Saturday, June 28, 2008

MSM News Stars' Alarm Over Unfair Campaign Money

There was real emotion in his voice when ABC News anchor Charles Gibson used Friday night’s newscast to stand up for little-guy McCain against online-fundraising-powerhouse Barack Obama.

I imagine that it is frightening for corporate news anchor guy, Gibson, when non-corporate candidate guy, Obama, is able to raise phenomenal amounts of cash (averaging about $100.00/donation).

By opting out of public financing, Gibson intoned, the Democrat could obtain “two times, three times, four times, as much money as John McCain.”

It wasn't all that long ago, though it seems much longer given the hell we've through since then, that the Republicans were saying that contributions to political campaigns are the same thing as political speech. Perhaps, Mr. Gibson, we can say that the people have spoken.

“Let me ask you a question about basic fairness,” Gibson implored of chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos. “People in this country like to believe that people play on a level playing field and that a campaign will be about ideas and personality; if you start with that much more money, is it basically fair?”

Yes, people in this country would certainly would like to believe that we all, including our politicians, play on a level playing field, but we all know better than that, now don't we, Mr. Gibson.

In the first place, Gibson, Obama did not start out with "that much, much more money." What do you think he did, rob Bank of America? McCain has been the GOP presumptive nominee for months now, while Obama and Clinton have fought it out for the nomination, burning cash left and right. McCain has had plenty of time for fund raising while not only unopposed by anyone from his own party, but with his former opposition raising money for him, or trying. Perhaps your questions should be, why hasn't McCain been able to raise more money during this time period.

Given, however, some of your questions during the ABC Democratic Debate, especially questions directed to Obama, I'm not surprised by this one and, given to whom the question is directed, George "Does-Rev.-Wright-love-this-country-as- much-as-you-do" Stephanopolis, I doubt the answer was any better than the question.

It was more a statement than a question, like Brit Hume anchoring at Fox. (ABC has gone Fox-like in crusading over “Obama’s Switch” and “Back Flip” and “Flip-Flop” on public financing.)

Is Mr. Gibson at all concerned, I wonder, about McCain's gaming of the system; he's in the system in order to borrow money, but he is out of the system when he finds himself far behind in fund raising and wants Obama to give up millions, so he can have that imaginary level playing field . We've lost track of how many times he's been in and out of the system since the primaries began, but given McCain's history of pushing the envelope right up to, if not slightly over the line, the FEC should be checking out his latest shenanigans.

Gibson’s egalitarian “fretting” about fairness was too much for right-wing media critic Brent Baker, who belittled the anchor and McCain:

“If Obama can raise more than his opponent, it just reflects greater enthusiasm for him. And there's hardly any nobility in taking taxpayer money when you know you'll be challenged to raise a larger amount voluntarily.”


To me, the good news is that a network anchor was giving prominence to the plight of under-financed candidates.

The bad news is that it’s taken years to see an anchor make such a stand. And that Gibson (like other media voices in recent days) is making his stand for “fairness” against a candidate who has attracted 3 million contributions from 1.5 million donors giving an average donation of $91.

In other words, against a candidate who is arguably less beholden to big-moneyed interests than McCain. (The Gibson clip is at Crooks and Liars.)

And that's the real beef, is it not? Can it be that corporate interests are losing their hold on the American political system? (Oh, horror of horrors!) I seriously doubt that Mr Gibson or any other of the GOP corporate mouthpieces to be found at various and sundry anchor desks, anchoring or spewing pundit pap, have all that much to worry about, at least not for a while. Americans, in general, still don't get that as long as the relationship between the corporate and political worlds are so creepily intertwined, we will not have anything resembling a representative democracy. The fact will remain that our elected officials will be representing the scoundrels of K Street and the corporate interests they are paid big bucks to shove down our throats.

I have mixed emotions about big media’s newfound concern for under-funded candidates.

Beginning in 1992, Norman Solomon and I used our nationally-syndicated column to criticize mainstream media for their failure to focus on campaign spending inequities and the elite funders of corporate-friendly politicians.

Days after the 1992 election, we wrote that “national media seemed almost clueless to explain the triumph” of endangered U.S. Senate incumbents – with the New York Times blandly noting that many incumbents “somehow managed to survive.”

We mentioned several narrowly victorious Senators like corporate-backed sex-harasser Bob Packwood of Oregon, who outspent his Democratic challenger by more than 3 to 1. And ethically-challenged Al D’Amato of New York, who outspent his liberal opponent 2 to 1.

Our column – titled “We Need Term Limits for Political Pundits” – concluded that “big bucks special interests dominating Washington are almost a taboo subject.”

In that column and others, we urged political journalists to calculate and report which candidates won more “votes per dollar spent” – arguing that the “VPDS count would make it clear that many incumbents would have been defeated if not for their advantage in dollars.”

So here we are in 2008, and we’re witnessing an apparent flip-flop in mainstream news – with bleeding-heart appeals to “fairness” on behalf of the less-funded McCain enough to make a right-winger cringe.

From the same outlets that spent decades worshipping a politician’s corporate fundraising prowess as a sign of that candidate’s strength, seriousness, viability.

When longtime media lapdogs on campaign inequities transform into fierce watchdogs in the face of Obama’s online fundraising clout, the public is wise to be suspicious.

Are these elite voices truly upset because Obama shifted his position? Are they upset all of a sudden that one candidate has a financial advantage over another?

No and No, would be my guess.

Or is this just the fear and loathing of the Netroots resurfacing – like when establishment pundits went hysterical as Joe Lieberman lost the Democratic primary in 2006?

My guess would be YES. With each election that passes, we, the people, whether we be called the grassroots or the Netroots, are gaining more and more strength, as we have learned more, not only how to organize and inform on the Net, but how to transfer our on-line work to on-the-ground work; for issues and candidates.

It isn't the least bit surprising to me that Net Neutrality is a huge issue. Keeping the Internet neutral, insisting on more access not less, for all Americans, regardless of their socio-economic classification is our last, best chance of salvaging democracy in this land.

We have a tremendous amount of work to do in this regard. The U.S. ranks way down the list of developed nations when it comes to citizen access to broadband. I find this outrageous for a nation always ready to brag about how great we are. (We aren't doing any better in education or health care.)

Here is a fresh, outsider candidate – like Dean in 2003 – with a powerful grassroots funding base that goes way beyond the corporate sponsors of the nightly news. To the old-line media establishment, that’s scary.

You bet it is. It could well be the beginning of the end of corporatism in America (or as it was called 60 years ago, Fascism), but not unless we all keep up the hard work it will take to carry on with this non-violent, peaceful revolution. The hard work we are required to do is much less than will be required in a bloody revolution.

If network anchors want to be taken seriously on campaign “fairness,” they might propose common-sense reforms. For starters: free TV and radio airtime to candidates.

I'm afraid it is going to take much, much more than free airtime (since the airwaves used by the MSM and radio belong to the people anyway). As a matter of fact, it may well be too late for the old media and that may be what scares them more than anything else. The anchors and pundits on all three of the major networks, as well a cable news and the national press, with the notable exception of Knight-Ridder, now McClatchy News, sold us all down the river, beginning with election election 2000 and on to this very day. Of course, the worst betrayal was their timidity in investigating the "reasons" we were given for the invasion of Iraq.

I don't know anyone who trusts them anymore. Perhaps they are just now realizing that they aren't going to get away with misinforming, or simply refusing to inform the American people about what others all over the world already know.

Jeff Cohen is the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College. In 1986, he founded the progressive media watch group FAIR.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

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