New MSNBC Anchor – A Plagiarist

MSNBC is said to be preparing a new program that will feature the anchoring duo of Ron Reagan, Jr. and Monica Crowley. Crowley is a former foreign policy aide to Richard Nixon and comes to MSNBC following a stint as a Fox News political analyst.

Over the years she has also been busy writing books and magazine and newspaper articles, often about Nixon. The only problem is that her authorship, at least on one occasion, appears not to be her own work. The filching was reported at the time by Timothy Noah for Slate.

In August of 1999, Crowley wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal commemorating the 25th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation. Four days after the article ran, the paper published the following:

“There are striking similarities in phraseology between “The Day Richard Nixon Said Goodbye,” an editorial feature Monday by Monica Crowley, and a 1988 article by Paul Johnson in Commentary magazine … Had we known of the parallels, we would not have published the article.”

The similarities are indeed striking:

From Johnson’s “In Praise of Richard Nixon,” Commentary, October 1988:
“There was none of the personal corruption which had marked the rule of Lyndon Johnson, let alone the gross immoralities and security risks of John F. Kennedy’s White House.”

From Crowley’s “The Day Nixon Said Goodbye,” Wall Street Journal, August 9, 1999:
“There was none of the personal corruption that had marked the rule of Lyndon Johnson or the base immoralities and outrageous security risks of the Kennedy and Clinton White Houses.”

“Nixon … consistently underestimated the unscrupulousness of his media enemies and their willingness to sacrifice the national interest in the pursuit of their institutional vendetta.”

“Nixon, though always suspicious of his political enemies, consistently underestimated their ruthlessness and willingness to sacrifice the national interest in the pursuit of their institutional vendetta.”

“So great was the inequity of Nixon’s downfall that future historians may well conclude he would have been justified in allowing events to take their course and in subjecting the nation to the prolonged paralysis of a public impeachment, which at least would have given him the opportunity to defend himself by due process of law. But once again his patriotism took precedence over his self-interest …”

“Given the inequity of Nixon’s downfall, historians may yet determine that he would have been justified in allowing events to take their course and subjecting the country to a prolonged process of impeachment, which would have given him the chance to defend himself by due process of law. His allegiance to the country, however, overrode his political self-interest.”

Characterizes the 1960 election as “one of the most corrupt elections of modern times.”

Characterizes the 1960 election as “one of the most corrupt elections of modern times.”

[This assertion, unlike the others, has some merit, and it’s possible the two arrived at the phrase independent of one another; but given the other examples cited here, that likelihood is not great.]

“By a curious paradox Richard Nixon was one of the very few people who emerged from the Watergate affair with credit.”

“Ironically, Nixon was one of the few people who emerged from Watergate with credit …”

[Johnson is British, Crowley American; why would she, on her own, use a Britishism like “with credit”?]

Slate reports that this rather blatant plagiarism was not widely disseminated at the time. Certainly Fox’s journalistic standards would not preclude the hiring of such an ethically-challenged individual, and maybe MSNBC’s standards are no better. But some attempt should be made to disseminate this story now and force MSNBC to defend (or even articulate) their standards.

Reagan has paid his dues at MSNBC and should not have to share this program with an avowedly right-wing hack who lacks the requisite principles for the job. Furthermore, if the network is seeking to achieve ideological balance, the last thing they need is a conservative analyst from Fox. Reagan should anchor the program himself or be paired with another independent-minded former Republican, Arianna Huffington.

Crowley needs to be challenged. It is unseemly for news professionals to be promoted with unexamined issues like this in their past. And it is dereliction on the part of the network (and news consumers, i.e. us) to ignore such a violations of the integrity of authorship. Ms. Crowley and/or the network should be required to answer this allegation and we should put their feet to the fire.

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Freedom of Speech Now Requires Permission From the Feds

Freedom may be on the march, but freedom of speech is under the boot. The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Department of the Treasury recently issued regulations that forbid American companies from publishing works by certain foreign authors without first getting permission. If the authors are from countries that the U.S. has targeted for sanctions, a license would be required to publish their work in the U.S. unless it has been previously published in the country of origin. Ironically, the result of these regulations would allow writings that were appproved by the author’s repressive native government, but prohibit writings that criticized it, because a repressive regime would be unlikely to publish such work.

