The US media: a critical component of the conspiracy against democratic rights. By David Walsh © 12/00


Part 1 - Role of the media in the post-election crisis.

Part 2 - An evening of television news.

Part 3 - Television personnel: money matters.

Part 4 - Television personnel: a few profiles.

The US media: a critical component of the conspiracy against democratic rights - Part 1

Role of the media in the post-election crisis.

By David Walsh
5 December 2000

The American media, and in particular the broadcast media, are playing a deplorable part in the ongoing post-election crisis. Their essential role has been to disorient, manipulate and degrade public opinion and conceal the critical political issues from the US population.

In the liberal print media certain voices have registered concern about the attempt by the camp of Texas Governor George W. Bush to usurp power and pointed to the implications of this effort for political life in the US. These voices are relatively isolated and they speak largely without confidence that their message will bring the process to a halt. None of them speak forthrightly about the takeover of the Republican Party by extreme-right elements or the incapacity of desiccated liberalism incarnated in Al Gore and the Democratic Party to put up a serious fight.

But even this generally timid response has been beyond the reach of the major network and cable television commentators, those with intellectual pretensions and vulgar, right-wing demagogues alike. The intellectual pollution represented by nine-tenths of US television, newspaper and radio journalism is a significant social phenomenon. The American public has access to unprecedented quantities of information, or, more accurately, it is bombarded as never before with the offerings of the media outlets. Twenty-four hour news stations on television and radio have proliferated; reports on developments are available increasingly in “real” time on the Internet. The potential contained in the technology is virtually unlimited.

The reality of private ownership and corporate monopoly control of news distribution, however, has not led to a more informed and involved public. On the contrary, by any objective standard, the overall result of this whirl of repetitive and superficial information and opinion has been a decline in intellectual and cultural life and a sharp increase in popular alienation and disaffection.

This is the first in a series of pieces that will attempt to answer several questions: Why do the American mass media play such a foul role? Who are the major personalities? Who owns the media? What is their modus operandi?

The television networks have been part of the effort to suppress the democratic will of the population since election night. The individual directing the Fox News Channel decision desk, John Ellis, who was instrumental in first declaring the Republican candidate the winner in Florida and the entire nation, is a first cousin of Bush and brother Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida. The other networks quickly followed Fox's lead the night of November 7-8. Ellis, as we now know, was in constant contact with his cousins throughout the night. Fox's call was subsequently withdrawn, but the push to have Bush anointed the next president of the United States seriously began at that moment. The filthiness has not let up since, and not only at the Rupert Murdoch-owned cable network.

It is obvious by now that the presidential election in Florida was the occasion for widespread fraud and vote suppression. In various ways the voice of the least privileged sections of the population was diminished and their votes undercounted. In some cases, as in Palm Beach County, Democratic Party indifference and incompetence played a significant role. In Duval County, thousands of ballots in black precincts ended up being thrown out because inexperienced voters were given no assistance by election officials. In other areas, police road blocks were set up near polls to intimidate voters. In Seminole and Martin counties, Republican officials were permitted to alter absentee ballot applications. Ballot boxes are reported to have disappeared in Miami-Dade County.

The full story may never come out. The very fact that the punch card system, which is notorious for undercounting ballots, is still used primarily in poorer neighborhoods reveals the essentially undemocratic character of the US electoral process. Not only are the wealthy more likely to have the time and opportunity to vote, but there is a greater likelihood that their choices will be registered.

Has any media personality drawn together the various reports of fraud and intimidation and presented an all-sided, realistic picture of voting in Florida, or anywhere else in the country? Has any major figure in the media registered a protest against the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands? In both cases, the answer is no.

The thrust of the media coverage has been, on the contrary, that the system is working well, and that contentment reigns. Those who have protested or threatened to, like Jesse Jackson—who was far more concerned with smothering the flames than fanning them—have been vilified, accused of “race-baiting” and “class warfare.” Everything has been done to lull the population to sleep, to deflect its instinctive suspicions, to allay its fears.

Were there genuinely “free” mass media in America, i.e., television networks and widely read newspapers that did not operate for profit and at the behest of profit-makers, they would direct the public's attention to several extraordinary facts and keep it focused there: the governor of Florida, who presides over the electoral apparatus, is George W. Bush's brother; the official charged with certifying the controversial vote count was Bush's state campaign co-chairperson; Bush lost the popular vote across the country by a third of a million votes. If the situation were reversed, for example, and Bush had won the plurality of votes, how often would we be reminded of it?

The failure of the media commentators to point out these and other striking features of the Florida and national election does not simply result from a desire to conceal pertinent facts. The corruption, insularity and incestuous relations one finds within the political establishment, both its Republican and Democratic wings, find a full-blown reflection in the media. The politicians and media types belong to one and the same wealthy and predatory social layer.

The accusations of unfairness and wrongdoing in Florida are widespread. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has been gathering affidavits from alleged victims. Surely, even if a television network news department felt the claims were likely to be exaggerated or untrue, it would have the responsibility of investigating them. Yet this has not been done in a serious manner. The television networks operate on the premise that if they fail to comment on an issue or drop it after perfunctory treatment, it ceases to exist.

The attitude of television commentators towards the population as a whole is one of disdain. Years ago, in a discussion of events in Haiti, it was pointed out to Robert Novak, syndicated columnist and co-host of CNN's Crossfire, that more than 60 percent of the population of that small country had voted for the allegedly “leftist” Jean-Bertrand Aristide. “Oh,” Novak replied, “that's just the riff-raff!” Novak holds the mass of the US population in the same regard, and he reflects an outlook that is widespread. Many in the media and political establishment, particularly in the aftermath of their failure to stampede public opinion over the Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, have drawn the conclusion that the American people are immoral, selfish and unworthy. Whether broad masses vote or whether their votes are counted is at best a matter of indifference to them, in fact, they are generally hostile to the prospect.

This built-in hostility to the aspirations of the population has taken the form in the past several weeks of covering up the conspiracy against democratic rights involved in the attempt by the Bush camp to seize control of the White House. There is a division of labor among the television commentators. Murdoch's Fox News Channel is stocked with out-and-out right-wingers: former speech writers for Ronald Reagan and George Bush, former assistants to Richard Nixon and Newt Gingrich, columnists and editorial writers from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. The “news” on Fox is often undiluted right-wing propaganda. More common on the other networks, however, is a fairly sophisticated slanting of the news to suppress essential issues and manipulate public opinion.

The most striking feature of American television news programming is its extremely circumscribed character. The US is a nation of nearly 300 million people, one of the most diverse on earth. Yet a relative handful, perhaps several dozen individuals, dominate news presentation and commentary, and their ideas fall within a narrow range. The “free exchange of ideas” takes place between people all of whom defend the profit system, the two-party monopoly of political power and the defense of America's “national interest” around the globe.

The same small circle of experts and pundits, who have nothing original or perceptive to say, seems endlessly to make the rounds of the cable television talk shows. How many times, on a weekly basis, is the viewing public obliged to sit through the reactionary pieties of ex-Reagan cabinet member Bill Bennett, whose entire personality, to paraphrase the American novelist Philip Roth, is dipped in sludge, or the banalities of a Doris Kearns Goodwin or a David Gergen, or the ranting of right-wingers such as Barbara Olson or Ann Coulter?

