Russ Baker on the Media’s Deep State Conversion Moment - WhoWhatWhy

Russ Baker on the Media’s Deep State Conversion Moment

Deep State
Reading Time: 7 minutes

The term “Deep State” has recently become as popular with the media as the term “#resistance.” It certainly wasn’t always that way.

For years, a lonely few have set out to enlighten people on the notion that, when it comes to affairs of state, there is usually more to the story than we are told.

I started WhoWhatWhy because I realized that the publications I worked for had no interest, no understanding of, could not fathom, or were just plain scared to explore the possibility that We, the People, were not in control of our destiny.

You can read most media all day long and you’d never get a sense, except fleetingly, that eight people have as much wealth as half of the world’s population. A handful of people can put their selected candidate in the White House, and the masses remain blissfully unaware as the process unfolds.

A company with vast resources can make sure the so-called free market works a whole lot better for itself than it does for its smaller rivals — even if the other companies offer a better product or service — and corporate media remains silent.

The media typically does not make us wonder why there seem to be wars going on all the time, why Americans are able to live so well compared to most of the world, nor that even today, resource extraction is a very deadly one-way street. They rarely seem to stop and ponder why it is that no matter which of the two political parties is in office, public policy seems to always cater to the 1% and not … the public.

The media does cover politics plenty. But it does not very often cover deep politics — that is, the forces beneath the  surface, the powers behind the daily events, what’s been called the Deep State.

To those unfamiliar with it, this expression sounds creepy, even paranoid, with a hint of conspiracy theory — itself a catchall term designed to discredit any critical analysis that comes perilously close to something that may lead back to the Deep State. How could there be something other than politics or the state — deep politics and a deep state?

Well, ask yourself: Is that giant bank where you have your money actually run by the smiling masses you see in their ads? The ones who say “We’re here for you” but when you call, they all read from the same script and admit they’re powerless? One thing your bank doesn’t do, usually, is advertise the top people, the biggest shareholders, and how much power they wield, and how much money they make.

It takes something like a financial scandal for the CEO to suddenly appear in the limelight, like a mole rubbing its eyes, and you say, “Oh, so that’s the main guy.” You never knew.

The media overall hates these “deep” concepts because they are anathema to people trying to keep their jobs and move up in a hierarchical system owned and influenced by the most powerful, while still wearing the thrilling mantle of “troublemaker.”

Let’s be clear: the Deep State is not six people in hoods muttering incantations. It’s a shifting landscape of those at the top of the heap — not a monolith but a bloody battlefield, with factions breaking both bread and heads.

It includes financiers, industrialists, media titans, generals, spymasters, strategists, and experts in the black arts of mass influence. It even includes a super-verboten topic: how the “overworld” (the legit) do business, albeit usually at arm’s length, with the underworld.

Look at Trump’s track record on this; look at CIA’s well-documented cooperation with the mob and with global drug cartels. Also off-limits to the media: the role of highly profitable illegal activity in making great fortunes (prohibition, drug trade, money laundering) and the cooperation of elements of the state.


The deeper meaning and scope of the Deep State is now being misrepresented by those who still hope for handouts from the system — either they’re deliberately obscuring the real nature of the Deep State, or they’re really trying, without much success, to throw some light on a topic to which they’ve come late and have little incentive to dig into too deeply.

One example is the Los Angeles Times, which, despite some great journalism and bravery over the years, has retained a mysteriously close relationship with the CIA and similar entities, serving as their hatchet men against reporters who cut too near the bone of the truth. Look up Gary Webb — or read this “review” of a book on the Deep State by yours truly.  

Recently, one of its longtime Washington hands presumed to explain to the rest of us about the Deep State whose very existence he and his paper denied for so long.

The scariest new catchphrase of the Trump era — and we’re only one month in — is the “deep state,” a term borrowed from countries like Turkey and Egypt, where networks of military officers and intelligence operatives control much of the government.

Um, no. It isn’t just entrenched mid-level bureaucrats, soldiers and spies who make up the Deep State — it is also the extremely wealthy who ultimately manipulate and influence these pawns on the board of power.

