The Mighty Wurlitzer,
Hijacking Public Media
excerpted from the book
Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders
and the People Who Fight Back
by Amy Goodman and David Goodman
Hyperion, 2006, hardcover
Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister
"Truth is the mortal enemy of the
lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of
Under the Bush administration, at least twenty federal agencies
I have spent $250 million creating hundreds of fake television
news segments that are sent to local stations.' State Department
official Patricia Harrison (she became president of the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting in 2005) told Congress in 2003 that the
Bush administration considers its "good news" segments
to be "powerful strategic tools" for influencing public
The Government Accountability Office,
the investigative arm of Congress, had a different term for it:
"covert propaganda."' In four different reports issued
in 2005, the GAO detailed how the Bush administration had broken
the law. The administration's response: The White House instructed
the heads of all government agencies in a March 2005 letter to
disregard the GAO findings on covert propaganda.'
The Bush administration intensified its
efforts to disseminate domestic propaganda after 9 / 11. At that
time, 'White House officials wanted positive news coverage of
its so-called war on terror. When the US. media wasn't sounding
sufficiently enthusiastic, Bush operatives decided to create their
own news. Officially, they said they wanted, according to the
Times, "to counter charges of American imperialism by generating
accounts that emphasized American efforts to liberate and rebuild
Afghanistan and Iraq."'
The State Department knew just where to
turn: It already had an Office of BS (officially, the Office of
Broadcast Services). Starting in early 2002, working closely with
the White House, about thirty editors at the Office of BS-who
previously spent their time distributing videos from press conferences-began
churning out feature news reports promoting the Bush administration's
accomplishments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and promoting the case
for war. The videos cleverly disguised their origins, offering
journalist-like narration and sign-offs.
... The State Department has distributed
these videos around the United States and the world. By early
2005, the Office of BS had produced fifty-nine such fake news
segments. The Pentagon's Army and Air Force Hometown News Service
is also in the business of manufacturing news. In 2004, it created
fifty stories that were broadcast 236 times, reaching 41 million
In one of the GAO investigations into the government's fake news
program, it concluded that video news releases from the Office
of National Drug Control and Policy "constitute covert propaganda
and violated the publicity or propaganda prohibition."
That's because the US. government is barred
from using taxpayer funds to do its own PR. According to a federal
statute cited by the GAO, "No part of any appropriation contained
in this or any other Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda
purposes within the United States not heretofore authorized by
Another federal law governing propaganda
dates to 1948. The Smith-Mundt Act forbids the government from
disseminating propaganda within the United States, only permitting
it abroad through such outlets as the Voice of America. Congress
passed the law to ensure that a US. government agency could not
brainwash citizens as Adolf Hitler had done in Germany. American
citizens have no idea that their local TV stations are now fulfilling
the same role.
...When not passing off government propaganda
as news, many TV stations are repackaging corporate PR as news.
The Center for Media and Democracy tracked how television newsrooms
used thirty-six video news releases (VNRs) that were produced
by three PR firms for a variety of corporations, including General
Motors, Pfizer, and Capital One. Seventy-seven stations aired
the VNRs ninety-eight times without disclosing to viewers that
the material was produced by the companies. The VNRs typically
promoted products in the course of the segment. According to the
research, "Without exception, television stations actively
disguised the sponsored content as their own reporting. In almost
all cases, stations failed to balance the clients' messages with
independently gathered footage or basic journalistic research.
More than one-third of the time, stations aired the prepackaged
VNR in its entirety."
In January 2005, USA Today revealed that conservative columnist
Armstrong Williams had been paid $240,000 by the Department of
Education to tout the virtues of the No Child Left Behind Act.
The deal stipulated that Williams "would regularly comment
on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts and would work "with
African-American newspapers to place stories and commentary on
NCLB." Williams would also provide "department officials"
with the option to appear as studio guests to discuss NCLB and
other important education reform issues."
... In short, Armstrong Williams offered
to use his cover as a journalist to be a one-stop propaganda shop
for the Bush administration.
... Williams delivered on his promise
to prostitute himself. He penned sycophantic articles gushing
that the No Child Left Behind Act "has provided more funds
to poor children than any other education bill in this country's
history," and that Education Secretary Rod Paige "has
long been at the forefront of the movement to increase educational
options for underprivileged students.""
The GAO investigated the Williams case
and once again determined that the Education Department violated
the law by disseminating "covert propaganda.
The Mighty Wurlitzer
Malcolm X (1925-1965)
The media's the most powerful entity on
earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to
make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control
the minds of the masses.
The cozy relationship between the corporate media and the US.
government has not been left to chance. America's top journalists
once worked closely and unapologetically with the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA), with some even on the spy agency's payroll.
