"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Constraints Effecting Journalism

Explaining why President George W. Bush was getting an easy ride, Harris wrote,” There is no well-coordinated corps of aggrieved and methodical people who start each day looking for ways to expose and undermine a new president.” This explanation leaves aside some serious questions. To what extent have liberal journalists been intimidated by the constant refrain that the media has a liberal bias? Has the fact that the three major networks are now in conservative hands anything to do with their increasingly cautious approach to the way they report on conservative politicians and conservative administrations?. Neal Gabler of the Annenberg School of Communications has suggested that the secret of understanding the media is not that it has a liberal bias. Rather, ”it is that they are trying to attract the widest possible viewership, or readership, and that doing so necessitates that they be as inoffensive as possible.”

Don Hewitt, producer of “Sixty Minutes”-- a television program that has set a reasonably high standard for integrity, lamented “The 1990s were a terrible time for journalism in this country but a wonderful time for journalists.” Jim Squires, former editor of the Chicago Tribune has even referred to the “death of journalism.” Speaking to trade and corporate seminars can be very lucrative, and there is no way of knowing whether people might modify their reporting patter somewhat to make themselves attractive to these employers. Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson, who were on the most influential Sunday commentary program, were talking to insurance and hospital lobbying groups at about $30,000 a speech during the health care debate. Roberts also earned money speaking to Phillip Morris executives. Both of these allegedly liberal commentators had little good to say about Bill Clinton in his second term. Roberts appeared to uncritically accept every charge made about Clinton’s sexual adventures and has been called a “font of Beltway conventional wisdom.” Later, she was inclined to treat President George W. Bush gently, claiming the SEC had exonerated him in a potential inside-trading case when the agency’s letter specifically said it was not exonerating him.’

The decline of journalistic standards that became obvious in the 1990s has often been blamed on the need to compete with around the clock cable television news. Dusko Doder confessed, “Reporters like myself, who have been in the business for a while, talk frequently these days about avoiding certain topics that would clash with the financial interests of their organizations.”

In 2002-2003, the US newspaper industry was netting an average profit margin of 21%, a yield far in excess of what the European press was realizing. Analyst Curtis Gans worried that the media was sacrificing accuracy and balance n order to wreap these gains and noted that the press should provide information and opinions that ignite the fires of a citizens’ democracy. Media outlets are businesses, and they cannot afford to alienate advertisers or people who are likely sources of news. In the mid-1970s, the New York Times moved too far left in its reporting and promptly suffered declining revenues. Articles on problems in health care alone cost it $500,000 in advertising from one former client. A Wall Street analyst then commented that the paper’s support of a tax increase “could put the Times right out of business." The paper had no choice but to reverse course and made Max Frankell managing editor in January 1977. In addition, the increasing concentration of media outlets in fewer hands has increasingly tended to make the press more cautious and conservative. Although large corporate interests tend to hold large numbers of newspapers and electronic media outlets, this is not always the case. By 2002, the Retirement System of Alabama held 36 television stations and 118 daily newspapers. Among its holdings were the NBC station in Memphis and the CBS station in Cleveland. RSA also holds 118 newspapers.

The manner in which the media treats political matters is closely tied to the ownership of the press and media and to the necessity of not alienating advertisers. . Newspapers, magazines, and television stations exist to make money. Wealthy advertisers can influence what a radio station chooses to broadcast. Television was deregulated in the 1980s, and this increased the profit potential of the networks. Public service was no longer mandated, and the industry no longer considered it a goal. Great corporations acquired the Networks. GE bought and continues to hold NBC. Capital Cities acquired ABC, and it later passed to Disney. Lowes purchased CBS, and that was later bought by Viacom. News department staffs were cut to increase profits, and their broadcasts were oriented more toward entertainment than hard news.

The vast majority of newspapers are owned by conservative interests, as are the three major television networks and FOX. The interests of the corporations that own media outlets are affected by how the news is handled. Westinghouse, owner of CBS, and General Electric, owner of NBC, are involved in both the nuclear power industry and the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Few negative stories appear about the World Trade Organization which has a record of being anti-labor, anti-human rights, and pro-business. Between January 1, 1998 and February 1, 1999, the three major television networks interviewed 132 people about the desirability of “privatizing” Social Security. That is, permitting people to invest a third of their contribution in mutual funds. Only three of those interviewed were critical of the plan. Investment houses and mutual fund providers are major advertisers. This may have something to do with the skewed coverage of a very important issue.

PBS, which is denounced by conservatives as being too liberal, frequently covers Latin American stories by interviewing current or past US officials or those of governments allied with the United States. Viewers are not likely to learn much about why dissidents there are unhappy with US corporations and US policy. As federal subsidies to public television have decreased, PBS has become more dependent upon corporate underwriting and has found it necessary to become careful about not offending corporate benefactors. In 2002, PBS abruptly cancelled showing a British documentary entitled “Counting On Democracy,” which argued that Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris had illegally deprived 57,000 people of the right to vote in the presidential election of 2000. A handful of local affiliates obtained the program and showed it, but the PBS decision deprived most viewers of an opportunity to consider an alternative explanation of what happened in the Florida election.

There is a very natural tendency for the press to go easy on those who wield great economic power. In the 1980s and 1990s, the American media was concentrated more in more in the hands of a few vast corporations. It was unable or unwilling to provide sufficient information to the electorate on economic polarization or the growing power of a small economic elite. Republican theorist Kevin Phillips wrote: “For want of insights and data often unobtainable from the corporate media, the public opinion vital to US democracy has trouble remaining vigorous and informed.”

Structural factors help explain the media’s tilt to the right. In 1987, Ronald Reagan’s Federal Communications Commission repealed the time-honored fairness doctrine. This removed any barrier to the partisan use of the media, and talk radio soon became almost completely right-wing. Cable television soon took a decidedly conservative bent, although there are some moderate commentators on the cable and even one outspoken liberal. Under Bill Clinton, Congress opened the door somewhat to media consolidation, which made it easier for most mainstream media to be owned by 6 corporations. George W. Bush’s FCC removed so many more limitations, that the Republican Congress in 2004 actually put aside one sweeping grant of powers to private interests.

Some feared that the internet was the last venue where progressive views could be presented, and it was clear that the time would come when internet access would be almost entirely via broadband access offered by a few providers. For that reason, there was much concern in 2006, when A.T.&.T. offered to purchase Bell South for $67 billion dollars. Progressives sought to block the deal until Net Neutrality or “Equal Access” was guaranteed. The Justice Department approved the merger with no conditions in October but a hitch turned up when one member of the FCC recused himself, leaving a 2-2 tie. To obtain approval AT&T guaranteed Net Neutrality and reasonable rates for the next thirty months.

The media’s tilt to the right was partly due to the influence of advertisers, the fact that most outlets are in conservative hands, and to the “vast success of the long rightist propaganda drive against ‘the liberal media.’” The ceaseless complaints about a liberal media had enabled conservative writers and electronic journalists to stray far beyond any acceptable standard of fairness. Their cover is that they are just redressing long-standing grievances. When Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham died, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review ran an editorial insinuating that she murdered her husband in order to gain control of the company. Conservatives had long painted Mrs. Graham as an unprincipled liberal because her paper exposed the Watergate story and sometimes disclosed information injurious to the conservative cause. In point of fact he had committed suicide, and there was not a shred of evidence to support the paper’s outrageous hypothesis. The paper’s owner is Richard Mellon Scaife, who had financed the Arkansas Project, which was a massive investigation of the Clintons, and the American Spectator, when it printed reams of unsupported material on the Clintons’ business dealings and sexual activities. That most of the press neither took notice of nor rebuked Scaife’s Tribune-Review indicates, at best, that many simply expected wild and irresponsible attacks from the conservative press.

As late as the 1970s, reporters sometimes did courageous things. Today, however, Russell Baker wrote, “They have discovered that their prime duty is no longer to maintain the republic in well-informed condition--or to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable--but to serve the stock market with a good earnings report to comfort the comfortable.” Kate Graham risked loss of her paper and broadcast empire when she continually supported the investigative work of Watergate reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward Arthur Ochs Sulzberger risked federal prosecution when the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers for days in an ad-free section, which must also have been a costly proposition. Seymour Hersh has made a career of straight, honest, non-partisan reporting. His penchant for raising questions that challenged those in power have cost him prestigious jobs and a great deal of income. Hirsh’s careful, analytical, investigative journalism has prompted George W. Bush to say, “Seymour Hersh is a liar.” A seasoned journalist has noted that his stories “sting, but there’s no real lasting effect.” This may be because most of the press is marching along safer paths.

There are very few investigative reporters like Seymour Hersh today, in part because investigative reporting is expensive both in terms of paying personnel and in terms of the retribution it can bring. Reporters with deadlines to meet find it easier to draw readily available information from conservative think tanks, or even from Matt Drudge. He carried an untrue and unsourced story that Ken Lay slept in the Lincoln bedroom when Clinton was president, and moderate journalists picked it up and printed it. On an earlier occasion Drudge false accusation that a Clinton aide was beating his wife was quickly picked up and circulated by the mainstream press. These were examples of the mainstream press becoming a vast echo chamber for stories mounted in the aggressive conservative press.

Appearing on BBC’s “Hardtalk” Carl Bernstein noted that there had been a “massive pullback” on tough and investigative reporting. Some of this was due to financial considerations, but much was due to a “horrible political atmosphere” in which a very large part of the population does not want anything approaching full or honest reporting.” Courageous reporting that challenges powerful interests is very infrequent today as demands for higher profits make it impossible for publishers and media managers to show such courage or take such chances. Newspaper CEOs are far less frequently journalists; rather they are business school graduates who eyes are fixed on the bottom line as well as the possibility for acquisition or merger. Local television news programs in big markets enjoy profit margins of 60-70%, and those in smaller markets are not willing to settle for the 10% that would please many small businesses.

