In yet another dramatic revelation flowing out of whistleblower Edward Snowden, a journalism textbook from 1983 has been sent to several large media outlets, including the Washington Post, New York Times and the trailer park where Fox News is thought to originate.
“To say we’re shocked is an insult to electricity,” said a spokesperson from the Post while speaking with the media, who refused to give his name because he was not authorized to speak with the media. “We had no idea. Not a clue.”
“For example, it says here that ‘journalists’ are supposed to gather facts, analyze them, and then ‘report’ what they learned,” stated an unnamed former somebody. “This flies in the face of our current practice of transcribing what government officials tell us anonymously and then having someone read that aloud on TV. We are still trying to find out more about the ‘analyze’ function of journalism, but Wikipedia is down right now.”
Fox News went on to say that a chapter in the book about naming sources so that readers themselves could judge the value and veracity of the information “just came from Mars” as far as the organization is concerned. “I mean, if we named our sources, they’d be held accountable for what they say, you know, and I doubt we’d have much access to the big boys after that. We’d have to start hiring people just to go out and gather news, maybe outside the office even, instead of just from the web. Something like 90% of our content comes from press releases from ersatz think tanks controlled by PR firms. Our whole business model would have to change. And that thing about ‘questioning’ what the government says? How are we supposed to do that? Who do they think we are?”
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, speaking on behalf of the paper from his soundproof bubble removed from reality, explained “That J-school book is potentially a game changer, if you believe it is not just another disinformation scheme. For example, how credible is this bit– it says that simply getting two quotes from two sources that 100% contradict each other isn’t what reporting is. So here, in my latest column, where I have Obama saying ‘health care is good,’ and Sarah Palin saying ‘no, it sucks dick,’ somehow is wrong? Give me a break.”
Multiple sources say, however, that the single most shocking thing to emerge from the leaked textbook is that “news” and “journalism” are supposed to inform, enlighten and educate people, an essential part of our democracy, and are not simply another form of entertainment.
The spokesperson from the Washington Post was blunt: “That’s just bullshit. Anyway, here’s another cute cat picture.”
The State Department has always had a cozy relationship with its home town newspaper, the Washington Post. When times are tough, State can always count on WaPo for a puff piece, a planted Op-Ed or a killed story to make the day brighter. We talked about one, on Haiti Reconstruction, here and some here.
But enough partisanship. Instead, today, we will have a blind taste test. Two articles, one from the Post and one from State’s own propaganda team. Both pieces are on “culinary diplomacy.” I’ll put up quotes, and you see if you can tell the State-written propaganda from the Washington Post written “journalism.” Blindfolds on?
Isabella is one of the first chefs to be tapped by the State Department to serve as a culinary ambassador abroad, part of an ambitious new undertaking to use food as a diplomatic tool. Initiated by the U.S. Chief of Protocol Capricia Penavic Marshall and blessed by her boss, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership aims to “elevate the role of culinary engagement in America’s formal and public diplomacy efforts,” according to a mission statement.
The wide-ranging effort creates an American Chef Corps, a network of culinary leaders who could be deployed to promote U.S. cooking and agricultural products abroad. “They might meet with an embassy, cook a lunch, post blogs or [write] articles, speak at events,” says Marshall, listing the many ways participants might engage.
This month, the State Department welcomed 25 chefs and foodies from all over the world to Washington, D.C., as part of an exciting new International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). From Brazil to Vietnam, every country in the world has a unique food culture, and the United States is no exception. Throughout this IVLP, participants are meeting with high profile chefs to discuss the influences of food and culture on American communities.
The international chefs and foodies met with many in the American Chef Corps throughout their U.S. visit, as they discussed using the shared experience of food to engage foreign audiences and to bring people of varied backgrounds and cultural identities together. The group also saw their work play a larger community role after volunteering at the DC Central Kitchen. Everyone enjoyed preparing food for those in need; as one participant said: “When people are full, they are happy. Then they are better to each other.”
Voila! Can you tell which is real journalism from a Pulitzer-awarded newspaper and which was written by a hack whose nose was implanted in some Under Secretary of Nothing’s oven? Hah hah, neither can we! Kudos to the Washington Post for journalism and a better informed American public!
Souffle A was made exclusively with WaPo quotes; Souffle B came from State Department propaganda. A request for comment to the Washington Post Ombudsman remains unanswered.
On August 20 I asked some serious questions of the Washington Post about what appeared to be a propaganda piece on the reconstruction of Haiti pimped to one of their “journalists” by the State Department. I sent the same questions to the Post’s Ombudsman via email and a phone message. I explained that I would publish his reply on this blog. I resent the email for good measure a day later.
There has been no reply.
There was however this comment posted to the original piece by “Lafcadio.” I don’t know Lafcadio or know who he is, but he has commented here about the State Department knowledgeably in the past. Here’s what he said:
Don’t blame the writer for this drivel. The editors at the Post are the ones responsible. They hold all the power, and big Public Affairs (PA) at State has been cutting deals with them.
After Mary Ryan got fired due to “unauthorized” leaks back in 2002, State started working the hometown paper. (They never had to work the NY Times, Times has almost always been in the bag for the Foreign Service). A lot of FS heavies (Black Dragons in Diplomatic Security [DS] speak) put pressure on the Post editors (and owners) to not run so many negative stories. As an incentive, big PA gives “exclusives” to the Post, in return for not running or downplaying the unauthorized leaks, and running a few puff pieces, like this one.
How would I know ths? Some of the young flacks in big PA have big mouths. They even boast about this in Foreign Service Institute (FSI; the State Department training facility) presentations.
Some of the writers at the Post chafe at the bit to run more of the unauthorized leaks. But their editors made a deal with the devil, or in this case, the Black Dragons.
This raises the question of whether the Washington Post has devolved from writing about all the president’s men to being them. Ombudsman, still waiting on you…
Today’s Washington Post featured a story on how the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has continued to support my case that the Department of State has continued to violate my First Amendment rights by moving to fire me because of this blog. You can read the entire story here.
The State Department puts together an overnight, internal-use only media summary for busy diplomats to read first thing in the morning as a way of quickly knowing what happened whilst they acquired their beauty sleep. Though the summary features most every story about the Department from the Washington Post, inexplicably today’s WaPo piece about the ACLU was omitted. One day the State Department will realize that its lame efforts to control every message only end up making them look dumber and dumber all the time. That day is, however, not today.
I was very gratified to see that the nation’s premier authority on free speech, the ACLU, studied the State Department’s actions and, in five pages of legal analysis, concluded unambiguously that the Department of State acted unconstitutionally and violated my First Amendment rights.
The ACLU didn’t just say that government employees retain their free speech rights, it laid out the legal doctrine behind that statement in great detail. This helps not only me, but also every other US government employee out there who still believes his/her oath is to the Constitution, and is not some silly loyalty pledge designed to hide their agency’s dirty laundry.
The State Department may still fire me, but they now are on notice that the issues they will fire me for will not go away. Ultimately, State’s actions against the Constitution will need to be judged not by their own misguided ideas but by a court.
It is also a shame that the State Department, the part of the US government directly charged with speaking abroad about America’s democracy and freedoms, feels it necessary to deny its own employees those same freedoms. It weakens the institution, and it weakens the State Department’s own credibility overseas.
Who knows, maybe the Chinese government will step in and demand the US recognize my rights as a citizen?
Read more about the State Department seeking to fire me:
If you’d like to help, here are some ways you can help.
The Washington Post column In the Loop is now running a contest to rename the US Embassy in Baghdad, now that it appears that the State Department really doesn’t need it all for diplomacy or whatever they thought six weeks ago in their meth-fueled fantasies was going to require 16,000 staff.
Contest rules are simple: Simply tell The Loop what the United States should do with the compound and — this is a two-parter — name the new facility (or facilities, if that’s the plan).
Enter online today for fabulous prizes! You can also see the current entries, posted online.
Good God, at the rate the State Department in Iraq is generating satire, I’m not gonna have any material left for this blog in a week or two. Then again, nah, they’ll come through for me.
The Washington Post reviewed “We Meant Well”:
Why couldn’t $63 billion invested in the reconstruction of Iraq manage to keep the lights on? How can it be that in 2011, blackouts are still part of daily life, drinking water remains a luxury, and only about a quarter of the population has sewage? If reliable utilities are fundamental to both the grand goal of nation-building and the narrower mandate of counterinsurgency, why didn’t the largest nation-building effort in history get those utilities back up and running?
Peter Van Buren tries to answer those questions in his memoir, “We Meant Well.” A Foreign Service officer sent to Iraq as part of the civilian surge in 2009, Van Buren was assigned to a Provincial Reconstruction Team and embedded for a year with the U.S. Army. His account from beyond Baghdad is a nice companion piece to Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s “Imperial Life in the Emerald City.”
“We meant well” is the sort of phrase whose meaning depends on emphasis. It can be a defense of truly good intentions or a flippant excuse. In Van Buren’s usage, it seems to be more the latter. He describes the majority of his State Department colleagues as people negligently prepared for their jobs, motivated primarily by the prospect of promotions, willingly ignorant of actual needs in Iraq, too lazy to do the necessary groundwork, and with too-short attention spans to care about whether a project is successful and self-sustaining. “These were,” he writes of his team members, “by and large people aggressively devoted to mediocrity, often achieving it.”
As an example of the ineptitude, he offers the case of a chicken-processing plant. The idea was to create jobs (in the hope that they would keep young Iraqis too busy for insurgency) and to provide a fresh, halal-certified alternative to Brazilian-imported frozen chickens. But the project didn’t do much on the jobs front. For one thing, the plant relied heavily on automation, including a tramway that transported chickens to be slaughtered. As Van Buren points out, “If employment was indeed the goal, why have an automated plant with the tramway of chicken death?” Even more basic, the project team had ignored a U.S. AID report recommending against chicken processing because of “prohibitive electricity costs” and the absence of refrigerated transport and storage. The chicken plant sat idle — at a sunk cost to U.S. taxpayers of $2.58 million.
More successful were projects instigated by Iraqis. Among these was a women’s center on the outskirts of Baghdad. A local women’s group identified the need: Sparse facilities and dominating fathers and husbands often kept women from receiving basic medical care. Van Buren’s team gave $84,000. And the Al-Zafraniyah Women’s Support Center was born, with a social worker offering counseling, two lawyers helping women obtain government benefits, and a female medical doctor coming twice a week to lead workshops and see patients. An immediate success, the center served more than 100 women in its first month. Yet it was shut down after six months. “The initial funding had run out,” Van Buren writes, “and U.S. priorities had moved on to flashier economic targets.”
Van Buren’s prose is accessible, colloquial, somewhat macho, with sustained skepticism and moments of humor. After an Iraqi sheik suggested that he would think better of the Americans if they gave him a new generator, Van Buren writes: “I pretended to jot a note: next invasion, bring more generators.”
Yet the narrative is disjointed, structured less like a memoir than an International Crisis Group report. There’s a section on trash, another on water and sewer, another on corruption, and so on.
Van Buren manages to conjure up a few vivid scenes, such as one in which a demonstration at the chicken plant leaves one worker with a beard full of feathers. But generally, the writing lacks scenes and characters and dialogue. In fact, almost all the dialogue in the book is separated off in a chapter called “Soldier Talk.” It’s hard to know whether that was an effort to preempt State Department redactions or because Van Buren didn’t take great notes. (Since the book’s release, Van Buren has been almost gleeful about the trouble his writing has gotten him into at State. “I . . . morphed into public enemy number one — as if I had started an al Qaeda franchise in the Foggy Bottom cafeteria,” he wrote in Foreign Policy. Although he remains on its payroll, the department suspended his security clearance for “publishing articles and blog posts on [matters of official concern] without submitting them to the Department for review.”)
Also unsatisfying is Van Buren’s level of introspection. The “how I helped lose” in the subtitle suggests a certain self-criticism. But his skeptical tone allows him to remain detached. And it’s often not clear what his role was, or whether he was even involved, in the projects he describes.
