404: Information Missing From Your Daily News
Summaries of under-reported news, short updates on previous Monitor stories
But already it is certain that future books will be written deconstructing the American media's reaction to these events; not since the early days of the Vietnam War has the press so eagerly swallowed the Pentagon's tales. Last week CNN presented a talk show on media coverage of the war, featuring media critic and Monitor columnist Norman Solomon, NPR news analyst Daniel Schorr, and New York Times reporter Judith Miller. From the start, you'll find Solomon wrestling against the Schorr - Miller tag team.
Solomon's main point was that the U.S. press is telling only the side of the story that the White House and Pentagon wants presented -- in other words, generating pro-NATO propaganda. Miller and Schorr insisted that mainstream media coverage is doing a fine job. Their joint argument can be paraphased thus: "why should we balance the news with reports of KLA terrorism against the Serbs, or show results of NATO bombing? We don't like their political leader, and besides, anything he would allow us to report would be Serb propaganda."
To a caller that complained that a complex story was being presented as a simplistic good-guy, bad-guy melodrama, Schorr gave a sniffy response that they find "few people care about those complexities," but they "try to indicate that there are centuries behind what is happening now in Kosovo." Read the complete on-line transcript; you'll find it amazing.
But the press has done far more than just parrot reports of "collateral damage" or "striking and degrading Yugoslav targets" spewing from the Pentagon. On that same program, Schorr made an interesting observation: "...what really influenced the Americans, more than the KLA or more than what was happening in Belgrade, were the pictures of -- these terrible, terrible refugee pictures. Americans, on the whole, are a fairly sentimental people about things like that..."
This leads to a shocking question: Has the American press cynically pushed this story forward to recover an audience lost when the Clinton impeachment abruptly fizzled? As noted in the Monitor in early March, there was considerable anxiety in the news business when the trial ended; The New York Times reported that the cable news networks saw viewership tumble by at least 25 percent. (The big exception for early March was the ABC interview with Lewinsky, which pulled in an estimated $25 million in ad revenue -- the largest income ever generated by a "news" program.)
Whether the U.S. media is driven by cynical reasons or no, the story has certainly has been angled to appeal to we sentimental Americans. Comparisons abound to the situation before WWII, and particularly to Germany's treatment of the Jews. Words like "genocide," "atrocity" -- and even "Holocaust" -- often appear in reports of the Kosovo situation.
A far more skeptical view is held in France, where last week two newspapers accused NATO spokesman Jamie Shea of "propagating rumors." The French news agency, Agence France Press, also broke the story on March 31 that NATO and the U.S. were repeating unconfirmed stories from the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The article noted, "No one disputes that tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians have fled Kosovo in the past week and have reported with striking consistency that Serb forces are engaged in a widespread ethnic cleansing campaign in the province. But information being relayed to journalists by alliance officials on details of the nature and scope of Belgrade's policy there has been confused, contradictory and sometimes plain wrong."
Among the fake stories planted by the KLA was a report that Serbs were holding 100,000 Kosovars as hostages in a sports stadium. A French reporter found the stadium deserted, with no evidence that a crowd had been there. Another report said a concentration camp was set up in a different stadium. The London Times interviewed refugees who had gone there while awaiting transport to Montenegro, and none spoke of mistreatment.
But only a snippet of this important French wire story appeared in the U.S. press, and then only in three newspapers, and then out of context.
The Sacramento Bee, St. Petersburg Times, and Washington Post assembled compilation articles that included this statement from U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin:
"I think that there should be no doubt in anybody's mind that there are terrible, terrible things going on in Kosovo, with men being executed, women being raped, and hundreds of thousands of people being forcibly removed from their homes."But the full AFP report continued with this paragraph, missing from the U.S. versions:
He listed a lengthy series of incidents Washington believed to be credible but nearly all the information was prefaced with the word "reportedly" and it appeared as though independent U.S . confirmation about rapes and executions did not exist.The French wire story also said Rubin conceded that "reports" of Serb atrocities relayed to the department from KLA leader Hashim Thaci and then passed on to the press here were not necessarily "facts." (April 16, 1999)
Bio Meltdown Emergency Plans Picture this scene in the near future:
Was there a spill of a deadly toxin? A British Chernobyl? Did a madman unleash a nuclear or biochemical weapon? No, it's a depiction of the European Commission's draft Emergency Response Plan for runaway genetically-modified plants.
Reported in the April 4 London Independent (but ignored by other English press), the five-point directive seeks to "'decontaminate' affected areas and destroy plants and animals exposed to [genetically-modified plants]. The plan is designed to prevent a human health disaster and stop genetically modified plants breeding wildly with native species..."
Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth compared it to a 1960s nuclear civil defense plan. "The case for the need for these crops has not been thought out, but governments are already gearing up for emergency decontamination operations," he told the newspaper.
According to the Independent, the plans -- which are backed by the British government -- will be discussed by European environment ministers at a June meeting. Monsanto, the biotechnology giant controlling the most controversial biotech patents, has at the same time blitzed Europe with a PR campaign aimed at convincing the world that its new seed and pesticide products are safe. Enviros have denounced the ads as "greenwash" propoganda.
Yet as reported in a January Monitor story, Monsanto has resisted attempts to make the corporation responsible for the safety of its food products. "Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food," said Phil Angell, Monsanto's director of corporate communications. "Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA's job." (April 12, 1999)
Henry Hyde and the sock puppet Now that the Impeachment imbroglio has quieted, a few readers have asked: anything new in the Henry Hyde scandals? Yes, there is: A pair of Chicago Tribune columnists recently began needling the Congressman for refusing to answer questions about his involvement with the failed Clyde S&L, which cost taxpayers about $70 million went it sank in 1990.
To briefly recap from our December update on the case: Hyde -- the most vocal critic of President Clinton's ethics during the House impeachment hearings and Senate trial -- apparently used his political muscle to evade investigation or prosecution. Few would have understood the complex scandal if it wasn't for Tim Anderson, an Illinois banking consultant who gave the media detailed interviews about the case. Among those contacting Anderson was private eye Ernie Rizzo, who posed as a TV producer to trick Anderson into turning over documentation. Then last fall, when reporters discovered the 1995 Rizzo probe, Hyde told then that "a mutual friend" who "thought he was helping me" had retained the detective without his prior knowledge. The friend who Hyde couldn't remember turned out to be his own lawyer, who paid Rizzo using money from Hyde.
Jump ahead now to March, as columnists John McCarron and Eric Zorn pick up the story. Tim Anderson and Rizzo were scheduled for a Chicago radio talk show. In fairness, the show invited someone from Hyde's office to present his side. Within the hour, the radio station received a fax from lawyer Ed Vrdolyak, a former Chicago alderman once nicknamed "Fast Eddie," according to Zorn. "Under advice of counsel," the fax read, "Ernie Rizzo will not be participating in your radio show..." Making the claim even more curious, the columist writes that, "...Rizzo had been adamant in interviews (until late [that] afternoon) that Vrdolyak was not and never was his lawyer. But, as he has relayed, Vrdolyak and several other big-league Illinois Republicans did call him that afternoon to warn him off the radio gig. And Rizzo, who has worked for the well-connected Vrdolyak and for one of Hyde's lawyers, took the suggestion and bowed out."
A few days later, Hyde countered in a letter to the editor: "I never hired a private investigator to look into the background of any individual." Journalist Zorn replied with a taunting open letter to Hyde's attorney, asking how this statement jiibed with his earlier confession that the attorney paid Rizzo with Hyde's money. When the Congressman or his attorney didn't reply, Zorn wrote a column using the voice of his third-grade son:
...I thought I'd write because in the past you've paid extra attention to letters from boys like me. Remember in January when you were trying to have the president kicked out for lying about his girlfriend, and you read to everyone that letter from that Chicago 3rd grader William Preston Summers that said, "It's important to tell the truth."?Hyde still didn't answer, and that's when Zorn resorted to talking to a sock puppet. His two-part "Dumb Sock Puppet's Guide to Clydewater" is both informative and fun:
SOCK PUPPET: All I know is that the courts "never found any (Clyde) director guilty of negligence and . . . never imposed a fine."As of this writing, you can find the whole series of Zorn columns in a Tribune index. And for more on the Hyde scandal, check the Congressional Accountability Project, where director Gary Ruskin has kept the controversy in the public eye. Also look for "Henry Hyde's Moral Universe, "a new book by KPFA's Dennis Bernstein just published by Common Courage Press. (April 15, 1999)
Project Censored on TV What would you do with a public TV station? Likely you'd cut back on the "Riverdance" and "Three Tenor" reruns and broadcast more intelligent programs in prime-time. The good news is that you often can influence the programming on public television, and you'll probably find your local station eager to help.
The key here is contacting a local station, not one of the mega-stations in New York City, Los Angeles, or other large city, which mostly stick to the bland and safe nationwide PBS shows. The smaller stations, often on the UHF band, compete in part by offering innovative programs from independent sources.
We first learned this in 1997, when Monitor was contacted by Berkeley filmmaker Rick Goldsmith, whose critically-praised documentary, "Tell the Truth and Run: George Seldes and the American Press" was languishing for lack of an audience. A Monitor editorial at the time described his struggle to get the film shown. Although it was up for an Academy Award that year, PBS wasn't interested. Goldsmith said at the time, "'American Experience' wants safe topics -- subjects that won't resonate in 1997, like Harry Truman or Andrew Carnegie. That's not my approach. Seldes talks about the big forces that still dominate journalism today. There are also a couple of frames referring to PBS being bought and paid for by the corporate world, but I don't think that was a factor."
To find an audience for Goldsmith's film, journalism activists helped with a grassroots campaign aimed at local public TV stations. They called program directors with information on Seldes, the merits of the film, and how to contact its distributor. It was a success; about 20 stations agreed to run the film, including almost all of the big city stations. Here in Northern California, Monitor joined the Sonoma County Press Club and a private foundation to even help underwrite aquisition cost.
Now you have a chance to help broadcast a related program: "Project Censored: Is the Press Really Free?" a documentary about the venerable media watchdog, Sonoma State University's Project Censored. The TV premiere will be shown Sunday, April 18 at 10PM on KRCB, channel 22 (underwritten by Monitor, natch).
Producer and director Steve Keller says the film encountered censorship of its own. "During production, we obtained a clip of never-before seen footage for inclusion in our segment on Bovine Growth Hormone. At first, our insurance carrier informed us that this clip would fall clearly under fair use, and therefor be covered in the liability policy (necessary for broadcast) -- this footage had come from a tape submitted as evidence in a "cover-up" lawsuit filed against Fox. But one month later, at the last minute, the insurer changed their position -- suddenly they were telling us the film wouldn't be covered if it contained this clip! Were they pressured from Fox? Monsanto? We'll never know, but we do know that this film has already touched a nerve with some folks in corporate America. And yes, we had to remove the clip in the end."
Narrated by actor Martin Sheen, the one--hour program delves into several Project stories in recent years (see our 1998 top ten feature for links to all 1995-98 stories). Program directors should commit to broadcasting the program by May 9, the day it will be available to capture via satellite. (April 14, 1999)
Cold War martyr It's now recognized that Paul Robeson was persecuted for his political views by Hoover's FBI and McCarthy's Congressional witch hunt, cutting short the career of one of our century's greatest singers and actors. But from his son now come charges that the CIA tried to kill him with mind-altering drugs.
The claims, which appeared in a March 14 article in the Sunday Times of London, say that in the hours following a surprise party at his Moscow hotel room in 1961, Robeson suddenly became agitated and paranoid, slashing his wrists. The suicide attempt failed, but his son says his father never fully recovered; he was disoriented and treated with 54 electro-convulsive shock therapy before his death in 1977.
According to the Times, Paul Robeson Jr. visited his father in hospital a day after the incident, where the famous singer told him that the walls appeared to be undulating and he felt extremely depressed and utterly worthless, trapped in a real-life "James Bond nightmare." After decades of researching the incident for a planned biography, Robeson Jr. now believes his father was given BZ, a drug developed by the infamous Brit-U.S. psychological warfare program known as MK-Ultra.
Robeson Jr. told the London Times that at least two of the doctors who subsequently treated his father in London and New York had links to the program, and that declassified FBI documents show that they had a "status of health" file on him at the time to prevent communists from exploiting his "imminent" death. "The fact that such a file was opened at all is sinister in itself," Robeson Jr. told the newspaper. "It indicates a degree of prior knowledge that something was about to happen to him." Mike Miniccino, an MK-Ultra historian told the Times it was "entirely plausible" that Robeson had been targeted by American spooks.
The Yanks had urgent reason to lay waste to Robeson: He was excitedly planning to return to the U.S. and join the growing civil rights movement. Surely more than a few in the FBI were nervous about the most famous African-American alive joining forces with Martin Luther King Jr. -- or perhaps even more likely, Malcom X. Another possible co-conspirator is the CIA; the charismatic Robeson was about to leave for a visit to Castro's Cuba -- just three weeks before the Bay of Pigs invasion.
It's all a damning indictment of the American intelligence community, but except for a short mention in a Hollywood gossip column, the story was entirely ignored by the American press. Why? Only weeks earlier, the centenary of his birth was celebrated in scores of articles, and PBS had also broadcast a two-hour documentary, "Paul Robeson: Where I Stand." Pity there wasn't an epilogue fingering the villians that savagely destroyed him. (April 8, 1999)
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