Monday, January 31, 2005

Two Weeks Ago, JABBS Agreed with Savage. Tonight? Not So Much

I knew if I listened long enough this would happen.

Two weeks ago, I actually agreed with conservative radio host Michael Savage (http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2005_01_01_jabbs_archive.html) -- we both felt President Bush's $50 million inaugurationalooza lacked "decorum," since the nation is at war.

Since I cringe at the thought of listening to either the "Mark Levin Comedy Hour" on WABC or the faux college radio screech-a-thon hosted by Sam Seder and Janeane Garofalo on Air America Radio, I will on occasion turn to Savage (a.k.a. Michael Weiner). But seven minutes seems to be my limit, before Savage says something either off-the-wall loopy or downright venomous.

Tonight, amid a reasonable discussion of the Iraq elections, Savage shifted gears and mentioned Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-N.Y.) fainting episode today prior to a speech in Buffalo, N.Y.

Clinton blamed a stomach virus, but later was able to deliver a second speech at nearby Canisius College. The story made the news, although Savage couldn't see why.

Calling Clinton a "communist" who knew how to work the media to bring attention onto herself, Savage said Clinton was faking. "It's the oldest women's trick in the book," he said.

"Am I being too cynical?" he asked a minute later, wondering aloud if he was being too "distrustful."

Yes, Michael, you were.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Matthews, Again, Skews Hardball Panel To The Right

Chris Matthews, for the umpteenth time, has offered viewers of MSNBC's Hardball a panel that skewed right.

On the Jan. 30 show, focusing on the Iraq election, Matthews' panel featured Howard Fineman of Newsweek, Judith Miller of The New York Times, and Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard. Matthews portrayed this as a roundtable of "journalists," but by including Hayes without a liberal counterpart, he was in fact offering his viewers an unbalanced panel.

Not to be redundant from previous JABBS posts, but did Matthews lose Joe Conason's phone number? Was Katrina van den Heuvel stuck in traffic? Was Eric Alterman out of the country?

***

For those of you who are not journalists, let me walk you through the problems Matthews creates when he so poorly structures a panel.

I have nothing against Hayes (or a similar conservative "journalist") appearing on Hardball, but the truth is that conservative "journalists," like their liberal counterparts, seek to advance a political ideology, and cherry pick facts to do so.

That's not the case for mainstream journalists. Their goal is objectivity and balance. Yes, some are better than others. But ideally, that's the mainstream journalist's goal. (And of course, reporters should not be confused with columnists, such as Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post or David Brooks of the Times, who are paid to have a political bias.)

***

When Matthews creates a panel of two mainstream journalists and a conservative "journalist," he does a disservice to his viewers. How?

First, by default the panel skews right. (It would be equally wrong to skew the panel left). A panel of one mainstream journalist, one conservative "journalist" and one liberal "journalist" would offer balance. An alternative would be a panel featuring three mainstream journalists.

Beyond that problem, the right-skewed panel fosters the stereotype of "liberal media bias," placing the idea that, in this case, Hayes is need to counter the "liberalism" of Fineman and Miller. That's farcical, because even among those who believe in "liberal media bias," Fineman and Miller don't fit the bill.

Who is Howard Fineman? Readers of media criticism sites have long wondered about his politics. Earlier this month on Imus in the Morning, Fineman praised Brit Hume for being a "terrific journalist" -- hardly the sort of thing you would expect from a "liberal." But then again what liberal would offer pointers for President Bush on how to "skewer" his Democratic rival, John Kerry, in the debates? Fineman did just that, in October, on Imus.

Who is Judith Miller? She's the Times reporter who fell hook. line and sinker for the Bush administration's original "hunt for WMD" rationale for going to war with Iraq. The Times ultimately ran a lengthy apology to readers, saying that the newspaper (read: Miller) should have been worked harder to find sources outside of the administration during the run-up to war.

***

Why does Matthews structure so many panels with a mix of mainstream journalists and conservatives? Why do conservatives outnumber liberals on such panels?

Let's not forget that Matthews got his start as a top aide for former Speaker of the House Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill (D-Mass.), and although his politics have clearly changed over the years to some sort of Reagan Democrat status, his resume hasn't.

Combine that with the rumors, dating back more than a year, that Matthews would like to jump to Fox News. Perhaps that has led Matthews to consider appeasing his conservative viewers more important than a balanced analysis of the news.

That's just a theory, of course. But the alternative is to suggest that Matthews doesn't recognize the difference between mainstream journalists and those wishing to advance political ideologies. Or that he doesn't care. That may be true for the Rush Limbaughs of the world, but I've got to think Matthews deserves more credit than that.

Republican Party Machine Ousts Veterans Committee Chair For Dancing To His Own Tune

The trendline is unmistakeable.

Republican leaders who stray from the party line, as determined by Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay, are given a choice. Dance to our tune, or dance alone.

Back in November, Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), in appropriating money in the transportation section of the recent omnibus spending bill, punished 21 Northeastern moderate Republicans who wrote him a letter in support of $1.8 billion of spending for Amtrak. You can guess who Istook is friends with.

Then earlier this month, word spread that Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) would soon be booted from his post heading the House Ethics Committee (http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2005/01/republican-party-machine-bands.html#comments) apparently because he didn't fall in line when the GOP rallied behind House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. The word is he will be replaced shortly by Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Texas), a DeLay ally.

But folks, that's not all.

In a separate move earlier this month, House Republican leaders voted to out Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) from his post as chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, apparently because he disagreed with Hastert and DeLay on spending programs for veterans. Smith was replaced by Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), who plans to dance along with the party machine.

According to the Newark Star-Ledger, the change was quickly denounced by leaders of several veterans' groups, with leaders of eight veterans groups. including the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and Vietnam Veterans of America, writing to Hastert to urge him to retain Smith.

"This is not only a slap at Chris Smith, but a shot over the bow at veterans organizations," Richard Fuller of the Paralyzed Veterans of America told the Star-Ledger. "The Republican leadership has made a statement that the country is making too much of a commitment to the men and women who have served in uniform."

***

"It all came down to the fact I wanted to spend too much on veterans," Smith told the Star-Ledger. In his four years as chairman, Smith authored 22 laws for veterans. "I am not a yes man."

New Jerseyans know that Smith is hardly a moderate Republican. He's a conservative, perhaps known best as a long-time fighter against abortion rights. A 13-term Congressman, he has agreed with his party 85% of the time, according to various surveys of his voting record. But he didn't see eye to eye with Hastert or DeLay, so out the door he went.

Buyer had lobbied the leadership for the post and has opposed Smith and veterans' groups on a number of issues in the past several years.

A Republican leadership aide, who asked not to be identified, told the Star-Ledger that veterans spending has been "going up and up well beyond the rest of the budget." He said the GOP leaders wanted someone like Buyer who could "tell the veterans groups, 'Enough is enough.'"

"Smith has not been much of a team player," the House aide told the Star-Ledger.

In other words, he didn't want to play on Hastert and DeLay's team.

***

I have no rooting interest here. I've never been much of a fan of Smith (I lived in his district for several years in the late 1980s). It just seems to me that the lust for total control by Hastert and DeLay is a gamble that will likely fail miserably. The Gingrich Revolution of 1994 led to a loss of seats in the 1996 election. Then, perhaps as now, power and control supplanted policy. The American people noticed.

Perhaps Hastert and DeLay should remember an original Republican, Abraham Lincoln, and his words that "a house divided cannot stand." Or maybe they would prefer to learn that lesson the hard way, in the 2006 election.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Third Conservative "Journalist" Found on Bush Administration Payroll

On-line magazine Salon revealed yesterday that a third conservative "journalist" was on the Bush Administration's payroll.

Syndicated columnist Michael McManus was paid $10,000 to promote President Bush's marriage initiative, the same program conservative columnist Maggie Gallagher was paid to promote. McManus' column appears in 50 newspapers nationwide, including the Washington Times, Dallas Morning News and Charlotte Observer.

Like Gallagher and fellow conservative columnist Armstrong Williams, who was paid to tout No Child Left Behind, McManus never disclosed the conflict of interest with his readers.

According to Salon, McManus and Gallagher were paid by Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Wade F. Horn. Horn, perhaps not coincidentally, is a former board member of Marriage Savers, the group McManus founded in 1996. Also, perhaps not coincidentally, Helath and Human Services paid Marriage Savers $40,000 to tout the same Bush initiative.

***

Even some conservatives are getting tired of this story.

Tony Blankley, the Washington Times editorial page editor, said the administration's payoffs to various conservative "journalists" has cast "a cloud over conservatives." Jonah Goldberg, editor at large for National Review Online, said that "if other contracts exist, then the White House should disclose them." Debra Sanders, a conservative columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, said she is "appalled." James Pinkerton, a Newsday columnist (and JABBS reader) who worked for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, said, "You shouldn't be on the government payroll. It's KGB-ish."

From now on, any time a conservative uses the term "liberal media bias" to describe those of us in the media, I propose that liberals counter with "paid propagandists" to describe the right-leaning journalists among us.

(And yes, I recognize the irony of saying the above on a blog touting itself as partisan.)

