since the beginning of the 1980s, Latin America-s booming drug trade sometimes has made deadlines for journalists literal. According to the Miami-based InterAmerican Press Association (IAPA), which monitors the media throughout the western hemisphere, during the last two decades drug traffickers and their paramilitary units have effectively suppressed press freedom in 10 countries: Peru, Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Guyana, Bolivia, Chile, Haiti, Mexico, and Paraguay.

Drug-related terrorism of the media has taken many forms. Journalists have been threatened, beaten, kidnapped, and murdered; advertisers have been intimidated; and physical plants and distribution centers have been bombed. Those targeted have included columnists, reporters, publishers, radio commentators, and television anchors. read more

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The Power To Mis-Inform (7/98)

The US press has finally admitted what many suspected: it’s lost its grip on reality and ethics. On the surface, the obvious example is CNN’s retraction last week of a story alleging US military use of nerve gas on defectors during the Vietnam War. This followed closely the Cincinnati Enquirer’s front page apology to Chiquita Brands for the use of stolen voice mail in a story questioning the company’s business practices,

And let’s not forget those complete fabrications. Patricia Smith, a 1998 Pulitzer Prize finalist, was recently forced to resign from the Boston Globe after making up people and quotations for four columns. Meanwhile, New Republic associate editor Stephen Glass was fired after confessing he’d "embellished” a story about computer hackers. Apparently, he’d already invented news in dozens of articles. Glass also used bogus quotes in a profile of Vernon Jordan published in George Magazine. read more

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Propaganda: The USIA’s New Line (6/98)

The headquarters of the US Information Agency (USIA) are just two blocks from the Mall in Washington, DC. But this government agency, which receives about $1 billion a year from US taxpayers, is no tourist attraction. In fact, a US citizen is better off going abroad to learn how it implements its motto: "telling America’s story to the world."

 A crucial part of the US foreign policy apparatus, USIA likes to call its particular branch of foreign affairs "public diplomacy," a euphemism for propaganda. The encyclopedia definition of the latter term is "instruments of psychological warfare aimed at influencing the actions of human beings in ways that are compatible with the national interest objectives of the purveying state." But USIA prefers the euphemism, because it doesn’t want the US public to think that its government actively engages in psychological warfare activities, and because, among the general public, "propaganda" is a pejorative catch-all for negative and offensive manipulation. read more