If Hollywood Ran America

This weekend the Fox News… er … Comedy Channel will air its latest stab at humor. Fox entertainment reporter, Bill McCuddy, will host “Reel Politics: If Hollywood Ran America.” The program purports to take a humorous look at the denizens of Tinseltown who inject themselves into the political arena and extends the premise into what a celebrity-led administration might look like.

The only thing Fox is interested in here, is the opportunity to take another swipe at creative people.

The program actually undertakes a daring assignment. They’re stuck having to defend the position that it’s possible to do worse than the current administration. In order to do so, the celebrity team would have to exceed BushCo’s record setting marks for dishonesty, corruption, and incompetence.

If the promos for the show are any indication, Fox will be cementing their liberal-bashing reputation with an emphasis on notorious lefty thespians (no, that doesn’t mean Mary Cheney). This animation (wmv), which begins with a warning to, “Watch out America. Stars already think they run the world,” features Alec Baldwin, Rosie O’Donnell, Michael Moore, Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Sean Penn, Spike Lee, George Clooney, Diddy, and of course, Barbara Streisand. What, no Dixie Chicks? Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, and Tom Cruise were likely added in search of some demented sense of balance.

What seems to be missing is any mention of the fact that none of these folks has ever expressed an interest in elective office. They are merely Americans with opinions and a sense of civic duty. They are not trying to run the country, but are proud to exercise their rights as citizens. While the program has not aired yet, the hype leading up to it neglects any reference to the many right-wing celebs that actually have entertained the notion of “running America.” For instance, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Fred Thompson, Sonny Bono, Fred Grandy, George Murphy, and more. And we rarely hear anything but praise from the anti-Hollywood chorus for conservatives in the Biz like Tom Selleck, Dennis Miller, Patricia Heaton, Ted Nugent, Bruce Willis, Toby Keith, etc.

Reel Politics will air in conjunction with a Fox/Opinion Dynamics poll that surveyed the nation’s preferences for a celebrity president (a post that, I remind you, none of them seek). Amongst the field offered, Clint Eastwood and Oprah Winfrey led with 32% and 30% respectively. No other “candidate” made it into double digits (although, amongst Republicans only, Mel Gibson did pull a frightening 18%). It is also notable that 71% of Republicans think most Hollywood movies reflect a liberal viewpoint. That compares with 26% of Democrats and 36% of Independents. If you needed additional proof that Republicans are either out of touch with mainstream America or brainwashed, there you have it.

In the end, the only thing Fox is interested in here, is the opportunity to take another swipe at creative people who have the audacity to pursue what is, in fact, their mission in life: to express themselves. Disguising this assault on free expression with comedy only makes it all the more insidious. (And we’ve seen how they massacre comedy: The 1/2 Hour News Hour). And for repressive critics, like those at Fox, it is only artists who should be censured for having opinions and daring to utter them aloud. As I’ve written before in “Join The Art Insurgency:

The obvious extension of [shut up and sing] is that anyone who does any job other than serving in Congress is unqualified to have an opinion about what our government does in our name. Just try changing the word “sing” with the word “farm” or “teach” or “weld.” This is unadulterated elitist bullshit. If we’re qualified to vote them into office, then we’re qualified to comment on the job they are doing.

“Shut up and sing” is just a longhand way of saying “Shut up.” And they mean all of us. If your son was killed in Iraq, Ms. Sheehan, shut up and grieve. If civil liberties are eroded by Congress, shut up and obey. If terrorists fly jets into skyscrapers, shut up and shop.

But I’ve got bad news for them. We won’t submit to their tyranny. We won’t whither under their lash. We won’t tolerate censorship. And we most definitely will not shut up.

For Reference:

  • This CBS poll also also surveys the public attitude toward celebrities in politics.
  • Fox says that you will “laugh-out-loud” at these hypothetical campaign commericals. Fox must think the Paint Drying Channel is funny.
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Did U. S. Troops Raid Iraqi Journalists?

There is a disturbing report from the International Federation of Journalists that alleges an assault by American soldiers against the Iraq Syndicate of Journalists. The IFJ’s account of these events says that…

“United States soldiers caused destruction and havoc last night when they broke into the offices of the Syndicate, which is a member of the IFJ’s global union network. They destroyed furniture, ransacked the offices, arrested state-employed security guards, and confiscated 10 computers and 15 small electricity generators destined for the families of killed journalists.”

