Danny Schechter

How Right-Wingers Attempted to Defame Nelson Mandela As A Terrorist

Madiba A to Z: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela by Danny Schechter was published on November 26, 2013 by Seven Stories Press. Reprinted with Permission. 

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"We Steal Secrets:" Why The New Movie About WikiLeaks Pisses WikiLeaks Off

Every documentary filmmaker begins with deciding on the story to be told, and, then, how to sustain audience interest.

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Is Documentary Film Viable in a Sensationalized Media World?

There has been a major shift in media culture as most TV networks have abandoned long-form information programming. In these times, with Twitter playing a big part in disseminating news, TV has to be punchy, quick and visual. The age of media mergers has seen showbiz merging with news biz, and soundbites have become shorter as the newscast story count rises. 

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The Little-Known Story of How a Financial Crash that Began on Wall Street is Setting the Middle East on Fire

This is an upstairs/downstairs story that takes us from the peak of a Western mountaintop for the wealthy to spreading mass despair in the valleys of the Third World poor.

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Is Fascism Lurking in America?

Fascism is one of those words that sounds like it belongs in the past, conjuring, as it does, jackboots marching in the streets, charismatic demagogues like Italy's Mussolini or Spain's Franco, and armed crackdowns on dissent and freedom of expression.

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Is the Haiti Rescue Effort Failing?

Every disaster plan is built to some degree around the idea of triage -- deciding who can and cannot be saved. The worst cases are often separated and allowed to perish so that others who are considered more survivable can be treated.

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Credit Card Companies Fight Reform

I recently was advised by American Express, a company whose credit cards I pay in full each and every month, and with whom I have been a paying "member" since l981 that my credit card limit is being cut. I have become unworthy.

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The Financial Crisis Pushes Europe to the Brink of Disaster

KREMS, Austria -- Obsessed as we are about our own crumbling economy, it's hard for most Americans to see and appreciate the global nature of the crisis and how it is impacting, and will impact, others throughout the world. We don't recognize how many in other countries blame the fall of their own economies on a kind of "financial AIDS" born in the USA.

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PBS Screws Up Report on Financial Crisis

Last week, an action thriller move called The International opened nationwide. It is a big-screen shoot 'em up about a bank gone bad. A crime story, involving gun running, buying up debt and conniving with politicians. It seemed timely but was actually a dramatization of a real, if barely remembered, story -- the corruption of that notorious failed bank, BCCI, popularly known as the Bank of Crooks and Criminals.

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Politicians Rehash Economic Cliches as Crisis Spirals Out of Control

In the old days, circuses were known for three rings and a side show. The economic debate that got underway this week feels a bit like that. It began in earnest just as police in Los Angeles announced the dramatic killing of five members of a family by a man distraught after losing his job. Rest assured: the cavalcade of economic crisis-linked suicides and murders is just beginning.

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Will the Obama Generation Merge With the Protest Culture of MLK or Strike Its Own Path?

Somehow, a man with three names has been reduced to four words. Say Martin Luther King Jr., and the phrase "I Have a Dream" comes to mind -- as if that sums up his life or his relevance to the events swirling around Washington this week with the inauguration of Barack Obama, a man who many mistake as King's spiritual son. 

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Are We Facing Just Another Market Problem or a System Collapse?

The question we face in late July, as regulators seize two more banks, is: will we be engulfed by a further collapse in our economy or can the damage be contained, or, even turned around?

We know what goes up must come down but when will what's down go back up?

It isn't looking good -- and, even now, the two presumptive major party presidential candidates are talking about everything but this deepening crisis. They are debating terrorists and Afghanistan and how to meander out of Iraq but not the reality that so many Americans are living with: a squeeze that is leaving so many of us broke, in deeper and deeper debt and disgusted.

Until now, the doom and gloomsters were mostly to be found in the margins, in financial blogs or in the campaigns of Ron Paul, Ralph Nader or the Greens. The mainstream media has been looking the other way and mostly downplaying the unfolding disaster. Even as foreclosures double, and the price of gas and food rises sharply, it's been business as usual on the business pages, and among the liberal political pundits who would rather debate the cover of the New Yorker than the growing desperation of so many Americans.

The Congress finally passed a housing bill a year into the crisis with most of the money allocated to try to shore up two housing agencies with more than a half a trillion in housing assets. The markets are melting down with more major stocks tanking, banks writing off still more billions. and unemployment rising.

People in the know like George Soros are saying this is the worst financial crisis since the depression. Others fear another depression. This pessimism has reached Newsweek, a guardian of conventional wisdom, which now says "It's Worse Than You Think, writing "this downturn is likely to last longer than the eight-month-long recession of 2001. While the U.S. financial system processes popped stock bubbles quickly, it has always taken longer to hack through the overhang of bad debt. The head winds that drove the economy into this dead calm -- a housing and credit crisis, and rising energy and food prices -- have strengthened rather than let up in recent months. To aggravate matters, the twin crises that dominate the financial news -- a credit crunch and the global commodity boom -- are blunting the stimulus efforts."

We have two challenges: understanding the gravity of what is threatening us, and then discussing what could or should be done. We might also want to think about what the press should be reporting and what policy makers should be proposing.

On the foreclosure crisis, for example, I was just in Washington for five days with NACA, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America which took over a major hotel and set up a shop to counsel at risk home owners and advocate for affordable loans.

The Washington Post, based just across the street from the lines of some 20,000 people seeking help, did not cover it until it was over. But, to their credit, when they did they recognized that this effort by a not for profit citizens group was more effective in responding to the crisis than all the government agencies put together.

Writes Post Business columnist Steven Pearlstein:

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Is Who Becomes the Next President All That Matters?

BERLIN, MAY 13, 2008 -- I know. I know. How this is the most important election in history, and why the next occupant of the White House will not only be answering the red phone at 3 a.m. but possibly be saving these not always United States from the decline that even Time magazine has announced the country is facing.

Yet, as I travel outside the country, I can’t help but feel, or is it fear, that this logic leaves out some rather important considerations.

Like the fact that the United States cannot unilaterally impose its will on the world anymore as our dollar falls and our credibility falls with it. Even a strategy of negotiation as opposed to confrontation is not a recipe for success because in a multipolar world, other countries and power blocs like the Russians, the Chinese, the EU, the Persian Gulf and OPEC have their own interests. They will listen to our proposals but may reject them if they are at variance with their own needs.

We just don’t have the power to impose our will even as we still suffer from “the USA is No. 1� syndrome and think that we can kick ass and take names if anyone stands in our way.

Whoever becomes president may not have the power he or she assumes goes with the office. (In fact, after the fact, in their memoirs, most presidents complain they often felt powerless, besieged by lobbyists, party factions and reticent bureaucrats at every turn. They see themselves constrained by institutional obstacles at every turn.)

In many ways, Mao was right, the occupant of the oval office is a paper tiger.

In this new world, if we want others to do our bidding, we can’t threaten to obliterate them or strut around like Mighty Mouse when so many in the world see us as the Mouse that Roared.

So many of our problems today are global and shared by others. Globalization has assured that. We are all impacted by global threats like climate change, escalating food prices, world hunger, endemic poverty and pandemic disease that the White House can’t wave a magic wand to cure. Sadly, most Americans are not educated about these issues, and the press downplays them.

Even when we cause problems, like the mortgage collapse, markets worldwide feel the pain in an internationally entangled financial system where we are dependent on monies from China. Meanwhile, others invest in the United States to keep their own profits up and compete with our companies on our home ground.

Sure, we are a militarily powerful but apparently not powerful or smart enough to subdue Iraq or Afghanistan after five years. Our warriors on terror have yet to capture Bin Laden or even neutralize the Taliban. The truth is the Democratic candidates don’t think they can tell the military what to do and so have withdrawal plans that will take years. That’s the reality.
The military industrial complex often has a mind of its own

And so does Wall Street, which won’t take marching orders from any president. Both Clinton and Bush turned to Goldman Sachs to run the Treasury, and it’s not clear if their former execs were ambassadors to The Street or from the Street. Financial power trumps political power in a country dominated by a corporate system.

Who can impose an excess profits tax on Big Oil? Who will dare?

In fact, look at the credit crisis. It started with the mortgage meltdown of August 2007. At least one million families have lost their homes. Another two and half million are threatened. The New York Times reports that even their storage spaces are now being auctioned off, because many folks can’t afford the monthly charges. The Onion jokes that a family burned their stimulus check because they can’t afford heat.

The Times’ business columnist, Gretchen Morgenson, notes that in all these months of obvious economic calamity, nothing meaningful has been done by our government to help people in need, writing, “As the great American credit crash continues to reverberate, we still have nothing that resembles an intelligent and comprehensive plan for dealing with mass foreclosures and the economic consequences associated with the debacle.�

Why? There is an ideological clash of course. That’s obvious. An administration that has foreclosed on the American Dream cares as much about our homeowners as it did about the victims of Katrina.

But beyond that, they don’t know what to do; they have no “fix.� There may not be one. We are dealing not with a political debate but a structural crisis of American capitalism in an era of waning empire. We can throw money at these problems as we probably should, but they are all intricate and subject to pressure politics. When the Senate run by Democrats tried to bring relief to distressed homeowners, their final bill was shameful with more giveaways to home builders and lenders than mortgagees.

So, let’s temper our expectations about what the candidate of our choice can actually get done in a system of many checks but very few balances. The presidency is a bully pulpit. The president can lead, but Congress need not follow. Sure, change is needed, and badly, but the changes being proposed -- like a summertime tax break at the pump won’t do much about the deeper energy crisis. Many of the proposals being debated are tinkering with deeply flawed policies. They aim to bail the water out of the Titanic while it is sinking

Unfortunately, our scandal-obsessed “gotcha� media is useless in explaining or investigating these deeper problems. Its focus us only on the horse race. Cable news is increasingly a pundit-heavy distraction machine, where opinionizing has replaced reporting, and, yes, still a weapon of mass deception, as one film I made years ago argued.

Please think about this, and what’s not being covered. Sorry to rain on the parade as the primaries roll on and the excitement builds like in a sports event.

Who is the next president matters, matters deeply, but is that all that matters?

Will the Mortgage Industry Pay for Its Crimes?

There is a time in the life of every writer when you find yourself fearing that you have become a robo call phone machine -- repeating the same message over and over and with diminishing results.

That's how I felt after 8 months of silence after labeling the credit crisis a "subcrime" scandal, lashing out at the fraudulent activity at its core and calling for the investigation and prosecution of wrongdoers. Almost no media outlets accepted this way of framing the problem, although as usual, the British press was ahead of its American cousins in putting the blame on the bankers, not the borrowers.

When the FBI announced a probe of 14 mortgage companies, I thought that finally some investigators were on the case. But then, word leaked that they were only going after small fish even as big banks reported losses in the billions.

Bank robberies have always been up the FBI's alley, and after all, this is a bank heist case, perhaps one of the biggest in history. Only it was the banks that were doing the heisting.

The New York Times reported May 5th that a new criminal investigation was finally underway.

A G-Man explained anonymously: "The latest inquiry is broader and deeper. This is a look at the mortgage industry across the board, and it has gotten a lot more momentum in recent weeks because of the banks' earnings shortfall."

At last, institutional fraud may be on the agenda. At last, deeper questions are being asked. There have been some Congressional hearings but so far none have risen to a Watergate-type level prompting in-depth investigations fueled by subpoenas.

Slowly, oh so slowly, news outlets are recognizing this is a big crime story, one they missed for years, or at least since 2002 when subprime securities started being packaged for sale.

Reports the Washington Independent:

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Our Economic Crisis Must Become the Top Political Issue in 2008

Barack Obama's Iowa win has forcefully put the words "hope" and "change" on the national media agenda. His dynamic personality and uber-organized charismatic campaign galvanized attention and support even as his positions on issues seemed less clear.

