FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Talking Back to Bill O’Reilly

As Paul Schmelzer wrote on the Minnesota Independent website, “There were two National Conferences on Media Reform in Minneapolis over the weekend: the one I attended and the one Bill O’Reilly, Juan Williams and Fox News talking head Mary Catherine Ham didn’t.”

O’Reilly’s show tried to manufacture controversy about the conference, which I and others from the Center for Media and Democracy attended. But before addressing that, how about some real news on a genuinely controversial issue?

During Sunday’s closing plenary, FCC Commissioner and fake news foe Jonathan Adelstein pledged to push for multiple thorough investigations of the Pentagon military analyst program. So far, the Pentagon’s Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, have launched inquiries into the Defense Department’s secret cultivation of military pundits. But those investigations aren’t enough.

Real Accountability Starts with Real Investigations

Judging by the GAO’s past decisions on government-funded video news releases — which it ruled were illegal propaganda unless their source were made clear — the GAO’s investigation will likely be vigorous, rooted in historical and legal precedent … and ignored by the Bush Administration.

Not surprisingly, there’s less reason to believe that the Pentagon will do a good job of investigating itself. After all, it was the Pentagon Inspector General’s office that OK’d paying foreign journalists “to write articles and commentary supporting military activities in Europe and Africa.” According to the Inspector General’s office, it’s not a problem that these “reports” appear on websites that are easily accessed by people in the United States. It’s also not a problem that these websites hide the disclosure that they’re funded by the U.S. government. It’s so unproblematic, in fact, that more military-funded “news” websites are now being launched for other regions of the globe. The military considers these websites part of their wartime “information operations,” but seems unconcerned that the propaganda may be reaching U.S. residents and undermining journalistic principles around the world.

The Pentagon pundit program is serious business. From early 2002 until the April 2008 New York Times exposé on the program, Allison Barber and other Defense Department flacks did their best to turn some 75 media analysts into Pentagon “message multipliers.” The program was explicitly designed to shape U.S. public opinion on such vital issues as the Iraq War, the Guantanamo Bay detention center and warantless wiretapping of U.S. residents.

Before there can be real accountability for the Pentagon pundit program, real investigations need to happen — not a strong but toothless ruling and not a whitewash of what happened. That’s why Commissioner Adelstein publicly called for “a real and thorough investigation” by the Federal Communications Commission and by the U.S. Justice Department.

The Pentagon pundit program may have violated the FCC’s restrictions on payola, according to Commissioner Adelstein. The payola rules, he explained (pdf), “require broadcast and cable stations to exercise reasonable diligence in determining whether a disclosure is needed for materials involving controversial issues of public importance. Were any questions even asked? This is not just a question of journalist ethics and integrity. It is the law. The war in Iraq is clearly a controversial issue of public importance.”

Noting that “it took the FCC over two and a half years to issue a citation” in the Armstrong Williams payola pundit case, Adelstein stressed that “this investigation need not, and should not, take that long.”

Adelstein also called on the Justice Department to determine whether the Pentagon pundit program violated federal anti-propaganda laws. “Congress has specifically outlawed the use of federal funds for covert propaganda,” he said. “The GAO determined that the ‘critical element’ of covert propaganda is the concealment of the agency’s role in preparing the material from the target audience. … The federal anti-propaganda and payola laws are grounded on the principle that the public is entitled to know who seeks to persuade them so they can make up their own minds about the credibility of the information presented.”

And Now, for Something Completely Different

Unfortunately, Adelstein’s call for rigorous investigations by the FCC and Justice Department hasn’t received much attention. Fellow Commissioner Michael Copps did tell Democracy Now! that “the FCC has been requested by powerful members of Congress to conduct an investigation” into the Pentagon pundit program, which Copps decried as a symptom of “the military-industrial-big-media complex.”

The Free Press media reform conference addressed many important issues — in addition to the Pentagon pundit program, attendees discussed media justice, net neutrality, community involvement with local broadcast outlets, international human rights, and the power and limitations of new media platforms. But Fox News provided a distorted, issue-free look at the event. The day after the conference ended, Bill O’Reilly, Juan Williams and Mary Catherine Ham — none of whom attended the event — derided attendees as “stridently anti-American,” “fascists,” and the “lunatic left.”

Most amusing for us here at the Center for Media and Democracy was O’Reilly’s inclusion of a short video clip featuring our own office and outreach manager, Sari Williams. Sari appears about half a minute into the segment, telling O’Reilly to kiss her ass. It was a joke made at the last media reform conference, in January 2007.

Asked if she stood by her now-famous soundbite, Sari said, “What else can you say to the man? You can’t sit there and debate him. He’s not going to engage in a meaningful dialogue, just a pugilistic rant.”

Fair (and balanced) enough.

DIANE FARSETTA is the Center for Media and Democracy’s senior researcher. She participated in the “stridently anti-American” National Conference on Media Reform in Minneapolis, on a panel titled, “The Changing Role of Media Critics.” She can be reached at: diane@prwatch.org

 

Your Ad Here
 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

DIANE FARSETTA is the Center for Media and Democracy’s senior researcher. She can be reached at: diane@prwatch.org

December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail