Sunday, March 22, 2009

The road not taken by the Media

The road not taken
Mike Ghouse

Could the Iraq war have been prevented had the American media asked the right questions? How do conservative media commentators frame the actions of different religious communities? Does the media pay due attention to history? Mike Ghouse reflects on the political impact of mainstream media decisions.

INCREASINGLY FOCUSED ON competitiveness and profits, the mainstream American media is under pressure for its own survival. Indeed, it is at a critical juncture of having to choose between fulfilling its societal responsibility or succumbing to the political compulsions of our times. As a society we need to evaluate the importance of the media in our American system of governance. Does it still play the crucial role the founding fathers of our nation had envisioned for it?

Thomas Jefferson made a strong statement about the role of the media in a democracy when he noted, “If it were left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Describing the role of the press, George A. Krimsky, the former head of news for the Associated Press’ World Services and co-author of Hold the Press, writes, “In the wake of America’s successful revolution, it was decided there should indeed be government, but only if it were accountable to the people. The people, in turn, could only hold the government accountable if they knew what it was doing and could intercede as necessary, using their ballot, for example. This role of public ‘watchdog’ was thus assumed by a citizen press, and as a consequence, the government in the United States has been kept out of the news business.”

Could one say that the government in the United States was kept out of the news business in the past, but not any more?

In the recent past, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams told host Howard Kurtz that the Bush administration had “the right” to pay a columnist to tout its views in his column. As this article notes, Kurtz spoke of the “Pentagon planting positive stories, in some cases paying for positive stories in Iraqi newspapers.” The administration also paid journalist Armstrong Williams to promote its No Child Left Behind education policy. The Government Accountability Office, however, determined that the Bush Administration was wrong in promoting its educational policy through Armstrong’s column.

The essence of democracy is the ability to question everything in fairness and without worrying about censure against such inquiry. How many journalists from the mainstream media have failed this test in recent times? Let us examine a few situations and see the specific failures of the American media in each case.

The qualities of a commander-in-chief

As we speak, the airwaves are saturated with coverage of the presidential nominees in both parties. Why aren’t journalists questioning the rhetoric from McCain and Clinton that they are fit to be the commander-in-chief of the nation? We are a democracy, and it is not essential that our government should be run by a military expert. That was not the intent of our system.

I do not expect my president to be an expert in nuclear, biological, botanical, or other sciences and certainly not a military expert. I want a judicious person who can call on real experts as the situation demands and make the right decision in each case.

Journalists can still ask the candidates this question. Will they?

Precedent and patterns in the Rev. Wright controversy

The second week of March 2008 witnessed relentless coverage of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermon, “God Damn America,” in the American media. It was all one could hear on the cable channels. The pundits were suggesting that this might indicate the end of presidential candiate Barack Obama’s political aspirations, given that Wright was Obama’s pastor.

In the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Ralph Luker pointed out that “the quotation comes not from Wright, but from the Rev Martin Luther King Jr’s first address to the Montgomery Improvement Association on December 5, 1955. Both African-American preachers have understood prophetic biblical preaching far better than those who feign shock at and condemn Wright’s words.”

“Obama’s Minister ‘Hates America’ But When My Father Said the Same Sort of Things He Became a Hero To The Republicans” wrote Frank Schaeffer in the OpEdNews. Schaeffer quoted his father, religious right leader, Francis Schaeffer, expressing similar sentiments. “Take Dad’s words” Frank Schaeffer went on to say, “and put them in the mouth of Obama’s preacher (or in the mouth of any black American preacher) and people would be accusing that preacher of treason. Yet, when we the white Religious Right denounced America, the white conservative Americans and top political leaders, called our words ‘godly’ and ‘prophetic’ and a ‘call to repentance.’”

The mainstream media largely failed to investigate if there was a precedent, if some one else had used this kind of language, if the reaction had been different, and why that might have been the case.

The burning of the US embassy in Kosovo

While driving around on Friday, February 22 earlier this year, I listened to every news channel. Our embassy was torched in Kosovo by radicals on that day. The media did not describe the violence as religiously motivated nor name any religious community as the culprit. I believe that was the right approach on the part of the media.

But I wondered: had those radicals been Muslims, what kind of demonization would mainstream conservative commentators like O’Reilly, Hannity, Beck, and Limbaugh have engaged in?

The war in Iraq

As the Bill Moyers Journal’s special edition program, “Buying the War,” compellingly demonstrated, the mainstream American media uncritically accepted the administration’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s ambition to acquire nuclear weapons and his links to Al-Qaeda. The five chapter report speaks for itself.

Had the media stood their ground, perhaps our administration would not have engaged in policies that have resulted in the deaths of over half a million Iraqis as per the figures provided by the medical journal Lancet estimate, 4,000 of our men and women, and a cost of anywhere from 1 to 2 trillion dollars.

Was their inability to ask the right questions of the administration not a colossal blunder on the part of the mainstream media?

Mike Ghouse is a writer and activist based in Dallas. He runs the blogs Foundation for Pluralism and World Muslim Congress.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Death of American Newspapers

The death and life of great American Newspapers

Most news papers do deserve the death, they might want to rename themselves as “, Dallas Morning News Propaganda” or “ Miami Herald Opinion”, “Fox Propaganda” “CNN Opinion” or some such name to indicate that they are not produced by Journalist, nor they are inclined to present another point of view.

I have no problems if they tell the truth that they are paid to write or speak certain way and that they have to be loyal to those who write their check.

They failed to fulfil their responsibility during the Bush Admin, they were the mouth pieces for the Admin - even stalwarts on print and TV like like Koppell, Russert and other fell in for their propaganda. They did harm the nation, and todays economic woes and deficits were part responsibilty of the journalist for not have the balls to speak up or question the admin. They are our defence against fascism from within, they failed us.

It has been sickening to see the newspapers produce on sides, opinionated columns. It is a betrayal to the American public, who are deprived of honest reporting. Even the South Asian Journalist association is biased when you audit their postings on the forums.

Mike Ghouse
# # #

by : John Nichols and Robert McChesney, The Nation
Communities across America are suffering through a crisis that could leave a dramatically diminished version of democracy in its wake. It is not the economic meltdown, although the crisis is related to the broader day of reckoning that appears to have arrived. The crisis of which we speak involves more than mere economics. Journalism is collapsing, and with it comes the most serious threat in our lifetimes to self-government and the rule of law as it has been understood here in the United States.

After years of neglecting signs of trouble, elite opinion-makers have begun in recent months to recognize that things have gone horribly awry. Journals ranging from Time, The New Yorker, The Atlantic and The New Republic to the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times concur on the diagnosis: newspapers, as we have known them, are disintegrating and are possibly on the verge of extinction. Time's Walter Isaacson describes the situation as having "reached meltdown proportions" and concludes, "It is now possible to contemplate a time in the near future when major towns will no longer have a newspaper and when magazines and network news operations will employ no more than a handful of reporters." A newspaper industry that still employs roughly 50,000 journalists--the vast majority of the remaining practitioners of the craft--is teetering on the brink.

Blame has been laid first and foremost on the Internet, for luring away advertisers and readers, and on the economic meltdown, which has demolished revenues and hammered debt-laden media firms. But for all the ink spilled addressing the dire circumstance of the ink-stained wretch, the understanding of what we can do about the crisis has been woefully inadequate. Unless we rethink alternatives and reforms, the media will continue to flail until journalism is all but extinguished.

Let's begin with the crisis. In a nutshell, media corporations, after running journalism into the ground, have determined that news gathering and reporting are not profit-making propositions. So they're jumping ship. The country's great regional dailies--the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer--are in bankruptcy. Denver's Rocky Mountain News recently closed down, ending daily newspaper competition in that city. The owners of the San Francisco Chronicle, reportedly losing $1 million a week, are threatening to shutter the paper, leaving a major city without a major daily newspaper. Big dailies in Seattle (the Times), Chicago (the Sun-Times) and Newark (the Star-Ledger) are reportedly near the point of folding, and smaller dailies like the Baltimore Examiner have already closed. The 101-year-old Christian Science Monitor, in recent years an essential source of international news and analysis, is folding its daily print edition. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is scuttling its print edition and downsizing from a news staff of 165 to about twenty for its online-only incarnation. Whole newspaper chains--such as Lee Enterprises, the owner of large and medium-size publications that for decades have defined debates in Montana, Iowa and Wisconsin--are struggling as the value of stock shares falls below the price of a single daily paper. And the New York Times needed an emergency injection of hundreds of millions of dollars by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim in order to stay afloat.

Those are the headlines. Arguably uglier is the death-by-small-cuts of newspapers that are still functioning. Layoffs of reporters and closings of bureaus mean that even if newspapers survive, they have precious few resources for actually doing journalism. Job cuts during the first months of this year--300 at the Los Angeles Times, 205 at the Miami Herald, 156 at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 150 at the Kansas City Star, 128 at the Sacramento Bee, 100 at the Providence Journal, 100 at the Hartford Courant, ninety at the San Diego Union-Tribune, thirty at the Wall Street Journal and on and on--suggest that this year will see far more positions eliminated than in 2008, when almost 16,000 were lost. Even Doonesbury's Rick Redfern has been laid off from his job at the Washington Post.

The toll is daunting. As former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. and Post associate editor Robert Kaiser have observed, "A great news organization is difficult to build and tragically easy to disassemble." That disassembling is now in full swing. As journalists are laid off and newspapers cut back or shut down, whole sectors of our civic life go dark. Newspapers that long ago closed their foreign bureaus and eliminated their crack investigative operations are shuttering at warp speed what remains of city hall, statehouse and Washington bureaus. The Cox chain, publisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Austin American-Statesman and fifteen other papers, will padlock its DC bureau on April 1--a move that follows the closures of the respected Washington bureaus of Advance Publications (the Newark Star-Ledger, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others); Copley Newspapers and its flagship San Diego Union-Tribune; as well as those of the once great regional dailies of Des Moines, Hartford, Houston, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Toledo.

Mired in debt and facing massive losses, the managers of corporate newspaper firms seek to right the sinking ship by cutting costs, leading remaining newspaper readers to ask why they are bothering to pay for publications that are pale shadows of themselves. It is the daily newspaper death dance-cum- funeral march.

