Saturday, July 18, 2009

Greewald: Cronkite, The Media And A Vaccine In Question

Greewald: Cronkite, The Media And A Vaccine In Question






Glenn Greenwald

SATURDAY JULY 18, 2009 07:19 EDT

Celebrating Cronkite While Ignoring What He Did

(updated below - Update II)

"The Vietcong did not win by a knockout [in the Tet Offensive], but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw. . . . We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. . . .

"For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. . . . To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past" -- Walter Cronkite, CBS Evening News, February 27, 1968.

"I think there are a lot of critics who think that [in the run-up to the Iraq War] . . . . if we did not stand up and say this is bogus, and you're a liar, and why are you doing this, that we didn't do our job. I respectfully disagree. It's not our role" -- David Gregory, MSNBC, May 28, 2008.

When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam died, media stars everywhere commemorated his death as though he were one of them -- as though they do what he did -- even though he had nothing but bottomless, intense disdain for everything they do. As he put it in a 2005 speech to students at the Columbia School of Journalism: "the better you do your job, often going against conventional mores, the less popular you are likely to be . . . . By and large, the more famous you are, the less of a journalist you are."

In that same speech, Halberstam cited as the "proudest moment" of his career a bitter argument he had in 1963 with U.S. Generals in Vietnam, by which point, as a young reporter, he was already considered an "enemy" of the Kennedy White House for routinely contradicting the White House's claims about the war (the President himself asked his editor to pull Halberstam from reporting on Vietnam). During that conflict, he stood up to a General in a Press Conference in Saigon who was attempting to intimidate him for having actively doubted and aggressively investigated military claims, rather than taking and repeating them at face value:

Picture if you will rather small room, about the size of a classroom, with about 10 or 12 reporters there in the center of the room. And in the back, and outside, some 40 military officers, all of them big time brass. It was clearly an attempt to intimidate us.

General Stilwell tried to take the intimidation a step further. He began by saying that Neil and I had bothered General Harkins and Ambassador Lodge and other VIPs, and we were not to do it again. Period.

And I stood up, my heart beating wildly -- and told him that we were not his corporals or privates, that we worked for The New York Times and UP and AP and Newsweek, not for the Department of Defense.

I said that we knew that 30 American helicopters and perhaps 150 American soldiers had gone into battle, and the American people had a right to know what happened. I went on to say that we would continue to press to go on missions and call Ambassador Lodge and General Harkins, but he could, if he chose, write to our editors telling them that we were being too aggressive, and were pushing much too hard to go into battle. That was certainly his right.

Can anyone imagine any big media stars -- who swoon in reverence both to political power and especially military authority -- defying military instructions that way, let alone being proud of it? Halberstam certainly couldn't imagine any of them doing it, which is why, in 1999, he wrote:

Obviously, it should be a brilliant moment in American journalism, a time of a genuine flowering of a journalistic culture . . .

But the reverse is true. Those to whom the most is given, the executives of our three networks, have steadily moved away from their greatest responsibilities, which is using their news departments to tell the American people complicated truths, not only about their own country, but about the world around us. . . .

Somewhere in there, gradually, but systematically, there has been an abdication of responsibility within the profession, most particularly in the networks. . . . So, if we look at the media today, we ought to be aware not just of what we are getting, but what we are not getting; the difference between what is authentic and what is inauthentic in contemporary American life and in the world, with a warning that in this celebrity culture, the forces of the inauthentic are becoming more powerful all the time.

All of that was ignored when he died, with establishment media figures exploiting his death to suggest that his greatness reflected well on what they do, as though what he did was the same thing as what they do (much the same way that Martin Luther King'svehement criticisms of the United States generally and its imperialism and aggression specifically have been entirely whitewashed from his hagiography).

So, too, with the death of Walter Cronkite. Tellingly, his most celebrated and significant moment -- Greg Mitchell says "this broadcast would help save many thousands of lives, U.S. and Vietnamese, perhaps even a million" -- was when he stood up and announced that Americans shouldn't trust the statements being made about the war by the U.S. Government and military, and that the specific claims they were making were almost certainly false. In other words, Cronkite's best moment was when he did exactly that which the modern journalist today insists they must not ever do -- directly contradict claims from government and military officials and suggest that such claims should not be believed. These days, our leading media outlets won't even use words that aredisapproved of by the Government.

