The Stink Of Censorship: News Corpse BANNED On Reddit/Politics

That’s right. News Corpse was banned as an “Unacceptable Domain” by the martinets of virtue at Reddit.

[Update: After a prolonged dialogue, News Corpse was reinstated, it's honor restored, and you can now visit the previously expunged post]

[Update II: I spoke too soon. Another moderator has intervened to say that my website will continue to be banned even though he can't articulate a coherent reason why. So on it goes.]

Reddit Bans News Corpse

For the past few weeks there has been a raging battle on the Reddit forum for politics. Known as a “subreddit” (or sub) the Politics section was created to be a venue for discussion, debate, and the exchange of information. Unfortunately, recent decisions by the moderators resulted in a venue where that exchange has become something less than free.

The problems began when the moderators revised a list of banned sites that would be automatically removed from the politics sub. The list contains numerous news sites that are recognized as major contributors to the political discourse, including Alternet, The Heritage Foundation, Media Matters, Mother Jones, National Review, Reason, Salon, and ThinkProgress. [Mother Jones has since been reinstated]. The new policy was quickly denounced by the community at large who reamed the moderators as censors, McCarthyites, and myriad other displays of verbal waterboarding.

At first the moderators defended their actions as necessary to curb the alleged plague of what they called “blogspam,” “sensationalism,” or “bad journalism.” Obviously, it is impossible to fairly adjudicate most of these subjective principles without violating standards of free expression. The fact that respected journalists like the award-winning reporters at Mother Jones made the list is evidence of the foolishness of such lists. A politics discussion forum is supposed to be unfettered and open to broad-based opinions. By slapping blanket bans on the domains of credible media sites, the moderators exposed themselves to the criticisms and insults that, in many cases, they thoroughly deserved.

After a couple of weeks of torment, the moderators took a step back and reconsidered their new policy. They apologized for acting too swiftly, but not for the actual sin of imposing the bans. The community was not mollified by this tepid response and continued to hammer away at the moderators. The mods position at this point is that they will review the sites that were banned and reverse any that they deem to have been banned inappropriately. However, that reeks of putting random people in prison and then promising to arrange future trials whereby they may eventually earn their release. And it still leaves a handful of moderators in charge of the content to which some three million readers will have access.

Which brings us to the subject of this article. This morning a Reddit user named antistatusquo submitted an article from News Corpse. The submission was immediately removed and tagged as an “Unacceptable Domain.” When I noticed this I sent a message to the moderators to inquire as to why my domain was suddenly regarded as unacceptable. I was not on the banned list and never had been. The first response I got was from a new moderator who speculated that my Scarlet Letter was due to the fact that another website, Americans Against the Tea Party, which for some unexplained reason is on the banned list, has shared some of my articles on their Facebook page. What that has to do with my status on Reddit is a mystery, and it reveals a disturbingly ignorant grasp of social media. It also smacks of a sort of perverse guilt-by-association. What’s next, will they ask me to name names?

Later, a more experienced moderator responded who said that the removal of “my” post was simply because the domain was banned. I had to explain that the post that was removed was not mine (it was by antistatusquo), and that, in any case, the domain was not banned (unless they had a secret banned list that was not available to the public). After a few more back-and-forth messages, the mod determined that the whole thing was a mistake. The post was restored and the “unacceptable” tag was removed.

[As noted above, the ban was later reinstated by a different mod. His justification for doing so was an accusation that I had "spammed" on behalf of my website. He sent me his analysis, covering a full year, showing that about 17% of the articles I had submitted were from my website. However, the posted rules explicitly define spamming as "If a user submits to any one domain more than 33% of the time." So I was at about half of that threshold according to his own numbers. When I pointed this out to the mod he stopped responding to my messages]

The moral of this story is that censorship is not an innocuous act that can be toyed with without producing tangible harm. Once it is invoked it’s effects can spread and multiply. Reddit still has their banned list in place while they claim that they are reviewing the prisoners for possible parole. But in the interim, there are sites like mine that are getting caught up in the net of suppression without justification. Although the problem in my case was eventually resolved, the hours it took to do so resulted in the posting falling below many other subsequent posts so that fewer people would ever see it or have the opportunity to vote on it. [if you would like to visit it now, click here]

Hopefully the Politics sub moderators will quickly conclude that they made a terrible mistake and restore the banned domains and let the community vote on which they think are deserving or not. That is the whole concept behind the Reddit website, and it works brilliantly if the moderators will let it.

So F**cking What? Obama’s Clandestine Conspiracy To Go Golfing

With everything going on in the world today, much of the right-wing media has decided to make a federal case of President Obama playing golf with Tiger Woods and not permitting the media to tag along.

Fox News

How dare the White House shut the media out of Obama’s private time with a golf pro. What are they plotting? Is Woods giving the President advice on how to nail porn stars? Is Obama recruiting Woods to run the FEMA golf courses where wealthy conservatives will be incarcerated?

So F**king What?

Fox News White House correspondent Ed Henry bitterly complained that “There is a very simple but important principle we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead: transparency.” Henry’s devotion to hard-nosed journalism is admirable. He’s just the sort of uncompromising reporter who will expose the next Kardashian scandal.

And while we’re on that subject, Henry’s Fox News colleague, Charles Krauthammer, doesn’t concur with Henry’s assessment of the important principle here. When Krauthammer was asked about this breaking news he said “If the guy wants to play golf, the guy deserves a couple of days off. He wants privacy? Big deal… This is the biggest non-story the media have created since the Kardashian weddings.” The only thing Krauthammer missed was that the media responsible for creating this non-story was the one that pays his salary.

Not So Breitbart: Branding Sandra Fluke A Retroactive Public Figure

The legacy of Andrew Breitbart is safe in the hands of those who have assumed control of his Internet enterprise. It’s that legacy of lies, defamation, and ignorance, that endures in articles like the one posted yesterday that asserts that Sandra Fluke was a public figure when Rush Limbaugh broadcast a vile commentary that referred to her as a slut and a prostitute. And thus, she is fair game for libelous attacks.

It is rather dumbfounding that even after Limbaugh made an (insincere and weak) expression of regret, even after his advertisers have abandoned him in droves, apologists like the Breitbrats are still defending his boorish misogyny.

The column by William Bigelow begins by mocking President Obama for advocating public discourse “that doesn’t involve you being demeaned and insulted. Particularly when you’re a private citizen.” Bigelow then makes the argument that there is a legal basis for Fluke to be considered a public figure. He cites a Supreme Court opinion in the case of Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., which addressed the standards of libel for defamatory statements. In refuting the representation of Fluke as a private citizen, Bigelow wrote…

“According to the Supreme Court in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc. (1974), public figures include those who ‘have thrust themselves into the forefront of particular public controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved … they invite attention and comment.'”

Consistent with the Breitbartian proclivity for misrepresentation and taking edited content out of context, Bigelow deliberately quoted a brief portion of the opinion that described a commonly held view of what might constitute a public figure, but he left out the conclusive language that found that the plaintiff was not, in fact, a public person:

“We would not lightly assume that a citizen’s participation in community and professional affairs rendered him a public figure for all purposes. Absent clear evidence of general fame or notoriety in the community, and pervasive involvement in the affairs of society, an individual should not be deemed a public personality for all aspects of his life.”

The court found definitively that Gertz, was not a public figure. Nevertheless, Bigelow cites this case to try to prove that Fluke, who was unknown to the public when she was prohibited from appearing before a congressional committee hearing that almost nobody would have seen anyway, was a public figure.

It is not the least bit surprising that Bigelow chose this particular case with which to deceive his readers. The plaintiff, Elmer Gertz, was an attorney who had represented the family of man who was murdered by a Chicago police officer. The respondent, Robert Welch, Inc., is better known as the John Birch Society, a virulently racist and McCarthyesque anti-communist organization. I’m sure that the Breitbrats have a great affinity for the Birchers.

Next Bigelow makes a bold attempt to assert that Sarah Palin is not a public figure. Seriously! Sarah Palin, who was governor of Alaska and a candidate for Vice-President of the United States. Sarah Palin who is currently a Fox News political analyst and still floats hints of running for office. Bigelow contends that “Palin was just as much a private citizen as Fluke,” because she is no longer a governor. Sometimes the addled logic of these cretins is physically painful.

What apparently set Bigelow off on all of this is a statement Fluke made at a forum in Washington, D.C., where she said…

“Numerous American women have actually written to me in the last few weeks saying that I should run for office, and maybe someday I will.”

To which Bigelow sarcastically added, “Sandra Fluke. Private citizen. Yeah, right.” So it was that statement on which Bigelow based the entire premise of his article, as well as his assertion that Fluke was a public figure, even at the time that Limbaugh broadcast his attack. And that was all that was necessary for him to jump to the absurd conclusion that Fluke was somehow retroactively a public figure because weeks afterwards she would speculate that “someday” she “might” run for office.

What is really amazing about this is that anyone actually regards the Breitbrats as having any credibility whatsoever. After their promotion of deceitfully edited videos about ACORN, Shirley Sherrod, etc.; after their embarrassing episode with Hug-Gate, the Derrick Bell non-scandal; and now this incoherent excuse to prop up their hero Rush Limbaugh despite nearly universal condemnation of his abhorrent behavior, the fact that there are still some people who pay any attention at all to the Breitbrats is a sad commentary on a certain sector of the human race.

Rupert Murdoch’s Birthday Wish To His Staff: STFU You Wankers!

Rupert Murdoch

Congratulations are in order for Mr. Rupert Murdoch, the Chairman and CEO of News Corp, who turns 81 today. However, as he surveys the empire that he built he must be bitterly disappointed with the tunnel-blind miscreants he employs. Their obsessive, knee-jerk hostility to all things liberal has clouded their judgment in ways that harm the very interests they are being paid to serve. The result is a rash of friendly fire from within the ranks of Murdoch’s menagerie.

The first casualty is a victim in the Limbaugh-induced war of indecency. Intent on spreading blame to everyone but Limbaugh, Fox News has embarked on a crusade against any liberal (or perceived liberal) who may have said something controversial. It commenced with a Fox favorite for vilification, Bill Maher, but has now extended to comedian Louis CK. Fox News host Greta Van Susteren was so incensed that Louis CK was tapped to provide the comic relief at the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner that she publicly protested, called him a pig, and declared that she was initiating a boycott of the event. Subsequently, Louis CK dropped the gig. This is an unwelcome birthday gift for Rupert because the comedian also happens to be the star of “Louis” on his FX cable channel.

Next up is the battle between Fox News contributors. Tucker Carlson, one of said contributors, wrote an editorial on his DailyCaller blog that attempted to illustrate a hypocrisy in the media coverage of the Limbaugh controversy. Unfortunately, Carlson chose to include in his example the former LAPD officer Mark Furhman, who is best known for his use of racial epithets that was disclosed during the OJ Simpson trial. Carlson mocked Furhman as a pariah who is probably out of work, and deservedly so because “Nobody wants to be seen with a bigot.” The problem is that Furhman is actually employed by the same Fox News that employs Carlson. So not only is Carlson seen with Furhman, they are colleagues. All one big happy family of bigots. That can’t be making Rupert’s birthday any more joyful.

This is just the sort of thing that can occur when people are so blinded by their prejudices that they lose all sight of anything but their determination to harm their perceived enemies. The ultimate example of this mental defect occurred when Glenn Beck called Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal a terrorist. Alwaleed is the second largest shareholder of News Corp stock outside of the Murdoch family, and a close friend and business partner of Murdoch.

So anyway, happy birthday, Rupert. And good luck with that loathsome collection of reprobates you call a news team.

Vietnam Veterans of America Demand An Apology From Fox News

The despicable remarks from Fox News commentator Liz Trotta last week are still reverberating through the ranks of the military and the civilian populace as well.

Liz Trotta

Trotta, attempting to dismiss reports that sexual assault had increased 64%, admonished women for complaining saying “What did they expect? These people are in close contact. She added her disapproval of support for programs that serve “women in the military who are now being raped too much.” She did not define what the acceptable amount of rape would be.

These comments were properly condemned by a wide variety of people in and out of the armed services. Now the Vietnam Veterans of America has issued a press release that expresses the thoughts of all decent Americans and demands that Fox News hold Trotta accountable.

“As veterans who fought to uphold our Constitution, we hold sacred all the rights it insures, said Rowan. “As such, we are appalled that Ms. Trotta would use the Fourth Estate as a vehicle to condone the criminal acts of some by contending that sexual assault in the military is ‘expected’ behavior. It is a disgrace that FOX would stand behind this type of commentary. Ms. Trotta owes the men and women of our military and those in the veterans’ ranks an apology, and VVA believes FOX should demand it of her.”

Trotta responded to the criticism yesterday in a manner that only makes matters worse. She began by implying that any account of heroism on the part of women soldiers amounts to “silly and dishonest fairy tales.” She went on to disparage their competency saying that “their instincts and reactions in crisis are markedly different [from men].” But worst of all she reiterated her belief that “biology is destiny” and that sexual assault is inevitable. She regards the basest criminal tendencies of the lowest forms of behavior as superior to common decency, respect and military training. Shes says that…

“…the environment of combat by definition sets up a situation where basic instincts rule. The niceties of male-female interaction fade in this arena, and any scientist will tell you that testosterone rules.”

This is not just an affront to patriotic women who choose to serve their country, it is an insult to every man in uniform. Trotta believes that male soldiers can be ordered to risk their lives by charging up an enemy held hill, but that they can’t follow an order to refrain from raping their comrades.

On top of everything else, the response Trotta delivered on air was a phony play acted out by her and the Fox host Eric Shawn. It was plain that she was reading her remarks and Shawn was asking the questions that were obviously a part of the script. Somebody at Fox apparently thought it was necessary to control the message so tightly that they had to put on this embarrassing charade. And they also thought that it was unnecessary to apologize to everyone they offended.

Please let Fox News know that this abhorrent rhetoric is unacceptable. You can email Fox here and sign this petition calling for Fox to dismiss Trotta and apologize.

U.S. Falls to 47th Place On Press Freedom Index

Reporters Without Borders released their annual Press Freedom Index today that ranks 179 countries for their treatment of journalists and respect for a free and independent press. There were some points of light internationally, but as their report notes:

“Crackdown was the word of the year in 2011. Never has freedom of information been so closely associated with democracy. Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much. Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous.”

The United States performed particularly poorly, dropping 27 places this year to 47th worldwide. When compared only to the 20 largest nations (by GDP), the U.S. came in at #11, behind countries like Taiwan and South Korea.

