How Hill & Knowlton helped sell Desert Storm.

How the "Incubator" story was manufactured.

                         The INDEPENDENT INSTITUTE
   October 7, 1993
   Sheraton Palace Hotel, San Francisco
   Sponsored by The Independent Institute
                 Independent Policy Forum Luncheon Honoring
                             JOHN R. MACARTHUR
                        Publisher, Harper's Magazine
      Author, Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War
                 Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War:
                   How Government Can Mold Public Opinion
   Introduction by David Theroux, President, The Independent Institute:
   Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. My name is David Theroux, I am
   the president of the Independent Institute, and I am delighted to
   welcome you to our Independent Policy Forum program today.
   As many of you know, the Institute regularly sponsors programs
   featuring outstanding experts to address major social, economic, and
   foreign policy issues, especially as they may relate to important new
   books. And, today is certainly no exception.
   For those of you new to the Institute, you will find background
   information on our program in the packet at your seat. The Independent
   Institute is a non-profit, non-politicized, scholarly research and
   educational organization which sponsors comprehensive studies of
   critical public issues. The Institute's program adheres to the highest
   standards of independent inquiry, and the resulting studies are widely
   distributed as books and other publications, and are publicly debated
   through numerous conference and media programs, such as in our forum
   today. Our purpose is a Jeffersonian one of seeking the truth
   regarding the impact of government policies, and not necessarily to
   just tell people what they might want to hear. In so doing, we will
   not take the public pronouncements of government officials at face
   value, nor the conventional wisdom over serious public problems.
   Hence, we invite your involvement, but be prepared for new and
   challenging perspectives.
   Our program today could not be more timely. Despite this week's
   congressional clamor for withdrawal, an increasingly bloody,
   escalating intervention in Somalia is showing that the use of military
   intervention by the Clinton administration, like the Bush
   administration before it, is likely to continue to be a common feature
   of American foreign policy. Today, we have learned that an additional
   5,000 plus troops with heavy weapons will now be sent to Somalia for
   "non-military purposes." But will the Clinton administration like the
   Bush administration allow the military to keep American journalists
   from doing their jobs if the shooting starts and American forces take
   increased casualties? Will the Clinton administration seek to limit
   the role of the press as was done in the Gulf War to that of glorified
   government stenographers should its interventions turn bloody, as has
   already happened with the Somalia expedition?
   Furthermore, what happens when government goes unchallenged, and when
   questions regarding present and proposed domestic and international
   policies go unasked? To understand how government officials may seek
   to shift and control public opinion, our speaker today has found
   understanding the precedents set during the war against Saddam Hussein
   to be most insightful.
   In his presentation, our speaker will draw upon his widely-acclaimed
   book, Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War, to
   scrutinize the government's campaign to tightly control the American
   media during Operation Desert Storm, policies that can be traced
   through decades of press-government relations, including that
   developed in the military operations in Grenada and Panama.
   In his talk, our speaker will detail behind-the-scenes activities
   during Operation Desert Storm by the U.S. and Kuwaiti governments as
   well as the media's being co-opted while its rights to observe,
   question, and report were heavily restricted far beyond any needs to
   protect American lives. As a result, from Left to Right, there
   resulted a virtual and complete cave-in by the media over the events,
   politics, and simple facts during the Gulf Crisis. For example, as
   reported in September's issue of Washington Monthly, within minutes
   after a Norman Schwarzkopf Gulf War briefing in which the General
   showed the press an Air Force film that he said depicted the
   destruction of seven Iraqi Scud missiles, he was told that the CIA
   believed that they were oil tanker trucks, not Scuds. The General
   never corrected the record, and in a House Armed Services committee
   report recently released, it states "a postwar review of photographs
   cannot produce even a single confirmed kill of a Scud missile."
   In a similar vein, where the General claimed that Iraq had 623,000
   soldiers in the Kuwaiti theater, postwar Army estimates put Iraqi
   strength at roughly 300,000, and the House committee report puts the
   figure at 183,000. The Allies, meanwhile, had a total of 700,000
   It has been said that truth is the first casualty of war, and the
   history of war-making certainly bears this out. History has indeed
   been largely written by the victors, and anyone familiar with the
   Bayeux Tapestry of William the Conqueror knows the lengths to which a
   State will go to justify war atrocities.. And in the American
   experience, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, and the
   wars in Korea and Vietnam all depended upon extensive government
   propaganda campaigns. The World War I journalist Randolph Bourne
   correctly stated that "War is the Health of the State," and it is to
   counter this total power that a free, independent, non-governmental
   press is so crucial.
   Our speaker today could not be better qualified or more incisive in
   addressing the pressing civil liberties questions we face. In
   addition, he was strongly influenced by the late Walter Karp, whose
   work on journalism and war has scarcely been equaled. Rick MacArthur
   is in the investigative and muck-racking journalistic tradition of
   both H. L. Mencken and I. F. Stone.
   He is the publisher of Harper's Magazine. His book, Second Front, was
   selected by The New York Times Book Review Committee as "One of the
   Notable Books of the Year."
   Before joining Harper's, Mr. MacArthur was assistant foreign editor
   for United Press International, and he has been a reporter for the
   Chicago Sun-Times, Bergen Record, Washington Star, and The Wall Street
   Journal. In 1986, Mr. MacArthur co-founded Article 19, the
   International Centre on Censorship, which is based in London.
