Modern Propaganda – The Manufacturing of Consent (see the documentary here)
Quick Links – It’s ALL Bullshit She Said, They’re Not Snowdens, The Democracy Storyline, The Goals of Propaganda, Carthaginians Ate Their Babies, Modern Propaganda, Hollywood History, The CIA and Your News
It’s ALL Bullshit She Said
I was at a garage sale one day looking through what appeared to be a lifetime of accumulated stuff in someone’s driveway. A kind of sour-looking little woman was running the sale and I was the only one browsing her goods. Maybe the lady had scared off all the other potential customers. Anyway, without any prompting on my part, she says “you know, it’s all bullshit.”
Which kind of surprised me because she didn’t look like the swearing type. So, being ever inquisitive and always interested in a good line of bullshit, I ask “what’s all bullshit?”
“They tell you to work all your life and then you can retire and you can travel and enjoy your retirement years,” she says. “It’s all bullshit.”
So I listened to her story and for her it was all bullshit. Her and her husband had worked hard all their life, put away money diligently like they had been told to do and they were now supposed to be in some retirement Shangri-la. The idea was that they could leisurely enjoy life, spend time with their kids and grandkids and enjoy the fruits of a lifetime of labor. Except for her, it had all gone south somewhere along the way and the storyline she had been following diligently all these years turned out to be, in her words, “bullshit”.
Without much prompting on my part she proceeded to relate that her husband had died within a couple of years of retiring, her kids had insisted she sell the house and move to an apartment and she was now taken care of financially but without her devoted husband and with some kids that were too busy to help her stay in the home she had been living in for over 40 years.
She actually looked to be in very good shape so I don’t know why she had gone along with the kids’ plan to move out, but she wasn’t very happy about the whole thing. For her, it was an entire lifetime of lies culminating in a very bitter ending. To the point where she’s telling complete strangers at garage sales that the whole retirement story is bullshit.
Which got me to thinking – maybe she’s right. Maybe somebody is bullshitting us with all kinds of stories. Is that possible? And, if so, what other bullshit stories are out there, who exactly is selling them, who are “they” telling the stories and how did this poor woman and her dead husband buy into this story? Which ultimately saw her wind up as a somewhat embittered old lady facing a financially secure future but without her lifelong companion and with kids who were leading busy lives (presumably so that they could retire) and who were now simply managing Mom?
And, more to the point, what does this have to do with democracy as a mask for elite rule or sovereignty residing at the lowest levels? I was sure I was on to something even if I wasn’t connecting the dots right then.
They’re Not Snowdens
Having worked in government, I had met numerous people who were there for the golden retirement handshake. They don’t make waves, they keep their heads down, they do their job, they go along with things and in some cases they checked their brain at the door and picked it up again on the way out some 25 or 30 years later.
These are not Edward Snowden types. And, when they care to admit it, they’ll tell you they are there for the security of government retirement. And don’t get me wrong, this works for some people, maybe even a lot of people. But I will never forget the day when I was sitting in the coffee shop in the government building I worked in and I had casually asked one of these long-termers how they were and he just as casually answered back “another day closer to retirement.”
So his world was forward-focused to the day he could get out of his office and, presumably, on to a golf course or beach or some other paradise where he could enjoy those long-anticipated golden years sailing blissfully off into the sunset and actually start living his life. Or maybe he was going to start some business or become a consultant or something else. But you get the idea. Putting in time, waiting for the golden handshake. The time when life can be ‘enjoyed’ and no one has to work unless they want to. It all sounds marvelous. But, what if it was bullshit? There was no happy ending to the story?
And I was racking my brain because there had to be a connection with democracy there somehow. The whole story was just too big. Then it hit me like a 30 mm cannon round from a Warthog A10 – maybe the ‘bullshit’ story of a long-awaited Shangri-la retirement after 40 or 50 years of working was some type of institutional bullshit story, propaganda if you will. A story sold to the masses so that they could focus on some concrete goal that would keep them busy, happy and productive and out of the way of the elite, if that was truly who was running things.
