The FCC Wakes Up To Video News Releases

From Reuters:
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission plans to send letters of inquiry on Friday to several television stations as it probes whether news broadcasts properly disclosed the source of video news releases [VNR] they used, said a source familiar with the matter.

This is an encouraging first step by a commission that has failed for years to fulfill its mission. The VNRs referenced here are produced by the government and/or private PR firms to promote a partisan or commercial interest. They are then distributed to television stations that, in some cases, air them without identifying their source.

There is a word for that: Propaganda. And it’s illegal. Let’s see if the FCC follows up on these inquiries.

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Bush Runs From The Media

The “war president” reveals his cowardly side by taking extraordinary steps to protect himself from the scary reporters. The Washington Post reports that Bush has taken to traveling without the customary press plane in tow. This is unprecedented in presidential media coverage and especially troublesome during a time when the US is at war, as are nations critical to US national security. The Post says:

“In the four decades since the assassination of John F. Kennedy, presidents traditionally have taken journalists with them wherever they traveled on the theory that when it comes to the most powerful leader on the planet, anything can happen at any time […] But increasingly in recent months, Bush has left town without a chartered press plane, often to receptions where he talks to donors chipping in hundreds of thousands of dollars with no cameras or tapes to record his words for the public. Barred from such events, most news organizations will not pay to travel with him. And so a White House policy inclined to secrecy has combined with escalating costs for the strapped news media to let Bush fly under the radar in a way his predecessors could not.”

The absence of a diverse correspondents corps produces news that is hollow and narrowly focused by limited viewpoints…

On the day the British government announced that it had arrested a couple of dozen terrorists, Bush was traveling to a fundraiser where the only available press was a few pool reporters and the local media. The absence of a diverse correspondents corps produces news that is hollow and narrowly focused by the limited viewpoints of the few that attend. This absence also plays into the hands of an administration that has elevated secrecy to an art form.

Tony Snow, the Fox-sponsored White House press secretary, says that it’s just a question of money. The news organizations are too cheap to pay for the trips. But the Post’s report claims that it costs between three and four thousand dollars for typical day trips. That’s petty cash for most national media firms. I suspect the real reason is not that it’s too expensive, but that it’s not worth the expense. When traveling with this president, the likelihood that there will be newsworthy interaction is negligible. That may be why the Boston Globe no longer has a White House correspondent. There’s just no return on the investment.

Snow also said that, “If there is big news, we make sure the president’s available.”

That’s right, available to Brit Hume or other Fox anchors. At least Nero was able to kick out some jams while the world crumbled around him. Our emperor cowers behind the skirts of Fox News praying for the Rapture. And what do they consider “big news?” The arrest of 24 British terrorists? A UN cease-fire agreement in Lebanon? A million dollar pork-fest for an endangered Wisconsin congressional candidate?

Last month the White House shut down its press briefing room for the next nine months – straight through the fall elections and all of the news of today’s tumultuous world. The fear is palpable as the president is shielded from the light because his handlers know that it would reveal a trembling wretch with no solutions for the shambles for which he is mostly responsible. And as fleetly as he flees the press, his allies flee from him for they too have fear – fear of being tainted with his stench.

So he dodges and weaves and ditches the press, who don’t really care that they have been left behind. No one will even be there to record this retreat because the campaign to eliminate access to this president is proceeding so efficiently, that by Christmas no one will remember who the president is. I suppose that’s the good news.

Cybercrime Treaty Threatens US Constitution

Last week, the Senate ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime Treaty. This international treaty was ostensibly designed to aid countries seeking to prosecute hackers, virus developers, and child pornographers. But because the treaty does not require the targeted crimes to be unlawful in both countries, it could require the American government to enforce foreign laws that may violate the rights of Americans, including the right to free speech.

The ACLU’s Marv Johnson said:

“The stark reality is that now the American government will be able to conduct surveillance on an individual who hasn’t broken any American law to help enforce the law of a country without the same protections and respect for the freedoms we cherish.”

The Electronic Privacy Information Center’s position states that:

“the treaty seems more like a law enforcement ‘wish list’ than an international instrument truly respectful of human rights already enshrined in many international conventions […] The US government’s support for the ratification of the Convention on Cybercrime… appears like an attempt to obtain more powers than what it could obtain with the USA PATRIOT Act.”