***

But perhaps more important, President Bush has spoken out about the administration's practice of quietly awarding contracts, saying he expects his Cabinet secretaries to end the practice. (http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2005/01/another-conservative-journalist-found.html)

So why is the information coming forth like a leaky faucet, via this or that investigation? Given that Bush has already apologized on behalf of his Cabinet (although claiming he was personally unaware of the practice), why can't his administration come clean with a thorough list of all the payoffs?

Why do I get the feeling this story isn't going away anytime soon?

New Education Appointee Has Questionable Resume

Emily Kertz Lampkin was appointed a deputy chief of staff in the Education Department.

Who is Emily Kertz Lampkin?

According to a Jan. 26 news release, Lampkin "has served as the Department's director of No Child Left Behind communications and outreach for the past two years."

Doesn't that mean she was responsible for hiring conservative "journalist" Armstrong Williams to tout No Child Left Behind?

You may recall that Williams was paid $240,000 (http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2005/01/is-there-word-for-what-armstrong.html) to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same.

Earlier this week, President Bush said the practice of awarding contracts to "journalists" was wrong (http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2005/01/another-conservative-journalist-found.html).

But apparently there is no rule on promoting those who do such wrongdoing.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Church Group Refutes Dobson, Embraces SpongeBob

In an effort to refute the anti-gay crusade of Dr. James Dobson, the United Church of Christ issued a press briefing that said "Jesus' message of extravagant welcome extends to all, including SpongeBob SquarePants."

"Absolutely, the UCC extends an unequivocal welcome to SpongeBob," the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, said in the Jan. 24 release. "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we."

The UCC called Dobson's protest against an anti-bigotry video featuring SpongeBob and other cartoon characters "laughable accusations."

"While Dobson's silly accusation makes headlines, it's also one more concrete example of how religion is misused over and over to promote intolerance over inclusion," Thomas said. "This is why we believe it is so important that the UCC speak the Gospel in an accent not often heard in our culture, because far too many experience the cross only as judgment, never as embrace."

***

Thomas said that Dobson, despite his viewpoints, is one of the most oft-heard religious voices in popular culture today, with daily commentaries that appear widely on television and radio stations across the United States. Dobson is also a regular on various conservative "news" shows, such as those broadcast by Fox News and Christian Broadcasting Network.

Ironically, a 30-second television commercial UCC produced to underscore the denomination's belief that "Jesus didn't turn anyone away" has been rejected by two television networks as "too controversial."

"Resistance to our message is formidable," Thomas said. "We're cutting against the prevailing grain of a society that is afraid of the stranger, suspicious of difference and easily seduced by narrowly defined theological boundaries."

Hannity Offers Dobson Forum To Continue Defaming SpongeBob

Dr. James Dobson has a friend in Sean Hannity.

Dobson, founder of the conservative group Focus on the Family, has been falsely claiming to conservatives far and wide that an anti-bigotry video -- featuring, among others, SpongeBob SquarePants -- is actually "a teachers' guide that talks the teachers through homosexual changes of attitude."

Dobson made the charges again on the Jan. 21 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, even after The New York Times reported and refuted Dobson's falsehoods (http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2005/01/dobson-extends-anti-gay-crusade-to.html).

Dobson told host Sean Hannity that "the purpose (of the video) is to drive them toward a pledge of tolerance that elementary school children are going to be asked to sign."

But according to the producer of the video, Nile Rodgers, there is no mention of the pledge in the video or accompanying educational materials. Furthermore, there is no mention of sexual orientation in the video or accompanying materials.

Rodgers told the Times that Dobson might have been confused because an unrelated website, belonging to a similarly named organization, supports gay youth.

But Dobson apparently isn't interested in such broad concepts as "truth." And Hannity, more interested in appeasing the religious right (and grabbing big ratings) than reporting the facts, happily gave Dobson his forum, unfettered. Facts be damned!

Dobson told Hannity that he was the victim of "media spin." Hannity's response? "Dr. Dobson, what a shock -- the liberal media totally got a story wrong. You know, it, like, happens to me now every day."

***

Liberals may laugh off the Dobson-SpongeBob story. Jon Stewart played the story for laughs on his Jan. 26 show, and even on JABBS, we poked fun at the lunacy of the charge.

But the Dobson story is getting discussed. On the conservative website NewsMax.com, a Jan. 21 story gave arguments by Dobson (although not specifically named) and Rodgers equal play:

The maker of a video starring SpongeBob SquarePants is rejecting claims from conservative Christian groups that say his work is an effort to promote homosexuality.

The groups say the problem isn't with the video itself, but the organization behind it. They say the producers are exploiting popular children's characters to push a gay and lesbian agenda, and are urging parents to stay away from it.

A Jan. 22 story on The Christian Post (http://www.christianpost.com), under the headline "Evangelicals Warn Parents of Pro-Gay SpongeBob Video," discusses Dobson's points, and adds this gem:

According to the Mississippi-based American Family Association, the video subtly promotes homosexuality and all sexual orientations. "On the surface, the project may appear to be a worthwhile attempt to foster greater understanding of cultural differences," wrote Ed Vitagliano, editor of the monthly journal. "However, a short step beneath the surface reveals that one of the differences being celebrated is homosexuality."

Again, if you read the Times story, you know the above is nonsense. But how many NewsMax or Christian Post readers caught -- or believed -- the Times, regularly dismissed by conservatives as bathing in "liberal media bias"?

This is what passes for conservative "journalism." An unfounded charge -- or in this case, a charge that is found to be untrue -- is given a forum. Facts proving the charge to be untrue are dismissed as "opinion."

And folks like Sean Hannity happily jump on the bandwagon. Ratings are ratings, you know. Facts be damned!


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Another Conservative "Journalist" Found To Be On Bush Payroll

This story is getting repetitive.

First we learn that Armstrong Williams was paid by the Bush Administration to tout No Child Left Behind (http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2005/01/is-there-word-for-what-armstrong.html). Then word spread that William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer had consulted the administration on Bush's inaugural address (http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2005/01/kristol-krauthammer-lauded-bush.html).

Now comes word that syndicated conservative columnist Maggie Gallagher had a $21,500 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services to promote President Bush's push for a $300 million initiative encouraing marriage.

According to today's issue of The Washington Post, Gallagher was contracted from January to October 2002, and the terms of the deal included "drafting a magazine article for the HHS official overseeing the initiative, writing brochures for the program and conducting a briefing for department officials. "

The Post reported that Gallagher received an additional $20,000 from the Bush administration in 2002 and 2003 for writing a report, titled "Can Government Strengthen Marriage?", for a private organization called the National Fatherhood Initiative. That report, published last year, was funded by a Justice Department grant, NFI spokesman Vincent DiCaro told the Post.

***

President Bush, asked about the practice at a news conference this morning, made the rare admission that his administration had been wrong to quietly award contracts to "journalists." Bush said he expects his Cabinet secretaries to end the practice.

"We didn't know about this in the White House. There needs to be a nice independent relationship between the White House and the press, the administration and the press," the Post quoted Bush as saying. "All our Cabinet secretaries must realize that we will not be paying commentators to advance our agenda. Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet."

***

Gallagher, of course, never mentioned the conflict of interest with her readers. And she and her syndicator didn't seem all that bothered by that conflict.

"Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing it?" the Post quoted Gallagher saying yesterday. "I don't know. You tell me." She said she would have "been happy to tell anyone who called me" about the contract but that "frankly, it never occurred to me" to disclose it.

Later yesterday, Gallagher filed a column in which she said that "I should have disclosed a government contract when I later wrote about the Bush marriage initiative. I would have, if I had remembered it. My apologies to my readers."

But in her interview with the Post, Gallagher said her situation was "not really anything near" the recent controversy involving Williams. Williams apologized earlier this month for not disclosing a $241,000 contract with the U.S. Department of Education.

Tribune Media Services dropped Williams' column after his administration contract was disclosed. Universal Press Syndicate, which distributes Gallagher's column, plans no such action.

"We did not know about the contract," spokeswoman Kathie Kerr told the Post. "We would have probably liked to have known." But, Kerr said, "this is what we hired Maggie to write about. It probably wouldn't have changed our mind to distribute it."

Don Imus: Fact-Checker

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: We don’t want a war in the Middle East, if we can avoid it. And certainly in the case of the Iranian situation, I think everybody would be best suited by or best treated and dealt with if we could deal with it diplomatically.

IMUS: We already have a war in the Middle East, don’t we?

CHENEY: Well, we do in Iraq certainly.

IMUS: Yes.

-- "Imus in the Morning," Jan. 20

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

You may think you've heard all the angles on President Bush's $40 million inaugural celebration.

Think again.

On the eve of Bush's second-term inauguration, Republican Nevada Congressman Jim Gibbons told NBC News that anyone who opposes the corporate-funded inaugural parties is a "communist."

Reporter Lisa Myers interviewed Gibbons for a Jan. 19 story about how corporate money paid for roughly $40 million of inauguration partying last week. Myers concluded: "But one congressman has no use for complaints about corporate-funded celebrations. 'Anybody who is against that obviously must be a communist,' says Rep. James Gibbons, R-Nev."

***

The sheer lunacy of the comment is breathtaking, although it's hardly the first time a Republican resorted to name-calling to make a point. Rush Limbaugh labels women's rights activists "feminazis." Rod Paige, education secretary for Bush's first-term, called the National Education Association a "terrorist organization." Sure it works for third-graders, but shouldn't Republicans know better?

