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Weekly Look at the US Media
ABOUT THE AUTHOR The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media, the latest collection of his Media Beat columns won Norman Solomon the George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language. The award, presented by the USAs National Council of Teachers of English, went to Solomons ninth book. In the introduction to that book, Jonathan Kozol wrote: The tradition of Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, and I.F. Stone does not get much attention these days in the mainstream press . . . but that tradition is alive and well in this collection of courageously irreverent columns on the media by Norman Solomon . . . He fights the good fight without fear of consequence. He courts no favors. He writes responsibly and is meticulous on details, but he does not choke on false civility.
DOWNLOAD THE 2005 COLUMNS HERE:
78. December 29, 2005
Journalists should be in the business of providing timely information to the public. But some – notably at the top rungs of the profession – have become players in the power games of the nation’s capital. And more than a few seem glad to imitate the officeholders who want to decide what the public shouldn’t know.
77. December 27, 2005
Despite all the news accounts and punditry since the New York Times published its Dec. 16 bombshell about the National Security Agency’s domestic spying, the media coverage has made virtually no mention of the fact that the Bush administration
76. December 22, 2005
Three days before Christmas, the Bush administration launched a new salvo of bright spinning lies about the Iraq war. “In an interview with reporters traveling with him on an Air Force cargo plane to Baghdad,” the Associated Press reported Thursday morning, Donald Rumsfeld “hinted that a preliminary decision had been made to go below the 138,000 baseline” of U.S. troops in Iraq.”
75. December 20, 2005
More than a dozen years ago, I joined with Jeff Cohen (founder of the media watch group FAIR) to establish the P.U.-litzer Prizes. Ever since then, the annual awards have given recognition to the stinkiest media performances of the year. It is regrettable that only a few journalists can win a P.U.-litzer. In 2005, a large volume of strong competitors made the selection process very difficult. And now, the fourteenth annual P.U.-litzer Prizes, for the foulest media performances of 2005.
74. December 13, 2005
No buzzards were gliding overhead, but several helicopters circled, under black sky tinged blue. On the shore of a stunning bay at a placid moment, the state prepared to kill. Outside the gates of San Quentin, people gathered to protest the impending execution of Stanley Tookie Williams. Hundreds became thousands as the midnight hour approached. Rage and calming prayers were in the air.
73. December 11, 2005
With public support for the Iraq war at low ebb, the White House is more eager than ever to conflate Iraq’s insurgency with terrorism. But last week, just after President Bush gave yet another speech repeatedly depicting the U.S. war effort in Iraq as a battle against terrorists, Rep. John Murtha debunked the claim. His refutation deserved much more news coverage than it got.
72. December 8, 2005
Christmas came 11 days early for Donald Rumsfeld two years ago when the news broke that American forces had pulled Saddam Hussein from a spidery hole. During interviews about the capture, on CBS and ABC, the Pentagon’s top man was upbeat. And he didn’t have to deal with a question that Lesley Stahl or Peter Jennings could have logically chosen to ask: “Secretary Rumsfeld, you met with Saddam almost exactly 20 years ago and shook his hand. What kind of guy was he?”
71. December 6, 2005
The U.S. government is waging an air war in Iraq. “In recent months, the tempo of American bombing seems to have increased,” Seymour Hersh reported in the Dec. 5 edition of The New Yorker. “Most of the targets appear to be in the hostile, predominantly Sunni provinces that surround Baghdad and along the Syrian border.” Hersh added: “As yet, neither Congress nor the public has engaged in a significant discussion or debate about the air war.”
70. November 30, 2005
Newspapers across the United States and beyond told readers Wednesday about sensational new statements by a former top assistant to Colin Powell when he was secretary of state. After interviewing Lawrence Wilkerson, the Associated Press reported he “said that wrongheaded ideas for the handling of foreign detainees after Sept. 11 arose from a coterie of White House and Pentagon aides who argued that ‘the president of the United States is all-powerful,’ and that the Geneva Conventions were irrelevant.”
69. November 28, 2005
Bob Woodward probably hoped that the long holiday weekend would break the momentum of an uproar that suddenly confronted him midway through November. But three days after Thanksgiving, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” a question about the famed Washington Post reporter provoked anything but the customary adulation.
68. November 24, 2005
When Thanksgiving arrives, the media coverage is mostly predictable. Feature stories tell of turkeys and food drives for the needy. We hear about why some people, famous and unknown, say they feel thankful. And, of course, holiday advertising campaigns launch via TV, radio and print outlets.
