The Day That TV News Died

by Chris Hedges, TruthDig.com, March 25, 2013

Excerpt

I am not sure exactly when the death of television news took place. The descent was gradual—a slide into the tawdry, the trivial and the inane, into the charade on cable news channels such as Fox and MSNBC in which hosts hold up corporate political puppets to laud or ridicule, and treat celebrity foibles as legitimate news. But if I had to pick a date when commercial television decided amassing corporate money and providing entertainment were its central mission, when it consciously chose to become a carnival act, it would probably be Feb. 25, 2003, when MSNBC took Phil Donahue off the air because of his opposition to the calls for war in Iraq.

Donahue and Bill Moyers, the last honest men on national television, were the only two major TV news personalities who presented the viewpoints of those of us who challenged the rush to war in Iraq. General Electric and Microsoft—MSNBC’s founders and defense contractors that went on to make tremendous profits from the war—were not about to tolerate a dissenting voice. Donahue was fired, and at PBS Moyers was subjected to tremendous pressure…

The celebrity trolls who currently reign on commercial television, who bill themselves as liberal or conservative, read from the same corporate script…Their role is to funnel viewer energy back into our dead political system—to make us believe that Democrats or Republicans are not corporate pawns…

What mattered then and what matters now is likability—known in television and advertising as the Q score—not honesty and truth. Television news celebrities are in the business of sales, not journalism. They peddle the ideology of the corporate state. And too many of us are buying.

The lie of omission is still a lie. It is what these news celebrities do not mention that exposes their complicity with corporate power….They are paid to discredit or ignore the nation’s most astute critics of corporatism, among them Cornel West, Medea Benjamin, Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky. They are paid to chatter mindlessly, hour after hour, filling our heads with the theater of the absurd…Elite media features elite power. No other voices are heard.”

Donahue spent four years after leaving MSNBC making the movie documentary “Body of War” …about the paralyzed Iraq War veteran Tomas Young… Donahue noted that only a very small percentage of Americans have a close relative who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan and an even smaller number make the personal sacrifice of a Tomas Young. “Nobody sees the pain,” he said. “The war is sanitized.”… Donahue was told that the film, although it had received great critical acclaim, was too depressing and not uplifting….I am stunned at how many Americans stand mute.”

Full text

I am not sure exactly when the death of television news took place.

The descent was gradual—a slide into the tawdry, the trivial and the inane, into the charade on cable news channels such as Fox and MSNBC in which hosts hold up corporate political puppets to laud or ridicule, and treat celebrity foibles as legitimate news. But if I had to pick a date when commercial television decided amassing corporate money and providing entertainment were its central mission, when it consciously chose to become a carnival act, it would probably be Feb. 25, 2003, when MSNBC took Phil Donahue off the air because of his opposition to the calls for war in Iraq.

Donahue and Bill Moyers, the last honest men on national television, were the only two major TV news personalities who presented the viewpoints of those of us who challenged the rush to war in Iraq. General Electric and Microsoft—MSNBC’s founders and defense contractors that went on to make tremendous profits from the war—were not about to tolerate a dissenting voice. Donahue was fired, and at PBS Moyers was subjected to tremendous pressure. An internal MSNBC memo leaked to the press stated that Donahue was hurting the image of the network. He would be a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war,” the memo read. Donahue never returned to the airwaves.

The celebrity trolls who currently reign on commercial television, who bill themselves as liberal or conservative, read from the same corporate script. They spin the same court gossip. They ignore what the corporate state wants ignored. They champion what the corporate state wants championed. They do not challenge or acknowledge the structures of corporate power. Their role is to funnel viewer energy back into our dead political system—to make us believe that Democrats or Republicans are not corporate pawns. The cable shows, whose hyperbolic hosts work to make us afraid self-identified liberals or self-identified conservatives, are part of a rigged political system, one in which it is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, General Electric or ExxonMobil. These corporations, in return for the fear-based propaganda, pay the lavish salaries of celebrity news people, usually in the millions of dollars. They make their shows profitable. And when there is war these news personalities assume their “patriotic” roles as cheerleaders, as Chris Matthews—who makes an estimated $5 million a year—did, along with the other MSNBC and Fox hosts.

It does not matter that these celebrities and their guests, usually retired generals or government officials, got the war terribly wrong. Just as it does not matter that Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman were wrong on the wonders of unfettered corporate capitalism and globalization. What mattered then and what matters now is likability—known in television and advertising as the Q score—not honesty and truth. Television news celebrities are in the business of sales, not journalism. They peddle the ideology of the corporate state. And too many of us are buying.

The lie of omission is still a lie. It is what these news celebrities do not mention that exposes their complicity with corporate power. They do not speak about Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, a provision that allows the government to use the military to hold U.S. citizens and strip them of due process. They do not decry the trashing of our most basic civil liberties, allowing acts such as warrantless wiretapping and executive orders for the assassination of U.S. citizens. They do not devote significant time to climate scientists to explain the crisis that is enveloping our planet. They do not confront the reckless assault of the fossil fuel industry on the ecosystem. They very rarely produce long-form documentaries or news reports on our urban and rural poor, who have been rendered invisible, or on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or on corporate corruption on Wall Street. That is not why they are paid. They are paid to stymie meaningful debate. They are paid to discredit or ignore the nation’s most astute critics of corporatism, among them Cornel West, Medea Benjamin, Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky. They are paid to chatter mindlessly, hour after hour, filling our heads with the theater of the absurd. They play clips of their television rivals ridiculing them and ridicule their rivals in return. Television news looks as if it was lifted from Rudyard Kipling’s portrait of the Bandar-log monkeys in “The Jungle Book.” The Bandar-log, considered insane by the other animals in the jungle because of their complete self-absorption, lack of discipline and outsized vanity, chant in unison: “We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true.”

When I reached him by phone recently in New York, Donahue said of the pressure the network put on him near the end, “It evolved into an absurdity.” He continued: “We were told we had to have two conservatives for every liberal on the show. I was considered a liberal. I could have Richard Perle on alone but not Dennis Kucinich. You felt the tremendous fear corporate media had for being on an unpopular side during the ramp-up for a war. And let’s not forget that General Electric’s biggest customer at the time was Donald Rumsfeld [then the secretary of defense]. Elite media features elite power. No other voices are heard.”

Donahue spent four years after leaving MSNBC making the movie documentary “Body of War” with fellow director/producer Ellen Spiro, about the paralyzed Iraq War veteran Tomas Young. The film, which Donahue funded himself, began when he accompanied Nader to visit Young in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

“Here is this kid lying there whacked on morphine,” Donahue said. “His mother, as we are standing by the bed looking down, explained his injuries. ‘He is a T-4. The bullet came through the collarbone and exited between the shoulder blades. He is paralyzed from the nipples down.’ He was emaciated. His cheekbones were sticking out. He was as white as the sheets he was lying on. He was 24 years old. … I thought, ‘People should see this. This is awful.’ ”

Donahue noted that only a very small percentage of Americans have a close relative who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan and an even smaller number make the personal sacrifice of a Tomas Young. “Nobody sees the pain,” he said. “The war is sanitized.”

“I said, ‘Tomas, I want to make a movie that shows the pain, I want to make a movie that shows up close what war really means, but I can’t do it without your permission,’ ” Donahue remembered. “Tomas said, ‘I do too.’ ”

But once again Donahue ran into the corporate monolith: Commercial distributors proved reluctant to pick up the film. Donahue was told that the film, although it had received great critical acclaim, was too depressing and not uplifting. Distributors asked him who would go to see a film about someone in a wheelchair. Donahue managed to get openings in Chicago, Seattle, Palm Springs, New York, Washington and Boston, but the runs were painfully brief.

“I didn’t have the money to run full-page ads,” he said. “Hollywood often spends more on promotion than it does on the movie. And so we died. What happens now is that peace groups are showing it. We opened the Veterans for Peace convention in Miami. Failure is not unfamiliar to me. And yet, I am stunned at how many Americans stand mute.

Copyright © 2013 Truthdig, L.L.C.

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/03/25-0

The Siren Song Of War: Why Pundits Beat The Drums For Iraq

by Kathleen Geier, nationalmemo.com, March 22, 2013 

Excerpt

Pundits like to imagine that they take political positions only after a careful consideration of the merits — listening to arguments, studying position papers, weighing the pros and cons, and coming to a decision.

But politics is not necessarily so rational, and never was irrationality more plainly on display than in the months leading up to the Iraq War. Ten years later, it is worth exploring why so many opinion-makers – including those who were otherwise critical of the Bush administration — passionately advocated war.

For at least some leading pundits, their position seems to have been shaped less by “reason” or “ideas” than something more primal and even tribal, reflecting their fantasies about who they imagined themselves to be. What follows is a taxonomy of certain pundits on the center and the left who, to their eternal shame, beat the drums of war — hard…Matthew Yglesias…Dan Savage…Christopher Hitchens…Paul Berman…David Rieff…Peter Beinart…Thomas Friedman…

Next up are those heroic journalists – sometimes dubbed the “Keyboard Commandos” — who wanted to re-fight World War II in Iraq. This crew saw Islam as a noxious, world-conquering ideology akin to Nazism: Islamofascism, as the late Christopher Hitchens once coined it. He and Andrew Sullivan flattered themselves as intellectual heirs of George Orwell, saving the world from both fascism and left-wing appeasers. Sullivan’s smearing of war opponents as a “fifth column” made that abundantly clear……The inability of these pundits to think straight may simply be a symptom of narcissism poisoning. For them, invasion and war were all about presenting their preferred face to the world — and to themselves. Henry James once wrote that a writer should be “one of the people on whom nothing is lost.” For these pundits, everything was lost — everything, that is, but their own overgrown egos.

Full text

Pundits like to imagine that they take political positions only after a careful consideration of the merits — listening to arguments, studying position papers, weighing the pros and cons, and coming to a decision.

But politics is not necessarily so rational, and never was irrationality more plainly on display than in the months leading up to the Iraq War. Ten years later, it is worth exploring why so many opinion-makers – including those who were otherwise critical of the Bush administration — passionately advocated war.

For at least some leading pundits, their position seems to have been shaped less by “reason” or “ideas” than something more primal and even tribal, reflecting their fantasies about who they imagined themselves to be. What follows is a taxonomy of certain pundits on the center and the left who, to their eternal shame, beat the drums of war — hard.

First let’s consider the contrarians. Young Matthew Yglesias, who was in college at the time and thus deserves to be excused, wrote a refreshingly honest piece that noted the seductions of contrarianism: “Being for the war was a way to simultaneously be a free-thinking dissident in the context of a college campus and also be on the side of the country’s power elite.” It was easy to feel the glow of being an utterly unique snowflake, and yet at the same time to join the establishment. How special!

What Yglesias calls the“fake-dissident posture” held a powerful allure for war supporter Dan Savage as well. Reading between the lines of his stridently pro-war 2003 column, it’s clear that the anti-war types worked his last nerve. Everything about them is uncool — their posters are “sad-looking” and their slogans are cheesy. True, the left can be deeply irritating. Protests are great, but why can’t the organizers come up with better music? Yet that’s a stunningly shallow reason to support a brutal war that left over100,000 people dead.

Next up are those heroic journalists – sometimes dubbed the “Keyboard Commandos” — who wanted to re-fight World War II in Iraq. This crew saw Islam as a noxious, world-conquering ideology akin to Nazism: Islamofascism, as the late Christopher Hitchens once coined it. He and Andrew Sullivan flattered themselves as intellectual heirs of George Orwell, saving the world from both fascism and left-wing appeasers. Sullivan’s smearing of war opponents as a “fifth column” made that abundantly clear.

Paul Berman was another journalist who tirelessly refought the good war from his armchair. As he explained in a roundtable, Iraq was important because it provided an opportunity for intellectuals to “speak up.” How lovely for them! Admittedly, says Berman, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were “counterproductive in some respects,” because “for a while, they appeared to discredit the notion of liberal democracy, which was dreadful. This, apart from the deaths and suffering.” [emphasis added].

On the tape, writer David Rieff is aghast: “All this to raise the issue of liberal democracy? My God, man!” My God, indeed.

Let’s not neglect the pundits of the so-called “decent left.” Obsessed with preserving the martial virtue of the Democratic Party, these types zealously advocated a militaristic version of liberalism.  Peter Beinart, then editor of The New Republic, figured prominently in this group. To Beinart, opponents of the Iraq War were guilty of  “abject pacifism”, and he all but advocated purging them from the Democratic Party, Cold War-style. They might be liberals, but wanted the world to know they were respectable thinkers– not filthy hippies.

The next group, the ones I call the crusading superheroes, advocated intervening in Iraq on humanitarian grounds. They envisioned themselves sweeping into the country like red, white, and blue-clad Captain Americas, ridding the country of evil supervillain Saddam Hussein and spreading democracy and prosperity to a grateful nation. George Packer, who as late as 2005 was claiming the war was still “winnable,” was among the most prominent of these. The compulsion of these types to cast themselves as saviors made them blind to what anyone with eyes could see: Iraq was never a promising case for intervention, as the real experts on the region were desperately trying to tell people. But facts, schmacts — what these guys were jonesing for was an occasion to assert their moral purity.

Finally, there’s the most powerful, if most deeply buried justification of all: Iraq provided an opportunity for dweebish, pasty, desk-bound dudes to indulge in macho daydreams. Throughout history, men have asserted masculine dominance through imperial adventures. While few liberal female pundits were pro-war, many centrist and liberal men were unable to resist the war’s siren call.

The most infamous example of  such macho knucklehead punditry is Thomas Friedman’s 2003 appearance on The Charlie Rose Show. The war, he said then, was “unquestionably worth doing” so we could tell the Iraqis to “suck on this.” Commentary so inane and puerile would sound outrageous coming out of the mouth of Friedman’s fictional look-alike Ron Burgundy; that an actual, Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times columnist said it simply boggles the mind.

By 2011, writing as the last American troops pulled out of Iraq, Friedman’s macho swagger had completely vanished. Was the war a wise choice? “My answer is twofold: ‘No’ and ‘Maybe, sort of, we’ll see.’ ” Weasel words don’t get any more weaselly. This week he said merely that America “paid too much” for the war.

Writing this week in The New Yorker, Packer admits “the war was a disaster for Iraq and the U.S. alike. It was conceived in deceit and born in hubris.” Note the passive voice — he takes no personal responsibility for helping to foment the media stampede into war.

For what it’s worth, Beinart eventually saw the war as a tragic mistake. But his repentance came far too late. But Berman clearly has learned nothing and has no regrets. He wrote in The New Republic this week that “the isolationist alternative” to the war was “fantastical nonsense.”

Sullivan eventually denounced the war as tragically wrong – but in the early days, when it actually mattered, he was among its most obnoxious cheerleaders. His buddy Hitchens died in 2011, without ever having second thoughts about Iraq.

As for Dan Savage, his position grew more ambivalent within six months after that highly belligerent column —  but he doesn’t seem to have written a word about Iraq since then.

The inability of these pundits to think straight may simply be a symptom of narcissism poisoning. For them, invasion and war were all about presenting their preferred face to the world — and to themselves. Henry James once wrote that a writer should be “one of the people on whom nothing is lost.” For these pundits, everything was lost — everything, that is, but their own overgrown egos.

http://www.nationalmemo.com/the-siren-song-of-war-why-pundits-beat-the-drums-for-iraq/2/

How the US Press Lost its Way

By Robert Parry, Consortium News,  May 21, 2012

http://www.alternet.org/story/155511/how_the_us_press_lost_its_way

Editor’s Note: From May 10 to May 12, journalist Robert Parry participated in a conference entitled, “From the Pentagon Papers to WikiLeaks: A Transatlantic Conversation on the Public’s Right to Know,” sponsored by the Heidelberg Center for American Studies in Heidelberg, Germany.

The conference consisted of media figures, legal scholars and freedom-of-information advocates – and included Neil Sheehan, the New York Times correspondent who got the Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg, and Barry Sussman, the Washington Post editor who oversaw the newspaper’s coverage of the Watergate scandal.

Parry spoke on the last day and offered the following observations:

Excerpt

…the glory days of American journalism in the 1970s…the more depressing question of why things then went so terribly wrong...with Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, it could be said that America’s checks and balances were alive and well. In newsrooms around Washington, there was reason to be proud.

More broadly, the United States had reason to be proud. The American constitutional Republic had shown its capacity for self-correction. Not only had brave individuals done their jobs as professionals – both in media and in government – but the nation’s institutions had worked.

The press, the Congress, the courts along with an informed public had demanded and gotten accountability and reform.

However, the success of democracy, this victory of the rule of law, was fragile. The struggle between dishonest pols and honest reporters – between an engaged people and behind-the-scenes powerbrokers – was far from over. Indeed, a new battle was just beginning...It was an unsettling time for the rich white men who held most of the levers of power...many were determined to fight back and some had experience in defusing and dismantling social movements around the world…gave Nixon’s allies a playbook for how to neutralize opponents and steer a population here at home...
happened over the past three-plus decadesultimately, they consolidated power; they changed laws in their favor; and – over the course of several decades – they made themselves even richer, indeed a lot richer, and that, in turn, has translated into even more power.
The likes of Richard Mellon Scaife and the Koch Brothers began investing in right-wing media, in right-wing think tanks, and in right-wing attack groups…Australian Rupert Murdoch showed up with millions more to buy up news media properties and give them a right-wing bent.

American neocons also emerged in this time frame. They became the intellectual shock troops for the Right’s counteroffensive…
1977…the end of that brief golden era of journalism. Jimmy Carter was president at the time. His administration was itself a reaction to the lies of the Vietnam War and Watergate…
Then, came Ronald Reagan. He was the perfect pitchman for this pushback, the ideal front man for rallying average Americans to betray their own interests…He also could sell nostalgia for a mythical better day, a time before all those jarring social changes of the 1960s and all those national humiliations of the 1970s.

After defeating Jimmy Carter in 1980, Reagan brought with him a gifted team of P.R. and ad men. And, partly through the connection of Reagan’s Vice President (and former CIA director) George H.W. Bush
Reagan also put one of Richard Nixon’s most cynical and unscrupulous allies, Bill Casey, in charge of CIA. Casey was a former intelligence officer from the OSS in World War II. He obsessed over the importance of deception and propaganda, what he viewed as key elements in defeating the Nazis and later containing the Communists. Casey understood that he who controlled the flow of information had a decisive advantage in any conflict...
Reagan administration …policy centered around scaring the American people about the Soviet menace and financing a massive U.S. military buildup to counter Moscow’s supposed bid for worldwide conquest.

Reagan also wanted to assist right-wing dictatorships in Central America as they put down uprisings by peasants, students, even priests and nuns…

But the problem wasn’t just getting control of the information inside the U.S. government. It also was to get control of the unruly Washington press corps

At the NSC, Raymond was put in charge of a special interagency task force for coordinating what was called “public diplomacy,” or how to sell U.S. policies around the world. But the office had a more secret and more sensitive domestic function. It was targeting members of Congress and the U.S. press corps – and through them, the American people…troublesome journalists were simply labeled “liberal,” a curse word in that period...
the Reagan team had a name for what they were up to in their domestic propaganda schemes. They called it “perception management.” The idea was that if you could manage how the American people perceived events abroad, you could not only insure their continued support of the foreign policy, but in making the people more compliant domestically. A frightened population is much easier to control...
the nation’s two preeminent papers… the New York Times and the Washington Post – largely moved to the sidelines when it came to Reagan-era scandals.
In the 1980s, the two influential papers became more solicitous to the Establishment than they were committed to the quality journalism that had contributed to the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s...

notion of controversializing reporters may sound silly, but it was a real strategy. By the mid-1980s, America’s Right had built up an imposing media infrastructure of its own with many newspapers and magazines…
the secret operations of Oliver North and to the first story – in June 1985 – about his role funneling off-the-books money to the contras the Iran-Contra Affair marked an opportunity to not only bring important facts to the American people but to revive that independent spirit of the U.S. press…There were too many forces supporting containment of the scandal and too few committed to its full explication.…From my sources, it was clear that a cover-up was underway to protect Reagan and his heir apparent Bush…. bureau chief…specifically ordered me not to even read the congressional Iran-Contra report when it came out in fall 1987. I was reassigned to work on the Gary Hart sex scandal...
the concept of “perception management” had carried the day in Washington, with remarkably little resistance from the Washington press corps...

Yes, the press corps could get fierce about Bill Clinton’s sex life or Al Gore’s supposed exaggerations. But when it came to national security secrets – especially with a Republican in the White House – the American people and the world were in much greater danger than they knew.
I turned to what was then the new media frontier, the Internet, and started what was the first investigative news Web site.

The site is called Consortiumnews.com…despite the Internet’s promise
The readership also is fragmented, making it impossible to have the impact that the New York Times had in the Pentagon Papers or the Washington Post had during Watergate.
Sadly, too, my fears about the dangers from a Washington press corps that had stopped asking the tough questions on issues of war and peace also proved prescient. After George W. Bush seized the White House — and especially after the 9/11 attacks — many journalists reverted back their earlier roles as stenographers to power. They also became cheerleaders for a misguided war in Iraq.

Indeed, you can track the arc of modern American journalism from its apex at the Pentagon Papers and Watergate curving downward to that center point of Iran-Contra before reaching the nadir of Bush’s war in Iraq…

Though everyone knew that Hussein had let the inspectors in and that it was Bush who had forced them to leave in March 2003, not a single reporter confronted Bush on this lie, which he repeated again and again right through his exit interviews in 2008...

In the era of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, the system had worked, with individuals and institutions upholding their constitutional duties to inform the public and punish corrupt officials. By the era of Iran-Contra, some individuals within the system continued to do their jobs, but the institutions had stopped working. Almost no one was held accountable and the cover-up was largely succeeded…

Even after George W. Bush took the United States to war in Iraq under false pretenses and even after he authorized the torture of detainees in the “war on terror,” no one involved in those decisions has faced any accountability at all.

When high-flying Wall Street bankers brought the world’s economy to its knees with risky gambles in 2008, Western governments used trillions of dollars in public moneys to bail the bankers out. But not one senior banker faced prosecution.

Upon taking office in 2009, President Obama saw little choice but to “look forward, not backward.” And, in all honesty, given the state of the American political/media process, it is hard to envision how he would have proceeded against what would have been a powerful phalanx of Establishment forces opposed to prosecuting Bush, Wall Street CEOs and their underlings.

…Not only has political power been concentrated in their hands, but the country’s wealth, too

…The absence of accountability has spread from government to the media itself. The makings are there for yet another catastrophe.

So, a sad but – I think – fair conclusion would be that at least for the time being, perception management has won out over truth. But the struggle over information and democracy has entered another new and unpredictable phase.

Full text

Much of this conference has focused on the glory days of American journalism in the 1970s. And rightly so. My talk, however, will deal with the more depressing question of why things then went so terribly wrong.

First, let me say it’s been an honor to be at this conference, especially with Neil Sheehan and Barry Sussman, who played such important roles exposing serious crimes of state in the early to mid-1970s. That was a time when U.S. journalism perhaps was at its best, far from perfect, but doing what the Founders had in mind when they afforded special protections to the American press.

