How the Washington Press Turned Bad

Exclusive: There was a time when the Washington press corps prided itself on holding the powerful accountable  Pentagon Papers, Watergate, Vietnam War but those days are long gone, replaced by a malleable media that puts its cozy relations with insiders ahead of the public interest, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Following the death last week of legendary Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee at age 93, there have been many warm remembrances of his tough-guy style as he sought “holy shit stories,” journalism that was worthy of the old-fashioned demand, “stop the presses.”

Many of the fond recollections surely are selective, but there was some truth to Bradlee’s “front page” approach to inspiring a staff to push the envelope in pursuit of difficult stories at least during the Watergate scandal when he backed Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the face of White House hostility. How different that was from Bradlee’s later years and the work of his successors at the Washington Post!

The Washington Post's Watergate team, including from left to right, publisher Katharine Graham,  Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Howard Simons, and executive editor Ben Bradlee.

The Washington Post’s Watergate team, including from left to right, publisher Katharine Graham, Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward, Howard Simons, and executive editor Ben Bradlee.

Coincidentally, upon hearing of Bradlee’s death on Oct. 21, I was reminded of this sad devolution of the U.S. news media from its Watergate/Pentagon Papers heyday of the 1970s to the “On Bended Knee” obsequiousness in covering Ronald Reagan just a decade later, a transformation that paved the way for the media’s servile groveling at the feet of George W. Bush last decade.

On the same day as Bradlee’s passing, I received an e-mail from a fellow journalist informing me that Bradlee’s longtime managing editor and later his successor as executive editor, Leonard Downie, was sending around a Washington Post article attacking the new movie, “Kill the Messenger.”

That article by Jeff Leen, the Post’s assistant managing editor for investigations, trashed the late journalist Gary Webb, whose career and life were destroyed because he dared revive one of the ugliest scandals of the Reagan era, the U.S. government’s tolerance of cocaine trafficking by Reagan’s beloved Nicaraguan Contra rebels.

“Kill the Messenger” offers a sympathetic portrayal of Webb’s ordeal and is critical of the major newspapers, including the Washington Post, for denouncing Webb in 1996 rather than taking the opportunity to revisit a major national security scandal that the Post, the New York Times and other major newspapers missed or downplayed in the mid-1980s after it was first reported by Brian Barger and me for the Associated Press.

Downie, who became the Post’s managing editor in 1984 and followed Bradlee as executive editor in 1991 and is now a journalism professor at Arizona State University passed Leen’s anti-Webb story around to other faculty members with a cover note, which read:

“Subject line: Gary Webb was no hero, say[s] WP investigations editor Jeff Leen

“I was at The Washington Post at the time that it investigated Gary Webb’s stories, and Jeff Leen is exactly right. However, he is too kind to a movie that presents a lie as fact.”

Since I knew Downie slightly during my years at the Associated Press he had once called me about my June 1985 article identifying National Security Council aide Oliver North as a key figure in the White House’s secret Contra-support operation I sent him an e-mail on Oct. 22 to express my dismay at his “harsh comment” and “to make sure that those are your words and that they accurately reflect your opinion.”

I asked, “Could you elaborate on exactly what you believe to be a lie?” I also noted that “As the movie was hitting the theaters, I put together an article about what the U.S. government’s files now reveal about this problem” and sent Downie a link to that story. I have heard nothing back. [For more on my assessment of Leen’s hit piece, see’s “WPost’s Slimy Assault on Gary Webb.”]

Why Attack Webb?

One could assume that Leen and Downie are just MSM hacks who are covering their tracks, since they both missed the Contra-cocaine scandal as it was unfolding under their noses in the 1980s.

Leen was the Miami Herald’s specialist on drug trafficking and the Medellin cartel but somehow he couldn’t figure out that much of the Contra cocaine was arriving in Miami and the Medellin cartel was donating millions of dollars to the Contras. In 1991, during the drug-trafficking trial of Panama’s Manuel Noriega, Medellin cartel kingpin Carlos Lehder even testified, as a U.S. government witness, that he had chipped in $10 million to the Contras.

Downie was the Washington Post’s managing editor, responsible for keeping an eye on the Reagan administration’s secretive foreign policy but was regularly behind the curve on the biggest scandals of the 1980s: Ollie North’s operation, the Contra-cocaine scandal and the Iran-Contra Affair. After that litany of failures, he was promoted to be the Post’s executive editor, one of the top jobs in American journalism, where he was positioned to oversee the takedown of Gary Webb in 1996.

Though Downie’s note to other Arizona State University professors called the Contra-cocaine story or “Kill the Messenger” or both a “lie,” the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim recounted recently in an article about the big media’s assault on Webb that “The Post’s top editor at the time, Leonard Downie, told me that he doesn’t remember the incident well enough to comment on it.”

But there’s more here than just a couple of news executives who find it easier to pile on a journalist no longer around to defend himself than to admit their own professional failures. What Leen and Downie represent is an institutional failure of American journalism to protect the American people, choosing instead to protect the American power structure.

Remember that in the mid-1980s when Barger and I exposed the Contra-cocaine scandal, the smuggling was happening in real time. It wasn’t history. The various Contra pipelines were bringing cocaine into American cities where some was getting processed into crack. If action had been taken then, at least some of those shipments could have been stopped and some of the Contra traffickers prosecuted.

Yet, instead of the major news media joining in exposing these ongoing crimes, the New York Times and Washington Post chose to look the other way. In Leen’s article, he justifies this behavior under a supposed journalistic principle that “an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof.” But any such standard must also be weighed against the threat to the American people and others from withholding a story.

If Leen’s principle means in reality that no level of proof would be sufficient to report that the Reagan administration was protecting Contra-cocaine traffickers, then the U.S. media was acquiescing to criminal activity that wreaked havoc on American cities, destroyed countless lives and overflowed U.S. prisons with low-level drug dealers while powerful people with political connections went untouched.

That assessment is essentially shared by Doug Farah, who was a Washington Post correspondent in Central America at the time of Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series in 1996. After reading Webb’s series in the San Jose Mercury News, Farah was eager to advance the Contra-cocaine story but encountered unrealistic demands for proof from his editors.

Farah told Ryan Grim: “If you’re talking about our intelligence community tolerating — if not promoting — drugs to pay for black ops, it’s rather an uncomfortable thing to do when you’re an establishment paper like the Post. … If you were going to be directly rubbing up against the government, they wanted it more solid than it could probably ever be done.”

In other words, “extraordinary proof” meant you’d never write a story on this touchy topic because no proof is 100 percent perfect, apparently not even when the CIA’s inspector general confesses, as he did in 1998, that much of what Webb, Barger and I had reported was true and that there was much, much more. [See’s “The Sordid Contra Cocaine Scandal.”]

What Happened to the Press?

How this transformation of Washington journalism occurred from the more aggressive press corps of the 1970s into the patsy press corps of the 1980s and beyond is an important lost chapter of modern American history.

Much of this change emerged from the political wreckage that followed the Vietnam War, the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate scandal and the exposure of CIA abuses in the 1970s. The American power structure, particularly the Right, struck back, labeling the U.S. news media as “liberal” and questioning the patriotism of individual journalists and editors.

But it didn’t require much arm-twisting to get the mainstream news media to bend into line and fall on its knees. Many of the news executives that I worked under shared the view of the power structure that the Vietnam protests were disloyal, that the U.S. government needed to hit back against humiliations like the Iran-hostage crisis, and that the rebellious public needed to be brought back into line behind more traditional values.

At the Associated Press, its most senior executive, general manager Keith Fuller, gave a 1982 speech in Worcester, Massachusetts, hailing Reagan’s election in 1980 as a worthy repudiation of the excesses of the 1960s and a necessary corrective to the nation’s lost prestige of the 1970s. Fuller cited Reagan’s Inauguration and the simultaneous release of the 52 U.S. hostages in Iran on Jan. 20, 1981, as a national turning point in which Reagan had revived the American spirit.

“As we look back on the turbulent Sixties, we shudder with the memory of a time that seemed to tear at the very sinews of this country,” Fuller said, adding that Reagan’s election represented a nation “crying, ‘Enough.’

“We don’t believe that the union of Adam and Bruce is really the same as Adam and Eve in the eyes of Creation. We don’t believe that people should cash welfare checks and spend them on booze and narcotics. We don’t really believe that a simple prayer or a pledge of allegiance is against the national interest in the classroom.

“We’re sick of your social engineering. We’re fed up with your tolerance of crime, drugs and pornography. But most of all, we’re sick of your self-perpetuating, burdening bureaucracy weighing ever more heavily on our backs.”

Fuller’s sentiments were not uncommon in the executive suites of major news organizations, where Reagan’s reassertion of an aggressive U.S. foreign policy was especially welcomed. At the New York Times, executive editor Abe Rosenthal, an early neocon, vowed to steer his newspaper back “to the center,” by which he meant to the right.

There was also a social dimension to this journalistic retreat. For instance, the Washington Post’s longtime publisher Katharine Graham found the stresses of high-stakes adversarial journalism unpleasant. Plus, it was one thing to take on the socially inept Richard Nixon; it was quite another to challenge the socially adroit Ronald and Nancy Reagan, whom Mrs. Graham personally liked.

The Graham family embraced neoconservatism, too, favoring aggressive policies against Moscow and unquestioned support for Israel. Soon, the Washington Post and Newsweek editors were reflecting those family prejudices.

I encountered that reality when I moved from AP to Newsweek in 1987 and found executive editor Maynard Parker, in particular, hostile to journalism that put Reagan’s Cold War policies in a negative light. I had been involved in breaking much of the Iran-Contra scandal at the AP, but I was told at Newsweek that “we don’t want another Watergate.” The fear apparently was that the political stresses from another constitutional crisis around a Republican president might shatter the nation’s political cohesion.

The same was true of the Contra-cocaine story, which I was prevented from pursuing at Newsweek. Indeed, when Sen. John Kerry advanced the Contra-cocaine story with a Senate report issued in April 1989, Newsweek was uninterested and the Washington Post buried the story deep inside the paper. Later, Newsweek dismissed Kerry as a “randy conspiracy buff.” [For details, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

Fitting a Pattern

In other words, the vicious destruction of Gary Webb following his revival of the Contra-cocaine scandal in 1996 when he examined the impact of one Contra-cocaine pipeline into the crack trade in Los Angeles was not out of the ordinary. It was part of the pattern of subservience to the national security apparatus, especially under Republicans and right-wingers but extending to Democratic hardliners, too.

This pattern of bias continued into last decade, even when the issue was whether the votes of Americans should be counted. After the 2000 election, when George W. Bush got five Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the counting of votes in the key state of Florida, major news executives were more concerned about protecting the fragile “legitimacy” of Bush’s tainted victory than ensuring that the actual winner of the U.S. presidential election became president.

After the Supreme Court’s Republican majority made sure that Florida’s electoral votes and thus the presidency would go to Bush, some news executives, including the New York Times’ executive editor Howell Raines, bristled at proposals to do a media count of the disputed ballots, according to a New York Times executive who was present for these discussions.

The idea of this media count was to determine who the voters of Florida actually favored for president, but Raines only relented to the project if the results did not indicate that Bush should have lost, a concern that escalated after the 9/11 attacks, according to the account from the Times executive.

Raines’s concern became real when the news organizations completed their unofficial count of Florida’s disputed ballots in November 2001 and it turned out that Al Gore would have carried Florida if all legally cast votes were counted regardless of what standards were applied to the famous chads dimpled, hanging or punched-through.

Gore’s victory would have been assured by the so-called “over-votes” in which a voter both punched through a candidate’s name and wrote it in. Under Florida law, such “over-votes” are legal and they broke heavily in Gore’s favor. [See’s “So Bush Did Steal the White House” or our book, Neck Deep.]

In other words, the wrong candidate had been awarded the presidency. However, this startling fact became an inconvenient truth that the mainstream U.S. news media decided to obscure. So, the major newspapers and TV networks hid their own scoop when the results were published on Nov. 12, 2001.

Instead of stating clearly that Florida’s legally cast votes favored Gore and that the wrong man was in the White House the mainstream media bent over backwards to concoct hypothetical situations in which Bush might still have won the presidency, such as if the recount were limited to only a few counties or if the legal “over-votes” were excluded.

The reality of Gore’s rightful victory was buried deep in the stories or relegated to data charts that accompanied the articles. Any casual reader would have come away from reading the New York Times or the Washington Post with the conclusion that Bush really had won Florida and thus was the legitimate president after all.

The Post’s headline read, “Florida Recounts Would Have Favored Bush.” The Times ran the headline: “Study of Disputed Florida Ballots Finds Justices Did Not Cast the Deciding Vote.” Some columnists, such as the Post’s media analyst Howard Kurtz, even launched preemptive strikes against anyone who would read the fine print and spot the hidden “lede” of Gore’s victory. Kurtz labeled such people “conspiracy theorists.” [Washington Post, Nov. 12, 2001]

An Irate Reporter

After reading these slanted “Bush Won” stories, I wrote an article for noting that the obvious “lede” should have been that the recount revealed that Gore had won. I suggested that the news judgments of senior editors might have been influenced by a desire to appear patriotic only two months after 9/11. [See’s “Gore’s Victory.”]

My article had been up for only a couple of hours when I received an irate phone call from New York Times media writer Felicity Barringer, who accused me of impugning the journalistic integrity of executive editor Raines.

Though Raines and other executives may have thought that what they were doing was “good for the country,” they actually were betraying their most fundamental duty to the American people to give them the facts as fully and accurately as possible. By falsely portraying Bush as the real winner in Florida and thus in the Electoral College, these news executives infused Bush with false legitimacy that he then abused in leading the country to war in Iraq in 2003.

Again, in that run-up to the Iraq invasion, the major news media performed more as compliant propagandists than independent journalists, embracing Bush’s false WMD claims and joining in the jingoism that celebrated “the troops” and the initial American conquest of Iraq.

Despite the media’s embarrassment that later surrounded the bogus WMD stories and the disastrous Iraq War, mainstream news executives faced no accountability. Howell Raines lost his job in 2003 not because of his unethical handling of the Florida recount or the false Iraq War reporting, but because he trusted reporter Jayson Blair who fabricated sources in the Beltway Sniper Case.

