Friday, May 20, 2005

Rush to Judgment

Limbaugh leads the echo
chamber’s attack on Bill Moyers

By Craig Aaron and Timothy Karr

Bill Moyers gave an historic speech last Sunday in St. Louis, a clarion defense of quality journalism and public broadcasting from the partisan attacks of the White House and its minions at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

“CPB was established almost 40 years ago to set broad policy for public broadcasting and to be a firewall between political influence and program content,” Moyers told a packed house at the National Conference for Media Reform, lambasting CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson’s personal crusade against “liberal advocacy” journalism at PBS. “We’re seeing unfold a contemporary example of the age-old ambition of power and ideology to squelch and punish journalists who tell the stories that make princes and priests uncomfortable.”

Blowin' Smoke
The speech is ricocheting around the Internet and has been broadcast nationwide on TV and radio. The right-wing responded by going into attack mode. On Thursday, Rush Limbaugh went apoplectic, unleashing an on-air tirade against Moyers. Limbaugh had taken a break from his golf game to watch a few minutes of the hour-long speech on C-SPAN2 because he’d heard “my name was taken in vain so often.” (And Limbaugh accuses Moyers of having a God complex.)

Moyers’ speech didn’t mention Limbaugh once. But Rush may have recognized himself in a few of Moyers’ pronouncements. For instance: “The more compelling our journalism, the angrier the radical right of the Republican Party gets. That’s because the one thing they loathe more than liberals is the truth. And the quickest way to be damned as a liberal is to tell the truth.”

Unable to impugn Moyers credentials -- after all, he’s a former White House staffer with three decades in the television news business and countless Emmy awards -- Rush questioned his sanity. In less than 30 seconds, he dismissed media reformers and Moyers as “unhinged,” “literally insane” and “off their rockers.”

Incapable of winning this debate based on the facts, the best the right-wing media can do is trot out their A-list of bloviators, engage in fact-challenged character assassination, and hope that’s enough to fire up the right-wing echo chamber. (They’re using the same tactics to try to take down Newspaper Guild chief Linda Foley for daring to question why so many journalists are being killed by U.S. forces in Iraq.) When reason fails, they always have volume.

Over at the CPB, Tomlinson relies on the same tactics of innuendo. But when it comes to the facts, he’s far less forthcoming. He paid a consultant $10,000 to monitor Moyers’ program for signs of “liberal bias.” (Moyers left “NOW” at the end of last year.) The guest list of Moyers program includes characters from across the political spectrum, including conservative movement leaders Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed and Richard Viquerie.

This wasn’t good enough for Tomlinson. His decision to pay someone to monitor “liberal bias” at “NOW” has prompted Reps. John Dingell (D-MICH.) and David Obey (D-WIS.) to request an investigation by the CPB's inspector general into charges “of political interference into public broadcasting.”

Tomlinson refuses to release the results of this spying, claiming that they might “damage public broadcasting’s image with controversy.” But it seems far more likely that he just didn’t like the conclusions.

After all, this is the CPB chairman who buried a survey commissioned by his own agency when its results confirmed that “the majority of the U.S. adult population does not believe that the news and information programming on public broadcasting is biased.” In that same survey, 80 percent of Americans agreed that PBS is “fair and balanced,” and more than 50 percent found PBS news programming to be more trustworthy than network television or the cable networks.

Moyers has challenged Tomlinson to join him for an hour on PBS to discuss these facts and the current controversy. Thus far, Tomlinson has declined, preferring to spend his time writing columns for the Washington Times and fielding softball questions on Fox News. (Tomlinson told Bill O’Reilly: “We love your show.”)

Even when he ventured onto NPR, Tomlinson showed he still doesn’t get it. When his description of Moyers’ show was challenged by WAMU’s Diane Rehm, he quipped: “Am I gonna have to go back and hire another consultant and demonstrate this is incorrect?"

Now, the public is telling Tomlinson what it really thinks of his efforts to remake public broadcasting as a mouthpiece for right-wing views. More than 75,000 concerned citizens already have signed a petition calling for Tomlinson’s resignation (add your name here) and supporting the creation of nationwide town hall meetings on the future of public broadcasting.

