Washington Post Is a Neocon Propaganda
by Robert Parry
For Americans who hear the name Washington
Post and still think of "All the President's Men" -
brave journalists facing down a corrupt President - today's version
of the newspaper would be a sad disappointment, a betrayal of
a noble past.
Over the last three decades, the Post
has evolved into a neoconservative propaganda sheet, especially
its opinion section which fronted for George W. Bush's false Iraq-WMD
claims, led the long-term bashing of Iraq War critics, and defends
whatever actions the Israeli government takes, including the recent
war in Gaza and apparently its desire to preemptively bomb Iran.
Rather than a newspaper committed to the
truth and favoring a broad debate about important issues, the
Washington Post has become an enforcement mechanism for a neocon-dominated
Establishment, setting the parameters for permissible points of
view and twisting facts for that purpose.
A recent example of this enforcement role
was its March 12 lead editorial trashing former U.S. Ambassador
Charles "Chas" Freeman for issuing a two-page statement
pointing out that his nomination to serve as a top intelligence
analyst had been torpedoed by Washington's powerful Israel Lobby.
To the Post's editors, however, there
apparently is no Israel Lobby; there has been no large-scale organized
effort to bend U.S. foreign policy to the interests of Israeli
governments over the years. Even the suggestion that such a body
exists is a sign of delusion, bigotry and a conspiratorial mindset.
The Post editorial entitled "Blame
the 'Lobby'" declared that "Mr. Freeman issued a two-page
screed in which he described himself as the victim of a shadowy
and sinister 'Lobby' whose 'tactics plumb the depths of dishonor
and indecency' and which is 'intent on enforcing adherence to
the policies of a foreign government.' Yes, Mr. Freeman was referring
to Americans who support Israel - and his statement was a grotesque
The Post editors then raised the irrelevant
fact that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee "says
that it took no formal position on Mr. Freeman's appointment and
undertook no lobbying against him" as the choice to chair
the National Intelligence Council, which oversees production of
intelligence estimates about threats facing the United States.
The Post's sleight of hand here was to
pretend that only a formal AIPAC objection and direct actions
by AIPAC personnel could represent the Israel Lobby. In reality,
the Israel Lobby is far more expansive than simply AIPAC and includes
a wide array of think tanks, contributors to political campaigns,
and media commentators, including senior Post editors and columnists.
The Post's View
In the editorial, the Post's effort to
deny the existence of an Israel Lobby moves on to assert that
since U.S. governments have not done everything that some Israeli
leaders have demanded - for instance, giving them help in bombing
Iran - then, ipso facto, there is no Israel Lobby.
Left out of this sophistry are all the
actions that Washington has taken in line with Israeli desires,
such as overthrowing Saddam Hussein's government in Iraq, turning
a blind eye to Israel's use of high-tech U.S. weapons against
Palestinian and Lebanese targets, and fending off international
condemnation for such acts as the recent war on Gaza.
The Post makes its case this way:
"Let's consider the ambassador's
[Freeman's] broader charge: He describes 'an inability of the
American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any
option for U.S. policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling
faction in Israeli politics.'
"That will certainly be news to Israel's
'ruling faction,' which in the past few years alone has seen the
U.S. government promote a Palestinian election that it opposed;
refuse it weapons it might have used for an attack on Iran's nuclear
facilities; and adopt a policy of direct negotiations with a regime
that denies the Holocaust and that promises to wipe Israel off
"What's striking about the charges
by Mr. Freeman and like-minded conspiracy theorists is their blatant
disregard for such established facts. Mr. Freeman darkly claims
that 'it is not permitted for anyone in the United States' to
describe Israel's nefarious influence.
"But several of his allies have made
themselves famous (and advanced their careers) by making such
charges -- and no doubt Mr. Freeman himself will now win plenty
of admiring attention. Crackpot tirades such as his have always
had an eager audience here and around the world."
Yet, what is striking about the Post's
up-is-down rant is that it was made in the context of a successful
neoconservative campaign to blackball Freeman from a job in the
U.S. government, where he had a long and distinguished career.
In other words, the Post's editors pretend
that the termination of Freeman's government career (which they
helped destroy) and the smearing of his reputation (which they
contributed to) were, in some way, the advancement of his career
and his fame.
They also left out that they commissioned
one of the most influential attacks on Freeman, a Feb. 28 op-ed
by Jon Chait, an editor at The New Republic, an important neoconservative
journal whose publisher Martin Peretz has been a staunch supporter
of Israeli government actions for decades. [See Consortiumnews.com's
"Neocons Wage War on a 'Realist.'"]
