Dan Rather has the solution. “American journalism has lost its spine and we need a spine transplant.” As a journalist who grew up to “The Camera Never Blinks,” I’ve always rooted for Rather, yet as his 77 years have slowed him a bit, he still presents bigger than life, polite as ever, even shaking hands with reporters before they turn that non-blinking camera on him.
Yet it was somewhat surprising when Rather refused to answer my question at the National Conference for Media Reform. Surprising since a lot of the discussion that preceded him centered on the media’s complicity and silence to the Bush Administration’s build up to the Iraq War.
Question: “Everyone knew that George Bush was AWOL from National Guard duty, yet you still pursued (the story) and your one decision basically put a freeze on the press being critical of the Bush Administration. Why did you continue to pursue a story that conventional wisdom already knew the answer to?”
Rather response: “You’re entitled to ask a question. I respect the question. I hope you respect I’m here to talk about free press, the quality of journalism, the integrity of journalism and some other time if you want to talk about the lawsuit I’m engaged, perhaps I can do it but right now, again, with great respect since you asked the question, this is not the time to answer that question.”
Surprising response since the movement for media reform has everything to do with transparency and to learn from the media mistakes of the past.
So what will it take for true media reform? Spending the first two days at the National Conference has left me hopeful but a bit mixed up. Inspired by Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake.com who says we should be somewhere between activism and journalism. Or Rather’s comments for a call for “patriotic journalism.” Or the line between “advocacy and purpose that takes us across political boundaries” as Jefferson Morley of the Center for Independent Media put it.
The public was left in the dark for the most important issue of our time. Mainstream media worked with the Pentagon and allowed its voices to infiltrate the airwaves, reciting 4500 times the pre-war lies on all the major networks and even NPR. CNN’s Eason
I'm inspired by Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, who shows how mainstream is ignoring the huge story of the “new economy of wartime.” Homeland Security is a $200 billion global industry that needs to be examined on par with the dot com economy. And many of the corporate media owners have a stake in this new economy, as evidenced by General Electric logos on the side of airport screening machines.
And it’s not just the war where mainstream media has let go of its responsibility. Larry Lessing of Stanford Law points to global warming. In the 1990’s, when 0% of the people disagreed with the facts of global warming, 53% of media articles questioned the findings because of “junk science” funded by the energy lobby. “In all these 2+2=4 questions, the government gets them wrong.”
Lobbyists have doubled since 2000 as Bush’s chief lobbyist says “People in industry are willing to invest money because they see opportunities here.” Yet the media all but ignores this.
The mainstream is noticeably absent fro this conference on media reform. Is it because they are embarrassed by how they let down Americans and the world? Hardly. “
Sonali Kolhatkar, author of Bleeding Afghanistan even says NPR shortchanged the public when it canned an interview with an Afghani woman “because her accent was too thick.” Klein said it best: “I just want to say we cannot single out one network. The leading newspapers and the leading networks of our time, they all failed us.” And with this, I'm off to listen to Dan Rather once again. 6/7/08
Day one winds down and Bill O’Reilly, whose ratings are tanking, gets the most mentions at the
It’s crystal clear that those at the National Conference for Media Reform are partisan and looking for a change. They hope to ride Barack Obama’s message and coat tails for a clue on how to seize ts own lighning in a bottle.
The partisan FCC is here too, though it is the dissenting voices of the federal regulatory group present, with even less power in these halls than it has in
So we end day one a bit deflated from how the day started. Josh Silver, Executive Director of Free Press, the conference organizer, pumped up the audience quickly. “We now know the media rolled over for Bush not just over the war but for every major issue facing the nation. We now know our leaders prey on our fears with a campaign to distract from Administration’s latest embarrassing or illegal acts. We now know corporate media, the source of news for 90% of Americans, was a willing mouthpiece and American people were left afraid. Left in the dark not just by government but by the media that was supposed to keep us informed.
And that’s what matters. The media’s role for society, for democracy. Let Bill-O fight it out with Keith Olbermann. Let them squawk, let them expose each other’s political leanings, let them read the overnight Nielsen ratings to their loyal audiences. But that won’t advance our common ground. That won’t lead to solving problems facing our country. And that won’t motivate the public to leave the past behind, and embrace a new way of thinking. With all the advances in technology, do we trust the established media to provide the roadmap to the future? Or do we take the grassroots movement, led by the Presidential campaign, and define a new standard of how we get our news? The answer is obvious. As the conference theme states: Media Reform Begins with Me. 6/6/08
People often ask me if I miss being in the media, especially during this heated Presidential election. My answer is pretty simple: No. Because over the years, the industry is quite different than the one I and many colleagues signed up for. How corporate owners I've sat across never discuss quality, but rather how we'll add product while cutting resources. How local management, for the most part, takes its daily orders from above, and how we watch the virtual extinction of hard news reporters and the vacuum of quality its left behind. For me, as you know, it was difficult and exhausting to keep holding up the dam while encouraging dedicated newsrooms to show its raging curiosity and risk being loners out in the field.
If there's one thing this Presidential election has shown us, the public is starting to mobilize against the status quo. For obvious and passionate reasons, voters new and old are speaking out and shaping the quality of many candidates. While voters say they're "mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore, it's ironic that media consumers are less unified, given the real target of that quote.
In "Network" Howard Beale was shouting that "things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!" Unfortunately the public is too busy, is too easily diverted and too exhausted to take on the quality of the media everyday. That hurts democracy. That hurts society.
In two days, the National Conference for Media Reform takes place in Minneapolis. And I'll be there blogging. It will be the next step in what I tell friends of something "stirring inside of me." Whether it was starting WagTheNews.com or separating the media critique of that blog in TedCanovaOnMedia.com, both web sites are the evolution of a personal commitment to return to that raging and curious journalist I started as in 1981.
The conference is hosted by Free Press, a national, nonpartisan organization working to reform the media. Dan Rather, Bill Moyers and thousands of concerned activists will be riding a wave of unprecedented activism and interest around media issues and come together.
