Part 3 of 3: Bilderberg and the Media
The sparseness of mainstream media coverage of Bilderberg’s meetings has long been a topic of concern for those who are wary of the annual gathering. This suspicion has evolved into a mythology that the mainstream media has conspired with Bilderberg’s leadership to suppress mention of its very existence. One key proponent of this mythology was the late Jim Tucker, who chased the Bilderbergers for many years for Spotlight and later American Free Press. In his Bilderberg Diary (2005), Tucker claimed there was a “virtually complete” media “blackout” on Bilderberg in the United States (p.4), with the major newspapers and TV networks having “participated in vows of secrecy” (p.5). Tucker claimed the Washington Post had only mentioned Bilderberg “four times” and the New York Times had just mentioned it once when “one of the luminaries died at a meeting and the obituary writer, and his editors, innocently let the world slip through” (p.7). More recently, Mark Dice’s book The Bilderberg Group Facts and Fiction (2015) sought to reinforce this mythology by making the questionable assertion that “for over half a century there wasn’t more than a peep about the meeting in the American mainstream media” (p.1), which he attributed to some mysterious “arrangement” between Bilderberg and the press (p.5).
As I have detailed elsewhere, none of these claims withstand close scrutiny. Major media outlets on both sides of the Atlantic have used the word “Bilderberg” with seeming impunity for decades, mentioning the location of the meetings, some of the people connected to it, and even leaked some details from the meetings. Tucker’s claims, for example, are easily refuted: a search on the New York Times archive finds 59 articles mentioning Bilderberg rather than just one and a search on the Washington Post archive finds 37 articles about Bilderberg (pre-1995) instead of only four. The issue is not the frequency of the reporting about Bilderberg, or even mentioning that it exists, but the quality. Despite all the reporting on the fact the meetings are happening, detailed reporting about what was actually said is and remains rare. The 2015 Telfs-Buchen meeting was no exception, with both the mainstream and the alternative media largely failing to penetrate Bilderberg’s veil.
Ignoring the Elephant in the Room: The Mainstream Media
As with previous years, the doyens of the alternative media initially accused their mainstream counterparts of largely ignoring the 2015 Bilderberg meeting. Infowars (Jun. 11, 2015), for example, charged that the “typical domestic media blackout” was in “full force”, and cited as evidence the failure of a slew of British, American and Canadian publications – the New York Times, Washington Post, National Post, Globe & Mail, The Economist, and the Financial Times – to report on the Telfs-Buchen meeting. Writing from Austria on the eve of the meeting, the American Free Press’ intrepid and permanently behatted reporter, Mark Anderson, focused on the “virtual European media failure” to cover it:
Still, what’s unsettling here is that while European media still report on Bilderberg more than the smug, careless and often-times handcuffed United States media, European coverage—developed through painstaking years of collaborative coverage by late Bilderberg hound James P. Tucker, Jr.—seems to be declining (AFP, 10 Jun. 2015).
The Guardian’s Charlie Skelton, who seemed to bridge both mainstream and alternative media, also had low expectations, making the sarcastic observation that the Telfs-Buchen conclave “is sure to be covered in depth by the world’s press. And by ‘sure to be’, I mean it probably won’t. For reasons that, as ever, escape me” (Guardian, 08 Jun. 2015).
But, as the alternative media representatives would later concede, this was not the whole picture as the mainstream media outlets did report on the Bilderberg meeting. Thus in his final wrap-up article, Anderson claimed due to the combined efforts of both the mainstream newspapers in Austria and alternative media outlets, “considerable pressure was applied against the Bilderbergers…” (AFP, 22 & 29 Jun. 2015, p.1). Even Skelton, interviewed after the meeting by Tony Gosling admitted that Bilderberg was being “taken seriously” by the mainstream media, citing as an example a BBC article that “did a good crunch of the numbers”, although he noted that the “British press didn’t bother to send anybody there.”
A review of some of the highlights shows that while the 2015 Bilderberg meeting was not entirely ignored by the mainstream media, that coverage still had its limitations:
- Despite being represented by their respective editor-in-chiefs, the level of reporting by The Economist and Bloomberg on the 2015 Bilderberg meeting was negligible. The Economist had nothing to report. Bloomberg offered a short slide presentation ( 11, 2015) naming some of the participants (including Bloomberg’s Editor-in-Chief) and discussion topics. It described Bilderberg as “the world’s most secretive summit” and noted “the talks will stay a secret.” Earlier, in April on BloombergPolitics, David Weigel tested Alex Jones’ claims that Jeb Bush was a potential Bilderberg participant. Weigel was sceptical, dismissing Jones’ for his “ever-spurting founts of Bilderberger panic.” After securing a denial from Jeb Bush’s communications director, Weigel ended on a note of cautionary sarcasm: “The idea of presidential candidates being anointed by secretive elites remains completely derangedand fictional.” But he linked to two mainstream media articles on the power of rich donors over US presidential candidates.
- Of particular interest was the reporting by Austrian newspaper, Der Standard, given that its publisher and editor Oscar Bronner had been a regular Bilderberg participant since 2009. In a 2013 interview in his own paper, Bronner had claimed there was “no conspiracy” at Bilderberg, it was merely a place for “[h]ighly interesting discussions on various topics from politics and business” (Der Standard, Oct. 18, 2013). Not surprisingly Der Standard opted to present Bilderberg in a positive light, while avoiding probing too deeply into what was discussed. Bilderberg’s benign purpose, claimed one report (Der Standard, Jun. 7, 2015), was to “strengthen the relations” between Europe and the US. In an attempt to refute activist claims the meeting was “undemocratic and untransparent”, another report insisted the meeting participants were of “the highest calibre” (Der Standard, Jun. 14, 2015). Bilderberg watchers, however, were subject to the usual ritual denunciation; a task performed with gusto by Der Standard opinion columnist Hans Rausche, who derided Bilderberg as the “mother of all conspiracy theories.” He added how Bilderberg’s supposed “perfidy” extended to having “public meetings in a hotel…publish[ing] a list of participants on the web” and allowing journalists to “reproduce content of the discussions, but without attribution to a particular person.” Bilderberg, Rauscher argued, might be a “halfway useful exchange of ideas”, but dismissed outright as “hard to believe” the claim that Bilderberg sought to “take over the world…” (Der Standard, Jun. 10, 2015).
- A number of Portuguese newspapers – Público, Obersvador, and RTP Noticías – all reported on the impending retirement of former Portuguese Prime Minister and Chairman of the Portuguese media conglomerate Impresa SGPS Francisco Pinto Balsemão from the Bilderberg Steering Committee, and the hand over to his nominated successor, former European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. Público had the exclusive, with Balsemão confirming his departure; the report also provided details of the Bilderberg structure, including the roles of the Steering Committee and Advisory Group. More intriguing was the report in Visão, one of Impresa’s publications, that not only quoted the opinions of Daniel Estulin, but declared the “truth” was that “all those who have been, are, or have prospects of becoming someone important in Portugal have participated in a Bilderberg meeting” [“…que todos os que, em Portugal, foram, são ou têm perspetivas para virem a ser alguém relevante passaram por uma reunião do Clube Bilderberg”].
- BBC Trust Chairman, Rona Fairchild was a participant at Telfs-Buchen, although she apparently did this in “a personal capacity” and was not representing the BBC Trust, according to the BBC response to a Freedom of Information request. BBC reporting on the 2015 event was sparse, amounting to one short article on participants (BBC, Jun. 12, 2015) and a 60-second video ( 11, 2015). More informative was a BBC News Magazine (Jun. 10, 2015) report that analysed the participant list, providing a breakdown of the nationality, gender and profession of those at Telfs-Buchen. The report sought to steer between conspiratorial and official interpretations, but acknowledged being invited to Bilderberg was “a sign that someone has arrived as a politician, business leader, administrator or influencer.”
- Another British paper, The Independent, described Bilderberg as a “weird elite group” (The Independent, Jun. 11, 2015), and suggested the “bosses” of US and European companies would use the meeting to “lobby politicians on the direction they believe Europe should take” (The Independent, Jun. 09, 2015). It also ran a useful piece analysing who had been invited (Jun. 08, 2015) and another article that highlighted that while the public might know where the meetings were held, who was attending, the broad topics, and that they “take security very seriously”; what was actually said remained unknown ( 09, 2015). Columnist Matthew Norman, however, was truer to form, arguing that once Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary—crudely disparaged in a classic display of anti-Irish prejudice, as that “eejit from Ryanair” —accepted the invitation to Telfs-Buchen, the Bilderberg group “mutated from SPECTRE into Dr Evil’s hapless outfit of goons in Austin Powers” (The Independent, Jun. 09, 2015).
- Perhaps the most interesting accounts came from Trine Eilertsen, political editor of Norway’s Aftenposten, who in addition to defending her participation at Telfs-Buchen, provided a range of albeit limited insights into the topics of deliberation and how she intended to use what she had learned. Bilderberg was “one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to”, Eilertsen told Journalisten (Jul. 29, 2015), the journal of Norwegian Union of Journalists, adding that she was “glad” she had participated.
- Germany’s Deutsche-Welle presented two reports, both of which provided some detail on the agenda and how Bilderberg meetings were organised. It noted that participants “give explanations and argue with each other, in 90-minute intervals”, and that the food at Watford, back in 2013 was “nothing special: typical buffet catering”, with participants forced to pay for the own wine (the horror!). Perhaps of greater value was that instead of a lengthy survey of every odd conspiracy theory, the DW reports mentioned the views of a number of academics including: sociologists Rudolf Stumberger and Hans-Jürgen Krysmanski; political scientists Kees van der Pijl, Ian Richardson (Bilderberg People) and Bjorn Wendt (Die Bilderberg-Gruppe); and historian Bernd Greiner. A few days after the conference, in one of the few leaks, Spiegel Online ( 17, 2015) cited the observations of one anonymous participant about the debate on Greece’s debt problem.
- Coverage by the US media was also quite meagre. The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and some news networks ignored it, but there were a few notable exceptions. CNBC ( 11, 2015), for example, had a brief report on the “world’s most secretive meeting”, quoting the opinions of Professor of Organization Business, Andre Spicer, that Bilderberg was responsible for creating “an ‘ideological groundwork’” for major policy decisions “across the world.” CNN Money (Jun. 11, 2015) also reported on the event, described being invited to Bilderberg as the “ultimate confirmation of VIP status.” Pando (Jun. 12, 2015), a US-based blog which focuses on the IT industry, ran a piece noting how Silicon Valley had managed to establish its own “clique” within the Bilderberg Group. Noting Google’s strong representation at Bilderberg, Pando opined this was consistent not only with “Big Tech’s continued takeover of older established institutions of power”, but also with “Google’s new role as the biggest lobbyist spender in Washington.”
- The Washington Times ran two reports, the first being two paragraphs in the gossipy “Inside The Beltway” column (Jun. 9, 2015) noting that David Petraeus would be there along with Kissinger, James Wolfensohn and Richard Perle; and that climate change was not on the agenda. The second article (Jun. 11, 2015) was more sceptical of Bilderberg’s importance quoting at length the soothing denials from Bilderberg’s official spokesperson and the supposedly expert opinion of Gary Schmitt a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Schmitt, who had never attended a Bilderberg meeting, dismissed the exclusive conclave as a “gabfest with nothing much done”, insisting that “nothing much comes out of it” and that Bilderberg has “had no impact for years and years, if its ever had much of any.” Bilderberg’s official spokesperson offered the official line and his comments on Bilderberg’s goals were generously reinterpreted by the Times as nothing more than “upscale schmoozing.”
So while claims of a total “media blackout” about Bilderberg are clearly untrue and inaccurate, in terms of both the volume and quality of the reporting, mainstream media coverage was sparse. This is particularly evident when the reporting on Bilderberg is compared to that devoted to other elite meetings, such as last month’s World Economic Forum (WEF). As shown in the charts below (see Figure 9) drawing on the Factiva data base and Google News, reporting on the closed-door Bilderberg meeting was meagre compared to the flood of reports devoted to the WEF annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
Figure 9: Factiva & Google News Search Results for Bilderberg (2015) and World Economic Forum (2016)
Another particularly unhelpful feature of the mainstream media’s coverage of Bilderberg was also very much in evidence: references to reptilian shapeshifters. This fits a now familiar pattern of mainstream journalists using David Icke’s reptilian shape-shifting theory not only to denigrate those who think the Bilderberg Group is more than just a conference, but as an excuse not to look further. James Tapfield, writing in the UK Mirror (Jun. 10, 2015), for example, found it necessary to refer to the “outlandish theories” that the Bilderberg Group was “run by a race of humanoid creatures descended from lizards.” By referring to the “humanoid lizardmen” in his summary of “all you need to know about Bilderberg”, Tapfield managed to taint the topic of his article.
In fact, it seems that no survey of the Bilderberg conspiracy theories was complete without mentioning Icke’s reptilians. Various wits had great sport noting that some Bilderberg conspiracists believed it was a venue for: “world domination by lizards” (Spectator); “interstellar reptilian humanoids” (TheJournal.ie); “lizard people” (AFP); “Lizardmen” (Spiegel); “shape-shifting reptilians” (Moscow Times); and “giant shape-shifting lizards” (The Week). This tactic did not pass entirely without comment. When Newstalk.com, the website of an Irish radio station, made mention of “lizard overlords” in its report on Bilderberg, a number of readers took issue with this transparent smear. As Disquis commenter noted, the intent behind making such a reference was obvious:
This embodies the paradox at the heart of mainstream media coverage of Bilderberg. On the one hand, as we have seen there was some useful factual, even slightly critical reporting being done about the Bilderberg Group; but on the other hand, the mainstream media was clearly more focused on ridiculing those who think Bilderberg warrants closer scrutiny, vilifying them as mentally defective conspiracists with a reptilian fixation. It seems that Bilderberg-watchers are considered a better and more important story than the meeting itself, as well as a perfect alibi for failing to probe Bilderberg any further. This conscious trivialization of Bilderberg by the mainstream media provides an opportunity for the alternative media to fill the void, but the results are not reassuring.
Pointing, But Not Touching: The Alternative Media
Gathered outside the Interalpen Hotel, or to be more precise, languishing several miles down the road in Telfs, were the usual suspects, members of the “alternative media”: the Infowars’ team of Paul Joseph Watson, Paul Drew and Josh Owens; Press for Truth’s Dan Dicks; Luke Rudkowski of We Are Change.org; and the American Free Press’s intrepid Mark Anderson. This group was accompanied by a number of other alternative media representatives from the US and Europe including: reporters from We Are Change Rotterdam and We Are Change Switzerland; Jeff Berwick from The Dollar Vigilante; “Volksreporters” from the German website Alles Schall und Rauch (ASR); and self-styled German “citizen journalist” Tilman Knechtel. These additions made up for the absence of some alternative media who had kept watch outside the Bilderberg meeting in Copenhagen last year, such as David K. Eggers, the “Mad Scandinavian Vlogger”, Age of Truth TV, and Whistleblower TV. Also missing were reporters from the John Birch Society’s flagship periodical The New American.
Charlie Skelton, as one the mainstream media’s few remaining correspondents in the area, viewed the performance of this band favourably; in fact, he contended, their very existence represented a strong challenge to Bilderberg’s media strategy:
It’s not the 1950s any more: you can’t just “have a quiet word” with half a dozen editors and keep a story out of the papers. You’ve got to deal with reporters like Dan Dicks and Luke Rudkowski, with their instant uploads and cameras hanging off every rucksack strap. You’ve got bloggers and citizen journalists, activists with Instagram accounts. News articles with comments sections and buttons to share them on social media. The news just doesn’t work the way it used to (Guardian, Jun. 15, 2015).
Skelton is right that the media environment has changed dramatically as the well-established print media in particular has been overtaken by the explosion in internet-based independent journalism. But Skelton also overestimates the ability of this new journalism to actually investigate Bilderberg effectively. The limitations of the alternative media had already been quite evident in their coverage of the Bilderberg meetings in Watford (2013) and Copenhagen (2014) where activism rather than investigation carried the day. Telfs-Buchen continued this trend. Granted, the alternative media worked hard to draw attention to the Bilderberg meeting they were locked out of, and to counter the shallow, uncritical and stenographic nature of most mainstream media coverage. But, when it came to actually delving into what occurred at the Interalpen Hotel, the alternative media performed as poorly as they had in 2014.
This was obvious well before the meeting even started, with the alternative media promoting a range of speculation on Bilderberg’s agenda that reflected their own concerns rather than any special insights. The claims of free-lance financial journalist Heiko Schrang provide a good example of this. A few weeks before Telfs-Buchen, and before Bilderberg issued its press release, Schrang claimed:
The abolition of the cash, in addition to the issues such as the Ukraine-conflict and the promotion of refugee flows to Europe, will be high on the agenda at this year’s Bilderberg meeting […] as one of its main objectives, the total control of every individual, comes frighteningly close. [Die Abschaffung des Bargelds wird neben den Themen Ukraine-Konflikt und die Förderung der Flüchtlingsströme nach Europa ganz oben auf der Agenda beim diesjährigen Bilderberger Treffen stehen. Sie würden so einem ihrer Hauptziele, der totalen Kontrolle jedes Einzelnen erschreckend nah kommen.]
Schrang’s claims, which did not seem to have a source and were caveated with his admission that this represented his “subjective point of view”, were picked up by Extrem News (May. 30, 2015) and by Alex Jones’ Prison Planet (Jun. 4, 2015). On June 5, Jones and one of his star reporters, Paul Joseph Watson, had an extended discussion that addressed Bilderberg’s supposed “agenda to ban cash.” Watson stayed with this theme, even after Bilderberg had released its key topics that did not mention a “cashless society” asserting in his expose of the “real agenda” that Bilderberg would be discussing “the abolition of cash.” His discourse also overlooked the fact neither of the leading proponents, of the “cashless society” model, Kenneth Rogoff from Harvard University and Willem Buiter, the Chief Economist at Citigroup (Infowars, May 27, 2015), were at Telfs-Buchen.
At Copenhagen the alternative media spent most of their time interviewing each other, while carrying out various stunts, as opposed to making any serious attempts at investigative journalism. Exactly the same behaviour—a focus on activism rather than journalism—was in evidence at Telfs-Buchen. The AFP’s Mark Anderson, for example, remained as committed as ever to talking to other activists, fronting up for numerous interviews including with: ASR Volksreporter; the Pete Santilli Show; We Are Change Rotterdam; Alexander Benesech from Recentr TV; Luke Rudkowski; and UK Column News. His dispatches from Telfs-Buchen were notable for providing updates on the activism and progress reports on mainstream media reporting rather than obtaining any insights from or access to the Bilderberg meeting itself.
In one of his dispatches, Anderson took a triumphant pose, declaring that the American Free Press “appeared to be the only established American national newspaper on hand to cover this ultra-exclusive, collusive, networking and planning session….” (AFP, Jun. 12, 2015). Yet when it came to revealing what was discussed, Anderson had little to offer. The AFP’s special Bilderberg issue produced just one unsourced claim that the Bilderbergers “debated” how to wage “economic warfare against Russia” (AFP, 22 & 29 Jun. 2015, p.1).
