Monday, February 16, 2009

The National Press Club: emblematic of press sell-out to intelligence outfits and corporatist America....LBC among the throngs of Intelligence outfits

The National Press Club: emblematic of press sell-out to intelligence outfits and corporatist America....LBC, NTV and MTV among the throngs of Intelligence outfits chosen by the DOD and PNAC KILLERS for awards in Iraq and Lebanon...

It is not often that this editor agrees with much written in The Washington Post, particularly by its political commentator Dana Milbank, who, over the past eight years, made no great secret of his sycophancy toward the Bush administration.

However, in the February 13 Post, Milbank let the National Press Club (NPC) justifiably have it with both barrels. It should be stated that the NPC and the Post have long maintained a tortuous relationship going back to the Post's halcyon days of executive editor Ben Bradlee, who opined that the NPC was nothing more than a hangout for public relations types and dissuaded Post reporters from joining it.

But what Milbank had to say about a recent NPC event holds true and as someone who ran unsuccessfully for NPC President last year, I can add my voice to the chorus of the vox populi of NPC critics. Milbank wrote, "It takes a certain amount of nerve to have an event at the National Press Club and then ban the press from covering it."

Milbank was writing about a February 12 event at the NPC titled, "Transition 2009," which was sponsored by Georgetown University and the GOP shill newspaper, Politico. The latter is subsidized by the Albritton family, the Texas oil billionaires who ran Riggs Bank into the ground with the connivance of Jonathan Bush, "Dubya's" uncle. Oddly, Barack Obama's campaign adviser and close aide David Plouffe spoke at the event but with one condition, "No Press." Let me see if I understand this. The event featured a senior member of the President's inner circle, was held at the National PRESS Club, and was not private in the sense that a birthday party, retirement luncheon, or bar mitzvah would be, but was deemed "CLOSED PRESS" regardless. Georgetown University said the event was closed due to the wishes of Plouffe and Politico pulled out as a sponsor and moderator of the seminar.

A Post reporter actually picketed the NPC during the Plouffe event wearing a sandwich board protest sign that read "unPLOUFFEABLE" and "WHAT THE PLOUFFE?" The protesting reporter distributed reporter's notebooks and pens to those in attendance in order for them to take notes on Plouffe's comments. Washington's leading newspaper picketing the NPC. Now, what is wrong with that picture?

One person who got upset at the press banishment was Donna Leinwand who wrote to Plouffe's people that "If Mr. Plouffe wants to keep secrets, Mr. Plouffe should stay at home." Ms. Leinwand is not a mere member of the NPC who was distraught over the slight nor is she a cleaning lady or club restaurant waitress. She is the President of the NPC and was in a position to deny the NPC as a venue with the authority one might assume comes with her position. However, it is no secret that the NPC is in severe financial difficulties during a time of massive lay-offs of journalists and folding media operations. The NPC has become nothing more than a catering business hungry for any cash-bearing event planners who can stipulate whatever restrictions they like, even barring the NPC members from an event featuring a close aide to the President of the United States.

Not only Plouffe but the NPC and Georgetown were pilloried by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Two days before the Plouffe debacle, there was another, less reported event at the NPC. There was a cocktail reception in the member's only "Reliable Source" lounge that honored the military and intelligence firm, Harris Corporation, for donating several flat screen TVs to the lounge. Former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney spokesman Pete Williams, now of NBC News, was present, along with throngs of law enforcement and intelligence types.

It is indeed emblematic of what is wrong with the press and its professional organizations today in accepting such gifts from a firm like Harris. In 2004, Harris inherited the Iraq Media Network (IMN) project from another major intelligence contractor, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). SAIC received a Pentagon contract to set up an Iraqi media network that included television and radio stations and the newspaper as-Sabah. From the start, the IMN contract was rife with corruption and favoritism. For example, the Pentagon's Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), the activity responsible for establishing U.S. rule over Iraq, pressured SAIC to hire Shaha Ali Riza, the girlfriend of then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, as Subject Matter Experts for Iraq.