The precipitous decline was attributed to the surge in arrests of reporters at Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. There was a notable pattern of both arrests and assaults by law enforcement of journalists covering the events. Last November the Society of Professional Journalists issued a condemnation of such practices and called on…

“…city administrators across the country to drop charges against journalists arrested while covering the Occupy Wall Street and related protests.”

Josh Stearns of FreePress.net has been tracking the arrests and harassment of journalists across the country. To date he has identified 36 victims. But this list is not comprehensive. One incident that was left out involved reporters from a Fox News affiliate (of all places) in New York who were covering the protests when they were embroiled in a chaotic scuffle that resulted in the photographer getting maced and the reporter getting struck by a police baton.

This is an embarrassing development for a country whose Constitution explicitly protects freedom of the press. It indicates that we still have some work to do and that eternal vigilance is not just a figure of speech..

Wall Street Journal Launches Its Own WikiLeaks

The Wall Street Journal has gone into competition with WikiLeaks. They just launched the web site Safehouse where they are soliciting secrets that would ostensibly expose fraud and abuse. The site asks visitors to send in “newsworthy contracts, correspondence, emails, financial records or databases from companies, government agencies or non-profits.”

The interesting thing about this is that it puts the Wall Street Journal in the position of emulating an avowedly anarchist enterprise. I happen to believe that WikiLeaks serves a useful purpose by promoting transparency in public institutions, despite their controversial tactics. There is a role for that in the media as well, but the tactical approach should be consistent with the standards of journalistic ethics.

In that regard the Journal ought not to be encouraging people to break the law. And that is, in effect, what they are doing. The contributions they are seeking are likely to be private materials that are proprietary and confidential. By providing these materials to the Journal, the sources are exposing themselves to legal liabilities. The Journal implies that submissions can be made anonymously, but a reading of the terms of service reveals that the Journal “cannot ensure complete anonymity” and that it “does not make any representations regarding confidentiality.”

In addition, the terms of service, to which you are assumed to have agreed, stipulate that your use may not “violate laws, regulations or rulings, infringe upon another person’s rights, or violate the terms of this Agreement.” Consequently, after taking the risk of providing the data, the Journal sets you adrift legally by holding themselves harmless in the event that your disclosures were unlawful. And to drive home that point they state explicitly that “Dow Jones is not responsible to you in any way for any loss, damage, civil claims, criminal charges, or injury that result, directly or indirectly, from your use of SafeHouse.” So they get all the benefit, but you take all the risk.

It is that sort of disclaimer that differentiates Safehouse from WikiLeaks. Anything you provide to WikiLeaks is completely anonymous without your having to request it. The ghostly, non-profit site exists in a quasi-legal state that protects whistle-blowers without disclaimers and exceptions. The Wall Street Journal exists to make money and spread the rightist ideology of its owner, Rupert Murdoch. That makes dealing with Safehouse a precarious proposition.

Other news organizations are already entering this field. The New York Times and Washington Post are said to have projects in the works. al-Jazeera has already launched its Transparency Unit, which has none of the conditions of Safehouse. Therefore, there are far better options for nervous whistle-blowers than the one offered by the Journal. And remember, the Journal is part of a media empire that includes disreputable outfits like Fox News, the New York Post, and the Times of London.

I would be wary of trusting the Journal in any case due to the general hostility of the right toward WikiLeaks, whom many on the right regard as agents of espionage. There are conservatives who have publicly called for the execution of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ founder. The possibility of the Journal’s editors taking your data and turning you in is not difficult to imagine. With all of their legalese drafted to protect themselves, it doesn’t seem like a particularly safe house.

[Update] Due to the universally negative reception for Safehouse, the Wall Street Journal was forced to issue a press release in response. It said in part…

“There is nothing more sacred than our sources; we are committed to protecting them to the fullest extent possible under the law. Because there is no way to predict the breadth of information that might be submitted through SafeHouse, the terms of use reserve certain rights in order to provide flexibility to react to extraordinary circumstances. But as always, our number one priority is protecting our sources.”

Obviously protecting their sources is not their number one priority because in the sentence just prior they admit that the reservation of “certain rights” takes precedence over the protection of sources. And exercising those rights puts the source at risk. So unless you have some perverse desire to be ratted out, arrested, or sued, stay as far away from this un-Safehouse as possible.

The Real Reason Glenn Beck Is Bashing Google

It’s getting harder and harder to keep up with Glenn Beck’s conspiracy delusions. If it isn’t health care reform being a backdoor to reparations for slavery, it’s Cash-for-Clunkers being a plot to let the government take control of your computer. Or food safety regulations being an excuse to raise prices so that people starve. Or that chemical trails from airplanes are actually missiles from a Chinese submarine off the coast of Santa Monica.

Lately Beck has taken to accusing Google of somehow being in cahoots with the federal government to foment unrest around the world or recruit our youth into socialist conclaves or … who knows what. He is certain that whatever it is, it is evil. On Monday’s program Beck gave this ominous warning to his legion of disciples:

“May I recommend, if you’re doing your own homework, don’t do a Google search. Seems to me that Google is pretty deeply in bed with the government. Maybe this is explaining why Google is being kicked out of all the other countries? Are they just a shill now for the United States government?”

Beck continued his assault on Google today, accusing it of being a hard-left enterprise with ties to many of his favorite enemies. These include FreePress.net, the Tides Foundation, MoveOn.org, Van Jones, and (gasp) George Soros.

So what got Beck’s panties in a bunch over Google? Is he really disturbed by its size and lack of respect for privacy? He never really cared that much about those issues if it were Koch Industries or Microsoft. In fact he ordinarily celebrates large, successful, intrusive business like banks or insurance companies as representative of America’s opportunity. Is it his innate distrust of technology and youth culture? He clearly has an animosity toward young people and an affinity for an analog past that favors blackboards over digital displays.

These things may tell a part of the story, but there is something more fundamental that may explain Beck’s Google bashing. His boss, Rupert Murdoch, has had it in for Google for about a year now. He believes that Google is appropriating his content and failing to compensate him for it, and he has taken this battle to extremes asking, “Should we be allowing Google to steal all our copyrights?”

Of course, Google is doing no such thing. They are simply aggregating news from many sites across the web. They are providing links to Murdoch’s web sites, and others, that actually increase traffic and revenue. And this is something he could stop easily at any time with one line of code that would block Google from including his sites. What’s more, Murdoch does the very same sort of news aggregation on many of his own sites like Fox Nation. But the issue is that Murdoch wants to force Google to pay him for the extra business they send his way and Google had the audacity to decline.

Another wrinkle involves Murdoch’s brand new iPad-only application, The Daily. Murdoch has high hopes for this fee-based news product. He has said that it is the future of news and that it will be the cornerstone of his news empire going forward. He launched it in conjunction with Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who will also share in the earnings. Apple also announced that it is offering a new service that will provide access to other news and magazine publications on a subscription basis. That service will be competing with a similar service recently announced by Google.

Google is also competing with Apple on cell phones and cell phone operating systems, Internet browsers, advertising, and even computer tablets. So Murdoch’s partner and publisher, Apple, will be going up against Google in numerous businesses, including his cherished iPad app, The Daily.

