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.

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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.


What Exactly Are They Fighting For?

Friends of Wonkette discovered that, while it’s OK to fight for freedom, it’s not OK to practice it. Here is a list of the responses received when our soldiers attempted to access the following web sites:

  • Wonkette (http://www.wonkette.com/) – “Forbidden, this page is categorized as: Forum/Bulletin Boards, Politics/Opinion.”
  • Bill O’Reilly (www.billoreilly.com) – OK
  • Air America (www.airamericaradio.com) – “Forbidden, this page is categorized as: Internet Radio/TV, Politics/Opinion.”
  • Rush Limbaugh (www.rushlimbaugh.com) – OK
  • ABC News “The Note” – OK
  • Al Franken (www.alfrankenshow.com) – “Forbidden, this page is categorized as: Internet Radio/TV, Politics/Opinion.”
  • G. Gordon Liddy Show (www.liddyshow.us) – OK
  • Don & Mike Show (www.donandmikewebsite.com) – “Forbidden, this page is categorized as: Profanity, Entertainment/Recreation/Hobbies.”

Do you detect a pattern? That’s right – Wonkette and Al Franken have not been accused or convicted of crimes, unlike O’Reilly (sexual harrassment), Limbaugh (drug use/trafficing), and Liddy (Watergate).


Fight For Your Right To Lobby

The poor, disenfranchised lobbyists of Washington have found an advocate. The past few months, the denizens of K Street have had to suffer the embarrassment of multiple scandals. Their poster boy, Jack Abramoff, fell from his perch and pleaded guilty to multiple felonies. So did Rep. Duke Cunningham of California. Tom DeLay continues to fight for his political life along with an indictment for money laundering. And DeLay’s gerrymandered redistricting scheme is also coming under legal scrutiny. Lobbying is coming to be seen as dishonorable and corrupt.

Reformers in and out of Congress are calling for members to refrain from accepting gifts, travel, and even money, from now unwelcome lobbyists. Committees hold hearings; legislation is drafted; Sunday morning talk shows are swamped by ravenous demagogues jonesing for air time. And just when things look bleakest, a champion appears.

Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah has courageously taken up the battle on behalf of this oppressed minority. In a lonely battle for liberty, Bennett expressed concern that strong regulation of lobbyists would violate their First Amendment rights.

“Lobbying is a right, not a privilege,” Bennett said. “It’s there in the Constitution – the right to petition your government.”

Thank goodness there are brave men governing us that will sacrifice themselves to defend the constitution and the weak, downtrodden corporate shills that that document was conceived to protect.


The Power of the Media

This should lay to rest any doubts about the media’s power to manufacture a message.

Fox News asks: Is all-out civil war in Iraq a good thing?


Sure, who wouldn’t enjoy a good civil war every now and again?

Then Fox News asks: Did the media make up the civil war in Iraq?


Of course. And they also made up a bombed-out holy shrine followed by over 200 dead Iraqis.

News Corpse asks: Is it a good thing that Fox News makes up sensationalistic stories that exploit suffering and death to promote their own propaganda?

I don’t know. I’m just preparing to deploy for the War on Easter.

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FOX Ratings In Free Fall

The just released February ratings (pdf) for cable news networks tell a tale that is decidedly downbeat for Fox News. In a comparison with February 2005, the numbers for every network are up except for Fox.

This may come as some surprise to Bill O’Reilly who, in a moment of empathy for his competition at MSNBC, started a petition to replace Keith Olbermann with former MSNBC host, Phil Donahue. O’Reilly felt sorry for what he said was the net’s poor performance. Never mind that Olbermann’s show drew more viewers than MSNBC’s conservative hosted shows. And I certainly doubt that Bill was just being indignant because Keith was being mean to him on a nightly basis. Now Bill has to swallow the difficult truth that Keith’s viewership is growing while his own is shrinking. In the key demographic group of viewers aged 25-54, the Total Day ratings for MSNBC rose 47% while Fox declined -13%.

Fox’s Prime Time erosion was even greater at -21%. In fact, in every hour in the daypart, from 3:00pm till midnight, Fox numbers were lower. This is a distinction that only Fox, of the five nets surveyed, was able to achieve.

The largest decline was suffered by Greta Van Susteren’s On The Record (-22%), followed closely by O’Reilly (-21%). Hannity & What’s His Name took the Bronze (-17%). Of the MSNBC programs opposite those losers, Olbermann’s Countdown was the biggest gainer (55%), which I’m sure doesn’t bother O’Reilly at all.

The growing feud between Bill and Keith is something unique in commercial television. It has taken on a personal tone that I can’t recall witnessing before. There is, however, a difference in style. While Olbermann is merciless in his mockery, he sticks to commenting on the substance of O’Reilly’s program and the stupid or demonstrably false things that O’Reilly says. Billy, on the other hand, seems to respond only by pointing out that more people watch his show than Olbermann’s. You know, the 2 million flies defense. But if O’Reilly isn’t careful, he may soon not have even that to crow about.


Bush Thanks bin Laden For Campaign Help

In a just published book by former Washinton Times reporter Bill Sammon, the president has finally gotten around to showing some appreciation for bin Laden’s contribution to Bush’s campaign.

