20th Anniversary homepage
Best Secret Tellers in Washington"
By David Corn
December 9, 2005
Documents on the War on Terrorism
Security Archive Releases Pre-9/11
Warning to Saudis That Osama Bin Laden Might Target
notes U.S. feared jet attack prior to 9/11"
December 9, 2005
9/11, Warnings on bin Laden"
By Scott Shane
The New York Times
December 9, 2005
Years of Opening Governments
Archive's Greatest Hits
of "Unearthing Major Revelations"
20th Anniversary Program
here for a PDF version of this address]
THE KINGDOM OF THE HALF-BLIND
By Bill Moyers
Thank you for inviting me to take part in this anniversary celebration
of The National Security Archive. Your organization has become indispensable
to journalists, scholars, and any other citizen who believes the USA
belongs to the people and not to the government.
is the prepared text of the address delivered on December 9,
2005, by Bill Moyers for the 20th anniversary of the National
Security Archive, a non-governmental research institute and
library at The George Washington University, in Washington D.C.
The Archive collects and publishes declassified documents obtained
through the Freedom of Information Act. Collaborating with him
on this speech was Michael Winship. They have been colleagues
in public broadcasting for over thirty years, including, most
recently, on the PBS weekly broadcast NOW with Bill Moyers.
Moyers, who retired from the NOW broadcast last December, is
the President of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy.)
It's always a fight to find out what the government doesn't want us
to know. And no one in this town has done more to fight for open democracy
or done more to see that the Freedom of Information Act fulfills its
promise than the Archive. The fight goes back a long way. You'll find
a fine account of it in Herbert Foerstel's book, Freedom of Information
and the Right to Know: The Origins and Application of the Freedom
of Information Act (Greenwood Press, 1999). Foerstel tells us
that although every other 18th century democratic constitution includes
the public's right to information, there were two exceptions: Sweden
and the United States.
But in 1955 the American Society of Newspaper Editors decided to
battle government secrecy. The Washington Post's James
Russell Wiggins and Representative John Moss of California teamed
up to spearhead that fight. President Kennedy subsequently resisted
their efforts. When he asked reporters to censor themselves on the
grounds that these were times of "clear and present danger,"
journalists were outraged and agreed that his administration represented
a low point in their battle. But Congressman Moss refused to give
up, and in 1966 he managed to pass the Freedom of Information Act,
although in a crippled and compromised form.
I was there, as the White House press secretary, when President
Lyndon Johnson signed the act on July 4, 1966; signed it with language
that was almost lyrical - "With a deep sense of pride that
the United States is an open society in which the people's right
to know is cherished and guarded."
Well, yes, but I knew that LBJ had to be dragged kicking and screaming
to the signing ceremony. He hated the very idea of the Freedom of
Information Act; hated the thought of journalists rummaging in government
closets and opening government files; hated them challenging the
official view of reality. He dug in his heels and even threatened
to pocket veto the bill after it reached the White House. And he
might have followed through if Moss and Wiggins and other editors
hadn't barraged him with pleas and petitions. He relented and signed
"the damned thing," as he called it (I'm paraphrasing
what he actually said in case C-Span is here.) He signed it, and
then went out to claim credit for it.
Because of the Freedom of Information Act and the relentless fight
by the Archive to defend and exercise it, some of us have learned
more since leaving the White House about what happened on our watch
than we knew when we were there. Funny, isn't it, how the farther
one gets from power, the closer one often gets to the truth?
Consider the recent disclosures about what happened in the Gulf
of Tonkin in 1964. These documents, now four decades old, seem to
confirm that there was no second attack on U.S. ships on the 4th
of August and that President Johnson ordered retaliatory air strikes
against North Vietnam on the basis of intelligence that either had
been "mishandled" or "misinterpreted" or had
been deliberately skewed by subordinates to provide him the excuse
he was looking for to attack North Vietnam.
I was not then a player in foreign policy and had not yet become
the President's press secretary - my portfolio was politics and
domestic policy. But I was there beside him during those frenetic
hours. I heard the conversations from the President's side, although
I could not hear what was being told to him by the Situation Room
or the Pentagon.
