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Softpanorama Media Skeptic Bulletin 2004

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[Dec 7, 2004] The March of Folly, Continued by William S. Lind

On War #95
December 7, 2004

The March of Folly, Continued

By William S. Lind

[The views expressed in this article are those of Mr. Lind, writing in his personal capacity. They do not reflect the opinions or policy positions of the Free Congress Foundation, its officers, board or employees, or those of Kettle Creek Corporation.]

Was Ukraine’s November 21st presidential election stolen? Probably. Would it be nice if Ukraine were a democracy? Sure. Are those the considerations that should drive American policy in the region? No.

The most important factor in American policy toward the countries of the former Soviet Union ought to be our need for a strategic alliance with Russia. Geo-politically, Russia holds Christendom’s vast eastern flank, which stretches all the way from the Black Sea to Vladivostok. As the remnants of the Christian world begin to wake up to the reality that Islam has resumed the strategic offensive, that flank takes on renewed importance. It is already under pressure, as events in Chechnya show all too clearly. If it collapses, Christendom will have suffered an epic defeat.

Not surprisingly, the Bush administration, the scope of whose strategic vision is measured in microns, gets none of this. In its continuing march of folly, it has dismissed Russia’s vital interests in its “near abroad,” which includes Ukraine. Washington did everything in its power to secure the election to Ukraine’s presidency of Victor Yushchenko, the anti-Russian candidate. When the pro-Russian candidate, Mr. Yanukovych, won instead (illustrating Stalin’s maxim that what is important is not who votes, but who counts the votes), Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States would not recognize the result. Now, a new election has been ordered, in which Yushchenko’s victory is all but certain. The result will be a heavy defeat for our vital ally, Russia.

Russia is already reacting as it must. The December 4, 2004, The Washington Post reports Russian President Vladimir Putin as saying that Washington wants a “dictatorship of international affairs. Even if dictatorship is wrapped up in a beautiful package of pseudo-democratic phraseology, it will not be in a position to solve systemic problems.” If anything, Putin puts the case too mildly. The Bush administration believes it already has a dictatorship of international affairs, and everybody else, including Russia, is an American satellite. Washington need not take account of anyone’s interests.

The folly of ignoring Russia’s vital interests may lead to a worst possible outcome, namely a renewed civil war within Christendom. Three previous such civil wars in the 20th century – World War I, World War II, and the Cold War – have left our culture merely one contender among many, whereas a century ago it dominated the world. A fourth such conflict, in the form of a revived cold war, would truly be a gift from Allah to the warriors of the Prophet. Christendom would spend what little energy it has left fighting itself.

Continued American meddling in Ukraine may have equally dire consequences for that unhappy country, which both America and Russia should want to see prosperous and stable. Eastern Ukraine, which is heavily populated by Russians, is making noises about seceding if Yushchenko wins. If Russia feels humiliated by Washington in a Yushchenko victory, it might think it has no way to recoup but by supporting such secession movements. That could lead to civil war in Ukraine, a breakup of the country and a direct confrontation between Washington and Moscow. As a Russian general said a few years ago, it is true that most of Russia’s nuclear weapons are old and rusty, but a good number probably still work.It is to such consequences that the march of folly inevitably leads. Regrettably, that march is what marked George W. Bush’s first term. Now, with dissenting voices in the administration being purged, it seems the march tempo will quicken, and not only in the Middle East. Is there anyone left in Washington who can think strategically? If there is, it seems their voices go unheard.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation

Archive of On War


If you would like to interview Mr. Lind, please allow me to be of assistance:

Jill S. Farrell
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Washington, DC 20002
Phone 202-204-5304

The Free Congress Foundation, headed by Paul M. Weyrich, is a 28-year-old Washington, DC-based conservative educational foundation (think tank), that teaches people how to be effective in the political process, advocates judicial reform, promotes cultural conservatism, and works against the government encroachment of individual liberties

[May 1, 2004] My Fox trot with Bill O'Reilly By HEATHER MALLICK
 

May 1, 2004 | Saturday's Globe and Mail

Globe and Mail (Heather Mallick) My Fox Trot with Bill O'Reilly - Democratic Underground
 

It's someone's fault I appeared on The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News Tuesday night to discuss a column I wrote welcoming the presence of American deserters in Canada.

So who's responsible? Either Globe and Mail TV critic John Doyle, the Dalai Lama or me.

Eeny meeny miney mo, Doyle.

Mr. Doyle, a dear friend — together we have plucked the gowans fine — has long campaigned for Fox News to run in Canada. I think he regards it as a second Comedy Network. It's all staged, so we can all laugh at its Bush-licking rendition of the news, its ridiculous "fair and balanced" slogan and this man Bill O'Reilly, whose talk show is really more of a spitting contest gone off track.

Al Franken calls Mr. O'Reilly a "lying, splotchy bully," and proves it in his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, but Mr. Doyle thinks he's a great comic creation, I guess, like Britain's The Pub Landlord, this guy who's always ranting about how Great Britain used to be called Fookin' Fantastic Britain until all the immigrants arrived.

But Mr. Doyle is Irish and he likes his comedy blacker than a raven's eyeball. I should have remembered this, more fool me.

Eeny meeny miney mo, Dalai Lama.

It's not enough to show compassion to people you love, the great man told Canadians this week. You also have to show it to people who hate you. This was lingering in my mind as Nate Fredman, the nice assistant to Mr. O'Reilly, the man who once said to the son of a Twin Towers victim, "Get out of my studio before I tear you to fucking pieces," urged me to appear. You're the best kind of guest, Nate told me. You really believe in what you're saying, so you don't take it personally when ..... and then his voice tailed off. Nate was so sweet, and then the Dalai's (the Lama's?) words echoed in the distance.

Eeny meeny miney mo, me.

I always say yes to American TV because how else are Americans going to hear about radical notions like feeding the poor and sheltering the gentle, or letting black people vote in Florida?

So I asked Nate for a car and driver and a makeup person to lacquer my face into immobility, and I did one of those remote-studio things where the host can see you but you can't see him and he asks you questions through an ear mike. And that's when the trouble started.

Mr. O'Reilly is not a smart man. He's like one of those old guys you see on the street ringing a bell and shouting about eternal damnation. He talks to his trousers. You know the type. They let wasps nest in their hair so they can lure weasels, trap 'em and eat 'em slow over the summer.

We were supposed to be discussing American deserters fleeing to Canada; instead, he went off on some wild thing about the mayor of Vancouver injecting people with heroin and unless Canada shapes up, "we" will boycott you and destroy your economy, just like "we" did to France.

I said France seemed to be doing fine. He implied that France now looked like Dresden in 1945. I hadn't heard that.

I said the United States couldn't boycott Canadian goods because it would be mutually damaging. "We're your biggest trading partner."

"No, you're not." (We are.) Naturally, I wanted to reply, "Yes, we are," so that he could say "No, we're not," and then I'd say, "Everything you say bounces off me and reflects back on you, so there," but I couldn't regress that far. Mr. Doyle would have been shrieking.

And then he asked me if I was a socialist, and I said, "Certainly," and it was as if I'd said I like donkey semen in my latte instead of milk. He then went into a mad rant about lefties like Mr. Doyle and how I was a typical Globe columnist. I said, no, truthfully, I think I'm regarded as "idiosyncratic" (the first six-syllable word ever spoken on the O'Reilly show), and he erupted again.

It was like talking to a manic child who had eaten 800 cherry Pop Tarts for breakfast. He kept interrupting, so that no point could be made that could win a reply, much less a reasoned response — not so much a gabble of sound bites as a howling from Bedlam.

Overnight, I received hundreds of e-mail messages from American men who think my private parts have gone communist, if you grasp my meaning. The saddest thing was the e-mail from kind Americans, apologizing for their "idiot," quivering with humiliation and praising me for having remained calm and composed under fire, not realizing that I was simply frozen with disbelief. I have replied to each one of the nice ones.

The whole degraded debacle and everyone's reaction to it, including mine, reminded me that Americans now have to cope with a new surrealism in public life. In the 1936 Spanish Civil War entries in a diary I read long ago, by someone who may well have been Stephen Spender, the writer describes an O'Reilly-esque scene. "A man squats and defecates in the street, without comment." Re-reading these diaries decades later, Spender writes, "What on earth did I expect him to say? Olй

 

[May 13, 2004] She's taking the watchdog to task To journalist Amy Goodman, the American press sold out. Mainstream media has beat the drums By Tanya Barrientos Inquirer Staff Writer

May 13, 2004 | philly.com 

Don't call Amy Goodman a member of the mass media.

Yes, she's a journalist with a daily radio and television program broadcast on more than 200 stations across the country.

Yes, she's won the prestigious George Polk Award and the coveted Robert F. Kennedy Prize for her international reporting.

But Goodman believes American journalism is corrupt. Particularly news outlets owned by giant corporations.

"In the old Soviet Union, people knew that they had to read between the lines of state-sponsored news to get to the truth," she said. "But in this country there is the illusion that there is great diversity in the media because of all the channels that are available. But who owns the media?

"Journalists are supposed to be the check and balance of government, but in America, especially during the build-up to this war, that just didn't happen," she said.

Goodman, 47, a graduate of Harvard University who lives in New York, calls herself an independent journalist searching for the unfiltered truth. Her one-hour show, Democracy Now!, is produced by Pacifica Radio, a politically progressive public radio network that describes itself as "an independent community voice for peace and justice."

The weekday current events/interview show ran for about a year on WRTI (90.1 FM) at Temple University, but was pulled off the air in 1997 when Goodman announced she would broadcast commentaries by death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981, and the Fraternal Order of Police in Philadelphia protested the broadcast of the prisoner's commentaries.