But it is not just newspapers that are in crisis; it is the institution of journalism itself. By any measure, journalism is missing from most commercial radio. TV news operations have become celebrity- and weather-obsessed "profit centers" rather than the journalistic icons of the Murrow and Cronkite eras. Cable channels "fill the gap" with numberless pundits and "business reporters," who got everything about the last decade wrong but now complain that the government doesn't know how to set things right. Cable news is defensible only because of the occasional newspaper reporter moonlighting as a talking head. But what happens when the last reporter stops collecting a newspaper paycheck and goes into PR or lobbying? She'll leave cable an empty vessel and take the public's right to know anything more than a rhetorical flourish with her.

The Internet and blogosphere, too, depend in large part on "old media" to do original journalism. Web links still refer readers mostly to stories that first appeared in print. Even in more optimistic scenarios, no one has a business model to sustain digital journalism beyond a small number of self-supporting services. The attempts of newspapers to shift their operations online have been commercial failures, as they trade old media dollars for new media pennies. We are enthusiastic about Wikipedia and the potential for collaborative efforts on the web; they can help democratize our media and politics. But they do not replace skilled journalists on the ground covering the events of the day and doing investigative reporting. Indeed, the Internet cannot achieve its revolutionary potential as a citizens' forum without such journalism.

So this is where we stand: much of local and state government, whole federal departments and agencies, American activities around the world, the world itself--vast areas of great public concern--are either neglected or on the verge of neglect. Politicians and administrators will work increasingly without independent scrutiny and without public accountability. We are entering historically uncharted territory in America, a country that from its founding has valued the press not merely as a watchdog but as the essential nurturer of an informed citizenry. The collapse of journalism and the democratic infrastructure it sustains is not a development that anyone, except perhaps corrupt politicians and the interests they serve, looks forward to. Such a crisis demands solutions equal to the task. So what are they?

Regrettably the loud discussion of the collapse of journalism has been far stronger in describing the symptoms than in providing remedies. With the frank acknowledgment that the old commercial system has failed and will not return, there has been a flurry of modest proposals to address the immodest crisis. These range from schemes to further consolidate news gathering at the local level to pleas for donations from news consumers and hopes that hard-pressed philanthropists and foundations will decide to go into the news business. And they range from ineffectual to improbable to undesirable. Walter Isaacson has proposed that newspapers come up with a plan to charge readers "micropayments" for online content. Even if such a system were practically possible, the last thing we should do is erect electronic walls that block the openness and democratic genius of the Internet.

Don't get us wrong. We are enthusiastic about many of the efforts to promote original journalism online, such as ProPublica, Talking Points Memo and the Huffington Post. We cheer on exciting local endeavors, such as MinnPost in the Twin Cities--a nonprofit, five-day-a-week online journal that covers Minnesota politics with support from major foundations, wealthy families and roughly 900 member-donors contributing $10 to $10,000. But even our friends at MinnPost acknowledge that their project is not filling the void in a metro area that still has two large, if struggling, daily newspapers. Just about every serious journalist involved in an online project will readily concede that even if these ventures pan out, we will still have a dreadfully undernourished journalism system with considerably less news gathering and reporting, especially at the local level.

For all their merits and flaws, these fixes are mere triage strategies. They are not cures; in fact, if there is a risk in them, it is that they might briefly discourage the needed reshaping of ownership models that are destined to fail.

The place to begin crafting solutions is with the understanding that the economic downturn did not cause the crisis in journalism; nor did the Internet. The economic collapse and Internet have greatly accentuated and accelerated a process that can be traced back to the 1970s, when corporate ownership and consolidation of newspapers took off. It was then that managers began to balance their books and to satisfy the demand from investors for ever-increasing returns by cutting journalists and shutting news bureaus. Go back and read a daily newspaper published in a medium-size American city in the 1960s, and you will be awed by the rich mix of international, national and local news coverage and by the frequency with which "outsiders"--civil rights campaigners, antiwar activists and consumer advocates like Ralph Nader--ended up on the front page.

As long ago as the late 1980s and early 1990s, prominent journalists and editors like Jim Squires were quitting the field in disgust at the contempt corporate management displayed toward journalism. Print advertising, which still accounts for the lion's share of newspaper revenue, declined gently as a percentage of all ad spending from 1950 to '90, as television grew in importance. Starting in 1990, well before the rise of the web as a competitor for ad dollars, newspaper ad revenues went into a sharp decline, from 26 percent of all media advertising that year to what will likely be around 10 percent this year.

Even before that decline, newspaper owners were choosing short-term profits over long-term viability. As far back as 1983, legendary reporter Ben Bagdikian warned publishers that if they continued to water down their journalism and replace it with (less expensive) fluff, they would undermine their raison d'être and fail to cultivate younger readers. But corporate newspaper owners abandoned any responsibility to maintain the franchise. When the Internet came along, newspapers were already heading due south.

We do not mean to suggest that '60s journalism was perfect or that we should aim to return there. Even then journalism suffered from a generally agreed-upon professional code that relied far too heavily on official sources to set the news agenda and decide the range of debate in our political culture. That weakness of journalism has been magnified in the era of corporate control, leaving us with a situation most commentators are loath to acknowledge: the quality of journalism in the United States today is dreadful.

