Friday, January 14, 2005

Pay For Play

Frank Rich must hate America.

But perhaps the most fascinating Williams TV appearance took place in December 2003, the same month that he was first contracted by the government to receive his payoffs. At a time when no one in television news could get an interview with Dick Cheney, Mr. Williams, of all "journalists," was rewarded with an extended sit-down with the vice president for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, a nationwide owner of local stations affiliated with all the major networks. In that chat, Mr. Cheney criticized the press for its coverage of Halliburton and denounced "cheap shot journalism" in which "the press portray themselves as objective observers of the passing scene, when they obviously are not objective."

This is a scenario out of "The Manchurian Candidate." Here we find Mr. Cheney criticizing the press for a sin his own government was at that same moment signing up Mr. Williams to commit. The interview is broadcast by the same company that would later order its ABC affiliates to ban Ted Koppel's "Nightline" recitation of American casualties in Iraq and then propose showing an anti-Kerry documentary, "Stolen Honor," under the rubric of "news" in prime time just before Election Day. (After fierce criticism, Sinclair retreated from that plan.) Thus the Williams interview with the vice president, implicitly presented as an example of the kind of "objective" news Mr. Cheney endorses, was in reality a completely subjective, bought-and-paid-for fake news event for a broadcast company that barely bothers to fake objectivity and both of whose chief executives were major contributors to the Bush-Cheney campaign. The Soviets couldn't have constructed a more ingenious or insidious plot to bamboozle the citizenry.


But we now know that there have been at least three other cases in which federal agencies have succeeded in placing fake news reports on television during the Bush presidency. The Department of Health and Human Services, the Census Bureau and the Office of National Drug Control Policy have all sent out news "reports" in which, to take one example, fake newsmen purport to be "reporting" why the administration's Medicare prescription-drug policy is the best thing to come our way since the Salk vaccine. So far two Government Accountability Office investigations have found that these Orwellian stunts violated federal law that prohibits "covert propaganda" purchased with taxpayers' money. But the Williams case is the first one in which a well-known talking head has been recruited as the public face for the fake news instead of bogus correspondents (recruited from p.r. companies) with generic eyewitness-news team names like Karen Ryan and Mike Morris.

Or is Mr. Williams merely the first one of his ilk to be exposed? Every time this administration puts out fiction through the news media - the "Rambo" exploits of Jessica Lynch, the initial cover-up of Pat Tillman's death by friendly fire - it's assumed that a credulous and excessively deferential press was duped. But might there be more paid agents at loose in the media machine? In response to questions at the White House, Mr. McClellan has said that he is "not aware" of any other such case and that he hasn't "heard" whether the administration's senior staff knew of the Williams contract - nondenial denials with miles of wiggle room. Mr. Williams, meanwhile, has told both James Rainey of The Los Angeles Times and David Corn of The Nation that he has "no doubt" that there are "others" like him being paid for purveying administration propaganda and that "this happens all the time." So far he is refusing to name names - a vow of omertà all too reminiscent of that taken by the low-level operatives first apprehended in that "third-rate burglary" during the Nixon administration.


Hughes = Huge

My cleverness is as unrivaled as the greatness of Larry Hughes.

MILWAUKEE, Jan. 14 -- The Washington Wizards were tied with the Milwaukee Bucks in the closing seconds when guard Larry Hughes slowly dribbled the ball left to right, between his legs, and left to right again. Hughes glared at his defender, Bucks forward Desmond Mason, then glanced at the clock as the final seconds ticked off, and continued to dribble. "I looked up at the clock at four -- and just took off," Hughes said. Mason "didn't know which way I was going and once I took off, I saw his feet cross back. So, I just kept going."

Hughes kept going until he sank a layup off the backboard with seven-tenths of a second remaining to give his team a 105-103 win at Bradley Center.


Thursday, January 13, 2005


For over a year now, the whining from the right concerning the UN "Oil For Food" scandal has been deafening; that's what makes this report from The Financial Times oh-so-much fun. It turns out that the Bush Administration had an opportunity to stop the largest oil-smuggling operation and instead did nothing.

For months, the US Congress has been investigating activities that violated the United Nations oil-for-food programme and helped Saddam Hussein build secret funds to acquire arms and buy influence.

President George W. Bush has linked future US funding of the international body to a clear account of what went on under the multi-billion dollar programme.

But a joint investigation by the Financial Times and Il Sole 24 Ore, the Italian business daily, shows that the single largest and boldest smuggling operation in the oil-for-food programme was conducted with the knowledge of the US government.

