Tag Archives: Central Intelligence Agency

JFK, Mass Media, and the Origins of ‘Conspiracy Theory’

Prefatory Note on Censorship in Academe

This study was written in 2013-14 as part of my academic research as Associate Professor of Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University. I have had numerous papers addressing news coverage of historical events published in academic journals over the past two decades. However, this was the first attempt to offer a scholarly treatment of a research object related to a conspiracy–how the news media “framed” New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s JFK assassination inquiry.

When I presented the paper at the Association For Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Montreal Conference in 2014 the panel respondent congratulated me on what he deemed to be a very well-researched and written manuscript. He further remarked that it was at most a draft or two away from submission for editorial review at a scholarly journal. I was also confident the study would eventually achieve publication. 

The paper was subsequently rejected by five journals out-of-hand. The editors refused to even send the paper out for review, which never occurred to me before. Notably, each editor provided a different reason for not wanting to give it further consideration. What is more, three of the venues had published my work in previous years. The paper nevertheless offers a timely contribution to understanding the historical origins of the term “conspiracy theory” and its development from perhaps the most momentous event in 20th century American politics.

This helped me to further realize how despite celebrated notions of unbridled inquiry and academic freedom, certain subjects so historically central to the nation’s history in fact remain taboo among academics–those entrusted by society to research such matters–vis-á-vis their counterparts in professional journalism, with both camps still proceeding in tacit agreement to police the boundaries of permissible discourse and thought. -JFT


Introduction

“It appears that certain elements of the mass media have an active interest in preventing this case from ever coming to trial at all and find it necessary to employ against me every smear device in the book.” –Jim Garrison (Playboy 1967)

The news media’s failure to interrogate and question the “the lone assassin” theory by the 1964 Presidents Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, otherwise known as the Warren Commission, should be recognized as one of the greatest episodes of journalistic misconduct in US history. The mass media have played a pivotal role in the coverup of the Kennedy (JFK) assassination that they unabashedly practice to this day. New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison’s investigation of the November 22, 1963 event was the first substantial challenge to the official narrative. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) countered Garrison’s efforts by calling upon its media assets to directly attack, defame, even sabotage the inquiry.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

From this episode the CIA developed one of its most potent psychological weapons against political dissent: the “conspiracy theory” label. Over its 50-year lifespan the label has time and again demonstrated its effectiveness in policing the public sphere by calling into question the credibility and even the sanity of journalists, academics, or any other public figure that dares question authorized myths for the masses.

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #68

The failed Bay of Pigs invasion began just before midnight on April 16, 1961, when a group of roughly 1,500 Cuban exiles trained and supported by the CIA landed on Cuba’s south-central shore at the Bay of Pigs.

As author Vitaly Petrussenko chronicles, following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion the CIA sustained significant negative impact. To help restore its luster “and his own image at the top of the Establishment” then-CIA Director “Allen Dulles authorized a big article in Fortune magazine, written by his friend Charles J.V. Murphy.” Classified documents intended to place CIA officials in a positive light and relieve them of responsibility of the failed invasion were turned over to Murphy “with Dulles’s consent.”

Shortly thereafter Dulles became the standard public spokesman for the Agency when he “began cultivating relations with television companies as suggested by Attorney General Robert Kennedy who himself was instructed by his President-brother to re-organize the Agency.” For example, “NBC television was offered the unique opportunity of producing a film about the CIA narrated by David Brinkley, NBC’s star commentator. Naturally, the film vindicated the CIA, and praised its cloak-and-dagger agents.

Vitaly Petrusenko, Trans. By Nocolai Kozelsky and Vladimir Leonov, A Dangerous Game: CIA and the Mass Media, Prague: Interpress, 1977, 23.

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #61

Airbrushed History: Unsurprisingly, the New York Times 1994 obituary of publisher Frederick A. Praeger makes no reference of the publishing house’s documented ties to the Central Intelligence Agency.

Despite the CIA’s charter forbidding it to operate within the United States, the Agency’s symbiotic relationship with virtually every facet of the media industries suggests how almost since its inception the organization allowed itself to run out of control with little-if-any suggestion of remorse. In fact, when it came to propaganda the CIA effectively “acted as its own State Department,” author Darrell Garwood argues, by allowing Agency-sponsored books to circulate in the US because they might qualify as propaganda abroad, thereby violating diplomatic agreements. One of the CIA’s most favored book publishers in the 1950s-1960s was Frederick A. Praeger Inc. Praeger, president of the company, attests that in the late 1950s the Agency financially backed “’fifteen or sixteen’” Praeger titles.

