Ownership of WaPo by CIA Contractor Puts U.S. Journalism in Dangerous Terrain
Norman Solomon: There is a major conflict of interest in the ownership of The Washington Post by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who holds a $600 million contract with the CIA
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
As many already know, the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, purchased one of America’s largest newspapers, The Washington Post, last year. Our guest today has written an article about how this may affect American journalism. His piece is titled “Why The Washington Post‘s New Ties to the CIA Are So Ominous.
Now joining us is our guest, Norman Solomon. He is the cofounder of RootsAction.org.
Thanks for joining us, Norman.
NORMAN SOLOMON, COFOUNDER, ROOTSACTION.ORG: Hey. A pleasure.
DESVARIEUX: So, Norman, you wrote in your article that American journalism has entered a “highly dangerous terrain.” Can you explain further why even more so now?
SOLOMON: Yeah. It’s very dangerous to normalize the situation that we have today, where a man who has 25 billion (with a B) dollars in personal wealth, Jeff Bezos, and has been able to accumulate that wealth because he’s the founder and CEO and main stakeholder in Amazon is now the only owner of The Washington Post. And Bezos’s outside company, Amazon, has just entered into a $600 million contract with the Central Intelligence Agency. So, on the one hand, Amazon is in a business deal to keep the secrets of the CIA in its computing cloud, while the newspaper that Bezos is the sole owner of ostensibly is in the business of exposing the secrets of the CIA and other government agencies. Well, they’re at cross purposes.
The mythology is that that doesn’t matter, because who owns a newspaper doesn’t affect the atmosphere or policies or reporting that come out of the newsroom. But in the real world, this is a new structural relationship that, unlike in the past, is not only built on personal relations or ideological connections or some stray business affinities; this is a direct conflict of interest, where the owner of what some believe is the most powerful political media outlet in the country is not only gaining more wealth from a big contract with the CIA, but is also eager to gain even more business from the CIA, because Amazon has said, hey, the $600 million from the agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, is just a start. We look forward to, Amazon says, in its words, “a successful relationship with the CIA.”
So this is, I think, at the crossroads of a contradiction between an ostensibly free press and a corporate-digital-governmental tacit alliance that is about using digital power to keep some data secret and to extend the surveillance state, to gather data and to use it, among other things, in the service of ongoing warfare across much of the planet.
DESVARIEUX: Since you wrote your piece, has Amazon responded at all?
SOLOMON: Well, the only comment that has come back from official sources on this in terms of Amazon or Bezos or The Washington Post have been in a form of email correspondence between myself representing RootAction.org and 30,000 people who have signed a RootsAction petition urging full disclosure from The Post in its coverage of the CIA about this conflict and, on the other hand, the executive editor of The Washington Post, Martin Baron. And he has basically said, look, we have our normal ways of doing disclosure in articles when there’s some kind of conflict of interest with our ownership, and that is sufficient. People can read the correspondence between myself and top editor of The Washington Post at RootsAction.org.
Our response from RootsAction is, hey, there’s nothing normal about this, or there shouldn’t be anything normal about this, where such a powerful political reporting news organization, The Washington Post, has its owner doing such a huge business deals with the CIA. And, I think, to make matters worse, we have gradually, through political proclivities of sort of Uncle Sam morphing more into Big Brother, and also the technological digital capacities to do enormous extents of surveillance Orwell and Big Brother in 1984, could hardly have dreamed of, we have this new frontier of the warfare state, the surveillance state, digital capacity, corporate power, and media that more and more is online and is through people’s computers and cell phones and all the rest of it.
So the net effect is that the comment we’re getting back is sort of antiquated. It’s sort of by the book, paint-by-numbers–don’t worry, we will acknowledge the most overt conflicts of interest.
But what we got back from this editor of The Washington Post essentially avoids the fact that we don’t even know what’s in that computing cloud. In other words, why is the CIA paying $600 million to Jeff Bezos’s company, Amazon, to keep all that data and all those secrets in the cloud? Meanwhile, we have The Washington Post telling RootsAction.org–and, really, the world–look, if there’s a direct conflict of interest, if we’re doing a story on Kindle, for instance, we will acknowledge that the owner of our newspaper is also a major stakeholder in Amazon, and they’re selling Kindles and ebooks and all the rest of that. Well, that’s not sufficient when also the owner of the The Washington Post has a company that is keeping the computing cloud safe and secure for massive amounts of data on contract with the CIA.
And what is in that cloud? Well, we can assume there’s data on the U.S. rendition of people for torture to other countries, information about targeting drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan and elsewhere, counterinsurgency data and assessments and aggregation of information for many countries around the world. There’s no journalist at The Washington Post who can say, well, my story about any aspect of the CIA is not directly connected to what the owner of this newspaper is helping to safeguard in the cloud by contract from the CIA. And I think this begins to open a window into just how insidious this conflict of interest between the surveillance state, warfare state, and corporate media, how all that really adds up.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Norman Solomon, very interesting article. Thank you so much for joining us.
SOLOMON: Pleasure. Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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