Maybe it'll start with talk of a media renaissance, and perhaps it will end with lofty goals. But perhaps in some way, it will follow the lead of this unprecedented grassroots uprising we call an election. Perhaps it doesn't take Howard Beale opening up his window and shouting. But maybe it does. Point me to a rooftop and I'm ready to yell we can't take this anymore. 6/4/08
We get what we pay for. Cheap cable news deadens the pulse of Americans. You see it in the Presidential election. The public is bored even though its the most interesting election since '68. And it's exactly what the Bush Administration had in mind. Bore us to death. If Abu Graib photos were released for the first time today, if domestic spying was revealed today, or if the Bush War Machine was exposed for planting information through the American media today, most Americans would care less.
In fact the planting of information was revealed just last week in the New York Times, forcing the Pentagon to stop letting military hawks, with nothing else to do in retirement, stop getting briefed by the all-too-encouraging War Department.
Look at your cale or satellite bill and do the math. $40/month gets you 50 to 500 channels. So for pennies a month, you the viewer gets to watch unregulated cable news. Watch it alot and you see why the Iraq War keeps going. They've super-saturated the content, diluting the real news coming from the front. They've blended together the real issues with the phoney ones further confusing the audience. They've bored us to death with Generals answering questions on Capitol Hill while soldiers on the front lines question the merits of wtching the horrors few of us ever hear. And no story or piece of video gets to American airwaves without first getting approved by the govrenment.
At its conception, cable news went where no one went before. They were on all the time, unheard of in the pre-historic age of the 60's and 70's. Want a story? No need to wait for the Evening News. In the early days, CNN relied on affiliates across the country more than its own original content. Back then, there was more than enough fluff to keep audiences entertained, even if just for a few minutes at a time. Today the field is more crowded but the competition has dumbed things down to new heights. Pundits rule. The more outrageous the better.
Enter the military. The role of informational gatekeeper the media was supposed to uphold came unhinged. No media, from local radio and TV to newspapers and networks, ever identify pundits personal choices and they should. Everytime. we don't know their choice for President or where they stand on the War. From Sunday morning talk shows to Primary Night's continuing coverage, we're fed military lobbyists, Super delegates and campaign advisers but rarely, if ever, are told who they support. And it matters. It should anyway.
While fewer people watch cable than the traditional networks, the endless drone of their commentary define the issues of the day more than a one time examination of healthcare on World News Tonight. Those at ABC might high-five after a thoughtful story, but it's the bottom feeders of cable news that spend more time speculating than reporting, more time perpetuating a video clip of the day rather than going deep on it's merits of why it should not be repeated and repeated.
The revelation that the military has been planted across media platforms should come as little surprise. The only reason it seems like a new story is that NO ONE at those media outposts has cared to say NO to having these PR flacks donning medals on its air. FOX has a General, you bet CNN is scouring West Point and the first Gulf War for military strategists who only need to have a pulse and some hardware. What the media failed to do was stay on the story of manipulation. For the Fifth Estate to be hoodwinked in the first Gulf War and play role of Military Cheerleader (Star Studded Success of the Patriot Missile! NOT!!!) and then through this whole mess, NOT throw all he bumbs out of their newsrooms, just shows that given a semblance of reality, it chooses to turn the other cheek. Bliss is not a positive trait for any journalist.
We do get what we pay for. For just pennies a month, we allow the status quo of cable news into our homes. On a good day, we're lucky to have broad freedoms of the press. But on most days, we'd rather spend our government rebates to support meaningful journalism, reporters who can connect the dots and gatekeepers with some guts. 4/26/08
If you throw a dog a bone, chances are he'll run after it. Throw mainstream media an easy story, and it shows why it belongs in the doghouse...again. This time over Passport Peaking.
A sample of 20 major U.S. newspapers show when thrown a bone, they choose to nap, remain in a coma, or are conditioned to give the government, which feeds their media empires, a pass.
Since mainstreamers lack of curiosity led American support of the American War in Iraq, you'd think the journalistic profession would conspire to not be fooled again. That its convention seminars and keynoters would challenge the next Woodward and Bernstein's to keep their eyes wide open and their line of questioning aggressive. If mainstream has gotten so entertainment-driven, it should copy the style of Michael Moore in real time, instead of waiting for Moore to connect-the-dots after the fact.
If the profession was the least bit skeptical, Americans would be better informed which would tilt the power in avor of citizens. If journalists did their jobs better, we would get to the heart of the story and not get confused by all the smokescreens and information-as-truth peddled 24/7 to a gullible and exhausted public.
WagTheNews examines 14 storylines and shows how the mainstream media never left its comfort zone to challenge what it was fed.
The State Department investigation- A government that has lied to its people is in charge of investigating itself and its multi-million dollar contractors. We take baseball's steroids probe more seriously.
2 contract workers fired- When will the privatization of America be fully exposed? Contractors are overcharging the government for feeding the troops, securing the pipelines and playing militiamen in Iraq. Now they're in charge of our computers
Fired contract workers can't be called to answer questions unless subpeonaed by grand jury- Will someone please look into Stanley Inc, its contracts, its political contributions and its cozy relationships with lawmakers?
Another contractor, The Analysis Corporation of McLean, Virginia reprimands a worker who is still on job- What ties does TAC have to government? Why is there a second contractor working alongside the first instead on computer work, when choosing one makes accountability and financial controls clear?
Curious workers- "Curious" would be looking into their ex-girlfriends passport records. We're told the contractors should have looked into relatives records instead. What a relief, unless you don't want your cousin snooping on you either! How about if they look into their trainers records and call it a day?
Workers not alligned to any campaign- This is stated as fact in the first moments the story broke. How does anyone know who these contractors are working for? Said to be non-political appointments, any contractor hired by any adminitration is beholden to that party to keep their steady stream of work. K-Street just moved down the street to the State Department.