Of course, there are still tremendous journalists doing outstanding work, but they battle a system increasingly pushing in the opposite direction. (That is why some of the most powerful statements about our current circumstances come in the form of books, like Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine; or documentaries, like Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine; or beat reporting in magazines, like that of Jane Mayer and Seymour Hersh at The New Yorker.) The news media blew the coverage of the Iraq invasion, spoon-feeding us lies masquerading as fact-checked verities. They missed the past decade of corporate scandals. They cheered on the housing bubble and genuflected before the financial sector (and Gilded Age levels of wealth and inequality) as it blasted debt and speculation far beyond what the real economy could sustain. Today they do almost no investigation into where the trillions of public dollars being spent by the Federal Reserve and Treasury are going but spare not a moment to update us on the "Octomom." They trade in trivia and reduce everything to spin, even matters of life and death.

No wonder young people find mainstream journalism uninviting; it would almost be more frightening if they embraced what passes for news today. Older Americans have been giving up on old media too, if not as rapidly and thoroughly as the young. If we are going to address the crisis in journalism, we have to come up with solutions that provide us with hard-hitting reporting that monitors people in power, that engages all our people, not just the classes attractive to advertisers, and that seeks to draw all Americans into public life. Going backward is not an option; nor is it desirable. The old corporate media system choked on its own excess. We should not seek to restore or re-create it. We have to move forward to a system that creates a journalism far superior to that of the recent past.

We can do exactly that--but only if we recognize and embrace the necessity of government intervention. Only government can implement policies and subsidies to provide an institutional framework for quality journalism. We understand that this is a controversial position. When French President Nicolas Sarkozy recently engineered a $765 million bailout of French newspapers, free marketeers rushed to the barricades to declare, "No, no, not in the land of the free press." Conventional wisdom says that the founders intended the press to be entirely independent of the state, to preserve the integrity of the press. Bree Nordenson notes that when she informed famed journalist Tom Rosenstiel that her visionary 2007 Columbia Journalism Review article concerned the ways government could support the press, Rosenstiel "responded brusquely, 'Well, I'm not a big fan of government support.' I explained that I just wanted to put the possibility on the table. 'Well, I'd take it off the table,' he said."

We are sympathetic to that position. As writers, we have been routinely critical of government--Democratic and Republican--over the past three decades and antagonistic to those in power. Policies that would allow politicians to exercise even the slightest control over the news are, in our view, not only frightening but unacceptable. Fortunately, the rude calculus that says government intervention equals government control is inaccurate and does not reflect our past or present, or what enlightened policies and subsidies could entail.

Our founders never thought that freedom of the press would belong only to those who could afford a press. They would have been horrified at the notion that journalism should be regarded as the private preserve of the Rupert Murdochs and John Malones. The founders would not have entertained, let alone accepted, the current equation that seems to say that if rich people determine there is no good money to be made in the news, then society cannot have news. Let's find a king and call it a day.

The founders regarded the establishment of a press system, the Fourth Estate, as the first duty of the state. Jefferson and Madison devoted considerable energy to explaining the necessity of the press to a vibrant democracy. The government implemented extraordinary postal subsidies for the distribution of newspapers. It also instituted massive newspaper subsidies through printing contracts and the paid publication of government notices, all with the intent of expanding the number and variety of newspapers. When Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830s he was struck by the quantity and quality of newspapers and periodicals compared with France, Canada and Britain. It was not an accident. It had little to do with "free markets." It was the result of public policy.

Moreover, when the Supreme Court has taken up matters of freedom of the press, its majority opinions have argued strongly for the necessity of the press as the essential underpinning of our constitutional republic. First Amendment absolutist Hugo Black wrote that the "Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society." Black argued for the right and necessity of the government to counteract private monopolistic control over the media. More recently Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, argued that "assuring the public has access to a multiplicity of information sources is a governmental purpose of the highest order."

But government support for the press is not merely a matter of history or legal interpretation. Complaints about a government role in fostering journalism invariably overlook the fact that our contemporary media system is anything but an independent "free market" institution. The government subsidies established by the founders did not end in the eighteenth--or even the nineteenth--century. Today the government doles out tens of billions of dollars in direct and indirect subsidies, including free and essentially permanent monopoly broadcast licenses, monopoly cable and satellite privileges, copyright protection and postal subsidies. (Indeed, this magazine has been working for the past few years with journals of the left and right to assure that those subsidies are available to all publications.) Because the subsidies mostly benefit the wealthy and powerful, they are rarely mentioned in the fictional account of an independent and feisty Fourth Estate. Both the rise and decline of commercial journalism can be attributed in part to government policies, which scrapped the regulations and ownership rules that had encouraged local broadcast journalism and allowed for lax regulation as well as tax deductions for advertising--policies that greatly increased news media revenues.

The truth is that government policies and subsidies already define our press system. The only question is whether they will be enlightened and democratic, as in the early Republic, or corrupt and corrosive to democracy, as has been the case in recent decades. The answer will be determined in coming years as part of what is certain to be a bruising battle: media companies and their lobbying groups will argue against the "heavy hand of government" while defending existing subsidies. They will propose more deregulation, hoping to capitalize on the crisis to remove the last barriers to print, broadcast and digital consolidation in local markets--creating media "company towns," where competition is eliminated, along with journalism jobs, in pursuit of better returns for investors. Enlightened elected officials, media unions and public interest and community groups that recognize the role of robust journalism are going to have to step up to argue for a real fix.

Fortunately, an increasing number of veteran journalists, scholars and activists are beginning to grasp the historical significance of the present moment and the central role of public policy. It was the late James Carey, decorated University of Illinois and Columbia journalism professor and no fan of government power, who saw this before almost anyone else, writing in 2002: "Alas, the press may have to rely upon a democratic state to create the conditions necessary for a democratic press to flourish and for journalists to be restored to their proper role as orchestrators of the conversation of a democratic culture."

