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Archive for October 2009

CNN fails a second time to disclose Alex Castellanos and won’t apologize, wins the Media Putz

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Originally published on on October 29, 2009


Not to kick a cable news channel when it’s down, but the news this week that CNN is running fourth in key demos in prime time is timely, given its recent lack of accountability in not disclosing a key conflict of interest in the health care reform battle. Sure there are many reasons why CNN is losing viewers that quickly, but it would be fun if there was a correlation between behavior and success.

Alex Castellanos is a regular CNN contributor, but one of Castellanos’ secret identities is being the media buyer for one of the ad campaigns bankrolled by America’s Health Insurance Plans, a major industry trade group fighting strenuously against health care reform. Castellanos was responsible for placing more than $1 million of AHIP advertising in five states.

CNN has said it would subsequently disclose Castellanos’ connection. Though mysteriously, the cable news channel didn’t apologize for not disclosing Castellanos’ conflict.

If the MSM, especially TV news, wonders why people trust the news less and less, having egregious conflicts of interest — especially on the hottest topic in the news — is one good place to start.

For those who would want to compare that to MSNBC and Richard Wolffe, there is some symmetry. But there were apologies for not having disclosed the conflict, and a short-term freezing out of Wolffe on MSNBC’s shows. And Castellanos’ conflict was more direct to a core issue, appearing on CNN on that specific topic (see video above).

MSNBC spokesperson Jeremy Gaines, “We should have disclosed Richard’s connection to Public Strategies. We will do so in the future.”

Keith Olbermann: “I am confident his commentary to this point has not been compromised – he has been an insightful analyst and a great friend to this show – but until we can clarify what else he is doing, he will not be appearing with us. I apologize for not being able to prevent this unhappy set of circumstances from developing.”

In short, there was accountability but no justification from MSNBC. And still no accountability or justification from CNN.

But having on guests without full disclosure is still wrong, no matter which news organization does so. This is the same reasoning for why we shame those news outlets who put on retired Army generals who were vetted by the Pentagon and had undisclosed ties to military contractors.

As Media Matters has reported, this isn’t even the first time CNN hasn’t disclosed a conflict of interest from Castellanos.

Last August (2008), we noted that Castellanos — best known as the creator of the racially charged “Hands” advertisement — was hired as a CNN contributor three days after the New York Times reported that he was part of John McCain’s “panel of outside advertising consultants.” CNN subsequently failed to disclose Castellanos’ connection to the McCain campaign while he was, for instance, applauding the McCain campaign’s ads. If they hope to live up to their “most trusted” brand, CNN must do a better job of handling Castellanos’ new conflict of interest.

If a cable news channel employed someone who could write a memo such as this one might be inclined to double-check whether this person had direct financial connections with an industry. But CNN clearly isn’t that interested in keeping track of such “pesky” information.

After all, a simple Google search would have produced this bio of his work at National Media, the company that bought the anti-health care reform ads.

CNN cares so little that Alex Castellanos was directly involved in running health care reform ads and its non-disclosure that the network doesn’t feel like it should apologize to its viewers. At least, the few viewers they still have.

Cable news channels whine about having to fill up 24 hours of news, so they feel like they have to throw in these partisan experts. But they turn a blind eye to conflicts of interest from their contributors. They should do a better job of vetting their contributors and disclose all their conflicts or choose not to have them on the air.

And if you get caught in a predicament where the vetting process fails, have some decency about it. Since this is the second time (at least) that the cable news channel didn’t fully disclose the status of Alex Castellanos — still without apology — CNN earns this week’s Media Putz award.

CNN also won the award on July 30, 2009.


Written by democracysoup

October 29, 2009 at 6:00 am

Posted in media criticism, MSM

Rich Stockwell suggested Keith Olbermann promote free clinics to earn Wings of Justice

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Originally published on on October 28, 2009

Rich Stockwell

Sometimes, a spark is all you need.

When Keith Olbermann was preparing an entire episode of “Countdown” devoted to a Special Comment on health care reform, producer Rich Stockwell suggested using the episode to raise money for free clinics and hold them in key states where Democratic senators were still on the fence over the public option.