With the potential to undermine our Constitution, what kind of treatment did this treaty get in the American press? So far as I can tell, there was a wire report from the Associated Press that contained six short paragraphs. The only sources cited in the article were Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, both of whom were predictably supportive of the agreement. Judging from this article, it would appear that there was no opposition to this treaty, despite the foreboding statements from the ACLU and EPIC above.

Is the media just continuing to fail in its mission to inform the public, or is there an incentive for their silence? The Internet represents the most serious competitive threat that newspapers and television have ever faced. This treaty addresses only Internet-related criminal activity. It’s existence reinforces the notion that the Internet is a scary and dangerous place. And by broadening the government’s powers to surveil and investigate suspects associated with the Internet, the treaty establishes another avenue for intimidation of online journalists and activists. The conventional media must view this with glee.

Will Jonah Goldberg Ever Crack A Book?

OK, I understand that the opinion pages of the Times contain opinions. But does that mean they have to abandon facts? Jonah Goldberg has again composed an embarrassingly poorly researched column with utter disregard for the truth.

Goldberg would rather avoid substance in favor of tossing around hackneyed lingo like “McGovernite” and “limousine liberal.”

He says that Joe Lieberman is an outlier as a culturally right-of-center Democrat. Someone needs to introduce Mr. Goldberg to Ms. Lincoln of Arkansas, Mr. Nelson of Florida, Mr. Bayh of Indiana, Ms Landrieu of Louisiana, Mr. Nelson of Nebraska, Mr. Reid of Nevada and Mr. Dorgan of North Dakota. All of these senators scored higher on the rankings of the American Conservative Union than Mr. Lieberman. All of them voted for the war. So how does this make Lieberman “the lone feather left intact” of the Democrats ‘Scoop’ Jackson wing?

Goldberg describes Lieberman’s position as one of only three incumbents to lose in a primary “amazing” because just six years ago he was the party’s vice presidential nominee. But Goldberg’s short term memory must be faulty because he fails to recall that Lieberman finished in a pathetic three way tie for third place in the Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire just two years ago. Shortly thereafter, he abandoned the race.

Then Goldberg claims that white Christian politicians haven’t talked “openly and sincerely about God and traditional values in decades.” Setting aside the insult implied by his separation of Christians of color and Jews, he is again, simply wrong. John Kerry, in his acceptance speech in 2004, said that, “faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday. I don’t want to claim that God is on our side, as Abraham Lincoln told us. I want to pray humbly that we are on God’s side.” I’m sure I could cite further examples, but I think that the party’s most recent presidential nominee makes the point that Goldberg is speaking from ignorance.

Finally Goldberg tells us that Lamont is not where the voters are. Never mind that he won a majority of Democrats and that 60% of Americans overall say that the war in Iraq was a mistake. Goldberg would rather avoid substance in favor of tossing around hackneyed lingo like “McGovernite” and “limousine liberal.” The truth is that Lieberman lost because he didn’t represent the values of his constituents. It was not just because he supported the war. So did the senators listed above and they did not attract people-powered primary challengers. The difference is that Lieberman did not just support the President’s war policy, he went out of his way to show overt disrespect for anyone that dissented. He even went so far as to imply that they were traitors saying that, “We undermine the president’s credibility at our nation’s peril.”

It was not, as Goldberg said, the Democrats that, “trotted Lieberman out to win over swing voters and moderate Republicans.” It was Republicans and Fox News that trotted him out as a cudgel with which to beat on other Democrats. That is why Ned Lamont is now the Democratic nominee for Senate in Connecticut, and why he will soon be their senator.

Lieberman’s Support Grows – Amongst Republicans

After being roundling rejected by Connecticut’s Democrats, Joe Lieberman has begun to collect support from a much more natural constituency for his Fox News brand of conservatism: DC Republicans.

Lieberman has been praised and endorsed by the likes of Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, and even Karl Rove called to offer help. Now the notorious GOP front group, Vets For Freedom (VFF) has declared it’s backing of Lieberman’s “Party of One.”

VFF is the phony band of reporters that sought to pass itself off as a neutral source for stories from Iraq, despite the fact that they were Republican shills funded by Republican party operatives. They have now filed papers to form a 527 committee that intends to campaign for Lieberman. The new head of VFF is Dan Senor, a former spokesman for President Bush and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Senor is also married to Campbell Brown of NBC News, so expect some unbiased reporting from those quarters.

I continue to believe that Lieberman’s indie bid will starve for lack of adequate funding because traditional Democratic sources will dry up. So Joe will have to increasingly court Republican donors, which will just further alienate him from the Democratic base. The association with the VFF, a fake news organization, can only hasten Lieberman’s ineveitable downfall.