   Mr. MacArthur holds a bachelor's degree in history from Columbia
   University, and he is a fellow at the New York Institute for the
   Humanities and a director of the Author's Guild and the Committee to
   Protect Journalists.
   I am very pleased to introduce him now to speak on "Censorship and
   Propaganda in the Gulf War: How Government Can Mold Public Opinion,"
   after which he will be happy to answer your questions. May I present
   Rick MacArthur.
   Presentation by John R. MacArthur:
   I hope none of you think I am a humorless left-wing media critic, but
   I come out of a tradition of reporting which is probably fast
   disappearing, I am afraid. One of my mentors at United Press
   International was a very odd survivor of the "Beat Generation" named
   Lucian Carr. One day I was working on the foreign desk -- cables desk
   as we called it at UPI -- and I had sent over a story with a lead
   paragraph that Carr decided was not sufficient to excite the interest
   of what we called "telegraph editors" at newspapers around the
   country. Carr sort of ambled over to the cables desk and he said,
   "Gentlemen, make me cry or make me horny." That was the sort of world
   I grew up in, a newspaper business that didn't take itself nearly as
   seriously as it takes itself now; and I would argue, it was a much
   better, livelier business than it has become.
   To begin, to back up the argument in my book, Second Front, I always
   prefer a literary reference to a historical one -- that is when I can
   get away with it.
   During the summer vacation, and gratefully overcoming my phobia about
   Henry James, I had the good fortune to discover two terrifically
   useful quotations in one novel, The Portrait of a Lady, that bear
   directly on those arguments I make in Second Front. In fact, if I had
   known about them two years ago I would have used them in the book.
   The first quotation deals with the attitude of Americans toward war,
   certainly in the nineteenth century, but, I believe, in some ways it
   is still our basic attitude. Bear with me if you know the story of The
   Portrait of a Lady. James' heroine, the young, attractive and
   intelligent Isabel Archer has been pursued, by among other men, a
   certain Casper Goodwood, a Massachusetts textile heir of energy and
   literal mindedness -- in short, a member of the class that I like to
   refer to as the "working rich." James describes him this way, "It
   always struck people who knew him that he might do greater things than
   carry on a cotton factory. There was nothing cottony about Casper
   Goodwood. And his friends took him for granted that he would not
   always content himself with that. He had once said to Isabel that if
   the United States were not such a confoundedly peaceful nation, he
   would find his proper place in the Army."
   In the Gulf War story, George Bush plays a version of Casper Goodwood,
   the son of the New England political and business aristocracy,
   desperate to prove himself in war, trying to overcome the confoundedly
   peaceful tendencies of his fellow citizens, which stand in the way of
   his enormous ambition.
   Another character in the novel is Isabel's friend, Henrietta
   Stackpole. Henrietta is as straight-forward and energetic as Goodwood,
   but her trade is journalism and she is constantly trying to tell
   Isabel the truth, which is the very bad news that the man Isabel
   eventually marries is a selfish, narrow-minded prig. Now regarding the
   husband's poor opinion of her, of Henrietta, James quotes Henrietta
   this way, "I don't know and I don't care. He is perfectly welcome not
   to like me. I don't want everyone to like me. I should think less of
   myself if some people did."
   A journalist can't hope to do much good unless he gets hated a good
   deal. That's the way he knows his work goes on. Henrietta, who works
   for The New York Interviewer speaks in the honest journalist idiom
   displayed in my book by Dan Rather, who denounces the new era of what
   he calls "suck-up journalism." He describes to me how he's become an
   alien in a world in which his boss is urgent to become more likable --
   not hated, but more likable. Rather can remember the day not so long
   ago when reporters were rewarded for being more like Henrietta
   Now, do these nineteenth century assumptions about America,
   fundamentally peaceful and protected from the Casper Goodwoods by a
   fiercely independent and rambunctious press, still apply in the
   present day? Sadly they don't.
   On the one hand, in the Gulf War story we have a president of great
   energy and ambition who drags his reluctant countrymen into war
   through a carefully orchestrated and largely fraudulent public
   relations campaign. Standing between Bush and his ambition there
   should have been a whole army of Henrietta Stackpoles asking
   unpleasant and probing questions. In 1881 it could be assumed that
   most reporters and publishers would have generally agreed with
   Henrietta's assessment of the journalist destiny to be hated. But what
   Bush encountered in the late twentieth century instead was a group of
   tame and timid press agents incapable, or unwilling for the most part,
   of doing even the most basic police reporting. Not to mention asking
   probing and intelligent questions about foreign policy, foreign
   countries, war and peace, etc., etc.
   Worse still, Bush found among the media a cadre of "journalists" who
   did their best to perpetrate the propaganda that proved successful in
   driving this country into the Gulf War.
   Again, I assume that most of you have not read my book. I will
   summarize what I think are the three great frauds produced by the
   White House with the cooperation, eager or passive depending on your
   point of view, of the U.S. media.
   First, we have the campaign to prove that Saddam Hussein was the
   reincarnation of Adolph Hitler rather than what he is, which is a
   violent Arab dictator of the sort the United States frequently likes
   to back. A subset of this campaign was to paint the Kuwaitis as a
   freedom-loving people moving inexorably toward democracy. This was
   done with very sophisticated maneuvering, costing a lot of money,
   namely with something called Citizens for a Free Kuwait (CFK), which
   of course implies that American citizens are rallying to the Kuwaiti
   cause from all over the country. Citizens for a Free Kuwait forms
   itself about a week after Saddam invades Kuwait and they hire Hill &
   Knowlton, the public relations firm, and ultimately pays it $11
   million to create what was one of the most brilliantly orchestrated
   public relations campaigns in history. It really should go down in the
   record books, and I am hoping that someone will do a scholarly book on
   it someday.
   I went to visit Citizens for a Free Kuwait, or what was left of it, a
   few months after the Gulf War ended when I was doing research on my
   book. I went to see a Mr. Ibrahim, who was the titular head of CFK.
   The first time I realized something fishy was going on when he pulled
   out a stack of atrocity photographs. I went through them and thought
   this looks pretty awful -- people with odd pieces of metal jammed into
   their bodies in various places.
   It looked quite horrible, but the photographs were a little out of
   focus. I went through them a second time and I realized that they were
   mannequins. They had literally dressed up mannequins as torture
   This is not to say that Saddam did not kill Kuwaitis and did not
   torture Kuwaitis but these fraudulent photographs became the stock and
   trade of the Hill & Knowlton campaign.
   Now, the absolute piéce de resistance of this propaganda campaign, as
   you may have heard, was the baby-incubator atrocity. In August, the
   word started coming out of Kuwait from anonymous sources who were
   interviewed by reporters, who, as I said, did not do the most
   fundamental police reporting -- like asking for last names, addresses,
   ages, occupations, etc., etc., -- saying that Iraqi soldiers were
   pulling babies out of incubators and killing them that way in Kuwaiti
   Hill & Knowlton is very well connected on Capitol Hill and at the
   White House. The senior account people on the Kuwaiti account included
   Craig Fuller, Bush's former chief of staff when Bush was Vice
   President, and various other mucky mucks who know how to make things
   happen on Capitol Hill. They set up a hearing with the Congressional
   Human Rights caucus, chaired by Tom Lantos, the Bay Area congressman,
   and John Edward Porter of Illinois, in which they were going to expose
   Iraqi atrocities for the benefit of the caucus and the American
   Anyway, there was an incredible conflict of interest between the
   caucus and Hill & Knowlton, the most important aspect of which was
   that the Congressional Human Rights Foundation, which was a
   fund-raising arm of the caucus, had its offices, rent-free, in the
   Hill & Knowlton headquarters. The Hill & Knowlton executives were also
   representing as clients habitual human rights violators like Turkey,
   Indonesia and China. You might ask yourself why Lantos and Porter were
   allowing this arrangement. In any event, the star of the hearing was a
   young 15 year-old girl named Nayirah -- no last name, no address, no
   occupation -- who said that she had volunteered at Kuwaiti hospitals
   and had seen the babies pulled from incubators and left to die on the
   cold floor.
   Now, to this day, I cannot tell you whether or not this story, which
   turned out to be utterly fake, was manufactured by historically-astute
   public relations executives in collaboration with the Kuwaitis, who
   had read World War I history and had learned how successful the German
   atrocities against Belgian babies and nuns had been in getting public
   opinion on the side of the allies and getting the United States into
   that war.
   Nobody at the hearing, no reporter said, "Nayirah, that is a terrible
   story; I am on the verge of tears. But what did you do after you put
   the babies on the floor to die? Did you call for help, did you try to
   pick one up, what happened then?"
   The most fundamental and most elementary questions that a reporter is
   supposed to ask were not asked. Niyarah was a fantastic propaganda
   success. Hill & Knowlton made a brilliant little video news release
   out of it, which they beamed all over the world. It was on NBC Nightly
   News and millions and millions of people saw this. My brother saw
   Niyarah testify, and it brought him to tears. That was the beginning
   of the campaign. The campaign had begun to "get legs" as we say in the
   public relations and news business.
   Then they went to the United Nations and they did the same thing at
   the Security Council. There was a certain Dr. Behbehani, who you may
   remember testified that he was a surgeon who had personally seen the
   burial of 40 babies pulled from incubators.
   It turns out that Dr. Behbehani was a dentist, not a surgeon; and he
   admitted after the war that he had lied, he made the whole thing up!
   But again, it was grist for the public relations mill, it was
   terrifically successful. Every time you put this stuff on camera --
   and they staged it all very, very successfully -- you make a video
   news release out of it and WZZZ in San Antonio can just pop it into
   the console and make it part of their evening news. It's got a longer
   life than just the day of the hearing or the day of the security
   counsel hearing. It gets used again and again and again as filler for
   tonight's roundup on Saddam-Hitler, Iraqi atrocities.
   I did a little math and found out that the polls showed a country
   pretty much divided 50-50 on sanctions versus hostilities back in
   December 1990 and January 1991. But when the vote was finally taken in
   the Senate, you may recall, it passed by five votes and in favor of
   war. Six Senators cited the baby-incubator atrocity as a principal
   reason -- sort of a final, compelling reason to vote for the
   resolution over their initial or instinctive reluctance to go to war.
   Several others who voted for the resolution said they thought Iraqi
   atrocities in general were a good reason to go to war. As you may
   know, Niyarah was not only a liar, but she was the daughter of the
   Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States. That is the story I revealed
   in The New York Times in January of 1992 on the op-ed page.
   So, you have the country going to war, essentially, I believe, over
   human rights, not over oil, not over realpolitik, not over America's
   destiny to police the world, but really over human rights. This is
   what swung the balance. That a good part of the human rights
   atrocities story was fake suggests that we were mislead, conned,
   whatever you want to say.
   The second great fraud that I think took place during the Gulf War
   build-up was, and this is a little more obscure, the premise for
   sending troops in, in the first place.
   You remember that Bush sent troops in order to defend Saudi Arabia
   against a possible invasion from Kuwait by the Iraqis. But there were
   Soviet satellite photographs available of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia
   taken on September 11 and 13 1990. Those photographs showed very
   clearly the American troop concentration on the Saudi side of the
   border. They showed no Iraqi troop concentrations on the Kuwaiti side
   of the border, nothing.
   Several news organizations had access to these photographs, including
   Newsweek, ABC and The Chicago Tribune. Sam Donaldson personally looked
   at them and thought about going with them. But they all spiked the
   story because they were too scared to publish a story that
   contradicted what the government was saying, which was essentially
   that there was a huge number of Iraqi soldiers poised or prepared to
   invade Saudi Arabia, which of course was the premise for sending the
   In January, just before the Senate debate on the war resolution, The
   St. Petersburg Times finally published the photographs. The only
   newspaper in the country to publish these was in St. Petersburg,
   Florida, so the wire services didn't pick it up and television didn't
   pick it up. (If you lived in St. Petersburg, you were the best
   informed American on the subject of Iraq's threat to Saudi Arabia.)
   After the famous April Glaspie gaff, she was called home. Remember
   what she did? She said to Saddam that the United States takes no
   position in border disputes between Arab countries or between Iraq and
   Kuwait, which some people think encouraged Saddam to invade. In April,
   a reporter caught her on the fly walking down the street and he asked,
   "How did you manage to screw up so badly, April?" She said, "We didn't
   think he'd take the whole thing."
   I strongly believe that the invasion threat was fake. Even Schwarzkopf
   in his autobiography skirts the question. He's very careful because, I
   think, he's afraid that evidence may come out that the invasion threat
   wasn't what we had said it was. If you read his autobiography, he
   says, even if the Iraqis weren't intending to invade Saudi Arabia, it
   was a good thing to go after them.
   The third canard is the nuclear threat. If you recall, there was a
   great deal said about Saddam's nuclear capability and quite a bit of
   hysterical posturing on that subject. I found out from a very, very
   reliable government source -- and it's public, if you want to see it
   -- that the estimates on Saddam's potential for building a crude
   atomic bomb that he could conceivably use, range from two weeks to
   fifteen years. If you put together all the expert opinion on it. I've
   thought since I've started looking into this, the economic embargo
   made it impossible for him to complete work on the bomb, even if he
   was aggressively trying to do it and even if he had the capability.
   The second factor that people didn't discuss of course was Seymour
   Hersh's revelation that the Israelis have 300 nuclear warheads and are
   perfectly prepared to use them if necessary. During the war in 1974
   with Egypt, Golda Meir actually prepared the military for a nuclear
   strike on Egypt. You have to remember that the Israelis had already
   taken out a nuclear reactor in Baghdad in 1981, so the idea that the
   world was going to sit by and let Saddam build a bomb and use it is
   not only tenuous, but with a full blown economic blockade on Iraq, it
   doesn't seem very plausible that he could complete the program even
   under, as I said, less than optimal circumstances. But this was again
   very, very effective because people said, "Well, even if this is the
   case and that is the case, and Bush is really trying to do this over
   oil or some other reason, it's a good thing to destroy his nuclear
   program." I suppose it is still a fairly good argument.
   Were we conned into the war? I really do feel we were. Remember how
   close that Senate vote was? At least we could have hoped for a better
   account of the battle such as it was. My editor, Lewis Lapham, at
   Harper's calls it "the suppression of a mob." That's really a better
   description of the Gulf War.
   But the censorship was so extraordinary and the media was so passive
   in the face of it that, of course, we got a terrible view of what the
   war actually looked like and what occurred during the war.
   In his introduction, David Theroux referred to one example:
   Schwarzkopf and the mobile Scud-launchers. The story was first broken
   by Mark Crispen Miller, on the op-ed page of The New York Times last
   year, that Schwarzkopf had been briefed before he went on television,
   and went ahead anyway with the misinformation about the alleged Scud
   hits. This issue incidentally came up in the lawsuit against the
   government's campaign of censorship, which Harper's Magazine
   participated in, led by The Nation. We couldn't get any major media
   companies to join the law suit. In my book, I interview people like
   Ben Bradlee and Katherine Graham of The Washington Post who show a
   marked indifference to the whole thing. You have to understand that if
   Ben Bradlee, or especially Katherine Graham, doesn't care enough to do
   anything about it, nothing is going to get done. It's just not going
   to get done. The institutional opposition is just not going to happen.
   I could go into great detail about how the media bureaucrats in
   Washington, D.C., colluded in their own demise but it's a very, very
   sad and pathetic story.
   What is a poor citizen do, given that you've got ambitious politicians
   who want to put one over on you, and you've got reporters who don't
   want to do anything about it, don't want to ask questions, don't know
   how to do basic reporting anymore? All I can advise you to do is to do
   your own reporting and reading.
   I don't want to give you a sense of hopelessness because it's not
   hopeless. The best media critics were A. J. Liebling, H. L. Mencken
   and Walter Karp -- and I recommend all their books to you and all
   their articles. But what about the journalists themselves, what about
   the reporters themselves? As Rather had said, our kind of reporter,
   the kind of reporter I think of myself as being and he fantasizes he
   once was a tough guy reporter, afraid of no one, ready to challenge
   power at every step -- is virtually extinct. You know the sort of
   reporter who really likes to put a politician's feet to the fire, who
   enjoys it, who has a kind of a mean streak.