Olbermann went on the air that night and called for people to respond to help set up the free clinics. As of last week, nearly 17,000 contributors gave $1.2 million.

The episode dealt with numerous problems with the health care crisis in the United States. Olbermann sprinkled a generous helping of his own saga with his father who has been receiving medical care after a fall. But as good as the hour was, it would have been hollow without the opportunity to do something about this.

Those on the left have watched the people screaming on their televisions about “socialist health care” and other such nonsense. But doing something so basic and so concrete such as setting up free clinics in crucial battleground states made more visible the suffering from ordinary Americans who aren’t being theoretical when asked about whether the United States has “the best health care system in the world.”

We don’t. But for those at home, those who may not know too many cases, or has a neighbor down the street who is suffering but doesn’t know it’s happening, they need visual reminders. Watching people line up in a large room, waiting to get simple medical treatment, knowing that however long they wait, they will get medical care and, for once, not have to sweat over the financial impact.

Sometimes, it just takes a spark.

There will be free clinics set up in New Orleans (Louisiana — Sen. Mary Landrieu) on November 14, Little Rock (Arkansas — Sen. Blanche Lincoln) on November 21, and a two-day event in Kansas City, MO on December 9 and 10.

National Association of Free Clinics Executive Director Nicole Lamoureaux told Olbermann on last week’s countdown that Kansas City has a very strong network of people.

And what we’re able to do a show that in the middle of the country, in America’s heartland, our working Americans have the same problems that we’re seeing in our urban areas and into the coast. It’s the opportunity for us to make a huge statement that people need a good quality health care package, and doing this in Missouri gives us the opportunity to show what a safety net system can bring to the table.

Stockwell’s idea, likely just kicking around thoughts in a Manhattan office, lives on hundreds and thousands of miles away. People — who wouldn’t know Stockwell if he walked up to them — got help as a result of one idea.

While these events are in the spotlight, given the current attempt at health care reform, Lamoureaux pointed out that the problem is ongoing. She said 83% of people who go to these free clinics have jobs.

We hope that people in those states that don’t have a robust free clinic network will start them. But we also want to make sure that when we go in and have a clinic on a day, that it’s about the follow-up care that we can give to those patients as well.

There is a sense that despite living in the richest country in the world (in that sense, we are #1), we have to resort to shame to try and convince people that universal health care makes sense for all of us. Every little bit helps, including TV images of people lining up for medical help at free clinics.

A lot of people need to be involved to make such a master plan work. But all of this started with one idea. As Olbermann put it, “And my thanks to Rich Stockwell of my crack staff who suggested our involvement in this and hit a home run what he did.”

Rich Stockwell, for coming up with the spark of an idea to illustrate the health care crisis by raising money for free clinics, wins the Wings of Justice award.

In addition to raising money, the clinics are looking for volunteers. More information is available at

Written by democracysoup

October 28, 2009 at 6:00 am

Ruth Marcus blindly defends Fox ‘News’ to be this week’s Media Putz

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Originally published on on October 22, 2009

Ruth Marcus

“For entertainment purposes only” is the warning you get when you watch TV ads for psychics. This warning is certainly implied every time Fox “News” Channel comes back from commercials.

But the MSM by and large ignores the warning and bends over backward to swear that FNC is just like any other news outlet.

In the White House vs. Fox “News” battle, many MSM defenders came forward to Fox’s rescue. But Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post set a record per word in her 388-word essay for excessive ignorance as to what Fox News does.

Marcus starts with concern over the White House:

It makes the White House look weak, unable to take Harry Truman’s advice and just deal with the heat. It makes the White House look small, dragged down to the level of Glenn Beck. It makes the White House look childish and petty at best, and it has a distinct Nixonian — Agnewesque? — aroma at worst.

Does Marcus even know what is going on outside her window? This isn’t The Washington Post investigating Watergate in the 1970s, diligently pouring over every bit of information, making sure they can print it. This is Fox “News” making stuff up, starting rumors, and engaging in activities that every journalism organization in the world should be protesting.

