Chatting With Mr. Bush

When George W. Bush wants to assure himself that he’s exposed to a well-rounded assortment of views, he boldly reaches out to a diverse assembly of independent media professionals. He did so last Friday by calling in a group of pundits that would surely stimulate a healthy debate. Invited to this exclusive affair were:

  • Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard
  • Larry Kudlow of Kudlow & Co. on CNBC
  • Michael Barone, senior writer for U.S. News and World Report
  • Charles Krauthammer, a Washington Post and Weekly Standard columnist
  • Kathleen Parker, syndicated conservative columnist.

This is the right-wing’s right-wing. Larry Kudlow was overjoyed to learn that he was in with the In Crowd. The Chicago Tribune describes Kudlow’s gleeful anticipation of the gathering:

“Kudlow says he is looking forward to his meeting with Bush for, if nothing else, a mood-check on how the guy is faring.”

Now that’s a real journalist. He’s not looking forward to the mundane tasks of asking questions on behalf of his audience, nor to delve into the complexities of the President’s policies and plans. Kudlow is much more interested in Georgie’s feelings and how he is holding up under the strain. But is it the strain of being widely considered the worst president in history; the strain of sending other people’s children to their doom? It must be so hard on him.

Meanwhile, Barnes reported Bush’s perspective on how best to persuade the nation that his “unpopular war” was still a really good idea. He said the President didn’t view talking about success as the “most useful tool.” Barnes writes that…

“Instead, Bush said, the most compelling case for persevering in Iraq is ‘what failure will look like.’

Perhaps talking about success is not so useful when there is such a dirth of it in Iraq. Talking about failure is much more consistent with this administration’s history of hammering fear into an anxious populace.

Barnes also quotes Bush making one of the most hilariously hypocritical statements yet to emerge from a president who has already set records in hypocrisy:

“‘There are lots of talkers in Washington,’ he said. But he’s not one of them. ‘I’m not on the phone chatting with the people who write those stories,'” the president insisted.

No, he’s chatting with them in the White House. He is actually chatting with the people that write the stories as he tells them that he doesn’t chat with them. Could anything be more absurd? Well, yes. How about Fred Barnes reporting that he learned in a chat with the President that the President doesn’t engage in chats with folks like himself?

It’s a twisted brand of logic – don’t hurt yourself trying to figure it out. It’s the same twisted behavior that accounts for the President spending precious moments with a cabal of columnists that are already on board the sinking ship of Bush’s state. What could they possibly hope to gain by entertaining these hacks? Their opinions are already squarely aligned with the administration. Their audience consists of the 26 percenters that believe Bush was ordained by God to lead us into the Apocalypse.

This isn’t even good propaganda. It is, however, reminiscent of the Radio Day Bush hosted on the North Lawn of the White House last October, a few days before the mid-term elections. About three dozen mostly conservative radio gabbers took up residence in a tent (insert circus jokes here) to interview the likes of Rice, Rumsfeld, Rove, etc.

As the President’s myopia further constricts his vision, you have to wonder what inspires these foolish media fanfests. The only explanation is that Bush is desperately lonely and he can’t find anyone else that will talk to him. He’s been abandoned by voters, and Republicans in Congress are peeling away like a bad sunburn. He may have reached the point where all he does have is Laura and Barney – and I wouldn’t be too sure of Barney.

Update: The Pentagon’s doing it too.

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Where There’s Smoke, There’s Murdoch

There’s a lot of activity in the News Corp. boardroom these days. Fox News just announced that their Fox Business Network will launch October 15, 2007. The Dow Jones acquisition, while not a certainty, is still proceeding apace. So it is always good to review what sort of service we can expect from News Corp. properties. PR Watch gives us another good example for why we have a right to worry about the expanding influence of Rupert Murdoch and Co.

[Philip Morris] cultivated a close relationship with Murdoch, and it has served PM’s interests admirably. An internal PM issue presentation titled The Perspective of PM International of Smoking and Health Issues, states PM’s intent to exploit its relationship with Murdoch:

A number of media proprietors … are sympathetic to our position – Rupert Murdoch and Malcolm Forbes are two good examples. The media like the money they make from our advertisements and they are an ally that we can and should exploit.

