Monday, July 16, 2007

Judge Orders Release of Police Data

The Community Media Workshop at Columbia College reports that while the Chicago City Council is considering an ordinance to increase transparency in the police department's handling of misconduct complaints, the city government is fighting an order by a federal judge to release data on police abuse.

The city has until today (July 16) to appeal Judge Joan Lefkow's ruling -- or release the data.
Read the full article here -- []

Friday, July 13, 2007

Media mogul guilty: Chicago jury

One-time media tycoon Conrad Black illegally kept money that should have gone to stockholders of Hollinger International, committed mail fraud, and obstructed justice, according to a federal jury, which announced its verdict on Friday the 13th.

Three other ex-Hollinger execs also were convicted. Black was acquitted on nine other charges.

Black faces up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine, according to an Associated Press report today in the Chicago Sun-Times – which Hollinger used to own.

“The conviction signaled an increasing trend of aggressive U.S. government pursuit of senior corporate executives, following the Enron, Tyco and WorldCom scandals, and to hold top executives personally accountable for their companies' actions,” wrote the AP’s Mike Robinson.

Elsewhere, the Wall Street Journal used a few grafs that didn’t appear in the Sun-=Times’ version of the wire-service report:

“Legal observers had speculated that some kind of verdict -- or a hung jury -- was imminent after jurors sent a note to U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve on Tuesday saying they had "discussed and deliberated on all the evidence and are still unable to reach an unanimous verdict on one or more counts."

"Please advise," it added. Judge St. Eve responded by urging jurors to continue working toward a unanimous decision.

The trial began March 20.

Read the Sun-Times’s AP story here --,black071307.article

Media voice calls for stepped-up war coverage

The news media should increase coverage of the Iraq War and even feature more graphic coverage, according to J. Max Robins' opinion piece in the new issue of Broadcasting & Cable magazine. It's responsible journalism, he says, plus it will create a value-added component for nightly newscasts.

At CBS News' blog, PublicEye, there's some support for the suggestion: "As a brother and close friend of Iraq veterans and the son of a Marine, I see the 'show more graphic reality' position as a way of connecting us to the day-to-day reality of what our soldiers are facing," the blogger writes. "If all we see on the news is a still life of a mosque, Bush holding a Thanksgiving turkey, or McCain walking the streets of Baghdad, we won’t have the proper appreciation of the men who are being put in harm’s way everyday. While we get a daily reminder of the brutal mathematics of the war – a certain number of soldiers injured or killed regularly – there is a cold remoteness to such a quantitative approach to the war that doesn’t make it, well, real.

"I’m not sure whether broadcasting more of the brutality of war will be good for business necessarily," he adds, "but it would be good for America."

Here's the whole piece --

This Time, It’s War
By J. Max Robins
Quarterly Nielsen numbers for the Big Three flagship newscasts have ABC World News With Charles Gibson cementing its position as No. 1 and both NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams and CBS Evening News With Katie Couric continuing to lose audience.

It’s a state of affairs that has the suits at CBS and NBC understandably nervous, especially given that both places switched out executive producers not too long ago after each began trending down, to say nothing about the tens of millions of advertising dollars at stake.

My suggestion to all in the nightly-news game, even leader World News, is that they get a lot more aggressive in their coverage of the Iraq War and related stories. I’d advise them to provide even more graphic coverage of what’s actually going on in Iraq and to never shy away from the gruesome toll the war is taking.

The story from the frontlines needs to be told no matter how terrifying the visuals can be, exactly because it can be so difficult to take in. More than 3,600 Americans have died and 26,000 have been wounded. One recent estimate puts the number of those soliders returning with post-traumatic stress disorder at 40%. And let’s not forget the thousands of Iraqis, so many of whom are not combatants, who’ve also lost their lives.

I’m not suggesting that any of these news organizations have abandoned Iraq. A recent study from the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that all three newscasts spend about a quarter of their airtime on the war, splitting that coverage evenly between the policy debate and the situation on the ground. But not one of these organizations has set out to own what is without doubt the most important story of the young millennium.

I know the arguments against going all the way on this one. The coverage costs millions already. It’s too painful and depressing to watch. Viewers will turn away in droves. That’s what you’ll hear in candid moments from network news executives.

There’s the danger factor, too. More than 100 journalists and support staff have died covering Iraq, and we’ve seen some of the networks’ finest correspondents—ABC’s Bob Woodruff and CBS’ Kimberly Dozier leap to mind—nearly lose their lives to bring the story home.

Even if all of that is true, the case against more coverage can just as easily work to support the idea of doing much, much more. The journalists in the field have done a great deal more reporting than ever sees air, so no more money needs to be spent in that endeavor.

But the real sell here is that whoever does own this story will be able to call itself the true network of record. Be purely mercantile about this if you want to be: The audience that the true news leader on the Iraq story will have will be one of quality that advertisers will pay a premium for. Don’t believe me? Look at the demographics and audience growth of that old-media stalwart National Public Radio and such newscasts as Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Both have seen steady ratings growth since 9/11.

The knee-jerk notion that Americans won’t tune to this is short-sighted. It would be hard to look at but just as hard to look away, as was the case with Vietnam. These are stories of solemnity, patriotism, waste and heroism that could be told better on a nightly basis.

Given our 24/7-news-cycle environment, it’s essential to provide something that takes full advantage of the large audience these newscasts still maintain and the promotional muscle their networks have to flex. In the parlance of Madison Avenue, let “the unique selling proposition” be the best reportage about the most important story of our time. Someone should just dig in. There’s little to lose and much to gain.

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'Sicko' reviews are - uh - sick: critic

James Clay Fuller in Minneapolis' Twin Cities Daily Planet writes a sharp commentary about how maintsream media have fallen into lockstep in their response to Michael Moore's new documentary about health care in America: Sicko.

(The documentary is currently showing in the Quad Cities and Peoria.)

By James Clay Fuller
The reviews of Michael Moore's “Sicko” have been fascinating, the editorial and op-ed commentaries on the film even more so.

Apparently there is a rule in corporate journalism that every mention of Moore and his films, or Moore without his films, must contain at least two snide observations about his biases, his ever so naughty attacks on rich and powerful but somehow –- in the eyes of the corporate journalists -- defenseless people such as the chairman of General Motors, and, if you can slide it in, Moore's physical appearance.

Four snide comments, two or three misrepresentations and an outright lie or two about Moore or the films is better, I gather.

(A quick digression: No, I don't know Moore, have never met him or corresponded with him.)

The “Sicko” reviews and commentary are running pretty much true to form, but, interestingly enough, after all the snideness is done, every writer I've come across has had to admit that it is a good film, and that, sonofagun, the United States health care “system” truly is a bloody awful mess, pretty much as Moore says.

Of course, I haven't read the comments in the insurance and pharmaceutical industries publications, though if I run across one I might. The level of unintentional humor should be high.

Speaking of humor: “Sicko” is full of laughs. They're mostly the kind that burst from you when confronted by a lie so outrageous and obvious that the absurdity is overwhelming, but they're real laughs. They get little or no mention in most of the reviews and op-ed pieces I've seen.

Moore knew we'd laugh at the obvious self-serving absurdities of the super rich guys, and I guess that's one of the ways his biases show in the eyes of the corporate press commentators. Perhaps they think he should have paraphrased their idiocies to make them look less foolish, rather than letting them speak for themselves.

A July 5 op-ed piece in the New York Times by Philip M. Boffey is quite representative of the 10 or 12 I've read, I think. He calls the new film “unashamedly one-sided, superficial, overstated and occasionally suspect in its details,” before admitting, in the same sentence, that on the “big picture” of the failure of our health care system “Mr. Moore is right.”

Boffey, who writes editorials on health care for the Times, does not elucidate on his claims that the case Moore builds against our health care “providers” is overstated or “suspect in its details.”

I'll give him this, however. “Sicko” is one sided. Moore doesn't spend any time defending our broken down health care system, which leaves 45 million Americans without health insurance, which is ranked is ranked 37th among nations in quality of care and which overcharges us – often to the point of bankruptcy – and makes deliberate decisions to deny health care to individuals and, as Moore clearly demonstrates, allows people to die needlessly for the sake of protecting overblown profits.

Oops. Was that one-sided, too?

As someone who spent about 45 years in newsrooms, I very strongly suspect Boffey is somebody who is too close to some of his sources. But again I digress.

He says it is “hard to know how true” are the stories Moore puts on film -– stories such as that of a young woman who was retroactively denied health care insurance because of a minor yeast infection that was cured years before she applied for and got the insurance that was taken away when she needed it.

Well, I'll tell him. There is not the slightest reason to doubt any of the individual stories Moore has used in the film.

First, the director is too smart to use a phony story, and risk getting caught, when there are, as he says, countless such stories. When he put out a request on his Web site for personal stories of being screwed by health insurers, Moore was inundated. Within days, he had more than 20,000 such stories.

Second, I can recount four or five such tales from the years I was the primary caregiver for my aged mother, and another dozen from among my acquaintances. This moment, I am deeply concerned about a friend who is in despair because of the years-long battle he has had to wage with his health insurer in order to get care he must have to live, and the debt that has piled up as a result.

Anyone who hasn't experienced such a situation, or doesn't at least know someone who has had to fight for his or her life in such a way, must live in another country.

My favorite criticism of Moore, however, is one employed by at least half the commentaries I've read: That the director didn't give the insurance and pharmaceutical industries time in his film to tell their side of the story.

That, folks, is grandly absurd.

Moore is laying out facts. The industries that profit so hugely from our illnesses spend hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising, public relations and lobbying to “tell their side of the story.” One month's expenditure by the insurance industry for those activities substantially exceeds the cost of making “Sicko.” And Moore doesn't own a single member of Congress; they've bought dozens. (The insurance industry's almost $400,000 in contributions to Hillary Clinton's campaign purse alone would have covered a substantial portion of the cost of making the film.)

Let them tell their lies on their own dime.

Boffey, like almost all of the others whose “Sicko” commentaries I've read, also complains that Moore is to unfailingly kind to the health care systems of other countries. (The film has episodes shot in England, Canada, France, Italy and Cuba.)

What makes Boffey and one or two of the others most annoyed is that Moore doesn't mention “the months-long waits to see specialists in Canada and Britain...”

Well, actually, it does come up in the Canadian interviews, and the Canadians snort in disbelief when the claim is made, though they admit that there sometimes is a wait of a few weeks to see a specialist for an elective or entirely non-threatening treatment or condition.

And the critics fail to note that under our system of money-vacuuming HMOs and profit-building insurance companies, the waits to see specialists in this country often are every bit as long, and longer, than those the defenders of our system claim are the rule in other countries.

The very large network of clinics through which I get my health care and which has close ties to the HMO that provides my health coverage, has made a deliberate decision to limit the number of specialists of several types in its network in order to maximize its nonprofits. (Some specialties, such as cardiology are big revenue producers and so not tightly limited.) When I've complained about long waits to see a specialist, several people within the organization, including four doctors, have confirmed my suspicion on that issue.

Because of a couple of chronic conditions – not life threatening, at least for now, though they have that potential – I must occasionally see specialists in three different areas of medicine. The last two times I had such a need, it took three to four months from the time I placed the first call seeking an appointment until I actually got into the doc's offices. In another case, it was almost five months.

I am not alone in that, despite all the phony denials the HMOs and clinics might produce. Give me 24 hours and I assure you I can provide the names of at least 20 others who have had the same experience. (And it could be 100 others or more if I put the word out on the Net.)

All of the pieces I've read about “Sicko,” have what I find to be a glaring omission.

Not one mentions the comments by Tony Benn, a former member of Britain's Parliament. Yet Benn's statements probably are the most profound element of the film.

He notes, as other good people often do, that “if we have the money to kill (in war), we've got the money to help people.”

But, more importantly, Benn tells Moore, that all of Europe and many other places have good health care systems while the United States lacks such a basic service because in Europe and elsewhere, “the politicians are afraid of the people” when the people get angry and demand some action. In the United States, he observes, “the people are afraid of those in power” because they fear losing their jobs, fear being cut off from health care or other services if they speak up and make demands.

“How do you control people?” Benn asks, and he answers: “Through fear and debt.”

His point is that in the United States we have a great overabundance of both.

Having ignored Benn's succinct analysis, some of the writers, and especially Boffey, state as fact that Americans would reject out of hand any attempt to create a government-run universal health care system. They produce no facts to support the claim, so apparently they just “know" it.

If someone conducted a poll today, asking a section of Americans if they want “socialized medicine,” the results might seem to support the claim of Boffey and others.

But if the gutless Democrats went out and explained, clearly and often, how a government run single payer system actually works, and what it really costs, and what the people of Canada, France, Britain, Germany and other countries really think of their health care systems, the ignorance-rooted suspicion could be reversed in a matter of months. And I believe that is true even assuming the inevitable all-out ad and PR campaign by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries to protect their enormous profits.

(Does it occur to anyone that the profits they suck from our system, while we struggle for and often are refused decent health care, are truly enormous if the industries are willing and able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to protect those profits?)

