Reed Irvine, Editor Cliff Kincaid, Associate Editor
MEDIA CHOKE ON NOT-GUILTY FINDING
There are few things the media love more than the exoneration of a person accused of a murder or some other heinous crime when the prosecution's case is shown to have been badly flawed, or sometimes even slightly flawed.
But that's not the way it works when the accused is not popular with the media, and they are the ones that have, in effect, acted as the prosecutors. Consider the treatment some of our heavy hitters in the media have given the charges that the Nicaraguan freedom fighters have been deeply involved in drug trafficking and their coverage of the refutation of those charges.
These charges have been publicized on and off in recent years. As Lt. Col. Oliver North's dramatic testimony before the Iran arms committees was generating increased public support for the freedom fighters, The New York Times ran the first of three articles that discussed or mentioned the allegations that the Nicaraguan resistance was involved in drug smuggling. The articles appeared on July 13, 16, and 20. Accuracy in Media has been informed that there was pressure at the Times to do these articles. An editor had reportedly been stung by criticism of the paper's failure to report on a lawsuit fried by the radical Christic Institute. The suit charged that a number of leaders of the resistance and their American supporters had conspired to smuggle drugs and assassinate former resistance leader Eden Pastera.
North's testimony was itself interrupted on July 9 by demonstrators in the hearing room who yelled questions and unfurled banners about the freedom fighters and drugs. The publicity stunt succeeded. The commotion made all the evening news proSrams. Viewers were reminded of charges that the resistance forces had engaged in cocaine smuggling to raise money for their cause. Two days later, July 11, the CBS News program "West 57th" aired a pro- gram attempting to implicate members of North's private aid network for the resistance and the freedom fighters themselves in narcotics trafficking. An April 6 "West 57th" program, which was heavily promoted on the CBS Evening News, tried to implicate the CIA in the alleged scheme. The CIA denounced the broadcast as "scandalous defamatory journalism at its worst." Playing a behind-the- scenes role in the "West 57th" programs was Brian Berger, who had been promoting the drug charges against the freedom fighters with his partner Robert Parry at the Associated Press.
The drug charges have conveniently surfaced in the past when aid for the resistance has been debated on Capitol Hill. It was in May 1986, just prior to a vote on aid to the resistance, that the Christic Institute law- suit was filed. The filing of the suit was announced at a news conference crowded with reporters eager to get their hands on any information that could be used to smear the freedom fighters. However, they weren't so eager to report who was behind it. Fenton Communications, which arranged the news conference, had served as a registered agent for the Communist Sandinistas. The head of the firm, David Fenton, is a former photographer for Liberation News Service, which was named in honor of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, the phony nationalist movement established by Hanoi.
The suit was filed on behalf of two Costa Rica- based journalists, Tony Avirgan and Martha Honey, who claimed affiliations with major news organizations such as CBS News and ABC but have a background in radical politics. Avirgan has acknowledged that he was arrested several times for protesting against the Vietnam War. He was the author of a December 15, 1970, article in the leftist Win magazine titled, "From Hanoi With Love," in which he wrote sympathetically about the struggle for "independence and freedom" by the North Vietnamese. There is no evidence that Avirsan's views have changed. In fact, it appears that the Christic suit is designed to bring about Vietnam-style independence and freedom for Nicaragua by undermining support for the resistance.
Newspapers such as The New York Times have publicized the Christic suit, even though its own reporters have failed to substantiate it. Near the end of its lengthy July 20 story about the suit, the Times said, "Federal agents, United States prosecutors and spokes- men for the CIA have characterized the suit as a political fantasy. Other investigators, including reporters from major news organizations, have tried without success to find proof of aspects of the case, particularly the allegations that military supplies for the Contras may have been paid for with profits from drug trafficking."
