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 ‘Guantanamo’

More Bush-league antics: Did administration knowingly lock up innocents to play politics?

Posted by James McPherson on April 9, 2010

New revelations about the ongoing international embarrassment that is Guantanamo:  The Times of London today reports, “George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror.”

The claim is made by Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and because Wilkerson has been a regular critic of the Bush administration his account will (and should) be questioned. Still, according to the newspaper, Wilkerson maintains that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld “knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was ‘politically impossible to release them.'”

Once again we’re left to wonder if the most dangerous post-9/11 war criminals were those who had offices in the White House.

Sadly, if Bush administration abuses are ever considered by the same Supreme Court that put Bush in office in the first place, the sole remaining real liberal on the court–Justice John Paul Stevens–will be gone.

It is a sad reflection of how far federal politics has shifted to the right, despite the fantasies of Glenn Beck and assorted Tea Party Mad Hatters, that the most liberal member of the court is someone who was appointed by Republican Gerald Ford. Sadder still is that a president whom loonies now claim to be a “socialist,” despite the fact that Barack Obama is more probably conservative than Richard Nixon, is the “liberal” who will get to try to replace Stevens.

At least the conservatives who will reflexively fight the nomination (and if Obama were to nominate Rush Limbaugh, those conservatives would suddenly be screaming that Limbaugh was “too liberal”) cannot hope to credibly claim that they don’t want “activist judges,” if they’ve paid any attention to Supreme Court decisions of the past few years.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Beating the Bushies to investigate war crimes

Posted by James McPherson on March 29, 2009

Those of us who believe that the Bush administration should be convicted of war crimes might be heartened by a Spanish judge’s order to investigate whether Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo and others should face charges, especially since the judge in question is the same one who issued an arrest warrant for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet more than a decade ago.

Unfortunately, though Pinochet was arrested, he died without being convicted of any crimes, still a millionaire from the proceeds of his evildoing. I suspect the same–though without the arrests–will be true of senior Bush administration officials. After all, I can’t see Barack Obama–who has already been following too much of the Bush strategy (including the use of independent contractors to supplement American troops) in international affairs–endorsing the Spanish judge’s actions.

Obama likely will ignore the issue, just as he has been creatively ignoring tough press questions while pretending to provide unprecedenced access, even if an investigation finds what already seems to be obvious–that actions at Guantanamo and much of the rest of the Bush administration “war on terrorism” violated international laws.

Since as a nation we selectively concern ourselves with human rights abuses in countries that we see some reason to demonize or invade (Iraq, perhaps Iran, sometimes Libya), but ignore those abuses elsewhere (Saudi Arabia, China, Darfur, sometimes Libya), I doubt that the Bush/Cheney underlings will be called to account.

Even less likely is that Bush and Cheney themselves will be held accountable for their crimes. Congress, mindful of how the Clinton impeachment circus went over–while forgetting that important investigations such as Watergate and the Church Committee actually increased respect for Congress–remains largely gutless and clueless.

The one hope for justice might be if a declining press suddenly figured out that a way to save themselves might be to somehow make themselves relevant again by serving as a voice and guardian for the American people (and people elsewhere, for that matter). By bringing enough attention to the issue, and investigating the Bush administration’s false claims in a way that they failed to do before the Iraq War began, the media might bring enough pressure to prompt the sort of  investigation that would send the weasels to jail–or at least scurrying to countries from which they couldn’t be retrieved.

In other words,  if those in charge of news media–along with those of us who care about democracy–would do more in the words of Poynter’s Roy Peter Clarke to “feed the watchdog, euthenize the lapdog.” But I suspect the media will continue to mostly roll over and play dead–until they’re no longer playing.

The one bright potential bright spot: As mainstream media continue to abdicate their watchdog role until most of them finally sink largely unnoticed beneath the waves, perhaps more people will find their way to sources such as the Nation and Mother Jones.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Congress approving digital delay that few want?

Posted by James McPherson on January 27, 2009

After last night’s unanimous Senate vote, the House of Representatives will take “emergency action” to vote on a bill to delay the switch to digital television from Feb. 17 until June 12. The House vote may come as early as later today, though I suspect ongoing stimulus talks and other issues (which fortunately included passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act) will delay it until tomorrow or later this week. So much for the idea that interest groups and lobbyists have all the power in Washington, since students and I learned first-hand last week that representatives for several powerful groups actually oppose the delay to digital.

