By Michael Hasty
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Oct 28, 2008
The primary goal of Joseph Goebbels in his Nazi propaganda management was to create what he called “coordinated media” — a diversity of viewpoints, but all expressed within the narrow parameters of party ideology. Adolph Hitler himself would complain if he thought news coverage was too monochromatic; he didn’t want to be bored by his own press operation. He considered himself a news consumer, along with the rest of the German population. With his precise sense of what people wanted to hear, Hitler knew that propaganda couldn’t be too blatant.
Twenty-first century Americans can certainly relate to the concept of “coordinated media.” Often observed is the phenomenon of every major television network’s evening news shows featuring exactly the same stories in exactly the same order, the stories’ importance allocated in exactly the same proportions. How does this happen? How is it that every network editor exercises the same judgments about what is “news?”
Part of the answer is the growing concentration of media power in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations. Six corporations now control 90 percent of American media output. Naturally, the ideological range of this output extends only as far as what will benefit the corporate agenda.
But another explanation for “coordinated” media messaging is what is known as “the mighty Wurlitzer” — an expression that originated with the late Frank Wisner, a legendary CIA propaganda specialist, in reference to the international media. He was comparing his ability to manipulate public consciousness through the media, to playing a giant pipe organ. Wisner ended his life mentally disturbed, shooting himself in the head. Too much power can twist the mind, and there are few institutions in this culture more powerful than the corporate media.
The role the Central Intelligence Agency plays in American media is rarely discussed (even by progressive media watchdogs), considering the long history of the agency’s relationship with Wall Street and media titans, and this relationship’s importance in molding the public consensus.
In his 2007 history of the dark side of the CIA, “Legacy of Ashes,” Tim Weiner writes, “From his first days in power, Allen Dulles [CIA Director, 1953-61] . . . kept in close touch with the men who ran The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the nation’s leading weekly magazines. He could pick up the phone and edit a breaking story, make sure an irritating foreign correspondent was yanked from the field, or hire the services of men such as Time’s Berlin bureau chief and Newsweek’s man in Tokyo. It was second nature for Dulles to plant stories in the press. American newsrooms were dominated by veterans of the government’s wartime propaganda branch, the Office of War Information, once part of Wild Bill Donovan’s domain.
“The men who responded to the CIA’s call included Henry Luce and his editors at Time, Life and Fortune; popular magazines such as Parade, the Saturday Review, and Reader’s Digest; and the most powerful executives at CBS News. Dulles built a public relations and propaganda machine that came to include more than fifty news organizations, a dozen publishing houses, and personal pledges of support from men such as Axel Springer, West Germany’s most powerful press baron.”
It is naïve to think that the close and informal relations with the media that Dulles cultivated to further CIA objectives have not been continued by his successors.
The Church Committee hearings into abuses by the CIA, conducted while George H.W. Bush was director of the agency in the mid-’70s, revealed that hundreds of journalists and their bosses were either paid or volunteer CIA “assets.” I’ve often suspected that the primary reason the Bush family has received such a relatively free ride in the media over the years is that Bush refused to give the Senate committee the names of these assets. The committee accepted his counter-offer of vague descriptions of the agency/journalist relationship, instead of names (the power elite is a cozy little club).
What has changed over the decades (especially in the Bush Jr. administration) is that the intelligence community has been privatized, and many of the more questionable propaganda efforts have been shifted to private sector “consultants” who don’t have to answer to Congress. Another trend has been the growth of Pentagon influence in the media. When the New York Times reported last year that the Pentagon was coordinating its public “message” with the stable of retired military officers that all the major television networks depend on for “independent expert” analysis of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (virtually all of whom are also profiting from these wars as defense industry consultants), the story was quickly buried.
Where the evidence of a “coordinated” American media operation is most profound today is in the area of 9/11 truth. When “Jersey Girl” Patty Cassazza, who, along with her fellow New Jersey 9/11 widows, became a media darling when they were trying to get an independent 9/11 commission started, told a conference last year that she had been told by FBI insiders that the government knew the exact date, targets and plan of the 9/11 attacks beforehand, the revelation was universally ignored by corporate media.
Stephen Jones, the former Brigham Young University physicist who possesses physical evidence of controlled demolition of the World Trade Center towers, has not been welcome back at cable TV talk shows since he first appeared on the scene, with a persona too normal to be dismissed as a conspiracy nutcase. Jones’ revelation at that same conference that he’d been offered a bribe by a Homeland Security consultant not to publish his paper raising serious questions about the official conclusion of why the towers collapsed, also received zero corporate news coverage (the consultant offered an either/or deal, and indeed, one month later, the directors of Brigham Young were pressured by the government to force Jones’ resignation).
The importance of the Internet and alternative media is that, like the samizdat in the old Soviet Union, they offer the opportunity to get out a message that would never pass through the official corporate media/CIA filter — the Matrix.
The challenge is to construct a message that can both penetrate the Matrix (whose agents pay close attention to potential threats in the information “battlefield,” and respond accordingly), and simultaneously be heard over the white noise of an oversaturated global media environment.
It will probably require a little “coordinating” of its own.
Michael Hasty lives on a farm in West Virginia, where he wrote a column for seven years for the Hampshire Review, the state’s oldest newspaper. In 2000, it was named best column by the West Virginia Press Association. His writing has appeared in the Charleston Gazette, Online Journal, Common Dreams, Buzzflash, Tikkun and many other websites. He publishes the blog, Radical Pantheist. He plays guitar and harmonica with the folk/gospel trio, the Time Travelers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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