Monday, June 30, 2008

Military Action in Iran: The Role of the United States and Israel

Seymour Hersh has written a piece for the New Yorker that claims the United States has increased covert military operations inside Iran. After a request from President Bush, Congressional leaders approved funding of an escalation in covert operations against Iran that would work to destabilize the Iranian regime. This funding, which was approved by leaders of both parties, allows for up to $400 million dollars to be spent on actions such as spying on nuclear facilities and support for various dissident groups.

The Democratic Party has continually denounced this administration for its stance on Iraq and claims that they will not be duped by this Administration again, yet top leaders of the party are joining with Republicans in authorizing measures against Iran that seem to circumvent any diplomatic measures. As Hersh states:

Although some legislators were troubled by aspects of the Finding, and “there was a significant amount of high-level discussion” about it, according to the source familiar with it, the funding for the escalation was approved. In other words, some members of the Democratic leadership-Congress has been under Democratic control since the 2006 elections-were willing, in secret, to go along with the Administration in expanding covert activities directed at Iran, while the Party’s presumptive candidate for President, Barack Obama, has said that he favors direct talks and diplomacy

Hersh goes on to mention that the timing of this request, made by President Bush, coincides with a period of time AFTER the Administration was told by the National Intelligence Estimate that Iran had halted its nuclear program in 2003. The Administration has continually downplayed the findings of the NIE and to this day, maintains an Iranian threat against their neighbors.

This ties in with two other recent developments:

1. The recent report by the New York Times that Israel has conducted a military training exercise believed to simulate an airstrike on Iranian targets.

2. John Bolton, the former American Ambassador to the United Nations, has stated that Israel will attack Iran before the next President of the United States is sworn in.

As information continues to gather regarding the so-called "Iranian Threat" it is becoming more and more clear that the United States may choose to play a complicit yet indirect role in any military action against Iran. An Israeli attack on Iran would not only accomplish an objective friendly to insiders in Washington, but would allow for Washington to avoid direct military confrontation. An action by Israel would not remove blame from the United States as the U.S. would be complicit in such actions, but would serve to further the interests of two countries that have an alliance of strategic regional objectives. Iran has threatened to retaliate against any attack and I need not outline the potential consequences of such actions only to say that any military action against Iran would have major and catastrophic results in the region.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Political Climate Shift

I sensed it when I walked outside the the other day. I stopped in my tracks, looked around, and couldn't quite figure out what it was. Was there a different smell in the air? Had the temperature dipped a few degrees? Did the wind feel a little different? I didn't realize exactly what it was until I began look at the news of the day and read some related articles. Some called it a "shift toward the center" and some called it "standing up to the left", but it became clear to me that the political climate is what had shifted. Not only has John McCain gone through an experience since the year 2000 that the reality show world might dub "Extreme Makeover: Political Edition", but now it seems that Barack Obama is the latest candidate to begin shifting and even reversing his position on some key issues.

In a recent article Chris Hedges refers to Obama as a "courtier" who is agile and eloquent and makes us feel good. Hedges states:

"We cannot differentiate between illusion and reality. We trust courtiers wearing face powder who deceive us in the name of journalism. We trust courtiers in our political parties who promise to fight for our interests and then pass bill after bill to further corporate fraud and abuse. We confuse how we feel about courtiers like Obama and Russert with real information, facts and knowledge. We chant in unison with Obama that we want change, we yell “yes we can,” and then stand dumbly by as he coldly votes away our civil liberties. The Democratic Party, including Obama, continues to fund the war. It refuses to impeach Bush and Cheney. It allows the government to spy on us without warrants or cause. And then it tells us it is our salvation. This is a form of collective domestic abuse. And, as so often happens in the weird pathology of victim and victimizer, we keep coming back for more. "

Hedges' reference to voting away our civil liberties refers to Obama's new found support for the FISA bill which will help to give telecom companies retroactive immunity for spying on Americans. Matthew Rothschild gives further insight into this issue in his recent piece in The Progressive. Rothschild points out that the rhetoric Obama used to defend his reversal in position, is quite similar to President Bush's:

Obama, sounding on Friday a lot like Bush, said: “Given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay.”