This action, if true, constitutes a severe violation of the principles of democracy. Remember democracy? It is what we invaded Iraq to bring to them. It would not be the first time that Americans sought to suppress or distort the free expression of local media. A little over a year ago, the U.S. military was caught secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories intended to portray operations there in a positive light. As bad as that is, this new story has much more frightening implications. The IFJ also reports that…

“the confiscation of computers and records of membership also suggests that US forces could now target all members of the Syndicate. ‘Anyone working for media that does not endorse US policy and actions could now be at risk,’ said [IFJ General Secretary, Aidan] White.”

There is certainly cause for concern here. Which makes me wonder, where is that concern? I have been unable to find a single story from any conventional news outlet. Not from newspapers, nor television, nor wire services, not even the Internet arms of those organizations. If the IFJ were a shadowy, obscure association, this could be dismissed as unreliable. But they are a recognized international trade group representing half a million journalists in 100 countries. At the very least I would expect a CBS or a New York Times to be inquiring of the Pentagon as to the allegations in this report.

The job of reporters in Iraq is difficult and dangerous, but this story is too important to ignore. If the military is attempting to enforce a media blackout, we need to shine a light onto it. Censorship cannot be tolerated, particularly when it is imposed by American soldiers in the name of freedom.

Lou Dobbs, American Workers, Politicians And The Press

There are plenty of reasons to complain about Lou Dobbs. He can be a sanctimonious, egomaniacal loudmouth that forces his infallibility down America’s throats. His one-man Department of Anti-immigration trespasses the boundaries of racism. But in the realm of rights for America’s working class, and the economic model for preserving them, he has emerged as a powerful and profound voice. In a column for CNN.com, Dobbs delivers the goods like the best of the holy rollers.

The money that has taken the place of citizens in our democracy has produced a tenacious corruption of the system.

“The ascension of the so-called Lou Dobbs Democrats in the November election gave hope to many that our representatives and senators were awakening to the need to represent the largest single group of voters in the country, 150 million working men and women and their families. The reality is, however, corporate America and special interests still dominate our legislative and electoral process.”

The use of his eponymous label for Democrats, and the assertion that it was their participation that swung Congress last year, is evidence of Dobbs’ sense of self-importance. But his conclusions on reality are incontrovertible. The article went on to cite some facts that ought to be considered shameful for a wealthy, democratic country. Dobbs is right to spend time trying to illuminate these statistics. There isn’t anyone else with that kind of broadcasting reach that is doing so. Even in less well distributed media, there are few such committed voices. Paul Krugman and Thom Hartmann come to mind. Why aren’t there more people asking this question:

“Why are the partisans of both political parties so committed to denying the economic and social reality we face? In the case of the Democratic Party, there seems to be a rising fear that more Lou Dobbs Democrats [them again] are on the way and are going to demand truth over slogans and an improving reality for working men and women rather than ideological posturing that will salve the corporate masters of both parties.”

In his closing, Dobbs makes a poignant observation that is simultaneously a condemnation of Republicans and an opening for Democrats, saying that, “At least the Democrats still have a chance to save their souls.”

In that assessment Dobbs may be optimistic. While I’d have to agree that Republicans have an iron-clad contract with Hades, Inc., I have seen little evidence that Democrats in Congress are paying much attention to their souls, otherwise known as their constituents. Their utter failure to take decisive action to end the war in Iraq, despite the deafening shouts from the public, is mystifying and disgusting. Raising the minimum wage is progress, but it is merely an incremental step in the larger movement to steer this nation away from the international corporatist tyranny that seeks only to expand its wealth and power and recognizes no public welfare, human rights, or democratic ideals.

The money that has taken the place of citizens in our democracy has produced a tenacious corruption of the system. Since we cannot depend on our representatives to act on our behalf, we have to use the only means available to force them to acknowledge our existence. That is the threat that the people will rise up and strip our so-called leaders of their power and access to the life of privilege to which they have become accustomed. That sort of threat cannot be carried out without an independent press that responsibly informs and alerts the people to the risks that we face. Dobbs’ column is doing that, but much more is needed.

Politics, by itself, will never be the answer because its inherent divisiveness projects a division on the population that does not exist in reality. It’s a purposeful severing of popular will designed to protect the status quo. And the media is presently a part of it.

