Justice Integrity Project
The major U.S. media have ignored for the most part Seymour Hersh’s blockbuster column April 4 reporting the Obama administration's deceptive accounts of notorious killings in Benghazi and Syria.
Several major U.S. outlets reportedly declined to publish his column The Red Line and the Rat Line. That is their right, of course, and he proceeded to publish his source-based allegations in the London Review of Books.
But at some point, failure to raise questions to authorities and publish criticism smacks of a cowardly self-censorship, not mere fact-checking.
I have monitored reaction to his revelations in part because I reported similar findings in my fall 2013 book Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters and on this site seven months ago.
One of Hersh's most explosive claims is that Turkey, a NATO member and U.S. ally in the fight to overthrow Syria's government, helped plan a sarin gas attack Aug. 21 that reportedly caused more than a thousand deaths in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus.
The deaths, a war crime if proven, nearly prompted a massive U.S. bombing attack on the grounds that Syria's government had crossed a "red line" set by President Obama against use of chemical weapons.
The silent treatment helps authorities foster secret military actions worldwide for regime changes that arguably violate international law.
Reasonable people can differ on what constitutes adequate sourcing to publish claims even by such a noted reporter as Hersh, especially if his sources are anonymous. Hersh said in an interview with Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman that he respects a decision by the Washington Post not to publish his report that Turkey was behind the sarin attack. He is shown in a screenshot from a Democracy Now! video.
But if an iconic reporter like him cannot get his findings published in a major outlet in his home country or otherwise make a significant impact, who can?
Hersh cited anonymous sources, as I did in Puppetry, to describe how the infamous Benghazi attack in 2012 grew out of covert U.S. arms smuggling organized by the CIA from Libya via Turkey to NATO-supported rebels in Syria.
The smuggling violated official statements that the United States was providing merely non-lethal aid to rebels. Hersh named the smuggling route through Turkey "The Rat Line" in his column. My book described the arms and fighter smuggling as being under the command of CIA Director David Petraeus in 2012, whose role has long been obscured by both major political parties and an increasingly timid corporate-controlled media.
On April 4, Hersh also reported that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, left, led a joint chiefs effort to dissuade President Obama from undertaking a bombing campaign against Syria beginning Sept. 2 as reprisal for crossing the president's "red line" with sarin gas attacks two weeks previous.
Hersh reported the evidence of Syrian complicity was too disputed for easy answers, and so the president needed to obtain congressional approval at the minimum. Hersh’s report thus amplified his column Whose Sarin? published by the London Review of Books Dec. 8.
Those findings by Hersh are congruent with those I made Sept. 3 in a report here on the Justice Integrity Project site about Dempsey's role. My report was based primarily on anonymous sourcing. So was an independent report Sept. 1 by former Navy intelligence analyst Wayne Madsen, who broke the story two days before me.
The mainstream media did not report these matters to my knowledge.
Instead, they misled the public by portraying a White House and Pentagon unified in decision-making, albeit with bomb planning that shifted from a presidentially ordered bombing attack to a bombing plan requiring congressional approval.
InThe Red Line and the Rat Line, Hersh described the tense White House internal debates late last summer in much more detail. He confirmed that Dempsey played a key role in persuading Obama to seek congressional approval for any attack.
Support for an attack failed to materialize in Congress. Russia proposed a face-saving plan whereby Syria would destroy its chemical weapons and avoid allied bombing.
The White House photo at right shows President Obama and his top national security advisors on Aug. 30. It illustrates the seemingly united front at the White House as authorities described Syria's guilt in the sarin attacks, and White House determination to bomb Syria in reprisal.
My column today summarizes Hersh's findings and interprets the implications. The gist is that the news blackout symbolizes the continued erosion of the media's willingness to report government operations -- aside from obedient stenography of misleading government announcements.
The Justice Integrity Project has frequently reported this dire trend, especially regarding the crackdowns by authorities on government employees who communicate with the media without approval. The Hersh experience is a case study on how the problems get worse the more important the story.
Momentum is building for the nomination of Jeb Bush to become president despite the family's record of secret and scandalous actions enriching themselves and their cronies.
Developments abounded this month of positive media treatment of Bush family gatherings and announcements. Shown below is a sample of recent clippings. Several are from the Washington Post, including After years in the political wilderness, Bush family returns to the spotlight.
This influence with the media at the owner level is part of Bush family's dynastic power that is unmatched by rivals. The connections make Jeb Bush the overwhelming favorite for the nomination. We at the Justice Integrity Project have long predicted that Bush will be the nominee regardless of the widespread disapproval of George W. Bush by the end of his term in 2009.
The photo shows the family gathered at the White House in 2005 to celebrate the 60th wedding anniversary of former President George H. W. and Barbara Bush. At their right and left are, respectively, their children George and Jeb.
The family's secrets are a major focus of my recent book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters.
In three chapters beginning with "The Roots of the Bushes," Puppetry documents the family's central positioning within the banking, military, intelligence, energy and media sectors. The book connects the dots.
