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Context of 'February 15, 2007: FireDogLake, Other Bloggers Challenging ‘Theory of Old Journalism’ in On-Site Trial Coverage, Says New York Times'

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MBA president Robert Cox.MBA president Robert Cox. [Source: Washington Post]The US District Court for the District of Columbia awards two seats for bloggers among the journalists who will cover the Lewis Libby trial (see January 16-23, 2007). It is the first time bloggers have been granted this level of access to such a high-profile government court case. The two seats are among the 100 set aside for the media in the courtroom; well over 100 media personnel are expected to descend on the court before the trial starts; the court has set up an “overflow room” for the reporters, cameramen, and other personnel who are not able to get into the courtroom proper. The Media Bloggers Association (MBA) won the right to allow two of its members into the court, and the two seats will rotate among selected members. MBA president Robert Cox says the trial, and the involvement of bloggers covering it, could “catalyze” the association’s efforts to win respect and access for bloggers in federal and state courthouses. Thomas Kunkel of the University of Maryland School of Journalism says: “The Internet today is like the American West in the 1880s. It’s wild, it’s crazy, and everybody’s got a gun. There are no rules yet.” Cox hopes that the bloggers’ participation in the trial coverage may act to codify and legitimize bloggers’ news coverage. Sheldon Snook, an administrative assistant to Judge Thomas Hogan (see August 9, 2004 and October 7, 2004), says, “Bloggers can bring a depth of reporting that some traditional media organizations aren’t able to achieve because of space and time limitations.” Snook also notes that some bloggers bring a welcome expertise in legal or government matters to their reporting. Cox says the bloggers who the MBA will allow into the courtroom will be diverse in nature, with differing political outlooks and from different parts of the nation. “The history of where blogging is going to go is not defined. It could go in a very positive direction or it could go in a very negative direction,” Cox says. “We have to do more than just sit on our hands and see what happens.” [Washington Post, 1/11/2007] The liberal political blog FireDogLake (FDL) is also sending a team of bloggers to cover the trial, separately from MBA. Author Marcy Wheeler, who has covered the Libby investigation for FDL and an affiliated blog, The Next Hurrah, will be part of the FDL team, as will former prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith. The FDL bloggers intend to sublet an apartment in Washington, where they will live and work as roommates during the legal proceedings. One FDL member will cover the trial from inside the courtroom, while others will work in the overflow room or via the Internet from the apartment. [Christy Hardin Smith, 1/3/2007; Jeralyn Merritt, 1/11/2007]

Entity Tags: Media Bloggers Association, Christy Hardin Smith, FireDogLake, Marcy Wheeler, The Next Hurrah, Robert Cox, Sheldon Snook, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Thomas Kunkel, US District Court for the District of Columbia

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Artist’s sketch of Tim Russert testifying in the Libby trial.Artist’s sketch of Tim Russert testifying in the Libby trial. [Source: Art Lien / CourtArtist (.com)]NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert testifies in the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007), following almost three days of videotaped testimony from Libby (see February 7, 2007). Russert’s testimony is virtually identical to statements he previously made to an FBI investigator (see November 24, 2003) and to the Plame Wilson grand jury (see August 7, 2004).
Never Discussed Plame Wilson with Libby - Questioned by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, Russert contradicts Libby’s 2004 testimony, where Libby said he learned of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity from Russert in July 2003 (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). Russert says that in July 2003 he spoke with Libby, who complained about MSNBC news anchor Chris Matthews’s coverage of the Iraq war (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Libby testified that at the end of that phone call, Russert broached the subject of war critic Joseph Wilson and told him that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, saying, “[A]ll the reporters know” that Plame Wilson is a CIA officer. Russert tells the jury: “That would be impossible. I didn’t know who that person was until several days later.” He adds: “If he had told me [Plame Wilson’s identity], I would have asked him how he knew that, why he knew that, what is the relevance of that. And since [it was] a national security issue, my superiors [would] try to pursue it.”
