Media / General

Alterman, Eric. Sound and Fury: The Washington Punditocracy and the Collapse of American Politics. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. 352 pages.

Counter-pundit Eric Alterman's thesis is that the pundits have taken over the debate on current issues in American democracy, with television defining the parameters of political discourse. It becomes less important to frame your arguments coherently, than to jockey for the well-turned soundbite, the indignant comment, or the timely video image.

He begins with Walter Lippman, the father of punditry, and then skips over to the Reagan and Bush years. A witty stylist, Alterman makes quick work of notables such as Martin Agronsky, Fred Barnes, Pat Buchanan, Rowland Evans, Jack Germond, Michael Kinsley, Morton Kondracke, Charles Krauthammer, Irving Kristol, Edward Luttwak, John McLaughlin, Robert Novak, Martin Peretz, Norman Podhoretz, William Safire, and George Will.

Curiously, Alterman claims that "the Carter presidency predated the explosion of pundit television," but acknowledges that Clinton was an early favorite of the Democratic punditocracy. It would seem that the phony two- party system and its controlled media are the real problem, not the pundits who get rich off of them. Were they to sing a tune that's slightly more Democratic, watch for Alterman to join in on the chorus.

Alterman, Eric. What Liberal Media? - The Truth About Bias and the News. New York: Basic Books, 2004. 357 pages.

In the preface to this paperback edition, Eric Alterman summarizes his argument: "...that even the genuinely 'liberal' media is not nearly so liberal as the conservatives are conservative, that it is not organized as a political movement -- and that indeed, much of it has been cowed into adopting conservative assumptions and arguments if only unconsciously." Alterman writes a column for The Nation and has a blog on MSNBC.

The hit-and-run style of this book makes it read like a blog, but despite the lack of meta-analysis, at least there are 43 pages of end notes to document the carnage. The best chapter is about economic bias, which includes examples of the pro-NAFTA, pro-globalist, pro-corporate bias of the media. Understandably, this chapter is only 21 pages, and you won't find the word "Marx" anywhere. The Council on Foreign Relations, which has 249 liberal and conservative big-name journalists among its members, along with lots of business execs, academicians, politicians, ex-spies, diplomats, and retired generals, is mentioned only in passing in another chapter. It really is a class war on a global scale, much more than an American liberal vs. conservative struggle. We suspect that Alterman knows this, but as a recognized pundit himself, he cannot afford to say it. In the end, this point that Alterman cannot make is the most eloquent statement of all.

Anderson, Jack, with Gibson, Daryl. Peace, War, and Politics: An Eyewitness Account. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1999. 432 pages.

This autobiography of Jack Anderson chronicles the scoops and scandals of his career. First hired by Drew Pearson in 1947 for $50 a week, Anderson carried on after Pearson's death in 1969. His column was syndicated in 1,000 newspapers nationwide, and he had a national radio program, worked at Parade magazine, appeared daily on Good Morning America for nine years, and wrote a dozen books. Anderson's main function with the column was to manage his staff of reporters -- "they have done most of the work, and I have gotten most of the credit." Another perk is that once you become an institution or industry, whistle-blowers come to you with juicy stories. At this level of organization, it's almost like muckraking for fun and profit.

Anderson's Mormon teetotalism is reflected in his approach to journalism. Politically he's a crusading centrist who goes after isolated instances of hypocrisy, but without any discernible purpose or ideology, or even hard feelings. He likes a good story, especially if no conclusions can be drawn from it. When the lack of closure is too obvious, he goes for the leap of faith. For example, Anderson knows that the JFK assassination was a conspiracy, but also believes that Castro convinced the mob to do it. For his readers, the important question is whether Anderson's brand of muckraking challenges the established order, or actually strengthens it.

Auletta, Ken. Three Blind Mice: How the TV Networks Lost Their Way. New York: Random House, 1991. 642 pages.

