The KGB Spark and the Anti-Military Media it Ignited

The August 2013 edition of Australia’s The Monthly has a piece by Robert Manne which attempts to prove that influential Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett was a paid KGB agent. His method is simple: take the KGB document that says so–smuggled out of Russia by Vladimir Bukovsky in 1992 (!)–have it translated (!!!), and put the relevant parts into the article.

It may not be good enough for his legion of loyal left-wing followers–Burchett is kind of like the I.F. Stone of Australia – but for those outside of his cult of personality, it should be enough.    

With confirmation of Burchett’s role as KGB agent, we can now unravel one of the most successful disinformation campaigns in modern history: the turning of the media against the US Military.

Manne has written on Wilfred Burchett’s Communism before. In 1985, after studying Burchett’s private papers (made available to La Trobe University in Melbourne upon Burchett’s death in 1983), Manne wrote the following in Quadrant

Of Burchett’s propaganda successes of the 1960s (or at least that I am aware of) none could outdo the visit of the prestigious New York Times journalist Harrison Salisbury to Hanoi in 1966 to report the impact of American bombing on North Vietnam. It is generally understood that Salisbury’s reports had a profound impact on the climate of American opinion in regard to the Vietnam War. For some time, moreover, it has been alleged that in his reports Salisbury passed off officially released North Vietnamese material as if it were his independent observation. But what has not been known is that Salisbury’s trip was arranged through the good offices of Burchett and that Salisbury was extremely grateful for what Burchett had done for him in Hanoi.  

On February 7, 1967 Burchett wrote this to his father:  

For your very private information I will quote an extract from a letter I found awaiting me in Phnom Penh from Harrison Salisbury: “I need hardly say that I am deeply grateful to you for the aid and assistance that you were able to give in presenting my case to the Vietnamese authorities.”  

Burchett looked upon the Salisbury articles as a case of benign plagiarism. As he explained to his son:  

Rainer, your suspicions were quite correct in your letter before last but that is not a thing to talk about. The main thing is the result. As you said Harrison said what I have been saying for a long time, but it is much more important that it is said in the New York Times.

For all his treachery, Burchett’s insight into the importance of the Times was prophetic. In the mid-1970s, Edward Jay Epstein, quite-possibly the greatest investigative journalist of his generation, conducted a series of groundbreaking exposes on the inner workings of broadcast journalism.

Among his findings was how “all the network decision-makers I interviewed, or observed at work, read and relied on a single newspaper each morning — the New York Times. Av Westin [the executive producer of ABC News] explained ‘Like it or not, the Times is our Bible: it tells us what is likely to be considered to be important by others.’ Producers, editors, and correspondents at all the networks are powerfully aware of the fact that network executives read the Times.

According to Douglas Brinkley’s biography of Walter Cronkite, CBS saw Salisbury’s reports on the bombing and concluded that their Vietnam reporting was too timid and started pushing for more hard-hitting coverage. As Brinkley reveals:

[President of CBS’s news division Richard] Salant wrote a highly confidential memo in the late summer of 1967 instructing correspondents to explain what their stories from Vietnam meant in the larger context of the war. Tell us what it all means, Salant implored. This, it seemed to [correspondent John] Laurence, was an order to draw conclusions from what he witnesses in the war, to provide personal impressions at the end of his reports, to do commentary for the first time. The extent to which this memo from Salant to manager of news Ralph Paskman was circulated, however, remains unclear. Perhaps few others besides Cronkite, [CBS Evening News executive producer Leslie] Midgley, and [CBS News executive Gordon] Manning saw it. …But just before Laurence left for Saigon in August 1967 (his second tour), Paskman called his foreign correspondent into the office and closed the door. He told Laurence the meeting was confidential, not to be repeated to anyone. ‘I agreed,’ Laurence recalled. ‘Then he took the memo out of the drawer in his dest and showed it to me. He allowed me to read it briefly, as if it were secret, and then took it away and put it back in the drawer and closed it.’ Paskman reiterated not to mention the memo to anyone. Once again Laurence reassured his that mum was the word. ‘His expression was one of worry,’ Laurence recalled, ‘as if he were opening the door to an unknown, possibly dangerous new policy.'”

And then came Cronkite’s handling of the Communist’s 1968 Tet Offensive. On the day of the attacks Cronkite got an Associated Press dispatch about the fighting–which he believed to be largely over, as LBJ kept telling everyone–and completely flipped out. He took a trip to South Vietnam, but did not believe a word the officials were telling him about their total victory in decimating the Communist attackers (even though it was true this time, but they had cried wolf too many times to be taken seriously). He came back and did his famous TV broadcast saying the war was unwinnable. And it was all downhill from there, as Cronkite went all out leftist against Vietnam and every other American defense policy

Cronkite’s actions regarding Tet gave rise to his own journalistic cult of personality–which did not take long to develop. In Edward Jay Epstein’s papers at Boston University, there is an internal NBC News memo dated 3/25/69 “Re: Buisiness of tv news – May 1, 1969” “Source: 2/20 Wallace Westfeldt – Exec Producer, Huntley-Brinkley, NBC” [Brinkley being David Brinkley, no relation to Douglas Brinkley] – and although the recounted conversation with Mr. Westfeldt, Cronkite’s chief competitor, was not meant to be about him, all Mr. Westfeldt could talk about was Cronkite.

“Cronkite has a hell of a good show”; “[Rating have] been fluctuating with Cronkite for a year and a half”; “They’re damn good”.

He had clearly gotten under their skin (and, although Mr. Westfeldt denies it, it is clear that Cronkite had become an unofficial standard). Soon, everyone was trying to follow suit. And it never stopped.  

In an interview with [Douglas] Brinkley for Cronkite biography, Christiane Amanpour, then working for CNN, described having dinner with Cronkite in 2004: 

I myself had a deep reverence for him and for everything he stood for. Anyway, after lots of chitchat over a couple of stiff whiskeys on the rocks, I asked him whether anyone today could do what he did back in Vietnam after Tet. And to my abiding disappointment, he gently told me, no, he didn’t think so, because unlike in his time, there are multitudinous voices and channels out there today.

This was in the midst of President Bush’s re-election campaign and a jihadist terrorist offensive in Iraq. This was an admission by Amanpour that she intended to change the narrative about Iraq. That is, after all, “what he [Cronkite] did back in Vietnam after Tet.”

Last year, Natalie Conboy, a particularly talented recent graduate from Hofstra University’s School of Journalism, told me how Walter Cronkite’s Vietnam reporting (which would be shown in class) was upheld as the standard.

Thankfully, for the sake of our security and the cause of freedom, the left’s media monopoly is indeed broken and fast becoming a bad memory. Now, when America’s enemies take to the New York Times to trash the United States Armed Forces, like when the Soros-funded did so in 2007, we the people have outlets that will put them in their place. And we have four great revolutionaries in particular to thank: Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, David Horowitz, and the late, great Andrew Breitbart.