Democracy has been taken for granted at a time when it is most endangered. Neo-Conservatives are organized to replace it with oligarchy, to replace consent for the rule of law with fascistic allegiance to the executive branch disguised as "patriotism." As a team made up of a political philosopher and a writer, we consider otherwise repressed information from a critical perspective in the hope of elevating the quality of our political dialogue so that it is worthy of a truly democratic society.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004


I fault this President for not knowing what death is.He does not suffer the death of our twenty one year olds who wanted to be what they could be.On the eve of D-day in 1944 General Eisenhower prayed to God for the lives of the young soldiers he knew were going to die.He knew what death was. Even in a justifiable war, a war not of choice but of necessity, a war of survival, the cost was almost more than Eisenhower could bear.

But this President does not know what death is. He hasn't the mind for it. You see him joking with the press, peering under the table for the WMDs he can't seem to find, you see him at rallies strutting up to the stage in shirt sleeves to the roar of the carefully screened crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal, a he-man. He does not mourn. He doesn't understand why he should mourn. He is satisfied during the course of a speech written for him to look solemn for a moment and speak of the brave young Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. But you study him, you look into his eyes and know he dissembles an emotion which he does not feel in the depths of his being because he has no capacity for it. He does not feel a personal responsibility for the thousand dead young men and women who wanted to be what they could be.

They come to his desk not as youngsters with mothers and father or wives and children who will suffer to the end of their days a terribly torn fabric of familial relationships and the inconsolable remembrance of aborted life.... they come to his desk as a political liability which is why the press is no permitted to photograph the arrival of their coffins from Iraq. How then can he mourn? To mourn is to express regret and he regrets nothing. He does not regret that his reason for going to war was, as he knew, unsubstantiated by the facts. He does not regret that his bungled plan for the war's aftermath has made of his mission-accomplished a disaster. He does not regret that rather than controlling terrorism his war in Iraq has licensed it. So he never mourns for the dead and crippled youngsterswho have fought this war of his choice. He wanted to go to war and he did. He had not the mind to perceive the costs of war, or to listen to those who knew those costs. He did not understand that you do not go to war when it is one of the options but when it is the only option; you go not because you want to but because you have to.

Yet this President knew it would be difficult forAmericans not to cheer the overthrow of a foreign dictator. He knew that much. This president and his supporters would seem to have a mindfor only one thing --- to take power, to remain in power, and to use that power for the sake of themselves and their friends. A war will do that as well as anything.

You become a wartime leader. The country gets behind you. Dissent becomes inappropriate. And so he does not drop to his knees, he is not contrite, he does not sit in the church with the grieving parents and wives and children. He is the President who does not feel. He does not feel for the families of the dead, he does not feel for the thirty five million of us who live in poverty, he does not feel for the forty percent who cannot afford health insurance, he does not feel for the miners whose lungs are turning black or for the working people he has deprived of he chance to work overtime at time-and-a-half to pay their bills --- it is amazing for how many people inthis country this President does not feel. But he will dissemble feeling. He will say in all sincerity he is relieving the wealthiest one percent of the population of their tax burden for the sake of the rest of us, and that he is polluting the air we breathe for the sake of our economy, and that he is decreasing the safety regulations for coal mines to save the coal miners' jobs, and that he is depriving workers of their time-and-a-half benefits for overtime because this is actually a way to honor them by raising them into the professional class. And this litany of lies he will versify with reverences for God and the flag and democracy, when just what he and his party are doing to our democracy is choking the life out of it.

But there is one more terribly sad thing about all of this. I remember the millions of people here and around the world who marched against the war. It was extraordinary, that spontaneous aroused oversoul of alarm and protest that transcended national borders. Why did it happen? After all, this was not the only war anyone had ever seen coming. There are little wars all over he world most of the time. But the cry of protest was the appalled understanding of millions of people thatAmerica was ceding its role as the last best hope of mankind. It was their perception that the classic archetype of democracy was morphing into a rogue nation. The greatest democratic republic in history was turning its back on the future, using its extraordinary power and standing not to advance the ideal of a concordance of civilizations but to endorse the kind of tribal combat that originated with the Neanderthals, a people, now extinct, who could imagine ensuring their survival by no other means than pre-emptive war.

The President we get is the country we get. With each President the nation is conformed spiritually. He is the artificer of our malleablenational soul. He proposes not only the laws but the kinds of lawlessness that govern our lives and invoke our responses. The people he appoints are cast in his image. The trouble they get into and get us into, is his characteristic trouble.Finally the media amplify his character into our moral weather report. He becomes the face of our sky, the conditions that prevail: How can we sustain ourselves as the United States of America given the stupid and ineffective warmaking, the constitutionally insensitive lawgiving, and the monarchal economics of this President? He cannot mourn but is a figure of such moral vacancy as to make us mourn for ourselves.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004


I think astrology is for the willfully weak, but i have never managed to come across one of those "if today is your birthday" horoscopes. I found one, it seems to be good enough for government work. (repost from last year)

Happy Birthday, Libra! Intelligent and capable, you can become a brilliant shining star, provided you're able to get started and stay the course. Preparation and attention to detail are likely to be of paramount importance to you, but may also get out of hand. Because you have an exacting eye, you feel compelled to make revisions in existing situations. This could continue until a deadline occurs or others simply lose patience and leave. Decision-making is often an intricate tarantella that leaves you and those nearest you emotionally and physically exhausted. Your good taste helps you recognize real value, beauty and talent when you see it. But since you don't always trust your instincts, every possibility must be processed through your complex maze of consciousness. Relationships are a major challenge, probably because you're very restless. Because of your edgy, often nervous sensibility, you don't do well in predictable, routine-infested settings. You feel like Mount Aetna on a bad day. A rebel who masquerades as a team player or average Joe, you may leave jobs, relationships, or locales very abruptly. As soon as you feel more like a captive than a free agent, a powerful urge to wander takes over. In an ideal scenario, you'd have others in your life when you wanted or needed them. You don't like giving up your autonomy for the sake of a relationship - although many of you are able to manage this for a period of time. Competitive and farsighted, you're the proverbial hare in a sea of turtles. You may have difficulty being patient with others' slow drip mentality, particularly since your brain is exceptionally active. Unlike most Librans, you're not necessarily looking for a lifetime mate or long term career. You know yourself better than that. Most of the time, the people in your immediate perimeter reflect your current state of mind - not necessarily a long-term commitment. You will not tolerate authority figures without occasionally throwing globs of dust in their eyes. No one tells you what to do - and if they do, you're gone. Many of you had a decidedly un-Leave It To Beaver childhood, as a result. If parents or teachers clamped down, you generally retaliated. Since you are so bright and capable, it seems logical that you would achieve success and stability. If you're able to discipline yourself and accept the boring along with the exciting, you are very likely to find yourself on top. But if almost paralyzing perfectionism, self doubt, or extreme restlessness prevails, you may find yourself "starting over" again and again. Like all Librans, you must drink lots of water, hydrate your skin and hair, and eat simple, healthy food. Fad diets and fasts create short-term results and inevitable disappointment. Born today are Tom Sizemore, Andrew "Dice" Clay, Bryant Gumbel, Erika Eleniak, Anita Ekberg, Patricia Hodge, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ian McShane, Emily Lloyd, Jean-Luc Ponty, Mike Post, Jill Whelan, Lech Walesa, Cervantes, Madeline Kahn, Stanley Kramer, Horatio Nelson, Les Claypool, Sebastian Coe, Manuel Fernandez, Chris Mims, Derrick Oden, Mike Pinera, Dave Silvestri, Steve Tesich, Gene Autry, Enrico Fermi, and Natasha Gregson Wagner.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Yes, I Think Michael Moore is Generally a Nitwit, But He's Our Nitwit