Marcus’ take is even more startling given that the Washington press corps meekly laid down for the eight years of George W. Bush. Where was “the heat” then?

Agnewesque? Spiro Agnew’s attacks on the press were designed to get the press off the back of the Nixon Administration — all the press, not just one outlet. And it worked. If Obama’s people went after multiple outlets with crazy accusations, Marcus might have a point. But of course, she doesn’t.

Marcus tries a comparison between Bush and Obama to show that everything is exactly the same.

The Bush administration routinely briefed conservative columnists before a big presidential speech; the Obama White House tends to call in ideological sympathizers. This is the way the game is played.

Before you make equal comparisons, we only need to trot out the names of Armstrong Williams and Jeff Gannon. If there is any Democratic president that does something even comes close to these two stories, please let us know.

In the world of Ruth Marcus, both sides are exactly the same all the time. Later, she tries to prove her thesis.

Imagine the outcry if the Bush administration had pulled a similar hissy fit with MSNBC.

Of course, the Bush people didn’t have to do this, since MSNBC cheered on the pending Iraq War as much as any of the MSM outlets, and made sure Phil Donahue was off the airwaves before the start of the Iraq War. Marcus also ignores the fact that President Obama — in nine short months — has been on Fox more than George W. Bush was on MSNBC in eight years.

The comparison also isn’t valid since MSNBC hosts regularly criticize Obama, something Fox “News” rarely did with Bush.

Jake Tapper gets runner-up Media Putz status for his staunch defense of “one of our sister organizations.” At the White House briefing on Tuesday, Tapper went on the attack with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

Tapper: How are they any different from, say –

Gibbs: ABC –

Tapper: ABC. MSNBC. Univision. I mean how are they any different?

Tapper could be right in the sense in that the MSM’s news gathering and judgment skills have slipped badly. But as horrible as they are, none of them are swimming in as much filth as Fox “News” Channel.

Tapper also asked “why it’s appropriate for the White House to decide that a news organization is not one.” The White House didn’t declare this out of the blue; if anything, other legitimate MSM outlets should have stepped up first. If a pizza place started selling things that looked like pizza and clearly wasn’t, wouldn’t other pizza places object, if for nothing else but to prove that pizza should be pizza?

Perhaps we’re biased in the sense that we pay attention to what Fox “News” has done, and we do know it’s not a news gathering organization.

Sean Hannity has won two Media Putzes this year for butchering quotes from President Obama.

Fox “News” has won two Media Putzes this year alone, one for deliberately mislabeling scandal-ridden Republicans as Democrats and for sponsoring teabagger events.

If The Washington Post had done something similar, they might have to apologize. Then again, no apology ever came when Katie Couric at CBS flipped out a real John McCain answer to save him embarrassment.

If the MSM is afraid that delegitimizing Fox “News” delegitimizes them, that reality is already happening. Journalists realize they have a bad reputation in part because they don’t address the discredible news sources. When MSM journalists think Fox “News” is as legitimate as ABC News or The Washington Post, this attitude gives Fox “News” undeserved credibility, the journalism world more ethical problems, and consumers of news a lot more cynicism over whether they are being told the truth.

It certainly has been said that Ruth Marcus must not watch Fox “News.” Not knowing your subject matter makes it difficult to write a column about it, but that didn’t stop Marcus. Next time, if Marcus is going to defend Fox “News,” she should do some research, including being forced to watch the Fox “News” Channel. Until then, Ruth Marcus will have to settle for this week’s Media Putz award.

Written by democracysoup

October 22, 2009 at 6:00 am

Posted in media criticism, MSM

Sam Pullen stayed in jail to draw attention to those denied health care to win Wings of Justice

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Originally published on on October 21, 2009

Sam Pullen

Sam Pullen’s fight with the health care system has sparked a considerable amount of publicity in recent days. But this fight has been going on for over a decade. And this focus is what caused Pullen to spend the last few days in jail.

When Pullen was a teenager, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. She needed a bone marrow transplant. Blue Cross/Blue Shield said the treatment was “experimental.” So his mother, Leanna Bell, staged a one-woman sit-in until the insurance company agreed to pay for her treatment. She got the treatment, which extended her life for a couple of years.

Pullen was arrested last Thursday, October 15, in Los Angeles in a protest that would, in Pullen’s words, “demand that insurance companies immediately grant approval for treatment of all their members with life-threatening conditions.”

After the arrest, Pullen refused to give his name, so he stayed in jail. Pullen resolved to stay in jail until Blue Cross would agree to meet to talk. Pullen stayed in jail until Monday where, against his will, he was released. The charges were dropped.

Pullen’s spark clearly comes from his mother, but there is the current crisis hanging over our heads like the sword of Damascles. Who knows who might be next to suffer a similar fate?

The sad irony for Pullen is if it were to happen to him, he wouldn’t have an insurance company to argue with or protest to, because, you guessed it, Pullen doesn’t have health insurance.

Going to jail even with health insurance might not be the smartest thing to do, but to spend four days in jail with no health insurance is a risk.

But while in jail, Pullen was able to shed a light on how the health insurance crisis hit home in the jail cell. From Op-Ed News:

Pullen is uninsured. He explained that many of his fellow inmates are as well.

“I’m hanging out with all kinds of people who don’t have access to insurance,” Sam explained. “A lot of people have been affected by medical conditions that can’t be covered.”

While I interviewed him, he asked fellow inmates if they were for health care for all and if they would rather be arrested for a cause instead of whatever reason they are in jail for. The inmates yelled out “Yeah!” and “A cause!”

Bell’s inspiration convinced Pullen to fight back. “If you are being denied coverage by your insurance company and if your life is in danger, you need to fight. You need to stand up. You need to insist that you be covered.”

While his mother’s story is Pullen’s motivator, he full well knows that his isn’t the only horrible story out there.

As Pullen told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!:

I believe there’s an important message for the American people, because so many people have been affected by the insurance companies. Almost everyone has a horror story of being denied coverage. And right now, my message to the listeners is that we don’t have to suffer in silence.

For standing up for your own story and so many others, and be willing to stay in jail for your cause, we award Sam Pullen the Wings of Justice award.

The protest in Los Angeles was one of nine simultaneous protests organized by Pullen and his organization, They will be out there protesting again on October 28.

Written by democracysoup

October 21, 2009 at 6:00 am

Posted in health care reform

Rush Limbaugh’s cluelessness about his racist tirades earns him the Media Putz

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Originally published on on October 15, 2009

Rush Limbaugh

Wanting to take his undeserved millions and putting it towards a failing football team (St. Louis Rams with a current 0-5 record so far), Rush Limbaugh seemed surprised there was controversy over his prospects of being the newest NFL owner.

Limbaugh still hasn’t realized that people pay attention to what he has said and hold him accountable.

What separates Limbaugh — along with Glenn Beck (his spawn, if you believe Limbaugh) and Ann Coulter — from true conservatives is that we don’t believe that they believe what they say is true. George Will is a pompous conservative, but we generally believe that he believes what he says, regardless of whether we agree with him or wonder if he is living in reality.

For some inane reason, ESPN hired Limbaugh in 2003 for its “Sunday NFL Countdown” despite his, well, overall being. So it came as sadly little surprise that Limbaugh’s insight was boiled down to one racist comment about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

“I think what we’ve had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn’t deserve. The defense carried this team.”

The uproar got loud enough that Limbaugh resigned from ESPN within the week, but he didn’t go down meekly.

“All this has become the tempest that it is because I must have been right about something…  If I wasn’t right, there wouldn’t be this cacophony of outrage that has sprung up in the sports writer community.”

Gee, Rush, if you had been “right,” you wouldn’t have had to resign. And given how good McNabb has been on the football field since 2003, your football insight has as much credibility as your three-hour radio ego-a-thon.

In 2007, Limbaugh said on his radio show that “the NFL, all too often, looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.”

When Limbaugh wanted to put together a group to buy the St. Louis Rams, he likely wasn’t thinking about Donovan McNabb or ESPN. And he certainly didn’t consider that people might remember something he said six years ago. After all, when you’ve said so many hateful and hurtful sentences in your life, how are you supposed to remember one or two specific instances?

