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SORRY EXCUSE FOR NEWS:

The Making of the Corporate Media By Cheryl Seal When men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon. Tom Paine

Some of us are old enough to recall a time when journalism and moral integrity were not contradictory terms. Yes, Virginia: real journalists did once exist. Once upon a time, dedicated, underpaid, overworked investigative reporters were Americas cavalry, its marine landing battalion, its white knights. They kept us informed - really informed, unmuzzled by the directives of powerful politicians and advertisers. Even during the McCarthy period, there were defiant journalists who hung tough and eventually helped nudge the public back to its senses. Today, instead of newspeople, we have marketing specialists and PR whizzes. Instead of hard-hitting seasoned journalists, we have slick mouthpieces who, as Walter Cronkite is reputed to have once observed, Took Trenchcoat 101 instead of Journalism 101. As Cronkite implied, the new journalists appear to be far more concerned with how they look on camera and ratings than they are with truth, justice and the American way. But once upon a time, there was such a thing as real freedom and courage of the press. Alas, Virginia, those days are gone.

Part I: Blasting The Myth Of The Liberal Media I was lucky. When I started my career as a journalist in the mid-1980s, I was taken under the wing of veteran editor Kent Ward of the Bangor Daily News. Kent was a feisty elder statesman of the newsroom, where he was affectionately known as "the Ole Dawg." Although a staunch Republican and conservative, Kent did not believe news should have any slant -- political or otherwise. He took me on as a stringer (regular freelancer) because he liked my ideas -- purely and simply. He told everyone who ever wrote for him, regardless of their political passions, that he would defend their right to say anything, as long as they said it well and supported their facts. During our nearly eight-year association, I did a lot of writing and Kent did a lot of defending. But even in the 1980s in rural Maine, the growing power of the corporate dollar was being felt -- as in the time I did a piece on horses in Maine. Innocuous enough, right? But an embarrassed Kent was forced to inform me that an unflattering reference to the John Deere Tractor Company had to go. I had simply stated the historical fact that in the 1930s, the company lured farmers to "trade in" their workhorses for new tractors by promising a pastured retirement for the horses. In sad reality, most of the horses were actually shipped to the "glue factory." However, because John Deere was one of the BDN's long-time advertisers, such uncomfortable facts had to be deleted. Later, when I wrote a three-part investigative report on the health-care crisis in Maine, which included a tough look at the near-sweatshop labor practices of the

state's biggest hospitals, Kent had to sneak the series onto page one during Christmas week when all the paper's "higher ups" were away on vacation. We both felt the repercussions from "above" for weeks -- even though the series helped foment some needed changes in the state's health care sector. But, by taking on the health care issue, we had also taken on the pharmaceutical, insurance, and medical industries. A few months later, Kent was forced to turn down an investigative report I proposed on the state's solid waste problems because, he said, the topic was considered too much of a "political hot potato." Nave me -- I had always thought the main purpose of a free press was to dissect and serve up such hot potatoes! The series was published instead by a smaller paper, and helped derail a multimillion dollar expansion of the state's largest solid waste facility -- an expansion designed to accommodate toxic sludge trucked in from as far afield as Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, it was a huge blow to my faith in the media that the BDN would avoid an important story to preserve political peace. When I decided to focus most of my efforts on environmental issues, I ran into the densest wall of all. Weary of battling, I turned to The Maine Progressive, a tiny independent monthly and found a supportive outlet for my reports. I soon discovered that dedicated activists are starved for news stories that present reliable, usable facts. Many of my stories -- which, thanks to the exhortations of the "Old Dawg" in my formative years, were carefully researched and full of wellsupported facts -- were disseminated to legislators and town officials when

related issues came up for votes because they could not be dismissed as "emotional diatribes." (Later was I to discover that one of the most powerful of journalistic art forms is the well-researched emotional diatribe!) Because of the methodical blackout by the mainstream media of investigative pieces on "political hot potatoes" such as the environment, industrial practices, or the dubious background of corporate-sponsored political candidates such as G.W. Bush, information on these topics are relegated to "opinion piece" status or must be published in "fringe" publications. As a result, the general public sees too few serious, in-depth treatments of these topics. They are far more likely to see emotional diatribes via letters to the editor. This is by design, make no mistake. Through this strategy, the media's corporate puppeteers can perpetuate their favorite myth: that environmentalists and liberals of any type are at best alarmists, at worst a "hysterical fringe element." At the same time, to attract consumers, the corporate media lavishly pads its content with non-political sensationalism (Lacy Peterson and other white woman in peril stories, urban cannibals, etc..). Rightwingers tout such programming as proof of the wantonness of the liberal media. By making political liberalism synonymous with lack of moral restraint, the wingnuts can then claim that liberals of all brands and forms lack moral restraint. This sets the stage for the real goal: skewing media coverage of political campaigns. Whenever a conservative candidate receives anything but glowing press, it is racked up to a wanton agenda by the liberal media. When a liberal does win an election, this set up

works in reverse: any time the senator, congressperson, president, et al. gets any positive coverage, the winguts condemn it as favoritism by the liberal media. In reality, there is no such beast as the liberal media. In the early 1990s, of the 25 most prominent political columnists, only six could be described as liberal, while 15 were described as conservative and the rest essentially moderates. While the conservative columnists shared over 3,000 regular clients among them (newspapers, radio stations, etc.), liberals shared only 850, and moderates a little less than that. Of the dozen or so most popular radio talk show hosts, all but two (Howard Stern and Tom Stephan) were conservatives, with the majority of these on the extreme right. This hardly adds up to a "liberal media." And, of course, it has gotten worse. Even todays news anchors routinely editorialize as if they were conservative talk show hosts rather than real journalists. In the 16 presidential elections held between 1940-2000, the overwhelming majority of newspaper endorsement went to Republican candidates in all but three elections. In most cases, there were two to three times more endorsements for the Republican candidate than the Democratic candidate. In 1992, Clinton was the first Democratic candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 to receive more endorsements from national newspapers than a Republican candidate. When this happened, the GOP went after its roaming media lapdog with a vengeance. Bob Dole made "liberal media" bashing a primary feature of his 1996 campaign. When that failed, the GOP used the full spectrum of manipulation

open to them to destroy Clinton. They created a salacious scandal, then pushed it for months like an endless episode of Jerry Springer, while ignoring most positive coverage of the President. There was no serious investigation of Ken Starr's witchhunt even during the McCarthy era, there were at least some journalists who tried to blow the whistle! As Bush was being elected the first time, an estimated 80% of all news outlets in the United States were corporate-owned. This to me represents a cartel one I like to call the Media Mafia. This syndicate decides what news we see and why and it decides to an alarming extent what movies, books, and television programs will be pushed at the public, and which will never see the light of day. Even scarier, this Media Mafia can also "fix" the stock market reports, manipulate elections and drive opposition into the ground with their financial clout. By controlling the media outlets, they maintain a grip on the mind of the average American, who only knows "I saw it on the news." What is worse, these conglomerates are immune from any antitrust controls. In 1969, when bigger newspapers first started buying up smaller newspapers, the Supreme Court opposed these activities, saying that although freedom to publish is a Constitutional right, freedom to buy up other publishers to silence them is not a right. However, publishers and the moneyed interests that ran them pressured the Senate into overturning the court decision, by threatening to use the power of the press to derail their next election bids.

Now, 30 years after, this attitude permeates all media and a frightening arrogance has replaced any responsibility to the public. Setting the stage for the election of G.W. Bush and the eight years of unchecked economic irresponsibility and ongoing war that followed was an obscenely incestuous relationship between the media and the corporate world. Here are some snapshots of that relationship from 2001. CNN: Owned by Time Warner/AOL, which controlled a major share of the on-line market, including AOL news. It also owned Turner Network, numerous theme parks, sports teams, retail stores and publishing companies, Book-of-the Month Club, Time Magazine, Fortune magazine, People, CompuServe, and Netscape and held major interests in Wal-Mart and Bell Atlantic, along with significant interests in Gateway, Hughes Electronics and SBC Communications. ABC: Owned by Disney, which also owned 10 television stations, 44 radio stations, and 219 affiliated TV stations, various publishing and recording companies, and movie studios. CBS: Owned by Viacom, which owned at least three dozen television stations, 200 affiliated stations, 160 radio stations, the Blockbuster movie rental chain, Simon & Schuster publishing, and King World Features. FOX: Owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which owned 22 television stations in the U.S. and 159 affiliated stations, along with The New York Post and

The Weekly Standard, various satellite systems, book publishing concerns, and at least 130 newspapers overseas. NBC: Our very own "state-run network" was owned by General Electric, which also owned CNBC jointly with Dow Jones, and MSNBC jointly with Microsoft. GE also owned several financial services, insurance companies, and of course, is one of the world's techno companies, producing everything from light bulbs to nuclear equipment. Traditionally, GE was one of the biggest defense contractors ever, and has had its finger in many pies, including Enron. Enron's senior advisor to the chairman and member of the corporation's finance committee was John LA. Urquhart, who also happened to be the Senior Vice-President of Industrial and Power Systems for GE. NBC consistently had one of the most slanted nightly news programs this side of the Iron Curtain. It pumped up the "urgency" of the California power crisis, in which its owner has a major stake. Worse yet, it methodically covered its tracks: When Tom Brokaw did a story on the millions being made off the crisis by energy providers, he neglected to mention Enron or its role in driving PG&E, one of California's three largest public utilities, out of business. Enron then grabbed the company made millions selling the power back to the people of California for its own profit. Nor did Brokaws story mention Enron's own projections of what it stands to make on the California crisis in the long run (up to $30 billion). UPI: One of the world's largest newswire services was bought by the Rev. Moon -- yep, Moonie news, Inc! Moon, one of the Bush family's most dedicated

supporters, also owned The Washington Times, a rightwing rag thinly disguised as a legitimate news source (they routinely throw in a few "real news" nuggets to throw the unsuspecting off the scent). The fact is, until the freedom of the press is wrested away from the clutches of corporate interests, the true majority -- liberals and moderates -- will face a disproportionately uphill battle. A push should be made by Congress (yeah good luck!) l to create legislation that will insure the separation of press and corporate interests as surely as the Constitution has insured separation of church and state. As it stands now, thanks to the lack of separation between the former, there may soon be a lack of separation between the latter.

Part II:"News Chains" -- Literal and Euphemistic About 30 years ago, after the nation emerged from the nasty pit that was the McCarthy era, the news media was the nation's most effective guardian angel/watchdog. The bad guys, like cockroaches, quivered at the idea of having "The News" put a spotlight on them. Nixon, with all his multi-tentacled power, was no match for Woodward and Bernstein. The corporate "Masters of War" (big defense contractors and oil companies with a vested interest in endless armed conflict), who pushed to keep one of their most lucrative enterprises going -- the Vietnam war -- were no match for Bruce Morton and Walter Cronkite -- or even the photojournalists at Life Magazine, who made sure the nation saw the faces of the boys killed month to month in a silently eloquent photo spread.

Alas, the spotlight is no longer a motivating threat because the bad guys control the spotlight. Even if this horrendous conflict of interest didn't exist, the wheels of our bureaucracy turn so slowly (mostly because so many people are competing to turn them in opposite directions) and politicians are so devoted to "spin", that getting at the truth, even without active opposition, is a monumental challenge. An effective, dedicated news media is our nation's only hope for real "truth, justice and the American way." But, manning todays news desks we have no vigilant Clark Kents and Lois Lanes; instead we have at best wimpy versions of Dilbert , at worst, minions of "The Joker". There are many reasons for the decline in the quality of journalism. I can break these into five main parts: Corporate yes-people are more likely to get jobs on the news desk than tough-minded, resourceful and probing journalists. The penalty for asking too many questions is death - both careerwise and, as it has proven in Iraq, literally. Laziness: This is the most insidious, because it knocks out a huge block of potentially competent journalists who, through sheer force of numbers, could turn things around if they wished. Censorship from above. Many good stories are written everyday, then promptly killed at daily or weekly "editorial" meetings overseen by reps from the advertising and legal departments.

Downsizing: Instead of cutting out fat at the top where it is most expendable, news corporations routinely downsize the newsroom. Worse yet, downsizing is used as an excuse to weed out the best journalists (those who ask too many good questions!) Covering all of these things in the detail they deserve would require a book -and I can recommend one: Drive-by Journalism: the Assault on Your Need to Know, by veteran journalist Arthur ("Ted") Rowse. I think it says it all that Ted had a helluva time getting this book published. In the end, a small but truly independent press in Maine took it on: the appropriately named Common Courage Press. Back before the era of computer-disseminated news, newspapers, radio stations and television networks relied on their own reporters and editors for stories. Almost all stories were written "from scratch" by the staff syndicated material consisted of the "funnies," Hollywood gossip columns, and other amusements. Every media outlet had its own personality and its own distinctive voice. Most communities with more than one main intersection had more than one newspaper, most of them independently owned and operated. The competition kept editors and writers on their toes. Whoever dug deepest and most diligently got the best story -- and sold the most papers. Diligent reporters who asked tough questions were generally prized. Advertisers were a consideration, but not the end-all-be-all. Some fast-breaking major national stories and international stories came in through the "wire" from New York or

maybe even abroad and were used as a story framework, which could be developed further in a feverish burst of activity by editors and writers, who would hit the phones and/or the road in search of additional material. Today, there are almost no independent community newspapers left, no television station not owned by a corporate conglomerate, and extremely few radio stations that maintain a news staff at all. The only competition that remains between news media sources is for advertising dollars. Ever wonder why the news on every TV station and in every newspaper seems to be the same? It's because they are the same. Instead of teams of go-getter reporters and editors, news media relies on stories coming in from the same sources. For newspapers, most stories are "pulled off the wire" -- AP (the biggest), Reuters, or UPI (owned by rightwingnut Reverend Moon). The only thing that varies is the placement of the stories in the paper (i.e. which page), the type of headline used (which can spin a story one way or the other), and how much of the story ends up being cut out by the copy-editors. Ah, yes -- that's another interesting point: the lowly but outrageously powerful copy-editor. I worked as a part-time copy-editor at the Portland Press Herald one spring, and discovered that copy-editors -- who could be part-timers with perhaps a great grasp of the English language but no news background at all! -- routinely decide what part of a news story you will see. Copyeditors are given a story off the "wire" or from a staff reporter, and told how many inches the final version should be. I've been given 50-inch stories loaded with vital information and told to

crop it to 10 or 20 -- as if we were selling material by the pound! I've also seen some results that would have been funny if they weren't so sadly indicative of the sorry state of modern news. For example, there was the time a copyeditor at the Herald was given a long election-eve story about the ten candidates running for city offices and told to trim it by so many inches. Taking the approach used by many copy-editors, he simply took all the extra inches off the end. The next day, the phones were ringing off the hook because at least three of the candidates had been trimmed right out of the story! It used to be that once a day -- or at least once or twice a week -- there would be a meeting of the editorial staff, where the crew would hash over the potential stories for that day/week. The decisions were largely based on story quality, story importance, balancing coverage (not too much or too little national news, not too much or too little human interest, etc.) and space constraints. Once in a while, a really hot story would come along that required the review of the newspaper's onretainer legal folks (no one wants to be sued for liable if it can be avoided!). But by and large, the editors made the decision based on the news and nothing (well, almost nothing) but the news. Everything began to change in the 1980s. Advertising space began to eat up more and more inches in the paper. A conscious decision was made across the industry to make stories shorter (which, of course, usually means less informative). This was not just to accommodate more ad space, either, as one might expect. Instead, most papers shifted to a much larger typeface, shrinking

word count even more. Across the back of the Bangor Dailys newsroom during this time was a banner that proclaimed "write tight!" It was the dawn of the era of the shrinking sound -- and word -- byte. A whole new set of ground rules was laid down. Today, "editorial meetings" at big newspapers and even most smaller ones are dominated not by editors and writers but by the presence (actual or in "memo" form) of people from advertising, from the corporate offices, from marketing. The key questions now asked are not "is this story good? Is it important?" It is now "Does this story offend an advertiser? Does it help protect the political interests of the corporate owner? Will it induce the correct response in the public? As the relationship among corporations and between corporate America and Washington becomes more incestuous, the range of what sort of news material makes the final cut into print has grown narrower and narrower. Worse yet, at some point in the not so distant past, a line was crossed and the corporate offices of the media began to actively participate in story development and to dictate what will and won't see the light of day. Anyone familiar with this sorry state of affairs was not surprised to learn that, according to several reporters, CNN sent a directive to its news teams not to report the Afghan side of the war in Afghanistan. Nor did they raise an eyebrow when told that TV news teams across the country were being forced to deliver scripted "my country right or wrong" lines during every newscast in the months immediately following the 9/11 attack. This was not patriotism it was just

