“A Murder and Its Meaning”
Elias Vlanton’s review of Kati Marton’s THE POLK CONSPIRACY, a book on the role of mainstream journalists in supporting the Cold War as it was inaugurated after World War II. Vlanton says:
Kati Marton has written a thrilling account of Polk’s murder and of the cover-up by the American press and foreign-policy establishment. Her story is fast-paced, compellingly written and entirely engaging, and many will finish it convinced that American journalism has finally gotten its man. Marton rightly condemns American government officials for having been more concerned with protecting their investment in the Greek government than in finding Polk’s killers. She also properly raps Walter Lippmann for his gullibility in having accepted, virtually without question, information supplied by American officials and General Donovan. But by singling out Donovan and Lippmannas the chief villains in the press cover-up of the murder, Marton misses a larger point.
It wasn’t Walter Lippmann alone who failed George Polk and Gregory Staktopoulos; it was American journalism. Although a central figure in the case, Lippmannwas hardly the only journalist to accept blindly that the Communists killed Polk, while ignoring evidence that suggested right-wing involvement. He has to share that responsibility with most of his fellows, including Edward R. Murrow and other top journalists at CBS, the major dailies such as The New York Times and New York Herald Tribune, and other American reporters then covering Greece. The only dissenters were a handful of members of the New York Newspaper Guild.
The Polk Conspiracy has again drawn attention to how American journalists forty years ago sacrificed their integrity to solidify domestic support for the cold war. The uncritical praise The Polk Conspiracy has received, however, shows how American journalists today accept a terrific story and stylish prose in lieu of meticulous research and critical analysis. Either way, they are still not getting it right.