Here’s what Bush said the same day as Obama: The bill “allows our intelligence professionals to quickly and effectively monitor the plans of terrorists abroad, while protecting the liberties of Americans here at home.”

But it doesn’t protect our liberties, and Obama ought to know that.

Obama's previous position was that he would support the filibuster of any legislation that would give the telecom companies retroactive immunity. His support for this latest FISA bill, is a direct reversal and a shift not necessarily towards the so-called "center", but in allowing the Administration to continue their assault on our civil liberties.

The media coverage on "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" of this very issue has been astounding. Glenn Greenwald of pointed out in his most recent blog the amazing shift in discourse on this program that directly aligned with Obama's shift on this issue:

What's much more notable is Olbermann's full-scale reversal on how he talks about these measures now that Obama -- rather than George Bush -- supports them. On an almost nightly basis, Olbermann mocks Congressional Democrats as being weak and complicit for failing to stand up to Bush lawbreaking; now that Obama does it, it's proof that Obama won't "cower." Grave warning on Olbermann's show that telecom amnesty and FISA revisions were hallmarks of Bush Fascism instantaneously transformed into a celebration that Obama, by supporting the same things, was leading a courageous, centrist crusade in defense of our Constitution.

Greenwald goes on to mention the danger in this type of "blind devotion" to a candidate no matter his/her stance on policy issues. Greenwald mentions that it is no different than the blind devotion than many loyalists of President Bush have ascribed to in the last 8 years no matter how harmful his policies on important issues.

Obama's stance on FISA is simply the latest in a series of events where his position on issues seems to run counter to the type of change that some of his supporters have come to expect. Obama's speech in front of AIPAC was meant to assure Israel that the policy of the United States will remain in direct alliance with Israeli interests. He stated that the United States would continue to give military aide ($30 billion) to Israel, believes that Jerusalem should remain undivided, and all options would remain on the table to defend the "sacrosanct" and "non-negotiable" security of Israel.

On Iraq, Obama has not pledged to withdrawal all troops and has not voiced a clear stance on the role of private contracting firms operating with Iraq. In fact, in a recent Wall Street Journal article the Iraqi Foreign Minister mentions that after a phone call with Obama, he believes that Obama will not make any drastic decisions or take any drastic actions to jeopardize Iraq's security gains.

Let us be clear on the meaning of these shifts in Obama's positions. It is continually shown, through the examples I have listed, that Obama's actions and words do not represent a drastic change in policy away from the our current situation. Obama is voting for the FISA bill which will give expanded powers on the government to spy on Americans, has pledged his staunch support for the security of Israel, and has not pledged an end to the war in his lack of support for a full withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Citizens of the U.S. need to begin to look at what is being said on these issues that are so important to our future and if Barack Obama is starting to look less like a "change" and more like the status quo, then perhaps people should look to other candidates that may fully represent the type of change that they wish to see in this country.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Monday, June 23, 2008

The (Great?) FISA Compromise

After much rhetoric from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, the legislative body is set to pass the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. President Bush and supporters have argued for quite some time that immunity needs to be granted to large telecommunications companies that actively spied on Americans in 2001-2005 without warrants. Shortly after the New York Times initially broke the story, Bush and Administration officials began to publicly push for Congress to grant these companies retroactive immunity so that they could not be sued for spying on Americans without warrants.

Advocates of civil liberties argued that the telecommunications companies should not be granted retroactive immunity for violating the Constitution and other protections granted by civil liberties legislation. President Bush argued that listening to conversations is a valuable tool in the so-called "War on Terror" and that NOT giving these companies immunity would discourage them from turning over records of phone calls in the future which would, in turn, hamper America's ability to protect its citizens.

This FISA Amendments Act of 2008 has been touted in the media as a "compromise" of an earlier Protect America Act. This is viewed as a compromise because immunity is not simply granted for all telecoms, but judges can examine whether or not the telecoms in question deserve immunity from specific lawsuits. Judges will look to see if the telecoms acted within the authorization of the President by providing a written directive which can be written by numerous government officials, stating their actions were legal. If the telecoms can provide this, then the lawsuits can be dismissed. As quoted from this article in The Nation:

"The bill, in short, is worse than granting absolute immunity: it is an effort to suborn the legitimacy of the federal courts by having a judge rubber-stamp the dismissal of cases against the telecoms without looking at the substance of what, in fact, was done. It reduces the separation of powers to a check-the-box exercise."

The bill also allows the government to create new surveillance programs that last a year apiece which focus on people who are "reasonably believed" to be outside the U.S. borders. It also provides that as long as the government doesn't intentionally target someone who is known to be in the United States, they can collect as much data as they would like. The process of data collection is also to be reviewed by judges however as stated in the previously referenced article in The Nation:

"Specifically, the role of judges is limited to ascertaining whether the Attorney General has completed a certification promising that either he has followed the law, or that he will follow the law soon. If the Attorney General cannot meet even this spectacularly low bar, the bill gives the government time to amend and to re-file the certificate."

It seems that we have gone backwards with our collective thought on this matter. Whereas the original FISA bill was enacted after the Watergate scandal in 1978 to protect American's privacy, as a country we now have retroactively given a pass to telecom companies that broke the law and illegally turned over recorded phone calls to our government. This was the type of action that the original law sought to protect us from. Now, upon learning of these actions by the telecom giants, instead of upholding the law, our elected leaders have legislatively gone back in time to pardon these companies in the name of national security. This is further example of the collective shift in thought which has continued to erode our civil liberties and rights in this so-called "Post 9/11 era". The Democratic Party continues to show its cowardice on such issues and continues to show no real alternative to the Republicans on some of the most important issues of our times. In a more drastic move, Barack Obama showed a reversal in language. Last year Obama said that he would support a filibuster of any bill that would give retroactive immunity to telecom companies, but this week he has stated the following:

"Given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as president, I will carefully monitor the program."

Obama now supports the so-called "compromise" and he also uses language similar to the current Administration when describing the telecoms actions as an important and effective intelligence collecting tool.

We certainly deserve better on this issue.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Torture: A Look at Some of the Evidence that has Mounted against the Bush Administration

We have reached a point in time where everything seems so surreal. We continue to see evidence piled on top of evidence of the criminal actions that the Bush Administration has engaged in and continues to engage in. From the illegal invasion of Iraq, to extraordinary rendition, to Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, torture, illegal wiretaps, the political firings of attorneys, using propaganda on citizens, paying journalists to tout polices friendly to the administration, and on and on and on. It all blurs together into one giant lump of surreal madness and makes it hard to keep up and at times pay attention.

It is imperative for the public to keep focus and stay vigilant through all of this madness and start talking about prosecution of some of the highest ranking members of the Bush Administration. The Boston Globe broke a story this week of a report issued by Physicians for Human Rights. In this report, Physicians for Human Rights have found medical evidence of the torture of 11 detainees between the years of 2001 and 2004. This torture includes injuries that are consistent with psychological abuse, sensory deprivation, and physical and sexual abuse. In addition to these findings, it was also found that American health professionals were also present in some instances and denied health care to these prisoners. All of these men have been released and (like many detainees who have been in U.S. custody) were never charged with a crime.

Of the men interviewed and examined, one showed evidence of being stabbed in the cheek with a screwdriver, one showed rectal tearing consistent with being sodomized by a broomstick, and one showed irregularities in the contours of his tongue which is consistent with receiving electric shocks. The article in the globe states:

"Still, Physicians for Human Rights concluded that all of the interrogation techniques the 11 men allegedly endured - including officially sanctioned exposure to extreme temperatures and placement in “stress positions,” as well as unauthorized treatment such as sexual abuse - violated both domestic criminal law and international human rights treaties."

George Bush has repeatedly stated that the United States does not torture and that all interrogation techniques are "within the law":

This investigation flies in the face of what the President and his Administration claims. In fact, it led Army Major General Antonio Taguba, who oversaw this investigation, to state the following:

"After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."