The news anchors and leading figures of the television networks are not working reporters, struggling to get the truth out. These are individuals with a deep stake in the political and economic status quo, including of course the continued health of the stock market and corporate earnings. Their salaries alone amount to millions of dollars a year (the news anchors average $5-10 million). They are prominent members of the establishment, who are called upon at any moment of crisis to put the case for the existing political set-up. These media personalities belong to an exclusive social milieu, whose concerns and demands are light-years away from the problems of masses of Americans. The indifference and insensitivity to democratic principles start here.

Whether it be ABC's Ted Koppel (estimated annual salary, $8 million) complacently asking Democratic Senator John Breaux of Louisiana when he thought it would be time for the Democrats to pack it in, or MSNBC's Brian Williams noting that a Gore legal victory would mean the vice president being “awarded the presidency, in effect, in court,” or Fox endlessly asking “Is the Gore camp losing steam?,” the viewers confront individuals and organizations that barely conceal their contempt for democratic principles.

Accommodation to the right wing is the method of operation of television personalities, including the so-called liberals. Actions that would produce outrage in other countries, or perhaps merely howls of laughter (like the roles of Katherine Harris and Jeb Bush), are passed off as perfectly normal and acceptable. The media offer no challenge to any allegation made by the far right, no matter how ridiculous, nor to any maneuver of this element, no matter how sordid and transparent. Is it possible to imagine a single one of the major media figures standing up to the neo-fascists of the Republican right, or even seriously criticizing their activities?

We already have the example of the television networks' response to the riot stage-managed by Congressional Republicans outside the deliberations of the canvassing board in Miami, which helped in shutting down the recount in that county. First, the television news programs downplayed and minimized it. Brief video clips were aired, with bland commentary. When the episode proved impossible to gloss over entirely, they broadcast Republican denials of wrongdoing without comment. The incident was permitted to fade from public view. Very few people in the US would have been able to gather from the networks' coverage that a sinister event had taken place—perhaps the first time that a right-wing mob had intervened to effect the outcome of a presidential election.

We are convinced that, in the long run, the American public will prove to have an excellent memory. Despite all the confusion and difficulties arising from the trials and tribulations of history, political realities will make themselves felt and become the basis of new social upheavals. The liars, cynics and highly-paid prostitutes who make up the vast majority of the mass media will not be forgiven for their role in concealing the truth from the population.

The US media: a critical component of the conspiracy against democratic rights—Part 2

An evening of television news

By David Walsh 7 December 2000

The United States is in the midst of a profound political crisis. For the first time in more than a century, a presidential election has produced no conclusive result. The country, as evidenced by the November 7 vote, is deeply divided. The winner of the national popular vote, Democrat Al Gore, has been on the defensive since election night. There is an obvious effort under way by his Republican opponent, George W. Bush, in league with the Republican apparatus in Florida, presided over by Bush's brother, to block an accurate count of the votes. Evidence exists of widespread irregularities and outright fraud. The issue squarely posed by the present crisis is: Will a US president, for the first time in modern history, be installed by anti-democratic means?

Within this complex and explosive situation, it is reasonable to ask: what is the role of the primary purveyors of information, the mass media?

The part played by the media in the impeachment drama of 1998-99 should be borne in mind. In that crisis the television networks and major newspapers functioned by and large as unofficial arms of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, spreading prurient gossip and unsubstantiated allegations, sensationalizing trivial episodes and, in general, seeking to whip the American public into a frenzy over a sex scandal. They did their best to promote the attempt by right-wing Republican forces lined up behind Starr to effect a coup d'etat. Have the media been chastened in any way by that experience?

In the evening hours four cable television networks—CNN, CNBC, MSNBC and Fox News Channel—present nothing but news programming and talk shows dedicated to current political events. One recent evening's viewing (November 29) revealed the following picture.

6 p.m.

Until eight o'clock CNBC devotes itself primarily to business news and the general health of Wall Street and the stock market. This is no small matter to those in the news business. CNBC's owner is General Electric, CNN's is Time Warner, MSNBC is co-owned by NBC/General Electric and Microsoft, and Fox News Channel belongs to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.—all giant conglomerates. The presenters and reporters of the news are themselves wealthy people, most or all of whom have stock portfolios that require constant attention.

On CNN's World View the political manipulation begins. Senior analyst Jeff Greenfield presents a segment that poses the question: what if this close and contested election had taken place in another era? Greenfield complacently observes how fortunate it is that the 2000 election has taken place under conditions of internal and external stability. There are “no worries” and “no crisis,” he suggests.

Nor is there any restlessness within the US population, which is why it responds “without a sense of passion” to the events. Because of the “relative contentedness” of the American people, they are responding as “disinterested” spectators. If such an election had taken place during the Depression or in the late 1960s, Greenfield asserts, it might have had significant political consequences.

Confronted with such banalities, one always wonders whether it is self-deception or the desire to deceive others that is principally at work. No doubt among Greenfield and his media colleagues, who have grown extraordinarily rich in recent years, “contentedness” does reign. He can't imagine why anyone would be “restless.”

Even taking these factors into consideration, one cannot help but ask how it is possible for a “news analyst” to expound with a straight face on the tumultuous events of the past several years—from impeachment to the present election crisis—and conclude they have no deeper significance: that there is no connection between a period of unbridled political warfare and the health or sickness of the society at large. Greenfield, one can only surmise, receives his large salary not to analyze, but to anesthetize.

On Fox, unabashed political reaction reigns. Brit Hume, the former chief White House correspondent for ABC News and a man known for his ultra-conservative views, hosts an hour-long news program. Hume introduces a segment that purports to look at the manual recount in Florida's Broward County. “Some people are pointing fingers” at Democratic Party officials, the voice-over says ominously. Republican claims that officials are bending and manipulating ballots—in front of observers from both parties, it should be noted—are passed along to the viewer. “I think it's illegal,” one Republican operative remarks.

Later in the hour Hume will host a discussion that includes Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard, and Morton Kondracke, currently executive editor of Roll Call and once of The New Republic. This duo, who often pop up together on Fox, are among the least appealing of television personalities. Kondracke is vaguely hawk-like, with a glittering stare, while Barnes reminds one of billionaire and would-be Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes, if the latter weren't so obviously mentally and emotionally off-kilter.

Hume and company purport to rebut various charges made by Vice President Al Gore in one of his public addresses. Gore had spoken of “organized intimidation,” referring to the Republican riot in Miami that helped close down the manual recount. Was there any such intimidation? “No,” proclaims Barnes. The board was “not intimidated,” says Kondracke. This in the face of widely circulated reports detailing the event and gloating comments by Republican supporters boasting of their success. Barnes-Kondracke-Hume's proof that there was no intimidation? The Miami-Dade canvassing board members denied there had been any.

This assertion, strictly speaking, is not true. Canvassing board member David Leahy acknowledged that the pro-Bush protests had played a role in the decision to stop the recount. Without the disruption, Leahy said, “Speaking for myself, we'd be up there counting.” Moreover, if the board members were seeking to evade their responsibility to count the votes, they would have good reason to downplay the role of the Republican rampage in prompting them to call off the tally.

Incredibly, Hume and his guests take CBS's anchor Dan Rather to task for repeatedly referring to Florida's Secretary of State Katherine Harris—co-chair of the Bush campaign in Florida—as a Republican.

The world of American political and media operatives is a small and politically incestuous one. The host of MSNBC's six o'clock program, the Mitchell Report, is Andrea Mitchell, wife of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan. Mitchell speaks to several politicians, including Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Democratic Congressman Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Charles Rangel of New York.

Typical of the supine posture of the Democrats, both Gephardt and Rangel sound a similar theme: the political danger involved in installing a Bush administration that is not considered legitimate. Gephardt points out that some clever journalist under the Freedom of Information Act is going to count the uncounted ballots in Florida, and if he or she discovers that Gore won, it will be “terrible.” Rangel warns that in such an eventuality, “You're going to have a real problem of polarization.”

At 6:30 p.m. MSNBC presents Equal Time, hosted by a former Democratic Party operative, Paul Begala, and Iran-Contra conspirator Oliver North, the former marine colonel. It is a measure of NBC's commitment to democratic rights that it employs an individual, North, who in the 1980s had a hand in drawing up a secret plan known as Operation Rex, which called for the setting up of internment camps and the declaration of martial law to deal with potential opposition to the Reagan administration's interventions in Central America.

7 p.m.

CNBC and CNN continue to plow through news of the stock market. To the analysis of share price fluctuations considerable time, resources and analytical skills are brought to bear. Here no detail can be overlooked.

The Fox Report with Shepard Smith gives a rightward spin to the news of the day. George W. Bush, Smith intones, has “never trailed for an instant and he's still not president.” The segment on alleged ballot manipulation by Democratic Party officials in the Broward County recount is replayed.

On MSNBC Brian Williams presents the news, in particular the ins and outs of the various legal battles. Chip Reid, a particularly slick and cynical reporter, comments on Al Gore's “public relations blitz.” Portions of an interview with Gore conducted by Claire Shipman are broadcast. The vice president calls the crisis “a test of our democratic principles” and criticizes the effort to “set aside thousands of votes.” He gives the impression of a man who chooses his words carefully to conceal far more than he reveals.

Williams spends some time on George W. Bush's efforts to put together a presidential transition team. Various names are mentioned for potential cabinet posts in a future Republican administration. Reference is made to the role being played by Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, just out of the hospital after a heart attack. Cheney is “in charge of the transition,” he is “more active than any previous vice president ... a major, major player.” Williams and his colleagues remain discreetly silent on why Cheney has been dragged from his sickbed to spearhead the Republican public relations campaign, i.e., the generally acknowledged fact that Bush is an intellectual cipher.

Williams continues with former Republican Senator Nancy Kassenbaum (Kansas) and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton (Indiana). The host asks, “When do you start worrying about what this process [of contesting the election] is doing to the country?” (It ought to be noted that no commentator in the course of the evening asks what the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands might be “doing to the country.”) Kassenbaum and Hamilton respond with banalities about both parties demonstrating “good will.” In regard to the evenly divided Senate, Williams provides one of the more inane questions of the evening: “Can't leadership be the tie-breaker?” he asks.

MSNBC concludes the hour with another superficial segment, “Is Image Everything?” The four journalists collected to discuss the issue, from the Chicago Tribune, the New Republic, the Washington Post and the National Review, cannot bring themselves to answer “no.”

8 p.m.

A number of the foulest programs air at this hour. Chris Matthews, host of CNBC's Hardball, has singlehandedly assisted in the coarsening of public discourse. Matthews' interviewing technique involves shouting at his guests and the television camera throughout his program. His mouth never closes, one has the impression, even during those brief, merciful moments when his guests are speaking.

Hardball is shrill, superficial and virtually unwatchable. Afterward, almost nothing is memorable except the high-pitched, almost hysterical tones. It's like a session with a particularly insensitive orthodontist. The host, on the other hand, calls it “clean, aggressive [and] Machiavellian.”

Born in Philadelphia, the son of a court recorder, Matthews—who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1974—worked for Democrat Jimmy Carter as a speech writer after the latter's election as president in 1976. When Carter lost the 1980 election, Matthews went to work for Tip O'Neill of Massachusetts, the Democratic Speaker of the House. O'Neill was a thoroughly corrupt politician, but Matthews makes clear in interviews that he considered it his job to push the Speaker to the right, away from “tax-and-spend” liberalism. Matthews later worked for the San Francisco Examiner until the television spot opened up.

Matthews made a name for himself as one of the crusaders against Bill Clinton during the impeachment crisis, lining up with the ultra-right conspirators around Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. Opportunism and careerism, nourished by the virulent anticommunism promoted by the Catholic Church, apparently drove Matthew on.

A Boston Globe portrait notes that Hardball “rocketed into the ranks of the highest-rated talk shows on cable TV with the explosion of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and with Matthews's relentless rebukes of President Clinton's dalliances and dishonesties. A morally outraged Matthews continued to hammer away at this theme long after the American people were pleading with Clinton critics to halt their harangues.”

The Globe comments: “He [Matthews] sees himself speaking for ‘regular people ... gritty city people.' But his home life—played out in a rambling Victorian mansion in one of Washington's most patrician suburbs—is far removed from the workaday world.” His annual salary is in the $1-2 million range.

This evening's Hardball presents a succession of talking heads, including the inevitable Doris Kearns Goodwin, who was there, as always, to discuss the small change of American presidential history. Democratic politicians like Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York and Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page raise certain issues of democratic rights, but everything of principle is more or less swept away by the smirking and cynicism of Matthews' presentation. For the “left,” Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel makes an appearance, but a very meek one.

Bill O'Reilly of Fox's the O'Reilly Factor is another particularly unpleasant media specimen. O'Reilly, who worked for CBS and ABC for several decades before coming to Fox, is a bully and a sanctimonious lecturer, who proclaims his hatred for “partisanship” even as he proceeds to present a right-wing line on virtually every political question. His technique involves inviting opponents to air their views and then, with great self-satisfaction and unconvincing aplomb, dismissing anything that might contradict his reactionary assertions. In O'Reilly one can see something of Joe McCarthy and Pat Buchanan.

He has a hobby-horse this evening, one which he's been on about for several evenings. Democratic Party claims of fraud or irregularities in Palm Beach and other Florida counties are ridiculous, because voting machines cannot show bias. “Belief,” he pompously informs us, “must be based on something.... Machines say Bush won. Machines don't lie.”

Perfect logic, which has the minor defect of leaving out the real world. Punch card systems are still in place in Florida in more than 20 counties, including several large urban areas, where the Democratic Party receives a great deal of support. Punch card systems are notorious for undercounting votes. As a result, tens of thousands of citizens, primarily poorer workers and blacks, were disenfranchised. Any guest, including Curtis Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, who points this out in the course of the hour-long program, is simply brushed aside. “We know all that,” O'Reilly says, cutting Gans off.

O'Reilly's favorite gesture involves brushing aside troubling questions. He dismisses former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich's concerns about the voting machines in Florida, as well the latter's worries about the consequences of a Bush victory under the present conditions.

When Lis Wiehl, a University of Washington law professor, notes that the Florida Supreme Court, in extending the deadline for the manual recount, was simply doing what state courts do all the time, i.e., interpret state laws, O'Reilly hurriedly proceeds to the next question. The one guest with whom O'Reilly can truly have a heart-to-heart chat is Sean Hannity, the neo-fascist radio talk show moderator and co-host of Hannity & Colmes, the program that follows on Fox.

On CNN Wolf Blitzer hosts The World Today. Blitzer, CNN's senior White House correspondent, has an intriguing past. After graduating from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC, he went for work, surprisingly, for Reuters in Tel Aviv. As Blitzer himself commented in an interview, “That was my first job ever in journalism. I didn't have any college experience in journalism. I never took a course. I sort of fell into it.”