I mean if one of your main goals in life is to make sure that you can retire and that your little part of the world will be safe and plentiful when you’re old and decrepit, are you going to risk exercising your sovereignty on something as vague as democracy? Or are you going to go with the retirement story and just try to make sure you can live out your golden years without winding up on skid row or the welfare office or wherever it is that people who haven’t planned for retirement go?
And then the connection hit me like a Panzer juggernaut – could it be the retirement storyline is some democratic propaganda bullshit story and am I being subjected to it? And, if it was, am I being subjected to other institutional bullshit stories? Or has all this research into democracy and jumping down all these bloody Rabbit Holes just made me incredibly paranoid? This was a tough one.
In Canada, the retirement ‘bullshit’ story, if that’s what it is, seems to be an institutional obsession. We are bombarded with messages about it. Advertising, financial experts in the media, financial advisers, the whole financial industry, government programs, RRSP’s, retirement planning experts. Everyone telling me how to plan for my ‘golden’ years. How to ride off blissfully into the sunset. How to make sure I have enough.
All playing on my fears of being old and dependent. My fear of lack. All geared to the one big event. The time when we can officially “quit working” and somehow just enjoy life. And yet, there’s this nagging doubt, brought on by a chance encounter at a garage sale, that somebody, somewhere is feeding me a line of bullshit. This lady certainly didn’t seem to think the reality matched the hype.
Maybe it was like my Catholic upbringing – you live a life of suffering and pain and sacrifice and then, when you die, you go to a better place. Instead of having the better place in the here and now? Is that what this retirement storyline, is all about, I wondered?
The Democracy Storyline
So what about the ‘democracy’ storyline, I wondered. Is this some ‘bullshit’ story that someone is feeding me? Is it even possible in this enlightened day and age or do we believe we are simply too sophisticated for propaganda? Could all this mass communication be geared toward me accepting certain ‘truths’ that, after 40 or 50 years I find out are bullshit? Now that thought was truly horrifying. I figured I better look into this lest I become some embittered old man telling random garage sale customers that my ‘democracy’ was nothing more than bullshit.
As a former daily newspaper editor and an ‘Information Services Officer’ (or is that PR flack?) for a provincial government department, I did have some idea about communications and how stories get out to the great unwashed masses. I write the press release, the jaded cynical reporter takes it, changes it a little if he’s so inclined and maybe even calls someone for a quote or two if it’s interesting enough and then the story gets printed. No one has to work too hard and the reporter generates some copy for his editor to prove he’s doing his job. It’s a cushy little relationship. The press release itself is designed to get some action on some issue that the government wants addressed by people.
And don’t get me wrong. There’s an awful lot of good that can come out of this arrangement. We had a program called ‘Turn In Poachers’ or the TIP hotline (clever, huh?) that is still running to this day. PR flacks crank out stories about how our wildlife resources are being ruthlessly exploited by the evil poachers and would you please call this hotline if you see any suspicious activities in your area? The media print or broadcast the stories. We make sure the trials are covered, especially when we get a juicy conviction. The public calls into the TIP line to report more crimes.
The whole thing works really well. We rally public opinion and get some action for our Conservation Officers who start investigations and make arrests and all for a good cause. But I got to wondering – could this simple little system be used for questionable objectives? Could someone with evil intentions be exploiting this?
So that became the research starting point. Is propaganda alive and well today or is it just a sorry remnant of our past that no longer works on a modern hip public? And with a little research I dug up a very interesting story of propaganda that dates back to the beginning of World War I and that has continued unabated to this day. You can see it here. It’s well worth 30 minutes of your time, especially if you think that wars are somehow fought to “make the world safe for democracy.”
The Goals of Propaganda
In “Propaganda, the Formations of Men’s Attitudes” a classic book on the subject by Jacques Ellul, originally published in 1965 (hence the politically incorrect title) and which is still in print today Ellul writes:
“Goebbels (Hitler’s Propaganda Minister) said “We do not talk to say something, but to obtain a certain effect” And F.C. Bartlett accurately states that the goal of propaganda is not to increase political understanding of events but to obtain results through action. (Hey, that’s what our press releases were trying to do!) Harold D. Lasswell’s definition of the goal of propaganda is accurate: “to maximize the power at home by subordinating groups and individuals while reducing the material cost of power.” Similarly in war propaganda is an attempt to win victory with a minimum of physical expense. Before the war, propaganda is a substitute for physical violence, during the war, it is a supplement to it.”
