A double-take on media & democracy

What's New? ||| Media Criticism ||| Media Reform ||| Activism ||| Write Media/Congress
Discussion Center ||| News Examiner ||| Special Editions ||| Books ||| Links ||| Contents ||| Intro

What's New?

Campaign Reform & Media Reform -- Intertwined
BureaucRATS --- In Corporations and Government
Ashcroft: Preacher As Sheriff


Special Project: The Voting Life
How we became voters: How we formed our political choices.
An invitation for submissions.

Supreme Court d'etat (Roundup) Times on Whitewater & Wen Ho Lee
The Political Amazon Who Was Lying? Gore? Media? Bush?
"The Sound Bite Society" Election: Press Performance
John Stossel: Right-Wing Patsy? Brill's Content Runs on Empty
Core Riddles of Media Reform Media: No Help to Democracy?
Mad Cow -- Update Gays in Mil: Missing Story
Editor's Note Additional Newsletter Items

Election 2000 & Beyond: Dare we call it a legalistic coup d'etat?
We're not alone . . .

Round-Up on Now that Bush II is in place, let's review the players, like Colin Powell. Poke around in Consortium archives for background material on William Rehnquist. The law has a long arm, indeed.

Mollie Dickenson has a piece on Sandra Day O'Conner, one of the two swing voter in the 5-4 Supreme Court legalistic snow job.

Analysis of Supreme Court Ruling by experts.

The Worst Republican Outrages (Village Voice): "Almost unnoticed, GOP demanded and got a hand recount in New Mexico after opposing one for weeks in Florida." So it IS okay to do hand recounts, from from table to table, discerning the intent of the voter.

Inauguration Protests and the "Inaugur-Auction" webesite.

Coup 2K by John Dee.

Gene Lyons says: Legitimacy eludes Bush: He'll just have to earn it.

"Triple Crown Dream," deep research on how the right wing elite, especially CIA-connected, crowned George W. From the "Lick Bush" website by someone who calls himself Ryan Oblivion. We take it with a grain of salt until we know more about the author but the picture painted by the available facts is quite startling.


"Tricky Dixie," the mainstreaming of the Confederate ideology, by David Greenberg, on Slate Jan. 23, 2001. "In the 2000 election, Bush and McCain both shrank from calling for the Confederate flag's retirement during the South Carolina primary for fear of offending GOP voters. And in November, 2000 the nation's electoral map showed us to be as divided along North-South lines as at any time since the Civil War."

Bush Family Values, a Mother Jones classic from 1992 and still as astute, timely and relevant as ever.

Cheney's Shadow Foreign Policy Team, by Seth Gitell, Feb 3, 2001, Boston Phoenix.


Press Performance

The daily briefing of the Project for Excellence in Journalism is always good to bookmark for periodic review, such as coverage of the Florida vote count. Also see PEJ's The Last Lap, a study of how the press covered the final stages of the 2000 Presidential campaign. PEJ is associated with the Committee for Concerned Journalists and is quite frank in its self-assessment.


Times Coverage of Whitewater & Wen Ho Lee

Whitewater Ends with a Whimper by Joe Conason (Salon).

AR's view is as follows: The news (9-21-00) on the final Whitewater report ending a "6-year investigation" alluded to investigation only by special and independent counsels. But the New York should have owned up to its own role in foisting this absurd "scandal" on the American public, beginning 8 years ago with Jeff Gerth's misleading story in March 1992 that started the whole thing.

Gerth's lead paragraph in that first article was a classic blunder in journalism, implying that Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas at the time he became a partner in the Whitewater land deal with James McDougal, who was at the time, Gerth implied, the owner of an S&L.; In fact, Clinton would not be governor for another 5 years, and McDougal was not yet the owner of just about anything. The idea, apparently, was to link the Clintons with the nationwide S & L disaster -- and it worked. Gene Lyons cracked this thing open in 1994 in his book "Fools for Scandal," a must-read.

