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Getting A Grip

The Media and America in the 21st Century

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Dr. Michael I. Niman has a Ph.D. in American Studies (Intercultural Studies). He is an internationally published and syndicated freelance journalist and editorial columnist. He is an ethnographer and author of "People of the Rainbow: A Nomadic Utopia" (Univ. of Tennessee Press). Niman's research interests include the study of nonviolence and temporary autonomous zones, and the impact of electronic media and consumer culture in developing countries. He has conducted fieldwork in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, Cuba, Canada, England and across the United States. He is an Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies in the Communication Department at Buffalo State College where he teaches courses on Media and Society, Investigative Journalism, Feature Writing, Diversity in the Media, Visual Communication, and American Culture and Globalization.”

Click here to read Michael Niman's GETTING A GRIP columns for 2004

Click here to read Michael Niman's GETTING A GRIP columns for 2003

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30. December 18, 2005
An interesting, scary year

There’s an old proverb claimed by many of the world’s cultures which goes like this: “May you be cursed with an interesting life.” Well, we’ve certainly had an interesting and scary year. It all began, way back when, it seems like another life ago, George W. Bush was inaugurated yet again as U.S. president. Back then it appeared that, at least, he was actually elected this time around, relieving me from the grammatically awkward challenge of not using the word “president” to describe the occupant of the White House.

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29. December 18, 2005
Arnie and Tookie

Stanley Tookie Williams was the convicted murderer and founder of the notorious Crips street gang. During his 26 years in prison, he transformed himself into a five-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, a prolific author of children’s books, and an anti gang violence activist. The State of California executed him last week for a series of homicides he was convicted of committing in 1979. In signing off on the killing of Williams, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger violently silenced one of the world’s most outspoken supporters of non-violence – all in the name of combating violence.

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28. December 8, 2005
Yes, we murder journalists

Remember Fallujah? It’s the Buffalo-sized Iraqi city that we had to destroy in order to save back in April of 2004. Over 30 Americans died and over 400 American troops were wounded and airlifted away. And at least 1,200 Iraqis were killed. A Red Cross official reported that American forces used cluster bombs and chemical phosphorous weapons inside the city. The target of the U.S. assault, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, along with up to 80 percent of his fighters, managed to slip out of town, leaving the Fallujans to catch the brunt of the American attack. In the end, the city was leveled.

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27. December 1, 2005
A Republican Thanksgiving: We're the turkeys

There’s no limit to the amount of mischief wolves can get into when left alone in the henhouse. Wolves, you see, eat hens and chickens. They can’t help themselves. Likewise, we shouldn’t be surprised at the damage anti-government Republicans can cause when left in charge of all branches of government. They just can’t help themselves.

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26. November 10, 2005
Who killed Pat Tillman?

The American mass media are like tired old dogs, dutifully fetching official lies on command, dropping them like bones at the feet of an unsuspecting public. We in turn reward them by buying both the products and the myths that they sell to us. Eventually, however, the products fail and the myths unravel. When, despite the support of a compliant press, the government’s popularity wanes sufficiently, however, even old dogs can come up with new tricks, reviving the lost art of investigative reporting.Take the Pat Tillman case. Remember him?

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25. October 27, 2005
Avian fascism

If there’s any good to come out of the Gulf Coast tragedy, it’s that Katrina is a harbinger warning of what the Bush junta has in store for us should an avian flu pandemic hit America. Katrina, like the Tsunami that hit Asia nine months earlier, also demonstrates how greed, political priorities and development priorities com-pounded the killing power of otherwise natural disasters. In the case of the Avian flu, it’s Third World urban poverty combined with the corporate model for factory farming chickens that has created the perfect environment to incubate a superflu.

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24. October 20, 2005
The food co-op and the hate group

It certainly seems wholesome enough, looking at the shelves of fresh locally baked organic whole grain bread lined up at my local food co-op in Buffalo. Each neatly bagged loaf bears the homey label of the Common Ground Bakery, located a few miles away in Hamburg, New York. An actual visit to the Common Ground Bakery verifies this bucolic image. There you’ll find a small shop with smiling friendly bakers and the lofting aroma of fresh bread. What's not readily apparent is that shoppers on four continents are simultaneously walking into Common Ground Bakeries and experiencing the same illusion of a small independent community bake shop. In actuality, however, what they’re walking into is the local franchise of a growing multinational organization, The Twelve Tribes, which dedicated to spreading a reactionary racist, anti-Semitic, sexist homophobic ideology.

