Shouting into a Vacuum: Even "Washington Post" No Longer Forum for True Dissent by Public
In an editorial on May 6, "Washington Post" reporter John F. Harris expressed annoyance that the media has been accused of being too soft on Bush and denied that his was the case. If they are, he countered critics, is because the public does not complain enough: "…There's no denying that we give more coverage to stories when someone is shouting. For example, the toughest coverage Bush has gotten has been over decisions to suspend environmental rules issued by Clinton, which infuriated liberals. For the most part, Clinton's foes and their contemptuous views of him were within the bounds of fair debate. But Democrats are not likely to give as good as they got. They simply aren't as well organized. And they are not shouting as loudly."
May 6: The same night Harris's article appeared, I wrote a response, in the form of a letter to the editor to the "Post" (see below).
May 7: On Monday, another "Post" writer, Howard Kurtz who does a column called "Media Notes," scooped up on the Harris story, running chunks of it as if it had all been his own idea and challenged the public at large to respond to his question: "Is the media too soft on Bush?"
May 6-8: Democrats.com runs links first to the Harris story and then to the Kurtz story and urges readers to respond. Readers respond—BIG TIME! Letters pour in to the "Post", with many writers sending copies of their work to Democrats.com to make sure they aren't pouring their thoughts into a vacuum.
May 8: John Harris is rather unexpectedly awarded the Gerald Ford award for journalism (doesn't sound too rightwing, does it?) along with another journalist. It is the first time two writers have been picked for the award. Wonder if it was an afterthought "reward" for his rather back-handed defense of Bush in his editorial?
May 9: I call the "Post" to find out what is happening with the letters to Kurtz and with my letter to the main "letters to the editor" section. The woman manning the editorial desk said that she had seen my letter and that it had been sent on for possible inclusion in the paper. When I ask her about the Kurtz letters, she is puzzled. Kurtz has mentioned nothing to the editorial folks about his call for letters – none have been passed on to them. She connects me to Kurtz's phone mail. I leave a message asking about the letters. I follow up later with an e-mail letting him know that we have seen many of the letters sent to him and will be watching to see if they do indeed appear in the paper. I receive an e-mail note from Kurtz, who says the letters had been run that day and the day before.
When I check Kurtz's column, I see that there is no mention of the massive call for letters in his column heading. The letters – or should we say very short selective excerpts from the letters - are buried near the bottom of a "scroll" that goes on for dozens of inches. There is no comment by Kurtz on the response, even though the letters are running about 20 to one against the media, with most people blasting the pro-Bush bias. There is also NO resemblance between the tone of the impassioned letters I have reviewed and the tepid excerpts from these letters selected by Kurtz. People, this was a set up!
May 10-11: The letters continue to run, buried at the bottom of Kurtz's column, no accompanying headline, no comment by Kurtz. By the way, as a former newsroom copyeditor (copyeditors make up the headlines for articles), I know that in a regular column, you always pick the head based on the first few paragraphs, because that is usually where the main theme is. By burying the letters near the bottom, Kurtz insured they would not figure in the headlines and thus would remain a seemingly minor item.
Meanwhile, my letter to Harris, along with any other letters that may have been sent by others in response to his original editorial, does not appear in the main letters section. So, in effect, the "Post" has made Harris's accusation, that no one "shouts loud enough" appear quite true by simply failing to run any critical commentary on the media, or, in the case of Kurtz, by muffling the voices of dissenters at the bottom of a long column with absolutely no commentary.
MAY 13: Democrats.com posts this column on Sunday evening.
MAY 14: Suddenly, Howard Kurtz (who knew we might be up to something because of my note to him earlier in the week) runs a hastily written "commentary" on his letters. He even puts his brief "commentary" near the top of his column in an effort to make it look as if he isn't REALLY guilty of the above charges (running the material near the bottom of his column, etc.) As if we are all that dumb! However, in this commentary, he brushes aside the outrage of the letter writers as being due simply to the fact that they don't like the new president. Again, he doesn't think it has anything to do with the media. Sorry, Kurtz, your transparent ploy ain't gonna work. You're not only irresponsible - you're sneaky!
Well, here at Democrats.com, dissenters will always be guaranteed a voice! From this day forward, we will reserve a section in our Commentary department for letters from readers who have failed to be heard in the mainstream media! Please address your letters to email@example.com. Please try to keep comments to reasonable lengths so we can fit as many letters into each issue as possible – thanks.
