Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fascgasm (Yet)? Everything In This Country Is For Sale (Drug-Addicted Awaiting Trial?) ("Try to Be Nice & See Where It Gets You") "Repeaters?" Oprah?

WE CARE ABOUT CORPORATIONS!!! (Still think they're only after the (nonexistent 50 members of the) Taliban? Iran/Contra Connections? Oh, Get Really Goooood Lawyers (and hard drugs)!!!) Danny Schechter tells us how it was done sooo seductively we had no idea until the fascgasm was a distant echo that we were suborned (and couldn't get off the hook). (Emphasis marks and some editing were inserted - Ed.)

. . . money alone is not the be all and end all of a shift towards a red white and blue brand of fascism. Other ingredients are needed and some may be on the way - like an economic collapse, defeat in foreign wars, rise in domestic terrorism and the emergence of a right-wing populist movement that puts order before justice and wants to crush its opponents. Some argue we have just such a movement in the Tea Party although other critics focus on the rise of the Christian right that promotes fundamentalist politics in the name of God.

The Tea Party is not just after Democrats; it has started a campaign against the liberal Methodist Church. It is not internally democratic either with no elected officers or set of by by-laws. It seems to be managed and manipulated by shadowy political operatives and PR firms, financed by a few billionaires who support populism to defang it.

Already militias are forming because of fears of immigration, and there is also concern that if unemployment remains high there is likely to be more violence with police forces understaffed because of government cutbacks. Gun sales went up after the recent violent incidents in Arizona.

The erosion of economic stability with the rise of foreclosures and the shredding of social services is already turning a financial crisis into a social one.

We already have sharp partisan divide and inflation of hateful rhetoric with vicious putdowns of the President and condemnations by members of Congress calling him corrupt, even a traitor.

According to set of the characteristics of fascist nations, there is "a disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc."

In place of human rights enemies are turned into scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists." This process is already far along in the USA.

Among the classical characteristics of fascism is a shutting down of debate and a focus on the state - which in our country is controlled by lobbyists and private interests. Wall Street and the military-industrial complex have far more clout than elected officials.

In the past, during the Depression, there was a plot to overthrow Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was exposed and neutered. Could something like that happen again?

Maybe it doesn't have to, what with hawks already in control of Congress, major media outlets, the military and poised to slash the power of unions and curb progressive social programs including public education.

Several writers believe that if and when fascism comes to America it will be packaged in a friendly form tied to beneficial advertising slogans and public interest messaging. It will be sold, 1984-style as being unavoidable, even cool, and in our best interest.

Louisiana Senator Huey Long, a mesmerizing agitator, once said, "Fascism will come to America in the name of anti-fascism."

How Capitalism Became Corporatism
Al Rosen tells us that the financial chicanery wasn't even done originally by local thugs. Nope. They came from other countries to share their great theories with us in the West. Whiskey Fire has a more sophisticated view of the "Tucson nutjob," with which I heartily concur, than you will see in the MSM (emphasis marks added - Ed.):

Yes, wingnut rhetoric is dangerous and irresponsible and loony. But worrying about whether or not wingnut rhetoric is responsible for the Tucson nutjob, well, that's like worrying about shutting the barn door after the horse has been shot and fucked and sold for glue.

Surely: this shooting was horrific. But then, wingnut rhetoric has directly led to mind-boggling numbers of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan; it's ruined the American economy; it's made torture routine; it has succeeded in preventing the nation from taking effective action to prevent environmental catastrophe.

Busting wingnut rhetoric for these latest shootings wouldn't be like busting Al Capone for tax evasion. It would be like busting Al Capone for fucking jaywalking.

The reason the Tucson nightmare fearfully resonates is not because of a simple causal relationship between say Glenn Beck and direct incitements to murder, but because "conservatives" have an insatiable appetite for crazy bullshit.

Are wingnuts opposed to incitement to murder because, well, it's incitement to murder, or because they're afraid being caught out doing it might lose them Valuable Political Points?

Dunno! But once you've gone ahead and, say, made excuses for state-sponsored torture, if you want the benefit of the doubt, fuck you.

