Russ Baker

Why FBI Can't Tell All on Trump, Russia

Reporters: Jonathan Z. Larsen is the former editor of The Village Voice, whose reporting team included the late Wayne Barrett and Robert I. Friedman. These people and the paper produced many of the important early investigative reports on Donald Trump and on the mob. Larsen is now a senior editor and board member of WhoWhatWhy. Russ Baker, a former investigative reporter for The Village Voice, is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. C. Collins is a WhoWhatWhy reporter.

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How the New York Times Helped Hillary Hide the Hawk

This article was originally published at WhoWhatWhy.org.

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Was General David Petraeus Targeted for Take-down by the Military?

The following article originally appeared on WhoWhatWhy.com.

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Why We May See a Kinder, Gentler and Cheaper Medical Care System

With the limitations of the American health care system obvious to everyone, why not try something new? The Freelancers Union, a fast-growing national entity serving the one in three adult Americans who now work freelance, has added an innovative twist to the reasonably-priced health insurance it already offers to members who are located in the New York City area. If this works, look to see it tried around the country.

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Oil Companies Bribing Gulf States to Ignore Spill?

Recently, Gulf area legislators have been pushing to get their states a larger share of government income from offshore drilling. We’re told that they need the extra revenue to improve flood protection. But more is afoot here, and it deserves scrutiny.

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Treasure Trove of Mineral Wealth: The Real Reason for the Afghan War?

When the United States decided to invade Afghanistan to grab Osama bin Laden—and failed, but stayed on like an unwanted guest—could it have known that the Afghans were sitting on some of the world’s greatest reserves of mineral wealth?

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How the Corporate Media is Snookering You on Syria

For those versed in the black arts of propaganda, the hijacking of Arab Spring must be a beauteous thing to behold.

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How Conservatives Silence Critics of Religion

 The GOP candidates’ struggle to outdo each other in appealing to Christian fundamentalists continues. Rick Santorum, the current favorite of this constituency, topped his previous plays with his remark that John F. Kennedy’s famed 1960 speech on the importance of a separation between religion and government “makes me throw up.”

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Is the Saudi Royal Family Connected to 9/11 Hijackers?

WhoWhatWhy has found evidence linking the Saudi royal family to Saudis in South Florida who reportedly had direct contact with the 9/11 hijackers before fleeing the United States just prior to the attacks. Our report connects some of the dots first laid out by investigative author Anthony Summers and Florida-based journalist Dan Christensen in articles jointly published in the Miami Herald and on the nonprofit news site BrowardBulldog.org.

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What Obama Is Up Against in His Own Branch of Government

The first anniversary of Barack Obama's historic election finds many of his supporters already grousing. Fair enough: Obama has been more vigorous in some areas than others. But one essential question goes unasked: How much can any president accomplish against the wishes of recalcitrant power centers within his own government?

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Obama Should Worry About the Bush Family Tentacles Undermining His Plans

As George W. Bush leaves office and Barack Obama takes over, we are in danger of missing the opportunity for change our new president has promised -- unless we come to grips with what the great historian and Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin called our "hidden history," not just of the past eight years but of the past half-century and more. 

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The Top 10 Corporate Democrats-For-Hire

The media like a simple story line -- and Joe Lieberman's defeat in the Connecticut Senate primary fits the bill: Pro-war senator goes down. Anti-war progressives ascendant, Republicans gleeful, and so forth. But Lieberman is more than an ally in the Bush administration's dissembling on Iraq. He is yet another example of someone who came to Washington as a purported idealist and turned into a creature of the capital's big-money culture. Lieberman's loss is a loss for Cheney and Rumsfeld to be sure, but it's also a loss for an army of sleazy political operatives and consultants.

While Lieberman is best known outside of Washington for his neocon views, he's famous in the capital for his undying support for corporate causes. There are countless examples: Remember Lieberman's role in blocking the reforms of stock option accounting that former SEC chair Arthur Levitt was trying to enact? This was a question of honest accounting that became part and parcel of the corporate corruption scandals of recent years, and Lieberman was a champion of the wrong side.

Beyond that, Lieberman happily has done the bidding of the pharmaceutical companies, the insurance companies and many others, thus establishing an unsavory underside to his more admirable record on environmental and other issues. And of course, his support of and continued rationalization of the Iraq invasion, like many of Lieberman's other stances, has served chiefly to benefit large corporations, in this case the "national security/homeland defense" industry that got a huge boost from Bush's reckless military adventurism. It's no great surprise to learn that Karl Rove called Lieberman the other day after his loss, and described him as a "friend."

Lieberman and his defenders have tried to portray his brand of politics as "centrism." But it has little to do with mainstream voters and much to do with the money culture of Washington of which many Democrats have become a part. And yet, Ralph Nader is wrong in his blanket condemnations of Democrats: You still are more likely to find someone willing to stand up to the big money boys among Democrats than Republicans. But the gap is narrowing. Voters sense it.

How big a problem is the growing influence of the bipartisan Beltway Party? Details on this can be found in a report from the Real News Project, a new nonprofit noncommercial investigative reporting outfit I founded. RealNews examined the track records of prominent Washington Democrats, consultants, advertising and public relations executives, lobbyists, attorneys and the like who have close connections to the top circles of their party. Many of them served in the Clinton-Gore White House, and many of them will likely be tapped should a Democrat be elected in 2008 and have considerable influence in a future Democratic-controlled Congress.

We scrutinized scores of Washington Dems and found many ensconced in firms working to advance corporate agendas that don't look that different from policy we see emanating from the Bush administration. To be sure, many of these people have redeeming qualities, represent some admirable causes as well, and may personally harbor inclinations for the greater good. Yet, in trying to earn a handsome living in Washington, they apparently do what a person's gotta do. Can political success and influence be attained without working for The Man? Let's defer that debate for another time and start with a few facts.

