Reed Irvine - Editor
|March-A , 1989||XVIII-5|
MEDIA BLIND TO LEFTIST McCARTHYISM
McCarthyism is defined in the dictionary as the publicizing of accusations with insufficient regard to evidence or the use of methods of investigation and accusation regarded as unfair. The liberal media have been quick to cry McCarthyism when anyone is accused of being a communist or being sympathetic to communism, but their concern about unfounded accusations all too often vanishes when the target is an anti-communist.
For over two years Maj. Gen. John K. Singlaub, Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord, Adolfo Calero and 26 others who have, like them, been fighting communism in Central America or who have military or intelligence backgrounds, were the target of a vicious attack by the leftist Christic Institute. On top of being slandered, they were named as defendants in a $24 million lawsuit filed by the Christics. They incurred costs of over a million dollars in legal fees to defend themselves.
As we have previously reported, Judge James Lawrence King dismissed this suit last June just before the trial date. The judge ruled that the plaintiffs had not produced sufficient evidence to justify a trial On February 2, 1989, Judge King administered the coup de grace, ordering the Christic Institute and the plaintiffs they represented to pay five of the defendants over a million dollars to cover their legal fees and costs. This was done under federal civil rule 11, which provides for sanctions against those who file frivolous lawsuits. This was the highest penalty ever imposed under this rule, four times greater than the previous record. The judge ordered the Christic Institute to post a bond of $1,211,881 by March 3 to guarantee payment of the defendants' legal costs plus interest. The Christics sought to be relieved of this obligation on the ground that they didn't have the money and they would be forced to cease their operations if forced to comply. The judge rejected that request.
Judge King imposed sanctions because he found the Christic suit had been based on "unsubstantiated nunor and speculation from unidentified sources with no first-hand knowledge." It fitted the definition of McCarthyism perfectly. Our liberal media have failed to expose and denounce this outrageous abuse of the legal process. With few exceptions, they have even failed to tell their viewers and readers of the vindication of the defendants and the punishment of their accusers.
Appearing on a media panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington on February 25, AIM chairman Reed Irvine described Judge King's rulings. He asked panelists John Martin and Tom Pettit, national correspondents of ABC News and NBC News respectively, "Where was it on ABC, John? Where was it on NBC, Tom? Where was it on CBS?" He said the networks had not reported one word about the Christic suit being thrown out of court or about the sanctions imposed for abuse of process. After the applause subsided, Tom Pettit replied, "How in the hell do I know where it was?" John Martin said, "We don't do a lot of stories out there. Let's face it. We are limited." This exchange ensued.
Their evidence was testified to, judged and thrown out. That's not McCarthyism. Joe McCarthy ran around the country with a piece of paper saying, "I've got the names of 26 people here."...And he ruined people without sufficient proof.
IRVINE: John, Danny Sheehan (Christie general counsel) ran around the country. He had signed an affidavit saying, "I have 79 witnesses that will prove that these people conspired for 30 years to do these things. He raised millions of dollars with this (about $3 million according to a story in The New York Times in June 1988). The judge found that when he finally made him name these witnesses that 20 of them didn't exist, many more said they had never talked to Danny Sheehan and knew nothing about it, and the main witness that he had turned up said all he had was hearsay evidence. Isn't that McCarthyism, John?
One indisputable fact that ABC did not put on the air was that Judge King blew the whistle on (1) an extreme case of using unfounded accusations to punish people perceived to be political enemies, and (2) the exploitation of these wild accusations to extract millions of dollars in tax- deductible contributions from duped donors. The exploitation of the gullible donors is still going on, since the Christic Institute is making strenuous efforts to raise enough money to post the bond that Judge King has required. None of the other networks put this on the air either, nor did the three leading newsweeklies nor most of the country's newspapers. Needless to say, Judge King was not named ABC's "person of the week," an honor given in February 1988 to Margaret Ratner of the radical Center for Constitutional Rights for exposing an FBI investigation of CISPES, a support group for the communist guerrillas in El Salvador.
The media's failure to debunk the Christic lies either before or after Judge King's dismissal of the suit is a case study in the reluctance of liberal reporters and editors to discredit their allies on the left such as Daniel Sheehan. It wasn't that there was any lack of evidence to show that his charges were fabrications.
Brian Barger, formerly a reporter for the Associated Press, told AIM of an episode when Sheehan held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington to announce that he was filing an affidavit detailing, for the first time, the sources for his various "secret team" charges. Barger and his partner, Robert Parry, were skimming the affidavit when Parry suddenly swore and asked, "Did you see this?" He and Barger were listed as sources for an untrue statement about a Southern paramilitary specialist and his supposed work with the freedom fighters in Nicaragua. Barger said he and Parry confronted Sheehan.
"There was a big screaming match before dozens of reporters," Barger tom AIM. "We told Sheehan he was wrong, that he had used false information and put our names on it." Both reporters left in a huff, but neither wrote about Sheehan's false allegation. Why not? "That's a good question," Barget replied. "I'd just say that the fact that another public interest group had filed another lawsuit is not necessarily a major story." His main assignment was the Iran arms affair, and he considered the Christic suit a sidelight. "False assertions happen every day in Washington," Barget said, "but all in all, perhaps we should have been more aggressive."
And so should the other reporters who witnessed the "screaming match," but none of them saw fit to report this noisy confrontation. Like ABC's John Martin they didn't view Sheehan's charges as left-wing McCarthyism that they had a duty to expose. The victims of Sheehan's legal attack, Gen. Singlaub, a major fundraiser for the Nicaraguan Resistance; Gen. Secord and his business partner Albert Hakim, who handled the arms sales to Iran for Oliver North; freedom fighter Adolfo Calero; Rob Owen, North's liaison with the freedom fighters; former CIA official Ted Shackley and the rest, were not friends of theirs or men for whom they had any natural sympathy. They felt no compulsion to rise to their defense, no matter how unfair the charges against them.
To bring suit against these men under the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, Sheehan needed a plaintiff who would claim to have suffered injury at their hands, and he needed to show that the defendants had collusively engaged in illegal activities over an extended period of time. Two left- wing journalists based in Costa Rica, Tony Avirgan and his wife, Martha Honey, agreed to be his plaintiffs. Avirgan had been slightly injured when a bomb was exploded at a press conference given by Nicaraguan Resistance leader Eden Pastora in the village of La Penca in southern Nicaragua. Sheehan then alleged that the 29 defendants he named had been responsible for this bombing and that they had constituted a "secret team" that had engaged in illegal activities such as drug and arms smuggling and assassinations dating back to the Vietnam War.
Sheehan filed an affidavit in the Federal District Court in Miami on December 12, 1986, listing 79 unnamed "sources" who allegedly could testify to the accuracy of these charges. For a lawyer, such an affidavit is important. His signature attests to its truth: "that to the best of his knowledge, information and belief formed after reasonable inquiry, it is well-founded in fact." Defense lawyers spent 15 months trying to get Sheehan to reveal the names of these sources. He resisted, claiming their fives would be endangered if their identities were disclosed. When Judge King finally ordered him to reveal the names, Sheehan had to admit that 20 of the 79 were unknown. Some of those he did name disclaimed any knowledge of Sheehan's allegations. Others said that Sheehan had distorted or misquoted their statements. Incredibly, even the plaintiffs; Avirgan and Honey, "revealed on deposition that they never saw (Sheehan's) affidavit until much later and that they disagreed with many of the facts alleged therein....",
Defense lawyers methodically picked apart Sheehan's case through depositions and affidavits from his claimed sources, when they could find them. Lead defense counsel Thomas Spencer revealed the mess they uncovered, saying, "For example, Mr. Sheehan now claims that he has 'lost' the name of source No. l (a minister). He now claims that source No. 2 (an FBI agent) was never known to him, but was really a source of source No. 1. Source No. 3 (an FBI superior) is similarly unknown now...."
In all, some 55 of the claimed 79 sources proved spurious, leading Spencer to assert that Sheehan's claims under oath were "false and were made with a reckless disregard for their truth...and with a clear understanding that they were false at the time they were made. In many instances, the attributions were consciously designed to mislead. In other instances...Sheehan acquired knowledge of their inaccuracy and took no steps to correct them...."
Why the lies? Spencer asserted, "First and foremost, (the affidavit) was to be a fund-raising tool. Therefore Mr. Sheehan had to stretch the story to make it dramatic and interesting." The Christics sold this false affidavit for $10. It helped them raise the millions of dollars used to press their suit and publicize their claims.
Incredibly, Sheehan himself, according to one of his key "sources," admitted that he had deliberately falsified this affidavit. Carl Jenkins, a retired CIA paramilitary officer, had been persuaded by an acquaintance, Gene Wheaton, to meet with Sheehan for a "general discussion" in January 1986, prior to the filing of the Christic suit. Jenkins did so reluctantly, saying he regarded the Christics as "kind of a loose cannon." To Jenkins' astonishment, he discovered that he was the "source" of one of the key charges made in Sheehan's affidavit when Judge King finally required that the sources be named.
This was the charge that General Singlaub and Robert K. Brown, publisher of Soldier of Fortune magazine, "directly provided" a retired CIA explosives expert named John Harper to help a Libyan-born mercenary make the bomb planted at Eden Pastora's press conference in La Penca. Jenkins was furious at having been cited by Sheehan us a source for this and other charges concerning "the secret team." He said in an affidavit, "I am astounded that on the basis of his conversations with me Mr. Sheehan would swear under oath that I supplied him with any of this information." He said that when he confronted Sheehan about this, "Mr. Sheehan said to me that he was not concerned with the actual state of my knowledge and that he was using the affidavit simply to keep the case in court so that he could take discovery to prove the story. He further told me that he would drop sources such us me once he had developed hard sources."A Weak Reed for a Pillar
Gene Wheaton, the acquaintance who arranged for Jenkins to meet Sheehan, also professed to be astonished to find that he had also been identified as a source for the charge about Harper, the explosives expert. Queried by defense attorney Thomas Spencer, Wheaton denied having any knowledge whatsoever that Harper or Gen. Singlaub had anything to do with the La Penca bombing. Asked if he was not aware that Sheehan had listed him as a source for this charge in his affidavit, Wheaton replied, "I didn't know...until I came in here (to be deposed) that...I was source 24 (the number Sheehan gave him in the affidavit)."
Wheaton, a retired military investigator, was supposedly one of the main pillars of Sheehan's ease, the source of much of the "information" on which he based his charges. Wheaton's 1,108-page deposition taken in March 1988 turned out to be a devastating expose of the shoddy manner in which Sheehan constructed his case. Wheaton, broke and out of work, had gone to work for Sheehan as an undercover agent and had been paid about $20,000 in "expenses." When deposed, he had trouble describing the exact sources for much of the information Sheehan claimed to have obtained from him.
For instance, Sheehan attributed to Wheaton a charge that former CIA officials Ted Shackley and Thomas Clines ran a highly secret assassination project in Iran from 1976 to 1980. Asked if he had actually made such a charge to Sheehan, Wheaton said, "No, my knowledge of assassination in Iran were the mujaheddin and fedayeen as Iranian government officials.... Everything I told (Sheehan) was my general perception of what was taking place." Wheaton had reported that Gen. Secord had shared in bribes allegedly connected with the U.S. sale of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia in 1979. In his sworn deposition, he said his source for this was "cocktail humor" overheard at parties in the Saudi Arabian capital.
Wheaton had also claimed to know of an alleged secret meeting in March 1987 at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, where a covert school for commando, terrorist and assassination teams called "The Fish Farm" was said to have been discussed.
Asked how he learned of this, Wheaton replied, "Somebody either called me or dropped by or slipped me a note. I don't remember which." He said he didn't know if his informant was someone who had attended the meeting or not.
Wheaton had also reported that an ABC News helicopter had been shot down and an ABC cameraman or journalist killed while investigating a terrorist/ commando training school "the secret team" was supposed to have been operating on Andros Island in the Bahamas. He claimed to have heard about this from former ABC News correspondent Karen Burns and Frank Snepp, a former CIA agent who has worked for ABC News as a consultant. Wheaton claimed that the incident had been covered up for national security reasons. He said the ABC executives "decided to play this down and keep it low key," compensating the family of the victim and presumably securing their silence as well. Karen Burns told AIM she had never spoken to Wheaton about any such incident.
This story is evidently built on the crash of a helicopter carrying the pilot, an NBC cameraman and two technicians, one from NBC and one from ABC, on a flight from Andros Island to Miami on November 12, 1980. They were returning to Miami after filming the removal by Bahamian police of a group of Haitians who had been marooned on Caya Lobos Island. Part of the wreckage was found on a Grand Bahamas beach. The story was well publicized at the time, and it obviously had nothing to do with any investigation of the type described by Wheaton. The idea that any news organization would or could cover up such a matter is absurd. In this case it is even more ridiculous since both NBC and ABC personnel were involved, a fact that apparently was unknown to Wheaton even though four stories about the crash appeared in The New York Times.
Wheaton was a very weak reed on which to build a $24 million lawsuit. In his deposition he spoke of "information that was being dumped to me over the transom...the whispering in the ear, and the dark night and all that stuff." He explained his inability to name any specific sources for his "information" on his total lack of records. He said that since he had not intended to use the information in court, "I made it easy on myself by simply not writing it down. And there were so many people furnishing me pieces of information that I could not begin to pinpoint which one of them told me which bit of information."
