Fool Me Once, You Can’t Get Fooled Again

Who knew that the media would take so well to the lesson served up by our Educator-In-Chief:

“There’s an old saying in Tennessee – I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee – that says, fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.” GWB, September 17, 2002.

It appears that some factions of the press do not intend to get fooled again. Take for instance, this headline and excerpt from the Los Angeles Times:

Scant evidence found of Iran-Iraq arms link
“Before invading Iraq, the administration warned repeatedly that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Those statements proved wrong. The administration’s charges about Iran sound uncomfortably familiar to some.”

Those to whom the charges sound uncomfortably familiar are people with measurable brainwave activity. It’s nice to see that some in the press are in that category. Given the degree to which much of the press swallowed administration lies in the ramp up to the Iraq war, it is encouraging to see some evidence of professional skepticism on the part of the Times. There was plenty of reason to be skeptical the first time around, but that didn’t stop most major news outlets from ignoring the danger signs and publishing the administration’s propaganda.

Having been burned, it seems that, at least in this case, they aren’t going to roll over again. As BushCo manuevers to justify yet another unwarranted attack, this time against Iran, the newly discovered journalistic gumption of the Times produces this observation:

“U. S. officials have declined to provide documantation of seized Iranian ordnance, despite repeated requests. The U. S. military often releases photographs of other weapons finds.”

By reporting that documentation was requested and denied, and contrasting that with previous known behavior, the authors have dutifully informed their readers with sufficient and appropriate data from which informed conclusions can be made. That’s how it’s supposed to work. And it should work that way regardless of who’s in office, whether or not they are popular, or what effect it might have on the reporters or their employers. If enough of the media provides this kind of critical review of government PR, we might just avoid another deadly and pointless war.

These are the times that define the media. Will they fulfill their obligation to the people they serve? Will they honor the journalistic principles that are the foundation of open and free democracies?

We’ll see.

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Fox Promo: Not The Usual Left Wing Bias

Well, it’s happened. Fox has finally let the shroud fall revealing themselves for what we all know they are: A rabidly right-wing mouthpiece for Republican dogma. Over the weekend they broadcast this promo on their feculent air:

The actual video can be seen at Hot Air, where they are moaning orgasmically at what they view as their pet network finally standing up for itself. In fact, one particularly comical comment has ritethinker opining:

“…If all you were ever fed was corn, and you were told that corn is only served on the cob, what would be your reaction to say a bowl of cream corn? […] Could it not be possible that the people feeding you corn on the cob were misleading you? […] Along comes this company offering cream corn. […] That doesn’t mean Fox is slanted to the right, it just means you are getting the cream corn you were never offered before.”

Putting aside the ironically apt use of corn as an analogy for what you see at Fox News, ritethinker correctly characterizes Fox as the purveyor of the processed and mashed variety of news as opposed to its natural state, on the cob. Fox viewers, no doubt, take comfort in the pre-masticated gruel they are being served.

What on earth might have inspired Fox to throw the Wingnut Closet door open so wide? Why now?

This is an obvious cry for help. They have been watching their ratings sink precipitously for the past 12 months. Double digit declines, month after month, have got to hurt. And in most cases they are being dragged down by their resident bloviating bully, Bill O’Reilly. Add to that the fact that the objects of their partisan affection in congress are either gone, or demoted. They no longer have the legislative safety net upon which which they have come to rely. To the contrary, what they have now is a congressional majority that has been a punching bag for Fox for the past decade. Oversight hearings anyone?

This is the behavior of desperation. They are terrified of what the future holds. They can’t sit back and do nothing, but they have no clue what they should do. So they lash out hoping to incite their most loyal fans to renew their sycophantic idolation and somehow pull them from the brink of the abyss. To that end they have decided to abandon any hopes of being an impartial, international media outlet. Here is another promo they ran this weekend:

I’m not sure that foreign news bureaus are going to find that to be a particularly professional journalistic posture. Fox is clinging to deadenders in the states to try to stave off the inevitable. Their ratings have been moving in tandem with the American populace. As Bush’s approval goes down, so does Fox viewership. With the public’s negative reaction to Bush’s latest Hail Maliki pass, Fox knows that the people are no longer hypnotized by the fear mongering of this administration, and of Fox itself. Consequently, they know that their prospects are as bleak as Bush’s. So they resort to this pathetic overreaching which only confirms that they have completely run out of ideas. I almost feel sorry for them. Ummm…..scratch that.

More On Rich Little And The White House Press

Little now tells the New Yorker that he is, “basically a Republican.” His career, however, is on fire. The article discloses that he next appears at the Soboba Casino, in San Jacinto, California, and then at the North Iowa Community Auditorium. Even so, he still has strong opinions about his comic colleagues:

“Little said that he does not find [Bill] Maher and his ilk terribly funny. When asked to name a young comedian he admired, he responded, “Robin Williams.” [Williams is 55 years old]

And when asked if he has a funny joke about Iraq, he slipped into his W impression and said…

“George W. Bush here. I tell you, I’m between I-raq and a hard place.”

Boy, with material like, these will be the hottest tickets in Washington.

Now it may seem like I’m making too much of this. After all it is just a social gathering for the DC media crowd; an opportunity to mingle with celebrities and one another. But when you think of the pressure that must have been brought to bear in order to make such a drastic change in direction, it reveals something about these folks.

Whether the pressure came from the White House or the WHCA members, the bottom line is this: None of these people can take a joke. The cliche about comedy, that it is funny because it’s true, is, like most cliches, rooted in reality. Truth is something that is in scarce supply in Washington. The White House isn’t dispensing much of it, and the press, too often, doesn’t go looking for it. They seem, sometimes, to be running from it. And as they run from the honesty of Colbert, they slam face first into a wall of truthiness. Ironic, isn’t it?

The fact that they cannot laugh at themselves when a mirror is held up to them just further confirms their aversion to the truth. So they settle for a safe, toothless, has-been Republican clown to provide entertainment that they know will not get stuck in their bridge-work. And that’s the perfect analogy for a press corpse that feeds the rest of us that same Truthiness Brand© of pablum.

The White House Press And The Colbert Curse

Last year Stephen Colbert delivered what will probably be the most memorable comic presentation that the White House Correspondent’s Association will ever see. He showed up in character as the bombastic pundit that presides over his Colbert Report. And throughout the routine he pounded the media just as much as he did the president. Here’s an excerpt:

“But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works: the president makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ’em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know – fiction!” [Transcript] [Video]

Apparently the Colbert experience was too much for the WHCA. This year they have elected to go with the comfort food of comedy, Rich Little. The lasting legacy of Colbert’s performance may be that the WHCA may never have another poignant and provocative guest speaker. But not only did they book Little this year, they have also instructed him to layoff of the President. Says Little:

“They don’t want anyone knocking the president. He’s really over the coals right now, and he’s worried about his legacy.”

The latest salvo in this feud has Steve Scully. president of the WHCA, denying that any conditions were imposed on Little. If true, that would make Little a liar. But Scully’s statements have there own inconsistencies. After explaining to Little that the dinner is attended by, “people who live and eat politics,” he later critiques Colbert as being, “very sophisticated and if you’ve not seen his show you may not get it.” With Little, Scully added, “you don’t have to explain his humor.”

So Scully’s opinion of his White House press colleagues is that they are immersed in politics but incapable of understanding sophisticated political humor without an explanation. His opinion suggests that, despite going to all of the right congressional hearings and cocktail parties, they still don’t have a clue as to what’s going on.

Come to think of it, that’s my opinion of them too.

Kucinich: You Are The Message

Dennis Kucinich made a surprise appearance at the National Conference for Media Reform. Before the crowd of 3,000, he announced that there is going to be a new Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee, and that he would be the chairman. The subcommittee will oversee several government agencies, including the FCC.

Kucinich intends to address a variety of concerns for today’s media, including ownership caps, consolidation, network neutrality, and the fairness doctrine. He told the conference:

“The media reform movement is opening up holding the media to a higher standard of accountability […] The urgency of media reform has never been more obvious. The media has become a servant very narrow corporate interests.”

I hope that he forces the other Democratic presidential candidates to take these issues seriously.

The Military Assault On Free Press And Thought

Another journalist is being threatened with incarceration for expressing herself, this time for reporting on a soldier who is being threatened with incarceration for expressing himself.

The majority of the American people oppose the occupation of Iraq and that majority is growing daily. So it should come as no surprise that soldiers are arriving at the same conclusions. After all, they are both Americans and people. A recent survey by the Military Times shows that about two thirds of them disapprove of the President’s handling of the war. But if you wear the uniform, don’t get the idea that you can express your views to your fellow citizens. And journalists shouldn’t get that idea either.

At one recent event, the President traveled to Fort Benning, Georgia, to dine with the troops. But the base commander prohibited any of the soldiers there from talking with the assembled reporters. This is just one example of many embarrassing episodes, including some where the brass offer up obviously pre-screened and coached “random” spokespersons. Unfortunately, embarrassment is the least of the problems generated by this censorious trend.

In the course of its execution of the Iraqi occupation, the U.S. government has not been shy about engaging in overtly propagandistic behavior, including paying for stories to be planted in Iraqi newspapers. But they have also brazenly threatened journalists with prosecution for doing their jobs. Recall Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez on“This Week”:

“There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that [prosecution] is a possibility.”

Well, they’re at it again. Sarah Olson is a free-lance journalist from Oakland, CA, who interviewed the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq, Lt. Ehren Watada. As a result she has now been subpoenaed by military prosecutors who want her to testify at Watada’s court-martial. If Olson does not comply with the subpoena it could wind up costing her six months in jail or $500, along with a felony conviction. She told the San Francisco Chronicle

“It’s not a reporter’s job to participate in the prosecution of her own sources. When you force a journalist to participate, you run the risk of turning the journalist into an investigative tool of the state.”

Olson is now receiving support from the Society of Professional Journalists, who have written a letter to Army officials on her behalf. They say in part…

“It is highly objectionable that any journalist be forced to become an agent of Army prosecutors. Even more repugnant is compelling a journalist to aid prosecutors who are challenging a military officer’s right to free speech.”

It is really too bad that a conscientious and brave officer is being persecuted for taking a principled stand against a war that is illegal and immoral. You can learn more and offer help for Lt. Watada at this website: Friends and Family of Lt. Watada.

It is also too bad that a responsible and dedicated journalist is being persecuted for telling this soldier’s story. You can learn more and offer help for Ms. Olson at this website: The Free Press Working Group.

Both of these patriotic Americans need and deserve the support of all people who value free speech, justice, peace, and an unshackleded press that is necessary to preserve these values.

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A Tale Of Two Hires

The state of journalism has a pair of stories this week on recent hires that deliver a little good news a Little not so good.

Journalism on public television has taken a turn for the better with the announcement that Bill Moyers will return to PBS with a weekly show called, ”Bill Moyers Journal.” It’s especially gratifying to learn of Moyers return the same week we learned of Kenneth Tomlinson’s departure. Tomlinson was instrumental in Moyers leaving PBS two years ago. The first installment of the Journal, airing April 25, is titled, “Buying the War,” about the role of the press in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. I can’t think of a better subject for the premiere.

On the other hand, journalists have embarrassed themselves with their selection for the featured guest at this year’s White House Correspondents Association dinner. If you recall, last year’s guest was the eerily inspiring Stephen Colbert. So what have they come up with as a follow up? Rich Little. That’s right, the comfy, G-rated impersonator from the 70’s is apparently still available for Bar Mitvahs and press dinners. You think they’re over-compensating just a bit?

The Same Kenneth Tomlinson

The irrepressibly corrupt Kenneth Tomlinson has informed the White House that he will not seek renomination as chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).

This is the same Kenneth Tomlinson that “improperly used his office, putting a friend on the payroll and running a “horse-racing operation” with government resources.”

This is the same Kenneth Tomlinson that presided over the Voice of America as it closed its Baghdad bureau because they could not retain journalists to staff it.

This is the same Kenneth Tomlinson who sheepishly resigned as chair of the Corporation For Public Broadcasting in advance of a report that found that he violated the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.

This is the same Kenneth Tomlinson that paid $15,000 in payments to two Republican lobbyists that were not disclosed to the Corporation’s board.

This is the same Kenneth Tomlinson that had taken overtly partisan steps to remake the CPB as a publicly financed Fox News – hiring Tucker Carlson and Paul Gigot and recruiting a former co-chairman of the Republican National Committee as president of PBS.

