Watching the mainstream and online media begin to "confuse" Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama with Al Qaeda terrorist scum Osama bin Laden reminded me of Operation Mockingbird, the CIA's ultra top-secret project.
Operation Mockingbird came to light in the U.S. Senate's Church Committee investigation, led by Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) in 1975, during the Gerald Ford Administration. It was launched following Watergate, which not only revealed that Richard Nixon was a paranoid borderline fascist, but that the CIA and FBI were full of rogue agents doing lots of illegal things.
One of those illegal things was a successful CIA effort to influence domestic and foreign media called Operation Mockingbird. Begun in 1948, it recruited top publishers and reporters throughout the media, including Washington Post Publisher Philip Graham, managing editor Ben Bradlee, The New York Times' publishing patriarch Arthur Hays Sulzberger and CBS CEO William Paley. These are just the biggest names; there are many, many more. Do a Google search and some names will surprise (or perhaps sicken) you.
Understandably, there has not been a lot of coverage--past or present--about Operation Mockingbird. The journalists who would be writing about it would be exposing and embarrassing the very news organizations they work for. Some of the best investigative reporting on Operation Mockingbird was done by Carl Bernstein, the other half of the Washington Post's Watergate team, when he left the paper in an October 1977 issue of Rolling Stone.
The Time-Life empire got a lot of play from Operation Mockingbird, and I thought of it while reading one of my Christmas presents, the well-balanced investigative tome "The JFK Assassination Debates," by Michael Kurtz.
I'd forgotten that for a long time, the now notorious Zapruder film, which shows Kennedy's murder in excruciating detail--and all but destroys the notion of a lone gunman--was kept from public viewing. The exclusive rights to the short snuff film were purchased by Time-Life magazine. The public was only allowed to see stills from the film until it was subpoenaed by attorney Jim Garrison in 1969 for his conspiracy trial against Clay Shaw, charged with participating in the JFK assassination.
The Zapruder film was the close-to-concrete proof that the results of the Warren Commission, which investigated the JFK murder, was built around a central lie: the so-called "Magic Bullet." The theory: one bullet caused all Kennedy's wounds but the head wound, as well as all the wounds on Texas Governor John Connelly.
How do we know the Warren Commission lied?
Commission member Gerald Ford said so in an Associated Press story from 1993. He didn't really want to, of course, but the Assassination Review Board--which reopened the JFK assassination investigation after the Church Committee's report--discovered handwritten notes from Ford, which revealed that he changed the phrasing and omitted several key words from the Warren Commission's original draft that altered the facts about where the "Magic Bullet" entered Kennedy's body, making sure it supported the lone gunman theory.
Is Operation Mockingbird back in business? Beats me. If it were, and even if some members of the media knew about it, perhaps they are being kept quiet because it might affect matters of national security. I do find it interesting that the nonprofit Center for Media and Democracy recently removed all its material about the project. The center has not returned my phone call or email asking about that development.
One final thing: Here's a great, on the record quote from William Colby, former director of the CIA: "The Central Intelligence Agency owns everyone of any significance in the major media."
Colby--you probably don't remember--was replaced as director of the CIA by the first president Bush. He died in a freak boating accident in 1996. His body, sans lifejacket, was found 20 yards from his canoe, more than a week after he was reported missing, and after the area where he was finally found had been thoroughly searched several times.
One other thing: The Church Committee revealed a ton of other information that few people remember: JFK's attempts to use the Mafia to kill Castro, for example. It also mentions one of the other CIA projects, Operation Chaos.
The Christmas and holiday season is a great time for politicians, if they've got something to hide. Almost everyone else is so busy trying to focus on friends, family and the pursuit of personal happiness that if you quietly release bad or embarrassing information, there's a decent chance no one is going to notice. Earlier this week, MediaPost reported that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin quietly released 88 commission studies about media consolidation the Friday before New Year's weekend, including a couple that were squelched because they didn't toe the GOP party line. Yesterday, the New York Daily News reported that President Bush added a signing statement to a postal reform bill he signed on Dec. 20, which now allows him to open any American's mail. That claim immediately contradicted the bill he had just signed, effectively making it meaningless.