If you assume that NBC, CBS, and ABC provide entertainment that matters, and their news departments report news that matters, then whatever is happening in the executive suites of these networks must be important. Now assume that if they let you sit in on their meetings, you'll be that proverbial "fly on the wall" who's able to produce an objective account of insider wheeling and dealing. Author Ken Auletta spent six years watching these execs, and felt there was a book in it because the networks are under pressure from cable TV, videocassette recorders, and the Fox network.

One distasteful element is that the titans Auletta is puppy-dogging are people who assume that winning is everything. Auletta thinks that this makes them worthwhile and fascinating, but more often they come across as shallow and boring, if not exactly evil. This is particularly true when so much seems to ride on so little, such as whether to put Dolly Parton in slot A or slot B, or whether Dan Rather should have been fired for his six-minute gap. Still, this book is helpful because it offers some insight into how power works within public corporations. All three networks changed hands in the mid-1980s, which meant that new bosses were confronted with old patterns of behavior. Sometimes this led to showdowns in the boardroom, and even the occasional head rolling across the table, which can indeed be entertaining.

Bagdikian, Ben H. The Media Monopoly. 3rd edition. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990. 288 pages.

"At the end of World War II, 80 percent of the daily newspapers in the U.S. were independently owned, but by 1989 the proportion was reversed, with 80 percent owned by corporate chains. In 1981 twenty corporations controlled most of the business of the country's 11,000 magazines, but only seven years later that number had shrunk to three corporations. Today, despite the more than 25,000 outlets in the U.S., 23 corporations control most of the business in daily newspapers, magazines, television, books, and motion pictures.... An alarming pattern emerges. On one side is information limited by each individual's own experience and effort; on the other, the unseen affairs of the community, the nation, and the world, information needed by the individual to prevent political powerlessness. What connects the two are the mass media, and that system is being reduced to a small number of closed circuits in which the owners of the conduits ... have that golden commodity they speak of with financial joy, a 'guaranteed audience.' But the term 'guaranteed audience' is another way of saying 'captive audience.' ...This book describes two alarming developments in the mass media in the last 25 years. One is the concentrated control of our media.... The other development is the subtle but profound impact of mass advertising on the form and content of the advertising- subsidized media -- newspapers, magazines, and broadcasting." (pp.4-5, xxii) Author Ben H. Bagdikian is a professor of journalism at UC Berkeley.

Borjesson, Kristina, ed. Into the Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press. New York: Prometheus Books, 2002. 392 pages.

You don't need an investigator to discover that today, American journalism does more harm than good -- polls show that average Americans know this already. The "story behind the suppressed story" chapters in this book are contributed by newspaper and TV journalists, as well as authors of investigative books. The latter are familiar to NameBase users, but some of the TV news people figured out the important story only after they became unemployed. For example, CBS producer Kristina Borjesson spent many months pursuing the TWA 800 tragedy, in which 230 passengers and crew were brought down off the coast of New York by a friendly-fire accident in July, 1996. Borjesson's evidence was ignored and suppressed by her bosses at CBS, she was lied to by numerous government officials, more than a hundred witnesses were systematically ignored, the CIA produced a laughable animation, and the FBI's designated liar in charge of the case ended up working for CBS.

Much of the problem can be traced to corporate centralization and government deregulation. Refreshingly, in the last chapter Robert McChesney, an expert in the history of U.S. media, reminds us that in the early 1900s, the Socialist Party published some 325 newspapers and magazines. At that time, it was presumed that corporate media could only produce propaganda. "And that's the way it is," as CBS used to say.

Chenoweth, Neil. Rupert Murdoch: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Media Wizard. New York: Crown Business (Random House), 2002. 398 pages.

