Thursday, December 01, 2011

Media Rants: The 2011 TONY Awards

The 2011 TONY Awards 
Media Rants  
By
Tony Palmeri

from the December 2011 edition of THE SCENE
Every year Media Rants presents TONY Awards for outstanding communication in the public interest. In 2011 Wisconsinites made history, taking direct action to hold public officials accountable in ways not seen since the Vietnam War era. The Occupy Wall St. movement (now spread out nationally), along with Ohio voters’ resolute rejection of Republican Governor John Kasich’s union busting measures, followed the lead set by Badger State activism aimed at reining in Scott Walker. Citizen action was THE STORY of the year.
With few exceptions Wisconsin’s corporate media in its coverage of and editorializing about THE STORY failed to operate in the public interest. Big media’s addiction to what New York University’s Jay Rosen calls “the view from nowhere” and “he said, she said” journalism resulted in pathetic attempts to draw moral equivalencies between the protesters and the governor. The good news is that we’ve not been bamboozled: even after being fed generous portions of corporate media enabling of Mr. Walker, a November poll showed that 58% support his recall, including 24% of Republicans.
TONY Award recipients for 2011 all made meaningful contributions to THE STORY. When democracy and decency are eventually restored in Wisconsin, it will be because of the collective efforts of people of integrity determined to halt the backward slide of a state whose motto is “Forward.” That kind of determination can be found in this year’s TONY Award recipients. Drum roll please:
*Best Mainstream Report: Ben Jones’ “Under the Dome in the Wisconsin Capitol, Protesters Build A Community.” Mr. Jones’ piece appeared in the February 24, 2011 AppletonPost-Crescent. Instead of speculating about the protest motives or filling his story with irrelevant attacks from opponents in the name of “balance,” Jones simply told the truth about what he witnessed in the Capitol. Anyone wanting to know “what democracy looks like” should read this piece.
*Best Framing of THE STORY: Bill Lueders’ “Walker’s War.” Mr. Lueders’ piece appeared in the February 24, 2011 Madison Isthmus. In one of the most passionate pieces of writing I’ve ever read, Lueders more than any other pundit captured the real travesty of Mr. Walker’s policies: pitting of family members against each other: “What has been fomented in Wisconsin is a rupture among ourselves, one that will ensure acrimony and contention for many years, perhaps decades. The dispute will be not just between Walker and his tens of thousands of newly impassioned enemies, but between the state's citizens; worker against worker, neighbor against neighbor, family member against family member.” Lueders concludes correctly that “None of this was necessary, none of it is justified, and none of it can ever be forgiven or forgotten.”
*Best Investigative Report: The Center For Media And Democracy’s ALEC Exposed. In this thorough and disturbing report (go to alecexposed.org) CMD posits that “Through the corporate funded American Legislative Exchange Council, global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so called ‘model bills’ reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations. Through ALEC, corporations have ‘a VOICE and a VOTE’ on specific changes to the law that are then proposed in your state.Virtually every piece of major legislation emanating from the Walker Administration and GOP legislative majority has ALEC origins.
*Best Game Changer: Ian Murphy. An independent writer for the Buffalo Beast (buffalobeast.com), Mr. Murphy took on the persona of right wing billionaire David Koch and managed to get connection via phone to Scott Walker. Walker’s conversation with the person he thought was Koch represented a game changing moment in Wisconsin politics. When the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank listened to the call he heard in Walker an ‘unprincipled rigidity’ that sees politics as tribal blood sport featuring a ‘never-ending cycle of revenge killings.’” I’m generally not a fan of “gotcha!” politics, but Walker’s musings on the tape are so horrifyingly Nixonian that it’s difficult to get mad at the exposure method. Don’t be surprised if excerpts from the call figure prominently in recall election ads early next year.

*Best Independent Video: Sam Mayfield. In June Ms. Mayfield and her colleague Alex Noguera Garces were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for filming protests in the Capitol building. Ms. Mayfield deserves a wider audience not just because of the arrest event, but because she’s made some outstanding videos that give voice to all sides of THE STORY. Check them out at her “Sam Land” blog (http://samville.blogspot.com/).
*Best Speech: Michael Moore’s “America’s Not Broke.” On March 5th, 2011 documentary film maker Michael Moore delivered a rousing speech in Madison. Understanding the meaning of THE STORY, Moore praised the citizen activists for arousing “a sleeping giant known as the working people of the United States of America.” He passionately pointed out that what’s broke is not America or Wisconsin, but “the moral compass of the rulers.” And he prodded the mainstream press to publicize one simple fact: “Just 400 Americans, 400, have more wealth than half of all Americans combined.”
In 2012 THE STORY will be the recall of Governor Scott Walker. We know that the mainstream media will not likely tell it in the public interest. Therefore we will continue to need TONY Award types to keep telling it like it is.
Previous TONY Award recipients can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Tony Palmeri (tony@tonypalmeri.com) is a Professor of Communication at UW Oshkosh

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Media Rants: An Interview With Jay Heck

On Monday November 7th from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. at UW Oshkosh Reeve Union Ballroom 227C Common Cause in Wisconsin will sponsor a FREE public forum on “Whatever Happened to Good Government in Wisconsin?” I’ll be participating along with newly elected Democratic Senator Jessica King, Republican Representative Richard Spanbauer, WOSH News Director Jonathan Krause, UW Oshkosh Political Science Professor Jim Simmons, and Common Cause Executive Director Jay Heck.Oshkosh Northwestern Managing Editor Jim Fitzhenry will serve as moderator.

My November Media Rants column for The SCENE features an interview with Jay Heck. Here it is:
Jay Heck has served as Executive Director of CC/WI since 1995. He’s an outspoken advocate for “small d” democratic reforms that will empower citizens and make elected leaders accountable to the public interest. Always available to the media, Jay graciously answered a few questions for this column. Want to hear more from Jay? Come to the forum on November 7th!

Media Rants: Has the US Supreme Court's Citizens United decision already had an impact on Wisconsin politics?
Jay Heck: The Supreme Court, in January of 2010, narrowly voted 5 to 4 to reverse over 100 years of precedent and settled law in order to open the flood gates and allow unlimited corporate, union and wealthy individual money to be utilized by outside, “independent” groups and organizations to influence elections at the federal and state level. Previously, there had been some restraints on this money. No longer. In Wisconsin it has meant an explosion in outside spending in our elections. This unlimited and largely undisclosed money overwhelmingly dominated the Wisconsin Supreme Court election earlier this year as well as the State Senate recall elections. Outside special interest group campaign spending was 4 or 5 times more than was spent by the candidates themselves.
Media Rants: What do you expect to see happen to Wisconsin elections as a result of the new Voter ID law?
Jay Heck: Wisconsin was once one of the easiest states in the nation in which to cast a ballot and was typically second only to Minnesota in voter turnout. We are now saddled with the most restrictive voter ID law in thenation. It will be easier to vote in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia than it will be in Wisconsin. The elderly, racial minorities, citizen with special needs and college students are the groups most severely affected by this new law because they are the groups least likely to possess the very narrow range of the forms of ID permitted. Voter turnout will most certainly fall across the state.
Media Rants: Our state Supreme Court has become a national joke, with justices involved literally in physical altercations with each other. Currently SC judges are elected for 10 year terms. Is it time to think about appointing them?
Jay Heck: Walker and the Republican majority in the Legislature repealed the “Impartial Justice” Law that was enacted into law less than two years ago. It provided full public financing to state Supreme Court candidates who agreed to abide by spending limits of $400,000 for their campaigns. Now, special interest campaign contributions will flow into the campaign coffers of court candidates and outside spending will blanket the airwaves with negative attack ads in even greater amounts than the $6 million that was spent in 2007, 2008 and 2011. We need to at least explore the possibility of whether or not a different system is better. It may be that merit selection of Supreme Court justices is not the way to go. But the current system in the aftermath of the repeal of the Impartial Justice law is clearly headed toward disaster. One thing is certain: the status quo cannot stand.

Media Rants: What's wrong with the way we redistrict legislative seats in Wisconsin? What would be a better way?

Jay Heck: Wisconsin’s current redistricting process is one of the most partisan and secretive in the nation. New congressional and legislative districts were drawn this year behind closed doors, with virtually no public input or inspection, and paid for with hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds to create new congressional districts less competitive and more partisan than ever before. Instead of allowing politicians to pick their voters we ought to do what Iowa does.  There, a nonpartisan state entity draws the new district boundaries every ten years (after the Census). The result is that there are many more competitive elections at the legislative and congressional level in Iowa than here and it costs taxpayers a fraction of what is spent in Wisconsin to make elections as noncompetitive and inconsequential as possible. 

Media Rants: Lots of citizens no longer recognize our state; they feel our politics are broken almost beyond repair. What advice to you have for them?
Jay Heck: The worst thing that any citizen can do is to disengage, throw up their hands and say it’s all hopeless. That is precisely what many special interest groups and politicians hope and work to make happen. That way they, and not the people, control the government. The better course of action is to get mad and get even! Engage, get involved, challenge those in power, create a fuss, make others uncomfortable, raise hell and make your voices heard. Loudly.  Citizens greatly underestimate their power. You have it. Use it. And you can start by attending the forum at UW-Oshkosh on November 7th.  See you there!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Media Rants: Social Media Masks

This Media Rant went to press before the outbreak of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. That movement appears to be making great use of social media in the civic manner outlined in the Rant. It remains to be seen if OWS can or will result in an Egyptian style uprising right here in the USA. -TP

Social Media Masks

Media Rants

By Tony Palmeri  

from the October 2011 edition of the Fox Valley SCENE

New York University Professor of New Media ClayShirky argues that humans spend a trillion hours per year engaged in digital media creation and participation. That participation can be what Shirky calls “communal” (e.g. placing humorous photos on Twitter or Facebook largely for the benefit of online friends or followers) or “civic” (e.g. using digital media to coordinate political actions that benefit society at large.).

The ongoing revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa feature remarkable displays of civic digital media participation. Twitter, Facebook, texting, and other digital dynamics did not cause the toppling of corrupt, tyrannical governments in Tunisia and Egypt, but as noted by Internet pundit Stephen Balkam: “it is undeniable that the use of the web to organize and sustain many of the protests has been critical.”

In the United States, the disappearance of civic culture is well documented, depressing, and dangerous. Not surprisingly, Americans spend much time using social media for communal participation. As a moderately active Facebook and Twitter participant for more than a year, I’ve noticed that individual users create “personas” for their “friends” (Facebook) or “followers” (Twitter).  I’ll call these personas “Social Media Masks.” Here are the masks I’ve observed:

*The Self Promoter: Online or off, we’re all self promoters to some extent. There’s nothing inherently wrong with drawing attention to our professional and other accomplishments. In business and in the nonprofit world, survival often requires effective self promotion. On Twitter and Facebook, the most pathetic self promotion tends to come from politicians.  I read a tweet from a congressional candidate urging me to go to her website “to sign up or contribute and help send a bold, energetic leader to Congress!” Thank goodness politicians promote themselves that way; otherwise we might think they are “cowardly, lethargic followers.”

*The Mom and Dadzilla: The American family may be dysfunctional and in disarray, but you’d never know that if your only knowledge came from parental Facebook posts. In this my 50th year of existence, thanks to FB I’ve seen more photos of happy children, more photos of happy children embraced by happy parents, and more photos of happy extended family gatherings than I had seen in my prior 49 years combined.

*The Town Crier: Unlike pure self promoters, town criers will announce events that may have nothing to do with them personally. In addition to promoting events, town criers are very good at forwarding useful  information to their friends and followers about everything from how to find out where to vote to who’s running the best happy hour special.

*The Court Jester: The court jesters think the world would be a better place if we would all just lighten up a little. If there’s an over the top “lolcat” (a photograph of a cat with a humorous text) somewhere on the web, the court jesters will pass it on. Some court jesters have a preference for vulgar comedic material, which often puts them at odds with the mom and dadzillas.

*The Hyperpartisan: Democratic and Republican Party zealots are obnoxious offline, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they’d be that way on the net too. The hyperpartisan will forward link after link of punditry, reporting, studies, and literally anything else that shows their side is right and the other wrong (although the hyperpartisan’s tone usually implies the other side is not just wrong but also evil and corrupt.). The problem with hyperpartisans of any stripe, online or offline, is that they are too predictable. They’re usually bereft of original thoughts and so it’s easy to dismiss them as nothing more than hacks. You watch: if and when America does experience an Egyptian style rebellion, the hyperpartisan hacks will be the first ones to defend the status quo against the citizen “mobs.”

*The Pedantic: Often wallowing in obscurity, pedantics seek to enlighten friends and followers with bits of insight and information not typically available in the mainstream media. On Twitter, which allows only 140 characters per post, the pedantic sometimes communicates in proverbs. African-American scholar/activist Cornel West’s twitter feed has elements of a modern Sermon on the Mount. On September 7th he tweeted, “interrogate your hidden assumptions.” A few days later he opined, “If you’ve got your heart in your slingshot, you can bring down giants.” Hmmm.

*The Bob Grahamer: In 2003 then Florida Democratic Senator Bob Graham announced he would seek his party’s nomination for the presidency. The press revealed Graham’s obsessive journaling habits: “He has kept a running account of his every waking moment for the past 23 years; 14 in the Senate, eight in the Governor's mansion, even his days in the state legislature. Graham writes down every meal, every meeting, every person he meets.”  In the online world, a Bob Grahamer is someone who matches the former senator’s level of minutiae documentation but insists on posting it for all to see. You all know the type.

All of the social media masks described above represent media users in creative action. Professor Shirky says “the stupidest possible creative act is still a creative act.”  Using media to create is much better than the consumer, couch potato model of media use of the latter 20th century. The 21st century challenge is to turn the creative, purely communal social media masks into creative civic masks. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Journalism in Hyperpartisan Times: Brief Annotated Bibliography

On September 22, 2011 I spoke at the Appleton Public Library on the topic of "Journalism in Hyperpartisan Times." I left the audience with a brief annotated bibliography of sources useful to me in preparing the presentation. Here it is:
 
Brief Annotated Bibliography
Anyone seeking to learn about the nature and role of modern journalism can find scores of insightful books, blogs, and other sources on the topic. Below I present a small sample of print and Web works that have directly influenced my thinking on the topic of “Journalism in Hyperpartisan Times.”


Books:
Rosen, Jay (2001). What Are Journalists For? Yale University Press.

A professor at New York University, Dr. Rosen writes extensively on journalism’s   relationship to citizenship. The book highlights the shortcomings of modern journalism, especially in relation to politics and civic culture, and suggests ways to fix matters.
McChesney, Robert (2000). RichMedia, Poor Democracy. The New Press.
Dr. McChesney argues that journalism in a democracy should serve three major roles: accounting of people in power, presenting diversity of opinion, and fact checking. In his book he explores the reasons why corporate media fail to fulfill those roles. 
Though not about journalism per se, Putnam’s important book demonstrates in dramatic fashion the breakdown of civic culture in the United States. An invigorated journalism is needed to help restore some sense of civic community.
Lueders, Bill (2010). Watchdog: 25 Years of Muckrakingand Rabblerousing. Jones Books.
       One of the most valuable players in Wisconsin journalism for   many years, Bill Lueders is a       champion of freedom of information and transparency. He offers stinging critiques of all public officials who dare withhold information from the public. 