“Although the financial beneficiaries were Iraqis and Jordanians, the fact remains that the US government participated in a major conspiracy that violated sanctions and enriched Saddam's cronies,” a former UN official said. “That is exactly what many in the US are now accusing other countries of having done. I think it's pretty ironic.”


Mission Accomplished

The war in Iraq has made us less safe! Brilliant!

Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of "professionalized" terrorists, according to a report released yesterday by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director's think tank.

Iraq provides terrorists with "a training ground, a recruitment ground, the opportunity for enhancing technical skills," said David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats. "There is even, under the best scenario, over time, the likelihood that some of the jihadists who are not killed there will, in a sense, go home, wherever home is, and will therefore disperse to various other countries."

Low's comments came during a rare briefing by the council on its new report on long-term global trends. It took a year to produce and includes the analysis of 1,000 U.S. and foreign experts. Within the 119-page report is an evaluation of Iraq's new role as a breeding ground for Islamic terrorists.

President Bush has frequently described the Iraq war as an integral part of U.S. efforts to combat terrorism. But the council's report suggests the conflict has also helped terrorists by creating a haven for them in the chaos of war.

"At the moment," NIC Chairman Robert L. Hutchings said, Iraq "is a magnet for international terrorist activity."


Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Compare And Contrast

From the genius Editors, a "Quantitive Comparison" concerning media coverage of "Rathergate" as opposed to the final report on Saddam's WMD, or lack thereof.


Mullah Bush

George hearts Jeebus.

President Bush told the Washington Times yesterday he doesn't "see how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord."

"I fully understand that the job of the president is and must always be protecting the great right of people to worship or not worship as they see fit," Bush said.

"That's what distinguishes us from the Taliban. The greatest freedom we have or one of the greatest freedoms is the right to worship the way you see fit."

"On the other hand, I don't see how you can be president at least from my perspective, how you can be president, without a relationship with the Lord."

After claiming, "that what's distinguishes us from the Taliban," you shouldn't use "on the other hand" to introduce a statement unless your goal is to liken yourself to the Taliban; they don't believe you can president without a relationship with the Lord either, after all.


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Felix And Oscar 2k5

Somewhere in Red America, thousands of heads simultaneously explode.

Another surprise: Mr. Moore and Mel Gibson, whose "Passion of the Christ" won for motion picture drama, are fans of each other's work. Asked if he had seen Mr. Gibson's film, Mr. Moore lighted up.

"I saw it twice," Mr. Moore said. "It's a very powerful film. I'm a practicing Catholic. My film might have been called 'The Compassion of the Christ,' though. The great thing about this country is the diversity of voices. When we limit the voices, we cease being a free society."

When Mr. Gibson walked to the press room lectern, he and Mr. Moore seemed delighted to meet each other.

"I feel a strange kinship with Michael," Mr. Gibson said. "They're trying to pit us against each other in the press, but it's a hologram. They really have got nothing to do with one another. It's just some kind of device, some left-right. He makes some salient points. There was some very expert, elliptical editing going on. However, what the hell are we doing in Iraq? No one can explain to me in a reasonable manner that I can accept why we're there, why we went there, and why we're still there."


"Why Oh Why Didn't I Take The Blue Pill?"

O-Dub comes this post on the Armstrong Williams debacle from Chris Bowers of My DD.

The only way that Armstrong Williams can be considered an isolated incident is that he is the rare crack in the matrix of the Republican Noise Machine that actually is now visible to the public. Even though the Bush administration has been caught doing this
on three other occasions in just the last eight months, and even though there is a legion of well-heeled conservative spokespeople masquerading as "non-partisans" who are bankrolled by conservative foundations and who dominate the national media (see here and here), Republicans have still managed to spread a "biased liberal media" narrative around the country to the point where it has become conventional wisdom (see here). This preposterous situation, where conservatives completely dominate the news media while simultaneously convincing the American public that the media is dominated by a so-called "liberal elite" can be dealt a significant blow if we take immediate media action on talk shows, newspaper columns and other forms of public access to point out that there is nothing uncommon about Armstrong Williams whatsoever. To use a crude analogy, we must attempt to use the crack in the matrix represented by the Armstrong Williams incident to reveal to the public that the matrix does, in fact, exist.

I agree that we need to alert the public, but it's awfully difficult
when you are unable to speak.


Monday, January 10, 2005

Conversion Rates

Apparently, some evangelical Christians are tickled pink at the opportunity to spread their faith provided to them by God through the tsunami.

"This (disaster) is one of the greatest opportunities God has given us to share his love with people," said K.P. Yohannan, president of the Texas-based Gospel for Asia. In an interview, Yohannan said his 14,500 "native missionaries" in India, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands are giving survivors Bibles and booklets about "how to find hope in this time through the word of God."

