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March 05, 2006



this is an important distinction and you have argued it very persuasively.

i too felt a shadow of doubt when i read a post of greewald's raising this issue, but i did not have in mind such a thorough argument as this.

i will also say , with the expectation that glenn will read this post,

that some of his commentary is taking on a slightly frenetic quality.

i think this is in part a result of being very knowledgeable and very concerned about the FISA/first ammendment issue and in part a result of the deep frustration one citizen can feel when trying to remedy illegal or hurtful behavior on the part of the presidency.

this latter frustration is most certainly associated with "the flabbiness of our fourth estate".

The thing is, all of these foreign interests have access to big public relations firms. And the media in this country has become utterly dependent on and credulous of public relations efforts. Meanwhile, the citizens of the United States have little such access to the influence industry.

So the media reports as news what is really PR, and meanwhile does not do the real investigative work that it was suppose to do to keep an informed citizentry. Okay, let's have some creative fun. What would you (pleural you) recommend be done, probably through news laws in the future (It sure as heck isn't going to be prevented by this current bunch), to prevent this current nightmare, dangerous scenario from being able to happen again.

Just another day at the office, another brilliant, unbelieveably original analysis of facts, overflowing with insight, and deftly navigating very troubled and largely unchartered waters. Dwarfed by the larger issues you raise is imo your finely calibrated, very appropriate, and very necessary treatment of AIPAC.
If you have the time or the interest, I am interested in your thoughts on campaign finance reform. Domestic and Foreign "special interests" routinely have BILLIONS of dollars depending on the outcome of a single U.S. law or interpretation. This means there is massive pressure to influence our elections and the individual decisions of our elected officials. Your post reveals the "unintended consequences" of putting a "CAP" on some kinds of campaign donations and some kinds of campaign expenditures. However well intentioned, these laws drive this enormous domestic and foreign financial pressure into a rapidly growing, vertically integrated, U.S. public relations and lobbying industry. I have no solutions, but my opinion is that timely "traceability" is still, despite all the attention paid to it, a RELATIVELY underappreciated and seriously underfunded part of campaign finance reform.


As more states adopt public financing, I think it might become a viable option nationally. That would certainly take the special interests out of the process.


I'd return to the fairness doctrine, for one. I'd name some real small-is-beautiful folks at the FCC (it is surprising how close some on the left and right are on a number of media issues). I'd make (and enforce) media ownership rules that limit the number of outlets you can open in one city or across the country. Those are some first ideas, anyway.

Completely agree with the spy operation speculation, ew, even though, as is so often the case, I hadn't thought of it this way until you presented it.

And I completely agree with your suggestions for "new" media laws. Isn't it interesting how these suggestions merely represent a return to the status quo ante, to a time when the media were far from perfect, far from as independent or tough as they ought to have been, but so much better than today?

ew, imo all "public financing" does is drive the problem upstream to the party level. Foreign and domestic "special interest" money will then try to "influence" the "party" leaders who select the candidates who use the public financing.
Completely agree with your call for more competition in the media.

kinda on-topic (but i was going to post anyway!) - i'm going to interview larisa in the coming week - mostly about her recent series covering everything from ledeen to plame to iran to niger to phase II to porter goss - what questions should i ask? please put them in the comments in this post over at my place (or leave them here if EW doesn't mind)

John Casper - "timely traceability" is indeed important. In the Vanity Fair article about Sibel, David Rose outlines one mechanism that was used by certain criminals - shovelling money at Hastert in small donations (under $200) so that they didn't have to be reported. We are currently trying to force him to disclose his contribution list to prove/disprove this claim - there should be a small release of info by FEC this week - altho we aren't expecting to find much in there.

While I agree it would be great to make some changes in the traditional media, I think it's even more important to protect how the internet operates. I don't take for granted that we'll always be able to do what we're doing here right now.

Good post. Good comparison. Chalabi should be a lesson to everyone, but of course he won't be.

Don't know how much can be done with laws. Media companies have to be willing to support investigative reporting and reparters who report rather than relate what they are told. I'm all for a revival of the fairness doctrine. Maybe also the old requirement for public affairs programming, and free airtime at least in statewide campaigns. And enforcement. Of course, money corrupts there as well.

Is it reasonable to ask that a media company not be owned by a company from any other sector -- i.e., GE-NBC, and Disney-ABC, and Viacom-CBS? So not only limit the size of media companies -- the number of markets they reach and their saturation in those markets -- but also make sure media companies are only media companies, with no conflicts of interest between their news desk and their corporate HQ.

Those different rules for media/news businesses would have to be justified in the terms ew just mentioned: news is a public good as well as a business product, so businessmen who choose to operate in that industry have to accept certain limitations that protect the public-good aspects of the news.

