Let's Question All Propaganda: Left, Right and Center


On April 19, 1969, more than 80 African-American students at Cornell University seized a student center a day after a cross burning on campus. The occupiers emerged 36 hours later brandishing weapons in one of the most iconic images of the 1960s student protest era.Last month, a journalism expert claimed publicly for the first time that black students covertly burned the cross to dramatize their grievances by falsely invoking a racist symbol. 

Willard Straight Hall takeoverToday’s column examines the evidence revealed by former Cornell Daily Sun editor-in-chief and Washington Post alumnus Stan Chess, a 1969 Cornell graduate.

More generally, alleged "false flag" events challenge each of us to decide whether we object to such tactics by kindred spirits. 

I argue that the facts of the Cornell situation, whatever they are, deserve to be exposed — and justice demands at least as much effort regarding comparable situations then and now.

False flags (the name comes from deceptive flags used to gain advantage in naval warfare) are reputed in some quarters to have included the 1960s political assassinations that arguably set the background for 1960s student protests, among many other intrigues.

The Cornell building occupation, which I covered at the time as a student newspaper reporter, holds historical importance.

Photos of armed black students made front page news across the nation and won a Pulitzer Prize for an Associated Press photographer. Cornell's John Henrik Clarke Africana Library displays a collection of photos here, including that shown at right. The protesting students ousted several sleeping parents from rooms at Willard Straight Hall, the student union. The lawless action hurt the school's image with several key constituencies, including parents of students and prospective students. But the takeover ended peacefully.

The Cornell administration's relatively lenient treatment for the protesters (amnesty for occupiers and reprimands for three ringleaders for their previous actions) enraged some faculty, alumni and political commentators. Along with protests elsewhere, the controversies helped empower a conservative reaction to black, student, and anti-war protests of the era, while a number of the erstwhile radicals involved went on to mainstream careers.

My reporting on the takeover began as a student newspaper writer-editor at the Cornell Daily Sun. A decade after my graduation in 1970 as a history major, I drew on extensive research to publish “The End of a Bizarre Era,” an essay about the takeover's historical importance. The essay was one of the first chapters in A Century At Cornell, a book published by the Sun about the university.

Relevant also is that two of my government studies professors — Walter Berns and Allan Bloom — resigned from Cornell in protest over what they regarded as administration and faculty cowardice in punishing protesters. The two went on to become leaders in the neo-conservative movement in American politics.

Regarding the basics:

Cornell is located in Ithaca, NY. Western Union founder Ezra Cornell, a one-time carpenter and traveling salesman for plows, co-founded the university in 1865 with a $400,000 donation and brainstormed on educational innovations along with a fellow New York State senator, Andrew Dickson White, the university's first president.

CornellCornell is the federal land-grant institution of New York State, as well as a private endowed university, a member of the Ivy League, and a partner of the State University of New York. It describes itself "as the first truly American university because of its founders' revolutionarily egalitarian and practical vision of higher education, and is dedicated to its land-grant mission of outreach and public service."

Unusual for its time, the school has no formal religious affiliation. It was the first Ivy League school to admit women (in 1880) and its president advocated intercollegiate sports as an important educational tool. As a bias disclaimer, I was a scholarship student grateful for the education there and would highly recommend the university to others.

Regarding the 1969 protests:

At Wari House, a black women’s cooperative residential unit, authorities discovered the burning cross as fire alarms rang out across the Cornell campus during the early morning of April 18, a Friday. An Ithaca Police Department detective kicked the cross off the porch and extinguished the fire. Authorities contended with nearly a dozen false alarms elsewhere on campus. None of the 12 Wari House residents were injured.

Early the next day, members of the Afro-American Society (AAS) occupied Willard Straight Hall to protest “Cornell’s perceived racism, its judicial system, and its slow progress in establishing a black studies program,” as reported by a  recent Cornell retrospective.

It further reported, "Parents staying in the Straight for Parents’ Weekend were awoken by black students running through the halls shouting “Fire!” and banging on doors. Guests received 10 minutes to gather their belongings and leave the Straight." Later, about two dozen white students attempted to enter the building through a broken window to confront the occupiers. The occupiers repulsed the intruders and obtained weapons from allies on the outside to defend themselves from any renewed attack.

What's News?

At the annual Cornell Daily Sun alumni event early this year in Washington, DC, the student newspaper’s longtime alumni association leader Stan Chess shared with me his opinion that news and historical accounts never note the full history of a cross burning.

Chess said two knowledgeable sources had told him that individuals within the black society AAS had set fire to a thin, six-foot cross draped with cloth as part of their campaign to dramatize continuing racial bias at the university. The allegations were not so specific as to claim those facts were widely known among AAS members or even leaders.

Chess has extensive experience regarding the event and draws on a large information network. He was Sun editor in chief from 1968 to 1969 after being assistant managing editor the previous year. He was thus deeply involved in news and opinion coverage and led a staff of scores of volunteer journalists.

During his later career, Chess founded and has led as a volunteer a non-profit association of Sun alumni, whose primary purpose has been support for the newspaper's student volunteers. Founded in 1880, the Sun is America's oldest college daily operated by students independent of university administration. The paper's 125th anniversary dinner in 2005 attracted more than 300 former reporters and editors, including former Sun assistant managing editor and associate editor Kurt Vonnegut '44, the late novelist. Independent experts consistently rank the Sun as among the best student newspapers but it faces the typical challenges of print publications in the Internet era.

According to Chess, one of his information sources on the cross burning was the late Cornell President Dale Corson, who told him of confidential documentation of the allegation. Corson was Cornell's provost during the takeover and ascended to the presidency because of criticism of his predecessor, James Perkins.

The university, currently comprised of 14 state and private colleges, had very few African-American undergraduates in the early 1960s, according to news accounts that sometimes placed the number at merely two dozen or so.

In response to those low numbers, Perkins, president from 1963 to 1969, won funding for an innovative financial and recruitment program to bolster minority attendance during an era when much nation remained segregated. The 1960s saw also the Vietnam War's escalation, which created opposition to the draft and disproportionate casualties among minorities. Looming also over the era were a series of shocking and still-controversial assassinations, including of President Kennedy in 1963 and, in 1968, of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Presidential contender Robert F. Kennedy.

Cornell’s amnesty to those who occupied the student union prompted significant alumni, faculty, and outside criticism even though the faculty itself had approved the amnesty by reversing its earlier vote urging a disciplinary process under normal campus rules. Perkins, who had placed a high priority on ending the disturbance peacefully, agreed to token penalties and was forced to resign under pressure later in 1969.

Chess said his other source was former AAS treasurer Stephen R. Goodwin '70, a fellow member with Chess of Cornell's elite honor society Quill and Dagger. The leadership society's other members during the 1960s included future World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz '65, who held the World Bank job from 2005 to 2007 after Defense Department posts as undersecretary (1989-93) and deputy secretary (2001-05) during the two Iraq wars. Among other society members were two former White House National Security Advisors, Samuel "Sandy" Berger '67 (1997-2001) and Stephen R. Hadley '69 (2005-2009).

Thomas W. Jones Howard UniversityAnother was Quill and Dagger member Thomas W. Jones '69, the AAS president and chief spokesman during the Straight takeover. Jones went on a career in financial services advancing through high-level posts at major financial organizations to become chairman and CEO of Citigroup's Global Investment Management (1999–2004), which managed some $500 billion in assets. Jones, currently a trustee at Howard University shown in a file photo, previously served as a member of Cornell's Board of Trustees and won a Cornell leadership award named for Perkins.

Goodwin, according to Chess's account, disclosed the cross burning secret during a lunch with Chess in the mid-1980s at the Cornell Club in New York City. By then, each man had launched himself on an impressive career.

Goodwin prospered on Wall Street and became founder and CEO of a successful software development company before his death in 2008 at age 60.

After law school Chess helped found and then became president of BAR/BRI Bar Review, helping lead the country's premier bar review instructional service. In addition, Chess held several responsible positions at the Washington Post. These included interim editing jobs filling in for others on summer vacations, writing features under pen names for years, and serving with Executive Editor Benjamin Bradlee on a confidential strategic planning effort, "Project X," to chart the paper's long-term future.

In addition, Chess disclosed for this article that Perkins had asked him to serve as chief of staff if the Democratic 1968 presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey won the election and Perkins moved on, as expected, to become Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in the new administration. In sum, Chess has been well-connected with good sources through the years and his allegations carry weight even if his two sources are now dead.

Jones declined my request comment for this column. Several other prominent AAS leaders from that era failed to respond or could not be located.

To put the allegation on the record for others to pursue if desired, I prevailed on Chess to share his story with others attending the Sun alumni association's annual reception in Washington, DC. A score of Sun alumni with professional posts in newspapers, law, and government attended the reception Jan. 16 in the private room of Dupont Circle billiard parlor.

Chess briefly mentioned to the group his sources on the cross burning.

Walter BernsOn a tangential topic, he remarked also on the differences between the New York Times and Washington Post versions of their obituaries of Professor Walter Berns, right, who died Jan. 10 at age 95.

Former Sun Managing Editor Sam Roberts '68, deputy editor since 1995 of the New York Times News of the Week in Review section, wrote the Times obituary, which emphasized far more than the Post the impact of the Cornell building occupation on Berns and the country.

Roberts wrote, for example, that Berns "inspired a growing cadre of disaffected progressives and lapsed conservatives who blamed permissive liberalism for many social ills." Berns taught at the University of Toronto after leaving Cornell. For more than two decades until his death, he was a research fellow with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.

The obituary quoted Berns as advocating the theme, “The purpose of law is and must be to promote virtue.”

Roberts and the Times also quoted National Interest magazine editor Jacob Heilbrunn, author of They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, as saying of Berns:

He would passionately condemn liberals at Cornell for what he saw as spinelessly truckling to a militant black student uprising, and the event marked him for the rest of his life, as he recalled the breaks with faculty members whom he never spoke to again.

He became a leading neoconservative, a critic of liberalism and the universities, but also viewed the hard-right social conservatives of the Republican Party with skepticism.

In a more peaceful era at colleges, it is worth recalling that the late 1960s were a time of many unknowns among students and faculty at Cornell and similar centers of student protest.

In the December before the Cornell building takeover, for example, about 50 black students told all the white professors on a black studies advisory committee that they were "dismissed." 