I accept now that it was never nailed down for certain that there
was a second attack, but I believe that LBJ thought there had been.
It is true that for months he had wanted to send a message to Ho
Chi Minh that he meant business about standing behind America's
commitment to South Vietnam. It is true that he was not about to
allow the hawkish Barry Goldwater to outflank him on national security
in the fall campaign. It is also true that he often wrestled with
the real or imaginary fear that liberal Democrats, whose hearts
still belonged to their late fallen leader, would be watching and
sizing him up according to their speculation of how Kennedy would
have decided the moment.
So yes, I think the President's mind was prepared to act if the
North Vietnamese presented him a tit-for-tat opportunity. But he
wasn't looking for a wider war at that time, only a show of resolve,
a flexing of muscles, the chance to swat the fly when it landed.
Nonetheless, this state of mind plus cloudy intelligence proved
a combustible and tragic mix. In the belief that a second attack
suggested an intent on the part of an adversary that one attack
alone left open, the President did order strikes against North Vietnam,
thus widening the war. He asked Congress for the Gulf of Tonkin
Resolution that was passed three days later and opened the way for
future large-scale commitments of American forces. Haste is so often
the enemy of good judgment. Rarely does it produce such costly consequences
as it did this time.
But did the President order-up fabricated evidence to suit his
wish? No. Did subordinates rig the evidence to support what they
thought he wanted to do? It's possible, but I swear I cannot imagine
who they might have been - certainly it was no one in the inner-circle,
as far as I could tell. I don't believe this is what happened. Did
the President act prematurely? Yes. Was the response disproportionate
to the events? Yes. Did he later agonize over so precipitous a decision?
Yes. "For all I know," he said the next year, "our
Navy was shooting at whales out there." By then, however, he
thought he had other reasons to escalate the war, and did. All these
years later, I find it painful to wonder what could have been if
we had waited until the fog lifted, or had made public what we did
and didn't know, trusting the debate in the press, Congress, and
the country to help us shape policies more aligned with events and
with the opinion of an informed public.
I had hoped we would learn from experience. Two years ago, prior
to the invasion of Iraq, I said on the air that Vietnam didn't make
me a dove; it made me read the Constitution. Government's first
obligation is to defend its citizens. There is nothing in the Constitution
that says it is permissible for our government to launch a preemptive
attack on another nation. Common sense carries one to the same conclusion:
it's hard to get the leash back on once you let the wild dogs of
war out of the kennel. Our present Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
has a plaque on his desk that reads, "Aggressive fighting for
the right is the noblest sport the world affords." Perhaps,
but while war is sometimes necessary, to treat it as sport is obscene.
At best, war is a crude alternative to shrewd, disciplined diplomacy
and the forging of a true alliance acting in the name of international
law. Unprovoked, "the noblest sport of war" becomes the
slaughter of the innocent.
I left the White House in early 1967 to practice journalism. Because
our beat is the present and not the past - we are journalists after
all, not historians - I put those years and events behind me, except
occasionally to reflect on how they might inform my reporting and
analysis of what's happening today. I was chastened by our mistakes
back then, and chagrined now when others fail to learn from them.
The country suffers not only when presidents act hastily in secret,
but when the press goes along. I keep an article in my files by
Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon ("30 Year Anniversary: Tonkin
Gulf Lie Launched Vietnam War") written a decade ago and long
before the recent disclosures. They might have written it over again
during the buildup for the recent invasion of Iraq. On August 5,
1964, the headline in The Washington Post read: "American
Planes Hit North Vietnam After Second Attack on Our Destroyers:
Move Taken to Halt Aggression." That, of course, was the official
line, spelled out verbatim and succinctly on the nation's front
pages. The New York Times proclaimed in an editorial that
the President "went to the people last night with the somber
facts." The Los Angeles Times urged Americans "to
face the fact that the communists, by their attack on American vessels
in international waters, have escalated the hostilities." It
was not only Lyndon Johnson whose mind was predisposed to judge
on the spot, with half a loaf. It was also those reporters and editors
who were willing to accept the official view of reality as the truth
of the matter. In his book, Censored War, Daniel Hallin
found that journalists at the time had a great deal of information
available which contradicted the official account of what happened
in the Gulf of Tonkin, but "it simply wasn't used."