First, let's check in with Mike McCurry, President Clinton's former press secretary. He's a partner at the firm Public Strategies Washington, Inc., and serves as chairman of Hands Off the Internet -- an outfit created by telecom companies such as AT&T and BellSouth which, paradoxically, want to put their hands ON the internet by creating what amounts to internal tariffs on internet traffic for large downloads and such. The hands that are supposed to stay off are those of regulators or legislators who want to keep the internet free.

Want Clinton? Over at a "strategic communications" company founded in 2001, you've got enough Friends of Bubba to fill a VW bug. There's McCurry's successor as Clinton spokesman Joe Lockhart, and Al Gore's top strategists Carter Eskew and Michael Feldman. There's Howard Wolfson, former spokesman for Hillary Clinton and executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And Joel Johnson, senior adviser for policy and communications to President Clinton.

When an election pops up, nearly the entire top brass rush to work on it. Lockhart and Wolfson, for example, took leaves in 2004 to work on the Kerry campaign and at the DNC. Johnson went from another firm to the Kerry campaign, then joined Glover Park.This mixture of politics and business seems to be working, because in 2005, the firm was ranked the fastest-growing private company in the District of Columbia.

What business, you ask? Even before Glover Park, Eskew, who has done media work for Sens. Chris Dodd, Joe Lieberman, and Tom Harkin, and is close to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, was criticized for his work providing media advice to the tobacco industry. This time around, Eskew has been working again for Lieberman.

Among Glover Park's clients: Rupert Murdoch, who paid Glover Park about $200,000 for work to block TV ratings changes that could harm ad revenues at his Fox Broadcasting (the attempt was unsuccessful). Glover also got a large retainer for PR work and organizing groups against the plan (including the Don't Count Us Out coalition, which initially gave the impression it was an independent group representing the interests of people of color but turns out to represent mostly one Australian media buccaneer by the initials R.M.) Is it a coincidence that Murdoch's New York Post went from gleefully pillorying Hillary to praising her and attacking her critics and opponents?

Other firm clients have included the government of Turkey; Think About It (another faux-grassroots outfit waging an unsuccessful campaign to allow casino gambling in Maine); Microsoft (handled media inquiries about Microsoft's ties to Jack Abramoff's lobbying team); the Pentagon; Asbestos Study Group (an industry coalition formed to fight for limits on asbestos-related lawsuits); the Coalition to Preserve DSHEA (wants to continue making health claims for food supplements without scientific backing; multilevel marketing firms love this, most health and consumer groups don't); and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), undoubtedly big fans of making prescription drugs more affordable.

How small a world is this cozy micro-universe? Lets take a Quinntessential example:

Jack Quinn served as Vice President Gore's chief of staff and later as counsel to President Clinton. In January 2000, he left what was still a Democratic White House and formed Quinn Gillespie with Ed Gillespie, a Republican and close friend of Tom DeLay. This firm was among the pioneers of the one-stop-shopping approach that has since swept Washington. Want to influence the legislative process? Now you can get right to the top of both parties by hiring a single firm.

Quinn Gillespie has represented clients who want to drill in fragile areas of Alaska, put the screws to already beleaguered American creditors, and prevent the introduction of more healthy dairy substitutes in school lunches. Quinn helped secure a controversial pardon for the fugitive financier Marc Rich as Clinton was leaving office.

Firm clients have included: Enron; the American Petroleum Institute (supported lifting federal ban on offshore drilling on the outer continental shelf, including Alaska; opposed raising taxes on oil companies); the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care (which of course is actually the notorious nursing home industry -- the Alliance was indicted in late 2004 for a $100,000 illegal contribution to DeLay's PAC); the Partnership to Protect Consumer Credit (which wants to preempt tougher state and local laws designed to protect consumers); the International Dairy Foods Association (which opposes the introduction of more healthful dairy substitutes in school lunches); "Ax the Double Tax" coalition (which in truth prefers no taxes at all, but if they must exist, would like corporations to be able to repatriate foreign subsidiary profits at a lower tax rate); Bank of America (fighting stricter consumer data-protection legislation proposed after big data breach at BOA).

Perhaps the coziness is most poetically illustrated by the fact that there is another Jack Quinn in the same business, but, in a perfect reversal of Jack Quinn #1, he is a Republican paired with a Democrat. The increased Dem-Republican cooperation (perhaps 'cooptation' is a better term) is reflected in remarks by yet a third Quinn, Thomas Quinn (no relation to either Jack Quinn). Here's what he says about the work of his firm, Venable LLC, applies to the whole politically neutral K Street scene today: "Here we work very collegially, and I've gotten more collegial as there are more Republicans. We work closely with Republicans. All of us are in this together."

Thomas Quinn has been active in Democratic politics from Sen. Edward Kennedy's (D-Mass.) presidential run in 1980 to Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) in 2004. He's a key player on financial services, taxation and homeland security issues. Venable's clients have included: Wal-Mart, Tsakopoulos Investments (Wal-Mart-connected real estate developer opposing Endangered Species Act restrictions) and McWane (Birmingham, Ala.-based cast iron pipe manufacturer whose executives were convicted in federal court of environmental crimes).

Mark Penn was a principal pollster for Bill Clinton. He continues to do work for Hillary Rodham Clinton. He is Burson-Marsteller's worldwide chief executive. Burson practically invented the concept of faux-grassroots organizations (known in the trade as "astroturf") that were no more than fronts for corporations and industries pushing embarrassing products and agendas. For example, Burson created the "National Smokers Alliance," a purportedly grassroots movement for smokers rights, on behalf of its client Altria (Philip Morris Tobacco) and later funded the Center for Individual Freedom Foundation (advocates for "smaller government and greater personal liberties," led by a former B-M exec), which has lobbied to block obesity-related lawsuits against fast-food restaurants. One of B-M's clients is McDonald's (recent ad campaigns have sought to give the fast-food chain a healthier image by promoting exercise and balanced diets), which has been the target of several such lawsuits. According to consumer advocate John Stauber, B-M employees spied on opponents and critics of genetically engineered cow growth hormones when the firm was working for the companies developing the hormones.