Cross-Examination Focuses on Faulty Recollections - Libby’s lawyer, Theodore Wells, is skeptical of Russert’s denial. “You have the chief of staff of the vice president of the United States on the telephone and you don’t ask him one question about it?” he asks. “As a newsperson who’s known for being aggressive and going after the facts, you wouldn’t have asked him about the biggest stories in the world that week?” Russert replies, “What happened is exactly what I told you.” Wells cites a transcript of Russert’s initial testimony before the FBI, in which he said he could not rule out discussing Plame Wilson with Libby. Russert says he doesn’t believe that is what he told the FBI. Wells asks, “Did you disclose in the affidavit to the court that you had already disclosed the contents of your conversation with Mr. Libby?” Russert attempts to answer, saying, “As I’ve said, sir…” but Wells cuts him off, saying, “It’s a yes or no question.” Russert responds, “I’d like to answer it to the best of my ability.” Wells says: “This is a very simple question. Either it’s in the affidavit or it’s not. Did you disclose to the court that you had already communicated to the FBI the fact that you had communicated with Mr. Libby?” Russert answers, “No” (see Late February or Early March, 2004). Wells attempts to raise questions about Russert’s ethics and credibility, and implies that Russert wanted to see Libby face charges. In follow-up questioning, Fitzgerald asks Russert, “Did you take joy in Mr. Libby’s indictment?” Russert replies: “No, not at all. And I don’t take joy in being here” in the courtroom as a witness. During the second day of Russert’s testimony, defense lawyers ask why Russert told the FBI about his conversation with Libby, but said he would not testify if subpoenaed; Russert says he viewed the FBI conversation and the subpoena differently. During redirect, Fitzgerald notes that during Libby’s grand jury testimony, Libby claimed that he had indeed learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from his then-boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, but had forgotten about it, and when Russert told him about Plame Wilson’s CIA status, it was as if it were new information to him (see February 6, 2007). [FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; FireDogLake, 2/7/2007; CNN, 2/8/2007; New York Times, 2/9/2007; Associated Press, 2/9/2007; MSNBC, 2/12/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] The Associated Press writes: “Wells wants to cast Russert as someone who cannot be believed, who publicly championed the sanctity of off-the-record conversations but privately revealed that information to investigators. Russert said he viewed the FBI conversation and testimony to prosecutors differently.” [Associated Press, 2/9/2007]
Potential Mistrial Averted - The jurors are not supposed to read about the trial in the press or watch television coverage of it; resultingly, they are provided newspapers with the pertinent information scissored out. As the jurors enter the courtroom for Russert’s second day of testimony, Judge Reggie Walton notes that they were given newspapers with a Washington Post article, headlined “Tim Russert on the Uncomfortable Side of a Question,” unredacted. A juror brought the newspaper to the attention of the marshals immediately upon receipt of it, and no juror admits to having read it. Walton rules that no harm has been done, and a potential mistrial is averted. [FireDogLake, 2/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, NBC News, Reggie B. Walton, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Chris Matthews, Theodore Wells, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Tim Russert

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

FireDogLake blogger Jane Hamsher, writing for her blog’s coverage of the Libby trial.FireDogLake blogger Jane Hamsher, writing for her blog’s coverage of the Libby trial. [Source: Michael Temchine / New York Times]The New York Times publishes a profile of some of the bloggers covering the Lewis Libby trial. The article, by Times reporter Scott Shane, focuses on the team of six writers and researchers who work on a volunteer basis for FireDogLake (FDL), a liberal blog owned by movie producer and author Jane Hamsher. According to Shane, “FireDogLake has offered intensive trial coverage, using some six contributors in rotation,” including “a former prosecutor [Christy Hardin Smith], a current defense lawyer [Jeralyn Merritt, who also writes for her own blog, TalkLeft], a Ph.D. business consultant [Marcy Wheeler, who has written a book, Anatomy of Deceit, on the subject],” a blogger who has covered the issue since Valerie Plame Wilson’s outing (the pseudonymous “Swopa”), an acknowleged expert on the Iraq/Niger uranium claims (the pseudonymous “eRiposte”), and Hamsher, “all of whom lodge at a Washington apartment rented for the duration of the trial.” Their work is so intensive and the bloggers so well-versed in the intricacies of the trial and its surrounding issues that “[m]any mainstream journalists use [FDL’s live coverage] to check on the trial.”
