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This week's crescendo of Kennedy commemoration has ranged from banal to lurid. The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley has already pointed out how the event signaled the rise of modern television as our dominant medium for news. Forty years later, every vice of TV is on display: an obsession with glamour, sex, hearsay, computer simulation and sentimental appeals to authority; along with reckless disregard for evidence, complicated ideas, policies and organizations. Plainly, given the nature of the medium, access to even a small part of the underlying history of our defining trauma will be restricted to those who read.
Meanwhile, over in Iraq, crashing helicopters are giving resonance to a persistent mystery: What exactly was Kennedy planning to do, in the fall of 1963, about Vietnam? Some parallels between the two wars are uncanny:
- In both cases, U.S. intervention was driven by small, secretive, bellicose, conspiratorial factions within the government. In both cases, military intelligence was officially optimistic -- but the optimism was believed neither by its authors nor its readers.
- In both cases, the question of how and when to exit had to be considered early on -- and in light of an upcoming election campaign.
- In both cases, though details were energetically shielded from public view (and though neither North Vietnam nor Iraq had nuclear weapons), the specter of escalation to nuclear war hung over the conflict.
The fate of millions depended (and today still depends) on how carefully and responsibly the decision-makers in Washington behaved.
I suggest that the epitaph for this entire era should be: "The fish rots from the head down."
The latest round of corporate scandals -- Hollinger, the growing mutual fund mess and the foreign exchange dealers who ripped off their own companies -- provide an elegant summary of the pattern.
Hollinger International, a media company owned by Lord Conrad Black, reported a relatively measly total profit of $23 million from 1998 to 2002.
During the same period, the company paid Black and his close associates more than $200 million in salary, management fees and non-compete payments, according to published reports.
The company also featured the usual insider dealing -- including a $2.5 million investment in Hollinger board member Richard Perle's company, Trireme. That would be the same Perle who is still on the Pentagon's Defense Advisory Board, despite having had to resign as chairman earlier because of other business conflicts of interest.
So far, every business scandal starting with Enron has displayed the same features: investors ripped off, pension-holders ripped off, employees often left with nothing, and execs walking away with millions.
Corporations have become entities set up to avoid taxation. It's really quite extraordinary.
Theoretically, the corporate income tax is 35 percent, but no self-respecting corporation would actually pay that. Many of the country's most profitable corporations are so good at tax games that the government owes them.
What happens sooner or later when there is rot at the top -- what economists call "control fraud" -- is that the little fish get into the act, too. Hey, why shouldn't some of the peons play the same game at their own level? And that's when you get things like the foreign exchange traders and even some of the mutual fund rip-off artists. The rot does spread downward.
Now, being of the liberal persuasion, I believe that the way to stop corporate rip-offs and harm caused to the public by greed is through government regulation and suing the bastards.
But let's suppose for a moment here that we try The Wall Street Journal's preferred methods for fixing all this: transparency, accountability and responsibility.
And let us apply these methods to the Bush administration, which proudly bills itself as the CEO administration. It is certainly an administration of CEOs.
Transparency: We started with Dick Cheney's secret energy task force. Then George W. Bush decided that neither his father's presidential papers nor Ronald Reagan's could be made public. Then we got the USA Patriot Act. We couldn't find out who had been "detained" when, where, why or for how long, with no lawyers and no family notification. And of course secret phone taps, wiretaps, sweeps, etc., all on "suspicion."
Accountability: What does it take to get fired by this administration? Outing a CIA agent for petty political revenge? Completely contravening administration policy with jackass statements about Islam while you're the head of a sensitive Pentagon department on the subject?
Obviously, you can get fired for standing up for the environment -- or at least not lying down quickly enough for those who are busy trashing it. RIP, Christine Todd Whitman. And for standing up and saying something populist, like the Internal Revenue Service should quit going after working poor people and try nailing a few rich tax cheats, as former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill did.
Responsibility: Have you ever heard this administration admit it has made a mistake? It won't even take responsibility for dumb stuff like the "Mission Accomplished" sign, much less admit it had no idea what it was doing in Iraq after Saddam Hussein fell. Even now, administration folks keep trying to wiggle out of their own well, I don't know whether it was lies or misinformation.
There was no nuclear weapons program, there were no weapons of mass destruction, and there were no ties between Saddam and Osama bin Laden. But there they come again, with some leaked list of questionable intelligence trying to prove what isn't true.
This country boasts a multitude of people who are real heroes. The extraordinary book Mountains Beyond Mountains about Dr. Paul Farmer should not be missed.
But at the top of the corporate and economic worlds, ethical standards seem to be rotting out -- greed, self-righteousness, fatal certitude. And, of course, beware of those with no humor.
Business marketing and politics often overlap in election campaigns. Someone vying for office is essentially trying to sell himself to voters. "When you are campaigning, you're like the businessman who has a limited responsibility, a limited set of people to whom you owe something," said Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College and author of "Moral Freedom: The Search for Virtue in a World of Choice" (W. W. Norton).
But, increasingly, because of the fund-raising involved in running for national office, "you have to be in an almost permanent campaign mode," said David Gergen, now a professor of public service at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, who was an adviser to four presidents. "In politics, you fall into the trap of short-termism. You do whatever it takes to keep the headlines up today." This short-term thinking is not dissimilar to what causes some businesses to make poor decisions in trying to bolster stock prices or earnings reports.
"The trap of the permanent campaign is that you diminish statesmanship," Professor Gergen said. "Statesmen rise above the daily concern and look to the long haul."
BUT it's difficult to affect the long haul if you find yourself voted out of office. For that reason, Dick Morris, a former adviser to Mr. Clinton and the author of "Off with Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks and Obstructionists in American Politics, Media and Business" (Regan Books, 2003), said he thinks that "using polling and all of the tools of an election to help you govern is a good thing."
"It gets the president to be very aggressive in figuring out what he can do in an active way really to help the country," he added. "The motivation is to govern well so he can get elected."
Even if President Bush has to campaign constantly and, as a result, selectively uses information to sell his message, we still expect him to tell the truth. "If they decided to lie to make the case stronger that's simply unethical," said Mr. Gilman, who was a senior official at the United States Office of Government Ethics from 1988 to 2001. Mr. Gilman said he hopes that the president "got one bad piece of intelligence and the rest was correct."
