Saturday, October 27, 2012

Yellow Journalism: The FOX in the Chicken House

By Jamie York

Yellow journalism is more than sensational stories about celebrity lawsuits, alien babies, Elvis sightings, nude photos of Princess Kate, or, my personal favorite, the World Weekly News claim that Abraham Lincoln was a woman and John Wilkes Booth was his jilted lover. All of these fall under the broad banner of yellow journalism, defined as manipulating or manufacturing news for the purpose of boosting profits and influencing public opinion. 

Yellow journalism techniques include sensationalism, altering photos to elicit a particular response in the viewer, misleading headlines, selecting quotes or interview clips in order to highlight (or hide) a particular point of view, manufacturing false news, omitting factual details in order to influence a particular audience, failing to make a clear distinction between opinion and news. The list could go on, but you get the idea.

Before radio and television, citizens got their news from newspapers. As sales and profits increased, so did competition. Any competing newspaper that printed a breaking story first got the "scoop" and a big jump on sales -- and advertisers paid more money for ads in papers that reached larger audiences. It is widely suspected, but still unproven, that publisher William Randolph Hearst helped incite the 1898 Spanish-American war in order to sell more newspapers than his competitors. The classic Orson Welles film "Citizen Kane" addresses this in humorous fashion as the protagonist's associates try to figure out the meaning of his dying word, "rosebud."

Today, with people getting most of their news in small increments via internet headlines, radio sound bytes, and TV video clips, the impact of false or misleading news is far greater and the political consequences are far more dangerous than the limited impact to the print audience of the past. On the upside, however, statements and assertions can be fact-checked rapidly, a process that was slow and painstaking before computers and YouTube. Every word a politician says is likely recorded, even in private settings.

Today, one could argue that most, if not all, mainstream and cable news outlets practice yellow journalism on occasion, but this discussion will focus on the worst offender: FOX News. FOX News may be the most-watched news channel in the United States, but it is the worst purveyor of yellow journalism and the greatest danger to public discourse.  

Media ethics do not exist at FOX News. They "report" in a selective way, blending facts with opinion and building up a crescendo of emotion and fear while actively trying to mould public opinion to match the views of their owner, Rupert Murdock. And they use the most powerful educational tool in history, TV, to relentlessly and irresponsibly repeat lies so often that the audience accepts them as truth. And they lie with the blessing of the court system.  In February, 2003, a Florida Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with an assertion by FOX News that there is no FCC provision or rule against lying in the news media in the United States. News media can legally lie. By law!

The danger inherent in this acceptance of lying is that a FOX audience can tune in and get hooked without any way to comprehend issues from a truthful, contextual, historical, or international perspective. The viewer is being hoodwinked and brain-washed by a constant, shrill, highly politicized barrage of content that favors federal capitalism over Jeffersonian democracy, that promotes a laissez-faire economic environment, and that demonizes classic centrist liberalism as though it were socialist, which it is not.  FOX News steers the ideological bus that drives the GOP with help from commentators like Bill O'Reilly and Michelle Malkin, from talk-radio commentators like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Ann Coulter, and from think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, and Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity.

A 2011 survey from Farleigh Dickinson University found that people who watch no news at all can answer more questions correctly about domestic and international events than people who watch only FOX News.  The survey also found that FOX News viewers are the worst-informed of any cable news outlet on domestic and international current events, and that MSNBC and CNN viewers fared only slightly better.  Viewers who get their news from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" answered more questions correctly than the three cable news channels, but NPR listeners were found to be the best-informed of all news recipients.

FOX News makes money, though, and money drives the competition. Other news outlets copy the FOX model with programming that presents the GOP talking points, yet perhaps not as aggressively as FOX. MSNBC has more commentary shows that present a liberal centrist point of view, with Big Ed Schultz being MSNBC's liberal version of Bill O'Reilly.

Many seniors get their evening news from watching The O'Reilly Factor on FOX. They relate to his outward appearance of sincerity without realizing that he does not fact-check and often presents his opinions as though he were a news reporter. Guests with dissenting opinions on his show are shouted down, bullied, accused of being a liberal socialist, and are cut-off. This is typical of FOX programming in general. Repeat the GOP talking points on all shows, every day, every hour, to control the debate. Be so loud, so repetitious, that other media outlets must tag along to retain viewers.  

FOX reminds me of the Soviet Union's Tass news service, which was controlled by the Russian government. In the US, if the media are funded by corporate advertising and espouse corporate ideology while ignoring other viewpoints, then it is the same principle of socio-political control, of state censorship, that restricted Tass. Censorship is censorship, no matter the context.

The way mass media have ignored the popular issue of single-payer, cradle-to-grave health care coverage highlights another aspect of yellow journalism -- self-censorship. The news media get millions of advertising dollars from drug companies, so the industry opposition by advertisers to single payer affects reporting so deeply that the issue is ignored. When single payer is mentioned by a guest on FOX, it is invariably dissed as socialism (which is supposed to be "bad," while free market capitalism is supposed to be "good"). None of the cable news networks speak of single payer even though proponents say it would be cheaper, would take the burden off employers, and would reduce the crime rate.

Self-censorship is a common practice in yellow journalism, but the US Government also censors the news itself. During the Vietnam war, reporters could take photos to show the stark reality of war -- the mangled bodies and missing limbs of soldiers and civilians alike. News reporting played an important role in public opinion as the war intensified and the antiwar movement grew. During the Reagan administration attack on the tiny island of Grenada, a new method of news reporting was forced upon the mass media. It was called "pool reporting" and its chief purpose was to control war news and photos and to subject pool reporters -- reporters from certain approved media outlets -- to military censorship. 

This practice continues today, so America's wars have become distant and sanitized, with the public totally in the dark unless war crimes are filmed and released surreptitiously, as in photos taken at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq that showed prisoners being tortured by US military personnel. The chief argument for pool reporting is that mission secrecy and troop positions must be protected, but I see this as a smokescreen so the government can engage in wars of occupation in sovereign nations without the public knowing what is happening. Very dangerous indeed. And very Orwellian, especially when government and media conspire to reeducate the public for social control: War is peace. Slavery is freedom. Ignorance is strength. 

The shame of yellow journalism, of news manipulation, of manufactured news, of military censorship, and of self-censorship, is that television could and should be a powerful educational tool that reports news in a straightforward manner, that provides facts, context and historical background information, then encourages wide-ranging discussion, commentary, and consensus in the ultimate pursuit of "truth." In today's newsrooms, this just does not happen. The exceptions are C-Span, which sometimes covers events that mainstream media ignore, and cable stations like Link TV and Free Speech TV.

Every news channel on the public airwaves should hold the public's right to know in such high regard that they strive for excellence in news dissemination and do not allow politicians, courts, advertisers, or their own owners or stockholders, to accept lying or any form of censorship. This is where we need to be, and we are nowhere near this level of excellence. It time for legitimate journalists to call out FOX on its lies and to spearhead a campaign for a new fairness or ethics doctrine to help ensure that unfiltered news is available widely, that truth is valued, and that liars are called out publicly. It is clear that, in spite of hundreds of cable channels, PBS is still very much needed as an independent news source and should be non-commercial and fully funded. Big Bird may be the symbol, but the public's right to know is at the heart of the debate over defunding and privatizing PBS. Control the messenger, control the message. Very dangerous indeed.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Citizens United: The Death Rattle of Jeffersonian Democracy

By Jamie York

Our Constitution and Bill of Rights is a model for people in developing countries around the world. And rightly so! It gives citizens -- we the people -- the power and authority over government. People everywhere dream of this. As do we, since the reality has never caught up with the dream.

Even so, in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a major blow to the dream of democracy. In Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, the high court ruled that corporations are persons, with the same First Amendment rights as living, breathing people. Corporations, which should still be considered artificial legal entities to conduct business on a limited scale, were given constitutional protection as though they were alive.