When knowledge of this arrangement became public Mr. Praeger met with the press to “’put the matter in perspective,’” arguing that the number of books published under CIA auspices was less than one percent of the overall catalog of titles published during the specified time. Although Praeger maintained that the CIA-sponsored books “’were developed according to the standards that we apply to all our books,’” he left unmentioned whether less obvious selection methods might be in play.

In the 1970s E. Howard Hunt informed the Senate Intelligence Committee “that CIA-sponsored books directed at Communist China ‘had to circulate in the United States because Praeger was a commercial US publisher … and we had a bilateral agreement with the British that we wouldn’t propagandize their people.’ This seemed to be showing a lot of admirable consideration for the British,” author Garwood notes, “but none at all for Americans.”

Darrell Garwood, Under Cover: Thirty-Five Years of CIA Deception, New York: Grove Press, 1985, 259, 260.

 

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #57

Editor’s Note: In August 2015 MHB published, “The CIA and the Media: 50 Historical Facts The World Needs to Know.” The present series seeks to augment this initial article with several dozen additional facts and observations on the relationship between the US intelligence community, the mass media, and public opinion.

Image Credit: Reuters

Following his successful 1998 campaign to be elected Minnesota’s 38th governor former professional wrestler, media personality and Mayor of Brooklyn Park Minnesota Jesse Ventura explains how he was interrogated at length by over twenty CIA agents seeking to assess the ins and outs of his populist political platform.

“The first inkling that certain people inside the federal government were out to keep an eye on me came not long after I took office,” Ventura recalls.

I was “asked” to attend a meeting in the basement of the Capitol building at a time when the State Legislature was not in session. I was informed that the Central Intelligence Agency was conducting a training exercise that they hoped I’d be willing to participate in … I was placed in the middle of a big circle of chairs, and they all sat there staring at me with notebooks on their laps … They all focused on how we campaigned, how we achieved what we did, and did I think we truly could win when we went into the campaign. Basically, how had the independent wrestler candidate pulled this off?”

Jesse Ventura and Dick Russell, American Conspiracies: Lies, Lies and More Dirty Lies the Government Tells Us, New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2010, xi, xii.

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #56

Editor’s Note: In August 2015 MHB published, “The CIA and the Media: 50 Historical Facts The World Needs to Know.” The present series seeks to augment this initial article with several dozen additional facts and observations on the relationship between the US intelligence community, the mass media, and public opinion.


Irwin Knoll, Image Credit: Wisconsin Historical Society

Washington Post editorial page editor Bob Estabrook claims that one-time Post publisher Philip Graham “was in daily touch with people in the intelligence community and that he knew more about the Bay of Pigs, for example, than he would tell his own reporters,” writes Katharine Graham biographer Carol Felsenthal. Veteran journalist and former Progressive magazine editor Erwin Knoll recalls how Post editor Al Friendly “’had some CIA involvement. I know there was a pipeline to the CIA that provided occasional guidance on stories.’”

Knoll recollects the controversy that erupted in 1960 when a United States U-2 reconnaissance plane was shot down by the Soviets in 1960. “’I found myself riding in the elevator with Bob Estabrook, and I said to him, ‘That’s a hell of a story out of the Soviet Union today, isn’t it?’ And he said, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve known about those flights for several years, but we were asked not to say anything.’ Now that just astonished me, that the paper knew about things it was asked not to report on, and it complied with those wishes.’” Shortly thereafter, when a US pilot in the employ of Indonesian rebels was grounded, “the Post’s foreign editor warned Knoll to be careful about reporting on the pilot, who, he said, was CIA. Knoll thinks the Post ‘was definitely on the team as far as fighting to cold war was concerned.’”

Carol Felsenthal, Power, Privilege and The Post: The Katharine Graham Story, New York: Putnam, 1993, 372, 373.

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #53

By James F. Tracy

Editor’s Note: In August 2015 MHB published, “The CIA and the Media: 50 Historical Facts The World Needs to Know.” The present series seeks to augment this initial article with several dozen additional facts and observations on the relationship between the US intelligence community, the mass media, and public opinion. One historical fact will be released each day over the next month and beyond.