Sydney-based investigative journalist Neil Chenoweth has been on the case since 1990, when he triggered an Australian government inquiry into Rupert Murdoch's family companies. Murdoch, who parlayed family money into a media empire in Australia, Britain, and the U.S. (and is still trying to take over China), became a U.S. citizen in 1985. Born in 1931, he's still a one-man show, and his son Lachlan will be the successor. Murdoch's tangle of some 75 cross-border News Corporation companies are the bane of regulators, tax-collectors, and competitors alike. He enjoys high-risk corporate wheeling and dealing, much like a poker player might enjoy high-stakes games. More than once he has come very close to losing, only to pull it out at the last minute. You either hate Rupert Murdoch, or fear him, or both. But few have the stomach to try and out-maneuver him.

His commitment is to money, not to quality media. Between his racy British tabloids and his knee-jerk Fox News, Murdoch is eager to dumb-down the masses as long as there's money to be made while doing it. In 1999 he married for the third time, to a woman 37 years younger. Can someone find a tranquilizer for this guy? Maybe he will die of old age someday, but don't count on it.

Dorman, William A. and Farhang, Mansour. The U.S. Press and Iran: Foreign Policy and the Journalism of Deference. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987. 272 pages.

William Dorman is a journalism professor at California State University in Sacramento, and Mansour Farhang is a professor of politics at Bennington College in Vermont. Farhang was Khomeini's first ambassador to the U.N., but resigned when Khomeini refused to release the American hostages. This book is a case study of the American media's coverage of events in Iran from 1951-1978. For those who still needed convincing, it shows that public knowledge and debate is shaped by the major media to serve the needs of U.S. foreign policy. Until 1978, major U.S. journalists were so busy drooling over the lavish lifestyle of the generous Shah and the lovely Empress, that the revolution came as a complete surprise. Only then did they grudgingly dust off their history books and acknowledge the CIA's role in installing the Shah in 1953.

While it's true that every study of major U.S. journalists shows them leaning toward liberalism, the authors recognize what the pundits and pollsters haven't yet discovered, namely that this counts for zero: "In short, at least historically, American liberals were (and are) supportive of U.S. foreign policy during the cold war. The political right's paranoia or misreading of history does not alter this truth." (p.219)

Ewen, Stuart. PR! A Social History of Spin. New York: BasicBooks (HarperCollins), 1996. 480 pages.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, corporate monopolies were targeted by muckrakers, and elites became nervous about the unbridled power of the great unwashed. Guided by public relations pioneers such as Ivy Lee, Walter Lippmann, and Edward Bernays, who in turn were influenced by several writers in Europe, popular opinion and culture began to be seen as something that must be controlled for the good of society. Corporations hired public relations consultants, and governments got into the act as well. A social science emerged that specialized in mass psychology and manipulation. (Lest this seem trivial, fast forward to 1999, when the spinmeisters and pollsters rule the world, and universities lump journalism departments into "schools of communications," where they flounder amid advertising and public relations courses. The lines separating these three seem hopelessly muddled by now.)

Stuart Ewen, a media studies professor at Hunter College, presents the corporate side of the spin story, as well as some aspects of government involvement (such as FDR's use of mass media to promote domestic programs). But the book needs another chapter: there's no mention of the psychological warfare heavyweights from the secret state, who enjoyed unlimited resources during the Eisenhower years. Fortunately, this is covered in "Science of Coercion" by Christopher Simpson (1996), also indexed in NameBase.

Fallows, James. Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy. New York: Pantheon Books, 1996. 296 pages.

James Fallows was a draft-dodger at Harvard, a Nader's Raider in Georgia, a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, a magazine editor for the Washington Monthly and then the Texas Monthly, the chief speech writer for Jimmy Carter, the Washington editor of Atlantic Monthly, a pundit on National Public Radio, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and most recently, the editor of U.S. News and World Report, owned by real-estate tycoon Mortimer Zuckerman (who also owns Atlantic Monthly and the New York Daily News, and is also a CFR member). Fallows thinks (this just in!) that journalists have grown too close to the mighty and powerful, and the profession is corrupted. He writes well and has many trenchant observations about today's pathetic news coverage. He criticizes journalists (such as Cokie Roberts) who become media personalities, and then cash in on the lecture circuit. Nothing he writes is disagreeable, but the last chapter is strange. Here Fallows plugs "public journalism," a vague movement that fancies itself as grass-roots, but has yet to find a constituency.

