Propaganda Courtesy of Abramoff & Co.

Scandal plagued consultant, Jack Abramoff has joined the ranks of propagandists with allegations of his paying a Copley News columnist to write stories favorable to his clients.

Doug Bandow has been suspended from his position at Copley and has resigned his fellowship at the Cato Institute. Bandow admitted taking payments from Abramoff saying, “It was a lapse of judgment on my part, and I take full responsibility for it.”

For a journalist to describe trading money for ink as a lapse of judgement may indicate a lapse of sanity. And his acceptance of responsibility provides absolutely nothing in compensation for the lies published in his name.

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Senate Holds Hearings on Decency

This strikes me as akin to turkeys giving lessons on flying. Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), chaired a series of hearings that amounted to a stare-down with cable programmers and operators. On the pretense of addressing indecency in the media, Stevens’ panel actually served to intimidate the media execs into volunteering to offer something called a family-friendly tier of channels. This vague schedule innovation would effectively impose on cable and satellite a set of decency standards similar to those of broadcast networks, who operate on public airwaves.

Family-friendly bundles are being pushed by FCC chair Kevin Martin, who was appointed to the chairmanship by President Bush last March. He previously worked in Bush’s 2000 campaign, and his wife, Catherine, is the chief public affairs strategist for Vice President Dick Cheney. Martin has been using the threat of advancing indecency legislation and a la carte pricing to extort the industry’s acceptence of the family-friendly model. Sen. Stevens is playing along by holding hearings that probably cannot result in constitutionally viable legislation. The courts, since the 1970’s, including the Supreme Court in 2000, have consistently ruled that such legislation violated the first amendment.

So why would these execs go along? The two largest cable operators in the country, Time Warner and Comcast, are in the process of purchasing the assets of Adelphia Cable. The fate of this transaction rests largely with the FCC. In addition, a la carte pricing is looked upon by the industry as a ruinous upheavel of their businesses. While on the surface, it seems appealing to be able to pick and choose the channels you want, in practice it would probably cost viewers more for less service. If channels sold for between $4.00 (i.e. CNN, ESPN, MTV) and $15.00 (i.e. HBO Showtime), you would be unlikely to get 10 channels for under $50.00. Compare this to the $45.00 you can now spend for over 100 channels. And the channels with fewer viewers would probably cease to exist. The decency police at the Parents Television Council think this is a good thing. Says its president, Brent Bozell:

“Maybe you won’t have 100 channels, maybe you’ll only have 20. But good programming is going to survive, and you will get rid of some waste.”

Presumably he means waste like the History, SciFi, and ironically, Family Channels. These lower rated channels would have difficulty pulling in subscribers unless, of course, they were included in the new packaging. But the real hypocricy is that these free market advocates are afraid to let the market decide what it really wants to watch. I would wager that if you gave people the choice of cherry picking the channels they want at $4.00 each, or selecting a bundle with 100 channels for less money, most would go with the bundle. But since the real motivation here is to sanitize the program offerings for the benefit of those most easily offended, the marketplace doesn’t really have anything to say about it.

20 Years of Unearthing Major Revelations

The National Security Archive, located at George Washington University, has released a list of 20 of its greatest hits . These are declassified documents that the Archive has published that have had an impact around the world. Here’s the top 10:

  1. Pentagon Photographs of Iraq War Casualties, 4/05
  2. Clarke to Rice, “Presidential Policy Initiative/Review — The Al-Qida Network,” 1/25/01
  3. Briefing Notes for Rumsfeld Visit to Baghdad, 3/24/84
  4. Telecon, Secretary Laird, 11/21/69
  5. Guatemala Death Squad Diary, (uncovered 1999)
  6. Oliver North Notebooks, 6/25/86 & 8/6/86
  7. Caribbean Map and Deck Log Book of USS Beale, 10/62
  8. Activities of Cuban Exile Leader Orlando Bosch during His Stay in Venezuela, 10/14/76
  9. DRV Reports Shooting at Two Enemy Aircraft, 8/4/64, and White House Staff Meeting, 5 August 1964
  10. White House E-Mail on Iran-Iraq War (2 versions with different deletions), 1/21/87

Go to their site for the rest. The list is being released in conjunction with their 20th anniversary celebration. Bill Moyers gave the keynote speech at the event commemorating this milestone. The speech, and the subsequent Q & A, are well worth listening to, which you can do here.

