News Item Archive - 2003

California’s Populist Revival

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So, you’re mad as hell, and you’re not going to take it anymore. The powerful spirit of populism is now channeling through California’s body politic: “Throw the rascal out!” And Gray Davis is a fine specimen of rascality: an ice-veined governor who catered to big donors and simmered the books in Sacramento until they exploded with red ink.

But the winds of populist anger rarely reach gale force on their own. In politics, no one should expect a perfect storm to occur by accident. Much more than a pressure system is needed. Lots of money and access to media help. So do calculated ambiguities.

Just about every candidate tries to sound anti-elitist. In or out of office — from the left, right or center — politicians rail against “special interests” (either defined or kept vague). Campaigners insist they just want to help citizens reclaim their government. [Read more…]

9/11 Couldn’t Eclipse the Truth

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One of the great media cliches of the past two years is that Sept. 11 “changed everything.” The portentous idea soon became a truism for news outlets nationwide. At the end of 2001, the front page of The Chronicle asserted in large type: “Attack on the U.S. changed everyone and everything everywhere.”

But the shock of Sept. 11 could not endure. And the events of that horrific day — while abruptly tilting the political landscape and media discourse — did not transform the lives of most Americans. Despite all the genuine anguish and the overwhelming news coverage, daily life gradually went back to an approximation of normal.

Yes, some changes are obvious. Worries about terrorism have become routine. Out of necessity, stepped-up security measures are in effect at airports. Unnecessarily, and ominously, the USA Patriot Act is chipping away at civil liberties. Yet the basic concerns of Sept. 10, 2001, remain with us today. [Read more…]

Schwarzenegger Run May Trigger Tremors in GOP

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SAN FRANCISCO — A few days after Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his run for governor, Fox News pundit Brit Hume sounded hopeful.

“California is a special case,” he said, “a place where conservatives and Republicans have been doing nothing but suck canal water now for a decade or so. And their standards of how pure you have to be, I think, are going to be very forgiving in this race, which will help Schwarzenegger.”

Such predictions ignore a subterranean reality: Mr. Schwarzenegger’s candidacy threatens to expose a deep fault line below the surface of long-standing GOP ideology — the disconnect between championing “the free market” and extolling the centrality of “family values.” Nowhere is that fissure more extreme than in the realm of mass entertainment supplied by media conglomerates, and no political aspirant could better personify the contradiction than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Widely seen as part of modern-day Americana, the gratuitous violence and sexual imagery of trademark Schwarzenegger movies are anathema to many religious fundamentalists and social conservatives. Those films may be commercial hits — since the mid-1980s, a slew of them have grossed a total of well over $1 billion at the U.S. box office — but they are apt to be deeply troubling to an array of voters, including many who are crucial to the Republican base.

Candidate Schwarzenegger seems to be tone-deaf about such concerns.

“In everything I ever did, I showed great leadership,” he boasted to reporters after filing papers at the Los Angeles County registrar’s office. “There were times when people said it could never be done, that an Austrian farm boy can come over to America, and get in the movie business, and be successful. … And you know what happened? I became the highest-paid entertainer in the world.”

In the Republican lexicon, becoming the “highest-paid” anything is usually laudable. But, in this case, not necessarily.

Like the huge media firms cashing in on his boffo performances, Mr. Schwarzenegger has profited handsomely. But many self-described conservatives, while agreeing with his adulation of lower taxes and the power of the free market, surely dislike Mr. Schwarzenegger’s persona as an entertainer. They may find it impossible to separate that persona from his new on-screen work as a political candidate. The Schwarzenegger image, relentlessly marketed over the years, will make it extra difficult for the would-be governor to build bridges to conservatives who differ with him on abortion and gay rights.

For decades, the Republican Party has carefully threaded a pair of ideological needles — often denouncing the libertine media products of a “free market” that the party never tires of boosting. For the most part, GOP leaders have been able to finesse the dilemma by lavishing praise on the unfettered quest for profits while selectively condemning some of the results in mass entertainment — the kind of multiplex movie fare and prime-time TV programming that fill America’s screens with salacious content.

This summer’s battle on Capitol Hill over the latest Federal Communications Commission push to further deregulate the airwaves is an indication that time is running out for politicians to evade such contradictions. Spurred into action by the accelerating trend toward more centralized media ownership, a de facto coalition spanning left and right — including social and religious conservatives — bucked the White House with an overwhelming House vote to roll back some of the FCC’s latest moves to let enormous media firms consolidate even more power.

When Mr. Schwarzenegger talks about his love of “free markets,” none of the GOP faithful will mind. But when, in the political arena, he becomes a daily in-your-face reminder that media conglomerates have more power than ever to saturate TV sets, computer screens, video racks and theater chains with profit-driven entertainment that many parents and other Americans find deeply objectionable, the contradictions may seem too close to home and too glaring for comfort.

