You have heard that Sweden is hunting a ”submarine” and that it is ”presumed to be Russian”. Here is an example, Financial Times of October 21 – which incidentally also announces that the Swedish Prime Minister vows to increase defence spending.
Not the slightest evidence
There are only three problems with this:
1) There is not the slightest evidence of there being anything military, neither that it is a submarine nor that, whatever the object might be, it is Russian.
2) Even with CNN, BBC and AlJazeera this is nothing but speculative low-grade yellow press journalism. This is possible in the field of defence, security and peace because much less is required of journalists when they write about these matters than when they write about, say, domestic politics, economics, sports, books or food and wine. In these fields you are expected to have some knowledge and media consumers are able to check.
3) It serves other purposes than bringing you information: either to increase further the negative image of Russia, push Sweden into full NATO membership – see the remarkable offer by NATOs former Allied Supreme Commander, Stavridis – for NATO to come and help Sweden – or to scare the Swedes into feeling that it is necessary to pay even more to the Swedish military (a mechanism also called fearology).
Virtually every aspect of the media hype is based on prejudices instead of interest-based analysis and on partial and paid expertise that follows the ‘party line’. Russia has ‘denied’ it is there; Holland has ‘dismissed’ that its submarine should be there.
With one or two exceptions, all Swedish and international media have avoided asking: Could it be something else but a sub and somebody else but the Russians – or nothing at all?
The alleged-ness of it all is good enough to pass for objective reporting in the – alleged – free media.
From Swedish defence force to farce
Worse, the Swedish military has already made a fool of itself – not to be expected given the fairly large resources it has at its disposal.
It has sold off helicopters it now dearly needs.
It’s been – at least officially – relying on tips from ordinary citizens and one wonders where the intelligence (in more than one sense of that word) is.
A suspicion that a (Russian) special forces man had gone on land turned out to be an Swedish pensioner out fishing.
It has published a blurred photo of a wave-covered ‘object’ to be seen far out through some trees and indicated wrongly where that photo was taken.
One indeed wonders whether this farcical performance is made to show that it is so helpless that it must have large resources.
The more relevant consideration would be: How on earth can such amateurism be so easily accepted by the government, media and the people – and even used as an argument for what the PM has just announced?
Or to put it crudely: What does the Swedes get for their tax money?
Sweden is not a helpless pawn in the game
Sweden with a population of roughly 9 million is # 33 on the world list of military expenditures, spending US $ 6,2 billion per year. That is US $ 657 per capita, # 17 in the world.
Russia spends US$ 403 per capita and its overall military expenditures is 8% of NATO’s.
Sweden, thus, is not a helpless pawn in some game. If its military isn’t able to do better when it is really needed, someone should be made responsible.
Is it Russian?
If there is something out there, is it likely to be Russian? Not very likely.
Moscow knows very well that if a Russian submarine was found and brought up to the surface, it would mean a huge boost for those in Sweden and elsewhere who would like to see Sweden as a full NATO member. That is not in Russia’s interest.
But of course, the Russians could play a high-risk game in these waters with some NATO subs or be plain foolish. It can’t be excluded – but it isn’t very likely that the object is Russian.
If it Russian, Sweden itself may anyhow have an interest in not officially finding anything – to keep the Russians in the dark about how much it knows and whether or not there already is a NATO assistance in this case. In both cases we are likely to never be told what it was all about.
Could it be from NATO?
Could it be from a NATO country? If so, we’ll also never know that.
The Swedish Chief of Staff has said that if something is found it would be shot at to come up to the surface. But it’s unthinkable that Sweden, if it knew an object to be from a NATO country – would a) shoot at it and b) tell the world that it knew.
After all, most violations of the Swedish air space has been known since the 1980s to be done by NATO fighters but it’s basically only when Russian fighters come near or violate that the Swedish defence establishment leaks it or the media are interested in it.
Sweden isn’t a neutral country today, if it ever were.
Could NATO have an interest in these waters? In the wake of the Ukraine crisis we are back to a kind of Cold War situation and NATO has moved its military positions forward in various ways and held a steady focus on the Baltic States.
So, yes, NATO could be in Swedish waters with or without the knowledge or consent of the Swedes; it could be roaming around to check on the Russians simply because tension has built up.
It could be placing sonars or whatever devices for future emergencies – while not wanting Sweden to know that it considers Sweden so close to NATO that it can just as well be used.
And if so, Sweden would rather not be told. Clearly Sweden could not officially endorse a NATO submarine presence on its territory as part of Anti-Submarine Warfare or planning for future war with Russia. Both parties know that.
My concluding prediction is therefore rather simple: for the above reasons the Swedish military will soon call off the whole thing and the affair will have served its purpose – precisely by not stating what it was, who it was or why it was. Or if it was.
What the purpose of the event may be remains to be revealed at some point in the future. Or perhaps never if – the purpose was fearology for increased militarisation.
Somebody somewhere knows what’s going on. And they put citizens’ security at risk for purposes they would never tell you.
Radoslaw Sikorski — the speaker of the Polish Parliament and that nation’s former foreign minister — was forced to apologize after claiming that he overheard Vladimir Putin in 2008 suggest that Ukraine should be divided between Russia and Poland.
A bombshell report published by Politico Magazine over the weekend called “Putin’s Coup” alleged that Sikorski heard that the Russian president told Donald Tusk, then the Polish prime minister, that Poland should “become participants in the divide of Ukraine” during a Polish delegation’s 2008 visit to Moscow.
“He wanted us to become participants in this partition of Ukraine… This was one of the first things that Putin said to my prime minister, Donald Tusk, when he visited Moscow,” Politico’s Ben Judah quoted Sikorski as saying following an interview that formed the basis of the Sunday article.
“He (Putin) went on to say Ukraine is an artificial country and that Lwow is a Polish city and why don’t we just sort it out together.”
“We made it very, very clear to them – we wanted nothing to do with this,” Sikorski went on.
On Monday, Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said that, if Putin did suggest as much, then that would be “scandalous.”
On Tuesday, however, Sikorski found himself in a scandalous situation himself and had to respond to multiple accusations that he made up the conversation between Putin and Tusk. The Russian president’s spokesman labeled the alleged remark as “utter nonsense,” and Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told Russia’s Gazeta.ru the report “looks like total tripe.”
Responding to a mounting backlash, Sikorski said over Twitter that the interview with Judah was “not authorized” and that “Some of the words have been over-interpreted.” However the Politico journalist was fast to remind Mr. Sikorski that in the US members of the press do not “authorize” interviews. Judah also said to the Polish broadcaster TVN24 that he was “not sure what Sikorski had in mind” when he said some of his comments had been “over-interpreted.”
On Tuesday, Sikorski was confronted at a press conference by Polish journalists, demanding clarifications regarding his remarks. However, the ex-foreign minister was vague about whether or not he made the remarks published by Politico. Before long Sikorski admitted that he never personally heard of Putin offering to divide Ukraine, then refused to go into more details or answer additional questions from the media.
This awkward press conference infuriated even Sikorski’s fellow party members, and Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz publicly lashed at him.
“I will not tolerate this kind of behavior. I will not tolerate this kind of standards that Speaker Sikorski tried to present at today’s (news) conference,” Kopacz said, according to the Associated Press.
After that, Sikorski called in a second press conference, where he changed his position once again. He said Tusk and Putin never met during a bilateral meeting in Moscow in 2008 as he originally had suggested and the scandalous remarks were made later that year at a NATO summit in Bucharest. Additionally Sikorski apologized for putting both the former and current Polish PM in an “awkward position.”
