On the role of the media to facilitate the disinformation of the U.S. state

Media-CulpaThree items on a U.S. psychological operation suppressed by the American monopoly media and obviously never mentioned on “Reliable Sources,” CNN’s own media monitoring program hosted by Howard Kurtz. (Postscript: In May 2013, Kurtz, the American journalist who publicly defended the war on Iraq on CNN along with a legion of generals parading as “analysts” as the bombs began to fall on Baghdad, was cashiered by Newsweek from The Daily Beast, allegedly over his boneheaded reporting about gay basketball star Jason Collins.)

Why were government propaganda experts working on news at CNN?

By FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting)* 

(March 27, 2000) – REPORTS in the Dutch newspaper Trouw (2/21/00, 2/25/00) and France’s Intelligence Newsletter (2/17/00) have revealed that several officers from the US Army’s 4th Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) Group at Ft. Bragg worked in the news division at CNN’s Atlanta headquarters last year, starting in the final days of the Kosovo War.

In the U.S. media, so far only Alexander Cockburn, columnist for The Nation and co-editor of the newsletter CounterPunch, has picked up on the story. (Cockburn’s column on the subject is reproduced below).

The story is disturbing. In the 1980s, officers from the 4th Army PSYOPS group staffed the National Security Council’s Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD), a shadowy government propaganda agency that planted stories in the U.S. media supporting the Reagan Administration’s Central America policies.

A senior US official described OPD as a “vast psychological warfare operation of the kind the military conducts to influence a population in enemy territory.” (Miami Herald, 7/19/87) An investigation by the congressional General Accounting Office found that OPD had engaged in “prohibited, covert propaganda activities,” and the office was soon shut down as a result of the Iran-Contra investigations. But the 4th PSYOPS group still operates.

CNN has always maintained a close relationship with the Pentagon. Getting access to top military officials is a necessity for a network that stakes its reputation on being first on the ground during wars and other military operations.

the network allowed the Army’s covert propagandists to work in its headquarters

What makes the CNN story especially troubling is the fact that the network allowed the Army’s covert propagandists to work in its headquarters, where they learned the ins and outs of CNN’s operations. Even if the PSYOPS officers working in the newsroom did not influence news reporting, did the network allow the military to conduct an intelligence-gathering mission against CNN itself?

For instance, one PSYOPS officer worked in CNN’s satellite division. According to Intelligence Newsletter, rear admiral Thomas Steffens, a psychological warfare expert in the Special Operations Command, recently told a PSYOPS conference that the military needed to find ways to “gain control” over commercial news satellites to help bring down an “informational cone of silence” over regions where special operations were taking place.

An unofficial strategy paper published by the U.S. Naval War College in 1996 and written by an Army officer (“Military Operations in the CNN World: Using the Media as a Force Multiplier”) urged military commanders to find ways to “leverage the vast resources of the fourth estate” for the purposes of “communicating the [mission’s] objective and endstate, boosting friendly morale, executing more effective psychological operations, playing a major role in deception of the enemy, and enhancing intelligence collection.”

ACTION: Please write to CNN and ask why the network allowed government propaganda specialists to work in their news division.

FAIR is  a U.S. media watchdog group. Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting 130 W. 25th Street New York, NY 10001

Source: http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1748

* * *

CNN and PSYOPS

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN, COUNTERPUNCH

(March 26-28, 2000) – MILITARY PERSONNEL from the Fourth Psychological Operations Group based at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, have until recently been working in CNN’s hq in Atlanta.

CNN is up in arms about our report in the last issue of CounterPunch concerning the findings of the Dutch journalist, Abe de Vries about the presence of US Army personnel at CNN, owned by Time-Warner. We cited an article by de Vries which appeared on February 21 in the reputable Dutch daily newspaper Trouw, originally translated into English and placed on the web by Emperor’s Clothes. De Vries reported that a handful of military personnel from the Third Psychological Operations Battalion, part of the airmobile Fourth Psychological Operations Group based at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, had worked in CNN’s hq in Atlanta.

De Vries quoted Major Thomas Collins of the US Army Information Service as having confirmed the presence of these Army psy-ops experts at CNN, saying, “Psy-ops personnel, soldiers and officers, have been working in CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta through our program, ‘Training with Industry’. They worked as regular employees of CNN. Conceivably, they would have worked on stories during the Kosovo war. They helped in the production of news.”

This particular CounterPunch story was the topic of my regular weekly broadcast to AM Live, a program of the South Africa Broadcasting Company in Johannesburg. Among the audience of this broadcast was CNN’s bureau in South Africa which lost no time in relaying news of it to CNN hq in Atlanta, and I duly received an angry phone call from Eason Jordan who identified himself as CNN’s president of newsgathering and international networks.

Jordan was full of indignation that I had somehow compromised the reputation of CNN. But in the course of our conversation it turned out that yes, CNN had hosted a total of five interns from US army psy-ops, two in television, two in radio and one in satellite operations. Jordan said the program had only recently terminated, I would guess at about the time CNN’s higher management read Abe de Vries’s stories.

