Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Twin Towers on July 4, 1986

A photo in today's New York Times (right) reminded me of a similar photo I made over the July 4th weekend rededicating the Statue of Liberty in 1986. At the time I was a photographer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. At the last minute editors decided to send a photographer out for the festivities in New York, ostensibly to take pictures for a series of reports to be written by the great Larry Batson. Being the new kid in the newsroom I got the assignment. My friend Rick Elden and his then-girlfriend (now wife) Renata decided to fly to New York at the same time to deliver a backdrop for a New York photo shoot.

Thus was set four of the funnest days of my life. Since the paper waited until the last moment to send me the only hotel available was an expensive French one near Broadway and 54th. Not that I spent much time there - for four nights I arrived back at the hotel no earlier than 2 am. Anyways - I shot two or three assignments for Larry Batson stories, but for the most part hung out with Rick or just ambled around the city. I should tell you Rick is a performance artist who stands on his head and gets pictures taken at various places and in various ways. I personally have a pretty good library of this kind of picture. One day we were walking across the Brooklyn bridge and I took this picture:

New York provided many interesting backdrops for photos of Rick on his head. His weekend ended with him proposing to Renata while standing on his head at the top of the Statue of Liberty (the day after I went home - sorry, no photo of that). Here he is on the beach in Brooklyn. For some reason I didn't have a motor drive for the shot and Rick kept imploring "Shoot, shoot," but I had to wait for the right moment. In the end I got off two frames; here's one of them:

Here he is in front of Nathan's:

And on the subway, entertaining the troops:

That's Renae in black on the left, and Rick's friend Brian in the chex. My favorite picture of the week happened late one night while we were walking on a street. We passed a group of people and one of Rick's friends noticed that the group we passed was actually Andy Warhol and his entourage. Rick immediatly backtracked and announced to Warhol who he was and that he stands on his head as performance art, whereupon he proceeded to stand on his head on the darkened street corner. Immediately a number of the entourage produced snapshot cameras and began taking pictures. I only had one camera with me, and no flash, so I stood behind the scene and put the camera on bulb and opened up the shutter. The picture was illuminated by the flash of one of Warhol's friends, producing the following picture, which I transmitted to the Strib the next day, and which ran in the paper.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Grasshopper blogging

Grasshopper in the backyard this morning - the cold must really put the freeze on them:

Friday, August 22, 2008

Friday cat blogging

Here are some new cat pictures:

Abbey with the traveling Budda

Watch out for Molly!

Simon knows how to hide and relax in the garden.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Note to Star Tribune: George Bush is a liar

Why does the Star Tribune treat statements made by George Bush and his White House as true? That's a serious question, because it is a proven fact that the more George Bush wants something the more he lies about it.

The most recent example of this is the Strib's coverage of the new Ron Suskind book that provides explosive new evidence that the Bush Administration had *conclusive* proof before their preventive war on Iraq began that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.

That means, according to Martin van Creveld, a famed military historian, that the Bush Administration deliberately lied us into the worst strategic disaster in 2,000 years.

The Strib headline for the story - its first on the topic - was the Administration's denials, not the explosive charges: "CIA officials quoted in new book deny they faked a letter showing Saddam-al-Qaida link" (Aug 5 Star Tribune). So the paper jumped right into the story - to the part where the Bush Administration says "that can't possibly be true!" and led with it. Given the differences in historic veracity between George Bush and Ron Suskind, who has won a Pulitzer Prize, the paper obviously trusted the wrong side.

We know from many other books, but not the reporting in the Strib, that George Bush has lied to the American people in nearly every conceivable way, from his promise to be a "Uniter not a divider," to the claim when anyone leaves his cabinet it is to "spend more time with my family." Suskind and others have proof that George Bush wanted to attack Iraq from the day he took office, going so far as to torture one person to get lies to justify the attack, and forging and backdating a letter tying Saddam to the criminals of 911.

