David P. Hadley. The Rising Clamor: The American Press, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Cold War. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2019. 272 pp. $50.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8131-7737-3.
Reviewed by Philip Minehan (California State University at Fullerton)
Published on H-Socialisms (June, 2020)
Commissioned by Gary Roth (Rutgers University - Newark)
The CIA and the Press
In The Rising Clamor: The American Press, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Cold War, author David P. Hadley sets out to demonstrate and explain the changing relationship between the American press and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) up to 1976. He sees the relationship in two main phases. The first is from the CIA’s establishment in 1947 to the very early 1960s, which featured a largely “friendly environment” for the CIA vis-à-vis the press. This, he states, was a “result of the Cold War consensus and the view of the Soviet threat, shared by people on both sides of the CIA-press divide, rather than a system of direct CIA control” (p. 10). The second phase was increasingly contentious, essentially from the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961 up to 1975, the year that some of the CIA’s operations (as well as those of the Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI], the National Security Agency [NSA], and the Internal Revenue Service [IRS]) were publicly scrutinized by presidential, House, and Senate investigative committees. Regarding the large-scale contextual level of that rocky phase of the relationship, Hadley explains: “the United States was wracked by division over Vietnam, and as challenges to the Cold War consensus that had governed earlier Cold War policy increased, the CIA frequently found itself portrayed in a negative light” (p. 111). However, while the author sometimes explicitly and helpfully employs such suggestions of an overarching narrative in his analytical framework, his methodology and the real strength and value of his work lie elsewhere.
Hadley closely and specifically tracks the changing relationships between top individual figures in the CIA and numerous journalists from a wide political spectrum of US newspapers and magazines. The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times are the newspapers that get most of his attention; the periodicals include Time, Life, and Harper’s magazines, as well as the Saturday Evening Post and others. But he also surveys smaller, influential publications, such as Foreign Affairs, and left-wing productions, such as The Nation and The Progressive. He includes no systematic treatment of television journalism, saying it was just underdeveloped as a medium and “rarely at the forefront of journalistic investigation for much of this period” (p. 9). As the author puts it, his study “focuses most on those relationships between figures in the higher echelons of the press and the CIA,” relationships that constitute “a microcosm of the larger story of the U.S. Cold War consensus” (p. 12). Especially in the first phase of his story, the East Coast establishment looms large. Allen Dulles, Hamilton Fish Armstrong, Joseph and Steward Alsop—the first being the director of Central Intelligence, the rest journalists—all went to Ivy League schools and attended the same parties and social clubs. Part of the same elite fabric, fully subscribing to the “Cold War consensus,” they were on different but mutually cooperative sides of the CIA-press relationship. Some reporters were actually on the CIA payroll, but mostly they were just cozy with the agency.
In tracking their relationships, Hadley sustains a four-part argument. First, “the press is an important part of the history of the CIA,” which is to say it was “affected” by the discussions in the press about its “proper structure and activities.” In the end, the CIA was “forced to adapt” to critiques from the press that came directly as well as indirectly through “intense public and congressional attention.” Second, “the press’s response to the CIA was not unified.” In its earlier phase, the CIA got a fairly easy pass from most of the press, but it still had its detractors, which flows into Hadley’s third argument, that the CIA still had its supporters when it tended to be grilled in the later 1960s and into the 1970s. Fourth, “press-CIA relationships were important in determining what information US citizens received about their government’s activities, and the CIA did make efforts to shape US opinions about the agency and its activities.” The author refers to the “Davis/Mockingbird theory,” which argues that the “CIA operated a deliberate and systematic program of widespread manipulation of the U.S. media,” but dismisses the theory, saying it “does not appear to be grounded in reality.” Nevertheless, Hadley concedes the “active role the CIA played in influencing the domestic press’s output” (p. 10). None of these four prongs of his argument is objectionable.
Hadley launches his study of the CIA-press relationship from the basis of a comment made by the then CIA director William Colby in 1975, namely, when “American opinion says go, we go. When American opinion [says stop] it stops. In the 1950’s the word was ‘go.’ In ... 1975, the word is ... stop” (p. 1). The author makes it clear that Colby here is misrepresenting reality to make the CIA sound democratically legitimate and responsive to public opinion, that hidden behind his statement was the fact that “members of the CIA had played a significant role in making sure the American people would say go.” While that opens the way to the thesis of large-scale CIA manipulations of US public opinion, as already established, that is not Hadley’s line of analysis. Instead, he treads meticulously through the “interactions between members of the press and CIA officers” (p. 2).
In a way that reveals his methodology and more, Hadley writes that “with the exception of the few CIA paid reporters ... members of the press retained their independence. Even the most cooperative relationships with reporters tended to be the product of negotiation and mutual interest” (p. 10). It seems reasonable that, on one level, these were transactional relationships between individuals, none of whom ever entirely lost his or her “pull” in whatever was being negotiated. Hadley’s methodological individualism seems to serve him well as he advances through copious primary materials, including the papers of Arthur Schlesinger, Robert McCormick, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, George Marshall, Richard Helms, Joseph and Steward Alsop, Ray Cline, Arthur Sulzberger, and Tom Wicker, just to name a few who were on various sides of the unfolding dramas of the CIA-US press interactions at the heart of Hadley’s scholarship.
The Rising Clamor is divided into an introduction, seven chapters, and a conclusion. The introduction revolves around Colby’s 1975 pretense about the CIA and public opinion. The first chapter deals with debates over how an intelligence agency ought to be institutionally structured and positioned: Should it be centralized, autonomous, and secret? Or the opposite, and systematically under public and governmental scrutiny? Dulles, the central figure in chapters 2 and 3, favored something closer to the former. Once he became head of the CIA, he was able to restructure it to his liking, yet this was also, as Hadley rightly suggests, rather easy for him to achieve given the “Cold War consensus” of the time. For Hadley’s purposes, that consensus was indicated by Dulles’s favorable rapport with the top reporters and news and commentary enterprises of the time. Hadley has subsections in chapter 2 on how “the CIA successfully overthrew two foreign governments, those in Iran and Guatemala.” Dulles made the most out of these “operational successes” to cultivate more positivity in his relationships with the press (p. 11). However, we see in chapter 3 that the “reckless” and egotistical Dulles ended his CIA career with the dismal failure of the 1961 Bay of Pigs attack on Cuba (p. 45). This was the main incident that began the end of the honeymoon between the CIA and the press.
Chapter 4 explores the efforts of the CIA directors of the 1960s to rehabilitate the agency’s image and its relationship with the press after 1961. There was some progress on that front, but the overriding trend was the cracking “consensus”; criticism increased of the CIA and accusations flowed more freely that it was undermining American democracy. Most importantly, the New York Times opted out of the consensus in 1966 with a series of investigative articles on whether or not the CIA was out of control, or a state within the state; the “reputation of the agency was so horrendous abroad” that it may have been harming US foreign policy interests. Journalist Tom Wicker and others revealed the CIA’s close ties to academia, to the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and to the British journal Encounter. A volley of denials followed from all those accused, but the Times stood by its work and never got sued. In the end, the reporters were soft: the CIA was not out of control; the crucial question was “how the ‘real government of the United States’ decided to use it” (p. 102). The reporting could have been more aggressive, but most journalists, editors, and managers at the Times and the rest of the mainstream press did not want to burn their bridges with the CIA entirely, since the typical and longstanding relationships they had with the agency were transactional—inside scoops on world events in exchange for soft criticism, or none at all.
“The fracture of the 1960s,” as chapter 4 is titled, just continued in 1967 with revelations in the left-wing Ramparts magazine that the CIA secretly funded much of the National Students Association budget and had infiltrated the organization and recruited some of its members into their service. In a way that reflected the “fracture,” but also due to the brazen character of the operation, most journalists were outraged. However, the Katsenbach Committee that investigated the allegations was “largely toothless,” while the CIA opted for a revenge offensive and started spying on Ramparts (p. 108). Though the CIA-press relationships were in fairly precipitous decline, this was not their ruination.
Chapter 5 traces their further decline amid the US war in Vietnam, which emboldened reporters more than ever to unleash criticism of the CIA. Typifying this tendency was the work of Seymour Hersh, who as an independent journalist broke the story of the My Lai Massacre in 1969, in which at least 350-500 South Vietnamese civilians were murdered in their village by US Army troops. The New York Times hired Hersh in 1972, believing they would gain the competitive critical and investigative edge it needed for the times. There was no shortage of material, especially in Southeast Asia, where the CIA operated mercenary armies, where it got caught up in extremely murky and deadly politics, and where, in Laos, it was complicit in the heroin trade. The Latin America Left was also in their sights, most infamously the CIA’s backing of the 1973 coup d’état against the Chilean socialist leader, Salvador Allende, and his democratically elected government. But also on the home front, in 1974, Hersh uncovered a CIA domestic surveillance program that could not be denied. The final blow, at least for Hadley’s account, was the Watergate scandal of Richard Nixon and his administration. While this was the peak of the independent investigative thrust of American journalism, it was also a historical moment for congressional investigations of the CIA, the FBI, the IRS, and the NSA. Conversely, it was the lowest point yet for the CIA-US press relationship. Hadley presents this situation with characteristic restraint: “An agency that was once lauded and respected by most of the mainstream press was regarded with suspicion” (p. 153).
The Rising Clamor sustains a cogent and richly informative analysis of the shifting relationships between the press, the CIA, and public opinion in the US from 1947 to 1975. The main trajectory of the history moves from a newly established CIA that mainly gets a free pass from the press and gains maneuverability domestically and internationally. Yet after tremendous damage is done, it is subjected to a serious degree of criticism from journalists and checks on its power by the Rockefeller, Pike, and Church Committees. The agency was prohibited from launching propaganda campaigns at home and assassinating leaders abroad, though Hadley implies these “controls” were soft, since they could be reversed by executive order, and “were dependent on the national mood, as all CIA activity was” (p. 175). Hadley considers those congressional investigations as positive developments that served, to some extent, to put the CIA in its place, though “the press, too, would not escape without blemishes” (p. 159).
Systematic CIA and conservative pushback against the investigations came quickly. The assassination in December 1975 of Richard Welch, the CIA station chief in Athens, was highly sensationalized. Critics blamed the investigations for creating an atmosphere ripe for killing off a major CIA figure. Welch’s body was sent back to the US and buried at Arlington National Cemetery in a nationally televised ceremony of patriotic loss. The assassination and overall pushback eventually led to the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Clearly, there has been no cessation of the complex dynamics between the CIA, the US press, US public opinion, and events on the world stage. The “extraordinary rendition” and subsequent torture conducted at “black sites” worldwide by the CIA after September 11, 2001, while the mainstream press looked the other way, immediately attest to this problem.
The years 1947-75 were a distinctive stretch of US and modern world history, variously inspiring and beneficial for some, as well as deadly and deprived, for peoples across the world. This was part of the larger tumult of modern history since the late nineteenth century, when a few rival societies and states had industrialized, attempted to dominate the rest of the world’s peoples through imperialism and colonialism, and then degenerated into world wars with one another—twice over—at the cost of approximately one hundred million lives. In 1945, the United States came out on top of the world’s power structure, rivaled by its wartime ally, the Soviet Union; the two powers faced off in the so-called Cold War up to 1991, when the USSR collapsed. But with the “rising clamor” of the press against the CIA from 1947 to 1976, there also came the breakdown of a number of other institutional features of the era, not just the “Cold War consensus” but also the US-led golden age of capitalism, the “social compact” of government, business and labor, and the “modern liberal consensus” on the need for a welfare state. Neoliberal economic globalization was taking off.
The fact that it was not just the CIA that came under fairly open public scrutiny in the 1975 investigations, but also the FBI, the IRS, and the NSA, shows the large-scale and systemic character and the politics of these changes. The connections between them need to be grasped more comprehensively. Hadley’s skilled and painstaking research and analysis of the CIA-press relationship up to 1976 has produced an excellent “micro-history” of that part of the larger American and world scene, though it is a stretch to call it a “microcosm.” Just for example, juxtapose two things: on one side, the parties, clubs, Ivy League scenes of the Dulleses, the Alsops, the Sulzbergers, etc., and on the other, the CIA-backed coups and their consequences in Iran and Guatemala. The former turned into an Islamic Revolution in the Middle East, the latter into a ferocious and decades-long civil war. This allows one to grasp the significance of the CIA-press relationship and call it a “microcosm.” Hadley refers to those situations and others across the world that were affected by the CIA, but he does so mainly through the narrow views of elite Americans who are the object of his investigations. In a nutshell, how does one know the significance of that fairly “friendly environment” between the CIA and the US press of the early 1950s without knowing the devastating consequences of the CIA’s clandestine actions across the world that reverberate to this day?
The Rising Clamor is an excellent contribution to the literature on the Cold War within elite American social and professional circles and its impact on government and public opinion. I recommend it highly but especially in conjunction with more comprehensive and global treatments of the Cold War, such as those by Thomas McCormick (America’s Half Century: United States Foreign Policy in the Cold War and After ), Odd Arne Westad (The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times ), and Perry Anderson (American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers ).
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Philip Minehan. Review of Hadley, David P., The Rising Clamor: The American Press, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Cold War.
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