Norman Solomon is founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org. He co-chairs the national Healthcare Not Warfare campaign organized by Progressive Democrats of America. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.
"When the World Trade Organization summit collapsed in Seattle, major American news outlets seemed to go into shock. The failure to launch a new round of global trade talks stunned many journalists who were accustomed to covering the WTO with great reverence. In the wake of the crucial meeting, the mainstream media plunged into the four stages of grief."
"Early this month, the anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. came and went. Though today's media presented him as a dreamer and a martyr, yesterday's pundits widely vilified King when he spoke out against the Vietnam War -- just as opponents to our current war are being pushed out of the debate."
Solomon writes: "Labor Day may be a fitting tribute to America's workers. But what about the other 364 days of the year? Despite all the talk about the importance and dignity of working people, they get little power or glory in the everyday world of news media."
Solomon writes: "A Report From the Grim Reaper: Glory days are here again! ... With prospects growing for high-tech weaponry to shatter a lot of bodies soon, I deeply appreciate the enthusiasm for such marvels in the American news media. The mood is auspicious for us to get comfortably numb, so that Iraqi people blown up by U.S. bombs won't seem like real people. Hooray!"
Solomon writes, "By now, we've run across similar stories many times: A scrappy innovator took on the business establishment and made a fortune. An engineer battled myopic bosses to develop a great new product. A brilliant computer nerd overcame entrenched foes and now heads the firm. Today's news reports seem to be more focused on mutiny than conformity in corporate suites. At a time when many companies are urging employees to challenge old concepts, the media coverage often makes the latest changes sound almost radical. "
Solomon writes, "Many pundits are advising the president to stay with the prevailing winds so that he can continue to triumph as a moderate. That would please a lot of Americans who are wary of "ultra-liberals" and "ultra-conservatives." But we lack an appropriate label for the new breed of Democrats bent on hugging the political center. Let's call them "ultra-centrists." Moderate on the surface, they are actually quite extreme about seeking the center of power's gravity. Their dedication to compromise is impressive...to the point of shamefulness. Few principles are so inviolate that they can't be spliced, diced or gutted."
Populist Jim Hightower has built a following on 150 stations nationwide during the last 16 months -- while breaking most of the rules for talk radio hosts. Instead of shouting, he speaks with a soft Texas twang. He actually lets callers who oppose him be heard. And his barbs are not aimed at women, gays, minorities or the poor -- but at the rich and powerful. He is the most distinctive new voice on talk radio and he is in danger of being silenced.
When President Clinton visited Egypt in mid-March, the media spotlight fell briefly on a country that receives enormous support -- but little scrutiny -- from the United States. Clinton beamed as Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, hosted a "summit of the peacemakers." American leaders have been smiling on the Egyptian government for a long time, with aid topping $2 billion a year since Mubarak came to power in 1981. In return, Cairo has been a key ally in the Middle East -- a role widely lauded by the U.S. press corps. Unfortunately, Egypt is also a nation of torture and political repression.
"The fact that Donald Barlett and James Steele's investigative report -- "Big Money and Politics: Who Gets Hurt?" -- made a splash in Time magazine is encouraging. But other media, including wire services, big daily newspapers and broadcast networks, failed to pick up on the superb cover story."
"Once upon a time, in early June of 1999, the man on the throne displayed his moral finery as he complained that 'children are being fed a dependable daily dose of violence.' But somewhere in the crowd stood a little girl and a little boy who were perplexed. They wanted to know why the royal scribes did not talk about the huge holes in the weave of the emperor's pronouncements..."
Solomon writes: "Despite this year's scandalmania, Bill Clinton now appears to be rather entrenched in the White House. A big reason is that he has been very careful to stay near the 'vital center' of America's political spectrum ... But what does all this talk about the 'vital center' and the 'Third Way' really mean?"