A hard-hitting new book skewers New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a career-long bully, opportunist and phony.
Ruthless Ambition: The Rise and Fall of Chris Christie by former New Jersey State Assemblyman Louis Manzo, left, credibly portrays the onetime early favorite for the GOP 2016 presidential nomination.
"How could a man like Chris Christie get within shouting distance of a seat in the Oval Office?" Manzo asks. "What does this say about our justice system, and about us? If you think you know the whole story of Christie's rise and later fall from grace, think again."
His book is a template for a new level of scrutiny for Christie -- and for the media megaphone that enabled the New Jersey governor's election to two terms. After winning by a large margin in November Christie also began in January a term as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. Polling and pundits listed him then as a front-runner for his party's nomination for president in 2016.
Ruthless Ambition shows that the recent bridge closing scandal was typical of the Christie’s team’s style of operation.
Manzo’s book thus constitutes a blow to Christie’s political career no matter who takes the blame in the end for the specifics of the September traffic tie-ups on the George Washington Bridge.
To recap, Christie's gubernatorial team intentionally tied up traffic on the world's busiest bridge for three days last September for unknown reasons. The bridge carries commuter and long-distance traffic between New Jersey (via the borough of Fort Lee) and the New York City borough of Manhattan. Christie has denied wrongdoing. His team has suggested that former appointees Bridget Anne Kelly and David Wildstein are primarily responsible.
The two previous books about Christie, 51, both written by New Jersey journalists, flattered his leadership. The slant typified Christie’s extended honeymoon with the media during his career as U.S. attorney and as governor.
Until recently, most journalists have portrayed Christie as a centrist who is well-suited to state and national leadership, at least within the GOP, because of his persona as a blunt-speaking fighter for the middle class.
That view is counter to our experience at the Justice Integrity Project. For more than four years, we have reported Christie's abuses of power as the U.S. attorney for New Jersey from January 2002 until the end of the Bush administration nearly seven years later.
Our research drew from the experiences of Manzo and his 43 co-defendants in a major corruption prosecution that Christie initiated. Manzo fought back and won dismissal of all charges from three indictments by both Republican and Democratic prosecutors.
Authorities in both parties showed an unseemly desire to convict Manzo, his co-defendants and thus vindicate Christie and their other brethren in the tight-knit, bipartisan law enforcement community.
Ryan Lizza, a political writer for the New Yorker Magazine, published over the weekend a long profile: Crossing Christie, What the bridge scandal says about the Governor’s political style, and his future.
The article closely tracks the approach in Manzo's book, which had been distributed electronically to selected media such as the New Yorker for two weeks. Ruthless Ambition publication was announced this week, with sales to the public moved up to next week after publication originally scheduled June 1. Amazon.com lists the paperback, 396-page book as a best-seller based on pre-orders.
On a radio interview April 9 on the WNYC, Lizza told host Brian Lehrer and the audience, "If you readers are interested in this subject, Manzo has a sort of a Ph.D. on this at this point and his book is very interesting."
The nation’s media provided remarkably little support to an Alabama journalist jailed for five months while he fought against prior restraint of his investigative reporting.
A part-time state judge freed blogger Roger Shuler March 26 after Shuler spiked columns alleging an affair between a reputed congressional candidate and a lobbyist.
With rare exceptions, journalism groups and news outlets failed to protest the flagrantly illegal treatment the hand-picked judge inflicted on Shuler and his readers.
Abuses included the writer’s arrest and beating at his home Oct. 23 after regionally prominent lawyer Robert Riley and a lobbyist Liberty Duke filed civil suits claiming Shuler libeled them when he wrote they had had an affair. Judge Claud Neilson then ordered Shuler held without bail on two contempt of court charges for failure to spike his columns. The defendant is shown below in his mug shot.
The case undermined multiple legal precedents protecting freedom of the press and due process.
For example, the judge ordered the docket and courtroom sealed for the first months of the case, including the major hearing. The defendant, who had no lawyer, was kept shackled at wrists and ankles during a secret proceeding in which he had no ability to produce witnesses or legal research.
Shuler’s treatment exemplifies the national media’s increasingly bizarre behavior. Leading organizations are combine self-righteous First Amendment rhetoric in their public statements with timid reactions to the Shuler jailing.
The recent experience of New Yorker columnist Seymour Hersh illustrated the pattern further. On April 4, Hersh published The Red Line and the Rat Line, which alleged misleading statements by high-level Western leaders regarding civil strife in Syria and Libya. Hersh's column appeared in the London Review of Books, a second time in recent months he has used it instead of mainstream United States publications.
Hersh disputed official chronologies and causes of the Benghazi killing of four Americans in 2012 and the gas attacks last summer that nearly prompted a massive United States bombing attack on Syria in early September.
Hersh’s “fascinating essay” rewrites the official record of the sarin gas attack on Ghouta, near Damascus last August, according to commentator Jonathan Cook. “As usual,” Cook continued, “Hersh uses his sources in the US security establishment to throw light on what really took place. The bottom line: Turkey was almost certainly the party responsible for the attack, hoping it would force Obama to honor his threatened ‘red line’ if Assad used chemical weapons.”
