Fake FEMA Director To Appear On Fake News Show

Michael Brown, the former director of FEMA, will be the guest of Stephen Colbert on Tuesday, March 28. This is comedy at its finest because what could be funnier than a jovial romp with the man that let tens of thousands of hurricane victims suffer in a crumbling sports arena because he wanted to have dinner before the traffic got bad.

There is probably no better venue for Brown because we don’t have to worry about taking him seriously. Plus, he will be able to delight us with the sartorial magic that earned him renown as a fashion god.

It will be interesting to see if Colbert’s character warms up to him for his service in the administration of his hero, George W. Bush, or if he turns on him for not being an obedient scapegoat. Either way, Colbert’s star is rising and he is entering a peculiar world that doesn’t know exactly what to make of him. He is travelling into territory that Jon Stewart has surveyed before, but is he benefitting Stewart’s experience?

I would not want to see him be exploited by cynical politicos that think they can polish their cool by going a couple of rounds with him. While Stewart remains properly aloof from the Washington party circuit, Colbert may be getting a little too cozy. He will be the featured speaker at the White House correspondents’ dinner next month. Now, that’s not so bad, but he also appeared at a blogging symposium organized by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), the Vice Chairman of the House GOP Conference. The purpose of the symposium was to educate Republican members and staffers on the benefits of blogging. After appearing on The Colbert Report himself, Kingston showed a clip of the show at a retreat of House Republicans to persuade them to book their own appearances.

Right now, I think Colbert is mostly interested in getting through the first season and being picked up for another. But he needs to be mindful that, with success, come the parasites that seek only to feast off of his blood. If he allows himself and his show to be exploited by the very people it was designed to skewer, he will lose the appeal that makes the show successful in the first place.

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Dick Cheney’s Tour Rider

Rock stars and other celebrities commonly make special requests when on the road to satisfy their peculiar needs for comfort. Perhaps the most notorious of these was Van Halen’s request for a bowl of peanut M & M’s with all the brown ones removed.

Well, move over Dave. The Smoking Gun has obtained the Downtime Requirements for V.P. Eagle Eye Dick Cheney. Under an instruction that dictates that, “The items list below are required,” number six on the list demands particular attention:

“All Televisions tuned to FOX News.”

I have nothing to add.


Monopolies Kill Newspapers – Dead

The Columbia Journalism Review has offered an explanation for why the newspaper business is gasping for air. After a generation of acquisition, consolidation and cut-throat competition that left many markets with a single reportorial voice, the lone victor became bloated or cocky or lazy, or some combination of the three.

Competition is good, remember. It nourishes aggressive reporting and distinctive, creative approaches. With a lack of competition in the local news and information business, too many papers, even some of the more ambitious ones, allowed their voices and personalities to wither. Too many editorial pages toned it down and slid into the inoffensive and boring. Too few embarked on crusades. Corporate owners, too, encouraged a play-it-safe culture. Too many newspapers rounded off their ragged edges, but lost the spark. When the advertising and readership began to recede, so did resources, and those weak habits and attitudes began to reveal themselves like the fish on the beach before the tsunami.

Despite the wisdom in this analysis, I wouldn’t expect the industry or the regulatory agencies to correct their self-destructive behavior. In fact, the pattern is even now repeating as the FCC prepares to fast-track more media consolidation. The CJR holds out hope that competition will emerge from new venues, i.e. the Internet. But that is where I depart from their view. First, the Internet does not constitute competition if the the web sites are owned or controlled by the same media megaliths that run the conventional media. Second, whatever passes for competition on the net can’t fulfill the local function that a newspaper will.

In the end, the arrogance and greed of the corporations that run print journalism will almost certainly destroy it. The decline in quality will accomapany a decline in professionalism and ethics. We’ve already seen examples unfold in the form of plagiarists (Jayson Blair), fabricaters (Janet Cooke), propagandists (Armstrong Williams) and whatever Jeff Gannon was. The solution, as with all monopolies, is to break them up and re-introduce real competition and diversity. It’s a tall order but it’s the only straw available for grasping.


Time Warner & the UAE

In mid February it was announced that Dubai Ports World, a firm owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, was acquiring ownership of several U.S. ports. Within a few days of that annoucement another deal was also revealed by the same UAE parent company.

Istithmar’s purcahse of 109 million shares of Time Warner gave it control of 2.39% of the world’s largest media conglomerate. They also hired one of Carl Icahn’s entities as its advisor. Icahn led an unsuccessful attempt to force the break up of Time Warner into 4 seperate units.

Am I being to suspicious in wondering whether these events were related? Although it doesn’t appear that any advantage was achieved, the potential is a bit creepy. If I were attempting to buy critical U.S. assets with natioanl security implications, I might find it convenient to control a significant chunk of U.S. media. And affiliating with a figure (Icahn) who could hold the firms feet to the fire wouldn’t seem like such a bad idea either.


