The Republicans' Manufactured Media War (Truthout)

This excerpt is from an article exclusively  published at Truthout. May not be reprinted without their permission.

The Republicans' Manufactured Media War
Sunday, 08 November 2015                   

By Michael Corcoran, Truthout | News Analysis

After the first Republican presidential debate on August 6, 2015, Donald Trump, a former reality television star, made a joke about the moderator's menstrual cycle. Trump also spoke of how he wants to build a $6.4 billion security wall along the border and charge the bill to the Mexican government (which is understandably befuddled by the candidate's "enormous ignorance"). At the second GOP debate on September 16, Dr. Ben Carson answered a question about his flat-tax proposal that made it painfully clear he does not understand the difference between progressive taxation and socialism. Using Carson's criteria, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were both socialist presidents.

These ridiculous comments from past debates came from the two front-runners in the Republican primary - who both complain about a lack of substance in presidential debates.

These kinds of ironies abound in the Republican candidates' latest crusade against the media. The Republicans took issue with several of the moderator's questions in the October 28, 2015, GOP presidential debate in Colorado. Since then a wave of Republican anger has erupted over the way "the media" handles the presidential debates. The crux of the argument is that CNBC - and the rest of the media - have what Carson calls "a political agenda" to discredit the Republican candidates. The issue has dominated the news cycle, led some candidates to make a list of demands for future debates and prompted some high-profile candidates to support suspending future debates on NBC platforms.

There is no doubt that presidential debates in America, for both parties, are deeply flawed and lacking in substance. The politicians and the media all share in the blame for this. But the Republicans' latest campaign is not an effort to solve this problem but rather an effort to scare the public into believing that the mainstream media are conspiring to advance a leftist agenda.

If one looks beyond the GOP's alarmist rhetoric, however, a different reality emerges. The truth is that CNBC's coverage is extremely hostile to the left and embraces the GOP's worldview in many ways. Further, the relationship between its parent company, Comcast, and the Republican Party, is just one example of just how the corporate media and the GOP have many shared interests. This latest anti-media blitz following the CNBC debate is merely a disingenuous act of political theater

Read the rest at Truthout.

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Will Colorado Become the First State to Implement Single-Payer Health Care? (Truthout)

Published exclusively at Truthout.

Will Colorado Become the First State to Implement Single-Payer Health Care?

by Michael Corcoran
The fight for a statewide single-payer health-care system has shifted from the Green Mountains to the Rocky Mountains: Colorado citizens are about to put single-payer up for a statewide ballot referendum in the 2016 election. If voters approve, the state constitution will be amended to create a statewide, publicly financed, universal system for the first time in US history.

After a long struggle, Vermont's proposal for a similar plan died in January 2015, after a decision by the governor to abandon the plan. Green Mountain Care, as it was known, is the closest any state has come to implementing a public health-care system that covers everyone. So the failure was a major disappointment for advocates for social justice everywhere. But the setback didn't stop activists in states across the country from pursuing similar reforms. Many in these states watched events in Vermont closely - to see what worked and what didn't and to avoid the pitfalls that proved fatal.

Colorado has been especially active, and activists are set to turn in more than 150,000 signatures (about 99,000 are required) to put health reform on the 2016 ballot, said Lyn Gullette, campaign director for ColoradoCareYES. Organizers say they are optimistic that their strategy will succeed where Vermont's failed - and that when ballots are cast in 2016, public, universal health care may become a reality in Colorado.

Read the rest here.


Protecting the Shield: Why ESPN Can't be Trusted to Cover the NFL (Truthout)

This excerpt is from an article published at Truthout.

Protecting the Shield: Why ESPN Can't Be Trusted to Cover the NFL
Sunday, 27 September 2015                       
By Michael Corcoran, Truthout | News Analysis

The National Football League (NFL) is not merely a sports league that helps entertain the US public. While football is just a game, the NFL is a major institutional power that uses billions of tax dollars to subsidize its owners, tries to weaken unions in courts and is potentially complicit in an increasingly disturbing mental health crisis among its workforce. In light of this, the league warrants close scrutiny and investigation from the media.

The organization that should be the most important watchdog of the league is ESPN, which as the largest sports media company in the world has the resources and reach to truly serve as a check on the league's power. Unfortunately, ESPN is too compromised to be trusted in this role. Its NFL broadcasts are worth billions, and an examination of its coverage shows that ESPN's priorities are not investigating the league, but protecting it.

