geert lovink on Tue, 21 Mar 2000 09:53:18 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] cnn and the pentagon

the story went round the world
and back again...

`Tells the Facts and Names the Names'
Edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair
3220 N Street, NW, Suite 346
Washington, DC 20007
Tel: 1-800-840-3683
- Volume 7, Number 5, March 1-15, 2000 -



By Alexander Cockburn

CNN is up in arms about our report in the last issue of CounterPunch
concerning the findings of a Dutch journalist, Abe de Vries about the
presence of US Army personnel at CNN, owned by Time-Warner. We cited an
article by de Vries which appeared on February 21 in the reputable Dutch
daily newspaper Trouw. De Vries reported that a handful of military
personnel from the Third Psychological Operations Battalion, part of the
airmobile Fourth Psychological Operations Group based at Fort Bragg, in
North Carolina, had worked in CNN's hq in Atlanta.

De Vries quoted Major Thomas Collins of the US Army Information Service as
having confirmed the presence of these Army psyops experts at CNN, saying,
"Psyops personnel, soldiers and officers, have been working in CNN's
headquarters in Atlanta through our program, 'Training with Industry'. They
worked as regular employees of CNN. Conceivably, they would have worked on
stories during the Kosovo war. They helped in the production of news."

This particular CounterPunch story was the topic of my regular weekly
broadcast to AM Live, a program of the South Africa Broadcasting Company in
Johannesburg. Among the audience of this broadcast was CNN's bureau in
South Africa which lost no time in relaying news of it to CNN hq in
Atlanta, and I duly received an angry phone call from  Eason Jordan who
identified himself as CNN's president of newsgathering and international

Jordan was full of indignation that I had somehow compromised the
reputation of CNN. But in the course of our conversation it turned out that
yes, CNN had hosted a total of five interns from US army psyops, two in
television, two in radio and one in satellite operations. Jordan said the
program had only recently terminated, I would guess at about the time CNN's
higher management read Abe de Vries's stories.

When I reached de Vries in Belgrade, where he is Trouw's correspondent, and
told him about CNN's furious reaction, he stood by his stories and by the
quotations given him by Major Collins. For some days CNN wouldn't get back
to him with a specific reaction to Collins's confirmation, and when it did,
he filed a later story for Trouw, printed on February 25 noting that the
military worked at CNN from June 7 on, meaning that a US Army psyops person
would have been at CNN only during the last week of the war.

"The facts are", de Vries told me, "that the US Army, US Special Operations
Command and CNN personnel confirmed to me that military personnel have been
involved in news production at CNN's newsdesks. I found it simply
astonishing. Of course CNN says these psyops personnel didn't decide
anything, write news reports, etcetera. What else can they say? Maybe it's
true, maybe not. The point is that these kind of close ties with the army
are, in my view, completely unacceptable for any serious news organization.
Maybe even more astonishing is the complete silence about the story from
the big media. To my knowledge, my story was not mentioned by leading
American or British newspapers, nor by Reuters or AP."

Here at CounterPunch we agree with de Vries, who told me he'd originally
come upon the story through an article in the February 17 edition of the
French Intelligence newsletter, which described a military symposium in
Arlington, Virginia, held at the beginning of February of this year,
discussing use of the press in military operations. Colonel Christopher St
John, commander of the US Army's 4th Psyops Group, was quoted by French
Intelligence's correspondent, present at the symposium, as having "called
for greater cooperation between the armed forces and media giants. He
pointed out that some army PSYOPS personnel had worked for CNN for several
weeks and helped in the production of some news stories for the network."
So, however insignificant Eason Jordan and other executives at CNN may now
describe the Army psyops intern tours at CNN as having been, the commanding
officer of the Psyops group thought them as sufficient significance to
mention at a high-level Pentagon pow-wow about propaganda and psychological

It's impossible not to laugh when CNN execs like Eason Jordan start
spouting high-toned stuff about CNN's principles of objectivity and refusal
to spout government or Pentagon propaganda. The relationship is most
vividly summed up by the fact that Christiane Amanpour, CNN's leading
foreign correspondent, and a woman whose reports about the fate of Kosovar
refugees did much to fan public appetite for NATO's war, has been in bed
with the spokesman for the US State Department, and a leading propagandist
for NATO during that war, her husband James Rubin. If CNN really wanted to
maintain the appearance of objectivity, it would have taken Amanpour off
the story, an option that obviously didn't cross their minds. Amanpour, by
the way, is still an advocate for NATO's crusade, most recently on the
Charlie Rose show on February 24.

In the first two weeks of the war in Kosovo CNN produced thirty articles
for the Internet, according to de Vries, who looked them up for his first
story. An average CNN article had seven mentions of Tony Blair, NATO
spokesmen like Jamie Shea and David Wilby or other NATO officials. Words
like refugees, ethnic cleansing, mass killings and expulsions were used
nine times on the average. But the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army (0.2
mentions) and the Yugoslav civilian victims (0.3 mentions) barely existed
for CNN.

During the war on Serbia, as with other recent conflicts involving the US,
wars, CNN's screen was filled with an interminable procession of US
military officers. On April 27 of last year, Amy Goodman of the Pacifica
radio network, put a good question to Frank Sesno, who is CNN's senior vice
president for political coverage.

GOODMAN: "If you support the practice of putting ex-military
men--generals--on the payroll to share their opinion during a time of war,
would you also support putting peace activists on the payroll to give a
different opinion during a time of war? To be sitting there with the
military generals talking about why they feel that war is not appropriate?"

FRANK SESNO: "We bring the generals in because of their expertise in a
particular area. We call them analysts. We don't bring them in as
advocates. In fact, we actually talk to them about that--they're not there
as advocates."

Exactly a week before Sesno said this, CNN had featured as one of its
military analysts, Lt. Gen Dan Benton, US Army Retired.

BENTON: "Yes, Daryn, I don't know what our countrymen that are questioning
why we're involved in this conflict are thinking about. As I listened to
this press conference this morning with reports of rapes, burning, villages
being burned and this particularly incredible report of blood banks, of
blood being harvested from young boys for the use of Yugoslav forces, I
just got madder and madder. The United States has a responsibility as the
only superpower in the world, and when we learn about these things,
somebody has got to stand up and say, that's enough, stop it, we aren't
going to put up with this. And so the United States is fulfilling its
leadership responsibility with our NATO allies and are trying to stop these
incredible atrocities."

Please note what CNN's supposedly non-advocatory analyst Benton was ranting
about: a particularly bizarre and preposterous NATO propaganda item about
700 Albanian boys being used as human blood banks for Serb fighters.


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