Since the 1980s, when the neoconservatives burst onto the Washington
scene, they have always understood the power that comes from controlling the
flow of information that passes from the U.S. government to the news media and
then to the American people.
This transmission of information through Washington was to these savvy neoconservatives
what a key railroad junction was to Civil War generals, a strategic switching
point to be captured and exploited.
Just as the rapid movement of troops and supplies by rail was crucial to those
old-time generals, the dissemination of favored facts and sometimes disinformation
via the media was vital to these neocon “information warriors” who
saw their conflict as a “war of ideas” with fronts, both foreign
This imperative to dominate information also underscores the recent spate of
over-the-top attacks against the New York Times for publishing stories about
the Bush administration’s secret monitoring of phone calls and financial
transactions. That spying – done without court orders and with minimal
oversight – was ostensibly aimed at terror suspects but mostly produced
thousands of false leads against innocent Americans.
The Right’s denunciations of the Times – rising to demands that
the newspaper’s editors be prosecuted for espionage and even treason –
represent a fierce counterattack that seeks to reclaim what the neocons in the
Bush administration had come to view as a valued part of their propaganda infrastructure,
the major U.S. news organizations.
For years, the Times’ news pages had been the neocons’ preferred
conduit for fictitious stories about Iraq’s
nuclear weapons program as well as for criticism
of Al Gore and other political challengers. During the war fever of 2002,
Vice President Dick Cheney and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice loved
to cite supportive stories in the Times, made even more convincing because the
Times editorial page opposed the Iraq invasion.
However, following the humiliating discovery in 2003-2004 of how the nation’s
“newspaper of record” had been deceived about Iraq’s WMD,
Times news editors began to resist the administration’s propaganda themes
and even rebuff some White House demands for silence on terrorism-related stories.
Though the Times editors in fall 2004 did bend to White House pressure and
withheld the story about the administration’s warrantless wiretapping
of some American phone calls, the newspaper finally published the article more
than a year later, in December 2005.
On June 23, 2006, the Times again defied the administration in publishing a
story about the administration’s secret monitoring of nearly $6 trillion
in bank transactions handled by a Belgian-based clearinghouse known as Swift
for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications.
After the story ran, President George W. Bush and other administration officials
denounced the Times for allegedly hindering the “war on terror”
by alerting al-Qaeda to U.S. capabilities (even though the administration itself
had often boasted of its success in tracking international money transfers).
Meanwhile, civil libertarians cited the story in raising alarms over what appeared
to be the administration’s expansion of long-term Big Brother surveillance
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, asked Treasury Secretary-designate Henry Paulson
whether the financial monitoring might violate the Fourth Amendment’s
prohibition against unreasonable searches.
“I think you’ll agree that we could fight terrorism properly and
adequately without having a police state in America,” Baucus said. [NYT,
June 28, 2006]
But some Republican members of Congress and right-wing pundits demanded investigations
with the goal of bringing criminal charges against the Times or throwing some
Times journalists into prison if they refuse to identify the newspaper’s
sources. Some cable news shows suggested that the Times had committed “treason.”
“Even by modern standards of media-bashing, the volume of vitriol being
heaped upon the editors on Manhattan’s West 43rd Street is remarkable,”
observed Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz. “New York Rep. Peter
King continues to call for the Times – which, he told Fox News, has an
‘arrogant, elitist, left-wing agenda’ – to be prosecuted for
violating the 1917 Espionage Act.” [Washington Post, June 28, 2006]
After using the New York Times for years as a favorite propaganda vehicle,
the administration may now be making the newspaper and its editors an example
of what happens to journalists who stop toeing the line.
This battle over the U.S. news media – and similar assaults on the objectivity
of CIA analysts – have been crucial fronts for years in the Right’s
struggle to shape the American people’s view of the world, a concept known
management.” [For more on this topic, see Robert Parry’s Lost
History or Secrecy & Privilege.]
This fight over controlling perceptions also has intensified in recent weeks
as the Republican Party has sharpened its plans for winning the congressional
elections in November, victories that would advance political strategist Karl
Rove’s goal of creating a de facto one-party state in America.
But central to that ambition of consolidating Republican power is controlling
the public’s perception of Bush’s “war on terror,” both
his positive image as America’s defender and the negative vision of Democrats
and journalists as weaklings who would endanger the nation.
Selective release of information has been crucial in burnishing Bush’s
In the new book, The One Percent Doctrine, author Ron Suskind describes some
previously unreported deceptions that boosted Bush’s standing with the
For instance, the capture of al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was hyped into
a major victory over terrorism though U.S. intelligence knew that Zubaydah was
really a mentally disturbed gofer whose main job was to arrange travel for al-Qaeda
“In the wide, diffuse ‘war on terror,’ so much of it occurring
in the shadows – with no transparency and only perfunctory oversight –
the administration could say anything it wanted to say,” Suskind wrote.
