In brief, this nomination is about how one of the nation’s most respected newspapers, The Wall Street Journal, censored one of its top reporters, Mary Williams Walsh, for exposing how one of the nation’s most respected television news departments, CBS News, broadcast biased news coverage of the Afghanistan war to the American people.
The story was told by Walsh in the January cover article of Columbia Journalism Review, it is a damning indictment of the role played by Kurt Lohbeck, CBS’s Peshawar based reporter, producer and facilitator, in shaping the network’s coverage of the Afghan war and, in turn, the nation’s understanding of that war. Among Walsh’s charges: Lohbeck, a partisan of the mujahedeen, favored one guerrilla commander, Abdul Haq, and “served in effect as his publicist;” Lohbeck influenced other journalists’ reporting of the war by feeding them disinformation; Lohbeck tried to set up an arms deal between Abdul Haq and a New Jersey arms manufacturer for 10,000 machine pistols.
The article Walsh wrote for CJR was supposed to be the first of a three-part series which she spent five months researching for The Wall Street Journal last year. But it was not to be.
Early last fall, Walsh had what she thought was one of the best jobs in American journalism. At age 33, she was based in Hong Kong as The Wall Street Journal’s principal correspondent in south and southeast Asia. Her stories often appeared as “leaders” on The Journal’s front page and her coverage of the war in Afghanistan had attracted international attention. Her editors at The Journal were planning to nominate her for the Pulitzer Prize. And she was working on a story that would, she believed, be the high point of her brief but illustrious career.
But by late fall, Walsh had resigned in fury and frustration from The Journal. The story she had been working on — the expose of shamefully deceptive coverage of the Afghan war by CBS – had been killed.
“I was sold out,” Walsh told Erwin Knoll, editor of The Progressive, when he interviewed her in Toronto where she is now based as Canadian correspondent for The Los Angeles Times.
In his cover story about the issue, Knoll says:
“This is a story about faked and distorted coverage by CBS News, which boasts about its thorough and outstanding reporting on the Afghan War. It’s a story about how The Wall Street Journal, presented with a thoroughly documented article about that fakery and distortion, decided not to publish it. And it’s a story about how even a respected journal issued under academic auspices – The Columbia Journalism Review — was persuaded to tone down Walsh’s expose after accepting the story The Wag Street Journal had refused to print.”
Knoll concludes that this isn’t about how Mary Williams Walsh was sold out but about how the American people — who were trying to understand what happened in far-off Afghanistan — were sold out. It’s a story you rarely hear about because so few are willing to blow the whistle on media self-censorship the way Mary Williams Walsh did.
SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER: DARREN LaMARR
SOURCE: COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW 700 Journalism Building, Columbia University New York, NY 10027, DATE: January/February 1990
TITLE: “MISSION: AFGHANISTAN”
AUTHOR: MARY WILLIAMS WALSH
SOURCE: DEFENSE MEDIA REVIEW 67 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02215
TITLE: “WALL STREET JOURNAL AND CBS: CASE OF PROFESSIONAL COURTESY?”
AUTHOR: SEAN NAYLOR
SOURCE: THE PROGRESSIVE, 409 E. Main Street, Madison, WI 53703
TITLE: “AFGHANISTAN: HOLES IN THE COVERAGE OF A HOLY WAR”
AUTHOR: ERWIN KNOLL
COMMENTS: This is an exceptionally appropriate story for Project Censored since it produces the “smoking gun” that critics often demand. As Erwin Knoll, editor of The Progressive, points out “The subject matter of this article is neglect of an important story by the mass media. Mary Williams Walsh, a brilliant young reporter for The Wall Street Journal, spent six months investigating questionable aspects of CBS News coverage of the guerrilla war in Afghanistan. Her findings — an indictment of CBS News and, in a larger sense, of most U.S. media, were suppressed by her own newspaper.” Author Sean Naylor said the story reveals “how one of the top three networks’ coverage of the war in Afghanistan was distorted and how the country’s premier financial and business daily kept this fact from its readership.” Mary Williams Walsh said that “reporting this story taught me a lesson I’ll never forget about the media’s extraordinary inability to admit its own mistakes” and it left her wondering “What does it take to get an American network to admit it has made a mistake?” Walsh concluded that when someone challenges TV’s performance: “It shoots the messenger, the truth and the public be damned.”