In 1977, Carl Bernstein published an exposé of a CIA program known as Operation Mockingbird, a covert program involving, according to Bernstein, “more than 400 American journalists who in the past 25 years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency.” Bernstein found that in “many instances” CIA documents revealed that “journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.”
Fast-forward to December 2016, and one can see that there isn’t much need for a covert government program these days. The recent raft of unverified, anonymously sourced and circumstantial stories alleging that the Russian government interfered in the US presidential election with the aim of electing Republican Donald J. Trump shows that today too much of the media is all too happy to do overtly what the CIA had once paid it to do covertly: regurgitate the claims of the spy agency and attack the credibility of those who question it.
On Friday, December 9, The Washington Post, fresh from publishing a front-page story that promoted a McCarthyite blacklist, published a piece that claimed that the CIA “concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency.” The Post also claimed that “Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked e-mails,” including those of John Podesta.
That same day, The New York Times reported that “the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.” The implication being that the Russians released the DNC e-mails to hurt Clinton, but held off on releasing the RNC e-mails in order to protect Trump.