Pro-war group disguises activism as journalism

William Mosshammer

Beginning in 2008, a group of eight young veterans from the pro-war group Vets for Freedom began their career as journalists embedded with the American military in Iraq’hellip; or were they activists?

Vets for Freedom, an organization founded by former soldiers from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, aims to elect political leaders who support legislation that will lead, to what the group views as success in both of the conflicts.

Their latest endeavor is a campaign called ‘Back to Iraq’ which returns members of the organization to the desert nation to report events as they see it. That is through the selective eyes of an activist.

Since Vets for Freedom is not a news organization, it had to lobby actual news agencies for journalist credentials in order to embed their writers as journalists. The three news organizations are BlackFive.net, the Weekly Standard and the National Review Online. All coincidently, happen to be right-wing news outlets.

These embedded journalists receive free food, lodging, protection and transportation from the American military once they arrive in Iraq. Just like reporters from news organizations, the United States government pays the bills for the writers. Unlike news organizations, however, Vets for Freedom does not contribute to the public coffers.

News organizations are in the business of earning a profit, hence the ads, and they pay taxes on their income like other businesses. Vets for Freedom, on the other hand, is a non-profit, 501(c)(4) organization and is awarded tax breaks on the money they receive. Unfortunately this is not the case for the dying print industry.

So while Vets for Freedom gets tax breaks from Uncle Sam they now get free room and board for their activism as well. The New York Times would be wise to follow suit.
The Stanford Law website, which lists the specific law about 501(c)(4) organizations like Vets for Freedom, states these groups are not organized for profit, but operate exclusively to promote social welfare.

As members of Vets for Freedom, the allegiances of the writers rest first with the causes they are promoting. They are not writing for a news organization with the intent of solely disseminating information, but are producing content to support their cause.

Other 501(c)(4) groups, such as the AARP, the National Rifle Association and MoveOn.org, are not established journalistic institutions. If one were to read literature distributed by one of these organizations it would be clear that it was tailored to suit a purpose.

Vets for Freedom, however, has labeled their writers as journalists and is attempting to pass their ideology as fact.

In July of 2008, Vets for Freedom launched its ‘Four Months For Victory’ campaign which featured television ads, events and volunteers. Instead of implementing the campaign in all 50 states, it was only found in crucial swing states for the 2008 presidential election.

The group is highlighting the ‘successes’ of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and promoting their ideas for victory, which vaguely amounts to something like the platform Republicans are running on. Coincidently, the four-month campaign ends in November, the same month as the presidential election.

Two television ads of the ‘Four Months, For Victory’ campaign focused on exposing detractors of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The three detractors named were Sens. Barack Obama (D-Il), Harry Reid (D-NV) and Charles Hagel (R-NV). I believe one of those detractors is running for president.

While on the subject of presidential candidates, Sens. Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham were both Honorary Members of the Policy Board for Vets for Freedom until they resigned recently. True neither of those men is running for president, but their friend is John McCain.

As surrogates for the McCain campaign, Lieberman and Grahm had to resign their posts with Vets for Freedom because non-profit groups are forbidden from directly collaborating with presidential candidates due to campaign finance laws, but I’m sure Vets for Freedom will find some way to help out.

The connection of politicians with the organization is only one aspect of the problem. The true deceitfulness of the issue is the motive of these eight veterans.

They are part of a social welfare organization which runs ads attacking presidential candidates, organizes political events in crucial swing states, acts to influence legislation and has direct ties to the Republican party.

With so much invested in specific political outcomes, the election of friendly candidates and passage of favorable legislation, it is difficult to imagine that the stories disseminated by Vets for Freedom would not have been, if not outright altered, then constructed in such a manner that affirms the outlook of the organization. And there lies the problem.

These eight writers are posing as journalists that write nothing but the facts, which happen to be favorable to Vets for Freedom’s cause. Their reports risk being accepted as just news by the general population who may be unfamiliar with the organization.

As journalists, the group of writers should have cut their ties with the advocacy group to eliminate the chance of their reports being viewed as biased, but the group still posts regular reports, blogs and videos on the Vets for Freedom website.

They’re deceiving their readers by passing opinion-laden reports as factual information and limiting the ability of the voting public to make informed political decisions.

By publishing their opinion as fact, Vets for Freedom further erodes the public’s trust in journalism as a source of political information and weakens its ability to provide a check on the government.