We now know, 8 years and $52 million later, that the insinuations of criminal wrongdoing in Gerth's articles and subsequent Times editorials were never true, despite their "questions raised" being echoed across the nation by news outlets who follow the lead of the newspaper of record.

Watch out, Jeff Gerth also initiated the Wen Ho Lee story for the Times, too.
See Did NY Times Railroad the Wen Ho Lee story?

Oops! Times Admits Flaws (AP story)

Here's the Times' Actual Admission, 9-26-00

And Another Editorial "Explanation" from the Times Two Days Later!



The Hunting of the President: Gene Lyons and Joe Conason deliver the full history of the attempt to scandalize Bill and Hillary Clinton to stop the Clinton era from ever happening and once it happened to try to destroy it. From the beginnings in Arkansas with Clinton enemies including Jim Johnson and other intolerant types, to Bush campaign manager Lee Atwater's fear of a Clinton Presidency, through the NY Times' incompetent news coverage of the Whitewater case.


The Political Amazon

One of the best minds on the Internet has a great website to prowl through, especially on the subject of the Gospelizing of the legal system. The Political Amazon.

Who Was Lying? Gore? Media? Bush?

"What was made up here was a false depiction of candidate Al Gore as a liar, when in reality, the major news media had grossly failed to report his words accurately, then refused to write the corrective stories that would exonerate him." Mollie Dickenson, a veteran investigative reporter, puts the lie to major media's distortion of Gore's words.

Also see:

The Daily Howler: Several pieces over the last year, setting straight the misrepresented stories about Gore's "lies."

Gore Media Coverage -- Playing Hardball by Jane Hall, Columbia Journalism Review.

Good Politics, Bad Journalism by Eric Boehlert on

Gore vs. the Media by Robert Parry, on

The Original School Story Gore relied on.

Bush Gets a Free Pass by Joe Conason.

Oh yes, and don't miss Journalism as Celebrity Politics by Neal Gabler. The media don't want policy debates, they want human interest. So the presidential campaign has been reduced to a tabloid narrative. (10-22-00)



The Sound Bite Society: Television and the American Mind, by Jeffrey Scheuer.

Excerpt: "The argument of The Sound Bite Society has two hinged parts . . . The first is that television . . . acts as a simplifying lens, filtering out complex ideas in favor of blunt emotional messages that appeal to the self and to narrower moral-political impulses. The second is that . . . simplification promotes and epitomizes political conservatism . . . Simplicity and complexity are the basic polar organizing principles of the political spectrum. They explain not only our ideological differences (and why they are ultimately irreconcilable) but also why television is a potent vehicle of conservative messages -- and a brake on liberalism; why television's increasing dominance in our political culture has been a central factor in the resurgence of American conservatism."

The Television Thing, an essay by Jeffrey Scheuer.


Media Monopoly Index (MMI) shows how a handful of corporations dominate the commercial media system. As the commercial media fill more and more public space, fewer and fewer people own the commercial media. Media Space researchers Robert McChesney and Edward Herman organized the Index.



John Stossel: Conservative Propagandist? How many times over how many years must we ask this question about this guy? Salon, this time, uncovers Stossel's affiliation with an educational series funded by the right-wing Olin Foundation. Etc.

Also see 8-10-00 update: FAIR's Report on Stossel: Are His Distortions Catching Up with Him? and an older piece on Salon: Journalists As Corporate Shills






Brill's Content, Dec-Jan 2000 issue, "Big Media" section

To be fair, Rifka Rosenwein weighed in with a pretty good intro, whereupon an ambitious section on media mergers careened straight downhill. "Big media experts" castigated corporate synergy, only to be compromised by BC publisher Steve Brill's synergistic alliance with new partners CBS, NBC and Viacom to launch The experts said little (except for usual suspect Ralph Nader) about the conflict of interest of media corporations between stockholder demands and quality news. Finally, a lame set of "media diets of average Americans" left us hungry for some serious analysis of this serious problem and ideas for action to change the situation. But no. This "survival guide for the big media age" would lead quickly to extinction of the species or at least of critical thinking. Brill's Content always seemed too good to be true; here we saw evidence of glibness that disappointed to the core. But don't throw it out, just do with BC what BC would have you do with other media: be skeptical and demand better.



