A Zeal For Secrecy

Bill Moyers, in a speech before the Society of Professional Journalists, offerred his much-heralded insight into the obsession for secrecy of modern government. Some highlights:

  • President Bush’s chief of staff ordered a review that lead to 6,000 documents being pulled from government Web sites.
  • The Department of Defense banned photos of military caskets being returned to the United States.
  • Vice President Dick Cheney kept his energy task force records secret “to hide the influence of Kenneth Lay, Enron and other energy moguls.”
  • The CIA asks a new question during its standard employer polygraph exam: “Do you have friends in the media?”
  • “There have been more than 1,200 presumably terrorist-related arrests,” Moyers said, “and 750 people deported, and no one outside the government knows their names or how many court docket entries have been erased or never entered.”
  • Secret federal court hearings have been held without any public record of when or where, or who was tried.
  • When the American Civil Liberties Union challenged provisions of the Patriot Act, it was prohibited from telling anyone about it.
  • The Washington Post reported that in recent years, judicial committees acting in secret stripped information nearly 600 times from reports intended to alert the public to conflicts of interest involving federal judges.

“By pillaging and plundering our peace of mind, they hoped to panic us into abandoning those unique freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of the press – that constitute the ability of democracy to self-correct and turn the ship of state before it hits the iceberg.” The greatest moments in the history of the press, Moyers said, “came not when journalists made common cause with the state, but when they stood fearlessly independent of it.”

And what is surely to become a classic quote held in reverence by principled journalists everywhere:

Moyers said, “…what’s important for the journalist is not how close you are to power but how close you are to reality.”

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Ashcroft: 0 for 5,000

David Cole writes for The Nation that the Justice Department’s war on domestic terrorism is pitifully unproductive.

On September 2 a federal judge in Detroit threw out the only jury conviction the Justice Department has obtained on a terrorism charge since 9/11. In October 2001, shortly after the men were initially arrested, Attorney General John Ashcroft heralded the case in a national press conference as evidence of the success of his anti-terror campaign.

With the dismissal of these charges, there has not been a single conviction on terrorism in the U.S.

Blogs Take Lead Role In CBS Memo Furor

It was bound to happen. The media is doing such a bad job of investigating, analyzing, and delivering the news, that even Investor’s Business Daily is touting the oft-maligned blogosphere for their journalistic prowess.

In the same way the market sifts and analyzes information stocks far better than any individual investor or institution ever could, the blogosphere weeds out the chaff and develops and hones analysis and facts at, well, Internet speed.

For a medium that has become synonymous with incredulity, this is a big step. It was not long ago (I think, yesterday), that if you told someone you got your facts from the Internet you would be subjected to a heavy sigh and severe rolling of the eyes. Now the same source is being hailed as CBS’ fact checker.

We have to be careful here. Obviously I would like to promote the concept that accurate and insightful information is available in the blog community. But this community is no more accurate today than it was yesterday, and discretion is still the watchword. Now that the value and power of Internet punditry is being recognized, it is important that this recognition is served up to the deserving and not dished out indiscriminately. There are still alot of antennae-heads out there. This is, however, a step in the right direction. The mainstream media has got to watch it’s back. There’s a new sheriff in town.

Cheney – Fear Mongrel

Vice-President Dick Cheney is warning Americans that if they “make the wrong choice” this November it will result in more terrorist attacks. This shockingly transparent attempt at fear-mongering does nothing to advance the campaign dialogue and, in fact, insults all Americans by suggesting that they cannot make a free decision without assuming responsibility for catastrophe if they are wrong. And, of course, there is only one “wrong.”

Cheney is not foreign to making such over-the-top allegations. He is, perhaps, the most strident purveyor of the universally rejected theory that Saddam and bin Laden were collaborators. He also frequently says that…

“Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness.”

This view always prompts me to ask myself just what he means. Is he saying that in September 2001, with the Bush administration in office for 9 months, the terrorists perceived weakness and were, thus, invited to attack?

The sad thing is that, while I may ask myself these questions, no one in the media is asking them of the vice-president or the administration he serves.

Future Unclear For 527 Ads As 60-Day Window Arrives

AdWeek is reporting that the environment for election ads may be altering course.

…due to the 60-day window, all ads must now be financed using “hard” money and be subject to party- and candidate-ad rules, including claiming responsibility for the message in the creative–or face further restrictions.

The 527s have been a persistent peculiarity in recent weeks. Surrogates on both sides of the political spectrum have used them to whack their opponenent. This has not, however, been conducted with moral equivalency on each side. Joshuah Bearman of the LA Weekly writes:

Contrary to the dogma of J[ournalism] schools across the country, there are not always two sides to a story. Balance is often necessary and indispensable, but there are times when the media might have to…mediate a bunch of information and make a judgment. And in those instances, presenting contrasting information as if it’s equally important is, in fact, the false representation…..don’t quote people who are lying just to have “both sides” represented.

However, the attempts by Bush, and to a lesser extent, Kerry, to do away with 527s is a bit disconcerting. There are ever fewer outlets for political speech, particularly speech that eminates from the grassroots. Certainly many of the 527s are not grassroots outfits, but they have the potential to be. The more enlightened approach would be to tinker with the statute so that it promotes citizen participation and disallows the sponsoship of vested interests.

Variety: Media Congloms Muzzling Dissent

Now even the pre-eminent mouthpiece for the entertainment industry is awash in the revelation that the media is virtually incapable of tolerating dissenting views. This is particularly true when those views are contrary to the interests of their corporate owners.

From the article:

Not only were hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in New York dismissed or downplayed last week by the media … but the parent companies of the media are becoming increasingly reluctant to go out on a limb about anything controversial.

The mainstream press acheived lows embarrassing even for them. With reports of demonstrator attendance as high as 500,000, there was still precious little coverage of substance. While they did liberally cover some of the goofy charactors that show up at these events (in a transparent effort to trivialize the entire protest community), they managed to avoid entirely the thousands of protesters that participated in the March on the Media. It may be too much to expect that they would cover events critical of themselves, but their negligence extends to anything that generates a hint of controversy.

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The Simple Life

The Simple Life

Coming this Fall on Fox

They’re rich. They’re sexy. They’re totally OUT-OF-CONTROL!

Be sure not to miss any of the outrageous antics as Jenna and Barbara try to fit in with the common folk. It’s a laugh riot that will leave you in stitches.

Next week’s episode: The Bush twins invade Iraq. Performing their patriotic duty, the girls enlist in the Air Force and, like their father, spend more time in the hot tub than in uniform. As daddy taught them, “If we don’t party over there they’ll bring the party here. And then we’ll have to clean up afterwards”

Only on FOX
[and on Crass Commerce]

Go FOX Yourself

Go Fox YourselfVice-President Dick Cheney, complaining that the liberal media is once again reporting distortions about him, explains that he never told Senator Leahy to go fuck himself. He actually was suggesting that the Senator might enjoying viewing programs on the Fox cable network.

Why The Media Is Dead

Our nation began as an ambitious experiment in democracy that was bound to face many challenges. Chief among those is that, in order for a government to be directed by its citizens, the citizens must be educated and informed. In recent years, this phase of our experiment has hit a wall. We have many problems facing us: economy, war, education, environment, trade, poverty, healthcare, etc. Many of these problems persist through generations without developing a consensus for resolution.

What makes it so difficult for us to even make progress?

There is a great division amongst our people. By this I do not mean the much editorialized rift between political adversaries. Ideological differences have always existed in our society. If these differences by themselves were enough to forestall solving society’s problems, then we would have to expect that we would never solve any problem. The true divide is the one that separates all the issues from each other. While the issues we face may appear to be a chaotic jumble of unrelated matters, they actually share a common gene and when considered as a whole take on new dimension.

The genetic thread that ties together our failed attempts to address our problems is the absence of a responsible and independent media that would enable us to stay informed so that we could make the important decisions that we face. This includes decisions on policy issues themselves as well as decisions about those who would represent us as state and federal legislators and executives. In a modern, media-driven society, we depend more than ever on the press to do its job. They must be probing and fair. They must report what our leaders tell us, but they must also do their own investigations to compare to what they have told us and to reveal what they have not.

Why is the media failing to do its job?

Where there once was a diverse and independent community in American media, there is now an incestuous family of a few giant corporations. Where there was once a wall between honorable journalists and the subjects they cover, we now have network news operations that are owned by corporations that have interests in government, government contracts, and public policy. The news providers that we depend on to report objectively on our nation’s institutions are owned by conglomerates that are the benefactors and beneficiaries of those institutions.

In the 2004 election cycle, media affiliated PACs contributed about 8 million dollars to political campaigns. Between 1996 and 2000, media firms and trade organizations spent $111 million on lobbying Congress. Their investment recently netted them a deal that raised the TV station ownership cap to 39%. As it happens, that was just enough to allow Viacom and News Corp to keep all their current stations, which exceeded the previous cap. Since 1995, the number of companies owning commercial TV stations has declined by 40%. These media conglomerates fund our representative’s campaigns, lobby them generously, and collect the spoils via favorable legislation and regulations. How then can we expect objective reporting from such a self-interested community of journalists? Add to this mix the corporate mission and its insatiable appetite for ever-increasing profit. What you get is a media culture that round-files significant stories that reflect negatively on its patrons and promotes sensational stories that goose ratings and ad revenue. Since there is usually no financial incentive to produce hard-boiled investigative reporting, we won’t be seeing much of that.

Thomas Jefferson said, “I would rather have a free press and no government, than a government and no free press.” He understood the value of having diverse and independent sources of news and information. When those sources are narrowed to a few polarizing voices, the result is a poorly informed, even misinformed, electorate. For instance, heavy viewers of the Fox News Channel are nearly four times as likely to hold demonstrably untrue positions about the war in Iraq as those who rely on National Public Radio or the Public Broadcasting System.

The 18th century British statesman, Edmund Burke, first referred to the press as “the 4th Estate” by observing that “there were three Estates in Parliament, but in the Reporters Gallery yonder, there sat a 4th Estate more important far than they all.” Burke was referring to the power that journalists had to act as a check and balance to the other estates: the Lords, the Commons and the clergy. The most dangerous threat to entrenched powers in a democracy is an informed electorate. The 4th Estate is the embodiment of that threat. Therefore, the media had to get whacked. It’s not personal, its just business.

News Grows Old Before Its Time

The New York Times addresses an interesting question with regard to news staying “fresh”.

With such saturation coverage, news gets used up faster, decaying rapidly into what Russell Baker calls “the olds.” Public curiosity, let alone the public interest, is exhausted, and the mass media are quick to look for some new sensation even if that means leaving important issues unresolved.

They may be on to something. However, the opposite can also be observed as some stories, of relatively trivial nature, can get stuck in the cycle long after their usefulness as news has expired (i.e. Condit/Levy, Britney’s marriage, etc.)