If we can wrest the media from the clutches of corporatist control, we can, ultimately, have a far greater impact on society than that of any political campaign. For one thing, we’ll have campaigns that are open, honest, and result in truly representative government. If that’s your goal as Democrats, as partisans, as activists, then you better realize that it is unattainable without media reform. All of the rallies, precinct walking, voter registration, phone-banking, etc., will be a huge waste of time, because you’ll just end up with the same majority of politicians who are unresponsive to anyone who can’t inflate their bank account.

The real power of the people is in a diverse and independent press, and if that’s not what you are fighting for, you are just going to produce more of what Dobbs calls the, “ideological posturing that will salve the corporate masters of both parties.”

Nevada Dems Fox Up Debate

From the “What Were They Thinking Department:” The Nevada Democratic Party has announced that they will conduct an August primary debate that will air on Fox News. This is the same Fox News:

  • whose chief anchor, Brit Hume, dismissively described Rep. John Murtha as senile.
  • whose VP, John Moody, claims that terrorists are “thrilled” with the Democratic Congress.
  • whose top on-air personality, Bill O’Reilly, accuses Democrats of wanting to lose the war in Iraq.
  • whose #2 program’s host, Sean Hannity, called for assassinating Nancy Pelosi to keep her from becoming speaker.
  • whose recently named head of the upcoming Fox Business Channel, Neil Cavuto, asks if “Democratic leaders who criticize the war in Iraq actually aiding the terrorists?” (and where Nevada’s Republican Senator, John Ensign answers, “You bet they are.”).
  • whose chairman, Rupert Murdoch, admitted that he manipulates the news to shape public opinion.

For the Nevada Democratic party to get in bed with the liars and propagandists at Fox is, at best, naive and, at worst, suicide. They make the claim that it will be helpful to appeal to Fox’ audience, whom they don’t have an opportunity to engage very often. If that argument ever held water (which it doesn’t), it certainly does not for a debate amongst Democratic “primary” candidates. In the general election you might want to reach the broader electorate, but how many Fox viewers are registered Democrats who will be voting in the primary?

Last month, Fox ran some irresponsibly false stories claiming that Barack Obama had attended a radical Muslim Madrassa as a child in Indonesia. They later falsely accused Hillary Clinton’s campaign of leaking the news item. In response, Obama reportedly “froze out” Fox News and declined appearances and comments. That was exactly the right way to deal with a network that can only be expected to sabotage the interests of Democrats. They’ve said as much over and over again.

Obama should be the first candidate to declare that he will not appear in the August debate if Fox remains its host. Nothing has changed at the network. They have neither apologized nor issued a correction, so Obama’s shoulder ought still to be cold. Then Hillary and the rest of the field should follow suit. Not a single one of the Democrats has anything to lose by snubbing the debate, and not a thing to gain by submitting to it. CNN is hosting a Nevada debate in November, so the candidates and the citizens will have ample opportunity to engage one another.

Until Fox has demonstrated that it is not hostile to the party, Democrats should not lend the network any air of legitimacy. More importantly, they should not let themselves be suckered into an event that their hosts will most assuredly use against them if given the chance.

BlogPac is mobilizing an email campaign to Tell Democrats to Freeze Out Fox News.

The Sock Puppetry Of The Los Angeles Times

Cross-ownership in the media business is a growing threat to the independence and diversity of the press. Numerous studies have demonstrated that when newspapers and television stations in the same market are owned by the same parent corporation, balanced coverage and local reporting suffer. One such study that was originally commissioned by the FCC was suppressed and ordered destroyed because it didn’t support the conservative chairman’s prejudice. Yet media conglomerates obsessed with expanding their power continue to lobby for weakening regulations.

The Los Angeles Times, an asset of the Tribune Company of Chicago, has been engaged in a full-court press to aid its parent in the fight to deregulate. The February 19, edition of their Business section contains an article that is nothing more than testimony on behalf of Tribune’s financial interests – at the expense of the public interest.

This is at least the third article that the Times has published on this subject in five months. There is nothing new to the arguments presented in this column. It mostly repeats the same old arguments made previously, and on which I reported here and here. They even trot out a fantasized tale of Richard Nixon’s involvement in stemming cross-ownership. Despite the fact that there is no objective truth to that claim, the Times has now inserted it into its articles twice. Both times they confessed that there was no basis for the claim, but both times they still managed to muddy the waters with it.