Dear Mr. Bush,
I am so confused. Where exactly do you stand on the issue of Iraq? You, yourDad, Rummy, Condi, Colin, and Wolfie -- you have all changed your minds somany times, I am out of breath just trying to keep up with you!Which of these 10 positions that you, your family and your cabinet havetaken over the years represents your CURRENT thinking:1983-88: WE LOVE SADDAM. On December 19, 1983, Donald Rumsfeld was sent byyour dad and Mr. Reagan to go and have a friendly meeting with SaddamHussein, the dictator of Iraq. Rummy looked so happy in the picture. Justtwelve days after this visit, Saddam gassed thousands of Iranian troops.Your dad and Rummy seemed pretty happy with the results because The Donald R went back to have another chummy hang-out with Saddams right-hand man,Tariq Aziz, just four months later. All of this resulted in the U.S.providing credits and loans to Iraq that enabled Saddam to buy billions ofdollars worth of weapons and chemical agents. The Washington Post reportedthat your dad and Reagan let it be known to their Arab allies that theReagan/Bush administration wanted Iraq to win its war with Iran and anyonewho helped Saddam accomplish this was a friend of ours.1990: WE HATE SADDAM. In 1990, when Saddam invaded Kuwait, your dad and hisdefense secretary, Dick Cheney, decided they didn't like Saddam anymore sothey attacked Iraq and returned Kuwait to its rightful dictators.1991: WE WANT SADDAM TO LIVE. After the war, your dad and Cheney and ColinPowell told the Shiites to rise up against Saddam and we would support them.So they rose up. But then we changed our minds. When the Shiites rose upagainst Saddam, the Bush inner circle changed its mind and decided NOT tohelp the Shiites. Thus, they were massacred by Saddam.1998: WE WANT SADDAM TO DIE. In 1998, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and others, aspart of the Project for the New American Century, wrote an open letter toPresident Clinton insisting he invade and topple Saddam Hussein.2000: WE DON'T BELIEVE IN WAR AND NATION BUILDING. Just three years later,during your debate with Al Gore in the 2000 election, when asked by themoderator Jim Lehrer where you stood when it came to using force for regimechange, you turned out to be a downright pacifist:I--I would take the use of force very seriously. I would be guarded in myapproach. I don't think we can be all things to all people in the world. Ithink we've got to be very careful when we commit our troops. The vicepresident [Al Gore] and I have a disagreement about the use of troops. Hebelieves in nation building. I--I would be very careful about using ourtroops as nation builders. I believe the role of the military is to fightand win war and, therefore, prevent war from happening in the first place.And so I take my--I take my--my responsibility seriously. --October 3, 20002001 (early): WE DON'T BELIEVE SADDAM IS A THREAT. When you took office in2001, you sent your Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and your NationalSecurity Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, in front of the cameras to assure theAmerican people they need not worry about Saddam Hussein. Here is what theysaid:Powell: We should constantly be reviewing our policies, constantly belooking at those sanctions to make sure that they have directed that purpose That purpose is every bit as important now as it was 10 years ago when webegan it. And frankly, they have worked. He has not developed anysignificant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He isunable to project conventional power against his neighbors. --February 24,2001Rice: But in terms of Saddam Hussein being there, let's remember that hiscountry is divided, in effect. He does not control the northern part of hiscountry. We are able to keep arms from him. His military forces have notbeen rebuilt. --July 29, 20012001 (late): WE BELIEVE SADDAM IS GOING TO KILL US! Just a few months later,in the hours and days after the 9/11 tragedy, you had no interest in goingafter Osama bin Laden. You wanted only to bomb Iraq and kill Saddam and youthen told all of America we were under imminent threat because weapons ofmass destruction were coming our way. You led the American people to believethat Saddam had something to do with Osama and 9/11. Without the UN'ssanction, you broke international law and invaded Iraq.2003: WE DONT BELIEVE SADDAM IS GOING TO KILL US. After no WMDs were found,you changed your mind about why you said we needed to invade, coming up witha brand new after-the-fact reason -- we started this war so we could haveregime change, liberate Iraq and give the Iraqis democracy!2003: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! Yes, everyone saw you say it -- in costume, noless!2004: OOPS. MISSION NOT ACCOMPLISHED! Now you call the Iraq invasion acatastrophic "success"; that's what you called it this month. Over a thousand U.S. soldiers have died, Iraq is in a state of total chaos where no one issafe, and you have no clue how to get us out of there.Mr. Bush, please tell us -- when will you change your mind again?I know you hate the words "flip" and "flop, so I won't use them both on youIn fact, I'll use just one: Flop. That is what you are. A huge, colossalflop. The war is a flop, your advisors and the "intelligence"; they gave you is a flop, and now we are all a flop to the rest of the world. Flop. Flop.Flop.And you have the audacity to criticize John Kerry with what you call themany "positions"; he has taken on Iraq. By my count, he has taken only one: He believed you. That was his position. You told him and the rest of congressthat Saddam had WMDs. So he -- and the vast majority of Americans, eventhose who didn't vote for you -- believed you. You see, Americans, like JohnKerry, want to live in a country where they can believe their President.That was the one, single position John Kerry took. He didn't support the war he supported YOU. And YOU let him and this great country down. And that iswhy tens of millions can't wait to get to the polls on Election Day -- toremove a major, catastrophic flop from our dear, beloved White House -- tostop all the flipping you and your men have done, flipping us and the restof the world off.
We can't take another minute of it.
Michael Moore

Thursday, September 23, 2004

So glad you're back, Sweetie!

My recent life in a nutshell version: I've been dating a nice, sort of geeky guy named Greg for a couple of months now. We're planning on taking an international trip together in February when we can both get some time off--either Egypt, Malta, or Argentina. We'll see. I was in Moscow, ID about a month ago, visiting a friend, and I got a big tattoo on my belly and right side including the Kansas state motto on it, of which I'm quite proud. In November I will be driving down to Laramie, WY to greet and take home an Abyssinian kitten, a male, who was just born this week at his cattery. No ideas on names yet, so if you think of any let me know. I hope all is well enough where you are, Bill and Evan and pets and children and garden and home. I hope there has been positive growth on all of those fronts.

I had a bad dream last night: that if things for the Bush campaign get dicey enough, there will be another 9/11-type event on US soil such that the current regime will then demand to stay in power "because it must." I hate how extra-cynical these days are making me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Stourley - i am back. Needless to say, i had no internet for three months and i was working over 60 hours per week. So much for my summer. I just got access back today, which took forever because they sent me a new modem and everything was all fuckered up, so to speak. But i'm back and i'll be here regularly from now on.

Saturday, September 18, 2004


Scamming the Media, Parlock Style By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t Perspective
Friday 17 September 2004

(Do take a look at the story link so you can view the pictures that really make this piece compelling)

Meet Phil Parlock. Parlock is a family man and a staunch Republican. Parlock has a very sad story to tell about how rotten Kerry supporters are. You see, they made his little girl cry.

Parlock was at a rally on Thursday to greet Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards, who was on a swing through West Virginia and Ohio. Parlock brought his three children and a Bush/Cheney sign to show support for his beloved President. According to him, a Kerry-supporting union guy wearing an IUPAT shirt ripped up the Bush sign his little girl was carrying, making her cry.

Terrible, right? A sign that our national politics have descended into these kind of brutish tactics, right? An embarrassing incident for the Kerry campaign, right? The media certainly thinks so, and has dutifully reported on the incident.

For the third time.

A report from the Charleston Daily Mail, August 27, 1996:
"The Huntington man said he was knocked to the ground by a Clinton supporter when he tried to display a sign that read 'Remember Vince Foster,' the deputy White House counsel who committed suicide in a Washington, D.C., park. His death has become the subject of much debate among Clinton opponents...Parlock said some of the crowd tried to make other anti-Clinton demonstrators feel unwelcome. He estimated that about 150 Dole supporters attended the rally, but their signs couldn't be seen for most of the rally."

A report from the Charleston Daily Mail, October 28, 2000:
"Phil Parlock didn't expect to need all 12 of the Bush-Cheney signs he and his son Louis smuggled in their socks and pockets into the rally for Vice President Al Gore. But each time they raised a sign, someone would grab it out of their hands, the two Huntington residents said. And sometimes it got physical. 'I expected some people to take our signs,' said Louis, 12. 'But I did not expect people to practically attack us.' The two said they didn't go to the Friday morning rally to start trouble."

For the third Presidential election in a row, poor Phil Parlock has been abused by terrible Democrats while trying to support the Republican candidate, and while trying to introduce his children to the art of retail politics. Is this just a string of bad luck for Phil?

I doubt it. It seems a great deal more certain that Mr. Parlock is a serial disruptor who has managed to convince the easily-duped mainstream media on three separate occasions that he was attacked by Democrats. Only a truly hard-core fanatic would pull a stunt like this, and Parlock certainly appears to fit the bill.

Note the fact that he was holding a "Remember Vince Foster" sign at the first incident in 1996. Parlock, it seems, is of that particular fringe school of thought which believes Hillary Clinton had Foster whacked as a part of her grandiose evil scheming. Believers in this particular conspiracy theory are not known for their balanced view of American politics. They see the Clinton family as a pack of remorseless murderers, and therefore feel compelled to do whatever they can to thwart them.

It appears we have a clever fellow here who has convinced the same Charleston newspaper three different times that he was victimized by Democrats at rallies. He does not seem to have any problem with involving his own children in the game, and may have even gone so far as to have one of his sons play the role of 'Democrat Attacker.'

This would be funny, in a sad sort of way, but for two things.

First, this is how campaigns get mired in utterly mindless trivialities. Instead of discussing the upswell of catastrophic violence in Iraq, we get to hear about poor Phil and his crying daughter. There are important matters to discuss, matters central to the future of the country, but media tricks like this blow the whole show off-track. That's bad.

The second reason this isn't so funny happened two weeks ago. A gathering of Republicans at the local GOP headquarters got a nasty scare when someone fired a bullet at the building. About two dozen people were there to watch the Republican Convention in New York when a single shot hit the window.

Dee Delancy of WCHS news in Charleston reported on the incident, and interviewed several people who were there. One of them was Phil Parlock, who said, "I think this is definitely, definitely an act that was by an extremist kind of thing."

Parlock was there.

This could all be a series of strange coincidences. Parlock could simply be an unlucky guy who always seems to be around when Democrats do something wretched, who took abuse in 1996, 2000 and 2004 for supporting Republicans, who happened to have the same newspaper on hand to report his story each time, and who also happened to be on the scene of a shooting incident that made Democrats look like frightening would-be assassins.

This could be a series of coincidences, but someone should take a long look at this fellow regardless. Manufacturing a few sign-ripping incidents isn't a terribly big deal. But he appears to be hell-bent on making Democrats look like thugs, and there has been a shooting incident involving him on top of everything else. The media, which may well have been repeatedly scammed by Parlock, might want to do some further checking.

Author's note: The manner in which this story came to light is a lesson in modern journalism. The mainstream fellows simply reported the Parlock perspective, but it was an intrepid band of online newshounds - bloggers Rising Hegemon and Atrios, who picked up on the work of one Rezmutt, member of the forums at DemocraticUnderground.com - who pieced together the strange coincidences surrounding these Parlock incidents. Once upon a time, stories like this would get missed. The internet has created a whole new phenomenon. If the mainstream media wants to avoid being embarrassed, they might want to think about paying attention to this brave new world of investigative journalism.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Journalism Under Fire
A speech by Bill Moyers

from TomPaine.com

Thank you for inviting me to share this occasion with you. Three months from now I will be retiring from active journalism and I cannot imagine a better turn into the home stretch than this morning with you.

My life in journalism began 54 years ago, on my 16th birthday, in the summer before my junior year in high school, when I went to work as a cub reporter for the Marshall News Messenger in the East Texas town of 20,000 where I had grown up. Early on, I got one of those lucky breaks that define a life’s course. Some of the old timers were sick or on vacation and Spencer Jones, the managing editor, assigned me to help cover the Housewives' Rebellion. Fifteen women in town refused to pay the Social Security withholding tax for their domestic workers. They argued that social security was unconstitutional, that imposing it was taxation without representation, and that—here’s my favorite part—“requiring us to collect (the tax) is no different from requiring us to collect the garbage.” They hired a lawyer—Martin Dies, the former Congressman notorious for his work as head of the House Committee on Un-American Activities—but to no avail. The women wound up holding their noses and paying the tax. In the meantime the Associated Press had picked up our coverage and turned the rebellion into a national story. One day after it was all over, the managing editor called me over and pointed to the ticker beside his desk. Moving across the wire was a “Notice to the Editor” citing one Bill Moyers and the News Messenger for the reporting we had done on the rebellion. I was hooked.

Looking back on that experience and all that followed, I often think of what Joseph Lelyveld told aspiring young journalists when he was executive editor of the New York Times . “You can never know how a life in journalism will turn out,” he said. “Decide that you want to be a scholar, a lawyer, or a doctor…and your path to the grave is pretty well laid out before you. Decide that you want to enter our rather less reputable line of work and you set off on a route that can sometimes seem to be nothing but diversions, switchbacks and a life of surprises…with the constant temptation to keep reinventing yourself.”

So I have. My path led me on to graduate school, a detour through seminary, then to LBJ’s side in Washington, and, from there, through circumstances so convulted I still haven’t figured them out, back to journalism, first at Newsday and then the big leap from print to television, to PBS and CBS and back again—just one more of those vagrant journalistic souls who, intoxicated with the moment is always looking for the next high: the lead not yet written, the picture not yet taken, the story not yet told.

It took me awhile after I left government to get my footing back in journalism. I had to learn all over again that what’s important for the journalist is not how close you are to power but how close you are to reality. I’ve seen plenty of reality. Journalism took me to famine and revolution in Africa and to war in Central America; it took me to the bedside of the dying and delivery rooms of the newborn. It took me into the lives of inner-city families in Newark and working-class families in Milwaukee struggling to find their place in the new global economy. CBS News paid me richly to put in my two cents worth on just about anything that happened on a given day. As a documentary journalist I’ve explored everything from the power of money in politics to how to make a poem. I’ve investigated the abuse of power in the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals and the unanswered questions of 9/11. I’ve delved into the “Mystery of Chi” in Chinese traditional medicine as well as the miracle that empowered a one-time slave trader to write the hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Journalism has been a continuing course in adult education—my own; other people paid the tuition and travel, and I’ve never really had to grow up and get a day job. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I’ve enjoyed the company of colleagues as good as they come, who kept inspiring me to try harder.

They helped me relearn another of journalism’s basic lessons. The job of trying to tell the truth about people whose job it is to hide the truth is almost as complicated and difficult as trying to hide it in the first place. Unless you’re willing to fight and refight the same battles until you go blue in the face, drive the people you work with nuts going over every last detail to make certain you’ve got it right, and then take hit after unfair hit accusing you of “bias,” or, these days, even a point of view, there’s no use even trying. You have to love it, and I do. I remember what Izzy Stone said about this. For years he was America’s premier independent journalist, bringing down on his head the sustained wrath of the high and mighty for publishing in his little four-page I.F. Stone’s Weekly the government’s lies and contradictions culled from the government’s own official documents. No matter how much they pummeled him, Izzy Stone said: “I have so much fun I ought to be arrested.”

That’s how I felt 25 five years ago when my colleague Sherry Jones and I produced the first documentary ever about the purchase of government favors by political action committees. When we unfurled across the Capitol grounds yard after yard of computer printouts listing campaign contributions to every member of Congress, there was a loud outcry, including from several politicians who had been allies just a few years earlier when I worked at the White House.

I loved it, too, when Sherry and I connected the dots behind the Iran-Contra scandal. That documentary sent the right-wing posse in Washington running indignantly to congressional supporters of public television who accused PBS of committing— horrors!— journalism right on the air.

While everyone else was all over the Monica Lewinsky imbroglio, Sherry and I took after Washington’s other scandal of the time— the unbridled and illegal fundraising by Democrats in the campaign of 1996. This time it was Democrats who wanted me arrested.

But taking on political scandal is nothing compared to what can happen if you raise questions about corporate power in Washington. When my colleagues and I started looking into the subject of pesticides and food for a Frontline documentary, my producer Marty Koughan learned that industry was attempting behind closed doors to dilute the findings of a National Academy of Sciences study on the effects of pesticide residues on children. Before we finished the documentary, the industry somehow purloined a copy of our draft script—we still aren’t certain how—and mounted a sophisticated and expensive campaign to discredit our broadcast before it aired. Television reviewers and editorial page editors were flooded in advance with pro-industry propaganda. There was a whispering campaign. A Washington Post columnist took a dig at the broadcast on the morning of the day it aired—without even having seen it—and later confessed to me that the dirt had been supplied by a top lobbyist for the chemical industry. Some public television managers across the country were so unnerved by the blitz of dis-information they received from the industry that before the documentary had even aired, they protested to PBS with letters prepared by the industry.

