Surrealpolitik: Into the Buzzsaw

Author: Kristina Borjesson

Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books (2004)

Quick Summary

An excellent collection of stories by well-known journalists who had good, well-documented, explosive stories suppressed or changed, and/or who suffered retaliation for doing investigative journalism that ran counter to what the media decisionmakers wanted.


There are 14 quotes currently associated with this book.

[A]t Clear Channel, the nation's largest radio network, a very popular show host sent this response to public relations agent Ilene Proctor after receiving Proctor's press release announcing a large peace demonstration: "I will have to pass on this one, as the station is rigidly requiring me to do only pro-war pieces." (page 19)
Tags: [Propaganda]
One of the major shortcomings of mainstream media reporting is the failure to put facts into context. Our schools and universities suffer from this, too. It explains why Americans appear to be hopelessly naive, even dumb. They are neither. They just need context.

Oil context, geographical context, ruling-class context, historical context - all are hidden from the average American. (page 68)

[From chapter: Charlotte Dennett, The War on Terror and the Great Game for Oil: How the Media Missed the Context]
Tags: [Propaganda]
There is something fundamentally wrong with the idea that protecting national security requires exempting the CIA - or any branch of the US government for that matter - from all ethical, legal, and constitutional principles. The world needs to know that this is the institutional operating principle of the CIA, not just a few cowboys or rogue agents, and that the CIA now has the statutory right to carry out all manner of crimes anywhere in the world.

One swallow does not a summer make, but one hundred thousand extremely serious crimes a year makes the CIA a criminal organization. Even if it did not, a suspension of the Constitution exempting the CIA from observing all international treaties and agreements screams for press coverage. So does Congress's sanctioning of CIA crimes against humanity under the well-worn "national security" banner. In fact, there is next to no meaningful coverage ever of the CIA in the mainstream media, let alone analysis. The few exceptions prove the rule, and when they occur, the rest of the media gang up on the exception, side with the CIA, and obliterate the story often before it's published. Case in point: Gary Webb's articles on the CIA's involvement with drugs. (page 130)

[From chapter: John Kelly, Crimes and Silence: The CIA's Criminal Acts and the Media's Silence]
Tags: [Truth & Real, Propaganda, Culture]
Do we have a free press today? Sure we do. It's free to report all the sex scandals it wants, all the stock market news we can handle, every new health fad that comes down the pike, and every celebrity marriage or divorce that happens. But when it come to the real down and dirty stuff - stories like Tailwind, the October Surprise, the El Mozote massacre, corporate corruption, or CIA involvement in drug trafficking - that's where we begin to see the limits of our "free" press. In today's media environment, sadly, such stories are not even open for discussion. (page 156)

[From chapter: Gary Webb, The Mighty Wurlitzer Plays On]
Tags: [Truth & Real, Propaganda, Culture]
Not one single mainstream media journalist undertook took to do what my publisher's (Delacorte Press) attorneys had done: conduct a libel reading, or a detailed examination of how I had documented my facts. I was a man whose words in courts across the land were credible enough to convict and sentence thousands to tens of thousands of years in prisons. My book screamed in a loud, clear voice that the drug war was a premeditated fraud, yet no one in the media was interested in investigating the story. (page 179)

[From chapter: Michael Levine, Mainstream Media: The Drug War's Shills]
Tags: [Propaganda, Culture]
I'm outraged that among journalists there is no outrage. (page 236)

[From chapter: Jane Akre, The Fox, The Hounds, and the Sacred Cows]
Tags: [Propaganda]
You don't choose to have the kind of experience I had while trying to report on the demise of TWA Flight 800. It happens to you. You fall into it. At CBS, I'd recently picked up an Emmy for investigative reporting when I was assigned to investigate the crash. I had no idea that my life would be turned upside down and inside out - that I'd been assigned to walk into what I now call "the buzzsaw."

The buzzsaw is what can rip through you when you try to investigate or expose anything this country's large institutions - be they corporate or government - want kept under wraps. The system fights back with official lies, disinformation, and stonewalling. Your phone starts acting funny. Strange people call you at strange hours to give you strange information. The FBI calls you. Your car is broken into and the thief takes your computer and your reporter's notebook and leaves everything else behind. You feel like you're being followed everywhere you go. You feel like you've been sucked into a game of Dungeons and Dragons. It gets harder and harder to distinguish truth and reality from falsehood and fiction. The sense of fear and paranoia is, at times, overwhelming.

Walk into the buzzsaw and you'll cut right to this layer of reality. You will feel a deep sense of loss and betrayal. A shocking shift in paradigm. Anyone who hasn't experienced it will call you crazy. Those who don't know the truth, or are covering it up, will call you a conspiracy nut. The word "conspiracy" is commonly used now (either as an adjective or part of a phrase) to malign those who raise unpopular questions about sensitive issues. The fact is, conspiracies do exist. There are laws on the books addressing them and Justice Department officials deal with them all the time. However, in the case of the TWA Flight 800 disaster, I don't know of anyone who disagrees with the government's conclusions who describes the official investigation as a conspiracy. Incompetent. A cover-up. These are the descriptions most skeptics use to characterize the official investigation. Not "conspiracy." (page 284)