SAIC, an intelligence contractor with psychological warfare operations (PSYOP) experience but no bona fide media credentials, received the IMN contract as a result of a pre-war $15 million sole-source contract for the "Iraqi Free Media" project. That contract was awarded weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It is also noteworthy that Ryan Henry, SAIC's vice president for strategic assessment and development, was the deputy to Douglas Feith, the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and the person in charge of the Iraqi media contracts.

Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) later ordered the IMN to replace the Iraqi Information Ministry as the major source of propaganda masked as news from the American occupation government of Iraq. Dorrance Smith, a former ABC News producer and adviser to and friend of Presidents George W. Bush and George H. W. Bush, media adviser to the CPA, controlled the IMN as a White House spin machine. The hiring of Hero Talabani, the wife of the pro-U.S. Kurdish leader, as an editor, other Iraqi exiles as reporters, and the oversight of the Pentagon's PSYOP elements within the Office for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict led to charges that the IMN was nothing more than a propaganda outlet for the Bush administration and its neocon policy makers. The IMN operation worked hand-in-glove with the CPA's press office, which was headed by Dan Senor, a pro-Israeli mouthpiece who later married Campbell Brown, now a CNN anchor who, like fellow CNN correspondent John King, converted to Judaism after the marriage. King married CNN's Dana Bash and converted to Judaism like Brown. The CPA staff was said to be rife with neocons, pro-Israelis, and Christian evangelists at the time it gave orders to IMN.

in January 2004, the Pentagon replaced SAIC as the IMN prime contractor with Harris. The contract had mushroomed to $96 million and was renewable to a maximum value of $165 million. Harris chose the Lebanese/Saudi -owned Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation and the al-Fawares media company of Kuwait, the publisher of the Arabic edition of the Washington Post Company's Newsweek magazine, to serve PNAC's PSYOPs in Iraq, Lebanon and the broader Middle East....and FDDC.

Former NBC News reporter Don North, hired as a media adviser to IMN, criticized the IMN as a sink hole of money. He said that although IMN received a huge outlay of funds, reporters were not paid on time and there was a lack of gear such as camera batteries, tripods, editing equipment. IMN reporters were forced to cover Soviet-style CPA news conferences where no information of value was reported and were prevented by senior management with no credible journalism experience from covering important news stories. Tens of millions of dollars were pocketed for IMN by SAIC and Harris. That money went somewhere. Hopefully, none of it ended up purchasing flat screen TVs for the National Press Club in a public relations ploy to restore a damaged image over the IMN fiasco.

Other companies later became involved with the Pentagon's propaganda program in Iraq. They included Iraqex, a partner of the Rendon Group that later changed its name to the Lincoln Group; SYColeman, a subsidiary of L-3 Communications; and even SAIC, which had been involved in the original fraud involving IMN. Harris received a follow-on contract for the IMN. It was later discovered that the U.S. PSYOP operation in Iraq included having U.S. military PSYOP personnel writing articles for Iraqi newspapers and then paying the papers to run the pieces.

The National Press Club has come a long way in its 101st year of existence. Accepting gifts of TV sets from a firm involved in propaganda and intelligence operations is a sign of the sad state of the American press today. The press is the only profession protected by name in the U.S. Constitution.

In running as a challenger for the presidency of the NPC last year, I realize it was a fool's errand. First of all, challengers for office there never win. Yet another reporter who received an absentee ballot and planned to vote for me has reported that his ballot was not received in Florida until the day of the election in December 2007. His story is added to similar tales received from non-resident members as far away as Alaska, the Philippines, South Korea, and Australia, and as close as CBS News headquarters in New York. None of their intended votes were counted because in a Katherine Harris-like move, the ballots were sent out fourth-class mail. The reason was said to be a mistake by the "mail contractor." The response to the mistake was not to count any ballots received late. It is now obvious that my runner-up, albeit recent record-breaking tally of 65 votes, was a suppressed number.

But for a press organization that accepted a number of flat screen TVs from a firm whose Iraqi Media Network reported that violence-wracked elections in Iraq were clean and fair, such a thing can be expected far more than the fact that a club kitchen was recently cited by the District of Columbia health inspectors for unsanitary practices. The more unsanitary story here is the one about the gifts accepted by the NPC and the gift givers.