Extra! July/August 2005

    Does Size Really Matter?

    On March 19, the two-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, tens of thousands of people across the country, and still more worldwide, turned out to protest the ongoing war. The protests had multiple goals, but given the general numbing of the population to the war, one objective was undoubtedly to keep the fact that human beings are being killed on a daily basis in the forefront of the average American’s brain. Unfortunately, if coverage in leading newspaper and television outlets is any gauge, this goal remains largely unmet. The New York Times (3/20/05) teased its coverage on the front ...


    Newsweek and the Real Rules of Journalism

    Newsweek ran a sensational claim based on an anonymous source who turned out to be completely wrong. While one can’t blame the subsequent violence entirely on this report, it’s fair to say that credulous reporting like this contributed to a climate in which many innocent Muslims died. The inaccurate Newsweek report appeared in the magazine’s March 17, 2003 issue, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq. It read in part: Saddam could decide to take Baghdad with him. One Arab intelligence officer interviewed by Newsweek spoke of “the green mushroom” over Baghdad—the modern-day caliph bidding a grotesque bio-chem farewell ...


    When 'Old News' Has Never Been Told

    Journalists typically condemn attempts to force their colleagues to disclose anonymous sources, saying that subpoenaing reporters will discourage efforts to expose government wrongdoing. But such warnings seem like self-puffery after one watches contemporary journalism in action: When clear evidence of wrongdoing emerges, with no anonymous sources required, major news outlets can still virtually ignore it. A leaked British government document that first appeared in a London newspaper (Sunday Times, 5/1/05) bluntly stated that U.S. intelligence on Iraq was shaped to support the drive for war. Though the information rocked British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s re-election campaign when it was exposed, ...


    Still Hiding the Bush Bulge

    Pasadena residents didn’t get to read about the exploits of local celebrity Dr. Robert Nelson, who, besides being a Jet Propulsion Lab photo analyst who helped present those dramatic photos of Saturn’s rings and moons, also gave the lie to White House claims that the bulge seen on Bush’s back during the presidential debates was “just a wrinkle.” They didn’t get to read Nelson’s account of how his photo analysis of Bush’s jacket—a story that would have increased speculation that the president was wearing a hearing device during the debates—almost made it into the New York Times before being killed ...


    The Military-Industrial-Media Complex

    After eight years in the White House, Dwight Eisenhower delivered his farewell address on January 17, 1961. The former general warned of “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry.” He added that “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” One way or another, a military-industrial complex now extends to much of corporate media. In the process, firms with military ties routinely advertise in news outlets. Often, media magnates and people on the boards of large media-related corporations enjoy close links—financial and social—with the military industry and Washington’s foreign-policy ...


    Where Have All the Bodies Gone?

    In a week in June when 15 GIs were killed in Iraq (6/13-19/05), the war pictures in the New York Times (6/19/05, 6/20/05) featured dazed Iraqis after a suicide bombing, a Marine patrolling, the twisted remains of a vehicle, wounded children, a civilian casualty in a morgue. No photographs featured American casualties—a typical absence in U.S. coverage of the war. There are notable exceptions. One of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize photos for breaking news photographs awarded to the Associated Press showed a controversial image of the charred bodies of American contractors hanging from a bridge in Fallujah. Most of the ...


    Ignoring the U.S.'s 'Bad Atoms'

    The U.S. is violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). That view, far from exotic or extreme, was expressed repeatedly by arms control experts and international officials at the month-long NPT review conference held at the U.N. in May. It is embraced by U.S. establishment figures such as former President Jimmy Carter and Kennedy-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. In a Washington Post op-ed (3/28/05), a month before the conference opened, Carter wrote: "While claiming to be protecting the world from proliferation threats in Iraq, Libya, Iran and North Korea, American leaders not only have abandoned existing treaty restraints but also have ...


    Torturing Language

    In the past year and a half, the Bush administration has engaged in elaborate rhetorical gymnastics when addressing the use and authorization of torture by American forces and leaders. Under increasing fire for its conduct of the war in Iraq, the scandal of Abu Ghraib and the alarming implications of defenses such as the August 2002 Bybee memo (which stated that “physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death”), various administration spokespeople have publicly disavowed torture. At the same time, ...


    When the 'Killers' Do Most of the Dying

    Rather than blaming Newsweek or the Pentagon, some commentators blamed Muslim protesters for being so upset about the reported mistreatment of the Quran. “From every part of the civilized world should have come denunciations of those who would react to the supposed destruction of a book with brutal threats and the slaughter of 17 innocent people,” wrote Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe (5/19/05). “But the chorus of condemnation was directed not at the killers and the fanatics who incited them, but at Newsweek.” “The rioters are the real enemy,” wrote David Brooks in the New York Times (5/19/05). “After ...


    SoundBites

    James Weinstein, 1926-2005 "Jim Weinstein was a shining example of a truly independent journalist.... In his own way, he was in the tradition of George Seldes and I.F. Stone and Lincoln Steffens--muckraking journalists who challenged the received wisdom. He always asked 'Why?' and 'Who is behind what?' and 'Where are the bodies buried?' More than ever, we need journalists such as Jim, who insisted that we must think things through, that we must remember the past in order to understand the present and prepare for the future." --Studs Terkel on In These Times founder James Weinstein (AlterNet, 6/19/05) A Shining ...


    Letters to the Editor

    In Search of Reliable Sources Thanks to you and all those who work with you both in offices and in the field for the very important watchdog work you do on the media. During a period when the media are manipulated perhaps more than in the entire history of our country, this activity takes on even greater significance. Since accurate and sufficient information is essential to a participatory electorate, a properly functioning democracy depends on people like yourselves. But you knew that. I am also writing to address a problem that you may be able to help with, although it ...


    'We Do Not Speculate Here'

    Cable news networks have devoted significant time to the case of Natalee Holloway, an Alabama teenager who disappeared in Aruba. But cable news' most popular host has urged the media to exercise caution. On June 9, Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly explained, "As you may know, we do not speculate here on The Factor. We have no idea what happened to Natalee or why she left the bar with some Aruban men. I've heard some irresponsible media speculate about that, and it makes me angry." For those who had followed O'Reilly's coverage of the case, this must have been puzzling. ...


    The Downing Street Shuffle

    The Downing Street Memo seems like one of the stranger episodes in media history—with major media virtually ignoring dramatic new evidence in a major story, and then inventing peculiar excuses for why they hadn’t covered it. But in context, media behavior makes perfect sense. When George W. Bush claimed, throughout 2002 and 2003, that he saw war with Iraq as a last resort, journalists knew that was a lie. But as the New York Times Elisabeth Bumiller declared (Extra!, 1-2/05), “You can’t just say the president is lying.” Not only did they not say what they knew to be the ...