The New York Times apparently got the same memo as its West Coast namesake:

A wave of leaks from government officials has hobbled the Trump administration, leading some to draw comparisons to countries like Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan, where shadowy networks within government bureaucracies, often referred to as “deep states,” undermine and coerce elected governments.

The point of all this is that if you limit a description of some poisonous Deep State to those actually employed in “bureaucracies,” you are actually playing into the hands of the most powerful Deep State players: the super-rich who benefit when government itself is discredited to the point that everything can be outsourced — to them. And that’s exactly what we have seen in case after case, with the privatization of intelligence, police work, prisons, schools, and so on. Let’s get rid of those nefarious Deep State education officials and save the day with billionaire Betsy DeVos!

No — the Deep State IS populated by people like Betsy DeVos and her husband and their coterie. They’re the ones who can buy the loyalty of modestly-paid government figures who expect to travel out the revolving door to dip into the abundant coffers of the Koch brothers et al.

To be clear, we probably don’t want to think of the Deep State as synonymous with the plutocracy — it’s not all about money. It is about an ideology of self-interest and a kind of fascist value system, and an ability to build deep links into institutions like the FBI, the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, local law enforcement, etc. Of course, elements within the Deep State, as is true throughout the world, can also be forces for good, resisting when things in the surface world “go too far.” That, in part, is what we are seeing in the resistance to Trump from surprising quarters.

It’s also something to keep in mind when we see the Washington Post leading the charge against Trump. The Post is, like Amazon, the property of Jeff Bezos — and the CIA is one of Amazon’s biggest customers (for its cloud computing services.) The CIA is none too happy with Trump — with very good reason, for once (well, there was also that battle with Cheney and the neocons), and so, yes, that too is all the Deep State at work.

And no, don’t look to The Post to fully explain it all. Why? Again, my personal experience — here’s the Post’s contracted-out hit piece on my Deep Politics book.


The Deep State has cajoled or intimidated almost the entirety of journalism, mainstream to Left to Right — to ignore its existence, and to defame those who dare investigate it, by lumping them with all manner of crazy under the all-purpose dysphemism “conspiracy theory.” Try googling related terms: conspiracy theorist, conspiracy nut, etc — you will find that the “top” news organizations have routinely beaten up on those who dared break ranks by slapping this deadly moniker on them. It’s the loud cousin of the whispering campaign, the sort that makes it hard to find work and scares off would-be allies.

I’ll note that back in the 1960s, the CIA got really nervous as interest in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy heated up, with reputable, brave people asking a lot of questions about the impossible ridiculous fantasy story the media sold us in the Warren Report. In an internal CIA memo, the agency prescribed all manner of tactics to discredit those who were sticking their noses where they oughtn’t, conferring on them the deadly “Conspiracy Theorist” label.

And, in the 1970s, Carl Bernstein, of Watergate sleuth fame, wrote a piece in Rolling Stone revealing the extent to which the security apparatus had penetrated America’s media itself. Shades of Romania and East Germany.

Even Bill Moyers, whom I greatly admire, and who has been complimentary of WhoWhatWhy’s work — brought on a conservative to explain what Deep State is all about. Given the history and the continuing resistance to the concept at the time that program aired in 2014, probably a smart move.

But the times they are a-changin’. Since Wikileaks’ revelations, since Edward Snowden, since … Trump, the shameless and spineless in journalism have spun on a dime and now the things some of us were attacked for are smack dab in the middle of the “conversation,” albeit with the system stingily withholding credit to those who were there first.

In any case, now that it’s all the vogue, I say to the establishment media: No. You do not get to define this term, you do not get to tell the rest of us if there is a Deep State, the nature of its influence, or whether we should or should not be concerned about it.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Capitol (USCapitol / Flickr).

Where else do you see journalism of this quality and value?

Please help us do more. Make a tax-deductible contribution now.

Our Comment Policy

Keep it civilized, keep it relevant, keep it clear, keep it short. Please do not post links or promotional material. We reserve the right to edit and to delete comments where necessary.


18 responses to “Russ Baker on the Media’s Deep State Conversion Moment”

  1. Avatar ShirlB says:

    The LA Times and WaPo reviews of Family of Secrets are the most scurrilous I’ve ever read. The material at the hyperlinks is an education in itself. I checked out all of them and read some in their entirety.

    “To be clear, we probably don’t want to think of the Deep State as synonymous with the plutocracy — it’s not all about money. It is about an ideology of self-interest and a kind of fascist value system, and an ability to build deep links into institutions like the FBI, the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, local law enforcement, etc.”

    The Deep State has been active since the late 19th century and is on display in a book I recently sent to Russ. It qualifies as a case study. The cast of characters includes Wall Street lawyers, investment bankers, oil company executives, and mining industry CEOs. The tale starts in 1936 and continues into the 21st century.

    In the 1930s, Deep State activities were generally privately planned and executed. With the creation of the American national security state during the period from 1945 to 1949, the operators acquired an infrastructure entwined with government institutions and, as President John F. Kennedy found, impossible to dismantle.

    For insight into how that occurred, read All Honorable Men: The Story of the Men on Both Sides of the Atlantic Who Successfully Thwarted Plans to Dismantle the Nazi Cartel System by James Stewart Martin. The epigraph on the first page is: To my children, members of a generation who have a right to ask, “What did you do about it?”

    Martin headed a team from the American economic warfare department charged by President Franklin Roosevelt with dismantling the patent and cartel arrangements between American and German firms. In February 1945 (the month that I was born), they left for Berlin. The assignment went pretty well until FDR died in April 1945. Cooperation with Martin’s team quickly dried up.

    I’ve had a PDF of this book since 2013, when I downloaded it from Dave Emory’s Web site. Now it is available in ebook format from Mark Crispin Miller’s Forbidden Bookshelf project. The value of the new edition is its revelations about what happened to the author. He lost his job and was hounded very much like Gary Webb. The CIA purchased as many of the books as possible upon publication and incinerated them. Martin’s publisher swiftly abandoned him.

    The introduction is by Christopher Simpson, MA, the author of Blowback: America’s recruitment of Nazis , and its disastrous effect on our domestic and foreign policy. Blowback is also part of the Forbidden Bookshelf collection.

    On page 15 of the introduction to All Honorable Men, Simpson writes:

    “The tension between the United States’ public commitment to rough justice for Nazi criminals and the perceived necessity of preparing for a new global war against the Soviets helps clarify a national postwar posture that must otherwise appear self-contradictory. The same internal contradiction also helps explain the US government’s fierce drive throughout that period to establish a clandestine, national security state–a state unprecedented in US history–to hatch and manage policies out of the public eye.”

    I respectfully suggest that the phrase “Shades of Romania and East Germany.” would be more applicable if it read “Shades of Augusto Pinochet and Suharto.”

  2. Avatar Josh Stern says:

    Core elements of mainstream media that have been evidentially linked to the CIA as witting assets – Claire Booth Luce and Henry Luce, Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee, CBS News, the Newspaper Guild – today Communication Workers of America. I believe the true list today includes all the major owners.

  3. Avatar oller says:

    Hi again Russ; if you don´t mind I could contribute with an outline of “What is happening in Sweden” in one or two days time for your discretion.

  4. Avatar oller says:

    Great to read those reviews. The key element in both of them is to assure you that if you try to find out anything by studying the facts; you are a true nutjob.

    In one of his lectures on 9/11, (Miracles) David Ray Griffin comments on Bill Moyers and his colleague and their assertions that they don´t need to look into the details of 9/11 because everybody in his/hers sound mind will understand that it would not be even fathomable to believe that our government could be involved, even in the smallest way; in such a henious act. That is why they don´t even have to look at the evidence, Griffin continues.

    Rings familiar to what the good reviewer tries to say to his public.

