The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Daily Kos: GOP Reverses History and Wins Vietnam War!!!

GOP Reverses History and Wins Vietnam War!!!
by thereisnospoon (dailykos)

Folks, something truly dramatic has taken place over the last couple of days--it's something that dwarfs anything (outside of Plamegate) that we've dealt with for months.

I think we all need to step back, take a breath, and realize what we are seeing here, because it's historic and deeply powerful. What is happening will go farther than anything else in showing just how extremist and fanatical the Republicans really are, and will disgust moderate voters.

The GOP is becoming COMPLETELY unglued. Now, I know we say that every week here on Kos, but this is the real deal.

It's now transparent that the GOP thinks it can reverse the history of the Vietnam War as surely as it thinks it can reverse the 60's Revolution.

Do you remember all the times that we here on dKos and Democrats in congress compared the war in Iraq to the Vietnam war? Do you remember how many times we were pooh-poohed by our own political allies--and called foolish traitors by those on the right wing?

I sure do. I remember it very well.

Well, my friends, now it's the GOP making the comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam AND THEY THINK IT HELPS THEIR CASE!

Many here may remember my much recommended diary "We've defended you five years for this moment", in which I make the case that the entire right-wing coalition has been based on resentful, conservative baby-boomers trying to undo the 1960's. Everything in politics today--and I do mean just about everything--is the playing out of this same boomer vs. boomer dynamic. Kerry vs. Bush, the Swift Boat Vets, Abortion, Race, the whole thing. Just a rehash of the 60's and early 70's, every last bit of it.

Well, this is the same shit, different day, and only slightly different topic.

You see, most of us here believe the Vietnam War was the Wrong War, and was ALWAYS a completely unwinnable war. I happen to think that we have most of the country on our side about that one, as it seems fairly obvious.

But we underestimate the potency of what is known in German as Dolschstosslegende, or, as we say in English, the "Stab-in-the-Back Legend." To quote from Wikipedia,

The Dolchstoßlegende or Dolchstosslegende, (German "dagger-thrust legend", often translated in English as "stab-in-the-back legend") refers to a social mythos and persecution-propaganda and belief among bitter post-World War I German nationalists, that lay blame for the loss of the war upon non-Germans and non-nationalists.

Many Germans who supported, fought in, or had otherwise known people lost in the enormously costly war, believed the causes for the German/Austrian involvement in the war were justified. They had hoped it would bring a restoration of past glory and a unified German nation-state. Instead, the war caused the deaths of 1,770,000 German soldiers and 760,000 German civilians, devastated the economy, and brought losses in both territory and national sovereignty.

Conservatives, nationalists and ex-military leaders sought others to blame. The common scapegoats were Weimar Republic politicians, socialists, communists, and "international Jewry" -- a term referring to Jews with a perceived excess of wealth and influence. These "November criminals", nationalists alleged, had "stabbed them in the back" on the "home front," by either criticizing the cause of German nationalism, or by simply not being zealous-enough supporters of it. In essence the accusation was that the accused committed treason against the benevolent and righteous common cause.

Due to the highly potent imagery of a "stab in the back", and the common perception amongst political conservatives that politically hostile homefronts defeat otherwise winnable wars, the stab in the back legend is a common legend in a number of modern societies. In particular, the stab in the back legend is often used by conservatives to explain the defeat of the United States in the Vietnam war. In the context of the US involvement in the Vietnam War the stab in the back legend is part of the Vietnam Syndrome complex.

And folks, the Legend is on high display.

Allow me to give you a few delightful quotes from our friends over at

America was stabbed in the back by the POT* By: francisurquhart

Vietnam was lost as a result of a stab in the back. The war was won on the ground. Had the state of affairs as of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords been allowed to continue, there would still be a free South Vietnam today - and there would have been no Cambodian genocide.
South Vietnam was defeated because the Democrats stabbed our ally, and by extention all patriotic Americans, in the back, causing our defeat - which was their aim dating back to the moment when the McGovernite left took over the party.
*POT = Party of Treason

Or here's another wonderful post, from an (appropriately named) blogger named nazgul12:

Now, I will admit that this is basically a grandiose experiment. There are a lot of things that can go wrong. Should the Democrats regain power, they may betray our Iraqi allies as they once did our South Vietnamese allies. Most liberals like to forget that South Vietnam held on it's own for 3 years after American troops had pulled out. The country only fell when Democrats in Congress pulled all funding that was being used to support our allies. Something similar might happen in Iraq. It is conceivable that we would pull out of Iraq but give monetary support to the government. The Democrats, not willing to give Bush a good legacy, might do the same thing they did when they wanted to prevent Nixon from having any sort of positive legacy.

No, I'm not cherrypicking these. This is literally what these people think. And it gets a lot worse if you venture into Little Green Footballs or Freeperland.

But it's not just bloggers. Oh no. See a selection from this piece by none other than David Horowitz:
The leftward slide of the Democratic Party, which has made it an uncertain trumpet in matters of war and peace, may be said to have begun with the McGovern presidential campaign of 1972, whose slogan was "American come home" - as though America was the problem and not the aggression of the Communist bloc. The McGovern campaign drew in the rank and file of the anti-Vietnam Left, much like the anti-Cold War Henry Wallace Progressive Party campaign of 1948 and the Howard Dean anti-Iraq campaign of 2004. McGovern himself was a veteran of the Wallace campaign and, virtually all the leaders of the anti-Iraq movement, including most of the Democratic Party leaders who supported it, are veterans of the anti-Vietnam campaign.

And now it's GOP Congressmen, folks.

That's right, GOP Rep. Johnson, in his speech tonight in the anti-Murtha political stunt vote, came out and started talking about how the "peaceniks" wanted to cut and run and leave our troops hanging out to dry just like they did in Vietnam.

And you know what the sickest thing about all of this is?

When all is said and done, the Iraq war is all about aging boomers debating while young men and Iraqis fight and die.

There is only one real dynamic going on in the GOP at this point. Nobody believes there were WMDs now if they ever did. Nobody really thinks it's about terrorism. Nobody really thinks it's even about Saving Face--after all, there's not really much face left to save.

No, my friends. Let me tell you what this war is about now, for those in the GOP:

This war is about proving all those mean, nasty hippies in the 60's and 70's that they were WRONG about Vietnam...and by God we're going to KEEP our troops in there as long as it takes to prove it!

Just like the abortion debate is about sexual control, and proving those nasty hippies wrong.

Just like the global warming debate is about anti-envirowhackotreehuggers, and proving those nasty hippies wrong.

Just like racial equality and Katrina is about proving those nasty hippies wrong--in addition to racism.

Which is why they have to compare John Murtha to Michael Moore--not because of any serious connection between them, or because Michael Moore is wrong--no, it's because Michael Moore reminds them of a dirty, nasty hippie, and Murtha's speech reminds them of the Vietnam debate.

This war in Iraq is about REVERSING HISTORY, no less than the culture wars are about REVERSING HISTORY. The Culture Wars are a means of erasing the 60's revolution--and the Iraq War is a way of refighting and winning Vietnam.

All we are doing is fighting Vietnam again by proxy. We are watching old men who had too much of a stick up their ass to join in the incredible social movements of that time--and have hated all those who participated ever since--attempt to get every last dig in that they can, and reverse history.

We are watching the likes of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who never fought in that goddamn war but wish we had just sent enough of them OTHER boys there to die until we won--dig in their heels and insist on sending as many boys to die as it takes to prove those nasty war-protesters like John Fucking Kerry wrong--even if some of those protesters were vets themselves. Or especially so--since they weren't smart or elite enough to stay out of the actual fighting.

Because that's what this is about: reversing the 60's, just like I said in my previous diary.

These people literally believe that they can redeem the defeat we suffered in Vietnam--that they blame on liberals anyway--by proving that we will win if we just "stay the course."

It's pure ideology at this point--all of it. It's just boomer on boomer, round and round and round and round...

Meanwhile, five more of our boys died on Wednesday. And over 90 more Iraqis were killed in a suicide bomb yesterday.

But don't worry, GOP boomers: I'm sure that Rambo will come in and win Iraq for you the way he did Vietnam.

Robert Scheer - The Big Lie Technique

The Big Lie Technique
By Robert Scheer
The Nation

Wednesday 16 November 2005

At a time when approximately 57 percent of Americans polled believe that President Bush deceived them on the reasons for the war in Iraq, it does seem a bit redundant to deconstruct the President's recent speeches on that subject. Yet, to fail to do so would be to passively accept the Big Lie technique-which is how we as a nation got into this horrible mess in the first place.

The basic claim of the President's desperate and strident attack on the war's critics this past week is that he was acting as a consensus President when intelligence information left him no choice but to invade Iraq as a preventive action to deter a terrorist attack on America. This is flatly wrong.

His rationalization for attacking Iraq, once accepted uncritically by most in Congress and the media easily intimidated by jingoism, now is known to be false. The bipartisan 9/11 Commission selected by Bush concluded unanimously that there was no link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's secular dictatorship, Al Qaeda's sworn enemy. And a recently declassified 2002 document proves that Bush's "evidence" for this, available to top Administration officials, was based on a single discredited witness.

Clearly on the defensive, Bush now sounds increasingly Nixonian as he basically calls the majority of the country traitors for noticing he tricked us.

"Reasonable people can disagree about the conduct of the war, but it is irresponsible for Democrats to now claim that we misled them and the American people," the President said at an Air Force base in Alaska. "Leaders in my Administration and members of the United States Congress from both political parties looked at the same intelligence on Iraq, and reached the same conclusion: Saddam Hussein was a threat."