The president has steadfastly rejected any allegations that he has ever sought to politicize the War on Terror. This despite the constant and false association that he and his administration make between 9/11 and the war in Iraq. In the book, Strategery : How George W. Bush Is Defeating Terrorists, Outwitting Democrats, and Confounding the Mainstream Media, Bush comes clean and reveals that there was “enormous amounts of discussion…” about the bin Laden video released in the final days of the campaign. Says Bush:

“I thought it was going to help. I thought it would help remind people that if bin Laden doesn’t want Bush to be the president, something must be right with Bush.”

The president, and his minions in the media, then set about to disburse bin Laden’s comments throughout the mediasphere knowing full well that it was a political strategy that they were employing. So much for not politicizing the War on Terror.


The Memory Hole Gets Deeper

The legacy of the Bush administration may turn out to be that its greatest contribution to American productivity is its unparalleled production of secrets. It has long been readily observed that BushCo wants nothing more than to keep its own affairs private while, ironically, digging more into the affairs of private citizens. After having opposed investigations into 9/11, Iraq, Katrina, wiretapping, and more, we have this:

“U.S. intelligence agencies have been secretly removing from public access at the National Archives thousands of historical documents that were available for years.”

So says the New York Times. Over 55,000 documents that were declassified have been reclassified since 1999, with the pace increasing after Bush came to power. This is hardly revelatory for a presidency that has secured its place as the most secrecy-obsessed administration in history.

  • In 2004 the government classified a record 15.6 million new documents, an increase of 81% over 2000.
  • President Bush’s chief of staff ordered a review that lead to 6,000 documents being pulled from government Web sites.
  • The Department of Defense banned photos of military caskets being returned to the United States.
  • Vice President Dick Cheney kept his energy task force records secret “to hide the influence of Kenneth Lay, Enron and other energy moguls.”
  • The CIA asks a new question during its standard employer polygraph exam: “Do you have friends in the media?”
  • There have been more than 1,200 presumably terrorist-related arrests and 750 people deported, and no one outside the government knows their names or how many court docket entries have been erased or never entered.
  • Secret federal court hearings have been held without any public record of when or where, or who was tried.
  • When the American Civil Liberties Union challenged provisions of the Patriot Act, it was prohibited from telling anyone about it.
  • The Washington Post reported that in recent years, judicial committees acting in secret stripped information nearly 600 times from reports intended to alert the public to conflicts of interest involving federal judges.

Bill Moyers recently delivered the keynote speech for the 20th anniversary of the National Security Archive, a non-governmental research institute and library at The George Washington University. The speech covered a lot of territory and included this tasty morsel:

“Bush and Cheney have made the Freedom of Information Act their number one target, more fervently pursued for elimination than Osama Bin Laden. No sooner had he come to office than George W. Bush set out to eviscerate both FOIA and the Presidential Records Act. He has been determined to protect his father’s secrets when the first Bush was Vice President and then President – as well as his own. Call it Bush Omerta.”

The speech further reveals that BushCo’s zeal to dismantle FOIA has roots that go back to the Ford Administration when Ford was talked out of signing legislation that would have strengthened the act. This feat of persuasion was carried out by his chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld, and his deputy chief of staff, Dick Cheney (with additional help from Justice Department lawyer, Antonin Scalia).

Ford’s brain trust has ascended to even higher plateaus of power and their penchant for secrecy has not abated. Rumsfeld’s Pentagon was recently exposed for having paid Iraqi news outlets to publish positive stories written by American PR consultants. Cheney successfully defended his efforts to keep secret the names of corporate energy honchos whom he met with to craft energy policy. That defense included a Supreme Court victory partly decided by his other hunting pal, Antonin Scalia (with whom he was hunting just weeks before Scalia would rule on his case).

The administration is getting help from outside its own coven. The White House’s exposure to the NSA wiretapping scandal is being protected by friendly committee chairs in Congress who have agreed not to initiate oversight hearings. And the scandal itself was hidden from the public by the New York Times, who sat on the story for over a year at the President’s request. This may be the most forboding aspect of the whole affair. When the press joins the conspiracy to keep Americans in the dark about government initiatives conducted in their name, we are truly approaching the end of our brief experiment in the rule of the people.


Fox Censors Its Own Cheney Exclusive

The hardworking journalists at Fox News managed to snag one of this year’s most eagerly anticipated exclusive interviews. After four days of silence, Vice President Dick Cheney stepped up to Birt Hume to make his first public comments about having shot a man in the face.

How Fox secured this editorial coup is beyond me. Maybe they know people in the White House. Or maybe Cheney just felt confident that he could stand up to to the notoriously withering brand of hardball journalism as practiced by the feared Mr. Hume.

Either way it further boggles the mind that, after winning this interview, the Fox editors decided to censor it. Media Matters has documented the deed:

In airing Brit Hume’s interview with Vice President Dick Cheney, Fox News omitted Cheney’s comments about drinking a beer the day he shot his hunting companion. Fox News even excluded the comments from what it said was the “full interview” posted on its website.

Why would Fox do such a thing? With their reputation for being fair and balanced you would think they would jump at the chance to showcase a public servant who was fairly stewed and unable to keep his balance.