Congratulations to the Archives. Keep up the good work.


The Ethics Truce Lives On
Since 1998, there has been an ethics “truce” in the House of Representatives, under the terms of which no member will file an ethics complaint against another member. How could they tell?

Conservative Blogs Rock?
In an argument sure to be challenged in certain sectors of the blogosphere, a story in The New York Times magazine coming up this Sunday declares that conservative blogs continue to best liberal blogs in political and electoral influence.

Phony Story Planted By State Agency to Boost Donations
It was a heart-wrenching story: A 10-year-old boy named John, separated from his mother since the hurricane, was living with other foster children in an emergency shelter, and he had one Christmas wish — to go home…But the story was a work of fiction.

Book Blames Government for Media Crisis
The media crisis is not due to incompetent or corrupt journalists or owners, but rather to a highly concentrated profit-driven media system that makes it rational to gut journalism and irrational to provide the content a free society so desperately requires.

Yahoo Acquires Social Network
In its latest acquisition of a social networking service, Internet powerhouse Yahoo Inc. on Friday devoured Inc., a startup that enables people to more easily compile and share their favorite content on the Web.

The Central Front In The War On Christmas

The War on Christmas is the latest fabrication from the theo-con hack factory. Its premise is that a cabal of secularists are conspiring to deprive America of its Christmas celebration. But despite the protestations that this is a matter of faith by Christian Ayatollahs like Jerry Falwell (who has initiated a Christmas Friend or Foe campaign), it was Bill O’Reilly who revealed that this is really a matter of profit not Prophet.

War on Christmas, Abu Santa

On his TV program, O’Reilly said:

“Every company in America should be on its knees thanking Jesus for being born. Without Christmas, most American businesses would be far less profitable.”

There you have it. Christ died on the cross for your net receipts and a favorable business environment. That’s a far cry from the guy who threw the moneychangers out of the temple.

The fact is that demagogues like O’Reilly, Falwell, Sean Hannity, John Gibson (whose book The War on Christmas, was released just in time for holiday shopping), and others, are using this manufactured controversy in much the same way that retailers use Christmas. It’s a way to exploit popular culture to increase exposure and profits. But what happened to trusting the market? If these hypocrites truly believed in the free market they purport to worship, then why don’t they let the market decide if campaigns extolling Happy Holidays have appeal to consumers. Not only are they unable to practice the economic values they espouse, they take it much farther by actually integrating Christmas into the economy.

The argument going around is that the economy would suffer devastating losses were there no Christmas. The moronically simplistic justification for that position is that, since people buy things during the Christmas season, if there were not one, they would not buy things. However, it seems unlikely that the money now spent on gifts would get sucked into some fiscal black hole absent this seasonal excuse to consume. Without Christmas, people would still spend their money on themselves and their families. They may put it into retirement or college funds, in which case it would still eventually be spent and circulate through the economy. And even if they just kept it in the bank, the increased personal savings rate would prime economic growth. Where’s the loss?

It should be noted that the exploitation of Christmas as a political cudgel is nothing new. In 1959 the John Birch Society issued a pamphlet titled “There Goes Christmas?!” that warned:

“One of the techniques now being applied by the Reds to weaken the pillar of religion in our country is the drive to take Christ out of Christmas — to denude the event of its religious meaning.”

And Henry Ford’s 1921 tract “The International Jew,” stated:

“The whole record of the Jewish opposition to Christmas, Easter and other Christian festivals, and their opposition to certain patriotic songs, shows the venom and directness of [their] attack…And it has become pretty general. Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone’s Birth…Now, all this begins with the designers of the cards.”

Here I must make a confession. I am the designer of the cards, and Jewish to boot. I am an artist with a small business wherein I market my artwork on cards, magnets coasters, etc. In fact, the image attached to this article is available at my website, Crass Commerce, along with many more works of fine art, humor, and politics. And need I remind you that they make wonderful Christmas presents.

I can’t say that I’m serving the interests of a secular cabal, but at least I’m contributing to the cornucopia of consumption that O’Reilly, et al, must certainly regard as sacrosanct.

Iraq Gets A Dose Of U.S. Style Propaganda

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories intended to portray operations there in a positive light. The stories are not disclosed to the local media as having been written by American troops. This is a valuable lesson in clandestine propaganda that the U. S. is offering, even as they publicly promote their efforts to train Iraqis in basic journalism, including a workshop titled “The Role of Press in a Democratic Society.” I would guess that the first day of class would be a lecture warning the students to, “Do as we say, not as we do.”

The irony is stretched even further with the knowledge that just yesterday, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld held a press conference where he said about Iraq…

“The country is — has a free media, and they can — it’s a relief valve. They could have hundred-plus papers.”

This breaking news about Iraq’s free media comes from the same great free press advocate that appeared before the American Society of Newspaper Editors in April of last year to say that…

…the United States was founded “on the notion that an unchecked government is a major obstacle to human freedom.” and that American leaders must be “challenged, internally through the complex constitutional system of checks and balances, and externally by a free and energetic press.”

Then, the next month, he famously declared that…

… “I’ve stopped reading newspapers…You’ve got to keep your sanity somehow. I’m a survivor.”

That was in response to the media coverage of the release of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse photos.

What a shining example of consistency and integrity. The behavior of this Secretary of Defense makes the disclosure of the planted stories in Iraqi newspapers somewhat less than surprising. And this cabinet department is not alone as a producer of propaganda. Both the Education and Health and Human Services Departments have been found to be engaging in unlawful propaganda here at home. This must be what Bush means when he says he wants to export American democracy to the rest of the world.

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O’Reilly HOLIDAY Ornaments For Sale At Fox

Bill O’Reilly has been making a lot of noise recently about Heathens who want to steal Christmas and kill Santa. The plot hinges on pressuring retailers to replace their commercial appeals for a “Merry Christmas”, with the more inclusive “Happy Holidays.” He has gone so far as to call for a boycott of the offending marketers.

Maybe he should have checked with his bosses at Fox first. They seem perfectly happy to jump on the Xmas Xploitation bandwagon with their own O’Reilly swag.

From the Fox News Shop:

The O’Reilly Factor Holiday Ornament – Product #:FOX21001200
Put your holiday tree in “The No Spin Zone” with this silver glass “O’Reilly Factor” ornament.

Festive, isn’t it?

Update: The Fox Shop managers have edited their store and changed Holiday to Christmas. But I have the evidence.


Kucinich & Co. Take L.A. Times To Task For Scheer Dismissal
We, as Members of Congress, object to the dismissal of Robert Scheer, a 32-year veteran of the LA Times with a long history of excellence in reporting and op ed pieces.

Koppel Floating Idea For New Show Called The F-ing Media
TV never looks at itself hard. We want to answer such questions as, ‘Why is 24-hour cable news “blondes reporting on missing blondes”?

Newspapers Dispelling the Myth of Readership Decline – By Counting Online Readers

For years, publishers have relied — often to their detriment — upon the metric of paid circulation. But circulation for the core product has been on a long, steady decline, causing some to suggest that print is on its way out.

Time Warner Hosts Off The Record Conference with Justice Scalia
He was the latest guest in a Time Warner series of interviews conducted by Norman Pearlstine, the departing editor in chief of Time Inc. Just before the program began on Monday, Richard D. Parsons, chairman of Time Warner, told the audience of more than 100 journalists and businesspeople that what was said was off the record.

Reporters Given 180 Minutes of Access to 470 pages of Alito Documents
How nice of the Justice Department, thanks to a FOIA request, to make legal documents related to Judge Alito available, on a very limited basis today.

FCC Is Expected To Back ‘A La Carte’ Pricing For Cable Networks
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is expected to announce Tuesday that the commission will soon revise the conclusion it reached in the report it issued last year

Feds won’t block merger of Village Voice Media and New Times
The federal government has declined to intervene in the merger of New York-based Village Voice Media, which owns Seattle Weekly and five other publications, with Phoenix-based New Times, which owns 11 weeklies – clearing the way for the two companies to become one as soon as paperwork is complete.