'Coming of Age' for Bloggers - Shane writes: “For blogs, the Libby trial marks a courthouse coming of age. It is the first federal case for which independent bloggers have been given official credentials along with reporters from the traditional news media” (see Early January, 2007). Robert A. Cox of the Media Bloggers Association says, “My goal is to get judges to think of bloggers as citizen journalists who should get the same protections as other journalists get.” Left-leaning bloggers such as those from FDL routinely disparage Libby and other Bush administration members in their writings, Shane notes, while right-wing blogs covering the trial, such as American Thinker, have targeted prosecution witnesses such as Tim Russert (see February 7-8, 2007) for their criticism. Sheldon Snook, the court official in charge of the news media, says the decision to admit bloggers (five to 10 out of the 100 or so reporters present on busy trial days) has worked out well. Snook tells Shane, “It seems they can provide legal analysis and a level of detail that might not be of interest to the general public but certainly has an audience.” Shane observes that “the Libby trial bloggers are a throwback to a journalistic style of decades ago, when many reporters made no pretense of political neutrality. Compared with the sober, neutral drudges of the establishment press, the bloggers are class clowns and crusaders, satirists and scolds.” Wheeler says covering the trial alongside mainstream reporters has confirmed some of her skepticism about mainstream journalism. “It’s shown me the degree to which journalists work together to define the story,” she says. “[O]nce the narrative is set on a story, there’s no deviating from it.” Hamsher, who is battling breast cancer, says of blogging, “There’s a snarky, get-under-the-surface-of-things quality to it that’s really me.” (The Times later notes that the FDL and other bloggers are not the first to cover a federal trial; anti-tobacco activist Gene Borio covered the trial of the federal government’s lawsuit against the tobacco industry in 2004.) [Marcy Wheeler, 2/8/2007; New York Times, 2/15/2007]
Countered 'Involved' Mainstream Media - In a contemporaneous interview with US News and World Report, Hamsher says of the mainstream coverage: “The media was having difficulty covering it because they were so involved in it. When the investigation started, Karl Rove’s attorney start[ed] putting out all this stuff. And every day the story would change and the blogosphere would document that. We had thousands of people showing up at our site and pointing out that the stories were never consistent. This story had so much information, and so many articles were written that it enabled the blogosphere to take in all of this information. And a cadre of professional people—not kids in their underwear—came together, compared notes, and developed a narrative of the story that was a pushback to the one that was being generated by the powers that be.… Our work on this particular topic has done a lot to defeat the notion that bloggers are fact free.” [Christy Hardin Smith, 2/15/2007] Salon’s progressive blogger Glenn Greenwald calls FDL’s trial coverage “intense, comprehensive, and superb.… [T]hey have produced coverage of this clearly significant event—one which has provided rare insight into the inner workings of the Beltway political and journalistic elite—that simply never is, and perhaps cannot be, matched by even our largest national media outlets.” He notes that even conservative news outlets such as the National Review have relied on FDL’s “liveblogging” of the trial for their reporting. [Salon, 2/15/2007] Shortly before the article comes out, Wheeler posts: “[T]he importance of having this story be told from a blogger’s perspective… is because there is so much about it the mainstream media cannot comfortably report. This story strikes at the core reasons why there are bloggers, why so many readers and writers have decided to invest their time in citizen driven media.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/8/2007]
Presiding Judge Treats Bloggers as Professionals - Smith writes: “For the record, Judge Walton’s entire staff and all the folks at the courthouse have been wonderful throughout the entire process. From the first day forward, our whole team of bloggers were treated like every other professional covering the case—there was no distinction made, no patronizing attitude, just the same treatment for all of us. The amount of work that has gone into covering this case has been astronomical—the live blogging, the courtroom observations, the late night analysis, all the IMs [instant messages] and phone calls to cross-check details—you name it. But so worth it, still, to get the entire story out and not just blurbs and bits. And I cannot thank Judge Walton and his staff enough for giving us this opportunity. Truly.”
Error in Reporting Corrected - Smith corrects an error in Shane’s reporting, noting that the Media Bloggers Association did not negotiate their media passes to gain admittance to the courtroom; that was done largely by Hamsher and the other FDL contributors, with assistance from author and fellow blogger Arianna Huffington. [Christy Hardin Smith, 2/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), American Thinker, Robert Cox, Scott Shane, Sheldon Snook, Arianna Huffington, New York Times, “Swopa”, “eRiposte”, National Review, Reggie B. Walton, Marcy Wheeler, Media Bloggers Association, FireDogLake, Gene Borio, Glenn Greenwald, Christy Hardin Smith, Jeralyn Merritt, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Jane Hamsher

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Media responses to the closing arguments in the Libby trial (see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007, 11:00 a.m. February 20, 2007, and 3:00 p.m. February 20, 2007) are strong and varied.
