Extra! March/April 2006

    Good News! The Rich Get Richer

    The Bush administration made a concerted effort to trumpet a “booming” U.S. economy in early December, widely understood as an attempt to reverse what polls indicate to be the public’s largely negative views on the matter. There are, of course, obvious reasons the majority of Americans dissent from the White House’s rosy presentation of the economy: Most American households are not, in fact, seeing their economic fortunes improve. GDP is up, but virtually all the growth has gone into corporate profits and the incomes of the highest economic brackets. Wages and incomes for average workers, adjusted for inflation, are down ...


    Now It's a Chemical Weapon, Now It's Not

      Gearing up for an invasion of Iraq in 2002, U.S. media vividly evoked the cruel effects of unconventional weapons. Washington Post foreign affairs columnist Jim Hoagland referred repeatedly to Saddam Hussein’s imagined stockpiles of “horror weapons” and “weapons of horror,” and later to the “horrors” of Saddam’s past use of chemical weapons (7/11/02, 10/25/02, 9/24/03). Leading outlets had their correspondents produce feature stories on former Iranian soldiers and Kurds still suffering from Iraqi mustard gas and other agents used in the 1980s. “We came under heavy bombardment, but there was no shrapnel,” Newsweek (3/19/03) quoted an Iranian veteran. “Then ...


    'Our Media Refuse to Name This Reality'

    COUNTERSPIN INTERVIEW Jonathan Kozol is the author of many books about education, among them Amazing Grace and Savage Inequalities. In his new book, The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America, Kozol draws a grim picture of U.S. public schools, particularly those in poor urban neighborhoods. He graphically reports on the decaying infrastructure, the underspending and overcrowding, the lack of art and music teachers and librarians —many of the things that are taken for granted in better-off public schools. The theme that seems to connect these troubling factors is race. We began by asking Kozol if ...


    Philly Papers Defend Non-Coverage of Mumia Victory

    Late in the day on Monday, December 5, 2005, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia issued a surprise ruling in the appeal of Pennsylvania’s most famous prisoner: Philadelphia journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been on the state’s death row for 24 years, following his conviction for the murder of white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in December 1981. The ruling stated that Abu-Jamal would be granted the right to appeal his conviction on not just one but three separate grounds. This came after a federal district judge, in 2001, had ruled against Abu-Jamal on all 20 of his ...


    'Capote' vs. Capote

    About a year ago, in anticipation of the 40th anniversary of the publication of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, his journalistic account of a murder and its aftermath that he called a “non-fiction novel,” I began to do some research on the book and its author. I read just about everything published on Capote’s life and work, talked to some of the participants in the saga of the Clutter family murder and even visited the Holcomb, Kansas area, the scene of the crime. Initially, I had no idea that not one but two motion pictures about In Cold Blood were ...


    A Record of Journalism in Crisis

    BOOK REVIEW Feet to the Fire: The Media After 9/11 By Kristina Borjesson Prometheus Books, 2005 Kristina Borjesson lost her producing job at CBS News as a consequence of her unsuccessful struggle to air a report about the 1996 explosion of TWA Flight 800. Many people, including scores of eyewitnesses, still believe that a missile—possibly fired by mistake by our own military—brought the plane down. Borjesson might have been able to confirm their belief, but the FBI seized a piece of the wreckage she intended to have tested for explosives. CBS had been very interested in the story, but after ...


    George Gerbner, 1919-2005

    George Gerbner was born in Budapest in 1919 and fled to the United States to escape fascism in 1939, but he never lost his Hungarian accent. What he said about U.S. media culture often sounded as foreign as the way he said it. Gerbner spent his life in an adopted country saturated with graphic depictions of violence, a culture where the apex of expression often seemed to be focused through the crosshairs of a weapon. But he did not like media violence. I sat next to him at a dinner party while attending a conference in Istanbul, and the topic ...


    Wrong on Iraq? Not Everyone

    When former UN chief weapons inspector David Kay told the Senate Armed Services Committee in January 2004, “We were all wrong,” he was admitting that officials had been wrong to claim Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The we-were-all-wrong trope entered the political lexicon as a mea culpa, but today the White House and its media defenders employ it as a defense of a war started over phantom weapons. We may have been wrong, they argue, but so were the Clinton administration, congressmembers of both parties and other Western intelligence agencies. As George W. Bush’s approval ratings languished last fall, ...


    Fear & Favor 2005 -- The Sixth Annual Report

    In 1896, New York Times publisher Adolph Ochs laid out standards by which journalism is still judged today, declaring that his paper would “give the news, all the news . . . impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect or interest involved.” Unfortunately, mainstream media often fail to live up to that goal; demands from advertisers, government, media owners and other powerful people frequently manage to blur or breach the wall between the editorial and business ends of the newsroom. In survey after survey, journalists report that they feel outside—or inside—pressures to avoid, slant or promote certain stories ...


    Letters to the Editor

    Anniversary Wishes Kudos on your 20th anniversary issue of Extra!, and thanks for all I have learned and benefited from. Best wishes for the next 20 years or until there is a free press doing its job in the USA. (If there was one thing missing in the issue, it might have been mention of Fred J. Cook, one of my favorite muckrakers.) Bob Goldberg Jericho, N.Y. . Thank you for the wonderful review of those 20 very important stories and how the media handled them. We need to have such reminders. Leonore Johnson Toledo, OH . I wish you ...


    Sidebar: Strictly Personal

    [Note: this piece is a sidebar to "Fear & Favor 2005—FAIR's Sixth Annual Report."] Sometimes the conflict of interest isn’t with advertisers or owners, but with reporters themselves. It isn’t that journalists aren’t allowed to have private lives. But readers and viewers do have to wonder, in some cases, whether someone with fewer entanglements couldn’t have been found to report certain stories—and in other cases, whether some folks are just plain overentangled. In describing the qualities you’d want in a reputable news reporter and anchor, “has taken money to promote powerful interests” would not be high on the list. But ...


    Sidebar: Prepackaged News

    [Note: this piece is a sidebar to "Fear & Favor 2005—FAIR's Sixth Annual Report."] At the beginning of the year, the Armstrong Williams scandal highlighted the disturbing practice of the Bush administration’s using taxpayer dollars to fund media that uncritically promote government policies and programs, without disclosing the source of the funding to readers or viewers. (Journalist Williams was revealed to have received some $240,000 from the White House to promote George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act.) But no scandal arose just a short while later, when an inspector general’s report found that the Williams deal was just ...


    SoundBites

    Media vs. Workers ABC's George Will, interviewing General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner (This Week, 1/8/06), complained that people who buy GM cars are “paying a lot of money for a welfare state that you're running. Someone recently said you buy a Hyundai, they give you a satellite radio. You buy a General Motors car, or Ford, you're buying pensions, medical care and all the rest, adds an enormous premium on the cost of a car.” (Will surely understands that such benefits aren’t charity, but contractual obligations--and that Hyundai workers also receive health and retirement benefits.) NBC Nightly News' Anne Thompson ...