Monday, July 19, 2004

Chicago Media Action Study Finds WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" Favors Affluent Whites, Ignores People of Color and Workers

According to a study released today by media watchdog Chicago Media Action, the topics, sources and views aired on Chicago PBS affiliate WTTW's flagship public affairs program, Chicago Tonight, consistently cater to the interests of advertisers and white affluent Chicagoans while ignoring news and perspectives of interest to other constituencies. The study, "Chicago Tonight: Elites, Affluence and Advertising", covers thirty episodes of Chicago Tonight, twenty of which aired in September 2003, and ten episodes that aired in January and February 2004.

"Public television is supposed to provide us with an alternative to commercial broadcasting. Yet CMA's study demonstrates that WTTW's signature news and public affairs program showcases the same white, male, professional voices that already dominate commercial TV news," explained Stephen Macek, Assistant Professor of Speech Communication at North Central College in Naperville and a collaborator on the study.

James Owens, principal author of Chicago Media Action's research effort, said "Over 40% of the Chicago area is made up of people of color - 58% in the City - but 79% of the guests on Chicago Tonight are white. During our study, Chicago Tonight presented only white guests in stories on business and economy. In addition, on stories of business and economy during our study, corporate representatives made up over 47% of the guests, while labor representatives made up less than 5% of the guests and no public interest representatives appeared."

Citizen activists, public interest representatives and labor representatives accounted for only 3.1% of the guests on Chicago Tonight in our study. Average citizens, with extremely rare exception, were permitted to give their opinions only in entertainment segments on Chicago Tonight. Owens further explained, "We live in a time of unprecedented public anger over the media's shortcomings in the performance of its democratic function, with no less than the New York Times apologizing for huge journalistic errors regarding Iraq. It is essential that we take this opportunity to look closely at public broadcasting too. And fix it."

Chicago Media Action co-organizer and study contributor Scott Sanders stated: "We call for the creation of a carefully selected local commission to investigate all the changes necessary to ensure that underrepresented communities are given direct, hands-on control of programming on WTTW that best meets their needs. And we call for the creation by WTTW of programming that provides for the discussion of issues of special interest to African Americans, hosted by African Americans, and programming that provides a live monthly forum for the public to discuss issues of debate and controversy, including discussion of independent documentaries. Lastly, we call for an independent audit of the station's finances due to the theft and gross negligence cited elsewhere."

Sanders continued: "The working people, communities of color and other diverse constituencies in Chicago are getting shut out by the elite class and the commercial interests which set the agenda for Chicago Tonight. Thirty-nine out of WTTW's board of sixty self-elected trustees run or control a corporation. Twenty-six trustees run or control a financial firm. Our study proves in many ways what we have all sensed for some time - that the station's call letters really do stand for 'Winnetka Talks To Wilmette'. We're going to have to fully discuss and rethink the way our public media is managed, funded and structured."

Founded in 2002, Chicago Media Action (CMA) is a membership-run organization that monitors and analyzes media in the Chicago area in order to expose the economic and political interests that control them. We seek to democratically empower and organize the working-class to challenge corporate control of major media, and to create their own media.


The Executive Summary

The Full Study (including the Executive Summary)

The Appendix

OR E-MAIL US AT, 773-753-0818


Friday, July 16, 2004

Why the Press Failed
By Orville Schell

When, on May 26, 2004, the editors of the New York Times published a mea
culpa for the paper's one-sided reporting on weapons of mass destruction and
the Iraq war, they admitted to "a number of instances of coverage that was
not as rigorous as it should have been." They also commented that they had
since come to "wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining claims" made
by the Bush Administration. But we are still left to wonder why the Times,
like many other major media outlets in this country, was so lacking in
skepticism toward administration rationales for war? How could such a poorly
thought through policy, based on spurious exile intelligence sources, have
been so blithely accepted, even embraced, by so many members of the media?
In short, what happened to the press's vaunted role, so carefully spelled
out by the Founding Fathers, as a skeptical "watchdog" over government?

