Murdoch, Scaife and CIA Propaganda

Special Report: The rapid expansion of America’s right-wing media began in the 1980s as the Reagan administration coordinated foreign policy initiatives with conservative media executives, including Rupert Murdoch, and then cleared away regulatory hurdles, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The Reagan administration pulled right-wing media executives Rupert Murdoch and Richard Mellon Scaife into a CIA-organized “perception management” operation which aimed Cold War-style propaganda at the American people in the 1980s, according to declassified U.S. government records.

President Reagan meets with publisher Rupert Murdoch, U.S. Information Agency Director Charles Wick, lawyers Roy Cohn and Thomas Bolan in the Oval Office on Jan. 18, 1983. (Photo credit: Reagan presidential library)

President Reagan meets with publisher Rupert Murdoch, U.S. Information Agency Director Charles Wick, lawyer Roy Cohn and his law partner Thomas Bolan in the Oval Office on Jan. 18, 1983. (Photo credit: Reagan presidential library)

Although some records relating to Murdoch remain classified, several documents that have been released indicate that he and billionaire Scaife were considered sources of financial and other support for President Ronald Reagan’s hard-line Central American policies, including the CIA’s covert war in Nicaragua.

A driving force behind creation of Reagan’s extraordinary propaganda bureaucracy was CIA Director William Casey who dispatched one of the CIA’s top covert action specialists, Walter Raymond Jr., to the National Security Council to oversee the project. According to the documents, Murdoch was brought into the operation in 1983 when he was still an Australian citizen and his media empire was much smaller than it is today.

Charles Wick, director of the U.S. Information Agency, arranged at least two face-to-face meetings between Murdoch and Reagan, the first on Jan. 18, 1983, when the administration was lining up private financing for its propaganda campaign, according to records at the Reagan presidential library in Simi Valley, California. That meeting also included lawyer and political operative Roy Cohn and his law partner Thomas Bolan.

The Oval Office meeting between Reagan and Murdoch came just five days after NSC Advisor William Clark noted in a Jan. 13, 1983 memo to Reagan the need for non-governmental money to advance the project. “We will develop a scenario for obtaining private funding,” Clark wrote, as cited in an unpublished draft chapter of the congressional Iran-Contra investigation.

Clark then told the President that “Charlie Wick has offered to take the lead. We may have to call on you to meet with a group of potential donors.”

The documents suggest that Murdoch was soon viewed as a source for that funding. In an Aug. 9, 1983 memo summing up the results of a Casey-organized meeting with five leading ad executives regarding how to “sell” Reagan’s aggressive policies in Central America, Raymond referred to Murdoch as if he already were helping out.

In a memo to Clark, entitled “Private Sector Support for Central American Program,” Raymond criticized a more traditional White House outreach program headed by Faith Whittlesey as “preaching to the converted.”

Raymond told Clark that the new project would involve a more comprehensive approach aimed at persuading a majority of Americans to back Reagan’s Central American policies, which included support for right-wing regimes in Guatemala and El Salvador as well as the Contra rebels fighting the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

“We must move out into the middle sector of the American public and draw them into the ‘support’ column,” Raymond wrote. “A second package of proposals deal with means to market the issue, largely considering steps utilizing public relations specialists or similar professionals to help transmit the message.”

To improve the project’s chances for success, Raymond wrote, “we recommended funding via Freedom House or some other structure that has credibility in the political center. Wick, via Murdoch, may be able to draw down added funds for this effort.”

Raymond included similar information in a separate memo to Wick in which Raymond noted that “via Murdock [sic] may be able to draw down added funds” to support the initiative. (Raymond later told me that he was referring to Rupert Murdoch.)

In a March 7, 1984 memo about the “‘Private Funders’ Project,” Raymond referred to Murdoch again in discussing a request for money from longtime CIA-connected journalist Brian Crozier, who was “looking for private sector funding to work on the question of ‘anti-Americanism’ overseas.”

Raymond wrote: “I am pursuaded [sic] it is a significant long term problem. It is also the kind of thing that Ruppert [sic] and Jimmy might respond positively to. Please look over the stack [of papers from Crozier] and lets [sic] discuss if and when there might be further discussion with our friends.”

Crozier, who died in 2012, had a long history of operating in the shadowy world of CIA propaganda. He was director of Forum World Features, which was set up in 1966 by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which received covert funding from the CIA. Crozier also acknowledged in his memoir keeping some of his best stories for the CIA.