CBS’s Dan Rather, the contemporary anchor who seems most committed to honest journalism, admits that “delivering the profit” has become the news media’s “driving force” and admits that this has led to “the decline in quality.” This means that there are fewer people to cover stories but also that there is greater pressure to do less with stories that could antagonize advertisers or viewers. The pursuit of profits has led the press to do more with brain-softening entertainment items and inconsequential material. There is evidence that many patrons like things this way. Even the Sunday talk shows slowly have drifted to the Right. In Bill Clinton’s second term, the guests were reasonably balanced with a slight edge going to the Republicans. During the George W. Bush presidency, conservative guests significantly outnumbered liberals, and the panels were strongly tilted to the right. Outspoken liberals like Paul Krugman rarely appeared. The one exception was Katrina vanden Heuvel.

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum

Press Treatment of Democrats

MSNBC offered a steady diet of “bash Clinton all the time” during the nation’s long obsession with his sex life and Whitewater. Was this due to the entertainment value of the stories or because Microsoft was unhappy with Clinton’s Justice Department? Much of the print and electronic media has become partly an entertainment medium, and reporters are becoming celebrities. Moreover, a star system has developed, in which performers do what is necessary to enhance their fame, star status, and income. To enhance their star status, many abandoned normal journalistic standards while feeding off the Clinton sex scandal and hyping the Whitewater hoax, which turned out to be a very minor matter. Many viewers and readers can recite the list of Princess Dianna’s male friends but would be at a loss to offer any information on government tax or environmental policy. The public found George W. Bush a likable fellow, and after 9/11 he was elevated to hero status, with an approval rating around 90%.

The greatest no-no in journalism “is to offend a substantial chunk of the audience by reporting things in a way that goes against their attitudes.” Even in the Reagan era, such a large portion of the public considered Lt. Colonel Oliver North a national hero that nothing was reported about his efforts to protect Latin American drug-dealing generals or that he had been banned from Costa Rica on charges of drug running. Journalists found they could enhance their public appeal by portraying the new president in the best possible light. After 9/11,Washington press’s fawning over Bush reached astronomical levels as he was compared to Winston Churchill and the great men of history. Giving the news a conservative spin not only placed a journalist in sync with the nation’s rightward shift; it opened the doors to fat consulting fees and employment by well-financed think tanks and foundations. The liberal journalist might be able to garner paltry fees from a few “little magazines” or, with great luck, land a slot at the Brookings Institution, which employs experts of all persuasions. As media pundits came to earn vast amounts of money, their class interests certainly did not dictate liberal politics.

While much of the press fawned over George W. Bush, there was a tendency for the press to pile-on in making charges against Clinton, and doing so certainly did not injure anyone’s career. Indeed, this kind of journalism seemed to satisfy those who had regularly wailed about an alleged liberal media. In June 1993 Clinton foolishly delayed his flight out of Los Angeles in order to get a $200 haircut from a famous stylist. Dr. John McLaughlin of “The McLaughlin Group” expanded upon the story by saying the decision tied up “ground and air traffic, putting as many as 37 planes in a holding pattern.” His right-oriented telecast was sponsored by General Electric, whose CEO Jack Welch had been persuaded by Charlton Heston and Ronald Reagan to do so. The story commanded front pages across the nation. Six weeks later, the Los Angeles Times published a story proving that no other planes were inconvenienced by the presidential haircut. This story attracted very little attention, and when it was printed it appeared on back pages.

Until the Mark Foley scandal in 2006, the press corps had shown great interest in Democratic sex scandals but had largely overlooked those of Republicans. When George Bush was vice president, a report about an affair briefly surfaced. One outraged denial on his part was enough to put the matter to rest. Similarly, a report of Governor Jeb Bush’s affair with a former Playboy bunny on his cabinet received little coverage from the national media despite the fact that more information kept surfacing. In the summer of 2001, the affair of conservative Democrat Gary Condit with a missing intern occupied the press for months. The press rarely mentioned that he was “the pet congressional Democrat of the new Bush administration” or that he had been considered by Bush for a cabinet post. Condit matter deserved coverage the Congressman had initially denied the affair, thus impeding efforts to find her. The press was soon investigating every sordid detail of the man’s promiscuous private live.

While some electronic media figures like Larry King were covering Condit almost every day for weeks, a woman turned up dead in the Florida office of Republican Congressman Joe Scarboro. She was apparently his mistress and had a major head injury. Scarlboro found it necessary to resign his seat, but then appeared on MSNBC’s Hardball as a guest commentator. He later acquired his own cable commentary show. The case received very little attention. In the latter case, the local authorities dodged telling whether the death was natural. While the press busily covered every detail of Gary Condit, there was scarcely a mention of President George W. Bush’s encounter with an unhappy African American constituent at a Philadelphia block party. Though usually charming, the president replied, “Who Cares what you think?” to a man who said “I hope you only serve four years. I’m very disappointed in your work so far.”

During the 2004, campaign William Greidler commented on the hostility of the press to Howard Dean and its nearly reverential treatment of George W. Bush. He claimed that the mainstream reporters were "surrogate agents for Washington insider sensibilities. Clearly, the journalists believed that conservatives preferred something other than an honest, balanced approach. As the election approached, there was another striking example of the tendency of the press to censor itself when criticism of conservatives was concerned. Kitty Kelley produced The Family a critical study of the Bush dynasty. Though she had written a number of best-selling books, most of the shows that generally interview authors of new books refused to give her time on the air. Matt Lauer of the “Today” show gave her a very hostile interview, in which he repeatedly demanded to know how she was going to vote in November.

The Walt Disney Company is an entertainment enterprise rather than a journalistic operation. Yet, its reluctance to distribute a film criticizing Bush reflects the atmosphere of the times. In May Disney forbad its subsidiary Miramax to distribute “Fahrenheit 911,” a Michael Moore film that criticizes George W. Bush. Ari Emanuel, Moore’s agent, said that Michael Eisner told him that concern about retaining certain tax incentives from the State of Florida motivated the decision. The film explored the Bush family’s ties to Saudi Arabia and the decision to permit bin Ladens to leave the US immediately following 9/11. Moore subsequently found another firm to distribute the documentary, and conservatives promptly started pressuring cinema house chains to refuse to show it. After the election, the media’s sensitivity to the complaints of the Neo Conservative-Religious Right coalition about unfair press coverage be came so great that several networks refused an advertisement from the United Church of Christ which proclaimed itself a “welcoming church,” and showed a same sex couple coming to church for worship.

In the final Bush-Kerry debate, Schieffer of CBS did not ask one question about the environment, which would have played to Kerry’s strengths. Instead, his questions on personal religious faith, gay marriage, and abortion underscored Bush’s attractiveness to large elements in the electorate. In framing a question, he also informed the candidates that Social Security was running out of money.

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum

The Media and US Foreign Policy

Sustained criticism of fundamental U.S. foreign policy has not been a mark of the mainstream U.S. media for decades. Positions that appear too critical of entrenched economic power or offer sustained criticism of basic social and economic policies can create problems for journalists. After Islamic terrorists attacked buildings in Washington and New York on September 11, 2001, the mainstream media did very little to help people understand why the Al Qaeda terrorists were so anxious to murder Americans. Critics of US policies such as Edward Said, Edward Herman, and Noam Chomsky were not interviewed. Henry Kissinger appeared many times even though it had recently been revealed that he had approved the assassination of Rene Schneider, head of Chile’s military, because he would not have backed a proposed coup against Salvadore Allende.

With more than a little justification, Eric Alterman has claimed “the mainstream media almost always allow the Bush Administration to lie without consequence.” Press treatment of George W. Bush’s May 6, 2003 press conference illustrates how the press has come to backstop this president. The chief executive came with a prearranged list of reporters who would be called upon and he even mentioned that the conference had been scripted. Nevertheless, the reporters went through the motions of jumping from their chairs, acting as though they were struggling to be recognized so they could offer softball questions. In that press conference on Iraq, he mentioned September 11 or Al Qaeda fourteen times, but no reporter challenged him on whether he was saying that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the 9/11 attack It is no wonder a vast majority of Americans came to believe this.

At the beginning of the conference Helen Thomas was deprived of her customary front row seat, and Bush refused to call on her, though it was customary that she offer the first question and close the conference with a “Thank You, Mr. President.” She was being punished for saying Bush was the worst president in US history. The GOP national committee also sent out instructions to pundits in its stable to attack her. Many had the decency to ignore these instructions. Jim Rosen of Fox noted that the conference went much smoother without her asking questions, and Brit Hume called her to: a nutty aunt in the attic.” John Podhorentz said Thomas was an “ancient White House pseudo-reporter,’ and Michelle Malkin intoned “Shame, shame, shame, on Helen Thomas.” The Bush administration had also blacklisted Mike Allen of the Washington Post. Walter Cronkite, another journalist in his eighties, was the only major commentator to join Thomas in seriously questioning Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Bill O’Reilly denounced Cronkite as an “internationalist,” a Bushian term of derision. Andrew Sullivan also denounced the BBC for offering some unfavorable news about the war by calling it the ally of Saddam Hussein. For a variety of reasons, the press almost gave Bush a free pass since the campaign. His elevation of warrior/president after 9/11 made it more difficult to criticize him. Moreover, the administration was extremely effective in controlling news and not giving information to journalists who seemed hostile. Even a respected journalist Howard Fineman has taken to offering undiluted praise of Bush on his television appearances and praising the president’s gunslinger approach to diplomacy.

When President George W. Bush was beating the drum for war against Iraq in 2002, the desire to control oil resources as a motivation for war was much more a subject of interest in the foreign press than in the US media. The French and Germans took a leading role in opposing the war, but much of the media, particularly CNN and Fox, portrayed them as “isolated.” As Le Monde editor Alain Frachon noted, “European criticism of Bush’s position on Iraq ‘doesn’t cross the ocean well ‘“ People knew Europeans questioned Bush’s views but had no access to their arguments.

