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2003: The Year Of Pack Journalism

by Jeff Elliott

2002: While The Media Slept
Bush running with the pack
Journalists run with the pack because it's always the safest option
For nearly forty years, mild-mannered reporter Walter Mears was the Leader of the Pack.

As lead writer for the Associated Press, he covered presidential campaigns from John F. Kennedy to Bush the Lesser. When he and the other reporters would begin writing their stories back on the press bus, the others would always lean over his shoulder to discover his lede (first sentence) on that day's story. "I think that everybody wanted to make sure that somewhere in their story, fairly high up, they had covered whatever I thought was the most important part of the story, because otherwise they're going to get a call from their desk saying 'The AP has this lead, and we don't even have it in our story.'"

That's a perfect example of how "pack journalism" really works. It's usually not all the hounds bolting towards a meaty story like the O.J. Simpson trial; instead, think of scores of students, each cribbing from the smartest kid in class to make sure they have the right answers.

Jobs were scarce in 2003 and the public was fickle, which may be among the reasons why it was the year of pack journalism. The safest route is always to avoid risk -- why would a reporter or editor or publisher take the chance of reporting a story that upsets or angers the audience? In our #1 pick for 2003, the Los Angeles Times ran a series of investigative articles that were embarassing to Schwarzenegger prior to the California election, and the newspaper was punished via a tidal wave of cancelled subscriptions.

We usually define pack journalism as meaning that everybody's saying the same thing , but it's even worse when everybody's really saying nothing at all. Several of the stories listed below were ignored by almost all of the media or barely noticed -- another face of pack journalism. When the New York Times revealed that convicts executed by lethal injection might actually be fully conscious during an agonizing death, not another newspaper reprinted the story. When a presidential candidate raised the issue of Bush being impeached for lying to Congress, it was only a quick blip on the print or TV news radar. These were stories that didn't deserve to be tossed away.

Comparing two stories in the Dec. 10 newscycle shows dramatic examples of pack journalism. The featured news of the day was the shortage of flu vaccine. It was an alarming story, particularly because many of the articles whipped up fear by raising the spectre of past killer flu epidemics. Another story that day was the announcement by the Bush-controlled Iraqi provisional government that they were no longer counting civilian casualties. An estimated twenty thousand civilians have died, most by cluster bombs dropped in densely populated urban areas, and the deaths will continue for years. How were these two stories reported? The vaccine story was probably on the front page of every paper in America (NEXIS contains over 250 examples). But only about a dozen newspapers even mentioned the civilian death count in a short inside-page item, and a commentary about it appeared in a single newspaper.

It's no mystery why one story was featured and the other one ignored. For the flu vaccine story, newspapers probably took cues from the networks, which had strong visuals of frightened seniors and crying kids. (The day before, NBC even had a segment with a child's funeral and the grieving mother.) It was also a very easy story to cover -- reporters just needed to call the local health department. Besides requiring much more work, developing a story about the civilian casualties would have more risk; editors are sensitive to charges of bias, and go to great lengths to make sure stories are balanced. But there's no way to put a positive spin on the killing of thousands of civilians, many of them children. A reporter couldn't even say that was possible that Saddam "bitter-enders" were to blame. So the easiest route was to avoid that story altogether.

Another common thread through many of these stories is the failure of the press to hold the Bush Administration accountable. Will that continue to be the predominant theme in an election year? Let's just hope that the press shows more courage and independence in 2004 -- but don't count on it. (In most cases, further links within the stories provide even more background. Some articles are available to subscribers only. Here is information on how to subscribe.)

  1. SCHWARZENEGGER AND THE DOG THAT DIDN'T BARK IN THE NIGHT The muscleman- turned actor- turned politician ducked the media for most of his 60- day race, leaving reporters that flocked to the state with little to report. This did not seem to bother anyone much. "For the first time in a long time the local TV newscasts [were] devoting 10, 15, 20 minutes to politics... but the coverage of Schwarzenegger was limited by and large to the same shots with flags and balloons and cheering crowds," Adam Clayton Powell III, a visiting professor of journalism at the USC/ Annenberg School of Communication told a columnist. Most of the campaign coverage had all the depth of a pep rally. "Schwarzenegger's strategy requires a docile news media, and he's getting one," Republican strategist and pollster Arnold Steinberg, told The Los Angeles Times in September. As an example, he noted that Schwarzenegger skipped a debate three days earlier, although he was just a few blocks away taping Larry King's show at CNN. "None of the reporters and camera crews there for the debate even bothered to go across the street and hassle him with shouted questions."

    Mr. Sexual Predator Goes To Sacramento
    Except for the NY Times -- which unearthed a hoary tale about Schwarzenegger admiring Hitler -- the only media player that broke from the pack was the LA Times, which produced a series of excellent investigative stories on the candidate, most famously exposing a pattern of alleged sexual battery as recently as Y2000 that he termed "playful" behavior. Some media critics and readers called those stories unfair, coming within two weeks of the election; but it has to be noted that these were not anonymous attacks. The Times named names, and said it held back even more claims from women who declined to go on the record.

    But the Los Angeles Times series offered more than grope- and- tell stories. On Oct. 2, the newspaper ran an explosive story suggesting that there was an understanding with the tabloids to keep gossip of his playfulness off the supermarket checkout racks. It was true that no story about the actor had appeared in the National Enquirer for two years; given that the Times found women willing to be named and quoted (and without being paid), the silence of the tabloids was curious -- like evidence in the Sherlock Holmes case from the dog that DIDN'T bark in the night.

    American Media, which owns the National Enquirer, the Star, the Globe and others, purchased the muscle magazines published by Schwarzenegger's early business partner, Joe Weider, for $350 million. The Times said two sources at American Media confirmed that it was no accident that the tabloids had been Arnold-free: "'They cannot afford to [anger] Arnold because he is an icon in the muscle magazine world,' one said, adding that Schwarzenegger writes a column in one of the publications. The other American Media employee explained that Schwarzenegger's influence in the bodybuilding world is such that his disapproval could nix everything from advertising to content: 'If they [antagonize him], that huge sale is money down the drain.'" With that information, suddenly a tidbit from a NY Daily News August gossip column made sense. Supposedly American Media's chairman had told Weider "We're not going to pull up any dirt on [Schwarzenegger]." CEO David Pecker denied making the comment and called it "insane."

    The LA Times deserves credit for unearthing this unusual story, but perhaps the rushed campaign kept the newspaper from digging even deeper. Besides protecting his political flank by keeping mum on possible scandals, American Media actively supported Schwarzenegger by rushing to newstands before the election a glossy one-shot magazine "Arnold, the American Dream," which calls him "Camelot's Future." And curiously, nowhere in the mag does American Media reveal itself is the publisher. Hey, did this violate campaign contribution laws?


    "When we tore the statues down and we got rid of Saddam, what was left were the mullahs and the tribes and the schools of theology"

    -- James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute, predicting that an American-style democracy is "just not in the cards" for Iraq. (San Francisco Chronicle, April 24)

    "One of the questions [in the Iraq poll] was, if you could have any model for the kind of government, [what] would you like to have? ...The U.S. wins hands down"

    -- Dick Cheney interview with Tim Russert, September 15. The poll conducted by Zogby International actually found that fewer than 1 in 4 Iraqis said they wanted a U.S.-style government. Answering another question, over half of the Iraqis said that they didn't think "democracy can work well in Iraq"

    "It is staggering. To see these guys walking around up there [at Walter Reed Army Medical Center] with an arm missing, a leg missing"

    -- Aseneth Blackwell, former national president of Gold Star Wives of America, on new statistics of American medical evacuations from Iraq. Although the Pentagon lists only 364 soldiers as "non-hostile wounded," there have been 8,581 medical evacuations for non-hostile causes, the greatest number since Vietnam. UPI, December 19

    "When we first got here, it was black and white. Now everything is gray."

    -- Sgt. William Sanchez after three members of his platoon were injured by a bomb that exploded outside the main hospital in the city of Ar Ramadi. Iraqi troops guarding the hospital entrance did not seem not to have noticed anyone planting the explosives. "They were covering for their own," a frustrated soldier was also quoted in the November 17 issue of Newsweek. "Fuck 'em. Kill 'em all."

    "You can't put half a million people with families and weapons and a monthly salary on the dole. You can't do this in any country. They'll turn against you"

    -- Former Iraqi special forces Maj. Mohammed Faour, quoted in the LA Times August 24. The U.S. dissolved the Iraqi army on May 23. "It was an atrocious decision," added a U.S. attorney who participated in the State Dept 'Future of Iraq' project. "I don't understand why you take 400,000 men who were lightly armed and trained, and turn them into your enemies, particularly when these are people who didn't fight."

    "With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them."

    -- Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman, battalion commander for the town of Abu Hishma, which is now surrounded with a razor-wire fence after repeated attacks on U.S. forces. "You have to understand the Arab mind," said Capt. Todd Brown outside the gates of the town. "The only thing they understand is force -- force, pride and saving face." New York Times, December 7

    "No one I know believes that we are not going to be in Iraq with significant forces right through the end of next year."

    -- Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz testimony at House Armed Services Committee, September 25. Less than two months later, the New York Times reported on Nov. 22 that the Army assumes it will be keeping about 100,000 troops in Iraq through early 2006

    "This is the first potential scandal I have seen that could make Watergate pale by comparison"

    -- John Dean, former counsel to President Nixon, suggesting that Bush could be impeached if he lied about WMD in Iraq. "If the Bush Administration intentionally manipulated or misrepresented intelligence to get Congress to authorize, and the public to support, military action to take control of Iraq, then that would be a monstrous misdeed." Quoted in his FindLaw column, June 6   (MORE)

    "We settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction"

    -- Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, claiming in a Vanity Fair interview that "U.S. government bureaucracy" was to blame for making alleged weapons of mass destruction the main reason for war on Iraq. Wolfowitz said there were several benefits to invading Iraq, including moving American troops out of Saudi Arabia.

    "We were not lying. But it was just a matter of emphasis"

    -- Unidentified official quoted by ABC NEWS, April 25 explaining that the Bush Administration knew it was exaggerating the risk that Saddam posed to America, but that the real purpose of the Iraq invasion was that the administration "wanted to make a statement."

    "It is sort of fascinating that you can have 100 percent certainty about weapons of mass destruction and zero certainty of about where they are"

    -- Retiring UN weapons inspector Hans Blix to the Council on Foreign Relations, June 23

    "Heh, heh, heh. Yeah, that's the one we want"

    -- Karl Rove, Bush's chief political adviser (a.k.a. "Bush's Brain") overheard at a Washington 4th of July parade as Dean for President marchers passed him. "Come on, everybody! Go, Howard Dean!" Rove was also heard to say by Daniel J. Weiss, an environmental consultant and former political director of the Sierra Club who was standing nearby. The July 5 Washington Post story also included a photo of unlikely Dean booster Rove.

    "I'm saddened that someone is trying to make me look anti-Latino, when I've done four movies in Mexico"

    -- Arnold Schwarzenegger on the CBS Evening News, September 7. The candidate for Calif. governor has come under fire by Hispanics for his support of Prop. 187, a 1994 attempt to deny government benefits to illegal aliens, and his hiring of P187 cheerleader, former Gov. Pete Wilson, as campaign chairman. Schwarzenegger is also on the board for U.S. English, a controversial group that seeks to enforce use of the English language in all forms of government

    "If he was a black man, he'd be in jail. If he was brown, he'd be in jail. If he was a poor white, he'd be in jail. What does it say about our society that a rich white person could do the type of things that he's alleged to have done, of which he has asked to be pardoned for?"

    -- Green Party gubernatorial candidate Peter Camejo on sexual battery charges made against Schwarzenegger. Quote at final debate, October 5

    "If Bush said the earth was flat, the reports in the mainstream media would say, 'Shape of the Earth: Views Differ'"

    -- NY Times op-ed columnist and author of book "The Great Unraveling" Paul Krugman. Also in the September 16 Reuters profile, Krugman said he misses Reagan's honesty. "The Bushies just say black is white and up is down. The Orwellian character of these people is very disturbing."

    "Bipartisanship is another name for date rape"

    -- Grover Norquist, quoted in the Denver Post, May 26. Norquist is head of Americans for Tax Reform, one of the most influencial special interest groups in Washington, and holds a weekly strategy session known as "the Wednesday Meeting" that guides the Bush administration agenda. "There isn't an us and them with this administration," Norquist said shortly after Bush entered the White House. "They is us. We is them."

    "Instead of a shining city, we have a dark bunker."