“The CIA is the only US government agency authorized to engage in black propaganda operations,” writes former CIA officer Philip Agee, “but it shares the responsibility for grey propaganda with other agencies such as [United States Information Agency].” Other lettered agencies “must obtain prior CIA approval before engaging in grey propaganda.” This is part of the National Security Council’s “grey law.” The purpose and design of Agency propaganda is inculcated as standard operating procedure in CIA officer training. In NSA and CIA parlance, “white propaganda” is communication overtly disseminated by the US government, frequently through one of its representative organs such as the USIA. The escape clause of “plausible denial” is integrated in to the Agency’s covert propaganda practices. “[G]rey propaganda is ostensibly attributed to people or organizations who do not acknowledge the US government as the source of their material and who produce the material as if it were their own; black propaganda is unattributed material, or it is attributed to a non-existent source, or it is false material attributed to a real source.” As Agee explains, the CIA officer’s training anticipates how journalists and editors will be used—wittingly or unwittingly—to plant information and stories in the public mind. “In propaganda operations, as in all other [psychological and Paramilitary] activities, standard security procedures forbids payment for services rendered to be made by a CIA officer working under official cover (one posing as an official of the Department of State, for instance) … The vehicles for grey and black propaganda,” observes Agee,

may be unaware of their CIA or US government sponsorship. This is partly so that it can be more effective and partly to keep down the number of people who know what is going on and thus reduce the danger of exposing the true sponsorship. Thus editorialists, politicians, businessmen and others may produce propaganda, even for money, without necessarily knowing who their masters in the case are. Some of the obviously will and so, in agency terminology, there is a distinction between ‘witting’ and ‘unwitting’ agents.

During formal instruction in covert operations CIA propagandists impressed upon Agee and other trainees the complex transnational execution of such information operations, which involved

the business of orchestrating the treatment of events of importance among several countries. Thus problems of communist influence in one country can be made to appear of international concern in others under the rubric of ‘a threat to one is a threat to all’. For example, the CIA station in Caracas can cable information on a secret communist plot in Venezuela to the Bogota station which can ‘surface’ through a local propaganda agent with attribution to an unidentified Venezuelan government official. The information can then be picked up from the Columbian press and relayed to CIA stations in Quito, Lima, La Paz, Santiago, and, perhaps, Brazil. A few days later editorials begin to appear in the newspapers of these places and pressure mounts on the Venezuelan government to take repressive action against its communists.

Philip Agee, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, New York: Stonehill Publishing Company, 1975, 71, 72.

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The CIA and the Media: Historical Fact #52

Editor’s Note: In August 2015 MHB published, “The CIA and the Media: 50 Historical Facts The World Needs to Know.” The present series seeks to augment this initial article with several dozen additional facts and observations on the relationship between the US intelligence community, the mass media, and public opinion. One historical fact will be released each day over the next month and beyond.


The CIA’s integration with mass media is especially insidious because it operates as a secret organization with its own rules and is answerable to no one. “’The National Security Act of 1947,’” in the words of Allen W. Dulles, “’…has given Intelligence a more influential position in our government than Intelligence enjoys in any other government of the world.’” As journalists David Wise and Thomas B. Ross wrote over a half-century ago,

The American people have not been in a position to assess these changes. They know virtually nothing about the Invisible Government. Its employment rolls are classified. Its activities are top secret. Its budget is concealed in other appropriations. Congress provides money for the Invisible Government without knowing how much it has appropriated or how it will be spent. A handful of congressmen are supposed to be kept informed by the Invisible Government, but they know relatively little about how it works.

Overseas, in foreign capitals, American ambassadors … are told they have control over the agents of the Invisible Government. But do they? The agents maintain communications and codes of their own. And the ambassador’s authority has been judged by a committee of the United States Senate to be a “polite fiction.”

At home, the intelligence men are directed by law to leave matters to the FBI. But the CIA maintains more than a score of offices in major cities throughout the United States; it is deeply involved in many domestic activities, from broadcasting stations and a steamship company to the university campus. The Invisible Government is also generally thought to be under the direct control of the National Security Council. But, in fact, many of its major decisions are never discussed in the Council. These decisions are handled by a small directorate, the name of which is only whispered. How many Americans have heard of the ‘Special Group’? The name of this group, even its existence, is unknown outside the innermost circle of the Invisible Government.

David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, The Invisible Government, New York: Random House, 1964, 4, 5.

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