Violators in the U.S. face penalties of up to $1 million dollars and 10 years in prison. The regulation is being contested legislatively by Rep. Howard Berman of California, and several weeks ago, Iranian lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi (above) filed suit after discovering that publishing her memoirs in the U.S. would be illegal. Other litigants include the PEN America Center and Arcade Publishing.

The absurdity of silencing the very voices that represent the best of American values is disturbing, to say the least. Compounding that is the frightening notion that any American publisher must seek permission from a federal agency to exercise what should be guaranteed under the first amendment’s freedom of speech.

Nothing Matters

In the wake of the 2004 election, there has arisen a desperate caterwaulling of Democrats and progressives hoping to exorcise themselves of the demons that must have possessed them, else how could they have believed that victory was possible. This primal scream of hope takes many forms: defiant disbelief; enduring will; critical self-examination; poetic rage; and philosophical visions of Valhalla to come. But as we race through the stages of emotional response to the passing of our hopes, we must take our place at acceptance, and acceptance means that…

Nothing Matters

All of the speculation as to how we might assuage our grief amounts to nothing more than a prescription of the latest Placebo© brand cognitive mollifier. The regrets, the accusations, the mea culpas, the calls of the resolutionaries to move on, speak only to symptoms. The disease lingers, it lounges, it enjoys the peace of mind that comes from knowing that the boss is on vacation. No one is looking over its shoulder and it can get away with murder. The barn door is open and there’s nothing in the barn. And, as we’ve already established…

Nothing Matters

Nothing but perceptions. Perceptions are the new reality and the architects of perception are its masters. We are a maleable population, easily manipulated by those who guide the most fundamental decisions of our lives: the soap we use; the movies we watch; the breakfast cereal that starts our day. Its the marketing kingpins that shape our world. Not just in terms of what we consume, but also how we vote. The suggestability we exhibit defines us not so much as citizens, but as consumers. Consumizens? And for those who wonder what to do about the proclivity we have for coming up short, the answer is clear. We have have to sell better. We have to convince people that our product tastes better, lasts longer, makes you sexier, and comes with a free prize in every box. The box itself has great significance, particularly if it has the facade of a lovable cartoon charactor. It doesn’t matter what’s in the box because, other than the effectiveness of the marketing campaign…

Nothing Matters

The Real Fake News

Speak Fake To Power

The cast and writers of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show have taken on an awesome assignment. While delivering biting satire on the events of the day, they are also savagely exposing the journalistic failure of the conventional media.

Anchor, Jon Stewart, is fond of referring to the program as the “fake” news. He displays an abundance of modesty that suggests that he truly doesn’t grasp the impact this program has on its viewers and its conventional news counterpart. Peter Jennings, in naming Stewart the ABC Person of the week, said that he is

“…the man who often says in public what the rest of us tend to say only in the newsroom.”

The recognition the program receives belies Stewart’s protests that all he does is a funny show on a comedy network that follows puppets making crank phone calls. The show has won five Emmys. It won a Peabody award for election coverage. The Columbia Journalism Review included Stewart on its list of the nation’s 10 most influential political reporters. Newsday placed Stewart on their list of the 20 media players who will most influence the 2004 campaign. Ranking lower on the list were the likes of Tim Russert, Ted Koppel, and Sean Hannity, among others. And yet, when Stewart is confronted with compliments about his strikingly funny presentation of important social events, his response is that

“…that either speaks to the sad state of comedy or the sad state of news. I can’t figure out which one.”

I’m going to have to go with the latter.

The Daily Show’s popularity is significant and growing. It has averaged about 1 million viewers per episode this season, surpassing the total number of viewers for real cable networks like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. This audience is not, as Bill O’Reilly tagged them, a bunch of “stoned slackers”. According to the National Annenberg Election Survey, Daily Show viewers know more about election issues than people who regularly read newspapers or watch television news. They are 78 percent more likely than the average adult to have four or more years of college education. O’Reilly’s audience is only 24 percent more likely to have that much schooling.

Which is the Real Fake News?

