Operation Mockingbird was (is?) a CIA campaign to influence domestic and foreign media. The name comes from Deborah Davis' 1979 book about Katherine Graham, long-time publisher of the Washington Post, called Katharine the Great. The book showed how the media had been recruited and infiltrated by the CIA for propaganda purposes. Another exposé emerged in the 2007 memoir American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate and Beyond, by E. Howard Hunt.
The man behind Operation Mockingbird was Frank Wisner. According to later exposés, he was given the brief to build a CIA group that focused on "propaganda, economic warfare; preventive direct action, including sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition and evacuation measures; subversion against hostile states, including assistance to underground resistance groups, and support of indigenous anti-Communist elements in threatened countries of the free world."
In the late 1940s, he established this group, aimed at both domestic and foreign media. The program was remarkably effective. According to the book by Davis: "By the early 1950s, Wisner 'owned' respected members of The New York Times, Newsweek, CBS and other communications vehicles."
Wisner's Mockingbird was referred to as the "Mighty Wurlitzer," as it could make different sounds with different modulations when called for.
In 1951, the CIA's Cord Meyer became Operation Mockingbird's "principal operative." He continued to organize reporting and writers. In 1977, a Rolling Stone article by Carl Bernstein named Joseph Alsop as a major contributor, as were, according to Bernstein, Ben Bradlee (Newsweek), James Reston (New York Times), Charles Douglas Jackson (Time Magazine), Walter Pincus (Washington Post), William C. Baggs (The Miami News), Herb Gold (The Miami News) and Charles Bartlett (Chattanooga Times).
Frank Wisner himself commissioned the articles and the CIA provided the research. Ultimately, the responsibility for Operation Mockingbird passed to Allen W. Dulles, director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The "Wurlitzer" by this time pressed the pedals for at least 25 newspapers and wire agencies. Other names included were William Paley (CBS), Henry Luce (Time and Life Magazine), Arthur Hays Sulzberger (New York Times), Alfred Friendly (managing editor of the Washington Post), Jerry O'Leary (Washington Star), Hal Hendrix (Miami News), Barry Bingham, Sr., (Louisville Courier-Journal), James Copley (Copley News Services) and Joseph Harrison (Christian Science Monitor). This constituted virtually a Who's Who of publishing magnates, according to Bernstein.
Funds lifted from the Marshall Plan provided the support; sometimes outright bribes were paid. The bottom line: Communism was evil and awful and the US and the West were in mortal danger. Wisner even funded a Hollywood animated film based on Animal Farm.
The scope of Operation Mockingbird is astonishing and rivals anything in the Soviet Union at the time. Perhaps 3,000 salaried and contract CIA employees were part of the program in the 1950s. The existence of this program also explains why coverage of certain CIA events such as the overthrow of the elected government in Iran received little or no coverage until much later.
Thomas Braden, head of the CIA unit called the International Organizations Division (IOD), explained the process as follows: "If the director of CIA wanted to extend a present, say, to someone in Europe – a Labour leader – suppose he just thought, this man can use fifty thousand dollars, he's working well and doing a good job – he could hand it to him and never have to account to anybody... There was simply no limit to the money it could spend and no limit to the people it could hire and no limit to the activities it could decide were necessary to conduct the war—the secret war."
Despite denials from successive administrations and the CIA itself, there is no hard evidence that the program has been ended, though it may have been moderated and is no longer as obvious. A few years ago a high-ranking CIA operative assumed a central role in AOL.com; this apparently remains standard operating procedure at major publishing shops. Anderson Cooper of CNN is said to have CIA affiliations.
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