“What If You Journalists Are Just Assets in Someone Else’s Covert Operation?”

Charles McCarry was a newspaper reporter in Ohio, a CIA spy in Rome and Geneva, a magazine editor in Washington, and then a novelist. In Second Sight, his eighth novel, he likened Washington journalists to the secret police in totalitarian countries:

They maintained hidden network of informers, carried out clandestine investigations, conducted interrogations on the basis of accusations made by anonymous witnesses and agent provocateurs, and staged dramatic show trials in which the guilt of the accused was assumed and no effective defense was allowed. They had far greater powers of investigation than the government.

McCarry, through the fictional character David Patchen, an old CIA spy, delivered that broadside to Patrick Graham, a star television reporter on a 60 Minutes type show. The novel was published in 1991 so McCarry was writing about the excesses of television journalism. McCarry today likely would be even more critical of digital journalism for communicating with so much heat and so little light.

In yesterday’s post, Patchen walked off into the darkness after the attack on Graham and the excesses of  journalism. Graham then followed Patchen, caught up with him, and their conversation resumed:

“Do you,” Graham asked with a knowing smile, “think that the entire press is involved in this conspiracy?”

“No, I don’t think there’s a conspiracy,” Patchen replied. “It’s worse than that. I think that you and your fellow true believers are in the grip of a collective dementia that makes it impossible for you to perceive reality.”

“I see. But whatever is going on involves every reporters and editor in town.”

“I didn’t say that and what’s more I don’t believe it. Most reporters are perfectly sane and highly competent. If life were baseball, I’d gladly swap every agent the Outfit now has in the field for the editorial staff of the Washington Post and throw in a hundred future draft choices from Yale and Princeton. No, I’m talking about the few ideologues to whom the many owe so much.”

“Including me.”

“Yes, of course. You’re the star. Everybody in town is terrified of you, Patrick.”

They were entirely alone now, strolling farther and farther into the darkness—if they really were alone; Graham could not bring himself to believe that the woods along the canal were not, in fact, full of heavily armed Outfit men, dressed in black and drifting from tree to tree.

“I don’t know whether it’s occurred to you,” Patchen continued cheerfully, “but there’s a paradox in all this.”

“In all what?”

“In the media giving birth to this Cheka.”

“‘Cheka’? Cheka. That’s insulting.”

“Then what is the word? Thought Police? Night Riders?”

“Try ‘defenders of the First Amendment.'”

“Ah,” Patchen said, “that has a ring to it, and English words have been distorted to mean stranger things than that. The point is that even in a democracy like ours, it is the government, not the press, that controls information, for the obvious reason that the government manufactures it. All you people do is call at the back door and cart it away and sell it. And because your information comes from anonymous sources inside the government that you protect with your lives, your fortunes, and your sacred honor, it’s possible that you’re not the swashbucklers you think you are.”

“Swashbucklers? What weird vocabulary you have. Nobody I know in the business thinks that way.”

“Okay, but think about something. What if the government, or certain elements within the government, are using the media as a supernumerary ideological police force? What if you’re just assets in someone else’s covert action operation?”

“‘Assets’? ‘Covert action’?” Graham’s voice broke. Patchen might as well have flung human feces into his face as these hated words described abominable practices. “That’s a lot of Outfit bullshit,” he snapped. “We do what we have to do.”

“Of course, you do. And let me tell you something. Finding somebody who wants to do a thing, and then making it possible for him to do it in what he believes to be his own interest, is the definition of covert action.”

Dark as it was, Graham could see, or feel, that the other man was smiling at his own sarcasm.

Comments

  1. BARNARD COLLIER says:

    Brilliantly done, as McCarry always has written.

    There is much truth in the repartee.

    I’m chewing some cabbage twice here, but I’ll again say that much of what is going on in Washington media now is orchestrated by expert Russian covert psyops, following the scenario written by Vladislav Surkov, the master of “chaos operations” that are designed to strengthen the hand of those in power and to weaken those who might oppose them with “facts” and “truth.” In Russia, there is no such thing as “truth,” and anyone who believes there is finds out soon enough.

    In my opinion, Vladimir Putin has played his hand perfectly and Mr. McCarry in his prescience presaged him and his tactics.

    As far as depending on the government for life and livelihood, I think Washington journalists would benefit their readers muchly by absolutely banning “anonymous” sources. The reason that a lot of news “leaks” out is that government wants it to leak, and at the back door are the journalists who make their bones by publishing the leakage.

    I believe it is eminently possible to get a lot of the “leaked” stories on the record but it requires a lot of extra work, which so-called “deadlines” (are there any any longer?) seem to mitigate against.

    So much of what we see now in the media is speculation, iffy, tainted with malice and/or malfeasance, and seemingly unedited by anyone who believes in solid evidence. It’s entertainment. You would be a fool to bet on any of it.

    As much as I believe Trump is a fascist tyrant, he is correct about some of the shortcomings of the press, and many Americans know it.

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