Extra! January/February 2007

    Inexplicable Tongue-Lashing

    [Note: This piece is a sidebar to Back to the Future in Nicaragua.] A New York Times “Week in Review” piece by Warren Hoge (9/24/06), in the wake of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s criticisms of George W. Bush at the United Nations, recalled other U.N. speeches critical of Washington, including a 1987 speech by Nicaragua’s then-President Daniel Ortega “denouncing Mr. Reagan’s decision to continue financing Contras fighting his Sandinista regime” and saying “Rambo only exists in the movies.” Hoge was compelled to ask, “Why has the United States come in for such tongue lashings?” Among his answers: Reagan-era U.N. Ambassador ...


    Self-Inflicted Wounds?

    [Note: This piece is a sidebar to The Trials of Air America.] In addition to the significant political and commercial obstacles facing progressive talk radio, Air America has been plagued by financial troubles from its birth. Just a month after its founding, it had to dismiss top executives for exaggerating the company’s assets, nearly leading to the network’s collapse. Payrolls were not met, and bounced checks resulted in the loss of Los Angeles and Chicago affiliates. There have also been questions about the ambitious way Air America was set up. Chicago Sun-Times media columnist Robert Feder (12/21/04) described Air America ...


    Rough Road to Liberal Talk Success

    When Air America declared bankruptcy on October 13, conservatives who’d been predicting its failure since it launched 30 months earlier were afforded a new chance to gloat and scoff at the notion that liberal radio hosts could ever compete with what they see as the stunningly talented conservatives who dominate the medium (O’Reilly Factor, 10/13/06; AP, 10/14/06). It may be too early to count Air America out—the network is still on the air and syndicating programming to other radio stations—but it’s fair to say that it hasn’t given liberal talk radio advocates a clear rebuttal to the conservative argument that ...


    The Trials of Air America

    Shortly before the launch of the liberal talk radio network Air America in March 2004, Jon Sinton, an executive with the network’s corporate parent, Progress Media, explained to the New Republic (2/10/04) why talk radio was dominated by conservative hosts. It was all about Rush Limbaugh’s success, said Sinton: “If Limbaugh had been a flaming liberal, then today there’d be a bunch of conservatives complaining about all the liberals who are on the radio.” Sinton suggested that Limbaugh’s conservative politics were immaterial to his initial success: “Limbaugh being a conservative was almost beside the point. . . . He was ...


    Media on Medicare

    With the new Democratic Congress promising to let the Medicare prescription drug program negotiate lower prices from drug companies, those companies have gotten their friends in the media to find some reason—any reason—why this would be a bad idea. The Washington Post, happy to defend corporate profits, declared in the lead paragraph of a front-page November 26 article that Democrats were in danger of “wrecking a program that has proven cheaper and more popular than anyone imagined.” “Anyone” clearly doesn’t include Congress, which barely passed the program in 2003 based on the White House’s 10-year cost projection of less than ...


    Back to the Future in Nicaragua

    Imagine that the United States government was under attack from a foreign power that organized a guerrilla army to attack ordinary civilians, killing tens of thousands. And suppose that opposition politicians and media outlets in the U.S. were obviously and in some cases openly receiving support from that same foreign power. Now imagine, difficult as it may be, that during the attacks the U.S. government allowed those media outlets to remain open. And the politicians who were cooperating with the foreign enemy weren’t jailed—instead, the administration allowed them to continue to run for office and serve as opposition legislators. The ...


    Perilous Reporting

    When journalist Debbie Nathan accidentally viewed child porn last May, it set off a chain of events that ensnarled her, New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald, and Salon.com into a messy tangle of child porn law and accusations of libel and censorship. Nathan, a freelancer, did some of the first reporting on people falsely convicted of child molestation in the 1980s (Village Voice, 9/29/87). Last May, while doing online research for a young adult book on pornography as a social issue, Nathan stumbled across “child porn-y looking stuff”; she immediately left the site. Nathan then documented the experience with her ...


    Victorious Dems Lectured by Media Establishment

    Right after Democrats won back control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections, pundits from major news outlets had, as one would expect, substantial amounts of political criticism for the party that faced major losses. What was most remarkable was the amount of tactical criticism and caution directed at the party that won major gains. The center wins Expanding upon a preferred theme of their pre-election coverage (Extra! Update, 12/06), political commentators providing the initial analyses of the election for the nation’s most influential news outlets downplayed the progressive aspects of the victory, characterizing the large new crop of Democrats ...


    Sidebar: Liberals Can't Cut Talk Radio?

    [Note: This piece is a sidebar to Rough Road to Liberal Talk Success.] One talk radio talking point for conservatives and establishment observers alike is that progressive politics don’t “work” on talk radio because they are too nuanced and therefore not reducible to the sort of clear-cut moral terms that get talk radio audiences fired up. Anyone who believes this has never heard the likes of Michael Moore, Barbara Ehrenreich, Molly Ivins or Michael Eric Dyson (himself a successful local talk radio host in Chicago). While touring in support of FAIR’s book The Way Things Aren’t: Rush Limbaugh’s Reign of ...


    A Note of Bias

    Mark Halperin, political director of ABC News and the main author of the widely read daily online briefing the Note, has more influence over the political tone of mainstream journalism than virtually any other individual. In his book Lapdogs, press critic Eric Boehlert called the Note “the agenda-setting morning round-up for the political class. . . . It’s impossible to overstate the behind-the-scenes influence of the Note.” Nevertheless, when Halperin showed up to plug his new book on the show of second-string right-wing talk radio host Hugh Hewitt (10/30/06), he sounded less like a powerful media executive and more like ...


    The Pitfalls and Promise of Progressive Talk

    Although progressive hosts like Michael Jackson and Bernie Ward have been around for years, progressive talk as a recognized format began in 2004, when Air America Radio was born and the Jones Radio Networks began to syndicate Fargo, N.D.-based Ed Schultz nationally. Since then, the format has attracted major newsmakers, big-name politicians and famous authors. But it hasn’t won over many media critics, who keep insisting the format has no future. Other than an occasional profile of a well-known host like Schultz or Al Franken, what little mainstream media attention progressive talk has received tends to be negative—dismissive comments by ...


    Invading Grenada

    Urgent Fury, carried out 20 years before Operation Iraqi Freedom, has faded from public and political memory. Yet there is much to be remembered, as there are many cogent parallels between Grenada and Iraq.


    Looking Back, Looking Forward

    I did a public forum in New Haven last week, and someone noted that FAIR was formed before even the Internet was big, and I corrected her and I said, actually, we were formed before the fax machine was big. And I remember when we got our first fax machine, how it made it so much easier to get under the skin of the Tom Brokaws and the Ted Koppels and the New York Times editors. So imagine how well FAIR is doing on that score now that we have 45,000 people on the activist e-mail list, and if you’re ...


    Letters to the Editor

    Truly Perplexed I am truly perplexed by your six-page bombardment, “Are You on the News-Hour Guestlist?” (9-10/06), which argues the program represents “those in power rather than the public PBS is obliged to serve,” that it “mocks the original mandate of public television . . . to be as a forum for debate and controversy . . . and provide a voice for groups in the community that may otherwise be unheard.” Who better to discuss issues of the day than those intimately involved—as long as both sides are presented? Which NewsHour does, in just one hour of the PBS ...


    Yesterday's Tomorrows

    So, happy 20th birthday to FAIR. Time really flies when you’re trying to counter an inexhaustible onslaught of lies and distortions, doesn’t it? Because that’s essentially what FAIR does: They try to set the record straight. Which sounds really simple in theory, but how do you even begin to have the most basic conversation about corporate media bias when a substantial number of Americans believe the media are controlled by a far-left conspiracy funded by George Soros, whose only objective is to destroy our very way of life? Why do you all hate America so much? And could somebody let ...


    SoundBites

    Bush’s Supportive Opponents New York Times military correspondent Michael Gordon claimed (12/4/06) that “no military expert was more forthright in opposing the Iraq War than [retired marine Gen.] Anthony C. Zinni”—who now wants more troops sent to Iraq. But Zinni was quoted in the Washington Post (2/2/03) shortly before the invasion as saying, “I don’t object to military action against Saddam; in fact, we should have done it a long time ago.” He characterized his objections to the Bush administration’s strategy as based on timing. Earlier (11/15/06), Gordon wrote a piece headlined “Get Out of Iraq Now? Not So Fast, ...


    From Official Claims to Media Reality

    The Washington Post website early on December 9 featured three headlines that committed the same journalistic error: They treated as fact things that were revealed in the articles that they linked to as disputed claims. In each case, the effect was to treat assertions made by U.S. government officials as undisputed reality. One headline was “Officials Not Liable for Detainee Torture.” When you clicked on it, you found the more accurate headline “U.S. Denies Liability in Torture Case: Attorney Urges Dismissal of Detainee Suit Against Officials.” In other words, officials said they don’t want to be liable for detainee torture. ...