Chilling Effects: Betraying Freedom Of The Press

Last week the U.S. Senate voted to condemn the New York Times for running an ad that was critical of the administration and it’s lackey, Gen. David Petraeus. The inevitable consequences of this government imposition of approved thought are already becoming manifest.

The Times itself is slamming its ad sales group for accepting the ad from MoveOn.org and offering them a rate reserved for stand-by advertisers. Public Editor Clark Hoyt enumerated the list of grievances from opponents of the ad. They include:

  • More than 4,000 e-mail messages with words like “despicable,” “disgrace” and “treason.”
  • George W. Bush called the ad “disgusting.”
  • Dick Cheney said the charges in the ad were “an outrage.”
  • Thomas Davis III, (R-VA) demanded a House investigation.
  • The American Conservative Union filed a complaint with the FEC against MoveOn.org and the Times.
  • FreedomsWatch asked the Times to investigate.

And what did this flurry of hard-core conservative pressure yield? Well, the so-called liberal Times caved in to the rightists and proved the effectiveness of shouting down lawful dissent. Hoyt argued that the Times violated it’s advertising policy which states that they, “do not accept opinion advertisements that are attacks of a personal nature.” But criticizing Petraeus’ intention to go before Congress and parrot the views of the White House is not a personal attack. It is a substantive expression of a viewpoint that is shared by millions of Americans. What’s more, Hoyt didn’t bother to level the same complaint against rebuttal ads by Rudy Giuliani or FreedomsWatch. Hoyt went even further in defining the lengths to which he would go to muzzle free speech saying…

“…I’d have demanded changes to eliminate ‘Betray Us,’ a particularly low blow when aimed at a soldier.”

Had Hoyt been in a position to do so, he would have forced a private advocacy group to alter the message they wished to convey. And as justification, he implies that a general, who is being used as a political prop by the White House, cannot be called to account for abandoning the American people in favor of his boss, the President. Submission accomplished, Mr. Hoyt.

Another example of the fallout from this campaign of suppression is the refusal of the New York Metro to run an ad from the anti-war group, World Can’t Wait. The Metro deemed the ad “too inflammatory” for its criticism of Bush’s thinly veiled threats against Iran. WCW has a right to be disturbed by this rejection and they succinctly explain what’s at stake for our nation’s coveted rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution:

“One of the few avenues to get the truth into the major media – buying advocacy ads – will be in effect closed down if publishers are afraid to sell space. The White House will be the strong-arm arbiter of what is acceptable in terms of political criticism.”

(Visit World Can’t Wait for more info about the ad and how to contact the Metro).

The dominoes are falling. It began with an orchestrated assault on free speech by right-wingers in response to MoveOn’s ad. Then the Senate capitulates and condemns said speech. Then newspapers, feeling the heat, reject ads by independent groups of citizens seeking to engage the public. What’s next? An Official Doctrine of Acceptable Speech?

nullFinally, MoveOn responded to the Times’ assertion that the stand-by rate they were charged was a mistake by volunteering to pay the $77,508 difference. Will MoveOn’s critics, who so vociferously complained about the discount, acknowledge that gesture? Will Rudy Giuliani and FreedomsWatch, two of the most clamorous complainants, who themselves received an equivalent discount, pay back the difference they were afforded? If they do not, they should hear about it, and since the Conventional Media probably won’t do it, it’s up to the blogosphere, again.

Update: Lane Hudson at News For The Left has filed a complaint with the FEC against Giuliani. Good luck Lane.

Also, Giuliani is refusing to pay the difference between the stand-by rate he received and the full rate, as MoveOn did. His spokeswoman said that the ad “was placed at the standby rate with no commitment it would run on a specific date.” But she is contradicting her boss who you can listen to here for yourself.

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Are Tucker Carlson’s Days Numbered?

As I reported last month, Tucker Carlson’s ratings are a sinkhole that is sucking down the whole of MSNBC’s schedule. I wondered when MSNBC’s programmers might come out of their nepotism-induced coma and drop the ax on Tucker. There are days when his numbers are barely half of either his lead-in, his lead-out, or both.

It would stand to reason that the network honchos would want to jettison the biggest loser on their team so that they might actually make some money during that time period. Certainly the programs adjacent to Tucker would be love to see him go as he is hurting their performance as well. Last June, in an apparent effort to staunch the bleeding, one of the two daily hours allotted to Tucker was replaced by a straight newscast. But half of Tucker is still a whole flop.

So what will MSNBC do now? I don’t know. But I do know that rumors a year ago that Tucker had been fired elicited this impassioned protest from cable’s fortunate son:

“It’s bullshit. It’s total bullshit. I talked to Abrams last night. I’ve got another year on my contract. That’s my comment: Bullshit.”

