Investigative Journalism, and How it Relates to Freedom

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This is a transcription of Yaël Ossowski’s talk at the ISIL 2013 World Conference.

Transcription edited by Kenli S.

Thank you very much, Christian. It’s a delight to be here and I am here on behalf of European Students for Liberty. I am on the executive board, and the reason that I would like to talk about the European Students for Liberty because we have plenty of francophones ici. We have plenty of people would be willing to go our regional conferences.

You’re going to hear a lot more about European Students for Liberty by Aleksandar Kokotovic. He will speak tomorrow evening, and you heard from our co-founder Frederick Roeder just yesterday, I believe.

So, on and on we go. We have regional conferences that are coming all over Europe. This year, we have ten of them! So, if you’re in any of these cities, or very close, we are going to have plenty of speakers. Monsieur Michel will be at in the one in Paris. We’re going to have, I believe Dr. Lark, and we’re going to have people everywhere. We’re going to have people in Poland as well. We’re going to have one very soon, so I have the dates right here so you can start planning and make your itinerary, all is good.

I have some flyers in the back for our regional conference in Paris. That’s our first one in French. There will be some in Italian and even a German one in Munich. So, you guys put your plans together, contact your local travel agent, and we’ll see what we can do. Now, that is out of the way. It is a great organization. However, I am here to talk about journalism.

Now the reason that I chose this topic is because I, as a French-Canadian, have really only spent my career in the United States. I will be using a lot of American examples. I hope you don’t mind. I hope it’s okay. I hope you’re not upset.

I used to be the Bureau Chief for Watchdog.org in Florida, so I did investigative journalism at the state level, trying to hound the governor and the people in the legislature who are spending money all the time. From that point on I was able to get my article placed. That was a very fun time.

So the question or the motion that I would like to put down here for everyone is that investigative journalism matters.

Too often we curse the journalist. We curse those who write these articles in the newspaper and the magazines. These are the people who are filling the people with what we may believe might be garbage, statist mumbo jumbo. But still, at the end, investigative journalists are important.

They are as Edmund Burke made an off-hand comment about, ‘they are the ‘Fourth Estate.’ It is not just the government. It is a check on the government. I believe it is still very important. I believe that right now what we have is a very powerful information age, and many, many forces are out there to try to control what you see, what you read, and what your opinions will be. George Orwell himself was also a great journalist who wrote some great pieces.

Now one of the most important things that I did as a journalist is I tried to hold the people who were elected or who had access to government money to account. Now it’s great to talk about the theories that posit that a politician will spend money once he touches it.

But if you can actually get the PDF document that he signed, showing that he spent $2,000 on this nice suit on behalf of the taxpayers, it makes a little more about interesting. It makes about concrete and makes it easier to share, so that’s one reason why I am very turned on by this idea. I think it’s something that anyone in their own home can actually do. And now with bloggers rising up, people are doing it more and more every day.

Now larger institutions like the government or even large corporations, which believe me are not all good actors. I think we all know this. They really have no incentives to punish themselves or to try to crack down on themselves or bring out the bad people unless it really, really serves to strengthen the institution. We all know this. We all have countless examples in our own country’s languages as it may be. So what I believe journalism is, and of course it’s not a rudiment, it’s not a steadfast definition, but I think it’s about countering the narrative that’s created by the government, by the state, or the very powerful people who control these institutions and the cartels, whatever it may be.
So what we are talking about is ‘citizen,’ the word that Christian does not like very much. But I am only using the lexicon that is popularly used. I’m not a philosopher. I’m not an economist. I just like to write stories. I think that I am a historian of the present, as most people are, but I just have editors on my back all the time, making sure I don’t make mistakes.

One fact that I found and a lot of people, I guess, who are turned off by a lot of journalistic pieces in your local publications and newspapers is that sometimes journalists nowadays are the best apologists for state power.

All the terrible things that are going on in the world, for some reason, when it just comes out of the mouth of a journalist, it sounds so smooth and as if it is all part of the plan. Guys, go back to sleep. Everything is fine. It’s all going according to plan. We’re all doing the right thing, and I think that’s why a lot of people are turned off by that.

But I am here to tell you that there is a vibrant community, there are people who are working to try to bring investigative journalism to the forefront. This is a great example. This is Michael Grunwald and this is just last week. He goes upon his Twitter page and, might I remind you, he is the senior correspondent at Time Magazine and writes a Tweet: “I can’t wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange.”