The primary marathon continues with a retinue of pollsters and pundits trailing behind a diminishing number of candidates. They never lack in inane commentary or a barrel full of predictions that are rarely as accurate despite sounding so authoritative.

But there's another barrel to consider that's a lot less fun. It won't take us over the falls but, in fact, may lead us to a fall. That's the rise in the price for a barrel of oil and a set of deep economic pressures that will affect the country, the world, and every political race as unemployment goes up along with rising prices.

So far, none of the debates are focusing on solutions for the growing squeeze. It's easier to denounce immigrants or even corporations in the abstract. The business press is now debating when the recession will hit, or whether or not we are already in one. The optimism one sensed on the night Barack's last name was spelled BAM in the headlines is slowing giving way to trepidation that any new Administration will have to revive an economy that may, before November, be on the ropes.

There is a reason that American Dialect magazine chose "subprime'' as 2007's Word of the Year." Bear in mind that for the first seven months last year, the problem was downplayed, ignored, and minimized. It was only when the markets melted down in late July that the press and the pols took note. Even then, there was denial -- and in our media and political discourse, there still is among those who have yet to feel the sting.

There may be a reason for that, too, because most of the progressive world has been more engaged with the war than with issues of economic justice, so there has been little activist pressure on most politicians. Except for a speech here or a policy paper there, economic issues are not on the top of their lists. Bear in mind also that main industries still funding our political races are -- surprise, surprise -- real estate, finance and insurance.

So even as the media reports on inflation and foreclosures, they often do so as, the International Herald Tribute put it," with a "bad news is good news scenario." The paper quotes a Bear Stearns executive with comparing the current U.S. housing crisis to a recent natural disaster.

"Areas like Florida and Las Vegas are devastated," he said. "It is like Hurricane Katrina."

And, like refugees of that whirlwind of destruction, the subprime victims will simply pick up stakes and make new lives elsewhere: "People will move out to areas like Alabama and Idaho, where there are jobs and there is growth and there is not enough housing. So they will build more and that will add to economic growth."

This naive silver-lining thinking is riddled with illusions. Avinash Persaud, chairman of Capital Intelligence, an investment advisory firm in London, calls the housing bust a catastrophe. "American consumer boom was financed with real-estate debt: Americans have spent 130 percent of their income over the past five years. "They borrowed money against their property," he said.

And now as a many as 2.6 million families face foreclosure, that's going, going, gone.

Many advocates are up in arms. Jesse Jackson, now holding a Wall Street Summit in New York, is leading a national movement calling for the jailing of "subcrime" white-collar criminals. He is planning a march on the Federal Housing Administration at HUD in Washington on January 22, the day of the State of the Union address and the day after the Martin Luther King holiday. He told the Summit that Dr. King, on his birthday in 1968 -- the year he died -- was planning a new March on Washington for Economic Justice. He is demanding government action to "restructure loans, not repossess homes."

Others present, like Congressman John Conyers, plan to pressure the Justice Department for action, while Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee (who appears in my film In Debt We Trust) is organizing town hall meetings. Lisa Madigan, the Attorney General of Illinois described her investigation into discriminatory and predatory lending practices by Countrywide. David Patterson, the Lieutenant Governor of New York called for an investigation into the failure of regulators and the Federal Reserve Bank.

John Taylor, CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition denounced rapacious "greed" and revealed that former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan is now saying that the federal government has to act with a major financial intervention.

Jackson quipped, "Why wasn't he saying that when he helped cause these problems?"

Housing is not the only crisis. Credit card balances are at a record high, along with interest rates and fees. There are growing defaults on car and student loans. This will get worse with more job losses and less access to credit.

When you read the press outside the United States, there is even more alarm. The Telegraph, a conservative newspaper in London reports:

"As the credit paralysis stretches through its fifth month, a chorus of economists has begun to warn that the world's central banks are fighting the wrong war, and perhaps risk a policy error of epochal proportions."

"The central banks are trying to dissociate financial problems from the real economy. They are pushing the world nearer and nearer to the edge of depression. We hope they will eventually be dragged kicking and screaming to do enough, but time is running out." -Bernard Connolly, global strategist at Banque AIG.

"The kind of upheaval observed in the international money markets over the past few months has never been witnessed in history," says Thomas Jordan, a Swiss central bank governor.

"Where will it end? A fresh study by Morgan Stanley warns that the big banks face a further $200 billion of defaults in commercial property. On it goes."

On it goes, true, but, its not an issue that's going on TV much here or being raised in political debates. That's why activism is needed. We need a national organizing and education effort. We need to be reminded of Dr King's phrase: "The urgency of now."

The Lending Crisis Is Becoming a Poltical Battleground

So where is this credit crisis going? How will it end? What's the prognosis?

As the citizen of a country without an attention span, everyone wants some else to play forecaster and tick off what must be done. And they want it quick and simple even though there are no real quickie responses to a complicated problem. Almost any reassuring soundbite will do. The questions are predicable. What should I do to protect my money? Can't they fix this, after all our economy is supposed to be, oh so, "resilient?"

And yes your government is trying. George Bush doesn't want to leave office with two million families in the streets. He doesn't want a legacy worse that Herbert Hoovers. The loss of the incompletely managed war in Iraq is a tough enough burden to carry around.

Its probably truthful but not helpful to say that the mismanagement of our economy is an outgrowth of the very corporatist policies that will haunt this country for decades to come, including costly wars, and obscenely high levels of corruption and the list goes on.

This crisis, however is a bit different because it has built in intensity for years without much visibility or attention. It speaks to structural problems in an economy built on the quick sand of debt and delusion.

In order for the economy to function, in order for consumption to continue and profits to keep flowing, people have to believe that everything's all right. They want remedies modeled after Alka Seltzer. Put one tablet in water. It fizzes. You drink and feel better in minutes.

The truth is that confidence is eroding not because "the masses" hate capitalism but because our brand of unregulated capitalism is increasingly not working for them. They know that because prices keep rising and good paying jobs are harder to find. They know that because crime is going up in many cities, and it's harder to make ends meet.

And some even know that the very concept of the masses has been replaced by highly stratifies classes built on growing income inequality.

The credit cad companies are now encouraging us to pay our rent by charging it, They have jacked up their fees and passed rules that just somehow leads to more late fees and other charges which have doubled and tripled by fiat. Some economic wise men believe that the credit card bubble is the next to go in a widely predicted severe recession.

Personally, I don't know will happen with any certainty.. It is possible that we will bounce back from the precipice somehow. The big chiefs of our economy have done it before. There are whole industries at risk if we don't. There are a large number of wealthy people and institutions who want to get back to the business of making money. They have a strong self-interest in "normalizing" the system.

What's "normal" for then is of course why we are in the trouble we are. At the same time, many of the free marketers argue that all is needed is a correction of some undefined kind to put the "fundamentals" in line and bounce back. Capitalism has had history of boom and bust cycles and recoveries because there is no perceived alternative. And yes a depression is not out of the question.

Yet this time around, we are not talking about a small issue or some anomaly. As Business Week noted, "What we're observing, in all its bizarreness, is the ancient paradox of what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object. The irresistible force in this case is the U.S. economy… The immovable object is a wall of debt that now can't be paid back."

As I write in early December of 2007, we do know that the Federal Reserve Bank is likely to cut interest rates again and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, a former honcho at Goldman Sachs, is proposing a plan to freeze interest rates on adjustable rate mortgages as one way to keep some homeowners from losing their homes.

Are these measures likely to work? Not based on their track record so far. The Fed has injected billions into the system to create more liquidity but the crisis is worse than ever. Paulson convinced big banks to start a super fund but that hasn't had much impact yet.

Many of the reports about the initiative were positive-there were 282 listed on Google. But one of them actually did off some analysis by a conservative who, this is rich, compares the supercapitalist Paulson to a communist. Seth Jayson, writing on the financial website Motley Fool called it "a plan to punish the public," and a reminder that there are away unintended and unspoken of consequences of governmental intervention in the affairs of the holy sanctum of the market:

"If the mortgage crisis and housing bubble have taught us one thing, it should be to watch out for the unintended consequences of greed. Unfortunately, our nation's legislators and political appointees haven't learned that lesson. Recent plans for housing and mortgage bailouts generally run from dumb to dumber.

While an intense debate rages, lay-offs continue on Wall Street with top female executives especially getting the blame and the axe at some investment banks. Meanwhile, credit has tightened for everyone, including businesses that live on loans, and the rich are blaming the poor while downward economic mobility becomes a pervasive new fact of life.

There is a conflict coming, as this problem turns into an issue. It could lead to an economic civil war. Its won't be just a working class led class war either. Says credit expert Robert Manning:

"What we've seen with this kind of financialization of the American economy, where the democratic system and so many democratic institutions have been co-opted and literally bought by the financial service industry, is that we're seeing a big backlash from the American people.

On opening salvo in this fight back will be a March on Wall Street led by Jesse Jackson on December l0. Already other protests against predatory lenders are breaking out like acne across the country.

The squeeze is on, and to quote the 60s poet, Mr. Zimmerman, "there's a hard rain that's gonna fall." The economy we save may be our own.

Subprime or Subcrime? Time To Investigate and Prosecute

There comes a time when the frame of a news story changes. It happened in Iraq when the "war for Iraqi freedom" became seen as a bloody occupation, not a beneficent liberation. It is happening as the war on terror is increasingly perceived a war of error and when voting problems are reframed as electoral fraud.

And it will happen in the economic arena too, when we see the "subprime" credit crunch for what it is: a sub-crime ponzi scheme in which millions of people are losing their homes because of criminal and fraudulent tactics used by financial institutions that pose as respectable players in a highly rigged casino-like market system.

Suddenly, after years of denial and inattention, the press has discovered what they call "the credit crisis." Vague words like "woes" are still being used to mask a financial calamity that some analysts are already calling an apocalypse as lenders go under and the Stock Market melts down.

A French bank froze billions Thursday saying, ""The complete evaporation of liquidity in certain market segments of the U.S. securitization market has made it impossible to value certain assets." Translation from the French: We are all in deep shit.

On Thursday morning, President Bush was asked about this at a press conference. He blamed borrowers for not understanding the documents they signed. But if you have ever tried to read the documents banks prepare for mortgage closings, you will know that they are written by risk-minimizing lawyers and are too long and dense to be understood. (Later in the day, the market reacted to Bush's upbeat assessment with the Dow plunging 387 points.)

The financial insiders who watched were more than skeptical. Here are some quotes from a discussion on the Mi-implode Web site. One of the discussants calls our fearless leader, "President Pumpkinhead:"

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Is Al Jazeera about to Become Al-Foxeera?

Sources inside Al Jazeera who are in a position to know what is going on now confirm to MediaChannel.org that there is an internal struggle underway that may dilute Al Jazeera's independence and steer it in a more pro-western, pro-US direction.

"There is already a change of tone and focus in the news," a veteran insider reveals. He blames the shift on a reorganization of the network's governing structure a month ago that has put a former Ambassador from Qatar to the USA in a commanding position.

Al Jazeera broadcasts from a state of the art facility in Doha, the capital of Qatar, a wealthy independent state run by an Emir who has, until this point, remained close friends with the US while allowing Al Jazeera its independence.

"Nobody is talking about it publicly and nothing is quite clear yet but it looks like there is new pressure from the government of Qatar [the oil and natural gas rich Gulf state that bankrolled Al Jazeera], as well as a political battle over how to manage the channel inside its government with the US and its supporters, including the editor of the Arabic edition of Newsweek, lobbying in the shadows."

The United States is a major trading partner with Qatar and maintains a vast military facility there. The high profile Coalition Media (ie. propaganda) Center was based in the country, and the Pentagon has used the base airfield to supply the war effort in Iraq. Lebanese sources report that US planes airlifted cluster bombs from that base to Israel for use in its recent war against Hezbollah. Israel's relations with Qatar are said to be close.

