The media’s complicity in suppressing information governments deem unworthy of our attention is not exactly newsworthy any more. In the age of Chelsea Manning, Wikileaks, and Edward Snowden it is no longer surprising to discover that state interests are considered sacred by most journalists and pundits in the corporate media. This was expressed most clearly by Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, in a review of Times‘ dealings with Julian Assange. Pontificating on the role of the media, Keller declared that the newspaper of record was “invested in the struggle against murderous extremism” and had ” no doubts about where our sympathies lie in this clash of values.” This was a wholesale adoption of the government’s position in the War on Terror and a complete abdication of the supposed responsibilities of the press.
A new report in The Miami Herald is simply another example in this long history of collusion between the state and corporate media–the consequences of which, as this report details, can be deadly. The failed military invasion of Cuba by a CIA-sponsored paramilitary organization in 1961 was “a decisive point-of-no-return for the Castro regime” which “substantiated the Government’s warnings against imperialist aggression from the United States,” according to a dispatch from the Canadian embassy in Havana. There were casualties on both sides and the invasion itself strengthened the Castro regime. According to a memorandum from Kennedy aide Richard Goodwin, months later Che Guevara would thank Goodwin for the Bay of Pigs–as the invasion came to be known–calling it “a great political victory.” For the United States, it was a strategic disaster by all accounts.
The Miami Herald reports that the newspaper had in fact investigated a “Cuban counterrevolutionary army” being trained in Miami seven months before the Bay of Pigs after it was discovered by a few “thrill-seeking youths.” The story which resulted from the investigation was dropped at the last minute after then-CIA director Allen Dulles intervened, citing national security risks. The Herald was not the only media outlet to acquiesce to government diktats: “A few days before the Bay of Pigs, the New York Times, too, had all the details about what was to happen. At the last minute, the paper’s editors softened the story considerably, cut out key facts, and gave it meager display.” Two weeks after the Bay of Pigs, once the scope of the US defeat had become clear, Kennedy remarked to a senior New York Times editor: “If you had printed more about the operation, you would have saved us from a colossal mistake.”
Such a brazen display of media capitulation before state authorities is not an isolated example from a bygone era. Much of the same has repeatedly happened since then. The 2005 New York Times revelation that the NSA had been authorized to “conduct domestic eavesdropping” was published after a year-long delay during which the White House told the paper the story could “jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny.” After CIA agent Raymond Davis shot and killed two men in Pakistan, President Obama maintained that Davis was “our diplomat in Pakistan” and protected from prosecution by virtue of his diplomatic immunity. The Guardian later reported that “[a] number of US media outlets learned about Davis’s CIA role but have kept it under wraps at the request of the Obama administration.”
This is the historical record against which the righteous and high-minded rhetoric on the media’s role as the voice for the voiceless, holding power-hungry politicians accountable by shining light on what they do in secret, has to be measured against. Needless to say, the balance tilts heavily against the rhetoric.