Some political analysts say President Bush crossed a line in selectively using information by pointing to British intelligence to make an argument, when American intelligence doubted the claim. "As in all marketing, when you go too far, it creates a small cloud over you about credibility," Professor Gergen said.
There's more at stake when President Bush selectively uses information than when a business executive tries to move a product. The president's role clearly distinguishes his unique moral responsibility. As an executive, you don't order young men and women to give up their lives for a cause.
Accustomed in economic circles to calling a stupid argument a stupid argument, and isolated (in Princeton, New Jersey) from the Washington dinner-party circuit, Paul Krugman has become the most prominent voice in the mainstream U.S. media to openly and repeatedly accuse George Bush of lying to the American people to sell budget-busting tax cuts and a pre-emptive and nearly unilateral war.
Krugman cannot be dismissed by opponents as some dyed-in-the-wool lefty. He's a moderate academic economist who's been radicalized by the Bush White House and the right wing it represents. Krugman joined The New York Times in 1999 as a columnist on the op-ed Page and continues as professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University. His new book, "The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way In The New Century" (#9 on the New York Times best-seller list and a top seller on Amazon) is a collection of his op-ed pieces from January 2000-January 2003.
McNally: How did your role in the op-ed pages of The New York Times happen and how has it evolved?
Krugman: I was brought on to write about "my real home," economics and business, specifically international economics. There were a lot of international crises in the '90s and The Times thought I'd be writing about policies and disasters overseas, as well as about stuff at home, typically the follies of the new economy. But it was election season, and it pretty quickly became clear to me and more and more so as we went along that the really scary follies, the potential disasters that were the greatest risks of concern were at home.
I came on thinking it would be a largely non-political column. I think The Times thought that, too. And then during the campaign, because I knew my stuff basically, because I could do my own arithmetic I found myself saying: "You know, these guys are lying...This is a fundamentally irresponsible and dishonest economic program." Then after the election it increasingly became clear to me that it wasn't just economics.
So it's a very strange thing. I'm no wild-eyed radical. Actually, The American Prospect, a very liberal magazine, ran a story in the mid-90s attacking me for my support of Free Trade.
McNally: I remember that.
Krugman: So I was kind of a bad guy from the point of view of more consistently reliable commentators on the left. But of course now all of that seems insignificant compared with the awesomeness of the fraud that they [the Bush Administration] are trying to perpetrate on all of us.
McNally: Exactly. Could talk a little bit about the introduction to your book and the context it sets? I assume you would never have written that at the time you wrote the first op-eds that appear in the book.
Krugman: You're right. I put a date on the introduction: April 10, just to make it clear that this is what I thought at that date. If we'd found a nuclear program in Iraq or the budget picture had improved, then I would've looked like I didn't know what I was talking about. But of course everything has turned out even worse than I expected. What I realized looking back over my own writings is that it's pretty easy to identify some very radical intents on the part of the coalition that now runs the country. It's not just a single group. It's the religious right, it's the hard-line conservatives, it's the anti-environmental industry groups and so on.
Put it all together and what you see is the outlines of an extremely radical program. Maybe reactionary would be the word because a lot of it would be rolling us back to where we were before the 1930s, before Franklin Roosevelt. In any case, a very radical program that would un-do the America that we've all grown up in.
I end up quoting Henry Kissinger because his writings gave me the key to why it's so hard for people even liberals to accept what's going on. He wrote about how when faced with a revolutionary power who really doesn't accept the rules of the game, the legitimacy of the system people who have been accustomed to the stability make excuses. They say: "Oh, well, they may talk that way but they don't really mean it. If we give them some partial concessions we can appease them, they'll be satisfied and all of this stuff would stop." That's exactly what's been happening now.
The true radicalism of the Bush Administration cutting taxes to a level that will not support social programs and dangerous adventurism in foreign policy has been right in front of our eyes, but most pundits and much of the public are saying: "Oh, let's not get too extreme here. I'm sure we can work this out. We can find a middle ground." And there isn't one.
McNally: Do you think that appeasement approach, that inability to believe that these people are as far out as they say they are, has been exacerbated by September 11? It's my take that had the economy continued as it was, had the lies continued as they were without Bush in the Commander-in-Chief role, people would've picked up on this sooner...
Krugman: Probably, although it's hard to say. We can't re-run the tape.
If you say what is actually obvious: that these people took September 11 as a great political opportunity and used it to push both a domestic economic and social agenda and a foreign policy agenda that had nothing to do with September 11 that's an extraordinary charge. And the very fact that it's such a harsh thing to say makes people unwilling to see it. It was obvious in the fall of last year that they were hyping the case for a war with Iraq. But it just seemed too harsh, too extreme to say that the President of the United States would do that. So there was a tremendous soft pedaling in the reporting.
McNally: I've talked about this with [UC Berkeley journalism professor] Mark Danner and others... Is it because the press is afraid of Bush's popularity and basically the media don't want to be caught ahead of the people? Is it corporate profits? Is it just a loss of true journalism? What do you attribute it to? You must talk with your colleagues about this.
Krugman: Well, actually, less than you might think, in terms of talking with colleagues. I'm based in Central New Jersey...
I'm not even sure I believe that the corporate influence thing is important yet. It may be at some future date, but I think that outside of Fox News, which is of course simply part of a machine it's not that crucial. By the way, I insult Fox News whenever I can, hoping that they'll sue me.
McNally: Best if they can do it while the book is fresh in the stores, right?
Krugman: That's right. But meanwhile, I think a better story is two things. One is that the media are desperately afraid of being accused of bias. And that's partly because there's a whole machine out there, an organized attempt to accuse them of bias whenever they say anything that the right doesn't like.
So rather than really try to report things objectively, they settle for being even-handed, which is not the same thing. One of my lines in a column in which a number of people thought I was insulting them personally was that if Bush said the earth was flat, the mainstream media would have stories with the headline: "Shape of the Earth Views Differ." Then they'd quote some Democrats saying that it was round.