Other B-M clients have included major pharmaceutical companies (advised Johnson & Johnson after the Tylenol tampering crisis; launched a "corporate reputation campaign" for Merck after its blockbuster arthritis drug Vioxx was pulled off the market); Royal Dutch Shell (charged with a massive financial fraud in a U.S. class action lawsuit brought by the UNITE National Retirement Fund and the Plumbers and Pipefitters National Pension Fund); the Iraqi National Congress (of the controversial Ahmad Chalabi); Dow Chemical (Dow has refused to compensate the victims of the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India, a liability it inherited when it took over Union Carbide.)

Bill Andresen is senior vice president in charge of federal lobbying at Dutko Worldwide. Part of Harry Reid's K Street Cabinet, he served as chief of staff to Sen. Joe Lieberman, and has worked with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council and Third Way, an advocacy group for centrist Democrats, which is pushing for closer ties to business.

Firm clients have included: York Capital Management (an investor in distressed companies with an interest in minimizing asbestos liability); the Ephedra Committee of the American Herbal Products Association (the controversial Ephedra was blamed in the deaths of scores of people, the best known being Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler); the Personal Watercraft Industry Association (wants to assure the right to use wave runners and other motorized vehicles on lakes and rivers and in national parks); the American Chemical Council (oppose efforts to control pollution and protect public health from toxic chemicals, and push the U.S. government to oppose EU efforts to test chemicals sold in Europe for health and environmental risks), and General Dynamics (a huge defense and "homeland security" contractor).

Michael Berman has played a key role in every Democratic convention since 1968. He's president of the eminently bipartisan Duberstein Group; his boss, Kenneth Duberstein, is a former chief of staff to President Reagan. Firm clients have included Comcast (nation's largest cable operator; uses aggressive anti-union tactics, trying to block cities from providing cheap wireless internet access; censored political issue ads it didn't like); DeBeers (hired to protect the interests of the huge international diamond mining/trading company as Congress considered legislation that would strengthen bans against the sale of so-called "conflict diamonds" that fund civil wars in parts of Africa); Arthur Andersen (Enron accounting scandal), and something called "Americans for Accountability" (lobbying disclosures for this "accountability" group say it is interested in educational reform but unaccountably does not show up in article database searches or search engines); the oil companies Conoco, Amerada Hess, and USX/Marathon (firms that supported lifting economic sanctions against Libya, named as a state sponsor of terror, to gain access to Libya's vast oil reserves); the Business Roundtable (big business super-lobby; goals include social security privatization, elimination of class action suits, and opposing mandatory reductions of greenhouse emissions).

Leslie Dach, a former media consultant for Bill Clinton, former senior advisor for communication for the Democratic National Committee and the Kerry for President Campaign in 2004, and a lobbyist for the Environmental Defense Fund. He's vice president of Edelman World-Wide and heads Edelman's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practice where his role has included defending Edelman PR's relationship with tobacco companies, despite the company's pledge not to represent tobacco companies. Clients of his CSR practice include TotalFinaElf (an oil conglomerate with interests in Sudan and investments in Burma that provide revenues to the country's oppressive military regime), and the foods giant Kraft (owned by tobacco company Altria, it is trying to improve its image and convince the public it is not aggressive in marketing junk foods to kids; the company makes, among other things, Oreos, Chips Ahoy! and Kool-Aid). Dach was architect of Wal-Mart's "rapid-response war room" designed to preempt and counterattack criticism of the company from labor, environmental and small business critics.

Say hi to Phil Goldberg of the firm of Shook, Hardy and Bacon. Goldberg served as an aide to several Democratic members of Congress. Before coming to Shook Hardy, he headed the litigation communications section of D.C. public relations firm Ketchum (run by former GOP House star Susan Molinari, it's the outfit that channeled $240,000 from the Bush administration to Armstrong Williams, the prominent African-American radio and television personality, for his support for the president's No Child Left Behind project). Promotional materials say that Goldberg "educates the public and other important audiences of client issues. Through his work, Phil has become an emerging voice in the moderate wing of the Democratic Party."

Goldberg personally represents the National Restaurant Association (objectives include making it more difficult to sue over obesity-related issues and opposition to consumer group efforts for greater truth in labeling). Firm clients have included the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers (on medical malpractice liability and opposing class actions); Animal Health Institute (on limiting pet medicine manufacturers' liability for animal health); Philip Morris/Altria (limiting liability in class-action suits); Coalition for Litigation Justice (insurance industry lobby group seeking to limit liability in asbestos and silica cases). The firm was named by the International Who's Who of Business Lawyers 2005 as "the world's leading firm for product liability defense expertise."

There's Anthony Podesta, not to be confused with his brother, John Podesta (Bill Clinton's final chief of staff and founder of the liberal Center for American Progress; John also did occasional lobbying for Podesta Mattoon until 2003)*. Another bipartisan wonder of a firm, employing the son of Republican House Speaker Denny Hastert. Firm clients have included major pharmaceutical firms; Vehicle Renting and Leasing Alliance ( opposed holding rental companies liable for injury, death or property damage arising from renter or lessee's negligence); U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (lobbying to allow Made in USA labels on garments produced at levels below U.S. minimum wages); Pacific Open Markets Coalition (ditto) , Coalition for Fair and Affordable Lending (nonprime mortgage lenders who oppose state and local laws designed to protect consumers); Altria (Philip Morris Tobacco).