“That was a blazing insight of this period. The administration could create
whatever reality was convenient.”
So, on April 9, 2002, when Bush wanted to tout some successes in a speech to
Republican contributors, the President elevated Zubaydah from a minor fixer
into a key al-Qaeda mastermind.
“The other day we hauled in a guy named Abu Zubaydah,” Bush said.
“He’s one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and
destruction on the United States. He’s not plotting and planning anymore.
He’s where he belongs.”
Bush later instructed CIA director George Tenet not to contradict that version
of reality, Suskind reported. “I said he was important,” Bush told
Tenet at one of their daily meetings. “You’re not going to let me
lose face on this, are you?”
Not that the major U.S. news media was doing much to penetrate the cloak of
heroism that had been draped around Bush’s shoulders.
Though Bush’s claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction collapsed
after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the U.S. press corps still gave Bush wide
latitude in his handling and depiction of the “war on terror” –
until fall 2005.
The New York Times had that article on the warrantless wiretapping ready
before Election 2004 but bowed to Bush’s demands that the story be
spiked. In November 2005, however, the Washington Post defied the White House
and published a detailed article about the CIA’s secret prisons where
terrorism suspects reportedly were tortured.
Then, in December 2005, the Times revived and published its wiretapping story,
which was followed by other disclosures, including a
USA Today article about the administration’s monitoring of American
On June 23, 2006, the Times then broke the story of the secret financial monitoring,
followed by similar stories in the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.
The moment was ripe for Bush and his right-wing allies to hit back, both to
rally their base for the fall elections and to nip any journalistic independence
in the bud.
(Even administration officials could offer only lame explanations about the
supposed damage caused to the “war on terror” from the surveillance
disclosures. The officials said the articles may have filled in some details
for al-Qaeda though the group was already well aware of U.S. capabilities to
spy on its phone calls and financial transactions.)
The absence of any clear damage from the Times article, however, didn’t
lessen the intensity of the counterattack against the Times editors. Bush’s
advisers saw an opening for portraying Bush as the common-sense battler against
terrorism hampered by pointy-headed intellectuals who put privacy rights over
the safety of Americans.
Bush’s supporters made the strong emotional argument that the primary
responsibility of the government was to protect its citizens, while Bush’s
critics had to present a more nuanced case about the constitutional rights of
Americans and the responsibilities of journalists to keep the public informed.
The Times tried to make that case in an editorial that concluded:
“The United States will soon be marking the fifth anniversary of the
war on terror. The country is in this for the long haul, and the fight has to
be coupled with a commitment to individual liberties that define America’s
side in the battle. …
“The free press has a central place in the Constitution because it can
provide information the public needs to make things right again. Even if it
runs the risk of being labeled unpatriotic.” [NYT, June 28, 2006]
Cheers & Silence
Not surprisingly, the administration’s assault on the New York Times
drew hearty cheers from the conservative punditry but – somewhat surprisingly
– the attacks elicited little comment or objection from the liberal blogosphere.
That’s probably because many Bush critics blame the Times and other leading
newspapers for their long failure to stand up to the White House.
But the larger significance of the Times bashing is that it marks the opening
of a decisive phase in the Bush administration’s long campaign to lock
in a revised version of the American constitutional system, in effect putting
Bush’s national security judgments beyond question and outside any meaningful
The Republicans are now looking toward November with increasing hope that the
elections will consolidate GOP control of Congress and thus put Bush in position
to stack the U.S. Supreme Court with right-wing jurists before the end of his
second term. The court would then almost certainly endorse Bush’s claims
to broad authoritarian powers.
In essence, Bush has asserted that for the duration of the indefinite “war
on terror,” he or another President can assert the “plenary”
– or unlimited – powers of commander in chief and thus negate all
other powers granted to Congress, the courts or the people. [See Consortiumnews.com’s
“End of Unalienable
The fate of the American Republic could not be more clearly at stake. But the
forces that share a common cause in trying to protect the traditional concepts
of constitutional checks and balances and the inalienable rights of citizens
are scattered and disorganized.
Meanwhile, Bush’s neoconservative administration is tightening
its grip on what information the American people get to see and hear.
Read from Looking Glsss News
AND THE HIVE MIND
Mind Control Through Network Television: Are Your Thoughts Your Own?
Techniques for Truth Suppression
Doors Of Perception: Why Americans Will Believe Almost Anything
at the Gate: He Who Controls Television Controls the Masses
of Media Manipulation
The Subversion Of The Free Press By The CIA