Ellul contends that there are three great propaganda blocs: the USSR, China and the United States. Now I’ve travelled to China a bit and to the U.S. and I can tell you that one of the prevailing attitudes I’ve encountered is this: an awful lot of the people I talk to in both of these blocs will tell you that their country is somehow the best in the world and that they are truly free. And yet, all of us in the West just know that it is the U.S. that is truly free and that China is the land of the oppressed and the downtrodden. Which doesn’t explain why my MP is somebody’s bitch but hang with me for a minute or two.
My family was snowboarding in Colorado one year and on one of the chairlifts we met a wonderful American who related this great story to us: Apparently he had a good friend who was Russian. The Russian said that the basic difference between Russians and Americans is this: at least in Russia they know it’s propaganda.
In a news article I read at some point a visiting Russian delegate to the U.S. was astounded at the lack of diversity of the media in the United States and stated that in order to get that level of compliance in Russia they had to kidnap and torture people, kill editors and journalists and send people to Siberia.
And here’s what I know after being on both the government “side” and the media “side” – the further away from home you are the bigger the lie you can get away with. And it all has to do with verification and credibility. And being away from home doesn’t have to mean physical distance. It can mean being away from your own particular, personal culture or belief system – just ask Anslinger. And people still do trust our institutions including the media. A friend of mine was shocked to learn that a magazine will print a story for you if you spend some money on advertising. She still had faith. And the idea that somehow the reporters were working for you. Which brings up a point well worth remembering – if you’re not paying for it, it’s not acting in your interests.
And the fact is that good people want to believe that we, as a country, stand for something and that we, and by extension our leaders, are doing the right things. And I think it’s because “we” can’t be the bad guys right? We’re decent, hard-working people. And I’m good so I want my society at large to reflect that. I want to belong to the good guys. Could this be manipulated by the elite, if that who was truly in charge, I wondered?
Anyway, here’s what I mean by being far away from the source – locally, if I read a newspaper account of a meeting of my city council last night, I can probably talk to someone who was either there or who knew someone who was and get some verification. If I read a newspaper account of some ‘Muslim Radicals’ bombing a mosque half-way around the world, there’s no one that I can phone up or talk to over coffee about whether it’s bullshit or not.
And because the same newspaper delivered the story about my local council which I can verify is telling me the truth, I’ll go along with their other stories because they have already established credibility with me. In other words it’s easy to lie to someone if they already trust you. And I don’t want to get too far down that Rabbit Hole but if you’re really interested in actions based on propaganda, start doing some research into something called ‘false flag’ operations and the Vietnam War for example. Which I don’t even want to get into here.
Other things that can distance us from stories is our lack of knowledge – if we don’t understand a culture or if it’s outside of our experience, we can believe things that we wouldn’t ordinarily believe. Perhaps one of the most persistent, longest-running examples of this is the battle of the Romans and Carthaginians, who were defeated by the Roman Army.
Carthaginians Ate Their Babies
As with all military conquests, once the Romans defeated their rivals they were the guys left to write the accounts of the battle. To justify their military actions one of the stories they spread included how the Carthaginians ate their babies. This story persisted throughout the ages. And, archaeologists as recently as the 1970’s did have evidence of mass infant burial sites that seemed to confirm infant sacrifice, if not cannibalism. However, more recently scientists reviewing the burial sites found that the babies died of normal infant mortality, which was high in that era and that they were lovingly buried. So, maybe the Carthaginians weren’t actually baby eaters but you have to admit that is one damn long time for a story to persist.