But football fans haven’t forgotten. African-Americans haven’t forgotten. People with sense, compassion, and ethics haven’t forgotten.

NFL Players executive director DeMaurice Smith came out against the Limbaugh’s bid as did several African-American NFL players. They might want to play for an 0-5 team, but they don’t want to play for a racist owner.

It looks like the NFL will say no to Limbaugh (though the 2010 Miss America Pageant says yes to Rush), but this saga — and all the emotion that has flowed as a result — should remind us that people care about what other people say, and we are judged by what we say, whether we mean it or not.

As Limbaugh noted himself on NBC’s “Today” show this week, his show is mainly about making money:

“I’m doing my show for ratings. I want the largest audience I can get because that’s how I can charge the highest advertising rates, which means what else do I want? Money.”

Funny how “conservative” or “principles” never enters into it.

For speaking hateful words but not remembering that they impact real people, for having the audacity to not realize saying racist things over and over hurt his slim chances of being an NFL owner, Rush Limbaugh wins this week’s Media Putz award.

Rush Limbaugh previously won the Media Putz on March 5, 2009, January 29, 2009, November 20, 2008, June 26, 2008, May 22, 2008, and August 9, 2007.

Written by democracysoup

October 15, 2009 at 6:00 am

Posted in media criticism, MSM

Alan Grayson stands up and doesn’t back down to earn Wings of Justice

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Originally published on on October 14, 2009

Alan Grayson

“… if Barack Obama has a BLT sandwich tomorrow for lunch, they (Republicans) would try and ban bacon” — Alan Grayson

Having a Democratic politician stand up for health care shouldn’t be seen as a courageous act. But few of them have spoken up lately with the passion and down-to-earth sentiment from an unlikely source.

Alan Grayson is a freshman representative from Florida who defeated a 4-time incumbent Republican. In fact, the seat in its various forms has been in the GOP column back to the mid-1970s. Under normal circumstances, a new representative would go with the flow and not upset things. And Grayson’s win in 2008 came after losing the 2006 Democratic Party primary.

“The Republican health care plan is this: ‘Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.'”

Okay, this is Grayson’s most famous comment from September 29. And Republicans went ballistic.

Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-TN) made his thoughts clear: “That is about the most mean-spirited partisan statement that I’ve ever heard made on this floor, and I, for one, don’t appreciate it.”

An apology was demanded. Never mind that thin-skinned Republicans generally say much worse on the floor of the House and elsewhere. “How dare a Democratic politician stand up and say something beyond their usual meekness.”

Well, Grayson did take the House floor and offered up an “apology.” But this was different than we were used to hearing from Democrats.

“I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven’t voted sooner to end this holocaust in America.”

What? No carefully worded undertaking to diffuse any pseudo-controversial element from a statement? Grayson not only took the floor to speak up to continue his point, but also he didn’t take back one hair from his statement that the Republicans whined about. Grayson noted that the Republicans’ feelings weren’t high on Americans’ radar.

“I will not apologize for a simple reason. America doesn’t care about your feelings. I violated no rules by calling this report to America’s attention. I think a lot of people didn’t know about it beforehand. But America does care about health care in America. And if you’re against it then get out of the way. Just get out of the way. You can lead. You can follow or you can get out of the way. And I’m telling you now to get out of the way. America understands that there is one party in the country in favor of health care reform. And one party that’s against it and they know why.”

In that same speech, Grayson went after fellow Democrats who have been more worried about getting GOP “support” than in doing what House members were supposed to do: get health care reform legislation enacted:

“We as a party have spent the last six months, the greatest minds of our party, dwelling on the question; the unbelievably consuming question, of how to get Olympia Snowe to vote for health care reform. I want to remind us all, Olympia Snowe was not elected president last year.”

Grayson has attracted a lot of attention from teabaggers and supporters. Getting better known can be good for your career and can also be detrimental. But Grayson doesn’t seem to be worried about any of that, unlike some of his fellow Democratic politicians. His focus has been on getting a quality health care reform bill passed, which ironically enough, is what he and his colleagues are there to do.

For being, in the words of this supportive Web site, a “Congressman with guts,” we award Rep. Alan Grayson our Wings of Justice award.

Written by democracysoup

October 14, 2009 at 6:00 am

George Will keeps getting it wrong on global warming to be the Media Putz

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Originally published on on October 8, 2009

George Will

George Will is one of these tired conservative columnists who should stick to areas that he knows something about, which might limit him to writing only about the Chicago Cubs.

One area where he should permanently retire from consideration is global warming. Despite the embarrassment and outright lies in his columns, Will continues to write about global warming as if he knows about the topic.

Perhaps the only reason George Will writes about global warming is that he loves the fact that the same initials (G.W.) run through his name, global warming, and someone who didn’t think much about the environment either (George Walker, as in Bush).

Will clearly sees value in writing about this topic. In a year with a new president, crashing economy, health care, teabaggers, et al., Will has now written seven columns on global warming. In his case, practice really isn’t even close to perfect.

The columnist’s main argument in his Oct. 1 column is based mostly on semantics from an article from The New York Times. This capacious argument makes up the majority of the essay. And most of them center around the word “plateau” concerning global temperatures.

We are seeing multiple phenomena of great concern besides global temperatures. And our manmade activities won’t make that change anytime soon.

Will’s other major statement is referencing a professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. The professor’s theory suggests that thousands of years ago, primitive farmers burned forests and built methane-bubbling rice paddies that warmed the world by a degree or more.

However, in the article that Will quotes (also from The Washington Post), this reporter notes that:

“Other scientists, however, have said the idea is deeply flawed and might be used to dampen modern alarms over climate change… His answer is based on circumstantial evidence…. “

On top of that, the professor Will holds up with fine praise says later in the article that “there is still a need to cap and reduce greenhouse gases, since modern smokestacks and tailpipes are pumping them out at a level that dwarfs anything from earlier eras.”

Oops. Maybe Will didn’t get that far into the article.

There is an art to writing a column filled with inaccuracies. But a lazy, inaccurate column takes great skill and very little effort. Will believes that global warming doesn’t exist, yet he throws it out there that if it does, we can’t do anything about it, so why care?

Warnings about cataclysmic warming increase in stridency as evidence of warming becomes more elusive. A recent report from the United Nations Environment Program predicts an enormous 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit increase by the end of the century even if nations fulfill their most ambitious pledges concerning reduction of carbon emissions. The U.S. goal is an 80 percent reduction by 2050. But Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute says that would require reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the 1910 level. On a per capita basis, it would mean emissions approximately equal to those in 1875.

That will not happen. So, we are doomed. So, why try?

Well, fewer people might drown by a specific place in time in the future. Given how fast we are “working” at it now, time might be one of the important elements we need. We could literally breathe easier for longer.

This isn’t the first time Will has come under fire for his lack of knowledge on global warming. Will’s February 15 column was spotlighted for its incredible deceptions and lies, and the reluctance of Will’s employer, The Washington Post, to correct those errors.

Clearly, George Will didn’t learn from this and other lessons. Then again, maybe Will has been spending too much time enjoying his brandy snifter with the folks at the Chamber of Commerce, equally in denial over the damaging effects on the planet Earth.

Will’s ignorance is only surpassed by his pretentiousness, as if saying something stupid with high-class words makes them less stupid. His concluding sentence:

Environmental Cassandras must be careful with their predictions lest they commit what climate alarmists consider the unpardonable faux pas of denying that the world is coming to an end.

Wow. Those who are concerned about global warming aren’t saying the world will come to an end. The world will be around for awhile; though at this rate, there were be less land for people to live on, including Will’s Washington, DC. Action, not fancy words, might change that path.

George Will should do some real reading about global warming. And he can start with being this week’s Media Putz. It may not have them fancy words, but at least it’s based in reality.

George Will previously won the Media Putz on October 18, 2007.

Written by democracysoup

October 8, 2009 at 6:00 am

Posted in media criticism, MSM