When the Christic suit appeared to be heading for trial, the special projects division of CNN sent producers and reporters to Washington to interview the key people involved on both sides. The badly smeared defendants were eager to get their story before the public, but the cards were stacked against them. CNN researcher Molly Boyle had prepared a thick briefing book, giving sketches of nearly everyone mentioned in the charges or involved in the case. It appeared that she had leaned heavily on Christic sources for her information. She described Sheehan as a person "whose knowledge of Contra activities is considered to be among the best."
When Judge King threw the suit out of court with his scathing comments on how baseless the charges were, CNN lost all interest. It reported the dismissal, but it showed no interest in exposing the McCarthyitc character of the charges. Turner Broadcasting System lawyer Steven Korn explained in a letter to AIM that CNN had "believed that it was an interesting story which was newsworthy as it involved wide-ranging allegations concerning the national security of the United States," but he said, "Dismissal made the lawsuit no longer a newsworthy event."
The disgrace and the possible collapse of the Christic Institute is still not newsworthy as far as CNN and the broadcast networks are concerned. None of them has reported the imposition of Rule 11 sanctions against the Christics. The print media have done only slightly better. The Washington Times and The Washington Inquirer were unique in putting the story on page one. The Miami Herald ran a good story at the top of its local news section. The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times covered the million-dollar sanctions story in a few paragraphs buried deep inside the papers. The Boston Globe covered it in one botched paragraph. Twelve other papers we surveyed had no story at all. These included USA Today, The New York Post, Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, The Rocky Mountain News, The Detroit News, The Hartford Courant, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Cincinnati Enquirer and The Milwaukee Journal. If Gen. Singlaub and Gen. Secord take over the Christic Institute headquarters building in Washington, will it make the evening news? It might, if they don combat gear and go in carrying assault rifles.
This would make an excellent story for "60 Minutes" or "West 57th." Since CBS gave considerable publicity to the Christic charges, send the enclosed card or write your own letter to CBS president Laurence Tisch, asking that CBS report the collapse of the Christic suit on one of those programs.
AIM REPORT is published twice monthly by Accuracy In Media, Inc., 1275 K 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 $20 a year and 1st class to those contributing $30 a year or more. Non- members subscriptions are $35 (1st class mail).
IN THIS AIM REPORT WE CRITICIZE BOTH THE PRINT AND THE ELECTRONIC MEDIA FOR having generally done a very poor job (or no job at all) of reporting the crushing penalty Judge James Lawrence King imposed on the Christic Institute for having flagrantly abused the legal process in filing a $24 million RICO suit against Maj. Gen. John K. Singlaub and 28 other defendants without any evidence to support the charges. We list a dozen papers, including The Wall Street Journal, that failed to inform their readers that the judge had ordered the Christic Institute and the plaintiffs in the case to pay over a million dollars to the defendants to cover their legal fees and other costs. On March 2, The Wall Street Journal made up for its failure to report the story by running an excellent editorial about Judge King's action. Once again the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal has proven its usefulness in disseminating important information that the liberal-dominated newsrooms of our national media (including the Journal's) don't see fit to report.
IF THE CHRISTIC INSTITUTE DOESN'T POST A $1.2 MILLION DOLLAR BOND TO GUARANTEE payment of those legal fees by March 3, it may be put out of business when the defendants exercise their right to seize its assets. We intend to alert the media to this in the hope that some of them may finally recognize that this is a significant story, with an important moral: McCarthyism on the left is no more excusable than is McCarthyism on the right.
SPEAKING AT THE CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL ACTION CONFERENCE IN WASHINGTON ON February 25, John Martin, national correspondent of ABC News, didn't agree with my characterization of the Christic charges as "McCarthyism," even though it is clear that they were not supported by any credible evidence. Martin told me in a subsequent conversation that he didn't believe the Christics had acted in bad faith. That had to be a judgment based on faith, because the evidence certainly does not support it.
PART OF THE PROBLEM IS THAT MARTIN AND MOST OTHER JOURNALISTS ARE NOT FAMILIAR with the depositions in the Christic case that led to Judge King's decision. But why? They were readily available for examination. Joe Goulden, who recently Joined AIM's staff as director of media analysis, analyzed the depositions for this AIM Report. A veteran journalist and author, Joe finds it difficult to understand why reporters have failed to examine and report on these documents that blew the Christic case out of the water. Admittedly, we can't get inside their minds to find the answer, but a pretty good working hypothesis is that they look upon the Nicaraguan freedom fighters and those who have helped them as targets that deserve to be attacked. If that is the case, they are inclined to go easy on their attackers, even if the attacks are wild and irresponsible.