The ruling itself did not even have to mention personhood at all, but the effect of this ruling has been deep and profound, and may lead to our undoing as a nation. The main thrust of the ruling allows unlimited corporate spending to influence the outcome of our elections and, in these times, money means power. Any ruling, law, or a regulation anywhere that is perceived to threaten corporate profits can be weakened or overturned by corporate lawyers, even when those laws -- passed by legislative bodies of citizens -- are in place to protect real people and real communities. Corporations have very deep pockets -- far, far deeper than individual citizens. And far deeper than citizens organized into labor unions.

How many citizens who work in factories, schools, hospitals, restaurants, and retail stores have the financial ability to create a fake organization and use its name in a political attack ad? A corporation certainly does. Individual contributors have long been able to do this under tax laws, but the difference now is that corporate funds may be used so as to not deprive corporations of their First Amendment rights. How many people can walk into a factory to address the workers and scare them into thinking that if they do not vote for a certain candidate, then they may lose their jobs? A corporate CEO has the power to do that. Multiply this by thousands of corporations and you will find that the United States Supreme Court has overthrown our government and replaced it with a corporate oligarchy. A government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich. Although political and economic terms have wide-ranging definitions depending on who you ask or where you look, it seems to me that the Supreme Court has opened the door for the fascist economic idea of state nationalism -- aka state capitalism or monopoly capitalism -- to take root and end Jeffersonian democracy.

Under state capitalism, government will exist only to serve the interests of the corporate profit state -- the rich -- and the freedoms and rights to self-government we so cherish will be abridged and even abolished. For many years, communism was supposedly the boogie man, the threat to freedom. This has been drilled into us in a great ironic play of misdirection. "It's the communists, not us," said the rich and super-rich. "The communists will enslave you, not us!" Who could have predicted we would be overthrown from within? Without a shot being fired!

Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, in a 1933 economic speech, defines state capitalism as "the bureaucratization of the economic activities of the nation." Mussolini said this bureaucratization "would lead inexorably into state capitalism, which is nothing more nor less than state socialism turned on its head." We are not there yet, but our high court has opened the door for this bureaucratization process to move forward.

The Citizens United decision must be overturned and our election laws and campaign financing laws must be changed, strictly regulated, and enforced to benefit individual voters. Take money out of the equation. Pass a new fairness doctrine so qualified candidates, including third parties, will have equal access to state their positions via the public airwaves and digital cable and satellite outlets as elections approach. For one example, maybe give each candidate a voucher for so many hours of advertising time to "spend" in any way they want beginning 30 days before an election. On state and local issues, and in state and local elections, both sides need similar equal access to electronic media in local markets. And remember, the airwaves still belong to we the people, not to those granted broadcasting licenses by the FCC.

To address the larger questions of citizenship and personhood, of rights and responsibilities, we need another Constitutional Convention -- and soon! The world has changed greatly since the 18th century and we need to preserve and expand democracy for flesh-and-blood citizens.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why Occupy Wall Street? Ask Orwell.

By Jamie York

Why occupy Wall Street? Well, the short answer is that corporations have overthrown the United States. I had a teacher in middle school who spoke about the dangers of monopolies and how concentrated corporate ownership resembled a dictatorship. She was right. The richest one percent control trillions of dollars.

The more entrenched corporate conglomerates become in the systems of power, the harder it is to remove them. They control production, transportation and distribution of essential consumer goods and they have created a system to manipulate markets, create shortages, raise demand, raise prices, and avoid federal taxes. They WANT to tank the economy, and natural disasters, terrorism, and prolonged economic downturns help them do just that. It gives them the opportunity to privatize with impunity and create special emergency rules to speed up the process. They can keep people so afraid of losing their jobs that they are willing to accept wage and benefit cuts. New Orleans after Katrina was a test case for them. Huge federal disaster payments went to Halliburton and other contractors and sub-contractors, leaving nothing left for people to rebuild homes and small businesses. The money did not stay in the community where it was most needed, but lined the pockets of the rich and super-rich, the same people who want us engaged in permanent warfare and keep going back to Congress for more and more money under the pretense of stopping terrorism. The rich are not content with being rich; they want ALL the money. They want TOTAL control. They want a corporate dictatorship, a subservient, dependent citizenry where dissent can be easily crushed. They want Orwell's 1984 to become reality while they sit back on private islands, sipping Daiquiris and enjoying their riches while the majority of humanity goes hungry and suffers from curable diseases.

Corporations, like big banks, media and cable networks, weapons manufacturers, drug companies, agribusiness, oil companies, and so forth, are all owned by just a few conglomerates with widespread influence in elections, court decisions and policy. Corporate cash is funneled into the electoral system through paid lobbyists. And money buys policy. If corporations do not want their activities regulated, then they lobby the candidates and corporate-friendly judges who support their positions. Huge dollars are spent on our elections and the money trail remains a secret. The Supreme Court ruled that corporations are equal to persons, with the same rights, even though real people cannot ever be equal to a corporation. This status gives them the Constitutional protection of citizens, but without any accountability or culpability. The result is that only one dominant message gets heard in the media and those who challenge corporatism openly are portrayed as kooks, as irresponsible trouble-makers who should shut up and buy things on credit, who should not complain about gas prices, relentless TV drug advertising, genetic tampering with the food supply, global warming, and the lack of diverse educational programming that Americans need to become informed citizens and voters. Americans are no longer aware of their own history as a people and nation because history is being transformed and scrubbed clean of dissent, of racism, of unions, of genocide, of imperialism. This is no accident. The most wealthy, powerful people in the country want people to have mindless entertainment, sports, comedy, games -- anything to keep them from learning, from organizing and challenging the huge and rapidly growing gap between rich and poor. Their advocates lobby that the history books and literature books used in schools should omit references to genocide against Indians, slavery, mass movements, labor strikes, and war dissent. By revising and erasing history, corporations believe they can better control people. If people do not learn about the reasons for a Bill of Rights, then those rights will not be missed as they are systematically eliminated by the courts.

Privatization of government services is a big theme in the mass media, although they call it "smaller government." A lot of news pundits talk about vouchers for charter schools, privatizing prisons, eliminating so-called state unions so teachers, nurses, police, firefighters, corrections officers, an so on, cannot negotiate for health and pension benefits or for matters concerning seniority and working conditions. Privatization means large transfers of public money to corporations. The Bush tax cuts and corporate bailouts were also huge transfers of wealth. The rich and super-rich, who have been shaking down consumers for years with little organized opposition, are emboldened by this and want as much public money as they can get their greedy paws on. Occupy Wall Street is a growing worldwide movement to challenge them.

The rich and super-rich do not pay taxes like working families do. Corporations not only use their political power to lobby Congress and get corporate-friendly laws on the books, but they own public relations firms to sugarcoat everything they do, including tax cuts and loopholes. "Oh, but we will create jobs. Give us the money. Trust us." Once they get the money they invest it overseas or hoard it. They have plenty of money to pay American workers a living wage, but corporate law states that they must make a profit for shareholders. This is their excuse for going overseas where they pay low wages without benefits or pesky environmental and safety regulations. And they do so without penalties of any kind, not even high import tariffs to bring their products back into the US. Strict regulations are necessary to control runaway capitalism, but there must also be enforcement and high fines and penalties to keep corporations in check. This is for the benefit of the majority of citizens, for the common good.

Corporations, with their media and public relations influence, helped instill in citizens a false idea that capitalism and democracy are the same thing. They aren't. Capitalism is an economic system, which can exist with a variety of social systems, but often requires use of force as it expands or if it feels threatened. Democracy, however, is an all-inclusive social system in which decisions are made by the majority of people acting in the common good and respecting the rights of the minority.