67. November 22, 2005
Thanksgiving week began with the New York Times noting that “all of Washington is consumed with debate over the direction of the war in Iraq.” The debate – long overdue – is a serious blow to the war makers in Washington, but the U.S. war effort will go on for years more unless the antiwar movement gains sufficient momentum to stop it.
66. November 4, 2005
The huge gap between Tehran and Washington has widened in recent months. Top officials of Iran and the United States are not even within shouting distance. The styles of rhetoric differ, but the messages in both directions are filled with hostility. While visiting Iran’s capital in early summer, during the home stretch of the presidential campaign, I was struck by paradoxes. From all appearances, most Iranians despise the U.S. government but love Americans. Repression, imposed from above, coexists with freedom taken from below. The press is largely dogmatic, but some media outlets show appreciable independence.
65. October 31, 2005
A lot of media outlets are now scrutinizing some of the lies told by the Bush administration before the invasion of Iraq. Yet the same news organizations are bypassing their own key roles in the marketing of those lies. A case in point is the New York Times. On Oct. 29, hours after the indictment of Lewis Libby, the lead editorial of the Times ended by declaring that “the big point Americans need to keep in mind is this: There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” On Oct. 30, the Times columnist Frank Rich referred to “Colin Powell’s notorious presentation of WMD ‘evidence’ to the UN on the eve of war.”
64. October 28, 2005
While indictment fever gripped the Washington press corps, the president’s spin doctor was incapacitated. An ailing Karl Rove could not help the Republican search for a media cure. With temperature rising, the political physician was in no position to cure himself or anyone else. Now, a media siege is underway at the White House. A dramatic convergence of legal proceedings and presidential politics has forced the Bush administration into a fundamentally defensive crouch.
63. October 27, 2005
Many politicians and pundits have told us that “Iraq is not Vietnam.” Certainly, any competent geographer would agree. Substantively, the histories of Iraq and Vietnam are very different. And the dynamics of U.S. military intervention in the two countries — while more similar than the American news media generally acknowledge — are far from identical. Iraq is not Vietnam. But the United States is the United States.
62. October 20, 2005
By a twist of political fate, the Oct. 28 deadline for special counsel Patric Fitzgerald to take action on the Plamegate matter is exactly 25 years after the only debate of the presidential race between Ronald Reagan and incumbent Jimmy Carter. How the major media outlets choose to handle the current explosive scandal in the months ahead will have enormous impacts on the trajectory of American politics.
61. October 17, 2005
More than any other New York Times reporter, Judith Miller took the lead with stories claiming that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Now, a few years later, she’s facing heightened scrutiny in the aftermath of a pair of articles that appeared in the Times on Sunday – a lengthy investigative piece about Miller plus her own first-person account of how she got entangled in the case of the Bush
60. October 14, 2005
By now, millions of TV viewers have seen the video numerous times on television: Two police officers are beating a man on the pavement. It’s big news -- because a camera was there. Robert Davis, a 64-year-old retired teacher, suffered injuries during the incident on the night of Oct. 8 in New Orleans. He’s scheduled to go on trial with charges that include resisting arrest and battery on one of the police officers who beat him.
59. October 10, 2005
When the Bush administration fires off a new round of speechifying about “the war on terror,” the U.S. press rarely goes beyond the surface meanings of rhetoric provided by White House scriptwriters. But the president’s big speech at the National Endowment for Democracy on Oct. 6 could have been annotated along these lines:
58. September 29, 2005
Several decades ago, “controversial” subjects in news media included many issues that are now well beyond controversy. During the first half of the 1960s, fierce arguments raged in print and on the airwaves about questions like: Does a black person (a “Negro,” in the language of the day) have the right to sit at a lunchcounter, or stay at a hotel, the same way that a white person does? Should the federal government insist on upholding such rights all over the country?
57. September 26, 2005
It's reasonable to estimate that more than a quarter of a million people demonstrated against the Iraq war on Saturday in Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other U.S. cities. The next day, the Washington Post front-paged a decent story that described “the largest show of antiwar sentiment in the nation’s capital since the conflict in Iraq began.” But more perfunctory back-page articles were typical in daily papers across the country. And over the weekend, many TV news watchers saw little or nothing about the protests.
56. September 22, 2005
Dan Rather caused some ripples when he spoke at a law school in New York on Sept. 19 and warned that politicians have been putting effective pressure on the corporate owners of major broadcast outlets. Summarizing his remarks, the Hollywood Reporter said that the former CBS anchor contended “there is a climate of fear running through newsrooms stronger than he has ever seen in his more than four-decade career.”
55. September 20, 2005
The New York Times began a new week with an editorial that typifies the media mind-set of the warfare state. The Sept. 19 editorial warns of dire consequences from a growing deficit that has been boosted by tax cuts – in combination with “the pre-Katrina priorities laid down by Mr. Bush.” Those priorities include a U.S. military budget that has reached half a trillion dollars per year. But the Times editorial does not devote a single word to military spending or the Iraq war.
54. September 20, 2005
This month we’ve heard a lot of talk about journalists who got tough with President Bush. And it’s true that he has been on the receiving end of some fiercely negative media coverage in the wake of the hurricane. But the mainstream U.S. press is ill-suited to challenging the legitimacy of the Bush administration”
53. September 19, 2005
The specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian peninsula,” President George H. W. Bush said of the Gulf War victory in early 1991. He told a gathering of state legislators, “It's a proud day for America – and, by God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.” Often discussed by news media, the “Vietnam syndrome” usually has a negative connotation, implying knee-jerk opposition to military involvement. Yet public backing for a war has much to do with duration and justification. ”
52. September 10, 2005
Traveling from New York City in late September 2001, on a pre-scheduled book tour, author Joan Didion spoke with audiences in several cities on the West Coast. In the wake of 9/11, she later wrote, “these people to whom I was listening – in San Francisco and Los Angeles and Portland and Seattle – were making connections I had not yet in my numbed condition thought to make: connections between [the American] political process and what had happened on September 11, connections between our political life and the shape our reaction would take and was in fact already taking. These people recognized that even then, within days after the planes hit, there was a good deal of opportunistic ground being seized under cover of the clearly urgent need for increased security. These people recognized even then, with flames still visible in lower Manhattan, that the words ‘bipartisanship’ and ‘national unity’ had come to mean acquiescence to the administration’s preexisting agenda...”
51. September 6, 2005
Calls for firing Michael Brown are understandable. Aptly described as “the blithering idiot in charge of FEMA” by columnist Maureen Dowd a few days ago, he’s an easy and appropriate target. President Bush met with Brown last Friday and publicly told him: “You’re doing a heck of a job.”
50. September 4, 2005
President Bush has evaded Cindy Sheehan’s question, “What was the noble cause that my son died for?” But he provided a partial answer onthe day that the New Orleans levees gave way.
49. September 1, 2005
For a long time, the last refuge of scoundrels was “patriotism.” Now it’s “the war on terror.” President Bush and many of his vocal supporters aren’t content to wrap themselves in the flag. It’s not sufficient to posture as more patriotic than opponents of the Iraq war. The ultimate demagogic weapon is to exploit the memory of Sept. 11, 2001.
48. August 29, 2005
A spectrum of liberal responses to Cindy Sheehan has come into sharper focus. The message is often anti-Bush... but not necessarily anti-war. Frank Rich spun out his particular style of triangulation in the New York Times on Aug. 28. While deriding President Bush’s stay-the-course stance, Rich also felt a need to disparage the most visible advocate for quick withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq?
47. August 22, 2005
The Bush administration may ratchet up the Iraq war.That might seem unlikely, even farfetched. After all, the president is facing an upsurge of domestic opposition to the war. Under such circumstances, why would he escalate it?
46. August 19, 2005
The day after Wednesday night’s nationwide vigils, the big headline at the top of the MoveOn.org home page said: “Support Cindy Sheehan.” But MoveOn does not support Cindy Sheehan’s call for swift withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.Many groups were important to the success of the Aug. 17 vigils, but the online powerhouse MoveOn was the largest and most prominent. After a long stretch of virtual absence from Iraq war issues, the organization deserves credit for getting re-involved in recent months. But the disconnects between MoveOn and much of the grassroots antiwar movement are disturbing.
45. August 17, 2005
On Sunday, the New York Times published a piece by Frank Rich under the headline “Someone Tell the President the War Is Over.” The article was a flurry of well-placed jabs about the Bush administration’s lies and miscalculations for the Iraq war. But the essay was also a big straw in liberal wind now blowing toward dangerous conclusions.
44. August 17, 2005
The surge of antiwar voices in U.S. media this month has coincided with new lows in public approval for what pollsters call President Bush’s “handling” of the Iraq war. After more than two years of a military occupation that was supposed to be a breeze after a cakewalk into Baghdad, the war has become a clear PR loser. But an unpopular war can continue for a long time – and one big reason is that the military-industrial-media complex often finds ways to blunt the effectiveness of its most prominent opponents.
43. August 12, 2005
In 1972, after many years of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg wrote: “In that time, I have seen it first as a problem; then as a stalemate; then as a crime.” That aptly describes three key American perspectives now brought to bear on U.S. involvement in Iraq
42. August 10, 2005
Mid-August 2005 may be remembered as a moment in U.S. history when the president could no longer get away with the media trick of solemnly patting death on its head. Unreality is a hallmark of media coverage for war. Yet – most of all – war is about death and suffering. War makers thrive on abstractions. Their media successes depend on evasion.
41. August 5, 2005
40. August 5, 2005
On Tuesday, big alarm bells went off in the national media echo chamber, and major U.S. news outlets showed that they knew the drill. Iran’s nuclear activities were pernicious, most of all, because people in high places in Washington said so.
39. August 1, 2005
A few days ago, the White House launched a new phase of its propaganda siege for the Iraq war. The opening salvo came on July 27, when the commander of American forces in Iraq said that continuation of recent trends would make possible “some fairly substantial reductions” of U.S. troop levels in the spring and summer of 2006. Those reductions, Gen. George Casey proclaimed, will happen “if the political process continues to go positively and if the development of the security forces continues to go as it is going.”
38. July 29, 2005
Before being sentenced to 15 months for refusing to return to Iraq with his Army unit, Sgt. Kevin Benderman told a military judge that he acted with his conscience, not out of a disregard for duty,” the Associated Press reports. Benderman, a 40-year-old Army mechanic, “refused to go on a second combat tour in January, saying the destruction and misery he witnessed during the 2003 Iraq invasion had turned him against war.”
37. July 27, 2005
The acclaimed New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has often voiced enthusiasm for violent destruction by the U.S. government. Hidden in plain sight, his glee about such carnage is worth pondering.
36. July 25, 2005
Midway through July, the Karl Rove scandal was dominating the national news – until the sudden announcement of a Supreme Court nominee interrupted the accelerating momentum of the Rove story. Since then, some anti-Bush groups and progressive pundits have complained that the White House manipulated the media agenda. But when it comes to deploying weapons of mass distraction, the worst is yet to come.
35. July 22, 2005
After he died on July 18, front pages focused on the failures of William Westmoreland as commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam. Overall, the coverage faulted him for being a big loser, not a mass killer. The Washington Post noted that Westmoreland “was called a war criminal.” But the deaths of thousands of Vietnamese people each week during his four years as the top American general in Vietnam counted for little in the media calculus.
34. July 19, 2005
The silver-spooned cowboy in the Oval Office just presented a fine new saddle to the nuclear horseman of the apocalypse. It was a gift worthy of hell. “President Bush agreed yesterday to share civilian nuclear technology with India, reversing decades of U.S. policies designed to discourage countries from developing nuclear weapons,” the Washington Post reported on July 19. The lead was more understated in the New York Times: “President Bush, bringing India a step closer to acceptance in the club of nuclear-weapons states, reached an agreement on Monday with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to let India secure international help for its civilian nuclear reactors while retaining its nuclear arms".
33. July 15, 2005
During the Vietnam War, one of the peace movement’s more sardonic slogans was: “War is good business. Invest your son.” In recent years, some eminent pundits and top government officials have become brazen about praising war as a good investment.
32. July 8, 2005
When the French government suggested a diplomatic initiative that might interfere with the White House agenda for war, the president responded by saying that the proposed scenario would “ratify terror.” The date was July 24, 1964, the president was Lyndon Johnson and the war was in Vietnam. Four decades later, the anti-terror rationale is not just another argument for revving up the U.S. war machinery. Fighting “terror” is now the central rationale for war.
31. July 7, 2005
Judy, it’s been so many wars since we’ve talked. Now people are hailing your dedication to the principle of journalistic independence. For many, you will always be the courageous reporter who went to jail. But I’ll always remember what happened when we met under hot lights and you showed your stuff. Far from today’s headlines, what will endure is your approach to journalism in a time of war. . . Of course there are some who still recall how you pushed stories about Saddam and WMDs onto the front page of the New York Times. And they remember that officials who helped to funnel disinformation into your articles grew fond of going on television to cite them as evidence that the Iraqi regime was a menace to the world.
30. July 1, 2005
Am I the only U.S. citizen who finds the annual Fourth rituals to be cloying and deceptive? Yeah – just me and probably tens of millions of other people. Ever since the Vietnam War, the Fourth of July has seemed to be a celebration of the past in the midst of a distinctly un-glorious present. In 2005, as in 1965, lyrical appreciation of “bombs bursting in air” is chilling in the context of current realities.Overall, my outlook on the yearly Independence Day spectacle remains what it was a decade ago.