The public should worry about how timidly our media outlets and professional societies responded for the most part to the gas attack, Shuler’s treatment and many other such issues.
But good news can come out of this. Such poor performance by the establishment media can help us spot similar shortfalls on many other important stories.
For example, my initial study of Shuler news coverage overlapped in time last fall my research for an 11-part “Readers Guide” to the books, films, articles, videos and events about the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination. I found that mainstream JFK coverage deferred to a shocking degree to disputed conventional wisdom, including the core findings of the Warren Commission.
Many major questions remain about the commission findings that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing JFK from behind with three shots allegedly fired from the Texas Book Depository. With prompt, strong backing from the establishment media that continues to current times, the commission also found that the fatal bullet killing Kennedy also hit Texas Gov. John Connally in two places before the bullet was found in near-pristine condition on a hospital gurney.
Three members of Congress plus a former Senate chairman this month urged President Obama this month to declassify 28 pages of the joint congressional inquiry on foreign involvement in the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
Reps. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, Massachusetts Democrat Stephen Lynch and Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie spoke at a press conference on Capitol Hill March 11 in support of proposed House Resolution 428.
As shown below, three representatives of 9/11 families accompanied them and spoke also in support of making the material public.
Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Graham, the Florida Democrat who co-chaired the the "Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 2001," provided a video supporting release of the information. Graham and the three congressman have read it but are forbidden by government secrecy law to describe it.
One of the nation's most innovative and so-far successful social justice reform movements in recent years is spreading in the Deep South -- including in a major test scheduled for March 25 in Alabama.
A new Alabama "Moral Mondays" group that mixes advocacy and civil disobedience plans its public launch at noon on the state capitol's front steps in Montgomery. Moral Mondays takes its name from weekly demonstrations that have occurred on Mondays during recent legislative sessions in North Carolina.
The movement draws its strength from the pain and anger widespread in the Deep South, including on legal and social justice issues.
It draws heavily from the civil rights movement of the 1960s and also uses "moral" and "constitutional" language similar to that of recent conservative groups. It emphasizes non-partisan "fusion" politics while opposing what its leaders call extremist policies by conservatives.
The new movement is characterized by mass arrests during peaceful protests at state legislatures. It expanded last week to Georgia and South Carolina. It moves next to Alabama, one of the reddest of Red states and locale of many of the nation's iconic civil rights struggles from five decades ago.
Today's column is a first-hand report on how Alabama's Saving OurSelves (S.O.S.) coalition affiliated itself March 8 with the Moral Mondays movement. My photo at right shows the organizational meeting in Selma, with the Alabama River and the city's Edmond Pettus Bridge in the background.
The main leader is the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter. In my March 8 photo above showing Alabama planning, Barber was just to the right of Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford, who was dressed in a red Tuskegee University sweatshirt as he spoke in favor of the new coalition. Barber is shown also in a file photo below.
The Moral Mondays message attacks as extremist conservative policies such as opposition to Obamacare extension of Medicaid health insurance to the uninsured -- a decision largely in the hands of states.
Yet the movement's messages go far beyond specific policies and thus are "transformative, not transactional," Barber likes to say.
Such messages mean, on close examination, that the movement threatens traditional politicians and special interest groups of many kinds, including those on the left that are organized on single-issue rhetoric, party politics, and wheeler-dealing with hidden agendas. Implicit in the Moral Mondays movement is that it opposes those on the left who are accustomed to celebrity-driven, top-down leadership -- and fund-raising that crosses a line in terms of self-dealing or "pay to play" arrangements.
This Moral Mondays movement impresses me as bold, creative and seemingly likely to achieve significant goals. As our work at the Justice Integrity Project has found, many people are hurting, angry -- and looking for new and better ways to achieve dramatic civic reform.
I was one of the few reporters to attend the meeting, which was part of my five days at the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee from March 6 to 10 in Selma commemorating "Bloody Sunday."
That name comes from police brutality on March 7, 1965, when approximately 160 Alabama state and local police viciously beat and gassed 600 peaceful protesters on the Pettus Bridge. The marchers had intended to walk from Selma to Montgomery to protest near-complete lack of voting rights for blacks in majority black Dallas County and the police killing of a local resident, Jimmie Lee Jackson. The overall brutality, including the fatal clubbing of Wyoming-born Rev. James Reeb by racists in Selma, led to the national public outrage, two follow-up marches, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The new Moral Mondays coalition for Alabama was created in Selma during the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee, which retraces the steps of the first marchers. This year, a core group of 50 also traveled in a modern Freedom Ride from Selma through five Southern capitals to Washington, DC for rallies, including protests at the U.S. Supreme Court and Capitol.
The week of protests, church services and educational events I attended were powerful. There were many eloquent speeches, historical recreations and special events (including a mock trial and a play) repeatedly framed by prayer and music. Yet such scenes are best appreciated in person or by video. Therefore, my goal below is to focus in words on a summary of the movement, its allies, challenges and prospects.