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23. September 28, 2005
Peace trumps war in Washington

The streets of Washington D.C. were alive with Democracy last weekend as hundreds of thousands of peace activists converged on the capitol to call for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq. The crowd’s diversity spoke even louder than its massive numbers, withveterans and active duty service personnel marching side-by-side with seasoned peace activists.

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22. September, 2005
Hurricane Katrina: Not a real disaster

Michael I. Niman's first three September essays - on the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans - have been collected in a 22-page pdf booklet at ColdType.net.

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21. August 25, 2005
Donald Rumsfeld's 9/11 folly

Earlier this month, when Internet news reports quoted Donald Rumsfeld announcing that the Defense Department would use public funds to organize a pro-war rally on the fourth anniversary of the September 11 th attacks, many people assumed this to be an urban myth. It couldn’t be true. Rumsfeld’s supposed quest to defile the memory of 9/11 victims by pimping their tragic deaths to support an unrelated war represents a new low – even for the unabashed arrogance of the Bush administration. “Bad taste” is an understatement. This is like bringing home a hooker on your wedding anniversary. But lo and behold, this story is for real.

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20. August 14, 2005
The Cindy Sheehan revolution

I recently returned from seven days of back country camping out of the media’s reach. It’s always a good exercise to clear out my head – to focus on the environment immediately around me and nothing else. But it’s also always a crap shoot as to what kind of world I return to. This time around, I returned to the world of Cindy Sheehan, the Gold Star mother of a slain American soldier who has quickly become a global media phenomenon, igniting an anti-war uprising in America’s heartland.

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19. July 28, 2005
Supreme horror: Judge Roberts

The majority (51%) of Americans, according to a CNN/USA Today Gallup poll, approve of George W. Bush’s nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. Only 34% disapprove. Over three quarters of respondents, however, admitted that they didn’t really know anything about Roberts’ views. Perhaps they liked his tie. This is the fundamental problem with American politics – ignorance. I’ve also been getting emails from friends who write that Roberts seems mainstream. But they also write that they don’t know anything about him. The mainstream media, Quisling as it’s been for the past five years, has nothing negative to say. So Roberts can’t be so bad. And we went to war because Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. In any event, a quick bio-sketch on Roberts seems in order.

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18. July 14, 2005
Beyond impeachment: Applying the War Crimes Act of 1996

Over the past few weeks, following the public release of the “Downing Street Memos,” there have been numerous calls from Democratic members of Congress and other opposition figures for the impeachment of George W. Bush. There are probably a hundred perfectly valid legal arguments for impeaching Bush – all rising to a level far more serious than the lying about a blow-job that led to impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton (though in actuality, there were far better reasons to impeach Clinton as well – I’ll get to that later).

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17. July 7, 2005
We kill journalists (Part 2)

Back in February (see Grip 2/3/05) I wrote a piece about what Newsweek calls “The Salvador Option,” referring to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s stated intent to train and employ Salvadoran style death squads to hunt down and kill or “disappear” suspected Iraqi resistance fighters and their alleged supporters. Such wholesale execution of political opponents resulted in approximately 70,000 deaths in El Salvador during Ronald Reagan’s reign in the White House.

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16. June 30, 2005
It's a grand old flag

Well, it’s official – the great minds in the Bush administration have solved our world’s biggest problems. Now, with war and injustice out of the way, with the energy crisis over, with nuclear proliferation ended, with deforestation licked, with homelessness and lack of access to medical care a thing of the past, we can finally get down to dealing with the problem of flag desecration. Hence, I have to give kudos to all the great thinkers, Democrat and Republican alike, who voted 286-130 to shred the Bill of Rights and support amending the constitution to outlaw “flag desecration,” whatever that means. The bill now goes to the Senate, and then it must be approved by two thirds of the state legislatures across the country, giving us a few years of mass media discussions about the splendid nature of our flag.

