Colbert Slays White House Press Corpse

I’m afraid a lot of folks are missing the big story on the White House Stenographer’s Association Dinner.

First of all, I think Colbert’s material was devasting but his delivery was a little stiff and he was too dependent on his notes. But that’s really irrelevant. The routine itself was more about media punditry than the president. even when he addressed politics, it was in the context of how a pundit would frame it. He never broke character.

The most important thing that happened that night was the routine with Bush and his impersonator. Here’s the reason it’s important:

In satirical comedy the key is to identify the most recognizable characteristic of the subject and amplify it. It must be an actual characteristic or there will be no humor. Think about every good impersonation you’ve ever seen whether political or celebrity. You laugh because you recognize the subject’s peculiarities.

And what charactersitic was selected for amplification in that routine:

Bush Is Stupid!

This may not be news to people with measurable brain activity, but it is significant that it has now been validated in public by this event. And the fact that the president would participate in this certification of his idiocy is astonishing.

This was not typical self-deprecation, it was a confession. It was an acknowledgement that the one element of Bush’s character that is obvious to all is what an ignorant boob he is. And it was funny because it was true.

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The Tony Snow Job

I suppose it was inevitable. Former Poppa Bush speechwriter, current Fox News commentator and Fox Radio talk show host, Tony Snow, been appointed White House Press Secretary. Since Snow has been shilling for the president for years in his current job, a guest on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown recently asked if he would be getting back pay. It must be convenient for the White House to have the farm team at Fox available any time they need a new relief spinner.

Amongst the jokes that write themselves when stupefying events like this occur, there are some seriously funny moments to treasure. ThinkProgress has compiled some commentary by Snow that refers to the president as “an embarrassment,” “impotent,” and more. If that’s the kind of counsel he’ll be giving in the Oval Office, this might turn out pretty well after all.

Unfortunately, we can’t expect Snow to be any more honest in his new job than he was in his old one. Media Matters has documented some of the many falsehoods that were a regular feature of his broadcasts.

However, as we bid farewell to Scotty McClellan and welcome Tony to his new digs, we must not forget why this substitution is taking place. The administration is in turmoil:

  • They are losing two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) and rattling their paper sabers at a third (Iran).
  • They are defending multiple top-level aides who are under investigation or indictment.
  • They are stumbling around trying to deal with record high gas prices.
  • They are suffering from ever lower poll numbers and the possible loss of one or both houses of congress in November.

Their solution to this perfect storm of political chaos? A new press secretary!

This game plan clearly holds the hope that the new face will create a diversion. They expect that the White House Press Corpse will honor Snow with a Honeymoon Period. They’re going to say, “He needs to get his bearings and figure out which drawer the paper clips are in. Give him a break.”

Well I say Hell No! He is a veteran of both the media and the White House. If he can’t do the job he shouldn’t have been appointed. There are too many critical issues facing the country to allow precious time to slip away. We need answers to the questions raised above and others, like health care, tax fairness, immigration, wiretapping, global warming, and on and on. It is the Press Corpse’s job to elicit these answers from our representatives and they better damn well do it.


The Fox Befouling Of MySpace Has Begun

It was inevitable. Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of MySpace was going to destroy it. Everyone knew that. Now the evidence is at hand and on display in the New York Times.

The decline begins with monetizing everything that moves. With Fox as the parent company, MySpace becomes just another mainstream vehicle to inject advertising into the tattered veins of a public that is viewed as nothing but consumption junkies. The lust for revenue will overpower whatever social benefit the service presently offers. And for those who hoped that MySpace’s founders, Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson, would insulate their brainchild from the suits, they will only be bitterly disappointed by reality. The Times reports this repulsive initiative…

“…to expand one of Mr. DeWolfe’s advertising ideas – turning advertisers into members of the MySpace community, with their own profiles, like the teenagers’ – so that the young people who often spend hours each day on MySpace can become “friends” with movies, cellphone companies and even deodorants. Young people can link to the profiles set up for these goods and services, as they would to real friends, and these commercial “friends” can even send them messages – ads, really, but of a whole new kind.”

Deodorants as a whole new kind of real friend for the young people. Now that’s innovation! But that’s not all. The new bosses think it would be a good idea to start charging the many bands that have created profiles and use the site to develop and connect with their fans. This idea is so bad that even DeWolfe opposes it. Unfortunately, the Fox Interactive Media boss, Ross Levinsohn, has ideas of his own and dismisses DeWolfe’s objections…

“…saying it was appropriate for the people running MySpace to be more concerned at this point about serving users than making money.”

That’s essentially an admission that, at some point in the near future, it will be appropriate to be more concerned about making money than serving users. These examples of commercialization foreshadow precisely how the culture of MySpace will become tarnished and unappealing. Its members will come to feel disinterested and exploited. But I’ve always considered the real threat to be the invasion of privacy by intrusive marketing strategies. This avenue is not being ignored by Fox:

“Mr. Levinsohn says he also hopes to raise ad rates by collecting more user data so advertisers can find the most promising prospects. To use the site, people need to provide their age, location and sex, and often volunteer their sexual orientation and personal interests. Some of that information is already being used to select ads to display. Soon, the site will track when users visit profile pages and other sections devoted to topics of interest to advertisers.”