Washington and London were never happy with Al Jazeera's political independence. Its offices in Afghanistan and Iraq were bombed in the early days of the war, and more recently there have been reports that President Bush considered bombing Al Jazeera's headquarters in Doha, but was only stopped by a strong dissent by Britain's Tony Blair. Al Jazeera has been denied access by the British government to documents that would confirm this widely reported (and believed) story that has also been officially dismissed.

"You don't need to bomb Al Jazeera to change its direction," said my source. "There is a softer way to influence its direction by taking it over from within and it can happen quietly almost as if in slow motion. You 'broaden' some programs, announce new 'guidelines,' issue new edicts reinforcing top-down control, purge some professionals you don't like, and then give more positive unchallenged airtime to backers of US foreign policy. Washington would not be open about any behind the scenes role it is playing in all this for fear of triggering a very negative public reaction."

The irony here is that for many years Al Jazeera made a point of giving substantial airtime to US officials and their surrogates to show fairness. This even led some hardliners in the Arab World years ago to accuse of the station of being CIA-backed and even pro-Israel. But whatever exposure they got was never enough for a Pentagon that practices "Information Dominance" and seeks to exclude all contrary views. They expect the kind of uncritical coverage they received on American TV.

Ironically, a former US military briefer became so disgusted with US media manipulation that he joined Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera reporters have been killed by US soldiers, prosecuted in Spain, and imprisoned. One remains in Guantanamo with no charges against him. These external actions have only strengthened Al Jazeera's resolve and won audience sympathy for the station. That may be why a new internal intervention is underway.

The Friends of Al Jazeera website carries a post suggesting that this is exactly what is happening.

"It is rumored that the new pro-US Board of Directors (which include the former Qatari Ambassador to the United States, Hamad Al Kuwari and Mahmood Shamam who are both are clearly sympathetic to the US Agenda in the region) and their representative at station, the new Qatari Managing Director, Mr. Ahmad Kholeifi is a result of pressure placed on the Emir of Qatar by the US Administration.

Rumours of a 'soft editorial shift' towards a more pro-Qatari and pro-US agenda are already floating around media circles in the region.

Sources inside AlJazeera have confirmed that the Board has already instituted radical changes that threaten the stations editorial integrity and independence. In less than a month since the pro-American Board of Directors was appointed, sweeping edicts affecting the whole of AlJazeera have been passed down by the newly appointed Qatari Managing Director, Ahmad Al Kholeifi."

My source believes the rumors of an imposed top-down change are true.

Al Jazeera's journalists are diverse and committed to the channel's mission. They would not likely be silent if they felt their work was under attack or being unduly pressured. On the other hand, for all their independence, they know they are highly dependent on subsidies from the Emir. If he is being pressured, they know that that will eventually have an impact on the channel's managers.

Media owners have a tendency to meddle in news presentation, with politics, ego and power tripping often motivating factors. Sometimes, darker forces are involved.

In this case, why is a pro-US diplomat being given managerial authority while a respected and experienced journalist/general manager is apparently being ousted?

Until now, by and large, the internal politics of Qatar has not been given a high profile on the air but that may be changing, I am told, with more Qataris visible as pundits and interview subjects in recent weeks.

Perhaps the Emir who is putting up the cash also wants more visibility and is engineering compliance. Perhaps Qatar now wants to use the channel to build a higher profile for itself. In the Middle East, media and politics are often intertwined. If Al Jazeera is politicized, it could lose the credibility it has earned.

Too much tampering could easily backfire and undermine Al Jazeera's support.

Now ten years old, Al Jazeera has grown from an offshoot of BBC's Arabic Service into a feisty and independent multi-channel media company with a global satellite footprint that makes almost as much news as it reports.

Brandishing the slogan "The opinion and the other opinion," Al Jazeera is known for strong reporting and carrying diverse and outspoken views including videos by Osama bin Laden and opposition voices to many governments backed by the US.

Al Jazeera says its coverage is balanced but critics, especially on the right in America, have targeted it as "terrorist TV," a slogan designed to discredit its news and programming, which was first only seen in Arabic but now has a separate English channel.

In some ways, the network's operations mirror and reflect the volatile politics of the Middle East in which it is based, a region which is itself torn by external interventions, conflicts with and among wealthy and traditional elites, not to mention insurgency, war, political conspiracies, and competing nationalistic interests and internationalist aspirations.

Hailed as the fifth best-known brand in the world, the nature of that brand is now being contested. Is an implosion on the horizon, or will the Channel sort out its tensions and emerge even stronger as a worldwide competitor against conventional look-alike, think-alike corporatized media?

What is disturbing is that Al Jazeera had the potential of bringing real diversity to the global news agenda with more reporting from the Third World and even about the news world itself.

In an increasingly monopolized media marketplace with concentration of ownership on the rise, with Rupert Murdoch bidding for Dow Jones and Thompson taking over Reuters, there are fewer and fewer highly visible independent outlets. A recent scandal at the ineffective US created Al Hurra station may have led the Bush Administration to stop competing with a more popular brand and try to take it over instead.

US cable outlets have kept Al Jazeera English off the air-one way of marginalizing it with American viewers-but that also impacts on its ability to make money-something, I am told many Qataris expect. Maybe they are willing to trade the channel's integrity for a shot at the quest for profitability that drives most of the media industry. But being greedy could backfire if the channel's reputation suffers. We still don't know who is leaning on whom?

As an innovator and an exception to the unbrave world of media, Al Jazeera has been exceptional. It would be shame to see its core values compromised just as it becomes a bigger player in a world that desperately needs media outlets that care about the conditions of the world's people.

It may be time for its viewers and friends to demand that Al Jazeera be allowed to remain the respected and crusading force it has become in broadcasting and world journalism. Let's hope some combination of insiders and backers will be able to insure that outsiders with parochial or imperial agendas cannot "fix" what isn't broken.

Journalists and media activists worldwide may need to get engaged to send a message of concern to the Emir and the media hitmen (ie. consultants) who are apparently now sneaking around in Washington and Doha with the hopes of turning Jazeera into Foxeera.

Let Al Jazeera Be Al Jazeera!

How True Are the Confessions of a Terror Mastermind?

Last Wednesday night, I was at the Village Synagogue in Manhattan showing HBO's film The Journalist and Jihadi about the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl. The film, which I worked on as a contributing producer/consultant, concludes by linking al Qaeda's #3 operative, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to his shocking videotaped slaughter by beheading of Pearl.

The next day, the U.S. government released portions of the transcript of an interview with "enemy combatant" Mohammed in which he admitted for the first time killing Pearl.

In a grisly disclosure, a man who is now being described as "one of history's most infamous terrorists" claimed, according to Agence France Press, "to have beheaded U.S. journalist Daniel Pearl ... with my blessed right hand," according to a transcript released by the Pentagon." This act alone enables him to supersede the infamy of Carlos "the Jackal."

Interestingly, he said, Pearl's murder was not an Al Qaeda operation, a distinction that may be lost on American readers who were mesmerized by his frightening admissions.

In overseas media, his Pearl connection is being associated with the Islamacist campaign in Kashmir, not Pakistan or Afghanistan. A British-born citizen, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who is profiled in the film, was sentenced to death by a Pakistani court for Pearl's murder in June 2002, but has appealed the verdict.

What do we make of this public disclosure of Mohammed's "confession?" It comes at a time when a growing scandal in the Justice Department and setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan has the Bush Administration reeling. The claims that this larger-than-life, almost comic book "superterrorist" has made certainly adds weight to the War on Terror and Bush's campaign to hunt down and kill those responsible for 9/11.

Getting the "mastermind" was a big "get" when it happened, and his revelations certainly have positioned him to joining world's worst list. (It was the Pakistanis who got him, not the super sleuths of the CIA.) The Guardian reported that his long list of terror operations -- most of which failed -- were greeted "with shock and skepticism in almost equal measure." The NY Times downplayed their concerns near the end of their story on page A23 saying matter-of-factly, "It is not clear how many of Mr. Mohammed's expansive claims were legitimate." Note the word "expansive."

An American editor wrote to me, "I am deeply troubled by the reports of Mohammed's confession. It strikes me that it is a tidy resolution to a much larger problem. How convenient that we have all the questions answered in one somewhat disheveled package. Considering that the confession was obtained through torture, and the number of studies that have shown that information obtained in that matter is unreliable (although politically expedient), what have we really learned? Is it overly cynical to think that this administration so desperately needs a win that this is being trotted out?

And what of the nefarious Osama Bin Laden? Does this mean that he wasn't involved, if Mohammed was the "mastermind" and orchestrated everything from "A to Z." (By the way, interesting use of the American vernacular -- I wonder who the translator is?)."

Mark Denbeaux, a Seton Hall University law professor who represented two Tunisians held at Guantánamo Bay, said "The government has finally brought someone into Gitmo who apparently admits to being someone who could be called an enemy combatant. "None of the others rise to this level. The government has now got one." He says he may be the only one!

But what have they got? Reports the Guardian, "critics of both the interrogation methods used at the camp and the exclusion of independent observers from the hearings today dismissed the confessions." (Note: the Press was also excluded which is suspicious as well).

"Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, questioned the legality of both the hearing and the confession, and said the suspect's claims could be tainted by torture.

"We won't know that unless there is an independent hearing," Mr. Roth said. "We need to know if this purported confession would be enough to convict him at a fair trial or would it have to be suppressed as the fruit of torture?"

Mohammed has been a secretive mystery man, and at the same time, a publicity hound which raises some issues about who this terrible terrorist really is.

According to a 2003 Guardian report, "He was reported to have been killed in Karachi in a bloody shootout with Pakistani security forces on September 11, 2002 There is even doubt over his nationality. Some say he is Pakistani, others that he is a Kuwaiti. Certainly, though, he does appear to be of Pakistani origin, probably Baloch, and raised in Kuwait. He is thought to have been in Pakistan for about two-and-a-half years, well before September 11, 2001.

How did they find him? Great police work? Bombing "them back to the stone age?" Nope. They saw him on TV.

"Pakistani and U.S. intelligence officials were alerted to his presence in the country when he gave an interview to the Qatar-based al-Jazeera television station shortly before the first anniversary of September 11. On the strength of intercepted communications through ordinary mobile phones as well as satellite telephones, the net closed on Khalid."

Wait, there's more about this larger-than-life, part-killer and amateur historian who compares himself to George Washington for American consumption!

Writes Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, author of Inside al-Qaida: Global Network of Terror

"Although Mohammed insists that he is a believer, he is not a strict Muslim, and while the September hijackers lived in cheap lodgings, he stayed in plush hotels. In contrast to the spartan lifestyle of Osama bin Laden and his followers, he was flamboyant, spent lavishly, and is known to joke with colleagues to ease the pressure on him and on them.

In the Philippines. he was a frequent visitor to Manila's red light district, including its karaoke bars and mirrored go-go clubs, where he introduced himself to women as a wealthy businessman from Qatar. Mohammed's womanizing included phoning a dentist and telling her: "Look out of the window and look up."

What she saw was Mohammed and his nephew and protege Ramzi Ahmed Yousef waving from a helicopter hovering above her clinic and displaying a banner saying "I love you."

Is this for real or a segment on "24?" Is there a private joke here we are not getting? (Bear in mind that Ramzi and KSM's "Bojinka" plans preceded 9/11 and were downplayed by the intelligence geniuses here.")

He seems ostentatious and self-promotional enough to rate a movie of his own, and no doubt several are now in development. Hollywood can't pass up a character like him, an authentic "bad guy" who is said to "think big," and conceptualize grand designs and blueprints. Who knows, he may get his own show. Can you imagine his "exclusive" interview with Diane Sawyer or Bill O'Reilly?