The “emergency” aspect of the House action is somewhat humorous, since the switch to digital has been scheduled for more than a decade and those of use with cable or satellite hookups probably won’t be seriously affected (though even we may need an extra cable box or experience a slight  increase in the number of neighbors who want to watch football games at our houses). A January startup date previously had been moved to Feb. 17 after legislators realized what might happen if the switch screwed up people’s Super Bowl viewing or messed with the plans of advertisers, who will pay up to $3 million for 30 seconds of advertising during the game. No, that’s not a joke–at least three experts we spoke with in New York and Washington, D.C., verified the Super Bowl-related reasoning behind the February date.

I don’t know the significance of the June 12 date, which among other things happens to be George H.W. Bush’s 85th birthday, the 70th birthday of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the 22nd anniversary of the date Ronald Reagan urged Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” and the 15th anniversary of when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered (an event that came 27 years to the day after the Supreme Court struck down state laws against interracial marriages, suggesting that O.J. may have an odd way of celebrating key anniversaries).

Regardless of the date, the Nielsen ratings folks are concerned about the switch to digital, as Dave Thomas, president of Global Media Client Services of the company, noted when we met him two weeks ago. He estimated that 5 to 6 percent of viewers are “completely unprepared” for the switch (despite the fact that as National Association of Broadcasters executive VP Marcellus Alexander told us last week, more than $1 billion has been spent on industry advertising warning viewers that “you may need a converter box” if your TV is too old and you don’t have cable or satellite television).

“What’s troubling is that it’s not going to fall evenly,” Thomas noted about the people who will be left without television. Young people, the elderly and poor people will be most likely to suffer problems, and not nearly enough cost-reducing coupons have been set aside for people who need converter boxes. I don’t know how much the problem might be aggravated by people like me who got converter boxes despite already having cable, just in case a natural disaster or the desire to watch a baseball game while camping forces me to rely on older, non-digital technology.

A bigger problem will be that some people won’t have signals even with their new converter boxes, as we were reminded last week by Seth Morrison, senior VP of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing. On the digital transition issue, members of CTAM–who naturally (but not “officially”) want everyone to switch to cable, anyway–find themselves in rare agreement with the National Association of Broadcasters in opposing the delay, in large part because in the meantime broadcasters and cable companies are paying to transmit both digital and traditional analog signals.

Paula Kerger, the president and CEO of PBS, told our group last Friday (and apparently told the Associated Press a few days later) that a four-month extension would cost PBS stations more than $22 million in extra transmission costs. Coincidentally, just a few minutes into our meeting, she had to leave the room to take a call from Senator Jay Rockefeller, the sponsor of the bill (favored by Barack Obama) to delay the transition to digital.

“It sounds like they won’t extend the date,” Kerger said when she returned, indicating that there didn’t seem to be enough Senate votes to force the extension. Assuming that Rockefeller wasn’t intentionally misleading Kerger, just three days later the tide shifted dramatically to make the vote for the extension unanimous, while illustrating another Kerger point: “The conversion has not been well managed.”

On the other hand, as more and more Americans find themselves without work, at least the delay will let more of those people spend their suddenly free time watching the antics of politicians and thieving financial fat cats, so viewers can better understand just how screwed they really are.

Incidentally, for tonight’s viewing I recommend FRONTLINE/World on PBS, which starts a new season with stories about Guantanamo prisoners, the Italian Mafia and Barack Obama’s Brazilian appeal.

Posted in Education, History, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Thanksgiving reminders from the world’s most famous journalist and Deepak Chopra

Posted by James McPherson on November 27, 2008

One of the many hopes of those who voted for Barack Obama is that the embarrassment of Guantanamo might be closed. One of the very few benefits of Guantanamo, and of prisons in general, is the occasional glimpses of light cast on the humanity and hope of even the most destitute.

Cup poems,” words scratched with pebbles into Styrofoam, offer one example. Perhaps none of the writings offered in one collection are great poetry, and one Amazon reviewer writes about the book of collected poems: “This is not poetry. It’s a political agenda chopped up into lines.” But for me, that raises the eternal question of what makes poetry great.

I would put such things as timeless truths and important questions high on the list. Great poems also must include beautiful, or at least creative, use of language, and that may be where the collection falls short. Still, there are lines worth considering as we reflect today on what we are most thankful for, including these words from the “world’s most famous journalist,: Sami al-Hajj:

They have monuments to liberty

And freedom of opinion, which is well and good.