There's nothing like seeing a well-oiled machine clank to a halt to help you
spot problems. Now that the Bush administration is in full defensive mode
and angry leakers in the Pentagon, the CIA, and elsewhere in the Washington
bureaucracy are slipping documents, secrets, and charges to reporters, our
press looks more recognizably journalistic. But that shouldn't stop us from
asking how an "independent" press in a "free" country could have been so
paralyzed for so long. It not only failed to seriously investigate
administration rationales for war, but little took into account the myriad
voices in the on-line, alternative, and world press that sought to do so. It
was certainly no secret that a number of our Western allies (and other
countries), administrators of various NGOs, and figures like Mohamed
ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Hans Blix,
head of the UN's Monitoring, Verification and Inspections Commission, had
quite different pre-war views of the "Iraqi threat."

Few in our media, it seemed, remembered I. F. Stone's hortatory admonition,
"If you want to know about governments, all you have to know is two words:
Governments lie." Dissenting voices in the mainstream were largely buried on
back pages, ignored on op-ed pages, or confined to the margins of the media,
and so denied the kinds of "respectability" that a major media outlet can

As reporting on the lead-up to war, the war itself, and its aftermath
vividly demonstrated, our country is now divided into a two-tiered media
structure. The lower-tier -- niche publications, alternative media outlets,
and Internet sites -- hosts the broadest spectrum of viewpoints. Until the
war effort began to unravel in spring 2004, the upper-tier -- a relatively
small number of major broadcast outlets, newspapers, and magazines -- had a
far more limited bandwidth of critical views, regularly deferring to the
Bush Administration's vision of the world. Contrarian views below rarely
bled upwards.

As Michael Massing pointed out recently in the New York Review of Books,
Bush administration insinuations that critics were unpatriotic -- White
House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer infamously warned reporters as war
approached, "People had better watch what they say" -- had an undeniably
chilling effect on the media. But other forms of pressure also effectively
inhibited the press. The President held few press conferences and rarely
submitted to truly open exchanges. Secretive and disciplined to begin with,
the administration adeptly used the threat of denied access as a way to
intimidate reporters who showed evidence of independence. For reporters,
this meant no one-on-one interviews, special tips, or leaks, being passed
over in press conference question-and-answer periods, and exclusion from
select events as well as important trips.

After the war began, for instance, Jim Wilkinson, a 32 year-old Texan who
ran Centcom's Coalition Media Center in Qatar, was, according to Massing,
known to rebuke reporters whose copy was deemed insufficiently "supportive
of the war," and "darkly warned one correspondent that he was on a 'list'
along with two other reporters at his paper." In the play-along world of the
Bush Administration, critical reporting was a quick ticket to exile.

A media world of faith-based truth

The impulse to control the press hardly originated with George W. Bush, but
his administration has been less inclined than any in memory to echo Thomas
Jefferson's famous declaration that, "The basis of our government being the
opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right;
and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without
newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment
to prefer the latter."

The Bush Administration had little esteem for the watchdog role of the
press, in part because its own quest for "truth" has been based on something
other than empiricism. In fact, it enthroned a new criterion for veracity,
"faith-based" truth, sometimes corroborated by "faith -based" intelligence.
For officials of this administration (and not just the religious ones
either), truth seemed to descend from on high, a kind of divine revelation
begging no further earthly scrutiny. For our President this was evidently
literally the case. The Israeli paper Ha'aretz reported him saying to
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Prime Minister of the moment, "God told me to
strike Al Qaeda and I struck, and then he instructed me to strike Saddam,
which I did."

It is hardly surprising, then, that such a President would eschew newspapers
in favor of reports from other more "objective sources," namely, his staff.
He has spoken often of trusting "visceral reactions" and acting on "gut
feelings." For him as for much of the rest of his administration,
decision-making has tended to proceed not from evidence to conclusion, but
from conclusion to evidence. Reading, facts, history, logic and the complex
interaction between the electorate, the media, and the government have all
been relegated to subsidiary roles in what might be called "fundamentalist"
policy formation.

Just as the free exchange of information plays little role in the
relationship between a fundamentalist believer and his or her God, so it has
played a distinctly diminished role in our recent parallel world of divine
political revelation. After all, if you already know the answer to a
question, of what use is the media, except to broadcast that answer? The
task at hand, then, is never to listen but to proselytize the political
gospel among non-believers, thereby transforming a once interactive process
between citizen and leader into evangelism.