That would still not touch another inappropriate influence on news desks: the need to maintain good relations with large, generally corporate advertisers. But at least the direct channel from Jack Welch to Tim Russert would be broken.

Is it reasonable to ask that a media company not be owned by a company from any other sector -- i.e., GE-NBC, and Disney-ABC, and Viacom-CBS? So not only limit the size of media companies -- the number of markets they reach and their saturation in those markets -- but also make sure media companies are only media companies, with no conflicts of interest between their news desk and their corporate HQ.

Yup! I have thought quite a bit along these lines, and I agree. Business profit conflict of interests are dangerous to objective media reporting, and we all know you really cannot go against the Boss. Just not reality, so keep media ownership out of other corporate controlled business lines and let media only compete with itself!

A fun (well maybe) game I play in my mind is to look at who owns large TV stations and compare which ones I can stomach to watch with ones that I think are too propaganda oriented in favor of this administration. Personally, I think CBS (owned by Viacom?) is the most objective, investigative, and willing to confront power, at least they were before Dan rather got himself caught in the Bush-silencer machine. CNN is not too bad (owned by Time-Warner), but all the rest are administation-corporate stooges, again IMO. I am especially sad about the demise of NBC (Owned by GE) from the Huntley-Brinkley days of my youth. I mean how far can you be corrupted?

I wonder how others feel, and if my feelings are correct or on target, why do these corporations (Viacom and TimeWarner) allow relatively (not perfect) better objective reporting than say Fox or GE?

"US has to confront Iran"
ew, John Bolton wanted to punctuate your post today with his speech at AIPAC.


yeah, I agree those suggestions are just status quo. I'm trying to think of a way to reconceive of media as a public good, operated like a utility (which therefore doesn't have to make a huge profit) but that still remains open to everyone. NPR is obviously just as ripe for politicization as privately owned media (and my local NPR station, one of the biggest in the country is being investigated for some kind of finance crime). But the media as public good needs to have MORE competition, not less. If these media outlets really cared to compete, we might get better quality out of them.

On secrecy, the law should be changed so that no crime can be classified. Exposure of a crime would be a defense from prosecution for leaking classified info. Also, low level classified info should be sunset at 12 months. There is ungodly amounts of not-secret stuff classified on a routine basis. That stuff should be quickly available to the public.

On Fairness Doctrine, I am sympathetic to the goals, but it never worked very well, and economic changes would make it work less well today. Concentration of ownership rules are a good idea, but will have limited effect.

The media is not the answer. We have to build other institutions.

I have blathered on here and elsewhere about the need for professional political parties, and open dialogue between the parties and the public, etc. Also, we need to reform the procedures of Congress. Hard to imagine a more disfunctional, less democratic place. No bill should be voted on unless it is posted on the internet at least two weeks earlier. What is the excuse for the legislation by ambush approach so rampant now?

Universities should pool resources, set up semester in DC programs for students, and cover Congress in an organized way. If the info is readily available, the media might be shamed into reporting some of it. Others will look in at the student stuff on the web. This would work best on the budget -- a highly repetitive process that could be routinely covered in depth. But other issues as well.

In the meantime, good efforts above by all at keeping thinking dissent a part (albeit small part) of the public discussion.


Can you elaborate on what you mean by "the media is not the answer"? No one has ever conceived of democracy that didn't have working media (well, not since Athens). So I'm having a tough time figuring out how to put it aside.

The media is not the answer. We have to build other institutions.

Ultimately, accountability to the truth must be enforced. How to do that long term is the question in my mind!

How many are familiar with the optional Journalism Code of Ethics? Too bad its optional, but if it was not, how would one enforce such things?


Markets tend to segment. Henry Ford built one model, the "T" Ford. The automobile "market" segmented into thousands of different models. Microsoft built (stole from Xerox) one operating system, Windows, which went into all personal computers. Although Microsoft is still dominant, now there are lots of different operating systems, inside and outside of the pc market. Because of the strength of their "brand," the New York Times and the Washington Post imo will survive for at least the next generation. The blogs, however, appear to be an increasingly important player in insuring/hounding the corporate media into some level of accuracy.

