It is a sad state of affairs when a movie actor must tell a group of assembled journalists that they missed the mark on covering a huge voting scandal in Florida’s 2000 presidential election. Speaking at the National Press Club on April 15, actor Tim Robbins exhorted the media to investigate why 50,000 mostly African-American voters were scrubbed from the electoral rolls before Election Day. Robbins added that there is a Pulitzer Prize out there for the journalist willing to step up and fully investigate the scandal.
The voter registration scandal involved a contract awarded by then-Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris to Data Base Technologies Online, later a subsidiary of ChoicePoint, a firm that has given generously to Republican coffers over the years. Afer examining the registration files, DBT identified 173,000 ineligible voters. However, at least 50,000 voters were groundlessly dropped from the voters’ rolls. So on Election Day, thousands of African-Americans, who would have voted for Al Gore, were told by Florida election officials they could not vote. It was as if Jim Crow returned to Florida after a long hiatus.
After Robbins challenged the press to investigate the election scam in Florida, National Press Club President Tammy Lytle, Washington Bureau Chief of the Orlando Sentinel, interrupted the actor, “As someone who represents a major Florida newspaper, I can tell you we looked into that.” Robbins, knowing he was being fed a plethora of equine excrement, responded, “Really, I’d like to read that.”
Robbins, of course, knows better. Robbins referred to the miserable status of American journalism when he cited the “Aussie rags” in the United States, a reference to Rupert Murdoch’s growing and more menacing media empire. The Orlando Sentinel would never investigate Bush family malfeasance anywhere or anytime. Its editorial staff could be shown glossy 8 x 10 photos of George W. or Jeb in bed with a dead woman or a live boy and the paper, a longtime shill for the Republican Party, would simply pass on the story. A newspaper that owes its very existence to the capital of American artificiality, Disney World, along its gaudy central Florida clones, is hardly capable of launching a major investigation of the mass and systematic disenfranchisement of African-American voters. In fact, the Sentinel’s readership, locked behind their splendid little gated communities or holed up in their sterile condominiums, would not stand for the paper rocking the boat by suggesting that Jeb Bush and his purported girlfriend, Katherine Harris, criminally conspired to throw Florida’s 25 electoral votes into George W. Bush’s column. The Sentinel has shown what kind of editorial “independence” it maintains by repeatedly endorsing — election after election — George H.W., George W., and Jeb Bush.
A prime example of the pitiful reporting of the Sentinel is its lead story in its April 16 issue–a puff piece on retired General Jay Garner, the Bush administration’s pro-consul of Iraq and a resident of one of central Florida’s paranoia-obsessed gated communities in Windermere. Nowhere in the article is there a mention of Garner’s conflict of interest with his current employer, L-3 Communications, Inc., a major defense contractor and provider of mercenaries through its MPRI subsidiary. Instead, the Sentinel refers to Garner as “a ‘country boy’ with a purpose.” And if that’s not sycophantic enough, the following is but one passage about Garner that would have made the Soviet-era editors of Pravda and Izvestia quite proud: “Harlan McCall, vice president of the senior class when Garner was president, played football with Garner. ‘Jay was competitive; he would go after what he wanted,’ McCall said. ‘But there was not a mean bone in his body.'” That’s really hard-hitting stuff.
The Sentinel failed to mention Garner’s close ties to the Israeli right-wing lobby through his past association with the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and with key figures in William Kristol’s Project for a New American Century, which advocates taking America’s next wars to the gates of Damascus, the center of Tehran, and beyond.
Tim Robbins also had some other cogent advice for journalists. He said journalists must be at the forefront of protecting America’s democracy. He also suggested that the next time Ari Fleischer calls on one of the favored journalists at a White House press briefing, he or she should pass the opportunity to ask a question to the banished “journalist du jour” in the back of the room. Excellent idea Mr. Robbins. Again, it is sad state of affairs when an actor has to tell the Fourth Estate what it must do to remain a vital part of America’s democratic equilibrium.
Tim Robbins spoke about the climate of fear that has swept the nation, a climate in which people are afraid to speak out against the President, his war, and his divisive policies. The American people are obviously taking their cue from a sheepish press that is best exemplified by glorified public relations circulars like the Orlando Sentinel.
But it not only the print media that Robbins was excoriating. He spoke of “19th Century Fox” and one of its stars, a former entertainment reporter, parading around as a no-spinning political sage. Robbins understands that what is billed as news on the three major cable news outlets is nothing more than propaganda churned out by Washington policy-laundering think tanks, retired military brass fronting for defense contractors, and scurrilous Republican Party operatives. Robbins said he didn’t know what candidate he would support in the next presidential election. Well, Tim, although we have had one actor as President, it would be entirely suitable to have another and one with independent thought and the ability to reason. If you decide to run, you’ve got my vote.
WAYNE MADSEN is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and columnist. He wrote the introduction to Forbidden Truth.
Madsen can be reached at: WMadsen777@aol.com