In the 1970s, besides the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, there were other important press disclosures, like the My Lai massacre story and the CIA abuses — from Iran to Guatemala, from Cuba to Chile. For people around the world, American journalism was the gold standard.

Granted, that was never the full picture. There were shortcomings even in the 1970s. You also could argue that the U.S. news media’s performance then was exceptional mostly in contrast to its failures during the Cold War, when reporters tended to be stenographers to power, going along to get along, including early in the Vietnam War.

Even the much-admired Walter Cronkite flacked for the early U.S. bombing raids over Vietnam. But the press of the Seventies seemed to have learned lessons from its earlier gullibility. And, with Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, it could be said that America’s checks and balances were alive and well. In newsrooms around Washington, there was reason to be proud.

More broadly, the United States had reason to be proud. The American constitutional Republic had shown its capacity for self-correction. Not only had brave individuals done their jobs as professionals – both in media and in government – but the nation’s institutions had worked.

The press, the Congress, the courts along with an informed public had demanded and gotten accountability and reform. Not only were Nixon and many of his henchmen gone but Congress enacted legal changes designed to prevent the excessive influence of political donors, to open up government secrets to public scrutiny, to protect whistleblowers.

Again, things weren’t perfect and the nation faced many challenges in the 1970s, but one could say that democracy had been strengthened. As painful as the process was, the system had worked.

However, the success of democracy, this victory of the rule of law, was fragile. The struggle between dishonest pols and honest reporters – between an engaged people and behind-the-scenes powerbrokers – was far from over. Indeed, a new battle was just beginning.

After Nixon’s resignation, his embittered allies didn’t simply run up the white flag. They got to work ensuring that they would never experience “another Watergate.” And it wasn’t just a struggle that pitted the press against the pols.

You could say that much of the U.S. Establishment had been unnerved by the surge of democracy that had arisen to challenge longstanding traditions and injustices — the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, the environmental movement, the anti-war movement. There also were cultural upheavals, with the hippies and the drug culture. It was an unsettling time for the rich white men who held most of the levers of power.

And these folks were not about to cede power easily. They made adjustments, yes; they gave some ground. But many were determined to fight back and some had experience in defusing and dismantling social movements around the world. Indeed, the CIA’s decades of political and media manipulation in the Third World and even Europe gave Nixon’s allies a playbook for how to neutralize opponents and steer a population here at home.

So, they set out to do just that. America, which had often targeted other countries for manipulation, was about to get a taste of the same medicine. It may seem odd to explain what has happened over the past three-plus decades as the result of a well-orchestrated intelligence operation. But step back for a moment and take the name United States out of the equation. Think of it as “Nation X” or as, say, Chile in the 1970s.

Think how the CIA would target a country with the goal of shoring up a wealthy oligarchy. The Agency might begin by taking over influential media outlets or starting its own. It would identify useful friends and isolate troublesome enemies.

It would organize pro-oligarchy political groups. It would finance agit-prop specialists skilled at undermining and discrediting perceived enemies. If the project were successful, you would expect the oligarchy to consolidate its power, to get laws written in its favor. And eventually the winners would take a larger share of the nation’s wealth.

And what we saw in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the United States was something like the behavior of an embattled oligarchy. Nixon’s embittered allies and the Right behaved as if they were following a CIA script. They built fronts; they took over and opened new media outlets; they spread propaganda; they discredited people who got in the way; ultimately, they consolidated power; they changed laws in their favor; and – over the course of several decades – they made themselves even richer, indeed a lot richer, and that, in turn, has translated into even more power.

Getting Things Started

One key early figure in this operation was Nixon’s Treasury Secretary Bill Simon, a Wall Street investment banker who also ran the Olin Foundation. Simon used that perch to begin lining up right-wing foundations and getting them to pool their money. The likes of Richard Mellon Scaife and the Koch Brothers began investing in right-wing media, in right-wing think tanks, and in right-wing attack groups. Some of these attack groups were set up to go after troublesome reporters.

Ironically, given our comparison of this effort to CIA covert operations interfering in foreign countries, this time money flowed in from foreign sources to help fund propaganda inside the United States. The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, a South Korean cult leader who fancies himself the Messiah, invested tens of millions of dollars of his mysterious money in right-wing political and media organizations, including the Washington Times. Australian Rupert Murdoch showed up with millions more to buy up news media properties and give them a right-wing bent.

American neocons also emerged in this time frame. They became the intellectual shock troops for the Right’s counteroffensive. They also focused much of their attention on the media. In the late 1970s, for instance, neocon Marty Peretz took over the formerly liberal New Republic and turned it into the incubator that gave us right-wing columnists like Charles Krauthammer and Fred Barnes.

Arriving in DC

I had arrived in Washington in 1977, as a correspondent for the Associated Press. So I saw the end of that brief golden era of journalism. Jimmy Carter was president at the time. His administration was itself a reaction to the lies of the Vietnam War and Watergate. One of Carter’s campaign promises was never to lie to the American people. I recall AP ‘s White House correspondent, Michael Putzel, taking it on as a personal challenge to catch Carter in at least one lie. It sounds almost quaint today.

Then, came Ronald Reagan. He was the perfect pitchman for this pushback, the ideal front man for rallying average Americans to betray their own interests. A former movie star, Reagan could sell you anything, even Chesterfield cigarettes. He also could sell nostalgia for a mythical better day, a time before all those jarring social changes of the 1960s and all those national humiliations of the 1970s.

After defeating Jimmy Carter in 1980, Reagan brought with him a gifted team of P.R. and ad men. And, partly through the connection of Reagan’s Vice President (and former CIA director) George H.W. Bush, Reagan’s team also hooked up with CIA professionals, experts in the dark arts of political and media manipulation. The CIA’s Old Boys had suffered their own pain in the 1970s. Many got fired and their proud agency became the butt of national jokes.

Reagan also put one of Richard Nixon’s most cynical and unscrupulous allies, Bill Casey, in charge of CIA. Casey was a former intelligence officer from the OSS in World War II. He obsessed over the importance of deception and propaganda, what he viewed as key elements in defeating the Nazis and later containing the Communists. Casey understood that he who controlled the flow of information had a decisive advantage in any conflict.

Coordinated Assault

So, what we saw in the early to mid-1980s was an assault on the two key sources of information in Official Washington. One was inside the CIA itself, the analytical division. These fiercely independent CIA analysts had been a thorn in the side of the war machine for some time.

As Neil Sheehan (who wrote the Pentagon Papers stories for the New York Times) recalled in his keynote speech to the conference, it was a CIA analyst, Sam Adams, who had leaked evidence that the Vietnam War was unwinnable.

In the early 1980s, other CIA analysts were seeing signs that the Soviet Union was in rapid decline. But that was not the answer the Reagan administration wanted, since its policy centered around scaring the American people about the Soviet menace and financing a massive U.S. military buildup to counter Moscow’s supposed bid for worldwide conquest.

Reagan also wanted to assist right-wing dictatorships in Central America as they put down uprisings by peasants, students, even priests and nuns. Fear of an ever-expanding Soviet Union was to be the key motivator to separate the American people from their money and their common sense. They had to believe that a dangerous bear was on the loose and on the prowl in Central America.

In other words, the CIA analysts had to be brought into line. Rather than talk about the Soviet Union in decline and eager for accommodation with the West, the analysts had to get cracking, exaggerating the Soviet threat. And Casey had just the guy to do it, an ambitious, well-regarded young bureaucrat named Robert Gates.

Casey put Gates in charge of the analytical division and soon his reorganization of the directorate had sent some key analysts out to pasture and brought in a new more flexible cadre of careerists. They agreed that the Soviets were indeed 10 feet tall, the source of all evil in the world, and plotting to attack the U.S. through the soft underbelly of Texas.

The Troublesome Press Corps

But the problem wasn’t just getting control of the information inside the U.S. government. It also was to get control of the unruly Washington press corps. Casey had a hand in this, too. He moved one of his most experienced disinformation specialists, Walter Raymond Jr., from the CIA to the National Security Council.

The reason for Raymond’s shift was that the CIA was legally barred from influencing U.S. policy and politics. But the thinking was that if you externalized Raymond to the NSC then he wasn’t technically in the CIA. Casey used a similar subterfuge when he ran the contra war in Nicaragua through NSC official Oliver North — after Congress had banned the CIA and the Pentagon from giving the contras military support.

At the NSC, Raymond was put in charge of a special interagency task force for coordinating what was called “public diplomacy,” or how to sell U.S. policies around the world. But the office had a more secret and more sensitive domestic function. It was targeting members of Congress and the U.S. press corps – and through them, the American people.

Secret government documents that later emerged in the Iran-Contra scandal revealed that Raymond’s team worked aggressively and systematically to lobby news executives and turn them against their reporters when the reporters dug up information that clashed with Reagan’s propaganda, especially in hot spots like Central America. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

Sometimes the techniques were crude. For instance, a favorite tactic to discredit women reporters in Central America was to start whispering campaigns about them sleeping with Sandinistas. Other troublesome journalists were simply labeled “liberal,” a curse word in that period.

You might want to believe that the news executives stood up for their reporters. But that usually was not what happened.

The smear techniques proved remarkably successful, in part, because many of the news executives were already inclined to support Reagan’s muscular foreign policy and his resistance to the popular movements that had rocked America in the 1960s and 1970s, opening doors to minorities and women and lessening bigotry against gays.

Many senior editors shared a Cold War point-of-view and were unnerved by those political and cultural changes. At the AP, where I was, general manager Keith Fuller made no secret of his admiration for Reagan in having rescued America from the supposedly shameful days of the 1960s and 1970s. In one speech, Fuller talked about those days ripping at the “sinews” of American authority and saying that Americans wanted to get back to “the union of Adam and Eve,” not “the union of Adam and Bruce.”

Perception Management

Privately, the Reagan team had a name for what they were up to in their domestic propaganda schemes. They called it “perception management.” The idea was that if you could manage how the American people perceived events abroad, you could not only insure their continued support of the foreign policy, but in making the people more compliant domestically. A frightened population is much easier to control.

Thus, if you could manage the information flows inside the government and inside the Washington press corps, you could be more confident that there would be no more Vietnam-style protests. No more Pentagon Papers. No more My Lai massacre disclosures. No more Watergates.

Sure, there would be the occasional reporter who would fight a story through to publication but he or she could be neutralized. And most significantly, in the face of this well-organized pressure, the nation’s two preeminent papers where the likes of Neil Sheehan and Barry Sussman had starred – the New York Times and the Washington Post – largely moved to the sidelines when it came to Reagan-era scandals.

In the 1980s, the two influential papers became more solicitous to the Establishment than they were committed to the quality journalism that had contributed to the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s.

Investigating Reagan

All this became a factor in my journalism career. In late 1980, I had been put on the AP special assignment team and had begun investigating the secret side of the Reagan administration’s policies in Central America. My work wasn’t much appreciated by Keith Fuller and the AP brass, but I pressed on and broke a number of important stories about the CIA’s operations.

We won some journalism awards and that gave me a little protection. But it was always touch and go. When one of Reagan’s public diplomacy guys realized that I wasn’t going to back down, he looked me in the eye and said, in all seriousness, “we will controversialize you.”

That notion of controversializing reporters may sound silly, but it was a real strategy. By the mid-1980s, America’s Right had built up an imposing media infrastructure of its own with many newspapers and magazines.

The Right also controlled specialized attack groups that targeted journalists by name and were dedicated to making individual reporters the issue. Anti-journalism activists, the likes of Reed Irvine and Brent Bozell, coordinated their attacks with Reagan’s allies and operatives.

Still at AP we persisted in the Central America investigations. Essentially, I was trying to follow the advice of Watergate’s Deep Throat — to “follow the money.” Specifically, I wanted to know how the Nicaraguan contra rebels were getting funded after Congress cut off their financial support.

That work led me the secret operations of Oliver North and to the first story – in June 1985 – about his role funneling off-the-books money to the contras. Later, with my AP colleague Brian Barger, we discovered that many of the contra units had gotten involved in cocaine smuggling to help pay the bills.

On the Sidelines

Yet, as we pressed our investigation, we found ourselves remarkably alone, with the occasional exception of some left-of-center magazine or the Miami Herald. The AP editors took note that the Washington Post and the New York Times were staying mostly on the sidelines.

And, by summer 1986, Congress had buckled under Reagan’s pressure and agreed to resume contra funding. Barger quit the AP around that time and I was somewhat in the doghouse for having led the wire service off on this wild goose chase. However, then fate conspired to get the truth out.

On Oct. 5, 1986, on one of the last flights of Oliver North’s secret air force to dump weapons to the contras inside Nicaragua, a teen-age Sandinista draftee fired a SAM missile that brought down the cargo plane. One of the Americans onboard, Eugene Hasenfus, parachuted to safety and was captured. Suddenly our crazy AP stories didn’t seem so crazy after all.

The crashed plane – and later disclosures about Reagan’s arms-for-hostage deals with Iran (from a Beirut newspaper) – led to congressional investigations. And this brief vindication led me to a new job offer from Newsweek, which I took in early 1987.

In a way, the Iran-Contra Affair marked an opportunity to not only bring important facts to the American people but to revive that independent spirit of the U.S. press. And there were a few months of good reporting as the Big Papers scrambled to catch up.

Losing Momentum

But the dynamic had shifted too much. Or, you might say, the CIA-style political/media operation had advanced too far. There were too many forces supporting containment of the scandal and too few committed to its full explication.

In that sense, Iran-Contra became a test of the new paradigm: an aggressive right-wing apparatus doing damage control, determined to prevent another Watergate, up against a weakened force favoring accountability and truth.

At Newsweek – which was part of the Washington Post company at the time – there simply wasn’t the stomach for another Watergate anyway. Some senior editors even considered it a sign of their patriotism not to take part in the destruction of another Republican presidency.

So, there was little pushback when President Reagan and Vice President George Bush were largely spared and a few lower-ranking officials, like Oliver North, were thrown under the bus.

However, it wasn’t fine with me. From my sources, it was clear that a cover-up was underway to protect Reagan and his heir apparent Bush. And, I pushed through some stories at Newsweek along those lines. But the top brass, particularly executive editor Maynard Parker, had different ideas. He didn’t like Iran-Contra as a story and wanted it wrapped up quickly.

At one famous point in the hearings, the well-liked Secretary of State George Shultz declared that in Washington, “trust is the coin of the realm.” After that, he proceeded to lie though his teeth (a reality he later admitted to Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh).

But in 1987, Shultz’s assurance was good enough for my Newsweek editors who essentially told me that any further reporting about a cover-up was unwelcome. Newsweek bureau chief Evan Thomas specifically ordered me not to even read the congressional Iran-Contra report when it came out in fall 1987. I was reassigned to work on the Gary Hart sex scandal.

I hung on at Newsweek until 1990 and kept an eye on the Iran-Contra scandal as some of the secrets continued to dribble out. But my situation was untenable and I agreed to leave in June 1990. What was clear to me at that point was that the concept of “perception management” had carried the day in Washington, with remarkably little resistance from the Washington press corps.

Reverting to Form

While still living on the reputation of those golden days of the 1970s, Washington journalists had reverted to their pre-Vietnam, pre-Watergate inability to penetrate important government secrets in a significant way.

Yes, the press corps could get fierce about Bill Clinton’s sex life or Al Gore’s supposed exaggerations. But when it came to national security secrets – especially with a Republican in the White House – the American people and the world were in much greater danger than they knew.

For me, I did some documentaries for PBS Frontline and kept digging up material that shed new light on the dark secrets of the 1980s. But no one seemed interested. So, at the advice of my oldest son Sam, I turned to what was then the new media frontier, the Internet, and started what was the first investigative news Web site.

The site is called Consortiumnews.com, and – over the past 16-plus years – we have published hundreds of investigative news articles, including many from historical records that are now available but are of little interest to the major U.S. news outlets. Interestingly, a number of former CIA analysts also submit articles to us.

Yet, despite the Internet’s promise for circumventing the obstacles that I faced at AP and Newsweek, the Internet also has many shortcomings, including a shortage of good editing, too little fact-checking, too many crazy conspiracy theories, and perhaps most important of all, too little money.

The readership also is fragmented, making it impossible to have the impact that the New York Times had in the Pentagon Papers or the Washington Post had during Watergate.

Sadly, too, my fears about the dangers from a Washington press corps that had stopped asking the tough questions on issues of war and peace also proved prescient. After George W. Bush seized the White House — and especially after the 9/11 attacks — many journalists reverted back their earlier roles as stenographers to power. They also became cheerleaders for a misguided war in Iraq.

Indeed, you can track the arc of modern American journalism from its apex at the Pentagon Papers and Watergate curving downward to that center point of Iran-Contra before reaching the nadir of Bush’s war in Iraq.

Journalists found it hard even to challenge Bush when he was telling obvious lies. For instance, in June 2003, as the search for WMD came up empty, Bush began to tell reporters that he had no choice but to invade because Saddam Hussein had refused to let UN inspectors in.

Though everyone knew that Hussein had let the inspectors in and that it was Bush who had forced them to leave in March 2003, not a single reporter confronted Bush on this lie, which he repeated again and again right through his exit interviews in 2008.

The WikiLeaks Era

The failures of the U.S. news media over Iraq set the stage for what one might call the era of WikiLeaks. The absence of accountability and transparency over the last decade gave impetus to another evolution in how news can reach the people, by circumventing or coopting the traditional media.

In the era of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers, the system had worked, with individuals and institutions upholding their constitutional duties to inform the public and punish corrupt officials. By the era of Iran-Contra, some individuals within the system continued to do their jobs, but the institutions had stopped working. Almost no one was held accountable and the cover-up was largely succeeded.

By the era of WikiLeaks, people around the world had come to view the system and its functionaries as corrupt and untrustworthy. The tough-minded press corps of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate was a distant memory, replaced by what former CIA analyst Ray McGovern calls the “Fawning Corporate Media.”

Facing that reality, some individuals – usually from outside the traditional news media – have created new (and fragile) media institutions on the Internet, seeking transparency against government secrecy and fighting for at least some measure of accountability.

This has been a far-from-ideal solution. Web sites, even ones like WikiLeaks which gained worldwide notoriety, have been unable to demonstrate the staying power and the influence of news outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post. But the fact that millions of people now look to Internet sites (or cable-TV comedy shows) for information they can trust speaks volumes about how far the U.S. news media has slid over the past four decades.

So, if we were assessing how well the post-Watergate CIA-style covert operation worked, we’d have to conclude that it was remarkably successful. Even after George W. Bush took the United States to war in Iraq under false pretenses and even after he authorized the torture of detainees in the “war on terror,” no one involved in those decisions has faced any accountability at all.

When high-flying Wall Street bankers brought the world’s economy to its knees with risky gambles in 2008, Western governments used trillions of dollars in public moneys to bail the bankers out. But not one senior banker faced prosecution.

Upon taking office in 2009, President Obama saw little choice but to “look forward, not backward.” And, in all honesty, given the state of the American political/media process, it is hard to envision how he would have proceeded against what would have been a powerful phalanx of Establishment forces opposed to prosecuting Bush, Wall Street CEOs and their underlings.

Another measure of how the post-Watergate counteroffensive succeeded would be to note how very well America’s oligarchy had done financially in the past few decades. Not only has political power been concentrated in their hands, but the country’s wealth, too.

One can argue that there have been some bright spots in recent years. There has been some improvement in the U.S. press corps since its humiliation over the Iraq War. For instance, there was some good work done exposing the Bush administration’s torture policies and the CIA’s secret prisons. The emergence of independent Internet sites also has forced the mainstream media to compete for a share of credibility.

However, it’s also true that the U.S. press corps is making some of the same mistakes regarding the confrontation with Iran that were made over Iraq. And, many of the key journalists from 2003 remain in place in 2012. The absence of accountability has spread from government to the media itself. The makings are there for yet another catastrophe.

So, a sad but – I think – fair conclusion would be that at least for the time being, perception management has won out over truth. But the struggle over information and democracy has entered another new and unpredictable phase.

Robert Parry’s new book is Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.”

© 2012 Consortium News All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/155511/

The Virus of GOP Ignorance: Why Don’t Media Protect Us From the Lies Spewed in the Republican Primary?

The Nation [1] / By Eric Alterman [2] posted on Alternet.org, November 23, 2011

The following article first appeared on the Web site of the Nation [3]. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its email newsletters. [4] 

Excerpt

The Virus of GOP Ignorance: Why Don’t Media Protect Us From the Lies Spewed in the Republican Primary? By Eric Alterman, The Nation, November 23, 2011
It is a symbol of our current political predicament that anytime anyone tells the truth about anything in the contest for the Republican nomination, a new scandal erupts…

The respectful response of the media to the batshit-crazy statements one hears from the second-tier Republican candidates…is doing definite damage to this country…

Gingrich…Cain and Bachmann…Pretending that these people might be president, and hence deserve to be treated as if what they say is true, is not merely unjustified—given that the nominee is almost certain to be Romney—but akin to playing accessory to a kind of ongoing intellectually criminal activity.

In their new book, The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age, Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson explain the nature of intellectual insularity of so many in this world, in which “the teachings of dubiously credentialed leaders are favored over the word of secular experts in the arts and sciences.”…

The authors describe “what amounts to a ‘parallel culture,’” where people like alleged “historian” David Barton… abd psychologist James Dobson…proffer phony-baloney history lessons that distort almost everything professional historians know to be true about America’s founders.
Reporters representing reliable media outlets are supposed to defend the discourse from the virus of this ignorance. But for a variety of reasons they no longer do so. Part of the explanation can be found in the foolish willingness of so many reporters to treat Fox News, Drudge and various talk-radio hosts as respectable voices in the debate without regard to their motives or qualifications. A second, no less significant problem is the tendency of even the most sophisticated political reporters to treat the entire process as a contest between rival teams and ignore the substance of their arguments and policies, as if politics were simply a spectator sport…
Speaking of these Tea Party–inspired “candidates,” reformed right-winger David Frum writes that a “political movement that never took governing seriously was exploited by a succession of political entrepreneurs uninterested in governing—but all too interested in merchandising….these tea-party champions provide a ghoulish type of news entertainment each time they reveal that they know nothing about public affairs and have never attempted to learn.”

Full text

It is a symbol of our current political predicament that anytime anyone tells the truth about anything in the contest for the Republican nomination, a new scandal erupts. Newt Gingrich was briefly drummed out of the Republican Party for accurately terming Paul Ryan’s destructive Medicare plan a “radical” step toward “right-wing social engineering.” Jon Huntsman caused virtually the only stir of his all-but-invisible campaign when he admitted to what the Salt Lake Tribune straight-facedly called the “politically dicey belief that climate change is human-caused and needs to be addressed.” And most recently, CBS’s John Dickerson caused a contretemps when a stray e-mail revealed that Michele Bachmann was “not going to get many questions” in the debate the network was sponsoring because “she’s nearly off the charts.”

Being a member of the MSM in good standing, Dickerson was in all likelihood referring to Bachmann’s poll position rather than her approach to reality, and uncharacteristically for this race, they happen to be pretty much perfectly proportional. Bachmann has long been loony, but it has been her poll standing that has determined the treatment she has received from the press.