I’m sure that will provide them with a truckload of demographic data they can use to throw ads at their membership. But they will also know a lot more about their members than any of them would be likely approve. When you combine the personal data that members volunteer with the data that can be collected from the relationships in their network of friends and add the data acquired by monitoring their surfing habits, you end up with a profile that can be awfully revealing.

Knowing that the folks behind MySpace have previously been affiliated with business practices wherein they unlawfully spied on their customers, should give MySpace users sufficient cause for alarm to reconsider remaining in the network.


Astroturfing Network Neutrality

I was going to write a story about how the big telephone companies have launched a web site to deceive people about the impact of network neutrality. But Blue Meme has already done the work so well, I’m gonna link to it and go watch TV. Thanks, Blue Meme.

Oh yeah, go to Free Press and Save The Internet to learn more and take action.


Moody Disorders: Fox VP Fesses Up

Listening to John Moody, Sr. Vice President at FOX News, you may get the idea that all your worst fears about Fox were too restrained. In this interview with AlterNet, he speaks candidly about the press operation he controls.

The Highlights

On media critics:
“Most of the world envies us and our news media, because it is un-intimidated and — I’m going to make up a word here — largely un-intimidatable. That’s part of our patrimony.” So is making stuff up.

On reporter bias:
“Because of the qualities it takes to succeed in the media, we have bright and responsible people in this business — and bright people have opinions about everything. These opinions stay with them when they put on a reporter’s hat.” So it’s really the hat’s fault.

On staff development:
“I’ve hired more than 100 people here in ten years, and I have never asked about anyone’s personal political beliefs.” Because if I have to ask, they aren’t getting hired.

On charges that his morning memo dictates coverage:
“It’s not even called a ‘memo,’ it’s an editorial note. It is not a political directive — that’s a specious charge — but my attempt to communicate about what are important stories.” …and the difference is…..?

On the obsession with missing white women:?
“These freethinking bloggers amaze me. They refer to ‘dead white women.’ But what about live black pole dancers?” That clears that up.

On faulty pre-Iraq war coverage:
“There’s a misbegotten, self-comforting notion that we live in a country where nothing should ever go wrong — and if it does, someone must be at fault. I think that’s an unrealistic view of the world, and my viewers don’t think that either.” My viewers? What could be less realistic than accountability?

On increasing the variety of perspectives and opinions on Fox:
“Diversity is not necessarily a strength…Take the Duke lacrosse story — suppose there’s someone who believes that rape is good. We could put them on the air, but it wouldn’t add to the discussion.” So putting on a liberal view is analogous to putting on a rape advocate.

In summary:
“I think in ten years we have come to be recognized as a reliable source for alternative news. If some people want to scoff, go ahead. That doesn’t make it right!”

‘Nuff said.


Did The FBI Murder Jack Anderson?

In one of this year’s most under-reported stories, there lies one of this decade’s most ominous threats. Veteran journalist, Jack Anderson, who died last December, is undoubtedly resting uncomfortably while the FBI is seeking access to his files. The FBI contends that certain documents in Anderson’s files are secret and that their release would jeopardize national security.

Anderson was a heralded investigative reporter who broke many stories that surely disturbed some powerful people and institutions. Among them the Keating Five savings and loan affair, and the Iran-Contra scandal. It’s fair to assume that he would have aggressively defended his rights under the first amendment. Anderson’s family and their representatives are declining to cooperate with the FBI’s demands. In a letter to the FBI, the family’s attorneys wrote:

“After much discussion and due deliberation, the family has concluded that were Mr. Anderson alive today, he would not cooperate with the government on this matter. Instead, he would resist the government’s efforts with all the energy he could muster…To honor both his memory and his wishes, the family feels duty bound to do no less.”

Reporters are granted a privilege in the first amendment to the Constitution to conduct their business free of government intervention or intimidation. That includes compiling information and testimony from confidential sources. Without such protection, many knowledgeable, inside sources would decline to talk to reporters at all.

There is a frightening dilution of freedom of the press if that protection ends at the cemetery gates. 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. In many cases this could effectively turn the spigot off with regard to government fraud or misconduct.

There is a far worse scenario that could play out when a source has already spoken to reporter who asserts his rights under the first amendment to keep the source anonymous. 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.

Imagine the implications of that, if you dare.

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Wanted: White House Mouthpiece

White House Press Secretary, Scott McClellan, is rumored to be amongst the next wave of administration officials to be spending more time with family. The Washington Times already has an ad for his replacement.

