Apr
01
2004

Misdirections on Iraq 'Elections'

Power for "not just anyone"

January saw a major dispute between the Bush administration's Iraq occupation authority and that country's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. The administration was promoting a plan to hand over power to an Iraqi government selected through a system of what it called "caucuses." Sistani, a spiritual leader for the country's majority religious group, called for the new government to be chosen through elections instead. As Extra! went to press, a team of U.N. election experts was in the country trying to resolve the dispute. For the U.S. media, the story presented a host of problems. For one thing, […]

Mar
01
2004

Waiting Till the First Cow Dies

Herd reporting on mad cow disease

It's the day after U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman announced the first case of mad cow disease in the United States, the telephones at the Center for Media 8c Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin are ringing con­stantly with press inquiries. "I've never seen anything like this in my 30 years of activism!" John Stauber, executive director of the center and co­author of the 1997 book Mad Cow U.S.A., says. Stauber has been warning for years about the threat of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease, com­ing to America. And after years of very limited press interest, this […]

Mar
01
2004

The 'Imminent' Argument

An embarrassing phrase rallies White House defenders

Did the Bush administration portray Iraq as an imminent threat in order to justify an invasion? According to the White House, that's a media hoax. "I think some in the media have chosen to use the word 'imminent,'" White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters (1/27/04). "Those were not words we used." With this denial, McClellan joined a crowd of conservative pundits who for months have blamed media misrepresentation for the widespread impression that the administration had indeed sold Iraq as an imminent threat. (According to a University of Maryland-based PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll published late last year—11/13/03—"an overwhelming 87 […]

Mar
01
2004

Homegrown Terrorists

WMD found—in Texas, so media yawn

In his interview with Tim Russert (Meet the Press, 2/8/04), George W. Bush said, "See, free societies are societies that don't develop weapons of mass terror." Putting aside the U.S. government's enormous stocks of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons—which Bush would presumably insist are not intended for terror—the statement also overlooks the fact that the U.S. also produces freelance domestic terrorists bent on creating weapons of mass destruction. Russert might have reminded Bush of recent events in his home state of Texas, where William Krar was indicted in May 2003 for, among other things, possession of a weapon of mass […]

Mar
01
2004

Trial by Anecdote

Newsweek's 'lawsuit explosion' blown away by facts

It's an all-too-familiar story: ordinary citizens paralyzed by the fear of frivolous lawsuits. A charity softball tournament canceled because a player sued after breaking his leg sliding. A minister who can't hug parishioners for fear of being slapped with sexual harassment claims. And doctors who perform unnecessary surgery just to avoid potential malpractice suits. All these horror stories and more were included in a front-page story in Newsweek (12/15/03), announced on the cover with a photo of an anxious-looking minister, doctor and state trooper, and the words "Law-suit Hell: How Fear of Litigation Is Paralyzing Our Professions." According to the […]

Mar
01
2004

The Ratings Mirage

Why Fox has higher ratings--when CNN has more viewers

Reporting on the ratings rivalry between the Fox News Channel (FNC) and CNN is often misleading--and almost always over-hyped. "Fox Tops CNN as Choice for Cable News," declared one typical headline (Chicago Tribune , 3/24/03). "Fox News Channel Continues to Crush CNN ," reported Knight Ridder (Dallas Morning News , 2/3/04) in a column comparing the rivalry to a party primary: "Fox News Channel is winning the Nielsen caucuses." Last summer (8/17/03), the New York Times Magazine declared, looking back at the period of the Iraq invasion, "Fox was--and still is--trouncing CNN in the ratings." After exposure to countless similar […]

Mar
01
2004

Target Dean

Re-establishing the establishment

If you accept the "horserace" metaphor beloved by campaign pundits, it seems like media looked to disqualify former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean even before he left the starting gate. Once thought to be a long-shot contender for the Democratic nomination, Dean found himself anointed as the media front-runner weeks before any voters had their say. With that status came intense media scrutiny, much of it focused on Dean's perceived weaknesses. "Doubts About Dean: Behind the Democrats' Battle to Stop Him," declared the January 12 cover of Newsweek. The same week's Time probed the rise of a candidate who "barked and […]