Earlier this week the Senate Armed Service Committee released documents on the origins of these so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques". These documents state that during a meeting at Guantanamo on Oct. 2, 2002 the counterterrorism lawyer for the CIA, Jonathan Fredman, said that torture "is basically subject to perception" and "if the detainee dies, you're doing it wrong." This Oct. 2, 2002 meeting was held after President Bush signed an order on Feb. 7, 2002, authorizing these "enhanced interrogation techniques". The order was based upon a legal memo from the White House council's office.

The Washington Times reports today that the former Chief of Staff for Colin Powell, Col. Lawerence B. Wilkerson, has testified that Vice President Cheney probably knew that torture was being used on prisoners.

Couple this "revelation" with the meetings that took place in the White House, that were chaired by (then) National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in the Spring of 2002. These meetings were attended by the following "Principals":

"At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft"

In these meetings, as reported by ABC News, high ranking members of the Bush Administration discussed specifics on what types of techniques would be used on detainees. This included combining different techniques that are usually used individually and included the use of stress positions, slapping, hitting, kicking, the use of sensory deprivation and waterboarding. John Ashcroft showed some signs of being disturbed during these meetings. He stated:

"Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly."

Such concern did not deter Rice from proceeding with the implementation of such techniques when she stated to the CIA:

"This is your baby. Go do it."

While at first glance it may seem the President Bush was shielded from these meetings, but in fact he was involved at the highest level. Bush admitted in an interview with ABC-TV, that he knew that these meetings took place and signed off on the torture techniques. This was documented not only in the interview that Bush gave, but in an article that Helen Thomas published that can be found here. Not only has Bush denied that the United States engages in torture, but he justifies his actions by saying that they are "within the law" and legal. This is directly contrary to findings that he and his Administration have committed war crimes.

These points also shoot down the very argument that the actions at Abu Ghraib were that of a "few soldiers" or a few "bad apples". It is quite clear that these actions were discussed and implemented from the highest levels of government. Just this week however, President Bush reiterated the lie that these policies were the result of a few soldiers:

It is clear, from every piece of information that has been presented, that President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other officials at the highest levels of government should be arrested and put on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The evidence is staggering and there must be a chance for all of this to be presented in a court of law.

It is also necessary for the President and Vice President to be impeached for these crimes. Dennis Kucinich has introduced articles of impeachment against the President and these must be addressed. There also needs to be an independent investigation into the tactics that have been authorized that break the law and violate human rights.

These violations of laws and ethics must be addressed and the perpetrators of these crimes must be brought to justice.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Sanitized War: Coverage both McDonald's and the Pentagon can Agree on

The lens through which the citizens of the United States view war is often sanitized and "advertiser friendly". In the run-up to the Iraq war, the focus of the media was often aimed at the weaponry that would be used in the war and a fascination with the technological aspects of the United States military. Different types of aircraft were analyzed and their capability for dropping bombs on Iraq were discussed like analysts were discussing a video game. Once the campaign of "Shock and Awe" was underway we saw cameras perched on hotel balconies beaming images of wild explosions back to our living rooms. Spectacular clouds of smoke and fire filled the Iraqi sky as bursts of sporadic anti-aircraft fire swept across our screens. The invasion of Iraq also provided us with a new way to view war, through the eyes of embedded reporters. We were told that this would give us a never before seen, first-hand look at how wars are fought by putting reporters alongside troops on the front lines. This move was pure genius on the part of the Department of Defense because the reporters who were embedded with the U.S. troops developed a militarized type of Stockholm Syndrome. What I mean by this is that the reporters developed a unique bond with the troops who were protecting them and because of this, objective and independent journalism suffered. We began to see the war through the eyes of the invading forces and sanitized war coverage was what we consumed.