Blitzer later worked as the Jerusalem Post's correspondent in Washington. According to his official CNN biography, “He was in Egypt in 1977, covering the first Israeli-Egyptian peace conference. In 1979, he accompanied President Carter to Egypt and Israel during the final round of negotiations that resulted in the signing of the peace treaty. In 1982, Blitzer was in Beirut during the withdrawal of PLO and Syrian forces.”

More: “He flew to Moscow shortly after the failed coup in August 1991 and spent nearly a month reporting on the Soviet military. He was among the first Western reporters invited into KGB headquarters in Moscow for a rare inside look into the Soviet intelligence apparatus. He returned to Moscow in December 1991 to cover the collapse of the Soviet Union and the transition from Mikhail Gorbachev to Boris Yeltsin. After many years of reporting from the nation's capital ... Blitzer joined CNN in 1990.”

Blitzer has covered Bill Clinton since his election in 1992, i.e., throughout the impeachment crisis. He has also conducted exclusive interviews with convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Jay Pollard in a US prison.

Blitzer introduces video footage of angry Florida residents denouncing irregularities and the infamous “butterfly ballot” before a committee of the state legislature. The brief clips of these outraged voters are virtually the only authentic moments during four hours of television viewing. Here, for an instant, one gets a glimpse of the real state of class and social relations in America. One citizen describes the Republicans state apparatus as “no better than thieves.”

Nearly all the networks run a selection of the voters' remarks, but in each case the host or news anchor has nothing to say in response. No derision, no hostility, no amazement ... nothing. One suspects they genuinely don't know what to make of the outpouring of popular protest, a social phenomenon they are organically incapable of registering or comprehending.

Blitzer's guest is ex-Reagan cabinet member William Bennett, who is as illuminating as ever. Reasonably enough, Blitzer asks, “Will you accept his [Gore's] presidency as legitimate?” Bennett refuses to answer. Slow-moving, heavy and vicious, Bennett suggests Gore should concede because he is on the point “of looking ridiculous.” Bennett criticizes “vague” concepts such as “the will of the people.”

MSNBC rehashes the day's news, hosted by Lester Holt. Republican Congressman Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, one of the House impeachment managers, is a guest. That group of individuals kept a low profile during the election campaign, hated as they were by wide layers of the population. Hutchinson remarks, “Everybody wants their vote counted. Of course that's true,” but, he insists, there are rules governing the process and the rules must prevail.

9 p.m.

Rivera Live on CNBC, hosted by Geraldo Rivera, is a hotbed of Democratic Party support, of a kind. Rivera is an opportunist and social-climber and he attracts a certain type, operators of various stripes. The program is less politically reactionary than some of the others, but it exudes an unpleasantly corrupt and cynical odor of its own.

Carl Bernstein, still resting on his Watergate fame, is a guest. He notes that a poll indicates 41 percent of the population considers the Florida vote count fair and 50 percent considers it unfair. He asserts that Republicans privately admit that Gore won more votes than Bush in Florida.

Rivera has Harry Jacobs, the Democratic Party supporter pursuing the case of tampered absentee ballot applications in Florida's Seminole County, as another guest. Jacobs outlines the evidence of illegal actions committed by Republican election officials. He explains that Katherine Harris had instructed canvassing boards to reject all ballots whose applications lacked the information later added by Republican operatives.

Jacobs makes a favorable impression. His seriousness stands in contrast to Rivera's lightmindedness. Bernstein observes that it will be “very difficult for people in this country to ever accept the real count.” Richard Ben-Veniste, a member of the Watergate prosecution team, opines that it is important for “the Supreme Court to provide legitimacy.”

Larry King, the lowest common denominator of American television—a man, incidentally, who asks $50,000 for every public appearance—has Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman on his program. Lieberman tells the Larry King Live audience that “all we have asked is that the votes be counted,” so the next president will have “no cloud over his head.” He raises certain legitimate questions of democratic rights and principles, but in a half-hearted way—in the manner of a man who is already preparing to give way. Asked about the next four years, Lieberman says, in a conciliatory tone, “We [Democrats and Republicans] should be able to work together.... We talked abut the same issues.”

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona follows Lieberman. He claims that the American people “want to bring it to a close.” He goes on: “We don't guarantee a perfect election.” McCain indicates that he would decline a cabinet post in a Bush administration. He seems to be playing his cards close to his vest. If Bush loses, of course, McCain has a better chance at the Republican nomination in 2004.

On Fox, the Hannity & Colmes program works its way along its natural course. Sean Hannity is a right-wing fanatic, who listens to no one and hears nothing that might deter him. Facts, arguments mean nothing to such people. He browbeats, insults and provokes. One feels he will falsify events at will. Alan Colmes is his liberal partner, supposedly there to act as a counter-balance. The entire program consists of shouting, interruptions, harangues.

Rangel is again a guest, as is right-wing Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida, Democratic Governor Gray Davis, Congressmen Bill Pascrell (Democrat from New Jersey) and David Dreier (Republican from California). When Pascrell asks Hannity point blank whether Democrats were present when Republican representatives altered absentee ballot applications in Seminole County, Hannity simply refuses to answer. His response to questions he doesn't care for is a smirk. Establishing the truth is not his interest.

Hannity is a clone of Rush Limbaugh, the ultra-right radio talk show host. Liberalism, to these people, is as much a dirty word as communism. These are practitioners of the big lie, following in a tradition pioneered by Josef Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister. Their motto: say anything and someone will believe it.

On MSNBC Brian Williams is once again going over the day's events. He suggests that a Gore victory would mean that the vice president had been “awarded the presidency, in effect, in court.” An extraordinary statement. If a candidate is the victim of fraud and official misconduct, how else is he likely to prevail?

While there are differences in the coverage, depending on the network and the individual host and guest, the overall impact of these television news talk shows is deadening and disheartening. They don't educate, they manipulate. They don't clarify the political process, they pollute it.

The media personalities presiding over these programs evince almost no interest in the rights and needs of average citizens. Their interest, on the contrary, lies in the continued functioning of the present social system, which offers them such magnificent benefits. They don't operate as investigators of the truth, but as agents of the status quo.

One doesn't feel illuminated by an evening of such programs, but soiled and degraded. A fundamental premise of any politically progressive movement that arises in the US must be the need to reject and expose the role played by the television networks in deceiving the American public on a daily basis.

The US media: a critical component of the conspiracy against democratic rights—Part 3

Television personnel: money matters

By David Walsh 16 December 2000

The mass media have played an immense role over the past five weeks in determining the outcome of the crisis that followed upon the unresolved presidential election of November 7. It is unquestionably the case that had leading media personalities evinced an interest in matters of democratic rights and principles, had they raised any serious challenge to the arguments of right-wing politicians and commentators, had they pointed warningly to the biases of reactionary judges, the population would have been in a far better position to confront the attempt by George W. Bush and the Republican Party to usurp power.

This specific context, with all its implications and consequences, underscores the need for the public to understand who these media personalities are and what social interests they represent.

In good faith millions of people watch television programs and read newspapers unaware of the histories and connections of those who present themselves as mere messengers, informing the public of developments as they unfold, or as independent and impartial observers of the social scene. In reality, these “messengers” and “observers” often play an active role in the upper echelons of the society they are ostensibly analyzing with detachment.

How much credibility would most television journalists have, for example, if personal and political biographies and other pertinent facts of their lives, including annual income, were flashed on the screen alongside their faces as they claimed to present an objective presentation of events?

To take one simple example, on December 12 NBC News' Justice Department and Supreme Court correspondent Pete Williams was one of the first to appear before a television camera and attempt to decipher the reactionary high court decision that awarded the presidential election to Bush. It would have been helpful if NBC had reminded the public that in 1986 Williams joined the staff of a certain Wyoming Congressman, Dick Cheney, as a press secretary and legislative assistant; moreover, that when Cheney was named Assistant Secretary of Defense in 1989, under George W. Bush's father, Williams was appointed Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. On Tuesday night Williams was not called on to shape the news—that the court ruling was a clear victory for Bush-Cheney was evident enough—but the information might have helped explain his self-satisfied expression.

The relations between the government bureaucracy and political parties and media are highly incestuous. The inhabitants of these realms hobnob with and befriend and marry one another. Witness the union of the State Department's James Rubin and CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour; the Federal Reserve's Alan Greenspan and NBC's Andrea Mitchell. ABC's Cokie Roberts is the daughter of Hale Boggs (D-Louisiana), the late House majority leader. Figures like Chris Matthews of MSNBC and George Stephanopoulos of ABC have made the seamless transition from politics to journalism.

These are privileged, pampered people. They live and dine and travel in style. They squabble and feud and gossip, fall out and reconcile (or don't), but, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, friends and foes alike, they breathe the same air. These are people, to borrow an apt phrase from F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose voices are “full of money.”

What do the leading television and print journalists earn? Such a question is considered tasteless or “nobody's business”—therefore it must be important. Here's a brief survey, culled from a number of sources (principally the May 1999 issue of Brill's Content).

At the top of the list (aside from arch-reactionary radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and “entertainment” personalities such as the vile Howard Stern or interviewer Barbara Walters) sit the major networks' anchors. Peter Jennings of ABC makes in the area of $9 million a year; NBC's Tom Brokaw pulls in approximately $7 million; CBS's Dan Rather, the same.

Other media stars include Ted Koppel of ABC's Nightline, who earns some $8 million annually, and Diane Sawyer of the network's Good Morning America, whose salary is $7 million. ABC's chief White House correspondent Sam Donaldson makes in the range of $3-3.5 million; the network's substitute anchor, Forrest Sawyer, takes in $2.5 million a year. Don Hewitt, producer of CBS's 60 Minutes, earns $4-5 million; the same program's Mike Wallace, $3 million. Lesley Stahl, also of 60 Minutes, reportedly makes $1.75 million, Bob Schieffer, CBS's chief Washington correspondent and moderator of Face the Nation, $1.5 million.

At NBC, Katie Couric, coanchor of NBC Today, rakes in $7 million a year, while her cohost, Matt Lauer, earns a mere $2.5 million. In 1998 Jane Pauley signed a five-year deal at NBC for $5.5 million a year. Lisa Myers, NBC's Washington correspondent and one of the chief Clinton persecutors, makes $375,000 annually. Larry King of CNN earns $7 million in salary; Bernard Shaw, also of CNN, $1.1 million; and Jeff Greenfield, CNN senior analyst, the same. Christiane Amanpour's pay is $2 million a year. At Fox, Brit Hume pulls in one million dollars a year, while Bill O'Reilly makes slightly less. MSNBC's Brian Williams makes $2 million annually.

Newspaper editors and leading reporters earn significantly less, but their pay is nothing to sneeze at. Joseph Lelyveld, executive editor of the New York Times, for example, makes an estimated $400,000-600,000 a year. Tom Shales, a television critic for the Washington Post, earns $200,000, and John Brecher, the page-one editor of the Wall Street Journal, the same. David Maraniss, national political correspondent of the Post, makes a reported $130,000 annually, while a senior news editor at the Journal is believed to average $160,000 and a senior reporter at the Times, $80-100,000.

These are salaries only. Well-known personalities can boost their incomes substantially through lectures and personal appearances. In a 1995 article (“Talking for Dollars”), Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz revealed some startling facts. Kurtz noted that Donaldson of ABC—remember this is five years ago!—received $30,000 per speaking engagement, William Safire of the Times took in $20,000 a speech, Cokie Roberts, $20,000 as well. Mike Wallace fetched $25,000 a speech and Larry King received $50,000.

According to Kurtz, David Gergen, then of the MacNeil/Lehrer news program on PBS and a U.S. News columnist, earned more than $450,000 for 21 talks in 1992. “The list of Gergen's benefactors,” observed the Post columnist, “read like a who's who of corporate America,” including the American Stock Exchange, the American Trucking Association, the Snack Food Association, Chase Manhattan Bank and Salomon Brothers.

Gergen, still a perennial on the television talk show circuit, made an uncharacteristically candid admission to Kurtz: “There is a corrupting influence.... You stay at a ritzy hotel. You shut people out. You just talk to these well-groomed, well-heeled business folks. You're traveling in a bubble. It tends to encourage a pro-establishment viewpoint. You're talking to the establishment, you're with them a lot.”

At the height of the health care battle during Bill Clinton's first term, a variety of journalists earned fat fees by telling health insurers and the like what they wanted to hear. Fred Barnes, then of CBS This Morning and CNN's Crossfire (and now executive editor of Rupert Murdoch's ultra-right Weekly Standard), declared on television that the notion of a health care crisis was overblown and received an invitation to speak before the American Managed Care and Review Association. At the same time columnist George F. Will, the right-wing snob and social climber, was invited to address the Health Insurance Association of America on the same theme—that there was no health care crisis. Will told Kurtz that his receipt of industry cash “doesn't make a particle of difference in what I'm saying.” As an inveterate reactionary, this may well be the case.

But liberals like Michael Kinsley also took industry cash to discuss the health care proposal. Kinsley commented lamely, “It's potentially corrupting, but so is everything.”

In a February 1996 article in Atlantic Monthly (“Why Americans Hate the Media”), James Fallows noted that ABC's Donaldson announced in 1993 that he wanted to get in touch with the concerns of the average American. Fallows cited Donaldson's comment that “I'm trying to get a little ranching business started in New Mexico,” he said. “I've got five people on the payroll. I'm making out those government forms.” Fallows continued: “Thus he understood the travails of the small businessman and the annoyances of government regulation. Donaldson, whose base pay from ABC is reported to be some $2 million a year, did not point out that his several ranches in New Mexico together covered some 20,000 acres. When doing a segment attacking farm subsidies on Prime Time Live in 1993 he did not point out that ‘those government forms' allowed him to claim nearly $97,000 in sheep and mohair subsidies over two years. William Neuman, a reporter for the New York Post, said that when his photographer tried to take pictures of Donaldson's ranch house, Donaldson had him thrown off his property. (‘In the West trespassing is a serious offense,' Donaldson explained.)”

Fallows also took note of George Will's activities. Will had written “a column and delivered on-air comments ridiculing the Clinton Administration's plan to impose tariffs on Japanese luxury cars, notably the Lexus. On the [David] Brinkley show [on ABC] Will said that the tariffs would be ‘illegal' and would merely amount to ‘a subsidy for Mercedes dealerships.'

“Neither in his column nor on the show did Will disclose that his wife, Mari Maseng Will, ran a firm that had been paid some $200,000 as a registered foreign agent for the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, and that one of the duties for which she was hired was to get American commentators to criticize the tariff plan. When Will was asked why he had never mentioned this, he replied that it was ‘just too silly' to think that his views might have been affected by his wife's contract.” That Will, who has never uttered an original thought in his life, turns out to be a shill for large corporate interests will not, I trust, shock readers of the World Socialist Web Site.

Or consider the promotional blitz surrounding the publication of NBC News anchorman Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation, an homage to the generation that fought in World War II. Jim Neilson, in a 1998 essay in Cultural Logic, noted that “Brokaw has twice been on NBC's Today show promoting his book (during one appearance host Matt Lauer gushed, ‘I mean only to pay tribute to you here and not to embarrass you'...), has appeared on MSNBC, CNBC, the Conan O'Brien show [an NBC talk show], and the online site, and has seen Dateline NBC devote a full hour to his book.” No one involved mentioned that NBC itself stood to gain, as the network owned 25 percent of the rights to The Greatest Generation.

Neilson further pointed out that “[ABC news anchorman] Peter Jennings's The Century was the basis for a twelve part series on ABC and a fifteen-part series on ABC co-owned The History Channel.”

All this provides only a tiny glimpse into what is an inbred and thoroughly unprincipled milieu—and more corrupt than the average American could possibly imagine.

The class rift in journalism

Of course, the field of journalism is riven by social division like every sphere of American life. There is an enormous gap between those at the top of the media heap and those at the bottom. A production assistant at CBS News makes $22,000 a year; at CNN, $28,000; at Fox, $20-25,000; at ESPN [the all-sports cable television network], the same. A seven-month “trial” production assistant at ESPN earns $9 an hour, with no benefits.

Outside the large markets, even on-air television personnel fail to make much money. A reporter/weekend anchor on WREX in Rockford, Illinois, takes in $23,000 annually. The news director at KXGN in Glendive, Montana, makes $22,000, and a reporter at KTEN in Sherman, Texas pulls in a princely $15,000 a year. The local host/producer of Public Radio's All Things Considered in Pullman, Washington earns $25-29,000 a year. A reporter at the New Haven Register earns a starting salary of $26-28,000. An entry-level editorial assistant at Newsweek makes $28,000 and at The New Republic, $20-25,000.

Indeed, according to valuable research done by Vernon Stone, of the Missouri School of Journalism (, the gap between “rich and poor” in the media world has widened in recent decades.

Stone notes the situation “in the broadcast news workplace of U.S. commercial TV and radio stations. During the first half of the decade [the 1990s], the highest paid news people moved still higher by outpacing the cost of living. But the great majority of others were able to buy or save a little less than before. They failed to keep up with the Consumer Price Index (CPI)...”

He explains that “Television journalism's top moneymakers—the news anchors, news directors and reporters at stations in the 50 largest markets—saw their salary averages go up faster than the CPI from 1989 to 1994. In the 51-100 middle tier of markets, they still generally kept pace. They fell behind only in small markets (101-210). Similar trends are indicated for 1994-99.

“TV stations' lowest paid news staff, photographers, kept pace with inflation in the 50 largest markets, but lost ground elsewhere. Likely ditto going into 2000.

“Next lowest paid as they move up, producers and assignment editors typically saw their paychecks lose buying power in all TV market categories from smallest to largest in 1987-94. Some stations remedied this during the next five years, but most probably did not.

“In radio on average, news directors and anchors at major-market stations gained on the Consumer Price Index. But in the many, many radio markets of less than a million population, buying power generally went from bad to worse in 1989-94.”

Stone goes on to say that “the salary gap between the high and low paid keeps getting wider—at a rate faster than the normal widening to be expected from across-the-board percentage gains.

There are those who enter the profession of journalism out of the desire to inform and educate, to challenge conventional wisdom and offer social criticism. Such individuals do not rise to the top. Theirs are not the faces one sees on the evening news and talk show programs.

The American media: a critical component of the conspiracy against democratic rights—Part 4

Television personnel: a few profiles

By David Walsh 19 December 2000

The world of television news analysis in the US is composed of individuals with pro-establishment and essentially right-wing views and connections, or liberals and “moderates” who continuously accommodate themselves to the right. Here are some of the figures who commented on the recent post-election crisis and attempted to shape public perceptions of the extraordinary events.

Fox News Channel, owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, employs numerous commentators with direct connections to the Republican Party and the ultra-right. Brit Hume, the anchor of Special Report with Brit Hume, is notorious for his conservative views. While chief White House correspondent with ABC News, Hume was President George Bush's tennis partner. Hume is a contributing editor at Murdoch's right-wing Weekly Standard. When NBC News, in the midst of the impeachment crisis, decided against airing an interview with Bill Clinton's rape-accuser, Juanita Broaddrick, Hume wore a button on his lapel that read “Free Lisa Myers,” in honor of the NBC correspondent who had done the Broaddrick piece.

Tony Snow, host of Fox News Sunday, is another well-known right-winger. A journalist from 1979, with stops at the Detroit News (1984-87), as deputy editorial page editor, and the Washington Times (1987-91), as editorial page editor, Snow went to work in the White House for George Bush in 1991. He functioned first as Bush's chief speech writer (Deputy Assistant to the President for Communications and Director of Speech Writing) and later as Deputy Assistant to the President for Media Affairs.

Another Weekly Standard stalwart, John Podhoretz, is Fox's media and society contributor and a particularly unpleasant figure. He also serves as the editorial page editor on Murdoch's sensationalist tabloid, the New York Post. Podhoretz served as speech writer for President Ronald Reagan and special assistant to “Drug Czar” William Bennett. He too worked for the Rev. Moon's Washington Times, as assistant managing editor.

One of Fox News's on-air contributors and a permanent fixture on the news talk show circuit is John Fund. A collaborator with the ultra-right radio demagogue Rush Limbaugh on a book, The Way Things Ought To Be, Fund is a member of the Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal, where he previously served as deputy features editor. The Journal, of course, spearheaded the impeachment crusade against Bill Clinton and has recently published incendiary articles in the wake of the November 7 election. Its editorial page is a cesspool of reaction.

Another veteran of the Wall Street Journal is David Asman, host of Fox In Depth, a “daily program featuring interviews with newsmakers of the day.” Before his tenure at Fox, Asman served as Op-Ed editor of the Journal. He began at the newspaper in 1983, editing the Manager's Journal and the Americas column. In 1994 he was named senior editor of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page.

An on-air political contributor since October 1996, Monica Crowley functioned as former President Richard Nixon's Foreign Policy Assistant from 1990 to 1994, and authored Nixon Off the Record. She also writes for the New York Post.

Washington DC-based political analyst Jim Pinkerton has worked for Fox News Channel since it started up. He is a regular on Fox News Watch. Pinkerton worked in the White House under Reagan and Bush, and also in the 1980, 1984, 1988 and 1992 Republican presidential campaigns.

A contributor on women's issues, Amy Holmes has worked for Fox since June 1998. She is manager of the Independent Women's Forum, one of billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife's stable of right-wing political outfits and a breeding ground for various pro-impeachment conspirators and television commentators. Heather Nauert works for Fox News Channel as a political contributor. In June 1998, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich appointed her to the White House Conference on Retirement Savings. During the right's campaign against the Clintons' health care plan, Nauert established and led a group called Americans for Freedom of Choice in Healthcare.

