by Alexander Cockburn
March 26, 2000
Military personnel from the Fourth Psychological Operations Group
based at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, have until recently been working in
CNN's hq in Atlanta.
CNN is up in arms about our report in the last issue of CounterPunch
concerning the findings of the Dutch journalist, Abe de Vries about
the presence of US Army personnel at CNN, owned by Time-Warner.
We cited an article by de Vries which appeared
on February 21 in the reputable Dutch daily newspaper Trouw,
originally translated into English and placed on the web by Emperor's
De Vries reported that a handful of military
personnel from the Third Psychological Operations Battalion, part of the
airmobile Fourth Psychological Operations Group based at Fort Bragg, in
North Carolina, had worked in CNN's hq in Atlanta.
De Vries quoted Major Thomas Collins of the US Army Information
Service as having confirmed the presence of these Army psy-ops experts at
"Psy-ops personnel, soldiers and officers,
have been working in CNN's headquarters in Atlanta through our program,
'Training with Industry'. They worked as regular employees of CNN.
Conceivably, they would have worked on stories during the Kosovo war.
They helped in the production of news."
This particular CounterPunch story was the topic
of my regular weekly broadcast to AM Live, a program of the South Africa
Broadcasting Company in Johannesburg.
Among the audience of this broadcast was CNN's
bureau in South Africa which lost no time in relaying news of it to CNN hq
in Atlanta, and I duly received an angry phone call from Eason Jordan who
identified himself as CNN's president of newsgathering and international
Jordan was full of indignation that I had somehow compromised the reputation
of CNN. But in the course of our conversation it turned out that yes, CNN
had hosted a total of five interns from US army psy-ops, two in television,
two in radio and one in satellite operations. Jordan said the program had
only recently terminated, I would guess at about the time CNN's higher
management read Abe de Vries's stories.
When I reached De Vries in Belgrade, where's he is Trouw's correspondent,
and told him about CNN's furious reaction, he stood by his stories and by
the quotations given him by Major Collins.
For some days CNN wouldn't get back to him with
a specific reaction to Collins's confirmation, and when it did, he filed a
later story for Trouw, printed on February 25 noting that the military
worked at CNN in the period from June 7, (a date confirmed by Eason to me)
meaning that during the war a psy-ops person would have been at CNN during
the last week.
"The facts are", De Vries told me, " that
the US Army, US Special Operations Command and CNN personnel confirmed
to me that military personnel have been involved in news production at
CNN's newsdesks. I found it simply astonishing. Of course CNN says these
psyops personnel didn't decide anything, write news reports, etcetera.
What else can they say. Maybe it's true, maybe not.
The point is that these kind of close ties
with the army are, in my view, completely unacceptable for any serious
news organization. Maybe even more astonishing is the complete silence
about the story from the big media. To my knowledge, my story was not
mentioned by leading American or British newspapers, nor by Reuters or
Here at CounterPunch we agree with Abe de
Vries, who told me he'd originally come upon the story through an article in
the French newsletter, Intelligence On-line, February 17, which
described a military symposium in Arlington, Virginia, held at the beginning
of February of this year, discussing use of the press in military
Colonel Christopher St John, commander of
the US Army's 4th Psyops Group, was quoted by Intelligence On-Line's
correspondent, present at the symposium, as having, in the correspondent's
"called for greater cooperation between the
armed forces and media giants. He pointed out that some army PSYOPS
personnel had worked for CNN for several weeks and helped in the
production of some news stories for the network."
So, however insignificant Eason Jordan and other
executives at CNN may now describe the Army psyops tours at CNN as having
been, the commanding officer of the Psy-ops group thought them as sufficient
significance to mention at a high level Pentagon seminar about propaganda
and psychological warfare.
It could be that CNN was the target of a psyops
penetration and is still too na´ve to figure out what was going on.
It's hard not to laugh when CNN execs like Eason Jordan start
spouting high-toned stuff about CNN's principles of objectivity and
refusal to spout government or Pentagon propaganda.
The relationship is most vividly summed up by
the fact that Christiane Amanpour, CNN's leading foreign
correspondent, and a woman whose reports about the fate of Kosovan refugees
did much to fan public appetite for NATO's war, is literally and
figuratively in bed with spokesman for the US State Department, and a
leading propagandist for NATO during that war, her husband James Rubin.
If CNN truly wanted to maintain the appearance
of objectivity, it would have taken Amanpour off the story. Amanpour, by the
way, is still a passionate advocate for NATO's crusade, most recently on
the Charlie Rose show.
In the first two weeks of the war in Kosovo CNN produced thirty articles for
the Internet, according to de Vries, who looked them up for his first story.
An average CNN article had seven mentions of
Tony Blair, NATO spokesmen like Jamie Shea and David Wilby or
other NATO officials. Words like refugees, ethnic cleansing,
mass killings and expulsions were used nine times on the
But the so-called Kosovo Liberation Army
(0.2 mentions) and the Yugoslav civilian victims (0.3 mentions)
barely existed for CNN.
During the war on Serbia, as with other recent conflicts involving the US
wars, CNN's screen was filled with an interminable procession of US military
On April 27 of last year, Amy Goodman of
the Pacifica radio network, put a good question to Frank Sesno, who
is CNN's senior vice president for political coverage.
GOODMAN: "If you support the practice of
putting ex-military men - generals - on the payroll to share their
opinion during a time of war, would you also support putting peace
activists on the payroll to give a different opinion during a time of
war? To be sitting there with the military generals talking about why
they feel that war is not appropriate?"
FRANK SESNO: "We bring the generals in because of their expertise in a
particular area. We call them analysts. We don't bring them in as
advocates. In fact, we actually talk to them about that - they're not
there as advocates."
Exactly a week before Sesno said this, CNN had
featured as one of its military analysts, Lt Gen Dan Benton, US Army
BENTON: "I don't know what our countrymen
that are questioning why we're involved in this conflict are thinking
about. As I listened to this press conference this morning with reports
of rapes burning, villages being burned and this particularly incredible
report of blood banks, of blood being harvested from young boys for the
use of Yugoslav forces, I just got madder and madder.
The United States has a responsibility as
the only superpower in the world, and when we learn about these things,
somebody has got to stand up and say, that's enough, stop it, we aren't
going to put up with this. And so the United States is fulfilling its
leadership responsibility with our NATO allies and are trying to stop
these incredible atrocities."
Please note what CNN's supposedly
non-advocatory analyst Benton was ranting about: a particularly bizarre
and preposterous NATO propaganda item about 700 Albanian boys being used as
human blood banks for Serb fighters.
So much for the "non-advocate" CNN. CP