[From chapter: Kristina Borjesson, Into the Buzzsaw]
Tags: [Backlash, Truth & Real, Propaganda, Conspiracy]
A former White House press secretary and network correspondent, [Pierre] Salinger announced to the world on November 8, 1996, that he'd received documents from French intelligence proving that a US Navy missile had accidentally downed [Flight 800]. That same day, the FBI's Jim Kallstrom called a press conference to deny Salinger's allegations. When the conference began, he was flanked by Rear Admiral Edward K. Kristensen (the NTSB's Jim Hall was late) and surrounded by a phalanx of other secret service and military personnel. Kallstrom rattled off a prepared speech, and then it was time for questions. A man raised his hand and asked what I thought was a pertinent - and impertinent - question. He wanted to know why the navy was involved in the recovery and investigation while a possible suspect. Kallstrom's response was immediate: "Remove him!" he yelled. Two men leapt over to the questioner and grabbed him by the arms. There was a momentary chill in the air after the guy had been dragged out of the room. Kallstrom, Kristensen, Hall, and their entourage acted as if nothing had happened. There was something very disquieting about the goonish tactics. A dispassionately dismissive response from Kallstrom would have been a more convincing way to tell us that the navy had nothing to do with the disaster. In any case, right then and there, the rest of us had been put on notice to be on our best behavior. (page 290-291)

[From chapter: Kristina Borjesson, Into the Buzzsaw]
Tags: [Backlash, Propaganda]
The lesson here - and I'm going to repeat it over and over in this essay - is that on sensitive stories you can't trust official sources. (page 295)

[From chapter: Kristina Borjesson, Into the Buzzsaw]
Tags: [Propaganda]
During the first weeks following the Flight 800's demise, there was a great deal of coverage about evidence of a high-pressure explosive force - either a bomb or a missile - causing the jet to blow up. Indeed, the coverage was going in the same direction as the FBI...But by September, the press was turning around to the new government line, no questions asked...

What's fascinating about this is how the same paper first prints a series of reports talking about hard evidence the investigators have uncovered indicating that a mechanical failure was unlikely - like "traces of explosives in the passenger cabin," "very heavy damage to the landing gear," and "portions of the fuel tank wreckage" being "virtually unscathed" - and then turns around and writes a subsequent story that says, "The investigators acknowledge that they have no evidence pointing to a mechanical malfunction. Rather, they say, the failure to find proof of a bombing, after more than two months, lends indirect credence to another theory . . ." Indirect credence to another theory!? What happened to the traces of explosives, etc., that you reported about earlier?

And that's another huge problem for you, the average citizen seeking good information from your newspaper or TV news broadcast. You probably didn't realize until you read this just how mutable the truth is. You probably didn't know that often what is reported today is the truth, until official sources change it later on. The new truth can be the exact opposite of what was reported before, and it will be reported, no questions asked. What was reported before no longer exists or matters because official sources, our nation's ministers of truth, say it doesn't. Go back and read George Orwell's 1984. It'll give you goose bumps. (page 297-298)

[From chapter: Kristina Borjesson, Into the Buzzsaw]
Tags: [Apathy/Resistance, Everyday Life, Truth & Real, Propaganda, Culture, Myth, Disinformation]
It was then that the most bizarre incident I've experienced to date with this story occurred. O'Meara and I had driven up to New York from Washington in her car. We had arrived late at night and parked on the street right in front the building we were staying in. We decided to take out our bags and leave everything else in the trunk.

"Everything else" included our TWA documents, O'Meara's computer, a movie camera, a tool chest, and some tennis rackets.

The next morning, we went to the car, and O'Meara opened the trunk. Everything was there, except for the TWA 800 documents and O'Meara's computer. The trunk lock itself looked untouched and worked perfectly. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, these things do happen in the United States of America. I would never have believed it if I hadn't experienced it myself. (page 312)

[From chapter: Kristina Borjesson, Into the Buzzsaw]
Tags: [Backlash, Propaganda, Conspiracy]
During my tenures at CBS and CNN, I rarely ran into a producer working on a very sensitive story. If I had to tell you why, I'd say this: Getting a job at a network is hard enough because the competition is brutal, but keeping it - especially since there's no job security and your contract comes up for renewal every two or four years - is a skill that requires as much political savvy as journalistic talent. There's no point in looking for trouble or hard work by pitching a tough story. Network producing ducing is an all-consuming job. The hours are horrendous. Investigative pieces in particular can wreak havoc on your mind, body, and family.

On a story like TWA 800, as you saw with my experience at CBS, you can become a pariah among your colleagues as well as with government investigators if you persist with your politically incorrect investigation. (page 320)

[From chapter: Kristina Borjesson, Into the Buzzsaw]
Tags: [Backlash, Apathy/Resistance, Propaganda]
Corporate media executives perceive their primary, and often sole, responsibility to be the need to maximize profits for the next quarterly statement and not, as some observers would have it, to inform the public. This attitude is not lost on journalists. An April 2000 survey of nearly three hundred journalists and news executives conducted by the Pew Research Center and the Columbia Journalism Review revealed that more than a quarter of the journalists surveyed admitted that they avoid going after important stories that might affect the financial interests of their news organizations or advertisers. Altogether, 41 percent of the respondents said that they either purposely avoid newsworthy stories and/or soften the tone of stories to benefit the interests of their news organizations. (page 427)

[From chapter: Carl Jenson, What Happened to Good Old-Fashioned Muckraking?]
Tags: [Propaganda]
In the 1940s, for example, full-time labor editors and reporters abounded on US daily newspapers, and there were several hundred of them. Even ferociously anti-labor newspapers, like the Chicago Tribune, covered the labor beat. The 1937 Flint sit-down strike that launched the United Auto Workers and the trade union movement was a major news story across the nation. By the 1980s, however, labor had fallen off the map, and there were no more than a dozen labor beat reporters remaining on US dailies. (The number is less than five today.) The story was simply no longer covered. Hence, the 1989 Pittstown sit-down strike - the largest since Flint - was virtually unreported in the US media, and its lessons unknown. As the labor movement declined, coverage of labor was dropped. People still work, poverty among workers is growing, workplace conflicts are as important as ever, but this is no longer news. (page 442-443)

[From chapter: Robert McChesney, The Rise and Fall of Professional Journalism]
Tags: [Propaganda, Culture]