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.

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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.

Craig's JournaList

Craigslist, the Internet’s answer to The Recylcer, may be just the beginning for it’s founder, Craig Newmark. Speaking at Oxford University, Mr. Newmark said that he is working on a project that would employ the “wisdom of the masses” in the service of news gathering and reporting. He made it plain that he views contemporary media as an institution that is not fulfilling its mission.

“Things need to change. The big issue in the US is that newspapers are afraid to talk truth to power. The White House press corps don’t speak the truth to power – they are frightened to lose access they don’t have anyway.”

I think he meant to say, “…the White House press corpse…” Either way, this is a view that I heartily endorse, and I am anxious to see what materializes.

There is speculation that he may invest in, or acquire and transform it into a citizen-based media platform. This idea has potential, but, as with any idea, execution is the key. I will be watching these developments hopefully and report on any progress.

What Liberal Media?

With more calls for a timetable for troop withdrawl from Iraq, it seems the only sector of society that fails to hear this is the so-called liberal media.

A few months ago, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) was a lonely voice articulating the need for the U.S. to develop a plan to complete the mission in Iraq and start to bring the troops home. Since then, he has been joined by a diverse crowd that includes Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, Democratic hawk Rep. John Murtha, the Iraqi delegation to the Arab League, and even (gulp) Bill O’Reilly. Despite that, Editor and Publisher’s survey of national newspaper editorials reveals that most of them are hanging on to the administration’s stay the course strategy.

Maybe they are just remarkably slow on the uptake. Maybe they are trying to avoid the embarrassment of their prior miscalculations. But any way you look at it, there’s room for only one response to those who parrot the myth about the liberal media – What Liberal Media?

Bush Attacks The Media – The Next Level

Recent stories circulating in the international press are affirming the hate/hate relationship that BushCo has with honest, independent media.

Another leaked document from Downing Street tells the story of an enraged President Bush, that had to be dissuaded by Tony Blair, from bombing al Jazeera’s TV operations in Qatar. Everybody but the Mirror, and their source, is denying it, but it does make you wonder about the 2001 bombing of the station’s Kabul office and the 2003 missile strike that killed al-Jazeera reporter Tareq Ayyoub at the station’s Baghdad center.

But wait, there’s more. Now, editors of British newspapers have been threatened with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act if they publish the details of the leaked document which they also deny exists.

The picture this paints of government interference with the press has Arab media being threatened with death and British media being threatened with jail . The U.S. media has nothing to fear because they’re already in bed with the government.


Sen. Feingold (D-WI) Takes On Media Consolidation And Payola
Feingold’s bill would give the FCC a mandate to pull the license of radio stations that use “cross-ownership of promotion services or venues” to muscle artists out of the market. It also closes a loophole in the FCC regulations covering “Payola” to ensure that radio station broadcasts are not improperly influenced by payments, whether directly or indirectly.

What Did Bob Woodward Know And When Did He Know It?
With the disclosure that Woodward discussed Valerie Plame with an unnamed White House staff member, the veteran newsman is now a player in the CIA Leak Scandal.

Prosecutor in Plame Case May Release Some Evidence to Media
The prosecutor in the CIA leak investigation offered a compromise that might give the news media access to some of the evidence against former White House aide I. Lewis Libby before his trial. This, of course, presumes that the media cares about stuff like evidence.

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L. A. Times Trades Scheer For Goldberg

The Los Angeles Times has announced that they have jettisoned their long-time liberal columnist, Robert Scheer. At the same time, they announced that they will begin carrying conservative hack, Jonah Goldberg. This may be the worst trade since the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. And we don’t have to look any further than Goldberg’s inaugural column. In it, he takes on the question of Bush’s lying to the country and comes down on the side of lying.

It’s not bad enough that he is outright insulting (calling his opponents deranged moonbats), he is also nearly vaporous substantively. And, ironically, the absurdity of his premise, that lying to the American people is acceptable, is nicely rebutted just a few pages earlier in an article headlined, “Declassified Memo Captures Nixon’s Intention to Obscure the U.S. Campaign in Cambodia”.

In a memo from the meeting, Nixon told his military staff to continue doing what was necessary in Cambodia, but to say for public consumption that the United States was merely providing support to South Vietnamese forces when necessary to protect U.S. troops.

“That is what we will say publicly,” he said. “But now, let’s talk about what we will actually do.”

Funny, Goldberg didn’t bother to cite Nixon’s demonstration of forgivable deceipt. Maybe because his lies are not really forgivable. And neither are Goldberg’s or Bush’s.