   I am going to speak to the University of California Graduate School of
   Journalism tonight, and I am going to ask the students, "How many of
   you really feel that you have the stomach for this, the sort of mean
   streak, or that you get the joy out of getting a politician angry,
   that is required to do good journalism?"
   But the situation just seems to get worse and worse. I don't know if
   any of you noticed, but Harper's, in conjunction with Nightline, broke
   a story in August about a document that seemed to show that George
   Bush strafed lifeboats in World War II. This is a document that was
   floating around in the media before the election while Bush is bashing
   Clinton's draft-dodging and trumpeting his own wartime achievements
   and no one would publish it. Newsweek wouldn't publish it, U.S. News &
   World Report wouldn't publish it. They wouldn't even ask Bush for
   comment on it.
   Harper's published it in the September issue, but believe me, we were
   not congratulated by our colleagues. In fact, I went on a couple of
   radio shows with the media critic of Newsweek, Jonathan Alter.
   Jonathan, who was supposed to be a media critic spent a good ten
   minutes explaining why the document was insignificant. So that at the
   end of five minutes of this explication, I said, isn't this great to
   have the media critic for Newsweek magazinedoing George Bush's
   explaining for him.
   That is precisely what was going on during the Gulf War, during the
   build-up and during the Gulf War. Ninety-five percent of the reporters
   were doing their damnedest to interpret or to help explicate the
   government's version of the war. That is what journalists do now. It
   is not even stenography as David Theroux described it. It's worse than
   stenography now, it's extra public relations help.
   Through the Freedom of Information Act request I was able to get this
   wonderful conversation between Pete Williams, the chief Pentagon
   spokesman and his underlings in Dhahran, where he actually says, "Look
   guys, you may get some gripes from the reporters who feel unhappy
   about being confined in pools and not getting to the action and so on,
   but, to tell you the truth, there's a big portion of them that are
   just doing this for show, they really want to help." "Sort of tweak it
   up a little bit," is the way Williams put it.
   We're now in a situation where you've got powerful newspaper
   executives like Al Neuharth, the former chairman of the Gannett chain
   making idiotic statements like, "There are no more secrets in the
   world." From the highest mountain to the lowest valley. Connie Chung,
   I guess, whose much more likable than Dan Rather, and who is now his
   co-anchor. Pete Williams is now a reporter -- the guy who lied again
   and again during the Gulf War and lied directly to me. I can honestly
   call him a liar and never lose a liable suit. He is now a reporter for
   NBC. Bob Woodward, the hero of Watergate, sits on stories. One of the
   best stories of the pre-Gulf War period was the revelation which we
   received in his book after the Gulf War that Colin Powell opposed --
   alone in the administration -- military action and a military solution
   in the Gulf War. I think that's something that would have formed the
   debate before the war. But he sat on the story and it was left to Bob
   Edwards, our friend on Morning Edition to say, "Gee, isn't that a
   little odd, I mean in Watergate you broke stories as the story was
   unfolding." Woodward gave some half-assed response about, "Well, it
   wasn't like any great crime was being committed."
   What all this does is to discourage reporters or young people going
   into journalism to try to do what I think is the right thing, which is
   to get in trouble, make trouble and make people mad at them on behalf
   of the public. And of course, get the public angry from time to time.
   But I am afraid that if you polled most journalism students today,
   you'd find that a good number of them are hoping to become Sam
   Donaldson, who sat on the satellite photographs because he was too
   scared to go with them, or Diane Sawyer, who was an assistant press
   agent for Nixon -- does anybody know that she followed Nixon into
   exile for 2 years? She continued working for him after Watergate --
   rather than Seymour Hersh, who is one of my heroes, and a real nasty
   son-of-a-bitch who just broke a very good story in The New Yorker. Or
   they want to be George Stephanopolis or they even want to be a Hill &
   Knowlton p.r. executive because that's where the action is today,
   that's where the rewards are.
   Like Henrietta Stackpole, I am dedicated to the notion that it is a
   great thing to be hated, or at least, I accept it as part of the
   territory of being a serious reporter. And, I think, what could be
   better than to be hated by Frank Lankowitz and Robert Gray of Hill &
   Knowlton or, for that matter by George Bush or Robert Stinnet, who is
   outraged that I am speaking here today? Stinnet, of course, was Bush's
   wartime biographer, and he is the guy who left the strafing report out
   of the biography.
   But what is a little disturbing is to be hated by my putative
   colleagues in the press. And I am hated by them because I go around
   attacking them and telling them that they are slobs and lazy and tools
   of the establishment and hand-maidens to political power. And they
   hate me for it. But it is getting to the point that things are so
   polarized I really don't have any choice but to do this. To go around
   saying that politicians are lying to you and you have got to be aware,
   without pointing out that one of our big problems is that reporters
   themselves are helping amplify the lies, I would not be giving you the
   whole story, and that is what I am supposed to do as a journalist and
   a publisher.
   Nowadays the courtiers in the press want to be invited to parties at
   the White House or Jack Kent Cook's box at RFK Stadium. They want to
   be loved, and this is paradoxical: they want to be loved by the
   politicians and by the masses, by the general public. They want
   celebrity status and they want access to the halls of power. But
   ultimately, of course, as Jefferson said, and I am paraphrasing, "At
   some point in one's life, one has to choose between the interests of
   the many and the interests of the few." This balancing act is very
   dangerous for reporters and editorial people because, at a certain
   point, if you choose the interests of a few too often and it gets
   exposed, it can bring you down -- at least that's my hope.