Frank Wisner, head of the CIA's covert
action division in the early 1950s, called it his "mighty
Wurlitzer": 'Almost at the push of a button," as the
New York Times described it, "the Wurlitzer became the means
for orchestrating, in almost any language anywhere in the world,
whatever tune the CIA was in the mood to hear."
From the 1950s to the 1970s, more than 400 American l journalists
secretly carried out assignments for the CIA. This program, referred
to as Operation Mockingbird in some accounts, reached its peak
in the 1960s when the CIA's propaganda network included more than
800 news and public information organizations and individuals,
according to a 1977 investigative series in the Times.' The United
States was in the grip of the Cold War, and the top managers of
the leading news organizations enlisted as soldiers in battle.
While American politicians ridiculed the notion of state-sponsored
media in places such as the Soviet Union, American journalists
became willing agents of their own government. Until the early
1970s, hardly a peep of surprise or protest was uttered about
In an article in Rolling Stone in 1977,
reporter Carl Bernstein, who with Bob Woodward had exposed for
the Washington Post the Watergate scandal that brought down President
Nixon, detailed decades of close cooperation between the CIA and
the media. Among the chief executives who helped the CIA were
William Paley of CBS, Henry Luce of Time, Arthur Sulzberger of
the New York Times, Barry Bingham Sr. of the Louisville Courier-Journal,
and James Copley of the Copley News Service. The leading TV networks,
including ABC and NBC, and the wire services-AP, UPI, Reuters,
along with Hearst Newspapers, Scripps Howard, Newsweek, the Miami
Herald, and the Saturday Evening Post all had dealings with the
spy agency. The CIA's most valuable associations were with the
New York Times, CBS, and Time Inc.'
Collaboration with the CIA was so pervasive and routine that many
reporters just figured it was part of their job. CIA director
Allen Dulles instituted a "debriefing" procedure for
American foreign correspondents. Upon return to the United States,
correspondents would routinely offer their notes and impressions
to CIA officials-who would often meet reporters at the ship docks.
... CBS was the CIA's preferred TV network.
In the fifties and sixties, CBS correspondents would join the
CIA's top brass for annual private dinners and briefings. CBS
owner William S. Paley and CIA director Allen Dulles personally
established the close cooperation between the network and the
Agency. Among the arrangements was that CBS provided the CIA with
news film, including outtakes. In addition, Frank Kearns, a reporter
for CBS-TV from 1958 to 1971, and CBS stringer Austin Goodrich
were both undercover CIA employees who were hired in arrangements
approved by Paley. In 1976, when CBS correspondent Daniel Schorr
leaked the contents of a suppressed congressional report about
CIA and FBI activities in the media and subsequently refused to
reveal his source, Paley was furious and reportedly wanted him
fired; Schorr ultimately resigned from CBS.
Newsweek was also a shill for the government.
The magazine had several stringers who it knew were CIA contract
employees, and the CIA "occasionally used the magazine for
... In 1973, CIA director William Colby
revealed that he had "some three dozen" American journalists
"on the CIA payroll," including five working for "general-circulation
news organizations." In 1976, an unpublished report of the
House Select Committee on Intelligence chaired by Rep. Otis Pike
revealed that at least fifteen news organizations were still providing
cover for CIA operatives."
From the 1950s to the 1970s, the CIA owned or subsidized more
than fifty newspapers, radio stations, news services, periodicals,
and other media, mostly overseas. Some of these were set up to
disseminate propaganda, while others were intended to provide
a journalistic cover for covert operations. At least a dozen full-time
CIA agents were employed by American news organizations, often
with the knowledge of their top management. Another dozen or so
foreign news organizations were infiltrated by paid CIA agents,
and at least twenty-two American news organizations had employed
American journalists who were also working for the CIA. About
a dozen American publishing houses printed more than one thousand
books that were produced or subsidized by the CIA.
When asked in 1976 whether the CIA had
ever told foreign journalists, working as its paid agents, what
to write, former CIA director William Colby replied, "Oh,
sure, all the time."
The CIA is prohibited by law from disseminating
propaganda in the United States. But even before the Internet
age, the CIA knew that the sheer breadth of its disinformation
operations would mean that false or planted stories would appear
in US. media outlets. This was hardly a deterrent, as the times
revealed in 1977:
The CIA accepts, as an unavoidable casualty
of its propaganda battles, the fact that some of the news that
reaches . American readers and viewers is tainted with what the
Russians call "disinformation." The agency has even
coined terms to describe the phenomenon: blowback, or replay,
or domestic fallout ....
