Extra! May/June 2005

    'The Profit Motive'

    Dan Rather got the lion’s share of the attention, but another journalistic retirement has also been cause for discussion in media circles. Award-winning journalist Laurie Garrett announced recently that she won’t be returning to her post at Newsday, the Long Island daily, and she was crystal clear about the reasons why. In an exit memo that quickly made the rounds of journalism websites, Garrett wrote pointedly about the deterioration of journalism at her own paper and in media generally, in the rush to increase corporate profits. “The sad arc of greed” Garrett wrote, “has finally hit bottom.” CounterSpin: Let me ...


    Stand by Your Man

    [Note: this piece is a sidebar to Opinion Omission] When Harvard president Laurence Summers suggested that “intrinsic aptitude” might be holding women back in math and the sciences, the opinions sparked at major media outlets demonstrated the predictability of a punditocracy that itself lacks gender balance and diversity. In the initial stir toward the end of January, not a single piece that could be deemed a feminist response to Summers’ remarks appeared among the seven Summers-related columns published in the Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times. Most of these were strong defenses of Summers, taking one of ...


    Opinion Omission

    When Susan Estrich launched a public attack in February on Los Angeles Times op-ed page editor Michael Kinsley for not including enough women on his pages, it made a brief stir in certain (mostly female) circles of the media. But the problem runs deeper than the op-ed pages of prominent newspapers; female opinions are muted across the media, and progress in recent years has slowed to a crawl. Estrich’s ire was provoked by a Times op-ed (2/13/05) by Charlotte Allen of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum headlined, “Feminist Fatale: Where Are the Great Women Thinkers? Thinking So Much About Women ...


    Fuzzy Math

    The Washington Post headline on March 18 seemed straightforward enough: “Senate Rejects GOP Budget Cuts; House Deficit-Reduction Moves Thwarted.” The U.S. Senate, in passing its budget bill the previous afternoon, had, reported Post writer Jonathan Weisman (3/18/05), “dealt a slap to President Bush and the Republican leadership, approving a 2006 budget that would gut much of the GOP’s deficit-reduction efforts by restoring requested cuts to Medicaid, education, community development and other programs.” There’s only one problem with this tale of the deficit-busting White House and House Republicans and the defiantly free-spending Senate: It’s not true. According to a pair of ...


    World's Worst Disasters Overlooked

    Congo is the site of the world’s worst humanitarian emergency, according to U.N. emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland, the organization Doctors Without Borders and most relief professionals. But English-language media have given the crisis minimal attention, according to a study of humanitarian disaster coverage released on March 10. The study was commissioned by web-based Reuters AlertNet, an eight-year-old U.K.-based humanitarian news network. It found that the tsunami that ravaged Indian Ocean coastal regions on December 26, 2004 garnered more English-language media coverage in the first two months after it struck than 10 other “forgotten” emergencies—six of them in Africa—have received ...


    Defeated by Democracy

    In the months before the January 30, 2005 elections in Iraq, gloom and dissension began creeping into the media’s usual cheerleading for the war. Casualties were mounting, Iraqi resentment was growing, and the Army was facing an alarming shortage of manpower. In a December column (12/27/04), Washington Post editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt—a staunch supporter of the invasion—lamented “the deteriorating conditions in Iraq” and warned that “the insurgents . . . are succeeding.” But with the impressive outpouring of Iraqi enthusiasm over the January 30 elections, the “purple revolution,” captured on film and broadcast around the world, caused a sea change ...


    The Great Emancipator

    Failing to find weapons of mass destruction or an Al-Qaeda/Saddam Hussein connection almost two years after it invaded Iraq, the Bush White House fell back on its second-tier justification for the invasion: that occupying the country would start a domino-chain of democratization throughout the Middle East. In the wake of the January 30 Iraq elections, pundits and journalists eagerly spread the new White House-friendly conventional wisdom: Bush’s Iraq policy had inspired pro-democracy activists in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Palestine. Suddenly, the faltering military occupation was proof of the clarity of Bush’s alleged long-term vision. “Lately, even the harshest critics ...