How distorted the Times’ judgment had become was underscored by the fact that Raines’s successor, Bill Keller, had written a major article “The I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club” hailing “liberals” who joined him in supporting the Iraq invasion. In other words, you got fired if you trusted a dishonest reporter but got promoted if you trusted a dishonest president.

Similarly, at the Washington Post, editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt, who reported again and again that Iraq was hiding stockpiles of WMD as “flat-fact,” didn’t face the kind of journalistic disgrace that was meted out to Gary Webb. Instead, Hiatt is still holding down the same prestigious job, writing the same kind of imbalanced neocon editorials that guided the American people into the Iraq disaster, except now Hiatt is pointing the way to deeper confrontations in Syria, Iran, Ukraine and Russia.

So, perhaps it should come as no surprise that this thoroughly corrupted Washington press corps would lash out again at Gary Webb as his reputation has the belated chance for a posthumous rehabilitation.

But how far the vaunted Washington press corps has sunk is illustrated by the fact that it has been left to a Hollywood movie of all things to set the record straight.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

26 comments for “How the Washington Press Turned Bad

  1. Tegan Mathis
    October 30, 2014 at 15:22

    The opening premise of this article perpetrates one of the biggest frauds, if not the biggest fraud, in U.S. media history. The Washington Post’s Watergate “investigation” was nothing but a ruse.

    In February 1963, Joe Califano, who was then an assistant to Army Secretary Cyrus Vance, put Colonel Alexander Haig in charge of the CIA’s Cuban Brigade (the Bay of Pigs veterans). The Cuban Brigade, to whatever extent, had been assembled by future Watergate burglar foreman Howard Hunt.

    In May 1969, Alexander Haig, who was then a military assistant to Henry Kissinger, created the White House Plumbers operation to deal with enemies of the National Security Council (NSC). Howard Hunt became a part of that operation.

    On the morning of June 17, 1972, Joe Califano was the first person to alert the Washington Post of the Watergate break-in. As a very close friend to both Ben Bradlee and Alexander Haig — and a lawyer to both the Washington Post and the Democratic National Committee — he had tremendous influence on the Washington Post’s Watergate coverage from the very beginning.

    Under the influence of Califano and others, the Washington Post proceeded to lead its readers towards Richard Nixon’s CREEP thus away from Alexander Haig and the National Security Council. It was always about protecting Haig and concealing his domestic intelligence activities. Had those domestic intelligence activities been properly investigated, Haig’s operational relationship with Hunt would have been exposed — an operational relationship that began no later than February 1963.

    Before the Watergate break-in, that same group of burglars (or roughly the same group of burglars) had burglarized the Chilean Embassy and Daniel Ellsberg’s psychoanalyst’s office. These incidents speak clearly to the fact that the burglars worked for the National Security Council, not CREEP — unless you’re gullible enough to believe that CREEP had an interest in burglarizing the Chilean Embassy. Think about it.

    Then there’s Bob Woodward. The Washington Post has gone to great lengths to explain how an inexperienced “cub reporter” like Bob Woodward got the Watergate assignment. The truth is very simple: In 1969 and 1970, Navy Lieutenant Bob Woodward worked as some kind of liaison for between the Pentagon and the National Security Council. He was an NSC ringer. His covert mission as a Watergate “reporter” at the Washington Post was to protect Haig, the NSC, and the CIA. It was always about Haig.

    For more, please read SINS OF THE VICAR.

  2. October 30, 2014 at 14:53

    I wonder about the notion that the Washington Press Turned Bad. Was it ever good?

    Journalist John Swinton is said to have noted in the year 1880 the following about the US press:

    “There is no such a thing in America as an independent press, unless it is out in country towns. You are all slaves. You know it, and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to express an honest opinion. If you expressed it, you would know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid $150 for keeping honest opinions out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for doing similar things. If I should allow honest opinions to be printed in one issue of my paper, I would be like Othello before twenty-four hours: my occupation would be gone. The man who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the street hunting for another job. The business of a New York journalist is to distort the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to villify, to fawn at the feet of Mammon…”

    So, did that situation improve some time? I couldn’t remember any time when US journalism was different, certainly not in the times of William Randolph Hearst or the McCarthy era. And what about the Washington Post? Well, multiple sources have it that co-owner Phil Graham was the principal agent of the CIA’s Wisner running “Operation Mockingbird” – a major CIA operation to manipulate domestic opinion. Just google Phil Graham and “Operation Mockingbird.”

    So, the same Wapo – which is today known to be a zionist neocon racket – is lauded to be the hero of US journalism, selflessly and couragously acting in the interest to inform the public about the crimes of the US leadership, a couple of years later, when WaPo was led by Graham’s wife? I think it begs the question if there is another angle to that story which makes the behaviour more plausible. What about the theory that Wapo was always a neocon zionist racket and it shot down Nixon with the Watergate story, because Nixon had serious differences with Israel? Nixon himself seemed to have seen it that way.