In time, it became clear France and Germany spoke for almost all of Europe. The British press, particularly the BBC, provided much information to debunk the Blair and Bush administrations claims about Saddam’s weapons programs and holdings, but the US press showed great deference to the administration and failed to go beyond reporting the claims of the Defense Department and White house. During the war, the press minimized data on US casualties even though Defense Department data demonstrated that they were far greater than reported. Paul Krugman suggested that CNN and Fox cable networks “have taken it as their assignment to sell the war, not to present a mix of information that might call the justification for war into question.” He thought Americans seemed mystified and stunned by foreign opposition to the war because they were mainly exposed to a one-sided approach and noted that the two main cable operations were dismissive in their coverage of the worldwide anti-war demonstrations on February 15, 2003. Hans Blix, in his February 14 report to the Security Council, refuted some of Secretary of State Powell’s charges. However, CNN deleted those 750 words from its transcript of the weapons’ inspector’s report on its web site.

On January 26, 2003 White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card appeared on “Meet the Press” to warn that there would be a holocaust against the US or its friends if there were not a war with Iraq. Tim Russert asked Card if the White House still stood behind Bush’s claims that some aluminum rods imported by Iraq were intended for plutonium processing. When Card responded with a lengthy affirmative answer, the usually tough Russert did not follow up with information from a very recent International Atomic Energy Administration report that dismissed this charge with considerable scientific evidence. To question Bush’s claims came too close to appear to be an apologist for Saddam Hussein. During the war itself, the media often performed more as cheerleaders than as objective reporters of events. John Pilger of the New Statesman reported that British troops “put on protective suits to recover dead and wounded in vehicles American [hit with]‘friendly fire’” because “the Americans are using solid uranium coated missiles and tank shells.” This was also reported in al-Jazerra, but not elsewhere.

There are many examples of the reluctance of The New York Times and The Washington Post to print information that could undermine fundamental foreign policy or dominant social and economic institutions and power structures are not meant to suggest that these are poor newspapers. They are two of the nation’s best papers and provide far more information critical of U.S. foreign policy and economic structures than other mainstream outlets. They usually push the envelope as far as possible consistent with their own profitability and continued access to important news sources. Enough solid information appears in their pages to make it possible to piece together a revealing but inadequate view. They present much that is not even mentioned in most other media outlets. Because these papers do print much invaluable information that others will not provide, conservatives angrily insist that the Times and Post provide biased, liberal coverage. If they printed only the news that appeared in conservative newspapers, they would pass the right’s fairness and balance tests with flying colors.

The staffs of less powerful and prestigious papers would be likely to encounter insuperable problems if they decided that good journalism required them to go very far against the grain in selecting topics or providing information that would be genuinely damaging to powerful interests. By the 1990s, the news departments of the major networks were facing enormous pressures for good ratings in a declining market. In 1981, the evening news broadcasts together had 84% of the viewers in their time slots; by 2002 they could claim only 43%, and those viewers had a median range in the upper fifties. To improve their positions, they reported less hard news and offered more material that was essentially justified by its entertainment value. These news departments began to reduce their payrolls to meet the new circumstances. Under these circumstances, reporters found it difficult to offer up highly controversial material.

Some of Bush’s foreign policy appointments should have raised more than a few eyebrows in the press. The younger Bush became the first president to appoint a pardoned criminal to a high White House post. President Bush the Elder had pardoned Elliott Abrams, who had been convicted of two counts of lying to Congress. Abrams had been involved in the Iran Contra scandal, channeling illegal funds to the right-wing death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala. This misguided policy produced 70,000 dead in El Salvador and 100,000 in Guatemala. Abrams denied the validity of reports about the El Mozote massacre, which claimed the lives of 700 unarmed people, including children, and was highly critical of reports of the UN truth commissions and Catholic human rights committees about the bloody results of U.S. policy in El Salvador and Guatemala. Bush the Younger appointed Abrams senior director of the office for democracy, human rights, and international operations at the National Security Council. A halfway vigilant press would have publicized this case, and editors would have insisted that the price of rehabilitation should be providing a full and truthful account of all of his dealings with Lt. Colonel Oliver North in sending Iranian arms money to the Contra rebels in El Salvador.

Two other Bush nominations should have raised questions about the administration’s intentions toward Latin America and concern for human rights. Otto Reich, who was head of the State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean in the 1980s, returned to that department to deal with Latin American affairs. Reich, teacher at the School of the Americans and another Cuban-American, took his orders from Lt. Colonel Oliver North in the National Security Council. Reich’s task was to plant materials in the press that would discredit the opponents of Ronald Reagan’s policies in El Salvador. The General Accounting Office reported in 1987 that Reich’s office had “engaged in prohibited, covert propaganda activities.” He was never prosecuted. John Negroponte was nominated to be ambassador to the United Nations. He was U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985 when Battalion 3-16, a U.S. trained death squad, was on the loose. Negroponte, had at his disposal a briefing book by his predecessor on Honduran military’s human rights violations. There were hundreds of stories about their bloody activities in the Honduran papers. Nevertheless, he quashed reports about their abuses and denied he had any information about these matters. Negroponte also helped arm Nicaraguan Contras who were working out of Honduras. The Los Angeles Times investigated his activities when Bush the Younger nominated him, but few other newspapers pursued the matter

The Bush administration did not discuss its previous dealings with the Taliban, even though the foreign press covered them these matters in detail. Moreover, these matters were not explored in the American mainline press. The information available through the foreign press would have prompted some Americans to wonder if Bush’s dealings with the Taliban could have triggered the attacks. Some of this information also raised serious questions about how the administration handled investigative efforts to detect terrorist plots. The Village Voice reported on the visits of Taliban leaders to Bush’s Washington. These have been verified, but there is no way of knowing if the Village Voice report that the Taliban offered to hold Bin Laden until we could track his movements is true. It is clear that the administration was divided into three factions on what to do in Afghanistan, with many NeoCons wanting to deal with the Taliban. Apparently the State Department was opposed to dealing with the Northern Alliance, which is what the US ended up doing. Most of the press was content simply relying on administration handouts.

The disastrous events of September 11 clearly indicated there had been an intelligence failure of massive proportions. There was surprisingly little discussion of why the intelligence community had failed to detect such a large plot. When Congress began to look into this intelligence failure, delaying and obfuscating tactics by the Justice Department and CIA frustrated its efforts. Even Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, expressed frustration about the difficulties encountered in obtaining information.

Some might consider it a serious failure that the mainstream press did not look at reports that the Bush administration had shut down investigations of suspicious Saudi activities, In late 2001, Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, a French intelligence expert and a journalist, published a book that revealed the United States’ secret negotiations with the Taliban and suggested that US concerns for the sensibilities of the Saudis seriously thwarted efforts of the FBI to investigate Afghanistan-based terrorism. It was given the provocative title The Forbidden Truth because it included material on how one of Bin Laden’s brothers managed to have it banned in Sweden. The assertion about frustrating the FBI’s investigation of terrorism was controversial and not fully proven. The book was widely discussed in Europe, but by late January 2001 received little attention in the United States.
The New York Daily News and Paula Zahn on CNN gave it considerable coverage. The two French writers have charged it had been standing U.S. policy to require the security agencies to tread carefully when investigating terrorists and terrorist organizations that had Saudi connections. They talked to John O’ Neill who had been a key FBI anti-terrorist investigator and had complained that Barbara Bodine, Clinton's ‘ambassador to Yemen, had tied the FBI's ‘ hands in its investigation of the bombing of the Cole. He complained that “ the FBI was even more politically engaged” after the election of George W. Bush.

O’Neill resigned in August and became head of security at the Twin Trade Towers and died there September 11. An intelligence source told a British journalist the same thing: the FBI was long required to handle people and organizations with Saudi ties with kid gloves. He too heard that the situation became worse when young Bush took power. O’ Neill told the Frenchmen, “All of the answers, all of the clues allowing us to dismantle Osama bin Laden’s organization, can be found in Saudi Arabia.” O’Neill was extremely frustrated by the Bush administration’s approach to terrorism, but his resignation was prompted by internal FBI politics. He had been denied a promotion, was on poor terms with the director and deputy director, and he faced an internal investigation. He had violated rules by letting a mistress use a bathroom in safe house and had apparently lost a laptop computer and briefcase with sensitive information while attending a meeting in Atlanta with 175 other agents. He left the conference room to take a telephone call and the briefcase and laptop somehow disappeared. O’ Neill had too high a profile for the agency, and his abrasiveness and great intelligence earned many enemies. When Louis Freeh told him he was sure the Saudis would help in the investigation of the Khobar Towers bombing, O’Neill responded, “They were just shining sunlight up your ass.” The director consistently defended O’Neill against his critics up to that point, but was wary of him thereafter.

After the bombing of the USS Cole, he temporarily led the investigation in Yemen, where he sought to break up key Al Qaeda operations. He and his team were ultimately barred from operating there by an ambassador who thought he endangered US relations with that country. He resigned because his career advancement was blocked, but his criticisms of Bush’s negligence on the anti-terrorism effort could be accurate. The truth of O ‘Neill’s claims about the Bush administration’s quashing of anti-terrorist activities may have gone to the grave with him.

However, a US intelligence source told two London Guardian journalists that “There were always constraints on investigating the Saudis,” but that these were considerably tightened after Bush became president. One reason, the Guardian was told, was that the “hands off” order was necessary to prevent it from becoming public that some Saudis were paying protection money to bin Laden. According to Greg Palast, an American journalist working in London, “A group of well-placed sources -- not-all-too-savory spooks and arms dealers--told my BBC team that before September 11 the U.S. government had turned away evidence of Saudi billionaires funding Osama bin Laden’s network --.we got our hands on documents that backed up the story that FBI and CIA investigations had been slowed by the Clinton administration, then killed by Bush Jr.’s when those inquiries might upset Saudi interests.” Another reason was allegedly “Arbusto” and “Carlyle”, terms that refer to the Bush business ties with Saudis. Palast and The Guardian later learned that the George W. Bush administration ordered the intelligence agencies to “back-off” Clinton’s investigation of Khan’s nuclear operations in Pakistan. Perhaps this was because Saudi money trails might turn up.

John Loftus claimed that Vice President Cheney ordered the FBI and intelligence Al Qaeda activities because such activities might interfere with efforts to negotiate a twin pipeline deal with Iraq. Apparently Enron was then taking the lead in the proposed deal. The gas pipeline was to terminate in a Pakistani port city and a line was to connect it to the Enron power plant in northern India.

The Guardian team that reported on the Bush administration’s negotiations with the Taliban concluded that the attacks of September 11 were a preemptive strike on the part of Al-Qaeda. In view of the fact that these strikes were long planned actions, a better conclusion would be that the threats made by American negotiators might have had some influence on the timing of these tragic events. They probably would have occurred anyhow. One wonders what might have occurred if the FBI investigators had not been ordered not to pursue some aspects of potential terrorist activity.

The Guardian obtained FBI documents that indicated there were restrictions on investigating possible terrorist plots. Shown on the BBC television program Newsnight, the file was coded A199,” which was a designation for national security cases. The material indicated the FBI could not investigate two of bin Laden’s relatives who lived in Falls Church, Virginia. Abdullah and Omar bin Laden were associated with a suspected terrorist organization, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) that had an office there. Abdullah was the director of the US branch of WAMY. Two of the September 11 hijackers used a false address several blocks away from the office. Apparently under Saudi pressure, the Clinton administration had limited the investigation of this organization. FBI sources disclosed that the restrictions became much worse under the Bush administration and that several investigations were effectively shut down. The restrictions were lifted after September 11. The French investigators Brisard and Dasquie claimed that powerful elements in the Saudi royal family support bin Laden and were able to pressure the US into shutting down the FBI investigation.

The San Francisco Chronicle forced Warren Hinckle to take a three-month “vacation”, and Dr. Orlando Garcia lost his talk show on WADO in New York City. Both had criticized the war against the Taliban. The editor of the Kutztown, Pa. Patriot was fired for writing an anti-war editorial. In September and October 2002, there here huge demonstrations abroad against George W. Bush’s proposed war against Iraq. About 1.5 million demonstrated in Rome, and several hundred thousands turned out in London. There were much smaller demonstrations in the United States, but none of these received much coverage.

The administration’s view of how the war should be reported can be seen in its view of al-Jazeera, the Islamic network that sometimes let itself be used by Al Qaeda for propaganda purposes. This network provided the best coverage of the loss of civilian lives and massive physical damage done during the second Battle of Falluja. The network claimed to have been targeted at least twice targeted there by US jets, and the US did not accept a cease-fire until al-Jazeera pulled its people out of the ruined city. Later an April 2004, a memo surfaced in which Bush suggested to Blair that its headquarters be bombed. The British Official Secrets Act was invoked against the two journalists who printed the story. Frank Gaffney, a Neo Conservative intellectual, quickly defended Bush’s suggestion.

The Canadian and European press explored the Second Bush administration’s meetings with Taliban officials before the attack of September 11, but these questions were not discussed in the mainstream American press. In the first seven months after 9-11, the American press did not investigate what the administration might have known about potential terrorism before 9-11. Dan Rather of CBS News explained on a BBC broadcast, “In some ways the fear is that you will be necklaced here, you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck Now it is that fear that keeps journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions and to continue to bore in on the tough questions so often.” In this extraordinarily frank televised interview, Rather added “One finds one’self saying ‘ know the right question, but you know what, this is not exactly the right time to ask it’.” Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney suggested an investigation of Bush policies toward the Taliban and restrictions on watching suspicious Saudi nationals in the United States, and the press accused her of saying that Bush knew about 9/11 before it occurred—a claim she did not make. She had earlier looked into Choice Point, the Atlanta Company that had scrubbed black voters from the Florida voter rolls. Rather had urged her not to ask for a thorough investigation of 9/11 in order to avoid a necklacing. Conservative Democratic Senator Zell Miller led in her political lynching.

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum

Is the Mainstream Media Snoozy?

What Palast called “snoozy” probably meant lazy, which included a disinclination to report things many people did not want to read. Moreover, the U.S. press developed a “heard instinct” which demonstrated in the Clinton years by an inclination to print charges without first thoroughly researching them. It has been said that the American media is a vast echo chamber. Part of the press is comprised of a determined and closely-knit group of right-wing writers who frequently place political objectives well above honest reporting. In the Clinton years, they learned that if a few of them raised a charge against Bill Clinton, the mainstream press would quickly follow. If the mainstream press did not deal with the questions they raised, it was accused of demonstrating its liberal bias. The same dynamics worked in dealing with George W. Bush.

James Wolcott found that “the press has given Bush and his Cabinet a horsy-back ride--. Because they’re push-overs.” Some are attracted by his apparent openness and disarming Marlboro man style. Bush was personally likeable, and it did not hurt to be good to a man favored by the conservative corporate interests that essentially controlled the media. For some time, “media consumers [were] sending the wrong message to media owners. They were not complaining about junk food news, and many of them raised strong objections whenever information unfavorable to the Republican Party was aired. In the last analysis, journalists are in the business of selling airtime and advertising pages; the news is often seen as “a commodity to stick in between the ads. The media is increasingly profit-driven and is concentrated in fewer and fewer corporate hands. The traditional barrier between editorial and advertising operations is also eroding.

By the 1990s, television journalists were drawing huge salaries, and print journalists were also enjoying greater prosperity than before. Philip Weiss, who has written for several newspapers, suggested that “reporters are making too much money” and that this was connected to their “loss of professional freedom.” Their job was to avoid printing what could anger the papers’ owners, advertisers, or readers. The blatant under reporting of FCC rule changes in 2003 that benefited the networks and big corporate interests is an example of how this works. Many of the highly exposed pundits are millionaires who benefit from the Bush tax cuts; “Self-interest most always begets a little prudence.”

During the 2004 campaign, the Bush organization repeatedly employed deception and half-truths in attacking Kerry, who proved singularly inept in answering the charges. For example he was repeatedly charged with voting against funding to supply American troops in Iraq, when the truth was that he had voted for one version of the bill but against another, which was certain to pass in any event. In September CBS Evening News took it upon itself to objectively deal with and sort out the many half-truths, but they were alone in this effort. For almost three weeks, the cable and broadcast media publicized charges that Kerry had lied about his conduct in Vietnam. During the Democratic National Convention, one of the big stories was that Teresa Heinz Kerry had told a right-wing journalist to shove it, even though it was clear he was harassing her and twisting her words. On the eve of the Republican convention, George W. Bush told Matt Lauer the war on terrorism was not winnable, but this did not receive “a fraction of the Teresa coverage.”

What appears to be a “snoozy” inclination may in part be that liberal and conservative journalists have different mindsets in approaching their task. Liberal journalists are inclined to be journalists first and liberals second. Since the socialist left has all but disappeared, they have been marked by “fetishize [d] fairness, openness, and diversity.” They tend to be pragmatic and do not have a clear vision of what the world should be like. Conservative journalists, on the other hand, are conservatives first and journalists second. They are much more inclined than liberals to zealously pursue their party’s talking points. They incline toward bunkerism, believing they are under siege. They have a clear normative vision of what the world should be like, and the absence of that blue print in reality leads them to see sinister forces working against them. The willingness of liberals to tolerate and air other views is seen by conservatives as an endorsement of what they do not like. Hence, the presence of gay people on a broadcast is seen as an endorsement of homosexuality. The difference between these two orientations energizes the conservatives and places the liberals at a great disadvantage. Given this situation, there is little possibility that what is reported in the media can serve liberalism. As Eric Alterman has noted, “[T]he bias of the American media is more conservative than liberal.”

In August 2002, the Los Angeles Times fired a sportswriter because he used his company e-mail account to criticize Congressman Bill Thomas for claiming that Bill Clinton was responsible for the corporate frauds that came to light in 2002. The Bakersfield Republican was chairman of the powerful house Ways and Means Committee. The reporter had violated company policy, but it is doubtful if the infraction merited dismissal. The Los Angeles Times is clearly not a conservative newspaper. Its overreaction to this infraction may have been a result of sensitivity to conservative claims that the press has a liberal bias. Had a conservative sports writer written a critical letter to Governor Gray Davis using company e-mail, one wonders if she would have been summarily fired. Representative Thomas is a powerful man by any account, and there is evidence that the media does not go out of its way to antagonize the rich and powerful.

In early September 2002, Connie Chung was scheduled to air a special broadcast on the Yale chapter of the secret society Skull and Bone’s. The network ran a number of promotional advertisements and then abruptly scrubbed it. Neither Chung nor her superiors were willing to discuss the matter. The “Tomb,” headquarters of the organization located beneath the Yale campus, is said to house an impressive computer system. Its membership includes President George W. Bush, his father, and many other wealthy and powerful men. Ms. Chung is not known to be a tough investigative reporter, so the piece would probably have done little more than give the names of its members, which can be found in a book by the late Anthony Sutton. The society prizes privacy and secrecy, and its members had the power to preserve it. Bonesmen helped young Bush start his early businesses, and at least one of them was a co-owner of the Rangers. Early in his term, the society held its annual reunion at the White House. When asked about the secret society, the President said “The thing is so secret that I’m not even sure it still exists.”

Only USA Today, of the nation’s major newspapers covered in any detail Jack Welch’s arrogant behavior on election night 2002. This was also the only paper to note on May 4, 2001 that of 27 Bush ambassadorial nominations, 22 went politician in nature, mostly rewards to contributors. In contrast, it noted that at the same time Clinton had nominated 23 envoys, of which 21 were career diplomats. USA Today is by no means a liberal paper, but it has “goo-goo” ( good government) leanings and will print such stories even though they reflect poorly on a Republican administration.

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Kid-Gloves Coverage for G.W. Bush and Conservatives

The media’s kind treatment of George W. Bush and his administration has been remarkable and is grounded in structural conditions that shape the conduct of the contemporary press. During the campaign of 2000, journalists displayed strong aversion to Al Gore, whom they considered stiff, nerdish, and too ambitious. John Scarborough, a right-wing TV commentator and former Florida Congressman, remarked, “I think in the 2000 election, [the media] were fairly brutal to Al Gore.” They found Bush to be a very likeable fellow and did little to report his verbal gaffs and lack of knowledge. During the contest over the Florida electoral vote, it “accepted the debatable premise that Bush had won the election and Gore was grasping at straws to save his flawed position.”

