WHEN THE PRESS SERVES POWER
[Col. Writ. 1/1/06] Copyright '05 Mumia Abu-Jamal
The recent news report that media outlets kept mum on American secret
prisons in Eastern Europe for nearly a year, has erupted in the midst of
the NSA's (National Security Administration) spying scandal.
Both events reflect the massive power of the State; the power to gag the
press when it suits them; and the power to blithely violate the U.S.
Constitution at will.
Today, the Bush Administration has resurrected an old Nixonian idea:
executive privilege; or the notion that whatever the president does is
What is surprising, is the surprise!
This isn't the first time that the White House has killed, or delayed a
story; nor will it be the last.
Nor is the idea new that presidents seek to expand their power, without
serious regard to provisions in the constitution.
Presidents, both Republican and Democrat, have spied on Americans,
invaded their privacy, wiretapped their phones, and broken into their
homes. In this regard, the FBI served as a kind of presidential police,
who bugged, spied on, tapped anyone that their boss in the White House
wanted them to.
Anyone who doubts this fact, need only read my book on the history of
the Black Panthers, entitled *We Want Freedom* (South End Press, 2004).
We were all raised with the dogma of the First Amendment, which
'guarantees' (among other things) the Freedom of the Press.
What is lesser known is how often the press surrendered those freedoms,
to the White House, the FBI, the CIA, or some other government entity.
Remember the infamous Bay of Pigs? This was a CIA-backed invasion of
Cuba, fronted by Cuban exiles. The April 17, 1961 invasion was crushed
by the Cuban army, and is remembered on the island as the battle of
Bahia de Cochinos, a victory that has all the significance of David and
Goliath for the Cuban people.
The *New York Times* knew about the invasion, and planned to editorially
denounce it. President John F. Kennedy persuaded the *Times* to not run
their denunciation, citing national security.
The rest is history.
The CIA has (secretly) owned hundreds of media outlets, and thus
employed many journalists who didn't know (or didn't want to know) who
they worked for. It has used the services of at least 50 journalists
both here and abroad, among them writers for *Newsweek*, *TIME*, the
*New York Times*, United Press International, CBS News, and other
periodicals published in English all around the world (*Source*: Howard
Zinn, *Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology*
N.Y.: HarperPerennial, 1990, pp. 215-17.) As historian Howard Zinn has
documented in his book *Declarations of Independence* (1990), the cases
are, quite literally, legion in which government has changed stories,
had reporters transferred, or had other stories killed.
Even now, in the midst of the NSA spying scandal of *thousands* of
Americans, the political elites have targeted journalists, not those who
have done the illegal spying!
There is a reason why circulation in many major papers is rapidly
declining; and while most point towards the lack of interest among young
folks, surely another element is distrust.
One need only look at this war, and the media's role as chaperon to
imperial power, to see why there is such massive distrust.
The press, far too often, reflects the world of the powerful, not of the
people. It begins by observing the feasts of the famous and the
powerful, then, through the power of the media, it becomes a diner at
the feast. The interests of the wealthy becomes their interest, and
coverage certainly reflects it.
Major news outlets boasted anchors and reporters who became wealthy
celebrities, miles removed from the best reporting, or street reporting
that began their careers. As they moved farther from the streets, so
did their product, which should now be called 'narrowcasting.'
To call *this* a free press is but to demean it.
Copyright 2005 Mumia Abu-Jamal