At least one other document related to Murdoch’s work with USIA Director Wick remains classified, according to the National Archives. Murdoch’s News Corp. has not responded to requests for comment about the Reagan-era documents.

Helping Murdoch

Murdoch, who became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1985 to meet a regulatory requirement that U.S. TV stations must be owned by Americans, benefited from his close ties to both U.S. and British officialdom.

On Monday, the UK’s Independent reported that Ed Richards, the retiring head of the British media regulatory agency Ofcom, accused British government representatives of showing favoritism to Murdoch’s companies.

Richards said he was “surprised” by the informality, closeness and frequency of contact between executives and ministers during the failed bid by Murdoch’s News Corp. for the satellite network BSkyB in 2011. The deal was abandoned when it was discovered that journalists at Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid had hacked the phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and others.

“What surprised everyone about it not just me was quite how close it was and the informality of it,” Richards said, confirming what had been widely reported regarding Murdoch’s access  to powerful British politicians dating back at least to the reign of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. The Reagan documents suggest that Murdoch built similarly close ties to leading U.S. politicians in the same era.

In 1983, Murdoch’s rising media empire was still based in Australia with only a few U.S. properties, such as the Star tabloid and the New York Post. But he was eyeing expansion into the U.S. media market. In 1984, he bought a stake in 20th Century Fox and then six Metromedia television stations, which would form the nucleus of Fox Broadcasting Company, which was founded on Oct. 9, 1986.

At the time, Murdoch and other media moguls were lobbying for a relaxation of regulations from the Federal Communications Commission, a goal that Reagan shared. Under FCC Chairman Mark Fowler, the Reagan administration undertook a number of steps favorable to Murdoch’s interests, including increasing the number of TV stations that any single entity could own from seven in 1981 to 12 in 1985.

In 1987, the “Fairness Doctrine,” which required political balance in broadcasting, was eliminated, which enabled Murdoch to pioneer a more aggressive conservatism on his TV network. In the mid-1990s, Murdoch expanded his political reach by founding the neoconservative Weekly Standard in 1995 and Fox News on cable in 1996. At Fox News, Murdoch has hired scores of prominent politicians, mostly Republicans, putting them on his payroll as commentators.

Last decade, Murdoch continued to expand his reach into U.S. mass media, acquiring DirecTV and the financial news giant Dow Jones, including The Wall Street Journal, America’s leading business news journal.

Scaife’s Role

Richard Mellon Scaife exercised his media influence on behalf of Reagan and the conservative cause in a different way. While the scion of the Mellon banking, oil and aluminum fortune did publish a right-wing newspaper in Pittsburgh, the Tribune Review, Scaife mostly served as a financial benefactor for right-wing journalists and think tanks.

Indeed, Scaife was one of the original financiers of what emerged as a right-wing counter-establishment in media and academia, a longstanding goal of key Republicans, including President Richard Nixon who recognized the importance of propaganda as a political weapon.

According to Nixon’s chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, as reported in The Haldeman Diaries, one of Nixon’s pet ideas was to build a network of loyal conservatives in positions of influence. The President was “pushing again on project of building our establishment in press, business, education, etc.,” Haldeman wrote in one entry on Sept. 12, 1970.

Financed by rich conservative foundations and wealthy special interests, Nixon’s brainchild helped tilt politics in favor of the American Right with Richard Mellon Scaife one of the project’s big-money godfathers. By using family foundations, such as Sarah Scaife and Carthage, Scaife joined with other leading right-wing foundations to fund think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation, which Scaife helped launch in 1973.

In 1978, Nixon’s friend and Treasury Secretary William Simon provided more impetus to this growing machine, declaring in his book, Time for Truth: “Funds generated by business … must rush by the multimillion to the aid of liberty … to funnel desperately needed funds to scholars, social scientists, writers and journalists who understand the relationship between political and economic liberty.”

With Reagan’s inauguration in 1981 and Casey’s selection as CIA director Scaife and other right-wing ideologues were in position to merge their private funding with U.S. Government money in pursuit of the administration’s geopolitical goals, including making sure the American people would not break ranks as many did over the Vietnam War.

Building the Operation

On Nov. 4, 1982, Raymond, after his transfer from CIA to the NSC staff but while still a CIA officer, wrote to NSC Advisor Clark about the “Democracy Initiative and Information Programs,” stating that “Bill Casey asked me to pass on the following thought concerning your meeting with Dick Scaife, Dave Abshire [then a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board], and Co.

