tom wyman to the rescue
Reed Irvine - Editor
|May B, 1984|
NBC TINKERS WITH THE TRUTH
NBC's chairman Grant Tinker, and RCA's chairman, Thornton Bradshaw, suffered in Indianapolis on May 1. At the RCA annual shareholders meeting they were put on the griddle as some of the serious sins of NBC were made the subject of debate. AIM, represented by its chairman, Reed Irvine, moved two resolutions and pressed for answers to a number of tough questions. The resolutions were not adopted and the questions were not answered, but the transcript of the meeting makes fascinating reading. It is funny, but it is also frightening, because it shows that the men who run this powerful company are ill equipped to keep it from being used to spread Soviet propaganda and disinformation. They don't seem to understand the problem, and they show no genuine dedication to honest and accurate reporting.
Mr. Irvine kicked off debate with the following resolution: Whereas, the Soviet Union spends billions of dollars annually to spread its propaganda and disinformation throughout the world to achieve its foreign policy objectives by spreading confusion and irresolution in countries such as the United States, and whereas, NBC News has on several occasions aired material which appears to mesh with Soviet-bloc propaganda objectives, we ask the board of directors to take note of the danger that NBC's facilities are a logical target for Soviet propaganda and disinformation and to investigate to determine to what extent they may have succeeded in getting their propaganda disseminated by NBC and to report to the shareholders what steps NBC has taken to guard against this."
Irvine proceeded to cite the following four example of possible disinformation or propaganda that had been aired by NBC.
This program, two hours long, was produced by the Religion Unit of NBC News in conjunction with the National Council of Churches. We discussed it in depth in the March-A AIM Report and we have since produced an even more, detailed special AIM Research Report on it, which is available for $1.50
At the RCA annual meeting, Irvine said that the producer of the program, Helen Marmor, had conceded in an interview that she had not sought the assistance of experts on religion in communist countries such as Father Michael Bourdeaux, whose studies in this field earned him the 1984 Templeton Prize of $250,000. Fr. Bourdeaux, in accepting that prize, had said that religious persecution continues unabated in the Soviet Union today and that Christians there are living "as in New Testament times." Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the great Russian writer, in accepting the 1983 Templeton Prize had described the Soviet Union as "a land where churches have been leveled, where triumphant atheism has rampaged uncontrolled for two-thirds of a century, where the clergy is utterly humiliated and deprived of all independence, where what remains of the church is tolerated only for the sake of propaganda directed at the West .... "
Irvine noted that John Barron, in his authoritative book, KGB, said that the KGB's Directorate 5 is assigned to "clandestinely control religion in the Soviet Union" and to "insure that the Russian Orthodox Church and all other churches serve as instruments of Soviet policy." Barron added: "The directorate placed KGB officers within the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy and recruits bonafide clergymen as agents. much of its work is accomplished through the Council on Religious Affairs, which is heavily staffed with retired and disabled KGB officers."
None of this was mentioned in the NBC program. Using the facilities of NBC, those KGB officers were permitted to tell the American audience, without any demurrer of contradiction. that the church in the Soviet Union is free, and that there is not even any interference from the government with what it chooses to print.
The producer, Helen Marmor, had told AIM that it was unrealistic to expect NBC News to have sought information from dissident Christians in the Soviet Union. She was apparently not familiar with the case of Fr. Gleb Yakunin, the Russian Orthodox priest, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for his efforts to secure some religious freedom in the USSR. He was not mentioned on the NBC program. Irvine told the annual meeting: "What a blow it would he for him if he should have the misfortune to see that a two-hour program on American television did nothing but trumpet the lies of his persecutors, utterly ignoring him and other brave Christians who have dared demand religious freedom!"
Irvine pointed out that Arkady Schevchenko, the former undersecretary general of the United Nations who defected several years ago, the highest Soviet diplomat ever to do so, had said that one of the highest KGB priorities is to get on American television. Irvine said the KGB must be delighted with their success in getting their disinformation aired by NBC in "The Church of the Russians."
