SYNDICATED COLUMN: No Way Would Today’s Newspapers Publish the Pentagon Papers

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Steven Spielberg’s new movie “The Post” depicts a newspaper’s decision to defy the government, risk its financial health and imprisonment of its editors in order to report a hard truth and defend the press’ First Amendment rights by publishing the Pentagon Papers.

After the Washington Post’s decision to inform the American people that top government officials had known that the Vietnam War was unwinnable yet had repeatedly lied about it for years, editor Ben Bradlee (played by Tom Hanks) dumps a pile of out-of-town newspapers on a desk for publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) to see. We’ve started a “rebellion,” Bradlee informs Graham. We’re no longer alone speaking truth to power.

No way would that happen today.

I was pleased to see that “The Post” highlights the pressures and biases that weighed against publication: a publisher undermined by sexism and low expectations, a paper trying to raise capital under the eye of nervous bankers, the Nixon Administration’s take-no-prisoners prosecutorial abuse by a vicious attorney general, and — not least — the Post’s cozy establishmentarianism, centered around Graham’s famous hard-drinking salons where reporters hobnobbed with the officials they were supposed to cover objectively.

After a lot of wavering and gnashing of lawyerly teeth, Graham finally makes the call: go to press.

The key point of this story, which isn’t made in the movie and few younger moviegoers are likely to be aware, is that it was her decision to make. The Graham family held controlling interest in the Washington Post Company. Great newspaper families like the Grahams, the Chandlers and the Sulzbergers were quirky and often had bad politics. But they also had something today’s corporate, publicly-traded media outlets do not: editorial freedom.

They didn’t always do the right thing. But they could. So sometimes they did.

Sadly, those days are gone.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, reportedly a right-leaning libertarian, bought the Post in late 2013. What reception would a Daniel Ellsberg (who leaked the Pentagon Papers) or an Edward Snowden get if they contacted a Post reporter today, under Bezos?

Snowden’s case is indicative. The Post and three other papers published Snowden’s NSA leaks in 2013, months before Bezos took over. In 2016, the Bezos-owned Post called upon President Obama to refuse Snowden’s pardon application. In so doing, wrote Glenn Greenwald, the Post “achieved an ignominious feat in U.S. media history: the first-ever paper to explicitly editorialize for the criminal prosecution of its own source — one on whose back the paper won and eagerly accepted a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.” (The other three papers were pro-pardon.)

Even more obnoxiously, the Post’s Snowden editorial didn’t mention its major conflict of interest related to intelligence agencies like the NSA. Amazon — the Post’s sister company under Bezos — had the CIA (where Snowden also worked) as a $600 million client. That’s more than twice what Bezos paid for the Post.

Coincidence? Je pense que non.

The Los Angeles Times sells “Speaking Truth to Power” hoodies. But when the power is the LAPD — and the LAPD owns the paper — the Times publishes lies.
My regular readers are familiar with the sordid details of my 2015 firing by The Los Angeles Times as a favor to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. You’re not much of a political cartoonist in L.A. if you don’t go after the militarized, racist, violent LAPD — and the Times published many of my anti-LAPD/anti-Beck toons over the years. So did the Pasadena Weekly, which drove the boys in blue so nuts that they asked its publisher to fire me. PW refused.

Then the Times’ corporate parent, the Chicago-based Tribune Publishing, hired an LAPD-connected billionaire and wannabe politician, Austin Beutner, as publisher for the Times. Beutner appears to have midwifed a deal in which the LAPD patrolmen’s $16.4 billion union retirement fund moved to a firm that invested eight figures into a fund containing Tribune stock. (Given that newspaper stocks in general and Tribune specifically had been losing value, it’s a fair assumption that the buy was more about influence than taking care of retired LAPD officers.) Within weeks — and explicitly against Times rules — the same union issued an award to Beutner for his “support [of] the LAPD in all that they do.”

Beck asked his friend Beutner to use ginned-up “evidence” to fire and smear me; Beutner, the cop-award winner, complied, and even stayed the course after the truth came out and I was vindicated. My defamation case against Beutner and the Times is in court.

The Times never disclosed to its readers about Tribune’s business relationship with the LAPD union.

