Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The CIA and The Media

All The News Fit To Print (Part I):

Structure and Background of the New York Times

By Edward S. Herman -- Z magazine, April 1998

The New York Times's masthead logo, "All The News That's Fit to Print,"
dates back to 1896, the first year of Ochs-Sulzberger family control of
the paper, and both the family control and arrogant belief in the
benevolence and superior judgment of the dominant owners persist to this
day. The 1997 Proxy Statement of The New York Times Company explains the
special voting rights that assure family control in terms of the desire
for "an independent newspaper, entirely fearless, free of ulterior
influence and tinselfishly devoted to the public welfare."
The paper's independence, however, and the century-long accretion of
influence and wealth by the owners, has been contingent on their defining
public welfare in a manner acceptable to their elite audience and
advertisers. In the 1993 debate over the North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA), for example, the Times was aggressively supportive of
the agreement, and solicited its advertisers to participate in
advertorials with a letter touting the "central importance...of this
important cause" and the need to educate the public on NAFTA's merits,
which polls showed that most citizens failed to appreciate. As the paper
regularly takes positions on domestic and foreign policy issues within
parameters acceptable to business and political elites, it is evident that
the owners have failed to escape class, if not eelfish, interests in
defining public welfare and what's fit to print.
In debates within the range of elite opinion, moreover, the Times has not
been "fearless," even in the face of gross outrages against law, morality,
and the general interest. During the McCarthy era, for example, the
management buckled under to the Eastland Committee by firing former
communist employees, who spoke freely to management but would not inform
on others, and more generally it failed to oppose the witch hunt with
vigor and on the basis of principle. An editorial of August 6, 1948,
attacking the use of the Fifth Amendment before the House Committee on
Unamerican Activities, was written by the publisher, Arthur Hays
Among other cases, the paper did not oppose the Vietnam War till late in
the game, and then on grounds of unwinnability and excessive cost to us;
it failed to oppose the U.S. sponsorship of a system of National Security
States in Latin America, or the Central America wars, and protected these
murderous enterprises by eye aversion and biased reporting. Even Reagan's
"supply side economics" was treated gently by the editors ("No one else
has yet offered an option half so grand for dealing with stagflation,"
ea., March 17, 1981), and the paper's top reporter, James Reston, stated,
falsely, that Reaganomics involved "a serious spread the
sacrifices equally among all segments of society" (February 22, 1981). The
Times played a supportive propaganda role in the huge Carter-Reagan era
military buildup to contest the inflated Soviet Threat; and its highly
favorable review of The Bell Curve, and more recent extensive publicity
given the Thernstroms, have been notable contributions to the ongoing
assault on affirmative action.
Business Interests
The dominant owners of The New York Times Company-a holding
company-control a large and complex business organization, which had 1997
revenues of $2.9 billion and earnings of $262 million. Among its 50 or
more subsidiaries, the Times Company owns 21 newspapers in addition to the
New York Times and Boston Globe, 8 TV and 2 radio stations, various
electronic and other news and distribution services, a magazine group with
a specialty in golf, forest products companies, and 50 percent ownership
of the International Herald Tribune, with the Washington Post owning the
The holding company's Class A stock is listed on the New York Stock
Exchange and traded at about $65 per share in February 1998. The
Sulzberger family owns 17.5 million shares of the 97.6 million Class A
shares outstanding, or 18 percent; but it owns at least 87 percent of the
425,000 Class B shares, which are entitled to elect a majority (nine) of
the 14 directors. The value of the Sulzberger family holdings in February
1998 aniounted to $1.2 billion. In 1997, family members Arthur Ochs
Sulzberger and Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. also drew compensation from the
company in salaries, bonuses, and options, totaling $1.5 million and $1
million, respectively.
These owners regularly associate with other rich and powerful people, who
are anxious to cultivate the acquaintance of those who control the
country's most influential newspaper. Such contacts occur on the board of
the holding company, which includes business leaders drawn from IBM, First
Boston (a major investment bank), the Mercantile Bank of Kansas City,
Bristol-Myers Squibb (drugs), Phelps Dodge (copper), Metropolitan Life,
and other corporations. The company also has a $200 million line of credit
with a group of commercial banks, and periodically uses investment banks
to underwrite its bonds and notes and help it buy and sell properties.
These financiers and business executives press for a focus on the bottom
line, and they would not be pleased if the Times took positions hostile to
the interests of the corporate community (which, contrary to right-wing
mythology, the paper does not do).
Increasing Hegemony of Advertisers
Back in the 1970s, the Times was stumbling economically, profits virtually
disappeared, and its stock price fell from $53 in 1968 to $15 in 1976. In
an article "Behind The Profit Squeeze At The New York Times" (August 30,
1976), Business Week assailed the management for lethargy, and because it
"has also slid precipitously to the left and has become stridently
anti-business in tone, ignoring the fact that the Times itself is a
business-and one with very serious problems." When this article appeared,
measures had already been taken to rectify the paper's business
shortcomings and its supposedly "left" tendency as well. A. M. Rosenthal,
a close friend of William Buckley, Jr. (who referred to Rosenthal as "a
terrific anticommunist"), and a self-described "bleeding-heart
conservative" (the search for that heart remains a challenge to
independent investigators after 25 years), was installed as executive
editor. Editor John Oakes was ousted, the editorial board was
restructured, with the more conservative Roger Starr and Walter Goodman
replacing Herbert Mitgang and Fred Hechinger, and control over all aspects
of the paper was more centralized. Times policy shifted to the right, the
paper was reoriented toward softer and more advertiser friendly news, and
the common "policy" root of news, editorials, and book reviews became more
conspicuous. Rosenthal established a Product Committee, and openly
emulated Clay Felker's New York magazine's pioneering of a news product
featuring gossip on the shows, restaurants, discos, attire, decor, and
other cultural habits of the upwardly mobile, attractive to fashion trade
and other advertisers. More and more articles were on the Beautiful People
living well (e.g., "Living Well Is Still The Best Revenge," celebrating
the de La Rentas, December 21, 1980), and fashion designers (e.g., "The
Business of Being Ralph Lauren," NYT Magazine, September 18, 1983), and
entire sections of the paper were allocated to Men's (or Women's)
Clothing, House & Home, Food and Dining, and Style. On February 26, 1998,
the Times introduced a new section entitled "Circuits," which will cover
"the personal side of digital technology," and hopefully will attract some
of the ad dollars going to Wired and Electronic Media.
With the advertising recession of 1991, the pace of integration of
advertising and editorial was stepped up, with regular supplements to the
magazine on "Fashions of the Times," and with fashion news such as the
shortening of women's skirts beginning to make the front page. On March
23, 1993, the Sunday Magazine featured the big names of fashion-Calvin
Klein, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, et
al-with their photos and sample product lines, in a purported news
article. Later in 1993, an entire issue of the magazine was devoted to
fashion, and in the paper's own Fall 1993 advertising supplement, an A&S
department store ad had printed on it "All the fashion news that's fit to
print," with the A&S logo printed right below this. That is, the Times had
loaned its own advertising logo, supposedly signifying journalistic
integrity, to an ad purchaser.
Such attention to advertisers was paralleled by a shift of news interest
to the suburbs and other locales in the New York area with affluent
householders, and away from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten
Island. It also meant lightening up on investigative reporting that would
threaten local real estate and developer interests, although this was not
new. Robert Caro, in his The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Downfall
of New York (1974), assailed the Times for its uncritical support of this
political czar, whose ruthless infrastructure development "very nearly
destroyed New York's physical fiber" (John Hess). Caro says that the Times
"fell down on its knees before him, and stayed there year after year."
Writing in 1985, Hess says that "Moses is long gone...yet the Times
enthusiastically supports billion dollar projects that will strangle its
own neighborhood." The firing of Sidney Schanberg from his metropolitan
column beat in 1986 was another clear signal that harsh criticism of local
real estate developers and associated political interests was no longer
acceptable to the paper.
