Lieberman Wins Spin Contest

“Lieberman vows to stay in…”

That’s the headline on MSNBC. Not after last night’s Democratic senatorial primary in Connecticut where he lost to Ned Lamont, but on Jan 27, 2004, after his dismal showing in the Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire.

“Thanks to the people of New Hampshire, we are in a three-way split decision for third place.”

Lieberman may be this year’s poster child for positive thinkers. The 18 year senate veteran lost to a political novice last night and his response is that:

“The old politics of polarization won. For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I will not let that result stand.”

Lieberman needs to clarify what he means by “old politics.” If a three term incumbent with a record of conservative capitulation (which he likes to call compromise), isn’t old, what, pray tell, is? And then he said:

“As I see it in this campaign, we just finished the first half and the Lamont team is ahead. But in the second half our team, Team Connecticut, is going to surge forward to victory in November.”

Contrast these comments with those he made to Chris Wallace of Fox News on November 14, 2004, following John Kerry’s loss:

Senator Kerry got a lot of votes, 56 million votes, more than any Democratic candidate for president in history, but there’s no prizes for second place in American politics.

The press has been dutifully repeating the shallowest analysis courtesy of the conventional wisdom crowd.

  • Lamont is a left-wing fringe candidate.
  • The bloggers hijacked the race.
  • Democrats are angry.
  • It’s a single-issue, anti-war campaign.
  • Democrats are weak on security.

And it goes on. But the press can’t see past their obvious biases. The truth is…

  • Lamont won a majority of CT Dems.
  • Most CT voters have never read a blog.
  • Democrats are angry, and ought to be.
  • It’s a campaign for candidates that represent Democratic values.
  • Democrats are against the failed security policies of Bush and Lieberman.

There are pundits that are predicting a Lieberman victory in November based on their belief that a coalition of Republicans, Independents, and conservative Dems, will tilt the race his way. I don’t think it will be that simple.

First, Democrats are more likely to fall in line around their party’s candidate, especially with all of the party’s brass doing so. And Republicans in CT are almost as fed up with BushCo as Dems are. This morning’s news that Karl Rove sent Lieberman a message saying, “The boss wants to help. Whatever we can do, we will do,” is likely to do more harm than good.

Secondly, Lieberman is going to find it more difficult to raise money than he might think. Traditional Democratic donors are going to be thinking hard about backing an independent against the party’s standard bearer. The big donors need to be concerned about alienating the party’s leaders and committee members (and chairs?), and that will weigh on their funding choices.

In the end, I believe that money, not principle, will bring down Lieberman’s indie bid. But I’ve yet to see a single story in the media probing the state of Lieberman’s campaign financing. Just more of the same spin coming directly from Lieberman’s headquarters.

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Journalism Profs Protest Bush

The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) represents academics in journalism and media studies. At their annual convention last week, they passed a resolution to “Object to the Bush Administration’s Anti-Press Policies and Practices.” From the preamble:

The relationship between the presidency and press has always been uneasy. This tension is both unavoidable and generally salutary: When each side conducts its duties with honesty and integrity, both hold the power of the other in check…..However, it has come to pass that the current administration has engaged in a number of practices and has enacted a series of severe and extraordinary policies that attack the press specifically and by extension, democracy itself.

The resolution cites 10 practices to which it is objecting. Please click the link for more detail.

The AEJMC’s membership is troubled by the Bush administration’s…

  1. response to press requests for information.
  2. use of staged town meetings.
  3. vision of the government as a private domain.
  4. practice of massive reclassification of documents.
  5. support of policies that weaken the multiplicity of voices on a local and national scale.
  6. policy of not allowing photographs of coffins of soldiers killed in Iraq to be released.
  7. use of propaganda, including video news releases.
  8. use of bribes and payments to columnists and other opinion makers.
  9. manipulation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
  10. using the courts to pressure journalists to give up their sources and to punish them for obtaining leaked information.

This is a superb list of issues for the professors to call the administration to task for. But I believe it is equally important to send these objections to their professional colleagues in the media. Much of what the administration gets away with is due to the absence of an aggressive and independent press that refuses to let itself be diminished by an imperial executive branch that thinks it’s above the law.

