Operation Mockingbird is an alleged large-scale program of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that began in the early years of the Cold War and attempted to manipulate news media for propaganda purposes.
According to author Deborah Davis, Operation Mockingbird recruited leading American journalists into a propaganda network and influenced the operations of front groups. CIA support of front groups was exposed when a 1967 Ramparts magazine article reported that the National Student Association received funding from the CIA. In 1975, Church Committee Congressional investigations revealed Agency connections with journalists and civic groups. None of the reports, however, mentions by name an Operation Mockingbird coordinating or supporting these activities.
In the early years of the Cold War, efforts were made by the United States Government to use mass media to influence public opinion internationally. After the United States Senate Watergate Committee in 1973 uncovered domestic surveillance abuses directed by the Executive branch of the United States government and The New York Times in 1974 published an article by Seymour Hersh claiming the CIA had violated its charter by spying on anti-war activists, former CIA officials and some lawmakers called for a congressional inquiry that became known as the Church Committee. Published in 1976, the Committee's report confirmed some earlier stories that charged that the CIA had cultivated relationships with private institutions, including the press. Without identifying individuals by name, the Church Committee stated that it found fifty journalists who had official, but secret, relationships with the CIA. In a 1977 Rolling Stone magazine article, "The CIA and the Media," reporter Carl Bernstein expanded upon the Church Committee's report and said that around 400 press members were considered assets by the CIA.
In The Rising Clamor: The American Press, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Cold War, David P. Hadley wrote that the "continued lack of specific details [provided by the Church Committee and Bernstein's exposé] proved a breeding ground for some outlandish claims regarding CIA and the press"; as an example he offered unsourced claims by reporter Deborah Davis. Davis asserted in her 1979 biography of Katharine Graham, owner of The Washington Post, (Katharine the Great), that the CIA ran an "Operation Mockingbird" during this time. Davis wrote that the Prague-based International Organization of Journalists (IOJ) "received money from Moscow and controlled reporters on every major newspaper in Europe, disseminating stories that promoted the Communist cause", and that Frank Wisner, director of the Office of Policy Coordination (a covert operations unit created in 1948 by the United States National Security Council) had created Operation Mockingbird in response to the IOJ, recruiting Phil Graham from The Washington Post to run the project within the industry. According to Davis, "By the early 1950s, Wisner 'owned' respected members of The New York Times, Newsweek, CBS and other communications vehicles." Davis wrote that after Cord Meyer joined the CIA in 1951, he became Operation Mockingbird's "principal operative." Neither the Church Committee or any of the investigations that followed it find there was such an operation as described by Davis. Hadley summarized, "Mockingbird, as described by Davis, has remained a stubbornly persistent theory"; and added, "The Davis/Mockingbird theory, that the CIA operated a deliberate and systematic program of widespread manipulation of the U.S. media, does not appear to be grounded in reality, but that should not disguise the active role the CIA played in influencing the domestic press's output."
QAnon supporters, who believe a CIA program to manipulate the media still exists and that the mainstream media are responsible for spreading fake news, claim press reports they dislike are part of Operation Mockingbird.
Historical studies of the CIA
- Wilford, Hugh (2008). The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-02681-0.
- Saunders, Frances Stonor (1999). Who Paid the Piper?: CIA and the Cultural Cold War. London : Granta Books. ISBN 978-1-86207-029-5.
- Thomas, Evan (1995). The very best men, four men dared: the early years of the CIA. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-684-81025-6.
- Ranelagh, John (1987). The agency: the rise and decline of the CIA. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-63994-5.
- Weiner, Tim (2007). Legacy of ashes: the history of the CIA. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-51445-3.
- U.S. Senate Historical Office. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Notable Senate Investigations (PDF) (Report). Washington, D.C. Retrieved December 2, 2020.
- Hadley, David P. (2019). "Introduction". The Rising Clamor: The American Press, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Cold War. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. pp. 3–4, 10. ISBN 9780813177380. Retrieved June 8, 2020.
- Davis, Deborah (1979). Katharine The Great: Katharine Graham and The Washington Post. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ISBN 0151467846.
- Deborah Davis (1979). Katharine the Great. pp. 138–140.
- Deborah Davis (1979). Katharine the Great. pp. 137–138.
- Deborah Davis (1979). Katharine the Great. p. 226.
- Moore, McKenna (August 1, 2018). "What You Need to Know About Far-Right Conspiracy QAnon, Which Was Present at the Tampa Trump Rally". Fortune. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
- Trickey, Erick (August 4, 2018). "Fact-checking QAnon conspiracy theories: Did J.P. Morgan sink the Titanic?". Retropolis. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. Retrieved November 3, 2020.
QAnon posters dismiss press reports they do not like by claiming they are part of 'Operation Mockingbird,' supposedly a continuation of a 1950s CIA program to distribute propaganda through the media.)