That’s a key reason why, for the Bush administration, Mr. Schwarzenegger could turn out to be a dangerous symbol of capitalist mega-media run amok — and a lightning rod that draws unwelcome heat to the simmering tensions between free-market rhetoric and more distasteful media realities.

The GOP pols backing Mr. Schwarzenegger may believe that California’s conservative voters are ready to “suck canal water” in order to get a Republican into the governor’s office. But the candidate may end up serving as an embodiment of media swill that seems too distasteful to swallow.

U.S. Media Are Too Soft on the White House

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This summer, many journalists seem to be in hot pursuit of the Bush administration. But they have an enormous amount of ground to cover. After routinely lagging behind and detouring around key information, major American news outlets are now playing catch-up.

The default position of U.S. media coverage gave the White House the benefit of doubts. In stark contrast, the British press has been far more vigorous in exposing deceptions about Iraq. Consider the work of two publicly subsidized broadcasters: The BBC News has broken very important stories to boost public knowledge of governmental duplicities; the same can hardly be said for NPR News in the United States.

One of the main problems with American reporting has been reflexive deference toward pivotal administration players like Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Chronic overreliance on official sources worsened for a long time after 9/11, with journalists failing to scrutinize contradictions, false statements and leaps of illogic.

Powell’s watershed speech to the United Nations Security Council in February was so effective at home because journalists swooned rather than drawing on basic debunking information that was readily available at the time. To a great extent, reporters on this side of the Atlantic provided stenography for top U.S. officials, while editorial writers and pundits lavished praise.

The most deferential coverage has been devoted to the president himself, with news outlets treating countless potential firestorms as minor sparks or one-day brush fires. Even now, George W. Bush is benefitting from presumptions of best intentions and essential honesty — a present-day “Teflonization” of the man in the Oval Office.

Midway through July – even while Time’s latest cover was asking “Untruth & Consequences: How Flawed Was the Case for Going to War Against Saddam?” — the president told reporters: “We gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power.” Bush’s assertion about Hussein and the inspectors — that he “wouldn’t let them in” — wasn’t true. Some gingerly noted that the statement was false. But the media response was mild. The president openly uttering significant falsehoods was no big deal.

Meanwhile, reporting on the deaths of U.S. troops in Iraq has been understated. Editor & Publisher online pointed out that while press accounts were saying 33 American soldiers had died between the start of May and July 17, “actually the numbers are much worse — and rarely reported by the media.” During that period, according to official military records, 85 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq. “This includes a staggering number of non-combat deaths … Nearly all of these people would still be alive if they were back in the States.”

In a follow-up, editor Greg Mitchell reported that his news analysis had caused “the heaviest e-mail response of any article from E&P in the nearly four years I have worked for the magazine.” He added, “These weren’t the usual media junkies or political activists, but an apparent cross-section of backgrounds and beliefs.” Some of the letters were from relatives and friends of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The strong reactions indicate that American deaths are apt to be politically explosive for the 2004 presidential campaign.

Contradictions have become more glaring at a time when the war’s rising death toll already includes thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of Americans. Many U.S. news organizations are beginning to piece together a grim picture of deceit in Washington and lethal consequences in Iraq. The combination foreshadows a difficult media gauntlet for Bush.

Another key political vulnerability that remains underreported is the economy. Its woes persist in the context of a huge gap between the wealthy and most other Americans — a gap that is set to widen still further due to the latest round of White House tax changes and spending priorities. Ironically, this summer’s resurgence of Iraq-related coverage could partly overshadow dire economic news in the coming months. It’s deja vu, with a big difference.

Last summer, the Bush team successfully moved the media focus from economic problems to an uproar about launching a war on Iraq. That was a politically advantageous shift that endured through Election Day. Now, with concerns about Iraq and the economy again dominating front pages, it remains to be seen whether news outlets will accelerate the search for truth or slam on the brakes.


Norman Solomon, co-author of Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You, is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Follow the Policy: Why So Long for Iraq to Comply?

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"It’s been 12 years. Why hasn’t Saddam Hussein complied?" So many ask.

"Follow the money" it’s been said is the way to get at the truth. It’s a good adage, but in this case: Follow the policy.

In his report Friday, UNMOVIC head Hans Blix claimed that "If Iraq had provided the necessary cooperation in 1991, the phase of disarmament — under resolution 687 — could have been short and a decade of sanctions could have been avoided."

Blix also indicated that Iraq only complies because of the threat of use of force. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw went to town with this particular notion to the applause of some in the Security Council chamber.