A 1967 CIA directive stated simply that
"fallout in the United States from a foreign publication
which we support is inevitable and consequently permissible."
Or as one succinct former CIA man put it, "it hits where
Some former agency employees said in interviews,
however, that they believed that apart from unintended blowback,
some CIA propaganda efforts, especially during the Vietnam War,
had been carried out with a view toward their eventual impact
in the United States.
And although nearly all of the American
journalists employed by the CIA in years past appear to have been
used for the collection of intelligence or the support of existing
intelligence-gathering operations, a few cases emerged in which
such agents became, knowingly or otherwise, channels of disinformation
to the American public.
Hijacking Public Media
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which disburses
about $400 million per year for public television and public radio
networks such as National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting
System (PBS), was established in 1967. "In authorizing CPB,
Congress clearly intended that noncommercial television and radio
in America, even though supported by Federal funds, must be absolutely
free from any Federal government interference beyond mandates
in the legislation,"' act according to the CPB Inspector
What Fox News is to TV and the Washington Times is to newspapers,
the Bush regime has hoped to make of public broadcasting: just
another outlet for government spin.
... The [Broadcast Board of Governors]
BBG oversees all nonmilitary US. government broadcasting to foreign
countries. This includes the Voice of America and a variety of
US. foreign propaganda outlets, including the anti-Castro Radio
and TV Marti, the Arabic satellite TV station Alhurra, and the
Farsi language Radio Farda. It is illegal for these networks to
broadcast inside the United States because of prohibitions against
disseminating domestic propaganda. The secretary of state is a
member of the BBG board, confirming the essential purpose of these
outlets as instruments of US. foreign policy.
President G W Bush, September 2001
"Either you are with us or are with
Bill Moyers has been an icon of American journalism for the last
three decades. He was one of the organizers of the Peace Corps,
was special assistant to Lyndon Johnson, a publisher of Newsday,
senior correspondent for CBS News, produced numerous groundbreaking
shows on public television, has won more than thirty Emmys, nine
Peabodys, three George Polk Awards, and is the author of three
Since retiring from NOW with Bill Moyers
in 2005, Moyers has been speaking out forcefully in defense of
journalism in general, and public broadcasting in particular.
He challenged Kenneth Tomlinson to debate him on PBS; the former
CPB head declined. In June 2005, in the thick of the right-wing
attacks against him, Bill Moyers spoke on Democracy Now!
Moyers observed that packing the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting with partisans is both mistaken and unprecedented.
"All the attacks on public broadcasting in the past have
come from outside," he said. "They've come from the
Nixon White House, from Newt Gingrich when he was Speaker of the
House, and they've been rebuffed because the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting was led by principled Democrats and Republicans who
took seriously their job of resisting pressure from Congress and
the White House to influence public broadcasting.
"Now this is an inside job. Kenneth
Tomlinson is there as an ally of Karl Rove to help make sure that
public broadcasting doesn't report the news that they don't want
Moyers noted that CPB president Patricia
Harrison and Kenneth Tomlinson "both would like to see public
broadcasting be an arm of government propaganda-in particular,
the administration's propaganda." The veteran newsman accused
Republican operatives of having "intimidated the mainstream
media so that you don't get much reporting of what is contrary
to the official view of reality." Their dream is to have
"state-manipulated media: media that may not be owned by
the state, but is responsive to the state." He says that
Tomlinson, as overseer of the US. government-backed Voice of America,
"thinks like a propagandist."
[Bill] Moyers concedes now, "Public broadcasting has failed
in many respects. We've not been enough of an alternative. We
need a greater variety of voices on public broadcasting: conservative,
liberal, and beyond conservative and liberal. But it's still the
best alternative we have for providing the American people with
something other than what is driven by commercials, corporations,
and the desire constantly to sell, sell, sell."
But public broadcasting is more closely
tied than ever to traditional corporate backers. Public radio
stations now get 18 percent of their revenues from businesses,
and 11 percent comes from government. That's a sharp reversal
from 1980, when nearly one-third of funding for public radio stations
came from the federal government, and just 8 percent came from
"There were two major scholarly studies in the 1990s that
showed that 90 percent of all the people who appear on public
broadcasting represent elites: elite corporations, political elites,
and journalistic elites," said Moyers. "They do not
represent consumers, environmentalists, ordinary people, people
of color out across the country.
"... I think we are in danger of
losing our democracy because of the domination, the monopoly of
power being exercised by huge economic interests, both directly
Richard Reeves, journalist and historian
"What do you mean by real news? Real news is the news we
need to keep our freedom."
... we're not getting from the mainstream press or the right-wing
press the news we need to keep our freedoms.