People turn to trusted sources to deliver the information they consider important about their lives and their world. And young people are increasingly turning to The Daily Show. Stephen Colbert, a Daily Show correspondent, has said that he doesn’t believe that viewers learn anything from the show. He contends that, if they weren’t already knowledgeable about political and social affairs, they wouldn’t get the jokes. This is certainly true, but it is possible for well informed persons to become better informed. The Daily Show does this often by juxtaposing a news event with additional relevant information in a way that other news outlets do not. For instance, earlier this year they played a video that aired on most news programs of Bush praising the productive spirit of the American worker in front of warehouse shelves chock full of the fruits of their labor. However, The Daily Show was the only broadcast that aired the camera zooming out to reveal that the scene of the fully stocked shelves was actually a painted backdrop. And in front of the president’s podium was a stack boxes with tape covering the words “Made in China”.

The evidence that The Daily Show is educating or enhancing the education of its viewers is borne out by the fact that viewers are choosing it as a source for news. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 21 percent of people aged 18 to 29 cited The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live as a place where they regularly learned presidential campaign news. By contrast, 23 percent of the young people mentioned ABC, CBS or NBC’s nightly news broadcasts as a source.

The Daily Show has proven that it is a trustworthy purveyor of the news. Unfortunately, the “News” has done no such thing. With news fabricators like Steven Glass (New Republic), Jack Kelley (USA Today) and Jayson Blair (New York Times), representing only the fraternity of those who were caught, the mainstream media’s credibility is in freefall. Dan Rather’s sloppy reportage on the Texas Air National Guard’s special treatment of young Lt. Bush helps to speed the descent, as does Fox’s Carl Cameron who posted a false Kerry story on Fox’s web site by accident.

Even worse is when the government and the media work in concert to deceive. The Washington Post reported earlier this year that

“…the General Accounting Office concluded that the Department of Health and Human Services illegally spent federal money on what amounted to covert propaganda by producing videos about the Medicare changes that were made to look like news reports. Portions of the videos, which have been aired by 40 television stations around the country, do not make it clear that the announcers were paid by HHS and were not real reporters.”

WTVF in Nashville is one of the stations that aired the video. They later admitted that they learned of the segment’s fraudulent sourcing from watching The Daily Show’s coverage of the matter.

Recently, Jon Stewart appeared on CNN’s Crossfire. This program should be added to the curriculum of all journalism schools. From the very beginning, Stewart ripped into the famous bickerers and was unrelenting throughout. In the belly of the beast, Stewart accused them of being pawns to the politicians and corporations adding “…You’re part of their strategies. You are partisan…what do you call it…hacks.” He lamented that they are doing “…theater when you should be doing debate.” When Tucker Carlson belittled him by suggesting that he get a job at a journalism school, Stewart replied saying “You need to go to one.” Most memorable, however, was Stewart’s response to Carlson’s insult that “… you’re more fun on your show. Just my opinion.” Stewart fired back “You’re as big a dick on your show as you are on any show.” The next episode of Crossfire had co-host Robert Novak coming to Carlson’s defense declaring that he thinks Stewart is not funny, and that he knows Stewart is uninformed. He did not say how he knows this. Maybe he disagrees with Stewart’s pet name for him: the Douche Bag of Liberty.

This kind of uncensored honesty is almost never seen in the conventional press. But maybe it is just what is needed now. USA Today reported last year that

“Public confidence in the media, already low, continues to slip. Only 36%, among the lowest in years, believe news organizations get the facts straight, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll shows.”

While esteem for the media is spiraling ever-lower, respect for The Daily Show continues to grow. It receives awards for both its humor and its news content. And it performs the function of a media watchdog, alerting us to the hypocrisy, collaboration, and contrivance of the corporate-dominated media.

If it seems depressingly ironic to you that the mainstream media is now being monitored and corrected by Comedy Central’s “fake” news, the only advice I have is to watch The Daily Show. It might cheer you up for at least half an hour.

Sinclair Broadcasting’s Election Tampering

Sinclair Broadcasting is inserting itself into the presidential election in the most abusive way imaginable. They are ordering their 62 affiliates to preempt regularly scheduled programming to air a dubious and blatantly anti-Kerry documentary, Stolen Honor, produced by a former Washington Times writer.

