"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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Independence Day and Independent Journalism

This Independence Day we need independent journalism more than ever – as the events leading up to and immediately following the recent resignation of General Stanley McChrystal demonstrate anew. Why was it left to an independent journalist, Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone, to tell us important facts about our military’s people, practices and policies in Afghanistan — facts that the mainstream media’s deeply dependent and addicted to access Pentagon and Afghanistan “beat” reporters never would and never will, facts crucial to any citizen wanting to make an informed democratic decision about our country’s ongoing presence in Afghanistan? The MSM reporters, it turns out, are more than happy to explain. They have, you must understand, an “unspoken agreement” with the people they cover on our behalf, an agreement NOT TO TELL the rest of us certain things.

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Strengthening Democracy Means Funding Independent Media

While it’s surely gratifying that a surprising number of non-profit media outfits, such as Pro Publica, the Texas Tribune and the Center for Independent Media, have not only cropped up but actually done yeoman-like work of late, admirably filling part of the gaping hole resulting from the endless rounds of cutbacks, buyouts and layoffs in the commercial media world, it’s also apparent that the amount of resources devoted to the public interest nevertheless pales when compared to what for-profit players are still pouring into more commercial endeavors.

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Shocking Admission on Killing Civilians by Top US General Almost Completely Ignored by Corporate Media

"We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat," says top American commander.

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Health Care Reform Needs Media Reform

American broadcasters, magazines, newspapers and other publishers take in more than four billion dollars a year in drug advertising. The drug money is a rare bright spot in an otherwise dismal downward revenue spiral for media of all types. Last year was a horrible year for advertising spending in this country, which fell 12.3 percent. Spending in seven of the top ten leading ad categories fell compared with 2008. The only exceptions were in the industry categories of telecommunications, food and candy, and pharmaceuticals, which showed the largest increase of all.

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Corporate Media Are Using Industry Talking Points to Lie to Us About Nuclear Power

Nearly twenty years ago I co-wrote Nukespeak, a cultural history of the selling of nuclear technology for both peaceful and military purposes.

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What Is Patrick Fitzgerald Trying to Hide from the Public?

Okay, so he's one of the "sexiest men alive" -- but what does Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney in Chicago and Special Counsel in the CIA leak case, have against us poor, unsexy journalists? It's bad enough that Fitzie won't answer my questions: ("Rory. I just wanted to get back to you and let you know that I am going to decline to be interviewed. Thank you. Pat") It's worse that he was responsible for the jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who spent 85 days behind bars. Now comes word that Fitzgerald, who must have too much time on his hands now that Scooter Libby has been freed and Rod Blagojevich indicted, spent much of the last year and a half going after another journalist, Peter Lance, in an attempt to kill a new edition of Lance's investigative book Triple Cross by threatening to sue both the author and his publisher for libel.

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What About the Journalists Who Sold Torture?

Ever wake up in a funk, just spoiling for a fight?

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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 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!


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