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Thursday, March 31, 2005

Rony Abovitz of Easongate Fame Opens Up for American Journalism Review

Remember Rony Abovitz, the guy who exposed former CNN executive Eason Jordan's conspiratorial comments about the U.S. military targeting journalists in Iraq? The Jordan flap has faded from the headlines but now Abovitz - who kept a bit of a low profile during the furor - is talking and he has a lot to say.

The current issue of the American Journalism Review has a lengthy piece by free lancer Neil Reisner in which Abovitz talks about the Jordan explosion, bloggers, the MSM and much else. Among other things, he thinks some of the coverage in the Blogosphere was "well done," but he also saw elements of " lynch mob."

Here's a sample of Abovitz's comments, as relayed by Reisner:
"The mainstream press 'did not cover it very well, and I'm not sure the bloggers did very well, either,' he says. 'A lot of the mainstream media was late on it, confused; they didn't know what was being done. Some of the blogging was well done, some of the blogging looked like a lynch mob.
"'It's taken on weird aspects because it's like no one who's liberal can talk in public anymore, which isn't the point, or that bloggers are evil scumbags or that the mainstream media is all finished.'"

There are other riches in the AJR, including two excellent columns focusing on the relationship between the MSM and the Blogosphere by Deborah Potter and Barb Palser.

You might be surprised - given AJR's status as a respected voice of traditional journalism - by some of the tough comments from Potter and Palser on what is often the MSM's fearful, deeply flawed response to the Blogosphere.

Potter, a former network news reporter and now executive director of Newslab, offers this gem about the similarities between Rathergate and Easongate:

"Convenient as it may be to blame the new-fangled phenomenon of blogs for Jordan's demise, at least some of the fault belongs to a more old-fashioned problem--network arrogance, the same disease that afflicted CBS News in the case of the "60 Minutes" National Guard story. "Instead of admitting the obvious flaws in that story and promising to investigate further, CBS circled the wagons and stood by it for almost two weeks. In both cases, a quick apology instead of a lame defense might have led to a very different outcome. A little humility could have minimized the damage to the news divisions' reputations and to the individuals who wound up losing their jobs, unfairly or not."

Palser, AJR's new media issues columnist, says the Blogosphere can help the MSM if only the MSM would wake up:
"The corporate media versus organic media and conservative versus liberal divides are gigantic, endemic problems that transcend our recent blog squabbles. But the bloggers could actually improve the MSM, if only journalists would better engage them.
"The worst possible MSM response is to lump all bloggers into the same bucket. Some have better credentials and more 'real' journalism experience than many professional reporters. In fact, some are professional reporters. Some care very much about the integrity of the media and want to fix it, not crush it. Don't demean their interest by saying they have too much time on their hands: If they expose corruption or shoddy reporting once in a while, it's time well spent."

And if the MSM and Blogosphere were to start giving each other more respect, according to Palser, the result would be excellent for everybody but especially for journalists:
"When everybody stops freaking out, the best hope is this: There will be a new dimension to journalism in which the consumer is also a contributor, ombudsman and fact-checker. The profession will become more self-aware, more trusted and more transparent. And we'll all live happily ever after, in our pajamas."

All three of these pieces are well worth spending some quality time with AJR.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Have You Tried Cat Fisking?

This cat thing with blogs is gettin' out of hand, or paw, or whatever. Steve over at The Word Unheard announces a new contest that you really can win by a whisker, so to speak. Click on the headline above to get the full facts. Steve is an honorably discharged Marine. Thanks, Steve, for serving the rest of us and protecting our right to wonder what in the world got into you on this cat thing!:)

Tennessee Solon in Hot Water Over Blog

Bill Hobbs has lots of interesting information on a flap that is developing in Tennessee politics over the blog started recently that made the House Speaker so mad, he sent one of the blogging representative's bills to legislative purgatory. Lots of links, including to an AP story, a Tennessean story and much else. Expect more of this kind of thing as blogging slowly, very slowly, makes appearances among the bravest of state and federal legislators.

Of Mice and Men (Who Want to Be Speech Police)

Ryan Sager sees where the mice of campaign finance reform are headed, from the cookie to the whole glass of milk! Better shine up the mousetraps. And Democracy Project lays out the FEC's mission creep, as illustrated by this especially creepy amicus brief filed by Campaign Legal Center to regulate state advocacy groups like North Carolina Right to Life. Yes, state groups.

CBS Buried Schiavo Before Her Death

Stacy Harp at MediaSoul has the scoop here.

These People Have Got to Be Kidding! UN Looks at "Regulating" the Internet

I couldn't believe it when I first saw Instapundit's note about it, and I still can't believe it after reading CNET's interview with China's former Internet censor, Houlin Zhao. Incredibly, Zhao is the head of the UN's International Telecommunications Union. Having learned the ropes of Internet censorship back home, Zhao is now looking for ways of doing the same thing on a worldwide basis under UN auspices.

Here's CNET's summary of what Zhao is up to:
In a series of speeches over the last year, Zhao has suggested that the ITU could become involved in everything from security and spam to managing how Internet Protocol addresses are assigned. The ITU also is looking into some aspects of voice over Internet Protocol--VoIP--communications, another potential area for expansion.

Hey, the UN has done such a tremendous job of managing the Oil for Food Program, why shouldn't we all shout hallelujah at the prospect of Kofi Anan and his censorious buddy from China telling us who gets IP addresses?

Click on the headline above this post to go to the full CNET interview.

Oh and here's a scary thought: You think Zhao and the FEC's Ellen Weintraub have ever met?

UPDATE: As usual, Captain's Quarters gets right to the point:
"The UN mostly consists of dictatorships and autocracies, which have little use for the free speech and open information that the Internet provides people all over the world. A free Internet threatens their power and their oppressive regimes.
"Nothing would please them more than to get their hands on the engines of the Internet in order to suppress the information that would inspire their subjects to throw off their shackles and claim freedom for themselves."

You can read the Captain's entire post here.

Has Old Media Lost Its Verb?

Jeff Jarvis heads his response to the The Professor's "Laying Newspapers Gently Down to Die" essay by noting that "journalism is a verb, not a noun," and offering some very wise words on why folks in the old media really only have one viable choice - embrace the new media and learn to change and grow with it. Otherwise, you will die.

Jarvis is one of the rare folks in the Blogosphere who is both a widely read blogger and a long-time success in the old media in its print and broadcast worlds. And Jeff really "gets it" on why the new media is succeeding so spectacularly as the old media continues to wither. So his thoughts on these issues are especially worthy of your contemplation.

Here's the heart of his advice to the old media:

"But turn this around and look at how exploded journalism faces new opportunities: By embracing all this new journalism people are doing, there is a no limit to the news that can be reported and there is tremendous efficiency to it.
"In this new world, the reporters are also the marketers. And once again, trust is something that is earned rather than protected. Here's a vision of the future of news where that happens.
"Rather than looking at all that as a competitor to be stopped, old journalism needs to see how to embrace the new but the new will go on whether or not it is embraced because everyone will be doing it.
"So if old journalism were smart, it would find ways to support the new: Train the everybodies doing journalism; share financial support with them; share trust with them; find the best of them; aggregate them; share the spotlight with them; take advantage of the work they do; respect them."

Embrace and grow or reject and die. It really is that simple. Some in the old media are and will do precisely that, but I fear their ranks will be thin and many will be those of their colleagues who blindly stumble into obsolescence. You can read Jeff's complete post here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Must We Lay Our Traditional Daily Newspapers Gently Down to Die?

The Professor - aka Jay Rosen of New York University - has a lengthy essay up on PressThink that probes the question of whether those in charge of the business decisions of the MSM have, consciously or otherwise, realized the days of dead-tree newspapers are dwindling away and as a consequence begun taking all the profits possible before the end.

It is a fascinating query and while I suspect no one on the business side of any major daily would even recognize the legitimacy of the question, it is nevertheless difficult not to conclude that something very like the process Rosen describes is occuring.

Consider these things cited by Rosen:
"No R & D rush. No large investment in the future. No siren call to find the new model. And yet the Project for Excellence in Journalism report says that in 2004, daily newspapers (the ones still making money) employed fewer reporters and editors. They also squeezed in more ads per page, and less news. Not only are we not seeing the big investment in an online alternative, there are signs of a withdrawal before the great divide.
"'There is more evidence than ever that the mainstream media are investing only cautiously in building new audiences,' the report states. 'That is true even online, where audiences are growing. Our data suggest that news organizations have imposed more cutbacks in their Internet operations than in their old media.'
"Getting it yet? Growing audiences, lower budgets. Pulling back when you should be stepping forward. The harvesting of the newspaper's monopoly position has apparently begun. The assisted suicide is underway. But not in every company, or every town, which kind of makes it interesting. It could be a great nonfiction book someday: Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die. (Does
Kurt Eichenwald have a new project?)
"The reasons are obvious why it will never be announced as such. Stated publicly, the laying down would be a scandal. But it does not have to be a wholly conscious choice for the enterprises that are going down that road. They can just continue with business-as-usual, obeying the incentive system as it stands, and the demise will 'happen.'"

You can read Rosen's full post here. But before you do, let me give you a prefacing thought: Why aren't the people in the newspaper industry who control the budgets investing in the Internet, except as a platform for mimicking the hard copy? The sagging demographics of the newspaper industry have been obvious to everybody for decades, so it's not like this is a recent development.

Other than the Greensboro News & Record's recently launched attempt to evolve from hard-copy to web-copy, nobody in the industry is moving forward. But I don't think it's mere greed that accounts for this phenomenon.

I think most daily newspaper executives simply don't understand the Internet. They don't get the immense newspower available to them via the wisdom of crowds. They don't get that instant links make fixed deadlines and editions as obsolete as crossbows in an ICBM world. They don't get that generations raised on multi-media news and information sourcing find a hard-copy newspaper archaic and inconvenient. They don't get that transparency is becoming the sine qua non of credibility in public policy discussions.

They just don't get it. And because they don't, they don't know where to start in seeking a new editorial and business model that works in an Internet world. So they focus on maximizing profit now.

The shame is that the profession does not face an either/or choice between the virtues and essential skills of old media and the foundational possibilities of the new media. There is no fundamental reason why a blog cannot cover the news just as effectively and credibly as The Washington Post or The New York Times on the best day. But the obsession with profit now at the expense of future market position will inevitably bleed the old media of energy and hope and thereby force the new media to find its own way financially and editorially.

It doesn't have to be this way.

UPDATE: Dan Gillmor makes a similar point to mine above, plus much, much more in his response to Rosen's essay.

Here's a sample of the much, much more:
"If the newspaper business does turn out to be dying, we need to make sure that journalism does not. I apologize to my blogging friends for saying this, but the free for all in the blogging world, however valuable (and I love it), is not sufficient to replace what we'll be missing.
"We need ways to combine the best of the old and the new. That's what I'm working on.
The people we've called the audience play a key role, in several ways. As consumers (I hate the word) of news they have to make some choices. I believe they will pay for quality, to start with. "But young readers have changed media. We in the journalism sphere need to innovate on new forms and delivery mechanisms as well as the journalism itself."

There is absolutely no reason why the Blogosphere cannot ultimately do an even better job of covering the news and making it intelligible for millions of people than the MSM has done for the past five decades.

But if that is going to happen, we bloggers need to get on the stick and start sorting out things like coverage strategies, acquiring new credibility enhancing reporting and research skills and experimenting with alternative approaches to presentation.

NEW MEDIA ROUNDUP: Prof Says MSM is Coming After Blogs

First, Smith College Econ professor James Smith is also Tech Central Station's Game Theory columnist. He took a look recently at the ongoing confrontation between the MSM and bloggers and found evidence of three areas in which the former is likely to assault the latter.

The three areas include campaign finance reform laws, libel law and copyright law. Unfortunately, we bloggers have some fundamental handicaps, according to Smith:

"In a fight against the MSM, blogs have two significant weaknesses: lack of monetary and legal resources. Most bloggers already lose money on their blogs. A small paperwork, monetary or legal burden imposed on bloggers would drive many of them to extinction. Expect the MSM to exploit this weakness."

You can read Prof. Smith's entire TCS column here.

Second, MSNBC's "Practical Futurist" columnist Michael Rogers has an interesting two-part look at Vlogging and considers whether it is the "next big thing" or just a niche product. You can read part one here and part two here.

Third, things are moving along for OurMedia according to New Media Musings' JD Lasica. Check out his status report here.

Fourth, Dan Gillmor has a new Toyota Prius with bluetooth. He's having an interesting time in getting the car and his Treo 650 telephone to recognize one another. Read about it here.

Fifth, LaShawn Barber has the goods on an MSM columnist who thinks he has the goods on bloggers. A fun and informative read, as LaShawn always is.

Sixth, Jack Shafer has the number on a blog-bashing column by The Los Angeles Times' David Shaw. But then Michell Malkin adds some important points to the Shaw critique here.

Monday, March 28, 2005

BlogNashville to Include Computer-Assisted Reporting Camp for Bloggers

Suppose you get an email from Joe Schmoe at the Progressive Conservative Institute of Advanced Retrovision think tank in Washington, D.C. and Joe tells you that he and his retrothinking experts have done a study that proves that Program X is the best/worst government program ever conceived and that it saves/costs the taxpayers 28 guzillion dollars every year.

What would happen if the first thing Joe heard back from you was this: "That's nice, Joe, and I'm sure it's a really interesting study. I'd like to see your data sets." You think Joe and the retro thinkers would be more or less likely to spin the numbers knowing you will ask for his datasets and understand what they did? And wouldn't it be interesting to call the MSM reporter who uncritically reported Joe's claims and tell him about what you found when you checked those claims?

Or maybe Joe is a flak for a government agency that thinks the taxpayers who read your blog ought to know - contrary to what you have been saying recently - what a wonderful job the bureaucrats are doing. And he wants you to publish the "objective study" that shows just how wonderful.

Perhaps Joe is with Monster Motors in Detroit and he wants you to know that government agency's recent report that his cars are flipping over at unacceptably high rates is a bunch of Washington hogwash. "And here's our statistical analysis of their statistical analysis that proves it!"

Knowing how to recognize the uses and abuses of data is essential for bloggers, just as it is for anybody concerned with public policy issues. That kind of empowerment is what Computer-Assisted Research and Reporting (CARR) is all about and it's why the Media Bloggers Association is joining with The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, to offer a two-day CARR Boot Camp in Nashville May 5-6 in conjunction with BlogNashville May 6-7.

The Database 101/201 CARR Boot Camp will be held at the Freedom Forum at Vanderbilt University and is open to all MBA members but must due to space limitations be capped at the first 15 to enroll. A second CARR Boot Camp will be held for MBA members at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., most likely in August or September.

You can see the boot camp agenda here and you can get additional information about registration by emailing me at Mark.Tapscott@Heritage.org I promise to get back to you promptly.

There are no charges for attending and a textbook and other course materials are provided. Registration for the CARR boot camp is separate from registering to attend the regular sessions of BlogNAshville, which you can do here.

See you in Nashville!

Time for Conservatives to Stop Complaining, Get Inside the MSM, Report the News Better

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's self-described resident newsroom "right-wing Neanderthal" is Patrick McIlheran. He has some superb advice for conservatives who have had it to here with liberal bias in the MSM but who don't take the next step:

"Not so fast. Having gotten the mainstream press to admit a problem - that Pew report was covered in this newspaper, among others - is not the same as fixing it. May I ask conservatives: What are you going to do about it?
"Because the press is doing something. I see it all around me. People are taking greater care. Fairness is an open part of news discussions. The old professional virtue of not letting one's personal views drive news coverage, it seems to me, is becoming something not merely pursued privately but discussed publicly.
"This only goes so far. Newsrooms heavy on liberals, even fair-minded ones, will see the world as liberals do. They need conservative colleagues.
"The blogosphere and National Review are dandy, but ultimately they repackage news, not originate it. If conservatives want news they can believe, they must involve themselves in the daily reporting, photographing, editing, headlining and producing of news as eagerly as do liberals.
"Honestly, it's not a hard field to get into. It's fun, and you'll find there are other conservatives, too (as well as a lot of reasonably friendly liberals)."

Having spent nearly two decades in various MSM newsrooms as a resident right winger, I can attest to the truth of McIlheran's observations. Being a journalist is one of the most fun jobs I can imagine, especially if you enjoy getting the goods on slippery public officials, conniving bureaucrats and other charlatans determined to advance their own self-interest via the public interest.

But I would go one step beyond McIheran and encourage conservatives - and anybody else who cares about the public's right to know what is being done in their name - to consider how the Blogosphere can surpass the MSM as the most widely respected and credible source of genuine daily news, not just of opinion.

Anyway, thanks Patrick for saying something that needed saying.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

JESUS IS ALIVE! Happy Resurrection Day

He said "I am the way, the truth and the life." What will you do with Him?

Friday, March 25, 2005

Democracy Project Rounds Up Brad Smith Links on FEC Issue. And TCD Nominates Krempasky For 1st Amendment Award

Democracy Project has a compendum of links to vital primary sources and other important background information that illustrate comments made by Federal Election Commissioner Brad Smith at the March 24, 2005, hearing on the panel's proposed rule concerning Internet political speech and campaign finance reform.

The more we learn about what was intended by the three Democrat members of the FEC and their campaign finance allies on both sides of the aisle in Congress and the non-profit advocacy world, the more it seems clear the Blogosphere almost alone did yeoman's duty on behalf of the First Amendment in recent weeks, led by RedState's Mike Krempasky. If the Blogosphere ever comes up with a Defender of the First Amendment Award, Krempasky should be the first recipient.

