Thursday, April 9, 2009


BUT IT MAKES ITS OWN GRAVY: Another day another “casualty” as we move toward a world where people won’t have anything in which to wrap fish or train puppies.

But of course you wouldn’t know that the demise of the corporate press is self-inflicted due to the friendly fire death of solid investigative content combined with a penchant for printing truth and lies side by said and calling it objectivity.

In the Honolulu Advertiser’s version of the story of the 23 layoff at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and MidWeek, Rick Daysong writes

The layoffs come as the nation's newspaper industry has lost thousands of jobs because of economic conditions and advertising revenue due to the Internet.

Yup- blame it on the economy and the internet, even though the problems started long before the current conditions and the fact that it is the newspaper industry’s own greed and competitive nature that has stopped them from micro-charges for the on-line news- probably because no one would pay for either the pap or articles that promote the corporate version of events they publish these days.

Sometimes you wouldn’t even know you were hearing about the same source content when you read the corporate version and the alternative or independent press reports,. as when the articles describing a study of the effects of sonar on dolphins was released recently.

Today the Advertiser’s “Military Writer” William Cole has an article headlined (what did you expect?) “Sonar's effect on dolphins minimal”..

He rotely regurgitates the apparent military press release version of what the study found:

In a study replicating Navy sonar, the Hawai`i Institute of Marine Biology found that a captive bottlenose dolphin had to remain relatively close to a high-intensity sonar source for a prolonged period to experience even temporary hearing loss — a finding the Navy seized upon to say it "may have vastly overestimated impacts of mid-frequency active sonar on marine mammals."

But the day before independent reporter Joan Conrow reported on the study in her reporting blog quoting an Associated Press article on the study as saying

When the pings reached 203 decibels and were repeated, the neurological data showed the mammal had become deaf, for its brain no longer responded to sound.

You’ll want to read Joan’s entire entry. Turns out the “study” was done in what amounts to a swimming pool with short bursts, negating the effects on behavior such as rapid surfacing, which is how many marine mammals deaths have apparently occurred due to sonar.

So how far does the clutches of corporate press go?

Well in the broadcast realm the “news” is usually even more worthless than the modern “objective” newspaper.

Thank goodness we have PBS, eh?

Not so fast.

A couple of Monday nights back we watched “Sick Around America” on PBS’s program “Frontline”, public broadcasting’s signature, award-winning, investigative series.

And while we were stuck with the usual liturgy of horror stories about insurance companies killing their clients to make more money- similar to the stories in Michael Moore’s disturbing movie "Sicko"- the program quite blatantly pinned the whole problem on the fact that there are “uninsured” who are not paying into the system until they get sick and, therefore, promoting the Massachusetts model of “mandatory insurance”.

Though the first half of the program seemed to lead to the obvious conclusion- one that polls show the vast number of American’s hold- that only eliminating insurance companies from the equation and implementing a single-payer so-called “Medicare for All” system will really do anything about what all acknowledge is our “healthcare crisis”.

So it was with great interest that we read a piece by Russell Mokhiber of Corporate Crime Reporter entitled Something is Rotten at PBS.

He detailed how Washington Post reporter T.R. Reid had done a Frontline piece called “Sick Around the World” a few years back and Frontline had asked him to do another on America.

But when he turned in his work and the producers did their editing he found that “this is not my beautiful documentary”.

The article describes how apparently instead of presenting Reid’s work presenting the well known horrors of insurance company coverage and reaching the obvious conclusion that getting the profit motive out of the equation is the sensible way to proceed, the produces went 180 degrees on him.

As we said they stressed the “mandatory coverage” model saying the problem of high costs wasn’t due to insurance company greed and need to maximize profit but due to people not paying the insurance companies to be covered when they’re healthy..

The article tells the sorry tale in Reid’s own words:

“We spent months shooting that film,” Reid explains. “I was the correspondent. We did our last interview on January 6. The producers went to Boston and made the documentary. About late February I saw it for the first time. And I told them I disagreed with it. They listened to me, but they didn't want to change it.”