The next day, as I wrote for the Century at Cornell  book, the students picked a university-owned building as the site of an African studies program — and ordered professors and secretaries to clear out. Other incidents included black students scattering lunches in the student union cafeteria and stacking hundreds of "irrelevant" books onto library floors.

Then a group of black students with toy pistols harassed pedestrians and disrupted traffic, setting in motion a school discipline process that culminated in three reprimands for "toy pistol" ringleaders on the day before the cross-burning.

As recent as this January 2015, former Women's Self-Government Association (WSGA) President Ellen Celli Eichleay '70 of Pittsburgh wrote an email to Cornell's current president, Dr. David Skorton, the next leader of the Smithsonian Institution in the nation's capital beginning in mid-2015, denouncing Skorton for including former university trustee Thomas Jones in ceremonies celebrating the university's 150th anniversary this year.

"You should consider this," she wrote, "when choosing the speakers for your next extravaganza: that many Cornellians black and white were hurt during that time and that it might still be painful. You weren't there living and suffering through it."

Virtue, False Flags, and the Search for Truth

This introduction re-energizes a critical look at the harms caused by the takeover.

We cannot know without further research whether a few of the AAS students set afire the cross, which was extinguished harmlessly but nonetheless undoubtedly added to fear if not panic. Cornell's Africana Library has a Willard Straight Takeover Study Guide that can help begin the larger inquiry on race relations on campus during the 1960s. 

For now, we can imagine the additional anger that Professor Berns might have felt if it could have been proven that AAS leaders had themselves undertaken the cross burning. Faculty would have remembered, even if students might not, that eight students and a professor had been killed two years previously fire set by an unknown arsonist as part of a spate of three separate early morning arsons in April 1967. The AAS center was later destroyed by a fire of unknown origin.

Anita Harris Ithaca Diaries coverThis week I asked my classmate Anita Harris '70 her reaction to the Stan Chess comments about the cross burning. She is the author of the new memoir Ithaca Diaries: Coming of Age in the 1960s about that era. She responded:

This came up publicly at a conference about the Willard Straight takeover anniversary where Stan among others, spoke six years ago.

I was utterly devastated when I heard this theory because it meant that, if it were true, as a student I'd based my own actions (deciding to guard the Straight and otherwise to advocate for the black students) on what might have been a falsehood — and those actions were an important turning point in the course of my life.

At the time, I was taking a seminar in which several of the black leaders were also students. So, I considered them my friends and trusted them. This revelation — also brought up by Professor Dan McCall (now deceased) and a former cop at the Straight takeover conference — was unsettling, to say the least.

It attests to the importance of free press, getting to the truth of things, and has an impact not just on the societal/political level but also on the very personal. This involves trust at all levels, a theme of Ithaca Diaries.

But another interesting question is how Berns and such kindred spirits as the late Allan Bloom — or indeed any of us — might feel if such deceptive and potentially violent tactics are undertaken by our own political allies against unwitting opponents.

This is no abstract question. Instead, it is the core of a section authored by Friedrich Nietzsche on "The Use and Abuse of History" that Bloom had assigned my political science class before he departed from Cornell embittered like Berns (and former Cornell history professor Donald Kagan, father of leading Iraq wars interventionists Robert and Frederick Kagan) over the student protests.

Kagan, now a Yale professor emeritus, is the father of Robert and Frederick Kagan and father-in-law of U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Victoria Nuland. All have been identified with an highly interventionist foreign policy, especially in Iraq and, via Nuland recently in particular, in the Ukraine.

Deeper Meaning

The remainder of this column explores the kind of high-minded goals that Berns advocated and contrasts them with what we can now discern as an intrigue-filled world that includes those embarked on false flag and similar political dirty tricks such as the use of agents provocateurs to stir up political dissent, rebellion, and war.

In examining specifics of such events, we note that critics of student and liberal excesses are often selective in their outrage, as are their opponents.

Interestingly, both Berns and Bloom were students at the University of Chicago of philosopher Leo Strauss, who is sometimes criticized as have suggested to his followers a dangerous mix of idealistic, pro-democracy rhetoric with deceptive political tactics.

After the start of the Iraq war in 2003, for example, journalist Seymour Hersh traced the Strauss impact in a 2003 New Yorker article about the Iraq war, Selective Intelligence, to what Hersh called "noble lies" allegedly used by philosophers to achieve real world results. Somewhat similarly, the Executive Intelligence Review published The Secret Kingdom of Leo Strauss suggesting that Strauss advocated hidden meanings for an elite inner circle.

The Walter Berns website opens with recognition that Strauss was his mentor. A Strauss intellectual influence has often been recognized for Bloom, and upon Wolfowitz, a primary architect of both Iraq wars and a public policy guru who was guided by both Bloom and Strauss.

Bloom, whom I recall as a gifted teacher, as was Berns, went on from Cornell to publish in 1987, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students. This idiosyncratic polemic reached its dramatic high point with its attack on the student protest at Cornell. 