Remember Jody Powell, Jimmy Carter's press secretary? He now hangs his shingle with Sheila Tate, who was Nancy Reagan's press secretary. Together, they run a crisis management and PR firm that has gone through too many ownership changes and renamings to be sure what it will be called when you read this. Try Powell Tate/Weber Shandwick.

Firm clients have included: the Saudi Economic and Development Co. (whose projects must comply with Islamic law); Crusader Industrial Alliance (lobbied Congress and the Pentagon not to terminate the Crusader self-loading cannon system, which critics called outdated); the Alliance for Better Foods (created to promote public acceptance and to oppose labeling of genetically modified foods); Hooters of America (not clear if Hooters complies with Islamic law); Food Lion (which gained notoriety when an ABC News hidden camera report revealed shocking labor and sanitary practices in its supermarkets); Americans for Safe & Efficient Transportation (opposing tough state clean air standards); the Japanese Whaling Association; the New Zealand government-owned logging company Timberlands (was involved in controversial rain forest logging on public lands).

In terms of political correctness dba making money, it's hard to top Ingrid Duran and Catherine M. Pino, political and personal partners who appear to take advantage of their identity as Latina Lesbians to play in D.C.'s power sweepstakes.

Duran held several positions on Capitol Hill, served on Clinton's Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS and was president of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) for six years. Pino worked in the foundation world and for a Democratic senator, and served on the board of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

Today, they are partners in D&P Creative Strategies, whose motto is "Consulting with a Social Conscience." Among other things, it gives corporations advice on fostering an improved image through philanthropy, outreach to communities of color, etc. Firm clients include: Wal-Mart; Comcast (nation's largest cable operator; uses aggressive anti-union tactics, trying to block cities from providing cheap wireless internet access, censored political issue ads it didn't like); Sodexho (huge French-owned military food contractor, facing class action suit by black employees over racial discrimination in hiring and promoting practices).

And this is merely a sampling. For those wishing to read of still more Democratic consultants who have joined the Beltway Party, check out the full report.

[*This article originally stated that John Podesta does occasional lobbying for Podesta Mattoon, which is incorrect. Podesta occasionally lobbied for Podesta Mattoon until 2003. The article has been corrected to reflect this.]

Media Hurricane

The magnitude of the Hurricane Katrina disaster and the media's astonished--and astonishingly vigorous-- response puts in perspective how hard it has generally become, in this country, to deliver the unadorned, unapologetic truth. Indeed, for at least as long as George Bush has been in office, the great unspoken challenge for mainstream journalists has been to do one's job while keeping one's job.

As the Bush organization has flipped one lever after another of  a vast and well-fueled propaganda machine, it is has become ever more difficult for reporters to render useful, accurate information to the public without neutering it in the cop-out "on the one hand, on the other" format. Constant pressure from the White House is one challenge. Another is from corporate bosses who must produce untenable profit growth while maintaining friendly relations with the federal government.

One of the most tricky work environments surely must be the Fox News Network, Rupert Murdoch's vehicle for dispensing highly opinionated, fact-light 'news' in the guise of helping provide Americans with "Fair and Balanced" journalism. And so it was with a sense of wonder that I viewed a clip of an exchange between two of Fox's stars, Shepard Smith and Geraldo Rivera, and hard-core propagandist talk show host Sean Hannity, who had morphed into the role of anchorman for a "Fox News Alert".

If you have broadband Internet access, you owe it to yourself to watch this exchange , which aired Friday night.  Smith, Fox's principal news anchor, and Rivera, its high-priced celebrity gunslinger, reported in from the scene of devastation in New Orleans. Smith and Rivera, both usually loyal to Fox's rigidly pro-administration line, yell, cry (Geraldo) and generally register disgust as Hannity seeks to gild the Bush administration's glacial response to the crisis. Here are a few choice excerpts [VIDEO]:

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The Sins of Judith Miller

As a media critic, I spend what feels like far too much time trying to persuade people that most reporters are not sloppy, agenda-driven, biased, or lazy. But it seems that whenever I get up on my high horse, back into the news rides Judith Miller.

Miller, a longtime star at The New York Times, has a formidable track record of egregious violations of journalistic standards and best practices, and a habit of sending the public off on what turn out to be wild goose chases. Relying on a small circle of highly interested parties (often anonymous "sources"), she became the leading journalistic purveyor of the fallacy that Saddam Hussein had WMD and that he was tied to Al-Qaeda.

Despite having essentially admitted in a written apology, long ex post facto, that its reporter helped to promote a fallacious rationale for an unnecessary invasion and catastrophically protracted occupation, the Times has not put Miller out to pasture. Instead, it has moved her at her request to another challenge: covering scandal wherever it might rear its head within the United Nations.

This is an ironic assignment, since it was the success of the UN's peaceful approach to controlling WMD in Iraq that underlined the wrongheadedness of the pro-invasion clique that supplied Miller with her faulty "scoops."

Over the past year, she has produced a plethora of stories, chock full of innuendo and allegation but short of independent journalistic verification, suggesting that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is a bad man and perhaps a corrupt one, and that, by extension, the UN is hardly worth respecting and funding, much less including in geopolitical decision-making.

Most of Miller's sleuthing centers on contracts handed out in connection with the so-called Oil for Food program (which got indispensable staples to the Iraqi people during the embargo). Miller's articles typically take murky evidence and create in readers' minds the sense that there's something deeply wrong in the UN's command structure, when in fact, there may not be. At worst, the malfeasance there pales by comparison to what goes on in Washington day after day.

