Monday, January 25, 2010

Why Is This Man On My TV?

Why is Ben Venzke, CEO of Intelcenter, on my TV again? Oh that’s easy: I’m watching CBS’ “coverage” of the new (alleged) Osama bin Laden tape.

I’m trying to figure out why, whenever OBL supposedly rears his head, CBS News runs to Venzke for comment. Here’s Venzke’s latest CBS moment, which was sent around the U.S. to local CBS affiliates in a news package. Although the piece came from CBS News’ London correspondent Mark Phillips last week, I caught it on NewsChannel5 (WTVF) this morning:
Bin Laden's audio message, one of more than 30 since al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks, comes at a time of heightened security in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. What is particularly troubling for analysts is bin Laden's use of language that preceded other attacks.

"Peace be upon those who follow the light of guidance," bin Laden said in the tape.

"This phrase, which appears at the beginning and end of the message, only appears in bin Laden's statements typically in messages that come in advance of an attack," said Ben Venzke CEO of Intelcenter, a private contractor that works with counter-terrorism agencies. "This could be in the coming weeks or as far out as 12 or 14 weeks from now."

Oh, well thanks for that insight (or should I say, incite?) At least CBS sorta identified Venzke’s company properly this time--I’ve seen reports going back a few years in which they refer to Intelsource as “an agency.”

They are not an “agency.” They are a military contractor. Like Halliburton, KBR, Xe (Blackwater), Boeing, Raytheon or any other military contractor. They have a contract with the Pentagon and they profit from our war on terror. They have a financial stake in scaring the crap out of people. So I’d say anything Venzke or Intelcenter has to say about Osama Bin Laden needs to be taken with that in mind and the news media should not use them as a source.

Unfortunately, it gets even worse for CBS News when you realize what the Pentagon contracts Intelsource to do. In fact, the Pentagon hires Intelsource to search for videos and other communications from terrorist groups--videos like this latest one of Osama bin Laden. Isn’t that interesting? So in other words, the Pentagon hires Intelsource to find videos of Osama bin Laden. Then when they find one, the CEO of the company which was hired to find the video in the first place goes onto the news to verify its authenticity.

Well isn’t that cozy. So, do we know that Venzke and Intelsource have ginned up phony terror videos which they then verified in their media appearances? Actually, it has been alleged by a few conspiracy-oriented blogs. I won’t link them, as I can’t vouch for these blogs. But there was one instance where an expert accused Intelsource of doctoring an OBL video it found and released (Venzke of course denied doing any such thing).

But all of that is beside the point. The issue is not whether Intelsource has behaved unethically, since we don’t know. The issue is that CBS News has provided a military contractor with the opportunity to do so. They should never have put their news division on such ethically shaky ground.

Could it get worse? Why yes, it can: I e-mailed my concerns to a NewsChannel5 anchor with whom I’m on friendly terms. I knew they did not generate the report but since that’s where I saw it, I asked them to pass my concerns along up the news division chain. My friend responded first with thanks that I’d call it to their attention, noting they were unaware of Venzke’s role as a military contractor.

But they then said there is nothing they can do about it because

quite frankly, it's something that comes to us and we don't have the resources all the time to catch that kind of thing.

Our broken news media: is feature, not bug.

I wonder if this is what Viacom intended of its news division. The Pentagon contracts with a company to find videos of terrorists and when that company finds them, the CEO gets to flaunt their authenticity on the news. No one is the wiser but we all stay very, very scared.

Mission accomplished.