“I apologize for the awkwardness, which took place this morning,” Poland’s TVN 24 quoted Sikorski as saying. “Especially as a former journalist, I never avoided contact with the media.”
However, Sikorski might be forced to change his version of history once again. According to the official NATO schedule of Putin’s meetings from the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, the Russian leader and his Polish counterpart didn’t hold any bilateral meetings in Romania either.
German BND’s “evidence” that E. Ukrainian rebels are behind the MH17 crash is an attempt to muddle the waters and to throw more propagandistic mud at Russia’s door rather than to find the truth, foreign affairs expert Srdja Trifkovic told RT.
Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND has blamed rebel forces in east Ukraine for the MH17 plane crash in July, Der Spiegel reported. According to the weekly magazine the BND has “ample evidence”, including satellite images that the militia forces in east Ukraine used the BUK missile system to bring down the Malaysian passenger plane. However, so far the intelligence agency has not made any of that “evidence” public.
RT: Well, if Germany has this evidence, why doesn’t it make it public?
Srdja Trifkovic: This is the obvious question. Actually, several questions come to mind. First of all, if Germany has satellite images that point in this direction, then Germany must have obtained those images from someone else, presumably the US. So why should the US use the German BND service [Federal Intelligence Service] as a conduit for presentation and presumably interpretation of the data which it, the US, had obtained in the first place. This seems to me like another disinformation operation because why should the BND be called upon to come to any conclusive evidence or indeed conclusions about the MH17 affair if the Dutch have two independent investigations going, and if most of the citizens and most of the countries affected were in fact the Netherlands, Malaysia and Australia.
RT: There’s an official international investigation underway. Why not share these findings with it?
ST: Because the obvious target in this case is yet again Russia and pro-Russians in the east of [Ukraine] and not the establishment of the truth. Because after all as we have seen with incomplete, inconclusive and ambiguous findings of the interim investigation six weeks ago, it was immediately misinterpreted as pointing into the direction of the pro-Russians or of the Russian-supplied weapon system. So I think we should really treat anything that comes from the Western intelligence agencies, the BND included, as not as an attempt to find the truth, but as an attempt to muddle the waters and to throw more propagandistic mud at the Russian door.
RT: So far, the investigators have only made very basic conclusions, as seen in the report they had released. How could Germany have already reached such a definite conclusion?
ST: Well, first of all, the question is whether Germany really did come with a fairly definite conclusion or whether this is an exercise in disinformation or propaganda. I think it is the latter because whatever the German intelligence, the Germans, might have had at their disposal to conclude that the rebels obtained the Buk system from the Ukrainian base, that there were no Ukrainian jet fighters in the vicinity of the aircraft and so on, could have come only from US satellite sources, not from Germany’s own which it doesn’t have. So the fact that it was made public, and the fact that the information was presented allegedly to the German parliamentary subcommittee and not to the official investigating body, to my mind, simply means that the MH17 issue is being kept on the backburner as a propagandistic tool of various Western powers to be deployed if and when needed and then to be put back on the backburner again. This is how it is being treated from the very beginning when unsubstantiated allegations started flying regardless of the fact that there was no real evidence. It was really interesting how some journalists misinterpreted the interim findings six weeks ago to support the thesis about a missile because even though it is stated high-[energy] objects which could have been consistent with machine-gun fire with small caliber, cannon-fire from an aircraft – it was still taken to mean… [it] was a missile. So I don’t think the BND story deserves a great deal of attention until and unless we see raw intelligence upon which it is based and until we see where that intelligence come from and with what purpose it was presented.
RT: Why hasn’t anyone else come up with their own conclusions like this?
ST: I’m afraid that at the end of the day for the propagandistic purposes it will come to the same thing – “maybe Russia was not directly involved but by virtue of supporting the rebels in this Russia bears the ultimate responsibility” or something along those lines. Obviously the propaganda of the first couple of days after the incident… could not be taken seriously. I simply think that this is a little bit more sophisticated in a way: ultimately still a pointing finger is at Russia and at the self-defense forces in the east, even though formal and direct Russian involvement is no longer acknowledged… Nevertheless, if it is the rebels and since Russia allegedly is supporting them, then Russia will bear the ultimate responsibility. What is interesting is that the Germans are so categorical about the absence of the Sukhoi in the vicinity of the Malaysian airliner even through there is ample evidence that indeed there was one at least from the Russian sources. Since the Germans simply do not have the satellite imagery and the electronic resources comparable to those of the US, for the BND to come up with such a compulsive story means either that they are making it out as a plot, or else that they have been presented raw intelligence by the US and they are coming to their own conclusions because the Americans themselves prefer not to be the ones to do so. Either way it doesn’t look like something aimed at establishing the truth and the full facts of the case of MH17.
SHOW NOTES AND MP3: http://www.corbettreport.com/?p=11947
When Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 went down on July 17, 2014, we were immediately inundated with base propaganda trying to convince us that the shootdown could be traced back to the Kremlin. But what was this rush to judgement based on? What have we learned about the crash since then? Why has MH17 completely disappeared from the news cycle? And who really stood to benefit from the disaster?
Jeff Leen, the Washington Post’s assistant managing editor for investigations, begins his renewed attack on the late Gary Webb’s Contra-cocaine reporting with a falsehood.
Leen insists that there is a journalism dictum that “an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof.” But Leen must know that it is not true. Many extraordinary claims, such as assertions in 2002-03 that Iraq was hiding arsenals of WMDs, were published as flat-fact without “extraordinary proof” or any real evidence at all, including by Leen’s colleagues at the Washington Post.
A different rule actually governs American journalism – that journalists need “extraordinary proof” if a story puts the U.S. government or an “ally” in a negative light but pretty much anything goes when criticizing an “enemy.”
If, for instance, the Post wanted to accuse the Syrian government of killing civilians with Sarin gas or blame Russian-backed rebels for the shoot-down of a civilian airliner over Ukraine, any scraps of proof – no matter how dubious – would be good enough (as was the actual case in 2013 and 2014, respectively).
However, if new evidence undercut those suspicions and shifted the blame to people on “the U.S. side” – say, the Syrian rebels and the Ukrainian government – then the standards of proof suddenly skyrocket beyond reach. So what you get is not “responsible” journalism – as Leen tries to suggest – but hypocrisy and propaganda. One set of rules for the goose and another set for the gander.
The Contra-Cocaine Case
Or to go back to the Contra-cocaine scandal that Brian Barger and I first exposed for the Associated Press in 1985: If we were writing that the leftist Nicaraguan Sandinista government – the then U.S. “enemy” – was shipping cocaine to the United States, any flimsy claim would have sufficed. But the standard of proof ratcheted up when the subject of our story was cocaine smuggling by President Ronald Reagan’s beloved Contras.
In other words, the real dictum is that there are two standards, double standards, something that a careerist like Leen knows in his gut but doesn’t want you to know. All the better to suggest that Gary Webb was guilty of violating some noble principle of journalism.
But Leen is wrong in another way – because there was “extraordinary proof” establishing that the Contras were implicated in drug trafficking and that the Reagan administration was looking the other way.
When Barger and I wrote the first story about Contra-cocaine trafficking almost three decades ago, we already had “extraordinary proof,” including documents from Costa Rica, statements by Contras and Contra backers, and admissions from officials in the Drug Enforcement Administration and Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council staff.