The Cowardice of the Press, Not the Indifference of the Public, Underlies Media Bush Bias
by Cheryl Seal
Just read John F. Harris's editorial on why the press is so biased toward George W. Bush and found it amusing--in a tragic sort of way. Harris exemplifies the attitude of many reporters these days -- long on rationalizations and short on a grasp of what real reporting is all about. Rather than actually asking tough questions and following through with some old-fashioned info-digging, Harris merely whines that the Democrats aren't making enough of a fuss, that the Republicans are just too well organized, that the conservatives are more focused and "more skilled at using the media." The one excuse that he doesn't offer--the one that is in fact the real reason for the media's Bush bias--is that reporters such as himself are simply not doing their job. The job of an honest newsman is to get at the truth and to see that the truth reaches the public with all the force it deserves, regardless of how unpopular that truth may be. Unfortunately, truth is very unpopular with the media these days because it is so likely to offend someone higher up the media food chain. But no one seems willing to do any soul-searching on this score. Instead, everyone in the business has become more adept at passing the buck than at getting honest news out. Thus reporters blame their editors for the problem; this is not unfair-- editors are now in the habit of killing or slanting stories in deference to the conservatives who, let's face it, represent corporate interests. Editors, on the other hand, say their hands are tied and blame their publishers. Publishers, in turn, blame their stance on pressure from corporate advertisers, who in turn don't have to blame anyone because they hold the purse-strings. And these purse-strings have become the leash around the neck of the media.
But in the end, it is the cowardice of the press that is most to blame. There are writers out there still willing to write a true expose--Christopher Hitchens, Ted Rowse, Steve Wilson and Jane Akre (this couple has not worked for a mainstream news service since being fired in 1997 from a FOX affiliate in Florida for refusing to compromise the facts on an expose of bovine growth hormone in milk--however they won a $750,000 environmental award this year for their courage, proving that honesty in the end, can pay better than cowardice!), Bill Moyers, the crew at Salon and the Nation, and a very few others. But their most hard-hitting material is not published in mainstream newspapers, and will never be seen on the evening news. For example, how many reading this editorial have ever heard about the international call for Henry Kissinger to be held accountable for past war crimes? Hitchens broke the story in "Harpers"--not one newspaper picked it up. Ted Rowse wrote a book exposing the corporate underbelly of the media ("Drive-by Journalism: the Assault on Your Need To Know"), but had to place the book with a tiny publisher in Maine. Although well-reviewed by the American Journalism Review, not one mainstream paper has reviewed that I know of. Bill Moyers' expose of the chemical industry was not run by a commercial TV station--it was run on PBS, which was subjected to considerable pressure NOT to air the show. Granny D's book on her one-woman quest for election financing reform (she is the elderly black woman who conducted a walk-vigil outside Congress during the recent vote on election reform, after walking across country for the cause) was recently released--not one major newspaper has agreed to review it. Most compendiums of relentless criticisms of the Bush administration, such as Democrats.com or BushWatch.org are Internet sites that the mainstream media likes to dismiss as "fringe." And then of course, here I am--writing a strongly-felt response to news content--I am "shouting," as Harris recommends. But it is doubtful this letter will be printed. (if past experience by many others I know is any guide). Yet, Harris blames media bias on the public's indifference. If the public appears indifferent, Mr. Harris, it is because YOU have helped to take our voice away.
If a sufficient number of reporters took a stand and insisted that truth be the most important criteria for story publication, that all wrongs were vigorously questioned, and that their integrity meant more to them than their jobs, we might see a change in the current media scene. As it is, we have a press corps that is, first and foremost, colossally lazy. It is obvious, just by comparing the content of papers across the country, that most of their story ideas come from memos or press releases fed to them from special interests. I suspect Harris falls into this category. He complains that he can't present a balanced picture of Bush because the Democrats don't "shout loudly enough." What he no doubt really means is that they are not as efficient at feeding him easy stories requiring no leg work or digging as are the conservatives. That is because the conservatives, unchallenged by a complacent press hooked on sex scandals and bored by politics, have engineered the most efficient propaganda machine (with their "think tanks" and circulating memos, etc.) to be created since that of Goebels and Hitler. By the way: Hitler's administration was also efficient, focused, well-organized, adept as using the media and very noisy. I'm extremely grateful the Resistance writers of Germany and France were not of the same ilk as Harris.