KSM knew how to play his role as mastermind extraordinaire, says a terror expert: "A master of disguise, he often tinted his hair, using wigs, sporting beards and moustache, and wearing glasses. He wore Asian or western clothes, spoke very good English and moved about frequently." If this description of his English is accurate, what do we make of the convoluted language in his alleged "confession?"

If there isn't a screenwriter behind this now, there might as well be. It's been five years since 9/11, four from the start of the Iraq war. We are being told that Al Qaeda has been totally rebuilt, that Afghanistan is on a new boil, and that the surge is not surging.

So what can we believe? Do we trust the Pentagon and its intelligence through water-boarding program? Will KSM's well-publicized "confession" really dampen all the 9/11 rumors? Will it win back the Administration's credibility? Will it really damage Al Qaeda's capacity to cause more damage with its reported cells in 98 countries? Unfortunately, it won't bring Danny Pearl back.

Is this show just more "show" and tell? How many Hail Mary's will his confession result in? Will his eventual execution make our world any safer?

Hollywood Keeps Dissing Documentaries at the Oscars

New York, New York: "Yadda, Yadda, Yadda."

Remember that famous phrase from the Jerry Seinfeld show, a program that ruled the airwaves in part because of its absurdity? The comic got rich while avoiding any serious social commentary. On its last night "the show about nothing," held a farewell party at the real Tom's restaurant on New York's upper west side. Every TV truck in town was there to "go live" from this world-shaking historic cultural event.

On the very same night, two blocks away, the poet Alan Ginsberg, whose passions were about everything, was being memorialized at a packed New York Cathedral. No TV trucks turned out to cover the passing of a prophetic poet even though his death was page 1 News in The New York Times.

Jerry seemed to have taken the money and ran, but then turned up the other night on an audience pandering Oscar telecast. The man who stood for so little was given the job of introducing the documentary awards honoring films that chronicle our times and stand up for what really matters in a tinsel town that mostly doesn't.

If you saw the telecast, you saw what a jerk he was, putting down documentaries and trivializing their impact. What an outrage that Hollywood's patrons would chose Mr. Yadda Yadda to do these honors.

John Sinno, one of the documentary honorees that night has now bravely written an Open Letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to protest the way documentarians were treated so differently than other award categories where directors and actors were praised.

"When comedian Jerry Seinfeld introduced the award for Best Documentary Feature, he began by referring to a documentary that features himself as a subject, then proceeded to poke fun at it by saying it won no awards and made no money, " he writes. "He then revealed his love of documentaries, as they have a very "real" quality, while making a comically sour face. This less-than-flattering beginning was followed by a lengthy digression that had nothing whatsoever to do with documentary films. The clincher, however, came when he wrapped up his introduction by calling all five nominated films "incredibly depressing!"

Ha! Ha!

Sinno goes on, "Jerry Seinfeld's remarks were made at the expense of thousands of documentary filmmakers and the entire documentary genre. Obviously we make films not for awards or money, although we are glad if we are fortunate enough to receive them. The important thing is to tell stories, whether of people who have been damaged by war, of humankind's reckless attitude toward nature and the environment, or even of the lives and habits of penguins. With his lengthy, dismissive and digressive introduction, Jerry Seinfeld had no time left for any individual description of the five nominated films. And by labeling the documentaries "incredibly depressing millions" of viewers not to bother seeing them because they're nothing but downers."

Now I know some of you may be saying that wasn't it great that Al Gore won and that the issue of global warming was showcased at a ceremony that the former Vice President claimed was thoroughly "green." May I remind you that Gore himself was not the winner. Davis Guggenheim, the filmmaker who translated his power point presentation into a financially successful movie, won the revered statuette.

Bear in mind also that global warming is the cause du jour in Hollywood these days with even Arnold Schwarzenegger getting reelected on the strength of his becoming a born-again environmentalist. Climate change is a tres' chic and safe subject. Who but a few crank scientists and Bushies are against this danger. Gore himself said it was not political but moral. Not surprisingly, the movie was well funded with distribution by a rich company with lots to spend on marketing.

The movie was also marketed heavily to Academy voters in a big Oscar campaign led in part by Laurie David, wife of Larry, writer of Seinfeld. (Could that be why Jerry was there?) Salon notes she is a "doyenne of Rodeo Drive environs, (and) one of the producers. As Eric Alterman noted in the Atlantic Monthly, David "reviles owners of SUVs as terrorist enablers, yet gives herself a pass when it comes to chartering one of the most wasteful uses of fossil-based fuels imaginable, a private jet." If I were really cynical, I would suspect that it was all the lobbying by activists and pressure by insiders that snared the award for this unfilmic film.

At the same time, the Academy loves to honor and vindicate big names that were passed over in the past. For example, this was widely considered Marty Scorceses' year for the Departed because the industry "owed him." And so it was that Al Gore, the Presidential loser who won and lost in 2000, was this year's winner with more on-stage face-time than anyone else except perhaps Jack Nicholson hamming it up for the cameras. After all, Gore is a "name" and now a certified star in a film world that lives off of stars and those famous for being famous.

The other docs in competition were about ordinary people whose names we didn't know, and in some cases can't pronounce. They were passed over by the trendoids and fashion savants. Al may have lost Floridi-duh but now he's won something that may be even bigger, renewed credibility and celebrity. Hooray for Hollywood!

While Gore very predictably "won," who lost? How about the people of Iraq and all references to the war? Laments Sinno, "there was no mention of the Iraq War during the Oscar telecast, though it was on the minds of many in the theatre and of millions of viewers. It is wonderful to see the Academy support the protection of the environment. Unfortunately there is more than just one inconvenient truth in this world. Having mention of the Iraq War avoided altogether was a painful reminder for many of us that our country is living in a state of denial. As filmmakers, it is the greatest professional crime we can commit not to speak out with the truth. We owe it to the public." Two Iraq war films had been nominated with only snippets shown.

The lack of outrage on the war expressed at the ceremony while that issue is number one on our national agenda is not surprising considering the way an outspoken Michael Moore was booed in the past and the spanking of other stars who did speak out. The producers of this feel good ceremony worked hard to sanitize it of all political expression.

John Sinno is asking for an apology from the Academy. More is needed. We have to call on them also to rescind a new rule announced before the ceremony that will make it even harder for documentaries to compete in the future.

Explains Sinno, "the number of cities where documentary films must screen to qualify for an Academy Award is being increased by 75%. This will make it much more difficult for independent filmmakers work to qualify for the Best Documentary Feature Award, while giving an advantage to films distributed by large studios. Fewer controversial films will qualify for Academy consideration, and my film Iraq in Fragments would have been disqualified this year."

Let us join and support Sinno in his demand and encourage the self-satisfied mavens of Movie land to see how they are dissing documentaries and doing a great disservice to our political culture and democracy. Yadda, Yadda, my ass.

Media Crimes Lead to War Crimes

As events in Iraq continue to slip from bad to worse, the good news brigade is scrambling for new stories -- ("anything, give me anything") to shore up what's left of public support for a bloody war without end.

As some feared and many predicted, the war hovers over our politics and the president who "brought it on." He is, as the journalist Sid Blumenthal puts it, stuck in a "paradigm" of his own making. The operative word is the title and refrain of an early Springsteen song: "TRAPPED."

Another tipping point seems to have tipped.

Fear and exhaustion is evident in our TV newsrooms along with a continuing failure to recognize what is going on. The lack of insight is stunning; the quality of most of the news, pathetic. Even CBS's brave Kimberly Dozier -- may she fully recover -- was not only embedded in practice with the U.S. military when she was wounded, and her crew killed, but she seemed embedded mentally, seeking out a "feel good" story to cheer the home front that the Bush administration wants so badly to stay the course of his "long war." In an email sent to CBS, and only discovered after her misfortune, she described the story she was going to be doing before another IED did its awful damage.

Reported the Los Angeles Times:

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Political Amnesia Is the Enemy

We all know, all of us in America anyway, that Memorial Day weekend marks the start of summer. It's about the downtime ahead, the vacation that's coming, the shutting down of the serious in anticipation of fun in the sun.

Officially, it is also about honoring the dead, and there will be parades by veterans and flags flying on TV newscasts. Most of it is set in the present with little referencing of the past or memory itself.

Memories work on us on every level, especially when they slip out of mind. A memory exhibit at San Francisco's Exploratorium museum touches on the usual: "You get to school and realize you forgot your lunch at home. You take a test, and you can't remember half the answers. You see the new kid who just joined your class, and you can't remember his name. Some days, it seems like your brain is taking a holiday -- you can't remember anything!"

But memories are not just individual properties. Societies have memories, or should. And our news world and information technologies could or should have the capacity to keep us in touch with our collective memory, our recent history, the only context in which new facts find meaning.

I like to joke about my own "senior moments," but cultures have them too -- and often, not always by accident. In our culture, it is often by design. The frequent references we hear to "political amnesia" is not just commentary but an allusion to a social pathology, a deliberate process of actually disconnecting us from our past and history.

The blogger Billmon writes: "I don't know if it's a byproduct of decades of excessive exposure to television, the state of America's educational system, or something in the water, but the ability of the average journalist -- not to mention the average voter -- to remember things that happened just a few short months ago appears to be slipping into the abyss. "If this keeps up, we're going to end up like the villagers in "One Hundred Years of Solitude," who all contracted a rare form of jungle amnesia, so virulent they were reduced to posting signs on various objects -- 'I AM A COW. MILK ME' or 'I AM A GATE. OPEN ME' -- just so they could get on with their daily lives."

A 1991 science fiction film called Total Recall pictured political amnesia, in the words of Michael Rogin as "an essential aspect of the 'postmodern American empire.'"

A book by Andreas Huyssen takes another tack, arguing, "Rather than blaming amnesia on television or the school, "Twilight Memories" argues that the danger of amnesia is inherent in the information revolution. Our obsessions with cultural memory can be read as re-representing a powerful reaction against the electronic archive, and they mark a shift in the way we live structures of temporality."

But whatever the causes, the consequences are truly frightening. When 63 percent of young people can't find Iraq on a map after three years of war and coverage, you know that the institutions that claim to be informing us are doing everything but.

Our amnesia about recent developments seems to be induced and reinforced by the very fast-paced entertainment-oriented formats that we have become addicted to as sources of news and knowledge. They keep us in the present, in the now, disconnected from any larger ideas or analytical framework. No wonder some studies find that news viewers rapidly forget what they have just seen. That is what is intended to happen. No wonder, as Jay Leno shows when he contrasts a photo of a cultural icon with an elected official, that the public recognizes the former, not the latter. We recognize Mr. Peanut, not Jimmy Carter. More people vote for the best performer on American Idol than for our presidents.

The architects of TV news know this from their market surveys and studies. It is this very media effect that they hype to lure advertisers to their real business: selling our eyeballs to sponsors, not deepening our awareness. Depoliticizing our culture is a media necessity in a society driven by consumerism. Every programmer knows the drill. It's a market logic called KISS: Keep It Simple and Stupid.

A national curriculum, "Lessons From History," on the teaching of the past realizes that this phenomenon threatens democracy, warning, "Citizens without a common memory, based on common historical studies, may lapse into political amnesia, and be unable to protect freedom, justice, and self-government during times of national crisis. Citizens must understand that democracy is a process -- not a finished product -- and that controversy and conflict are essential to its success."

So even as this dialectic is deplored, it is, sadly, quite functional.

"We're forgetting the past," says historian Howard Zinn, "because neither our educational system nor our media inform us about the past. For instance, the history of the Vietnam War has been very much forgotten. I believe this amnesia is useful to those conducting our present foreign policy. It would be embarrassing if the story of the Vietnam War were told at a time when we are engaged in a war which has some of the same characteristics: government deception, the killing of civilians through bombing, scaring the American people (world communism in that case, terrorism in this one)."

So on Memorial Day and in the season ahead, think of how to encourage remembering, not just about the dead but for the living. Our future depends on how we understand the past. Political amnesia is the enemy in our ADD culture.

