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December 8, 2005

What is the message we&

re trying to send?

If democracy&

s most zealous salesmen turn out not to believe in their own product, sales are bound to suffer.

The U.S. military&

s financing of &


Iraqi news coverage about the American occupation is the freshest instance in which supposed idealists who are hammering Iraq into a workable democracy reveal contempt for the machinery of democracy.

Hothead conservative pundits such as Mary Matalin and even sober politicians such as Sen. John McCain thumped tubs over the airwaves to defend the placement of propaganda articles in Iraqi newspapers. They argued that it is clever and noble to pay a fee to get &

accurate information&

into the Iraqi public eye, especially if payment for such articles is an established tradition in Iraq.

A few problems come to mind.

First, the &


involved is a Pentagonian truth, a commodity that not even the American public purchases any longer. Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha has a vast network of military officials who confess to him a blunter truth, but do not expect to see government-funded articles about the truth as Murtha sees it.

Second, even if payment for propaganda is common in Iraq, why would a free society such as ours want to use tactics of bribery to get others to go along with us? Isn&

t that a complete violation of our own cherished concept of a free press?

Ah, there&

s the rub.

On our own shores, the Bush administration has been treating the free press to the back of its hand. The administration has financed conservative punditry, distributed video news pieces masqueraded as legitimate news coverage, stonewalled and committed other acts of aggression chronicled by media watcher Michael Massing in an ominously titled piece, &

The End of News,&

in the New York Review of Books.

Hardcore conservatives &

defined as the ones who support Bush no matter what and who believe that Front Page magazine is a welcome antidote to the communist New York Times &

are the quickest to wave a flag and stand up for America&

s virtue, yet they do not appear to be as in love with freedom as they would claim.

Some people value the process, some just care about the results. Some say that it&

s not how you play the game, but whether you win and get to gloat. The administration and its most partisan backers fall into the latter group.

They have despaired of the fact that the American free press does not share their own considerable biases, and have seen it as a conspiracy. Yet if the media are so fatally flawed, the advent of talk radio and blogging could have given conservatives the opportunity to model a better and fairer form of free media and democratic discourse. Instead, they have used the so-called New Media as New Pravdas, happy to propagandize and bully.

The &

Victory disguised as freedom&

approach is epitomized by the president. Last week, he spoke again of the &

unstoppable power of freedom&

and of how freedom is the &

destiny of every man, woman and child on this earth.&

This is always strange to hear, considering how many of his supporters seem as terrified of social and moral freedoms as do Muslim clerics in Jeddah. The irony is that the deeply religious Bush is not even in tune with his own evangelical faith, which is far more pessimistic about human institutions&

abilities to create and preserve freedom.

Mark D. Roberts, noted author, blogger and pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in the heart of conservative Orange County, commented last winter on similar language about freedom in Bush&

s Second Inaugural Address, finding it to be &

oddly unbiblical.&

Roberts added: &

If I did not know from other sources that George W. Bush is a strong evangelical Christian, I would think that he embraces mushy liberal Protestantism, with a huge helping of civil religion mixed in.&

I would go farther. Bush is the exemplar of a distinctively American form of civil religion, a pleasant backyard barbecue hybrid that allows a person to feel pious and patriotic, while bungling the first principles of both Christian theology and American democracy. This bad theology and bad democracy is forgiven and rationalized by those who know better but who are more interested in partisanship than in their higher values.

Iraqi citizens and the &


world don&

t need more information that is &


by the warped standards of the Bush administration. They need to see salesmen of democracy who believe in their own product.