Glenn Beck is a notorious profit whore. He exploits every type of media available. And he sells, not just advertising, but his own endorsement, to gold dealers, survivalist gear, and right-wing lobbyists. Should we be suspicious that Beck is now attacking Google when his employer is in fierce competition with them? Well, only if we are already suspicious of Beck for being otherwise obsessively driven by a profit motive, so you tell me. Do your own homework.

[Update 2/17/11:] Beck is apparently feeling the heat after embarking on a another paranoid journey down a conspiracy riddled path with regard to Google. He must have gotten some complaints because now he is backtracking and attempting to soften his stance. He whined on his radio program this morning that he is being wrongly accused of advocating a boycott of Google.

It is true that he told his TV viewers yesterday that he was against boycotts and wasn’t calling for one. But can you really assert that you are not calling for a boycott after ranting that Google is in bed with an evil government; is aligned with radical leftists; is fomenting violent uprisings; and is engaged in espionage? Then he explicitly told his audience not to use Google, and even posted a video on his web site instructing people on how to find alternatives. But he’s not calling for a boycott? He must have another name for it.

This is similar to how Beck incites violence and then denies that he has done so. He tells viewers that Francis Fox Piven, or George Soros, or whatever enemy he is fixated on that day, that they are evil incarnate; that they are working to destroy America; that they are determined to harm you and your family, and to blaspheme your God. Then, after building a frightening case for imminent danger on your doorstep, he says that he doesn’t believe in violence. Yeah, right. But you should do your own homework. If you believe in violence, well then…..

It’s Time For Some REAL Liberal Media

The American media landscape has long been dominated by giant, multinational corporations whose interests have never been aligned with those of the people they purport to serve. It doesn’t take a great mental exertion to observe the divergent aspirations of a population that is concerned with jobs, education, health care, and the welfare of their families, and a business enterprise that is concerned with profits, deregulation, protected markets, and returning value to shareholders. A corporate-managed news operation simply cannot represent the interests of their Wall Street board and their Elm Street audience at the same time.

Over the years there have been some heated debates about the absence of a media platform that represents real people’s issues, particularly from a liberal perspective. The right has had Fox News for 14 years, but nothing remotely similar exists for the left. To the extent that MSNBC comes close, it is still not equivalent. MSNBC never took the explicit role of advocating for party politics in the all-consuming way that Fox does for the GOP. Not that I would want a liberal media outfit to take up with the Democrats. I’m just noting the distinction.

The recent controversy over the suspension of Keith Olbermann for making a few donations to Democratic candidates illustrates the inadequacy of having to rely on another right-wing, corporate parent to satisfy our media appetite. And it magnifies the differences between Fox and MSNBC. Fox would never contemplate removing their most successful anchors from the air over something like that. Fox doesn’t even contemplate reprimanding their anchors when they brazenly lie, overtly incite violence, or call our president a racist. But MSNBC had no qualms about imposing a severe and embarrassing punishment on someone whose political leanings were already well known. As Sen. Bernie Sanders said about the NBC/Comcast deal:

“We do not need another media giant run by a Republican supporter of George W. Bush. That is the lesson we should learn from the Keith Olbermann suspension.”

In the past, I have not been particularly enthusiastic about the idea of building a liberal media enterprise. Not because I don’t think it’s important, but because it would be prohibitively expensive to do it right. Air America is a sad example of what happens without sufficient support and capitol. There are many additional reasons to be pessimistic about such an enterprise, i.e. it would be a risky venture that would require a long-term commitment. Rupert Murdoch deficit-financed Fox News for at least five years; radio and cable channel access is scarce and difficult to acquire; bona fide talent, both on the air and in the executive suites, is hard to recruit; and building any business from scratch is fraught with fiscal danger and obstacles.

However, we may have an opportunity today that has not been available in the past. Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator is in the process of acquiring NBC/Universal. It is a merger that has raised red flags for many media watchdogs who are concerned about the concentration of power that has been getting progressively worse year after year. And Comcast is a conservative-run business that would further tilt the press to the right. Free Press and other reform groups are actively lobbying to oppose approval of the merger by federal agencies. And therein lies our opportunity.

Comcast wants very much to smooth the path for approval of their acquisition of NBC/U. So perhaps they could be persuaded to trade something of value for an agreement to drop opposition. What I would propose is that Comcast agree to divest itself of NBC News prior to the merger. Specifics of such a transaction would have to be worked out but would center around the divestiture of NBC’s news operations, the MSNBC cable network, CNBC, and the related Internet properties. Comcast would still get the NBC broadcast network, the lucrative USA cable network, Bravo, SyFy, and Telemundo. These networks form the basis of the syndication strategy for the NBC entertainment group. And, of course, they would also still have the NBC television station group and the Universal Studios and theme parks.

What makes this proposal viable is that the new media group splitting off is already a profitable business. It would not face the risks associated with building a business from scratch. It already has cable access to most of the country. And it is already staffed with proven talent and executives. MSNBC and CNBC are both profitable in their present form and would likely continue to be.

For this to work there would need to be an acquiring entity and financing. The money could come from a consortium that might include people like Ted Turner, Al Gore, George Soros, Steve Case, David Geffen, and/or Bill Gates. There’s no shortage of available billionaires. And ideally there would be an existing media enterprise that this could be folded into. Some examples might be Tribune, Gannett, or the Washington Post Company.

A requirement for agreeing to this would be a promise to appoint credible, progressive, experienced executives to run the news operations. It would be imperative that the management team be committed to quality, ethical journalism. It would have to be the sort of business that valued investigative projects and was unafraid of controversy. And it must be open to partnering with relevant and respectable media reform groups like Free Press, the Poynter Institute, the Schumann Center, the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center, Media Matters, etc.

By forming a new company in this fashion we would benefit by producing honest, progressive news content; by establishing a baseline for journalistic ethics; by not having to suffer the indignities of hare-brained lackeys like Phil Griffin, the man who suspended Olbermann and is likely already sucking up to his future conservative bosses at Comcast; and by preventing another media merger that would have exacerbated the problem of concentrated power in the press. And as for Comcast, they would benefit by easing their path to the acquisition of NBC/U. There may never be a better opportunity to negotiate a deal that could produce a real liberal media outlet – for a change. And that wouldn’t be a bad name for the channel: Real Media: For a Change.

None of this will be easy. The proposed merger is already a complex arrangement that could fall apart if someone pulls the wrong thread. But it would be worth exploring. If MSNBC is presently the only allegedly liberal news channel on the dial, then it shouldn’t have to cower in the shadow of right-wing masters who can slap them down if they get too uppity. They should have the freedom to express themselves without fear of reprisal. And if that environment can be created through a spinoff of the NBC news division, then it may be worth it to let the rest of the Comcast transaction go forward.

Dick Cheney’s Campaign Of Treason Is Unraveling

Since at least last May, I have been unveiling the efforts of extremist right-wing politicians and pundits to signal our enemies in Al Qaeda that now is the time to strike (See: The Republican Advance Team For Terrorism). They have been waving their arms excitedly and shouting to anyone who will listen that America is less safe and, therefore, vulnerable. They have been partnering with their pals in the press to make sure that the message gets out. And they know full well that the enemy is paying attention.

Dick Cheney is the de facto leader of this forward brigade. He outlined the theme over five years ago when he said:

“Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness.”

