It’s hard to choose which deserves the coarser jeer: the excited baying in the press about the nondiscovery of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or the wailing about the 3-to-2 decision of the Federal Communications Commission in early June to allow corporate media giants to increase their domination of the market.
Actually, they’re all part of the same bundle of nonsense, and if we meld the two, we’re left with the following absurd proposition, most eagerly promoted by Democrats to impart the impression that only greedy Republicans are serfs of the corporate media titans, and that the Telecommunications “Reform” Act of 1996 was actually a well-intended effort to return the airwaves to We the People.
The absurd proposition: Before the June 2 FCC ruling unleashed darkness upon the land, we were afforded diversity of choice and a multiplicity of analyses, not just from hole-in-the-wall operations like Pacifica or satellite-based LINKS TV but from the journalistic mainstream. But now, after the FCC decision, these voices will soon be stilled. We are entering the era of Big Brother.
You think I’m joking? Here’s what one of the two Democratic FCC commissioners, Michael Copps, said before the vote, with his grand words now approvingly quoted by liberal editorial writers and pundits: “Today the Federal Communications Commission empowers America’s new media elite with unacceptable levels of influence over the ideas and information upon which our society and our democracy so heavily depend. The decision we five make today will recast our entire media landscape for years to come. At issue is whether a few corporations will be ceded enhanced gatekeeper control over the civil dialogue of our country; more content control over our music, entertainment and information; and veto power over the majority of what our families watch, hear and read.”
Now, didn’t this happen, oh, forty, fifty, maybe seventy years ago? Of course it did. All that happened on June 2 is that things got slightly worse, but not to any degree instantly apparent to the long-suffering national audience.
The press is now happily passing the buck to the intelligence services, quoting former analysts from the CIA and DIA complaining that scholarly objectivity collapsed in the face of political pressure. We’re shocked, shocked!
Intelligence services invariably succumb in the face of political bullying. But it didn’t matter that the CIA and DIA were cowed by the wild men in Rumsfeld’s DoD, who said Iraq was still bristling with WMDs. Any enterprising news editor could have found (and some did) plenty of solid evidence to support the claim that Saddam had destroyed his WMDs; that he had no alliance with Al Qaeda.
In the run-up to the attack on Iraq, the worst journalistic outrages came in two publications at the supposed pinnacle of the profession: the New York Times, which recycled the Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi’s agenda through its reporter Judith Miller; and The New Yorker, which printed Jeffrey Goldberg’s nonsense about the Saddam/Al Qaeda “connection.” That was no consequence of media concentration, or the perversion of intelligence analysis by political priorities.
Simply on the grounds of common sense about the prejudices of his reporter and her source, Howell Raines, executive editor of the Times, should have told Miller to qualify her stories. David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, could have as easily punched holes in Goldberg’s story. Instead, they delightedly hyped shoddy journalism that played a far greater role in the White House’s propaganda blitz than the performance of the cowed CIA and DIA.
It’s easy to be right after the event. It took real fiber to stand out against the war party when it was in full cry. The bulk of the mainstream press failed dismally in its watchdog role, and a little more forthrightness about this failure would be welcome indeed. But can we expect the hounds of war, like Tim Russert, to apologize? Of course not. Some senator will probably, sometime soon, grill the CIA’s George Tenet and the other intelligence chiefs who failed in the hour of need, but Russert, or Miller, or Raines, or Remnick, or Punch Sulzberger? Never.
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US District Judge Charles Breyer sentenced Ed Rosenthal on June 4 to one day in prison on each of three counts, stemming from his conviction earlier this year for supplying medical marijuana under license by the City of Oakland. Breyer also fined him $1,000 and then freed him.
Rosenthal could have gone to prison for up to twenty years. His family and supporters went to court in San Francisco with a best-case scenario that Rosenthal would get a medium-term sentence and then be freed pending appeal. The one-day sentence was unexpected and shows the political effect of the popular uproar after Rosenthal’s conviction and after six of the jurors publicly apologized to him for convicting him after Breyer had prevented them from hearing the full background of the case.
As a member of the liberal elite (and brother of US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer), Breyer had no particular appetite for public opprobrium. Having insured Rosenthal’s conviction, Breyer now walks him and hands the future of California’s medical marijuana law to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is already considering the issue. Breyer will now be applauded for magnanimity. But the law still stands, and the federal onslaught on medical marijuana providers without the public reputation of Rosenthal continues. There are plenty of people in prison for far, far longer than a day.
Rosenthal’s appeal will go forward, as part of the fight for states’ rights and the legitimacy of California’s Prop 215, which legalized medical marijuana back in 1996. But we’re only at the beginning of a long-term political struggle, and at the cutting edge of that struggle will be rebellious juries setting the law aside and consulting their conscience. Only they can save the Feds’ next targets.