“Casey had lunch with them today and discussed the need to get moving in the general area of supporting our friends around the world. By this definition he is including both ‘building democracy’ and helping invigorate international media programs. The DCI [Casey] is also concerned about strengthening public information organizations in the United States such as Freedom House.

“A critical piece of the puzzle is a serious effort to raise private funds to generate momentum. Casey’s talk with Scaife and Co. suggests they would be very willing to cooperate. Suggest that you note White House interest in private support for the Democracy initiative.”

In subsequent years, Freedom House emerged as a leading critic of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, which Reagan and Casey were seeking to overthrow by covertly supporting the Contra rebels. Freedom House also became a major recipient of money from the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy, which was founded in 1983 under the umbrella of the Casey-Raymond project.

The role of the CIA in these initiatives was concealed but never far from the surface. A Dec. 2, 1982 note addressed to “Bud,” a reference to senior NSC official Robert “Bud” McFarlane, described a request from Raymond for a brief meeting.  “When he [Raymond] returned from Langley [CIA headquarters], he had a proposed draft letter re $100 M democ[racy]  proj[ect],” the note said.

While Casey pulled the strings on this project, the CIA director instructed White House officials to hide the CIA’s role. “Obviously we here [at CIA] should not get out front in the development of such an organization, nor should we appear to be a sponsor or advocate,” Casey said in one undated letter to then-White House counselor Edwin Meese III as Casey urged creation of a “National Endowment.”

On Jan. 21, 1983, Raymond updated Clark about the project, which also was reaching out to representatives from other conservative foundations, including Les Lenkowsky of Smith-Richardson, Michael Joyce of Olin and Dan McMichael of Mellon-Scaife. “This is designed to develop a broader group of people who will support parallel initiatives consistent with Administration needs and desires,” Raymond wrote.

Bashing Teresa Heinz

One example of how Scaife’s newspaper directly helped the Reagan administration can be seen in clippings from the Tribune-Review that I found in Raymond’s files. On April 21, 1983, the newspaper published a package of stories suggesting illicit left-wing connections among groups opposed to nuclear war.

The articles leave little doubt that Scaife’s newspaper is suggesting that these anti-war activists are communists or communist fellow travelers. One headline reads: “Reds Woo Some U.S. Peace Leaders.”

Another article cites an accusation from one congressman in the 1950s, after hearings on foundation grants “to numerous Communists and Communist-front organizations,” that “Here lies the story of how Communism and Socialism are financed in the U.S. where they get their money.” The 1983 article then asks: “Is history repeating itself?”

Ironically, one of the philanthropists who is singled out in these red-baiting articles is Teresa Heinz, then married to Sen. John Heinz, R-Pennsylvania, who died in a 1991 plane crash. In 1995, Teresa Heinz married Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, who is currently Secretary of State.

The organizational role of Casey and Raymond in this domestic propaganda campaign raised concerns about the legality of having two senior CIA officials participating in a scheme to manage the perceptions of the American people.

Both in internal documents and a deposition to the congressional Iran-Contra committee, Raymond made clear his discomfort about the possible legal violation from his and Casey’s roles. Raymond formally resigned from the CIA in April 1983, so, he said, “there would be no question whatsoever of any contamination of this.”

That sensitivity was also reflected in press guidance prepared in case a reporter noted Raymond’s CIA background and the problems it presented to the “public diplomacy” effort. If someone challenged press reports that asserted “there is no CIA involvement in the Public Diplomacy Program” and then asked “isn’t Walt Raymond, a CIA employee, involved heavily?” the prescribed answer was:

“Walter Raymond is a member of the National Security Council staff. In the past he has worked for Defense, CIA and State. It is true that in the formative stages of the effort, Walt Raymond contributed many useful ideas. It is ironic that he was one of those who was most insistent that there be no CIA involvement in this program in any way.

“Indeed, it is a credit to the Agency that it has stressed throughout that the United States ought to be completely open about the programs it puts in place to assist in the development of democratic institutions and that none of these programs should come under the aegis of the CIA. They do not want to be involved in managing these programs and will not be. We have nothing to hide here.”

If a reporter pressed regarding where Raymond last worked, the response was to be: “He retired from CIA. He is a permanent member of the National Security Council.” And, if pressed about Raymond’s duties, the scripted answer was: “His duties there are classified.” (Raymond’s last job at the CIA was Director of the Covert Action Staff with a specialty in propaganda and disinformation.)