Tim Wells, who wrote a compelling book on The War Within: America's
Battle Over Vietnam, told Cohen and Solomon it was yet another
case of "the media's almost exclusive reliance on the U.S.
government officials as sources of information," as well as
"their reluctance to question official pronouncements on national
security issues." There are many branches on the family tree
of journalism where Judith Miller blossomed. I can imagine that
one day the National Security Archive will turn up a document explaining
how reporters waited outside the Garden of Eden to snap up Adam
and Eve's account of what had happened inside, but never bothered
to interview the snake.
I am taking your time with all this hoping you will understand
why I have become something of a fundamentalist on the First Amendment
protection of an independent press, a press that will resist the
seductions, persuasions, and intimidations of people who hold great
power - over life and death, war and peace, taxes, the fate of the
environment - and would exercise it undisturbed, in great secrecy,
if they are allowed.
In a telling moment, the Bush Administration opposed the declassification
of 40 year old Gulf of Tonkin documents. Why? Because they fear
uncomfortable comparisons with the flawed intelligence used to justify
the war in Iraq. And well they might. Just as absurd is their opposition
to the release of two intelligence briefings given to President
Johnson in 1965 and 1968. The CIA claims they should be kept secret
on the grounds that their release could impair its mission by revealing
its sources and methods of forty years ago. That's bull. The actual
methods used by the CIA back then have largely been declassified,
which is why I signed a statement in your support when the National
Security Archive went to court over this matter. I was as disappointed
as you were when the federal judge, who ruled this past summer,
preferred the government's penchant for secrecy to the people's
right to know what goes on in their name and with their money.
It has to be said: there has been nothing in our time like the
Bush Administration's obsession with secrecy. This may seem self-serving
coming from someone who worked for two previous presidents who were
no paragons of openness. But I am only one of legions who have reached
this conclusion. See the recent pair of articles by the independent
journalist, Michael Massing, in The New York Review of Books.
He concludes, "The Bush Administration has restricted access
to public documents as no other before it." And he backs this
up with evidence. For example, a recent report on government secrecy
by the watchdog group, OpenTheGovernment.org, says the Feds classified
a record 15.6 million new documents in fiscal year 2004, an increase
of 81% over the year before the terrorist attacks on September 11,
2001. What's more, 64% of Federal Advisory Committee meetings in
2004 were completely closed to the public. No wonder the public
knows so little about how this administration has deliberately ignored
or distorted reputable scientific research to advance its political
agenda and the wishes of its corporate patrons. I'm talking about
the suppression of that EPA report questioning aspects of the White
House Clear Skies Act; research censorship at the departments of
health and human services, interior and agriculture; the elimination
of qualified scientists from advisory committees on kids and lead
poisoning, reproductive health, and drug abuse; the distortion of
scientific knowledge on emergency contraception; the manipulation
of the scientific process involving the Endangered Species Act;
and the internal sabotage of government scientific reports on global
It's an old story: the greater the secrecy, the deeper the corruption.
This is the administration that has illegally produced phony television
news stories with fake reporters about Medicare and government anti-drug
programs, then distributed them to local TV stations around the
country. In several markets, they aired on the six o'clock news
with nary a mention that they were propaganda bought and paid for
with your tax dollars.
This is the administration that paid almost a quarter of a million
dollars for rightwing commentator Armstrong Williams to talk up
its No-Child-Left-Behind education program and bankrolled two other
conservative columnists to shill for programs promoting the President's
This is the administration that tacitly allowed inside the White
House a phony journalist under the non-de-plume of Jeff Gannon to
file Republican press releases as legitimate news stories and to
ask President Bush planted questions to which he could respond with
And this is the administration that has paid over one hundred million
dollars to plant stories in Iraqi newspapers and disguise the source,
while banning TV cameras at the return of caskets from Iraq as well
as prohibiting the publication of photographs of those caskets -
a restriction that was lifted only following a request through the
Freedom of Information Act.