CORE RIDDLES OF MEDIA REFORM: (1) Can existing commercial news systems be reformed to preserve integrity of news for our democratic use to keep ourselves free and safe? Can government agencies or Congress be effective in reform, regulation or break-up of media mergers without crossing the Constitution's line on press freedom? How can political parties reform media corporations who contribute big bucks to their campaigns? (2) Can the dual nature of modern media -- journalism wrapped in high-pressure commerce -- be unraveled somewhat to better serve the public? Or has news become too profitable a sales product? (3) If news gathering and dissemination are to be uncoupled (or loosened) from stockholders' expectations, and parallel systems created, how will such alternative parallel systems be structured (financed and run) so as to preserve journalistic standards, independence from government, and a less biased slant than most "alternative media," while avoiding being run by government?

We need ideas on how to fund and run new parallel alternative news systems and/or what should be done about the old news systems.



Profiteering from Democracy: Broadcasters Fight Campaign Reform, on Citing AR's favorite democratic principle, the Founders granted freedom to the press to provide information to the people so we could keep ourselves free from tyrrany. But most of the modern broadcast media are no help at all to the people. "The dirty little secret is that from 1996 through 1998, the National Association of Broadcasters and five media outlets -- ABC, CBS, A.H. Belo Corporation, Meredith Corporation, and Cox Enterprises -- cumulatively spent nearly $11 million to defeat a dozen campaign finance bills mandating free airtime," writes Charles Lewis, director of the Center for Public Integrity. "At the same time," Lewis notes, "news coverage of political candidates is becoming minuscule." Media scholar Robert McChesney wrote in his book, Rich Media, Poor Democracy, "Broadcasters have little incentive to cover candidates, because it is in their interest to force them to purchase time to publicize their campaigns."

AR's Editorial Position: We believe that campaign finance reform is the most important issue in today's politics, including associated media reform that breaks the Catch-22 cycle by
1) unlinking electoral money from media corporations and 2) unlinking media money from political parties. We, as the people -- in all parties -- have to keep a fire lit under Congress to make sure it happens.


MAD COW: Special Edition Updated

Mad Cow Disease in the Human Food Chain: Deaths of humans who ate infected meat rise to 75 in Britain (as of July 2000). Doesn't seem like a big number but there's a 10-30 year incubation period before showing up in symptoms. Some experts worry that this small number may balloon to hundreds of thousands in the next few years. "Food disparagement" laws led to the lawsuit against Oprah Winfrey, opening -- and closing -- a gigantic media opportunity to educate the American public about the disease. Average Americans still haven't a clue. The political trade issue underscoring mad cow disease is tearing up the European Union and BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) remains a problem to be watched carefully, over there and in U.S., where some preventative measures by the FDA have been instituted in the meat industry, chiefly regarding feed, but more protections are needed. The conflict of interest is extraordinary in this large meat-eating society.

By mid-2000 the once-silent story of mad cow suddenly exploded into a media event, with several articles and reviews beginning with a July 2000 report that the Dept of Agriculture had siezed a couple of herds of sheep in Vermont with a suspected find of scrapie (a form of TSE or "mad cow" disease) in four of the animals, imported from Belgium; they had been quarantined precisely as a precaution against this possibility. The sheep ranchers are making a fuss along the lines of "government interference"; but this is one area where government action is necessary to protect the food chain.

For a clear explanation of mad cow disease and its threat to humans, see Atlantic Monthly, Sept 1998, 3-part series by investigative journalist Ellen Ruppel Shell:

Richard Rhodes' Deadly Feasts.

Go to Special Edition Subsite on this page for latest news.