Journalistic organizations are afraid of being accused of bias. There's also a fair bit of low rate intimidation of journalists themselves. I have received a couple of elliptical death threats but they weren't serious. The real stuff is the hate mail that comes in enormous quantities. Organizations try their best to find some scandal in your personal life and disseminate it. I don't think a lot of journalists are sitting around saying: "I better not cross these guys, they'll ruin me." But they do know that every time they say anything the right doesn't like to hear, they get the equivalent of a nasty electric shock. They sort of get conditioned not to go there.
McNally: Your initial op-eds dealt with Bush's campaign economics, but now you've grown to believe that the lying and the other things are basic approaches across the board, haven't you?
Krugman: Sure. Whatever you think about the Iraq war, the way it was sold was exactly the template they use for selling the tax cuts. The hyped evidence, the misleading statements, the bait-and-switch, the constantly shifting rationale. And the same things can be seen in less politically hot issues...the "Healthy Forests" plan, for instance.
In terms of naming things, Orwell had nothing on these guys. So the "Healthy Forest" plan turns out to be a plan to allow more logging of the forests. The "Clear Skies Initiative" turns out to first, get rid of new source review, which is an integral part of the Clean Air Act, and so on down the line.
So it's definitely a pattern. And if you step back a moment and look at it, you start to realize that, although looking at selling of the 2003 tax cut and what it does to our physical future is a bad thing, looking at the whole picture makes you feel a whole lot worse.
McNally: You point back to Reagan who had ideas you didn't agree with but at least sold them on what he believed to be their merits. Whether it was true or not, it was the actual case.
Krugman: That's right. Reagan, I think sincerely believed in trickle-down economics. Look, it's funny. Not only do I miss Reagan who I thought had bad policies but didn't approach the skullduggery of these people, I actually miss Nixon. Although God knows he did skullduggery, as John Dean says, even Nixon didn't go after the wives.
McNally: The CIA leak of Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife...
Krugman: Yeah. Also Nixon seemed to be at least sincerely interested in governing. He was actually trying to run the country. He didn't think anybody else should have a chance to run it, but he actually tried to solve problems. The old hands of the Environmental Protection Administration will tell you that the Nixon years were a golden age. These people now... they're ruthless, they're dishonest, and they haven't actually tried to deal with any of our real problems.
McNally: I read one quote where you said: "Tell me one real problem that they took on and offered an actual solution." Can we narrow our focus to economics? What is most alarming about the deficit? We know in Keynesian economics deficits are okay... What's the real problem here? Why is it as bad as you think it is?
Krugman: I'm sorry, there's one-and-a-half problems. It's still a jobless recovery. That's a very nasty prospect and we have seen no real sign of turn-around there. But beyond that... Look, deficits are okay, but Keynes never said it was okay to run deficits forever. He said that deficits are good for stimulating the economy temporarily during downturns.
What we have is the prospect of deficits that are not temporary. The last estimate is, of the $500 billion-plus deficit, only about $60 or $70 billion would go away even if the economy does recover. And it's much worse once the baby boomers retire, which happens in about 10 years. We have the finances of a banana republic right now. If current tax rates and current programs continue, at some point the U.S. government will simply be unable to pay its debts and long before that point happens, industries will pull the plug.
And we have the same thing internationally as well. We have a huge trade deficit. It roughly matches the domestic deficit, and foreigners are lending the country money to cover that. At some point they will pull the plug. Some people say we now have a faith-based currency. I think we have a faith-based government. People believe that we're going to get our act together, but there's no sign that we will.
McNally: So perhaps a lulling effect similar to the one we were talking about earlier may be working right now to cover our butt for a while, but it could turn quickly.
Krugman: That's right. At the moment, the actual fiscal state of the federal government is substantially worse than that of the state of California. The laws are different: the state of California is obliged by law to balance its books each year. It'll fudge a bit but eventually it has to clear the books. The federal government does not.
Also, you might say that Bush has some un-earned credits from the responsibility of his predecessors. In the past, U.S. presidents have always in the end done enough of the right thing so that the solvency of the government was never at stake. And it comes back to this denial that I talk about. People can't believe that we're dealing with something completely different now, but we are.
McNally: Let me get this straight. You're not saying that we will actually go bankrupt, but that we are too dependent on foreign investors and at some point, they'll say: "You know what, I'm putting my money elsewhere."
Krugman: Well, in fact, that does produce something that looks like bankruptcy. When you have a huge debt, not only do you have to pay interest on it, but you have to keep rolling it over. The point comes when investors say: "I don't trust these Americans. They don't seem to be responsible." Then all of a sudden you cannot raise the money to service the debt when it comes due.
McNally: We've watched this happen in other countries and the thought is that's Thailand, that's not the U.S.
Krugman: That's Argentina. This is my specialty. I watched it happen in other countries and you look at the numbers and you say: "Geez, we have a budget deficit that's bigger compared with the size of our economy than Argentina before their 2001 crack-up. We have a trade deficit that's bigger compared with the size of our economy, than Indonesia before its 1997 crack-up." You say: "Well, yeah, but this is America and it can't happen here." But there's a lot of things we didn't think could happen here. Something very seriously wrong is going on now.
McNally: What I haven't heard quite yet is the point which you make very strongly in the book, that the purpose behind the tax cuts is to bankrupt the government, to undermine social programs, so that no one who comes into office after them will have an easy time restoring them.
Krugman: I'm not making that up. That's exactly what the lobbyists and the others behind these people say. The program that the Administration is following looks as if it was designed to implement their ideas. I think it is.
McNally: What would you do? And let me ask it two ways. What would Paul Krugman's solution be? And then, if Paul Krugman were Howard Dean or Wesley Clark or John Kerry if he were running for office, what would his solution be?
Krugman: Okay. First off, you have to have a plan to get the budget back into balance. It's not possible to have a plan that doesn't include phasing out the bulk, if not all, of the Bush tax cuts. Not all in the first year, we're still in a recession. But a gradual plan to eliminate those tax cuts, bring the tax system back to about where it was in 2000. This would get us most, though not all, of the way to a balanced budget. You could talk about other things on the side, but that would have to be the core of it.
Meanwhile, we need to get the economy moving. To do that, you have to do the things that governments always do during recessions, but this government hasn't. Aid to state and local governments so they aren't laying off schoolteachers and firemen just when the economy is slumping. Public works programs. As it happens, we have a whole backlog of homeland security spending: ports and so on that we should be doing that the government is nickel-and-diming away.