Lieberman Wins Spin Contest

“Lieberman vows to stay in…”

That’s the headline on MSNBC. Not after last night’s Democratic senatorial primary in Connecticut where he lost to Ned Lamont, but on Jan 27, 2004, after his dismal showing in the Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire.

“Thanks to the people of New Hampshire, we are in a three-way split decision for third place.”

Lieberman may be this year’s poster child for positive thinkers. The 18 year senate veteran lost to a political novice last night and his response is that:

“The old politics of polarization won. For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I will not let that result stand.”

Lieberman needs to clarify what he means by “old politics.” If a three term incumbent with a record of conservative capitulation (which he likes to call compromise), isn’t old, what, pray tell, is? And then he said:

“As I see it in this campaign, we just finished the first half and the Lamont team is ahead. But in the second half our team, Team Connecticut, is going to surge forward to victory in November.”

Contrast these comments with those he made to Chris Wallace of Fox News on November 14, 2004, following John Kerry’s loss:

Senator Kerry got a lot of votes, 56 million votes, more than any Democratic candidate for president in history, but there’s no prizes for second place in American politics.

The press has been dutifully repeating the shallowest analysis courtesy of the conventional wisdom crowd.

  • Lamont is a left-wing fringe candidate.
  • The bloggers hijacked the race.
  • Democrats are angry.
  • It’s a single-issue, anti-war campaign.
  • Democrats are weak on security.

And it goes on. But the press can’t see past their obvious biases. The truth is…

  • Lamont won a majority of CT Dems.
  • Most CT voters have never read a blog.
  • Democrats are angry, and ought to be.
  • It’s a campaign for candidates that represent Democratic values.
  • Democrats are against the failed security policies of Bush and Lieberman.

There are pundits that are predicting a Lieberman victory in November based on their belief that a coalition of Republicans, Independents, and conservative Dems, will tilt the race his way. I don’t think it will be that simple.

First, Democrats are more likely to fall in line around their party’s candidate, especially with all of the party’s brass doing so. And Republicans in CT are almost as fed up with BushCo as Dems are. This morning’s news that Karl Rove sent Lieberman a message saying, “The boss wants to help. Whatever we can do, we will do,” is likely to do more harm than good.

Secondly, Lieberman is going to find it more difficult to raise money than he might think. Traditional Democratic donors are going to be thinking hard about backing an independent against the party’s standard bearer. The big donors need to be concerned about alienating the party’s leaders and committee members (and chairs?), and that will weigh on their funding choices.

In the end, I believe that money, not principle, will bring down Lieberman’s indie bid. But I’ve yet to see a single story in the media probing the state of Lieberman’s campaign financing. Just more of the same spin coming directly from Lieberman’s headquarters.

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Journalism Profs Protest Bush

The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) represents academics in journalism and media studies. At their annual convention last week, they passed a resolution to “Object to the Bush Administration’s Anti-Press Policies and Practices.” From the preamble:

The relationship between the presidency and press has always been uneasy. This tension is both unavoidable and generally salutary: When each side conducts its duties with honesty and integrity, both hold the power of the other in check…..However, it has come to pass that the current administration has engaged in a number of practices and has enacted a series of severe and extraordinary policies that attack the press specifically and by extension, democracy itself.

The resolution cites 10 practices to which it is objecting. Please click the link for more detail.

The AEJMC’s membership is troubled by the Bush administration’s…

  1. response to press requests for information.
  2. use of staged town meetings.
  3. vision of the government as a private domain.
  4. practice of massive reclassification of documents.
  5. support of policies that weaken the multiplicity of voices on a local and national scale.
  6. policy of not allowing photographs of coffins of soldiers killed in Iraq to be released.
  7. use of propaganda, including video news releases.
  8. use of bribes and payments to columnists and other opinion makers.
  9. manipulation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
  10. using the courts to pressure journalists to give up their sources and to punish them for obtaining leaked information.

This is a superb list of issues for the professors to call the administration to task for. But I believe it is equally important to send these objections to their professional colleagues in the media. Much of what the administration gets away with is due to the absence of an aggressive and independent press that refuses to let itself be diminished by an imperial executive branch that thinks it’s above the law.

Pentagon Orders Soldiers to Stop Shooting – Videos

American soldiers in Iraq have been making videos of their wartime experiences and posting them to web sites for their friends and families back home to view. The Guardian reports that:

“these homemade war videos offer an insight into modern warfare and the psyche of the average serviceman which conventional broadcast news and current affairs coverage cannot get close to.”