The book mentioned Strauss just once in passing and achieved best-seller status from its denunciation of liberal academics.
Bloom's most coherent message lingering for me after all these years was not his famous book, but his classroom admonition via Nietzsche that truth-seeking has something impressive in it only if it is accompanied by a rigorous passion for justice.
Thus, the philosopher Nietzsche was not praising partisan political opposition researchers who use only that information favorable to their patrons and political allies. Instead, Nietzsche (and, by inference, his interpreter Bloom) praised the "seeker of justice" who "piles the weights inexorably against his own side" (The Use and Abuse of History, Chapter VI, from Thoughts Out of Season, 1873-76).
In that spirit, let's survey some of the most important suspected false flag or similar propaganda events of the twentieth century. Most are still mysterious and/or virtually unknown to the American public but remain highly relevant to our understanding of public affairs.
  • A 1933 fire at the Reichstag, Germany's Parliamentary building in Berlin, has become notorious as a false flag event because the administration of German Chancellor Adolf Hitler exploited the fire to gut Germany's civil liberties and may have fostered the plot in advance for public relations purposes, according to some accounts. Marinus van der Lubbe, an unemployed Dutch communist, was arrested at the scene and executed by beheading after trial. Nazis and communists later exchanged accusations of responsibility for the arson. Hitler's government was in better position to prevail in public opinion.
  • In 1962, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Defense Department unanimously approved Operation Northwoods, a never-executed plan for deadly false flag operations that could be falsely blamed on Cuban leader Fidel Castro, thereby justifying an armed U.S. invasion overthrowing him. President Kennedy and his Defense Secretary Robert McNamara rejected Operation Northwoods, which remained classified until its revelation in 2001 by author and former ABC News investigative editor James Bamford in his book Body of Secrets. The document is available here via the National Security Archive at George Washington University. The Archive summarized the Top Secret planning as including "staging the assassinations of Cubans living in the United States, developing a fake 'Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington,' including 'sink[ing] a boatload of Cuban refugees (real or simulated),' faking a Cuban Air Force attack on a civilian jetliner, and concocting a 'Remember the Maine' incident by blowing up a U.S. ship in Cuban waters and then blaming the incident on Cuban sabotage." Bamford, a former military intelligence officer shown in a file photo, wrote that Operation Northwoods “may be the most corrupt plan ever created by the U.S. government.”
  • In 1963 within days of JFK's death, his successor Lyndon Johnson issued then-secret National Security Action Memo (NSAM) No. 273 reversing Kennedy's NSAM No. 263 the previous month that had ordered a thousand-man Fletcher Proutydraw-down of the 16,000 U.S. military advisers in Vietnam. Retired Air Force Colonel Fletcher Prouty, the top liaison between the Joint Chiefs and the CIA during both the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, later alleged in his 1996 book JFK: The CIA, Vietnam and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy and elsewhere that certain CIA and military officials desired JFK's death because of the president's perceived weakness to the threat of communism in Vietnam, Cuba and other Soviet-related policy issues. In 1964, Johnson used "The Gulf of Tonkin Incident" to win open-ended congressional approval for what became some 550,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam by the late 1960s. The incident arose from confrontations with North Vietnam. A declassified National Security Agency study later showed that congress had received erroneous information from the Johnson administration as the basis for its vote.
  • The Justice Integrity Project published a 23-part "Readers Guide" to President Kennedy's assassination providing evidence the Warren Commission covered up vital evidence regarding the death and its aftermath, including the backgrounds of alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and his killer Jack Ruby. The guide includes both comprehensive listings of major books, events, and videos, and also more interpretive research reports, such as a report from a major 2014 research conference, Cuban Exile Militant Claims CIA Meeting With Oswald Before JFK Killing.
  • Significant doubt exists also regarding the official account of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968. According to Stanford University's Martin Luther King Records Center, "News of King’s assassination prompted major outbreaks of racial violence, resulting in more than 40 deaths nationwide and extensive property damage in over 100 American cities. James Earl Ray, a 40-year-old escaped fugitive, later confessed to the crime and was sentenced to a 99-year prison term....During the years following King’s assassination, doubts about the adequacy of the case against Ray were fueled by revelations of the extensive surveillance of King by the FBI and other government agencies....Beginning in 1976, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, chaired by Representative Louis Stokes, re-examined the evidence concerning King’s assassination, as well as that of President John F. Kennedy. The committee’s final report suggested that Ray may have had co-conspirators. The report nonetheless concluded that there was no convincing evidence of government complicity in King’s assassination....Even after Ray’s death, conspiracy allegations continued to surface."
  • On Oct. 10, 1990, a woman who gave only her first name Nayirah testified before the non-governmental Congressional Human Rights Caucus that Iraq invaders of her native Kuwait had killed babies by disabling hospital Nayirah al sabah 1990 (Creative Commons)incubators. President George H.W. Bush, many members of congress, and leading news organizations often cited the so-called Nayirah "Baby Incubator" story to back Kuwait in the Gulf War, with one much-publicized estimate at 22 murdered babies. Later, Harper's Magazine Publisher John MacArthur and freelance national security and reporter Susan Trento took the lead in revealing via separate books that Nayirah's last name was al-Ṣabaḥ and that she was the daughter of Saud Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. Robert Keith GrayFurthermore, they reported that the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton organized her unsworn testimony on behalf of the Kuwaiti government for fees estimated to total $12 million to develop strategies that would encourage the U.S. public to engage in a war against Iraq's longtime American ally Saddam Hussein. MacArthur and Trento each wrote books about the Hill & Knowlton/Kuwait public relations effort led by the firm's chairman Robert Keith Gray, who had begun his Washington career in the 1950s as a White House scheduler for President Eisenhower. In 1992, Trento documented in The Power House: Robert Keith Gray and the Selling of Access and Influence in Washington that Gray had extensive CIA connections that he used on behalf of clients by such means as blackmailing or otherwise pressuring those news reporters he knew had secretly served on the CIA payroll. According to both Trento and historian Peter Dale Scott (writing in Deep Politics and the Death of JFK), Gray also used his leveraged his contacts in sex, drugs and politics, including the gay community, to lobby members of Congress who needed to hide their vices to retain electability. Scott wrote that police and congressional investigators looking into such matters confronted a virtually impossible opposition comprised of compromised officials and agencies allied with organized crime. Before Gray's death, I interviewed him for Presidential Puppetry  and also hosted him on my public affairs radio show, Washington Update. He denied in appropriate conduct and is shown at right. The "Baby Incubator" story is now regarded as a classic example of propaganda using human rights/atrocity stories intended to foster war support, especially among American mothers who might not otherwise approve of overseas deployments of U.S. forces.
  • Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters, my 2013 book, documents an extensive history of government agents and assets infiltrating American public life. Upon close review, these surreptitious full-time, Presidential Puppetry by Andrew Kreigpart-time and volunteer operatives have worked covertly to influence government operations that include the White House, congress, courts and agencies, as well as influential positions in business, the media, and academia. All significant political movements are on record as being influenced, including the two major parties as well as 1960s Ku Klux Klan (which reputedly had some two thousand FBI informants at one point), American Nazi Party, and leftist groups that included Students for a Democratic Society and the Daily Worker, America's communist newspaper. Fletcher Prouty before his death in 2001 said he personally helped 1950s CIA Director Allen Dulles and other top leadership install covert CIA-friendly operatives in government, including into the Pentagon. Their purpose? To assist on national security matters without compromising their role even to their ostensible superiors. Former Washington Post Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein published a 1977 article in Rolling Stone that identified scores of CIA-friendly journalists within the major media. Bernstein's article is among many similar efforts whose findings are seldom repeated or otherwise pursued by either government or independent investigators except those with small audiences or pursuing partisan agendas.

The bullet-point list above provides a sense of the range of techniques and impact on the issues.

Any Washington, Hollywood or New York insider worthy of the name could devise a much longer list with more recent examples of suspected false flags and similar propaganda efforts regarding public policy and the media. As one example: The two Iraq wars beginning in 1991 and 2003 have led to well over a trillion dollars in U.S. spending plus many hundreds of thousands of deaths. Allegations of false flag attacks now occur on a frequent basis in the current civil wars in Syria and the Ukraine, including on some of the major factual issues in dispute.

Yet current examples tend to lack such research sources as documentation from declassified documents and neutral experts.

So we look to the past as a guide to the future. Models can come from many fields. The Princeton University philosophy professor and translator Walter Kaufmann, a convert to Judaism during in the 1930s in his native Germany, initiated major revisions of modern understanding of Nietzsche's work by academic detective work. Kaufmann showed that the German writer's sister had distorted his views after his death to make him appear sympathetic to what would become Nazi ideology. Thus, in a sense, we come full circle with mysteries of the Reichstag Fire genre.

Sherlock Holmes provided inspiration for all time in A Study in Scarlet:

There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colorless skein [a collection of thread or yarn] of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it. 

Summing Up

This column began with an informal news tip about a long ago student protest at Cornell. Our analysis evolved into a more general survey of the relevance of propaganda techniques to such ostensibly high-minded pursuits as journalism, history, education, political science, law, intelligence-gathering, and diplomacy.

The consistent theme argued here is for exposure coupled with attempts at documentation and fairness. Fairness encompasses proportionality — that is, comparison of like events — as well as recognition that the underlying accusations in any of these instances might be false.
Sometimes claims of over-zealousness and other misconduct are true, however, and deserve exposure. That possibility provides the public interest basis for many of our professions, including the highest office in any democracy: citizen and voter.
The introduction to Nietzsche that Cornell provided me retains a timeless quality in what commentator Julian Kraft called the philosopher's denunciation of "a merely decorative culture" which fails to achieve a balance between contemplation and action.
Is it worthwhile action to try to get to the bottom of the cross burning?
How about the 1960s assassinations, the Vietnam and Iraq wars, and similar alleged propaganda questions extending to today — including those to help causes dear to our own hearts and friends?
Yes, I would suggest, it's all doable. But it's not an especially worthy task unless we're willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

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Related News Coverage

Africana Library, Cornell University, Willard Straight Takeover Study Guide, Compiled by Eric Kofi Acree, Director of the John Henrik Clarke Africana Library at Cornell. On April 19, 1969, students (mainly Black) occupied Willard Straight Hall during Parents' Weekend as a continuing form of protest about racial issues on Cornell University's campus. Citing the university's "racist attitudes" and "irrelevant curriculum," the students occupied the building for thirty-six hours. The takeover received national attention as thousands of Black and White students became involved, which engaged the community in broad discussion about race relations and educational matters. For many the image of students leaving the Straight with guns is the only lasting memory they have of the takeover. However, it was more than that. The guns were introduced in the seizure of a building only after groups of White students had attacked the Black students occupying the Straight. After the peaceful end of the takeover, Cornell introduced a curriculum in Africana Studies and established the Africana Studies & Research Center. The purpose of this study guide is to provide an entry point in locating materials about events leading up to the Willard Straight Hall takeover and its aftermath.

