The recent accusations of governmental malfeasance in the war on terror made by Richard A. Clarke has produced some small amount of skepticism along with the usual media circus that accompanies such charges, and this is a good sign for a slowly awakening public.
An examination of the overall situation brings some very interesting things to light and prompts the following analysis that will seem surprising to some, especially in some “journalistic” circles and in media conglomerate boardrooms.
So let us take a look at some pertinent history regarding Richard Clarke as the latest “60 Minutes” accuser of the moment.
Clarke is a 30-year civil servant who for the past eight years has specialized in overseeing the efforts to counter cyber-terrorism with, at best, marginal results and whose rare recommendations were consistently looked upon as lacking in merit. With the change to the Bush administration in 2001, Clarke perceived a sterling personal opportunity to rise once again within the Beltway bureaucracy, but was stopped dead in his tracks by Condoleezza Rice who readily recognized that Clarke had already reached the plateau described in the “Peter Principle.” Feeling much put out, Clarke was allowed to resign rather than being ignominiously fired. Clarke then bewildered his long-term coworkers by penning the book, “Against All Enemies.”
The claims made in his book already fly in the face of Clarke’s prior public statements and openly verifiable evidence to the contrary. So, on its face, there are so many egregious misstatements and outright falsifications that any intelligent person receptive to an open review of fact should have rejected its validity. The recent trends in journalism notwithstanding, we still rightfully expect that our media should fall into the category described above.
In essence, what we have here is a disgruntled civil servant – who had been promoted well beyond his abilities and eased quietly out the back door – who pens a book of highly dubious merit in an apparent effort to regain his position by attempting to fire his boss in an attempt to ingratiate himself with the putative successor.
Well, this situation probably doesn’t pass the integrity test most of us would impose and so we would dismiss the situation as yet another failed hubristic example to be found within large bureaucracies the world over.
But this one is different because it has been taken to an entirely different level … and now the story becomes more than just interesting.
It turns out that Clarke’s book is published by Simon and Schuster, a subsidiary of VIACOM, as is CBS, which broadcasts “60 Minutes” and which used their network to hype the show that hyped the book.
The “60 Minutes” venue chosen to hype the book is also quite interesting in a number of ways. “60 Minutes” was the program that pioneered the “cut and paste” technique of airing interviews that has been widely emulated by a variety of programs over the years in an ever-increasingly bold manner that culminated in story of the 1998 CNN-TIME “Tailwind” journalistic disaster that was broken via the Internet by Joseph Farah.
It was this technique that can enable a televised show to put whatever response they wish into the mouth of the person being interviewed. All that is required is to get a long enough string of responses on tape and with a little creative editing you can make anybody appear to say anything. The modern electronic version of the Big Lie
Now that’s all well and good, you may think, but what has this to do with Clarke and Viacom?
It all boils down to arrogance, power and money … a heady combination if ever there was one.
In the case of CNN’s failure, it was to choose a much-maligned group for another round of unjustified smearing in the sure belief that they could do as they had done in the past. Their top executives provided internal cover for the team that produced story for the debut the CNN-TIME joint venture, NewsStand, to ensure its economic success. A sure bet, because nobody had ever successfully challenged a major-media story and turned the tables. But there is a first time for everything … oops, a multi-billion dollar gamble that went really sour.
In the case of Viacom subsidiaries collaborating on the promotion of Clarke’s book, it would seem no big deal … except for the fact that the business interrelationships were not disclosed in the advertising nor on the program itself, and this situation is eerily similar to the Paul O’Neill (the other vengeful administration outcast) book that was equally well-grounded in fact and intention … with yet a third installment in this publishing trilogy yet to come and, last but not least, that Viacom is under the administration’s gun for its antics in this year’s Super Bowl follies.
It might just be coincidence, but there seem to be enough cautious Beltway power-elite and media out there who remember CNN’s fall from grace (and profitability) to prevent an en-masse jump onto the bandwagon with this sexy story.
Since the advent of the Internet, our media conglomerate’s smug arrogance will never be as well justified as it used to be … perhaps it is time for a change in tactics.
Tom Marzullo is a former Special Forces soldier and a veteran of submarine special operations. He resides in Colorado.