Unidentified contractors- In the age of instant information, we know the ID of Elliot Spitzer's hooker but not 4 computer geeks whose motivates are yet fully known.The public deseres full disclosure and we'll learn every motivation of these four without even needing an investigation.
Not politically motivated- The comment taken hook, line and sinker with NO media skepticism. Why was the Administration so quick to be so definitive there was no political motivation?
Rice disturbed if someone did it to her- Rice has zero crediblity. If she wasn't an African American woman, she'd have been gone along with Rumsfeld. Close the curtain on the unconditonal support for Condi.
Information contained only name, date of birth and social security number- Oh thank God! It's a good thing you can't do any damage with only that info! Why do you think businesses ask to confirm just the LAST FOUR DIGITS of your social security number. Let's see what movies these candidates rented, what items they bought on e-Bay, and every financial transaction they ever made. Political enemies would have a goldmine with this "limited" information.
Snooped on Hillary last summer- The media downplays this chronology as a long ago mistake, but it is THE smoking gun. Hillary was the heir to the throne back then. This was no training exercise by curious contractors, but a well timed peak into Hillary Clinton at a crucial time of her front runner status.
Snooped on Obama in January, February and March- Part two of smoking gun. What a coincidence that they snooped on Obama only after he caught on like lightning and started winning caucuses and primaries. And the trifecta of spying on him three times? No wonder they were "curious." They snooped on Obama when he became the new frontrunner. Only the Wall Street Journal identified TAC's CEO as an Obama adviser.
They accessed McCain's records too- As if John McCain was the preferred candidate by this White House and Bush/Cheney/Rove's strongest supporters.
Victims should have been notified when someone famous is accessed- Famous people, who are usually more wealthy, have more rights than the rest of us? How often does this happen for them to have a separate policy on dealing with famous people who get snooped on?
There are automatic controls for ordinary citizens- It's just that they can't tell us what they are. Just trust us.
Maybe that's mainstream's real crime. It just trusts them. 3/22/08
Imus is back in the morning. A kinder, gentler Imus pacifies those who will never listen. An Imus-light sedates the faithful not scared off by the PC police. A tame Imus is better than no Imus, the prospect we faced since the Rutgers insults catapulted the free world against a free-flowing entertainer.The new Imus is bland by necessity. We hope it wears off soon. His return received the typical mainstream media reviews, rehashing the controversy in order to vault Imus back from hell.
There is more to the Imus Makeover than his first day, December 3rd. Wag The News watched the first three weeks of programs and kept an eye out for the nuances of the I-Man's return. Here's a review you won't see the mainstream media ever try, or even know how, to write.
It started with what was necessary. I will never say anything in my lifetime that will make any of these young women at Rutgers regret or feel foolish that they accepted my apology and forgave me, and no one else will say anything on my program that will make anybody think that I didnt deserve a second chance.
The biggest difference in the new Imus is what's missing: the insults. Verbal assaults against politicians, newsmakers and especially his crew. The loving-hate Imus would direct towards producers, bosses and sportscasters are sparse. In the past, those misives were so pointed, so natural, so entertaining that they made the old program work. Today Imus relies without criticism on his longtime producers Bernard McGuirk and Lou who are stationed not nearby but across the street. Today Imus is ever so grateful to his new bosses for a multi-year, multi-million dollar vote of confidence. He's so grateful that his bosses were part of the band who performed on the program to close out week three. Today Imus shows respect for his sportscasters, first Tony Powell and now the highly regarded veteran Warner Wolf.
Race has played a prominent role in the new program. But rarely, if ever, does Imus play a role. Race is raised primarily by the two new cast members, Powell and Karith Foster, both African Americans. Powell raises race the most. In one "bit", while addressing the farm-friendly RFD-TV audience, Powell said "it's the first time you've had a black man in your living room." Another time he referred to the program as the "Different Strokes version of Imus in the Morning." And when discussing positive changes, Powell went from "MLK to Malcolm X to Don Imus." Powell also compared Barack Obama's battlecry "audacity of hope" with Imus for just audacity. And when lamenting about the immigration debate, Powell was sharp when saying the Pilgrims took jobs from the Indians. Foster has grown beyond entertainment news to roughing up Mitt Romney on race. Rarely has a longtime cast member raised race, but when one does, it's subtle and powerful. Comedian Rob Bartlett, impersonating Don Corrleone, talked of assembling the heads of the five mafia families, including Don Ho (as in the Rutgers insult), Correlone quickly added "can I say that?"
While cast members provide unique roles, their major one is to set up the I-Man. Wisecracking producer Bernard, barely heard the first few days, started to re-engage with Imus by week three, especially as he led the permise that Rogers Clemens had "roid rage" exemplified by Clemens throwing a splintered bat at Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series. When Imus reminded listeners he was "drunk in the 70's and coked up in the 80's", it was Bernard's history with Imus that allowed him to add "pain pills in the 90's and plain stupid in the 21st Century." Newsman Charles McCord, always steady, returned to life with his own trademark rant about Imus talking too much. Powell is proving to be a fresh foil. When Imus went down WNBC's memory lane, Powell said plainly "fascinating, will we talk of chariot races next." Or when Imus feared a winter storm would keep him from an upscale restaurant, Powell effectively minimized Imus's selfishness by comparing downed power lines and power outages to Imus's pasta.
While the insults are at a minimum, Imus has shown signs of returning to ranting. Imus was most familiar raising his blod pressure arguing about a stolen parot with regular guest Bo Dietl. But this too is Imus-light. Long a perfectionist of a sound program and short of patience for technical flaws, Imus has spent time criticizing the technical problems caused by the set being struck after each show. But in the past, Imus would take on station enineers, today he goes out of his way to defend the blue collars and instead blasts the larger company. He pleads with his intern to walk in front of the camera and not to listen to anyone who tells her to stay out of the shot because "I'm in charge." And eats crow when he realizes it is he and not an intern for a missing wastepaper basket.