All this could be swept under the rug, I suppose, if Gibbons were some anonymous quote from an inaugural on-looker. It might even be forgettable if Gibbons were a lower-level politician -- a zoning board member of Nowheresville, U.S.A., being interviewed by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

But, according to the Las Vegas Sun, Gibbons plans to announce later this year whether he will seek the Nevada governor's office in 2006.

Gibbons' spokeswoman, Amy Spanbauer, told the Sun that Gibbons "wasn't joking" when he made the statement. She suggested he was "taken out of context" by NBC, and that his overall point was that "he firmly believes that everyone in the United States, including corporate executives, have the freedom, under limits of the law, to spend their money for political events and to lobby lawmakers."

Apparently, Spanbauer never got around to the leap of logic Gibbons took from expressing a firm belief to idiotic name-calling.

Kristol, Krauthammer Lauded Bush Inaugural Address, But Failed To Disclose Obvious Conflict of Interest

Say an ESPN baseball analyst praised Barry Bonds' professionalism in the wake of accusations he had used steroids. Then say, after the fact, it's learned that the analyst had offered Bonds help with media relations.

You'd be disgusted. You might never trust that baseball analyst's credibility again. You might even hold it against ESPN.

Say Ebert & Roeper give "two thumbs up" to a film that had otherwise received lackluster reviews. Then say you found out, after the fact, that Ebert had assisted the film's producers.

You'd feel gipped. You probably would think twice before trusting any positive review Ebert & Roeper gave.

So how would you feel if you heard two FOX News analysts heap praise on George W. Bush's inaugural address, and then you found out that each analyst had assisted with the speech?

According to a Jan. 22 article in The Washington Post, William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, and Charles Krauthammer, columnist for the Post and Time Magazine, each consulted the president's speechwriting team on his address. Yet neither disclosed that fact during their FOX News inaugural day coverage.

According to the Post: "The planning of Bush's second inaugural address began a few days after the Nov. 2 election with the president telling advisers he wanted a speech about "freedom" and 'liberty.' That led to the broadly ambitious speech that has ignited a vigorous debate. The process included consultation with a number of outside experts, Kristol among them. One meeting, arranged by Peter Wehner, director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, included military historian Victor Davis Hanson, columnist Charles Krauthammer and Yale professor John Lewis Gaddis, according to one Republican close to the White House."

We will never know how great a role Kristol or Krauthammer played in the writing of the speech. But the fact that neither mentioned their role calls into question whether FOX News was providing political analysis or propaganda on inauguration day. The fact that the subject was also not broached by FOX News managing editor Brit Hume, who anchored a post-speech panel featuring the two, only adds to the question of FOX News' credibility.

As reported by mediamatters.org, Kristol took the charade a step further, going out of his way to distance himself from the inaugural address during the post-speech panel:

KRISTOL: If I were editing this speech, the only sentence I think maybe I would have changed which was to simply say we are ready to meet, perhaps, the examples of those of our forebears and our forefathers who fought so valiantly in the history of freedom and I think that will play into a sort of sophisticated criticism that "Gee, the president is susceptible to hubris and is too grandiose." But having said that, except for Lincoln, no speech is perfect, and I think he's entitled to a slight slip in one sentence. ... I've seen Mike Gerson over the past couple of months, and he has been working very hard on this speech. But he has been working with the president on it, and it is a remarkable collaboration.

Krauthammer limited his comments to lavish praise of the president's address, which he declared "revolutionary."

What would truly be revolutionary is if either Kristol or Krauthammer were even slapped on the wrist for their lack of journalism ethics.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Joe Scarborough Asked A Legitimate Question, But His Guests Knew Not To Answer

A funny thing happened on MSNBC's Scarborough Country last week:

On the eve of President Bush's second term in office, Joe Scarborough asked a legitimate question about the president's agenda. And, faced with that question, Scarborough's two conservative guests treated him like a journalist, ignoring the question and providing rah-rah answers supporting Bush.

Scarborough probably wasn't aware of the irony, given his conservative background. But it highlights the conundrum that is Scarborough Country. Is Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida, acting as right-leaning journalist and interviewer, or is he merely providing a platform for conservative guests and viewers, facts be damned?

On the Jan. 19 show, Scarborough interviewed recent NBC/MSNBC hire Monica Crowley -- formerly a host on Fox News and Fox News Radio, where she presented herself as something of a conservative lightweight -- and Lawrence Kudlow, the more conservative half of CNBC's Kudlow & Cramer.

He started with a reasonable question: "What does (Bush) have to accomplish tomorrow in a country that may not be 50-50, but if it‘s not 50-50, it‘s 51-49?

And Crowley knew not to answer:

CROWLEY: Well, if you remember, one of the first statements he made after winning that election back in November was, I have earned a lot of political capital, and I am prepared to spend it. ... This is a guy who is going to touch on the big themes. We have heard about some of the big themes that he is going to touch on today, the idea of freedom and not just expanding freedom abroad, but freedom here at home, particularly economic freedom, Social Security reform, tax reform, all of the things that he wants to expand here at home that he actually touched on in his first inaugural address four years ago that sort of got put off to the sidelines by the war on terror. Now he is ready to resurrect those themes.

So, even with a divided nation and lacking a veto-proof majority in Congress, Bush plans to spend his political capital. I suppose that's the kind of non-answer that poses for back-and-forth in the world of conservative journalism.

But Scarborough was in full journalistic mode. Turning to Kudlow, he said:

SCARBOROUGH: But, you know, Larry Kudlow, this president is talking about political capital. I have got bad news for him. I have been talking to Republicans on Capitol Hill for the past two weeks. You talk about Social Security. He does not even have political capital with his own party. Last night, I predicted Social Security would be dead on arrival. This morning, I wake up, read The Washington Post, and what does the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee say? He says the president‘s Social Security plan is — quote — “a dead horse. Let‘s stop beating it.” The guy hasn‘t even delivered the first line of his speech and his own party members are saying he is a lame duck.

But again, Scarborough's guests went to the play book, and looked up the "duck and dodge" play:

KUDLOW: I don‘t buy that for a second. That may be sort of conventional wisdom here.

SCARBOROUGH: You are just in the party spirit.

KUDLOW: I am. I am a real party animal. It took me 50 minutes to go one mile in Washington, D.C. It‘s darndest thing I have ever seen. But I want to say this. I agree with what a lot of Monica has just said. And I think message is really important. And, secondly, I think he has to show not just confidence. ... He has to show he is unyielding, unwavering in his belief that his vision of economic freedom at home and freedom and democratization abroad in the Middle East, he isn‘t going to budge one inch.

***

Conservative viewers at home must have cheered.

But wouldn't it have been more interesting if Crowley or Kudlow had answered the question? What compromises might Bush want to make to pass such sweeping changes to Social Security? What does he have to do to convince Congress such legislation isn't "dead on arrival."

And more broadly, what can Bush do to convince a divided nation that his agenda, his choices, are the right direction for this country?

Scarborough actually played journalist. He seemingly understood the reality of the situation. Crowley and Kudlow, however, were too busy showing off their pom-poms and reading their scripts to care.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Under Guise of Deficit Reduction, Bush to Cut Housing Programs For Poor

When it comes to economic priorities, President Bush has been woefully consistent.

Corporations have asked for and received immense help from Bush, in the form of tax breaks and stripping away of regulatory red tape, particularly with regard to environmental or consumer protection.

Sadly, the poor don't run corporations.

If they did, no doubt they would have hosted an inaugural week party. Their representatives would have lobbied hard for assistance. Their spokespeople would have blanketed the airwaves. Rush Limbaugh would have rallied to their defense.

But since none of that happened, there will likely be very litte resistance to the lines in Bush's proposed 2006 budget, which, if passed would purge multiple federal Housing and Urban Development programs, including dozens of economic development and rural housing programs.

Other programs would be switched to the Commerce or Labor departments, where they would have to compete with existing Commerce and Labor programs for federal funding -- almost certainly leading to a steep decline in funding. That's because, over the years, HUD has evolved into an agency designed to support urban interests and low-income citizens, while Commerce and Labor are more receptive to business needs. Guess which is of higher concern to the Bush administration?

Advocates for the poor and leaders of various urban programs, as reported by The Washington Post on Jan. 14, contend that the White House isn't really interested in deficit reduction, for the money being cut from HUD would merely be funneled to other needs, such as a proposed mission to Mars.

The plan was detailed in a December memo from the White House Office of Management and Budget to HUD. The document provides one of the first concrete examples of the types of cuts in the works as the administration comes to grips with a soaring deficit.

Congressional housing aides told the Post that the $4.7 billion Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program -- the bulk of the community planning budget -- could be cut as much as 50 percent. Cities have become dependent on HUD's development programs, especially the CDBG, which has existed for 30 years, city officials said.

Stanley Jackson, director of the District of Columbia Department of Housing and Community Development, said the city has used CDBG grants of $21 million to $22 million a year for clinics, recreation centers, day-care facilities, literacy programs and housing development.

With housing and property values skyrocketing, the need for such programs for low-income families has never been higher, he said.

"If this is a backdoor way of eliminating a program like CDBG, it would have a profoundly negative impact on cities," Jim Hunt, a vice president of the National League of Cities, told the Post.

Under the plan, the CDBG program -- which provides multipurpose development grants to state and local governments -- would be sent to the Commerce Department. The Urban Empowerment Zones and the Renewal Community programs -- both of which offer tax incentives for development in urban or other troubled areas -- would also go to Commerce, as would the Brownfields Economic Development Initiative, designed to revitalize abandoned industrial sites.

Youthbuild USA, a $62 million program to teach teens home-construction skills, would be sent to the Labor Department. The $24 million rural housing and economic development program would probably be eliminated.

HUD could ultimately lose a quarter of its $31 billion budget.

The White House is trumpeting the planned changes as beneficial because they would consolideat redundancies, but administration officials could not provide the Post with specifics about how much money would be saved.

Saul Ramirez Jr., executive director of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials and a former deputy secretary of housing, said that if the goal truly were consolidation, it would make more sense to move the similar but smaller Commerce and Labor department programs to HUD.

"If there are any programs in Commerce that encourage direct economic development to some of the most disadvantaged and blighted areas, those programs are dwarfed by these programs," Ramirez told the Post. "If [consolidation] is what they want, the reverse should be proposed."

Friday, January 21, 2005

In Covering SpongeBob Scandal, CBS News Radio Reports Conservatively

When reporting on Dr. James Dobson's crusade against SpongeBob SquarePants this morning, CBS Radio News sounded like anything but a "liberal" news network.

The radio news network, in its hourly national update this morning, reported that conservative Christian groups are protesting a video being distributed to schools that features the cartoon character, and which, the Christian groups contend, promotes homosexuality.

But the video's makers say the video "promotes tolerance," CBS Radio News reported.

But that's only a half-truth -- and one that could easily lead listeners to believe that the video's makers agree the video is about homosexuality, or at least references homosexuality.

But as JABBS readers learned yesterday (http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2005/01/dobson-extends-anti-gay-crusade-to.html), the video's creator, Nile Rodgers, told The New York Times that he founded the We Are Family Foundation after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to teach children about multiculturalism, and nothing in the video or its accompanying materials refers to sexual identity.

CBS Radio News -- so often championed by conservatives as a beacon of "liberal media bias" -- didn't tell its listeners the whole truth. Its "conservative" editing of the story, if anything, will give listeners with a false reason to side with Dobson.


Thursday, January 20, 2005

Dobson Extends Anti-Gay Crusade to SpongeBob SquarePants

Fresh from celebrating a Nov. 2 victory in which 11 states barred same-sex marriage, a leading religious right figure is extending his anti-gay crusade to try to silence a most insidious foe.

SpongeBob SquarePants.

Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, speaking at a dinner for members of Congress and political allies, is seeking to silence the cartoon character, which he alleges is "pro-homosexual."

Dobson points to how SpongeBob sometimes holds hands with animated sidekick Patrick, and watches an imaginary television show, "The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnicle Boy."

Apparently, it's lost on Dobson that SpongeBob is a naive and silly character, like a child, and children hold hands. Children watch buddy adventure shows with two male leads, like "Batman and Robin." Next thing you know, Dobson will call for a congressional investigation to look into those Bert and Ernie rumors. The teletubby with the purple triangle will have to go into hiding. Barbie won't be allowed to "date" Ken anymore. Donald Duck will have to wear pants.

***

Dobson's main ammunition against SpongeBob, according to a Jan. 20 story in The New York Times, is what he is labeling a "pro-homosexual video" in which SpongeBob, Jimmy Neutron, Barney and others appear. The video is being mailed to thousands of elementary schools to promote tolerance.

The video's creator, Nile Rodgers, who wrote the disco hit "We Are Family," said Dobson's objection stemmed from a misunderstanding, the Times reports. Rodgers told the Times that he founded the We Are Family Foundation after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to create a music video to teach children about multiculturalism. The video has appeared on television networks, and nothing in it or its accompanying materials refers to sexual identity.

Rodgers suggested to the Times that Dobson and the American Family Association, the conservative Christian group that first sounded the alarm, might have been confused because of an unrelated Web site belonging to another group called "We Are Family," which supports gay youth.

On Wednesday, however, Dobson assistant Paul Batura wouldn't let the facts get in the way of Dobson's baseless accusations.

"We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids," he said.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Ethics Questions Raised By Relationship of Ridge, Former Aides and Friend-Turned-Lobbyist

Some ethics experts say ties between outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and a friend expanding his homeland security lobbying business raises conflict-of-interest questions.

A Jan. 13 story from The Associated Press found that Ridge twice stayed overnight at the Arizona home of former Ridge fund-raiser David Girard-diCarlo, who currently chairs the Blank Rome lobbyist firm.

Girard-diCarlo subsequently hired two of Ridge's aides to lobby the department, and some of the firm's clients eventually landed lucrative contracts, according to documents uncovered by the AP. Blank Rome has lobbied Ridge's department on behalf of 29 companies, three nonprofit groups and a trade association for the software industry, according to reports the firm filed with Congress.

"This relationship does raise questions about the integrity of the government's process for awarding contracts,'' said Robert Tuttle, a law professor at George Washington University, told the AP. "It creates the appearance that Mr. Girard-diCarlo and his clients might receive preferential treatment.''

***

The story comes on the eve of President Bush's inauguration, following several days of parties in which lobbyists are legally allowed to wine and dine the administration and members of Congress, trying to influence Bush's second-term agenda.

Some critics have questioned whether $40 million of corporate donations -- an obvious grab for influence -- sets the right tone for the second-term. On his first day in office, Bush issued ethics standards requiring his appointees to "endeavor to avoid any actions creating the appearance that they are violating applicable law or the ethical standards in applicable regulations.''

***

Ridge was hired by the White House after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but was not named named the department's first secretary until its creation on Nov. 25, 2002. According to the AP, Ridge few to Girard-DiCarlo's home the next day for a two- or three-day visit. A month later, Girard-DiCarlo hired Ridge aide Mark Holman.

According to the AP, a federal conflict-of-interest law barred Holman from lobbying the White House for a year after his departure. The restriction, however, didn't extend to Ridge's new agency.

New York University law professor Stephen Gillers called it "intolerable'' that Ridge's White House aides were free to lobby the Homeland Security Department. It "mocks the ethics rules. If it's allowed, it reveals a gaping hole in the law,'' he said.

When they got to Blank Rome, Holman and the other former Ridge White House aide, Ashley Davis, started signing up new homeland security clients and lobbying Ridge's department.
Ridge made a second trip to Girard-diCarlo's Arizona home in mid-April 2003, to celebrate Girard-DiCarlo's wedding anniversary.

In addition to the two Arizona trips, Ridge has been to Girard-diCarlo's Washington condominium on social occasions, and the two have run into each other at social events around town, Ridge's office says.

At the time of Ridge's trips to Arizona, Girard-diCarlo's firm represented Raytheon, which is on a team of companies recently awarded border protection work by Ridge's department worth up to $10 billion over the next decade.

Girard-diCarlo's firm arranged two meetings in 2002 between Ridge's staff and Raytheon executives who outlined the firm's capabilities in border security and other areas, according to Raytheon. Ridge was present for part of the first of the two meetings and Holman in his role as a White House aide to Ridge participated in the second meeting, the company said. Holman later lobbied Ridge's department on behalf of Raytheon, according to Blank Rome's congressional reports.

Since early 2003, Blank Rome has lobbied Ridge's department on behalf of the technology services company BearingPoint. The department awarded a $229 million contract to the company in September.

The contracts for Raytheon and BearingPoint were competitively bid.

Boeing, another Blank Rome client, says it received help from Girard-diCarlo's firm in setting up a meeting early this year with the No. 2 official at Ridge's department, Adm. James Loy.

Boeing is performing over $1 billion worth of work for Ridge's department under a competitively bid contract awarded by the Transportation Department the year before Homeland Security was created.

Steven L. Schooner, co-director of the Government Procurement Law Program at George Washington University, told the AP that the Bush administration is sending a message by standing by Ridge's trips.

"When Ridge makes clear that he is not worried about appearances, we should not be surprised when the public concludes that government cannot be trusted,'' he said.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Bush Administration Plays Politics With "Neutral" Social Security Administration

The Social Security Administration, which by federal law is intended to act as a neutral body, is being used as a political tool by the Bush Administration.

According to an article in the Jan. 16 edition of The New York Times, "the Social Security Administration is gearing up for a major effort to publicize the financial problems of Social Security and to convince the public that private accounts are needed as part of any solution. The agency's plans are set forth in internal documents, including a "tactical plan" for communications and marketing of the idea that Social Security faces dire financial problems requiring immediate action. Social Security officials say the agency is carrying out its mission to educate the public, including more than 47 million beneficiaries, and to support President Bush's agenda."

"Trust fund dollars should not be used to promote a political agenda," Dana C. Duggins, a vice president of the Social Security Council of the American Federation of Government Employees, told the Times. The federation represents more than 50,000 of the Social Security agency's 64,000 workers.

Deborah C. Fredericksen of Minneapolis, who has worked for the Social Security Administration for 31 years, told the Times: "Many employees believe that the president and this agency are using scare tactics to promote private accounts."

***

In 1994, Congress passed legislation to establish a three-person, independent oversight board for the Social Security agency, removing it from the supervision of the Department of Health and Human Services, which operates as part of the politically minded White House.

