Democracy Soup

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Archive for August 2010

How U.S. TV news stacks up compared to news around the world

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“different, honest, reactive, independent, direct, live, transparent, open, expert, fair, cutting-edge, undiluted, everywhere, any time”

Are these words that describe your TV newscast?

If you live in the United States, likely not. The words above played in a promo for Euronews, available on the MhZ Networks. The service plays on digital channels of various PBS stations throughout the country.

You could point out that words to describe a news service in a promo don’t mean they are true in reality. Like “fair and balanced.”

But those are words we should strive for to have in a TV newscast. There was a moment, maybe, where newscasts pretended to be some of those things. Now…

Let’s think about some of the 14 words.

“Any time” — doesn’t apply to MSNBC on the weekends.

“Open” “transparent” — doesn’t apply to Fox “News” when it labels a person as supporting terrorists when it doesn’t disclose that the same person owns more of Fox “News” than anyone without the last name of Murdoch.

“independent” — definitely doesn’t apply to any of the three cable news channels as well as the three major networks.

“everywhere” — literally doesn’t apply to any American newscast and probably never will. World newscasts go to places American news doesn’t want to go, certainly not American TV news.

“different” — is relative. Fox is definitely different from the other two cable news channels, and those that like Fox would agree with that statement more than those who don’t like Fox.

“honest” and “direct” — are words that can’t be done on U.S. TV news. As Jack Nicholson once told us, “You can’t handle the truth” and he’s right. Just look at the way we cover Israel and Palestine vs. the way every other country outside Israel covers the news from there.

“reactive” — is probably true, but U.S. TV news is less reactive than anywhere else on the globe. Well, maybe outside Russia, China, Cuba, etc.

“expert” — is relative. Too often, experts have their own undisclosed biases such as the retired generals who were on the networks leading up to the Iraq war, yet were being paid by Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon. Even after the scandal was disclosed, the process kept going with no apology to be found.

“undiluted” — can be subjective, but the U.S.-based news doesn’t even come close.

“fair” is something the U.S. TV news thinks they can do, but fail so miserably at doing.

“live” and “cutting-edge” — mostly true for all the channels, though MSNBC struggles with the “live” thing.

When U.S. TV news executives wonder why the ratings are free-falling for news, they can ask themselves of the words at the top of the page, how many of them apply to their newscasts. If you only get 3-4 of 14, people are getting their news from a more reliable news source.


Written by democracysoup

August 31, 2010 at 7:58 am

‘Too big to fail’ is also unacceptable for food producers

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The massive egg recall — tainted with salmonella — is the latest straw in the unwieldy experiment of what happens when we run a “laissez-faire” style of food inspection. Spinach, tomato, eggs: you can make a nice meal over the foods that have had major food safety recalls.

Yet, we aren’t any closer to solving the problem, or even reducing the concern. The FDA chief did speak out noting that the agency wants the law to change to incorporate a “preventive approach.”

Apparently, the federal government has huge powers — ask Roger Clemens if he thinks the federal government is powerful — but can’t stop you from getting sick from food grown in highly questionable environments.

For much more coverage, tune into this column from my sister blog,

Written by democracysoup

August 27, 2010 at 8:15 am

John Boehner calls for Obama to fire economic team, but that includes Boehner

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Boehner to Obama: Fire Your Economic Team

This was the headline on the CBS News Web site. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) proves in the rest of the article that he is as right on economics as he is pale.

But Boehner did get one thing right, albeit for the wrong reasons. President Obama should fire his economic team.

Of course, Boehner is a part of that team. It was Boehner who pushed to weaken the stimulus with tax cuts. It was Boehner who didn’t want unemployment insurance extensions. It was Boehner who has been screaming about the deficit (bad timing in a depressive recession) but wants to add to the deficit by extending Bush tax credits aimed at giving the rich even more money.

And Boehner, along with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, both deserved to be fired for their attempts to water down attempts to help people when they need it the most.

But Boehner did score political points, and that headline proves it. Most on the far left would also love to see Obama fire his economic team. Boehner singles out Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers. Again, the left would love to see their resignation letters on Obama’s desk. The MSM won’t report that, but the rest of us know it’s true.

And Obama does take some blame for not working harder to make sure the stimulus package was stronger, for not using political capital to fight for working Americans. And where is the second stimulus package?