The respectful response of the media to the batshit-crazy statements one hears from the second-tier Republican candidates—candidates who occasionally rise to the first tier and then just as quickly sink down again, having never been serious contenders in the first place—is doing definite damage to this country. How many credulous Americans may have decided to shun the HPV vaccine for their daughters after hearing Bachmann’s nutty suggestion that it causes mental retardation? What of the insistence of that ignorant idiot Herman Cain that the “objective” purpose of Planned Parenthood’s founding was to “kill black babies before they came into the world. It’s planned genocide.” Now we’ve got a new front-runner, Gingrich, who holds, among other crazy notions, that the Obama administration’s “secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did,” when his diseased brain is not focusing on his moronic (and racist) contention that “only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together” the inspiration for Obama’s foreign policies.

Gingrich is the man of the hour, as amazing and ridiculous as that may be. Like Cain and Bachmann, he is a better bet for a rubber room somewhere than the Oval Office. But this fact—obvious to anyone who’s paying attention—does not stop various media machers from pretending long enough to fly his ideological freak flag for him for millions of Americans. When, writing in the Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize–winning pundit Kathleen Parker describes “the sudden surge of Gingrich, who, whatever his flaws and despite the weight of his considerable baggage, is no intellectual slouch,” and says he “may be just the ticket”—well, one is left speechless. Pretending that these people might be president, and hence deserve to be treated as if what they say is true, is not merely unjustified—given that the nominee is almost certain to be Romney—but akin to playing accessory to a kind of ongoing intellectually criminal activity.

In their new book, The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age, Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson explain the nature of intellectual insularity of so many in this world, in which “the teachings of dubiously credentialed leaders are favored over the word of secular experts in the arts and sciences.” Considering the example of evolution, they write, “Anointed leaders convince their followers to reject evolution by undermining the credibility of the scientific community. The resulting widespread distrust of the scientific community—often portrayed as atheistic, anti-religious, ideological—undermines the credibility of everything the scientific community says, including its conclusions about climate change, the dangers of fracking, the importance of ecosystems, the need for vaccinating children, and so on.”

The authors describe “what amounts to a ‘parallel culture,’” where people like alleged “historian” David Barton (whose formal education consists of a degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University) and psychologist James Dobson (tennis team captain at what is now Point Loma Nazarene University) proffer phony-baloney history lessons that distort almost everything professional historians know to be true about America’s founders.

Reporters representing reliable media outlets are supposed to defend the discourse from the virus of this ignorance. But for a variety of reasons they no longer do so. Part of the explanation can be found in the foolish willingness of so many reporters to treat Fox News, Drudge and various talk-radio hosts as respectable voices in the debate without regard to their motives or qualifications. A second, no less significant problem is the tendency of even the most sophisticated political reporters to treat the entire process as a contest between rival teams and ignore the substance of their arguments and policies, as if politics were simply a spectator sport with fewer (and perhaps crazier) fans than the Mets or the Red Sox.

Speaking of these Tea Party–inspired “candidates,” reformed right-winger David Frum writes that a “political movement that never took governing seriously was exploited by a succession of political entrepreneurs uninterested in governing—but all too interested in merchandising. Much as viewers tune in to American Idol to laugh at the inept, borderline dysfunctional early auditions, these tea-party champions provide a ghoulish type of news entertainment each time they reveal that they know nothing about public affairs and have never attempted to learn.”


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/story/153198/the_virus_of_gop_ignorance%3A_why_don%27t_media_protect_us_from_the_lies_spewed_in_the_republican_primary

Links:
[1] http://www.thenation.com
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/eric-alterman
[3] http://www.thenation.com/
[4] http://www.thenation.com/nation-email-subscription-center
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/romney-0
[6] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bachmann-0
[7] http://www.alternet.org/tags/newt
[8] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Are Conservatives Rethinking Fox News’ Endless Outrage Model?

Media Matters for America [1] / By Eric Boehlert [2] published on Alternet.org, January 24, 2013

Excerpt

…predictable voices within the right-wing media, marshaled as always by Fox News, who freaked out over Obama’s inauguration addresses…Being outraged, and especially being outraged about made-up claims…has become a signature of the far right movement over the last four years. It’s also blossomed into Fox News’ entire business model. Fox News makes a pile of profits each year overreacting to imagined Obama slights. The question is, has the Fox model of the phony Outrage Machine damaged the conservative movement? Is it standing in the way of Republican progress and electoral success? …The amount of time and energy conservatives devote to utterly trivial bouts of phony outrage now seem to consume the movement, or at least the media portion of it…Of course, it was Rush Limbaugh who built a radio empire by mastering the we’re-all-under-siege-by-liberals shtick that conservatives love to wallow in…. it’s exhausting. And it doesn’t work. (Note the Republican Party’s 26 percent approval rating…

Full text

Responding to President Barack Obama’s inauguration address this week, Joel Pollak, an editor at Breitbart.com, wrote [3] about the president’s allegedly dastardly attack on the Supreme Court that unfolded during his address to the nation on Monday.

Pollak excitedly claimed that by mentioning his support for gay marriage in his inauguration speech, Obama was trying to bully Supreme Court Justices who were in attendance that day. By stating publically his belief, Obama was attempting to intimidate (to “attack”) the judicial branch of the government because the Supreme Court has before it a pending case about gay marriage and the president’s comment meant he was instructing the Court on how it “ought to rule.”

Alongside Pollak at the Breitbart site, Ben Shapiro, typing excitedly [4], wrote that Obama, via his address, had “attempted nothing less than an assault on the timeless notion of liberty itself.” (That sounds bad.) Shapiro separately attacked [5] Obama for the “brutal name calling” he used in his inauguration speech, even though Shapiro couldn’t locate any insults hurled by the president in his address.

Shapiro and Pollak were just two predictable voices within the right-wing media, marshaled as always by Fox News, who freaked out over Obama’s inauguration addresses. Going into Monday, readers, viewers and listeners weren’t sure exactly what conservative voices were going to be outraged about, but it was foregone conclusion, since the day featured Obama, that they’d find something trivial [6] to Get Very Upset About. (Answer: He was too partisan [7]!)

Being outraged, and especially being outraged about made-up claims, like Obama’s imaginary “name-calling” on Monday, has become a signature of the far right movement over the last four years. It’s also blossomed into Fox News’ entire business model. Fox News makes a pile of profits each year overreacting to imagined Obama slights.

The question is, has the Fox model of the phony Outrage Machine damaged the conservative movement? Is it standing in the way of Republican progress and electoral success?

Writing at his site RedState this week, conservative CNN commentator Erick Erickson beseeched [8] fellow partisans to drop the outrage shtick and to move into more substantial areas of debate. “Conservatives, frankly, have become purveyors of outrage instead of preachers for a cause,” he wrote. “Who the hell wants to listen to conservatives whining and moaning all the time about the outrage du jour?”

Erickson’s point is dead on. The amount of time and energy conservatives devote to utterly trivial bouts of phony outrage now seem to consume the movement, or at least the media portion of it. But it’s unlikely Fox News and its legion of copycat whiners in the press will heed Erickson’s wise advice. They’re too busy super-serving a radical niche and making money off the faux Outrage Machine.

It’s impossible to catalog every phony freakout that’s been staged during Obama’s time in office. It’s hard to even keep track of the ones that have been hatched [9] over the last week or so. The laundry list is annoyingly long.

Remember how Fox contributor Michelle Malkin led the hysterical [10] cries of exploitation [11] when Obama invited children who had written him about gun violence to attend a public White House event about gun violence? In Malkin’s eyes, only monsters incorporate kids in politics. (By the way, here’s Malkin’s column [12] this week where she incorporates kids into politics.)

And then there’s been the obsessive whining about how supposedly mean and nasty Obama is, a hollow cry that’s proven to be a right-wing evergreen. The Wall Street Journal editorial page complained [13] how “Obama demonizes anyone who disagrees with him,” while columnist Peggy Noonan whined [14] that Obama pushes “partisan rancor.” (That is, when Noonan wasn’t mocking Obama as the “Irritating Older Brother Who Got 750 On His SATs And Thinks He’s Einstein.”)  OnCBS This Morning, Newt Gingrich bellyached [15] about how the president’s “bullying” House Republicans, Karl Rove warned [16] darkly about the “unremitting war” Obama will soon launch on his foes, and Sean Hannitywarned [17] states might start seceding from the union.

As for Obama’s hopeful inauguration address, Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell went on Fox andcompared [18] it to the Civil War, claiming it was designed to rip the nation apart. Online, the address was angrilydenounced [19] as Orwellian “dreck.”

Most of the overwrought claims stem from the fact that Obama disagrees with Republicans and has said so publicly. The hysterical cry of partisan bullying just represents phony outrage being ginned up for feel-good attention among Obama critics.

Of course, it was Rush Limbaugh who built a radio empire by mastering the we’re-all-under-siege-by-liberals shtick that conservatives love to wallow in. But whereas Limbaugh’s plaintive, defenseless wail of the oppressed once represented one note in the right-wing media chorus, in recent years as it’s been adopted ad nauseaum online, on the AM dial and on Fox News, it’s to the point where that whiny, abrasive howl has become the only note in the conservative chorus.

The utter sameness of the fake outrage programming (i.e. We can’t believe Obama did/said that) now defines most of the conservative media message in America. Concocting things to be outraged about [20] and oppressed by (Hitler [21]!) is no longer a by-product of the conservative press, it’s become the entire purpose of the conservative press.

But it’s exhausting. And it doesn’t work. (Note the Republican Party’s 26 percent approval rating [22].) That, plus the fact that the perpetual outrage approach is now entering its second four-year cycle with Obama. If politically, the tactic didn’t work the first time, why is it being adopted again and reprised for the second term?

The bad news for Erickson is not only is the conservative movement purposefully trapped inside the phony Outrage Machine, but the machine’s stuck on a replay loop.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/media/are-conservatives-rethinking-fox-news-endless-outrage-model

Links:
[1] http://mediamatters.org/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/eric-boehlert
[3] http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/01/22/Obama-Bullies-Supreme-Court-For-the-Third-Time
[4] http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/01/21/Second-Inaugural-Address-Obama-Declares-War-on-Liberty-As-We-Know-It
[5] http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2013/01/22/Obama-inaugural-insults-name-calling
[6] http://michellemalkin.com/2013/01/21/inaugural-lunch-menu/
[7] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323940004578256060684444322.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
[8] http://www.redstate.com/2013/01/20/the-loyal-opposition/
[9] http://www.salon.com/2013/01/16/right_wing_press_happily_allows_itself_to_be_trolled_by_made_up_video_game/
[10] http://mediamatters.org/video/2013/01/17/foxs-malkin-claims-it-was-child-abuse-to-have-c/192298
[11] http://mediamatters.org/video/2013/01/18/rush-limbaugh-defends-human-shields-comment-the/192324
[12] http://michellemalkin.com/2013/01/21/mlks-unfinished-legacy-and-the-fight-for-school-choice/
[13] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324235104578242121666374116.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_AboveLEFTTop
[14] http://online.wsj.com/article/declarations.html
[15] http://www.politico.com/story/2013/01/newt-obama-bullying-house-gop-86206.html#ixzz2I3OSArxk
[16] http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/01/20/prepare-for-long-nasty-four-years/
[17] http://mediamatters.org/video/2013/01/11/hannity-says-states-may-secede-if-radicalized-a/192198
[18] http://newsbusters.org/blogs/ken-shepherd/2013/01/23/bozell-hannity-review-medias-over-top-praise-obama-second-inaugural
[19] http://patterico.com/2013/01/21/obama-social-security-and-medicare-are-what-make-us-strong/
[20] http://mediamatters.org/blog/2013/01/14/the-return-of-right-wing-pro-gun-insurrectionis/192216
[21] http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2013/01/fox-news-hitler-guns.php
[22] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/17/republican-party-approval-rating_n_2499934.html
[23] http://www.alternet.org/tags/fox
[24] http://www.alternet.org/tags/breitbart-0
[25] http://www.alternet.org/tags/right-wing
[26] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Our Dumb Democracy: Why the Untied States of Stupid Still Reins Supreem

by John Atcheson, January 22, 2013 by Common Dreams

Excerpt

…we are still faced with ultra-rightwing terrorists threatening to hold the US economy hostage to a set of demands that the majority of Americans disagree with. These are the same loonies who deny global warming…Want to know how our political discourse got so mind-numbingly stupid? Well, we can start with this little fact:  The press is so enamored with “balance” that they’ll treat even the most ignorant, shallow, fatuous movement – a [Tea Party] movement composed of the selfish, the self-obsessed, the angry, the bigoted, and the blissfully ignorant – as if it were a serious movement….At one time this kind of foolishness would have been laughed off the national stage. Now it dominates one of our major political parties, thanks to the media’s embrace of balance and false equivalence and the Democrats’ silent complicity…today’s political discourse is so thoroughly littered with “conventional wisdom” without an iota of wisdom...our media has replaced truth, accuracy and reality with balance, false equivalency, and stenography and Democrats have been silent co-conspirators. Why?  Because the press is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporations, and too many Democrats feed at the corporate trough. And that’s not funny, but it is stupid.