Beyond how Raymond’s “classified duties” contradict the assertion that “we have nothing to hide here,” there was a more deceptive element of the press guidance: it didn’t mention the key role of CIA Director Casey in both organizing and directing the project and it suggested that Raymond’s role had been limited to offering “many useful ideas” when he was the hands-on, day-to-day manager of the operation.

Casey’s Hidden Hand

Casey’s secret role in the propaganda scheme continued well into 1986, as Raymond continued to send progress reports to his old boss, even as Raymond fretted in one memo about the need “to get [Casey] out of the loop.”

The “public diplomacy” operation was “the kind of thing which [Casey] had a broad catholic interest in,” Raymond shrugged during his Iran-Contra deposition. He then offered the excuse that Casey undertook this apparently illegal interference in domestic politics “not so much in his CIA hat, but in his adviser to the president hat.”

Though the Casey-Raymond teamwork ended with the exposure of the Iran-Contra scandal in late 1986 and with Casey’s death on May 6, 1987, its legacy continued with Scaife and other rich right-wingers funding ideological media that protected the flanks of President Reagan, his successor President George H.W. Bush and other Republicans of that era.

For instance, Scaife helped fund the work of Steven Emerson, who played a key role in “discrediting” investigations into whether Reagan’s 1980 campaign had sabotaged President Jimmy Carter’s hostage negotiations with Iran to gain an edge in that pivotal election. [See’s “Unmasking October Surprise Debunker.”]

Scaife also helped finance the so-called “Arkansas Project” that pushed hyped and bogus scandals to damage the presidency of Bill Clinton. [See’s “Starr-gate: Cracks on the Right.”]

Walter Raymond Jr. died on April 16, 2003. Richard Mellon Scaife died on July 4, 2014. But Rupert Murdoch, now 83, remains one of the most powerful media figures on earth, continuing to wield unparalleled influence through his control of Fox News and his vast media empire that stretches around the globe.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and 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..

12 comments for “Murdoch, Scaife and CIA Propaganda

  1. January 1, 2015 at 17:26

    This is another of the many well-researched and well-written exposes Robert Parry so ably puts together. The deliberate program to control the public’s understanding of world events through media manipulation and the details of how the CIA and private fortunes came together are shocking. It’s interesting that about this same time (1986) the General Electric Corp. bought RCA Corp. which owned NBC and other media outlets, thus ushering in a new wave of ownership of newspapers and television by major corporate entities with revenue streams from military and weaponry production. There was much concern expressed at the time that this would result in a skewed picture of reality for the majority of Americans that get their news from these sources. Looking back, those concerns were clearly right on the money.

  2. Hillary
    January 1, 2015 at 13:15

    The Iraq war has been called Rupert’s War by many as a result of the roll his media empire played .
    Rupert and news “corpse” have been referred to as the real Australian government.
    Rupert Murdoch: World Freedom Dependent on Israel’s Future …

  3. Peter Loeb
    January 1, 2015 at 07:26


    Like so many of his liberal/progressive writer on the left, Parry eagerly joins his
    brother and sister writers in blaming Republicans. There is no suggestion at
    all that recent Republican Administrations and other “rightest” hawks have championed rightward pulls. It is extremely important that the favorite enemies have not been alone. Not at all.

    For earlier evaluation from a Palestinian perspective, Naseer H. Aruri’s brief
    work DISHONEST BROKER… is essential. It does not deal only with Republican
    “enemies lists” such as Nixon, Reagan , Bush I, Bush II. Over a period of 35 years
    prior to Obama (the book was published before Obama came to office) one
    sees clearly the results of Carter, Bill Clinton and others. The development of
    power relationships with Israel in its militaristic, colonial adventures are made clear. Bill Clinton takes the prize sharing it with George H. Bush.

    There are almost no non-hawks currently being mentioned from any political
    party for 2016. The record so far of Hillary Clinton in these respects is chilling.
    Perhaps that explains her focus on her gender, on domestic politics , not foreign
    policy where her record is established. The “progressives'” preference for
    Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts, offers no hope at all. Election to
    state office in Massachusetts without AIPAC (Israeli lobby in the US) support
    is inconceivable regardless of political party or place within that party (right, left
    or center). After all, the Obama Administration in its budget for 2015 continues
    to allocate over 3 BILLION dollars per year to Israel despite internationaql and
    US law. No “condolences” were offered to the 2,200 Palestinians murdered with
    US-Israeli weaponry. Aruri examines pre-Obama types of aid in his book (op. cit.).