Solomon writes: "When it comes to muzzling the press, the planet's hall of shame is crowded. According to a report just issued by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the worst offenders include the governments of Albania, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey. The Committee's 443-page report, 'Attacks on the Press in 1997,' makes for plenty of grim reading. The cultural contexts and political ideologies certainly vary, but many regimes share a common thread: They want to prevent freedom of expression because it might undermine their power."
Are we suffering from Image Distortion Disorder? It's not listed in medical dictionaries. But physician Michael LeNoir is urging our society to treat Image Distortion Disorder as a very real -- and very unhealthy -- condition. Possible remedies aren't discussed on television. Instead of helping to alleviate Image Distortion Disorder, prime time is ablaze with programming that inflames it. Whether the issue is poverty, crime or drugs, the tilt of the media mirror often makes racial minorities look bad.
Solomon writes, "Shock waves should have jolted America when the news broke in England a few weeks ago: 'The CIA actively encouraged drug-trafficking in order to fund right-wing contra rebels in Nicaragua during the 1980s, and a CIA agent in Nicaragua was employed to ensure the money went to the contras and not into the pockets of drug barons.' That's how a London-based daily newspaper summarized the conclusions of investigative journalists whose findings aired on a highly regarded program called "The Big Story." It certainly was a big story -- on that side of the Atlantic. But on this side, it was no story at all.
Listening to Newt Gingrich for an hour is like hearing a great philharmonic orchestra play a simple tune. The House speaker's virtuosity was impressive as he addressed a national meeting of newspaper opinion editors Nov. 3 in Atlanta. His dazzling performance was akin to a symphonic concert of "Pop Goes the Weasel." Let's give the performer his due. Gingrich sounded crystal- clear themes: his own virtues, the continuing ascendancy of the Republican "revolution" and the media's inability to grasp just how thoroughly "liberalism" has been discredited. As soon as Gingrich reached the podium, an aide distributed his favorite recent clippings to the assembled members of the Association of Opinion Page Editors. At the top of the stack was a Tennessee newspaper's editorial -- describing Gingrich as "just maybe a history-maker of the first rank" and a "mastermind" with "courage" who "holds to his ideals." Never let it be said that Gingrich fails to acknowledge the work of insightful editorial writers. But, alas, all too many commentators don't comprehend the achievements of congressional Republicans. "Getting our message across in a coherent form is the single most difficult challenge we face," Gingrich told the editors. He had a scolding tone, but the speaker indicated that it was not too late to rectify the situation. Gingrich explained that his admirable qualities include being a great listener. Yet, such talent must not be squandered on the undeserving. When an editor asked if Gingrich could learn from listening to people who disagree with him on fundamental issues, the speaker was blunt: "I do not have time." A year after the Republican electoral triumph, Gingrich continues to portray himself as a martyr beset by the "elite media." But he is generous with praise for his key media allies - - many of whom are as "elite" as they come. During his talk in Atlanta, for instance, Gingrich lauded the editorial page of the <it>Wall Street Journal.<> To hear the speaker tell it, when Mr. Smith goes to Washington, the best supportive commentary comes from an ordinary working man named Dow Jones. But Gingrich denounced his hometown newspapers, which have long scrutinized him. Perhaps his ire was inflamed by an accurate news article in that day's <it>Atlanta Constitution<> mentioning Gingrich's "history of keeping secret millions of dollars in donations to his own political action committee." Although he has spoken up for political finance reform, the paper reported, "Gingrich played a pivotal role last year in killing a lobbying reform bill by whipping up last-minute opposition from radio talk show hosts to a provision in the bill that he had insisted be inserted." What really makes Gingrich mad is that the press sometimes engages in journalism. He much prefers puffery for the GOP -- hardly in short supply these days but still quite inadequate as far as Gingrich is concerned. He has urged big corporations to pull ads from newspapers that oppose conservative interests. In person, Gingrich exudes remarkable arrogance. And his political program includes a slash-and-burn approach to budgeting that can only make