Now, Goodman's radio show doesn't run on any stations in the Philadelphia area, and the televised version is shown only on the hard-to-find Drexel University cable television channel, DUTV.

But the show's low profile didn't stop almost 300 fans from coming on Tuesday to hear Goodman speak against the war in Iraq, President Bush and the corporate media.

"The mainstream media has beat the drums of war, putting retired generals on the payroll but not the leaders of the peace movement, or even doctors," she said, speaking at the Free Library of Philadelphia. "Where are the doctors talking about the injuries and the deaths?" she asked the lunchtime crowd of college-age fans and retirees.

"I believe that if for one week we saw the real face of war, the babies on the ground killed by a cluster bomb, war would be eradicated."

Speaking as part of a 70-city tour promoting her book, The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers and the Media that Love Them (Hyperion, $21.95), written with her brother, David, Goodman did what Goodman does best.

She questioned the objectivity of established media, which, she said, "trades truth for access." She questioned the government's motives for the war in Iraq, calling the nation's leaders an "oily-archy."

And she asked her listeners to demand different viewpoints from professionals gathering the news.

Some consider Goodman's stance controversial, but Michael Della Carpini, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, said she is carrying on the tradition of muckraking journalism.

"She's not an editorialist. She sticks to the facts. She's not a Rush Limbaugh-type who is simply letting her ideology drive what she does," he said. "She provides points of view that make you think, and she comes at it by saying, 'Who are we not hearing from in the traditional media?' "

Her fans love it.

"I'm an ardent consumer of independent media and she's one of the most important voices out there right now," said West Chester University English professor Seth Kahn, 35, who listens to Goodman over the Internet site democracynow.org.

Lawyer John Dorfman, 75, and his wife, Liz Wolf, 63, said they watch Goodman on cable TV every weekday.

"She gives us the news not sanitized by the networks," Wolf said. "We don't miss it."

For the time being, Goodman will continue to be found only on Drexel's TV channel. Harriet Goodman, a spokeswoman for Temple University, said WRTI has no plans to reinstate her program.

WHYY (90.9 FM), the city's leading public radio station, said it has no room on its schedule for Democracy Now!

For a long while, Goodman said, her skepticism about the war was seen by many as controversial.

But, she said, the release of disturbing photographs showing American soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners has dramatically shifted public opinion, bringing conservatives and liberals together in anger and drawing more listeners to her program.

On the day Goodman visited Philadelphia, a CNN/Gallup poll showed that for the first time since the war began, a majority of Americans felt dissatisfied with the way the war is progressing. Asked whether "it was worth going to war in Iraq," 54 percent said no.

"I think those categories - leftist, conservative, whatever - are breaking down because of what's happening," Goodman said. "You have people from across the political spectrum concerned about corporate greed and the manipulation of intelligence in this country."

And, she added, "my job is to give voice to that silenced majority." 

Spy vs. Spy - The spooks play the press By Jack Shafer

Nov. 16, 2004

The spooks play the press.
By Jack Shafer

When Washington bureaucrats collide, the best seat in the house is often wherever you sit to read your daily newspaper. Bureaucrats tend to battle one another in the press, leaking and counter-leaking and counter-counter-leaking damaging information about one another.

The latest such rumble pits the CIA's old guard against its new director, Porter J. Goss, appointed by President George W. Bush two months ago with orders to revamp the agency. Which side is wearing the white hats and which the black depends on which newspaper you read—or how you read it. If you're a Bush supporter, you think Goss is the hero. You agree with him that the CIA is "dysfunctional," incompetent, responsible for intelligence failures, and needs a shake-up. If you're a Democrat, you believe the stories wafting out of the agency about Bush's dark plans to further politicize it, to punish and purge its dissenting voices.

Such vehement claims and counter-claims are par for the Washington course. What makes the current drama so compelling, though, is that 1) it's being fought on Page One; 2) spies are flinging their accusations from the safety of anonymity; and 3) the press has a stake in the outcome.

Coverage of the contest for the CIA's soul has generally favored the CIA's old guard over interloper Goss since he arrived at Langley. Why? Because the Rebel Alliance was talking to the press and the Empire wasn't. Obviously, some rebels figured that Kerry was going to win, which meant they had nothing to lose by dissing Goss, who would be ousted by the new president in January. Goss probably calculated along the same lines: Why start a death match with the CIA bureaucracy until you know you know you've got enough time on the clock to finish it?

But after Bush won the election, the two sides seemed ready for the showdown. On Saturday, Nov. 13, the New York Times and Washington Post reported the departure of the CIA's No. 2 man, agency veteran John E. McLaughlin, citing anonymous CIA sources who blamed tensions wrought by Goss and his team. The next day, both the Post ("Goss Reportedly Rebuffed Senior Officials at CIA") and the Times ("New Chief Sets Off Turmoil Within the C.I.A.") ran stories in which several anonymous CIA officials crabbed at length about the professional rudeness of Goss and the four staffers he brought with him from Capitol Hill. The only defense of Goss I spotted in a major daily came in a column by David Brooks, a conservative, whose Nov. 13 Times column decried Bush's "enemies" who occupy "certain offices of the Central Intelligence Agency" ("The C.I.A. Versus Bush").

The rebels had several advantages in this war of words: They were already intimate with reporters from the national security beat; many of them understood the art of the leak; and none were above portraying themselves as victims of Bush's political witch-hunt. If they were regular sources for Washington reporters, the rebels had every right to believe they would get a sympathetic hearing.

Emperor Goss, on the other hand, entered this game with a handicap. He disdains the press, as all Bushies do, and part of what he hates about the old guard is that they leak to the press. So, he's not one to battle his bureaucratic foes by counter-leaking in the newspapers.

But that doesn't mean Goss is above dispatching a proxy to fight for him. Press darling Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., changed the shape of the coverage by arguing the Empire's point of view on the Sunday, Nov. 14, edition of ABC News' This Week. "This agency needs to be reformed," McCain said. "[Goss] is being savaged by these people that want the status quo. And the status quo is not satisfactory." The senator's comments were picked up by the Los Angles Times on Monday, Nov. 15 ("C.I.A. Tumult Causes Worry in Congress"). Two more old-guard CIA officials resigned on Monday to protest Goss' uncouth manner, and this time the news accounts in the Nov. 16 Post and New York Times included McCain's head-cracking comments.

From the Post:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said yesterday that Goss and some White House officials were concerned that unauthorized disclosures of information by the CIA during the election campaign "were intended to damage the president," and he accused a "rogue" element within the agency of carrying them out.

From the New York Times:

In an interview, Mr. McCain said he told President Bush last week that "the C.I.A. was dysfunctional and unaccountable and that they refused to change." The senator said he believed the C.I.A. had acted as a "rogue agency" in recent months by leaking information about the war in Iraq that was seen as detrimental to Mr. Bush and his re-election campaign.

Thanks to McCain's entry into the game, the major dailies are now playing the chaos pretty much down the "he said/she said" middle, as the even-handed lede of Greg Miller's story in the Nov. 16 Los Angeles Times illustrates:

The resignations of two more senior CIA officials Monday fueled debate in the intelligence community over whether the agency was tumbling into turmoil under new Director Porter J. Goss, or was taking painful but necessary steps toward fixing serious problems.

When reading press accounts of bureaucratic battles, it pays to remember that most reporters tend to dance with the source that brung 'em. All other things being equal, if the Daily Bugle scores a scoop one day about how the FBI undermined the CIA in some interagency misadventure, then the next day's Morning Gazette will probably detail how it was actually the CIA that screwed over the FBI. If the coverage continues in this predictably partisan fashion, it's a safe bet that the CIA is feeding the Bugle and the FBI is feeding the Gazette—and that both papers have become captives of their sources.

I don't think any paper has become a tool of the rebels or the Empire quite yet, but as the Langley knife-fight escalates to hand grenades, beware of any reporter who over-flatters agency veterans or insists on drawing horns on Goss. The truth this time, I suspect, is not in the compromise space halfway between the bureaucrats but a point above them on the y axis where every disparaging thing you've read about the agency and every wicked thing written about Goss is accurate.

Jack Shafer is Slate's editor at large.

[Oct 28, 2004] AMERICANS DUPED AS MUCH AS RUSSIANS by Ilya Baranikas

The Moscow News

The Excellence in Journalism project has been going on for five years. Having analyzed nearly 24,000 spots aired by 172 TV channels, researchers came to the conclusion that channels owned by small companies produce better quality news shows than those controlled by larger companies; they also display more daring and ingenuity. But even they rarely risk taking on the role as an enlightener: This does not pay. As a result, the majority of Americans know very little about what is going on in the world or about the world itself for that matter.

Paul Craig Roberts The Brownshirting of America

David Brock's The Republican Noise Machine lacks the insights of Thomas Frank's book, but it provides a gossipy history of the rightwing takeover of the US media. Brock is unfair to some people, myself included, and mischaracterizes as rightwing some media personalities who are under rightwing attack.

Brock is as blindly committed to his causes as the rightwing zealots he exposes are to theirs. Unlike Frank, he cannot acknowledge that the rightwing has legitimate issues.

Nevertheless, Brock makes a credible case that today's conservatives are driven by ideology, not by fact. He argues that their stock in trade is denunciation, not debate. Conservatives don't assess opponents' arguments, they demonize opponents. Truth and falsity are out of the picture; the criteria are: who's good, who's evil, who's patriotic, who's unpatriotic.

These are the traits of brownshirts. Brownshirts know they are right. They know their opponents are wrong and regard them as enemies who must be silenced if not exterminated.