The late Sen. Patrick Moynihan, the bill's author, said at the time: "With this bill we hope to increase public confidence in Social Security ... by insulating the program from politics." The bipartisan bill passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate, and was supported by such organizations as the AARP and the National Council of Senior Citizens.

***

I'm not going to get into the debate over privatizing Social Security. That debate has little to do with the point here, which is that once again, the Bush Administration is placing politics above such novel concepts as truth, or history.

In addition to abusing the independence of the agency, the Bush administration, led by president, is using factual distortions to make its case for privatization.

Bush has been saying that the system will be "broke," "bankrupt" or "flat bust" by 2042. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said that Social Security will be able to pay all benefits through 2052, and even after that date, the program will be able to pay a higher benefit than received today by retirees. Democrats have suggested that with minor changes to the tax code, the program will be solvent for several decades more.

Chris Wallace, of Fox News Sunday (of all places), played real "hardball" with White House Spokesman Dan Bartlett (who appeared on five Sunday shows on Jan. 16 to talk about Social Security). Here's an excerpt from their exchange*:

WALLACE: Let's turn if we can to another big issue, maybe the top of your legislative agenda on the domestic front: Social Security. The president keeps saying that there is a crisis, that if there is no change the system will go broke by 2042. Let's look.

BUSH (videotape): I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now.

WALLACE: As a simple fact, isn't that wrong?

BARTLETT: Absolutely not! And the bottom line is—the fact of the matter is that when you take the Social Security system as it is, this is a mathematical issue, not an ideological issue. In 1950, there were about 16 workers ...

WALLACE: Let me just interrupt, because I know the fact that there were 14 workers for every person when it was first ... The fact is that in 2042, if you did absolutely nothing to the system, it wouldn't be “broke.” It wouldn't be “bankrupt.” In fact, there would be a problem, but you would be able to still pay about three-quarters of everybody's guaranteed benefits.

BARTLETT: But what you’re talking about—in 2018 we go into the red. In 2042, you start actually bankrupting the system, which you're having to get funds elsewhere. You're right, the payroll taxes at that moment could pay about 70 percent of the benefits.

WALLACE: But that isn't “bankrupt.”

* With thanks to dailyhowler.com

***

So, the Bush Administration is wrongly asking the Social Security Administration to shill for its privatization plan, using incorrect, politically motivated math.

A Social Security agency spokesman, Mark R. Lassiter, told the Times that the agency is not using a prepared script for answering questions from the public. But, according to the Times, the agency's strategic communications plan says:

-- Spread the message that "Social Security's long-term financing problems are serious" via speeches, seminars, public events, radio, television and newspapers.
-- Social Security managers should "discuss solvency" at staff meetings, insert "solvency messages" in all Social Security publications, and spread the word at places like farmers' markets and retail stores.

Whether there's a prepared script isn't really the issue. The Bush administration has made it clear that they want their scare-tactics message to get out there, far and wide, facts be damned.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

JABBS Agrees With Michael Savage? Yes. At Time of War, Bush Inauguration Cost is Excessive

I seldom agree with radio host Michael Savage.

I can listen to Savage for a minute or two and agree with the gist of his argument, and then, like lightning, he'll go off the deep end with some racist, sexist or homophobic comment.

But among conservative radio hosts, Savage, at times proudly, defies to drink the Republican Kool-Aid. He regularly knocks Rush Limbaugh and others for parroting GOP talking points, especially when those talking points go against what Savage sees as the principals of conservative government.

In other words, given a choice between having to weed through Savage at his most offensive to listen to some independent conservative talk, or listening to the idiocy that is the "Mark Levin Comedy Hour," I'll choose the former (the two compete on the New York radio dial).

***

That said, I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with a point Savage made several times on his show last week: At a time of war, should President Bush be celebrating at an inauguration some are saying may ultimately cost $50 million ($40 million of private donations and $12 million in Homeland Security, paid for by the District of Columbia)?

To be clear, the Bush inauguration is being paid via private donation, rather than "by the taxpayers." But that's not Savage's point. What he has said is that Bush should show some "decorum," and have a less-costly bash.

By comparison -- and I have not independently checked his math -- President Clinton's second-term inauguaration, in 1996, cost roughly $30 million. But, as Savage points out, the country was not at war at the time.

A poll on Savage's website (http://www.michaelsavage.com) found that 53% of listeners, out of nearly 6,000 respondents, agreed with Savage's assessment. One would think this pool of respondents tilted far to the right.

***

Taking Savage's point a step further, whatever happened to fiscal conservatism? As pointed out on JABBS (http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2005/01/bush-to-fulfill-deficit-reduction.html) and elsewhere last week, President Bush is resorting to accounting tricks as a way to reduce the voluminous budget deficit. The combination of two wars, multiple tax breaks for the rich, a lax IRS audit system (due, in large part, to a reduced IRS staff size for conducting audits) and a continued sluggish economy have led to record deficit levels, with no end in sight.

During the presidential campaign, the Democrats harped on how, throughout history, the nation sacrificed at times of war. Yet President Bush, rather than asking Americans to sacrifice, has instead been handing out tax breaks as if they are going out of style. Corporate lobbyists have never found a greater friend that George W. Bush.

The $50 million inauguration, perhaps, is more than a little symbolic of the president's inability to say no when it comes to budgeting. As Michael Savage points out, a dress for one of the Bush Twins (designed by Badgley Mishka) is $10,000.

Perhaps, at this time of war, it would have shown more decorum to have Barbara and Jenna buy off the rack.

Now a Gubernatorial Candidate, Blackwell Caught Requesting Illegal Contributions

Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell sent a fundraising letter for his 2006 gubernatorial campaign that was accompanied by a request for illegal contributions.

A pledge card with the letter from Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican who co-chaired the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign in Ohio, said "corporate & personal checks are welcome." Corporate donations are illegal in Ohio.

Blackwell called it an oversight. His campaign's fundraising coordinator, Jeff Ledbetter, told the Columbus Dispatch that no corporate donations had been received in response to the letter.

***

Depending on your political perspective, the question is pretty simple:

Innocent oversight, or mistake-prone?

Blackwell, you may recall, was accused of mishandling the recent presidential election. Claims were made to "election irregularities" in various districts. Allegations were made that the bulk of these "election problems" occurred in Democratic-leaning districts, from long lines to broken election machines to mishandling of provisional ballots.

The question posed by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who prepared a report on "election problems" in Ohio, was also pretty clear:

Innocent oversights, or transparent partisan political motivations?

***

Blackwell's letter also praises Republicans for helping deliver Ohio to President Bush. On the one hand, that makes sense, since Blackwell is a Republican and was chair of the Bush-Cheney re-election effort in his state.

On the other hand, it raises the question, again, of whether the person responsible for overseeing the counting of ballots and certification of the results in a state should be independent of a particular candidate's re-election effort. A similar question was raised in 2000 in Florida, where Secretary of State Katherine Harris was a co-chair of the Bush-Cheney election effort, while also being responsible for overseeing the counting of ballots and certification of the vote.

As a Republican election official, Blackwell said he is permitted to campaign for Bush and that Ohio's election system has checks and balances to ensure fair elections. Protesters say that no such checks and balances exists, citing Blackwell's ability to delay a legal recount process and then, allegedly, direct district officials to not follow the proper recount procedure.

***

So a letter is sent out, and maybe it's just an innocent mistake. Ledbetter blames the printer, and since no media plan to interview said printer, this story will probably fade quickly from the news.

And short of an independent media investigation, voters will probably never know for sure which of the jumble of allegations were true, and which were unfounded. Blackwell said he has no intention of answering Conyers' questions. Bush will be inaugurated in a few days, and like the inappropriate fund-raising letter, the Ohio story may too, fade into memory.

And if so, voters will never know the answer to this question:

Did Blackwell properly do his job, thus deserving a shot at being the Buckeye State's next governor, or did he "deliver" the state for Bush and Cheney, voters be damned?

Friday, January 14, 2005

Republican Party Machine Bands Together Behind DeLay

Taking a page from the White House, House Republicans have decided to replace the chairman of the ethics committtee, apparently because he didn't fall in line when the GOP rallied behind House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) told The Washington Post that his fellow leaders are "probably going to boot me." Congressional aides said that Hefley has crossed DeLay so many times the two barely speak.

Hefley and his ethics committee admonished DeLay (R-Tex.), the second-ranking House leader, three times in a week last year for political and financial practices that critics called improper. The committee said DeLay had not broken any law or House rule.

"I'm not naive enough to not know that there are some folks that are very upset with me because they think we were too harsh with DeLay," Hefley told the Post.

***

A backgrounder on DeLay's ethics problems:

Last summer, DeLay was investigated for ethical violations stemming from complaints filed by Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas).

In September, the House Ethics committee found DeLay had violated House rules in 2003 in his efforts to have a health care bill passed. The committee admonished DeLay for having made an offer to Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.), who was retiring, that would have had DeLay endorse Smith's son for the seat if Smith voted in favor of the bill.

Also that month, a grand jury indicted three members of Texans for a Republican Majority, incluidng the executive director, on charges of money laundering and accepting illegal campaign contributions. DeLay has said the investigation and indictments are politically motivated by District Attorney Ronnie Earle. Earle alleges that the three Delay associates and eight corporations violated the law by illegally funneling money into 2002 Texas Legislature races.

