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Compiled by Cheryl Seal

This week we add a new section to Media Meter: The best and worst of the media for the week, embodied by selected "Heroes" and "Cowards."

HEROES: This Week's "Candle in the Dark" Award goes to....

Raf Shakirov and Bryan Norcross

RAY SHAKIROV is the editor of the Russian newspaper "Izvestia." Unlike his cowardly state-controlled counterparts, Shakirov's paper reported the unfolding hostage crisis in Beslan as it actually occurred. The Guardian reports: "Izvestia was one of the first Russian media outlets to cast doubt on the government's initial claims that about 350 hostages were being held captive in the school, quoting a local politician saying: "On television they say there are 350 of us. That's not right. There's not less than 1,500 in the school."

In addition, Shakirov's paper also carried an editorial blasting the cowardice of state-controlled media outlets: "My God, how our valiant state television stations took fright and lost their heads," wrote columnist Irina Petrovskaya.

"It is not the first time Shakirov has fallen foul of the Kremlin," says the Guardian. "In March 1999 he was dismissed as editor-in-chief of the Kommersant-Daily after the paper published an article criticising the then Russian prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov."

So if Bush is reelected, I wonder how long it will be before editors face instant firing (orders from "above") if they fall out of "Bush line"?

BRYAN NORCROSS is meteorologist/hurricane expert for WFOR/CBS4/TVNews: Throughout Hurricane Frances, and despite obvious pressure to underplay the storm's danger and extent, Norcross insisted on doggedly reporting on the storm in an honest, often even defiant way. Fir example, at a press conference Sat. afternoon, Jeb Bush stated that the storm "might go on for several hours, maybe even through the night, and that the eye would cause some clearing for "up to four hours." The whole tone of Bush's statements, of course, was "well, it's not all that bad." Norcross came on afterward and said pointedly that "several hours" was not accurate unless Bush meant 15-20 hours, and that the eye would in fact take at least 8 hours to pass over. And Norcross helped prepare people for what was ahead by saying what Bush and the rest of the media largely refused to say: the storm would get worse before it got better - which, of course, it did.

There were many cases when Norcross found himself having to correct inaccurate information being given out by the media - including supposed "hurricane expert" Max Mayfield, who seemed either surprisingly underinformed or dedicated to sticking to the "it's not so bad' motif. When the media tried to make it seem like the danger was passed simply because the storm's winds had at one point dropped to 110 mph, Norcross asserted again and again: "This is still a dangerous storm." He just may have saved some lives. We heard reports of some Floridians returning to their homes too soon, only to have to leave again or become marooned, because the media's "upbeat" , almost "party" tone had led them to believe the danger had passed.

Here's a sample of Bryan's dedication to the public's right to know:


MEDIA COWARDS: This week's "Dog's Belly" Award** goes to...FOX, CNN, NBC, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, USA Today, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times

**NOTE: This award is named for the image of an abject hound lying on its back exposing its belly to its belligerent master to avoid being kicked.

FOX, CNN, NBC, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, USA Today, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times: In short, the entire mainstream media is cited this week for their abysmally bad coverage of the GOP convention. "Special recognition" goes to the worst of them all: Washington Post. A junior high school newspaper would probably have done a far better, more honest job of covering the convention and thereby served the American public as the media is supposed to do. A junior high schooler would certainly have shown more spirit!

As the Columbia Journalism Review reported on Sept. 2:

"Last night, Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic Senator Zell Miller delivered prime time addresses recapitulating a number of selective mis-statements that have been debunked repeatedly -- and, once again, like so many programmed robots, much of the press corps reported it all as if it were fact."

As to the infamous, insidious, Washington Post - a paper whose disrespect for its readers and the truth is made more flagrant by its recent professions to "do better" - it's coverage was worthy of a Putin-run rag, not a supposedly free and unbiased American paper dedicated to getting at the truth:

Says CJR: "This is not the first time the Post has fed its readers spin on page one and an antidote to same on page 17 or 25 or 27; we're waiting for the day that it occurs to the paper's editors that they have that formula exactly backwards. Until then, we and thee will have to dig deep into the Post to find the right stuff." (as in ferreting out bits of real reporting in columns like Dana Millbanks, buried deep in the paper like eggs at an Easter egg hunt.