    -- NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd November 23. The first Bush TV ad of the 2004 campaign uses a a State of the Union clip, "It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known," and flashes the words "terrorists" and "self-defense" in red. "The only thing we really have to fear is fearmongering itself," commented Dowd

    Another question left unexplored: was Schwarzengger helped by the Bush White House over two years before the recall? In early 2001, the actor met with Brad Freeman and Gerald Parsky, major GOP contributors and California advisors to Bush, to discuss a possible run for governor the next year. Asked about the prospect of Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming Governor of California, "Bush's Brain" Karl Rove told the NY Times on April 15, 2001, "That would be nice. That would be really nice. That would be really, really nice." If Rove & Co. were found to be working behind the scenes to engineer a Schwarzenegger coup d'etat, it could put an interesting spin on this election year.

    Kudos To LA Times For Schwarzenegger "Groper" Stories
    Last-Minute Dirty Trick By Schwarzenegger Campaign
    Schwarzenegger Misconduct Just 'Frat-Boy Behavior'?
    Schwarzenegger Dodges Questions About Meeting With Enron's Ken Lay
    Calif Recall A GOP Shell Game

  1. WHO'S HIDING OSAMA BIN LADEN? Where's Osama bin Laden, and who is helping the world's most famous terrorist hide from justice? This much is certain: Bin Laden is almost certainly alive and in Pakistan, which President Musharraf finally acknowledged in a March interview with the Asian Wall Street Journal. And although it may be satisfying to think of bin Laden hiding in dank, remote caves or cowering Saddam-like inside a hole in the ground, it's more likely that he has quite comfortable digs in one of Pakistan's cities. His third in command, Khaled Shaikh Mohammed, was arrested in a posh neighborhood just two miles from Musharraf's official residence.

    Americans -- including those named Wolfowitz, Cheney, and Rumsfeld -- forget that our "War on Terror" buddy Pakistan actually was complicit in the 9/11 attack, unlike Saddam's Iraq. Remember that Pakistan had traditionally been a safe haven for Islamic terrorists around the world since it was the launchpad against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and later helped bankroll the Taliban's rise to power. Anti-West sentiments run high. One of Pakistan's political parties, Jamaat e Islami, believes in a bloody jihad to usher in Allah's rule over the world, and the party made unprecedented gains in last year's elections. The most powerful arm of the government is the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), which acts as a secret police on behalf of the state as well as enforcer for the supremacy of Islam. ISI/Army officers are often fundamentalists, and by no coincidence, among Khaled Shaikh Mohammed's neighbors in that Rawalpindi suburb were many retired generals.

    Influential retired chiefs of the ISI are probably Bin Laden's protectors, joined by India mafia smugglers operating from gold-rich free ports of Dubai and Singapore, as we explored in our March features on bin Laden and Khaled Shaikh Mohammed. The smugglers also share a belief in Islamic militancy, and so tight are the ties between the three factions that roles blur. One mafia boss has been linked to 1993 terrorism in Bombay that killed hundreds, and another mafioso was behind al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The ISI has arrested and threatened journalists trying to unravel al Qaeda's links to the smuggling rings.

    The person who probably came closest to exposing these secrets was Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was murdered last year after making a fatal mistake: He didn't worry that a Pakistani journalist also following these leads had disappeared the day before. (The writer was released two days later, reportedly after he gave the ISI a signed suicide note.) Pearl had also exposed links between the ISI and a "humanitarian" organization accused of leaking Pakistan's nuclear secrets to bin Laden.

    But interest in the biggest story in the world died shortly after Danny Pearl's execution. Aside from a few magazine articles, the only writer on the trail was French philosopher- turned- investigator Bernard-Henri Livy Duckworth, whose book "Who Killed Daniel Pearl?" appeared in August. Livy writes that Pearl's murder was essentially a "crime of state" that indicts not only Pakistan and the ISI, but the whole of Muslim fundamentalism. "The tyranny of Saddam Hussein belongs to another century," Levy says. "The debate of the next century will be over militant Islam." Even his provacative book has raised little new interest in the case, sadly.

    Who's Hiding Osama Bin Laden?
    Khaled Shaikh Mohammed's Family Ties

  1. U.S. IGNORING IRAQI CIVILIAN CASUALTIES "I have not heard of injuries due to cluster bombs," Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers told reporters on April 21, even as hospitals throughout Iraq were being overwhelmed by hundreds of cluster bomb injuries and fatalities, mostly children. At the time he said that, the Associated Press had documented that 3,240 civilians had died because of the war. Many of them were killed by cluster bombs, which will continue to kill and maim for years. Meyers claimed a few days later that the United States had used 1,500 cluster weapons; USA TODAY recently found that U.S. forces actually used 10,782, often in densely populated urban areas.