Ah, FOIA. Obsessed with secrecy, Bush and Cheney have made the
Freedom of Information Act their number one target, more fervently
pursued for elimination than Osama Bin Laden. No sooner had he come
to office than George W. Bush set out to eviscerate both FOIA and
the Presidential Records Act. He has been determined to protect
his father's secrets when the first Bush was Vice President and
then President -
as well as his own. Call it Bush Omerta.
This enmity toward FOIA springs from deep roots in their extended
official family. Just read your own National Security Archive briefing
book #142, edited by Dan Lopez, Tom Blanton, Meredith Fuchs, and
Barbara Elias. It is a compelling story of how in 1974 President
Gerald Ford's chief of staff - one Donald Rumsfeld - and his deputy
chief of staff - one Dick Cheney - talked the President out of signing
amendments that would have put stronger teeth in the Freedom of
Information Act. As members of the House of Representatives, Congressman
Rumsfeld actually co-sponsored the Act and as a Congressman, Ford
voted for it. But then Richard Nixon was sent scuttling from the
White House in disgrace after the secrets of Watergate came spilling
out. Rumsfeld and Cheney wanted no more embarrassing revelations
of their party's abuse of power; and they were assisted in their
arguments by yet another rising Republican star, Antonin Scalia,
then a top lawyer at the Justice Department. Fast forward to 2001,
when in the early months of George W. Bush's Administration, Vice
President Cheney invited the tycoons of oil, gas, and coal to the
White House to divide up the spoils of victory. They had, after
all, contributed millions of dollars to the cause, and as Cheney
would later say of tax cuts for the fraternity of elites who had
financed the campaign, they deserved their payoff. But to keep the
plunder from disgusting the public, the identities of the participants
in the meetings were kept secret. The liberal Sierra Club and the
conservative Judicial Watch filed suit to open this insider trading
to public scrutiny.
But after losing in the lower court, the White House asked the
Supreme Court to intervene. Lo and behold, hardly had Justice Scalia
returned from a duck hunting trip with the Vice President - the
blind leading the blind to the blind - than the Supreme Court upheld
the White House privilege to keep secret the names of those corporate
predators who came to slice the pie. You have to wonder if sitting
there in the marsh, shotguns in hand, Scalia and Cheney reminisced
about their collaboration many years earlier when as young men in
government they had tried to shoot down the dreaded Freedom of Information
Act that kept them looking over their shoulders (Congress, by the
way, overrode President Ford's veto.)
They have much to fear from the Freedom of Information Act. Just
a few days ago, FOIA was used to force the Department of Justice
to make available legal documents related to Supreme Court nominee
Judge Alito's record. The department reluctantly complied but under
very restricted circumstances. The records were made available on
one day, for three hours, from 3 to 6pm, for reporters only. No
citizen or advocacy groups were permitted access. There were 470
pages to review. The blogspot Mpetrelis <http://mpetrelis.blogspot.com>
reckons this meant a reporter had about 34 seconds to quickly read
each page and figure out if the information was newsworthy or worth
pursuing further. "Not a lot of time to carefully examine documents
from our next Supreme Court justice."
It's no surprise that the White House doesn't want reporters roaming
the halls of justice. The Washington Post reports that
two years ago six Justice Department attorneys and two analysts
wrote a memo stating unequivocally that the Texas Congressional
restricting plan concocted by Tom DeLay violated the Voting Rights
Act. Those career professional civil servants were overruled by
senior officials, Bush's political appointees, who went ahead and
approved the plan anyway.
We're only finding this out now because someone leaked the memo.
According to The Post, the document was kept under tight
wraps and "lawyers who worked on the case were subjected to
an unusual gag rule." Why? Because it is a devastating account
of how DeLay allegedly helped launder corporate money to elect a
Texas Legislature that then shuffled Congressional districts to
add five new Republican members of the House, nailing down control
of Congress for the radical right and their corporate pals.