Why occupy Wall Street? Because we need a voice in what kind of a world we want to live in. Do we want to keep funding endless foreign wars or bring that money home and use it to create jobs? To create a single payer, cradle-to-grave health care system where every citizen is in and no one is out? This can be done by replacing the for-profit insurance mafia and by expanding Medicare to include dental and eye care. Do we want a safe, regulated food supply or are we OK with being Guinea pigs for untested, unlabeled genetically enhanced agricultural products engineered to increase yields and profits for the biotech seed industry? Do we want continued deregulation, or should we eliminate the Federal Reserve, the IMF and end unfair trade agreements like GATT and NAFTA? Should we re-regulate with tough new standards, stiff penalties and high import taxes for American companies that have taken our jobs overseas? Should we create a system of fair trade and hold corporations accountable when they break the rules? Should we eliminate private campaign funding and replace it with public funding, where candidates get fixed travel expenses and equal television and radio time to explain their positions?

Why occupy Wall Street? Because Wall Street has failed us on many levels, dangling high interest credit card applications like candy to a populace already saddled with unrealistic mortgages, low wages, high prices, and a lack of relief organizations to help people. ACORN was one of those relief organizations, set up by a fake journalist with a video camera and vilified by a bandwagon news media that reported the story and showed edited film, but did not do the independent reporting necessary for the truth to be told. And now ACORN is gone, no longer able to perform its humanitarian mission to serve the poor. Will private companies step up to perform the grassroots "boots on the ground" work in poor communities? Don't bet on it. Unless more liquor stores and Wal-Marts are considered relief organizations. Churches might help some by providing clothing and meals, but that is not enough.

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is a worldwide movement a long time in the making. The movement has either been ignored in the corporate media altogether or has been portrayed as a violent fringe movement. Now that it has spread to dozens of US cities and hundreds worldwide, the media are reporting on it some, but nothing compared to OJ, war cheerleading, and royal weddings. OWS became energized recently when Egyptians camped out for days in Tahir Square and brought down the Mubarak regime. It was a high-tech revolution with an outcome far from certain, but it was an inspiration to the millions of human beings who now desire a democratic, fair, equitable economic system. If violence takes place here or there, it is typically a reaction to police-state tactics that the rich and super-rich have in the past had no qualms about requesting. And political officials, loyal servants of the military/media/industrial complex, dutifully comply with requests for police or National Guard to move in on one pretext or another.

Why occupy Wall Street? Ask Orwell.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Corporate Attack on Unions and Collective Bargaining

By Jamie York

Corporations – emboldened by a 2010 Supreme Court ruling allowing them unlimited spending in U.S. elections, and bolstered by a pro-corporate Congress – are now poised to eliminate the right of union workers to bargain collectively for fair wages and benefits.

The right to strike is embedded in the American psyche. Americans overwhelmingly support the right to negotiate a fair contract for wages and benefits. Without such protection, employers can impose any hours they wish, hire and fire at will, and pay starvation wages with no health or retirement benefits whatsoever.

And this is their goal. Corporate lobbyists and their mouthpieces in Congress and the media know full well what the impact of the actions will be on U.S. elections. Without dues collected from unions, financial support for Democrats and Independents would drop, thereby providing Republican corporatists and Teabaggers with a better chance at victory. Deny the opposition campaign money. This is behind the attack on unions and you can bet that corporate strategist Karl Rove is the man behind the curtain.

The corporate media are framing this issue in Wisconsin and Ohio as “budget battles.” State union workers are portrayed as greedy and lazy even though their unions have voluntarily allowed wage reductions, benefit reductions, higher insurance costs, and fewer vacation and sick days for their members. Unions, responding to take it or leave offers from the states and private employers have often allowed these giveaways out of fear that they would lose their jobs if they did not cave in to their demands. But the media do not talk about this. Once collective bargaining is repealed and the contracts expire in a year or two, state workers and their families will be at the mercy of their state. States will be able to hire and fire at will, eliminate health plans entirely and pay minimum wage. More and more people will lose their homes when they cannot pay their mortgages or medical bills. Crime will go up and more prisons will have to be built.

All of this is wrong on so many levels. First, the attack on collective bargaining violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. People have the right to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Union contracts are bargains reached between employer and employees. They serve as a petition for a redress of grievances. If an agreement cannot reached, the union may vote to go on strike as an incentive for the grievance (bargaining) process to start anew. It makes no difference if the employer is the federal government, the state, or a private employer.