And as it turns out, once someone has a good idea, others will gladly steal it. The early Christians were accused of eating their babies. Jews in the Middle Ages were accused of the same thing. In the war against the godless Commies when the U.S. tried to crush the early formation of the Soviet Union, they accused the Russians of, you guessed it, eating their babies. Now that’s a story you don’t often hear but by the summer of 1918 the U.S. had at least 13,000 troops in the Soviet Union who were actively trying to quell the early formation of this ‘socialist’ state. The Russians, on the other hand, know the story quite well.
Anyway, the U.S. press had a field day with ‘reports’ from that little ‘conflict’. Which included everything from the Reds eating their own babies to the ‘nationalization’ of women. Which was all diligently reported by the press at that time. And, in fact, as late as 1978, the John Birch society was still teaching to their large mainly U.S. based audience that the Soviets ate their babies. 1978. So much for the age of enlightenment, I thought.
Now, having worked in daily newspapers, I don’t believe much of anything I read as I know how ‘news’ stories get covered. And part of the problem is something called ‘balanced reporting’, an industry norm. Balanced reporting means that if I have someone telling me about a scandal concerning a local politician, for example, I have to go that politician and print his quotes alongside the quotes from my other source. This is ‘balanced’ reporting.
Investigative reporting, on the other hand, means that I would investigate what my source is telling me and report on the findings of my investigation. In other words, is there any truth to the allegations? Investigative reporting is not practiced on a day to day basis by newspapers in Canada, or I imagine, in North America. It is a “special” form of journalism reserved for ‘investigative’ reporters. Most newspapers do not have investigative reporters on staff.
And lest you think that investigative reporting is some long drawn out years-long labor intensive job, let me relate a story when I worked at a weekly newspaper. We got a press release from the opposition political party saying that the governing party is prying into the lives of applicants trying to qualify for government-subsidized nursing care. I call up the government guys and ask them about it.
Turns out that they are using a new program developed by people who understand how to properly assess applicants for nursing homes and that, in order to make best use of scarce resources, the government has bought into the program and they were now pre-qualifying applicants. Which meant asking them some personal questions. So, was this some great Big Brother intrusion or were government people trying to figure out practical solutions to a pressing problem? With ‘balanced’ journalism I would have reported that one side was saying we’re violating people’s rights and the other side saying they weren’t. Not much of a resolution is it? What did it take for verification? One phone call.
And speaking of both parties engaging in this muck-raking – it certainly seems to confirm George’s observation of: “the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”
So how is it that ‘propaganda’ works in a strictly practical sense? We all seem to associate the Nazis with ‘propaganda’ and with the benefit of hindsight someone like Anslinger with his racist ‘reefer madness’ propaganda campaign would almost seem laughable if I wasn’t a criminal because of it. But would the public be as gullible today? And, more importantly to the propagandist and more in line with the definition of propaganda – what actions would people take based on the storyline?
Being from the land of ‘free’ Medicare one obvious example for Canadians is the health care debate currently raging in the United States. As Medicare is one of my cultural norms for lack of a better term I find it difficult to believe that 45 to 57 million people (depending on the source of the figures) in the United States lack health insurance and can’t afford basic health care. This is a population much greater than Canada’s that lack access to a basic health care program. In one of the richest countries in the world, no less.
And, more surprisingly, many of these same uninsured people will argue in strenuous tones that if Medicare was brought in they would lose their ‘freedom’. Now if I were a person who lacked access to basic medical care and someone was proposing that my family be given access, I think I may be inclined to support it. And personally I think I would at least accept it for my children or my wife even if I wouldn’t accept it myself because I would somehow lose my freedom. So how was a debate about medical care framed in the context of personal freedom? Who benefits and who loses? Could one of the wealthiest superpowers on earth afford a basic health care program for 50 million or so citizens?
What other freedom storylines are out there, I wondered? In the larger context of anti-Communism or anti-Socialism (take your pick), the idea of nationalization strikes fear into the heart of every true-blooded capitalist alive in the world today. Which brings to mind Brandeis and his quote: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Was this the crux of the issue? Is this how the wealthy elite avoid the material costs of public health care? Through some ‘freedom’ propaganda campaign so they can avoid the expense of a universal health care system?