Wrestling A Pig

The Dayton Daily News is rolling around in it with barnyard bully, Bill O’Reilly. DDN’s editor, Jeff Bruce, wrote an opinion column making the outrageous suggestion that a formal investigation should take place before removing a judge from the bench. The judge in question, John Connor, has been the target of O’Reilly’s wrath for imposing an admittedly too lenient sentence on a convicted child molester. But when O’Reilly turned his wrath on Bruce for believing in due process, he went completely off the cliff. O’Reilly accused Bruce and the paper of being friendly to child rapists and having sympathy for child rapists.

Bruce resisted to urge to respond saying, “They say only two things happen when you wrestle a pig: You get muddy and the pig enjoys it.” But he did respond, revealing that O’Reilly’s true motives may have had nothing to do with the Conner affair at all. Instead it was his own affair, wherein he was sued by his ex-producer for sexual harrassment, that he he was concerned about. The DDN made mention of it in their editorial and O’Reilly vowed to get revenge. He’s still at it. On today’s show he whined that the despicable Dayton Daily News had called him a pig.

That’s not exactly what happened, but to expect the truth from O’Reilly may be a bit much. I’d like to thank Billy for speaking out, though. Had he not done so, I would not have known about this farce.


DeadLines

Jon Stewart has been selected to host the 65th annual Peabody Awards.
An appropriate choice since he is also the recipient of 2 of them.

Dan Rather touts Jon Stewart as Andy Rooney’s successor.
I hope he’s wrong. That seems to me to be a demotion. But it must be flattering.

Stephen Colbert will be writing a book based on his Colbert Report.
Says Stephen: “This book will have the same noble goal as my television show: to change the world one factual error at a time.”

The FCC says they are ready to fast-track more media consolidation.
Apparrently the media isn’t satisfied that can’t own TV stations and newspapers in the same market.

A.P. Correspondent Ousted From Job in Vermont
Christopher Graff, a 27 year veteran of the A.P. was fired for posting an article by Sen. Patrick Leahy. The article was contributed as part of Sunshine Week, a media event meant to combat government secrecy and bring attention to the public’s right to know.

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Washington Post Hearts Red America

The Washington Post says that they hired Ben Domenech to write the new blog, Red America, to provide balance to their editorial profile. Domenech is the co-founder of RedState.com and was a writer for the National Review Online. He also worked in Bush’s White House and for Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). While at uber-conservative publisher, Regnery Publishing, he worked with the likes of Hugh Hewitt and Michelle Malkin.

If the Post is shooting for balance, they must already have blogs by comparable liberals like, say, Al Franken, Robert Scheer, Michael Moore, or David Brock. Not surprisingly, that isn’t the case.

The Post just plunged ahead with a right-wing bomb thrower who lives up to his reputation in his first installment: Pachyderms in the Mist. This screed posits that the Red America of his imagination is actually in the majority, despite the fact that Bush is a miserably unpopular president:

“Yet even in a climate where Republicans hold command of every branch of government, and advocate views shared by a majority of voters, the mainstream media continues to treat red state Americans as pachyderms in the mist.”

Do the views to which he is referring include that two thirds of Americans disapprove of his handling of Iraq and nearly half say Democrats would do better? Or that his personal approval ratings remain mired in the low 30’s? Or that 53% say they would prefer Democrats to handle the economy? Or that he has hit a new low of 28% approval for both healthcare and energy policy? Or that the word most often associated with him is “incompetent”?

For this miscreant to complain that the media, which is dominated by right-wing pundits and corporate masters, is mistreating redstaters is as laughable as his assertion that his views are in the majority. And save a couple of guffaws for the Post’s assertion that they actually care about balance.


Lobbyists Scoff At Lobby Reform

In the wake of numerous Washington influence scandals (DeLay, Cunningham, Abramoff, etc.), Congress has busied itself debating, drafting, and ultimately neutering, legislative proposals to restore fairness and ethics to the troubled institution. However, the targets of these measures have had a rather benign reaction to them. In fact, they don’t seem to think that the new regulations will have any impact whatsoever on their activities.

An article in the Washington Post reports that…..lobbyists say they have already found scores of new ways to buy the attention of lawmakers through fundraising, charitable activities and industry-sponsored seminars. Indeed, the lobbyists themselves tell us as much.

  • “Between charitable events and fundraising events, there will still be lots of ways to get in front of members [of Congress].” – Dan Danner, executive vice president of the National Federation of Independent Business (National FIB?)
  • “Even if all lunches and sporting tickets are banned, legislation and regulations are so complex that the need for professional lobbyists will not diminish,”- Frederick H. Graefe, a Washington lawyer and lobbyist.
  • “If meals are heavily restricted, we’re likely to see executives from the home office picking up checks because they’re not lobbyists,” – J. Steven Hart of Williams & Jensen, a major lobbying firm.