The new wrinkle is that they are now whining about how hard it is to find a buyer for the company which has been on the block for several months. After draconian cuts in the budget and staff (reducing the newsroom by 50%) didn’t motivate buyers, they now blame their woes on the fact that a waiver they received from the FCC to operate both the Times and KTLA-TV would not transfer to a new owner. Prospective buyers, therefore, would have to divest one of those properties, making the acquisition less attractive. Well, how about revoking the waiver now, forcing Tribune to make the divestment, then sell the slimmed-down company?

One revealing observation about this latest piece of self puffery is that the author, Jim Puzzanghera, quoted nine sources for the article. Seven of them supported the Big Media position on media policy. Is this an example of their commitment to be fair and balanced?

It’s not particularly surprising that the Times would allow itself to be used in this way by Tribune. The Times recently fired its editor and publisher and replaced them both with loyal corporate cronies from the Chicago nest. Now they are carrying out a self-serving agenda that is in itself the best argument against deregulation. While not surprising, it is still distressing to see a local paper being manipulated like a puppet by a distant master. If what’s left of the staff at the Times had any self-respect, they would yank Tribune’s arm from its ass and start to speak for itself and its community. Just who do they think they are here to serve?

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Blogs And The Future Of Journalism

A new WE Media/Zogby Interactive poll surveyed members of the public and the media for their views on contemporary journalism. The results offer an interesting perspective on both the regard for which the press is held and the variance of that regard by each group:

Statement Public Media
Traditional journalism is out of touch with what Americans want from their news. 65% 61%
Dissatisfied with the quality of American journalism today. 72% 55%
Bloggers are important to the future of American journalism. 55% 86%

It’s encouraging to see that majorities of both groups consider the press out of touch. Although it does raise an obvious question: If the media professionals feel that way, why aren’t they doing something about it?

A divergence occurs over the level of satisfaction, with the public overwhelming unsatisfied and the media straddling the fence. This is also a curious finding because it suggests that the media folks are fairly satisfied despite their belief that the press overall is out of touch.

The surprising response is the media’s acknowledgement of the role bloggers will play going forward. With virtual unanimity they are conceding the impact of what happens to be their biggest threat. And while just a little over half of the public agrees, a much larger percentage (76%) view the Internet as having had a positive impact on the overall quality of journalism. This seems to be a recognition of the watchdog effect that the Internet has. Both the people and the press know that stories that are inaccurate or incomplete are going to be challenged. And issues that don’t get carried in mainstream outlets are going to be hammered on in new media channels until they get the attention they deserve.

That is the power of citizen journalism and as long as we protect it from the encroachment of Big Media, it will be there to keep them honest.

Olbermann Re-ups At MSNBC With New NBC Gig

Keith Olbermann has built Countdown into the fastest growing cable news program. He is the most watched MSNBC primetime personality and his show is driving the network’s ratings surge.

Now MSNBC is announcing that Olbermann’s contract has been renewed for four more years. More significantly, he is being given new duties with the daddy net, NBC. Olbermann will be submitting stories to NBC’s Nightly News and he will also have two primetime Countdown specials on the network each year.

The contract renewal had to be a foregone conclusion given his contribution to MSNBC’s growth. But the new placement on NBC’s schedule is far more interesting. Despite the heat generated by the cable news wars, the broadcast network news programs each routinely deliver more viewers than all of the cable newsers combined. With this new broadcast platform, Olbermann will substantially expand his exposure and reputation. The announcement describes his Nightly News pieces as essays, which implies that they will contain some analysis and subjectivity. But their presence in a news program adds weight to Olbermann’s profile.

The impact of the primetime specials will be more dependent on their subject matter, but have great potential to raise Olbermann’s awareness and influence. If he uses these platforms to expand on the popular and passionate “Special Comments” from Countdown, he could cement the same sort of “conscience of the people” persona as that of his hero, Edward R. Murrow, whose famous sign off (“Good night and good luck”) Olbermann has adopted.

What is particularly gratifying is the expected response from his nemesis, Bill O’Reilly. In the past few weeks, O’Reilly has been ramping up his criticism of NBC as a network that has veered off to the far left. O’Reilly’s sense of direction is clearly screwed up. It’s obvious to any junior high schooler that his attacks are aimed at Olbermann, whose name he is afraid to utter out loud. Since he has had no impact on the Countdown juggernaut, he escalated the assault to include NBC. So Olbermann’s promotion will only rub salt in O’Reilly’s wounds. Even more so because he has no comparable path for advancement. The Fox broadcast network does not have a national evening news program and its primetime schedule is 30% shorter than the other networks, making a time slot for O’Reilly more difficult to find (if they even wanted to).

