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Re-lynching Cynthia McKinney

Writing about Cynthia McKinney is like a blind date with Godzilla. You don't really know what you're in for until you've walked through the door.

By Greg Palast

07/23/03: 

In "The Screwing of Cynthia McKinney,"  I thought I'd perform a minor but laudatory public service: correcting a cruelly false statement by the New York Times, a fib repeating or repeated by other sources from National Petroleum Radio to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The baying of wolves followed my simply noting that the former Congresswoman's political career was utterly destroyed by bald statements, such as the one in the New York Times which stated,

"Ms. McKinney suggest[ed] that President Bush might have known about the September 11 attacks but did nothing so his supporters could make money in a war."

When I called the Times reporter to ask for the source of this politically suicidal statement of McKinney's, she could not find it. When I pressed, she faked it, pathetically flailing about with false attempts to cover the sloppy reportage, citing for example the congressional record (where it did not appear).

NPR's hatchet job was much slicker. NPR said,

"[McKinney] suggested the Bush Administration may have known in advance about the September 11 attacks and allowed them to happen in order for people close to the President to profit"

Wow! And to back it up, NPR played her own words. She said,

“What did this administration know and when did it know it, about the events of September 11th? Who else knew, and why did they not warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered? . . . What do they have to hide?"

And NPR added her statement,

"And so we get this Presidency requesting a nearly unprecedented amount of money to go into a defense budget for defense spending that will directly benefit his father."

Sounds damning, until we listen closer. First, the interview was not with NPR, but clipped from rival Free Speech Radio Network. Unfortunately for NPR, Free Speech posted the entire McKinney interview. The full transcript indicated that NPR's pronouncement -- was simply off the wall, gluing together two statements far apart in the interview, both out of context. John Sugg, the respected editor of Atlanta's weekly paper (and no big fan of McKinney) called NPR's free-form editing one of the most egregious cases of journalistic malfeasance he'd seen in years.

Is possible to READ INTO McKinney's statements that Bush knew about September 11 attacks and withheld the info to cash in? I suppose so, with the most malicious interpretation of her words. And that's NPR's real journalistic crime. There's a frightfully easy way to get it right: ASK HER. I did. The New York Times did not. NPR did not. The Atlanta Journal Constitution -- which wrote, hystrionically, "she practically accused the President of murder!" -- did not.

Now look back at McKinney's words. What was she saying? As she has explained again and again, she was citing reports from BBC Television and Britain's Guardian and Observer newspapers, even USA Today, that there was a massive intelligence failure before September 11. Crucial information was ignored by US intelligence agencies, these reports say. Furthermore, the BBC and Guardian reported, this blindness in intelligence gathering seems to have its source in the long-standing US government policy of not discomfiting Saudi Arabia, well-known source of terrorists and terrorist funding. Furthermore (and I'm sorry if there is a complex 'furthermore' – the REAL news does not always fit into nice one sentence sound-bites) … the Bush Administration's see-no-Saudi-evil policy may be prejudiced by the notable investments in Bush family enterprises by the self-same Saudis suspected by some European governments of funding terror.

It's a complex but important story, one the Congresswoman thought deserved investigation: the money-poisoning of America's foreign policy. It is NOT NOT NOT about Bush having specific knowledge of a September 11 al-Queda attack and deliberately withholding the info. I know, because I wrote two of the stories McKinney cited - and I discussed them with her in detail.

True, the New York Times report does not place her so-called quote inside quotation marks. This hardly lets the Paper of Record off the hook. Their reporter decided she could write the words into the Congresswoman's mouth. The paper mangled, twisted and abused her words … without the slightest journalistic check.

I spoke with McKinney by phone and via e-mail. “What did you mean?” She absolutely denied the wild interpretation put on her words. That's not a small matter. Nowhere did our press hounds say, “Some accuse McKinney of saying … but she denies it.” No, the black-ink lynch mob had tied the noose and would not be satisfied until McKinney's political career hung from the poplar tree.

It's not a small matter, and way beyond McKinney. This is at its heart the story about the marginalization and monsterizing of dissenters. This is exactly the lynching that Dan Rather has warned would come to those in politics or news who asked difficult questions.

When I challenged the news mob about the McKinney "quote," they recoiled. In Atlanta, McKinney's home town, the Atlanta Journal Constitution's gross mis-phrasing of the Congresswoman's phrases did not withstand even a glance of scrutiny. The AJC recently asked me to speak to their international reporters about ways to improve world-wide coverage. I suggested they stop fabricating stories. Specifically, privately, in the AJC offices, and publicly in a rival paper, I challenged the editorial writer of the AJC to state exactly where McKinney had made her wild accusation of Presidential “murder.” I tempted them with a personal offer: if they could substantiate the quote, I would ingest an entire edition of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, a paper of some heft. I left Atlanta hungry.

Can you read an evil accusation into McKinney's statement -- Bush planned September 11 attacks to enrich his daddy? Oh, yes, if that's what you WANT to read. But reporters are not supposed to play ‘Gotcha!' with such serious matters. If a statement can be read two ways – one devastating – then journalists have an obligation to ASK and probe, and certainly not spread an 'interpretation' as a quotation.

I myself interviewed McKinney for BBC television. Doing my job, I tried to goad her into making an incendiary comment about Bush and September 11. She would not. As a journalist, not a political hit man, I left her out of our broadcast. If, in my BBC report or in my Guardian/Observer column, I played games with a quotation and used the words of the New York Times or NPR reporters, I would lose my job in a heartbeat. (And my paper and network would offer apologies and cash compensation to the Congresswoman).

True, 'Net trawlers can find many quotes from McKinney which could be read to imply that Bush knew about the coming attack and kept it to himself, like this one:

"We know there were numerous warnings of the events to come on September 11. Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, delivered one such warning. What did this Administration know, and when did it know it about the events of September 11? Who else knew and why did they not warn the innocent people of New York?"

And her infamous 'cover-up' accusation,

"I think what the administration is concerned about is that we have connected the dots. They don't want the American people to know and be able to hold accountable the people who were involved in the lead up to September 11. …I call that a cover-up."

Once again, the obvious and more plausible reading of McKinney's words -- her own explanation, which ought to count for something -- is a story of intelligence failures caused by a disastrous Administration policy of going easy on Middle East potentates who fund terror. That's a far cry from saying Bush was in on the conspiracy to attack America.

The reason I find the brouhaha over my correcting the record on McKinney so astonishing is that the complaints came in the main, NOT from defenders of the Times or NPR, but from those who do, in fact, believe that Bush DID know of, or even plan, the attack of September 11. These objectors are beside themselves with misery over losing the comfort of a kind of endorsement of their views extracted from the misreading of McKinney. From this crowd came the most vitriolic attacks – citing Saint McKinney's words despite her repeated objections.

And let's be blunt about a nastier side of this story: NPR and the Times wouldn't have done it to a white male congressman. And I'm not guessing. Recently, the nation's papers reported that Republican Senator Grassley called for an investigation of intelligence failures before the September 11 attack, demanding explanation for the Administration's failure to act on incoming intelligence. Senator Bob Graham did the same. Neither Grassley nor Graham was not called a 'looney' or a 'loose cannon' as NPR so graciously allowed others to label the uppity black woman McKinney. Apparently, they fell under the Times' Stupid White Senator exemption.

How do I know they treat white, right congressmen differently from a black, left congresswoman? Go back to McKinney's "cover-up" statement. ("[Bush] doesn't want the American people to know …those involved in the lead-up to September 11.") I was just having a little fun: McKinney never said it. Senator Bob Graham did.

My original story on the savaging of McKinney was an excerpt from the report that opens the volume "Abuse Your Illusions," the new tome of media and critiques of propaganda from Disinformatiom Press. There, the McKinney expose was imbedded among other tales of fibs, fabrications, Stalinized photos and various distortions from America's own Izvestias and Pravdas, the Times, the Washington Post, NPR and the others. (I pick on the Times and NPR only because they are acknowledged as the leading American daily new outlets. It goes downhill from there ... down past USA Today to the end of our nation's media colon, Fox News. I shed tears for, but do not bother to critique, these sloughs of darkness.)

Notably, the Times' and NPR's reactions illustrated the illusion of an unbiased US press. The Times imperiously ignored my findings of their manipulation of photos, quotes and outright falsities. However, NPR scheduled me to appear on the network's own national media review program -- regarding my criticism of the Times. Then, when the producers read my story on NPR's own prevarications, NPR decided that the best debate … is none at all -- "the story is too complicated and requires too much research time" NPR told me -- and I was yanked from the broadcast minutes before the recording. So God Bless America.

Greg Palast is author of the New York Times bestseller "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" Visit his web site www.GregPalast.com


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