They couldn't get away with all of this if the press was at the
top of their game. Never has the need for an independent media been
greater. People are frightened, their skepticism of power - their
respect for checks and balances - eclipsed by their desire for security.
Writing in The New York Times, Michael Ignatieff has reminded
us that democracy's dark secret is that the fight against terror
has to be waged in secret, by men and women who defend us with a
bodyguard of lies and armory of deadly weapons. Because this is
democracy's dark secret, Ignatieff continues, it can also be democracy's
dark nemesis. We need to know more about what's being done in our
name; even if what we learn is hard, the painful truth is better
than lies and illusions. The news photographer in Tom Stoppard's
play Night and Day, sums its up: "People do terrible
things to each other, but it's worse in the places where everybody
is kept in the dark."
Yet the press is hobbled today - hobbled by the vicissitudes of
Wall Street investors who demand greater and greater profit margins
at the expense of more investment in reporting (look at what's going
on with Knight-Ridder.) Layoffs are hitting papers all across the
country. Just last week, the Long Island daily Newsday,
of which I was once publisher, cut 72 jobs and eliminated 40 vacancies
- that's in addition to 59 newsroom jobs eliminated the previous
month. There are fewer editors and reporters with less time, resources
and freedom to burn shoe leather and midnight oil, make endless
phone calls, and knock on doors in pursuit of the unreported story.
The press is also hobbled by the intimidation from ideological
bullies in the propaganda wing of the Republican Party who hector,
demonize, and lie about journalists who ask hard questions of this
Hobbled, too, by what Ken Silverstein, The Los Angeles Times
investigative reporter, calls "spurious balance," kowtowing
to those with the loudest voice or the most august title who demand
that when it comes to reporting, lies must be treated as the equivalent
of truth; that covering the news, including the official press release,
has greater priority than uncovering the news.
Consider a parable from the past, from the early seventh century,
when an Irish warrior named Congal went nearly blind after he was
attacked by a swarm of bees. When he became king he changed Irish
law to make bee attacks criminal. Thereafter he was known as Congal
Caech which means "Congal the Squinting" or "Congal
the Half-Blind." If this administration has its way, that description
will apply to the press.
Which brings me to a parable for our day.
Once upon a time - four years ago to be exact - PBS asked me to
create a new weekly broadcast of news, analysis, and interviews.
They wanted it based outside the beltway and to be like nothing
else on the air: report stories no one else was covering, conduct
a conversation you couldn't hear anywhere else. That we did. We
offered our viewers a choice, not an echo. In our mandate, we reached
back to the words of Lord Byron that once graced the masthead of
many small town newspapers: "Without, or with, offence to friends
or foes," he said, "I sketch your world exactly as it
We did it with a team of professional journalists recruited from
the best in the business: our own NOW staff; public radio's
Daniel Zwerdling, Rick Karr and Deborah Amos; Network veterans Brian
Ross, Michele Martin, and Sylvia Chase; Washington's Sherry Jones;
The Center for Investigative Reporting's Mark Shapiro; Frontline's
Lowell Bergman; Newsweek's Joe Contreras. We collaborated
on major investigations with U.S. News and World Report,
NPR, and The New York Times.
We reported real stories and talked with real people about real
problems. We told how faraway decision-making affected their lives.
We reported on political influence that led to mountaintop removal
mining and how the government was colluding with industry to cover
up the effect of mercury in fish on pregnant women.
We described what life was like for homeless veterans and child
migrants working in the fields. We exposed Wall Street shenanigans
and tracked the Washington revolving door. We reported how Congress
had defeated efforts to enact safeguards that would mitigate a scandal
like Enron, and how those efforts were shot down by some of the
same politicians who were then charged with investigating the scandal.
We investigated the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Steven Griles,
a full eighteen months before he resigned over conflicts of interest
involving the oil and mining industries for which he had been a
lobbyist on the other side of that revolving door. We reported on
those secret meetings held by Cheney with his industry pals and
attempted to find out who was in the room and what was discussed.
