Who Really Wants Truth In Broadcasting, Anyway?

The Senate Commerce Committee held hearings last week on the Truth in Broadcasting Act (S 967). This is a piece of sorely needed legislation whose necessity is downright depressing. The bill targets the Video News Releases (VNRs) that various departments of the federal government have produced and distributed to news broadcasters. The VNRs carried no disclosure that identify them as government produced. They were subsequently ruled to be in violation of the law against covert propaganda by the Government Accountability Office.

The fact that our government engages in such blatant propagandizing that a Truth in Broadcasting Act is necessary, is troubling in and of itself. But the version of the bill that made it out of committee so diluted its provisions as to make it almost useless. Diana Farsetta of the Center for Media and Democracy notes that:

First, the revised Act drops the continuous on-screen notification requirement for VNRs. Second, it calls for “clear notification within the text or audio of the prepackaged news story,” without specifying the minimum requirements for audience disclosure. Most troubling, it allows that disclosure to be removed altogether, following rules that the Act requires the Federal Communications Commission to develop.

In addition, the legislation appears to apply only when then entire VNR is broadcast. This means that if the broadcaster edits out a sliver of irrelevant content, the whole piece is exempt from any disclosure at all.

The FCC has been AWOL on these matters. The White House has been downright dismissive. They even advised federal agencies that they could ignore the GAO finding that VNRs were illegal propaganda because, the White House said, “…it didn’t apply.” Now the Senate has fallen off the bandwagon by voting out a bill that the propaganda merchants are hailing as a victory.

It’s not too late to influence the outcome of the bill. There has not yet been a complimentary bill in the House of Representatives, and the Senate bill still has to pass on the floor where it is subject to amendment. If our representatives in Washington hear from us in large enough numbers, they could be pressured to restore the provisions of the original draft. Write letters, make phone calls, and get your family and friends to do so as well. This is a fight we can win by painting opponents as pro-propaganda. And, while that’s what they actually are, I don’t think they want that sign around their necks.

Find us on Google+

Rep. Hinchey Goes To Bat For Media Reform

Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), has long been a leader in the fight for media reform. He is a founder of the Future of American Media caucus in the House, and he is a sponsor of the Media Ownership Reform Act of 2005 (MORA). In an article for The Hill last week, he reiterated the need for media ownership reform.

“How and from where Americans receive their news on these and other issues are of critical importance. Yet this country’s media ownership rules have limited our sources of information, resulting in inadequate and biased news reporting…”

If enacted, MORA will be a significant step forward in establishing a more diverse and informative media environment. Among its provisions:

  • Reduces the number of radio stations one company can own in a given market and caps national ownership at 5 percent of stations.
  • Reinstates national television-station ownership limits, preventing one company from owning broadcast stations that reach more than 25 percent of American households. Current law allows for 39 percent national audience reach.
  • Reestablishes the Fairness Doctrine that the Reagan administration abolished in 1987

These measures are necessary and sensible. But they are only a beginning. Ultimately, the corporate media monopolies must be broken up the same way telecom, oil, and railroad monopolies were. The stark imbalance of power that monopolies wield, and their cozy fraternization with their political benefactors, make it impossible to settle for anything less than total divestment.

Contact your representatives and tell them you want them to sign on to MORA. This may be the most valuable political act you make this year.

Judy Miller's Propaganda Mistaken For Journalism

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) gave Judy Miller their First Amendment Award in Las Vegas today. The award was given in conjunction with her appearance on a panel addressing The Reporter’s Privilege Under Siege. Miller’s selection would seem to be an unusual choice of a journalist whose recent work has been widely discredited and who even described it herself as “totally wrong.”

The award, of course, is not meant to honor her writing, but her incarceration for refusing to testify before the grand jury investigating Plamegate. That doesn’t make it any less unusual when you consider the facts surrounding her ordeal.

Miller claims that her refusal to testify was to uphold the principle of freedom of the press as she was trying to protect an anonymous source. However, one version of her story has I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby as her source, but he claims he had waived any promise of anonymity over a year ago. Another version of her story has her claiming that she didn’t remember who gave her the name of CIA operative, Valerie Plame. That would mean she was refusing to testify in order to protect someone she couldn’t reveal anyway because she forgot who it was.

It’s too bad the SPJ’s standards have declined to include honoring hacks who engage in propaganda. At last year’s SPJ convention, Bill Moyers gave an address entitled Journalism Under Fire, in which he made some interesting and relevant points:

“…the greater offense was the seduction of mainstream media into helping the government dupe the public to support a war to disarm a dictator who was already disarmed.”

