All The Liars Fit To Print

We have not researched, reflected, analyzed, or thought enough about the long-term consequences of the military embed program. Today, it is barely mentioned and considered a thing of the past, but it changed the nature of journalism.

After 2003, the walls between political, military, and intelligence power and the “check and balance” press disappeared as journalists became used to relying on official sources for information, sound bites, anonymous leaks, and innuendoes, and editors willingly published it all. Journalists could behave as stenographers and still retain their professional titles as journalists. Power brokers and their public relations agents could be passed off as journalists and independent commentators on television news channels and the opinion and punditry pages of the newspapers.

Our media houses today are filled with former state functionaries, public relations professionals in the pay of large corporations, and intelligence agency professionals labeled as “experts” and “consultants” to the media.

Even a cursory look at the situation, which is all I can do in this book, reveals a depressing picture.

The Managing Director of one of the Saudi regime’s most well-funded lobbying firms, Carter Eskew, is a Contributing Opinion Writer at the Washington Post. [Tom Hamburger and Justin Wm. Moyer, “Khashoggi’s alleged killing puts pressure on Saudi Arabia’s lobbying corps in Washington,” The Washington Post, October 13, 2018]. The Chairman of another lobbying firm used extensively by the Saudi regime, Ed Rogers, is also an Opinion writer for the same newspaper. He was sidelined just before the 2020 elections and after his connections to the Saudi regime became challenging to defend. [Eric Hananoki, “Washington Post Sidelines Contributing Opinion Writer and Megalobbyist Ed Rogers Ahead of 2020,” Media Matters for America, April 20, 2021].

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius has had a close relationship with the Saudi government for nearly nineteen years has “been breathlessly updating US readers on the token, meaningless public relations gestures that the Saudi regime—and, by extension, Ignatius—refer to as ‘reforms.’” [Adam Johnson, “David Ignatius’ 15 Years of Running Spin for Saudi Regime,” FAIR, April 28, 2017].

Joe Biden recently selected Stengel to join President Biden’s presidential transition team, where Stengel will head the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM). The USAGM is a Cold War relic that offers “free press” outlets such as the “democracy spreading” Voice of America (VOA), Cuba-targeting Radio and TV Martí, and the Arabic-language stations Al-hurra Television and Radio Sawa. That is, the USAGM is the international propaganda department. Stengel’s career trajectory is a fascinating example of the ease with which individuals move into influential positions in government, state propaganda institutions, the “free” and liberal press publications, and back.

Richard Stengel was Time magazine’s managing editor from 2006 to 2013. He left Time to become President Obama’s Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs–the White House propaganda office–from 2014 to 2016. He was also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. In response to an audience member’s question at a public event, he declared he wasn’t against propaganda and did not think it was necessarily wrong.

After leaving the State Department in 2016, Stengel entered the private sector. He became a strategic advisor to Snap Inc., which operates social media apps like Snapchat and Bitmoji. If that was not enough, he also worked with the Atlantic Council. This think tank received funding from NATO, the EU, and many weapons manufacturers, oil companies, Gulf monarchies, and corporate technology firms. [Ben Norton, “US-Funded Atlantic Council Shills for Pro-NATO Autocrats While They Brutalize Protesters,” The Gray Zone, May 19, 2017].

Before joining the Biden team, he was an analyst on MSNBC, where he was happily feeding Russiagate conspiracies to the world. [Richard Stengel: ‘It’s absolute denialism’ that Trump didn’t see Russia bounty intel,” MSNBC, July 30, 2020, online here (last accessed November 2023)]. His career trajectory represents the blurred boundaries between the media and political interests and US journalism’s unspoken “objective” basis.

There are many other examples; Dawn Scalici, a 33-year Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) veteran, joined Reuters in 2017 as their Global Government Business Director to help “meet the disparate needs of the US Government.” [Ben Norton, “Twitter Partners with UK Govt-backed, CIA-linked Reuters to Censor Alternative views,” TheGrayZone, August 4, 2021]. Over at the Los Angeles Times, journalist Ken Dilanian had a long-term “collaborative” partnership with the CIA. He “enjoyed a closely collaborative relationship with the agency, explicitly promising positive news coverage and sometimes sending the press office entire story drafts for review before publication.” [Ken Silverstein, “The CIA’s Mop-up Man: LA Times Reporter Cleared Stories with the Agency Before Publication,” The Intercept, September 4, 2014]. At the New York Times, reporter Mark Mazzetti was found passing information about his colleagues to the CIA. [Glenn Greenwald, “Correspondence and collusion between the New York Times and the CIA,” The Guardian, August 29, 2012].

Bill Keller of the New York Times felt no doubt in publicly revealing how he had met with the White House, the State Department, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Pentagon to get their “approval” before the publication of the WikiLeaks Afghan Logs documents. [Bill Keller, “Dealing With Assange and The WikiLeaks Secrets,” New York Times, January 26, 2011]. John Lansing, who once headed the USAGM, is the new CEO at National Public Radio (NPR). [Laura Flanders, “From Voice of America to NPR: New CEO Lansing’s Glass House,” Counterpunch, September 17, 2019].

Not to be outdone, NBC hired former CIA Director John Brennan as a “senior national security and intelligence analyst” and appeared on its “Meet The Press” program. [Niamh Harris, “Ex-CIA Director John Brennan Hired By NBC,” NewsPunch, February 5, 2018]. CNN retained the services of former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director Michael Hayden as analysts. [Ben Norton, “Corporate Media Hires CIA, Pentagon Officials As Talking Heads–Who Push for More War,” TheRealNews, February 8, 2018]. CNN has had several others, including former FBI agent Asha Rangappa; former FBI agent James Gagliano; Obama’s former deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken; former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers; senior adviser to the National Security Council during the Obama administration Samantha Vinograd; retired CIA operations officer Steven L. Hall; and Philip Mudd, also retired from the CIA. [Jack Schafer, “The Spies Who Came In To the TV Studio,” Politico, February 6, 2018].