On the Web:

ProPublica: Journalism in the Public Interest (http://www.propublica.org/)
Winner of a 2011 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting (for a series of remarkable stories on the role of Wall St. bankers in worsening the financial crisis for their own gain), ProPublica’s mission is “To expose abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business, and other institutions, using the moral force of investigative journalism to spur reform through the sustained spotlighting of wrongdoing.”
Jay Rosen’s PressThink Blog (http://pressthink.org/)


Almost every one of professor Rosen’s posts sparks important, thoughtful debate on a range of topics, including the failure of “horse race” coverage of politics and the shortcomings of “he said, she said” journalism. A persistent theme of Rosen’s is that journalists should strive not to eliminate bias from their work, but to show good, sound judgment.
James Fallows (national correspondent for The Atlantic) (http://www.theatlantic.com/james-fallows/)
Mr. Fallows might be the best working journalist in America today. His writings are always well researched,  thoughtful, provocative, and always lead the reader to links that further substantiate his claims.
Wisconsin Center For Investigative Journalism (http://www.wisconsinwatch.org/)
Like old time muckrakers, the Center seeks to “Protect the vulnerable. Expose wrongdoing. Seek solutions to problems.” With a focus on government integrity and quality of life, the Center produces vital Badger State investigative journalism.
Bruce Murphy’s Milwaukee Magazine “Murphy’s Law” Blog (http://www.insidemilwaukee.com/Blog/murphyslaw)


Bruce Murphy is probably the finest journalist in the state of Wisconsin. He’s especially good at exposing lazy journalism as it is often practiced at wide circulation publications like the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Jim Romenesko’s Blog (http://www.poynter.org/category/latest-news/romenesko/)  (In 2012 Romenesko will launch http://jimromenesko.com/
 
Few deliver the “news about the news” as well as Romenesko. Though now in semi-retirement, he continues to produce an invaluable blog for anyone interested in the “inside” story of American journalism.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Media Rants: Journalism in Hyper-Partisan Times

[Note: The Appleton Public Library invited me to speak on the topic of "Journalism in Hyper-Partisan Times. The event will be held at the Library on Thursday, September 22 at 6:30 p.m. The September Media Rants column below is a preview of some of the comments I will make that evening. My main point is stated near the end of the Rant:"Great journalism isn’t nonpartisan. This is not to say that journalists should be partisan Democrats or partisan Republicans. Rather, journalists should be democracy partisans; news stories and opinion writing should be framed not to appease networks of power and influence, but to empower average citizens to participate in the never ending struggle to build a more just society." On the 22nd, I'll give examples of this kind of great journalism. It's rare, but it does exist--even sometimes in mainstream sources].  

Journalism in Hyper Partisan Times
 
Media Rants
By Tony Palmeri 

From the September 2011 edition of The SCENE 

On Thursday, September 22nd at 6:30 p.m. I’ll speak at the Appleton Public Library on the subject of “Journalism in Hyper Partisan Times.” The event is free and open to all.

Are we living in “hyperpartisan” times? Scores of mainstream political voices insist yes, and they’re pretty hyper about it. President Obama repeatedly tells the nation that "The only thing holding us back right now is our politics."  Former California Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman told Newsweek, “We’re playing a hyperpartisan game with real ammunition, and it’s too dangerous . . . we need candidates and leaders who prize the virtues of bipartisanship and solving problems over blame game politics.” 

A bipartisan group of former elected officials along with business and academic leaders have heavy hearts about hyperpartisanship. In response they’ve formed the advocacy outfit “No Labels.” They argue (politely of course) “Hyper partisanship is one of the greatest domestic challenges our nation faces. . . Rather than focusing on solving problems, hyper partisans use labels to demonize their opponents, enforce orthodoxy within their own ranks, and marginalize sensible compromises.”

Warnings about hyperpartisanship aren’t new. Madison’s Federalist Paper #10 suggests the Constitution is designed to check the power of political parties. Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address spoke of the evils of “faction.” In 1881 former president Hayes attributed the assassination of his successor James Garfield to the “extreme and bitter partisanship which so largely prevails in our country.” 

The modern critique of hyperpartisanship seems rooted in the belief that “extremists” on the Republican right and Democratic left resist compromise and prevent “sensible center” solutions to America’s problems. The extremists are magnified by shrill talk radio hosts, shadowy Think Tanks, and over the top cable commentators on Fox and MSNBC.
There are two major problems with the hyperpartisanship thesis. First, a false equivalency is drawn between positions labeled “extreme.” In the debate over how to reduce the national debt, we are supposed to believe that standing against cuts in Medicare is the same as opposing any tax increases, even simply ending millionaire loopholes. Somehow the sensible “centrist” position is a shared sacrifice model in which millions of middle class and poor people see reductions in Medicare and/or Social Security benefits while the super rich “sacrifice” a tax break.  
Second, the hyperpartisanship thesis wrongly assumes that the dominant contest in American politics is Left v. Right. It’s not. As UW Madison labor scholar Joel Rogers, former Republican Party strategist KevinPhillips and others have argued, American politics is not left/right but top/down.(Notice how the "No Labels" video below uncritically accepts the left/right axis as the cause of our dysfunctional politics; solutions are "common sense" if we could only get over the left/right divide). Yes there are real and meaningful differences between the Republican and Democratic parties, but only willful ignorance can blind us to the fact that since the 1980s we’ve seen disturbing bipartisan agreement on a range of reverse Robin Hood initiatives (financial sector deregulation, global trade agreements, tax cuts for the rich, taxpayer bailouts of “too big to fail” industries, high tech sector subsidies, etc.) that have turned the world’s greatest democracy into a plutocrat’s paradise. And it’s not an exaggeration to say that absent mass grassroots action, the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision will ensure elite control of our politics for many generations to come. 