In early September, Judge Richard Berman nullified the NFL's four-game suspension of famed quarterback Tom Brady. The suspension, affirmed by the league's commissioner, Roger Goodell, was for Brady's alleged role in the "Deflategate" scandal - arguably one of the most ridiculous cases in the history of US jurisprudence.

The judge ruled against the NFL on September 3 for not giving Brady a fair hearing in his appeal, and for punishing him for a rule that doesn't exist: alleged "general awareness" of an alleged equipment violation (deflating air out of a football). In two brutal hearings in open court (August 12 and August 19), Berman ripped the NFL's lack of due process and its "independent" report, aimed at rubber-stamping Goodell's "own brand of industrial justice," as Berman called it.

Read the rest at Truthout


Truthout: Crises at Pacifica

Originally published at Truthout

Crises at Pacifica Radio

By Michael Corcoran

January 31, 2015

Pacifica Radio, one of the most iconic and last remaining outlets for progressive voices on the radio, is facing an increasingly uncertain future.
The network, which consists of five radio stations and dozens of affiliates across the country, has been full of dysfunction in recent years. The dysfunction has been caused by heated infighting caused by two factions vying for control of the network, the loss of important grant money, dwindling listenership, and near-constant fundraising and accounting hiccups.

In recent weeks, anxiety over the direction of Pacifica has only increased. In December, the California Attorney General demanded an in-depth audit from the organization. Around the same time, the current management, led by Margy Wilkinson, the chairman of the national board and the interim executive director, announced a plan to make layoffs and cuts in the amount of $500,000. The details of the announced cuts have not been made public, but current and former Pacifica staffers have vocally denounced them. Wilkinson said in an interview with Truthout that the cuts are needed due to the "serious financial stress" facing Pacifica.

Meanwhile, the audit asks for a dizzying amount of financial information, which must be supplied by February 17 (following a one-month extension the AG granted in mid-January). Wilkinson said she was "confident they would be able to provide all the requested information."

Some, however, are skeptical the requirements will be met. "Pacifica management is not going to be able to produce all the documents the Attorney General wants, even though those documents would be easy for just about any nonprofit to provide," said former board member Bill Crosier in a statement sent to Truthout.
Crosier, and other members of Pacifica in Exile, cite the current leadership's inability to complete its annual audit as a reason for the doubt, and they go further, saying in a press release that the current "chaos is not accidental, but is a purposeful attempt to drive the organization into bankruptcy court, where one or more of the multimillion-dollar radio licenses could be sold off to benefit the survivors."

What caused the audit? Who is to blame? These questions are answered very differently depending on which faction of the Pacifica community you speak with.

Read the rest here.


Blaming the Victims: Media Bias Against Struggling Millennials (Truthout)

Originally published by Truthout. 

Michael Corcoran
November 20, 2013

It has become a common refrain in the mainstream media: The economic problems that young people face are the product of generational laziness and a sense of entitlement. People between the ages of 16 and 24 have an unemployment rate of 16.3 percent, more than twice the national average, and an alarming 36 percent of adults age 18-31 are living with their parents.
"Word that six million young people are not working or studying comes as no surprise to anyone with a millennial in the basement," writes Jennifer Graham in an op-ed titled "A Generation of Idle Trophy Kids," for the Boston Globe. Millennials' describes, loosely, the generation born between 1980 and 2000. "It's young people who don't leave the house at all, not because they're scared like agoraphobics, but because their needs are met and they're content."
To say that Graham's article is a woeful oversimplification would be to give it way too much credit. The article is an embarrassing debacle, filled with worthless platitudes to support an argument that is insulting not only to young and poor people but to anyone who values critical-thinking skills. Graham fails to provide any serious examination of the economic conditions facing young people, and the article lacks any significant data to back up her claim that millennials are a "minimally employable crop" of slackers who lack "the motivation to provide for themselves."
She also seems to make the racist and classist assumption that all young people are white, privileged members of the middle class who have the luxury of returning to suburban homes (as opposed to, say, park benches or homeless shelters) when they lack steady employment. Conveniently, she ignores things like the fact that 57 percent of young black adults are either "near" or in "deep poverty."
It is tempting to ignore such a weak and unsubstantiated argument, but this will not do, given that the Globe's article is rather consistent with a widespread, systemic media bias against not only young people but poor and working-class people in general. The implication is unambiguous: Poor people, of all ages, are that way because they are lazy, entitled or amoral - never mind the actual economic conditions they face.
In fact, as if they were intentionally attempting to demonstrate the narrow parameters of debate that exist in mainstream media circles, even an article by a Globe editorial board member (who is a millennial) that aims to refute Graham's op-ed, manages to repeat some of its most galling weaknesses, including a notable lack of evidence to back up its claims. The rebuttal, like the original op-ed, turns what should be a serious issue - poverty among young adults - and reduces it to a few witty jokes ("we'll take responsibility for Miley Cyrus") and hipster phrases (the article concludes as such: "(drops mic) I'm out"). The article also falls into the familiar trap of assuming that all young people are privileged whites whose main priority is not finding food and shelter but having "the nice things we grew up with." This presumes of course, that all young people grew up with "suburban homes," computers, digital cable and other elements of the four-car-garage lifestyle the author describes. It might interest the Globe editorial board to know that most young people in today's world did not grow up in such decadence, and many barely scraped by and have no family support. This collection of Globearticles is basically a back-and-forth between white people discussing decidedly first-world problems.
The Globe's worthless offerings on the subject notwithstanding, there can be no doubt that the issue of the economic plight of young people is worth examining. But to do so requires a serious look at the real economic conditions young adults face and the reasons these conditions exist. Graham's article, and many others like it, generally fail to consider the context in which young people are struggling to find decent jobs, including thelong-term economic impacts of deregulation and neoliberalism pushed by state managers and wealthy elites for some three decades now, which have kept wages stagnant for people of all ages, including young people; theimpact of the 2008 economic crisis (mostly caused by people born well before 1980); the college affordability crisis; and the fact that low-wage service-sector jobs tend to be where job growth is.