Over the weekend, the Post's opinion section
delivered two more coup-de-grace shots to Freeman's reputation
by publishing columns by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, and Post
editorial writer Charles Lane - articles that alternatively linked
Freeman to the Taliban and to the Darfur genocide - and blasted
him for complaining about being subjected to "libelous"
"Freeman's charges of an elaborate
conspiracy to derail his nomination are disingenuous," Wolf
wrote in his op-ed, picking up the theme of no formal AIPAC action.
"The 'Israel lobby' never contacted me."
However, Wolf made clear that he had read
and absorbed much of the anti-Freeman propaganda that Washington's
neoconservatives were spreading.
Wolf links Freeman to the Taliban's Mullah
Omar (via Saudi financial support both for Islamic madrassas and
for a Middle East think tank run by Freeman) and to the Darfur
atrocities (via a Chinese-government-backed oil company which
paid Freeman $10,000 a year for advice and which has invested
in exploration for Sudanese oil).
While such Kevin-Bacon-style guilt by
tenuous association might seem over the top in other circumstances,
the Post's editors appeared determined to go to any lengths to
ensure that former Ambassador Freeman would face permanent scarring
for having mentioned the Israel Lobby - or as they would put it,
the "Israel Lobby."
Using Wolf's logic, one could accuse nearly
every American of supporting the Taliban (because we use Saudi
oil) and of complicity in the Darfur atrocities (because we as
a nation buy billions of dollars in Chinese goods each year).
Despite the Post's extraordinary devotion
of editorial space to demonize a little known ex-diplomat who
had been appointed to an obscure job, the Post's piling on wasn't
over. The newspaper next published an op-ed by one of its own
editorial writers, Charles Lane.
Lane's chief point was that President
Barack Obama must join in the destroy-Freeman campaign.
"The President needs to knock Freeman's
insinuations down hard -- for two reasons," Lane wrote. "The
first is to stop them from gaining any more currency than they
already have in the rest of the world, especially in Arab and
Muslim regions. The second has to do with the United States itself
and the quality of our political culture [which Obama has vowed
to improve]. Letting Freeman's comments pass unchallenged would
In other words, Lane suggests that Freeman
is the one responsible for the ugly personal attacks and that
the poor neocons are the victims.
"To be sure, Freeman and his supporters
feel ill used," Lane acknowledged. "The criticism he
faced was not 100 percent fair; some of it went over the top in
labeling him a pawn of the Saudis, etc. But for the most part
it wasn't 'libelous,' as Freeman claims. It was basically a strong
policy reaction based on his own voluminous paper trail."
Lane then cites what he terms a "strange"
speech by Freeman in 2006 in which the former ambassador labeled
the Republican and Democratic parties as "xenophobic, Islamophobic,
Arabophobic, and anti-immigrant" and also observed that the
United States had become "the planet's most despised nation,
with its most hateful policies."
However, in the real world, Freeman's
observations in 2006 were largely correct. Both parties were scurrying
to burnish their "anti-immigrant" credentials and were
endorsing or acquiescing to President George W. Bush's extreme
rhetoric about the "long war" against Islamic militants.
As Pew and other opinion research organizations
discovered, there was widespread global condemnation of Bush's
policies, including his invasion/occupation of Iraq and his use
of torture and other barbaric practices in the "war on terror."
Lane continues: "Even if Freeman
had a perfectly legitimate grievance, even if he had been maligned,
he wouldn't be entitled to respond in kind -- much less to brand
large numbers of his fellow citizens as fifth columnists."
Remember that just the previous day, the
Washington Post had run Wolf's op-ed linking Freeman to the Taliban
protectors of Osama bin Laden and to the Darfur genocide. Some
of the neocon attacks on Freeman also had painted him as "an
agent of influence" for Saudi Arabia and China, but Lane
says Freeman doesn't have the right "to respond in kind."
As totalitarian as the Post's editorial
mindset seems to have become - a citizen can be pulverized by
powerful interests, including Washington's dominant newspaper,
but he mustn't dare defend himself or he will invite a new round
of punishments - the Post's behavior is part of a long-term pattern.
The Plame-gate Offense
The Post's war against Freeman was not
an aberration. Indeed, it parallels a similar campaign against
another former U.S. ambassador, Joseph Wilson, who dared step
forward in the spring-summer of 2003 to challenge President Bush's
"twisting" of intelligence to justify the invasion of
While Wilson's complaint was directed
at the Bush administration, his criticism also reflected negatively
on the Post's editors whose coverage of the run-up to the Iraq
invasion had all the diversity of opinion - and tolerance of dissent
- that one might have expected from Izvestia and Pravda in the
old Soviet Union.