And ever since Barack Obama took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Cheney and his comrades have endeavored to produce the very perception of weakness about which he pretended to warn. The question is, how does announcing to the terrorists that our nation is weaker make us safer? Are they just pasting a big bulls eye on America and hoping for an “I told you so” moment? I desperately hope that that’s not the case, but there aren’t many other plausible explanations.

Finally, some in the media are beginning to recognize the danger into which Cheney et al are leading us:

Keith Olbermann: “We are at war,” Dick Cheney came down from Mt. Megalomaina to announce, “and when President Obama pretends we are not it makes us less safe.” If Mr. Cheney believes we are at war, then he, as the most recent former occupant of the vice-presidency is under the strictest obligations to put aside his case of terminal partisanship and rally to the support of his president at a time of war. Instead his remarks not only give encouragement to the enemies of this country, they give them an exact measure as to how successful they have been in damaging our freedoms.

Jonathan Alter: The problem I think we have now is sort of crystallized by former Vice-President Cheney’s role in this debate. I think that he has actually gotten to a place where he is actually emboldening the terrorists.

It’s about time that these traitors are called to account for their actions. If they believe that our country is at risk, they should consult privately with the administration and/or national security officials to alleviate that risk. They could work behind the scenes to close any security gaps and contribute to enhancing our safety without alerting the enemy to our alleged shortcomings. They certainly should not be coaching the opposing team from the sidelines.

It is bad enough that Americans have had to surrender so many basic freedoms in the face of terrorist threats. And every new attempt results in another knee-jerk response to prohibit an otherwise ordinary activity. This continually tightening noose of restrictions that we are forced to endure can only be celebrated by our enemies. They know they can alter our way of life and each time they do they gain encouragement to proceed. As I wrote in my 2006 ode to the Pre-9/11 Mindset:

They’ve seen the passage of the Patriot Act that limits long-held freedoms. They’ve seen our government listening in on our phone calls and monitoring our financial transactions. They see us lining up at airport terminals shoeless and forced to surrender our shampoo and Evian water. They see us mourning the loss of our sons and daughters who are not even engaged in battle with the 9/11 perpetrators. They see us as fearful and submissive. Is this not emboldening the terrorists for whom this perception of weakness will be seen as yet another invitation to attack?

We need to find a way to defend ourselves that protects both our lives and our way of life. We cannot allow terrorists to take control of our daily affairs. When they observe the effect of their attacks, even those that don’t succeed, they regard it as a victory. They cheer as we establish ever more restrictive and intrusive policies that cost us billions of dollars. They see themselves as winning tactically and at the same time draining our financial resources, which is a prime objective of theirs.

This is unacceptable. And the irresponsible, unpatriotic actions of Dick Cheney and company play right into the hands of the enemy. It is good to see Olbermann and Alter honestly discuss the vile and reckless behavior of these rightist thugs. It would be even better if more of the media were equally as candid. But this is a start and it should be encouraged. Because if the Cheneys of the world have their way it will be a dark world indeed.

Bush Justice Department Harrassed Indymedia

CBS News is reporting that the U.S. Department of Justice sent a formal request to an independent news site ordering it to provide details of all reader visits on a certain day. U.S. Attorney Tim Morrison in Indianapolis, issued subpoenas to Indymedia.us demanding information that included e-mail and IP addresses, Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, etc. There was also a demand that Indymedia not disclose to anyone that they had received the subpoenas.

This was an unprecedented affront to both freedom of the press and the right to privacy for citizens who happened to visit a particular web site. Indymedia sought advice from the Electronic Frontier Foundation who succeeded in getting the subpoenas withdrawn. However, many questions remain. There was never any disclosure as to the criminal case that was being investigated by Justice Department. The subpoenas themselves were improper, as was the gag order, but no one in the Justice Department is commenting on that.

An amusing side note to this is that rightist media groups are framing this as an abuse of power by the Obama administration. Although this is just now coming to light, they fail to note that the investigation began during the Bush administration, months before the election in 2008. The date specified in the subpoena for the information they were seeking was June 25, 2008. The subpoena itself was issued on January 22, 2009, just two days after Obama was inaugurated. Obviously the investigation had to precede the issuance of subpoenas.

As further evidence of Obama’s culpability, it was noted that subpoenas to the media have to be approved by the Attorney General. The right-wing leaped on this factoid to accuse Obama’s AG, Eric Holder, of complicity in this outrageous act. Unfortunately for that theory, Holder was not confirmed to the position until February 2, 2009, after the subpoenas had already been sent.

So the whole affair was conducted by the Bush Department of Justice, with a Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney (Morrison), and an acting AG who was also left over from Bush’s administration. This is typical of the Bush regime’s disrespect for freedom of the press. And the response from the right is typical of their embrace of disinformation and propaganda.

Behavior like this by officials in law enforcement is unconscionable, and should not be tolerated by any administration. It appears that the Obama administration did the right thing when it was brought to their attention by withdrawing the subpoenas, but they need to go further and reveal the nature of the investigation that led to this action, and the role of Bush officials in the affair. And it would also be nice if they would make a statement disapproving of such behavior and declaring it outside the policy of this administration.

Republicans Form Phony Fairness Caucus On Media

Texas Representative Lamar Smith has announced the formation of the Media Fairness Caucus in the House of Representatives. This would be a pretty funny venture if only because he asserts that the mission of his caucus is for…

“…the American people to get the facts and then be allowed to make up their own minds, not be told what to think. When you have network news programs and front pages of national newspapers reading like an editorial page or sounding like an oral editorial, then the American people aren’t getting the facts, they’re not getting the objective news. They’re getting opinion. And if all they do is hear is one side, that does have an impact over time.”

It sounds like Smith is launching a war against Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. But that can’t be. His caucus is apparently open only to Republicans who will busy themselves with writing letters to editors and making one minute speeches on the House floor. There doesn’t appear to be any substantive agenda for the caucus other than working the refs. And the only venues for the announcement of the caucus have been Fox News and the ultra-right wing NewsMax.

Smith is a few years behind the curve with regard to House media caucuses. Democrat Maurice Hinchey has already convened the Future of American Media Caucus with a mandate to reform ownership regulations and promote greater independence and diversity. Hinchey’s group is open to all members of Congress who seek to bring real reform that addresses the root causes of media bias and faulty journalism.

The truly remarkable thing about Smith’s announcement, however, is that Smith ranks the liberal media bias that he is imagining as…

“…the greatest threat to our democracy today.”

That’s right – a bigger threat to the nation than a terrorist attack or a depression. And it is from this perspective that he hopes to fashion the return of objective and responsible reporting. Good work, Lamar.

Morley Safer Doesn’t Trust Citizen Journalism

Veteran newsman and 60 Minutes correspondent, Morley Safer, just won the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award from Quinnipiac University’s School of Communications. His long and distinguished career certainly justifies receiving this honor. It’s too bad he had to spoil the ceremony with the crotchety old man impression that he must have picked up from Andy Rooney.

In an attempt to address his concern for the withering state of newspapers, Safer warned that the medium’s decline “threatens all of journalism and, by extension, our precarious right to know.” He stated his belief that newspapers provide the source material for stories presented in other mediums. There is a case to be made for these assertions, but he went too far when he attacked new media, characterizing it as crammed with nuts:

“The blogosphere is no alternative, crammed as it is with the ravings and manipulations of every nut with a keyboard. Good journalism is structured and structure means responsibility,” he said. He added later, “…I would trust citizen journalism as much as I would trust citizen surgery.”