Even Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Kwitny, who has relied in the past on sources such as CIA defector Philip Agee, says the Christic Institute is unreliable. He charged in an August 20 article in the left-wing Nation magazine that Christic lawyer Daniel Sheehan's evidence for his conspiracy theory remains "wen-hidden." Kwitny said, "For a year I have repeatedly asked Sheehan to provide sources or documents to corroborate his contentions. On several occasions Sheehan has promised to make sources available, but has always backed out, citing danger to the sources or other complications. This is reminiscent of the late 1970s, when Sheehan promised to provide reporters with proof that Karen Silkwood was killed because she had discovered an international plot to smuggle bomb- grade material out of nuclear fuel plants out of the country. Sheehan did not produce a single witness."
Sheehan and others at the Christic Institute had played an active role in the Silkwood case and the multi-million-dollar suit against Kerr-McGee Corporation, which had employed Karen Silkwood at its plutonium fuel rod plant in Oklahoma. The suit, filed by Silkwood's family, was a popular leftist cause in the 1970s and early '80s. Sheehan has since dedicated himself to undermining the freedom fighters and their friends. He even called for the impeachment of President Reagan after the Iran arms hearings ended.
On July 21 the House Select Committee on Narcotics held a news conference to report on closed-door testimony it had received on the issue of "Contra drug running," a major component of the Christic suit. More than 30 reporters and six television camera crews showed up for the news conference. It was delayed for two hours. But anticipating some headline-making stories, the reporters waited patiently for the big moment. When the chairman, Rep. Charles Rangel (N.Y.), and other members of the committee finally held their news conference, the results proved disappointing to the media and the leftist groups that had testified. Rangel said, "None of the witnesses gave any evidence that would show that the Contra leadership was involved in the trafficking of drugs." However, he said allegations about individuals within the Contra movement would be passed on to other investigating bodies. He added that if the committee had known what was going to be in the testimony, it would not even have scheduled the news conference.
Committee member Robert K. Dornan (R-Calif.) told Cliff Kincaid of AIM, "This committee was suckered today." He blamed the Christic Institute, which save some of the testimony, for the fiasco. "They brought all the news media together by claiming they were seine to give this committee in closed, secret, executive session the 'goodies.' And they save us nothing." If the committees had uncovered the "goodies," a smoking sun linking the resistance to drug smuggling, it's certain the announcement would have been highlighted in the media. But the failure of the committee to come up with anything wasn't reported by any of the evening news programs. The print media did better. The UPI, The Washington Post and The Washington Times all carried good stories about the lack of evidence against the freedom fighters, The New York Times did not run a story.
While trying to disassociate himself from the Christic Institute conspiracy, The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Kwitny insisted there was substantial evidence linking the resistance to drugs. This evidence focused on former associates of Eden Pastors. But Kwitny. too, seemed to suggest there was a kind of conspiracy operating. He said, for example, that the Iran arms committees had "evaded the issue", of the resistance and drugs. He said both Lt. Col. Oliver North and his liaison to the freedom fighters, Robert Owen, had not been asked about the matter during their appearances before the committee.
All of Kwitny's claims are untrue. As the issue of the Nation containing his article was hitting the newsstands, information showing that the House panel had thoroughly investigated the charges was released. A headline across the front page of the August 26 Washington Times read, "Select Panel finds no evidence of Contra drug trafficking." The Philadelphia Inquirer ran an AP story headlined, "Panel Dismisses Drug Allegations." The two stories reported that investigators for the House panel investigating the Iran arms affair had found no evidence to support charges that the freedom fight- era were involved in drug smuggling activities. A memorandum by Robert A. Bermingham, an investigator for the House committee, said investigators had questioned hundreds of persons, including U.S. Government employees, leaders of the resistance, representatives of foreign governments, U.S. and foreign law enforcement officials, military person- nel, private pilots and crew. They had examined reams of records, including files of the Departments of State, Defense and Justice, the FBI, CIA, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the National Security Council and Customs. They had interviewed the resistance leaders and examined their financial records, private enterprise business records and even their income tax returns. Bermingham said, "Despite numerous newspaper accounts to the contrary, no evidence was developed indicating that Contra leadership or Contra organizations were actually involved in drug trafficking. Sources of news stories indicating to the contrary were of doubtful veracity. There was no information developed indicating any U.S. Government agency or organization condoned drug trafficking by the Contras or anyone else." The stories in The Washington Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer gave a good account of Bermingham's findings.
Those stories also noted that Alan Fiers, a CIA official, had said in testimony just released that Bermingham's memo was correct insofar as the resistance leaders and their organizations were concerned. He said that a lot of people associated with Eden Pastora, the former resistance leader who was operating out of Costa Rica, had been linked to cocaine trafficking. He said that was one reason the CIA broke its ties with Pastera in 1984.
The New York Times, which had run those three stories in July about the drug smuggling allegations, didn't think the Bermingham memo was really newsworthy. It reported near the end of a 26-parevaph story that, "The agency (CIA) had information that aides to Eden Pastera, a Contra loader eventually abandoned by the CIA, were heavily involved in drug trafficking. A memo by an aide to the Iran-Contra committees, released today end dated July 22, said the panel had been unable to confirm charges the Contras were underwriting their war effort through the sale of drugs." This was the total report of our newspaper of record about this very important memo exonerating the resistance leaders of drug-smuggling charges.
The Washington Post also buried the exoneration in a long story about Alan Fiers' testimony. In the 10th paragraph of that story, reporter Walter Pincus recounted what Mr. Fiers had said about people associated with Eden Pastera dealing in cocaine to raise money for the cause. Pincus neglected to report Fiers' statement that this was one reason the CIA broke with Pastera. A reader who only knew what Pincus said could have come away with the impression that Mr. Pastera is still a resistance leader and is still sup- ported by U.S. funds. He quoted Fiefs as saying "it was right not to deal with Pastera," but he didn't say the CIA had stopped dealing with him. After reporting on Fiefs testimony, Pincus said that "ironically," the committees had just disclosed their inability to cor- roborate charges of "U.S. Government condoned drug trafficking by Contra leaders and Contra organiza- tions." That falsely implied that Fiefs' testimony had contradicted the Bermingham memo.
The exoneration of the freedom fighters wasn't mentioned by any of the evening news programs. Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News twisted the information released by the committees in a way that suggested that the CIA had been lying about the matter all along. Rather reported, "Testimony from the CIA task force chief for Central America alleges that one of the original Contra groups was involved in drug trafficking. The testimony is from Alan Fiers. He testified privately before the IrenContra investigating committees. Part of his teatimony made public today says the CIA had considerable evidence linking the Nicaraguan rebel group headed by Eden Pastors to cocaine trafficking. This is one reason, Fiers said, that the United States broke ties with Pastore's group. Pastors and the CIA have repeatedly denied such talk, calling it a smear."
Rather thus left the impression that a CIA witness had now confirmed what the CIA had previously denied. This is false. The agency had been denying charges that it condoned drug trafficking by the resistance. These were the charges that had been aired by Dan Rather himself on the evening news and on the CBS News program "West 57th." The CIA had not said that talk of a drug link to Pastora's group was a smear. In fact, the Administration itself submitted a report to Congress in 1986 admitting that some members of Pastora's group may have been involved in drug smuggling. The Fiefs testimony was consistent with what the Administration had been saying.
Rather completely ignored the contents of the Bermingham memorandum, which cleared current resistance leaders of the drug charges. Thus, when he referred to Pastora's organization as "one of the original Contra groups," he may have led his viewera to believe that it is still in existence and fightins the Sandinistas.
Contrary to what Journal reporter Kwitny stated in the Nation, Lt. Col. North was asked about the drug charges during his testimony before the Iran arms committees. In fact, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) asked him specifically about allegations made on the CBS News program "West 57th" on July 11 that Robert Owen was somehow involved in drug trafficking. Owen was North's liaison to the freedom fighters and is a defendant in the Christic suit. North said the report was "absolutely false." He said that Owen tried to make sure the freedom fighters had clean records by reporting back to him any "information pertaining to the possibility of involvement in drugs." Owen answered Senator David Boren's (D-Okla.) questions on the matter by saying that he once expressed concern that a plane used to transport humanitarian aid to the freedom fighters had reportedly been used to carry drugs in the past. Owen had also expressed concern in a memorandum to North about some individuals apparently active in resistance activities in southern Nicaragua who were reportedly involved with drugs. These individuals were formerly associated with Eden Pastora.
Another defendant in the Christic suit, John Hull, is an American rancher in Costa Rice who has been charged with letting planes loaded with weapons for the resistance land on his ranch and leave with cocaine. A May 21 front-page article in the Wall Street Journal by Jonathan Kwitny discussed Hull's role in helping the freedom fighters. Kwitny made a trip to the ranch to investigate charges that Hull was involved in drug smuggling to raise funds for the resistance. Kwitny dealt with the charges far down in his story. He said Hull had denied them and had cited details proving their falsity. One of the details was Hull's claim that the runways on his ranch "are too short to accommodate the planes the smugglers claim they flew into and out of his ranch." When Cliff Kincaid of AIM later asked Kwitny about Hull's other details, he said he was hoping to report them in a future article, "despite the inclination of a few editors not to." Hull told us that the details included the fact that the smugglers had failed to accurately identify his ranch as the location where they landed, and Kwitny's confirmation with the aircraft manufacturers that the run- ways were too short to accommodate their aircraft.
Some of these details eventually surfaced, not in the Journal but in that Nation article by Kwitny. Near the end of his story about the resistance and drugs, he reported, "In Costa Rica, I carefully measured the two grass strips (drug smugglers) Morales and Betzner say they used on and near Hull's ranch. In both cases the runways were more than 1,000 feet shorter than they said. I interviewed the manufacturers of the aircraft and engines they say they used, and other aviation experts about runway requirements. From what these experts said, the takeoffs in cocaine-laden planes that Morales and Betzner say were made from the airstrips would be either impossible or so risky they would not likely have been undertaken by plane."
This exoneration of John Hull has not been reported by the Journal itself. Doing so would provide an opportunity for the Journal and other media to question the motives of those in the Christic Institute who are making Owen, Hull and other defendants spend much of their time and money defending themselves against the spurious allegations.
CBS dishonored the victims who died when the Soviet Union shot down Korean Air Lines flight 007 by marking the fourth anniversary of that Soviet atrocity with broadcasts that put the blame on the United States. This is the second time in six months that CBS has helped promote a major Soviet disinformation theme. Last March, Dan Rather reported as news the Soviet claim that the Aids virus had been created in a U.S. biological warfare laboratory. The president of CBS News later acknowledged that this was Soviet disinformation, but this admission was in a private letter, not in a broadcast.
Ever since the Korean airliner was shot down over Sakhalin Island on September 1, 1983, the Soviets have claimed that the plane was on a spy mission for the United States, even though the plane was a civilian airliner. One of the passengers was Congressman Lawrence P. McDonald, who died along with two hundred and sixty eight other victims of Soviet in- humanity. Rather than reminding its viewers that the Soviets had not only callously sent all these innocent people to their deaths, but had never uttered a word of apology or regret, CBS devoted two segments of its Morning Show to putting the blame for the tragedy on the United States.
On August 28 Rolland Smith, co-host of the CBS Mornin8 Show, interviewed David Pearson, author of a new book titled "KAL 007: Cover-up." It is Pearson's contention that the airliner was deliberately over flying Soviet territory the night that it was shot down and that U.S. authorities knew this and failed to take any action to stop it or warn it. He rejects the notion that the plane took this course by mistake or did so to shorten the distance between Anchorage and Seoul to save fuel. He also rejects the theory that the plane was lured off course by the Soviets, noting that it began to diverge from its proper course as soon as it took off from Anchorage, long before it could possibly be misguided by any Soviet electronic tricks.
That leaves only one other possibility in Pearson's mind that the plane was on a spy mission for the United States, the Soviet line. Pearson first surfaced his theories in August 1984 in an article in the left-wing Nation magazine. At that time, he was a graduate student at Yale, studying sociology. Despite his lack of expertise in aviation, Pearson was interviewed on NBC's Today Show about his article. It was absurd that he should have been given that much attention, but NBC at least had Senator Patrick Leahy, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee on to refute Pearson's claims.
Experts have demonstrated that Pearson's article was riddled with dozens of factual errors and erroneous assumptions. For example, the pilot of the Soviet interceptor that shot KAL 007 down was heard saying that he could see the plane's navigation lights and its strobe light blinking. That didn't jibe with Pearson's theory, since it would make no sense for the airline to so advertise its presence if it were on a dangerous spy mission. Pearson therefore construed the Soviet pilot to be saying that his own lights were on and that he was blinking them as a signal to the airliner. We have yet to find a copy of his book, but judging from his CBS interviews, Pearson has paid no attention to the major errors that critics found in his article.
Both the Senate and House intelligence committees had examined Pearson's charges and found them base- less. The House committee concluded: "U.S. intelligence did not promote or even passively subscribe to an over flight and did not have timely information which could have prevented the over flight and the Soviet attack."
But instead of having an expert on its Morning Show to answer Pearson, CBS had him on the pro- gram a second time on August 31, together with Mrs. Nan Oldham, the mother of one of the KAL 007 victims. Mrs. Oldham was not there to provide balance. Her role was to lend emotional support to Pearson's case, appealing for a congressional investigation to make known the "truth." AIM promptly and vigorously protested this outrageous assist to Soviet disinformation, but got only assurance that it would be "looked into."
Write to Laurence A. Tisch, President, CBS Inc., 51 West 52nd St., N.Y., N.Y. 10019. Tell him what you think of this atrocious conduct.
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"IS IT NAIVETE OR KNAVERY AT CBS?"IS THE HEADLINE ON OUR SECOND STORY IN THIS ISSUE, but it could apply to the lead story also. That story deals with the way Big Media buried or ignored an important memo by an investigator for the House committee investigating the Iran arms affair. The memo indicated that after a thorough investigation they had found no evidence that the frequently heard charges that the Nicaraguan freedom fighters were funding themselves with drug money were true. Since CBS News, in its program "West 57th," had done the most to spread those charges on television, it had a particularly strong obligation to set the record straight. CBS News ignored the memo by the committee investigator, Robert A. Bermingham, and confined its report to testimony by a CIA official that was released the same day. It ignored that official's statement that the Bermingham memo was correct insofar as the resistance leaders and their organizations were concerned. It focused on his statement that some persons formerly associated with Eden Pastora, the former resistance leader based in Costa Rica, may have been involved with drug trafficking. That information was submitted in a report to Congress in 1986 and was publicized at the time. There was nothing new in it. What was new was what Bermingham said. CBS News elected to go with the year-old story and ignore the news. Why? Obviously because what Bermingham said conflicted with what they had pushed so hard on "West 57th." I have to call that "knavery."
OUR SECOND STORY DEALS WITH THE INCREDIBLE DECISION TO COMMEMORATE THE FOURTH ANNI- versary of the KAL 007 massacre by interviewing the author of a book on the CBS Morning Show to promote the Soviet line that the Korean airliner was really on a spy mission. In introducing this author on the show on August 31, co-host Rolland Smith said: "This morning we're going to talk about what really happened." And what really happened, according to the author, David Pearson, was that the Korean airliner deliberately over flew Soviet territory and that the United States government knew it was off course and flying in this dangerous area and did nothing to warn it or stop it. Therefore, we can infer, the plane was spying for the United States, as the Soviets have alleged.
THERE ARE MANY EXPERTS WHO COULD HAVE BEEN INTERVIEWED BY CBS TO DEMOLISH PEARSON'S theories by showing that he has been extremely reckless with the facts. CBS devoted two segments to Pearson on two different days. They had one other person on during the second segment. But they didn't have anyone on that even disagreed with Pearson, much less showed specifically why his theory won't hold water.
