-- Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day...the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. - Thomas Jefferson, 1807
-- "We live in a dirty and dangerous world. There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn't. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets, and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows." - Katharine Graham, Publisher of the Washington Post, in a 1988 speech at CIA Headquarters.
-- The history of the CIAâ€™s involvement with the American press continues to be shrouded by an official policy of obfuscation and deception . . . . Among the executives who lent their cooperation to the Agency were William Paley of the Columbia Broadcasting System, Henry Luce of Time Inc., Arthur Hays Sulzberger of the New York Times, Barry Bingham Sr. of the Louisville Courier-Journal and James Copley of the Copley News Service. Other organizations which cooperated with the CIA include the American Broadcasting Company, the National Broadcasting Company, the Associated Press, United Pres International, Reuters, Hearst Newspapers, Scripps-Howard, Newsweek magazine, the Mutual Broadcasting System, the Miami Herald and the old Saturday Evening Post and New York Herald-Tribune.
By far the most valuable of these associations, according to CIA officials, have been with the New York Times, CBS, and Time Inc. - Carl Bernstein, "The CIA and the Media"; Rolling Stone Magazine; 1977
It was pure coincidence that the stories of Armstrong Williams' Department of Education payola and the release of the CBS-Rathergate report were hitting the news at about the same time I was reading one of my Christmas presents, the riveting 2003 book, The Assassinations, (edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease), but I couldn't help but be struck by how trivial the Williams case seems when compared to the shocking and repulsive stories of media manipulation by our government, in this case from the 60's, related in this book. I'm talking about character assassination and witness tampering, bribery and intimidation, but also the more subtle varieties like the well-spun story in a major magazine, and just as often, the story not told at all.
I'm not defending Armstrong Williams. Far from it. But the (Old and New) media outrage over his reverse-lobbying seems a bit like commenting on the wallpaper pattern while ignoring the hippopotamus in the middle of the living room. In other words, important information has been, and continues to be withheld from or misreported to the American public on matters as wide ranging and important as Watergate, the Kennedy murders, and TWA 800 because the mainstream media is cowed, if not bought, by the intelligence apparatus, and we blithely accept that scary reality, perhaps in part because we're convinced we're powerless to change it. Yet we get ourselves worked up about this blogger or that pundit taking cash from a government source to plug a candidate or a program, convincing ourselves that this represents the height of journalistic malpractice.
It's certainly not an original thesis to say that the American media climbed into bed with the government and the intelligence community when that community took shape in the early 50's, and has never been truly independent since that time. But never in the second half of the 20th century did we have an engine of research, communication, and dissemination of information and ideas like the blogosphere of 2005. So it occurs to me, in considering the appalling abuses of power and public trust by the media/government complex in the last 50 years, that today's blogosphere has the potential to shine the same light of day on the journalistic malpractice of the PAST, that it has shone on the mainstream media malpractice of the present, as evidenced by the role of blogs in the CBS-Rathergate story and the exposure to the public eye of countless other issues ignored by the old guard. By no means do I suggest that I am performing that light-shining function in this post, nor that I am prepared to carry that banner into battle by simply throwing out the suggestion and the challenge. I'm just stating what I believe to be the potential of the blogosphere as a diverse, self-policing, independent information source that has already changed journalism, and seems poised to do so in greater, and as yet unimaginable ways.
In tracing the history of the relationship of the American press and the intelligence community, Lisa Pease highlights (with Harrison Salisbury's help) the very personal nature of the connections. James Jesus Angleton and Ben Bradlee, for example, were close friends. The media elites and the intelligence community leaders were cut from the same slice of monied, establishment America...
People sometimes create an artificial distinction between powerful men in the Eastern Establishment and those in the CIA. These people mixed often at parties, they dined together, argued together, and on occasion worked together. As Harrison Salisbury noted, (In "Without Fear or Favor" pp.584-585 - Ed.)
What really was more important than whether a piece of paper might turn up in the file of The Times or the CIA was an understanding of the personal relationships of the men who made up the CIA...and the men who made up the New York Times in those days. They were for the most part men of the same social and geographic circle...thgey had married into each other's families; they were Yale and Harvard and Princeton...they were lawyers and bankers and businessmen and journalists. They wer General Adler and Allen Dulles; Ben Welles and Walter Sullivan and James Angleton; they were John Oakes and his brother..they were Kim Roosevelt, the CIA man who pulled off the Mossadegh coup and Sam Pope Brewer and Kenneth Love; they were James Reston and his deputy in the Washington bureau...Wallace Carroll and his intimate friend Richard Helms, with whom he had worked in prewar UPI days in Europe; they were all the correspondents who had been wined and dined and flattered by Allen Dulles and Frank Wisner and Des FitzGerald
...They knew each other, they stayed at each other's houses, they drank together, they dined together and golfed together and traveled together and talked together and they knew each other's secrets - a lot of them anyway
The cordial relationship between press bigwigs and this group was not limited to The New York Times. Bill Moyers, McGeorge Bundy, Cord Meyer, Richard Salant (President of CBS News), Zbigniew Brzezinski, Paul Henze (CIA chief of station in Ethiopia)and Leonard Marks (director of USIA, the United States Information Agency) served together on a secret CIA task force. They explored a means to beam anti-Communist propaganda into China in 1964. Journalists such as Jeremiah O'Leary and Hal Hendrix worked hand in hand with CIA propaganda chief David Phillips. CBS founder and Chairman of the Board William S. Paley had a close relationship with Allen Dulles. Even Walter Cronkite had performed favors for the Agency. Is it any wonder that the true story of JFK 's assassination has never emerged in the press, given the tight relationship between the Agency and even highly visible, well-respected journalists?
If I were to use history as my guide, I suppose the 2004 story of Rather and CBS advancing a specific political agenda could be viewed as but the latest in a long history of accommodation by that network to the interests of the U.S. intelligence community. Is it not common knowledge that today's CIA bureaucracy is staunchly liberal, and as such opposed the re-election of Bush? (see Wilson/Plame, Michael Scheuer, et al). I'd like to leave recent history alone for the time being, and go back to the time when the newly-formed CIA started forming partnerships with media figures. In his 1977 Rolling Stone article "The CIA and the Media", Carl Bernstein wrote that from the outset of the Agency's cultivation of media "assets"...
...CBS was unquestionably the CIAâ€™s most valuable broadcasting asset. CBS president William Paley and Allen Dulles enjoyed an easy working and social relationship. Over the years, the network provided cover for CIA employees, including at least one well-known foreign correspondent and several stringers; it supplied outtakes of newsfilm to the CIA; established a formal channel of communication between the Washington bureau chief and the Agency; gave the Agency access to the CBS newsfilm library; and allowed reports by CBS correspondents to the Washington and New York newsrooms to be routinely monitored by the CIA. Once a year during the 1950s and early 1960s, CBS correspondents joined the CIA hierarchy for private dinners and briefings.
A long time ago, I agree. It's definitely not my purpose here to posit that the CIA was behind the CBS-Rather-Mapes forgeries. I'm basically an Occam's Razor man, and so I assume it was the network's own institutional leftist bias that allowed in-house partisans like Mapes and Rather to get away with what was an obvious attempt to influence the election in Kerry's favor at the eleventh hour.
But it's also good to know that CBS has historically been an organization that the CIA can count on to spin events their way, isn't it? In fact, in "The Assassinations", James DiEugenio's article "The Failure of the Fourth Estate" takes us back 40 years to Rather in Dallas: (all quotes and references footnoted in original - Ed.)
Dan Rather of CBS was the first to break the news that the President was dead. Howard Bliss, in his book Now the News , wrote that within CBS and elsewhere, there has always been a mystery as to how it was that Rather was the first to break this news on CBS radio and how CBS television was the first television network to report this. CBS was also the key to tracking down Abraham Zapruder, the man who filmed the assassination from Dealey Plaza. Rather was the first to see the Zapruder film, and gave a description of what he saw on that film that has never matched what the public saw in that film. Rather described Kennedyâ€™s head falling "forward with considerable force."
But all of us who have seen the film know that Kennedyâ€™s head goes back and to the left. Was the film edited since that first time Rather saw it? Or was Rather somehow that wrong about what he saw? Did CBSâ€™ close relationship with the CIA have anything to do with these events? CBSâ€™ Walter Cronkite, whose heartbreaking announcement of Kennedyâ€™s death is seared forever in our collective consciousness, was said to have been on the CIAâ€™s list of assets by Sam Jaffe. Sam Jaffe was an FBI informant who was also working with the CIA. The CIA was forbidden to operate domestically, but the FBI of course was not. On occasion, the CIA asked the FBI to work with an operative, presumably because anything of importance reported to the FBI would be forwarded back to CIA through the FBI liaison office.
C.D. Jackson ordered Richard Stolley to acquire the Zapruder film for Life magazine. C.D. Jackson was a former OSS operative, as well as a friend of Allen Dulles. Could that CIA relationship have had anything to do with the purchase, which effectively kept the film locked up and away from public view for many years?
Rather has tried to explain his misrepresentation of what the Zapruder film showed. Decide for yourself how convincing he was. This excerpt begins with a quote from Rather, and is from an article called Dan Rather Blinked:
"...Regrettably, it was not without error, in terms of what was unsaid about the movement of the President's head. A few who had tried to sell themselves as assassination experts misused that account to build themselves a false premise.
"It is gruesome even now, and always will be, to talk about this scene, but the single most dramatic piece of the film is the part where the President's head lurches slightly forward, then explodes backward. I described the forward motion of his head. I failed to mention the violent, backward reaction. This was, as some assassination buffs now argue, a major omission. But certainly not deliberate."
The handling of the Zapruder film has been dishonest from the beginning. LIFE paid a tremendous price with the stated purpose of withholding the film from the people. This done by a group to whom the people had granted the right of freedom of the press so the people could be informed.
The public first saw the film during the famous 1968 Claw Shaw trial in New Orleans as then District Attorney Jim Garrison got a copy of the film from LIFE by court order. He showed the film at least thirteen times to the jury and to the entire courtroom audience. All were shocked. One of the two rulings made by that jury was that there was a conspiracy that killed President Kennedy. The other jury ruling was that Clay Shaw was not involved. That jury determination would be different in light of 1976 CIA documents revealing Shaw was CIA.
Years later we learned LIFE had delivered to Garrison a copy of the film deliberately made fuzzy or out of focus which hid much of the incriminating evidence. But at the time, no one was able to know LIFE had deliberately withheld this evidence in violation of the Federal courts order.
Only in 1973 when Robert Groden came forward with his clear copy of the famous film did we know of LIFE's contempt for truth, for Garrison and for the Federal courts.
By way of disclaimer, let me say here that I am neither a JFK assassination "researcher" nor an expert of any stripe on the subject. But if the definition of a "conspiracy theorist" is a person who believes that JFK was killed as a result of a conspiracy, then count me proudly among their number. I remain shocked by the number of people I still encounter who have no awareness (or memory?) that the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded in 1979, after their two-year investigation, that a conspiracy was probably responsible for the JFK murder. It's right there in the U.S. National Archives, for heaven's sake. I do admit to being fascinated by the Kennedy murders and the research industry that continues to look into them, but I have no interest in becoming an "expert".
In fact, had I been more knowledgeable on the subject, I surely would have known more about the release during the mid-90's of some 3 million pages of previously classified documents from the Warren, HSCA and Garrison investigations, by virtue of the 1992 JFK Act in Congress, which created the ARRB.
Those ARRB documents have given DiEugenio and his colleagues fresh insights into how our government shaped public opinion through the major media in the aftermath of the political assassinations of the 60's. The CIA/FBI effort to undermine New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison's JFK investigation, and help obtain an acquittal in the 1967-1968 Clay Shaw trial was a particularly illuminating example of this fraud.
(In the section below, I draw on two articles by James Eugenio in "The Assassinations"..."The Obstruction of Garrison" and "The Failure of the Fourth Estate" - Ed.)
In 1967, Garrison's investigation began to tie various CIA assets like Clay Shaw and David Ferrie among others to Lee Harvey Oswald, and to tie Oswald himself to the Agency. And that's when the network of journalists, so carefully cultivated by the CIA'a James Jesus Angleton and Hoover's FBI started to bear fruit. When Garrison indicted Shaw for conspiracy to commit the murder of the President of The United States and the trial began, the orchestrated assault on Garrison's character and credibility also began in the American press.
It wasn't until 1995 that the ARRB declassified the records of Shaw's attorney, Edward Wegmann, and it was only then that the extent of the government's assistance in the Shaw defense became clear. Since I'm concerned mainly with the willing assistance of the press in this matter, I'll give only a brief mention of the other non-journalistic assistance given the Shaw defense team:
These would include the services of two private investigation firms, (including the now infamous Wackenhut group, made up of a large group of former FBI agents) who provided many interviews and reports to the defense, presumably on the taxpayer dime. Also the services of Gordon Novel, who had been hired by Garrison to provide electronic security for the D.A.'s investigative offices, and instead bugged the offices and turned over the information to the FBI. In addition, whole teams of Agency-related lawyers were made available to the Shaw defense team.
And in the category of "journalistic assistance" to the Shaw defense, (to include character assassination of Garrison) the following are some samples from a very long list:
- The work of Edward J. Epstein, an early JFK writer who became James Angleton's protegé and was long one of his most overt and well-known assets. Epstein wrote a hit piece on Garrison that appeared in The New Yorker early in the trial, which mocked the Garrison investigation and followed the CIA/lone-gunman storyline. In his later years, Epstein admitted to working for the CIA.
- Hugh Aynesworth, who in 1963 was a writer for the Dallas Morning News, applied to work for the CIA in October of that year. He wrote several early articles on the assassination, but by the 1967 Garrison investigation, he was informing for the FBI while writing for Newsweek, and served as an informal member of the Clay Shaw defense team. He was sent by the defense team before the trial to attempt to badger and intimidate witnesses who claimed to have seen Shaw together with Oswald and Ferrie.
- Walter Sheridan was a former NSA official, who by the time of the Shaw trial was officially an "NBC Correspondent" who produced for NBC a one-hour network "Special" on the Garrison investigation, which was deemed so one-sided and defamatory (under the Fairness Doctrine) that Garrison was granted on-air rebuttal time by the network. Sheridan was at the heart of the CIA's covert effort to undermine the District Attorney's investigation, paying informants inside the D.A.'s office and coordinating activities with attorneys and arranging favorable press coverage for the anti-Garrison spokespeople.
- James Phelan, a nationally known reporter for over 20 years with The New York Times, and The Saturday Evening Post, two of the best known CIA-friendly publications, was another reporter being used by the FBI to report on Garrison's activities. He attempted to bribe a key Garrison witness to change his story. Phelan was also a good friend of Howard Hughes' CEO Robert Maheu, a key player in the CIA's anti-Castro plots, at a time when Garrison was fingering anti-Castro Cubans in the plot to kill JFK.
"Mainstream" journalists all. Committing bribery, witness tampering, assisted journalism, and producing propaganda masquerading as network specials. All working against the elected representatives of the law enforcement community.
Well, that was 37 years ago, and it was only a handful of journalists, right?. As referenced above, in 1977, Carl Bernstein did a famous Rolling Stone article on the CIA and the media. Mostly through interviews with Church Committee staffers Bernstein was able to come up with a list of some 400 American journalists that were, in one way or another working for the CIA. An article by Daniel Brandt talks about Bernstein's work:
This figure included stringers and freelancers who had an understanding that they were expected to help the CIA, as well as a small number of full-time CIA employees using journalism as a cover. It did not include foreigners, nor did it include numerous Americans who traded favors with the CIA in the normal give-and-take between a journalist and his sources. In addition to some of the names already mentioned above, Bernstein supplied details on Stewart and Joseph Alsop, Henry Luce, Barry Bingham Sr. of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Hal Hendrix of the Miami News, columnist C.L. Sulzberger, Richard Salant of CBS, and Philip Graham and John Hayes of the Washington Post.
Bernstein concentrated more on the owners, executives, and editors of news organizations than on individual reporters. "Lets's not pick on some poor reporters, for God's sake," William Colby said at one point to the Church committee's investigators. "Let's go to the management. They were witting." Bernstein noted that Colby had specific definitions for words such as "contract employee," "agent," "asset," "accredited correspondent," "editorial employee," "freelance," "stringer," and even "reporter," and through careful use of these words, the CIA "managed to obscure the most elemental fact about the relationships detailed in its files: i.e., that there was recognition by all parties involved that the cooperating journalists were working for the CIA -- whether or not they were paid or had signed employment contracts."
The reaction to Bernstein's piece among mainstream media was to ignore it, or to suggest that it was sloppy and exaggerated. Then two months later, the New York Times published the results of their "three- month inquiry by a team of Times reporters and researchers." This three-part series not only confirmed Bernstein, but added a wealth of far-ranging details and contained twice as many names. Now almost everyone pretended not to notice.
We're still pretending not to notice.
I know the age of the JFK-related subject matter will raise some eyebrows, and if I had been reading a book on the OKC bombing, or Waco, or TWA800, I might have had a whole different tack to take. I certainly wouldn't have had less material with which to work.
And there are modern day Hugh Aynesworths. Seymour "Sy" Hersh is one of those journalists whose career spans the four decades between the 60's and today's The New Yorker magazine, and that career has always been marked by the carrying of water for the CIA. His career-making books on the My Lai massacre denied any CIA involvement in the atrocity, even after the disclosures about the Phoenix Program, a CIA operation which targeted suspected Viet Cong for assassination, and amassed a five-figure body count. Hersh also minimized any CIA involvement in the Watergate break-in when working for the N.Y. Times, in spite of Hunt and Sturgis' involvement. Other examples abound, but today's New Yorker piece is as good an example as any it seems to me.
Hersh cites what appear to be excellent CIA sources, but the tone of the piece seems like less one of concern that the U.S. military has secret reconnaissance teams inside Iran to size up nuclear sites, and more of a whine that the Pentagon has effectively screened the Agency out of the operation. It's an anti-Bush, anti-Rumsfeld hit job through and through. Once a water-carrier, always a water-carrier.
So it's not all ancient history. If anything, I think there are more people than ever before in Old Media who, like Katharine Graham, think that "there are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn't", and that "the press can decide whether to print what it knows". I think the line between the press making that call, and the government making that call on behalf of the press, has been blurred beyond distinction for at least 40 years.
Maybe it's not that we all pretend not to notice. Maybe there's just an understanding by people who are paying attention that our media is co-opted, and we're resigned to it. Then there are of course, the millions who aren't paying attention.
All I know is that the blogosphere gives me hope. We've already seen that bloggers are not immune from corruption by government interests. But the blogosphere isn't about two guys in South Dakota and some guy named Kos. It's a collective force. And it's gaining size and momentum. And it's learning more every day about what it can do.
The truth will out.
UPDATE 1/21: Michael Ledeen's column today underlines some of the points I made about Sy Hersh
UPDATE 1/27: Another look at Sy Hersh from Max Boot in the LA Times.