The Fifth Estate: Anti-Journalism in the Age of Obama

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©Jack Cashill - July 2011


n a 1936 radio address, during the heat of the Spanish Civil War, Nationalist General Emilio Mola announced that a "fifth column" of civilian supporters living inside the city of Madrid would support the four columns of his troops in their battle to retake Madrid and ultimately Spain. And so a metaphor was born.

The phrase “Fourth Estate,” of course, refers to the press, which eighteenth century Anglo-Irish statesman Edmund Burke saw as a countervailing force to the three estates of the British Parliament: the Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal, and the Commons.

In these last several years a veritable “Fifth Estate” has emerged. This new estate fuses the traditional power of the media with the subversive role of a fifth column. Specifically, a large column of media people now works within the ostensibly non-partisan press corps with no greater goal than to undermine the right and uplift the left, all the while professing neutrality.

As I have come to learn first hand, the Fifth Estate routinely practices a kind of anti-journalism. The anti-journalist does not seek to report the news. The anti-journalist attacks the people who do report the news or, just as likely, ignores

them completely. When in attack mode, the anti-journalist disregards the facts and dismisses the fact finder as a partisan, a conspiracy theorist, a loose cannon, or inevitably, in regards to Barack Obama, a racist.

With the ascendancy of Obama, this Fifth Estate has all but taken over the major media. Allow me to cite a few examples from the 2008 campaign as well as from my own personal experience in advancing the thesis that Bill Ayers co-authored Obama’s acclaimed 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father.

Deep-Sixing Sutton

In late March 2008, on a local New York City show called "Inside City Hall," veteran New York power broker Percy Sutton told how twenty years prior he had been “introduced to [Obama] by a friend.” The friend's name was Dr. Khalid al-Mansour, "the principal adviser to one of the world's richest men." The billionaire in question was Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.

According to Sutton, al-Mansour had asked him to "please write a letter in support of [Obama] ... a young man that has applied to Harvard." Sutton had friends at Harvard and gladly did so.

Three months before the election it should have mattered that a respected black political figure like Sutton had publicly announced that a fanatic black separatist, backed by an ambitious Saudi billionaire, had been guiding Obama’s career perhaps for the last twenty years. It did to the anti-journalists, but not in a way it would have to real ones.

Moving in swiftly to kill the story were Politico, an insider DC journal run by Washington Post alums, and Media Matters for America, an alleged watchdog group founded by the recovering Troopergate author, David Brock.

Ben Smith of Politico took the lead. Shortly after the story broke, Smith ran the disclaimer that "Barack Obama's campaign is flatly denying a story told by former Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton.” After some conspicuous waffling, al Mansour denied the story as well.

A self-appointed “spokesman for Sutton’s family” by the name of Kevin Wardally sent an email to Smith that read in part: “As best as our family and the Chairman's closest friends can tell, Mr. Sutton, now 86 years of age, misspoke in describing certain details and events in that television interview.”

For Smith, even though Wardally had gotten Sutton’s age wrong by two years, this email was proof enough that Sutton’s highly specific claim was manufactured. Wrote Smith, Wardally’s email “seems to put the story to rest for good.” Media Matters meanwhile scolded those conservative bloggers that did not accept the various denials at face value.

Like the man about to be carted away in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, the Percy Sutton story was not quite dead yet. Sutton’s son and daughter told conservative reporter, Ken Timmerman, that no one in their family even knew who Kevin Wardally was, let alone authorized him to speak on behalf of the family.

“I’m getting better,” pled Monty Python’s nearly dead man. No he wasn’t. Nor was this story. With Hillary out of the race, no newsroom in America felt compelled to dig up dirt that could sully Obama. The anti-journalists were doing all their digging in Alaskan dumpsters.

At the time, I thought that the premature burial of this story merely seemed coordinated. In March 2009, however, Michael Calderone of Politico revealed the existence of a 400-member online meeting space called “JournoList.”

Calderone described the participants as “left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, policy wonks, and academics.” Ben Smith was one of three Politico writers who participated. David Brock did too. These were Calderone’s pals, and he wrote approvingly of the group.

It was not until the content of several group discussions was leaked in July 2010 that the outside world could see how deliberately JList participants had steered the national discourse in Obama’s favor.