McNally: And a huge amount of federal infrastructure that we just ignore completely.
Krugman: That's right. Just go and do these things which we need done anyway and particularly now. They would also help create jobs. Maybe on top of that we need another round of rebates, but rebates that are fully refundable and go to the people most likely to spend the money.
Is that guaranteed to work? I don't know. But it's certainly has a good chance of working and we haven't tried any of these obvious things.
McNally: How much of that do you think a candidate could say and get away with?
Krugman: I think a candidate has to be fairly forthright. We can argue about whether the whole Bush tax cut or just the upper brackets need to go. But at least they have to say that the upper brackets must go.
And look, I don't know that we'll win. I don't know what tricks the Administration will come up with to divert people's attention, but I think that unless a candidate is really prepared to come out swinging, to say these people are doing the wrong thing by the country, there's no chance. Saying "I'm like Bush only less so" is not going to win this election.
Interviewer Terrence McNally hosts Free Forum on KPFK 90.7fm, Los Angeles (streaming at kpfk.org), where he interviews people he believes can help create "a world that just might work."
Pity, though not too deeply, the American press. Once the wisecracking truth seekers of "The Front Page" and the brave gumshoes of "All the President's Men," the fourth estate has fallen into such cultural disfavor that it risks being renamed the fifth estate, if not the sixth. Hollywood no longer depicts reporters in ruthless pursuit of criminals, high and low. Now they are the criminals.
If anything, history may judge that a far bigger blot on The Times's reputation than Mr. Blair is Walter Duranty, who won a 1932 Pulitzer Prize as a foreign correspondent in the Soviet Union. His willful shilling for Stalin went uncorrected for years. (He is also a blot on the history of the Pulitzer Board itself, which, in keeping with journalism's new haste to rectify even its old sins, is now weighing a belated revocation of Duranty's prize.) By all accounts, Duranty, like Mr. Glass and Mr. Blair, was an ambitious self-promoter infatuated with the limelight. But his capital journalistic crime, hiding the truth about a Ukraine famine that killed millions, offers a much darker picture of where this corruption can lead than the relative misdemeanors of his successors.
The public, like Lennie Briscoe on "Law and Order," gets the drift. It sees too many reporters showboating Geraldo-style on camera, whether on "K Street" or in the middle of hurricanes, catastrophic fires and wars. They see a famous columnist reveal the name of a C.I.A. agent and never say he's sorry. They see news media less preoccupied with the news than with boosting their own status in the entertainment firmament that now literally owns most of them.
In this vein, CNN's Christiane Amanpour recently criticized the wartime press, her own network included, for muzzling itself during the war in Iraq and not asking "enough questions, for instance, about weapons of mass destruction." She attributes this lapse in part to the need to compete with the ostentatiously gung-ho Fox in a more important war - for ratings. In the book "Embedded," a new oral history of journalists in Iraq, the Times correspondent John Burns talks about the "corruption in our business" when describing how fellow reporters cozied up to Saddam Hussein, minimizing his regime's atrocities before the war much as Duranty did Stalin's. Next to these real-life scenarios, an exposι of journalistic sins like "Shattered Glass" seems like a valentine. No wonder The New Republic itself co-sponsored a celebrity screening last week to promote it in Washington.
June 27, 2003 | fff.org
A lot of silly things have been said about Iraq's alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, such as that Saddam Hussein could be ready to launch in 45 minutes. But perhaps the silliest of all is the Republicans' charge that even to ask whether the Bush administration misled the American people is to engage in partisan politics.
Note the double standard. It's politics to point out that a couple of months after the Hussein regime fell no unconventional weapons have been found. But to even wonder whether the war was politically motivated is beyond the pale. "How dare you suggest that a president of the United States would put American troops in harm's way for political reasons?"
The faux naivetι is precious. Presidents have been waging politically motivated wars almost since the country was founded. Attempting to separate war from politics is futile. As Karl von Clausewitz famously said, "War is the continuation of politics by other means."
Thus those who in war's aftermath question the pre-war propaganda can hardly be uniquely guilty of playing politics. As for that clichι "politics stops at the water's edge," an old Washington Post editor, Felix Morley, had the best answer: politics stops at the water's edge only when policy stops at the water's edge.
Apr 21, 2003 | Media Research Center CyberAlert
Vice President Cheney, Bill Moyers argued on his PBS show on Friday night, is the "poster boy" for the "military-industrial complex" made up of those who "call for war with all the ferocity of non-combatants and then turn around and feed on the corpse of war."
Citing the awarding of a contract to Bechtel to re-build Iraq and how the company has connections to the Bush administration, Moyers lectured on PBS's Now: "Illegal? Not in our system. Unsavory? No matter how you slice it. But the main point is this: America's corporate and political elites now form a regime of their own and they're privatizing democracy. All the benefits -- the tax cuts, policies and rewards flow in one direction: up."
The "Bill Moyers Journal" commentary came at the end of the April 18 Now which had earlier featured, the MRC's Tim Graham informed me, a lengthy segment with New York Times economics columnist Jeff Madrick, a former NBC News reporter, denouncing Bush's tax cut plans.
Moyers intoned: "Earlier in this hour Jeff Madrick talked about how inequality is changing the country. Politics determines economic outcomes and campaign contributions give the edge to those who can afford the entre. It goes even deeper. What's emerged full-blown is the military-industrial complex famously predicted and feared by President Eisenhower 50 years ago.
"It's no longer possible to tell where the corporate world ends and government begins. The poster boy for this new elite is Richard Cheney. As the head of Halliburton he made a fortune for the influence and access gained through his earlier service in government. Then Halliburton corporation gets favored and confidential treatment soon after Mr. Cheney becomes George Bush's Vice President.
"This week the big construction company Bechtel received a contract that could pay three quarters of a billion dollars for work in post-war Iraq. Bechtel gives lots of money to politicians, mostly to Republicans. On its board is George Shultz, who ran Bechtel before he became President Reagan's Secretary of State. One of Bechtel's Senior Vice Presidents is a former General who serves on the Defense Policy Board, along with other hawks like Richard Perle and James Woolsey, who wanted war with Iraq and got it. They advise the Pentagon and then turn around and make money out of their defense contacts.