However, Leen seems to dismiss our work as nothing but getting “tips” about Contra-cocaine trafficking as if Barger and I were like the hacks at the Washington Post and the New York Times who wait around for authorized handouts from the U.S. government.
Following the Money
Barger and I actually were looking for something different when we encountered the evidence on Contra-cocaine trafficking. We were trying to figure out how the Contras were sustaining themselves in the field after Congress cut off the CIA’s financing for their war.
We were, in the old-fashioned journalistic parlance, “following the money.” The problem was the money led, in part, to the reality that all the major Contra organizations were collaborating with drug traffickers.
Besides our work in the mid-1980s, Sen. John Kerry’s follow-on Contra-cocaine investigation added substantially more evidence. Yet Leen and his cohorts apparently felt no need to pursue the case any further or even give respectful attention to Kerry’s official findings.
Indeed, when Kerry’s report was issued in April 1989, the Washington Post ran a dismissive story by Michael Isikoff buried deep inside the paper. Newsweek dubbed Kerry “a randy conspiracy buff.” In his new article attacking Gary Webb, Leen just says:
“After an exhaustive three-year investigation, the committee’s report concluded that CIA officials were aware of the smuggling activities of some of their charges who supported the contras, but it stopped short of implicating the agency directly in drug dealing. That seemed to be the final word on the matter.”
But why was it the “final word”? Why didn’t Leen and others who had missed the scandal as it was unfolding earlier in the decade at least try to build on Kerry’s findings. After all, these were now official U.S. government records. Wasn’t that “extraordinary” enough?
In this context, Leen paints himself as the true investigative journalist who knew the inside story of the Contra-cocaine tale from the beginning. He wrote:
“As an investigative reporter covering the drug trade for the Miami Herald, … I wrote about the explosion of cocaine in America in the 1980s and 1990s, and the role of Colombia’s Medellin Cartel in fueling it.
“Beginning in 1985, journalists started pursuing tips about the CIA’s role in the drug trade. Was the agency allowing cocaine to flow into the United States as a means to fund its secret war supporting the contra rebels in Nicaragua? Many journalists, including me, chased that story from different angles, but the extraordinary proof was always lacking.”
Again, what Leen says is not true. Leen makes no reference to the groundbreaking AP story in 1985 or other disclosures in the ensuing years. He just insists that “the extraordinary proof” was lacking — which it may have been for him given his lackluster abilities. He then calls the final report of Kerry’s investigation the “final word.”
But Leen doesn’t explain why he and his fellow mainstream journalists were so incurious about this major scandal that they would remain passive even in the wake of a Senate investigation. It’s also not true that Kerry’s report was the “final word” prior to Webb reviving the scandal in 1996.
In 1991, during the narcotics trafficking trial of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, the U.S. government itself presented witnesses who connected the Contras to the Medellin cartel.
Indeed, after testimony by Medellin cartel kingpin Carlos Lehder about his $10 million contribution to the Contras, the Washington Post wrote in a Nov. 27, 1991 editorial that “The Kerry hearings didn’t get the attention they deserved at the time” and that “The Noriega trial brings this sordid aspect of the Nicaraguan engagement to fresh public attention.”
But the Post offered its readers no explanation for why Kerry’s hearings had been largely ignored, with the Post itself a leading culprit in this journalistic misfeasance. Nor did the Post and the other leading newspapers use the opening created by the Noriega trial to do anything to rectify their past neglect.
In other words, it didn’t seem to matter how much “extraordinary proof” the Washington Post or Jeff Leen had. Nothing would be sufficient to report seriously on the Contra-cocaine scandal, not even when the U.S. government vouched for the evidence.
So, Leen is trying to fool you when he presents himself as a “responsible journalist” weighing the difficult evidentiary choices. He’s just the latest hack to go after Gary Webb, which has become urgent again for the mainstream media in the face of “Kill the Messenger,” a new movie about Webb’s ordeal.
What Leen won’t face up to is that the tag-team destruction of Gary Webb in 1996-97 – by the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times – represented one of the most shameful episodes in the history of American journalism.
The Big Papers tore down an honest journalist to cover up their own cowardly failure to investigate and expose a grave national security crime, the Reagan administration’s tolerance for and protection of drug trafficking into the United States by the CIA’s client Contra army.
This journalistic failure occurred even though the Associated Press – far from a radical news outlet – and a Senate investigation (not to mention the Noriega trial) had charted the way.
Contrary to Leen’s column, “Kill the Messenger” is actually a fairly honest portrayal of what happened when Webb exposed the consequences of the Contra cocaine smuggling after the drugs reached the United States. One channel fed into an important Los Angeles supply chain that produced crack.
But Leen tells you that “The Hollywood version of [Webb's] story — a truth-teller persecuted by the cowardly and craven mainstream media — is pure fiction.”
He then lauds the collaboration of the Big Three newspapers in destroying Webb and creating such enormous pressure on Webb’s newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, that the executive editor Jerry Ceppos threw his own reporter under the bus. To Leen, this disgraceful behavior represented the best of American journalism.
“The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, in a rare show of unanimity, all wrote major pieces knocking the story down for its overblown claims and undernourished reporting.
“Gradually, the Mercury News backed away from Webb’s scoop. The paper transferred him to its Cupertino bureau and did an internal review of his facts and his methods. Jerry Ceppos, the Mercury News’s executive editor, wrote a piece concluding that the story did not meet the newspaper’s standards — a courageous stance, I thought.”
“Courageous”? What an astounding characterization of Ceppos’s act of career cowardice.
But Leen continues by explaining his role in the Webb takedown. After all, Leen was then the drug expert at the Miami Herald, which like the San Jose Mercury News was a Knight Ridder newspaper. Leen says his editors sought his opinion about Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series.
Though acknowledging that he was “envious” of Webb’s story when it appeared in 1996, Leen writes that he examined it and found it wanting, supposedly because of alleged overstatements. He proudly asserts that because of his critical analysis, the Miami Herald never published Webb’s series.
But Leen goes further. He falsely characterizes the U.S. government’s later admissions contained in inspector general reports by the CIA and Justice Department. If Leen had bothered to read the reports thoroughly, he would have realized that the reports actually establish that Webb – and indeed Kerry, Barger and I – grossly understated the seriousness of the Contra-cocaine problem which began at the start of the Contra movement in the early 1980s and lasted through the decade until the end of the war.
Leen apparently assumes that few Americans will take the trouble to study and understand what the reports said. That is why I published a lengthy account of the U.S. government’s admissions – both after the reports were published in 1998 and as “Kill the Messenger” was hitting the theaters in October. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Sordid Contra-Cocaine Saga.”]
Playing It Safe
Instead of diving into the reeds of the CIA and DOJ reports, Leen does what he and his mainstream colleagues have done for the past three decades, try to minimize the seriousness of the Reagan administration tolerating cocaine trafficking by its Contra clients and even obstructing official investigations that threatened to expose this crime of state.
Instead, to Leen, the only important issue is whether Gary Webb’s story was perfect. But no journalistic product is perfect. There are always more details that a reporter would like to have, not to mention compromises with editors over how a story is presented. And, on a complex story, there are always some nuances that could have been explained better. That is simply the reality of journalism, the so-called first draft of history.
But Leen pretends that it is the righteous thing to destroy a reporter who is not perfect in his execution of a difficult story – and that Gary Webb thus deserved to be banished from his profession for life, a cruel punishment that impoverished Webb and ultimately drove him to suicide in 2004.