It’s a level of corruption that would make Al Capone blush. Yet it’s perfectly legal in the United States for a police union to buy a newspaper. Indeed, the same union bought part of the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2009 — and leveraged its ownership to ask that the U-T fire critics of the police.

Come to think of it, isn’t it weird that a company with more than half a billion dollars in business with the CIA is allowed to own a major news organization like the Post?

Given the Trump Administration’s attacks against “fake news” and the news media, it may seem paradoxical to suggest government action as a solution to the corruption of the news media as we’re seeing at outlets like the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. But the evidence is clear. Outrageous deals such as those between the Post’s owner and the CIA and between the Times’ owner and the LAPD amount to government censorship of the news media — a violation of the First Amendment’s fundamental principle.

Congress should prohibit such arrangements.

(Ted Rall’s (Twitter: @tedrall) brand-new book is “Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America,” co-written with Harmon Leon. His next book will be “Francis: The People’s Pope,” the latest in his series of graphic novel-format biographies. Publication date is March 13, 2018. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


  • > Coincidence? Je pense que non.

    Mebbe. Given that nearly 100% of American corporations & government agencies do business with Amazon, it’d be stranger if the CIA *didn’t* have a contract.

    However, It’s not enough to merely have the appearance of wrongdoing, one must have ironclad, irrefutable PRVF of wrongdoing in the public domain. So what if the Post started publishing pro-CIA / anti-FBI propaganda – that’s just free speech. Even if Bezos publicly admitted to peddling influence it wouldn’t be enough to arouse the slightest suspicion. Suppose that multiple Amazon VPs got caught lying about their business with the CIA and laundering the profits through the Caymans, it would still be perfectly innocent, business as usual, nothing to see here.

    The only POSSIBLE explanation is that Jeff Bezos is very sad that Hillary lost. (we already know that the CIA is…)


  • The US has been busy reconstructing third world governments for longer than I have lived.

    We know the preferences of those who sign their declarations in the name of the US by the policies they impose.

    Is it any wonder that having used numerous nations as laboratories to perfect the subversion of the people’s business, that the model has at last been brought home from the laboratories and made fully operational?

  • Back in paleolithic times (before I was born), presses were slow. A typical newspaper could print a few thousand copies, and the cost of a second press when they were barely selling all the copies they could print was prohibitive. So every large city had a morning newspaper for Polish-speaking Democrats, and one for Polish-speaking Republicans, and also two evening papers for the Polish speakers in large cities, and, of course, one for all the other major groups in the city. The Democrat papers printed real criticisms of Republicans, and the Republican papers printed real criticisms of Democrats. And one could find the TRVTH in print, if one looked.

    Then came much faster presses, and the newspaper with a slightly larger circulation could hire better reporters and charge less, so eventually, most cities ended up with just two newspapers, one morning, and one evening. Then, as presses got even faster, just one newspaper with two editions.

    My father took the Sunday New York Times, because it had in-depth articles worth reading on Thursday, when it arrived. Now the Times has the Internet, and one can get today’s Times delivered at 6 am in Dallas. So now just 4 conglomerates own all the major news media, and set the editorial policy.

    Pentagon Papers about Trump have a slender chance of being published (but not about Obama or Clinton). Mostly, three of the four conglomerates have a policy of only reporting negative news about Republicans, and it’s mostly lies, they don’t bother with real Republican atrocities (since those atrocities also occurr under Democrats).

  • But Ted, I am informed that Mr Bezos is now the world’s richest man. Surely that must mean that he is, to use the popular phrase, a «stable genius», whose judgement is not to be questioned ? Or as Charles Emerson Wilson put it more than six decades ago : «… what was good for our country [i e, the US] was good for General Motors, and vice versa» ; all one needs to do is replace the «General Motors» in the quote by the name of a more modern enterprise….


  • “Congress should prohibit such arrangements.”

    Theoretically, sure. But the US is number one at the abyss between its theoretical basis for existence as opposed to its debauched/depraved, bought & bossed reality.

    Congress is hardly immune or resistant to the very same processes that have led to police & intelligence community ownership of “the press.”

    The US is history’s best-camouflaged banana republic.

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