Wednesday, March 30, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

"[W]e're not to ask any questions about Michael Schiavo. We can put out all the dirt we want about [Terri Schiavo's parents], and we can associate them with the liberal media's most hated people in America. Michael Schiavo? No, no, no, no, no! Off limits!"

-- Rush Limbaugh, March 29 radio show

"Michael Schiavo has become the target of accusations that he caused [Terri Schiavo's] heart attack and collapse with abusive, violent behavior; that he fabricated the story that she wouldn't want to live this way only after collecting more than $1 million in a malpractice claim; that he has sabotaged her therapy and barred her friends and family from comforting visits; and that he wants her to die so he can marry a woman with whom he has lived for the last few years and fathered two children."

-- Los Angeles Times, March 24

White House Acknowledges Democrats' Role in Schiavo Legislation

"One thing I think that has been lost on this is that the action taken by the United States Congress was a bipartisan action. The United States Senate unanimously—and think about that when you think of all the Democrats that serve in the United States Senate—that this was a unanimous consent in the House. Half the Democrats who were there voted in favor of this. So, this was a bipartisan effort in the United States Congress and the legislation that President Bush signed. So, I don‘t think this is one of these things which is split Republican vs. Democrat. It is a very complex case."

-- White House Spokesman Dan Bartlett, on MSNBC's Hardball, March 29

"Compassionate Conservatives" Resort To Hyperbole While Spinning Schiavo Story

As has been documented on JABBS and elsewhere, many conservatives have created an alternate set of facts regarding the Terri Schiavo tragedy (http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2005/03/compassionate-conservative-media.html) to defend what they see as a "pro-life" argument.

But that's not enough. Not only do the conservatives have their facts wrong on Terri Schiavo, they are resorting to hyperbole and mean-spirited rhetoric to fight a perceived opponent -- liberal America, Congressional Democrats, etc. -- that for the most part hasn't fought back.

Perhaps the saddest thing in the conservatives' politicizing of Terri Schiavo is the way they have shaped this as a conservative vs. liberal argument. Prominent Republicans and the conservative noice machine say they are "pro-life," which by default means they can call the Democrats "pro-death."

The phantom fight is being thrown out to the masses, even though no Senate Democrats voted against the Schiavo legislation, and enough House Democrats voted for the legislation to help it pass. The phantom fight is being played out on cable television, talk radio and newspaper editorial pages, even though prominent Democrats like Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) have voiced their support for the Schiavo legislation (Harkin even suggested broadening it).

The phantom fight is being played out even though the most common criticism from Democrats has been that the federal government shouldn't be involved in domestic disputes, even after a GOP memo was leaked showing that the conservatives viewed the Schiavo tragedy as a political opportunity to score points before the 2006 mid-term elections, especially in Florida.

So with some Democrats siding with the Republicans, and others steering clear of the debate altogether, the conservative noise machine ratcheted up the hyperbole. It's another political opportunity, with Republicans defining Democrats because they have not clearly defined themselves.

What kind of hyperbole and mean-spiritedness is at play? Consider*:

-- Rush Limbaugh, on his March 25 show, suggested he should open a chain of "Starvation for Serenity Centers."

"And I think that one of the larger issues that has come out of the whole Schiavo case are the benefits of starvation," Limbaugh chortled, before offering that Hillary Clinton and Al Gore would benefit from two-week stays.

-- Joe Scarborough, on the March 24 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, offered this:

"Do these liberals really hate George Bush so much? And that's all you ever hear about, George Bush. You never hear about Terri Schiavo. But do they hate George Bush so much that they are cheering for Terri's death only because the president of the United States and his brother are fighting for Terri's life?"

-- Michael Savage, on his website (also read on his syndicated radio show, Savage Nation):

"The radical Democratic left is an army of soulless ghouls. Being of the living dead, they live in a world of death and try to impose it on we the living. ... What is difficult for we the living to comprehend is the reason they can engage in such anti-life abominations is because they have no souls. They have said that the tears of Terri Schiavo are mechanical. They have said that her smile is reflexive. They can rip an emerging child from the womb, murder it, and call this a compassionate act. Like Mengele -- the doctor of death from the Nazi concentration camps -- the radical, soulless Democrats keep referring to "the doctors," as if a medical degree guaranteed humanity. Therefore, choose life. God bless George W. Bush."

-- Consider this exchange between host John Gibson and former Reagan Administration official William Bennett, from the March 22 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:

GIBSON: Is there -- before I run out of time and gotta run, because it's coming soon -- do we now have the following political divide: Republicans stand for parents' right and life, and Democrats have sided for questionable husband and dying?

BENNETT: In a lot of peoples' minds, that's it.

GIBSON: Despite the fact that some Democrats were with Republicans.


* Thanks to mediamatters.org

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

DeLay, a "Compassionate Conservative" With Schiavo Tragedy, Didn't "Choose Life" With Own Father

Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), front and center in Congress' efforts to intervene in the Terri Schiavo tragedy, acted much differently when a similar situation occurred in his own family more than 16 years ago.

In 1988, DeLay's father, 65-year-old Charles Ray DeLay, was badly injured in a freak accident at his home. That accident left the elder DeLay in a coma, kept alive by intravenous lines and oxygen equipment at Brooke Army Medical Center. Soon, doctors told the DeLay family that Charles Ray DeLay would "basically be a vegetable."

When his father's kidneys failed, the DeLay family decided against connecting him to a dialysis machine. "Extraordinary measures to prolong life were not initiated," said his medical report, citing "agreement with the family's wishes." His bedside chart carried the instruction: "Do not resuscitate."On Dec. 14, 1988, the DeLay patriarch "expired with his family in attendance."

***

What did Tom DeLay learn that day?

DeLay's spokesman was quoted in the March 27 Los Angeles Times saying that the situation facing Charles Ray DeLay and that facing Terri Schiavo are "entirely different."

But consider:

-- Both patients were severely brain-damaged.
-- Both patients were incapable of surviving without medical assistance.
-- Both were said to have expressed a desire to be spared from being kept alive by artificial means.
-- Neither had a living will.

In 1988, the DeLay family chose not to keep Charles Ray DeLay alive artificially. No courts were asked to intervene. No fiery rhetoric from Congress. No activists stood outside Brooke Army Medical Center. Just a family decision -- one that is seemingly made dozens of times each day across the nation.

I wonder whether Tom DeLay recalled that day in 1988 when he accused Schiavo's husband and the courts of “an act of barbarism” against Schiavo, who doctors say is in a persistent vegetative state. Did DeLay recall 1988 when he championed political intervention in the Schiavo case, 15 years after Terri Schiavo suffered massive brain trauma, and years after seven different neurologists separately concluded that Schiavo had no hope of recovery from her vegetative state. I wonder if DeLay, among the most vocal "right to life" advocates in Congress, ever considered how he would have reacted if anyone outside his family had sought to intervene back in 1988.

DeLay isn't commenting on his own family tragedy. Seems he's too busy commenting instead on the Schiavo tragedy.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

"We're fixing the deficit."

-- President Bush, March 10, 2005

FY 2004 deficit: $412 billion.
Projected FY 2005 deficit: $394 billion.
Projected FY 2006 deficit: $372 billion.

-- Congressional Budget Office report, March 4, 2005

Saturday, March 26, 2005

GAO Report: Terror Suspects Legally Buying Guns

Given how the Bush administration throws about its anti-terrorism credentials, you would think keeping guns out of the hands of terror suspects would be a priority.

Think again.

People with clear terrorist links are not automatically barred from legally buying guns, a March 9 Government Accountability Office report found. What's worse, rather than allowing the records of terror suspects gun purchases to be maintained in an FBI database, such records are destroyed within 24 hours.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, former Attorney General John Ashcroft blocked the FBI from using gun-purchasing records to match against some 1,200 detained terror suspects, overruling Justice Department lawyers.

Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association has lobbied Congress hard to limit the scope of the FBI database, saying it amounts to an illegal registry of gun owners nationwide. The Republican-led Congress, major beneficiaries of the NRA's generosity, have thus far let the association have its way.

***

The result of placing second amendment rights above national security is that terrorist suspects more often than not legally buy guns.

The GAO report found that between February and October of 2004, when a person on the FBI watch list sought permission to buy or carry a gun (or guns), their applications were approved in 47 of 58 cases.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who requested the GAO study, plans to introduce legislation to address the problem in part by requiring federal officials to keep records of gun purchases by terror suspects for a minimum of 10 years.

Such records must now be destroyed within 24 hours, as a result of a change ordered by the Republican-led Congress last year.

"Destroying these records in 24 hours is senseless and will only help terrorists cover their tracks," Lautenberg said earlier this month. "It's an absurd policy."

Lautenberg also plans to ask Alberto Gonzales, Ashcroft's successor, to assess whether people on the FBI's terror watch list should be automatically banned from buying guns. Such a policy would require a change in federal law, since being a member of a terrorist group is not a banned category.

Friday, March 25, 2005

And The Hits Just Keep On Coming ...

JABBS needed 145 days to net its first 5,000 hits, but just 76 days to move from 5,000 hits to 10,000.

Thanks.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

"Compassionate Conservative" Media Suggests Michael Schiavo is Fighting His Entire Family. The Facts Say Otherwise

For the "conservative media," it's an easy sell.

The message they have been spreading: Terri Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo, speaks only for himself. The rest of Terri Schiavo's family speaks on her behalf.

Radio's Michael Savage has repeatedly said over the last few days that in his mind, it's "four against one" -- the one being Michael Schiavo. Mark Simone, filling in for radio clown Mark Levin, echoed that sentiment on March 23, pitting Michael Schiavo as being the lone family advocating removing Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. Bill O'Reilly, on the March 22 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, challenged the conclusion that removing the feeding tube would have been Terri Schiavo's choice, claiming the state's action was based on "the word of one man."

It's an easy sell, but it isn't true. It is a simple storyline that angers good-hearted Americans left and right, causing them to telephone emotional and heartfelt words to radio hosts and post blog items galore. "How dare he," they say, to the conservative media's glee.

***

Attorney Michael Gross, speaking to O'Reilly on March 22, said: "It wasn't the word of one man. You haven't read the trial transcript. There were many, many witnesses. And 11 courts, including six federal courts, reviewed the procedure and found the process was fair."

O'Reilly blustered away telling Gross he was wrong. But in fact, Gross was right.

In 2000, Michael Schiavo, brother Scott Schiavo and sister-in-law Joan Schiavo each provided testimony to Florida Circuit Judge George Greer, which was found "clear and convincing evidence" that the decision to disconnect Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was consistent with her wishes.

Greer wrote of the testimony:

Michael Schiavo testified as to a few discussions he had with his wife concerning life support. The Guardian Ad Litem felt that this testimony standing alone would not rise to clear and convincing evidence of her intent. ... The court has reviewed the testimony of Scott Schiavo and Joan Schiavo and finds nothing contained therein to be unreliable. ... Statements (Terri Schiavo) made in the presence of Scott Schiavo at the funeral luncheon for his grandmother that "if I ever go like that just let me go. Don't leave me there. I don't want to be kept alive on a machine." ... and to Joan Schiavo following a television movie in which a man following an accident was in a coma to the effect that she wanted it stated in her will that she would want the tubes and everything taken out if that ever happened to her are likewise reflective of this intent. The court specifically finds that these statements are Terri Schiavo's oral declarations concerning her intention as to what she would want done under the present circumstances and the testimony regarding such oral declarations is reliable, is creditable and rises to the level of clear and convincing evidence to this court.

