Extra! March/April 2008

    Barbara Seaman, 1935-2008

    The New York Times doesn’t forgive and it doesn’t forget. We saw this when one of its most eloquent critics, John Hess, died and was given an error-filled obituary (1/22/05) that called him “cranky,” “curmudgeonly” and “grudging.” (See Extra!, 3-4/05). Now another of FAIR’s journalistic heroes has died, another groundbreaking investigative journalist who also had the temerity to challenge the Times’ sense of self-righteousness—and she too got a posthumous smear from the paper. Barbara Seaman revolutionized the field of health reporting, treating the medical establishment as an object of skepticism and focusing on the need to inform patients of their ...


    Is Undercover Over?

    This past February, the famed lobbying firm APCO was approached by a man named Kenneth Case. Case said he represented the Maldon Group, an obscure firm that wished to improve the public image of Turkmenistan, where it had some investments. It was nothing out of the ordinary -- private firms often lobby on behalf of foreign countries, either because they think it will increase the value of their investments or because they are acting as a front for the foreign government. APCO happily met with them, despite the fact that the Stalinist regime of Turkmenistan is one of the most ...


    SoundBites

    How to Bore Reporters Setting the scene for Hillary Clinton's famous "tearing up" in New Hampshire, reporters Faye Fiore and Peter Nicholas of the Los Angeles Times (1/10/08) revealed more about the press corps than they did about the candidate: "For more than an hour, the discussion was so wonkish that campaign reporters fiddled with their BlackBerrys and fought the urge to nod off. The 'intimate chat' included such polysyllabic critiques as 'I will immediately begin to reverse this sense of arrogance and unilateralism and preemption that the Bush administration has propagated.'" Seriously, it's pretty hard to discuss Bush administration ...


    Rediscovering Somalia

    After years of paying scant attention to Somalia, U.S. media suddenly rediscovered the war-torn African nation in 2006 when a coalition of Islamic courts and their affiliated militias imposed peace on feuding warlords and began enforcing religious law. A U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion soon loomed, and the Bush administration made the preferred story line clear. "The Council of Islamic Courts is now controlled by Al-Qaeda cell individuals, East Africa Al-Qaeda cell individuals," announced Jendayi Frazer, U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs (Voice of America News, 12/14/06). "The top layer of the courts are extremist to the core. They are ...


    What National Intelligence Estimate?

    For a moment it looked like the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) finding that Iran had halted its alleged nuclear weapons program might put a crimp in the White House’s campaign to portray Iran as a menace to the U.S. and its Mideast neighbors. The Washington Post (12/4/07) summarized the NIE’s impact: The new intelligence report released yesterday not only undercut the administration’s alarming rhetoric over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but could also throttle Bush’s effort to ratchet up international sanctions and take off the table the possibility of preemptive military action before the end of his presidency. CBS News’ Bob ...


    Giuliani's Winning Strategy of Losing

    Many political reporters and pundits would probably like to forget the months they spent talking about how Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani was a strong front-runner amidst a relatively weak field. Giuliani enjoyed remarkably upbeat coverage for much of his campaign (Extra!, 5=6/07, 11=12/07), and even as he exited the race media continued their mythologizing, with many excusing his remarkably weak performance as just part of his strategy. On the eve of the Florida primaries, the new line on the Giuliani campaign coming from many pundits and reporters was that the candidate never really tried to win the early Republican ...


    Perilous Journalism in the Persian Gulf

    Given that one of the stated goals of George W. Bush's January 8-16 Mideast trip was to "remind" allies in the Persian Gulf that "Iran is a threat'' (New York Times, 1/9/08), it should have at least struck journalists as a strange coincidence when a January 6 encounter between the U.S. Navy and five small Iranian speedboats in the Strait of Hormuz, the entrance to the Persian Gulf, was characterized by the Pentagon as "evidence that Iran is unpredictable and remains a threat" (CNN, 1/7/08). Yet several news media outlets swallowed the White House's alarmist account of the incident hook, ...


    Truth in Advertising 'a Business Disaster'

    Most “fear and favor” shown by media outlets takes the form of slanted or incomplete news coverage. But media companies’ zeal to please the advertisers, who are, after all, their main client, goes beyond covering news to making it. In 2007, congressional debate on a big Food and Drug Administration bill touched on pharmaceutical ads, a fast-growing source of media revenue. As recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, an early draft of the bill would have given the FDA the power to impose a moratorium on consumer advertising for a drug that had serious safety concerns. That provision was ...


    The Incredible Shrinking Think Tank

    The 25 most media-prominent think tanks were cited 17 percent less in 2007 than they were the year before, FAIR’s annual survey of think tank citations found. The decline was felt across the board among centrist, conservative and progressive think tanks. Once again, the centrist Brookings Institution garnered the most citations, with the general decline affecting them less than the average think tank. They accounted for 16 percent of all citations counted, with almost twice as many as the next-most-frequently cited think tank, the centrist Council on Foreign Relations. The American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic ...


    Letters to the Editor

    ‘Truthful’ or ‘Alarmist’ on Nuclear Power? I would like to comment on the excellent story Karl Grossman wrote on the horrors of nuclear power (1-2/08). Too many people don’t understand the dangers associated with nuclear power, and Karl Grossman did a wonderful job detailing some of them. Nuclear power is dead, or at least should be. It’s probably the worst idea man has ever come up with. Thank you for printing such a truthful and informative article. Mark McKelvey Pasadena, Calif. . It seems rather ironic that Karl Grossman’s article on nuclear power should appear in an issue of FAIR. ...


    Fear & Favor 2007

    U.S. journalists seeking to fulfill the profession’s traditional goal of telling the truth and “letting the chips fall where they may” have powerful forces to contend with, starting with the corporate owners who employ them, and the corporate advertisers who fuel the enterprise, both of whom have an investment in maintaining a political conversation and climate favorable to their profitability. There are also legislators who maintain the pro-corporate policy media owners rely on to thrive, local political players with axes to grind, and well-funded PR campaigns from all corners. Each year these renew and refine their efforts to shape news ...


    Letter Exchange

    I’m not in a position to speak for or about other American reporters or newspapers that have written about the Tri-Border Area (TBA) and its ties to Islamic extremist groups. But since April Howard and Benjamin Dangl refer to one of my articles (New York Times, 12/15/02) in the oh-so-snide first paragraph of their report (“City of Terror: Painting Paraguay’s ‘Casbah’ as Terror Central,” Extra!, 9-10/07), erroneously attributing to me personally the views that were in fact expressed by the numerous intelligence officials I interviewed, I feel obliged to set the record straight and enumerate the cascade of false assumptions ...


    Saddam's 'Secret'

    Of all the strange stories to come out of the media's debacle in Iraq, one of the most Orwellian is the fable in which Saddam Hussein tricked America into invading Iraq by making us believe that he had weapons of mass destruction (Extra!, 1-2/04, 5-6/04). Of all the lies, hypocrisies and half-truths of this war, this one may be the most extravagant: a falsehood whose speciousness doesn't even require any checking--at least for anyone whose memory goes back earlier than March 2003. The latest incarnation of this story appeared in January, when CBS's 60 Minutes (1/27/08) aired an interview with ...