This is a manipulative distortion; saying Hussein was a threat-to somebody, somewhere, in some context-is not the same as endorsing a pre-emptive occupation of his country in a fantastically expensive and blatantly risky nation-building exercise. And the idea that individual senators and members of Congress had the same access to even a fraction of the raw intelligence as the President of the United States is just a lie on its face-it is a simple matter of security clearances, which are not distributed equally.

It was enormously telling, in fact, that the only part of the Senate which did see the un-sanitized National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq-the Republican-led Senate Select Intelligence Committee-shockingly voted in the fall of 2002 against the simple authorization of force demanded by a Republican President. Panicked, the warmongers in the White House and Pentagon pressured CIA Director George Tenet to rush release to the entire Hill a very short "summary" of the careful NIE, which made Hussein seem incalculably more dangerous than the whole report indicated.

The Defense Intelligence Agency finally declassified its investigative report, DITSUM No. 044-02, within recent days. This smoking-gun document proves the Bush Administration's key evidence for the apocryphal Osama bin Laden-Saddam Hussein alliance-said by Bush to involve training in the use of weapons of mass destruction-was built upon the testimony of a prisoner who, according to the DIA, was probably "intentionally misleading the debriefers."

Yet, despite the government having been informed of this by the Pentagon's intelligence agency in February 2002, Bush told the nation eight months later, on the eve of the Senate's vote to authorize the war, that "we've learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and gases."

The false Al Qaeda-Hussein link was the linchpin to Bush's argument that he could not delay the invasion until after the United Nations weapons inspectors completed their investigation in a matter of months. Perhaps, he feared not that those weapons would fall into the wrong hands but that they would not be found at all.

Boxed in by international sanctions, weapons inspectors, US fighter jets patrolling two huge no-fly zones and powerful rivals on all his borders, Hussein in 2003 was decidedly not a threat to America. But the Bush White House wanted a war with Iraq, and it pulled out all the stops-references to "a mushroom cloud" and calling Hussein an "ally" of Al Qaeda-to convince the rest of us it was necessary.

The White House believed the ends (occupying Iraq) justified the means (exaggerating the threat). We know now those ends have proved disastrous.

Oblivious to the grim irony, Bush proclaims his war without end in Iraq the central front in a new cold war, never acknowledging that he has handed Al Qaeda terrorists a new home base. Iran, his "Axis of Evil" member, now has its disciples in power in Iraq. Last week, top Bush Administration officials welcomed to Washington Iraq Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi, who previously was denounced for having allegedly passed US secrets to his old supporters in Tehran and was elected to a top post in Iraq by campaigning on anti-US slogans.

Under Bush's watch, we not only suffered the September 11 terrorist attacks while he snoozed, but he has failed to capture the perpetrator of those attacks and has given Al Qaeda a powerful base in Iraq from which to terrorize. And this is the guy who dares tell his critics they are weakening our country.

Sidney Blumenthal - Bush's Betrayal of History

Bush's Betrayal of History
By Sidney Blumenthal

Thursday 17 November 2005

Defiant of rising political blowback on Iraq, Bush blasts his truth-telling critics as traitors to the cause.

One year ago, after his reelection, President Bush brashly asserted, "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style." Twelve months later, Republicans were thrashed in elections for the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey. In St. Paul, Minn., the Democratic mayor who endorsed Bush for reelection a year ago was defeated by another Democrat by a margin of 70 to 30 percent. Then Republicans in Congress split into rancorous factions and failed to pass Bush's budget. That was followed by the Senate's rejection of Bush's torture and detainee policy and by overwhelming passage of a resolution stipulating that the president must submit a strategy on withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

The turn in public opinion against Bush has been slowly considered and is therefore also firm. Now a majority believes his administration manipulated prewar intelligence to lead the country into the Iraq war, and nearly two-thirds disapprove of how he has handled the war. His political capital appears spent with more than three years left in his term. He has retreated from the ruins of his grandiose agenda into a defense of his past.

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Baghdad, Bush was the man of action who never looked back, openly dismissive of history. When asked shortly afterward by Bob Woodward how he would be judged on Iraq, Bush replied, "History. We don't know. We'll all be dead." But his obsessive interest in the subject is not posthumous. The Senate's decision last week to launch an investigation into the administration's role in prewar disinformation, after the Democrats forced the issue in a rare secret session, has provoked a furious presidential reaction.

On Veterans' Day, Nov. 11, Bush addressed troops at an Army base: "It is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began." He charged that "some Democrats and antiwar critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people," even though they knew "a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs." In fact, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction was not authorized to look into that question, but only whether the intelligence community was correct in its analysis. Moreover, the Senate Intelligence Committee under Republican leadership connived with the White House to prevent a promised investigation into the administration's involvement in prewar intelligence. Its revival by Democrats is precisely the proximate cause that has triggered Bush's paroxysm of revenge.

Several days later, Bush spoke before troops at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, where he stated that "some Democrats who voted to authorize the use of force are now rewriting the past," and are "sending mixed signals to our troops and the enemy." U.S. soldiers "deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them into war continue to stand behind them," Bush admonished. His essential thrust was that as "a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life" besieges us from without, the most insidious undermining comes from within. Thus an American president updated the "stab in the back" theory first articulated in February 1919 by Gen. Erich Ludendorff, who stated that "the political leadership disarmed the unconquered army and delivered over Germany to the destructive will of the enemy."

The former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a member of the Defense Policy Board, always notable for his visions, has compared George W. Bush in his travails to Abraham Lincoln before Gettysburg. Gingrich, who has recently written a series of counterfactual novels depicting a Southern triumph in the Civil War, communicated his latest flight of fancy to a longtime former diplomat who has served under Republican and Democratic administrations alike. The diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous, recounted their conversation to me. "We are at war," insisted Gingrich. "With whom?" the diplomat asked. "The Democrats," Gingrich replied without hesitation. For Gingrich, ever the Republican guru, history is a plaything of the partisan present.

In Rome last week, a leading Italian political figure of the center-left told me he was opposed to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq - contrary to the public stance of the left coalition. According to his reasoning, Iraq has become a magnet and training center for terrorists, and if the U.S. withdraws the terrorists might come to Europe. I later learned that this was a common analysis of European intelligence agencies as well.

Bush's adoption of the Ludendorff strategy of blaming weak politicians for military failure and exalting "will" sets him at odds with liberal democracy. His understanding of history also clashes with the conservative tradition that acknowledges human fallibility and respects the past. Bush's presidency is an effort to defy history, not only in America, writing on the world as a blank slate. The New Deal can be abolished without consequences, Arab states can be transformed into democracies if only they will it. Now he wants to erase memory of his actual record on the war, substituting a counterfactual history. "Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history," said Lincoln. Never mind.

GOP attacks on U.S. military actions during Clinton Presidency

GOP attacks on U.S. military actions during Clinton Presidency
by GlennGreenwald (dailykos)

The odious, patriotism-impugning Michelle Malkin is today stridently hyping a post at Mudville Gazette entitled "History of a Long War (Iraq 1990-2003)," the purpose of which is ostensibly to demonstrate that the U.S. war with Iraq did not begin with Bush's false WMD claims, but instead has been raging continuously since 1990. These most slavish of Bush defenders apparently think that this revisionism will get Bush off the hook for starting a war on false pretenses (since, according to this view, Bush did not start a war with Iraq, but merely inherited an ongoing one).

Leaving aside the absurd notion that the periodic outbreaks of hostilities between the U.S. and Iraq during the Clinton Presidency can be characterized as a "war," it is true that President Clinton repeatedly deployed the military to target Iraqi military forces violating the U.N.'s no-fly zone and/or to impede Saddam's military expansion efforts -- and he also deployed the military in Kosovo, Somalia and against Osama bin Laden.

In light of the increasingly reprehensible assaults by the GOP on the patriotism of anyone who questions the Administration's war effort in Iraq, it is worth remembering what the Republicans were doing and saying when the U.S. military was deployed during the Clinton Presidency.

An examination of what the GOP said and did throughout the 1990s with regard to President Clinton's military actions conclusively reveals this fact: throughout the Clinton Presidency, the GOP not only vocally opposed our country's military actions, but continuously questioned Clinton's motives and impugned his integrity with regard to why the troops were being deployed and with regard to the national security value of those deployments. Put another way, these GOP uber-patriots, again and again, engaged in precisely the behavior during the Clinton Presidency which they are now trying to claim -- when engaged in by Democrats against the Iraq War -- is dangerous, immoral and unpatriotic.

Listening to the Republicans and their pundit-defenders now, one would think that the GOP always steadfastly supports U.S. military action, always refrains from questioning the integrity or motives of the Commander-in-Chief with regard to deployment of troops, and always favors a strong military response to bad regimes and bad actors around the world. But with regard to virtually every military action ordered by President Clinton - including the numerous times that he put troops "in harms' way" - the GOP was there to oppose these efforts, to call into question the purpose and value of these deployments, and to make all sorts of scurrilous accusations against the President with regard to his motives for making the military decisions he made.

These same Republicans even went so far as to overtly accuse Clinton of "wagging the dog" by ordering a bombing campaign against Saddam Hussein, and separately against Osama bin Laden, without any real military purpose and solely in order to distract attention away from his domestic scandals. Plainly, Republicans tried to impede Clinton's military actions against both Saddam and bin Laden by opposing Clinton's use of the military and attacking his motives and integrity in ordering these actions.

Isn't it about time that these GOP officials and pundits -- who now so shamelessly wield the toxic patriotism weapon against anyone who has come to oppose the Iraq war -- be confronted with their behavior through the decade of the 1990s?