***

The Terri Schiavo tragedy is a complicated, emotional story. It's difficult for most Americans to watch the short video clips of Schiavo, her eyes open and seemingly smiling, and wonder whether she is in fact in a vegetative state. It's difficult for most Americans to put themselves in the place of Michael Schiavo, or Terri Schiavo's parents, and wonder what they would do.

It's unfortunate that the "conservative media" doesn't seem capable of understanding and presenting the story's many facets. The "conservative media" seems so set on being angry, that it is willing to ignore or distort facts. It understands what's at play when discussing Terri Schiavo, and, perhaps in the quest for better ratings, it is willing to sacrifice the truth in exchange for ratcheting up the emotional volume.

But facts are facts. There's a reason that seven courts and 19 judges -- a mix of Democrat and Republican appointees -- have come to the same conclusion. Would you or I come to the same conclusion given the same set of facts? That's impossible to know.

But what the "conservative media" is doing -- conveniently skipping over facts to strengthen their arguments -- isn't going to help Terri Schiavo, either.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

"Compassionate Conservative" Media Resorts To Distortions and Dubious Claims to Make "Pro-Life" Argument in Schiavo Case

When it comes to the tragic case of Terri Schiavo, most Americans are being presented with a basic set of facts, and as a result are coming to a motley of conclusions.

But as documented by a number of media criticism sites, including mediamatters.org and dailyhowler.com, the conservative noise machine is offering a second set of "facts," a combination of misinformation and dubious claims that are designed to lead conservative viewers or listeners to a single conclusion -- which coincidentally matches the views of conservative leaders in government.

Let's look at these alternate universes:

Mainstream Media: Terri Schiavo, whose husband said she had bulimia, suffered severe brain damage after a potassium imbalance caused a heart attack in 1990. Because of oxygen deprivation in the minutes that passed before she received care, she entered a vegetative state, in which she has remained for 15 years.

Conservative Media: Terri Schiavo isn’t in a persistent vegetative state. With treatment, she could make significant progress. The problem is her husband, Michael Schiavo, and the "liberal" Florida Circuit Judge, George Greer.

Dr. William Hammesfahr, interviewed on the March 21 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country, said: "She actually responds to people in different ways. When I went in initially, she acknowledged my presence and then ignored me, as she ignored her husband and she also ignored the videographer."

Hammesfahr has been making this contention for several years, yet in court testimony, Hammesfahr has failed to back up his statements with facts.

According to a 2003 article in the St. Petersburg Times, video supplied to Judge Greer showed Hammesfahr giving Schiavo 105 commands and 61 questions. The court reported it saw few responses to those commands and questions, and could not determine whether Schiavo's responses were more than random motions. Viewers were not told about the court's ruling on Hammesfahr's testimony.

On Scarborough Country, Fox News' Hannity & Colmes and Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club, Hammesfahr was touted as a "Noble Prize nominee," but viewers were not told that Hammesfahr's nomination consisted of a letter written by his congressman, Mike Bilirakis (R-FL), who is ineligible to make such a nomination, according to rules established by the Stockholm-based Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet.

Television viewers also were not told by the various conservative broadcasters that in February 2003, the Florida Board of Medicine ruled Hammesfahr violated state law by charging a patient for services that were not provided. It also ruled that Hammesfahr's treatment of stroke patients, using a procedure he has claimed could help Terri Schiavo, was "not within the generally accepted standard of care."

Meanwhile, Fox News and CNN each aired interviews with Carla Sauer Iyer, a one-time nurse for Schiavo. Iyer has maintained that Schiavo was constantly "alert and oriented" while under her care, "saying such things as 'mommy,' and 'help me.' "

But Fox News and CNN viewers were not told that Iyer's claims had been labeled "incredible" by the courts, unsupported by any evidence. As further proof of Iyer's lack of credibility, her testimony was not sought by Schiavo's parents.

As Greer stated in a 2003 decision: "Ms. Iyer details what amounts to a 15-month cover-up which would include the staff of Palm Garden of Lago Convalescent Center, the Guardian of the Person, the Guardian ad Litem, the medical professionals, the police and, believe it or not, (Schiavo's parents)."

***

The conservative media has pinned much of the blame on Greer, but viewers and listeners of such shows are not told that seven courts and 19 judges -- a mix of Democrat and Republican appointees -- have come to the same conclusion about Schiavo's status as vegetative.

The conservative media has tried to make this a Republican "pro-life" vs. Democrat "pro-death" issue, but viewers are not told that the Senate unanimously passed legislation that requires a federal judge, upon the family's request, to launch a new inquiry into the legal and medical questions surrounding Schiavo. In the House, Democrats were essentially split -- 47 siding with the GOP, 58 voting against.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), voted for the Senate version and said he favors an even broader bill that would protect all persons in Schiavo's condition. He said he wants the Senate "to fashion some kind of legislation that will give people of disabilities the ability to take one last look at their case before the plug is pulled."

But the version of the bill passed by Congress only related to Schiavo, because the conservatives controlling Congress -- as a memo circulated among them says -- are more interested in scoring political points in the 2006 mid-term elections than passing broad legislation to help people like Schiavo. In fact, as reported by JABBS (http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2005/03/compassionate-conservative-politics_21.html), the conservatives in Congress have fought for measures that, if in place before 1990, would have made it near impossible for Schiavo to receive the care she has.

That's another set of "facts" not told to viewers and listeners of the conservative media.

Monday, March 21, 2005

"Compassionate Conservative" Politics? How the GOP Uses Terri Schiavo When Convenient

President Bush, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) are using the Terri Schiavo tragedy to appeal to their base, and drum up support for the 2006 mid-term elections.

A memo, distributed by Senate leadership, called Schiavo "a great political issue" that Republicans should use because "the pro-life base will be excited." Over the weekend, DeLay and Frist held special sessions of Congress to push for the passage of a bill that would allow a federal court to overturn Florida state law. (The bill was written to apply to just the Schiavo case, further suggesting political motive rather than the desire to right some greater wrong).