Unfortunately, almost all mainstream American journalism accepts and reinforces the hyperpartisanship thesis. Striving to be perceived as “nonpartisan” and “moderate,” political journalists believe they are doing their jobs properly if (a) their reporting marginalizes or keeps on the fringe all “extremist” perspectives and (b) the reporting upsets Democrats and Republicans equally.

The so called nonpartisan style pervades most press and broadcast coverage of politics. A typical example is New York Times reporter Matt Bai’s August 12th coverageof the Republican presidential candidate forum in Iowa. After correctly lambasting the candidates for pandering to base voters in claiming they would walk away from a hypothetical spending cut deal that required one dollar in new tax revenue for every 10 dollars of reductions, Bai then feels compelled to argue that Democratic candidates would pander just as badly. Bai says, “You could have put a lot of Washington Democrats up on that stage, and asked them if they would have accepted $10 in new taxes or new stimulus in exchange for $1 in cuts to Social Security, and you probably would have gotten much the same response: hell, no.” Those sentences add nothing to our understanding of Republican pandering in Iowa, but they do much to frame reporter Bai as “fair” inside the Washington beltway.  

Great journalism isn’t nonpartisan. This is not to say that journalists should be partisan Democrats or partisan Republicans. Rather, journalists should be democracy partisans; news stories and opinion writing should be framed not to appease networks of power and influence, but to empower average citizens to participate in the never ending struggle to build a more just society.  

New Washington Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton wrote recently that journalistic populism might be the key to that paper’s survival. He says the Post should be “hard-hitting, scrappy and questioning; skeptical of all political figures and parties and beholden to no one. It has to be the rock ’em sock ’em organization that is passionate about the news. It needs to be less bloodless and take more risks when chasing the story and the truth.” 

On September 22nd I’d love to hear what you think! 

Copyright 2011 Tony Palmeri 

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Conservative Case For Recalling Governor Scott Walker

In the entire history of the United States, only two governors have been removed from office via citizen recall. North Dakotans recalled Republican/Nonpartisan League governor Lynn Frazier in 1921, while in 2003 Californians showed Democrat Gray Davis the door in a circus-like recall election that brought Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger to power.
Frazier and Davis were recalled during times of great economic stress in their states, and both were accused of mismanagement. Given that our system of checks and balances gives the legislature significant power in shaping economic policy, the ineffectiveness of said policy can never be the fault of the governor alone. Thus the recalls of Frazier and Davis were blatantly political and probably represent an abuse of the recall statute.

Indeed, take a look at the petition circulated as justification for recalling Davis:

[Governor Davis' actions were a] "gross mismanagement of California Finances by overspending taxpayers' money, threatening public safety by cutting funds to local governments, failing to account for the exorbitant cost of the energy, and failing in general to deal with the state's major problems until they get to the crisis stage."

Virtually every clause of that petition (especially "failing in general to deal with the state's major problems until they get to the crisis stage") can be said about all 50 of the nation's governors at all times. Crappy job performance is a great reason to remove someone from office in a general election, but a recall ought to require something more substantial.

Should a recall effort against Governor Scott Walker get off the ground, his enablers at WMC, WTMJ, and WPRI will no doubt frame the effort as pure labor/leftist politics. But I think the case for a Walker recall is conservative in nature, and should be supported by all citizens who believe in good government regardless of party affiliation. Two main arguments support the recall: (1) the bait and switch, and (2) abuse of power.

First, the bait and switch: We all expect politicians to say one thing during the campaign and do something else once in office. What we DON'T expect is that the "something else" includes immediate overturning of 50 years of established precedent.

Mr. Walker ran for office on a platform of asking for greater state employee contributions to health care premiums and the pension fund. He was clear that if the state employee unions would not agree to greater contributions, he would support continued furloughs or layoffs. He did not run on a platform of union busting.

Baiting the electorate with the promise of being a tough negotiator and then making the switch to union busting mode sets a dangerous precedent for governing. Absent an attempt to recall Walker, the message to future gubernatorial candidates is clear: you can safely overturn settled precedent(s) or laws that you disagree with without even having to be crystal clear about your intentions during the campaign. The result is weasel politics of the worst kind. 

Second, the abuse of power: The governor has the duty to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." No governor has to like state statutes governing state employment labor relations, and he's free to advocate for changes to the rules. Especially given that those rules have been around for decades, it's not unreasonable to expect that radical rewriting of them would be preceded at a minimum by legislative committee hearings, public hearings throughout the state, and vigorous debate on the floors of the Senate and Assembly. That's just good government.

Citizens need to communicate to Mr. Walker that in the phrase "faithful execution of the laws," the word "execution" does not mean "kill." Governors ought not have the power to kill off laws or statutes they do not like on the basis of manufactured crises, ideology, or crass politics.

Should a recall election against Mr. Walker actually take place, millions of dollars worth of outside spending will almost guarantee that Republican voters will stand by him. That's unfortunate, because the case for recall outlined in this post is actually a very conservative one. Conservatives are supposed to value law, precedent, and tradition; for real conservatives change ought to take place only when reasoned argument dictates and only when transparent deliberative procedures have been followed.