Also forced to confront and explain away these obstructionist attacks on the Commander-in-Chief and his integrity throughout the military actions of 1990s should be some of the most stridently pro-war, pro-Bush voices in the blogosphere, who have taken recently to expressly proclaiming that anyone who attacks the motives and integrity of Bush with respect to the Iraq war is "unpatriotic."

Every time they appear on television or are interviewed and they impugn the patriotism of anyone who questions the Administration's conduct of this war, the following quotes -- reflecting GOP opposition to and attacks on every one of America's military actions during Clinton's Presidency -- should be shown to them and they should be forced to confront and explain them.


A stroll down memory lane:

Rep. Dick Armey, GOP Majority Leader

"The suspicion some people have about the president's motives in this attack [on Iraq] is itself a powerful argument for impeachment," Armey said in a statement. "After months of lies, the president has given millions of people around the world reason to doubt that he has sent Americans into battle for the right reasons."

Rep. Gerald Solomon (R - NY)

"It is obvious that they're (the Clinton White House) doing everything they can to postpone the vote on this impeachment in order to try to get whatever kind of leverage they can, and the American people ought to be as outraged as I am about it," Solomon said in an interview with CNN. Asked if he was accusing Clinton of playing with American lives for political expediency, Solomon said, "Whether he knows it or not, that's exactly what he's doing."

Sen. Dan Coats (R - IN)

Coats, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement, "While there is clearly much more we need to learn about this attack [on Osama bin Laden] and why it was ordered today, given the president's personal difficulties this week, it is legitimate to question the timing of this action."

Sen. Larry Craig, U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee

The foregoing review of the Clinton Administration's prevarications on Kosovo would not be complete without a brief look at one other possible factor in the deepening morass. Consider the following fictional situation: A president embroiled in a sex scandal that threatens to bring down his administration. He sees the only way out in distracting the nation and the world with a foreign military adventure. So, he orders his spin-doctors and media wizards to get to work. They survey the options, push a few buttons, and decide upon a suitable locale: Albania.

The foregoing, the premise of the recent film Wag the Dog, might once have seemed farfetched. Yet it can hardly escape comment that on the very day, August 17, that President Bill Clinton is scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury to explain his possibly criminal behavior, Commander-in-Chief Bill Clinton has ordered U.S. Marines and air crews to commence several days of ground and air exercises in, yes, Albania as a warning of possible NATO intervention in next-door Kosovo. . . .

Not too many years ago, it would not have entered the mind of even the worst of cynics to speculate whether any American president, whatever his political difficulties, would even consider sending U.S. military personnel into harm's way to serve his own, personal needs. But in an era when pundits openly weigh the question of whether President Clinton will (or should) tell the truth under oath not because he has a simple obligation to do so but because of the possible impact on his political "viability" -- is it self-evident that military decisions are not affected by similar considerations? Under the circumstances, it is fair to ask to what extent the Clinton Administration has forfeited the benefit of the doubt as to the motives behind its actions.

GOP Activist Paul Weyrich

Paul Weyrich, a leading conservative activist, said Clinton's decision to bomb on the eve of the impeachment vote "is more of an impeachable offense than anything he is being charged with in Congress."

Wall St. Journal Editorial Board

"It is dangerous for an American president to launch a military strike, however justified, at a time when many will conclude he acted only out of narrow self-interest to forestall or postpone his own impeachment"

Sen. Trent Lott, GOP Majority Leader

"I cannot support this military action in the Persian Gulf at this time," Lott said in a statement. "Both the timing and the policy are subject to question."

Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-NY)

"Never underestimate a desperate president," said a furious House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-N.Y.). "What option is left for getting impeachment off the front page and maybe even postponed? And how else to explain the sudden appearance of a backbone that has been invisible up to now?"

Rep. Tillie Folwer (R-Fla)

"It [the bombing of Iraq] is certainly rather suspicious timing," said Rep. Tillie Fowler (R-Florida). "I think the president is shameless in what he would do to stay in office."

Phyllis Schlafly, Eagle Forum

First, it [intervention in Kosovo] is a "wag the dog" public relations ploy to involve us in a war in order to divert attention from his personal scandals (only a few of which were addressed in the Senate trial). He is again following the scenario of the "life is truer than fiction" movie Wag the Dog. The very day after his acquittal, Clinton moved quickly to "move on" from the subject of impeachment by announcing threats to bomb and to send U.S. ground troops into the civil war in Kosovo between Serbian authorities and ethnic Albanians fighting for independence. He scheduled Americans to be part of a NATO force under non-American command.

Jim Hoagland, Washington Post

"President Clinton has indelibly associated a justified military response ... with his own wrongdoing. ... Clinton has now injected the impeachment process against him into foreign policy, and vice versa"

Byron York, National Review

Instead of striking a strong blow against terrorism, the action [launching cruise missles at bin Laden] set off a howling debate about Clinton's motives. The president ordered the action three days after appearing before the grand jury investigating the Monica Lewinsky affair, and Clinton's critics accused him of using military action to change the subject from the sex-and-perjury scandal -- the so-called "wag the dog" strategy.

Wall St. Journal editorial

"Perceptions that the American president is less interested in the global consequences than in taking any action that will enable him to hold onto power [are] a further demonstration that he has dangerously compromised himself in conducting the nation's affairs, and should be impeached"


Are all of those GOP political leaders and media pundits "unpatriotic" - or "cowards" - for questioning the veracity of Clinton's grounds for these military decisions and for questioning his motives in choosing them? Or was it OK to do that then but it's just not OK any longer?

A Thousand Tipping Points

A Thousand Tipping Points
by Bill C. Davis

To borrow and para a phrase from George Sr. we are in the middle of a thousand tipping points. The definition of tipping point according to Malcolm Gladwell’s book of the same name – “the tipping point is the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point, a place where the unexpected becomes expected, where radical change is more than possibility. It is a certainty.”

Tipping points are coming fast and furiously and they will create a certainty that was inherent in the beginning of this misbegotten administration. George W. Bush could be impeached. It would be a remedy and a declaration to the world that we have democratic and non-violent tools to correct abuse of a beautiful system. Since election 2000, the juggernaut, with the name of Bush as its logo, has rolled out many products.

The recount, or abuse thereof, headed up by the Carlyle Group’s own James Baker III, was the first corrupt product. Out of that grew fiasco upon fiasco. “Intelligence failures” sounds like a cruel bit of irony but from 9/11 to Iraq to Abu Ghraib to Katrina to EPA standards – intelligence, both official and scientific, was either lacking, manipulated or ignored.

If people in both political and economic power see catastrophes as opportunities, the uneasy feeling that stalks us all is that our leaders either allow or cause the catastrophes that dovetail with the opportunities they need, like a vampire needs blood. Who wants to believe something so diabolical about ourselves, because the truth is this government is us, until we say it is not us.

Like tremors before a quake the thousand tipping points point to this: this is not our government. We allowed it and for that we all need to be accountable, but – it can be changed. The same document that says only Congress can declare war says a president can be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.

Members of the Congress and Senate take this oath:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

In summing up his record Congress could determine that the logo known as Bush has been a domestic enemy. Like an abusive father who either decides to leave home or is ushered out by higher authorities – he must leave for the sake of the family. No matter what forces decided he was their man to be in charge of the military and the treasury, Bush, because of loyalty to an agenda different from America’s, has abused his role.

Rep. Murtha, like the bold, emotional son in a family headed up by an abusive father, has honored his oath and has acknowledged a domestic enemy. This is a very difficult and troubling thing to do and for the population to acknowledge. It will throw the household into terrible upheaval but without it the house will collapse.

Rep. Murtha provided a main tipping point – the fulcrum he used was reality. We’ve been told, cajoled, threatened, bribed and scared into believing vague hall-of-mirror realities. The distortions have distorted us. We look at ourselves as receptacles and reflections of lies.

The issue that has been drawn tight like a cord beneath a steer before the chute opens, is that Bush and his war planners knew that what they were saying were falsehoods. We need to know if they knew the facts were false and they used those false facts to get the war they wanted.

The biggest lie was when the president told us that the last thing anyone wants is war. It’s the first thing they wanted. Now that they have it – they are dodging, like land mines, the tipping points that are consequences of foul deeds and once these points are fully tipped they may finally become points of light.

Bill C. Davis is a playwright – - and candidate for Congress from the fifth district of Connecticut –

Bush's War on the Press

Published on Friday, November 18, 2005 by The Nation
Bush's War on the Press
by John Nichols & Robert W. McChesney

In his speech to last spring's National Media Reform Conference in St. Louis, Bill Moyers accused the Bush Administration not merely of attacking his highly regarded PBS program NOW but of declaring war on journalism itself. "We're seeing unfold a contemporary example of the age-old ambition of power and ideology to squelch and punish journalists who tell the stories that make princes and priests uncomfortable," explained Moyers. With the November resignation of Moyers's nemesis, Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) board chair Ken Tomlinson, amid charges of personal and political wrongdoing and a host of other recent developments, it becomes increasingly clear that this White House is doing battle with the journalistic underpinnings of democracy.

To be sure, every administration has tried to manipulate the nation's media system. Bill Clinton's wrongheaded support for the Telecommunications Act of 1996 cleared the way for George W. Bush's attempts to give media companies the power to create ever larger and more irresponsible monopolies. But with its unprecedented campaign to undermine and, where possible, eliminate independent journalism, the Bush Administration has demonstrated astonishing contempt for the Constitution and considerable fear of an informed public. Consider the bill of particulars:

Corrupting PBS. Tomlinson's tenure at the CPB, which annually distributes $400 million in federal funding to broadcast outlets, was characterized by an assault on the news operations of the Public Broadcasting Service in general, and Moyers in particular, for airing dissenting voices and preparing investigative reports on the Administration. His goal was clearly to fire a shot across the bow of all public stations so managers would shy away from the sort of investigative journalism that might expose Bush Administration malfeasance. On November 15, on the heels of Tomlinson's resignation, the CPB's inspector general issued a sixty-seven-page report documenting Tomlinson's repeated violations of the Public Broadcasting Act, CPB rules and the CPB code of ethics with his political meddling, though it stopped short of calling for prosecution, or of examining the link between Tomlinson's actions and White House directives.

Faking TV News. Under Bush Administration directives, at least twenty federal agencies have produced and distributed scores, perhaps hundreds, of "video news segments" out of a $254 million slush fund. These bogus and deceptive stories have been broadcast on TV stations nationwide without any acknowledgment that they were prepared by the government rather than local journalists. The segments--which trumpet Administration "successes," promote its controversial line on issues like Medicare reform and feature Americans "thanking" Bush--have been labeled "covert propaganda" by the Government Accountability Office.

Paying Off Pundits. The Administration has made under-the-table payments to at least three pundits to sing its praises, including Armstrong Williams, the conservative columnist who collected $240,000 from the Education Department and then cheered on the ill-conceived No Child Left Behind Act.

Turning Press Conferences Into Charades. Bush has all but avoided traditional press conferences, closing down a prime venue for holding the executive accountable. On those rare occasions when he deigned to meet reporters, presidential aides turned the press conferences into parodies by seating a friendly right-wing "journalist," former male escort Jeff Gannon, amid the reporters and then steering questions to him when tough issues arose. They have effectively silenced serious questioners, like veteran journalist Helen Thomas, by refusing to have the President or his aides call on reporters who challenge them. And they have established a hierarchy for journalists seeking interviews with Administration officials, which favors networks that give the White House favorable coverage--as the frequent appearances by Bush and Dick Cheney on Fox News programs will attest.

Gutting the Freedom of Information Act. As Eric Alterman detailed in a May 9 report in these pages, the Administration has scrapped enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act and has made it harder for reporters to do their jobs by refusing to cooperate with even the most basic requests for comment and data from government agencies. This is part of a broader clampdown on access to information that has made it virtually impossible for journalists to cover vast areas of government activity.

Obscuring the Iraq War. In addition to setting up a system for embedding reporters covering the war--which denied Americans a full picture of what was happening during the invasion--the Defense Department has denied access to basic information regarding the war, from accurate casualty counts to images of flag-draped coffins of US dead to the Abu Ghraib torture photos.

Pushing Media Monopoly. The Administration continues to make common cause with the most powerful broadcast corporations in an effort to rewrite ownership laws in a manner that favors dramatic new conglomeratization and monopoly control of information. The Administration's desired rules changes would strike a mortal blow to local journalism, as media "company towns" would be the order of the day. This cozy relationship between media owners and the White House (remember Viacom chair Sumner Redstone's 2004 declaration that re-electing Bush would be "good for Viacom"?) puts additional pressure on journalists who know that when they displease the Administration they also displease their bosses.

In his famous opinion in the 1945 Associated Press v. US case, Justice Hugo Black said that "the First Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society." In other words, a free press is the sine qua non of the entire American Constitution and republican experiment.

The Bush Administration attack on the foundations of self-government demands a response of similar caliber. Under pressure from media-reform activists Congress has begun to push back, with a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate Commerce Committee to limit the ability of federal agencies to produce covert video news segments and to investigate Defense Department spending on propaganda initiatives. But until the Administration is held accountable by Congress for all its assaults on journalism, and until standards are developed to assure that such abuses will not be repeated by future administrations, freedom of the press will exist in name only, with all that suggests for our polity.

John Nichols, The Nation's Washington correspondent, has covered progressive politics and activism in the United States and abroad for more than a decade. He is currently the editor of the editorial page of Madison, Wisconsin's Capital Times. Nichols is the author of two books: It's the Media, Stupid and Jews for Buchanan.

Robert W. McChesney, who teaches at the University of Illinois, is the author of Rich Media, Poor Democracy (New Press) and, with John Nichols, of It's the Media, Stupid (Seven Stories). With John Nichols, he founded Free Press, a media reform network.

John W. Dean -- An Open Letter to Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald

An Open Letter to Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald
From Former White House Counsel John W. Dean
By John W. Dean

Friday 18 November 2005

The Honorable Patrick J. Fitzgerald
Special Counsel
Bond Federal Building
1400 New York Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Special Counsel Fitzgerald:

Excuse my being so presumptuous as to send you this open letter, but the latest revelation of the testimony, before the grand jury, by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward has raised some fundamental questions for me.

In your post as Special Counsel, you now have nothing less than authority of the Attorney General of the United States, for purposes of the investigation and prosecution of "the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee's identity." (The employee, of course, is Valerie Plame Wilson, a CIA employee with classified status, and the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.) On December 30, 2003, you received a letter from the Deputy Attorney General regarding your powers. On February 6, 2004 you received a letter of further clarification, stating without reservation, that in this matter your powers are "plenary." In effect, then, you act with the power of the Attorney General of the United States.

In light of your broad powers, the limits and narrow focus of your investigation are surprising. On October 28 of this year, your office released a press statement in which you stated that "A major focus of the grand jury investigation was to determine which government officials had disclosed to the media prior to July 14, 2003, information concerning Valerie Wilson's CIA affiliation, and the nature, timing, extent, and purpose of such disclosures, as well as whether any official made such a disclosure knowing that Valerie Wilson's employment by the CIA was classified information."

If, indeed, that is the major focus of your investigation, then your investigation is strikingly limited, given your plenary powers. To be a bit more blunt, in historical context, it is certainly less vigorous an investigation than those of your predecessors who have served as special counsel - men appointed to undertake sensitive high-level investigations when the Attorney General of the United States had a conflict of interest. (Here, it was, of course, the conflict of Attorney General John Ashcroft that led to the chain of events that resulted in your appointment.)

The Teapot Dome Precedent

As I am sure you are aware, President Calvin Coolidge appointed Owen J. Roberts, a Philadelphia attorney at the time, and former U.S. Senator Atlee Pomerene, then practicing law in Ohio, as special counsels to investigate and prosecute on behalf of the government any wrongdoing related to the so-called Teapot Dome inquiry. That investigation related to the improper dissipation of government assets - dubious oil leases to Edward L. Doheny and Harry F. Sinclair.

Several years ago, I had an opportunity to spend several weeks at the National Archives going through the files of Special Counsels Roberts and Pomerene. I urge you to send a member of your staff to do the same, for they are highly revealing as to the aggressive - yet appropriate - nature of their investigation and actions.

What you will find is that Roberts and Pomerene, before figuring out exactly who was to blame and going after them, first sought to protect the interest of the United States by ending the further dissipation of the nation's oil reserves to Doheny and Sinclair, and seek restitution.

In brief, they started by taking protective civil measures. Only with that accomplished did they move on to criminal prosecutions. Why have you not done the same?

Your investigation also relates to the dissipation - if not the irreparable destruction - of a government asset: Valerie Plame Wilson. As you no doubt know, the U.S. Government invested a great deal of money in her special education and training, as well as other aspects of her covert status. Then, either intentionally, or with gross negligence, senior Bush administration officials blew Valerie Wilson's cover. (Prior to the disclosure, her status was not, as some have claimed, an "open secret": Rather, as you yourself have said, the fact that she was a CIA asset was not previously well-known outside the intelligence community.)

Yet there is no evidence that you have made any effort whatsoever to undertake any civil remedies dealing with this either intentional or grossly careless destruction of a government asset. As acting Attorney General for this matter, you have even more authority than did Special Counsels Roberts and Pomerene.

Those who leaked the information about Valerie Wilson breached signed contracts they had made with the government. These contracts, moreover, were not to be taken lightly: They enforced profoundly important obligations to national security, on the part of the very people who were supposed to be serving that end.

Why are you not enforcing those contracts? Why have you not urged the president to sanction those who have released national security information? The president has said he would fire those who committed crimes - but breach of such profoundly important contracts, even if it does not rise to the level of a crime, is surely cause for dismissal, as well.

You should so urge the President. And if he is not willing to take appropriate action with those who have dishonored their offices, and broken their contracts, you ought to go to court and get an injunction to remove their security clearances.

Again, their agreement with the government was the very understanding upon which they were (and continue to be) given classified information. Now that they have breached it, the vital predicate for those clearances is gone.

The Watergate Precedent

Even more troubling, from an historical point of view, is the fact that the narrowness of your investigation, which apparently is focusing on the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (making it a crime to uncover the covert status of a CIA agent), plays right into the hands of perpetrators in the Administration.

Indeed, this is exactly the plan that was employed during Watergate by those who sought to conceal the Nixon Administration's crimes, and keep criminals in office.

The plan was to keep the investigation focused on the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters - and away from the atmosphere in which such an action was undertaken. Toward this end, I was directed by superiors to get the Department of Justice to keep its focus on the break-in, and nothing else.

That was done. And had Congress not undertaken its own investigation (since it was a Democratically-controlled Congress with a Republican President) it is very likely that Watergate would have ended with the conviction of those caught in the bungled burglary and wiretapping attempt at the Democratic headquarters.

Now, with a Republican-controlled Congress and a Republican President, you (a Republican appointee) are the last bulwark of protection for the American people. We must hope you will keep faith with them.

It was well understood at the Nixon White House, and it surely is at the Bush White House, that government attorneys do not look to prosecute those for whom they work. We knew that career government lawyers simply were not going to be looking for crimes at the White House - not because they acted with corrupt intent, but simply because it is no one's instinct to bite the hand that feeds them.