Ultimately this book is only half the story, because there's no discussion of the private-sector centralization and profiteering behind our mass media. Fallows is concerned mostly with the style of journalism. He shows no awareness of infrastructure, and no class consciousness.

Hertsgaard, Mark. On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1988. 408 pages.

Mark Hertsgaard interviewed 175 key figures in the Reagan White House and the media, and reviewed every evening newscast from the three major networks from January 1981 through February 1988. He believes (and almost everyone he interviewed agrees) that Reagan was given a free ride. The fundamental problem, Hertsgaard concludes, is "that the press was part of, and beholden to, the structure of power and privilege in the United States."

The invasion of Grenada, the nuclear freeze movement, and U.S. policy in Central America, are three of the numerous examples of press ineptitude examined by Hertsgaard in separate chapters. During these years, big-name reporters all knew that a poorly-informed Reagan, with his finger on the button, couldn't handle policy questions without his cue cards. He issued remarks about the "evil empire" and the feasibility of limited nuclear war, and joked about "the bombing begins in five minutes." But these reporters felt that Reagan was too popular, and criticism would be dangerous for their careers. Above them loomed the owners of the press, for whom nuclear brinkmanship meant nothing as long as corporate profits were booming. After the 1987 stock-market crash, for example, Time magazine editorialized for the first time that their beloved Reagan was "befuddled,""dodder[ing]," "embarrassingly irrelevant," and had "stayed a term too long."

Kurtz, Howard. The Fortune Tellers: Inside Wall Street's Game of Money, Media, and Manipulation. New York: The Free Press, 2000. 326 pages.

During the stock market bubble of the 1990s, a slew of financial reporters, commentators, prognosticators, analysts, news anchors, and pundits emerged. Many got rich -- some from illegal insider trading, some from slightly advanced information, and some from telling the public to do one thing with their money, while they were doing something different with their own. Most simply got rich off of the conflict-of-interest culture itself, pumping this and that high-tech or Internet stock, and cashing in when no one was watching.

Looking back after the crash, it's clear that the high-flying culture itself was unethical. If you could make lots of money by brainwashing poor people into buying more lottery tickets, would you do it? That's what the go-go nineties were all about, whether it was the hot shots behind CNBC's "Squawk Box" and CNN's "Moneyline," Internet start-ups like, or even stalwarts such as Business Week and The Wall Street Journal. As a media critic, author Howard Kurtz is mainly upset that the hot shots were making the news as often as reporting it. But there is also a deeper corruption here that became apparent two years later, as Enron and other corporations went belly-up. That's a book someone else will have to write.

MacArthur, John R. Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War. New York: Hill and Wang, 1992. 260 pages.

John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper's Magazine and a director of the J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation, has been called a "trust fund brat" by some who have felt the sting of his criticism. But that's usually the best they can do, because it's clear that a shift in the standards of the media profession has been underway since Vietnam. Advertising and public relations -- the use of information for the purpose of marketing -- is one way to describe this change.

The $10.8 million Kuwaiti account at Hill and Knowlton, a public relations firm, spoon-fed propaganda to the American people. One example is their story about Iraqi troops pulling babies out of incubators; this was lapped up and repeated by everyone from Amnesty International to George Bush. It was a masterful bit of PR, particularly since it was also a complete fabrication. Not to be outdone by H & K, the Pentagon imposed the same "journalist pool" system they used during Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989, and controlled all news from the front. Vietnam-style reporting, where cameramen were free to capture images of human suffering, is now replaced with images from nose cameras in smart bombs, courtesy of the Pentagon. After the war, the enthusiasm for pool journalism began to wear off, as some reporters finally realized that they had been used.

MacArthur, John R. The Selling of "Free Trade": NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy. New York: Hill and Wang, 2000. 388 pages.

John R. MacArthur is concerned about the power of cynical public relations professionals, who are able to shape policies that are viciously opposed to the average person's interests, while claiming that it's all being done for the greater good. MacArthur publishes Harper's Magazine and lives in New York City. His previous book was "Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War."

This book is a study of how a slick Bill Clinton and his staff backed big corporations against labor, and shoved NAFTA down the throats of working people. The Democratic Party sensed that corporate executives were more important to their future than a few confused and disorganized labor unions, and decided to push NAFTA. Only H. Ross Perot clearly announced what would happen, but he was easily marginalized by media spin. Today factories are relocating to Mexico, just as he predicted. This book is a sandwich: part one starts at a U.S. factory in New York, part two is a detailed exposition of the insider machinations that pushed NAFTA through Congress, and part three is a visit to that factory as it begins operations in Mexico. The middle of the sandwich is overly detailed and a tough read, but the first and last parts save the book. It's not often that someone who inherited lots of money takes the trouble to discover how the working class lives.

McGowan, William. Coloring the News: How Political Correctness Has Corrupted American Journalism. San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003. 291 pages.

William McGowan is perhaps a conservative, judging from the fact that he is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, but this book has nothing to do with the liberal-conservative spectrum. Rather, it's about an issue that turns conventional political labels upside down. This is the issue of quotas, diversity, and political correctness. There aren't many topics where yesterday's bleeding-heart liberals can become super-race-conscious careerists, or where yesterday's property-rights libertarians can suddenly sound like egalitarian crusaders.

This is a study of how political correctness has run amuck in America's major newsrooms, by promoting the sort of spin that emphasizes diversity at the expense of objectivity. It's important to note (and McGowan should have investigated further), that this is not the result of pressure from below, but rather pressure from above. It reminds us of that spooky cold warrior McGeorge Bundy. After doing his best to eliminate the North Vietnamese people and failing, Bundy became head of the "liberal" Ford Foundation and started co-opting minorities with massive grants that promoted identity politics. Bundy said he was "making the world safe for capitalism." McGowan mentions the Ford Foundation in passing and he sort of smells a rat, but he hasn't yet absorbed the big stink.

Parenti, Michael. Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media. 2nd edition. New York: St.Martin's Press, 1993. 274 pages.

Michael Parenti earned a Ph.D. from Yale in 1962, and now lives in Berkeley, California. He has written a number of dissident books on U.S. culture and politics. Since the American left disappeared, Parenti is perhaps the only remaining scholar who a) takes the idea of interlocking power elites seriously, b) believes that conspiracies can happen in high places, c) hasn't burned all of his Marx, Engels, and Gramsci, d) writes lucidly, with numerous concrete examples and footnotes, and e) can still get published without using the Internet.

This book is about the U.S. media, who controls the news, and how and why they do it. If you've been deeply tuned into American culture and world events since the 1960s, and are well-informed about media elites and their spin cycles, corporate power and propaganda, and the role of the CIA and other government agencies, then you don't need this book. If not, then it will introduce a phenomenon that continues to emerge as one of the most significant political forces of our era. (Of the 274 pages, only three or four seem ill-advised -- a section on class, race, and gender in the first chapter. These pages read like an obligatory sop to political correctness, and they lack any sense of how of how race and gender can be used by elites and the media to deflect and obscure class consciousness.)

Parry, Robert. Fooling America: How Washington Insiders Twist the Truth and Manufacture the Conventional Wisdom. New York: William Morrow, 1992. 336 pages.

Robert Parry was an Associated Press reporter who, with Brian Barger, broke the story of contra drug-smuggling in 1985. Getting the facts for the story was considerably easier than getting it on the AP wire, which left Parry a bit disillusioned. So in 1987 he left AP and joined Newsweek. Forget you ever saw "All the President's Men." It's time for your reality check.

One month later, Parry is at a dinner, replete with tuxedoed waiter, at the elegant home of Newsweek's Washington bureau chief Maynard Parker. This was a regular affair where the magazine's socially-conscious reporters dined pleasantly with Washington insiders. The Tower Commission had just completed their work, and commissioner Brent Scowcroft and Dick Cheney were there to deliver the Conventional Wisdom. Scowcroft volunteered that even if Poindexter HAD told Reagan about the diversion of funds, he would advise him to say that he hadn't. Parry, naive and incredulous, his fork halfway through the asparagus that was cooked just right, asks a question: "General, you're not suggesting that the admiral should commit perjury, are you?" But before Scowcroft could answer, the host cut in. "Sometimes," editor Maynard Parker reminded Parry, "you have to do what's good for the country."

Parry left Newsweek in 1990 and currently lives in Arlington, Virginia.

Petrusenko, Vitaly. A Dangerous Game: CIA and the Mass Media. Prague: Interpress, 1977. 190 pages.

During the 1970s a series of revelations about U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Watergate, the FBI, and CIA opened up a window on the secret state. After some fresh air passed over some dirty laundry, the window slammed shut and Reagan was elected. Perhaps it was the revolutions in Iran and Nicaragua, or the economy, or maybe the attention span of the media had been exceeded. Another possibility is that the revelations were getting too close.

Despite the conducive climate, very little ink was spent on a broad discussion of the relationship between the CIA and the mass media (one exception was a New York Times series in late December, 1977). Apparently the media had little desire to undermine their own credibility, so the bits and pieces of evidence, the confessions, and the denials tended to emerge one column-inch at a time. That left the field to the Eastern Bloc press. In this book out of Czechoslovakia, which was translated from a Russian edition, Petrusenko compiles evidence of the CIA-media connection. "It is based completely on published materials from news media in the United States, Great Britain and other countries.... The author believes this is the first attempt to gather together a considerable body of material that originally appeared in different monographs, magazines and newspapers."

Petrusenko, Vitaly. The Monopoly Press. Prague: International Organization of Journalists, 1976. 143 pages.

The Prague-based International Organization of Journalists, according to a 1980 Congressional report that cited a CIA study, is an arm of Soviet propaganda with a staff of 15 and budget of a half-million dollars. It was formed in 1952 to "further revolutionary proletarian journalism." Politics notwithstanding, the point of this book -- that a small number of giant corporations monopolize the U.S. media -- has also been made by numerous other observers (see, for example, Ben Bagdikian's "The Media Monopoly").

Despite the use of words like "state-monopoly control," "ideological coercion," and "domestic government propaganda," Petrusenko tells the story in some detail with names, places, and events, and draws almost exclusively on accepted U.S. sources. From his 1976 perspective, he welcomes the "muckraking" that began with Ramparts magazine and the 1960s alternative press, and continued with Ralph Nader and then with reporting on Watergate. But Petrusenko was too optimistic too soon. Within several years everything shifted back: Carter launched the second Cold War with a defense buildup, and then Reagan finished it. By 1993 the alternative press in the U.S. was nonexistent, and U.S. media were more centralized than they had ever been in the past. After a brief flurry of Iran-contra pack journalism and George Bush bashing, the term "investigative reporter" finally became an oxymoron.

Rosenblum, Mort. Who Stole the News? New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1993. 298 pages.

Mort Rosenblum is a senior foreign correspondent for the Associated Press, with 25 years of experience in 180 countries. This book is an ode to Rosenblum's brave colleagues who dodge bullets to bring us the headlines, as well as a trenchant admission that the process isn't working very well. Between the foreign correspondent's dispatch and the material that is presented to the average American, too much happens to sabotage the story. While this book jingoistically describes the romance and excitement of the reporter's lifestyle, it can also be brilliantly critical of foreign news reporting in general -- especially in the case of television, where image and soundbite count for more than historical background.

Rosenblum's major complaint is that Americans are not getting quality foreign news, and are not prepared for America's role as the world's major power. But Rosenblum, along with over a dozen colleagues mentioned in the book, are members of the Council on Foreign Relations. After agreeing with Rosenblum's criticisms, one is still suspicious of an unexamined agenda. Why do Rosenblum and the CFR want Americans to be more aware? Are they worried that the emerging isolationism in the heartland will keep America from playing world cop? The CFR's record is not encouraging on this issue, but unfortunately, questions such as these are beyond Rosenblum's scope.

Schorr, Daniel. Clearing the Air. New York: Berkley Books, 1978. 367 pages.

In 1975 the CIA was investigated by three panels: the Rockefeller Commission, the Church Committee in the Senate, and the Pike Committee in the House. The first two issued reports that included many revelations and also kept many secrets. When it came time for the Pike report, Washington had grown tired of all the dirty laundry and President Ford was able to keep it classified. But CBS reporter Daniel Schorr had a copy from an unidentified source, and had been doing stories on it. After trying unsuccessfully to get CBS and others to publish the report, he gave it to the Village Voice, which published it on February 20, 1976. Schorr was subpoenaed by the House Ethics Committee and almost cited for contempt for refusing to name his source, and was forced to resign from CBS in 1977.

This book presents the flavor of Washington journalism during the immediate post-Watergate years, which was the last time our media performed an adversary role (if we exclude that brief infatuation with Iran-contra). Schorr was a definitely a hero of the 1970s. It should be noted, however, that over the long haul his belief in the public's right to know is somewhat selective. He has been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations for many years (journalists who join the ruling-class CFR have compromised their profession, because CFR meetings are off the record), and he still promotes the bizarre theory that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone nut.

Tye, Larry. The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations. New York: Crown Publishers, 1998. 306 pages.

This is the first full-scale biography of Edward Bernays (1891-1995), who was Sigmund Freud's nephew, and who considered himself "the father of public relations." It is based on 800 boxes of documents that Bernays left to the Library of Congress, more than 100 interviews with his friends and associates, his 849-page autobiography published in 1965, and his numerous articles and speeches. With so much material, one might have hoped that Larry Tye, a journalist with the Boston Globe, could get behind Bernays' shameless self-promotion and find something insightful. But it never quite happens, because Bernays was a shallow and uninspiring person.

For American Tobacco, Bernays got women to start smoking, even while suspecting that smoking was dangerous. For United Fruit, he whipped U.S. newspapers into a frenzy so that the CIA could engineer its 1954 coup in Guatemala. A 1923 book written by Bernays was used by Goebbels, but Bernays shrugged it off. He did propaganda for South Vietnam in 1961, and then by 1970, after public opinion had changed, he wanted to help the peace movement. Bernays was the mass-media's version of situation ethics, and an excellent symbol of what's wrong with contemporary American culture. With Bernays there is no consistency, no character, no integrity, no conscience, no bravery, no truth -- nothing but spinning your way to fame and fortune.

Wise, David. The Politics of Lying: Government Deception, Secrecy, and Power. New York: Vintage Books, 1973. 615 pages.

"If information is power, the ability to distort and control information will be used more often than not to preserve and perpetuate that power." After 15 years as a Washington journalist, Wise took a detailed look at the strange world of leaks, half-truths, and outright disinformation that is still a major industry in DC. As qualified as Wise was in 1973, we now have plenty of hindsight, only to find that nothing has changed. The book ends by challenging the notion that a democratic system is possible in the context of official lying and secrecy.

With all of the literature about the CIA over the past two decades, it is easy to forget that for the first half of the Agency's history, almost nothing was in the public domain. Washington journalist David Wise changed all of that with "The Invisible Government" in 1964. CIA director John McCone called in Wise and co-author Thomas Ross to demand deletions on the basis of galleys the CIA had secretly obtained. When that didn't work, the CIA formed a special group to deal with the book and tried to secure bad reviews, even though the CIA's legal counsel had found the book "uncannily accurate." As the unofficial dean of intelligence journalists, Wise is still working on future books from his Washington office.

NameBase book reviews               CloudFlare Watch