Sunday, June 26, 2005

"Public" Broadcasting?

letter to the LA Times

RE The GOP inside PBS, June 26, Can someone please explain how an organization that is supposed to be non-partisan can have a Republican chairman and president? Is there anything "public" in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting aside from our money? I propose having CPB recipients, i.e. station managers, elect or approve the Chair and President who will be doling out the public’s money. Station managers, in turn, can be elected or confirmed by the station members. This public form of representation would have far less conflict of interest than allowing partisan appointments to a supposedly apolitical organization.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Rise of Pseudo-Journalism

A Wolf in Reporter's Clothing - A Speech by John S. Carrol editor, LA Times from May 2004

shoddy journalism re: mercenaries vs. marines

Letter to LA Times

T. Christian Miller's account of US contractors being detained by US Marines (US Marines Detained 19 Contractors in Iraq, A10, June 8) could have used more facts and less "he said, she said." I am still left wondering about the apparent conflict of interest between contractors or "soldiers of fortune" and the US military. It seems that aside from being shot at, the Marines have more reasons to resent the presence of American mercenaries. The article briefly mentions lack of clarity regarding legal accountability but does not investigate further or seek comment from an official. There is a comment from Zapata (the contracting firm) indicating that "they followed the rules that are required when working as a contractor in Iraq" but we aren't given any clue as to what those rules are. Mr. Miller is reporting from Washington, surely it wouldn't be too hard to track down these rules for contractors and clue us in.
Finally, attorney Mark Schopper is claiming that the mercenaries relatives received threatening phone calls from people with American accents. Now I'm not a lawyer but I would strongly doubt that Mr. Schopper will even try to submit that as evidence if he plans on litigation.
It just seems that this article is lacking thoroughness in facts and is filled with emotionally charged accusations and denials. At the very least we deserve a follow-up explaining the reason for tension between contractors and Marines and the rules for contractors.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Writers of Conscience

This morning I had dream about a great movement. More people were writing with their hearts and not with their minds. The truths of conscience proved that humans can be compassionate and loving towards each other. The rationale for war was overwhelmed by the cries for love and mercy. The writers of Conscience were here to save us from our calculating, rational minds. We need more teachers like Christ instead of more would-be tyrants like Machiavelli. We can only live by one example. Those who proclaim themselves as Christians while unjustly accumulating wealth and power at the price of others' lives and liberty, are they not the biggest hypocrites of our time? The evangelism coming from Colorado Springs is unholy and overrun by false prophets. God will be their judge but we who know Christ must stand for what is true in our hearts. Love, Compassion, Mercy.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Scary fascist philosophy in Baltimore

Letter to the Baltimore Sun
I was appalled to read Sara Neufeld’s account of high school classroom attention on Watergate (June 3, 2005). Carnegie Corporation president Vartan Gregorian recently stated, "I believe there are two professions that are the most crucial for democracy, and are needed to make it safe: teaching and journalism."
What do statements by Cantonsville High School philosophy students say about the quality of our education with respect to democracy? "One student said, ‘the public should only know so much.’" Why do our schools seem unable to instill the values of democracy, where government is by the people, for the people? If more than half the philosophy class believes that ensuring democracy through the First Amendment is unethical, the future of this country is really in trouble. I will certainly encourage my friends to avoid living anywhere near Baltimore.

Objectionable Advertising on Metro

Greetings Metro Board and Mr. Langdon, Viacom Outdoor Sales,
I write with some concern regarding an advertisement appearing on a Metro train (red line, I believe). The nature of the ad was to downplay the danger of obesity, questioning such dangers as "hype?" At the top was a news clip stating a release by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) which indicates that some effects of obesity may have been overstated or exaggerated. The ad then followed with words such as "epidemic," crossed out. At the bottom of this list of crossed out words was the word in bold red, "hype?"
I noticed this ad as I departed the train and was not able to see the sponsor. I strongly believe an advertisement of this nature does nothing to serve the public but only confuses the issue of good public health. I would like to know which organization paid for this ad so I may take my concern directly to them. I should also caution the Board of Directors to enact greater controls for ad content standards. Ads such as this could generate negative PR, which Metro would be wise to avoid. Does Metro have an official with authority to screen or reject advertising sold by Viacom Outdoor? If not, I would suggest working with Viacom Outdoor to create one or implement strict guidelines to insure that messages on trains truly serve the public if they are not selling a product. We all should recognize that serious health risks do accompany obesity and to make light of those risks is harmful and offensive to many. I appreciate your timely response to these concerns and your swift removal of this attack ad on public health.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Krauthammer unworthy of Post column

In response to Charles Krauthammer's op-ed appearing in Washington Post Friday June 3, 2005

Let’s get one thing straight Charles, there is absolutely no self-flagellation going on regarding the abuse at Guantanamo. Bush has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and has in fact denounced his critics as misled. In fact, misled is the way Bush would have us all remain if it weren’t for morally conscious people. Your initial statement about full-scale panic is ludicrous. If there is any panic going on, it is in the conscience of true Christians who are beginning to realize that Bush and his supporters are engaging in evil, inhumane, and torturous practices and then lying about it. Shame on you to point the finger at other terrorists and say "but look what they’re doing" as a justification for US injustice. "We know that al Qaeda operatives are trained to charge torture when they are in detention," is that true and verified Mr. Krauthammer? Were you at the training?
As far as your scale of human crimes is measured, I daresay that killing 2,973 people (not all have been confirmed as innocent) is the absolute worst. And what of holding innocent people incommunicado indefinitely, for years even? You may forget that no charges have been brought against many of the detainees and only recently have they been granted access to counsel after the Supreme Court ruled against the Bush administration. In your attempts to legitimize abuse of "infidels" you’re suggesting they are would-be terrorists and they must be detained until the war on terror is over. When will that be Mr. Krauthammer, when all the would-be terrorists are dead? Can you understand that all US terror-suspect-detention facilities are operating in defiance of international law? If you want to talk about hypocrisy Mr. Krauthammer, we should talk about liberty. Because that’s what the ACLU is fighting for and that’s what the Bush administration is trying to deny, even though he says the US is fighting for it. Whether it’s free speech or freedom from illegal detention, I’m thankful that we have those freedoms, and we should be insisting on those provisions for everyone without deprivation of due process. As for discrimination and concern for civilian safety, I don’t think killing an innocent Iraqi couple in front their children is exemplary. We Americans have hardly seen a true picture of the war because of voluntary media censorship (in the interest of good taste and corporate profit) so I’m not sure how you can make such a claim about the entire global war on terrorism. In the end, your column is just plain garbage and I’ll be sure to never read it again unless you’re trying to trash freedom of the press, in which case I should like to respond again. I will pray that you consider the words and deeds of Jesus Christ when you’re talking about humane treatment of others. You may discover that Bush is no Christian by his deeds, nor is anyone who would support him.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Mark Lloyd on Media Bias and the Future of the Freedom of the Press

This beautifully written testimony sums up the challenge and impetus for media reform.

This material was created by the Center for American Progress

Statement of Mark Lloyd
Senior Fellow Center for American Progress

May 24, 2005
[Congressional] Forum on "Media Bias and the Future of the Freedom of the Press"