Pentagon Orders Soldiers to Stop Shooting – Videos

American soldiers in Iraq have been making videos of their wartime experiences and posting them to web sites for their friends and families back home to view. The Guardian reports that:

“these homemade war videos offer an insight into modern warfare and the psyche of the average serviceman which conventional broadcast news and current affairs coverage cannot get close to.”

Indeed, the mainstream press sanitizes this war to the point that it could be included in a video game and still be considered lame by the teenagers that play it. Maybe that sort of desensitizing is intentional, so as not to dampen recruiting efforts. The reality is much more difficult to endure. The soldiers shooting these videos are engaging in a form of self-expression that can be gut wrenching, but that very quality is what makes it so much more relevant and enlightening than anything the media is producing.

Well, the military brass will have none of that. This, after all, is the government that forbids photographs of ceremonies honoring fallen soldiers as their remains are returned to Dover Air Force Base. This is the Commander in Chief that has never attended a funeral for a casualty of his misbegotten war. Why then would anyone expect that they would allow a candid expression from a soldier like this one who said:

“it made him feel good to bring the gruesome reality of a soldier’s life in Iraq to those living safely behind their ‘clean, white picket fences at home’.”

The media has been embarrassingly absent in coverage of this war. From the beginning with Judith Miller’s discredited ramblings on Iraq’s imagined threat, to the farce of embedding reporters with troops, there have been very few revelations emanating from the mainstream press. Even major stories like Abu Ghraib would not have come to light but for the very kind of amateur video the Pentagon nows seeks to abolish.

So now, an administration whose PR regularly regurgitates rosy scenarios is banning laptop computers from U.S. bases in Iraq. A government that is steeped in secrecy is infringing on the free speech of soldiers serving in combat. It kind of makes you wonder what they are fighting for.

UPDATE: There are reports that the Pentagon is keeping a tight watch on the Internet with civilian contractors monitoring sites like YouTube and MySpace.

“…US Central Command – which is responsible for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan – does have a team reading blogs and responding to what they consider inaccuracies about the so-called war on terror.”

It makes me feel so much safer knowing that CenCom is surveiling the web while insurgents are burying IEDs in the Green Zone.

Stalking Points Memo – Attack Of The Machines

Attack of the Machines

Bill O’Reilly, futurist exrtaordinaire, explains to all us simpletons why America’s leadership is behind the times. In doing so, he reveals that the real enemy facing the world today is not Al Qaeda, but the Borg Empire. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

(Click the pic here to go to Stalking Points Memo page, then click the pic there to start the Flash movie)

Lock Up The Bloggers

Josh Wolf is in trouble. The San Francisco journalist/activist is in jail on contempt charges for refusing to comply with a federal subpoe0na. The Feds want to see a video he took of a protest where a cop was injured and some property damaged.

I’ve been struggling with the merits of this case because, on the one hand, I’m inclined to be sympathetic to an independent media advocate who is under pressure to submit to government demands. On the other hand, this is a difficult case to argue for a reporter’s privilege. The key issue is that Wolf is not protecting an external source, but is declining to provide potential evidence to an event to which he was a witness.

If the videotape in question was given to Wolf in confidence, he would have every right to withhold it and to defy the court order. But this is video he took himself, so who is he protecting? The problem I had with Judith Miller’s claim of privilege was that she was not protecting a source, but that she was a participant in the events on which she was reporting. I don’t believe she had the right to withhold testimony from the grand jury regarding a crime she was helping to facilitate. Of course, there is no allegation that Wolf was involved in anything criminal himself and the state cannot engage in witch hunts.

Despite the conflicting arguments in this matter, I have remained troubled by Wolf’s predicament, and this story from Editors and Publishers has helped me understand why:

Trying to compel journalists to testify is an increasingly popular tactic among federal investigators seeking all types of information. Even the occasional incarceration of reporters is enough to put the squeeze on the news media.

The article goes on to make the point that this case was bumped to the federal courts because California has a strong reporter’s shield law, while the feds have none at all. In addition, there appears to be an escalation of legal pressure being placed on journalists to, in effect, do the work of law enforcement. Lucy A. Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said:

“This is the first time it’s been pretty clear to me the federal government is interested in what bloggers do.” And that, “While jailings are infrequent, the number of subpoenas seeking to force reporters to testify has grown.”