    Click to view full size ad

This skill set describes a a vast pool of potential successors. At the top of that list you might expect to find the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. And you would be correct. The White House’s actual list begins with Fox News anchor Tony Snow. Other candidate names that have been floated include Rob Nichols, former Treasury spokesman, Victoria Clarke, former Pentagon spokeswoman, Dana M. Perino, Deputy Press Secretary, and Dan Senor, former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

Any other right-wing media shills might want to get their resumes in as soon as possible.

UPDATE: McClellan resigns as White House press secretary.


Keep Your Dissidents

Reporters Without Borders has just released its Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-dissidents (pdf). It’s mostly a how-to manual for setting up a blog, along with some tips for anonymity. But this group really understands the need for promoting citizen media:

“Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure. Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest.”

To the extent that this document inspires new voices to come forth, it’s a welcome and useful project. Anyone who has contemplated their own blog, and who needs a little hand-holding, should download this. One of its chief assets is that it reveals how easy it is to get started blogging and shows just how to do it, quickly and for little or no cost.


Red Media, Blue Media

Leo J. Shapiro and Associates has conducted a study that highlights some interesting distinctions between consumers of various news products and their political affiliations.

Here’s the breakdown by percentage of Dems vs. Repubs for each type of media:

Red Media:
Preferred by those inclined to vote Republican.

Repub Demo
TV News: 87% 83%
News Radio: 62% 51%

Blue Media:
Preferred by those inclined to vote Democratic.

Demo Repub
Local Newspaper: 78% 70%
National Newspaper: 24% 15%
News Magazine: 21% 16%
Internet News: 43% 38%

The most obvious difference is that Democrats tend to read more than Republicans. The problem is that Blue Media, with the exception of the Internet, has been in decline for some time. Print journalism is struggling with lower circulation and consolidation which results in less competition. In terms of political ad revenue, Red Media receives about 22 dollars for every one dollar spent by political ad buyers on Blue Media.

But, while Red Media is dominated by television, which commands the largest share of political ad revenue, Blue Media’s Internet is growing faster than any other venue. Spending for online political advertising increased 733% in 2004. Editor and Publisher, projecting that Internet growth is likely to continue, says that:

“…newspapers have built some of the nation’s best Web sites, giving them the opportunity at all levels of political races — as well as for issue-driven referendums — to offer powerful advertising and promotion mediums.

This is especially true in the realm of “package message” deals that allow political candidates and their supporters fresh and effective means of reaching established constituencies and new supporters through a combination of print and Web advertising and promotion vehicles.”

This report of the study’s findings doesn’t address online ads other than those on newspaper web sites. That leaves a lot of territory uncovered. Internet service providers like AOL and Earthlink, portals like Yahoo and Google, the web homes of broadcasters like CNN and MSNBC, and, of course, blogs, are sure to be a part of the burgeoning online political ad market.

It would be interesting to see if there was any correlation between the ascendancy of Red Media and the Republican sweep of Washington. And conversely, what effect did the decline of Blue Media have on the political misfortunes of Democrats?

There is a very real risk that lawmakers and regulators will take sides by promoting the media color that skews in their favor. Today that means Republicans advocating laws and regs crafted to further concentrate power in Red Media conglomerates – sort of a media-centered K Street Project. The Internet’s Blueness may not endure either, as the FCC moves forward with its assault on network neutrality, along with other efforts to constrain the net’s ordered anarchy.

The media is not a collateral victim in all of this. They are a full partner. And if we expect to restore anything resembling balance we have to be aggressively vigilant. The information in this study can be useful in deciding how best to reach Blue America.

What color is your Media?


Fake News – Corporate Edition

The Center for Media and Democracy has conducted a study that documents the use of Video News Releases from corporations seeking to promote their products through positive news coverage. These VNRs are produced by corporate PR firms and designed to look like actual news reports. The stations that air them do not disclose their origin and, even worse, often re-record introductions and voice-overs with their own reporters to integrate them further into the station’s broadcast. They also do not fact-check any of the claims made by the VNRs.

The disparity in perceptions about VNRs is demonstrated in a report in the New York Times. They cite Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, as charging that regulating VNRs amounts to government intrusion into the affairs of news broadcasters. Then they quote FCC commissioner, Jonathan S. Adelstein, calling the practice a, “disgrace to American journalism” and evidence of “potentially major violations” of F.C.C. rules.

Clearly the RTNDA is more concerned about preserving the right to distribute propaganda than they are about preserving the integrity and credibility of television journalism. And they obviously don’t care much about the public’s right to know either.

But Ms. Cochran is right on one level when she says, “It is up to the individual stations to look at their practices and tighten up.” While the FCC should be monitoring deceptive practices in the press, the stations are not prohibited from behaving ethically on their own. That may be a lot to ask of an industry that has also aired VNR propaganda produced by government agencies and found to be illegal.

FreePress.net has more info on this and makes it easy for you to communicate your views to the FCC. It only takes a minute, but its impact can be substantial.