"These fellows are all honorable men, I'm sure. But they call for war with all the ferocity of non-combatants and then turn around and feed on the corpse of war. Illegal? Not in our system. Unsavory? No matter how you slice it. But the main point is this: America's corporate and political elites now form a regime of their own and they're privatizing democracy. All the benefits -- the tax cuts, policies and rewards flow in one direction: up -- and the people Jeff Madrick talked about, whose faith in the fairness of the American way of life is the bulwark of our country, are left outside looking in."
Conservatives continue to be on the outside of PBS looking in at the liberals like Moyers who use the taxpayer-subsidized network to advance their own personal political vendettas.
October 15, 2003 | washingtonpost.com
Ever worry that millions of your fellow Americans are walking around knowing things that you don't? That your prospects for advancement may depend on your mastery of such arcana as who won the Iraqi war or where exactly Europe is?
Then don't watch Fox News. The more you watch, the more you'll get things wrong.
Researchers from the Program on International Policy Attitudes (a joint project of several academic centers, some of them based at the University of Maryland) and Knowledge Networks, a California-based polling firm, have spent the better part of the year tracking the public's misperceptions of major news events and polling people to find out just where they go to get things so balled up. This month they released their findings, which go a long way toward explaining why there's so little common ground in American politics today: People are proceeding from radically different sets of facts, some so different that they're altogether fiction.
In a series of polls from May through September, the researchers discovered that large minorities of Americans entertained some highly fanciful beliefs about the facts of the Iraqi war. Fully 48 percent of Americans believed that the United States had uncovered evidence demonstrating a close working relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Another 22 percent thought that we had found the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And 25 percent said that most people in other countries had backed the U.S. war against Saddam Hussein. Sixty percent of all respondents entertained at least one of these bits of dubious knowledge; 8 percent believed all three.
The researchers then asked where the respondents most commonly went to get their news. The fair and balanced folks at Fox, the survey concludes, were "the news source whose viewers had the most misperceptions." Eighty percent of Fox viewers believed at least one of these un-facts; 45 percent believed all three. Over at CBS, 71 percent of viewers fell for one of these mistakes, but just 15 percent bought into the full trifecta. And in the daintier precincts of PBS viewers and NPR listeners, just 23 percent adhered to one of these misperceptions, while a scant 4 percent entertained all three.
Now, this could just be pre-sorting by ideology: Conservatives watch O'Reilly, liberals look at Lehrer, and everyone finds his belief system confirmed. But the Knowledge Network nudniks took that into account, and found that even among people of like mind, where they got their news still shaped their sense of the real. Among respondents who said they would vote for George W. Bush in next year's presidential race, for instance, more than three-quarters of the Fox watchers thought we'd uncovered a working relationship between Hussein and al Qaeda, while just half of those who watch PBS believed this to be the case.
Misperceptions can also be the result of inattention, of course. If you nod off for just a nanosecond in the middle of Tom Brokaw intoning, "U.S. inspectors did not find weapons of mass destruction today," you could think we'd just uncovered Hussein's nuclear arsenal. So the wily researchers also controlled for intensity of viewership, and concluded that, "in the case of those who primarily watched Fox News, greater attention to news modestly increases the likelihood of misperceptions." Particularly when that news includes hyping every false lead in Iraq as the certain prelude to uncovering a massive WMD cache.
One question inevitably raised by these findings is whether Fox News is failing or succeeding. Over at CBS, the news that 71 percent of viewers hold one of these mistaken notions should be cause for concern, but whether such should be the case at Fox because 80 percent of their viewers are similarly mistaken is not at all clear. Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes and the other guys at Fox have long demonstrated a clearer commitment to changing public policy than to reporting it, and an even clearer commitment to reporting it in such a way as to change it.
Take a wild flight of fancy with me and assume for just a moment that one major goal over at Fox is to ensure Bush's reelection. Surely, anyone who believes that Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda were in cahoots, that we've found the WMD and that Bush is revered among the peoples of the world -- all of these known facts to nearly half the Fox viewers -- is a good bet to be a Bush voter in next year's contest. By this standard -- moving votes into Bush's column and keeping them there -- Fox has to be judged a stunning success. It's not so hot on conveying information as such, but mere empiricism must seem so terribly vulgar to such creatures of refinement as Murdoch and Ailes.
The writer will answer questions about this column during a Live Online discussion at 4 p.m. today at www.washingtonpost.com.
Independent Media TV
In 1961 President Eisenhower famously warned of the dangers of an overly strong military- industrial complex. He cautioned that inseparable ties between the military and for-profit arms merchants could distort national policies and priorities, leading to negative "economic, political, even spiritual" consequences.
As the Bush administration ignores the warnings of the past by contracting out an unprecedented number of military obligations to private firms, we have seen Eisenhower's warned-of disasters unfold. This has led not only to the humiliation and degradation of Iraqi prisoners (in a country we said we were liberating) but has caused untold damage to American prestige and even severely compromised the safety of the American men and women who are unwittingly putting their lives on the line for - the military- industrial complex. The spiritual consequences that Eisenhower warned about are becoming even more apparent, with national and local right-wing demagogues spewing radio novels of garbage about the traitorous Democrats, rampant with paranoia and delusions, as their callers ring in their dittos and curse the rest of the world.
Eisenhower has received a sort of folk-hero status as a result of his farewell address, and deservedly so. But today we have a more insidious, possibly even more damaging, alliance unfolding - what could be called the military-mass media complex.
Not long ago, the American press was the best in the world. But within the past ten years or so, its interests have coincided too closely with state interests, so that in many cases it has become a vehicle for the government. This development, one would think, would alarm conservatives who profess a distrust of government. Yet they seem all too happy to let the press abandon its watchdog role, as long as it fits with their agenda. Their distrust of government apparently does not include a distrust of that most laborious of government bureaucracies, the military.
America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War.
The reaction to 9/11 is beyond anything Osama bin Laden could have hoped for in his nastiest dreams. As in McCarthy times, the freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically eroded. The combination of compliant US media and vested corporate interests is once more ensuring that a debate that should be ringing out in every town square is confined to the loftier columns of the East Coast press.
- Fox News: Goldberg details how the cable upstart channel has redefined the major media. Bernard Goldberg reveals his suggestion to Bill O'Reilly on what gift he should send Dan Rather and Peter Jennings.