    Ynetnews reported on 09.02.12 under the title “Nixon in ’73: Stop obsessing over Israel”:

    “In the Middle East is the problem of Israel. Israel’s lobby is so strong that Congress is not reasonable. When we try to get Israel reasonable, the excuse is an Israeli election, the US election, or something. This is my primary occupation. Please don’t take an all out Israeli line. The Israelis are attractive and efficient, but the stakes are big,” Nixon told his cabinet on May 18, 1973. Nixon said the basic point is that Israel can “defeat the Arabs with our aid,” but added that “if the our relationship with the Soviet Union collapses, and the Soviet Union aids the Arabs, Israel will be swamped. This is why we need to have movement on trade with MFN (Most favored Nations.) We have to have policies which don’t allow an obsession with one state to destroy our status in the Middle East.”

    Does it sound familiar that Nixon complained that “Israel’s lobby is so strong that Congress is not reasonable” and that was his primary occupation? Nixon himself seem to have seen the fight the way that “a jewish cabal” got him, as Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward wrote themselves in their 1976 book, “The Final Days” as they reveal in the Wapo on June 8, 2012 under the title “Woodward and Bernstein: 40 years after Watergate, Nixon was far worse than we thought.” Quote:

    Nixon’s anti-Semitic rages were well-known to those who worked most closely with him, including some aides who were Jewish. As we reported in our 1976 book, “The Final Days,” he would tell his deputies, including Kissinger, that “the Jewish cabal is out to get me.” In a July 3, 1971, conversation with Haldeman, he said: “The government is full of Jews. Second, most Jews are disloyal. You know what I mean? You have a Garment [White House counsel Leonard Garment] and a Kissinger and, frankly, a Safire [presidential speechwriter William Safire], and, by God, they’re exceptions. But Bob, generally speaking, you can’t trust the bastards. They turn on you.”

    So maybe it’s time to start reviewing Watergate with an additional view from the angle that Nixon seemed to have a problem with the Israeli lobby and that WaPo was hardly doing more than what it always does: pressing the interests of Israel’s lobby?

    • Hillary
      November 1, 2014 at 08:32

      Bandolero on October 30, 2014 at 2:53 pm.
      excellent comment Bandolero thanks.

  3. Steve
    October 30, 2014 at 01:50

    I am grateful that there are news outlets like Consortium News, The Guardian as well as others – that provide a truer picture of the world then most of the corporate press. The movie “Kill the Messenger” is one example that awareness is growing about who has been accurate and who has not. Also the Guardian, which broke the NSA scandal, recently passed the New York Times in Internet traffic. While we are obviously along way from most people getting their news from the most accurate sources. One of the things that is helping us get to a better place, is repeatedly pointing out who is getting it right and who isn’t.

    • dahoit
      October 30, 2014 at 11:52

      Steve,the Guardian has gone to the dark side of neolibconville in the last few years or so,why else would GG leave,and its prominent boosting of that Cumberbatch Assange hit job illuminated their mindset.
      As far a the MSM,and investigative reporting,Israel and corporate interests have overturned the peoples interests,and Vietnam and the Pentagon papers had nothing to do with Israels security,and Nixon was on their sh*t list,partly because of his independence regarding Israel.

    • Pat
      October 30, 2014 at 14:49

      The Guardian, unfortunately, is no longer a reliable source of information. Their reporting on Ukraine is just one small example. Their last great act was breaking the NSA story. After that, they slid downhill so fast that you have to wonder who got to the publisher and what they used against him. Truly terrifying.

  4. Pat
    October 29, 2014 at 16:48

    Thanks for this article, Bob. Not many other people could have written it, since you are one of the few who was actually there and managed not to get sucked into the system – a real feat, I know, since I was there, too. The rewards for becoming a member of the “club” were many, as were the penalties for those who refused.

    That said, I didn’t notice many of my colleagues being coerced into writing flattering stories about their government and corporate subjects. In my observation, they genuinely liked most of their sources and easily fell into that value system. It was difficult to be in that environment and not to be swept up in it. By the time reporters advanced to assistant editor or editor, they were well entrenched in the group think.

    Another consideration, perhaps even more of a factor that 9/11, was the Internet. Although many young journalists in the early 80s had visions of being the next Woodward and Bernstein, the reality of the daily grind set in, with ever-increasing demands for a certain number of stories a day or week. Once the Internet became a major source of news, the demand was insane. Not only did you have to write all those stories for print, but you had to write constant updates throughout the day to beat the competition, and heaven help you if you had a different “lede” than The Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post. There was no point in arguing with the editor that yours was better.

