Sunday, January 14, 2018

Good Reason The New Pentagon Papers Movie Was About “The Post,” NOT The New York Times (Drama About Whether Major News Organizations Will Publish Suppressed Stories)

Ironies?- "The Post" is casting about for Academy Awards for its portrayal of the Washington Post's publishing of The Pentagon Papers, when it was the New York Times that won a Pulitzer Prize for being first to publish those documents (upper left).  Meanwhile, the New York Times won a more recent Pulitzer Prize for a story it sought to suppress written by its reporters James Risen (upper right) and Eric Lichtblau.  That story eventually evolved into the Snowden leaks generating a documentary that won an Academy Award  (lower left).  Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham (lower right) won a Pulitzer Prize for telling her version of her life story (after suppressing another).
Will major media organizations cooperate when the powerful don’t want unflattering news to be published, likely making the argument that it won’t be good for the country?  The latest iteration on this theme manifesting in unfolding events today is Trump’s efforts to keep Michael Wolf’s “Fire and Furyout of the bookstores.  The question is one that keeps coming back to present itself over and over.  The close relative to that question is whether news media will willingly slant what it reports.

The other day I went out on impulse without reading any of the reviews to see “The Post,” the new movie out now about the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971.  I had just mentioned it in an article.  It was a considerably better film than I might have guessed.  Had I known how good it was I would have strived to see it even sooner.

There’s been a fair amount of chatter about why the film took as its topic The Washington Post, when it was the New York Times that published the Pentagon Papers first, with the Washington Post following next.  Seeing the film, there are some perfectly obvious reasons for choosing to have the film focus on the Post.  The film’s final scene, taking place June 17, 1972 in the Watergate hotel, proclaims Spielberg’s new film as essentially a prequel to another great film about journalism and also about the Washington Post, “All the President’s Men.”  That film came out in 1976.

The Post” is sort of like a super-hero origin movie following much the same formula used in that genre: Katherine Graham, the Washington Post’s publisher in 1971, played by Meryl Streep, finds her super-hero muscles and rises to the occasion saving the day.  The only failure of continuity is that although Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee carries over as a major character to the previously filmed “All the President’s Men” saga, Katherine Graham makes no appearance in that 1976 film at all.

In fact, in putting Graham front and center, “The Post” is very much of its time today in tackling the subject of women: Like the Oscar-contending “Wonder Woman” this year, it is also about how women, previously overlooked in a “man’s” world, can be just as strong or stronger than those who have dominated it.  Steven Spielberg fast-trackedThe Post” to be filmed in the spring of this past year.  Although it didn’t actually get into production until after Trump’s ensconcement in the presidency (with all its associated pussy-grabbing frills), the rights were bought in the fall of 2016, so it is interesting to think that when Liz Hannah and Josh Singer were hoping their script would sell they must have expected Hillary Clinton, a strong D.C. woman, would assume occupancy of the D.C. White House.

There is, however, probably at least one more reason it could be beneficial for the film to have focused on the Washington Post, rather than the New York Times.  It has something to do with reporting that Carl Bernstein did after Watergate.  Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of Watergate reporting fame, portrayed by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in “All the President’s Men,” each went on to respective sequels in their careers.

In October of 1977 (a good five years after the beginning of Watergate and somewhat more than a year after the release of “All the Presidents’ Men”), Carl Bernstein published a comprehensive article in Rolling Stone about the relationship of the CIA and journalists.  That included how the CIA concentrated “its relationships with journalists in the most prominent sectors of the American press corps, including four or five of the largest newspapers in the country, the broadcast networks and the two major newsweekly magazines.”  (See: THE CIA AND THE MEDIA- How Americas Most Powerful News Media Worked Hand in Glove with the Central Intelligence Agency and Why the Church Committee Covered It Up, by Carl Bernstein, October 20, 1977.)

One of Bernstein’s revelations was that New York Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger signed a secrecy agreement with the CIA in the 1950s.  His son, Arthur Ochs "Punch" Sulzberger Sr., the publisher of the New York Times (from 1963–1997) when it published The Pentagon Papers is played by Gary Wilmes in “The Post.”

Another of Bernstein’s revelations was that from “1950 to 1966, about ten CIA employees were provided Times cover under arrangements approved by” Arthur Hays Sulzberger as publisher, “part of a general Times policy—set by Sulzberger—to provide assistance to the CIA whenever possible.”  That obviously includes years covered by the Pentagon Papers.  Still another of Bernstein’s revelations was that Times columnist C.L. “Cy” Sulzberger, the nephew of Arthur Hays Sulzberger, and the paper’s chief of foreign service from 1944 to 1954, also apparently signed a secrecy agreement with the CIA and at the time of Bernstein’s article was “still regarded as an active asset by the Agency.”  Cy Sulzberger furnished Bernstein some specific denials that require parsing to figure how much he admits or denies he might have done for the secrecy agency.

While Bernstein’s article is filled with lots of well-documented specifics, it is also clear that a lot is left open about what he can conclude for certain, including to what extent the CIA withdrew from such activities by the time of the 1976 Senate Intelligence Committee investigation of the CIA chaired by Senator Frank Church.  There are questions about how deeply the committee pursued investigation of these matters along with questions about how much information the CIA supplied and with what intended slant.  According to Bernstein the “CIA’s intransigence led to an extraordinary dinner meeting at Agency headquarters in late March 1976" that included Senators Frank Church and John Tower, the vice chairman of the committee, CIA director George Herbert Walker Bush and various identified high-level CIA officials at which “the Agency held to its refusal to provide any full files” and refused to give the committee the names of any individual journalists or of the news organizations with whom they were affiliated.

According to Bernstein’s article, “the CIA’s use of journalists continued virtually unabated until 1973 when, in response to public disclosure that the Agency had secretly employed American reporters, William Colby began scaling down the program.”  The Times and the Post started publication of the Pentagon Papers in June of 1971.

As for such "scaling down," Bernstein wrote:
In November 1973, after many such shifts had been made, Colby told reporters and editors from the New York Times and the Washington Star that the Agency had “some three dozen” American newsmen “on the CIA payroll,” including five who worked for “general circulation news organizations.” Yet even while the Senate Intelligence Committee was holding its hearings in 1976, according to high level CIA sources, the CIA continued to maintain ties with seventy five to ninety journalists of every description—executives, reporters, stringers, photographers, columnists, bureau clerks and members of broadcast technical crews. . . . According to an unpublished report by the House Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by Representative Otis Pike, at least fifteen news organizations were still providing cover for CIA operatives as of 1976.
According to Bernstein, Colby “ordered his deputies to maintain Agency ties with its best journalist contacts while severing formal relationships with many regarded as inactive, relatively unproductive or only marginally important.”

The CIA’s connections with the Pentagon Papers is complicated to say the least.  The Pentagon Papers were in part about things the CIA itself had done.  Then there were the Watergate burglars, who, among other things, broke into office of the psychiatrist for Daniel Ellsberg (who worked for the RAND Corporation) as part of an effort to discredit Ellsberg: One of them E. Howard Hunt has always been cited as an ex-CIA agent, another, Eugenio R. Martinez, according to information recently obtained by a conservative group and furnished as “an exclusive” to Fox News, was a CIA agent at the time.  Further, the CIA was furnishing assistance to Hunt and then after the arrest of the burglars lied to the FBI while engaging in efforts to deflect the FBI from investigating it.

That is a lot in the background to sort through if you are going to make a film about the Times publishing the Pentagon Papers.  Not to say that these kinds of things usually get pushed to the fore in films produced for the American public, but I am sure that the people who write films like these are somewhat in the know about such background and take it into account.  (I read that producer Amy Pascal's father was an economic researcher at the RAND Corporation, apparently at the same time as Daniel Ellsberg.  Script writer/producer Josh Singer wrote West Wings and another recent journalism film, "Spotlight.")  It is perhaps simpler to make the film from the vantage of what happened at the Washington Post.

The Times absolutely does make its appearances as sort of its own character in “The Post.”   In fact, in July the Times ran an article about how a New York City Landmark, the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen in mid-Manhattan, was gussied up to serve in the film as a stand-in for the former Times Building at 229 West 43rd Street with an approximation of its style.  Mostly, the film presents what is going on at the Times as something of mystery, the leaked papers are being labored over off-site at a hotel suite with great secrecy.  Exactly, who is keeping what secret from whom and why is not fully explicated.  The film, looking in from the outside, never has to get into the questions of internal Times dynamics of who could be trusted.  (When the Washington Post undertakes its own work on the papers it parallels setting up its own off-site location for the work.) 

While making a film about The Washington Post instead of the Times could perhaps make questions about the CIA’s presence in the journalism world easier, it doesn’t actually make them go away.  Carl Bernstein’s article describes how multiple major news organizations were entangled with the CIA: CBS News* was a big one.   He explained that at the time of the 1976 Senate bearings, CIA officials “refused to say whether the CIA was still maintaining active relationships with members of the ABC News organization” with the cover arrangements “made with the knowledge of ABC executives.”
(* NOTE: Movies about CBS News journalism include “Good Night, and Good Luck,”  “The Insider” and  “Truth.” “The Insider” is similar to “The Post” in the way that corporate profit comes into play, something that The Intercept's film review hones in on instead of other aspects you might expect.  “Truth” tells about how CBS having corporate needs to ingratiate itself with the Bush White House dismantled one of its star news teams.)
Among those major media organizations also mentioned were Time magazine (I have written about Time magazine twice recently concerning the implications of the Koch brothers acquisition of ownership) and Newsweek magazine.

As for the Washington Post for which Bernstein famously worked reporting on the Watergate scandal, Bernstein writes:
Information about Agency dealings with the Washington Post newspaper is extremely sketchy. According to CIA officials, some Post stringers have been CIA employees, but these officials say they do not know if anyone in the Post management was aware of the arrangements.
Bernstein also writes that when “Newsweek was purchased by the Washington Post Company, publisher Philip L. Graham [Katherine Graham’s husband] was informed by Agency officials that the CIA occasionally used the magazine for cover purposes, according to CIA sources,” and that a former deputy director of the CIA said that, “It was widely known that Phil Graham was somebody you could get help from.”

There is another way this story can be told.  That version of the story is that sale of Newsweek to the Washington Post was more or less brokered by Richard Helms, the future head of the CIA and Ben Bradlee who was then at Newsweek (after an earlier stint at the Post), so as to ensure that the CIA's Newsweek activity could be perpetuated with the Washington Post becoming part of it.  Newsweek was owned by Helms grandfather.

Was Bernstein too reticent concerning what he said about his former employers?  The version of events involving Bradlee and Helms was in "Katherine The Great: Katherine Graham and the Washington Post," an unflattering biography of Graham by Deborah Davis, the first edition of which Graham sued to get removed from the bookstores.  That first edition was published in 1979, two years after Bernstein's article.  Katherine Graham later got to tell things her own way publishing her autobiography to get another of those Pulitzer Prizes.

Bernstein goes on to report that Frank Wisner, deputy director of the CIA from 1950 dealt with Phil Graham until not very long before Wisner’s shotgun suicide October 29, 1965. He explains that Wisner was “the Agency's premier orchestrator of `black’ operations, including many in which journalists were involved.”

“The Post” carefully makes part of its explication the fact that Katherine Graham assumed responsibility for the paper after her husband Phil Graham’s own shotgun suicide, August 3, 1963 (shortly after he reportedly engaged in an odd public disclosure about JFK’s CIA/Wisner-connected mistress Mary Pinchot Meyer, sister-in-law to Ben Bradlee*, who was murdered by gun October 12, 1964).
(*  NOTE:  There is a tantalizing story here about Mary Pinchot Meyer's diary after she died if someone wants to make yet one more film, a pre-Pentagon Papers film, in which Ben Bradlee would have an important part.  It's not clear it would be a film mostly about journalism.  It is not at all clear to what genre such a film would best adapt.)
About Katherine Graham and CIA connections to the Post under her reign Bernstein has this to say:
Katharine Graham, Philip Graham’s widow and the current publisher of the Post, says she has never been informed of any CIA relationships with either Post or Newsweek personnel. In November of 1973, Mrs. Graham called William Colby and asked if any Post stringers or staff members were associated with the CIA. Colby assured her that no staff members were employed by the Agency but refused to discuss the question of stringers. 
One of the themes of “The Post” is about how personal relationships between the powerful, press owners included, influences the reporting of and possible suppression of the news.  A delightfully revelatory line in “The Post,” delivered as almost a throwaway, is when the Katherine Graham character talking with the Robert McNamara character, Secretary of Defense under presidents Kennedy and Johnson, who does not want the Pentagon Papers he commissioned to see the light of day.  She acknowledges her respectful thanks to McNamara for picking “every member” of her board.  There are many wistful shots of photographs of the senior newspeople with the Kennedys and the movie conveys that because JFK’s assassination was such a personal loss for them their professional duties likely got sidestepped in the past.

In a plot-simplifying zeal for a bipartisan pox on everybody's house, the film throws under the bus any mention of President Kennedy's moves in the direction of winding down the Vietnam War, something not focused on when the Pentagon papers were published even though they contained an entire 60 page chapter concerning the Kennedy/McNamara plans abandoned by Johnson.

Personal relationships affecting journalism is a theme of Bernstein’s article too.  He speaks of how Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger “was especially close to Allen Dulles,” the first civilian Director of Central Intelligence, and its longest-serving director to date, quoting a high-level CIA official as saying,  “At that level of contact it was the mighty talking to the mighty.”  Bernstein asserts CIA recruitment of prestigious journalists began under Dulles and that “contacts with the heads of news organizations were normally initiated by Dulles” or others very high up in the CIA.  Working with the heads of news organizations was helpful because as senators were told by one of the heads of the Senate committee investigation who was explaining the “incredible spread of relationships”: “You don’t need to manipulate Time magazine, for example, because there are Agency people at the management level.”