When Archibald Cox was appointed special counsel - under pressure from the U.S. Senate as a condition to confirm Attorney General Elliot Richards - he immediately recognized what had occurred. While no Department of Justice lawyer was found to have engaged in the cover up, their timidity had facilitated it. Cox was fired because he refused to be intimidated. His firing became a badge of honor for all those who do the right thing, regardless of the consequences.

While I have no reason to believe you are easily intimidated, all I can say is that your investigation, thus far, is falling precisely within the narrow confines - the formula procedure - that was relied upon in the first phase of the Watergate cover-up by the Nixon administration.

So narrow was your investigation that it appears that you failed to learn that Bob Woodward had been told of Valerie Wilson's CIA post until after you had indicted Scooter Libby. While I have no doubt you know your way around the Southern District of New York, and the Northern District of Illinois, Washington DC is a very different place.

With all due respect, Mr. Fitzgerald, I believe you are being had. I believe that you were selected with the expectation that you would conduct the narrowest of investigations, and it seems you have done just that.

The leak of Valerie Wilson's status did not occur in a vacuum. Republicans in Congress do not want to know what truly happened. You are the last, best hope of the American people in this regard.

I can tell you, as someone who travels about the country, that Americans - regardless of their political disposition - are deeply troubled by this case. And, increasingly so, by the limits you have apparently placed on your investigation.

To right-minded Americans, the idea that Administration officials have betrayed their national security obligations, yet remain in their jobs, is nothing short of appalling. Beyond politics is patriotism: Patriotic Americans want to see you not only prosecute those who compromised and endangered Valerie Plame Wilson, but also force the Administration to clean house with respect to those who did this, which you can accomplish through appropriate civil action.

As one who does know something about the way Washington works, I hope you will actually use the plenary powers you have been granted to implement what I understood to be the announced policy of the Department of Justice for which you work - a zero tolerance policy for leaks.

John W. Dean, a FindLaw columnist, is a former counsel to the president.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Hawkish Cheney Renews Attack but Attracts Only Flak

Hawkish Cheney Renews Attack But Attracts Only Flak
By David Charter
The Times of London

Friday 18 November 2005

Vice-president's popularity and influence have waned in line with public support for Iraq conflict.

Dick Cheny's steely presence used to be seen as one of the great strengths of the Bush Administration. Not any more.

The 64-year-old Vice-President has re-emerged on to the public stage after weeks in the White House freezer with an attack on critics of the Iraq policy he did so much to promote.

But far from bolstering his President, Mr Cheney's assault appeared to have merely encouraged growing criticism of his uncompromising style.

"The President and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone, but we're not going to let them rewrite history," Mr Cheney said in a Wednesday night speech aimed at Democrats who accuse the White House of misleading America over Iraq.

He went on: "The suggestion that's been made by some US senators that the President or any member of this Administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.

"The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out."

The speech, delivered to a conservative policy group, drew a furious response. Harry Reid, leader of the Senate's Democrat minority, said that it showed the Administration planned to continue putting its political fortunes ahead of America's needs.

John Kerry, the Democrats' presidential candidate last year, said that it was "hard to name a government official with less credibilty on Iraq" than Mr Cheney. But the criticism came not just from Democrats. Chuck Hagel, a senior senator and Vietnam veteran, betrayed growing Republican unease by declaring: "The Bush Administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and should not be demonised for disagreeing with them.

"Suggesting that to challenge or criticise policy is undermining our troops is not democracy, nor what this country has stood for over 200 years."

Throughout Mr Bush's first term, Mr Cheney's closeness to the President, especially after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, earned him the reputation as one of the most powerful vice-presidents in history, and he was a leading advocate of the invasion of Iraq. But his popularity and influence have waned in line with public support for the Iraq conflict, and he is increasingly seen as a liability. His approval ratings have sunk to a five-year low. He was invisible after the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

One prominent Republican critic, Senator John McCain, a former prisoner-of-war in Vietnam, wants a ban on "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees" in Iraq. It was another sign of Mr Cheney's fading powers that Mr McCain's amendment passed the Senate by 90-9, despite his opposition. His image took a further dent with reports that he is trying to negotiate an opt-out from the proposed legislation for the CIA.

Mr Cheney's record in allegedly ramping up the case for war is under intense scrutiny in Washington, which has not forgotten statements such as his assertion in August 2002 that "on the nuclear question, many of us are convinced that Saddam will acquire such weapons fairly soon". In June last year he talked of Saddam Hussein's "long-established ties with al-Qaeda", proof of which remains elusive.

An ally of the Vice-President told Time magazine this week that "Cheney's war is swallowing Bush's presidency".

The article, headlined "The long, hard autumn of Dick Cheney", also pointed out that Mr Cheney's lack of desire to seek the Oval Office for himself in 2008 freed him to risk his own standing on behalf of the President — but left him looking vulnerable when he started to lose his touch.

Mr Bush backed his deputy yesterday. Speaking in South Korea, he accused the Democrats of irresponsibly playing politics over Iraq. Dan Bartlett, a presidential adviser, said that Democrat attacks had crossed the line and required a "sustained response".

But Mr Bush seems to be distancing himself from his Vice-President, who reportedly learnt secondhand of the President's ill-fated nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, and spent the difficult election week last week pheasant-hunting in South Dakota.

The President's political imperative to put clear space between himself and Mr Cheney only increased when the Vice-President's top aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was indicted on charges relating to the CIA-leak scandal. The case could see Mr Cheney called to testify.

Paul Krugman - A Private Obsession

A Private Obsession
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Friday 18 November 2005

"Lots of things in life are complicated." So declared Michael Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services, in response to the mass confusion as registration for the new Medicare drug benefit began. But the complexity of the program - which has reduced some retirees to tears as they try to make what may be life-or-death decisions - is far greater than necessary.

One reason the drug benefit is so confusing is that older Americans can't simply sign up with Medicare, as they can for other benefits. They must, instead, choose from a baffling array of plans offered by private middlemen. Why?

Here's a parallel. Earlier this year Senator Rick Santorum introduced a bill that would have forced the National Weather Service to limit the weather information directly available to the public. Although he didn't say so explicitly, he wanted the service to funnel that information through private forecasters instead.

Mr. Santorum's bill didn't go anywhere. But it was a classic attempt to force gratuitous privatization: involving private corporations in the delivery of public services even when those corporations have no useful role to play.

The Medicare drug benefit is an example of gratuitous privatization on a grand scale.

Here's some background: the elderly have long been offered a choice between standard Medicare, in which the government pays medical bills directly, and plans in which the government pays a middleman, like an H.M.O., to deliver health care. The theory was that the private sector would find innovative ways to lower costs while providing better care.

The theory was wrong. A number of studies have found that managed-care plans, which have much higher administrative costs than government-managed Medicare, end up costing the system money, not saving it.

But privatization, once promoted as a way to save money, has become a goal in itself. The 2003 bill that established the prescription drug benefit also locked in large subsidies for managed care.

And on drug coverage, the 2003 bill went even further: rather than merely subsidizing private plans, it made them mandatory. To receive the drug benefit, one must sign up with a plan offered by a private company. As people are discovering, the result is a deeply confusing system because the competing private plans differ in ways that are very hard to assess.

The peculiar structure of the drug benefit, with its huge gap in coverage - the famous "doughnut hole" I wrote about last week - adds to the confusion. Many better-off retirees have relied on Medigap policies to cover gaps in traditional Medicare, including prescription drugs. But that straightforward approach, which would make it relatively easy to compare drug plans, can't be used to fill the doughnut hole because Medigap policies are no longer allowed to cover drugs.

The only way to get some coverage in the gap is as part of a package in which you pay extra - a lot extra - to one of the private drug plans delivering the basic benefit. And because this coverage is bundled with other aspects of the plans, it's very difficult to figure out which plans offer the best deal.

But confusion isn't the only, or even the main, reason why the privatization of drug benefits is bad for America. The real problem is that we'll end up spending too much and getting too little.

Everything we know about health economics indicates that private drug plans will have much higher administrative costs than would have been incurred if Medicare had administered the benefit directly.

It's also clear that the private plans will spend large sums on marketing rather than on medicine. I have nothing against Don Shula, the former head coach of the Miami Dolphins, who is promoting a drug plan offered by Humana. But do we really want people choosing drug plans based on which one hires the most persuasive celebrity?

Last but not least, competing private drug plans will have less clout in negotiating lower drug prices than Medicare as a whole would have. And the law explicitly forbids Medicare from intervening to help the private plans negotiate better deals.

Last week I explained that the Medicare drug bill was devised by people who don't believe in a positive role for government. An insistence on gratuitous privatization is a byproduct of the same ideology. And the result of that ideology is a piece of legislation so bad it's almost surreal.

Michael Massing - The End of News?

The End of News?
By Michael Massing
The New York Review of Books

01 December 2005 Edition

In late September, the Government Accountability Office - a nonpartisan arm of Congress - issued a finding that the Bush administration had engaged in "covert propaganda," and thereby broken the law, by paying Armstrong Williams, a conservative commentator, to promote its educational policies. The GAO also faulted the administration for hiring a public relations firm to distribute video news segments without disclosing the government's part in producing them. [1] The auditors' report, which followed a year-long investigation, presents chilling evidence of the campaign that officials in Washington have been waging against a free and independent press. Only months before, it was revealed that Kenneth Tomlinson, the President's choice to head the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, had paid a Republican operative to monitor the political leanings of guests on Bill Moyers's show Now, as part of a broader effort to shift PBS's programming to the right.