I wish I could say this fawning trust in George Bush was an isolated incident in the pages of the Star Tribune, but it isn't. I could name many examples. Is this Republican bias the result of the constant hammering this paper has taken from local Right wingers like the PowerLineBlog or TCF Chief Bill Cooper? Or is it the result of having a movement conservative in charge of political coverage? Or having another movement conservative - this one a religious bigot - as a "news columnist"? Note to PowerLineBloggers: Spare me your claims that Nick Coleman counteracts this bias - he is no movement liberal. He's just an irascible fellow who fights injustice, which seems to rile those on the Right.

The Star Tribune's misinformation not only poisons public discourse, but more importantly damages its franchise at a time when it can ill afford such a diminution of trust.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Shoddy" and "despicable"

That's how WaPo teevee critic Tom Shales summed up the performance of ABC's Charles Gibson and George Snufalufagus at last night's Democratic Presidential "debate." I couldn't agree more:
For the first 52 minutes of the two-hour, commercial-crammed show, Gibson and Stephanopoulos dwelled entirely on specious and gossipy trivia that already has been hashed and rehashed, in the hope of getting the candidates to claw at one another over disputes that are no longer news. Some were barely news to begin with.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Friday, March 28, 2008

Star Trib vs. some blog

As Iraq sinks ever deeper into civil war, the Star Trib this morning was leading its website with the story headlined "Bush says recent rash of violence in Iraq is 'Defining moment' for fragile government." Over at the blog Booman Tribune, the headline is "Iraq imploding before our very eyes." Which is more accurate? Not a tough question - the Strib treats the liar-in-chief like he's telling the truth, which he hardly ever does, especially about things he views as important. There could literally probably never come a moment when the Strib wouldn't treat the preznit with "respect" by treating his utterances as false. I don't claim that the destruction of the newspaper's credibility is a major factor in the financial losses it has suffered over the past few years, but it can't have helped.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Saturday cat blogging

Here's a picture of Simon out in the yard today, where it's sunny and 30 degrees. The face is because he saw a bird fly by.

Friday, February 29, 2008

William F. Buckley and conservative philanthropy

A lot has been written (blogs, news, technorati) and said over the past few days about the passing of conservative icon William F. Buckley. I personally like this one from Jane Hamsher over at firedoglake where she argues that Buckley was far preferable to today's Straussian Republicans who will say anything to achieve their aims, whereby Buckley was very upfront, i.e. he argued honestly, about his sometimes repugnant (and factually wrong) views.

It is an ironic fact that the career of the uber-capitalist free-marketeer was in large part underwritten by monies from conservative philanthropies and the American people, and that this subsidy has gone unreported in all the eulogies. His Corporation for Maintaining Editorial Diversity in America, the publisher of National Review magazine, was funded by the conservative philanthropies with at least $700,000. The tab for production of his public TV show Firing Line was funded with at least $2.3 million from the conservative philanthropies. The rest was picked up by the American taxpayer as part of the bill for that bastion of liberal media PBS.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Here comes the wave

In New York state last night Democrats won a special election in a state senate district that had been held by Republicans for a century, and where Republicans hold a 2-1 advantage in voter registration. Don't be surprised if something like this happens in Minnesota in November, where Democrats have been on a roll, especially in swing areas like around Rochester and in the Twin Cities' western suburbs. If and when that happens expect the Strib to lead the post-election coverage with the amazing story of how one or two Republicans bucked the tide.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Democrats in Minnesota better be ready to run against the Star Tribune

As I've written since I started this blog, the Minneapolis Star Tribune has shamelessly promoted Republicans and smeared Democrats for at least the past five or six years. Today again their story describing the McCain scandal is fronted by a headline exonerating the Republican presidential candidate, even as reputable news organizations illustrate the lies he is caught in. This is the third story run by the Strib in this scandal that deliberately distorts the story by covering for McCain.

Today the headline on the McCain story is: "Ex-Paxson president says he never met with McCain about FCC delay, and doubts CEO did, either." Problem is, they DID meet with McCain to lobby him, BEFORE he sent letters to the FCC, which the FCC deemed extremely inappropriate. And McCain lied about meeting with them until it came out that he admitted just that in a deposition, and he did change his vote in committee to save the company.

Also today the Strib ran with a Nedra Pickler story that smears Barak Obama that is dependent on perspective from disgraced Republican political hit man Roger Stone, who started a website against Hillary Clinton with the acronym C.U.N.T. Of course the story provides no background on the disgusting history of Stone.

A little while ago I asked how low the Strib can go, and thought we might have reached the bottom. Pimping a story featuring a Hillary Clinton hater who basically calls her a cunt in public plumbs new depths, even for Doug Tice and the Star Tribune.

...adding: How pathetic is it that we have to go to conservative British newspapers to get the straight dope on this story? From the London Times:
John McCain’s denials start to unravel in tale of the blonde lobbyist
The Republican saviour is looking rattled after claims of a sex for favours scandal
And from the Guardian:
Whiff of scandal envelops McCain's campaign
The Republican frontrunner faces fresh allegations over lobbyist links

Friday, February 22, 2008

Strib's love affair with McCain continues

So today the story from the Washington Post is that McCain is a guy whose campaign is made up primarily of lobbyists (59 federal lobbyists are raising money for his campaign), but who makes his political living railing against Washington lobbyists. The Post headlined the story "The Anti-Lobbyist, Advised by Lobbyists."

But in Strib, the headline reads "McCain defends lobbyist ties," while the subhed says:
Sen. John McCain said Friday that while lobbyists serve as close advisers to his presidential campaign, they are honorable and he is not influenced by corruption in the system.
See, John McCain isn't a hypocrite - he's just isolated the "honorable" lobbyists. And remember that when this story first came up two days ago the Strib introduced it with a story headlined "McCain says report suggesting inappropriate relationship with female lobbyist is 'not true."

In the end I think this Republican bias in places like the Strib may work against the Republican party because we can't really know how much power these new memes will have in the weeks and months ahead, but it could be significant. Right now the Republican talking heads on MSNBC and FOX news are claiming the episode is good for McCain because it gets his base behind him. Maybe. But the longer this goes on the more McCain's soft spots may be exposed to a skillful orator and politician, like, say, Barak Obama. Not to mention that, Karl Rove like, it cuts into McCain's strengths.

...adding: Maybe McCain was right when he called this an organized campaign against him. Now Michael Isikoff of Newsweek is writing that McCain lied in his response to the New York Times article on him when he said he had never been lobbied by Paxson Communications, the telecom company at the center of this scandal. Turns out McCain himself gave a deposition where he admitted to it.

Friday cat blogging

It hasn't exactly been warm up here in the northland lately. With the cold and snow the cats pretty much stay inside. Here are Simon and Abbey keeping each other warm the other day.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

McCain not out of woods

From the coverage of the McCain scandal on the TV machine you'd think the issue here was the credibility of the New York Times. While it's true that the paper's credibility is severely diminished by its behavior on the Iraq war and other issues, four of its top reporters put their names on this story. They understand that in today's media landscape their credibility really is their top asset - so they didn't push this story lightly - they believe in it.

Calmer heads are looking into the relationship of McCain to Iseman and seeing if not a romantic relationship, then certainly a relationship of lobbyist to senator, a senator, by the way, who basically saved the lobbyist's company by changing his vote on a telecom bill after being lobbied by her.

So McCain has thrown down the gauntlet. He better be telling the truth, and he better hope that none of the Times' anonymous sources out themselves or add to the story. He also better hope the traditional media doesn't look into his history of taking money and advice from Washington lobbyists. If either of those things happen, he's toast.

More Republican bias at the Strib

This morning the Strib of course had to cover the breaking McCain story. As usual, there is a subtle Republican bias. On the front page of their website there is no link nor headline to the New York Times story on McCain's allegedly inappropriate behavior. There is, however, a prominent link and headline saying "McCain says report suggesting inappropriate relationship with female lobbyist is 'not true.'" Typical that they've already decided the real story is unfair persecution of a Republican.