New franchises, like the "Imus Flashback" of a previous day's interview or the "I Moment" replaying a highlight from a previous program, fill time but their strategic re-use gives new audiences a chance to see recent "best of" moments, a important reminder that Imus may have his loyalists back, but listeners and viewers nationwide have yet to create a listening habit each day.
Three weeks of getting re-acquainted to new teammates, new surroundings and new rules. But more importantly, it's a chance to examine how the line has moved, how a master will navigate and how we, a nation upset over so many things, will react next time we need a scapegoat to better sleep at night. 12/22/07
We thought the the New York Times learned its lesson. But we now know lessons are made to be forgotten. The Times has unique clout to sway public opinion. There's no one better than Frank Rich to connect-the-dots, raise issues and elevate perspective. But before you get your Rich-fix, the paper still has trouble staying true to the truth. It's gone a long way in digging out from printing phoney and planted stories and playing a major role in the build-up to the American War in Iraq. Judith Miller's "scoops" were straight from the playbook of Cheney, Libby and Rove. Miller is gone, Libby is headed to prison and a pardon and the rest continue to play loose with the facts, divert attention from their mistakes and line the pockets of their friends in the democracy-building industry.
So it's with some surprise to read today's paper and not think you were reading a Republican blog or a weekly from the heart of Texas. The Times headline raises an eyebrow (Chaos Is Seen in Iraq Exit, But Experts Split on Degree). But the story below raises a fury. The Times concluded that while American troops are unwanted in Iraq, many Iraqis don't want U.S. troops to leave. To make such a definitive conclusion you would think the Times based it's story on a large survey, a cross-section of people, across a large geographic span to accurately sample the country from inside the county. What would be a better foundation for a solid enterprise story?
But the Times fell far short of that basic journalistic premise. The newspaper based its story mainly on a focus group totalling 40. Yes, 40 people...Iraqis...politicians...citizens. We ask more people to focus-group far less important things in our lives. American companies use hundreds more people to determine the amount of gore (not Al) in a CSI episode, what color your toothpaste container will be, and how much salt tastes good on a potato chip. Public surveys of 40 people is not just unscientific or unethical. It's not sound journalism and the Times should know better, especially after all it's been through.
The story makes declarative statements that should raise skepticism in all of us. "The somewhat surprising verdict of most Iraqis was clear....many of them fear that a pullout any time soon would lead to a violent chain reaction....." You can fill in the rest of the sentence. It's straight from a Bush news conference.
The Times said the "verdict" was "surprising". Two words that shape the story and impact public opinion. A "verdict" is the ultimate in definitive words. The paper should have said our "small sample of people we interviewed in" a specific location of Iraq. Next, if the "verdict" truly was "surprising", then the reporters should have used their Journalism 101 instinct and asked more people their opinions. "Wow, this is surprising. Let's print it and go to dinner." Where was their journalistic scrutiny, especially in a time of War, this War? The next sentence concludes "many of them fear that a pullout..." The word "many" is equally troubling. How many is many? If you are going to base a story on such a scant number of people, disclose the numbers, like "30 out of 40 people sampled in Baghdad fear a pullout..."
Why does this matter, why give the Times a hard time over what some will call a non-issue? It matters because the Times is among the newspapers of record, one that has proven it can shape, mold and shift public opinion. We're not talking potato chips. We're looking at the facts of U.S. policy and strategy. Facts involving American lives. Facts of a War which 2/3rds of Americans oppose, a President with less approval and the tens of billions of dollars diverted from America's ignored needs to feed the war machine.
Some Republican earned his or her money this week. The Democrats failed to impose restraints on President Bush that the midterm election mandated. Instead of focusing a Sunday story on the groundswell of anger and the impact the vote is already having on the election, a story favoring the President's strategy appears in the top section of the newspaper with a push-pull strategy of covering this Administration and the War. 5/27/07
Too bad the Iraq War will not force lasting change for how the mainstream media reports the news. Long considered a lapdog to the current administration, the mainstream will demonstrate the same "same-ness" during the upcoming Presidential election.
Mainstream is alot like President George Bush. It views the world of news in black and white, rarely with the shade of gray that the world deserves. Mainstream has the time, money and resources to make itself better. In most instances, it chooses to waste time, make more money and cut resources.
So as Democrats and Republicans elbow one another to the 2008 election, the media will continue to showcase the election like it's the Kentucky Derby. You hear it by the words the media uses like "presidential sweepstakes" and "horse race." You see it by images the media uses. Images of the so-called "frontrunners," the candidates who amass the most money and lead the public opinion polls. Who, other than the "front runners", benefit by such coverage? Not the challengers, not new ideas, not the public.
By latching onto the poll leaders, mainstream media has all but endorsed a handful of candidates, regardless of their qualifications. You could argue that the public elevated the "front runners" to their place when they talk to pollsters or donate money. That can't be ignored. But the role of the media is not to perpetuate a "horse race" and sell it as Presidential leadership. The role of the media is to dig deeper and help the public make an informed decision. Who is the best leader for our times, who has the best vision for the future, and what makes them tick.
A poll is just a snapshot in time and by the time they'e released, they are usually days old. Report it, sure, but then let it go. But today, everyone is doing a poll, and everyday, everyone reports the results. The few hundred people who answer the phone at dinner time and talk to pollsters are the few hundred people determining that Clinton, Obama, McCain and Guiliani gets the most news coverage. It's time for the media to take back control.
Then there's the money trail. Of course it takes cash to run and it takes a lot of cash to run hard and long. But why should cash determine how the media covers a candidate. Let the campaigns money buy ad time to better promote their candidate. The media shouldn't add free news coverage just because Clinton, Obama and Romney have a war chest.
And finally there's product placement. Almost all the time, Clinton, Obama, and McCain lead the news coverage, often with soundbites from the campaign trail. But when it comes to candidates not polling as well, they either dodn't get mentioned, or get paraphrased by an anchor. There's no better example than coverage of a debate. The "front runners" are heard, those lagging behind in polls and fundraising get mentioned.
