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CNN AND PSYOPS

by Alexander Cockburn

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 Clothes. 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 CNN, saying, “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 networks.

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 AP.”

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 operations. 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 words, “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 average. But the so-called Kosovo Liberation Armmy (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 officers. 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 Retired.

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

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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