    —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  4. paul wichmann
    January 1, 2015 at 04:51

    They can puke piles of propaganda on US, and try to make of perception whatever they like. The other side of the equal sign (=) calls for a gull and unconscious public. It worked. And works. And will.

    • Eddie
      January 1, 2015 at 12:15

      PW – you make a point that I’ve brought up here before… that the right-wing negative machinations in this country are now to the point that they’re FAR from subtle and are easily recognized by a majority of the populace (according to various opinion polls regarding political subjects, like the PEW polls, etc) but too often an apathetic 30-40% of the electorate don’t even vote, so all it takes is 20-30% of the remaining potential votes to swing the election to the right.
      After ~50 yrs of political observation/inquiry, I’ve come to believe that the default political condition of the majority of citizens in this country is that of a very superficial analysis of politics (bumper sticker slogans, political ads, listening to rant-radio, etc) with a historical racist/imperialistic/huckster core covered by a religious/peace-loving patina for prevention of self-realization. Once in awhile things will get bad enough (i.e.; the Depression, or the Vietnam War) where enough people/media will politically move left, but when that immediate problem is resolved, the majority of the US public will revert to a ‘God/mother/country/Manifest Destiny/Free Enterprise’ type of zeitgeist. In that type of environment, I’m skeptical (sadly so) that progressive/humanistic ideals can make any significant traction, even if somehow the right-wing media was ratcheted-back. That reactionary media gives too many people a rationale to be indifferent to the plight of others, which they welcome as a convenient time-saver.

  5. Zachary Smith
    January 1, 2015 at 00:49

    I started reading this long essay, but found that I can’t handle it tonight. But I did quickly skim it, and some unexpected thoughts came into my head. Not very nice ones.

    At the risk of sounding like a total nut, I’d like to suggest that Mr. Robert Parry consider investing in an old car. Old enough that it’s not infested with computerized systems. It would cost something, but a rebuilt and well-maintained 15-year-old machine would get you there, and might be a good tradeoff for new car smell. The peace of mind would be worth something.

    There are just too many nasty tricks an evildoer can pull with modern automobiles.

    The case of Michael Hastings still bothers me, and IF he was murdered, the people who did it wouldn’t hesitate to do something similar again.

    • Joe Tedesky
      January 1, 2015 at 02:28

      Zachary, your comments hear prompted me to do what you are so famous for…I googled “how to shutdown your car’s computer if hacked’. After some quick reads my advice would be to contact a local computer science student, or better said, find a good geek. I am not just worried about Mr Parry, but many others as well. Just read, Paul Craig Roberts, or Paul Street, should I go on? Yes, Michael Hastings was robbed from us. For this we are all at a great loss. Let us hope that someday the truth will not only be told, but something good will be done to make this a better world.

      To Zachary, and to you all have a great 2015! You are all worth listening to (even if we don’t always agree), and Zachary keep up your detailed comments.

  6. Gregory Kruse
    December 31, 2014 at 22:03

    This timeline of hyenic activity should be written about all through January.

  7. mark
    December 31, 2014 at 16:55

    It seems a smart layer could file numerous lawsuits against Murdoch and his propagandizing “news” organizations, for their part in enabling and contributing to war crimes which led to wrongful death or injury to people around the world – including the intentional promotion and criminal invasion of 2003 Iraq.

  8. Joe Tedesky
    December 31, 2014 at 16:09

    Where this article states, “Scaife and other right-wing ideologues were in position to merge their private funding with U.S. Government money in pursuit of the administration’s geopolitical goals, including making sure the American people would not break ranks as many did over the Vietnam War”, well this is just flat out wrong. Why, should any American taxpayer be subject to funding a particular political ideology? Unless we were all to suddenly wake up one morning, and were to start thinking alike, then how would this taxpayer supported funding be fair? Murdoch and his right wing friends should be made to reimburse us all, and I mean pay back U.S. taxpayers every last cent these crooks have pirated.

  9. paul wichmann
    December 31, 2014 at 14:46

    And so it began; if you’d contend it began with Nixon, then with Reagan it blossomed.
    Really shocking, sickening.

    • January 3, 2015 at 02:41

      Thank You! Mr. Parry.
      John Q. Publius in the United States has been dumbed down and info-deprived into imbecility where the Village Idiot now stands out as the Village Sage.
      US Politics has replaced the Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy Show as No 1 on the Public Infotainment Parade. They are the public rage, and no one even knows the names of the script writers.

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