another piece of corporate packaging: presenting American at War the miniseries! Thus it came as no surprise to any of us cynics when Bush did not hire a veteran journalist or political expert to help him shape public perspective on the war: He hired advertising agency whiz Charlotte Beers, whose foremost claim to fame was a successful ad campaign for Uncle Ben's instant rice. Yep, even a war can be packaged. But, the fact remains that hidden within this little red-white-and-blue package is a damn ugly "present." Bush is an oil/energy company man all the way -- everything in his history, in his list of supporters, in his family background, in most of his activities while in office scream this louder than any headline. There was plenty of evidence available to all news outlets suggesting that Bush and his energy buddies, including Ken Lay, had long been jockeying for position in Afghanistan, which sits atop an estimated $3 trillion worth of oil reserves (not to mention its vast natural gas reserves). There is hard proof that both Enron and Bush dealt extensively with the Taliban, trying to cut deals, months before September 11. But all of these warning signs were ignored by the media, just as the euphemistic "elephant in the living room" is ignored a manipulative alcoholics codependents. When war was declared on the Taliban, with the pretext of "getting Osama Bin Laden," it was in the interests of corporate America to prosecute this war to the fullest. By razing nearly every iota of infrastructure in Afghanistan, it cleared the way for U.S. corporations to make billions of dollars on reconstruction. This raze-and-rebuild model has been a mainstay of the US economy since Sherman

marched to the sea and the carpetbaggers descended in his wake. In the late 1990s, the U.S. stood by and watched (despite previous promises of support) as the East Timorese were invaded and slaughtered. An estimated 80% of all structures in most towns were leveled and U.S. companies then cleaned up big time on "reconstruction." But does the press question any of this? Hardly. I am stunned by the fact that every restriction placed on the media seems to be accepted by editors and writers with bowed head and bended knee especially in the darkest days of the Bush regime. Cheney won't reveal the names on the energy list? Well, a few mild editorials, maybe. Military tribunals? Same thing. Financial institutions run amok? Look the other way and keep the Morgan Stanley ads coming! The only thing that provoked even a flicker of character in the media was the Enron scandal -- and then do doubt only because so many newsfolk held Enron stock! Television news has sunk so far into a corner of the corporate pocket that it is indistinguishable from the lint there. Any time public opinion starts to pull against the corporate leash, the whip comes out . Radio is dominated by right-wing talk show hosts. Unknown to most folk, the rightwing talk show was created during the 1935 presidential election by the Republican party as a way to push their candidate, Alf Landon. These "radio spots," as they were called then, supplied the public with a steady stream of antiFDR and anti-labor propaganda. In fact, just about every tactic the rightwingers use today was originally developed during the 1930s. But today, instead of

"spots," windbags such as Limbaugh are given three- and four-hour blocks each day to spew their venom. While AP and UPI are (supposedly) run by mainsteam newspeople, they are simply an arm of the corporate media cartel the arm with which the cartel feeds itself. These "wire services" amount to centralized stables of writers who crank out stories disseminated to every subscribing newspaper across the nation the same way that identical frozen burgers and fries are trucked daily to McDonald's franchises across the nation. At the dawn of the Bush era, AP was feeding stories to 1,500 newspapers and 5,000 broadcast outlets in the U.S. Worldwide, AP served 15,000 new organizations. All the same news... all the time... everywhere. All of it tailored to the corporations it ultimately serves. The scary thing is that there is no real oversight of news outlets. For example, on election night 2000, the question as to what role the news media played in making early election outcome calls was raised. AP bigwig Louis Boccardi had to appear before Congress and testify. Naturally, he testified that AP behaved in a manner above reproach. But who is going to say otherwise: the news? Harhar. In 2002, I talked to one young man who worked as an AP writer in New York, and asked him why they had not covered the protests during and after the Bush inauguration, and those which occurred later around the nation to protest the war in Afghanistan. It was clear to me that these protests were far larger and more vocal than any news outlet in the U.S. had portrayed them. He told me that the writers had been directed by their editors (who, of course, act on orders from

"above") to avoid covering protests and other grassroots activist events. I could not believe my ears. Why not? "Um, well... they say that would be encouraging that sort of thing, was the response. That sort of thing? You mean things like free speech? But if public opinion is ignored by those supposed to represent it, how else besides protests, rallies, and picket lines is the American public supposed to make itself heard? The answer: They aren't. They are supposed to go along with the program, and assume that everyone else is going along with the program, too. The News -- as in Corporate America -- doesn't give a damn what Joe and Jill Public thinks or wants. It only wants their money. And their silence.

Part III: Lazy Journalist Syndrome: Will It Be America's Undoing? Lazy journalist syndrome has spread like a virus through America's newsrooms, rendering hundreds of reporters and editors as useless to the cause of journalism as if they were flat on their backs with the flu. These are the "good men doing nothing" of whom Thomas Jefferson warned -- the indifferent majority who may ultimately allow "evil to succeed." If these currently ineffective journalists -- even those on the bottom half of the ladder -- were to persistently perform probing research, consistently ask tough questions, doggedly present crucial facts, and diligently follow through on leads, the sheer critical mass of this

effort would poke a hole in the corporate armor and allow the rotten matter to erupt into public view at last. As it is, the lazy majority now populating the media makes the diligent minority stand out -- and stand alone. In consequence, some of the best journalists become easy targets for harassment, smear jobs, and pink slips. In today's busy and woefully understaffed newsroom, it is very tempting to take the easy way out. Especially when the average young reporter comes onto the scene with purely academic (and thus largely useless) training. Oh for the days when journalists learned on the job under the tutelage of seasoned newsmen/women. Some honestly just don't know where to look for truth. Instead, they are content to be directed to the public relations department of whatever institution, corporation, or government branch they are "investigating" and swallow whatever the schmooze brigade has to offer them. Worse yet, many journalists don't even stretch this far, and instead get their "background information" from press releases sent to them by the Heritage Foundation or other rightwing "think tanks." These sources flood newsrooms with their propaganda, making sure it is always right at the fingertips of the lazy. Doesn't it ever occur to a writer that it is a little bit too serendipitous that the great piece of background information from the Cato Institute (for example) happened to show up in their mailbox just at the right time? It's like getting an anonymous package and not wondering why it's making that loud ticking noise! I cannot count the number of times I have read, heard, or watched a story on a critical issue, such

as global warming that was skewed by a quote from an "expert" I knew to be on the payroll of ExxonMobil or some other corporation. Thanks to the crippling effects of combined ignorance and laziness on the part of too many journalists, it is now usually the interviewee, not the interviewer who controls media dialogue. This is such a chronic problem that Id be willing to swear that most politicians attended the same seminar on How to Manipulate the Media. Have you noticed, for example, the self-Q&A strategy used by spokespeople such as Ari Fleischer and Donald Rumsfeld (who perfected the technique)? The spokesperson will ask him/herself questions (Are we confident that we will find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?) and then answer them (Yes, we are, and heres why.blah blah blah.). Not only is the need for pesky reporters eliminated altogether, the spin doctors make sure their spin gets full play. At the height of his reign, Rumsfeld essentially conducted news conferences with himself! But because reporters chronically fail to research their subjects adequately, they are incapable of formulating decent questions. Good questions -- especially the unexpected ones on seemingly minor details -- can act as arrows aimed straight at the heart of a matter. But these questions take serious background research to formulate. For example, Bushs attitude toward torture might have been laid bare if a reporter had asked: "Is it true you defended the outlawed practice of branding DKE fraternity pledges with hot irons while at Yale?" (The answer, of course, is Yes.). And how about this one: "Is it true that you

supported the 1995 Texas law that mandated that a prisoner could be put to death even if new evidence proving his/her innocence was produced, if that evidence wasn't presented within 30 days of conviction?" True, of course. And thus little wonder that the innocent prisoners held at Guantanamo --up to 50% by some estimates -- were of no concern to Bush. And as to the long-standing determination of the Bush-Cheney White House to invade Iraq weapons of mass destruction or not -- the answers to the following questions would have spoken volumes: "Is it true you pushed relentlessly for the Gulf War in 1991 over the objections of the Pentagon?" "Is it also true that you immediately fired Air Force General Michael Dugan in 1991 when he questioned the ethics of bombing Iraq because he believed it would be like shooting sitting ducks with no ability to retaliate?" "Is it also true that as soon as the Gulf War was over, your company Halliburton made a killing on contracts to clean up the mess left behind by the war in Kuwait?" Yes, yes, and yes. It might inspire lazy journalists to know that, If nothing else, doing a little research will save them effort while making them look good -- not a bad deal! When I did my series on Maines solid waste issue in the 1980s, thanks to some background research (which revealed just how complex and far-reaching the problem was), the story went from a one-parter to a five-parter. In addition, the real ramifications of a plan to truck toxic sludge up from Pennsylvania and elsewhere were revealed in time to block the plan. It helped, of course, that I presented an array of facts, figures, and solid references. A fellow writer came up

to me after a few installments had run and exclaimed, "Wow, you must have spent hundreds of hours out in the field tracking stuff down." In reality, I just spent a few afternoons in the public library (today you can just hop onto the Internet) researching my topic before interviewing anyone. By doing so, I was able to ask targeted questions that yielded important answers that took the story to deeper levels along a direct path. Alas, too many journalists are content to stumble around the countryside in circles in blissful ignorance of their subject, asking stupid questions, while hoping someone will at least feed them a good line they can use as a catchy sound byte. What is very sad for the American public is that sometimes, by going that extra mile, a journalist can head the bad guys off at the pass before too much damage is done. If journalists had done their job months before the Enron crash, they may have been able save tens of thousands of people from being ripped off at last not quite so badly. Information linking Ken Lay to the White House, information showing that the company was overextending itself and overstepping itself, had been out there for months in foreign newspapers, alternative journals here, and other sources -- in fact, there were clues right in the company's own web site! Yet, incredibly, American mainstream reporters never seriously delved into it, even in the wake of the California energy crisis! The biggest reason? Sheer laziness, and here's a case in point: In 2001, I ran a link in Democrats.com to a Baker Institute (as in James Baker) report called "Strategic Energy Policy Changes for the 21st Century,"

which mapped out an energy policy that read astoundingly like Bush's plan. On the task force that created this strategy, were several very telling names: Ken Lay, Henry Kissinger (using the name of his firm, McClarty and Kissinger), and the CEOs of several oil and natural gas companies. It was James Baker, of course, leading his army of high-powered corporate lawyers and hired thugs, who charged into Florida after the 2000 presidential election to try to derail recount efforts. A vigilant reader passed the Democrats.com link onto a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle. The reporter called me, looking for a story. But when I suggested that he print out the Baker report and go over it himself, he grew sulky. He wanted me to just tell him exactly what the similarities between the plans were, and all about the people on the task force. I told him that he should really read the report for himself. Nope. He wanted the story fed to him line for line, right there over the phone, and had no interest in printing out and reading material -- or thinking -- for himself. Of course, soon afterward, the report mysteriously disappeared from its original link, proving the point that if you fail to strike when the irons are hot, the bad guys can sweep their tracks up very efficiently. All too often, lazy journalism syndrome fuels public fears. Not wishing to do the legwork required to gain new insights into a topic such as terrorism, reporters will endlessly rehash the same news bits (the zillion or so stories about the shoe bomber or the endless reruns of the latest Bin Laden video, for example). This only adds critical mass to fearmongering, while failing to contribute anything new or meaningful toward a solution.