In October, the House Ethics Committee admonished DeLay for violations stemming from the Bell complaint. It said the DeLay should not have asked the Federal Aviation Administration to track a small plane that he believed was carrying Texas state Democratic legislators. It also admonished DeLay for his dealings with Westar Energy, citing memos from Westar stating that they believed $56,000 in donations to DeLay's PAC and others wold get them a "seat at the table."

In November, House Republicans changed an early 1990s rule that would force House Leaders to step down if indicted. But the Republicans reversed themselves in January, after a protest from more moderate voices in the party.

(Thanks to Wikipedia for help with the timeline)

***

New chairs are named at the start of each Congress. House aides told the Post that unless Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) changes his mind, Hefley will not return.

"His time is up," said a leadership aide who spoke to the Post on the condition on anonymity.

***

So once again, the conservative wing of the House GOP is ridding itself of any thoughts of moderation. It's a repeat of what happened in November, when Senate Republicans insisted that moderate Arlen Specter (R-PA) fall in step or lose out on becoming Senate Judiciary Chair. It's a repeat of what happened in the House in November, when conservative Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), in appropriating money in the transportation section of the recent omnibus spending bill, punished 21 Northeastern moderate Republicans who wrote him a letter in support of $1.8 billion of spending for Amtrak.

Folks, the conservative wing of the GOP congressional team is making things clear. Do it our way, or we will hurt you (politically). They are acting like their boss in the White House, who has chosen to rid himself of moderate voices like Secretary of State Colin Powell, in favor of people who show less independence and ask fewer questions.

What a fun two years the GOP has in store for our polarized nation. If moderate Republicans are too out of step to be part of the equation, what does that say for the rest of us?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

"What's a fact-checker?"
-- Michael Savage, "Savage Nation" radio show, 1/13/05

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Thanks For Your Support

Just a quick thanks to all our visitors. JABBS has now had 2,500 hits since the weekend after the election.

I know that pales when compared with Media Matters or Talking Points Memo, but it's nice to see this site pick up steam.

In its first three months, JABBS had 2,730 hits, or 30 per day. In the subsequent 55 days (including today), JABBS has had just over 2,500 hits.

That's progress. So thanks to those who have bookmarked this site, linked to it, posted on it or shared it with friends. Your support makes my job that much easier.

Administration Finally Gives Up Hunt for Iraq WMD

Nearly two years after citing a growing threat from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction as one of the main reasons for overthrowing the Iraqi president, the search for Iraqi WMD has ended.

The Washington Post reported this morning that "the violence in Iraq, coupled with a lack of new information, led them to fold up the effort shortly before Christmas." The decision did, however, come after the completion of a heated presidential campaign, in which the decision to go to war, and the administration's insistence on linking the Iraq War to the greater war on terror, were resoundly criticized by Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry and his supporters.

Charles Duelfer, the CIA special adviser who led the hunt, has returned home, and analysts serving in his Iraq Survey Group (ISG) have returned to CIA headquarters in Virginia, the Post reported. The findings of an interim report that Duelfer submitted to Congress in September will stand as the ISG's final conclusions, according to a senior intelligence official.

That report concluded that Iraq had no stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons and its nuclear program had decayed before last year's U.S.-led invasion, in findings contrary to prewar assertions of the Bush administration.

According to the Post, the White House had been reluctant to call off the hunt, holding out the possibility that weapons had been shipped out of Iraq before the war or well hidden inside the country.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Bush to Fulfill Deficit-Reduction Promise With Accounting Tricks

During the 2004 presidential campaign, President Bush promised to cut the mountainous federal deficit in half by 2009.

But according to the Jan. 2 edition of The New York Times: "To make Mr. Bush's goal easier to reach, administration officials have decided to measure their progress against a $521 billion deficit they predicted last February rather than last year's actual shortfall of $413 billion. By starting with the outdated projection, Mr. Bush can say he has already reduced the shortfall by about $100 billion and claim victory if the deficit falls to just $260 billion."

But wait, there's more ...

In addition to using a phony starting point for deficit reduction, the administration's math includes record rises in tax revenues ($217 billion in 2005, which would be the biggest one-year jump ever, and $800 billion over five years). And it fails to include the costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are expected to reach $100 billion in 2005 and remain high in subsequent years.

The budget also avoids expensive costs just outside the five-year deficition-reduction window. For example, if Bush succeeds in privatizing Social Security, that would cost an estimated $2 trillion. To make Bush's tax cuts permanent would cost an estimated $1 billion. The Medicare prescription drug program would cost an estimated $500 million. To address Bush's concerns with the alternative minimum tax would cost an estimated $400 million.

Has there ever been a more deceptive budget plan?

Stanley Collender, noted author and columnist on federal budget issues, put it best: "I've been watching this more than 30 years, and I've never seen anything quite this egregious."

Meanwhile, Check Out The Latest Idiocy on Scarborough Country ...

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, was on MSNBC's Scarborough Country on Thursday, discussing the "Cathlolic take" on the Christmas Day tsunami.

Here's a piece of that amazing transcript:

SCARBOROUGH: Bill Donahue, you are the head of the Catholic League. What is the Catholic Church‘s take? I know, in the Middle Ages, disasters were often blamed on people straying from God‘s will. Is that the position of the church? Does the pope believe these people died because they were sinful people?

DONAHUE: No, not at all. As a matter of fact, Christianity, and particularly Roman Catholicism, is an inherently optimistic religion.

Just think about the symbolism of the cross. What does the cross mean? It means suffering, but it also means redemption. It means death, but it also means life. It means darkness, but it also means light. The fact of the matter is that what—we can‘t figure out exactly as mortal human beings what is exactly at work. Job certainly didn‘t understand it in the New (sic) Testament. Talk about Murphy‘s Law. Everything that could have gone wrong for that guy went wrong.

But what did it do to his faith? He kept his faith in God. There are strange things that happen. But we do one thing, that Catholicism in particular is a theology of suffering, as Cardinal O‘Connor once said. Cardinal O‘Connor once stunned the Jewish community by saying that the great gift of Judaism was the Holocaust. He didn‘t mean that to insult Jews.

What he was saying was this. There is no greater suffering than what Christ did. He died on the cross, but that‘s a source of optimism. That‘s a source of redemption. So, I think we have to look at this in a positive sense. In one strange sense, then, what‘s happening to these poor Asian people is their gift to the world. It makes us think about our mortality and about salvation and about redemption. That‘s what we should be thinking about.

SCARBOROUGH: All right, Bill, we need to take a quick break.

***

And that was it. Donahue made a separate and unrelated comment later in the show. Scarborough let Donahue's odd conclusion about the tsunami stand, without follow-up. He let Donahue's re-telling of Cardinal O'Connor's quote also stand.

For the record, the Catholic League (http://www.catholicleague.org) was created "to safeguard both the religious freedom rights and the free speech rights of Catholics whenever and wherever they are threatened."

According to a fact sheet on the league's web site: "While it is true that Catholics as individuals have made progress in securing their rights, the degree of hostility exhibited against the Catholic Church is appalling. Quite simply, Catholic bashing has become a staple of American society."

Now, I'm not going to go Catholic-bashing. But let me ask you, JABBS readers: When someone like Donahue goes on national television not to defend Catholics but to spew beliefs that are at best questionable and, to many, offensive, doesn't that run counter to the league's stated mission?

***

As for Scarborough, what context should we use for his show? He is a former Republican congressman from Florida, and a frequent pundit on other MSNBC shows, but in his role on Scarborough Country, hosting panels and asking questions of his various guests, should he not be considered a journalist?

I wonder what Donahue would think if, say Howard Dean, while substitute hosting on CNBC's Topic (A) With Tina Brown, had turned the tables and allowed a guest to make anti-Catholic comments, then let those comments stand without further inquiry? I'm guessing Donahue would be incensed.

***

Donahue's comments aside, Catholic agencies have been as aggressive in their efforts to aid tsunami victims as agencies representing other religions or races.

According to Catholic News Service, Catholic Relief Services (http://www.catholicrelief.org), the U.S. bishops' agency for overseas aid and development, raised $17 million in the first nine days after launching its appeal to help tsunami victims, and another $9 million via its website. The money is being applied to the $25 million that CRS pledged to provide to countries most affected by the disaster.

It's too bad viewers of Scarborough Country -- seemingly interested in Scarborough's take on the news of the day -- had to listen to Donahue's spew instead.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Conservatives Say Otherwise, But Panel Finds CBS News Sloppy, But Not Guilty of Bias

An independent panel found that CBS News' September report raising questions about President Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service should never have been broadcast.

The panel -- Louis Boccardi, former chief executive of The Associated Press, and Dick Thornburgh, attorney general for the first President Bush -- concluded that CBS, in a rush to beat competitors, did not undertake rudimentary fact-checking, failing to authenticate documents and, after the story aired on the Wednesday edition of 60 Minutes, failed to conduct an internal inquiry ordered by CBS News president Andrew Heyward.

The segment had raised new questions about Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard in the early 1970s. It presented four documents, described as "memorandums" from the files of his commander, suggesting that then-Lieutenant Bush had received preferential treatment. The panel said that the documents "had not been properly authenticated."