But I explained to them

That architecture is not justice.

Speaking of architecture, in January I will visit Ground Zero and the Statue of Liberty for the first time. I’ve been thankful since the presidential election that the loss of the World Trade Center hasn’t quite managed to make Lady Liberty irrelevant.

Yet I also realize that despite the warnings of folks such as Deepak Chopra, yesterday’s unfortunate attacks and ongoing hostage situation in India (for which, despite hundreds of casualties, CNN felt obligated to provide a story headlined “Terrified Westerners describe Mumbai chaos” and a link to a separate story titled “Nashville woman hurt in Mumbai attacks”) make it likely that some will want to renew the same kind of policies that led to Guantanamo.

As we prepare to raise our own cups, let us be thankful on this day–but let us also pray for wisdom.

Next day update: While American media, including CNN, Fox News and The New York Times, bring the issue home by focusing stores on the Americans killed or injured in Mumbai–and Fox “terror expert” Walid Phares asks, “Are we at war, or not?” and argues that “the Jihadists are winning,” while Fox columnist John Avlon argues, “The war that was indelibly declared on September 11, 2001 continues unabated , not just against the U.S. but worldwide … ultimately a war between civilization and the terrorists”–Al-Jazeera again is left to remind us of the broader perspective, that the attacks are raising indigation around the world.

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

Have you ever heard of the “world’s most famous journalist”?

Posted by James McPherson on May 28, 2008

A column by Sabin Willett (an attorney for a firm that has represented Guantanamo prisoners) in today’s Miami Herald, reprinted by CommonDreams.org, illustrates why so many Americans are clueless about this nation’s standing in the rest of the world. “The world’s most famous journalist isn’t Peter Arnett or Bob Woodward or Carl Bernstein or Dan Rather,” Willett writes. “His name is Sami al-Hajj. Chances are you’ve never heard of him. That should worry you.”

Willett points out that al-Hajj, a TV cameraman from Sudan, was recently released without comment after years in Guantanamo–years in which “al-Jazeera followed his odyssey day by day” while “most Americans never saw his photograph in mainstream American newspapers or heard about him on television.” I’ve attached YouTube clips (more than 23 minutes, or about the length of a full nightly news broadcast in this country) of al-Jazeera’s “Inside Story” coverage of the al-Hajj case and world Press Freedom Day below. A quick search of the New York Times archives for al-Hajj’s name reveals a total of 12 results, only two of those news story focusing on al-Hajj–a four-paragraph story in September 2002 with the lead, “A reporter for the Arab satellite station Al Jazeera is being held at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, suspected of having links with the terror network of Al Qaeda, according to a statement issued by the station,” and then one reporting his release earlier this month.

The press did pay a bit more attention a couple of weeks ago to the government’s decision to drop charges against Mohammed al-Qahtani, the supposed “20th hijacker,” after al-Qahtani’s information apparently was deemed worthless in part because he was tortured (supporting John McCain’s early criticism of torture, before he voted to allow more of it). To the surprise of no one who closely follows the media, the charges against al-Qahtani were dropped on a Friday so that American press coverage would be limited.

Willett is justifiably critical of the U.S. news media in the case of the Sudanese cameraman, noting that while they could not have known whether al-Hajj was a journalist or a terrorist, they “should have been shouting from the rooftops about al-Hajj–demanding evidence, a trial, the truth. But our press was silent.” Willett also suggests that the press silence may be a harbinger of ineptitude to come:

Today the war drums are rumbling again, this time for Iran. Will our press stand its post, or pick up the pom-poms of 2002 and 2003?

The omens aren’t good. The most famous journalist in the world was imprisoned by Americans, without charge, for almost seven years–was beaten, isolated, humiliated, force-fed, relentlessly interrogated and then quietly released. And you never heard about him.

Al-Hajj claims he was tortured while in American custody, that he was interrogated more than 130 times, and that his keepers wanted him to go to work for the U.S. “They wanted me to betray the principles of my job and turn me into a spy,” he said. “It was made clear to me later that the main goal behind my detention was to detain the journalist who reveals the truth.”

We have no way of knowing whether al-Hajj is telling the truth, of course. But part of the reason we don’t know is because the American press never bothered to investigate.  And if they won’t investigate the case of a fellow journalist, what are the odds they’ll examine any of the other almost 800 other people sent to Guantanamo?

Al-Jazeera’s “Inside Story” on Sami al-Hajj (2 parts)

 

Posted in Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »