"The most critical special operations mission we have ... is to persuade the American people that the communists are out to get us, " explained deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force, J. Michael Kelly, at a National Defense University conference.
In the 1980s, the Republicans were helped by news executives in mainstream publications who favored Reagan 's hard-line foreign policy, including New York Times executive editor Abe Rosenthal. Some of these executives turned their news organizations away from the tough reporting that was needed to expose the foreign policy abuses that were occurring under Reagan.
That averting of eyes was one of the key reasons major newspapers, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, largely missed the Iran-Contra scandal and attacked the reporting of other journalists who uncovered foreign-policy crimes such as cocaine trafficking by Nicaraguan contra forces. A false reality was being created that covered up the ugly side of U.S. foreign policy. [For details, see Robert Parry 's Lost History.]
In the 1990s, the interests of the maturing conservative news media and the mainstream news media merged even more fully as both groups found common cause in exaggerating misconduct by President Bill Clinton. Mainstream journalists discovered that they could report sloppily about Clinton and gain the praise rather than the opprobrium of the well-financed conservative attack groups. [For details, see The Hunting of the President by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, or Sidney Blumenthal 's The Clinton Wars.]
Though many key facts about Clinton 's Whitewater investments and other "scandals " were misrepresented by the national press, there were no punishments for the reporters involved, only rewards. By contrast, the few reporters who still had the audacity to dig up evidence of past crimes from the Reagan-Bush era found themselves under attack and their livelihoods threatened.
For instance, when San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb revived the contra-drug story in the mid-1990s, he was denounced by the New York Times and other leading newspapers that had pooh-poohed the scandal when it was unfolding in the 1980s.
Even when a 1998 CIA report verified that the contras were implicated in the drug trade and that the Reagan-Bush administration had hidden the evidence, the major newspapers continued to concentrate their wrath on Webb, who was driven out of the profession (and committed suicide in December 2004). [See Consortiumnews.com's "America's Debt to Journalist Gary Webb."]
The same patterns carried over into the 2000 election in which Democrat Al Gore faced withering attacks on his credibility often from made-up or exaggerated examples of his supposed lying while Republican George W. Bush got pretty much a free pass. [For details, see the Consortiumnews.com 's "Protecting Bush-Cheney."]
Again, the conservative and mainstream media outlets often worked in tandem, with the New York Times joining the Washington Times in misquoting Gore about "inventing " the Internet or claiming that "I was the one that started " the Love Canal toxic-waste cleanup. Again, there were no consequences for reporters who got the facts wrong. [For details, see the Consortiumnews.com 's "Al Gore v. the Media."]
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, only deepened these tendencies.
The following month, for instance, a group of news organizations completed a press recount of all legally cast votes in the pivotal presidential election in Florida. The original purpose of the recount had been simple: to determine which candidate the voters of Florida actually had picked for president based on votes considered legal under Florida law.
But the recount 's outcome presented a challenge. Regardless of what standard was used for the famous chads whether perforated, hanging or fully punched through Al Gore was the winner by a narrow margin. In other words, if the state of Florida had been allowed to count all its legally cast ballots, George W. Bush would not be President. That finding, however, would have certainly drawn the wrath of the administration and many Americans who were rallying around Bush in the wake of Sept. 11.
The decision of the news executives was to simply misrepresent the results. For the leads of their stories, the New York Times, CNN and other news organizations arbitrarily ignored the legal Florida ballots in which voters both marked and wrote in their choice, the so-called "over-votes. "