LETTERS TO KURTZ AND WASHINGTON POST BY OUR READERS
I have been aghast for at least a year at the laziness of the press and the media when in the presence of the Bush machine's egregious distortions and dodging of facts about George W. Bush's promises and record.
I say "laziness" in a generous interpretation of the lack of coverage -- ignorance, or even complicity, could be more to the point. (The takeover of the media by large, reactionary corporations and the effect of that on the way information is screened and interpreted is a subject for a series of investigative reports far beyond the scope of this letter. Suffice to say that the "liberal" press is a thing of the past.)
Mr. Harris is correct in his observation of the media going soft on Mr. Bush. But he is incorrect in his analysis. His blaming Mr. Bush's opponents for "the absence of a liberal equivalent to the vast right-wing conspiracy" to bring the Bush machine's errors to the attention of the press sounds like an excuse to me.
An explanation of the change in political climate and the comity of the current "loyal opposition" is in order: By definition, "liberal" (1) means to be tolerant of diversity, progressive but cautious in approach, and mindful of the need for checks and balances in governing. (Almost Madisonian, wouldn't you agree? How radically left wing !) Of course persons of this mind could not equal the cacophonous barking of "a well-coordinated corps of aggrieved and methodical people who start each day looking for ways to expose and undermine a new president," as was the case with Bill Clinton in 1993. (2)
The more restrained climate should be a call to the media for greater attention to Bush regime chicanery, not an excuse. And the further perception that "the Bush team is mostly competent and well-focused, so it has given adversaries fewer handles to grab" could equally be perceived as "iron-fisted and controlling, thus preventing any real facts from getting in front of the message," which should also be another call to the media to dig a little bit more......This is your job, oh clueless ones, to question, investigate, analyze, and accurately report. The current torpor of the media is an abdication of the claims of the press for legitimacy as "The Fourth Estate."
The media should not be dependent on the accusations of the opposition (and should not accept such, prima facie, as they seem to have done for the past eight years), nor on the official statements of the administration, nor on the rumors that dominate the "conventional wisdom." What do they teach you-all in journalism school? To compete with the wildly successful tabloids, above all else? Even the New York Times, as well as yourselves, can no longer be relied upon to present well-researched journalism. (Witness the fact that you both carried forward the Miami Herald's inaccurate headline concerning the results of their Florida vote recount, a headline belied by the facts halfway through the article and corrected the very next day in a follow-on article in the Herald....Duh! Doesn't anyone in The Washington Post read the content of the articles in the wire service? Or are you that manipulative, knowing that many readers read only the headlines, or maybe just the first couple of paragraphs.)
If you cannot be more independent minded and willing to dig a little, to expose the Bush machine's dodges, ducks, and failures, then you should abandon any pompous thoughts of being a "Fourth Estate" and go for profits, with headlines about "UFOs Landing in Central Park" and the "Heartbreak of ____________ (fill in the Celebrity)." Me? I'll probably subscribe to the still largely uncorrupted Manchester Guardian.
Rosanne Boardman Santa Barbara, CA firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) In current Republican Newspeak, anyone to left of their right wing is "left wing." In fact, there are hardly any true leftists in the U.S. today -- perhaps some of the more extreme Greens and maybe a few pockets of doctrinaire socialists. By redefining the political spectrum and repeating their Newspeak in Orwellian slogans, the Republicans have radicalized politics much as totalitarian leftist regimes do. In fact, the similarities of the far right and the far left in terms of methodology and world view is notable, and another subject for a series of investigative reports far beyond the scope of this letter.
(2) (However, I, for one, would appreciate a lot more noise and organization from the current loyal opposition. Pleeease ! You have demonstrated that it is possible to be "too Madisonian." I sometimes feel that the current political climate echoes Yeats' phrase: "The best lack all convicition , while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.")
NOTE: I agree with Rosanne – the Dems are far too wimpy in general. It speaks volumes that we here at Dems.com who try to shout and raise hell everyday are still not "recognized" by the mainstream Democratic Party! C.S.
Since stealing the election, ex-Gov. Bush has had a virtual free ride from the media. If the shoe were on the other foot, be that foot a Gore or a Clinton foot, the media would have leapt like rabid raccoons on the alcohol-soaked romps of First Frat Slut Laura Bush, busted for possession and using the Secret Service to bail out her drunk buddies.
The media would have disemboweled the administration for its inept handling of the China situation.
