Media manipulators this month used Wikipedia and CNN to smear investigative journalist Wayne Madsen, a former Navy intelligence officer who often breaks important and/or controversial stories. One is his July 22 column revealing a memo by former National Security Agency (NSA) Director Michael Hayden shortly after 9/11 describing why NSA would secretly bypass legal restrictions forbidding domestic surveillance.
Wikipedia's treatment of Madsen, a former NSA analyst, parallels its cavalier treatment eight years ago of First Amendment advocate John Seigenthaler, left, whom Wikipedia falsely described as a onetime suspect in the 1960s assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. The latter is shown at right when he was the nation's attorney general.
Seigenthaler responded by writing an eloquent op-ed in USA Today explaining why Wikipedia does not stop character assassins from posting false information.
My column today is the last in a three-part series about media coverage of national security issues. The series warns against sophisticated political hit jobs that arise in new and old media.
The first report in the series — DOJ Curtails Spy Charges Against Reporters; But Do Smears Continue? — showed how CNN, Business Insider, the Daily Beast/Newsweek, the Poynter Institute, and the Telegraph in London this month targeted Madsen with demonstrably false statements. The smear arose after London's Observer quoted Madsen as an expert commenting on two declassified NSA documents illustrating secret United States surveillance of European populations in cooperation with their governments.
My second column — The Intelligence Community and the DC Media: A Brief Introduction — showed how difficult it can be for any reporter, much less a freelancer like Madsen, to cover government intelligence agencies that maintain close ties to Wall Street titans who fund defense contractors, political campaigns, and media companies.
This final column pulls these themes together. It starts with Wikipedia's vulnerability to manipulation that hurts targets such as Madsen and Seigenthaler. Next, we examine the Madsen critics who suddenly published false claims about him in articles that Wikipedia cited as authoritative references for his bio.
Finally, we are left with an action plan: We must realize that all forms of media have the potential for abuse, whether provided by idealists at a non-profit, by solitary bloggers, or by giant media corporations.
If that's not a enough of a challenge for a news consumer we must beware also of the intelligence community's proven willingness secretly to censor, inflate or otherwise affect news accounts about important matters.