Extra! January/February 1990

    I’m Not Rappaport…. I’m Valdez

    Extra! usually complains about media outlets relying on the same sources again and again, but KTTV-TV in Los Angeles may have gone too far in the opposite direction. Seeking a source to comment on the failed October 1989 coup against Manuel Noriega, the station called what they thought was the Panamanian consulate. In fact, it was the home of Kurt Rappaport, a 22-year old prankster. Rappaport, pretending to be an anti-Noriega Panamanian diplomat, “Arturo Valdez,” was invited to be interviewed, and showed up at the studio sporting a false moustache. A sound bite from the 10-15 minute “Valdez” interview was …

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    Due Process Mugged

    You’ve seen it everywhere. It made the cover of Newsweek, the front page of the New York Times‘ “Week in Review”, and the CBS, NBC and ABC news: Manual Noriega’s mug shot, looking just like the criminals at the end of each “Dragnet” episode after Sgt. Joe Friday had brought them to justice. But what you didn’t often see is an acknowledgment that the release of such mug shots is highly unusual, and may threaten Noriega’s already slim chances of getting a fair trial. The Miami U.S. Attorney’s office claims to have released it “under pressure from the press,” according …

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    History That’s Fit to Print

    The New York Times is fond of running chronologies to explicate history for its readers. Often these chronologies provide a very selective version of events. Take a Jan. 8, 1990 example headlined “Two Decades of Suffering in Cambodia”. It begins on March 18, 1970 (“Prince Norodom Sihanouk is ousted by Lon Nol…”) and then skips to April 17, 1975 (“The Khmer Rouge rebels seize Phnom Penh…”). No mention is made of the 1969-1973 U.S. bombing campaign that dropped more than 500,000 tons of bombs on Cambodia, leaving, according to a Washington Post estimate (4/24/75), 450,000 dead and wounded. The only …

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    Censored News

    The Bush White House justified the invasion by claiming that overthrowing Noriega was a major victory in the war on drugs. If journalists had reported the backgrounds of the new Panamanian leaders installed by the U.S. invasion, and their connections to drug-laundering banks and drug traffickers, a primary rationale for the invasion would have been shredded. But few journalists scrutinized Panama’s “new democrats” from the country’s banking and corporate elite. One who did was Jonathan Marshall, editorial page editor of the Oakland Tribune. In a series of editorials, “Panama’s Drug, Inc.” (1/5 & 1/22/90), Marshall reported the following: PRESIDENT GUILLERMO …

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    Reporters Rallying Round the Flag

    Journalists justified their role as distributors of government handouts in different ways. Asked on Day 1 why U.S. opponents of the invasion were virtually invisible on-the-air, a CBS producer (who declined to give her name) told Extra!: “When American troops are involved and taking losses, this is not the time to be running critical commentary. The American public will be rallying around the flag.” Some TV reporters claimed they were forced to rely on official U.S. versions because they had nothing else. As Newsday reported January 14, “Peter Arnett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning combat journalist, was reduced to reporting on Noriega’s …

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    The Washington Post: The Establishment’s Paper

    Don’t get too far from the establishment. –Walter Lippmann to Katharine Graham File Lippmann’s remark under the category of superfluous advice. Graham and the company of which she is “chairman”–she lists herself in the D.C. phone book as “Graham, Philip L. Mrs.”–have never entertained a thought of straying from the establishment. In 1933, when Graham’s father, Eugene Meyer took control of the bankrupt Washington Post, it enjoyed only physical closeness to power. The paper badly needed the wealth and connections that Meyer had in spades: Over the years, he’d been a Wall Street banker, director of President Wilson’s War Finance …

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    ‘Noriega Offered His Usual Damp, Limp Handshake to Bush’s Firm Grip’

    For sheer propaganda, high marks go to Newsweek‘s Noriega cover story (1/15/90), featuring excerpts from a book about Noriega by Wall Street Journal reporter Frederick Kempe. The book and its author were much touted by the media during the invasion. Some highlights: HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST ELLIOTT ABRAMS. “By the summer of 1985, the State Department’s new assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs, Elliott Abrams, began to believe that Noriega’s help for the Contras was overestimated and his general harm to democracy and human rights was underestimated. Abrams had come out of State’s human rights office….” Abrams hardly “came …

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    Swallowing Hokum in Central America

    During the height of the civil rights movement, Southern authorities frequently reacted to the bombing of a black church or a civil rights leader’s home by blaming the act on the Movement: “The Negroes did it themselves. It’s a stunt to win sympathy.” While the innuendo that Martin Luther King, Jr. would have fire-bombed his own home while his children slept was prominently and uncritically reported in Southern dailies, journalists from national media ignored such hokum or reported it as a way of highlighting how depraved or dishonest the authorities were. Ironically, the same absurd scenarios dismissed by journalists when …

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    The Press and the Shrinking American Electorate

    Press treatment of low voter turnout in American society has become schizophrenic. On the one hand, the press is giving strong support to voter registration reform as a way of increasing voting; on the other, press coverage suggests–incorrectly–that registration reform will not increase voting because so many registered voters don’t bother to go to the polls. Many states have been easing the registration process by making it possible for people to register by mail, or at government agencies such as motor vehicle, unemployment and welfare offices. Congress is considering similar reforms. The Sacramento Bee (4/14/88) likes the fact that 20 …

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    How Television Sold the Panama Invasion

    Two weeks after the Panama invasion, CBS News sponsored a public opinion poll in Panama that found the residents in rapture over what had happened. Even 80 percent of those whose homes had been blown up or their relatives killed by U.S. forces said it was worth it. Their enthusiasm did not stop with the ousting of Gen. Manuel Noriega, however. A less heavily advertised result of the poll was that 82 percent of the sampled Panamanian patriots did not want Panamanian control of the Canal, preferring either partial or exclusive control by the U.S. (“Panamanians Strongly Back U.S. Move,” …

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    Worse Than Ed Meese?

    That’s what reporters covering the Justice Department think of Attorney General Richard Thornburgh’s control over public information, according to a survey published in the January 15 issue of Corporate Crime Reporter. Thirteen of 14 journalists who responded to the survey agreed that “the Justice Department under Attorney General Thornburgh actively discourages the free flow of information,” while 12 affirmed that “less public information is being made available” now than during the Reagan administration. Among the reporters’ comments on Thornburgh: “He’s shut the place down by wrapping himself in self-righteousness and threatening to fire lawyers who talk to reporters.” “Any news …

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Articles in the print edition

Objective Journalists or State Propagandists

A Tale of Two Editions

The Board of Directors

“A Racist American Soap Opera”
by John Demeter

Biased in Boston

The Great Communicator vs. the Great Sandini

Panama Pop Quiz
by John Sanbonmatsu

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