The quality of reporting from Infowars was little better. Despite over twenty articles about the meeting, and sending its three-person team of Watson, Drew and Owens to Telfs-Buchen, Infowars proved just as incapable as every other self-styled “investigative journalist” when it came to piercing Bilderberg’s veil. Ahead of the meeting they put out a number of pieces speculating on the Bilderberg agenda, including that Bilderberg were backing Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy, capital controls on consumers, mass surveillance and ingestible ID chips. During the meeting, however, the output of the Infowars team in Austria, on Twitter and in their Infowars dispatches focused almost entirely on the excesses of the security forces. This included five reports dealing with police harassment of reporters, the “Chernobyl style” exclusion zone, police harassment of a local boy, police use of hi-tech jamming, and police efforts to exclude the press.
More telling, was that Infowars interest in Bilderberg barely lasted as long as the meeting itself. When the meeting “key topics” list was released, for example, Watson prepared an article and video (Infowars, Jun. 10, 2015) that purported to reveal the “real agenda” at Telfs-Buchen, including a summation (see Figure 10) of what he believed would actually be discussed. Watson had clearly established some guidelines for assessing the outcomes of the Bilderberg meeting. Yet, once the meeting was over, there was no follow up.
Figure 10: Bilderberg’s ‘Real Agenda’ – As Explained by Paul Joseph Watson
The closest the Infowars team came to actually interacting with Bilderberg participants was the tabloidish chasing of the departing Bilderbergers at Innsbruck Airport. They confronted Bilderberg Steering Committee member and Vice Chair of Rothschild Europe Franco Bernabè, and Der Standard publisher Oscar Bronner. But this approach actually yielded very little information about the meeting itself. The failure of their reporting was most obvious in one of their final products, a five minute compilation video of Interalpen Hotel and the Bilderberg security measures, with a series of voice-overs from Alex Jones and a number of other unnamed contributors (Infowars, Jun. 14, 2015). Despite the theatrics, the video provided absolutely no revelations about the meeting itself, as a couple of disgruntled viewers on Youtube noted (see Figure 11). This was, unfortunately, consistent with most of the alternative media’s reporting.
Figure 11: Some Discouraging Words: What was the Infowars Team doing in Austria?
Other mainstays of Bilderberg reporting were also conspicuous by their absence or limited appearances. Daniel Estulin, author of The True Story of the Bilderberg Group (2007, 2009), fresh from being fired from Russia Today told Alex Jones that he had bunkered down some 40 km away in Innsbruck for the duration of the conference, but had sent a “cameraman incognito” to the police perimeter to obtain imagery for his forthcoming Bilderberg documentary. His post-meeting interviews with Jones and Sean Stone on Buzzsaw were strange rambling affairs, filled with obvious speculation and weird revelations; Estulin was also less emphatic about his Bilderberg “sources”. At one stage, Estulin told Stone he was “certain” Bilderberg’s alleged plans to deindustrialise the world and extract natural resources from the Moon would have been discussed; but he also admitted to having “no information” about whether the Iran nuclear deal was raised, even though Iran was listed as a topic.
Estulin also told Jones that the absence of IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde was surely a sign of forthcoming “changes in the IMF.” Except that, according to the Wall Street Journal (Jan. 22, 2016), Lagarde has now confirmed her intent to stand for a second term, telling French television that she had “receive[d] support from France, Germany, Great Britain, China, Korea, [and] Mexico.” Indeed, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, and frequent Bilderberg participant, George Osborne, declared he was “delighted” to support her nomination (BBC, Jan. 22, 2016), citing his belief Lagarde had the “vision, energy and acumen to help steer the global economy through the years ahead” (Guardian, Jun. 21, 2016).
In other interviews before and after the meeting, Estulin also seemed to walk back from his previous claims the Bilderberg Group “has the power and influence to impose its policies on any nation in the world” (ibid, p.43). On March 2, 2015, Estulin told Richie Allen that Bilderberg was but one of a number of elite “conveyor belts” for decisions actually made at a “much higher level.” Estulin suggested all secret meetings involving members of the elite were suspect, not just Bilderberg, mentioning the G7’s closed sessions and the confidential weekly meeting between the UK Prime Minister and the Queen Elizabeth II. Speaking to Sheila Zilinsky on WeekendVigilante (Jun. 17, 2015) Estulin suggested Bilderberg lacked its previous “gravitas” and was less powerful than it was in the 1950s and 1960s. He again mocked suggestions Bilderberg was a “one-eyed monster that controls world politics”, claimed that the “real decision making” occurred at “much higher levels.” He also dismissed long-time Bilderberger David Rockefeller as “ga-ga” (although the now 100-year old plutocrat, who has not attended a Bilderberg meeting since 2011, though clearly frail, seems lucid here – from 4:15) and claimed that the 92-year old Henry Kissinger was “not there, [his] brain doesn’t work well”, an assertion belied by Kissinger’s recent media appearances, including this “fireside chat” with fellow Bilderberger, Eric Schmidt.
This collective failure to actually discover the substance of the conversations inside the Interalpen Hotel highlighted the independent media’s real priority: political activism. This was also reflected in the priority afforded to sensational imagery as opposed to actual investigation. During his live chat with Paul Joseph Watson, for example, Alex Jones seemed more anxious to get Watson over to Austria “to get shots inside the hotel.” The sort of stunt that Jones had in mind was later achieved by Rudkowski, Dicks and Berwick, who managed to stay for one night at the Interalpen Hotel ahead of the arrival of the Bilderberg participants. Berwick presented a breathless account on TDV of how Dicks and Rudkowski,
went to take a look around the hotel and actually found the room where the conference was to be held. As far as we know it is the only time independent media has ever seen the actual room. Unfortunately just as they pulled out their cameras security guards started running towards them telling them they had to leave immediately.
This led to their expulsion from the Interalpen; but they were amply compensated with their stay unbilled and they were encouraged to raid their mini-bars. Viewing this tabloid excursion—which was well-covered by their admirers on the web—one is struck by the silence around the failure of this intrepid posse, especially self-styled “investigative journalists” Rudkowski and Dicks (see Figure 12), to develop any sources at the Interalpen Hotel, let alone amongst any of the participants.
Figure 12: Luke Rudkowski and Dan Dicks – ‘Investigative Journalists’
But this only highlights the dilemma and the problem behind this activism. Without more credible insights into what actually Bilderberg does, how it shapes and influences transatlantic policy-making, and why its activities are a morally questionable enterprise, the anti-Bilderberg activism will continue to be marginalised and denigrated. In short, protesting is not enough; a stronger case must be built for opposing Bilderberg and that can only be done through a real commitment to investigative reporting.
More Beanbags and Wurst Please
The absence of any incisive reporting on what actually transpired at the meeting would suggest that Bilderberg’s now decades old media-strategy—of using each annual gathering to feed ideas into to the public sphere anonymously while excluding reporters who will not abide by its secrecy requirements—remains intact. Over the years many journalists have taken issue with this approach, usually to no avail; and often without understanding the logic behind it. 2015 was no exception with The Guardian newspaper’s sole and persistently frustrated Bilderberg correspondent Charlie Skelton mounting an impassioned, if at times incoherent criticism of Bilderberg press relations.
At the heart of his critique was the superiority of the G7’s media strategy to that of Bilderberg. Skelton noted how at the G7 in Germany he had been “treated like a prince”, but now at Telfs-Buchen, the Bilderberg conference received “state security, but there’s no quid pro quo. No state-run press centre.” Arguing that Bilderberg was “an event worthy of attention” Skelton argued for a “press hut” and other courtesies, so he and his colleagues could be “treated like journalists” (Guardian, 10 Jun. 2015). In further dispatches Skelton complained about the police “treating a journalist like a criminal” (Guardian, 11 Jun. 2015); and the “cavernous lack of press co-operation” from Bilderberg. Skelton claimed it would be “wiser” and “more respectful” towards journalists if Bilderberg at least held a press conference like “what they used to do” (Guardian, 12 Jun. 2015).
In his final dispatch Skelton bemoaned the Austrian police’s heavy-handed tactics, including their unwillingness to fund a “much-needed press accreditation centre here.” Skelton claimed to “worry for the future of Bilderberg”, as he took issue with its “obstinate refusal to engage in proper press relations”, arguing the Bilderberg Group needed to “deal with reporters.” Coming across former Bilderberg Steering Committee member Francisco Pinto Balsemão at the Interalpen just after the meeting had finished, Skelton made his case for a better relationship with the media, asking if the Bilderberg could hold a press conference again. “Talvez”, Balsemão had replied. “Perhaps.” (Guardian, 15 Jun. 2015).
Yet it was hard to take Skelton’s arguments seriously – that the G7’s media strategy was somehow preferable to that of Bilderberg – given that Skelton had previously been critical of the G7’s lavish press centre with its beanbags, “steaming heaps of wurst”, and “lots of lovely footage and photos from the summit.” It was, he reflected, “unsettling”, the “conditions are too good”; the whole set-up was just “live theatre, orchestrated within an inch of its life”, making the G7 “just a giant press release.” Skelton then made this astute observation:
It’s all been made too easy for the journalists. I suspect that if a story is this easy to get, it’s not worth getting (Guardian, 08 Jun. 2015; emphasis added).
When it came to Bilderberg, however, it seemed the story was just too hard to get and Skelton begged Bilderberg to coddle him, to make his life easier by giving him a press centre and a press conference; and perhaps, secretly, he craved the comforts of the beanbags and wurst. Indeed Skelton was strangely repelled by the requirements of investigative journalism, evident in his description of his attempt to question Balsemão as “grubby”, as though bailing up a former Bilderberg Steering Committee member in a bar was somehow improper. Skelton was also clearly exhausted by Bilderberg’s wall of secrecy:
We’ll take anything. We’re tired of watching diplomatic passports being slid above tinted windows. Tired of politicians hiding their faces, and ministers refusing to talk about what they talked about. Tired of police officers who, when they aren’t hassling journalists, are lining up in ranks in front of limousines to obscure the view (Guardian, 12 Jun. 2015).
Demanding that the Bilderberg Group resume its press conferences is not without merit, it would at least provide some avenue for asking pointed questions about the meeting; but it should also be seen as giving up the chase. Skelton may feel nostalgic for the press conferences, and may even be as genuinely concerned for Bilderberg’s future as he claims, but in expressing such sentiments, he displays a misunderstanding about the logic behind Bilderberg’s media strategy. Essentially, the Bilderberg approach has been to use its deliberations to shape and influence public debate, but at the same time, it has consciously sought to tightly control, if not actively discourage, media coverage of the conference itself.
It is also important not to overstate the value of the press conferences that did happen, or to overlook the well-entrenched Bilderberg disdain for press reporting on what transpires at each meeting. Back in 1974, for example, according to an Associated Press report, Bilderberg Chairman Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, visited the press centre for that year’s meeting in Megève in France, where he,
announced who had been invited to the meeting and what the topics would be. He then declared there would be no more information on the three-day session and according to one French newsman aroused the wrath of assembled journalists by adding: “In fact, we just don’t want you around” (Amarillo Globe-Times, 21 Jun. 1974; emphasis added).
The 1975 meeting in Ceseme, Turkey, was also noteworthy for being preceded by a brief statement from Prince Bernhard covering some of the topics discussed, but at the conclusion of the conference the assembled journalists were snubbed, as a UPI report noted:
The bankers, politicians and businessmen taking part left by car and bus…immediately after the conference ended.
They gave nothing but a wave to newsmen who had waited to speak with them since Friday at the gate of the luxurious Altin Yunus Hotel on the shores of the Agean Sea.
Appointments promised to newsmen were not kept, and in accordance with the Bilderberg tradition, no statements were made to the press (San Bernardino County Sun, 28 Apr. 1975).
Possibly the only exception to this was when Bernhard’s successor, former British Prime Minister Lord Home, gave a press conference following the 1978 Bilderberg meeting in Princeton. As noted by an Associated Press report, Lord Home “spoke to reporters about the substance of the three days of meetings” (The Odessa American, Apr. 24, 1978). Though not noted at the time, this post-meeting press conference was a rare event; but it would mark a minor digression from Bilderberg’s standard press policy. In his Bilderberg Diary, Tucker implied that the post-meeting press conferences were discontinued, partially because the line of questioning from alternative media journalists such as himself made Bilderberg’s nominated spokesman uncomfortable (pp.21-25).
Bilderberg’s current line is that the pre-meeting press conferences were “held for several decades up until the nineties” but were “stopped due to a lack of interest.” For the 2015 conference, Bilderberg’s media spokesperson reaffirmed that Bilderberg had no intention of engaging with the media openly:
“While we understand and generally welcome the general interest in the conference, we simply cannot provide the levels of access or transparency that certain individuals or groups would like to see,” the spokesman said in an email. “To encourage the highest level of openness and dialogue among the participants, and to keep the private character of the meetings, all participants respect the Chatham House Rule” (Washington Times, Jun. 11, 2015; emphasis added).
In short, a press conference is unlikely to do much to increase the transparency of the Bilderberg Group because it has absolutely no interest in being transparent. Unfortunately for Skelton, obviously spoilt by the G7 press centre’s luxuries and German culinary delicacies, he must recognise the truth in his own words: that if a story is too easy to get it is “not worth getting.” If Skelton really believes that an interesting story lies behind Bilderberg’s closed doors, he must make the effort to get through them. That would require more imaginative approaches, including such tried and trusted methods such as cultivating contacts amongst hotel staff or even some of the first-time participants. Demanding a press hut from the sidelines is not going to work and could be taken as a sign after years of chasing Bilderberg that Skelton is perhaps thinking of throwing in the towel.
And that would be a shame.
Bilderberg and the Future
According to various unnamed officials, the 2015 G7 Leaders’ Summit was “a success” (Politico, Jun. 08, 2015); the German newspaper Die Welt also described it as a “complete and utter success.” At the post-meeting press conference German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly claimed the meeting had “showed once again that the G7 countries had more than just prosperity and economic power in common”, they also shared “common values” that made the G7 a “community of responsibility.” President Obama was also full of praise, hailing the G7 for demonstrating that “on the most pressing global challenges America and our allies stand united.” Not everyone was convinced the highly choreographed event had any value. A columnist in Die Zeit (Jun. 9, 2015) dismissed the G7 meeting as being “as political as a church convention” and argued that its “non-binding declarations of understanding” could have just as easily been agreed to in a telephone call.
