By Norman Solomon
American journalism has entered highly dangerous terrain.
A tip-off is that theÂ Washington PostÂ refuses to face up to a conflict of interest involving Jeff Bezos — whoâ€™s now the sole owner of the powerful newspaper at the same time he remains Amazonâ€™s CEO and main stakeholder.
TheÂ PostÂ is supposed to expose CIA secrets. But Amazon is under contract to keep them. Amazon has a new $600 million â€œcloudâ€ computing deal with the CIA.
Washington Post: No Disclosure Necessary
The situation is unprecedented. But in anÂ email exchangeÂ early this month,Â Washington PostÂ executive editor Martin Baron told me that the newspaper doesnâ€™t need to routinely inform readers of the CIA-Amazon-Bezos ties when reporting on the CIA. He wrote that such in-story acknowledgment would be â€œfar outside the norm of disclosures about potential conflicts of interest at media organizations.â€
But there isnâ€™t anything normal about the new situation. As I wrote to Baron, â€œfew journalists could have anticipated ownership of the paper by a multibillionaire whose outside company would be so closely tied to the CIA.â€
TheÂ Washington Postâ€™s refusal to provide readers with minimal disclosure in coverage of the CIA is important on its own. But itâ€™s also a marker for an ominous pattern — combining denial with accommodation to raw financial and governmental power — a synergy of media leverage, corporate digital muscle and secretive agencies implementing policies of mass surveillance, covert action and ongoing warfare.
Digital prowess at collecting global data and keeping secrets is crucial to the missions of Amazon and the CIA. The two institutions have only begun to explore how to work together more effectively.
Longstanding CIA-U.S. Media Ties
For the CIA, the emerging newspaper role of Mr. Amazon is value added to any working relationship with him. The CIAâ€™s zeal to increase its leverage over major American media outlets is longstanding.
After creation of the CIA in 1947, it enjoyed direct collaboration with many U.S. news organizations. But the agency faced a major challenge in October 1977, when — soon after leaving theÂ Washington PostÂ — famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein provided anÂ extensive exposeÂ inÂ Rolling Stone.
Citing CIA documents, Bernstein wrote that during the previous 25 years â€œmore than 400 American journalists … have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency.â€ He added: â€œThe history of the CIAâ€™s involvement with the American press continues to be shrouded by an official policy of obfuscation and deception.â€
Bernsteinâ€™s story tarnished the reputations of many journalists and media institutions, including theÂ Washington PostÂ andÂ New York Times. While the CIAâ€™s mission was widely assumed to involve â€œobfuscation and deception,â€ the mission of the nationâ€™s finest newspapers was ostensibly the opposite.
During the last few decades, as far as we know, the extent of extreme media cohabitation with the CIA has declined sharply. At the same time, as the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq attests, many prominent U.S. journalists and media outlets have continued to regurgitate, for public consumption, whatâ€™s fed to them by the CIA and other official â€œnational securityâ€ sources.
Threat to Unbiased CIA Coverage at the Post
The recent purchase of theÂ Washington PostÂ by Jeff Bezos has poured some high-finance concrete for a new structural bridge between the media industry and the surveillance/warfare state. The development puts the CIA in closer institutionalized proximity to theÂ Post, arguably the most important political media outlet in the United States.
At this point, about 30,000 people have signed a petition (launched by RootsAction.org) with a minimal request: 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€ On behalf of the petitionâ€™s signers, Iâ€™m scheduled to deliver it to theÂ Washington PostÂ headquarters on January 15. TheÂ petitionÂ is an opening salvo in a long-term battle.
By its own account, Amazon — which has yielded Jeff Bezos personal wealth of around $25 billion so far — is eager to widen its services to the CIA beyond the initial $600 million deal. â€œWe look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA,â€ a statement from Amazon said two months ago. As Bezos continues to gain even more wealth from Amazon, how likely is that goal to affect his newspaperâ€™s coverage of the CIA?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.