    I finally threw in the towel when I was working 70 hours a week on a 40-hour salary, writing articles that fed a corrupt system. So yes, at that point I knew I was presenting a false reality, and while that’s what the readership wanted, I couldn’t do it. But there is no question that my colleagues and editors bought into their version of reality without so much as a nagging doubt. In my last few weeks on the job, I was investigating the California energy crisis, convinced that the energy companies were manipulating the market – Enron being the worst. I thought my editors would be interested and was shocked when they called me a conspiracy theorist and told me that if I didn’t back off, I was going to get the publication sued for libel. They assured me that if anything was fishy, state and federal regulators would be on it. A few weeks after that conversation, in February 2001, I quit. In March, Bethany McLean’s story broke in Fortune, and still the mainstream ignored it for months.

    The postscript to the story is that I left Washington for a small-town weekly, only to find that I wasn’t allowed to write anything that offended the paper’s advertisers or the publisher’s buddies in local and state government. I lasted less than four months and left journalism for good.

    • Joe Tedesky
      October 29, 2014 at 23:14

      Pat I came across this story (see link) and thought of what you wrote here.

      “Year CBS News Veteran, Sharyl Attkisson, Details Massive Censorship and Propaganda in Mainstream Media”

      Good luck
      Joe Tedesky

    • Joe Tedesky
      October 30, 2014 at 00:33

      Pat, I think I should explain something about the link I provided describing Sharyl Attkisson’s dilema. In the article Sharyl Attkisson’s is disgruntled about the network believing her stories are too right wing for their viewership. Yet, whether the reporting turns out to be red or blue should not matter, if facts are truthful. What I see as the bigger problem is editors with agendas, and their attempting to control the official narrative, so as to gain points with whomever. Am I wrong?

      No matter what reporters should be allowed to deliver the news as best as the truth will allow.
      Joe Tedesky

      • Pat
        October 30, 2014 at 14:39

        Interesting link. Thanks, Joe. That pretty much says it all, and you didn’t need to add the qualifier.

      • Joe Tedesky
        October 30, 2014 at 15:17

        Good, I am glad you understand where I was coming from…take care Pat.
        Joe Tedesky

  5. Mark
    October 29, 2014 at 12:28

    Thanks once again for that enlightenment. These people in the media who knowingly paint false pictures of reality, act more as operatives promoting, and effectively leading the country into establishment fascism. If they’re not on the government payroll directly (which some of them are in one sense or another), certainly they’re on the corporate payroll in the sense they’ve sold out true journalism, their integrity, and the American public to the highest bidder. It’s no stretch to say these operatives, official government and otherwise, are traitors to democracy and the rule of law while effectively aiding lawlessness to escape justice. Traitors: as because of their actions we no longer have a democracy or freedom, either physically or intellectually. And while they may think they’re being patriotic, that belief, while causing great damage, is little more than an indication of their individual and collectively corrupted-intellects allowing them to put the country and the world under a terrible and dangerous strain.

  6. otto
    October 29, 2014 at 12:19

    By 2016, The National Popular Vote bill could guarantee the majority of Electoral College votes, and thus the presidency, to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by replacing state winner-take-all laws for awarding electoral votes.

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps of pre-determined outcomes. There would no longer be a handful of ‘battleground’ states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 80% of the states that now are just ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.

    The bill would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of Electoral College votes—that is, enough to elect a President (270 of 538). The candidate receiving the most popular votes from all 50 states (and DC) would get all the 270+ electoral votes of the enacting states.

    The presidential election system, using the 48 state winner-take-all method or district winner method of awarding electoral votes, that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founders. It is the product of decades of change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founders in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. States can, and have, changed their method of awarding electoral votes over the years. Historically, major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided).

    Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in every state surveyed recently. In virtually every of the 39 states surveyed, overall support has been in the 70-80% range or higher. – in recent or past closely divided battleground states, in rural states, in small states, in Southern and border states, in big states, and in other states polled.
    Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

    The bill has passed 33 state legislative chambers in 22 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 250 electoral votes. The bill has been enacted by 11 jurisdictions with 165 electoral votes – 61% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

    Follow National Popular Vote on Facebook via NationalPopularVoteInc

  7. B Casey
    October 29, 2014 at 09:36

    “Watergate scandal and the exposure of CIA abuses in the 1970s”

    Carl Bernstein has looked at the relationship of the CIA and the press in The CIA and the Media – How the News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the CIA and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up:

    “..during the Watergate scandal when [Bradlee] backed Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in the face of White House hostility. How different that was from Bradlee’s later years”

    Bradlee was also uninterested in assassinations:
    They boys never explained Watergate. What was the purpose of the break-in? What was Nixon looking for?