Cornell Daily Sun, Students Took Over Willard Straight Hall 45 Years Ago, Tyler Alicea, April 18, 2014. Forty-five years ago Saturday, approximately 100 black students took over Willard Straight Hall and ejected University employees and Parents’ Weekend visitors from the building. Over a day later, the students marched out of the Straight with rifles, leading to weeks of response from a divided University, which became known nationally as “Cornell’s capitulation.” On April 18, 1969 at 2:53 a.m., the head of the Wari House, Charisse A. Cannady ’69, pulled a fire alarm. Minutes later, she called the University’s Safety Division, the policing body on campus at the time, to report that there was “an object on the front porch and the girls were afraid to go investigate.” Ithaca Police Department Detective Edward Traynor arrived on the scene, he discovered a flaming cross on the building’s front porch. Traynor kicked the cross of the porch and extinguished the fire. None of the 12 residents of the Wari House were injured. Blacks students blamed whites for the fire and denied allegations that they had set the cross on fire themselves. One Cornell administrator described the cross burning as a “Reichstag fire,” referencing the 1933 fire at the German parliament that Adolf Hitler used to justify taking power.

Cornell Chronicle, A campus takeover that symbolized an era of change, George Lowery, April 16, 2009. The first in a series of articles about the four-decade legacy of the 36-hour student takeover of Willard Straight Hall that began April 18, 1969. Early in the morning of Parents' Weekend, 40 years ago this Saturday, 11 fire alarms rang out across the Cornell campus. At 3 a.m., a burning cross was discovered outside Wari House, a cooperative for black women students.

New York Times, Walter Berns, Whose Ideas Fueled Neoconservative Movement, Dies at 95, Sam Roberts, Jan. 14, 2015. Walter Berns, a distinguished constitutional scholar and government professor whose disgust with Cornell University’s response to the armed takeover of a campus building by black students propelled him to become a leading voice of the neoconservative movement, died on Saturday at his home in Bethesda, Md. He was 95. It was Walter Bernsnot for nothing that Cornell was widely known as the Big Red during the 1960s, when passions over civil rights and the war in Vietnam provoked convulsive student radicalism. But the backlash to those campus revolutionaries also sparked the ascension of neoconservative intellectuals whose ideology has shaped the nation’s political agenda for decades. Professor Berns would have insisted that there was nothing “neo” about his own conservatism; as a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, he had been steeped in the classic conservative political philosophy of Leo Strauss, who taught there.

Washington Post, Walter Berns, political scientist and philosopher, dies at 95, Emily Langer, Jan. 14, 2015. Walter Berns, a political scientist and philosopher who rebuked liberalism with an impassioned conservative view of American democracy, constitutional government and patriotism, died Jan. 10 at his home in Bethesda. He was 95. The cause was pulmonary failure, said his wife, Irene L. Berns. Dr. Berns was a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative think tank in Washington, and a former professor at Georgetown University, where he attained emeritus status in 1994. In 2005, President George W. Bush awarded him the National Humanities Medal, an honor recognizing Dr. Berns’s decades as a constitutional scholar. Part historian, part political scientist and part philosopher, he sprinkled his writings with references to the Bible, Shakespeare, Camus and Lincoln. Much of his work, the legal scholar Jeremy A. Rabkin wrote in an overview of Dr. Berns’s career, “reflects the classical view that democracy depends on the character of the citizens, so their opinions and beliefs, their personal habits and degree of self-discipline — in a word, their virtues — will matter to the prospects of democratic government.”

Justice Integrity Project, Cuban Exile Militant Claims CIA Meeting With Oswald Before JFK Killing, Andrew Kreig, Sept. 30, 2014. A former Cuban exile anti-Castro militant told a conference audience Sept. 26 in a blockbuster revelation that he saw accused presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald with their mutual CIA handler six weeks before the killing and there would have been no anti-Castro movement in Cuba without the CIA funding.

New Yorker, Selective Intelligence: Donald Rumsfeld has his own special sources. Are they reliable? Seymour M. Hersh, May 12, 2003. They call themselves, self-mockingly, the Cabal — a small cluster of policy advisers and analysts now based in the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans. In the past year, according to former and present Bush Administration officials, their operation, which was conceived by Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, has brought about a crucial change of direction in the American intelligence community. These advisers and analysts, who began their work in the days after September 11, 2001, have produced a skein of intelligence reviews that have helped to shape public opinion and American policy toward Iraq. The director of the Special Plans operation is Abram Shulsky, a scholarly expert in the works of the political philosopher Leo Strauss. Shulsky has been quietly working on intelligence and foreign-policy issues for three decades; he was on the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee in the early nineteen-eighties and served in the Pentagon under Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle during the Reagan Administration, after which he joined the Rand Corporation. Robert Pippin, the chairman of the Committee on Social Thought at Chicago and a critic of Strauss, told me, “Strauss believed that good statesmen have powers of judgment and must rely on an inner circle. The person who whispers in the ear of the King is more important than the King. If you have that talent, what you do or say in public cannot be held accountable in the same way.” Another Strauss critic, Stephen Holmes, a law professor at New York University, put the Straussians’ position this way: “They believe that your enemy is deceiving you, and you have to pretend to agree, but secretly you follow your own views.” Holmes added, “The whole story is complicated by Strauss’s idea — actually Plato’s — that philosophers need to tell noble lies not only to the people at large but also to powerful politicians.”

Executive Intelligence Review, The Secret Kingdom of Leo Strauss, Tony Papert, April 18, 2003. When I learned that Allan Bloom had been a follower of the late Professor Leo Strauss of the University of Chicago, I decided I had to find out what Strauss had said. Wading into the beginning of Strauss's prefatory material to his Socrates and Aristophanes, it all seemed simple, artless, and totally dull. [But] the Allan Bloom whom I and others had thought we had seen through the pages of his Closing of the American Mind was not the real Allan Bloom at all.

Z Magazine, What Makes Mainstream Media Mainstream, Noam Chomsky, October, 1997. The real mass media are basically trying to divert people. Let them do something else, but don’t bother us (us being the people who run the show). Let them get interested in professional sports, for example. Let everybody be crazed about professional sports or sex scandals or the personalities and their problems or something like that. Anything, as long as it isn’t serious. Of course, the serious stuff is for the big guys. "We" take care of that. What are the elite media, the agenda-setting ones? The New York Times and CBS, for example. Most of them are either linked to, or outright owned by, much bigger corporations, like General Electric, Westinghouse, and so on. They are way up at the top of the power structure of the private economy. The media interact closely with the universities. Say you are a reporter writing a story on Southeast Asia or Africa, or something like that. You’re supposed to go over to the big university and find an expert who will tell you what to write, or else go to one of the foundations, like Brookings Institute or American Enterprise Institute and they will give you the words to say. These outside institutions are very similar to the media. The universities, for example, are not independent institutions. There may be independent people scattered around in them but that is true of the media as well. And it’s generally true of corporations. But the institution itself is parasitic. It’s dependent on outside sources of support and those sources of support, such as private wealth, big corporations with grants, and the government (which is so closely interlinked with corporate power you can barely distinguish them), they are essentially what the universities are in the middle of. People within them, who don’t adjust to that structure, who don’t accept it and internalize it (you can’t really work with it unless you internalize it, and believe it); people who don’t do that are likely to be weeded out along the way, starting from kindergarten, all the way up.


Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

Mirror, Westminster child abuse scandal: KGB and CIA kept secret dossiers on Britain's VIP paedophiles, Don Hale, Jan. 31, 2015. Both Russian and US intelligence knew about a group of powerful paedophiles operating in Britain and the KGB hoped to blackmail them in exchange for information.

Washington Post, Ex-CIA officer is convicted of espionage in leak, Matt Zapotosky, Jan. 26, 2015. Jeffrey Sterling, who was involved in a highly secretive operation to give faulty nuclear plans to Iran, was convicted of giving Jeffrey Sterling Consortium Newsclassified information to a reporter at the New York Times.

Jeffrey Sterling is shown in a photo via Consortium News.

Consortium News, Hiding the Political Subtext of Sterling Trial, Norman Solomon, Jan. 26, 2015. Whenever lawyers for ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling sought to illuminate the political context for his prosecution as a leaker, prosecutors objected with the support of the federal judge, but politics has always lurked in the case’s background. A heavy shroud over this trial — almost hidden by news media in plain sight — has been context: the CIA’s collusion with the Bush White House a dozen years ago, using WMD fear and fabrication to stampede the United States into making war on Iraq. And part of the ongoing context of the Sterling case has been the Obama administration’s unrelenting pursuit of Sterling for allegedly leaking classified information — revealed in the last chapter of a book by James Risen — about a now-15-year-old CIA operation that’s far more suitable for Freedom of Information Act disclosures than criminal prosecution. The jury is weighing nine felony counts, including seven under the atrociously misapplied Espionage Act. It was just six weeks after the invasion of Iraq when, at the end of April 2003, Rice – then President George W. Bush’s nationals security adviser – hosted a meeting at the White House to tell representatives of the New York Times that the newspaper should not report on Operation Merlin, the CIA’s ill-conceived and dangerous maneuver that had provided a flawed design for a nuclear weapon component to Iran three years earlier. The Times management caved within a week. Only Risen’s book State of War, published in January 2006, finally brought Operation Merlin to light.

Washington Post, Koch-backed groups plan to spend nearly $1 billion on ’16, Matea Gold, Jan. 26, 2015. The massive goal of $899 million is more than double the amount that 17 allied groups in the network raised during the 2012 campaign. The group — which is supported by hundreds of wealthy donors on the right, along with the Kochs — is still debating whether it will spend some of that money in the GOP primaries. Such a move could have a major impact in winnowing the field of contenders but could also undercut the network’s standing if it engaged in intra-party politics and was not successful.

War Is a Crime, It's the Blind Partisanship, David Swanson, Feb. 3, 2015. Why did the peace movement grow large around 2003-2006 and shrink around 2008-2010? Military spending, troop levels abroad, and number of wars engaged in can explain the growth but not the shrinkage. Those factors hardly changed between the high point and the low point of peace activism. A new book called Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11 by Michael T. Heaney and Fabio Rojas used careful surveys of large numbers of activists. "The 2006 elections and their immediate aftermath were the high point for party-movement synergy," write Heaney and Rojas. "At exactly the time when antiwar voices were most well poised to exert pressure on Congress, movement leaders stopped sponsoring lobby days. The size of antiwar protests declined. From 2007 to 2009, the largest antiwar rallies shrank from hundreds of thousands of people to thousands, and then to only hundreds." What explains this?  "The rising power of the Democratic Party may have convinced many antiwar activists that the war issue would be dealt with satisfactorily." I'm not convinced. I have no doubt that public sentiment, and in particular political partisanship, was hugely important. But organizations that have been corrupted by closeness to power don't advertise their shifts in position.

Author and peace activist David Swanson is shown with his son at a demonstration.

USA Today, Ukraine peace plan proposed amid pressure for lethal aid, Jane Onyanga-Omara and Oren Dorell, USA Today, Feb. 5, 2015. Secretary of State John Kerry is urging Russia to commit to a diplomatic solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine by halting its military aid for the separatists and backing a negotiated peace. He made the comments during a visit to Kiev. French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel proposed a new peace initiative in Ukraine on Thursday, as pressure mounts for Western countries to provide the war-ravaged nation with the capacity to block further offensives from Russian-backed separatists. Hollande, who described the Ukraine conflict as a "war" said he and Merkel will travel to Moscow on Friday with a proposal "based on the territorial integrity of Ukraine." In Kiev, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Kerry urged Russia to cease its military support for separatists and commit to a diplomatic solution to the hostilities, but stopped short of promising military aid to Ukraine. The U.S. will discuss increasing sanctions on Russia, but no decision has been made on providing lethal aid to Ukraine.

Trends Journal, The Grand Manipulation, Paul Craig Roberts, Feb. 6, 2015. The government’s economic reporting has no credibility. In the face of depressed Christmas sales and the closure of retail chains such as Radio Shack, do you think retailers rushed out in January to hire 45,900 new retail employees? In the face of declining restaurant traffic, do you think 34,600 new waitresses and bartenders were hired in January? Read my sometime coauthor Dave Kranzler’s take on today’s payroll jobs report. If the government will not even tell us the truth about jobs and inflation, how can we believe the government when it tells us, without supplying any evidence, that Russian tank columns have entered Ukraine? Americans need to come to terms with the fact that they live in The Matrix, a world composed of fake information designed to control thought and behavior.

New York Times, Claims Against Saudis Cast New Light on Secret Pages of 9/11 Report, Carl Hulse, Feb. 4, 2014. A still-classified section of the investigation by congressional intelligence committees into the Sept. 11, 2001, Zacarias Moussaoui_attacks has taken on an almost mythic quality over the past 13 years — 28 pages that examine crucial support given the hijackers and that by all accounts implicate prominent Saudis in financing terrorism. Now new claims by Zacarias Moussaoui, a convicted former member of Al Qaeda, that he had high-level contact with officials of the Saudi Arabian government in the prelude to Sept. 11 have brought renewed attention to the inquiry’s withheld findings, which lawmakers and relatives of those killed in the attacks have tried unsuccessfully to declassify. “I think it is the right thing to do,” said Representative Stephen F. Lynch, Democrat of Massachusetts and an author of a bipartisan resolution encouraging President Obama to declassify the section. “Let’s put it out there.”

Brian WilliamsStars and Stripes, NBC’s Brian Williams recants Iraq story after soldiers protest, Travis J. Tritten, Feb. 4, 2015. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams admitted Wednesday he was not aboard a helicopter hit and forced down by RPG fire during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a false claim that has been repeated by the network for years. Williams repeated the claim Friday during NBC’s coverage of a public tribute at a New York Rangers hockey game for a retired soldier that had provided ground security for the grounded helicopters, a game to which Williams accompanied him. In an interview with Stars and Stripes, he said he had misremembered the events and was sorry. "I spent much of the weekend thinking I'd gone crazy. I feel terrible about making this mistake."

Global Research, Editor of Major German Newspaper Says He Planted Stories for the CIA, Ralph Lopez, Feb. 4, 2015. Becoming the first credentialed, well-known media insider to step forward and state publicly that he was secretly a “propagandist,” an editor of a major German daily has said that he personally planted stories for the CIA. Saying he believes a medical condition gives him only a few years to live, and that he is filled with remorse, Dr. Udo Ulfkotte, the editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of Germany’s largest newspapers, said in an interview that he accepted news stories written and given to him by the CIA and published them under his own name. Ulfkotte said the aim of much of the deception was to drive nations toward war. Dr. Ulfkotte says the corruption of journalists and major news outlets by the CIA is routine, accepted, and widespread in the western media, and that journalists who do not comply either cannot get jobs at any news organization, or find their careers cut short. Dr. Ulfkotte is the author of a book currently available only in German, Bought Journalists (Kopp 2014). Aged 55, he was also once an advisor to the government of German Chancellor Helmet Kohl. The book has become a bestseller in Germany but, in a bizarre twist which Ulfkotte says characterizes the disconnect caused by CIA control of the western media, the book cannot be reported on [in Germany].