- Christian-bashing: Goldberg says the liberal media has smeared the Christian right and made it look like a version Уof the Taliban.Ф Goldberg says the media never talks about the very influential and powerful УChristians LeftФ Ц УitТs not even in their lexicon.Ф
- Why the major media has targeted Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and why they're so afraid of their agenda.
A Liberal Perspective, August 25, 2003
Reviewer: Brian Clagett from Lakewood, OH United States
So, I admit it, I'm a liberal reviewing a book intended for conservatives so I am biased. I checked out Eric Alterman's "What Liberal Media?" and saw this book on the shelf next to it and decided that I should be 'fair' and read them both. Of course, I read Alterman's book first (and thought it was excellent) and when I finished I moved on to "Bias". The first thing I noticed was how much shorter the book was and how much larger the print was. As I started to read, I began to realize how little facts there were in the book.
He makes a decent case for some of the stuff he discusses (mostly the stuff dealing with race), but the lion's share of his argument of a liberal bias comes from one TV station (CBS) and mainly their prime-time news shows (special emphasis on Dan Rather).
The only time in the book Goldberg really looks outside of CBS and takes a broader look, the only facts he uses are stats about the voting habits of the media. Implying that, since most journalists identify themselves as liberals, they will skew the news towards their views. Another chapter in the book really points out the flaw in this argument. He devotes chapter to male bashing and how the media is always targeting men. Now, isn't most of the media made up of males? or at least, aren't a majority of them males? Then why isn't there a male bias? Shouldn't the news be more skewed towards the male point of view based on his previous argument that it is slanted towards the liberal view just because they are liberals?
He also treats the media's portrayal of the AIDS virus as if the media was trying to scare heterosexuals into fearing the disease to rationalize spending money on research, etc. and blames this on liberal bias. Isn't this how the media works with any story? Don't they try to overhype everything that can be scary to it's audience to create ratings? This isn't liberal bias, it's an attempt to grab ratings.
So... if you're a conservative and want to read this book, go ahead, I'm sure you'll enjoy it, but please read Alterman's "What Liberal Media?" afterwards. You might not like what you hear, but that's only because you don't want to believe it.
British Journalism Review Vol. 11, No. 2, 2000
British journalists and British journals are being manipulated by the secret intelligence agencies, and I think we ought to try and put a stop to it.
The manipulation takes three forms.
- The first is the attempt to recruit journalists to spy on other people, or for spies to go themselves under journalistic "cover". This occurs today and it has gone on for years. It is dangerous, not only for the journalist concerned, but for other journalists who get tarred with the espionage brush. Farzad Bazoft was a colleague of mine on the London Observer when he was executed by Saddam Hussein for espionage. It did not, in a sense, matter whether he was really a spy or not. Either way, he ended up dead.
- The second form of manipulation that worries me is when intelligence officers are allowed to pose as journalists in order to write tendentious articles under false names. Evidence of this only rarely comes to light, but two examples have surfaced recently mainly because of the whistleblowing activities of a couple of renegade officers David Shayler from MI5 and Richard Tomlinson from MI6.
- The third sort of manipulation is the most insidious when intelligence agency propaganda stories are planted on willing journalists, who disguise their origin from their readers. There is or has been until recently a very active programme by the secret agencies to colour what appears in the British press, called, if publications by various defectors can be believed, "I/Ops". That is an abbreviation for Information Operations, and I am unusually in a position to provide some information about it.
Let us take that third allegation first. Black propaganda false material where the source is disguised has been a tool of British intelligence agencies since the days of the war, when the Special Operations Executive got up to all kinds of tricks with clandestine radio stations, to drip pornography and pessimism into the ears of impressionable German soldiers. Post-war, this unwholesome game mutated into the anti-Soviet Information Research Department. Its task was ostensibly to plant anti-communist stories in the press of the third world, but its lurid tales of Marxist drunkenness and corruption sometimes leaked back to confuse the readers of the British media. A colourful example of the way these techniques expand to meet the exigencies of the hour came in the early 1970s, when the readers of the News of the World found before their eyes and no doubt to their bewilderment a front page splash, Russian Sub in IRA plot sensation, complete with aerial photograph of a Soviet conning tower awash off the coast of Donegal. That was the work of Hugh Mooney of the IRD, an organisation which was eventually closed down in 1977. Its spirit did not die, however. Nearly 25 years later, readers of the Sunday Telegraph were regaled with a dramatic story about the son of Col Gadafy of Libya and his alleged connection to a currency counterfeiting plan. The story was written by Con Coughlin, the paper's then chief foreign correspondent, and it was falsely attributed to a "British banking official". In fact, it had been given to him by officers of MI6, who, it transpired, had been supplying Coughlin with material for years.
The origins of that November 1995 Telegraph article only came to light when they were recently disclosed by Mark Hollingsworth, the biographer of renegade security service officer David Shayler. Shayler had worked on MI5's Libya desk at the time, in liaison with his counterparts in the foreign espionage service, MI6, and had come away with a detailed knowledge of events, and a bundle of secret documents to back them up. The allegations were confirmed from an unexpected direction. The Sunday Telegraph was served with a libel writ by Gadafy's son. The paper was unable to back up its suggestion that Gadafy junior might have been linked to a fraud, but pleaded, in effect, that it had been supplied with the material by the Government. In a long and detailed statement, which entered the public domain in the course of a judgment given in an interlocutory appeal on 28 October 1998, the paper described how, under Charles Moore's editorship, a lunch had been arranged with the then Conservative foreign secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, at which Con Coughlin had been present. Told by Rifkind that countries such as Iran were trying to get hold of hard currency to beat sanctions, Coughlin was later briefed by an MI6 man his regular contact. Some weeks afterward, he was introduced to a second MI6 man, who spent several hours with him and handed over extensive details of the story about Gadafy's son. Although Coughlin asked for evidence, and was shown purported bank statements, the pleadings make clear that he was dependent on MI6 for the discreditable details about the alleged counterfeiting scam. He was required to keep the source strictly confidential.
