Chris Matthews: Chowderhead

Yesterday, Chris Matthews interviewed Gen. Anthony Zinni and pressed him on the administration’s planning for post-invasion Iraq.

Matthews: Who believed there would not be resistance? What fool thought that a third world country would let us march into their country and start calling the shots without resistance? I mean, I am just saying. Who believes that?

Zinni: Well, I can tell you, the planners at the Pentagon seemed to adopt these very naive expectations and assumptions.

Matthews: What kind of a chowder head would believe that in the middle of the Arab world we were going to face this magical situation where everybody is going to be giving us flowers, the girls are going to be kissing us, they‘ll be jumping on our tanks, in love with our G.I.‘s.

Zinni: Nobody in the Arab world believed it. I talked to all the leaders there.

Then Matthews really lets himself have it: For about a day or two, I was saluting it. It looked like, it was like a P.R. stunt, the whole country was tearing down statues and loving our guys.

There you have it. Matthews is the fool, the chowderhead, that believed the hype – by his own admission. And he is soft-pedalling his seduction by characterizing it as “a day or two.” He stumped for this occupation for months, if not years.

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Feds Fix Fines For Radio Friends

Payola in radio is an old story but, like everything else in the age of new media, it has been made over by technology and a regulatory environment that curtails competition. Now the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is actively running interference for the radio corporations who have been playing the payola game.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer accused federal regulators Monday of going behind his back to negotiate with radio companies caught in a “payola” scandal, and saying the move undercuts the case he’s been building for years.

The FCC’s efforts on behalf of corporate media giants like Clear Channel and CBS, seek to let them off the hook with fines of about $1 million. Spitzer’s settlements were in the $10 to $20 million range.

Payola is an insidious crime that benefits broadcasters and record labels at the expense of artists, particularly local and emerging artists that are kept off of the airwaves.

Sen. Russ Feingold has introduced legislation to crackdown on this activity, but it has yet to be considered. In the meantime, the FCC is helping their pals avoid the consequences of having violated the current laws.

The Movie Theaters Of Battle

If you, like most Americans, are seeing fewer movies, now you have another reason to stay out of movie theaters. Your money may be being used to promote right-wing propaganda and religious fundamentalism.

Over the past few years, theatrical films have suffered a noticeable decline in attendance. This has been blamed on a variety of factors including quality, content, cable and DVDs, cost, and even competition from other forms of leisure activities like video games and the Internet. The real reason is certainly a combination of all of the above. I would add that the overall experience of seeing a movie in a theater is less satisfying and more burdensome than ever. After having to contend with traffic, parking, crowds, concessions, and then being forced to sit through 20 minutes or more of commercials, it better be a damn good movie. And in most cases, it is not.

Now, in addition to the aesthetic and practical motivations to see movies, Justin Clark at gives us a portrait of Citizen [Philip] Anschutz, the Christian conservative CEO of Regal Cinemas:

Named Fortune’s “greediest executive” in 1999, the Denver resident is a generous supporter of anti-gay-rights legislation, intelligent design, the Bush administration and efforts to sanitize television. With a net worth of $5 billion, he is Forbes ‘ thirty-fourth richest American, two spots above Revlon’s Ronald Perelman. Anschutz heads a vast media empire whose assets include the Examiner chain, twenty percent of the country’s movie screens, and a sizeable stake in Qwest Communications, the scandal-ridden telecom giant he formerly directed.

Anschutz’ empire includes the Regal chain as well as the United Artists and Edwards chains. He also runs National Cinemedia, the largest theatrical advertising firm, and Crusader Entertainment, the producer of the “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Through aggressive acquisitions, Anscutz has formed an exhibition network that wields considerable power in Hollywood. Studios need theaters to play their films, and a major operator can create anxiety for producers if it imposes content restrictions on what it will play. That can serve to suppress free expression as the studios surrender their creative jurisdiction to crusading exhibitors in order to gain access to the widest distribution possible.

What’s happening here is not free-market decision making, but proselytic blackmail. And Anschutz has made it clear that this is his intention. Perhaps it is time for those who care about movies and creative freedom to make their intentions clear with their dollars. You do not have to deprive yourself of movies to do this. Exhibitors make the vast majority of their income from concessions. Abstaining from popcorn and soda (for which they gouge you anyway), you will have a much bigger impact than by not showing up. But it’s important to let them know why their concessions sales are declining.

Tell the manager what’s on your mind. To make it easier, I have made this card that you can print and leave with the manager on your way out. If you’re particularly motivated, print bunches of them and hand them out to everyone in line. Taking back the country means taking back the media, and movies are an important part of that. We can have better, more diverse and more entertaining films, in an ad-free environment, if we’re willing to fight for it. And the result would bring more people back to the theaters. A real win/win proposition.

The Bush Charm Offensive

With approval ratings mired in the low 30’s, and support for the war (and most of the rest of his agenda) in collapse, the president has embarked on a new initiative for American renewal. He is wooing the press.

This is a somewhat surprising development from an administration that consistently blames its problems on the press. This White House has never been able to admit a mistake, only that the media fails present a properly glowing image of its achievments.

However, in the past week the president has been inviting reporters to engage in “off-the-record” trysts where he hopes to seduce them into painting more flattering portraits of his adventures. The media, whores that they are, are lapping it up. With few exceptions, they have accepted the invitations and revelled in the attention showered on them.

Most journalists agree that conversations with the president constitute news and should never be off the record. But some of them just can’t help themselves when granted access to the corridors of power. Meetings like this are worrisome because the public doesn’t know what took place. We don’t know if there were promises made or favors agreed to. The risk that reporters can be influenced to color their reporting by the prospect of scoring future exclusives or leaks is too great to ignore. And even if that never takes place, the secrecy surrounding it chews off a chunk of their credibility because we’ll never know what went on.

Putting aside all suspicion and possibility of ethics breaches, there is another very simple reason to decline such meetings: They have no journalistic purpose. If the reporter cannot disclose what was said (and the White House wanted to keep secret the fact the the meetings even took place), then the only benefit to any party is to the president who is free to spin and/or bribe his guests. That alone makes it shameful for anyone in the media to accept such a tainted invitation.

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.

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.

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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.


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.