Meanwhile, the conservative noise machine trumpets "liberal judges," who they say are "advocates of death," but the state law in question has been upheld by seven courts and 19 judges -- a mix of Democrat and Republican appointees.

***

What's most sad about the way the GOP has handled the Schiavo tragedy is that it is so transparently political. "Look over here," the conservatives tell their base, stirring the pot for Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and all the local wannabes on talk radio. "Look over here," they say, as they pass tax cuts for the wealthy and pass a corporate-driven bankruptcy law that shields the assets of the wealthy and erases loopholes that average working-class folk might need -- like protection from bankruptcy following sudden and mountainous health-care costs.

How transparent are Bush, DeLay and Frist?

Consider that when President Bush was governor of Texas, he signed a law that allows hospitals to discontinue life sustaining care, even if the patients' family members disagree. The 1999 law was put into action just a few days ago when, according to The Houston Chronicle, a breathing tube was removed from six-month-old Sam Hudson at Texas Children's Hospital.

How little do the conservatives care about Terri Schiavo? Schiavo's medication is paid by Medicaid. Just last week, DeLay led a budget resolution through the House that would cut funding for Medicaid by at least $15 billion. The Senate voted to restore the funding, and DeLay -- who cares so much about the Terri Schiavos of the world -- has said he will hold up the entire budget process if he doesn't get the cuts he asked for.

How little do the conservatives care about Terri Schiavo? Schiavo's medical care has in large part been paid for by $1 million her husband received via two medical malpractice lawsuits, after a heart attack 15 years ago left Schiavo brain dead.

As pointed out by the Center for American Progress, Frist is leading the charge to limit recovery for people like Schiavo who are severely debilitated. Frist wants the Terri Schiavos of the world to not be able to recover punitive damages, no matter the severity of their injuries.

"Look over here," the conservatives are saying, trying to capitalize on tragedy. Their actions speak volumes, if only the mainstream media would put the pieces together. I guess the "liberal media," as so many conservatives like to mythologize, is too busy looking the other way.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Want to Understand Compassionate Conservative Politics? Pay Attention to Today's "Meet the Press"

Viewers will have to decide whether to believe what they heard on this week's Meet the Press.

But what was discussed at the start of the reporters' roundtable gets at the heart of what JABBS has been talking about for more than a year. Simply put, what was discussed falls in perfectly with the theme of great recent works such as Thomas Frank's What's The Matter With Kansas.

My fellow Americans: look past the conservative spin, lazily thrown about as fact by television talking heads and radio dittoheads, seeping into not just the conservative columnists of newspapers nationwide, but front-page news articles inThe New York Times and The Washington Post. Forget the spin, my fellow Americans, and instead pay attention to the facts.

***

The reporters' roundtable led with the sad case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman at the center of a national "right to life/right to death" debate. The conservatives in Congress -- led by Senator Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) have loudly chosen to author legislation that is intent on keeping Schiavo alive. (An aside: Many Democrats, including Senator Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), agree with the legislation. But to read most media accounts, one would assume this is a Republican vs. Democrat issue. Hmmm ...)

Let's take a look at the Meet the Press transcript:

TIM RUSSERT: Senator Bill Frist, a physician, who is the majority leader, said that he did not examine Ms. Schiavo but he looked at the videotape of her. Tom DeLay, extremely outspoken on this. Ron Brownstein, a Washington Post report today said there was a memo circulating that this would be good for the 2006 mid-term elections with the Christian conservative voters. ... What are we looking at?

RON BROWNSTEIN (Los Angeles Times): Well, like most things in Washington, it's part politics, probably, and part conviction. ... We have a situation now in which our politics are -- the most volatile and explosive issues in our politics are related to values more than interests. The Republican Party is a coalition, I think, founded on social conservatism; it's the core. It is the animating principle. And I think when Bill Frist went on the floor last night and said, "This is about a culture of life," he gave away part of the game. This is about responding to a base that is essential to their vote.

GWEN IFILL (PBS): Well, look at what happened in the 2004 elections and what's happened since. Congress has actually done a great deal, but they've done a great deal on the economic front. They've passed bankruptcy reform. They've passed class-action reform. "Reform" is the word that they use, but they have done a lot to benefit people economically, and people end up--before they left town, they passed a whole new raft of tax cuts which would disproportionately benefit wealthy people. That wasn't speaking to the base that got George W. Bush re-elected or sent them back to Washington. So what we have seen this week is they can seize on certain cultural issues that will draw the spotlight to them, and even if the actual legislation they're passing, that they're asking the president to happily sign, benefits the economic classes, they are now speaking to the cultural classes by seizing on issues of life and death -- they never talked about Terri Schiavo until this week -- on seasoned cultural issues like drugs for your kids and the baseball hearings. It's not a stupid thing to do, and as this memo shows it's something they're very much aware of.

***

Now, conservatives may choose not to believe the comments by Brownstein, who many consider a balanced political reporter, and Ifill, who liberal media critics suggest has a rightward bent.

But if you do believe the participants in the discussion, then you have a pretty straightforward account of how Terri Schiavo plays into the "compassionate conservatives" gameplan.

To break it down:

-- Congress, which is led by the Republicans in both houses, just passed $134 billion in new tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy (and provided more tax cuts than even President Bush asked for). It passed corporate-driven bankruptcy reform that has been criticized for ending several loopholes that were designed to help those who became bankrupt because of such things as sudden and mountainous health care costs. The bankruptcy bill did, however, maintain "asset protection trusts," which are designed to help the wealthy shield their assets after declaring bankruptcy.

-- Congress just passed a budget that cuts housing for the poor, health care funding and nutrition programs for low-income families, and community-based programs for at-risk children and teens. The budget slashed aid to state and local law enforcement, nearly eliminating, for example, a program providing grants for states and municipalities to hire police officers. And the budget provides less money than President Bush promised for a host of things, including Pell Grants for students, the National Science Foundation and border patrol agents.