As president, Bush pursued a partisan and conservative agenda without a clear electoral mandate, but the press gave him much more than the traditional presidential honeymoon, perhaps “to do its part to heal the deep divisions revealed during the Clinton impeachment and against the disputed election in Florida.” The Bush administration was the most secretive in the nation’s history, and journalists deemed unfriendly to it were simply deprived on information. The administration was so adept at not honoring requests for material under the Freedom of Information Act that there was a virtual shut-down on the acts enforcement. Reporters began to worry that they would be questioned by the FBI if they followed leads in regard to the war in Iraq, and Washington insiders began to clam-up, fearing repercussions for talking to journalists not tied to the administration. The administration viewed information as a weapon and tool and refused to share much of it with anyone, even its supporters. Some areas of government activity became very difficult to cover unless the journalist simply relied on the official story.

Writing in November 2003, Russell Baker referred to “the curiously polite treatment President Bush was receiving from most of the mainstream media.” James Warren, Washington bureau chief of the Republican Chicago Tribune claimed the press was so busy “sucking up to Bush” that “we have been effectively emasculated....” Columnist Anna Quindlen noted that Bush enjoyed ” a Teflon coating slicker and thicker that that of Ronald Reagan.” Even after turning a budget surplus into a huge deficit, failing to find Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, and admitting that there was no evidence to connect Iraq with the 9/11 attack on America, Bush enjoyed gentle treatment from the press. Quindlen asked, “Imagine what the response from Republicans--and reporters--would have been if Bill Clinton had been responsible for one of those things.”

The gentle treatment or “ free pass” George W. Bush received at the hands of the media during the campaign of 2000 could be attributed in part to superb strategy. His campaign duplicated the Reagan strategy of painting large pictures with few details. Bush was often confused on details and his economic notions were simplistic and laden with huge and obvious arithmetical errors. Reporters found Bush personally likeable . They were even known to boo him, like a gaggle of teenagers, when his image appeared on television monitors. They mocked Gore’s nearly encyclopedic knowledge and indulgently passed over in silence Bush’s problems with specific information. The press hounded Albert Gore on every perceived distortion of fact but generally passed over Bush’s mistakes in near silence.

James Pfiffer of James Madison University suggests that Bush’s reliance on a thematic approach made it very difficult to demand some details or bring up factual and mathematical errors without appearing to be carping. Moreover, the thematic approach meant that Bush later would not be held responsible for broken promises. The thematic strategy allowed him to connect to all the narratives the New Right had assiduously and successfully established over more than two decades. It also permitted him to appear as though he had an overall vision of how to proceed. Since the implosion of the liberal paradigm, Democrats have been unable to develop attractive, coherent themes. Gore’s many specific proposals, and his stiff demeanor, invited the constant press criticism he received. It is also likely that the press early on decided that Gore was guilty of strategic dishonesty, reinventing himself as conditions changed. They settled on this as his fatal flaw and built their reporting about him around this theme throughout the campaign. They were aware that Bush came into the campaign prepared with little knowledge but were inclined to give him a pass on his mistakes, thinking he could always hire aides to provide the knowledge he lacked. The result was that there were different standards for truth-telling and slips of the tongue. The press probably did not identify ideologically with Bush; they simply dislike Gore.

Electronic and print journalists “overwhelmingly bought into Bush’s compassionate-conservative facade and downplayed his radical economic conservatism” during the election of 2000. During the campaign of 2002, Bush claimed to be a “compassionate conservative” and cited his alleged support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program [ CHIP] to bolster his claim. The fact was that he fought hard to prevent its passage and later took credit for its passage. The national media seldom picked up this side of the story. Economist Paul Krugman did not join those who believed the media was bullied into giving George W. Bush a free ride. He believed that intellectual sloth and institutional listlessness accounted for its missing the big story, that the Bush administration has been very successful in enacting a radical right wing agenda that included changes in revenue policy which could make inevitable the sharp reduction of the nation’s safety net.

The mainstream press never called him to task” for the radical disconnect between how he got into office and what he has done since arriving.” New Republic editor Peter Beinart defended the press, claiming political writers worked under short deadlines and were generalists who lacked the time or expertise to understand or assess the consequences of Bush’s economic legislation. Moreover, he noted, “the conventions of newspaper evenhandedness dilute their analysis.” This could explain why the press did little to explain the bankruptcy legislation that passed in 2003, showering banks and credit card companies with benefits. Two years before it passed, David Broder was writing about the failure of the press to cover the issue or to note why Bill Clinton had vetoed it.

The press covered the Bush administration’s close ties to Enron, but the role of Ken Lay in screening candidates for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration [ FERA] was only discussed in a few papers and periodicals. Preoccupation with Enron and the effect of the bankruptcy on its employees who lost their retirement savings probably prevented coverage of a $665,000,000 contract to the Carlyle Group for development of the Crusader Advanced Field Artillery System. George H.W. Bush owns stock in the firm and is on its payroll. Spokesmen for the investment firm said that none of its officers lobbied for the contract.

Little was done to bring attention to the September 2001 resignation of John Di Iulio, head of the president’s faith-based initiative. Di Iulio, one of the very few Democrats in the Bush administration, had angered conservatives by saying that groups that mixed religion with public service should not be funded. He also told a gathering of Evangelicals that their record of concern for the urban poor needed improvement. There were calls for his resignation, but President Bush never spoke publicly on the matter. Di Iulio covered his resignation by claiming he needed more time with his family, and only The New Republic considered his resignation in the light of conservative opposition to his views.

The national media scarcely mentioned the trillion-dollar rainy-day fund Bush had promised and proceded as though the promise not to raid the trust fund was just normal politics, and something not to be believed in the first place. In August 2001, the younger Bush attended a conference of the Western Republican Governors at a hotel in Denver that was being boycotted by the NAACP due to its hiring practices. The White House issued no apology about its tacit support of the hotel, and the national media gave it little play.

Karl Rove, the president’s friend and assistant, met with officers of several corporations in which he held stock. The meeting was a possible violation of federal law. It was reported briefly in the press and dropped. Had that been a Clinton assistant, it would have received much greater play in the press and Congressional Republicans would have demanded at least a Justice Department investigation. At little later, it came to light that Rove had lied about ownership of a political consulting firm. This was only reported in a few papers. Alberto R. Gonzales, White House counsel, found it necessary to admit that Rove had also participated in formulating Bush administration energy policy while he still held Enron shares and stock in other energy firms.

Many have complained of declining journalistic standards, noting a tendency toward “more slipshod and reckless, at times promiscuous work.” Part of the slippage is due to the competition with round-the clock cable news. It is necessary to work faster and cut corners.” It has also gone soft on itself, rarely apologizing or even noting injustices it has done such as the hounding of Richard Jewell in connection with the 1996 Olympics bombing in Atlanta. Greg Palast, an American writing for the Guardian and Observer of London, wrote that the American press seems to be conservative because of its particular “journalistic culture.” He portrays it as a bit “snoozy” and inclined to “reprinting a diet of press releases and canned stories provided by officials and corporation public relations operations.” For example, he notes that there was almost no interest in looking into reports that a Florida effort to scrub the voter rolls of illegal voters actually took at least another 40,000 legitimate voters off the rolls. When CBS News, allegedly the most liberal of the network departments, heard the report, it only checked the matter with Governor Jeb Bush’s office. Hearing a denial there, it dropped the matter.

Palast did a report for his BBC Newsnight program and offered the tape to ABC News, which had a cooperation agreement with BBC. The American network refused to consider the matter and simply aired reports emphasizing how dumb voters in some Florida counties were unable to master simple voting procedures. Only Salon.com and The Nation pursued the matter. The Washington Post briefly covered the story seven months later; only after the U.S. Civil Rights Commission had investigated it and proven that more than 40,000 people were unjustly deprived of the vote. A frustrated Palast asked major newspaper editors why they refused to look into the story and was told that editorial committees feared that they would appear partisan if they reported it. Though he hints that US journalists may often have an aversion to hard work, he seems to settle for an explanation that a lack of funds and shortage of staff makes it difficult for the American press to look into stories that would verify the claims of liberals. By the end of George W. Bush’s third year as president, he had added two trillion dollars to the national debt, but as Charles R. Morris and Paul Krugman noted, the whopping amount of this new debt is scarcely ever mentioned in the mainstream press. Krugman attributes this failure to laziness and a hyper-concern to be evenhanded.

By 2006, George W. Bush’s approval rating had declined considerably, and the press was reporting more negative information about his policies. Nevertheless, it continued kid gloves treatment on most matters other than the Iraq war, which was shown to be the disaster it had become.

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum

Bushies Pressure Public Broadcasting

Public Broadcasting, which has long been denounced by conservatives for its liberal bias, has moved to the right since 1993. Even earlier, PBS sought to eliminate Republican complaints. When the Nixon Administration objected to a program that seemed to suggest that the banks were unfair to the poor, PBS rewrote its program guidelines. Later it modified John Kenneth Galbraith’s Age of Uncertainty, which dealt with different economic theories. Without informing him, it cut parts and brought on many conservative economists to criticize it. By the mid-1970s, it accepted the view that the truth is always somewhere in the middle. Both the “MacNeil/Lehrer Report” and “Washington Week in Review” were dedicated to this preposition. Still the conservative complaints persisted. While conservatives complained that reporters sometimes reached conclusions and “editorialized,” it is likely that they simply did not want information presented that would damage their positions. By the 1990s, when PBS had mastered the art of self-censorship, Bob Dole claimed that PBS conspirators hid behind Big Bird and Mister Rogers while funding gay and lesbian shows. FAIR studies found its reporting has a slight Republican edge in 1993 and was conservative in 2003. By then the Republican goal was not to destroy PBS, which would alienate moderates, but they sought to neuter and use it.

