Indeed, it will be hard to
comprehend how Bush got two terms as President of the United States, ran
up a massive debt, and misled the country into at least one disastrous
war – without taking into account the extraordinary influence of the
conservative media, from Fox News to Rush Limbaugh, from the Washington
Times to the Weekly Standard.
Recently, it’s been
revealed, too, that the Bush administration paid conservative pundits
Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher while they promoted White House
policies. Even fellow conservatives have criticized those payments, but
the truth is that the ethical line separating conservative “journalism”
from government propaganda has long since been wiped away.
For years now, there’s been
little meaningful distinction between the Republican Party and the
conservative media machine.
In 1982, for instance,
South Korean theocrat Sun Myung Moon established the Washington Times as
little more than a propaganda organ for the Reagan-Bush administration.
In 1994, radio talk show host Limbaugh was made an honorary member of
the new Republican House majority.
The blurring of any ethical
distinctions also can be found in documents from the 1980s when the
Reagan-Bush administration began collaborating secretly with
conservative media tycoons to promote propaganda strategies aimed at the
In 1983, a plan, hatched by CIA Director William J.
Casey, called for raising private money to sell the administration’s
Central American policies to the American public through an outreach
program designed to look independent but which was secretly managed by
The project was implemented by a CIA propaganda
veteran, Walter Raymond Jr., who had been moved to the National Security
Council staff and put in charge of a “perception management” campaign
that had both international and domestic objectives.
In one initiative, Raymond arranged to have Australian media mogul
Rupert Murdoch chip in money for ostensibly private groups that would
back Reagan-Bush policies. According to a memo dated Aug. 9, 1983,
Raymond reported that “via Murdock [sic], may be able to draw down added
funds.” [For details, see Parry’s
Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]
Besides avoiding congressional oversight, privately funded activities
gave the impression that an independent group was embracing the
administration’s policies on their merits. Without knowing that the
money had been arranged by the government, the public would be more
inclined to believe these assessments than the word of a government
“The work done within the administration has to, by definition, be at
arms length,” Raymond wrote in an Aug. 29, 1983, memo.
In foreign countries, the CIA often uses similar techniques to create
what intelligence operatives call “the Mighty Wurlitzer,” a propaganda
organ playing the desired notes in a carefully scripted harmony. Only
this time, the target audience was the American people.
In the 1980s, there were
also propaganda operations directly comparable to the payments to
Williams and Gallagher.
In a May 13, 1985, memo,
which surfaced during the Iran-Contra scandal, Reagan-Bush official
Jonathan Miller boasted about what he called “white propaganda”
successes. As an example, he cited the Wall Street Journal’s publication
of a pro-administration opinion piece on Nicaragua that had been written
by a government consultant, history professor John Guilmartin Jr.
“Officially, this office
had no role in its preparation,” wrote Miller, who worked out of the
State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy. “The work of our
operation is ensured by our office’s keeping a low profile.”
At the time, a Reagan-Bush
National Security Council official told me that the administration’s
domestic propaganda campaign was modeled after CIA psychological
operations abroad where information is manipulated to bring a population
into line with a desired political position.
“They were trying to manipulate [U.S.] public
opinion – using the tools of Walt Raymond’s tradecraft which he learned
from his career in the CIA covert operations shop,” the official said.
Another administration official offered a similar description to the
Miami Herald’s Alfonso Chardy. “If you look at it as a whole, the Office
of Public Diplomacy was carrying out a huge psychological operation, the
kind the military conduct to influence the population in denied or enemy
territory,” the official said.
After disclosure of these
“perception management” schemes, a legal opinion by the congressional
General Accounting Office concluded that the administration’s secret
operation amounted to “prohibited covert propaganda activities designed
to influence the media and the public to support the administration’s
Latin American policies.”
But these ad hoc propaganda tactics of the
1980s didn’t go away.
With the investment of billions of dollars
over the next two decades, the strategy grew into the permanent
conservative media machine that we know today, a vast
echo chamber to amplify conservative messages on
TV, in newspapers, through magazines, over talk radio, with book
publishing and via the Internet.
This media machine gives
conservatives and Republicans a huge political advantage both during
elections and between elections. It has even changed how Americans
perceive the world and what information they rely on to make decisions.
The clout of this
conservative media machine explains why millions of viewers to Rupert
Murdoch’s Fox News believe “facts” that aren’t facts, such as their
stubborn beliefs that the Bush administration did find weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq and that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was
collaborating with al-Qaeda in the Sept. 11 attacks.
These days, a large number
of Americans are fed a steady diet of conservative propaganda disguised
as information – and millions more are influenced by the conservative
messages that pervade TV, radio and print.
But the influence doesn’t
stop there. Since the 1980s, this conservative media machine – often in
collaboration with Republican politicians – has targeted and pressured
mainstream journalists who discover information that conflicts with the
mainstream reporters have seen their careers damaged or destroyed after
being denounced as “liberal” or “anti-American.” Other journalists have
protected themselves by tilting their reporting to the right or avoiding
many controversial stories altogether.