A huge (deafening) part of the background noise to this almost trivial discussion (at this point) is the role of the funders of the Tea Baggers, Rethuglicans, Dims, etc., in the continued buildup of the American Empire's defense machine and the shadow government that it has bought to effect it (emphasis marks added - Ed.).

Tomgram: William Hartung, Lockheed Martin's Shadow Government

January 12, 2011 As a boy in the 1950s, I can remember my father, a World War II vet, becoming livid while insisting that our family not shop at a local grocery store. Its owners, he swore, had been "war profiteers" and he would never forgive them. He practically spat the phrase out. I have no idea whether it was true. All I know is that, for him, “war profiteer” was the worst of curses, the most horrifying of sins. In 1947, Arthur Miller wrote a wrenching play on the subject of war profiteering, All My Sons, based on a news story about a woman who turned her father in for selling faulty parts to the U.S. military during my father’s war. It was a hit and, in 1948, was made into a movie starring Edward G. Robinson. Now, skip 42 years. In September 1990, I wrote an op-ed for the New York Times with the title “Privatize the Pentagon,” a distinctly tongue-in-cheek column suggesting that it was time for the U.S. to develop what I termed a “free-enterprise-oriented military.” “Looking back,” I wrote then, “isn’t it odd that unlike the environment, the post office, the poor, and Eastern Europe, the military has experienced no privatizing pressures?” No privatizing pressures? Little did I know. Today, if my dad were alive to fume about “war profiteers,” people would have no idea why he was so worked up. Today, only a neocon could write a meaningful play with “war profiteering” as its theme, and my sarcastic column of 1990 now reads as if it were written in Klingon.

Don’t blame my dad, Arthur Miller, or me if we couldn’t imagine a future in which for-profit war would be the norm in our American world, in which a “free-enterprise-oriented military” would turn out to be the functional definition of “the U.S. military,” in which so many jobs from KP to mail delivery, guard duty to the training of foreign forces, have been outsourced to crony capitalist or rent-a-gun outfits like Halliburton, KBR, Xe Services ( formerly Blackwater,) and Dyncorp that think it’s just great to make a buck off war. As they see it, permanent war couldn’t be a dandier or more profitable way to organize our world.

If one giant outfit gives war profiteering its full modern meaning, though, it’s Lockheed Martin . . . . As much as any robber baron of the nineteenth century, that corporation has long deserved its own biography. Now, William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation, has written Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex, the definitive account of how that company came to lord it over our national security world.

It’s a staggering tale that would leave my father spinning in his grave. (To catch Timothy MacBain's latest TomCast audio interview in which Hartung discusses the unsettling reach of Lockheed Martin, click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.)

And if you thought you were ever going to find out about the CIA funding of (and receipt of victims' funds) from the Allen Stanford scam . . . .

Is Lockheed Martin Shadowing You?

How a Giant Weapons Maker Became the New Big Brother William D. Hartung

Have you noticed that Lockheed Martin, the giant weapons corporation, is shadowing you? No? Then you haven’t been paying much attention. Let me put it this way: If you have a life, Lockheed Martin is likely a part of it.

True, Lockheed Martin doesn’t actually run the U.S. government, but sometimes it seems as if it might as well. After all, it received $36 billion in government contracts in 2008 alone, more than any company in history. It now does work for more than two dozen government agencies from the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s involved in surveillance and information processing for the CIA, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Pentagon, the Census Bureau, and the Postal Service.

Oh, and Lockheed Martin has even helped train those friendly Transportation Security Administration agents who pat you down at the airport. Naturally, the company produces cluster bombs, designs nuclear weapons, and makes the F-35 Lightning (an overpriced, behind-schedule, underperforming combat aircraft that is slated to be bought by customers in more than a dozen countries) - and when it comes to weaponry, that’s just the start of a long list.

In recent times, though, it’s moved beyond anything usually associated with a weapons corporation and has been virtually running its own foreign policy, doing everything from hiring interrogators for U.S. overseas prisons (including at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq) to managing a private intelligence network in Pakistan and helping write the Afghan constitution.

A For-Profit Government-in-the-Making

If you want to feel a tad more intimidated, consider Lockheed Martin’s sheer size for a moment. After all, the company receives one of every 14 dollars doled out by the Pentagon. In fact, its government contracts, thought about another way, amount to a “Lockheed Martin tax” of $260 per taxpaying household in the United States, and no weapons contractor has more power or money to wield to defend its turf.

It spent $12 million on congressional lobbying and campaign contributions in 2009 alone. Not surprisingly, it’s the top contributor to the incoming House Armed Services Committee chairman, Republican Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, giving more than $50,000 in the most recent election cycle. It also tops the list of donors to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the powerful chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the self-described “#1 earmarks guy in the U.S. Congress.”

Add to all that its 140,000 employees and its claim to have facilities in 46 states, and the scale of its clout starts to become clearer. While the bulk of its influence-peddling activities may be perfectly legal, the company also has quite a track record when it comes to law-breaking: it ranks number one on the “contractor misconduct” database maintained by the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington-DC-based watchdog group.

How in the world did Lockheed Martin become more than just a military contractor?

Its first significant foray outside the world of weaponry came in the early 1990s when plain old Lockheed (not yet merged with Martin Marietta) bought Datacom Inc., a company specializing in providing services for state and city governments, and turned it into the foundation for a new business unit called Lockheed Information Management Services (IMS).

In turn, IMS managed to win contracts in 44 states and several foreign countries for tasks ranging from collecting parking fines and tolls to tracking down “deadbeat dads” and running “welfare to work” job-training programs. The result was a number of high profile failures, but hey, you can’t do everything right, can you? Under pressure from Wall Street to concentrate on its core business - implements of destruction - Lockheed Martin sold IMS in 2001.

By then, however, it had developed a taste for non-weapons work, especially when it came to data collection and processing. So it turned to the federal government where it promptly racked up deals with the IRS, the Census Bureau, and the U.S. Postal Service, among other agencies.

As a result, Lockheed Martin is now involved in nearly every interaction you have with the government. Paying your taxes? Lockheed Martin is all over it. The company is even creating a system that provides comprehensive data on every contact taxpayers have with the IRS from phone calls to face-to-face meetings.

Want to stand up and be counted by the U.S. Census? Lockheed Martin will take care of it. The company runs three centers - in Baltimore, Phoenix, and Jeffersonville, Indiana - that processed up to 18 tractor-trailers full of mail per day at the height of the 2010 Census count.

For $500 million it is developing the Decennial Response Information Service (DRIS), which will collect and analyze information gathered from any source, from phone calls or the Internet to personal visits. According to Preston Waite, associate Director of the Census, the DRIS will be a “big catch net, catching all the data that comes in no matter where it comes from.”

Need to get a package across the country? Lockheed Martin cameras will scan bar codes and recognize addresses, so your package can be sorted “without human intervention,” as the company’s web site puts it.

Plan on committing a crime? Think twice. Lockheed Martin is in charge of the FBI’s Integrated Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), a database of 55 million sets of fingerprints. The company also produces biometric identification devices that will know who you are by scanning your iris, recognizing your face, or coming up with novel ways of collecting your fingerprints or DNA. As the company likes to say, it’s in the business of making everyone’s lives (and so personal data) an “open book,” which is, of course, of great benefit to us all.

“Thanks to biometric technology,” the company proclaims, “people don’t have to worry about forgetting a password or bringing multiple forms of identification. Things just got a little easier.”

Are you a New York City resident concerned about a “suspicious package” finding its way onto the subway platform? Lockheed Martin tried to do something about that, too, thanks to a contract from the city’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to install 3,000 security cameras and motion sensors that would spot such packages, as well as the people carrying them, and notify the authorities. Only problem: the cameras didn’t work as advertised and the MTA axed Lockheed Martin and cancelled the $212 million contract.

Collecting Intelligence on You

If it seems a little creepy to you that the same company making ballistic missiles is also processing your taxes, accessing your fingerprints, scanning your packages, ensuring that it’s easier than ever to collect your DNA, and counting you for the census, rest assured: Lockheed Martin’s interest in getting inside your private life via intelligence collection and surveillance has remained remarkably undiminished in the twenty-first century.

Tim Shorrock, author of the seminal book Spies for Hire, has described Lockheed Martin as “the largest defense contractor and private intelligence force in the world.” As far back as 2002, the company plunged into the “Total Information Awareness” (TIA) program that was former National Security Advisor Admiral John Poindexter’s pet project.

A giant database to collect telephone numbers, credit cards, and reams of other personal data from U.S. citizens in the name of fighting terrorism, the program was de-funded by Congress the following year, but concerns remain that the National Security Agency is now running a similar secret program. In the meantime, since at least 2004, Lockheed Martin has been involved in the Pentagon’s Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), which collected personal data on American citizens for storage in a database known as “Threat and Local Observation Notice” (and far more dramatically by the acronym TALON). While Congress shut down the domestic spying aspect of the program in 2007 (assuming, that is, that the Pentagon followed orders), CIFA itself continues to operate.

In 2005, Washington Post military and intelligence expert William Arkin revealed that, while the database was theoretically being used to track anyone suspected of terrorism, drug trafficking, or espionage, “some military gumshoe or overzealous commander just has to decide someone is a ‘threat to the military’” for it to be brought into play.

Among the “threatening” citizens actually tracked by CIFA were members of antiwar groups. As part of its role in CIFA, Lockheed Martin was not only monitoring intelligence, but also “estimating future threats.” (Not exactly inconvenient for a giant weapons outfit that might see antiwar activism as a threat!)

Lockheed Martin is also intimately bound up in the workings of the National Security Agency, America’s largest spy outfit. In addition to producing spy satellites for the NSA, the company is in charge of “Project Groundbreaker,” a $5 billion, 10-year effort to upgrade the agency’s internal telephone and computer networks.

While Lockheed Martin may well be watching you at home -- it’s my personal nominee for twenty-first-century “Big Brother” - it has also been involved in questionable activities abroad that go well beyond supplying weapons to regions in conflict. There were, of course, those interrogators it recruited for America’s offshore prison system from Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan (and the charges of abuses that so naturally went with them), but the real scandal the company has been embroiled in involves overseeing an assassination program in Pakistan.

Initially, it was billed as an information gathering operation using private companies to generate data the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies allegedly could not get on their own. Instead, the companies turned out to be supplying targeting information used by U.S. Army Special Forces troops to locate and kill suspected Taliban leaders.

The private firms involved were managed by Lockheed Martin under a $22 million contract from the U.S. Army. As Mark Mazetti of the New York Times has reported, there were just two small problems with the effort: “The American military is largely prohibited from operating in Pakistan. And under Pentagon rules, the army is not allowed to hire contractors for spying.”

Much as in the Iran/Contra scandal of the 1980s, when Oliver North set up a network of shell companies to evade the laws against arming right-wing paramilitaries in Nicaragua, the Army used Lockheed Martin to do an end run around rules limiting U.S. military and intelligence activities in Pakistan. It should not, then, be too surprising that one of the people involved in the Lockheed-Martin-managed network was Duane “Dewey” Claridge, an ex-CIA man who had once been knee deep in the Iran/Contra affair.

A Twenty-First Century Big Brother

There has also been a softer side to Lockheed Martin’s foreign policy efforts. It has involved contracts for services that range from recruiting election monitors for Bosnia and the Ukraine and attempting to reform Liberia’s justice system to providing personnel involved in drafting the Afghan constitution. Most of these projects have been carried out by the company’s PAE unit, the successor to a formerly independent firm, Pacific Architects and Engineers, that made its fortune building and maintaining military bases during the Vietnam War.

However, the “soft power” side of Lockheed Martin’s operations (as described on its web site) may soon diminish substantially as the company has put PAE up for sale. Still, the revenues garnered from these activities will undoubtedly be more than offset by a new $5 billion, multi-year contract awarded by the U.S. Army to provide logistics support for U.S. Special Forces in dozens of countries.

Consider all this but a Lockheed Martin précis. A full accounting of its “shadow government” would fill volumes. After all, it’s the number-one contractor not only for the Pentagon, but also for the Department of Energy. It ranks number two for the Department of State, number three for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and number four for the Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development.

Even listing the government and quasi-governmental agencies the company has contracts with is a daunting task, but here’s just a partial run-down: the Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Land Management, the Census Bureau, the Coast Guard, the Department of Defense (including the Army, the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force and the Missile Defense Agency), the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Technology Department, the Food and Drug Administration, the General Services Administration, the Geological Survey, the Department of Homeland Security, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Internal Revenue Service, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of State, the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Postal Service, the Department of Transportation, the Transportation Security Agency, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

When President Eisenhower warned 50 years ago this month of the dangers of “unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” he could never have dreamed that one for-profit weapons outfit would so fully insinuate itself into so many aspects of American life. Lockheed Martin has helped turn Eisenhower’s dismal mid-twentieth-century vision into a for-profit military-industrial-surveillance complex fit for the twenty-first century, one in which no governmental activity is now beyond its reach.

I feel safer already.

(William D. Hartung is the Director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex (Nation Books, January 2011). To listen to Timothy MacBain's latest TomCast audio interview in which Hartung discusses the unsettling reach of Lockheed Martin, click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.)

Exploring the shadowlands of the corporate police state

Sunday, January 9, 2011 Allen Stanford's Trial Indefinitely Delayed.

Suspected CIA Banker Became "Drug Dependent" - in Federal Custody

The strange case of accused swindler and suspected CIA banker R. Allen Stanford became a whole lot stranger last week.

During a preliminary hearing in Houston, U.S. District Judge David Hittner ruled that Stanford, charged with orchestrating an $8 billion dollar Ponzi scheme that defrauded thousands of investors, cannot be tried until he undergoes detoxification for a drug addiction acquired after his incarceration in a federal detention facility.

Talk about a convenient turn of events!

"Nothing can be done until the medical aspect is cleared up," Hittner told defense lawyers and prosecutors during an all-day hearing that examined Stanford's mental competence to stand trial, Bloomberg News reported.

The banker's court-appointed defense team is seeking a two-year delay, citing the mountain of evidence, some two million pages at last count, they must review before the trial can proceed. Stanford's apparent inability to participate in his own defense would certainly complicate matters.

With a net worth once estimated at $2 billion, the accused fraudster was declared indigent last fall after his assets were seized and (known) accounts frozen following his 2009 arrest and indictment.

In October, U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas ruled that Stanford and codefendants Laura Pendergest-Holt, Gilberto Lopez, Mark Kuhurt and Leroy King, the former chief regulator of the Bank of Antigua, cannot tap a $100 million Lloyds of London insurance policy to pay attorney fees.

According to the ruling, "lawyers for Lloyds had proven at a trial in August that it was likely that Stanford had committed money laundering." The court declared "that the policy's money laundering exclusion applies to justify underwriters' denial of insurance coverage at this time," Reuters reported.

Indicted eighteen months ago on 21 civil and criminal counts, including mail, wire, securities fraud and money laundering, Stanford is also suspected of running another in a long line of "full service banks" for American secret state agencies, including the CIA.

Interestingly enough, one of Stanford's early defense teams was led by none other than Robert S. Bennett, the high-powered attorney who successfully fought off prosecution for his client, Jose A. Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's clandestine division, accused of destroying 92 torture videotapes of prisoners held at Agency "black sites."

This latest twist in the sleazy affair raise uncomfortable questions for prosecutors: just how does one become drug addicted while in federal custody?

According to Bloomberg, "three psychiatrists, one working for the government and two working for the defense, testified that Stanford's dependency on prescription anti-anxiety medication and the after-effects of a head injury he sustained in a jailhouse beating left him unfit for the trial" which was slated to begin later this month.

Victor Scarano, a defense psychiatrist testified that the banker's dependency on the anti-anxiety drug clonazepam, along with the powerful anti-depressant mirtazapine, was the result of "overmedication" by his jailers.

Scarano testified that for more than a year Stanford "has been taking 3 milligrams a day of the anti-anxiety drug clonazepam, and that a normal dose is up to 1 milligram a day for no longer than two weeks," the Houston Chronicle disclosed.

The psychiatrist told the court that "He is unable to focus, he's unable to keep a train of thought," Scarano testified.

A second psychiatrist, Steven Rosenblatt, hired by the government, "testified that Stanford is suffering from delirium, likely brought on by the medication."