The bottom line is front runner status gives candidates a free pass. The media spends less time examining positions on key issues, past and present. Without such scrutiny, how is the public supposed to decipher whether a candidate can handle the future?
There are two major reasons for this infatuation between the media and front runners: experience and money. First, newsrooms are losing more and more thought-provokers. Veteran journalists are fed up with the business or the business is fed up with their salaries and head count. That leaves us reporters with less perspective to examine the harder questions of a campaign. Second, by embracing the frontrunner model, covering politics is like covering car accidents. They take little thought and are much cheaper to do.
If the mainstream considered or even cared to elevate its credibility with the public, it would elevate its own product. But the cost of quality in news conflicts with profits for news. Corporations behind the mastheads and TV screens care more about convincing the FCC to relax rules so it could own more outlets and make more money. As entertainment and sales divisions have more control over news divisions, a mainstream news renaissance will never occur. Instead we'll continue to rely on the outspoken, frank and important discussions taking place on the web, leaving mainstream's political coverage resembling American Idol, the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes and the Kentucky Derby. 5/4/07
If you didn't watch it, they wouldn't show it. But you've proven time and again that you do watch. Human nature, curiosity or not being left out. It's what makes television and television news live to see the next day. When NBC decided to air videos of a mentally ill killer, you held up your end of the bargain. You turned on the news, sat close to the set, cringed, threw things at the TV, turned it off, and complained. The scenario is played out every day in cities across America.
The murders at Virginia Tech reduced or erased all other issues from our minds. Forget about the "conversation of race" we were going to have after Imus. Few felt the historical perspective of Senator Ted Kennedy, whose brother was Attorney General during turbulent times, take on the AG, who is the incompetent stand-in for everything Bush. It was even hard to face Iraq's worst day of death with the Bush Administration, General Pace and Senator McCain saying we're gaining on 'em.
We all knew Virginia Tech would have legs beyond day one. But even in the world of YouTube, so many people were surprised and dismayed when NBC did what they always do, in a way Imus did what he always did, before outrage won out. The NBC complaints were far and wide. They ranged from insensitivity to sensationalism, overt competition to exploiting mental illness. The complaints were heard from TV pundits to media critics, families of Virginia Tech victims to strangers across the world.
Whatever side of NBC's decision we fall on, we have little standing and even less credibility. You may say "show the tapes, it's important for the public to see real news." Or you may feel, "are you crazy, the images give fuel to a copycat murderer." NBC did their part to frame the story, provide ample warnings, and produce context. They even branded the tape with their logo so we would know the killer's network of choice. So why the uproar?
The uproar is partially because we can't handle our own truths. We blame the media and then rush to it. We hated everything OJ and vowed to never watch another OJ story again. UNTIL the next watercooler development in the trial forced us to get every morsel of info and debate it for days. But the media also deserves the anger thrust on it. Mainstream media's dirty little secret is that it has long compromised journalism ethics, partnered with sales departments and became beholden to corporate owners instead of taking care of its customers. A drug company sponsors an NBC weather update in primetime. The midterm election night's coverage is curtailed so we don't miss a sitcom or reality show. Presidential news conferences are not being demanded by journalists, because the last thing the media wants is to pre-empt the money flow of programming.
For viewers the media compromise hasn't just happened overnight. It has been a slow yet steady creep of compromise. Slow enough for you not to notice. Large enough for corporate and political powers to control society. All media companies wonder where their readers, viewers and listeners have gone. Their customers are still here, but they've become their own editors and are reaping the benefits. News consumers don't face competitive pressures, don't answer to corporate kingdoms and don't play to the whim of the lowest common denominator. The public gets to be its own editor-in-chief without attending one editorial meeting to weigh the pros and cons of airing a story. Today with information available 24/7 and the internet booming, the public doesn't need the mainstream as it once did.
Mainstream knows we're shifting to the web and is reacting by putting more emphasis on their own web sites. But their web content doesn't define discussion in society. For the most part, mainstream just re-purposes the info from the mother ship and pastes it onto their web page. Mainstream may be on the information highway but they're sitting in the breakdown lane. Consumers, on the other hand, are driving full speed ahead and passing everyone in sight, deciding for themselves what they want, when they want it, and for how long.
Some of us saw the web's "empowerment of the people" coming. Doctors certainly did. They were the first to see patients armed with the latest health studies and side effects for drugs not yet prescribed. The weapons were gathered from ordinary folks surfing the web. If the public took control of medical information available to them, it's NO surprise its using the same technology and methodology when it comes to world-defining information.
The Virginia Tech murders are devastating. The media coverage is typical. Mainstream cares more about spiking an overnight rating than it does about the long term impact of its trade. Mainstream cares more about a competitive scoop than it does about examining the slow erosion of its core. As mainstream wakes up and sees itself less and less relevant in our lives, they will have only themselves to blame. 4/20/07
Why should America care whether Scooter Libby is guilty? Why should we learn how Judith Miller was used by the Bush White House? Why should news consumers stop and evaluate any long term impact this leak case has on their cozy lies? Most people won't stop beyond keeping score: Democrats 1, Dick Cheney 0.
But this case also is a major setback for the American public. The Libby Lie not only bit the New York Times in the ass. It was an assault on innocent Americans, both at home and fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Journalism will react in a few meaningless ways. It'll organize forums at news industry conventions and debate Libby with no consensus. Some mainstream media will scrutinize unnamed sources to the point of not using them at all. That would give big business and big government a restful night's sleep. After all it's not Congress that stands up to power brokers. It's not investigators who crack most crime on their own. It's the little guy with big information ready to expose what he or she feels is not right and decides to speak up, in confidence.
In the Libby case, the power of the White House used the trusted, left-of-center brand of the New York Times with strategic leaks. Judith Miller and her editors must have been dreaming of a Pulitzer when it printed lies of Iraq. Instead "All The News That's Fit To Print" became a powerful mouthpiece for Bush, Cheney, Rumsefeld and Rove. An award should go to the White House.
