Morning Propaganda Edition


On Wednesday’s episode of “Morning Edition” on NPR, a segment was devoted to exploring the extreme violence that has engulfed Honduras in recent years. Indeed, if measured by per capita murder rate, Honduras is now the most dangerous in the country in the world. There are many reasons why Honduran civil society has broken down like this, but let’s suspend that discussion for the moment in order to focus on one particular aspect of this story on NPR that was quite revealing.

At one point in the segment, Carrie Kahn, the NPR correspondent reporting from Honduras, said the following:

Last year, the U.S. Congress held up funding to Honduras over concerns of alleged human rights abuses and corruption, particularly in the Honduran police force. Part of the funds are still on hold.

This is an astonishing statement for someone who purports to be a journalist. Unless Ms. Kahn has psychic powers, she cannot know why the U.S. Congress held up funding to Honduras. She can only know why Congress said it was holding up funding to Honduras. There is often a profound difference between why politicians say they are implementing policy X and why they are actually doing it. As you might have heard, politicians are occasionally dishonest and insincere, and their decisions are informed by a number of factors that have nothing to do with their personal beliefs. For a journalist, someone who is supposed to adversarially cover politicians and express skepticism at everything they say, this kind of blind faith is inexcusable.

The problem, though, is that Ms. Kahn’s statement is actually quite a bit worse than that. Even if she had said, “the U.S. Congress held up funding to Honduras over what it claimed were concerns of alleged human rights abuses and corruption,” instead of just mindlessly repeating what the government claimed, that would still be wildly insufficient for any journalist who takes her profession even the slightest bit seriously. Why? Because the United States government provably does not base its decisions on allocating foreign aid on “concerns about human rights and corruption.”

For decades, the U.S. has provided aid to some of the most repressive and corrupt governments on Earth. Going down the list would be trivial, but, for the sake of comparison, let’s stay relatively close by and just look at Colombia. The U.S. government ships hundreds of millions of dollars to the Colombian government every year; in FY 2012, $443 million was provided, making Colombia the leading recipient of U.S. aid in the hemisphere.

In a strange twist, though, Colombia is also widely considered to be the most repressive violator of human rights in the hemisphere, and corruption there is rampant. This is quite a conundrum. Ms. Kahn tells us that the U.S. withheld aid from Honduras “over concerns of alleged human rights abuses and corruption.” But the U.S. evidently has no such “concerns” in Colombia and continues to send hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid. One is almost tempted to conclude that the U.S. government makes these decisions based not on noble and selfless “concerns” about human rights and corruption, but, rather, on what it perceives to be U.S. interests.

Ms. Kahn must know that the government claim she dutifully parroted is transparently fraudulent and, in fact, downright comical. She cannot be a working journalist and not know this. Presumably, she follows the news, she is knowledgeable regarding basic facts about U.S. aid, and she knows that the U.S. has always cheerfully sent aid to brutal regimes around the world. She’s not a wide-eyed poly-sci 101 student who is shocked to find out that U.S. government decisions are not invariably and solely based on considerations of Good and Evil.

Ms. Kahn is a highly educated reporter, and she obviously does know these things, but the culture of obedience and submissiveness in American journalism is so profound that she probably doesn’t even consciously realize that she’s serving state power instead of doing journalism. The U.S. government told her that aid is being withheld to Honduras because of concerns about human rights and corruption, therefore aid is being withheld to Honduras because of concerns about human rights and corruption. That’s that. Then she goes on NPR, unquestioningly repeats government claims, and she’s done her job. We would call this “propaganda” if it happened in the Soviet Union, but it’s called “journalism” when it happens here.

Justin Doolittle writes a political blog called Crimethink. He has an M.A. in public policy from Stony Brook University and a B.A. in political science from Coastal Carolina University.

Justin Doolittle is a freelance writer based in Long Island, New York. You can follow him on Twitter @JD1871.

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