Thursday, January 27, 2005

Media watchdog tracks White House effort to police Social Security news coverage

From FAIR today in an action alert, Private Vs. Personal: Media's Social Security Semantics:

Facing significant opposition to its plan to privatize part of the Social Security program, the White House is pushing reporters and lawmakers to use the expression "personal accounts," since polling data seems to indicate that "privatization" is an unpopular term with voters.

While it's not unusual for politicians to try to spin the terminology used in debate, journalists should avoid changing word usage simply because some politicians think it will be to their advantage. There's little doubt that "privatization" is a more accurate description of the White House plan, especially considering that the current Social Security system is already based on what are essentially "personal accounts"-- your benefits depend on how much you personally have paid in, as the annual statements you get from the Social Security Administration indicate-- rendering the Bush administration's preferred terminology redundant and confusing. What is different about the accounts that Bush is proposing is not that they are personal, but that they will hold private-sector securities-- in other words, that they will be privatized.

But some outlets endorse the notion that using any variation of the term "privatization" is politicizing the story. As Time magazine explained (1/10/05), "Because Democrats have given the term 'privatization' a negative tinge, advocates prefer to call it 'personalization,' emphasizing control and ownership rights." NBC host Tim Russert said on Meet the Press (1/23/05), "The president is proposing personal or private accounts, the vocabulary differs according to the ideology or the party using it."

But the term "privatization" was for years embraced by its proponents as an accurate description of their position. The Cato Institute, an influential pro-privatization Beltway think tank, called its program the "Project on Social Security Privatization" before re-naming it "Project on Social Security Choice" in 2002 (New York Times, 10/6/02). That change was attributed to Republican lawmakers who wanted to avoid using an unpopular term to describe their policy.

This semantic debate is no accident. As the Washington Post reported (1/23/05), "Republican officials have begun calling journalists to complain about references to 'private accounts,' even though Bush called them that three times in a speech last fall."

One would hope that in a debate as important as this one, reporters would resist this GOP spin. But the White House may be having some success: Carl Cameron of Fox News, in a news conference question to George W. Bush (1/26/05), made reference to "those who opt into a potential private account"-- before quickly correcting himself to say "personal account."

The Associated Press has also shown evidence of adopting the GOP's semantics; as CJR Daily pointed out (1/25/05), last year reporter David Espo used the phrase "private accounts" fifteen times in Social Security articles, while referring to the accounts as "personal" only once (10/17/04, 12/6/04, 12/7/04). But this year, "private accounts" has nearly disappeared from his vocabulary: A Nexis search of his reports on Social Security through January 26 turn up 16 references to "personal" accounts and only two to "private" accounts (outside of direct quotes).

Aside from echoing Republican spin, this semantic shift can muddle the story. In one recent report (1/24/05), for example, Espo wrote that the AARP "released a nationwide poll today indicating deep public skepticism about President Bush's plan for personal accounts." But one paragraph later, he explained that AARP's poll asked about private, not personal accounts.

The Times similarly confused the AARP poll; a January 25 article on the Social Security debate, which made three references to "personal" accounts and only one reference to "private investment" accounts, reported that "the AARP released a poll showing little public support for personal accounts once the costs and tradeoffs involved in establishing them are made clear." By changing the terminology of the poll, the Times and the AP added extra layers of confusion and inaccuracy to what should be a fairly straight-forward story.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Keeping up with Social Security news coverage

The Center for Economic Policy and Research is doing a great job of summarizing and analyzing ongoing news coverage of the Bush push to gut Social Security. CEPR also collects this coverage in a free weekly email newsletter, the Social Security Reporting Review. Subscribe to it, and CEPR's other fine email newswletters here, including: the weekly ERR (Economic Reporting Review) in which Dean Baker of CEPR evaluates the economic reporting in the New York Times and Washington Post; Mark Weisbrot's weekly column; and Data Bytes (Economic Data Analysis) in which CEPR economists analyze the latest releases from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on unemployment and prices, and from the Commerce Department on GDP (gross domestic product).

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

enter the era of media critique

"Here we are in an age where the media covers the media about what's gone wrong with the media."
That's Louis D. Boccardi, former president of the Associated Press who, together with Dick Thornburgh, were invited by CBS to investigate the Rathergate scandal, in a New York Times profile today, A Self-Effacing Arbiter of Media Failures by Robin Finn.

NYT notes links between prominent cardiologist & healthcare companies

A prominent cardiologist is identifed by a shill for a number of health care companies, in a long New York Times article today that focuses on his conflicts of interest in patient care:

Like many prominent researchers at the nation's major medical centers, Eric J. Topol, the chief academic officer of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, has over the years had consulting and financial ties with numerous drug and medical device companies.

Dr. Topol, an outspoken cardiologist who frequently opines on the medical issues of the day, has done work for drug companies like Eli Lilly, the Medicines Company and a partnership of Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi-Aventis.

Recently, however, as he has come under the spotlight for potential conflicts of interest, he said in a letter to one company that he had decided to end most of his relationships to "maintain my academic credibility." it all: Patient Care vs. Corporate Connections by Reed Abelson and Andrew Pollack, New York Times, 25 January 2005

TV news will use more corporate PR video news releases in 2005

Look for more corporate PR in the business news as video news releases (VNR) find their way into more television programming in 2005 as a result of more companies paying to place their VNRs in the news, according to a recent PR Week article:

Guaranteed placement, extending a VNR's life, and scientific medical stories. All of these and more are trends that broadcast PR will see continue in 2005.

Video news releases have always been an important tool for the PR industry. While the most popular subjects for VNRs remain more or less the same, where and how they're being used has certainly changed. Last year brought a noticeable increase in certain trends that could become even more common this year. Navigating those trends, and deciding which are here to stay, could be the key to getting your client's VNR on the air.

Factors such as a shrinking news hole and increased competition have prompted companies to explore other ways to get VNRs aired. In fact, most broadcast PR companies are now encountering requests to ensure placement in a non-traditional way for the PR industry - by paying for it.

Ed Lamoureaux, SVP of sales and marketing for West Glen Communications, says he has noticed a significant rise in the use of guaranteed or paid placements for VNRs.

"The idea of securing a placement and using a VNR is more of a grassroots outreach and has become very popular," Lamoureaux says. "It goes hand in hand with the coming together of advertising and PR."

And Lamoureaux is hardly a stranger to the concept. For the past 17 years, West Glen has been producing Health and Home Report, a 30-minute news magazine program that guarantees VNR placement. There are several of these guaranteed-placement shows being produced, some of which appear on cable stations like PAX.

For some companies, guaranteed VNR placement is a better way to spend marketing dollars, says Lidj Lewis, VP of media relations for Medialink. "It uses a PR technique to diversify the marketing mix," he adds.

Michelle Williams, director of production for Medialink, says she has seen an increase in the use of guaranteed placements and has had a lot of success with them. One of the biggest advantages, she points out, is that guaranteed placement programs often target a very specific demographic, which helps when producing a VNR. "You know the audience," she says. "You can cater your story to that audience."

Another option within the guaranteed-placement arena is the captured audience, says Doug Simon, president and CEO of DS Simon Productions. These are networks that air in controlled environments, such as health clubs and airplanes.

According to the article, healthcare-related VNRs will be especially popular. Another trend: companies will recycle the VNRs in internal corporate communications programs to help all employees sing from the same sheet music.

Read it all: Achieving success with your VNR in 2005 by Erica Iacono, PR Week, 17 January 2005, republished at freepress.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Hardball soft on Ketchum's Molinari in Armstrong Williams discussion

Ohio blogger Mike Meckler of takes Chris Matthews of MSNBC's Hardball to task for failing to mention his guest Susan Molinari's status as head of PR giant Ketchum's Washington lobbying office in a recent discussion of the Armstrong Williams news payola scandal. Meckler writes, in an open letter to Matthews:

I cannot believe that you are not aware that Susan Molinari heads up the Washington office of the public relations firm Ketchum, which is at the center of controversy over whether the Bush administration has been using propaganda tactics to promote controversial government programs. Ketchum is the firm that paid conservative black pundit Armstrong Williams $240,000 to plug the benefits of No Child Left Behind from a reported $1 million contract with the Education Department. Ketchum also devised video press releases on Medicare for Health and Human Services, videos designed to look like news stories and which the GAO last year called "covert propaganda."

You may well reckon that getting political commentary from someone whose public relations firm is currently receiving business from the Bush administration is no different from getting commentary from campaign staffers or political officeholders, and that Molinari's background as a former GOP congresswoman was sufficient to indicate her political viewpoint. But the fact that she has a strong financial incentive in promoting the Bush administration through her employment with Ketchum is an item that needed to be mentioned. Representatives of PR firms appearing on your sister channel CNBC would have to make such a disclosure.

Certainly the purpose of Molinari's appearance on last night's program was to discuss President Bush's inauguration, but then again, Martha Stewart's appearance on CBS's Morning Show was to prepare a salad. Since it remains unclear what Molinari's role has been in the Ketchum contracts, and whether Ketchum's activities have violated federal law, Molinari needs to be asked publicly about her activities. She may well, like Martha Stewart, refuse to answer, but any reputable news organization should have posed the question.

Meckler continues with more background and links, in a post worth reading in full at

Businesses see blogs shaping public opinion

Marketers are beginning to realize that bloggers have the power to help shape opinion, either by raving or ranting about a company's advertisements, products, or services. Now market researcher Intelliseek is going to monitor the blogosphere for comments about SuperBowl advertisements:

Market research company Intelliseek will be monitoring the blogosphere for the buzz on Super Bowl ads to give their clients instant feedback on their ad extravaganzas. Intelliseek, a Cincinnati company that owns, also will set up a panel of 50 to 100 bloggers to offer comments on ads during the game for its clients.

"The Internet is becoming a water cooler on steroids," said Pete Blackshaw, Intelliseek's chief marketing officer. "That presents both opportunities and threats for brands."

A convergence of factors -- the near-religious fervor in which Americans identify with, and talk about, their favorite products, the mass appeal of online communication and the buzz factor tied to Super Bowl ads -- has led marketing experts to focus more closely on what consumers are writing in blogs and on other Web forums.

....Intelliseek's Blackshaw and others believe monitoring the blogosphere is a good way to measure whether a Super Bowl ad is a bust or buzz.

....The company uses data-mining software to scan millions of blogs, discussion boards and forums to see if the keyboard-clicking masses are spreading the word about an ad or product. And it seeks to measure passion levels: Are people emotional about an ad? Has the ad or product become a part of the fabric of conversation? Is the reaction positive or negative?

Blog mouse-to-word marketing, though, extends beyond the Super Bowl, said Steve Rubel, vice president of CooperKatz, a New York City public relations firm who writes the Micro Persuasion Weblog. Such attention can be an unexpected bonus to a company, or a cause of embarrassment.

An adoring fan of Apple Computer's iPod music player created his own online ad for it, "iPod Tiny Machine." But bloggers pounced on Mazda for creating a fake blog filled with video "viral" ads that failed to generate popularity, Rubel said.

In the blogosphere, information isn't passively passed along, he said. An ad or marketing campaign "can be changed and fact checked. Consumers want to have a role in sharing the love and hate about the products they like and the products they don't like."

Marketers are increasingly becoming savvy to this new information flow, said Carson of BuzzMetrics. Some are beginning to design TV ad campaigns to drive people to Web sites, which display longer, and significantly less expensive, ads.

"There is a sense of community that surrounds brands and consumerism that has never existed before," he said. "You will find large numbers of people who will go to a company Web site and spend a considerable amount of time learning about its products. Or they'll forward that ad to friends." it all: Bloggers' newest power: rating Super Bowl ads: Market Researcher to Monitor Online Journals' views for corporate clients by John Boudreau, San Jose Mercury News

Uncovering state legislators' financial interests

When trying to identify the spin a state legislator may be putting on a business issue or specific company, the Center for Public Integrity's database of State Legislators' 2004 Personal Disclosures will be a valuable tool. From the CPT's announcement today:

Ever wonder what outside financial interests a legislator in your state might have? Now you can find out with a couple of clicks of your mouse. Putting the country's government ethics laws to work, the Center for Public Integrity today made thousands of state legislators' outside interest disclosure filings available to online users.

Researchers at the Center collected nearly 7,000 personal financial statements state lawmakers submitted in 2004 to oversight agencies in the 47 states requiring disclosure. Three states-Idaho, Michigan and Vermont-do not require disclosure at all. Click on a state below to access the only warehouse of its kind.

A few states had filing deadlines at the end of 2004. Center staff are continuing to upload forms for those states, along with North Dakota, where legislators' reports are not collected in a central office. Also, South Dakota legislators did not report in 2004. Please contact the Center with any questions.

The Center will collect and post these filings on a rolling basis as reports become available across the country throughout 2005. Find out the deadline for your legislators. it all: State Legislators' 2004 Personal Disclosures

Questions reporters should ask about Social Security

Dan Froomkin (a Washington Post writer when he's not managing the Nieman Watchdog project) has written a thoughtful piece suggesting questions that reporters should ask as they cover the ongoing story about the Bush Administration's plans to privatize Social Security. It's worth reading to understand what mainstream media reporters are NOT doing in their coverage:

Q. Why is the Bush White House so dead-set on transforming Social Security? What’s the motive?

Q. What does Bush mean by “ownership society”? What becomes of the safety net?

Q. How have workers been affected by the somewhat analogous shift in the private sector from defined-benefit to defined-contribution pension plans?

After a slow start, more and more reporters are making it clear that no matter how many times President Bush says so, Social Security isn't going broke and private accounts aren't going to help keep it solvent. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth.

But members of the press, by and large, are still not getting at the real Social Security story, because they're not asking themselves the obvious follow-up question: What's the motive? If indeed the program isn't in trouble, and private accounts won't make things better − then why are Bush and associates so dead-set on transforming it?

Part of the answer is that letting individuals manage their own retirements is a key component of what Bush calls the "ownership society." That’s shorthand for a Republican and libertarian ideal in which taxes are low, government is small, and people supervise their own retirements and choose their own health insurance rather than depend on the government to do so.

Critics argue that Bush's vision of an ownership society would mainly benefit the wealthy and corporations – and would leave the poor, working poor and middle class in even worse shape. They believe there is great value in collective institutions, particularly when it comes to sharing risk and building a safety net for the unfortunate.

So instead of just putting quote marks around the phrase "ownership society" and regurgitating it, reporters should explain it to their readers and viewers and explore what its effects might be. Who would the winners and losers be? Would it make the gap between those who own the most and those who own the least wider or narrower? What would happen to those so unfortunate they own nothing? Would there be any social safety net left at all?

...continues: Important questions about Social Security by Dan Froomkin, Nieman Watchdog Project, 24 January 2005

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Newspapers resent Wal-Mart manipulation

January 14, 2005

Mr. H. Lee Scott, CEO
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Bentonville, AR 72716

Dear Mr. Scott:

I was contacted yesterday by Jack Newton of the Hill & Knowlton PR firm in Atlanta. Mr. Newton advised me that Wal-Mart representatives were "available for interviews" about the firms nationwide campaign to "set the record straight about the facts about Wal-Mart."

In addition to co-owning and operating four community newspapers in Northeast Georgia, I also currently serve as president of the National Newspapers Association. As both a newspaper publisher and as a spokesman for several thousand community newspapers in America, I want to let you know that I, and many of my fellow publishers, are insulted by this Wal-Mart PR effort.

Wal-Mart built its foundation of stores in many of our rural and suburban communities, the places where I, and many of my fellow publishers, operate newspapers.

Yet community newspapers across the nation are all but invisible to Wal-Mart-unless the company is looking for some free PR in our pages. Wal-Mart has a fairly standard policy of doing little to no local newspaper advertising.

But now, when under fire from various critics, you turn to us to help you fight back. Adding insult to injury, you expect us to give you free space to do that with PR solicitations such as the one I received from Hill & Knowlton.

So why is it that community newspapers in America are good enough to help you fend off critics with free PR, but we're not good enough for your paid advertising?

You can't have it both ways.

Based on a number of previous conversations I've had with newspaper publishers and editors across America, I don't think you will find very many who are willing to give you the requested free PR space to fend off attacks from your corporate critics.

I believe my view is one held by many newspaper publishers: If Wal-Mart wants to communicate valuable information about itself to our readers, then you can purchase our valuable advertising space to do it.

Anything less is just an insult to the community newspapers of America.

Mike Buffington
President, National Newspaper Association

Buffington's letter is here. Perhaps MEB is misreading, but Buffington seems to come perilously close to saying that if Wal-Mart was an advertiser, the newspapers would feel better about passing along the company's PR. (MEB blogged Wal-Mart's PR push on January 14.)

Saturday, January 22, 2005

lockheed and loaded

Investigative journo Jeffrey St. Clair skins Lockheed alive in The Company That Runs the Empire: Lockheed and Loaded at Counterpunch:

Lockheed rakes it in from the federal treasury at the rate of $65 million every single day of the year.

From nuclear missiles to fighter planes, software code to spy satellites, the Patriot missile to Star Wars, Lockheed has come to dominate the weapons market in a way that the Standard Oil Company used to hold sway over the nation's petroleum supplies. And it all happened with the help of the federal government, which steered lucrative no bid contracts Lockheed's way, enacted tax breaks that encouraged Lockheed's merger and acquisition frenzy in the 1980s and 1990s and turned a blind eye to the company's criminal rap sheet, ripe with indiscretions ranging from bribery to contract fraud.

....By the end of the 1990s, Lockheed had made the transition from an airplane manufacturer with defense contracts to a kind of privatized supplier for nearly every Pentagon weapons scheme, from the F-22 fighter to the Pentagon's internet system. Then 9/11 happened and the federal floodgates for spending on national security, airline safety and war making opened wide and haven't closed. Lockheed has been the prime beneficiary of this gusher of federal money.

Not exactly the sort of thing you'd expect to hear as background on the next TV news story about Lockheed. St. Clair's article is worth reading in full.

