I have covered war, espionage and intrigue for major news organizations in the United States and around the world, including The New York Times, Newsweek, Time Magazine, Reader’s Digest, CBS 60 Minutes, ABC News, Le Monde, L’Express, Le. point, and many others. That was when these organizations still tried to be “mainstream” and not pull punches, self-censor and lie to protect their political allies.
Only when I was fired in 1994 by Time for investigating a story that threatened President Bill Clinton and several senior officials in his administration did I understand that the mainstream media was dead.
The first war I went on to cover was the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. As a left-bank expatriate living in Paris, I naturally sympathized with Palestinians and planned to embed with a Palestinian NGO in West Beirut. I wanted to write about the plight of innocent civilians whose lives were devastated by the war.
I wanted to write about “little” people, not about politics and politicians.
What I eventually learned went far beyond my worst nightmare. The Palestinians rejected my credentials from their own diplomats in Europe, and threw me into an underground cell as a suspected Israeli spy.
There were 15 of us packed into the cell, which could measure no more than 16 by 10 feet. Lebanese Christians and Palestinians seeking to flee West Beirut, Kurds, Syrians and even a Somali were seeking. They all smoked to hide the kerosene smell of toilet buckets and my own clothes, and I smoked with them, but it made the air thicker and more unsightly. For 24 days and nights, we were continuously killed by Israeli fighter jets, naval guns, tanks and artillery. The building had eight floors when I arrived, and by the time I left it had been reduced to a floor and a half and pancakes.
One day two American journalists, guests of the PLO, took shelter in an underground shelter during an airstrike. A cellmate, a French foreign general, began to whistle the French national anthem, and I joined him. Then we blew the whistle on the Star Spangled Banner and the two journalists turned their backs on us in horror, not paying close attention to what they were hearing.
Afterwards, I was taken upstairs to the “Bastonnade,” which used three lengths of metal-shielded electric cables on the soles of the feet, folded together and tied with tape. The pain was beyond anything I could have imagined, and eventually I died.
I certainly learned more about “little people” being held hostage at a press briefing or from a senior official. Talking directly to little players in world history – not the stars – became a habit I’ve kept to this day.
Before the first Gulf War I made several trips to Iraq, where I came across just about every western arms dealer. (Hint: arms dealers like to talk). I traced and interviewed the heads of Iraq’s ballistic missile, nuclear and chemical weapons programs before anyone even knew their names.
I returned to the states after 18 years abroad to work as a specialist in weapons of mass destruction for Congressional Democrat Tom Lantos, and later joined a new investigative team at Time magazine. Sources from the AFL-CIO Machinists’ Union told me about midnight visits by Chinese intelligence officers at the B-1 bomber plant in Columbus, Ohio, and the strange acts of frustrated U.S. Customs agents. Encouraged by Time, as I investigate Editors, I uncovered and documented a massive effort by China to buy sensitive military production gear from US weapons plants, seemingly blessed — or at least, a blindfold — from Clinton administration officials.
Eventually, along with other journalists, I put together a four-page story on the plan that ran in mid-July 1994. After the staff meeting at lunch Friday, the Washington, DC, editor, came into my cubicle. “You have angered the people of the administration with your questions,” he said.
“I thought it was my job to ask the tough questions of the administration,” I said.
He fired me on the spot and pulled up the story, which ran a year later under the title “I”.china shops“In the conservative American Spectator magazine. Three years after I was fired, exporter McDonnell Douglas was convicted of export violations, and Sen. Fred Thomson and Representative Christopher Cox for selling Clinton’s sensitive American technology to Communist China. Launched a massive investigation that led to the creation of the US-China Security Commission, which is still investigating Chinese misdemeanors today.
A Commerce Department source later showed me the complaint that his predecessor, an assistant secretary, had faxed the editor-in-chief of Time magazine the day before I was fired. It was obvious, and asked them to draw the story.
In July 1994, the editors of Time showed that they believed their job was not to expose the truth but to provide political cover to Democrats in Washington. It has only gotten worse since then, but I believe this event formally marks the end of the “mainstream media” as we once knew it. Like in Europe and many other countries, we now have a political media in the United States. But unlike other countries, our media refuses to acknowledge its ideological affiliation except in a few cases. So added to the bias, you have hypocrisy.
Kenneth Timmerman is the author of 12 books of non-fiction and four novels, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. This piece is excerpted from his new memoir, “And the Rest is History: Tales of Hostess, Arms Dealers”. Dirty Tricks, and Spies,” (Post Hill Press), which would released on 30 August,