“The embrace of former top US officials as go-to employees and this willing abandonment of putative independence by the corporate media,” journalist Ben Norton warned, “further underscores just how closely the press mirrors the government on war, national security, and foreign policy.” [Ben Norton, “Corporate Media Hires CIA, Pentagon Officials As Talking Heads–Who Push for More War,” TheRealNews, February 8, 2018].

There is no separation between US media and US intelligence, and we seem to have arrived at a moment in our history where ”fake news [is] co-produced by the security services and the liberal press.” [Serge Halimi & Pierre Rimbert, “Intelligence Sources Say,” Le Monde Diplomatique, June 2021]. This isn’t new, though. The CIA, for example, has had a long history of covertly using journalists as cover for its operations and, at times, even working openly with the “majors.”

In a 1977 investigation, Carl Bernstein revealed how the CIA’s “relationship with the Times was by far its most valuable among newspapers.” He noted that from 1950 to 1966, about ten CIA employees were provided Times cover under arrangements approved by the newspaper’s late publisher, Arthur Hays Sulzberger.” which were part of a general practice at the newspaper of collaborating with the CIA whenever necessary. [Carl Bernstein, “The CIA and the Media,” Rolling Stone Magazine, 1977].

But the subtly of “covert” operations is not necessary today.

The CIA can feed its “news” directly to the newspapers and news broadcasters, who then blindly run it online, quoting anonymous sources and “official” sources and rephrasing it as “fact” and truth. They each confirm each other, quoting each other and referring to each other’s stories in a vicious cycle of self-confirmation by self-confirmation. [Glenn Greenwald, “How Do Big Media Outlets So Often ‘Independently Confirm’ Each Other’s Falsehoods?” Substack, March 16, 2021]. It seems that for US journalism, a career spent as a propagandist for the State is a good enough qualification to join the “free” press.

The phrase “fake news” entered the popular US lexicon after the 45th President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump. But “fake news” had made its presence in the US media landscape decades earlier and only became worse after Trump took power. From selling the invasion of Iraq to justifying attacks on Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia and concocting excuses to remain in Afghanistan, US media have been at the forefront of publishing “sound bites” and behaving like stenographers to power. They have equally become adept at toadying up to the powerful and the elite, currying favors, as we learned from a 2016 Wikileaks hack of the Clinton campaign emails. [Ross Barkan, “Journalists Too Easily Charmed By Power, Access, and Creamy Risotto,” Columbia Journalism Review, November 4, 2016].

Donald Trump lied, but the US media lied to keep up with him. For example, the US media’s most significant failures have been displayed in their blind commitment to the “Russiagate” story. It has produced some of the most comic failures in US journalism history. And yet, just a few months before the Mueller investigation revealed no links between the Trump election team and the Kremlin, the Pulitzer Prize handed New York Times journalists a prize for their investigation into “Russiagate.” The farce

“‘Russiagate’ was a conspiracy theory [that originated] in the liberal media–the New York Times, The Economist, The Washington Post, Libération, Le Monde, the Guardian, CNN, MSNBC, Arte, the BBC.” [Ross Barkan, “Journalists too easily charmed by power, access, and creamy risotto,” Columbia Journalism Review, November 4, 2016]. It was “fake news.”

And yet, the New York Times refused to return the prize even after revealing it as a fake story. [See the announcement of the award here: The Pulitzer Prizes: “Staffs of The New York Times and The Washington Post.” online at:].

The US media welcomes those who help further US political, military, and intelligence agency talking points. Our “finest” writers and publications have a long history of lying on behalf of the security state. Some of the most celebrated careers in US journalism have been made on the back of deceit and deception.

We cannot forget Jeffrey Goldberg’s standard-setting act of government-fed lies in his article “The Great Terror,” published in the highly regarded The New Yorker magazine. [Jeffery Goldberg, “The Great Terror,” The New Yorker, March 17, 2002]. It is perhaps one of the most significant frauds ever published in US journalism. Written just months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Goldberg lied that Saddam Hussein was collaborating with al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Ladin. Instead of being sanctioned and ostracised in the journalism community, he was well awarded and celebrated for his deceptive journalism, one fed to him by intelligence agency talking points. Goldberg received the Overseas Press Award for this work and has since had an “enviable” career in US media. He now heads the influential neoconservative, imperialism-encouraging publication The Atlantic. It is the sort of career that only collaborationists and propagandists can achieve by obsequiously peddling state lies.

It is the sort of career that only collaborationists and propagandists can achieve by obsequiously peddling state-fed lies.

Early in 2020, and without a hint of self-consciousness, the New York Times managing editor, Michael Slackman, tweeted congratulations to Thomas Gibbons-Neff, who joined the newspaper as a correspondent in Afghanistan. We were told that his “journalism” experience includes four years as a Marine, with two tours in Afghanistan. According to Slackman, these “experiences have readied him for his next assignment: a New York Times correspondent in Kabul. How lucky for @nytimesworld!” [Michael Slackman [@meslackman], April 30, 2020, (last access November 2020)]. How lucky, indeed! Instead of embedding with the military, the New York Times had just decided to recruit the military!

The embed program has come full circle.