Irvine said the KGB must also have been pleased with the portrayal of their old arch-enemy, J. Edgar Hoover, in the NBC miniseries, "Kennedy," which was aired last November. This was discussed in detail in the December-B 1983 AIM Report. Hoover had been pictured as a vicious, nearly demented sexual pervert, a racist, an enemy of Joseph Kennedy, the father of John F. Kennedy, and as one who wrongfully pinned the communist label on Stanley Levison, a close advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Irvine said that all of these charges were false. Even Hoover's enemies have conceded that there was no evidence that he was a homosexual. Joseph Kennedy was a close friend. Hoover had on his office wall a letter from Joe Kennedy saying that he was one of two Americans that he most admired and promising his wholehearted backing if he should ever decide to run for president. The FBI under Hoover had vigorously fought the racism of the KKK and the Nazis, and Hoover was one of the few who had opposed the wartime internment of the Japanese-Americans ordered by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Stanley Levison, adviser and speechwriter to Martin Luther King, Jr. had been described as a very important Communist by one of the FBI's most important double agents within the Communist Party USA, Jack Childs. Childs was a top Communist, one so trusted that he served as liaison between the Kremlin and the American Communist Party, bringing in the cash from Moscow that kept the party solvent. This had been revealed in a 1982 book by Prof. David Garrow, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the FBI.
On March 25 NBC correspondent Robin Lloyd reported on the NBC Nightly News that one of the candidates for president in El Salvador, Jose Napoleon Duarte, had changed his polling place in the election that day because he had received a death threat from "an extremist, anti-communist group." Seven hours earlier, on the CBS program, "Face the Nation," Duarte himself had been saying that he had received information "that there was some kind of a death squad organized in Cuba of 17 people" who had entered El Salvador from Nicaragua with the object of trying to kill him.
AIM called this glaring discrepancy between what Duarte had said and what Lloyd had reported to the attention of NBC News the next day. Reed Irvine told the annual meeting: "Rather than ferret out this error and discipline the person responsible, NBC News told us that they believed that there were two death threats, one from the communists and one from the anti- communists. Duarte himself has denied that, but here we are five weeks after the initial false report was aired--communist disinformation, if you will--and NBC has neither acknowledged nor corrected the false report."
Irvine pointed out that on the day before the annual meeting, April 30, NBC's Today Show had provided a national platform to the West German radical, Petra Kelly, a leader of the Green Party. Kelly, who is considered too far out even by many of the far-out Greens, was introduced the Today Show as "a West German peace activist."
Interviewed by Bryant Gumbel, Petra Kelly advocated the following: (1) the dismantling of the NATO alliance, a long-standing Soviet goal; (2) further radicalization of the nuclear freeze movement in America, with its own presidential candidate, "somebody like Ran Dellums," the far-left Democratic congressman from Berkeley. Calif.: and (3) "going into military factories and destroying weapons." The NBC host thereupon said: "Petra Kelly, thank you. Travel safely." it was as if giving such a person access to NBC's facilities to make such an appeal without describing her accurately or challenging the Soviet propaganda line she was spreading was perfectly normal behavior.
Chairman Bradshaw said that the one item that he could comment on was the matter of Jose Napoleon Duarte. He said that there was "and error of fact which NBC made on attributing the Mr. Duarte himself the fact that the death threat came from a left-wing (sic) source. That did not come from Mr. Duarte himself. It came from a member of his staff, and that was corrected on NBC last night. You should have been watching." Evidently Mr. Bradshaw himself was not watching because Grant Tinker rose to say that the correction had been made two nights before, on Sunday.
Thinking that a proper correction had been made. Irvine did not pursue the matter further at the meeting. The next day we learned that the "correction" had read as follows: "On March 25, we reported that Jose Napoleon Duarte, the Christian Democratic candidate for president of El Salvador, had changed the polling place where he voted because of death threats from a right- wing group. We incorrectly attributed that report to Duarte himself. That report actually came from sources (sic) within the Duarte campaign."
NBC News was still refusing to tell its viewers that the death threat against Duarte had come from a death squad that had reportedly been trained in Cuba, not an anti-communist group! We immediately wrote Mr. Bradshaw to protest this non-correction that had by- passed the substantive error. We said: "This reflects badly on the journalistic procedures and standards of NBC News. You said at the annual meeting that you have 'the highest possible standards' and that you enforce them by firing those who violate them. One of the standards laid down at NBC News is that errors be promptly and prominently corrected. Is that going to be enforced in this case? Will anyone be disciplined for refusing to check out what appears to be an obvious error? Will anyone be disciplined for having you announce to the annual meeting that the error had been corrected when, in fact, no thorough effort had been made to see if the report was in error?
In the absence of an investigation by NBC, it is impossible to determine whether this report was deliberate disinformation or just a careless error. But the refusal of NBC News to make a proper investigation shows how easy it is to get away with disinformation. All the reporter has to do is say, Trust me, I have a good source," and he can get away with an egregious false report. Did NBC refuse to contact the alleged source because of the great trust in the reporter? Or did they refuse to check out the source because they really don't trust the reporter and are afraid of what an investigation might find?