  5. Avatar oller says:

    “In any case, now that it’s all the vogue, I say to the establishment media: No. You do not get to define this term, you do not get to tell the rest of us if there is a Deep State, the nature of its influence, or whether we should or should not be concerned about it.”

    However; this is exactly what they will try to do. 24 hours ago, CNN interviewed a former CIA agent to Moscow about the meaning of “Deep State”. It was held in a sort of mocking way as if to explain to the audience that is mostly made up of fantasizers. The agent himself had the look of a man retired to chicken farming but still with a mocking-back attitude. This is a prelude to what is coming.

  6. Avatar Mackenzie says:

    Russ, you wrote “The CIA is none too happy with Trump — with very good reason, for once
    (well, there was also that battle with Cheney and the neocons), and so,
    yes, that too is all the Deep State at work.”

    Can you elaborate on this point. What exactly are you defending the CIA on here?

    • Avatar Tom Blanton says:

      It sounds like ‘nevermind the horrible atrocities, death and destruction caused by the deep state because sometimes they do good things’ – like oppose evil men like Donald Trump, who round up immigrants (like Obama did), or want to build walls (like Hillary voted for in 2006), or thinks states should decide what bathrooms transsexuals should use (like Obama’s position on gay marriage)., or assassinate the children of American Islamic propagandists (oh yeah, like Obama did). I have a novel idea. When people stop loving the state and insist on being ruled by the state, the state AND the deep state will cease to exist. Would the world be perfect then? Hardly, but perhaps much better than it is now.

      I know many believe that everything will be OK if we just elect the right people, but after the last 100 years of war and crony capitalism, who can take that idea seriously?

    • Avatar nelswight says:

      Tom, related to Cecil, TN

  7. Avatar Mackenzie says:

    For those wondering, according to Oxfam, below are the richest 8 Americans (note that it says “Oxfam’s calculations are based on global wealth distribution data provided by the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Data book 2016”):

    The world’s 8 richest people are, in order of net worth:

    1) Bill Gates: America founder of Microsoft (net worth $75 billion)

    2) Amancio Ortega: Spanish founder of Inditex which owns the Zara fashion chain (net worth $67 billion)

    3) Warren Buffett: American CEO and largest shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway (net worth $60.8 billion)

    4) Carlos Slim Helu: Mexican owner of Grupo Carso (net worth: $50 billion)

    5) Jeff Bezos: American founder, chairman and chief executive of Amazon (net worth: $45.2 billion)

    6) Mark Zuckerberg: American chairman, chief executive officer, and co-founder of Facebook (net worth $44.6 billion)

    7) Larry Ellison: American co-founder and CEO of Oracle (net worth $43.6 billion)

    8) Michael Bloomberg: American founder, owner and CEO of Bloomberg LP (net worth: $40 billion)

  8. Avatar Shawn West says:

    Good article. I’ll share this. Hopefully it will wake someone else up; should others read this.

  9. Avatar Em () says:

    Say it ain’t so Russ, say it ain’t so. It has to be men in hoods chanting on pentagrams, it just has to be!!

    David Icke, Alex Jones, Anonymous. MSM are already getting psychiatrists in on the act. The pawns were set up a long time ago on this chessboard. From Perot to Paul, the Bush/Clinton axis has been terrified of the “crazy” John Birch Libertarians, (Gaia knows they don’t need to worry about the Left in this Marx forsaken country) But Birch finally outmaneuvered the Times and CNN, gotta hand it to them. So we’re now a heartbeat away from neo-Stalinist purges that will make the McCarthy era look like a potluck lunch thanks to all the chefs of this toxic soup.