The problem here is the trend. As the government seeks to intimidate reporters, it is also silencing the voices of its critics. For an administration that has elevated secrecy to an art form, there is no greater achievement than the dismantling of the first amendment. Josh Wolf may not be the perfect banner carrier for this battle, but he is at least collateral damage and his dilemma should be troubling to anyone who reveres a free press.

The White House Propaganda Center

Today’s confab from the White House briefing room will be the last for nine months while the site undergoes an extreme makeover. While it is indisputable that renovations are necessary, the scope and the timing are surprising.

When originally proposed, the work was expected to take about a month. Typical of Washington’s efficiency, the budget and schedule have exceeded projections. Now, the press corps will be cast out of the White House throughout the fall campaign and beyond into next year. Is the White House erecting new barriers between itself and the media during a campaign season that is likely to be rife with bad news for the incumbent party?

When the press does return (if they return), they will hardly recognize the place. Press Secretary Tony Snow, newly recruited from Fox News, seems bent on bringing the Fox flavor to presidential briefings. The centerpiece of the remodeling will be a video wall that can display anything from waving flags to charts and graphs to remote speakers. The press pool will be able to televise the podium with the video wall in the background or switch it to full screen. All they need now is a news ticker, a swoosh, and a Fox logo. They also plan to install microphones and Internet access at all seats. I’m not sure I would use that Internet connection with any expectation of privacy. And reporters would be wise to consider what those mics are recording.

The new press room appears to be developing into a full-fledged PR facility. This administration knows the power of perceptions. They carefully manage all photo ops. They decorate public appearances with graphic reinforcements of the day’s message. They pay pundits to evangelize their agenda. They pioneered video press releases that were made to look like local TV news reports, and distributed them to stations that aired them without disclosing that they were fake.

Now they are putting the finishing touches on the propaganda machine that is already humming at the White House. For those interested in substantive journalism, this electronic theater could be a step backwards. The flashy graphics and canned promotional clips may serve to distract from the probing inquiries of reporters. In the end, the audience will remember the brightly shining objects that filled their screen. What will those objects look like? Will they show the rubble produced by a suicide bomber in Baghdad? Will they show victims of natural disasters here at home? Not likely. But they will show positive images that promote whatever fiction they are trying to sell that day. Those images will be as professionally conceived as any other television commercial. And it will be their intention to have the same effect. Politics will be just another consumer product, and ideology will be just another brand.

Update: The New WH Propaganda Center Is Open.

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Fox News Sinks Again

In the July ratings for the cable news networks, Fox continues its steady year-over-year decline. This July’s book includes reporting on the Israel/Lebanon conflict. Breaking news events like this spike ratings for news programs. So when comparing this year’s July book with last year’s, it is important to note that there was no comparable news event in July of 2005. That means that the comparisons with this year would have been even worse, but for the boost caused by current events.

UPDATE: Here is an hourly breakdown (PDF) of the numbers by demo and program, with comparisons to 2005.

Total Day – 25-54 Demo:

July ’06: 293 203 109 85 56
July ’05: 295 144 84 104 43
% change: -1% +45% +30% -18% +24%

Primetime – 25-54 Demo:

July ’06: 404 278 142 104 61
July ’05: 492 210 111 151 61
% change: -24% +32% +28% -31% 0%

The severe decline in the Fox and Headline News primetime schedules suggests a possible audience fatigue for the bloviating pundits that populate those dayparts. That includes Bill O’Reilly, Hannity & Colmes, and Greta Van Susteren on Fox, and Nancy Grace and Glen Beck on on HLN. While the increases at MSNBC and CNN may suggest an appreciation for the counter-programming on MSNBC (i.e. Keith Olbermann’s Countdown) and the hard news flavor of CNN.

Most of all, I believe that the significance of the O’Reilly, et al, free fall is that we may have pushed back the hands of the Armageddon Clock a half hour or so. There is still a long way to go before Fox is knocked off its pedestal, but the trends are consistently pointing toward that outcome.

Deleting Online Predators – An Update

In May, I wrote about The Deleting Online Predators Act (PDF), a bill designed to ban access to social networking sites from schools, libraries, and other federally funded locations. Unfortunately, the language was so broad that the bill would end up banning everything from MySpace to Wikipedia, and everyone on Blogger, Live Journal and DailyKos. Well, the bill passed yesterday by a whopping 410-15 margin. Despite having been trashed in committee, the sponsors revised it and pushed it to the House floor without further discussion. And the Republican members pointedly excluded any Democrats from participating in the revisions.

