Sunday, February 27, 2005

Press vs. Media

The Ombudsman at the Washington Post ran this editorial in today's paper on Newspapers and how essential they are/aren't. Below is my response I sent to him:

I think you hit the nail on the head in a comment you made in passing - " The attacks on the mainstream media..." - I'm not referring to the attacks but rather the phrase, "mainstream media." At some point, the Washington Post ceased being part of the "press," and became part of the media. Press organizations were concerned with reporting the news as best they could. Media organizations are concerned with ratings and ad revenue first and foremost because they are businesses that, if they don't stay in business and turn a profit, anger their shareholders. The focus on ratings led ABC to nearly cut Nightline a few years back and they have cut the staff, and it leads to vapid stories like the Lacy Petersen trial getting thousands of times more coverage than the decline of the dollar. When the "press" became the "media," lots of hard core news-reading folks like myself became disenchanted. "Media" organizations are easy to accuse of bias because they need to frame coverage in the way most likely to generate money, rather than be objective. If the tax cut plans of George Bush benefitted major corporations while the plans of John Kerry did not, is it any wonder that NBC (GE), ABC (Disney), CBS (Viacom), CNN (Time Warner), MSNBC (GE/Microsoft), or large newspaper organizations like the Washington Post or Gannett all had coverage perceived as being slanted in favor of Bush? It would have hurt their bottom lines to have had John Kerry (or Al Gore) win, or at least not helped as much as had Bush win. Take the latest scandal of the John Guckert/Gannon case. If, during the Clinton administration, a gay prostitute who had run gay porn sites had gotten daily access to white house briefings and gotten early access to top secret material in order to promote the president's agenda in the "media," you would have been all over that story like white on rice. Since it's under the Bush administration most major media outlets haven't touched it. The AP has had a story. MSNBC covered it, but netiher CBS nor ABC have. The LA Times finally ran a story last week but I haven't seen any coverage in the Post or the New York times or any of the other major dailies. Most coverage is from minor dailies across the country. Democratic Senators and Congressmen/women have called for investigations, etc., which we know means nothing since they have no authority as the minority party to actually do anything, but it should be newsworthy when there is a probable link to the Valerie Plame affair. Instead we get great stories on how African-American Oscar nominees bring more African Americans to the movie theaters. Or some such. Media vs. News. That's the problem.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


I noticed the following quote on the second page of this Washington Post story

Responding to questions about the administration's decision not to apply the Geneva Conventions to the war against the al Qaeda terrorist network, Gonzales said that conclusion was "absolutely the right decision," because doing otherwise "would make it more difficult for our troops to win. . . ."

So we didn't want to do something because it would make it more difficult for our troops to win. So the ends (easier victory) justify the means (more torture). When you want to maintain the moral high ground, sometimes you do things that do make it more difficult to "win" because it's the right thing to do.

This administration doesn't know much about the right thing to do.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Sound Familiar

"Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to do the bidding of the leaders. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."
-Herman Goering 1946

Friday, November 26, 2004

Political Cartoon

One of my favorite political cartoons from election season:

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Keeping a Straight Face?

How can Colin Powell say this with a straight face regarding the Ukrainian elections?

We cannot accept this result as legitimate because it does not meet international standards.

Source: Powell Says U.S. Cannot accept Ukraine Election Results.

Let me get this straight - we know that there was fraud in the Ukraine because the outcome wildly diverged from exit polling. The challenger was up in the exits and then suddenly the incumbent party's candidate won. There are widespread allegations of fraud and voter suppression.

Yet when the exits widely diverge from the actual results in the U.S. of A, and there are widespread allegations of fraud and voter suppression, there is no reason to investigate? Ridiculous

Sunday, November 07, 2004

More on Ballot initiatives

A great link for ballot initiatives - - you can click on "Statewide I and R" from the top menu, and then choose a state from the dropdown on the left. For example I looked at Nevada and found that their rules on ballot initiatives are that you need to gather a number of signatures equalling 10% of the registered voters (or maybe it's registered voters who voted in the last election), and you cannot start gathering until September of the year prior to the initiative (e.g. Sep 2004 for the Nov 2005 ballot). All those gathering signatures must be Nevada residents. If an iniative with enough signatures is presented to the Secretary of State, then the SoS notifies the legislature which has an up or down vote on the initiative. If it passes then it's done. If it fails, then it goes to the ballot.

I do think that we can come up with 2 or 3 initiatives that would pass in most states and would make the process more inherently fair. First is gerrymandering, Second is paper trails. The third that I've heard mentioned is a requirement that the number of voting machines per precinct be proportionate to the population in that precinct and the time it takes the average voter in that precinct to vote. This due to the Ohioisms where machines in Democratic areas registered on order of 60 votes per machine per day, and machines in Republican areas registered on order of 150 votes per machine per day - with 40+ questions and races on the ballot it took slower readers more time to vote. Hence 10-hour long lines. Didn't help that they opened polls late, "ran out of pencils" and closed polls for random reasons throughout the day in Ohio in the Democratic districts.

Point being that we need to get fairness written into law in order to blunt the inevitable cheating by the Republican party.