And Brad Smith ought to be the first inductee in the Blogosphere's First Amendment Hall of Fame.

And speaking of RedState, check out Mark Kilmer's roundup of Blogosphere commentary on the FEC hearing and proposed rule here.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers! Make yourself comfortable and look around. Here at Tapscott's Copy Desk, we talk about old media, new media and just about everything in between. Enjoy!

Blog Swarm Forced FEC's Would-be Political Speech Police to Back Off Aggressive First Draft

RedState's Mike Krempasky has the goods on the would-be speech police of the Federal Election Commission. Ever since GOP FEC Commissioner Brad Smith sounded the alarm about a proposed rule that would have put the commission in the business of regulating political speech on the Internet, his Democrat colleagues on the panel have been poo-pooing the suggestion as alarmist.

Democrat Commissioner Ellen Weintraub continued that theme in her opening statement for yesterday's hearing, denying that anybody at the FEC had any desire to do anything other than regulate political money.

Krempasky has proof of why it is very difficult to continue believing that Weintraub and the rest of the would-be speech police at the commission are being completely honest about their intentions with this rule-making process.

That proof is a copy of the FEC General Counsel's first draft proposed rule. After reading it, Krempasky observes:

"And now, we can prove that 1) Smith was right, and then some, 2) Had Smith not rung that bell, we may well have regretted it, 3) those on the FEC that criticized smith and told bloggers, in effect, to “chill out” weren’t being honest with us and 4) the FEC should be viewed with the highest suspicion throughout this regulatory process.
"As late as yesterday, FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said at the public hearing, 'I am not aware of anyone here who views this rulemaking as a vehicle for shutting down the right on any individual to use his electronic soapboax to voice his political views.' From reading this, one has to wonder if Mrs. Weintraub even read the first draft of the rule, as provided by the FEC General Counsel’s office – on March 10th, 2005.
has received a copy of that draft (.pdf only) – the Commission’s first attempt to craft a rule. And I can say – not only was Brad Smith right about the possible problems – the first draft was worse than he predicted."

You can read Krempasky's entire report here.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Carefully Contentious FEC Seems Split on Regulation of Internet Political Speech

Members of the Federal Election Commission diplomatically took diametrically opposed positions during opening statements this morning on a proposed rule drafted in response to a federal district court's 2004 rejection of the commission's previous attempt to apply campaign finance law to Internet regulation.

The commissioners couldn't even agree on whether their panel should consider regulating only paid political advertising on the Internet or subject the Internet to a comprehensive regulatory structure demanded by two of the main congressional advocates of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA).

Following an opening procedural statement by FEC Chairman Scott Thomas, Democrat Commissioner Ellen Weintraub noted that "we're under a judicial mandate to consider whether there is anything short of a blanket exemption" that will satisfy BCRA.

She was referring to the September 2004 "Shays v Federal Election Commission" decision of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. That decision rejected as inconsistent with BCRA the commission's previous proposed rule providing a blanket exemption of the Internet from regulation designed to cover "public communications."

Weintraub sought to reassure listeners that "the judge's decision does not mean the the FEC must now regulate all, most or even very much Internet activity. We're faced with a question of statuatory interpretation and the phrase we're interpreting is 'general public political advertising.' We've taken that statuatory language as our guidepost and focused on paid advertising and political 'spam' email sent to lists acquired in commercial transactions."

Weintraub added that "the focus of this agency is campaign finance. We're not the speech police. The FEC does not tell private citizens what they can or cannot say on the Internet or anywhere else." She also noted a recent statement by Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, and Russ Feingold, D-WI, claiming that "'this issue has nothing to do with private citizens communicating on the Internet. There is no reason - none - to think that the FEC should or intends to regulate blogs or other Internet communications by private citizens.'"

But Weintraub's reassurance drew a pointed response from Republican Commissioner Brad Smith who noted that the September 2004 decision was occasioned by a suit filed against the FEC by the two main BCRA advocates in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rrep. Christopher Shays, R-CN, and Rep. Marty Meehan, D-MA.

Smith pointed out that in their briefs to the District Court Shays and Meehan that under BCRA "the Internet must be subject to the structure of campaign finance regulation." Smith also noted that in a statement by the Campaign Legal Center in an amicus brief it filed on behalf of McCain and Feingold, the BCRA authors asserted that they "never, ever suggested BCRA only applies to paid advertising" on the Internet.

Dave Mason, another GOP Commissioner, added to Smith's comments, cautioning that "there is a huge difference between being completely exempt and being regulated just a little bit. What we are talking about is people's freedom of expression."

Mason added that "the logic of regulation follows the logic of physics and once we start down this road, it will be very difficult to foresee where it will end." Even if the commission agrees on the latest proposed rule, it may still be sued by campaign finance advocates such as the Campaign Legal Center.

The bottom line for the FEC, Mason said, "is that too many of my colleagues are unwilling to say 'no, we're not going to regulate the Internet.'"

FEC Vice-Chairman Michael Toner questioned whether "Congress intended for the Commission to regulate the Internet" when it approved BCRA. "Congress did not include the Internet in the statuatory definition of 'public communication.' I do not believe this omission was an accident. Rather, I believe it was a conscious, informed judgement by Congress that the Internet should not be subject to the many restrictions that [BCRA] applies to other types of mass communications."

Democrat Commissioner Danny McDonald chided Smith and Mason for "staking out positions" on an issue that has yet to reach the point of implementing a new rule. "This hearing is to elicit public comment ... why not give the public a chance to tell us what they think," McDonald said.

Acknowledging that "probably nobody in this room knows less about the Internet than I do," McDonald nevertheless criticized the controversy that flared weeks ago when word first reached the public that the FEC was considering a new rule that could impose limits on political speech on the Internet. "I've never before seen such ado about nothing as this."

RedState's Mike Krempasky remains at the hearing as this post is filed and will have a more comprehensive report on the hearing later today.

UPDATE: Mike files his initial observations on the hearing here. Here's a summary:

"But - I will say this - don't believe the hype, and don't believe Ellen Weintraub when she repeats her mantra of 'Bloggers, Chill Out!' This draft rule, (yes, it's a draft that will change) creates an unacceptable regulatory minefield for bloggers.
"Consider this - the FEC raises two significant possible 'havens' for political bloggers - the 'volunteer' exception and the 'media' exception. The volunteer exception is preferable, because it's a sort of shall-issue exception. If you're an individual, and you're 'uncompensated' - you're pretty much free to go (except..the FEC also considers an individual to only be allowed to spend a 'nominal fee' in the course of providing services to a candidate or committee. Do you think the FEC realizes that the hosting tab for a moderately popular weblog can reasonably cost $1,000 a year?) do what you want.
"On the other hand - if you're a group, an incorporated blog, or you get compensated - no exception for you. (more on that in a bit)
"On the other hand - the media exception will pretty much be extended on a case-by-case basis. Who decides? Why, the government of course. Welcome to regulatory compliance hell. Even better - it heavily resembles a licensing regulatory scheme, since presumably you have to submit to the FEC to get the exception before you do or say anything, lest you violate the law."

Hmmm, sounds like the proposed FEC rule should be gone over - fisked - by the Blogosphere like a CBS memo.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

If NowPublic Doesn't Get You Excited, Nothing Will!

I can't say it any better than the folks behind NowPublic. Here's what they are up to:

"Technology has broken the corporate news monopoly. Digital cameras, camera phones, blogs, and RSS put the tools of the news trade into the hands of the public, and now real news comes from real people everywhere. Now you can demand coverage of the stories you care about—all you need is nowPublic.
"Here public demand launches investigations. Assignments come from people on the ground, insiders, community leaders. Footage comes from eye witnesses, citizen reporters, people close to the real story. It’s open source news, and even in its infancy it’s richer, faster, more powerful than the infotainment it replaces."

Folks, we are only at the outset of an Internet-inspired revolution in news gathering and delivery. There is so much more to come.

UPDATE: Washington Post Stringer Responds to "Who is Larry Noble?"

Michael Getler, The Washington Post's Ombudsman, passed along my March 21 "Who is Larry Noble?" post that questioned why that newspaper's reporter, Brian Faler, did not identify Noble as a spokesman for a pro-campaign finance reform advocacy organization. Faler responded in detail and I reproduce it here in full exactly as I received it, followed by my analysis.

I suggest you read the original post - which includes a link to the Post article that is still available in the paper's online archive - before going through Faler's response and my analysis:

"the reader complains that larry noble and his organization “are advocatesof the very legislation that caused the fec to consider regulatingpolitical speech on the internet” and therefore, apparently, have an axe togrind. [technically, the reader's assertion is not true. a federal judge isforcing the fec to consider the issue -- not the legislation. i explainedthat in my article. also, the fec, by law, regulates political money, notspeech]. anyway even if noble supports the original campaign financelegislation [i assume that’s true, but dont know it for a fact], i dont seehow it matters. i didnt quote noble on what he wants the fec to do. or whatit should do. i quoted him on what he thinks the agency will do. and ithink he’s in a pretty good position to say. he’s a former general counselfor the agency and continues to follow their day-to-day stuff. (and isntnoble -- who said he expects the fec to do relatively little -- saying theopposite of what the reader would apparently expect from a campaign financereform supporter? wouldnt such a person say: ‘the situation is a mess, indesperate need of federal guidelines and i expect the fec to live up totheir responsbilities’?) what’s more, i didnt find anyone who disagreedwith noble. i talked to the four commissioners quoted in the article (twodems, two gop), along with a who’s who of the world of election law (trevorpotter, richard hasen, fred wertheimer, ken gross) and they all said prettymuch the same thing: that the fec would tackle a relatively narrow slate ofissue. the reader himself doesnt even seem to disagree with noble. he justseems annoyed that noble was presented as an “informed, disinterestedobserver” who runs a “watchdog” group. all of that is fine, but it doesntseem all that relevant to my article. for whatever its worth, i think itsself-evident that noble is an informed observer. and if his group isnt awatchdog group, then i dont know how to describe it (and neither apparentlydo our colleagues -- a lexis nexis search turned up 106 previous postarticles with the phrases “watchdog” and “center for responsive politics.”)-brian"

And here is my analysis of Faler's response:

Michael, thanks for passing along Faler's response. If I were to characterize that response in general terms, I would say it illustrates the obtuse arrogance that in part fuels the declining respect accorded the mainstream media. More specifically:
>the reader's assertion is not true
Please ... Kholar-Kotelly is occasioned by FEC proposals for implementing McCain-Feingold. No McCain-Feingold, no Kholar-Kotelly decision, no Faler piece.
> the fec, by law, regulates political money, not speech
If Faler doesn't understand why the issue at the heart of the current controversy is precisely whether political speech on the Internet has measurable value that can be equated to political money, then he has no business writing for a respected newspaper like The Washington Post.
>i dont see how it matters. i didnt quote noble on what he wants the fec to do. or what it should do. i quoted him on what he thinks the agency will do.
True but ...Noble's assessment of what the FEC will do matches precisely the assessments of McCain, Feingold, the FEC commissioners who seem favorable/resigned to the prospect of regulation of political speech on the Internet and the many other pro-McCain-Feingold advocates who seek to reassure critics that the FEC would never, ever regulate political speech on the Internet. Just like the Supreme Court would never uphold a law granting Congress authority to regulate freedom of speech. Because Noble is not identified as a spokesman for a pro-campaign finance reform organization, Faler's use of his quote is mis-leading.
>i didnt find anyone who disagreed with noble.
If I were Faler's assigning editor, he would be in hot water because his response makes it clear he either didn't try to find a credible authority with a different view of what the FEC could do or he did but ignored them. I would be happy to provide Faler with a list. When I was a desk editor, when one of my reporters came back with the "I couldn't find anybody who thought otherwise" response, they were sent to the corner to sit and think about it until their attitude changed.
>if his group isnt a watchdog group, then i dont know how to describe it
How about this for a description - "The Center for Responsive Politics received $14 million from the Pew Charitable Trust and seven other foundations identified in a recent Political Moneyline report as the principal funders of pro-campaign finance reform advocacy prior to passage of McCain-Feingold in 2002."
Again, thanks for passing along my critique to Faler and I will, of course, post his entire response with my comments.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

You're Never Gonna Believe Who Said This!

This quote appeared in the August 2003 issue of the UCLA Law School Magazine:

"Disclosure of contributions is the most effective way to mitigate the potential corrupting influence of money in politics. The Campaign Disclosure Project embodies the timeless idea of Justice Louis Brandeis — 'Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant' — because it promotes the importance of instantaneous disclosure of campaign contributions via the Internet."

Great quote and absolutely true, right. Too bad Sean Treglia didn't practice what he preached to the rest of us when it came to disclosing his six-year strategy to fund "the appearance of a mass movement afoot" to support for campaign finance reform.

Thanks to Win Myers at Project-Democracy for posting this gem.

Media Bloggers Association Offers Computer-Assisted Research and Reporting (CARR) Boot Camp at BlogNashville

Media Bloggers Association members planning on attending BlogNashville May 7 will also have an opportunity to obtain Computer-Assisted Research and Reporting (CARR) skills to enhance their ability to get beyond political spin on public policy issues, whether it comes from politicians, MSM journalists, 501(C)(4) advocacy groups, think tanks or academic experts.

The two-day Database 101/201 CARR Boot Camp will convene May 5 at the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. The boot camp is co-hosted by The Heritage Foundation's Center for Media and Public Policy headed by MBA member Mark Tapscott and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Attendance is limited to 15 students.

Heritage is a generally conservative think tank and the CBPP is generally liberal. The Database 101/201 CARR Boot Camps are normally held at the Bloomberg Training Center of the National Press Club's Erik Friedheim Library in Washington, D.C.

Tapscott started the Heritage CARR boot camp program in 1999 after spending more than 15 years in various daily newspaper newsrooms as a reporter and editor. More than 250 editors, producers, reporters and researchers from virtually every major media organization in the country have attended a Heritage CARR Boot Camp since the program's inception.

The National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Fellows program includes a one-day version of the CARR boot camp and Tapscott has led CARR seminars for other media organizations such as Media General, the National Journalism Center and BNA.

The BlogNashville event is the first CARR Boot Camp to be jointly hosted and instructed by Heritage and CBPP. A second MBA CARR Boot Camp will be held in the late summer or early fall at the National Press Club at a date to be announced.

The CARR Boot Camp provides basic training in using Microsoft Excel to analyse public policy databases in search of news that would otherwise go unreported, as well as in finding and using data on the Internet and introductory descriptive statistical analyses such as surveys and sampling error, correlation and regression. You can view the typical two-day boot camp agenda here.

MBA's BlogNashville is being hosted by the New Century Journalism School at Belmont University, which located a mile from the Freedom Forum at Vanderbilt. For more information, see the MBA web site.

Monday, March 21, 2005

NY Times, LA Times Writers, Other 'Journos' Were 2004 Demo, GOP Donors

Mary Billard gave Friends of Schumer $2,000 March 5, 2004. Patricia Brooks gave the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee $1,000 May 6, 2004. Both write columns for The New York Times, the former on travel and the latter on restaurants.

Sarah Lyall, a Times London bureau reporter, gave $2,000 to Democratic congressional candidate Joe Torsella on Sept. 29, 2003. Jennifer Lisle, a stringer who writes on real estate for The Los Angeles Times, gave $1,000 to John Kerry for President.

Each of these four donations came up in the Political MoneyLine's database as 2004 campaign donors who listed their occupation as "journalist" or "newspaper editor." A total of 42 names popped up in that search. Some interesting characteristics of those 42 names include:

  • 28 appeared to be women, 12 appeared to be men and four were of undetermined gender
  • Among the 42 individual contributors, 52 contributed to Democratic candidates or organizations, eight contributed to Republican candidates or organizations, and three contributed to Lyndon Larouche. (There are more contributions than individuals because of multiple contributions by some individuals).
  • One individual, Gloria Parisotto of New York, accounted for five of the eight contributions to Republicans. One individual, Dr. Peter Pepper Jr. accounted for six of the 52 contributions to Democrats.
  • Pepper listed six different cities as his address, including Westport and Norwich, CT, Santa Cruz, CA, Pueblo, CO, Westfield, NJ and Feasterville, PA.
  • Mitzi Perdue of Salisbury, MD (of the Perdue chicken family?) contributed $1,000 to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-MD, and $1,000 to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-IA.
  • A quick Google scan turned up no information to explain why 30 of the 42 individuals consider themselves journalists or newspaper editors.
  • Some oddities did turn up. Beth Kobliner Shaw, for example, is wife of D.E. Shaw - described by the New York Observer as "one of the few hedge managers who are actually Democrats." And Michelle Mosbacher of Houston gave Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson $2,000. Why do Shaw and Mosbacher consider themselves journalists or newspaper editors?

I'm not sure what to make of this, if anything. But there it is. Political Moneyline is a treasure trove of such information and I intend to spend more time on that web site.

Kurtz Says USA Today's Paulson Cut Newsroom Use of Anonymous Sources

More from The Washington Post: Howard Kurtz has a great piece this morning on how USA Today editor Ken Paulson has clamped down on use of anonymous sources, following the Jack Kelley scandal.

Sometimes anonymous sources are essential to reporting the news, but their use has exploded in the MSM in the past two decades and things were clearly getting out of hand, both in reporters' overuse and sources hiding behind anonymity for statements they ought to be willing to make in public.

