Slacker Friday


I did a brief comment for the Guardian's "Comment is Free" that they're calling "Voters are Morons," here, and my 150th "Think Again" column, "This Election, We All Lose," is here.

In re: the Air America advertiser's boycott, Josh Silver & Robert W. McChesney write:

This week we learned that some 90 major corporations demanded that their ads be pulled from radio stations that run Air America programming, demonstrating the fundamental challenge facing everyone working to promote critical journalism and a vibrant free press.

First off, let's clarify why this is taking place: The crime isn't that Air America is partisan. All or most of these firms advertise on politically conservative talk radio programs and/or stations. And the crime isn't even being "liberal." Some of these advertisers have moderate or liberal executives who donate to Democratic candidates and are far from rabid conservatives.

So what is the problem? While "liberal" Air America clearly favors big D Democrats, unlike virtually all other programming on commercial radio and television, it gives airtime to reports that are critical of corporations and the powerful politicians they keep in Washington.

This is the heart of the problem: Air America commits a crime called journalism. Almost none of the so-called conservative radio shows or networks do any semblance of actual reporting. They merely pontificate -- repeating talking points that seem to be emailed straight from Karl Rove's laptop.

Air America does its share of pontificating as well, and we leave it to others to compare its integrity to that of Limbaugh and Hannity. But we can say that Air America journalism occasionally focuses on corporate malfeasance. It examines closely the deeply corrupt relationship between corporate power and government officials.

This brand of journalism is found almost nowhere else on the commercial dial. It is brandished as "liberal" because it does not practice journalism as stenography to those in power. This is the same reason that Bill Moyers doesn't have any of these 90 firms lining up to underwrite his PBS reporting.

So what should we learn from this episode?

1) Commercial media are highly concentrated and corporate advertisers have massive budgets, giving their programming decisions profound implications. According to its own Web site, ABC Radio has more than 4,400 affiliate radio stations reaching nearly 105 million people nationwide. Monopoly media power translates into significant political power and that is dangerous. This is a big deal.

2) Media are concentrated in the hands of massive corporations who are only concerned with profits. Anything that reduces or threatens those profits is eliminated: Investigative journalism because it's too expensive; government accountability because it pisses off politicians and regulators who dole out billion-dollar policy favors like media "deregulation"; corporate accountability because it angers corporations like the long list that pulled Air America funding. Good journalism can be bad for business.

3) Note the presence of the U.S. Post Office and U.S. Navy on the list of advertisers who have blackballed Air America. It is an outrage that public monies are being deployed to push the ideological agenda of the Bush Administration, or any other administration for that matter. This is one more example of the corruption of governance in Washington, where big money and political power are picking over the bones of democracy.

What's left? Timid, lapdog journalism that fills our TV screens and radio dials. A newspaper market dominated by a handful of massive firms that suffer the same symptoms. Cheap to produce reality shows, celebrity fluff, regurgitated press releases, spin assessing other spin, and entertainment-as-news that titillates but rarely informs.

Obviously we have to stop the corruption in Washington that allows this "business as usual." But there are three specific and crucial areas that demand our attention:

First, we must stop further media consolidation. This episode vividly illustrates the peril of monopoly media power. Bush's man at the Federal Communications Commission is actively moving to lift some of the last remaining ownership limits. The dream scenario for Big Media: eliminate ownership rules so one company can own all the media in a town, and have one newsroom serve all outlets. Heaven for the conglomerate; hell for everyone else. Public backlash stopped a similar move in 2003, and the battle is being fought again at

Second, we must understand that virtually all media - TV, radio, phone - will soon be delivered digitally through the Internet. With increasing speeds, every Web site holds the revolutionary potential to become a TV or radio network, breaking the corporate bottleneck on media access and distribution. But today, cable and phone companies are mounting a full-court press in Washington to privatize the Internet, and make them the gatekeepers to all media - by removing the long-standing principle of "Net Neutrality" on the Internet. Fortunately, public backlash is winning the day (so far), buoyed by the coalition.

Third, noncommercial media, including PBS, NPR and community broadcasters, must be well funded and insulated from political pressure. The United States has the lowest per capita funding of public broadcasting in the industrialized world. Our dysfunctional system has the president appointing partisan operatives to the board that funds PBS and NPR programs. Once again, the public must be engaged, and the public broadcasting system must be overhauled and reinvigorated.

Critical journalism is bad business for media corporations and their advertisers. It is time to engage the public and demand a media system that will inform and protect America, rather than one that is, in the words of Jon Stewart, "hurting us."

In re: Bush's secret prisons, Nick Turse writes:

Even with a couple million prisoners under its control, the U.S. prison network lacks the infrastructure or manpower of the Soviet gulag or the orderly planning of the Nazi concentration-camp system. However, where it bests both, and breaks new incarceration ground, is in its planet-ranging scope, with sites scattered the world over -- from Europe to Asia, the Middle East to the Caribbean. Unlike colonial prison systems of the past, the new U.S. prison network seems to have floated almost free of surrounding colonies. Right now, it has only four major centers -- the "homeland," Afghanistan, Iraq, and a postage-stamp-sized parcel of Cuba. As such, it already hovers at the edge of its own imperial existence, bringing to mind the unprecedented possibility of a prison planet. In a remarkably few years, the Bush administration has been able to construct a global detention system, already of near epic proportions, both on the fly and on the cheap.

In re: Mark Halperin, he's got much bigger problems than me, here and here, and beginning especially here and here. (For the record, I've not spoken with Halperin in a few years, but I do agree with my previous correspondent that he is -- as far as I can tell -- a nice person, with good manners and the like. But this is business. And you know what the great moral philosopher Michael Corleone said about business ...) Anyway, if you want some support from this side, Mark, I can promise Hugh that you're not "very liberal" or even "liberal" at all. On the other hand, saying that all journalists "hate the military" was really quite offensive. I love the military. It's those assholes, who dishonor its sacrifices and patriotism and hide behind its symbolism I hate. I'm also not so crazy about those journalists who empower those assholes by failing to hold them accountable and throwing them nothing but softball questions with the pretense of keeping the public informed. But that's an issue for another day.