Conservatives reject (or should reject) any change that is the result of the application of raw power to overrun political opponents.  Liberals should reject that kind of change too.

If the Wisconsin citizens decide to recall Scott Walker, they will be making a conservative statement about the standard of governing behavior we expect from our Chief Executive. The entire nation would benefit from hearing that statement.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My Take on the Recalls

Last night the Republicans maintained control of the Wisconsin State Senate by winning 4 of 6 recall elections. For critics of Governor Scott Walker and the Republican legislature's blatant disregard for "small r" republican principles, the results were a major disappointment.

When the recall drive started, I honestly thought the Democrats would take at least 4, and possibly all 6 of the contests. I also thought they would win most of them by wide margins. So what happened?

First, let's stipulate that in any two party partisan election, the Republican and Democrat both start off with about 30% of the vote each (this is called "the base."). The remaining 40% are not "moderates;" rather, they are independents for whom campaign rhetoric matters. Winning campaigns are able to secure the base and the majority of independents.

In February and March I thought that the Republicans had been so disrespectful of basic rules of governance that the Democrats in recall elections would not only win the independents but also cut into the Republican base. That didn't happen, even though the Dems ran some excellent candidates. Pundits and Dem operatives will blame the media, or outside spending, or the fact that the elections took place in August, or any number of external factors, but I think at root the problem was ineffective Democratic messaging.

Most voters, especially the independents, believe (correctly) that elected officials should not be recalled simply for taking tough votes. I personally would not vote to recall an elected official just because he or she took a vote I disagreed with.

Unfortunately, the moment Democratic Party advertising started focusing on the fact that the Republicans had voted for massive cuts in school aids, voted for tax cuts for the rich, etc. etc., they allowed the Republican candidates to assume a victim pose: "I am being punished for taking tough votes." The independent  voters, I am convinced, do not approve of the governor's budgets . . . but neither do they approve of removing an official from office simply for voting for those budgets.

An independent voter WILL vote to recall, in my judgement, when it can be shown that the elected representative did not meet his or her responsibility to REPRESENT constituents. A representative refusing to represent is most certainly exercising misconduct in office. This is especially true for state and federal elected officials, who are confronted with legislation that is often the product of narrow lobbies (e.g. ALEC)  whose interests conflict with the representatives' constituents.

To represent does not mean to poll constituents and always vote the majority's wishes. But it does mean to listen genuinely to all sides, to be responsive to requests for information, to be willing to change one's mind when clear and compelling evidence requires it, to advocate for the most transparent government possible, to slow down the deliberative process when it is clear that insufficient debate has taken place, to do whatever is in one's power to prevent a vote on major legislation until sufficient public hearings have been held, and be a role model of respectful communication with all constituents.

The principles outlined in the last paragraph are "small r" republican; they are what we should expect from all elected officials regardless of party affiliation or office held. What Democrats needed to show in these recall elections was that after the election of Scott Walker the Republicans stopped being republican. Instead, the Republicans acted like apparatchiks; rubber stamping the governor's agenda, dividing the state by pitting public employees against the private sector, shutting down debate at the time when debate was most needed, and simply failing to communicate with their constituents.

My view is that every Republican on the ballot yesterday deserved to be recalled because they failed to uphold the basic principles of republicanism. To violate ALL these principles, as the Republicans most certainly did over the last 8 months, is most certainly malfeasance in office. Thus their behavior would fall under the strict recall language of the state of Georgia endorsed by the Oshkosh Northwestern today.

In short, when Democratic advertising started to critique the Republicans for their votes, they took the focus off of the Republicans' heavy handed governing procedures. Those procedures showed open contempt for some pretty basic rules of republicanism, and should be opposed by all civic minded people regardless of party or platform.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Murdoch Media: The Sleeze Finally Hits The Fan

Murdoch Media: The Sleaze Finally Hits The Fan

Media Rants

By 

Tony Palmeri  

From the August 2011 edition of THE SCENE 

In 2007 Clive Goodman, a “journalist” for Britain’s sleazy celebrity gossip tabloid The News of the World (NotW), went to jail for illegally hacking into voice mails of the paper’s “persons of interest.”  For 4 years, NotW executives brushed off the hacking as the work of one rogue reporter. Owned by Australian born media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, NotW in 2010 averaged 2.8 million readers per week.   

Then last month, the sleeze finally hit the fan; Britain’s Guardian exposed the targeting of as many as 7,000 citizens for phone hacking. Targets included victims of terrorism. Most enraging was the discovery that NotW weasels hacked the voice messages of 13 year old murder victim Millie Dowler. Though NotW had been in circulation for 168 years, public revulsion at the Dowler fiasco led to Murdoch closing down the paper. As I write in mid-July the scandal has already resulted in the resignations of top level Murdoch executives Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton as well as an array of journalists.  [August 2 update: The Guardian recently exposed NotW phone hacking related to another young murder victim.].

Possible phone message hacking of 9/11 victims, along with allegations of bribing police officers for sensitive information, resulted in United States Attorney General Eric Holder launching an investigation into the News Corporation’s activities on this side of the pond. Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal responded with an outrageous editorial attacking “politicians and our competitors” using the scandal to “perhaps injure press freedom in general.”
 
