Sunday, May 16

Rogue Report

To listen to On the Media, click on the Terrette link to it.
On the Media, which can be heard on a number of NPR stations and accessed online, is a source of commentary on events relating to world media. It has followed closely the increased concentration in fewer and fewer hands the spectrum of media in the U.S. and its increasingly pro-war, right-wing, corporate nature. It came as a real surprise to me, then, that in their report "Enemy Jazeera?," On the Media does what cable or corporate news almost always does for its U.S. consumers, namely, give only the point of view of the current U.S. administration and present it largely uncritically. In this segment, On the Media interviews the director of strategic communications at the Coalition Provisional Authority, who complains about Al-Jazeera and goes as far as to lie in his counter charges (in particular, about the U.S. use of cluster bombs). The interviewer, On the Media's Managing Editor Brooke Gladstone, fails to challenge this false claim that the U.S. did not use cluster bombs.

I wrote two separate letters in complaint and present them below. (While neither of these was mentioned in their following program, they did cite a sentence or two from a letter of a listener whose response was similar in tone.)

Before posting the letters, let me point readers interested in On the Media to this compelling, general critique of the program.

[July 6. 2004 update: this last weekend, On the Media reached new depths of corporate-minded mediocrity by bashing Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 with the help of the ideologically driven Newsweek reporter Isikoff (who repeated his false claims) and by giving a defense of the Carlyle group with the help of its recently hired damage-control PR man.]

First letter:
Hello, On the Media e-mail reader,

I love your show. I had a problem, though, with the piece on Al-Jazeera, for the following reasons:

1) It didn't allow Al-Jazeera a rebuttal to the charges made with respect to specific cases.

2) It failed to take advantage of the glaring opportunity to ask Mr. Tappan to apply his 'truth matrix' for journalism to the obviously pro-Bush and often misleading Fox News (or--in what could have been truly interesting--to apply this same test without the consent or intervention of Mr. Tappan). How many misleading statements can Fox News make before representatives of the U.S. government speak against them? And can we possibly believe that lives are not in the balance, as well, in the misrepresentation of events and ideas offered up by Fox News?

3) It failed to question the basis on which Mr. Tappan or Colin Powell feels they are suited to criticize foreign press. Would either figure be willing to respond to Qatar reviews of U.S. media? Or of the state of public airwave access in the U.S.? If not, then this refusal should be taken into consideration when we weigh the significance of their opinions about televised press abroad.

4) It left the impression that the U.S. forces have not used cluster bombs (since that is the claim Tappan falsely made). It has been widely documented, by USA Today among other mainstream media, that the U.S. Army has used outdated cluster bombs in civilian areas that have had devastating effects on civilian populations.

Keep up the good work and please apologize for, or at least offer a supplementary report to, this sub-standard piece on Al-Jazeera. If your listeners want a U.S. military view of events in Iraq, they can turn on just about any other form of corporate media. Listeners of On the Media expect more rigor and broad-mindedness.

Second letter:
Dear On the Media:

Your segment "Enemy Jazeera?" was informative in reporting on the U.S.administration's diplomatic intervention in Qatar; however, it seemed to beg a much larger issue, which can be framed as follows:

It is hypocritical for Colin Powell and others representing the Bush administration to reprimand the Qatar government for its support of the public network Al-Jazeera when, in the view of media watchdog groups and observers of many political stripes, the state of the press in the United States is lamentable (and worsening year after year, with fewer and fewer choices, and more and more corporate-driven consent). Those who have access to Al-Jazeera and other channels of news have at their disposal a much wider spectrum of appreciation of the events going on in Iraq in particular than a large majority of citizens in the U.S. This is so whether or not it is true that, as Powell, Robert Tappan, or others contend, aspects of some reports done by Al-Jazeera have been blatantly false.

To see this hypocritical protest-lodging in its proper light, one has only to recall that reports from all the major U.S. networks--in many cases, relayed unfiltered from the White House --concerning "weapons of mass destruction" and "Iraq's posing an immanent threat to the United States"are known to have been blatantly false; nonetheless, Powell has yet to lodge an official complaint about this with either the chief executive, the Congress, or the FCC.

It would have improved your segment had you so framed this issue to Mr. Tappan. Moreover, it would have been in keeping with the spirit of "On the Media" not simply to relay the administration's view of a given media outlet.