When I reached De Vries in Belgrade, where’s he is Trouw’s correspondent, and told him about CNN’s furious reaction, he stood by his stories and by the quotations given him by Major Collins. For some days CNN wouldn’t get back to him with a specific reaction to Collins’ confirmation, and when it did, he filed a later story for Trouw, printed on February 25 noting that the military worked at CNN in the period from June 7, (a date confirmed by Eason to me) meaning that during the war a psy-ops person would have been at CNN during the last week.

“The facts are”, De Vries told me, “that the US Army, US Special Operations Command and CNN personnel confirmed to me that military personnel have been involved in news production at CNN’s newsdesks. I found it simply astonishing. Of course CNN says these psyops personnel didn’t decide anything, write news reports, etcetera. What else can they say. Maybe it’s true, maybe not. The point is that these kind of close ties with the army are, in my view, completely unacceptable for any serious news organization. Maybe even more astonishing is the complete silence about the story from the big media. To my knowledge, my story was not mentioned by leading American or British newspapers, nor by Reuters or AP.”

Colonel Christopher St John, commander of the US Army’s 4th Psyops Group, was quoted by Intelligence On-Line’s correspondent, present at the symposium, as having, in the correspondent’s words, ‘called for greater cooperation between the armed forces and media giants…’

Here at CounterPunch we agree with Abe de Vries, who told me he’d originally come upon the story through an article in the French newsletter, Intelligence On-line, February 17, which described a military symposium in Arlington, Virginia, held at the beginning of February of this year, discussing use of the press in military operations. Colonel Christopher St John, commander of the US Army’s 4th Psyops Group, was quoted by Intelligence On-Line’s correspondent, present at the symposium, as having, in the correspondent’s words, “called for greater cooperation between the armed forces and media giants. He pointed out that some army PSYOPS personnel had worked for CNN for several weeks and helped in the production of some news stories for the network.”

So, however insignificant Eason Jordan and other executives at CNN may now describe the Army psyops tours at CNN as having been, the commanding officer of the Psy-ops group thought them as sufficient significance to mention at a high level Pentagon seminar about propaganda and psychological warfare. It could be that CNN was the target of a psyops penetration and is still too naive to figure out what was going on.

It’s hard not to laugh when CNN execs like Eason Jordan start spouting high-toned stuff about CNN’s principles of objectivity and refusal to spout government or Pentagon propaganda. The relationship is most vividly summed up by the fact that Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s leading foreign correspondent, and a woman whose reports about the fate of Kosovan refugees did much to fan public appetite for NATO’s war, is literally and figuratively in bed with spokesman for the US State Department, and a leading propagandist for NATO during that war, her husband James Rubin. If CNN truly wanted to maintain the appearance of objectivity, it would have taken Amanpour off the story. Amanpour, by the way, is still a passionate advocate for NATO’s crusade, most recently on the Charlie Rose show.

In the first two weeks of the war in Kosovo CNN produced thirty articles for the Internet, according to de Vries, who looked them up for his first story. An average CNN article had seven mentions of Tony Blair, NATO spokesmen like Jamie Shea and David Wilby or other NATO officials. Words like refugees, ethnic cleansing, mass killings and expulsions were used nine times on the average. But the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (0.2 mentions) and the Yugoslav civilian victims (0.3 mentions) barely existed for CNN.

CNN’s screen was filled with an interminable procession of US military officers.

During the war on Serbia, as with other recent conflicts involving the US, wars, CNN’s screen was filled with an interminable procession of US military officers. On April 27 of last year, Amy Goodman of the Pacifica radio network, put a good question to Frank Sesno, who is CNN’s senior vice president for political coverage.

GOODMAN: “If you support the practice of putting ex-military men – generals – on the payroll to share their opinion during a time of war, would you also support putting peace activists on the payroll to give a different opinion during a time of war? To be sitting there with the military generals talking about why they feel that war is not appropriate?”

FRANK SESNO: “We bring the generals in because of their expertise in a particular area. We call them analysts. We don’t bring them in as advocates. In fact, we actually talk to them about that – they’re not there as advocates.”

Exactly a week before Sesno said this, CNN had featured as one of its military analysts, Lt Gen Dan Benton, US Army Retired.

BENTON: “I don’t know what our countrymen that are questioning why we’re involved in this conflict are thinking about. As I listened to this press conference this morning with reports of rapes burning, villages being burned and this particularly incredible report of blood banks, of blood being harvested from young boys for the use of Yugoslav forces, I just got madder and madder. The United States has a responsibility as the only superpower in the world, and when we learn about these things, somebody has got to stand up and say, that’s enough, stop it, we aren’t going to put up with this. And so the United States is fulfilling its leadership responsibility with our NATO allies and are trying to stop these incredible atrocities.”

Please note what CNN’s supposedly non-advocatory analyst Benton was ranting about: a particularly bizarre and preposterous NATO propaganda item about 700 Albanian boys being used as human blood banks for Serb fighters.

So much for the “non-advocate” CNN.

