By Norman Solomon
News media should illuminate conflicts of interest, not embody them. But the owner of theÂ Washington PostÂ is now doing big business with the Central Intelligence Agency, while readers of the newspaperâ€™s CIA coverage are left in the dark.
TheÂ Postâ€™s new owner, Jeff Bezos, is the founder and CEO of Amazon — which recently landed aÂ $600 million contract with the CIA. But theÂ Postâ€™s articles about the CIA are not disclosing that the newspaperâ€™s sole owner is the main owner of CIA business partner Amazon.
Even for a multi-billionaire like Bezos, a $600 million contract is a big deal. Thatâ€™s more than twice as much as Bezos paid to buy theÂ PostÂ four months ago.
And thereâ€™s likely to be plenty more where that CIA largesse came from. Amazonâ€™s offer wasnâ€™t the low bid, but it won the CIA contract anyway by offering advanced high-tech â€œcloudâ€ infrastructure.
Bezos personally and publicly touts Amazon Web Services, and itâ€™s evident that Amazon will be seeking more CIA contracts. Last month, Amazon issued a statement saying, â€œWe look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA.â€
As Amazonâ€™s majority owner and theÂ Postâ€™s only owner, Bezos stands to gain a lot more if his newspaper does less ruffling and more soothing of CIA feathers.
Amazon’s History, On Board with “National Security” Establishment
Amazon has a bad history of currying favor with the U.S. governmentâ€™s â€œnational securityâ€ establishment. The media watch group FAIRÂ pointed outÂ what happened after WikiLeaks published State Department cables: â€œWikiLeaks was booted from Amazonâ€™s webhosting service AWS. So at the height of public interest in what WikiLeaks was publishing, readers were unable to access the WikiLeaks website.â€
Howâ€™s that for a commitment to the publicâ€™s right to know?
Days ago, my colleagues at RootsAction.org launched aÂ petitionÂ that says: â€œTheÂ Washington Postâ€™s coverage of the CIA should include full disclosure that the sole owner of theÂ PostÂ is also the main owner of Amazon — and Amazon is now gaining huge profits directly from the CIA.â€ More than 15,000 people have signed the petition so far this week, with many posting comments that underscore widespread belief in journalistic principles.
Jeff Bezos, an “Agent of Influence”
While theÂ PostÂ functions as a powerhouse media outlet in the Nationâ€™s Capital, itâ€™s also a national and global entity — read every day by millions of people who never hold its newsprint edition in their hands. Hundreds of daily papers reprint theÂ Postâ€™s news articles and opinion pieces, while online readership spans the world.
Propaganda largely depends on patterns of omission and repetition. If, in its coverage of the CIA, theÂ Washington PostÂ were willing to fully disclose the financial ties that bind its owner to the CIA, such candor would shed some light on how top-down power actually works in our society.
â€œTheÂ PostÂ is unquestionably the political paper of record in the United States, and how it covers governance sets the agenda for the balance of the news media,â€ journalism scholar Robert W. McChesney points out. â€œCitizens need to know about this conflict of interest in the columns of theÂ PostÂ itself.â€
In a statement just released by the Institute for Public Accuracy, McChesney added: â€œIf some official enemy of the United States had a comparable situation — say the owner of the dominant newspaper in Caracas was getting $600 million in secretive contracts from the Maduro government — theÂ PostÂ itself would lead the howling chorus impaling that newspaper and that government for making a mockery of a free press. It is time for theÂ PostÂ to take a dose of its own medicine.â€
FromÂ the Institute, we also contacted other media and intelligence analysts to ask for assessments;Â their commentsÂ are unlikely to ever appear in theÂ Washington Post.
â€œWhat emerges now is what, in intelligence parlance, is called an â€˜agent of influenceâ€™ owning theÂ PostÂ — with a huge financial interest in playing nice with the CIA,â€ said former CIA official Ray McGovern. â€œIn other words, two main players nourishing the national security state in undisguised collaboration.â€
Post Reporters and Editors Wary Too
A former reporter forÂ theÂ Washington PostÂ and many other news organizations, John Hanrahan, said: â€œIt’s all so basic. Readers of theÂ Washington Post, which reports frequently on the CIA, are entitled to know — and to be reminded on a regular basis in stories and editorials in the newspaper and online — that theÂ Post‘s new owner Jeff Bezos stands to benefit substantially from Amazon’s $600 million contract with the CIA. Even with such disclosure, the public should not feel assured they are getting tough-minded reporting on the CIA. One thing is certain:Â PostÂ reporters and editors are aware that Bezos, as majority owner of Amazon, has a financial stake in maintaining good relations with the CIA — and this sends a clear message to even the hardest-nosed journalist that making the CIA look bad might not be a good career move.â€
The rich and powerful blow hard against the flame of truly independent journalism. If we want the lantern carried high, weâ€™re going to have to do it ourselves.Î¦
Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books includeÂ War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. Information about the documentary based on the book is atÂ www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org.