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15. June 23, 2005
While the giant is distracted

Baby Boomers grew up fearing dominoes just as the millennial generation frets about terrorists toting suitcase nukes. The cold war era “domino effect” theory had supposedly totalitarian “communist” regimes sweeping the world, one after another like a falling line of dominoes. Hence, the first domino must never fall. This was the rationale for war against Vietnam’s indigenous communist insurgency. Once we accepted the domino theory, it quickly became the official rationale for dozens of interventions, or “soft wars,” against democratic governments asserting self-determination in Latin America and the Caribbean – all of which were tarred as “communists”.

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14. June 2, 2005
Bush's scary new judiciary

Our corporate media phrase for the month is “Nuclear Option,” referring to the Senate battle over Democrats’ rights to block voting on judicial nominations by filibuster. But like most media buzz, the phrase is devoid of context. Yeah, we all got the play-by-play fight over the filibuster. But the whole story is being framed as a sort of Democrat vs. Republican volleyball game. Missing is any reason why the normally lickspittle crew of senate Democrats would suddenly come to life and want to block any of Bush’s judicial nominations.

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13. May 24, 2005
Extreme hypocrisy: The sex lives of Republicans

In early November of 2004 I wrote about George W. Bush’s first post-reelection appointment – his selection of anti-abortion activist Dr. W. David Hager to head the FDA’s Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee. This was the same Dr. Hager who wrote that women suffering from PMS need only to turn to the bible for help. In his private practice he refused to prescribe birth control medication to unmarried women. As a Republican political activist Hager opposed the sale of birth control drugs he identified as abortifacients. In essence, by putting an avowed opponent of reproductive health in charge of reproductive health drugs, Bush followed suit on his four-year track record of putting wolves in charge of hen houses.

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12. May 12, 2005
Welfare to Wal-Mart; Wal-Mart to China

Americans are junkies, addicted to consumerism. We’re addicted to things – and China is our main supplier. China is the man. In 2004, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, we imported a whopping $197 billion worth of goods from China, and exported $35 billion worth of goods to them, chalking up an I.O.U. for $161 billion in the process. China is the main supplier feeding our consumer habit, but Wal-Mart, according to the Congressional Committee on Education and the Workforce, is China’s biggest street pusher, responsible for slinging up to one eighth of the Chinese goods sold in the United States. If Wal-Mart were a country, it would be China’s seventh largest trade partner.

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11. April 25, 2005
Terrorists at the helm

Remember the last presidential election? Remember George W. Bush parading about with a newly released State Department “Patterns of Global Terrorism” report showing that global terrorism in 2003 was at its lowest point in 20 years? Ooops. After the election was over, the State Department revised its statistics. It turns out that the global incidence of terrorist attacks in 2003 was actually at its highest point in 20 years. Of course such an honest mistake is easy enough to understand. Highest. Lowest. They both end in “est.” You can see how they can easily be confused.

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10. April 11, 2005
Judges in the crosshairs

Anyone schooled in the United States knows our government has three branches: the Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial. All three are independent of each other. That independence is the basis of our nation’s separation of powers. It’s a system designed to perpetually keep itself in check – and provide some safeguard against corruption within one or two branches doing irreparable harm to the nation and the constitution. This basic lesson is the stuff of elementary school civics classes. Unfortunately, our current Republican House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay, must have been out of the classroom stealing crayons from the supply closet when that lesson was passed down.

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09. April 4, 2005
A culture of life

As governor of Texas in 1999, George W. Bush signed the Texas Futile Care Law. This bill allows the state to remove life support from patients like Terri Schiavo, despite their stated wishes or religious beliefs, or those of their families, as long as the state unilaterally determines such life support as “futile.”
More recently, Bush cut short his vacation to fly back to Washington to sign another bill concerning an end-of-life issue. This time he signed an unprecedented federal bill into law allowing federal courts to review the decision to stop forcefeeding Terri Schiavo. In signing the bill, he told the world, “It is always wise to err on the side of life.”

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08. March 24, 2005
Welcome to year three of a two-week war

TV news is getting cluttered with bizarre national stories. We all need to know that Michael Jackson showed up to court in his pajamas. Then there’s the obscene antics of a group of Republican lawmakers making national news by cryptically subpoenaing Terri Schiavo, a brain dead women who has been in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, to testify before congress. Most American newspapers are running front page stories about the Baseball steroid probes – without mentioning ex-slugger Jose Canseco’s allegations that the problem blossomed in the 1990s at George W. Bush’s Texas Rangers.

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07. February 22, 2005
Truth, death and journalism

“There is not one of you who dare to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the street looking for another job. . . The business of the journalist is to destroy the truth; to lie outright; to pervert; to vilify; to fawn at the feet of mammon.” – John Swinton (1880), Former New York Times Managing Editor

When John Swinton made the remark cited above, he was already retired from his positions at both the New York Times and the New York Sun.

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06. February 22, 2005
Collapse of a county

Wealthy Americans seem loath to pay taxes these days. Forget that old adage of a generation ago when John F. Kennedy beckoned Americans to ask not what their country can do for them, but what they can do for their country. Today’s wealthy Americans want to suck it all up – they want their riches protected by police, they want smooth roads under the wheels of their BMWs and, most of all, they want government handouts in the form of corporate welfare before ground is broken for any new project.

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05. February 10, 2005
The skinny on Social Security

The corporate media has been making a lot of noise lately about the so-called “Social Security crisis.” And those in the alternative media have been assuring us that there is no crisis, based on interviews conducted with a plethora of economists both in government and academia. In truth, however, there really is a grave crisis facing Social Security. But it’s not going “flat bust bankrupt” as President Bush warns, and as his policy wonks keep shrieking. The system is quite solvent. What Social Security is really facing is a full frontal assault by an ascending cadre of reactionary politicians who hope to scrap this nation’s social contract with its citizens, ultimately Guatamalafying the U.S. economy.

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04. February 3, 2005
The Salvador option

There seems to be no bottom to the moral pit of depravity to which the band of criminals in the White House is determined to take our nation. Whenever I think we’ve hit bottom – we can’t sink any deeper into the abyss – the White House diabolists prove me naïve. This week’s devilry arrives in the form of what Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, according to Newsweek, is calling “The Salvador Option.” The Salvador option refers to the U.S.-trained and armed para-military death squads that rendered the tiny Central American nation of El Salvador a virtual killing field in the 1980s.

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03. January 18, 2005
Media whores and propaganda

One of the basic rules of propaganda states the propagandist must maintain invisibility. Propaganda can appear as news, music, art, film, pageantry or even in the form of architecture – but it should never appear as propaganda. The reason is simple. If the true identity of the propagandist is exposed, the propaganda is less effective. Ideas crafted to resonate with the target audience, and presented by third party proxies such as journalists, are far more effective then partisan pronouncements.

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02. January 13, 2005
The political tsunami

Humanity deserves a solid pat on the back as the global humanitarian outpouring of support for tsunami victims has surpassed all previous relief efforts in history. The American government may have been stingy, but the people certainly haven’t, forking over checks to a host of relief agencies. We’ve also seen the tsunami bring out the worst in humanity – the bottom feeders who move in when their prey is injured or disabled. In this arena we’re seeing parasitic entrepreneurs bearing their fangs and engaging in the purchase and sale of tsunami orphans. And in the Aceh region, where about a third of the tsunami victims lived, we’re seeing the government of Indonesia attempting to finish off their brutal campaign against the Acehnese people and their movement for self-determination.

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01. January 4, 2005
Good news, bad news and more of the same

First the Good News – As actions go, the one I’m about to report is inspirational. It reminds us of the human potential for rational logical acts of kindness and love. Just before Christmas, when most of us were engaged in the supposedly patriotic venerable tradition of floating the American economy with a seasonal credit-card-fueled bout of hyper-consumption, one small group of Americans had another idea. You see, these folks had nothing to celebrate this year. They’re the families of Americans who died in the attack on Fallujah.

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