'Strongest Arguments Yet' of Cheney's Complicity - New York Sun reporter Josh Gerstein writes that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s “explosive” statements were his “strongest arguments yet” that Vice President Dick Cheney directed former chief of staff Lewis Libby to out CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. Libby was “not supposed to be talking to other people,” Fitzgerald said. “The only person he told is the vice president.… Think about that.” [New York Sun, 2/21/2007]
Fitzgerald Put 'Vice President on Trial' - Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff writes, “Fitzgerald pretty much made it clear to the jury that Libby, in the prosecution’s mind, was protecting the vice president of the United States.” Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News adds: “I think Fitzgerald and his fellow prosecutors put the vice president on trial, even though he was not charged with anything. But he was very much front and center in this trial from start to finish.” [Washington Post, 2/21/2007]
Fitzgerald 'Sinister,' 'Overcaffeinated'; Wells 'Erratic' - Conservative columnist Byron York is somewhat taken aback at Fitzgerald’s focus on Cheney, calling Fitzgerald “quite sinister” in his statements about Cheney’s apparent complicity in the leak. York sums up the two sides’ arguments and presentational styles. He calls both sides “uneven,” and says that defense attorney Theodore Wells’s performance “was erratic, sometimes appearing to defend his own honor more than his client’s, and sometimes brilliantly dismantling the credibility of key prosecution witnesses.” York writes that Fitzgerald “seemed overcaffeinated and overreaching, perhaps overwhelming the jury with the minutiae of the case.” He concludes, “How their closing summations will play with jurors is anybody’s guess.” [National Review, 2/21/2007]
Praise for Wells - The Washington Post’s Linton Weeks is more complimentary of Well’s closing statement. Weeks’s analysis of Wells’s close is similar to the glowing profile published by the New York Times earlier in the trial (see February 10, 2007). He portrays Wells as “tall, athletic, mustachioed—like a fighter imaging the bout to come,” and possessed of “an inner toughness of someone who will use any combination of punches to win big.” He notes that Wells paused during the proceedings to check on his elderly mother, watching her son from a wheelchair in the courtroom aisle. Though Weeks writes that Wells had “moments [that] seemed out of sync,” hurrying through a PowerPoint slide presentation, “[a]t other times, he was impressive, trying to convince the jury that the prosecution was attempting to ruin Libby based on a few conversations with reporters.” Weeks quotes one of Wells’s colleagues, Washington lawyer Stanley Brand, as saying Wells “has a wonderful demeanor… a master tactician… a bulldog, but in a gentle way.” Brand calls Wells “one of the five best trial lawyers in the country.” Weeks then spins an admiring biography of the “tough defense attorney who has mastered the balance between easygoing and hard-charging,” and uses Wells’s high school and college football career upon which to hang his final metaphor: “There in the middle of the courtroom, Wells was playing center again, helping call the plays and protecting the guy with the ball. Laughing in the beginning, crying in the end.” [Washington Post, 2/21/2007]
Sincere and Insincere Emotions - Author Marcy Wheeler, writing for the blog FireDogLake (see February 15, 2007), says that assistant prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg baited Wells into going into a sincere rage at the beginning of his argument. In the first portion of the prosecution’s close, Zeidenberg told the jury that Wells had not proven the White House conspiracy he alleged, and, Wheeler writes, Wells spent the first 20 minutes of his closing argument defending his trial strategy. “This was real rage,” she writes, “but it was rage in the service of Ted Wells, not rage in the service of Scooter Libby.” By goading Wells into losing his composure and defending his own actions, Wheeler writes, Wells was forced to rush his climactic argument. Wheeler says that Wells “really does have a schtick, one that the journalists who have seen him before all recognize. He finishes the rational part of his case. Then he spends the last 20 minutes or so summoning rage for his client. He brings all the emotion summoned for his client to a crescendo. And then he weeps, demonstrating clearly to the jury how deeply he believes that his client has been wronged.” But because Wells wasted the first 20 minutes defending his own actions, he “had no time to get into character, and he went immediately from a rushed but rational argument about memory into his emotional appeal.… [C]ompared to the real rage Wells had shown earlier in the day, it looked fake. Utterly, completely fake. Because Wells reacted to Zeidenberg’s barbs, he showed the jury true emotion that made all his elaborate schtick—the thing that Wells does best, normally—look like an act.” Moreover, Fitzgerald was able to mock the outrage that Wheeler believes to be “schtick” (see 3:00 p.m. February 20, 2007) all the more effectively because he almost never raised his voice or displayed any passion throughout the trial. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/21/2007]