* * *

CNN Responds to FAIR on PSYOPS in the Newsroom

(April 6, 2000) – ON MARCH 27, FAIR released an action alert (“Why Were Government Propaganda Experts Working On News At CNN?”) urging readers to contact CNN and ask why the network allowed military propaganda specialists from an Army Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) unit to work in the news division of its Atlanta headquarters.

Since then, FAIR has been contacted by Eason Jordan, CNN’s president for international networks and newsgathering, as well as executive vice president for public relations Sue Binford.

On March 29, FAIR received CNN’s official response, written by Binford:

As executive vice president of CNN Public Relations, I am responding officially on behalf of CNN to FAIR’s action alert headlined “Why were Government Propaganda Experts Working on News at CNN?”:

1. No government or military propaganda expert has ever worked on news at CNN.

2. Amongst the hundreds of interns from around the world who spent a few weeks at a time at CNN in the past year, were five personnel from a U.S. Army PSYOPS group.

3. Interns at CNN observe under the supervision of CNN staff and have no influence over what CNN reports or how CNN reports it.

4. CNN’s intern program is administered by the Company’s Human Resources Department, which is made up of hard-working, well-intentioned people who are not journalists and who thought they were doing the right thing when they agreed to a U.S. Army request to allow the military personnel to intern at CNN.

5. The intern program was terminated as soon as the leadership of CNN learned of it. CNN’s position: it was inappropriate for PSYOPS personnel to be at CNN, they are not here now, and they never again will be at CNN.

6. CNN prides itself on its journalistic independence and impartiality and is committed to accurate, fair, responsible reporting.

FAIR commends CNN for acknowledging that the presence of PSYOPS personnel in the newsroom was, in its words, “inappropriate.” It is unfortunate that the network came to that conclusion only after the program’s existence was revealed in February by the Dutch newspaper Trouw (2/21/00).

The only points in CNN’s statement that are in factual conflict with FAIR’s action alert are points 1 and 3. CNN denies that any military propaganda expert “ever worked on news” at CNN – seeming to contradict FAIR’s assertion, made in the headline of our action alert, that PSYOPS personnel were “working on news” at CNN. While PSYOPS personnel did intern at CNN, the statement says, “interns at CNN observe under the supervision of CNN staff and have no influence over what CNN reports or how CNN reports it.”

As interns, some of the PSYOPS officers clearly answered to the news division and assisted CNN news staffers as they produced stories.

This seems to be essentially a semantic quibble. As interns, some of the PSYOPS officers clearly answered to the news division and assisted CNN news staffers as they produced stories. According to Major Thomas Collins of the U.S. Army Information Service, the PSYOPS interns “worked as regular employees of CNN” and “helped in the production of news.” (Trouw, 2/21)

But as we said in our original action alert:

What makes the CNN story especially troubling is the fact that the network allowed the Army’s covert propagandists to work in its headquarters, where they learned the ins and outs of CNN’s operations. Even if the PSYOPS officers working in the newsroom did not influence news reporting, did the network allow the military to conduct an intelligence-gathering mission against CNN itself?

FAIR then offered specific evidence that military PSYOPS specialists have recently been trying to increase their knowledge of and cooperation with the news media in order to influence coverage.

Indeed, the presence of psychological operations personnel at CNN was first revealed at a PSYOPS conference in Arlington, Virginia by Col. Christopher St. John, commander of the Army’s 4th PSYOPS Group (the unit to which the CNN interns belonged), who offered the internship program as an example of the type of “greater cooperation between the armed forces and media giants” which he hoped to see more of (Intelligence Newsletter, 2/17/00).

That is presumably why CNN has admitted that, even as observers, PSYOPS officers should not have worked—or “observed”—in CNN’s offices.

ACTION: If you feel this matter is serious enough that CNN should issue a more in-depth explanation of how military personnel came to intern at the network, and precisely what kind of work they did there, you can write to CNN’s President of International Networks and Newsgathering, Eason Jordan, at:

cnn.feedback@cnn.com

Fax: 404-827-3134

As always, please remember that letters are taken more seriously if they maintain a professional tone. Please cc-copies of your correspondence to fair@fair.org.

NOTE: In pointing out the lack of mainstream media coverage of the CNN-PSYOPS story, our original action alert stated that “in the U.S. media, so far only Alexander Cockburn” had picked up on the story. We should have noted that it was online media that initially picked up on the Trouw and Intelligence Newsletter reports. The website Emperor’s Clothes appears to have been the first to translate the Trouw report and put it on the Web. Several other political sites also picked up the story. Cockburn was the first journalist in the U.S. to discuss the story in print, and the first to get it into a mainstream U.S. outlet.

FAIR Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, 130 W. 25th Street, New York, NY 10001

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2 Comments

Filed under Media, Journalism & Disinformation, No Harbour for War (Halifax)

2 responses to “On the role of the media to facilitate the disinformation of the U.S. state

  1. Pingback: CNN, CBC: Fake image of a young child – again | Tony Seed's Weblog

  2. Pingback: Information war: CNN’s Amanpour show edits out criticism by visiting RT host | Tony Seed's Weblog

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