Boehner and Republicans have used the term “unspent stimulus money” as an excuse to pay for things, such as unemployment insurance extensions. The Democratic politicians set up a bad system if we still have unspent stimulus money. Spend it all and ask for more. Having leftover money — even if it targeted — gives the GOP rope it doesn’t deserve.

The resignation letters of Geithner, Summers, Boehner, and McConnell won’t give us the millions of jobs we need just to tread water once again. But their resignations would help those who do want to assist Americans in need. Boehner can then take some time off and work on his tan.

Defending the Constitution requires us to stand up to those opposing Muslim cultural center

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It’s great when political figures stand up for the Constitution that they swear to uphold. Let’s preface that statement: It’s great when political figures stand up for the Constitution that they swear to uphold — even when the 2nd Amendment isn’t involved.

This also goes for political figures who at one time swore to uphold the Constitution, but are no longer in office.

Having that political figure also be the president of the United States — well that is beyond a beautiful thing. Then, President Barack Obama had to backtrack, thanks to the mealy-mouths of the right wing along with the MSM.

The president stood up for freedom of religion, and he wasn’t talking about Christians. And of course, those who claim to love freedom attacked the president for upholding the same Constitution they claim to hold dear.

August — the season of mosquitos and hypocrisy.

Those on the right are freaking out about mosques and Muslims because of a proposed cultural center built in Lower Manhattan, somewhere near Ground Zero. As The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has pointed out, there is a mosque 4 blocks from Ground Zero; the proposed Muslim cultural center is 2 blocks. (MSM, the proposed cultural center is not a mosque, stop reporting that it is a mosque.)

But as the comedy show has also noted, some on the right want to block mosques hundreds of miles away: California, Wisconsin, Tennessee.

This mentality goes back to September 11, 2001 when the United States was attacked. But even in the face of an attack, America should have stepped up and said, “You did attack us, but we will be stronger than ever. That is the American spirit.”

Well, that didn’t happen.

How did the “greatest country in the world” — as Sean Hannity would say — become so fearful so quickly? After all, 99% of this country wasn’t directly attacked. No red state area was even threatened, yet the red state mentality feels most vulnerable and more eager to give away the liberties in our Constitution as if they were candy on Halloween.

Countless liberties were thrown out based on fear and uncertainty. And almost 9 years later, they still haven’t come back.

The principles and liberties that we hold dear are supposed to be what America is all about. If you aren’t consistent in upholding those principles and liberties, if you are willing to let those go like dandelions in the wind, then you might not be patriotic.

Yes, it is that clear. America didn’t get whatever success it has had from fear; bravery saved the day. The Louisiana Purchase, buying Alaska from Russia — they were not cowardly moves.

The America I thought I knew would look at a Muslim cultural center 2 blocks away from Ground Zero and say, “Let’s make sure our friends and neighbors understand the significance of where they have placed their cultural center. Some of us may not like where you are putting your cultural center, but we will defend to the death your right to put a cultural center on private property.”

Use it as a teaching moment, as our president has done in other cases. If tests of patriotism were easy, well, they wouldn’t be worthwhile. Tests are hard for a reason — they’re tests.

And we have miserably flunked. Not just in this case, but in the last 9 years. We let the “president” launch two questionable wars, one more questionable than the other. We refused to push to raise taxes to pay for those wars. We turned our backs on our principles, liberties, and yes, our fellow Americans who might have “funny” names.

We are still miserably flunking this test. As Howard Kurtz reported, the right-wing mentality wasn’t so upset about the proposed cultural center back in December. Now they are livid.

But we expect that from the right wing: Talk then think. What is sad is watching what that thought process is doing to Democratic politicians. Obama’s modification was overplayed by the MSM, but Obama didn’t help things by modifying a statement that should have stood on its own.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should be deeply ashamed of himself. Yes, Reid is running for re-election in Nevada against a teabagger, but the Constitution he swore to defend doesn’t include exceptions for political expediency in running for re-election.

We don’t require that citizens have a clue about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, or even how our government works, but it would be nice if they took a refresher course. And no, classes at Glenn Beck University don’t count.

Consider the following statement and ask yourself how this would go over in this environment:

“There are those who threaten our principles, liberties, and our Constitution over irrational fears and concerns. They aren’t Muslims or extreme Islamists. They are Americans who say “no” out of ignorance. And as someone who has sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution, I will not let someone tinker with over 200 years of freedom over a misunderstanding.”

Who said this? No one. No person has said this.