The chairman and CEO of the Fox News division is Roger Ailes, a longtime Republican Party political consultant and hatchet-man, adviser to Nixon, Reagan, Bush, former New York Senator Alfonse D'Amato and New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

These filthy individuals and others like them— Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Fred Barnes, Matt Drudge, John Ellis (Bush's first cousin who called Florida for him on election night), etc.—put Fox News Channel's promise of “fairness and balance” in perspective.

The right-wing bias of Murdoch's network is hardly a secret. Other television commentators, however, present themselves as independent-minded and unbiased journalists, while presenting quite reactionary conceptions.

At first glance CNN's senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, for example, appears nothing more than a glorified opinion pollster. Schneider's specialty normally involves superficial attempts at taking the country's political temperature. During the post-November 7 period, however, he was one of those, like many in the media, who kept insisting that the American people were eager for quick resolution of the crisis. This argument, whose aim at least in part was precisely to encourage the spread of such a sentiment in the population, amounted to aid to the Bush camp, who were pushing for an end to all challenges to the official (and fraudulent) Florida vote tally.

One commentator quoted Schneider on this theme: “‘How much is winning this election worth?' scolded CNN analyst Bill Schneider. ‘Is it worth creating a constitutional crisis?'” (Another ‘grand old man' of television news who argued along the same bankrupt lines was CBS's Bob Schieffer, longtime moderator of Face the Nation. Schieffer remarked, “The country is much more important to me than whether Al Gore gets his final ambition or George Bush.” Very patriotic-sounding, but the effect was to assist the usurpation of power by Bush.)

A little investigation demonstrates that Schneider keeps some foul company. The CNN senior political analyst is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC. Other scholars and fellows at the AEI include: Robert Bork, the extreme right-wing Court of Appeals judge whose nomination to the Supreme Court was beaten off in 1987, and author of Slouching towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline, a violent attack on the notion of social equality; Lynne V. Cheney, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and wife of the vice president-elect, Dick Cheney; Dinesh D'Souza, right-wing ideolog and author of The End of Racism; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Reagan's ambassador to the UN; Irving Kristol, one of the original neo-conservatives, and father of William Kristol, television talk show habitué and editor of the Weekly Standard; Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, which argued for the natural inferiority of blacks and the poor; and Richard N. Perle, Reagan's assistant secretary of defense for international security policy. Schneider comes by his anti-democratic leanings honestly.

Tim Russert, moderator of NBC's interview program Meet the Press, and NBC News Washington bureau chief, played a pernicious role during the impeachment crisis. Russert was one of those who claimed to be taking the moral high ground, castigating Clinton's behavior, while spreading the salacious gossip put out by the right wing. (Typical Russert sound-bite: “There are lots of suggestions coming out of people close to Ken Starr that perhaps the Secret Service ‘facilitated' [i.e., pimped] for President Clinton. Remember that code word—it was used by state troopers in Little Rock.... Was the Secret Service—was a Secret Service agent—an accomplice in trying to cover up a relationship with Monica Lewinsky?” The fact that this story, and dozens like it, attributed to “unnamed sources,” proved to be false, never stopped Russert and his media cohorts.)

Russert is a Democrat, a former adviser to New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Governor Mario Cuomo. He seems the personification of self-satisfied, prosperous ex-liberalism, with his constant smirk and relentlessly shallow commentary. (For instance, following the second presidential debate this fall, Russert maintained that Bush had gained ground because he had established “parity” with Gore on command of foreign affairs. Gore is a bourgeois politician of distinctly unremarkable caliber, but Bush, it should be recalled, consistently demonstrated appalling ignorance of the most elementary facts of world politics.)

Yet Russert is considered a major “player.” Former Clinton adviser Paul Begala commented, “Russert is enormously influential. In fact, he might have crossed from the realm of influence into that of power. When I was at the White House ... there wasn't a day that would go by without my contacting him.” What a commentary on Washington and the Clinton administration!

Russert's background raises an interesting question. The role of the Christian [Protestant] neo-fascist element has been relatively well documented, and the impeachment crisis made one aware of the degree to which a certain layer of Jewish professionals had swung to the right, but the part played by right-wing Catholics (and perhaps behind them, the Church officialdom) in the anti-Clinton drive is one that has yet to be chronicled. Russert's background is Irish Catholic. Public shows of morality (and moralizing) seem to be one of his defining characteristics. In 1995 the National Father's Day Committee named Russert “Father of the Year,” and Washingtonian magazine cited him as a “Real Dad.” Parents magazine honored him as a “Dream Dad” in 1998 and Irish-American magazine has named Russert as one of the top 100 Irish Americans in the US.

This is suggestive because Chris Matthews, another anti-Clinton blowhard (and former Democratic Party operative), also has a Catholic background, as does Maureen Dowd, the high priestess of the New York Times vice squad. Then there are the more openly right-wing Catholics such as O'Reilly of Fox and Pat Buchanan, the Reform Party presidential candidate.

Another insufferable statesman of the airwaves is ABC Nightline's Ted Koppel, he of the clipped speech and permanently crenellated hair. Koppel effects Olympian detachment and intellectual weight. One looks in vain for the substance behind the mannered style. Like his less pretentious brethren, Koppel is little more than a conduit for US government and ruling elite propaganda. Can anyone remember him ever standing up to the powers that be? Has he ever challenged conventional wisdom or fought tooth and nail for an unpopular position?

Koppel was born in Lancashire, England in 1940, the son of German Jewish refugees from Hitler. His father had owned a major tire factory in Germany. His family came to the US in the early 1950s. Koppel, after attending Syracuse and Stanford universities, went to work for ABC News in 1963. He was named anchor of Nightline, the late-night news and interview program, at the time of its debut in March 1980.

Jeff Cohen, of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), describes Koppel as an “individual who has, for his whole career, been virtually a mouthpiece for the U.S. State Department.” Cohen backs up the characterization, pointing out that Koppel began his career as the Hong Kong bureau chief for ABC News, where he and they covered up the US role in Vietnam and, in particular, CIA operations in Laos.

Norman Solomon, another critic, has documented Koppel's role: “From 1969 to 1971, Koppel paid several visits to the Southern Laos site of Pakse, where CIA and U.S. military personnel—unknown to the American public—were assisting and directing continuous bomb runs by the Laotian air force. ‘These guys were all in civilian clothes,' Koppel told me in a 1990 interview. ‘None of them admitted to being in the military—or with the CIA, for that matter. They all claimed to be civilian contract employees.'

“Koppel acknowledged that, at the time, he knew the facts were otherwise: ‘I may have known that, but I wasn't in a position to prove it.' His news reports made no mention of the CIA and U.S. military involvement, even though it was central to the bombing that he witnessed.

“Walter J. Smith, a U.S. Air Force officer at Pakse, was present when Koppel showed up with a cameraman at the base officers' club. Smith heard Koppel stress that he would not dislodge the official fig-leaf: ‘In effect, he was saying, “I'm not going to tell the truth no matter what happens.””

Cohen notes that Koppel rose in ABC during the 1970s, “and he became [part of] what is called the KKK Club, where it would be Bernard Kalb, Marvin Kalb, and Ted Koppel, who were big network correspondents, who had traveled the world with Henry Kissinger singing his praises as he went around the world wheeling and dealing. And Henry Kissinger, in the eyes of them at the time, was basically a foreign policy genius. And the human rights abuses, that were the direct results of Kissinger's policies, weren't exactly emphasized by Bernard Kalb, Marvin Kalb, or Ted Koppel.”

