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Photos Prove: CIA Undermined New York Times Reporting

James Reston, author of the letter transcribed below, might not be entirely happy about it's release today. Edward S Herman of FAIR described him in a 1996 retrospective as "The Insider's Journalist in the Service of Empire". Certainly his career was a mixed one, rich with accolades but laced with a dangerous excess of sympathy for the insiders who fed him his stories. Is this the tradition that provided us the tainted gifts of Judith Miller? In any case, these pages were lying around as pictures in the archives in Urbana, Illinois and I consider it a public service to render them as text.
documents archived at University of Illinois prove that the CIA has systematically undermined the US news media
I have begun to transcribe the first and most striking piece of evidence that I uncovered in the archives at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The original photographs have been scanned in and are online:


    August 10,1954

    Robert E. Garst, Esq.
    The New York Times
    New York 36, N.Y.

    Dear Bob,

    Here is a problem worthy of some thought. I bring it up becuase we are increasingly concious of it in Washington and we would appreciate any observations or guidance you have about it.

  • (1.) For along time we have been concious of the difficulty of reporting the information which has to do with the activities of our own secret service agents (CIA) here and abroad. Since we are clearly in a form of warfare with the communist world it has not been difficult to ignore information which, if published, would have been valuable to the enemy. Thus we left out a great deal of what we knew about U.S. Intervention in Guatemala and in a variety of other cases involving the capture of some of our agents and the shooting down of some of our planes over communist territory. In all of these cases, however, officials were willing to take responsibility for what was published and we published what they said as official statements. So far, as in the case of Guatemala, we have been merely leaving things out of the paper.

  • (2.) Now, however, the CIA is asking us to go beyond this and publish speculative articles which may or may not be based on correct premises, and to do so on our own authority without any attribution to them or to anyone else in this government. This has been more marked in the Otto John Case than in any other. The CIA is, of course, very embarrassed by what happened in the Otto John case.They were furious about Tad Szulc's original dispatch on the front page of The Times and said so here in no uncertain terms. They were also upset by several Times dispatches out of Bonn to the effect that John had "defected" to the East. (Both the British and French Embassies support the theory

    ***end of first typed page, see page one

    Robert E. Garst - 2 - August 10, 1954

    that he was a defector). Nevertheless, (and no doubt for reasons that are in the national interest) the CIA has set out to "counteract" these stories. I am sure you noticed that they inspired several articles in the last ten days by the Alsop, all of them on the theme that John did not defect but was tricked into going to Communist Germany. They attempted to do the same thing with us but we felt that Washington should not be second-guessing dispatches previously published in The Times, particularly by the men on the spot, and especially since the officials here were not willing to take responsibility for what they were putting out.

  • (3.) They are now asking us to publish a "projection" of probable Soviet exploitation of Dr. John which is extremely interesting but which they admit is entirely speculative and for which they are not prepared to take any responsibility.

  • (4.) This obviously raises several problems. First there is an administrative problem. I think we must decide each of these cases on its own merits, being careful that all parts of The Times operate inaccordance with the same policy so far as possible. These officials are very persistent and if they do not get one reporter to publish what they want, or one section of the Times, they are inclined to go to somebody elese in The Times on the question. Also, they are playing the agencies hardand the tendency in New York naturally is to follow the stories.
    This happened last night. After we had decided down here not to follow the Alsop line, which contradicted our own Bonn bureau, New York asked us to follow a UP piece on John, which in my absence late last evening was filed and appeared in The Times this morning.

  • (5.) beyong this is the deeper question of whether The Times wishes to make its columns available for the publication of unattributed speculative articles which we would not normally publish but it is obviously a policy question beyond my authority to decide.
    I think we will have little trouble with these questions provided we are all concious of what is going on. I raise it now so that we can be thinking about it, and I would be grateful if you have any observations on the subject.


    James Reston


    transcribed for future reference

    David Roknich


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