In Krabi, Thailand, a Southern Baptist church had been "praying for a way to make inroads" with a particular ethnic group of fishermen, according to Southern Baptist relief coordinator Pat Julian. Then came the tsunami, "a phenomenal opportunity" to provide ministry and care, Julian told the Baptist Press news service.

In Andhra Pradesh, India, a plan is developing to build "Christian communities" to replace destroyed seashore villages. In a dispatch that the evangelical group Focus on the Family posted on its Family.org Web site, James Rebbavarapu of India Christian Ministries said a team of U.S. engineers had agreed to help design villages of up to 400 homes each, "with a church building in the center of them."

At least not all evangelicals are onboard this crazy train.

"It's not appropriate in a crisis like this to take advantage of people who are hurting and suffering," said the Rev. Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan's Purse and son of evangelist Billy Graham.

Samaritan's Purse is rushing $4 million in sanitation, food, medical and housing supplies to its teams in Sri Lanka and Indonesia. But Graham, in a phone interview from his North Carolina headquarters, said there were no plans to hand out Christian literature with the relief.

"Maybe another day, if they ask why I come, I'd say, `I'm a Christian and I believe the Bible tells me to do this,'" Graham said. "But now isn't the time. We have to save lives."



Conservative commentator Armstrong Williams, as most of you probably are aware, was paid $250,000 by the Department Of Education to promote the No Child Left Behind Act on his daily radio show.

Seeking to build support among black families for its education reform law, the Bush administration paid a prominent black pundit $240,000 to promote the law on his nationally syndicated television show and to urge other black journalists to do the same.

The campaign, part of an effort to promote No Child Left Behind (NCLB), required commentator Armstrong Williams "to regularly comment on NCLB during the course of his broadcasts," and to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for TV and radio spots that aired during the show in 2004.

This, obviously, is a gross violation of journalistic ethics and, to his credit, Williams has admitted that.

Williams said Thursday he understands that critics could find the arrangement unethical, but "I wanted to do it because it's something I believe in."

On the other hand, the Bush Administration, staying true to form, is passing the buck. Peyton Manning isn't the only one setting records.

Q: USA Today says the Education Department paid a TV commentator, Armstrong Williams, about a quarter million dollars to promote No Child Left. And in a related matter, the GAO found yesterday the drug policy office broke federal law by using taxpayer money for covert, "propaganda," with made for TV story packages. Are these practices that you condone?

MR. McCLELLAN: On the first one, that was a decision by the Department of Education, and a contracting matter. So you ought to direct those questions to the Department of Education. I know the headline said that the White House -- basically implied that it was the White House, and it wasn't. If you read the story -- if you read the story, it pointed that out.

Q: It's your administration, Scott. It's the President's administration.

MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of the Office of the Drug Policy, I think that they addressed that issue directly, and that that issue has already been resolved, at this point.

Q: You're pushing it off to the agencies. Obviously, the drug control policy office is an arm of the White House. More broadly, do you approve -- does the White House approve this practice?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that they talked about how they had resolved that issue. I know the HHS was referenced in that story, too, and they had stopped doing it, as well. And we think those were appropriate steps to take.

Q: To stop both practices?

MR. McCLELLAN: They both indicated that they had. We think it was an appropriate step to take by those offices.

Cut that meat! Cut that meat!


Sunday, January 09, 2005

Dems Gone Wild

Digby's right.

It's quite liberating being completely out of power after hearing the right insult, browbeat and demonize us for more than 15 years. After this over the top post election end zone dance in particular, we no longer have anything to lose by making it our business to simply fuck with Republicans for the pure entertainment value. In some ways it's a kind of political insurgency. They refuse to compromise, they insist on being demeaning and crude, so all that's left is to make their lives unpleasant is a thousand little ways every single day.

And the really fun part is that we represent 49% of the people so there are quite a few of us around.

In shorter terms: fuck 'em.


Digging Up Corpses

This is a review of the Batman: Year One script proposed by Darren Aronofsky. I thought this would have been a cool direction for the franchise to go after Batman and Robin; now, not so much.

I know WB didn’t like this script at all and I certainly feel the better interpretation of Batman is the one that’s making it to the silver screen – it’s probably worth realizing that this movie off the back of Batman & Robin would have pretty much buried the Batman franchise completely. If Schumacher’s last effort was the final nail in the coffin then Year One would’ve been the crazy guy who stormed the graveyard, dug up the coffin and put a bullet through the franchise’s corpse just to make sure. Batman: Year One is what happens when you hire a filmmaker who is all too willing to ignore the history of an iconic character in order to accomplish his vision.