Please don't forget. Oh, too bad, you already have …

All Hail the Surveillance State

Attention, chickens: You may soon be coming home to roost.

The word has gone out in the windowless buildings that house the switching equipment and state-of-the-art technology -- in what used to be called phone companies before they morphed into communication giants -- that a day of reckoning may be on the horizon for Verizon and its mates.

These chickens have been clucking at each other and gobbling each other up for years, silently reestablishing the old monopoly Bell System under the guise of new competitive guidelines. Private industries are once again putting together what the federal courts tore asunder. Oligopoly seems to be the highest expression of "free" market logic and its logical consequence.

At issue now are historically unprecedented and massive violations of privacy that we learned about from a rare occurrence: a newspaper actually doing its job. USA Today of all papers, blew the whistle on a massive government surveillance program run by the National Insecurity Agency tapping millions of phones, cell phones and every manner of communications devices.

It's called "data mining," and it's now the scandal du jour as National Security journalist William Arkin explains, "This NSA-dominated program of ingestion, digestion and distribution of intelligence raises profound questions about the privacy and civil liberties of all Americans."

He warns, "An all-seeing domestic surveillance is slowly being established, one that in just a few years time will be able track the activities and 'transactions' of any targeted individual in near real time."

Knee-jerk supporters of the Bush agenda were backhanded in their support. Here's Neil Cavuto on Fox News implying that all of this spying is needed to protect us: "Yes, it is not great to necessarily hear they're collecting our phone records, but it's a heck of a lot better than collecting our remains."

Since this news broke, the Telco companies went into full PR spin mode as theNew York Times reported Saturday: "Those companies insisted that they were vigilant about their customers' privacy, but did not directly address their cooperation with the government effort, which was reported on Thursday by USA Today. Verizon said that it provided customer information to a government agency 'only where authorized by law for appropriately defined and focused purposes,' but that it could not comment on any relationship with a national security program that was 'highly classified.'

"Legal experts said the companies faced the prospect of lawsuits seeking billions of dollars in damages over cooperation in the program, citing communications privacy legislation stretching back to the 1930s. A federal lawsuit was filed in Manhattan yesterday seeking as much as $50 billion in civil damages against Verizon on behalf of its subscribers."

Unfortunately, buried in all the reporting on the latest juicy scandal at a time of cascading horror stories is something even worse: These same companies, rip-off artists that they are, have their wallets set and lobbyists targeted in taking over the internet. This felonious attempt by the telcos to control the most powerful communications medium in the world makes the spy scandal a mere misdemeanor.

Note which story is getting most of the attention!

TV pundit Paul Begala made this point on CNN: "Big government is getting into bed with big business. We're talking about AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth. AT&T, by the way, wants to take over the internet and start charging for access to the internet, which internet pioneers desperately oppose.

"So, now, if you are running AT&T, and the president of the United States comes to you and says, ‘Hey, why don't I spy, why don't I snoop through your files there,’ and you want him to give you permission to control the internet � that's a really lousy alliance politically for the Republicans, to be seen as big government in bed with big business."

This collusion between the corporate world and the Busheviks mirrors the pre-war complicity at the FCC between the news networks and the government. The covert quid pro quo then had the TV nets telling the regulators essentially, "You waive the rules, and we will wave the flag."

The blogger Billmon raises an even darker specter, writing, "What makes the program so scary, at least to me, isn't the possibility that it was built to serve some sinister purpose, like subverting what's left of American democracy (which is scary enough), but rather that it may be the end product of a national security bureaucracy running completely out of control -- even more so now than during the worst years of the Cold War.

"Rogue actors can still be voted out of office, even impeached. But a rogue Leviathan is another story. Certainly, the details that have come to light about the program so far smack of what can only be described as bureaucratic megalomania: 'It's the largest database ever assembled in the world,' said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.

"It sounds suspiciously like Robert Klein's old standup routine about the late-night TV ad that promises to send you 'every record ever made.'

"I'm certainly no technical expert, but I find it really hard to believe that collecting such a staggering horde -- 2 trillion call records since 2001 -- will yield useful intelligence about a relatively small and increasingly amorphous network of clandestine operatives who by now have almost certainly learned not to use the phones. ..."

This surveillance scenario now has a space component as well with the little-known National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGIA) watching us from satellites in space.

AP reports: "With help, the agency can also zoom in. Its officials cooperate with private groups, such as hotel security, to get access to footage of a lobby or ballroom. That video can then be linked with mapping and graphical data to help secure events or take action, if a hostage situation or other catastrophe happens.

"Privacy advocates wonder how much the agency picks up and stores. ... Among the government's most closely guarded secrets, the quality of pictures NGA receives from classified satellites is believed to far exceed the one-meter resolution available commercially. That means they can take a satellite "snapshot'' from high above the atmosphere that is crisply detailed down to one-meter level, which is 3.3 feet."

To Billmon, this increasingly permanent scandal and insidious threat recalls the words of Thomas Hobbes in "The Leviathan," written in 1651.

"It appeareth plainly, to my understanding, both from reason and Scripture, that the sovereign power. ... is as great as possibly men can be imagined to make it. And though of so unlimited a power men may fancy many evil consequences, yet the consequences of the want of it, which is perpetual war of every man against his neighbor, are much worse."

The convergence between the telcos and the internet, the broadcasters and the broadbanders is birthing a new media world. But it's not just the old media that is at risk. Our democracy is imperiled, and not just by the unchecked power of big government. The corporate world lurks in the shadows here. They are the "men behind the curtain." It is our our job as concerned citizens to take crises like the ones now surfacing and deepen them and raise bloody hell before their new technologies take us backward into the future.

Hobbes' “Leviathan� begat Orwell's “1984� and Huxley's “Brave New World.� His worries are still timely, and, as Billmon intimates, it offers a vision of chickens -- and chicken hawks -- playing "gobble, gobble" with our freedoms and our lives.

"Having entrusted their security and their liberties to the beast," he writes, "Leviathan's subjects will be lucky not to wind up like Jonah, lodged in its belly."

Fake News Is No Joke

By all means, lets support the campaign against "fake news" on TV. That's a reference to the undisclosed use by local news outlets of PR company-produced ads dressed up to look like news. A study by the Center for Media and Democracy found that 35 commercially driven news packages had been inserted in or run adjacent to 77 newscasts without attribution.

The practice involves Video News Releases, and it is wrong and it should be stopped. It's a form of disguised commercial posing as news story. It's deceptive, and probably violates FCC regulations.

But let's not stop there.

Fraudulent advertising is all over TV. All those ads urging us to "tell your" doctor to prescribe colorfully packaged pills, all those weight loss claims and phony credit card and debt consolidation spots. And then there is paid product placement in dramatic programming, and probably soon in the news.

In fact, how many advertisements could survive real truth tests? Most political ads fail, and I would guess that many commercial ads do as well.

We are even getting ads from people who are DEAD! Eonline.com carried a story on a "very important message" from Chris Farley -- from beyond the grave:

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Brokeback Media

Perhaps it's just me, but news seems to be coming our way faster and with a greater fury than ever before. A tsunami of "breaking news " bulletins course through the veins and ganglia of what passes for an information system. A corporate news machine then pumps it out on a plethora of platforms dedicated to "more news in less time" -- in the press, on the web, on TV, on the radio and now on the phone. It's hard to escape the deluge.

Before we have time to digest, or understand, a story's implications, it's on to the next, making it more and more difficult to focus on any one item or connect it with another. The author Larry Beinhart of Wag the Dog fame speaks of the proliferation of "fog facts" in which important information systematically disappears from view.

No wonder a paralysis of analysis has set in with "on message" spin machines making it harder and harder for us to assess trends objectively, construct meaning or let us think for ourselves. Rather than inform, much of the news often disinforms, distorts and deceives. Rather than strengthen our society by talking truth to power, our media system increasingly undermines democracy by making a civil discourse harder and harder to practice. The loud-mouthed partisans in the punditocracy turn substantive debate into noise. Heat, not light, proliferates.

We are all under attack -- some from bombs, others from bullet points. The media system has become a battlefield of competing values and often the absence of any values.

2005 was a year in which the media not only brought us news but also became part of the news as scandals usually associated with government and politicians rippled through the media companies, their boardrooms and newsrooms.

Everyone tainted by the Valerie Plame affair took a hit. The New York Times' Judith Miller went to jail, returned a media hero and quickly became a zero when her own newspaper forced her out. The publisher of Time turned over a reporter's notes to a federal prosecutor over his objection. Robert Novak, who first leaked the name of a CIA employee, sputtered "bullshit" on CNN. Forced out on grounds of arrogance, he has now been put back on the air at -- where else -- Fox. Soon the Washington Post's famed Watergater Bob Woodward was also being called to account for being too busy to tell a prosecutor what he wanted to know about the crimes of the Bush administration.

Meanwhile, out of public view, Pentagon subsidized Information warfare specialists spent hundreds of millions to monitor media outlets, execute "rapid responses," plant news and pump up government policies. The war in Iraq is often more of a media war than a military conflict in a world where perception trumps reality. GOP operatives meanwhile reshape public broadcasting more to their liking.

The old media maestros are fading away as Mark Jurkowitz observed in the Boston Phoenix: "In a year of jarring transition, 2005 may be best remembered for the roster of major media players who left the scene. Dan Rather gave up his anchor chair, Ted Koppel departed Nightline and Peter Jennings lost his fight with lung cancer." Koppel and Tom Brokaw, who also retired this past year, acknowledged that the press is often trapped in its own hubris and arrogance, and is not connected to the audience it serves.

Journalists die and journalism is dying

It was a year in which more media workers died in Iraq (the toll there is higher than the whole of the Vietnam War), with most media companies not even protesting, and in which journalism itself seemed to be devolving before our eyes in spasms of jingoism, junk news and trivia. How much cable news time was devoted to a missing white American tourist of the blonde persuasion in Aruba when other important stories went begging for attention?

Anger with the media is growing. It's reflected in falling newspaper circulation and ratings for network news. Not surprising, one of the questions in a 2005 news quiz published in the Guardian asks, "Who accidentally sent an email to the BBC that read: 'Now fuck off and cover something important you twats'?"

It doesn't really matter who said it because it speaks to a widespread dissatisfaction with even one of the world's best newscasters. Seventy percent of the American people expressed disappointment in a survey about an industry that claims to be "just giving the public what it wants." Huh?

No wonder the media business is in trouble, as the Washington Post reports in a 2005 business wrap-up. "Things haven't gone so well for the media business, which became shareholders' target No. 1. Newspaper publisher Knight Ridder Inc. was hit with demands that it put itself up for sale amid worries about limited revenue growth, while at Time Warner Inc., investors have pushed for a massive restructuring they hope will ignite its stock price." The search for higher profits is decapitating major newspapers, as Joe Strupp reports in Editor & Publisher, the newspaper industry trade magazine: "Using the bizarre premise that newspapers can bring back lost circulation and ad revenue by making their products WORSE, top executives at major chains from The New York Times Co. to Tribune took a butcher knife to staffing with buyouts and layoffs that appeared almost epidemic."

The response to this continued erosion of any commitment to public service in the form of the emergence of a media and democracy movement was not in the news much. The only good news seems to be that critics and activists challenging this media decline are quietly replacing the mainstream mudstream with a more credible media of their own. Millions of blogs and scores of independent documentaries are trying to meet the demand for more diversity in a media system dominated by just seven media giants.

The deeper trends

There are deeper trends and developments that need to be understood. The State of the Media 2005 report published earlier in the year: "The traditional press model -- the journalism of verification -- is one in which journalists are concerned first with trying to substantiate facts. It has ceded ground for years on talk shows and cable to a new journalism of assertion where information is offered with little time and little attempt to independently verify its veracity."

What can be done about this? The same Pew Research Center study suggested: "To adapt, journalism may have to move in the direction of making its work more transparent and more expert, and of widening the scope of its searchlight. Journalists aspire in the new landscape to be the one source that can best help citizens discover what to believe and what to disbelieve -- a shift from the role of gatekeeper to that of authenticator or referee. To do that, however, it appears news organizations may have to make some significant changes. They may have to document their reporting process more openly so that audiences can decide for themselves whether to trust it. Doing so would help inoculate their work from the rapid citizen review that increasingly will occur online and elsewhere."

Citizen journalism on the rise

One of the bright spots in a depressing year was the rise of citizen journalism. Sunil Saxena of Newwind Press in Mumbai, India, writes about it:

"The year 2005 witnessed a new phenomenon -- the birth of the Citizen Journalist. It was this journalist who captured the awesome power of tsunami just days before 2005 began; it was this journalist who flashed the first images of the underground rail blasts in London; it was this journalist who showed flames leaping from Platform Three of ONGC's oil well in the Arabian Sea; it was this journalist who gave firsthand information of Hurricane Katrina

"The mainstream media arrived later, borrowed or bought these images and showed the world its 'exclusives.' Was this an accident? Or is this a sign of changing times?"

Yes, the times they are a-changing from India to Indiana, but many media moguls seem the last to get it. With disasters more in the news, the disaster of our media world is also becoming evident to more and more people who have turned their complaints into an issue they want to do something about.

Million-Word March for Media Reform

Outside the window was the great Arch of Exploration, St. Louis's national monument honoring Thomas Jefferson and his patronage of the Lewis and Clark expedition that mapped out our continent for major change back in the early days of the 18th century.

In these early days of the 21st century, alongside the banks of the same Mississippi River, two modern day Lewis and Clarks -- one a scholar named Robert McChesney, the other a journalist called John Nichols -- invoked the unfinished promise of Jeffersonian democracy to convene a second National Conference on Media Reform to energize an emerging citizens' movement to explore how to take back our media.

The goal: To redirect the most powerful arsenal of communication technology humanity has ever known away from serving corporate interests and into the hands of our citizens and public needs.

The organizers had to close the registration early because the aptly named Millennium Hotel could not accommodate more than the 2,500 people who crammed into the 50 or more panels and plenaries to hear calls for action and plan campaigns for media change.

They came from 50 states and 10 countries. They were old and young, white and black, straight and gay, media consumers and media makers, researchers and academics, lawyers and activists. In the words of an earlier exhortation to media combat in the movie Network, they were "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore." They didn't just open their windows to shout, but came to the conference to exchange ideas.

There were angry hip-hop activists demanding "media justice" and senior citizens alarmed about the current threats to PBS. There were internet savvy advocates of municipally-owned wireless systems and senior level "lions of litigation" who believe that the laws and the courts can be used to safeguard our rights.

There were unknown community media producers and some of the best-known voices of liberal left media, like radio revolutionaries Al Franken and Amy Goodman; concerned celebrities like Jim Hightower and Patti Smith; distinguished broadcasters including Bill Moyers and Phil Donahue; two outspoken FCC commissioners; several members of Congress; one Corporation for Public Broadcasting board member, and probably even a partridge in a pear tree.

At times, it had the feeling of a revival meeting, not just a rally. It was a million-word march to end media concentration and open the airwaves to more diversity of expression. And sure, there were tensions, with younger grassroots activists feeling frozen out by the grey heads and media movement vets who dominated the proceedings.

Hundreds of groups that care about media change took part -- national groups from MoveOn to Media Channel, from FAIR to Common Cause, and local groups from Chicago Media Action to Seattle's Reclaim the Media and Philadelphia's Media Tank. All gathered under the auspices of Free Press, a relatively new organization that now claims 183,000 people on its e-mail list.

The small but robust indy TV channels LinkTV and Free Speech TV, and the emerging news-oriented International World Television network were also there in a conclave of shared consciousness. Ditto for the Newspaper Guild, the National Writers Union, AFTRA and the Screen Actor's Guild. Earlier, organizations that claim to represent 20 million Americans had endorsed a citizens' Bill of Media Rights to lay out principles to guide the kind of media system that's needed.

Pacifica Radio aired Saturday night's session nationally, while C-SPAN sent its cameras to record a Sunday morning sermon by Bill Moyers (mp3 download) on the need for real journalism on PBS and a real PBS. (He glossed over its many flaws but upheld the need for a publicly-owned and responsible broadcaster in a time of so much commercialism and corporate media.) Moyers demolished the claims of new Corporation for Public Broadcasting Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson that his on-air work needed to be "balanced" with new right-wing fare. "I simply never imagined that any CPB chairman, Democrat or Republican, would cross the line from resisting White House pressure to carrying it out for the White House," he said to continuing applause.

As one would expect, the major media downplayed the event when they played it at all. One of the speakers was so surprised by the intensity of the event that he blurted out: "I HAD NO IDEA" (that the issue was catching on).

Most of those in the room were progressive activists, even though Bob McChesney made it clear that he believes that media is everyone's issue and not just a left or partisan concern. While conservatives were conspicuous by their absence, one has the sense that an effort will be made soon to reach out to other constituencies across the partisan divide, even as there was definite uncertainty on how to do that.

One incident illustrated the tension: When McChesney asked if the goal was to replace the likes of rightist cheerleader Rush Limbaugh with liberal funnyman Al Franken of Air America, the audience cheered loudly to affirm the proposition. It was then left to McChesney to explain why that was the wrong answer and that media reform will not prevail unless more constituencies can be reached. The crowd listened quietly and then cheered this new perspective.

Who was there may be less important than what was discussed in workshops where there were a great deal of detail and analyses offered -- on how to challenge TV and radio license renewals, promote media literacy, advocate for community based wireless, use the internet for media work, petition the FCC, critique media coverage that serves the war in Iraq, and unify media reform concerns with campaigns for social justice. It was also clear that those assembled supported indy media-makers. Many films were screened, and there was a packed room for my WMD (Weapons of Mass Deception).

Still missing: an effective follow-up plan to turn all the energy in the rooms into a more coherent and effective national effort. The focus on grassroots community-based work has many strengths but also leads to a decentralized do-your-own-thingism that robs reform efforts of a national focus. Many of the attendees left St. Louis excited but not totally clear on what comes next.

My own suggestion is to take a clear and marketable umbrella approach akin to the way the right gathered all of its issues and warring factions under the banner of the Contract for America (which many progressives called a Contract on America). We need a post-partisan "Media and Democracy Act of 2005" to give us a platform to unify around. I ran this idea by FCC Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein, who thought it had promise. I will flesh it out in a subsequent column.

If there is an urgency to turn this million-word march into a movement of millions of voices, there was one timely local event that drove that home.

The National Conference on Media Reform opened on Thursday with organizer John Nichols' tribute to St. Louis as the home of journalism role model Joseph Pulitzer's flagship Post-Dispatch, which has served the city for more than 100 years. The next day, it was announced that the paper was being sold to a midwestern chain with a dubious reputation. (The paper had already declined, as a story on a neighborhood dispute over paving a driveway had more prominence than a story on the casualties in Iraq.)

While we are meeting, the media monolith is marching itself towards more concentration and dumbed-down media outlets.

The clock is ticking on Tom Jefferson's democratic vision, which belongs in the streets, not just in an arch and a museum.

For more on the conference, visit Freepress.net and Be the Media, where you can watch some of the sessions.

Fighting for the Op-Edisphere

In the old days, the op-ed page of any newspaper was the place set  aside for opinion, in part to preserve the myth that the rest of the paper was somehow objective and viewpoint-free.  

Just as there was supposed to be a "wall" between the business and editorial functions in media organizations, the editorial pages were designed as the preserve of a "free" marketplace of ideas where pundits, commentators, columnists and advocates duked it out, debating the great issues of the day.

That has changed as the media system itself changes, with more media concentration and uniformity of approach influencing what we see and read. Just as the "news hole" in many newspapers shrinks, so does the space allocated for opinion. As a sometime contributor to the very diverse "Viewpoints" section of a Long Island-based daily, I have heard editors grumble about the cutbacks, which limit access by independents such as myself because of all the regulars they have to accommodate.

The prestigious NY Times op-ed page seems to be an exception, even though only l0 percent of Times readers actually read it; perhaps that is why they are launching a new section in the entertainment pages.

The experts chosen to contribute still tend to come from elite think tanks, universities and big publishers. Increasingly, PR firms, speechwriters and political consultants ghostwrite op-eds for big-name clients and then "place" them with the editors who they are always cultivating. The editors are invariably drawn to top pols and celebrity writers. Who really writes their words doesn't seem to matter--and is rarely disclosed.

Others bypass the editors altogether and simply buy space on op-ed pages to showcase ads posing as editorials, further blurring the line between ideas and advertising. Exxon Mobil brags on its website: "ExxonMobil Op-Eds continue a tradition begun 30 years ago. Placed in The New York Times, The Washington Post and selected other periodicals, the Op-Eds present economic, political and social issues important to you and the company. It is our objective to encourage thought and dialogue by informing the public about our industry, explaining our views on key issues of the day and presenting responsible policy proposals."

Oil company critics often don't have the budget to compete, although some radical causes and publications use this "op-ad" technique. In the past, TomPaine.com placed op-ads in The New York Times on a semi-regular basis.

An ideological litmus test seems to prevail as well. In the early days of the Iraq war, The Washington Post ran six pro-war columns for every one column dissenting. (On U.S. television it was worse, says former BBC Director Greg Dyke, with only six "experts" opposing the war out of the 800 interviewed in the period from the run-up to war through the Saddam statue being taken down.)

This is nothing new, contends scholar Noam Chomsky, whose books may be bestsellers, but who is rarely featured on leading op-ed pages because his stance is considered outside acceptable limits of debate.

In a recent interview on ZNET, he offered an example of the exclusion of other critics:

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Will Truth Rise Again?

NEW YORK, March 28, 2005 – Maybe because it was the Easter weekend, or because I was replaying Bruce's 911 hymn "The Rising," or, maybe, because I was meditating on the difficulty we journalists have in reporting or establishing "truth" but I thought back on a famous saying which I first heard come out of the always eloquent lips of Martin Luther King, Jr., in a union hall in lower Manhattan early in the 1960's.

He closed a sermon of a speech that I will never forget with a famous quotation: "Truth crushed to earth will rise again."

Let's hope so.

Today, we live in two worlds of news and information. One is "fact based," the other "faith-based." In the former, we cling to a world of objective reporting and verifiable evidence even as we know how facts are skewed by media outlets with undisclosed agendas; in the latter, we only acknowledge facts that support our opinions and often don't let facts get in the way of a "good argument."

As the late Sen. Patrick Daniel Moynihan put it: "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."

Look at the debate over Terri Schiavo. Two worldviews are in conflict. It's not really the right to die versus the right to live because many of the self-proclaimed right-to-lifers who rally at the side of a terminally brain-dead woman support capital punishment, As it turns out, their biggest political backer, Tom Delay, was part of a family decision years ago to pull the plug on his own dad. The contradictions on display are too blatant and thick to even fully dissect.

"Their" media supports them uncritically. Judges and journalists who studied the details of the affidavits and medical records, and begged to differ, are baited as murderers and discredited by the ether of emotive passion. The courts finally ruled against Terri's parents in one of the most litigated cases in history.

Truth crushed to earth?

Another question: what is the truth of the Iraq war? A prominent media critic who just shared a panel with me revealed that she recently interviewed many leading TV news anchors that could not agree on the causes. "I was shocked by their lack of a consensus," she said.

So now we learn that they all reported the war the same way but did not really believe what they were saying.

Think of the last election. At one point President Bush acknowledged that there was no connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and that no WMDs were found in Iraq.

He said it – wink, wink – but a majority of supporters wouldn't change their long reinforced views. They told pollsters they still believed the weapons were still there and that Iraq is part of the war on al Qaeda to avenge 9/11. The GOP campaign did not correct them.

It seems to take a long time for truth to trickle out, or up, under the mounds of misinformation suffocating us all. In a new book called "American Monsters," I write about president William McKinley who launched the Spanish-American War with the slogan "Remember the Maine."

Thanks to the yellow journalists of that era, Americans were convinced that the war was justified because Spanish terrorists blew up our battleship in Havana Harbor. Fifty years later, we learned that the ship went down because of an accident in the engine room.

Truth tends to rise when it no longer matters

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena's account of being fired on by U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The intelligence agent who rescued her from kidnappers was killed in the incident.

My reporting on what she said happened – based on accounts in her newspaper – quickly came under less lethal fire, but fire all the same. Some of those "all-the-way-with-the-U.S.A." bloggers went to work to demolish her claims and discredit her as a communist who was probably supporting terrorists. This character assassination sought to silence her.

I was also put down viciously as well for calling for an independent probe. I was told that photos of the car posted on the internet "proved" that her story was a big lie.

After nationwide protests in Italy, the U.S. government reluctantly agreed to a joint investigation with Italian investigators.

Last week, the Pentagon told the Italians they wouldn't show them the car that allegedly "proved" their claims that her driver was racing past a checkpoint and refused to stop. (Last week the Pentagon also told Reuters that they would not reopen their investigation into the killing of two of their staffers in the infamous April 8, 2003 Palestine Hotel incident.)

On Good Friday, Amy Goodman interviewed writer Naomi Klein who just visited with Giuliana in a Rome hospital.

Here's part of what she said – more evidence of how long it takes for truth to trickle out much less rise. Naomi Klein:

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Was Giuliana Sgrena Targeted?

This piece originally appeared on Danny Schechter's blog, News Dissector.

No sooner was CNN's Eason Jordan and the issues he raised about the killing of journalists officially buried by the media than a dramatic new incident forced the issue back into public awareness. His ghost had risen even if his voice remains stilled.

Here we are approaching the second anniversary of the war and Bush was getting such a nice media bounce in the glow of the election coverage. Just yesterday, the Iraq parliament announced it will start work March 16 � freedom was so 'on the march,' breathing down the country's privatized future ...

And then, day after day, and even this morning, more violence by those faceless 'insurgents' (that our media never tells us much about) claims more lives. We rarely hear about the daily violence of the occupation in terms of civilians killed or abuses committed.

And now this:

I am sure you have been following it. Journalist Giuliana Srgena, in Iraq for Italy's Il Manifesto newspaper was kidnapped by parties unknown. Her country is mobilized to demand her release. A top intelligence agent finds her and reportedly pays off the kidnappers. She is freed and gets within 600 yards of the airport in Baghdad when her car is shot up�300 bullets according to one account � by U.S. soldiers. The U.S. offers one version; Srgena another.

Covering it or covering it up?

On Imus this morning, Tony Aspinall of NBC speculates it was a case of 'mistaken identity,' You don't take that road after dark� they were all on cellphones and didn't see the warning shots' he says, adding that he expects no investigation. So much for a network probe. The Washington Post today seems to assume it was a 'mistake' but says there have been many such incidents:
"The deadly shooting of an Italian intelligence officer by U.S. troops at a checkpoint near Baghdad on Friday was one of many incidents in which civilians have been killed by mistake at checkpoints in Iraq, including local police officers, women and children, according to military records, U.S. officials and human rights groups."
How the story is being played overseas

Frank Meagher passes this news on from Paris: "France F2 news last night, following a live telephone interview with Giuliana, [reports] that U.S. military says the fatal check point was manned by rookies that had been in country for only one week." The British press seems focused on the implications for U.S.-Italy relations: news.independent.co.uk

The TurkishPress.com site is reporting:
"� the Italians are not taking the incident lightly. According to a report posted on the Corriere della Sera site [news item in Italian], the Italian government is demanding the Department of Justice turn over the names of the soldiers involved in the attack. �The shooting could rekindle anti-war sentiment in Italy, where public opinion opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq,� writes Christiano Corvino for SwissInfo. �Italy�s center-left, which hopes to unseat Berlusconi next year in elections and to weaken his standing at local government polls next month, is campaigning on a platform of withdrawing.� Italian newspapers �warned the government against a cover-up given Berlusconi�s cozy relationship with Washington,� Media 24 reported yesterday.
Predictably, the corporate media in the United States is in the process of downplaying the fallout from this incident, viewed by many Italians as an attempt to assassinate Giuliana Sgrena. About 100 demonstrators outside the U.S. Embassy in Rome blocked traffic and one banner read: 'U.S.A., war criminals.'"
In mourning

Today, Italy is holding a jammed state funeral for slain intelligence agent Nicola Calipari, the man Giuliana called her 'liberator.' Tempers are frayed. Giuliana is operated on to remove shrapnel. She holds a press conference to express her belief that the shooting may have been intentional. Bush phones Berlusconi. The White House dismisses her as a communist. You can't make this up.

Check yesterday's blog for more details.

Rome enraged

Laura Flanders of Air America was on the air with a special correspondent in Rome last night who said Italy is on fire with concern from moments of silence at football games to thousands flocking into the street. 10,000 people passed by Rome's Victor Emmanuel monument yesterday to pay respects to Mr. Calipari, whose body lay in state. He says that the American military version of what happened is being criticized across the political spectrum.

Many are saying that there was military antipathy to Giuliana's stories which reported in the use of napalm and prohibited weapons by U.S. troops in Fallujah last November. At the time, no U.S. outlets even reported on this. Last week, Dr. ash-Shaykhli of Iraq's Health Ministry confirmed that U.S. troops used internationally banned weapons including mustard gas, nerve gas and other burning chemicals. Sounds like the kinds of prohibited weapons that Saddam was accused of having.

The trashing of Giuliana has begun

In Italy, media outlets of all stripes supported Giuliana. There was solidarity, a concept few American media types seem to understand. Here in the Fox and blog-infested waters of the U.S.A., consensus seems impossible and polarization is the template. In some quarters, torture by Americans is deemed acceptable and any concerns about the less than stellar job done by 'our troops' is considered heresy, if not treason. Already the victim is being blamed for the crime. A letter to this blog hints at a plot because Al Jazeera had a picture of the Italian agent.

The right-leaning site, Little Green Footballs, predictably tries to discredit Giuliana and anyone who believes her:
"The details of this situation have been described in so many different ways that it�s very difficult to get a clear picture of what happened � and mainstream media has predictably ignored Sgrena's radical anti-war background� The inmates of Democratic Underground are beside themselves with glee, of course, accusing our soldiers of murder with no evidence. (But don�t forget, they support the troops!)"
littlegreenfootballs.com
Michelle Malkin takes the "word of U.S. troops [rather] than an Italian anti-war journalist['s]."

Even worse, a web site called My Pet Jawa is, without evidence, blaming Giuliana for being a terrorist collaborator: "Suspicion continues to mount (Where? DS) that Giuliana Sgrena, the journalist for the Italian Communist (Wrong) paper Il Manifesto, either faked her own abduction or became an accomplice after the fact with her jihadi captors."

What would Jordan have said?

The debate is on and according to my sources Eason Jordan will not be part of it given [he] accepted a gag rule as part of his buy out. But the blogger who broke the off the record Chatham House rules at the World Economic Forum and outed Jordan's comment is back with a comment that includes � what chutzpah � wondering what Jordan would have said. Thanks to him, he's been silenced. Here's Rony Abovitz:
"Liberals will now paint the American troops as bloodthirsty devils, while harder right [c]onservatives will say it is all an Italian communist plot and that the U.S. can never do wrong. I wonder what Eason Jordan would say about all of this.
"Here is a thought: take some American kids in their teens and twenties, and arm them to the teeth. Drop them into a hell where at best their Iraqi 'friends' on the ground likely only hate them and wish them death and a speedy trip out of their land (bodybag or otherwise). You are vastly outnumbered, and you have no real idea who is the enemy, because there is no clear front line – in theory you already 'won' the war. You don't understand the language, the customs, and wish every minute you were back home. At any moment you can be blown up by a car bomb, suicide bomber, or be captured and beheaded on a global webcast. You are shot at from all directions. Your own government has not made it clear when all of this mess will end, and simply staying alive, keeping your buddies and platoon brothers alive, matters most. Maybe you believe in the mission, maybe you don't. You do know that being alive matters, and that getting home, if home can ever be returned to after being in that hell, is a high priority.
"Put me in that position and I would open fire on anything that came within a few hundred yards of me. I would take no risk on my safety, or that of my friends. Eat lead and die you scumbags would be my motto. Fear would practically replace any philosophy that drives me now. Raw fear could make me do almost anything, right or wrong. I never want to take that test. To have restraint in Iraq is to almost be superhuman, to put one's own life beneath that of an unknown, unseen enemy. Who among us is that saintly? For a soldier on the ground I can not believe that it ever really is about politics � it is about what is happening at that moment, who is coming at me now, and what I must do next. There is You, and there is the Other. If the Other is no Friend, shoot."
Understandable but not excusable

So that's the "let us understand and explain the incident away" rationalization. Any military professional would dismiss it because they believe in honor, discipline, oversight, and command. If the troops are acting like cowboys with a license to kill, then that's a war crime, and inexcusable and yes, it is the military that is to blame for not upholding its own standards and not training these soldiers to uphold the rules of war. Yes, there are rules of war. So, the 'gee they didn't mean it because you would do the same thing in their situation' excuse is not on.

We Have Become "The Other," brother.

Journalists at risk

Tom Fenton, the retired CBS correspondent now criticizing the networks for abandoning international news in the book Bad News, was on CNN yesterday with Howard Kurtz discussing the media situation in Iraq:
Fenton: Well, U.S. troops are the ones who have the big guns. Journalists have always had the risk of being caught in a crossfire. I think there are a couple of things we can say about this story. Two things � one, it's extremely hard to report from Iraq. Most of the reporters, most of the journalists don't go out of the hotel. It's worth their life. Even going to a press conference in the green zone is dangerous.
Two, there is a back story also to this Italian journalist. It's pretty widely known that both Italy and France are paying ransoms. That means that every Italian journalist, every French journalist there is a walking target. The going price for a Western � say, for an American journalist, particularly a TV correspondent, they're big guns, in Iraq is something like $4 million right now. People get picked up and they get shopped to somebody else who will pay that kind of money ... .
What press-freedom groups are saying

Tom Regan notes in the Christian Science Monitor:
"The Guardian reports that Friday the International Federation of Journalists accused the U.S. government of hiding behind a 'culture of denial' over the deaths of journalists in Iraq, and said the U.S. had to take 'responsibility for its actions.'
"Joel Campagna of the Committee to Protect Journalists writes that while there is no evidence the U.S. military is targeting journalists, too many journalists are dying 'at the hands of the hands of U.S. soldiers because of negligence or indifference � And when journalists are killed, the military often seems � unwilling to launch an adequate investigation or take steps to mitigate risk.'
"Mr. Campagna notes that while insurgent violence is the leading cause of death for journalists in Iraq (34 out of 54), U.S. military fire is the second-leading cause of death. At least nine journalists and two media support staff have died as a result of U.S. fire in Iraq in the last 23 months.'"
www.christiansciencemonitor.com
What has been happening?

