The Consortium

The Selling-Out of Democracy

There is a reason why we have led the first half dozen issues of The Consortium with installments from the "October Surprise X-Files," even as we have added shorter investigative pieces about the arming of Iraq and other intelligence operations. It is because, we believe, the controversy over the alleged theft of the 1980 presidential election helps explain the grander larceny of American democracy. The question is not just whether one election can be turned by a dirty trick, but how information-- the lifeblood of any democracy -- is controlled in this modern age.

As a reporter breaking many of the Iran-Contra stories for the Associated Press, Newsweek and the Public Broadcasting System's FRONTLINE program, I witnessed first-hand how Washington power-brokers learned to shape our perceptions as a nation. An important moment in this trend occurred in the early 1980s with the creation of a "public diplomacy" apparatus at the National Security Council. It was overseen by CIA Director William J. Casey (despite a ban on domestic CIA activities), and its goal was called "perception management."

This special team, with its biggest office at the State Department, generated propaganda to win American sympathy for CIA programs, such as the contra war in Nicaragua. But another part of the job was to discredit reporters, congressmen and citizen groups who offered evidence that clashed with the desired perceptions. Soon, it became clear that telling the truth to the American people was a very bad career move.

As the accompanying story, "Where's Bill Casey?," shows, this technique of enforced consensus has grown so pervasive in Washington that it now compels us to accept obviously false arguments. For instance, writing down a person's home phone number "proves" that the person is home, even if there's no answer when the number is called. Anyone who objects to this sort of logic gets bounced from the Washington club.

The Washington scene is now like the old fable about the Emperor's New Clothes. The elites strut in their rhetorical underwear while the rest of us are expected to ooh and aah over the beautiful finery. If some pip-squeak protests that these folks are prancing around naked and spouting nonsense, he's chased down and dragged away.

The blame for this predicament goes far beyond party and ideology, beyond just the media or government. The problem rests in a ruling national elite that likes to call itself, modestly, "the Meritocracy." It is an entrenched class contemptuous of common Americans. This elite's principal means of control is through information.

That is why we believe it is crucial to begin a true accounting of what happened in this era. The election of 1980 strikes us as the right place to start, not only because it was the primordial moment for the period we are still enduring, but because the bipartisan October Surprise investigation in 1992-93 carried the practice of enforced madness to its "logical" conclusion. We think the six installments of the "October Surprise X-Files" have shown that the widely acclaimed House report was an insult to the American people, a brazen falsification of our history.

Robert Parry, Editor of The Consortium

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