Drugs and the Man in the White House

What CBS didn't tell you about President Bush

By Douglas Kellner
February 1990; pages 10, 14; Volume 1, No. 4

Editor's note - The following is excerpted from forthcoming book, tentatively titled Television and the Crisis of Democracy, by Douglas Kellner, UT philosophy professor, co-producer of the syndicated cable TV show, Alternative Views; and author or numerous books and articles. The following article is taken from the appendices, where Kellner documents "a wide variety of stories concerning scandals of the Reagan/Bush years which were published in the investigative press and underdeveloped, or ignored, by the mainstream media."


The point of this exercise is to demonstrate the limits of the mainstream media and the ways in which they served the interest of maintaining a conservative hegemony in the 1980s by omitting, or downplaying, stories that could have ended the reign of the Right in the United States. By "mainstream media" I am referring to the television networks, to Time and Newsweek, and to the major national newspapers, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. The "investigative press" includes The Nation, The Progressive, The Guardian, In These Times, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, The L.A. Weekly, Zeta Magazine, and other journals and newspapers which practice investigative and socially critical journalism.

The large number of important stories published in the 1980s by the investigative press and ignored by the mainstream media leads me to conclude that we have two media systems in the U.S.: the mainstream, capitalist media, which tend to be complicit with - and indeed part of - the existing power structure, in contrast to the investigative media, which maintain the honorable tradition of a free and independent press. Mainstream media are primarily commercial media, focused on profit and the "bottom line," as well as on legitimating the existing society. During the 1980s, they dutifully served the powers that be by cutting back on critical, investigative reporting which might "disturb" its customers. The investigative press, by contrast, at its best follows the ethic of critical journalism and is committed to seeking out the truth, no matter where it may lead and no matter how disturbing. Accordingly, there are now two publics in the United States: One that gains its information from that mainstream media and is thus information poor, in contrast to a public which is relatively informed, depending on their access to alternative media.

This situation suggests that in addition to the crisis of democracy in the United States, there is also a crisis of journalism and investigative reporting. Part of the reason is financial. Investigative reporting is expensive, and in a cost-cutting and bottom-line profits climate, there is a tendency to rationalize news production and to eliminate more costly investigative reporting. But there was also a shift in news value and focus, especially in network television, during this period. There were not only severe cutbacks in news personnel during the 1980s, but there was more emphasis on light news, on more entertaining stories, as the line between news and entertainment blurred. Finally, the conservative political climate of the 1980s, in conjunction with the bottomline/competitive mentality, meant the mainstream news operations - especially television - did not want to offend and lose its audience with critical reporting.

One of the more explosive stories appeared in Rolling Stone, "The Dirty Secrets of George Bush," by Howard Kohn and Vickie Monks (Nov. 3, 1988). According to the Kohn/Monks article, an illegal Contra supply operation had been set up in 1982 by CIA director William Casey and was run out of George Bush's office by Donald Gregg [Ed. note - Gregg served as Vice President Bush's national security advisor and is currently the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea], at least two years before the infamous North/Secord "Enterprise," whose activities were documented in the Iran/Contra hearings; sources include key operatives in the network, military and intelligence sources, and foreign government sources. Kohn/Monks claim: "After meetings with Casey in the summer of 1982, Bush agreed to use the vice-president's office as a cover for Black Eagle. Gregg, a veteran CIA official, was assigned to work out of Bush's office as the Washington liaison to Black Eagle operatives in Central America, coordinating financial and operational details. Gregg made regular status reports on Black Eagle to Bush, who relayed then to Casey. 'Bush and Gregg were the asbestos wall,' says the career military man, who used the code name Lew Archer, 'You had to burn through them to get to Casey"'.