We have to ask where we want to end up, after the reforms have been implemented. In our view we need to have competing independent newsrooms of well-paid journalists in every state and in every major community. This is not about newspapers or even broadcast media; it entails all media and accepts that we may be headed into an era when nearly all of our communication will be digital. Ideally this will be a pluralistic system, where there will be different institutional structures. Varieties of nonprofit media will have to play a much larger role, though not a monopolistic one.

We recognize and embrace the need for a system in which there will be a range of perspectives from left to right, alongside some media more intent on maintaining a less explicitly ideological stance. We must have a system that prohibits state censorship and that minimizes commercial control over journalistic values and pursuits. The right of any person to start his or her own medium, commercial or nonprofit, at any time is inviolable. From this foundation we can envision a thriving, digital citizen's journalism complementing and probably merging with professional journalism. What will the mix be? It would vary, with more not-for-profit and subsidized media in rural and low-income areas, more for-profit media in wealthier ones. The first order of any government intervention would be to assure that no state or region would be without quality local, state, national or international journalism.

We begin with the notion that journalism is a public good, that it has broad social benefits far beyond that between buyer and seller. Like all public goods, we need the resources to get it produced. This is the role of the state and public policy. It will require a subsidy and should be regarded as similar to the education system or the military in that regard. Only a nihilist would consider it sufficient to rely on profit-seeking commercial interests or philanthropy to educate our youth or defend the nation from attack. With the collapse of the commercial news system, the same logic applies. Just as there came a moment when policy-makers recognized the necessity of investing tax dollars to create a public education system to teach our children, so a moment has arrived at which we must recognize the need to invest tax dollars to create and maintain news gathering, reporting and writing with the purpose of informing all our citizens.

So, if we can accept the need for government intervention to save American journalism, what form should it take? In the near term, we need to think about an immediate journalism economic stimulus, to be revisited after three years, and we need to think big. Let's eliminate postal rates for periodicals that garner less than 20 percent of their revenues from advertising. This keeps alive all sorts of magazines and journals of opinion that are being devastated by distribution costs. It is these publications that often do investigative, cutting-edge, politically provocative journalism.

What to do about newspapers? Let's give all Americans an annual tax credit for the first $200 they spend on daily newspapers. The newspapers would have to publish at least five times per week and maintain a substantial "news hole," say at least twenty-four broad pages each day, with less than 50 percent advertising. In effect, this means the government will pay for every citizen who so desires to get a free daily newspaper subscription, but the taxpayer gets to pick the newspaper--this is an indirect subsidy, because the government does not control who gets the money. This will buy time for our old media newsrooms--and for us citizens--to develop a plan to establish journalism in the digital era. We could see this evolving into a system to provide tax credits for online subscriptions as well.

None of these proposed subsidies favor or censor any particular viewpoint. The primary condition on media recipients of this stimulus subsidy would be a mild one: that they make at least 90 percent of their content immediately available free online. In this way, the subsidies would benefit citizens and taxpayers, expanding the public domain and providing the Internet with a rich vein of material available to all.

What should be done about the disconnect between young people and journalism? Have the government allocate funds so every middle school, high school and college has a well-funded student newspaper and a low-power FM radio station, all of them with substantial websites. We need to get young people accustomed to producing journalism and to appreciating what differentiates good journalism from the other stuff.

The essential component for the immediate stimulus should be an exponential expansion of funding for public and community broadcasting, with the requirement that most of the funds be used for journalism, especially at the local level, and that all programming be available for free online. Other democracies outspend the United States by whopping margins per capita on public media: Canada sixteen times more; Germany twenty times more; Japan forty-three times more; Britain sixty times more; Finland and Denmark seventy-five times more. These investments have produced dramatically more detailed and incisive international reporting, as well as programming to serve young people, women, linguistic and ethnic minorities and regions that might otherwise be neglected by for-profit media.

Perhaps in the past the paucity of public media in the United States could be justified by the enormous corporate media presence. But as the corporate sector shrivels we need something to replace it, and fast. Public and community broadcasters are in a position to be just that, and to keep alive the practice of news gathering in countless communities across the nation. Indeed, if a regional daily like the San Francisco Chronicle fails this year, why not try a federally funded experiment: maintain the newsroom as a digital extension of the local public broadcasting system?

Currently the government spends less than $450 million annually on public media. (To put matters in perspective, it spends several times that much on Pentagon public relations designed, among other things, to encourage favorable press coverage of the wars that the vast majority of Americans oppose.) Based on what other highly democratic and free countries do, the allocation from the government should be closer to $10 billion. All totaled, the suggestions we make here for subscription subsidies, postal reforms, youth media and investment in public broadcasting have a price tag in the range of $60 billion over the next three years.

This is a substantial amount of money. In normal times it might be too much to ask. But in a time of national crisis, when an informed and engaged citizenry is America's best hope, $20 billion a year is chicken feed for building what would essentially be a bridge across which journalism might pass from dying old media to the promise of something new. Think of it as a free press "infrastructure project" that is necessary to maintain an informed citizenry, and democracy itself. It would keep the press system alive. And it has the added benefit of providing an economic stimulus. If these journalists (and the tens of thousands of production and distribution workers associated with newspapers) are not put to work through the programs we propose, their knowledge and expertise will be lost. They will be unemployed, and their unemployment will contribute to further stagnation and economic decline--especially in big cities where newspapers are major employers.

These proposals are a good start, but then the really hard work begins. We have to come up with a plan to convert failing newspapers into journalistic entities with the express purpose of assuring that fully staffed, functioning and, ideally, competing newsrooms continue to operate in communities across the country. The only way to do this is by using tax policies, credit policies and explicit subsidies to convert the remains of old media into independent, stable institutions that are ready to compete and communicate in the decades to come. To get from here to there, and especially to make possible multiple competing newsrooms in larger communities, policy-makers should be open to commercial ownership, municipal ownership, staff ownership or independent nonprofit ownership. Ideally the next media system will have a combination of the above; and the government should be prepared to rewrite rules and regulations and to use its largesse to aid a variety of sound initiatives.

We confess that we do not have all the answers. Neither, we have discovered, does anyone else. The fatal flaw in so many sincere but doomed responses to the current crisis is that they try to do the impossible, to create a system using varying doses of foundation grants, do-gooder capitalism, citizen donations, volunteer labor, the anticipation of a miraculous increase in advertising manna and/or a sudden--and in our view unimaginable--reversal on the part of Americans who have thus far shown no inclination to pay for online content. At best, these are piecemeal proposals when we are in dire need of building an entire edifice. The money from these sources is insufficient to address the crisis in journalism.

We have to open the door to enlightened public policies and subsidies. We need our members of Congress and our leading scholars to approach this matter with the same urgency with which they would approach the threat of terrorism, pandemic, financial collapse or climate change. We need an organized citizenry demanding the institutions that make self-government possible. Only then can we, like our founders, build a free press. The technologies and the economic challenges are, of course, more complex than in the 1790s, but the answer is the same: the democratic state, the government, must create the conditions for sustaining the journalism that can provide the people with the information they need to be their own governors.

Mike Ghouse

Mike Ghouse is a Dallas based writer, blogger, speaker and a thinker. A frequent guest on talk radio and local television networks offering pluralistic perspectives on issues of the day. His comments, news analysis and columns can be found on the Websites and Blogs listed at his personal website.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Global Media Manupulation

Global Media Managers
by Michael Barker

(Swans - March 9, 2009) On January 13, 2009, the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), a recently formed international media manipulator, released a report titled, "Soft Censorship: How Governments Around the Globe Use Money to Manipulate the Media." The report documents the manner in which various governments manipulate media systems within their own countries (e.g., the Ukraine and Chile). Significantly the report fails to identify the US government's extensive efforts to manipulation of media systems in those same countries or the conduct of CIMA itself. When it is revealed that CIMA is a project of the US government's CIA-inspired National Endowment for Democracy (NED) this failure is contextualised. For example, by providing strategic support to local media projects the NED played a key role in facilitating Ukraine's Orange Revolution (in 2005), and in catalysing the ouster of Chile's resident dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1987. (1)

The first sentence of the executive summary of CIMA's report notes, without irony, that: "As once openly authoritarian regimes have moved toward more democratic societies -- or at least toward the appearance of democratic ones -- an insidious form of censorship has arisen." Such a statement expresses the anti-democratic function of the media in the United States itself. (2) That is, the media empire in the U.S. operates to bring pressures upon mainstream US journalists to self-censor and conform to capitalist ideology. Such pressure facilitates the transition from pseudo democratic forms of governance to openly authoritarian (media-backed) regimes.

This short article does not critique the content of CIMA's latest report; however, it is necessary to point out that almost all of the "independent" media groups referred to within the report have secured support from the National Endowment for Democracy at some point of their operations. (3) Instead this article scrutinizes a number of rarely mentioned democracy-manipulators whose work can be indirectly connected to Don Podesta, the author of the CIMA report. The point of this scrutiny is to demonstrate how deeply such media manipulators have insinuated themselves into global civil society, so that concerned activists can more effectively resist their hegemonic influence.

Don Podesta presently serves as consultant to CIMA. Prior to his engagement as consultant he served as a board member of the Inter American Press Association, and acted as "an assistant managing editor/copy desks at The Washington Post, where he worked for 27 years." His ties to the Inter American Press Association help explain his current role as consultant, as in earlier years this association had formed an alliance with the corporate media to help oust the Allende government in Chile in 1973. More recently the Inter American Press Association has acted in a similar fashion against President Chávez in Venezuela. An understanding of this background makes it relevant that The Washington Post's deputy managing editor, Milton Coleman, served alongside Podesta, until recently, on the board of the Inter American Press Association -- a group that might be considered to be just one of many CIMA precursors.

Given that both Podesta and Coleman have ties to The Washington Post an examination of other links that The Washington Post Company has to various philanthropic media manipulators is informative. This is because the long serving vice president of the Washington Post Company, Patrick Butler, also currently serves on CIMA's advisory council. In addition, two other board members of the Washington Post Company are affiliated to important democracy-manipulating media ventures: these are the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett (who serves on the advisory board of the International Center for Journalists -- a group that in turn obtains funding from the National Endowment for Democracy), and the former president and publisher of Akron Beacon-Journal, John Dotson, Jr. (who serves on the journalism advisory committee of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation).

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation (also known as the Knight Foundation), is a major supporter of seemingly "independent" media projects, and was created in 1940 with monies generated from the Akron Beacon Journal. Since 2005, the president and CEO of the foundation has been Alberto Ibarguen, the former publisher of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. Ibarguen maintains impressive democracy-manipulating credentials, as he is a US member of the imperialist Inter-American Dialogue, board member of the CIA-linked Council on Foreign Relations, and has held high-level appointments within a number of media-manipulating groups like the Freedom Forum's Newseum, and the Inter American Press Association. Ibarguen, however, is a board member of the newly formed and ostensibly progressive investigative journalism project, Pro Publica -- for a critique of this organization's work see "Investigating the Investigators: A Critical Look at Pro Publica."

The Knight Foundation supports a number of media projects, one of which is the Internews Network. This is a significant show of support as the Internews Network is a large media agency that has a long history of collaboration with the US government and the National Endowment for Democracy. Created in 1982, Internews, like CIMA, promotes a special brand of independent media; that is, media that is independent -- or free -- of any questioning of the hegemonic US media.(4) In 2005, the president of Internews, David Hoffman, co-wrote an article (with conservative commentator Helle Dale) in which he observed that his network played a crucial role in the "war of ideas," a war that he believes should rely upon the "two pillars of American democracy -- free enterprise and free media." According to many critical media scholars these "pillars" are more likely to undermine American democracy than strengthen it. For instance, with regard to US mainstream media consumers, Michael Parenti writes:

The sinister commandant who tortures Winston in [George] Orwell's 1984 lets us know he is an oppressor. The vision of the future is of a boot pressing down on a human face, he tells his victim. The ideological control exercised in the United States today is far more insidious. Power is always more secure when cooptive, covert, and manipulative than when nakedly brutish. The support elicited through the control of minds is more durable than the support extracted at the point of a bayonet. The essentially undemocratic nature of the mainstream media, like the other business-dominated institutions of society, must be hidden behind a neutralistic, voluntaristic, pluralistic facade. "For manipulation to be most effective, evidence of its presence should be nonexistent.... It is essential, therefore, that people who are manipulated believe in the neutrality of their key social institutions," writes Herbert Schiller. (5)

Returning to Internews, strong criticisms of their ambitions to promote US foreign policy interests in the global war of words have come from foreign governments all over the world. It is correctly argued that Internews, along with other foreign NGOs, are operating illegally by manipulating their political systems in the same way that the U.S. would cry foul if China or Venezuela were bankrolling independent media outlets in the U.S. Following on from this point, some leaders have fittingly restricted the ability of foreign-financed NGOs to operate within their countries, as such selectively backed NGOs are considered to play an important role in what have been referred to as post-modern coups, for example Eastern Europe's "colour revolutions." Thus resistance from foreign governments towards US media interventions formed a major rationale for CIMA to publish the "Soft Censorship" report.

Bringing us back to the present, just last week CIMA organized a workshop titled "Green Journalism: Environmental Reporting in Developing Countries" with featured speakers including Sanjeev Chatterjee, the executive director of the Knight Foundation-supported Knight Center for International Media, Rob Taylor, the director of Science and Environment Programs at the NED-funded International Center for Journalists, and Jon Sawyer, the executive director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. (6) Needless to say, the environment is not a new area of concern for democracy manipulators like the NED or CIMA, and the NED has been channelling funds to environmental causes and journalists for years. Instead, it is more likely that CIMA's leading concern at this meeting was not the protection of the environment, but rather ensuring that the environmental writers who influence the public are able to suitably balance the "need" for economic growth with environmental sustainability. That is, CIMA sees an urgent need for environmental journalists -- especially those based in countries that are being exploited by Western corporations -- to report in an "objective," professional manner that highlights individual cases of corruption and exploitation and thus avoid public exposure of the systemic governmental, economic, structural, and institutional reasons enabling the degradation of the world's environment. Last week's meeting was undertaken as a means of reviewing and renewing commitment to the manipulation of environmental media networks. (7)

This article, in examining CIMA's recent work, has touched, in broad terms, on the magnitude of the US government's aim to manipulate the media. Regrettably -- other than exposing the subtle processes of philanthropic global media colonisation -- there is little that can be done to seriously reduce such influence. Thus the onus is on progressive citizens concerned with elite media manipulation to create and support vibrant media alternatives devoid of elite funding, which with persistence will allow us to build local and global movements that can ultimately render all attempts of elite manipulation futile.

