National Conference On Media Reform

I will be attending the National Conference On Media Reform this week. And hope that many of my readers will be there as well. From the Conference website:

The National Conference for Media Reform is for anyone who is concerned about the state of our media and committed to working for change. This energizing weekend presents ideas and strategies for winning the fight for better media and connects you with thousands of media reformers from across the nation.

Hopefully we will have an opportunity to meet one another. I will be blogging the conference and should have some useful and entertaining treats for y’all when I return.

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MSNBC Stands Alone In 2006

MSNBC has beaten the competition in terms of audience growth consistently for the last twelve months. So it should come as no surprise that MSNBC’s tally for 2006 shows not only the highest gain over 2005, but the only gain amongst cable news networks.

As usual, it was Keith Olbermann’s Countdown that fueled the increase. Countdown was up 60% in total viewers and 67% in the 25-54 demo. Keith’s nemesis, Bill O’Reilly, can still boast about being the number one program on cable news, but those footsteps he hears are not the pitter-patter of the Culture Warrior Youth.

Persons 2+ -12% -20% -4% +6%
Persons 25-54 -17% -25 -3 +8%

Persons 2+ -7% -14% -7% +8%
Persons 25-54 -5% -18% -7% +12%

If you kiddies are looking for something constructive to do, here’s a project for you:

Fox News is currently renegotiating its contracts with cable carriers. They have been lumbering under one of the worst deals in the business because they were desperate for carriage when they started out. Now they believe that they are entitled to substantial upgrades. On the surface, they have a pretty good case since they are the top cable news network. But as this marketing burst is coming at a time when they are also the fastest declining network, cable operators should not be bullied into accepting sky high licensing fees. If Fox was stupid enough to lock themselves into low fees in their formative years, cablers should learn from that and not lock themselves into high fees while Fox is sinking.

This would be a good time to write your local cable company and stress that you are not willing to pay more to have continued access to Fox News. Any deal that they make with Fox must not result in an increase of your monthly fees. If that happens, you will quickly cancel and get a dish.

The end result of this is not to keep Fox off of the air. The cable companies are surely going to re-up with the current Nielsen leader. But you can have an impact on their profitability by giving your cable operator the ammunition to bargain Fox down. So sharpen those pencils and let your carrier know that you will not tolerate rate increases to fatten the wallets of a network you don’t even watch.

FBI Ends Harrassment Of Jack Anderson’s Ghost

Last April it was reported that the FBI intended to seek documents from the estate of investigative reporter, Jack Anderson. I wrote at the time that this presented some ominous threats to freedom of the press and the well being of reporters:

“News sources, whistleblowers, and others with information, the disclosure of which is in the public’s interest, would be far less likely to come forward if they know that their identity could be revealed in the event of the reporter’s death […] The government cannot presently force the reporter to reveal his sources without the intervention of the courts. But if the reporter were to die, under the principle being advanced here by the FBI, the government could retrieve the data they want from the reporter’s estate. Consequently, it would be in the government’s interest for the reporter to die.”

It seems that the FBI has decided to back off. James H. Clinger, an Acting Associate Attorney General, responding to questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, now says that…

“The FBI met with the Anderson family in an effort to review the files with their consent. At this time, the FBI is not seeking to reclaim any documents.”

There was no further comment from the FBI or any explanation for the change. For the time being we should just be glad that the inquisition is over. But there is still a need to be vigilant given the history of abuse of the press by this administration.

Bush Sucks Up To Congress – Or Just Sucks

The Wall Street Journal published a very special guest editorial today by one of its favorite public figures, the President of the United States. In the editorial, Bush takes a stab at bipartisanship, but the knife must have accidentally slipped, because it ends up going for the throat.

He starts off dispassionately stating a fact that must still cause acute gnashing of the teeth:

“Tomorrow, members of the 110th Congress will take their oaths of office here in Washington. I will have the privilege of working with them for the next two years…”
That “privilege” has been available for the last six years. You just chose to ignore, and even disparage it.

