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Clarification: George W. Bush's proclamation of Al Qaeda as "not a problem anymore" was a reference to top Al Qaeda
operatives, not the entire organization. (06/04/03)

With the June 2 vote by the Federal Communications Commission on a series of rule changes that would dramatically reshape the nation's media landscape rapidly approaching, it is abundantly clear that honest players in the debate have determined that making the changes would spell disaster for democratic discourse, cultural diversity and the public interest that the FCC is supposed to defend.

More than 100 members of Congress – ranging from Congressional Progressive Caucus stalwarts such as Vermont's Bernie Sanders and Ohio's Sherrod Brown to Congressional Black Caucus veterans such as Michigan's John Conyers and New York's Charles Rangel to Republican moderates such as Maine U.S. Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, as well as diehard conservatives such as U.S. Senators Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, and Wayne Allard, R-Colorado –have objected to the FCC's rush to eliminate rules that protect against media monopoly and corporate consolidation. Leaders of the AFL-CIO, the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, the National Council of La Raza, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union and dozens of other public interest groups have signed letters demanding that the FCC seek more public comment before making decisions that they argue "could have a sweeping impact on what news and information Americans see and hear in the future." The Newspaper Guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the National Association of Broadcasting Employees and Technicians, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, the Caucus for Producers, Writers and Directors, the American Federation of Musicians and the Future of Music Coalition have all warned that making the changes could undermine American journalism and culture. Close to 300 leading academics have come forward to say that the FCC is moving too quickly and without legitimate scholarship on these crucial rulemaking decisions. Rockers Pearl Jam, Tom Petty and Patti Smith have joined the chorus of concern, along with conservative columnist William Safire and the National Rifle Association, and the city councils of Chicago and Seattle, the Vermont House of Representatives. And public comments to the FCC have been running 20-1 against making changes that would allow the nation's largest media companies to control virtually all television, radio and newspaper communications in American communities.

Against such overwhelming opposition, what could it be that is driving the FCC to press forward with the June 2 vote? The answer may be found in a blockbuster report just released by the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, which details how industry groups the FCC is supposed to be regulating have over the past eight years paid for more than 2,500 junkets taken by key FCC officials.

In the 1998 film Wag the Dog, political operatives employ special editing techniques to create phony footage that will engender public sympathy for a manufactured war.

At a forum in Iowa this past Saturday, organized by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, most of the Dems angling for their party's nomination finally challenged Bush on his record in fighting terrorism abroad and protecting Americans at home. Bush's opponents need to keep asking American citizens if they feel safer now after the invasion of Iraq? I don't.

Look at the record: Al-Qaeda regrouping, warlords running Afghanistan, Iraq sliding into lawlessness, no sign of those weapons of mass destruction, and the gutting of homeland security funding. Isn't this what any sane person would call a failed national security policy?

It's also time to challenge Terry McAuliffe, Chair of the Democratic National Committee, who earlier this year urged that "the war...not be on the ballot in 2004." But why should Dems cede national security when even Karl Rove has all but admitted that Bush is vulnerable on the issue? It's also time to take on the corporate wing of the party, the Democratic Leadership Council--or, as Jesse Jackson used to call it, the Democratic Leisure Class.

This article is an expanded version of Stephen F. Cohen's commentary in the May 5 issue.

Asian and the Arab protesters continue to call for a boycott of American goods.

While the Administration denies media reports that it has given US forces in Iraq the go-ahead to shoot looters on sight, Donald Rumsfeld, testifying last week before the Senate Appropriations Committee, promised that US forces will be "using muscle" to contain the looting. Rumsfeld also called for patience, saying of Iraq: "We can't make it like the United States in five minutes, and we know that."

Some good Senator should have asked Rumsfeld about the looting going on in Washington, DC. Politically-connected corporations with close ties to the Bush Administration are arranging lucrative contracts to rebuild Iraq. (Bechtel has a contract worth up to $700 million and the Halliburton subsidiary has been authorized to take profits of up to $490 million.) And where was the Senator to point out how singularly ill-suited the Bush Administration is to the task of rebuilding Iraq?

Bush Inc.--the most resolutely anti-government Administration since before the New Deal--is brazenly indifferent to the rebuilding--or even the maintaining--of the United States. So Rumsfeld & Co's idea of making Iraq like the US may not take as much time as they think--if it means gutting the infrastructure of a country, while looting its treasury (and oil wealth) to line the pockets of war-profiteering corporations.

The Peace Corps is feeling the fallout from Bush Administration policies.

Sociologist Herbert Gans has a good idea. "What if the news media reported the best of the monologue material as well as the currently circulating political jokes and connected them with the news stories that inspired them?"

After all, as Gans reminds us in his new book Democracy and the News, many people, particularly those between eighteen and thiry-five, get much of their news from late-night comedy hosts like Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and Jon Stewart, of Comedy Central's The Daily Show (recently described by Susan Douglas in The Nation as "the medically prescribed antidote to CNN and Fox.")

Here's a joke I'd like to see connected to the news stories that inspired it. It's from one of my favorite comedians--Chris Rock:

Introducing a new feature of this web column: Campaign Contortions '04.

Politicians often find themselves in tight spots. They have to take stands ...

This week, all true movie lovers will rush to see a violent and
fantastic special-effects thriller, in which a character endowed with
uncanny powers rips through the veil of illusion that is no

Is José Saramago an anti-Semite?

In its first issue after the fall of the World Trade Center, The New
Yorker
published a handful of short reaction pieces by John Updike,
Jonathan Franzen and others about the horror that

On February 26 the small town of Moscow, Idaho, saw more commotion than
it had since a truck camper exploded in a vacant lot last September.
While the town was still sleeping, two military plan

Is this the new McCarthyism?

The failure to provide for postwar needs has deepened distrust of US intentions.

Few traditions are more American than freedom of speech and the right to
dissent.

Americans who oppose the Cheney-Bush junta demonstrate sanity, not cowardice.

So the right-wing journalist John Fund may not be a model citizen, but
contrary to the implications of many left journalists and gossip
columnists, he's likely not the kind of guy who pretends

I wish it had been sex, maybe some of that hot "man on dog" action that
Senator Rick Santorum is so keen on chatting about. But let me not be
picky.

Congratulations to the Nation circulation staff, Art Stupar,
Michelle O'Keefe and Inga Knets, who have won a Gold Award from
Circulation Management magazine.