1. "Chile has a long history of political inference relayed through 'independent' media. During the 1960s the newspaper El Mercurio received a helping hand from covert CIA funding to assist in the destabilization of the democratically elected Allende government, whose leadership was abruptly terminated when President Allende was assassinated in 1973 by a CIA-led coup. With Allende's government deposed, the following Pinochet dictatorship heavily censored the media, an action ignored by the U.S. However, in the late 1980s when the U.S. decided that it was time to replace Pinochet, the NED was used to provide aid to politically favoured groups -- like the Christian Democrats -- who in 1987, were able to break through the communicative barriers erected by Pinochet with their newly established newspaper, La Epoca, 'which quickly became one of the country's main dailies'. Later on in 1990, to support a US bid to oust the incumbent party, the NED provided Demokratzia (the newspaper of the opposition party -- Union of Democratic Forces) with 'US$233,000 worth of newsprint, to allow it to increase its size and circulation for the period leading up to the national elections'." See Michael Barker, Civil Society, Empowered or Overpowered: The Role of The Mass Media in 'Promoting Democracy' Worldwide (PDF), Referred paper presented to the Australian & New Zealand Communication Association International Conference, University of Adelaide, July 4-7, 2006.
For information about the NED's role in the Ukraine, see Michael Barker, Mediating Protests: A Critical Examination of the Relation Between the Mass Media and Social Movements (PDF), Referred paper presented to the Convergence, Citizen Journalism & Social Change: Building Capacity conference, University of Queensland, March 25-27, 2008. (back)
2. David Edward, "Interview with Alan Rusbridger (Editor, The Guardian)," Media Lens, December 2000; James Petras, "Mass Media and Mass Politics: Conservative, Liberal and Marxist Perspectives," The James Petras Website, May 11, 2008; UKWatch, "John Theobald and the Media: An Interview with David Berry," Fifth-Estate-Online, April 2007. For an assortment of online documentaries that critique the US mainstream media, see here (collated courtesy of the Teach Peace Foundation). (back)
3. A couple of examples from the introductory pages of the report include two Argentinean groups, the Association for Civil Rights and Citizen Power Foundation, and the Columbia-based Foundation for New Iberian-American Journalism. For further criticisms of the work of these groups see my articles, "Washington Promotes 'Independent' Media in Venezuela," and "Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the Democracy Manipulators." (back)
4. The "Soft Censorship" report cites Ann Olson, "deputy chief of party and senior advisor for Internews Network in Ukraine," as an authority on independent media. Olson is a former Knight Foundation international journalism fellow who herself recently served as a CIMA consultant, writing a report for them last year. This makes it very clear what CIMA means by really be independent. (back)
5. Michael Parenti, Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media (St. Martin's Press, 1986), p.24. (back)
6. Headed by Jon Sawyer, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting describes its mission as "supporting the independent international journalism that U.S. media organizations are increasingly less willing to undertake." The Center "functions as an independent division of the World Security Institute," a non-profit group that ostensibly supports "independent research and journalism on global affairs." Bruce Blair founded the World Security Institute in 2000 (and still heads the organization), and prior to launching this group he served as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution for thirteen years. In addition to being the president of the World Security Institute, Blair also helps head up an independent division of the institute called Center for Defense Information, and is the executive producer for yet another division called Azimuth Media -- which produces the (liberal foundation supported) PBS show, Foreign Exchange, a show that was formerly hosted by "Spokesperson for the Global Elite," Fareed Zakaria. (Zakaria is the editor of Newsweek International, a board member of the elite planning group the Trilateral Commission, and he formerly acted as the managing editor of the Council on Foreign Relations journal Foreign Affairs from 1992 until 2000.)
Returning to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, two particularly interesting members of the Center's six-person-strong advisory council are Charlayne Hunter-Gault (who is a former National Correspondent for PBS, and in 1992 served as a board member of the Council on Foreign Relations) and Geneva Overholser (who formerly served on the editorial board of The New York Times, is a board member of the CIMA-linked Center for Public Integrity, and sits on the Knight Foundation's journalism advisory committee).
Finally, if the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is not just an elite front group and is truly interested in reporting on stories that are rarely covered in the US media then they might want to investigate the acquaintances of one of their three trustees, William Bush. This is because Bush is currently the partner-in-charge of Fulbright & Jaworski LLP ("one of the largest law firms in the United States"), a firm whose current executive committee chair, Steven Pfeiffer, was a former board member of the CIA-linked Riggs National Corporation (whose board members included the brother of George H.W. Bush, Jonathan J. Bush). A critical investigation of Pfeiffer's background might for instance examine his role as a board member of the Africa-America Institute (which formerly received NED-funding in the early 1990s), because fellow board members with equally unsavoury backgrounds (to just mention two) include the president of the world's largest diamond supplier De Beers Inc. USA (Rosalind Kainyah), and Maurice Tempelsman, who similarly "has a long and bloody history in Africa." In addition, Pfeiffer is linked to a long-running "humanitarian" project known as Project HOPE, which according to their Web site, "first pioneered medical diplomacy by developing friendly relationships with peoples of different cultures and orientations, through sharing of medical knowledge and treating patients alongside health professional counterparts." Indeed, the current chair of Project HOPE, Charles Sanders, is a trustee of the neoliberal Center for Strategic and International Studies, and is a board member of Genentech (one of the world's most successful biotechnology corporations); while another notable board member is J. Michael McQuade (who is a senior vice president for Science and Technology for the major defence contractor, United Technologies). Project HOPE appears to play a key "humanitarian" function for corporate elites in Africa, and it even works with another controversial group known as Engender Health that undertakes "health" work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- a country that should certainly be the focus of critical "crisis reporting" by the Pulitzer Center. (back)
7. For instance, as reported in an earlier article, in Russia the NED has provided support to the Environmental Rights Center's Environment and Rights Journal (which has been published since February 2002), and whose editor-in-chief, Grigory Pasko, was awarded the Fondation de France Prize in 2002 from the NED-connected Reporters Without Borders. (back)

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Michael Barker has recently handed in his PhD thesis at Griffith University in Australia. His other articles can be accessed at

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