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

I’ve covered war, espionage, and intrigue for major news outlets 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 Pointe, and many others. This was when these organizations were still trying to be “mainstream” and not firing shots, self-censoring or lying 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 top officials in his administration that I began to realize that mainstream media was dead.

The first war I went to cover was the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. As a left bank expat living in Paris, I naturally sympathized with the Palestinians and planned to integrate with a pro NGO. -Palestinian woman in besieged West Beirut. I wanted to write about the plight of innocent civilians whose lives had been shattered by war.

Timmerman (left) during one of his many visits to Iraq with an unidentified acquaintance. The journalist has met many of the main arms dealers in the Middle East.
Provided by Kenneth R. Timmerman

I wanted to write about “little” people, not about politics and politicians.

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

Kenneth R. Timmerman reflects on the day journalism died in America
The 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon was the first war covered by Timmerman. As a progressive, he initially expected to sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians. Instead, the Palestinians threw him in jail and beat him.
Getty Images

There were 15 of us crammed into the cell, which must have been no more than 16 by 10 feet. There were Christian Lebanese and Palestinians seeking to flee West Beirut, Kurds, Syrians and even a Somali. All smoked to hide the kerosene-lined stench of the latrine bucket and their own clothes, and I smoked with them, but it made the air thicker and more fetid. For 24 days and 24 nights, we were constantly shelled by Israeli fighter jets, naval guns, tanks and artillery. The building was eight stories high when I arrived, and was down to one and a half stories and pancakes by the time I was released.

One day, two American reporters, guests of the PLO, take refuge in the underground 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 reporters, terrified, turned their backs on us and carefully ignored what they were hearing.

Kenneth R. Timmerman reflects on the day journalism died in America
Timmerman’s reporting revealed attempts by China to buy sensitive military equipment from American manufacturers with the blessing – or at least the blind eye – of Clinton administration officials.

Later, I was taken upstairs for a beating, a beating on the soles of my feet using three lengths of metal armored electrical cable, twisted together and bound with duct tape. The pain was beyond anything I could imagine, and I ended up passing out.

I certainly learned more about the “little people” as a hostage than I ever could from a press briefing or from a high official. Speaking directly to small players in world history – not the stars – became a habit that I have maintained to this day.

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

Kenneth R. Timmerman reflects on the day journalism died in America
While at Time magazine (former headquarters above), Timmerman said it became clear that editors were looking to serve the interests of the Democratic Party rather than uncover 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 investigative team at Time magazine. AFL-CIO Machinists Union sources brief me on strange occurrences at the B-1 bomber factory in Columbus, Ohio, nightly visits by Chinese intelligence officers and US customs agents frustrated. As I investigated, encouraged by Time editors, I uncovered and documented a massive effort by China to purchase sensitive military-production equipment from U.S. arms factories, apparently with the blessing — or at least eyes closed — of administration officials. Clinton.

Kenneth R. Timmerman reflects on the day journalism died in America
Timmerman said he was shown a complaint from an assistant secretary under Clinton, which was faxed to the editor of Time. The story was stolen and Timmerman was fired.

Eventually, along with other reporters, I wrote a four-page story about the scheme that was to unfold in mid-July 1994. After a Friday noon staff meeting, the Washington, D.C. editor is walked into my office. “You pissed off the administration people with your questions,” he said.

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

He fired me on the spot and pulled out the article, which appeared a year later as “China Shops” in the conservative magazine American Spectator. Three years after I was fired, the exporter, McDonnell Douglas, was indicted for export violations, and Senator Fred Thomson and Rep. Christopher Cox launched massive investigations into Clinton’s sale of sensitive U.S. technology to Communist China that led to the creation of the US-China Security Commission, which continues to investigate Chinese wrongdoing today.

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

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

Time editors showed in July 1994 that they believed their job was not to uncover the truth but to provide political cover for Democrats in Washington. It has only gotten worse since, but I believe this incident officially marks the end of “mainstream media” as we once knew it. Like many other countries in Europe and elsewhere, we now have a politicized media in the United States. But unlike other countries, in all but a few cases, our media refuse to acknowledge their ideological affiliation. 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 play is adapted from 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.

New York Post

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