...adding: Contrary to the Strib's take, there is a good probability the story is true: According to Matt Yglesias, McCain "...repeatedly cheated on his first wife Carol, of a number of years, with a variety of women, before eventually dumping her for a much-younger heiress whose family fortune was able to help finance his political career."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The know-nothing conservative philanthropy religionists

The conservative philanthropy the John Templeton Foundation is giving $4 million to Oxford University in England to study "...whether belief in a divine being is a basic part of mankind's makeup."

I hate to get all existential here, but I thought we had already answered this question. Writers such as Otto Rank and Ernest Becker, and thousands of other scholars already know that even if there was no God, humans would inevitably invent one. Why? Man is the only creature who is unfortunate enough to understand the inevitability of his own demise.

The specter of death is the motivation for all human history, culture and achievement, not to mention the worst things men have done to other men (Thousand year Reich, anyone?). "Necessary Lies," as Rank called them, such as the promise of immortality by religion are a fundamental part of any human culture. Modern man has difficulty believing contemporary religion's 2,000 year old fairy tales, which is why we cling to life using extreme modern medicine, and build piles of money as symbolic power against death. To make a bad analogue, any port will do in a crisis of immortality storm. The harder it is to believe in religion the more people and elites try to convince themselves of its importance.

So - the geniuses who run the Templeton Foundation either don't know this, don't want to know this, have another agenda, or perhaps some combination of the above. Either way the fact they have snookered Oxford University into sanctioning their know-nothing approach to knowledge is indicative of what conservative philanthropy has done, and is attempting to do by funding so-called research at elite institutions. For years conservative philanthropy has pushed religion on the United States and the world, promoting a retrograde mentality and morality that is used by Republican (and some Democratic) politicians to preserve the prerogatives of the rich and the corporate. Just google something like "Religion in the public square," or "Faith-based" and you'll see what I mean.

Think about it: What is Faith, anyways? It's belief in the absence of evidence and reason - actually the exact opposite of our modern way of knowing things. So why would you have have an arm of the government run on "faith"? It's literally crazy, but there it is - our federal government now gives out like $20 billion a year to so-called faith-based organizations, most of it without any accountability measures.

The craze for religion is so great, as a recent poll showed, no Democratic nor Republican politician would succeed at running for president as an atheist. This deep prejudice among the electorate against the faithless is precisely the goal of conservative philanthropies like the Templeton Foundation, and its many allies in the tax-exempt community. At some point I begin to wonder how far this head-in-the-sand mentality can, or will, go; but when you see, for example, the number of people who don't believe in evolution in this country you know it's already gone too far.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Saturday cat blogging

Here's a picture of Abbey from the other day; they do go outside a little in the snow and cold, but mostly they hang out inside.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Friday cat blogging

We're back out of the arctic temperatures - its 30 in the backyard today. Here's Abbey prowling around the greenery.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Big Schmooze in the Hormuz

I've written three times now about how the fake incident in the Straits of Hormuz was really a cooked up provocation by George Bush to start a war with Iran. Today that bastion of liberal propaganda weighs in calling the incident The Big Schmooze in the Hormuz. In my posts I showed how the Minneapolis Star Tribune in particular fell for the whole thing, hook, line and sinker, and never corrected the record, helping pave the way for another Bush war based on lies.

The point of the report is how the traditional media got snookered by the Bushites into inflating a normal encounter into an international military incident, pushing us dangerously close to a confrontation with Iran. Mark Gisleson mocked me for expecting the Strib to correct itself - and who knows, he's probably right; still, it's pretty amazing that the paper has still not run a story that correctly characterizes what happened in the straits, given the gravity of the charges. Be prepared for when Bush cooks up another one of these incidents and the Strib uses the lies to stir up support in Minnesota for more carnage in the Middle East. Minnesota Nice? How about Minnesota Gullible.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Simon in the snow

Yesterday when I took this picture it was nearly 50 degrees in the backyard; today it's 1 and windy.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Another cat in snow picture

Here's another picture of Molly. These pictures were made with GIMP for Windows.