Noting that the "Kennedy" miniseries which had so viciously smeared J. Edgar Hoover had been advertised as carefully researched and factually accurate. Mr. Irvine asked how those claims could be reconciled with the vicious misrepresentation of Hoover. NBC Chair- man Grant Tinder said: "Here again, Mr. Irvine, we're in a matter on which we have corresponded with you, and you have had answers to all those questions."
Irvine said: "I've never had a letter from you giving answers to any of these questions...I've searched my files and I can't find such a letter. The fact is that I never wrote to you about it." At this point one of Mr. Tinker's aides spoke to him, evidently telling him that he was wrong about the letter. Mr. Tinker retreated from that position saying: "I read you December AIM Report." This dialogue ensued.
Irvine: You never volunteered any reaction to it.
Tinker: I wouldn't have known where to start.
Irvine: I'm sure you wouldn't. Let me point out some very specific cases. Was J. Edgar Hoover a homosexual as portrayed on your program? What is your evidence?
Tinker: This is something that we're not going to debate on this floor.
Irvine: What is your evidence?
Tinker: I've just said, this is something we're not going to debate on this floor.
Irvine: You've debated it. You've put it out before millions of viewers who saw your program.
Tinker: I'm not going to stand here and talk about J. Edgar Hoover in terms of what he was or what he wasn't.
Irvine: Why not?
Tinker: Because it's not the purpose of this meeting.
Lester Kinsolving, (a Washington journalist): What is the purpose of the meeting, Mr. Tinker? Bradshaw: Well it certainly isn't to listen to you. Sit down! Kinsolving: ... You have evaded one thing after another all afternoon .... You say: "Oh we wrote to you about that." ... You didn't write to me about it .... I think it's a legitimate question.
Bradshaw: We'll send you a copy of the letter.
Irvine: He admitted there isn't any letter .... The questions have not been addressed by NBC, and Mr. Tinker says he won't address them ... NBC has the indecency to portray (Hoover) as being a sexual pervert, a crook, a racist and a liar, and Mr. Tinker says he won't address those questions. And yet he says the program was factually correct. I say, Mr. Tinker, that you have an obligation to the American people to say what your evidence is.
Tinker: Don't tell me what my obligations are to the American people, Mr. Irvine .... May I repeat that millions and millions of people saw that program. (This is a reference to an earlier statement by Tinker suggesting that the AIM view was a minority view because millions had seen the program, and NBC had received only 121) letters protesting the portrayal of Hoover).
Irvine: So what? Eight thousand members of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI have, through their organization, protested it to all the sponsors of that program... (And so did AIM). We have had letters from sponsor after sponsor apologizing for having been associated with it....Did you know that? [long silence]. I'm waiting.
Tinker: I don't know that...No sponsor has contacted me about it....
Irvine:... You haven't defended the program, and you can't defend it evidently....Mr. Bradshaw, do you agree with this opinion of J. Edgar Hoover that he was a fag, a crook, a racist? .... Do you agree with the characterization of J. Edgar Hoover?
Bradshaw: Well, I didn't know him. I knew Jack Kennedy. (Denies having read the AIM Report on the subject).... Irvine:...NBC libels this great American and refuses to say on what basis they did it...Do the directors buy that? General Jones (David C. Jones, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff), do you find that to be an acceptable position for the company on whose board you sit?
Jones: (rises slowly) I did not see the program, but I have got a great deal of confidence in Mr. Tinker.
Irvine:... So that's enough. Have you read the AIM Report? No. Has anyone on the board read the AIM Report on this program? (No response from any board member)...I think that's a disgraceful situation .... You don't come out looking very good, gentlemen. Kinsolving: You look sad. You really look sad.
What was painfully obvious was that neither Grant Tinker nor Thornton Bradshaw nor any member of the RCA board could answer a single AIM criticism of the smear on Hoover. Bradshaw called the program "splendid." Tinker confirmed the boast that it was accurate and carefully researched, but he wasn't prepared to answer a single criticism.
Grant Tinker had earlier tried to evade AIM's criticisms of "The Church of the Russians" by asserting that all the points we raised had been answered in a letter from NBC attorney Stephen Stander. Noting that Stander had said, "The purpose (of the program) was to present a picture of the state of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Soviet Union, not to evaluate the Soviet government policies." Irvine asked how they could discuss the state of the church without discussing what the government is doing to it. Pointing out the degree of KGB control of the church, Irvine said that Stander had not addressed that question in his letter.
Tinker denied that, but offered no evidence to back up that denial. Here is something of the dialogue.
Irvine: (Stander's letter) says that they allowed the leaders and members to speak for themselves. They didn't allow the members to speak for themselves. The people they interviewed were the Soviet officials and top hierarchy of the church. They didn't go to the equivalents of Fr. Gleb Yakunin....They didn't go to people like Fr. Michael Bourdeaux and ask him (or his experience and for all the dissidents that he has talked to....(Stander) says that 'although the relationship between church and state was not the program's theme, the narrator repeatedly points to the anti-religious role of the Soviet government.' He's contradicting himself. He says in the first place, we're not talking about the policies, but then he says, we did talk about the policies. We talked about the anti-religious role of the government.
Tinker: Exactly the point.
Irvine: But it is not mentioned that that anti-religious role consists of taking over physical control of this church by infiltrating KGB agents at--
Tinker: This really serves no purpose. You have all these answers.
Irvine: Mr. Tinker, it is precisely the point, and it has never been addressed by NBC. (Points out that Helen Marmot, the producer of the program, had not read Barron's book on the KGB, had not been familiar with the work of Fr. Michael Bourdeaux or with Fr. Gleb Yakunin, the Russian Orthodox priest who had appealed to the 1975 conclave of the World Council of Churches for help in saving the persecuted Christians in the USSR). I suggest that you have sent a child, naive, innocent child, into a den of thieves and said. 'Listen to what these people say and.., tell us all the nice things they say about themselves. Isn't that what you did?
Tinker: No. Irvine: Where was the expertise? Tinker: The expertise is all through NBC News, and the subjects such as those you raise have been treated in many ways on many occasions.
Irvine: When? Name one. Tinker: You know I can't name one. Irvine: All right, then don't say it, because you can't name one. Tinker: That's another falsehood. Irvine: Well then name one.
Tinker: Well I can't name one. Irvine: That's what I just said, you can't name one, and you said it was false.
Tinker changed the subject at that point, suggesting that Irvine ought to see the program, not simply rely on the transcript. Irvine said he was asking Mr. Bradshaw to see that this "Soviet disinformation program" not be aired again as planned. He said: "It would be a tremendous disservice to people like Fr. Gleb Yakunin and other Christians in the Soviet Union, and not only Christians but Jews as well, who are suffering under the persecution of that regime..."
Irvine: No one that I've spoken to... has been able to remember any program put out by NBC addressing what I've just suggested to you...Helen Marmot didn't even know the name, Gleb Yakunin....I asked the Rev. Bruce Rigdon (narrator of the program) "why didn't you include some of these other voices, the persecuted, not the persecutors?' He said. 'It would have been a good idea, but we didn't have time." ...They couldn't find 15 minutes to let the persecuted to be heard ... As a human being can you condone that approach? Tinker: Well, I am a human being, and yes, I can condone it. l thought the program was beautiful, and I suggest to you, sir, that you look at it before we discuss it again.
Irvine: I'm not talking about art. I'm not talking about the architecture. We're talking about human beings and the fact that believers are being persecuted in the Soviet Union....We have a lot of words, but they do not address the question. They don't address the problem.
They are counting letters at NBC. Let's give them a lot. Write to Thornton F. Bradshaw, Chairman, RCA, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10020. Demand that NBC not air "The Church of the Russians" a second time: that they apologize for the smear of J. Edgar Hoover, and the steps be taken to guard against spreading Soviet propaganda and disinformation.
AIM REPORT is published twice monthly by Accuracy In Media, Inc., 1341 G Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005, and is free to AIM members. Dues and contributions to AIM are tax deductible. The AIM Report is mailed 3rd class to those whose contribution is at least $15 a year and 1st class to those contributing $30 a year or more. Non-member subscriptions are $35 (1st class mail).
YOU WILL SEE FROM THIS AIM REPORT THAT WE GOT IN QUITE A FEW LICKS AT THE RCA annual shareholders meeting in Indianapolis on May 1. The debate was intense, but it had its lighter moments. One was when NBC chairman Grant Tinker tried to dismiss my questions about the vicious characterization of the late J. Edgar Hoover in the miniseries, "Kennedy," by saying that all my questions had been answered by letter. When he learned that no such letter had ever been sent to AIM, Tinker then refused to answer the questions on the ground that this was not the purpose of the meeting. The real reason, of course, was that he didn't have any answers. Tinker had earlier embarrassed RCA chairman Thornton Bradshaw by intervening in a discussion of a resolution I had submitted recommending that NBC News personnel be required to file financial disclosure statements. I pointed to the NutraSweet investigation at CBS and to the R. Foster Winans scandal at the Wall Street Journal to make the point that steps should be taken to guard against news personnel abusing their positions for financial gain.