These public hearings -- which have been endorsed by Moyers -- would give average people the chance to meet face-to-face with station managers, elected officials and federal regulators to express what they want and expect from their public broadcasting system. It’s the first step in putting the public back in PBS.

We suspect public hearings will show, once and for all, that public broadcasting isn’t a left-right, liberal-or-conservative issue. Listening to the public will make it clear that millions of Americans across the political spectrum are outraged by ongoing government efforts to manipulate the media and public opinion.

Americans don’t need more shouting heads and partisan posturing. They want quality journalism, diversity of views and reliable information.

Apparently, these are ideas that make Tomlinson and Limbaugh squirm.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Moyers Fights for the Soul of PBS


Yesterday, Free Press posted the audio and video files of Bill Moyers’ electric speech at the close of the National Conference for Media Reform in St. Louis. Today we're calling on 100,000 people to sign our petition for the ouster of Kenneth Tomlinson of the Coporation of Public Broadcasting.

So many people went to the Free Press site to hear Bill Moyers' speech that our web server slowed to a crawl. As a result, many couldn’t download the speech. Last night, Moyers people sent me the full transcript:

It's an important speech that cuts to the core of the problems of American media. I was there in the front row and am making it now available to you.

In his speech, Moyers blasted Tomlinson for hijacking public broadcasting to serve a partisan agenda. This staunch Republican has launched a personal crusade aimed at "eliminating the perception of political bias" in PBS programs. Tomlinson has covertly promoted right-wing programming and tried to install his political allies to CPB's board and executive offices. He even contracted an outside consultant to monitor Moyers' weekly PBS news program, "NOW with Bill Moyers," for signs of liberal bias.

"I always knew Nixon would be back," Moyers said. "I just didn’t know this time he would be the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting."

On several occasons the former anchor of "Now" ripped into Tomlinson for crossing the line "from resisting White House pressure to carrying it out for the White House."

Moyers also exposed several right wing and government attempts to muzzle quality journalism, independent viewpoints and dissenting voices.

"The more compelling our journalism, the angrier the radical right of the Republican Party gets," Moyers said. "That's because the one thing they loathe more than liberals is the truth. And the quickest way to be damned by them as liberal is to tell the truth."

Time To Go
"An unconscious people, an indoctrinated people, a people fed only partisan information and opinion that confirm their own bias, a people made morbidly obese in mind and spirit by the junk food of propaganda, is less inclined to put up a fight, ask questions and be skeptical," Moyers said. "And just as a democracy can die of too many lies, that kind of orthodoxy can kill us, too."

Read Moyers' historic speech and then take action to save public broadcasting. Thus far, more than 50,000 Free Press activists joined signed a petition for Tomlinson's resignation. But before we deliver petitions to Tomlinson's desk, we need 50,000 more to join the call.

If you haven't taken action on this already, sign the petition at:

Then tell more people to join the call for Tomlinson's to step down. Forward the URL to all your friends and colleagues and help us protect our public broadcasting from partisan tampering. With your help we can turn the tide against corporate and government efforts to muzzle the dissenting voice of our free press.

100,000 Person March to End Tomlinson's Reign

Free Press posted the audio and video files of Bill Moyers’ speech at the close of the National Conference for Media Reform in St. Louis. So many people went to the Free Press site to hear Bill Moyers' speech that our web server slowed to a crawl. As a result, many couldn’t download the speech. It's an important speech that cuts to the core of the problems of American media. I was there in the front row and am making it now available to you. To learn more, follow this link:

Moyers Fights for the Soul of PBS

And take action at Free Press to end Kenneth Tomlinson's partisan reign.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Conference Bound

I'm off to Champaign Urbana for a preliminary event to this weekend's National Conference for Media Reform in St. Louis, where I'll be hosting a lunch on public broadcasting, another lunch on propaganda and then moderating two panels: one on outreach to new constituencies for media reform and the second on new tools for online organizing. It will be a busy but very important three days. I will try to steal moments here and there to update you via mediacitizen.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Corporate Broadband Bottleneck

Jim Baller, a leading voice on the municipal broadband issue, shares this quick review of Tom Friedman’s latest tome, The World Is Flat. While Friedman tends to paint the world in broad strokes, his critique of America’s broadband deployment is on target.

Baller writes to recommend Friedman's book along with China, Inc., Ted Fishman's book on China's surging economy, Thomas Bleha's article in Foreign Affairs on the impact of America's drop in global broadband stature and The United States of Europe, The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy, by T. R. Reid. Baller writes:

No Time to Waste
Friedman, Fishman, and Bleha are all saying much the same thing: America has got to wake up and get moving quickly on broadband deployment, or we're going to be in much more serious trouble than most Americans realize. As Bleha trenchantly notes: "Once a leader in Internet innovation, the United States has fallen far behind Japan and other Asian states in deploying broadband and the latest mobile-phone technology. This lag will cost it dearly. By outdoing the United States, Japan and its neighbors are positioning themselves to be the first states to reap the benefits of the broadband era: economic growth, increased productivity, and a better quality of life."
Under the corporate friendly Bush Administration, America has gone from 4th to 16th in the world in per capita broadband deployment. And, as Baller points out, we're rapidly losing ground to others in access to high-bandwith capacity and cost per unit of bandwidth.

Telecommunications giants have mobilized a well-funded army of coin-operated think tanks, lobbyists and pliant legislators to protect their Internet fiefdoms from locally supported broadband initiatives. They're helped in this pursuit by lazy journalists who regurgitate fact-challenged talking points -- painting public broadband as an affront to American free enterprise -- without revealing the duplicity of their sources.

Their weapon of choice is industry-crafted legislation that restricts local governments from offering public service Internet access at reasonable rates. Laws are already on the books in a dozen states. This year alone, 10 states are considering similar bills to block public broadband or to strengthen existing restrictions.

Baller adds:
With municipalities across the United States ready, willing, and able to step forward to do their part to help America reverse these trends, it is ridiculous beyond belief for us to be wasting our time fighting over state barriers to public involvement. Instead, we should doing everything possible to remove barriers to collaboration between our public and private sectors. [his emphasis]
It would be none too soon. Spinning broadband as theirs alone to provide, ISPs have chalked up some early victories—including a draconian law now on the books in Pennsylvania, which strips local governments of the right to choose their own homegrown broadband solutions without the prior approval of a monopoly phone company.

In late 2004, Verizon dictated the law word-for-word to local legislators, who then quietly slipped it into the middle of a 72-page bill that appeared to call for improved communications infrastructure for all Pennsylvanians.

It will have the opposite effect.

Forcing public broadband networks to ask permission from Verizon before offering services is akin to forcing a city to seek permission from Barnes & Noble before building a library.

The municipal broadband issue is not about creeping socialism, as the telecom firms would want you to think, but about their meddling with citizens' right to chose their own broadband destiny. As long as these corporations hold sway over our political process and media, America will continue its path towards becoming a broadband backwater.

Friedman put it well in his April 15 Times column:
"Economics is not like war. It can be win-win. But you need to be at a certain level to be able to claim your share of a global pie that is both expanding and becoming more complex. Tax cuts can't solve every problem. This administration -- which often seems more interested in indulging creationism than spurring creativity -- is doing a very poor job of preparing the country for that next level."
Friedman stopped short of a rationale for the White House's footdragging on broadband. But reading between the lines you come to one inevitable conclusion: Bush owes too many favors to the media and telcom corporations who helped put him into office to loosen their stranglehold on Internet service and open broadband access to better, more local providers.

POST SCRIPT: Listen to Bleha on "On the Media;" Read Drew Clark's story in the National Journal.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Sock Puppet Revue

Not content to be turning tricks just for the phone companies, the New Millennium Research Council (NMRC) is now pimping its "experts" to Big Media broadcasters as well.

And it appears that their boys are worth the price. This think-tank-for-hire today released what it is calling a definitive study that "debunks US 'media monopoly' fears." Its findings are already being cited by suckers in the media.