Neither of the above benefit the "Republican base" -- the people Frank discussed in What's The Matter With Kansas.

The conservatives don't want their base to notice the economics legislation, because it clearly benefited the privileged -- private or corporate -- that are also dear to the GOP.

Terri Schiavo has been in the news, off and on, for several years. But as luck would have it for DeLay and Frist and the rest, the battle between Schiavo's husband and her parents came to a head this week, and they jumped on the bandwagon. "Look over here," they told their base, steering clear of all that nasty economics talk and heading into safer terrain.

Tom DeLay holds a press conference, and Bill Frist makes the appropriate comments to the press. The conservative noise machine on the radio and the television start talking about the liberals in Congress as advocates of death, even though several top Democrats have made statements either in support of the pending legislation, or in general support of Schiavo's right to life.

The conservatives shout far and wide about how they are looking out for conservative values. And why? Because DeLay and Frist know that this will help them in the 2006 mid-term elections. For the "Republican base," it's classic bait-and-switch: our budget helps the wealthy, but we talk with a twang and speak out about Terri Schiavo. Please vote for us.

It was all there on this week's Meet the Press. You can choose to believe the reporters' roundtable or not. But here at JABBS, the conservatives' use of Terri Schiavo seems pretty transparent.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Wolfowitz Nominated To Head World Bank ... Why?

Even President Bush struggled to provide a reason for nominating U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank.

"I've said he's a man of good experiences. He helped manage a large organization. The World Bank is a large organization; the Pentagon is a large organization -- he's been involved in the management of that organization," Bush said in a March 16 press conference.

Using that logic, Bush could have nominated George Steinbrenner. After all, he is a "man of good experiences" who "helped managed a large organization."

And Steinbrenner actually has some experience with managing money. Wolfowitz, with all his "good experiences" has no background in economics or economic development.

***

Although Bush didn't say it, critics of the Wolfowitz nomination say that given Wolfowitz's lack of economic development experience, they can only assume that Bush's gameplan is to tie economic development with politics development.

“As well as lacking any relevant experience, he is a deeply divisive figure who is unlikely to move the bank toward a more pro-poor agenda,” Patrick Watt, policy officer at British charity Action Aid, was quoted by the Associated Press.

American economist Jeffrey Sachs, who serves as an adviser on poverty issues to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, told Radio Free Europe. "We need key positions in the world [to be] held by qualified people, like the World Bank. Millions of people depend on this position. So one candidate was nominated [with] no experience in development that I know of. It's time for other candidates to come forward that have experience in development."

Although Britain backed Wolfowitz's arguments for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, its endorsement of Wolfowitz was seen as weak. An official from the British government's Department for International Development responded to the news by saying that it is for the World Bank's board to decide on the appointment.

***

Of course, none of that criticism -- or a "no comment" from the United Nations -- matters much to the Bush administration or its conservative following. Bush has always employed a "my way or the highway" philosophy with Europe -- friendly with those that support his politics, cool to those who don't. There is no room for debate.

And that takes us back to all those "good experiences":

-- Wolfowitz was a leading advocate that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

-- Wolfowitz predicted Americans would be welcomed as liberators rather than occupiers once they toppled Saddam’s government.

-- Wolfowitz predicted that Iraq's oil revenues would pay for most or all of the costs of war.

-- Wolfowitz predicted that U.S. troop needs would be dramatically reduced after major combat ended.

Let's hope his track record for accurate predictions improves with the World Bank.

***

Wolfowitz's nomination must be approved by the World Bank's 24-member board. As the bank's largest shareholder, the United States has a major voice in that vote. Traditionally, Washington chooses the World Bank chief, while Europe selects the head of the International Monetary Fund.

If approved by the bank's board, Wolfowitz would replace James Wolfensohn, who is stepping down on June 1 when his second five-year term ends.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Report Finds (Surprise, Surprise) Fox "News" Overwhelmed By Opinion

In the late 1980s, when I was a college newspaper editor, I regularly edited the copy of one reporter who would write news stories on religion topics, which in truth were opinion pieces that included one or two interviews supporting the author’s point.

I labeled such pieces “news analysis,” and stuck them on specialty pages – separate from what would be considered hard news. The reason? Even with our limited experience, I and the other editors knew that there had to be a line dividing “news” and “opinion.”

If only someone could teach that to the folks at Fox News.

***

A 617-page report, from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, suggests that Fox’s slogan of “We Report, You Decide,” is hardly the case.

On average, Fox News reporters and anchors shared their opinion on 73 percent of the stories covered, compared with 29 percent of stories handled by MSNBC, and just 2 percent of those on CNN.

Among the big three networks, journalists offered opinions on 17 percent of evening news stories and 11 percent of morning news reports. Just 3 percent of PBS’ NewsHour included opinion.

(The numbers in all cases were modestly inflated because of presidential campaign stories, in which news correspondents offered "horse-race" opinions and other commentary. The report found that news correspondents offered such opinions 44 percent of the time.)

***

How does Fox News interject opinion?

In one example from last March, Fox News reporter Todd Connor reported that “Iraq has a new interim constitution and is well on its way to democracy.” Anchor David Asman replied: “Let’s pray it works out.”

Another time, after hearing that Iraqis helped capture a Saddam Hussein henchman, Asman said: "Boy, that's good news if true, the Iraqis in the lead."

Whether the opinions are liberal or conservative doesn’t matter. The point is that Fox News has an opinion. The line is blurred.

What’s worse, Fox News doesn’t seem to mind that it is rewriting the rules of journalism.

In a March 14 interview with The Washington Post, Fox executive producer Jerry Burke said: "I encourage the anchors to be themselves. I'm certainly not going to step in and censor an anchor on any issue. I think that's part of the success of the channel, not treating our anchors like drones. They're, number one, Americans, and number two, human beings, as well as journalists."

CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson tiold the Post that the study "reaffirms what anyone watching CNN already knows: CNN's reporting is driven by news, not opinion." MSNBC declined to comment to the Post.

Cable networks "have gravitated, particularly as Fox has surged in the ratings, toward programs and somewhat less toward reporting," Tom Rosenstiel, director of Project for Excellence in Journalism, told the Post. He says opinion-laden journalism "probably is part of Fox's identity, but it's not true of all the programs."

Perhaps influenced by Fox News, cable news stories lack the thoroughness of network evening news stories or newspaper front-page stories, the project found. Only about 25 percent of cable news stories contained two or more identifiable sources, compared with 49 percent of network evening news stories and 81 percent of newspaper front-page stories.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Conservative Pundits Can't Stop Ganging Up On Kerry

For some conservative pundits, the fact that John Kerry (D-MA) lost the 2004 presidential race just isn't enough.

I suppose, to them, it's just too easy. Kick a man while he's down? Sure. Distort what he says? No problem. Make snide jokes at his expense? Delighted.

On the March 12 edition of CNN's Capital Gang, the discussion was raising the minimum wage.

"(I)f the Republicans were on such defense on the issue of raising the national minimum wage ... John Kerry would have mentioned it in the course of the campaign," said Kate O'Beirne of the National Review. "I don't remember John Kerry ever advocating during this campaign an increase in the minimum wage."

Not true, said liberal panelist Mark Shields. "Senator Kerry did endorse the minimum wage. I heard him do it."

"Very quietly!" O'Beirne snapped back.

"Maybe in his pillow," chimed in host and conservative columnist Robert Novak.

***

So what's the truth?

As dcoumented by mediamatters.org:

-- "Sen. John F. Kerry called yesterday for a 36 percent hike in the federal minimum wage over the next three years, contending that such an increase would help 7 million working people escape poverty," reported The Washington Post on June 19, 2004.

-- "Mr. Kerry has spoken generally about raising the minimum wage throughout the campaign and supports legislation making it $7 sponsored by his colleague from Massachusetts, Senator Edward M. Kennedy," reported The New York Times, also on June 19.

-- The "economy" section of JohnKerry.com, the website for the Kerry/Edwards '04 campaign, featured a detailed plan to raise the minimum wage.

***

But why the let the truth get in the way of a good stereotype? Kerry the loser. Kerry the undecided. I'm surprised we didn't hear O'Beirne or Novak claim that Kerry "flip-flopped" on the issue. Or maybe O'Beirne or Novak could have trotted out that other conservative spin point, suggesting that Kerry was on the left of Kennedy on the issue.

Why are people like O'Beirne and Novak -- especially Novak, given his extremely questionable effort to out CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame -- still allowed to voice their opinions, even after they are caught telling lies?

If O'Beirne or Novak can lie about Kerry on Capital Gang, why should a viewer trust either of them when they make regular appearances on NBC's Meet the Press? Why should readers trust the facts they use to build arguments in their columns?

The off-the-cuff answer from conservatives is that everyone lies, but that doesn't wash, because saying someone lies and actually proving it are two different things. The networks? They probably would say that the ratings support keeping folks like O'Beirne and Novak on the air. But I would argue that there are more responsible conservative pundits available who would draw the same ratings.

The more difficult question is, of course, why do Kate O'Beirne and Robert Novak resort to lying? Perhaps because if they relied on the facts, they wouldn't have much to say.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

In Discussing Social Security Privatization and Solvency, USA Today Offers Readers GOP Spin

One question JABBS has returned to again and again is, when are our nation's most-read newspapers and most-watched media outlets guilty of "political bias," versus simply suffering from sloppy, poorly researched reporting?

For today's lesson, look no further than the lead story in the March 10 issue of USA Today, an interview with the Bush Administration's top economic adviser on the administration's quest for Social Security privatization.

The story isn't new. It's been in the news on an almost-daily basis since November. Yet reading the USA Today article, you have to assume that the newspaper's research staff took the day off, so limited is the scope of this front-page effort.

"President Bush's No. 1 goal is passing legislation that permanently solves the solvency problem," USA Today quotes Allan Hubbard.

Read that quote, and you'd assume that solvency was the administration's top concern. But that runs counter with the first sentence of the story, which says that Hubbard "rejected as 'absolutely a non-starter' bipartisan proposals that the administration put aside its drive to create individual investment accounts in Social Security and focus first on extending the system's solvency."

Something's amiss here.

Unfortunately, USA Today doesn't appear to pay its writers to be thorough, for the question of solvency isn't really discussed again. It's the equivalent of a reporter writing about a football game and leading with a quote from one of the coaches that "we can only win if we keep the other guys under 20 points," and then never offering the final score.

What's worse, of course, is that by dangling that Hubbard quote about solvency without a Democratic retort on the issue, the reader is left with the incorrect impression that the Bush administration's privatization plan will lead to solvency.

But as reported on JABBS (http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2005/02/will-americans-gamble-on-bushs-social.html) and elsewhere, the administration has admitted that "the personal accounts would have a net neutral effect on the fiscal situation of the Social Security and on the federal government."

But "net neutral effect" is really over a 75-year period, and using what would have to be assumed to be math that favors privatization. In the short-term, the administration projects it will borrow $754 billion through 2015 to finance the initial phase-in of the accounts, and others suggest the long-term costs could total more than $15 billion.

But USA Today can't be bothered with such silly facts -- even ones admitted to by the administration. It would rather lead with GOP spin, allowing its large readership to be woefully misinformed.

Biased? It would be easy for JABBS to say that the story suffers from "conservative media bias," but let's take the high road and call it what it is: sloppy, poorly researched reporting.

***

Before any conservative readers cackle "it's an interview with a Bush administration adviser ... what do you expect?" realize that the "interview" with Hubbard was short. After three paragraphs, Hubbard disappears from the story, as does much of the discussion on solvency.

