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To be an American

03/15/02 12:00AM

Remember the story of the little boy who wanted a pony, but all he got was a huge pile of manure?

Asked why he was energetically digging through all that manure, the little optimist said, "With all this manure, there's got to be a pony in here somewhere!"

Fast forward to late February, right around the birthday celebration of America's two presidents most fabled for their honesty.

The manure started to pile up as word went out that the U.S. Department of Defense had started a so-called Office of Strategic Influence that would spread false news stories at home and abroad.

Put on your barn boots. The manure thickens, but there's a pony in here somewhere.

After the New York Times broke the story, some Pentagon officials spoke anonymously to NBC News reporter Jim Miklaszewski about a plan that would have included a sweeping campaign of disinformation overseas and within the United States.

According to NBC, those officials said the plan called for "a campaign of lies, coercion, and influence against clerics, schools, and news organizations."

They said some of the propaganda would have been aimed at Muslims inside this country.

Meanwhile, Vermonters were getting ready for Town Meeting Day - ready to practice our purest form of Democracy. All over the state, public officials were sending out hundreds of messages meant to influence our thinking on budgets and ballot issues.

We believed they were telling us the truth as they knew it. And we believed our news media were doing an honest job. We count on that.

At the same time, American soldiers were dying in a cruel war in the defense of America. While their bodies came home in flag-draped coffins, President Bush assured their families that they died for a just cause.

And during all this the search for murdered Wall Street Journal Reporter Daniel Pearl was at its height.

So, Mr. President, maybe you and your Defense Department will understand why we ordinary Americans reacted the way we did to this foolish and absurd misinformation office.

Now here comes the pony, right through the manure. Here's the good part for the optimists among us. In just seven days, the uproar from the American people closed down the Office of Strategic Influence.

President Bush disowned it, the media put all that manure out in the open where it could air out and dry up, and comedians jeered it into derision.

Finally, Donald Rumsfeld trotted out to deny everything and declare the office dead with these memorable words: " The office is done. What do you want, blood?"

It makes me proud to be an American.

--Peg Devlyn is co-owner of Marketing Partners, Inc. in Burlington, Vermont.






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