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Bought and paid war journalism

Large parts of the world's journalists receive financial benefits from adapting their reporting to American politics.



The 13. January 2017 died journalist Udo Ulfkotte, just 56 years old. He had worked for 17 years as a journalist and editor-in-chief of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). As a journalist he was hailed, but he gradually became a critic – in many ways. He first converted to Islam, but then became an Islamic critic, and he also became a critic of American politics. He told me that he, along with many other journalists, had produced fake news, fake news, to the big newspapers. In 2014 he wrote the book Bought Journalists, which will soon be released in English under the title Journalists for Hire: How the CIA Buys the News. Despite the fact that the book was hardly reviewed in the major German newspapers, it became a bestseller in Germany.

Ulfkotte talks about his role as a young war reporter in the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, when Iraqi forces under US leadership and satellite support deployed poison gas produced in West Germany. Tens of thousands of Iranians died from the gas. (A CIA report in 1991 claimed that Iraqi poison gas had killed 50 Iranians.) Ulfkotte had photographed dead Iranian soldiers after the poison gas attacks, and when he returned to Germany, the then 000-year-old Ulfkotte thought this was big news. FAZ was not interested. There was a short note with a mini photo. The fact that Iraqis and Americans, together with German gas producers and diplomats, had celebrated the victory in the poison gas attack on Iran at the Sheraton Hotel in Baghdad, was something the German media did not want to talk about. The contribution of Germans to mass murder with poison gas is generally a sensitive issue in Germany. German politicians traveled to Tel Aviv and apologized. It was just missing – but why did they not travel to Tehran? Weren't tens of thousands of Iranians killed worth a trip?

Adapted. Eventually, Ulfkotte learned to write within what suited the newspaper's policy. He learned to listen to political signals and publish material presented to him by the CIA and BND (German intelligence). He was invited to conferences and press briefings. He received gifts and large fees to give lectures if he said the right things. He adapted – and produced what is today described as fake news. Journalists could receive 20 euros for a few minutes of lectures, as payment for their support of American politics. The intelligence asked them to publish completed material in their own name. One does not have to agree with Ulfkotte's critique of Islam or his support for right-wing groups to question this dubious practice. A representative from BND asked Ulfkotte to publish an article about Muammar Gaddafi's production of poison gas. Ulfkotte received documents he could not check further, but he and FAZ nevertheless published the article – which was then reproduced worldwide. What was false and what was true was impossible to say, but the articles were ideal for war propaganda.

What was false and what was true was impossible to say, but the articles were ideal for war propaganda.

And symbiosis. Ahead of the Iraq war, some people with ties to Italian and American intelligence presented fake documents related to Saddam Hussein's purchase of Niger's uranium, with fake signatures from Niger's president and foreign minister. These documents were presented to journalists and taken seriously by British and US Vice President Dick Cheney. The scam was quickly revealed by IAEA Director Hans Blix and US Ambassador Joseph Wilson – but some of those behind it had been revealed already in the 1990s by British BBC journalist Allan Francovich, who had conducted a large number of interviews with intelligence officers , politicians and generals. Francovich produced several documentaries for the BBC. In 1997 he was to conduct an important interview in Texas, but as the only passenger he was taken aside at Houston airport and brought into a separate room – where he died of a heart attack, 56 years old.

According to Carl Bernstein's classic 1977 article, over 400 American journalists had been employed by the CIA at the same time. Several of them were also Pulitzer Prize winners. At that time, there was no central newspaper or television channel that did not use US intelligence. For a journalist, it can begin with conferences and journeys that eventually develop into a symbiosis that benefits both parties. Many journalists and researchers soon see that this symbiosis is a prerequisite for a career, with invitations to conferences, luxury hotels and trips to exotic places. It is a world that gives prestige through personal and informal conversations with generals, diplomats and key political leaders. Today, journalists are usually not employed by the CIA in a formal sense. They gain financial benefits from adapting reporting to US policy. It is about political-economic corruption.

Little one can say. I myself gave lectures at American and European war schools, and at many international military and security conferences. I have learned a lot from conversations with US and British admirals and generals, and from conversations with CIA chiefs and defense ministers – but these lectures do not criticize American or British politics. Then you are hardly invited next time. In some cases I have had my invitation withdrawn – I have been invited to speak first, but then some in the senior management have opposed my participation. This happened when I was to give lectures to "The Naval Staff" at the Pentagon. At another conference, I sat in the panel next to a US neoconservative agent who had been responsible for the US negotiations with Moscow. Best as we sat there in the panel, he wrote an email at the same time reporting to Washington that what I had said was not in line with American politics. He also told me that my lecture would have consequences for me, which it also had. Eventually you realize that there is very little you can say openly. You can say a lot and learn some tricks in informal conversations, but in public you can hardly say anything at all.

Udo Ulfkotte applied to the animals. He got geese, ducks and cows. Animals do not have back thoughts, like humans. Animals are not cunning and bad. He no longer had contact with colleagues from FAZ. He did not expect his book to become a bestseller. Maybe his success came too late. He had had three heart attacks before he died.

Ola Tunander
Ola Tunander
Tunander is Professor Emeritus of PRIO. See also wikipedia, at PRIO: , as well as a bibliography on Waterstone

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