Rupert Murdoch is not the first and will not be the last ethically challenged, power obsessed corporate media executive. Yet with the possible exception of William Randolph Hearst, the famed publisher whose “yellow journalism” rags whipped the public into war frenzy and in the 1930s exposed millions of readers to pro-Nazi propaganda, Murdoch is the single most negative force in the history of western media. Since the 1980s, television and print productions associated with the Murdoch brand read like a murderer’s row of exploitation, titillation, free market cheerleading, and right wing proselytizing. In addition to NotW they include “A Current Affair,” The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Fox News Network and many others. Often, as in the case of the New York Post and Wall Street Journal, Murdoch’s ownership transforms once respectable news sources into sensationalist muck (the Post) or a propaganda arm for Murdoch’s market ideology (the WSJ).
Legendary Washington Post Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, long critical of the Murdoch empire, argues the hacking scandal will surprise “only those who have willfully blinded themselves to that empire’s pernicious influence on journalism in the English-speaking world. Too many of us have winked in amusement at the salaciousness without considering the larger corruption of journalism and politics promulgated by Murdoch Culture on both sides of the Atlantic.”  Not surprised is New York Times media columnist David Carr. His shocking July 17th piece examines the extent to which Murdoch’s empire uses its financial clout to silence critics. News America Marketing, News Corporation’s newspaper insert marketing business “has paid out about $655 million to make embarrassing charges of corporate espionage and anticompetitive behavior go away.”

According to Nation columnist John Nichols, Murdoch has “gamed American politics every bit as thoroughly as Britain’s.”  During a 2003 appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, Murdoch discovered that Republicans on the panel could not wait to kiss his ass. Nichols quotes Wisconsin Congressman James Sensenbrenner as telling Murdoch, “When my wife doesn’t get a good dose of Fox News every day she gets grumpy. So there are some of us who appreciate what you are doing.” Today, Congressional Republicans appear to be in no hurry to investigate Murdoch’s News Corporation. Why risk harming the “fair and balanced” Fox News network’s incessant spewing of GOP talking points? 

Given the above, it’s tempting to see Murdoch as the cause of the debasement of political discourse and journalism on both sides of the Atlantic. But that’s too simple; Murdoch more accurately is the most awful symptom of what happens when an unchallenged model of profit-driven media intersects with a weak media regulatory system. Here’s the equation: Unquestioned profit motive + weak regulations = Murdoch’s News Corporation. 

Media critic Marvin Kitman’s fine piece in the November 2010 Harper’s (“Murdoch Triumphant: How we could have stopped him twice”) lays out in crisp detail how the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) virtually suspended the Communication Act of 1934 in order to green light Murdoch’s growth plans. Kitman argues that the FCC, when it came to Murdoch, wasn’t a lap dog as much as a lap dancer. 

The FCC lap dance happened in the 80s and 90s. Murdoch bought 6 American television stations, but because the News Corporation was Australia based the FCC could have denied licenses on the grounds that the Communications Act does not allow foreign ownership of American stations. The FCC ruled in Murdoch’s favor, and did again when he sought to own a newspaper and television station in the same market. 

I learned from Ben Bagdikian’s classic The New Media Monopoly that Murdoch’s News Corporation even owns Zondervan, the largest producer of commercial Bibles in America. When conservative Christians buy a Zondervan Bible, do you think they know they are supporting a sultan of sleaze overseeing a morally challenged and quite possibly criminally corrupt empire? Not a prayer, I suspect.  

Friday, July 01, 2011

Media Rants: Thank You Commissioner Copps

Thank You Commissioner Copps 


Media Rants
By

Tony Palmeri

from the July 2011 edition of The SCENE

The Communications Act of 1934 created the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent agency charged with ensuring media owners operate in the public interest. The FCC rarely meets that charge, in part because like other federal regulatory agencies it tends to be controlled and/or coopted by the entities it allegedly regulates. The FCC’s own Working Group on the Information Needs of Communities in a recent report admits as much: 

“Over the FCC’s 75-year existence, it has renewed more than 100,000 licenses. It has denied only four renewal applications due to the licensee’s failure to meet its public interest programming obligation. No license renewals have been denied on those grounds in the past 30 years. The current system operates neither as a free market nor as an effectively regulated one; and it does not achieve the public interest goals set out by Congress or the FCC.”  

The FCC is run by 5 commissioners appointed by the President of the United States and approved by the Senate. One commissioner is selected by the president to serve as chair. As noted by mediahistorian Bob McChesney, the FCC’s an industry friendly outfit surrounded by corporate CEOs, lawyers and lobbyists; over the years they’ve studiously avoided meaningful input from the public in whose interest they supposedly operate.  

In the FCC’s entire history three commissioners stand out for their commitment to the public interest. Newton Minow served as FCC chair from 1961 to 1963. His depiction of commercial television broadcasting as a “vast wasteland” inspired generations of educators and activists to advocate for higher media standards and media literacy as a mandatory part of the school curriculum.

Nicholas Johnson served from 1966 to 1973. Known for his dissent from business as usual at the FCC, Johnson in 1970 authored How to Talk Back to Your Television Set , a classic statement of the perils of corporate media ownership and a prescription for how to fight back.  