Mary Mapes, the producer in charge of the segment, was fired. Resignations were demanded from three others, including Betsy West, a senior vice president.

***

While the panelists said they could find no evidence that the network prepared and broadcast the report to hurt the president's re-election campaign, they cited one questionable move by Mapes that may have "created the appearance of a political bias." In that decision, Mapes telephoned the campaign of Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry and asked that it contact Bill Burkett, the former National Guard officer who would later be identified as the source of the documents.

"The panel reviewed this issue and found certain actions that could support such charges," the panelists wrote. "However, the panel cannot conclude that a political agenda at '60 Minutes' Wednesday drove either the timing of the airing of the segment or its content."

According to The New York Times: "several CBS employees said they took heart that the panel had found that no political bias existed within the ranks of the Wednesday edition of "60 Minutes" -- a charge that had been widely repeated on the Internet." Because CBS News anchor Dan Rather, who narrated the 60 Minutes story, has long been criticized as left-leaning by the right, the 60 Minutes story became fodder during the presidential campaign for supporters of President Bush, and those pundits who propagate the concept of "liberal media bias."

***

The panel portrayed Rather as "distracted" by other stories he was covering, including the series of Florida hurricanes last August, and reported that Rather did not even watch the completed report before it was broadcast.

But the panel was critical of Rather's initial defense of the flawed report, and further criticized Rather's on-air apology on Sept. 20, in which he criticized Burkett for misleading CBS.

"The panel finds this statement confusing, since "60 Minutes" Wednesday had never verified the original source from whom Lieutenant Colonel Burkett initially said he received the documents," the report said.

The panel report also found fault with those network executives who, they said, failed to press Mapes to verify a document trail. The panel suggested that instead those executives deferred to the "celebrity" of Rather and the "track record" of Mapes.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Is There A Word For What Armstrong Williams Did? It Certainly Isn't "Journalism"

From Thursday's USA Today:

Seeking to build support among black families for its education reform law, the Bush administration paid a prominent black pundit $240,000 to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same.

The campaign, part of an effort to promote No Child Left Behind (NCLB), required commentator Armstrong Williams "to regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts," and to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show in 2004.

Williams said Thursday he understands that critics could find the arrangement unethical, but "I wanted to do it because it's something I believe in."

The top Democrat on the House Education Committee, Rep. George Miller of California, called the contract "a very questionable use of taxpayers' money" that is "probably illegal." He said he will ask his Republican counterpart to join him in requesting an investigation.

The contract, detailed in documents obtained by USA TODAY through a Freedom of Information Act request, also shows that the Education Department, through the Ketchum public relations firm, arranged with Williams to use contacts with America's Black Forum, a group of black broadcast journalists, "to encourage the producers to periodically address" NCLB.

He persuaded radio and TV personality Steve Harvey to invite Paige onto his show twice. Harvey's manager, Rushion McDonald, confirmed the appearances. Williams said he does not recall disclosing the contract to audiences on the air but told colleagues about it when urging them to promote NCLB.

"I respect Mr. Williams' statement that this is something he believes in," said Bob Steele, a media ethics expert at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies. "But I would suggest that his commitment to that belief is best exercised through his excellent professional work rather than through contractual obligations with outsiders who are, quite clearly, trying to influence content."

The contract may be illegal "because Congress has prohibited propaganda," or any sort of lobbying for programs funded by the government, said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "And it's propaganda."

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said he couldn't comment because the White House is not involved in departments' contracts. Ketchum referred questions to the Education Department, whose spokesman, John Gibbons, said the contract followed standard government procedures. He said there are no plans to continue with "similar outreach."

Williams' contract was part of a $1 million deal with Ketchum that produced "video news releases" designed to look like news reports. The Bush administration used similar releases last year to promote its Medicare prescription drug plan, prompting a scolding from the Government Accountability Office, which called them an illegal use of taxpayers' dollars.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Democrats Disappoint During Gonzales Confirmation

If you are a liberal who feels the Democrats too often act like "Republicans-lite," you couldn't have been happy with the Alberto Gonzales confirmation hearing.

As detailed in today's Washington Post, the Senate grilling yesterday was "quaint," and made some people wonder if the minority party was making itself "obsolete."

Yes, the Democrats -- including Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy. Dick Durbin and Patrick Leahy -- asked tough questions. But Biden said early on that, all hostility aside, Gonzales was going to be unanimously confirmed.

And at that point, it didn't real matter how blustery the Democrats were. Gonzales had been given a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. It was like being told that no matter how he answered, he was going to pass the test. No matter how good or bad a job he had done as White House Counsel, he had nothing to worry about.

Here's how the Post described the hearing:

Hours go by and little gets clarified. Gonzales did not author or even conceive of the infamous Aug. 1, 2002, "torture memo." It was drafted by Department of Justice lawyer John Yoo and signed by then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, and neither of them are in the room. When seeking their advice, did Gonzales press them to be "forward-leaning," as some news reports have suggested? "I don't recall ever using the term 'lean forward,' " he tells Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), the first of a string of deflections.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) refers to Gonzales as the "man from Humble" -- meaning Humble, Tex. -- a "self-effacing man" and the son of migrant workers. Only in Washington, Cornyn says, would they rake such a good man "over the coals." ... Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) quotes from a speech Gonzales once gave at his alma mater, Rice University. ... Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spends precious minutes opining about how the Department of Justice is "such a wonderful institution, big and complex." ... Gonzales turns out to be a master at cutting legalese with Bush-style plainspeak. "We had captured some really bad people," he says in a honeyed Texas accent.

How quaint.

Democratic senators half-heartedly painted a picture of a man who allegedly sat through briefings on the effects of such methods of torture as the threat of live burial or drowning, then signed memos condoning them. They alleged that Gonzales created a "permissive environment" that ultimately led to Abu Ghraib. They cited a memo Gonzales signed that suggested the Geneva Conventions did not apply to U.S. treatment of terror suspects. They questioned why he failed to properly vet former Homeland Security Secretary nominee Bernard Kerik.

The Democrats let Gonzales duck and weave, pass the buck and take no blame himself. They let him suggest he didn't remember this memo or that meeting. They gave Gonzales a free pass -- telling him quite bluntly that they had no plans to block his nomination.

But maybe Americans deserved such a half-hearted effort. As the Post observed, only 20 or so protesters showed up outside the hearing room. That's hardly a March on Washington. For all the liberal groups angry at Abu Ghraib and Gonzales' various steps along the way, his confirmation came and went with little fanfare.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Three Cheers for Jon Stewart! CNN Cancels Crossfire, Dumps Carlson

Maybe Jon Stewart should tell off talking heads more often.

CNN has canceled its long-running shoutfest, Crossfire. Meanwhile, Tcuker Carlson, the bowtie-sporting conservative pundit, whom Stewart called a "dick" and accused of spreading "partisan hackery" and "hurting America" during their infamous exchange on Crossfire, did not have his contract renewed by the network.

As reported on JABBS on Tuesday, Carlson appears likely to go to MSNBC (see http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2005/01/msnbc-continues-its-rightward-tilt-by.html), where he would take over apolitical Deborah Norville's 9 p.m. slot.

CNN allowed Carlson to substitute for NewsNight host Aaron Brown last week, but CNN president Jonathan Klein was unimpressed. "His career aspirations and our programming needs just don't synch up," Klein told the Associated Press. "He wants to host his own nighttime show and we don't see that in the cards here."

***

When Stewart, host of Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart, told Carlson and co-host Paul Begala off, to their faces, it was a great moment in punditry. Stewart said what so many media critics and viewers already knew -- bickering and spin does not make great television, nor great debate.

Klein agreed.

"I guess I come down more firmly in the Jon Stewart camp," Klein said. "I doubt that when the President sits down with his advisers they scream at him to bring him up to date on all of the issues. I don't know why we don't treat the audience with the same respect."

According to Nielsen Media Research, Crossfire only averaged 447,000 viewers daily this season, down a whopping 21 percent from last season. The 22-year-old program will likely become a short segment during CNN's Inside Politics.

***

The bad news, however, is that Carlson's fellow conservative on Crossfire, Robert Novak, will remain a guest commentator for the network. Novak, who has historically never let the facts get in the way of partisan GOP spin, also has his semi-regular gig on NBC's Meet the Press.

Maybe Stewart can go toe-to-toe with him someday. Daily Show viewers already know that Stewart considers Novak the punditry version of the anti-Christ.

***

As for MSNBC, how about this p.r. disaster? Instead of "wooing" Carlson from rival CNN, they're getting someone not good enough for rival CNN. It's sort of like when UPN picks up a sitcom that's been canceled by one of the major networks.

Sloppy seconds seldom impress, which is why MSNBC will likely remain the low man on the cable news totem pole.



Boxer To Challenge Ohio Election Results

CBS News is reporting this morning that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) will join several members of the House of Representatives today in challenging Ohio's election results, when Congress meets to confirm President Bush's re-election.

The challenge is based on what Democrats and others have called "widespread irregularities" in the Nov. 2 vote, and subsequent problems with the recount last month. Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell has rejected the claims of irregularities.

