Sep
01
2006

SoundBites

No “Happy” Talk

Asked at a press conference (8/21/06) if he was “frustrated” about the situation in Iraq, George W. Bush responded: “Frustrated? Sometimes I’m frustrated. Rarely surprised. Sometimes I’m happy. This is—but war is not a time of joy. These aren’t joyous times. These are challenging times, and they’re difficult times, and they’re straining the psyche of our country. I understand that.” Some outlets apparently found this reference to the president’s occasional happiness too jarring to be reported. The Washington Post (8/22/06), for example, had Bush saying, with no ellipses: “Sometimes I’m frustrated, rarely surprised. War is not a time of joy. These are challenging times.” CBS Morning News (8/22/06) managed to skip from “Rarely surprised” to “These aren’t joyous times” without any indication to the viewer that they were getting a cleaned-up quote from the commander in chief.

Free Trade Through Protectionism

An August 17 USA Today article about George W. Bush visiting a Harley-Davidson motorcycle factory “to cultivate support for free trade” begins by declaring: “For two decades, when presidents have wanted to demonstrate to skeptical constituents the benefits of free trade, they’ve come here to southern Pennsylvania. . . . A 232-acre Harley-Davidson factory here remains a gleaming shrine for the free-trade faithful.” The irony, as economist Dean Baker pointed out (Beat the Press, 8/17/06), is that Harley-Davidson is a great example of the benefits of protectionism. Covering steps taken to save the company from bankruptcy in 1983, the New York Times reported (4/2/83): “In an unusually strong protectionist action, President Reagan today ordered a tenfold increase in tariffs for imported heavyweight motorcycles. . . . The action was exceptional for protecting a single American company, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company of Milwaukee, the sole surviving American maker of motorcycles.”

Contrary to Principles

Karen Czarnecki, a regular pundit on PBS’s To the Contrary, has been a senior official in the Bush administration’s Labor Department for the past five years. Neverthe-less, she has regularly been identified by To the Contrary host Bonnie Erbe as merely a “conservative commentator.” PBS ombud Michael Getler (PBS.org, 8/23/06) rightly finds it “amazing” that Czarnecki “can be a guest for the last five years without . . . letting the viewers in on that in one way or another. This is, as one viewer wrote, Journalism 101.” Responding to Getler’s asking why she didn’t let viewers know about Czarnecki’s official ties, Erbe said, “I did so once about five years ago and am doing so again here.” For its part, PBS declares itself “satisfied that To the Contrary’s current policy of identifying panelists according to political spectrum when speaking as individuals and not as official spokespersons for organizations meets our editorial guidelines.” It is, of course, the justifiable suspicion that government officials may not be “speaking as individuals” that makes disclosure of official positions Journalism 101.

How Dare They Complain About Substandard Wages?

An L.A. Times editorial (8/23/06) scolded Democrats for making Wal-Mart’s business practices a political issue: “At an anti-Wal-Mart rally last week in Iowa, [Sen. Joseph] Biden [D.-Del.] noted that the retailer pays people $10 an hour, and then asked: ‘How can you live a middle-class life on that?’ It’s clearly the company’s fault, at least from a skewed senatorial perspective, that all Americans cannot live a comfortable middle-class life. How dare it pay prevailing retail wages?” Actually, the average retail wage, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (9/1/06), is $12.70 an hour. But who’s counting—or fact-checking?

Undiluted Messages

“Wal-Mart, under attack now from unions and prominent Democrats, yesterday introduced a marketing campaign that closely resembles the television advertisements used by political candidates,” the New York Times reported on August 29. The rest of the story described and quoted from the ads, as well as quoting Wal-Mart’s vice president of corporate affairs, but included no quotes from unions, Democrats or indeed any critics at all explaining why they have attacked the company or rebutting any of the advertising claims. The piece ended with a quote from a PR executive who said of the ads, “There is no guarantee of effectiveness, but there is a guarantee that your message goes out undiluted.” Why do you need advertising to do that when you’ve got the mainstream media?

News (and People) You Can Use

The August 14 issue of Time reported on a “wave of foreclosures that could turn tidal,” noting that “banks started foreclosing on 173,579 homes in the first quarter of 2006, about 5 percent more than in the same quarter last year.” This grim economic news is part of “The Tip Sheet,” the back-of-the-magazine pages on “smart strategies,” and sets up a piece on how savvy readers can take advantage of desperate borrowers—for example, by realizing that “you can deal directly with a homeowner who’s behind on payments and wants out.” The article does suggest offering “an amount that will allow the seller to walk away with a paid-off mortgage, some cash and his dignity,” and adds an expert’s suggestion that you “differentiate yourself from scam artists” (perhaps by carrying a rolled-up copy of Time tucked under your arm).