The first politician who says something similar to this will get accolades from DemocracySoup and a lot of criticism elsewhere. But that politician will get our undying respect. Something that has been lacking lately when it comes to defending the Constitution.

Written by democracysoup

August 20, 2010 at 7:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Assessing punishments based on objectivity, not political bias

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Which is more obscene: what Senate candidate Alvin Greene was allegedly doing that got him indicted by a grand jury, or what “Dr.” Laura Schlessinger actually did on her radio show.

There is a distinct possibility that your answer could be on whether you are African-American or a woman — but this will likely come down to your political persuasion.

Alvin Greene was indicted on two counts of obscenity for allegedly showing pornography to a female student at the University of South Carolina. For those who might wonder why such an elaborate procedure for this charge, let’s quote from The New York Times:

The first charge, of disseminating, procuring or promoting obscenity, is a felony and carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. The second charge, communicating an obscene message to another person without consent, is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum of three years and a maximum fine of $10,000.

What “Dr.” Laura Schlessinger did is not in dispute. Schlessinger openly and repeatedly (11 times) used the N-word to a caller on her radio show.

The caller in question was complaining that her husband’s friends made racist comments about her in their home. Schlessinger said the woman was too sensitive. Schlessinger said about the n-word that “black guys say it all the time,” then repeated the word several times.

Schlessinger did apologize for her actions, and was unable to finish out the show, though she did keep going until the top of that hour.

Ironically, we have a case (alleged) where an African-American upset females, and a female upset African-Americans. Again, where you fall in those groups does affect your POV in these matters. And for the record, I fall in neither of these categories.

Since I am not a member of the affected groups, I don’t have a direct connection. But I don’t think that people should randomly show pornography, and white people shouldn’t use the N-word.

I don’t think the Alvin Greene charges, even if true, should call for a 8-year prison sentence and a $20,000 fine. And I still wonder why Schlessinger has a radio career, long before this incident.

But can we objectively say “X is bad, and Y is not so bad”? Have we lost the ability to judge something as bad or good, given the political angle?

If Jim DeMint, Greene’s opponent and the current incumbent U.S. senator, had been caught doing the same thing, there is a strong likelihood that DeMint’s name never would have hit the press. That could be due to power, but you have to wonder that even in 2010, whether Greene is in this situation in part because he is a dark-skinned African American.

This isn’t to excuse what Greene allegedly did, but a grand jury indictment? Really?

After all, the alleged incident occurred last November, when no one knew who Alvin Greene was. And ask yourself whether you’ve done something at about the level of what Greene is accused of doing — not even thinking you could face jail time or a grand jury indictment.

As distasteful as what Schlessinger said, she certainly isn’t the first white person to use that epitaph into a microphone, though being on the radio is a bit more serious than a poorly taped version of a Michael Richards stand-up act.¬† And given Schlessinger’s past and deliberate misrepresentation of her qualification as a “Dr.,” we can’t say we’re surprised by what she did.

The good news is that you can consider both to be obscene, even if we disagree as to what the punishment should be. Right-wing media figures get way more leeway over what they can say on radio and TV than left-wing media figures. And African American men are more likely to be more severely punished for what Greene is accused of doing than white men, especially in the South.

The true objective mind would put everyone in the same category for the same offenses, but maybe we can’t quite do that. But it does seem that the punishments should be consistent, at least, within the realms of context.

If Schlessinger were left-wing, she should receive the same punishment as if she were right-wing, which she is. And if Greene were a white man, if he did what he is accused of doing, should receive the same punishment as a black man, which he is.

Time will tell us whether that will be true or not.

Written by democracysoup

August 16, 2010 at 8:19 am

CO, CT has clear dimensions in their Senate showdown races

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The White House is thrilled that Michael Bennett survived his Democratic primary challenge for the Senate from Colorado. As you may recall, the White House also rooted hard for Arlen Specter to beat Joe Sestak in Pennsvlvania. Now, of course, the same White House is rooting for Sestak.

Unlike Specter or even Sestak, Bennett hadn’t been elected, so a primary push was a more significant threat, especially with a considerable challenge from former state House speaker Andrew Romanoff. At least, Bennett knows what it’s like to beat off a challenger.

The underdog won on the Republican side, as Weld County prosecutor and teabagger Ken Buck edged out former lieutenant governor Jane Norton.

Interim Senate appointees have traditionally had a relatively free ride, having all the perks of incumbency while being mostly unknown. But the MSM started freaking out over interim Senate appointees after Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008. All of a sudden, the Senate replacements were a big deal, one of the reasons why Bennett had such a hard time.

This isn’t to say that the MSM shouldn’t be concerned about unelected Senate appointees; just hope the diligence continues when the Republicans have their turn.

One race the MSM is more excited to cover is the Senate race from Connecticut to replace the retiring Chris Dodd (D-CT). Sure you would think a Rob Simmons-Richard Blumenthal race would make the MSM into a replica of Pavlov’s dog. But the real reason the MSM is pumped is that Linda McMahon beat out Simmons and others to win the GOP nod.

McMahon’s relationship to Vince McMahon (wife) and World Wrestling Entertainment (wrestling) has been a lightening rod in the primary and subsequently in the general election. Oh, and McMahon has spent a lot of money and will spend a lot of her own money for November.

Both states have incumbent governors not running, so governors races may influence who comes to the polls in those and other states.

The two latest determined Senate races don’t shed any light on where the Senate is headed, but there will be interest, even if they have little to do with politics or policy.

Republicans feel like Colorado is more red than purple, and will look to prove that in that Senate race. Connecticut is a strange state in that the Republicans’ best friend that doesn’t have a (R) by his side — Joe Lieberman — will be the state’s senior senator, regardless of who wins in November.

Despite the pumped-up scandal, Richard Blumenthal is the strongest candidate in either race. McMahon has the most money of any of the other candidates, so we’ll see which way Connecticut goes in November.

The teabagger angle has come up in Colorado, since Buck is now considered the third teabagger running for the Senate, behind Rand Paul and Sharron Angle. Buck may have a seriously hard time outdoing Paul and Angle in outrageousness, but there’s still time.

Between the teabaggers and McMahon’s wrestling/money connections, the MSM will play up these and other Senate races in a way that is atypical for non-presidential years. More coverage in a democracy is a good thing, but the quality of that increased coverage: there are serious doubts.

Reporting outrageous comments is what the MSM loves to do. But to remind the MSM, this isn’t just about fun and games.

People running for office can’t just be against something: they have to be for something. These teabaggers are going to run, so they need to be asked the same kind of questions as the other candidates. Our country is in really bad shape. And these and other Senate races are going to matter. Spend some time on the issues and we’ll likely be OK. Dismiss that approach and we’ll find what we need elsewhere — as usual.

Written by democracysoup

August 13, 2010 at 7:38 am

The true legacy of Ted “series of tubes” Stevens (R-AK)

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“No.” “It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes.”

You could argue that the legacy of Ted Stevens is his work to get Alaska to be a state or his 40 years in the Senate. And this may be the theme of the on-air obituaries you may see in the initial period following the news that the former senator died in a plane crash at the age of 86.

After the dust clears, Stevens’ offbeat legacy reads as long as the years he served in the Senate. Think about this: Stevens was the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate.

And his lengthy stay in Congress’ upper house, combined with the archaic rules of Congress, where seniority means more than competence.

Stevens’ opinion on the “series of tubes” mattered because he chaired the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation at that point, and the Republicans were in charge of the Senate.

We don’t directly vote for chairs of committee — House and Senate — but the party in power picks people based on how long they have lasted, regardless of their knowledge of the subject. If nothing else, Stevens helped illustrate what is wrong with that concept.

And though the on-air tributes to Stevens point out — correctly — that he was exonerated on multiple indictments over the funding for home remodeling, the cause was more to the tune of overzealousness by prosecutors than whether Stevens did anything wrong. And it was the Obama Administration who stepped up and admitted that.

There were the airport at nowhere controversy when Stevens added $3.5 million into a Senate bill to help finance an airport to serve a remote Alaskan island with about 100 residents.

And there was the fact that a plane crash in 1978 that killed Stevens’ first wife, Ann, and left him in bad shape and this plane crash had in common: both financed by private corporations.

Stevens was a complicated person. He was pro-choice for the most part, and believed in stem cell research.

Let’s consider all that Stevens provided, good and bad, in his memory. And despite his crack about the Internet being a “series of tubes,” even in his unfinest hour, Ted Stevens was still smarter and knew more about politics and the world than Sarah Palin.

From the archives: Will Alaska voters vote for the convicted Ted Stevens on November 4?

Written by democracysoup

August 10, 2010 at 3:32 pm