For almost two years when I observed how we were being misled by our government, the news media, false political fronts, or agents on the Net, I could always find categories among the original 13 to put their mischief into. However, Dan E. Moldea, who is a master of many of the original 13 as well, in his recent book, A Washington Tragedy, How the Death of Vincent Foster Ignited a Political Firestorm, with his over-use of this actually ubiquitous technique, brought it crashing to my attention so vividly that I could no longer overlook what should have been as plain as the nose on my face all along.
The supposedly Clinton-opposing Washington Times is a prime practitioner of the technique, which I had already been describing as "bump and run reporting" to my friends. The Times, for instance, reported that the three handwriting experts had found the famous Vincent Foster "suicide" note to be a weak forgery, but the paper never mentioned it again and proceeded as though the handwriting analysis had never happened. Among the host of news organs represented when the witness Patrick Knowlton and his lawyer John Clarke unveiled Knowlton's lawsuit for his harassment and intimidation by agents of the FBI, the Times was the only one to do a story the next day, but that was the end of it. When Kenneth Starr came out with his report on Foster which contained the court-ordered Knowlton addendum, the Times joined all the other news organs in the country in blacking the news out.
The Times, believe it or not, has also had a story on the Tommy Burkett case, though three years late, on the eve of the airing of the Burkett story on NBC's Unsolved Mysteries. Burkett is the Washington-area college student who the police say committed suicide on December 1, 1991. Though Dr. James C. Beyer, the doctor who later did the Foster autopsy, said that Burkett died of a gunshot wound through the mouth and out the back of the head, a second autopsy paid for by the parents revealed numerous wounds that Beyer had somehow overlooked, wounds which made it clear that young Burkett had been beaten to death. The November 11, 1994, Unsolved Mysteries episode ended with an announcement that FBI was going to conduct a civil rights investigation of the matter. When the FBI later announced that it, too, had concluded suicide but then refused to share its report with the public, The Washington Times joined all the major media, including, of course, NBC News and its local affiliate and The Washington Post in blacking the news out. The Times has also been unable to see the connection between Beyer's complete lack of credibility as this episode reveals and his absolutely crucial work on the Foster case.
Last fall, The Times even had a front-page story on the egregious case of Kenneth Trentadue, the prisoner in a secure, suicide-proof cell at the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City who the feds say committed suicide by hanging in spite of the obvious bruises and cuts all over his body. They told us that Orrin Hatch's Senate Judiciary Committee was going to hold hearings on the matter before the end of the year. He didn't, but we've heard nothing more about Kenneth Trentadue from The Washington Times.
The Washington Post, like all the mainstream press, is also guilty of using the technique. Their columnist, Robert Novak, had two columns about the man in the white van who ostensibly found Vince Foster's body and later said he got a clear look at the body and there was no gun in the hand. Call the man a crackpot or a phony if you will, but how can you simply ignore such a statement? But the Post did just that. The Post also from time to time burnishes its "liberal" image by exposing some new CIA-backed atrocity in Central America, but nothing ever comes of it. They simply give it the old "bump and run."
We see the technique on several levels. When the news is allowed to get out to very limited audiences we can say that it is being "lightly reported." Readers of The Chantilly (VA) Times know all about the Burkett case, but those who count on The Washington Post for their news know nothing. But even though the building itself is in Chantilly, Chantilly Times readers were never reminded when the new "Rockwell International" building complex turned out to be the hush-hush National Reconnaissance Office that there were numerous unanswered questions about the murder of a young female security guard at the site a few months before. For that, one had to turn to the even smaller Centre View of Centreville, Clifton, and Chantilly. The Post has never said a word about it. The Washington Times some years later mentioned it, bump and run fashion, as part of an article about unsolved murders in Fairfax County.
The government employs a version of the technique with its various reports. Virtually the strongest indictment one might find of the Warren Report is to be found here and there in the completely disorganized 26 volumes of evidence "supporting" the Warren Report. Incriminating facts are dropped hither and yon, but it takes a very enterprising person with plenty of time on his hands to find them. The compilers make nothing of much of the evidence they present. The story is played out again with government reports on Waco and the Foster case, to mention two more recent examples.
The technique allows defenders of our press and our government to pretend we have more freedom of information than we really do. "How did you learn of that," They challenge you, "if not from the government or from the press." These organizations have thus covered their rear ends to a degree without really giving us the full truth. It also helps make technique #8 work. "Oh, we already know that one of the three people killed in the Starbucks last year had been an intern in the Clinton White House. We read it in the Post. That's old news." But why didn't the networks or the wire services pick up the story, and what did the Post make of the information it dropped out? Given that the victim, Mary Caitrin Mahoney, was shot execution-style five times and that nothing was taken from the store, might this information not have some bearing on the police assumption that the killing resulted from a botched robbery?