MR. BRADSHAW REJECTED MY SUGGESTION, SAYING THAT THEY HAD HIGH STANDARDS THAT EMPLOYEES were expected to live up to. If they violated those standards they were fired or disciplined in some other appropriate way. Bradshaw saw no need for the requirement I had suggested as a tool to enforce their regulations. Mr. Tinker rose to point out that NBC was already requiring employees who had any influence on program content to disclose any financial interests they might have in various types of enterprises. He said it was a long list. I then said to Mr. Bradshaw that it appeared that NBC was al- ready close to doing what I had proposed. Since he had Just said it was unnecessary, I asked if he would abolish the requirement that Mr. Tinker had just described. Mr. Bradshaw did a quick flip-flop. He said it was inconceivable that a big firm like RCA would be without such a requirement'. Pressed to say why he had said it was unnecessary just minutes before, Mr. Bradshaw said: "I didn't want to accept it from you."
YOU WILL NOTE THAT I CITED AS AN EXAMPLE OF PROPAGANDA AIRED OVER NBC THE PLATFORM given to the West German extremist, Petra Kelly, on the Today Show on April 30. Neither Mr. Bradshaw nor Mr. Tinker would even try to respond to that example, since it was too recent. I think it's disgraceful that a person such as Kelly should have such easy access to the Today Show and receive such respectful treatment.
I AM APPALLED AT THE INDIFFERENCE THAT WE ARE ENCOUNTERING ON THE PART OF EXECUTIVES of large media companies to the problem of Soviet disinformation and propaganda. Their attitude seems to be that it couldn't happen to them. It is happening to them, but they refuse to face the stark truth. We had Professors Roy Godson and Richard Shultz address an AIM luncheon in Washington on May 4. They are the authors of a new book titled Dezinformatsia, the Russian word for disinformation. The book is a good one, scholarly but readable, thin but crammed with useful information. Through interviews with Soviet-bloc defectors from the intelligence services they show how agents of influence are recruited and manipulated to serve Soviet goals. Godson and Shultz noted that it is not necessary for the Soviets to buy the services of American reporters because so many of them seem eager to help the Soviets get their message across free of charge. They bend over backwards to give the Soviets the benefit of every doubt, while refusing to trust their own government. One sign of their wrongheadedhess is their refusal to review Dezinformatsia. They know nothing about it, and they don't want to learn. You can get this book from AIM for $8.95, postpaid, in paperback. That's 30% off the publisher's price. Use the coupon.
MY NEW BOOK, MEDIA MISCHIEF AND MISDEEDS, IS FINALLY OFF THE PRESS. COPIES ARE on the way to those who placed orders in advance. Thanks for your patience. I hope that those who have not yet ordered copies will now do so. The price to AIM members for single copies is only $6.95, postpaid, a discount of 30% from list price. The book is easy to read, but it is full of meat. It is illustrated with some great cartoons. The preface explains the origins of Accuracy in Media and tells what AIM is all about. The contents of the book show the kind of media criticism AIM puts out. This book will be a good introduction to AIM for anyone that you want to interest in joining. I hope you will use it to promote AIM among your friends, relatives and associates. We will make it available at a larger discount for quantity orders--$6.00 for 5 or more copies, $5.50 for 10 or more copies. We can't expect Big Media to promote Media Mischief and Misdeeds. We will have to do it ourselves, and I look to the AIM membership for help in getting it out.
IF YOU KNOW OF REVIEWERS OR OF TV OR RADIO TALK SHOW hosts who you think will be helpful in promoting this book, send me their names and addresses and we will send them free copies.
IF YOU CAN HELP US GET MEDIA MISCHIEF AND MISDEEDS into your local bookstores and libraries, please give it a try. We will make it available to them at the 45% discount.
THE AIM RESEARCH REPORT, "THE CHURCH OF THE RUSSIANS," IS AVAILABLE FOR ONLY $1.50 a copy. We are getting it set in type and printed in booklet form. Since NBC says it is going ahead with a re-run this summer, I think it would be a great idea to get copies out to churches and other interested groups to expose the false propaganda that NBC is disseminating. If enough letters of protest can be generated we may still persuade Mr. Bradshaw to bury this atrocity.
AS I WRITE THESE NOTES A CLEVER AND COSTLY DISINFORMATION PROGRAM IS BEING AIRED over public television at your expense. It is the $4.2 million PBS program, "Concealed Enemies," which is designed to raise doubts about the guilt of Alger Hiss. It doesn't go so far as to proclaim his innocence, but it suggests that the verdict ought to have been "not proven." The Washington Inquirer of May 4 showed the deception by which this was done. A good antidote: Allen Weinstein's Perjury, the definitive book on Hiss.