Of particular concern to the netroots is the Post’s revelation that…Lobbyists are increasing their campaign contributions, widening their use of the Internet to stir voter activism, and donating large sums to think tanks and charities…..The Business Roundtable, which represents big-business chieftains, has embraced a new technique of advertising on Web sites for grass-roots advocates. There are those who have belittled the threat of corporations, and other deep-pocketed special interests, using the Internet in deceptive ways to enrich themselves at the people’s expense. But, clearly, the community of professional persuaders has not overlooked this potential goldmine for propaganda.

Did anyone really expect Congress to deal seriously with the 10 billion dollar industry that lines their pockets and campaign treasuries? When the best reform ideas they can muster include banning former members from the House gym, it should be apparent that their efforts are less than sincere. And the fact that lobbyists are greeting these efforts with a yawn tells us everything we need to know about the resolve of Congress to stem abuse and corruption.


White House Advance Team Impersonates Fox Reporters

Last week, Bush ventured to Gautier, Mississippi, to commiserate with victims of Hurricane Katrina. It was a typical photo-op that made no news other than that the president showed up. But in preparations for the visit, two men arrived at the home of Jerry Akins to make inquiries about his post-hurricane experience. They identified themselves as reporters from Fox News, but the local paper, Biloxi’s Sun Herald, tells the real story:

Jerry Akins, who received Bush, mentioned that on the Friday before Bush arrived, two men approached him identifying themselves as members of the media.

He said the men told him they were with Fox News out of Houston, Texas, and were on a “scouting mission” for a story on new construction. They took pictures inside Akins’ house, which is under construction and looked up and down the road in the neighborhood.

It wasn’t until after Bush left that the imposters revealed their deception. Even then, they were less than forthcoming. They flashed lapel pins with the presidential seal, leading the Akins’ to believe they were with the Secret Service – which they were not.

Ken Lisaius, speaking for the White House, claimed that this was not appropriate behavior and that the personnel would be verbally reprimanded, but he refused to identify them or for whom they were working. Fox News would make no comment at all.

When official representatives of the government begin masquerading as journalists, the credibility of both institutions is seriously damaged. Citizens will become suspicious of those identifying themselves as reporters if they believe that the alleged reporter may be lying. Likewise, people will learn to distrust government agencies if they know that their agents are dishonest. And seeing as how most Americans are already suspicious of the media and distrustful of government, the actions of this White House and its staff aren’t doing anything to help matters.


Shooting The Messenger

No, this is not another swipe at Dick Cheney for shooting a guy in the face. This time the White House has a bigger target than quail.

The Bush administration has begun investigating employees at the CIA, the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies, in an attempt to stem leaks such as those about the illegal, warrantless, wiretapping that was recently disclosed. In a deliberate act of intimidation, the investigations also extend to journalists and their sources.

Bill Keller, Executive Editor of the New York Times told reporters from the Washington Post:

“There’s a tone of gleeful relish in the way they talk about dragging reporters before grand juries, their appetite for withholding information, and the hints that reporters who look too hard into the public’s business risk being branded traitors. I don’t know how far action will follow rhetoric, but some days it sounds like the administration is declaring war at home on the values it professes to be promoting abroad.”

It’s tough to argue with Keller’s statement, but it’s also tough to ignore the irony. After all, it was Keller’s newspaper that withheld the NSA wiretapping story for over a year at the request of the White House. It was also the New York Times’ reporter, Judith Miller, that published pre-Iraq war propaganda from sanctioned leaks by the Bush administration in order to shore up support for the invasion. She later went to jail to protect another approved administration leaker who sought to intimidate a critic by exposing his wife’s role as a covert CIA operative. The administration doesn’t seem too interested in solving those leaks and has publicly opposed investigations of them. So there is some selectivity as to which leaks stir their ire.

But Keller’s comments draw another kind of irony with regard to Bush’s hostility to values that he seeks to distribute to the rest of the world. Does Keller need a refresher on the numerous ideals of democracy that Bush is shredding here at home? How about…

  • The Patriot Act’s assault on privacy.
  • Planting stories in the Iraqi media.
  • Planting stories (video news releases) in the U.S. media.
  • Abu Ghraib detention and torture.
  • Guantanomo Bay detention and torture.
  • Re-classifying previously de-classified public documents.
  • Free speech zones.
  • Election fraud.

Keller’s surprise is, at best, disingenuous since he was an accomplice to much of the administration’s assault on democratic values. He has helped Bush preside over the most secrecy-obsessed White House since Nixon. Now his chickens are coming home to roost as the Justice Department is contemplating prosecuting journalists for espionage.

The truth is that BushCo’s convenient revelations about the evils of leaks are really just its most recent attempt to further paralyze free speech and neuter the press. And the press, by cozying up to the administration for so many years has left little room for itself to muster a defense. It would be easy to say that they are just getting what they deserve, but you can’t be too flippant with matters like these. Because its the American people who are not getting what we deserve – an independent and aggressively curious press that will fight for truth in the public interest.