Prodigal Journalism

The pain, the sorrow, the loss, that could have been avoided had these reporters done their job, is immeasurable.

Better late than never? That’s a relative appraisal. When the Conventional Media lags behind the public, and the truth, the consequences can be serious, even fatal. The late revelations of some prodigal journalists can hardly be characterized as “better” without ignoring the irreparable harm resulting from their tardiness. After the loss of more than 2,800 Americans and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, reporters can’t just come forward now, confess their professional deficiencies, and expect absolution. Yet that is exactly what some of them are doing.

It started with mea culpas from both the New York Times and the Washington Post for failing to report on the weaknesses of the Bush administration’s arguments for invading Iraq.

From the Times:
“Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper…while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.”

From the Post:
“We did our job but we didn’t do enough, and I blame myself mightily for not pushing harder,” [Bob] Woodward said in an interview. “We should have warned readers we had information that the basis for this was shakier” than widely believed. “Those are exactly the kind of statements that should be published on the front page.”

Then, last May, the reigning queen of misinformation, Judith Miller of the New York Times, expressed regret for not having written a story that might have led to the prevention of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. That was after five years and two wars, one of which she brazenly promoted with articles built on propaganda and the ramblings of disreputable sources.

“You know, sometimes in journalism you regret the stories you do, but most of the time you regret the ones that you didn’t do.”

Now Dick Meyer, the Editorial Director of CBSNews.com joins the ranks of the confessors:
This is a story I should have written 12 years ago when the “Contract with America” Republicans captured the House in 1994. I apologize.

Really, it’s just a simple thesis: The men who ran the Republican Party in the House of Representatives for the past 12 years were a group of weirdos. Together, they comprised one of the oddest legislative power cliques in our history.

Thanks for the heads up, Dick. It only cost us a dozen years of distress; of corruption; of impeachment; of deficits; of hypocrisy; of global warming; of poverty; of war.

I’m not sure what the value of these delayed self-flagellations is. I suppose it’s better that they unburden themselves and admit their mistakes rather than be like Bush and Cheney. But their mistakes are so egregious and the consequences so severe. The pain, the sorrow, the loss, that could have been avoided had these reporters done their job, is immeasurable. There might at least be some consolation if we could see that they had learned something along the way. But there is scant evidence of that. Just since the recent mid-term elections, the usual suspects in the press are already demonstrating the shortness of their vision. Norman Solomon writes at TomPaine.com:

“Too often, media coverage of U.S. policy in Iraq seems little more than a remake of how mainstream news outlets portrayed Washington’s options during the war in Vietnam. Routine deference to inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom has turned many prominent journalists into co-producers of a “Groundhog Day” sequel that insists the U.S. war effort must go on.”

In the movie, “Groundhog Day”, the endless loop in which Phil was trapped was eventually broken as a result of his transformation into a man with a conscience and compassion, a man who finally learned to care about something other than himself. This is a moral that would serve the media well. When they begin to realize that they do not exist to serve the interests of themselves, their careers, and their stockholders; when they realize that they are here to perform a public service; that is when they might begin to earn renewed respect from the people for whom they are supposed to be working.

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Open Season On Bloggers

As the Conventional Media strive to retain a sliver of stature, they are making all the wrong decisions.

As the calendar peels off pages, the world adapts to the renewal of spirit that each season represents. This fall, like many before it, we will pull out our winter clothes, set back our clocks, wind up our elections, and start bashing bloggers.

The New York Times will have a story on Sunday that warns us of the imminent threat that the Bloggers pose to the new Democratic majority in congress. How thoughtful of the Times’ Matt Bai to send up this flare:

“The influence of the netroots, as the growing Web-based Democrats have come to be called, is likely to stifle an inclination toward compromise or creativity, making it difficult for Democrats to transition from an opposition party to a governing one.”

Bai identifies, “a new array of powerful actors: MoveOn.org, liberal philanthropists, crusading bloggers,” as usurping dominance from declining progressive institutions like labor. I don’t know how I failed to see it before. The armies of liberal philanthropists marching down America’s Main Streets are so obvious to me now. And you can’t walk twenty feet without tripping over a crusading blogger. Meanwhile, when was the last time you saw an American worker? If Democrats prove to be incapable of compromise, creativity, or governing, we have been given the green light to blame it on MoveOn.org.

Piling on is the Washingtonian, whose Harry Jaffe says:

“Except in a few races, the outcome of last week’s midterm election was determined in large part by the Mainstream Media. Bloggers and Internet chatters posing as journalists were not in the game.”

The core of Jaffe’s theory proposes that the stories that moved voters were all the product of the conventional press. The examples he cites include Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, torture, wiretapping, and the latest hit sensation, Mark Foley. Many of these stories were indeed the result of good work by dedicated journalists, and certainly had an impact on the nation’s attitude toward politics. And Jaffe seems to believe that they would have lasted beyond a single news cycle without the pounding of the net media. The Internet chatters had nothing whatever to do with keeping these stories in the public eye long enough for people to notice and be influenced by them. What’s more, Jaffe passes over dismissively the fact that Sen. Allen’s “macaca” moment and Rep. Foley’s page stalking were net-powered stories from beginning to end.

My mistake was not recognizing that the stories themselves were the candidates, not the people that actually ran for office. Folks like Jim Webb, Jon Tester, Jerry McNerney, Tim Walz, Paul Hodes, and 30+ others, may have won their races with the support of netroots contributors and volunteers, but it was the stories that won the election, not the candidates, their supporters, the voters, and certainly not the bloggers. They weren’t in the game.

The Conventional Media is struggling mightily to keep from sinking into oblivion. News consumers are abandoning TV and print in droves. As they strive to retain a sliver of stature, they are making all the wrong decisions. They surely know that cutting newsroom budgets and staff, and promoting sensationalistic stories will do nothing to repair their image, so they are now assaulting the image of their perceived enemy, the Internet.

But the critiques above, which are typical of post-election analyses, are almost comical in that they are entirely contradictory. Jaffe denounces the bloggers because, in the end, they had no impact and were irrelevant. Bai complains that they had too much impact and wield so much power that they will damage the new majority’s reign. All we need now is for Goldilocks to come along and announce that the bloggers role in elections and political life is “just right.” At least that’s how all the fairy tales I know ended.


Proof That Crime Pays

Anyone seeking to realize the American Dream need look no further than the nearest Federal Court. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the best way to accumulate wealth and respect is through felonies and disgrace. Here are three recent examples.

Time’s Person of the Year Panel
Time Managing Editor, Richard Stengel, assembled a panel to discuss potential nominees for its annual acknowledgment of the person who had the most impact on world affairs for the year. He must have sensed that corrupt politicians might make a showing this year otherwise, how would you account for his including Tom DeLay on the panel? What better advisor could Stengle have recruited than a disgraced ex-congressman who is presently under indictment?

Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman
Given George Bush’s track record for appointments, this may not come as much of a surprise. He has just renominated Ken Tomlinson to chair the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the agency that oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other U.S. broadcasting services. Tomlinson is the former chairman of the Corporation For Public Broadcasting who was found to have violated both legal and ethical statutes at the the CPB. Those violations constitute his fitness to continue his service to the Bush administration.

O. J. Simpson Book Gets Juiced By Fox News
Simpson’s forthcoming book, “If I Did It,” reportedly describes how he would have killed his ex-wife assuming it wasn’t in the manner that a jury already concluded that he did it. And Fox News has scheduled a two part interview during the November sweeps to help Simpson promote the book. I’m sure it doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that the book is published by a subsidiary of Fox’s parent company, News Corp.

The common thread uniting these events is that Time Magazine, the Bush White House, and Fox News are all going out of their way to reward criminals for a job well done. Who says crime doesn’t pay?


Fox News: Not The End Of The World

A memo issued by Fox News Vice President, John Moody, is taking a sunny side of the street perspective on the mid-term elections. In doing so he provided further confirmation of his network’s bias and malignant dishonesty. Here are a few excerpts:

“The elections and Rumsfeld’s resignation were a major event but not the end of the world. The war on terror goes on without interruption”
Is this Moody’s attempt at consolation? Don’t worry, neo-cons, you’ll get through this. After all, you still have your war.

“…let’s be on the lookout for any statements from the Iraqi insurgents, who must be thrilled at the prospect of a Dem-controlled congress.”
Despite the unprecedented expansion of terrorism during the Bush years, Moody still thinks the bad guys prefer the Democrats, who, unlike Republicans, have promised to pursue Bin Laden and Al Qaeda without the distraction of unnecessary wars over fake weapons of mass destruction. It is far more likely that the terrorists were thrilled by Fox News and the Bush administration, who apparently contributed $2 million dollars to their cause in exchange for a couple of kidnapped reporters.

“The question of the day, and indeed for the rest of bush’s term, is: “What’s the Dem plan for Iraq?”
That’s funny, I don’t remember them ever asking what the Repub plan for Iraq is. I suppose they were satisfied with “stay the course.”