The media would have wrung its communal hands in mock angst over the deaths of nine Japanese schoolchildren by hard-partying Texas big-spenders joy-riding in a US submarine.
The media would have cried to the rafters about the blunt force wielded by the administration in holding hostage rules protecting wilderness areas, ergonomic workplaces, arsenic in the water, and oil drilling.
The media would have painstakingly researched the nuances of the stealing of the election in Florida, detailed the life stories of each and every NON-felon denied the right to vote by a Texas company full of Bush buddies hired by the Bush campaign chair in Florida to cull as many Democratic votes as possible from the Florida voter roles.
The media would have dug deep into the not one, not two, but FIVE combined arrests between Bush and Cheney.
The media would have roasted John McCaslin for his diatribe in the Washington Times advocating the assassination of Chelsea Clinton.
The media would have exposed as the cheap and sleazy charades that they were the horrible rumors about the keyboards in the Vice President's office in the White House, and the furniture incorrectly appropriated by the outgoing President.
The media would have exposed as deeply unfair the harassment of a student journalist (as told in Mother Jones) who editorially asked God to "smite Bush" and was terrorized by the Secret Service for his trouble.
The media would have exposed the obvious truth, based on the record of the Reagan administration, that the cost of tax breaks for the rich and money dumps into defense contractor pockets for missile defense nightmares that never work anyway would really and TRULY burden the poor, children, and women who can least afford it, and end up corrupting government and defense officials anyway.
The media would have risen up in support of VNS in its unfair harassment by Congressional committees for reporting the truth in Florida - that more people went into the polls intending to vote for Al Gore.
The media would have decried plans to gut the COPS program as nullifying one of the primary reasons crime has dropped over the last eight years.
The media would have speculated endlessly about the effect that the highest job loss rate in ten years would have on consumer confidence and in citizen complacency and what role layoffs would have on increases on violent crime in the short and long term.
But, this is not the world we are living in right now, the media is controlled by rich folks who want their tax breaks and want to keep the population calm so they continue to patronize advertisers. The media has lost its way and lost its guts and lost its willingness to tell the truth about what really happened to us. The media doesn't want to risk it by exposing the CIA-esque railroading of our election. The media is afraid to tell the truth about rich people, unless they're rich people living in foreign countries who contribute to Democrats. The media is afraid to tell the truth about the ex-Governor of Texas, a playboy with no successful business experience, an admitted drunk until age 40 who got a big chunk of his cash insider trading in Texas and who married a woman who herself killed some poor high school student in a negligent car crash, who together have spawned hard-partying frat sluts just like dad, the whole clan of which is descended from apolitical amoral business pimps who finally had to have their Nazi money-laundering unholy business seized by the United States government under the Trading with the Enemy Act in World War II, and who subsequently went into collusion with some of those same disgraced former Nazis in setting up and running the CIA.
Instead, the spineless media seems to never get beyond Bill Clinton's penis.
Is ex-Governor Bush getting a free ride?
Do your job!
Dan Brown Saint Paul, Minnesota
Is "Resident" Dubya geting a free ride from the media? Dybya getting a free ride; isn't that a tad redundant? I wouldn't be surprised to see a White House reporter toting little Shrubbie around piggy-back one of these days!!
Mr. Harris nailed it when he succinctly noted that the media would have quickly (and I might add- cheerfully) eviscerated The Big Dog for any one of the multitude of heinous actions Bush has gotten away with! This moron has done more harm to this country in the last three months than all the manufactured Clinton "scandals" could ever do. (I won't even go into his managing to piss-off most of the known world!!)
It is high time those of you who work for the corporate media take back your profession and expose Shrubya and his evil cold-war reruns for what they are: right-wing fascists who conspired to steal the 2000 election, install their maleable MBA-IN-AN-EMPTY-SUIT, and establish the Corporate States of America!! It is the job of a free press to hold public officials accountable, to inform the citizenry, and to encourage public debate on important issues. When the press becomes the tool of government, then the press, and subsequently the people are no longer free.
When journalists and their respective media lords begin to apply the same relentless scrutiny to this fraudulent administration and its illegitimate chief executive as they did to the shameful pursuit of Bill Clinton, then I will begin tobelieve their reports. Until that unlikely day, I will glean my newsfrom independent sources, and watch for piggy-back rides at the White House...