    That was just the beginning of the occupation and the beginning of the coverup of the human cost of the Iraq invasion. Several organizations have tried to tally the dead; the Iraq Body Count Project says about 8,800 can be confirmed, but the total is probably closer to twenty thousand.

    Only the Iraqi authorities and the Pentagon could know the true numbers, of course, and nether is telling, particularly since the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority told the Iraqi hospitals to stop counting. "We have stopped the collection of this information because our minister didn't agree with it... The CPA doesn't want this to be done," Dr. Nazar Shabandar, Planning Director for the Iraqi Health Ministry, told AP on Dec. 10.

    About a dozen U.S. newspapers reprinted that short AP item on the back pages, but only the Boston Globe offered a commentary about what this news really meant: "We continue to make a great deal about the deaths of 3,000 innocents in this country on Sept. 11, 2001," wrote Derrick Z. Jackson. "But our avenging war on terrorism has now turned into a terrorist attack of its own, killing perhaps three times more innocent civilians."

    U.S. Newspapers Ignore Iraq Civilian Deaths
    Pentagon Not Investigating Iraq Civilian Deaths
    Independent Group Tries To Tally Iraq War Deaths

  1. DOES LYING TO CONGRESS PASS THE LEWINSKY TEST? Senator Bob Graham of Florida was the first Democrat to drop out of the race for president, but before he called it quits, he did an amazing thing: He suggested that Bush could be impeached for being deceitful about the reasons for going to war. He raised the issue on July 17 while campaigning in New Hampshire: "This is a case in which someone has committed actions that took America to war, that put American men and women's lives at risk. ... This goes more to the responsibilities and the acts of the President as opposed to [Bill Clinton's] personal consensual relationships. And there can't be anything more serious than going to war, and if, in fact, we went to war under false pretenses, that is a very serious charge."

    The comments won Graham appearances on most of the news talk shows, and ten days later, Graham said on Meet the Press:

    I believe that that's a legitimate question for the journalists to have asked. It is a legitimate exploration of what is the standard for impeachment now, and then apply that standard against the facts of this president and his administration... [but] this president is not going to be impeached. The current leadership of the House of Representatives, regardless of what standard they set for Bill Clinton, are not going to apply the same standard to George W. Bush.

    It was a gutsy thing to bring up, and Graham took flack. Papers in Florida said he was "grasping at straws" and ridiculed his presidential bid. Low in the polls both for the White House race and his 2004 Senate reelection, Graham announced his retirement a few months later. But Graham was right to say impeachment was a legitimate question to raise; the trouble is that nobody has been raising it since that July morning in New Hampshire.

    There is no question that Bush lied to Congress and the public in his 2003 State of the Union speech, taking America into its first preemptive war. And these were not crafty deceptions uncovered months later; Steven Zunes quickly whipped up a point-by-point rebuttal that was published in the Monitor and elsewhere. But outside the alternative press, you can count the number of articles or columns about possible impeachment on one hand. Robert Scheer did two columns (also published in the Monitor); John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper's Magazine, did a column for the Providence Journal-Bulletin; and the Washington Post offered a July fluff piece debating whether the misstatements in the presidential speech was a scandal or a "flapdoodle." Impeachment has not been a topic on any of the TV news shows since Graham's appearances in July.

    Robert Scheer: What Did He Know and When Did He Know It?
    Robert Scheer: A Firm Basis for Impeachment
    The Facts Behind Bush's State Speech
    Two Campaigns Aim To Impeach Bush
    In A Nation Of Laws, Bush Must Be Impeached
    The Forged "Evidence"
    The Media Politics Of Impeachment

  1. THE BUSH STEALTH EXTREMISTS Without any doubt, 2003 saw the triumph of conservative media in America. The year began with Fox News passing CNN in viewership, and by the end of 2003, Fox was running a strong second in advertising sales. Note to Sean Hannity, et. al: Stop belly-aching about the shortcomings of "mainstream media" -- you ARE the mainstream media.