Disinfopedia is now SourceWatch

Disinfopedia has changed its name to SourceWatch. It remains a valuable key to deciphering PR spin, with useful research and writing tips, and describes itself as

a collaborative project to produce a directory of public relations firms, think tanks, industry-funded organizations and industry-friendly experts that work to influence public opinion and public policy on behalf of corporations, governments and special interests. Sponsored by the Center for Media and Democracy (, SourceWatch was started in February 2003 and contributors are now working on 6270 articles.

SourceWatch articles can be published and edited by anybody:
This site is built by ordinary wise people, like you. You don't need any special credentials to participate -- we shun credentialism along with other propaganda techniques. It's the fact that it is open to everyone that makes these articles ever-improving, as we review and build on each other's work. Although no one is free of bias, we can cancel each other's out to a large degree, and deal with any systemic bias remaining by policy measures.

So, you can just dive right in and work on any article you like! You can edit any article directly, or if you want to add your thoughts, questions or comments about an article, you can go to the article's talk page (click on the 'Discuss the page' link in the sidebar or at the bottom of the article). You don't even need to be logged in to edit articles, although it is still a good idea to log in as this gives you access to more of the site's features and makes it easier to communicate with other users.

To work together effectively in building the encyclopedia, the SourceWatch community has some established policies and guidelines. An "encyclopedia of propaganda," by its very nature, is bound to attract controversy and debate. It is important, therefore, to write articles that focus on documented facts. Please include thorough references to documentation supporting the facts in your article, and avoid rhetorical or inflammatory language. If you are using or defining a rhetorical or inflammatory term then explain it in an article where it can be put in context and balance introduced - redirect all references to competing terms to one place. This is critical: We want the SourceWatch to be a useful information resource for journalists, activists and the general public, so please do not treat it as a debate forum. Any discussion about topics should be mainly directed at improving articles to the point where they are useful to journalists, the main consumer of our work.

New contributors are always welcome to SourceWatch, and you are encouraged to be bold in editing pages. You don't have to worry too much about making mistakes, as all contributions are monitored by other contributors at the Recent changes page.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Silicon Valley 100 will generate "buzz"

Connector marketing is coming to the heart of California’s high-tech zone, in the form of a new effort called the Silicon Valley 100.

This month, 100 of Silicon Valley’s top venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, lawyers, bloggers and promoters will begin receiving cool new stuff for free, delivered straight to their homes and offices. In return, these movers and shakers promise to sample the products and offer feedback to the their manufacturers. The companies hope that, if the mood strikes, the Silicon Valley 100 will chat up, blog on, or just plain recommend the products to friends and colleagues, generating that most invaluable of currencies: buzz.

The brainchild behind the Silicon Valley 100 is 31-year-old entrepreneur—and Connector—Auren Hoffman, founder of San Francisco marketing firm The Stonebrick Group. He hopes to turn the Silicon Valley 100 into a profitable enterprise. Companies will pay a fee for the privilege of gifting products to its elite members.

....It took three months on the phone, but the result of Hoffman’s detective work is a quirky, wide-ranging list of some of the Valley’s brightest lights, largest wallets and biggest mouths. Netscape founder Marc Andreessen is on the list. Venture capitalists Tim Draper, Stewart Alsop, Aileen Lee, Igor Sill, Bill Gurley and Ron Conway are too. Yahoo vice president Katie Mitic, Siebel Systems cofounder Pat House and Electronic Arts senior vice president Rusty Rueff are among the 100. So are technology-event promoters Esther Dyson, Tim O’Reilly, Tiffany Shlain and Chris Shipley. A local radio personality nicknamed Hooman appears, as does a young San Francisco club promoter named Trevor Hewitt. Sean Parker, one of the cofounders of Napster, also made the cut.

Hoffman says he avoided adding career bloggers or journalists to the list. “Those people have a different standard and shouldn’t be keeping free products,” he says (journalists are typically required to return products they sample for review). But many Valley execs who maintain well-read blogs are in the group, such as entrepreneurs Ross Mayfield, Brad Templeton, Joi Ito and Zaw Thet. it all: The Connected Get More Connected: Seeking buzz, companies will funnel free new products to Silicon Valley’s elite by Brad Stone, Newsweek, 21 January 2005

Silicon Valley 100 membrer Joi Ito speaks:
I think it is almost like an opt-in focus group. The obvious criticism would be these companies are trying to buy "buzz". The difference between this and some buzz creation companies is 1) it's not stealth 2) they don't tell you what to say. I checked with Auren and he says that we can write whatever we want about the products. When I get a product from Silicon Valley 100, I will state this clearly in any blog post that refers to it and will say what I think. I realize that the fact that we probably get to keep most of the products makes it a bit like bribery, but if it's crap, I'm sure most people will throw it away. I would be most interested in products that are still not on the market where our feedback could be incorporated in the product design. Then our feedback could be more constructive...

Expect pesticide PR in stories about the lawn-care industry

Watch out for PR-influenced stories about the lawn-care industry:

Fearing that a Canadian movement to ban the use of pesticides on lawns will take root in the United States, the lawn-care industry has thrown down the gauntlet - literally.

"The gloves are off," declares an industry ad running in trade magazines under a picture of masculine-looking leather gardening gloves lying atop a lush green lawn.

"Yes, legislation and regulations have been throwing the green industry some rough punches," the ad says. "And we're about to start fighting back."

The ads are underwritten by Project Evergreen, a trade association formed by pesticide makers, applicators, garden centers and mower manufacturers that plans to launch a national public-relations campaign this spring touting the health and lifestyle benefits of thick, green lawns.

The green industry, as the lawn-products industry calls itself, has reason to worry. Increasing concern about the impact of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers on human health and the environment is fueling a movement to ban or restrict the "cosmetic" or "aesthetic" use of artificial chemicals for lawns and gardens.

In Canada, the province of Quebec and nearly 70 cities and towns - including Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Halifax - have passed laws banning or restricting the use of pesticides for lawn care.

Some activists are predicting that pesticides will become the next tobacco. "Pesticides are a bit like secondhand smoke - if you can smell your neighbor using them on their property, then you're being exposed, too," said Michel Gaudet, president of the Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, in St. Bruno, Quebec.

The picture in the United States is more complicated. Over the last several years, the pesticide industry has successfully lobbied state legislatures to pass what are known as "pre-emption laws." These give states responsibility for pesticide regulation and prevent cities and towns from enacting their own laws. So far, 30 states have adopted pre-emption laws.

"Local communities generally do not have the expertise on issues about pesticides to make responsible decisions," said Allen James, president of RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment), a pesticide-industry lobbying group. "Decisions are made much more carefully and the train moves much more slowly" at the state level.

At the same time, however, 20 states have adopted laws requiring signs or some sort of public notification when pesticides are applied to lawns. Dozens of communities have also adopted policies barring or restricting the use of pesticides on school property, public ball fields and parks.

Beyond Pesticides, an environmental group in Washington, has responded to Project Evergreen's "gloves are off" ad with a copycat ad that features a pair of feminine-looking gardening gloves decorated with daisies over the headline, "Get a Grip."

"The chemical lawn care industry is worried that the word is getting out on the toxic hazards of lawn pesticides," the ad says. "It is possible to have a green lawn without toxic pesticides." it all: U.S. lawn-care industry fighting back against pesticide bans by Joan Lowy, Scripps Howard News Service, 17 January 2005. (Thanks to PR Watch for the heads-up.)

"The Apprentice: The Musical"

From Hollywood Reporter comes another sign that the apocalypse is near:

"The Apprentice" is moving from glitzy Fifth Avenue to neon-lit Broadway. Reality superproducer Mark Burnett and Donald Trump, executive producers of NBC's reality hit, are developing "The Apprentice: The Musical." Burnett is writing the book for the musical, which is under way, with several songs already written. "It's a love story," Burnett said of the project at a Friday meeting to promote his upcoming NBC reality series "The Contender." "It's very inspirational." (Nellie Andreeva and Cynthia Littleton)

CNN's media critique leaves much to be desired

Reliable Sources" is a program that (according to CNN) "turns a critical lens on the media" where a group of journalists, pundits and pseudo-reporters discuss media issues of the day. If you want to watch a motley crew congratulating themselves for pretending to be "critical" about the industry in which they work, nothing beats it. The first alarm bell should ring about the time that you hear that the program is fronted by none other than Howard Kurtz: the media critic for The Washington Post. You don't have to be Kant to see the massive conflict of interest here: the man hosting a program that purports to turn a "critical lens on the media" works for both The Washington Post Company (owners of The Washington Post and Newsweek magazine) and Time Warner (owners of CNN, HBO, TIME magazine, etc., etc, etc.). It's not a good start, and it gets worse.

The real problem with "Reliable Sources" is that it purports to be "critical" about the news business, all the while acting as a veiled cheerleader for a corporate media system that has surrendered to the Bush administration over everything from WMDs in Iraq to social security. The genius of the program is that it manages to give the impression of critique while staying completely milquetoast: the guests say how reporting was bad, how editors failed and generally give the news media a black eye. The logic of the system, however, is never questioned: critiques are almost always at the individual, not the systemic level. It is pre-packaged and commodified dissent.