   The only way your interest -- the public interest -- is going to be
   represented in the media is if you get wise to what is going on and
   you let the media know that you are dissatisfied. It takes I think
   $100 million to start a daily newspaper, and good luck trying to do
   so. But there has got to be some way that you get your message across
   that you are not happy, that you are not satisfied with the situation.
   That's the only hope.
   Q: Who really supports the McNeil-Lehrer Newshour? Who pays for it?
   MacArthur: AT&T is the principal underwriter, along with PBS. I don't
   think the McNeil-Lehrer Newshour is any worse than CNN or any other
   news organization. What McNeil-Lehrer is and what most news
   organizations are these days are basically passive institutions.
   Walter Karp's great insight, that it is not an ideological conspiracy
   by the media or by reporters to keep you in the dark, it is a passive
   reaction, a sort of folding inward in the face of political power.
   The way the game is played in Washington and New York is if the White
   House says or the congressional leadership says, "This is news," it
   becomes news. . Remember Bush decided that Somalia was news because he
   was in a bad mood about the likelihood of losing and he wanted to send
   a Christmas card to the American people. So, it became news.
   Government sets the news agenda, not Robin McNeil and Jim Lehrer and
   not AT&T and not PBS. I am not unloading on the McNeil-Lehrer
   Newshour, they are no worse than anybody else.
   Q: If the questions are not being asked, then isn't the information
   never going to get out to the public?
   MacArthur: As I said, the reward system is such that you don't get
   rewarded for asking those questions. You get punished, you get
   criticized, you get insulted. You start asking and McNeil-Lehrer
   specializes in putting institutional government spokesman on and
   newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post or news
   organizations like McNeil-Lehrer are very dependent on their
   relationships with government. They need guests for their shows; they
   need leaks to make it look like they are reporting the news and so on
   and so forth.
   If Robin McNeil suddenly gets mean and asks that question, the White
   House or whoever sent the spokesman is going to say. "We are not going
   to send him next time, Robin. We are not going to invite you to the
   Christmas party and we are not going to invite you to dinner with the
   Under-Secretary of State and you are going to get frozen out, if you
   do that too often.
   I believe that the power of corporations is exaggerated in this
   country. I really do go against all of my left-wing friends and
   colleagues on this one. The real power in this country is with elected
   politicians and bureaucrats. And it is not bribery or influence from
   AT&T, it is the government that sets the news agenda. It is a reward
   system and unless you have owners, and there is really no alternative
   to private enterprise in the media, it is up to the owners to set a
   tone for the reporters where they are rewarded for asking the tough
   questions. The media today are not.
   Q: Aren't corporations really responsible for electing politicians and
   hence the policies and misinformation that results?
   MacArthur: No, I think it is a misconception that corporations bribe
   politicians. What happens is politicians shake down corporations. It
   is a shakedown operation ,and it is too easy, and we get into trouble
   when we say this because it is tempting to say that politics is ruled
   by money. No, the country is ruled by politicians and they shake down
   whomever they can shake down for money to advance their causes and
   maintain control. Look, you have got to read Walter Karp, we are going
   to publish Indispensable Enemies. You've got to read it. Harper's is
   going to reissue it. You should all buy a copy.
   Q: With regards to Bob Simon, while Rather was crying crocodile tears
   about CBS not joining the nations and saying how terrible it was that
   everybody was kowtowing to Bush, I don't exactly know if it happened
   when he said the photographs were available, but Simon drove out past
   the American lines to find the enemy. I believe that it took him eight
   hours. That story was covered prominently, his capture and such. And
   in that respect, weren't the journalists there responsible for not
   bringing up the point that it took eight hours to find the enemy,
   rather than the fact that he was captured by the Iraqi "baby-killers"?
   MacArthur: That is a very astute point because I limit my comments
   about Bob Simon by saying, "Hurray for Bob Simon." He is one of the
   only reporters who tried to break away from the pool system and the
   censorship system to go out and do some independent reporting, and he
   paid for it.
   What is also terrible is that his colleagues -- while they did
   publicize his capture -- and didn't ask the question that you are
   asking, because it is true. I interviewed Simon. He went to the border
   and there was nobody there except the Saudi border guard all by
   himself and he asked, "Have you seen any Iraqis?" and the guard said,
   "No. I haven't seen anybody, you want to go look?" I mean it is all
   sand, there is no fence. So they say. "What the hell," and they drove
   into the desert looking for Iraqis. In the distance they see one jeep
   with three Iraqis in it and they have got guns and they arrest them.
   But he doesn't see anything along the border anywhere that suggests an
   invading army is encamped.
   Another insidious thing that happened is that any reporters who tried
   to play ball with the government, they tried to get favors in exchange
   for operating with the government and the military were critical of
   Simon for not behaving like a good Boy Scout. Simon cheated. That is
   another thing I urge reporters to do is to buy and cheat in the name
   of truth. You know he would put on combat fatigues and he and his
   cameramen impersonated soldiers, which got them past checkpoints and
   got them out into the field. A lot of reporters said, "Oh, that is
   terrible; they cheated." It is another world than the one that I came
   up in and I am only 37 years-old. Things have really changed.
   Q: Is it possible that the reason the press really didn't cover the
   Gulf War adequately is because the feeling of the country at the time
   is that we didn't want another Vietnam, we wanted to feel good about
   this war, we wanted to win this war?
   MacArthur: Yes. Once the war had begun, up to that point people were
   deeply ambivalent. Remember it was 50-50 after an enormous, expensive
   an very sophisticated public relations campaign. The country was still
   pretty much divided on sanctions versus war on January 11 when the
   Senate debate began. It was still pretty much divided in the polls.
   And it was a tribute to our confoundedly peaceful instincts that
   Casper Goodwood is complaining about that in the face of this
   onslaught, half the people were still skeptical about the war option.
   Does that answer your question?
   Q: Do you know where the $11 million that was raised rather quickly
   for the advertising of the Hill & Knowlton public relations budget
   came from?
   MacArthur: It was all Kuwaiti government money. Citizens for a Free
   Kuwait was a complete fraud. I counted the amount of money. I believe
   American citizens contributed about $312, some poor gullible souls.
   The Kuwaiti government contributed about $11 million. It was all fake.
   Q: Why didn't the Kuwaiti Army or defenses put up a battle when they
   were invaded?
   MacArthur: I am not an expert on Kuwaiti culture. I tried to learn as
   much about the Kuwaitis as I could but they are not noted as fighters.
   They are noted as pearl divers and that is how they built their
   fortune in the eighteenth century. One of the great ironies of Kuwaiti
   history is that in the mid-1930s, when Iraq was ruled by a nationalist
   king who wanted the British out, the Kuwaitis begged for a merger with
   Iraq, which the British could not permit because of their
   divide-and-rule policy. Suddenly the king of Iraq died in a car
   accident and there were actually pro-union riots in Kuwait, but then
   oil was discovered and the Kuwaitis discovered they didn't need Iraq.
   I think the Kuwaitis have a real claim to sovereignty in a sense that
   it is fashionable and cynical to say, "Well, all these borders were
   drawn by the British in a tent," but there is a sort of Kuwaiti
   organism that exists from the 18th century onward. There is a culture.
   All the people, all the imported labor, doesn't get to participate in
   Kuwaiti society in equal terms. The Palestinians, the Filipino
   domestic workers who get brutalized and raped and beaten up and so on
   and so forth. None of those people get to participate. But there is a
   Kuwaiti culture, and it is not noted for its military valor.
   Q: Do you remember the piece that appeared in The New York Post about
   Bush being a war hero and the tailgunner flying in formation and the
   story was apparently that the tailgunner saw no puff of smoke. Bush
   jettisoned the two guys in the tail, and let them go down in flames.
   MacArthur: I am inclined to give Bush the benefit of the doubt on that
   one because I think I would have done the same thing, probably, but
   who knows? The interesting thing about that story though, is that as
   you say, only one installment ran. It was supposed to be a six-part
   series. They killed the last five parts. The main witness who was in
   the plane behind Bush's and who was the main source for the story, the
   White House got to. It is sort of known in the business that the White
   House got to him. We don't know how they got to him, but he said in an
   interview a few months later that he was contacted by the White House
   and now his version of what happened is different, period. I think
   that the strafing story is a really interesting story, not a
   definitive story but it is one that we should have known about.
   Q: You spoke about the symbiotic relationship between the government
   and the media, would you speak a little more about proposal solutions
   that you would endorse?
   MacArthur: Well, as I said, since freedom of the press is really
   guaranteed only to those who own one, there is no clear solution other
   than self-education. I mean, my book sold 12,000 copies and you can
   read it. It is not a mass market best-seller. I did get on to "60
   Minutes" with the Nayirah story, which reached 30 million people, but
   that is a fluke. I mean, not to take anything away from my reporting
   skills, but the timing was right and "60 Minutes" jumped on it when
   they saw it on the op-ed page of The New York Times. The op-ed editor
   of the Times, Mike Levitas is a real news-man. He came up in the 1950s
   when journalists were called reporters and they didn't take on airs
   and so-on. And so he said, "Hey, that is a great story. Let's do it.
   Let's play it up." But that doesn't happen very often.
   There is one solution which Liebling suggested, which is the endowed
   newspaper or the endowed magazine and interestingly enough, The St.
   Petersburg Times is such a newspaper. It is owned by a foundation. It
   is allowed to operate for profit for the benefit of the Nelson
   Poyntner Foundation because Poyntner was an unusual guy who wanted to
   make sure that his way of doing business would continue into the
   future. So the editor of The St. Petersburg Times -- his name is Andy
   Barnes -- could on his own steam, show up in the Washington bureau one
   day, on the day the reporter who broke the satellite photograph story
   was looking for authorization to pay $3,000 for one more photograph to
   complete the puzzle from the Soviet agency, and she said, "Hey, Andy,
   can I have the money to buy it? I have got an interesting story," and
   Andy said, "Sure, you can do it." Now I do have to tell you that
   getting money out of an editor at a modern newspaper is like pulling
   teeth -- especially if it is connected with a controversial story like
   this that could get the paper into trouble. It just doesn't happen
   like that anymore. But Barnes, because he has got independence written
   into Poyntner's will, runs the paper. So he can do whatever the hell
   he wants. Similarly, Harper's Magazine is owned by a foundation, and I
   can do anything I want. I don't have to answer to stock holders, etc.,
   etc. I have to answer to my board, but my board generally agrees with
   what I am doing and what Lewis Lapham is doing.