But if Leen is correct – that a reporter who takes on a very tough story and doesn’t get every detail precisely correct should be ruined and disgraced – what does he tell his Washington Post colleague Bob Woodward, whose heroic Watergate reporting included an error about whether a claim regarding who controlled the White House slush fund was made before a grand jury.
While Woodward and his colleague Carl Bernstein were right about the substance, they were wrong about its presentation to a grand jury. Does Leen really believe that Woodward and Bernstein should have been drummed out of journalism for that mistake? Instead, they were lionized as heroes of investigative journalism despite the error – as they should have been.
Yet, when Webb exposed what was arguably an even worse crime of state – the Reagan administration turning a blind eye to the importation of tons of cocaine into the United States – Leen thinks any abuse of Webb is justified because his story wasn’t perfect.
Those two divergent judgments – on how Woodward’s mistake was understandably excused and how Webb’s imperfections were never forgiven – speak volumes about what has happened to the modern profession of journalism at least in the mainstream U.S. media. In reality, Leen’s insistence on perfection and “extraordinary proof” is just a dodge to rationalize letting well-connected criminals and their powerful accomplices off the hook.
In the old days, the journalistic goal was to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” but the new rule appears to be: “any standard of proof works when condemning the weak or the despised but you need unachievable ‘extraordinary evidence’ if you’re writing about the strong and the politically popular.”
Who Is Unfit?
Leen adds a personal reflection on Webb as somehow not having the proper temperament to be an investigative reporter. Leen wrote:
“After Webb was transferred to Cupertino [in disgrace], I debated him at a conference of the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization in Phoenix in June 1997. He was preternaturally calm. While investigative journalists are usually bundles of insecurities and questions and skepticism, he brushed off any criticism and admitted no error. When asked how I felt about it all, I said I felt sorry for him. I still feel that way.”
It’s interesting – and sadly typical – that while Leen chastises Webb for not admitting error, Leen offers no self-criticism of himself for missing what even the CIA has now admitted, that the Contras were tied up in the cocaine trade. Doesn’t an institutional confession by the CIA’s inspector general constitute “extraordinary evidence”?
Also, since the CIA’s inspector general’s report included substantial evidence of Contra-cocaine trafficking running through Miami, shouldn’t Leen offer some mea culpa about missing these serious crimes that were going on right under his nose – in his city and on his beat? What sort of reporter is “preternaturally calm” about failing to do his job right and letting the public suffer as Leen did?
Perhaps all one needs to know about the sorry state of today’s mainstream journalism is that Jeff Leen is the Washington Post’s assistant managing editor for investigations and Gary Webb is no longer with us.
[To learn how you can hear a December 1996 joint appearance at which Robert Parry and Gary Webb discuss their reporting, click here.]
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 barnesandnoble.com).
Where is the American corporate media at on the disappearance of 43 normalistas from a rural teachers college in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico? Where is the wall to wall coverage? Where are the calls for Enrique Peña Nieto to resign? Or, at least, where are the calls for Aguirre’s resignation, the governor of Guerrero? Where are the pundits oversimplifying and labeling the Mexican government whatever they want, regardless if it has a basis in fact? The corporate media is eerily silent.
Let us contrast this silence with their coverage of Venezuela not so many months ago. 43 people from all sides of the conflict were killed over a couple of months of violent conflict between the opposition, chavismo supporters and state security forces. The coverage was almost 24/7. The pundits were labeling Maduro a dictator and calling for his head. The coverage was oversimplified and made to push the US government’s position that chavismo must go, without any mention of Maduro or the PSUV being elected, or that this should be decided by referendum and not just by protest.
The difference in coverage of the two cases represents a clear example of imperial priorities in the corporate media. The Mexican students are “unworthy victims” for the US corporate media. The students do not fit neatly into a narrative that supports imperialist ambitions. Actually, because the rural teachers college is a “leftist” school, the students are probably considered deviant by much of the US corporate media, and therefore “legitimate” targets of the Mexican state. So, the coverage, as it was of El Salvadorian Archbishop Oscar Romero’s death in the 1980s, is minimal and passive.
Whereas, in contrast, Venezuela became the cause célèbre of every major media outlet, even though there was no execution/kidnapping of civilians by the state in collusion with vicious drug cartels, but instead a drawn-out conflict begun by a very hostile opposition that is part of a decade long campaign to oust the PSUV from power that already had the 2002 coup attempt under its belt.
For the US corporate media the Venezuelan opposition are “worthy victims” whose narrative fits neatly into the framework of US imperial ambitions as it attempts to make Latin America its backyard once more. They are also “worthy” because they are mostly whiter, more middle and upper class and vacation in Miami. This is unlike the normalistas, who are predominantly indigenous campesinos, a group who only gets paternalistic coverage, if any.
So, let us weigh these two cases.
The case in Mexico is blatantly a state crime against its citizens, with local and state authorities having connections to drug cartels and the police and military implicated. It was carried out against peaceful students who had no weapons, although they did commandeer a bus, which is nothing new for them and has never led to physical harm. One of the students was left in the street with a flayed face and eyes gouged out. So far, the Mexican government has said the kidnapped/murdered students harm foreign investment and gave their “sincerest” condolences.
The case in Venezuela was a conflict between competing political groups representing different class and ethnic/racial interests in which people from all sides died over the course of the conflict and all most likely committed crimes. Those protests continued over a couple of months, even though the Venezuelan government was considered to be absolutely authoritarian in handling the protests by the US corporate media. So far, the Venezuelan government had an open dialogue with all opposition members who wanted to talk with them and made policy concessions.
The former is a much more grievous crime than the latter. Also, the government reaction in the former is callous, compared to the reconciliation proffered by the Venezuelan government. Yet the former receives scant, if any, attention, while the latter was unavoidable during its peak. Only so many conclusions can be drawn from this.
So, please, tell me again how objective the media is. Or maybe at another award celebration the pundits from the US corporate media can tell us how principled they are.
This is not new; acrobatics are normally done in order to make Enrique Peña Nieto seem as if he is trying to stop the bloodshed. This is scandalous seeing as EPN is implicated in the violent police repression in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico State, Mexico that happened while Peña Nieto was Governor. That repression led to two deaths and 207 incidences of cruel treatment, including 26 cases of sexual assault against women. The Nation Human Rights Commission said that preference was given to force by the government, instead of diplomacy, leading to the human rights violations. The New York Times dedicated one paragraph to the heinous act which doesn’t mention Enrique Peña Nieto even once.
Western diplomats have reportedly faulted Iran in recent weeks for failing to provide the International Atomic Energy Agency with information on experiments on high explosives intended to produce a nuclear weapon, according to an intelligence document the IAEA is investigating.
But the document not only remains unverified but can only be linked to Iran by a far-fetched official account marked by a series of coincidences related to a foreign scientist that that are highly suspicious.
The original appearance of the document in early 2008, moreover, was not only conveniently timed to support Israel’s attack on a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran in December that was damaging to Israeli interests, but was leaked to the news media with a message that coincided with the current Israeli argument.
The IAEA has long touted the document, which came from an unidentified member state, as key evidence justifying suspicion that Iran has covered up past nuclear weapons work.
In its September 2008 report the IAEA said the document describes “experimentation in connection with symmetrical initiation of a hemispherical high explosive charge suitable for an implosion type nuclear device.”
But an official Iranian communication to the IAEA Secretariat challenged its authenticity, declaring, “There is no evidence or indication in this document regarding its linkage to Iran or its preparation by Iran.”