We reported how ExxonMobil had influenced the White House to replace
a scientist who believes global warming is real.
We won an Emmy for the hour-long profile of Chuck Spinney, the
Pentagon whistleblower who worked from within to expose graft and
waste in defense spending. And the blog, Dailykos.com,
speculated that it was our interview with Ambassador Joe Wilson,
two weeks before the invasion of Iraq and months before Robert Novak
outed Wilson's wife Valerie Plame as a CIA operative, that first
outraged the administration. "An honor I dreamed not of…"
None of this escaped the attention of the Chairman of the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting, Kenneth Tomlinson, a buddy of Karl Rove
and the designated driver for the administration's partisan agenda
for public broadcasting. Tomlinson set out, secretly, to discredit
our broadcast. He accused us of being unfair and unbalanced, but
that wouldn't wash. We did talk with liberal voices like Howard
Zinn, Susan Sontag, Sister Joan Chittester, Isabel Allende, Thomas
Frank and Arundhati Roy. But we also spoke with right-wingers like
Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Cal Thomas, Frank Luntz, Richard Viguerie,
Robert Bartley of The Wall Street Journal editorial page
and then his successor, Paul Gigot.
What got Tomlinson's goat was our reporting. After all, we kept
after his political pals for keeping secrets, and over and again
we reported on how the big media conglomerates were in cahoots with
official Washington, scheming for permission to get bigger and bigger.
The mainstream media wouldn't touch this topic. Murdoch, Time Warner,
Viacom, GE/NBC, Disney/ABC, Clear Channel, Sinclair - all stood
to gain if their lobbying succeeded. Barry Diller appeared on our
broadcast and described the relationship between the big news media
and Washington as an "oligarchy." Sure enough, except
for NOW with Bill Moyers, the broadcast media were silent
about how they were lobbying for more and more power over what Americans
see, read, and hear. It was left to one little broadcast, relegated
to the black hole of Friday night, to shine the light on one of
the most important stories of the decade.
What finally sent Tomlinson over the edge and off to the ramparts,
however, was a documentary we did about the people of Tamaqua, a
small town in Pennsylvania. The Morgan Knitting Mill there had just
laid off more than a third of its workforce - the last of 25 textile
mills that sustained the townspeople after the demise of the coal
industry. The jobs were going to Honduras and China. Our report
told how free trade agreements like NAFTA had encouraged companies
to lay off American workers, produce goods more cheaply abroad and
then import the goods back here. We showed how the global economy
contributes to the growing inequality in America, with the gap between
the rich and poor doubling in the last three decades until it is
now wider than in the days of the Great Depression.
Those are the facts - "reality-based" reporting - that
caused Tomlinson to tell The Washington Post that what
he saw was "liberal advocacy journalism." Well, if reporting
what happens to ordinary people because of events beyond their control,
and the indifference of government to their fate, is liberalism,
I plead guilty.
Tomlinson was now on the warpath. In secret (his preferred modus
operandi) he hired an acquaintance out in Indianapolis named Fred
Mann to monitor the content of our show. What qualified Fred Mann
for the job has been hard to learn. His most recent position was
as director of the Job Bank and alumni services at the National
Journalism Center in Herndon, Virginia, an organization that is
administered by the Young America's Foundation, which is, in turn,
affiliated with the rightwing Young Americans for Freedom. The foundation
describes itself as "the principle outreach organization for
the conservative movement" and has received funding from ExxonMobil
and Phillip Morris, among others. But the trail to Mann went cold
there. Several journalists have tried telephoning or emailing him.
I tried four times just this week to reach him. One enterprising
young reporter even left notes for him at an Indianapolis Hallmark
Store where Mann frequently faxed data to Tomlinson. No luck. I
guess we'll have to wait for Robert Novak to out him.
