On Election Day, the Hill published an op-ed under the byline of Michael Flynn, a Donald Trump adviser and short-lived national security adviser in the Trump administration. In the op-ed, Flynn struck a positive tone about Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “We must begin with understanding that Turkey is vital to U.S. interests,” reads the op-ed. “Turkey is really our strongest ally against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as well as a source of stability in the region. It provides badly needed cooperation with U.S. military operations.”
Why such boosterism? The Associated Press reported earlier this week that Flynn had registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent whose work “may have aided the Turkish government.” That may be understating the case. The fired national security adviser’s now-defunct consulting firm — Flynn Intel Group Inc. — was hired by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, owner of a Dutch firm named Inovo BV, according to the AP. As part of the project, Flynn’s firm was charged with “collecting information” about Fethullah Gulen, a cleric exiled in Pennsylvania and whom Erdogan has accused of promoting a failed July 2016 coup against him. Flynn was also tasked with pressuring U.S. officials to act against Gulen.
Just how did the Hill play into Flynn’s consulting work? Well, the op-ed devotes large chunks of text to Gulen, starting with the assertion that he’s a “shady Islamic mullah residing in Pennsylvania whom former President Clinton once called his ‘friend’ in a well circulated video”; that he calls himself a moderate but is actually a “radical Islamist”; that “Gülen’s vast global network has all the right markings to fit the description of a dangerous sleeper terror network. From Turkey’s point of view, Washington is harboring Turkey’s Osama bin Laden”; and so on.
The concluding lines: “The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gülen, who is running a scam. We should not provide him safe haven. In this crisis, it is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.”
The original op-ed provided little information as to why Flynn had taken such a deep and detailed interest in Gulen, or in Turkey for that matter. An italicized bio note at the bottom of the piece read as follows. “Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn (ret.) is the former director of Defense Intelligence Agency and the author of New York Times Bestseller ‘The Field of Fight.'”
The current version of the story contains an editor’s note that accounts better for Flynn’s thing for U.S.-Turkey relations:
Editor’s Note: On March 8, 2017, four months after this article was published, General Flynn filed documents with the Federal government indicating that he earned $530,000 last fall for consulting work that might have aided the government of Turkey. In the filings, Flynn disclosed that he had received payments from Inovo BV, a Dutch company owned by a Turkish businessman with ties to Turkey’s president and that Inovo reviewed the draft before it was submitted to The Hill. Neither General Flynn nor his representatives disclosed this information when the essay was submitted.
According to the AP: The op-ed resulted from research that Flynn’s firm did under its arrangement with Inovo BV, though neither Inovo BV nor the Turkish government had “directed” him to do the op-ed. A news story in the Hill itself notes, “disclosures say there were no outside influences — including Inovo or the government of Turkey — that led to the op-ed, and Flynn was not paid to write it, according to the forms. But Flynn did send Inovo a draft before publication.”
The episode provides an embarrassing look into how power wiggles around in Washington. A paid advocate loves nothing so much as presenting its propaganda to the public garnished with the sprigs of journalism. Though news organizations try to guard against this practice, it happens. As this blog reported, former Indiana congressman Dan Burton in early 2015 managed to place pro-Azeri pieces in the Washington Times and the Daily Caller without mention of his role as chairman of the Azerbaijan America Alliance.
The key is editing. Though the editor’s note in the Hill indicates that Flynn & Co. hadn’t “disclosed” their clear conflict of interest with respect to the op-ed, that’s not really the point. Far more critical is this consideration: Did the Hill ask whether Flynn had any financial connection to Turkey, its government or anyone advocating on behalf of it? Did it ask whether this extended digression on the politics of Fethullah Gulen stemmed from anything other than an honest and impartial interest on Flynn’s part?
Another question: The Daily Caller’s Chuck Ross on Nov. 11 reported on Flynn’s connection with Inovo BV — per a congressional lobbying disclosure — as well as the absence of a disclosure in the Hill op-ed. Why did it take so long to add this information?
The Erik Wemple Blog’s attempts to interview the Hill on these questions have come up empty. Editor in Chief Bob Cusack didn’t respond to emails, and a spokeswoman for the outfit told this blog, “Bob is not available and the editor’s note speaks for itself.”