You Want More Still Proofs the Crony, Old-Line Press is Dead?

What have been the two hot stories this summer, helping us survive the arid steppes of the presidential campaign? Without a doubt, story number one has John Edwards’s love affair and love child. Story number two has been the suicide of one of the U.S. government’s top anthrax men, Bruce Ivins.

CounterPunchers, I’m glad to say, have been kept up-to-date on the Edwards scandal, courtesy of this Diary, which has relayed the reports in the National Enquirer, which blew Edwards out of the water last October, with even deadlier salvoes in December, 2007 and then – conclusively — in July and early August of this year. For nearly a year the Enquirer had a serious candidate for the Democrats’ presidential nominee cold as a USDA-rated prime grade rat who did not scruple to betray his ailing wife Elizabeth (while making political capital out of her condition), then to enlist her as a co-conspirator in lying to Edwards’s supporters and to the voters at large.

Edwards survived into August of this year as a credible national political figure (recently touted as a cabinet member in an Obama administration) only because of the political press corps ensconced in the major papers and networks could not bring themselves to acknowledge that the despised Enquirer had the goods on Edwards and that the goods were a matter of legitimate public concern. When Edwards finally made it official to the crony press corps, via ABC News, on Friday one political reporter for the Washington Post mumbled defensively that they’d been working on the Edwards story “really hard”. Another explained that he’d called high-ups in the Democratic Party and received adamant denials that there was any truth in the Enquirer’s charges.

Mr and Mrs Edwards relied on the crony mainstream press to protect them and their instincts were sound, until the Enquirer finally ran the pic of Edwards holding Rielle Hunter’s baby in his arms. In a final consummate parody of the Rat Finally Cornered, Edwards claimed on ABC, and in his whining statement that it was only a quickie thing with Rielle in 2006, that Elizabeth was in remission when he did it (so that’s okay), that he didn’t know his campaign was paying her off, that he was in the Beverly Hills Hilton hotel in LA in July but That’s not me in the photo and that’s not my baby!

So, plenty of people, many of them on the leftward end of the Democratic Party (if that’s not a contradiction in terms), pinned their hopes on Edwards through months when he, his wife and at least one of his senior aides – the one whom Edwards persuaded last December to tell the Enquirer he was the father-to-be – surely knew that one day the scandal would destroy them. Suppose he had become the nominee, or the vice-presidential pick of Barack Obama – which Edwards obviously lobbied for when he suddenly stepped out last January after his South Carolina debacle? Suppose the Republicans had gone public with that as an October Surprise, as they surely would have done. After all, the New York Post, knew about it a year ago, publishing the first blind item on the matter. Edwards, if he was a rational being, should have known that politically it was all over for him , then and there.

The remaining mystery? Who’s been the Enquirer’s source? My pick is the girlfriend, Rielle Hunter. Who else?

The Crony Press and the Anthrax Saga

Now for the second stake through the heart of the Crony Mainstream Press. In case you’re hazy on the details, here’s the anthrax story in sequence.

Starting on September 18, 2001, one week after the attacks on the Trade Towers and Pentagon, envelopes of white powder containing anthrax spores were mailed out to prominent Americans. They went to US Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle, to US Senator Pat Leahy, to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. Directly inhaled into the lungs, anthrax spores can be deadly. In the post-Sep 11 mailings five died

Back in the fall of 2001 the anthrax envelopes convinced millions of Americans reeling from the collapse of the Trade Towers that Yes, this was war and Islam was the enemy. The crudely written notes accompanying the spores said “Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is Great.”

Within hours the Bush administration was leaking stories to the effect that analysis of the anthrax in the envelopes disclosed the presence of bentonite and this chemical footprint – so the anonymous sources insisted to their favored outlet, Brian Ross of ABC News — was characteristic of products from the bio-terror Labs of Saddam Hussein.

(Oddly enough, the mention of bentonite had a soothing effect on me. If this was the spoor of al-Qaida, then Caifornia’s wine industry had been taken over by Osama bin Laden. Bentonite is a derivative of lava ash and has many homely applications, from sealing leaky ponds to purging wine of unsightly protein haze. I use it myself to clarify my home-made cider.)

ABC’s stories about bentonite-laced anthrax spores were hugely effective in helping prep public sentiment for the Patriot Act, granting dictatorial powers to Bush and Cheney. They also played a long-range role in prepping public the attack on Iraq which subsequent memoirs like those of Bush’s first Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill have disclosed as having been decided on more or less from the moment Bush ensconced himself in the Oval Office at the start of 2001.

Soon politicians such as Senator John McCain were gravely confiding to TV network interviewers that if as seemed likely, Saddam’s anthrax was in the envelopes, then this cemented suspicions of an Osama-Saddam terror connection already inflamed by a long and totally inaccurate report by Jeffrey Goldberg in the New Yorker magazine.

The lead government agency investigating the anthrax envelopes was the FBI and the Bureau was under huge pressure to come up with a suspect. It duly did so, and its suspicions ran athwart the pointers to Baghdad. Soon a fresh tide of leaks to the New York Times and a few other sources fingered Steven Hatfill, who had worked at the end of the 1990s as a civilian researcher at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), the U.S. Department of Defense’s medical research institute for biological warfare (BW) defense at Fort Detrick, Frederick, MD.

By 2004 Iraq had been invaded and Hatfill was suing his detractors in the New York Times and other publications for destroying his career. The U.S. Department of Justice disclosed that in March of this year it had taken Hatfill off the suspects list and was compensating him for false allegations, giving the 54-year old $5.8 million, with a down payment of 2.825 million in cash and $150,000 a year for 20 years.

But the FBI had another suspect, Bruce E. Ivins a career anthrax researcher at Ft. Detrick, on the team at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease (USAMRIID). With Hatfill out of the picture, the heat was on Ivins and he buckled. On July 29 he died from a mix of Tylenol and codeine, diagnosed as a suicide.

Exactly like Hatfill when the FBI had him in its sights, Ivins in the aftermath of his death has been the target of a torrent of disobliging stories, many of them apparently inspired by the FBI. A social worker who counseled him claims he was a drunk and a time-bomb of resentments. A practising Catholic, he wrote letters to a local newspaper hostile to Islam and calling Jews the chosen people. The inference, as with Hatfill, is that with his alleged dispatch of the anthrax-filled envelopes he was setting up Muslims as the originators of the anthrax attacks.

Ivins’s suicide rekindled deep suspicions, most consistently voiced down the years by Glen Greenwald (a lawyer and blogger on the Salon site), that the US government certainly used, and perhaps even sponsored the anthrax attacks as a way of ratcheting up national panic after 9/11 to a level where the public would gladly endorse special emergency powers sought by the White House, accepting a Saddam-Osama linkage into the bargain.

Those who most emphatically do not believe that George Bush and Dick Cheney masterminded the 9/11/2001 attacks on the Trade Towers and Pentagon – have much less difficulty in agreeing with these dark surmises. Greenwald, who has written well for a number of years on the dictatorial powers sought and mostly won by the Bush administration, is now calling on Ross and ABC to identify their “four separate sources” who promoted what turn out to have been an entirely bogus discovery of bentonite in the anthrax, and an equally bogus suggestion that anthrax-plus-bentonite = Saddam’s terror labs in Baghdad.

As Greenwald wrote last week, ABC News is not “protecting ‘sources.’ The people who fed them the bentonite story aren’t ‘sources.’ They’re fabricators and liars who purposely used ABC News to disseminate to the American public an extremely consequential and damaging falsehood.”

True enough. ABC News is clearly embarrassed by Greenwald’s soundly based charges. Will Ross ’fess up to who fed him the stories? I doubt it. He’s been a useful conduit for government leaks on matters such as the utility  of water-boarding as a vital weapon in the war on terror. He’ll keep his mouth shut, even as public cynicism about Bush and Cheney, and the press, soar to new highs.

Russia Resurgent

Not only is Russia giving NATO the finger in the Caucasus — a well-justified finger in my opinion – it is setting the legal stage for seizing a third of the capital of America’s oldest bank, the Bank of New York, a slimy institution now welded to the Mellon interests. I relate this fascinating affair in the latest issue of our CounterPunch newsletter, now available exclusively to subscribers.

Aside from my piece there are other terrific pieces in the newsletter. Intelligent people have said that confessions of guilt should never be accepted at their face value. In a very important article Ruth Horowitz writes fascinatingly about false confessions either volunteered for complicated psychological reasons or extorted by police interrogators by guile and fraud.

How this plays out in the U.S. justice system and how the abuses of coerced confessions can be curbed is Horowitz’s theme, starting with an appalling case, reminiscent of the “Satanic abuse” trials of the late ’80s and ’90s, where an obviously innocent immigrant, Khemwatie Bedessie, was bullied into a “confession” that has put her in prison for 25 years.

Also in this great new issue of our newsletter, subscribers can read Marcus Rediker’s report of popular resistance in the comunas in Medellín, Colombia.  Here at CounterPunch we greatly admire Rediker for his book The Slave Ship, also for his tremendous book written with CounterPuncher Peter Linebaugh, The Many-Headed Hydra. We’re excited to have Marcus aboard.

Subscribe now and give yourself a treat.







Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.