A primary symptom of lazy journalist syndrome is acute headline-itis. For the sake of a great headline, writers and editors will often run a story without doing any background research just because the headline is so damn zingy. A chronic example is the medical breakthrough story. Id estimate that about threefourths of all headlines representing such stories are misleading if not downright false. For example, a research article in JAMA rmay report one week that results of preliminary experiments with mice suggest further research might eventually (as in years from now) lead to a new treatment for Parkinson's. The next week, we are treated to the media news version: "New Treatment May Cure Parkinsons. Failing to acquire the necessary background information can be a public safety threat. Several years ago, a story ran in a national news wire about several missing nuclear fuel rods. Incredibly, the originating reporter never questioned the statement of a government spinmeister, who claimed there was nothing to worry about because the missing rods had probably just been disposed of with "other nuclear wastes." The fact is, there is no other type of nuclear waste like spent fuel rods! At present, they can be disposed of safely in one way and one way only: They must moved from their holding pools at the reactor facility and sealed into special dry cask containers. There are four levels of wastes, of which spent rods are the most dangerous. That a spent rod is not accounted for as being in a pool or a dry cask is a huge story. But, by failing to make a phone call to a neutral and knowledgeable source (college professors are woefully under-utilized for this purpose) or even go up on google for a few

minutes, no reporter even knew there were any questions that should have been asked. This makes it all too easy for the bad guys to dupe reporters into acting as unwitting accomplices. At the very least, reporter laziness can be comical. In 1990, a writer from a weekly paper in Maine was sent to do a story on a falcon release event at the Borestone Mountain Audubon Sanctuary near Moosehead Lake. She had done no preliminary background research on peregrine falcons or release programs and instead arrived on the scene armed only with enthusiasm She did not ask about the "hack box" used by the biologists -- nor, unfortunately, even how that word was spelled! As a result, the day the story ran, the newspaper was swamped with calls from angry bird-lovers demanding to know why these magnificent creatures were being kept in "hat boxes"! Then there was the guy from a daily paper in southern Maine who was sent to cover a production of the Nutcracker ballet. Instead of doing any background research on the ballet, he referred only to his program, which mentioned that the choreography was "after Petipas" - as in "based on the work of" French choreographer Marius Petipas. The reviewer gushed that the "magnificent choreography was the work of the famous Russian, After Petipas - who no doubt had a brother named Before. If you want to get an idea of the extent of journalistic laziness (editors and reporters both!), go to the "Corrections" section of any paper! Here you will find a litany of the misspelled names, incorrect dates, false attributions, and incorrect

facts of all sorts - and we're not talkin' typos! Even if reporters miss their gaffs, editors are supposed to be more on top of the game! I think reporters are reluctant to re-check facts partly from laziness and partly from fear of having an interviewee think they are inept (better to prove they are inept later in print?). I used to try to disguise my efforts to correct dumb omissions as "quests for perfection." That is, until the day I had to call back a key source with whom I had spoken for over an hour without ever writing down his last name! When I called him, I suavely asked "Excuse me, but I just wanted to make sure I have your last name spelled correctly.? He crisply replied, "S-M-IT-H." Another important problem is the public's misperception that longevity in the field is synonymous with quality (i.e., non-lazy) journalism. Actually, the opposite now tends to be true, especially in TV Land. But most folks assume that because Dan Rather, Barbara Walters, Jim Lehrer, et al. have been "journalists" forever that they are "veterans" who really know their stuff. This is no more true of corporate newspeople than it is of corporate politicians. Folks who have been in either of these games for a few decades are much more likely to be out of touch with the public -- the more they make, the more out of touch they tend to be. A good case in point is Tim Russert, who, until his death, lived in the elite Kalorama suburb of Washington, DC. Dick Cheney was Russerts neighbor and a way- toofrequent and rarely challenged - guest on Russerts Meet the Press! Russert

who claimed to be a watchdog for the public - once declared that integrity is for paupers! In any case, corporate media lifers like Tom Brokaw and Diane Sawyer are more likely to be entrenched in an exclusive network of people to whom they owe favors, in one way or another. The best journalists are the ones who spend most of their time in the trenches, be it a war zone or a city planning board meeting. In the trenches does not mean propped in front of the cameras in Kabul for a few minutes with a bombed out building as a backdrop before being bustled off to an air-conditioned suite and cocktails. It does not mean sitting in a penthouse apartment in New York or L.A. leisurely scanning through a pile of notes and "background material" compiled by interns and assistants, the night before filming a "hard-hitting interview" with a subject handpicked by corporate higher ups. September 11 was, obscene to say, a dream come true for the lazy journalist and lazy politician. All a politician had to do to gain credibility -- even hero worship -- was to stand in front of the rubble looking concerned, or better yet, with an arm draped around a firefighter or police man or two. All a journalist had to do was grab someone -- anyone -- within 20 miles of ground zero and ask them a guestion -- any question! -- and voila! Instant story! This cycle repeats itself with each new sensational event, thereby insuring that lazy journalists can continue to collect money for nothin.

Listen to the Mockingbird:


