Does The CIA Control The Media?

During the Cold War, rumors circulated that the Central Intelligence Agency had employed and bribed journalists to spread American anti-Communist propaganda Conspiracy theories erupted over the media’s pro-CIA stance

And in a shocking twist, it emerged that these theories were not only true, but also that the extent of the CIA’s interference was far greater than ever imagined In the late 1940s the CIA launched a secret operation under the codename ‘Mockingbird’ This operation employed a staggering 3,000 reporters contracted to spread falsified information around the world These revelations irreparably shattered public trust in mass media What led the CIA to carry out such mistrustful behavior? And if the CIA has infiltrated the media before, what’s to say that it won’t happen again? In 1964, journalists David Wise and Thomas Ross wrote a book called Invisible Government, which details the CIA’s international mistakes, like the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961

At the Bay of Pigs, a miscalculated and ill-supported invasion of Cuba led to the deaths of 114 CIA-trained fighters Angered by its portrayal as an incompetent institution, the agency considered buying every single copy of the book But this plan was scuppered when the publisher said they would simply print a second edition Wise and Ross’ controversial book ignited suspicions that the CIA was interfering with news output What followed was a 25,000-word article written by Carl Bernstein for Rolling Stone magazine, which discussed the CIA’s role in the media

Bernstein’s article outed journalists suspected of being involved in Operation Mockingbird Eventually, accusations reached a level that American Congress couldn’t ignore In 1975, an investigation led by Senator Frank Church, found absolute proof that the CIA has attempted ‘to influence opinion through the use of covert propaganda’, with many journalists confessing to their participation The CIA’s influence over the media was truly shocking By 1953, the agency effectively had control over 25 newspapers and radio stations, including the New York Times, CBS, The Washington Post and NBC

Thomas Braden, the head of the CIA International Organizations Division at the time, released a statement discussing the unlimited funds and capabilities of Operation Mockingbird ‘There is no limit’, he said, ‘to the activities it could decide were necessary to conduct the war – the secret war’ The vast multinational scope of the operation certainly supports Braden’s statement Newspaper editor Udo Ulfkotte admits that he was employed to spread American anti-Communist propaganda to Germany, claiming, ‘I was bribed by the Americans to report… not exactly the truth’ This covert operation was especially active when the United States controversially deposed Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954

The media censored publications that were too sympathetic towards Arbenz, and even prevented left-wing journalists from travelling to the country CIA interference even spilled over into the film industry The 1954 adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm was funded by the agency, in the hope that the film’s critical stance on communism would help further America’s Cold War goals There is very little scepticism that Operation Mockingbird took place But one question that remains is whether or not the CIA’s actions were morally right

The Cold War was a conflict of nerve, strategy and reputation It was therefore essential that the United States convinced both its own population and external powers that it had the psychological edge over its Soviet adversary But did this make Operation Mockingbird a necessary mission? Joseph Alsop, a columnist who undertook clandestine tasks for the CIA said he was ‘proud’ to have performed work that he considered to be his ‘duty’ But not everyone agrees with Alsop By manipulating what information the public received, the CIA was effectively removing the population’s ability to make decisions independent of their government

What’s more, the implications of Operation Mockingbird can still be felt today In 1972, before suspicions of CIA involvement were confirmed, a gallup poll found that 68% of Americans claimed to trust the media Nowadays, that number has dropped to 40% Senator Church’s investigation discovered that the bribes and salaries paid to various media outlets cost the American taxpayer an estimated $265 million a year In February 1976, the CIA released a statement that, in the future, it would not ‘enter into any paid or contract relationship’ with media outlets

However, they would welcome journalists who wished to cooperate on a voluntary, unpaid basis This means that the media could be still be spreading government-adapted material, protected by the technicality that reporters are not ‘officially’ working for the agency German editor Ulfkotte has confessed that he has worked under this non-official cover after Operation Mockingbird was halted Nowadays the CIA still has the funding and means to determine what information the public receives, so it is entirely plausible that – even today – the agency has not entirely relinquished control over the media

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