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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

Jan
01
1990

Censored News

Drug Links of Panama's New Rulers

The Bush White House justified the invasion by claiming that overthrowing Noriega was a major victory in the war on drugs. If journalists had reported the backgrounds of the new Panamanian leaders installed by the U.S. invasion, and their connections to drug-laundering banks and drug traffickers, a primary rationale for the invasion would have been shredded. But few journalists scrutinized Panama's "new democrats" from the country's banking and corporate elite. One who did was Jonathan Marshall, editorial page editor of the Oakland Tribune. In a series of editorials, "Panama's Drug, Inc." (1/5 & 1/22/90), Marshall reported the following: PRESIDENT GUILLERMO […]

Jan
01
1990

Reporters Rallying Round the Flag

Journalists justified their role as distributors of government handouts in different ways. Asked on Day 1 why U.S. opponents of the invasion were virtually invisible on-the-air, a CBS producer (who declined to give her name) told Extra!: "When American troops are involved and taking losses, this is not the time to be running critical commentary. The American public will be rallying around the flag." Some TV reporters claimed they were forced to rely on official U.S. versions because they had nothing else. As Newsday reported January 14, "Peter Arnett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning combat journalist, was reduced to reporting on Noriega's […]