Despite that, media stars will spend ample time flamboyantly commemorating Cronkite's death as though he reflects well on what they do (though probably not nearly as much time as they spent dwelling on the death of Tim Russert, whose sycophantic servitude to Beltway power and "accommodating head waiter"-like, mindless stenography did indeed represent quite accurately what today's media stars actually do). In fact, within Cronkite's most important moments one finds the essence of journalism that today's modern media stars not only fail to exhibit, but explicitly disclaim as their responsibility.

UPDATE: A reader reminds me that -- very shortly after Tim Russert's June, 2008 death -- long-time Harper's editor Lewis Lapham attended a party to mark the release of a new book on Hunter Thompson, and Lapham said a few words. According to New York Magazine's Jada Yuan, this is what happened:

Lewis Lapham isn’t happy with political journalism today. “There was a time in America when the press and the government were on opposite sides of the field,” he said at a premiere party for Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson on June 25. “The press was supposed to speak on behalf of the people. The new tradition is that the press speaks on behalf of the government.” An example? “Tim Russert was a spokesman for power, wealth, and privilege,” Lapham said. “That’s why 1,000 people came to his memorial service. Because essentially he was a shill for the government. It didn’t matter whether it was Democratic or Republican. It was for the status quo.” What about Russert’s rep for catching pols in lies? “That was bullshit,” he said. “Thompson and Russert were two opposite poles.”

Writing in Harper's a few weeks later, Lapham -- in the essay about Russert (entitled "An Elegy for a Rubber Stamp") where he said Russert's "on-air persona was that of an attentive and accommodating headwaiter, as helpless as Charlie Rose in his infatuation with A-list celebrity" -- echoed Halberstam by writing:

Long ago in the days before journalists became celebrities, their enterprise was reviled and poorly paid, and it was understood by working newspapermen that the presence of more than two people at their funeral could be taken as a sign that they had disgraced the profession.

That Lapham essay is full of piercing invective ("On Monday I thought I’d heard the end of the sales promotion. Tim presumably had ascended to the great studio camera in the sky to ask Thomas Jefferson if he intended to run for president in 1804"), and -- from a person who spent his entire adult life in journalism -- it contains the essential truth about modern establishment journalism in America:

On television the voices of dissent can’t be counted upon to match the studio drapes or serve as tasteful lead-ins to the advertisements for Pantene Pro-V and the U.S. Marine Corps. What we now know as the “news media” serve at the pleasure of the corporate sponsor, their purpose not to tell truth to the powerful but to transmit lies to the powerless. Like Russert, who served his apprenticeship as an aide-de-camp to the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, most of the prominent figures in the Washington press corps (among them George Stephanopoulos, Bob Woodward, and Karl Rove) began their careers as bagmen in the employ of a dissembling politician or a corrupt legislature. Regarding themselves as de facto members of government, enabling and codependent, their point of view is that of the country’s landlords, their practice equivalent to what is known among Wall Street stock-market touts as “securitizing the junk.” When requesting explanations from secretaries of defense or congressional committee chairmen, they do so with the understanding that any explanation will do. Explain to us, my captain, why the United States must go to war in Iraq, and we will relay the message to the American people in words of one or two syllables. Instruct us, Mr. Chairman, in the reasons why K-Street lobbyists produce the paper that Congress passes into law, and we will show that the reasons are healthy, wealthy, and wise. Do not be frightened by our pretending to be suspicious or scornful. Together with the television camera that sees but doesn’t think, we’re here to watch, to fall in with your whims and approve your injustices. Give us this day our daily bread, and we will hide your vices in the rosebushes of salacious gossip and clothe your crimes in the aura of inspirational anecdote.

That's why they so intensely celebrated Tim Russert: because he was the epitome of what they do, and it's why they'll celebrate Walter Cronkite (like they did with David Halberstam) only by ignoring the fact that his most consequential moments were ones where he did exactly that which they will never do.

UPDATE II: In the hours and hours of preening, ponderous, self-serving media tributes to Walter Cronkite, here is a clip you won't see, in which Cronkite -- when asked what is his biggest regret -- says (h/t sysprog):

What do I regret? Well, I regret that in our attempt to establish some standards, we didn't make them stick. We couldn't find a way to pass them on to another generation.

It's impossible even to imagine the likes of Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw and friends interrupting their pompously baritone, melodramatic, self-glorifying exploitation of Cronkite's death to spend a second pondering what he meant by that.

-- Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald

WEDNESDAY JULY 15, 2009 07:16 EDT

Chuck Todd's arguments against investigations

(updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV)

NBC's Chuck Todd -- who, remember, is billed as a reporter covering the White House, not a pundit expressing opinions -- was on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Tuesday discussing reports that Eric Holder is likely to appoint a prosecutor to investigate Bush torture crimes. Needless to say, everyone agreed without question that investigations were a ridiculous distraction from what really matters and would be terribly unfair. This, along with Mika Brzezinski and Pat Buchanan, is what Todd argued after he was asked about the Holder story and the Cheney/CIA story (video is below):

Todd: Look, let's take all of these stories in one big thing: really, the only important thing -- the most important thing -- the President has to focus on is getting the public's trust on the economy, and pushing health care. Cheney, the CIA, and in some respects Sotomayor are cable catnip -

Brzezinski: Yep.

Todd: It's news catnip - but they're sort of clouding the two most important issues the President's got to get his arms around this week: winning back trust of the middle on the economy and pushing health care through.

Brzezinski: I would completely agree with you, yet the questions are being raised by news organizations like the New York Times. Pat Buchanan, chime in, because as I've been reporting [sic], and I'll say it for Chuck's benefit here: speaking to a former senior intelligence official yesterday on the phone for quite some time, saying that this program that Cheney was apparently blocking the CIA from giving Congressional intelligence officials information on, was not even a program -- it was not operational -- it was not even at the stage where you would tell Congress about it or talk to high-level administration officials about it.

Is this much ado about nothing to get the attention off what needs to be done?

Buchanan: Well it's exactly what Chuck said, it's a massive distraction . . . . Let me ask Chuck this: it seems to me you got a real problem for the administration if you go forward at Holder's level --

Todd: Right.

Buchanan: and they appoint a Special Counsel, the first thing the CIA guys do is say is: yeah, we did it; we waterboarded them; and here's the authorization from these lawyers who said we could do it --- the lawyers come in and say we were asked for our opinion and Cheney was the guy who asked us, and the President told us to go ahead and do it. Aren't you right into the White House of the Bush administration as soon as you appoint that independent counsel?

Todd: And I think that's why, in the President's gut, he doesn't want to do this. They've made that clear they don't want to do this. I think that's what you see a lot of the West Wing -- they don't want to get into this because of what you're saying.

Ultimately, a lawyer gets paid to not tell you what the law is -- but to interpret the law, to tell you how far you can push things until you cross a line that a judge will say is illegal. That's what lawyers get paid to do: they get paid to interpret the law, and interpret the law in a way that allows you to stretch things.

You are on a slippery slope - this is a very dangerous aspect to go after, because these CIA guys will say, as you said Pat, we got the letter from these lawyers in the Bush Justice Department that said we can do this. You can't suddenly change the law retroactively because there's another interpretation of this. I'm sure there are a legal minds that will fight and say I don't know what I'm talking about here, but it seems to me that's a legal and a political slippery slope.

This is about as typical a discussion as it gets among media stars as to why investigations are so very, very wrong and unfair and unwise. Still, this discussion in particular vividly highlights several important points worth noting about the role of the establishment media:

(1) In response to virtually every media criticism (at least the few they acknowledge), establishment journalists will insist that their role is to be steadfastly neutral. They simply report on the debates, not take sides or express opinions about them. Taking one side or the other is not their role. Only partisan ideologues do that.

Yet here is Chuck Todd -- who covers the White House for NBC News -- explicitly arguing against investigations, and adopting the Bush/right-wing mentality to do so. Investigations are a distraction from what matters. It's extremely unfair to hold lawyers accountable when they authorize criminal conduct. It's "dangerous" for one administration to investigate the prior one where that prior administration had its DOJ lawyers authorize what was being done.

Wouldn't the standard claim of establishment journalists maintain that Chuck Todd shouldn't have (or at least not express) opinions on these topics? Yet here he is -- as so many establishment journalists routinely do -- explicitly advocating against investigations of Bush-era crimes. Even more notably, the arguments in favor of such investigations merit no mention whatsoever. Would anyone listening to this discussion even have the slightest idea what the arguments are in favor of investigating and prosecuting?

