Trouble For Murdoch

While I still prefer my own proposal for Dow Jones, there are some new developments that we should keep our eyes on.

General Electric (parent of CNBC) is talking with Pearson (parent of Financial Times) about joining to bid for Dow Jones. The deal would allow the Bancrofts to keep a share of the company.

Billionaire Ron Burkle is reportedly interested in bidding for Dow Jones and has been working with the company’s union to put a deal together. One scenario has Yahoo, on whose board Burkle sits, becoming a partner in the transaction.

The Yahoo connection to Burkle’s bid takes on a new and ominous wrinkle with reports that Murdoch is interested in trading MySpace for a 25% share of Yahoo. What an evil genius. If Burkle/Yahoo buy Dow Jones and then Murdoch executes the MySpace swap, Murdoch would still end up with significant chunk of DJ. If Murdoch pulls off the MySpace swap first, he would be in a position to steer Yahoo away from Burkle, thus eliminating, or at least slowing down, his competition for DJ. In any case, it’s a terrible deal for Yahoo which would be paying the equivalent of $10 billion dollars for a property Murdoch bought a year ago for $580 million. Yahoo could have the faster-growing Facebook for only $2 billion.

But the juiciest revelation to date is this teaser about a major investigation of the Murdoch empire being conducted by the New York Times. I don’t know if this just a human interest story or if they have some dirt on Rupert, but I sure hope it’s the latter.

Stay Tuned.

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Bob Woodward’s Monumental Task

The Washington Post’s Assistant Managing Editor, Bob Woodward, participated in an online chat yesterday. The very first question challenged him to answer for the failures of the media leading up to the war in Iraq.

Rancho Mirage, Calif.: “In light of Watergate, why did the ‘investigative’ branch of the press miss so badly on the Bush-Cheney spin machine to justify Iraq? Was the lesson of Watergate wasted, or was the press serving the country well?”

I like the “lesson of Watergate” angle, although Woodward ignores it. He does issue a curious apology that rests on how difficult it would have been to actually do his job.

Bob Woodward: “I think the press and I in particular should have been more aggressive in looking at the run-up to the Iraq war, and specifically the alleged intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction stockpiles. To answer the WMD question before the March 2003 invasion would have been a monumental task, but one that we should have undertaken more systematically.”

This is not the first mea culpa from Woodward. As I reported in November of 2006, Woodward (and other media luminaries) confessed to not having done enough to expose the weakness of the Bush administration’s case for war.

“We did our job but we didn’t do enough, and I blame myself mightily for not pushing harder. We should have warned readers we had information that the basis for this was shakier [than widely believed].”

There is, however, a striking contradiction in these statements. Yesterday Woodward said that the WMD question could not have been answered without undertaking a “monumental task.” But last November he said that he did, in fact, have information that the WMD argument was “shaky,” he just chose not to report it.

Obviously both of those statements cannot be true. I’d have to favor the November variant because there was plenty of evidence that the WMD story was a well-known sham (see UNMOVIC and Curveball).

It’s too bad that Woodward and so many of his colleagues were not honest with us in 2003, and only have hollow apologies for us in 2007.


Strange Culture: The Criminalization Of Art

On May 11, 2004, Hope Kurtz died in her sleep of heart failure. The next morning, her husband Steve, an artist and a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, woke up and summoned the police. What followed is the subject of the film “Strange Culture” which was featured yesterday at the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival.

When the police arrived at the Kurtz’ home they found a collection of petri dishes and biological specimens. Steve explained that it was part of an art project he was preparing for exhibition at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. While all of this could have been easily verified, the police, and the FBI agents they called in, decided that Steve was a bio-terrorist and arrested him as he was still trying to cope with having just lost his wife of twenty years.

Steve’s artwork as a member of the Critical Art Ensemble was often controversial and dealt with subject matters that were likely to rile authorities and wealthy and influential corporations. And although the government realized that there was nothing threatening in the articles confiscated from his home, they are still continuing to prosecute him on charges related to his acquisition of the specimens used in the art project. There is more background on this case at the Critical Art Ensemble Defense Fund.

This is another particularly sad and disturbing example of how the rights of artists, and all Americans, are being suppressed in the name of security. It is a stark reminder that we must never allow these merchants of fear to silence us, and that we must continue to fight for the freedom to express ourselves and to challenge those in power who would prevent us from doing so.


