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.