But then I ran across this graph in the Kurtz piece:

"To grant someone anonymity, Paulson says, 'you have to go to a managing editor, identify that source -- which was at the heart of the Jack Kelley mess -- explain why we trust that source and how it moves the story forward.' Paulson also runs Jones's picture on the editorial page, inviting feedback -- because, he says, past complaints about Kelley never reached or were dismissed by senior editors."

Brent Jones is USA Today's Reader Representative.

What caught my eye about the Paulson quote is that he has instated in the USA Today newsroom the same standard in force two decades ago when I was a reporter and editor at The Washington Times. Dare I say it? USA Today is catching up with the Times?

Memo to The Washington Post: Who is Larry Noble? Who Gave His Group $14 Million?

Read today's article by Brian Faler on the FEC/blogs controversy and you encounter the following graphs as the end:

"Some longtime FEC observers said they believed the commission would tackle a relatively narrow slate of issues.
'I don't think this is going to be as broad a rulemaking as some are threatening,' said Larry Noble, a former FEC general counsel who now runs the watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics.

"'I think what the FEC is going to focus on is political activity undertaken by campaigns, by political committees, by possibly corporations and labor unions on the Internet . . . how you regulate that, how you make sure that's reported.'
"The commission is not expected to reveal its agenda until later this month, when it releases its 'notice of proposed rulemaking.' The FEC is scheduled to then invite public comments on that draft, hold a public hearing on the proposed rules and, later this summer, vote on the final regulations."

Sounds like an informed, disinterested comment from Larry Noble, right? Here's what Faler - apparently a Post stringer - doesn't tell you - Noble's organization, which Faler calls a "watchdog group" is in fact one of the primary advocates of campaign finance reform and, according to Political Moneyline, has received more than $14 million from Pew Charitable Trusts and seven other liberal foundations to advance that cause.

Those are the foundations that anted up more than $123 million in the past decade mainly for 17 organizations, including Noble's, to "create the impression of public support" for campaign finance reform, according to former Pew program officer Sean Treglia.

In other words, Noble is anything but disinterested. He and his organization are advocates of the very legislation that caused the FEC to consider regulating political speech on the Internet. Where was the Post copy desk when Faler's piece came over from the originating desk?

OurMedia.org Launched, Promises to Boost Citizens, Personal Media Efforts

JD Lasica and Marc Center have taken the wraps off OurMedia.org, a free site devoted to providing Citizens Media outlets a place to share video, audio, software and other files that eat up bandwidth. It's a tool for helping millions of folks take advantage of the near-universal availability of the tools of media creativity.

Here's how JD explains it in the site's welcome:

"We are in the midst of the greatest boon in grassroots creativity in ages. Tools once available only to a professional elite are now being taken up by everyday citizens. Just as weblogs let millions of people become part of "the media," so too are new tools empowering individuals to create video, audio, playlists and other works of personal media and to share them with a global audience.
"The personal media revolution is turning multimedia. Digital stories, video diaries, documentary journalism, home-brew political ads, music videos, fan films, Flash animations, student films – all kinds of short multimedia works have begun to flower. Alas, the most compelling ones are scattered across the Web or hidden away on thousands of PCs, laptops and closed networks. These works deserve a wider audience.
"That's what Ourmedia is all about: Create. Share. Get noticed.
"Marc and I believe that real change in the mediasphere will only come about when millions of us pick up the tools of digital creativity. The tools are now at hand. Let's go."

If that doesn't make you want to pick up that camera cell phone and go report some news, you need to check your pulse, friend!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

New Study Finds Serious Flaws in UPenn Critic of 04 Bush-Kerry Vote "Shift" Analysis

Remember the exit poll controversy following the 2004 presidential election? It started because of the dramatic change in the election's outlook from the afternoon's exit poll-based assessment that Kerry was winning to President Bush's decisive win once the actual votes were counted. Some on the Left have sought to use that shift to suggest Bush and his top political aide Karl Rove somehow stole the election that Kerry actually won.

Among those fueling such suspicisions has been University of Pennsylvania Professor Steven Freeman, author of a widely quoted paper that argues the shift has not been adequately explained and that vote fraud or mistabulation are the only credible alternative explanations.

Now along comes Stones Cry Out proprietor Rick Brady with a thorough debunking of Freeman's analysis. Here's how Brady summarizes it:

"ABSTRACT: Dr. Steven F. Freeman, visiting University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) professor is not an 'expert' on exit polls or the 2004 Presidential exit poll discrepancies as suggested by this UPenn press release. In fact, his paper, The Unexplained Exit Poll Discrepancy, is highly flawed. His argument that 'in general, exit poll data are sound' fails having suppressed evidence and the conclusion that 'it is impossible that the discrepancies between predicted and actual vote counts in' Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania was not substantiated statistically. Nevertheless, Dr. Freeman is right in concluding that explanations of the discrepancy to date are inadequate and Edison/Mitofsky should address the concerns of US Count Votes in subsequent analysis of their data."

Freeman's paper has made possible an urban legend to grow on the Left that has Bush/Rove somehow altering the real vote counts in order to steal the election from Kerry. Brady's work puts that urban legend to rest permanently.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Is a Supreme Court Opinion Worth $39 million?

Here are some of the most disturbing quotes from Sean Treglia on the Pew Trust's funding of an effort "to create the appearance of public support" for campaign finance reform and the success of that effort in influencing the Supreme Court's decision upholding McCain-Feingold's abridgement of free speech.

Did Pew get a good return for its money?
"The money from Pew led directly to key provisions of McCain-Feingold."
"If you look at the Supreme Court decision on McCain-Feingold, you will see that almost half of the footnotes there came from Pew-funded research."

Transparency for who?
One of the attendees questioned Treglia sternly, noting that at the outset of his presentation he noted that he always asked grant recipients to keep Pew "in the background," which contradicted his emphasis throughout his presentation that a main purpose of campaign finance reform was transparency.
Treglia response:"We disclosed who was receiving Pew funding. We complied with the 990 disclosure requirements. We just didn't issue a press release announcing what we were doing ... If any reporter had wanted to know, they could have connected the dots. The fact is they didn't."

So where was the MSM?

When asked what Pew would have done if the media had reported what he was doing he said:
"We had a scare. As the debate was progressing, and getting close, George Will stumbled across a report we had done and attacked it in a column. Some of his partisans were becoming more aware of what we were doing and were feeding him information. He started to reference the fact that Pew was playing a large role in it, that it was a liberal attempt to hoodwink Congress.

"But you know what? The good news, from my perspective, was that journalists just didn't know the sector, the journalists just didn't care and nobody followed up. There was a panic there for a few weeks because we were afraid the story would grow. But nobody picked it up."

Sager to "Cleanies" of Campaign Finance: "Show Us Your Money," End the Hypocrisy

Ryan Sager is hot on the trail of the $123 million liberal foundation funding for the media and legislative lobbying effort that resulted in passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 - aka known as "McCain-Feingold."

Sager's latest Tech Central Station decisively makes the essential point about the underlying hypocrisy involved in that lobbying effort - the people demanding that political funders be disclosed won't disclose their own funders!

When these people are willing to "Show Us Your Money," we will begin to consider possibly taking them seriously when they protest their good intentions regarding FEC regulation of political speech on the Internet.

You can read Sager's column here.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Former Pew Executive Described $39 Million, Six-Year Strategy to "Create Impression of Groundswell of Support" for Campaign Finance Reform

It's not often that a liberal foundation executive talks candidly about the goals and strategies behind the organization's grant-making. But former Pew Trusts Program Officer Sean Treglia's March 2004 presentation on "Covering Philanthropy and Nonprofits Beyond 9/11" at Annenberg's Western Knight Center was probably too candid for non-profit backers of the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002, aka as "McCain-Feingold."

Treglia - a former Capitol Hill aide and campaign manager - told the seminar attendees that while at Pew he had developed "a six-year strategy, an incremental approach that included a number of small steps" to gain passage of campaign reform legislation. The seminar audience included a number of working journalists. You can read Treglia's bio here.

"The target was 535 Members of Congress and the idea was to create the impression that a mass movement was afoot, that everywhere they looked people were talking about campaign finance reform," Treglia said.

Treglia's presentation occurred at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication's USC Center for Philanthropy and Public Policy.

One of the results of passage of McCain-Feingold - named for main sponsors Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, and Russ Feingold, D-WI - is the forthcoming proposed rule from the Federal Election Commission regulating political speech on the Internet. The FEC effort is drawing fire among critics of McCain-Feingold who cite it as proof that the measure violates the First Amendment's bar against Congress passing laws limiting freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly.

You can listen to Treglia's presentation here. You will need to scroll down to the entry for March 12, 2004, and then click on the video link. Please let me know if you have trouble opening the video, as the WKC claims there is no problem with it but I and others have had a great deal of difficulty getting it to work.