This is the same company that forbade its affiliate from airing the episode of Nightline, The Fallen, that paid tribute to soldiers that died in Iraq.

Several groups have sprung up to oppose this programming decision, among them:
Stop Sinclair is an online petition.
Boycott Sinclair has complied a list of advertisers to put pressure on.

Redstone’s Vote: What Would Viacom Do?

Sumner Redstone, CEO of Viacom, the parent company of CBS, told the Wall Street Journal that he’s backing George W. Bush for president.

“I look at the election from what’s good for Viacom. I vote for what’s good for Viacom….from a Viacom standpoint, the election of a Republican administration is a better deal. Because the Republican administration has stood for many things we believe in, deregulation and so on.”

Redstone has previously described himself as a liberal Democrat. He has been a reliable source of contributions to Democratic candidates and even co-chaired Edmund Muskie’s presidential campaign in 1972.

So why the conversion?

Hard-boiled cynics might point out that CBS is embroiled in the RatherGate fake memo debacle and this political rebirth is an attempt at penitance. As I am only soft-to-medium boiled myself, I will only allude to what the hard-boiled cynics might say. The more significant revelation is that Mr. Redstone is confessing to giving his vote away to the corporate institution that he controls.

The right to vote in this country is the citizen’s opportunity to to have an impact on the nature and direction of the government. The most basic principle of democracy is that the voter has the ability to make decisions about government that are in the voter’s and/or the public’s interest. If corporations were meant to have a vote in these matters, the Constitution, or a subsequent amendment, would have granted it (perhaps I shouldn’t give them any ideas).

This is important because of the inherent differences in the interests of citizens and the interests of corporations. While the public interest may be broadly diverse ideologically, it remains within boundaries that affect lifestyle, welfare and culture. These include personal and community concerns such as family, healthcare, education, security, even morality. On the other hand, corporate interests are neither broad nor diverse nor even ideological. They have only one agenda: to return value to shareholders. That’s a perfectly good agenda to be discussed and voted upon in the boardroom (although it wouldn’t hurt to introduce some morality there as well). But it is wholly inappropriate for that standard to be applied to the civic duty we engage in when voting.

Mr. Redstone has done a disservice to his fellow citizens by allowing his most selfish and mercinary impulses to overpower his common sense and patriotism. I would hope he has second thoughts about his vote and his public announcments of support. He can still choose to act on what’s best for America as a whole and not on what’s best for the congregation of Viacom shareholders.

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The Official Debate Rules Handbook

  • The candidates may not ask each other direct questions.
  • The candidates shall not address each other with proposed pledges.
  • The candidates will refrain from acknowledging that anyone else is in the room.

  • Prior to the debate, each candidate must submit any paper, pens and/or pencils to the Commission staff.
  • Prior to the debate, audience members will be asked to submit their questions in writing to the moderator.
  • Prior to the debate, the FBI will conduct background investigations on all participants to affirm appropriate loyalty to The Leader.

  • The candidates shall enter the stage upon a verbal cue from the moderator.
  • The candidates shall proceed to center stage and shake hands.
  • The candidates shall take their postions behind  their podiums.
  • The candidates shall do the hokey-pokey and turn themselves around, because that is what its all about.

  • The Oct 8 debate will be conducted in an audience participation (“town hall”) format.
  • If an audience member attempts to participate in the debate…the moderator shall instruct the audience to refrain from any participation.
  • If any audience member poses a question materially different from the one submitted, the commission shall cut off the microphone, cover his/her head with a bag and administer a shock to the genitals.

  • Each candidate may move about in a pre-designated area.
  • At no time shall either candidate move from their designated area behind their respective podiums.
  • The pre-designated areas of the candidates may not overlap.
  • Allemande left and do-si-do, dixie twirl and away you go.

  • The parties agree that they will not issue any challenges for additional debates.
  • The parties agree that they will not appear at any other debate.
  • The parties agree that they will pretend that these are actually debates.

  • If a candidate exceeds the permitted time for comment, the moderator shall interrupt by stating, “I am sorry, your time is up.”
  • If a candidate exceeds the highest deficit in history, presides over a loss of 2 million jobs, and engages in an elective war that makes the nation less safe, the moderator shall interrupt by stating, “I am sorry, your time is up.”

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.”

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.