    The right-wing cant of the Limbaughs and the Hannitys is less of a concern than another media trend in 2003: the growing inclusion of radical opinion without revealing the speaker as an extremist. Take the case of Michael Ledeen, a frequent writer of newspaper op/eds and often quoted expert on Iran. Ledeen is identified as a "conservative analyst at the American Enterprise Institute who has an interest in Iranian affairs" (NY Times), "a former Reagan administration official" (USA TODAY), or "resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute" (Washington Post). Ledeen is all of these things. But in 1985, he was one of the major players in the Iran-Contra scandal, creating the back channels to Iran and Israel that setup the illegal arms deal. Of the hundreds of articles in Nexis that quote Ledeen or are authored by him, not a single one could be found that mentions this important item on his resume.

    If Ledeen has changed since the good ol' days of setting up shadow networks, he has only grown more radical. More recently he has called for "total war" in the Mideast: "the time for diplomacy is at an end; it is time for a free Iran, free Syria and free Lebanon," he said in April. "The sparing of civilian lives cannot be the total war's first priority ... The purpose of total war is to permanently force your will onto another people." If this man is not an extremist, then the word no longer has meaning.

    Both print and broadcast media have also tiptoed around mention of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a cabal whose alumni include Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Cheney's chief of staff Lewis Libby and Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle, among many others. Like Michael Ledeen, PNAC members believe that the U.S. has a manifest destiny to take over the Middle East, starting with Iraq. A startling number of government posts are now filled by PNAC associates, which is another important news story in itself; it shows that unlike any other Administration in modern history, this White House has contempt for diversity of opinions. A question we'd like to hear the next time Rumsfeld, Cheney, or one of the other PNAC gang stops by the Sunday morning talk shows: "Why have you signed on with this crew of zealots who intend to start WWIII with the Muslim world?"

    Neocon Guru Michael Ledeen Sets Sites On Iran And "Total War"
    Bush Admin Draws Heavily From Small Neo-Con Family
    Neo-Conservatives Target War With Iran
    Cheney Emerging As Top Zealot In Bush Admin

  1. WORLD TRADE TALKS COLLAPSE International trade summits are typically predictable affairs. Like obituaries, such stories can be written almost entirely in advance: Here were the issues on the agenda, here are the countries that attended, here is the date when presidents and prime minsters are expected to sign the final memorandum of understanding. Yawn. So editors were caught off-guard with the complete breakdown of not one, but both of this year's high-profile trade talks, and for surprising reasons: The boldness of poor nations to stand up to the powerful.

    To the shock of diplomats from the industrialized nations, WTO talks in Cancun collapsed Sept. 14 after the developing world banded together and held firm. They demanded that unfair subsidies for farmers end in 2005, as had been promised. Tensions were also high because organizations accused the United States of blackmailing and threatening poor countries to keep them from becoming equal trade partners. With these 21 developing nations united, the talks ended in stalemate.

    Then in November, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) conference broke down shortly after the meeting formally began. The trade negotiators didn't even open the 350-page draft agreement, with its FIVE THOUSAND points of discussion. Fearing a re-run of the defeat in Cancun, they adjourned a day early. If anyone had insisted on debate or consensus, the FTAA would have collapsed. As one observer said of the bizarre scene, "it was so fragile it could come apart on any detail. Everyone was scared shitless of putting new issues on the table."

    Miami police
    The AFL-CIO is among groups for state and federal investigations into police violence during the FTAA protests in Miami. Note that no badge or other ID is found on the officer shown here
    It was quite the defeat for the U.S. and other Western nations, but the print and broadcast punditry were unprepared for these developments. Instead, the main coverage of the FTAA summit was about police violence in the Miami streets outside -- a valid story to be sure, but a different one.

    The WTO and FTAA meltdowns weren't victories for "free trade" opponents, however. Learning from the failure of Cancun, the U.S. took a more aggressive and threatening approach in Miami to isolate its critics with separate deals outside the summit. Some U.S. corporations will get full access to the economies of poor nations without guarantees on protecting the environment, workers' rights or national social programs. Practices that Washington says discourage trade -- including hygiene regulations -- would not be allowed. But the worst part may be rules that would setback advances made in improving access to low-cost medicines. Even the WTO had recognized the right of poor countries to import inexpensive generic medicines, but the U.S. now wants to revoke those safeguards. Shame on the American press; these were important issues that deserved full coverage.