The PM document goes on to brag about how, “Murdoch’s papers rarely publish anti-smoking articles these days.” This was hardly a happy coincidence of editorial policy given that Murdoch was serving on the board of Philip Morris, and PM CEO Geoffrey C. Bible later joined the board of News Corp.

Murdoch has already promised that the Fox Business Network would be more “business friendly.” These revelations demonstrate just how intimate that friendship can be. How could anyone take such a network seriously? And how will anyone ever be able to take the Wall Street Journal seriously again, if Murdoch’s bid succeeds?


Fred Phelps: Bill O’Reilly Is The Messenger Of Satan

Pastor Fred Phelps, of “God Hates Fags” fame has condemned Bill O’Reilly to Hell. Not that O’Reilly needed any help getting there. Phelps labels O’Reilly the “spin doctor for his father the devil” in a nearly incoherent rant that cites numerous bible verses. Heed thee the word of the Lord and get thee behind me Bill-O…

Until now I hadn’t realized just how much O’Reilly and Phelps have in common. They both…

  • rant incoherently.
  • promote traditional values.
  • possess the one and only truth.
  • expose and denounce evil secularists.
  • lament the persecution of Christians.
  • believe in their own infallibility.
  • accuse the media of a personal bias.
  • preach to a congregation of mindless disciples.

Phelps, of course, is a joke whose ramblings, while repulsive, will have little impact on society. O’Reilly, on the other hand, broadcasts his dementia into millions of homes where the naive and uninformed are susceptible to the hatred and divisiveness he employs to incite the worst in people. He is a 21st century Father Coughlin and we cannot be rid of him too soon.

Bill O’Reilly: Propaganda Pimp
In a roomful of egomaniacal bloviating pundits, Bill O’Reilly would stand out as a towering infernal display of delusional demagoguery. Almost any random sampling of The O’Reilly Fester will reveal a man obsessed with his own righteousness.


Click the link above to experience an interactive portrait of O’Reilly that puts his unique abuse of language on display.


White House Propaganda Center Opens

Eleven months ago, I wrote about plans for the renovation of the White House Press Briefing Room. It was originally projected to take a month, then three months, then nine months. So today’s announcement that the new facility is finally opening means that they were only two months or ten months over schedule depending on which projection you use.

But this ribbon cutting ceremony for the new hub of Official Mendacity has already set the symbolic course for a future of coloring and/or dodging the truth.

First, as the AP reports, the entire affair was a sham that excluded much of the press for whom it was intended.

“Bush’s appearance was timed for network morning shows, though media attendance in the room was severely limited to make space for White House staff and construction workers.”

Then, in this room where the White House is expected to answer reporter’s questions, the President appeared briefly and flippantly refused to answer any questions:

“I’ll, like, listen, internalize, play like I’m going to answer the question, and then smile at you and just say, gosh thanks, thanks for such a solid, sound question.”

That’s a pretty good start, and tells us much about what we might expect to take place here in the future.


Glenn Beck’s Weak On CNN

Glenn Beck may not want you to know what a dismal failure he was when he ventured out from his perch on Headline News to replace Paula Zahn for a week on CNN. But here’s the bad news for Beck:


The bad news for the rest of us was that Beck was on CNN at all. And since his regular gig at HLN continued, he was on for 3 hours daily on CNN networks. What compelled the programmers at CNN to do such a thing is a mystery, but they got what they deserved.

Beck’s HLN program averaged 139,400 viewers in the 25-54 demo the week prior to his CNN stint. Moving to the much more widely viewed CNN, he was only able to increase his audience by 1.7%. Even worse, he under-performed the teetering Paula Zahn by over 23%. Zahn, it should be noted, is rumored to be on the way out because of her lackluster ratings.

What does that tell us about Beck, whose audience on HLN averaged a puny 82,000 demo viewers in the second quarter of 2007? Zahn for the same period averaged 191,000. And what does it tell us about CNN, who not only haven’t canceled this loser, but gave him even more air time to spew his brand of fact-free mental pollution?