Full text

Astoundingly, Mr. Obama – the supreme pragmatist and compromiser – gave an inaugural address that was as strong a defense of progressivism as we have seen in thirty years. Yet it will take more than words to make a difference.  As the echoes of his speech fade, we are still faced with ultra-rightwing terrorists threatening to hold the US economy hostage to a set of demands that the majority of Americans disagree with.

These are the same loonies who deny global warming; the same ones who set up a museum showing prehistoric humans walking with dinosaurs; the same ones who think the answer to gun violence is more guns; the same ones who voted against relief for victims of Sandy … the same ones who want to shove ultrasound instruments into women’s vaginas and tell people who they can and cannot marry while simultaneously shouting to the rooftops about freedom and values.

Yeah. Their freedoms, their beliefs and their values, please.  All others step to the back of the bus, or consult Leviticus.  You know, that font of ancient wisdom that tells us when and how to stone our neighbor’s daughter.

Want to know how our political discourse got so mind-numbingly stupid? 

Well, we can start with this little fact:  The press is so enamored with “balance” that they’ll treat even the most ignorant, shallow, fatuous movement – a movement composed of the selfish, the self-obsessed, the angry, the bigoted, and the blissfully ignorant – as if it were a serious movement. 

Consider the following signs seen at Tea Party protests.

There’s the now infamous: “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

Or this gem:  “Don’t steal from Medicare to Support Socialized Medicine.”

Or this: “Get a Brain.  Morans [sic].”

Or this:  “Obama Half Breed Muslin” – or maybe cotton or linen?

Or this: “We came unarmed.  This time.”

Or this:  “Stop Illeagles.”  Yup, gotta hate it when eagles get ill.

There’s absolutely no shortage of these tributes to stupidity – the list could go on and on.

At one time this kind of foolishness would have been laughed off the national stage.

Now it dominates one of our major political parties, thanks to the media’s embrace of balance and false equivalence and the Democrats’ silent complicity.

It might be time for a whole new set of “imponderables”.

Imponderables are questions or statements that by their nature expose something that doesn’t make sense. At their best, they’re mildly amusing and instructive. For example, why does Hawaii have an Interstate Highway system? or Why isn’t “phonetic” spelled the way it sounds? or Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?

Yes, today’s political discourse is so thoroughly littered with “conventional wisdom” without an iota of wisdom, that there should be a new category – political imponderables. Here are a few examples:

National “Defense: If the US was spending more than the next 16 countries combined on defense prior to 911, why did we need to create the Department of Homeland Security to defend ourselves?

Shouldn’t the Defense Department be called the Department of Offense?

Why isn’t every citizen asking why we have tens of thousands of troops scattered around the world to fight the cold war, nearly 25 years after it ended.

If Citizens United is about Free Speech, why does it cost so much? Republicans and plutocrats are set to spend far more than $1 billion on the presidential race.

Why did Obama call the Patriot Act shoddy and dangerous then essentially continue Bush’s assault on the Bill of Rights?

Climate Change: Why did candidate Obama call climate change an epochal man-made threat to the planet, while President Obama virtually ignored it his entire first term.

Why do states which are experiencing the worst climate-related disasters elect Republican governors and congressional representatives who deny its existence?

Deficit Duplicity: Why are Republicans once again threatening to shut down government over extending the debt ceiling, after voting for the Ryan’s first budget, which required multiple and astronomical increases in the debt ceiling until the year 2062?

If Republicans really hate deficits, why did the last three Republican Presidents run up more than 66% of the nation’s cumulative deficit  – more than all other Presidents combined?  And why didn’t rank and file Republicans utter a peep against it when they did?

Deregulation, Trickle Down Redux, or Fool me once, shame on you … If thirty years of policies featuring deregulation, tax cuts for the rich and starve the beast policies resulted in the economic crash in 2008 – the worst since the Great Depression, which was also preceded by laissez-faire policies – how can more of the same be the solution?

Small Government that Isn’t: If Republicans like small government, why does it always grow  when they’re in office?

Why does the press mindlessly repeat conservative fear mongers’ debt warnings even as the deficit is disappearing?

There’s no shortage of political imponderables.  Given the absurdity of our political process and the media’s malfeasance, our national well of stupidity is deep and wide.

The answer to all these questions is simple – these absurdities exist, because our media has replaced truth, accuracy and reality with balance, false equivalency, and stenography and Democrats have been silent co-conspirators.

Why?  Because the press is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporations, and too many Democrats feed at the corporate trough.

And that’s not funny, but it is stupid.

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/01/22

 


What Watchdog? How the Financial Press Has Failed the American Public

AlterNet [1] / By Laura Gottesdiener [2]  January 9, 2013  |

…2013 is already shaping up to be another year of government-backed wins for Wall Street. As the New York Times’ Gretchen Morgenson wrote, “If you were hoping that things might be different in 2013 — you know, that bankers would be held responsible for bad behavior or that the government might actually assist troubled homeowners — you can forget it.…”…The lack of outrage or investigation by mainstream media comes in stark contrast to the public response to the settlement announcements….So if readers are hungering for more information and outrage, why is the mainstream press so soft on Wall Street? Is it the last three decades’ rampant media consolidation, which has put 90 percent of the nation’s media in the hands of only six major corporations? [5] (That’s down from 50 companies in 1983.) Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Dean Starkman, whose 2009 Columbia Journalism Review article “Power Problem [6]outlined just how badly the financial press failed in the lead-up to 2006 [was asked]  what’s the role of the press–if it’s doing its job? [ and said] “To me, journalism is particularly important because it is the oxygen of democracy. At its best, it is the main thing that is capable of explaining complex problems to a mass audience.That’s its most critical role–and its most difficult task.”…

Full text

From revelations about this week’s hasty, multibillion-dollar bank settlement [3]s to AIG’s brief threat to sue the federal government for its own $128-billion bailout (which the company contends wasn’t as generous as other bailouts), 2013 is already shaping up to be another year of government-backed wins for Wall Street.

As the New York Times’ Gretchen Morgenson wrote, “If you were hoping that things might be different in 2013 — you know, that bankers would be held responsible for bad behavior or that the government might actually assist troubled homeowners — you can forget it. A settlement reportedly in the works with big banks will soon end a review into foreclosure [4] abuses, and it means more of the same: no accountability for financial institutions and little help for borrowers.”

This type of clear condemnation of Wall Street and its lack of accountability remains a rare voice in mainstream media, with few willing to join Morgenson and Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi on their crusades against banking abuses.

The lack of outrage or investigation by mainstream media comes in stark contrast to the public response to the settlement announcements. The comments sections of settlement-related articles are bursting with scathing comments–including demands for both criminal prosecution for bankers and more investigative journalism in the U.S. In an LA Times poll, 94 percent [3] of respondents said that this latest settlement agreement lacked appropriate transparency.

So if readers are hungering for more information and outrage, why is the mainstream press so soft on Wall Street? Is it the last three decades’ rampant media consolidation, which has put 90 percent of the nation’s media in the hands of only six major corporations? [5] (That’s down from 50 companies in 1983.) What about the increasing magazine and newspaper ad revenue coming directly from Wall Street? Or perhaps it’s even due to a redefinition of what constititues financial journalism?

Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Dean Starkman, whose 2009 Columbia Journalism Review article “Power Problem [6]outlined just how badly the financial press failed in the lead-up to 2006, has some ideas.

Laura Gottesdiener: Thanks, Dean, for taking the time to talk. To start simple: In your mind, what’s the role of the press–if it’s doing its job?

Dean Starkman: To me, journalism is particularly important because it is the oxygen of democracy. At its best, it is the main thing that is capable of explaining complex problems to a mass audience.That’s its most critical role–and its most difficult task.

Looking back over the 20th century, the great stories are the ones that pull the curtain back on things that are truly complex, baffling and dangerous problems. I’m thinking particularly of an iconic story that journalists stand up and salute: the Standard Oil series from 1902-1904. This knowledge allowed the public to participate in the question of trusts, and the rest is literally history. The government filed an anti-trust case, and Standard Oil was broken up in 1911. That’s the gold standard, the benchmark for journalism.

LG: So how does this relate to today’s financial press?

DS: The financial system is almost deliberately complex; there’s that famous quote by the head of Morgan Stanley, when he said something along the lines of, “We create things that people don’t understand on purpose.”

To me the business press is put on earth to help the public understand complex problems, and certainly the mortgage frenzy was one of them. And that’s where I have a bone to pick with the financial press.

LG:That’s a nice way of putting it. In your piece you call the lead-up to 2006 a “general system failure” for the media, and wrote that the post-crash reporting gave the “short shrift to the breathtaking corruption that overran the mortgage business.”You also diagnosed the financial press today with Stockholm Syndrome.

So what’s going on?

DS: It’s not fully appreciated that there’s been a big power shift between the big media and the institutions that it covers in the last 20 years. When you think of the 1990s, finance was a really powerful industry, but so was media. In the mid-1990s, Dow Jones, which publishes the Wall Street Journal, was almost the same size of Morgan Stanley. Now Morgan Stanley is literally 30 times larger than the New York Times company.

This power shift is almost an intangible thing, but you cannot discount it as part of the story of the rising sense of empowerment and entitlement on Wall Street and an increasing sense of deference from the business press. Also, you can’t deny that the collapse of financial regulation in the early Bush administration plays a role. The press relies, not to a fully appreciated degree, on a financial regulatory system because that generates a lot of paperwork.

LG:Still, sometimes it feels like mainstream media doesn’t only fail to investigate Wall Street’s crimes–they actually helped facilitate them. Is the business press itself an accomplice?

DS: The biggest problem during this period was this narrowing definition of what constitutes a business story. There are fights over what journalism is, and you can divide journalism into two great competing schools. One is the access school, and the other is the accountability school.

In the lead-up to 2006, the accountability school was increasingly marginalized and in retreat, while the access school–doing the profile and getting the scoop on deals–became much more prominent. And so the big missed story–the accountability story–was the radicalization of the financial system, particularly in mortgage lending and discussions of subprime and predatory lending.