Here’s what most perplexed us: Eight days before the broadcast, the American Cancer Society—an organization that in no way figured in our story—sent to its three thousand local chapters a “critique” of the unfinished documentary claiming, wrongly, that it exaggerated the dangers of pesticides in food. We were puzzled. Why was the American Cancer Society taking the unusual step of criticizing a documentary that it had not seen, that had not aired, and that did not claim what the society alleged? An enterprising reporter in town named Sheila Kaplan looked into these questions for Legal Times and discovered that a public relations firm, which had worked for several chemical companies, also did pro bono work for the American Cancer Society. The firm was able to cash in some of the goodwill from that “charitable” work to persuade the compliant communications staff at the Society to distribute some harsh talking points about the documentary— talking points that had been supplied by, but not attributed to, the public relations firm.

Others also used the American Cancer Society’s good name in efforts to tarnish the journalism before it aired; including right-wing front groups who railed against what they called “junk science on PBS” and demanded Congress pull the plug on public television. PBS stood firm. The documentary aired, the journalism held up, and the National Academy of Sciences felt liberated to release the study that the industry had tried to demean.

They never give up. Sherry and I spent more than a year working on another documentary called Trade Secrets , based on revelations—found in the industry’s archives—that big chemical companies had deliberately withheld from workers and consumers damaging information about toxic chemicals in their products. These internal industry documents are a fact. They exist. They are not a matter of opinion or point of view. And they portrayed deep and pervasive corruption in a major American industry, revealing that we live under a regulatory system designed by the industry itself. If the public and government regulators had known over the years what the industry was keeping secret about the health risks of its products, America’s laws and regulations governing chemical manufacturing would have been far more protective of human health than they were.

Hoping to keep us from airing those secrets, the industry hired a public relations firm in Washington noted for using private detectives and former CIA, FBI, and drug enforcement officers to conduct investigations for corporations. One of the company’s founders was on record as saying that sometimes corporations need to resort to unconventional resources, including “using deceit”, to defend themselves. Given the scurrilous underground campaign that was conducted to smear our journalism, his comments were an understatement. Not only was there the vicious campaign directed at me personally, but once again pressure was brought to bear on PBS through industry allies in Congress. PBS stood firm, the documentary aired, and a year later the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded Trade Secrets an Emmy for outstanding investigative journalism.

I’ve gone on like this not to regale you with old war tales but to get to a story that is the one thing I hope you might remember from our time together this morning. John Henry Faulk told me this story. Most of you are too young to remember John Henry—a wonderful raconteur, entertainer, and a popular host on CBS Radio back when radio was in its prime. But those were days of paranoia and red-baiting—the McCarthy era—and the right-wing sleaze merchants went to work on John Henry with outlandish accusations that he was a communist. A fearful CBS refused to rehire him and John Henry went home to Texas to live out his days. He won a famous libel suit against his accusers and wrote a classic book about those events and the meaning of the First Amendment. In an interview I did with him shortly before his death a dozen years ago, John Henry told the story of how he and friend Boots Cooper were playing in the chicken house when they were about 12 years old. They spied a chicken snake in the top tier of nests, so close it looked like a boa constrictor. As John Henry told it to me, “All the frontier courage drained out our heels—actually it trickled down our overall legs—and Boots and I made a new door through the henhouse wall.” His momma came out and, learning what the fuss was about, said to Boots and John Henry: “Don’t you know chicken snakes are harmless? They can’t hurt you.” And Boots, rubbing his forehead and behind at the same time, said, “Yes, Mrs. Faulk, I know that, but they can scare you so bad, it’ll cause you to hurt yourself.” John Henry Faulk told me that’s a lesson he never forgot. It’s a good one for any journalist to tuck away and call on when journalism is under fire.

Our job remains essentially the same: to gather, weigh, organize, analyze and present information people need to know in order to make sense of the world. You will hear it said this is not a professional task—John Carroll of the Los Angeles Times recently reminded us there are “no qualification tests, no boards to censure misconduct, no universally accepted set of standards.” Maybe so. But I think that what makes journalism a profession is the deep ethical imperative of which the public is aware only when we violate it—think Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, Jim Kelly. Ed Wasserman, once an editor himself and now teaching at Washington and Lee University, says that journalism “is an ethical practice because it tells people what matters and helps them determine what they should do about it.” So good newsrooms “are marinated in ethical conversations…What should this lead say? What I should I tell that source?” We practice this craft inside “concentric rings of duty and obligations: Obligations to sources, our colleagues, our bosses, our readers, our profession, and our community”—and we function under a system of values “in which we try to understand and reconcile strong competing claims.” Our obligation is to sift patiently and fairly through untidy realities, measure the claims of affected people, and present honestly the best available approximation of the truth—and this, says Ed Wasserman, is an ethical practice.

It’s never been easy, and it’s getting harder. For more reasons then you can shake a stick at.

One is the sheer magnitude of the issues we need to report and analyze. My friend Bill McKibben enjoys a conspicuous place in my pantheon of journalistic heroes for his pioneer work in writing about the environment; his bestseller The End of Nature carried on where Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring left off. Recently in Mother Jones, Bill described how the problems we cover—conventional, manageable problems, like budget shortfalls, pollution, crime—may be about to convert to chaotic, unpredictable situations. He puts it this way: If you don’t have a job, “that’s a problem, and unemployment is a problem, and they can both be managed: You learn a new skill, the Federal Reserve lowers interest rates to spur the economy. But millions of skilled, well-paying jobs disappearing to Bangalore is a situation; it’s not clear what, if anything, the system can do to turn it around.” Perhaps the most unmanageable of all problems, Bill McKibben writes, is the accelerating deterioration of the environment. While the present administration has committed a thousand acts of vandalism against our air, water, forests and deserts, were we to change managers, Bill argues, some of that damage would abate. What won’t go away, he continues, are the perils with huge momentum—the greenhouse effect, for instance. Scientists have been warning us about it since the 1980s. But now the melt of the Arctic seems to be releasing so much freshwater into the North Atlantic that even the Pentagon is alarmed that a weakening Gulf Stream could yield abrupt—and overwhelming—changes, the kind of climate change that threatens civilization. How do we journalists get a handle on something of that enormity?

Or on ideology. One of the biggest changes in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. How do we fathom and explain the mindset of violent exhibitionists and extremists who blow to smithereens hundreds of children and teachers of Middle School Number One in Beslan, Russia? Or the radical utopianism of martyrs who crash hijacked planes into the World Trade Center? How do we explain the possibility that a close election in November could turn on several million good and decent citizens who believe in the Rapture Index? That’s what I said—the Rapture Index; Google it and you will understand why the best-selling books in America today are the 12 volumes of the "Left Behind" series that have earned multi-millions of dollars for their co-authors, who, earlier this year, completed a triumphant tour of the Bible Belt whose buckle holds in place George W. Bush’s armor of the Lord. These true believers subscribe to a fantastical theology concocted in the l9th century by a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove them into a narrative millions of people believe to be literally true.

According to this narrative, Jesus will return to earth only when certain conditions are met: when Israel has been established as a state; when Israel then occupies the rest of its “biblical lands;” when the third temple has been rebuilt on the site now occupied by the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosques; and, then, when legions of the Antichrist attack Israel. This will trigger a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon during which all the Jews who have not converted will be burned. Then the Messiah returns to earth. The Rapture occurs once the big battle begins. True believers ”will be lifted out of their clothes and transported to heaven where, seated next to the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts and frogs during the several years of tribulation which follow."

I’m not making this up. We’re reported on these people for our weekly broadcast on PBS, following some of them from Texas to the West Bank. They are sincere, serious and polite as they tell you that they feel called to help bring the Rapture on as fulfillment of biblical prophecy. That’s why they have declared solidarity with Israel and the Jewish settlements and backed up their support with money and volunteers. It’s why they have staged confrontations at the old temple site in Jerusalem. It’s why the invasion of Iraq for them was a warm-up act, predicted in the 9th chapter of the Book of Revelations where four angels “which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released “to slay the third part of men.’ As the British writer George Monbiot has pointed out, for these people, the Middle East is not a foreign policy issue, it’s a biblical scenario, a matter of personal belief. A war with Islam in the Middle East is not something to be feared but welcomed; if there’s a conflagration there, they come out winners on the far side of tribulation, inside the pearly gates, in celestial splendor, supping on ambrosia to the accompaniment of harps plucked by angels.

One estimate puts these people at about 15 percent of the electorate. Most are likely to vote Republican; they are part of the core of George W. Bush’s base support. He knows who they are and what they want. When the president asked Ariel Sharon to pull his tanks out of Jenin in 2002, more than one hundred thousand angry Christian fundamentalists barraged the White House with e-mails, and Mr. Bush never mentioned the matter again. Not coincidentally, the administration recently put itself solidly behind Ariel Sharon’s expansions of settlements on the West Banks. In George Monbiot’s analysis, the president stands to lose fewer votes by encouraging Israeli expansion into the West Bank than he stands to lose by restraining it. “He would be mad to listen to these people, but he would also be mad not to.” No wonder Karl Rove walks around the West Wing whistling “Onward Christian Soldiers.” He knows how many votes he is likely to get from these pious folk who believe that the Rapture Index now stands at 144—just one point below the critical threshold at which point the prophecy is fulfilled, the whole thing blows, the sky is filled with floating naked bodies, and the true believers wind up at the right hand of God. With no regret for those left behind. (See George Monbiot. The Guardian, April 20th, 2004 .)

I know, I know: You think I am bonkers. You think Ann Coulter is right to aim her bony knee at my groin and that O’Reilly should get a Peabody for barfing all over me for saying there’s more to American politics than meets the Foxy eye. But this is just the point: Journalists who try to tell these stories, connect these dots, and examine these links are demeaned, disparaged and dismissed. This is the very kind of story that illustrates the challenge journalists face in a world driven by ideologies that are stoutly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. Ideologues—religious, political, or editorial ideologues—embrace a world view that cannot be changed because they admit no evidence to the contrary. And Don Quixote on Rocinante tilting at windmills had an easier time of it than a journalist on a laptop tilting with facts at the world’s fundamentalist belief systems.

For one thing, you’ll get in trouble with the public. The Chicago Tribune recently conducted a national poll in which about half of those surveyed said there should be been some kind of press restraint on reporting about the prison abuse scandal in Iraq; I suggest those people don’t want the facts to disturb their belief system about American exceptionalism. The poll also found that five or six of every 10 Americans “would embrace government controls of some kind on free speech, especially if it is found unpatriotic.” No wonder scoundrels find refuge in patriotism; it offers them immunity from criticism.

If raging ideologies are difficult to penetrate, so is secrecy. Secrecy is hardly a new or surprising story. But we are witnessing new barriers imposed to public access to information and a rapid mutation of America’s political culture in favor of the secret rule of government. I urge you to read the special report, Keeping Secrets, published recently by the American Society of Newspaper Editors (for a copy send an e-mail to publications@knightfdn.org). You will find laid out there what the editors call a “zeal for secrecy” pulsating through government at every level, shutting off the flow of information from sources such as routine hospital reports to what one United States senator calls the “single greatest rollback of the Freedom of Information Act in history.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I digress here to say that I was present when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act on July 4, 1966. In language that was almost lyrical, he said he was signing it “with a deep sense of pride that the United States is an open society in which the people’s right to know is cherished and guarded.” But as his press secretary at the time, I knew something that few others did: LBJ had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the signing ceremony. He hated the very idea of FOIA, hated the thought of journalists rummaging in government closets, hated them challenging the official review of realty. He dug in his heels and even threatened to pocket-veto the bill after it reached the White House. Only the tenacity of a congressman named John Moss got the bill passed at all, and that was after a 12-year battle against his elders in Congress, who blinked every time the sun shined in the dark corridors of power. They managed to cripple the bill Moss had drafted, and even then, only some last-minute calls to LBJ from a handful of newspaper editors overcame the president’s reluctance. He signed “the f------ thing,” as he called it, and then set out to claim credit for it.

But never has there been an administration like the one in power today—so disciplined in secrecy, so precisely in lockstep in keeping information from the people at large and, in defiance of the Constitution, from their representatives in Congress. The litany is long: The president’s chief of staff orders a review that leads to at least 6000 documents being pulled from government websites. The Defense Department bans photos of military caskets being returned to the U.S. To hide the influence of Kenneth Lay, Enron, and other energy moguls, the vice president stonewalls his energy task force records with the help of his duck-hunting pal on the Supreme Court. The CIA adds a new question to its standard employee polygraph exam, asking, “Do you have friends in the media?” There have been more than 1200 presumably terrorist-related arrests and 750 people deported, and no one outside the government knows their names, or how many court docket entries have been erased or never entered. Secret federal court hearings have been held with no public record of when or where or who is being tried.

Secrecy is contagious. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has announced that “certain security information included in the reactor oversight process” will no longer be publicly available, and no longer be updated on the agency’s website.

New controls are being imposed on space surveillance data once found on NASA’s website.

The FCC has now restricted public access to reports of telecommunications disruption because the Department of Homeland Security says communications outages could provide “a roadmap for terrorists.”

One of the authors of the ASNE report, Pete Weitzel, former managing editor of The Miami Herald and now coordinator for the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government, describes how Section 214 of the Homeland Security Act makes it possible for a company to tell Homeland Security about an eroding chemical tank on the bank of a river, but DHS could not disclose this information publicly or, for that matter, even report it to the Environmental Protection Agency. And if there were a spill and people were injured, the information given DHS could not be used in court!

Secrecy is contagious—and scandalous. The Washington Post reports that nearly 600 times in recent years, a judicial committee acting in private has stripped information from reports intended to alert the public to conflicts of interest involving federal judges.

Secrecy is contagious, scandalous—and toxic. According to the ASNE report, curtains are falling at the state and local levels, too. The tiny south Alabama town of Notasulga decided to allow citizens to see records only one hour a month. It had to rescind the decision, but now you have to make a request in writing, make an appointment and state a reason for wanting to see any document. The state legislature in Florida has adopted 14 new exemptions to its sunshine and public record laws. Over the objections of law enforcement officials and Freedom of Information advocates, they passed a new law prohibiting police from making lists of gun owners even as it sets a fine of $5 million for violation.

Secrecy is contagious, scandalous, toxic—and costly. Pete Weitzel estimates that the price tag for secrecy today is more than $5 billion annually (I have seen other estimates up to $6.5 billion a year.)

This “zeal for secrecy” I am talking about—and I have barely touched the surface—adds up to a victory for the terrorists. When they plunged those hijacked planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon three years ago this morning, they were out to hijack our Gross National Psychology. If they could fill our psyche with fear—as if the imagination of each one of us were Afghanistan and they were the Taliban—they could deprive us of the trust and confidence required for a free society to work. They could prevent us from ever again believing in a safe, decent or just world and from working to bring it about. By pillaging and plundering our peace of mind they could panic us into abandoning those unique freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of the press—that constitute the ability of democracy to self-correct and turn the ship of state before it hits the iceberg.

I thought of this last week during the Republican National Convention here in New York—thought of the terrorists as enablers of democracy’s self-immolation. My office is on the west side of Manhattan, two blocks from Madison Square Garden. From where I sit I could see snipers on the roof. Helicopters overhead. Barricades at every street corner. Lines of police stretching down the avenues. Unmarked vans. Flatbed trucks. Looking out his own window, the writer Nick Turse (TomDispatch.com 9/8/04 ) saw what I saw and more. Special Forces brandishing automatic rifles. Rolls of orange plastic netting. Dragnets. Pre-emptive arrests of peaceful protesters. Cages for detainees. And he caught sight of what he calls “the ultimate blending of corporatism and the police state—the Fuji blimp—now emblazoned with a second logo: NYPD.” A spy-in-the sky, outfitted “with the latest in video-surveillance equipment, loaned free of charge to the police all week long.” Nick Turse saw these things and sees in them, as do I, “The Rise of the Homeland Security State.”

Will we be cowed by it? Will we investigate and expose its excesses? Will we ask hard questions of the people who run it? The answers are not clear. As deplorable as was the betrayal of their craft by Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass and Jim Kelly, the greater offense was the seduction of mainstream media into helping the government dupe the public to support a war to disarm a dictator who was already disarmed. Now we are buying into the very paradigm of a “war on terror” that our government—with staggering banality, soaring hubris, and stunning bravado—employs to elicit public acquiescence while offering no criterion of success or failure, no knowledge of the cost, and no measure of democratic accountability. I am reminded of the answer the veteran journalist Richard Reeves gave when asked by a college student to define “real news.” “Real news,” said Richard Reeves “is the news you and I need to keep our freedoms.” I am reminded of that line from the news photographer in Tom Stoppard’s play Night and Day : “People do terrible things to each other, but its worse in places where everybody is kept in the dark.”