New York Times Spanks Itself

Ever since 9/11, much of the media has engaged in a brand of journalism that more closely resembled stenography. It consisted mainly of uncritically regurgitating White House misrepresentations of foreign policy and terrorist threats. This failure on the part of the fourth estate resulted in such travesties as the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and the buttressing of an ever more imperious executive branch that brazenly ignored the Congress, the people, and the law. While some of the worst offenders later issued mea culpas, they obviously didn’t learn very much.

In recent weeks, many of the same news organizations have been repeating administration assertions that the Iraqi insurgency is predominantly an Al Qaeda operation. Neither the President nor the press have bothered to supply verifiable support for the claim.

Enter Clark Hoyt, the New York Times public editor, who’s latest column criticizes the laziness of “Seeing Al Qaeda Around Every Corner.” His analysis of the paper’s performance is a crushing blow to the reporters who suck up to official Washington purveyors of spin. Some excerpts:

“Why Bush and the military are emphasizing Al Qaeda to the virtual exclusion of other sources of violence in Iraq is an important story. So is the question of how well their version of events squares with the facts of a murky and rapidly changing situation on the ground.

But these are stories you haven’t been reading in The Times in recent weeks as the newspaper has slipped into a routine of quoting the president and the military uncritically about Al Qaeda’s role in Iraq – and sometimes citing the group itself without attribution.”

[…]

“While a president running out of time and policy options may want to talk about a single enemy that Americans hate and fear in the hope of uniting the country behind him, journalists have the obligation to ask tough questions about the accuracy of his statements.”

Hoyt actually did the work that the reporters were supposed to have done. He interviewed Middle East experts to get an informed evaluation of the administration’s dubious assertions. One such expert, Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor of Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, summarized the problem for the Times as well as the press more broadly:

“I have been noticing – not just your paper – all papers have fallen into this reporting.” The administration, he added, “made a strategic decision” to play up Al Qaeda’s role in Iraq, “and the press went along with it.”

Hoyt went on to blast stories that referenced militant links to Al Qaeda “with little or no attribution – and no supporting evidence…” However, Dean Baquet, the Times’ Washington bureau chief, and Susan Chira, the foreign editor, both defended the paper. But Chira, at least, acknowledged that the paper had used “excessive shorthand” when referring to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and admitted that, “We’ve been sloppy.”

As the new public editor for the Times, Hoyt deserves credit for writing a clear and honest appraisal of his colleagues and their work. He was recently recruited from the well-respected McClatchy newsroom (formally Knight Ridder) where he was the Washington editor. With just a handful of columns published since he arrived, he is building credibility for a paper that has harbored journalistic disgraces like Judith Miller and Michael Gordon (who is still there and still slanting stories to propound an aggressive militarism, this time directed at Iran).

I can’t help but wonder what influence Hoyt may have had in the Times’ recent, but long overdue, editorial calling for the U.S. to leave Iraq. It is one of the best summations from a mainstream media source for why we must end this debacle. It has more in common with the above par reporting of Knight Ridder than it does with anything the Times has published in the past two years. And it was published less than a month and a half after Hoyt’s hiring.

It remains to be seen if this is a prelude to responsible reporting at the Times or an aberration that, like Hoyt, could be ignored or discarded. But it is encouraging to see an article like this hold the media to a higher standard. The article closes with Hoyt quoting an old maxim of war:

“Military experts will tell you that failing to understand your enemy is a prescription for broader failure.”

Failing to understand the media could have similarly dire consequences. And, indeed, it has. That’s why it is so important for this type of authentic self-examination to be undertaken and observed.

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Junk Science And Junk News From Fox

On the day following the largest entertainment event in history, the folks at Fox behave with an uncanny predictability. With a live audience spanning 8 continents, four television networks, and record-setting access to live streaming over the Internet, Live Earth took it’s place in history and in the hearts of citizens of the world who care about their only terrestrial home. On Fox News, however, it’s a different story:

Writing for Junk Science: Live Earth’s Gross Groupies, Steven Milloy asks:

“Why is NBC airing Al Gore’s Live Earth concert this weekend? Why are Democrats, who claim to support the Fairness Doctrine, not objecting to this outright gift of unequal broadcast time to just one side (theirs) of a controversial political issue?”