Meanwhile, when I went back and reread some of the coverage by really good reporters from really good magazines, the coverage of Wall Street, even if it was well intended, actually helped to exacerbate the crisis and add flames to the frenzy. Things like positive profiles of Wall Street executives made things worse and made the world worse. Unwittingly maybe, but so what?

LG:That reminds me of Vanity Fair’s glowing profile [7] of Jamie Dimon recently.

So what about today? Even now that the radicalization of Wall Street is obvious, it still seems like mainstream media oscillates between blaming borrowers and banks.

DS: In another debate between schools of journalism, right now it’s a jump ball between the structuralists and the behavioralists. In the case of the mortgage crisis, behavioralists argue that people lost their ability to understand and manage debt, while structuralists believe that people don’t change, that markets change–and that the market changed.

Of course, structuralists are right and behavioralists really don’t have a leg to stand on. The structuralists aren’t only right, all the evidence is on their side.

But the cultural argument of behavioralists still has a lot of saliency, and for lazy reporters it’s easy because all you have to do is make the assertion about human nature, and that’s the end of the discussion.

LG:So, what’s the effect of having the behavioral-based articles in mass media?

DS: What it really does is that it shifts the gaze entirely off the institutions that these papers are supposed to be covering and onto an amorphous public that can’t fight back. Put it this way: If you blame Goldman Sachs, you will hear from Goldman Sachs. But if you blame the public, no one is going to call you. No one is there to stick up for the borrowers.

LG:It’s well documented now that minorities were widely discriminated against by the mortgage industry, and continue to be abused by banks’ failures to upkeep real estate-owned property, just to name one current problem. But if mainstream media articles are using the behavioralist theory, how does this type of blame get allocated?

The behavioralists theory does align with racist attitudes. For example: the mortgage crisis was one of these huge generational setbacks for the black community, and that’s one of those things that was essentially dropped by the press. It’s very poorly understood and documented, and it’s one of the most under-covered aspects of this story.

LG: I understand you’re working on a new book that’s going to take the financial press to task. Can you give us a sneak preview?

DS: Sure. It’s calledThe Watchdog That Didn’t Bark, and it’s forthcoming from Columbia University Press. The book is going to be an argument for watchdog journalism and accountability reporting.

There’s a long tradition of accountability reporting in American business media, and I hope this book will be a revelation to people who think the financial press only reports on investor news, because it’s actually done things that are quite radical in the past. Starting in the early 20th century, we had an emerging business press covering the market, but it had a completely different gaze. It used this form to expose the monopolies and to set the country on the road to reform.

So, I’ll be talking about that particular line of journalism, the origins of business news and the things that impair business news today. In the past the financial press has taken on quite a robust watchdog function.

LG:Last question: It doesn’t seem like financial reporting today is all that much better than it was in the lead-up to the crisis. But what about the future?

DS: There’s no reason to think it’s going to get dramatically worse from here. What we went through was crazy. It was a near-death experience.


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/corporate-accountability-and-workplace/what-watchdog-how-financial-press-has-failed-american-public

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/laura-gottesdiener
[3] http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-mo-banks-settlement-20130106,0,6497379.story
[4] http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/f/foreclosures/index.html?inline=nyt-classifier
[5] http://www.businessinsider.com/these-6-corporations-control-90-of-the-media-in-america-2012-6
[6] http://www.cjr.org/cover_story/power_problem.php?page=all
[7] http://www.vanityfair.com/business/2012/11/jamie-dimon-tom-brady-hang-in-there
[8] http://www.alternet.org/tags/banking-0
[9] http://www.alternet.org/tags/watchdog
[10] http://www.alternet.org/tags/mainstream-media
[11] http://www.alternet.org/tags/bailout-0
[12] http://www.alternet.org/tags/settlement
[13] http://www.alternet.org/tags/wall-street
[14] http://www.alternet.org/tags/crimes-0
[15] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Group Challenges Corporate Power, Government Secrecy With Crowd-Funded Transparency

Andrea Germanos, December 17, 2012 by Common Dreams

‘We all have a stake in the Freedom of the Press Foundation’r

A new organization launched Monday aims to fight government and corporate corruption by crowd-funding transparency journalism, and believes “that not only does WikiLeaks need to survive, it must be joined by an array of others like it.”

The financial embargo of WikiLeaks catalyzed this new group, Freedom of the Press Foundation, whose co-founders include whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow, and Rainey Reitman, founder of Bradley Manning Support Network.

Lawyer and Guardian blogger Glenn Greenwald, who is on the board of directors of the foundation, writes:

The primary impetus for the formation of this group was to block the US government from ever again being able to attack and suffocate an independent journalistic enterprise the way it did with WikiLeaks. Government pressure and the eager compliance of large financial corporations (such as Visa, Master Card, Bank of America, etc.) has – by design – made it extremely difficult for anyone to donate to WikiLeaks, while many people are simply afraid to directly support the group (for reasons I explained here).

“Financial transactions are speech. The financial embargo was censorship – not just of WikiLeaks but of all of us who wished to donate to WikiLeaks,” stated Barlow, who is also board member.

Explaining how the funding will work, Greenwald continues:

We intend to raise funds ourselves and then distribute it to the beneficiaries we name. The first group of beneficiaries includes WikiLeaks. We can circumvent those extra-legal, totally inappropriate blocks that have been imposed on the group. We can enable people to support WikiLeaks without donating directly to it by donating to this new organization that will then support a group of deserving independent journalism outlets, one of which is WikiLeaks. In sum, we will render impotent the government’s efforts to use its coercive pressure over corporations to suffocate not only WikiLeaks but any other group it may similarly target in the future.

The first group of beneficiaries, Ellsberg and EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow write, are “the still-beleaguered WikiLeaks,” as well as “MuckRock News, which streamlines Freedom of Information Act requests so that ordinary people can file them easily, The National Security Archive, which has been prying open the black boxes of classified information for years, and The UpTake, a combative Midwestern collective of citizen journalists focused on bringing transparency to state and local governments.”

“So much of what impacts us happens locally and it’s where information is most likely to be hidden or overlooked,” said one of The UpTake’s founders, Executive Producer Michael McIntee.

Explaining their effort to “crowd-fund the right to know,” Ellsberg and Barlow write that “secure conduits for anonymously-provided documents that the citizens whose lives and liberties they impact have a natural right to see… are needed more than ever.”  They continue:

In 2011, the U.S. Government classified over 92 million documents, four times more than were classified under George Bush in 2008. Moreover, President Obama’s Justice Department has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all the previous administrations combined.

When a government becomes invisible, it becomes unaccountable. To expose its lies, errors, and illegal acts is not treason, it is a moral responsibility. Leaks become the lifeblood of the Republic.

Urging support for the group, Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight center for digital media entrepreneurship at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite school of journalism and mass communication, writes that it is not just journalists who should care about the organization; “we all have a stake in the Freedom of the Press Foundation:”

The obvious question raised by the Freedom of the Press Foundation initiative is whether the payment systems will shut this off, too. If they do, they’ll be punishing not just WikiLeaks, but the entire journalism ecosystem – and ultimately, your right to get the information you want and need. Will they extend the bad faith they showed two years ago?

That I even have to ask this question is evidence of the power of these centralized mega-corporations. They have far too much power, like too many other telecommunications companies and a number of others in the information and communications industries on which we rely more and more for our daily activities.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation can be a first step away from the edge of a cliff. But it needs to be recognized and used by as many people as possible, as fast as possible. And journalists, in particular, need to offer their support in every way. This is ultimately about their future, whether they recognize it or not. But it’s more fundamentally about all of us.

In addition to Ellsberg, Barlow, Greenwald and Reitman, the board of directors includes Josh Stearns of Free Press, actor and activist John Cusack, documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, founding partner and co-editor of Boing Boing Xeni Jardin and writer, activist, and lawyer Trevor Timm.

You can follow Freedom of the Press Foundation on Twitter and its website.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/12/17-3

In Public ‘Conversation’ on Guns, a Rhetorical Shift

By NATE SILVER, December 14, 2012

Friday’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., has already touched off a heated political debate. Opponents of stricter regulation on gun ownership have accused their adversaries of politicizing a tragedy. Advocates of more sweeping gun control measures have argued that the Connecticut shootings are a demonstration that laxer gun laws can have dire consequences. Let me sidestep the debate to pose a different question: How often are Americans talking about public policy toward guns? And what language are they using to frame their arguments?

There is, of course, no way to monitor the conversations that take place in living rooms around the country. But we can measure the frequency with which phrases related to gun policy are used by the news media.

If the news coverage is any guide, there has been a change of tone in recent years in the public conversation about guns. The two-word phrase “gun control” is being used considerably less often than it was 10 or 20 years ago. But the phrase “gun rights” is being used more often. And the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is being invoked more frequently in the discussion.

In the chart below, I’ve tracked the number of news articles that used the terms “gun control,” “gun rights,” “gun violence” and “Second Amendment” in American newspapers, according to the database NewsLibrary.com. (Because the number of articles in the database changes over time, the figures are normalized to reflect the overall volume of database coverage in any given year, with the numbers representing how often the gun-related phrases were used per 1,000 articles on any subject.)

The usage of all four phrases, but particularly the term “gun control,” has been subject to sharp but temporary shifts based on news events.

In 1993 and 1994, when Congress was debating a ban on assault weapons, the phrase “gun control” was used about three times per 1,000 news articles. Use of the term was even higher after the mass shootings in Columbine, Colo., peaking at 3.7 instances per 1,000 articles in 1999. It reached a low point in 2010, when the term “gun control” was used 0.3 times per 1,000 articles — less than one-tenth as often as in the year after the Columbine shootings.

Averaging the frequency of usage over a five-year period reduces the effect of these news-driven fluctuations and reveals a reasonably clear long-term trend. In recent years, the term “gun control” has been used only about half as often as it was in the 1980s and about one-quarter as often as in the 1990s and early 2000s.

But other phrases related to gun policy have become more common in news coverage.

The term “Second Amendment” was rarely employed in the 1980s, but it has become much more commonplace since then. (Since 2008, the term “Second Amendment” has been used more often than “gun control.”) A related phrase, “gun rights,” has also come into more common usage.

The term “gun violence” peaked in 1999, the year of the Columbine shootings. But it has also been on a long-term increase. Since 2010, it has been used 0.33 times per 1,000 news articles — far more often than during the 1980s, when it was invoked 0.02 times per 1,000 articles.

The change in rhetoric may reflect the increasing polarization in the debate over gun policy. “Gun control,” a relatively neutral term, has been used less and less often. But more politically charged phrases, like “gun violence” and “gun rights,” have become more common. Those who advocate greater restrictions on gun ownership may have determined that their most persuasive argument is to talk about the consequences of increased access to guns — as opposed to the weedy debate about what rights the Second Amendment may or may not convey to gun owners. For opponents of stricter gun laws, the debate has increasingly become one about Constitutional protections. Certainly, many opponents of gun control measures also argue that efforts to restrict gun ownership could backfire in various ways or will otherwise fail to reduce violence. But broadly speaking, they would prefer that the debate be about what they see as Constitutional rights, rather than the utilitarian consequences of gun control measures.