If I’m not mistaken, I would conclude that he viewed the rumors of his demise as some sort of “bullshit,” but I could be wrong. However, I’m fairly sure that I’m correct in calculating that a year has transpired since his blustery declaration that he had another year on his contract. The expiration would come next month, to be precise.

I haven’t heard any of the customary splashy announcements celebrating a new term as was done when Keith Olbermann re-upped for four more years last February. And on a purely subjective note, it seems to me that Tucker has been phoning it in since his airtime was slashed in June. So I wouldn’t be surprised if he was quietly ushered out the back door before long. What would be surprising would be if he was kept on.


Boston’s Fake Bomb Hysteria

Once again Boston has shown itself to be a little too tightly wound. What is it that makes these people quiver at the sight of toys and pranks?

The latest episode of skittishness is the arrest of an MIT student who is accused of wearing a “fake bomb” at Logan International Airport. Never mind that the allegedly fake bomb is nothing more than a circuit board with a battery attached. Forget that it was being worn on the outside of a sweatshirt in full view of everyone (not something a terrorist is likely to do). And ignore completely that the student, Star Simpson, is enrolled at MIT where students commonly engage in creative inventions.

The foregoing notwithstanding, Boston’s finest still managed to overreact and assume the worst. This, of course, is not the first time. Back in February, the city ground to a halt because a cable tv network left some litebrite toys around town to publicize the premiere of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force cartoon series. As I said at that time:

“Once again we are reminded of the ever-present danger posed to society by artists. The free exercise of creative expression continues to be amongst the more serious threats to an ordered and manageable population. No wonder responsible governments spend so much of their time and resources suppressing such subversions. Without such efforts we would be forever vulnerable to the horrors of independent thought and action.”

In both incidents, the media became a willing accomplice to this conclusion jumping. Every headline and teaser blasts the words “Fake Bomb” as if there had been an actual determination that this was the intent. A responsible press might have considered describing it as an “electrical device” of unknown purpose. But that wouldn’t grab as many viewers or sell as many papers.


Top Army General Says To Blame The Media

The commander of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq has a theory as to why the mission is so badly floundering. Major General Rick Lynch believes that if the media were more upbeat, that would somehow improve the fortunes of the troops in their battle against the Iraqi insurgents. Perhaps if there were more stories of painted schoolhouses there would be fewer IEDs buried on the roadside.

To be fair, Lynch isn’t really addressing the battlefield in Iraq. His focus is on the perceptions of Americans at home and how to persuade them to gird for our extended participation in this quagmire:

“If the American people are informed properly, I believe they will be supportive of the mission. But they’re not getting the right story. As a result, they’re anti the war.”

First of all, they are getting the right story – the right-wing story, that is. They get it every day from an incurious press corps that functions by Xeroxing presidential PR for publication. They get it from the White House and its delegates (including generals like Petraeus and Lynch) who carry the administration’s water. They get it from the Congress who is too weak to stand up for the citizens begging for leadership out of this war.

At the risk of drawing the ire of those who think it’s improper to ever question a military leader, I have to disagree with Lynch’s contention that Americans are against the war because they are uninformed. Somehow, despite the best efforts of chickenhawks in the media, the people have arrived at the conclusion that they were duped and they don’t want to take it anymore.

Lynch claims that the media is ignoring successes in Iraq like declining casualties. Even if we accept this contention, which many experts dispute, then how does he explain this:

“The enemy now is more lethal and more aggressive than I’ve ever seen him be because he knows he’s on the run.”

It is blatantly contradictory to suggest that the enemy can be both more lethal and yet cause fewer casualties simultaneously. And it is absurd to surmise that because the enemy is more aggressive they are on the verge of defeat. The converse of that would mean that the declining casualties of a less aggressive foe is evidence that the enemy is growing stronger.

Lynch goes on to astutely observe that political and economic progress in Iraq is slow; that the police are often “nonexistent, incapable or corrupt”; that Iraqis want us to leave; and that they are untrustworthy allies that are likely to turn on us. Yet none of this staunches his optimism for a mission that he say is must proceed for at least another five years.

Therein lies the reason for his concentration on the media. The American people are already fed up with having our troops embedded in a civil war that has been raging for hundreds of years. They are tired of diverting scarce resources from domestic priorities like health care, national security, natural disasters, etc. And they fear that our misguided foreign policy has made us an international pariah and is exacerbating the threat of terrorism.