The President named the author of the GA voter ID law to the FEC as a recess appointment, thereby earning the ire of one fairly liberal US Senator. The Presdient made two other recess apointments to FEC at the same time, his preferred m.o. rather than vetting nominations in Congressional committee; one more increment of unitary executive Bush-2 style. The article appeared early in January 2006.
I take a somewhat originalist view of campaign finance. Unfortunately, the best analysis and investigative journalim is expensive and time consuming to find. EW provides some of the best, and other principals at this site, and some similar, mostly academic, sites which I have found provide the best perspective, depth, and timeliness.
I find Greenwald's work salutary for the public commons, and I appreciate his avid participation and dedication, but tend to agree with cooler minds rather than jumping into the fray uncharted territory style; so, here, agree more with EW on the spy business. Experts in those matters control its bounds; it is a given in our times that even our allies are 'spying' among ourselves, though we usually ascribe more friendly motives to its intent.
PACs notoriously are innovative designers of coordinated giving campaigns; inadvertently, I worked for the treasurer of one such entity for many years, though when I resigned it was purposeful. Politics tends to be, to use one overzealous former presidential candidate's colorful adjective, 'sleazy'. It is the nature of the beast, at least in my view, unless the candidates are driven by great principle, and can speak the common vocabulary. I favor lots of money in politics, but the tricky politicians always figure out a way to camoflage donors; and donors similarly obfuscate.
To me, we are the media; there are infotainment network dinosaurs but media is elsewhere, as well; and ours here much more vibrant and burgeoning; though it is difficult to frame this in terms of the basement football television. Perhaps it is a stage-of-life matter; those people past their twenties can watch sports and pine for the perfect form. There are other things to do with time, though.
I am waiting for politicians to realize how much more effective their own websites might be, rather than relying on the network television and expending so large a proportion of communications budgets there. One of the most difficult lessons for some websites is generating timely content and ascribing a date to it in an easy to identify location. I like visiting eriposte and truthout but a lot of visitor time is wasted trying to locate when items were posted.
On the Bolton comment, I was pondering what the President's plan might be for spring 2007 when Bolton's recess appointment terminates.
On Greenwald's concern for journalists' privacy safeguards, I support the enunciated congressional intent to write a federal shield law, but remain doubtful the name of such a law will describe its contents; rather, anticipate the actual law would increase the current trend to pressure journalists on privacy of sources. Right after Judy got out of the pokey she testified in congress about her experience and the dog-pony first amendment shield she would like; one supposes liberals listening to her vaunted rhetoric were discomforted, given the kind of reporting she does; but, doubtless her plight illustrated some very conservative senators' interest in providing more protections for such as she. The crocodile may shed a tear, now. Though we may yet find out her instrumentality in the Libby mess is more important than it has seemed, I, for one, was glad to see her out of jail. No place for a reporter. I know some had more descriptive nouns to identify the quality of her work and the orientation of her politics.
Besides the matter of who is protected, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has a little article posted about hidden trials which are nondocketed newly posted to their site.
I think first amendment protections for reporters, and limits on political campaign spending are examples of two areas in which regulation helps; there is a known slippage factor by which unpredicted maneuvers will circumvent the regs; and there is a re-visit to the legislative process; kind of an organic relation between the regulated and the regulator. And the process needs to be viewed in its entirety as one of substantial net worth as long as the rules continue to protect and oversee. Where they miss, we fill the gap here.

When the press is intimidated enough they freeze up and then the underground press kicks in. It was that way with the opening of the civil rights movement. It took 15 years for the press to finally start covering it. Of course, when they did things started happening.

We have a similar situation. The press is terrified to cover this story. The Bible is a proved hoax. A researcher has unraveled the origin of the written historical record used to construct it which is the accepted method for proving literary hoaxes. At this time only an underground, word of mouth - blog is reporting the story which is on the net at http://www.hoax-buster.org.

Something over 42 million Americans and more world wide know the truth about the sacred scriptures, that they are as phony as those who preach from them.


In general, I mean that traditional journalism (particularly tv journalism) is the bright object that catches our attention, but it is not where we have the most opportunity to improve public debate. Economics and cultural traditions of journalism dictate the daily routines, and neither is likely to change fundamentally anytime soon.

There are other spots where we can better focus our energy.

I have been griping/obsessing about the media for 35 years, and that is too much madness to inflict upon anyone – especially after midnight on a school night. But I’ll try to quickly outline my thoughts.

Two key assumptions.

First, I believe that the key task of democratic leadership is to show people their options for daily living in specific, mundane terms. (Daunting in a complex world where confused, fearful people often retreat to fantasies of glory detached from mundane factors.)

Second, I believe that the key to understanding/changing any culture is to analyze the daily routines. We do not invent ourselves anew every morning. In general, we get up and do our job. We also tend to tell ourselves that doing our job is what we should be doing.

Anyway, our infuriating press makes “sense” if you think about what it does on a daily basis. But our press is totally inadequate (insane) from the perspective of whether it accomplishes minimum requirements of an effective democratic public debate. In other words, it totally fails to help people to understand their options in specific, mundane terms.

Our system of public debate desperately needs improving. The media is aggravating. But it does not necessarily follow that our best opportunities for changing the daily routines of public debate involve directly changing the media.

In general, tv news is entertainment. It is cheap to produce, and it brings in ad revenue. That will remain the focus of tv news (bringing in ad revenue).

The daily routines of tv news are appalling. First, the people selected are not terribly competent. Journalism is an unattractive profession. Too much moving around and the entry pay is bad. Also, much of the activity of journalists is not intellectually stimulating (e.g., camping out in the driveway of a celebrity who did something bad). Second, the activities are organized to chase “daily news” – not a coherent intellectual treatment of the world around us. Almost no research is part of the mix, and the need for a “news hook” means that subjects will be approached from odd angles and will be abandoned as soon as a better news hook comes along. Third, journalists bask in the delusion that their “craft” is a noble undertaking. Makes journalists even more resistant to common sense.


The process of public debate is broader than journalism. We should be creative wherever we can make improvements.

We cannot change the main focus of tv journalism. People enjoy the entertainment aspects, and it makes money. But we can and should try to supplement the “sky view of OJ riding in his Bronco” staple fare.

Supplementing journalism with better info serves a few purposes. First, it informs a few people – maybe those who are opinion leaders. Second, by demonstrating a more rigorous approach to information, it punctures the authority of the usual tripe. People will enjoy the tripe, but put less faith in it, and start to look elsewhere when it seems important to get good info.

I think that public interest web sites organized and produced by a steady stream of college kids would be a nice institution to build (as mentioned in earlier post).

Also, organizing our political parties would serve many purposes. First, it would impose a discipline on the politicians by forcing them to think ahead and to think in an organized way. Second, it would result in another information stream for people with the gumption to find out information. Third, it would create a record that opposing party would shine a light on at election time. Fourth, it would create some ORGANIZED NEWS HOOKS apart from the latest storm or missing white woman.

Much more to talk about, but this is probably more than you care to read already.


Oh, now I see what you're saying.

I guess I don't see how you can separate "media" from public discourse. If we're going to have a conversation in this great big country of ours, we're going to depend at least partially on telecommunications (media) technology. Between cable and phone lines, our conversation is being carried over the same technology as the TV news you complain about. And the latter, at least, is still regulated by the FCC (the former probably ought to be, which would have a salutory effect on how we could influence cable). Add to the attempts to move away from content neutral programming, and we're at a very similar moment to the first regulation on broadcasting, where a bunch of horizontal conversations (amateur radio operators, who often were more skilled than the "professionals" working for the navy) were replaced by vertical ones (eventually, the shitty TV news).

So one of the solutions needs to be not only fighting changes to content neutral Internet. But also to increase the support for the Internet so that Joe Sixpack will support the cause of content neutral Internet.

If you say we get what we deserve as a nation to what I am saying now, I have no answer for that!

1. Adults in America all have the same vote power. Most adults are working so much (by someone's design probably but that is another story) that they just do not have the time and energy to pursue difficult news avenues.

2. Our national voting structure is set up to reward great power to small groups which allows these small groups to screw the majority. Two examples. 35 million people in Ca and 19.5 million people in NY are represented by the same 2 senators in each state as Wyoming's 500,000 people. Who thought this crap up??? Second, the senority system in Congress and the unlimited terms they can serve, rewards many small cliches that can keep the same Senator or Rep in power so that some district of a few thousand religious fanatics in Utah can control the lives of hundreds of millions elsewhere. Again, who thought up this crap?

Anyway, it is unlikely we can change the structure of the federal govt soon, although an actual popular vote for president would be a god first step, but the brainwashing that is likely taking placed through an organized effort of corporate and political America through the TV news media is a true detriment to workable secular democracy. I do think it is structurally imperative to stop such brainwashing where it can be shown to be taking place or at least set journalistic standards for TV news and enforce them. Easier said than done!

What I’d like to know is why the traditional press isn’t drawing a sharper distinction between whistle blowing and leaking. It seems to me that motive pretty neatly separates those who are exposing government secrets to undermine possible corrupt practices by government officials and doing so for political payback (the Plame affair perfectly illustrates that difference), to unduly influence public policy or to help a foreign government (Rosen).

If the WaPo and the Times aren’t drawing that line just because they like being on the receiving end of the political stuff, then they deserve, at least, to be tarred by the resulting ambiguity.


Of course, trying to keep the media honest (as you, Atrios, Digby, and many others do) is a worthwhile endeavor. But I do not see it tipping the balance of daily routines.

Other things might. We need to organize information. Universities could do much more, especially if they pooled resources. Actually, it would not be that hard to make a big impact. It is frustrating to see such a lack of imagination and initiative.

I think your faith in regulation of media companies is misplaced. Regs prevented Fox News type phenomena, but produced little positive. And after all, squelching speech is not supposed to be the American model. About the only positive achieved by Fairness Doctrine was to open up coverage of civil rights movement in the South in late sixties. An important, but isolated achievement.

We need to create institutions that gather, organize and present info in a meaningful and interesting way. That is the way forward, in my view.

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