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iS THIS still a democracy?
Posted: 09 August 2007 11:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Doug and McKenzie, I thought that was what I wrote.

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Posted: 10 August 2007 01:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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The point about “Monied interests” is really misguided… just look further back in American history. Corporations are pretty strong now by recent standards, but they were at their peak in 1900-1929; but even then, they couldn’t stop the muckrakers from telling the public how things were.

In general, the media’s role in democracy preservation tends to be overstated. The BBC is probably the best media channel available in the Western world, perhaps in the entire world; still, Britain is rapidly evolving into a surveillance state.

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Posted: 10 August 2007 08:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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PLaClair - 09 August 2007 11:41 PM

Doug and McKenzie, I thought that was what I wrote.

Sorry if I misread you. But good that we are on the same page!

:grin:

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Posted: 10 August 2007 09:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Doug (and all), have you seen the film “Network” from the mid-1970s?

By the way, please call me Paul.

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Posted: 10 August 2007 09:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Alon - 10 August 2007 01:32 AM

The BBC is probably the best media channel available in the Western world, perhaps in the entire world…

By what standard do you mean “best”? The best at appearing to be objective and not a tool of the British government? The group, Media Lens (the British counterpart to FAIR) constantly exposes the parroting of BBC. Their conception of being critical or reporting news is not much different than the New York Times or Washington Post.

Look back at the pre-war coverage of the War on Iraq. Just like the NYT, and indeed most big news companies, the BBC relied heavily on “official” sources and gave little room to dissenting voices. And, now after the war, the BBCs concept of criticism of the War is just like the NYT (or the alleged anti-war representative, John Murtha): we are making mistakes, were not winning, were not doing it properly. They are not saying: we should not have done this, it was wrong, it was illegal, Bush and Blair lied, etc. No, on nearly every issue the BBC acts like our big news companies: a parrot for the government. If the “best” news sources are heavily reliant on “officials” as their sources, while leaving little room for dissidents, and shaping criticism of our use of state violence by not challenging whether it was right or wrong to do, but whether we are succeeding at it then thats a lousy concept of “best.”

Folks like David Edwards of Media Lens, Norman Solomon of FAIR, Ed Herman, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman, Ben Bagdikian, etc are important gadflys to pay attention to when discussing the media.

Daniel Mermet: When a leading journalist or TV news presenter is asked whether they are subject to pressure or censorship, they say they are completely free to express their own opinions. So how does thought control work in a democratic society? We know how it works in dictatorships.

Noam Chomsky: As you say, journalists immediately reply: “No one has been exerting any pressure on me. I write what I want.” And it’s true. But if they defended positions contrary to the dominant norm, someone else would soon be writing editorials in their place. Obviously it is not a hard-and-fast rule: the US press sometimes publishes even my work, and the US is not a totalitarian country. But anyone who fails to fulfill certain minimum requirements does not stand a chance of becoming an established commentator.

It is one of the big differences between the propaganda system of a totalitarian state and the way democratic societies go about things. Exaggerating slightly, in totalitarian countries the state decides the official line and everyone must then comply. Democratic societies operate differently. The line is never presented as such, merely implied. This involves brainwashing people who are still at liberty. Even the passionate debates in the main media stay within the bounds of commonly accepted, implicit rules, which sideline a large number of contrary views. The system of control in democratic societies is extremely effective. We do not notice the line any more than we notice the air we breathe. We sometimes even imagine we are seeing a lively debate. The system of control is much more powerful than in totalitarian systems.

Look at Germany in the early 1930s. We tend to forget that it was the most advanced country in Europe, taking the lead in art, science, technology, literature and philosophy. Then, in no time at all, it suffered a complete reversal of fortune and became the most barbaric, murderous state in human history. All that was achieved by using fear: fear of the Bolsheviks, the Jews, the Americans, the Gypsies - everyone who, according to the Nazis, was threatening the core values of European culture and the direct descendants of Greek civilisation (as the philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote in 1935). However, most of the German media who inundated the population with these messages were using marketing techniques developed by US advertising agents.

The same method is always used to impose an ideology. Violence is not enough to dominate people: some other justification is required. When one person wields power over another - whether they are a dictator, a colonist, a bureaucrat, a spouse or a boss - they need an ideology justifying their action. And it is always the same: their domination is exerted for the good of the underdog. Those in power always present themselves as being altruistic, disinterested and generous.

In the 1930s the rules for Nazi propaganda involved using simple words and repeating them in association with emotions and phobia. When Hitler invaded the Sudetenland in 1938 he cited the noblest, most charitable motives: the need for a humanitarian intervention to prevent the ethnic cleansing of German speakers. Henceforward everyone would be living under Germany’s protective wing, with the support of the world’s most artistically and culturally advanced country.