So Lynch needs to recruit the media to convert the population into believers in the mission if he is to sustain this war for another half decade. I hope that is a mission in which he fails. I hope the media can manage to find a voice that reflects reality, honesty, and a sense of duty to their journalistic purpose of responsibly informing citizens.


U.S. Congress Or U.S. Betray Us?

The MoveOn ad affair is still plodding forward with the President’s comments this morning calling the ad “disgusting”, and now the Senate weighing in with a resolution condemning MoveOn for exercising its free speech rights. The bill’s author, Sen. John Cornyn, made explicitly anti-speech language in his statement supporting the bill.

Before anyone has an opportunity to get distracted, this is not about the war in Iraq; it is not about respect for the military; it is not about terrorism; it is certainly not about patriotism. It is about Free Speech and nothing else (well, maybe a little hypocrisy). It is about the United States Senate deciding that it can penalize private citizens and groups for expressing their opinions.

Despite the chilling effect legislation like this has on lawful dissent, the Senate overwhelmingly passed Cornyn’s bill by a vote of 72-25. That majority means that a lot of Democrats caved in to the “shut up and pretend to support the military” crowd. It means that they believe that it’s acceptable for the government to crush dissent.

And while they are trashing our Constitutional liberties, they don’t even feel compelled to maintain a semblance of consistency. As evidence of the hypocrisy of the Senate censors, Sen. Barbara Boxer offered a companion bill that condemned political attacks on any military figure. Boxer’s alternative included patriots like Max Cleland and John Kerry, in addition to General Petraeus. The Boxer bill failed 51-46 (short of the 60 votes needed for passage), with all but three Republicans voting against it.

It’s bad enough that so many Democrats voted to censure MoveOn rather than exhibit some backbone by standing up for the Constitution as well as their constituents, but it’s far worse that Republicans, it seems, are only interested in defending the honor of the military when those criticized are right-wing sycophants. Decorated veterans who serve their country are apparently unworthy of respect if they don’t swallow Republican dogma and obey their masters in the White House.

I really don’t understand how the public can tolerate Republican senators who will vote to condemn attacks on one general, then turn around and vote against condemning such attacks on all military figures. This should serve as a lesson to the Democratic leadership in Congress that Republicans are not the least bit interested in bipartisanship or compromise. Democratic leader Harry Reid needs to absorb this lesson and begin to take a more aggressive stance in asserting the majority role in which he serves. When is he going to get tired of wiping the footprints off his damn forehead? And the rest of the Democratic caucus might want to start to take more seriously their obligation to protect free speech, as opposed to making vacant gestures that feign patriotism. Their record of abandoning Constitutional principles is disgraceful – from Habeas Corpus, to warrantless wiretapping, to relinquishing their jurisdiction on issues of national defense, to impeachment. When will they learn what their role is as members of an equal branch of government?

Update: MoveOn is fighting back with a petition drive that will be delivered to Congress:

“The U.S. Senate just told you to sit down and be quiet. They passed a resolution condemning MoveOn.org and it has one purpose: to intimidate all of us who care about responsibly ending this war.”

Sign the petition and join MoveOn. What better time to show support for free speech and a valiant organization that is fighting for it.


O.J. Simpson’s Attorneys?

nullOrdinarily I wouldn’t bother with O.J. Simpson except to point out how the press becomes obsessed with these brainless celebrity sideshows to the exclusion of real news. But I couldn’t resist this moment captured from MSNBC, identifying Simpson’s legal team. I’m sure the dentally-challenged lawyer with the “I (heart) Famous People” cap is a superb litigator.

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Giuliani: I Am MoveOn’s Worst Nightmare

The MoveOn advertisement challenging General Petraeus’ congressional testimony is continuing to stir up dust. After drawing heat from Fox News war apologists like Bill O’Reilly, and taking fire from Dick Cheney, and being threatened with deportation by John McCain, and having GOP congressman Tom Davis call for hearings, now another Republican presidential candidate has weighed in with a unique fund raising scheme.

Rudy Giuliani has already hit MoveOn with an ad that attacks both the advocacy group and Hillary Clinton. He has also made comments that trample that pesky Constitutional notion of free speech. Now he is on the attack again, this time wrapping his assault in a plea for campaign donations:

“Why is MoveOn attacking Rudy Giuliani? Because he’s their worst nightmare. They know Rudy is a Republican who can beat the Democrats.”

This radio campaign is accompanied by an Internet keyword campaign that delivers Rudy’s anti-MoveOn message when searching for either “MoveOn” or “Hillary Clinton” on Google.

Many candidates are using Google AdWords in their ad campaigns. But Rudy is using keywords that are associated with his opponents to bring attention to himself. In fact, searching for keyword combinations of his own name return only ads for his campaign web site with no mention of MoveOn or Clinton.