GMIL: Major Missing Story

The RAND Study on Gays in the Military (known as GMIL, commissioned by the Pentagon) said gays can be successfully integrated into the armed forces. Yep, you read that right. Trouble is, most average Americans never read it. This now ancient but still totally pertinent 1993 study has remained unpublicized since "don't ask, don't tell" was rammed through. In Dec 1999 both Hillary and the Prez came out and criticized "don't ask" as a failure. Here's an abstract of the report and how to order it ($16) so you have REAL information in the renewed debate.

The RAND report was also discussed in an op ed piece by one of the researchers on the study. See What's Germane in a Soldier's Behavior.




EDITOR'S NOTE: Sept 2000: Even though we're on archive status (with updates), there are things you can do to make a difference about the media problem.

For example, you may think it's hopeless but it's actually powerful to write (more than once) to Congress, FCC, FTC, Justice Department and White House -- to object to media mergers such as AOL /Time Warner and all other mega-mergers that reduce the free flow of information. Object to FCC relaxation of its regulations, such as restrictions on ownership of print and broadcast outlets by the same corporation in same city (applicable in the LA Times/The Tribune Corp merger). Don't let politicians and would-be media experts get away with arguing it's OK to let traditional news companies clump together into one blob, "because we always have Web news," as if that were a real alternative, which is like saying "Let the people eat the Internet." Internet media (AOL) is already gobbling up old media (Time Warner), so it's no longer so distinct. Besides, the Internet is not available to all people and, even if it were, journalism is not well enough developed on the Internet or its standards well enough protected to safeguard quality information for all.

Call for campaign finance reform that unlinks electoral money from media, unlinks media money from political parties, and requires significant chunks of free air time for candidates.

Constantly question major media's conflict of interest with the profit motive and the weakening of journalistic standards. Some think big corporate media's single-minded loyalty to stockholders is George Orwell's nightmare. They forget that what scared Orwell was government, not the "private sector." Yet the private sector now presents as much if not more of a threat to our freedom as government. It's subtler, there are no guns. Big corporations are swallowing up small businesses. And our effectiveness to protest is compromised by our need for jobs. Within the corporate media environment there are fewer free ideas and dissenting opinions not consistent with the advertising or with the 2-party system and its campaign finance machine that interacts with major media to keep the whole system going like clockwork.

William Kennard, current head of the FCC, always speaks of "consumers" instead of citizens or even the public or the people. He asserts his interest in protecting consumer costs but in the mostly-monopolistic cable TV world, most consumers are suckered rate-wise -- and news-wise -- no matter how you cut it. Kennard and his commissioners are utterly ineffectual in correcting this problem. Kennard is folding to media and telecom interests: he's trying to look good to minorities and the general public by featuring "fairness" in access and pricing. These are worthy issues but by hesitating to speak up against corporate news conglomeration, he's losing the battle for real fairness: the fair and free flow of information in a supposedly free democracy.

Kennard gives us low-power local radio frequencies "to counteract the trend to media mergers." But this is such a lame trade-off: already these local frequencies are being gobbled up by religious groups, pro-gun groups, anti-choice groups, extremist groups and anyone aggressive enough to grab them, actually making media matters worse by polluting the local airwaves with a high proportion of opinionated junk. Anyone, except Kennard and the FCC commissioners, could have predicted this would happen. The low-frequency plan does nothing to improve the free flow of quality news information. It simply individualizes the already rampant subjectivity in "news."

Sure, news corps have a right to make a reasonable profit to keep their businesses going -- but 20% to 30% return expectations are outrageous. The Constitution gave the press unique freedom of action, not to be cash cows but to protect our liberty as members of a free and informed democracy. Let's take better care of the latter half of this transaction.

Jane Prettyman, Editor, American Review


A double-take on media and democracy

What's New? ||| Media Criticism ||| Media Reform ||| Activism ||| Write Media/Congress
Discussion Center ||| News Examiner ||| Special Editions ||| Books ||| Links ||| Contents ||| Intro