Saturday cat blogging

Now that it's warmed up a bit (29 today) Molly is back outside.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Would Hillary or Obama commence investigations if elected?

Robert Parry has been saying for quite a while that one of Bill Clinton's major errors when he took office was to not lend his support to investigations and prosecutions of the criminals from the Reagan and Bush I administrations. Many of those criminals made their way back to inflict serious damage on the Clinton administration. Clinton should have taken the opportunity to knock the Rethuglicans back on their heels to prevent them from being permanently on the attack against him. If Hillary or Obama is elected, will they continue this ignorant forgiveness of the Republicans' criminality? If they do, it will haunt them for as long as they are in office:

The final opportunity for the Democrats to turn this pattern around came in late 1992 and early 1993 after Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush. The Democrats finally controlled the Executive Branch as well as the Congress – and all that was needed was some support of ongoing investigations into Reagan-Bush wrongdoing.

But instead of cleaning house, President Clinton took the advice of Washington insiders that it was best to sweep these unpleasant matters under the rug. That way, the thinking went, the new Clinton administration wouldn't be distracted from its domestic priorities, like health care and economic policy.

The deal turned out badly for Clinton. The Republicans still torpedoed his domestic agenda and the Right’s infrastructure was freed up from having to defend Reagan and Bush, so it could go on the offensive against Clinton and his alleged scandals, from his womanizing to the Whitewater real estate deal.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Obama and Reagan: Naive or cynical?

There's been a lot of justifiable hoo-ha over the past few days over Barack Obama's comments seeming to laud Ronald Reagan. Obama's comments, which miss the mark by a wide margin, omit the fact that Reagan didn't invent the movement that swept him to power, nor did he create that same movement which occupied and guided his government. Reagan was but a figurehead for a power coalition led by conservative philanthropists like the Coors, Scaife, the Koch brothers of Kansas, the Smith Richardsons, and the racist Bradley brothers of Milwaukee.

What an insult to hear Obama say that the Republican party has been the party of ideas over the past few decades! Yes - the ideas of scientific racism of Charles Murray were current, but they weren't new. It is just not true that Republicans had the "new ideas" - they may have had ideas, but they were the same old discredited Republican ideas of the past - deregulate corporations, cut taxes on the wealthy, etc. What was different was that people who controlled the party from without - an apparat - had seized control of the American discourse, and shoved the whole thing to the right. People may have thought the Republicans were turning into the party of the little guy, and of freedom, but that was an intentional ruse perpetrated on low-information voters to bamboozle them into voting against their own interests, and it worked. Now Barack Obama is spouting similar sounding nonsense.

Is Obama being intentionally naive here, or is this entreaty to low-information voters a cynical ploy? Does Obama really think the problem in Washington is that there hasn't been a politician who just says "Can't we all get along?" The simple answer to that question is, no we can't get along; progressives have been getting their noses shoved in by Republican bullies for three decades. That's not going to change just because a politician shows up asking them to play nice. Does Obama really think that he's going to sit down with the Republicans, the drug companies, the insurance companies, the manufacturers, etc., and get them to willingly give up some money and power? That's not only not likely, it's an idiotic strategy that plays right into the Republicans' hands, and is destined to failure.

UPDATE: I might add that the Republicans have a had a campaign to practically immortalize Reagan by having memorials to him built in all 50 states, and name buildings and whatnot after him, like he was some kind of saint. Obama's comments play right into this narrative. Just because Reagan was able to peel away some Democratic votes does not mean he was a benign uniter; he was a destroyer of progressive values who rode a movement to power and then employed that same movement to use the government to achieve their goals.