I am former broadcast journalist. I worked at local stations and national networks, including NBC and CNN and then represented all sorts of communications companies as an attorney here in Washington. I spent two years teaching at MIT and am now teaching at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. I am a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
I want to thank the people’s congressman John Conyers and the rest of the public servants joining us today for holding this forum. The problem of media bias is not simply a matter of taste, it is a problem of life or death, of peace or war, of solving our problems or descending into confusion. There is no greater or more urgent problem facing America. So thank you again.
What is media bias? Bias is the ideological distortion of information. Is there media bias? Of course. Is it new? Of course not.
We have forgotten the yellow journalism that led us into war with Spain at the beginning of the 20th century. We have forgotten the media bias that led to the persecution of Paul Robeson and the promotion of Joe McCarthy. We have forgotten that most journalists supported the war in Vietnam for the vast majority of the time we were there, and ignored the problems of the ghettoes and barrios until the riots of the 1960's. No bias is not new.
Most of the critiques of media on the left or the right tend to focus on a perceived partisan bias. But the problem is much deeper than that. The problem of bias is built into our current system. Our communication system supports a vibrant commercial media but ignores the needs of a government of the people. The bias inherent in such a system promotes the agenda of corporations not citizens.
I think most Americans are right to expect news organizations to be fair, even-handed and respectful but persistent and tough with our public servants. I think most Americans are right to want news organizations to select news and to select the experts who speak about events or policies in a way that treats all reasonable sides fairly. This is an ideal, and however distant, I think this is an ideal that is right to strive for . . . it is a democratic ideal.
But our peculiar American system of communication says that whoever has the most money will be the loudest voice in the public debate. Is this the sort of system that leads to fairness?
The focus of my remarks today will be on what I think of as a core problem, not the speech that results because of that core problem. I will also propose that the solution to the problem of bad speech is not censorship but better speech.

The founders of our democracy would say that debate dominated by any one faction in our society is not sufficient to the needs of democracy. With our relatively recent focus on the first amendment to the constitution, we forget that even before it was amended the founders created a mechanism that supported the communication of all Americans . . . it was called the Post Office. The Post Office was the largest part of the federal republic under the founders. It was larger than the army or the treasury. It was larger and more robust than any other advanced nation in the world.
When Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about democracy in America, newspapers were highly ideological, highly partisan and carried by the U.S. Post Office at a discount. Moreover, newspapers were delivered free to other newspaper publishers so that news could spread.
Newspaper distribution was subsidized by business and personal correspondence in Jefferson’s America. The founders established a system that promoted diverse communication as a way to check and balance different political factions. And they understood that merchants and bankers were a political faction.
It is true that we live in more complex times. And in many ways we live in times that are far more open and democratic than the time of the founders. But I think there are important lessons in the fact that the founders placed such importance on constructing a communications system that made truly diverse and equal political communication possible. Our current structure of communications is far off the democratic course established by the founders.

Before I am misunderstood, let me repeat that the one faction dominating our political conversation is not the radical right and it is certainly not the few remaining public figures willing to be called liberal. Multinational corporations dominate the political conversation in the U.S. today.
These multinational corporations are provided a tax structure that promotes their lifeblood . . . advertising. They are given free licenses to use the public airwaves. They are given access to our streets and alleys. And what is most important to Viacom, the News Corporation, General Electric, Disney, Comcast and, yes, even the New York Times is whether at the end of the quarter they turn a profit. That’s what counts.
If Americans do not understand one another because of the distortions or omissions in the news, NBC will not lose their access to public property. If Americans and countless civilians in other countries lose their lives because of the drumbeat for war, FOX will not be punished. The New York Times will not be held responsible for focusing on Whitewater and passing on lies about weapons of mass destruction.
Let me be clear that I believe in the importance of a competitive commercial press unrestrained by government. But we need more. We need a media responsible to promote democratic dialogue. We need media independent of corporations.

If we really want news we can trust, we must create a structure that makes it possible and we must pay for it. One way to do this is to require commercial media to pay full fare for their access to public resources and use that money to fully support public service media in the U.S. A modern equivalent of the post office would be independent from both partisan and corporate pressure, unlike our current structure. And, unlike our current structure, it must be truly accountable to local communities through democratic means.
I would say these steps were radical, if they were not consistent with the founders of our republic. And unless we take these steps, we can only expect a continuation of the sort of yellow journalism we are experiencing today.