Read the rest here. 


How Google Is Helping the Gas Lobby Support Fracking (Truthout)

Published November 15, 2013 for Truthout. 

Ads on Google have placed pro-fracking propaganda at the top of Google search results and into the middle of an important discussion on the environmental impacts of fracking. The practice raises important questions about the role of search engines in the new media world.

For more than 17 months, Robert Howarth, an ecology professor at Cornell, has had a Google problem. Howarth is the chief author of an important paper on the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial method of obtaining natural gas. The paper concludes that the practice is not a clean way to extract domestic energy, as many allege, and has an even greater carbon footprint than coal. The paper's conclusions poke holes in some of the most common talking points used by supporters of fracking and made major headlines, including a large and prominently placed article in The New York Times in April 2011. Howarth, along with one of his co-authors, Anthony Ingraffea, and activist actor Mark Ruffalo, were ranked by Time as among the 100 "people who matter" in 2011.

The paper also got the attention of the gas lobby. Most notably, America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA). Soon after the paper was released, Howarth and others noticed a disturbing phenomenon on Google. Every time Professor Howarth's name was placed into a Google search engine, the first thing that appeared was an ad from ANGA, devoted strictly to hampering the credibility of Howarth's research. The page was listed as an ad but at a quick glance, it simply looked like the top search result. As of the time of this writing, late October, the ad still displayed that way.
The ad, and the ability of industry to use Google ads for these purposes, raises important questions about the role that Google and other prominent search engines will have on important political and scientific discourse. Do Google and other companies have a responsibility to the public to consider the way their search engine can be used to advance the interests of certain industries? This method naturally empowers wealthy industries to dominate Google search results given their massive resources and vested financial interests in the way in which science is discussed in the public sphere. And the company does ultimately answer to shareholders and not to the public at large. Given this reality, what can we expect from Google and other corporate giants of the Internet world when it comes to providing valuable information that serves the public? 

Dark Money Dominates Election (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting)

Published in the January 2013 edition of Extra!, the magazine for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

Dark Money Dominates Election

Campaign--and media coverage--still tainted by Citizens United decision

“Super PACs may be bad for America, but they’re very good for CBS.”
CBS's president Les Moonves: What's bad for America is "very good for CBS." (Photo cred.: LATimes.com)
CBS's president Les Moonves: What's bad for America is "very good for CBS." (Photo cred.: LATimes.com)
CBS president Les Moonves’ candid comment at an entertainment law conference (Bloomberg3/10/12) was one of the few honest things said by someone so deeply involved in the post–Citizens United political ad frenzy.
This past election season was dominated by a record amount of ads, including many that were alarmingly misleading, and which raked in record profits for the media corporations who covered the election. Moonves was celebrating what, according to Bloomberg (3/10/12), was a projected boost in profits “by $180 million this year from political advertising,” far more than the last presidential election.
While fourth-quarter profits have not been announced as of this writing, the media tracking group SNL Kagan (PRWeb11/1/12) reports that “[2012] TV station political advertising revenue is expected to increase to $2.6 billion, a 68 percent increase over the 2008 total of $1.6 billion.” Other estimates have that number as high as $6 billion (New America Foundation, 11/16/12).