During Thursday's hearing, Stanford's attorney Ali Fazel, told the court that his client had been assaulted while in federal custody, severely beaten and that it was prison physicians who prescribed the medications to which the accused swindler is now addicted.

"It's the government that caused the problem," Fazel said.

The Independent averred this will raise "fresh and disturbing questions about the deterioration of Stanford's mental and physical health in the 18 months he has already spent behind bars."Among the questions likely to be raised is why, for some unknown and still unexplained reason prison doctors dispensed triple the normal dose of a suite of drugs known to produce untoward side effects.

According to Wikipedia, clonazepam is used to treat epilepsy, anxiety disorder and panic disorder, and in combination with lithium and haloperidol, it is also used for the initial treatment of mania or acute psychosis.

This is certainly a curious choice for long-term treatment of a concussion. While Stanford may be a notorious huckster who believed he could do no wrong, even as he allegedly robbed investors blind, there is no evidence he suffered a psychotic break with reality. In fact, the evidence suggests quite the opposite.

Clonazepam is characterized by its "fast onset of action and high effectiveness rate and low toxicity in overdose but has drawbacks due to adverse reactions including paradoxical effects, drowsiness, and cognitive impairment."

According to scholarly literature cited by Wikipedia, "cognitive impairments can persist for at least 6 months after withdrawal of clonazepam; it is unclear whether full recovery of memory functions occurs.

Other long-term effects of benzodiazepines include tolerance, a benzodiazepine dependence as well as a benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome occurs in a third of people treated with clonazepam for longer than 4 weeks."

Common side effects include drowsiness, interference with cognitive and motor performance, irritability and aggression, psychomotor agitation, lack of motivation, loss of libido, hallucinations, short-term memory loss, and what are described as "anterograde amnesia (common with higher doses)" or, the "loss of the ability to create new memories ... leading to a partial or complete inability to recall the recent past."

The second drug dispensed to Stanford, the anti-depressant mirtazapine, is used in the treatment of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders and is said to "exacerbate some patients' depression or anxiety or cause suicidal ideation,"

Wikipedia informs us: While "the potential for dangerous drug interactions with mirtazapine is considered to be very low," the drug may "increase the effects of ... benzodiazepines," e.g. clonazepam, the apparent drug of choice deployed by Stanford's jailers as part of his "treatment."

Attorneys and psychiatrists told the court that the accused swindler was treated for more than a year with triple the "normal dose" of a drug known for producing "paradoxical effects" including "a partial or complete inability to recall the recent past."

The question is why?

While Stanford's "overmedication" may have an innocent explanation, we cannot dismiss the possibility that someone or some entity perhaps, say an intelligence agency with decades of pharmacological knowledge derived from illicit human experiments might be interested in inducing permanent "cognitive impairment" in the dodgy banker.

So exactly when was it we lost "journalism" to moneylism? From The Canadian Journalism Project:
Reporters Are Repeaters, Content Is King, and Oprah Is A Journalist. Every time journalism reinvents itself someone christens it "new journalism." In fact, we've had the New New Journalism now for many a year, according to one book by a journalism professor. So I'm calling this change Really Super New New Journalism: You no longer have reporters, you have repeaters.

Content providers fill space, usually with advertiser-friendly offerings. Increasingly the content is designed to provide blatant support for political parties or special interest groups. That's because the financial incentive for news media has changed radically from the heady days when Woodward and Bernstein took down a president.

Killing off the competition

The new game began in Canada on Aug. 27, 1980. Black Wednesday, as it became known, was the day newspaper corporations across the country colluded to swap properties and kill competition.

The Ottawa Journal and the Winnipeg Tribune folded, and the Vancouver Province's owner, Southam, bought the Vancouver Sun. The two had been in bed together since 1950s via a press-and-profit-sharing agreement at Pacific Press that killed the third paper and defended against upstarts.

Suddenly competition for readers was no longer necessary; these publicly-traded corporations now focused on advertiser-pleasing copy as the technique for pulling more ads.

The shift was so radical, and so hard for those steeped in the Myth of Woodstein to accept, that today you still have journalists today arguing that much of what goes on in news media is "unethical."

It's not.

Not by any universally accepted standard. (Although for individual reporters, there may be personal ethical standards that prevent them printing known lies.)

The news business, as we of a certain age understood it, was based on an economic model that is less than 200 years old. From the 19th to the mid 20th century, newspapers were in the business of selling eyeballs to advertisers - journalism was always just the bait on the hook.

Papers that began as partisan voices of political and social movements twigged to the fact that you could sell more ads if you offended fewer people. So publishers developed the strategy of "objectivity" in their reporting in order to compete for more readers, because circulation was connected directly to profits.

Journos of the day made a virtue of necessity. They incorporated some noble ideas about objectivity from political philosophy and science and with the help of literature, and later film and television, they convinced the public they were essential to democracy. Journalism came to be defined as gathering information and doing analysis on behalf of citizens. Reporters romanticized themselves as the champions of the public who "spoke truth to power" and reported "without fear or favour."

Shortly after Black Wednesday, and despite howls of protest from journos schooled in the previous economic model, publishers began pandering to advertisers with sections like Homes and Driving, featuring puff pieces. Papers produced "special advertising features" and "supplements" on education, weddings, health, business and entertainment - any industry with a big ad budget. They no longer needed to court readers because they were the only game in town.

The New Shills

Journalism standards changed in the arts and lifestyle pages first. Gradually, restaurant critics stopped being anonymous and paying for their meals; some publications limited reviews to those who bought ads.

Arts sections cut staff and hired freelance critics who were often involved with the companies they were reviewing. Papers began "sponsoring" shows - promoting them and offering warm praise instead of reviews. Twenty years ago we all used to mutter about this being disgraceful in big city media.

Today, all of the above is so common that I was startled when an acquaintance asked why a local paper reviews the same restaurants over and over again. She wasn't joking: she still believes in the Myth of Woodstein. . . .

Oprah As Journalist

At least Postmedia has an understandable reason for changing standards: they're legally obligated to maximize profits. But the fact that the commercial-free public broadcaster also ignores the public good suggests that there is a new definition of journalism.

Last month the Vancouver Sun's editor-in-chief Patricia Graham may have underlined the arrival of the Really Super New New Journalism in an interview with Vancouver Magazine. In discussing the journalists who inspired her she mentions "of course Oprah" - which made the eyes of many an old-fashioned reporter pop.

Lady O is undoubtedly brilliant: she built a billion-dollar media empire by giving the people what they want. Whether she's advocating some celebrity-endorsed quack therapy or advising her fans to wish away their problems with The Secret, she has a genius for engaging middle-aged women.

But the grizzled 20th century journalist, or even a fairly old New Journalist, wouldn't call Oprah's heady mix of magical thinking and celebrity worship "journalism" any more than anyone would call a Big Mac nutrition.

But Graham is editor-in-chief at one of the leading papers in the country's largest chain: if she says that a peddler of infotainment content like Oprah meets the definition of journalism, I think we have to believe her.

Which mean it's time to give one last nod to those old journalism standards for ethics and professionalism and discuss the Really Super New New Journalism in public with our fellow citizens.

End Of An Era

Of course there are still old-fashioned journos producing old-fashioned news in the few relatively competitive markets left . . . . despite cutbacks from a Tory government that is attempting to silence one of the few watchdogs left.

But I suspect the noise they're making is just a death rattle. It's clear the term journalism has morphed to mean any space-filling content. And when media historians look back and try to determine the tipping point between old journalism and new in Canada, I think they'll settle on 2010, our Olympic year.

(Shannon Rupp is a contributing editor to The Tyee, where this article was originally published.)

Need I say more? Suzan __________________

2 comments:

The Blog Fodder said...

All of the facts pointing towards America becoming a fascist police state are frightening enough if you are an American. Until the extreme religious right seize the pinnacle of power, giving a global raison d'etre to that fascist state, it is more Stalinist than Hitlerian. The extreme religious right terrify me.

Suzan said...

Thank you, godfather.

I've been writing for years that this totalitarianism is not even the Communism that the Leninists imagined (Stalinism was a perversion there) and that we mirror the worst that went on over there as there is no guarantee of even bad employment.

Just enforced poverty and belief in someone else's god.

Love ya,

S

The extreme religious right terrify me.