BOB GARFIELD: We are back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. This week marked not only the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our shores but also 30th anniversary of the coup that brought a military dictator to power in Chile. The Nixon administration, already embroiled in proxy battles with the Soviet Union around the world, decided it couldn't countenance the newly-elected socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile, so the CIA helped engineer his ouster in favor of a military junta led by General Augusto Pinochet. Peter Kornbluh is a senior analyst at the National Security Archive. In this month's Columbia Journalism Review he documents how Nixon and Kissinger empowered Chile's leading media mogul, Augustin Edwards, to lead the charge against Allende. Now a group of editors, human rights lawyers and journalism students are accusing Edwards of violating the Code of Ethics of the Academy of Chilean Journalists and are fighting at the very least to have him expelled from the Press Guild. Peter, welcome to the show.
PETER KORNBLUH: It's a pleasure to be here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: First of all, who is Augustin Edwards?
PETER KORNBLUH: Augustin Edwards is really the Rupert Murdoch of Chile. He controlled in 1970 the vast majority of Chilean media. His main newspaper, El Mercurio, was the largest newspaper in Chile at the time, routinely compared to the New York Times here. He was also at that point considered Chile's richest man and a key player in government circles and in international circles as well.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So Allende's just been elected, despite the opposition of El Mercurio, and Edwards contacts the Nixon administration. So what happens then?
PETER KORNBLUH: The first thing Edwards did is he went to Ambassador Edward Korry to say to him are you going to move militarily against Allende? What are you going to do? And Korry basically told him that the United States wasn't going to move militarily to block Allende from taking office, and since that answer wasn't satisfactory, Edwards flew to Washington, met with his close friend, Don Kendall, the CEO of the Pepsi Company, and said you have to tell the president that, you know, Chile is going to hell and the Communists are taking over, and this is bad for the United States. And Kendal actually went to the White House, told Nixon that Edwards was in town and what he was saying, and Nixon immediately ordered Henry Kissinger and the CIA director, Richard Helms, to meet with Edwards and find out what he was saying.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So ultimately the U.S. government passed to Edwards nearly 2 million bucks, which is worth considerably more on the black market, and how was that money used?
PETER KORNBLUH: What this money purchased was really El Mercurio being able to become a bullhorn --not only for a free press -- beyond that - it went into the arena of violating Chile's Constitution, calling for the military to take power and supporting that military once it did take power, I might add.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:And this obviously goes beyond anti-Allende articles and editorials. But when you say "bullhorn" -- did the paper identify places that ought to be attacked? Did the paper call for the assassination of people? Where is the line crossed between exercising a vigorous opposition and becoming seditious?
PETER KORNBLUH: Well that is a very important question, but, but here-- you had the owner of the newspaper already having told U.S. officials that he favored military action to stop Allende, and you had editorials declaring that Allende's government was illegitimate and essentially inciting people to rise up against it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You quote from a CIA paper that credits El Mercurio with making the military takeover possible. Is that what you think?
PETER KORNBLUH:El Mercurio was the centerpiece of the CIA's largest covert action in Chile between 1970 and 1973 -- what was called "The Propaganda Project." And the CIA's own internal memoranda state that this project set the stage for the coup of September 11th, 1973.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But you, Peter Kornbluh, know a huge amount about the opposition to Allende at the time. You have a vast array of documents. How crucial do you think El Mercurio was?
PETER KORNBLUH: I think El Mercurio was pivotal. You have to imagine what it would be like in our own country if the New York Times decided to take up a significant strident and eventually even violent opposition to our government. We have a, a country where we have many, many newspapers, but imagine if the New York Times was one of only three or four papers in the country and was beyond a doubt the leading and most read newspaper. You can imagine the, the influence that it might play.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Now there's a battle to bring ethics charges against Edwards. The courts back then didn't find him guilty of libel or sedition. Is this a largely symbolic act now?
PETER KORNBLUH: This is not just about what El Mercurio published. In fact it's not about what El Mercurio published, because Chileans-- believe that whatever he published, he had the right to publish. The ethics charges that they're investigating against him are predicated upon his contacts with the Central Intelligence Agency -- the fact that he discussed with the CIA director a military option in Chile and received money from the Central Intelligence Agency.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:In Rwanda, media chiefs who called for the roundup and murder of individuals are being prosecuted for real. Do you think that could ever happen in Chile? Should it?
PETER KORNBLUH: Well I think that for the moment this really isn't about a courtroom verdict. It's about a verdict of history. And Chileans themselves have not really had access to this information, and obviously now with the declassification of U.S. documents that shed light on the activities of individuals like Augustin Edwards, I think there will be a verdict of history at least that is important for everybody to know.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you very much.
PETER KORNBLUH: You're more than welcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Peter Kornbluh's article for the Columbia Journalism Review was excerpted from his new book -- The Pinochet File -- a declassified dossier on atrocity and accountability.