So how do newsies go forward? Journalists cultivate unnamed sources over time, often covering lesser stories that the source needs printed or broadcasted. In return, the reporter accumulates a favor, a relationship with the expectation that when the "big story" is there, the unnamed source will pay the journalist back and leak it. It's all part of the news game, and it's one big fat manipulation game being played on American citizens.
It's not that unnamed sources can't be trusted. They help spill the beans on wrongs, after they're committed or before they gain traction. They bring to light environmental crimes, political abuses and corporate greed. So what's a news consumer to do?
Try this. An open and free society benefits from sources, people who often put what's right ahead of their own jobs, careers and families. But instead of basing an entire story on one or two quotes from an unnamed, how about if news organizations print, verbatim, the interview between the reporter and the unnamed source. If a question risks "outing" the source, be careful. But the American public deserves to see how strident or how feeble the journalist challenges the source when writing their story. We need to know that an unnamed didn't just hand over a pack of lies at the Starbucks. We need to see how responsible the reporter is to his/her craft and to the American public.
If only we saw a transcript of the Miller-Libby interview, then perhaps we could have decided on our own that the story was bunk. That there was too many questions about WMD and Iraq. That the story was built on shoddy journalism and manipulative politics.
If mainstream media wants to regain whatever trust it has left with society, it must come clear and let consumers see the process more. Mainstream blew it on WMD, the build up to the War and the incompetent execution of it. Thousands are dead, billions spent and America has lost its way, at home and abroad. Now is the time to trust no one, especially the mainstream media. Fool us once...Fool us twice. No matter how many times they fool us, we're still the fools. 3/11/07
The Bush "60 Minutes" interview should have started with this disclaimer: "The following interview is being conducted by a lightweight reporter who will ask "yes" and "no" questions, will not follow up on insufficient answers and has failed to pass off the interview to more scrutinizing reporters. CBS News does not apologize for this. It's more a reflection of the state of journalism in America."
Where was Mike Wallace when America needed him? The reason CBS was chosen for this Sunday night sit-down was because it was Scott Pelley. A virtual love fest for George Bush, just days after delivering news to 21,000 more American families that he's escalating a war with no end.
It's too late for Bush to work a miracle. He sticks to the script connecting 9/11 with Iraq, even as he denies he ever made such a connection. "If we were to start withdrawing now, we'd have a crisis in our hands in Iraq. And not only in Iraq, but failure in Iraq will embolden the enemy. And the enemy is al-Qaeda and extremists." Even the few Americans barely paying attention know Bush and his policies are already emboldening the enemy, already encouraging more recruits, more suicide bombers.
Bush told of specific mistakes he's made. "Abu Ghraib was a mistake. Using bad language like, you know, "bring them on" was a mistake. I think history is gonna look back and see a lot of ways we could have done things better. No question about it. (Troop levels?) Could have been a mistake."
The most distressing dot that Bush won't connect is his policies causing more of the world to hate the United States. But no quote shows how far removed he is from reality than this: "I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude, and I believe most Iraqis express that. I mean, the people understand that we've endured great sacrifice to help them. That's the problem here in America. They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq.
Telegram to Iraqis! No one in America expects you to show us gratitude for dismantling your country. No one in America wonders whether your level of saying "thanks" is significant enough.
Bush says "we've got people criticizing this plan before it's had a chance to work." Mr. President, with all due respect, Americans have trusted you, given you enough time and rope to see your plan through. The country even returned you to a second term to finish what you started. Your citizens failed to criticize you enough in the course of your plan. The honeymoon of public opinion is officially over.
For Pelley, a man who wanted Dan Rather's chair as much as any of the other also-rans, his interview techniques let the President off the hook time and again. When referring to the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, Pelley didn't even ask a question, but tried to show what an average folk he is. "You had to be angry as hell." Which garnered the captivating reply: "Yeah, I wasn't happy." Nice work.
Pelley had no follow up for Bush's gushing over Cheney as "a great vice-president" or for Rumseld doing "a really fine job as Secretary of Defense." No follow-up, even though those two Bush loyalists were plotting this Iraq invasion, knowing there would be unneccesary American casualties, the moment Bush won election in 2000.
In the end, words that go from Bush's brain to his mouth are so sadly ironic, you can't help but sit stunned when he's asked that Barbara Walters-type question, "what would you say to Iran's President about meddling in Iraq?"
"I'd say, first of all, to him, "You've made terrible choices for your people. You've isolated your nation. You've taken a nation of proud and honorable people, and you've made your country the pariah of the world.....You've defied international accord. And you're slowly but surely isolating yourself."
Terrible choices. Isolated nation. Country the pariah of the world. Defied international accord. Isolating yourself. If that's not a best self-description of President Bush and his White House, then I'm a founding member of the Scott Pelley fan club. 1/15/07
"All the News That's Fit to Print" was unfit this Sunday. Was it because of the hellish few years the paper and the world has faced? It's tough stuff dealing with plagiarism and then Judith Miller's conspiracy as a GOP pawn that convinced Americans that war with Iraq was good. Thanks to Frank Rich who did more to set the Bush record of misjudgment straight than 365 episodes of "The Daily Show." In between, we've seen the Times shine with a five year 9/11 retrospect that was second to none. The newspaper even raised the bar by adding gay nuptials to the Sunday marriage page. And why not. Kinky Friedman campaigned in Texas that gay marriage is an equal rights issue: gays have equal rights to be just as miserable as the rest of us.
But it was still glaring, surprising and self-servingly time-saving to read the front section of the New York Times on Sunday December 17th. One hard news story on the front page. ONE. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ordered early elections to try to break the stalemate with Hamas.
The feature laden front page is one thing. But what happened inside? 32 pages usually devoted to international and national news, plus interesting NYC-metro pages and a world-famous obit. But on this Sunday, a day devoted to a cup of java, Church and a $5 cover price (the price missing for some reason on this day) we were greeted with ads, full page ads, several full page ads, a total of 23 full page ads. Two thirds of the Sunday Times was junk and other pages were dominated with more ad space. Furs, Watches, Jewelry, Gift Cards, Skin Enhancers, Clothes, more Watches, the Survivor Finale', yet more Watches, again Watches for a fourth time, more Clothes, Hi-tech, more Clothes with a cute dog, more Gift cards, a Cell phone, a Bank, a fifth Watch ad, a sixth Watch ad covering 2 pages this time, BMW, Diamonds, Medical device company, and another Cell phone.
Perhaps this is what it takes to employ many of the best journalists in America. Sellout a week before Christmas. It's a week when Congress if off, the Supreme Court is on vaca, the elections are long over, and the White House mulls over desperate plans to end the Iraq War. But Christmas week has served as a litmus for second term Presidents. Reagan faced the music of Iran-Contra and Clinton heard the roll call of Impeachment as shoppers were decking the halls. For all their griping about the liberal media, Bush, Cheney and Rove were given a free pass from today's Sunday Times. Take a day off thy Fifth Estate. The lives of hundreds of thousands of troops from around the world lie awake tonight wondering if the mess this White House created will come to an end anytime soon. 12/18/06
We all know the networks were asleep as President Bush was building his ficticious case for invading Iraq. He lost Osama bin Laden, saw the futile chase through the Afganistan caves getting costly, watched his post 9/11 appeal starting to tank, and was urged by his inner circle to go for the pot of gold in Iraq. Take down Saddam Hussain and grab the billions of dollars in Iraqi oil.
Years later and an historic lost midterm election, Iraqis are dying in droves. Not from American, British or Polish fire. Iraqis are killing Iraqis in a way Americans killed Americans in the 1860's. In those 4 years, the North and South lost more than 200,000 in action, 600,000 overall, and wounding another 400,000 more. Then and now, we call that "The Civil War".
Those of us shining a spotlight on the mainstream media's ineptitude have written for months that Iraq has escalated into an all out Civil War. Americans also turned the corner by September of this year. Polls revealed the vast majority ignored the Bush spin and believed for themselves that Iraq had turned into a Civil War. 61% in an NBC poll, 65% in a CNN poll and 72% in a Gallup Poll. Those poll numbers held firm in November when more Americans voted Democrat than any other political party and returned Congress to sanity.
These pol numbers and the midterm results provided cover to NBC, who this week, declared Iraq in a "civil war." Had NBC suddenly woken up? Had their leaders finally believed what the rest of us had been spelling out all year? Was NBC feeling guilty for being asleep during the Bush War buildup? Was the network kneeling in contrition for laying low when it had the responsibilty to be shouting out?
NBC, just like every other television network, was more concerned with waving the flag and making money. Easy for them; they weren't sending masses of employees or close family members to the front. At least CBS was still going after Bush's war record, even if they did overshoot when they didn't need to, and succumbed to the GOP political machine and the anti-Dan Rather sentiment. FOX news hasn't helped, by intimidating the traditional media into not calling a spade, a spade. Instead FOX has defined the parameters of the mainstream media's language, and along with Bush, have seeped into the decison making at NBC, ABC and CBS.
Execs at CBS, still reeling and playing catch up in the public's eye, pooh-poohed NBC "civil war" pronouncement saying "it's a political statement, not a news judgment." ABC stated the obvious when it remarked about NBC, "It was their decision to make."
The networks know where their bread is buttered. While fewer and fewer Americans rely on network television for its real news, the networks news divisons have been hijacked by entertainers and beancounters. The networks spend millions trying to relax regulations limiting their scope. They lobby Congress and the Federal Communications Commission for permission to buy more of America's media, reaching a greater percentage of American households. They boast that the more they own, the more differentiated the voice the public will have. But we all know that's the network lie.
The reason the networks have layed so low on Iraq, Bush and all the lies is that they can't piss off the feds, for fear they'll lose support for buying up more and more stations, owning more than one media property in a city. Networks don't have to tell their employees to undercover a failed Presidency. It does so by cutting back staff, buying out veteran gatekeepers with perspective and who have a calling to be a journalist. Networks are left with ambitious youth out of J-School, who bring their one dimensional view of life into editorial meetigns, with no understanding of depth, perspective or the real role of jornalism.
If you need anymore proof, just look at which program NBC decided to declare the Iraq chaos a "civil war." The Today Show, not the Nightly News, not Meet the Press, not Dateline. The Today Show made the pronouncement, a program known more for celebrity interviews, recipes, musical performances and Willard Scott's birthday wishes. 12/1/06
As we hit 9pm Eastern time, Americans miss the presence of Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings. One banished, one dead, the third sitting stage left on MSNBC. It's been a long death of the traditional network news divisions, one that started with the diminished live coverage of national poltical conventions every four years. Tonight we see the continued demise of the network hold on American culture. As Americans voted en mass this off-year, the major networks were busy with NCSI and The Unit on CBS, Dancing with the Stars and Help me Help You on ABC, Friday Night Lights and Law & Order, Criminal Intent on NBC. Their offer of a few seconds to a few minutes didn't help, as the Big Three's lack of presence for most of the two hours that kicked off prime time is the new norm, but still an embarrassment to the United States citizen. (ABC woke up around 9:30pm and turned to Charlie Gibson nd nixing Help Me Help You).
This should come as little surprise. What's surprising is if there was any outrage. The nets were asleep for the last six years, six years that saw the country fall depper and deeper in an illusion of foreign policy. Six years not covering a government with no vision, six years not covering a White House with self-serving policies, six years of being afraid to shine the rightful spotlight on an Administration and its God-injected initiatives that led to lies, war and the deaths of 3000 American servicemen and servicewomen.
Of course, none of this ineptitude gained much, if any, traction with the mainstream media. Networks are more concerned with not pissing off the Federal Communications Commission, an agency run by a Bush cronnie. The FCC holds the profit strings for the networks, and every news division knows it.