The reality of war is not good for advertisers. Picture this: a reporter, on the ground in Fallujah takes his cameraman to the scene of where U.S. forces just clashed with Iraqi resistance fighters. Some civilians were caught in the crossfire and three children, ages ranging between 8 and 14, were gunned down. The reporter is fresh on the scene and instructs his cameraman to show the bodies of the dead children, with pools of blood still fresh on the ground. After this report the network must throw to commercial and then you see an advertisement for McDonald's complete with happy children and families laughing and living in a carefree world of Big Mac's and Happy Meals. This is specifically what advertisers do not want; certainly a war without the casualties is more appealing for the advertisers to sell their products. Not only do advertisers benefit from such sanitized coverage, but the government also benefits from an "advertiser-friendly" war. There is a known realization that people would be horrified if they saw actual images of war: the dead bodies, the maimed civilians, and the voices of the oppressed. This is illustrated by the ban that was placed on the media (by the U.S. government) of photographing the coffins of U.S. service men and women upon their return to the U.S. They want our support for the war, as long as we get to see the war they want us to see.

Who benefits from this type of coverage? Clearly the news networks benefit from such coverage. As illustrated, advertisers will continue to spend money to advertise in programs that are sanitized so as not to conflict with the Utopian worlds that they present to us in each :30 second commercial. The government also benefits from such coverage. Public support for wars can be manipulated much easier if the public sees the war through a lens that does not present a true reality.

Who does not benefit from this type of coverage? First and foremost, all of us do not benefit from this type of coverage. We are not seeing the full picture and we are not getting independent reporting that shows us reality, no matter how ugly. I argue that we need to see these images on our television screens and in our newspapers. We need to see the dead children, the maimed populations, and hear the voices of the oppressed. There are some who may say that they do not want those types of images on their televisions and I say to them, that if that is the case, then maybe we should rethink what we are doing overseas and stand up for ending the torment of the Iraqi population. Public opinion would strongly shift if we started showing the actual images of war on our television screens. We are indeed a compassionate people, we just need to be given the full and accurate picture of what is happening.

Let's give up our fascination with machines that make war on populations and refocus our attention on the real issue surrounding war, the human cost. The human cost of the Iraqi family that has lost a child due to a cluster bomb, the human cost of the American family whose child came back from serving in Iraq and has committed suicide, and the human cost of the population of Fallujah whose children are experiencing birth defects thanks to the white phosphorous that the United States used in their assault on the city. If our country wants our support for war, we must be prepared to see the ugly, gritty, brutal human cost of war.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Temporary Permanent Bases Part II

There are a few key points that relate to my previous entry regarding the attempts of the United States to negotiate permanent bases in Iraq.

Patrick Cockburn appeared on Democracy Now! last week and also was responsible for breaking the story of Iraq's attempted resistance to the United States demands. You can read his article here.

As Cockburn has stated, the United States originally wanted 58 bases to be constructed in Iraq, but when the Iraqi government objected they lowered the number to the "low dozens". Another key issue is the issue of immunity for foreign contractors. As some of you may know, private contractors from firms such as Blackwater, have come under fire for reported indiscriminate killing of civilians with little movement by the United States to hold them accountable under any set of laws. The realization that the United States continues to push for future immunity for foreign contractors, when they are already aware of numerous incident reports regarding said contractors, is quite alarming.

Cockburn also stated on Democracy Now! that Iraq's money (which is held in the Federal Reserve Bank in New York) is being leveraged to push the Iraqis into accepting U.S. demands. In other words, once the presidential immunity on this money runs out, the U.S. is threatening that the Iraqi government and people would not see any of the approx. 50 billion dollars, unless Iraq accepted some of the U.S. demands.

This is the so called "freedom" that is being exported by the United States. Not a freedom for Iraqis to live in peace or receive basic humanitarian needs, but a freedom for the United States to establish a stronghold in the Middle East and benefit off of Iraq's resources for years to come.

Temporary Permanent Bases

The issue of the United States constructing permanent bases in Iraq has been of discussion since the beginning of the invasion in independent media outlets and has now captured limited headlines in the corporate media. Certainly construction of such bases re-enforces the fact that the United States is an occupying force and aims to continue this occupation with no end in sight.

Currently the United States and Iraq are negotiating terms about the presence of such bases. Bush Administration officials have continually claimed that they are not seeking a permanent presence within Iraq and that bases which are constructed will not serve the purpose of providing a "launching pad" for attacks against Syria and/or Iran. Gareth Porter's recent article published by the "Inter Press Service", outlined how Administration officials have continuously spoken out to counter the idea the United States is working to occupy Iraq permanently. These public statements run completely counter to what is contained within the proposal the United States is attempting to submit to Iraq. The proposal outlines U.S. control of Iraqi airspace and provides wording that would justify "defensive" actions against other countries that could pose a so-called threat to the country.

Perhaps most alarming is the deliberate attempt to mislead the public through ambiguous language contained within the proposal. The phrase "permanent bases" are not used, but as Porter points out in the article, no timeline is given on the presence of the U.S. in "temporary bases". So the word "temporary" is used, but no language is used to distinguish the difference from a "temporary" base with no timeline and a "permanent" base.

The most telling quote in the piece, is from Assistant Defence Secretary Mary Beth Long where in testimony before the State Department she states:

“I have looked into this. As far as the department is concerned, we don’t have a worldwide or even a department-wide definition of permanent bases.”

She adds:

“most lawyers… would say that the word ‘permanent’ probably refers more to the state of mind contemplated by the use of the term”.

There you have it, there is not a department-wide definition of "permanent bases" and the word "permanent" probably refers more to a state of mind. This is not an example of stupidity on the part of the Department of Defense, but rather calculated Orwellian doublespeak to attempt to justify the continued illegal occupation of Iraq to establish a permanent presence in the Middle East.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Is a "Black Television News Channel" on the horizon?

I came across this article about the potential formation of a "Black Television News Channel" in order to give blacks a voice that is often missing in political and social discourse. The last black Republican to serve in the house, J.C. Watts, spoke to the Associated Press and expressed concern over the general portrayal and lack of critical examination of key issues in the black community as illustrated in the recent coverage of Rev. Wright and Barack Obama. Watts states in the article:

"We hope to be the single destination for reliable, credible, informational resources for the African-American community...The critical thing is to allow the community to create a platform to be involved in the economic, social and political debates taking place across the country."

I think this idea has some good potential to help give voice to such a large community that is too often misrepresented and too often ignored. Regardless of your view on Rev. Wright, it was clear that his thoughts and views were limited to what was heard in sound bytes. Much of the coverage the corporate media gave to the issue showed Rev. Wright in blips of less than thirty seconds and had outside analysts speaking with authority on Trinity Church and Black Liberation Theory. This leads to misrepresentations and misleading framing surrounding issues that are often bigger than the perceived story. Bill Moyers had Rev. Wright on his program for an extended interview that examined the history of Trinity Church, the idea behind Black Liberation theory, and other ministries that Rev. Wright led during his tenure as pastor. In other words, it put the issues in greater context.

History is all too often written through the eyes of the victors which leads to marginalization of dissident voices and mischaracterization of history through suppression of greater context. If this proposed new channel can give voice to a community that is not adequately represented in the greater discourse, then it can only help us to better understand the society in which we live. The better informed we all are and the more context we give issues in society, the more educated our society can become.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dick Morris tackles the tough issues?

A coworker forwarded me the latest article by former Bill Clinton strategist Dick Morris earlier today. You can read the text of this article here.

I read some of the observations that Morris made and felt compelled to respond.

1. Dick Morris lists all of the "fears" that people associate with the Obama campaign; from Rev. Wright to a Muslim father to Obama having a "strange name." Yet later in the article Morris admits "So far, he [Obama] has avoided inflaming them and taken great care not to lend them
any credibility from his own statements or positions." What does this say about those who have an unsubstantiated "fear" about Obama? By Morris's own admission it verifies that the fears are unsubstantiated. Yet this point is lost on Morris. He claims that Obama must "go further and
reassure voters who want to believe him, but are afraid." So in the mind of Dick Morris the following exists: 1. There are fears about Obama's past and associations....2. Obama has not lent these critics any credibility from his own statements or positions..hence 3. These "fears" must be unsubstantiated since they are not credible...but 4. Obama must go further to prove that these fears are not true. How can Obama go farther than not giving any credibility to those who hold such "fears"?