Some of Brock's quotes from prominent conservative commentators will curl your toes. His description of the rightwing's destruction of an independent media and the "Fairness Doctrine" explain why a recent CNN/Gallup poll found that 42% of Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11 terrorist attack on the US and 32% believe that Saddam Hussein personally planned the attack.

A country in which 42% of the population is totally misinformed is not a country where democracy is safe.

[Oct 14, 2004] Tamotsu Shibutani Obit

August 8, 2004

Tamotsu (Tom) Shibutani died quietly in his sleep from heart failure at age 83. He greatly contributed to the understanding mass disinformation with his work Improvised News: A Sociological Study of Rumor (1966). His famous first book, Society and Personality (1961) became a major success and was translated into Russian and Spanish. In it he identified three distinct definitions for the concept of reference group: groups that serve as points of reference, groups to which we aspire; and groups whose perceptions are assumed by the individual or "actor". A set of reference groups is closely related to an individual's "significant others" - those who are directly responsible for the internalization of norms . Shibutani first used the concept of reference group as a tool to explain inconsistent and contradictory behavior typical for most people.

He noted

"The inconsistency in behavior as a person moves from one social context to another is accounted for in terms of a change in reference groups..."

Shibutani also examined social status in reference groups. An individual's behavior is therefore directly related to the actual or anticipated reactions of the group for which he or she is performing. What's less expected, however, is the fact that many people may assume opinions and perspectives of groups with which they've never directly interacted, and which may, in fact, not even exist. To illustrate, Shibutani uses the example of individuals striving to improve their status. He says these individuals are more motivated by the thoughts and actions of persons in the social strata to which they aspire to than the opinions in the group to which they belong. Many people attempt to live up to the standards of social circles to which they aspire through the various media of mass communication. He stated that "There are as many reference groups for each person as there are communication channels in which he participates".

On August 8, 2004, Tamotsu (Tom) Shibutani died quietly in his sleep from heart failure at age 83. Tom wrote several very influential books and his contributions to sociology are immeasurable. Although his intellect was impressive, he was a humble man, giving unstintingly to others while assiduously avoiding the limelight. We have lost one of sociology's stellar contributors.

Tom was born in Stockton, California, in 1920, as the only child of two first-generation Japanese immigrants. For many, the American Dream is for children of immigrants to take advantage of a free public education and reach positions of respectability, and Tom did. He entered Stockton Junior College at age 18, where he was deeply impressed with John Dewey's work, and he became a pragmatist for the rest of his life. At the age of 20, Tom transferred to the University of California at Berkeley, where he further broadened his intellectual horizons. As Tom finished his undergraduate degree, W.I. Thomas and Dorothy Thomas (his mentors) encouraged him to enter graduate school at the University of Chicago, where he found Louis Wirth's courses to be especially impressive, along with courses from Everett Hughes, Herbert Blumer, and others.

During World War II, Tom spent two years in the Army, and then continued his education at Chicago on the GI Bill. (Later we wrote The Derelicts of Company K [1978] to reveal the absurdities he experienced during the war.) He earned his Ph.D. in 1948 and was given an instructorship at the University of Chicago. In 1951, Tom moved to the University of California at Berkeley and began to synthesize many of the ideas he had been developing for years. His famous first book, Society and Personality (1961) became a major success and was translated into Russian and Spanish. The book presents a conceptual scheme developed from the work of Dewey, Mead, and the Chicago School.

In 1961, Tom came to the University of California at Santa Barbara and began working with Kian M. Kwan on ethnic relationships. Together they published Ethnic Stratification in 1965, presenting a theory based on data drawn from around the world, covering 5000 years of history. Extensive data support their conclusion that most ethnic groups that initially experience hostility eventually learn to live with each other over time.

Tom's next book, Improvised News: A Sociological Study of Rumor (1966), demonstrated that rumors are not merely the result of faulty communication. In ambiguous situations, people often respond like pragmatic problem-solvers, pooling their intellectual resources-which include accurate data, guesses, beliefs, speculation-constructing consensus from whatever sources that are available. Since much of life is filled with ambiguity, this book is of much greater importance than is suggested by describing it as a study of rumor. Many of the most crucial personal, group, governmental and international decisions have to be made with inexact information. The increasingly rapid pace of social and environmental change necessitates increasingly rapid decision making amidst a flood of information, making the study of collective information processing in ambiguous situations critical.
Social Processes (1986) reflects the sophistication of a maturing scholar in synthesizing macro and micro theoretical perspectives. This book blends Tom's expertise in social psychology with observations about whole social systems to generate empirically testable propositions for solving many problems of current social interest.

In 1984 Tom was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 1998 he was honored with the George Herbert Mead Award from the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction.

Tom loved grappling with ideas and writing, saying of his own work: "The pragmatic search for answers to questions is not always an orderly process. Side projects have frequently intruded that disrupted current projects. Some of these looked like they could be handled in several months or a year; but took five or ten or fifteen years to complete." This is why Tom has a succession of different books on disparate subjects and different areas of specialization. When asked why he has written few articles, he replied: "The books say it all."

Tom is survived by his wife, Sandra, along with countless friends, colleagues and former students. He is greatly missed for his wise and caring ways, which leave wonderful memories for all of us who knew him.

Nation ON Desperadoes by John Powers

The Village Voice

In dissecting the debates, Fox has proved far shrewder than the fair-and-balanced squads at CNN, whose hedging liberal commentators make Kerry look as blunt as a cudgel, and out there on MSNBC, that small, nearly invisible planet where Joe Scarborough has his own country and front man Chris Matthews keeps imploding from his own hollow enthusiasm. While most of America was bored into a coma by Cheney's debate with Edwards, Matthews' panel of pundits (with the honorable exception of Ron Reagan) rushed to declare the vice president a knockout winner, oohing and aahing over his authoritative presence, chiding the yapping Edwards' "inexperience," and trying to predict which of Cheney's magisterial putdowns would make history's show-reel. They were blissfully unaware that, back here on Earth, Edwards was thought to have earned at least a tie, if not an outright victory, and Cheney's supposedly devastating gibe about never having met his opponent before that night's debate would promptly be exposed as a rhetorical flourish, er, lie. Roll tape, Brian Williams!

As usual, MSNBC's post-debate analysis revealed nothing about the event in question but spoke eloquently about its commentators' values. The scary truth is not that this ship of fools is manned by clandestine right-wingers (indeed, Scarborough flaunts his red neck as if it were filet mignon), but that Matthews and reporter Andrea Mitchell are depressing exemplars of the professional ethos of those who've spent too long inside the Beltway. Where most of America rightly recoils from guys like Cheney—a run-to-fat version of The Simpsons' Mr. Burns—this mean, paternalistic macher fills pundits with awe. (To be sure, Andrea's well-trained: She shares her marital bed with Alan Greenspan.) Bedazzled by the vice president's hushed tones and bureaucratic machinations, they view him with the cowed reverence Hollywood types once showed industry puppet master Lew Wasserman. Me, I wonder how anyone can be so wowed by the "experience" of a man who had two separate cracks at Iraq—a dozen years apart—and managed to get it wrong both times.

[Sept 6, 2004] Guardian Unlimited Special reports Writing the script for terror by Peter Preston

The Guardian

Media-makers must defuse these weapons of mass hysteria

...

For the difficult, inescapable thing, watching those pictures, is an eery feeling of manipulation. Somebody planned this and reckoned the cameras would be there. Take a panning shot of Middle School No 1, go in close on the gym, frame the fleeing children from handy roof tops and let's see plenty of greenery, let's make Beslan like downtown Smallville or Littlehampton. We seemed to look down on a leafy stage set for carnage; and someone knew we would be watching.

Perhaps, in another life, that someone might have found other uses for his talents: orchestrating Republican conventions or the backdrops at Brighton next month. He could have been super spin doctor, feted and interviewed. But instead, in the service of Chechnya, he sat alone in a darkened room and thought hard.

What kind of outrage makes world news these days? Those early al-Qaida bomb blasts in Dar-es-Salaam and Nairobi seem pretty outdated now to be honest, just big bangs with loads of dead, no pictures beyond more destruction. Who cares about blowing holes in ships or trains? The wonder of 9/11 was the pictures, the twin towers toppling. Play it again, Sam. Osama had made No 1.

How do you follow that? By seizing a Moscow theatre, maybe, by making a stage your stage. Putin couldn't pretend that wasn't happening; the curtain rose on his front doorstep. But the trouble was that the theatre doors were locked, that the cameras couldn't peer inside. You had to rely on imagination - on the thought that this could be Broadway or the West End - and it wasn't enough. You needed a brand new wheeze.

Politicians and their intelligence advisers, of course, are always wittering on about WMD. They read Tom Clancy and multiply the threat because that's their particular obsession. It is what seems real to them. But why bother hitting Wall Street, or even Walsall, with hi-tech trappings when there are so many easier pickings on offer?

Beslan, North Ossetia. What kind of dateline is that? An obscure town near the Chechen border. A suitable target for infiltration, no nuclear scientists required. Just take a school hostage and see what happens.

Hostage-taking on a grand scale means time, among other things: time for the camera teams to arrive, time for the crisis and pressure to build. Will Putin give in? He can't. It would be the end of him. So it will all come to slaughter and bitter tears. But he'll have to let CNN, BBC and the rest see what happens if he wants to make this terrorism international. And then the world will, too, see what we Chechens can do.

Someone, that someone, wrote the script. Someone with despair in his heart calculated how it would work out - and break from behind the borders of control that stop us seeing what happens inside Chechnya. Someone wanted to put his case on the international map. Mission accomplished.

And for his next trick? An old peoples' home, a nursery, a hospital? There is no limit to the targets that may be chosen by terrorists who expect to die but know that they will make a splash in the process. There is no limit to the soft touches that cannot be anticipated or defended. Frontiers are meaningless, because pictures have no frontier. Fear needs no visa.

