Will New Propaganda Ban Have an Impact?

In April 2008, the New York Times exposed the Pentagon pundit scandal, where the Defense Department cultivated retired military officials who are frequent media commentators, to serve as "message force multipliers" for Bush administration policies on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and other controversial topics. In response, members of Congress condemned the program and called for investigations. Three investigations are pending, but one bill recently passed Congress. Senator John Kerry, its lead sponsor, says the measure will ensure that "taxpayer money isn't used to peddle propaganda on the American people." But the measure, introduced as S. 3099, neither defines what constitutes "propaganda" nor establishes enforcement mechanisms. It also bans Pentagon propaganda "within the United States not otherwise specifically authorized," without clarifying if that extends to web-based or broadcast materials intended for foreign audiences but accessible from the United States. The Defense Department has claimed that propagandizing U.S. audiences is permissible, as long as that was not the government's intent.