This Space To Let
"It is a myth that U.S. media ownership is over concentrated today and that programming choices available to American consumers are shrinking or somehow have been impaired," NMRC claims. This insightful conclusion comes from the study's author, Harvard-educated Jezebel Benjamin M. Compaine, described in their press release as an "MIT media consultant" and author of 12 "major" books on media issues.

These wind-up academics and their blue chip clientelle are still trying to convince us that media monopoly is good for America. And I thought the American public sank that boat in 2003.

Not so, according to Compaine:

"There is no support for the contention that media ownership by chains or conglomerates leads to any consistent pattern of lowered standards, content, or performance when compared with media owned by families or small companies."
How convenient for the companies that funded Compaine's analysis. By coincidence, this list includes the same media conglomerates that Compaine praises in his new study.

One look at the money behind the study, and Compaine's academic rigor comes off more as a Big Media lap dance. Lurking behind the facade of the NMRC is Issue Dynamics, Inc., a "public affairs consulting firm" that fronts for Comcast, Fleishman-Hillard, Qwest, Qualcomm, SBC Communications, Sprint and Verizon. By "public affairs" Issue Dynamics means "public relations" and by "consulting" they mean "shilling."

Any report emanating from their coin-operated think tank should be handled with steel tongs and a rubber suit.

John Rintels, whose work at Center for Creative Voices in the Media is inaccurately cited in Compaine's report, gave the study two thumbs down:
". . . to say it is a hatchet job is an insult to hatchets. This is pure polemic argument, bought and paid for by Big Media, not any 'report.' When the author's argument stumbles across inconvenient facts, statistics, and research, he ignores them, as they get in the way of his 'Monopoly Myth' theme that media reformers' case against Big Media has been made up out of thin air and then endlessly repeated, until it ultimately attains mythical status."
This Space To Let
To put fresh lipstick on this pig, the NMRC trots out sock-puppet-in-chief Adam Thierer, formerly of Verizon friendly Cato Institute, now selling his services as the industry mouthpiece for the Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF). Thierer often sings on cue for PFF's Big Media client list, which includes Disney, NBC, NCTA, Time Warner, Viacom and Vivendi.

In the NMRC release, Thierer strokes fellow propagandist Compaine: "[Benjamin] has shown that the media sky has never been brighter," effuses Thierer. "His seminal earlier research, and this latest NMRC report, provide conclusive proof that the media marketplace is far more dynamic and competitive than at any time in history."

The Blinkered Bozo Award goes to the first journalist to cite either Thierer's or Compaine's "conclusive proof" without revealing that these two are in bed with the industry they're supposed to analyze.

We'll be monitoring the news wires to anoint the first scribes to make a move on this tarted-up corporate propaganda.

And the contestants for Blinkered Bozo are:

One reporter smelled a skunk:

Stay tuned. Results are still rolling in.

To learn more about the ways coin-operated think tanks skew the community broadband debate to their corporate masters' liking, read my reports at MediaCitizen. (Thanks to Andrew Schwartzman at Media Access Project for the tip).

Tomlinson's Tone Deafness

Failure to Communicate
CPB head Kenneth Tomlinson continues to parrot the language of "objectivity and balance" to justify his partisan crusade against PBS. The rhetoric, however, conceals a brazen attempt to hoodwink Americans into believing that PBS is in need of an overhaul.

Thus far public opinion has said otherwise. And new evidence reveals that Tomlinson has turned a blind eye to the people that he is sworn to serve, which is why nearly 40,000 Americans are now calling for him to step down.

The CPB head's true mission -- which he shares with acting president Kenneth Ferree -- is to serve the Republican Party and remake our PBS into another White House mouthpiece. The views of an overwhelming majority of Americans have no part in this partisan plan.

Earlier this week Ferree urged public broadcasting executives that "CPB, funded as it is with taxpayer dollars and guided as it is by statutory language, has special responsibilities to strive toward objectivity and balance." Tomlinson was more direct than Ferree when he told the New York Times: "I frankly feel at PBS headquarters there is a tone deafness to issues of tone and balance."

But those casting stones from CPB suffer from a deafness all their own. Before launching Tomlinson’s campaign for more "objectivity and balance" at PBS, CPB commissioned GOP pollster Tarrance Group to survey public opinion about PBS bias.