The notion that these establishment journalists don't choose sides and are mere honest brokers of debates is, rather obviously, transparent fiction. What justifies Chuck Todd becoming an advocate in alliance with those who oppose investigations of Bush crimes? Isn't he supposed to be a reporter?

(2) Notice what, as always, is missing from this discussion: any reference to the fact that the conduct in question -- torture -- isillegal. What about the argument that numerous detainees died as a result of these methods? What about the argument that many interrogations plainly exceeded even the authorizations given by the DOJ? What about the argument that granting immunity to high-level political officials anytime they can find a low-level DOJ functionary to approve their behavior will destroy the rule of law?

Our media class literally believes that high executive branch officials have the right to break the law. For that reason, they cannot even recognize illegality as an issue worth anyone's attention. Thus, all this "torture" and "lying to Congress" and violating oversight laws is just "cable catnip," political posturing that obscures what truly matters. So sayeth NBC News' White House correspondent.

(3) One aspect of journalistic corruption that receive less attention than it deserves is the servile attitude so many of them develop to those who control access to their beat. As a White House reporter, who dominates Todd's professional life and determines the access he needs? To whom does he spend much of his day speaking? Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, Robert Gibbs, and their underlings ("the West Wing") -- the very Obama political advisers who, by all accounts, vigorously oppose any investigation of Bush crimes because they believe such investigations will be bad for Obama politically.

Todd doesn't cover them as a reporter, adversarially scrutinizing what they argue and do. Instead, he becomes their spokesman. He not only describes what they believe, but he adopts it and advocates it himself (Todd: "the only important thing -- the most important thing -- the President has to focus on is getting the public's trust on the economy and pushing health care . . . ."[investigations are] sort of clouding the two most important issues the President's got to get his arms around this week: winning back trust of the middle on the economy and pushing health care through").

If one wanted to be generous, one could say that a President's political strategists should be thinking in such terms -- about how to keep the President's approval ratings as high as possible. But that, quite obviously, isn't Chuck Todd's role. Yet the distinction disappears. That is how Chuck Todd thinks because it's how those on whom he depends think. He's not a journalist wanting to impose accountability or find out the truth of what our government did. Instead, he serves as an advocate for the agenda of the political strategists who determine his access.

(4) Bef0re he opines on it again, can someone please explain to Chuck Todd the difference between (a) the role of a private lawyer hired by a client and (b) the duties and obligations of Justice Department lawyers generally and OLC lawyers specifically? George Bush and Dick Cheney treated the DOJ as though it were their personal law firm there to serve their personal interests, so that's how Chuck Todd apparently understands it. The role of OLC lawyers isn't to "allow you to stretch things."

The constitutional powers of the President are quite limited and one of his only explicit duties is he "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." "Faithfully executing " the law doesn't mean "stretching" the law and it certainly doesn't mean breaking the law. I'm aware that talk of what the Constitution and the law require is just cable catnip, but ignoring that produces some rather significant consequences. I'd like to ask Chuck Todd: if Bush had John Yoo write a memo opining that it was perfectly legal for Bush to deploy hit squads within the U.S. to assassinate American citizens without any due process, would it be wrong to investigate and prosecute that, too, on the ground that everyone had permission slips from a DOJ lawyer and that's just what lawyers do?

(5) Ever since it was first revealed that Dick Cheney ordered the CIA to conceal an intelligence program from Congress, there has been one anonymous leak after the next designed to defend what Cheney did. That's why I noted that laughable CNN "news article" earlier today: this is how our political debates are shaped.

Note how those anonymous claims now just become an unquestioned part of these discussions by "journalists." Some anonymous intelligence official chats on the phone with Brzezinski and makes a bunch of Cheney-defending assertions; she excitedly writes it all down and goes on the TV and repeats it as Truth (and, of course, calls what she's doing "reporting"). And now, all of that is just assumed to be true by these "journalists": there was no real program, it never got off the ground, Congress was briefed anyway, Cheney did nothing wrong, there were no briefing obligations at all. Therefore, there's nothing to see here.

Nobody even thinks to question or challenge that. It's just accepted as true. Therefore, all of this is just petty cable catnip obscuring what truly matters, decrees NBC "reporter" Chuck Todd.

(6) As I've noted many times before -- though it still never ceases to amaze me -- the most revealing fact about our political culture is that the group most opposed to investigations of high-level political officials happens to be the very same group that was supposed to lead the way in investigating: our journalist class. Thomas Jefferson said:

Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues of truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is freedom of the press. It is therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.