Although in the Bush political universe, "freedom has been endlessly
extolled in principle, it has had little utility in practice. What possible
role could a free press play when revelation trumps fact and conclusions are
preordained? A probing press is logically viewed as a spoiler under such
conditions, stepping between the administration and those whose only true
salvation lies in becoming part of a nation of true believers. Since there
was little need, and less respect, for an opposition (loyal or otherwise),
the information feedback loops in which the press should have played a
crucial role in any functioning democracy, ceased operating. The media
synapses which normally transmit warnings from citizen to government froze

Television networks continued to broadcast and papers continued to publish,
but, dismissed and ignored, they became irrelevant, except possibly for
their entertainment value. As the press has withered, the government,
already existing in a self-referential and self-deceptive universe, was
deprived of the ability to learn of danger from its own policies and thus
make course corrections.

A Universe in Which News Won't Matter

Karl Rove, the president's chief political advisor, bluntly declared to New
Yorker writer Ken Auletta that members of the press "don't represent the
public any more than other people do. I don't believe you have a
check-and-balance function." Auletta concluded that, in the eyes of the Bush
Administration, the press corps had become little more than another
special-interest lobbying group. Indeed, the territory the traditional media
once occupied has increasingly been deluged by administration lobbying,
publicity, and advertising -- cleverly staged "photo ops," carefully
produced propaganda rallies, preplanned "events," tidal waves of campaign
ads, and the like. Afraid of losing further "influence," access, and the
lucrative ad revenues that come from such political image-making, major
media outlets have found it in their financial interest to quietly yield.

What does this downgrading of the media's role say about how our government
views its citizens, the putative sovereigns of our country? It suggests that
"we the people" are seen not as political constituencies conferring
legitimacy on our rulers, but as consumers to be sold policy the way
advertisers sell product. In the storm of selling, spin, bullying, and
"discipline" that has been the Bush signature for years, traditional news
outlets found themselves increasingly drowned out, ghettoized, and cowed.
Attacked as "liberal" and "elitist," disesteemed as "trouble makers" and
"bashers" (even when making all too little trouble), they were relegated to
the sidelines, increasingly uncertain and timid about their shrinking place
in the political process.

Add in a further dynamic (which intellectuals from Marxist-Leninist
societies would instantly recognize): Groups denied legitimacy and disdained
by the state tend to internalize their exclusion as a form of culpability,
and often feel an abject, autonomic urge to seek reinstatement at almost any
price. Little wonder, then, that "the traditional press" has had a difficult
time mustering anything like a convincing counter-narrative as the
administration herded a terrified and all-too-trusting nation to war.

Not only did a mutant form of skepticism-free news succeed -- at least for a
time -- in leaving large segments of the populace uninformed, but it
corrupted the ability of high officials to function. All too often they
simply found themselves looking into a fun-house mirror of their own making
and imagined that they were viewing reality. As even the conservative
National Review noted, the Bush administration has "a dismaying capacity to
believe its own public relations."

In this world of mutant "news," information loops have become one-way
highways; and a national security advisor, cabinet secretary, or attorney
general, a well-managed and programmed polemicist charged to "stay on
message," the better to justify whatever the government has already done, or
is about to do. Because these latter-day campaigns to "dominate the media
environment," as the Pentagon likes to say, employ all the sophistication
and technology developed by communications experts since Edward Bernays,
nephew of Sigmund Freud, first wed an understanding of psychology to the
marketing of merchandise, they are far more seductive than older-style news.
Indeed, on Fox News, we can see the ultimate marriage of news and PR in a
fountainhead of artful propaganda so well-packaged that most people can't
tell it from the real thing.

For three-plus years we have been governed by people who don't view news, in
the traditional sense, as playing any constructive role in our system of
governance. At the moment, they are momentarily in retreat, driven back from
the front lines of faith-based truth by their own faith-based blunders. But
make no mistake, their frightening experiment will continue if Americans
allow it. Complete success would mean not just that the press had
surrendered its essential watchdog role, but -- a far darker thought --
that, even were it to refuse to do so, it might be shunted off to a place
where it would not matter.

