Credibility Problems

September 10th, 2013 Comments off

Speaking in reference to the prospect of US military intervention in Syria at a recent press conference in Stockholm, President Obama told reporters, “My credibility is not on the line. The international community’s credibility is on the line, and America and Congress’s credibility is on the line.” The President got it half right. Having drawn a red line in Syria and called for air strikes in an increasingly volatile region, the Noble Peace Prize winner’s credibility, let alone his sound judgment, has never been more suspect.

Indeed, since his reelection last November, Obama’s credibility has tanked. And with good reason. On the domestic front, this summer’s revelations of the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs, and his administration’s assault on journalists and whistleblowers, underscore Obama’s authoritarian tendencies at home. In the international arena, Obama routinely violates international law with drone strikes across the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. In reassuring tones, Obama calls for greater transparency and accountability in domestic and international relations. And yet, with each passing day the President’s rhetoric rings hollow, revealing his mendacity at every turn.

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Into Darkness: Letter to an Incoming Freshman

September 5th, 2013 Comments off

No doubt you’ve been busy this summer, celebrating high school graduation, bidding farewell to family and friends, and readying yourself for a new challenge – freshman year of college. As you prepare to take up your undergraduate studies, make new friends and acquaintances, and, perhaps, fulfill your hopes and dreams for the future, you’re likely to receive all sorts of unsolicited advice.

Here’s my two cents: Your college degree won’t be worth the paper it’s written on if the Class of 2017 doesn’t dedicate itself, first and foremost, to save the country from its own excesses. Excess of greed. Excess of duplicity. Excess of injustice. I say this with a heavy heart and a troubled mind. Because this summer, as you begin a new chapter in your young life, our beloved country, these United States, descends into darkness.

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Lehrer Fumbles Debate

October 6th, 2012 Comments off

Jim Lehrer is a seasoned journalist, but his performance as moderator for Wednesday night’s presidential debate was reminiscent of the lousy officiating by NFL replacement refs earlier this season.

Jim Lehrer "moderates" the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney

Within minutes, both candidates ignored the rules Lehrer set out at the beginning of the evening. Rules that the Commission on Presidential Debates – a private corporation funded by the likes of Anheuser-Busch, and created by the Democratic and Republican parties to wrest control of the debates from the non-partisan League of Women Voters in 1987 – secretly negotiated with the Obama and Romney campaigns.

Over the course of the evening, Lehrer was reduced to a bemused spectator. Had this been a Monday Night Football game, the entire country would be in an uproar over such lackluster officiating. But this isn’t football, of course, it’s a case of business as usual: timid journalists and politicians who refuse to play by their own rules.

The Lesser of Two Evils Redux

February 26th, 2012 Comments off

Bloomington Alternative

During a recent appearance on Pacifica radio’s Democracy Now!, former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold openly criticized President Barack Obama’s decision to accept campaign contributions from Super PACs. Feingold succinctly characterized the president’s reversal on taking Super PAC money: “It’s not just bad policy. It’s also dumb strategy.”

Feingold’s point is well taken. Obama’s acceptance of Super PAC contributions flies in the face of his stated opposition to the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision – a ruling that opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate campaign contributions. This reversal may come back to haunt the president, especially as he and the Democrats attempt to capitalize on the popular discontent articulated by the Occupy movement.

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MEDIAlternative

February 12th, 2012 Comments off

Annals of Censorship: Award Season Edition

Bloomington Alternative

This time of year, entertainment awards dominate the news cycle. From last month’s Golden Globes, Screen Actors and Directors Guild Awards to Sunday evening’s telecast of the 54th Grammy Awards, it’s all celebrities all the time. Then there’s Oscar’s big night on February 26th. Between all of the excitement and anticipation of award season, is it any wonder that US news workers have neglected a few important stories?

For readers weary of snarky comments from the Red Carpet fashion police, or otherwise bored to tears by George Clooney’s PR blitz for that elusive Best Actor Award, the Bloomington Alternative presents the Award Season edition of the annals of censorship.

We’re Number 47!

Last month, Reporters Without Borders issued its 10th annual press freedom index. Reporters Without Borders has been defending press freedom around the world since 1985, so it knows a thing or two about the dire circumstances news workers encounter on a daily basis.

The report begins, “This year’s index sees many changes in the rankings, changes that reflect a year that was incredibly rich in developments, especially in the Arab world.”