The Post editors stacked their influential
editorial section with notorious neocons like Charles Krauthammer
and Robert Kagan, along with other Iraq War enthusiasts such as
David Ignatius, Jim Hoagland, Michael Kelly and Richard Cohen.
So, in September 2002, when former Vice
President Al Gore objected to the rush to war, the Post let loose
their columnists to distort and mock what Gore had said.
Kelly called Gore's speech "dishonest,
cheap, low" before labeling it "wretched. It was vile.
It was contemptible." Krauthammer added that the speech was
"a series of cheap shots strung together without logic or
coherence." There was no countervailing opinion published.
[For details, see our book, Neck Deep.]
After Secretary of State Colin Powell
made his now-infamous presentation of the Iraq evidence to the
United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, the Post judged Powell's WMD case
as "irrefutable" and added: "it is hard to imagine
how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction."
That judgment was reinforced by a solid phalanx of Post columnists,
all hailing Powell's speech.
The Post's own editorials treated the
Bush administration's false allegations about Iraq's stockpiles
of WMD as indisputable fact and trashed even long-time American
allies who dared disagree.
"The [Post] editorials during December
 and January  numbered nine, and all were hawkish,"
wrote Columbia University journalism professor Todd Gitlin. "This
editorial mood continued into February, culminating in a blast
at the French and Germans headlined 'Standing With Saddam.' Apparently
it's not only George W. Bush who doesn't nuance." [American
Prospect, April 1, 2003]
After the U.S. "preemptive"
invasion of Iraq and the failure to discover the imaginary WMD
stockpiles, Post editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt was forced to
make a rare and grudging apology. Hiatt acknowledged that the
Post should have been more skeptical.
"If you look at the editorials we
write running up [to the war], we state as flat fact that he [Hussein]
has weapons of mass destruction," Hiatt said in an interview
with the Columbia Journalism Review. "If that's not true,
it would have been better not to say it." [CJR, March/April
Yet, at the Post and many other U.S. news
organizations, there was no sense that accountability was in order
when news organizations joined a neoconservative stampede, even
one that contributed to the deaths of thousands of American soldiers
and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
Instead, Hiatt and his opinion pages continued
to punish anyone - a politician or a citizen - who disagreed with
the wisdom of Bush's Iraq War.
One of the Post's most troubling smear
campaigns was directed against former Ambassador Wilson, who stepped
forward in the months after the invasion as the first Washington
Establishment figure to decry Bush's exaggeration of the threat
The history of what happened to Wilson
-- a scandal known as "Plame-gate" -- is now well documented:
In 2003, an arrogant administration sought to damage a critic,
Wilson, who had offended Vice President Dick Cheney by accusing
the White House of having "twisted" Iraq War intelligence.
The Cheney-led counterattack against Wilson
sought to portray him as a boastful liar and involved leaking
to reporters that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked at the
CIA. That disclosure was published (in the Washington Post) by
right-wing columnist Robert Novak, destroying Plame's career as
a covert intelligence officer and endangering the lives of her
network of foreign agents.
Then, as the White House recognized the
potential criminality - not to mention the political dangers -
of its actions, a cover-up was launched, with Bush insisting that
he knew nothing about the anti-Wilson campaign and his top aides
lying to or dissembling in front of investigators.
One might have thought a newspaper upholding
the Watergate legacy of Woodward and Bernstein would have jumped
all over this disgraceful abuse of power by an imperial President
and his vengeful entourage. Instead, the Washington Post went
after Joe Wilson.
Hiatt and his editorial page cohorts made
trashing Wilson and mocking the seriousness of Plame's exposure
almost a regular feature, recycling false White House talking
points, including an attempt to question whether Plame was in
The Post's editorial page, which had swallowed
Bush's WMD lies hook, line and sinker in 2002-03, apparently couldn't
countenance someone who was right while so many super-smart Post
editors and executives were wrong.
Endless Wilson Bashing
Even after Cheney's former chief of staff,
Lewis Libby, was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice
for his Plame-gate role in March 2007, Hiatt and his team were
still bashing Wilson, declaring in one editorial that the ex-ambassador
"will be remembered as a blowhard."