Since March, Miller has been largely invisible, but last week she returned to the UN dirt beat with a vengeance. On June 15, she came up with goods that at first looked damning. Her article, "Investigators To Review Hint of Annan Role in Iraq Oil Sales," dealt with a memo that seemed to indicate that Secretary General Kofi Annan may have had more contact with a UN contractor for whom his son worked than he had previously admitted. Miller makes it clear that the company in question, Cotecna, has been belatedly forthcoming with information about how it got the UN contracts. But in the penultimate paragraph, she drops this little bomb: "A new internal audit showed that Cotecna had not made the $306,305 in payments that [a UN investigative] panel said might have gone to Kojo Annan [Kofi Annan's son]."

Is she being deliberately opaque or is this just bad writing? What she is actually saying in this throwaway paragraph is that the allegation behind her many previous stories, about a corrupt link between Kojo Annan and the company that got a UN contract, may be unfounded. If the whole thing is a tempest in a teapot, why is that possibility raised only near the end of the article?

Two days after that article appeared, the Times ran another in which Miller shared a byline with the Times' estimable UN bureau chief, Warren Hoge. Their jointly bylined article is headlined "Contractor Now Denies He Talked With Annan on Oil-for-Food Bid." What does that mean? It means that the very source in Miller's earlier piece is now changing his story. It also means that Times editors are sufficiently concerned to include this as an entirely separate article in a paper always short of space for important stories.

This article notes that this is the second time that the source, a one-time business partner of Kojo Annan, has revised his story about what his partner's father might have known about UN contract favoritism. If this source is known to be unreliable, why write an article every time he's quoted saying something harmful to Kofi Annan (and, perhaps not coincidentally, useful to Miller's friends in the neocon community, who are ever eager to discredit the United Nations).

Remarkably, the Miller-Hoge piece actually quotes the Secretary General himself, chastising unspecified "reporters" (read: Miller):

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Fishing for New Environmentalists

In Thursday's New York Times, we read of concerns in New Hampshire about the Bush administration's relaxation of standards on factory mercury emissions. In case you haven't been following the controversy, mercury is that stuff that can badly damage the nervous systems of infants (and all of us, really), that settles into the food chain and ought to make us think twice about how much sushi we consume.

On March 15, 2005, the EPA announced new legislation that will cut mercury emissions by about 22 percent, a pittance compared to the 94 percent reduction that environmentalists say is essential and feasible. And the EPA proposes to do its pittance with unnecessary lethargy.

In the Times article, the reporter spoke with a fisherman. When she told him that the lake in which he was fishing was a probable mercury "hot spot," he replied, "You're worrying me."

And there, my friends, is a political goldmine for good environmental policy. For many years, the NRA has had the upper hand with the hunting-and-fishing crowd. It has been so successful in stressing threats to the right to carry a gun that the NRA almost single-handedly, with help from the Christian right, transformed Congress into a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Corporate State.

Hunters and fishermen are not all the same, to be sure, and they're also not as ideologically one-dimensional as they are often portrayed. If they understand the larger consequences of the NRA-wrought "revolution," they'll become alarmed about the threats that face them. Shrinking stocks of fish, more pollutants in the food chain, erosion of natural area by development and logging – all of these are disturbing developments for those of us who spend time outdoors.

Thus far, the environmental movement and progressives in general have not done nearly enough to engage the millions of Americans who hunt and fish. When they come to understand the direct consequences of the administration's steady unshackling of polluters, they will realize that there's more at stake in local, state and federal elections than the kind of gun they may carry. As for Christian fundamentalists, they have recently developed a vocal environmentalist wing, based on the religious conviction that humans should act as "good stewards," not despoilers, of God's green earth.

These people are a ready-made audience for a clear save-the-environment message. The facts are there, for sure. The state of Connecticut has noted, for example, that most types of fish have some mercury in them, and advised that the following people should not eat more than one meal a month of fish that are caught in Connecticut rivers and lakes:

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Skipping Texas for Alabama

Growing evidence suggests that George W. Bush abruptly left his Texas Air National Guard unit in 1972 for substantive reasons pertaining to his inability to continue piloting a fighter jet.

A months-long investigation, which includes examination of hundreds of government-released documents, interviews with former Guard members and officials, military experts and Bush associates, points toward the conclusion that Bush's personal behavior was causing alarm among his superior officers and would ultimately lead to his fleeing the state to avoid a physical exam he might have had difficulty passing. His failure to complete a physical exam became the official reason for his subsequent suspension from flying status.


This central issue, whether Bush did or did not complete his duty – and if not, why – has in recent days been obscured by a raging sideshow: a debate over the accuracy of documents aired on CBS's 60 Minutes. Last week CBS News reported on newly unearthed memos purportedly prepared by Bush's now-deceased commanding officer. In those documents, the officer, Lieut. Col. Jerry Killian, appeared to be establishing for the record events occurring at the time Bush abruptly left his Texas Air National Guard unit in May 1972. Among these: that Bush had failed to meet unspecified Guard standards and refused a direct order to take a physical exam, and that pressure was being applied on Killian and his superiors to whitewash whatever troubling circumstances Bush was in.


Questions have been raised about the authenticity of those memos, but the criticism of them appears at this time speculative and inconclusive, while their substance is consistent with a growing body of documentation and analysis.


If it is demonstrated that profound behavioral problems marred Bush's wartime performance and even cut short his service, it could seriously challenge Bush's essential appeal as a military steward and guardian of societal values. It could also explain the incomplete, contradictory and shifting explanations provided by the Bush camp for the President's striking invisibility from the military during the final two years of his six-year military obligation. And it would explain the savagery and rapidity of the attack on the CBS documents.


In 1972 Bush's unit activities underwent a change that could point to a degradation of his ability to fly a fighter jet. Last week, in response to a lawsuit, the White House released to the Associated Press Bush's flight logs, which show that he abruptly shifted his emphasis in February and March 1972 from his assigned F-102A fighter jet to a two-seat T-33 training jet, from which he had graduated several years earlier, and was put back onto a flight simulator. The logs also show that on two occasions he required multiple attempts to land a one-seat fighter and a fighter simulator. This after Bush had already logged more than 200 hours in the one-seat F-102A.


Military experts say that his new, apparently downgraded and accompanied training mode, which included Bush's sometimes moving into the co-pilot's seat, can, in theory, be explained a variety of ways. He could, for example, have been training for a new position that might involve carrying student pilots. But the reality is that Bush himself has never mentioned this chapter in his life, nor has he provided a credible explanation. In addition, Bush's highly detailed Officer Effectiveness Reports make no mention of this rather dramatic change.


A White House spokesman explained to AP that the heavy training in this more elementary capacity came at a time when Bush was trying to generate more hours in anticipation of a six-month leave to work on a political campaign. But, in fact, this scenario is implausible. For one thing, Guard regulations did not permit him to log additional hours in that manner as a substitute for missing six months of duty later on. As significantly, there is no sign that Bush even considered going to work on that campaign until shortly before he departed – nor that campaign officials had any inkling at all that Bush might join them in several months' time.


Bush told his commanding officers that he was going to Alabama for an opportunity with a political campaign. (His Texas Air National Guard supervisors – presumably relying on what Bush told them – would write in a report the following year, "A civilian occupation made it necessary for him to move to Montgomery, Alabama.") But the timing of Bush's decision to leave and his departure – about the same time that he failed to take a mandatory annual physical exam – indicate that the two may have been related.


Campaign staff members say they knew nothing of Bush's interest in participating until days before he arrived in Montgomery. Indeed, not one of numerous Bush friends from those days even recalls Bush talking about going to Alabama at any point before he took off.


Bush's behavior in Alabama suggests that he viewed Alabama not as an important career opportunity but as a kind of necessary evil.


Although his role in the campaign has been represented as substantial (in some newspaper accounts, he has been described as the assistant campaign manager), numerous campaign staffers say Bush's role was negligible, low level and that he routinely arrived at the campaign offices in the afternoon hours, bragging of drinking feats from the night before.


According to friends of his, he kept his Houston apartment during this period and, based on their recollections, may have been coming back into town repeatedly during the time he was supposedly working full-time on the Alabama campaign. Absences from the campaign have been explained as due to his responsibilities to travel to the further reaches of Alabama, but several staffers told me that organizing those counties was not Bush's de facto responsibility.


Even more significantly, in a July interview, Linda Allison, the widow of Jimmy Allison, the Alabama campaign manager and a close friend of Bush's father, revealed to me for the first time that Bush had come to Alabama not because the job had appeal or because his presence was required but because he needed to get out of Texas. "Well, you have to know Georgie," Allison said. "He really was a totally irresponsible person. Big George [George H.W. Bush] called Jimmy, and said, 'he's killing us in Houston, take him down there and let him work on that campaign....' The tenor of that was, Georgie is in and out of trouble seven days a week down here, and would you take him up there with you."


Allison said that the younger Bush's drinking problem was apparent. She also said that her husband, a circumspect man who did not gossip and held his cards closely, indicated to her that some use of drugs was involved. "I had the impression that he knew that Georgie was using pot, certainly, and perhaps cocaine," she said.


Now-prominent, established Texas figures in the military, arts, business and political worlds, some of them Republicans and Bush supporters, talk about Bush's alleged use of marijuana and cocaine based on what they say they have heard from trusted friends. One middle-aged woman whose general veracity could be confirmed told me that she met Bush in 1968 at Hemisphere 68, a fair in San Antonio, at which he tried to pick her up and offered her a white powder he was inhaling. She was then a teenager; Bush would have just graduated from Yale and have been starting the National Guard then. "He was getting really aggressive with me," she said. "I told him I'd call a policeman, and he laughed, and asked who would believe me." (Although cocaine was not a widespread phenomenon until the 1970s, US authorities were struggling more than a decade earlier to stanch the flow from Latin America; in 1967 border seizures amounted to twenty-six pounds.)


Bush himself has publicly admitted to being somewhat wild in his younger years, without offering any details. He has not explicitly denied charges of drug use; generally he has hedged. He has said that he could have passed the same security screening his father underwent upon his inauguration in 1989, which certifies no illegal drug use during the fifteen preceding years. In other words, George W. Bush seemed to be saying that if he had used drugs, that was before 1974 or during the period in which he left his Guard unit.


The family that rented Bush a house in Montgomery, Alabama, during that period told me that Bush did extensive, inexplicable damage to their property, including smashing a chandelier, and that they unsuccessfully billed him twice for the damage – which amounted to approximately $900, a considerable sum in 1972. Two unconnected close friends and acquaintances of a well-known Montgomery socialite, now deceased, told me that the socialite in question told them that he and Bush had been partying that evening at the Montgomery Country Club, combining drinking with use of illicit drugs, and that Bush, complaining about the brightness, had climbed on a table and smashed the chandelier when the duo stopped at his home briefly so Bush could change clothes before they headed out again.


It is notable that in 1972, the military was in the process of introducing widespread drug testing as part of the annual physical exams that pilots would undergo.


For years, military buffs and retired officers have speculated about the real reasons that Bush left his unit two years before his flying obligation was up. Bush and his staff have muddied the issue by not providing a clear, comprehensive and consistent explanation of his departure from the unit. And, peculiarly, the President has not made himself available to describe in detail what did take place at that time. Instead, the White House has adopted a policy of offering obscure explanations by officials who clearly do not know the specifics of what went on, and the periodic release of large numbers of confusing or inconclusive documents – particularly at the start of weekends and holiday periods, when attention is elsewhere.