Corporation For Propaganda Broadcasting: Update

The long-awaited report by the Inspector General of the Corporation For Public Broadcasting (CPB) was released yesterday and it confirms the unethical and illegal behavior of the CPB’s former chairman. Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, who sheepishly resigned from the board in advance of the report’s release, was found to have violated the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. This is one of those laws that have no criminal penalties attached to it. Very useful as a deterrant and for lawmakers who don’t want to actually hold their freinds accountable for anything.

But the violation, and the ethical lapses, are clearly spelled out by the IG. Tomlinson improperly hired partisan consultants to monitor PBS programming. The CPB was formed to be a shield to prevent political hackery from infecting public broadcasting. Obviously Tomlinson ignored that prohibition, but the contract itself violated internal rules and was not authorized through standard procedures. He even lied to Congress by claiming that the contract was signed by the then-CPB president, Kathleen Cox. As it turns out, it was Tomlinson’s signature on the contract which was dated five months before Ms. Cox became president.

The release of this report does not, however, wrap up the parade of mideeds. During Tomlinson’s tenure, he hand-picked the current CPB president, Patricia S. Harrison. She is a former chair of the Republican National Committee. The report shows that “political tests” were used as a major factor in her hiring. This matter cannot be considered to be resolved until she resigns and a legally recruited and approved president is installed in her place. How can anyone consider her to be a legitimate manager when the process used to select her was ruled illegal and/or unethical? There is a lot of cleaning up to do at the CPB after Tomlinson’s disgraceful mis-leadership. And it has to start with Harrison’s resignation.

The Bill O’Reilly Enemies List Is Being Compiled Now

Who would have thought that Pat Robertson, after having called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and admonishing the residents of Dover, PA, not to turn to God if a disaster befell them, could get bumped from the stage of national loonies? Leave it to O’Reilly. Last Tuesday, Bill O’Reilly used his radio program to give permission for terrorists to attack San Francisco. Referring to the city’s decision to remove military recruiters from their schools, the Factor Cat said…

“If Al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we’re not going to do anything about it. We’re going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco.”

But wait…There’s more!

The ensuing controversy over his provocation brought little remorse. In fact, after first insisting that it needed to be said, he shifted ground to claim that it was merely satire. Then he set upon his critics whom he described as guttersnipes.

But wait…We’re not through yet!

Not content to defend advocating terrorism in America, he is now taking names of those he feels have besmirched him.

“I’m glad the smear sites made a big deal out of it. Now we can all know who was with the anti-military internet crowd. We’ll post the names of all who support the smear merchants on So check with us.”

Well, I, for one, am putting Billy on notice. If he does not put me on that list, I will sue his ass. The public embarrassment of such an ommission would cause irrepairable harm to my reputation. Consider this an official demand for inclusion.

Anyone similarly situated and who desires inclusion on O’Reilly’s Enemies List, is welcome to post a copy of this image with a link back to News Corpse. Let’s help make Billy’s list a long one.

Television Whores Just Can't Get Enough

Nielsen Media Research has released data for last season that confirms NBC’s status as the top whore in television. NBC acheived this milestone by doubling the number of its product placements in the 2003-04 season. CBS came in second with Fox close behind in 3rd.

Primetime product placements increased more than 30% on all 6 national broadcast networks combined. That represents more than 70,000 product insertions into program content. That’s on top of the 25% increase in actual minutes of commercials per hour (to 16 1/2) over the last decade. So to summerize, for every hour of TV you watched last season, you saw 16 1/2 minutes of commercials. And the the remaining 43 1/2 minutes contained 1000’s more commercial messages. It might make you wonder when TV programs will actually contain no entertainment content at all and just be one long commercial. Oh wait, I forgot about The Apprentice. The future is now.

Commercials themselves have become platforms for product placement as Arnold Schwarzenegger proved by inserting the products of his corporate contributers into his campaign ads.

For people who don’t mind having sales pitches thrust in their faces 24/7, maybe these numbers will generate little concern. But by sucking ever more revenue from corporate advertising clients, the strangling addiction can’t help but impact the media conglomerates who become increasingly reliant on their largesse. This gives the advertisers more leverage to influence program content throughout the network, including the news, which networks just regard as more shelf space, no different than sitcoms or soap operas.

Conflicts are sure to arise when an advertiser, say General Electric, objects to a news item critical of their refrigerators. Even worse, they may object to a news item that questions our participation in a war which would consume GE’s many defense products. How much pressure would it take to dissuade a network dependent on GE’s cash, from altering or scrapping such a story? How much pressure would it take if GE owned the network itself, as it does NBC?

The incestuous relationship between corporate America, corporate media, and corporate-owned politicians is hastening the erosion of what’s left of our nation’s press. This prowling triplex is far more dangerous than the military/industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us about 45 years ago. If it isn’t stopped, we can forget about reliable news outlets; we can forget about open government; we can forget about Democracy itself.