Two bleak things follow. One is that - whether or not it exists on any organised level - we shall gradually come to identify a force called international terrorism, a force defined not by the coordination of its strikes or creeds but by the orchestration of its inhuman propaganda. I manipulate, therefore I exist.

The other thing is self-knowledge for media-makers and media-watchers. If the malignant message is itself a device, a weapon of mass hysteria, how do we defuse it? By a suppression that undermines free society, that gives terror its victory? Or by the realisation that we are not puppets, that we must see and explain for ourselves. That we have a duty of understanding.

[Sept 26, 2004] A hidden hand By Ed Fouhy

Television is the only medium of journalism in which there is a hidden hand behind some of the journalism that reaches the screen.
Boston Globe

AT ITS BEST journalism is supposed to be a search for truth. As the scandal at CBS News has shown again, however, television network news organizations have for too long tolerated a system of deceptive reporting about who is the real author of the journalism that viewers see on their screens. The world is now aware that it was Mary Mapes, the CBS News producer, who found, wooed, and received documents from Bill Burkett, the former Texas National Guard officer who now cannot authenticate those documents. It was the anonymous Mapes, not the anchor star Dan Rather, who was the real journalist behind the Bush National Guard documents story. According to The Washington Post, Rather had little involvement in reporting the story; Mapes wrote the script, and he read it.

The situation in which CBS News now finds itself is not very different from earlier scandals at NBC, where a newsmagazine producer wired a truck to heighten a simulated gas tank explosion, or CNN, where a team of producers collaborated on "Tailwind," a story from the Vietnam War whose sources recanted after the broadcast. Peter Arnett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent, later said he had no role in reporting the story despite the fact that it was he who presented it on the air. He later left the network.

Television is the only medium of journalism in which there is a hidden hand behind some of the journalism that reaches the screen.

Network television, unfortunately, has not been straight with its audience. Oh, sure, there are a few programs that grudgingly put the story producer's name on the screen for a few seconds, notably the Sunday edition of "60 Minutes," long the gold standard for newsmagazine journalism. But how many viewers are aware that the producer whose name appears over Dan Rather's shoulder was, in all likelihood, the journalist who originated the story idea, researched and reported it, found and preinterviewed the sources who appear on camera, and may have thought up the questions the star correspondent asked in the on-camera interview seen by home viewers? Behind that practice is the firm if untested belief that the audience is so gullible that it believes on-camera news stars are able to do well-reported, well-produced stories, often investigative pieces involving hundreds of hours of tough reporting and digging, and still show up every week or every night looking tanned, rested, and well tailored.

Economics is at the heart of the deception. Top correspondents have, for the last two decades, been able to command salaries that are more consistent with the compensation paid entertainers than the more modest salaries earned by most journalists, a generally underpaid lot.

Corporate bosses who sign the stars' paychecks can be forgiven if they want their luminaries on screen as often as possible. News executives have done a poor job of explaining to their bosses that investigative journalism is tedious, exhausting work. So they hire aspiring journalists who are willing to work for less and won't demand on-screen credit. Most are first-rate professionals who labor tirelessly but anonymously.

Network stars compound this deception by their willingness to play along, to take credit for the work behind the story they are fronting for. Who wouldn't enjoy the public acclaim, the adoring autograph seekers, the black tie awards dinners that attend the role of fearless journalist despite the fact the deception is known to their colleagues, if not to the public? But now that system has turned on Rather, a lightning rod for Republicans since the Nixon days. They won't be satisfied until he's gone, but his resignation would not cure the credibility problem created by this increasingly outdated system sure to come under more intense fire by the artillery of bloggers.

The Great American Polling Fraud

POLITICAL AMAZON

Currently academic demands on my time preclude me from spending much time on political research. However, the use of bogus polls to manipulate Americans (especially voting Americans) is one of my hot-button issues. So, out of curiosity, I evaluated the information I could easily find regarding the poll quoted and--once again--found that the poll's methodology was flawed, and the results in question for bias.

This has been an ongoing problem for years, and I believe it is the #1 fraud being perpetrated upon Americans. Many news media, polling groups, and special-interest groups (including political candidates' campaigns) fund, support and/or reference polls that are obviously flawed.

So, despite the demands on my time and increasingly limited cranial resources, I have allotted enough to do a brief overview and give a few examples.

I hope that another political activist, with more time than I have currently available, will be able to pick up the standard and carry forth the expose on The Great American Voting Fraud, perhaps by starting a daily analysis of the polls, to document the bogus polls being used to manipulate America's voters.

If nothing else, reading 20 Questions A Journalist Should Ask About Poll Results , and keeping them on hand so you can assess a poll/analysis for validity, and then sharing the information with your friends, will be a great start towards distributing the tools we need to stop the media's manipulation of Americans.

... ... ...

We see and hear about polling results all the time. On CSPAN, the American Enterprise Institute represents frequently support their opinions by nebulous poll references ("Polls show that....," without ever giving specifics regarding the poll being referenced). Political candidates either crow about, or try to ignore, poll results, depending on whether the polling numbers are "good" or "bad" for the candidate. Talking-head pundits (in all types of media, from TV, to radio, to internet websites) frequently reference an unidentified poll's results to "prove" their point. And all over the internet, posters on message boards slavisly follow poll results, and post them as if they are the alpha and the omega in evaluating a political candidate or issue.

However, many poll producers--whether out of ignorance or dishonest intent--conduct polls which are either so unscientifically--or dishonestly--constructed that the polling results are absolutely worthless in predicting anything about an upcoming election.

The vast majority of the time it takes a great deal of effort to verify that a poll whose results are referenced in the media was actually conducted in a way that would produce valid results, and that the journalist's article/analysis of the poll is valid. This is far more time than the average American voter has to verify that the American media to which they read, watch or listen is giving them accurate information.

The fact that polls have become one of the dominant features in news coverage of campaigns and elections, the fact that referenced polls are often very difficult to find for assessment of their validity, and the fact that so many polls are worthless or fraudulent, put the American voters at great risk for being manipulated by those referencing the polls to vote, or act, in a way that benefits those quoting the polls.

The Bush Dynasty and media hypocrites by John Powers

LA Weekly Columns On Kitty Galore

Being every bit as low-minded as the next media whore, I raced through Kitty Kelley’s The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty in search of the nasty factoids that Kelley always serves up like so many canapйs. Who wouldn’t love the idea that, back in college, Laura Bush was “the go-to girl for dime bags of marijuana”? It explains that gaga smile.

Like the aging Madonna (currently pursuing kabbalistic truth in Israel, accompanied, it seems, by less evolved bodyguards), Kelley is a master at shaping pop iconography. Only this assisted-blond dynamo doesn’t reinvent her own image: She works on the famous and powerful. Once Kelley has finished exposing some celebrity’s feet of mud, you never see him or her in the same way again. What she can’t change is the way mainstream media see her. They blame her salaciously readable biographies for helping fix the template of our tabloid era.

These days, going after a populist rabble-rouser like Kelley — how dare such a vulgarian impinge on sacred journalistic turf! — is how the media elite proves itself high-minded, nonpartisan, and unsullied by the incessant coverage of Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson. That’s why it’s plunged itself into an orgy of hypocrisy over her latest book, milking the very lurid material it pretends to find appalling. Predictably, Michiko Kakutani, the O-Ren Ishii of book reviewers, cut The Family to ribbons in The New York Times. Yet lest we think the Gray Lady somehow clueless or snobby, the paper just as predictably took care to run a long “Home & Garden” piece about Kelley’s Georgetown sanctuary by Bush-coddling-reporter-turned-restaurant-critic Frank Bruni. Her books sell like hotcakes, after all.

For several days, the diminutive author was seemingly everywhere — up at dawn talking to Matt Lauer on Today, sharing afternoon delight with Chris Matthews on Hardball, then spending a NewsNight with Aaron Brown. A normal person who tuned in to these interviews might have expected to learn all sorts of fascinating details about the powerful clan that has produced two of our last three presidents and, if all goes according to plan, will inaugurate a third in 2008 (although I suspect that smooth, pretty-boy Jeb can’t handle body shots any better than Oscar de la Hoya). But rather than ask about our first family, all these big-name interviewers behaved as if The Family wasn’t about the Bushes but actually about Kitty Kelley. Just as reasonable questions about George W. Bush’s National Guard service have been swallowed up by bickering over typefaces and superscripts (nice work, Gunga Dan), so Kelley spent her airtime being grilled about her use of rumors and unnamed sources. You would think the president wasn’t claiming the election was about “character.”

While the Kelley interviews all covered roughly the same territory, each offered its own special whiff of self-aggrandizement and corruption. Looking as if he’d just escaped from some gulag for the formerly handsome, Matt Lauer went after Kelley — for three straight days — armed with talking points he’d gotten from the White House’s Dan Bartlett. The prosecution took a different tack at MSNBC. Winston Churchill once said that the Germans are always at your throat or at your feet. Perhaps taking this as a compliment, the great Churchillian Chris Matthews spent the first half-hour of last Wednesday’s Hardball all but throttling Kelley, quoting passages from her book and asking her to defend them with ashen-faced grimness. Then, having proved his hard-balled integrity, he spent the rest of the hour kowtowing to Seymour Hersh, a great investigative reporter who also uses unnamed sources — and on subjects far more important than doing coke at Camp David. Matthews showed so much more respect for Hersh, you had to wonder why he opened the show with Kitty. Actually, you didn’t.