29. June 30, 2005
On the propaganda front, it’s been another tough week for Washington’s war makers. But for them, where there’s hope there’s death. Let’s address the Iraq war directly: It’s too soon to know whether the Bush administration’s new PR offensive will do anything for you in terms of public opinion. But rest assured that the U.S. military effort in Iraq won’t be curtailed anytime soon. Despite the downward trend of public backing for the war — and in spite of the mass media’s inadequate yet significant widening of debate in recent weeks — a combination of factors is in place to sustain your deadly momentum.
28. June 22, 2005
Forget it! That seems to be an unstated motto for American media coverage of the Iranian presidential election. The axiom comes down to: “Don’t let history get in the way of spin.”
27. June 15, 2005
Washington keeps condemning Iran’s government and making thinly veiled threats. But in Iran, many people are in the midst of challenging the country’s rulers, in the streets and at the ballot box. The June 17 election for president could be a turning point or a hollow spectacle – no one knows which – but the Bush administration is eagerly trashing the whole thing. “The United States has not waited for the first ballot to be cast before dismissing Iran’s presidential election as rigged,” Agence France Presse reported over the weekend.
26. June 5, 2005
You wouldn’t know it from the media focus on Deep Throat last week, but the lies that Richard Nixon told about the Watergate break-in were part of his standard duplicity for the Vietnam War. It wasn’t just that the Nixon administration engaged in secret illegal actions against a wide range of peace advocates – including antiwar candidate George McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972. Deception was always central to Nixon’s war policy. Thirty-three years after Watergate, echoes of his fervent lies for war can be heard from George W. Bush.
25. June 2, 2005
On February 27, 1968, I sat in a small room on Capitol Hill. Around a long table, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was in session, taking testimony from an administration official. Most of all, I remember a man with a push-broom moustache and a voice like sandpaper, raspy and urgent. Wayne Morse did not resort to euphemism. He spoke of “tyranny that American boys are being killed in South Vietnam to maintain in power.” Moments before the hearing adjourned, the senior senator from Oregon said that he did not “intend to put the blood of this war on my hands.” And Morse offered clarity that was prophetic: “We’re going to become guilty, in my judgment, of being the greatest threat to the peace of the world. It’s
24. May 31, 2005
If you think President Bush should be impeached, it’s time to get serious. We’re facing huge obstacles – and they have nothing to do with legal standards for impeachment. This is all about media and politics. Five months into 2005, the movement to impeach Bush is very small. And three enormous factors weigh against it: 1) Republicans control Congress. 2) Most congressional Democrats are routinely gutless. 3) Big media outlets shun the idea that the president might really be a war criminal.
23. May 26, 2005
Memorial Day weekend brings media rituals. Old Glory flutters on television and newsprint. Grave ceremonies and oratory pay homage to the fallen. Many officials and pundits speak of remembering the dead. But for all the talk of war and remembrance, no time is more infused with insidious forgetting than the last days of May.
22. May 23, 2005
The endless show that seems to fill America’s every waking moment — and many of its nightmares — could be called “Media Jeopardy!” Before proceeding, here’s a reminder of the rules: Listen to the answer and then try to come up with the question. Let’s get started.
21. May 16, 2005
Media activism has achieved a lot. But I don’t believe there’s anything to be satisfied with — considering the present-day realities of corporate media and the warfare state. War has become a constant of U.S. foreign policy, and media flackery for the war-makers in Washington is routine — boosting militarism that tilts the country in more authoritarian directions. The dominant news outlets provide an ongoing debate over how to fine-tune the machinery of war. What we need is a debate over how to dismantle the war machine.
20. May 11, 2005
The battle over the filibuster is now one of the country’s biggest political news stories. The Bush administration seems determined to change Senate rules so a simple majority of senators, instead of three-fifths, can cut off debate and force a vote on the president’s judicial nominees. Both sides claim to be arguing for procedural principles.
19. May 4, 2005
18. April 27, 2005
17. April 20, 2005
16. April 17, 2005
15. April 7, 2005
14. March 31, 2005
13. March 24, 2005
12. March 17, 2005
11. March 10, 2005
March 3, 2005
February 25, 2005
February 18, 2005
February 11, 2005
February 4, 2005
January 27, 2005
January 20, 2005
January 14, 2005
January 8, 2005
January 4, 2005