In haughty tones - like the deprecating
commentaries deriding former Ambassador Freeman - the Post wrote:
"Mr. Wilson was embraced by many
because he was early in publicly charging that the Bush administration
had 'twisted,' if not invented, facts in making the case for war
against Iraq. He claimed to have debunked evidence that Iraq was
seeking uranium from Niger; suggested that he had been dispatched
by Mr. Cheney to look into the matter; and alleged that his report
had circulated at the highest levels of the administration.
"A bipartisan investigation by the
Senate intelligence committee subsequently established that all
of these claims were false - and that Mr. Wilson was recommended
for the Niger trip by Ms. Plame, his wife. When this fact, along
with Ms. Plame's name, was disclosed in a column by Robert D.
Novak, Mr. Wilson advanced yet another sensational charge: that
his wife was a covert CIA operative and that senior White House
officials had orchestrated the leak of her name to destroy her
career and thus punish Mr. Wilson.
"The [Libby] trial has provided convincing
evidence that there was no conspiracy to punish Mr. Wilson by
leaking Ms. Plame's identity - and no evidence that she was, in
fact, covert." [Washington Post, March 7, 2007]
But everything in this Post attack on
Wilson was either a gross distortion or a lie, often parroting
long-discredited White House talking points.
Wilson did debunk suspicions that Iraq
was seeking uranium from Niger. He was dispatched by the CIA because
of questions asked by Cheney. (Wilson never said Cheney personally
sent him.) His information did reach the highest levels of the
administration, explaining why the CIA kept trying to delete references
to the Niger claims from Bush's speeches.
The full Senate Intelligence Committee
did not conclude that "all [Wilson's] claims were false."
That assertion was rejected by the full committee and then inserted
into "additional views" of three right-wing Republicans
- Sens. Pat Roberts, Orrin Hatch and Christopher Bond - who carried
the White House's water in claiming that Wilson's statements "had
no basis in fact."
As for the CIA selection of Wilson for
the Niger trip, the Post editorial-page editors knew that Wilson
was chosen by senior CIA officials in the office of counter-proliferation,
not by Valerie Plame, who played only a minor introductory role
in the agency's recruitment of her husband.
The Post also knew that Wilson was well
qualified for the assignment since he had served as a diplomat
in the U.S. embassies in Iraq and Niger. He also took on this
task pro bono, with the CIA only paying for his expenses.
Plus, Wilson was right again when he alleged
that the White House was punishing him for his Iraq War criticism.
Indeed, the Washington Post's own reporters had described this
reality in the news pages.
On Sept. 28, 2003, a Post news article
reported that a White House official disclosed that the administration
had informed at least six reporters about Plame and did so "purely
and simply out of revenge" against Wilson.
"Plame-gate" special prosecutor
Patrick Fitzgerald made the same point in a court filing in the
Libby case, stating that his investigation had uncovered a "concerted"
effort by the White House to "discredit, punish or seek revenge
against" Wilson because of his criticism of the administration.
Hiatt and his editorial team could have
looked up that fact. It was on the Post's front page. [Washington
Post, April 9, 2006]
The Post's 'Covert' Lie
Regarding Plame's covert status, the Post
editors were lying there, too.
In the March 7 editorial, they apparently
were still hanging their hats on false statements by right-wing
lawyer Victoria Toensing, who had made a small cottage industry
out of her assertion that Plame failed to meet the definition
of "covert" in the Intelligence Identities Protection
Act of 1982, which Toensing said she had helped draft.
Toensing insisted that Plame was not "covert"
because she had not been "stationed" abroad in the past
five years, which Toensing claimed was the law's standard.
For instance, on Feb. 18, 2007, as jurors
were about to begin deliberations in the Libby case, the Post
editors gave Toensing space on the front page of the Post's influential
Outlook section for a long article in which she insisted that
Plame was not "covert" and published "indictments"
of other figures in the scandal, including Wilson and Fitzgerald.
Toensing's claim about Plame's covert
status was legalistic at best, since it obscured the larger point
that Plame was working undercover in a classified CIA position
and was running agents abroad whose safety would be put at risk
by an unauthorized disclosure of Plame's identity.
But Toensing wasn't even right about the
law. It doesn't require that a CIA officer be "stationed"
abroad in the preceding five years; it simply refers to an officer
who "has served within the last five years outside the United
That would cover someone who - while based
in the United States - went abroad on official CIA business, as
Plame said she had done, according to her sworn testimony at a
March 16, 2007, congressional hearing.
At that hearing of the House Oversight
Committee, Chairman Henry Waxman also read a statement that had
been approved by CIA Director Michael Hayden. The statement described
Plame's status at the CIA as "covert," "undercover"
"Ms. Wilson worked on the most sensitive
and highly secretive matters handled by the CIA," Waxman's
statement said, adding that her work dealt with "prevention
of development and use of WMD against the United States."
Toensing appeared as a Republican witness
at the hearing and was asked about her bald assertion that "Plame
was not covert."
"Not under the law," Toensing
responded. "I'm giving you the legal interpretation under
the law and I helped draft the law. The person is supposed to
reside outside the United States."
But that's not what the law says, either.
It says "served" abroad, not "reside."
When asked whether she had spoken to the
CIA or to Plame about Plame's covert status, Toensing said, "I
didn't talk to Ms. Plame or the CIA. I can just tell you what's
required under the law. They can call anybody anything they want
to do in the halls" of the CIA.
In other words, Toensing had no idea about
the facts of the matter; she didn't know how often Plame might
have traveled abroad in the five years before her exposure; Toensing
didn't even get the language of the statute correct.
Nevertheless, Toensing was accepted as
an expert by the Washington Post's editors to issue "indictments"
of people - like former Ambassador Wilson and special prosecutor
Fitzgerald - who had gotten in the way of Bush's imperial presidency.
[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com's "Shame
on the Post's Editorial Page," "Smearing Joe Wilson
Again" and "Shame on the WPost, Again."]
A Sad Truth
The sad truth appears to be that the Washington
Post can no longer be counted on to be anything like an honest
broker, especially when it comes to issues near and dear to the
hearts of neocons. Rather the Post's role is now to set the parameters
for whatever debate the neocons find acceptable.
A recent example of how the Post played
this role was its decision to publish only pro-Israeli op-eds
and editorials - sometimes two a day - during the first 11 days
of the Gaza War, which killed more than 1,000 Palestinians including
many children and other non-combatants.
On Jan. 2, for instance, neocon ideologue
Krauthammer wrote: "Some geopolitical conflicts are morally
complicated. The Israel-Gaza war is not. It possesses a moral
clarity not only rare but excruciating."
On the same day, Bush's former speechwriter
(now Post columnist) Michael Gerson added, "There is no question
- none - that Israel's attack on Hamas in Gaza is justified."
So, as much of the world recoiled in horror
at the ferocity of the Israeli attacks, the Post's neocon-dominated
opinion section only heaped blame on Hamas for its firing of small
rockets into southern Israeli territory.
It took 12 days into Israel's punishing
assault on Gaza for the Washington Post to permit the first op-ed
suggesting that there might be two sides to the dispute, an article
by former President Jimmy Carter who presented both Israeli and
In a column entitled "An Unnecessary
War," Carter noted that Israel had failed to live up to the
goals of last year's truce agreement. He also described the near-starvation
of many of Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants, cut off from the outside
world by an Israeli blockade.
While Carter's column fit well within
the mainstream of international opinion, it represented an anomaly
in the opinion circles of Washington, appearing almost like a
fringe viewpoint after a steady diet of neocon propaganda, especially
in the Post's editorial section.
Looking back over the Post's recent history,
I'm also reminded of my experience at the Post-owned Newsweek
magazine in the late 1980s. I had been hired because of my early
work exposing what became known as the Iran-Contra Affair. Newsweek
- like the Post - had bought into the earlier false denials of
the Reagan administration.
I thought maybe Newsweek sincerely wanted
to catch up on possibly the most important scandal story of the
decade. But I soon encountered what I considered troubling neocon
trends at the magazine, particularly an elitist view about the
need to steer the public in a direction favored by the Establishment,
rather than to trust in the people's well-informed democratic
When I spoke once with Washington bureau
chief Evan Thomas about what I considered the importance of giving
unvarnished information to the American people so they could make
up their own minds, he upbraided me with an admonition that at
Newsweek our purpose was less to inform the readers than to guide
them to the proper conclusions.
Over the ensuing two decades, that elitist
attitude, a core feature of neoconservative ideology, appears
to have spread throughout the Washington Post company. It influences
the tone of the news pages [see, for instance, "WPost Admits
Bungling Obama Quote" or "Obama's War with the Right
(& Media)"], but it pervades the editorial section.
Rather than encouraging as free and open
debate as possible, the Post now sees its role as herding the
American people to certain preordained conclusions - and casting
out from acceptable society anyone who dares threaten the Washington
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His
latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W.
Bush, can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books,
Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate
to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project