The good news: countries with a long history of press censorship, such as Tunisia, improved their standing considerably. The bad news: the United States came in at number 47 on this year’s press freedom index.

While U.S. news media produced sympathetic coverage of some, but certainly not all, of the pro-democracy movements across greater Middle East, American news workers have been silent on one of the more disturbing aspects of last year’s history making events: the assault on press freedom here at home.

According to Reporters Without Borders, the United States “owed its fall of 27 places to the many arrests of journalists covering Occupy Wall Street protests.”

The UK-based Daily Mail put the U.S. news media’s lackluster performance in perspective, “The slide in the United States places it just behind Comoros and Taiwan in a group with Argentina and Romania.” Nuff said.

Political ad profits

As if the horse race coverage of award season were not enough, the handicapping surrounding the GOP primary is generating more heat than light. Rick Santorum’s three state-sweep last Tuesday only added fuel to the fire.

Campaign financing – and all of the political advertising this money buys – is a perennial news story in an election year. And yet, despite all of this coverage, the broadcast industry is doing all it can to avoid disclosing how much radio and television stations make during campaign season.

Writing for AlterNet, Jay Costa reports, “Last week the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) filed another in a series of comments to the FCC opposing new rules that would require broadcast TV stations to post information online about the political ads they air.” Costa, who works with MapLight.org, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that examines the influence of money on electoral politics, goes on to document some of advertising buys of GOP rivals Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich during this, the most expensive election cycles in U.S. history.

Between the uncertain outcome of the Republican primaries and President Obama’s “reluctant but principled” acceptance of Super PAC financing for the general election, broadcasters have earned bragging rights on their election year windfall.

But it seems the broadcast industry’s appetite for campaign minutiae only goes so far.

MEDIAlternative

January 29th, 2012 Comments off

THE HAVES AND THE SOON TO HAVE

The Bloomington Alternative

Truth be told, I was only half listening to President Obama’s State of the Union (SOTU) address the other night. The once soaring rhetoric rings hollow these days. Not that I wasn’t skeptical of Mr. Hope-y Change-y from the get-go.

Even fervent Obama supporters are disappointed with the president’s inability – make that his unwillingness – to take on the moneyed interests that have colonized our politics and wrecked the economy. And Obama’s paean to militarism that bookended the SOTU makes it clear that the 2009 Noble Peace Prize winner has cast his lot with American Empire.

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The Ongoing Revolution Will Not Be Televisied

January 27th, 2012 Comments off

This week marked the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution. In typical, parochial fashion, the US news media marked the anniversary with file footage from last year’s historic events and the cool assurance that the revolution is complete.

The self-congratulatory tone was even more evident when mainstream media outlets revisited Haiti on the second anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that devastated the island nation. What these press reports ignore is the ongoing struggle in these troubled places — and the US role in perpetuating corrupt and anti-democratic forces.


More at The Real News

In Egypt, the mass mobilizations in Tahrir this past week were less celebratory than American media outlets let on. For a majority of Egyptians, especially young people, the revolution continues. It is an ongoing fight to liberate the country from an oppressive military regime.

MEDIAlternative

January 15th, 2012 Comments off

ANNALS OF CENSORSHIP: GOP PRIMARY EDITION

The Bloomington Alternative

The news media is full of it these days. The Republican presidential primaries, that is. But thanks to the short attention span of most news organizations, by the time you read this, the New Hampshire primary will be a distant memory, the Iowa caucuses ancient history. So it’s on to South Carolina, for yet another show business extravaganza masquerading as democratic politics.

A bottomless schedule of television debates interrupted only by an endless stream of spin and speculation ought to satisfy even the most avid political junkie. It’s news workers themselves who can’t get enough of this stuff. At times, it seems the entire U.S. press corps is suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Between an unnatural fixation with public opinion polls and the horse race coverage that passes for political journalism this election cycle – from Michele Bachmann’s early win in the Iowa Straw Poll and Newt Gingrich’s implosion to Rick Santorum’s last minute surge – it’s no wonder more substantive news stories fail to get much traction.

In the annals of censorship, the 2012 presidential election is shaping up to be a next-generation WMD: weapon of mass distraction. In no particular order, here are a few stories that haven’t made much news lately.

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Top 10 Soundbites of 2011

December 27th, 2011 Comments off

The Bloomington Alternative

“The Protester” is Time magazine’s person of the year. Featuring a fierce-looking, veiled figure peering back at the reader, Time’s front-cover image succinctly captures the uprisings and social upheavals that made history in 2011. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Nonetheless, we shouldn’t forget the slogans, catchphrases and epithets that made headlines this year. After all, whatever comes of the Occupy movement, the mantra of the politically and economically disenfranchised – “We are the 99%” – has dramatically altered American political discourse as we plunge headlong into the 2012 presidential race.

Here then, are some of the remarks, declarations, and comments – snarky and otherwise – that made 2011 a year to remember.

***
10. “I’m making this video to give you one simple message: we want to go down to Tahrir Square on Jan. 25th. If we still have honor and want to live in dignity on this land, we have to go down on January Jan. 25th. We’ll go down and demand our rights, our fundamental human rights.” – Egyptian activist, Asmaa Mahfouz, in a video posted to Facebook calling for a mass demonstration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Jan. 18.

9. “You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners.” – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praising Al Jazeera, the Arabic satellite news channel, and lamenting the sorry state of American journalism in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, March 2.

8. “This seems like it was a prank to make fun of my name. … When you are named Weiner, that happens a lot.” – Former Representative Anthony Weiner offering the first of a fistful of flimsy excuses for lewd photographs posted to his Twitter account, June 2.

7. “Before we get started, let’s all say ‘Happy Birthday’ to Elvis Presley today.” – U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, while campaigning for president in South Carolina on the anniversary of Presley’s death, Aug. 16.

6. “All the world saw him being killed, all bloodied. Is that democracy? And who did it? Drones, including American ones, delivered a strike on his motorcade. Then commandos, who were not supposed to be there, brought in so-called opposition and militants. And killed him without trial.” – Russian Primer Minister Vladimir Putin, assessing NATO’s role in ousting Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Dec. 15.

5. “This is such a cool state. I mean, come on, ‘Live free or die?’ I mean, you know, you gotta love that, right? I come from a state, you know, where they had this little place called the Alamo, and they declared, ‘Victory or death.’ You know, we’re kinda into those slogans, man. It’s like, ‘Live free or die,’ ‘Victory or death.’ Bring it!” – Texas Governor Rick Perry on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, Oct. 28.

4. “WikiLeaks applied new technology to penetrate the inner workings of government to reveal an avalanche of inconvenient truths in a global publishing coup.” – Citation for the whistleblower website upon receiving a Walkley Award – the Australian Pulitzer – for outstanding contribution to journalism, Nov. 27.

3. “This is the most humble day of my life.” – Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO of News Corporation, testifying before British Parliament on the phone-hacking scandal, July 19.

2. “We’re under great threat because we occupy so many countries.” – Representative Ron Paul of Texas speaking at a GOP Presidential debate, Sept. 13.

1. “They have acted like terrorists.” – Vice President Joe Biden’s assessment of Congressional Republicans during last summer’s debt-ceiling debate, Aug. 1.***

Honorable Mentions

“I can’t stand him anymore, he’s a liar.” – French President Nicolas Sarkozy, as overheard by a handful of journalists, discussing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day.” – Barack Obama’s rejoinder to Sarkozy at the November G20 Summit.

CBS News Low-Balling Iraqi Deaths

December 2nd, 2011 Comments off

During the December 1, 2011 CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley reported: “What began in 2003 as an effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein became a vicious religious war, pitting Iraqi against Iraqi–with the U.S. caught in the middle.”  This assertion does not square with the historical record.  The US invaded Iraq based on charges that Hussein was stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) — charges that have proven baseless.  Any suggestion that the US was caught in the middle of an internal conflict is, at best, shoddy reporting.  At worst, this is deliberately misleading journalism.

What’s more, in using icasualties.org’s lowest estimate of civilian casualties (50,000), based on figures from January 2005 — nearly two years after the invasion — CBS is low-balling the death toll in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.  At the very least, CBS News should provide clarification to the figure Pelley reported last evening.  A more forthright clarification would note how other estimates, including those of the highly respected British medical journal the Lancet, put the figure much higher.  Lancet’s 2006 study put the number of “violent deaths” at 600,000.

Finally, reporting on the withdrawal from Iraq should remind viewers of the number of “trainers” that will remain in Iraq.  Likewise, CBS would do well to discuss the role that private military contractors have played, and will continue to play, in Iraq for the foreseeable future.