The IAEA has never responded to the Iranian communication.
The story of the high explosives document and related intelligence published in the November 2011 IAEA report raises more questions about the document than it answers.
The report said the document describes the experiments as being monitored with “large numbers of optical fiber cables” and cited intelligence that the experiments had been assisted by a foreign expert said to have worked in his home country’s nuclear weapons programme.
The individual to whom the report referred, Ukrainian scientist Vyacheslav Danilenko, was not a nuclear weapons expert, however, but a specialist on nanodiamond synthesis. Danilenko had lectured on that subject in Iran from 2000 to 2005 and had co-authored a professional paper on the use of fiber optic cables to monitor explosive shock waves in 1992, which was available online.
Those facts presented the opportunity for a foreign intelligence service to create a report on high explosives experiments that would suggest a link to nuclear weapons as well as to Danilenko. Danilenko’s open-source publication could help convince the IAEA Safeguards Department of the authenticity of the document, which would otherwise have been missing.
Even more suspicious, soon after the appearance of the high explosives document, the same state that had turned it over to the IAEA claimed to have intelligence on a large cylinder at Parchin suitable for carrying out the high explosives experiments described in the document, according to the 2011 IAEA report.
And it identified Danilenko as the designer of the cylinder, again basing the claim on an open-source publication that included a sketch of a cylinder he had designed in 1999-2000.
The whole story thus depended on two very convenient intelligence finds within a very short time, both of which were linked to a single individual and his open source publications.
Furthermore, the cylinder Danilenko sketched and discussed in the publication was explicitly designed for nanodiamonds production, not for bomb-making experiments.
Robert Kelley, who was the chief of IAEA teams in Iraq, has observed that the IAEA account of the installation of the cylinder at a site in Parchin by March 2000 is implausible, since Danilenko was on record as saying he was still in the process of designing it in 2000.
And Kelley, an expert on nuclear weapons, has pointed out that the cylinder would have been unnecessary for “multipoint initiation” experiments. “We’ve been taken for a ride on this whole thing,” Kelley told IPS.
The document surfaced in early 2008, under circumstances pointing to an Israeli role. An article in the May 2008 issue of Jane’s International Defence Review, dated March 14, 2008, referred to, “[d]ocuments shown exclusively to Jane’s” by a “source connected to a Western intelligence service”.
It said the documents showed that Iran had “actively pursued the development of a nuclear weapon system based on relatively advanced multipoint initiation (MPI) nuclear implosion detonation technology for some years….”
The article revealed the political agenda behind the leaking of the high explosives document. “The picture the papers paints,” he wrote, “starkly contradicts the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released in December 2007, which said Tehran had frozen its military nuclear programme in 2003.”
That was the argument that Israeli officials and supporters in the United States had been making in the wake of the National Intelligence Estimate, which Israel was eager to discredit.
The IAEA first mentioned the high explosives document in an annex to its May 2008 report, shortly after the document had been leaked to Janes.
David Albright, the director of the Institute for Science and International Security, who enjoyed a close relationship with the IAEA Deputy Director Olli Heinonen, revealed in an interview with this writer in September 2008 that Heinonen had told him one document that he had obtained earlier that year had confirmed his trust in the earlier collection of intelligence documents. Albright said that document had “probably” come from Israel.
Former IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei was very sceptical about all the purported Iranian documents shared with the IAEA by the United States. Referring to those documents, he writes in his 2011 memoirs, “No one knew if any of this was real.”
ElBaradei recalls that the IAEA received still more purported Iranian documents directly from Israel in summer 2009. The new documents included a two-page document in Farsi describing a four-year programme to produce a neutron initiator for a fission chain reaction.
Kelley has said that ElBaradei found the document lacking credibility, because it had no chain of custody, no identifiable source, and no official markings or anything else that could establish its authenticity—the same objections Iran has raised about the high explosives document.
Meanwhile, ElBaradei resisted pressure from the United States and its European allies in 2009 to publish a report on that and other documents – including the high explosive document — as an annex to an IAEA report. ElBaradei’s successor as director general, Yukia Amano, published the annex the anti-Iran coalition had wanted earlier in the November 2011 report.
Amano later told colleagues at the agency that he had no choice, because he promised the United States to do so as part of the agreement by Washington to support his bid for the job within the Board of Governors, according to a former IAEA official who asked not to be identified.
PBS NewsHour Executive Producer Sara Just and NPR Standards Editor Mark Memmott seem to have come up with almost identical statements about commentator David Brooks’ conflict of interest. (Brooks, who works for the New York Times, NPR and PBS, had kept hidden the fact that his son was serving in the Israeli military while Brooks was commenting on Israel.)
Either Sara Just and Mark Memmott have been gifted with telepathy, or they – and/or their bosses – collaborated on their statements.
UPDATE, 11am Pacific time: Mark Memmott has just emailed me: “I’ve had no contact with PBS. I’ve actually never met Sara Just, as far as I remember, and have not had any email correspondence with her. I have to think that they agreed with what I wrote and decided to (mostly) reissue it.”
I find it disconcerting that PBS’s Sara Just didn’t attribute her statement to NPR’s Memmott; this seems dangerously close to plagiarism. I wonder how she learned of his statement? I’m also curious about why she removed a small but significant portion of what he had written. Please read on:
Here are the facts:
PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler reports that on Oct. 15th NewsHour Executive Producer Sara Just issued the following statement:
“David Brooks is primarily an opinion columnist for The New York Times. He appears on the PBS NewsHour to offer his opinions, not as a reporter. His son’s service with the Israeli Defense Forces is not a secret. We agree with the New York Times’ editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, that Mr. Brooks’ long-standing views about Israel are informed by many factors. We also agree with the Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, that Mr. Brooks should not be barred from commenting about Israel. She has recommended that he address the issue of his son’s service in the IDF in a future column. That seems reasonable to us as well. If a situation arises in which Mr. Brooks will be appearing on the NewsHour and discussing Israel and its military, we will consider how we might disclose his son’s service to the audience at that time.”
Five days before, in response to my questions about David Brooks, I had received an email from the NPR ombudsman’s office containing a statement that they said was from NPR’s standards and practices editor:
David Brooks is primarily an opinion columnist for The New York Times. He appears on All Things Considered to offer his opinions, not as a reporter. His son’s service with the Israeli Defense Forces is no secret. We agree with the Times’ editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, that Mr. Brooks’ long-standing views about Israel have been “formed by all kinds of things … [and] are not going to change whether or not his son is serving in the IDF, beyond his natural concerns as a father for his son’s safety and well-being.” We also agree with the Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, that Mr. Brooks should not be barred from commenting about Israel. She has recommended that he address the issue of his son’s service in the IDF in a future column. That strikes us as a reasonable suggestion. If a situation arises and we feel he should also mention it on our air, we still [sic] discuss that with Mr. Brooks at that time. [Ellipsis was in the original statement emailed to me.]
(You can see the statements side by side below.)
I published this email and a rebuttal to the statement on my blog that same day, Friday, Oct 10th. The following Wednesday, Oct. 15th, I was able to reach NPR’s standards editor, Mark Memmott, who confirmed that he had written the statement. I then raised some of the flaws I saw with it (the same ones I discussed in my post).
Memmott was particularly interested when I pointed out that the statement acknowledging Mr. Brooks’ “natural concerns as a father for his son’s safety and well-being” indicated why Mr. Brooks should recuse himself, since his commentaries have the power to influence the public in ways that would impact his son either positively or negatively.
