A disturbing and chilling interaction may have happened at Dulles International Airport this week between U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Defense One news editor Ben Watson. The national security and defense publication revealed on Friday a CBP agent refused to give Watson back his passport if he didn’t admit to writing propaganda.
The alleged interaction went as follows: Watson gave his passport to the agent after coming into Dulles from Denmark. The agent inquired on Watson’s job then kept asking “You write propaganda, right?” while Watson stood there unable to go elsewhere. Watson revealed he covered national security after spending time as a public affairs officer for the U.S. Army. The agent refused to let the “propaganda” issue go and Watson finally admitted to writing propaganda, “for the purposes of expediting this conversation” He was eventually allowed past customs.
There are multiple ways to look at this “you write propaganda, right?” comment by CBP.
The first is whether the agent believes all journalists write propaganda. No party was mentioned but let’s assume the agent meant propaganda for the Democrat Party. This notion is foolish since the media is not full of Democratic voters despite what the President and his followers may believe. The advent of ‘new media,’ to use a phrase from Michelle Malkin and Andrew Breitbart, gives journalists of all shape and size the chance to write on happenings and events the so-called mainstream media doesn’t always cover. Defense One is a specialized news outlet with a singular focus: foreign policy and the defense industry. Not exactly NBC, CBS, or The Washington Post not that harassing journalists from one of those outlets would be wise or commendable. A so-called neutral government agency, as we are promised CBP can be by politicians in both parties, would not care about the content of a journalist’s writings.
The second is whether the agent considers journalism a field where reporters simply churn out whatever they’re fed by government officials via press release without vetting the information. There is a small bit of truth in this theory, something Hunter S. Thompson railed against in his writings especially whilst covering the 1972 Democrat presidential primary. This does not appear to be Defense One’s mission or the content of their stories.
This interaction between Watson and CBP smells more of the former theory than the latter. It seems the agent was enamored with the notion he was faced off with a journalist with the power to squeeze the journalist on whether he wrote this vague definition of “propaganda.” It is entirely possible the CBP agent saw the interaction as some sort of sick, inappropriate joke and got a good laugh at it later in the day. The inappropriate part should not be ignored as other journalists have claimed they’ve been harassed at customs in the past. This type of behavior is unbecoming of a government that claims to represent the “land of free.”
One has to wonder how often this happens, not just to journalists but to ordinary Americans without the advantage of a media outlet to reveal the iniquity of the situation. Yes, social media is helpful but the government on all levels typically ignores problems within its own house, and even when pressed they’re revealed for all to see. It’s much easier to say an ‘internal investigation’ is ongoing than to enact the actual reforms needed to keep this sort of thing from happening again. The problems are solvable if the will exists. Unfortunately, that will appears to be in short supply these days.
It should be pointed out the vast majority of CBP officers are probably not the problem and a majority more than likely don’t care whether a journalist writes “propaganda” or simply tells stories to let people know what’s going on in their town, nation, or the defense industry. Reforms are still needed within CBP to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.
Could this all be some sort of hoax? Absolutely. Yet, what would Watson gain by pretending this happened? He and Defense One are putting their reputations and credibility on the line by revealing this interaction with CBP. All Defense One articles would be taken with a heavy grain of salt and Watson would end up a pariah if this is all fantasy. It’s riskier to expose this kind of corruption than keep it under wraps.
The reality is this more than likely happened and whatever CBP agent questioned Watson about “propaganda” should be disciplined if not fired for this blatant act of intimidation and harassment.