I have become a nuisance on this issue—if not a fanatic—because I grew up in the South, where, for so long, truthtellers were driven from the pulpit, the classroom and the newsroom; it took a bloody civil war to drive home the truth of slavery, and still it took another hundred of years of cruel segregation and oppression before the people freed by that war finally achieved equal rights under the law. Not only did I grow up in the South, which had paid such a high price for denial, but I served in the Johnson White House during the early escalation of the Vietnam War. We circled the wagons and grew intolerant of news that did not confirm to the official view of reality, with tragic consequences for America and Vietnam. Few days pass now that I do not remind myself that the greatest moments in the history of the press came not when journalists made common cause with the state, but when they stood fearlessly independent of it.

That’s why I have also become a nuisance, if not a fanatic, on the perils of media consolidation. My eyes were opened wide by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which led to my first documentary on the subject, called Free Speech for Sale . On our current weekly broadcast we’ve gone back to the subject more than 30 times. I was astonished when the coupling of Time Warner and AOL—the biggest corporate merger of all time—brought an avalanche of gee-whiz coverage from a media intoxicated by uncritical enthusiasm. Not many people heard the quiet voice of the cultural critic Todd Gitlin pointing out that the merger was not motivated by any impulse to improve news reporting, magazine journalism or the quality of public discourse. Its purpose was to boost the customer base, the shareholders’ stock and the personal wealth of top executives. Not only was this brave new combination, in Gitlin’s words, “unlikely to arrest the slickening of news coverage, its pulverization into ever more streamlined and simple-minded snippers, its love affair with celebrities and show business, “the deal is likely to accelerate those trends, since the bottom line “usually abhors whatever is more demanding and complex, slower, more prone to ideas, more challenging to complacency.”

Sure enough, as merger as followed merger, journalism has been driven further down the hierarchy of values in the huge conglomerates that dominate what we see, read and hear. And to feed the profit margins journalism has been directed to other priorities than “the news we need to know to keep our freedoms.” One study reports that the number of crime stories on the network news tripled over six years. Another reports that in 55 markets in 35 states, local news was dominated by crime and violence, triviality and celebrity. The Project for Excellence in Journalism, reporting on the front pages of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, on the ABC, CBS, and NBC Nightly news programs, and on Time and Newsweek , showed that from 1977 to 1997, the number of stories about government dropped from one in three to one in five, while the number of stories about celebrities rose from one in every 50 stories to one in every 14. What difference does it make? Well, it's government that can pick our pockets, slap us into jail, run a highway through our backyard or send us to war. Knowing what government does is “the news we need to keep our freedoms.”

Ed Wasserman, among others, has looked closely at the impact on journalism of this growing conglomeration of ownership. He recently wrote: “You would think that having a mightier media would strengthen their ability to assert their independence, to chart their own course, to behave in an adversarial way toward the state.” Instead “they fold in a stiff breeze”—as Viacom, one of the richest media companies in the history of thought, did when it “couldn’t even go ahead and run a dim-witted movie” on Ronald Reagan because the current president’s political arm objected to anything that would interfere with the ludicrous drive to canonize Reagan and put him on Mount Rushmore. Wasserman acknowledges, as I do, that there is some world-class journalism being done all over the country today, but he went on to speak of “a palpable sense of decline, of rot, of a loss of spine, determination, gutlessness” that pervades our craft. Journalism and the news business, he concludes, aren’t playing well together. Media owners have businesses to run, and “these media-owning corporations have enormous interests of their own that impinge on an ever-widening swath of public policy” —hugely important things, ranging from campaign finance reform (who ends up with those millions of dollars spent on advertising?) to broadcast deregulation and antitrust policy, to virtually everything related to the Internet, intellectual property, globalization and free trade, even to minimum wage, affirmative action and environmental policy. “This doesn’t mean media shill mindlessly for their owners, any more than their reporters are stealth operatives for pet causes,” but it does mean that in this era, when its broader and broader economic entanglements make media more dependent on state largesse, “the news business finds itself at war with journalism.”

Look at what’s happening to newspapers. A study by Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America reports that two-thirds of today’s newspaper markets are monopolies. I urge you to read a new book—Leaving Readers Behind: The Age of Corporate Newspapering (published as part of the Project on the State of the American Newspaper under the auspices of the Pew Charitable Trust)—by a passel of people who love journalism: the former managing editor of the New York Times, Gene Roberts; the dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, Thomas Kunkel; the veteran reporter and editor, Charles Layton, as well as contributors such as Ken Auletta, Geneva Overholser, and Roy Reed. They find that a generation of relentless corporatization has diminished the amount of real news available to the consumer. They write of small hometown dailies being bought and sold like hog futures; of chains, once content to grow one property at a time, now devouring other chains whole; of chains effectively ceding whole regions of the country to one another, minimizing competition; of money pouring into the business from interests with little knowledge and even less concern about the special obligations newspapers have to democracy. They point as one example to the paper in Oshkosh, Wis., with a circulation of 23,500, which prided itself on being in hometown hands since the Andrew Johnson administration. In 1998, it was sold not once but twice, within the space of two months. Two years later it was sold again: four owners in less than three years. In New Jersey, the Gannett Chain bought the Asbury Park Press , then sent in a publisher who slashed 55 people from the staff and cut the space for news, and who was rewarded by being named Gannett’s manager of the year. Roberts and team come to the sobering conclusion that the real momentum of consolidation is just beginning—that it won’t be long now before America is reduced to half a dozen major print conglomerates.

They illustrate the consequences with one story after another. In Cumberland, Md., the police reporter had so many duties piled upon him that he no longer had time to go to the police station for the daily reports. But management had a cost-saving solution: Put a fax machine in the police station and let the cops send over the news they thought the paper should have. (“Any police brutality today, officer?” “No, if there is, we’ll fax a report of it over to you.”) On a larger scale, the book describes a wholesale retreat in coverage of key departments and agencies in Washington. At the Social Security Administration, whose activities literally affect every American, only the New York Times was maintaining a full-time reporter. And incredibly, there were no full-time reporters at the Interior Department, which controls millions of acres of public land and oversees everything from the National Park Service to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

There’s more: According to the non-partisan Project for Excellence in Journalism, newspapers have 2,200 fewer employees than in 1990. The number of full-time radio news employees dropped by 44 percent between 1994 and 2000. And the number of television network foreign bureaus is down by half. Except for “60 Minutes” on CBS, the network prime time newsmagazines “in no way could be said to cover major news of the day.” Furthermore, the report finds that 68 percent of the news on cable news channels was “repetitious accounts of previously reported stories without any new information.”

Out across the country there’s a virtual blackout of local public affairs. The Alliance for Better Campaigns studied 45 stations in six cities in one week in October 2003. Out of 7,560 hours of programming analyzed, only 13 were devoted to local public affairs—less than one-half of one percent of local programming nationwide.

A profound transformation is happening here. The framers of our nation never envisioned these huge media giants; never imagined what could happen if big government, big publishing and big broadcasters ever saw eye to eye in putting the public’s need for news second to their own interests—and to the ideology of free-market economics.

Nor could they have foreseen the rise of a quasi-official partisan press serving as a mighty megaphone for the regime in power. Stretching from Washington think tanks funded by corporations to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch’s far-flung empire of tabloid journalism to the nattering know-nothings of talk radio, a ceaseless conveyor belt—often taking its cues from daily talking points supplied by the Republican National Committee—moves mountains of the official party line into the public discourse. But that’s not their only mission. They wage war on anyone who does not subscribe to the propaganda, heaping scorn on what they call “old-school journalism.” One of them, a blogger, was recently quoted in Rupert Murdoch’s Weekly Standard comparing journalism with brain surgery. “A bunch of amateurs, no matter how smart and enthusiastic, could never outperform professional neurosurgeons, because they lack the specialized training and experience necessary for that field. But what qualifications, exactly, does it take to be a journalist? What can they do that we can’t? Nothing.”