US Troop Death Count Is now Over 1,000

But wait, you say, the Pentagon says it's just 980 or so! Yes, that IS what the Pentagon says - and they want it to stay that way until after the election. It has long been predicted that the psychological impact of 1,000 dead would have a huge backlash effect against Bush. So, in April, when the death count soared, the Pentagon instituted a new "accounting" practice, listing only those soldiers as "officially dead" whose next of kin had been "officially notified." As a result, over 35 soldier deaths have been kept off the "officially killed" tally, keeping the death count safely below 1,000 through the GOP convention. But this practice is not only dishonest, it may in fact be a heartbreaking form of discrimination. Many of the dead whose next of kin cannot be officially notified are the non-citizen Mexicans, who joined up with the promise of a Green Card. Many of them have no next of kin in the US, and no easily reached next of kin in Mexico.


US Casualty Rate in August in Iraq Hits Highest Point for Entire War

In August just over 1,100 soldiers were injured - many of them horrifically from land mines and vehicle bombs. Yet, to preserve the Bush fantasy of the "glory" of "freedom on the march" in Iraq for the GOP convention, the media suppressed this news. 1,100 young people suffering and in many cases facing a life of disability meant nothing to the media compared to saving Bush face.


The True Extent of the Catastrophe that was Hurricane Frances:

Back in Maine years ago, we used to laugh about the local radio station in the Camden area - a major tourist town - that to keep tourists from heading home early would always proclaim on rainy days that the forecast called for "hazy sunshine." I.e, that wasn't rain blocking the sun- it was really just really really dense "haze"!

Now the corporate media is doing the same thing with catastrophic weather. After all, Hurricane Frances was extremely "inconvenient" for the Bush campaign, showing up as it did during the GOP convention week. So the media, especially CBS with its new "we're the sunny smiley optimist newsfolks!" tactic, kept trying to be upbeat about the storm, outrageously underplaying the damage. One newscaster - think it was NBC - stated that only "scores" of people had sustained severe damage to their homes. Even though there is no possible way anyone can make an accurate projection of damage at this point, especially since the damage from flooding takes more time and is harder to assess, the media was already chirping on Labor Day that the cost of Frances would be less than Charley. Anyone who has ever lived through even mild flooding will doubt this statement immediately. Flood damage is often more irreparable than wind damage because (for example) it can destroy foundations, even when the building seems otherwise OK. Winds also don't collapse highways (which Frances has done). And the fact that the ENTIRE STATE was affected by some degree of flooding from the torrential rains suggests that the cost is going to be astronomical simply because of the geographic scope.

Even during the storm, the media was trying to spin off the severity. When Frances was scaled down from a category 4 to a 3, you'd think from the way some of the newsfolk gushed "the good news" that the whole storm had basically been called off. Some people even stayed in their homes and risked their lives - including one family with two infants - because they knew the media would make them "instant stars" by filming/interviewing their "heroic stand."

America's REAL Unemployment Rate: About 6.4%, not 5.4%

Once again, in its never-ending dedication to shore up Bush at the expense of the public, the media largely unquestioningly reports the latest economic updates from the White House. Even when those updates are repeatedly having to be "revised downward." So the latest update was gushingly disseminated by 90% of the media without scrutiny. According to the White House, the unemployment rate has dropped to 5.4%, which of course would appear to be a big drop from the 6.1% of last year. But kudoes go to the Baltimore Sun for daring to "look below the covers" in this editorial that reveals the truth: there are ONE MILLION unemployed workers not counted in Bush's rosy assessment - the workers who have been unemployed so long that they have simply dropped off the radar.

"Yes, the latest employment data, released Friday, signal improvement. August's unemployment rate was 5.4 percent, compared with 6.1 percent a year earlier. Trouble is, the U.S. economy right now still has a million fewer people working than at the start of the recession in March 2001. And millions of discouraged workers have been leaving the job market or have become mired in underemployment.

