Mar 1 2005

Letters to the Editor

The Emperor’s New Hump: An Exchange

Having been directed to it by many of your readers, I have read Dave Lindorff’s article about the Times‘ spiking of the John Schwartz/Andrew Revkin article on the apparent bulge beneath President Bush’s suit during the first presidential debate.

I consequently retrieved the original version of the story Mr. Lindorff mentions in his Extra! article, as it was submitted to the paper’s top editors. At no point does it come anywhere near to “exposing how George W. Bush had worn an electronic cueing device in his ear and probably cheated during the presidential debates,” as Mr. Lindorff claims it did. The article established that Robert Nelson said there was something underneath the president’s suit, but very specifically noted that Nelson himself acknowledged that the bulge could have been, as the authors wrote, “any number of things, including a back brace.”

It is not unreasonable to argue that the Times should have run the article. It is a distortion of the truth to say that it “exposed” anything, and an outright falsehood to say that it indicated Mr. Bush “probably cheated during the presidential debates.”

Daniel Okrent

Public Editor

New York Times

New York, N.Y.

Dave Lindorff responds:

I requested, repeatedly, from the New York Times and the reporters involved in writing it, a copy of the killed story, but was told that this was a “major no-no” at the newspaper of record. It is a little awkward having to argue with someone who claims to be looking at something which he and his publisher won’t let me see.

That said, I did go to sources whom the Times reporters had gone to in their reporting work, including spyware experts, who said they had told the Times in no uncertain terms they were quite confident of what the device was. As for Nelson, I spoke with him at length, and while it is true that he never said what the device was, he was pretty certain, given the wire going up over the shoulder, that it was an electronic device.

The more important point, however, is that whether it was a cueing device, an atrial defibrillator or a back brace, the public had and continues to have a right to know what it was. Any one of these things would indicate a profound disability on the part of the president–either intellectual, medical or skeletal.

Equally important is the fact that Nelson’s photos prove without a scintilla of doubt–as reporter Andy Revkin courageously observes in his initial published comment to Okrent–that the president, the White House and the Bush/Cheney campaign lied, blatantly and repeatedly, regarding the object under the president’s back, which they alternately described as “Internet conspiracies,” “grassy knoll” thinking, a wrinkle in the jacket or in the underlying shirt.

I found it interesting that Okrent chose to use the words “distortion” and “falsehood” to describe my charges. In fact, the article and accompanying photos (which Okrent fails to mention) did very clearly “expose” the president’s lie, and given the strong likelihood that the device seen on his back was part of a cueing device, it is hardly a falsehood to say that the article indicated that he “probably” cheated in the debates.

Apparently it is easy for Okrent and the Times to accuse critics of being liars, but not a president running for re-election.

An Exercise in Futility

Your five-page cover story, “The Emperor’s New Hump” was an exercise in futility for you and frustration for me. Rest assured that, if Bush had been caught red-handed humping an intern in the Oval Office a few weeks prior to the election, it would have been excused by Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh as one of the frustrations of his job. And Jerry Falwell would have blessed it.

Sorab K. Ghandhi

Escondido, Calif.

Fairness vs. the First Amendment

In your January/February issue, Steve Rendall makes a case for strengthening the Fairness Doctrine. In doing so, he falls into a trap many intellectuals are not aware of, probably because of their traditional prejudice against television and unthinking acceptance of FCC regulation.

There are two ways of trying to assure a balance of news and information in radio and television. One holds that government allocation of over-the-air frequencies leaves no alternative to government regulation of broadcasting, including supervision of broadcast news and information. This might improve the news product in some situations (if the government of the moment is benign and relatively non-partisan), but it also tends to produce electronic media wary of upsetting the powers in Washington.

The other way to encourage electronic news to serve the people is to apply that great gift from the Founding Fathers, the First Amendment. In other words, go for the civil liberties solution.

If freedom of the press is essential to keep American newspapers free from government influence, why is it not equally essential to provide the same independence for the electronic media?

The legal theory now in use–but waning–says broadcast license allocations can only be accomplished by a process that includes government regulation of content. But licensing need not require content regulation. In fact, we have been growing away from that coupling. And that is why, as Rendall notes, the Fairness Doctrine has been losing authority—it has been found awkward and unworkable in the free American arena.

All we need is for Congress or the courts to abandon the absurd dogma that says: Since the people own the air waves, that fact deprives the people of First Amendment protection against government pressure on the electronic media. What a perverse notion.

Would a First Amendment fully covering electronic media lead to perfection in broadcast news? No, certainly not. But it would make electronic editors less vulnerable to government influence, which is what it does for print editors.

If we think government regulation produces better news performance from American media than press freedom does, we should apply it to newspapers as well as broadcasting? (God forbid.) My choice is for a First Amendment protecting all American media. Which would exclude the Fairness Doctrine, an anti-First Amendment device.

Bill Monroe

Bethesda, Md.

What’s the Word?

Please watch your language.

FAIR does a great job of policing the corporate press and pointing out its failures on many fronts. But the right-wing wordsmiths are paid millions of dollars to come up with language to “frame” the debate according to their point of view.

One such “frame,” as linguists call it, is the term “Social Security privatization.” This term, in itself, creates a false impression. Privatization of an industry or an institution involves a purchase. Yet the Bush administration plans to borrow two trillion dollars to fund its plan to dismantle Social Security.

Please be aware of the power of language, and try to avoid echoing the right’s misleading terminology. Let’s not use their misleading terms, but identify their plan for what it is: a plan to destroy Social Security.

Language makes a difference.

A good source of information on this issue is available at

David Robinson

Democracy for America

Essex, NJ

Disappointed in Lack of Disinterest

I read Extra! every month with a mixture of sadness at the state of the media, fear at the direction the U.S. is heading and admiration for your work. But the January/February issue provoked a new response: disappointment. How could you invite a clear partisan to comment on a story in which he is far from disinterested? Jaime Yassin’s analysis of the Israeli/Palestinian situation and of Nightline‘s posthumous coverage of Mr. Arafat is itself untruthful and biased. I had come to expect better of you publication, which I guess I will have to start to read with the same skeptical attitude with which I regard the mainstream media.

Judith Friedlaender

Berrick Salome, England

Disinformation Wasn’t a Surprise

Peter Hart, in “Pentagon Disinformation Should Be No Surprise” (Extra! Update, 2/05) writes about an L.A. Times scoop that “revealed” that the toppling of the Saddam statue in Firdos Square was a U.S. Army Psyops operation. It’s true that article added details to what we knew about that event, but many sources recognized (and exposed) that event for what it was from the very start. For example, a quick Google search turns up a link to the World Socialist Web Site from April 12, 2003, just two days after the event, exposing the fraud for what it was. Similarly, a scene in the film Control Room shows that Al Jazeera personnel also recognized the event for what it was as it happened (and, I presume, wrote about it as such).

Eli Stephens

Left I on the News

Cupertino, Calif.


The “SoundBites” in the December 2004 issue of Extra! Update misidentified an NPR reporter. Her name is Renee Montaigne.