Commissioner Michael Copps will leave the FCC at the end of this year. Since 2001 he’s been the FCC’s most articulate and principled voice in favor of forceful defense of the public interest. In 2003, when then FCC chair Michael Powell led the ill-conceived charge to ease restrictions on media consolidation, Copps and commissioner Jonathan Adelstein held unprecedented public hearings in 13 cities. They sparked 3 million letters and mass protests. The Powell faction still had enough votes to loosen media ownership rules, but opponents successfully challenged them in court.  

With his typical clarity and force, Copps at the National Conference for Media Reform in April of this year sounded a clarion call for continued activism against media consolidation:  

“The big money crowd keeps telling us media consolidation has run its course.  Hmm, I wonder if Comcast and AT&T just didn’t get the memo? Don’t believe it for a second; the binge continues. And it’s even more dangerous because they’re now after new media, too, broadband and the Internet, which we all hoped would be the bulwark against more consolidation in radio, television and cable. So now it’s visions of gated Internet communities that dance in their heads.  And to keep reformers at bay, they’ve come up with the rallying cry of ‘Don’t regulate the Internet.’  What they really mean, of course, is ‘Don’t let anyone but us control the Internet.’  So regardless of whether it’s a traditional or new media context, the real question remains the same: will we allow a few huge companies to control consumers’ access to information?  Well, without vastly increased public outcry, the answer is clearly ‘yes, we will.’ 

Let me ask: Is there anyone here who wants a consolidated, cable-ized Internet controlled by a few corporate gatekeepers?  

Is there anyone here who believes new media should suffer the same sad fate that decimated big radio, television and cable?


Is there anyone here who believes our civic dialogue, that precious and essential conversation we have with ourselves to keep democracy alive, can survive any more of this reckless folly? 

Challenging the aforementioned recent FCC Working Group report assertion that American news media is mostly vibrant, Copps says, “Where is the vibrancy when hundreds of newsrooms have been decimated and tens of thousands of reporters are walking the street in search of a job instead of working the beat in search of a story?” Copps has called for at least 3 public hearings on the Working Group Report; as I write this in mid June none have been scheduled.  

Copps argues that media reform is not likely absent the creation of a sense of urgency. As he told the New America Foundation: “Knowing that our news and information system is not, right now, supplying the depth and breadth of information a functioning democracy requires for informed decision making, we must push hard for action.  We need to be really engaged on this. . . This is no time to be timid.  There is no need to be deflected or defensive or scared off by those whose vested interests, economic and political, argue against any and all public interest oversight.”  

Michael Copps is originally from Milwaukee.  Like every Badger should be, he is informed by a “Forward” mindset. If we had 5 Copps on the FCC, we’d have a more robust, accountable media.
Tony Palmeri (tony@tonypalmeri.com) is a professor of communication studies at UW Oshkosh.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

So Much For The Kagan Rationale

When President Obama nominated Elena Kagan to replace John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court, the major rationale offered was that Kagan would be a "consensus builder" able to sway conservative justices (especially Anthony Kennedy) in a progressive or at least moderate direction.

Now that Kagan's first term on the Court is over, it's a good time to assess how that rationale is playing out. Today's Washington Post includes a graphic indicating what percentage of time each justice agreed with the others. Let's look at what percentage of the time each conservative justice agreed with Kagan:

*Roberts: Agreed with Kagan 69% of the time.
*Alito: Agreed with Kagan 67% of the time.
*Thomas: Agreed with Kagan 65% of the time.
*Scalia: Agreed with Kagan 69% of the time.
*Kennedy: Agreed with Kagan 71% of the time.

Contrast those figures with the amount of time each of the liberal justices agreed with Kagan:
*Ginsburg: Agreed with Kagan 90% of the time.
*Breyer: Agreed with Kagan 88% of the time.
*Sotomayor: Agreed with Kagan 94% of the time.

What these numbers suggest is that Kagan, at least at this early point in her tenure, is a reliable liberal vote on the Court. There's very little evidence to suggest that, so far at least,  she holds sway with any of the conservative justices in any meaningful sense.

The crucial case testing Kagan's consensus building abilities was the recent one that gutted Arizona's public campaign finance law. Two elements of that case should be troubling for those hoping that Kagan will be the Court's consensus builder.

First, the 5 conservatives took a very, to put it charitably, "novel" approach to the First Amendment in holding that using public money to "level the playing field" in political campaigns; i.e. guaranteeing MORE SPEECH in the campaign, somehow places a "burden" on a privately financed candidate. If Kagan could not persuade a "moderate" like Justice Kennedy to see the fallacy in that kind of reasoning, it does not bode well for other cases that will come before the Court.

Second, in Kagan's career before her appointment to the Court she was somewhat of a First Amendment scholar. That she could not move ONE of the conservative justices in an area that is her expertise seems to suggest it's highly unlikely she will be able to do it in other areas.

During the Kagan confirmation period, Salon's Glenn Greenwald argued forcefully that if Obama was looking for a consensus builder who could sway conservatives, Diane Wood would be an excellent choice:

"Wood's ability to craft legal opinions to induce conservative judges to join her opinions is renowned, as is the respect she commands from them through unparalleled diligence and force of intellect."

In short, the results of her first term indicate that Elena Kagan will be a reliable liberal vote on the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, she was sold to the Congress and the American public as being able to do more than that. It's early and the jury is still out of course, but so far we have little evidence that Justice Kennedy is being moved by Kagan in any meaningful way.