The books that might have shed some light on the Percy Sutton incident have not done so. John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s comprehensive look at the 2008 campaign, Game Change, does not so much as mention Percy Sutton. Nor does David Remnick in The Bridge, the authoritative book on Obama’s “life and rise.”

Spanking George

During an April 2008 Democratic primary debate broadcast live on ABC, moderator and former Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos asked Obama a question about domestic terrorist Bill Ayers. In February 2008, Ben Smith thought he had severed any link between the two when he had reported as gospel strategist David Axelrod’s claim that Obama scarcely knew Ayers.

Their children “attend the same school,” said Axelrod, but the relationship went no deeper. When a reader alerted Smith that Ayers’ youngest child was 23 when Obama’s oldest child started kindergarten, Smith added a comically circuitous “update,” but the media shied from chasing the story or even chiding Axelrod.

“He was part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s,” Stephanopoulos reminded the audience. “They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol, and other buildings. He's never apologized for that.” He then asked Obama, “Can you explain that relationship for the voters and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?”

“This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood,” said Obama for the ages. “He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from (sic) on a regular basis.”

Following the debate, the Fifth Estate fueled what the L.A. Times called a “storm of criticism.” Their rage was directed not at Obama for his evasiveness, but at Stephanopoulos for his effrontery. How dare he confront Obama with "such tired tripe,” said the Washington Post's Tom Shales. How dare he ask Obama about an "obscure sixties radical," said Michael Grunwald of Time.

A Huffington Post blogger likened Stephanopoulos to the inevitable Joe McCarthy. He was one of many to do so. In the unkindest of cuts, several pundits accused him of conspiring with Sean Hannity. “The real story of this debate,” snarled MSNBC’s ever-suspicious Keith Olbermann, may be “where one of the moderators found his questions.”

Not surprisingly, the ABC debate proved to be one of the topics about which the participants in JournoList had conspired. Before the conspiracy unraveled, Michael Calderone would classify Stephopolous’s grilling of Obama on Ayers and Jeremiah Wright as sixth among the “top ten media blunders of 2008.”

If Ayers was marginally in play before the debate, he was clearly out-of-bounds afterwards, at least in the mainstream arena. Obama had established his distance from this guy in the neighborhood, and God help the reporter or vice-presidential candidate who imagined them more closely together.

Dreams from My Neighbor

In mid-September 2008, I stumbled on the likelihood that Bill Ayers served as the primary craftsman of Obama’s acclaimed 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father. By mid-October 2008, I was sure that he had. “This was a charge,” David Remnick would write of my accusation, “that if ever proved true, or believed to be true among enough voters, could have been the end of the candidacy.”

My thesis involves no eyewitnesses or radar data or ballistics tests. I was not asking anyone to buy it sight unseen but to kick the tires and take it for a test drive. Yet even so simple a literary review proved a task too daunting. The Fifth Estate either ignored or blindly attacked, not just me but anyone who dared defend me.

Rush Limbaugh, for instance, cited my work approvingly in October 2008. “This may not have been Limbaugh’s most racist insinuation of the campaign,” said Remnick, before adding that our collective “libel about Obama’s memoir . . . had a particularly ugly pedigree.”

On at least a half dozen occasions, Donald Trump advanced my thesis in 2011. In retaliation, Remnick savaged this “jackass” in the pages of the magazine he edits, the New Yorker. He concluded that this and other “fantasies” were designed “to arouse a fear of the Other, of an African-American man with a white American mother and a black Kenyan father.”

When Andrew Breitbart merely tweeted that he found my thesis “compelling” both Martin Bashir on MSNBC and Bill Maher on HBO denounced him as a racist for so doing, though neither has read my book, Deconstructing Obama, or ever talked to me.

Fearing the abuse of the anti-journalists, the “respectable” conservative media, those with a serious and sober presence in New York and/or Washington, have become cautious to the point of cowardly. To date, not a single one of them has so much as commented on my book, let alone reviewed it. In a similar vein, they have, to a person, treated the question of Obama’s eligibility as a joke and savaged those who would question it.

With the respectable conservatives cowed, and the blogosphere ghettoized, the Fifth Estate fully establishes what is news and what is not. And unlike the readers of Pravda in the Soviet heyday, the readers of the New York Times and the viewers of network news don’t know they are being lied to.

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Editor's note: For a more complete account of this phenomenon, read Jack Cashill's amazing book, "Hoodwinked: How Intellectual Hucksters Have Hijacked American Culture.


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