This is someone who is at a respected publication, someone who’s supposed to be writing for the masses. And we see already that just on his own Twitter account; this guy has just terrible opinions.

So we need good investigative journalists. We need good ones to counter ones like these who get power, who go on the shows in the morning, in the afternoon, who are on our radio shows. We need to counter that. And the reason we need to counter that is because there are forces that are working constantly to control what you know and the information that you have access to.

The number one culprit here is the industry of public relations. A lot of my friends who failed as journalists or didn’t do very well all went into public relations. That’s great. It’s still a very good game, and I’m sure you’ll make a lot of money, believe me. However, it is an industry that I find, at least as an investigative reporter who’s focused on the government, and I find it as very apathetical to everything that I believe.

Now one reason why public relations are now so powerful is that it really is known as propaganda. ‘Propaganda’ was a word that was used very heavily in intellectual societies, describing how you try to control information or things you put out there to try to convince people. And one man who did this very well and invented the entire field, you could argue, was Edward Bernays.

Edward Bernays wrote the book in 1928 called ‘Propaganda,’ which, at that time, was not considered a bad word. It was just as normal as you would say a statesmen and elected politician, anything of the sort. It was just part of the status quo.

The reason that I included him is because he was the nephew of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud from Vienna, where I live now. It’s so interesting that you have all these beautiful things coming out of Vienna , you have Austrian Economics and you have things like Sigmund Freud and the information and knowledge that he used and procured to pummel Propaganda.

So Edward Bernays made most of his career in the United States, though he was born in Vienna. And he joined the Committee on Public Information, which sounds like a great, great Orwellian Institution that I’m sure we’d all join. His job was to persuade Americans that we had to go over there to Europe, to the European continent and join that war; that the Americans had the duty to try to protect their European brethren.

And to do this, he used his uncle’s theories. He read his books, he introduced them, had them translated into English, and what he was trying to do was control the public mind. Now through his theories that his uncle gave to him you had a brand new field rising up, public relations. He became a consultant and opened up an office on Broadway, became very famous, very, very rich.

And we have some great examples to show what kind of work he can do. We all know the first poster. That’s the dirty, dirty German. Look at him with his bat,” cactur”. He’s taking our lady liberty away. This is what was used to try to get people, you know, in World War II times (of course, they were required to), to jump in line in and to join the military and go over there and fight a European war.

Still, people today don’t really know why the United States joined or why the war happened in the first place at all, but it stands to show that these ideas and the crowd psychology that was used by Freud worked. It did a great job. And it wasn’t just to get people into war. It was also to excuse entire military interventions or coups.

An example that I have here is about the American coup in Guatemala in 1954. Who was at the head of that? Edward Bernays. He was the lead consultant for the United Fruit Corporation. They were trying to continue their banana processes in the state of Guatemala.

The government was cracking down. They were talking about nationalizing. We can’t have that, so, of course, as a good crony would do, they called on the government to go in and then do the bidding for them. The CIA did their work, and they used the theories of Sigmund Freud to attempt to overthrow the regime.

They put out a lot of great statements that we know today like banana republic. It’s a place where the democracy is backwards, and things aren’t working right. They also convinced the American people that in Guatemala, they had a direct line to Moscow and they were Soviets and all of them were all about communism. Whether or not this is true, it was used as a great excuse and they were able to go in there, put in the right guy, take out the bad guy, and that’s the story of the world.

The number two culprit that we have is these agencies themselves. The reason I bring it up is that for a lot of people who study journalism or are into it, they are used to speaking with official government sources with going to the department and getting a quote from the press officer. But there are actually instances where this wasn’t even necessary, and, actually, the government was just writing the information itself.

Now, of course, this wasn’t done in the shade of sunlight. They were actually infiltrating all of these places, and Jeremy can play a little video that I’ve set up. This is called ‘Operation Mocking Bird.’ It sounds beautiful and it sounds like it would be this harmonious sound when actually what it is journalist who were CIA agents infiltrating major news publications and writing all sorts of articles. Here’s a House Intelligence Committee hearing from 1975

Question: Do we have any people being paid by the CIA who are contributing to a major circulation American Journal?
Answer: We do have people who submit pieces to American Journals.
Question: Do you have any people paid by the CIA who are working for television networks?
Answer: This I think gets into the kind of getting into the details Mr. Chairman that I would like to get into in Executive Session.
Question: Do you have any people being paid by the CIA who are contributing to the National News Services, AP and UPI?
Answer: Well again I think we’re getting into the kind of details Mr. Chairman that I would prefer to handle in Executive Session.