If Safer is really concerned with responsibility, he ought not to lash out indiscriminately at online journalism. If he wants to cast a net around “every nut with a keyboard,” and label them all journalists, then I should be able to do the same with his medium and every nut with a microphone.

Surely there are manipulative ravers on the Internet, but they could hardly be called journalists. The same is true with television and newspapers. Josh Marshall (a reporter of proven reliability) and Michelle Malkin (a purveyor of bias and propaganda), are two completely different species. Credible and principled Internet journalists would cringe at the thought of being associated with likes of Matt Drudge. Would Safer fare any better by being lumped together with Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck? Does Safer think that Ann Coulter brings honor to the newspapers who carry her column? Does he think that the National Enquirer or the New York Post are structured and responsible? If Safer wants to draw parallels between online reporters with their old media equivalents, he should not be making apples to idiots comparisons.

It would also be helpful if Safer refrained from disparaging the public at large. Safer’s analogy to “citizen surgery” carries an insulting implication that “citizen” equates to “unqualified.” Many citizens are quite capable of producing good journalism. And, perhaps to Safer’s surprise, some journalists are, in fact, good citizens. The two designations are not mutually exclusive. A better analogy might compare a modern surgeon with an old-school sawbones who refused to use an MRI or other advanced technologies. I expect that most people would prefer the modern surgeon. And as it turns out, most people prefer new media, as demonstrated in this poll:

  • 67% believe traditional journalism is out of touch with what Americans want from their news.
  • 32% said Internet sites are their most trusted source for news and information, followed by newspapers (22%), television (21%) and radio (15%).
  • 75% believe the Internet has had a positive impact on the overall quality of journalism.
  • 69% believe media companies are becoming too large and powerful to allow for competition.

There is a notable irony in that Safer would level these criticisms while accepting an award honoring the First Amendment. A true advocate for a free press would welcome more public participation, not less. After all, what could be more representative of free expression, and a free press, then citizen journalism?

David Letterman And The Goon: Bill O’Reilly

The latest installment of the ongoing episodic series, Letterman and the Goon, aired last night, and the madcap misadventures of this odd couple didn’t fail to entertain. The program began with David Letterman revealing how the show got it’s name when he told Bill O’Reilly that…

“I’ve always thought of you as a goon”

From there it segued into an endearing scene that demonstrated the touching bond between the two men, with Letterman obviously lying as he told O’Reilly that…

“You’re too smart to believe what you say.”

That compassionate attempt to spare the feelings of O’Reilly certainly drew a few tears from viewers (or at least Glenn Beck). Everyone knows, of course, that O’Reilly isn’t that smart at all, and likely believes everything he says, no matter how dishonest. But Letterman took the high road on behalf of his friend, just as he did when O’Reilly hilariously declared himself to be a journalist:

O’Reilly: “Glenn Beck is a talk show host. Rush Limbaugh is a talk show host.”
Letterman: “What are you?”
O’Reilly: “I’m a journalist.”

And how do we know that O’Reilly is a journalist? Because he “got a degree” that he “paid a lot of money for.” Well, that settles it then.

The pair did endure a bit of drama when Letterman raised the specter of Al Franken. O’Reilly tried to dodge the issue, saying…

“I’m gonna recuse myself because I don’t like Al Franken and it’s not fair to me to go on and say bad things about him and I don’t want to do that.”

Letterman challenged that position, pointing out that O’Reilly says bad things about people he doesn’t like all the time. O’Reilly insisted that it happens “very rarely.” By very rarely, he must have meant just about every night. Not only does O’Reilly frequently bash his perceived enemies (just ask Sean Penn, Helen Thomas, Jeffrey Immelt, the Dixie Chicks, and any of the hundreds he has labeled “Pinheads”), he has been particularly hard on Franken:

  • “You don’t get any lower than that man, Franken.”
  • “That’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen in American politics – is this man maybe becoming a senator.”
  • “It’s personal with me. He’s lied about me. He’s slandered me.”
  • “The fact that he was even competitive [...] depresses me about America.”

Those are all just love notes from a man who now says that it would “not fair to me to go on and say bad things about him.” No wonder Letterman closed the episode by saying…

“I’d like to see you in about six months for a cleaning.”

Precisely. A visit with Bill O’Reilly was pretty much the same as a visit to the dentist.

Fox Business Network Is On The Case

Last year the Fox Business Network filed a Freedom of Information Act request for Treasury Department documents related to the Toxic Assets Relief Program. After filing the request, FBN launched an advertising campaign promoting their tireless efforts on behalf of the American people.

I have no problem with the FOIA requests, in fact I support them. They are an important part of a transparent democracy, and news enterprises have always used them to provide a complete picture of what our government is doing on our behalf. They do it in the interests of journalism, not some disingenuous grandstanding as protectors of the people. It is unseemly for a network to puff itself up simply for doing its job. Bloomberg also has FOIA requests pending, but they aren’t banging the drum about it.

Now the puffery is ascending to new highs of absurdity. Fox News executive vice president Kevin Magee is patting himself and his network on the back for being champions of the people. He is engaging in a sustained campaign of self-flattery that he paradoxically says “is not a wild publicity stunt.”

Magee: “One of the ways that we want to differentiate ourselves is to tell our audience that we are trying to protect their interests. We think that’s a wide-open field. CNBC seems to always be the friend of the CEO and that’s fine, nothing wrong with that. It has served them well.”

This statement is a direct contradiction of what his boss said when FBN debuted:

Rupert Murdoch: “…a Fox channel would be ‘more business-friendly than CNBC.’ That channel ‘leap[s] on every scandal, or what they think is a scandal.'”

So it is FBN that has always sought to be “the friend of the CEO.” Now, in the midst of a Wall Street driven economic collapse, they want to pretend that they are the network of the people. What a crock! The truth is, they are engaging in pure self-promotion. FBN has tried to cultivate the image of being a business channel for Main Street, not Wall Street. But from the beginning, that pretense has been as phony as their “Fair and Balanced” sloganeering for Fox News.

On top of all of this, FBN wants to claim as their victory something that is not really a victory and with which they had little to do anyway. Documents referenced in the FOIA request have already begun flowing. Over 1,200 have been released, 300 of which were previously undisclosed. FBN’s attempt to take credit for this is plausible only if you completely forget that President Obama, on his first full day in office, issued an executive order requiring agencies in his administration to cooperate with FOIA requests. This explicitly reversed a Bush executive order that mandated withholding information if at all possible.

Emerging from the secrecy-obsessed world of George W. Bush may feel strange, but FBN should recognize that they haven’t moved any mountains. They are just in a new era of openness that makes news gathering a little easier. It is more than a little pathetic that somebody else loosened the top of the jelly jar and FBN thinks they’ve grown new muscles.

Obama Already Undoing The Bush Era Of Secrecy

One week ago I wrote that the Bush Era Of Secrecy May Be Coming To An End, noting that:

George W. Bush has presided over the most secrecy-obsessed administration in the history of the country.

Well, on his first full day as president, Barack Obama has issued a series of Executive Orders and Memoranda that demonstrate his commitment to an open and honest administration. The announcement by the White House reveals several new initiatives, including a pay freeze for certain members of the President’s staff, and ethics provisions that define acceptable behavior with regard to gifts and lobbying.