Facts vs. Emotion - Sidney Blumenthal, a former Clinton administration adviser who has written a book critical of the Bush administration, writes that the prosecution depended largely on a structure of facts and evidence, while the defense relied much more on emotional appeals to the jury. He writes, “[T]he final argument on behalf of Scooter Libby was Libby’s last disinformation campaign.” Of the defense’s attacks on the credibility of news reports and the journalists who make them, Blumenthal writes: “This extraordinary defense—that nothing in any newspaper can be considered true—was the reductio ad absurdum of the Bush administration’s use and abuse of the press corps. Having manipulated it to plant stories on weapons of mass destruction to legitimize the Iraq war, Libby, who was centrally involved in those disinformation efforts, was reduced to defending himself on the basis that newspapers cannot be trusted to publish the truth.” Of Fitzgerald’s pronouncement of a “cloud” over Cheney, Blumenthal writes that “Fitzgerald made clear that he believed that Cheney was the one behind the crime for which he was prosecuting Libby. It was Cheney who was the boss, Cheney who gave the orders, and Cheney to whom Libby was the loyal soldier, and it is Cheney for whom Libby is covering up.” [Salon, 2/22/2007]

Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Linton Weeks, Josh Gerstein, Byron York, Thomas DeFrank, Theodore Wells, Valerie Plame Wilson, Sidney Blumenthal, Reggie B. Walton, Stanley Brand, Michael Isikoff, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Peter Zeidenberg

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Judge Reggie Walton, who presided over the Lewis Libby perjury trial (see March 6, 2007), says in the interest of transparency he will release the more than 150 letters he has received regarding Libby’s upcoming sentencing (see May 25, 2007 and June 5, 2007). He will release the letters after sentence is passed. Many of the letters are from current and former Bush administration officials pleading for leniency on Libby’s behalf. Libby, through his attorney William Jeffress, opposes the letters’ release, saying the letter writers never expected their words to be made public. [CBS News, 1/25/2007; Associated Press, 5/31/2007] The letters are released after Libby’s sentencing. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote of Libby, “I know Mr. Libby to be a patriot, a dedicated public servant, a strong family man, and a tireless, honorable, selfless human being.” Henry Kissinger, the secretary of state in the Nixon administration and an informal Bush administration adviser, wrote: “I would never have associated the actions for which he was convicted with his character. Nor do I believe that they will ever be repeated. Having served in the White House and under pressure, I have seen how difficult it is to recall precisely a particular series of events.” [Raw Story, 6/5/2007] Others who submitted letters include General Peter Pace, former Clinton administration peace negotiator Dennis Ross, and former Bush administration officials Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney did not submit letters on behalf of Libby. [PBS, 6/5/2007] Jeffress actively solicited letters from Libby’s friends and associates asking Walton to either give Libby a light sentence or no real sentence at all. In Jeffress’s filing asking that the letters remain private, he writes, “Given the extraordinary media scrutiny here, if any case presents the possibility that these letters, once released, would be published on the Internet and their authors discussed, even mocked, by bloggers, it is this case.” Marcy Wheeler, who spearheaded a team of bloggers that provided in-depth coverage of the Libby case (see February 15, 2007), derides Jeffress’s fears of being mocked by bloggers, but says there are far more compelling reasons to release the letters than to discomfit the letter writers. Wheeler notes that a lighter sentence would dissuade Libby from testifying against his former boss, Cheney, who is widely suspected of orchestrating the Plame Wilson exposure. Moreover, some of Libby’s supporters themselves have reason, she writes, “to be thankful that Libby successfully obstructed the investigation” and are anything but neutral. Finally, she writes: “[T]his sentencing, now scheduled for June 5, takes place against the background of the Bush administration’s purge of at least nine US attorneys, in at least one case at the behest of Republicans who complained that the US attorney didn’t file charges against a Democrat before an election. We have every reason to suspect that Bush’s supporters have inappropriately intervened in the administration of justice. Without seeing those letters, how can we be sure the same isn’t happening here?” [Guardian, 5/29/2007]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, Dennis Ross, George W. Bush, John R. Bolton, William Jeffress, Paul Wolfowitz, Henry A. Kissinger, Reggie B. Walton, Peter Pace, Marcy Wheeler, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Investigative journalist Robert Parry speaks at a conference in Heidelberg, Germany concerning the progression of journalism from the 1970s to the present. Parry tells the gathering that American investigative journalism may have hit something of a zenith in the 1970s, with the media exposure of the Pentagon Papers (see March 1971) and the Watergate scandal (see August 8, 1974). “That was a time when US journalism perhaps was at its best, far