   Q: Aside from The St. Petersburg Times, were there any other bright
   lights news organizations in the Gulf War?
   MacArthur: Yes, there are individual stories like the Bob Simon story
   that is a bright light. You know, I have a footnote at the back of the
   book: A story of four free-lancers who tried to do something
   different. One of them is a local guy by the name of Jonathan Franklin
   who got hired as an assistant, as a temporary mortician at Dover Air
   Force Base. He took classes to learn how to be a mortician so that he
   could be hired at Dover. So that he could find out if the body count
   the Pentagon was giving us matched the number of bodies coming into
   Dover. Jonathan Franklin has appeared in the San Francisco Bay
   Guardian and a few alternative papers. Jonathan Franklin is the only
   reporter that I know who saw an American corpse in the Gulf War. It is
   sort of a stunt, but don't you think that it is a pretty good one? I
   mean I applaud that kind of initiative.
   A British freelancer who had been in the British Army, put on his old
   regimental uniform and commandeered a Bradley fighting vehicle, by
   pulling rank on the Americans who were running it. He drove off and he
   got the best footage anybody got of the armored battle during the Gulf
   An Englishman living in Toronto, Paul Roberts, went in on camelback
   from Jordan into Iraq and risked his life to come out with a really,
   really good story which appeared in Saturday Night, a Canadian
   These guys are few and far between, and they are not celebrated. They
   are not famous for what they did. The most egregious surrender that
   occurred during the Gulf War in terms of symbolism and so-on, and I
   suppose in substance, was that the four big dailies, the big national
   dailies like the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington
   Post, The Wall Street Journal, all pulled their correspondents from
   Peter Arnett stayed; of course, he is a bright light. But the big four
   papers ordered their people out. The Los Angeles Times guy fought to
   stay in and finally was reduced to saying to his boss, his former
   editor, "I have to stay because my wife, Lucia Anuziatta has to stay
   for her paper, La Republica." The Los Angeles Times foreign editor
   said no.
   Q: When and more importantly, why did this transition start to happen?
   Was it USA Today, was it CNN?
   MacArthur: Mark Hertsgaard wrote a book called On Bended Knee which is
   about the transition between more or less combative reporting and
   suck-up journalism. What I think happened -- and you have got to
   remember that The Washington Post was all by itself. And we don't know
   who Deep Throat was first of all. We don't know if Deep Throat was a
   high government official who made Watergate safe for The Washington
   Post until we know who Deep Throat was. The jury is out on how brave
   and independent the The Washington Post really was. Nonetheless they
   did the right thing and they pursued the story and we should all be
   grateful for it but you have got to think back to 1972 when Woodward
   and Bernstein were breaking their stories. Nobody was following up.
   I worked at The Washington Star in 1978, that was only six years
   later, and the reporters used to joke about how it was their job to
   knock down the Watergate stories that Woodward and Bernstein were
   publishing. Nobody was following up. There was the famous story of
   CBS, where Walter Cronkite was going to do a special on Watergate.
   Paley, the owner personally intervened and cut it down, cut it in
   half, for the election when it would have done some good.
   Remember, it wasn't that great; it was better in the late 1960s and
   early 1970s. Then I think what happens is you have a collective sort
   of retrenchment because journalism executives and owners are
   essentially conservative people and there is still a lot of guilt
   around about bringing Nixon down. Very strange psychology. Fifteen
   years later, Nixon gives a speech to the American Society of Newspaper
   Publishers and is given a standing ovation. Okay?
   Q: At the end of the war, we saw General Schwarzkopf kind of unveiling
   the entire strategy of the troops, and what area we occupied and how
   we moved in. I was just wondering, was that necessary?
   MacArthur: His famous briefing at the end where he says Saddam Hussein
   is a jerk and not a soldier or whatever? Yes, I believe some of it is
   true, but some of it is not true. Everything was graphics and logos
   and the stage-managing was all very carefully thought out. Yes, the
   final part of that press conference is part of that campaign to make
   it look like he is a brilliant strategist and did everything right and
   that he is a great war-leader. Not everybody agrees that Schwarzkopf
   is tactically brilliant. If you read the after-action reports of the
   Air Force, the Navy and the Army, they all claim credit for having won
   the Gulf War without any help with the other service branches. The Air
   Force's is the most interesting report because they say, and I think
   they are probably right, that the war was over in the first ten
   minutes. The great irony is because they knocked out Hussein's
   command-and-control center. He was blind after the first 15 minutes;
   electronically blind after 15 minutes. The way that the Air Force knew
   that they had won the war was that Peter Arnett went dark on CNN. They
   had knocked out his wire; they cheered in the Situation Room in
   Washington when Arnett went dark because they knew that everything was
   over. Everything after that initial bombing campaign is just slaughter
   -- just out and out slaughter with the Iraqis just taking it. Whether
   the allies came in this way or that is irrelevant, I believe.
   Q: What do you say to the journalism students and how do you spark
   enough harassability and meanness into them?
   MacArthur: You have got to fortify them with a sense that at the end
   of their careers, at the end of their lives, they are going to feel a
   lot better about themselves if they try to tell the truth than if they
   only made a million dollars, or that they got invited to the White
   House for dinner five times.
      © 1996 The Independent Institute. Permission is granted to reprint or
      broadcast this article if credit is given to the author and to the
      Independent Institute. Nothing in this article should be interpreted as
      necessarily reflecting the views of the Independent Institute or as an
      attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any legislation.
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