A Letter to the Washington Post
by Julian C. Holmes
April 25, 1992
Richard Harwood, Ombudsman
The Washington Post
1150 15th Street NW
Washington, DC 20071
Dear Mr. Harwood,
Though The Washington Post does not over-extend
itself in the pursuit of hard news, just let drop the faintest rumor of a
government “conspiracy”, and a klaxon horn goes off in the news room.
Aroused from apathy in the daily routine of reporting assignations and various other
political and social sports events, editors and reporters scramble to the
phones. The klaxon screams its warning: the greatest single threat to herd-journalism,
corporate profits, and government stability – the dreaded “CONSPIRACY
It is not known whether anyone has actually been hassled
or accosted by any of these frightful spectres, but their presence is announced
to Post readers with a salvo of warnings to avoid the tricky, sticky webs spun
by the wacko "CONSPIRACY THEORISTS.”
Recall how the Post saved us from the truth about
Iran-Contra out Professional conspiracy exorcist Mark Hosenball was hired to ridicule
the idea that Oliver North and his CIA-associated gangsters had conspired to do
wrong (*1). And when, in their syndicated column, Jack Anderson and Dale Van
Atta discussed some of the conspirators, the Post sprang to protect its readers,
and the conspirators, by censoring the Anderson column before printing it (*2).
However, for some time the lid had been coming off the Iran-Contra
conspiracy. In 1986, the Christic Institute, an interfaith center for law and
public policy, had filed a lawsuit alleging a U.S. arms-for-drugs trade that
helped keep weapons flowing to the CIA/Contra army in Nicaragua, and cocaine
flowing to U.S. markets (*3). In 1988 Leslie Cockburn published Out of Control,
a seminal work on our bizarre, illegal war against Nicaragua (*4). The Post contributed
to this discovery process by disparaging the charges of conspiracy and by
publishing false information about the drug-smuggling evidence presented to the
House Subcommittee on Narcotics Abuse and Control. When accused by Committee
Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) of misleading reporting, the Post printed only a
partial correction and declined to print a letter of complaint from Rangel
Sworn testimony before Senator John Kerry’s Subcommittee
on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations confirmed U.S. Government complicity
in the drug trade (*6). With its cover-up of the arms/drug conspiracy
evaporating, the ever-accommodating Post shifted gears and retained Hosenball
to exorcise from our minds a newly emerging threat to domestic tranquility, the
"October Surprise” conspiracy (*7). But close on the heels of
Hosenball and the Post came Barbara Honegger and then Gary Sick who authored
independently, two years apart, books with the same title, "October
Surprise” (*8). Honegger was a
member of the Reagan/Bush campaign and transition teams in 1980. Gary Sick, professor
of Middle East Politics at Columbia University, was on the staff of the
National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan. In 1989
and 1991 respectively, Honegger and Sick published their evidence of how the
Republicans made a deal to supply arms to Iran if Iran would delay release of
the 52 United States hostages until after the November 1980 election. The
purpose of this deal was to quash the possibility of a pre-election release (an
October Surprise). Which would have bolstered the reelection prospects for President
Others published details of this alleged Reagan-Bush
conspiracy. In October 1988, Playboy Magazine ran an expose “An Election Held
Hostage”; FRONTLINE did another in April 1991 (*9). In June 1991 a conference
of distinguished journalists, joined by 8 of the former hostages, challenged
the Congress to “make full, impartial investigation” of the
election/hostage allegations. The Post reported the statement of the hostages,
but not a word of the conference itself, which was held in the Dirksen Senate
Office Building Auditorium (*10). On February 5, 1992 a gun-shy, uninspired
House of Representatives begrudgingly authorized an “October Surprise”
investigation by a task force of 13 congressmen headed by Lee Hamilton (D -IN).
Who had chaired the House of Representatives Iran-Contra Committee? Hamilton
has named as chief team counsel Larry Barcella, a lawyer who represented BCCI when
the Bank was indicted in 1988 (*11).
Like The Washington Post, Hamilton had not shown interest
in pursuing the U.S. arms-for-drugs operation (*12). He had accepted Oliver North’s
lies, and as Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee he derailed House
Resolution 485 – which had asked President Reagan to answer questions about
Contra support activities of government officials and others (*13).
After CIA operative John Hull (from Hamilton’s home state). He
was charged in Costa Rica with "international drug trafficking and hostile
acts against the nation’s security,” Hamilton and 18 fellow members of Congress
tried to intimidate Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez into handling Hull’s
case "in a manner that will not complicate U.S.-Costa Rican relations”
(*14). The Post did not report the Hamilton letter or the Costa Rican response
that declared Hull’s case to be “in as good hands as our 100 year old
uninterrupted democracy can provide to all citizens” (*15).
Though the Post does its best to guide our thinking away
from conspiracy theories, it is difficult to avoid the fact that so much wrongdoing
involves government or corporate conspiracies:
In its COINTELPRO operation, the FBI used
disinformation, forgery, surveillance, false arrests, and violence to illegally
harass U.S. citizens in the 60’s (*16).
The CIA’s Operation MONGOOSE illegally sabotaged
Cuba by “destroying crops, brutalizing citizens, destabilizing the society,
and conspiring with the Mafia to assassinate Fidel Castro and other leaders”
"Standard Oil of New Jersey was found by the Antitrust
Division of the Department of Justice to be conspiring with I.G.Farben, of Germany. By its cartel
agreements with Standard Oil, the United States was effectively prevented from developing
or producing [fo rWorld War-II] any substantial amount of synthetic
rubber,“ said Senator Robert LaFollette
of Wisconsin (*18).
U.S. Government agencies knowingly withheld information
about dosages of radiation "almost certain to produce thyroid abnormalities
or cancer” that contaminated people residing near the nuclear weapons
factory at Hanford, Washington (*19).
Various branches of Government deliberately drag their
feet in getting nuclear ting around to cleaning up the Nation’s dangerous weapons
sites (*20). State and local governments back the nuclear industry’s secret
public relations strategy (*21).
“The National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer
Society and some twenty comprehensive cancer centers, have misled and confused the
public and Congress by repeated claims that we are winning the war against
cancer. In fact, the cancer establishment has continually minimized the
evidence for increasing cancer rates which it has largely attributed to smoking
and dietary fat, while discounting or ignoring the causal role of avoidable exposures to industrial carcinogens in the air, food,
water, and the workplace.” (*22).
The Bush Administration cover-up of its pre-Gulf-War
support of Iraq, “is yet another example of the President’s people conspiring
to keep both Congress and the American people in the dark” (*23).
If you think about it, conspiracy is a fundamental aspect
of doing business in this country.
Take the systematic and cooperative censorship of the
Persian Gulf War by the Pentagon and much of the news media (*24).
Or the widespread plans of business and government groups
to spend $100 million in taxes to promote a distorted and truncated history of
Columbus in America (*25). along the lines of the Smithsonian Institution’s
“fusion of the two worlds”, (*26). “…rather than examining more
realistic aspects of the Spanish invasion, like “anger, cruelty, gold,
terror, and death” (*27).
Or circumstances surrounding the U.S. Justice Department
theft from the INSLAW company of sophisticated, law-enforcement computer software
which “now point to a widespread conspiracy implicating lesser Government
officials in the theft of INSLAW’s technology”, says former U.S. Attorney
General Elliot Richardson (*28).
Or the “largest bank fraud in world financial history”
(*29), where the White House knew of the criminal activities at “the Bank of
Crooks and Criminals International” (BCCI) (*30), where U.S. intelligence
agencies did their secret banking (*31), and where bribery of prominent
American public officials “was a way of doing business” (*32).
Or the 1949 conviction of “GM [General Motors],
Standard Oil of California, Firestone, and E. Roy Fitzgerald, among others, for
criminally conspiring to replace electric transportation with gas- and
diesel-powered buses and to monopolize the sale of buses and related products
to transportation companies throughout the country” [in, among others, the
cities of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, Oakland, Salt Lake City,
and Los Angeles] (*33).
Or the collusion in 1973 between Senator Abraham Ribicoff (D-CT)
and the U.S. Department of Transportation to overlook safety defects in the 1.2
million Corvair automobiles manufactured by General Motors in the early 60’s
Or the A. H. Robins Company, which manufactured the Dalkon
Shield intrauterine contraceptive, and which ignored repeated warnings of the
Shield’s hazards and which “stonewalled, deceived, covered up, and covered
up the cover-ups…[thus inflicting] on women a worldwide epidemic of pelvic
Or that cooperation between McDonnell Douglas
Aircraft Company and the FAA resulted in failure to enforce regulations
regarding the unsafe DC-10 cargo door which failed in flight killing all 364
passengers on Turkish Airlines Flight 981 on March 3, 1974 (*36).
Consider the presently banned, cancer-producing pregnancy
drug Diethylstilbestrol (DES). DES is sold by manufacturers who purposely
ignore any tests that indicate DES could be carcinogenic and who act “in
concert with each other in the testing and marketing of DES for miscarriage
Or the conspiracies among bankers and
speculators, with the cooperation of a corrupted Congress, to relieve depositors
of their savings. This "arrogant disregard from the White House, Congress
and corporate world for the interests and rights of the American people”
will cost U.S. tapayers many hundreds of billions of dollars (*38).
Or the Westinghouse, Allis Chalmers, Federal
Pacific, and General Electric executives who met surreptitiously in hotel rooms
to fix prices and eliminate competition on heavy industrial equipment (*39).
Or the convictions of Industrial Biotest Laboratories (IBT).
Officers for fabricating safety tests on prescription drugs (*40).
Or the conspiracy by the asbestos
industry to suppress knowledge of medical problemsrelating to asbestos (*41).
Or the 1928 Achnacarry Agreement
through which oil companies “agreed not to engage in any effective price
Or the conspiracy among U.S.
Government agencies and the Congress to cover up the nature of our decades-old
war against the people of Nicaragua, a covert war that continues in 1992
with the U.S. Government applying pressure for the Nicaraguan police to reorganize
into a more repressive force (*43).
Or the conspiracy by the CIA and the
U.S. Government to interfere in the Chilean election process with military aid,
covert actions, and an economic boycott which culminated in the overthrow of the
legitimately elected government and the assassination of President Salvador
Allende in 1973 (*44).
The conspiracy among U.S. officials including
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and CIA Director William Colby to finance terrorism
in Angola for the purpose of disrupting Angola’s plans for peaceful elections
in October 1975, and to lie about these actions to the Congress and the news
media (*45). CIA Director George Bush’s subsequent cover up of this U.S.-sponsored
Or President George Bush’s consorting
with the Pentagon to invade Panama in 1989 and thereby violate the Constitution
of the United States, the U.N. Charter, the O.A.S. Charter, and the Panama
Canal Treaties (*47).
Or the “gross antitrust
violations” (*48) and the conspiracy of American oil companies and the
British and U.S. governments to strangle Iran economically after Iran
nationalized the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951. And the subsequent
overthrow by the CIA in 1953 of Iranian Prime Minister Muhammed Mossadegh
Or the CIA-planned assassination of
Congo head-of-state Patrice Lumumba (*50).
Or the deliberate and wilful efforts
of President George Bush, Senator Robert Dole, Senator George Mitchell, various
U.S. Government agencies, and members of both Houses of the Congress to buy the
1990 Nicaraguan national elections for the presidential candidate supported by
President Bush (*51).
Or the collective approval by 64 U.S.
Senators of Robert Gates to head the CIA, in the face of “unmistakable evidence
that Gates lied about his role in the Iran-Contra scandal” (*52).
Or “How Reagan and the Pope
Conspired to Assist Poland’s Solidarity Movement and Hasten the Demise of
Or how the Reagan Administration
connived with the Vatican to ban the use of USAID funds by any country
“for the promotion of birth control or abortion” (*54).
Or “the way the Vatican and
Washington colluded to achieve common purpose in Central America” (*55).
Or the collaboration of Guatemalan
strong-man and mass murderer Hector Gramajo with the U.S. Army to design
“programs to build civilian-military cooperation” at the U.S. ARMY School
of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning, Georgia; five of the nine soldiers
accused in the 1989 Jesuit massacre in El Salvador are graduates of SOA which
trains Latin/American military personnel (*56).
Or the conspiracy of the Comanche Peak
Nuclear Plant administration to harass and cause bodily harm to
whistleblower Linda Porter who uncovered dangerous working conditions at the
Or the conspiracy of President Richard
Nxion and the Government of South Vietnam to delay the Paris Peace Talks until after
the 1968 U.S. presidential election (*58).
Or the pandemic coverups of police
Or the always safe-to-cite worldwide communist
Or maybe the socially responsible,
secret consortium to publish The Satanic Verses in paperback (*61).
Conspiracies are obviously a way to
get things done, and The Washington Post offers little comment unless
conspiracy theorizing threatens to expose a really important conspiracy that,
let’s say, benefits big business or big government.
Such a conspiracy would be like our
benevolent CIA’s 1953 overthrow of the Iranian government to help out U.S. oil
companies; or like our illegal war against Panama to tighten U.S. control over Panama
and the Canal; or like monopoly control of broadcasting that facilitates corporate
censorship on issues of public importance (*62). When the camouflage of such
conspiracies is stripped away, public confidence in the conspiring officials
can erode – depending on how seriously the citizenry perceives the conspiracy
to have violated the public trust. Erosion of public trust in the status quo is
what the Post seems to see as a real threat to its corporate security.
Currently, the Post has mounted
vituperative, frenzied attacks on Oliver Stone’s movie “JFK”, which reexamines
the U.S. Government’s official (Warren Commission. finding that a single gunman,
acting alone, killed President John F. Kennedy. The movie also is the story of
New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s unsuccessful prosecution of Clay
Shaw, the only person ever tried in connection with the assassination. And the
movie proposes that the Kennedy assassination was the work of conspirators whose
interests would not be served by a president who, had he lived, might have disengaged
us from our war against Vietnam.
The Post ridicules a reexamination of
the Kennedy assassination along lines
suggested by “JFK”. Senior Post journalists like Charles Krauthammer,
Ken Ringle, George Will, Phil McCombs, and Michael Isikoff, have been called up
to man the bulwarks against public sentiment which has never supported the
government’s non-conspiratorial assassination thesis. In spite of the facts that
the Senate Intelligence Committee of 1975 and 1976 found that “both the
FBI and CIA had repeatedly lied to the Warren Commission” (*63) and
that the 1979 Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations found that
President Kennedy was probably killed “as a result of a conspiracy”
(*64), a truly astounding number of Post stories have been used as vehicles to
discredit “JFK” as just another conspiracy (*65).
Some of the more vicious attacks on
the movie are by editor Stephen Rosenfeld, and journalists Richard Cohen,
George Will, and George Lardner Jr (*66). They ridicule the idea that Kennedy could
have had second thoughts about escalating the Vietnam War and declaim that there
is no historical justification for this idea. Seasoned journalist Peter Dale
Scott, former Pentagon/CIA liaison chief L. Fletcher Prouty, and investigators
David Scheim and John Newman have each authored defense of the “JFK”
thesis that Kennedy was not enthusiastic about staying in Vietnam (*67). But
the Post team just continues ranting against the possibility of a high-level assassination
conspiracy while offering little justification for its arguments.
An example of particularly shabby
scholarship and unacceptable behavior is George Lardner Jr’s contribution
to the Post’s campaign against the movie. Lardner wrote three articles, two
before the movie was completed, and the third upon its release. In May, six months
before the movie came out, Lardner obtained a copy of the first draft of the
script and, contrary to accepted standards, revealed in the Post the contents
of this copyrighted movie (*68). Also in this article, (*69). Lardner
discredits Jim Garrison with hostile statements from a former Garrison
associate Pershing Gervais. Lardner does not tell the reader that subsequent to
the Clay Shaw trial, in a U.S. Government criminal action brought against
Garrison, Government witness Gervais, who helped set up Garrison for prosecution,
admitted under oath that in a May 1972 interview with a New Orleans television reporter,
he, Gervais, had said that the U.S. Government’s case against Garrison was a
fraud (*70). The Post’s 1973 account of the Garrison acquittal mentions this
controversy, but when I recently asked Lardner about this, he was not clear as
to whether he remembered it (*71).
Two weeks after his first
“JFK” article, Lardner blustered his way through a justification for
his unauthorized possession of the early draft of the movie (*72). He also
defended his reference to Pershing Gervais by lashing out at Garrison as a
writer “of gothic fiction”.
When the movie was released in
December, Lardner “reviewed” it (*73). He again ridiculed the film’s
thesis that following the Kennedy assassination, President Johnson reversed
Kennedy’s plans to de-escalate the Vietnam War. Lardner cited a memorandum issued
by Johnson four days after Kennedy died.
Lardner says this memorandum was written before the assassination, and that it
“was a continuation of Kennedy’s policy”. In fact, the memorandum was
drafted the day before the assassination by McGeorge Bundy (Kennedy’s Assistant
for National Security Affairs) Kennedy was in Texas, and may never have seen
it. Following the assassination, it was
rewritten; and the final version provided for escalating the war against
Vietnam (*74) –facts that Lardner avoided.
The Post’s crusade against exposing
conspiracies is blatantly dishonest:
The Warren Commission inquiry into the
Kennedy Assassination was for the most part conducted in secret. This fact is
buried in the Post (*75). Nor do current readers of this newspaper find
meaningful discussion of the Warren Commission’s secret doubts about both the
FBI and the CIA (*76). Or of a dispatch from CIA headquarters instructing co-conspirators
at field stations to counteract the “new wave of books and articles
criticizing the [Warren] Commission’s findings…[and] conspiracy theories
…[that] have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization” and to
“discuss the publicity problem with liaison and friendly elite contacts,
especially politicians and editors "and to"employ propaganda assets
to answer and refute the attacks of the critics. …Book reviews and feature
articles are particularly appropriate for this purpose. The aim of this dispatch
is to provide material for countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy
In 1979, Washington journalist Deborah
Davis published Katharine The Great, the story of Post publisher Katharine
Graham and her newspaper’s close ties with Washington’s powerful elite, a
number of whom were with the CIA.
Particularly irksome to Post editor
Benjamin Bradlee was a Davis claim that Bradlee had “produced CIA
material” (*78). Understandably sensitive about this kind of
publicity, Bradlee told Davis’ publisher Harcourt Brace Jovanovich ,“Miss
Davis is lying …I never produced CIA material …what I can do is to brand
Miss Davis as a fool and to put your company in that special little group of publishers
who don’t give a shit for the truth”. The Post bullied HBJ into recalling the
book; HBJ shredded 20,000 copies; Davis sued HBJ for breach of contract and
damage to reputation; HBJ settled out of court; and Davis published her book
elsewhere with an appendix that demonstrated Bradlee to have been deeply
involved with producing cold-war/CIA propaganda (*79). Bradlee still says the allegations
about his association with people in the CIA are false, but he has apparently taken no action to contest the
extensive documentation presented by Deborah Davis in the second and third
editions of her book (*80).
And it’s not as if the Post were new to conspiracy work.
Former Washington Post publisher
Philip Graham “believing that the function of the press was more often
than not to mobilize consent for the policies of the government, was one of the
architects of what became a widespread practice: the use and manipulation of
journalists by the CIA” (*81). This scandal was known by its code name Operation
MOCKINGBIRD. Former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein cites a former CIA
deputy director as saying, “It was widely known that Phil Graham was someone
you could get help from” (*82). More recently the Post provided cover for
CIA personality Joseph Fernandez by “refusing to print his name for over a
year up until the day his indictment was announced – for crimes committed in
his official capacity as CIA station chief in Costa Rica” (*83).
Of the meetings between
Graham and his CIA acquaintances at which the availability and prices of
journalists were discussed, a former CIA man recalls, “You could get a
journalist cheaper than a good call girl, for a couple hundred dollars a
month” (*84). One may wish to consider Philip Graham’s philosophy along
with a more recent statement from his wife Katharine Graham, current Chairman
of the Board of the Washington Post. In a lecture on terrorism and the news
media, Mrs. Graham said: “A second challenge facing the media is how to
prevent terrorists from using the media as a platform for their views. … The point
is that we generally know when we are being manipulated, and we’ve learned
better how and where to draw the line, though the decisions are often
Today, the Post and its
world of big business are apparently terrified that our elite and our
high-level public officials may be exposed as conspirators behind Contra
drug-smuggling, October Surprise, or the assassination of President Kennedy.
This fear is truly remarkable in that, like most of us and like most
institutions, the Post runs its business as a conspiracy of like-minded entrepreneurs
– a conspiracy “to act or work together toward the same result or goal”
(*86). But where the Post really parts company from just plain people is when it
pretends that conspiracies associated with big business or government are
“coincidence”. Post reporter Lardner vents the frustration inherent
in having to maintain this dichotomy. He lashes out at Oliver Stone and
suggests that Stone may actually believe that the Post’s opposition to Stone’s
movie is "conspiracy”. Lardner
assures us that Stone’s complaints are “groundless and paranoid and smack of
So how does the Post
justify devoting so much energy to ridiculing those who investigate
The Post has answers:
people revert to conspiracy theories because they need something “neat and
tidy” (*88) that “plugs a gap no other generally accepted theory
fills’, (*89. and "coincidence …is always the safest and most likely
explanation for any conjunction of curious circumstances …” (*90).
And what does this
response mean? It means that “coincidence theory” is what the Post
espouses when it would prefer not to admit to a conspiracy. In other words,
some things just "happen”. And, besides, conspiracy to do certain
things would be a crime; “coincidence” is a safer bet.
Post Ombudsman Richard
Harwood, who, it is rumored, serves as Executive Director of the Benevolent
Protective Order of Coincidence Theorists, (*91) recently issued a warning about
presidential candidates “who have begun to mutter about a press conspiracy”.
Ordinarily, Harwood would simply dismiss these charges as "symptoms of the
media paranoia that quadrennially engulfs members of the American political
class” (*92). But a fatal mistake was made by the mutterers; they used the
“C” word against the PRESS! And Harwood exploded his off-the-cuff
comment into an entire column – ending it with:“We are the new
journalists, immersed too long, perhaps, in the cleansing waters of political
conformity. But conspirators we ain’t”.
investigative journalist Morton Mintz, a 29-year veteran of the Washington
Post, now chairs the Fund for Investigative Journalism. In the December issue
of The Progressive, Mintz wrote “A Reporter Looks Back in Anger – Why the
Media Cover Up Corporate Crime”. Therein he discussed the difficulties in convincing
editors to accept important news stories. He illustrated the article with his own
experiences at the Post, where he says he was known as “the biggest pain
in the ass in the office” (*93).
Would Harwood argue that
grief endured by journalists at the hands of editors is a matter of random
And that such policy as
Mintz described is made independently by editors without influence from fellow
editors or form management? Would Harwood have us believe that at the countless
office “meetings” in which news people are ever in attendance, there is no
discussion of which stories will run and which ones will find inadequate space?
That there is no advanced planning for stories or that there are no cooperative
efforts among the staff? Or that in the face of our news-media
"grayout” of presidential candidate Larry Agran, (*94) a Post
journalist would be free to give news space to candidate Agran equal to that
the Post lavishes on candidate Clinton? Let’s face it: these possibilities are
about as likely as Barbara Bush entertaining guests at a soup kitchen.
Would Harwood have us
believe that media critic and former Post Ombudsman Ben Bagdikian is telling
less than the truth in his account of wire-service control over news: “The
largely anonymous men who control the syndicate and wire service copy desks and
the central wire photo machines determine at a single decision what millions
will see and hear. …there seems to be little doubt that these gatekeepers preside
over an operation in which an appalling amount of press agentry sneaks in the
back door of American journalism and marches untouched out the front door as
When he sat on the U.S.
District Court of Appeals in Washington, Judge Clarence Thomas violated U.S.
law when he failed to remove himself from a case in which he then proceeded to
reverse a $10 million judgment against the Ralston Purina Company (*96). Ralston
Purina, the animal feed empire, is the family fortune of Thomas’ mentor, Senator
John Danforth. The Post limited its coverage of the Thomas malfeasance to 56
words buried in the middle of a 1200-word article (*97). Would Harwood have us
believe that the almost complete blackout on this matter by the major news
media and the U.S. Senate was a matter of coincidence? Could a Post reporter have written a story about
Ralston Purina if she had wanted to? Can a brick swim?
Or take the fine report
produced last September by Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen. Titled All the Vice
President’s Men, it documents “How the Quayle Council on Competitiveness
Secretly Undermines Health, Safety, and Environmental Programs”. Three months
later, Post journalists David Broder and Bob Woodward published “The President’s
Understudy”, a seven-part series on Vice President Quayle. Although this
series does address Quayle’s role with the Competitiveness Council, its
handling of the Council’s disastrous impact on America is inadequate. It is
40,000 words of mostly aimless chatter about Quayle memorabilia: youth, family,
college record, Christianity, political aspirations, intellectual aspirations,
wealthy friends, government associates, golf, travels, wife Marilyn, and
net worth – revealing little about Quayle’s abilities, his understanding of
society’s problems, or his thoughts about justice and freedom, and never mentioning
the comprehensive Nader study of Quayle’s record in the Bush Administration
Now, did Broder or did
Woodward forget about the Nader study? Or did both of them forget? Or did one,
or the other, or both decide not to mention it? Did these two celebrated,
seasoned Post reporters ever discuss together their jointly authored stories?
Did they decide to publish such a barren set of articles because it would enhance
their reputations? How did management feel about the use of precious news space
for such frivolity? Is it possible that so many pages were dedicated to this
twaddle without people “acting or working together toward the same result
or goal”? (*99) Do crocodiles fly?
On March 20, front-page
headlines in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, and the
Washington Post read respectively:
TSONGAS DROPPED OUT OF THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE CLEARING CLINTON’S PATH
- TSONGAS ABANDONS CAMPAIGN LEAVING CLINTON CLEAR PATH TOWARD
SHOWDOWN WITH BUSH
TSONGAS CLEARS WAY FOR CLINTON
TSONGAS EXIT CLEARS WAY FOR CLINTON
This display of
editorial independence should at least raise questions of whether the news
media collective mindset is really different from that of any other cartel –
like oil, diamond, energy, (*100) or manufacturing
cartels, a cartel being “a combination of independent commercial
enterprises designed to limit competition” (*101).
The Washington Post
editorial page carries the heading:
AN INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER
Is it? Of course not.
There probably is no such thing. Does the Post “conspire” to keep its
staff and its newspaper from wandering too far from the safety of mediocrity?
The Post would respond that the question is absurd. In that I am not privy to
the Post’s telephone conversations, I can only speculate on how closely the media
elite must monitor the staff. But we all know how few micro-seconds it takes a
new reporter to learn what subjects are taboo and what are “safe”, and
that experienced reporters don’t have to ask.
What is more important,
however, than speculating about how the Post communicates within its own
corporate structure and with other members of the cartel, is to document and
publicize what the Post does in public, namely, how it shapes and censors the
Julian C. Holmes
Copies to: Public-spirited citizens, both inside and outside the news media,
And – maybe a few others.