The plan to create the impression of widespread public support for campaign finance reform was one cog in an innovative and aggressive "directed funding" campaign by Pew designed, according to Treglia, to "take the Ford Foundation's approach to affecting public policy and go one step forward, to bring in the pros to say now to spend the money, set the goals, hire the people to make these things happen."

The aim of directed funding, Treglia said, is "to drive public policy by strategically placing your money." He estimated the campaign finance reform effort included as much as $39 million in such funding. Treglia said he realized during his first year at Pew Trusts that "with a good idea and a little foundation money, you can change the world."

Disclosure of Treglia's presentation here follows allegations published last week by Tech Central Station columnist Ryan Sager describing a $140 million effort by a large group of liberal foundations, including Pew, to cultivate editorial support in the MSM for campaign finance reform. Sager's column was based on a Feb. 25, 2005, report by PoliticalMoneyline.com that is only available to subscribers.

Here are the key graphs from Sager's column:

"Ignored by the media to date, [the Political Moneyline report] details how the supposedly grass-roots campaign-finance reform movement has been funded over the last decade to the tune of $140 million. Of that $140 million, the vast majority ($123 million) came not from retirees scraping together their last nickels for the cause of democracy, nor from schoolchildren collecting deposits on cans plucked from dilapidated playgrounds.
"No, the money came from just eight ultra-liberal foundations (including the Ford Foundation and George Soros' Open Society Institute), the same folks who fund: the Earth Action Network, the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, People for the American Way, Planned Parenthood, the Naderite Public Citizen Foundation and the Feminist Majority Foundation."

Not only did the campaign create a media impression of widespread public support, it also resulted in a David and Goliath myth about the most visible pro-campaign finance reform non-profits, according to Sager:

"All of the major reform groups -- Common Cause, the Alliance for Better Campaigns, the Campaign Finance Institute, the Center for Public Integrity, the Center for Responsive Politics, Democracy 21 and the William J. Brennan Jr. Center for Justice -- are funded by the same eight liberal foundations, and have received millions upon millions of dollars each.
"Yet, by maintaining the fiction of independence from one and other, they appear to much of the press to be a pack of scrappy underdogs sinking their teeth into the ankles of the big-money men."

Among the examples of the campaigns grants to media outlets were these, according to Sager:

Payments to the media found by Political Money Line include: the $132,000 to the Prospect, $69,000 to Public Radio International, $935,000 to the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation and more than $1.2 million to National Public Radio for items such as, in the words of the official disclosure statements, "news coverage of financial influence in political decision making."

As reported here earlier this week, officials from RTNDAF and NPR denied receiving any funding that led to pro-campaign finance reform coverage.

The following was posted on the WKC web site either late yesterday or earlier today following my inquiry about the malfunctioning link:

"EDITOR'S NOTE: The following clarification was provided by Sean Treglia in response to questions from journalists who did not attend the WKC seminar. According to Treglia: 'It is contrary to all of my experience at Pew and incorrect to suggest that the organization would attempt to deceive or mislead about its funding efforts. I regret that my comments have led to any confusion and want to be clear now that the grant making efforts of Pew in and around campaign finance were transparent and intended to be transparent at all times.'"

Treglia's statement carefully avoids the basic question of whether he is now disavowing his clear and unambiguous statements recorded on the video. I hope this editor's note is not evidence that WKC has decided to follow an Easongate-like strategy in this budding controversy - i.e. avoid the actual issues and hope the problem goes away.

Even so, the Political Moneyline report raises numerous troubling questions about the relationship between liberal non-profits and the MSM. Among these questions are: How did Treglia know favorable coverage would result from grants to MSM outlets? How did Pew measure the effectiveness of its grants in this six-year campaign? Who were the MSM editorial officials approached by Pew and the other foundations? How did those officials decide to accept or reject the funding proposals? Have the grant-making foundations provided subsequent funding for the MSM organizations and if so for what editorial coverage?

There are undoubtedly many more important questions to be asked and they will be as the Blogosphere moves forward fisking the issues raised by the Treglia presentation and the Political Moneyline report.

Most important, though, is this question: If the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 was based on the mere appearance in the MSM of widespread public support - an appearance that was bought and paid for by eight of America's most prominent liberal foundations - then how can such a discredited measure continue as the law of the land?

Makes me envy California's recall process.


Did Pew get a good return for its money?

"The money from Pew led directly to key provisions of McCain-Feingold."

"If you look at the Supreme Court decision on McCain-Feingold, you will see that almost half of the footnotes there came from Pew-funded research."

Transparency for who?

One of the attendees questioned Treglia sternly, noting that at the outset of his presentation he noted that he always asked grant recipients to keep Pew "in the background," which contradicted his emphasis throughout his presentation that a main purpose of campaign finance reform was transparency. Treglia response:

"We disclosed who was receiving Pew funding. We complied with the 990 disclosure requirements. We just didn't issue a press release announcing what we were doing ... If any reporter had wanted to know, they could have connected the dots. The fact is they didn't."

So where was the MSM?

But there was a point late in the congressional debate on McCain-Feingold when Treglia said "we had a scare." In response to an attendee asking him what Pew would have done if the media had reported what he was doing he said:

"We had a scare. As the debate was progressing, and getting close, George Will stumbled across a report we had done and attacked it in a column. Some of his partisans were becoming more aware of what we were doing and were feeding him information. He started to reference the fact that Pew was playing a large role in it, that it was a liberal attempt to hoodwink Congress.
"But you know what? The good news, from my perspective, was that journalists just didn't know the sector, the journalists just didn't care and nobody followed up. There was a panic there for a few weeks because we were afraid the story would grow. But nobody picked it up."

It should be noted that several of Treglia's questioners were working journalists and seemed quite upset with his presentation.


Ryan Sager, who started the current critical look at campaign finance reform funding with a devastating column last week in Tech Central Station, has another one in The New York Post, and excerpts from the Treglia video on his blog, Miscellaneous Objections.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Sen. Feingold Wants to Know: Are You "Legitimate?" Why liberals must choose between free speech or Big Government

If you are, then the Wisconsin Democrat and co-author with Sen. John McCain, R-AZ of the campaign finance reform law forever linked to the duo, may deign to allow you to continue exercising your First Amendment right of free speech and free press. But if you aren't, you are, shall we say, outta luck? Fair game for the FEC to regulate? A hapless victim of political correctness?

Patterico's Pontifications slices and dices this latest Feingold statement on the prospect of the FEC regulating political speech on the Internet. When it was announced, Patterico warned that the Supreme Court's McConnell v FEC decision in December 2002 upholding McCain-Feingold meant the end of free speech(so did yours truly and a bunch of other folks as well).

Despite Feingold's transparent attempt to say it ain't so, the truth of those warnings is being realized before our very eyes as the FEC puts the final touches on its upcoming proposed rule on blogs and political speech. Patterico is not reassured by Feingold. I'm not reassured. Neither is anybody else who knows what happens when the camel gets its nose under the tent.

By the way, Feingold's statement is revealing in another important aspect. The Wisconsin Democrat says he learned something important about America and blogs when he alone voted against the Patriot Act in 2001:

"That experience taught me a lot, but one thing I learned for certain is that millions of ordinary citizens support efforts to make sure the government doesn't try to take more power than it needs. Resisting overreaching by the federal government is appropriate and, yes, even patriotic. I feel very strongly about this, and have made constitutional issues in general, and First Amendment issues in particular, one of the central focuses of my work in the U.S. Senate."

This captures the horns of the dilemma liberals put themselves on by insisting on an absolute reading of [some] civil liberties while at the same time continually arming government with more authority, more regulatory power and a wider range of responsibilities. The two thrusts are fundamentally anti-thetical. You cannot preserve civil liberties while making government constantly grow.

Campaign finance reform is the perfect illustration. The aim of the effort is to prevent the appearance of corruption created by the campaign contributions of special interests. In order to prevent that appearance, it is necessary at a minimum to limit the political speech rights of those special interests by barring them from some communication channels during key periods of campaigns.

But doing that only serves to make the unregulated outlets more attractive and sooner or later those who the regulators are seeking to regulate find ways of expressing themselves via other communication channels. Like the Internet and blogs. So the inevitable next step is for the regulators to seek to regulate the newly attractive communications channels so that the problem of the appearance of corruption isn't allowed to reappear. And so on and so on and so on.

Sooner or later, liberals like Feingold, McCain and the MSM folks who supported campaign finance reform will have to make a choice - are they for the First Amendment or are they for campaign finance reform. They cannot have both.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

John Barron, RIP

I never met John Barron, but I knew I was getting the truth whenever I read one of his stories in Reader's Digest about Soviet Communism, KGB inflitration of the West or the multiple horrors committed by communist tyrants like Pol Pot in Cambodia. Or anything else Barron focused on in his reporting. The sturdiness, precision and candor of the man's words made me want to be a journalist. For many years now, he has always come to mind whenever I've thought of men and women who epitomize the best virtues of a still honorable craft.