    Right, Center Think Tanks Still Most Quoted

    A study of media citations of think tanks in 2004—the 10th year of collecting such data—finds that think tanks of the right and center still predominate, despite a slight increase in citations of left-leaning think tanks. The study counts citations of the 25 most prominent think tanks of right, center and left, using the Nexis news media database. Citations are counted in what Nexis designates to be major newspapers, as well as in Nexis’ transcripts file, which includes the major broadcast and cable news outlets. Because stories included in the Nexis database change over time, figures for previous years are ...


    The Mainstreaming of Antisemitism

    The commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, held at the former Nazi death camp in Poland on January 27, featured speakers warning about a new rise in antisemitism. “From broken windows to death camps was the blink of an eye,” said Moshe Kantor of the European Jewish Congress (New York Times, 1/27/05), referring to the brief time between the 1938 “Kristallnacht” attacks on Jewish neighborhoods and the hatching of the “final solution” in 1942. The warnings from Auschwitz come at a time when police records and public opinion surveys show increasing antisemitism and anti-Jewish sentiment in ...


    Confusing Israel Criticism and Anti-Semitism

    While some examples of increasing anti-Semitism go little noted, considerable attention has been paid to dubious accusations that seem to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Before Harvard President Laurence Summers drew fire for suggesting that women were inherently inferior at math and science (see Extra!,5-6/2005), he stirred things up by proclaiming that a new form of anti-Semitism was menacing academia (New York Times, 9/21/02). “Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent,” said Summers, referring to a campaign to have Harvard disinvest in Israel to protest the occupation ...


    Soundbites

    Expert Opinion “Jim, you think he's with Jesus now? We only have 30 seconds.” --Larry King, interviewing Jim Caviezel, the actor who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, on Pope John Paul II's death (Larry King Live, 4/3/05) “The pope is above public opinion. His relationship is with God.” --Phil Griffin, MSNBC vice president of primetime programming (New York Times, 4/7/05) Good and Bad Catholics CNN host Wolf Blitzer introduced a discussion of John Paul II's death with Crossfire's co-hosts: “the conservative Robert Novak, the liberal Paul Begala, both good Catholics--I don't know if good Catholics--but ...


    I Was Right All Along

    White House officials were reportedly telling staffers that there was a “don’t gloat” policy when it came to talking about the stirrings in the Middle East (NBC Nightly News, 3/8/05; Time, 3/14/05). No such limits were placed on pundits, some of whom saw the events as proof that they were right all along to support the Iraq war. Writing in the March 3 Los Angeles Times, conservative columnist Max Boot couldn’t help but crow. Citing a piece he had written for the Weekly Standard (2/10/03), Boot exulted: “At the time, this kind of talk was dismissed by pretty much everyone ...


    Letter to the Editor

    WEBB AND HESS I would like to thank you for your tribute to Gary Webb. While you quite properly contrasted the fate of people who wrote stories the mainstream media deemed unacceptable with people who ducked the stories altogether, it might be interesting to find out what happens to people who write right-wing stories that are discredited. My vague understanding is that they settle into good-paying jobs in the right-wing media. Finally, regarding John Hess. When I read his obituary in the Times, I could not believe that the manufactured Utah past was simply an error. My only question is ...


    Self-Described Ombudsmen

    The ombuds at both the Washington Post and Boston Globe have written lately to complain about organized letter campaigns of the sort FAIR organizes. The Globe's Christine Chinlund's farewell column (4/25/05) contrasted "ideologues' web-orchestrated campaigns" with the "legitimate criticism" of people who arrive at their opinions "with honest independence." The Post's Michael Getler (4/24/05), responding to a FAIR alert, complained of how "annoying" it was to be "inundated" by messages generated by a "self-described media watchdog operation," saying he would prefer "one letter directly from FAIR laying out its critique." It's curious for newspaper representatives to suggest that it's illegitimate ...