During the phone call it came out that Memmott had not known before I called him that his statement had been sent to me. After we hung up it occurred to me that Memmott was also probably unaware that I had published it. I told him I was working on a blog post and would send it to him. I was then involved in other projects over the following days and was only able to finish my new post tonight. This contains additional info on NPR’s ethics guidelines.
After I completed it, I then looked to see if PBS’s ombudsman Michael Getler (whom I had spoken with by phone last week) had yet written anything about Brooks. I discovered his column, and was startled to see Sara Just’s statement, parts of it word for word the same as Memmott’s. The only significant difference was that the reference to Brooks’ “natural concerns as a father” section was omitted.
I now plan to contact Memmott and Just, and ask about the source of their telepathy.
While PBS and NPR are both under the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the public perception is that they are largely independent entities with separate editorial control and decision-making. It appears that’s not the case.
Below are the two statements:
* * *
Following is information about Just and NewsHour from a press release on the PBS website:
In addition to being executive producer, Just is also Senior Vice President of NewsHour Productions LLC. She reports to Rick Schneider, President of NewsHour Productions LLC and Chief Operating Officer of WETA.
The press release states:
“In July 2014, WETA assumed management and control for PBS NewsHour, with the formation of NewsHour Productions LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of WETA. This transition followed the retirements of the program’s original founders, managing editors and co-anchors, Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil, who established the commitment to excellence in journalism that guides PBS NewsHour to this day.”
Update on Friday, October 17, 2014 at 08:49AM by Alison Weir
A few years ago PBS ombudsman Michael Getler wrote a column in which he emphasized:
“My interest in mentioning this is simply to remind the vast majority of those who wrote to me or called is to explain that PBS is not NPR…. and that both organizations, while part of public broadcasting in this country, are separate organizations and separate public media entities.”
So is it appropriate for the two supposedly separate media organizations to collaborate on how to respond to ethics complaints, especially without informing the public that they are doing so?
Update on Friday, October 17, 2014 at 10:07AM by Alison Weir
It’s interesting to see that Memmott was one of the authors of NPR’s newest code of ethics.
It’s even more interesting to see that when the handbook came out, NPR’s vice president for news stated: “…commentators are expected to follow NPR’s ethical principles when doing work on behalf of NPR.”
She also said that commentators would receive copies of the handbook.
NPR, according to a 2012 press release, “reaches 27 million listeners each week.”
NPR’s standards editor & ombudsman minimize and/or ignore NPR ethics requirements regarding David Brooks
In recent weeks I’ve phoned and emailed the NPR ombudsman’s office several times about commentator David Brooks’ conflict of interest – Brooks’ son has been serving in the Israeli military while Brooks has been commenting on Israel without divulging that his son was in the Israeli army. Ombudsmen are charged with publicly addressing ethical breaches by a news organization’s journalists.
Now I’ve also been in touch with NPR’s Standards and Practices Editor, Mark Memmot, who is in charge of ensuring that NPR journalists adhere to ethics standards. Last week NPR’s ombudsman’s office sent me an email that contained a statement by Mr. Memmott. I discussed this statement in a previous post and now will expand on this a bit more, specifically including information about NPR’s own ethics code.
Below is the email containing Mr. Memmott’s statement:
Thank you for contacting the NPR Ombudsman. We appreciate your comments and your thoughts will be taken into consideration as we continue to monitor the reporting.
The Ombudsman is currently working on a blog post about this issue. You may be interested in this statement from our standards and practices editor:
David Brooks is primarily an opinion columnist for The New York Times. He appears on All Things Considered to offer his opinions, not as a reporter. His son’s service with the Israeli Defense Forces is no secretWe [sic] agree with the Times’ editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, that Mr. Brooks’ long-standing views about Israel have been “formed by all kinds of things … [and] are not going to change whether or not his son is serving in the IDF, beyond his natural concerns as a father for his son’s safety and well-being.” We also agree with the Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, that Mr. Brooks should not be barred from commenting about Israel. She has recommended that he address the issue of his son’s service in the IDF in a future column [see my comments on the Rosenthal and Sullivan statements here]. That strikes us as a reasonable suggestion. If a situation arises and we feel he should also mention it on our air, we still [sic] discuss that with Mr. Brooks at that time.
There are a number of problems with this statement, one of which is that it largely fails to apply NPR’s own ethics requirements to Mr. Brooks.
The fact is that NPR’s ethics codes place a strong emphasis on impartiality and transparency. They include the activities of family members among the activities that may interfere with impartiality, and decree that NPR journalists inform NPR of any potential conflicts of interest. And they apply these ethical requirements to analyses and commentaries, not just to reportorial activities.
NPR’s full ethics handbook states:
“All NPR journalists, including those of us who work for the arts and music desks, must tell our supervisors in advance about potential conflicts of interest.”
NPR’s ethics handbook states:
“Our methods are transparent and we will be accountable for all we do.”
“We are vigilant in disclosing to both our supervisors and the public any circumstances where our loyalties may be divided – extending to the interests of spouses and other family members – and when necessary, we recuse ourselves from related coverage.”
The handbook has an entire section on the importance of impartiality. Below is a particularly relevant section:
Impartiality in our personal lives
Be aware that a loved one’s political activity may create a perception of bias.
Some of our family members — including spouses, companions and children — may be involved in politics or advocacy. We are sensitive to the perception of bias. So we inform our supervisors and work with them to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest [emphasis added].
NPR journalists recuse themselves from covering stories or events related to their family members’ political activities. We may go so far as to change job responsibilities (for instance, moving off the “politics desk” to an area of coverage well removed from that subject). “You have the right to marry anyone you want, but you don’t have the right to cover any beat you want” if the potential conflicts appear to be too great, as Tom Rosenstiel of Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism said to the Los Angeles Times.
The ethics handbook includes additional statements specifically about commentary, concluding:
Our commentaries must also hew to other Guiding Principles, reflecting honesty, accuracy and transparency.
In other words, NPR’s own standards indicate that Mr. Brooks should have informed his editors of his son’s employment in the Israeli military. They also suggest that he should recuse himself from commenting on Israel. If Mr. Brooks chooses not to recuse himself from this subject matter, and if NPR fails to require this, its ethics codes direct that he should at least divulge to the public the fact that his son is serving in the military of the foreign country he is discussing.
Yet, so far NPR
- has not informed listeners that Brooks had a close personal interest in a subject in which he was supposedly offering disinterested analysis,
- has not asked Mr. Brooks to recuse himself from future commentary on a subject in which he has a personal interest, and
- has not stated clearly that this conflict of interest will be divulged in the future (only saying that they might discuss this with Mr. Brooks “if the situation arises”).
There are a number of factual errors and logical inconsistencies in Mr. Memmott’s statement (which I also discussed in my previous post):
1. While Mr. Memmott claims that Mr. Brooks’ situation is “no secret,” in reality, the large majority of NPR listeners quite likely have no idea of Mr. Brooks’ conflict of interest.
The only place the information about Brooks has appeared in print to date is a Hebrew version of an Israeli newspaper, and possibly the Los Angeles Jewish Journal (whose online article was the first place to reveal it in English; it was also on the New York Magazine website). It has not appeared on any mainstream radio or TV broadcast that I’m aware of.
2. While Mr. Memmott is correct in stating that Mr. Brooks is not a reporter, this does not exempt Mr. Brooks from the necessity of abiding by ethics requirements. The National Society of Newspaper Columnists‘ decrees that opinion writers should disclose potential conflicts of interest.