As a result, the labor force participation rate this summer fell to the lowest point in almost 13 years. Economists at the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented think tank, figure that translates to more than two million missing workers. These are workers so discouraged that they've given up looking for work, and thus they're not factored into the official unemployment rate calculation. If they were -- and there's a good argument for that -- the true unemployment rate would be more like 6.4 percent."


The False and Misleading Statements Made throughout the GOP Convention

You'd think that the media had been hired to "cover" the GOP convention in much the same way that videographers and publicists are hired to "cover" a celebrity wedding. Because there was no more evidence of critical political coverage going on than there will be when Britney's press agent writes up the press release version of his boss's nuptials. For more details of the sad and sorry travesty that was the mainstream media coverage of the GOP convention, see "Media Cowards" above. The most pathetic moment of all, for me, was when Tom Brokaw announced, in a choked up voice after Bush's speech, as the balloons came down, that this was going to be his last convention (he's retiring, apparently) and what an honor it was for him to be part of this process that epitomizes the American political system. Except that Tom's last act as a "journalist" covering the conventions was to undermine America's political system by failing to do his job. By continuing to give Bush and Co. a free pass while trampling on the opposition, Brokaw and his cohorts are taking America ever closer to a one-party system where dissent is suffocated. n a truly free, democratic society, the media would actually be working EXTRA hard to give the Democrats a fair voice, to offset the dangerous one-sidedness of the current situation in Washington, where all brances of the government are controlled by the Republicans.


Karl Rove's Blurring of Boundary between President and President's Advisor

Last week I reported that Karl Rove had taken it upon himself in late August to ban UK political leader Michael Howard from the White House simply because Howard, a Tory, was Tony Blair's chief political rival. Now this week we find Rove making offensive and strikingly definitive statements about the war on terror (i.e., the sort of statements people might make it they themselves were President, not an advisor), creating even more friction with allies.

This story was tucked in the nether pages of the Washington Post. But kudos to Mary Fitzgerald and Vanessa Williams for realizing the importance of Rove's action and reporting on it.

"So White House senior adviser Karl Rove thinks the war on terrorism is similar to the conflict in Northern Ireland. The rather peculiar comparison surfaced during an interview Wednesday with the Associated Press. "This is going to be more like the conflict in Northern Ireland, where the Brits fought terrorism, and there's no sort of peace accord with al Qaeda saying, 'We surrender,' " Rove said.

Hmm . . . bet that will raise a few eyebrows in Belfast.

The 30-year conflict between republicans seeking a united, independent Ireland and unionists wishing to retain the link with Britain claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people before a political resolution was achieved in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The leader of Northern Ireland's Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble, who is attending the Republican National Convention as a guest of the International Democrat Union, acknowledged that the comments left him a little perplexed.

"I'm not altogether clear about what exactly he's getting at," Trimble said."

The significance is that Rove is starting to act like the ventroliquist who forgets that he's supposed to make it appear that the dummy on his lap is doing the talking and just starts talking directly to the audience.


The Use of Americorps Volunteers as 'Disaster Response Teams'

Bush slashed the funding for Americorps - a national program fro 19-24-year olds in which they can earn a very modest stipend and educational benefits in exchange for community service. Community service was supposed to include parks and educational projects, etc. But after 2004, Americorps volunteers were often deployed as "hired help" for Bush's pet programs - religious charities - and less often as workers in true, secular community service programs. Now, since Hurricane Isabel, the Americorps kids are being deployed as Disaster response personnel - helping to fill the gap left by the missing National Guardsfolk: more than one-fourth of all America's National Guard has been deployed overseas since 2001. Although the alliance between the Red Cross and Americorps is entirely appropriate, some Americorps workers are being used to perform jobs that seem not just inappropriate but potentially dangerous. For example, this report (link below) states that kids were being sent out to help the Army Corps of Engineers secure roofs! (last paragraph under "Protect your property" section).