The CIA didn’t have to engage in formal hiring of journalists if journalists thought the same way and simply considered themselves part of the same team America.  In this regard Bernstein explains that many of the journalists “had gone to the same schools as their CIA handlers, moved in the same circles, shared fashionably liberal, anti Communist political values, and were part of the same `old boy' network that constituted something of an establishment elite in the media, politics and academia of postwar America.” (Full disclosure: Katherine Graham was a classmate of my Aunt Nancy- also in publishing- at The Madeira School, and yes, I do believe that such school relationships can count for a lot.)

There are other backdrops against which any telling of the story of publication of the Pentagon Papers can be put. 

Media critic Edward S. Herman, coauthor with Noam Chomsky of “Manufacturing Consent,” recently died.  Before he did, he wrote a last article highly critical of misleading reporting by the New York Times, which ran in the July/August 2017 edition of Monthly Review: Fake News on Russia and Other Official Enemies- The New York Times, 1917-2017.  The article covers Times  misrepresentation about communism and about Russia as a threatening communist state.  Vietnam was obviously fought as a war against communism.  In one section Herman’s article criticizes the Times misleading reporting about the Vietnam War by the Times, that, in Herman’s view, was not solved even if the Times grew “steadily more oppositional” to the war “from 1965, culminating in the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971.”

It's easier to end by triumphantly saying `and then the Washington Post took on Richard Nixon’s Watergate abuses,’ than to put Pentagon Papers publication heroism against the backdrop of other recent New York Times activity. . .

. .   There is a new tale now out about one of the Times decisions of this nature.  The Times (with some attendant suspense) was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for publication of the Pentagon Papers.  The tale of what happened more recently involves a Pulitzer Prize opportunity the Times nearly shirked.  In 2004 in the months running up to the Bush/Kerry presidential election, the Times was cooperating with the George W. Bush administration to suppress what was ultimately a Pulitzer Prize-winning story by its reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau about the administration’s secret illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of the American public.  The bigger, wider version of this story was later made public by the Edward Snowden leaks.  That ultimately became the basis for the last two important films about truth-to-power adventures in adversarial journalism ethics: The academy award winning documentary “Citizenfour” and the parallel Oliver Stone directed drama“Snowden.”

The Times suppression of the story could be the basis for a film itself.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning story was published by the New York Times only because one of its reporters, Risen, was about to publish a book including the information the Times was withholding from the public.  According to Risen, New York Times senior editors, in suppressive mode right up until the end, expressed anger about Risen’s book being published together with their view that Risen didn’t have the right to publish it.  Unfortunately, as a matter of timing, Times suppression of the story caused it to be run after its publication could have had likely consequence in the 2004 Bush/Kerry election.

Preparing to write this article I compiled a list of films about actual American journalism events.  I chronologized it by the dates that the dramas respecting their reporting took place:  A Timeline of Reporting Dramas: Movies About Journalistic Coverage of Real Public Issues and Events, January 7, 2018.

Reviewing the list it is interesting to note how there are long gaps in the history with which the cinema going public has been furnished where there are no tales of journalistic heroism, almost as if nothing was happening in this country at those times although that is hardly the case.  Does that just mean that no one was speaking truth to power then?

Looking at those gaps, there are doubtless some great films to be made.  Not all films about journalism are about journalism’s successes.  “Shattered Glass” is about manufactured news going undetected and “Truth” was about Dan Rather and his CBS 60 Minutes Peabody Award-winning news team being tripped up by somebody mysteriously in the shadows supplying sophisticatedly fake documents in connection with their reporting of a basically true story about preferential treatment of George W. Bush in the National Guard (1968 to 1973 during which time Bush did not show up for a medical exam and stopped fulfilling his flying commitments).   “The Insider” concerning a tobacco industry whistle-blower and once again concerning the CBS 60 Minutes news show shares some themes with “The Post”: Its villains would also sacrifice journalistic integrity and a duty to the public for the benefit of profit-motivated business interests.

As these dramas can also be about failures of journalistic responsibility, there is no reason that an excellent future film can’t be made about Judith Miller and addressing how the New York Times had to eventually repudiate her reporting that it published about weapons of mass destruction.  That reporting contributed to the run up to the second Iraq war.  The Washington Post editorial board also admitted that it had been “insufficiently skeptical of intelligence reports” in its pro-war editorials.

There are also those who, telling this story, say that the Washington Post was far more involved with the Deep State than Carl Bernstein reported in 1977, and thus maybe even more involved than the Times.  Additionally, as vaguely alluded to in "The Post" there are accounts that Daniel Ellsberg was fishing around to offer the Pentagon Papers to the Washington Post first through editorial page editor Phil Geyelin (if not actually giving documents to him) and was rejected by the heroes of "The Post" before he approached Neil Sheehan and the Times.

No matter, all things considered, it seems there were plenty of good reasons a film being made today about publication of the Pentagon Papers to focus on the Washington Post, not the New York Times.  Just one of those good reasons is that it leaves people chattering about which paper the film should have been about rather than more troublesome issues.  A fight about bragging rights maintains the supposition that everything there is worthy of being bragged about.

At one point "The Post" incorporates a quote that Phil Graham famously adopted as his own: that journalism provides us with the "first rough draft of history."   He went on to say it would never be completed and was "about a world we can never really understand."   What does it mean that docudramas furnishing far from perfect facsimiles of the truth, are now the draft through which so many of us understand the narrative of our history (and the way journalists dished it up for us)?

Tom Hanks, revered in this time of sex scandals and "Times-Up" Golden Globe ceremonies, as the last decent man in the world, is not the "real-life" Ben Bradlee.  "Deep Throat" was not really Hal Holbrook.  Do we think we now know enough about who "Deep Throat" actually was to do a reboot of one of the greatest classics of American cinema, "All The President's Men"?  What we think we know would probably have to change the story-line appreciably.  But there is still some disagreement about who we think we know "Deep Throat" was, and I'm sure there'd also be disagreement about launching a reboot.

As for future sequels, whether it's the fictional depictions or the real life accounts, the powerful in the powerful city that D.C. is have always hovered around the Washington Post and its owners hoping to extend their power.  In the tradition of other cinemactic heroes, the Washington Post was held up for us to be able to admire that power in these films. . .  and we were encouraged to root for it.

The Washington Post was bought in 2013.  It is now owned by somebody who was already powerful,  one of the richest eight men on earth who combined own as much wealth as half the human race, Amazon owner, Jeff Bezos.  To complete the circle of our concerns, Bezos is doing at work for the CIA reportedly providing the CIA with cloud computing services pursuant to a $600 million contract ("Think of it as the intelligence community sharing information behind a walled castle apart from the rest of the world operating on the Internet").  Amazon and Bezos could provide a lot more.  Up there in that cloud it knows a lot about an awful lot of us.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

A Timeline of Reporting Dramas: Movies About Journalistic Coverage of Real Public Issues and Events

"The Post" vies for Academy awards in one delivered issue of the New York Times running a front page advertisement, plus a double page interior advertisement that appeared with a promotional interview of its stars, Streep and Hanks.
With Steven Spielberg’s “The Post” currently up and vying for Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and given the way that “The Post” ends with a scene denoting it as a prequel to the renowned “All The President’s Men” (1976), I thought it was time to gather a list of films that have been made  in either documentary fashion, or in dramatic form based on real reporting events that are about the subject of journalism. My interest was in films that are about the duties involved and the issues and decisions that the practice of journalism raises.  . . . I decided that it would be instructive to present them in timeline fashion, basing the timeline, not on the year that films were made, but upon the time period of the actual reporting of those events that took place.