Throughout the formal pleadings, the Telegraph preserved the fig-leaf of its sources by referring to a "Western government security agency". But this veil of coyness was blown away by City solicitor David Hooper in his book on libel published in March, Reputations Under Fire, where he says briskly: "In reality [they were] members of MI6" So, unusually, an MI6 exercise in planting a story has been laid bare. Now, there is no suggestion that Con Coughlin is dishonest in his work. He is a perfectly conscientious journalist who I expect did his best to substantiate his facts and undoubtedly believed in their truth. But nevertheless, those facts may not have been true. And I believe he made a serious mistake in falsely attributing his story to a "British banking official". His readers ought to know where his material is coming from. When the Sunday Telegraph got into trouble with the libel case, it seems, after all, to have suddenly found it possible to become a lot more specific about its sources.
This was not an isolated example of recent MI6 "I/Ops". In August 1997, the present foreign editor of the Independent, Leonard Doyle, was also in contact with MI6 while he was at his previous post at the Observer. I know, because I became involved in an MI6-inspired story as a result. Doyle's MI6 contact supplied him with intelligence information about an Iranian exile who, while running a pizza business in Glasgow, was also attempting to lay hands on a sophisticated mass spectrometer which could be used for measuring uranium enrichment a key stage in acquiring components for a nuclear bomb. We were supplied with a mass of apparently high quality intelligence from MI6, including surveillance details of an Istanbul hotel meeting between our pizza merchant and men involved in Iranian nuclear procurement.
I should make clear that we did not publish merely on the say-so of MI6. We travelled to Glasgow, confronted the pizza merchant, and only when he admitted that he had been dealing with representatives of the nuclear industry in Iran, did we publish an article. In that story we made it plain that our target had been watched by western intelligence. Nevertheless, I felt uneasy, and vowed never to take part in such an exercise again. Although all parties, from the foreign editor down, behaved scrupulously, we had been obliged to conceal from our readers the full facts and had ended up, in effect, acting as government agents.
Now, after the Tomlinson/Shayler defections and the subsequent revelation of MI6's continuing "I/Ops" programme of which my Iranian experience was plainly a part, I think the cause of honest journalism is best served by candour. We all ought to come clean about these approaches, and devise some ethics to deal with them. In our vanity, we imagine that we control these sources. But the truth is that they are very deliberately seeking to control us.
The second intelligence tactic of manipulation in my list which gives concern, is the habit of allowing spooks to write under false names. It was Tomlinson, I suspect, who, having worked in the area, first blew the whistle on this one. And it was a recently published book MI6 by Stephen Dorril which once again added the final piece of the jigsaw. Two articles appeared in the Spectator magazine in early 1994 under the by-line "Kenneth Roberts". They were datelined Sarajevo, and "Roberts" was described as having been working with the UN in Bosnia as an "advisor". In fact, he was MI6 officer Keith Robert Craig (the pseudonym was a simple one), whose local cover was as a civilian "attached" to the British military unit's Balkan secretariat. At the time, Bosnia was the site of attacks and atrocities from neighbouring Serbia, and also the focus of some passionate reporting from British journalists. The British military were there as UN "peacekeepers", but anyone who read "Roberts's'' articles might have begun to wonder whether it was not a better policy for British troops to go home and leave the Serbs a free hand. The first article on 5 February, rehearsed arguments for a UN withdrawal, pointing out that all sides committed atrocities. The second piece complained, baselessly, about "warped" and inaccurate reporting by journalists, including the BBC's Kate Adie.
It is possible, of course, that Craig was merely overcome with private literary urges whilst marooned in the Balkans, and thought it more politic to express his own opinions under a "nom de plume". But one of the traditional roles of "I/Ops" is to plant stories. What is not clear is how the introduction to the Spectator was made, or whether Craig confided his real trade to the then editor of the Spectator, Dominic Lawson. In his recent published compilation about MI6, the author Stephen Dorril points out that Dominic Lawson's brother-in-law at the time, Anthony Monckton, was himself a serving MI6 officer, who was to take over the Zagreb station in the Balkans in 1996. (Rosa Monckton, his sister and Dominic Lawson's wife, was the late Princess Diana's close friend.).
These relationships which the disenchanted Tomlinson knew all about because he had himself served undercover in the Balkans in the same time-frame, and which have only slowly emerged into the public domain have become the subject of a swirl of rumour. There is no reason to believe the Editor of the Spectator did anything improper at all, and certainly no reason to think, as he has been forced to deny, that he was acting as an agent of MI6, whether paid or unpaid. But, for an editor, it must be a bad idea to end up in a position where an MI6 officer is writing for your publication on matters of political controversy, under a false name. Transparency is better.
The final malpractice which the Tomlinson/Shayler defections have brought to light, is the continuing deliberate blurring by MI6 of the line between journalist and spy. This is an old crime Kim Philby, former foreign correspondent of The Observer would have had plenty of stories to tell about that. But it should be exposed and stopped. Tomlinson himself, by his own account, spent six months in 1993 travelling around Croatia and Serbia trying to recruit informants, under the guise of a British journalist. Dorril, in his book, further asserts that the Spectator itself was unknowingly used as "cover" by no fewer than three MI6 officers working in Bosnia, Belgrade, and Moldova.
The most dismaying allegation floated by Tomlinson was that he had heard tell within MI6 of a "national newspaper editor" who was used as an agent, and had received up to Ј100,000 in covert payments, accessed at an offshore bank, via a false passport obligingly supplied by MI6 itself. This claim set off a hue and cry, during which the hapless Dominic Lawson was obliged to issue his denial, and other editors came under suspicious scrutiny. In fact, I believe Tomlinson has been wrongly reported. Those who have talked to him in detail say that he has no first-hand knowledge, but merely knew of something a colleague obliquely mentioned. Hearing the words "editor" and "national newspaper", Tomlinson jumped to the wrong conclusion, and then started guessing. Spies are, after all, very like journalists in their methods but merely less reliable. What those in the newspaper business know is that there is all the difference in the world between "the Editor" and "an editor". Newspapers have, for example, education editors; they have environment editors; they have defence editors (not, I should say, that I have any evidence against any individual members of these categories). And it would be a senior journalist at that level, who could travel, see things, report back, who would be of more practical use in the business of espionage than, say the Editor of The Times. So the hunt is still on for the miscreant. And miscreant he is: for, make no mistake, this kind of behaviour by journalists is dangerous and wrong.
