FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Talking Back to Bill O’Reilly

by DIANE FARSETTA

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

Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
Osha Neumann
A White Guy Watches “The Black Panther”
Stephen Cooper
Rebel Talk with Nattali Rize: the Interview
David Yearsley
Market Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail