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Patrick Lawrence: Sins of Silence

Ceremony marking the start of construction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline’s underwater section, 2010. Kremlin.ru, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Patrick Lawrence / Original to ScheerPost

In early April 1961, New York Times correspondent Tad Szulc filed a story from Miami in which he reported that the CIA was training Cuban exiles for an invasion of Castro’s new republic. Szulc was a well-seasoned correspondent by then, and in his file from Florida, he nailed it: The piece laid out all the details of the Bay of Pigs operation, down to the date of the planned landing on a remote Cuban beach.

The Times ran the piece on April 7, 1961, but not before Turner Catledge, the managing editor at the time, gutted Szulc’s detailed reporting, the date of the operation, and all mention of the CIA. The Times’s headline, “Anti-Castro Units Trained to Fight at Florida Bases,” was a classic case of the paper’s resort to the passive voice: No, the once-but-no-longer newspaper of record would not tell readers who was doing the training.

There had been by then numerous accounts of anti–Communist Cubans and their plans to invade the island, most of these from Guatemala, none indicating an American hand in these doings. Catledge’s cuts turned Szulc’s into another of them. America barely blinked when the piece was published.

Szulc reported that the operation would take place on April 18. He was off by a day: The CIA–directed invasion was on April 17. It was, of course, the calamity we now read about in the history books.

A short time later, President Kennedy gathered leading newspaper editors to the White House for a kind of post-mortem. He was by that time locked in a furious fight with the CIA and its director, the diabolic Allen Dulles. At one point Kennedy turned to Catledge with this: “Maybe if you had printed more about the operation, you would have saved us from a colossal mistake.”

I have thought a lot recently about the Tad Szulc piece and Kennedy’s reproach to Turner Catledge for removing its incisors. Keeping Americans in the dark as the Cold War proceeded was key to the national-security state’s ability to operate without concern for civilian oversight or political interference. This, the sin of silence, was among the press’s gravest transgressions of many during the Cold War decades, in my book. (And I have just finished one taking up this topic).

Now this same silence descends upon us once again. Here I will provide a 30–second intermission so readers can once more consider Kennedy’s remark to Turner Catledge: If the press had done its job a disaster could have been prevented.

On September 26, four explosions sabotaged the Nord Stream I and II gas pipelines running from ports in Russia to terminals along Germany’s Baltic Sea coast. President Vladimir Putin now makes oblique references to the use of nuclear weapons in response to the proxy war the U.S. and NATO wage against the Russian Federation by way of the Kyiv regime.

In how many ways are these developments frightening? Let us count them. In how many ways does our media’s silence enable them? Let us count these, too.

Alert readers will recall the long story of Washington’s opposition to the Nord Stream II pipeline. This came to the surface as it neared completion during the Trump administration. The immediate intent, as many reports indicated at the time, was to deprive Russia of Europe’s large market for natural gas and secure this market for vastly more expensive American LNG. The larger objective was to disrupt the growing economic interdependence of Europe and Russia, so blocking the natural drift toward a unified Eurasian landmass with Europe as its westernmost flank.

On February 7, two and a half weeks before Russia launched its intervention in Ukraine, President Biden told a news conference at the White House, “If Russia invades, then there will be no longer a Nord Stream II.” An ABC News reporter asked in response, “But how will you do that, exactly, since the project is in Germany’s control?” Biden stumbled briefly before replying, “I promise you, we will be able to do that.”

We cannot yet claim any certainty as to who is responsible for the four undersea explosions near Bornholm, a Danish island hard by Germany’s Baltic Sea coast. Let us not forget this. But we have a motive, a beneficiary, and a very considerable gathering of persuasive circumstantial evidence indicating that the operation, which required sophisticated undersea technology and involved devices with the explosive power of 1,100 pounds of dynamite, was the work of the U.S. in apparent collaboration with Denmark, if not also Germany.

Numerous reports detailing this evidence, all of them carried in independent media, indicate that the U.S. Navy was active in the area of the explosions shortly before they occurred. This fleet reportedly included the U.S.S. Kearsarge, which carries unmanned submarines capable of planting undersea explosives. Satellite tracking indicates the presence, shortly before the explosions, of U.S. military helicopters over the zones where the devices detonated.  Diana Johnstone, the distinguished Europeanist, published an excellent report in Consortium News, among the best I have read. In it she cites Jens Berger, a German journalist who publishes at Nachdenkseiten, “Analytic pages,” roughly:

It seems completely impossible that a state actor could carry out a major naval operation in the middle of this densely monitored area without being noticed by the countless active and passive sensors of the littoral states; certainly not directly off the island of Bornholm, where Danes, Swedes, and Germans have a rendezvous in monitoring surface and undersea activities.

There is more of this stuff available to anyone who looks for it. I await, and I hope readers join me in this, solid confirmation of all of it.

I have read not one word in any of the corporate media even raising the possibility that the U.S. military or intelligence agencies or both may be behind the Baltic Sea operation. After decades reading and working for these media, I count their shocking neglect of this story as halfway to evidence in itself—silence by design. When Jeffrey Sachs, the economist and commentator, suggested in a Bloomberg interview Monday that the pipeline sabotage “was a U.S. action—perhaps U.S. and Poland,” his interviewers frantically cut him off, changing the subject to… the inflation outlook.

We are back in the zone of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear-power station. We read for weeks the Russians were shelling it even as their troops occupied it. Now we read that the Russians probably sabotaged a pipeline in which they invested, along with the Europeans, roughly $11 billion, and from which they expected to derive many more billions in foreign exchange earnings. Chances for a negotiated settlement were also sabotaged, as was the rising chorus of voices in Germany and elsewhere calling for Nord Stream I and Nord Stream II to be reopened and opened respectively.

The Ukraine conflict has just spread to Europe, as John Helmer, the longtime Moscow correspondent, asserted the other day. The Americans seem determined to stop at no risk or any amount of destruction as they press their campaign against Russia: There is no limit, we are now on notice, and the Europeans leadership seems to have no intention of imposing one. All frightening.

And just as frightening is the abhorrent silence of mainstream media as they shield these realities from the public’s view. Their cultivation of ignorance among their readers and viewers, wickedly effective as it is, seems to me yet more enabling of the dangerous conduct of our national security state than it was in Turner Catledge’s day.

Toto, let there be no doubt, we are not in Kansas anymore.  

Among the more regrettable things said in the back-and-forth between Washington and Moscow in the matter of nuclear weapons was Putin’s remark in a speech September 30: “The U.S. set a precedent.” He delivered the line almost as a shrug during the ceremony marking the reintegration of four regions of Ukraine back into the Russian Federation. It left me momentarily speechless.

I was for a long time among those who dismissed the danger of either side resorting to nuclear weapons, my argument being no one in Washington or Moscow is that crazy. I stand self-corrected. There is what looks a lot like craziness everywhere.

As Maria Zakharova, the appealingly sharp-tongued spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, pointed out the other day, Washington and London alike have made repeated threats, veiled and unveiled, to sanction the use of nukes. As the Kyiv regime’s leading sponsors, they have stood by silently as Ukrainian forces shell the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station. If this isn’t nuclear terrorism, Zakharova asks, what is? “Radiation doesn’t care where it comes from.”

We now read—the new theme of late—that, no, Moscow will not turn to its nuclear arsenal after all because the costs would outweigh the benefits. This thinking derives from game theorists at the Pentagon and in the intelligence apparatus who “game out” the Kremlin’s alternatives. The mainstream dailies love to cite these people.

I never thought I would quote Madeleine Albright in any circumstance, but there is a special place in hell for game theorists so far as I am concerned. They cannot measure the first damn thing about the complexities of human motivation.

In effect, the big media organizations are going silent on the very real danger—as real as it has been in 60 years—of nuclear annihilation as this now faces us. Why would this be?

My answer is not too complicated. We are being slowly acclimated to the proximity of nuclear peril so that Washington can pursue its wanton aggression against “Vladimir Putin’s Russia”—I have always loved this phrase, as if it is a separate country somewhere—without causing alarm or disruptive dissent.

Once again, the media’s dreadful success in administering this calmative to the general population is nearly beyond belief.It is strange, or maybe not at all, how often comparisons with the Kennedy administration’s predicaments on the Cuban question prove useful to our understanding of what is going on around us. Glenn Greenwald went straight to this point in an appearance on Tucker Carlson recently:

There’s almost a sense that has been purposely cultivated to believe that the use of nuclear weapons really isn’t a realistic possibility… But we came very close on at least two or three occasions,… including in the Cuban missile crisis, because the U.S. felt that the Russian presence over the border in Cuba was so threatening we were going to have a nuclear war over it. That’s how Russia sees what is happening in Ukraine right across their border. It is madness to assume that what is for Russia an existential war, if they actually start losing it or NATO starts escalating,… that the chances of Vladimir Putin using nuclear weapons is zero. This is a dangerous illusion that I think a lot of people are operating with.

An illusion born of silence, I would merely add. An eerie, enervating silence as frightening as all else that besets a world tumbling into dangerous disorder.  

Cara Marianna provided research for this column.


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Patrick Lawrence

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a media critic, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon siteHis Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored without explanation.