Susan Martin San Jose, CA
Dear Mr. Kurtz:
The short answer to your query: Is Bush getting a free ride from the media? is YES! This is a man who campaigned as a moderate and who is governing as the hard-core right winger that many of us knew he was. He lost the popular vote. He only occupies the Presidency because he was appointed by five right-wing Supreme Justices, and the majority of his major public policy initiatives in his first three months in office have been made to re-pay the corporations that financed his candidacy through their soft money contributions. Finally he is advocating a tax cut that will essentially reward his hard money contributor base with refunds from the Federal Treasury.
The media response has been slobbering, to say the least. The idea that the media has a liberal bias, is perhaps the biggest and most successful lie the right-wing has foisted on the public. You guys don't have a liberal bias, you love winners, now matter how they win, you obey the dictates of your corporate masters and most of you are in a tax bracket that you will enjoy a very nice tax cut when Mr. Bush and his party get their legislation enacted. So you have every reason to do what you are doing.
Now if Bush were caught in some kind of sexual scandal, then you would turn on him like rabid dogs. Those kinds of scandals are fun to report on, Pulitzer prizes get handed out to reporters who dig up the dirt, and it sure beats doing complicated environmental/tax/defense reporting where you have to work hard, and dig through a lot of boring details, to put together a good story. It's a lot easier to report on who had oral sex with whom.
In short, the media in this country, with few exceptions, is as lazy, shallow and poorly informed as Mr. Bush.
A match made in heaven.
Glen Corso Lafayette, California
The press cerntainly has been easy on Bush! Where are the articles about:
1) The Election abuses by the Republicans in Florida (and several other states) that allowed Bush to steal the election?
2)The Supreme Court Bozos who stopped the counts?
3)The Recount Tallies (the real ones) showing the true results?
4)Bush's tax break to Texas that resulted in a $700 million shortfall in Texas?
5)Cheney's lie that he is a Wyoming native so that two Texans (Bush and Cheney) could claim the electoral votes of Texas?
6)Bush's self-serving decisions, making himself and his oily friends richer?
7)Bush's bakground - DUI convictions, arrests for cocaine possession?
8)Bush's drunken daughter?
9)The fact that Bush is greeted by 150-500 protesters everywhere he goes?
10)The fact that the Supreme Court 5 are greeted by protesters everywhere they go?
The fact that a selected president, who didn't even get the majority of the votes, is cramming an extreme right-wing agenda down our throats.
How would the press look if Gore was president and all this was true?
Can you argue that ANY of it isn't?
Chet Rideout, Berthoud, Colorado
Dear Mr. Kurtz,
I'm not a political junkie and am sure out of the beltway loop way down here in bayou country. But even I can see and hear the hollowness of reporting on the current white house resident. What causes this I don't know. Corporate owned news is at the level of a high school newspaper with a sound track. Investigative reporting means finding out what the republicans and their corporate managers have sent in on the daily fax. No one sticks their neck out anymore because it is easier to believe the lie than find the truth.
Many of you blame Bill Clinton for the lack of energy to find the news, while you sit in your new kitchens, cars, houses, boats and condos that the so called "Clinton scandals" bought for you. Bill just wore you out! And now a real scalawag and his cohorts are getting away with killing off the environment, ruining the economy, starting up the cold war, refusing the elderly drugs and services they need, refusing children the health and services they need, taking money from the misguided to pay their corporate masters. You name it, if it is dirty, mean, disgusting and rude the present resident thinks it is peachy keen!
You bet Dubya is getting a pass. I wouldn't call it a free ride. Nothing about this administration is free!
I've turned it all off, news, papers, magazines. Anything printed or televised in this country is no longer trusted to be accurate or even true.
I get The Times and the Guardian and get my news from the BBC. Our allies are apalled and amazed at what our media don't do to truely inform citizens of the growing horrors the last 100 days have delivered. My sorrowful response is they are too damn comfortable, too well paid and too damn lazy to care about anyone but themselves. The news today is not public but the private mouthpiece of the rich, the powerful, the "big time" folks who think they are better. Better than a hardworking little woman, driving a tiny car, looking for the cheapest gasoline, looking for the best health care she can afford, conserving energy costs at home, buying food from growers who care about the earth, everyday going to a job helping families with babies with disablities that may have its dollars cut to give more tax saving to the "big time" folks.
No one cares about the little woman, or millions of little women and men until it comes time to vote. Even then no one cares enough to make sure the votes are counted.
Do you care Howie?
Toni L. Leuer Covington, La.