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 […]

Mar
01
2008

Giuliani's Winning Strategy of Losing

'Front-runner' spent millions in states he 'skipped'

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/VictoryNH: Protect Our Primary

Many political reporters and pundits would probably like to forget the months they spent talking about how Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani was a strong front-runner amidst a relatively weak field. Giuliani enjoyed remarkably upbeat coverage for much of his campaign (Extra!, 5=6/07, 11=12/07), and even as he exited the race media continued their mythologizing, with many excusing his remarkably weak performance as just part of his strategy. On the eve of the Florida primaries, the new line on the Giuliani campaign coming from many pundits and reporters was that the candidate never really tried to win the early Republican […]

Mar
01
2008

Perilous Journalism in the Persian Gulf

Strait of Hormuz incident's uncritical coverage

HMS Middleton in the Straight of Hormuz--Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Defence Images

Given that one of the stated goals of George W. Bush's January 8-16 Mideast trip was to "remind" allies in the Persian Gulf that "Iran is a threat'' (New York Times, 1/9/08), it should have at least struck journalists as a strange coincidence when a January 6 encounter between the U.S. Navy and five small Iranian speedboats in the Strait of Hormuz, the entrance to the Persian Gulf, was characterized by the Pentagon as "evidence that Iran is unpredictable and remains a threat" (CNN, 1/7/08). Yet several news media outlets swallowed the White House's alarmist account of the incident hook, […]

Mar
01
2008

Truth in Advertising 'a Business Disaster'

Most “fear and favor” shown by media outlets takes the form of slanted or incomplete news coverage. But media companies’ zeal to please the advertisers, who are, after all, their main client, goes beyond covering news to making it. In 2007, congressional debate on a big Food and Drug Administration bill touched on pharmaceutical ads, a fast-growing source of media revenue. As recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, an early draft of the bill would have given the FDA the power to impose a moratorium on consumer advertising for a drug that had serious safety concerns. That provision was […]