The Truth about the Missing National Guardsfolk during Charley and Frances

The media blythely accepts the spiel of G.W. and Jeb and selected Pentagon spokespeople that there are "plenty" of National Guardsfolk available to help in preparing for and cleaning up after hurricanes. But not one journalist has looked beneath this thin "cover" via a little research, or even responded to the glaring evidence before their own eyes. For example, if there were sufficient and/or properly deployed National Guardfolk on the scene in FLA, then why did so many communities in Florida (many of them populated by seniors) have to form all-volunteer citizen brigades to go to homes and urge/help people to evacuate then check on their safety later? Why was there so much more widespread looting than in pre-2001 disasters? A little digging would have revealed that even though relatively large numbers of National Guardsfolk were on standby, many were "imported" from other states and too few had any hurricane disaster response training. A high percentage of the Guardsfolk trained in disaster response - and specifically hurricane response - have been shipped to Afghanistan or Iraq.

In this article, a FLA emergency responder warns in May 2004 of the impact that the Guard deployments will have on hurricane response.


The Use of US Soldiers as 'Free Security' for Halliburton Convoys in Iraq

This information, which came from Spiros D., a US soldier in Baghdad, has also been reported by other soldiers and in news bits in non-US news sources. Yet not one US media source that we have found has bothered to investigate - tho they, unlike we bloggers, have the resources to do so on the scene in IRaq. "Halliburton's subsidiary KBR "is now requesting, and the army is allowing, US soldiers to [risk their lives riding] 'shot gun' in KBR convoys hauling KBR goods all over Iraq. KBR is currently staffed by mainly non US international personnel along with a growing number of Iraqis. Most do not speak English, none have had military training on defensive driving, proper convoy operations, avoiding ambushes, navigating around IED's [hidden roadside bombs], proper procedure for calling in support or medivac or fire support, procedures to follow after taking enemy fire, the list goes on. {Yet]these drivers are...making roughly 5 -8 times our wages and get paid whether the freight arrives or not."


The Drunken Reveling of the Bush Girls

Honest editors will make a fair policy: if they luridly cover the screw ups of one party, they will luridly cover the screw ups of the other, as well. Or they will simply make a policy of not covering screw ups at all unless they are truly of importance to the reader. But while the mainstream media ran no fewer than 187 stories on Teresa Heinz Kerry's "shove it!" incident, only one story appeared on the drunken, club-hopping reveling of the Bush girls Jenna and Barabara in NYC last week. And this story, which showed up in the NY Post, was whisked away and made inaccessible within a day.

Buzzflash captured the story before it disappeared and printed it: Here's an excerpt: "The conservative cuties' next big night was Wed. at Sixth Avenue nightclub Avalon, where they were in the crowd smoking cigarettes and pumping their fists to Kid Rock, who was performing on stage. 'They [and their entourage of about 25] drank $4,500 dollars worth of drinks - bottles and bottles of vodka,' says a club insider. 'Then, having comped all the alcohol, they left a $48 tip. We thought 1% was kind of outrageous, considering they are the president's daughters."



US Facing a Coming Debt Crisis

While Bush bragged of an improving economy this past week, the sand beneath the nation's feet continued to weaken and shift, shaken by the rumblings of ballooning debt. Daniel Gross writes in an article buried in the business section of the NY Times that a coming debt crisis may threaten the nation's security even more than any oil crisis: "Recent structural changes in the economy - the federal government's shift from surpluses to huge deficits, the national predilection for consumption over saving and housing prices that climb faster than incomes - have increased the country's reliance on another kind of fuel: credit.

As a result, the American economic ship, which has weathered the recent run-up in crude oil prices, may be more vulnerable to sudden surges in the price of money. If the rate on 30-year fixed mortgages were to rise from 5.4 percent today to 7.5 percent next February, homeowners could get walloped. "Rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt," Benjamin Franklin wrote in Poor Richard's Almanac. Well, in recent years, American consumers, businesses and governments have been hitting the sack with their stomachs bloated and their charge cards maxed out. From 1988 to 2000, the ratio of nonfinancial debt to gross domestic product held steady at about 1.8 to 1. But recently, consumer, business and government credit has bulged like the belly of a contestant at a hot-dog eating contest at Coney Island.

From the beginning of 2001 to the end of 2003, the economy added $1.317 trillion in gross domestic product and $4.2 trillion in debt. That means that each new dollar of economic output was accompanied by $3.19 in new debt. So now, for the first time, the debt-to-G.D.P. ratio stands at more than 2.0 to 1.