    All the deep state players may have similar even overlapping vested interests, but there are fundamental differences and a variety of factions, and the only reason the slip is now showing is because they are having a lovers’ tiff and everyone’s got the vapours, (of course that’s a given with Lindsey Graham.) The big climax of “Serial Killers: A Love Story” is close at hand. Rogers and Mattis are not quitters, as often as they’ve been outsmarted, they’ll only take it for so long now they finally have real power. They’re ready to replace silicon with brass if needs be, and it looks like that could be pretty soon if Bezos et al keep pushing. But as far as Mattis is concerned, he’s “killed the wabbit.” This could turn real nasty, real quick, because don’t think Team Soros won’t weaponize HFT, their nuclear option (of course they’d set off a dirty bomb in a heartbeat, NB the intriguing NYT aside on Flynn) so screwed won’t begin to describe it. Each side has a “if you take me down, I’m taking you with me” mentality, and no one wins a Mexican standoff, no matter what Hollywood says.

    Personally, I recommend Secular Buddhism in this reality-optional society, because when the **** hits the fan in an empty office, does it actually smell?

  10. Avatar chubbs says:

    great piece

  11. Avatar Mindwafers says:

    Thanks for this, really cleared up the deep state issue without devolving into conspiratorial ideas. Unfortunately the phrase has been hijacked by Alex Jones and the like (who use it daily) and have turned it into a force that opposed Trump rather the reality that it supports him.

    • Avatar russbaker says:

      Unfortunately, the unethical and the unimaginative routinely hijack and soil all that is good and useful. We must fight back.

    • Avatar Mackenzie says:

      You’re saying Alex Jones hijacked the phrase “deep state” and that the “deep state” supports Trump? A couple of points:

      1) Saying there’s a deep state IS a conspiratorial idea. However, as Russ wrote, it is pushed as a “dysphemism”.

      2) In general, it certainly appears as if the media is almost uniformly against Trump. Hollywood hates him. Late night shows (e.g. Seth Myers, SNL, etc) hate Trump. Fox news has been highly critical of Trump (e.g. Megyn Kelly). Facebook and Twitter ban “conservative speech” with regularity. They also were caught altering the “trending stories” in ways unfavorable to (at least so-called) conservatives.

      3) Alex Jones may be off on a lot of things but, in general, I believe he is pointed in the right direction. He has also gotten millions of people to start “questioning the system”. Overall he has been very much a “net positive” IMO (and I find him very hard to listen to btw). I think it takes all kinds of approaches to wake up the public. There’s nothing wrong with a rabble-rouser. People shouldn’t “thumb their nose” at what AJ has done. Getting people to question authority opens them to hearing other ideas (from more grounded intellectual types). I think people need to get off their high-horse.

  12. Avatar Josh Stern says:

    I agree with first part of Mr. Baker’s point: the definition of Deep State proposed by Mike Lofgren (unaware of P.D. Scott) as the permanent part of D.C. bureacracy which does not change with elections – is not as useful or significant as the other definitions which try to capture the truly secret and deeply conspiratorial acts like false flag attacks (e.g. covert channeling covert funding to al Qaeda and ISIS).

    I disagree on the 2nd part about the ranking of billionaires vs. Spooks. I see Spooks as clearly more powerful, because
    a) they know & can keep more secrets,
    b) they operate above and outside the law – e.g. commanding the FBI and DOJ to cover most any crime, silence critics, and block in in courts,
    c) their discretionary budget for mischief making – including the $$$ they get from govt. in open budget, black budget, the money the get from drug running and other criminal ops, and the money they get from front companies – is actually larger, on an annual basis, than the discretionary budget of billionaires.

    Some billionaires are in the deep state, but not as deep as the leadership council of the CIA, the DOD, and the FBI.

    • Avatar James says:

      I would say look at the history of CIA interventions/overthrows in foreign countries and look who benefited (corporate power). Follow the money and the motive.

      Check the history of Allen Dulles and the people he served as a corporate lawyer.

      To quote General Smedly Butler: “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big
      Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

    • Avatar Josh Stern says:

      Smedley Butler is incredible…a true and important hero. The War industry today is SlO much larger than in his time, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of the economy. As I wrote above, and in the other recent thread, “America Discovers the Deep State”, knowing the truth of classified and too-secret-to-write-down secrets is the key measure of “how Deep”. Nowadays, many military contractors are part of that. For instance, in the secret, criminal CIA black sites involved in torture, the large majority of the torture was actually being carried out by private contractors.