from perfect, but doing what the Founders had in mind when they afforded special protections to the American press,” he says. “In the 1970s, besides the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, there were other important press disclosures, like the My Lai massacre story and the CIA abuses—from Iran to Guatemala, from Cuba to Chile. For people around the world, American journalism was the gold standard. Granted, that was never the full picture. There were shortcomings even in the 1970s. You also could argue that the US news media’s performance then was exceptional mostly in contrast to its failures during the Cold War, when reporters tended to be stenographers to power, going along to get along, including early in the Vietnam War.” However, those days are long past, Parry notes, and in recent years, American journalism has, he says, gone “terribly wrong.” Parry says that the American press was subjected to an orchestrated program of propaganda and manipulation on a par with what the CIA did in many foreign countries: “Think how the CIA would target a country with the goal of shoring up a wealthy oligarchy. The agency might begin by taking over influential media outlets or starting its own. It would identify useful friends and isolate troublesome enemies. It would organize pro-oligarchy political groups. It would finance agit-prop specialists skilled at undermining and discrediting perceived enemies. If the project were successful, you would expect the oligarchy to consolidate its power, to get laws written in its favor. And eventually the winners would take a larger share of the nation’s wealth. And what we saw in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the United States was something like the behavior of an embattled oligarchy. Nixon’s embittered allies and the Right behaved as if they were following a CIA script. They built fronts; they took over and opened new media outlets; they spread propaganda; they discredited people who got in the way; ultimately, they consolidated power; they changed laws in their favor; and—over the course of several decades—they made themselves even richer, indeed a lot richer, and that, in turn, has translated into even more power.”
Building a Base - Right-wing billionaires such as the Koch brothers (see 1979-1980) and Richard Mellon Scaife, along with Nixon-era figures such as former Treasury Secretary William Simon (a Wall Street investment banker who ran the right-wing Olin Foundation) worked to organize conservative foundations; their money went into funding what Parry calls “right-wing media… right-wing think tanks… [and] right-wing attack groups. Some of these attack groups were set up to go after troublesome reporters.” Parry finds it ironic, in light of the CIA’s interference in the affairs of other nations, that two foreign media moguls, Sun Myung Moon and Rupert Murdoch, were key figures in building and financing this conservative media construct. Some media outlets, such as Fox News (see Summer 1970 and October 7, 1996), were created from scratch, while others, such as the venerable and formerly liberal New Republic, were bought out and taken over by conservatives. When Ronald Reagan ascended to the White House, Parry says, he brought along with him “a gifted team of [public relations] and ad men.” Vice President George H.W. Bush, a former CIA director, enabled access to that agency’s propaganda professionals. And Reagan named William Casey to head the CIA; Casey, a former Nixon administration official, was “obsessed [with] the importance of deception and propaganda,” Parry says. “Casey understood that he who controlled the flow of information had a decisive advantage in any conflict.”
Two-Pronged Attack - Two key sources of information for Washington media insiders were targeted, Parry says: the “fiercely independent” CIA analytical division, whose analyses had so often proven damaging to White House plans when reported, and the “unruly” Washington press corps. Casey targeted the CIA analysts, placing his young assistant, Robert Gates, in charge of the analytical division; Gates’s reorganization drove many troublesome analysts into early retirement, to be replaced with more malleable analysts who would echo the White House’s hard line against “Soviet expansionism.” Another Casey crony, Walter Raymond Jr., worked to corral the Washington press corps from his position on the National Security Council. Raymond headed an interagency task force that ostensibly spread “good news” about American policies in the foreign press, but in reality worked to smear and besmirch American journalists who the White House found troubling. According to Parry, “Secret government documents that later emerged in the Iran-Contra scandal revealed that Raymond’s team worked aggressively and systematically to lobby news executives and turn them against their reporters when the reporters dug up information that clashed with Reagan’s propaganda, especially in hot spots like Central America.” It was easy to discredit female journalists in Central America, Parry says; Raymond’s team would spread rumors that they were secretly having sexual liaisons with Communist officials. Other reporters were dismissed as “liberals,” a label that many news executives were eager to avoid. Working through the news executives was remarkably successful, Parry says, and it was not long before many Washington reporters were either brought to heel or marginalized.