The attack on unions is also immoral and unethical. Hardworking teachers, firefighters, police, and a multitude of state construction and clerical workers, are all in a life-or-death struggle over collective bargaining. That is what this is. It is about livelihood versus bankruptcy. From being able to just make ends meet to being unable to afford life’s necessities. People who call themselves Christians cannot justify their faith if they also support the state imposing its will on the people. What would Jesus do, you ask? Would he support the imposing Goliath or the meek David? I’ll bet there are a lot of creative answers to this question in an attempt to reconcile oneself with the corporate overthrow of the United States.

Folks, this is Hitler’s dream. He envisioned a world of “state socialism,” a world in which the corporations, not central governments, make the rules of society. He was a big believer in unrestrained, unregulated, worldwide capitalism and many of his followers today do not even realize they are followers. But you can bet Hitler’s views live within today’s corporatists and their lobbyists and congressional lackeys.

So how can we “fix” the supposed budget deficits all the Teabaggers are whining about. First, end the Bush tax cuts on the rich. This will create revenue, a term that most Teabaggers do not understand because they are versed in the language of corporatism. Second, bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan and use that money to help the states. There, the budget problem is solved. But leave the unions, the right to strike, and collective bargaining alone ye conniving bastards!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Insurance Lobby Media Strategy: Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

By Jamie York

Bill Clinton told columnist Joe Klein that the biggest mistake he made with his health care reform proposal was his support for universal coverage (Time, 8/10/09, p. 35.). The insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists were ruthless and had a well-directed campaign against universal coverage. Clinton was blindsided and had thought he had no choice but to cower and try to sneak away from the fight as the lobbyists got their message across in the media while the voices of single payer advocates were drowned out. While Clinton may think that advocating single payer insurance was a mistake, I think it was his finest hour. His mistake was not that he supported single payer, but that he failed to stand up for single payer as logical and viable. He didn’t even try to fight the insurance lobby. “Hillary, “ he cried, “help me Hillary!” And so the insurance industry reformed itself and “managed care” came into being. At that time there were 33 million people without health coverage and today there are 47 million. So much for reform.

Today, as we witness the political fight over Obama’s health reform plan, it is clear that the insurance company lobbyists do not want any health care reform. Period. These companies pay out millions to get their point of view heard in the mass media, using any scare tactics they can think of. They are against Obama’s plan because they may lose some of their profits if the government insurance option turns out to be better and more affordable than their profit taking system. Obama, while admitting that single payer makes the most sense, turned against his senses and decided to play politics and get what he can get.

I am glad that the American colonists did not simply decide to get what they could get from the British occupiers. They declared their independence and fought for what they wanted. We don’t have the fight in us anymore, I guess. We send our kids off to die in foreign nations while the military contractors reap millions in profits. We sit and watch TV as one constitutional right after another is systematically rendered obsolete by imperial presidents like George W. Bush. We watch events unfold in news soundbytes not in in-depth discussion. If even half of us one day decided to skip work until we have single payer health care, we would have it. No question about it. Compared with the 19th and 20th century fight for better wages, shorter workdays, and for the right to organize labor unions, a general strike is about as American as you can get. Political divisions keep us from communicating and organizing, but when we get to the point where we see ourselves as human beings in a common struggle for things that make sense, for programs that work for the common good and general welfare, then we will begin to communicate with each other. There comes a point where the common good of the people must take precedence over unregulated profit taking. Health care is a birthright.

The insurance company lobby money is paying for a major PR campaign now under way to scare gullible seniors into thinking that the government will have them put to death if they have a terminal illness. This line is being spread around by the conservative bloggers and radio and TV hosts -- the usual unreliable suspects in the media. The truth is that Obama has called for more openness in discussing end of life wishes with doctors. Few people make their wishes known in living wills because the end of life options are just not discussed routinely now as they should be. Again, it is just common sense to be prepared so that your family is aware of your wishes, but the insurance lobby is using the old media formula that keeps Americans in tow time and time again -- repetition, repetition, repetition. If you tell a lie often enough and loud enough, it will soon be accepted as the truth. We are so gullible it is pathetic.