Sneaking Up On Journalism

Let’s face it…The mainstream, corporate press is an insular confederation of stenographers in the newsroom and charlatans in the boardroom.

Reporters who are obsessed with access and privilege cannot possibly be relied upon for balance and insight. That’s why what often passes for balance is just the presentation of falsehood as a response to truth. Many reporters fear that providing context, or facts, will be perceived as subjectivity. By leaving out those critical elements, falsehood and truth are left to be judged as credible equals.

The executive suites of the ever-consolidating media giants are populated by seekers of profit and power. They are more interested in the performance of their stock than the practice of responsible journalism. And since their financial interests are aligned with those of their advertisers, and their patrons in Washington, the public they purport to serve will almost always be shortchanged.

Despite the obvious dysfunction evident in this system, one thing they have expertly engineered is their own self-defense. Should the specter of honorable reportage emerge from the moat, gendarmes will repel it with dispatch. The only way, therefore, to storm the castle, is to sneak up on it from behind.

Feature writers are in a unique position to have a beneficial impact on the state of journalism and the world around them. Who says these niche reporters can’t insert socially relevant content into their stories? In a prior article, I wrote of how Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times used his column on media criticism to lambaste the hollowness of a recent speech by the Vice President, as well as the failure of the media to provide coherent coverage of the speech. Why can’t that be a model for other feature columnists?

  • Restaurant reviewers could remind their readers to be grateful that they are able to eat, much less eat out at fine restaurants.
  • Sports writers could explore athletic scholarships and broader educational curriculum issues.
  • Business columnists could cover business from labor’s perspective and investigate corporate political activity.
  • Auto columns could address global warming.
  • Medical columnists could provide information about universal healthcare.
  • The real estate pages might consider stories on homelessness.

The point I’m making here is that, if we can’t get our voices heard in conventional news forums, then maybe we should be unconventional. These special interest columns have a broad appeal and are sometimes the only way to reach readers that pay little attention to the frantic world depicted on the front pages. This could be a way to have an impact by hitting people where they live – in their homes, cars, restaurants, parks, temples, theaters, etc. Perhaps we need to undertake the initiative to inspire writers of this specialty content to take a stand once in awhile, and to show that they care about the real world that their specialties embrace.

Burying The Lede

The The Los Angeles Times should pay my doctor bills for the heart attack they gave me by publishing an insightful, well-reasoned, and hard-hitting opinion column yesterday. Tim Rutten’s article, Cheney’s History Needs A Revise, is one of the best deconstructions of the Vice President’s hysterical hypocrisy I’ve read to date. In case you missed it, Cheney, after an insincere stab at advocating the right to dissent, immediately blasted dissenters as aiding and abetting the terrorists. He accused critics of the war of lying when they said Bush lied about pre-war intelligence. Even though that has been, in Cheney’s words, “…pretty well confirmed.” He went on to say:

Administration critics were engaging in “…revisionism of the most corrupt and shameless variety.”

“Any suggestion that prewar information was distorted, hyped, fabricated by the leader of the nation is utterly false.”

And that critics were “dishonest” and “reprehensible.”

Rutten mercilessly pounds on Cheney’s own revisionism, hitting him with Curveball, torture, and his own desparation as the only BushCo rep with lower public ratings than Bush. And he wraps it up beautifully with this conclusion:

That’s why Cheney is right about at least one thing: Deliberately falsifying history for mere political advantage is a particularly noxious social perversion. It is, to borrow, his stingingly apt adjective, “reprehensible.”

But candid recollection and sober reflection do not amount to revisionism – unless, of course, you’re already committed to self-deception and determined to convince others to live with your lie.

So how then is the lede buried, as my headline states? You might expect that this thoughtful portrayal of current events by a significant newsmaker would have appeared in the opinion section, or in the news pages properly identified as analysis. You would be wrong. Tim Rutten is a media columnist and his articles appear in the Calendar section that contains the Times’ entertainment reporting.

This means I may have to radically alter my reading habits. Perhaps I should turn first to the Calendar for insight into the news, then pick up the opinion pages for entertainment, where their newest columnist, Jonah Goldberg, is best known for his fiction.