“In the House, the newly empowered Dems will shed some fraternal blood before settling in.”
Here Moody is referencing the majority leader post that is being sought by both Jack Murtha, (a former hawk) and Steny Hoyer (a political hack). Those are Moody’s impartial characterizations in parentheses. What he doesn’t mention is that the Repubs are going through the same fraternal bloodletting in their own caucus, but he doesn’t seem to want his reporters to cover that.

And in closing: “Just because Dems won, the war on terror isn’t over.”
So don’t lose faith, neo-cons. You can continue to celebrate the misery and death in Iraq and falsely tether it to Al Qaeda, all the while tarring your opponents as unpatriotic.

This memo would be repulsive if it were issued by a Republican operative to partisans and activists. But Moody is VP of news at a major network and this is his marching orders to the reporters on his staff. In a truly fair and balanced media world, he would be humiliated, repudiated and forced to resign. At Fox he’ll probably get a promotion.


Why Should We Listen To Them?

There has been, and will be, a torrent of post-election analysis washing over the nation. Politicians and pundits will continue to sort out the complexities of last Tuesday’s results for us nimrods who were smart enough to produce the results but not smart enough to understand them. What I’d like to know is, why should we listen to them?

The track record of the media prognosticators is suspect to say the least. Since almost all of the players were predicting their preferences rather than their objective picks, their accuracy can just as easily be predicted by which side they were on. In other words, those on the left scored higher than those on the right. In still other words, history is written by the winners.

What I don’t see in all of this projectile punditry is any analysis of the media itself. The stenographic pod people that have taken over the body of the press are all too willing to consume whatever they are fed by their subjects. In two of the more startling admissions by public figures I’ve ever heard, we have been alerted that they are simply not to be believed.

The Politician, George W. Bush: “…my answer was, they’re going to stay on. And the reason why is I didn’t want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign. And so the only way to answer that question and to get you on to another question was to give you that answer.”

The Pundit, Rush Limbaugh: “I feel liberated, and I’m just going to tell you as plainly as I can why. I no longer am going to have to carry the water for people who I don’t think deserve having their water carried.”

In both of these comments, we are told forthrightly that lying for the purpose of manipulating the outcome of an election is not out of bounds. Now, anyone who follows politics, and has a pulse, should already know this. What drops the jaw is that they feel free to be so nakedly honest about their dishonesty. Neither one of them seemed cowed or reluctant to disclose their deceit. To the contrary, they both appeared to be proud of their tactical cunning. And why shouldn’t they be? The press eats it up and asks for more.

In the same press conference where he admitted lying about the fate of Don Rumsfeld, Bush was later asked about the fate of Dick Cheney. It doesn’t really matter what the answer was. What matters is why should we believe what he says about Cheney after he just admitting having lied about Rumsfeld? Bush expects us to accept his lies and move on as if nothing happened.

Limbaugh has the same problem. After confessing that his cheerleading for Republicans did not represent his actual views, how should we digest any of the opinions he unleashes from here on out? Rush wants us to believe that, although he was lying before, his liberation will free him from doing so in the future.

Both Bush and Limbaugh argue that the enormity of the stakes in this election justified their lies. The implication being that, with the election over, they can now return to that old standby, the truth. The problem with that alibi is that elections are never over. The race for the White House in 2008 started on November 8th. Already, three candidates have announced the formation of exploratory committees. If the stakes for this midterm campaign were so profound as to justify such brazen dishonesty, certainly the stakes for a presidential election would be considered at least as consequential, therefore justifying even more lies or worse. Why not employ fraud, intimidation, violence? After all the stakes are so high.

Unfortunately, the press seems to have accepted these arguments. This is typical of a press corps that is grateful for access and fearful of boat-rocking. The President and his water carrier are symptomatic of a much broader problem that infects so many others in their dirty shoes. There is little in the way of blowback for having lied through their teeth to the media. That will surely provide encouragement for doing more of it. In the coming weeks and months there will be press conferences and interviews with reporters asking questions of admitted liars and then publishing the responses without providing any context.

Now, I don’t want to be accused of complaining without contributing any constructive solutions. So I would like to propose the following:

For the next two years…

  • all published comments by the President be appended with the qualifier, “…said the admitted liar.”
  • the only follow up to any question asked to a politician or partisan pundit should be, “Are you lying today?”

That should resolve the veracity gap. Unless, of course, they don’t answer that question truthfully, but why wouldn’t they?


The Last Straw At The Los Angeles Times

The Wall Street Journal (via L.A. Observed) just reported that the Los Angeles Times has fired its editor, Dean Baquet. The Times parent, Tribune Company, has been on a mission to eviscerate what remains of the paper by slashing personnel. A month ago they fired the publisher, Jeff Johnson, for refusing to go along with the cuts. Baquet tenuously agreed to stay on in the hopes that he could forestall any further newsroom terminations.

The new publisher, David Hiller, made the announcement after the news was leaked to the Journal. This smells like an attempt to lose the story in the thick of election night madness. But this story is only going to grow. After the Johnson firing, three top editors (Doug Frantz, Leo Wolinsky, and John Montorio) promised to resign if management pushed Baquet out as well. We’ll see if they are true to their words.

Baquet will be replaced by James O’Shea, managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, where Hiller had come from. Obviously they are stuffing the deck with ringers from the home office, probably with the intent to sell the hollowed-out shell of a newspaper to another hack conglomerate. It’s unclear what they will have to offer a buyer without an editorial staff.

They won’t have much of a subscriber base either. For the six-month period ending September 2006, the Times circulation delined 8%, the largest drop in the industry. And they are about to lose even more. Aside from me, there is already a Subscriber Revolt site set up to put the paper on notice. Here is an excerpt of the letter you can send via this site:

“I am a Los Angeles Times reader who has watched with dismay the attempts of the Tribune Co. to squeeze ever-higher profits from my newspaper by slashing its ability to gather and publish news…..The Times is our irreplaceable civic resource, and I will not sit back as you dismantle it.”

The letter includes an explicit threat to cancel by December 31, if Baquet is not reinstated and other remedial steps are not taken. I’m not sure I can wait that long.

This paper can be saved if Tribune would sell it to local operators. There has been interest from folks like Eli Broad, Ron Burkle and David Geffen. Any one of them would be an improvement over Tribune. An even better plan would be for an academic institution to purchase the paper and run it as a not-prifit. But it will never be worth a damn if Tribune is allowed to carry out its destructive and short-sighted agenda.

And we can stop them: Subscriber Revolt

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Murdoch On U. S. Deaths In Iraq

When the Godfather of tabloid propaganda speaks, people listen. So Rupert Murdoch is contributing his fair and balanced assessment of the human toll wrought by the war in Iraq:

“The death toll, certainly of Americans there, by the terms of any previous war are quite minute.”

For a billionaire media mogul to characterize the demise of almost 3,000 American soldiers as “minute” exceeds all boundaries of decency. This slice of cold-hearted indifference to the fallen and their families is Murdoch’s way of justifying his support for a tragically unnecessary war that he helped to concoct via the right wing noise machine he commands.

Would it be too much to ask that he express some remorse for those who gave their lives? What about the thousands who are maimed, brain damaged, and crippled by PTSD? And do you think he even gives a second thought to the, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians?

To top it off, this cowardly mogul with a massive American press operation scampers off to Japan to deliver these comments to reporters at a conference in Tokyo. I hope that his press colleagues welcome him home with some questions that call on him to account for his callousness.


And The Winner Is…The Media

So long as we have corporate media monopolies married to political powerbrokers in government and on K Street, we will never have truly free elections.

As the American electorate’s chest heaves with exhaustion, gasping for that second wind to propel it across the finish line of this year’s electoral marathon, the handicappers are already setting up shop to declare victories or to justify whatever it is they decide to call non-victories. There will be celebrations and wakes and scores of prognosticators heralding their prescience no matter how far from reality their predictions actually fall.

But there is one contestant in this game that can pump its mighty fist in the air regardless of polling outcomes.

When all is said and done, The Media will have banked over $2 Billion. Of course, the final numbers are not in and this estimate doesn’t even include spot cable buys, not to mention last minute surges that are expected on all sides.

If a campaign can be analogized to a war, then the media are the war profiteers. Fox is the Halliburton of the press corps – GE (owner of NBC/Universal) is the…well, the GE. They benefit no matter who wins or loses. In fact, it is in their interest to incite division and to escalate the conflict.

They have been doing this in some obvious ways. The hype surrounding the Mark Foley and John Kerry events was purposefully orchestrated to fuel controversy and to roil the electoral landscape. Partisans on both sides help to propel these tangents, but despite their varying levels of significance, none of these issues have parity with Iraq, the economy, health care, global warming, etc. Yet they are given prominence due to their tabloid appeal.

As the prospects for each candidate and party fluctuate, the players need to react, and this is generally done by purchasing more ad time. The media doesn’t particularly like a blowout because it results in the failing candidate either abandoning the air war or the candidate’s supporters abandoning the candidate, leaving no budget for the battle. So the press chips in keep the race close.