So, in 2002-2003, for
instance, the major news media largely acquiesced to – rather than
challenged – the Bush administration’s false claims about Iraqi WMD.
When some mainstream
reporters, such as the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus, did produce
skeptical WMD stories, the articles were killed or buried deep inside
the papers where they got little attention. By contrast, editors at the
Washington Post and the New York Times trumpeted the administration’s
WMD charges on their front pages.
In the weeks after the U.S.
invasion of Iraq, the conservative news media continued to hype every
false alarm suggesting that WMD had been found, possibly explaining why
so many Americans think WMD was discovered.
Whenever that would happen,
even at a small outlet like Consortiumnews.com, we would get e-mails
from conservative readers demanding that we apologize to President Bush
for doubting his word.
Surely at large news
organizations like the New York Times and the Washington Post, the
stakes were much higher. If WMD caches had been found, any reporter who
had displayed any skepticism before the Iraq invasion would have been
pilloried by the right-wing media and its legions of angry e-mail
Those future historians
gazing back on the Bush administration should not underestimate this
fear factor in explaining why so few journalists at the major news
outlets were willing to take the chance.
It’s also true that while
career death awaited any journalist who questioned the WMD case – if
stockpiles had been found – journalists have not suffered any serious
consequences for buying into the Bush administration’s false claims.
Most right-wing commentators simply have shifted their war rationales
and continued to berate critics of Bush’s war policies.
Rather than face up to any
responsibility for the deaths of more than 1,400 U.S. soldiers and the
killing of tens of thousands of Iraqis, the propaganda game has just
Indeed, listening to the
continued angry rhetoric on Fox News or right-wing talk radio, a
listener would get the impression that these very well-paid, mostly
white men were part of some persecuted minority, not a group of
privileged individuals wielding extraordinary power.
By now, the huge investment
of money in this conservative media machine may mean that even if
conservative “journalists” did reach an honest conclusion that their
behavior was damaging the United States, they would be hard pressed to
That’s because like any
large bureaucracy, the conservative media machine has taken on a life of
conservative “journalists” are dependent on its perpetuation for their
livelihoods. There are mortgages to pay and school tuitions due. It’s
much easier just to continue doing the job and keeping the assembly
lines of propaganda humming, rather than trying to shut the operation
down or dramatically change the product.
In that way, the
conservative “journalists” are like workers in a factory that’s
polluting a river which flows through the neighboring countryside. If
the pollution is stopped, they fear they will lose their jobs. So it’s
in their interest to fight environmental controls, keep the factory
running and leave it to someone else to clean up the mess.
Another aspect of the
conservative media corruption can be found in where some of the
right-wing money originates.
The evidence is clear, for
instance, that the wealth of one major conservative media tycoon – Rev.
Sun Myung Moon – traces back to money illicitly laundered into the
United States and possibly even to operatives connected to organized
In the late 1970s, a
congressional investigation, headed by Rep. Donald Fraser, discovered
that Moon was a South Korean intelligence operative whose operations
were financed from secretive bank accounts in Japan. Investigators also
uncovered Moon’s close ties to the Japanese yakuza crime syndicate which
runs drugs, gambling and prostitution rings in Asia.
Moon also associated with right-wing South
American leaders implicated in cocaine trafficking. In 1980,
Moon’s organization aided Bolivia’s “Cocaine Coup” conspirators who
overthrew a left-of-center government and seized dictatorial power. The
violent coup installed drug-tainted military officers at the head of
Bolivia’s government, giving the putsch the nickname the “Cocaine Coup.”
U.S. government evidence
about Moon’s money-laundering activities led to his conviction for tax
fraud in 1982. But in that same year, flush with seemingly unlimited
supplies of cash, Moon established the Washington Times as a reliable
booster of Reagan-Bush policies.
Since then, the theocrat,
who considers himself the new Messiah, has become a political
untouchable in Washington. Both President Ronald Reagan and President
George H.W. Bush made special pronouncements about how valuable they
considered Moon’s newspaper.
After leaving office,
George H.W. Bush gave paid speeches on behalf of Moon’s front groups.
Though the exact amount of Moon’s payments to Bush has never been
revealed, one former Unification Church official told me the Moon
organization had budgeted $10 million for the ex-president.
[For details on Moon’s
background and his ties to the Bush family, see Parry’s
Secrecy & Privilege.]
So, Armstrong Williams
might be understandably confused by the furor over his $241,000 grant
from Bush’s Education Department to promote the “no children left
behind” program. The same may be true of columnist Maggie Gallagher who
touted Bush’s pro-marriage policies while on a $21,500 contract from the
Department of Health and Human Services.
After all, many of their
conservative colleagues have taken buckets full of money from Moon’s
bottomless well of cash.
Amid this moral confusion
on the Right – as the U.S. national treasury is drained, the dollar
sinks to record lows and American soldiers die in a war launched for a
fake reason – it’s getting harder and harder to notice any bright