Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Top court to rule on gun control ordinance

Many lobbies besieging Congress are powerful like Big Pharma and the insurance companies. Indeed, the reason America is never likely to have singlepayer, universal health insurance is the drug and insurance firms.
But the Jewish Lobby may be the most potent of all. It is an unspoken rule of American politics that members of Congress never criticize Israeli policies--at least if they hope to be re-elected.
Still another K Street powerhouse not to be crossed is the National Rifle Association. Few members of Congress dare oppose its positions no matter how outrageous they are. But the Supreme Court, whose members have a life term, is beholden to no one. It can vote its politics with impunity.
The court will decide, probably in June, whether the Constitution allows individuals to keep guns in their homes. It also could render a key interpretation of the Second Amendment which declares the “right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
The case stems from a Washington, D.C., ordinance banning handguns. The ordinance also requires that guns legally kept in the home, rifles and shotguns, are to be disassembled and/or kept under a trigger lock.
A U.S. appeals court in Washington, contrary to decades of court opinions, declared in March that the ordinance was unconstitutional. It said that the Second Amendment right was an individual one, not linked to service in a militia.
The Supreme Court concluded in 1939 that private ownership of guns must have “some reasonable relationship to the preservation of the efficiency of a well-regulated militia.”
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1996 that the Second Amendment “does not protect the possession of a weapon by a private citizen.” The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared in 1971 that “there can be no serious claim to any express constitutional right of an individual to possess a firearm.”
And Chief Justice Warren Burger, by no stretch of the imagination a liberal, called the NRA reading of the Second Amendment, a great fraud, the issue distorted and “confused by calculated disinformation.”
The D.C. ordinance, enacted in 1976, is carefully drawn. It is mindful of the needs of citizens to protect themselves from an intruder. The district council members who enacted the ordinance knew that guns allowed at home can be assembled and the trigger unlocked, all in less than a minute.
Colonial days are “ancient” history. So are muskets. Governments today may enact gun curbs such as the D.C. ordinance.
Guns foster the violence rampant in America. The nation records 30,000 gun deaths yearly. Surely government has the right to try to halt some of the slayings. The recent slaughters in Nebraska and Colorado are another in a long line of sickening and senseless killings.
Yet the NRA has constantly stood in the way of sanity. And the Congress has constantly pandered to is agenda. Congress did enact a 10-year ban in 1994 on assault weapons. But when it came up for renewal, President Bush and Congress, caving in to the NRA, allowed the law to lapse.
Roy Romer, former governor of Colorado, summed up the NRA position perfectly when he said: “If the NRA is so out of touch with Colorado that it cannot even support the single proposition that a 14-year-old has no business carrying a loaded gun to school, then the NRA is part of the problem not part of the solution.”
The NRA is part of the problem. When Congress passed a law in 1986 outlawing ownership of machine guns by private citizens, the NRA fought the measure until slapped down by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in the case.)
The NRA, representing the forces of barbarity battling against civilization, has also fought curbs on assault weapons like AK-47s and Uzis. And, yes, the use of armor-piercing bullet. And, yes, it even opposed the Brady Act requiring a five-day waiting period before buying a gun to check on felons and the mentally unstable.
Bob Herbert, New York Times columnist, rightly characterizes the NRA as an “inflammatory, obsessive outfit deaf to public opinion.” It has “contributed mightily to the long decades of carnage in our streets and homes.”
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court, based on its reactionary rulings in the 2006-2007 term, is likely to strike down the D.C. ordinance. If form holds, the American people will be the losers and the NRA the winners yet again.
Email: jake@unr.edu

Saturday, December 08, 2007

No media reputation is left unstained

END TIMES: The Death of the Fourth Estate

By Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair

CounterPunch, Petrolia, Calif. 362 pages. $15.95

The death of the Fourth Estate is a gross exaggeration. The New York Times will probably be published in print centuries from now despite the suggestion by its publisher that the paper might not be printing in five years.

Be that as it may, anyone who still has a starry-eyed view of the media should read this book. Indeed, the title ought to be: “No Media Reputation Left Unstained.” Bob Woodward, Katharine Graham, Judy Miller and many other media stars are indicted. The sainted Times itself is justly lambasted.

Items for the Journalistic Hall of Shame:

• The Times in 2005 delayed a story for a year before disclosing that the Bush administration had sanctioned a program of secret, illegal spying on U.S. citizens by the National Security Agency. And, it did so at the request of the White House. That is hardly an adversarial press in the Land of the First Amendment.

In that story the Times’ waited until the 25th to paragraph to mention that Vice President Cheney had briefed congressional leaders on the program. Only at the very end of the story--in the 48th paragraph!—did the Times admit that the program was an assault on the Constitution.

• The Gary Webb episode was one of the greatest betrayals in U.S. journalism history. Webb, reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, wrote a “Dark Alliance” series in 1996 linking the CIA to drug trafficking. He was praised by his editor and given a bonus with a note: “Remarkable series!”

Then the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times attacked Webb and the series, “one of the most venomous and factually inane assaults on a professional journalist’s competence.” Webb correctly characterized the Contras of Nicaragua as the CIA’s army. But no matter.

The editor, Jerry Ceppos, soon to become journalism dean at the University of Nevada, Reno, wrote a letter to the Post defending the series. It was never published. Finally, Ceppos caved in under relentless assault. He repudiated the series. He said he didn’t want “to get into a war” with the newspaper Big Three.

When Ceppos retired in 2005 an article in the online Narcosphere, written by Luiz Gomez, characterized Ceppos as a Judas who had stabbed Webb in the back. Webb was exiled to the Cupertino, Calif., bureau. He resigned and eventually committed suicide. The press had killed Webb’s career. In effect, it killed him too. Subsequent admission by the CIA vindicated Webb.

Ceppos? He will hold the endowed chair at UNR--and probably teach media ethics.

• Graham, publisher of the Post, showed courage to pursue the Watergate exposé. But she turned into a gutless wonder, later declaring that the press was overstepping its bounds in its investigative fervor.

• Bob Woodward, the dogged reporter who pursued the huge Watergate story, became a flack. He churned out “insider” books, one particularly pleasing to President Bush.

• Judy Miller, New York Times reporter, may have done more than any other individual outside Bush to start the Iraq War. She was more loyal to big shot sources than to the truth. She became a cheerleader for the war, regurgitating press releases and supporting White House lies.

• The collapse of the government’s case against Wen Ho Lee in 2000 “represented one of the greatest humiliations of a national newspaper in the history of journalism.” The Times was guilty of the persecution of Lee, leading to “his solitary confinement under the threat of execution, his denial of bail, his shackling, the loss of his job, his anguish and terror endured by the scientist and his family.”

The book opens on a happier note with the parody of the Tedium Twins on “MacNeil-Lehner Report” on PBS. (Now the “Lehner Report.”) The twins are Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehner. Their telecast was narcotizing, carrying a tone of reverence.

They purported to bring on speakers from the Left but they were always lukewarm liberals. The media have little leftist broadcasts. The reason is simple: advertisers will not support progressive programs because they are “poison at the box office.”

Cockburn and St. Clair, publishers of the leftist newsletter, CounterPunch, boast of their 3 million hits online daily. But CounterPunch has no impact. Page one of the New York Times? It has impact. Ask Judy Miller and Wen Ho Lee.

Jake Highton teaches journalism at UNR. Email: jake@unr.edu


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Tweedledum & Tweedledee vie for president

Presidential politics are fought out in the middle. Candidates cannot be too far Left or too far Right. And that is why progressives vote against someone rather then for someone. It’s another sad fact of democracy in America.
It is why Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has absolutely no chance to win the Democratic nomination for president. He is simply too far Left for most voters.
Kucinich rightly opposes the Iraq War. He would bring the troops home now. But that will not win him the nomination. A cautious, centerist approach is the way to win presidential nominations.
Boobus Americanus will not vote for progressive candidates even if it means voting against their own economic interests. What matters to the masses are candidates’ stands on such social issues as abortion and gay marriage.
None of the leading Democratic presidential contenders will even think of withdrawing troops before the end of a first term in 2013. Each offers a Rube Goldberg national health plan tied to Big Pharma and insurance companies.
(Kucinich advocates a singlepayer health plan that civilized nations long have had. He is pro-union and opposed to the death penalty. He would pull America out of NAFTA and WTO. People say he is too short at 5 feet 7 inches tall to be president, forgetting that James Madison, the shortest president in history, was 5 feet 4 inches tall.)
Hillary Clinton? The late columnist Molly Ivins skewered her: “I’ve had it with every calculating, equivocating, triangulating, straddling, hair-splitting son of a bitch.” Clinton has the money, star power and gender. But she is gutless.
Clinton is a war hawk, her position on Iraq little different from the catastrophic policy of President Bush. She has moved so far to the right that she sounds like a Republican. (She has called for criminalizing the burning of an American flag!)
Asked her stand on driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, she had four weaseling positions ranging from yes to no. She is against removing the $97,000 cap on Social Security contributions because it would burden the middle class. Some middle class. Only 6 percent of Americans make more than 97K a year.
Barack Obama? Decent. Smart. He dares to point out the class warfare rampant in America. He would raise capital gains taxes on the wealthy, close corporate tax loopholes and abolish tax breaks on hedge fund and equity managers who make billions. He notes that CEOs make in 10 minutes what it takes workers 10 months to earn. Yet, there is Obama spreading the Bush canard that Social Security is in a crisis.
John Edwards? He strikes a genuine populist note. He is for low income workers and financially struggling students. He’s pro-labor. But on Iran he is almost as warlike as Vice President Cheney.
As for the Republican candidates, they are a sorry bunch. They are all white and proponents of the status quo. They all seem to be running for dictator. As New York Times essayist Frank Rich, one of the treasures of the national discourse, puts it: “They’re falling over each other to expand Gitmo, see who can promise the most torture and abridge the largest number of constitutional rights.”
Homophobia reigns among them. They support the ridiculous military policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
John McCain? He is the best of a bad lot. He knows what torture is: condemnable. But his backing of the war in Iraq is absurd. He proclaimed Baghdad safe after walking through it with body armor and surrounded by soldiers. He was smeared by Bush in 2000 but is still a Bush lick-spittle. A tragic figure.
Mitt Romney? As governor of Massachusetts he favored pro-choice, gun control, gay rights and stem cell research. As candidate for president he has repudiated all those stances. He may be the biggest political flip-flopper in history.
Rudy Giuliani? He’s running on 9/11, a study in myth-making. He is hawkish, fiscally conservative, dodging scandals and dogged by noxious associations. He supports the occupation of Iraq. He panders to the South, asking what’s wrong with flying the Confederate flag. He thinks it is great to be rich. He tosses out a welter of statistics, many exaggerated or wrong.
He is a Second Amendment advocate, telling the NRA what it wants to hear. Waterboarding is fine by him. His foreign policy adviser should tell you all you need to know about Giuliani: right-winger Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary.
In any case, the frontrunners in both parties are Tweedledum and Tweedledee.