After wall to wall election coverage and the late local news, both NBC and CBS left the cause, and returned to Leno and Letterman. Too bad those viewers missed the Virginia Senate race turn blue with Jim Webb taking a last second lead with 99% of the vote counted. Now that's drama. That's also reality. Too bad half of America was busy laughing at taped comedy programs. 11/7/06
Face it. The way you view Dan Rather has everything to do with your politics, your disdain for the media and your own helplessness. Face it. Dan Rather was right. Face it. You bought into the powerful, bought into their lies, and bought into their character assassination of a great newsman. You deserve what's coming next. Don't believe it? You will.
Rather became the face of television news, lasting longer than Murrow, Cronkite or anyone else since. Early on, he reported from tornado alley, breathlessly confirmed the death of President Kennedy in Dallas, and took on President Nixon before and during the Watergate scandal. He was a working-man's journalist, and he will be the last one to do it. End of story. Today's glamour of the anchor seat makes television news look more like Entertainment Tonight than any legacy of Murrow or Cronkite. Rather wasn't stylish or warm, like his counterparts Tom Brokaw and the late Peter Jennings. Rather was a hard news guy and got blasted for trying to adjust before our eyes. He wore sweaters, was forced to accept freaky co-anchor Connie Chung and ended his newscasts by proclaiming "Courage."
Rather made everyone work harder. Made Brokaw and Jennings chase him around the world covering important news. At 74, Dan Rather has fuel in the tank. No one has more perspective of the world's events. No one took on lying politicians when it grew fashionably politically incorrect to do so. No one tested the limits more, like the time Rather pissed off first President Bush during a satellite interview, got mugged in New York City by someone mysteriously asking him, "Kenneth, what's the frequency?" and then getting the fork stuck in him during second President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.. The problem with the "60 Minutes II" story wasn't the apparent mistakes by not authenticating documents. The problem was CBS News tried to prove a story that everyone in America already knew as fact: that current President Bush hid under a Texas National Guard desk to avoid active duty 30 years ago. The backlash handed Bush his re-election as much as gay marriage and Ohio did. The country knew that John Kerry was more of a patriot on his worst day than George Bush was on his best day. But the CBS story on Bush's military record gave conservatives the ammo it needed to wag the dog, divert from Bush's inferior military record, and Swift Boat Rather's career.
At CBS, Rather was taken off the anchor desk, and promised "substantive work" by CBS after 44 years at the network. Instead CBS couldn't sever ties fast enough after naming Katie Coric as the next Voice of God. CBS was classless as it offered Rather an office but no work. What a way to treat an icon who earned the network billions, saved its reputation from extinction, remained strong as then CBS Chairman and egghead look-a-like Lawrence Tisch slashed the news budget, lost NFL football, and lost a number of major affiliates. Rather's ratings didn't stand a chance.
Today, CBS News boss Sean McManus plays the role of the cowardly lion, never meeting with Rather face to face but providing phony praise. Rather leaves without even clearing out his office. The network has removed its contents and will send them to their former idol. There are enough idiots to go around at CBS and they worked from the top down, not the bottom up. There's former President Andrew Heyward who was promoted from within, always afraid he'd lose his job and never pushed back to his superiors. There's 60 Minutes Executive Producer Don Hewitt who kicked, screamed and carried on like a freakin' baby when the network wanted to expand 60 Minutes long before anyone ever heard of 4 nights of Dateline NBC. His lack of support for 60 Minutes II was apparent. And then there's another old geezer Mike Wallace who called on Rather to resign, as if Wallace had never been blasted for his stories, his slanted reporting and his tactics. CBS Corporation's Chief Executive Les Moonves, whose light-weight wife anchors CBS's excuse for a morning program, said he was sorry about the bitter departure of newsman Dan Rather. "I'm sorry it ended the way it did. There was no bigger role for him to play anymore," Moonves said.
One of Rather's many allies summed it up best, when describing CBS leadership. "We're dealing with a bunch of classic idiots." 6/22/2006
WHITE HOUSE SPRING CLEANING
April comes to an end and the media is both under fire and on fire. Cable talk show hosts and political pundits weigh in on the latest polls showing President Bush at an all-time low. Republican strategists argue tactics to help the President rebound. With the war in Iraq, the potential conflict with Iran, and political scandal dogging the Republicans, the White House turned to what it could control: cleaning it's own house. Scott McClennan's departure as White House Press Secretary was likely not his choice: the Republican conservative base is livid with the message coming out of the White House. As a nod to those concerns, the White House made McClennan the sacrificial lamb and told him he's leaving.
This move, soon after a new Chief of Staff was installed, is intended to communicate with the conservative voters that the lights are on at the White House. It is a simple move to acknowledge to the Republican base that this year's midterm elections are important. The Republicans hope this move will shift the focus from losing the daily message on Iraq, to bolstering the next few months for the Republicans.
The biggest sign the White House is awakening is the shifting, at least publicly, of White House policy adviser Karl Rove. Rove will concentrate more on politics than splitting his duties between politics and policy. As if the two are distinguishable for the GOP at this point. Either way, Rove getting back to the midterms is sweet news to the conservatives, who fear losing control of Congress in November.
Journalists must stay on top of the White House message, looking for shifts in public comments from a new Press Secretary. Newsies must also keep tabs on Karl Rove. If Rove is focusing on politics, journalists must analyze the most important seats up for re-election this fall. Are the Republicans inventing a new message? Will the GOP distance themselves from President Bush? Will Democrats capitalize on fundraising and low GOP poll numbers?
Will any of these moves resonate with the electorate? It's far too soon to say. Candidates running in September and November are spending most of their time raising money, fortifying their war chests when the general public is paying little attention to their races. As summer heats up the skies, look for campaigns to begin their television assaults. Not all at once, but enough to start laying the groundwork for each side's message for the fall. 4/20/2006