Reid has a book coming out this summer titled The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care (Penguin Press, August 2009.)

“I said to them -- mandating for-profit insurance is not the lesson from other countries in the world,” Reid said. “I said I'm not going to be in a film that contradicts my previous film and my book. They said – I had to be in the film because I was under contract. I insisted that I couldn't be. And we parted ways.”

Doctors, hospitals, nurses, labs can all be for-profit,” Reid said. “But the payment system has to be non-profit. All the other countries have agreed on that. We are the only one that allows health insurance companies to make a profit. You can't allow a profit to be made on the basic package of health insurance.”

“I don't think they deliberately got it wrong, but they got it wrong,” Reid said.

As you can imagine the producers tried to defend themselves. The next week Mokhiber wrote that they accuse Reid of being the one with a bias and actually tried to deny that they promoted the mandatory converge model even though the whole second half hour essentially did nothing but present the case for it.

The single payer Medicare for all model was never even mentioned except in passing and then as being a political impossibility.

In reality PBS is nothing but a non-commercial version of the corporate press these days except the corporate world just pays them directly, using the phony term “underwriting” instead of “bought and paid for programming”.

Although there used to be a strict PBS rule forbidding underwriting for a specific program by a company who had any “interest” directly or even indirectly in the subject they abandoned that almost 20 years ago- a move which encouraged other non commercial media such as public access TV and community radio like KKCR on Kaua`i to justify doing the same and abandoning all pretense of lack of commercial control over content.

While the newspaper industry keeps up the drumbeat of their supposed investigative reporting being essential to a democratic America, the examples of it cited recently are few, far between and generally weak, especially when compared to the 99% of the fare consisting of essentially free advertising and “he said- she said” shilling for the same politicians they should be- and aren’t- investigating.

Instead of actually improving their product to be once again a commodity people will pay for, their penny-wise pound-foolish methodology is to fire more reporters and say they can’t afford to do real journalism any more out of one side of their mouths while claiming they are worth saving because they are still doing it out of the other.

As Conrow concluded in her blog piece today, where she links to her two excellent articles in the Honolulu Weekly- one on the Reinstated Nation’s case regarding their trip to Kaho`olawe and one on GMO's in Hawai`i- “Support your independent newspapers!”

The press is dead- long live the press.


Poppa Zao said...

a penchant for printing truth and lies side by said and calling it objectivity.

"side by side"

But "said" also refers to the typical reporting style of "he said, she said."

Anyway, the Star-Bulletin not only doesn't have a bureau on the Big Island anymore, it isn't distributed there, either.

Brad Gregory said...

Ummm...what characteristic are you using to differentiate between the criticized "mandatory payment" model and the lauded "single payer Medicare" model??

The Medicare model IS "mandatory pay"...except it's the government mandating that the healthy pay while they're not sick. That's why it's an insurance pool. Derrr.

So yes, it would be better if healhy people paid while they were not sick. Your argument then becomes "It would be better and more efficient for the government to enforce and collect mandatory payment, than for the insurance companies to do so." And this is certainly an arguable point.

My opinion, based on my wife's insider view of insurance operations, is that the 5 or 10% profit taken by the insurance companies would be more than offset by government waste and corruption. Hardly the pie-in-the-sky magic solution to health care issues presented.

Another side effect of "single payer" that goes carefully unmentioned is the likelihood of unionization for the millions of health care and insurance workers under the federal employees union umbrella. Good for them, not so good for health care costs. Worse, they are so numerous that as a voting bloc, they would insure single party rule for the indeterminate future.

A desirable outcome, I suppose, if one is of the mind that all Democrats are ethical public servants rather than political creatures exhibiting the same primordial lust for wealth and power that the preceding hundred million political creatures have shown. I haven't been able to find such touching naivete for decades, though. Do tough-minded fans of bare-knuckle investigative reporting get a discount on rose-colored glasses??