Now this is a great committee hearing and you have the head of the CIA just saying of course we have agents and we were paying them to write articles and work in television, but, yes, we can’t say that out loud. But we see what’s going on this was just in the 1970s; imagine what’s going on today. I don’t even know. And it probably isn’t directly placing agents at Time Magazine, tweeting out about Julian Assange.

But there are ways to influence journalists and there are ways to do it and believe me I received plenty of press releases every single day. I would get information, all types of clips of information I wouldn’t normally need or even put my eyes on before. But I would get them all the time. And that’s kind of what these guys do that are in power and especially in the CIA. So that is one example and we will go to the next slide.

Ah, number 3; the complacent, corrupt media! A lot of people like to use the blanket terms, mainstream media, but, of course it’s very diverse and most people are just following the line that is given to them, that’s why I say they’re complacent. They’re corrupt. You have something like Newsweek, which thankfully now it’s starting to go bankrupt, but they’ve put out this great cover, “we’re all socialists now”, “the perils and promise of the new era of big government”, as if it’s a brand new thing that has just been invented.

That’s sort of a persona that’s played and to illustrate this point. I have another clip. I hope I’m not breaking the computer over there. Ubuntu and Linux are great things, however, when you put them on Mac, they don’t seem to work. So this has to do with media manipulation and sort of how its business works. Citizen Cain, Citizen Cain, one of the greatest movies, I’ll just play a little bit.

Charles Foster Kane: He knows what’s wrong with every company that’s owned in Manitoba. Read the cable.
Bernstein: “Girls delightful in Cuba. Stop. Could send you prose poems about scenery, but don’t feel right spending your money. Stop. There is no war in Cuba, signed Wheeler.” Any answer?
Charles Foster Kane: Yes. “Dear Wheeler: you provide the prose poems. I’ll provide the war.”

So that’s the story of William Randolph. First he was a great magnate for the Newspaper at the time and the event that they’re talking about is the sinking of the USS Maine which was done by those dirty Spaniards! If you read the Newspapers, of course, it all after research, years later, it really didn’t turn out to be true.

And you have the “yellow journalism” which is now taught in all the secondary schools. Sort of that gets pushed out and that’s one way the media works. And back then it was much easier to control. You had major newspapers and really everybody read them. So I present this model because I believe we’re living in the allegory of the cave.

If you’ve read Plato, we’re all sitting there chained to the ground and we’re looking at the silhouettes that’s on the wall, that are being fused by the puppets behind us. This is something the media does very well and people who aren’t in the Industry, or who have dealt with the Industry, it’s rather sad.

The fact is that you’re supposed to question all types of information. Just because somebody has Investigative Journalist under their name does not give them any sort of credibility. They need to have credibility with the information they provide, the questions they ask, and how much they’re bucking the system because that’s what it’s about.

As I said before Journalists are historians of the present. They cannot allow the state to continue to control the narrative. They have to do their job. I’m trying to posit, that good journalism will help drown out bad ideas. I’m trying to put the principles of economics into work for information and for how our States are run.

Now I am going to go into personal examples. I was a journalist in Florida when we had the RNC, the Republican National Convention. Which is a great fun time, huge parties, everyone talked about how the strip clubs were full and people were spending money; those sinful Republicans.

These are pictures that I took on the ground in Tampa. Now Tampa is not really a populous town, not much going on, it’s rather muggy. It’s pretty ugly if you ask me. I lived in St. Petersburg, so I had the beach, a little better. But these are the kinds of scenes that we were subjected to for about a week’s time. And you see all this great gear. That’s going to be the heart of my story.

They have great bullet-proof vests and guns. And these are all State troopers and they’ve never touched this stuff before. It’s all toys to them, so they are having a great time.

Now I wrote an article, after I did some research on how much money they got to set up their temporary police state. And it turns out that the money was not just used to buy things, temporarily, but it was used to equip Tampa for the next ten years. Something like 600 security cameras set up all over the city which were for the RNC, but of course they stay there and they are still there today, my colleague informed me.

Now I am just a small journalist, I had a notepad. I called the police department. I did some FOIA requests. I got a little bit of information. I got to see how much money they were receiving from the Federal Government to build up the local police department. And believe me, these things did not leave town. They stayed put and I’m pretty sure they’ve been used on drug busts and people who are trading in bitcoins in shady places and all kinds of stuff like that.

