Nov 1 2007


Demonstrators Not Our Kind

On NBC Nightly News (9/15/07), reporter Patty Culhane dismissed the September 15 anti-war protests, saying, “Some say demonstrations like this will have little effect.” “Some” turns out to be pollster Stuart Rothenberg, who said, “The kind of people who have impact are middle-class Americans, many of whom are inclined to support the president.” Rothenberg doesn’t specify whether protesters have too much money to matter or not enough. But what polls is he reading that find “many” Americans of whatever economic class supporting Bush or his Iraq policy? We know that the middle class is shrinking, but we had no idea it had gotten that small.

Support Our Mercenaries

The L.A. Times gave op-ed space (10/3/07) to Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Max Boot to defend the privatization of warfare, proposing that the U.S. “continue using ‘free lances’ (as mercenaries were styled in Renaissance Italy) to supplement the efforts of current overstretched armed forces.” Boot’s romanticization doesn’t hold up against recent Harper’s reportage (10/07) that “according to congressional estimates, the cost to the government of a contracted [mercenary] is between four and ten times greater than that of a U.S. soldier.” Even allowing the quite large assumption that more force would produce “progress” in current wars, a glance at the Geneva Conventions makes it clear that Boot’s column is actually another example (Common Dreams, 7/10/05) of mainstream media calling for the breaking of international law: Mercenaries explicitly “shall not have the right to be a combatant or a prisoner of war,” and are hence, ironically enough, “unlawful combatants.”

20 Times the Deaths, 1/6th the Words

When Human Rights Watch released a report on Hezbollah’s violations during the 2006 Israel/Lebanon war, the New York Times (9/1/07) published an 800-word story under the headline “Rights Group Accuses Hezbollah of Indiscriminate Attacks on Civilians in Israel War,” accompanied by a photo of Israeli civilians at risk from Hezbollah rockets. But the very next day (8/31/07), when Human Rights Watch’s focus turned to Israeli violations in the 2006 war—debunking the argument that Israel killed civilians in Lebanon due to Hezbollah’s use of human shields—the paper suddenly lost interest in civilian casualties, running a 143-word Associated Press report with no photo and the headline, “Israel Criticized Over Lebanon Deaths.” Human Rights Watch estimated that Hezbollah killed 43 Israeli civilians, while Israel killed about 900 Lebanese civilians, so the journalistic decision is hard to make sense of—without the unhappy conclusion that the Times simply considers Israeli lives more important than Lebanese lives.

Savory Corporations

A September 10 Newsweek article noted that Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson “took on side work as a Washington lobbyist, representing high-profile clients including Westinghouse and Toyota. Records show he also lobbied for less-savory characters, including deposed Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.” “Savory” is not the first word that comes to mind in describing Westinghouse—a corporation with a history of bribery scandals, radioactive pollution and nuclear weapons production. Toyota, for its part, settled a $190 million sexual harassment lawsuit against its top U.S. executive, and was investigated for criminal negligence in Japan after failing to recall a faulty steering system for eight years. Thompson also lobbied on behalf of the British company Equitas, which was seeking to avoid paying compensation to asbestos-exposed workers. But lobbying on behalf of the first democratically elected president of Haiti after he was removed by a military coup—now that’s something you should be embarrassed about.

More for Their Money

The pharmaceutical industry’s purchase of TV ads—which “registered the highest growth rate among the top 10 U.S. advertisers” in 2006—also bought a little lobbying help from the National Association of Broadcasters, according to the Wall Street Journal (9/21/07): “When the Democratic-led Congress started debating a big Food and Drug Administration bill earlier this year, pharmaceutical companies worried that it would sharply restrict one of their most powerful sales-boosting tools—drug ads. But in the final bill . . . such marketing is largely spared. One major reason: The drug industry found powerful allies among media.” The “toughest drug-ad restriction” initially built into the bill would have allowed the FDA to “block a drug company from advertising a medication that carried serious safety concerns”—but after the NAB lobbied against the concept, “that was left on the cutting-room floor,” and regulators now “can only recommend changes, not require them.”

Not Crossing the Line, Probably

“I’m not sure where the line is on that, and that’s why I agreed to go this far.”

Washington Post executive editor Len Downie (Washington Post, 9/24/07), explaining why he allowed a General Motors advertising supplement in the paper to use previously published stories by Post reporters

The Female Student Problem

What could have been a straightforward story about college enrollment took a bizarre turn in the September 12 edition of USA Today. Census data from 2006 show an increase in the number of male and female undergraduates, with women making up 56 percent of undergrads, up from 55 percent in 2000. The article refers throughout to the “problem” of women outnumbering men on campus, taking its tone from its sole source—a psychologist named Leonard Sax who pushes the notion that any female advancement comes at a cost to men. The numbers are “disturbing” to Sax because they indicate a lack of “drive” on the part of boys. “We now have second-grade boys who will tell you they hate school,” Sax claimed, in the apparent belief that this is a previously unknown phenomenon.