As the war in Iraq descended into a desert quagmire, the press belatedly
appeared to awaken and adopt a more skeptical stance toward an already
crumbling set of Bush administration policies. But if a bloody, expensive,
catastrophic episode like the war in Iraq is necessary to remind us of the
important role that the press plays in our democracy, something is gravely
amiss in the way our political system has come to function.

Orville Schell is Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the
University of California, Berkeley. This piece is adapted from the preface
to a collection of New York Review of Books articles on the media's coverage
of the war in Iraq by Michael Massing. It will be published soon as a short
book, Now They Tell Us (The New York Review of Books, 2004).

Copyright C2004 Orville Schell

Monday, July 12, 2004

Antiwar group says its ad is rejected
From New York Times, July 12, 2004
By Raymond Hernandez and Andrea Elliott

A group of antiwar advocates is accusing Clear Channel Communications, one of the nation's largest media companies, with close ties to national Republicans, of preventing the group from displaying a Times Square billboard critical of the war in Iraq.

The billboard - an image of a red, white and blue bomb with the words "Democracy Is Best Taught by Example, Not by War" - was supposed to go up next month, the antiwar group said, and it was to be in place when Republicans from across the country gathered in New York City to nominate President Bush for a second term.

But members of the group, Project Billboard, contend that Clear Channel backed out of a leasing agreement last month that the two had reached in December for the billboard site, on the Marriott Marquis Hotel at Broadway and 45th Street.

A Project Billboard spokesman, Howard Wolfson, said the group planned to file a lawsuit today in federal court in Manhattan charging Clear Channel with breach of contract and asking it to live up to what the group said were the terms of the deal.

Last night, the president and chief executive of Clear Channel, Paul Meyer, said the company had objected to the group's use of "the bomb imagery" in the proposed billboard. Mr. Meyer said Clear Channel had accepted a billboard that would replace the bomb with a dove. However, he said, any billboard at the site required the approval of the Marriott Marquis management, which he said also objected to the bomb.

"We have no political agenda," Mr. Meyer said. "It's the bomb imagery we objected to."

A spokeswoman for the hotel, Kathleen Duffy, said that the management considered the ad with the bomb "inappropriate," but that it had not seen the version with the dove.

Told of Mr. Meyer's comments, Mr. Wolfson said that earlier, Clear Channel had rejected the ad with the dove as well as the one with the bomb, demanding that the words be changed, too. "It's news to us, and not reflected in any prior communications between Clear Channel and Project Billboard," Mr. Wolfson said last night. "This contradicts Clear Channel's demand that the copy be changed."

The dispute had led members of the antiwar group to accuse Clear Channel of censorship.

"I think the idea that political advertising is banned from some part of New York City would be repellent to New Yorkers," Mr. Wolfson said. "I guess we can have a war, but we can't talk about it."

This is not the first time that Clear Channel, one of the nation's largest owners of radio stations, has found itself in the middle of a debate over free speech and censorship.

The company has been accused of using its radio stations to rally support for the war in Iraq, while trying to silence musicians who oppose it.

The company's critics point out, for instance, that some Clear Channel country music stations stopped playing the songs of the Dixie Chicks last year after the group's lead singer, Natalie Maines, told fans during a London concert, "We're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."

The company's critics also point out that the Federal Communications Commission is considering regulations that would make it easier for companies like Clear Channel to own more television and radio stations.

But even some of its fiercest critics agree that some claims against Clear Channel are overstated. As it turns out, for example, its stations were only sporadically involved in a boycott against the Dixie Chicks.

Part of what may be fueling speculation about the company's motives is the close relationship that its executives have with the Republican Party and the Bush administration. In the 2000 and 2002 election cycles, for instance, the company and its officials donated slightly more than $300,000 in unregulated money, almost all of it to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, an organization in Washington that monitors political contributions.

In addition, Tom Hicks, the Texas Rangers' owner who has longtime ties to President Bush, is a top executive at Clear Channel.