Barron passed away several weeks ago and I hate to confess that I had not heard of his passing until earlier today when I chanced upon this wonderful obituary by Bill Schultz, another absolutely first-rate journalist who I have been blessed to know and who worked with Barron as the Digest's Washington Bureau Chief for many years.

Writing an obit is not an easy task because the responsibility of the writer is to capture in a comparatively few words the significance of an entire life, and to do it fairly, accurately and justly. It is no surprise that Schultz perfectly captures the immense significance of John Barron's life as a journalist, a patriot and a witness to the truth.

Rest in peace, John Barron, a man who will be missed by many he never knew.

SUNSHINE WEEK: Testimony on The Open Government Act of 2005

Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, jointly held a hearing this morning of the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security to hear witnesses testifying on their proposed reform of the federal Freedom of Information Act.

You can find a full description of the provisions of the proposal here. The hearing on the Corny-Leahy measure was timed to coincide with Sunshine Week, which is this week's celebration of the Freedom of Information Act and the public's right to know what is being done in our name by our government. As promised, following is my testimony before the subcommittee:

My name is Mark Tapscott. I am Director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation. The views I express in this testimony are my own, and should not be construed as representing any official position of The Heritage Foundation. I appreciate very much the opportunity to testify on The Open Government Act of 2005.

Among Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s lesser-known marks of distinction in his public service career is the important role he played as a freshman Republican member of the U.S. House of Representative in writing and helping secure passage of the 1966 Freedom of Information Act.

Rumsfeld offered an important observation during a floor speech he delivered to the House June 20, 1966, that has great relevance for us today as we seek to improve the present Freedom of Information Act system.

Rumsfeld said: “The legislation was initially opposed by a number of agencies and departments, but following the hearings and issuance of the carefully prepared report – which clarifies legislative intent – much of the opposition seems to have subsided.

“There still remains some opposition on the part of a few government administrators who resist any change in the routine of government. They are familiar with the inadequacies of the present law and over the years have learned how to take advantage of its vague phrases.

“Some possibly believe they hold a vested interest in the machinery of their agencies and bureaus and there is resentment of any attempt to oversee their activities, either by the public, the Congress or appointed department heads.”

What Rumsfeld described as having happened over the years prior to 1966 is still with us. It is the process of career federal employees – who routinely handle the vast majority of Freedom of Information Act requests - becoming ever more familiar with the vague phrases and loopholes of the Act and its implementing regulations and case law over the years.

We should recognize that in part this process results from the intentional and healthy insulation our system provides to career federal employees to protect them from inappropriate pressure from political appointees. But that same insulation also makes it more difficult to hold employees accountable for things like failing to properly administer the Freedom of Information Act.

Let me say at this point that before becoming a journalist I served in the legislative and executive branches of government. I was the fourth generation of my family to serve in government and I have the utmost respect and admiration for career federal workers. Even so, they are not exempt from human nature, which too often seeks the path of least resistance. In Freedom of Information Act matters, that path too frequently involves an abuse or misapplication of the law.

I believe this process of bureaucratic stultification accounts for most of the problems with the current Freedom of Information Act system and helps explain why a 2003 survey by the National Security Archive found a Freedom of Information Act system "in extreme disarray." That survey covered 35 federal agencies that accounted for 97% of all Freedom of Information Act requests the previous year.

Among other things, the National Security Archive said it found that "agency contact information on the web was often inaccurate; response times largely failed to meet the statutory standard; only a few agencies performed thorough searches, including e-mail and meeting notes; and the lack of central accountability at the agencies resulted in lost requests and inability to track progress."

In a second phase of the same 2003 survey, the National Security Archive asked the same agencies for lists of the 10 oldest outstanding Freedom of Information Act requests in their systems. Here is how the Archive described the result:

“In january 2003, the Archive filed Freedom of Information Act requests asking for copies of the ‘10 oldest open or pending’ FOIA requests at each of the 35 federal agencies that together handle more than 97% of all FOIA requests. Six agencies still have not responded in full, more than ten months later and despite repeated phone contacts …the Freedom of Information Act itself, as amended in 1996, gives agencies 20 working days to respond to FOIA requests.”

Having spent nearly two decades as a journalist here in Washington, D.C. and having filed more Freedom of Information Act requests than I care to remember, there were no surprises for me in the National Security Archive survey. Nor was I surprised in 2002 when my own Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation found in a survey of four agencies that journalists ranked only fourth among the most active Freedom of Information Act requestors.

Ask them why and the replies invariably are variations on this theme: The Freedom of Information Act process wastes too much time and they probably won’t disclose what I need without a big legal fight, which my paper can’t afford, so why bother?

Two of the most serious problems of the current Freedom of Information Act system are, one, the absence of any genuinely serious consequences either for an individual federal employee responding to a Freedom of Information Act request or for his or her agency, and, two, the absence of a neutral arbiter with authority to mediate disputes between agencies and requestors and to oversee administration of the Freedom of Information Act. The Open Government Act of 2005 addresses both of these problems effectively and realistically in my judgment.

To address the first problem, the act includes provisions providing that when an agency misses a statutory Freedom of Information Act deadline it is presumed to have waived the right to assert various exemptions, except in cases involving national security, personal privacy, proprietary commercial information or other reasonable exceptions. The agency can only overcome this waiver by presenting clear and convincing evidence that it missed the deadline for good cause.

The act also provides enhanced authority for the Office of Special Counsel to take disciplinary action against government officials found by a court to have arbitrarily and capriciously denied a requestor seeking information that should be disclosed. The act further requires the Attorney General to inform the Office of Special Counsel of such court findings and to report to Congress on those findings. The Office of Special Counsel is also required to issue an annual report to Congress on its response to such court findings.

To address the second problem, the act establishes the Office of Government Information Services within the Administrative Conference of the United States, which is an independent agency and advisory body established in 1964 to recommend improvements to Congress and Executive branch agencies. Most of the conference’s more than 200 recommended changes have been adopted, at least in part.

This Office of Government Information Services would function as an FOIA Ombudsman with authority to review agency policies and practices in administering the act, recommend policy changes and mediate FOIA disputes between agencies and requestors.

While I am particularly encouraged by these two provisions of the act, I believe it contains many additional much-needed reforms in other areas of the Freedom of Information Act, including closure of the outsourced documents loophole, requiring open government impact statements of proposed legislation, changing the way agencies measure and report their FOIA response times, and much else. In short, I believe this act and its companion proposal to create a 16-member Open Government Commission to study FOIA response delays and recommend needed actions are among the most important pieces of legislation to be considered by the 109th Congress.

It is my hope that those Members of Congress who consider themselves of a conservative persuasion will pay particular attention to the Open Government Act of 2005 because it can be an effective resource for restoring our government to its appropriate size and functions. Sunshine is the best disinfectant not only in the physical world, but perhaps even more so in fighting waste, fraud and corruption in government and in protecting public safety. This this is well-illustrated by these recent examples of reporting made possible by the Freedom of Information Act:

Miami’s 47 mph “hurricane:” Hurricane Frances made landfall more than 100 miles north of Miami-Dade County last year, but that didn’t stop thousands of residents in Florida’s most populous county from receiving nearly $28 million in federal disaster aid, according to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. Using that state’s FOIA, a team of Sun-Sentinel reporters found that residents used their relief checks to pay for things like 5,000 televisions allegedly destroyed by Frances, as well as 1,440 air conditioners, 1,360 twin beds, 1,311 washers and dryers and 831 dining room sets. All this despite the fact Frances’ top winds reached only 47 mph in the Miami-Dade area.

Illegal aliens convicted of horrible crimes: Lots of people know that federal law requires illegal aliens convicted of heinous crimes like rape, murder, child molestation here in America to be deported once they've served their jail terms. Unfortunately, it appears that thousands such aliens may now be wandering a street near your home or your child’s school because federal immigration officials failed to show up when these criminals were released from jail. Even worse, according to Cox Newspapers Washington Bureau reporters Eliot Jaspin and Julia Malone, the justice department won’t release a government database that could help journalists and private citizens help officials find these aliens.

We are indeed fighting a Global War on Terrorism that puts unusual demands on the Freedom of Information Act system. Conservatives and liberals alike, however, should always remember that an ever expansive, ever-more intrusive government is ultimately antithetical to the preservation of individual liberty and democratic accountability in public affairs.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Hiring Data Shows Bush Political Appointees Scarce, So How Can They Crush Citizen Access With FOIA Controls?

It's Sunshine Week and journalists and others interested in Freedom of Information Act issues, are celebrating the landmark 1966 law that guarantees all citizens the right to access government documents and information, subject only to reasonable exemptions for things like national security, law enforcement and proprietary commercial information.