Gross groupies? Milloy was inspired to pen this nonsense by Fox’s John Gibson, which may account for its foundation of ignorance. Both Milloy and Gibson assert that Democrats, as a group, are advocating the return of the Fairness Doctrine. This makes me wonder where they were last week when a majority of Democrats voted in favor of an amendment by Mike Pence to ban the FCC from using any funds to reinstate the fairness rule. We mustn’t let mere facts get in the way of perfectly good disinformation.

Even if it were true, the complaint that Democrats owe it to pollution proponents to allow them equal time during the Live Earth concerts is disingenuous at best. In fact, I would wager that those Democrats who are in favor the Fairness Doctrine would gladly hand over air time to Milloy and Gibson in exchange for a comparable accommodation from Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Hannity, Carlson, Beck, etc.

But Milloy goes even further to concoct a conspiracy on the part of General Electric, the largest defense contractor in the world, whom he accuses of being in cahoots with lefty environmentalists. He hypothesizes a plot centered on GE’s greedy quest for more green – by which he means money:

“GE’s ostensible rationale is that it hopes to profit by selling high-priced global warming-related and alternative energy products, ranging from solar panels and wind turbines to compact fluorescent lightbulbs and nuclear power plant technologies.”

This is an uncharacteristic attack on the free market by Milloy who is adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The CEI is a radical think tank that is funded by the Scaife family, Ford, Texaco, Amoco, Philip Morris, and other conservative and pollution-friendly corporations and foundations. Since when did these trickle-down economists become disdainful of giant corporations aspiring to enhance income generation? If it were any industry other than eco-business they would be solidly behind the company’s efforts grow their business. But just last week, the director of energy and global warming policy at CEI, Myron Ebell, appeared on MSNBC’s Tucker to denounce Al Gore as a liar who “makes stuff up,” and asserted that the climate crisis is nothing more than a scheme by modern-day Commies:

“Global warming is a phenomenon of the left and the left is all about redistributing income.”

The Milloy article appeared on FoxNews.com as part of a regular feature called “Junk Science.” The column runs once a week with its decidedly rightist perspective on science and the environment. There is no comparable column on FoxNews that offers an alternative opinion. The list of headlines at the site could be reprinted in The Onion without editing and make for great comedy. Yet Milloy seems oblivious to the hypocrisy of calling for equal time from Live Earth while authoring one-sided tracts for Fox News who also don’t bother to provide opportunities for opposing view points.


DC Talk Radio Gets Smarter

The airwaves were burning up yesterday with the news that WJFK in our nation’s capital dropped Bill O’Reilly’s show and replaced it with a sports-talk program. The O’Reilly Fester apparently underwhelmed the Washington radio audience. But he wasn’t the only one:

Cool Reception for Conservative Radio

“With the exception of Rush Limbaugh, conservative talk-radio hosts have struggled for years to find a wide audience on the local dial. While Limbaugh’s afternoon program remains popular on WMAL (630 AM), not many other conservatives’ programs have.”

In addition to Limbaugh, WMAL carries Sean Hannity, Matt Drudge, Larry Elder, and other rightist blowhards. Chris Berry, president and general manager of WMAL, commenting on O’Reilly’s dismissal from the competing station, said that…

“…people in D.C. are smarter” than talk audiences in other towns […] In D.C., people really do know the issues.”

Setting aside the arrogant conceit of that statement, it does explain nicely why conservatives like O’Reilly are failing in the market. I can appreciate how difficult it must be to sell the fact-free Republicanism of right wing squawkers to listeners who actually know something about current affairs. And with the expulsion of O’Reilly from DC there is probably also a measurable increase in the region’s intelligence.