Although I am not endorsing the accuracy with which any of these films convey history, I am including in my list only films that are about the ostensible reporting of ostensibly real events with particular interest in what made the decisions about such reporting dramatic at the time.

There are films that are inspired by real events and are great films about reporting, journalism and the newspaper business, but if those films are too highly fictionalized I am leaving them out.  “Citizen Kane,” (1941), inspired by the life of newspaper publisher `Citizen' William Randolph Hearst, is a great film and raises issues about what gets reported and with what sort of motives and sensationalism, but it is obviously highly fictionalized even if Hearst himself sought to smear/destroy its director Orson Wells and wanted the film destroyed (there is a dramatic HBO film precisely about that: “RKO 281" (1999).  Although my grandfather, Thomas Justin White, was General Manager and one-time president of the Hearst organization I don’t include “Citizen Kane” in the list.  (The film doesn’t happen include any character representing my grandfather).

Other great films on the subject of newspapers and journalism that don’t involve real journalists or real events include the versions of “Front Page” (1931 and 1974) and “His Girl Friday” (1940), “Broadcast News”  (1987), and the savage Paddy Chayefsky satire “Network” (1976).  “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939) has scenes key to the plot that depict how critical it is to a villainously corrupt political machine’s control of an unnamed western state for the machine to exercise a monopoly on the information with which newspapers and radio stations in the state supply its population.

I could perhaps arguably include three films that can be watched as a triptych: “Capote” (2005), “Infamous” (2006) and “In Cold Blood” (1967) as being about the death penalty and Truman Capote’s book.  I didn’t, and the last of those films, simply the film made from the book, doesn’t have Capote or a journalist as a character.

If journalism and its ethics is too remote from the central focus of the story (“The Killing Fields” 1984, “Salvador” 1986, and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” 1998) I am not including films in my list, notwithstanding that real journalists are characters in the films.  Maybe I ought to be including “Live From Bagdad” an HBO film about CNN reporting (and yet one more film starring Michael Keaton as a journalist) or “Control Room” (2004, about Al Jazeera reporting, but I don’t know enough about them at the moment.

“Quiz Show” (1994) stands out as a delightfully fun film about a television network's deceit of the American public.  I am not including it since the famous deceit tsk-tsked by the film is with respect to the facts of the NBC television network’s own rigged game shows, rather than the reporting of the facts of important national events.  (It was based on events covered in a book “Prime Time and Misdemeanors: Investigating the 1950s TV Quiz Scandal A D.A.'s Account,” co-authored by Joseph Stone, and my mother-in-law’s boyfriend, Tim Yohn.)  However, a film that could be be made that would arguably make this list would be about another rigged NBC game show that in more recent times did not get tsk-tsked, “The Apprentice,” which helped a misrepresented featured participant, Donald Trump, go on to the U.S. presidency.  . . Yes, although fictional, "Broadcast News" and "Network" were both cautionary about the failure to distinguish news from entertainment, a failure that helped pave the way to Trump's becoming our distractor-in-chief.

Many of the films in my timeline feature whistle-blowers.  In many of the films people pay prices or are very much in danger of paying high prices, including ruined careers, prison or even loss of life, for reporting news the government or the otherwise powerful want to suppress.

There are shorter form, certainly informative documentaries I am not including like Frontline’s, “WikiSecrets,” about the release of alarming information about US military conduct by Bradley/Chelsea Manning through Julian Assange’s Wikileaks.  And, not included, Frontline has covered subjects about manipulation of the media by big and dirty corporate money seeking political manipulation in segments like: “Climate of Doubt” and “Big Sky, Big Money.”

I am also not including documentary films that are overall critiques about the failure of mainstream American corporate media in general to report reliably, such as “Project Censored the Movie” (2013) or “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism” (2004) that offers a political view about the particular unreliability of Fox News.  I am not including such films even though their skepticism might undermine the sometimes rosy hopes that films in my chronological list sometimes offer about how it is envisioned mainstream media may do its job.

Here then is my list that presents a chronology in which you can see an evolution of what we have believed has been the role of journalists in reporting on the actual conflicts of our changing times.

    •    Good Night, and Good Luck (2005).  Set in 1953, during the early days of television broadcast journalism. Edward R. Murrow along with his CBS news team take a stand and take on the anti-communist fear mongering of  Senator Joseph McCarthy.

    •    All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Spirit of I.F. Stone (2016).  This film covers the legacy of investigative journalist I.F. Stone who died at 81 in 1989, who writing in his I.F. Stone Weekly (1953–71), reported about and during the eras of Joe McCarthy, Lyndon Johnson all the way to Ronald Reagan.

    •   The Post (2017) and The Pentagon Papers (2003).  Both are dramas about the publication of the Pentagon Paper released by Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the study.  The papers were first brought to the attention of the public on the front page of The New York Times starting Sunday, June 13th, 1971.  The Washington Post began publishing its own series of articles based upon the Pentagon Papers on June 18, 1971.
    •    All The President’s Men (1976).  About the Washington Post’s coverage of the Watergate scandal.  The Watergate scandal began with the incident with which “The Post” ends: On June 17, 1972, security guard Frank Wills at the Watergate complex finds a door's bolt taped over so that it will not lock.
    •    Frost/Nixon (2008). Based on the David Frost interviews of Richard Nixon recorded and broadcast on television in four programs in 1977 in which Nixon climatically admitted his wrongdoing.
    •    Kill The Messenger (2014).   Based on the true story of journalist Gary Webb, the film takes place in the mid-1990s. Webb uncovered the CIA's role in importing cocaine into the U.S. to secretly fund the Nicaraguan Contra rebels through the manufacture and sale of drugs in the U.S.  Pressure to drop pursuit of his story Webb published his evidence in the series "Dark Alliance."  He then experienced a vicious smear campaign fueled by the CIA, during which he found himself defending his integrity, his career, his family, ending in his unfortunate death.  (This film somewhat oddly does not show up as readily when googling these subjects as the others do.)

    •    The Insider (1999).  About whistle-blower Jeffrey S. Wigand who became famous for his appearance in 1996 on the CBS news program 60 Minutes to reveal that the Brown & Williamson tobacco industry company had intentionally manipulated its tobacco blend with chemicals to increase the addictive effect of nicotine in cigarettes.  The film is about how CBS, with business motivations driving it, was suppressing the story while a smear campaign was conducted against Wigand, and about the ultimate involvement of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times in getting the story out.  Afterwards, in real life, the producer of the Wigand segment, Lowell Bergman, portrayed in the film by Al Pacino, went on to work for the New York Times, including working on collaborations with “Frontline.”
    •    Shattered Glass (2003).  A film about the embarrassment of how for three years until 1998 many of the humorous and entertaining articles that Stephen Glass wrote for the liberal magazine “The New Republic” were cobbled together from his multiple inventive fictions.

    •    Spotlight,” (2015).   It is based on a series of stories by the "Spotlight" team about the Catholic Church's concealment of its priests' sexual abuse of children that earned The Boston Globe the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. (With news stories appearing from January 6, 2002 to December 14, 2002).

    •    Truth (2015).  This film is another about the CBS news program 60 Minutes.  It takes place in the months leading into the US 2004 presidential election (Bush v. Kerry) and tells the story about how CBS News anchor Dan Rather and others working for the CBS program were subject to criticism and lost their jobs for alleged liberal bias in reporting a basically true story about preferential treatment of George W. Bush in the National Guard (1968 to 1973 during which time Bush did not show up for a medical exam and stopped fulfilling his flying commitments) when it turned out that documents with which the newspeople had been supplied to support their story were likely faked in whole or in part by somebody.

    •    The Fifth Estate (2013), Underground: The Julian Assange Story (2012) We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (2013) Mediastan (2013) All of these films deal with Julian Asssange, the founding of Wikileaks (in 2006) and related events through 2010.  “Underground” covers the earliest period of Assange's life (the 1980s and 1990's pre-1997).

    •    Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011)  It deals with Times coverage of many things mostly during the time it was made, such as the 2008 bankruptcy of Tribune Media and The Afghan War documents leak, also called the Afghan War Diary, published by WikiLeaks in July 2010.

    •    Citizenfour (2014) and Snowden (2016). Respectively, first the film that won the Academy Award for best documentary and the subsequent Oliver Stone directed bio-pic that both cover Edward Snowden’s leaks to journalists of classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013 concerning the extensive and illegal spying of the US government on U.S. citizens and on others around the world after the 9/11 attacks.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

As The Kochs Acquire Ownership of Time Inc.- More About Where On The Spectrum Of Left/Right Politics That Publishing Organization Was Once To Be Found Plus More About What Once Did and Didn’t Get Said/Published In The U.S. Media

As the Koch Brothers were stalking ownership of Time Inc., (the Time Life empire that includes the once mighty Time Magazine), I wrote here from a standpoint of somewhat unique personal experience about how, whatever we may worry that Time will become, subject to Koch influence, that Time Magazine was not exactly a very liberal magazine to begin with.  In the course of doing so, I wrote about my uncle, Ralph Delahaye Paine, a Time/Life man of significant stature in his time.  See: Kochs Move To Acquire Ownership In Time/Life, Which On The Political Spectrum Was Previously. . . (Let Me Tell You) - Our Media, Never In a Good Place, Shifts Toward. . ?? Friday, November 17, 2017.

Time Inc. currently publishes Time, Sports Illustrated, People, Fortune and Entertainment Weekly.

Since I last wrote, the Koch ownership acquisition has gone forward.  And since that time I have come across and had a chance to remember and think about a letter in praise of my uncle written after his death to Fortune magazine by revered economist and writer John Kenneth Galbraith.  It expressed Galbraith's opinion of where on the political spectrum Fortune magazine (not necessarily Time) was under the stewardship of my uncle: That Fortune was “with some exceptions . . . by the standards of the time dangerously to the left.”
   
The Koch acquisition of the interest in Time Inc. is reportedly causing consternation about Time’s editorial direction internally on the part of Time staff and one former Time editor, Charles Alexander has promulgated his worry that his 23-year of work at Time work will go "down the drain."  Although he admits that Time was a “conservative publication” under publisher Henry R. Luce with that “bias” persisting “for a long time after Luce’s death in 1967," Mr. Alexander points out Time Magazine’s important converge of climate change, a subject about which the Kochs, in the fossil fuel industry, have invested long and massively to spread disinformation about.

Jane Mayer, author of "Dark Money," about the Kochs and how they have built up their political machines and influence, obtained thoughts on the Koch Time Inc. investment from Emily Bell, a professor of professional practice at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism for an article in the New Yorker.  Bell said that she doubts that the Kochs have put six hundred and fifty million dollars into the purchase of a media company saddled with ailing print publications only for financial reasons: “It can’t just be the return on investment, because, if so, you’re in the wrong asset class,” she said.

When ownership of publications changes hands, It is not just the future slant of the publication that should be worried about.  Sometimes what had been published in the past vanishes or becomes less accessible.  That is what recently happened when the Gothamist, providing coverage of local New York City news, was acquired by an opinionated conservative Republican buyer.

That’s one reason why we need libraries.  Not everything is available on the internet; not everything remains on the internet.

One thing you can’t currently find on the internet is the letter, published in Fortune, that John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in tribute to my uncle Ralph Delahaye Paine after his death in January 1991.  In it, Galbraith expresses his view that the writing in Fortune magazine, under my uncle could be considered on the left for that day and age.  I can offer that Galbraith's assertion to balance out the observation I made when previously writing about the pending Koch investment in Time Inc. that Time magazine was not very liberal when reporting about the Vietnam War.
Ralph Delahaye “Del” Paine Jr. in the FORTUNE years
To reiterate, Fortune is one of the publications in which the Koch’s have acquired an ownership interest.  Here is what Galbraith wrote about my uncle and the time he spent working under him at Fortune:
IN TRIBUTE TO DEL PAINE

I read in January of the death of Ralph Delahaye “Del” Paine Jr., who was editor and managing editor of FORTUNE from 1941 to 1953 and publisher from 1953 to 1967. I share with the present editors and the readers of FORTUNE my admiration and affection for a truly notable and much-loved figure in the history of journalism.

In the autumn of 1943 I joined the editorial staff of FORTUNE. I was never more content. Gathered under Paine was perhaps the most remarkable community of writers ever brought together on one magazine. Archibald McLeish, Dwight McDonald, and James Agee had but recently departed. The inimitable Eric Hodges of Blandings fame, Wilder Hobson, and the Davenport brothers, Gilbert Burke, and others were very much present. All were young; all shared an unqualified respect and affection for our young editor, then in his mid-30s.

With some exceptions we were by the standards of the time dangerously to the left. For some, like Dwight McDonald, Marx was a far from irrelevant figure. More generally, the New Deal was seen as an essential design for escaping the widespread economic devastation of the Great Depression. It was Del’s task to make us reasonably acceptable to our business readers.

This heated with intelligence, tact, and charm.  He was assisted by the thoughtful view, strongly supported by Henry R. Luce, that businessmen would rather read well-written, interesting, politically debatable articles with pleasure and comprehension then basically unintelligible prose with which they might agree. The acceptability, even prestige, of the magazine affirmed the rightness of this view.       

JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH
Cambridge Massachusetts
The letter, clipped from Fortune, hangs in my mother’s hall.  I’d like to think that when John Kenneth Galbraith himself died in 2006 my mother returned the favor by writing to Galbraith’s family, his four sons included, to recollect some of the flattering things my uncle had to say about Galbraith, but I am not sure that happened.
John Kenneth Galbraith was not just a famed economist and writer; he was also a member of John F. Kennedy’s administration serving formally under Kennedy as ambassador to India.  The other day I was listening to John Kenneth Galbraith’s son, James K. Galbraith, explaining how Kennedy involved his father to support him in his efforts to pull out of the Vietnam War.  James K. Galbraith is an economist and writer like his father who teaches as a professor at the University of Texas.  The discussion was on Austin’s KUT public radio station program Views and Brews hosted by Rebecca McInroy and he was speaking with Dr. John Newman, a retired U.S. Army Intelligence Officer and historian, about his book “JFK and Vietnam.”  (V&B: JFK and Vietnam – What We Know & Why It Matters, May 18, 2017.  You may want to save this link if you want to find this talk again: Google’s algorithm doesn’t have this showing up quickly making it hard to find.)
   
