If there is just one lesson to take away from the Benghazi and Petraeus affairs it's that the American media is way too cozy with heads of state.
Immediately following the Benghazi crisis, U.S. media did its due diligence and flexed its sources, anonymous and otherwise, to uncover the truth about the attack — but then they purposely failed to report the details because of requests from the CIA and the Obama administration.
Michael Calderon of The Huffington Post reports that the AP, The New York Times and The Washington Post all withheld information at the behest of the CIA. Calderon also details how other news outlets failed to mention the true ties of CIA contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
From his report:
ABC News, for example, reported that Doherty had been working to "round up dangerous weapons" in the country. One national security reporter told The Huffington Post that it was an "open secret" in national security circles that the former SEALs were working for the CIA.
The AP even went so far as to edit a Sept. 21 story it wrote, which revealed the employment status of Woods and Doherty; ensuring the edited version made no mention of Woods and Doherty's employment the CIA.
A statement written to HuffPo from AP spokesman Paul Colford:
"We omitted mention of the two former SEALs' CIA connection in subsequent versions of the story after CIA officials insisted that other lives would be endangered."
Another statement, from the New York Times, echoed this sentiment: "[We] agreed to withhold locations and details of these operations at the request of Obama administration officials, who said that disclosing such information could jeopardize future sensitive government activities and put at risk American personnel working in dangerous settings."
Assuming they knew exactly how disclosing such information would put people in danger is one thing, maybe some of the operations were ongoing. But if they weren't exactly sure, if they just suppressed coverage on behalf of a basic request, then they're sacrificing journalistic integrity in order to be complicit in the cover-up of botched covert operations.
A far cry from printing the Pentagon Papers 60 years ago exposing the administration during the Vietnam War, the media is largely in cahoots with today's higher-up government officials. Unlike the Pentagon Papers, the Benghazi coverage shows how the CIA suppressed media reporting under a blanket "national security" statement.
CNN even fired one of its up-and-coming investigative reporters because of fallout from a documentary she produced about unrest in Bahrain during the Arab Spring, something neither the Bahrain government nor the U.S. military wanted publicized.
Most recently, this cozy relationship with the administration is typified by the David Petraeus sex scandal.
The CIA and the "Intelligence Community" are officially not supposed to have working journalists on the payroll, but where are the rules for book authors? The case of Paula Broadwell, a writer tasked with the portrayal of the most powerful spook in the U.S., shows an obvious blurring of professional lines and a blatant disregard for conflicts of interest.
An attempt to be as impartial as possible would have looked like this: leaving duty as an intelligence officer with the military and rendering her Top Secret clearance inactive.
She did neither and remained very much on the intel community payroll as an Army reservist while she was contracted through a private publishing company to write a biography of General David Petraeus (Ret.). With so many ethical lines already blurred, the pair added one more and began a sexual affair.
Then word got out about that relationship.
The following flurry of hasty reporting about Petraeus exposed an easily charmed media that had eaten up the general's charisma and blindly endorsed almost every platform he put forward, regardless of whatever facts might have been on the ground at the time.
Michael Hastings, the former Rolling Stone writer who reported former General Stanley McCrystal out of a job, had this to say about the situation:
Petraeus’ first biographer, former U.S. News and World Report reporter Linda Robinson, wrote a book about him, then went to CENTCOM to work for him. Yes — a so-called journalist published a book about him, then started getting a paycheck from him soon after. This went largely unremarked upon.
Another huge supporter was Tom Ricks, a former Washington Post journalist who found a second career as unofficial press agent for the general and his friends. Ricks is the ringleader of what I like to call “the media-military industrial complex,” setting the standard for its incestuous everyday corruption. He not only built Dave up, he facilitated the disastrous liaison between Broadwell and Petraeus. Ricks helped get Broadwell a literary agent, a six-figure book deal, and a publisher.
Some journalists even came out and said they'd taken the bait, like Danger Room's Spencer Ackerman, who wrote, " When it came out that CIA Director David Petraeus had an affair with his hagiographer, I got punked."
From Ackerman's post:
Like many in the press, nearly every national politician, and lots of members of Petraeus’ brain trust over the years, I played a role in the creation of the legend around David Petraeus. The biggest irony surrounding Petraeus’ unexpected downfall is that he became a casualty of the very publicity machine he cultivated to portray him as superhuman. I have some insight into how that machine worked.
Whether it's withholding information, even deleting previously reported information (like the AP did) at a government's request, or intentionally propagating a less than accurate portrayal of American leaders, these transgressions have exposed a media that's not as free as it publicizes itself to be.
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