Mar
01
2008

Fear & Favor 2007

How power still shapes the news

U.S. journalists seeking to fulfill the profession’s traditional goal of telling the truth and “letting the chips fall where they may” have powerful forces to contend with, starting with the corporate owners who employ them, and the corporate advertisers who fuel the enterprise, both of whom have an investment in maintaining a political conversation and climate favorable to their profitability. There are also legislators who maintain the pro-corporate policy media owners rely on to thrive, local political players with axes to grind, and well-funded PR campaigns from all corners. Each year these renew and refine their efforts to shape news […]

Mar
01
2008

Barbara Seaman, 1935-2008

Editor's Note

The New York Times doesn’t forgive and it doesn’t forget. We saw this when one of its most eloquent critics, John Hess, died and was given an error-filled obituary (1/22/05) that called him “cranky,” “curmudgeonly” and “grudging.” (See Extra!, 3-4/05). Now another of FAIR’s journalistic heroes has died, another groundbreaking investigative journalist who also had the temerity to challenge the Times’ sense of self-righteousness—and she too got a posthumous smear from the paper. Barbara Seaman revolutionized the field of health reporting, treating the medical establishment as an object of skepticism and focusing on the need to inform patients of their […]

Mar
01
2008

Letter Exchange

Paraguay’s Tri-Border Area: Who’s Hyping Whom?

I’m not in a position to speak for or about other American reporters or newspapers that have written about the Tri-Border Area (TBA) and its ties to Islamic extremist groups. But since April Howard and Benjamin Dangl refer to one of my articles (New York Times, 12/15/02) in the oh-so-snide first paragraph of their report (“City of Terror: Painting Paraguay’s ‘Casbah’ as Terror Central,” Extra!, 9-10/07), erroneously attributing to me personally the views that were in fact expressed by the numerous intelligence officials I interviewed, I feel obliged to set the record straight and enumerate the cascade of false assumptions […]

Mar
01
2008

Is Undercover Over?

Disguise seen as deceit by timid journalists

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/daysofthundr46

This past February, the famed lobbying firm APCO was approached by a man named Kenneth Case. Case said he represented the Maldon Group, an obscure firm that wished to improve the public image of Turkmenistan, where it had some investments. It was nothing out of the ordinary -- private firms often lobby on behalf of foreign countries, either because they think it will increase the value of their investments or because they are acting as a front for the foreign government. APCO happily met with them, despite the fact that the Stalinist regime of Turkmenistan is one of the most […]

Mar
01
2008

Saddam's 'Secret'

Hussein told CBS about WMDs--but CBS wasn't watching

Of all the strange stories to come out of the media's debacle in Iraq, one of the most Orwellian is the fable in which Saddam Hussein tricked America into invading Iraq by making us believe that he had weapons of mass destruction (Extra!, 1-2/04, 5-6/04). Of all the lies, hypocrisies and half-truths of this war, this one may be the most extravagant: a falsehood whose speciousness doesn't even require any checking--at least for anyone whose memory goes back earlier than March 2003. The latest incarnation of this story appeared in January, when CBS's 60 Minutes (1/27/08) aired an interview with […]

Mar
01
2008

SoundBites

How to Bore Reporters Setting the scene for Hillary Clinton's famous "tearing up" in New Hampshire, reporters Faye Fiore and Peter Nicholas of the Los Angeles Times (1/10/08) revealed more about the press corps than they did about the candidate: "For more than an hour, the discussion was so wonkish that campaign reporters fiddled with their BlackBerrys and fought the urge to nod off. The 'intimate chat' included such polysyllabic critiques as 'I will immediately begin to reverse this sense of arrogance and unilateralism and preemption that the Bush administration has propagated.'" Seriously, it's pretty hard to discuss Bush administration […]

Mar
01
2008

Rediscovering Somalia

Press downplays U.S. role in renewed crisis

Barundi peacekeepers prepare for deployment to Somalia--Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/US Army Africa

After years of paying scant attention to Somalia, U.S. media suddenly rediscovered the war-torn African nation in 2006 when a coalition of Islamic courts and their affiliated militias imposed peace on feuding warlords and began enforcing religious law. A U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion soon loomed, and the Bush administration made the preferred story line clear. "The Council of Islamic Courts is now controlled by Al-Qaeda cell individuals, East Africa Al-Qaeda cell individuals," announced Jendayi Frazer, U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs (Voice of America News, 12/14/06). "The top layer of the courts are extremist to the core. They are […]

Mar
01
2008

What National Intelligence Estimate?

Good news fails to slow anti-Iran campaign

For a moment it looked like the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) finding that Iran had halted its alleged nuclear weapons program might put a crimp in the White House’s campaign to portray Iran as a menace to the U.S. and its Mideast neighbors. The Washington Post (12/4/07) summarized the NIE’s impact: The new intelligence report released yesterday not only undercut the administration’s alarming rhetoric over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but could also throttle Bush’s effort to ratchet up international sanctions and take off the table the possibility of preemptive military action before the end of his presidency. CBS News’ Bob […]