Ultimately influential, Dr. Newman’s book documents with first-hand research evidence of JFK’s decision to withdraw from Vietnam just before he was assassinated, confirming and fleshing out accounts that the senior Galbraith shared with his son James.  That book championed by James Galbraith is as of now recently available, but it was published 26 years prior only to be suppressed and pulled from bookstore shelves by its publisher.  That was despite the book's being reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review Section by Kennedy special assistant and historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. who also said "This commanding essay in critical history is the most authoritative account anywhere of President Kennedy's Vietnam policy and it is fascinating reading as well." Plus it was endorsed by former CIA head William Colby.

When the NSA failed to stop the book with unsuccessful claims its information was classified the publisher cooperatively made the book unavailable anyway.  That is another example of why who owns the media is so critically influential what the public hears or reads about.  Similarly, after 9/11 Michael Moore’s publisher was going to pulp, unpublished, a book it had printed that it felt was too critical of George W. Bush.  When that book was rescued by a librarian leading comrades it became a bestseller.

The KUT discussion was months prior to the release this year of Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” on PBS, but Galbraith and Newman already knew and were dismayed that the Burns 18 hour documentary left out of its narrative any reference to Kennedy’s likely withdrawal plans.  Another similar failure of the Burns documentary, at least in tone, that I found jarring is that while it covered the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a relevant major national event, the documentary, epically focused on Vietnam as its subject, didn’t note the incredibly strange resonance that King’s April 4, 1968 assassination was on the one-year anniversary of King’s historically pivotal April 4, 1967 Riverside Church denunciation of the War.

It is interesting to review what is and is not deemed acceptable to express as the events of history re-contour the landscape around us.  A lot of what gets said has to do with who are the gatekeeping owners and sponsors of our media.

I just recently rewatched on Turner Classic Movies the film “Seven Days In May” about an attempted military takeover of the United States Government.  The film was made from a novel of the same name published in 1962 written by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II, political journalists familiar with Washington D.C. who researched their subject.  The film was made with help, assistance and encouragement from the Kennedy administration, Kennedy reputedly believing it depicted threats that were real at the time.  It was due for release in December 1963, which would have been just days after Kennedy’s November 22, 1963 assassination.  Because of the assassination, release of the film was delayed until mid-February of 1964.

There are rumors that, after the Kennedy assassination, Frank Sinatra pulled from circulation director John Frankenheimer’s already released (October 1962) previous film, “The Manchurian Candidate,” explicitly about a conspiracy orchestrating a political assassination in order to takeover the U.S. presidency.  Even if the film wasn’t widely shown for a time after the assassination, according to Wikiepdia, those rumors have been disproved, and, additionally, the film was apparently revived at a cinema in Brooklyn, New York two months after the assassination.

Nevertheless, it is said that the Kennedy assassination also affected what was ultimately the content of Dr. Stangelove, another film released soon after the assassination, at the end of January 1964.  The film was a satire about strategies of “Mutual Assured Destruction” (MAD) devolving into nuclear Armageddon. Stanley Kubrick, the director, had filmed a War Room pie fight to end the film, “the best pie fight ever filmed.”  However, the pie fight seemed tone deaf after Kennedy’s killing, including a portion where George C. Scott’s character General Buck Turgidson holding in his arms a pie-stricken U.S. president played by Peter Sellers as president says:
Gentlemen, our beloved president has been infamously struck down by a pie in the prime of his life! Are we going to let that happen? Massive retaliation! 
The scene reportedly got as far as a test screening that occurred right around the time of the actual assassination.  More likely Kubrick would have sacrificed the scene anyway realizing that no matter how technically executed it may have been it did not sync properly with the film’s satire.  In addition, according to its screenwriter, Terry Southern, studio executives were apparently skeptical of the scene from the beginning plus they were beginning to turn on the film and disavow it as ‘un-American” or “anti-military.”

Monday, September 10, 1962, evaluating the book “Seven Days in Maybefore Kennedy’s assassination and before the movie was made, New York Times reviewer Orville Prescott started out by putting it in the genre of  Sinclair Lewis’ “ironically” titled "It Can't Happen Here."   He noted that the authors “are both experienced newspaper men. .  Both employed in the Washington bureau of the Cowels publication and judged by this book, they view the course of future events with considerable alarm and [t]hat they know much about the Washington scene, the routine life inside the White House and inside the Pentagon.”   Prescott, however, offers no rousing endorsement of the book concluding that with “stock characters” the prose does not “make the most of” its plot coming across like a “parlor game” that “as a whole never seems real.”  Acknowledging that it is scheduled to become a movie Prescott offers that “it ought to make a better movie than it is a novel.” Notwithstanding, the novel was a bestseller with an appreciable run.

Returning to mention the novel in his writing again a few weeks later about “Fail-Safe,” like “Strangelove” dealing with the specter of nuclear Armageddon (October 24, 1962), Prescott commented that “according to several of this autumn's new novels, the near future is going to be even more unpleasant than most of us sensible pessimists expect.”  While Prescott opines that “Fail-Safe” “cannot fail to chill the spinal columns of its readers,” and his verdict is that it was a “slam-bang thriller” despite its “deficiencies as fiction,” he concludes, much like he did with the novel “Seven Days in May,” that the authors “have no gift whatever for characterization” the “prose is commonplace” and the “dramatization . . crude and mechanical.”   Again, the novel was, nevertheless, a bestseller.  He does credit the authors for having done “considerable research assembling declassified material” and with basing the novel on a real incident. 

“Fail-Safe” too became a film, coming out after, but on the heels of  “Dr. Strangelove” (October 7, 1964).  The film, although a drama rather than comedic, was so similar to “Strangelove” that “Strangelove” director Kubrick filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against it (both were Columbia Studio pictures), settling that suit based on an agreement that “Fail-Safe” would come out after his film.  The devastating nature of the Kubrick comedy probably severely undermined and helped account for the poor performance of “Fail-Safe” at the box-office.
             
The New York Times Bosley Crowther review of the film “Seven Days in May” necessarily came out after the Kennedy assassination.  Under those circumstances, the “suffering cats and little kittens!” exclamation accompanied lead-in of the review dealing with a film about “not too farfetched speculations” seems oddly lighthearted.  (Does that translate to “farfetched”, but not toofarfetched”?)  To wit:
It's beginning to look us though the movies are out to scare us all to death with dire and daring speculations on what might happen, any day in Washington.

First we had "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," . .  .  Now, . . . we are offered a similarly fearsome prospect of the crisis that might occur if another Air Force general planned to seize control of the Government.

. . .  One might ask what we're coming to if such shocking thoughts are penetrating the deep domes of Hollywood!
Rod Serling
Crowther credits that the film “gathers a sense of actuality and plausibility.”  Actually, the script was obviously written with great seriousness by Rod Serling, of his very best.  It has none the `this-is-fantasy' or `this-is-speculation' veneer with which Serling avoided censorship with his Twilight Zone scripts.   Many of the Twilight Zone scripts Serling wrote were trenchantly antiwar.  By creating that science fiction fantasy anthology series Serling, sorely vexed by censorship, mainly from television sponsors, but not always just sponsors, side-stepped such censorship (a clever ruse?).

Crowther praises Serling for one sentiment expressed by the film’s fictional president, played by Frederick March, who says that the enemy is not the general, but the nuclear age: “It happens to have killed man's faith in his ability to influence what happens to him.”  To me (at least in 2017) incorporation of the sentiment that Serling apparently recycled from the original novel rang hollow.  The film as praised by Crowther and others is safe for its audiences, and perhaps for the larger world of the-powers-that-be, in that it hopefully holds out democracy, its institutions, the constitution, and basic human decency as strong enough to triumph.  And it also sticks with the idea that the mutinous generals, still principled, just have a different calculation of what to do in face of their fear of nuclear weapons. . .

. . . What the film never offers is any idea of how the money side of armaments can perpetuate their continuation and even use.

“Seven Days in May,” like “Strangelove” and “Fail-Safe,” is also about the balance of terror with Russian as a threat and the potential for worldwide nuclear holocaust.  A plot point of analysis is whether the U.S. military coup, if successful, would have provoked the Russian attack the generals wanted to forfend against.  Similar to how Crowther couches his praise for “Seven Days in May,” “Fail-Safe” is sometimes praised as a superior to “Strangelove’s” treatment of the same subject matter for being more soberly adult or mature, because it launches its speculative disaster scenario from the presumption of good intentions on the part of those in the military industrial complex.

Crowther’s review of “Seven Days in May,” says that the `plausibility’ of the plot (which takes place in what was then the future- May 1974) does not extend to “one twist,” which is the supposition of a large secret military base- some 3000+ men- in El Paso, Texas.  Next to the Mexican border El Paso is the actual location of Fort Bliss, one of the largest military complexes of the United States Army and very active in recent years as the largest training area in the United States, plus the home of other security facilities.  It is the home of one of the privately-owned ICE immigrant detention centers about which the public knows little these days even as these private ICE centers operate outside most conventional laws and the United States and ICE funding and private ownership of ICE centers is increasing dramatically.  If “Seven Days in May” was remade in another update, the takeover of the government would not be by the military, but by an even less accountable joint operation between the military and the mercenary corporations the military industrial surveillance complex now contracts out to.

When it comes to the military industrial surveillance complex interesting questions can be raised about what one can write about.  That is certainly the topic of director Steven Spielberg’s new “The Post” film concerning publication of the Pentagon Papers that documented decades of lies by the U.S. government about the Vietnam War (to get back to one of original subjects), which the government enjoined the New York Times from publishing as a violation of the espionage act.  The papers were copied and furnished by  Daniel Ellsberg a United States military analyst employed by the RAND Corporation at the time.

That was Daniel Ellberg’s role then.  Ellsberg is only now, with his new book “The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner” detailing information from his “top-secret nuclear studies, his front row seat to the Cuban missile crisis” (the crisis that helped set the national consciousness for the nuclear war subject films discussed here) when Ellsberg was a consultant with the Pentagon and the White House.  According to his account, Ellberg himself drafted plans for nuclear war and was privy to plans for nuclear war that were “insane” and “evil” in the hundreds of millions of people that would have been killed world-wide.


The question of what one theoretically can and cannot publish about the military can be interesting. 
"Red Alert"- Original title
The book “Red Alert” from which “Dr. Strangelove” was made was published in 1958 in the United Kingdom.   It was written by Peter George, an ex-RAF intelligence officer under the pseudonym Peter Bryant.  The later more popular “Fail-Safe” was published in the United States.  Terry Southern, screenwriter for “Strangelove,” asserts that because “national security regulations in England, concerning what could and could not be published, were extremely lax by American standards” George was able to “reveal details concerning the `fail-safe’ aspect of nuclear deterrence . . . that, in the spy-crazy U.S.A. of the Cold War era, would have been downright treasonous” and thus give all the “complicated technology of nuclear deterrence in Dr Strangelove” a base “on a bedrock of authenticity” that gave the satirical film the strength of credibility.

Keeping the military’s secrets about the potentially absurd destruction of the entire world at its hands is one thing.  Avoiding the more omnipresent censoring influences of commercial interests is another.  Rod Serling bridled at the censorship that emanated from the TV sponsors who readily rankled at the slightest hint of anything in a script that could `threaten’ corporate profits: For instance, Serling told of how the line, “Got a match?” had to be eliminated from the script of “Requiem for a Heavyweight” because the sponsor of the show as Ronson Lighters, and how the Chrysler Building had to be painted out of the New York skyline of a show that was sponsored by Ford Motor Company.

In this day and age of merging conglomerates the heavy hand of commercialism is more consequential with one the most overriding humankind-destroying concerns being that climate change misses getting reported on, almost as if it were a classified secret itself.   Because that reporting would affects profits; Not because we are afraid of the Russians.

It is one thing that the Kochs and fossil fuel companies spend phenomenal amounts of money to spread misinformation about climate change.  We moreover have to deal with how in 2016, the year of the national presidential elections, already scant reporting of climate change was reduced drastically and questions about climate change were left out of the presidential debates.  In 2017 the national networks and corporate media managed to report on extraordinary hurricanes and massive wildfires continually breaking records without mentioning climate change.

And now, as the Kochs acquire their ownership interest in Time Inc. we, like former Time editor Charles Alexander, must worry that what is motivating the Kochs is their desire to have the public see even fewer references to climate change and its world-destroying implications.  As media ownership concentrates overall throughout the country we may similarly worry that we will achieve less insight and learn less about what we need to know concerning the current day equivalents of the Vietnam War as well as all the things that the military industrial surveillance complex is up to that we would want to know more about.  .  .

.  .  As much of the discussion here makes evident, media in our culture is an all enveloping cocoon.  What does or does not get through in the way of ideas and possibilities because of who owns or sponsors that media affects our thinking mightily.

Although not perfect, Time magazine may have produced good climate change reporting and Fortune may have been, for its era, to the left in reporting economic matters, but with more and more of the kind of events we see represented by the Koch's Time Inc. ownership acquisition, we are moving ever further away from the the balance we had in the media then, whatever it was and such as it might have been.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Kochs Move To Acquire Ownership In Time/Life, Which On The Political Spectrum Was Previously. . . (Let Me Tell You) - Our Media, Never In a Good Place, Shifts Toward. . ??

Before we get to the "Time Goes Bye" part of this article (Koch Brothers stalking ownership of the once mighty Time Magazine), let's speak of "times gone by." 

I want to tell you a story that involves looking way back.

At the time of which I am speaking I was quite certainly in college, although when I think back remembering it feels almost as if I was still in high school, that I was so recently out of.  Since I was listening to WBAI on the radio, I had to have been in college and that means the year was probably 1970 or 1971.

On WBAI I heard a truly startling and appalling story about recent events in the Vietnam War.  I was sure it was going to be big news and probably would have a big influence on a lot of people when they too learned about it.  I wanted to see how else it would be reported, and I waited with eagerness for my weekly Time Magazine to come out and see how the story was featured.  When Time came out I scoured the week’s Vietnam War coverage and the event wasn’t there at all, not even a hint.  I was fit to be tied.

Once upon a time I had supported the Vietnam War, in high school seeing it in the basic good guy/bad guy terms in which my father had explained it to me: We were helping good guys against bad guys.  By the time of the story I am telling, I had shifted over in my thinking to oppose the war, having been chagrined to learn that by that time I did shift I was only just catching up with father’s own changed thinking to oppose the war.  Somehow, father and son, we had neglected to have that updating conversation before I told my father how increasingly troubled I was by the way I could not reconcile and sort through to believe that there were any truly good reasons for fighting a bad war.

My father, who voted for Lyndon Johnson instead of Barry Goldwater, was a Republican.  He was firmly against the war before he died at the end of 1968.  In addition, although I knew there were reasons my father had disliked Robert Kennedy based on my father's own early personal, youthful encounters with Kennedy (my father was from a similar Irish Catholic family that had contacts with the Kennedys), my father supported Robert Kennedy and his campaign for the White House that terminated with his assassination.  My father liked Kennedy’s stance on race relations (about which my father was growing increasingly passionate) and on the war.

Unfortunately, my memory is dim so I cannot tell you exactly what incident happened in Vietnam that went unreported by Time, but I was outraged and I was going to do something about it.  I called the Editor In Chief of Time Magazine to complain.

You might think this was absurdly presumptuous of me to do, and how could I possibly get through to someone of his stature.  I did get through, and I was encouraged to make the phone call by my mother.  My uncle, Ralph Delahaye Paine, Jr., had been an important man at Time/Life.  Among other things he had been Managing Editor and Publisher of Fortune Magazine, part of that Time/Life/Fortune triumvirate.  Part of our family lore (and there were many stories about my uncle) was how my uncle had been in charge of the Time/Life staff as they retreated back as the Nazis advanced through Europe and France and my uncle remembered vividly how vital it was for him to get everyone successfully out ahead of time.  Many of that Time/Life staff he sought to get out safely were Jewish.

The editor of Time Magazine took my call.  I am named after my uncle.  (And to be 100% complete, my daughter, born days after my uncle died in 1991, is now also.)  I played the relationship card, mentioning names, when I made my call as my mother encouraged me to do.  The editor’s secretary took my information and the editor picked up.  I am not going back at this time to check on that editor's name.  As I am telling a story after a long intervening time where my memory has some fogginess, it is probably better to leave names out.

What I remember was that the editor graciously took my call.  He probably enjoyed talking with me as an unusual break in his day.  I remember that he was more than polite, but I think I detected some bemusement on his part respecting my naive passion as he explained that there is lots of news to print and editorial decisions to be made and that not everything can always be printed.  It just doesn’t happen that way.  I was too young to have heard many of these kinds of explanations in my life and, no doubt I was out of my league knowing little about how best to express things in this kind of situation.  Some young people are savants and have natural instincts about these things at a very young age: Not me.

I don’t think my energy on the subject carried me over to write an official “letter to the editor” in hopes that it might get published.  I couldn’t have whipped one out at that point in my life and I certainly didn’t yet know the formula for quickly commanding attention, or tricks to succinctly synthesize the politically complicated.  My unwritten letter with respect to something that Time had not deigned to mention in the first place would not have been published, I’m sure.

I tell this story mostly to emphasize that, back in the day, Time Magazine and the Time/Life publishing empire were not exactly found on the left of the political spectrum in terms of the way they saw the world or what they chose to report.  I also tell the story to bring up and emphasize that where you get your news can powerfully affect your point of view because of what is and is not included.

After a few more years of reading both Time and Newsweek cover to cover every week (they were both weeklies for those who have forgotten or were not around), I finally terminated my subscription to Time because I found it so much more conservative than Newsweek when reporting on the same items.  Part of me felt a bit like a traitor.

And it also seemed as if I was acting against my own self interest: I owned a tiny amount of Time Incorporated stock that had been given to me as a baby present.  Escalating in value in those past decades, it was, in fact, my sole success with stock ownership.  My father had coached me in learning the benefits of investing in the stock market by encouraging me to buy Studebaker stock with some of my saved allowance combined with his contributed subsidy.  The purchase was not a good idea: Studebaker was an American automobile manufacturing company and in 1963 they closed the plant in South Bend, Indiana where they were based.  I learned then that what happens to stock when companies fail to thrive is not pretty.

Nowadays, what is happening to the stock of ever less profitable legacy news organizations like Time is not pretty, except that the stock of Time Magazine after a period of decline has reportedly just jumped up 25% percent because the Koch bothers, Charles and David, are circling around to engineer a takeover of the ownership.

This is yet more frightening news about the ownership of our news sources.  We are seeing that as income and wealth inequality become ever more pronounced, as the finances of news organizations grow increasingly anemic (reducing their relative price to that of play things), and as the government fails to enforce anti-monopoly laws and regulations, the sources of much of our news is increasingly supplied by just a few disproportionately wealthy men (or their corporate extensions) that hold some very peculiar ideas.  Those ideas include bizarre thoughts about how everyone else should sacrifice so that they can become wealthier, how we should continue to destroy the planet with exhumation and burning of fossil furls, and the glories of spending on weapons and waging wars.

But, to go back a bit, this is just the half of it, because however much worse it can be to have “news” provided by the likes of the Koch brothers, what I indicated at the outset with my story about Time Magazine and its previous conservative non-reporting about the Vietnam War, doesn’t do justice in giving you a true flavor for how biased-by-omission so much news media reporting has been in this country over the years.

Last week, Edward S. Herman died on November 11, 2017 at the age of 92.  Among other things, Mr. Herman was coauthor with Noam Chomsky of “Manufacturing Consent.” Some say he was the principal author.  That important and influential book was about how media cooperates with the powerful so that the electorate capitulates to what those in power want.  That consent manufacture includes a lot of non-reporting (and skewed reporting) of events that happen in our world.  In this vein, The New York Times virtually didn’t report Mr. Herman’s death.

The disregard was mutual. . .

. . . We understand that Mr. Herman’s last published work was about the New York Times.  It was about the Times' omissions and some very unreliable reporting on the part of the Times over multiple decades, a complete disaster if for those endeavoring to formulate their world view. His article ran in the July/August 2017 edition of Monthly Review: Fake News on Russia and Other Official Enemies- The New York Times, 1917-2017.  The article covers a lot of ground.  And, (to get around, in a sense, to where we began) it includes a section about misleading reporting about the Vietnam War by the Times, with criticisms you might not have thought of until you hear Mr. Herman express them eloquently with many others.

I suggest you read it next.  Consider your read of Mr. Herman's last solemn article as a commemorative mediation on things missing: the lost, the departing, and things lost when they were never included in the first place.