UPDATE II: Scarecrow at FDL is skeptical of Obama as well, but noted this after one of his speeches yesterday:
The unity Obama is calling for does not sound like DLC centrism; it's more like a precursor to struggle, not only against our own weaker instincts but against powerful beliefs, institutions and interests. You can read it as class struggle, even ideological struggle.

Does he mean it? Can he deliver? Of course, those have been the real questions about Obama all along: is he real, or are we so hungry for leadership we're willing to read whatever we want into his rhetoric?
Meanwhile, Paul Krugman debunks the "Reagan myth:"

...I’d say that the great failure of the Clinton administration ... was the fact that it didn’t change the narrative, a fact demonstrated by the way Republicans are still claiming to be the next Ronald Reagan.

Now progressives have been granted a second chance to argue that Reaganism is fundamentally wrong: once again, the vast majority of Americans think that the country is on the wrong track. But they won’t be able to make that argument if their political leaders, whatever they meant to convey, seem to be saying that Reagan had it right.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

MPR's managed coverage

Here's a piece Mike Tronnes and I wrote in 2001, after Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch's investigation of the health giant Allina had essentially been resolved in his favor. The AG had reported much earlier in the year that Allina was a cesspool where insiders were raiding the company. For the entire period of the story, MPR, which has extensive connections with Allina, basically ignored it. Mike and I wrote this for the Strib, which in its infinite wisdom, refused to run it. Now, with much criticism of MPR on the burner, I offer it up as more evidence of the worthlessness and corruption that permeates Minnesota Public Radio, and, for that matter, much of the Trib.

I might add that this is no ordinary issue. Health care is the number one or two issue for most voters this year - and MPR is one of the prime news sources for Minnesotans, yet the network completely ignored this important and revealing story, then guiltily refused to even discuss their crappy behavior after the story was resolved. Their corporate connections with Allina go the heart of their fundraising strategy, and so call into question just about everything that goes on at MPR.
* * *

When Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch announced in late-March (2001) that he was suing Allina Health System, he handed the Twin Cities news media a potentially great gift: the opportunity to provide a public service by advancing a complicated story that's of paramount importance to its audience.

As part of his ongoing investigation of the state's largest health-care provider, Hatch charged that Allina had misspent tens of millions of dollars Minnesotans had paid it in health insurance premiums. The federal government was also alleging that through billing fraud Allina had cheated it out of at least $19 million.

According to Hatch, Allina was acting more like an out-of-control corporate behemoth than the tax-exempt charity it is. He promised to get to the bottom of the situation, intimating that there was much more to be known about Allina. Having laid out such an inviting scenario, Hatch might have assumed that the media, another traditional watchdog institution, would pick-up where his investigation had left off.

But instead of joining the fray, our local media left the heavy lifting to Hatch, reporting his news rather than digging up much of its own. On the days that he made news, it was prominently featured, appearing above the fold and leading most evening newscasts. The reporting though, was mostly just news about Hatch's news. The investigative resources necessary to support, refute or advance his claims were not forthcoming.

Then, on July 11, Hatch again sued Allina, claiming that it was withholding documents needed for his investigation. But this time the story wasn't just about Hatch and Allina, it was also about the media, and a $300,000 bet by Allina that high-priced "crisis" consultants could help the company gain control of the story and spin its way off the front page.

Hatch was suing for communications between Allina and Bloomington-based GCI Tunheim, the public relations firm it had hired in late March to do damage control. Allina was trying to keep these documents from Hatch by claiming attorney/client privilege, a transparent legal charade executed when Allina's attorney, Doug Kelly, informed GCI Tunheim on June 21 that it would now be working for him, instead of Allina.

But even without these "protected" documents, Hatch had already amassed enough material to fill a pair of three-ring binders, containing hundreds of pages that revealed the nuts and bolts of a major-league spin campaign -- a 90-day "war room" effort with week-by-week itineraries of purported news themes, and reporters to target them with. Its goal was to cast Allina in the most positive light leading up to the attorney general's final report, due out in August.