The Bush administration hastened public broadcasting’s march to the right by installing Kenneth Tomlinson CEO the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Tomlinson had many complaints about the liberal bias of public broadcasting and quickly hired conservative consultant to monitor the political content of Bill Moyer’s “Now”, which soon went off the air. A study of his e-mail traffic strongly suggested that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove was behind the move to oust Moyers and move PBS to the right. He also spent millions to bring The Wall Street Journal Report to PBS. The show featured the far right commentaries of the editorial board. The program eventually failed. Tomlinson also established an office of ombudsman, headed by Mary Catherine Andrews, who had worked in the Bush White House. She was assisted by two other Republicans, William Schultz and Ken Bode. Bode was supposed to ad balance to the panel, but he was closely associated with the Hudson Institute and worked for the election of a Republican governor in Indiana. It is unclear what the function of the office might be, but some fear it will continue the task of monitoring broadcasts to detect alleged liberal bias. His successor, Cheryl F. Halpern, a major GOP fund-raiser, was poised to continue his policy. She complained about editorializing and wanted to punish reporters who did so. She was also concerned that the nation’s media was unfair to Israel.

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum

The Plame Case

The administration’s handling of the Plame matter is illustrative of how it handles critics and uses the press. Before the invasion of Iraq, Columnist Robert Novak wrote that he had learned in the White House that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert CIA agent. The agency said that she was a covert agent, which meant revealing her identity could be a crime. There were reports that television host Chris Matthews received a call from Karl Rove, saying it was open season on Wilson’s wife, but the press never nailed down this report. Eventually, journalist Matt Cooper admitted that Rove told him about Plame’s true identity, but only after denials from the White House that Rove was involved From September 2003 to April 2006, Rove denied that he told the Time correspondent about Plame, and only admitted it after Prosecutor Fitzgerald had Cooper’s testimony. Nevertheless, Rove would not be prosecuted for lying or anything else.

Bob Woodward, perhaps the nation’s most famous and respected print journalist, repeatedly said he did not see why the Plame matter was important as White House people are historically given to gossiping. He later had to reveal that he had early knowledge of her identity. When most of the facts were known, it was clear that three high Bush administrations officials told reporters she was a CIA agent, and still others had busily pressed the media to report that she worked for the CIA.
Of course, most of the press had initially thought objections to the veracity of Bush’s claims of WMDs in Iraq were similarly inconsequential. Lou Dobbs, a moderate Republican, told his CNN audience that the investigation into what reporters knew was an “onerous, disgusting abuse of government power,” and liberal columnist Richard Cohen said “The best thing Patrick Fitzgerald could do for his country is get out of Washington, return to Chicago, and prosecute some real criminals.” Fitzgerald was prosecutor in the Plame case.

No one confessed to outing her, so there is no way to know why this was done. Many supposed it was a way of punishing Wilson, who had written to the New York Times, disputing the administration’s claim that Iraq was attempting to acquire uranium from Niger. Novak never answered for what he wrote. Times journalist Judith Miller, who never wrote about Plame, spent 85 days in jail until she proved willing to talk about who told her about Plame. In her first days in jail, she was even forced to sleep on the floor. She left jail only when promised she would be questioned only about Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief-of-staff. She had been an important part of the Cheney information apparatus, and she may have accepted her incarceration as a means of protecting other people. Libby was soon indicted for lying and obstructing, not leaking the identity of a covert agent.

Retired CIA agents made it clear to Congress that the outing of Plame did serious damage to intelligence gathering and that the administration’s cover-up caused “irreversible damage [to] the credibility of our case officers when they try to convince an overseas contact that their safety is of primary importance to us….” The mainstream press showed little interest in the outings implications for national security. Most of the Republican press claimed that outing Plame was not a potential breach of the law. There was a major effort to cast aspersions on the honesty and motives of the Wilsons and reduced the question to one of pure politics. Critics of the Wilsons have also insisted she was not a covert agent under the meaning of the law, even though the CIA had stated she was "an employee operating under cover." From the beginning of this sorry mess, the White House and the Republican information machine have attacked the Wilsons by claiming the trip to Niger was a "boondoggle" and an example of "nepotism." In fact Joe Wilson was an old Niger hand and undertook the assignment without pay. Only, his expenses were reimbursed. His wife even lacked the authority to send him.

After many reports that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was about to indict Karl Rove, Fitzgerald told Rove’s lawyers that this was not going to occur. Fitzgerald, a Bush appointee, had repeatedly handled the case in a manner that allowed the Bush administration to minimize its importance. At one point in 2005, it appeared that the grand Jury would indict Rove, but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had a serious discussion with Fitzgerald and the grand jury records were permanently sealed. Good sources suggest the Attorney General reminded Fitzgerald of his and that of Michael Chertoff, misconduct in the trial of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. The prosecutors hid the multiple government ties to the bombers. He had indicted Lewis “Scooter” Libby for lying but the Libby trial was long delayed. It has been speculated that Alberto Gonzales, who met with Fitzgerald at the time of the supposed indictment, told him that Bush planned to pardon Rove. That would have made the case against Rove hard to make. A March 2007 Justice Department evaluation of US attorneys said of Fitzgerald : “No recommendation : has not distinguished himself either positively or negatively." By then he had indicted Libby and was on the way to winning four counts of perjury and obstruction against him.

Weeks after Rove was in the clear, columnist Robert Novak admitted that Rove had exposed Plame as a covert agent to him. Novak also said that Rove’s testimony to the prosecutor was very different from his. The CIA assessment of damage done by unmasking Plame never became public, but knowledgeable sources said it decimate the operation she directed out of Brewster Jennings and Associates. She ran an important part of the CIA’s Counter proliferation Division (CPD.) To confuse matters more CIA director actively purged members of CPD because they had not supported claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

CBS News rarely reported on the case, just as it usually ignored the charges against John Bolton who had been nominated to be ambassador to the UN. Burned by its mishandling of charges regarding George W. Bush’s Texas Air Guard service, it simply steered clear of the Rove investigation, as though it involved mere politics. Under Republican control, the two Houses of Congress showed no interest in the matter, but Democrats did conduct an informal, unofficial hearing on the Rove matter. On the PBS program "Reliable Sources," which is supposed to render a balanced account of how the press handles major stories, the host complained that the Rove story had driven the Senator Dick Durbin story off the front page. Durbin, echoing the International Red Cross, had said that some of the abuse of detainees reminded him of Nazi practices. To press fairness watchdog Howard Kurtz, the Durbin remark and the Rove matter were both simply political flaps. On the right-wing FOX News, Juan Williams tried to suggest that the affair was serious because it endangered CIA operations, but Brit Hume silenced him with, “somebody needs to hose you down.”

Prosecutor Joseph Fitzgerald seems to have persuaded a panel of judges that the Intelligence Identity Protection Act could have been violated. However, the law is very tightly drawn, defines covert very narrowly, and specifies that the leaker must have done so with the full intention of exposing a covert agent. Some observers believed it would be almost impossible to prove this. John Wesley Dean has suggested that indictments could be more readily obtained under two other sections of the U.S. code. However, to a layman’s reading, it would seem hard to apply these statutes. White House personnel sign nondisclosure agreements, promising they will not reveal classified information. Fitzgerald could also have been looking at a violation of this agreement. The whole thing might simply have gone away as it has been reported that Fitzgerald's power to investigate will expire in October and the Justice Department official he reports to has been replaced with someone close to Bush. The press could not be counted upon to keep the matter alive or to help in getting to the bottom of the scandal.

The Republican controlled Congress has refused to investigate this possible violation of laws governing national security. Rather, it chose to investigation only the role of journalists in the matter. Normally, the CIA automatically does a damage assessment after a breach of security like this. The assessment is then sent to the committees in Congress that deal with security matters. Eventually an assessment was made, but the CIA refused to let Congress see it. The Republican Congress took a similar approach when The Washington Post’s Dana Priest reported on November 2, 2005 that the CIA maintained a number of secret prisons in Europe and elsewhere. Rather than look into the “black-sites program” both Houses of Congress began probing the leak. In 2007, the Council of Europe issued a scathing report revealing that the CIA had secret prisons in Romania and Poland where detainees were subjected to “degrading treatment and so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’” Dick Marty, a Swiss senator, revealed that disgruntled CIA operatives provided information for the report..
In September 2006, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, a former CIA covert agent, admitted that he had inadvertently revealed Plame’s identity. He said Fitzgerald had not authorized him to disclose his role until that late date. That revelation seemed to end the matter and even justify Republican claims that it was a tempest in a teapot. It was also revealed that Robert Novak confirmed what Armitage told him with Karl Rove and that Rove had also passed this classified information to Matt Cooper. Fitzgerald seemed to have concluded that there was no way to enforce the law against outing covert CIA agents. Interest in others who revealed her identity in order to damage her husband ended, and few remembered that the CIA had never revealed what damage her outing had done to the unit she worked with.

When Libby was tried for perjury, several Bush administration witnesses said he had lied about hearing about Plame first from a journalist. Judith Miller, a friend of Libby, repeatedly said she could not remember who told her Plame was a CIA agent. Matthew Cooper, another New York Times reporter, testified that Rove first told him Plame worked for the agency. All the testimony made it clear the Vice President’s Office had been involved in a major effort to destroy the good names of Wilson and his wife It was reported that at least one agent with non-official cover was killed as a result of the leak. In early July 2007, President Bush commuted Libby’s sentence to two and a half years probation. In this way, the investigation was effectively ended as Libby no longer had any incentive to tell Fitzgerald what he knew.

The mainstream media has frequently compared the commutation of the sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby to the pardon of Marc Rich by Bill Clinton. One similarity is that neither served any prison time, which is an usual conditions in commutations and pardons. Not mentioned is that Libby had obtained Rich’s pardon and that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barach requested the pardon as did Shimon Peres and Ehud Omert. Rich was involved in many US/Israeli covert operations. It gets more interesting, when we consider that British Lord Chancellor Jack Straw said, “It’s a toss-up whether [Libby] is working for the Israelis or the Americans at any given time.” Recently a former Mossad agent told Wayne Madsen that Libby was an Israeli agent.