the poor poorer and rich richer. But his blend of personal mania and political agenda doesn't explain his success; the nation's Democratic "leadership" deserves a lot of the credit. For decades, the leading lights of the Democratic Party have been rather dim bulbs. They've put out flickering platitudes about average Americans -- while relentlessly assisting big-money contributors. People who collect contribution checks in glass skyscrapers can't throw too many stones. The current Democratic chief, Bill Clinton, has shown little backbone when it comes to defending the interests of working people -- and people who can't find jobs. The president has taken the political art of compromise to new depths. Say what you will about Newt Gingrich. He's willing to put up a fight. He doesn't cower and bleat about compromise. He's dynamic because he goes on the attack and stays there without pulling punches. Today, there is no match for the likes of Gingrich in our country's political arena. Bill Clinton and other pussy-cat Democrats sometimes pretend to be tigers. But their growling fools few people -- least of all the right-wing hyenas who are licking their chops. In the spotlight, Newt Gingrich is happy to keep flailing away. He takes his lumps -- and plenty of fawning coverage as well -- from the news media. But, unlike the "comeback kid" in the Oval Office, the speaker doesn't backpedal. He's too busy throwing roundhouse punches. And it doesn't take too many of them to knock over a hollow foe.###
Americans of all ages will gather at the Lincoln Memorial on June 1 for an event called "Stand For Children." Organizers are promising "the largest and most uplifting demonstration of family, community and spiritual commitment to children in American history." One likely result: a media focus on kids next month. One tragedy involving a child can get mega-publicity, but widespread threats to children are apt to sound abstract: inadequate health care, nutrition, housing, education. Stand For Children's motto is "A day of commitment to leave no child behind." But a single event cannot reverse our society's pervasive neglect of so many young people.
"Despite all the emphasis on new media, photography has never lost the power to move us. Some recent photo essays in major American magazines, focusing on the poor and dispossessed, are efforts to break through abstraction and indifference."
"Mainstream news coverage describes the IMF/World Bank demonstrations as an 'anti-trade festival.' It's a distortion that commonly makes its way into news stories. But protesters against the IMF and World Bank have not taken to the streets in opposition to trade any more than those who fought to outlaw slavery were against work."
"When the government takes a human life, it's usually not much of a national story -- maybe a few inches in the newspaper or a fleeting mention on a newscast. With 3,625 people on death row in the United States, and more arriving all the time, a macabre rhythm has taken hold."
"Oh Elian, how we love you! Kids your age usually aren't interesting to those of us in the media profession. They may suffer from hunger, poverty, racism and a host of other dangers, but the chances are slim that a spotlight will fall on their unimportant little lives. Not like you, Elian. You're so special, because we have made your ordeal a mesmerizing tragedy, a riveting psychodrama ..."
"To an unprecedented extent, large numbers of American reporters and editors now work for just a few huge corporate employers -- a situation that hardly encourages unconstrained scrutiny of media conglomerates as they assume unparalleled importance in public life. As the late media critic Herbert Schiller pointed out, self-censorship has long been one of journalism's most ineffable hazards. And the current wave of mergers rocking the media industry is likely to heighten the dangers."
"Nearly five years after its purchase of ABC, the Disney Company made history in late March by subjecting confused 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez to a preposterous "interview." Why did Diane Sawyer -- and other bigshots at ABC/Disney -- insist on carrying out the scheme? For the same reasons that they pursue so many of their projects: Arrogance. Self-promotion. And greed."
"On the last day of February, the shocking news was that a 6-year-old boy in Michigan killed a classmate. How would a little boy get the impression that pointing a gun at someone and pulling the trigger is appropriate behavior? Not exactly a tough question. The television industry is good at deploring bloodshed -- while milking it to boost ratings."
"During the recent protests in Washington against the World Bank and IMF, the leading cable news network became fascinated with independent media. Journalism free of huge economic interests -- what a concept!"