But the real gems in this announcement are those concerning transparency and open government. The Memorandum specifically cites the Freedom of Information Act and orders on Presidential Records as areas that need to be reformed. President Obama (wow…that’s the first time I’ve typed that) made these remarks this morning about the new direction:

“For a long time now there’s been too much secrecy in this city. The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing some thing to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over. Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information, but those who seek to make it known.”

Under the new directives, only the President will have the authority to assert executive privilege for records after an administration ends. Under the Bush rules former presidents or their representatives had that authority. Obama went further explaining that…

“[A]ny time the American people want to know something that I or a former president wants to withhold, we will have to consult with the attorney general and the White House counsel, whose business it is to ensure compliance with the rule of law. Information will not be withheld just because I say so. It will be … withheld because a separate authority believes my request is well grounded in the Constitution.”

Bush had set up a system that only an organized crime family could love. But now, as Obama says, that era is now over. These new rules are an encouraging beginning that can be reinforced with the passage of the Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2009 (H.R. 35), by Rep. Edolphus Towns. This legislation has already passed in the House and will be considered soon in the Senate Homeland Security Committee. The bill covers some of what Obama’s Orders do, plus it explicitly overturns Bush’s Executive Order 13233 that permits withholding presidential records. Speaking about the bill, Towns said:

“President Bush’s executive order created an imbalanced and restrictive process. The Presidential Records Act preserves the important intent of the original post-Watergate law, which was to assure timely accessibility and preservation of official White House records for historical and, if necessary, legal purposes.”

The quick action by Towns and Obama suggests that this is indeed a new era. An era wherein the public can begin to trust their government again – or at least have access to the information required to ascertain whether it is trustworthy.

Update: The text of the new Executive Orders is now available on the White House web site. The EO on Presidential Records contains this provision:

Sec. 6. Revocation. Executive Order 13233 of November 1, 2001, is revoked.

I wasn’t aware that the EO was going to be that explicit. What a breath of fresh air. However, there is still a need to pass the Towns bill so that these guidelines are codified into law and a future president cannot merely issue a new EO.

Bush Era Of Secrecy May Be Coming To An End

George W. Bush has presided over the most secrecy-obsessed administration in the history of the country. More documents have been classified than at any other time. White House officials have defied court orders to disclose data, calendars, and emails. They even claimed that the vice-president was not subject to Congressional demands for information from the White House because he was not a part of the executive branch of government.

Bill Moyers, in a superb speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of the National Security Archive brilliantly articulated the urgency with which Bush pursued the suppression of public data:

“Bush and Cheney have made the Freedom of Information Act their number one target, more fervently pursued for elimination than Osama Bin Laden. No sooner had he come to office than George W. Bush set out to eviscerate both FOIA and the Presidential Records Act. He has been determined to protect his father’s secrets when the first Bush was Vice President and then President – as well as his own. Call it Bush Omerta.”

Last week some sunlight pierced the Bush-imposed darkness:

The end may finally be in sight to the seven-year battle historians and archivists have waged to overturn President Bush’s Executive Order 13233 of November 2001 that restricted access to presidential records. On January 7, 2009, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 35, the “Presidential Records Act Amendments of 2009,” by an overwhelmingly bi-partisan vote of 359-58.

The bill offered by Edolphus Towns (D-NY) has now been sent to Joe Lieberman’s Homeland Security Committee in the Senate where it is expected to be welcomed and passed. Previous versions of this legislation were held up by Senate Republicans and threatened with a Bush veto. At this time, such opposition is not given much credence as the bill could likely muster 60 votes to achieve cloture and President-elect Barack Obama appears to be supportive. While not explicitly citing Bush’s Executive Order, Obama’s ethics agenda includes this statement:

Release Presidential Records: Obama and Biden will nullify attempts to make the timely release of presidential records more difficult.

The National Coalition for History, a non-profit educational project hosted by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, has composed a detailed description of the bill’s provisions. Here is a summary:

  • Overturn Bush Executive Order 13233
  • Establish a Deadline for Review of Records
  • Limit the Authority of Former Presidents to Withhold Presidential Records
  • Require the President to Make Privilege Claims Personally
  • Eliminate Executive Privilege Claims for Vice Presidents
  • Deny Access to Anyone Convicted of a Crime Relating to the Archives

Passage of this bill would mark a profound step back from Bush’s attempts to conceal the crimes and corruption of his office. Joseph Wheelan, of George Mason University’s History News Network, expressed the very real risks of allowing the Bush Doctrine of Secrecy to endure:

“Executive Order 13233 portends a day when spin, the currency of politics, may become the province, too, of presidential history. One can envision a future when a presidential library’s watchdogs would allow only ‘safe’ historians to sift through the library’s holdings for material to cook up a bracingly whitewashed version of his subject’s actions. Objective historians, denied access to the panegyrist’s primary sources and all the juicy details, would be placed at a severe disadvantage. Which version do you think would get the seven-figure publishing advance and the lavish promotional campaign?”

Rep. Towns, and his colleagues in the House, have done a great service to the country with the passage of this bill. In a comment to the press, Towns said:

“President Bush’s executive order created an imbalanced and restrictive process. The Presidential Records Act preserves the important intent of the original post-Watergate law, which was to assure timely accessibility and preservation of official White House records for historical and, if necessary, legal purposes.”

The emphasis added at the end of that quote was mine, because of the hope it implies that justice can still be achieved, that the criminality of the outgoing administration does not go unpunished, and that their unconstitutional behavior is not set as a precedent.

I have long advocated that Executive Order 13233 be rescinded by the next Democratic president. Now Obama has the chance to do that with the added force of law behind it. I expect that he will gladly follow through, but first it has to get out of the senate and onto his desk. This would be good time to contact your senators and request that they support this bill.

Obama To Name Julius Genachowski To Chair The FCC

Remember this name: Julius Genachowski. He appears to be Barack Obama’s choice for chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. In that role he will have an opportunity to not only undue a lot of the damage done by Bush’s henchmen in the post, Michael Powell and Kevin Martin, but he can actually make progress toward a more competitive and diverse environment in the media community.

Josh Silver, executive director of the media reform group, Free Press, issued the following statement:

“Under Julius Genachowski’s leadership, the FCC’s compass would point toward the public interest. President-elect Obama has provided a clear roadmap of his media and technology priorities. We share Obama’s goals of creating a more diverse, democratic media system and providing fast, affordable, open Internet access for everyone. We greatly look forward to working with Mr. Genachowski to put the president-elect’s plan into action.

“The challenges facing the next FCC are enormous — a vast digital divide, an open Internet in jeopardy, consolidated media ownership, newsrooms in economic freefall and entrenched industries invested in maintaining the status quo. This moment calls for bold and immediate steps to spur competition, foster innovation and breathe new life into our communications sector. With his unique blend of business and governmental experience, Genachowski promises to provide the strong leadership we need.”

I thoroughly agree. It is encouraging that the FCC will finally be run by someone with the specific skills and experience to address the many challenges ahead – as opposed to the cronies who were installed solely to pursue the interests of Big Media and the friends of a corrupt White House. Kevin Martin was recently the subject of a Congressional report titled “Deception and Distrust” that cited his abuse of power in his role at the FCC.

