Extra! January/February 2008

    Media on Healthcare

    At the end of an unusually long editorial headlined “The High Cost of Healthcare,” the November 25 New York Times dismissed the idea of publicly funded universal healthcare, which all other industrialized countries use to provide medical treatment to all of their citizens while spending much less per capita than the U.S. Framing a public health insurance system as a sentimental lefty dream, the paper’s editorialists wrote that “deep in their hearts, many liberals yearn for a single-payer system.” But single-payer, the paper assures us, is “no panacea for the cost problem” and has “limited political support.” Knocking down the ...


    The Humanitarian Temptation:

    In the Darfur region of Sudan, truly horrific atrocities have taken place in recent years: Roughly 200,000 people have died from violence, disease or hunger (Science, 9/15/06), and well over 2 million have been driven from their homes, resulting in a severe humanitarian crisis. Such crises often go criminally ignored by a mainstream media seldom interested in the plight of those who suffer the double invisibilities of being distant and dark-skinned. But Darfur is a little different: Propelled by a well-developed activist campaign and persistent appeals from both major celebrities and the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, Darfur has managed ...


    The NYT's Nuclear 'Promised Land'

    Note: This is a sidebar to "Money is the Real Green Power" (Extra!, 1-2/08). The New York Times is not alone in promoting a revival of nuclear power. But as the U.S. paper of record, it sets the media tone. Its pro-nuclear editorial culture began decades ago when the Manhattan Project and its corporate contractors (notably General Electric and Westinghouse, which became the major manufacturers of nuclear power plants) sought to perpetuate what was established during World War II, by making other things atomic. Because of the Times’ importance, Manhattan Project director Gen. Leslie Groves personally arranged for its reporter, ...


    Money Is the Real Green Power:

    Nuclear advocates in government and the nuclear industry are engaged in a massive, heavily financed drive to revive atomic power in the United States—with most of the mainstream media either not questioning or actually assisting in the promotion. “With a very few notable exceptions, such as the Los Angeles Times, the U.S. media have turned the same sort of blind, uncritical eye on the nuclear industry’s claims that led an earlier generation of Americans to believe atomic energy would be too cheap to meter,” comments Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “The nuclear industry’s public ...


    Mark Weisbrot on the Venezuelan Referendum

    It isn't easy to find U.S. press coverage of Venezuela that isn't colored to some extent by the official U.S. distaste for President Hugo Chávez and his populist policies. Coverage of Venezuela's recent referendum (12/2/07) on proposed constitutional amendments was no exception. In the wake of the narrow defeat of the reforms by a national vote, viewers could find Chris Matthews and Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC's Hardball (12/4/07) crowing that Chávez "getting it thrown back in his face this week" made them feel like "it's Christmas three weeks early." CounterSpin host Janine Jackson interviewed Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center ...


    Hollywood's Media--and Washington's

    “Guantánamo, a prison in no way ready to close, is at the heart of a conversation that almost no one seems willing to open.” Since September 27, 2007, when Karen Greenberg closed an article on TomDispatch.com with that observation, a media conversation about torture has unexpectedly taken off. The New York Times (10/4/07) published a lengthy exposé about the long turmoil at the Department of Justice caused by the Bush White House’s insistence that “enhanced interrogation” was key to fighting its “war on terror.” PBS’s Frontline (10/16/07) explored how Dick Cheney's office secretly pushed the idea that the president could ...


    How to Lose Friends and Influence No One

    A Wall Street Journal news analysis on November 13 had a familiar refrain: The Democrats are in trouble because Congress is unpopular, and the solution is to be nicer to the Republicans. After quoting Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) saying, “if you try to be too political there’s a backlash,” reporter David Rogers wrote, “That backlash is evident: Congress’s approval rating has fallen from 31 percent in March to 19 percent this month in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.” Rogers went on to offer advice on how the Democrats can “soften the tone” and “overcome . . . the ...


    SoundBites

    Crying Wolf A Washington Post op-ed column by Naomi Wolf (11/25/07) complaining that young people are woefully ignorant of the workings of democracy displayed some remarkable historical lapses of its own. “When New Left activists of the 1960s started the antiwar and free speech student movements,” Wolf wrote, “they didn’t get their intellectual framework from Montesquieu or Thomas Paine: They looked to Marx, Lenin and Mao.” Actually, the free speech movement did not draw inspiration from Communist philosophers, who tend not to be particular fans of free speech. And the antiwar movement owed much more to Thoreau, via Gandhi and ...


    Letters to the Editor

    ‘Transforming Coverage’ I want to thank you for your superb recent article in Extra!, “Transforming Coverage” (11-12/07). I can’t imagine improving on your coverage of the current state of media coverage of transgender issues. I was particularly glad to see you remind us all how media coverage has focused almost exclusively on highly successful, white male-to-female individuals undergoing transition. Even though I am a white MTF, and more or less professional, I am not terribly successful for my years, but rather I have watched my career erode mostly because of my gender identity issues. I am just beginning my transition. ...


    Choosing to Call Giuliani 'Pro-Choice'

    News stories about Rudy Giuliani's campaign for the Republican nomination for president often refer to his supposed support for abortion rights. To much of the mainstream media, this is evidence of Giuliani's admirable consistency in the face of a largely anti-choice GOP base, and a sign that Republican voters are pragmatic enough to accept a pro-choice nominee. A November 4 New York Times story, for example, declared that Giuliani "has made no serious effort to shade his positions to appeal to the social conservatives." The same day, a Times analysis of political flip-flopping made the same point, oddly claiming that ...


    A Million Iraqi Dead?

    The Iraq War was sold to Americans in part as an intervention that would benefit Iraqis, "liberating" them from the despotic rule of Saddam Hussein. In retrospect, after no weapons of mass destruction were found and the alleged links to Al-Qaeda were debunked, this supposed humanitarian mission became the central justification for the invasion. Today, it is a major pillar of what support remains among the U.S. public for continuing the occupation. If Americans are to make informed judgments not only about the invasion of Iraq and whether the occupation should continue, but also about future wars our government may ...


    Get Carter

    Though the New York Times ignored Jimmy Carter’s book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid when it was first published--it didn’t review the book until it had already been on the Times’ bestseller list for five weeks--that didn’t stop the paper from running an article about a former Carter employee who didn’t like the book. The December 7, 2006 article began by reporting that Kenneth W. Stein, a former executive director of the Carter Center in Atlanta, had resigned, “citing concerns with the accuracy and integrity of Mr. Carter’s latest book.” It quoted Stein charging the book was “replete with factual errors, ...


    Are People a 'Special Interest'?

    We are raised on the notion that people are paramount in democracy--that it's all about citizens who, through public discussion, campaigns and elections, decide who will lead and which policies will be pursued. But that notion is often undermined by political reporting and commentary, which often seems designed to get people out of the process and into a spectator role. One way this happens is when media use labels that disparage popular political involvement, while often giving corporate and moneyed political players a pass. In the media's lexicon of political pejoratives, "pander" and "special interests" are in common usage. Examining ...