The CIA-Style Propaganda Song of the Washington Post

Of all the news outlets I screened on a regular basis, The Washington Post was the worst in terms of news manipulation. Their methods were (are?) far more sophisticated, and thus more deadly, than the ham-handed propaganda efforts of (for example) the Washington Times or FOX television news. In fact, the Posts modus operandi was straight out of a CIA propaganda handbook. Little wonder: the papers "grand dame" Katharine Graham was an admitted "Mockingbird." Mockingbirds, for those of you unfamiliar with the non-ornithological term, were journalists and editors who agreed to work with the CIA, beginning in the Cold War era, to plant strategic disinformation both in their own newspapers and papers in other countries. Their recruiter was Frank Wisner, an undercover propaganda agent for the State Department. The chief puppeteer of the Mockingbird network was Allen Dulles, who worked for both German and American corporations. Back when Nixon and Kissinger were plotting to prolong the war in Vietnam as a way to help boost Nixons relection chances in 1972, Graham agreed to suppress stories of how badly the war was actually going, or how horrible conditions in Vietnam had truly become, while planting bogus stories of "progress." Graham would have described this as politically strategic. I call it cold-blooded evil. In his book Katherine the Great, Davis? Observes that by the early 1950s, Wisner 'owned' respected members of the New York Times, Newsweek, CBS

and other communications vehicles, plus stringers, four to six hundred in all, according to a former CIA analyst." Davis's book was driven off the shelves by Graham, who successfully used her many powerful connections to suppress it. As a result, the book remained without a new publisher for nearly a decade. The Post aided and abetted in the trashing of Clinton by rightwingers in the 1990s, and in greasing the way for the Bush campaign in 2000. In fact, within 48 hours of his inauguration, Bush was dining in style at Graham's home, along with Henry Kissinger. The story about this cozy dinner party appeared the next morning in the early edition of the New York Times. Within hours of linking it to Democrats.com, the story disappeared from both the Times website and archives.

If anything testifies to the privileged political position of Graham and the Post, it is this description of her funeral by Chicago Mediawatch writer Liane Casten: "Her funeral was attended by a group of nationally recognized business, political and media celebrities, including Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Steve Case, Lawrence Eagleburger, Herbert Allen, Oscar de la Renta, Barbara Walters, Vernon Jordan, Barry Diller, Robert McNamara, Dick and Lynne Cheney, Rudy Giuliani...Even Henry Kissinger was there to offer a eulogy. "

But the Mockingbird program went far beyond Graham. Independent journalist Alex Constantine writes, "Early MOCKINGBIRD influenced 25 newspapers and wire agencies consenting to act as organs of CIA propaganda. Many of these

were already run by men with reactionary views, among them William Paley (CBS), C.D. Jackson (Fortune), Henry Luce (Time) and Arthur Hays Sulzberger (N.Y. Times). Activists curious about the workings of MOCKINGBIRD have since been appalled to find FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] documents describing how agents boasted in CIA office memos of their pride in having placed "important assets" inside every major news publication in the country. It was not until 1982 that the Agency openly admitted that reporters on the CIA payroll have acted as case officers to agents in the field. "

During the Bush regime, the Post and its accomplices in the White House used an impressive arsenal of CIA tactics. Real stories were routinely buried or killed, while phony or slanted pieces of propaganda were slickly worked onto page 1. The Post played a huge role in fabricating and disseminating the Jessica Lynch myth. Of course it was also slower than other media outlets to address the exposed lie. Because it is supposed to be the voice of the nations capitol, the Posts routine dissemination of disinformation is a far greater betrayal of Americas trust than it would be for the major paper of any other city.

Their skill at tweaking even valid news is impressive and well-honed, to say the least. Only someone who has been around newsrooms and knows how journalism is supposed to work would be able to spot the slickest stuff.

Heres a sample. The lead story on June 18, 2003, placed right beneath the

masthead on the front page and boxed for emphasis with a large photo is a puff piece (newspaper speak for shameless kiss up) on L. Paul Bremer. Bremer, you will recall, was the Reagan era relic picked by Bush to take charge of Iraq after the invasion. I doubt if Bremers mamma or most doting maiden auntie could have written a more ego-boosting piece than the one in the Post. Also on page one was a big fat photo of G.W. Bush kicking off his megamillion-dollar fundraising campaign

By contrast, shoved way back onto page 16 on the same day was the news that yet another US soldier had died in post-war Iraq. If they could have gotten away with it, the US corporate media outlets probably wouldnt have reported any US casualties at all!

During the Bush regime, the Post routinely served as the Republican Partys free publicity agency using the same sneaky CIA-style tactics. For example, the week that the Democratic Party announced that it acknowledged and planned to address the strain that had arisen between black Dems and white party leaders, the story was notably absent from the pages of the Post. What ran instead was a story announcing that Bush planed to ban racial profiling even though Bush had never, before that week, expressed an interest in banning profiling! But the goal was achieved the positive race relations story on the Democrats is conveniently replaced by a positive race relations story about Bush. However, even the latter is obviously a nonstory, as the sub-headline reads: Policy makes

exceptions for security with security having always been the excuse for profiling! .

But this suppress-and-replace tactic was routinely used. When Maines Governor John Baldacci, a democrat, helped to push through a single-payer health care bill in his state in 2003, a move that could have offered a prototype for the nation, the story is relegated to back page news at best By contrast, Bushs healthcare reform plan for senior citizens gets full play a confusing trainwreck of a plan that ended up costing seniors more and effectively delaying real reform. When I went up to the Posts website and put the keywords Dirigo Health Plan into the search bar, it yielded ZERO results. When I put in the more general keywords Maine Health Care Plan, I found a story a postage-stampsized tidbit in the "Nation in Brief section. Listed right below, with its headline highlighted as a hot link, is the story about Bush's healthcare plan! If this werent manipulative enough, the Maine story was reported after the fact allowing the Bush health care plan story to run the day before! But then, every time the Democrats achieved or proposed something constructive, the story was blocked or downplayed. Meanwhile Bush, aided by the media, commandeered the concept and hastily concocted his own half-baked version, which was given the most prominent media placement possible.

Another tactic the Post often used and is now used by most corporate media outlets is conflict creation. For example, running a story on page one

about the deep divide growing among Democrats on economic issues in order to create a wedge where one didnt exist. The Post also routinely used the reverse of this tactic - fabricating a positive story that is the opposite of a negative story they wish to hide. The headlining puff piece about Bremer was a classic example. The true story was that the US was losing control of Iraq to rebels and that Bremer was an ineffective, widely disliked failure in his post So what does the Post ( and other corporate news outlets) do: run fairytales about Bremers success. Meanwhile, the noses of corporate newsfolk grow ever longer.

