Extra! Update June 2003
The Liberation of Iraq
“I want to be certain that nothing is shown that would incite violence in a city that was extremely tense when we took over two-and-one-half weeks ago, and which still has folks who are totally opposed to what we’re doing and are willing to do something about it. . . . Yes, what we are looking at is censorship, but you can censor something that is intended to inflame passions.”
—U.S. Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, explaining new restrictions on television in Mosul, Iraq (Washington Post, 5/9/03)
Oil and Democracy
Playing down hopes for a democratic Iraq, Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria explained on ABC’s This Week (4/13/03), “There is not a single example of an oil-rich country that is a democracy other than Norway.” Zakaria made the same claim three days later on NPR (4/16/03): “There is, with the exception of Norway, not a single oil democracy in the world.” Zakaria’s expertise on international affairs is often sought by the media, but this claim is pretty hard to swallow. One country he mentioned by name—Venezuela—is a democracy. He also referred to Nigeria, where elections were held a few days after his comments. Other top oil-producing countries, like Mexico and Britain, would also probably qualify as democratic; one wonders what they’d make of Zakaria’s claim on NPR that “most of the oil-rich countries have very sad, dysfunctional political systems.” It seems worth noting that the world’s No. 3 oil producer is the United States.
Child Prisoners Not Fit to Print
On April 22, Associated Press broke the story that the U.S. is holding three boys between the ages of 13 and 15 in its Guantanamo prison, and the Los Angeles Times followed up on the story on April 23. The New York Times had a lengthy front-page story on Guantanamo in its April 24 edition—but it failed to mention the children being held indefinitely without trials or access to lawyers. Instead, the New York Times article seemed to romanticize conditions at Guantanamo, referring to cells cooled by “ocean breezes that waft through the camp” and “the lilting Muslim call to prayer” that’s heard five times a day. The story asserted flatly that “there have been no credible reports of abuse or substantial complaints about the physical conditions of the detainees”—ignoring a Boston Globe investigation (3/26/03) that reported that “prisoners who argue with guards are persecuted and sometimes beaten.”
A Day in The Death of Journalism
U.S. News & World Report’s May 12 cover featured a picture of a military jet pilot performing a Top Gun acrobatic stunt. It illustrated “A Day in the Life of the Military”—which was not so much a cover story as an eight-page photo spread taken from the book A Day in the Life of the United States Armed Forces. If you think it looks like a commercial for the Pentagon, you’re not far off—at the very bottom of the second page of the spread, in white-on-grey lettering in the tiniest type imaginable, you’ll find, buried between the publisher and the copyright information, the phrase ‘The project underwriter is the Boeing Co.” That’s right: U.S. News published eight pages on the military sponsored by the nation’s second largest military contractor—a company that makes, among other things, Navy jets like the one the pilot is flying on the cover of the magazine. You could call that a brilliant example of product placement. You just can’t call it journalism.
Their Money Where Their Mouths Are?
Where do the owners of television networks stand politically? If their contributions to political parties are any clue, somewhere to the right of center. The public interest group Common Cause released a report called “Who Controls the FCC? Money in Broadcast Politics” (5/03), which tallied the campaign contributions of top broadcasters from 1997 until 2002 (both PAC and soft money). Let’s look at the owners of the four major networks: Disney (ABC) mostly contributed to Democrats, giving them 59 percent of the $3.6 million it provided. Sixty-one percent of the $3.9 million donated by GE (NBC) went to Republicans, as did 63 percent of the $1.2 million sent by Viacom (CBS) and 81 percent of the nearly $2 million contributed by News Corp (Fox). In all, 58 percent of the Big Four contributions went to Republican campaigns.
Blowing in the Wind
“These are conservative times. . . . The network wants somebody to match the times.”
—ABC insider, explaining the promotion of John Stossel to co-anchor of 20/20 (TVGuide, 5/10/03)