One problem with such thinking is that it violates the U.N. Charter, which prohibits "the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." www.un.org/aboutun/charter/chapter1.htm

Another problem is that it ignores U.S. policy over the last dozen years, which has discouraged compliance with the arms inspectors. Ignoring the realities of U.S. policy is something the head of UNMOVIC should not do. Consider:

The original post-Gulf War U.N. Security Council resolution 687, passed in April of 1991, made lots of demands on Iraq — but, as Blix indicated, specified that once Iraq complies with the weapons inspection regime, the economic sanctions "shall have no further force or effect." www.fas.org/news/un/iraq/sres/sres0687.htm

The problem, and it’s a big problem, is that this declaration was rendered ineffective. President George Bush in May of 1991 stated: "At this juncture, my view is we don’t want to lift these sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power." This was no slip of the tongue. The same day, then-Secretary of State James Baker sent the same message: "We are not interested in seeing a relaxation of sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power." So regardless of what Hussein did, comply or not, the sanctions would stay in place. He played games with the inspectors as it suited him. [See a timeline: www.accuracy.org/iraq]

And what would Clinton’s policy be? Just before getting into office, in an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, Clinton said: "I am a Baptist. I believe in death-bed conversions. If he [Hussein] wants a different relationship with the United States and the United Nations, all he has to do is change his behavior." The following day, faced with attacks for articulating such politically incorrect notions, Clinton backtracked: "There is no difference between my policy and the policy of the present administration." This meant that the crushing economic sanctions would stay in place on Iraq for eight more years, dooming hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people to premature deaths.

It’s notable that Friedman has falsified this subject, writing from Qatar in February of 2001: "Saddam totally outfoxed Washington in the propaganda war. All you hear and read in the media here is that the sanctions are starving the Iraqi people — which is true. But the U.S. counter-arguments that by complying with U.N. resolutions Saddam could get those sanctions lifted at any time are never heard. Preoccupied with the peace process, no senior U.S. officials have made their case in any sustained way here, and it shows." www.scn.org/ccpi/nytimes-op-ed.html

So Friedman, from his media perch, actually helped ensure that Clinton would continue the policy of keeping the sanctions in place no matter what Hussein did; resulting, by Friedman’s own admission, in "starving the Iraqi people." And then he pretends that the policy does not exist, mocking Arabs for believing such a thing.

Just to be clear about it, in March of 1997 Madeleine Albright, in her first major foreign policy address as Secretary of State, proclaimed: "We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted." I was there, at Georgetown University when she said that. This was on par with Albright’s infamous remark on CBS’s "60 Minutes" the previous year that the sanctions, after already killing half a million children, were "worth it."

Through out the late 1990s, there were a series of standoffs between the Iraqi and the U.S. governments around weapons inspectors. In December of 1998, UNSCOM head Richard Butler issued a report (which the Washington Post would later reveal was shaped by the U.S. government) claiming Iraq wasn’t cooperating with the inspectors and withdrew them just before the U.S. launched the Desert Fox bombing campaign. Some might remember this was on the eve of Clinton’s scheduled impeachment vote. www.fair.org/activism/post-expulsions.html

In January of 1999 — after UNSCOM was destroyed by its own hand — the U.S. media reported that, contrary to U.S. denials, UNSCOM was in fact used for espionage [www.accuracy.org/press_releases/PR111802.htm] as the Iraqis had been alleging, in part [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2161552.stm] to track Hussein. (We’d do well to keep this in mind as those U2 flights go over Iraq.)

So Iraq kept the weapons inspectors out for four years. Why did the U.S. use the inspectors as spies? Why did it say that the sanctions would stay put regardless of what Iraq did? These would hardly seem to be the policies anyone would adopt if they really wanted disarmament.

There are other recent examples of the U.S. government adopting policies that betray an actual desire for Iraqi non-compliance. On October 1, 2002, just as Iraq was deciding whether or not to let inspectors have total access to presidential palaces, Ari Fleischer talked of "the cost of one bullet" being less than the cost of invasion. Was that supposed to help convince Saddam to say yes to letting inspectors into his palaces?

And now, just as Iraq begun destroying Al-Samoud missiles, the U.S. government is escalating its bombing of the "no-fly" zones — an ongoing, increasing years-long attack without legal justification.

So the U.S. policy of maintaining the sanctions in place no matter what Hussein did gave him incentive for non-compliance with the inspectors. Now, the U.S. policy seems to be invasion no matter what Hussein does. It’s hard to believe that this will ensure anything other than more massive violence from many quarters.

Or we could choose a different path. If the Bush administration were to state that it would respect resolution 687 and ensure the lifting of the economic sanctions on Iraq when it is verifiably disarmed, then that ostensible goal could well be reached without invasion, killing and slaughter. But that would mean that the stated goals have some relation to actual goals. The way to cut through illusions and rhetoric is to follow the policy.


Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy (www.accuracy.org). He also recently launched the web page www.compassroses.com.