P.S. Mr. Hewitt, Mort Halperin is only as "radical" as the U.S. Constitution. For shame, sir.

Slacker Friday:

Name: Jesse Zander Corum
Hometown: Portland, OR

I'm a faithful reader and about as far left as one can sensibly be, but Elizabeth de la Vega's "Peace Action Figures" made me want to bang my head against the desk. This is exactly the sort of inane, disconnected rambling that gives liberals a bad reputation. Sgt. Ricky Clousing sounds like a brave and commendable person and his story should be told in newspapers and news broadcasts everywhere. But it doesn't make for a good action figure. Five-year-olds don't have the sort of complex reasoning that allows adults to see the courage of Sgt. Clousing's actions. Until he's a ninja or flies a spaceship, the Sgt. Clousing action figure will never end up on many holiday wish lists. We can all wish for a world where five-year-old boys are thoughtful pacifists, but it's not going to happen anytime soon. Personally, I'm more concerned about adults learning a few lessons, since there is very little overlap between devotees of action-figures and eligible voters.

And once again, we can learn this lesson from The Simpsons: Outraged by the vacuous dialogue of her "Malibu Stacy," Lisa designs her own feminist doll, only to be upstaged by Stacy's new hat.

Name: Rakesh Wahi
Hometown: Charleston, WV

Kerry's problem is not what he said. Anyone can misspeak. He knew immediately that he had mangled the joke. He knew intimately the dynamics of the "freak show" we have, which abets the right wing noise machine. All he had to do was to clarify his comments immediately after the speech, before the freak show started. His response shows that he remains vulnerable to emotional manipulation by the "wingnuts."

On a different issue: The only strategy left in Iraq that would serve U.S. political interests is to reach an understanding with the Sunnis and quickly withdraw. We can arm the Sunnis against the Shia, thereby tying up the entire Middle East fighting itself. The Shia are used to betrayal and will get over it. The ensuing chaos will occupy Iran for the next ten years. Cynical, yes, but in our strategic interest.

Name: Roger H. Werner
Hometown: Stockton California


Last month "Bush 43" visited Stockton to support his local henchman Richard Pombo. As is the case with most of his outings, this visit was carefully stage managed ... but not quite perfectly. It seems that a local woman infiltrated the user-friendly crowd that was tossing the usual softballs at Bush. She pulled off her over shirt revealing a tee shirt protesting the Iraqi war. When she tried to ask Bush about American involvement in this war she was tackled by several Bush supporters and she found herself arrested by the Stockton police for inciting a riot.

Lest this sound like GOP theater of the absurd, last night Bill Clinton visited Stockton and addressed a rally of perhaps 1,500 people who stood in the rain for two hours. The woman standing next to me for two hours was the attorney who represented the arrested female. This attorney is a locally well-known criminal attorney who has spent the last 16 years defending most low-level drug offenders and other non-violent offenders. She got involved in the case because she witnessed the woman being assaulted. She tried to get the District Attorney to dismiss the charges before going to court but he refused. The DA and defense attorney met with the judge before going to trial to discuss the case: The judge expressed incredulity that the DA would prosecute a citizen for expressing her second amendment rights but he defended his position. The judge was not impressed and dismissed the charges. Unfortunately, the woman did not know who men who assaulted her or she might have filed charges.

Do GOP supporters believe it acceptable to stifle dissent or that they have a right to enforce their opinions? Perhaps many of them are simply ruffians and hooligans.

Name: Ned Fagan
Hometown: River Falls, Wisconsin

Hello, Eric. I've written to you before, over the years. You once published one of my notes.

Earlier today I got an email message from my college-student daughter who has a high school male friend who was recently shipped to Iraq after serving in Korea. My daughter and he have corresponded since he joined, and he has visited our home while on leave, so we know him.

Here is a paste of her email to me:

"Something I thought you MAY ALSO find slightly interesting...... The army is placing a policy that soilders can't send emails without using their id card as a signature and to do this they have to order a usb device and pay for it themselves. They just got a 9 day warning and after that they won't be able to use their gov. email to SEND email. (At least the soilders in Iraq). Isn't that weird

disturbing???? Ben just sent out a mass email to everyone in his address book explaining it. Thought I'd pass it on. "

Name: Rick Gerwin
Hometown: Lisle, IL

I enjoyed your "" discussion with Byron York. I agree with you that it is important to win back the term "liberal" and restore it to its proper place in the continuum of American political thought. Much of what defines the quality of the middle class lifestyle -- Social Security, the 40-hr work week, vacation and sick time, food safety, civil rights, voting rights, environmental protection, etc., etc., etc -- was initiated and fought for by liberals over the strident opposition of conservatives.

York also repeated Dick Armey's claim that current Republicans became corrupt when they strayed from "true" conservative principles. I disagree completely. I think that what you have today is exactly what happens when conservatives are given too much power. They didn't "lose their way"--they just needed a few years to show their true nature to the American people. Republicans, blinded by the hubris of power, and insulated by their Fox News echo chamber, mistakenly thought their extremist values were shared by mainstream America. As their true nature has become revealed, I think that Americans are finally going to reject the extremists and start moving back to the center.

Name: Ed Tracey
Hometown: Lebanon, New Hampshire

Professor, not only has Goateed Librul Man returned: he has lost the full beard *and* the necktie he was experimenting with these past few weeks. All is right with the world again. (Here and here.)

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.