When it comes to propaganda (though in a sense nothing has changed since the days of Athens) there have been some minor improvements. The instruments available now are much more refined, in particular - surprising as it may seem - in the countries with the greatest civil liberties, Britain and the US. The contemporary public relations industry was born there in the 1920s, an activity we may also refer to as opinion forming or propaganda.

Both countries had made such progress in democratic rights (women’s suffrage, freedom of speech) that state violence was no longer sufficient to contain the desire for liberty. So those in power sought other ways of manufacturing consent. The PR industry produces, in the true sense of the term, concept, acceptance and submission. It controls people’s minds and ideas. It is a major advance on totalitarian rule, as it is much more agreeable to be subjected to advertising than to torture.

In the US, freedom of speech is protected to an extent that I think is unheard of in any other country. This is quite a recent change. Since the 1960s the Supreme Court has set very high standards for freedom of speech, in keeping with a basic principle established by the 18th century Enlightenment. The court upholds the principle of free speech, the only limitation being participation in a criminal act. If I walk into a shop to commit a robbery with an accomplice holding a gun and I say “Shoot”, my words are not protected by the constitution. Otherwise there has to be a really serious motive to call into question freedom of speech. The Supreme Court has even upheld this principle for the benefit of members of the Ku Klux Klan.

In France and Britain, and I believe the rest of Europe, the definition of freedom of speech is more restrictive. In my view the essential point is whether the state is entitled to determine historical truth and to punish those who contest such truth. If we allow the state to exert such powers we are accepting Stalinist methods. French intellectuals have difficulty admitting that they are inclined to do just that. Yet when we refuse such behaviour there should be no exceptions. The state should have no means of punishing anyone who claims that the sun rotates around the earth. There is a very elementary side to the principle of freedom of speech: either we defend it in the case of opinions we find hateful, or we do not defend it at all. Even Hitler and Stalin acknowledged the right to freedom of speech of those who were defending their point of view.

I find it distressing to have to discuss such issues two centuries after Voltaire who, as we all know, said: “I shall defend my opinions till I die, but I will give up my life so that you may defend yours.” It would be a great disservice to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust to adopt one of the basic doctrines of their murderers.

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Posted: 10 August 2007 10:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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Well, hmm ... I want to put in a huge plug for the NYTimes. Best daily newspaper in the world, in my estimation. They emphatically do not get everything right. In particular they made a huge error when the war in Iraq was fomented. Later they were embroiled with the journalist who did much of the reporting for the buildup to war, and eventually they fired her.

As a human institution I do not expect perfection from them. But they are an extraordinary journalistic source.

I state this because the newspaper business worldwide is in huge trouble; in particular it has been under assault by TV and the internet. Readership is declining precipitously, leading papers to cut back on reporters, on size, on everything. Just last week the NYTimes reduced the size of their paper by 1.5”. That may seem relatively small, but it was done to save money. It was a tradeoff of news reporting depth because they are having trouble making a business of it.

This is the same problem that PBS is having. At least PBS is partly government supported, and is a charity.

This argument to some degree reminds me of the folks back in 1999/2000 who attacked Gore for being too centrist. That sort of talk led to Ralph Nader’s disastrous entry into the race, and indirectly led to Bush getting close enough to being elected for it to be left up to the Supreme Court. It’s an example of letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. (Although I do not believe that Nader was perfect. Far from it).

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Posted: 10 August 2007 11:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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doug,

the problems of the NYT were not just Iraq and Judith Miller. the same problems went on before her and are still going on. On almost any given political or business issue the bias is large.

i wont bother going into the details and depths of constructive criticism of our media, but sources have been mentioned. so if anyone wants to look for the analysis themselves its easy to find (FAIR is a good place to start).

and i think the Nader comment was off the mark as well. Considering the problems of similarities between the two dominant parties, it is essential to have diversity in democracy. Also, Nader in no way cost the election. The votes he got in the states Bush “won” were less than the amount of the difference between Bush and Gore; and on top of that, there is no way of saying that Nader voters would have voted for Gore. If those voters wanted to vote for them they would have, but since they had another candidate they wanted to support they chose it.

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Posted: 10 August 2007 11:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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I’m not going to get into this. My experience with these sorts of arguments is that they end up going nowhere; it all depends on what you consider a reliable source.

However:

truthaddict - 10 August 2007 11:15 AM

Also, Nader in no way cost the election. The votes he got in the states Bush “won” were less than the amount of the difference between Bush and Gore; and on top of that, there is no way of saying that Nader voters would have voted for Gore. If those voters wanted to vote for them they would have, but since they had another candidate they wanted to support they chose it.

Bush won the 2000 election based on the results in Florida.

Let’s look at the voting there. HERE are the stats. In particular:

Bush: 2,912,790
Gore: 2,912,253
Nader: 97,488

So the claim that “The votes [Nader] got in the states Bush ‘won’ were less than the amount of the difference between Bush and Gore” is false. In particular, it is false in the very state that swung the election.

You may be right that not all Nader’s votes would have swung to Gore. But certainly very few would have gone to Bush, and even if 1% (974 votes) went for Gore he would have won Florida and the election. Nader, as much as any single person, is responsible for Bush being in the White House.

[ Edited: 10 August 2007 11:50 AM by dougsmith ]
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Posted: 10 August 2007 12:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Bush didnt win Florida, remember? That’s why he had the Supreme Court stop the recount! With all the dirty Katherine Harris tricks it is now common knowledge that Bush didnt win Florida, but thanks to Scalia we can forget that. Remember when he said, “The counting of votes that are of questionable legality does, in my view, threaten irreparable harm to petitioner [George W. Bush] and to the country, by casting a cloud upon what he claims to be the legitimacy of his election”? True, if we considered the “questionable legality” of how votes were initially counted and then did a recount it would “threaten irreparable harm” because it showed Bush didnt win!

But we can move past the 2000 election.  Thats hardly a concern for me, or the topic im interested in.

Doug, Im confident we can view analysis of how the media operates or its relationships with government and big businesses without having disagreements of the reliability of sources. Either the mainstream media gives more of a voice to the government or it doesnt; either they rely more heavily on “official” sources or they dont; either they help shape the narrowness of thought by talking about winning (as if the ability to succeed at aggression should matter when determining whether its right or wrong), mistakes (again, this doesnt touch the surface of whether it was right, wrong, legal, illegal, etc) or not.

What FAIR did in response to things like media coverage of Iraq before and after the war was not much different than what Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky did in Manufacturing Consent: look at the coverage, who they gave more of a voice to and how they framed stories.

The NYT eventually came out and admitted that they didnt bother to check the quality of the information they were reporting. So “the paper of record” admitted that they helped sell a war without ever checking the facts or giving anywhere near equal voice from dissidents!!

You can do your own research with Lexus Nexus. How many times was the anti-war voices included; how much space were they given; how many op-eds did the NYT publish of Noam Chomsky’s (considering he is one the most important voices on these subjects and appears in international papers all the time) or Scott Ritters; how often does the NYT refer to the war as illegal; etc?

Why bother about “reliable sources” when we can refer to the NYT own archives? From September 2002 (when the drum beats began escalating) to March 2003 we can look at how the NYT covered Iraq. Even more than that. Once the war began we can go through how often the military reported that they had found possible illegal weapons and see on which page did these claims appear and on what page their conclusions appeared. Ill tell you - and you can check - often times the US (sometimes along with the Dutch or British militaries) - would say we found some shells! It would generally be on the front page. Whereas the results of being leftover shells from the Iran-Iraq War (making the shells expired), or as in one case, pigeon poop, would appear in the back of the paper, if at all.

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Posted: 10 August 2007 12:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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I certainly agree that the NYTimes hasn’t covered itself in glory with the early reporting of the war and buildup to the war. However, that said, they and the New Yorker have done more reporting about its disasters than any other source that I know of ...

My problem with attacking center-left sources like the Times is that it leads to the same sorts of disasters as attacking Gore did in the 2000 election. You split the left and the right ends up winning.

And re. the Times, one more thing: anyone who publishes Paul Krugman deserves a lot of credit.

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Posted: 10 August 2007 12:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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i admire Paul Krugman, too.

what disasters? and how do they shape them into context?

The NYT sat on Abu Ghraib for nearly a year and theres no telling what else they are holding back. They report on US raids and war crimes without ever calling it what it is: illegal. You will hardly find a mention of the war itself being illegal; you will hardly read about our legal obligations under the Geneva Conventions or how we are violating them. Hell, when we “seiged” Fallujah in Novemeber 2004 the NYT put a picutre on the front page of the US taking over the hospital. They took patients out of bed and handcuffed them; and arrested doctors? Why? Well the NYT said it:

“The hospital was selected as an early target because the American military believed that it was the source of rumors about heavy casualties.

“‘It’s a center of propaganda,’ a senior American officer said Sunday.

“This time around, the American military intends to fight its own information war, countering or squelching what has been one of the insurgents’ most potent weapons.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/08/international/middleeast/08falluja.html?ex=1257570000&en=71000156bb622de3&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&pagewanted=all

Another piece on it by FAIR: New York Times Rewrites Fallujah History
http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1999

By the way, that was a war crime. The hospital was reporting the effects of what we were doing and we seeked to silence them. The NYT gave no mention of the legality of what the US did. Look through how the NYT shaped the information in favor of the US.