The House members needed a senator to join them to officially challenge the results. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, 300 people rallied Monday outside Boxer's San Francisco office, and her staff was given a petition with 3,000 signatures urging her to support the effort. Several hundred people attended a Tuesday night rally at Herbst Theatre, where speakers promised to either thank or shame her based on her decision.

Boxer had not made up her mind as of late Wednesday, David Sandretti, her spokesman, told the Chronicle. But CBS News reported this morning that Boxer plans to join the House members in a formal challenge.

The conventional wisdom is that a challenge won't change the result of the presidential race, because that would require the Republican-controlled House and Senate to dismiss the Ohio results. But it would put the question of voting irregularities on the official record, and Democrats say this may lead to much-needed election reform.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Air America and the Repugnant Huckster V: JABBS Talks With Friesen

And the saga continues:

Wendi Friesen e-mailed:

An attempt to publicly smear someone shows your extreme lack ofcharacter. I am not bullying you, simply using my legal rights to stop you from spreading lies about me and asking the public to stop doingbusiness and return all merchandise. If you had a problem with what I was doing you had the ability tocontact me or anyone on my staff.

I would like to let you know that I have a very successful corporationand we have the monetary resources to sue you for damages. I will pursue the defense of an attack by you in any way I can, to stop you fromspreading lies and harming my very good reputation with the media, themedical community, my customers and staff.

Wendi Friesen

>>

So I called Friesen, because it seemed things had gotten out of control. Maybe I could reason with her?

Good luck. I got Friesen on the phone pretty quickly, but couldn't string together more than a few words without her interrupting me, telling me that she was going to have her lawyer contact me, and that she would have him explain how I was breaking the law and damaging her business.

Even when I tried to calm things down, and ask that she consider the merits of my protest, and the possibility that she should clarify the pitch on her website, Friesen wasn't interested.

"I don't have to listen to you," she said on several occasions, as she cited that she had worked with doctors, spoken at hospitals, etc. She tried to convince me such information is on the web page that I am protesting, although clearly it is not (it might be elsewhere on her website, but that is irrelevant).

"Why can't you just consider clarifying this advertising pitch?" I asked. But she said she wasn't interested in changing anything, and that her lawyer would do the talking from now on.

Apparently, Friesen says that because I responded on one blog with a comment suggesting that the blog operator consider returning a product they had bought from Friesen, I have severely damaged her business. Because I have questioned the way wendi.com advertises its "Heal Your Body" CD, I have severely damaged her business. Because I called her a "huckster," I have severely damanged her business.

Who knew I had such incredible power?

I can safely say that in 16 years in journalism, talking with literally thousands of sources (some of whom control billions of dollars of assets), I have seldom had a discussion like the one with Friesen.

Free Press Lays Out "Next Great Media Policy Battle"

The following is an open letter to JABBS readers and others from Robert W. McChesney, founder and president of Free Press (http://www.freepress.net).

David

>>

Dear Media Reformer:

The New Year is here, and as we take stock of the state of the world and our nation, we must put media reform even higher on our priority list.

In 2004, Jon Stewart's no-nonsense critique of corporate media for "hurting America," shown live on CNN's Crossfire, echoed the frustrations of millions who are tired of the media's partisan hackery, celebrity obsession, failure to hold government accountable, narrow range of debate, unchecked commercialism, and lack of investigative journalism.

Corporate media's failures constitute what legendary journalist Bill Moyers describes as the greatest threat to our nation: "democracy can't exist without an informed public." Most Americans don't know that the presidential candidates and allied groups shattered all campaign finance records in 2004, spending $2 billion. That's right: billion. Most of that money bought political ads from the biggest media companies... who gave us back deplorable election coverage.
The gap between rich and poor continues to widen, and more than 45 million Americans are living without health insurance while Congress guts the critical programs that are the fabric of our democracy. Public education, social security, environmental protection, affordable housing, and accessible health care are all at risk.

Most Americans don't know the consequences of our ballooning $521 billion deficit and $7.1 trillion national debt. The media are silent as Congress dishes out some $125 billion every year in corporate welfare. We aren't told that global terrorism has continued to rise each year since the attacks of 9-11, while a full 49 percent of Americans still believe that Iraq had WMDs, and 52 percent believe Saddam Hussein was actively supporting Al Qaeda.

Is it any surprise that surveys showed many Americans went to the polls lacking the facts to evaluate the most important issues of our day? There is something terribly wrong when Americans know more about Martha Stewart's prison stay than they do about the torture scandals at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

The good news

Millions of citizens understand that our bankrupt media system is the direct result of government policies made in the public's name but without our consent. Unprecedented numbers of citizens joined together and organized to win a number of historic victories in 2004, proving that public participation is indeed the answer to the media problem. A genuine media reform movement is gaining momentum and getting results.

In 2004, the FCC's attempts to loosen ownership limits to let Big Media get even bigger were rejected by the courts and Congress after massive public opposition. Sinclair Broadcast Group was forced to retract its brazenly biased Stolen Honor "news" program days before the election.

Almost every egregious action by big media corporations -- once met with muted opposition -- was greeted with a swift response from an increasingly unified, bipartisan and vocal public.

But that's just the beginning. You're reading this because you are one of a growing number of citizens who are taking action to stop media conglomerates from getting bigger; to strengthen alternative, independent and non-commercial media; to force media companies to serve the public interest; to limit advertising directed at our children; and to make access to communications affordable and universal.

If you have not joined the Free Press Action Fund, please do so now. Our ability to reform the media depends on your support as an activist and as a member. Please click here to donate now.
As a regular member, you'll receive my most recent book, The Problem of The Media.

Looking Ahead

As we look to 2005, Free Press is focused on a four-point action plan for media reform.

Media Ownership: Blocking Consolidation, Serving the Public Interest, Fighting Commercialization. While we don't expect the FCC to lift media ownership caps in the immediate future, it's a safe bet that they will try again in the next four years. We're keeping the issue in the news, conducting research and building the legal case for ownership limits in preparation for another Bush Administration attack on the public interest. We're also working to expand the number of low-power FM radio stations available to communities nationwide.

Community Internet: Broadband as a Nonprofit, Public Utility. This is one of the most exciting and promising opportunities for media reformers. The goal is to offer affordable broadband Internet access to residents, businesses and local governments as a basic utility ? just like water, gas and electricity. New wireless technologies allow local governments to offer faster, cheaper and more reliable access than ever before. But these innovations are being fought every step of the way by the biggest telecom monopolies. We will continue to protect the rights of local communities to determine how best to serve their own citizens.

Public Broadcasting & Noncommercial Media: Enhanced Funding, Diversity and Accessibility. True public broadcasting in the United States -- long under attack by commercial media giants and increasingly strapped for cash -- is now in serious jeopardy. In 2005, Free Press will launch a national campaign to organize a broad coalition to advance proactive policies that will generate secure, long-term funding for traditional, independent and other non-commercial media ? including community radio, television, expanded public access programming, student media, and local independent newspapers and Web sites.

Cable TV: Breaking Monopoly Control of Content. Today, 70 percent of television viewers are cable subscribers. The cable franchise renewal process -- an agreement between a community and its cable provider -- offers a terrific opportunity to increase access to community media and broadband Internet. Yet all too often, negotiations are done quietly with little public participation. Working with local and national groups, Free Press is working to vastly increase the number of people aware of cable TV as an organizing and action issue, through community TV and radio PSAs, as well as outreach and education to municipal associations, nonprofits, online organizations and other groups.

The Next Great Media Policy Battle

All of these issues -- and more -- will be on the chopping block when Congress reopens the Telecommunications Act of 1996, as it is expected to do this year, shaping our entire media system for decades to come. All media issues hang in the balance -- swaying between informed citizen participation and aggressive corporate lobbying. Free Press will be there to provide analysis and tools for you to influence the debate. In preparation for the battles to come, we'll monitor and support activism on the full range of media issues, including copyright and intellectual property, global media, and the rights of media workers.

Resources You Can Use

We ring in the New Year with a badly broken media system, but an energized and bipartisan reform movement. We have a number of important victories under our belts and more momentum than ever before. To keep it going, Free Press provides several resources that I hope you'll continue using.

As always, www.freepress.net provides updated news and information on media issues, activism, and the media reform movement. Please visit regularly and pass the word to friends and family about this excellent resource.

Our recently launched five-minute weekly radio program about media issues and activism, called "Media Minutes," is airing regularly on several stations and can be downloaded for free. Please tell your local radio station about it and urge them to put it on the air every week.

Our comprehensive Media Activist Toolkit will help you raise awareness about media reform. If you've already ordered one, you'll receive it in the mail soon. If not, you can still download most of the toolkit for free.

And if you want to take your activism to the next level, join the Free Press Action Squad, and commit to 10 hours per month of media reform activism.

Finally, be sure to save the date for the second National Conference for Media Reform, May 13-15 in St. Louis. Registration will begin in a few weeks. Visit the conference Web page for more information.

This much is clear: Media reform will not happen without all of us getting active and bringing renewed passion and commitment to building a system that serves our families, our communities and our democracy -- not just the largest media corporations.

Thank you for being part of it.

Onward,
Robert W. McChesney
Founder and President
Free Press

P.S.: Two of our allies have recently launched valuable initiatives. Please check out Consumers Union's HearUsNow.org, and Media Matters for America's SinclairAction.org. Both provide intelligent and effective tools for action.

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