Unreality TV,

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

Unreality TV

Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Propaganda Minister

"Truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."

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 opinion.

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 American households."

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 the Congress.""

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 these arrangements.

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 cover purposes."

... 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 it hits."

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 General.

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 the terrorists."

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 best-selling books.

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 reported."

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 businesses.

"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.

Bill Moyers

"... 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 and indirectly."

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.


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