2. Morris states that: "If he [Obama] were white, with similar associations, he would be suspect. But he comes from a world few white voters know or understand ..."

To the first point in this quote, is John McCain also suspect due to his own "controversial pastors"? I speak of John Hagee and Pastor Parsley. If you don't recognize either of these names it is no surprise since this issue did not get nearly the coverage of Rev. Wright, yet McCain fully embraced the endorsements of both men before rejecting them months later. I am not necessarily claiming the media has a racist agenda per se, but this point is troubling. Addressing the second point, perhaps we need more discussion of this "world few white voters know or understand". It may be beneficial to clear up any misunderstanding by doing an in-depth series on the issue on a major network instead of airing the same :15-:20 second sound bytes that only help to inflame and distort the issues from their greater context.

Instead of using the romantic language that the US has a "civil religion" and the President is a "high priest" of this religion, perhaps it would be more helpful to put the role of the U.S. into a greater historical context. The quote from Ronald Reagan...implying that the formation of the
U.S. was a "divine plan" not helpful in doing this, but only helps to romanticize the role of the United States without giving true examination to the policies carried out in the name of the country.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

O'Reilly Smears the National Conference for Media Reform

As discussed in my previous entry, I will be taking this opportunity to examine Bill O'Reilly's coverage of the National Conference on Media Reform that I attended in Minneapolis this past weekend. O'Reilly had announced on his show last week that he would show his viewers just how "nuts" the people who attended the conference were on Monday evening's broadcast of "The O'Reilly Factor". O'Reilly devoted his "Impact Segment" to the conference and proceeded to smear and attack its participants. I will post the video below so you can view the segment, but below I will discuss a few of O'Reilly's claims.

1. O'Reilly begins his segment by labeling the conference the "far left party in Minnesota". This is just the first instance of many throughout the video where O'Reilly and his panelists label the attendees of the conference as "far left", "the lunatic left", "unstable loons", "a threat", and "fascists". These terms are clearly meant to smear the attendees of the conference and do nothing to provide any kind of meaningful debate on the topic at hand. O'Reilly never defines the term "far left" yet uses it as an insult. Perhaps a more meaningful discussion would be one that examines what he views as "far left" and one where he refrains from name calling.

2. O'Reilly states that "these people" have "anti-American views". I was at the conference and the issues at hand are how media consolidation hurts independent media and minority voices, how consolidation has led to sensationalized news coverage and business friendly dumbed down coverage, and how a healthy democracy needs a strong independent media to properly function. I would be interested to hear Mr. O'Reilly's views on how these issues are "anti-American".

3. O'Reilly plays three sound bytes of coverage from the conference, yet fails to put any of the statements into context or launch a discussion of the points raised in the video clips.

4. This point is a glaring one and probably one of the most important: both of O'Reilly's guests were not at the conference yet speak as if they have the authority to tell viewers what the goals and aims of the conference were. This not only lacks journalistic integrity, but leads to a complete misrepresentation of what the conference was about. Perhaps a more "fair and balanced" look would be to have on either an organizer of the conference or even an attendee.

5. O'Reilly states that the attendees are a "threat" to America and have done a lot of damage. I would ask, in what way is promoting more independence in the media a threat to America? His panelist, Mary Katherine Ham, then states that the attendees believe that "conservatives have entirely too much control" in the media. This is blatantly false. The conference has nothing to do with giving liberal voices more say while attempting to smother conservative voices. It is about the excessive corporate control of the airwaves and the need for the people to reclaim what is rightfully theirs. The people at the conference believe that it is important to have a deeper discussion about issues (from all political ideologies) instead of dividing issues into categories like "left" and "right" which this segment clearly does.