Several weeks ago, the media was aghast that John Edwards would include appeals for donations after he and his wife Elizabeth were attacked by Ann Coulter, though his fund raising was limited to his web site and emails to his supporters. Do you think the press will respond with equivalent indignation now that a Republican candidate is doing the same thing in an even more brazen fashion?


Sally Field’s Emmy Speech Uncensored

In accepting her Emmy award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role as the matriarch in “Brothers and Sisters”, Sally Field delivered an impassioned tribute to mothers everywhere in a message that spoke of world peace.

Unfortunately, it was too much for the censors at Fox who cut Field’s comments at a critical point.

The video above is from the Canadian broadcast that aired the speech unedited. The nannies at Fox snipped the remarks for U.S. viewers as Field said, “If mothers ruled the world, there wouldn’t be any…” The expunged ending of the sentence was, “god-damned wars in the first place.” Was it because Fox thinks that Americans are just too fragile to be exposed to such fiery language? Was it because they were seeking to suppress legitimate dissent in a public forum? Tom O’Neil at the Los Angeles Times reports that it may not have been a matter of shielding the network from liability for broadcasting an obscenity:

“Technically, Field’s censored words are not profane. A 2004 FCC ruling specifically stated no objection to the use of “god damn” on TV when making a judgment on the uproar over Bono swearing at the Golden Globes in 2003 where he used more colorful language.”

Backstage, Field spoke with reporters and responded to the controversy that was already swirling:

“I have no comment other than, ‘Oh, well.’ I said what I wanted to say. I wanted to pay homage to the mothers of the world. And I very, very seriously think that if mothers ruled the world we wouldn’t be sending our children off to be slaughtered.” […] “If they bleep it, oh, well. I’ll just say it somewhere else.”

This is the second instance of Emmy censorship this season, following Kathy Griffin’s remarks a night earlier when, mocking award winners who give credit to God for their victory, Griffin said that, “…no one had less to do with this award than Jesus.” Isn’t it interesting that in both occurrences of a clampdown on free speech, a reference to God was a key factor?


A Tale Of Two Rallies

On Saturday, September 15, 2007, A rally was held in Washington, D.C. to protest the Bush administration’s policy of perpetual war. As has become routine in modern demonstrations, a counter- rally was quickly organized in support of the war and the continued deployment of American troops in Iraq.

The images here show how C-SPAN characterized the competing demonstrations. By labeling the events as either anti-war or pro-troops, C-SPAN leaves viewers with the impression that peace advocates are anti-troops. This is a dishonest portrayal of the peace rally whose participants included Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, Gold Star Families for Peace, and numerous other military organizations and individuals.

If you look at the pictures and not the labels, which side appears to be more aligned with the troops? C-SPAN should be more careful not to editorialize in their so-called non-partisan programming. And they must stop perpetuating the right-wing meme that if you favor an end to the war you are somehow opposed to the troops. The truth of the matter is that ending the war is the best way to show support for the troops.


Democratic Response Draws More Viewers Than Bush

When Bush addressed the nation last Thursday to persist in pushing his failed war agenda, he succeeded in pulling in a sizable portion of the television viewing audience. The only problem for him is that the response by Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed pulled in 7% more viewers.

Presidential Address – Thursday, September 13, 2007 (000’s)
Network Bush Address Dem Response
Fox News 745 813
MSNBC 455 446
CNN 454 507
Totals 1654 1766

Ordinarily, the opposition party response to a presidential address would be expected to lose viewers relative to the headliner from the White House. Just being competetive would be considered a victory of sorts. Consequently, these numbers demonstrate that there is significant curiosity in the TV viewing public as to the alternatives to administration talking points. The fact that the President can’t easily outperform an obscure senator that most of the country has never heard of, is proof that people are dissatisfied with his tired rhetoric.

It’s interesting to note that the greatest divergence in viewers in favor of the Democrats occurs on Fox News. So even Fox News viewers seem to be open to fresh perspectives and policies on ending the war. It’s too bad the folks at the Fox Entertainment Network didn’t think their audience deserved to hear Reed’s response. They were the only broadcast network to decline to air the Senator’s remarks. Still, more viewers in the cable news universe were exposed to an alternative perspective than to another of Bush’s robotic recitations of his standard pro-war litany.

This may also mean that the audience for the paid-for response by John Edwards might have drawn a larger than expected audience, validating his strategy and expanding the reach of the anti-war message. The other candidates, and the Democratic Party, should pay attention to these results and develop new tactics that make effective use of them.