1980’s a staunch American ally and could not be depicted as arnterrorist sponsor state, while the Afghanistan adventure enjoyedrnbipartisan support as the crucial campaign in destabilizingrnthe Evil Empire.rnThe virtue of international news is that editors and newsrnmanagers can claim with some plausibility that nobody citherrnknows or cares. There are still millions of Americans whornthink that the Gulf War of 1991 was fought against Iran, andrnwho would not sincerely care if it was pointed out that theirrnmistake involved anything more than a spelling error, so whyrndoes it matter that Iraq rather than Libya or Iran deserves thernprestige of a terrorist mastermind? Of course, the basic problemrnwith lies is that they tend to require buttressing by morernfalsehoods in the future, and the consequence is a house of liesrnthat grows ever larger and more unstable until it eventually collapsesrnunder its own weight. In the case of the Middle Easternrnscandals, the delicate structure probably collapsed in Februaryrn1993 when a group of American-trained Afghan veterans andrn(probably) Iraqi secret service agents planted a large and potentiallyrncatastrophic bomb at New York’s World Trade Center,rnleaving the American media to discover overnight some of thernmajor intelligence and terrorism stories they had been sittingrnon for the last decade.rn^ – ^ T – n a large and in-rnO / creasing area ofrnK_^ matters affecting intelligence,rnlaw enforcement, and nationalrnsecurity, the American media are nornmore adversarial or critical than thosernof a traditional People’s Democracy. Ifrnthe goal of good journalism is speakingrntruth to power, then the press has arnserious case of laryngitis.rnSo why did the media behave as they did, why did the consensusrnremain undented? Simplistic conspiracy views shouldrnbe discarded immediately. Contrary to some of the allegationsrnmade following Watergate and the assassination investigationsrnof the 1970’s, there is no central agency issuing diktats as tornwhat can or cannot be uncovered, no Ministry of Truth examiningrnstories for doubleplus ungood statements. Nor does thernselective silence indicate any particular party bias, and it is justrnas easy to claim plausibly that the media are militant supportersrnof either Republican or Democratic administrations. Thernconsensus arises because in political and intelligence matters especially,rnthe government role in the supply and manipulationrnof information has in practice created a system of self-censorship,rnwhich in some ways is just as effective as any Ministry ofrnTruth. The media are desperately anxious to avoid losing thernregular source of information on the political, diplomatic, or intelligencernaffairs that make up the bulk of their news coverage,rnand they are certainly not prepared to risk this bread and butterrnin order to hare after what mav pro’e to be a speculative fiction.rnJournalists and political correspondents are as lazy as the restrnof us and tend to rely on a quite narrow band of informedrnsources, who inevitably tend to recite a narrow party line. In internationalrnmatters at least, they show little evidence of any independentrnknowledge that would allow them to verify or contradictrnwhat they are told by the usual suspects—the familiarrnAmerican and Israeli spooks, backed up bv the two or threernwell-known Washington think tanks. The closer an investigationrngets to “real” national security interests or intelligence dirt,rnthe more likely it is that the sources will close ranks and staternabsolutely and positively that there is no truth to the said ludicrousrnstories about Afghans and Contras, Libyans and Iraqis.rnAnd these arguments can be backed up with quite dire warnings.rnIf you follow up this story, you will find that Iraqisrnbombed New York, which means that the President will havernno choice but to launch a new Gulf War. Is that what yournwant? If you print this, you will endanger unnamed intelligencernassets: people could die as a result of this story. The patrioticrncard can be very powerful, no matter how dubious the evidencernthat permits it to be played and how little skepticism the journalistrndemonstrates before accepting it.rnThese examples concern foreign policy and intelligence,rnbut much the same arguments apply to domestic law enforcement,rnwhere the enormous growth of federal policy agenciesrnhas tended to concentrate in a few hands the information thatrnmatters, the inside stories on which the media depend. Thisrnwas traditionally a game played to perfection by the FBI, butrnmore recently the antidrug bureaucracies have become thernleading players, and their success is indicated by the degree tornwhich alternatives to the ongoing drug war have become virtuallyrnunthinkable: keep pouring in the resources. The approachrnis something like this: We are not going to tell you whatrnto write, but if you do run that hostile story, there will be nornmore cooperation from us, no more opportunities to be presentrnat the arrest of the spy or the trafficker, no access to notoriousrnPrisoner X, no chances to photograph the secret training of eliternantidrug commandos. Go out on a limb, and you will get onernmagnificent story, but you will pay for years to come. You canrncontinue to report, but it will be much more difficult to findrneven the basic information and photo opportunities. It is yourrndecision—after all, this is a free press. The media consensusrnthus results not from censorship but from the interplay of bureaucraticrnconvenience with journalistic laziness.rnThere never was a golden age of American reporting, inrnwhich legions of heroic, hard-bitten journalists regularlyrndemonstrated selfless devotion to digging out the truth aboutrnCity Hall, regardless of consequences. In 1890 or 1920, just likerntoday, such individuals were outnumbered by the timeserversrnand foot soldiers of the media corporations. What has changedrnis that government is bigger, while the corporations havernswollen into multi-enterprise conglomerates. The muchvauntedrninformation explosion has thus coincided with the increasedrnpower of central government to channel major newsrnabout the state and its functions and to define whether arnstory is “respectable” or merely “paranoid”: in effect, to grantrna license for investigation and discussion. The scope for seriousrnreporting is similariy limited by the commercial factors.rn18/CHRONICLESrnrnrn