the blog of DC Drinking Liberally

August 13, 2005

Chat Sours Post Columnist on Freedom Walk, but Management Still Claims It’s Nonpartisan


Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher had a Live Online chat Thursday, and the conversation turned to the Post’s sponsorship of the Pentagon’s “Freedom Walk” September 11 propaganda event (see AltHippo’s post). Fisher first responded like this:

Well, first of all, it’s the Washington Post as a corporate entity in this community that’s sponsoring the march, not the news operation. Second, I don’t see where this is a pro-administration rally. From the web site, it looks like a non-partisan expression of support for the troops and for the memory of those who died on 9/11.

I grant you that anytime our company sponsors events that are remotely controversial, it causes grief in the newsroom because it does indeed raise questions among readers about our neutrality and fairness. So if I were running things, I’d steer clear of any sponsorship of potentially divisive events. But in fairness, this seems to be more along the lines of a Veterans Day commemoration than a pro-war rally.

But after people started telling him more about the event, he quickly changed his mind:

The tone of the promotions for the event is, to use the technical term, yucky. If it’s really supposed to honor the 9/11 dead, I don’t see why you’d have a country concert on the Mall, and given the population and preferences of people who live in this region, the choice of country music is polarizing and bizarre. […]

Man, you’ve persuaded me. Have a look at that link [America Supports You, the Pentagon project organizing the walk], and check out the line at the bottom of the page about how this is an official Department of Defense activity. There is no excuse for the Post company or any other media organization (and there are several listed) being involved in what indeed does appear to be shaping up as a partisan event. […]

I have no problem with the paper sponsoring non-partisan community events — I think that’s an important function for this or any media company. But if the government is using this event to push its political agenda, and by any accounting, the use of Hannity, Ollie North and Rick Santorum as poster boys is very one-sided politically, then I don’t see any role for the newspaper except to cover the event.

Unfortunately, the management at the Post don’t quite see things that way. Editor & Publisher has this:

“This was part of the memorial of the 9/11 victims and an effort for veterans past and present and that is it,” [Post publisher Bo] Jones said about the “Freedom Walk” slated for Sept. 11. “This has nothing to do with politics or the war or support of any political position.”

Still, Jones added that the paper would withdraw support, which consists of providing public service advertising space in the paper, if the event turns partisan. “If I turns out to be a political event, we would disassociate ourselves from it,” he said.

As the Left Coaster says, “Mr. Jones, look over here; I have some swampland to sell you.” Have a look at these nonpartisan lyrics from the event’s star, Clint Black. Are we to assume that Black will avoid singing “I Raq and I Roll”, the song the whole audience will be expecting, in order to avoid drawing a connection between September 11 and the Iraq war?

A Post article has similar quotes. It also includes some from other media sponsors:

“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,” said Jim Farley, vice president for news and programming with WTOP. “As I see it, those are both worthwhile. We’re not making a connection between the war and 9/11.”

“I don’t see a tie between supporting our troops and whether or not you support the war,” said Jerald Fritz, senior vice president with Allbritton Communications, parent of WJLA and NewsChannel 8. “You don’t lose your patriotism because you become a journalist…. You can still support the troops and be an objective reporter.”

Conceivably they’re right about supporting the troops, but is a coincidence that the event supporting the troops in the Iraq war is scheduled for September 11? Of course not, and that very fact makes the Freedom Walk propaganda, part of the Bush administration’s continuing effort to connect Saddam Hussein with Osama bin Laden, usually without explicitly saying there’s a connection. Legitimate news media should not be participating in government propaganda. Romanesko’s letters section has some discussion of the issue.

By the way, what happened to the Hannity, North, and Santorum photos that were on the “America Supports You” front page? I didn’t see them, but Marc Fisher and chat participants apparently did, as did Garrett Graff at fishbowlDC. Now there’s just a photo of a little kid with a flag. Was the site scrubbed?


  1. Nice post. May I suggest you put this up at TPMCafe?

    There appears to be at least 3 aspects of the story that are bound to raise eyebrows:

    1.) Post/WTOP sponsorship (though it may be WTOP is billing itself as a right-wing station these days. It wasn’t when I was growing up.)
    2.) Requiring citizens to register for an event that is strictly on public property.
    3.) The possibility that a government office is being used as a propaganda shop.

    —AltHippo • 1:30 pm

  2. The American Friends Service Committee has launched a campaign criticizing the Washington Post’s decision to co-sponsor the Department of Defense’s 9-11 Freedom Walk in DC. More info at

    —JDTreat • 7:35 pm

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