Albion Monitor

+ As the Monitor reported in a recent exclusive, "Funeral Industry Goliath Sues Small Publisher," Service Corporation International (SCI) and its CEO have filed a lawsuit claiming that they were wronged by a quote appearing in a newly- published book. The twist: that offensive quote was lifted from a 13 year-old copy of Business Week. Now SCI is charging that the book's author also slandered them recently on 60 Minutes.

The February 1 broadcast titled "The High Costs of Dying" featured author Darryl J. Roberts and his book, PROFITS OF DEATH: An Insider Exposes the Death Care Industries. According to a press release from Five Star Publications of Chandler, AZ, the embalming empire has amended its original suit to include new charges. SCI objections include Roberts' TV comment that "conglomerates come into town (and) raise prices fairly quickly," and an alleged implication that SCI businesses charge $800 for opening and closing a grave when their costs are only $50.

With less than two dozen books in its catalog (such as that popular cookbook, That Hungarian's in My Kitchen), Five Star is no match for the deep pockets of a $2.5 billion corporation like SCI. Cynics who believe that the company's real goal is to suppress criticism also note that SCI apparently did not sue Business Week back in 1986, when it quoted CEO Robert L.Waltrip for allegedly saying that his company would become "the True Value Hardware of the funeral- service industry."

Regarding the newest developments with the suit, the lawyer for Roberts and Five Star says, "Interestingly, out of all the statements that were made by various people during the 60 Minutes segment, the plaintiffs choose to focus on two or three comments made by one individual, who just happens to be the same person they are already suing over a single quotation. If the plaintiffs think that Roberts and his publisher are little folks who can't fight back, they are wrong. We intend to vigorously defend the important First Amendment rights at stake in this lawsuit." (March 26, 1998)

+ Japanese multinational corp Mitsubishi is operating a salt works in Baja, as reported in the Monitor last year, although that particular area is one of the last breeding places for the grey whale. The 130,000 acres enjoyed environmental protection by the Mexican government until Mitsubishi gave them 51 percent of the project's control.

Now Mitsubishi has been awarded a Greenwash Award by the public interest group Corporate Watch for its full page ad in The New York Times, claiming that Mitsubishi has been operating "in harmony with the whales for more than two decades." (Greenwash was coined to describe polluters who boast that they're enviro sensitive. Do corporations lie? Corporations do.)

Also available now in Mexico is ESSA table salt, complete with a picture of a grey whale and promise that the salt is produced "through a natural process that is completely compatible with the environment." Mexican salts are primarily used to make chlorine, a key element in the production of plastics, insecticides, and bleaches. (March 26, 1998)

+ There's also an opposite of "greenwash," where biz groups boast that they don't care a whit about the environment, human rights, and other trivial concerns. As described in a first-rate report in the SF Chronicle by Charles Burgess -- unfortunately buried off the front page -- a trade group convinced the Seattle City Council that a boycott of firms doing business with savage governments like that in Burma would mean ruin. After all, look what happened in Berkeley, California.

According to the trade group, Berkeley's politically- correct policies meant that the city "cannot purchase IBM or Compaq computers; it must replace Motorola cell phones; it cannot buy gasoline from major companies, and is thus relegated to low- grade gas which damages equipment and possibly pollutes the air... [and the Berkeley sanctions] are being challenged before the World Trade Organization."

There's one leeetle problem there: It's all lies. As the Chronicle explains, not a single charge against Berkeley is true. But sponsor of the proposed bill, Seattle Councilwoman Jan Drago, said the trade group and its lobbyist were convincing.

Who's behind this dishonest trade group promoting deals with repressive countries? Some of our biggest national companies: Boeing, Weyerhauser, and ... Microsoft. Maybe we should delay an upgrade to Windows98 unti Burma has a democratic government, or Microsoft's trade group agrees to tell the truth. (March 26, 1998)

+ The irony is thick. While The New York Times postures as if it's the arbiter of "responsible journalism," its pages have also contained the most salacious material on the Clinton sex story found anywhere. And that wasn't the worst of it; as the Monitor noted in the "Counting Lewinskys" editorial, they tried to pass the buck for their lousy reporting when the stories proved false. In particular, they blamed Internet reporter Matt Drudge.

Drudge can do no right by The Times' viewpoint, although his headlines were about the same as theirs (except that his appeared a few days earlier). Their latest attack on the guy appeared in the March 12 edition, complete with yet another goofy picture. Like the first Times portrait, it captures him with a silly expression; this one makes him look like the none- too- bright impersonator of "Bowery Boy" movie actor Huntz Hall. And that's just the beginning of their ad hominem attack on Drudge.

