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The Military & CNN by Alexander Cockburn
Published on Thursday, March 23, 2000 in the San Jose Mercury News
The Military & CNN
by Alexander Cockburn
 
A handful of military personnel from the 4th Psychological Operations Group (i.e. PSYOPs) based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina have until recently been working in CNN's headquarters in Atlanta. An enterprising Dutch journalist named Abe De Vries came up with this important story in mid-February, and he remains properly astounded that no mainstream news medium in the United States has evinced any interest in the story.

I came across translations of De Vries' stories on the matter, after they had appeared in late February in Trouw, the foremost quality newspaper in Holland.

De Vries later told me he'd originally come upon the story via an article in the French Intelligence newsletter (available on a pay-per-story basis on the Internet) Feb. 17, which described a military symposium in Arlington, Va., held at the beginning of that same month, discussing use of the press in military operations.

Col. Christopher St. John, commander of the U.S. Army's 4th PSYOPs Group, was quoted by a French Intelligence correspondent, present at the symposium, as (in the correspondent's words) having ``called for greater cooperation between the armed forces and media giants. He (St. John) 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.''

Reading this in Belgrade, where he's Trouw's correspondent, De Vries saw a good story, picked up the phone, and finally reached Maj. Thomas Collins of the U.S. Army Information Service, who duly confirmed the presence of these Army PSYOPs experts at CNN. ``PSYOPs personnel, soldiers and officers,'' De Vries quoted Collins as telling him, ``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.''

I reported this interesting disclosure in my newsletter, CounterPunch, and made it 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 headquarters in Atlanta, and I duly received an angry phone call from Eason Jordan, who identified himself as CNN's president of news gathering 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 U.S. Army PSYOPs, two in television, two in radio, and one in satellite operations. Jordan said the program had begun on June 7 (just before the end of the war against Serbia), and only recently terminated, I would guess at about the time CNN's higher management read Abe De Vries' stories.

Naturally enough, Eason Jordan and other executives at CNN now describe the Army PSYOPs intern tours at CNN as having been insignificant. Maybe so. Col. St. John, the commanding officer of the PSYOPs group, certainly thought them of sufficient significance to mention at that high-level Pentagon pow-wow in Arlington about propaganda and psychological warfare. Maybe CNN was the target of a PSYOPs penetration and is still too naive to figure out what was going on.

It's hard not to laugh when CNN execs like Eason Jordan start spouting, as he did to me, high-toned stuff about CNN's principles of objectivity and refusal to relay government propaganda.

During the war on Serbia, as with other recent conflicts involving the United States, CNN's screen was filled with an interminable procession of U.S. officers. On April 27 of last year, Amy Goodman of the Pacifica Radio network put the following 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?

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, U.S. 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, 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.'''

Please note what CNN's supposedly non-advocatory analyst Benton was ranting about: a particularly preposterous NATO propaganda item about 700 Albanian boys being used as human blood banks for Serb fighters.

Let's give the last word to the enterprising Abe De Vries. ``Of course, CNN says these PSYOPs personnel didn't decide anything, write news reports, etc. 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.''

Alexander Cockburn is a syndicated columnist. CounterPunch, co-edited by Cockburn, is located on the web at www.counterpunch.org.

2000 Mercury Center

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