Nowhere is the technique on more obvious display than in Moldea's new book. One could simply take all the unchallenged and unrefuted facts that Moldea presents in one place or another in his book and make a quite strong case that Foster was murdered. Moldea, of course, concludes that the authorities are right about suicide from depression, but he can only do so by making nothing out of the contrary facts he presents and blowing far out of proportion his supposed supporting facts.
Taking the latter first, he puts great stock in the story first told by Susan Thomases to the writer, James Stewart, that Foster, seemingly depressed, told her a few days before the death in the evening privacy of her boudoir that his marriage was in trouble. Moldea never bothers to reconcile that story with the prior Thomases FBI deposition mentioned earlier in the book that her last meeting with Foster was with other people in a restaurant, not alone in her room, and that he had seemed completely normal and in good spirits.
Along those same lines, Moldea, unlike Christopher Ruddy in his book, tells us about Foster brother-in-law Beryl Anthony's first reaction to the suggestion that Foster had been seeking psychiatric treatment through Anthony and his wife, Sheila. "There's not a damn thing to it. That's a bunch of crap," responds Anthony. But Moldea seems to have forgotten having written this when he feeds us the official line that Beryl and Sheila provide the primary support for the story that Foster was in search of psychiatric help for his depression.
Moldea also has a Park Policeman in the best position to know denying flat-out that the suicide note could have possibly been in the briefcase that he saw emptied out and inventoried, which pretty clearly indicates that the note is fraudulent. That, in turn, ought to tell you that the suicide thesis is untenable, but it doesn't seem to tell Moldea anything.
Another Park Policeman completely undercuts the Henry Lee conclusion in the Starr report on Foster that there were any blood flecks on the foliage near Foster's head. No sprayed blood out of the "gaping" exit wound in Foster's head means no death from a .38 shot through the mouth. What does Moldea make of this evidence? Nothing. He just lets it lie there the same as he lets the evidence lie essentially unchallenged that Foster was dead in the park before his car got to the park's parking lot.
You can see that I owe Dan E. Moldea a debt of gratitude. He opened my eyes previously to "Dan Moldea's America." Now he has permitted me to further flesh out my analysis of popular propaganda techniques. So here is the updated version:
Strong, credible allegations of high-level criminal activity can bring down a government. When the government lacks an effective, fact-based defense, other techniques must be employed. The success of these techniques depends heavily upon a cooperative, compliant press and a mere token opposition party.
Wax indignant. This is also known as the "How dare you?" gambit.
Characterize the charges as "rumors" or, better yet, "wild rumors." If, in spite of the news blackout, the public is still able to learn about the suspicious facts, it can only be through "rumors." (If they tend to believe the "rumors" it must be because they are simply "paranoid" or "hysterical.")
Knock down straw men. Deal only with the weakest aspects of the weakest charges. Even better, create your own straw men. Make up wild rumors (or plant false stories) and give them lead play when you appear to debunk all the charges, real and fanciful alike.
Call the skeptics names like "conspiracy theorist," "nutcase," "ranter," "kook," "crackpot," and, of course, "rumor monger." Be sure, too, to use heavily loaded verbs and adjectives when characterizing their charges and defending the "more reasonable" government and its defenders. You must then carefully avoid fair and open debate with any of the people you have thus maligned. For insurance, set up your own "skeptics" to shoot down.
Impugn motives. Attempt to marginalize the critics by suggesting strongly that they are not really interested in the truth but are simply pursuing a partisan political agenda or are out to make money (compared to over-compensated adherents to the government line who, presumably, are not).
Invoke authority. Here the controlled press and the sham opposition can be very useful.
Dismiss the charges as "old news."
Come half-clean. This is also known as "confession and avoidance" or "taking the limited hangout route." This way, you create the impression of candor and honesty while you admit only to relatively harmless, less-than-criminal "mistakes." This stratagem often requires the embrace of a fall-back position quite different from the one originally taken. With effective damage control, the fall-back position need only be peddled by stooge skeptics to carefully limited markets.
Characterize the crimes as impossibly complex and the truth as ultimately unknowable.
Reason backward, using the deductive method with a vengeance. With thoroughly rigorous deduction, troublesome evidence is irrelevant. E.g. We have a completely free press. If evidence exists that the Vince Foster "suicide" note was forged, they would have reported it. They haven't reported it so there is no such evidence. Another variation on this theme involves the likelihood of a conspiracy leaker and a press who would report the leak.
Require the skeptics to solve the crime completely. E.g. If Foster was murdered, who did it and why?
Change the subject. This technique includes creating and/or publicizing distractions.
Lightly report incriminating facts, and then make nothing of them. This is sometimes referred to as "bump and run" reporting.
October 2, 1998
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