3. It is entirely correct that Mr. Brooks has “natural concerns as a father for his son’s safety and well-being,” which is precisely why Mr. Brooks should recuse himself from commenting on matters that concern Israel.
The reality is that Mr. Brooks is a powerful and influential journalist whose commentary about Israel does indeed have the capacity to affect his son’s “safety and well-being.”
Commentary that defends Israel to the American public serves to help keep American tax money ($8-10 million per day) and American diplomatic support for Israel flowing, both of which are extremely important for his son’s safety and well-being.
Commentary that pointed out the illegality and immorality of Israel’s recent killing and injuring of thousands of Gazan men, women, and children by the Israeli military in which his son is serving would quite likely interfere with his son’s well-being, as an increasing number of Americans would join those around the world calling for war crimes tribunals.
Since Mr. Brooks does the former and not the latter, his commentary, at minimum, gives a strong appearance of bias.
According to NPR’s ethics handbook, NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos is also responsible for addressing ethical violations. In fact, the ombudsman is called NPR’s Chief Ethics Officer. He is also responsible for informing the public about such matters.
Yet, so far Mr. Schumacher-Matos has failed to weigh in on this matter, most recently choosing instead to write about what to call the Washington DC football team.
Important as that issue is, it is hard to feel that it is more important than the life-and-death issue of Israel-Palestine and the recent killing and injuring of thousands of Gazan men, women, and children by the Israeli military that David Brooks’ son was serving in while Mr. Brooks was praising Israeli actions on NPR.
I hope that Mr. Schumacher-Matos will eventually step up to the plate and call on NPR, which proclaims its dedication to honesty, transparency, and the highest principles of journalism, to inform the public that commentator David Brooks has been issuing opinions on an issue in which he had a hidden interest. I hope he will also recommend that NPR look for another commentator to replace Mr. Brooks – one who doesn’t believe he is above ethical obligations.
Recently I criticised Guardian columnist George Monbiot for lavishing the term “genocide denier” on anyone who disagrees with him about the events in Rwanda 20 years ago. I described Monbiot as a “McCarthy of the left”, after he waged a campaign of vilification of prominent dissident intellectuals Ed Herman and David Peterson for seeking to critically re-examine the west’s official narrative about Rwanda – that the Hutu majority alone committed a genocide against the Tutsi minority – and questioning whether Rwanda’s current Tutsi president, Paul Kagame, and his RPF forces were not also deeply complicit in the slaughter.
Monbiot’s witch-hunt has also targeted others on the left, such as Noam Chomsky, who supported Herman and Peterson’s right to engage in the critical study of what they call the “politics of genocide”.
Monbiot’s efforts to silence these critical voices on the left was thrown a curveball this month when the BBC, one of the biggest enforcers of official narratives, broadcast a programme, Rwanda’s Untold Story, raising many of the same questions as Herman and Peterson. What would Monbiot do?
Well, I have to give him credit: he is consistent. He has joined other journalists, academics and activists deeply committed to the official Rwanda narrative in accusing the BBC and its programme-makers of genocide denial too. In fact, in their letter to the BBC’s director general, Tony Hall, they accuse the BBC team of genocide denial no less than 10 times!
For those who wish to follow the details of this correspondence, the letter from Monbiot et al can be found here. A reply from David Peterson is available here. And there are a further letters to Hall from Theogene Rudasingwa, who was once in Kagame’s inner circle, and from Christopher Black, the barrister for Augustin Ndindiliyimana, a Hutu general acquitted of genocide crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
In this increasingly polarised debate, I recommend reading Justin Podur’s interventions. He is a journalist with a deep interest in African politics who has been following both sides of the argument closely. He does not agree with all of Herman and Peterson’s conclusions but, importantly, he argues that the official narrative about Rwanda is inadequate and that it is vital to create space for a respectful debate about what really happened. That stands in stark contrast to Monbiot’s position, and illustrates my reasons for calling his campaign against Herman, Peterson, Chomsky and others McCarthyite.
On his blog, Podur makes the essential point that, despite the repeated smear from Monbiot and his allies in their letter to Hall, the BBC documentary does not deny Rwanda’s genocide: it simply makes the case that Kagame’s role in the genocide, entirely overlooked in the official narrative, needs reassessing and that his current regime, solidly backed by western powers, should be held to account for committing mass murder in neighbouring Congo and for its totalitarian rule inside Rwanda.
By creating a sacred narrative about Rwanda’s genocide, the BBC documentary suggests, Kagame has provided himself with the cover needed to continue with his rule of terror.
Podur quotes from Monbiot et al’s letter: “Denial… ensures the crime continues. It incites new killing. It denies the dignity of the deceased and mocks those who survived.”
And yet, the letter writers [including Monbiot] do all of those things. If the victims of the RPF don’t count, as they do not seem to to these writers, then what is this except denial? All of the victims in Central Africa – of the defeated Rwandan government, of the RPF, of the RPF’s proxies and of their opponents – all deserve to be acknowledged, not denied. The BBC documentary deserved better than shoddy arguments and mudslinging. Kagame is still in power, and the only function of this letter is to provide him with cover. Rather than a letter about ‘genocide denial’, the authors would have been more honest to write a manifesto of unconditional support for Rwanda’s dictator.
The Russian president has signed into law a bill, which sets the maximum foreign stake in Russian mass media companies at 20 percent.
The law will come into force on January 1, 2016, and media companies must submit reports on their stockholders before February 15, 2016.
The bill was drafted by opposition MPs in September and passed by parliament very quickly. Apart from lowering the maximum share in Russian mass media companies allowed for foreign citizens and firms from the current 50 percent to 20 percent, the draft bans foreigners from being founders of Russian mass media companies. The same restrictions apply to residents without citizenship and Russians who have citizenship of other nations.
There are exceptions for media derived from state-level international treaties, like Mir television, which was founded jointly by several CIS nations.
The sponsors of the motion said the main reason behind it was the desire to provide maximum information security. They also noted that the 20 percent limit was chosen because a 25 percent share would enable a powerful veto possibility, allowing its owners to exert serious influence on the information policy of any media outlet.
“Those who own information own the world. It is obvious that when foreigners enter the mass media market of any country they practically gain access to people’s minds, to forming public opinion. And we must draw a clear line here – what are the reasons behind such purchases? Do they want simply to do business or do they want to enforce their policies and to change the situation inside the country?” asked MP Vadim Dengin of the nationalist LDPR caucus.
Other lawmakers claimed that the need for restrictions became obvious after the recent crisis in Ukraine demonstrated that some sectors of the Russian press can be biased in their coverage of important topics.
The new Russian law is in line with international practice as many countries in the world have already protected their informational space from excessive foreign influence. For example, Australia has set a 30 percent limit of foreign ownership in national mass media and Canada has a law limiting foreign ownership in electronic mass media by 46 percent. The United States allows foreigners to control not more than 25 percent of American TV and radio stations, while Japan has set this limit at 20 percent. France will not allow non-EU citizens and companies to possess more than 20 percent of its mass media. In the UK, the shares of foreign stockholders in mass media corporations cannot exceed those owned by British investors.
Current foreign ownership in Russian mass media is fairly high, especially in the magazine and newspaper business where 60 percent of companies have significant foreign shareholders. Some print media companies are owned by businessmen, who hold dual citizenship, and these individuals will, under the new law, become ineligible to continue as owners.