A much better comparison would to compare the pardon to George H.W. Bush’s pardon of Caspar Weinberger and Eliot Abrams. Lawrence Walsh made it clear these pardons were intended to end his investigation of Iran/Contra. There were strong reasons to believe that the elder Bush was coordinating the supplying of Contra rebels in Nicaragua, even after law forbade it. A continued investigation would have followed up on leads that Bush, Sr. was not “out of the loop” in the Iran/Contra affair.

To continue the comparison--- The convictions of Admiral John Poindexter and Colonel Oliver North were reversed after partisan Republican Chief Justice William Rehnquist removed Walsh from the supervision of a friendly judge and steered the North and Poindexter to situations where Judge David Sentelle could be of great help. The judge was a protégé of Jesse Helms and a great admirer of Reagan, for whom he named a child. The younger Bush replaced prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s friendly supervisor with a Bush loyalist, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales all but openly leaned on Fitzgerald.

In the case of the younger Bush, the cover-up clearly involved an orchestrated effort to attack former Ambassador Joseph Wilson by revealing that his wife was a covert CIA agent. When Wilson returned from Niger, he started telling journalists that the story that Iraq seeking uranium there was false. He was doing this well before his now famous New York Times Op Ed was published on July 6, 2003.

It is also clear that, beginning around June 23, 2003, the White House began contacting journalists to out Valerie Plame Wilson. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s staff offered Robert Novak an interview, even though the columnist has said that Armitage had continually shunned him. In the interview, which occurred after the New York Times piece appeared, Armitage revealed that Plame was an agent. It did not appear to be the accidental admission he claimed. Then Novak got a confirmation from Karl Rove, who had been Armitage’s friend since 2000.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan had vigorously denied that anyone in the White House was involved in the leak. After he left that post, he wrote that “I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administrtion were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the Vice President, the President’s chief of staff, and the President himself.”

What else could the White House been hiding? Good alternative news sources suggest that Plame had discovered that there was a secret U.S. effort to smuggle uranium into Iraq in order to develop proof for the Weapons of Mass Destruction argument.

It is not clear why Fitzgerald limited his prosecution to Libby. Clearly, he was under pressure to let Rove off the hook and prevent Vice President Cheney from being implicated. He may have worried that the very conservative DC federal courts would buy the new claim that the president can declassify anything and even, in this case, override the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, which made outing covert agents illegal. Under this doctrine, Cheney could be seen as out of reach because an executive order of March 25, 2003 delegated to the Vice President the power to classify and declassify information. Hence, Cheney could have legalized the outing of Plame by excluding her from the protection of the act. Many would have seen all this as legal but still unseemly and an abuse of power.

Fitzgerald may have felt the need for restraint because of his well-meaning mistakes in the prosecution of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. The indictment of one key figure was kept under seal; and the involvement of triple agent Ali Mohammed was concealed, as was the likely use of an informer as an agent provocateur.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

George W. Bush’s News Management

The Bush administration had shown enormous skill in information management. It built upon two decades of Republican success in information management and in framing the issues. Journalists have learned to avoid hard questions or presenting information that damages the administration will result in exclusion and persecution, while going along is rewarded with special access and exclusives. The George W. Bush administration insisted upon enforcing the Pentagon’s 1991 ban on taking photographs of coffins carrying the bodies of American soldiers at Dover Air Force Base. When the President held a huge rally for troops at Fort Carson, the press was ordered not to talk to any soldiers before, during, or after the rally. They obeyed, and only the Rocky Mountain News reported on the orders given to t he press. The skill of the Bush administration in manipulating the press was demonstrated in 2004, when the Social Security Administration ran many advertisements clearly touting the advantages of Bush’s prescription care plan. Few noticed that the advertisements could have a political effect. Social Security Administration employees protested that their Administration had been forced to twist the facts about the system’s solvency in order to generate support for the personal retirement accounts.

Later that year, the Department of Education, paid $700,000 to an agency to advertise Bush’s No Child Left Behind program, a major Bush bragging point. The department also paid TV talk show host Armstrong Williams $240,000 to talk up the program in the black community. When the payment came to light, what little discussion there was about blurring the lines between a journalist and a paid advocate. The federal government paid Maggie Gallagher $21,500 to promote the Bush approach to marriage, and another conservative columnist was paid $10,000 to do the same. The use of taxpayer money for political purposes was nearly a non-issue.

Even abuses of the White House press secretary’s briefings did not cause a great uproar. Minor conservative journalist and male escort Jeff Gannon--his real name was Guckert--was issued temporary passes to attend press conferences. Gannon once broke the story that John Kerry could become the first gay president. Scott Mc Clellan seemed to call on Gannon when he was in a spot and Gannon would get him off the hook, sometimes by manufacturing quotations from leading Democrats. Gannon was one of the reporters who broke the story that Valerie Plame was a covert CIA agent, and he was the only one to see a confidential CIA document revealing her identity. Gannon was a male prostitute with close ties to political operatives in Texas connected to Karl Rove. The male prostitute even kept a web site. In 2004, he was very active circulating information designed to damage Senator Tom Daschle in South Dakota.

There were many very effective publicists in the administration of the second Bush. One who was sometimes forgotten was Todd Leventhal, who was very skilled at generating propaganda and misinformation. Under Reagan, he was in charge of monitoring Soviet misinformation. Prior to that, he worked with lobbyist Jack Abramoff polishing the image of South Africa. For a time under the second Bush, Leventhal worked with the Pentagon’s Information Operations Task Force to produce positive, if not always truthful, news about the war on terror. His activities were later centered in the Sate Department’s International Public Diplomacy bureau, which answers to Deputy Secretary and master PR generator Karen Hughes.

Newsweek White House correspondent Martha Brant noted “We’re more dependent than ever on [Bush’s] top aides because everything is so closely held.” In 2003 and 2004, the press did not treat kindly the Democrat who ignited the most opposition to George W. Bush and his invasion of Iraq. The remarkable illustrator Art Spiegelman left The New Yorker in 2003 after it supported the invasion of Iraq. He was to observe, “The absolute cowardice of the mainstream American press at that time was overwhelming.” William Greider has argued that the mainstream reporters were “surrogate agents for Washington insider sensibilities.” Not only have they given Bush a relatively free ride, but they “ blew off” Democratic critic Howard Dean and were “hostile to his provocative kind of politics.” After Dean’s candidacy for the Democratic nomination was destroyed, they admitted “with giggly pleasure” that their coverage of him had greatly contributed to that result. Widespread suspicion that the press had a liberal bias must account for why most of the press was so careful to avoid being critical of the Bush administration. By 2004, only 24% of the public strongly agreed that the press attempted to report the news without bias. Given that 58% disagreed, the continuous complaints about liberal bias were bound to lead to self-censorship and an inclination not to provide information that would anger conservatives

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum

The Media Accommodates the Right

The mainstream American press is certainly not an adjunct to the Republican Party, but its inclination, since the nineties, to handle Republicans with kid gloves has contributed to the GOP’s progress toward becoming the nation’s normal governing party. For three decades, conservatives have complained about an alleged liberal bias in the media, and these complaints have induced some degree of self-censorship. Over time, most outlets have fallen back to limiting and toning down reports that could reflect poorly on conservatives. The conservative call for “balanced” coverage meant backing away from seeking the unvarnished truth and settling for “he said-she said” journalism. No matter how absurd the factual claims of one side might be, they must be given equal time. In dealing with complex scientific and medical issues, it meant presenting the consensus of experts on one side and giving equal time to often unfounded claims by conservative special interests.” In this context, it meant the media became subservient to some industries such as the fossil fuel industry in environmental matters. Slanted, partisan stories that appeared in conservative press were often picked up by the mainstream media without vetting and aired in its vast echo chamber. Even the Drudge Report became a source of mainstream stories. The inclination of the press to lean over backwards to avoid conservative criticism was also attributable to the expert news management of the George W. Bush White House.
The call for “balanced” journalism has led to what has been called “junk journalism” simply offering the public equal amounts of the claims of both parties. In 2004, Ken Silverstein of the Los Angeles Times journeyed to Missouri to see if efforts were underway to prevent large numbers of blacks from voting. The Justice Department had found that this had occurred in 2000. He found this to be the case again. Republicans denied this and mounted very flimsy countercharges. Reflecting on what balanced journalism meant in this case, he wrote to an editor, wondering if the new standard for journalism required that he simply present the spin from both sides with no effort to establish the facts. He thought the new journalistic atmosphere was very “stifling.”
By the end of George W. Bush’s third year in the White House, Harpers’ Magazine publisher Rick MacArthur told a radio interviewer that the “White House press corps...has now turned into ...[a] full time press agency for the President of the United States.” Later in the interview he added that the public should “assume that the press is now part of the government.” On reflection, MacArthur would certainly back off from full meaning of these assessments, but he was correct in noting that the national press had lost its ability to cover this GOP administration critically. Gore Vidal offered the opinion that “The people are not stupid, but they are totally misinformed.” “The Note,” an electronic publication of ABC News, claimed that the American press in the George W. Bush years was “arguably the most beaten down press corps in the modern era….”

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum

Electronic Fraud in 2004 Elections?