This is the same Kenneth Tomlinson engaged in ethically-questionable tactics to discredit Bill Moyers, former host of PBS’ Now.

Now this same Kenneth Tomlinson is jumping ship rather than face the newly elected Democratic majority in the senate that would be unlikely to reconfirm him anyway. And in his message to the President, in a pique of denial and self-righteousness, he declares:

“I have concluded that it would be far more constructive to write a book on my experiences rather than to seek to continue government service. Accordingly, I ask that you nominate another person to serve as chairman of this board.”

I think we can expect that his book will reveal that he was a victim of the secular progressive cabal that his hero Bill O’Reilly rails against. We can expect that he will deny any wrongdoing and that he only tried to serve his country. Nevermind all the evidence against him, we can expect to learn that it was actually another scoundrel that was responsible for these misdeeds (probably Bill Clinton).

In short we can expect that the book will reveal the very same Kenneth Tomlinson. An alligator doesn’t change its scales.

NCMR2007: Are You Prepared For Success?

You might expect that the closing session of the National Conference for Media Reform would present rousing speakers that reaffirm the previous days experiences – the information, inspiration and connections – and act as a catalyst to provoke impassioned and sustained activism. That expectation was met. But one speaker, Van Jones, founder and executive Directer of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, delivered a unique insight that we would all be well served to contemplate.

After acknowledging the necessity for inclusion of minorities, women, youth, and every facet of our diverse culture in the media reform movement, he cited the excuses that Don Rumsfeld and his colleagues employed to explain our difficulties in Iraq. Rumsfeld had said that we were not prepared for our “catastrophic success.” While pointing out the Rumsfeld was, of course, lying, he turned the question back on us. The struggle to achieve our goals, whether they be media reform, health care, fair trade, environmental, whatever, consume such a great portion of our awareness, we may be neglecting to consider what we will do when we succeed.

That is not a triviality that we can address when we get there. There actually is some truth to the notion that America was not prepared to act productively after the fall of Baghdad. And there is also evidence that our new Democratic majority in congress was taken a little by surprise. As an example, many of the first comments from Democratic leaders were egregiously free of any mention of Iraq. And worse, some were asserting that they would support the President’s surge, …um escalation, …um augmentation. That was a symptom of not being prepared. But within days, after being forcefully reminded by the people that we wanted out of Iraq and that’s why we elected them, the leaders reversed course. We will have to be there to remind them often, I have no doubt.

Recognizing that victories can be hollow without confirmed action to sustain them, is something we must all be thinking about now.

NCMR2007: Selected Treats

For those of you who were not fortunate enough to attend the National Conference For Media Reform, I have compiled a few moments that may be of interest.

Jeff Cohen of Fairness and Accuracy in Media:After pointing out some disturbing stats that prove that broadcast media favors right wing pundits and commentators, he itemized his three goals for reform.

  • Challenge the mainstream media to open up.
  • Build independent and non-profit media.
  • Structural reform of the Internet, promoting community access and preserving network neutrality.

Chellie Pingree of Common Cause:
Chellie made the fascinating observation that when Jimmy Carter was asked to observe elections in the U. S. as he has done throughout the world, he had to decline because the U. S. did not meet the criteria for such observation. Specifically, that elections be run by non-partisans and there be national standards. Neither of which is true here.

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now:
Amy told a disturbing story of the Covey Plantation. Covey was a slave “breaker”. That is precisely what it sounds like. Slaves that were resistant or troublesome were sent to Covey for training. One of those was Frederick Douglass. Douglass escaped and made his way north and the rest is history. Except this bit of history that is not widely reported – the Covey Plantation is now the home of … are you sitting down?… Don Rumsfeld!

Sen. Bernie Sanders (That felt good to type):
Bernie told us emphatically that, if you are concerned about foreign policy in Iraq; if you are concerned about health care; if you are concerned about the economy; if you are concerned about global warming; you are kidding yourselves if you are not concerned about corporate control of the media. And he reminded us that the media is just as responsible for the war in Iraq as Bush.

Norman Soloman of the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Norman made the astute observation that the New York Times will correct misstatements of fact, but not statements like, “The Bush adminstration is seeking democracy in Iraq,” although it is just as untrue.