In addition, the Bush camp has offered over the past few years a shifting panoply of explanations that subsequently failed to pass muster. One was that Bush had stopped flying his F-102A jet because it was being phased out (the plane continued to be used for at least another year). Another explanation was that he failed to take his physical exam in 1972 because his family doctor was unavailable. (Guard regulations require that physicals be conducted by doctors on the base, and would have been easily arranged either on a base in Texas or, after he left the state, in Alabama.)


One of the difficulties in getting to the truth about what really took place during this period is the frequently expressed fear of retribution from the Bush organization. Many sources refuse to speak on the record, or even to have their knowledge communicated publicly in any way. One source who did publicly evince doubts about Bush's activities in 1972 was Dean Roome, who flew formations often with Bush and was his roommate for a time. "You wonder if you know who George Bush is," Roome told USA Today in a little-appreciated interview back in 2002. "I think he digressed after awhile," he said. "In the first half, he was gung-ho. Where George failed was to fulfill his obligation as a pilot. It was an irrational time in his life." Yet in subsequent years, Roome has revised his comments to a firm insistence that nothing out of the ordinary took place at that time, and after one interview he e-mailed me material raising questions about John Kerry's military career. Roome, who operates a curio shop in a Texas hamlet, told me that Bush aides, including communications adviser Karen Hughes, and even the President himself stay in touch with him.


Several Bush associates from that period say that the Bush camp has argued strenuously about the importance of sources backing the President up on his military service, citing patriotism, personal loyalty and even the claim that he lacks friends in Washington and must count on those from early in his life.


In 1971 Bush took his annual physical exam in May. It's reasonable to conclude that he would also take his 1972 physical in the same month. Yet according to official Guard documents, Bush "cleared the base" on May 15 without doing so. Fellow Guard members uniformly agree that Bush should and could have easily taken the exam with unit doctors at Ellington Air Force Base before leaving town. (It is interesting to note that if the Killian memos released by CBS do hold up, one of them, dated May 4, 1972, orders Bush to report for his physical by May 14 – one day before he took off.)


Bush has indicated that he departed from Ellington Air Force Base and his Guard unit because he had been offered an important employment opportunity with a political campaign in Alabama. The overwhelming evidence suggests, however, that the Alabama campaign was a convenient excuse for Bush to rapidly exit stage left from a Guard unit that found him and his behavior a growing problem. If that's not the case, now would be an excellent time for a President famed for his superlative memory to sit down and explain what really happened in that period.

Comparing American and British War Coverage

Here in Belgrade, along just about every street, satellite dishes sprout. Many residents are watching and comparing American and British coverage of the Iraq war, as are untold millions around the world. And so am I. From my position, embedded in the Third Couch Division, I see news organizations placing themselves on a spectrum of objectivity, from a great deal to absolutely none at all.

Click. BBC: "Shells are falling within two kilometers of a port where ships arrived with humanitarian aid...the port was believed secure."... "[Citizens of Basra] are not really welcoming them. They're more weary than anything. [Coalition troops] are still men with guns in a foreign country." Click. Fox News: "What should people be thinking about as we head into the weekend?" the anchor asks a Fox military consultant, who replies: "That, aside from what the media says, the American people -- people in the heartland -- support our troops -- except for a few nuts." Anchor (laughing in agreement): "Thanks. Always a pleasure to talk to you."

In general, for the Brits, war coverage offers an opportunity to corral facts and to ask tough questions about hugely consequential events. For the Americans, it is a chance to present an "exciting" story within narrow limits. Compared with the BBC's studied neutrality, Fox (broadcasting globally its original stateside programming, complete with Brit Hume, Mort Kondracke et al.) comes across as a kind of Gong Show of propaganda. The result is a myopic vision of war that proves alternatively nerve-racking, boring or uplifting, but in the aggregate effectively sanitizes events and numbs the audience. Watching Fox, Serbs see a striking similarity to something in their own recent past: "Why, it's just like TV here under Milosevic!"

The privately owned Fox is actually more gung-ho in its support of the war than US government entities like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which has filed many balanced dispatches. Fox anchors report everything Arabs do with an audible sneer, while treating every official US pronouncement, no matter how self-serving, as gospel.

It is said that 90 percent of viewer perceptions are based on visual stimuli, not actual content, and Fox certainly grasps this. When carrying the daily briefing from Centcom, Fox divides its screen. Only a small video window with sound is devoted to the briefing. In a larger window, context-less military activity unfolds, tanks fire and vehicles roll. In the upper left corner is Fox's omnipresent American flag, and at the bottom the news ticker, which further distracts from serious concentration or analysis.

Outside the United States, viewers are deprived of CNN's star studio personas, Aaron Brown, Bobbie Batista, et al. The CNN International crew, beaming from London and other locales, is generally more balanced and professional than their stateside compatriots. But CNN International still does poorly in conveying the horror of war or providing a persuasive sampling of world opinion.

There's also a huge skepticism gap. The American outfits bother little or not at all to frame the conflict in terms of the stated rationale: alleged weapons of mass destruction and terrorist ties. On CNN, newsbar items scroll by announcing the discovery of possible weapons of mass destruction, only to unceremoniously cancel the claims later.

The British networks air far more footage of the situation inside places that coalition forces are attacking, providing a much better sense of what it is like to be a civilian caught up in the terror of the moment. SkyNews, like Fox, is owned by the jingoistic Rupert Murdoch, and like Fox, it exhibits unabashed support for the British troops it accompanies -- although without the embarrassingly aggressive, egregiously hostile tone of Fox.

Fox, and CNN to a lesser extent, seem in a hurry to brush off stories about problems, miscalculations, consequences: friendly fire, civilian casualties and the exposure of Iraqi civilians to Saddamite reprisals, all subjects extensively treated by the Europeans. By comparison, when the bodies of the first British casualties arrived back in England, Sky ran the caption, "None of 10 who returned were killed by enemy."