The New York Times has noted that the forms of electronic voting introduced in the United States “could end up undermining democracy by producing unreliable election results that cannot be truly audited or corrected.” If some were intent on using the machines and computation programs to change results and took great care to cover their tracks, it could be done without anyone being the wiser. The most reliable way of finding fraud in these instances is to compare exit polls with actual results. But many people do not trust exit polls and the comparison’s validity depends on the statistics of probability, which most people do not understand. Touch- screen voting machines linked to centralized computer systems have the potential for massive vote fraud if someone takes the time to learn how to rig the centralized counting program. Prior to 2004, it seems likely that vote fraud via electronic means probably occurred by changing program cards in individual machines. In 2004, there was not a great deal of evidence of this. Investigative reporter Wayne Madsen has also turned up evidence that bribes paid by Nigerian politicians were used to pay election supervisors and computer technicians. More worrisome was the vote counting programs themselves. University scientists and mathematicians have pointed out that the touch-screen machines’ software can easily be manipulated for partisan purposes and have insisted that they be improved and only be employed with paper verification

Tallahassee computer programmer Clinton Curtis has testified that in the October 2000 election Tom Feeney, A Congressman and former Speaker of the Florida House, asked him to develop software to “flip an election” without being detected. Three other employees were present. Feeney, Jeb Bush’s running mate in 1994, had been a lobbyist for the company where Curtis was employed. The software-tabulating program was to be undetectable and capable of being triggered without the use of additional programs or equipment. At least since 1988, some of the computers used to tabulate results have had black boxes containing codes only the manufacturers could decode. To an ordinary laymen, of course, it is difficult to understand why special computers and software are necessary to count voters. It is also difficult to grasp why the manufacturers, claiming proprietary rights, refuse to share much information about how their products work.

Curtis was then working for Yang Enterprises. Yang was also doing work for NASA at the time. A life-long Republican, Curtis first thought the prototype was needed so Republicans could detect Democratic dirty tricks. He soon learned that the software was needed to change the vote in southern Florida. After the election Feeney bragged about voter exclusion lists and placing state police in locations to prevent blacks from getting to the polls. Curtis wrote the program and then quit his job. There is no solid evidence this particular program was ever used.

Curtis found a job at the Florida Department of Transportation. However, his determination to bring the story to public attention resulted in his being fired. The St. Petersburg Times reported that Curtis passed a lie detector test administered by the former chief polygraph operator for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Curtis had found corruption within the department, and Ray Lemme, a department investigator, looked into his claims and was found dead in Valdosta, Florida, an apparent suicide. In 2006, journalist John Caylor, while seeking photographs of Lemme’s body, was arrested in Panama City, Florida for nonviolently resisting arrest. The reporter was looking into drug money laundering through Florida highway tolls and beating deaths in Jeb Bush’s boot camps. He was made to stand in a cell for seven hours and was not permitted to take nitroglycerin for his heart. Though Florida law permits one telephone call in the first seventy-two hours, he was denied the right to make a call. He was subsequently tried.

The many statistical anomalies of 2004 -- almost all benefited the GOP-- were of a sort that could not be readily investigated. Indeed, Republican computer security expert Chuck Herrin noted that they “benefited us 100% of the time.” In the election of 2004, the electoral count was settled in favor of George W. Bush in Ohio and Florida, both states where electronic voting and tabulation was predominant. A Quantitative Methods Research Team at the University of California at Berkeley examined the Florida election and found that “a county’s use of electronic voting resulted in a disproportionate increase in votes for President Bush and that the random chances of this happening were “less than once in a thousand....” They conservatively estimated that Bush received between 130,000 and 260,000 more votes than could be statistically expected.”

Some voting machines there were actually counted votes backward against Kerry. Bush carried the state by 5%, but lost it by 2% according to the exit polls. Among the 57 counties that used vote-scanning technology to count votes, 29 had been overwhelmingly Democratic. This time they became Bush bastions. The GOP gained 128.45% in those counties, and the Democrats lost 21%. In Liberty County, which is 88% Democratic, Bush gained 700%. Where optional scan technology was not used, voting followed predictable patterns. In Broward County, voting workers said there were boxes of uncounted absentee votes that were later removed from the courthouse. Before the election there, 50,000 applications for absentee ballots somehow got lost in the postal system.

The election was unusual because there was such a great disparity between the exit polls and the actual results. The exit polls called for a Kerry victory, but the actual results gave Bush another term in the White House. In 42 of 51 states (and District of Columbia), the states moved more toward Bush than the exit polls indicated. When it was clear that the exit polls appeared to be very wrong, the Edison and Mitofsky exit poll results were “rebalanced” early in the morning of November 3 so they came closer to actual results. An important assumption in the “reweighing” was that Bush got every vote he garnered in 2000; no one died and no one changed his mind. This data published by CNN and a CALTECH/MIT study based on the modified figures found that the disparity between the exit polls and actual results was not great enough to warrant further inquiry. The actual exit poll data became available two weeks later and revealed great disparities or “red shifts” in favor of Bush. In Delaware it was 10% in New Hampshire 9.8%, in North Carolina 8%; in Ohio 6.2%, Florida 6%, There is no solid evidence that anyone was seen tampering with county-wide vote counting programs. One respected reporter claimed that the GOP paid $29,000,000 for technicians, posing as FBI and Homeland Security agents to work with these programs in various locations. He claimed that some of this information came from disgruntled agents who claimed to have been shorted on their pay.

In ten of the eleven battleground states, the differences between tallied and exit poll margin favored Bush. For two generations, the media’s exit polls have never been more than a tenth of a percent off. Even Republican consultant Dick Morris told FOX News that “Exit polls are almost never wrong.” The discrepancies were far outside the allowances for random error and chance. Statisticians have concluded that the chances of the wide variances of 2004 occurring were less that one in a thousand. In The chances that Kerry received only 47.1% of the vote in Florida are only three in a thousand. The best explanation Gallup pollsters could come up with was that Kerry people were much more willing to participate in exit polls than Bush backers.

In states where a variety of means were used to count votes, there was no meaningful disparity between exit poll results and actual tabulations. However, there was a great difference between the exit polls and reported results in states where electronic programs were used to register and count votes.

Analyzing the races in Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania ( where a Senate seat was involved), Professor Ron Baiman thought the discrepancy between exit polls and tabulated votes could occur only once in 155,000,000 times. In Florida, Republicans came up with a particularly ugly means of scrubbing black voters from the rolls. Letters were sent to the home addresses of black men and women in the service with instructions that they were not to be forwarded but returned to sender. With that evidence of non-residency, the Florida GOP was able to remove 10 % from the rolls. The story was uncovered by BBC but not reported much in the United States. The race was especially close in Ohio, where Bush eventually was declared the winner by less than 130,000 votes. There was not one elected statewide official who was a Democrat, and the secretary of state, J. Kenneth Blackwell, who counted the votes, was the Bush campaign chairman. Every possible legal and marginally legal device was used against Kerry. In addition 105,000 voters --mostly Democrats-- were purged in Cincinnati and another 28,000 were removed from the rolls in Toledo. There is no information of how many were purged in Dayton and other Democratic strongholds.

In Franklin County there was a pattern of taking voting machines out of strongly Democratic precincts so that the lines would be longer. There were 580 absentee votes in Trumbull County, which could not be matched with voters in the registration list. If this were extrapolated statewide, it would come to 62, 513 fraudulent absentee votes. A former ES&S employee was allowed to tamper with the vote counting computer in Auglaize County on October 16. In Warren County (about 20 miles northeast of Cincinnati (Kings Island area), the court house was locked down so that reporters could not observe counting. In the past, there was room for the media in the courthouse during elections. It is important to know this is one of the last counties in Ohio to close its polling places. That county had a 33% increase in votes cast over 2000, and Bush won 72% of the vote. . In Perry County, more votes were cast than people who signed the register as on site voters or absentees/ In Butler County, the Kerry-Edward ticket ran far behind other Democrats. In the Columbus area, there were 4,258 votes in a Gahanna precinct and 260 for Kerry. However, there were only 800 voters there.

Miami County was very slow counting its votes and released its complete total only when almost the entire state had been heard from. Bush picked up an amazing 19,000 more votes than in 2000 in this rural county, Kerry carried 31.38% of the voter, compared to 36.38 for Gore. The county boasted an almost impossible increase in turnout, with the new votes shared between the candidates in these proportions. Some precincts had nearly 98% turnouts. In usually heavily Democratic Mahoning County, many voters reported that they attempted to vote for Kerry on the video machines, but the vote kept turning up for Bush. Some might recall that this is Youngstown and naturally wonder whether some kind of corruption were involved. In Lucas County where Toledo is located, , numerous machines consistently malfunctioned. Outside of Xenia, polling officials applied special standards to prevent black students from Wilberforce University from voting.

Except in the case of the 2002 Georgia elections, it has been difficult to find a great body of evidence proving that electronic machines have been used to rig elections. With the passage of time and growing sophistication of election software, it will become nearly impossible. Senator Chuck Hagel has been questioned because he was a part owner of the E .S &S firm that counted more than 80% of the votes in Nebraska. Only in 2003 did Senator Hagel divulge his involvement in the voting machine company. His election in 1996 was an upset, and he won in a landslide in 2002. In the same year, machines in Comal County, Texas awarded victories to three Republicans, each polling exactly 18181 votes. Recently, Emery County, Utah Elections Director Bruce Funk brought in an outside technical firm to test Diebold machines. It was learned that the machines could easily be manipulated. The Governor of Utah hurriedly used his private plane to bring in Diebold officials to squelch the story. Funk was fired. In Leon County, Florida, Ion Sanchez , elections commissioner, found a security flaw in the Diebold machines. Diebold refused to do anything about it and removed its machines. The other two large providers of machines refused to sell machines there. Sanchez could be sued by the State of Florida for not having touch screen machines.

Touch screen voting machines linked to centralized computer systems have the potential to massive vote fraud if someone takes the time to learn how to rig the centralized counting program. University scientists and mathematicians have pointed out that the touch-screen machines’ software can easily be manipulated for partisan purposes and have insisted that they be improved and only be employed with paper verification. The most important of these programs is GEMS, manufactured by Diebold. The manuals and source codes for it can be downloaded from an open Diebold FTP site or from at least three other known sites. With this information, it would be easy to hack into a county’s main computer and change the results. For some reason, GEMs can even record negative votes, and a Diebold spokesman defended that feature saying that an election administrator may have a good reason to record negative votes. It is also possible that these programs have many undetected bugs. They have roughly 100,000 lines of code, and their providers insist they are error-free. Lacking paper trails from the individual voting machines, it would be very hard to reconstruct what had happened.

Sherman has written African American Baseball: A Brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum

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About Me

Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!