Lauer and Matthews appeared untroubled about attacking Kelley’s book while exploiting it to boost their ratings. Not so CNN’s Aaron Brown, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale of television news. Brown clearly realizes that 24-hour cable news has become a trough for sleaze, yet his agonized conscience never stops him from shoveling in more slop, albeit with a heavy sigh. While he treated Kelley more courteously than either Matthews or Lauer did — if Aaron has any vanity, it’s that he’s a mensch — he also refused to address what she was saying about Bush family values. Instead, he ruefully stitched a scarlet G on her chest for dealing in gossip — you know, the kind of rumor, innuendo and speculation that runs on CNN every day of the week as “news.”

Happily, Kelley is no Hester Prynne, and she faced her prosecutors with remarkable sang-froid, confident that she was telling undeniable truths about the Bushes that the supposedly respectable press is unwilling or afraid to reveal. A scandalmonger of the old school, she even vaunted all the lawyers who okayed her work. The more she talked, the more she resembled a successful society madam explaining the facts of life to a puritanical young D.A. who wants to save society by closing the local whorehouse. You may think I’m low, Kelley’s whole manner said, but it’s amazing how many of your colleagues use my services. Perhaps you’ve done so yourself. There are valuable truths about human nature to be learned within the walls of a brothel.

Just so. To be sure, not all the things one learns from the Kelley oeuvre could be called edifying. Her books appeal to schadenfreude and a resentment of celebrity that grows ever stronger in a surreal culture where even Luke Wilson is deemed worthy of a half-hour on Biography. I can’t honestly say that I’m a better person for reading His Way, Kelley’s great unauthorized biography of Frank Sinatra, but it wasn’t unilluminating to discover that, when romantic Ol’ Blue Eyes wasn’t falling for women, he was apt to be bashing them with telephones. Such is the visceral poetry of tabloid America.

You get the same pop kick from The Family, which flaunts the gutbucket prose of unconscious pulp (“The Bushes went into retirement like Salvation Army bell ringers, eager to rake in as much money as fast as they possibly could”) and tells scads of unflattering stories, old and new, about nearly a century of Bushwah. How Barbara (who’s variously compared to Ma Barker and a “bull dyke”) was so insecure about her frumpiness that she once railed at Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin for wearing a short skirt, snapping that it looked “awful, awful, awful.” (Martin replied that she was just showing off her good legs.) Or how Dubya, when asked what he talked about with his father, shocked the reporter by answering, “Pussy.” One wonders whether this was before or after his daily Bible study.

Skewering The Family, Kakutani (who has all the pop-culture instincts of, well, a Bush) dumped on Kelley for ignoring serious political issues. Which is like faulting Eminem for not being Yo-Yo Ma. It is Kelley’s function in American culture to give popular expression to the dark, personal dramas of well-known people whose private lives are routinely airbrushed into bright fantasies that bear no resemblance to human life. Kelley’s book not only delivers the dirt you’ll rarely if ever get in The New Yorker or The Atlantic Monthly, let alone on Fox News, but it reminds you that personal dirt is the rich soil of day-to-day political life — whether it’s Barbara hating the Reagans for treating her and George like servants, Dubya bursting into obscene rages at reporters during his father’s presidential campaigns (which helps explain his manner during press conferences) or Bush I underestimating Bill Clinton in part because he thought the Arkansas governor too low-class to be a real competitor.

Just as Fahrenheit 9/11 presented a counternarrative to the official version of George W. Bush’s presidency, so Kelley’s book tells a tale that most Americans have never heard. It’s the story of a well-born New England family that affects good-natured charm but has a sense of entitlement so vast it had to relocate to Texas to fit it all in. Reading The Family, you grasp that the Bushes, rather like the Kennedys before them, are tribal, class-obsessed, fanatical about loyalty and utterly ruthless. They’ll do whatever it takes to win — smear John McCain and John Kerry, question Michael Dukakis’ patriotism, even oppose the Civil Rights Act (Bush I was running for office in the South at the time).

Is everything in The Family literally true? Beats me. But it comes closer to reality than George W. Bush’s deadeningly bogus A Charge To Keep: My Journey to the White House. In fact, if I had to choose between Kitty Kelley’s version of the Bushes and, say, Tom Brokaw’s, I’d put more trust in the little blond lady to tell me the truth without fear or favor. Oscar Wilde famously said that we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars. It’s Kelley’s fate, and perhaps her disreputable virtue, that when she tells us about the stars, she never lets us forget the many things going on in the gutter.

John Powers’ Sore Winners (and the Rest of Us) in George Bush’s America is available in bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at www.sorewinners.com.

The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly

fair.org

"Caution: You're about to enter a no-spin zone" is the warning with which Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly kicks off his no-holds-barred cable news program, The O'Reilly Factor, every night. O'Reilly is the reigning king of cable news, with a huge lead in the ratings, two best-selling books and a nationally syndicated radio program.

O'Reilly's "no spin zone" motto is clever marketing-- but who's keeping track of O'Reilly's own spin? From his support for Bush's tax cuts and a war with Iraq to his attacks on everything from National Public Radio to "welfare mothers," O'Reilly consistently concocts evidence to support his conservative talking points. Sometimes it's even hard to keep track of O'Reilly's opinions: after the September 11 attacks, he advocated devastating bombing against civilian targets in a number of countries, including Libya ("Let them eat sand."). Questioned about it a few weeks later, O'Reilly was spinning: "I never said bomb a civilian. I would bomb military targets. I would bomb military targets.... I'm not talking about civilians."

Your Favorite Political Weblogs

Slashdot

by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 20, @08:43PM (#10303718)

Hey, this looks good. Thanks.

Re:Annenberg FactCheck (Score:2) by On Lawn (1073) on Monday September 20, @10:07PM (#10304446)
(http://www.onlawn.net/ | Last Journal: Monday September 20, @01:53PM)

Yeah I have to agree, Fact Check is pretty good.

MensNewsDaily.com [mensnewsdaily.com] collects pretty good commentary from a number of contributers on a number of issues that aren't forefront on the MSM. Their articles are short and poigniant. They have a forum you can discuss the articles in, so I would call that a blog.

Powerlineblog.com [powerlineblog.com] is pretty reasonable for commentary and was one of the big players in Rathergate. INDCJournal might be less reasonable but they have the quickest footwork in the business. They'll be the ones to call the sources, call experts, etc... Footwork that is a lost art in journalism. But their commentary is a bit off-balance and can often trip themselves up.

Little Green Footballs is often misunderstood, but I like them. They do their job very well. Even better though is Watch [windsofchange.net] which is devoid of the sophmoric commentary.

But then there is an upper eschelon, which FactCheck belongs to, as does Belmont Club [blogspot.com]. When Belmont treats an issue, you've got gold.

But the absolute MOAB of the blogosphere is Bill Whittle. He posts seldomly, and when he does it is incredibly long. But there is no better writer on the Internet that I've found. As it says on his website: If Steven den Best is Spock, he is the Captain Kirk [ejectejecteject.com]. Seriously there is no finer work on the internet than his "Strength" series, followed closely by "Empire".

For humor, Scrappleface and CoxandForkum are great. They not only give you the humor but they give you the stories that inspired it.

Yeah I have to agree, Fact Check is pretty good.

MensNewsDaily.com [mensnewsdaily.com] collects pretty good commentary from a number of contributers on a number of issues that aren't forefront on the MSM. Their articles are short and poigniant. They have a forum you can discuss the articles in, so I would call that a blog.

Powerlineblog.com [powerlineblog.com] is pretty reasonable for commentary and was one of the big players in Rathergate. INDCJournal might be less reasonable but they have the quickest footwork in the business. They'll be the ones to call the sources, call experts, etc... Footwork that is a lost art in journalism. But their commentary is a bit off-balance and can often trip themselves up.

Little Green Footballs is often misunderstood, but I like them. They do their job very well. Even better though is Watch [windsofchange.net] which is devoid of the sophmoric commentary.

But then there is an upper eschelon, which FactCheck belongs to, as does Belmont Club [blogspot.com]. When Belmont treats an issue, you've got gold.

The Washington Monthly

URBAN vs. RURAL....Bill Bishop of the Austin American-Statesman, continuing his series of stories about the changing demographics of the American electorate, gets to the heart of things this weekend:

The nation has gone through a big sort, a sifting of people and politics into what is becoming two Americas. One is urban and Democratic, the other Republican, suburban and rural.

....In the 1980 presidential race, Democratic and Republican counties on average had about the same number of voters. By 2000, however, the average Democratic county had three times as many voters as the average Republican county, according to study of election results by Statesman statistical consultant Robert Cushing.

In the country's most partisan counties — those where one party wins by more than 20 percentage points — the split is overwhelming. In 2000, the average landslide Democratic county was eight times larger than the average landslide Republican county. In 1980, the average landslide Republican county was more populous than the average partisan Democratic county.

Urban rural, urban rural, urban rural: say it over and over. That's the big split in American politics, and as Bishop points out, the difference is becoming starker every year.

And if you're curious, the Statesman also has a list of the 100 most Democratic counties (in 2000) and the 100 most Republican counties. It's sort of scary to find out that my home, famously conservative Orange County, doesn't even come close to making the "most Republican" list. I guess I'm just lucky I don't live in Glasscock County, Texas.

[Sept 20, 2004] Spinsanity

Sept 20, 2004  | Philadelphia Inquirer

While a few media outlets tried to set the record straight, many were content to pass on the spin without clarification or comment. Until the media hold politicians accountable for dishonest claims and attacks on open debate, political deception will remain all too easy.

[Sept 20, 2004] Spinsanity - Countering rhetoric with reason Book of the authors of the site

An excerpt from the media chapter of All the President's Spin:

Bush’s White House has broken new ground in its press relations strategy, exploiting the weaknesses and failings of the political media more systematically than any of its predecessors. The administration combines tight message discipline and image management – Reagan’s trademarks – with the artful use of half- or partial truths and elaborate news management – Clinton’s specialties – in a combination that is near-lethal for the press.

These techniques are effective precisely because they prey on four key weaknesses of contemporary journalism. First and foremost, reporters are constrained by the norm of objectivity, which frequently causes them to avoid evaluating the truth of politicians’ statements. In addition, because reporters are dependent upon the White House for news, the administration can shape the coverage it receives by restricting the flow of information to the press. The media are also vulnerable to political pressure and reprisal, which the Bush White House has aggressively dished out against critical journalists. Finally, the press’ unending pursuit of scandal and entertaining news often blinds it to serious issues of public policy.

By aggressively deploying its communications strategy against a media establishment wary of giving credence to charges of liberal bias and fearful of challenging a self-described “war president” after Sept. 11, Bush has successfully dissembled about public policy on a far more consistent basis than his predecessors. Do President Bush’s tax cuts primarily benefit the wealthy or the middle class? Was there clear evidence that Iraq was attempting to produce nuclear weapons or was connected to al Qaeda? What role have tax cuts played in the recent growth of federal budget deficits? There are answers to all of these questions, but the media are frequently reluctant to point out the misinformation in Bush’s statements about such controversial policy issues. By using every advantage it can muster against the media, the Bush administration has dedicated itself to transforming the press from a watchdog to a mouthpiece for its spin. (Read the whole excerpt.)

An interview with the authors:

Alternet: Why did you decide write this book, given that there are so many other book bashing Bush out there already?

Brendan Nyhan: We felt like the books out there on Bush don't really do justice to what has gone on over the last four years. Bush is the leader in the arms race of political spin. But no one was adequately explaining how he was getting away with it or focusing on how the media has let him get away with it.

Alternet: Did you feel that the other books were not tough enough on him or is it that they were too shrill in accusing him of lying?

Bryan Keefer: There are a lot of Bush-bashing books out there – for example, David Corn's book is called The Lies of George W. Bush. But the administration is in fact very good at not lying, saying things that have a kernel of truth but when taken as a whole are very misleading. (Read the whole interview.)

9/7/2004 09:36:30 AM EST | comments [13]

[Sept 17, 2004] Journalism Under Fire

Journalism has been a continuing course in adult education – my own; other people paid the tuition and travel, and I’ve never really had to grow up and get a day job. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I’ve enjoyed the company of colleagues as good as they come, who kept inspiring me to try harder.

They helped me relearn another of journalism’s basic lessons. The job of trying to tell the truth about people whose job it is to hide the truth is almost as complicated and difficult as trying to hide it in the first place. Unless you’re willing to fight and refight the same battles until you go blue in the face, drive the people you work with nuts going over every last detail to make certain you’ve got it right, and then take hit after unfair hit accusing you of “bias”, or these days even a point of view, there’s no use even trying. You have to love it, and I do. I remember what Izzy Stone said about this. For years he was America’s premier independent journalist, bringing down on his head the sustained wrath of the high and mighty for publishing in his little four-page I.F. Stone’s Weekly the government’s lies and contradictions culled from the government’s own official documents. No matter how much they pummeled him, Izzy Stone said: “I have so much fun I ought to be arrested.”

That’s how I felt 25 five years ago when my colleague Sherry Jones and I produced the first documentary ever about the purchase of government favors by political action committees. When we unfurled across the Capitol grounds yard after yard of computer printouts listing campaign contributions to every member of Congress, there was a loud outcry, including from several politicians who had been allies just a few years earlier when I worked at the White House.

I loved it, too, when Sherry and I connected the dots behind the Iran-Contra scandal. That documentary sent the right-wing posse in Washington running indignantly to congressional supporters of public television who accused PBS of committing – horrors! – journalism right on the air.

While everyone else was all over the Monica Lewinsky imbroglio, Sherry and I took after Washington’s other scandal of the time -- the unbridled and illegal fundraising by Democrats in the campaign of 1996. This time it was Democrats who wanted me arrested. .

But taking on political scandal is nothing compared to what can happen if you raise questions about corporate power in Washington. When my colleagues and I started looking into the subject of pesticides and food for a Frontline documentary, my producer Marty Koughan learned that industry was attempting behind closed doors to dilute the findings of a National Academy of Sciences study on the effects of pesticide residues on children. Before we finished the documentary, the industry somehow purloined a copy of our draft script – we still aren’t certain how – and mounted a sophisticated and expensive campaign to discredit our broadcast before it aired. Television reviewers and editorial page editors were flooded in advance with pro-industry propaganda. There was a whispering campaign. A Washington Post columnist took a dig at the broadcast on the morning of the day it aired – without even having seen it – and later confessed to me that the dirt had been supplied by a top lobbyist for the chemical industry. Some public television managers across the country were so unnerved by the blitz of dis-information they received from the industry that before the documentary had even aired they protested to PBS with letters prepared by the industry. 

Here’s what most perplexed us: Eight days before the broadcast, the American Cancer Society – an organization that in no way figured in our story – sent to its three thousand local chapters a “critique” of the unfinished documentary claiming, wrongly, that it exaggerated the dangers of pesticides in food. We were puzzled. Why was the American Cancer Society taking the unusual step of criticizing a documentary that it had not seen, that had not aired, and that did not claim what the society alleged? An enterprising reporter in town named Sheila Kaplan looked into these questions for Legal Times and discovered that a public relations firm, which had worked for several chemical companies, also did pro bono work for the American Cancer Society. The firm was able to cash in some of the goodwill from that “charitable” work to persuade the compliant communications staff at the Society to distribute some harsh talking points about the documentary – talking points that had been supplied by, but not attributed to, the public relations firm.

Others also used the American Cancer Society’s good name in efforts to tarnish the journalism before it aired; including right wing front groups who railed against what they called “junk science on PBS” and demanded Congress pull the plug on public television. PBS stood firm. The documentary aired, the journalism held up, and the National Academy of Sciences felt liberated to release the study that the industry had tried to demean.

They never give up. Sherry and I spent more than a year working on another documentary called Trade Secrets, based on revelations – found in the industry’s archives – that big chemical companies had deliberately withheld from workers and consumers damaging information about toxic chemicals in their products. These internal industry documents are a fact. They exist. They are not a matter of opinion or point of view. And they portrayed deep and pervasive corruption in a major American industry, revealing that we live under a regulatory system designed by the industry itself. If the public and government regulators had known over the years what the industry was keeping secret about the health risks of its products, America’s laws and regulations governing chemical manufacturing would have been far more protective of human health than they were.

Hoping to keep us from airing those secrets the industry hired a public relations firm in Washington noted for using private detectives and former CIA, FBI, and drug enforcement officers to conduct investigations for corporations. One of the company’s founders was on record as saying that sometimes corporations need to resort to unconventional resources, including “using deceit”, to defend themselves. Given the scurrilous underground campaign that was conducted to smear our journalism, his comments were an understatement. Not only was there the vicious campaign directed at me personally, but once again pressure was brought to bear on PBS through industry allies in Congress. PBS stood firm, the documentary aired, and a year later the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded Trade Secrets an Emmy for outstanding investigative journalism.

I’ve gone on like this not to regale you with old war tales but to get to a story that is the one thing I hope you might remember from our time together this morning. John Henry Faulk told me this story. Most of you are too young to remember John Henry -- a wonderful raconteur, entertainer, and a popular host on CBS Radio back when radio was in its prime. But those were days of paranoia and red-baiting – the McCarthy era – and the right wing sleaze merchants went to work on John Henry with outlandish accusations that he was a communist. A fearful CBS refused to rehire him and John Henry went home to Texas to live out his days. He won a famous libel suit against his accusers and wrote a classic book about those events and the meaning of the first amendment. In an interview I did with him shortly before his death a dozen years ago John Henry told the story of how he and friend Boots Cooper were playing in the chicken house when they were about twelve years old. They spied a chicken snake in the top tier of nests, so close it looked like a boa constrictor. As John Henry told it to me, “All the frontier courage drained out our heels – actually it trickled down our overall legs – and Boots and I made a new door through the henhouse wall.” His momma came out and, learning what the fuss was about, said to Boots and John Henry: “Don’t you know chicken snakes are harmless? They can’t hurt you.” And Boots, rubbing his forehead and behind at the same time, said, “Yes, Mrs. Faulk, I know that, but they can scare you so bad, it’ll cause you to hurt yourself.” John Henry Faulk told me that’s a lesson he never forgot. It’s a good one for any journalist to tuck away and call on when journalism is under fire.

Our job remains essentially the same: to gather, weigh, organize, analyze, and present information people need to know in order to make sense of the world. You will hear it said this is not a professional task – John Carroll of the Los Angeles Times recently reminded us there are “no qualification tests, no boards to censure misconduct, no universally accepted set of standards.” Maybe so. But I think that what makes journalism a profession is the deep ethical imperative of which the public is aware only when we violate it – think Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, Jim Kelly. Ed Wasserman, once an editor himself and now teaching at Washington and Lee University, says that journalism “is an ethical practice because it tells people what matters and helps them determine what they should do about it.” So good newsrooms “are marinated in ethical conversations…What should this lead say? What I should I tell that source?” We practice this craft inside “concentric rings of duty and obligations: Obligations to sources, our colleagues, our bosses, our readers, our profession, and our community” – and we function under a system of values “in which we try to understand and reconcile strong competing claims.” Our obligation is to sift patiently and fairly through untidy realities, measure the claims of affected people, and present honestly the best available approximation of the truth – and this, says Ed Wasserman, is an ethical practice.

It’s never been easy, and it’s getting harder. For more reasons then you can shake a stick at.

One is the sheer magnitude of the issues we need to report and analyze. My friend Bill McKibben enjoys a conspicuous place in my pantheon of journalistic heroes for his pioneer work in writing about the environment; his bestseller The End of Nature carried on where Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring left off. Recently in Mother Jones Bill described how the problems we cover – conventional, manageable problems, like budget shortfalls, pollution, crime – may be about to convert to chaotic, unpredictable situations. He puts it this way: If you don’t have a job, “that’s a problem, and unemployment is a problem, and they can both be managed: You learn a new skill, the Federal Reserve lowers interest rates to spur the economy. But millions of skilled, well-paying jobs disappearing to Bangalore is a situation; it’s not clear what if anything the system can do to turn it around.” Perhaps the most unmanageable of all problems, Bill McKibben writes, is the accelerating deterioration of the environment. While the present administration has committed a thousand acts of vandalism against our air, water, forests, and deserts, were we to change managers, Bill argues, some of that damage would abate. What won’t go away, he continues, are the perils with huge momentum – the greenhouse effect, for instance. Scientists have been warning us about it since the 1980s. But now the melt of the Arctic seems to be releasing so much freshwater into the North Atlantic that even the Pentagon is alarmed that a weakening Gulf Stream could yield abrupt – and overwhelming – changes, the kind of climate change that threatens civilization. How do we journalists get a handle on something of that enormity?

Or on ideology. One of the biggest changes in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. How do we fathom and explain the mindset of violent exhibitionists and extremists who blow to smithereens hundreds of children and teachers of Middle School Number One in Beslan, Russia? Or the radical utopianism of martyrs who crash hijacked planes into the World Trade Center? How do we explain the possibility that a close election in November could turn on several million good and decent citizens who believe in the Rapture Index? That’s what I said – the Rapture Index; google it and you will understand why the best-selling books in America today are the twelve volumes of the left-behind series which have earned multi-millions of dollars for their co-authors who earlier this year completed a triumphant tour of the Bible Belt whose buckle holds in place George W. Bush’s armor of the Lord. These true believers subscribe to a fantastical theology concocted in the l9th century by a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove them into a narrative millions of people believe to be literally true.

[Sept 17, 2004] Chauvinism

Chauvinism is extreme and unreasoning partisanship on behalf of a group to which one belongs, especially when the partisanship includes malice and hatred towards a rival group. The term is derived from Nicolas Chauvin, a soldier under Napoleon Bonaparte, due to his fanatical zeal for his Emperor.

The term entered public use due to a satirical treatment of Chauvin in the French play La Cocarde Tricolore (The Three-colored Cockade).

The origin of the term and early usage indicate that it was coined as a term for excessive nationalism or patriotism. Today it is most often used to reference racism or sexism.

In "Imperialism, Nationalism, Chauvinism", The Review of Politics, p. 457, Hannah Arendt describes the concept:

Chauvinism is an almost natural product of the national concept insofar as it springs directly from the old idea of the "national mission." ... (A) nation's mission might be interpreted precisely as bringing its light to other, less fortunate peoples that, for whatever reason, have miraculously been left by history without a national mission. As long as this concept did not develop into the ideology of chauvinism and remained in the rather vague realm of national or even nationalistic pride, it frequently resulted in a high sense of responsibility for the welfare of backward peoples.

The word does not require a judgment that the chauvinist is right or wrong in his opinion, only that he is blind and unreasoning in coming to it, ignoring any facts which might temper his fervor. In modern use, however, it is often used pejoratively to imply that the chauvinist is both unreasoning and wrong.

[Sept 10, 2004] Who Cares About the Truth by MICHAEL P. LYNCH

September 10, 2004 | Free Republic

In early 2003 President Bush claimed that Iraq was attempting to purchase the materials necessary to build nuclear weapons. Although White House officials subsequently admitted they lacked adequate evidence to believe that was true, various members of the administration dismissed the issue, noting that the important thing was that the subsequent invasion of Iraq achieved stability of the region and the liberation of the country.

Many Americans apparently agreed. After all, there were other reasons to depose the Hussein regime. And the belief that Iraq was an imminent nuclear threat had rallied us together and provided an easy justification to doubters of the nobility of our cause. So what if it wasn't really true? To many, it seemed naïve to worry about something as abstract as the truth or falsity of our claims when we could concern ourselves with the things that really mattered -- such as protecting ourselves from terrorism and ensuring our access to oil. To paraphrase Nietzsche, the truth may be good, but why not sometimes take untruth if it gets you where you want to go?

These are important questions. At the end of the day, is it always better to believe and speak the truth? Does the truth itself really matter? While generalizing is always dangerous, the above responses to the Iraq affair indicate that many Americans would look at such questions with a jaundiced eye. We are rather cynical about the value of truth.

Politics isn't the only place that one finds this sort of skepticism. A similar attitude is commonplace among some of our most prominent intellectuals. Indeed, under the banner of postmodernism, cynicism about truth and related notions like objectivity and knowledge has become the semiofficial philosophical stance of many academic disciplines. Roughly speaking, the attitude is that objective truth is an illusion and what we call truth is just another name for power. Consequently, if truth is valuable at all, it is valuable -- as power is -- merely as means.

Newsday.com

AP National News

By CHAKA FERGUSON
Associated Press Writer
June 9, 2004, 11:24 PM EDT
the news media should have been more skeptical of President Bush's "zeal" to go to war with Iraq and the possibly "skimpy" prewar intelligence Bush used to justify the invasion, journalist Bob Woodward said Wednesday.

Woodward, author of a best-selling account of the 16 months leading to the war, said at a lecture at the Council on Foreign Relations that Bush believed it was his duty to overthrow former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"I believe we have a duty to free people and liberate people," Woodward said Bush told him during interviews for his book "Plan of Attack."

Bush, who began his presidency as an opponent of "nation building," now has a "zeal" to liberate oppressed people across the globe, Woodward said. "He wants his work, his administration, his presidency painted on a large canvas," the journalist said.

In a lesser-reported fact from his book, Woodward said, the White House spied on former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, who has said that the justifications for the Iraq war were unfounded.

"One of the things that's gone unnoticed (in `Plan of Attack') is ... national intelligence assets spying on Hans Blix," he said. "And Bush was getting these reports and felt that there was incongruity between what Blix was saying publicly and what he was actually doing. It makes it very clear we were wiretapping Hans Blix."

A telephone call to the White House seeking response to Woodward's remarks was not immediately returned Wednesday.

Woodward, a Washington Post journalist who wrote an earlier book on Bush's anti-terrorism campaign and broke the Watergate scandal with Carl Bernstein, blamed himself and other journalists for not being aggressive enough in questioning the pre-war intelligence on Iraq's purported weapons of mass destruction, a major reason used by Bush for war.

After more than a year of U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, no WMD stockpiles have been found.

"We need to be much more skeptical and inquisitive," Woodward said, recalling how one national security source told him that the "the intelligence was skimpy."

Last month, The New York Times printed a critique of its own reporting on Iraq and said it should have been more skeptical about some claims from Iraqi dissidents and more aggressive in following them up.

[Jun 23, 2004] Bull Market for Media Bias By Robert J. Samuelson

washingtonpost.com

We in the news business think we're impartial seekers of truth, but most Americans think otherwise. They view us as sloppy, biased and self-serving. In 1985, 56 percent of the public felt news organizations usually got their facts straight, says the Pew Research Center. By 2002 that figure was 35 percent. In 1985 the public thought the media "moral" by 54 percent to 13 percent; by 2003 opinion was split 40 percent to 38 percent. Americans think the "media make news rather than just report it," says Pew's Andrew Kohut. The obsession with "scandal in high places" is seen as building audiences rather than advancing the public interest.

Still, the latest Pew survey confirms -- with lots of numbers -- an especially disturbing trend that we've all sensed: People are increasingly picking their media on the basis of partisanship. If you're Republican and conservative, you listen to talk radio and watch the Fox News Channel. If you're liberal and Democratic, you listen to National Public Radio and watch "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer." It's like picking restaurants: Chinese for some, Italian for others. And everyone can punch up partisan blogs -- the fast food of the news business. What's disturbing is that, like restaurants, the news media may increasingly cater to their customers' (partisan) tastes. News slowly becomes more selective and slanted.

Rush Limbaugh has 14.5 million weekly listeners. According to Pew, 77 percent are conservative, 16 percent moderate and 7 percent liberal. Or take Fox's 1.3 million prime-time viewers: 52 percent are conservative, 30 percent are moderate and 13 percent liberal. By contrast, 36 percent of Americans are conservative, 38 percent moderate and 18 percent liberal. The liberals' media favorites are slightly less lopsided. The audience for "The NewsHour" is 22 percent conservative, 44 percent moderate and 27 percent liberal. NPR's audience is 31 percent conservative, 33 percent moderate and 30 percent liberal. Of course, many news outlets still have broad audiences. Daily newspapers are collectively close to national averages; so is CNN.

But the partisan drift may grow, because distrust is spreading. In 1988 Pew found that 58 percent of the public thought there was "no bias" in election coverage. Now that's 38 percent: 22 percent find a Democratic bias, 17 percent a Republican tilt. Almost all major media have suffered confidence declines. Among Republicans, only 12 percent say they believe "all or most" of Newsweek; for Democrats the figure is twice that, 26 percent. In 1985 the overall figure was higher (31 percent), with little partisan gap. Newsweek's numbers typify mainstream media. Only 14 percent of Republicans believe "all or most" of the New York Times, vs. 31 percent of Democrats.

What's going on? Why should we care?