I recently examined 56 episodes of "Reliable Sources," aired during 2003 and 2004, and noticed an overwhelming tendency on the part of Howard Kurtz and his guests to blame reporters ("they did a bad job"), editors ("they didn't keep an eye on their reporters") and/or the audience ("they are more interested in entertaining stories"). The solution, using this logic, is to simply retrain or replace the bad apples contaminating the basket. Problem solved.

This simplistic answer obscures the point that the ills of the U.S. news media go much deeper than individual failure or laziness, and are rooted in both hyper-commercialization and the connections between corporate media owners, government, advertisers, and investors. The real irony is that "Reliable Sources" is actually "Exhibit A" for what is wrong with journalism in the United States: instead of tackling endemic problems like the influence of advertising money and profit margins on news, guests sit around and blow hot air for endless hours about how Reporter X is "liberal" and Editor Z is "conservative".

During the 14 months of programming I examined, the direct influence of advertisers on the media was discussed explicitly a grand total of one time. Over a year of programming. Hundreds of reporters. Critical eye on the media. Objectivity. One time. And who discussed it? A top journalist at a top TV news program who had a juicy story spiked by a cowardly editor? No. It was comedian and talk-show host Bill Maher who discussed how his show, Politically Incorrect, was cut by ABC after he described the 9/11 terrorists as "brave". Using "Reliable Sources" as a barometer, advertisers almost never influence content: an assertion that would be laughable if it were not so pathetic.

....Of course, to be fair, do we really expect people who rake in hundreds of thousands - and in some cases millions - of dollars a year from the very corporations who benefit from the relaxation of ownership rules, the avalanche of advertising money and the good graces of those in power to muster the courage to expose the flaws in the commercial system? No, and that is the problem. Shows like "Reliable Sources" only highlight how toothless the corporate news media can be when faced with the ire of their paymasters. It is much easier to blame weak, trite, lapdog journalism on bad reporters and dim-witted audience members, because the alternative is far too terrible to consider.

Christian Christensen is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Communication at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul, Turkey. He can be reached at it all: First "Crossfire"...Now Axe "Reliable Sources" by Christian Christensen,, 16 January 2005

Pay bloggers to endorse products, says guru

As blog readership rises, some smart marketers are wisely dipping their toes into the blog marketing waters. However, they’re overlooking perhaps one of the most attractive and untapped opportunities -- signing bloggers to product endorsement deals.

In 2004 the blogosphere established itself as a major influence on public opinion. According to a study released earlier this month by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a full 27 percent of all online users now read blogs, a 58 percent increase from early last year.

With interest in blogs rising, some bloggers are rapidly becoming celebrities. They’re popping up in the press, attracting flocks of followers and, in some cases, even a roster of advertisers. And why not? They deserve it. After all, these “A-listers” can easily sway the opinions of thousands.

Unfortunately, minus a few exceptions, most marketers are still playing very safe when it comes to blog advertising. They’re taking a big media approach to the new wild, wooly micro media world. This includes buying ads on blog advertising networks operated by BURST!, BlogAds, Pheedo and Google AdSense, or sponsoring entire blogs outright as Audi did with the Jalopnik auto blog.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these methods, they fail to capitalize on the blogosphere’s greatest value -- their influence. Blogs are very different animals than mainstream sites. They are written by passionate individuals you can reach out and touch, not by professionals. Bloggers share a deep sense of connection with their readers that marketers would die to tap into. They’re like rock stars. This is why you should treat bloggers like celebrities who can have tremendous power to inspire and lead others, rather than treating blogs as just another place to advertise. it all: Would You Buy a Car from this Blogger? by Steve Rubel, imediaconnection, January 19, 2005

PR giant admits Armstrong Williams deal violated industry guidelines

The public relations firm that arranged for pundit Armstrong Williams to promote the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind education program admitted Wednesday that the deal with Williams violated "the guidelines of our agency and our industry."

The statement by Ketchum Inc. came on the same day that Bush's nominee for Education secretary, Margaret Spelling, promised to review the promotional tactics used by the Department of Education.

USA TODAY reported this month that Ketchum, as part of a $1 million contract with the Education Department, paid Williams $240,000 to "regularly comment" on No Child Left Behind during his syndicated TV talk show. The contract also called on Williams to interview Education Secretary Rod Paige for spots that aired during the show in 2004.

The arrangement raises questions about whether the Education Department broke the law by using taxpayers' money to pay for "propaganda," and whether Williams and Ketchum should have disclosed the commentator's deal to his viewers, readers of his syndicated newspaper column and listeners of his radio show.

The Education Department's inspector general pledged Wednesday to investigate "potential covert propaganda" in "current and past similar contracts." The Federal Communications Commission also is examining whether the deal violated "payola" provisions of the Communications Act.

In its statement, first published in PRWeek magazine, Ketchum acknowledged a "lapse in judgment" and said it "should have encouraged greater disclosure" by Williams.

"We regret this has occurred," the company said in the statement. it all: PR firm admits deal broke rules by Mark Memmott and Greg Toppo, USA Today, 20 January 2005.

Enron-exposing journo reveals checkered past

Says the New York Post:

MOVE over, Jayson Blair — here comes Jason Leopold!

While Leopold isn't guilty of the kind of journalistic sins that doomed the New York Times fabricator, he is flogging his own media-centric mea culpa, "Off the Record: An Investigative Journalist's Inside View of Dirty Politics, Corporate Scandal and a Double Life Exposed" (Rowman & Littlefield).

In the fashionably confessional tome, the Enron-scooping former Dow Jones L.A. bureau chief reveals a secret criminal past that included felony convictions for grand larceny and forgery. He battled cocaine addiction and admits he lied on his résumé about graduating from New York University.

Leopold, 35, landed an exclusive interview with former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling after the energy giant declared bankruptcy in 2001.

The next year, he linked Army Secretary Gen. Thomas White to fraud at Enron in a controversial story for The subsequent backlash resulted in the piece being pulled from the site. He had previously been fired by Dow Jones for flubbing figures in another Enron piece.

"I was so obsessed with Enron," Leopold told us, "I made some errors in judgment . . . I wasn't using drugs anymore, but I was acting like a drug addict. I got high on these news stories. I really was still running away from this stuff about my past."
Leopold says he felt a certain kinship with Skilling. "Here I was interviewing the biggest white-collar criminal in the country, and at the same time I had a felony conviction that I was concealing," he said. "I think that's what allowed me to ask all the right questions and figure out what was going on."

The self-styled Enron addict's legal trouble stemmed from a scheme in which he stole more than 10,000 CDs from Milan Records, where he used to work, and sold them to mom-and-pop record shops in Manhattan for cash to subsidize his coke habit before he became a newspaper reporter.

These days, Leopold is working as a consultant for "Blackout," an A&E cable channel movie about the New York blackout of 2003 — but he has high hopes of making some money off of his life story.

He says his reps at Creative Artists Agency are trying to turn his book into a movie or TV series. "The talk is that Johnny Depp is pursuing it as a producer or maybe starring in the film, but some people are saying it might be better as a TV series," he told us. "Sort of like Michael Chicklis in 'The Shield.' Sort of like an anti-hero."

Blogger enlists reader support to find Bush Administration Social Security spin in the news

Josh Marshall is asking readers to look for Social Security spin, motivating them with an offer of a free T-shirt:

We are creating a bounty for TPM readers who come up with instances where supporters of President Bush's Social Security phase-out plan used the term "privatization" (or other forms of the word -- "privatize", etc.) to describe their policy. In most cases, those examples will be prior to the time when Karl Rove and the RNC decreed the word to be outlawed. But some will be cases like the president's above where folks had a momentary lapse and forgot the new party directive.

To create the proper incentives we'll be assigning point values for different kinds of quotes. TPM readers who amass ten points will win one of our Special Edition Privatize This! TPM T-Shirts.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

VC's pushing wireless

Why so much business news coverage of wireless technology? Maybe, among other reasons, it's because venture capitalists hoping to profit have decided it's time to tout it:

When a large group of VCs all agree that something is hot, you can almost hear the bubble expanding. This is both good and bad, but everyone should go in with their eyes open.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer asked six local venture capitalists for their predictions for 2005, and four out of the six specifically named wireless as the hot area to watch in 2005. One of the two who didn't name it specifically danced pretty close to wireless with all of his predictions ("consumer home control, digital media and computing appliances; Ultra-microcomputing; Voice-over IP infrastructure"), so it seems reasonable to include his vote for wireless as well. As in any case where "five out of six experts agree!" you may wonder what that last one was thinking. In this case, his focus is on business intelligence and hosted applications, suggesting he's still looking back at the farm for the big enterprise applications and data services -- but even those are starting to go mobile as well. it all: 5 Out Of 6 VCs Agree: Now Is The Time To Hype Wireless by Mike Masnick, The Feature, 15 January 2005

Masnick refers to Venture Capital: Six experts look into crystal ball for 2005, by John Cook, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 14 January 2005. High on wireless or VoIP in '05, according to Cook, and all but one in Seattle:
  • Steve Arnold, Polaris Venture Partners
  • Greg Gottesman, Madrona Venture Group
  • Len Jordan, Frazier Technology Ventures
  • Bill McAleer, Voyager Capital
  • Melissa Widner, SeaPoint Ventures, Bellevue

Friday, January 14, 2005

If you liked the election, you'll love the Social Security campaign

The need for fact-checking by the blogosphere returns as the Bush Administration seek to shape public opinion in favor of Social Security privatization, using the media manipulation apparatus that helped to elect Bush:

President Bush plans to reactivate his reelection campaign's network of donors and activists to build pressure on lawmakers to allow workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes in the stock market, according to Republican strategists.

White House allies are launching a market-research project to figure out how to sell the plan in the most comprehensible and appealing way, and Republican marketing and public-relations gurus are building teams of consultants to promote it, the strategists said.

The campaign will use Bush's campaign-honed techniques of mass repetition, never deviating from the script and using the politics of fear to build support -- contending that a Social Security financial crisis is imminent when even Republican figures show it is decades away.

Bush aides said that in addition to mobilizing the Republican faithful and tapping the power of business, they plan to target minority voters who have not been able to afford to save and might be open to the argument that the president's plan would turn them into investors. The campaign will also court younger voters, including many Democrats, who would potentially benefit the most from the change.

.... Mehlman, who was the Bush-Cheney campaign manager and is the RNC's incoming chairman, said the campaign apparatus -- from a national database of 7.5 million e-mail activists, 1.6 million volunteers and hundreds of thousands of neighborhood precinct captains -- will be used to build congressional support for Bush's plans, starting with Social Security.

"There are a lot of tools we used in the '04 campaign, from regional media to research to rapid response to having surrogates on television," he said. "That whole effort will be focused on the legislative agenda."

.... In addition to their own efforts, White House and RNC officials are working closely with the same outside groups that helped Bush win reelection in 2004, especially Progress for America, a political organization with close ties to Rove. RNC officials have privately told top congressional aides they will work with Progress for America and others to provide political cover through television ads supporting the Bush position and condemning those who oppose it. To coincide with Bush's new drive, Progress for America is running a television ad on Fox and CNN that compares Bush to Franklin Roosevelt, the father of Social Security.

.... Once the debate intensifies, Progress for America and other pro-Bush groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers plan to target individual congressional members with the precision of an election campaign.

"We have through CNN and Fox painted with broad brushes," McCabe said. "Over time, we will take our messages inside states and communicate with individual members." it all: Social Security Push to Tap the GOP Faithful: Campaign's Tactics Will Drive Appeal, by Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, 14 January 2005

ABC muddies the Social Security waters

Media watchdog group, FAIR, exposed biased and inaccurate coverage of Social Security on ABC's World News Tonight on January 11:

On World News Tonight, anchor Peter Jennings started off the distortions in the show's "A Closer Look" segment. Having allowed that there is "some argument" about whether Social Security would, as Bush argued recently, "go bankrupt" without congressional intervention, Jennings continued: "But there's no question that baby boomers will place great strain on Social Security as they retire. And by 2042, by some measures, the system may not have enough cash to pay full benefits."

Actually, there's plenty of question about the notion that baby boomers will strain the system; the whole point of amassing a surplus in the trust fund in the first place was to absorb the strain of their retirement. And if it's true that "by some measures" (i.e., the Social Security trustees) the system won't have enough cash in 2042, it's also true that by other, less pessimistic, measures, it will; for example, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects payment of full benefits through at least 2052-- at which point the oldest boomers will be 106 and the
youngest 88 (Economic Reporting Review, 1/10/05).

Some economists point out that the system, if the economy grows about as quickly in the future as it has in the past, will most likely never run short of cash. These projected dates of Social Security running out of cash have been pushed steadily into the future in recent years as the dramatic slowdown that the Social Security trustees forecast continues to fail to materialize (Political Animal, 12/13/04).

Even if the system does need more cash four or five decades from now, it's not clear that this should be characterized as a "great strain." The amount of money necessary to keep paying full benefits could be raised by a tax increase that was about one-fourth the size of the Bush tax cuts (Washington Post, 1/12/05).

The segment continued with ABC's Robert Krulwich providing commentary over an animated cartoon purporting to explain the Social Security system and Bush's privatization proposal. According to Krulwich, despite the widespread belief that money paid in to Social Security is put "somewhere safe," that money is actually spent by the government, leaving "no money, just IOUs." Bush's proposal, Krulwich said, allows workers to have "a nest egg you can call your own and government can never take away."

The IOU argument is a favorite of pro-privatizers, but it has little basis in reality. Those trust fund "IOUs" exist in the form of U.S. government bonds, just like those held by private investors and foreign countries like Japan and China. Such bonds are considered among the safest investments one can make; there's never been a historical instance of the U.S. defaulting on a bond. To suggest that those bonds are not "somewhere safe" is to suggest that the U.S. government might default on its loans to its own retiring workers-- an event that is far less likely than a bank or
other private investment institution defaulting on privately held retirement accounts. But both Jennings' and Krulwich's points were presented unopposed, leaving viewers with a very skewed picture of Social Security.

The same day, ABC's Good Morning America aired a segment that promised to "cut through some of the political rhetoric and look at the reality of what [Bush's Social Security plan] might mean." The show presented Bill and Vicki Wilson, a two-income couple with two kids and "retirement 20 years off," and turned to Michael Tanner of the pro-privatization Cato Institute for expert analysis of the Wilsons' situation.

Tanner told the Wilsons that under the current system, Bill should receive approximately $2,250 and Vicki $2,200 per month-- but that there's a "catch." ABC's Claire Shipman explained:

"One thing everyone agrees on, the Social Security system as it exists now won't be able to afford those payments for long after the Wilsons retire." Not only doesn't "everyone agree" with this statement, it's patently untrue. Since the Wilsons will retire in about 20 years (or 2025), they would enjoy their full payments for nearly 20 years even under the pessimistic assumptions of the Social Security trustees, and nearly 30 years according to the CBO. Statistically, the Wilsons are quite likely to
be dead before there is any question about Social Security's ability to pay their full promised benefits.

Tanner went on to claim that turning over some of Social Security to private investment accounts "would be enough to bring you back up above what you otherwise would get" after proposed benefit cuts. The numbers Tanner provided to ABC, however, show the Wilsons doing worse after privatization: With benefit cuts along with "a small investment in a private account and a modest return," their total Social Security benefits under the privatization plan were estimated to be about $300 less per year than the income that they would get if the system were unchanged.

But because the Wilsons had been assured-- inaccurately-- that "everyone agrees" that Social Security would be unable to provide them with the benefits they had been promised, they were inclined to think that this roughly 15 percent reduction in benefits was not such a bad deal.

While Vicki Wilson did express concern about the $2 trillion to $3 trillion cost of creating private accounts, it was quickly resolved by her own suggestion that "maybe the way to suck it up somewhere along the line is to take a small benefit cut like what you showed us."

No other opposition to Bush's plan or questions about its effects received any mention; in what the ABC segment labeled "the mother of all debates," such voices from the other side of the table were conspicuously absent.

ACTION: Please write to ABC and urge them to include a full range of debate on the Social Security issue. Tell them to stop presenting highly debatable claims as if they were not in dispute.

ABC News
World News Tonight
Phone: 212-456-4040

Good Morning America
Phone: 212-456-7777

As always, please remember that your comments have more impact if you maintain a polite tone. Please send a copy of your correspondence to

Businesses urged to blog

Look for blogs to take on more advertising, marketing, and PR elements as businesses move to co-opt this Web publishing trend as they are being urged to by cutting-edge consultants. "Blogs are a cheap, convenient and enjoyable form of PR and marketing that should be part of every business plan in 2005," writes Bob Cargill, senior creative director of Yellowfin Direct Marketing in Why advertising, marketing and PR pros should blog.

the risks of Wal-Mart's PR push

Wal-Mart's efforts to influence public opinion in the face of widespread criticism are gaining momentum - Google News currently tracks 285 news stories on the topic. The Globe and Mail's article today, "Wal-Mart strikes back at detractors with new million-dollar PR push" does a good job of laying out the risks and potential rewards the retailer faces:

Marketing experts said Wal-Mart's unusually aggressive PR stance is an acknowledgement that success, as measured by sales and profit, isn't enough for the world's largest company.

"The company is clearly liked by consumers, otherwise wouldn't be doing so well," said Niraj Dawar, a marketing professor at the University of Western Ontario's Ivey School of Business. "In a sense, the company is saying that it isn't enough to be successful. It has to have a positive image in the marketplace."

But other experts said Wal-Mart is adopting high-risk tactics that could attract even more attention to the image it's trying to bury.

David Dunne, a marketing professor at the University of Toronto, said there's a danger that Wal-Mart might alienate just the people it's trying to win over. The strident tone of Mr. Scott, a relative business unknown, is a risky strategy, he suggested.

"I would question whether this is the right approach in an age when people are skeptical of corporate leaders," Prof. Dunne said.

Officials of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which has been trying to unionize stores across Canada and the United States, said the campaign itself are misleading.

"They're on the defensive, they have a record they can't defend and think an ad campaign covers up reality," Greg Denier, a UFCW spokesman, told Dow Jones.

Blundering FBI computer contractor benefits from high-level government ties

Many of the broadcast and cable TV stories, and newspaper stories, about the FBI's latest computer systems boondoggle failed to mention the contractor. It's Science Applications International Corporation, according to a New York Times article today, "F.B.I. May Scrap Vital Overhaul of Its Outdated Computer System," by Eric Lichtbau.

The company's largest customer is the U.S. government, reports the Center for Public Integrity, and it is deeply involved in homeland security and the Iraq war:

SAIC had engineers on the ground in New York the day after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, deploying point-to-point microwave systems to restore communications to government offices. The company also built the security command center for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Other high-profile projects SAIC has been involved in include the 1993 World Trade Center bombing investigation, the cleanups after the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster and the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, the first Gulf War, and space missions including the Voyager mission to Mars and the Hubble Space Telescope.

A lower profile, but potentially lucrative, project the company is working on for the Army is called the Future Combat Systems program. SAIC teamed up with Boeing to win the right to be lead system integrator on that project, which could have a total value of $4 billion. The program is supposed to completely retool and transform the entire Army to better respond to future threats, including everything from weapons systems to troop training.

SAIC recently had a management change. Founder and chairman Robert Beyster, who had run the company since its beginning in 1969, announced plans to retire in 2004. In October 2003, Kenneth Dahlberg, a vice president at General Dynamics, joined the company as CEO. There has also been speculation that, following Beyster's retirement, the company might go public.

Since February 2003, SAIC has been in charge of the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council, a Pentagon-sanctioned group made up of Iraqis that is effectively functioning as the country's temporary government. The senior members of IRDC hold positions at each of 23 Iraqi ministries, where they work closely with U.S. and British officials, including L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. The Council's official task is to rebuild the structures of a government that are expected to eventually be handed over to an independent Iraqi authority. Members of the IRDC are officially employed by SAIC.

Another Pentagon contract calls for SAIC to, in effect, rebuild Iraq's mass media, including television stations, radio stations and newspapers. SAIC runs the "Voice of the New Iraq," the radio station established in April 2003 at Umm Qasr that is funded by the U.S. government.

SAIC may do no better with US taxpayer funds in Iraq than it has on the FBI computer project, judging from the Center for Public Integrity assessment:
Just how the company is going about the task of rebuilding Iraq's media and the overall cost remains a mystery, however. The Pentagon has steadfastly refused to release any specific information on SAIC's media reconstruction work, which has been dubbed the Iraqi Media Network. What little information that has leaked out about the SAIC effort has come mainly from disgruntled employees and press freedom advocates, who have charged the company has bungled the job badly. One report said SAIC had ordered equipment that was incompatible with existing systems in Iraq. SAIC, which appears to have little experience in mass media, was also reported to have been caught flat-footed on programming for the reconstructed network. Its initial solution was to enlist Voice of America, the foreign language broadcasting service of the U.S. government, to patch together a short nightly news show made up entirely of dubbed stories from U.S. television network news shows. There have also been widespread complaints from press freedom organizations about the SAIC effort, including charges of military censorship and cronyism.

SAIC has been awarded seven contracts by the Defense Department to provide experts and advisers on development of representative government in Iraq; restore and upgrade the country's broadcast media; and provide a group of Iraqi expatriates to assist coalition officials working in the country. The value of the contracts, which were obtained by the Center for Public Integrity under the Freedom of Information Act, was blacked out in copies provided by the Defense Department. A Pentagon FOIA officer said keeping the information secret "was an appropriate way to avoid substantial competitive harm to the contractor" and was "due to the sensitive nature of the Iraqi contracts." SAIC officials referred all media calls to the Pentagon.

The value of the SAIC media contract in Iraq is $38 million for the current calendar year and could be worth an additional $90 million next year, according to a congressional source. The value of SAIC's six other contracts in Iraq could not be determined.

SAIC serves as a good illustration of the "revolving door" that shuttles top executives back and forth from US government agencies and the contractors that serve them, according to the CPT:
David Kay, the former U.N. weapons inspector who was hired by the CIA to track down weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, is a former vice president of SAIC. Kay left SAIC, where he oversaw homeland security and counterterrorism work, in October 2002.

Christopher "Ryan" Henry left a senior position at SAIC in February 2003 to become principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for policy. In that role, Henry provides advice and assistance to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other top Pentagon officials on national security policy, military strategy and defense policy. At SAIC, he was vice president for strategic assessment and development.

Executive vice president for Federal Business and director Duane P. Andrews served as assistant secretary of Defense from 1989 to 1993, when he joined SAIC.

From October 2001 to July 2002, board member W.A. Downing served as deputy assistant director for international counter-terrorism initiatives on the National Security Council, where he advised President Bush on terrorism and homeland security issues. Downing retired from the United States Army with the rank of general in 1996 and joined SAIC as a part-time employee in March of that year as an adviser on a wide variety of matters, including the company's long-term strategy for domestic and international business development.

Bobby Ray Inman resigned from SAIC's board in October 2003 after reaching the company's mandatory retirement age of 72. He had served on the board since 1982, when he retired as an admiral in the U.S. Navy. While on active duty, Inman served as director of the National Security Agency and deputy director of Central Intelligence. President Clinton nominated Inman to be defense secretary in December 1993, but Inman later withdrew his name from consideration for the post.

After retiring from the Navy, Inman was chairman and chief executive officer of the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation in Austin, Texas, for four years and chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Westmark Systems Inc., a privately owned electronics industry holding company, for three years. Inman also served as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas from 1987 through 1990. His primary activity since 1990 has been investing in start-up technology companies, where he is a managing partner with Gefinor Ventures. He is also a member of the board of directors of Fluor (which has contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan), Massey Energy Company, SBC Communications and Temple Inland.

From 1993 to 1997, board member Anita K. Jones was director of Defense Research and Engineering for the Pentagon.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

In Privatization proponent Pete Peterson misrepresented Social Security trust fund, Media Matters for America continues to fill in the gaps and correct the distortions of the Social Security covereage. Latest misleader: Concord Coalition president and Council on Foreign Relations board chairman Peter G. Peterson.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Digging into the news payola scandal

In light of recent reports that conservative journalist and pundit Armstrong Williams received $240,000 from the Department of Education (DOE) through a contract with Ketchum Public Relations, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) today has filed a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to 22 government agencies, including all cabinet agencies.

....CREW has now filed FOIAs with 22 agencies requesting copies of all contracts with public relation firms, including Ketchum and Fleishman-Hillard. Both firms have contracted with the government resulting in similar controversies, and in violation of the Publicity and Propaganda clause. The Williams case is the fourth that has become public. Previously, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized the Department of Health and Human Services for having Ketchum create fake news footage in support of the new Medicare Bill. GAO is also investigating another contract between Ketchum and DOE and a contract between the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Fleischman-Hillard.

"This type of covert propaganda, has no place in a healthy democracy," Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW said today. "It is particularly outrageous that the government continues to engage in this sort of illegal activity despite the fact that the GAO has said that it is illegal."

Sloan continued, "The question now is how extensively has the Administration used propaganda to shore up its controversial policies? Did it pay any commentators to speak out in support of the Patriot Act? Is it paying anyone now to convince the public that Social Security is in crisis? By filing these FOIAS, we hope to answer these questions." it all: CREW Files FOIAs to Uncover Government Agency Dealings with PR Firms

Any bets that more paid influence on business news will be found?

Good Morning America falls short in SS presentation

On the January 11 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America, senior national correspondent Claire Shipman promised viewers that the show would "cut through some of the political rhetoric" regarding Social Security "and look at the reality of what it might mean." Instead, viewers were presented with a one-sided and highly misleading report about the future of Social Security and the possible impact of privatization on future retiree benefits. it all: Good Morning America promised to cut through "white noise" of Social Security rhetoric, but instead provided some of its own, Media Matters for America, 12 January 2005

R.I.P. Robert L. Heilbroner

Dr. Robert L. Heilbroner (photo: New York Times

Robert L. Heilbroner, an economist and writer of lively and provocative books that inspired generations of students with the drama of how the world earns, or fails to earn, its living - books that made him one of his profession's all-time best-selling authors - died on Jan. 4 in Manhattan. He was 85.

....Dr. Heilbroner's first book, "The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers," written before he received his doctorate, is one of the most widely read economics books of all time. He was also a prominent lecturer as well as the author of 19 other books, which sold more than 10 million copies and, in many cases, became standard college textbooks.

....In "21st Century Capitalism," (W. W. Norton & Co., 1993), Dr. Heilbroner explained his radical conservatism with a bow to Adam Smith. Dr. Heilbroner agreed with Smith that the separation of the economy and the state was central to capitalism and a nation's economic health, and essential for political liberty. But he believed that from time to time the people's government had to wade in with major repairs.

He said in an interview in 1998 that "feelings of dismay" penetrate the contemporary mind over unstable or depressed world economies and the widening income gap. He also noted capitalism's shortcomings in dealing with "externalities" - for example, "the higher laundry bills and health costs of people living in Pittsburgh before the pollution of the steel mills was brought under control." "Negative externalities," particularly the pollution of land, water and air by private enterprises intent on holding down costs cried out for government intervention, he said, whether in the form of taxes, subsidies, legislation or regulation. it all: Robert Heilbroner, Writer and Economist, Dies at 85 by Holcomb B. Noble, New York Times, 12 January 2005

Wanted: more liberal & progressive experts in the news

Business media consumers will have to evaluate the claims and counter-claims of an increasing number of experts commenting on business news in coming years, as liberals ramp up its network of think tanks and opinion leaders to try to influence public opinion:

A group of billionaire philanthropists are to donate tens of millions more dollars to develop progressive political ideas in the US in an effort to counter the conservative ascendancy.

George Soros, who made his fortune in the hedge fund industry; Herb and Marion Sandler, the California couple who own a multi-billion-dollar savings and loan business; and Peter Lewis, the chairman of an Ohio insurance company, donated more than $63m (£34m) in the 2004 election cycle to organisations seeking to defeat George W. Bush.

At a meeting in San Francisco last month, the left-leaning billionaires agreed to commit an even larger sum over a longer period to building institutions to foster progressive ideas and people.

Far from being disillusioned by the defeat of John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, the billionaires have resolved to invest further in the intellectual future of the left, one person involved said.

....The intention is to provide the left with organisations in Washington that can match the heft of the rightwing think-tanks such as Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. At a state level, the aim is to build what one person called a “deeper progressive bench”.

The sums involved are the subject of speculation: one person said he had heard a commitment to spend more than $100m over 15 years, another said at least $25m over five years. Several people said their understanding was that the billionaires had decided to spend more, rather than less, than they did in 2004.

Mr Soros donated $27m, the Sandlers $13m and Mr Lewis $23m to so-called 527 groups privately-funded political organisations during the 2004 campaign, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, the campaign finance tracking service.

Stephen Bing, a film producer and heir to a real estate fortune who donated $13m, is also expected to be involved in the investment in progressive infrastructure.

Andrew Stern, who is president of the Service Employees International Union, has been working to include organised labour in the initiative.

Leftwing policy experts have already got wind of the new funds. One former aide to Mr Kerry said there had been talks with the Center for American Progress about making permanent the network of foreign policy experts established by Democrats in the 2004 campaign. He said he had been told: “Money is not a problem.” it all:
Soros group raises stakes in battle with US neo-cons by James Harding, Financial Times, 11 January 2005

"King of the liars"

President Bush continues to spin the Social Security news and The Daily Howler continues to give him hell for it:

KING OF THE LIARS—GEORGE BUSH: Has there ever been a bald-faced liar to match George W. Bush? At yesterday’s forum on Social Security, the president told a series of dumb, stupid jokes for an audience of perfectly decent Americans. And then he lied right in their faces. Incredibly, their president told them this:

BUSH (1/11/05): As a matter of fact, by the time today's workers who are in their mid-20s begin to retire, the system will be bankrupt. So if you're 20 years old, in your mid-20s, and you're beginning to work, I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now.

And that's what we're here to talk about, a system that will be bankrupt.

“As a matter of fact,” Bush said, without irony, before he offered these bald-faced lies to the decent folks watching him speak.

What is wrong with Bush’s statement? Workers who are in their mid-20s will, by and large, begin to retire shortly after the year 2040. And will Social Security be “bankrupt—flat bust,” as their joke-cracking president said? Sorry. According to the CBO, the system will still pay full scheduled benefits until the year 2052. After that, will SS be “flat bust?” No, it will not, as Bush knows. After 2052, the system will be able to pay 81 percent of scheduled benefits. Even adjusted for inflation, those benefits will be far more than SS recipients are getting today.

Understand: If no changes are made to the system, recipients will get substantially more in 2052 than recipients are getting today! But incredibly, your lying president tells decent citizens that the system will instead be “flat bust!” And by the way: Even according to the pessimistic forecasts of the SS trustees, the system won’t be “bankrupt, flat bust” when young workers start to retire. According to the trustees’ gloomy projections, the system will pay full benefits until 2042. It will then pay 73 percent of scheduled benefits, more than recipients get today.

No, Social Security won’t be “flat bust”—or anything like it—when young workers start to retire. But George Bush lies the way other men breathe. Soon, he even had the gall to tell his audience this:

BUSH: Most younger people in America think they'll never see a dime. Probably an exaggeration to a certain extent. But a lot of people who are young, who understand how Social Security works, really do wonder whether they'll see anything.

Incredible! Because uninformed people “wonder” about something, Bush repeats it as if it’s a fact. Will younger people “never see a dime?” This is probably an exaggeration, to a certain extent, George Bush says. If anyone doubted, you see it there—George Bush lies the way others take air. Why does Congress allow such a man to remain in his great public office?

But let’s put that question for Congress aside. More important for this web site’s concerns: How will the weak-kneed Washington “press corps” respond to this bath of public lying? Will pundits have the courage to stand and tell the public what their “leader” has done? Or will they run and hide behind desks, as they have done for the past five years? Will they still be the store-bought cowards who have allowed this situation to develop?

George Bush, a gut-bucket liar, has lied to the public for the past five years. But so what? Timid, store-bought, thigh-rubbing pundits have stared into air as the lying has grown. Tomorrow, we’ll start to look at the press corps’ accounts of Bush’s astounding remarks on SS. But the time has finally come to insist that Big Major Pundits stand up and speak. Five years ago, the press corps pretended to be upset by ginned-up “lies” from Candidate Gore. Now, a president lies right in their faces, about the day’s most pressing issue. It’s time for the press corps’ conclave of cowards to be battered about their group silence. it all: KING OF THE LIARS—GEORGE BUSH: How will major pundits respond to yesterday’s lies by George Bush?, The Daily Howler, 12 January 2005

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

National Review Online financial contributing editor challenged re Social Security

Media Matter for America is challenging Social Security assertions made in a National Review Online (NRO) column by Donald Luskin, NRO financial contributing editor and chief investment officer of Trend Macrolytics, LLC:

A January 11 National Review Online (NRO) column by Donald Luskin, NRO financial contributing editor and chief investment officer of Trend Macrolytics, LLC, falsely blamed the Social Security system for overall fiscal shortfalls of the federal government. He claimed that a "Social Security crisis" will begin in the year 2009, not because there will be any shortfall in that program, but because that is the year when the annual surplus in the Social Security trust fund -- the revenue it receives above the benefits it pays out over the course of the year -- is expected to begin to shrink. In other words, according to Luskin, this so-called "crisis" will exist in the system even though the size of the trust fund, which under current law is the amount of money available to pay current Social Security beneficiaries, will continue to grow.

To justify this claim of a "crisis," Luskin wrote:

According to the latest annual report of the Trustees of the Social Security Trust Funds, the surplus in 2004 was $64.4 billion dollars. It will be higher this year -- at $87.7 billion. The surplus will keep getting bigger and bigger through 2008, when it will reach $108 billion. Each year, that's more and more money that the federal government won't have to raise from the world capital markets. It's a captive audience of bond buyers -- and a growing one.

But in 2009, just 5 years from now, the surplus will start to shrink. In 2009 it will fall to $103.7 billion, and in that year the federal government will have to go to the capital markets to raise $4.3 billion that it didn't have to raise the year before. That's not a lot of money in the grand governmental scheme of things. But it's an important turning point for Social Security -- it's the year the crisis begins.

Luskin is asserting that because what is commonly known as the "general fund" -- out of which non-Social Security expenditures by the federal government are paid -- is projected to run large and persistent deficits, and because some of these deficits are financed by borrowing from the Social Security trust fund, Social Security will be in "crisis" as soon the amount of federal deficits that can be financed in this way begins to shrink. According to Luskin, "Social Security will start to become a drag on the budget of the federal government in 2009" simply because it is predicted to offset the deficit of the rest of the federal government by a somewhat smaller amount than previously.

So, following Luskin's logic, if your brother lends you $1,000 this month, but can lend you only $800 next month, he will have become a "drag" on your finances.

Is the WSJ's oil business coverage trustworthy?

Media Matters for America points out the strong political tilt seems to color the views of important oil business issues at the Wall Street Journal:

Kimberly A. Strassel, a senior editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal, falsely claimed that "most of the estimates" indicate that allowing oil production in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) "could be really significant" and "could replace most of the oil we get from Saudi Arabia in 20 or 30 years." But a U.S. Department of Energy study, conducted by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) to assess the potential impact of oil production in ANWR, concludes otherwise: By 2025, the United States would import an estimated 66 percent of its oil if ANWR production were permitted, compared with an estimated 70 percent if production were not allowed.

Further, according to EIA estimates, the United States presently imports about 58 percent of the oil it consumes; in 2003, some 9 percent came from Saudi Arabia.* So even if Strassel had been correct that ANWR production could "replace most" U.S. oil imports from Saudi Arabia, this would still constitute only a small portion of total U.S. imports.

Finally, even if the United States decreased its oil imports through increased domestic production in places like ANWR, Persian Gulf states would still control oil prices, since oil markets are global and these states control most of the world's oil supply and decide on the quantity they pump on a given day. As conservative Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson explained on October 6, 2004: "Even if we eliminated Persian Gulf imports, we'd still be vulnerable. Oil scarcities and prices are transmitted worldwide. The global economy -- on which we depend -- remains hugely in need of Persian Gulf oil." Indeed, EIA's 2004 analysis estimated that oil production in ANWR would reduce oil prices by a relatively insignificant 30 to 50 cents per barrel by 2025, "relative to a projected 2025 world oil price of $27 per barrel."

On the January 7 edition of PBS's Journal Editorial Report, host and Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot asked Strassel about the effect ANWR drilling could have on oil imports:

STRASSEL: When, you know, Republicans go to take up on an energy bill this year, the hope is that we will have some sort of thoughtful debate about supply in this country --

GIGOT: Particularly drilling in Alaska. How much of foreign imports would that displace, if any?

STRASSEL: Well, It could be really significant. People like to talk about our dependence on the Middle East. The reality is, if we got ANWR up and running, most of the estimates is -- are that it could replace most of the oil we get from Saudi Arabia in 20 or 30 years. That's not insignificant.

*Calculation: 1,774,000 barrels per day imported from Saudi Arabia (from this EIA chart) divided by 20,034,000 barrels per day consumed (from this EIA chart) equals approximately 8.9 percent.

Even if these prejudices manage not to infect WSJ news coverage, it's still alarming that the newspaper's editorial page editors would be disseminating this sort of misinformation and Bush Administration propaganda.

God backs Bush business proposals, televangelist claims

Television evangelist Pat Robertson says God has told him Bush will succeed with his Social Security program and that a stock market boom is on the way, according to a report in today's

On the Jan. 3 broadcast of Christian Broadcasting Network’s “The 700 Club,” Robertson made predictions he said were based on what God told him during a recent prayer retreat. His forecast includes a second term of “triumph” for President Bush, whom Robertson predicted will get Social Security and tax reform passed and will put conservative judges on federal courts.

Robertson sees the tsunami as an opportunity for evangelism, too.
Robertson said the tsunami tragedy in South Asia was “a warning to the world about how fragile life is” but does not—as some have suggested—signal the imminent end of the world. “Now the earth knows my love and my mercy,” Robertson said God told him. “The time will come when it will experience my wrath. That time is not yet. Multitudes are ready to come into my kingdom. Revival will break out throughout the Muslim world, my truth will penetrate their hearts. The hold of that falsehood that has gripped them will be broken.”

Monday, January 10, 2005

Business will spend millions to support Bush judicial appointment

Business Lobby to Get Behind Judicial Bids, LA Times, 6 January 2005:

A powerful business lobby is preparing a multimillion-dollar campaign to aid the White House in its quest to win approval for conservative judges, a move that could transform the ideological battles over the federal judiciary and the Supreme Court.

The new effort on behalf of some of the nation's biggest manufacturers will increase the cost, visibility and intensity of an already divisive confirmation process, one that has been dominated by social issues.

The shift puts the business lobby on the same side as social conservatives. The corporate world has long shied away from such controversial issues as abortion, but enthusiastically supports the Bush administration's campaign to rein in what it considers frivolous lawsuits against businesses and physicians.

The strategy's engineer is former Michigan Gov. John Engler, a longtime friend of President Bush who recently took the helm of the National Assn. of Manufacturers.

Engler said in an interview Wednesday that his organization would make confirmation of judicial nominees a top priority for the first time — providing money and a recently honed ability to stir grass-roots action nationwide. The group plans to spend millions of dollars on the campaign, but the exact amount has not been decided.

He said federal judicial confirmation debates are important to business, particularly because of judges' roles in civil liability cases.

"There has been too much of a tendency in the past to cast these judgeship battles as a social debate about abortion or gay rights. In fact, there are very few of those cases in contrast to those dealing with the tort system and the rights of individuals and companies," Engler said.

Engler's comments came on a day Bush promoted limits on medical malpractice lawsuits and a week after the president announced he would reappoint judges whose confirmation had been blocked by Democrats during his first term.

Although several of those nominations received wide attention, until now they had generally not been the subject of expensive television and grass-roots lobbying campaigns.

Longtime observers said the involvement of well-heeled organizations such as the manufacturers' group — which represents such large, blue-chip firms as General Motors, Boeing and Caterpillar as well as 10,000 small and medium-sized manufacturers — could increase pressure on moderate senators whose votes helped block confirmation for 10 of the 34 Bush nominees to federal appeals courts in the past two years. Several of those senators face reelection in 2006 and are already facing threats from religious conservative leaders if they try to block conservative jurists.

"It's certainly going to up the ante and increase the pressure on vulnerable Democratic senators," said one senior Democratic Senate aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I can't think of a similar situation where a group so little identified with such a debate is getting involved at this level in this way."

It was not clear Wednesday to what extent, if any, Engler was coordinating with administration officials. White House spokeswoman Erin Healy declined to comment on that, saying only that the administration "welcomes support of the president's judicial nominees."

Engler said he was finalizing plans with the group's board to establish a new organization, the American Justice Partnership, which would be housed inside the National Assn. of Manufacturers, or NAM. Engler said his initiative would focus on federal nomination fights — as well as state judicial issues — and it would be dedicated to grass-roots politics, not policy.

He hopes it will take advantage of the expansion of another NAM-funded group, the Business Industry Political Action Committee, or BIPAC, which operates get-out-the-vote and communications drives on behalf of business-friendly candidates.

During the 2004 campaign, BIPAC received credit for increasing pro-business turnout in battleground states, reaching 19 million employees with more than 40 million tailored messages. BIPAC president and chief executive Greg Casey confirmed recent discussions with Engler that he said could lead to an expansion of BIPAC's traditional role.

The manufacturers' initiative came as a surprise to the coalition of civil rights and abortion rights groups that have fought Bush's nominees.

Ralph Neas, who directs the liberal People for the American Way, said his organization would gear up to match the new effort, particularly on Supreme Court races. Neas predicted the move would backfire on Engler.

"I believe that a sizable percentage of NAM's membership would be stunned to learn that NAM's leadership has decided to join the right wing's effort to eliminate a constitutional right to privacy, to strong civil rights protection and a woman's right to reproductive freedom," Neas said.

Engler rejected the analysis.

"That kind of spin trivializes what's involved in nominations to the courts," the former governor said. "The whole effort to cast this in terms of a few social issues that Neas and his supporters deem important ignores the fact that much of the work of the courts has to do with America's ability to compete internationally."

That argument was made in recent years by another Bush friend, C. Boyden Gray, who established a Washington-based organization that supported conservative judicial nominees. Gray's organization, the Committee for Justice, has aired ads backing beleaguered Bush nominees. Engler sits on the board of that organization.

At the left-leaning Alliance for Justice, a coalition of public interest groups, spokeswoman Julie Bernstein said the manufacturers' plans were "payback for all the gifts that Bush has given to the business community."

Lynn Rhinehart, associate general counsel of the AFL-CIO, said the involvement of major corporations meant labor might have to spend more time and money this year blocking those nominees perceived "to be hostile to the interests of working people." From labor's point of view, a judicial branch dominated by pro-business judges could close off a last recourse for workers who feel harmed by regulatory and legislative decisions.

That "multimillion-dollar campaign" will translate into a media presence that's bound to move the business lobby's talking points into the general reader and business press coverage of judicial appointments. (Thanks to PR Watch for linking to this story today.)'s Calandra to pay $545,000 fine in biz news scandal

Thom Calandra agreed to pay $545,000 Monday to settle charges he used his old newsletter at to pump stocks he owned before selling them, the Securities and Exchange Commission said.

Calandra resigned from the popular financial news Web site last January amid allegations that the SEC was looking into his trading activity. Calandra was a senior columnist and a founding editor of MarketWatch.

....Regulators contend he wrote favorable stories about 23 small-cap stocks he owned and then sold the stocks after the shares rose in value.

....The SEC also alleged the columnist didn't disclose that he had received compensation from a stock promoter affiliated with two Canadian mining companies, Goldmaraca and IMC Ventures, he had touted in the newsletter. Calandra received heavily discounted shares in the two companies, which he "later sold at a substantial profit."

Calandra, who was MarketWatch's first editor-in-chief, began publishing the newsletter in March 2003 at a $299 annual fee. At its peak, the product had 6,500 subscribers.

In settling with the SEC, Calandra agreed to pay a $125,000 fine and give back $416,109 in trading profits. In one stock alone, Pacific Minerals, the SEC contends Calandra generated $53,000 in illegal profits.

....MarketWatch is in the process of being acquired by Dow Jones for about half-a-billion dollars. it all: Columnist Calandra in $540,000 SEC Settlement,, 10 January 2005