So that’s one example of what I believe investigative journalism in a way is about. I also wrote for a small town Newspaper in North Carolina called the Gaston Gazette. And it turns out that the local sheriff’s department had a drone; one of the only ones in the south at that time. And this hadn’t really been investigated before. People really hadn’t talked about it. So I decided to do some investigating on my own.

I went to go talk to the sheriff who laughed at my name and put out all kinds of insults that people in power do when they are questioned. And I asked, “Had this been used?” Then I started asking for more documents, doing more FOIAs. It turns out that they had used this drone to spy on motorcycle gangs who might have been dealing with drugs at the county fair.

Small, of course, this is just what the police should do; the police should have these drones with cameras following us and spying on us when we’re hanging out with our friends on our Harleys. This is just one example of a small town of maybe 50,000 of a drone being put up in the sky. Of course, thankfully due to Government regulations, mainly the FAA they weren’t allowed to fly the drones for a few years, but I have been informed again by my colleague that it is up and running. So that’s not fun and I’m never going back.

Now most of you may not recognize this fellow. But his name is Cliff Sterns, Congressman from Ocala, Florida not far from Gainesville. Now Mr. Sterns, well he was elected to Congress in 1989 the year that I was born. He was a very staunch advocate at the time for term limits. We have to keep these career politicians out of our Congress and our State Houses and it is a very good message in 1989. It turns out that this guy was in power for 24 years.

Might I remind you, elections for Congressmen are every two years. Any journalist at the time could have dug up his comments and asked him about it or done any of these things. Now being an investigative journalist and having a little bit of fun with Google and newspaper archives, I was able to go back and look at all of his statements.

He was not only a staunch advocate of limiting career politicians, but he was talking about introducing legislation to limit politicians from staying in power. At first, it was no more than three terms, then it was four, then it was five, and then it went up to where this guy was looking for his thirteenth term in Congress.

Now I write this story and it goes on our website and it goes around and I’m going to talk about building coalitions. Something I find very important and made it to all of the conservative websites. Look at this guy, tea party people, of course, sometimes they can be your friends and they picked up my article, ran with it and then in the end it turns out, in the 2012 GOP Primary was defeated.

Now I don’t know, probably not me [Audience Applauds] Probably not me, but I found this was a very interesting coincidence. He hadn’t done anything wrong. He had brought plenty of money back to the district. He was waiting to go after Planned Parenthood. Well, I guess he got out and he won’t be able to finish his grand career political plan. Sorry there Representative Sterns.

Now another fellow I made great friends with was Florida Governor, Rick Scott. Now he is a Republican, of course, I like going after Republicans, they’re hypocrites, it’s fun. Now he’s been in power in Florida since 2010. He’s a former healthcare company executive. Multi-millionaire, you’d think that this guy was spouting capitalism from the top of the hills. And he does his speeches. He does a very good job of saying it and these are really great ideas and I wish he would implement them.

But, unfortunately, we live in the real world and he’s a politician and that’s not how it works. Now he did a very good job of trying to convince people in Florida that if you gave him money to go fly around the world and talk to businesses. Somehow that would help the State. It would create tens of thousands of jobs. All you had to do was, you know, give him a little bit of tax money and everything would be okay.

This received no criticism in the State media, this is fine, and this is normal business. He’s doing a, you know, an Official Tour; this is all part of the job. I was the first publication to talk about that and criticize that. And thankfully, somebody took my comments and went to him and asked him what was up.

Now the next video: Crony Capitalism. This is from the local news, I think in Orlando. If you’re into crony capitalism, you’ll love this.