The same was done with the use of White Phosphorus in Fallujah. The NYT never reported that it was illegal and in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Back in the 1990s the DIA reported that Saddam was using WP as a chemical weapon and we criticized them for it. We do the same thing and the NYT never pointed out the CWC. At most, they said there were disputes, but dont worry the NYT was quick to reference Lt Venable saying it was legal.

Lastly, its a weak argument to compare dubious reporting to Nader running for president. It is simply poor journalism for our main sources of information to favor the government and be a propaganda outlet to shape public opinion their crimes and misdeeds.

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Posted: 10 August 2007 12:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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one last thing: why does pointing out these apparent biases make one of the left?

is it liberal beyond centrism to point out that the media operates heavily in favor of the government?

how is this an issue of political leanings? if the media is slanted, recognizing that slant is not and should not be a sign of political leanings.

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Posted: 10 August 2007 04:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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Ranting about right-wing bias makes one of the left. The single most telling question you can ask to predict someone’s politics isn’t about ideology, or core values, or beliefs. It’s, “In which direction and how much is the mainstream media biased?”. Almost invariably, the response you’ll get is the diametric opposite of what that person thinks.

So, sure, you have organizations like FAIR and Media Matters. You also have right-wing organizations that insist with at least as much evidence that the media is in fact liberal. As one journalist once said, whenever he reported about e.g. the I/P conflict, he’d get hate mail from pro-Israelis calling him a terrorist sympathizer and from pro-Palestinians calling him an occupation supporter. His job, he said, was to make sure the two piles of hate mail were about the same size. This is obviously vulnerable to astroturfing, but in theory it’s a pretty good principle, one that’s entirely absent among the hacks who populate Z and National Review and who apologize for any dictator who mouths off platitudes they like.

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Posted: 10 August 2007 04:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Yes, Alon, it’s virtually a theorem that a centrist publication will get an equal amount of hate-mail from the extremes. The NYTimes is absolutely hated by the right wing. I have heard several people claim they wouldn’t read it because of its supposed left-wing bias.

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Posted: 10 August 2007 04:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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I never said a thing about right-wing bias. Government does not equal right-wing. The same bias was there in the Clinton administration.

Youre not saying a thing that disproves the quality of what FAIR has pointed out.

Again, you can look for yourself if you want to take the time. Take the Iraq War. Who does the media give a larger voice to and what is the discrepancy? How much more do they rely on “official” sources as opposed to dissidents or popular figures in the anti-war movement. Before the war Scott Ritter was busy trying to point out the hyperbole. Compare how much coverage he was given to, say, proponents for the war.

Noam Chomsky has a book that came out just last month: Interventions. It is a compilation of over 30 1,000 word articles that he wrote for the NYT Syndicate. How many appeared in the NYT? One. The rest appeared in mainstream papers over seas. If you can get the book check it out and read the introduction first.

Or look at his and Ed Hermans book, Manufacturing Consent. The book looks at how the media covered what they called “worthy” and “unworthy victims.” That is, when victims suffered at the hands of the US or US allies, the coverage was radically less than cases of similar sufferings at the hands of enemies like the Soviet Union.

You can make vague comments about how you tell someones political leanings by asking them how they view the media, but I encourage you and others to take a scientific evaluation of the papers and see if you see any blatant patterns of bias.

Here is the hypothesis: the NYT (or Washington Post or Los Angeles Times, etc) acts more as a mouthpiece for government policies than reporting objectively. You will find that they rely heavily on “official” sources and that they frame stories in ways favorable to the government and institutions of power. They give much less representation to dissent and opposition. In instances like the war, criticism is generally presented as failures to win or mistakes being made, and not that the war was illegal, should never have been waged and that our leaders should be impeached and tried for felonies and war crimes.

I mentioned Ed Herman. He has an article in the recent ZMagazine subscription. Read it here:

The Hariri Special Court vs the Imminent U.S. Attack on Iran
http://zmagsite.zmag.org/JulAug2007/herman.html

“Of course, along with the right to assassinate is impunity for gigantic crimes like aggression—and here also the United States is able to engage in major violations of the UN Charter, as in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, not only without the slightest threat of any ‘special court,’ but with the eventual kindly cooperation by the UN in consolidating the conquest (see UN Security Council Resolution 1546 of June 8, 2004, which gives the aggressor in Iraq occupation rights and a UN Security Council blessing).”

Why is this elementary observation limited to radical papers and not routinely found in the mainstream press? Is there really anything inaccurate about it? No, not really. We can find press articles about Iran, China, Russia, Sudan, etc., but we simply dont see that kind of coverage on ourselves.

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