Mar
01
2009

Due Process Mugged

You've seen it everywhere. It made the cover of Newsweek, the front page of the New York Times' "Week in Review", and the CBS, NBC and ABC news: Manual Noriega's mug shot, looking just like the criminals at the end of each "Dragnet" episode after Sgt. Joe Friday had brought them to justice. But what you didn't often see is an acknowledgment that the release of such mug shots is highly unusual, and may threaten Noriega's already slim chances of getting a fair trial. The Miami U.S. Attorney's office claims to have released it "under pressure from the press," according […]

Mar
01
2009

I'm Not Rappaport.... I'm Valdez

Extra! usually complains about media outlets relying on the same sources again and again, but KTTV-TV in Los Angeles may have gone too far in the opposite direction. Seeking a source to comment on the failed October 1989 coup against Manuel Noriega, the station called what they thought was the Panamanian consulate. In fact, it was the home of Kurt Rappaport, a 22-year old prankster. Rappaport, pretending to be an anti-Noriega Panamanian diplomat, "Arturo Valdez," was invited to be interviewed, and showed up at the studio sporting a false moustache. A sound bite from the 10-15 minute "Valdez" interview was […]

Jan
01
1990

'Noriega Offered His Usual Damp, Limp Handshake to Bush's Firm Grip'

For sheer propaganda, high marks go to Newsweek's Noriega cover story (1/15/90), featuring excerpts from a book about Noriega by Wall Street Journal reporter Frederick Kempe. The book and its author were much touted by the media during the invasion. Some highlights: HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST ELLIOTT ABRAMS. "By the summer of 1985, the State Department's new assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs, Elliott Abrams, began to believe that Noriega's help for the Contras was overestimated and his general harm to democracy and human rights was underestimated. Abrams had come out of State's human rights office...." Abrams hardly "came […]

Jan
01
1990

Swallowing Hokum in Central America

During the height of the civil rights movement, Southern authorities frequently reacted to the bombing of a black church or a civil rights leader's home by blaming the act on the Movement: "The Negroes did it themselves. It's a stunt to win sympathy." While the innuendo that Martin Luther King, Jr. would have fire-bombed his own home while his children slept was prominently and uncritically reported in Southern dailies, journalists from national media ignored such hokum or reported it as a way of highlighting how depraved or dishonest the authorities were. Ironically, the same absurd scenarios dismissed by journalists when […]

Jan
01
1990

The Press and the Shrinking American Electorate

Press treatment of low voter turnout in American society has become schizophrenic. On the one hand, the press is giving strong support to voter registration reform as a way of increasing voting; on the other, press coverage suggests--incorrectly--that registration reform will not increase voting because so many registered voters don't bother to go to the polls. Many states have been easing the registration process by making it possible for people to register by mail, or at government agencies such as motor vehicle, unemployment and welfare offices. Congress is considering similar reforms. The Sacramento Bee (4/14/88) likes the fact that 20 […]

Jan
01
1990

How Television Sold the Panama Invasion

The media go to war

US Army Rangers, El Chorrillo (photo: DoD)

Two weeks after the Panama invasion, CBS News sponsored a public opinion poll in Panama that found the residents in rapture over what had happened. Even 80 percent of those whose homes had been blown up or their relatives killed by U.S. forces said it was worth it. Their enthusiasm did not stop with the ousting of Gen. Manuel Noriega, however. A less heavily advertised result of the poll was that 82 percent of the sampled Panamanian patriots did not want Panamanian control of the Canal, preferring either partial or exclusive control by the U.S. ("Panamanians Strongly Back U.S. Move," […]

Jan
01
1990

Worse Than Ed Meese?

That's what reporters covering the Justice Department think of Attorney General Richard Thornburgh's control over public information, according to a survey published in the January 15 issue of Corporate Crime Reporter. Thirteen of 14 journalists who responded to the survey agreed that "the Justice Department under Attorney General Thornburgh actively discourages the free flow of information," while 12 affirmed that "less public information is being made available" now than during the Reagan administration. Among the reporters' comments on Thornburgh: "He's shut the place down by wrapping himself in self-righteousness and threatening to fire lawyers who talk to reporters." "Any news […]

Jan
01
1990

History That's Fit to Print

The New York Times is fond of running chronologies to explicate history for its readers. Often these chronologies provide a very selective version of events. Take a Jan. 8, 1990 example headlined "Two Decades of Suffering in Cambodia". It begins on March 18, 1970 ("Prince Norodom Sihanouk is ousted by Lon Nol...") and then skips to April 17, 1975 ("The Khmer Rouge rebels seize Phnom Penh..."). No mention is made of the 1969-1973 U.S. bombing campaign that dropped more than 500,000 tons of bombs on Cambodia, leaving, according to a Washington Post estimate (4/24/75), 450,000 dead and wounded. The only […]