James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘FBI’

Is the worshipper beside you a heathen–or a spy?

Posted by James McPherson on March 20, 2009

Imagine the outcry if it were discovered that the Obama administration were sending spies into conservative Christian churches.

No, as far as I know, that hasn’t happened. But 10 Muslim organizations say the FBI has been infiltrating mosques–that the agency “has sent undercover agents posing as worshippers into mosques, pressured Muslims to become informants, labeled civil rights advocates as criminals and spread misinformation.”

Perhaps coincidentally, the report comes on the same day that Barack Obama used a video message to try to reach out to the Islamic nation of Iran: “The message is a dramatic shift in tone from that of the Bush administration, which included Iran, along with North Korea and Iraq, in an ‘axis of evil,'” CNN noted. “It also echoes Obama’s inaugural speech, in which he said to the Muslim world, ‘we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.'”

That respect is more likely to come if the government isn’t seen as an enemy of Islam–already a difficult message to carry forward with our consistent support of Israel. I’m not criticizing all of that support, but it does make relations with some Islamic countries more complicated.

Of course maybe we should be spying on Muslims–why should those suspicious peace-loving Quakers be the only religious group considered a threat?

Posted in History, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , | 19 Comments »

Don’t bother to ask; they won’t bother to tell: FOIA and other Bush-league presidential stats

Posted by James McPherson on December 8, 2008

A lot of people want answers from and about the Bush administration. Most of those question probably will go unanswered.

ProPublica’s Kristen Jones offers some numbers on the George W. Bush presidency, and invites readers to contribute other meaningful stats. One of the most depressing stats for me was that Freedom of Information Act requests increased almost tenfold, from 2.2 million in 2000 to 21.8 million in 2007, thanks largely to a combination of war, corruption and secrecy (my conclusion, not Jones’)–but the number of people available to respond to those requests actually dropped by nine, to 5,367.

Considering it took more than two years and the intervention of a U.S. Senator to get my FOIA request for information from the FBI about an anti-nuclear activist granted several years ago, I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that my later request for more information apparently disappeared altegether. (I decided to work on something else, instead–and maybe that was the point of the repeated delays, though I suspect it’s a combination of too much work and too little interest on the part of those in the bureaucracy.)

There are a number of non-surprising statistical lowlights. Bush has been bad for the economy and the environment. The number of federal contracts went up, but the percentage of contracts open to competitive bids dropped from 44 percent to 33 percent. Investigation of white-collar crimes dropped dramatically, as did FDA concerns about pharmaceutical advertising law violations. The number of illegal immigrants deported tripled, however.

In an apparent attempt to look more Reaganesque, Bush bought his Texas ranch just before running for president, so it also may be surprising that Bush has already managed to spend far more time on his ranch than Reagan did as president (483 days to 335). Think how much more damage he might have done if he hadn’t spent more than 15 percent of his presidency in Texas. Barack Obama wouldn’t have time to reverse it all–assuming he wants to do so, of course, which isn’t certain, considering his appointments and apparent war policy thus far.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Bush administration uses anthrax to kill American soldiers, Iraqis, civil liberties

Posted by James McPherson on August 1, 2008

An Army scientist who may have mailed anthrax to various news organizations and government officials in 2001 is dead of an apparent suicide. (Despite the fact that he was reportedly a committed Catholic, for whom I think suicide would have been a mortal sin, letters to the editor show that he was obviously confused.) Though friends and family claim that Bruce E. Ivins was innocent and the victim of FBI harassment, he also had been accused recently of having “a history dating to his graduate days of homicidal threats, actions, plans, threats & actions towards therapist.”

Perhaps I’ve just watched too many episodes of “The X-Files,” “Prison Break” and similar programs, but If the accusation about long-time violent tendencies is true, one might wonder why Ivins was allowed to work in Army biodefense labs–WITH ANTHRAX, FOR GOD’S SAKE–for EIGHTEEN FREAKING YEARS! One would hope it was merely oversight or stupidity and not related in any way to all the help Ivins allegedly gave the Bush administration in its efforts to curb civil liberties in America and start a war in Iraq.

Perhaps no one has covered the anthrax issue better than Glenn Greenwald, who today offers another detailed and thought-provoking piece (one of a series of such stories). As Greenwald writes, “It was anthrax–sent directly into the heart of the country’s elite political and media institutions, to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt), NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, and other leading media outlets–that created the impression that social order itself was genuinely threatened by Islamic radicalism.” Greenwald previously has pointed out that ABC played a significant role in the false impression that Saddam Hussein and Iraq may have been involved in the anthrax attacks.

I have suggested to many people over the years (though not previously in writing), that if the culprit was ever found, he or she would likely be someone or strongly sympathetic to–if not associated with–the Bush administration. I did note a couple of years ago in my first book that the anthrax scare came just before Congress was asked to pass the USA PATRIOT Act. You’ll notice that the targeted Congressmen were somewhat liberal members of Congress, who might some might have expected to opposed the administration’s attempts to run roughshod over civil liberties. Apparently the terrorist neglected to send an envelope to Russ Feingold, the only Senator to oppose the act (which passed 357-66 in the House).

Many aspects of the Patriot Act had been proposed before 9/11, but Congress hurried to push it through in October 2001, just after the anthrax mailings. President George W. Bush created the Office of Homeland Security at about the same time, and began a concerted effort to link Hussein and Iraq to anthrax and other weapons of mass destruction. John McCain made the same connection: thinkprogress has video.

Perhaps the anthrax culprit has been identified, is dead, and is no longer a threat. But so far the 2001 anthrax scare has helped kill thousands of American soldiers, tens of thousands of Iraqis, and American civil liberties.

AUGUST 3 UPDATE: Greenwald continues his excellent coverage of the issue, asking important questions about journalists’ knee-jerk protection of even obviously dishonest government sources.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »