Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Sleuths of Spin

By Bill Berkowitz, AlterNet
Posted on February 22, 2005, Printed on February 22, 2005

Given the sorry state of the journalism these days, The Center for
Media and Democracy's John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton are setting
about an ambitious – yet necessary – undertaking: reinventing

Several right-wing activists/pundits/columnists have already developed
their own roadmap for reinventing journalism. The latest case is that
of Jeff Gannon, whose real name is James D. Guckert. As Gannon, Guckert
reported for a conservative news site called Talon News. Somehow,
Guckert gained access to White House briefings and and was seen tossing
softballs at White House officials. Gannon/Guckert even got called on
by President Bush at a news conference. He ended his question with "How
are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves
from reality?" referring to Sen. Hillary Clinton and Senate Minority
Leader Harry Reid.

Gannon/Guckert had about 13 of his 15 minutes before Media Matters for
America and John Aravosis' Americablog blew the lid off his charade.
Underneath that lid was James D. Guckert on full display – he was outed
as a contributor to such sites as Hotmilitarystud.com, Workingboys.net,
Militaryescorts.com, MilitaryescortsM4M.com and Meetlocalmen.com.

The administration's payoffs to syndicated newspaper columnists
Armstrong Williams, Mike McManus and Maggie Gallagher may not be nearly
as scrumptious a story as the Gannon/Guckert Affair, but they could be
far more significant. After all, this loose coalition of the shilling
received government money to write about their support for Bush
administration policies. In early January, USA Today revealed that
Williams, a prominent African-American radio and television
personality, had received $240,000 from the Department of Education –
through a contract with the Ketchum public relations firm – for his
support for the president's No Child Left Behind project. Mike McManus
and Maggie Gallagher received their checks from the Department of
Health and Human Services to help promote the president's healthy
marriages initiative.

Sleuths of spin John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton have exposed how
corporate shills and government spokespersons manipulate the media and
undermine democracy for more than a decade. Through the Madison,
Wis.-based Center for Media and Democracy, they have produced a number
of groundbreaking books, including Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies,
Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry (Common Courage Press,
1995), Trust Us, We're Experts!: How Industry Manipulates Science and
Gambles with Your Future (Tarcher/Penguin, 2001), Weapons of Mass
Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq
(Tarcher/Penguin, 2003) and most recently, Banana Republicans: How the
Right Wing is Turning America into a One-Party State (Tarcher/Penguin,

Two years ago, the Center launched Disinfopedia, a web site that
Rampton described in a recent e-mail as "an experiment in media
democracy and citizen investigative journalism." Rampton pointed out
that Disinfopedia had "grown into a leading resource on the players who
work behind the scenes to shape public opinion and public policy."
Since its mission has evolved and expanded during the past two years,
the Center recently renamed it SourceWatch. (Disclosure: I have been
cited by SourceWatch.)

Rampton maintains that SourceWatch "is an example of media democracy in
action – an information source that is truly 'of, by and for the
people' who use it. It has become a tool that journalists and activists
use to research and report on key issues such as media concentration
and reform, democratic revitalization, environmental health and
sustainability, the war in Iraq, corporate manipulation of government
agencies, and the power and influence of right-wing special interest
groups and lobbies."

In late February, I conducted an e-mail interview John Stauber. We
covered a number of issues related to the media, starting with the
current payola scandal.

Bill Berkowitz: How do you view the recent scandals involving the Bush
administration giving payoffs to Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher
and Michael McManus in exchange for favorable coverage of their issues?

I'm very happy to see this coming out, but it's really just the tip of
an iceberg. Sheldon Rampton and I wrote our expose of the Public
Relations industry, Toxic Sludge Is Good For You, ten years ago. It's
filled with propaganda horror stories. Forty percent or more of what
passes for news and information these days is the result of organized
PR campaigns. It's been wonderful to see these scandals exposed and
others such as the "Karen Ryan reporting" news reports. Karen Ryan runs
a PR firm, and her government funded video news releases (VNRs) are
aired as news by hundreds of TV news directors.

In Toxic Sludge we reported that there were already thousands of
corporate and government VNRs produced and aired each year, and that
number continues to increase. The skillful manipulation of the media by
professional propagandists, often with the consent and approval of
editors and news directors, is rampant and worsening.

Do you think there will be more revelations?

The mainstream media does a horrific job of reporting on itself, and I
think that there will be more revelations only to the extent that
independent journalists are able to document and expose these abuses.
The best PR, like the best propaganda, is invisible. In the more than a
decade that our organization has been reporting on and exposing
propaganda in the media, not one major newspaper to my knowledge has
committed a reporter to this as an investigative beat.

What can reporters do to break through the sound bite/talking points
media culture?

Reporters need to understand the business of propaganda and to view the
public relations industry and the culture of spin as anathema to
journalism and to democracy. Today PR flacks outnumber real working
journalists, and many of the flacks are former reporters who know
exactly how best to manage, cajole and manipulate the media because
they are from the media. J-schools have combined journalism and public
relations and told students that it's all the same, it requires the
same skills, and there is little fundamental difference. This is like
combining accounting and embezzling as a field of study.

Today in the corporate mainstream media reporters are overworked,
underpaid and pressured to avoid topics that offend advertisers.
Reporters need to dedicate themselves to real journalism and find ways
to practice it. Journalism is a sacred trust in a democracy, and if you
don't believe that you should probably go into PR.

Your books have generally focused on the way the American people are
getting hoodwinked by PR companies that set and then explain the agenda
of powerful corporations and politicians. Is there any way to render
them less powerful?

Simply stated, PR firms are corporations that help other corporations
and government agencies to manage public information, perceptions and
policy. Many people think that propaganda doesn't exist in democratic
societies, that it is a problem of dictatorships. Alex Carey, the
Australian academic, and others have pointed out that it is precisely
in democracies where sophisticated, hidden propaganda is most
prevalent, and the news media has become the major disseminator of
propaganda, rather than a force for exposing it.

In our book Weapons of Mass Deception, Sheldon and I explained how
rather than challenge Bush's war and exposing the falsehoods and
failures in Bush's claims, the U.S. news media became a propaganda arm
of the government. It shut out and ridiculed critics of the war, and
enabled it to take place. There are many fundamental reforms that could
be legislated to limit and control the power of corporations to
dominate our news and our politics. But powerful special interests and
governmental ideologues will use the best available techniques of
propaganda to manipulate and manage public perception. It is the
responsibility of journalists, educators and citizen activists to
expose and thwart such manipulation, and it's specifically our mission.

Given such a closed system, why the efforts around building media

Twelve years ago when I founded our investigative quarterly PR Watch, I
chose the name Center for Media and Democracy for our non-profit
organization in order to emphasize the idea that without a vigorous,
independent, courageous and muckraking media, democracy cannot survive,
especially in this age of cranked-up propaganda. I've been happy to see
the term "media democracy" come into wide use. With the emergence of
the internet it has taken on new meaning in the age of blogs,
indymedia, wiki web sites like SourceWatch, and all the wonderful
reporting from web sites like AlterNet, Common Dreams, Buzzflash,
WorkingForChange, and those associated with the left[ist] press.

Media democracy seems like a catch-all phrase that is pretty ambiguous.
How would you define it?

Media democracy means that we recognize that one-way, top-down,
corporate mass communications has become much more a foe of democracy
than its friend. Democratic society is impossible without a courageous
and independent news media. The dominant mainstream media, the MSM, is
driven by the corporate bottom line and filled primarily with fluff,
sensationalism, right-wing politics, PR posing as news, and a
commitment to serve corporate advertisers. We need a powerful new
political movement to fundamentally challenge and change the corporate
media environment, and we also need to create new media that takes
advantage of internet technology to better serve democracy. Community
radio stations, non-profit media watchdogs, investigative bloggers, and
alternative news websites are all becoming important producers of
online web-based news and information that is building media democracy.
One project our organization is currently discussing with other groups
committed to media democracy is to develop standards for online
journalism that enable it to fulfill its promise of becoming a vital
media that serves our democracy.

What makes "SourceWatch" unique?

SourceWatch is unique because it is an experiment in collaborative
online investigative reporting. It's a very powerful educational,
organizing, research and networking tool that allows a growing
community of global citizens to collaborate to research and write
investigative news articles.

The open source "wiki" software that powers SourceWatch is in the
public domain, as are the articles that are written. Anyone can go to
SourceWatch and read, write and edit the information there. And every
change made in any article is logged for transparency. Bob Burton, an
investigative journalist, author and activist from Australia, is our
online editor.

We are constantly striving to improve the accuracy, depth and quality
of articles on SourceWatch. It is only two years old [it was originally
launched as Disinfopedia], and we are really just at the beginning of
this experiment. Anyone who first hears about it understandably says,
as I did when my colleague Sheldon Rampton proposed SourceWatch, "what
good is it if anyone with internet access can write or edit or for that
matter vandalize its articles?" But the fact is that the vast majority
of users are dedicated to the concept of investigative online
journalism, and by insisting on journalistic standards of accuracy and
fairness, and relegating opinions to an opinion page, the experiment is

One problem it is solving is that by harnessing the investigative power
of hundreds of citizen journalists, we are finally able to keep track
of the myriad of industry front groups, PR firms, lobbyists and
anti-environmental PR campaigns that exist and are created every day.

SourceWatch has been a great success in its first two years, yet it is
just starting to take off. That said, everyone who reads an article on
the site should understand its limitations; that the article has not
necessarily been vetted by us, that no article is 100 percent accurate,
that anyone can contribute, and that it is a work in progress with no
copyright on its articles. So SourceWatch, like every other bit of the
news media, needs to be read with a critical eye. But with that
qualification I must say that I find most of the information very
accurate and much of it very unique. Wiki websites like SourceWatch are
becoming an important part of the online information environment.

Are you working on another book? What will it be about and when can we
expect it?

Sheldon and I have just begun outlining a new book examining media
corruption, spin and the growing media democracy movement. It would in
some ways be a return to the territory of our first and third books,
Toxic Sludge Is Good For You and Trust Us, We're Experts. We hope to
have it out in hardcover sometime in 2006. We've co-authored two books
in less than two years, timely paperbacks exposing the selling of the
war on Iraq and the political propaganda and strategy of the Republican
right. It seems to be a good time to step back and examine how citizens
might understand and overcome the toxic propaganda emanating from the
right-wing echo chamber.

© 2005 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/21307/


Anonymous said...

Tavis Smiley's 2005 "State of the Black Union" A Unity Covenant...

Atlanta was the hot spot today. Tavis Smiley hosted his annual symposium "The State of the Black Union." The forum was held at Rev. Eddie Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. The program focused on defining the African American Agenda. Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition took opportunity to explain to those gathered that the Black Congressional Caucus has in place a ten (10) point plan of action. But regardless of the question of whether or not the agenda set forth by the Caucus is the substance of this group's covenant the forum did establish that the process will include a community unity.

Today, black leaders voiced a need to advance the community. Freedom was the agenda until 1864. Civil rights, voting rights and access to public accomodations followed from 1864 to 1964. Leveraging the black community's collective capital appears to be the new covenant.

They voiced a concern that Democrats have taken the black community for granted and the republican party "just takes, using blacks who really have no power to lead."

The highmark of the event was when the Honorable Louis Farrakhan, Nation of Islam, explained to the group that "regardless of where we have been, we want to advance our people." He said, " black children can't eat at the table of illusion and hypocrisy." He added, "we can't focus on the house that denied us access for 400 years." He closed, "the hell with democrats and republicans."

These African American leaders, carrying the history and weight of the black experience want group unity. They appear to have found meaning in their individuality and heritage. It's more than a common skin pigmentation. It has now become a community based on a social phenomenon of systematic and comprehensive forces that only those challenged by a longstanding history of discrimination and violence may understand.

The Need:The level playing field remains more illusion than reality... Since the start of George W. Bush presidency in January 2000 a general concern in the African American community was voiced that on issues that are of the greatest importance to millions of Americans, the President's policies are misplaced priorities. The uncertainty continued into 2004 election.