Moyers doesn’t mention Miller by name, but could he have possibly given a better description of her work? Then there was this:

“The framers of our nation never envisioned these huge media giants; never imagined what could happen if big government, big publishing and big broadcasters ever saw eye to eye in putting the public’s need for news second to their own interests – and to the ideology of free-market economics.”

Nor could they have foreseen the rise of a quasi-official partisan press serving as a mighty megaphone for the regime in power. Stretching from Washington think tanks funded by corporations to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch’s far-flung empire of tabloid journalism to the nattering no-nothings of talk radio…

Moyers address represented the best of that to which the SPJ should aspire. Their own published Code of Ethics illustrates a couple of points that they might have considered before nominating Miller for this honor. Items #3 and #4 (out of 37) state:

  • Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
  • Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.

The Associated Press account of the award ceremony says that “…Miller received a standing ovation from more than half the crowd of about 350 journalists…” That means that about half the crowd remained seated as well. I’m not sure that qualifies as an ovation. It’s also telling that, in her remarks, she had to explicity defend accusations that she was protecting wrongdoers and laying the foundation for a big payday.

Miller said, “I did not go to jail to protect wrongdoing. I did not go to jail to get a large book contract or to martyr myself,” she said. “Anyone who thinks I would spend 85 days in jail as a canny career move knows nothing about jail and nothing about me.”

Ask yourselves…Would you spend 85 days in jail to keep from being indicted for a probable felony, or even treason? Would you do it for a million dollar book deal?

Robert Novak Is Losing His Grip!

Robert Novak, demonstrating his legendary prescience in all things political, is now challenging The National Enquirer for top credibility status.

From Novak’s 10/16 column:
Possible indictment not keeping Rove from fund-raising
While colleagues express concern that presidential adviser Karl Rove could be indicted in the CIA leak case, he continues to be scheduled for private fund-raisers by the Republican National Committee.

From CBS News 10/18:
Rove Cancels Fund-raising Appearances
Rove canceled plans to attend two Republican fund-raisers, the national party confirmed Tuesday. And he did not give his scheduled speech to the conservative Hudson Institute think tank on Oct. 11.

It only took two days for Novak’s proud assertion – that Rove is still the administration’s cash magnet – to go south. Thus exposing the growing irrelevance of both Rove and Novak.

The CBS report further stated that…
Republican National Committee spokesman Brian Jones said that Rove, who is Bush’s top political aide, currently has no plans to appear at upcoming RNC events.
“Once considered an ‘A-list’ guest for any Republican, special-interest fund-raiser, it seems that Karl Rove has now become a liability for the Republican Party,” said DNC spokesman Josh Earnest.

Novak does, however, point out that the president’s magic is also questionable:
President Bush is scheduled to raise money at a reception and dinner in Los Angeles Thursday. That ignores the request by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that the president stay out of California prior to the Nov. 8 election on several propositions favored by the governor.

All of this raises the question of, who can the Republicans depend on to finance their campaign efforts in 2006 and beyond. With Bush, Cheney, Schwarzenegger, etc., becoming pariahs, and Rove, Frist, DeLay, etc., getting fitted for striped pajamas, that pretty much leaves Laura and Barney. Consequently, they will either have to go on the road without any stars, or just concentrate their efforts on the true-believers from the 700 Club. The latter solution would surely result in the Republican agenda stretching even farther outside the mainstream. Which may be Novak’s secret plan.

New York Times On It’s Plamegate Reporter: Judy Who?

After months of silence, The New York Times has finally published an article about their reporter who spent nearly three months in jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury. Judith Miller claims she was protecting a confidential source and defending the principle of freedom of the press. In fact she was protecting herself and her complicity in an administration smear campaign. The Times, to it’s credit, at least acknowledged that that position existed saying, “Critics said The Times was protecting not a whistle-blower but an administration campaign intended to squelch dissent.” And then they ran as far away from her as they could get.

We had no idea…
“Mr. Sulzberger and the paper’s executive editor, Bill Keller, knew few details about Ms. Miller’s conversations with her confidential source other than his name. They did not review Ms. Miller’s notes. Mr. Keller said he learned about the “Valerie Flame” notation only this month. Mr. Sulzberger was told about it by Times reporters on Thursday.”

It was all her fault…
“Interviews show that the paper’s leaders, in taking what they considered to be a principled stand, ultimately left the major decisions in the case up to Ms. Miller, an intrepid reporter whom editors found hard to control.

We tried to stop her…
“Once Ms. Miller was jailed, her lawyers were in open conflict about whether she should stay there.”

We’re really very sorry…
Mr. Keller said the case was not ideal: “I wish it had been a clear-cut whistle-blower case. I wish it had been a reporter who came with less public baggage…Mr. Taubman said he felt bad for his reporters, but he added that he and other senior editors felt that they had no choice.

With friends like that, who needs enemas? Judy does still have some friends. The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has announced that Miller will be receiving their First Amendment Award in Las Vegas Tuesday. It’s too bad the SPJ’s standards include honoring hacks who engage in propaganda. Their colleagues at the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) considered giving Miller their Conscience in Media award earlier this year. The ASJA’s First Amendment committee voted to honor Miller, but that decision was later reversed by the full board. The SPJ would do well to reconsider also. The first amendment codifies freedom of the press. When you act as a willing conduit to plant damaging stories about your political opponents, you are not representing first amendment principles.

Grown By America’s Banana Republicans

By keeping a five minute vote open for almost an hour, the Republican majority in the House managed to coerce just enough weak-livered Repubs to pass another giveaway to oil companies masquerading as an energy bill.

This is reminiscent of the debacle of November 2003, when the Prescription Drug bill was held open for 3 hours so that Tom DeLay could threaten/bribe members to pass his giveaway to the pharmaceutical companies. DeLay was later admonishment by the Ethics Committee for this.

As important as this is as a news story, the media managed to get it all wrong. The only angle they played was that a contentious debate took place. They didn’t bother to put it in context as to the violation of House rules, and they didn’t get anywhere near discussing the substance of the controversial bill that sparked the debate. I think they would have preferred if the Chair had simply harangued the other members and then looked down contemptuously, pointed at some confused representative, and said, “You’re fired!

Find us on Google+

Tom DeLay Spins Like A Top

There’s been a lot of misinformation circulating in the media regarding Tom DeLay’s recent indictments. In the spirit of fairness, I thought I would give him equal time:

“I didn’t know anything about the perfectly legal activity that I didn’t engage in while not leading my PAC that I didn’t have anything to do with for the purpose of not funding perfectly honorable Republican candidates that I never heard of.”

There, does that clear things up?

Former Fox Reporter Sees The Light

David Shuster, currently a reporter for MSNBC, is coming clean about his former bosses at Fox.

…there wasn’t a tradition or track record of honoring journalistic integrity. I found some reporters at Fox would cut corners or steal information from other sources or in some cases, just make things up. Management would either look the other way or just wouldn’t care to take a closer look.

It’s nice to know that if you quit drinking the kool-aid, eventually your senses will return. Now we need to get the rest of the Fox crew into rehab.

Propaganda Marches On

Once again, the Bush administration has been found to be guilty of violating the law against covert propaganda. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) made the ruling in response to the Department of Education’s initiative to pay more than $200,000.00 to Armstrong Williams to help promote the No Child Left Behind Law.

“This qualifies as the production or distribution of covert propaganda,” said the GAO. “In our view, the department violated the publicity or propaganda prohibition when it issued task orders… without ensur[ing] that Mr Williams disclosed to his audiences his relationship with the department.”

This is the second time the GAO has found the administration in violation of the law. In March 2005, the Bush Justice Department waived off the earlier finding saying that, “It did not apply.” and could be ignored.

So much for law and order.

Project Censored 2006

Sonoma State University’s Project Censored has released their 2006 edition of the top 25 stories that went unreported or under-reported by the corporate media. Ending the suspense, I will reveal now that the number 1 story is about Bush Administration Moves to Eliminate Open Government.

I’m shocked I tell you, shocked!

Here’s the rest of the top 10:

  • 2. Media Coverage Fails on Iraq: Fallujah and the Civilian Deathtoll
  • 3. Another Year of Distorted Election Coverage
  • 4. Surveillance Society Quietly Moves In
  • 5. U.S. Uses Tsunami to Military Advantage in Southeast Asia
  • 6. The Real Oil for Food Scam
  • 7. Journalists Face Unprecedented Dangers to Life and Livelihood
  • 8. Iraqi Farmers Threatened By Bremer’s Mandates
  • 9. Iran’s New Oil Trade System Challenges U.S. Currency
  • 10. Mountaintop Removal Threatens Ecosystem and Economy