Writes Times staff reporter Francis X. Clines, "Mr. Drudge is a bold, angular furiously curious man of 31 years who suggests an odd collaboration of Dickens and Raymond Chandler." Except for his odd name, what connection does Drudge have to Charles Dickens? And besides his Los Angeles residence, does Drudge share anything with mystery writer Chandler? As Dickens was one of the finest authors in the last half of the 19th century and Chandler wrote famed novels around WWII, are editors at The Times suggesting that Drudge is one of the best writers of our day? Of course not; it's merely a cheap attempt to ridicule him personally, a stunt unworthy of The Times -- or National Enquirer, for that matter.

The article -- published under the header, "Standards of Journalism" -- has other swipes at Drudge, but this may be the lowest: "...Mr. Drudge, who, like many reporters, has no formal journalism training but who, unlike most reporters, also has no editors checking his product after he hits the 'Enter' key." That's a pretty snooty attitude for an article containing the nonsensical description of "furiously curious." I'd say that if The Times editors were responsibly "checking product," these mean-spirited jibes wouldn't have appeared at all. (March 29, 1998)

+ A few more words about Matt Drudge: Some of the articles about him sneer at his open admiration for Walter Winchell. A comparison of the two men reveals interesting similarities -- and contrasts.

From the 1920s to 1950s, Winchell was a radio broadcaster and syndicated newspaper columnist blending items from Hollywood and Washington. Without an editor, he mixed hard news, insider gossip, and was also happy to pass on rumors and hearsay about the famous and powerful, true or no. Except for publishing only on the Internet, Drudge is a mirror image in these broad ways.

Like Winchell, Drudge rarely updates stories that later prove phony, although he concedes that he's wrong about 1 time out of 5. Drudge did, however, quickly apologize after falsely reporting that Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal had a history of spousal abuse. (Despite the retraction, Blumenthal is currently suing Drudge and America OnLine for $30 million.) Winchell also hated to correct errors, often crafting his apology to be more damaging than the original mistake. When he falsely wrote that an actress was deceased, his retraction was snide and cruel: "Josephine Sexton is alive, she says."

While Winchell tittilated readers with bedroom scandals, he also provided them with important news they probably didn't find elsewhere. During the 1930s he regularly slammed the Nazis; that may seem like a safe topic today, but then few Americans heard bad news about Hitler -- newspaper and broadcast owners like Hearst either were sympathetic to the fascists or wanted neutrality. Winchell also worked in concert with investigative journalists like Drew Pearson; together they forced the removal of Truman's mentally-ill Defense Secretary. And Winchell discredited Red-baiter Rep. Martin Dies (R - Texas), Chair of the House Un-American Activities Committee, by revealing that Dies had even suggested that 16 year-old Shirley Temple was a Soviet agent.

Once an ardent supporter of FDR, Winchell slipped far to the right in his later years. In 1952 he wrote that Truman had joined the KKK in his youth. It was old news (and apparently false), that was concocted by FDR-hating Hearst during WWII. Also in 1952, Winchell became the propogandist for Sen. Joe McCarthy.

To Winchell's shame, he helped prolong McCarthy's witch hunt by daily teasing his millions of readers with hints of McCarthy's (supposed) forthcoming "bombshells," making it appear that there was a widespread Communist Conspiracy about to be revealed. His July 13, 1952 column even whispered that there would be even sensational revelations coming from the grave:

The House Un-American Activities Committee is editing new headlines. One is expected to be [famed actor] John Garfield's last long statement just before he passed away... it appears that there will be lusty howls from the Broadway and Hollywood Reds plus red faces along Lawyer's Row.
But there was no deathbed confession by Garfield, nor any actual pinko conspiracy in America. But like McCarthy, the elderly Winchell didn't really care about the truth -- ideology reigned.

And that's the most accurate parallel between Winchell and Drudge, who apparently leaks every bit of anti- Clinton venom he can find. Like late- period Winchell reporting on Hollywood commies, Drudge breathlessly hints that the damnable proof against Clinton is just around the corner. Most recently, Drudge's "scoops" have been upcoming sex headlines in supermarket tabloids. Pity that journalist Drudge doesn't understand that his role model had a 30- year ethical career before pandering to fear and hatred. (March 30, 1998)

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