Our first task as practitioners is to document what goes on in this very furtive field. Our second task ought to be to hold an open debate on what the proper relations between the intelligence agencies and the media ought to be. And our final task must then be to find ways of actually behaving more sensibly.
Although the Bush administration is hardly the first to politicize science, no administration in recent memory has so shamelessly distorted scientific findings for policy reasons or suppressed them when they conflict with political goals. This is the nub of an indictment delivered last week by more than 60 prominent scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates. Their statement was accompanied by a report published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, listing cases where the administration has manipulated science on environmental and other issues.
President Bush's supporters promptly denounced the statement and the report as an overdrawn and politically motivated work issued in an election year by an advocacy group known for its liberal disposition. Tellingly, however, neither Mr. Bush's friends nor the White House denied that any of the incidents listed in the report - all had been reported before in newspapers, trade magazines and scientific journals - had occurred. The best they could muster was a lame rejoinder from Dr. John Marburger III, Mr. Bush's science adviser, who said that these were disconnected episodes reflecting normal bureaucratic disagreements, none of them adding up to a "a pattern" of distortion or disrespect for science.
We respectfully urge Dr. Marburger to look again. On global warming alone, the administration belittled, misrepresented, altered or quashed multiple reports suggesting a clear link between greenhouse gas emissions and the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil. A study detailing the impact of mercury emissions from power plants was sanitized to industry specifications. Another study suggesting that a Congressional clean-air bill would achieve greater pollution reductions than Mr. Bush's own plan, at approximately the same cost, was withheld. It does not take much effort to find a pattern of suppressing inconvenient facts that might force Mr. Bush's friends in the oil, gas and coal industries to spend more on pollution control.
The report details similar shenanigans involving other agencies, including Agriculture, Interior and even, on reproductive health issues, the Centers for Disease Control. It also criticizes the administration for stacking advisory committees with industry representatives and disbanding panels that provided unwanted advice. Collected in one place, this material gives a portrait of governmentwide insensitivity to scientific standards that, unless corrected, will further undermine the administration's credibility and the morale of its scientists.
Archive for 2003
January 20, 2003 | Los Angeles Times
The other night I watched Peter Davis' 1974 Academy Award-winning documentary, "Hearts and Minds." The film makes a powerful case for how successive administrations, from Eisenhower to Ford, lied to the American public about U.S. policy in Vietnam and the threat of communism to world stability. It also revealed, for the first time, that the U.S. offered France two atomic bombs prior to its 1954 defeat at Dien Bien Phu. Mercifully, Paris declined.
In the director's commentary that accompanies the film on DVD, Davis says he hopes his work will compel politicians to think twice before committing U.S. forces to war and inspire the American public to carefully evaluate and question the wisdom of such a decision. Today, with war against Iraq increasingly likely, it would be well to consider Davis' plea and perhaps ask: Should war erupt, who will cover it?
Before the 1991 Gulf War, a slew of news organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and this newspaper, all had reporters in Baghdad. So did the three major broadcast networks and a 10-year-old, 24-hour cable outlet named CNN.
Because of fear on the part of their editors at home and considerable pressure by the administration, most reporters were either ordered out or fled Iraq by the Jan. 15 U.N. deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. And following a personal appeal from President Bush, Tom Johnson, then president of CNN, was going to pull CNN out too but was overruled by the network's iconoclastic owner, Ted Turner, who stressed that CNN was an international news organization and "anyone who chose to remain in Baghdad could do so ... but no one would be ordered out."
There were eight of us in Baghdad and all but three elected to leave the following morning. But a few hours later, at 2:40 a.m., the war began. Nearly 1 billion viewers worldwide got the opportunity to listen to history-making coverage provided by Bernie Shaw, John Holliman and Peter Arnett. Two days later, the CNN team left, except for Arnett, Nic Robertson and me. The network was flooded with hate mail and bomb threats from those believing that CNN was a mouthpiece for Iraq.
CNN was permitted to remain in Baghdad for several reasons. Foreign editor Eason Jordan in Atlanta and I had lobbied the Iraqis relentlessly for months preceding the war to underscore the idea that CNN had an international mandate and would report from Iraq with as much fairness and balance as we could muster.
Fortunately, Naji Hadithi, then undersecretary at the Ministry of Information and today Iraq's foreign minister and known as Naji Sabri, felt it was in Iraq's interest to have an outlet to the West -- and he trusted CNN. In short, we used them and they used us.
Though we faced restrictions in Iraq, the situation was even more dire for the U.S. press corps based in Saudi Arabia, whose members were denied the access they sought, as they had been in Grenada and Panama. This reduced their version of the war to a series of briefings and handout bomb-site pictures that belied the terrible human consequences of battle.
This time around, I fear things will be even worse. With regime change the explicit goal of the administration, it is unlikely Baghdad will expend any energy to help reporters, especially American or British. Moreover, I would not be surprised if some were taken hostage or worse.
And after 9/11, the tenor of news coverage has changed so drastically that I often no longer recognize the coverage on the network where I worked for two decades. Some editors and reporters in American media now see themselves as "patriot police," engaging in jingoism and self-censorship. Throughout much of the world, the U.S. press is perceived as nothing more than a mouthpiece for the administration, and by extension Israel.
Those intrepid journalists who remain in Iraq may face challenges from the U.S. military too, in the form of electronic jamming of their satellite phones or other technology to thwart live coverage. But this will pale in comparison with those hapless souls "embedded" with the American forces. Reporters have been embedded before, in a shack in Panama, in a briefing room in Dhahran and in their hotels in Pakistan and Afghanistan. They've been denied timely access to events on the ground until Washington has in effect "sanitized" the terrain. There is nothing to suggest the Pentagon will change its policy or permit the kind of unfettered reportage we witnessed in Vietnam.
Thousands of civilians, not to mention those in uniform (on both sides), may die in a new Persian Gulf war, and responsible reporters should be there. Any time American men and women are put in harm's way, it is paramount that the U.S. press be witness.
The journalists who covered Vietnam learned this lesson, and the American public should not only insist on it but also remember "Hearts and Minds" and never again be hoodwinked by propaganda, innuendo or outright lies told or perpetuated by its elected officials.
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