That's now completely reversed. It's the establishment press that stands most stalwart against investigations. They believe, asRichard Cohen so memorably put it when railing against the Lewis Libby conviction, that "it is often best to keep the lights off." Few things explain better what has happened to our political class than the fact that (with some important exceptions) it is establishment journalists who are the most aggressive opponents of investigations of high-level government lawbreaking. Trying to prevent investigations of their friends, colleagues and bosses in political power is one of the few times they're willing so explicitly to turn themselves into advocates, as Chuck Todd did here.

* * * * *

Legal Immunity Set For Swine Flu Vaccine Makers

By MIKE STOBBE (AP) – 1 day ago

ATLANTA — The last time the government embarked on a major vaccine campaign against a new swine flu, thousands filed claims contending they suffered side effects from the shots. This time, the government has already taken steps to head that off.

Vaccine makers and federal officials will be immune from lawsuits that result from any new swine flu vaccine, under a document signed by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, government health officials said Friday.

Since the 1980s, the government has protected vaccine makers against lawsuits over the use of childhood vaccines. Instead, a federal court handles claims and decides who will be paid from a special fund.

The document signed by Sebelius last month grants immunity to those making a swine flu vaccine, under the provisions of a 2006 law for public health emergencies. It allows for a compensation fund, if needed.

The government takes such steps to encourage drug companies to make vaccines, and it's worked. Federal officials have contracted with five manufacturers to make a swine flu vaccine. First identified in April, swine flu has so far caused about 263 deaths, according to numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday.

The CDC said more than 40,000 Americans have had confirmed or probable cases, but those are people who sought health care. It's likely that more than 1 million Americans have been sickened by the flu, many with mild cases.

The virus hits younger people harder that seasonal flu, but so far hasn't been much more deadly than the strains seen every fall and winter. But health officials believe the virus could mutate to a more dangerous form, or at least contribute to a potentially heavier flu season than usual.

"We do expect there to be an increase in influenza this fall," with a bump in cases perhaps beginning earlier than normal, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the regular winter flu vaccine, a final step before shipments to clinics and other vaccination sites could begin.

The last time the government faced a new swine flu virus was in 1976. Cases of swine flu in soldiers at Fort Dix, N.J., including one death, made health officials worried they might be facing a deadly pandemic like the one that killed millions around the world in 1918 and 1919.

Federal officials vaccinated 40 million Americans during a national campaign. A pandemic never materialized, but thousands who got the shots filed injury claims, saying they suffered a paralyzing condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome or other side effects.

"The government paid out quite a bit of money," said Stephen Sugarman, a law professor who specializes in product liability at the University of California at Berkeley.

Vaccines aren't as profitable as other drugs for manufacturers, and without protection against lawsuits "they're saying, 'Do we need this?'" Sugarman said.

The move to protect makers of a swine flu didn't go over well with Paul Pennock, a prominent New York plaintiffs attorney on medical liability cases. The government will likely call on millions of Americans to get the vaccinations to prevent the disease from spreading, he noted.

"If you're going to ask people to do this for the common good, then let's make sure for the common good that these people will be taken care of if something goes wrong," Pennock said.

AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard contributed to this report from Washington.

On the Net: CDC:

The desire of Pharmaceutical Companies to achieve the highest level of protection and immunity possible is nothing new, but you will find there has been a rapid fear-driven escalation in the vaccine arena since “The Avian Flu Scare”. What they could not achieve then has been realized by the recent agreement/decree given authority BY, and The Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act of 2006. A firm under-pinning has been established in separate related statutes of authorization that reside in state authorities. I give you the pertinent materials from my note(s) files. (Ed.)

Vaccines aren't as profitable as other drugs for manufacturers, and without protection against lawsuits "they're saying, 'Do we need this?'" Sugarman said.

Vaccine May Be More Dangerous Than Swine Flu

The Provisions Of A 2006 Law For Public Health Emergencies.

Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act of 2006

Apr 6, 2006 ... Not later than 6 months after the date of enactment of the Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act of 2006, the Secretary ... -

The Concept Of Immunity Has Been Under Study And Development For Some Time.

H.R. 5533, The Biodefense and Pandemic Vaccine and Drug Development Act of 2006

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