This trend was entirely predictable, given the record profits in the 2010 midterm elections (Extra!, 1/11), which followed on the heels of the Supreme Court decision that removed restrictions on political ad spending by corporations. In the words of the Associated Press (10/30/10), Citizensessentially constituted a “stimulus package” for broadcast and cable media corporations in 2010, which saw major increases in revenue. Much of this windfall can be attributed directly to the Citizens decision, according to SNL Kagan, which described the 2010 election climate as “a political ad revenue treasure trove for broadcasters” (Hill9/22/10).
Political ads came in three basic forms: ads officially sanctioned and paid for by candidates, ads by Super PACs—the Frankenstein’s monster of Citizens United—and ads from 501(c)4 groups, which are similar to Super PACs, but legally distinct and even less transparent. (Karl Rove’s 2012 operation included both a Super PAC and a 501(c)4.) In 2012, these outside groups were extravagant spenders, shelling out “more than $1 billion all told, about triple the amount in 2010” (New York Times11/8/12).
Many of the ads that dominated airwaves—especially from the out-side groups—were notably inaccurate. A six-month study conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center on behalf of the Center for Responsive Politics in early 2012 concluded that “campaign attack ads from outside groups are about 85 percent false” (ABC News6/22/12).
They were also more likely to focus negatively on the preferred candidate’s opponent. A report from the Wesleyan Project in May (5/2/12) found that 86 percent of interest group ads mentioned the opponent (versus 53 percent of candidate-sponsored ads). Outside groups’ ads, the Wesleyan Project found, produced nearly 60 percent of all political ads—way up from just over 3 percent of ads in the 2008 election.

Aside from the proliferation of false and negative information, the intersection between money and politics should trouble a press corp that seeks to hold the powerful accountable. Yet the toughest criticism the corporate media could muster was to portray the huge ad buys as a failed strategy. Soon after the election, the New York Times (11/8/12) ran a front-page story explaining that there was “Little to Show for Cash Flood by Big Donors” in the way of election results. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza (11/8/12) quoted one Republican source: “Big givers [are] wondering where the money went and why Karl [Rove] was so mistaken.” The narrative was that “dark money” and big spending proved not to help the GOP win many elections.
But as Tim Karr, campaign director of Free Press, pointed out, “This does not consider the many other impacts of this money, including all the money that went to Democrats.”
“The list of dark-money beneficiaries extends from the D.C. consultants and media strategists who counseled the campaigns to the owners of television stations that raked in campaign cash and clogged the airwaves with political ads,” said Karr.
“Political influence is an industry,” Karr told Extra!. “And those in this industry are working hard to make sure it continues to grow.”
Indeed, while Barack Obama and the Democrats may have won the elections in 2012, it seems that in the Citizens United era, the real beneficiaries of political advertisements—ad agencies, D.C. consultants and media companies who rake in record profits—are poised to win every election in the coming years.

Michael Corcoran (MichaelCorcoran.blogspot.com) is a freelance journalist based in Boston. He writes frequently for Extra!, as well as for such outlets as The Nation and Boston Globe.


Impossible Choices? The Conservatism of "Breaking Bad"

Published at Truthout. 

This Sunday (September 2) AMC will air the final episode of part one of it's fifth and final season of "Breaking Bad," an immensely popular and critically acclaimed show about a down-on-his luck high school chemistry teacher who, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, starts a life as a crystal methamphetamine manufacturer. The high praise of the show is largely warranted: the premise is fascinating, the photography and acting is superb and the drama intense. Some have even dared to suggest that "Breaking Bad" represents the best that modern television has to offer, even surpassing HBO's the "Wire" as the greatest show of its time. This, it must be said, is to give the show too much credit.

As entertaining as the show is, it is important to understand what it is not: a serious analysis of the drug war, the health system, middle-class drug culture or the American experience at all. In fact, the show is very much a demonstration of a very conservative worldview that posits that life is but a series of individual choices. The show, rather simply, attributes the consequences of these choices squarely on the women and (mostly) men who make them. As Chuck Klosterman wrote forGrantland, in a 2011 essay praising "Breaking Bad" as the greatest show of the modern era, the show presents a world where "goodness and badness are simply complicated choices, no different than anything else." This, he adds, is in contrast to "The Wire," where (emphasis in original) "everyone is simultaneously good and bad" and "[t]he conditions matter more than the participants."