    FTAA Meltdown In Miami
    WTO Struggles To Regroup After Cancun Summit Disaster
    INDEX to more stories about FTAA
    INDEX to more stories about WTO/Cancun

  1. EPA CONCEALED DEADLY GROUND ZERO AIR PROBLEMS As the World Trade Center debris pile continued smoking in the months after 9/11, dangerous pollutants that could penetrate deep into the lungs of workers and residents blanketed the area -- even as the EPA, under White House pressure, was assuring the public there was no danger at Ground Zero.

    The conditions were "brutal" for people working at Ground Zero without respirators and slightly less so for those working or living in immediately adjacent buildings, a September study by air quality experts found: "The debris pile acted like a chemical factory. It cooked together the components of the buildings and their contents, including enormous numbers of computers, and gave off gases of toxic metals, acids and organics for at least six weeks." These either burned or chemically decomposed into very fine particles capable of penetrating deeply into human lungs -- particles that pre-Sept. 11 EPA summaries had showed could raise a person's risk of lung damage and heart attacks. Few if any of the hundreds of day laborers hired to clean up the mess were warned by their employers that the work was dangerous. Some who had been given face masks or respirators by labor groups were told to remove them, most likely to keep their co-workers from asking for similar protective equipment.

    The story received wide coverage on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attack, but disappeared quickly at the end of that newscycle. The issue resurfaced briefly again in October, when Democrats used it as a club to hold up the EPA nomination of Mike Leavitt, but it again quickly dropped off the radar. Unless the Demos follow through and hold hearings in 2004 (don't hold your breath), this story will become just another example of how the press -- and the Democratic Party -- have failed to hold this Administration accountable.

    EPA Covered Up Deadly Ground Zero Air Problems
    Immigrant Workers Facing Health Problems From Ground Zero Cleanup
    New Yorkers Face Unknown Health Risks From "Toxic Stew" (Sept. 24 2001)

  1. AND NOW FROM BAGHDAD, HERE'S THE GOVERNMENT NEWS No Administration has hated the Washington-New York Press Corps as much as this one, and the Bush White House singles out the TV networks for special loathing. Starting in September, Bush, Rumsfeld, and other high-ranking officials began to circumvent what Bush called the news media "filter" by granting interviews directly to regional TV stations in places like Des Moines and Kalamazoo. Now the Pentagon has taken the next step by launching its own de facto network to pipe government-sanctioned news about the Iraq occupation to American viewers.

    The service promises live interviews as well as news segments that will often have some kind of a regional hook. Called informally "C-SPAN Baghdad," one news executive told the New York Observer "that sounds like the seeds of a propaganda service. To basically sell the American people on a story line and not necessarily a complete story line and when it's done at taxpayer expense, I think that's a big problem."

    The operation is apparently legal because it's being run by the Defense Dept. and not the United States Information Agency, which can't legally attempt to influence public opinion in the U.S. But will viewers know that they are watching Pentagon TV? Not unless the local stations clearly identify the source. "I'm sure a lot of local stations will use it," 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer told the Observer. "Sooner or later -- it may be later -- people start having serious doubts about what they're seeing or listening to if it has this label on it. I suppose a lot of stations won't put a label on it. Will it say, 'Government Handout?'"

    "C-SPAN Baghdad" is an unprecedented attempt by the government to undermine the independence of the Fourth Estate, yet Vanderbilt TV News Archive shows that none of the networks have mentioned it. Only the New York Observer, Washington Post, and Boston Globe have reported it in print.

    Pentagon's Plan To Bypass U.S. TV Networks

  1. KIND AND USUAL EXECUTION Only China and Iran execute more of its citizens than the United States. Most Americans say they are pro-death penalty, but opinion surveys show that support for capital punishment is weak. When pollsters ask people more complex questions -- such as considering the possibility that the guilty party may be innocent, or the opportunity to choose life without parole -- death penalty supporters often change their minds. Any new information could swing public opinion dramatically, which it is surprising that there was little notice given to a featured story in the Oct. 7 New York Times: Execution by lethal injection may neither painless or humane.

    At issue is pancuronium bromide, the second of three drugs usually injected in to veins of the condemned prisoner. As the Times noted, it "paralyzes the skeletal muscles but does not affect the brain or nerves. A person injected with it remains conscious but cannot move or speak." The Times quoted Tennessee judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle, who ruled that the drug, marketed under the trade name Pavulon, has "no legitimate purpose." In that state, it is even illegal for veterinarians to use it for euthanize animals because "the animal may perceive pain and distress after it is immobilized," according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

    "The subject gives all the appearances of a serene expiration when actually the subject is feeling and perceiving the excruciatingly painful ordeal of death by lethal injection," the Times quoted Judge Lyle, describing the worst-case scenario. "The Pavulon gives a false impression of serenity to viewers, making punishment by death more palatable and acceptable to society." The Times also quoted Yale professor Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland: "It strikes me that it makes no sense to use a muscle relaxant in executing people," he said. "Complete muscle paralysis does not mean loss of pain sensation."

    The drug began to be used after a teacher at an Oklahoma medical school recommended in 1977 that the state use a quick-acting barbituate followed by a drug like Pavulon. Other states followed suit, with apparently no scientific review of using this drug cocktail in executions. About 32 states and the federal government use lethal injection, and all of them -- except New Jersey -- use pancuronium bromide.

    The Times article also explains that this is not an academic teapot tempest. There is no established dosage of sodium thiopental, the barbituate usually used to knock the prisoner unconcious. Some states have no guidelines, others would not discuss the issue. And even in the best of situations, Pavulon has been misused. The article described the nightmare of Carol Weihrer, whose 1998 eye surgery in 1998 went terribly wrong. Anesthesia was administered, then pancuronium bromide to immobilize her eye. But the anesthesia was ineffective."Ms. Weihrer testified that the experience was terrifying and torturous. She could not, she said, communicate that she was awake. 'I remember using every ounce of my strength to try to move,' she said. The surgery went on for hours. She called the experience 'worse than death.'"

    Lethal Injection May Not Be Painless And Humane

  1. THE SECOND COVERUP OF TIGER FORCE Over a seven month period in 1967, members of the Army's elite Tiger Force committed terrible war crimes in Vietnam. Now 36 years later, the Toledo (Ohio) Blade has produced a remarkable investigative series that is surely worthy of a Pulitzer. "They dropped grenades into underground bunkers where women and children were hiding -- creating mass graves -- and shot unarmed civilians, in some cases as they begged for their lives," the series reported. "Prisoners were tortured and executed -- their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings... a 13-year-old girl's throat was slashed after she was sexually assaulted." Scores, probably hundreds of innocent civilians were killed. The Army investigated for several years, with reports sent to both the Nixon and Ford White House. But in 1975, the investigation was abruptly dropped and the records were sealed in the archives, where they remain unavailable even today. The only person charged with wrongdoing was a whistleblower -- for reporting that a member of Tiger Force had decapitated a baby. (It was true, only the soldier hadn't witnessed it himself.)

    Both the atrocities and ongoing coverup are big stories, and the Toledo Blade deserves highest praise for its excellent work. Yet the story was almost completely ignored by major U.S. media, except for a few newspapers that reprinted wire service brief summaries (UPI: 161 words). The New Yorker Seymour Hersh wrote a short item on the Blade series, and ABC News produced segments for World News Tonight and Nightline. (The Albion Monitor commentary came from Pacific News Service.)

    The cold reception that the story received has become a story in itself, with Salon and Newsday offering excellent op/eds decrying the lack of interest. Most noticible in its silence is The New York Times, which still hasn't acknowledged the story at all. "My feeling is they didn't do it because of an attitude -- 'It's a Midwestern paper, and what do they know?'" Executive editor Ron Royhab told Salon.

    Elitism against journalism from a rustbelt town may have played a part, but it's more likely that editors thought of the Iraq and Afghan occupations, and worried that readers would be upset by stories about American soldiers on murderous rampage in a foreign land. There are also questions about the coverup that reach in to the current administration: When the investigation was called off, the Defense Secretary was Donald Rumsfeld, then in his first shift at the job.

    But the Ohio newspaper in undeterred, and is continuing to report new discoveries. "The public has a right to know that American soldiers committed atrocities and that our government kept them from the public," editor Royhab wrote in an editorial that accompanied the series. "We would have been party to a coverup if we had knowledge of these war crimes and did not publish the story. Wrongdoing on this grand a scale is always significant. It is important to know what happened and why it happened because that's how a democracy functions. The people need to know what is being done in their name and who is responsible."

    Tiger Force And Forgetting America's Crimes In Vietnam
    Buried Secrets, Brutal Truths

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Albion Monitor December 31 2003 (

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