The Bush administration has restricted access to public documents as no other before it. According to a recent report on government secrecy by, a watchdog organization, the federal government classified a record 15.6 million new documents in fiscal year 2004, an increase of 81 percent over the year before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Spending on the declassification of documents dropped to a new low. What's more, 64 percent of Federal Advisory Committee meetings in 2004 were completely closed to the public. The Pentagon has banned TV cameras from recording the return of caskets from Iraq, and it prohibited the publication of photographs of those caskets, a restriction that was lifted only following a request through the Freedom of Information Act.

The restrictions have grown so tight that the normally quiescent American Society of Newspaper Editors last fall issued a "call to arms" to its members, urging them to "demand answers in print and in court" to stop this "deeply disturbing" trend. The conservative columnist William Safire, usually a supporter of Bush's policies, complained last September that "the fundamental right of Americans, through our free press, to penetrate and criticize the workings of our government is under attack as never before."

But the campaign against the press is only partly a result of a hostile White House. The administration's efforts have been amplified by a disciplined and well-organized news and opinion campaign directed by conservatives and the Christian right. This well-funded network includes newsletters, think tanks, and talk radio as well as cable television news and the Internet. Often in cooperation with the White House, these outlets have launched a systematic campaign to discredit what they refer to disparagingly as "MSM," for mainstream media. Through the Internet, commentators can channel criticism of the press to the general public faster and more efficiently than before. As became plain in the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry, to cite one of many examples, an unscrupulous critic can spread exaggerated or erroneous claims instantaneously to thousands of people, who may, in turn, repeat them to millions more on talk radio programs, on cable television, or on more official "news" Web sites. This kind of recycled commentary has become all the more effective because it is aimed principally at a sector of the population that seldom if ever sees serious press coverage.

Partly as a result, newspapers find themselves less popular than ever before, at a time when the newspaper industry itself is losing readers while struggling to cuts costs and meet demands for ever larger profits. Today's journalists, meanwhile, when compared to their predecessors, often seem far less willing to resist political pressure from the White House. In the 1970s, for example, The Washington Post refused to buckle under intense White House pressure during Watergate, and The New York Times did not shrink from publishing the Pentagon Papers. Recently, in contrast, the Times had to apologize for uncritically publishing false government claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and Time magazine released the notes of its journalist Matthew Cooper to a government prosecutor without his consent. Conservative commentators and the administration have also been able to intimidate publications into shunning investigative reporting, as when, for example, Newsweek promised to crack down on its use of anonymous sources after being criticized for its story about the mishandling of the Koran by the US military, and when CBS forced the resignation of four news employees after questions were raised about the 60 Minutes broadcast on Bush's record in the National Guard. With the President's poll numbers down and infighting among conservatives more visible, the coverage of Washington has sharpened of late, but overall the climate remains hostile to good reporting.

In 1969, when Vice President Spiro Agnew gave a series of speeches attacking the TV networks and top newspapers as liberal and elitist, only one small organization outside the government was pursuing similar aims. Accuracy in Media was run out of a modest office in Washington by a reactionary gadfly named Reed Irvine. He published a newsletter that singled out journalists whose reporting he found objectionable, insinuating that they were soft on communism and on leftist dictators, if not entirely disloyal. Such charges caused conservative newspaper readers to question the fairness of some news accounts, but Irvine's politics were so extreme that most editors dismissed him as a crank.

In 1979, conservatives discovered a new basis for criticizing the press when S. Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman released a study purporting to show the leftist leanings of national journalists. Of 240 journalists surveyed, eight out of ten said they voted Democratic in presidential elections from 1964 to 1976. Nine out of ten said they supported abortion rights, more than half said they saw nothing wrong with adultery, and few attended church. In 1985, Lichter and his wife Linda, with the financial support of such conservative foundations as Scaife and Olin, formed the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a research institute that, while presenting itself as nonpartisan, sought to document instances of liberal bias on the networks and in newspapers. Its reports helped complement the Reagan administration's efforts to portray the press as out of step with "mainstream America." The impact of these efforts was apparent in journalists' often uncritical coverage of such issues as supply-side economics and the abusive activities of the Salvadoran military, the Nicaraguan contras, and other forces allied with the US in Central America. (There were exceptions, however, such as The New York Times's investigation of the CIA's relations with Panama's Manuel Noriega in the late 1980s.)

An even more consequential, though much less visible, change took place in 1987, with the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine. Introduced in 1949, this rule required TV and radio stations to cover "controversial issues" of interest to their communities, and, when doing so, to provide "a reasonable opportunity for the presentation of contrasting viewpoints." Intended to encourage stations to avoid partisan programming, the Fairness Doctrine had the practical effect of keeping political commentary off the air altogether. In 1986, a federal court ruled that the doctrine did not have the force of law, and the following year the FCC abolished it.

At that point, stations were free to broadcast whatever they wanted. In 1988, several dozen AM stations began carrying a show hosted by a thirty-seven-year-old college dropout named Rush Limbaugh. Advertising himself as "the most dangerous man in America," Limbaugh attracted listeners by combining political jokes, thundering polemics, and outrageous overstatement. He spoke, he said, "with half my brain tied behind my back, just to make it fair, because I have a talent on loan from...God. Rush Limbaugh. A man. A legend. A way of life."

The eternal enemy, he claimed, is "liberalism.... It destroys prosperity. It assigns sameness to everybody." On his show, he has described feminists as "feminazis" and referred to the prison in Guantánamo as "Club Gitmo," a place where the conditions are so plush as to resemble those of a country club. Limbaugh appealed to conservatives who felt no one else was expressing their resentments with such satisfying vehemence; soon hundreds of stations were carrying the show, which by now, according to Media Week, has generated well more than $1 billion in revenue.

Limbaugh's success, in turn, has inspired "a vast new armada" of right-wing talk show hosts, according to Brian C. Anderson in his book South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias. [2] A senior editor at City Journal, a magazine published by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative New York think tank, Anderson is so sure of the press's liberal slant that he makes only slapdash efforts to document it. He claims, for instance, that press bias is "at its most egregious in war reporting." A prime example, he claims, is the "defeatist coverage of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars," each of which was portrayed by CNN and the daily press as "another Vietnam." Anderson overlooks the nearly unanimous support of editorial boards for both those conflicts, the credulous acceptance by national news organizations of the Bush administration's claims regarding Iraq's WMDs, and the triumphalist coverage of the US military's push into Baghdad. [3] He takes no note of the thoroughly conventional views of most of the guests on CNN's talk shows, the network's heavy reliance on retired military officers for commentary, and Wolf Blitzer's often obsequious and usually predictable questioning of administration officials.

But South Park Conservatives does give a concise account of the right's successful assault on the mainstream press. "Drive across the country these days," Anderson writes in a chapter on talk radio, "and you'll never be out of range of conservative voices on the AM dial or satellite radio." The list of the top twenty talk radio shows nationwide is thick with conservatives. The most popular is Limbaugh, whose daily three-hour show attracts an estimated weekly audience of around 14 million. Next comes Sean Hannity, whose show, carried on nearly four hundred stations, attracts 12 million weekly, and who is also the co-host of Fox News's nightly TV program Hannity & Colmes. "Dr. Laura" Schlesinger, who inveighs against feminists and homosexuals, has eight million listeners, as does Michael Savage, who ridicules the handicapped and considers Arabs "non-humans." Laura Ingraham, the author of Shut Up & Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics, and the UN Are Subverting America, has five million. Other popular right-wing hosts include Bill O'Reilly, William Bennett, G. Gordon Liddy, and Michael Medved. (The liberal Air America is now carried on sixty-eight radio stations nationwide, but its daily audience is puny compared to that enjoyed by the right.)

As Anderson makes clear, these shows not only provide their own slant on the news, but also work ceaselessly to discredit what they call "liberal" news organizations. Day after day, talk radio echoes and magnifies the criticisms of the press made by the White House, charging The New York Times and The Washington Post, CBS and CNN with being for big government and against big business, for abortion rights and against gun rights, for Democrats and against Republicans.

In mid-October, I tuned in to Limbaugh's show, aired in New York on WABC, and heard him spend much of his three hours defending the White House against press criticism that the President's aides had scripted a videoconference between Bush and a group of soldiers in Iraq. Attempting to turn the tables and make the press the issue, Limbaugh cited several cases in which he claimed news organizations have helped to stage events, such as when a reporter from the Chattanooga Times Free Press helped shape the question a GI asked Donald Rumsfeld in Iraq about the lack of adequate armor for US military vehicles. This was a typical ploy by Limbaugh, who seeks at every opportunity to hail the progress being made in Iraq and to blame negative news on Bush-hating reporters.

Limbaugh's three hours on WABC were followed by three by Sean Hannity, who denounced the media for its distorted coverage of Iraq and its "nonstop attack on the President" from the very start of the war. Then came two hours by Mark Levin, a lawyer turned talk show host who specializes in right-wing name-calling (he called Joseph Wilson and his wife "finks," Judy Miller "a rat," Ted Kennedy "a lifelong drunk," The New York Times the "New York Slimes," and Senator Charles Schumer "Chucky Schmucky"). Then came two hours by Laura Ingraham, who, also taking up the Bush staging charges, denounced the "elitist" press for scripting "everything" and being "out of touch with the American people." Such tirades are issued daily on hundreds of stations around the country.

An even bigger boon to the right, in Brian Anderson's view, has been the rise of cable news, especially Fox News. Founded in 1996, Fox first surpassed CNN in the ratings in early 2002 and now consistently outdraws it. It is available to more than 85 million subscribers, and, on average, it attracts more than eight million people daily - more than double the number who watch CNN. As with talk radio, Fox relentlessly hammers away at the press, casting it as fundamentally opposed to the values of ordinary Americans - particularly in such matters as abortion, faith, and fighting terrorism. Last spring, New York Times execu-tive editor Bill Keller estimated that last year Fox's Bill O'Reilly had attacked his paper no fewer than sixty times.

