Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Press Under House Arrest

In New Mexico we talk about how the Albuquerque Journal is the propaganda arm of the Republican governor's office and Republican mayor's office. The state's bigest newspaper wantonly slants its coverage of both of them, publishing articles that shield them from any bad news and refusing to ask them any hard questions.

John Milton
This kind of thing is not unique in the US. We have what we call a free press, constitutionally protected by what has evolved over time into the judicial principal of "no prior restraint". Our media can publish anything it wants to. Anything. It might be subject afterward to getting sued for things like libel or privacy invasion, but no court or government agency can prevent anything from being published. The courts have only allowed limited exceptions to this principle in times of war.  "Let truth and falsehood grapple," a quote from John Milton, is often used to justify our open press. I first heard that quote in a journalism law class - a judge had used it in a court decision in colonial times.

When our constitution was written, and for the country's first 150 years there were many competing newspapers. A town like Albuquerque would have had several newspapers, big cities a dozen or two. But most US newspapers have folded. Something like six corporations control something like 80 percent of media content -- newspapers, TV, movies, music, all of it.

The concentration of media ownership poses a threat not only to Democrats' blood pressure but to democracy, and all the civil rights and liberties necessary for it and commensurate with it, because truth and falsehood can't grapple. We now have just one paper here in Albuquerque. An evolving blogosphere and internet based alternative media threaten to even things out -- if, and only if, congress can be forced into resisting ongoing pressure from big businesses to privatize the internet. That is, if we get off our asses and put pressure on congress.

LA Times

A frightening story is emerging having to do with one of the country's most prestigious newspapers, the Los Angeles Times, where a political cartoonist was recently fired because the police union said so. The police union has that kind of power because it owns the Times -- rather, it owns $30 million worth of stock in the Tribune Company, which owns the LA Times, making it one of the LA Times' primary owners.

Ted Rall cartoon -
It's also an interesting case because the cartoonist, Ted Rall, is fighting back. He uncovered that about the union's ownership of the Times, but also about how the police lied to get him fired.

(Rall was interviewed about the case on the Counterpunch podcast and has written about it at his blog.)

It began when Rall wrote an LA Times blog post about an incident that happened 14 years ago, when a LA cop stopped him for jaywalking and proceeded to rough him up and handcuff  him, prompting several passersby to stop and criticize the police officer. The police saw the post and went back and dug up an audio tape of the arrest and gave it to the paper's editors. The paper fired Rall and even went to the unusual length of publishing a blurb saying Rall had been fired for lying in the paper and would never work for the Times again. The blub would have been a death knoll for Rall's career.

The problems was, in justifying why it was firing him an editor had emailed Rall a copy of the recording. When people who knew of Rall's work found out about him being fired, Rall says, several of them contacted him saying they were audio engineers and that they'd like to go over the recording, which is several seconds of clear audio followed by several minutes of street noise. When they cleaned it up, it backed up Rall's version of events. He's now trying to get his job back, and if he doesn't says he will go to court. He says the paper is ignoring him so far. Rall also thinks the cops who roughed him up should be fired for lying.

Rall's research led him to the police union's ownership of the paper. He says the police union, which has a huge pension fund, has deliberately embarked on a campaign of buying media stock; soon after buying a stake in the San Diego paper it got half that paper's editorial board fired, he says, for not being "police friendly."

The Imminent End Of Venezuela
"As the country’s economy goes from bad to worse, writers about Venezuela are running out of modifiers to describe the situation: imploding, reeling, collapsing."
If you follow Venezuela in the US media you know it will soon collapse under the weight of Socialism and Socialist mismanagement, probably before the end of the week. Venezuela's collapse has been being predicted since Hugo Chavez began taking Venezuela on a Socialist course not long after his first election in 1998. The quote at the beginning of this post is from a blog from January. Some of the headlines currently on my Google news page section on Venezuela are:

"Venezuela's disastrous course" (CNN)

"Venezuela's food shortage keeps getting worse" (Business Insider)

 "Venezuela is tilting toward a major social crises" (Business Insider)

"Venezuela congressional election: campaign amid chaos" (Miami Herald)

Venezuela is of course in the US government's sights for a number of reasons, but all are related to the Monroe Doctrine, the longstanding attitude of the US Capitalist ruling class that Latin America is supposed to be their feudal colony. Venezuela has been leading a movement to independence from US dominance in Latin America that has resulted in the region rejecting the Monroe Doctrine and building its own institutions of economic and security cooperation. The US government on behalf of US Capitalism is of course trying to subvert the movement and the US mainstream media has been their propaganda arm to that end.

The same goes on in US media coverage of Russia, China, or any other country that represents a challenge to US led Capitalist global hegemony. It reflects the narrative many of us adhere to that sees US actions on the international stage as benign and those of other countries as malignant. Fortunately there are alternative news sources quickly accessible on the internet now where they don't buy into such a narrative.

Note: Ted Rall, who besides his cartoon work has been a foreign correspondent and columnist, has just written a biography of Edward Snowden, due out August 25th, that goes into Snowden's formative years and also into how Snowden grappled with his obligations to the NSA and to the American public at large. It's on Amazon already. It says on his web site you can get an autographed copy from Rall, but that link isn't live yet. This is the cover:


  1. One wonders how many other stories are out there like Rall's or similar, and not publicized. I certainly didn't know that the police unions were buying stock in the newpapers......if you were an investment counselor that might not be suggested for economic reasons, so must be other factors at work, eh?

    30 years ago there were at least two papers each for Portland, Seattle and Anchorage. In each case, the more liberal of the two went out of business, The Journal, The Post-Intelligencer and the Alaska Daily News.
    Once, it's hard to believe, the San Francisco Chronicle was a very liberal paper. Now it is just pap.
    Oh, and the same things were being said about Cuba in the mid-sixties.

  2. That's an interesting dynamic, the more liberal papers failing, and is related to how American politics doesn't reflect majority American views, I suppose. The same with talk radio. Rush Limbaugh and clones prospered while Air America flopped. The answer is still obscure or the problem would have been solved.

    Thanks for the comment, Mike.