No reasonable person believes that a journalist’s right to protect their confidential sources is absolute. If a government official told a reporter—after obtaining a promise of strict confidentiality—that he was a serial killer planning to strike again, who would argue that the reporter should conceal that official’s identity—let alone defy a subpoena from a grand jury seeking evidence of the official’s crimes? This is not to say that journalists aren’t often justified in keeping their sources secret. Government (and corporate) wrongdoing is frequently exposed by people without a legal right to reveal the incriminating information, who may face retribution if […]
How do you expose corruption by protecting the corrupt?
“Painful reforms” find few takers
Nothing rankles bigfoot journalists more than seeing the conventional wisdom they so painstakingly craft, distill and disseminate each day simply ignored—or worse, rejected en masse—by large numbers of people. That seems to be how most U.S. pundits and correspondents interpreted this spring’s rejection of the proposed European constitution by voters in the Netherlands and France. For years, the American press has watched in horror as continental Europe—especially France and Germany—stubbornly held out against wholesale Thatcherite economic “reform,” clinging to the sort of social protections and economic regulations that the media’s corporate owners despise. Buttressed by a phalanx of investment-bank economists […]
Tsunami reporting misrepresented U.S. giving
In March 1997, a joint poll by the Washington Post, Harvard University and the Kaiser Family Foundation asked Americans which area of federal expenditure they thought was the largest. Was it Social Security (which actually constituted about a quarter of the budget)? Medicare? Military spending? Sixty-four percent of respondents said it was foreign aid—when in reality foreign aid made up only about 1 percent of total outlays (Washington Post, 3/29/97). Today, Americans think about 20 percent of the federal budget goes toward foreign aid. When told the actual figure for U.S. foreign aid giving (about 1.6 percent of the discretionary […]
Why can’t John Gibson make the big time at Fox?
While talking heads chattered about the Joe Wilson/Karl Rove “Plamegate” scandal (Extra!, 9—10/05), one cable news host staked out a firm position (7/12/05): “I say give Karl Rove a medal. . . . Valerie Plame should have been outed by somebody. And nobody else has the cojones to do it.” The host claimed—inaccurately—that Wilson’s “little wifey” sent him on the fact-finding trip to Niger, only to add days later (7/15/05) that Valerie Plame Wilson “acts like a political hack.” Meet John Gibson, host of Fox News Channel’s afternoon program The Big Story. While some of Fox News Channel’s less strident […]
Replace corrupt board with independent trust
Veterans of the battles over public broadcasting know the script by now: Right-wing Republicans denounce NPR and PBS for being too “liberal,” threatening to cut their federal funding. Public broadcasting’s defenders rally to “save” Big Bird and the like. The difference this time around, though, is significant. The right-wing Republican is not a politician per se. He’s Kenneth Tomlinson, chair of the government-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), and thus the man in charge of distributing federal dollars to public broadcasters. Tomlinson’s charges about the liberal bias of public broadcasting coincided with a congressional attempt to make deep cuts in […]
Missing the Point of Torture Jacqueline Bacon’s article “Torturing Language” (Extra!, 7-8/05) is a very good review of how language can be used to confuse and mislead people, but it misses the main point. The torture of prisoners is not some closely guarded secret; the people of Iraq and Afghanistan know perfectly well what’s going on. And the fact that the U.S. military allows all kinds of pictures to be taken in maximum security military prisons in war zones shows that they want the information on torture to get out. It’s not an effective way to get information, so what’s […]
Despite uncertainty, U.S. journalists take sides
How should U.S. journalists treat charges that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program? On the one hand, the track record of White House allegations about the weapons programs of the “axis of evil” is decidedly poor. On the other hand, Iranian officials who claim their country has only a peaceful nuclear energy program have their own history of deceptions and evasions. With a story marked by uncertainty, the journalist’s job is to puncture official misinformation all around while digging for more solid information. Unfortunately, U.S. news media outlets have instead largely decided to echo White House charges despite the […]
False Believers “True believers on the left and the right, hoping to rouse their armies for a showdown over [Supreme Court nominee] John Roberts, immediately trumpeted two ‘facts’” that “aren’t true,” Newsweek reported in its August 1 cover story. First, there were the “conspiracy theories” about Roberts’ “behind-the-scenes role” in the 2000 Florida recount, which Newsweek said was “minimal”; the Miami Herald’s more substantive reporting (7/27/05), however, showed that Roberts spent “a week to 10 days” with the legal effort, serving as a “legal consultant, lawsuit editor and prep coach.” In its second attempt at debunking, Newsweek asserted that Roberts […]