Last May, during the controversy over Newsweek's report that a copy of the Koran had been flushed down a toilet at Guantánamo, Hannity & Colmes presented a report from Ramadi, Iraq, where Oliver North, now a Fox correspondent, was talking with Specialist Jonah Bishop of the US Army's Second Infantry Division. North said that he'd just returned to al-Anbar Province after many previous visits:

Oliver North: It's things like this false story that came out about what happened at Guantánamo that creates divisions between the Americans out here and our Iraqi allies. It would strike me that what we're going to see, as a consequence of that, is an increase in the No. 1 unit of attack that they use against us, which is what?

Specialist Bishop: "IEDs."

North: "That's improvised explosive devices?"

Bishop: "That's correct."

In other words, North was asserting that the brief item in Newsweek would cause more roadside bomb attacks on US forces, and, by implication, more deaths of US servicemen. For weeks, Fox regularly repeated its charge against Newsweek's Koran report, neglecting to make any mention of the well-substantiated reports about the mishandling of the Koran at Guantánamo that were appearing in The New York Times and other papers. Fox was thus able to keep the issue alive in a way that the Bush administration by itself could not have done.

The "Fox effect," as it's called, is apparent at MSNBC, where Joe Scarborough nightly sounds like Bill O'Reilly, and at CNN. In recent years, as its ratings have declined, CNN has devoted more and more of its broadcast day to entertainment, commentary, and soft news. Here one can find a lineup of cautious and vacuous daytime anchors, the predictable attacks on outsourcing and Mexican immigration by Lou Dobbs, and the superficial celebrity interviews of Paula Zahn and Larry King. CNN's coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, including sharp reports on FEMA's shameful neglect of New Orleans's poor residents, shows that the network can still provide exceptional coverage in times of crisis, and in the weeks since CNN seems to be returning to a more serious approach to the news.

The Fox effect has been apparent, too, at the Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose sixty-plus stations give it access to a quarter of the US TV audience. Since late 2002, Brian Anderson observes, Sinclair has fed its affiliates a seventeen-minute news report that uses Fox's slogan about being "fair and balanced." The report includes an opinion feature called "Truth, Lies and Red Tape" that claims to present stories that the established networks "don't want viewers to hear," as a Sinclair executive put it. (One segment derided the United Nations for "spending more time and money defining the War on Terror instead of fighting it.")

In April 2004, Sinclair directed its eight ABC affiliates not to run a Nightline segment in which Ted Koppel read the names of the more than one thousand US servicemen who had by then died in Iraq. In the ensuing controversy many conservative commentators defended Sinclair's decision, and the discussion on talk radio, cable news, and the Internet helped foster the idea that the mere discussion of US combat deaths in Iraq is somehow unpatriotic. The Sinclair debate complemented the various steps the administration has taken to suppress coverage of US casualties. Only in the last few months, as insurgent violence has intensified and the number of American and Iraqi deaths has mounted, has the coverage of the war grown more skeptical on some TV news broadcasts. (On the same day that Scooter Libby's indictment was announced, CNN chose to rebroadcast an hour-long report, "Dead Wrong," on the Bush administration's false claims about WMD.)

But it is a third, technological innovation that, along with the rise of talk radio and cable news, has made the conservative attack on the press particularly damaging: blogs. These Internet Web logs, which allow users to beam their innermost thoughts throughout the world, take no longer than a few minutes to set up. They first began to appear in the late 1990s, and there are currently more than 20 million of them. As one critic has observed, many are by adolescent girls writing their diaries on-line. Those with any substantial readership and political influence probably number in the hundreds, and most of these are conservative. As Brian Anderson writes with considerable understatement, "the blogosphere currently leans right."

At The Truth Laid Bear, a Web site that ranks political blogs according to their number of links with other sites, eight of the top ten blogs are conservative. The conservative sites include InstaPundit (University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds), Power Line (three lawyers), (a syndicated columnist whose recent book defends the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II), Free Republic (conservative activists), Captain's Quarters (run by a call-center manager), the Volokh Conspiracy (a UCLA law professor), and Little Green Footballs (commentary on foreign policy with a strong pro-Israel slant). Complementing them are a host of "milblogs," written by active-duty military personnel promoting vigorous pursuit of the GWOT (Global War on Terror). (By far the most-visited political blog is the left-of-center Daily Kos; its popularity is owing in part to its community-style approach, which allows registered readers to post their own comments as well as comment on the posts of others.)

In addition to being linked to one another, these blogs are regularly featured on more established right-of-center Web sites such as the Drudge Report (three billion visits a year), WorldNetDaily (which appeals to the Christian right), and Dow Jones's OpinionJournal, which features James Taranto's widely read "Best of the Web Today." These sites, in turn, are regularly trolled by commentators like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, who then publicize many of their messages over TV, radio, and their own Web sites. NationalReviewOnline seeks out new conservative blogs and launches them with great fanfare. And the Bush administration actively supports these efforts. Last December, for instance, Lynne Cheney observed on the MSNBC program Hardball that she regularly reads Instapundit and Power Line - a powerful recruiting tool for those sites.

For these bloggers, the principal target is the mainstream media, or MSM. Every day, they scrutinize the top dailies, the three broadcast networks as well as CNN, and the newsweeklies for evidence of "liberal bias." Over the last year, they have demonstrated their influence. When 60 Minutes ran its segment on the memos about George Bush's National Guard service, Power Line led the way in raising doubts about the authenticity of the documents and the reliability of their source. After CBS apologized, the remaining serious questions about Bush's National Guard service were abruptly dropped by CBS and the press in general. [4]

Last fall, when Wall Street Journal correspondent Farnaz Fassihi sent her friends a group e-mail that bluntly described the deteriorating security situation in Baghdad, right-wing bloggers accused her of bias and demanded her recall. The Journal quickly announced that Fassihi would take a previously scheduled vacation and so remain out of Iraq until after the US presidential election. (She has since resumed reporting from Iraq.) Earlier this year, when CNN president Eason Jordan claimed at the Davos summit that the US military was deliberately targeting journalists critical of the war in Iraq, bloggers exploded in outrage. Within days, a computer software analyst in Medford, New Jersey, had set up a new Web site,, to stoke anger against Jordan on the Internet. From there, the controversy jumped to TV, and soon after Jordan resigned.

Liberal bloggers have had some successes of their own. Partly as a result of their commentaries, for instance, the press has paid more attention to the so-called Downing Street memo of July 2002, in which Tony Blair and his advisers discussed the Bush administration's plans for war in Iraq. In addition to Daily Kos, prominent left-leaning blogs include Talking Points Memo, Eschaton, and, for commentary on Iraq, Informed Comment. While these sites are critical of the national press, their main fire is directed at the Bush administration. What's more, these sites are not supported by an interconnected system of talk radio programs and cable television commentary, and their influence therefore tends to be much more limited.

The thick web of connections among right-wing commentators is typified by Hugh Hewitt. A law professor who once served as the director of the Nixon Library, Hewitt hosts a nationally syndicated radio talk show from a studio in an Orange County, California, mall. In between chats with studio guests, he posts commentary on his blog,, which receives about 40,000 visits a day. He contributes a weekly column to the Daily Standard, the online edition of the conservative Weekly Standard. Hewitt is also an evangelical Christian who sees blogs as an effective way to spread the word of Christ. According to World, an evangelical monthly magazine, Hewitt "may well be the world's leading blog-evangelist." An entire Web site has been set up to record the blogs he has helped inspire; it currently lists more than 250. On his own blog, Hewitt regularly flags what he considers to be instances of anti-Christian bias in the press. In mid-June, for instance, when The New York Times ran an article about the growing number of evangelical chaplains in the armed forces and the tensions they were causing, Hewitt observed that this was the latest installment in the Times's "Drive Evangelicals from the Military" series. [5]

Christian bloggers are part of a growing group of Christian news providers. As Mariah Blake reported in the May/ June Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Broadcasting Network, home to Pat Robertson's 700 Club, today employs more than a thousand people working at stations in three US cities and several foreign countries. Evangelicals control six national TV networks and some two thousand religious radio stations. "Thanks to Christian radio's rapid growth," Blake observes, "religious stations now outnumber every other format except country music and news-talk" - the latter category, as we have seen, also overwhelmingly dominated by the right.

For three years before the Terri Schiavo case got national attention, it was constantly discussed on Christian stations, which sought to frame the issue as one of activist judges who were not upholding the sanctity of life. Soon after Bush was elected in 2000, directors of the National Religious Broadcasters were invited to meet the President and John Ashcroft, and the group has held monthly conference calls with the White House ever since. All in all, Blake observes, evangelical broadcasters have "remained hidden in plain sight - a powerful but largely unnoticed force shaping American politics and culture."

The rapid growth of conservative outlets for commentary has contributed to a siege mentality among journalists. Steve Lovelady, who edits CJR Daily, a blog sponsored by the Columbia Journalism Review, told me that based on the frequent e-mails he receives from editors and reporters around the country, he thinks that newsrooms are in a state of "growing panic." Journalists "feel like they've never been under greater attack," Lovelady says. "Press criticism seems harsher and more accusatory than it used to be."

In addition to feeling under attack from without, Lovelady adds, journalists feel threatened from within. In previous decades, the major newspapers were mostly owned by family-run companies, which usually insulated newsrooms from the vicissitudes of the stock market. Today, most newspapers are owned by large publicly held corporations, for which profit margins are increasingly more important than investment in better reporting. This has sapped news organizations of their ability to defend themselves at precisely the moment they need it most.