The mainstream news media’s reaction to the new movie, “Kill the Messenger,” has been tepid, perhaps not surprising given that the MSM comes across as the film’s most unsympathetic villain as it crushes journalist Gary Webb for digging up the Contra-cocaine scandal in the mid-1990s after the major newspapers thought they had buried it in the 1980s.
Not that the movie is without other villains, including drug traffickers and “men in black” government agents. But the drug lords show some humanity and even honesty as they describe how they smuggled drugs and shared the proceeds with the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, President Ronald Reagan’s beloved “freedom fighters.”
By contrast, the news executives for the big newspapers, such as the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, come across as soulless careerists determined to maintain their cozy relations with the CIA’s press office and set on shielding their failure to take on this shocking scandal when it was playing out in the 1980s.
So, in the 1990s, they concentrated their fire on Webb for alleged imperfections in his investigative reporting rather than on U.S. government officials who condoned and protected the Contra drug trafficking as part of Reagan’s Cold War crusade.
Webb’s cowardly editors at the San Jose Mercury News also come across badly as frightened bureaucrats, cringing before the collective misjudgment of the MSM and crucifying their own journalist for the sin of challenging the media’s wrongheaded conventional wisdom.
That the MSM’s “group think” was upside-down should no longer be in doubt. In fact, the Contra-cocaine case was conclusively established as early as 1985 when Brian Barger and I wrote the first story on the scandal for the Associated Press. Our sourcing included some two dozen knowledgeable people including Contras, Contra supporters and U.S. government sources from the Drug Enforcement Administration and even Reagan’s National Security Council staff.
But the Reagan administration didn’t want to acknowledge this inconvenient truth, knowing it would sink the Contra war against Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government. So, after the AP story was published, President Reagan’s skillful propagandists mounted a counteroffensive that elicited help from editors and reporters at the New York Times, the Washington Post and other major news outlets.
Thus, in the 1980s, the MSM treated the Contra-cocaine scandal as a “conspiracy theory” when it actually was a very real conspiracy. The MSM’s smug and derisive attitude continued despite a courageous investigation headed by Sen. John Kerry which, in 1989, confirmed the AP reporting and took the story even further. For his efforts, Newsweek dubbed Kerry “a randy conspiracy buff.”
This dismissive treatment of the scandal even survived the narcotics trafficking trial of Panama’s Manuel Noriega in 1991 when the U.S. government called witnesses who implicated both Noriega and the Contras in the cocaine trade.
The Power of ‘Group Think’
What we were seeing was the emerging power of the MSM’s “group think,” driven by conformity and careerism and resistant to both facts and logic. Once all the “smart people” of Official Washington reached a conclusion – no matter how misguided – that judgment would be defended at nearly all costs, since none of these influential folks wanted to admit error.
That’s what Gary Webb ran into in 1996 when he revived the Contra-cocaine scandal by focusing on the devastation that one Contra drug pipeline caused by feeding into the production of crack cocaine. However, for the big newspapers to admit they had ducked such an important story – and indeed had aided in the government’s cover-up – would be devastating to their standing.
So, the obvious play was to nitpick Webb’s reporting and to destroy him personally, which is what the big newspapers did and what “Kill the Messenger” depicts. The question today is: how will the MSM react to this second revival of the Contra-cocaine scandal?
Of the movie reviews that I read, a few were respectful, including the one in the Los Angeles Times where Kenneth Turan wrote: “The story Webb related in a series of articles … told a still-controversial tale that many people did not want to hear: that elements in the CIA made common cause with Central American drug dealers and that money that resulted from cocaine sales in the U.S. was used to arm the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua.
“Although the CIA itself confirmed, albeit years later, that this connection did in fact exist, journalists continue to argue about whether aspects of Webb’s stories overreached.”
A normal person might wonder why – if the CIA itself admitted (as it did) that it was collaborating with drug dealers – journalists would still be debating whether Webb may have “overreached” (although in reality he actually understated the problem). Talk about missing “the lede” or the forest for the trees.
What kind of “journalist” obsesses over dissecting the work of another journalist while the U.S. government gets away with aiding and abetting drug traffickers?
Turan went on to note the same strange pattern in 1996 after Webb’s series appeared: “what no one counted on was that the journalistic establishment — including elite newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times — would attempt to discredit Webb’s reporting. The other newspapers questioned the shakier parts of his story and proving the truth of what one of Webb’s sources tells him: ‘You get the most flak when you’re right above the target.’”
However, other reviews, including those in the New York Times and the Washington Post, continued the snarky tone that pervaded the sneering treatment of Webb that hounded him out of journalism in 1997 and ultimately drove him to suicide in 2004. For instance, the headline in the Post’s weekend section was “Sticking with Webb’s Story,” as in the phrase “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
The review by Michael O’Sullivan stated: “Inspired by the true story of Gary Webb — the San Jose Mercury News reporter known for a controversial series of articles suggesting a link between the CIA, the California crack epidemic and the Nicaraguan Contras — this slightly overheated drama begins and ends with innuendo. In between is a generous schmear of insinuation.”
You get the point. The allegations, which have now been so well-established that even the CIA admits to them, are “controversial” and amount to “innuendo” and “insinuation.”
Similarly, the New York Times review by Manohla Dargis disparaged Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series as “much-contested,” which may be technically accurate but fails to recognize that the core allegations of Contra-cocaine trafficking and U.S. government complicity were true – something an earlier article by Times’ media writer David Carr at least had the decency to acknowledge. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT’s Belated Admission on Contra-Cocaine.”]
In a different world, the major newspapers would have taken the opening created by “Kill the Messenger” to make amends for their egregious behavior in the 1980s – in discrediting the scandal when the criminality could have been stopped – and for their outrageous actions in the 1990s in destroying the life and career of Gary Webb. But it appears the big papers mostly plan to hunker down and pretend they did nothing wrong.
For those interested in the hard evidence proving the reality of the Contra-cocaine scandal, I posted a Special Report on Friday detailing much of what we know and how we know it. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Sordid Contra-Cocaine Saga.”]
As for “Kill the Messenger,” I had the pleasure of watching it on Friday night with my old Associated Press colleague Brian Barger – and we both were impressed by how effectively the movie-makers explained a fairly complicated tale about drugs and politics. The personal story was told with integrity, aided immensely by Jeremy Renner’s convincing portrayal of Webb.
There were, of course, some Hollywood fictional flourishes for dramatic purposes. And it was a little weird hearing my cautionary advice to Webb – delivered when we talked before his “Dark Alliance” series was published in 1996 – being put into the mouth of a fictional Kerry staffer.
But those are minor points. What was truly remarkable about this movie was that it was made at all. Over the past three decades, many directors and screenwriters have contemplated telling the sordid story of Contra-cocaine trafficking but all have failed to get the projects “green-lighted.”
The conventional wisdom in Hollywood has been that such a movie would be torn apart by the major media just as Webb’s series (and before that the AP articles and Kerry’s report) were. But so far the MSM has largely held its fire against “Kill the Messenger,” relying on a few snide asides and knowing smirks.
Perhaps the MSM simply assumes that the old conventional wisdom will hold and that the movie will soon be forgotten. Or maybe there’s been a paradigm shift – and the MSM realizes that its credibility is shot (especially after its catastrophic performance regarding Iraq’s WMD) and it is losing its power to dictate false narratives to the American people.
[To learn how you can hear a December 1996 joint appearance at which Robert Parry and Gary Webb discuss their reporting, click here.]
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 barnesandnoble.com).