The debate over who and isn’t a journalist is worth having, although we don’t have time for it now. You can read a good account of the latest round in that debate in the September 26 Boston Globe, where Tom Rosenthiel reports on the Democratic Convention’s efforts to decide “which scribes, bloggers, on-air correspondents and on-air correspondents and off-air producers and camera crews” would have press credentials and access to the action. Bloggers were awarded credentials for the first time, and, I, for one, was glad to see it. I’ve just finished reading Dan Gillmor’s new book, We the Media, and recommend it heartily to you. Gilmore is a national columnist for the San Jose Mercury News and writes a daily weblog for SiliconValley.com. He argues persuasively that Big Media is losing its monopoly on the news, thanks to the Internet – that “citizen journalists” of all stripes, in their independent, unfiltered reports, are transforming the news from a lecture to a conversation. He’s on to something. In one sense we are discovering all over again the feisty spirit of our earliest days as a nation when the republic and a free press were growing up together. It took no great amount of capital and credit—just a few hundred dollars—to start a paper then. There were well over a thousand of them by 1840. They were passionate and pugnacious and often deeply prejudiced; some spoke for Indian-haters, immigrant-bashers, bigots, jingoes, and land-grabbers. But some called to the better angels of our nature—Tom Paine, for one, the penniless immigrant from England, who, in 1776 –just before joining Washington’s army—published the hard-hitting pamphlet Common Sense , with its uncompromising case for American independence. It became our first best-seller because Paine was possessed of an unwavering determination to reach ordinary people—to “make those that can scarcely read understand” and “to put into language as plain as the alphabet” the idea that they mattered and could stand up for their rights.

So the Internet may indeed engage us in a new conversation of democracy. Even as it does, you and I will in no way be relieved from wrestling with what it means ethically to be a professional journalist. I believe Tom Rosenthiel got it right in that Boston Globe article when he said that the proper question is not whether you call yourself a journalist but whether your own work constitutes journalism. And what is that? I like his answer: “A journalist tries to get the facts right,” tries to get “as close as possible to the verifiable truth”—not to help one side win or lose but “to inspire public discussion.” Neutrality, he concludes, is not a core principle of journalism, “but the commitment to facts, to public consideration, and to independence from faction, is.”

I don’t want to claim too much for our craft; because we journalists are human, our work is shot through with the stain of fallibility that taints the species. But I don’t want to claim too little for our craft, either. That’s why I am troubled by the comments of the former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon. Simon rose to national prominence with his book Homicide, about the year he spent in Baltimore’s homicide unit. That book inspired an NBC series for which Simon wrote several episodes and then another book and an HBO series called "The Wire," also set in Baltimore. In the current edition of the libertarian magazine Reason, Simon says he has become increasingly cynical “about the ability of daily journalism to affect any kind of meaningful change….One of the sad things about contemporary journalism is that it actually matters very little.’


But Francisco Ortiz Franco thought it mattered. The crusading reporter co-founded a weekly magazine in Tijuana whose motto is “Free like the Wind.” He was relentless in exposing the incestuous connections between wealthy elites in Baja, Calif. and its most corrupt law enforcement agencies and with the most violent of drag cartels. Several months ago, Francisco Ortiz Franco died sitting at the wheel of his car outside a local clinic—shot four times while his two children, aged eight and l0, looked on from the back seat. As his blood was being hosed off the pavement, more than l00 of his fellow Mexican reporters and editors marched quietly through the streets, holding their pens defiantly high in the air. They believe journalism matters.

Manic Saha thought journalism mattered. He was a correspondent with the daily New Age in Bangladesh, as well as a contributor to the BBC’s Bengali-language service. Saha was known for his bold reporting on criminal gangs, drug traffickers, and Maoist insurgents and had kept it up despite a series of death threats. Earlier this year, as Saha was heading home from the local press club, assailants stopped his rickshaw and threw a bomb at him. When the bomb exploded he was decapitated. Manik Saha died because journalism matters.

Jose Carlos Araujo thought journalism mattered. The host of a call-in talk show in northeastern Brazil, Araujo regularly denounced death squads and well-known local figures involved in murders. On April 24 of this year, outside his home, at 7:30 in the morning, he was ambushed and shot to death. Because journalism matters.

Aiyathurai Nadesan thought journalism mattered. A newspaper reporter in Sri Lanka, he had been harassed and threatened for criticizing the government and security forces. During one interrogation, he was told to stop writing about the army. He didn’t. On the morning of May 3l, near a Hindu temple, he was shot to death—because journalism matters.

I could go on: The editor-in-chief of the only independent newspaper in the industrial Russian city of Togliatti, shot to death after reporting on local corruption; his successor stabbed to death 18 months later; a dozen journalists in all, killed in Russia over the last five years and none of their murderers brought to justice.

Cuba’s fledgling independent press has been decimated by the arrest and long-term imprisonment of 29 journalists in a crackdown last year; they are being held in solitary confinement, subjected to psychological torture, surviving on rotten and foul-smelling food. Why? Because Fidel Castro knows journalism matters.

The totalitarian regime of Turkmenistan believes journalism matters—so much so that all newspapers, radio and television stations have been placed under strict state control. About the only independent information the people get is reporting broadcast from abroad by Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty. A stringer for that service, based in the Turkmenistan capital, was detained and injected multiple times with an unknown substance. In the Ukraine, Dmitry Shkuropat, a correspondent for the independent weekly Iskra, who had been working on a story about government corruption, was beaten in the middle of the day on a main street in the city of Zaporozhy and taped interviews for his pending story were taken. The director of Iskra told the Committee to Protect Journalists (to whom I am indebted for these examples) said that the newspaper often receives intimidating phone calls from local business and political authorities after publishing critical articles, but he refused to identify the callers, saying he feared retaliation. Obviously, in the Ukraine journalism matters.

We have it so easy here in this country. America is a utopia for journalists. Don Hewitt, the creator of "60 Minutes," told me a couple of years ago that “the 1990s were a terrible time for journalism in this country but a wonderful time for journalists; we’re living like Jack Welch,” he said, referring to the then CEO of General Electric. Perhaps that is why we weren’t asking tough questions of Jack Welch. Because we have it so easy in America, we tend to go easy on America—so easy that maybe Simon’s right; compared to entertainment and propaganda, maybe journalism doesn’t matter.

But I approach the end of my own long run believing more strongly than ever that the quality of journalism and the quality of democracy are inextricably joined. The late Martha Gellhorn, who spent half a century reporting on war and politicians—and observing journalists, too—eventually lost her faith that journalism could, by itself, change the world. But the act of keeping the record straight is valuable in itself, she said. “Serious, careful, honest journalism is essential, not because it is a guiding light but because it is a form of honorable behavior, involving the reporter and the reader.” I second that. I believe democracy requires “a sacred contract” between journalists and those who put their trust in us to tell them what we can about how the world really works.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

No Time for "Liberal Weenies": Formerly Interesting Filmmaker's Forthcoming Movie the Centerpiece of Frighteningly Right-Wing Night at New Film Festival

Movie Review: The Great Raid
Directed by John Dahl; starring Joseph Feinnes, Connie Nielson, Benjamin Bratt
Miramax: scheduled for release early 2005

Bozeman, MT--I must sheepishly admit I was quite looking forward to the advent of what initially seemed to be a legitimate film festival in our fair mountain town. Indeed, the HatcH Festival--thrown together in an amazing 90 days if the hype is to be believed--has garnered its share of novelty glitz, largely from homegrown or local celebs such as Peter Fonda, Jeff Bridges, Margot Kidder, and the evidently now utterly irrelevant John Dahl. I was even game to drop fifty bucks for two tickets to see the world premiere of Dahl's forthcoming movie, the astonishingly offensive WWII White Powerfest that is The Great Raid.

Dahl's promising early directorial efforts, such as the noirish Red Rock West and the biting The Last Seduction, displayed a gift for tongue-in-cheek social commentary and clever genre skewering. Those flicks worked as well as they did because they placed a certain degree of trust in the audience and didn't hit you over the head with easy explanations. The characters didn't have to state stock reasons for why their characters behaved the ways in which they did, although the psychology was there in a flinch, a stare, a strut. The characters may have been of their respective genres, but, with large thanks to some great casting, unusual degrees of complexity were gradually revealed in the principle players' parts (Lara Flynn-Boyle, Linda Fiorentino, even Nicholas Cage before his career became embarrassing). Dahl began to catch some deserved buzz as a master tweaker of the B-movie thriller.

Then he made Rounders, a boring, forgettable gambling movie that, but for the great Famke Janssen, did absolutely nothing for anyone involved.

And then he made Joyride.

And now we have (finally?) ensured the truth of Swimming with Sharks vis-a-vis the dollar over the art with Dahl's lamentable The Great Raid.

