The Nixonian Henchmen of Today: at the NYT

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The Nixonian Henchmen of Today: at the NYT

After Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, exposing the lies, brutality and inhumanity that drove America's role in the Vietnam War, President Nixon and Henry Kissinger infamously plotted to smear his reputation and destroy his credibility.  As History Commons puts it in its richly documented summary of those events:  

President Nixon authorizes the creation of a "special investigations unit," later nicknamed the "Plumbers," to root out and seal media leaks. The first target is Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press (see June 13, 1971); the team will burglarize the office of Ellsberg's psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding, in hopes of securing information that the White House can use to smear Ellsberg's character and undermine his credibility . . . .

Nixon aide John Ehrlichman passes on the president's recommendations to the heads of the "Plumbers," Egil Krogh and David Young (see July 20, 1971), regarding "Pentagon Papers" leaker Daniel Ellsberg (see Late June-July 1971). . . . Within days, Keogh and Young will give Ehrlichman a memo detailing the results of investigations into Ellsberg and a dozen of Ellsberg's friends, family members, and colleagues. . . .

This weekend, WikiLeaks released over 400,000 classified documents of the Iraq War detailing genuinely horrific facts about massive civilian death, U.S. complicity in widespread Iraqi torture, systematic government deceit over body counts, and the slaughter of civilians by American forces about which Daniel Ellsberg himself said, as the New York Times put it: "many of the civilian deaths there could be counted as murder."

Predictably, just as happened with Ellsberg, there is now a major, coordinated effort underway to smear WikiLeaks' founder, Julian Assange, and to malign his mental health -- all as a means of distracting attention away from these highly disturbing revelations and to impede the ability of WikiLeaks to further expose government secrets and wrongdoing with its leaks.  But now, the smear campaign is led not by Executive Branch officials, but by members of the establishment media.  As the intelligence community reporter Tim Shorrock wrote today on Twitter:  "When Dan Ellsberg leaked [the] Pentagon Papers, Nixon's henchmen tried to destroy his reputation. Today w/Wikileaks & Assange, media does the job."

Yesterday, Assange walked out of an interview with CNN, which he thought had been arranged to discuss the significance of the Iraq War revelations, because the CNN "reporter" seemed interested in asking only about petty, vapid rumors about Assange himself, not the substance of the leaks.  The Nation's Greg Mitchell summarized that interview this way:  "Assange to CNN: 'Do you want to talk about deaths of 104,000 people or my personal life?'"  CNN's answer could not have been clearer:  the latter, definitely.

But the low point of this smear campaign was led by The New York Times' John Burns, who authored a sleazy hit piece on Assange -- filled with every tawdry, scurrilous tabloid rumor about him -- that was (and still is) prominently featured in the NYT, competing for attention with the stories about the leaked documents themselves, and often receiving more attention.  Here's the current iteration of the front page of the NYT website, with the Assange story receiving top billing:

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It shouldn't be surprising that Burns is filling the role played in 1971 by Henry Kissinger and John Ehrichman.  His courageous and high-quality war reporting from Iraq notwithstanding, it's long been clear from his U.S.-glorifying accounts that Burns was one of the media's most enthusiastic supporters of the occupation of Iraq.  That's why even the NYT-hating necons regularly lavished him (along with Judy Miller's partner, Michael Gordon) with uncharacteristic praise (National Review's Michael Ledeen:  "Rich [Lowry, Editor of National Review] and I share an admiration for Michael Gordon, one of three (along with Burns and Filkens) NYT reporters who really work hard to get the Iraqi story right").  To justify and excuse his and his media colleagues' gullibility about Iraq, Burns wrote two months ago -- falsely -- that "there were few, if any, who foresaw the extent of the violence that would follow or the political convulsion it would cause in Iraq, America and elsewhere" and that "[w]e could not know then, though if we had been wiser we might have guessed, the scale of the toll the invasion would unleash."

The Iraq War is John Burns' war, and for the crime of making that war look bad, Julian Assange must have his character smeared and his psychiatric health maligned.  Burns -- along with his co-writer Ravi Somaiya -- is happy to viciously perform that function:

Julian Assange moves like a hunted man. . . . He demands that his dwindling number of loyalists use expensive encrypted cellphones and swaps his own as other men change shirts. He checks into hotels under false names, dyes his hair, sleeps on sofas and floors, and uses cash instead of credit cards, often borrowed from friends. . . .

Now it is not just governments that denounce him: some of his own comrades are abandoning him for what they see as erratic and imperious behavior, and a nearly delusional grandeur unmatched by an awareness that the digital secrets he reveals can have a price in flesh and blood. . . .

Effectively, as Mr. Assange pursues his fugitive's life, his leadership is enforced over the Internet. Even remotely, his style is imperious. . . .

When Herbert Snorrason, a 25-year-old political activist in Iceland, questioned Mr. Assange's judgment over a number of issues in an online exchange last month, Mr. Assange was uncompromising. "I don't like your tone," he said, according to a transcript. "If it continues, you're out." . . . In an interview about the exchange, Mr. Snorrason's conclusion was stark. "He is not in his right mind," he said.

Mr. Assange's detractors also accuse him of pursuing a vendetta against the United States.  In London, Mr. Assange said America was an increasingly militarized society and a threat to democracy. Moreover, he said, "we have been attacked by the United States, so we are forced into a position where we must defend ourselves."

Richard Nixon and his plumbers could have only dreamed about being able to dispatch journalists to dutifully smear whistle-blowers in this manner...

Rest of the article here...

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, and a staff writer and editor at First Look media. His fifth and latest book is, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, about the U.S. surveillance state and his experiences reporting on the Snowden documents around the world. Prior to his collaboration with Pierre Omidyar, Glenn’s column was featured at Guardian US and Salon.  His previous books include: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the PowerfulGreat American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism, a George Polk Award, and was on The Guardian team that won the Pulitzer Prize for public interest journalism in 2014.

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