News 2 Broadcaster: This week in Dallas and the other business members and politicians paid their way to go on the trip, but the Governor and his staff travelled courtesy of enterprise Florida, in part from a Federal grant, public money. One group that tracks Government accountability called the Trade Missions paid for business owners, lobbyists, and others to smooze with the Governor. From the Florida Watchdog quote, “ The potential for corruption and political influence can occur once accompanying guests cozy up to the governor and his staff and their businesses come up for business before the Legislature. “ Carmenta admits getting close to a governor is good for business. This is why she has been on prior trade missions with former governors.
Gov. Rick Scott (R) Florida: So we had about 250 people go with us. We went to Belzec aus. Some were staying a little longer, but you’re building relationships with all these companies. We met with the President, we met with the Ambassadors, and we met with the U.S. Commercial Service with over 250 meetings that were set up, so this is great. This is my 7th Trade Delegation, so some of the things that happen, some the past ones there’s one and we’re expanding based on my trip to Brazil, last a year ago October. I met with U.S. Technologies which is Pratt and Whitney; they’re adding 250 jobs in Palm Beach. So once you start on all of these they are building relationships. So you respond to a group like Florida’s Watchdogs saying business people, politicians, and lobbyists pay to join in on these missions and they question if this gives someone special access to you, Governor? Well, my job is to build jobs. That’s all I think about. I have three jobs, I want to make sure your family can get a job, make sure your child can get a great education, and keep the cost of living up. Let’s see what’s happened. In two years, the four prior years the State lost 825,000 jobs. Unemployment had gone from 3.5 to 11.1. In less than two years, we have generated through private business 175,000 jobs. Unemployment had the biggest drop in the country, so all these things do work.
President George W. Bush: We have a positive report card. It shows children’s do learn when standards are high and results are measured.

Alright I just had to put that in there. So we’ll probably see Rick Scott try to run for his job again in 2014. I wish the best of luck to my colleagues who are down in Florida and are trying to expel him and his ideas.

The reason I brought that up is to address the question, ‘what can journalists do, what can libertarians do?’

I think we have to be able to encourage political investigative reporting and practical investigative reporting to form coalitions. Now I’m not in the election game. I don’t care about who wins, I don’t care about these numbers, he’s putting up that which some PR person put together in a nice package in a press release. What I am very concerned about and what I would like to disarm citizens with facts, with information that they can use to persuade others, to even persuade themselves if they need some help about the abusive nature of Government.

I think economics textbooks do a great job. I think everything we’ve taken in from his conference is a great example of what’s going on. People are putting it into practice and putting it on the Internet and privacy companies and everything that’s going on. But if people don’t have information, those rudimentary facts that people can agree about and talk about, then there can’t be any progress made. We have to concentrate on these huge Institutions that are actually robbing people left and right.

The European Commission gets almost no mention except for its great ingenuity and coming up with the latest bailout package. Where are people criticizing these European Commissioners when they fly off to these destinations and spend $400,000 dollars in hotels? Now that will come out about once a year. People will read it and laugh, but nothing gets done. Nobody talks about curbing powers or why we even need the European Union as it is now.

The Federal Reserve is the same way. And there have been some great critiques of the Central Banks at this whole conference and I’m very glad to hear them.

But one thing I have to talk about is building coalitions for journalists and this is my end point. A lot of these journalists, who are out there doing great investigative work, might not be those who can recite Atlas Shrugg or talk about human action, but they’re doing the good thing. They’re going after power. They might be progressives. They might be the hardest of right-wing Republicans, but they’re doing the right thing.

My examples are Gary Webb; he’s an investigative journalist in California for many years. He investigated the CIA doing some drug dealing and a great series of articles on that. He even did the Montell Williams show. That was great to see him there and the information being put out. A lot of people just could not process the information. We need more of that.

You have Jeremy Scahill; who used to be an Obama- bot. Now he’s going on TV talking about drone strikes and people dying and how much authority the Executives have. That’s what we need. People like Lutz Kleveman; who is a German journalist. He wrote a great book called the “New Great Game” about why there’s war in the Middle East. And people always say it’s for oil and Executives and everything.

Well, he actually went there and he actually talked to the people and they actually said that. But he did the reporting. He was on the ground. He was in Baku, he was in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in all of these places. And those aren’t the kind of things that are on the front page of the New York Times or The Washington Post or Der Spiegel.

We need people like this. We need people like Jacob Appelbaum. He is someone you probably might be familiar with if you’re in the hacktivism society. He now helps maintain the core project himself. He’s been an advocate for Wikileaks. He’s done a lot of hacking on behalf of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange. These are the people I believe we need to work with.

And that’s really my message to you. There are good journalists out there. There are people who are doing the work in small communities like Gastonia, North Carolina or the State of Florida. They’re doing the good work and hopefully we shall carry on so, “Thank you”, very much for having me here.
Contact Info Yaël Ossowski:
- Yael.ca
- @yaeloss
- yossowski@studentsforliberty.org

See more videos from the Lausanne Conference
This is a transcription of Yael Ossowski’s talk at the ISIL 2013 World Conference.

Transcription edited by Kenli S.

Kenli Schoolland

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