Solomon comments: “Long ago, Koppel declared himself ‘proud to be a friend of Henry Kissinger' and ranked his pal (who orchestrated bloody foreign-policy deceptions from Vietnam to Chile) as ‘certainly one of the two or three great secretaries of state of our century.' Such biases infuse Koppel's TV work, as when he told ‘Nightline' viewers in April 1992: ‘If you want a clear foreign-policy vision, someone who will take you beyond the conventional wisdom of the moment, it's hard to do any better than Henry Kissinger.'”

FAIR monitored Koppel's programming in the 1980s during the period of the Reagan administration's covert war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Cohen observes that this was a period when “the Reagan White House had one public relations goal in Central America: get all the U.S. media to focus on human rights violations in Nicaragua, and get little or no media coverage on human rights violations in El Salvador, which by every standard were far more severe. More violence, more incarcerations, more disappearances, more suppression of the press. The fact is, when you study Koppel, he did I think it was over 22 different programs focusing on the negatives of the government in Nicaragua: human rights abuses, problems between the government and the press in Nicaragua, meaning one newspaper that they were polarized with, and zero programs during a 40-month period on El Salvador. Now that's pretty big success for the public relations operatives at the Reagan White House and the U.S. State Department. I don't know how much closer you could become to a state broadcast outlet than that.”

Solomon points out that “American critics of foreign policy were almost invisible. Koppel didn't see a problem. ‘We are governed by the president and his cabinet and their people,' he fired back. ‘And they are the ones who are responsible for our foreign policy, and they are the ones I want to talk to.'” In other words, “I only talk to those in power.” There's the unmistakable voice of a free and democratic-minded press!

A former colleague of Koppel's at ABC News and Nightline, Jeff Greenfield, is currently a senior analyst at CNN, where he went to work in 1998. Greenfield, a New York native, was a bit of a “left” in his youth, of a cynical sort. From 1968 to 1970 he served as chief speech writer for New York City's liberal Republican Mayor John V. Lindsay, and in 1967-68 he was a Senate aide and speech writer for Senator Robert F. Kennedy. In 1972 he co-authored A Populist Manifesto with longtime Village Voice columnist and Robert Kennedy idolater, Jack Newfield.

Greenfield has been around. He was an analyst for PBS's Firing Line, hosted by right-winger William F. Buckley, and We Interrupt This Week. He subsequently joined CBS, working as a media critic during that network's coverage of the 1980 Republican and Democratic conventions and the 1980 presidential election. For 14 years Greenfield functioned as ABC News's political and media analyst.

He has carved out something of a niche for himself. Greenfield takes it upon himself to justify and explain away every twist and turn of American public life. He is the great rationalizer, particularly of political reaction. None of the activities and provocations of the right wing, from impeachment to the Bush grab for power, are cause for alarm in Greenfield's view. Each bit of dirty business turns out to be no more than a necessary stage in the unfolding of the great American national experiment, whose predetermined outcome has been miraculously revealed to CNN's senior analyst. He is there to reassure his audience. He has it on good authority that nothing will go seriously wrong.

Greenfield's performance during the final week of the election crisis was typical: a special segment proving that the Bush-Gore standoff couldn't have happened at a more fortuitous moment, when Americans are content and the country is enjoying unprecedented stability and tranquillity.

The CNN analyst possesses the quality that seems so pervasive in the US news media: bottomless sycophancy in the face of established authority. Is there anyone in American political office that Greenfield could not find a good word for? Nearly all the leading media types are like that. During the Republican convention this summer a commentator noted CNN anchor Judy Woodruff's obsequious remark that vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney had “delivered a speech, from a soft spoken man, that delivered a walloping speech.... Jeff Greenfield agrees—in awe—with Judy.” That sounds about right.

Greenfield, along with so many others, flowed with the reactionary current during the Kenneth Starr impeachment drive in 1998-99, failing to challenge the threat to democratic rights this witch-hunt represented. Indeed Greenfield provided a rationale for one of the key assaults on elementary rights.

A favored technique of Starr's office was to leak sealed grand jury testimony unfavorable to Bill Clinton, which then became the basis for sensationalized and unsubstantiated reports in the media.

The World Socialist Web Site commented at the time: “Leaking grand jury testimony is a federal crime, and, from a legal standpoint, of a far more serious character than giving false testimony in a deposition in a civil case, such as the Paula Jones suit. Witnesses called to testify before a grand jury do not have the benefit of legal counsel while they are being questioned. The promise that their statements will not be made public is the main protection they have against retaliation for their testimony” (“Clinton crisis exposes threat to democratic rights,” 7 February 1998).

Greenfield, who was one of those passing along morsels tossed out by Starr, responded in a different fashion. When challenged by a critic, Jane Prettyman, Greenfield (in a written response) first compared the publicizing of the grand jury testimony to the leaking of the Pentagon Papers—a secret multi-volume history of the Vietnam War commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara—to the New York Times by Daniel Ellsberg in 1971.

Greenfield continued: “The whole point of the First Amendment was to make the press a guardian of the public's right to information, even when officials want to keep that information secret.”

Prettyman effectively exposed Greenfield's hypocrisy and sophistry, noting that “the First Amendment was granted not for the benefit of media corporations but for the benefit of the People ... so that we might have a free flow of information to defend ourselves against tyrannical government.... Ken Starr and his staff of prosecutors are a powerful part of the government, some would say tyrannical government.... The dissemination of Grand Jury material ... has, instead, the effect of reducing rather than enhancing our freedom in relation to government.”

She continued: “The general public does not have a ‘right to know' the contents of Grand Jury proceedings. The ‘free flow of information' stops at the door of the secret Grand Jury—and for good reasons—not for reasons of national security (as the Government tried to argue in the Pentagon Papers case), but for reasons of personal security of individual citizens, to protect their freedom in relation to a one-sided prosecutorial government action without due recourse of law.”

We can be fairly certain that such arguments fell on deaf ears. When faced with a choice between the defense of elementary democratic and constitutional rights, on the one hand, and the opportunity to advance his own career and move ever closer to those in positions of power, on the other, Greenfield, like the overwhelming majority of television and print journalists in the US, is not likely to hesitate.

What social processes and conditions have created such people? They are the products, first, of the social gap that has widened over the past two decades under Reagan, Bush and Clinton. Prosperous and complacent, living in a different world than ordinary people, they are naturally hostile to the interests of the poor and the working class. They have consciously repudiated 1960s activism and turned their backs on opposition generally. They have the expectation, if they keep their noses clean, of greater and greater wealth and prestige. The watchwords are: Never stick your neck out! Respect every cliché! Repeat the obvious!

Intellectually, the media figures fear and despise serious analysis. They are ignorant of and lack interest in history. They don't see themselves as representatives of social or historical forces (although they are) and fail to recognize any such forces at work. Everything is reduced to small change—individual motive, the immediate ebb and flow of public opinion. Never a probing, complicated thought. Nothing disturbs them except signs of discontent. These people always put the best face on; the word “crisis” has been banned from their lexicon—they pretend or believe that the skies are always sunny and there is clear sailing ahead.

Mediocrities and self-important nobodies, the “senior analysts” and “chief correspondents” and assorted pundits and experts, without a shred of wit or wisdom between them, foresee nothing and prepare no one. Along with the rest of the ruling elite, they are unprepared for the turmoil to come. How will they react? One can only imagine.