Their strategy may have been working. The polling evidence suggests that the public has gone from tending to back stricter gun control policies to a more ambiguous position in recent years. There may be some voters who think that the Constitution provides broad latitude to own and carry guns – even if the consequences can sometimes be tragic.

http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/14/in-public-conversation-on-guns-a-rhetorical-shift/?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121215

How the Mainstream Press Bungled the Single Biggest Story of the 2012 Campaign

by Dan Froomkin, Huffington Post, 12/07/2012 – Contributing editor, Nieman Reports

Mini-excerpt

… cov­er­age in 2012 was a par­tic­u­larly calami­tous fail­ure, almost entirely miss­ing the sin­gle biggest story of the race: Namely, the rad­i­cal right-wing, off-the-rails lurch of the Repub­li­can Party, both in terms of its agenda and its rela­tion­ship to the truth… Democ­rats were hardly inno­cent but…the Repub­li­can cam­paign was just far more over the top.”…[Mann and Orn­stein] dra­mat­i­cally rejected the stric­tures of false equiv­a­lency that bind so much of the capital’s media…The 2012 cam­paign …exposed how fab­u­lists and liars can exploit the elite media’s fear of being seen as tak­ing sides… if the story that you’re telling repeat­edly is that they’re all…equally to blame — then you’re really doing a dis­ser­vice to vot­ers, and not doing what jour­nal­ism is sup­posed to do…

Excerpt

…according to longtime political observers Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, campaign coverage in 2012 was a particularly calamitous failure, almost entirely missing the single biggest story of the race: Namely, the radical right-wing, off-the-rails lurch of the Republican Party, both in terms of its agenda and its relationship to the truth.

Mann and Ornstein are two longtime centrist Washington fixtures who earlier this year dramatically rejected the strictures of false equivalency that bind so much of the capital’s media elite and publicly concluded that GOP leaders have become “ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

The 2012 campaign …also exposed how fabulists and liars can exploit the elite media’s fear of being seen as taking sides…

“I can’t recall a campaign where I’ve seen more lying going on — and it wasn’t symmetric,” said Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who’s been tracking Congress with Mann since 1978. Democrats were hardly innocent, he said, “but it seemed pretty clear to me that the Republican campaign was just far more over the top.”

Lies from Republicans generally and standardbearer Mitt Romney in particular weren’t limited to the occasional TV ads, either; the party’s most central campaign principles — that federal spending doesn’t create jobs, that reducing taxes on the rich could create jobs and lower the deficit — willfully disregarded the truth.

“It’s the great unreported big story of American politics,” Ornstein said.

“If voters are going to be able to hold accountable political figures, they’ve got to know what’s going on,” Ornstein said. “And if the story that you’re telling repeatedly is that they’re all to blame — they’re all equally to blame — then you’re really doing a disservice to voters, and not doing what journalism is supposed to do.”

Ornstein said the media’s failure led him to conclude: “If you want to use a strategy of ‘I’m just going to lie all the time’, when you have the false equivalence meme adopted by a mainstream press and the other side lies a quarter of the time, you get away with it.”…

Full text

Post-mortems of contemporary election coverage typically include regrets about horserace journalism, he-said-she-said stenography, and the lack of enlightening stories about the issues.

But according to longtime political observers Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, campaign coverage in 2012 was a particularly calamitous failure, almost entirely missing the single biggest story of the race: Namely, the radical right-wing, off-the-rails lurch of the Republican Party, both in terms of its agenda and its relationship to the truth.

Mann and Ornstein are two longtime centrist Washington fixtures who earlier this year dramatically rejected the strictures of false equivalency that bind so much of the capital’s media elite and publicly concluded that GOP leaders have become “ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

The 2012 campaign further proved their point, they both said in recent interviews. It also exposed how fabulists and liars can exploit the elite media’s fear of being seen as taking sides.

“The mainstream press really has such a difficult time trying to cope with asymmetry between the two parties’ agendas and connections to facts and truth,” said Mann, who has spent nearly three decades as a congressional scholar at the centrist Brookings Institution.

“I saw some journalists struggling to avoid the trap of balance and I knew they were struggling with it — and with their editors,” said Mann. “But in general, I think overall it was a pretty disappointing performance.”

“I can’t recall a campaign where I’ve seen more lying going on — and it wasn’t symmetric,” said Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute who’s been tracking Congress with Mann since 1978. Democrats were hardly innocent, he said, “but it seemed pretty clear to me that the Republican campaign was just far more over the top.”

Lies from Republicans generally and standardbearer Mitt Romney in particular weren’t limited to the occasional TV ads, either; the party’s most central campaign principles — that federal spending doesn’t create jobs, that reducing taxes on the rich could create jobs and lower the deficit — willfully disregarded the truth.

“It’s the great unreported big story of American politics,” Ornstein said.

“If voters are going to be able to hold accountable political figures, they’ve got to know what’s going on,” Ornstein said. “And if the story that you’re telling repeatedly is that they’re all to blame — they’re all equally to blame — then you’re really doing a disservice to voters, and not doing what journalism is supposed to do.”

Ornstein said the media’s failure led him to conclude: “If you want to use a strategy of ‘I’m just going to lie all the time’, when you have the false equivalence meme adopted by a mainstream press and the other side lies a quarter of the time, you get away with it.”

The Apostasy

Ornstein and Mann’s big coming out took place in late April, when the Washington Post‘s Outlook section published their essay Admit it. The Republicans are worse, adapted from their book It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, which went on sale a few days later.

Political journalists had no doubt heard similar arguments many times before, mostly from left wing bloggers. But this time the charge was coming from two of the most consistent purveyors of conventional wisdom in town, bipartisan to a fault.

And they were pretty harsh in their critique of the media. “Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views,” they wrote in the Post. “Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?”

Initially, at least, Mann and Ornstein weren’t completely ignored. “We had really good reporters call us and say: ‘You’re absolutely right’,” Mann said. “They told us they used this as the basis for conversations in the newsroom.”

But those conversations went nowhere, Mann said.

“Their editors and producers, who felt they were looking out for the economic wellbeing of their news organizations, were also concerned about their professional standing and vulnerability to charges of partisan bias,” Mann said.

So most reporters just kept on with business as usual.

“They’re so timid,” Mann said.

Some reporters did better than others, Ornstein said, particularly crediting Jackie Calmes of the New York Times and David Rogers of Politico among a few others. “They grew a little bit more straightforward in what they do, and showed you can be a good, diligent unbiased reporter, report the facts, put it in context, and yet show what’s really going on,” he said.

Most reporters, however — including many widely admired for their intelligence and aggressive reporting — simply refused to blame one side more than the other. Mann said he was struck in conversations with journalists by how influenced they were by the heavily funded movement to promote a bipartisan consensus around deficit reduction and austerity. Such a bipartisan consensus doesn’t actually exist, Mann pointed out. But if you believe it does, than you can blame both parties for failing to reach it.

“The Peterson world, I think, has given journalists the material to keep doing what they’re doing,” Mann said of the vast network of think tanks and other influential Washington groups underwritten at least in part by Wall Street billionaire Peter Peterson.

Peterson’s vast spending has given rise to an environment of contempt among the Washington elites for anyone who doesn’t believe the government is dangerously overextended. And by that reckoning, the Democrats are therefore more out of touch with reality than Republicans, who at least pay the concept ample lip service.

How Fact-Checking Made Things Worse

Ornstein and Mann’s views on journalistic failure have not been widely shared by mainstream media critics, who have instead focused on the fact that the press, in its enthusiasm to see the presidential race decided by a nose, ignored solid polling data to the contrary and called it wrong until the very end.

To the extent that the issue of widespread prevarication has come up at all, many media critics identified the rise of fact-checking as the big new trend of the 2012 cycle.

But Mann and Ornstein said that in practice, the fact-checkers may have made things worse rather than better.

“We had these little flurries of fact-checking — which I found not worthless, but not a substitute for coherent, serious reporting — and most of the time it just got stuck in the back of a news organization’s output and there was no cost to a candidate of ignoring it,” Mann said.

And then there was this terrible irony: “Fact checkers almost seemed obliged to show some balance in their fact checking.”

“There was some damn good stuff done, and stuff that really did hold Romney to account,” Ornstein said. But no fact-checker intent on “appearing to be utterly straightforward, independent, and without an axe to grind, is going to actually do the job of saying that we’re going to cover 20 fact checks on one side, to three on the other.”

So, Ornstein concluded: “If you looked at where the scales should have been, and where they were, they were weighted. And they weren’t weighted for ideological bias. They were weighted to avoid being charged with ideological bias.”

It’s hard to exaggerate just how popular Mann and Ornstein were with the press before their apostasy. They were quite possibly the two most quotable men in Washington. They were the media cocktail party circuit’s most reliable walking talking points.

And now they are virtual pariahs.

“It’s awkward. I can no longer be a source in a news story in the Wall Street Journal or the Times or the Post because people now thing I’ve made the case for the Democrats and therefore I’ll have to be balanced with a Republican,” Mann said.

Neither Mann nor Ornstein have been guests on any of the main Sunday public affairs shows since their book came out. Nor has anyone else on those shows talked about the concerns they raised.

Ornstein is particularly infuriated that none of the supposed reader advocates at major newspapers have raised the issues they brought up. “What the fuck is an ombudsman doing if he’s not writing about this?” he asked.

Their phones are still ringing, they say — but not from inside the Beltway. “We’ve gotten a tremendous amount of attention, but much of that is due to the Internet and our original piece going viral,” Mann said. They were also featured on NPR.

There have been countless requests for speaking engagements. “We’re just selling a shitload of books,” said Mann. “There’ve been page-one stories in countries around the world.”

Domestically, however, Mann and Ornstein said they refuse to be “balanced” on TV shows by Republicans — because they are not anti Republican. The reason they wanted the press to expose what was really happening, they said, was to give voters a chance to respond in an appropriate way.

“The argument we’re making is that our politics will never really get better until the Republican Party gets back into the game, instead of playing a new one,” Mann said. “We want a strong, conservative Republican Party — but one with some connection with reality.”

Their critique came not out of ideology, they said, but out of their background as devoted process junkies and honest analysts, who finally realized that their vision of collegial governance wasn’t possible any more, and it was clear why.

Both see the rise of Tea Party influence on the GOP as a major turning point. For Mann, the moment of reckoning came in the summer of 2011. “What flipped me over was the debt ceiling hostage-taking,” Mann said. It was clear then that the Republicans would “do or say anything” to hurt Obama, even if it was overtly bad for the country and false to core Republican values.

“That and getting older. What do I give a shit about access,” he said.

“The fact is that one of the parties stopped being a conventional conservative party,” Mann said. “My own view is that what needed to happen is somehow the public had to take a two-by-four to the Republicans’ heads, knock them back to their senses, and allow conservative pragmatic voices to emerge,” he said.

Democrats won soundly in 2012 of course, so the two-by-four was administered. But because the media obfuscated what was going on, the message was not entirely clear — and certainly not to the Republican leadership.

Their Message Going Forward

Mann and Ornstein don’t get invited to talk to the leaders of news organizations anymore.

But if they were, again, here is what Mann would say: “First of all, I’d sympathize. I’d say I understand that you have the responsibility to use professional norms of accuracy and fairness and not let your own personal feelings get in the way.”

But, he would add: “You all have missed an incredibly important story in our politics that’s been developing over a period of time. You’ll slip it in here and there, you’ll bury it, but you really don’t confront it.”

Ornstein said his message would be this: “I understand your concerns about advertisers. I understand your concerns about being labeled as biased. But what are you there for? What’s the whole notion of a free press for if you’re not going to report without fear or favor and you’re not going to report what your reporters, after doing their due diligence, see as the truth?

“And if you don’t do that, then you can expect I think a growing drumbeat of criticism that you’re failing in your fundamental responsibility.

“Your job is to report the truth. And sometimes there are two sides to a story. Sometimes there are ten sides to a story. Sometimes there’s only one.

“Somebody has got to make an assessment of whether the two sides are being equally careless with their facts, or equally deliberate with their lies.”

Dan Froomkin is in the process of launching a new accountability journalism project. He is contributing editor of Nieman Reports, and the former senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post. He wrote the White House Watch column for the Washington Post website from 2004 to 2009, and was editor of the site from 2000 to 2003. Dan welcomes your email and can be reached at froomkin@gmail.com.

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