IF THE REPORTERS AREN'T INTERESTED IN EXPOSING THE McCARTHYISM OF THE LEFT, YOU would think they would at least be interested in protecting the gullible from being taken in by the fraudulent solicitation of funds. The Christics have sent out an urgent appeal for contributions, seeking to raise enough to post the $1.2 million bond. The letter signed by Sara Nelson, executive director of the institute, says: "Independent, leading trial lawyers tell me that Judge King's ruling is so irresponsible, so unprecedented that our ability to successfully bring the La Penca case to trial has been immeasurably assisted by this new development." That's like saying that a death sentence has given a convicted murderer a new lease on life.
The Wall Street Journal editorial says "the left is mad at Christic for bringing such a ridiculous RICO case that it may have spoiled the way for the left now to use RICO to agitate its own political agendas."
MICHAEL WINES, A NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER, WAS ON THE C-SPAN "JOURNALISTS' Roundtable" program on February 17. A caller asked why the press had not explained what the Christic Institute is and why it was started. Wines said, "To be honest, I'm not sure I can tell you where the Christic Institute comes from. I trace it back to a couple of journalists who were in Central America at the time of the attempt on the life of Eden Pastora, who at the time was an activist in Central America, and they became convinced that there was a 'black campaign' behind attempts to murder Pastora." Wines said he had examined some of the depositions in the Christic suit, but he said, "I don't know what their ideological motivations are, or in fact, I don't know whether they are left or right."
WE COULDN'T BELIEVE THAT A REPORTER SMART ENOUGH TO GET A JOB WITH THE NEW York Times could be so ignorant. Joe Goulden called to ask him if he really didn't know the ideological motivations of the Christics. Wines declined to answer Joe's question on the ground that he didn't talk "to organizations that are funded by the government." The only money AIM ever received from a government entity was a $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1984 to help fund our film, "Television's Vietnam: The Real Story." That's no excuse for refusing to answer a question, and I think anyone who would use it has to be either pretty far out or very nervous. Or maybe both.
SPEAKING OF STRANGE JOURNALISTS, DOES ANYONE KNOW A BOB DORN OF SAN DIEGO? IN A letter addressed to "Reed Irvine and his insects," Dorn identifies himself as "a conservative journalist who despises what you think and stand for." He says, "I look forward to the demise of your organization." He didn't send his address. I would like to propose him as a candidate for our "Adopt-a-Journalist" program.
THE STORY OF A. KENT MACDOUGALL, THE MARXIST MEDIA MOLE, THAT WAS BROKEN BY AIM continues to get attention. The March/April issue of the leftist Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) contains a condensed and sanitized version of the MacDougall confession that ran in the November and December issues of the radical Monthly Review. In its editorial comment, the CJR, which has been publishing articles by MacDougall since 1963, accused "conservative critics of the press" of "assuming a tone of righteous indignation to conceal their glee." It adds, "For Kent MacDougall was a godsend--their last best hope of showing that the U S. press is permeated with, at best, liberal elitist values and, at worst, Marxist influences." The CJR, which will probably be lurching even further to the left under its new editor, Suzanne B. Levine, former managing editor of Ms. Magazine, was recently strongly criticized by Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, for publishing an attack on Nicaragua's only free newspaper, La Prensa.
THE CJR SAYS IT IS DIFFICULT TO MAKE A CASE FOR LEFTISM IN THE AMERICAN PRESS, arguing that the dominant orientation of the press is "bland and forgiving" in its "relationship with power." At a time when socialism is being repudiated in those countries that have suffered under it the most, the CJR expresses its agreement with Kent MacDougall that socialist views may be a "real asset" to reporters working for "the capitalist press." The CJR declined to run an article by Joe Goulden about MacDougall in the same issue in which MacDougall's article appears. We are hoping they will print an excellent letter Joe has sent them in their next issue. Joe points out that most of the media comment on MacDougall has been designed to downplay the significance of his boastful admissions. He concludes his letter with this declaration: "American Journalism is large enough a tent to hold persons of many political bents. But I suggest they should write under the flag of truth, not of deception. A newsroom operates on the basis of mutual trust between editor and reporter. Kent MacDougall violated that trust, and I find it damnably odd that more press people are not outraged by it." I concur.