Let's get the plot out of the way: Inherently GOOD White American Soldiers held captive in a Japanese-controlled internment camp in the Phillipines near the end of WWII, led by a convincingly wan, malaria-addled Joseph Feinnes (Shakespeare in Love) are treated horribly. Meanwhile, Feinnes's love, a decidedly miscast Connie Nielson (Gladiator) schleps as a "Lithuanian" nurse in a Phillipines hospital, nicking meds that are then smuggled to the Inherently GOOD White American POWs via some Byzantine collection of bumbling Phillipinos on the DL (except that they are all easily caught and dispatched like so many ants on a sidewalk--all except, of course, for the Good White Chick). Meanwhilemeanwhile, A troop of Inherently GOOD White American Soldiers led by the oddly vacant Benjamin Bratt (Law & Order, Julia Roberts) are on a mission to rescue the POWs. Which they eventually do, and with a lot of explosions.

At nearly three hours, the movie was evidently filmed in real time.

Based on a true story, which is admirable, The Great Raid cares nothing for character development largely because the story of the movie, the mythos of it, is just too large for the movie it is. So what we get is empty hagiography whose goal is to stroke American egos into believing that they are still, I guess, The Great Generation. The film is as subtle and insightful as a bludgeon. The bombastic score never lets the audience have to wonder what to feel, so at least GW Bush will be happy about that.

Nielson catwalks through the movie emmanating a very strange sort of glamor--the kind of straight-from-the-40's-and-50's glamour that was prescribed for every lone female in a male war flick. She exudes "I Am In A Hollywood Movie" even while being tortured by Japanese intelligence forces. Perhaps this is what Dahl was going for--tackling another genre (this time aping it). At least Tora! Tora! Tora! had Jerry Fogel (rimshot!--but only for folks in KC).

Sans anything interesting to say, what is one to take from such a film? A lesson? If the premiere night's audience was any indication, that lesson must be that Japs Still Suck; Thank God We're In Montana. Hate the Other! And while we're on the subject--were there really no black people anywhere in this area at this time during the War? You won't see one anywhere in the movie. Something for which, I suppose, any black actor will remain eternally grateful.

By the end of the film I was left sick to my stomach, and not because I was moved by the heroism on screen. First, I felt: At least Leni Riefenstahl had a striking aesthetic vision. Second, I felt: What a disgraceful way to make a profit.

And my dis-ease was hightened by the after-flick reactions and stage commentaries. There was a standing ovation (oh--and the audience ws asked to sing the national anthem before the flick began). The director came out and said that Miramax was trepidatious about allowing him to premiere this movie here in Bozeman (in hindsight, I can completely understand why the movie did premiere here--it preaches to the converted).

A man who plays the "Patton"-like role in the film, an asshat Montanan, was on hand to say brilliant things like how important it is for us to realize that Montana is "real America," while icky places like New York and California are the home of "the Liberal Weenies" who "don't know anything about real America." There was applause. It's so nice to know that Good, Real (White, Xian) Americans live where I live, and I appreciated the geography lesson, because I really believed that NY and CA were actually part of this country! Imagine my surprise. It was around this time I leaned over to my date and mentioned having to get the hell out of there. And we did.

On the sidewalks of Main Street and at the Robin Bar down the street:

Grumblings that Jeff Bridges didn't show for the movie because he is, in fact, one of those Liberal Weenies.

A legit star--who I was going to name but won't because I hear that those Non-American Liberal Weenies like to sue everybody with their Jewish lawyers--did tell me, with drink in hand, that s/he was at the premiere and thought "that movie was crap." I wanted to hug him/her.

Much self-congratulatory hyperbole was to be had throughout the festival, but that is the way of the industry, I know. How nice that the Liberal Weenies are sharing it with Real America.

Friday, September 10, 2004

How Many Deaths Will It Take?

from The New York Times

Published: September 10, 2004

"It was Vietnam all over again - the heartbreaking head shots captioned with good old American names:

"Jose Casanova, Donald J. Cline Jr., Sheldon R. Hawk Eagle, Alyssa R. Peterson.

"Eventually there'll be a fine memorial to honor the young Americans whose lives were sacrificed for no good reason in Iraq. Yesterday, under the headline 'The Roster of the Dead,' The New York Times ran photos of the first thousand or so who were killed.

"They were sent off by a president who ran and hid when he was a young man and his country was at war. They fought bravely and died honorably. But as in Vietnam, no amount of valor or heroism can conceal the fact that they were sent off under false pretenses to fight a war that is unwinnable.

"How many thousands more will have to die before we acknowledge that President Bush's obsession with Iraq and Saddam Hussein has been a catastrophe for the United States?" [...]

Read the entire, amazing essay here. (Requires a free, one-time registration)

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

L. Blasch: Wherefore? Wherefore?

Monday, September 06, 2004

Unmitigated Gall
by Molly Ivins

Posted on Alternet.org

"Stephen Colbert, correspondent for The Daily Show, the only news program to watch during the Republican convention, found the theme of this convention like a homing pigeon: 'Unmitigated gall.'

"This convention alone would be enough to convince me that John Edwards is right about 'two Americas,' except I don't think he's gone far enough. These folks are in from another planet. They're living in an alternative reality. When is a fact a fact to these people? When did anyone ever find evidence Saddam Hussein had dog to do with Sept. 11?

"It's all very well to claim our invasion of Iraq may yet bring about peace and democracy in the Middle East – hey, miracles happen – but when Rudy Giuliani assured us this 'idealism' is in fact triumphing as he speaks, one must question the man's grip on sanity. Even the president is now claiming the disastrous occupation is the result of "catastrophic success." That seems to mean he thinks we won the war too fast.

"Speaking of what Bush means, what a dumb flap over his obviously accidental misstatement that we can't win the war against terrorism. As I have often noted, even when Bush misspeaks you can usually tell what he meant to say. This little doozy was 'clearified' the next day – on that mighty organ of reliable information, The Rush Limbaugh Show – only to be followed by Democrats chanting, 'Flip-flop.'

"That level of stupefying pettiness over nothing should be legally limited to Republicans. Meanwhile, note that Bush is back to being 'a war president.' Just a few weeks ago, he was going around claiming to be 'the peace president' every 10 minutes, after months of claiming to be 'a war president.' So that makes the new shift a flip-flip-flop.

"One of my favorite moments of non-reality came from Education Secretary Rod Paige, formerly school superintendent in Houston, where the stats on student performance have been so badly twisted it is now a national scandal. It was Compassion Night at Madison Square Garden, so we were celebrating Republican domestic achievements, a short list unless you just make stuff up, such as, 'All across America, test scores are rising, students are learning, the achievement gap is closing, teachers and principals are beaming with pride.' Now you tell me if this guy is living in Never Never Land.

"The party platform, written in large part by Phyllis Schafly and her Eagle Forum, condemns stem cell research, women's right to decide whether to bear a child under any circumstances, and gay people. Just as a historical curiosity, I present the fact that at the Republican Convention in New Orleans in 1988, Mrs. Schafly gave a party with the theme 'Let the Good Times Roll,' thus proving the enduring role of irony at political conventions.

"The real theme of the convention is 'George Bush Makes Us Safer,' as dubious a proposition as Madonna's virginity. Tom Ridge is not only not speaking in primetime, he's not addressing this convention at all – he's a non-person. In the current issue of Mother Jones magazine is a must-read by Matthew Brzezinski called 'Red Alert.' The 'pull quote' is: 'It was billed as America's frontline defense against terrorism. But badly underfunded, crippled by special interests and ignored by the White House, the Department of Homeland Security has been relegated to bureaucratic obscurity.'

"Brzezinski reports, '... the administration's misplaced priorities – - particularly its obsession with Iraq – - have come at the expense of homeland security.' What a mess. What a waste of money. What colossal ineptitude. It's so dispiriting to read about it, one can't even work up a Henry Higgins-like: 'Safer? Ha!'

"While I was prepared to listen to much rhetoric about Bush's stalwart firmness as he steers the ship of state in the wrong direction, I was startled to hear Giuliani try to make points over our falling out with so many allies.

"Look, the Coalition of the Willing is a public embarrassment, a monument to diplomatic witlessness, not to mention open bribery. To blame others for our diplomatic failure is both fatuous and offensive. Then to repeat Bush's obnoxious little bully line, 'You're either with us or you're with the terrorists,' is both stupid and dangerous.

"The perception that we lack a decent respect for the opinions of mankind itself contributes to terrorism. Why encourage Americans, many of whom are already dangerously xenophobic, to treat the arguments of other nations with contemptuous dismissal? Especially when so many of them have been proved right?

"Loved the Schwarzenegger speech and apologize again for having accidentally misappropriated the wonderful line of Clive James', the Australian journalist: 'He looks like a condom stuffed with walnuts.'"

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