Klosterman, in trying to explain why "Breaking Bad" is the best of the great shows of the modern era, is actually, and unwittingly, pointing out its most glaring weakness. "Breaking Bad's" biggest shortcoming is its lack of systemic analysis of the American experiment, which also happened to be the "Wire's" greatest asset. In fact, "Breaking Bad" does the exact opposite of systemic analysis; rather than focus on society's problems from a macro level, it has a laser-like focus on the micro - into the world of one unique man, with unique ambitions and morals. As a result, "Breaking Bad" teaches us a lot about one fascinating man, and almost nothing about the American experience.

"Breaking Bad" did not have to be this way. After the pilot, one could have reasonably projected that the show would serve to address the bankrupting impact of our woeful health care system. In fact, a recent essay in the Nation describes the show as being (wrongly, I would argue) about the "failed American Dream," filled with "impossible choices." "Breaking Bad," the author writes, "works to deconstruct these little fallacies that keep the poor from demanding dignity."

But this interpretation greatly overstates "Breaking Bad" as a critique of American capitalism and/or its institutions. Indeed, soon after the pilot the show quickly pivoted to something very different, and something rooted deeply in a sort of masculine, individualist conservatism. It turned out Walter White did not cook crystal meth because he could not pay his medical bills, but because he did not want to accept charity (from well-to-do friends) to pay these bills.

Using a rationale and language that conservatives must love, White would not demean himself by accepting help from others, no matter that else he must do to avoid that fate. Receiving charity in White's world, makes him weak, makes him less of a man, and is far less desirable to him than dying of cancer. The idea that he was "forced" into a life of crime does not do justice to the evolution of White into Heisenberg. White did have choices; they may not have been perfect choices, but they were not "impossible" choices, such as the ones the character's on the "Wire" faced all the time.

Read the rest, here. 


Little Credibility: U.S. Coverage of Iranian-Latin American Relations

Originally published for the NACLA Report on the Americas

Michael Corcoran
In January, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took a weeklong tour of Latin America. That the media seem to dismiss the tour as a joke, while at the same time ramping up fears that somehow Iranian relations in the Americas poses a security risk to the United States, only further shows how little credibility there is in the U.S. corporate media coverage of the Iranian–Latin American relation


The Corporate Media's Attempt to Kill the Occupy Movement (Truthout)

Originally published at Truthout.

The Corporate Media's Attempt to Kill the Occupy Movement Monday, 07 May 2012 13:15 By Michael Corcoran and Stephen Maher, Truthout | News Analysis  

"It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen." George Orwell, "1984."
This May Day brought the explosive global resurgence of Occupy, one of the most significant social movement in decades. In New York City, the heart of global capitalism and center of the movement, the New York Civil Liberties Union estimated that 30,000 demonstrators took part in a massive rally and march down Broadway, led by a score of city taxicabs. As has become alarmingly common for a country that constantly proclaims its zealous devotion to democracy, the day ended with brutal police violence and arrests.

The visible success of Occupy in creating a space for the voice of the people impelled uncontrolled thousands to pour onto the streets of New York City, Oakland, and elsewhere around the country and across the world on May Day, in the start of what US organizers have called an "American Spring." Touting its message of class solidarity--"we are the 99 percent" - Occupy has revealed the profoundly undemocratic nature of a democratic consensus expressed by corporate-sponsored political representatives, demanding direct popular involvement in areas of social and political life normally dominated by ruling class power.

The powerful rejuvenation of the Occupy movement, however, was used by the US media - owned by the very same interests that Occupy directly threatens - as an opportunity to finally kill the Occupy movement and marginalize the voices of its participants. Since September, the mainstream press in the US has systematically ignored and demonized the Occupy movement. The nakedness of the class bias in this case, however, was especially jarring: the size and significance of the protests were downplayed, reports of police brutality were largely ignored, and the movement was portrayed as violent and dangerous. Many of the most prominent US news outlets, such as The New York Times, practically ignored the protests altogether. These shameful distortions by the corporate press display the function of the media as an organ of the rule of "the 1 percent," and reveal how threatened elites are by organized, direct action and democratic participation.

Read the rest here.