Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Couric: News Coverage of Iraq "Embarrassing"

This morning on CBS' "Early Show," the anchors of the NBC, ABC, and CBS nightly newscasts appeared together to promote a new program to increase awareness and fundraising for cancer research. While that is of course a noble and news worthy cause, the very end of their conversation veered off into another very interesting direction. "Early Show" anchor Harry Smith took a chance to ask these three figures about former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's upcoming book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception, in which he fingers Bush Administration figures like Karl Rove, Condoleezza Rice, and Dick Cheney for misleading the public during the build up to the Iraq War and blames the media for being complicit in spreading that misinformation.

ABC News has posted an excerpt from the book:

"And through it all, the media would serve as complicit enablers. Their primary focus would be on covering the campaign to sell the war, rather than aggressively questioning the rationale for war or pursuing the truth behind it… the media would neglect their watchdog role, focusing less on truth and accuracy and more on whether the campaign was succeeding. Was the president winning or losing the argument? How were Democrats responding? What were the electoral implications? What did the polls say? And the truth--about the actual nature of the threat posed by Saddam, the right way to confront it, and the possible risks of military conflict--would get largely left behind . . ."
***

"If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq. The collapse of the administration's rationales for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should have never come as such a surprise. The public should have been made much more aware, before the fact, of the uncertainties, doubts, and caveats that underlay the intelligence about the regime of Saddam hussein. The administration did little to convey those nuances to the people, the press should have picked up the slack but largely failed to do so because their focus was elsewhere--on covering the march to war, instead of the necessity of war.

"In this case, the 'liberal media' didn't live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served."

Confronted with McClellan's accusation, the three anchors gave very different responses. ABC anchor Charles Gibson said, "I think that the media did a pretty good job of focusing and asking the questions . . . It was just a drum beat from the government, and I think it's convenient now to blame the media, but I don't."

Yes, you read that right. Gibson thinks the media handled the pre-invasion coverage just fine.

NBC anchor Brian Williams echoed Gibson, with some reservations, saying, "I think people have to remember the post-9/11 era and how that felt and what the president felt he was empowered to do, and that Colin Powell speech at the U.N."

But it was CBS anchor Katie Couric who demonstrated real journalistic integrity and accountability when she proclaimed the coverage was "one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism." She added, "I think there was a sense of pressure from corporations who own where we work and from the government itself to really squash any kind of dissent or any kind of questioning of it."

This must have taken courage for her to say, even now that public support for the war has dropped to its lowest levels, especially her additional comments on how corporate considerations may short circuit journalistic inquiry and free speech. In just a few short words Couric identified what is perhaps the greatest threat to journalism, intelligent discourse, and to our democracy: the use of prior restraint to limit or shape inquiry. Although she did not go on a major tirade, her willingness to break from her colleagues distinguishes Couric from Gibson, who clearly is still drinking the Kool-Aid, and from Williams, who sounds like he was circling a conclusion similar to Couric's, but hid behind external pressures.

In a way, Williams comments are more enraging than Gibson's because he implies that a mistake was made but then hides behind Powell's U.N presentation and post-9/11 pressures. This is a major cop out. Although Powell's presentation was designed to impress, it is the job of the press to fact check what government organizations and officials claim. But none of the corporate news outlets bothered to check his homework. Michael Moore, Moveon.org, "Democracy Now!" and other filmmakers and activists did do this and disseminated the information the best they could but there was no way for their efforts to match the barrage of endorsements from entrenched and previously reliable outlets on television and in print. As far as the post-9/11 atmosphere is concerned, Williams ought to take a look at Good Night, and Good Luck or All the President's Men. Some of the most important American political news stories since World War II have come by rubbing against pressures from stockholders, the public, and the D.C. establishment. To say that opposition rendered the press powerless is a sad statement that just isn't true.

It is significant that these comments come from the anchors, since they captain the flag ships of each of their respective news departments, which is traditionally the heart of any television network or station. A lot has been made of CBS' third place in the nightly news ratings and a decline in viewers since Couric took over (although all three newscasts have lost viewers since Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, and Tom Brokaw left their posts) but if she could capitalize on the kind of attitude she demonstrated on this morning's episode of "The Early Show," not only could she regain lost viewers but I think she could gain some new ones and lead a larger movement toward restoring integrity to network newscasts.

Here is a a video of the Early Show appearance:

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Olberman's Special Comment

Last week Keith Olbermann made a special comment on his show on MSNBC in reaction to statements President Bush made in an interview with Politico.com, where Bush claimed that the election of a Democrat to the White House will result in another terrorist attack and later claimed that his great gesture of sacrifice has been to give up golf.

In his special comment, Olbermann called Bush on his bullshit with a mix of analysis and moral indignation.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Thank You Very Much, Mr. Roboto

From the BBC:

The Detroit Symphony was led by Asimo, a 1.3 metre (4ft 3in) tall robot designed by car manufacturer Honda as it performed The Impossible Dream.

Asimo was programmed to mimic the orchestra's education director as he conducted the piece in front of a pianist six months ago.

But the robot cannot respond to the musicians' actions.

So during early rehearsals, Asimo - which stands for Advanced Step In Innovative Mobility - slowed the tempo and the orchestra lost its place, something a human would have sensed.

"It's not a communicative device, it simply is programmed to do a set of gestures," musical director Leonard Slatkin said.

Bassist Larry Hutchinson said while the movements were a little stiff, they were "very humanlike, much more fluid than I thought".

And here is a video of Asimo conducting the orchestra: