Kenneth R. Timmerman reflects on the day journalism died in US

I have covered war, espionage, and intrigue for major news organizations in the United States and around the world, including the New York Times, Newsweek, Time magazine, Reader’s Digest, CBS 60 Minutes, ABC News, Le Monde, L’Express , Le Punt, and many others. That was when these organizations were still trying to be “mainstream” and not punch, self-censor and lie to protect their political allies.

It wasn’t until I was fired by Time in 1994 for investigating a story that threatened President Bill Clinton and many senior officials in his administration that I began to understand that the mainstream media was dead.

The first war I came to cover was the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. As an expatriate on the left bank living in Paris, I naturally sympathized with the Palestinians and intended to join a pro-Palestinian NGO in the besieged West Beirut. I wanted to write about the plight of innocent civilians whose lives had been devastated by war.

Carpenter (left) during one of his numerous visits to Iraq with an unknown acquaintance. The journalist got to know many of the best arms dealers in the Middle East.
Provided by Kenneth R. Timmerman

I wanted to write about the ‘little’ people, not about politics and politicians.

What I eventually learned went well beyond my wildest nightmares. The Palestinians rejected my credentials from their own diplomats in Europe and threw me into an underground cell as a suspected Israeli spy.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was Carpenter's first war.  As a progressive, he initially expected to sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians.  Instead, the Palestinians threw him in prison and beat him.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was Carpenter’s first war. As a progressive, he initially expected to sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians. Instead, the Palestinians threw him in prison and beat him.
Getty Images

We were in the cell with 15 men, who couldn’t be bigger than 16 by 10 feet. There were Lebanese Christians and Palestinians who tried to flee West Beirut, Kurds, Syrians and even a Somali. They all smoked to hide the kerosene-lined stench of the latrine bucket and their own clothes, and I smoked with them, but it only made the air thicker and more foul-smelling. For 24 days and nights we were incessantly bombarded by Israeli fighter jets, naval guns, tanks and artillery. The building was eight stories when I arrived, and had been reduced to a floor and a half and pancakes by the time I was released.

One day, two American reporters, guests of the PLO, took refuge in the underground bomb shelter during an air raid. A cellmate, a French foreign legionnaire, began to whistle the French national anthem and I joined him. Then we whistled the Star Spangled Banner and the two journalists, terrified, turned their backs on us, scrupulously ignoring what they heard.

Timmerman's coverage revealed attempts by China to buy sensitive military equipment from US manufacturers with the blessing — or at least turning a blind eye — from Clinton administration officials.
Timmerman’s coverage revealed attempts by China to buy sensitive military equipment from US manufacturers with the blessing — or at least turning a blind eye — from Clinton administration officials.
AP

Later, I was taken upstairs for a “bastonnade,” a beating on the soles of the feet using three lengths of metal-shielded electrical cable twisted together and tied with tape. The pain was more than I could imagine, and eventually I passed out.

I certainly learned more about the “little people” as hostages than ever at a press conference or from a senior official. Speaking directly to the little players of world history—not the stars—became a habit I’ve kept to this day.

Before the first Gulf War, I made many trips to Iraq, where I got to know almost every Western arms dealer. (Hint: arms dealers like to talk). I also tracked down and interviewed the heads of Iraq’s ballistic missile, nuclear and chemical weapons programs before anyone even knew their names.

During his time at Time magazine (former headquarters above), Timmerman said it became clear that editors wanted to serve the interests of the Democratic party, rather than discover the truth.
During his time at Time magazine (former headquarters above), Timmerman said it became clear that editors wanted to serve the interests of the Democratic party, rather than discover the truth.

I returned to the United States after 18 years abroad to work for Congressional Democrat Tom Lantos as a weapons of mass destruction specialist, then joined a new research team at Time magazine. Sources in the AFL-CIO Machinists Union tipped me off about strange happenings at the B-1 bomber factory in Columbus, Ohio, midnight visits by Chinese intelligence officers and frustrated US customs agents. As I researched, encouraged by Time editors, I discovered and documented a massive effort by China to buy sensitive military production equipment from US arms factories, apparently with the blessing — or at least turning a blind eye — from Clinton administration officials.

Carpenter said he was shown a complaint from an assistant secretary under Clinton, which was faxed to Time's editor-in-chief.  The story was picked up and Carpenter was fired.
Carpenter said he was shown a complaint from an assistant secretary under Clinton, which was faxed to Time’s editor-in-chief. The story was picked up and Carpenter was fired.
AP

Finally, I, along with other reporters, put together a four-page story about the plan to be implemented in mid-July 1994. After a Friday afternoon staff meeting, the Washington, DC editor came into my office. “You pissed off people in the administration with your questions,” he said.

“I thought it was my job to ask difficult questions to the administration,” I said.

He fired me on the spot and pulled the story, which was published a year later in the conservative American magazine Spectator under the title ‘China Shops’. Three years after I was fired, the exporter, McDonnell Douglas, was indicted for export violations, and Senator Fred Thomson and Representative Christopher Cox launched a large-scale investigation into Clinton’s sale of sensitive American technology to Communist China, which led to the creation of the US-China Security Commission, which continues to investigate Chinese misdeeds today.

And the rest is history: stories of hostages, arms dealers, dirty tricks and spies by Kenneth R. Timmerman

A source at the Department of Commerce later showed me the complaint that his predecessor, an assistant secretary, had faxed to the editor-in-chief of Time magazine the day before I was fired. It was explicit and called on them to pull the story.

Time editors showed in July 1994 that they believed their job was not to expose the truth, but to provide political cover for Democrats in Washington. It has only gotten worse since then, but I believe this incident formally marks the end of ‘mainstream media’ as we once knew it. Like many countries in Europe and elsewhere, we now have politicized media in the United States. But unlike other countries, our media in all but a few cases refuses to acknowledge their ideological convictions. So added to bias, you have hypocrisy.

Kenneth Timmerman is the author of 12 non-fiction books and four novels, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. The piece is an adaptation of his new memoir, “And the Rest is History: Tales of Hostages, Arms Dealers, Dirty Tricks, and Spies,” (Post Hill Press), which will be released on August 30.

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