The result is that Olbermann will gain audience reach about which O’Reilly can only fantasize (please no falafel jokes). That additional exposure will drive new viewers to Countdown, fueling further growth of that program and MSNBC. The cable news wars will get hotter with O’Reilly becoming even more unhinged as his show is overtaken by the enemy. Look for O’Reilly to accuse Olbermann of treason and then spend the rest of the hour emulating Nancy Grace. The rest of the news herd will stampede toward Countdown-like programming. Technically, that would be a misinterpretation of the competitive landscape and representative of the media’s penchant for shallow analysis, but that’s what they’ll do. And anything that hurts Fox and the rest of the propagandists and stenographers in the conventional media is an improvement over the status quo.

Congratulations Keith.

On The Demise Of Old Media

Paul R. La Monica, CNNMoney.com editor at large, says that Old media isn’t dead.” The following is my response:

Dear Paul,

As the publisher of News Corpse, I have to take issue with the premise of your article this morning that “old media isn’t dead.”

You make the argument that because old media isn’t going away, that it isn’t dead. That’s a flawed argument because there is no reason that the media can’t die and still stink up the place with its corpse. But eventually, someone’s going to have to call the Health Department and have the body carted away.

To borrow from the Terri Schiavo debate, we might want to define what constitutes life. Most of the examples in your column refer to blips on the financial screen. But there is also the matter of quality of life. While there is still money to be made in the old media marketplace, many informed observers will tell you that it is in a persistent vegetative state, i.e. brain dead. In the past week alone, three major newspapers were caught making the same mistakes they made four years ago by dutifully transcribing unsourced government claims, this time about Iran. And though you quoted Rupert Murdoch’s comments about the fiscal health of newspapers, were you aware of his admission last month that he tried to use his media empire to shape the agenda on Iraq? And as if that weren’t bad enough, he made similar comments about his upcoming business channel being “business friendly.” That doesn’t sound like the kind of life that’s worth living.

You correctly point out that old media is moving into new media spaces. I view this as deathbed desperation. Although terminal, old media is still aware of the doom that the future holds and they are trying to cling to the new out of fear. Ultimately, all media will be delivered via the Internet. The part old media plays depends on whether they can discover a miracle cure and recover, or simply and gratefully slip into the void.

There is one other possible outcome that I would call the Vampire Scenario. This is where old media buys up massive chunks of new media, successfully bribes Washington’s legislators and regulators to give themselves more power, and emerges undead from its own grave.

That was meant to sound scary.

When the White House Press Stenographers Association is too afraid of losing access to challange those they cover; when corporations that profit from war and other government enterprises control the mass media; when Congress is disinclined to rein in the monopolistic tendancies of the big media’s five families; how can anyone seriously view old media as anything but a stiff, lifeless hulk that, if not dead, is praying for someone to pull the plug.

Joan Baez’ Publicist Shows How It’s Done

Mike Straka, VP and Executive Producer of FOXNews.com, got dissed in a most deserving way. The author of “Grrr! Celebrities Are Ruining Our Country”, was attempting to corral a celebrity at the Grammys so he could mooch a little bit off of her fame. After which he likely would have included her in his next celeb bashing book. As he tells the story of his brief encounter with Joan Baez…

“she was on her way over to talk to Anita Vogel and me when her publicist whisked her away shouting, “They’re FOX. We don’t talk to FOX.”

Are you listening celebrities, publicists and, for that matter, politicians? It’s just that easy. My compliments to the astute publicist who steered her client away from the “flabbergasted” Strata. Although why he would be surprised is confusing. As the author of a book that accuses celebrities of ruining the country, and a honcho at a network that features Laura Ingraham and her “Shut up and Sing” mentality, Strata ought to have been embarrassed to show up on the red carpet at all. He could learn something himself from the introduction Baez gave to the Dixie Chicks that evening:

“I’ve spent much of my life being told to shut up and sing. Yet every once in a while, artists stand up and use the power of music to show us the great American folksinger Woody Guthrie had the right dream: This land is your land. This land is my land…

Artists, musicians, celebrities, and other creative people in public life are not the ones who are ruining this country, Mr. Strata. It’s the media whores who are so obsessed with tabloid melodrama that they fail to cover truly important issues who are causing the real damage.