The Fox Frame: Terrorist Doctors Edition

Yesterday, the soon-to-be managing editor of the Fox Business Channel, Neil Cavuto, interviewed National Review Online columnist Jerry Bowyer who claimed that national health care systems are breeding grounds for terrorists because they are “bureaucratic.”

How long before Bush invades the DMV?

Today Cavuto expanded on the theme by asking if it’s, “time to restrict Muslim Dr.’s from entering America.”

Guest Mike Gallagher argued that Muslim doctors should be banned entry into the U.S. and Hugh Hewitt advocated investigation of all those who are already here. This was followed by a guest explaining why Muslim doctors will ignore their Hippocratic Oath. She failed to address Christian doctors that also do so when supporting wars of aggression (i.e.Iraq) or presiding over executions.

Will these patriots also support such measures for accountants and engineers and practioners of all the other occupations of terrorists that have been captured to date?

But Neil still wasn’t finished exhibiting the kind of fairness and balance that we can expect from him as head of Fox’ business news division.

The very next segment had another hit piece on Michael Moore’s “Sicko” that accused him of lying about the healthcare system in Canada. But it was the guest who lied by saying that Moore never discussed the waiting periods in Canada. In fact, Moore did state that there are waiting periods in both Canada and the U.S. And no one waits longer than someone who never gets care.

This is what we have to look forward to when Fox launches their business network this fall. And, unless the Bancroft family wises up, it’s what readers of the Wall Street Journal will be faced with as well.


Happy Birthday: Freedom of Information Act Is 41 Today

July 4, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Its purpose was to ensure the public’s right to access information from the federal government. For the first time, the government would bear the burden for certifying why requested information should not be released, and any refusal to release information could be challenged in court.

The FOIA was nearly stillborn as Johnson was bitterly opposed to the legislation. His press secretary, Bill Moyers, described LBJ as having to be:

“…dragged kicking and screaming to the signing ceremony. He hated the very idea of the Freedom of Information Act; hated the thought of journalists rummaging in government closets and opening government files; hated them challenging the official view of reality.”

In 41 years, the presidential impression of the FOIA has actually declined. the Bush administration has been cited as the most secretive in history. Moyers enumerates many examples in a speech he gave before the Society of Professional Journalists. BushCo intelligence agencies have also been busy re-classifying tens of thousands of documents that were previously available for years.

With regard to actual compliance, Bush and his Secret Society associates have assembled a disgraceful record of non-performance. The Knight Open Government Survey published by the National Security Archive of George Washington University, finds systematic failures in tracking, processing, and reporting on FOIA requests. In January 2007, the Archive itself filed FOIA requests with the 87 leading federal agencies to identify the ten oldest pending requests in each agency. Fifty seven of the agencies responded. Out of more than 500 pending requests, only twenty were still within the 20 day period agencies have to respond. All ten of the State Department’s oldest were more than 15 years old. The survey also found that agencies misrepresented their FOIA backlogs to Congress as well as discrepancies between this year’s audit and previous audits.

Any sense of surprise at this administration’s obsession with obfuscation and deceit should have worn off long ago. There are just too many examples to list. But on this holiday celebrating freedom, perhaps the best example occurred just a couple of days ago when Bush issued his payoff (commutation) to Scooter Libby. This is another transparent effort by the crime bosses in the White House to buy the silence of a compromised accomplice. Despite this brazen abuse of executive authority, the Congress still seems incapable of demanding accountability:

“Bipartisan Congressional efforts to solve some of the problems exposed in the Archive’s “ten oldest” audits have stalled in the Senate, with Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona personally holding S. 849 from an up-or-down vote. The bill would impose penalties for agency delay, mandate accurate and timely tracking and reporting of FOIA requests…”

Sometimes it only takes one corrupted soul to throw a roadblock in front of a whole nation, but the result is the same.

As we celebrate that other anniversary that everybody seems to be talking about today, we should take a moment to recognize this 41st birthday of legislation that was enacted in the best spirit of this country’s principles. James Madison seems prescient in his statement back in 1822:

“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”

Happy 41st, Freedom of Information Act.
See my salute to FOIA’s 40th.