Michael Moore On The Media

Appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America to promote his new film “Sicko,” Michael Moore discussed the media’s complicity with the horror that is Iraq:

“Had ABC News, NBC News, CBS News been more aggressive in confronting the government with what they were telling us back in 2003 about Iraq, you might have prevented this war,” Moore said. “3500 soldiers that are dead today may not have had to die had our news media done its job.”

Well said, Michael. Now how about making the media the subject of your next film? What could possibly be more important? There is no problem that our society faces that can be fixed without fixing the problem of the media first. And as you point out, lives are truly at stake. Without an informed populace it is impossible to move policy and politicians to effect real change on health care, the environment, civil rights, Iraq, or any other issue. The media is the forum for educating people on a mass scale. Unfortunately, it is also the forum for deceiving and sedating them, which is how it is used most frequently these days.


Campbell Brown Joins The Dobbs Brigade At CNN

If current reports from Media Bistro (via Drudge ?) are correct, Paula Zahn will shortly be leaving CNN. That’s no big loss as far as I’m concerned. But I do worry about speculation that Campbell Brown will be filling the void.

Brown is an NBC reporter who is married to Dan Senor. Senor’s resume overflows with rightist associations from serving as senior adviser and spokesman for Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, to White House Deputy Press Secretary, to representative to Vets for Freedom, the Republican front group that advocated both the war in Iraq and the Senate candidacy of Joe Lieberman.

Senor recently declined a position on the campaign staff of Republican presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, because of the potential conflict it would pose for his journalist wife. But the presence of such a conflict is already evident in his past and current activities, including his role as a consultant with his own Senor Strategies. And we don’t have to look to Senor for reasons to doubt the objectivity of Brown, who in an appearance earlier this year on the Today Show said:

“It’s difficult to say that you’re against the war and at the same time not say that you’re against the troops.”

That GOP talking point seems to have been pulled right out of her husband’s emails from Karl Rove. With this staff adjustment, CNN is enhancing the Lou Dobbs wing of the network – a wing that already includes the likes of Nancy Grace and Glenn Beck. If their goal is to turn the network into a cheap imitation of Fox News, they are doing an outstanding job.

Congratulations, CNN.


DeadLines

AP Editor Touts Accountability Journalism.
The Associated Press’ Online Political Editor, Ron Fournier, wrote a memo to his colleagues advocating what he calls “Accountability Journalism”, but what I call simply “Journalism.” Nonetheless, it is a welcome philosophical shift if the AP lives up to it. Here’s a choice cut:

Don’t give equal weight to spin. Just because a public official says it doesn’t mean you need to put it in your story or give his claim equal billing to what you know to be true.”

China Sentences Former Food And Drugs Chief To Death.
Zheng Xiaoyu was found guilty of accepting $852,000 (US) worth of bribes from pharmaceutical companies to expedite the approval of new drugs. How many American lawmakers and lobbyists would be on death row if this policy were in effect here?

Why The L.A. Times Called For Iraq Pullout.
Greg Mitchell at Editor and Publisher has an interesting column on how the L.A. Times went from “reluctantly” endorsing Bush’s escalation in Iraq just last month, to calling for troops to be brought home. Jim Newton, the editorial page editor at the Times, seemed surprised that, “the response from readers has been about 75% positive.” Why that would be surprising is a mystery considering that the war is opposed by about the same percentage of the city’s (and the country’s) residents.

FBI Seeking To Re-create Total Information Awareness.
The massive and intrusive data mining project that was scrapped under fire two years ago is getting a makeover by the FBI. The same FBI that was just found to be unlawfully gathering private information about citizens from Telecom, and other consumer companies.

Jolie Doesn’t Want Fox At Premiere.
Angelina Jolie requested that Fox News not be allowed to attend the premiere of her new movie, “A Mighty Heart.” Fox, upset at not being invited to the party, responds with a long diatribe against Jolie’s past tumultuous relationship with the press. The article kind of justifies her reluctance to accommodate the Fox network in particular and the press in general.

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Wesley Clark Ditches Fox – Signs With MSNBC!

It’s About Time!

Hotline is reporting a shake-up in Punditville:

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark will now be exclusively on MSNBC as a military analyst, sources have confirmed to the Hotline. Clark has still not ruled out a possible White House bid and MSNBC would be a much more Dem-friendly audience than his old gig — Fox News Channel!

This is a long overdue move for Clark. It is a bit simplistic to say that he did this because MSNBC is a “more Dem-friendly audience.” He did it because Fox is an arm of the Republican National Committee. As I reported earlier, a Mellman Group study shows that:

“Fox News viewers supported George Bush over John Kerry by 88 percent to 7 percent. No demographic segment, other than Republicans, was as united in supporting Bush. Conservatives, white evangelical Christians, gun owners, and supporters of the Iraq war all gave Bush fewer votes than did regular Fox News viewers.”

Dems do not need Fox News and should not help to legitimize it as a news source. The departure of Clark is an extension of the trend to deny Fox the credibility with which it seeks to deceive its audience. The trend was significantly boosted by the rejection of the Fox-sponsored Democratic debate, as well as scholarly studies that prove that Fox is not a serious journalistic enterprise. We’re talking about a network with characters like Bill O’Reilly who makes up news, Roger Ailes who disparages Democrats, Neil Cavuto with his notorious “Cavuto Mark” and Rupert Murdoch who admits having tried to push propaganda on Iraq.

I have no problem with Democrats appearing on Fox as long as they are sufficiently disdainful, but they should not be on the payroll as analysts. That only allows Fox to claim they are balanced even though they only employ people like Clark to abuse them by getting into shouting matches that are distractions from the underlying issues.

MSNBC can make much better use Clark and vice versa. If he appears on Countdown or Scarborough he will bring thoughtful analysis to the discussion. If he appears on Hardball he will be a voice that Matthews can’t shut down. If he appears on Tucker he will thoroughly outclass the little twerp and, hopefully, awaken MSNBC’s programmers to the fact that they are wasting valuable airtime on him.

This is just another reminder that Fox News is TOXIC and must not be tolerated. And we have to guard against further poisoning of our media (i.e. Murdoch’s bid to acquire Dow Jones – see my Alternative To Murdoch For Dow Jones.



The O’Reilly Fiction: Making Up The News

A couple of weeks ago, Bill O’Reilly aired a hard-hitting piece from the wilds of North Carolina. He had dispatched his crack investigative team to dig up dirt on John Edwards. What he found was a trailer park across the street from Edwards’ home whose unidentified working-class residents had no love for Senator Edwards.

Unidentified Male: Everybody here is just normal income people. You know, just live day-to-day. And I don’t think he knows anything about us.

O’Reilly: We couldn’t find anybody in the trailer park to say anything nice about John Edwards.

This story would be irrelevant and dull in the best of circumstances. Finding people on the street to disparage any public figure really only requires two things: 1) a street and 2) people. But O’Reilly made this simple task even easier by making all of it up!

The News & Observer of North Carolina, having engaged in actual reporting, has learned that there is no trailer park across the street from Edwards’ home. The interviews actually took place at an auto repair shop. What’s more, the N&O identified the folks interviewed by O’Reilly’s team and it turns out they were the owners of the repair shop and the property on which it resides. Not exactly the picture of working-class citizens that O’Reilly had painted.

For my conclusion I would just like to paraphrase O’Reilly’s own conclusion from his fictional news item:

“Now ‘Talking Points’ News Corpse tries to respect all of those who want to serve their country report the news, but Edwards O’Reilly is an exception. I have no respect for him. He’s a phony and is in the tank for special interests to damage this country. Edwards O’Reilly is going nowhere to Hell, but deserves to be called out.”


David Broder’s Circus of Contradictions

Writing for the Washington Post, David Broder’s latest apologia for White House law breakers, comes to the defense of Scooter Libby who was recently convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice. He trivializes the conviction, which he refers to euphemistically as a “controversy,” by falsely alleging that there was no underlying crime. The underlying crime, Mr. Broder, was the unlawful disclosure of the identity of covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame Wilson. There has been no conviction on that charge (yet) precisely because of Mr. Libby’s obstruction. Broder calls the prosecution…

“a sideshow — engineered partly by the publicity-seeking former ambassador Joseph Wilson and his wife and heightened by the hunger in parts of Washington to “get” Rove for something or other.”

If blowing the cover of a CIA agent is a “sideshow,” the main attraction must be truly spectacular. But the supreme irony in Broder’s comment is his accusation that Ms. Wilson, a career spy for many years, suddenly transformed into a publicity-seeker. And it’s equally absurd that Broder believes that the Wilsons were capable of “engineering” the activities of the office of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

Broder eventually comes around to making a coherent judgment on the matter:

“Lying to a grand jury is serious business, especially when it is done by a person occupying a high government position where the public trust is at stake.”

But it is apparently not serious enough to be considered anything more than a sideshow in Broder’s Circus of Contradictions.