In the wider context of anti-Communism, the argument against providing universal health care in the US has been framed, at least from the turn of the 20th century in just those terms. And, if Laswell’s definition holds true, that propaganda is used to maximize the power at home by subordinating groups and individuals while reducing the material cost of power, could this be an example of modern propaganda at work?
Incidentally if you’re interested in seeing how the modern age of propaganda was launched, an excellent documentary can be seen here.
So let’s switch to China – many Chinese that I have met on my travels there will tell you that their country is the best in the world. Why? The principles of their own unique brand of propaganda are that everyone can have a job, everyone has access to health care and that everyone is provided for. Much like the idea that we are the only truly free people in the world. Is that the practical truth of things in China? Who knows, but a couple of billion or so Chinese have bought into it as evidenced by the fact that the Commies are still in power. How do they hold their power? Once again, if Laswell is to be believed, the Chinese propaganda machine is subordinating groups and individuals while reducing the material costs of power.
In other words, they don’t usually have to send in the expensive troops but they will if the propaganda wears off. So does the West have a propaganda machine? If our Russian friend is to be believed, the answer is an obvious yes. But is there an example in the West of ‘classic’ propaganda in say, a military context? And, more importantly, are we being subjected to this propaganda today? Or have I jumped down one too many Rabbit Holes after eating the mushroom?
So my assignment to myself was this – see if there is an example of propaganda borrowed from the ‘classic’ Nazi propaganda of days gone by. And one of the great accomplishments of the Nazis (if you want to look at it in those terms) is that they managed to turn propaganda into entertainment. In fact, the conveyance of Nazi ideas through entertainment was one of the most powerful tools at the Reich’s disposal and they had an entire film industry dedicated to it.
An example of a great Nazi propaganda film was “Hitlerjunge Quex”, (Hitler Youth Quex) written by Bobby E. Luthge and K.A. Schenzinger and produced in 1933. This widely released film praises the sacrifices of a young communist turned Nazi named Quex. It served as a very successful recruitment film for young Germans and further served to denounce the Communist movement.
Could any of our NATO partners be using propaganda I wondered? Could there be an example of a modern entertainment film that could be labeled a recruitment film, for example? An apples to apples comparison to Hitlerjunge Quex, maybe?
What about the pro-military film “Top Gun”, the 1986 film starring Tom Cruise, I wondered? In it we find pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and his trusty navigator “Goose” Bradshaw training at the U.S. Navy’s Fighter Weapons School, an elite training program for the ‘best of the best’ fighter pilots.
Maverick is a daredevil maniac, whether riding his motorcycle or in his penchant for defying the brass in his training program. He does all the wrong things – he romances his civilian flight instructor, plays fast and loose with the rules because he’s so damn good but even Maverick has to grow up after coming to grips with the death of his close friend in a fatal training accident.
Eventually he shoots down several enemy aircraft of unlisted nationality and we’re never told who exactly the bad guys are. But we know for sure they’re out there. After all, the hero of the film had to shoot them down.
So is this a harmless piece of Hollywood entertainment or can we make an argument to classify it as propaganda? In Bartlet’s definition, we see that the goal of propaganda is to obtain some type of action. So who had a hand in bringing this film to life, would they benefit and was there any ‘action’ associated with it?
It turns out the U.S. Navy had a big hand in the production of the film, from script approvals to providing all that cool military hardware. For example, in the script romancing the flight instructor was changed from a military flight instructor to a civilian flight instructor. But, if it is propaganda, who were they trying to influence?
First of all, the film was aimed directly at a young demographic. As rottentomatoes.com describes it: “Though it features some of the most memorable and electrifying aerial footage shot with an expert eye for action, Top Gun offers too little for non-adolescent viewers to chew on when its characters aren’t in the air.” So it certainly seemed like youth were the intended audience for the film.