Sorry, I have to keep going here because no one in the mainstream seemed to consider Jordan's points worth of investigation. (And by the way I am critical of Jordan and CNN for not investigating the killing of journalists if they knew about them. In that thery were not alone. JeSurgisLac writes:
"A few people have pointed out (Jeanne at Body and Soul for one) that the real scandal is that U.S. soldiers have been killing journalists in Iraq – and no one in the American MSM seems to care very much. I found an In Memoriam page that lists 24 journalists, translators, and cameramen who have died in Iraq:
"To all war correspondents out there, to all those who cover the horror of mankinds cruelty to mankind, maybe one day the horror which you captured may persuade us that war is a barbaric way to solve our differences. An independent journalist who covers war is a peacemaker. The pursuit of truth can bring grim consequences to those who pursue it. Thanks to those who have been killed in their duty of reporting on the truth and to those imprisoned and tortured.
"The 24 names are: Terry Lloyd, Paul Moran, Gaby Rado, Kaveh Golestan, Michael Kelly, Kamaran Abd al-Razaq Muhammad, David Bloom, Julio Anguita Parrado, Christian Liebig, Tariq Ayoub, Taras Protsyuk, Jose Couso, Mario Podesta, Veronica Cabrera, Elizabeth Neuffer, Walid Khalifa Hassan Al-Dulami, Richard Wild, Jeremy Little, Mazin Dana, Mark Fineman, Ahmad Shawkat, Duraid Isa Muhammad, and Ali Abdul Aziz."
Soldier speaks

Someone named pecunium then writes: "I am going on inside knowledge, I was an NCO in the human intelligence company of V Corps during the war. As such I was privy to information which was not public, and is not readily available to people now."

"I do my best to keep my comments to public sources, but can't always keep my secondary opinions from being colored enough by what I know to come to my conclusions without information most people can't get."
From the CFLCC ROE (RULES OF ENGANGEMENT)


1c. Do not target or strike any of the following except in self-defense to protect yourself, your unit, friendly forces and designated persons or property under your control:

Civilians

d. Do not fire into civilian populated areas or buildings unless the enemy is using them for military purposes or if neccesary for your self-defense. Minimize collateral damage.

2. The use of force, including deadly force, is authorized to protect the following:

Yourself, your unit and friendly forces

Enemy Prisoners of War

Civilians from crimes that are likely to cause death or serious bodily harm, such as murder or rape

Designated civilians and/or property, such as personnel of the Red Cross/Crescent, UN and US/UN supported organizations.

Remember[:]

Attack enemy forces and military targets.

Spare civilians and civilian property, if possible.

Conduct yourself with dignity and honor.

Comply with the Law of War. If you see a violation, report it.

"That's extracted from the ROE Card, handed to everyone who was in theater. It has a lot of wiggle room, and that wiggle room is why what was, in effect a bush shot, was deemed legit"

An anti-reporter mentality

And what did this mean for that shell that hit the Palestine Hotel?'

This soldier writes:
"Someone told them the hotel was being used to spot, and they shot it. A tad heavy handed, (and not really useful, without some real intel, there are a number of high points which could have been used to spot for arty, this was no Monte Cassino), but not outside the rules."
"But it does break some of the spirit of the rules, and given the nature of the ROE, and what CentCom, CFLCC and V Corps knew about the hotel, it should have been off limits, without approval from at least brigade, and probably Division ... .
"There is a decided opinion, among both the rank and file, and the command structure, that reporters are out to get troops."
"Look at the reactions to reportage of war crimes� the reporters are lambasted, the troops are said to have been reacting to circumstance."
(It should be noted that a number of Giuliana's reports deal with war crimes like reported uses of napalm in Fallujah.)

When Fox Viewers Attack

Editor's note: This essay first appeared on Danny's blog "News Dissector" where you'll also find audio of his Hannity & Colmes appearance and Fox viewers' reactions.

A funny thing happened to me as I prepared to leave for Rome today to participate in the citizens-initiated World Tribunal on Iraq session on the role of the media in covering the conflict. Last night I got another summons from the evil empire. I was invited again to appear on the nightly Hannity and Colmes wrestling match on Fox News Channel.

As most readers know, the media war issue is one I have been following with religious intensity, I wrote the book, Embedded, about it and followed up with the film, WMD. I have also written up a storm about even as some jaded reviewers and columnists insist the issue is moribund, over. I can't tell you how many times I have heard that WMD was released too late even though it was not about the election and deals with a series of ongoing issues.

And yet it keeps coming back, perhaps because the war hasn't gone away. As I reported in recent days, CNN executive Eason Jordan stirred a hornet's nest by telling an off-the-record panel at the World Economic Forum that 12 journalists were killed by the U.S. military in Iraq.

The reaction, to read Howard Kurtz's account in The Washington Post, was SHOCK and denial by people like Sen. Chris Dodd and even Congressman Barney Frank. After a blogger broke the confidentiality of the session, Jordan was besieged with attacks from the right with angry demands for proof. Conservative bloggers went into action by criticizing the rest of the media for not covering the story. Their assumption: Jordan is lying.

As viewers of WMD know, there is a section in the film that asks: "Were Journalists Targeted in Iraq?" It points out that BBC's Kate Adie was told by the Pentagon that independent journalists would be targeted. It shows how the Al Jazeera office whose coordinates were given to the Pentagon was bombed and its bureau chief Tariq Ayoub was killed. It shows what happened to the Palestine Hotel where two journalists were killed by a tank shell. It interviews one of the journalists who were wounded who asks "why did they target us; what did we do to them?" It reports that press freedom groups and Reuters demanded an investigation that was not forth coming. It concludes with a quote by veteran war correspondent Phillip Knightly, author of The First Casualty, a book on the history of censorship in war who says that he believed that occasional shots at media sites are "not accidental."

I heard about this statement from a friend who was at the panel. I thought that some new information was on the verge of coming out. So I reached out to Jordan who I once worked around at CNN to ask if he could help me get on CNN to discuss and debate the issue. Our PR wizard Gary Kenton wrote to him thusly:

"In WMD Danny asks whether independent journalists might have been targeted by the U.S. military, an issue you addressed at Davos, and setting off a firestorm. We wanted to talk to you about two things:

1) We are uncomfortable, as we assume you are, talking about the possible targeting of reporters, but it is too important to ignore. Allowing it to "go away" seems like an abdication of journalistic responsibility. Would you consider scheduling some on-air discussion on some program? The clip from the film deals with the Palestine Hotel incident with original interviews.

2) WMD is currently in theaters in New York and elsewhere. As you know, it is difficult to make a documentary such as this, no less get a theatrical release. Any assistance you might provide in getting Danny interviews on any CNN outlets would be greatly appreciated. He's a great interview and, as you know, he was part of the start-up team in Atlanta "back in the day" before he went on to ABC News."

Eason, seemingly shaken by all the heat coming down on him for discussing something that many journalists and press freedom groups like the International Federation of Journalists has been discussing, began to withdraw from the controversy he stirred. He wrote back to Gary:

"I was not as clear as I should have been during the Davos panel discussion. I was trying to make a distinction between journalists killed being the victims of collateral damage and journalists being killed under different circumstances. No doubt most of the 63 journalist deaths in Iraq fall outside the collateral damage category. I have never felt and never intended to suggest, however, that anyone in the U.S. military meant to kill anyone known to be a journalist. As you will see in the Howard Kurtz Washington Post today, my comments were controversial. While I am pleased the spotlight is on the issue of journalist safety in Iraq, I intend to let others do the talking for a while after I gave several interviews and statements on the subject. I will let my colleagues know of Danny's availability as an on-air guest. I thank you and wish you well. Eason."

I was hoping CNN might call and we reached out to Lou Dobbs and Aaron Brown to no avail.

I guess CNN was not interested in taking on this fight.

But Fox News was. Fox is always at war with CNN which it brands as a liberal network, a label CNN does not want or like. And so Fox scheduled a segment and asked if I was interested. When I told them I had a film documenting the attack on the Palestine Hotel, they were doubly interested. Frozen out by CNN and most TV networks who we bombarded with Info on WMD
Needless to say Fox wanted to trash Eason, not the killing of journalists. They showed a clip of my film with the sound muted but I did get to make a few points and plug the movie the best I could expect in circumstances of hostility.

Sean Hannity took some predictable whacks along with Brent Bozell but I held my ground and was still standing at the bell. I would score the round as a draw.

It was hard to shift the conversation back to the real issue – the killing of journalists and not what Eason Jordan said or didn't say – no one there seemed to know or really care in what was really a bash CNN exercise. You can read what some Fox regulars thought of my performance in today's letters section.

Media Cash in on Jackson

NEW YORK, February 2, 2005 – There was no shortage of enthusiastic prospective jurors in Santa Maria, Calif., for what promises to be the trial of the century for their town and lives.

Many are farmworkers, people picking grapes and strawberries in the hot sun. No wonder the prospect of sitting in judgment on multimillionaire Michael Jackson in an air-conditioned courtroom is so attractive, and the longer the better. The hot lights of media attention are seductive, something many long for. Look, Mom, I'm on TV.

Celebrity trials all too often dominate cable news channels with constant updates and endless buzz, especially during pro-forma arrivals and departures. Jackson does not disappoint as he dresses up for the occasion in virginal white.

In an age when news business and showbiz merge, this trial is the kind of "reality" soap opera that producers long for. It has celebrity, day-to-day drama and the promise of titillation. Together, that promises high ratings.

Jackson is not just a person. He is a brand. Record companies worry about sales of his "inventory" and the targeting of other superstars with deviant streaks. If Jackson is guilty of molestation charges, he can be jailed for a long time.

Sometimes when Jackson is made up to look witchy, one senses a witch-hunt. It's happened before in American history. Remember the trials in Salem, and Hester Prynne and her scarlet letter. Jackson's been demonized as badly as she was.

Everyone knows that, beyond the trial by jury, a reckoning must come before the court of public opinion – which can easily be manipulated. Just like the Romans throwing the Christians to the lions, the media can't stay away when big names become "red meat." The trial will be as punishing a spectacle as the verdict. Jackson' lifestyle is on trial.

But his is not the only future that will be determined by the trial. How many "experts" will build their careers on the media exposure? How many books and TV docu-dramas will result? There is a media multiplier effect built into this exercise. I am sure studio chiefs are asking if it has series potential in reruns.

Wouldn't it be more compelling if media outlets explored why our culture seems so addicted to celebrities and how we can put our collective need for such celebrities into perspective?

A year ago, CBS was paying Jackson for a prime-time concert while interviewing him for a "60 Minutes" show that was exploited to the max. He danced around the questions as well as the music on the stage. No one cared. CBS ratings soared.

Was it journalism or pandering or do we know the difference anymore? Writing on MarketWatch (just sold by CBS), Jon Friedman denounces the media exploitation that has already "flooded the zone" for the trial with 1,100 "journalists" – almost twice as many as were embedded in Iraq.

"Mind you, it's not as if any of their coverage on the trial actually broke any new ground (heaven forbid!). The media's real business is to maintain the panting pace as they keep Jackson in the news."

Jackson is still good box office. That's why so many fans have turned up from as far away as Poland.

It's a media spectacular with newspapers and magazines competing for the best pictures and juiciest sleaze. The media are paying the county for the right to clog the roads with their microwave trucks. It's costing them a combined total of $7,500 a day. If it goes six months or more, it could run into a million.

The Observer of London reports that the media have already paid $36,000 to rent office and parking space in Santa Maria. Lawyer Michael Clayton is charging $2,500 a day for six spaces on top of his roof, which can be used as vantage points for cameras, as well as $500 a day to park.

Many of my media colleagues can't wait to get into the "action." It beats covering storms and traffic jams.

If we were not living through a cycle of bigger news events like the tsunami, Iraq elections and State of the Union, newscasts would probably lead with the Gloved One. His bizarreness and internal family food fights almost guarantee that something (anything, really) will be deemed newsworthy.

As the trial moves into high gear, more wall-to-wall coverage is assured. That may be good for the media bottom line, but is it good at a time of coverage of war and media consolidation?

Do we really have a need to know? Friedman nails it: "It's junk-food TV at its worst, like subsisting on a diet of cotton candy. The TV networks can plead that the public demands all of the grisly details. But TV can show whatever it wants and people will follow."

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