Over the last few years the U.S. Army has been increasingly effective in blunting the flood of pro-terrorist propaganda via the web and other media. The main method is to set up foreign language web sites specializing in Islamic terrorism or Islamic radicalism and then just report the truth. This also works with radio stations and the U.S. Army Special Forces have long used this technique. The Internet has the advantage of reaching a worldwide audience and is a lot cheaper to operate than radio or TV stations.
While there is some criticism of these military efforts to counter pro-terrorist propaganda, it’s not as bad as the heat the military takes when it pays journalists to write pro-American stories for web sites that are read by many in Moslem countries. This sort of thing is always controversial in the United States, but during the Cold War the communists bought foreign journalists on a large scale. It wasn’t hard to do, as in most parts of the world reporters regularly take money from people who want a more favorable story. Actually, this practice goes back to the beginning of modern journalism two centuries ago. The concept of independent reporting is largely an American one. However, in the United States, favorable media coverage is still bought. It’s just that cash is rarely used. Publicists and spin masters trade favors and influence to get the stories they want.
In wartime, manipulating the media is considered just another desperate measure necessary to win the battle and save American lives. The problem with the war on terror is that it is a rather more murky conflict. Although Islamic terrorists pulled off a “Pearl Harbor” in the form of the September 11, 2001 attacks, and are every bit as cruel and murderous as the World War II Nazis and Japanese, there are many Americans who disagree on what tactics are permissible for fighting this war. Moreover, this is not the 1940s. Times, and attitudes, have changed. But bribing journalists, in parts of the world where the enemy is doing it, is more self-defense than anything else. If you don’t do it, you just put more Americans at risk. Thus defending such practices becomes yet another battle in the war on terror.
The military quickly found it was more effective just to set up new websites and get out a more accurate message. Islamic terrorists rely a lot on fantasies and lies. Their message can’t handle the truth and Westerners are surprised to see what kind of twisted versions of reality are posted on pro-terrorist web sites. While the hard core terrorist fans are not swayed by the truth, many potential recruits are. While terrorists love to show videos of soldiers and police being attacked, they are very unhappy if someone shows the more usual reality; dead women and children who were hurt by the many terrorist attacks that don’t work as intended. Another key advantage of running your own sites is that you don’t expose anti-terrorist journalists. Islamic terrorists are quite fond of kidnapping, torturing and killing journalists who oppose them.