The 2015 Bilderberg meeting, in contrast, with its leadership and participants all so conspicuously silent about what they discussed or achieved, could only be celebrated by its Austrian hosts as a successful police operation. Thus Tirol’s Police Director Helmet Tolmac told Der Standard (Jun. 15, 2015), reflecting on the G7-Biderberg operation, opined there had been a “happy balance” with: “No images of violence and escalation – there are positive images that we have sent out from Tyrol in the world.” Indeed, the Austrian authorities managed to conduct 7000 identity checks, made one arrest, applied coercive force five times, and charged one person with resisting the police. There was much to be proud of.
Perhaps the key lesson from the 2015 Bilderberg meeting is the resilience and effectiveness of the Group’s institutions and procedures. Despite Daniel Estulin’s repeated claims that Bilderberg Group is “losing its lustre” because of the passing of the older generation of transatlantic elitists, it is clear that it remains a credible and venerated fixture on the annual calendar of the so-called “Superclass.” Although Estulin is right that David Rockefeller no longer attends, and other long-term regulars, such as Henry Kissinger (he also mentions Zbigniew Brzezinski although he has not attended a Bilderberg meeting since 1985!) are quite elderly, generational change has not robbed Bilderberg of its relevance.
As we have already seen in Part 1, Bilderberg continues to attract the influential and powerful from both sides of the Atlantic. A close study of its participant lists reveals a host of individuals whose political and economic power is considerable and current, rather than merely of historical interest. Bilderberg survived the death of its founder Joseph Retinger in 1960. It also survived the resignation of its first Chairman, Prince Bernhard over the Lockheed bribery scandal in 1976 (though the 1976 Bilderberg meeting was cancelled). So it can certainly survive without the presence of David Rockefeller and, in due course, that of Henry Kissinger. New faces are already making their mark.
We can gain some insight into Bidlerberg’s resilience through reference to recent commentary on the persistence of the World Economic Forum. Despite finding some its speakers and themes “tired” and overfamiliar, David Rothkopf, the CEO and editor of Foreign Policy magazine, acknowledged the WEF remains popular for corporate leaders because “it is still the place they can get the most done in the shortest period of time. And frankly, if they are not there, they are likely to miss their best chance at getting a concentrated glimpse of the world ahead they are going to get anywhere.” Russ Alan Prince, writing in Forbes (Jan. 25, 2016), noted executives and representatives of the very wealthy, arranged in so-called single family offices, found the benefits of the WEF to be threefold:
- It was an “astounding opportunity to connect with key decision makers…”
- It provided access to “meetings outside the presentations…where more actionable insights are provided.”
- They also observed a “very identifiable hierarchy of influence” ranging from the “unmistakably powerful” down through their advisers, the merely “powerful” and then the “solely moneyed.”
All these observations also clearly apply to the Bilderberg Group, though with the added element of Bilderberg having a much smaller group of participants and being an entirely closed-door meeting with almost no overt public footprint. Prince also confirmed that Bilderberg remained an important part of this very exclusive networking milieu, noting that a “small but growing percentage” of the senior executives and family members of single-family offices were now focusing on those,
conferences and events geared for an international, diverse assembly of decision makers such as Bilderberg Meetings, the Milken Institute Global Conference, and Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting [emphasis added].
In commentary published just after the Telfs-Buchen meeting, Andrew Kakabadse, a Professor of Governance and Strategic Leadership at Henley Business School and a co-author of Bilderberg People (2011), argued that for all its flaws Bilderberg remains important:
Bilderberg is clearly influencing and establishing how wealth is thought about on a global basis. What we see and accept as normal and never question doesn’t occur by accident.
We call this smart power’ or ‘shaping.’ It is not about having a definite plan to make a specific investment or conspire against somebody or something. It’s more about arriving at a consensus around a position, which then infiltrates its way into society.
Consequentially, Bilderberg remains attractive for many in the Superclass because of its actual reputation as a key venue for elite networking and the mystique associated with the name and its secretive practices:
The lure of being invited, and seduction of being invited back again, shapes a mindset where attendees see themselves as being welcomed into the inner circle of the transnational elites.
Thus for now, Bilderberg’s future seems secure, so long as the transatlantic “Superclass” needs to meet confidentially to discuss issues of emerging importance, to try and reach a common understanding, to conduct informal diplomacy, and to shape and influence public debates. That it persists is also due to the ability of the Steering Committee to continue to: attract the powerful and influential; prepare a relevant and topical agenda; co-opt the mainstream media; marginalise its critics in the independent media, trivialising them and their concerns; and, above all, ensure that its walls of secrecy will not be breached. It is for these reasons that an end to Bilderberg seems a long way off and the 2015 meeting far from being the last…