The Bilderberg "Blackout"
The press corps' noncoverage of that weekend
conference in Chantilly, Va.
By Jack Shafer
Posted Monday, June 9, 2008, at 8:32 PM ET
About this time each year, the Bilderberg group
convenes a weekend conference in a hotel or resort
somewhere in North America or Europe in which 120 or
so billionaires, bankers, politicians, industrialists,
scholars, government officials, influentials from
labor and education, and journalists assemble to
discuss world affairs in private.
This year, the 56th Bilderberg meeting took place over
the weekend at the Westfields Marriott in Chantilly,
Va., seven miles from Washington Dulles International
Airport. As in previous years, Bilderberg critics are
berating the mainstream press for observing a
"blackout" of a group they believe directs a secret,
The critics claim that Bilderberg grooms future
American presidents and future British prime
ministers, pointing to Bill Clinton's attendance in
1991 and Tony Blair's in 1993. Time magazine reported
in 2004 that John Edwards impressed attendees at the
Bilderberg session in Italy, after which John Kerry
asked him to join his presidential ticket.
According to the 1980 book Trilateralism: The
Trilateral Commission and Elite Planning for World
Management, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was
enthusiastic about sending staffers to Bilderberg,
President John F. Kennedy drew heavily from Bilderberg
alumniDean Rusk, George W. Ball, George McGhee,
Walter Rostow, Arthur Dean, and Paul Nitzeto staff
his administration, and many Carter administration
officials had attended the retreat.
According to a list published by one critic, the
attendees of Bilderberg 2008 include Henry Kissinger,
Ben S. Bernanke, David Rockefeller, Vin Weber, Henry
Kravis, Robert B. Zoellick, Donald Graham, Vernon
Jordan, Charlie Rose, and their equals from Europe.
Protestors staked out the elite at the hotel's
entrance and recorded "surveillance" videos inside and
outside the minimum-security facility before the event
About this much the Bilderberg critics are right: The
mainstream media ignored Bilderberg 2008. According to
Nexis, Wonkette and Raw Story noted the event and the
critics' objections on the Web. A simple Web search
produces Bilderberg detractors Alex Jones and Jim
Tucker sounding their alarms.
And about this, too, the Bilderberg critics are right:
The meeting of 120 prominent world figures probably
constitutes some kind of news. Yet to be fair to the
mainstream press, it's tough to report from a private
gathering locked down tight by professional security.
Bilderberg organizers expect participants to keep the
weekend's discussions off-the-record, stating in a
press release this year that "the privacy of the
meetings has no purpose other than to allow
participants to speak their minds openly and freely."
Bilderberg isn't the only international group that
asks participants to zip their lips. The United
Kingdom's Chatham House enshrined such a rule back in
1927, and similar requirements apply at some Council
on Foreign Relations and Aspen Strategy Group
meetings, just to name a few. Private groups meet in
almost every town in the world for confidential chats.
It's the way of the world. Bilderberger gab does
occasionally leak, as with John Edwards' 2004 talk,
but the poshes and powerful generally zip their lips.
What do you suppose would result if, say, the
Washington Post had assigned a reporter to Chantilly's
luminary jamboree? The Associated Press sent a
reporter to cover the 1978 Bilderberger session in
Princeton, N.J., but all he filed was a scene piece
describing "men in gray suits and sunglasses" chasing
him away from the "off limits" grounds of the Henry
Chauncey Conference Center. From that dispatch (by
Kissinger casually strolled around a small manmade
pond Saturday, coming within a few feet of the road
leading into the complex.
He circled the pond twice, first with a
gray-haired pipe-smoking man and then with a younger
man. Kissinger appeared grave and attentive while the
men talked of things like "range limitations."
Kissinger looked annoyed and declined comment when
approached by a reporter.
One of two Secret Service agents trailing the
former secretary nodded sympathetically saying,
"You've got to give it your best shot."
And yet the "mainstream press" can hardly be accused
of blacking out Bilderberg. The New York Times has
mentioned Bilderberg a couple dozen times since 1981,
according to Nexis, including in a 2004 piece titled
"A Secret Conference Thought To Rule the Word." Other
pieces in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and
the Boston Globe refer to the group. Just last month,
Anne-Marie Slaughter mentioned the Bilderbergers in
her Post review of a new book, Superclass: The Global
Power Elite and the World They Are Making.
Of course, Bilderberg critics don't want to read
mentions in the press. They want to see confirmation
of their theories that the group operates in a
sinister, behind-the-scenes fashion to exploit the
powerless and throttle liberty.
How, exactly, are reporters supposed to do that when
the critics rarely provide falsifiable evidence of
Bilderberg malevolence? Would a shadow government,
should it exist, really convene annually at a hotel to
hash out the world's fate? Would it really issue a
press release about its latest meeting? Would it
routinely assume the security risks of inviting new
blood in? (Couldn't the notorious Bilderberger Conrad
Black negotiate his way out of prison by exposing the
group? Or is Bilderberg so powerful that it controls
the federal prison system, too?) It largely limits its
attendees to North Americans and Europeans. Are the
Japanese, Indians, Chinese, Brazilians, Australians,
South Koreans, and Singaporean so timid that they
stand aside and let the Bilderbergers have their way
with the world without making a peep?
That's not to say the critics' inquiries never produce
anything of value. I enjoy reading the documentary
material they dig up and can only encourage them to
dig deeper. Just last month, Barack Obama tapped a
prominent Bilderberger, James A. Johnson, to vet
possible vice presidential candidates. Johnson
provided similar veep vetting for the Democratic Party
in 2004which, as noted above, resulted in the
selection of a Bilderberg attendee. The AP also
reports that Johnson helped Walter Mondale pick a veep
nominee in 1984.
Who is Jim Johnson? He's the former head of Fannie
Mae, a power on Wall Street, and a regular Bilderberg
attendee. As recently as 2006, Johnson has been the
treasurer of the nonprofit American Friends of
Bilderberg Inc., according to the group's Form 990 on
file at Guidestar.org. According to the fractured
jargon of the filing, American Friends of Bilderberg
is in the business of "Organizing & sponsoring
conferences which study & discuss significant problems
of the Western Alliance. Collaborating on the
Bilderberg meetings held in Europe & North America."
The group spent $112,533 in 2006.
Still, the fact that an active Democratic supporter
has performed return duty as a veep vetter stops
several stations short of arriving at a shadow
government. It does, however, indicate that Johnson's
political influence may be underscrutinized by the
press and that his career is deserving of extra study
and attention. A May 24 Wall Street Journal story,
"Power Broker Helps Obama Search for Running Mate,"
does just that. Although it makes no mention of
Johnson's Bilderberg connection, it drops a gentle dig
that associates Johnson's Fannie Mae service with the
Without a doubt, Bilderberg ends up stimulating
speculations that it's a nefarious organization. In an
earlier generation, some theorists regarded the
Council on Foreign Relations as a similar shadow
government for its furtive ways. But as the CFR opened
up in recent decades, holding many sessions on the
record, it has become as threatening as the World
Economic Forum at Davos.
Maybe there's a lesson in there for the Bilderbergers.
Letting the press in for a closer look at what goes on
would go a long way to reduce the shouting while
preserving the group's right to think out loud. Or
maybe all the heavy security and skulking about is a
deliberate marketing ploy by Bilderberg to
differentiate its yacht cruise from the ocean voyage
that is Davos.
I expect mail. Lots of mail. Maybe enough to break my
inbox. Send to slate.pressbox@...
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