The much-discussed fortunes of the Los Angeles Times are a case in point. For more than four generations, the paper was published by members of the Chandler family, who were controlling shareholders of the Times Mirror Company, which, in addition to the Times, owned Newsday, the Baltimore Sun, and the Hartford Courant. In 2000, however, Times Mirror was bought by the Chicago-based Tribune Company, a huge corporation that had become accustomed to 30 percent annual profit margins. (In addition to the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, the Tribune Company owns nine other papers, twenty-six television stations, a 22 percent share in the WB television network, and the Chicago Cubs baseball team.)

The purchase came shortly after the revelation that top executives at the Los Angeles Times had approved a deal with the Staples Center to share the advertising proceeds from a special section about the sports and entertainment arena, an arrangement widely criticized as breaching the traditional wall between news and business. At first, Tribune executives seemed committed to restoring the Times's strong reputation, as reflected in their decision to hire John Carroll, the widely respected editor of the Baltimore Sun, as the paper's new editor. And Carroll came through: in 2004, the paper won five Pulitzer Prizes, the second most ever for a paper (after the seven won by The New York Times in 2002). Financially, though, the paper was still feeling the effects of the 2000 recession, with advertising revenue sharply declining and circulation dropping well below its traditional level of more than one million.

The paper continued to be very profitable, but its margins had dipped below the 20 to 25 percent it had achieved in its most prosperous years. At the same time, the paper had come under heavy attack from southern California bloggers such as Hugh Hewitt, who portrayed it as liberal, lofty, and out of touch. According to Ken Auletta, in The New Yorker, more than a thousand Los Angeles Times readers canceled their subscriptions after the paper ran a story critical of Arnold Schwarzenegger just before the 2003 recall election that brought him to office. [6]

Between 2000 and 2004, the Tribune Company extracted some $130 million from the paper's annual billion-dollar budget. Then, weeks after the 2004 Pulitzer Prizes were announced, Tribune executives informed Carroll that further cuts were needed, and over the summer more than sixty staff members took voluntary buyouts or were laid off. The Washington bureau lost 10 percent of its staff, and those who remained were assigned to a new office along with the much-reduced Washington bureaus of the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Newsday, and other Tribune papers. The cutbacks have made it harder for reporters at these papers to meet their daily deadlines, much less undertake in-depth reporting. In July of this year, in the face of demands for more cuts, Carroll resigned from the Times.

The developments at the Tribune Company mirror those in the newspaper industry as a whole. For most big-city papers, circulation is declining, advertising is shrinking, and reporters and editors are being let go. The full extent of the crisis became apparent in May, when the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported circulation figures for 814 daily papers for the six months ending last March. Compared to the same period the year before, total daily circulation fell by 1.9 percent and Sunday circulation by 2.5 percent. Sunday circulation fell by 2 percent at The Boston Globe, 3.3 percent at the Philadelphia Inquirer, 4.7 percent at the Chicago Tribune, and 8.5 percent at the Baltimore Sun. At the Los Angeles Times, circulation fell 6.4 percent daily and 7.9 percent on Sundays. Even The Washington Post, the dominant paper in a region of strong economic growth, has suffered a 5.2 percent daily circulation decline over a two-year period.

There are a few exceptions. The New York Times and USA Today, both national newspapers, have had modest circulation gains. Even so, the New York Times Company announced in October that it was going to eliminate five hundred jobs, including forty-five in the Times newsroom and thirty-five in the newsroom of The Boston Globe. (The Globe recently announced that it was dismantling its national desk.) The Wall Street Journal has been holding its own in circulation, but its ad revenues have sharply declined.

It is a striking paradox, however, that newspapers, for all their problems, remain huge moneymakers. In 2004, the industry's average profit margin was 20.5 percent. Some papers routinely earn in excess of 30 percent. By comparison, the average profit margin for the Fortune 500 in 2004 was about 6 percent. If the Los Angeles Times were allowed to operate at a 10 to 15 percent margin, John Carroll told me earlier this year, "it would be a juggernaut."

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, when most papers went public, they had little trouble maintaining such levels. Many enjoyed a monopoly in their markets, and realtors, car dealers, and local stores had no choice except to advertise in them. The introduction of new printing technology helped to reduce labor costs and to shift power away from unions and toward management. But papers have since faced successive waves of new competition - first from TV, then from cable, and now from the Internet. Yet Wall Street continues to demand the same high profits. "Of all the concerns facing newspapers," Carroll told me,

I'm most worried about cost cutting. Many CEOs are in a hard place, having to deliver short-term financial results or, most likely, get fired. Newspapers are very profitable, but their growth is slow, which means incessant cost cutting to meet Wall Street's expectations. The cost cutting leads to weaker journalism - fewer reporters, fewer photographers, fewer editors, fewer pages in the paper.

Gene Roberts, a former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer who left that paper over ongoing demands for cuts in his news operation, says that cutting news budgets to hit profit targets is a form of "systematic suicide." How can newspapers continue to insist on annual profit margins of 25 to 30 percent "and remain appealing to readers?" he asked. He argues that newspapers should respond to the increasing competition by investing more, not less, in newsrooms: "I think most papers could easily get their circulations up - maybe not gigantically, but they could certainly stop the erosion and head in the other direction if they served their readers better."

But many experts on the newspaper business are not convinced. John Morton, a well-known newspaper analyst, points out that some very well-run companies, such as The Washington Post, have hired more reporters, foreign correspondents, and editors, yet continue to lose circulation. The reason, he says, is clear: the disappearance of young readers. "It is the fundamental problem facing the industry," Morton says. "It's probably not going away. And no one has figured a way out."

The full extent of this problem is described in Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don't Follow the News, by David T.Z. Mindich. [7] A former assignment editor for CNN who now teaches journalism at St. Michael's College in Vermont, Mindich writes that while more than 70 percent of older Americans read a newspaper every day, fewer than 20 percent of young Americans do. As a result, he writes, "America is facing the greatest exodus of informed citizenship in its history." Of twenty-three students asked to name as many members of the Supreme Court as they could, eighteen could not name even one. It is frequently argued that young people are always less interested than their parents in following the news; as they get older, they'll undoubtedly become more engaged. Mindich thinks not. In the 1950s and 1960s, he observes, "young people were nearly as informed about news and politics as their elders were." If young people aren't reading newspapers now, he argues, there's a good chance they won't as adults.

All eyes are now on the Internet. Even as paid circulation has dwindled at many papers, the number of visits to their Web sites has soared. Both and rank among the top twenty on-line global news sites; in September, the Times site received visits from more than 21 million different users. Because these sites are mostly free, however, many readers have switched to them from print editions, which can cost several hundred dollars for an annual subscription. But there is no clear indication that young people are more likely to read news on the Internet than in print. According to Mindich, only 11 percent of young adults in a recent survey cited the Internet as a major source of news. Moreover, with the exception of The Wall Street Journal, which runs a profitable subscription-only Web site, newspapers have until now failed to establish an on-line presence for which readers are willing to pay. In September, the New York Times Web site launched "TimesSelect," a new premium service that charges $49.95 a year for access to the paper's archives and select Op-Ed-page commentary (except for subscribers, for whom access is free). But it remains unclear whether such a service will generate significant revenue.

For the Web to become profitable, it will need to be supported by advertising. To date, the returns here have been modest, but they are growing. This year, for instance, expects to take in $50 million, with ad revenues doubling in each of the next few years. In the long term, most observers agree, the future of newspapers lies with the Web, where transmitting the news requires no expensive newsprint, delivery trucks, or union drivers. The question is, can the Internet generate revenue - and readers - fast enough to make up for the shortfalls from print?

If the newspaper industry continues to shrink in response to the unrealistic expectations of Wall Street, the loss would be incalculable. The major metropolitan dailies, for all their faults, are the main collectors and distributors of news in America. The TV networks, to the extent they still offer serious hard news coverage, get many of their story ideas from papers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Boston Globe, and The Christian Science Monitor. Even the bloggers who so hate the "mainstream media" get much of their raw material from it. If the leading newspapers lose their capacity to report and conduct inquiries, the American public will become even more susceptible to the manipulations and deceptions of those in power.

The central question, in light of these difficulties, is how the press will respond. The environment in which the press works is often inhospitable, but it's precisely in times of crisis and upheaval that some of the best journalism gets done. Unfortunately, a look at the press's recent performance - including that of our leading newspapers - is not encouraging. As I will try to show in a subsequent article, news organizations, rather than push back against the forces confronting them, have too often retreated and acquiesced.


[1] See GAO reports to Senators Frank R. Lautenberg and Edward M. Kennedy, "Department of Education - Contract to Obtain Services of Armstrong Williams" [B-305368] and "Department of Education - No Child Left Behind Act Video News Release and Media Analysis" [B-304228], September 30, 2005.

[2] Regnery, 2005.

[3] The reporting of Knight Ridder's Washington Bureau was one of the few exceptions to this trend. See my articles in these pages, "Now They Tell Us," The New York Review, February 26, 2004; and "Unfit to Print?" The New York Review, June 24, 2004.

[4] For an analysis raising questions about CBS's internal investigation, see James Goodale's article "The Flawed Report on Dan Rather," The New York Review, April 7, 2005, and the correspondence that followed in The New York Review, May 12, 2005.

[5] For more on Hewitt and his influence, see Nicholas Lemann, "Right Hook," The New Yorker, August 29, 2005.

[6] See "Fault Line," The New Yorker, October 10, 2005.

[7] Oxford University Press, 2004.