August 19, 2006

JonBenet Rules!

Landmark decision against Bush spy program takes a back seat.

One of the most important federal court rulings in the last 50 years was swept off the nation's front page this week by breaking news in the ten year old JonBenet Ramsey murder case.

Bush Propoganda on MSNBC
On Friday, MSNBC's The Today Show opened its traditional 22 uninterupted minutes of news at 7:00am with 15 of them devoted to the JonBenet case. This was followed by 4 minutes of propogandizing for the Bush administration's position on the federal court ruling that came down the day before declaring Bush's massive warrantless domestic spy program unconstitutional. In a 44-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor struck down the NSA program and ordered it immediately shut down. MSNBC's blatantly biased coverage succeeded in both capitalizing on the JonBenet case and in supporting the crimes of the Bush administration.

In her ruling Judge Taylor said, in part, "The defendants are permanently enjoined from directly or indirectly utilizing the Terrorist Surveillance Program in any way, including, but not limited to, conducting warrantless wiretaps of telephone and Internet communications, in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and Title III."

The ruling was in response to a law suit filed by 17 separate interests and included both individuals and civil rights groups which challenged "the constitutionality of a secret government program to intercept vast quantities of the international telephone and Internet communications of innocent Americans without court approval." It came as no surprise that the White House is appealing the ruling, claiming that the warrantless spy program is legal.

Sins of Both Omission and Commission
Beyond the paucity of coverage was the disturbing nature of the coverage that did surface. Most major media outlets carried only brief statements regarding the legal reasoning behind the ruling followed by the angry response of Bush administration officials, who seemed to believe Judge Taylor could be discredited merely by mentioning the fact that she was appointed to the bench by Jimmy Carter.

We were not able to find any news coverage which mentioned the fact that there was already an existing law in place passed in 1978 which allowed eavesdropping by the National Security Administration on suspected terrorists provided they obtained a warrant from a secret court. Under existing law, in emergencies the government can place the taps first and before going before the special judge, and has three days to do so. But even this Constitutionally questionable power was not enough for the Bush administration, which wants to be able to secretly tap anyone's phone or computer they feel like without any judicial oversight, however weak it may be.

Furthermore, not a single major media outlet identified the fact that under current existing law (the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA), it is a criminal offense to eavesdrop on Americans without first obtaining warrants. Thus, can there be any doubt that the Bush administration knowingly and deliberately defied federal law in attempt to upsurp judical power and strenghten what can legitimately be described as "the Bush/Cheney imperial presidency"?

In perhaps the most creative approach to undermining Judge Taylor's historic ruling we've seen so far, The New York Times Saturday coverage, titled "Experts Fault Reasoning," managed to bash her ruling and support its conclusions in the same breath. This is consistent with paper's evolution over the years into a stealth conservative rag posing as a liberal one. What better way to demoralize the forces battling the Bush administration's grab for total power then by condemning Judge Taylor for being "partisan" and "rhetorical." Not only does The Times get to be on both sides of the issue at the same time, they also get to kick start the process of paving the way for Judge Taylor's ruling to be overturned, with the blame going not to the Bush administration but to progressives whose agenda was "too radical."

The Rise of Mainstream Tabloid Journalism
There can be little doubt that what passes for news furnished by the major media today closely resembles what we used to read in papers like The National Enquirer. In fact, in some respects you can trust what you read in The Enquirer more than what you find in The New York Times. The reasons for this trend are three-fold: 1 - News channels and outlets today are operated for profit, whereas in the early days of television it was acceptable for them to lose money while profits were made on regular programming. 2 - The major media is increasingly owned and monopolized by entities with a right wing conservative political and corporate class agenda. 3 - Over the years the major media has succeeded in conditioning its audience to demand fluff news and 24/7 coverage of events like the O.J. Simpson trial and the JonBenet murder case. Thus, when criticized they will throw up their hands and argue, "We're only providing what the public demands."

Likewise, when the more squeamish of her citizens complained to Roman emperors like Caligula that things were getting out of hand at the games, he could legitimately reply, "Blood and gore is what the mob wants, and that is what I aim to provide."

On a more positive note, the evolution of both the internet and the blogosphere -- which are increasingly scooping established outlets like Fox, CNN, and the Associated Press -- have broken the domination of news coverage by the major media. However, far too many voting people still rely upon the major media for their news and information. The difficult task before us is to broaden the distribution of alternative news beyond those with computers and create a full time presence on the air waves.