6. Bill O'Reilly states that "they don't want any dissenting voices" and that they "want to shut Fox News up." Who is it that does not want dissenting voices...a group that dissents from corporatist policies or a cable "news" show that doesn't have equal representation amongst guests? It also needs to be made clear that it is not about "shutting Fox News up", but holding them accountable for misrepresentations and lies that are told, as illustrated in this very segment. Later in the video Mary Katherine Ham says "they want to use the government to shut down conservative's totally fascist"...once again, a lie.

7. It is stated that Fox News is the "most fair" network because Hillary Clinton's campaign chair and John McCain have both said so. This naturally doesn't make it so and Juan Williams makes statements about independent pollsters coming to the same conclusion without citing a report or giving a link to any of these reports.

8. Juan Williams states that the attendees of the conference are "making it difficult to have a civil, logical discussion" when discussing the future of the country. I would consider a civil discussion one without name calling, something this segment fails to do. I would consider a logical discussion one that presents views from someone at the conference in question and does not misrepresent and lie about the issue at hand. This segment fails on this front as well.

9. Ham states that the Bill Moyers and Dan Rather gave "Orwellian speeches" at the event because they stated that they want greater diversity in the media. She then states "they don't, they want to shut it down..." Yet she provides no evidence for this claim, she simply states it is so and the segment ends.

As you can once again see, the type of journalism on display on "The O'Reilly Factor" and Fox News is appalling and leads to false representations of the topic at hand. This segment is not balanced and it is simply meant to be an attack piece with opinion stated as fact and no discussion on the actual contents of the National Conference on Media Reform. It is dishonest and a disgraceful display of the exact type of media that the attendees of the conference wishes to reform.

Also note, that nowhere in that segment is the ambush of Bill Moyers as discussed in my previous blog. This is where the second video comes in...O'Reilly waits to show a :15 second clip of the ambush in his "Body Language" segment where he attacks Moyers while discussing his body language. As you can plainly see, the footage is heavily edited and O'Reilly is free to attack Moyers personally while not addressing anything that was said during the ambush.

Check out both videos below and feel free to share your views. I would love to hear from you.

How I Spent My Weekend...

This past weekend I attended the National Conference on Media Reform in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I spent my time attending numerous workshops, panels, and speeches by leading minds in the Media Reform movement. Over 3,000 people attended the event from all 50 states and beyond. We heard from Bill Moyers, Naomi Klein, Amy Goodman, FCC Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps and many more leading voices on this issue. You can view some of the speeches and get more information at this link:

Over the course of the weekend I couldn't help but be reminded of what many already know, that an independent and free media is necessary in order for the public to be informed and for democracy to function. This is the key belief of those within the Media Reform movement. We believe that we have slid into dangerous territory with greater media consolidation, propaganda being used on U.S. citizens and media outlets that act as little more than a megaphone for the official word. It is important for us to look beyond the myth of the so called "liberal media" and give careful examination to the role that giant corporations have upon the information that we consume on a daily basis. It is clear at this juncture, that our very democracy is in trouble. It is not simply enough this time around to remain silent and hope that the issue resolves itself. Fighting for an independent press is a fight for our democracy and should not be taken lightly.

There are many in the corporate media who feel that dismissing those of us who gathered this weekend as "far-left" or "nuts" as Bill O'Reilly has put it, will negate the issue. In fact, O'Reilly sent his producer to ambush Bill Moyers while at the conference as to why Moyers will not appear on O'Reilly's show. First and foremost, ambushing someone, is not journalism. The attempt that O'Reilly used was nothing more than an attempt to gather a sound byte with which he could use on his show to attack and defame Moyers without any discussion of the real issues at hand. The raw footage of this incident was captured by other journalists at the Conference and I have included it below. Bill O'Reilly has promised to show his audience just how "nuts" those who attended the conference are on tonight's show. I will be comparing this raw and unedited footage below, with what airs on Bill O'Reilly's program and make discussion of this the topic of my next blog.

We need to fix the media for this very reason. If what you see below qualifies as journalism then it is obvious that we have a long fight ahead of us.