the blog of DC Drinking Liberally

August 15, 2005

Should the Post Sponsor the Freedom Walk? More Voices Say No


I wrote over the weekend about Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher’s disagreeing with his newspaper’s decision to sponsor the Pentagon’s “America Supports You” Freedom Walk. Since then a few more people and organizations have expressed their opposition.

The American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker peace group, is encouraging people to write and ask the Post to withdraw the sponsorship and avoid the conflict of interest. AFSC writes:

A press release on the event maintains that “This is not a statement about the war in Iraq or about any policy decisions ….” This seems a bit too feeble of a denial from an Administration that has more than doubled agency public relations spending.

For instance, the “Freedom Walk” will conclude with a free concert on the Mall featuring country singer and war supporter Clint Black whose song, “Iraq and Roll” includes the lyrics:

You can wave your signs and protest
against America taking a stand,
the stands America’s taking
are the reason that you can.

The song goes on to imply that those who oppose the war support Saddam Hussein.

Does this sound like an event that one of America’s most influential newspapers should be sponsoring?

Representatives of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild Local 32035, to which 1,400 Post employees belong, today passed a resolution asking the paper to drop its support:

The resolution reads, in part, “Post news employees are subject to disciplinary action for participating in political activities that may be perceived as revelatory of personal opinions or bias. The Washington Post itself should be held to the same high standard. Moreover, arguments that the Freedom Walk is anything other than a political activity — and indeed, a political activity in support of the war in Iraq — should be put to rest by the prominent participation of country music star Clint Black, best known of late for his war-glorifying song ‘Iraq and I Roll.’

“The Guild supports The Post’s stated intention of honoring the nation’s veterans, including those who have served in Iraq,” the resolution continues. “But the Post undermines this goal by lending its support to a political event that links the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to the war in Iraq — a link that The Post, in its reporting, has shown to be false.

“If The Post wants to encourage greater respect for veterans among its employees, it should consider giving those employees something that the Guild has repeatedly sought in bargaining: A day off on November 11, Veterans Day, to honor the patriots who have served our nation.”

Post media critic Howard Kurtz had this to say today in an online chat:

I wouldn’t call it a “pro-war rally”; that’s your characterization. It is supposed to be about remembering the victims of 9/11. But I wish The Washington Post were not co-sponsoring this event. It is an operation by the Pentagon — a place that we devote substantial resources to covering — and therefore subject to all kinds of interpretations. It is not the same, in my view, as the corporate side of The Post handing out awards to the best teachers or other kinds of nonpartisan civic activities.

Matt Mendelsohn writes to Romanesko today (as Mike Peterson did earlier). Here’s an excerpt (with a link added):

Washington Post publisher Bo Jones told E&P, “If it turns out to be a political event, we would disassociate ourselves from it.” How are you going to swing that? Are you going to take the banners down mid-event? His words were echoed by Post spokesman Eric Grant, who said, “The walk was never presented to us as a rally to support the war and we would be very disappointed if it took that approach.” Well, here’s some due diligence: the headlining act of this upcoming affair is a faded country star who got himself back into the news with a song called “I Raq and Roll.” The song manages, in one fell swoop, to deride anti-war protesters, glorify the use of smart bombs in Iraq, and make Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The U.S.A.” actually seem complex. So much for the no-connection-to-the-war argument and so much for a dignified tribute to the victims of 9/11.

Jim Farley, vice president for news at WTOP, another contributing sponsor of the march, defended his station’s support by saying, “They’re supporting American troops worldwide, supporting troops, not the policy, and they’re honoring people who died in the Pentagon attack on 9/11.” Not the policy?? Um, the Pentagon is the policy. How can you separate the two? With major news organizations displaying such a staggering level of naivete, leave it to Joshua Huck, a junior anthropology major, to write a dead-on editorial Friday in The Daily Texan. He described the whole affair as “a scene that seems to have been taken directly out of Trey Parker’s and Matt Stone’s political satire “Team America.”

So people are speaking out against the Washington Post’s sponsorship of government propaganda. But will opposition swell or fizzle as the Pentagon refines its PR?

Update: The Post sees the light (or caves in to pressure) and drops its sponsorship:

The Washington Post announced yesterday that it will back out of a controversial co-sponsorship of a Pentagon-organized event next month to remember the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and support the troops in Iraq.

The newspaper notified the Department of Defense that it would no longer donate public service advertising space to help promote the Freedom Walk, an event planned for Sept. 11. At the conclusion of the procession from the Pentagon to the Mall, there will be a performance by country star Clint Black, who recorded the song “I Raq and Roll.”

“As it appears that this event could become politicized, The Post has decided to honor the Washington area victims of 9/11 by making a contribution directly to the Pentagon Memorial Fund,” said Eric Grant, a Post spokesman. “It is The Post’s practice to avoid activities that might lead readers to question the objectivity of The Post’s news coverage.”


  1. Keith, great coverage.

    Here was the line from the Post article that I noticed: “We were counting on The Post, who seemed to understand that this is really not anything but a Freedom Walk, to let the D.C. area know about this wonderful opportunity,” Barber said. “We’ll reach out through other communication channels.”

    I’m guessing “other communication channels” means WTOP, but I’m also interested to see what will happen next from America Supports You, aka, you know who.

    —AltHippo • 1:13 am, August 16

  2. Reuters Politics Summary

    Tuesday, August 16, 2005; 12:39 AM

    Wash. Post drops sponsorship of Pentagon event

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Washington Post dropped its sponsorship on Monday of a walk organized by the Pentagon to remember victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks and to support U.S. troops, saying it was possible the event would become “politicized.” The newspaper’s news employees’ union had urged the newspaper to reconsider co-sponsoring the Defense Department’s “Freedom Walk,” which it said was a political event.

    —Jesse • 11:40 am, August 16


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