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Ear to the Ground

Your Newspaper Works for the State

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Posted on Feb 8, 2013
EleArt (CC BY 2.0)

Major papers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post have complied with requests from the Bush and Obama administrations to conceal sometimes-illegal acts performed by the government in the name of national security, writes Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian.

Since those deeds include The New York Times’ withholding during the 2004 campaign season of knowledge of the Bush administration’s illegal warrantless eavesdropping program—a concealment that helped Bush get re-elected—we should not assume that such acts and their subsequent cover-ups are in the public interest.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post revealed that two years ago, the Obama administration established a drone base in Saudi Arabia from which it has targeted and killed people in Yemen, including U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman. But the Post admitted that it and a number of other U.S. media outlets had long known about the base but cooperated to keep it secret from the U.S. public:

“The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the specific location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia,” the paper wrote.

“The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.”

That “other news organization” was The New York Times.

“[N]one of these facts—once they were finally reported—ultimately resulted in any harm,” Greenwald writes. “Instead, it has everything to do with obeying government dictates; shielding high-level government officials from embarrassing revelations; protecting even the most extreme government deceit and illegality; and keeping the domestic population of the US (their readers) ignorant of the vital acts in which their own government is engaged.”

Dr. Jack Lule, a professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University, suggested in an article on the censorship that “the real reason [the government wanted to hide the existence of the base was] that the administration did not want to embarrass the Saudis—and for the US news media to be complicit in that is craven.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian:

There are, of course, instances where newspapers can validly opt to conceal facts that they learn. That’s when the harm that comes from disclosure plainly outweighs the public interest in learning of them (the classic case is when, in a war, a newspaper learns of imminent troop movements: there is no value in reporting that but ample harm from doing so). But none of these instances comes close to meeting that test. Instead, media outlets overwhelmingly abide by government dictates as to what they should conceal. As Greensdale wrote: “most often, they oblige governments by acceding to requests not to publish sensitive information that might jeopardise operations.”

As all of these examples demonstrate, extreme levels of subservience to US government authority is embedded in the ethos of the establishment American media. They see themselves not as watchdogs over the state but as loyal agents of it.

… The entity that is designed to be, and endlessly praises itself for being, a check on US government power is, in fact, its most loyal servant. There are significant exceptions: Dana Priest did disclose the CIA black sites network over the agency’s vehement objections, while the NYT is now suing the government to compel the release of classified documents relating to Obama’s assassination program. But time and again, one finds the US media acting to help suppress the newsworthy secrets of the US government rather than report on them. Its collaborative “informal” agreement to hide the US drone base in Saudi Arabia is just the latest in a long line of such behavior.

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