In the new version, the definition of social networking is being left up to the FCC, but the criteria for consideration is almost identical to the original bill:

In determining the definition of a social networking website, the Commission shall take into consideration the extent to which a website-

  • (i) is offered by a commercial entity;
  • (ii) permits registered users to create an on-line profile that includes detailed personal information;
  • (iii) permits registered users to create an on-line journal and share such a journal with other users;
  • (iv) elicits highly-personalized information from users; and
  • (v) enables communication among users.

If the bill becomes law, we will have FCC Chair Kevin Martin in charge of implemementing it. Martin is a long-term Bush crony who, among other things, was part of the Bush campaign’s legal team in Florida after the election in 2000. His stewardship of the bill could actually result in a worse outcome than the original draft.

There is speculation that the Senate is poised to quickly pass its version of the bill. This would be a good time for online advocates, and especially users of MySpace, Facebook, Blogger, and any other social networking site or forum, to start making as much noise as possible.

Here is your assignment:

  • 1) Contact your senators and tell them you oppose DOPA.
  • 2) Place posts on your blogs.
  • 3) Send bulletins and messages to your online friends.

Number 3 is particularly important. If we can get this message to blast across MySpace, and other social networks, the impact could be profound. These are the communities that would be most directly affected and they should be willing to help spread the word.

This bill will also disproportionally hurt low income kids who rely on public terminals to get online. But it won’t stop there. Remember, they want to ban access now from schools and libraries. Next it will be any public terminal, like cafes and WiFi sites. And they will just keep going until they achieve a universal ban. Believe it!

WMD Delusion Disorder

A new Harris poll finds that:

Despite being widely reported in the media that the U.S. and other countries have not found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, surprisingly; more U.S. adults (50%) think that Iraq had such weapons when the U.S. invaded Iraq. This is an increase from 36 percent in February 2005.

As Theodore Sturgeon said, “It aint what you don’t know that kills you. It’s what you know that just aint so”. And apparently about half of U.S. adults think they know that Saddam had WMDs. Whose fault is that?

Certainly the Bush administration bears some responsibility for its aggressive and fallacious claims as they tried to scare America into its first preemptive war. But even BushCo no longer peddles those lies. The real culprit is, of course, the media.

Harris begins its report saying, “Despite being widely reported in the media…” But that imposes a much too narrow view. The media, as a whole, has indeed reported that WMDs were not found, but we need to be more specific. The number one cable news network is Fox News. It is fair to say that their reporting is not particularly balanced. In fact, studies have shown that Fox viewers are far more likely to believe things that are demonstrably false, than are viewers of other networks. The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) report says in summary:

“Those who primarily watch Fox News are significantly more likely to have misperceptions, while those who primarily listen to NPR or watch PBS are significantly less likely.”

These poll results are more evidence of how dangerous the media can be. If, after three years, the public can still exhibit this scale of ignorance, we obviously have a lot of work yet to do, both in correcting the public record and reforming the media.

From Ally McBeal to Ann Coulter?

Well, probably not. But Calista Flockhart, formally of Ally McBeal, will be playing a conservative pundit on a new ABC series debuting this fall. “Brothers & Sisters” will follow “Desperate Houswives” and will also feature Sally Field as Flockhart’s mother.

Asked to describe the pundit, producer Ken Olin (formerly a star of “Thirty Something’) said, “She’s not Ann Coulter. She’s not insane.”

“She’s not insane.” That’s a nice qualification to differentiate the show’s character from Coulter’s lack of same. But I think the show is missing an opportunity. Drama thrives on conflict and who is more conflicting than Coultergeist? The potential for story lines that drip with dramatic tension is enormous. The character’s rabid antogonism, unbounded ego, and even gender confusion, could give the show some powerful ammunition for salacious entertainment.

And while drama thrives on conflict, television thrives on controversy. The closer this show’s character is alligned with Coulter, the more promotion juice they could squeeze out of it. If ABC is going to be too timid to run with this, I hope somebody else will do it.