But there's one truth above all others in second term elections. They are referendums on the incumbent. So as hard as it is to accept, there are other Americans outside the African American community that like the job that George W. Bush is doing. And, with re-election he's not an asterisk anymore alone among American presidents. That is, riding the votes of 59 million (other)Americans, he's the president regardless of the fact that majority of African Americans who voted would rather have had the other guy.

So... it's time to move on. African Americans must put their differences aside. American identity is not a function of birthright but a way of life. The African American community must keep moving toward the America identity it believes is possible. Isn't democracy great?

Some argue "African American leaders judges America from the utopian standard, never comparing America to anything other but the Garden of Eden (immigrants, for example, are said to compare America to their old country)." But, it has been only forty years since separate water fountains of Jim Crow prohibitions and many Americans would now like to proceed as if the slate is clean and the scale is balanced.

The upward strides of many African Americans into the middle class have given the illusion that race cannot be the barrier that some make it out to be. However, one in four African Americans continue to live below the official poverty line (versus approximately one in nine whites). The optimistic assumption of the 1970s and 1980s was that upwardly mobile African Americans were quietly integrating formerly all-white occupations, businesses, neighborhoods, and social clubs. Black middle- and working-class families were moving out of all-black urban neighborhoods and into the suburbs. But, the one black doctor who lives in an exclusive white suburb and the few African American lawyers who work at a large firm are not representative of the today's black community. And although most white Americans are also not doctors or lawyers, the lopsided distribution of occupations for whites does favor such professional and managerial jobs, whereas blacks are clustered in the sales and clerical fields.

In short, the inequalities run even deeper than just income. One must compound and exponentiate the current differences over a history of slavery and Jim Crow, and the nearly fourteenfold wealth advantage that whites enjoy over African Americans—regardless of income, education, or occupation—needs little explanation, and add the failure of the education system where African Americans children are the clear victims.

The explanations for economic inequality perceives the American political economy as being fundamentally fair with virtually everyone guaranteed an equal opportunity to compete, work hard, and excel in American schools, labor markets, housing markets, and other American social institutions. However, using wealth as a measure of economic inequality, the same top twenty percent of American households controlled over sixty-eight percent of the net worth of the United States, leaving virtually no wealth in the hands of the bottom twenty percent.

Economic inequality that characterized the United States at its inception continues to influence contemporary institutional practices and American social institutions routinely discriminate against African Americans denying them the means of acquiring human capital (innate individual capacities such as talent and motivation combined with achieved qualities such as educational qualifications and employment experiences). Limited to segregated neighborhoods, educated in inferior schools, and lacking access to the good jobs that are increasingly located in inaccessible suburban neighborhoods, African Americans bear an unfair share of the costs and economic inequality in the United States constitutes economic injustice.

Recurring discrimination in workplaces and elsewhere wastes human capital and seriously restricts and marginalizes its victims. The negative impact of racial animosity and discrimination includes a sense of threat at work or elsewhere, lowered self-esteem, rage at mistreatment, depression, the development of defensive tactics, a reduction in desire for normal interaction, and other psychological problems. The costs of racial animosity and discrimination extends well beyond the individual to families and communities. While many African Americans may have managed to overcome discrimination, their struggle will take a toll in their personal health or on the ability to maximize contributions to the larger society.

Discussion:Are some blacks becoming a "black bourgeoisie?"

Are some blacks controlling the wealth and power within the black community and turning its back on its own people?

Are many members of black America adopting the values, standards and ideals of the white middle class, and are trying to distance themselves from the black poor?

In the 1960s, federal entitlement programs, civil rights legislation, equal opportunity statutes and affirmative action programs broke the open barriers of legal segregation. The path to universities and corporations for some blacks was now wide open. More blacks than ever did what their parents only dreamed of – they fled blighted inner-city areas in droves. The new frontier, business where the dollar is made and where significant wealth and resources are at stake.

But, is there a widening rift between the black haves and the black have-nots that has been blurred by racism, ignored by blacks and hidden from white society?

Is black wealth, like white wealth, now concentrated in fewer hands?

A study by the Harvard Civil Rights Project, shows progress toward school desegregation peaked in late 1980s. That is a half-century after the Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of American education, schools are almost as segregated as they were when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The report said that a massive migration of black families toward the suburbs is producing "hundreds of new segregated and unequal schools and frustrating the dream of middle-class minority families." According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test report, by the 12th grade, on average, black students (in the United States) are four years behind those who are white or Asain.

The "NAEP" test report not only average scores for each racial or ethnic group; they also place each individual test-taker in one of four different "achievement levels." The bottom is labeled below basic, which is reserved for students unable to display even "partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills." In five of the seven subjects tested, a majority of black twelfth graders perform Below Basic. In math, the figure is almost seven out of ten, in science more than three out of four.

While this gap may not be hidden from public, black republicans have been inhibited from describing the problem in its full dimensions. But closing the skills gap is the answer to real racial equality in American society.

What, in fact, are black republicans doing with what they aggregate?

Access to positions of power and prestige – and to well-paying jobs in general – are limited because blacks typically leave high school with an eighth-grade education. The status of blacks today is different than it was a half century ago, when almost 90 percent of blacks lived in poverty. By now more than 40 percent of blacks describe themselves as middle class, and a third live in suburbs. College attendance rates are as high although a high percentage drop out before getting a four-year degree. African-Americans are CEOs and occupy lofty positions in the federal government. But all is not well.

The most discouraging news of all is that which has been barely discussed by black leaders: the appalling racial gap in academic achievement in the K-12 years. Without an education, black children are slaves to the world they live in. Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education decision struck down legalized school segregation to give equal educational access to African Americans and other minorities. But, today's major American educational issue still involves race.

Blacks have no choice but to prepare its young. At least three black men ascended in the aftermath of civil rights movement to become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and an additional 275 or more senior black executives are now no less than three steps away from the CEO. They've attended the nation's most prestigious schools, learned how to navigate the highest reaches of the systems, and they have thrived.

But, for all their great wealth and enormous resources, it appears most sucessful blacks remain absent from the struggle of educating our young. Recently, Kmart Holding Corp. chose Aylwin Lewis to improve the giant retailer's image and operation. Lewis joins Stanley O'Neal of Merrill Lynch, Richard Parsons of Time Warner, Ken Chenault of American Express and Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae as the only African American chief executives heading top publicly trading companies in the U.S.

Corporations today say they do look to a talent pool largely comprising minorities and women for their senior and middle managers. But the level of education and the caliber of schools blacks attended are not equal, and the competition for market share is so ferocious that companies must recruit the best talent.

George W. Bush appealed to Americans' best instincts when he declared that no child should be left behind.


All agree that every child in America should have the same opportunity to reach his or her full potential regardless of the color of skin, gender or the income level of the child's parents. The president's plan has set up millions of vulnerable kids for failure, leaving black youth with another dose of mostly symbolic politics. The education reform accountability system based on annual testing in grades three through eight that financially sanctions schools that do not show quick improvement, will do a great deal of additional damage to the children in America's most-troubled public schools. It is wrong to expect schools to succeed virtually overnight when so little is done to attack inequalities in education.

How can he expect the poorest children, who face every disadvantage, to do as well as those who have every advantage?

Given Bush's spending priorities there is little left to finance his efforts to leave no child behind. Further, by the time students enter the third grade, when the Bush testing plan would kick in, much already has been determined about whether individual children will succeed or struggle academically.

America's schools must be accountable to the children being educated in them and to their parents. But making high-stakes annual tests the sole determinant for students and their schools, and imposing major costs on those who fail, is counterproductive.

In closing, assessment should measure, not drive, education reform. Why force schools to spend thousands on consultants to teach test-taking strategies instead of substantive learning? The magic that can happen between a creative teacher and engaged students is too often lost in schools driven by test preparation.


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Properly manage its own budget (bankroll management).
Skilful manage your budget with a few simple rules. When you play at the tables 0.5 / $ 1 Fixed Limit, your budget is a minimum of $ 300, preferably $ 500. When you lose, do not try to make up for losses, end the poker game. When you lose what you have earned before, go back to the lower limit and win up again, you'll be able to play on the tables with a higher limit.
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