Meanwhile the public suffers the fate of all civilians in wartime. They are beaten and battered and left in a heap along with the other victims of collateral damage. It is never the people’s interest that is served in war, but the interests of the war mongers and their powerful benefactors. The people suffer through these air wars and become disgusted and demoralized. That is actually part of the media’s wartime stategery. A little known fact about negative ads is that they are not intended to tarnish an opponent (that’s just gravy). Their purpose is to suppress turnout so that campaign strategerists are left with a smaller, more manageable, voter population to influence and get to the polls.

So long as we have corporate media monopolies married to political powerbrokers in government and on K Street, we will never have truly free elections. They just feed off of each other and enrich each other at the expense of democracy. The media needs to be corralled into a role wherein it educates and informs citizens. And public financing of campaigns is imperative if we want to remove the influence of corporations from politics.

This is the paramount battle of our generation and we are presently losing. The media will grow stronger as a result of the massive infusion of campaign spending it is enjoying this year. But it isn’t invincible and the fight is worth fighting. I do not consider it hyperbole to say that the future of our country rests on the outcome and if that isn’t motivation, then I guess I’ll just have to buy some more airtime to convince you.


NBC CEO Challenges FCC

For all the faults, misdeeds, propaganda and monopolistic abuse of Big Media, either hell has frozen over or Bob Wright, chairman and CEO of NBC Universal, made a strong case against censorship in a Wall Street Journal editorial.

A couple of years ago, Janet Jackson’s breast proved to be more powerful than any other media organism. It sucked up all the airtime from cable news, talk radio, and other outlets. Its impact extended to Washington, invading the White House, Congress and the Federal Communications Commission. The result was a new set of indecency regulations that increased penalties for naughty behavior and put broadcasters on notice that such shenanigans would no longer be tolerated.

Mr. Wright, in his editorial, pointed out that these new rules were likely to create a “climate of self-censorship,” and that’s exactly what happened. Networks recently have declined to air programs like “Saving Private Ryan,” and 9/11 documentaries because they contained language that real people use in real life. He further noted that the evolution of the media marketplace has produced a vastly different landscape than that under which the indecency rules were originally established and he offered up this formula to illustrate the FCC’s anachronistic stance:

“Do the math: 85% of households have cable and satellite, leaving 15% receiving broadcast TV only. Two-thirds of those households do not have kids under 18. Thus, the FCC appears to be basing its actions on a policy that is relevant to 5% of households.”

This effectively spotlights the inane response on the part of the FCC and political puritans to the presence of adult themes on television. Their efforts to sanitize broadcasting so that it never contains content that might be objectionable to anyone over six years of age stifles creativity and speech. It’s a kind of censorship that discriminates against mature ideas and places limits on discussions that affect all Americans, even the young ones. The self-censorship, that stems from broadcasters fearful of stiff fines, affects everything from movies to sitcoms to news magazines. And it holds all viewers hostage to the sensitivities of children and their disingenuous, moralistic protectors.

I should note that Mr. Wright’s position fits nicely with his industry’s philosophy of eliminating all regulations imposed on it. Perhaps he is just lobbying to keep the government at bay as he does with other regulatory issues like ownership and consolidation. But the bottom line is that, in this case, he’s right, and the over-reaching moralizing of federal agencies must not be permitted to impair the free expression of diverse entertainment and educational programming.


Media Matters: Top Election Falsehoods

For anyone interested in a compendium of the media’s failings in this election season, Media Matters has come through for you. Their article, “Top election falsehoods, myths, and talking points,” is a concise and useful compilation that vividly demonstrates the weaknesses in the conventional, corporate run press. Here is the list of shame. Click the Media Matters link above to see the detail.

  • American voters favor Republicans on national security.
  • The public favors Republicans on the issues of taxes and fiscal responsibility.
  • Republicans had the “Contract with America” in 1994 to power their victory, but Democrats in 2006 have no agenda.
  • Terrorists want the Democrats to win.
  • Even if Americans don’t approve of the job Bush is doing, they like him personally.
  • Once a “pro-Bush” state, always a “pro-Bush” state.
  • Democrats will drown the Bush administration in investigations.
  • A Democratic takeover of the House would put extreme liberals in leadership positions.
  • Kuo’s claims regarding White House’s real views of religious conservatives have no precedent.
  • Republicans and Democrats both equally guilty of “dirty tricks”.

In each of the items above, Media Matters has documented the rampant dishonesty by the media in fomenting these easily disprovable themes. This is another example of how an irresponsible and ethically compromised community of psuedo-journalists performs a disservice to the public and to the concept of a free and independent media.