Generally, the fellows with the "credentials" on CNN and Fox, especially the "military experts," alternate between belaboring the yawningly obvious and exhibiting partisanship. "The goal of that bombing was to 'degrade' those targets," said one presumably well-paid former officer. BBC in particular, and SkyNews to a lesser extent, seem to encourage on-air anchors to ask reasonably tough questions and give time to smart, savvy, blunt civilian analysts.

Click. SkyNews: Voiceover commentary from a London-based Iraqi dissident who, while eager to see Saddam Hussein vanquished, is deeply disturbed by the carnage being unleashed: "You cannot put in place a democratic government," he says. "That's an oxymoron. A democracy has to be built up gradually according to the culture of a place."

When it comes to presenting the "Arab" side of the conflict, US networks favor footage of Iraqi officials looking ridiculous and making clearly incredible statements. On the BBC, an Arab affairs specialist comments on shifting perceptions in the greater Arab world, how he is seeing anti-Saddam moderates suddenly rooting for the dictator and what this might portend for the United States in the long run. This is followed by a brief, informative history of the Kurds. The BBC even does a better job of airing the views of thoughtful American critics of the war, including a Washington-based human rights advocate worried about the effects of cluster bombs on civilian populations.

Of all the news channels available here, my personal favorite is the multilingual, pan-European independent news channel, Euronews. Its coverage of the war in Iraq has no marketing-department spin; it is simply labeled "The War in Iraq." We see no correspondents or anchors. We don't even know the names of those who offer the rigorously neutral narration over the raw-edged footage. Euronews also runs a feature called "No Comment," in which footage from inside and outside Iraq, collected from a wide variety of sources, airs without any narration or commentary at all. Guess which news show consistently provides the best insight and emotional comprehension of unfolding events? No comment.

Want to Be a Patriot? Do Your Job

In the aftermath of September 11, Dan Rather publicly shed patriotic tears on David Letterman�s show, demonstrating that he was in as much pain as any American and as loyal to the national cause. At the same time, TV news programs across the country were wrapping themselves in stars-and-stripes graphics as news outlets of all kinds rushed to associate themselves, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, with the nation�s surge of patriotic emotion.

Flag-waving is not surprising in the aftermath of a full-scale attack on American civilians. As individuals, we are all part of a severely traumatized body politic. But it is precisely during the most trying periods that journalists must distance themselves from their emotions if they are to do their best work. And it is also imperative to distinguish between patriotism, love of one�s country, and nationalism -- the exalting of one�s nation and its culture and interests above all others. If patriotism is a kind of affection, nationalism is its dark side. Nationalistic pressure also makes it hard for journalists to do their job. Even today, eight months after the events, many journalists are troubled by a sense that we have failed an important test, that we have allowed certain kinds of honest reporting to be portrayed as somehow disloyal.

Raising questions about the wisdom of government actions in wartime, particularly early in a war, is not easy. For example, early in Operation Desert Storm, ABC anchor Peter Jennings says he commissioned a piece on the antiwar activist Ramsey Clark. Despite his own sense of urgency, Jennings recalls that it took weeks to get the piece on the air. "It was not quite the right moment," he says. Internally, "people were arguing less about the relationship between the media and the administration than about the media�s relationship with its public." To confront a popular government at such a time, he says, is to be "running emotionally upstream."

When war began in Afghanistan, Jennings says, "We decided early on that we would not exploit the violence of all of this without losing sight of how violent it was, and that we would be reluctant to sloganeer." But when Jennings and his people departed from the patriotic consensus they paid a price. Jennings had a howling pack after him, inflamed by Rush Limbaugh�s charge that the anchor was disloyal for raising questions about Bush�s conduct on September 11, when the presidential plane zig-zagged across the nation while the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were burning. (ABC eventually was able to get Limbaugh to issue a correction noting that Jennings had merely observed that some presidents are perceived as handling crises better than others.) After a study showed that Jennings paid more attention to civilian casualties in Afghanistan than either his NBC or CBS rivals, he was subject to on-air criticism from Fox News�s Brit Hume, while conservative media critics pointed to his Canadian citizenship.

Another news program that successfully upheld journalistic principles in the post-9/11 world was Ted Koppel�s Nightline, which consistently asked pointed questions about the executive branch�s newly assumed domestic law-enforcement powers, and insisted on airing cautionary voices. This on a show that, during the Letterman affair, an unnamed ABC executive called irrelevant.

We are, of course, at war. And the public does not have a right to know everything. Still, in the post-September 11 world, an official obsession with secrecy has grown out of the war against terrorism, making the job of the journalist even harder. As we know, Americans have been given less information about what is being done in this war than in any prior conflict in U.S. history (see "Access Denied," cjr, January/February). Lack of access to information is not, in itself, a journalistic dereliction of duty. Failing to make a public issue out of it is, however.

"Information is being managed in this war, and frankly, we can�t expect a lot of breaks," says Jeffrey Dvorkin, ombudsman at National Public Radio. But why don�t we read and see more news about this serious problem? Walter Cronkite, who set the standard for television anchors, laments that TV no longer has the kind of editorial voice typified by the late Eric Sevareid. Cronkite says if it were up to him, he would be running "opinion of the management" editorials. "Complaining to the Pentagon is not good enough," he says. "We should be letting the public know the restrictions under which we operate."

The need for tough-minded reporting has never been clearer. When journalists hold themselves back -- in deference to their own emotions or to the sensitivities of the audience or through timidity in the face of government pressure -- America is weakened. Journalism has no more important service to perform than to ask tough, even unpopular questions when our government wages war.

Russ Baker is a contributing editor to CJR.

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