    See Bob Woodward’s Dark Side – Famed Reporter Carries Water for the Pentagon
    “For four decades, under cover of his supposedly “objective” reporting, Woodward has represented the viewpoints of the military and intelligence establishments.”
    – Russ Baker

  8. Greg Maybury
    October 29, 2014 at 06:43

    Hi Rob,

    This is a most timely, welcome and insightful op-ed on the parlous state of the MSM at present. It is also serendipitous I feel. Which is to say, although I hesitate to place my own contributions in the same league as yourself and Chris Hedges (whose article on TruthDig yesterday cover similar territory; see link below), you received from me yesterday a similarly themed piece for publication. Yet whilst covering similar territories, both yours and Chris’s article helped fill in for me several gaps and provided an even starker portrayal of the venality and amorality of the Fourth Estate. That they have utterly betrayed the fundamental principles of news reportage, and undermined all the basic elements upon which a functioning democracy can prosper and survive into this Faustian bargain is a given. Put simply, if I had any doubts at all before submitting my piece about the views I articulated therein, they were dispelled upon reading yours and Chris’s pieces today.

    Greg Maybury
    Perth, Australia

  9. Ralph Walter Reed
    October 29, 2014 at 01:11

    In 1991 I helped bring then-Senator John Kerry to Hampshire College in Amherst for an event that was attended by about a hundred people. Near the end of the question and answer period I challenged him with a strong complaint about why the Senate investigation he oversaw into CIA involvement in cocaine smuggling during the time the Boland Amendment was in effect wasn’t more vigorously pursued and promoted given the risks and efforts of so many within and outside of the US government to mitigate the carnage in Central America, “waving the bloody shirt” a bit I’m afraid as I was peripherally involved when in the Air Force, and perhaps blindsiding him as I was the one chiefly responsible for organizing his talk. He became quite visibly distressed, and apologetically replied that “we felt that the country wouldn’t be served by another Watergate” so soon after the original.

    Objectively, what might have happened if he had done his constitutional duty? Would the Soviet Union and Warsaw pact have muddled on with the real possibility of nuclear war? On the other hand the behavior of the Clinton White House in Europe, and that the State Department currently in Ukraine doesn’t make me feel like it was in the end justifiable to protect US institutions at the expense of its principles.

    • bobzz
      October 29, 2014 at 12:01

      Again we have the idea, expressed this time by Kerry, that Americans “can’t handle the truth”. The failure of ‘forget the past, we must look forward’ is that, unchecked, the powers that be know they can get away with more and more. As the decades have gone by, I am not sure we can handle the truth any more, especially when I read some of the brainwashed comments following internet news articles.

  10. Abe
    October 28, 2014 at 23:55

    The Century of the Self (2002), a British television documentary series by Adam Curtis, raises the question of the intentions and roots of the psychological techniques used in the business and political world.

    Where once the political process was about engaging people’s rational, conscious minds, as well as facilitating their needs as a society, the documentary shows how by employing the tactics of psychoanalysis, politicians appeal to irrational, primitive impulses that have little apparent bearing on issues outside of the narrow self-interest of a consumer population.

    • WG
      October 29, 2014 at 12:46

      I would also highly recommend another documentary by Adam Curtis called “The Power of Nightmares”.

      It ruthlessly examines how politicians no longer promise to fulfill our dreams for a better future, instead they claim they will protect us from nightmares.

  11. Abe
    October 28, 2014 at 23:01

    I find what’s happening terrifying, truly frightening. And when you look closely at all of the documents that were purportedly given to WikiLeaks by Bradley Manning and published through Assange, none of them were top-secret.

    I mean, as a former investigative reporter for The New York Times, it was my job to go and find out often top-secret information.

    And that’s why I can’t understand the inability of the traditional press to grasp that we are now in the last moments of an effort to, in essence, effectively extinguish press freedom.

    AP is like The New York Times, an amazingly cautious organization, but read the comments. I mean, they get it, internally. But, unfortunately, you know, they have divided us against ourselves, and what we’ve undergone, as John Ralston says and as I’ve said many times, is a kind of corporate coup d’état.

    What we are seeing is a system put into place where it’s all propaganda. And anybody who challenges—I mean, look, this constant reference to a shield law is absurd, because they just violated the shield law by not going to court and informing AP of a subpoena but doing it secretly. So, I mean, you’ve got to hand it to the Obama administration. They’re far more clever than their predecessors in the Bush administration, but they’re carrying out exactly the same policy of snuffing out our most basic civil liberties and our most important press freedoms. And that’s because they know what’s coming, and they are going to legally put in a place by which any challenge to the centers of corporate power become ineffectual or impossible.

    Chris Hedges on Last Moments of Press Freedom, Corporate Consolidation of Power & Media Propaganda

  12. October 28, 2014 at 22:43

    Start here and we will be well launched by Nov 4:

    You can only deal with a sick and compromised [captured] media from inside a newly liberated Congress:

    2LT Dennis Morrisseau USArmy [armor – Vietnam era] retired. POB 177 W Pawlet, VT 05775 802 645 9727 [email protected]

  13. Joe Tedesky
    October 28, 2014 at 19:52

    Here is an article written by Chris Hedges which compliments what Robert Parry is saying.

    Here is a link to the Lewis Powell Memo which lays out a plan to get out the conservative word out.