While we must continue to monitor the actual performance of the new administration, there is a certain sense of relief that a new era is dawning, and I wish Mr. Genachowski well as assumes the leadership of a critical agency overseeing some of the most fundamental rights of American society.

Update: After Genachowski assumes the leadership of the FCC, the outgoing chair, Kevin Martin, will become a fellow at the Aspen Institute. By embracing Martin, the AI has shown that it has pretty low standards for integrity. Apparently they consider it a badge of honor to be repudiated by Congress as deceptive and untrustworthy.

Fox Business Network Sues U. S. Treasury

The U. S. Department of the Treasury is taking on friendly fire. The Fox Business Network has just announced that they are suing them to force the disclosure of information about the Wall Street bailout and how the funds are being used. FBN filed a Freedom of Information Act request last month, but the Treasury’s failure to respond has prompted this more aggressive action. In a press release, FOX News Executive Vice President, Kevin Magee, said…

“The Treasury has repeatedly ignored our requests for information on how the government is allocating money to these troubled institutions. In a critical time like this amidst mounting corruptions and an economic crisis, we as a news organization feel it’s more important than ever to hold the government accountable.”

While I have to applaud the spunk of FBN for turning on its master, there a couple of funny things in Magee’s statement:

  1. …we as a news organization…
  2. …hold the government accountable…

The first item, of course, has never been proven, and is disputed by most reputable journalism analysts. The second item raises the question as to why Fox has never before sought accountability from the Bush administration. Perhaps Magee’s revelation that accountability is now “more important than ever” was triggered by the imminent inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see if they follow through and extract anything useful from government bean counters. Well, “counters” may be too generous a description for the unsupervised and reckless bean scattering that the Feds have engaged in. But it’s nice to know that Fox is on the job with muckraking broadcasts like this.

Obama Paranoia Strikes Deep

“Get ready for an unprecedented government assault upon the First Amendment. President Obama will be at the heart of it.”

These are the words that open an article in the ultra-rightist Human Events by notorious kook, Jack Thompson (more on him later). The article is another in a series of hysterical rants from conservative Chicken Littles who fear that Democratic leadership is intent on restoring the “Fairness Doctrine” which they believe will sweep their heroes (Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, etc.) from the airwaves. This despite the fact that Barack Obama himself is on record opposing its reinstatement. But that doesn’t stop Thompson from building a delusional case for how Obama has devised an insidious plot to stifle right-wingers with an even more destructive attack on free speech.

Thompson leads his argument with this frightening passage from a speech by Charles Benton of the Benton Foundation:

“[O]ur number one national communications policy priority must be the eradication of racial and gender discrimination in media and telecommunications. Our shared goal: seeing the day when all Americans possess the tools to compete in commerce, to contribute to and enjoy the fruits of democracy, to receive unbiased and uncensored news and information, to create our culture.” [Emphasis by Thompson]

The Benton Foundation is a private institution that “works to ensure that media and telecommunications serve the public interest and enhance our democracy.” As illustrated in the quote above, their mission is one that most Americans would enthusiastically support. However, Thompson tries to turn it into something scary with creative italics. His attempt would be even more ludicrous had he included the next paragraph from the speech:

“In our democratic society, we are constantly on the outlook for undue influence by the government on our communications. But we should be equally vigilant to make sure that a handful of powerful people or companies do not dominate our discourse either.”

Is this really something that Thompson thinks conservatives should recoil from? He continues by trying to demonize the concept of “localism” which calls for the FCC “to gather information from consumers, industry, civic organizations, and others on broadcasters’ service to their local communities.” If Thompson is opposed to this, one wonders from where he thinks the FCC ought to get information. Politicians? Missionaries? Astrologers? He further disparages localism by associating it with the latest conservative buzz word for bogeyman, “community organizer.” What is most perplexing is that Thompson really expects anyone to be troubled by the agendas outlined above. But, sadly, there will be plenty of troubled readers who will buy Thompson’s snake oil.

Thompson’s most disturbing argument against localism comes with a reference to one of the right’s favorite new fright-makers, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. However the connection is as fragile as Thompson’s grasp of reality. In 1967, the United Church of Christ’s Office of Communication participated, with the NAACP and residents of Jackson, MS, in a challenge to the broadcast license of WLBT. For the record, Wright was not associated with the UCC at that time – he was not even a minister. In fact, he was wrapping up his service as a Navy medical technician assigned to the team caring for President Lyndon Johnson. It was not until 1972, after returning to college and earning two masters degrees and a Doctorate of Divinity, that he became pastor of UCC’s Trinity Church.

But it is Thompson’s characterization of the WLBT challenge that is truly disgusting. He calls WLBT “a Southern station [that] was not covering the civil rights movement fairly.” The truth is somewhat more unsavory than that trivialization. The book Changing Channels – The Civil Rights Case That Transformed Television,” by Kay Mills, describes what really happened with a little more detail and accuracy. Mills wrote about the situation in an article for the National Archives:

WLBT, which had gone on the air in 1953, employed no black people, either on camera or behind the scenes, although its audience was more than 40 percent black. The station also did not cover the black community in the same depth as it covered news about the white community, and it broadcast the Sunday services of only a local white church and none from black churches. Its station manager editorialized on the air against the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi in 1962, arguing that states, not the federal government, should determine who could attend their schools and colleges.

The case against WLBT was a hard fought matter of principles that endure today. Prior to this victory, which was argued before both the FCC and federal courts, the only people who could bring these sort of challenges were those with “an economic stake in the issue or people who could claim electrical interference from broadcasters’ signals.” This case provided the first ruling that permitted citizens to take action against broadcasters who failed to serve the public interest. It was the first time that regulators were forced to listen to citizens and not just the broadcasters and corporations.

WLBT was an egregious violator of the Fairness Doctrine rules in effect at the time. Its management was overtly racist. And they repeatedly resisted efforts to be more responsive to their viewers and the community at large. The battle against WLBT produced a profound victory that was aided by historic figures like Medger Evers, Thurgood Marshall, and Warren Burger. It is this example that Thompson chose in order to whip up opposition to Obama and an expired doctrine that Obama does not support.

Thompson is so fixated on roiling the waters that he would denigrate one of the most significant events in the civil rights movement to further his ignoble ends. Therein lies the seeds of his madness. Jack Thompson is a well known nutcase. He has a long history of feuding with a variety of people and institutions. He has been a crusading critic of pornography and violence in video games, advocating what amounts to censorship. And when his nuisance suits were quashed, he whined about being discriminated against for his Christian beliefs. Eventually, he was permanently disbarred from practicing law in Florida for making false statements and attempting to humiliate, embarrass, harass or intimidate litigants and other lawyers. None of this, however, keeps Human Events from making Thompson a regular contributor.

[Update: It has just been revealed that Kevin Werbach, a co-chair of Obama's FCC transition team is an avid gamer. This should set up an epic battle between him and anti-gamer, Thompson.]

The Culture Warriors on the right are shameless in their brazen assaults on someone who has not even taken office. Yet somehow Obama is orchestrating an end to the First Amendment. The current state of the economy is already being referred to by the Hannitized as the Obama recession. If he chooses an aide or cabinet appointee with experience, he is said to have abandoned his promise for “change.” But if he names someone new from outside the beltway, he’ll be accused of being irresponsible.

The message is clear: The Martinets of Conservatism want you to hate Barack Obama – and they want you to start NOW!