Fred Mann never got around to writing his full report, but when
members of Congress pressed Tomlinson to show them the notes from
Mann, it turns out that he had divided NOW's guests into
categories, with headings like, "Anti-Bush," "Anti-business,"
and "Anti-Tom DeLay." He characterized Republicans Senator
Chuck Hegel, who departed from Republican orthodoxy to question
the Iraq war, as "liberal," which must have come as a
quite a shock to the senator.
During all this I sought several times to meet with Tomlinson and
the Board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I wanted to
ask them first-hand what was going on and to discuss the importance
of public broadcasting's independence. They refused. I invited Tomlinson
more than once to go on the air with me, with a moderator and format
of his choosing, to discuss our views on the role of public broadcasting.
But all the while he was crudely pressuring the President of PBS,
Pat Mitchell, to counter NOW. And he himself was in direct
contact with Paul Gigot, the rightwing editor of The Wall Street
Journal editorial pages, to bring to PBS a show that Gigot
had hosted on the cable business network CNBC until it was cancelled
for lack of an audience. So the Journal Editorial Report
came to PBS, with The Wall Street Journal, that fierce
defender of the free market, accepting over $4 million of taxpayer
dollars courtesy of Ken Tomlinson.
The emails between Tomlinson and Gigot during this time reveal
two ideological soul mates scheming to make sure "our side,"
as they described themselves, gets "an absolute duplication
of what Moyers is doing." But as the record will show, Gigot's
show was nowhere near what NOW with Bill Moyers was doing.
We were digging, investigating, and reporting; they were opining.
We were offering a wide range of opinions and views; they were talking
to each other. The participants on Gigot's broadcast were his own
staff members at the newspaper whose editorial pages are the Pravda
of American journalism, where the Right speaks only to the Right.
To be blunt about it, we had more diversity of opinion on a single
broadcast than Gigot had all year or than he has ever tolerated
on his own editorial pages. Reporting? You have to be kidding. In
their private exchange of emails Tomlinson informs Gigot that he
doesn't really need to do field reporting. Gigot agrees, and goes
on to say that he finds such reporting not only a waste of time
and money, but "boring" [I'm not making this up: the editor
of the editorial page of a great American newspaper finds field
reporting "boring."] So it is that ideologues like Gigot
can hold stoutly to a worldview despite being contradicted by what
is generally accepted as reality.
I had always thought Gigot an honorable, if ideological fellow.
The emails confirm that he is for certain an ideologue - and a partisan.
The saddest part of this story, personally, is that on my own initiative
- with no prompting from anyone - I had Gigot on my broadcast three
times and had asked him to become a regular presence through the
elections. I even solicited Pat Mitchell, the PBS President, to
urge him to accept my invitation. I had no idea that at this very
same time he was secretly negotiating with Tomlinson for his own
show. He never bothered to tell me. After reading the emails, I
realized this was deceitful on his part. Even as I was asking him
in good faith to join me on the broadcast, Gigot was back-channeling
with Tomlinson on how they could complete their deal and was advising
Tomlinson on "the line" that the CPB chairman should follow.
Of the many disclosures in the email exchange between the two,
this is the most intriguing. On August 13, 2004, Tomlinson wrote
Gigot: "Protect me on this. I am breaking my word by forwarding
this Mintz/Moyers stuff - but it's too rich for you not to see.
Please, please don't show it to anyone. But keep in mind as we have
fun with this. Cheers-KT."
What's he talking about? Mintz is Morton Mintz, the octogenarian
(now retired) and much honored investigative reporter for the Washington
Post. I know nothing about his politics; during his long career
he broke exposes of both Democrats and Republicans. That August
he and I were emailing about the possibility of an appearance by
him on my broadcast, and two months later, just prior to the first
Bush-Kerry debate, I did interview him about the questions he would
put to both candidates if he were an interlocutor who wanted to
break through the polite protocol of the staged event in the hope
of getting the politicians to touch reality. Neither Mintz nor I
can recall the exact subject of our email exchanges that August,
long before the debate. Tomlinson somehow gained access to our correspondence
- Mintz speculates that he found someone who hacked into our emails
-and promised his source that he wouldn't share it with anyone else.
Nonetheless, "breaking my word" and begging Gigot to "protect
me on this," he forwarded it to his co-conspirator. In a sane
world, both men would be drummed out of town for such behavior.
Gigot has now taken his show to FOX News, where such tactics will
find a compatible home among like-minded partisans. "Our side"
turns out to be the great Republican noise machine. A couple of
days after that announcement, The Wall Street Journal published
a thoroughly disingenuous editorial, obviously written by Gigot,
defending Kenneth Tomlinson and their own involvement with him,
while taking potshots at the Inspector General of CPB who had investigated
the whole mess at the request of members of Congress. The editorial
compared him to Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau.
But in a final triumph of reporting and evidence over ideology
and spin, the Inspector found that Tomlinson had committed multiple
transgressions: he broke the law, violated the corporation's guidelines
for contracting, meddled in program decisions, injected politics
into hiring procedures, and admonished CPB executive staff "not
to interfere with his deal" with Gigot. The emails show Tomlinson
bragging to Karl Rove, who played an important role in his appointment
as chairman, about his success in "shaking things up"
at CPB. They also confirm that he had consulted the White House
about recruiting loyalist Republicans to serve as his confederates
in an organization that had been created in 1967 to prevent just
such partisan meddling in public broadcasting. (Thanks to Tomlinson
and his White House allies, the new President of CPB is the former
co-chair of the Republican National Committee. She arrives under
a cloud that only her actions can dispel. We shall see.)
Curiously, Gigot's Wall Street Journal editorial conveniently
failed to mention that the emails between himself and Tomlinson
indicate Tomlinson perjured himself under oath, before Congress,
when he said he had nothing to do with the agreement that landed
Gigot at PBS. Fact is, they worked hand-in-glove. As I just mentioned,
Tomlinson told his own staff not to interfere with "his deal"
with Gigot. There's even an email in which Tomlinson says to Gigot,
after they have been plotting on how to bring the proposed Gigot
show to fruition, "Let's stay in close touch." Obviously,
lying by an ally doesn't offend Gigot, who is otherwise known as
a scourge of moral transgressions by Democrats, liberals, and other
As all this was becoming public, Tomlinson was forced to resign
from the CPB board. He is now under investigation by the State Department
for irregularities in his other job as Chair of the Broadcasting
Board of Governors, the agency that oversees Voice of America, Radio
Free Europe, and other international broadcasting sponsored by the
United States. As I say, great secrecy breeds great corruption.
I have shared this sordid little story with you because it is a
cautionary tale about the regime in power. If they were so determined
to go with all guns blazing at a single broadcast of public television
that is simply doing the job journalism is supposed to do - setting
the record straight - you can imagine the pressure that has been
applied to mainstream media. And you can understand what's at stake
when journalism gets the message and pulls its punches. We saw it
once again when Ahmed Chalabi was in town. This is the man who played
a key and sinister role in fostering both media and intelligence
reports that misled the American people about weapons of mass destruction.
Although still under investigation by the FBI, Chalabi has maneuvered
himself into the position of Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq. He came
to Washington recently to schmooze with the President and to meet
with the armchair warriors of the neoconservative crowd who had
helped him spin the case for going to war. The old Houdini was back,
rolling the beltway press who treated him with deference that might
have been accorded George Washington. Watching him knock one soft
pitch after another over the wall, I was reminded that the greatest
moments in the history of the press have come not when journalists
made common cause with power but when they stood fearlessly independent
of it. This was not one of them.
In his recent book, The Gospel According to America, David
Dark reminds us again of a lesson we seem always to be forgetting,
that "as learners of freedom, we might come to understand that
the price of liberty is eternal vigilance." He might well have
been directly addressing the press when he wrote, "Keeping
one's head safe for democracy (or avoiding the worship of false
gods) will require a diligent questioning of any and all tribal
storytellers. In an age of information technology, we will have
to look especially hard at the forces that shape discourse and the
various high-powered attempts, new every morning, to invent public
So be it.