“I believe government closest to the people is more responsive and accountable.”
You have certainly proven that by presiding over a distant White House that has been the least responsive and wholly unaccountable.

Much of the interior of this editorial is devoted to a rehashing of the President’s long-time agenda of fighting terrorism, cutting taxes, privatizing Social Security, and the rest of the Republican nonsense that he has been harping on since being put in office by the Supreme Court. There is not a whit of compromise or concession that might reflect an honest desire to work with Democrats. In fact, he takes the opposite view and issues this warning:

“The majority party in Congress gets to pass the bills it wants. The minority party, especially where the margins are close, has a strong say in the form bills take. …If the Congress chooses to pass bills that are simply political statements, they will have chosen stalemate.”

What he doesn’t say is that any bill that is contrary to his designs on power will be considered a “political statement.” And no one should find it curious that he is now championing minority rights in Congress when for the six years that the Democrats were in the minority, there was ne’er a word of support for the concept.

I hope that the Democrats are smart enough to recognize this for what it is: a thinly veiled attempt at deception coming right out of the Trojan horse’s mouth. The President has no intention of bipartisanship and the priorities enumerated in the article prove that. The American people voted overwhelming for change, and the Democratic beneficiaries of that must realize their duty to set their own agenda and fight for the changes that the people demand.

As for the press, they still haven’t learned. Despite the decidedly combatative tone and content, here’s a sampling of how the media is presenting this news:

  • Associated Press: President Reaches Out in Rare Editorial.
  • Reuters: Bush seeks positive tone for new U.S. Congress.
  • Fox: Bush Urges Cooperation Between Democrats, New Priorities.
  • ABC: Bush Seeks Cooperation From New Congress.

You have to leave the country before you start to get near the truth.

  • Agence France-Presse: Bush warns Democratic Congress against ‘stalemate’.


Osama, Obama?

I have little to add to this graphic disaster. Raw Story fleshes it out with other examples of similar slip-ups and some that were not even accidental.

There is plenty of room to debate whether these sort of things are deliberate, but just the fact that they make it on to the air is an indictment of the carelessness of modern media. What a bunch of amateurs.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

There is an abundance of morbidity engulfing the media in these days before the new year. Death is the new Life of the of the party. From James Brown to Gerald Ford to the freshly executed Saddam Hussein. But let’s not forget that December of 2006 was also the deadliest month of the year for American soldiers in Iraq. And it wasn’t so good for Iraqis either.

But the media soldiers on in it’s inimatable fashion, finding ever new ways to stun the senses. Last night, shortly after the Hanging of the Year, the debate began as to whether photos and video of Saddam’s demise should be broadcast or published. But they didn’t even wait for the debate to get heated up before hyping such broadcasts with teasers and promos. Here’s how Fox presented it:

But perhaps a more interesting visual account was this from CNN:

What’s wrong with this picture?

A solemn moment that is puncuated by the network’s crawl – a quote from Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie:

“It was an Iraqi operation from A to Z. The Americans were not present during the hour of the execution. They weren’t even in the building.”

“From A to Z” – ? Why would an Iraqi asserting that Americans were out of the loop use a descriptor from the English alphabet? This is perhaps a picked nit, but it just seems that this language illustrates how closely Americans are aligned with everything that is occurring in the land they are occupying, whether they want to admit it or not.

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Gerald Ford’s FOIA Veto

The passing of former President Gerald Ford will produce a torrent of retrospectives and remembrances. The media will undoubtedly focus on the Nixon resignation, the end of our “long national nightmare,” and the pardons that probably cost Ford the election in 1976. But there is a lesser known story that may have an even longer reach. It’s a story that touches on some of the core values of our liberties and introduces us to a cast of characters that remain on stage today.

The original version of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 1966 was a controversial document that prevailed despite some bitter debates and opposition by President Johnson. As Johnson’s press secretary, Bill Moyers, describes it:

“LBJ had 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; hated them challenging the official view of reality. He dug in his heels and even threatened to pocket veto the bill after it reached the White House.”

This was not an uncommon point of view for presidents, who are generally protective of their executive privileges. Nonetheless, Johnson signed the bill, but its form at the time made it nearly impotent.

Congress endeavored to shore up FOIA and produced legislation to amend it in 1974. The bill was dumped in Ford’s lap at the commencement of his promotion to the White House. Ford’s position on the new bill was that it was negative on its merits but could be problematic to veto in the wake of his ascension to the presidency. He had promised open and honest government, and vetoing a Freedom of Information Act might not be viewed as consistent with either openness or honesty.

Ford eventually was persuaded to veto the bill with the help of a trio of advisors: his Chief of Staff, Donald Rumsfeld; his deputy Chief of Staff, Dick Cheney; and the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Antonin Scalia. An ominous early assemblage of an evil cabal we know only too well today.

The veto was overridden by Congress and the amendments became law. In the intervening years it has proven to be an invaluable tool to rein in the kind of government arrogance and abuse that is exemplified so well by the Nixon era that preceded its passage.

It’s just too bad that the people responsible for the veto could not also have been overridden so that today we would not have to be suffering still from their destructive, self-serving, and hostile policies. Thousands of American families, and hundreds of thousands in Iraq, have paid dearly for their misguidance. We should keep those families in our thoughts and prayers, today and going forward, just as we do the Ford family.

White House Orders Propaganda Broadcasts

“No part of any appropriation contained in this or any other Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States not heretofore authorized by Congress.”

Since 1951, that prohibition on the funding of propaganda within the U. S. has been enacted annually. It’s a straight forward ban on the expenditure of taxpayer dollars intended to deceive and manipulate taxpayers. While there are many examples of deceptive communications by the government and its accessories (i.e. Judith Miller, Armstrong Williams, and Fox News), there remains a distinction between that and products deliberately intended to influence foreign audiences. For example, Voice of America, whose broadcasts are not permitted within the U. S.

The Bush administration, however, would never let 56 years of law and precedent stand in the way of its venal designs. As reported by the Miami Herald

“Taxpayer-funded TV and Radio Martí are spending $377,500 to air select programs on South Florida broadcast stations over the next six months, using loopholes in a law that prohibits the propaganda channels from distribution within the United States.”

The loophole that is being asserted here provides an exception for broadcast dissemination that is considered “inadvertent.” But it is implausible to suggest that broadcasts over South Florida radio and television frequencies would produce only inadvertent exposure to U. S. audiences. These channels are, in fact, intended for U. S. audiences.

Particularly disturbing is the statement by the director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), Pedro Roig, that the decision to air these programs was, “taken at the White House.” This was corroborrated by Jorge Luis Hernández, director of broadcast operations for OCB, who said that the White House pushed for these broadcasts on local Miami stations. Though disturbing, it is not surprising with the knowledge that the federal agency that oversees the OCB, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), is chaired by the corrupt BushCo henchman, Kenneth Tomlinson.

There may be even more to this than simple propaganda. Joe García of the New Democratic Network believes that the financial arrangements in this matter have another unscrupulous purpose:

“This is a fraud. This is using taxpayer dollars for a political payoff to benefit the most Republican and politically charged radio station in Miami. They know well that the station isn’t heard in Cuba, because Cuba transmits Radio Rebelde over the exact same frequency.”

This news, coming as it does just days after the recess appointments of two more Bush cronies to the BBG suggests a massive escalation in Bush’s War on Truth. If our nation’s corporate dominated media were not already so compromised and ineffective, these events would constitute a major scandal. As it is, most Americans will hear little or nothing about it. That’s the way good propaganda works.

[Note: Sen. Lautenberg authored a bill to Stop Government Propaganda (S. 266) and to permanently codify the language at the top of this post. The bill was introduced in February of 2005 and went straight to the Judiciary Committee where it has languished ever since. We’ll see if there is any progress when the gavel passes from Sen. Specter (R-PA) to Sen. Leahy (D-VT)]

More Bush Cronies Get Recess Appointments

This president, who has repeatedly demonstrated his disdain for democracy and the rule of law, is again bypassing the senate to install a pair of unqualified and partisan cronies to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). The BBG is the agency that oversees federal media operations like Radio Free Europe and Voice of America.