Indeed, the mainstream press sanitizes this war to the point that it could be included in a video game and still be considered lame by the teenagers that play it. Maybe that sort of desensitizing is intentional, so as not to dampen recruiting efforts. The reality is much more difficult to endure. The soldiers shooting these videos are engaging in a form of self-expression that can be gut wrenching, but that very quality is what makes it so much more relevant and enlightening than anything the media is producing.

Well, the military brass will have none of that. This, after all, is the government that forbids photographs of ceremonies honoring fallen soldiers as their remains are returned to Dover Air Force Base. This is the Commander in Chief that has never attended a funeral for a casualty of his misbegotten war. Why then would anyone expect that they would allow a candid expression from a soldier like this one who said:

“it made him feel good to bring the gruesome reality of a soldier’s life in Iraq to those living safely behind their ‘clean, white picket fences at home’.”

The media has been embarrassingly absent in coverage of this war. From the beginning with Judith Miller’s discredited ramblings on Iraq’s imagined threat, to the farce of embedding reporters with troops, there have been very few revelations emanating from the mainstream press. Even major stories like Abu Ghraib would not have come to light but for the very kind of amateur video the Pentagon nows seeks to abolish.

So now, an administration whose PR regularly regurgitates rosy scenarios is banning laptop computers from U.S. bases in Iraq. A government that is steeped in secrecy is infringing on the free speech of soldiers serving in combat. It kind of makes you wonder what they are fighting for.

UPDATE: There are reports that the Pentagon is keeping a tight watch on the Internet with civilian contractors monitoring sites like YouTube and MySpace.

“…US Central Command – which is responsible for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan – does have a team reading blogs and responding to what they consider inaccuracies about the so-called war on terror.”

It makes me feel so much safer knowing that CenCom is surveiling the web while insurgents are burying IEDs in the Green Zone.

Stalking Points Memo – Attack Of The Machines

Attack of the Machines

Bill O’Reilly, futurist exrtaordinaire, explains to all us simpletons why America’s leadership is behind the times. In doing so, he reveals that the real enemy facing the world today is not Al Qaeda, but the Borg Empire. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

(Click the pic here to go to Stalking Points Memo page, then click the pic there to start the Flash movie)

Lock Up The Bloggers

Josh Wolf is in trouble. The San Francisco journalist/activist is in jail on contempt charges for refusing to comply with a federal subpoe0na. The Feds want to see a video he took of a protest where a cop was injured and some property damaged.

I’ve been struggling with the merits of this case because, on the one hand, I’m inclined to be sympathetic to an independent media advocate who is under pressure to submit to government demands. On the other hand, this is a difficult case to argue for a reporter’s privilege. The key issue is that Wolf is not protecting an external source, but is declining to provide potential evidence to an event to which he was a witness.

If the videotape in question was given to Wolf in confidence, he would have every right to withhold it and to defy the court order. But this is video he took himself, so who is he protecting? The problem I had with Judith Miller’s claim of privilege was that she was not protecting a source, but that she was a participant in the events on which she was reporting. I don’t believe she had the right to withhold testimony from the grand jury regarding a crime she was helping to facilitate. Of course, there is no allegation that Wolf was involved in anything criminal himself and the state cannot engage in witch hunts.

Despite the conflicting arguments in this matter, I have remained troubled by Wolf’s predicament, and this story from Editors and Publishers has helped me understand why:

Trying to compel journalists to testify is an increasingly popular tactic among federal investigators seeking all types of information. Even the occasional incarceration of reporters is enough to put the squeeze on the news media.

The article goes on to make the point that this case was bumped to the federal courts because California has a strong reporter’s shield law, while the feds have none at all. In addition, there appears to be an escalation of legal pressure being placed on journalists to, in effect, do the work of law enforcement. Lucy A. Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said:

“This is the first time it’s been pretty clear to me the federal government is interested in what bloggers do.” And that, “While jailings are infrequent, the number of subpoenas seeking to force reporters to testify has grown.”

The problem here is the trend. As the government seeks to intimidate reporters, it is also silencing the voices of its critics. For an administration that has elevated secrecy to an art form, there is no greater achievement than the dismantling of the first amendment. Josh Wolf may not be the perfect banner carrier for this battle, but he is at least collateral damage and his dilemma should be troubling to anyone who reveres a free press.