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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #56

Editor’s Note: In August 2015 MHB published, “The CIA and the Media: 50 Historical Facts The World Needs to Know.” The present series seeks to augment this initial article with several dozen additional facts and observations on the relationship between the US intelligence community, the mass media, and public opinion.


Irwin Knoll, Image Credit: Wisconsin Historical Society

Washington Post editorial page editor Bob Estabrook claims that one-time Post publisher Philip Graham “was in daily touch with people in the intelligence community and that he knew more about the Bay of Pigs, for example, than he would tell his own reporters,” writes Katharine Graham biographer Carol Felsenthal. Veteran journalist and former Progressive magazine editor Erwin Knoll recalls how Post editor Al Friendly “’had some CIA involvement. I know there was a pipeline to the CIA that provided occasional guidance on stories.’”

Knoll recollects the controversy that erupted in 1960 when a United States U-2 reconnaissance plane was shot down by the Soviets in 1960. “’I found myself riding in the elevator with Bob Estabrook, and I said to him, ‘That’s a hell of a story out of the Soviet Union today, isn’t it?’ And he said, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve known about those flights for several years, but we were asked not to say anything.’ Now that just astonished me, that the paper knew about things it was asked not to report on, and it complied with those wishes.’” Shortly thereafter, when a US pilot in the employ of Indonesian rebels was grounded, “the Post’s foreign editor warned Knoll to be careful about reporting on the pilot, who, he said, was CIA. Knoll thinks the Post ‘was definitely on the team as far as fighting to cold war was concerned.’”

Carol Felsenthal, Power, Privilege and The Post: The Katharine Graham Story, New York: Putnam, 1993, 372, 373.

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Through The Post Darkly: The Ghost of Phillip Graham

By James F. Tracy

“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.” Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, Langley Virginia, 1988.[1]

Steven Spielberg’s tribute to Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham and modern American journalism is a major Hollywood endeavor marshaling the industry’s premier talent. A s of this writing The Post has been nominated for dozens of awards throughout the film community.[2] The movie itself, however, comprises a sort of tortured historical confirmation on exactly how the news media would like to view themselves and their industry. It does so by mixing verifiable truths alongside careful omissions to reinforce a deeper set of myths concerning notions of American press freedom and the Vietnam War era.

On a more immediate level, The Post was produced in under six months, and was at least partly motivated by the political allegiances of its creators, who seek to analogize the Richard Nixon administration’s pursuit of a court injunction against the US press’ publication of the Pentagon Papers to President Donald Trump’s bellicose attitude toward a corporate news media that has arguably become an increasingly partisan political force following Trump’s defeat of his Democratic Party rival.

Spielberg renders Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) as a somewhat awkward and isolated widow and among the first female publishers in the predominantly male-dominated business of newspaper publishing. Left unmentioned is the fact that Graham was the daughter of Eugene Meyer, one of the country’s most powerful bankers, who bought the Washington Post in 1933 while serving as head of the Federal Reserve.

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Arbiters of Truth

As feds and Facebook join forces to rein in ‘fake news’ who will fact check the ‘fact-checkers’?

Facebook is the world’s most powerful social media platform, deemed by one observer as “the biggest nation in the world” with no semblance of democracy. The mass medium’s size and breadth is often obscured by its capacity to interlink 1.8 billion users with their friends and loved ones in the broader context of everyday life. Situated at this primary intersection of human relations one cannot overemphasize the significance of the outlet’s self-appointment as chaperon of public discourse.

facebook-thought-policeBy its own admission Facebook is no longer merely a for-profit corporation seeking to inject advertising and commerce into the abundant social interaction it oversees. The entity’s new censorial ventures, loosely masquerading as promotion of “good journalism” and “information you can trust,” strongly suggest combined government and corporate efforts to suppress citizen-generated “alternative” news and analysis.

In the United States alone close to half of the population (44% 2016 Pew Research) receive “at least some of their news” from the social media behemoth, putting Facebook among the nation’s most influential distributors of news. This makes the entity’s actual transition from neutral observer to forthright interventionist aided by often unprincipled, even amateurish news media, a momentous and worrisome political event.

Facebook’s recently-announced “news literacy” and “fact checking” initiatives must be recognized as coming in the wake of two other especially significant and likely uncoincidental developments: 1) corporate media’s recent propaganda campaign highlighting so-called “fake news” and alleged Russian-inspired media seeking to “undermine faith in American democracy,” and 2) US lawmakers’ December 8 passage of the “Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act” within the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act

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