Up to a point, conservative talk radio and Fox represent a desirable backlash against the perceived "liberal bias" of network news and mainstream media. I've worked in the mainstream press for 35 years. Editors and reporters reflexively deny a liberal bias, even though many ordinary people find it and mainstream newsrooms are politically skewed. Here are the latest Pew figures: 7 percent of national reporters and editors are conservative (a fifth the national rate), and 34 percent are liberal (almost twice the national rate). Most reporters I know believe fiercely in being fair and objective. Still, the debate over "what's news and significant?" is warped. Talk radio and Fox add other views.

But the sorting of audiences by politics also poses dangers -- for the media and the country. We journalists think we define news, and from day to day we do. Over the longer run that's less true. All news organizations must satisfy their audiences. If they don't, they go out of business. "Media bias is product differentiation," says James T. Hamilton of Duke University; his book "All the News That's Fit to Sell" shows how economic forces powerfully shape news judgments. If liberals and conservatives migrate to rival media camps, both camps may ultimately submit to the same narrow logic: like-minded editors and reporters increasingly feeding like-minded customers stories that reinforce their world view.

Economic interests and editorial biases will converge. The New York Times is now a national paper; 49 percent of its daily circulation is outside the New York area, up from 38 percent five years ago. There's home delivery in 275 markets, up from 171 five years ago. But if the Times sells largely to upscale readers (average household income is $90,381, almost twice the national average) with vaguely liberal views, it risks becoming hostage to their sensibilities. No less does Fox risk becoming hostage to its base.

The worthy, if unattainable, ideals of fairness and objectivity will silently erode. Many forces push that way: new technologies (cable, the Internet); the blending of news and entertainment; the breakdown between "hard news" and interpretation; intense competition; changing news habits of the young. The damage will not just be to good journalism. Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism notes that respected national media develop common facts and language that help hold society together and solve common problems. It will be a sad day when we trust only the media that voice our views.

[Jun 30, 2004] O'Reilly's 'No-Spin' Control Prompts Guest to Cry Foul By Howard Kurtz

Washington Post

When he appeared on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News Channel show last week, Georgetown law professor David Cole was impressed that the hard-charging host played, as part of his opening commentary, "a balanced sound bite" from the chairman of the 9/11 commission.

Cole was less impressed when an aggravated O'Reilly stopped the taping of "The O'Reilly Factor" and killed the sound bite. And when Cole brought up the incident during his interview, he says, O'Reilly "exploded," called him an SOB and declared he would never be invited back.

O'Reilly says a left-wing academic is using a minor staff mistake to try to discredit the program. "We're trying to be fair," he says. "We're trying to give the other point of view so people can see who has the stronger argument. It's really depressing that the discourse has sunk to this level."

The heated words -- which were edited out of the program seen by viewers -- involved O'Reilly's criticism of the New York Times and its coverage of the controversy over whether there were links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.

In kicking off what he called "no-spin coverage" of the issue, O'Reilly began the show by saying that "the Times and other newspapers have been under heavy fire for their misleading headlines, basically saying there was no link" between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

As Cole listened from Washington, the program played a clip of commission chairman Thomas Kean saying: "There is no evidence that we can find whatsoever that Iraq or Saddam Hussein participated in any way in attacks on the United States -- in other words, on 9/11. What we do say, however, is there were contacts between Iraq and Saddam Hussein, excuse me, al-Qaeda."

O'Reilly complained that this was the wrong sound bite. In retaping the commentary, he paraphrased one of Kean's points but not the other: "Governor Thomas Kean says definitely there was a connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda. And he's the 9/11 investigative chief, but that's not enough for the Times."

"I was sort of astonished he would do it so brazenly in front of guests," says Cole, an activist attorney who has challenged the USA Patriot Act in court.

O'Reilly calls "totally absurd" the suggestion that he cut the sound bite "because it didn't fit my thesis." A producer had simply selected a clip that wasn't right for the segment, he says.

But Cole says: "Here he is castigating the New York Times for misleading its readers, and he was misleading his viewers. I wish the show had been live because I'd love for his viewers to see what he was up to."

What viewers saw was a lively debate among O'Reilly, Cole and Mark Jacobson, an Ohio State instructor who helped shape the Pentagon's policy on Guantanamo Bay prisoners. The only clue that there was a blowup at the end of the interview -- when Cole was asked to leave -- is that O'Reilly didn't thank his guests, ending the segment instead with a closing comment.

"We make mistakes because we bring in people who are trying to cause trouble," he says of Cole. "I thought he was a rational person."

Cole was just getting started. He discussed the matter on the Air America radio show of the commentator's most vocal critic, Al Franken. He also submitted an op-ed piece about the incident to several news organizations, including The Washington Post, and still hopes it will be published.

O'Reilly sees this as part of "a pretty well organized campaign" on the left to monitor his television and radio shows. He cited an appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor" last week by John Podesta, former chief of staff in the Clinton White House, who now heads a liberal think tank called the Center for American Progress.

Podesta complained that "you compare Bill Moyers to Mao Zedong. You say that's a joke. You compare Al Franken to Joseph Goebbels, you know, the Nazi propagandist."

"That was Michael Moore, by the way," said O'Reilly, adding that such comments were often satirical. "I said that Michael Moore is a propagandist and so is Joseph Goebbels. And then I explained what propaganda is."

"It's a two-way street here, buddy," Podesta said at one point. "You do this all the time as well, you label people, you smear people."

O'Reilly also cites what he calls a false claim by Moore, in publicizing his film "Fahrenheit 9/11," that O'Reilly had "banned" him after a contentious interview. The host insists that is not the case and typical of his liberal detractors.

"They're trying to say that we're liars," says O'Reilly. "If you can't beat 'em, slime 'em."

[Benson2004] When science was thwarted before Michael Benson

IHT

Scientists and Bush

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia For anyone who ever spent time in the old Soviet Union, the recent statement by 60 of the top scientists in the United States had an eerie ring of déjà vu. The accusatory statement, which included 20 Nobel laureates among its issuers, charges that the Bush administration has systematically distorted scientific facts in pursuit of its policy goals. The name of Lysenko, the quack mid-century Soviet botanist, comes to mind.

In the 1930s, Trofim Lysenko postulated that hereditary changes to plants could be triggered by environmental changes - for example, by exposing seed grain to extreme temperatures. He insisted that this theory, which rejected widely accepted chromosome theories of heredity, directly corresponded to Marxism. He was rapidly promoted within the Stalinist hierarchy and in short order effectively became the science czar of the Soviet Union. Under him, bona fide geneticists were denounced as advocates of a doctrine synonymous with fascism. Lysenko was personally responsible for the deportation to the gulag of many talented scientists who didn't agree with his theories.

Lysenko was, of course, just a symptom of a far larger disease, in which the reigning Soviet ideology, which insisted that its doctrines were firmly grounded in objectively verifiable scientific fact, warped the realities surrounding it to justify its own totalitarian rule and agenda.

Two decades after Lysenko was finally denounced by Nikita Khrushchev in the late 1970s, the Soviet media still featured a steady diet of contented workers and gleaming combines. The reality, as everyone knew, was different; decrepit, sluggish industries, an agricultural sector that had to import increasing amounts of wheat from the United States, widespread alcoholism and despair, a dead-end command economy.

The Bush administration, needless to say, is not the old Soviet regime, and a Lysenko could never gain such power in the United States. Still, in the statement of the American scientists there are troubling echoes of the damage ideology can wreak. Like the old Soviet Union, which invaded Afghanistan on the basis of a sort of inverted version of the Western domino theory, the Bush regime attacked Iraq with the shakiest of justifications, and like the Soviet Union of the 1980s, the United States is now bogged down in a bloody and expensive war that is drawing infuriated mujahadeen from across the Muslim world.

The Soviet system essentially ignored fundamental economic realities, bankrupting itself in a fruitless attempt to keep up with the United States militarily; the Bush administration likewise seems to believe that it can spend as much as it wants on flawed missile defense schemes and an open-ended global war on terror while legislating massive tax cuts that benefit the wealthiest part of the population.

The Soviet Union cranked out reams of strident propaganda in which non-Socialist states were depicted as despotic outposts of capitalist exploitation, with Moscow and its allies the gleaming hope for mankind; the Bush administration's black-and-white division of the planet into those for and against us provides a chilling reprise.

The KGB conducted surveillance on its population without even a pretense of judicial oversight; although obviously not comparable with Stalinist methods, the Bush administration's Patriot Act (an Orwellian name if ever there was one) similarly gives a wide latitude to the FBI to conduct domestic surveillance at will and without much legal recourse.

To circle back to science, last week's "J'accuse" by America's leading scientists underlines, among other things, a perilous danger. Although there is now a scientific consensus that industrial effluents are the leading cause of a (similarly unquestionable) global warming trend, the White House simply dismisses the evidence. And here again we have to keep the Lysenko example in mind.

In the same way that the Bush administration exaggerated intelligence on Iraq, emphasizing extreme worst-case scenarios to make its case for war, it ignores overwhelming evidence that global warming is gathering force, stressing those few studies which call it into question.

In the end, as the French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard said, reality has a way of taking its revenge. The Soviet Union finally disintegrated under the weight of its internal contradictions, a victim of the discrepancy between its ideologically distorted views and reigning reality.

Kurt Gottfried, chairman of the board of directors at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a signer of the accusatory study, was quoted in The New York Times as saying that the administration's attitude toward science could place the long-term prosperity of the United States at risk. Despite the spooky Soviet overtones of the Bush administration, United States remains a strong democracy. We need to lose this creeping latter-day variant of Lysenkoism that has moved well beyond the current administration's dealing with scientific and ecological issues to taint American politics and diplomacy across the board.

 

 



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