All of this was reported with great emphasis on July 11 and 12, but once again the local media failed to make any news of its own, refusing even to defend itself against a direct challenge to its honor and integrity. Instead of reporting on, or editorializing about the relationship between public relations and journalism, the Pioneer Press published only a follow-up article on the growth in crisis management, while the Star Tribune gave six PR professionals, including GCI Tunheim President, Kathryn Tunheim, -- who was "unavailable for comment" when the story first broke -- a chance to defend crisis counseling. The predictable headline? "Consultant and PR industry defend Allina work."

In muzzling itself on this important issue, one that hits close to home, the local media passed on an opportunity to address a lingering public perception -- that it's bought and paid for by corporate sponsors, with whom it works closely to create content. In a 1999 survey of journalists conducted by the Pew Research Center of the People and the Press 54 percent cited "lack of credibility" as a reason for declining audiences, second only to "information overload."

While Allina's strategy didn't work this time around, the success of corporate PR campaigns is evidenced by Tunheim's ability to command up to $450 per hour for its expertise in advancing clients' messages via sophisticated media strategies.

Even Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), usually the most reliable of conversation starters, passed on discussing the role that corporate public relations plays in shaping the news. In fact, from mid-March to mid-July, MPR's civic-minded voice was all but silent on Hatch's investigation, providing markedly less coverage than its competitors.

In that time, MPR produced only one significant news feature on Hatch's inquiry -- a late-March report that included Cathy Wurzer interviewing Hatch and Allina CEO Gordon Sprenger. Even more incredibly, MPR ran 80 Midmorning and Midday shows during this period -- 320 hours of programming -- without devoting one segment of one show to Hatch's investigation.

Because MPR is the local news organization most closely tied to Allina, one might assume that it would have bent over backwards to provide adequate and balanced coverage of this story. After all, Allina Chief Operating Officer David Strand chairs MPR's board of trustees, which includes Thomas R. McBurney (chairman of the Allina Foundation board) and Addison (Tad) Piper (a member of Allina's board of directors). Add in Allina's and the Allina Foundation's sponsorship arrangements with MPR, and the connection between these two non-profits exceeds anything to be found in local commercial broadcasting.

KSTP-TV 's alliance with Allina, while less tangled, is more public. They co-sponsor a weekly show that KSTP also airs. Health Matters is hosted by Kalley Yanta, who was Kalley King when she worked as the station's lead news anchor. Like MPR, KSTP downplayed Hatch's investigation, ignoring breaking stories on its 10 p.m. newscast in both late-March and again in early-July. Each time, failing even to mention developments that were headlined in the newspapers and featured on WCCO's and KARE's 10 p.m. newscasts.

Whether these news judgments were driven by corporate cronyism, or some less obvious consideration, the evidence shows that on the Allina story, MPR and KSTP brought up the rear of a slow-moving pack. And as two of only three major locally-owned and/or operated media outlets -- TPT-TV being the other -- KSTP and MPR stumbled badly on a story about a local company that they do business with.

Fortunately the attorney general seems to be aware of the local media’s distaste for this story of malfeasance by their corporate brother. Just prior to Allina’s decision to split-off Medica, Hatch announced that he will be releasing the results of his investigation in a series of “five or six” reports. Shrewd guy that Mike Hatch.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

MPR's Chis Farrell spreads Republican disinformation

Although certainly not always the case, sometimes one comment from a media figure can reveal many deep truths about him or her. A few days ago while listening to Money Public Radio I heard just such a moment from MPR's chief economics correspondent Chris Farrell. He was prattling on, answering a question (that starts at about 46:30) from a listener about what happens to all that money circulating when economic slowdowns occur.

Farrell's explanation focused solely on corporate behavior, not explaining that a general economic slowdown may occur because more and more people have lower and lower incomes, while prices of basic commodities continue to rise (gas prices anyone?). Farrell said economic pullbacks are caused by a slowdown in corporate profits, which leads to a a slowdown in capital investment by said corporations, etc. It wasn't an honest or competent answer, but it was, in Stephen Colbert's term, truthy - it kinda sounded true.

But then he got to the nut of the argument - the reason he thought economic inequality was accelerating, where Farrell revealed his true self. Without evidence or elucidation, he laid the blame for economic inequality at the foot of our education system (about 50:30):
"..what the rise in inequality now reflects is a failing education system...our education system is letting people down..."
thus proving that no matter how rational MPR may occasionally sound, when push comes to shove the radio network is essentially a right-wing Republican outfit, in the pocket of the financial sector types who dominate its corporate boards.

Just to be clear, Farrell is full of shit when he blames our current gross economic inequality, or lack of job growth, on our public education system. His contention is a pernicious canard, pushed by Republican politicians and operatives since the 1980s, that will not die. I'm betting that Farrell knows this, which makes his comments even more disgusting. Exactly how a lack of education is hurting workers in the U.S., or what is the mechanism whereby allegedly poor schools create economic slowdowns and job losses was not discussed by Farrell, as if his postulation was somehow self-evident. The way Farrell makes these false assertions, lacking both reason and evidence, is de rigor in Republican circles, where an imagined piss poor public education system, staffed by union teachers and immune to private competition, is the bane of all our existences.

It's really no secret that these notions are pure partisan crap. Paul Krugman, among others, nicely destroyed the myth that poor education is at the heart of income and wealth inequality:
It's a good story with a comforting conclusion: Education is the answer. But it's all wrong. A closer look at our line of Americans reveals why. The richest twenty percent are those standing between 800 and 1,000. But even those standing between 800 and 950 -- Americans who earn between $80,000 and $120,000 a year -- have done only slightly better than everyone to their left. Almost all of the gains over the past thirty years have gone to the fifty people at the very end of the line. Being highly educated won't make you into a winner in today's U.S. economy. At best, it makes you somewhat less of a loser.
David Sirota has also written extensively on the subject, including his column Flattening The Great Education Myth, and his more recent Election '08 Meets The Great Education Myth. As Sirota wrote:
Sadly, the hard data tells us that, as comforting as this Great Education Myth is, we cannot school our way out of the problems accompanying a national trade policy devoid of wage, environmental and human-rights protections.
And it's not just Sirota and Krugman who shred this myth, but that bastion of communistic thinking, Fortune magazine:
As Fortune Magazine reported last year, “The skill premium, the extra value of higher education, must have declined after three decades of growing.” Citing the U.S. government’s Economic Report of the President, the magazine noted that “real annual earnings of college graduates actually declined” between 2000 and 2004. The magazine also noted that new studies “show companies massively shifting high-skilled work — research, development, engineering, even corporate finance — from the United States to low-cost countries like India and China.”
So - Chris Farrell - who is paid in excess of $130,000 a year from MPR - declares our education system responsible for economic inequality even as the annual incomes of college graduates actually declined from 2000 to 2004.

As Sirota wrote:
Pundits, such as [Tom] Friedman and the Washington policymakers who follow him, see the data and understand this reality, and yet continue preaching their “free” trade fundamentalism to the delight of corporate lobbyists whose clients’ profits are expanding under the status quo.
Or in Farrell's case, he kowtows to the "free" trade fundamentalism of his network, and the uber capitalists who control the organization. I have no doubt that if Farrell had a different position, he would quickly be out of a job.

Also notice how closely Farrell's position dovetails with Republican "school choice" fanatics like Mitch Pearlstein, who appeared on the station for an hour by himself about a week ago. These gasbags go on and on about how "school choice" is the panacea for our supposedly failing public schools, without any proof of concept or theory as to how competition will spur better schools, or how supposedly better schools will lead to more jobs or less economic inequality. Just about all research on the subject, excepting that from conservative philanthropy sponsored liars like Harvard's Paul Peterson, has shown that students in voucher and charter schools actually do worse than their peers in regular public schools.

The only question remaining about MPR is when Republicans will stop acting like it is part of the imagined "liberal media."