'Perception Management' - Reagan’s team called its domestic propaganda scheme “perception management.” Parry says: “The idea was that if you could manage how the American people perceived events abroad, you could not only insure their continued support of the foreign policy, but in making the people more compliant domestically. A frightened population is much easier to control. Thus, if you could manage the information flows inside the government and inside the Washington press corps, you could be more confident that there would be no more Vietnam-style protests. No more Pentagon Papers. No more My Lai massacre disclosures. No more Watergates.” The New York Times and Washington Post, the newspapers that had led the surge of investigative reporting in the 1970s, were effectively muzzled during the Reagan era; Parry says that the two papers “became more solicitous to the Establishment than they were committed to the quality journalism that had contributed to the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s.” The same happened at the Associated Press (AP), where Parry had attempted, with limited success, to dig into the Reagan administration’s Central American policies, policies that would eventually crystallize into the Iran-Contra scandal (see May 5, 1987). Few newspapers followed the lead of AP reporters such as Parry and Brian Barger until late 1986, when the Hasenfus air crash provided a news story that editors could no longer ignore (see October 5, 1986). But, Parry says, by the time of the Iran-Contra hearings, few news providers, including the Associated Press, had the stomach for another scandal that might result in another impeachment, particularly in light of the relentless pressure coming from the Reagan administration and its proxies. By June 1990, Parry says he understood “the concept of ‘perception management’ had carried the day in Washington, with remarkably little resistance from the Washington press corps.… Washington journalists had reverted to their pre-Vietnam, pre-Watergate inability to penetrate important government secrets in a significant way.” The process accelerated after 9/11, Parry says: “[M]any journalists reverted back their earlier roles as stenographers to power. They also became cheerleaders for a misguided war in Iraq. Indeed, you can track the arc of modern American journalism from its apex at the Pentagon Papers and Watergate curving downward to that center point of Iran-Contra before reaching the nadir of Bush’s war in Iraq. Journalists found it hard even to challenge Bush when he was telling obvious lies. For instance, in June 2003, as the search for WMD came up empty, Bush began to tell reporters that he had no choice but to invade because Saddam Hussein had refused to let UN inspectors in. Though everyone knew that Hussein had let the inspectors in and that it was Bush who had forced them to leave in March 2003, not a single reporter confronted Bush on this lie, which he repeated again and again right through his exit interviews in 2008” (see November 2002-March 2003, November 25, 2002, December 2, 2002, December 5, 2002, January 9, 2003, March 7, 2003, and March 17, 2003).
The Wikileaks Era and the 'Fawning Corporate Media' - Parry says that now, the tough-minded independent media has been all but supplanted by what former CIA analyst Ray McGovern calls the “Fawning Corporate Media.” This has increased public distrust of the media, which has led to people seeking alternative investigative and reporting methods. Parry comments that much of the real investigative journalism happening now is the product of non-professionals working outside the traditional media structure, such as Wikileaks (see February 15, 2007, 2008, and April 18, 2009). However, the independent media have not demonstrated they can reach the level of influence of institutions like the Washington Post and the New York Times. “[I]f we were assessing how well the post-Watergate CIA-style covert operation worked,” Parry says, “we’d have to conclude that it was remarkably successful. Even after George W. Bush took the United States to war in Iraq under false pretenses and even after he authorized the torture of detainees in the ‘war on terror,’ no one involved in those decisions has faced any accountability at all. When high-flying Wall Street bankers brought the world’s economy to its knees with risky gambles in 2008, Western governments used trillions of dollars in public moneys to bail the bankers out. But not one senior banker faced prosecution.… Another measure of how the post-Watergate counteroffensive succeeded would be to note how very well America’s oligarchy had done financially in the past few decades. Not only has political power been concentrated in their hands, but the country’s wealth, too.… So, a sad but—I think—fair conclusion would be that at least for the time being, perception management has won out over truth. But the struggle over information and democracy has entered another new and unpredictable phase.” [Consortium News, 5/15/2012]

Entity Tags: Fox News, David Koch, Washington Post, William Casey, William Simon, Central Intelligence Agency, Associated Press, The New Republic, Sun Myung Moon, Walter Raymond, Jr, Ronald Reagan, New York Times, George W. Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, Rupert Murdoch, Robert Parry, Ray McGovern, Robert M. Gates, Olin Foundation, Charles Koch, Richard Mellon Scaife

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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