Every American I know is fed up with our present health care mess, and more and more are deeply angry.

Go see “Sicko.” It's a marvelous film, it's full of laughs and, yes, it will give an edge to your anger. Then do something useful with that anger. Members of Congress and state legislatures are just a phone call, a letter or an email away.

And don't be conned by the less-than-half measures proposed by the present gaggle of corporation-serving presidential candidates.

Afterword: Moore's own web site with this opinion piece also has buttons to see where the movie's playing and online footnotes, of sorts: fact checks and sources. Check it out at

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A diet to wean yourself off Junk Journalism

Advertising Age's "Media Guy" last Friday had a terrific commentary on media consumers reducing their intake of -- well -- junk.

Clear Your System of Nasty Media Toxins (No Colonics Required!)
Here's a Guide to Cutting Consumption of Paris, Larry King and All the Other Industry Trans Fats
By Simon Dumenco

You've probably heard about a book called "21 Pounds in 21 Days: The Martha's Vineyard Diet Detox," since it's been heavily hyped by celebrities including Howard Stern sidekick Robin Quivers. The book posits that we all consume so much junk -- unhealthful foods that are poorly prepared and laced with toxins -- that in order to shock our systems back into "wellness," a drastic plan of action is required.

Duly inspired, I've developed my own regimen called The Manhattan Media Diet Detox, which I'm shopping around to publishers. Coincidentally, I, too, posit that we all consume so much junk -- unhealthful media that is poorly prepared and laced with toxins -- that in order to shock our systems back into "wellness," a drastic plan of action is required. (The good news: Unlike with the Martha's Vineyard Diet Detox, colonics are generally not required.)

A few guidelines to start with:
HILTONS: no consumption of information about Hiltons at all. No Rick, no Kathy, no Nicky, no Paris -- not even Barron Hilton, the family patriarch and co-chairman of Hilton Hotels. In fact, while on The Manhattan Media Diet Detox, I encourage you to entirely abstain from staying at Hilton Hotels. Actually, I encourage everyone to boycott Hilton Hotels, despite the fact that the Hilton family is about to cash out big-time by selling the chain to the Blackstone Group, because I think it's important to avoid exposure to toxic brands. Seriously, has any single human alive ever done as much, as quickly, as Paris to tarnish a once-respectable family brand name? Like, imagine if the late Dave Thomas's daughter did porn, drove drunk and said things on video like "I'm a little black whore. I get f---ed in the butt for coke" (as Paris did, as seen on The Smoking Gun last week). Wouldn't you lose your appetite for a Wendy's burger at least a little bit? Likewise, I maintain that soaking in a Hilton Hotel hot tub, or even just wrapping yourself in Hilton Hotel bed sheets, puts you at risk of emotional toxicity due to gravely undesirable psychological associations (this is known in the hospitality industry as the "ewwwww factor").

'LARRY KING LIVE': Compared with many newer, obviously highly synthetic TV figures (e.g., Ryan Seacrest), Larry King may seem like a relatively benign, old-fashioned, "natural" choice. But the truth is, watching his show will leave you feeling queasy, bloated and foggy-headed. Viewers who are stupid already for tuning in to his softball interviews with the self-pitying likes of P. Hilton and I. Washington often find themselves markedly stupider afterward.

STAR, IN TOUCH, ETC. It's not enough to cut them out of your media diet. And it's definitely not enough to simply discard them. Remember that episode of "Seinfeld" in which George Costanza spotted a chocolate ├ęclair atop a pile of trash in a kitchen waste bin? Remember what happened? To avoid relapse, I recommend feeding your latest issues of Star, etc., into a (preferably crosscut) shredder. If you're feeling anxiety at the thought, here, for the record, is all that you'll miss: Some cute celebrities will mate with each other and produce even cuter babies, Nicole Richie will lose some more weight, Ashlee Simpson will try on some totally cute shoes at a boutique, and Michael Lohan and Lynne Spears will express grave concern about their respective spawn. Oh, and Matthew McConaughey will jog on the beach without his shirt on. That's about it.

I will, of course, pad out my Manhattan Media Diet Detox book with lots of sidebars, illustrations, large type, white space and testimonials -- which will totally make the hardcover worth $24.95. As a special bonus, I'll also write stuff like this: "You say you want to improve your overall well-being and rid yourself of the media contaminants that accumulate in your mind, weigh you down, and undermine your sanity? Start today and give your brain the gift of lasting health!"