After the film aired to wide acclaim (it was the highest grossing film of the year), Navy recruitment of wanna-be pilots went up 500 percent. When the film went to video, Paramount Pictures offered the Navy a chance to place a 90-second recruitment ad at the beginning of the film. The Navy declined and a memo to the Pentagon from their advertising agency stated that “both movies are already wonderful recruiting tools for the military, particularly the Navy, and to add a recruiting commercial onto the head of what is already a two-hour recruiting commercial is redundant.” And the US Navy went so far as to set up recruiting booths in the lobbies of the theatres showing the film.
Yahoo Movies states: Acknowledged as the greatest promotional movie for the U.S. Navy, “Top Gun” changed the landscape of Navy recruitment. From recruitment booths to tour buses, there was a steady rise of people interested in naval aviation. People went crazy over aviator shades and new haircuts inspired by the “Top Gun” stars’ hairdos. People were talking about the “need for speed.”
And what does all of this have to do with Canada and its NATO commitments? Let’s not lose sight of the fact that we’re trying to determine is whether democracy resides at the lowest levels or whether it is a mask for elite rule. So was Top Gun just a one-time fluke of the entertainment industry or is the US military heavily involved in the production of other propaganda films on an on-going basis?
Are we being subjected to an on-going propaganda campaign which would be characterized by U.S. military involvement in the entertainment industry? Some other films that have been actively supported by the military include GI Jane, Hearts in Atlantis, the Jackal and Armageddon among others. In fact, in any film where you see actual U.S. military hardware used, the U.S. military had script approval.
Anyway, at this point in the research I was getting rather discouraged about all this so I thought I’d watch a movie. I have SaskTel’s Max bundle – which is a piece of crap, incidentally – and I had recorded Battle Los Angeles. So I thought I’d watch a no-brainer action movie. You guessed it – all this research just spoiled my appreciation for all the cool special effects and the entire premise of the movie – that alien invaders would fight a conventional ground war and the Marines would have to save the day. You may be able to travel across the cosmos in your fancy spaceships, but don’t ever ever mess with the U.S. Marines.
So with that movie effectively spoiled, I thought at least an academy-award winning movie would be okay. But, now I’m paranoid and I do a search on ‘Lincoln’ and ‘propaganda’. Damn. And, whatever you do, don’t try the same search with Zero Dark Thirty.
Here’s what globalresearch.ca had to say about something called Hollywood history:
“‘Hollywood history’ is all the rage these days, but it comes at a huge cost. One of the most pervasive trends in 21st century western culture has become somewhat of an obsession in America. It’s called “Hollywood history”, where the corporate studio machines in Los Angeles spend hundreds of millions of dollars in order to craft and precisely tailor historical events to suit the prevailing political paradigm.
‘Hollywood history’ is very much in fashion these days. From Lincoln to Dubya (George W. Bush Jr.), and from Blackhawk Down to The Iron Lady, they constitute a significant portion of today’s major releases. There’s only one problem however, with tailoring a story to fit neatly into a prevailing political paradigm… and over the last 100 years, the Germans and the Soviets did this too – with devastating effect, but back then we just called it propaganda.”
Jesus Mother Mary Joseph and all the little orphans, isn’t even history safe? So maybe it isn’t just me. But the big question is now where am I supposed to get my entertainment from, the Soviets or the Chinese? I don’t think I can do that, I hate subtitles.
And with the on-going and historical propaganda efforts of the U.S. film industry, my Russian buddy’s assessment as to how the press falls in line without threats, torture or death is perhaps more easily explained. Remember, it took only one concert to turn Mandela from a terrorist into a world leader. What happens when you keep repeating something for generations? Where the most popular films of the year classify as propaganda?
Because if the West is always the hero, the guys in the white hat, the defender of truth, justice, freedom and democracy, (and if the belief was widely promoted over generations) to put out the opposing viewpoint could well be the kiss of death not only for films but newspapers, periodicals and other media outlets. After all, if you are trying to attract mainstream advertising dollars or investment from some of the largest corporations in America and at the same time you’re trying to swim upstream with an editorial policy that flies in the face of these ‘self-evident’ truths, who is going to advertise in your publication or invest in your films? The Commies? The Chinese?
The CIA and Your News
And, if we dig a little deeper, we find that the military propaganda machine doesn’t quite draw the line at entertainment. They are also heavily involved in mainstream media and have been for quite some time. According to Carl Bernstein (remember him? The guy who broke Watergate and got President Nixon fired?), in a 25,000 word 1977 cover story written for Rolling Stones magazine entitled “How America’s Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up he states:
“In 1953, Joseph Alsop, then one of America’s leading syndicated columnists, went to the Philippines to cover an election. He did not go because he was asked to do so by his syndicate. He did not go because he was asked to do so by the newspapers that printed his column. He went at the request of the CIA.
Alsop is one of more than 400 American journalists who in the past twenty‑five years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents on file at CIA headquarters. Some of these journalists’ relationships with the Agency were tacit; some were explicit. There was cooperation, accommodation and overlap. Journalists provided a full range of clandestine services—from simple intelligence gathering to serving as go‑betweens with spies in Communist countries. Reporters shared their notebooks with the CIA. Editors shared their staffs. Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors without‑portfolio for their country.
Among the executives who lent their cooperation to the Agency were Williarn 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 Press 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.”
In the article, Bernstein documented the planting of false stories, using journalists as CIA operatives, having CIA agents working as journalists and other clandestine services.
“In the field, journalists were used to help recruit and handle foreigners as agents; to acquire and evaluate information, and to plant false information with officials of foreign governments. Many signed secrecy agreements, pledging never to divulge anything about their dealings with the Agency; some signed employment contracts, some were assigned case officers and treated with unusual deference. Others had less structured relationships with the Agency, even though they performed similar tasks: they were briefed by CIA personnel before trips abroad, debriefed afterward, and used as intermediaries with foreign agents. Appropriately, the CIA uses the term “reporting” to describe much of what cooperating journalists did for the Agency.
“We would ask them, ‘Will you do us a favor?’” said a senior CIA official. “‘We understand you’re going to be in Yugoslavia. Have they paved all the streets? Where did you see planes? Were there any signs of military presence? How many Soviets did you see? If you happen to meet a Soviet, get his name and spell it right …. Can you set up a meeting for us? Or relay a message?’” Many CIA officials regarded these helpful journalists as operatives; the journalists tended to see themselves as trusted friends of the Agency who performed occasional favors—usually without pay—in the national interest.
“I’m proud they asked me and proud to have done it,” said Joseph Alsop who, like his late brother, columnist Stewart Alsop, undertook clandestine tasks for the Agency. “The notion that a newspaperman doesn’t have a duty to his country is perfect balls.”
Bernstein further reports:
“The tasks they performed sometimes consisted of little more than serving as “eyes and ears” for the CIA; reporting on what they had seen or overheard in an Eastern European factory, at a diplomatic reception in Bonn, on the perimeter of a military base in Portugal. On other occasions, their assignments were more complex: planting subtly concocted pieces of misinformation; hosting parties or receptions designed to bring together American agents and foreign spies; serving up “black” propaganda to leading foreign journalists at lunch or dinner; providing their hotel rooms or bureau offices as “drops” for highly sensitive information moving to and from foreign agents; conveying instructions and dollars to CIA controlled members of foreign governments.”
In other words, they were incredibly influential spies. So it appears that the U.S. media had fallen in line with U.S. government’s foreign policy. Because a newspaperman is, after all, fighting on the ‘right’ side of democracy and freedom. What we’re concerned about here is this: who sent him into the fight? The drive and organization of the elite or democracy residing at the lowest levels of authority?
And if your reporters are working for the CIA, shouldn’t the newspaper or media outlet tell us about it so that we can make up our own mind whether to believe the story? These are, after all, major news organizations that are routinely quoted in Canadian news channels.
Even though all of this propaganda stuff was pretty discouraging, it was at this moment that I decided to move forward. I mean, what was I supposed to do now? Give up my action films? The thought was terrifying. Something has to be done. And one of the ways to do something is to participate in a Democracy Operating System. Which, theoretically, gives access to average Canadians to information directly from the people that work within the system of government. And not what is handed to us in a concentrated media landscape. Just sayin’.