The CIA’s Influence Over the Media: Use of the Conspiracy Theorist Slur

“Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September the 11th.”—George W. Bush, November 10, 2001

In April of 1967, a CIA official sent a memorandum dispatch to agency chiefs and stations. This memo described a strategy for discrediting critics of the Warren Report, the official account for the assassination of President Kennedy released in 1964. At the time of the memo, polls showed that 46% of Americans did not think that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, in contradiction to the official finding. To counter such criticisms, the memo proposed labeling critics as “conspiracy theorists” and proposed that the CIA’s “propaganda assets” in media begin to use the slur and other, related techniques to marginalize critics.

Classified as Secret but finally released in 1998, the memo stated, “Conspiracy theories have frequently thrown suspicion on our organization, for example by falsely alleging that Lee Harvey Oswald worked for us. The aim of this dispatch is to provide material for countering and discrediting the claims of the conspiracy theorists, so as to inhibit circulation of such claims.”

The memo instructed media assets to discredit those questioning government reports by saying the critics should be depicted as “wedded to theories adopted before the evidence was in, hasty or inaccurate in their research, or infatuated with their own theories.”

The approach laid out by the memo was adopted by many in the American media. That’s not a surprise given that Operation Mockingbird, a domestic propaganda campaign aimed at promoting the views of the CIA within the media, was in full swing at the time. And despite official claims that the CIA’s influence of American media was halted in 1976, after the Church Committee findings, the continued use of the terms “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy theorist” indicates that the practice has continued.

A few years ago, I tested this by checking how many times the phrase “conspiracy theory” had appeared in the Washington Post and the New York Times in the 45 years before and after the CIA memo.

Before the memo was issued, “conspiracy theory” was a phrase used 50 times, or about once per year, in the Times or the Post. In the 45 years after the CIA memo, these newspapers used the term 2,630 times, or about once per week.

Before the CIA memo came out, the Washington Post and New York Times had never used the phrase “conspiracy theorist.” After the CIA memo came out, they have used the phrase “conspiracy theorist” 1,118 times.

The continued use of terms such as “conspiracy theorist” suggests that the CIA still controls the mainstream media. With regard to the crimes of 9/11, The New York Times has led the way in terms of support for official propaganda. Moreover, many “alternative” media sources use these slurs as frequently, or more, than mainstream media do.

An example was in August 2011, when I was a guest on National Public Radio’s ‘On Point” talk show to discuss 9/11 skepticism. Interestingly, I was the only 9/11 skeptic invited to appear on this show about 9/11 skeptics. The other two guests were Jim Meigs from Popular Mechanics and dubious “truther expert” Jonathan Kay. During the show, I answered questions from the host for about 5 minutes, until it became clear that my skepticism of 9/11 sounded rational. After I was dismissed—for the remaining 42 minutes of the show—Meigs, Kay, and the substitute host rambled on about the evils of conspiracy theories, using some form of the phrase conspiracy theory a total of 85 times. That’s more than once every 30 seconds.

The use of “conspiracy theory” to deter citizens from investigating historic events is paradoxical, to be sure. It suggests that those who commit criminal conspiracies can only be relatively powerless people who happen to live on the most strategically important lands, and conspiracies among rich, powerful people are impossible or absurd. It’s just that kind of doublethink mindset that has led us to where we are today as a nation.

Of course, 9/11 was a conspiracy. The only question is was it a conspiracy of people who could not possibly pull it off and who would only suffer as a result or was it a conspiracy of the people who benefited and had the power to accomplish it? The first option presents many problems. Common sense suggests the latter.

These days, it seems that you can tell who is working for the CIA simply by the way they use “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy theorist” in attempts to belittle others. An example might be when a lawyer for gold mining companies was presented by the corporate media as a public servant/truth teller based on stolen documents that were never shared with the public. That lawyer and his colleagues at The Intercept use the conspiracy theorist slur as much as any other media source, and often when they are questioned about their dubious rise to fame.

In any case, our entire legal system is based on the idea of conspiracy. Yet despite this fact we have been conditioned by the government and the media to blindly accept official reports and to treat anyone questioning those reports as conspiracy theorists. That is, you are a conspiracy theorist if you don’t believe the government’s conspiracy theory.

This technique is easy to see. Next time you read an article that uses these slurs, look more closely at the author and where he or she is trying to lead you.

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19 Responses to The CIA’s Influence Over the Media: Use of the Conspiracy Theorist Slur

  1. geeyp says:

    The Warren Report was the catalyst for all that affected we the people ever since. Knowing in 1967 from Mark Lane’s “Rush To Judgment” (1966) and Sylvia Meagher’s phenomenal work that the word was out and we the people may not take it or allow it without speaking out, whether the CIA liked it or not. It is not hard to swallow that people in our government would intentionally implode the WTC with people in it and other murders of 9/11 if you understood history and along with it the assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK, ETC.

  2. marvinsannes says:

    This “slur” smearing technique has become universal in media: Last week an “Oregonian” newspaper article on Tulsi Gabbard’s candidacy had these associations in a 2 minute read: 1) 3rd Party run, 2) endorse Trump, 3) homophobic, 4) endorsed by an alt-right writer, 5) liked by Spencer (neo-nazi guy), 6) liked by FOX news (Carlson), 7) polling at 1%, 8) cheerleader for Assad, 9) and Nera Tanden (Bolton in drag). The only anti-war candidate (beside Gravel) who appears to be over the target and hitting the war party, and consequently the CIA’s network of media all over the country. America’s “Pravda” shooting themselves in both feet! Hahahahaha

  3. Timothy Michel says:

    Kevin, See: Are We Reaching the Tipping Point (of Global Collapse)? , I think you will appreciate it, along the same lines.

    Thanks for your continued writing by the way, I appreciate it.

  4. “Influence over” kinda makes it sound like the CIA and the media are separate entities.



  5. Warrior says:

    Your efforts will not go unnoticed by future generations who will uncover the facts for themselves and write the real history of that fateful day. I for one, agree with you on your conclusions and would only hope to see the truth come out during my lifetime. Thanks for staying on top of this and best wishes for you.

  6. Linda says:

    As yet another example see Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone magazine :
    50 Years After the Moon Landing: Why Conspiracy Theories Won’t Die

    “The old “physical impossibility” saw is a nervous tic found in a lot of the trashiest American conspiracy tales. Only a controlled demolition could cause building 7 to free fall!”

    Another equates conspiracy theorists as bad people:
    “Research showing people who believe in conspiracies would be willing to participate in conspiracies themselves. In other words, bad people make bad news consumers.”

  7. marvinsannes says:

    I’ve found NPR to be an open channel right to the propaganda desk CIA’s HQ. CNN an open channel right into the propaganda desk at the Mossad. NBC a channel right into the Pentagon. I guess we’re reaching the “transparency” promised?

  8. David Blomstrom says:

    Nice article! I’ve been working on a book about “conspiracy science,” and I’m really struck by the viciousness of the attacks on conspiracy theorists/analysts. (Do some research on Cass Sunstein.)

    In a similar vein, I wonder if anyone can tell me if you’re aware of any books about conspiratology that have already been published. I’m not talking about books about specific conspiracies (e.g. 9/11) but books that simply define the terms conspiracy and conspiracy theory, explore the history of conspiracy, explain how conspiracies and cover-ups work etc.

    I’ve read a number of books about conspiracy but haven’t found anything of this nature yet – aside from the usual books by propagandists that describe conspiracy theory as a mental aberration. 😉

    Thanks for any tips.

  9. marley engvall says:

    has the on point interview aired yet? do you have a link to it?

  10. Don Paul says:

    Very good again, dear Kevin.

  11. Brian says:

    But some theories are ridiculous for lack of logic, reason and finally evidence.

    The manner in which the subjects are approached is important.

    Why do people think DEWs start CA wildfires?

    Why do people think the earth is flat?

    Where is the nexus of deserved ridicule?

    Your paragraph saying that you can recognize who works for the CIA by their response with “conspiracy theorist” is garbage.

    Theres no truth to that, it seems your just venting without merit.

    I call flat earthers and DEW promoters conspiracy theorists all day everyday. Am I CIA Kevin?

    • Kevin Ryan says:

      I’m pretty sure the CIA would not hire someone with such weak analytical skills so you’re off the hook, Brian. However, in apparent defense of the official conspiracy theory, you seem to be engaging in Schopenhauer’s “Put His Thesis into Some Odious Category” technique. This still works on some unsuspecting victims but generally does not work for long.
      Time to read up on the subject, Brian.

  12. Would you mind clarifying one thing:
    The two paragraphs about the Times and the Post seem to contradict each other. Did the New York Times and the Washington Post use the phrase 50 times or none before the CIA memo or did they use it 2630 or 1118 times after?

    • Kevin Ryan says:

      Seems pretty clear to everyone else.
      “Before the memo was issued, “conspiracy theory” was a phrase used 50 times, or about once per year, in the Times or the Post. In the 45 years after the CIA memo, these newspapers used the term 2,630 times, or about once per week.”

  13. Bob Gucciardi says:

    Conspiracy theorists is just a pejorative for people who effectively cross examine the official narratives of significant events thus disrupting the misinformation propaganda.

    I emphasize effective. People who employ non scientific methods of challenging an official story are non very effective and therefore do not threaten official power. It’s those who, using science, effectively cross examine and challenge each detail of evidence presented by the government, creating doubt in a significant portion of the population, threaten official power.

    Our judicial system is premised on conspiracy theory, i.e. cross examination. It’s a major component of freedom that checks official power. Cross examination gives the accused a means to challenge the accusations of the state and their evidence in open court before the public. It is premised on the idea, proven in history, that the government could be wrong, and frequently is maliciously wrong. If we didn’t have cross examination, we’d just have the government lock up the accused upon mere accusations. Criminality would be policy at that point.

    But what if the accused is dead before a trial (L. H. Oswald, Mohammad Atta, etc)? None of the evidence gets to a court for cross examination. How convenient for power! They get to publish their official reports which are always presented by the media as the final word.

    Then why can’t the public cross examine the report anyway? No real reason why not. The same public would compose a jury if the cases ever went to court to review the evidence that’s in the report anyway. Citizen cross examination of official reports like the Warren Commission and the 9/11 Commission are just as essential to civic responsibility as cross examination of evidence in court. What’s more, the citizen paid for the report with taxes. They own it.

    By no means are all cross examinations equal. The cross examiner should have competencies relevant to the case in question.

    More power to Kevin Ryan and all the 9/11 Truthers out there.

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