Here’s what the pollsters found:
  • 80% of Americans found PBS programming to be "fair and balanced"
  • 90% agreed PBS "provides high quality programming"
  • More than 50% said that PBS news and information is more trustworthy than CNN, Fox News Channel and other mainstream news outlets
CPB commissioned this poll but opted to suppress the results and didn’t release it to the press, PBS or NPR.

So what’s the real problem Ken?

It’s not bias at PBS but bias within the CPB. The organization that Congress put in place to act as a "heat shield" protecting broadcasters from undue political influence has been overrun by GOP operatives with a plan to fix a system that Americans overwhelmingly say is not broken.

The New York Times editorial page suggested that Tomlinson and his Republican cronies at CPB may have a larger agenda: "to 'hollow out' public broadcasting and fill it with programming that suits their political agenda. And if public broadcasting becomes too political to suit all but the most loyal Republicans or too boring in the name of balance, that could mean the slow death of such broadcasting, which could have been the goal all along."

Tomlinson has ignored public opinion and charged forward with a top-down, partisan approach to control public broadcasting. This is not about left right bias at PBS, but about political operatives intent upon hijacking the people’s airwaves for partisan gain. For this alone, Tomlinson needs to go.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

PBS Suffers the 'Fox Effect'

Fair and Balanced Ken
In the last 24 hours more than 30,000 Americans have called on the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to resign for failing to uphold CPB's nonpartisan mandate.

The Free Press action follows a May 2 report in the New York Times, which reveals CPB head Kenneth Tomlinson's covert efforts to combat what he considers "liberal bias" at PBS. Tomlinson and other Republican operatives claim that they are trying to make our Public Broadcasting System more "fair and balanced," despite an overwhelming majority of Americans who already believe PBS to be trustworthy and unbiased.

Tomlinson's CPB was put in place by Congress to shield PBS from political pressure. But since taking the reins he has secretly hired a White House staffer to help draft "guiding principles" for the future of CPB. He brought in a consultant to monitor the "anti-Bush" and "anti-Tom Delay" content on Bill Moyers' NOW program, and then set up and funded right-wing commentator Paul Gigot's new PBS program. Now Tomlinson is working behind the scenes to stack CPB's board and executive offices with Republican Party cronies.

Tomlinson and Acting CPB President Ken Ferree insists that they are trying to restore "objectivity and balance" to a PBS beseiged by liberals. Despite their conservative bellyaching, two recent surveys show that the majority of the Americans doesn't see any real bias in public broadcasting.

In an apparent bid to confirm their own prejudices, CPB hired the Republican pollsters at Tarrance Group to survey public opinion about PBS bias. In resulting 2003 poll, however, PBS news and information consumers were highly supportive of such programs as the "Newshour," "Frontline," "Morning Edition," and "All Things Considered."

More than half surveyed found PBS's news programming to be more trustworthy than ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and CNN news shows. 80 percent found PBS programming to be "fair and balanced."

Rather than respect public opinion, Tomlinson and right-wing crew decided to discard the poll and charge ahead with plans to fix what Americans say isn't broken. This top-down partisan meddling goes against the very nature of PBS and the local stations that Americans trust. It's time to let the future of PBS be decided by the people, not by the secret dealings of White House operatives.

Tomlinson's actions remind that the "Fox Effect" is alive in American media. Even noncommercial institutions aren't imune from infection from the likes of Murdoch, Ailes and their advocates in the administration.

Free Press asked its 170,000 members to write Congress, CPB and PBS calling for Tomlinson to step down and supporting a series of town hall meetings to discuss the future of public broadcasting.

Last week, Free Press, Consumers Union, Media Access Project, Common Cause and the Consumer Federation of America released a report, "A New Standard: Building a Public Broadcasting System that Deserves Public Support," calling for "a public ascertainment process" before lawmakers and bureaucrats attempt to establish politically motivated standards for PBS and other public broadcasters.

Tomlinson's actions highlight the urgent need for town hall meetings in local communities across the country. If public broadcasting is to be reformed in a positive direction, it must be driven from the bottom-up.