Douglas Valentine has critiqued the progressive-left’s uncritical stance toward public luminaries, such as longtime CIA operative Daniel Ellseberg, or the functioning deity of American liberals, the New York Times itself. According to Valentine, political progressives demonstrate crucial blindspots in their adoration of such figures and institutions. Works and authors that shed light on the contradictory nature of this adoration are either ignored or derogated by what CIA official Cord Meyer termed “the Compatible Left,” notes Valentine.
but because it identified the media, and the Times in particular, as the reason why the public can’t see the CIA clearly for what it is: a criminal conspiracy on behalf of wealthy capitalists.
I had also noted that the release of the Pentagon Papers distracted attention from Congressional hearings into Phoenix. In subsequent books I added that it distracted attention from reports on CIA drug trafficking as well.
Indeed, Valentine argues that he was effectively “neutralize[d]” by CIA media assets, and even his allies responded in chorus that he’d “crossed the line and would never get another book published in the United States. So I learned the hard way,” he continues, “that the CIA has a strategic intelligence network of management level people in the information industry who know, through instruments like the Times Book Review section, what books and authors to marginalize.”
Valentine explains how author Peter Dale Scott was similarly marginalized as a result of his landmark books, The War Conspiracy (1972) and Deep Politics and the Death of JFK (1993). “Peter supported me,” Valentine recalls,
and a few years after the Phoenix book was published, I mentioned to him that I was writing an article based on my interviews with [CIA officers Frank] Scotton and [Lucien] Conein, about Ellseberg’s deep state political association with the CIA. Peter is Ellsberg’s friend, and even though the article had the potential to embarrass Ellsberg, he arranged for me to interview him. Peter gave me Ellsberg’s number and I called at a pre-arranged time. And the first thing Ellsberg said to me was, “You can’t possibly understand me because you’re not a celebrity.”
If you want to understand the critical role celebrities play in determining what society accepts as real and valuable, read Guy Debord’s books The Society of the Spectacle and its sequel, Comments. Debord explains the symbolic role celebrities play (at times inadvertently) in maintaining the illusions we confuse with reality.
Debord cites the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, who famously said: “But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence… illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness.”
When Ellsberg told me he was a celebrity, he was saying that he underwent a symbolic transformation the moment he leaked the Pentagon Papers, and landed in a social realm that alienated him from non-celebrities like me. He became an icon, and nobody on the left is about to say, “Oh, my god! Valentine had this revelation about Ellsberg. Let’s rethink everything we believe is true.”
Like its doppelgängers on the right, the management class on the left is invested in celebrity heroes who represent their business interests. they focus on the symbol and ignore any contradictory but essential facts, the way [journalists Glenn] Greenwald and [Jeremy] Scahill] ignore Pierre Omidyar’s funding of the Center for the United Action in Kiev, which was a Phoenix-style coordination center for covert political action.
Douglas Valentine, “How William Colby Gave Me the Keys to the CIA Kingdom (based on interview with James Tracy),” in The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World, Atlanta GA: Clarity Press, 2017, 31-32.