Stupid White Men and other Titles Suppressed by Stupid White Men
Have you ever heard of a publishing house trying not to have a best seller? Well, that is just what HarperCollins tried to do with Michael Moore's blockbuster Stupid White Men. Even as the book hit #2 on the New York Times best seller list, HarperCollins was working hard to suppress it. Why? Because it was critical of George Bush. At first, HC used the direct approach: after signing a contract with Moore, the company refused to print the book. Why? It might seem insensitive in the wake of 9/11. When this strategy failed, HC then told Moore it would print the book only if he either toned down his negative rhetoric on Bush or included a statement claiming Bush had been doing a good job since 9/11. Later into the publishing process, HC even threatened to destroy the books sitting in the warehouse! Even when the book skyrocketed on the best seller lists, HC made it difficult for distributors to get sufficient copies.

But Moore was not alone. Around the same time period, HC ordered all copies of a book called Trading with the Enemy by Nicholas Maier destroyed. Why? Because James J. Cramer, whom Maier accuses in the book of using media connections to conduct blatant inside trading schemes, has threatened a libel suit. (And this was several years before Cramers abuse of his role as media economic expert was exposed!). Why should this have phased HC? Every subject of every expos ever written has sued, or threatened to sue, the author and publisher of the expos, calling all allegations "lies, lies, damn lies!" Book publishers especially biggies like HC consider the risk of suits part of the cost of doing business, especially with a hot item. And, being a published author myself, I can tell you that the typical book contract is jammed with clauses designed to minimize any danger that the publisher will be held culpable for in the event of any suits! Not to mention the fact that before even signing an expos author, even a modest-sized publishing house will have its army of lawyers go over the proposal and later the final manuscript to anticipate any contingencies. So, I am sure that HC's destruction of this book occurred because someone called in a favor. After all, having Trading with the Enemy circulating just wouldn't have helped the case of the Enron executives who were then being investigated for the same things described in the book! David Brock, author of Blinded by the Right was also victimized for turning out a book criticizing the corporate status quo. Brock is a complex man a former conservative Republican, yet gay, a man with a conscience, yet he ended up writing lies for pay for the American Spectator. Brock found himself disgusted by the systematic dishonesty of the right wing, especially its misuse and subversion of the media. When Hillary Clinton said her husband was the victim of a vast rightwing conspiracy, says Brock, she was "right on the money." It was absolutely true. Brock himself became a victim of this conspiracy. The Washington Post had Brock's book reviewed (read trashed) by one of the American Spectator journalists that Brock cited unfavorably in his book! Of course, the Post did not disclose this connection and blatant conflict of interest! One woman (who called C-SPAN when Brock was being interviewed) said she

had gone into the Barnes and Noble in Bethesda to try to get the book. There out front on prominent display were all the current rightwing books such as BIAS.. Nowhere in sight was Stupid White Men or Blinded by the Right. When she asked for Brock's book, they told here they had ordered one copy and it was sold out, and that even though dozens of people had called asking for the book, the store had no intention of ordering any more than a few. So what was that we are still hearing about the liberal publishing world?

Bestseller!
How to Create an Silk Purse out of a Sow's Ear Overnight! I have worked in and with people in most aspects of the publishing world over the years from bookstores to the acquisitions and marketing departments of large publishing houses. I know firsthand, how the current dirty little system in the publishing world works. Where a newly-released book falls on the New York Times bestseller (and other such lists gauging popularity) is determined entirely by how many copies are ordered. If a publishing house wants to create an "instant bestseller," it is really quite a simple trick. Long before a book even goes to the printing house, the marketing folks have mapped out a campaign, created brochures, booked the author for signings and talk show appearances. Today's book chains like Barnes & Noble buy books from quite literally traveling salespeople working for the distributors. A single distributor such as Ingrahm may handle scores of titles from each of several big publishing houses. Some houses, including St. Martin's, have their own distribution division. If a publisher wants to pump up a book, the sales reps may be instructed to talk it up, push it hard. On the other hand, if a publisher decides to "deep-six" a title, the rep may be instructed to "bury it," and the purchaser may never even know it exists, especially if they are a typical buyer and goes strictly with what is being pushed. Now that the publishing industry is in bed with the rightwing politicos, it is shaping its lists to meet their "co-conspirators" political needs. Rightwing groups

with money (and let's face it, they largely represent big business, so they have gobs of the stuff) now help the publishers push "created best sellers" by buying up these titles ahead by the thousands. I have seen right titles such as the latest Ann Coulter diatribe offered as a freebie at rightwing web sites shipped, no doubt, from the warehouses where the bought-up copies have been stored. Using this strategy, monied political interests skew sales figures the same way loaded dice skew a craps game. As a result, a book that may not even deserve to be in print due to its poor quality, specious basis in fact and the obvious ulterior motives of its authors, may be pumped into number one on the New York Times best seller list before it is even officially released. Palins book Going Rogue is without doubt a created best seller. In November, 2009, FOX news ran a shot of Palin allegedly being greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of hundreds at a book signing. Trouble was, someone soon identified the shot as one taken during Palins 2008 election campaign! Even if stores buy up thousands of copies of a book legitimately, a books real failure with the public can be hidden for months. For example, if a book is timed to be released just after a royalty period closes, the phony "best seller" status can ride for at least six months, until after the close of the next royalty period. That's when the unsold copies start to be returned by bookstores and subtracted from the book's total sales figures. Alas, by then, the public, thinking the book is a best seller because so many people have apparently bought it, read it, and found it worthy, may go out and buy the book on the strength of such smoke and mirrors. Meanwhile, who knows how many potential Pulitzer winners have been deep-sixed?