For advertisers, serious consumer reporting is "anti-business," and it
went into decline in the 1970s and after. Ralph Nader asserted in 1993
that Rosenthal "did more to damage consumer causes than any other person
in the United States," as the Times's lead in downgrading consumer issues
was followed by the Washington Post and then by the rest of the press.
Nader says that more than a dozen Times reporters complained to him that
they were pushed away from "hot-potato areas into soft consumer advice or
other non-consumer assignments." The Times was late on many key business
stories, like the S&L scandals, the Bank of Credit and Commerce
International case, the mid-1980s phony liability crisis contrived by the
insurance industry, the misrepresentations of the Bush Task Force on
Regulatory Relief, and others. Reporters told Nader that "New York doesn't
like these stories," or that they must get company responses to charges
against them-and as Nader notes, the companies learned "simply not to
return calls, knowing that that tactic would block the story deadline.
These companies know about Rosenthal too."
Other Elite Connections
Times officials and reporters have other (nonbusiness) ties to the elite
that make a class and establishment bias inevitable and natural. In his
gentle history of the Times, Without Fear or Favor, veteran Times reporter
Harrison Salisbury points out that the paper was dominated in the post
World War II era by men "of the same social and geographic circle,..[who]
had gone, by and large, to the same schools, Groton, again and again,
Groton; they had married into each others families; they were Yale and
Harvard and Princeton," etc. They were lawyers, bankers, businesspeople
and journalists; and many were notables in the CIA and other parts of the
government. These friends had "a common view of the world, the role of the
United States, the nature of the communist peril."
Salisbury devotes many pages to the CIA-Times connection, questioning but
not disproving the claim by Carl Bernstein in Rolling Stone in 1977 that
Cyrus Sulzberger, the Times's long-time chief European correspondent, was
a knowing CIA "asset," and that the paper gave cover to some ten CIA
agents from 1950-1966. Salisbury supplies an impressive list of CIA
people-Allen Dulles, James Angleton, Frank Wisner, Kim Roosevelt, Richard
Helms, and others, who were good friends of, and wined, dined, and
vacationed with, a large array of Times officials and reporters. He
acknowledges that in the early years there had been a "relationship of
cooperation between The Times and the Agency, a relationship of trust
betwen the CIA and Times correspondents,.." (quoting CIA official Cord
Meyer) and that friendly connections persisted thereafter. When the Times
published a series on the CIA in 1966, it gave a draft to former CIA chief
John McCone for prior review, an action that Salisbury felt entirely
without significance, as McCone's reactions could be accepted or ignored
by the paper. But Salisbury misses the possibility that the willingness to
bring McCone into the editorial process might reflect the limited
framework and non-threatening character of the Times's effort.
The Times-CIA relationship, and its complexity, was displayed in 1954,
when CIA head Allen Dulles persuaded Arthur Hays Sulzberger to keep
reporter Sidney Gruson out of Guatemala, as the U.S. was organizing the
overthrow of the Arbenz government. Gruson, although a Cold Warrior and
strongly supportive of U.S. policy, was not a straight propagandist, so
Dulles claimed to possess derogatory information on him, and he was kept
away. But Sulzberger kept pressing Dulles for evidence supporting his
charges against Gruson, and was extremely annoyed when it was never
provided, and he realized he had been used by the CIA to fine-tune a
propaganda effort. (The Times was outrageously biased in its coverage of
Guatemala in 1953-1954-and later-but not quite enough to suit the CIA.)
The Times today remains protective of the CIA, but this is almost surely a
result of its broader support of U.S. foreign policy rather than any
specific links to the CIA, which it will, on occasion, slap on the wrist
for demonstrated misbehavior (e.g., ea., "The CIA's Men in Iraq," May 13,
Inside Information, Revolving Doors, and Cooptation
Whatever the precise nature of the Times link with the CIA and other
govemment agencies, the friendships and common understandings among these
Cold Warriors and members of an economic, social, and political elite have
made for a built-in lack of scepticism and critical and investigative zeal
on the part of the editors and leading reporters. These press recipients
of sometimes privileged infommation from friends have not been inclined to
treat the suppliers without favor. Max Frankel, longtime editor and
executive editor after Rosenthal, became extraordinarily close to Henry
Kissinger in the Nixon years, and Robert Anson notes that Kissinger "put
that intimacy to good use, employing Frankel's trust to delay stories...;
boost his boss...; and, on more than a few occasions-the Administration's
supposed unconcem about Marxist Salvadore Allende being a prime
example-spread flatout falsehoods. "
James Reston, the Times's most famous reporter, was on close terms with a
string of presidents and secretaries of state, but in the strange mores of
U.S. journalism, the resultant compromised character of his reporting did
not diminish his professional standing. Bruce Cumings, writing about
Secretary of State Dean Acheson in 1950, states that "Acheson vented his
ideas through our newspaper of record, James Reston's lips moving but Dean
Acheson speaking." And Reston spoke of his reliance on the "compulsory
plagiarism" of "well-infommed officials," and he even once titled one of
his articles "By Henry Kissinger With James Reston."
As the Reston story suggests, the most common pattern of serving the
political establishment is not by directly telling lies, but rather by
omission, and by letting officials tell lies that remain uncorrected.
Salisbury describes the intemal debate over how far the paper should go in
accommodating propaganda, the upshot of which was that the Times would
"leave things out of the paper," or would publish statements known to be
false if U.S. officials "were willing to take responsibility for their
statements." What the Times would not do is publish unattributed lies.
This is the high principle underlying news fit to print.
The Times's close relationship with business and government has also been
reflected in a revolving door of personnel. Most notable were Leslie
Gelb's moves, from director of policy planning at the Pentagon (1965-68)
to the Times, then to policy planning at the U.S. State Department
(1977-79), and then back to the Times as diplomatic correspondent, Op Ed
column editor, and foreign affairs correspondent(1981-93), and then on to
head the Council on Foreign Relations, the most important U.S. private
organization of foreign policy elites, with ties to both business and the
CIA and State Department. Another notable trip was of Richard Burt, the
Times's Pentagon correspondent during key Cold War years (197483), who
moved into the Reagan State Department in 1983, where he quickly displayed
openly the ultraCold War bias that was ill-concealed in his work as a
Times reporter. Roger Starr's move from the construction business to New
York City Housing Commissioner to the editorial board was an important
reflection of the Times's new look in the 1970s.
The Times has attracted many quality reporters over the years. But power
at the paper still flows down from the top, affecting hiring, firing,
promotion, assignments, and what reporters can do on particular
assignments. As noted regarding consumer reporting, if "New York" (the
editors, reflecting Times policy) doesn't like tough stories, reporters
will leam to avoid them, or leave the paper, and many good and principled
ones have left. If writers are too hard hitting in criticizing theatrical
fiascos that represent heavy investments, as Richard Eder was in the
1980s, or on local developer abuses, as Schanberg was, they are eased out.
In writing on topics on which the Times has an ideological position and
"policy," like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or Russia and its
"reform" process, or health care refomm and the Social Security "crisis,"
the reporters all toe a party line, which either comes naturally to them
or to which they adapt. Just as Richard Burt was hired in the 1970s to
provide the proper accelerated Cold War thrust in Pentagon reporting, so
during the Central American wars of the 1980s, the Times deliberately
hired and fired to achieve a policy line that accommodated the Reagan-Bush
support of contra terrorism and the violent regimes of El Salvador and
Guatemala. The firing of Raymond Bonner and installation of Shirley
Christian, James LeMoyne, Mark Uhlig, Bernard Trainor, Lydia Chavez, and
Warren Hoge assured this apologetic service.
In short, reporters are underlings, and in an establishment paper like the
Times they will report within an establishment framework or leave. The
Times is without question an establishment newspaper; as Salisbury says of
Max Frankel, "The last thing that would have entered his mind would be to
hassle the American Establishment of which he was so proud to be a part."
What this means, however, is that the paper is not "without fear or
favor"-rather, it favors the establishment, and fears those who threaten

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