There is a brief reference further down in the story to a letter written March 4 to President Bush, in which 42 Democratic senators called on him to "discuss solvency first." The article says that Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Charles Grassley of Iowa "have made similar comments."

But USA Today never cut through the back-and-forth to state the obvious: the administration has admitted that it's privatization plan does not address the administration's "No. 1 goal" -- solvency.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

With Rather Retiring, What Will Conservatives Do?

To paraphrase Dan Rather, his presence made conservatives "hotter than a Times Square Rolex."

But Dan retired from anchoring the CBS Evening News, effective today. So now what?

It will be interesting to read the right wing of the blogosphere in the weeks and months to come. Rather was a magnet for criticism from conservatives, who proclaimed him one of the kings of "liberal media bias." Even in cases when no political bias was found, such as his sloppily anchored 60 Minutes piece on President Bush's National Guard record, conservatives continued with their mantra. Rather, in their eyes, was a liberal injecting his political views into network news, facts be damned.

Rather's interim replacement, Bob Schieffer, is not a liberal. A self-proclaimed friend of the Bushes -- George H.W. especially -- Schieffer is regularly cited by liberal media critics as one who leans to the right.

So will conservative critics continue to rail against CBS, wrongly stereotyping it as a giant monolithic liberal entity -- the way such critics chime about The New York Times?

Or will such critics blame CBS' "liberal media bias" solely on Rather?

To paraphrase former President Nixon, the conservatives won't have Rather to kick around anymore. Now what?

On Meet The Press, A Bombshell Was Dropped About Bush and Rumsfeld. But No One Cared

Mike Allen, a political reporter for The Washington Post, dropped a bombshell on the March 6 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, and no one seemed to notice.

Try to remember that Allen made his comment to a roundtable of journalists -- Kate O'Beirne, Paul Krugman, Joe Klein, and of course, host Tim Russert.

ALLEN: What you're seeing is the beginning of trying to attach the president's positive developments in Iraq and separate him from negative. And I think this isn't imminent, but I think over the next year, we'll probably see the departure of Secretary Rumsfeld. I think people in the White House are a little tired of him and I think the idea will be to try to sort of attach Iraq baggage to him. ... So the president can be out taking credit for the purple revolution even though people are seeing -- you know, passing 1,500 (deaths), passing $300 million spent on this.

In truth, there are two scoops for the Meet the Press roundtable:

1) Donald Rumsfeld will depart sometime over the next year.
2) The Bush Administration plans to spin things so that Rumsfeld is blamed for all the negatives associated with Iraq, and the president is congratulated for all the good Iraq news.

But O'Beirne, Krugman and Klein were too busy with their pet topics. And Russert, more interested in firing questions in as many directions as possible, wasn't interested in pausing to deliberate over Allen's comments.

What's worse, as far as I can tell, no newspapers or other media picked up on Allen's bombshells. Too busy with Martha Stewart and Michael Jackson, no doubt.

Maybe I'm just being naive. But when a reporter from a major newspaper offers that the Secretary of Defense is essentially going to be dumped within a year, and oh by the way carted off with every alleged high crime and misdemeanor of the Iraq War, that should be news.

***

The GOP spin game-plan, if Allen is correct, is typical Bush. The ends justify the means. Details aren't important.

Bush can go out and give his John Wayne speech to the hand-picked crowds in Nashville, Austin or Cheyenne, and talk about how he's spread the God-given right to freedom and democracy in nation after nation.

And on talk shows and editorial pages across the land, "honest" conservatives will take a closer look at how "Rummy" lacked post-war planning, which contributed to U.S. deaths. How Rummy underestimated the resistance. How Rummy didn't secure the borders, allowing terrorists to flood into Iraq and kill our brave troops and countless Iraqis. How Rummy failed to move Iraqis -- training to be police and security and a new army -- to a neutral site, so that they could learn without the threat of being blown to bits. The conservative pundits will all simultaneously come to the conclusion that while there are many positives from the Iraq War, things could have been handled so much better by Rummy.

And the irony is that none of those pundits will look back at statements made by John Kerry and other Democrats during the 2004 election cycle, when Kerry campaigned on the idea that he could run the Iraq War more efficiently and honestly than the Bush administration.

Kerry was mocked for suggesting he could do better, mostly by pundits and politicians who spliced some Kerry statements and took others out of context. But watch those same conservative pundits make Kerry's point -- after Rummy resigns.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Savage Blames "Liberalism" For Border Problems, But Has He Noticed Who's President?

Michael Savage, on tonight's "Savage Nation" radio show, blamed "liberalism" for the problems the U.S. has with its border with Mexico.

He related a story -- I don't know if he was referring to a specific incident in the news or just personalizing a general problem -- about a young woman crossing the border illegally and then, a few days later, having a child. The U.S.-born infant, Savage suggested, could then "invite 75 family members" to join the family from Mexico.

Liberalism -- a "mental disorder," Savage suggests -- is to blame.

What a crock.

***

Has Savage forgotten who the president is? Or is he suggesting that George W. Bush suffers from "liberalism?" As related on JABBS earlier, Bush promised 2,000 more border patrol agents (http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2005/02/bush-promised-2000-more-border-patrol.html), but his budgets have failed to deliver on that promise.

Texas has two Republican U.S. Senators, and thanks to Tom DeLay's gerrymandering, the GOP controls Texas' congressional delegation. At the state level, the GOP controls the governorship, lieutenant governorship, attorney general, comptroller and several commission chairs.

Are these people suffering from "liberalism," too?

***

It's easy for Savage to blame liberalism -- that "mental disorder" -- for all the nation's woes. It's like feeding a diabetic a chocolate bar. It tastes good, but it's not good for them.