The FOIA is a good thing, as is Sunshine Week, but one of the most frequent assertions you are likely to hear from folks on the Left is something along this line: "Bush and his political appointees like former Attorney General John Ashcroft have severely restricted the right of citizens to use the FOIA."

There is some truth to the accusation, but focusing exclusively on the actions of Bush political appointees conveniently obscures a far more fundamental cause of problems with the way the FOIA has been administered in recent years, going back several administrations. That is the fact career federal employees are responsible for virtually all FOIA administration, not political appointees of any presidential administration.

So, in preparation for my testimony tomorrow morning before a Senate subcommittee hearing on the propsed Cornyn-Leahy Open Government Act of 2005 (the hearing is timed to coincide with Sunshine Week), I checked with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management's public affairs office on the total number of political appointees now and during the Clinton administration. As I suspected, political appointees in the executive branch of government are rarer than politicians who always tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

As of Sept. 2004, the latest available data from OPM shows Bush has appointed:
  • 669 Political Appointees requiring Senate confirmation (includes U.S. Marshalls and Attorneys)
  • 13 Political Appointees not requiring confirmation
  • 669 Non-career Senior Executive Service members
  • 1,452 Schedule Cs
  • 27 Limited time Senior Executive Service members
  • 2,830 total

Since there are approximately 2.4 million career federal employees in the executive branch, that means the political appointees make up .00119 percent of total federal executive branch employment.

By contrast, near the end of the Clinton administration in Sept. 2000, the numbers looked like this:

  • 473 Political Appointees requiring Senate confirmation (not counting U.S. Marshalls, U.S. Attorneys)
  • 13 Political Appointees not requiring confirmation
  • 605 Non-career Senior Executive Service members
  • 1,278 Schedule Cs
  • 48 Limited Time Senior Executive Service members
  • 2,417 total
Near the end of Clinton's first term, the numbers looked like this:

  • 500 Political Appointees requiring Senate confirmation (not counting U.S. Marshalls, U.S. Attorneys)
  • 9 Political Appointees not requring confirmation
  • 660 Non-career Senior Executive Service members
  • 1,444 Schedule Cs
  • 1 Limited Time Senior Executive Service member
  • 2,614 total
These numbers are significant because a constant refrain from the Left has Bush political appointees crushing Freedom of Information Act access in the government when the truth is that most career federal employees handle 99.9999 percent of all FOIA requests and almost never see a living, breathing Bush political appointee. And it was the same way in the Clinton administration and indeed every administration before that because the numbers of political appointees available to any president are virtually the same from one term to the next.

Remember these numbers the next time you hear somebody on the Left complaining about how Bush has excessively increased secrecy in the government by cracking down on FOIA requests.
Oh, one more figure - there were more than 2.7 million such requests to the federal government in 2004, the most ever.

Is Fox the Only Biased Cable News Operation?

You might well think the answer to the question posed in the headline above this post is "yes" if all you read on the topic is the latest report of the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Committee of Concerned Journalists on "The State of the News Media."

You can click on the headline above this post to go to report's content analysis of cable news, comparing the prevalence of opinion in news reporting at Fox, MSNBC and CNN. The report also includes sections focusing on daily newspapers, broadcast news, radio news, online news and other categories.

The Project's report is already generating significant MSM attention, as The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz - who is also host of a CNN media discussion program - gets front page play in the Style section this morning with a piece on the report that is topped with these grafs:

"In covering the Iraq war last year, 73 percent of the stories on Fox News included the opinions of the anchors and journalists reporting them, a new study says.
"By contrast, 29 percent of the war reports on MSNBC and 2 percent of those on CNN included the journalists' own views.
"These findings -- the figures were similar for coverage of other stories -- "seem to challenge" Fox's slogan of "we report, you decide," says the Project for Excellence in Journalism."

Kurtz quoted a Fox executive saying the top-rated cable news operation doesn't censor its anchors and notes that viewers don't want "to look at a cookie-cutter, force-feeding of the same items hour after hour."

MSNBC declined to comment, according to Kurtz.

CNN spokesman Christa Robinson told Kurtz the study "reaffirms what anyone watching CNN already knows: CNN's reporting is driven by news, not opinion."

The Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Committee of Concerned Journalists are two sides of the same coin, being headed by Tom Rosenstiehl, former media critic of The Los Angeles Times and chief congressional correspondent for Newsweek magazine. The Project is affiliated with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and was formed in 1997. The Project's web site describes the organization's reason for being as follows:

"The Project was started because of widely held concern that this is a critical moment for journalism.
"Increasingly, the profession seems overwhelmed by the sheer size of the media, by hidebound habits, by infotainment, by the quest for sensation and gossip, by the imperatives of the stock market or by a pursuit of ever-fragmenting audiences that lead us ever-farther from home."

The Project is very much a MSM-oriented professional organization that seeks to defend and perpetuate traditional MSM approaches to news reporting. Put another way, the Project serves as something of an unofficial voice of the establishment media.

One of the main reasons the Project's report is likely to spark some controversy is the ambiguous nature of its criteria for defining the presence of opinion in news reports. While stressing the report's authors were not trying to measure "bias," they nevertheless did base their content analysis on:

"How many sources stories contained and how much the stories shared with the audience about those sources.
"The degree to which stories that involved controversy reflected more than one side of the story.
"Whether stories contained the journalists' own opinions, unattributed to any sourcing or reporting."

There is much to be said about the adequacy of the Project's approach here - especially with regard to whether bias and opinion are the same thing. In fact, I would argue that bias and opinion are virtually identical and thus measuring one is measuring the other.

To illustrate, let's look a news article that appears above the fold on the front page of Kurtz's Post by reporter Peter Slevin. The article was headlined by the Post copy desk with this crimped, one-column note: "Battle on teaching evolution sharpens."

More interesting is Slevin's lede, which is this:

"Propelled by a polished strategy crafted by activists on America's political right, a battle is intensifying across the nation over how students are taught about the origins of life. Policymakers in 19 states are weighing proposals that question the science of evolution."

Notice how the second sentence puts an interesting spin on an otherwise factual piece of information. The fact is that 19 states are considering proposals on teaching of evolution. The spin is that those proposals "question the science of evolution."

While I haven't read any of the 19 proposals and I doubt that Slevin has either, it seems likely he could just as accurately have written that sentence like this:

"Policymakers in 19 states are weighing proposals that require balanced teaching of evidence for and against evolution."

Or like this:

"Policymakers in 19 states are weighing proposals that require teachers to give equal time to evidence presented by scientists who support evolution and scientists who support the 'intelligent design' approach."

Or even like this:

"Policymakers in 19 states are weighing proposals that require teachers to disclose allegations by intelligent design proponents that evolution advocates have falsified at least some of their most widely used textbook examples."

Each of these alternative renderings presupposes a particular understanding of the evolution versus intelligent design controversy, just as Slevin's construction appears to presuppose yet another understanding. Given the prefacing sentence about the influence of political activists of the Right, Slevin appears to be framing the issue as political activists versus science, which happens to support evolution.

My point here is that reporting necessarily involves the journalist's philosophical, ideological, religious and other assumptions about the public policy issues being reported. I suspect Slevin would claim his lede is as objective as it could possibly be, but would he be as confident about the objectivity of the other approaches described above? Probably not, because they assume different things about the nature of the controversy than he appears to assume.

We're going to ask Slevin for a comment on this point. And it will be interesting to see if Kurtz has anything to add.

UPDATE: The Project's report also looked at the coverage of the 2004 presidential campaign by 16 daily newspapers, the four major nightly newscasts, the three network morning news shows, nine cable news programs and nine Web news sites. Among the conclusions: President Bush received significantly more negative coverage than did Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry. You can read a MyWay summary here and the full report here. Thanks to RatherBiased.com's Matthew Sheffield for pointing me to the MyWay story.

"Dream Palace of the Goo-Goos" Says It All on FEC Furor

Did you know much of the impetus for passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 came from the bipartisan campaign reform commission initiated following the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election campaign?

You remember that one, don't you. It was the campaign in which the Clintonistas hung a "For Sale" sign on the Lincoln Bedroom door knob in the White House and then-Vice-President Al Gore found "no controlling legal authority" to prevent him from using his official office for telephone calls to shake down campaign contributors, among much else.

Well, Powerline.com's Scott Johnson has a superb piece in The Weekly Standard this week that is essential reading for all who care about the First Amendment. Among other things, Johnson ably traces the background to the BCRA of 2002, notes the Supreme Court has afforded First Amendment protection to such diverse activities as nude dancing and explicit cable shows and quotes Justice Scalia's scathing dissent in McConnell v FEC, which identifies the true purpose of campaign finance reform - incumbent protection.

Click on the headline above this post to get to the Johnson piece.