During 1982-1983, the Israelis played a key operational role in supplying illegal weapons to the Contras, but a bizarre error led to Gen. Manuel Noriega's increased involvement. The Israelis had been sending weapons to a warehouse in San Antonio from which they were sent on the Contras, but by mistake some crates were stamped with the label "CIA WAREHOUSE." The weapons then came to the attention of U.S. customs officials, and the supply route was compromised. The central transfer point was shifted to El Salvador and Panama. A former Mossad agent Michael Harari, was already working for Noriega, and he was assigned to the Black Eagle operation. Noriega allowed the Contras to train in Panama and allowed Black Eagle supply planes to land in his country on the condition that they be available for his drug smuggling ring. According to Kohn/Monks:

"Soon after Noriega was brought into the Black Eagle operation, he began to commandeer Black Eagle planes and pilots for drug-running flights to the southern United States, according to Lew Archer, who'd been assigned to keep the Panamanian strong man under surveillance. Instead of immediately demanding that the drug trafficking cease, says Blandon [a former Noriega associate who emigrated to the U.S. and testified to Congress concerning Noriega's drug running], U.S. policy makers struck a devil's bargajn with Noriega. Under terms of the deal, one percent of the gross income generated by the drug flights was set aside to buy additional weapons for the Contras. This eventually amounted to several million dollars".

During this period, Blandon claims that Noriega amassed a great deal of blackmail material on those involved in Black Eagle and other operations, compiling a large dossier on the role of Bush and his staff in the operations. Sources interviewed said that both Bush and his assistant Gregg were fully aware of the drug involvement in the arms network and that this was a topic of the famous conversation between Bush and Noriega in their meeting in 1983. Eventually, the Israelis pulled out of the operation and the U.S. distanced itself from Noriega, setting up its own supply operation run by North and Richard Secord, who surfaced as major players in the Iran/Contra hearings.

The Rolling Stone story contained the most detailed account to date of Felix Rodriguez, who was in charge of the weapons/drug operation, and his relationship with Donald Gregg, whose involvement went back to their service together in Vietnam. The article provided a detailed history of the operation and the involvement of Gregg and Bush. Moreover, the Kohn/Monks article provides the first detailed account of the involvement of Panama's General Noriega in the operation, the connection with the Colombian drug cartel, and eventual feuds between North and Rodriguez, which allegedly required Bush's mediation. The article raises interesting questions pertaining to the incredible risks Bush took in the Panama invasion, and raises the specter that a deal might be cut between Bush and Noriega in the light of the potentially explosive revelations that could emerge from a Noriega trial. [Ed. note - Kellner writes in footnote, "In retrospect, it appears that one of the unspoken aims of the Panama invasion was to eliminate Noriega and his blackmail threats against Bush. One of the curious sidelights of the invasion concerned the capture of Michael Harari during the second week of the invasion. It was leaked to the newspapers that he was captured, then denials appeared, the affirmations, and finally reports that he had somehow returned to Israel. Since Harari could deeply implicate Bush in the illegal Black Eagle operations, it is obvious that he either needed to be eliminated or shut up. A close associate of mine heard a soldier who had just returned from Panama tell a friend that "Harari almost messed up" the Panama Invasion, but it wasn't clear from the conversation if the botch-up was a failure to assassinate him or the initial leaking of his arrest to the press.]

Despite the explosive allegations, the mainstream press ignored the story completely, as they had ignored the October Surprise story. [Ed. note - several stories have alleged that the Reagan election team made a deal with the Iranian government to keep the American hostages in Tehran until after the 1980 elections, assuring Reagan's victory over Jimmy Carter. This plot has been labeled the "October Surprise."] To this day, there are probably few individuals familiar with the terms "Black Eagle" and "October Surprise," nor are many people aware that there were compelling claims that the illegal Contra operations were run out of George Bush's office. The mainstream media - and the U.S. government - has scapegoated Oliver North for operations that were run by George Bush and William Casey, and that probably had the sanction of Ronald Reagan. The strong possibility emerges, therefore, that a systematic cover-up has been carried out by Congress, the media, and the judiciary system to cover over the involvement of Reagan, Bush, and other high officials in some of the greatest political scandals in U.S. history.