Saturday, November 06, 2004

Small Ball

In baseball, there are two offensive philosophies - small ball and the power game. With the power game you try to hit the ball as hard as you can and create as many runs as you can. With small ball you bunt, you steal bases, you hit and run, you do all the little things that you can to try to get at least one run every time you get someone on base. I'm sure everyone's heard that Babe Ruth struck out umpteen thousand times in addition to his hitting 714 home runs. If you go up to the plate and swing for the fence and connect, great. If not, you often strike out.

In the 2004 elections, the Democrats went with the power game. They got the biggest hitter they could up to the plate, and banked everything on him. And he struck out. Big time. 2002 marked the first time in umpteen years that the party not controlling the white house lost seats in congress during the midterm elections. 2004 the Democrats managed somehow to lose 4 Senate seats. The loss of seats in the House was a foregone conclusion with the Texas redistricting. But the Democrats hurt themselves in 2004 with the way they acted in 2002. In 2002 in my district, the Democrats didn't run anyone for congress. My choices were a conservative Republican in Tom Davis, and a guy running on the Constitution party ticket who said that Davis was not conservative enough. In 2002, Senator John Warner was up for re-election. He ran unopposed. In 2004, the Democrats did not oppose Republicans in every district in Virginia. Why then did they have the gall to expect that the state might support John Kerry?

We stepped up to the plate in 2004 needing a home run, and Sen. Kerry struck out. If we're going to be more successful in 2006 or 2008 we need to start playing small ball. You can win lots of games playing small ball - don't let the word "small" deceive you.

Here are my suggestions for 2005 and beyond.

1. As soon as possible, get ballot initiatives in states that allow it to eliminate gerrymandering. The only people benefited by gerrymandering are sitting congresscritters. The constitution was written to make the House of Representatives the body that truly represented the people. 7 incumbents lost seats in 2004. That's a new modern era record. It was 8 in 2002. That was also a record. Iowa does it right. They have a panel of non-partisan judges create 3 plans, and present the plans to the state legislature. The state legislature picks the plan they like best and if they can't choose from the 3, then the non-partisan judges pick a 4th plan and that becomes the plan - the legislature has no choice. The judges are not allowed to use party affiliation of the electorate when they are crafting districts.

2. Another ballot initiative - this one regarding balloting. Every ballot should involve the creation of a paper trail, either by voting on paper ballot or by having a touchscreen machine that prints a receipt. The voter should be able to look at the paper and verify that the paper represents the vote as the voter wishes to cast it. The paper should then be placed in a ballot box. After the election, each party that was represented in at least one race on the ballot should be able to choose one precinct in each city/county/town that will have a recount of the paper ballots, with each party being allowed to send a representative to supervise the counting. If the hand count deviates from the machine count by more than say 1/4 of 1 percent, then another precinct gets audited. And so forth. This should be done even in races that aren't close. The purpose is to make sure that people have faith in the accuracy of the numbers reported. Publicly-traded companies have to be audited, so should balloting.

3. Democrats need to focus on retaking state legislatures. To do this, they need to successfully market their product - the party itself. The 2004 election was marked by Republican attack ads that painted Kerry as a "flip-flopper" or a "traitor," taking words and votes out of context and flat-out making stuff up. The media obligingly reported on all of it, lending it legitimacy. Then there was an anecdotal story posted on dailykos where a Nebraska senior citizen who is living off of Social Security and Medicare said she could never vote Democratic because Democrats have never done anything for her. That's pretty silly considering the Democrats were behind Social Security and Medicare. The Democrats need to have a campaign starting now all about what the Democrats are for. It's not enough to be anti-Republican. The right-wing corporate media has managed to turn the word "liberal" into a pejorative, and paint "Democrat" as a negative word associated with communists, gays, baby killers, and "lazy welfare moms." The Democrats need to get out there with a positive message about themselves. They also need to attack the Republicans and pull no punches.

4. The Democrats need to challenge every race. From school board and city council up to state legislature and congress. If nothing else, a sacrificial lamb in an overwhelmingly Republican district/city will generate a few stories in the local media, which are opportunities to get the message out.

One of the problems with this is that for whatever reason, the Democratic message varies across the country. In Oklahoma the candidate for Senator was farther to the right than George Bush. Of course, Senator-elect Tom Coburn is even farther out there - saying abortionists should receive the death penalty (this from a man who has performed abortions, as well as committed medicaid fraud and sterilized young girls without consent). When the Senatorial debates were on meet the press, the races were all in "red" states and made up of Democrats who were trying to out-conservative the Republicans. Won't work. Those types of things hurt the Democrats elsewhere. There need to be certain things that Democrats are for that don't waver.

Unfortunately, I don't have those things. I don't have the message. It's easier to point out the problem than fix it sometimes. However my four suggestions can be followed anyway. The ballot initiatives are a great start - I think they will pass overwhelmingly because they appeal to everyone's sense of fairness. And if Republicans come out and contest it then the Democratic candidates running against them should just rail about fairness and making every vote count at every opportunity. Let's find a wedge issue to use against them.