On the heels of his re-nomination of the corrupt Kenneth Tomlinson to chair the Board, the president has now used his executive power to plant Warren Bell and Mark McKinnon on these boards while the senate is in recess. Neither of these appointees are suitable for service on the board and both would likely have failed to get confirmed by the senate. Allow me to introduce you to these new board members.

Warren Bell, appointed to the CPB:

As a television producer and writer, he worked on programs like “According to Jim” and “Coach.” He had a reputation as an outspoken and controversial conservative. He has had no experience managing the sort of administrative operation that would be expected of a board member and no experience in public television. What he does have is a record of provocative statements that call into question his temperment and impartiality. Here are some choice excerpts from columns he wrote for the National Review Online…

“I could reach across the aisle and hug Nancy Pelosi, and I would, except this is a new shirt, and that sort of thing leaves a stain.”

“I am thoroughly conservative in ways that strike horror into the hearts of my Hollywood colleagues. I support a woman’s right to choose what movie we should see, but not that other one. I am on the Right in every way.”

Mark McKinnon, appointed to the BBG:

As a consummate Republican insider, McKinnon was the media director for both Bush presidential campaigns. His Maverick Media collected half of the campaign funds paid to the top 50 recipients of Bush/Cheney spending – totaling over $170 million. He is also vice-chairman of Public Strategies, Inc., a Texas-based lobbying and political-image firm. Amongst other things, PSI has lobbied in support of Video News Releases that are distributed to television stations for them to run without identifying the source, which is commonly a government agency or an invested corporation. He also has no professional credentials requisite to the duties he will now assume.

While Bell’s strident partisanship is problematic, McKinnon’s appointment seems even more troubling. His career has been spent almost exclusively on getting Republicans elected to office or winning legislative plums for big business. More recently, McKinnon was hired as chief media advisor for John McCain’s aborning presidential campaign. I have been unable to ascertain if he intends to serve on the board and run McCain’s media at the same time. That would be ethically questionable in my opinion. But that hasn’t stopped them before.

These appointments will not expire until the end of the next congressional session. That’s a lot of time to inflict a lot of damage on our nation’s public media. They will also have additional opportunities to damage our international standing through partisanly manipulated broadcasts by an administration that has virtually demolished our reputation as it is.

I truly hope that I can impress upon you the potential for harm that exists, not merely from these unconscionably inappropriate appointments, but from the president’s willful avoidance of Constitutional process. Any responsible senator ought to be concerned about this usurpation of their jurisdiction. And responsible citizens should be calling their senators now to urge them to be responsible.

Sean Penn Gets First Amendment Award

The public spirited artists and entertainers of the Creative Coalition honored Sean Penn this week with their First Amendment Award. The acceptance speech he delivered was so moving and comprehensive that I don’t want to clutter it up with my extraneous commentary. So I’ll just provide a few choice excerpts and implore you to go read the whole thing for yourself.

“We depend largely for information on […] issues from media industries, driven by the bottom line to such an extent that the public interest becomes uninteresting.”

“And should we speak truth, we stand against government efforts to intimidate or legislate in the service of censorship. Whether under the guise of a Patriot Act or any other benevolent-sounding rationale for the age-old game of shutting down dissent by discouraging independent thinking and preventing progressive social change.”

“And, where is the accountability on behalf of the American dead and wounded, their families, their friends, and the people of the United States who have seen their country become a world pariah. These events have been enabled by people named Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, and Rice, as they continue to perpetuate a massive fraud on American democracy and decency.”

“Let’s give the whistle-blowers cover, let’s get the subpoenas out there, and then, one by one, put this administration under oath. And then, if the crimes of ‘Treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors’ are proven, do as Article 2, Section 4 of the United States Constitution provides, and remove ‘the President, Vice President and…civil officers of the United States’ from office.”

I purposely left out some of the best stuff. Go read it.