    I have written before how if America were to be so lucky, as to acquire an honest press how this could be a real game changer. The media in the U.S. is nothing more than a mouth piece for big brother. Until this changes everything will remain the same. Where is our Thomas Paine?

    • Abe
      October 28, 2014 at 23:12

      Thank you, J.T., for posting the link to the recent article by Chris Hedges. His principal diagnosis:

      The mass media are plagued by the same mediocrity, corporatism and careerism as the academy, labor unions, the arts, the Democratic Party and religious institutions. They cling to the self-serving mantra of impartiality and objectivity to justify their subservience to power. The press writes and speaks—unlike academics that chatter among themselves in arcane jargon like medieval theologians—to be heard and understood by the public. And for this reason the press is more powerful and more closely controlled by the state. It plays an essential role in the dissemination of official propaganda. But to effectively disseminate state propaganda the press must maintain the fiction of independence and integrity. It must hide its true intentions.

      The mass media, as C. Wright Mills pointed out, are essential tools for conformity. They impart to readers and viewers their sense of themselves. They tell them who they are. They tell them what their aspirations should be. They promise to help them achieve these aspirations. They offer a variety of techniques, advice and schemes that promise personal and professional success. The mass media, as Wright wrote, exist primarily to help citizens feel they are successful and that they have met their aspirations even if they have not. They use language and images to manipulate and form opinions, not to foster genuine democratic debate and conversation or to open up public space for free political action and public deliberation. We are transformed into passive spectators of power by the mass media, which decide for us what is true and what is untrue, what is legitimate and what is not. Truth is not something we discover. It is decreed by the organs of mass communication.

      “The divorce of truth from discourse and action—the instrumentalization of communication—has not merely increased the incidence of propaganda; it has disrupted the very notion of truth, and therefore the sense by which we take our bearings in the world is destroyed,” James W. Carey wrote in “Communication as Culture.”

      Bridging the vast gap between the idealized identities—ones that in a commodity culture revolve around the acquisition of status, money, fame and power, or at least the illusion of it—and actual identities is the primary function of the mass media. And catering to these idealized identities, largely implanted by advertisers and the corporate culture, can be very profitable. We are given not what we need but what we want. The mass media allow us to escape into the enticing world of entertainment and spectacle. News is filtered into the mix, but it is not the primary concern of the mass media. No more than 15 percent of the space in any newspaper is devoted to news; the rest is devoted to a futile quest for self-actualization. The ratio is even more lopsided on the airwaves.

    • Abe
      October 28, 2014 at 23:16

      Hedges continued:

      “This,” Mills wrote, “is probably the basic psychological formula of the mass media today. But, as a formula, it is not attuned to the development of the human being. It is a formula of a pseudo-world which the media invent and sustain.”

      At the core of this pseudo-world is the myth that our national institutions, including those of government, the military and finance, are efficient and virtuous, that we can trust them and that their intentions are good. These institutions can be criticized for excesses and abuses, but they cannot be assailed as being hostile to democracy and the common good. They cannot be exposed as criminal enterprises, at least if one hopes to retain a voice in the mass media.

      Those who work in the mass media, as I did for two decades, are acutely aware of the collaboration with power and the cynical manipulation of the public by the power elites. It does not mean there is never good journalism and that the subservience to corporate power within the academy always precludes good scholarship, but the internal pressures, hidden from public view, make great journalism and great scholarship very, very difficult. Such work, especially if it is sustained, is usually a career killer. Scholars like Norman Finkelstein and journalists like Webb and Assange who step outside the acceptable parameters of debate and challenge the mythic narrative of power, who question the motives and virtues of established institutions and who name the crimes of empire are always cast out.

      The press will attack groups within the power elite only when one faction within the circle of power goes to war with another.

    • Joe Tedesky
      October 29, 2014 at 01:17

      Chris Hedges embarks on a long, ranging discussion with political philosopher and former professor of politics at Princeton University Sheldon Wolin on the state of American democracy and the rise of corporate capitalism.

      Go to end of article hit – here, here, and here – to watch 3 part video.

  14. John
    October 28, 2014 at 18:55

    Thank you for reminding us of the facts, and thank you for your work then and now.
    It would be interesting to see the extent to which money has been persuasive, as opposed to sociology. I imagine that advertising consultants advised that the money would flow only when business and its candidates were portrayed as virtuous. No doubt tests were made, a story biased or suppressed in exchange for a major advertising contract, and soon enough the cashflow improved, and the “good sense” of supporting Reagan’s “feel good” nationalism became good money as well. It didn’t take long under that media consensus for the support of progressivism to disappear among the people as well. The activist students of the 70s now had families and careers to tend, and the next student generation had been trained to hate them. All will be well as long as we all insist that it is well, at least until some new troublemaker reveals more secret wars, or the next financial bubble bursts (the S&L crisis), etc. The generations of reform disappear, but the forces of corruption are always at work with far greater resources.

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