I WAS SO OUTRAGED BY THIS THAT I CALLED GENE JANKOWSKI, THE PRESIDENT OF THE CBS Broadcast Group, on August 31 to request that he do something about this assist to the Soviets to help justify one of their most despicable deeds. I also fired off a letter to Laurence Tisch, the president of CBS Inc. I have just now, on the morning of September 10, received a report from Mr. Jankowski by phone on the results of his investigation. Mr. Jankowski started off by reminding me that the interview was not the responsibility of CBS News, which I knew. The Morning Show was put under the entertainment division last year. Jankowski said that all they did was interview an author of a book. He said, "We didn't do anything out of the ordinary that we think is improper." He said they were just letting the author talk about his book and that the interviewer, Rolland Smith, had mentioned other theories that might explain the plane's behavior. One was that the plane was taking a shortcut to save fuel and the other was that it had been lured off course by Soviet electronic trickery. Smith brought those theories up merely to let Pearson knock them down. I pointed out that he had not mentioned the most generally accepted theory--that the pilot had made an error in programming the computer that controls the navigation system.
I POINTED OUT THAT WHEN SMITH INTRODUCED PEARSON SAYING THAT THEY WERE GOING TO talk about what really happened, he was giving CBS's endorsement to the book's accuracy. Jankowski was momentarily thrown off balance when I quoted that sentence to him. After locating it in his transcript, he said that, well, that was just one sentence and it should- n't be taken out of context. I said that it fitted the context perfectly and that there was no other way of interpreting it. I noted that when NBC's Today Show interviewed Pearson back in 1984, they at least had Senator Leahy of the Senate Intelligence Committee on to answer his charges. They were at least fair. Jankowski said one had to distinguish between being fair and favorable. He thought CBS had been fair in its treatment of Pearson.
I SAID THAT BY INTERVIEWING PEARSON ON TWO SUCCESSIVE PROGRAMS WITH NO REBUTTAL THEY were being favorable to the Soviet disinformation line. Jankowski said they had not given Pearson "that much time" even though it was spread over two days. He felt that he had discharged his obligation by reporting back to me on his findings. I said they had an obligation to tell the other side of the story. Would they do it? Jankowski said he would get back to me if they decided to do that. End of conversation.
I THINK THIS IS REALLY BEYOND THE PALE. LETTERS TO LAURENCE TISCH SHOULD BE SUPPLE- mented by letters to advertisers on the Morning Show. Here are some that advertised on August 28, the second day that Pearson was interviewed. Please write to them.
THESE LETTERS ARE TAKEN SERIOUSLY AND CAREFULLY MONITORED. AS PART OF THE DISCOVERY process in Victor Lasky's suit against ABC, the network has released documents showing that letters about programs and correspondents are analyzed and summarized so that management knows what the public is thinking. One document reveals the letters are described as "pro-" or "con." For example, conservative George Will's performance on a 1983 broadcast of "This Week With David Brinkley" received 36 "pro" responses and 122 "con." Those upset with Will's conservative opinions were making their views known to ABC. This information may have led to the decision to remove Will as a regular commentator on ABC World News Tonight.
AIM'S ONE-DAY CONFERENCE, PREVIOUSLY SCHEDULED FOR OCTOBER 5, HAS BEEN CHANGED to Friday, October 16. It will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, 1000 H St., N.W., Washington, D.C. Experts like Herbert Philbrick and Arnold Beichman will discuss the Communist Party's influence on public opinion and public policy. Since the National Forum Foundation will hold a similar conference at the Grand Hyatt on October 17-18, featuring former leftists of the 1960s like David Horowitz, this would provide AIM speakers and guests with a unique opportunity to attend both conferences if they wish to do so. The registration fee for the AIM conference on October 16 is $25, including a luncheon. Please use the coupon below and register now. The fee for the following two-day conference is $100. Contact the National Forum Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Ave., N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002. Their phone number is (202) 543-3515.