By Joseph P. Duggan
“Being a newspaperman,” my Dad loved to say, “beats working for a living.”
Printer’s ink runs in my family’s veins. My father was a great editor of the late, lamented St. Louis Globe-Democrat during the last decades of the golden age of newspapers. His father was a printing plant pressman who retrained to become a news copy editor at the same paper. My son is one of the best photojournalists currently covering the White House and Capitol Hill.
I spent the first years of my career in the business, too, writing daily newspaper editorials. I loved the opportunities for investigating, reporting, interpreting, advising, and expressing the joy of rhetorical bombast when occasion merited that.
Later, I worked in Republican political appointments in the State Department, the White House, and Capitol Hill; in public affairs consulting; and lastly on the speechwriting team at Aramco headquarters in Saudi Arabia. Through all those years, both in and out of the journalism trade, I have never been tolerant of persons or organizations that profited or gained political power through trafficking in leaked or stolen national security secrets.
Exposing government corruption is a noble reason for journalists to go digging for concealed information, but participating in manipulation of the public with stolen or leaked national security information should be a crime, no matter who possesses the unauthorized information.
My just-published book, Khashoggi, Dynasties, and Double Standards, examines how the U.S. public and government have been manipulated by a propaganda campaign. The prominent Saudi Arabian citizen Jamal Khashoggi really was murdered by his own government as the American and Western media have reported extensively, but much of the other media coverage of the Khashoggi story has been tremendously misleading. Khashoggi was not a martyr for press freedom; he was an influence agent, first serving the Saudis and later carrying out instructions from Qatar, a rival country in league with the revolutionary Muslim Brotherhood.
I felt it necessary to write the book to rebut disinformation and to “call out” the phoniness of certain American politicians – notably Republican senators who resent Donald Trump and want to conduct a rival foreign policy to that of the elected president’s administration.
Here, adapted from the book, are some considerations regarding the dangerous hypocrisy of big media corporations that traffic in stolen state secrets:
In late 2018, the Khashoggi media conflagration was spreading faster than a California wildfire when the Washington Post published a report purported to be the CIA’s secret analysis – opinion based on facts or rumors collected with varying levels of “confidence” – proving, the Post claimed, that the Saudi crown prince personally ordered the assassination. More than likely the newspaper received the top-secret document from Deep State sources before it was conveyed to President Trump.
Trump and his administration were put on the defensive by the media and the usual Senate suspects. Why, the leftists and neoconservatives demanded, had the president not severed relations with Saudi Arabia or called on its ruler to be deposed?
Meanwhile in flyover country, ordinary citizens should have been wondering: Why hasn’t Trump fired the director of the CIA? What should be the consequences of her ineffectiveness at controlling leaks?
When the Washington Post isn’t busy blowing the covers of untold numbers of clandestine agents – with no apparent regard for how many deaths this might cause – the newspaper channels its inner J. Edgar Hoover to protect the leakers whose actions serve the Post’s political agenda. Such was the case when Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller reported in May 2018 that Stefan Halper, an American with a sinecure at Cambridge University, had been an FBI spy allegedly seeking to entrap some Trump campaign advisers as having untoward dealings with Russians.
Before Halper had been identified by the Daily Caller, the Post had published leaks from Halper and warned readers that “the stakes are so high” for Halper, who was still anonymous at the time, “that the FBI has been working over the past two weeks to mitigate the potential damage if the source’s identity is revealed.” The New York Times also published leaks derived from Halper’s spying and declined to name him because it “typically does not name informants to preserve their safety.”
If it had not been for the Times and the Post and their friends in the FBI, how could the world have known that Tucker Carlson and his Daily Caller were the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg of the 21st century? Meanwhile Stefan Halper bravely continues to enjoy his sherry and Yorkshire puddings, as yet un-scathed in his Cambridge chair.
Let it be noted too that big media don’t always have to name a clandestine agent to blow his cover. A certain amount of information allows hostile foreign intelligence agencies to connect the dots, often with deadly consequences for the exposed agent.
Another double standard undermining both the rule of law and national security is the amount of protection accorded to broadcasting and publishing companies when illegally disclosed state secrets get into those companies’ possession.
The architects of the Bill of Rights surely did not foresee an environment in which huge national and multinational media corporations with armies of highly paid lawyers could traffic in state secrets with impunity because they invoked the First Amendment. Something is terribly wrong when big media corporations get away with pretending to have the right to receive and publish national security secrets whose disclosure by others would put those people in prison. To make matters worse, the big companies also proclaim self-righteously that they are protecting national security when they’re actually only keeping unholy bargains with their criminal sources.
The decentralization of communications, including the advent of social media, makes the folly and injustice of giving big corporations a First Amendment defense for trafficking in classified secrets all the more apparent. In a technological age when everyone with a smartphone is a publisher and broadcaster, why shouldn’t everyone have a First Amendment-protected right to commit espionage or treason? There is a lot of work here for those committed to a jurisprudence of “original intent.”
While Americans may refuse to pay attention to these problems, be assured that both our adversaries and the endangered species known as American allies are taking notes and learning lessons.
Joseph Duggan is head of C-Suite Strategic Counsel, an international business and public affairs consultancy. He served on the editorial board of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, in the Reagan Statement Department, and as a White House speechwriter for President Bush H.W. Bush. He was speechwriter for the CEO of Aramco in Saudi Arabia from 2009 to 2015.
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