If Savage were to say that several administrations -- Democratic and Republican -- were to blame for our soft border policy, I'd agree with him. If Savage were to suggest that the U.S. is too compassionate toward the U.S.-born children of illegal aliens, I'd probably agree with that, too.

But Savage -- the self-proclaimed "nationalist" -- doesn't want to spread the blame around. I don't know what the rules are of nationalism, but in Savage's world, it isn't much different than the rules of GOP spin -- blame the liberals, don't blame us. We're with you, they're with the "Columbia lawyers, the NYU lawyers" who are ruining America.

The rabid red, in Topeka or Boise or Greenville or Waco, don't want to hear that conservative policies have failed, too. They want to hear that the liberals are destroying America, one latte at a time.

And Savage is all too eager to feed them that chocolate, one destructive bar at a time.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

"Mr. Bush has proposed letting younger workers divert up to 4 percent of their taxable income into personal accounts—a move that detractors say would cost trillions in transition costs and ruin the underpinnings of the system."

-- New York Times (Page 1 story), March 5, 2005

CHENEY: We're going to borrow $758 million [sic] over the next 10 years to set up the personal retirement accounts. We think that's a manageable amount.

WALLACE: But trillions more after.

CHENEY: That's right. Trillions more after that.

-- Fox News Sunday, Feb. 2, 2005*

* Thanks to dailyhowler.com

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Federal Air Marshal Service Accused of Padding Numbers

A recently released report from the Federal Air Marshal Service suggests that air marshals flew on 9.4 percent of all domestic flights that occurred in December -- a number that individual air marshals say is padded.

The handful fo marshals, interviewed for a story in the March 3 issue of The Washington Times*, say the 9.4 percent figure is "impossible," because more flights are reported as having armed agents aboard than the service's 21 field offices can deploy.

"They are flying on a relatively limited number of flights due to availability," Capt. Stephen Luckey, told the Times. Luckey is chairman of the national-security committee of the Air Lines Pilots Association, which represents 64,000 pilots.

Marshal Service spokesman Dave Adams told the Times: "We can neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of the information."

***

Congress mandates that 4,000 agents be employed, but the Times estimates that the actual number employed is closer to 2,200.

The marshals claim the numbers are being padded to meet staffing levels mandated by Congress. The air marshal service is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which has been criticized (http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2005/02/bush-promised-2000-more-border-patrol.html and http://jabbs.blogspot.com/2005/02/bushs-budget-cuts-grants-to-police.html) for failing to fulfill its original promise.

The Times reports that air marshals always travel in teams -- a minimum of two agents and sometimes as many as four per plane. This means a minimum of 1,100 teams protect domestic and international flights. With sick days, regular days off, vacation and medical leave, it is statistically impossible to cover even the minimum number of flights listed by the report on any given day, the marshals say.

"The actual flight numbers are artificially high to give a perception that the aviation transportation system is actually better protected by air marshals than what it is. But we're suffering from shortfalls in manpower because of mass exodus of marshals in the last two years," one marshal told the Times.


* I don't normally quote The Washington Times, a newspaper owned by Rev. Moon and regularly criticized for its warped far-right coverage. But for better or worse, it was the newspaper that conducted the investigation, and I haven't seen any media critics denounce it for inaccuracies.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

British Reality Show Depicts Guantanamo Torture Methods

After I graduated college in 1990, I tried to earn some extra money giving journalism workshops for college students -- focusing on smaller two- and four-year schools that lacked journalism departments. The kids were a little green, but they were eager to learn.

One tip I often suggested -- to recruit new staff and motivate those already on board -- was that the editors host a get-together at which they show my choice for the greatest movie ever about journalism, All the President's Men.

Sure, there are other good journalism movies, such as Broadcast News and The Insider, but if you want to show young writers what it means to be a journalist -- as real as the entertainment world can provide -- All the President's Men is your movie. And sure enough, the college papers that hosted such nights generally found the movie inspiring.

***

The point of this anecdote is to say that once in a while, the entertainment world captures a moment in history, allowing viewers not only to enjoy a production, but be educated by it, too. Some of the great mini-series of the 1970s -- Roots and The Holocaust, to name a couple -- are equal to that task.

Such entertainment have been shown in high school and university classrooms, to supplement text books, biographies and other reading material.

When the students of tomorrow look back at U.S. policy at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, I wonder if any foreward-thinking teachers will show The Guantanamo Guidebook, a British reality series that debuted on Feb. 28 on Britain's Channel 4.

As reported on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann on March 1, the series features seven men who volunteered to undergo a 48-hour re-creation of some of the milder forms of torture used on detainees at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo.

The men spent two days with a group of American military interrogators. Five of the men are playing innocents, two are playing men with connections to Al Qaeda.

"All captured, shackled, strip searched, dressed in orange jumpsuits and put in cages, then submitted to Gitmo-style interrogation with very real results. Three dropped out before time was up," MSNBC's Monica Novotny reported.

According to the report, the show's producers say the techniques used in the reality series were approved by a declassified Pentagon memo -- including stress positions, forced grooming and sensory deprivation.

***

Many of the popular reality series in the U.S. -- Survivor, American Idol, Trading Spaces -- were adapted from British and other European television.

If the show proves a ratings smash in Britain, what happens if some U.S. production company -- paging Mark Burnett -- decides The Guantanamo Guidebook is too good to pass up?

***

To be fair, I haven't seen the program, so I can't gauge it's educational value. But it is certainly possible that students of tomorrow will learn as much from The Guantanamo Guidebook as I once did watching All The President's Men.

I wonder what they'll think ...

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

You Can't Make This Stuff Up ...

Compare and contrast*:

"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. Having said that, all options are on the table."

-- George W. Bush, 2/22/05

"Again, all options are on the table, and -- but one thing I will not allow is a nation such as Iraq to threaten our very future by developing weapons of mass destruction."

-- George W. Bush, 3/13/02


* With thanks from Center for American Progress

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