Project Billboard's representatives said the contract they signed in December with Spectacolor, a division of Clear Channel, required the antiwar group to pay $368,000 to use the billboard space from Aug. 2 through Nov. 2, Election Day.

But they said Spectacolor began balking after company officials saw the ad that included the image of the bomb. The group then sent a second ad, which replaced the bomb with a red, white and blue dove accompanied by the same words, but Mr. Wolfson said that was also rejected.

A lawyer for Project Billboard, Doug Curtis, said that at one point Clear Channel suggested that the group use a less provocative billboard ad, one with the image of a little girl waving a flag accompanied by the words, "Democracy is best taught by example."

Mr. Curtis said that earlier this month, a vice president for marketing for Spectacolor and Clear Channel, Barry Kula, sent the group an e-mail message that said, in part, "We hope you will appreciate that New York City has endured a horrific attack and businesses in this area that serve a wide array of clientele are extremely sensitive to references to war."

Project Billboard's director, Deborah Rappaport, indicated that the reaction of Clear Channel executives was not a complete surprise given what she described as its poor record on free expression. "This is not the first time," she said. "They try to suppress speech with which they don't agree."

The dispute between Clear Channel and the antiwar group drew a mixed reaction yesterday from visitors in Times Square.

When shown a printed copy of the antiwar ads that Clear Channel is said to have rejected, Nene Ofuatey-Kodjoe, 36, of Stamford, Conn., became visibly upset. "Clear Channel should not have a position one way or another about what they put up there as long as it's not obscene," he said.

He also scoffed at the alternative billboard proposed by Clear Channel, with a little girl waving the flag. "All the fence-sitting is what has gotten us to where we are today," he said. "You have got to take a stand."

Terry and Jim Baugh, two Californians strolling north on Seventh Avenue, said the image of the bomb bordered on treason. "That looks like they're trying to blow up America," said Mrs. Baugh, 59, a retired dental hygienist.

This article is from New York Times. If you found it informative and valuable, we strongly encourage you to visit their website and register an account to view all their articles on the web. Support quality journalism.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Assault on the Labor Movement in Iraq
by Ralph Nader
Published on Monday, June 28, 2004 by

What is going on among Iraq's working classes? We do not hear about those workers except for the high number of unemployed.
Thanks to the Labor Party Press we learn that George W. Bush's top representative in Iraq, Paul Bremer, continues to enforce Saddam Hussein's decree banning unions using military force where necessary. Bush's coalition authority also would interpret "illegal" unions, demonstrations and strikes as inciting civil disorder which can result in the workers being arrested and treated as prisoners of war.
Labor Party Press reports that Bremer has lowered Saddam Hussein's minimum wage and has cutoff the dictator's welfare benefits of housing and food. Ironic! All this is depriving and embittering millions of Iraqi families and increasing their sympathy for the insurgency. The Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI) has been working to keep both the occupying soldiers and the insurgents from remaining inside the cities and residential areas.
All kinds of political movements - secular and religious - are churning in Iraq. The secular populist associations - labor, women, self-help, civic - believe the U.S. occupation has attracted fundamentalist mobilizations from outside and inside the country. There is now a Union of the Unemployed (UUI) that in the past year has enrolled 300,000 members. Their desire is to get some of the 300,000 reconstruction jobs under the U.S. occupation. Apparently Labor Party Press reports UUI spokesman describing then meeting with the U.S. Coalition authority as follows:
"We went in with out [membership] records in our hands, and they said 'Who are you? Who do you represent? You are nobody. We are the power here." Well, at least, that is the impression by the UUI of the reception they received. So they demonstrated in front of the Coalition's Palace, followed by a sit-in. Fifty of the demonstrators were arrested.
Daily life is what concerns most Iraqis, not the politics of various religions and ethnic groups. The U.S. occupation still has not meet the people's needs for adequate water, food, cooking, oil and often electricity.
Before Saddam came to power, with U.S. help in 1979, there used to be a strong labor movement. Now two union federations are emerging. American labor journalist David Bacon is reporting on the struggles of Iraqi workers to restore their jobs in the oil industry that U.S. companies like Halliburton were replacing with foreign workers. Teachers and women workers are also engaging in labor activity, he says.
For more information, see