An actor Van Buren could have blamed, but didn’t, is the U.S. taxpayer. “We Meant Well” leaves one wondering how we could have spent so much money, and asked so few questions.
Marisa Bellack is an opinions editor at the Washington Post.
(This article originally appeared in the Washington Post’s “Federal Diary” column, and was written by Joe Davidson)
(NOTE: There is no classified material in my book, We Meant Well. The book for sale today is an unredacted version. –Peter)
The best way for the federal government to publicize a book? Attempt to muzzle the author.
You probably wouldn’t be reading about Peter Van Buren right now had the State Department not stripped him of his security clearance and suspended him after publication of his book, “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.”
Van Buren’s case provides lessons that go beyond the number of books the censors at State will help him sell. The lessons concern what the government chooses to classify, the way it handles situations involving books with classified information and how the government can use its power to suspend employees.
Ironically, Van Buren now has free time to promote his book, complete with the classified information, because he was suspended until Nov. 10, with pay, earlier this week. He can’t appeal the suspension, the purpose of which, according to a letter from the department, “is to continue review your situation.”
The situation is the publication of his book without State’s stamp of approval. State Department officials would not comment on Van Buren’s case.
In a Sept. 20 letter faxed to publisher Macmillan, State said the book’s “circulation and publicizing have been done without authorization from the Department. The Department has recently concluded that two pages of the book manuscript we have seen contain unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”
To its credit, the publisher did not fold. “Their specific requests concerned passages in the book that on their face clearly did not contain classified information,” Macmillan said a statement. “In any event, these belated requests were received after the initial shipments of the book had already been sent to booksellers.”
What State’s letter does not say is that it had plenty of time to review the book. Van Buren said that he submitted his book in September of last year but that State had no comment on it until the September fax of this year.
According to State’s Foreign Affairs Manual: “All public speaking, writing, or teaching materials on matters of official concern prepared in an employee’s private capacity must be submitted for a reasonable period of review, not to exceed thirty days.”
Since the 30-day period had long expired with no word from State, Van Buren understandably concluded that the department had no problem with his book.
“I followed the rules,” Van Buren said at a National Press Club briefing Thursday. “I submitted my book for clearance.”
But the book wasn’t the only problem. In an Oct. 12 memo to Van Buren, State said his top-secret security clearance was suspended, pending an ongoing investigation, because the Big Brother- sounding “Office of Personnel Security and Suitability . . . has determined that your continued access to classified information is not clearly consistent with the national security interests of the United States.”
The memo said that by publishing articles and blog posts “on matters of official concern . . . without submitting them to the Department for review . . . your judgement in the handling of protected information is questionable.”
State’s memo did not identify the objectionable blog item, but Van Buren said it was “a link, not a leak, a link from my blog to a WikiLeaks document that was already on the Internet.”
The fact that the document was available to everyone in the world did not matter.
“I did write blog postings and online articles without permission,” Van Buren admits. But he understandably questions whether his punishment is in line with the little or no harm done by linking to a document that was readily available anyway.
In an extended review of Condi’s new book, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler suggests Condi might read “We Meant Well”:
Rice is much more open detailing the administration’s struggle to deal with Iraq’s descent into violence during Bush’s second term. She congratulates herself on forcing more State Department officials into the field, but she might want to read “We Meant Well”— a hilarious and often depressing account by a foreign service officer of what really happened on the ground.
It is altogether too easy for officials like Rice to make casual decisions, such as hand over the reconstruction of Iraq to State and repurpose diplomats and visa officers as development experts, and then walk away from the consequences of that decision. I do include Condi in my book’s acknowledgements, thanking her and Colin Powell for “leading an organization I once cared deeply for into a swamp and abandoning us there.”
Rice will no doubt outsell my book hundreds to one, and will no doubt have a warm seat and hot coffee waiting for her on the Sunday news shows so she can explain how she was right all along, make faux (Fox?) apologies for her work hubby George W. and otherwise smooth off the rough corners of her history.
Thanks, then, to the Washington Post for at least trying to call Condi’s attention to the results of her decisions.