Leonard Downie Jr., and Robert Kaiser, two top editors at the Washington Post, have written a new book detailing the corrupting influence of corporate ownership on mainstream news. Titled The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril, their book details how the push for profits during the past quarter century has substituted entertainment for analysis, undermined investigative journalism (too expensive), given us ever-more stories about actors, sports figures, and celebrities, and blurred the lines between news and advertising.
Recent months have seen ferocious criticisms of Enron, but Columbia Journalism Review contributor Scott Sherman thinks journalists should have asked tough questions much earlier. During the 1990s, he notes, business coverage "crackled with enthusiasm about Enron," with Fortune comparing the now-failed energy company to a "gate-crashing Elvis" in the "staid world of regulated utilities and energy companies ...
PBS has applied its "conflict of interest" guidelines to refuse programming that receives sponsorship from unions, lesbians or battered women, on grounds that these groups have a "vested interest in the subject matter of the program." When it comes to corporations, however, the network follows a different standard. Currently the network is premiering a six-hour series about the global economy which was sponsored by major corporations that have a clear interest in the show's content.
For years, the Clearinghouse for Environmental Education, Advocacy and Research (CLEAR) did yeoman's work researching the financial ties and extremist rhetoric of the corporate-funded anti-environmental movement. Until recently a project of the Environmental Working Group, CLEAR recently spun off to become independent.
A flashy publicity stunt outside a Houston federal courthouse accompanied accounting firm Arthur Andersen's not guilty plea to Justice Department obstruction charges. "As Andersen pleaded not guilty inside the courtroom, outside the firm launched a public relations blitz designed to portray government prosecutors as overzealous and heartless to the plight of its 28,000 U.S. employees," USA Today's Greg Farrell reports.
Fortune magazine recently spent six weeks investigating the Carlyle Group, the secretive investment firm with ties to the Bush administration that invests heavily in military contracting. Carlyle employs a raft of former government officials, including the Bush the senior as well as former Secretary of State Jim Baker, former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci and former British Prime Minister John Major.
In a new report, Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council examine the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). "While ALEC purports to be a 'good-government' group operating in the public interest, its sole mission is to advance special-interest legislation across the nation on behalf of its corporate sponsors and funders," the report says. "The organization's behind-the-scenes advocacy has been surprisingly effective -- leading, according to ALEC material, to the enactment of more than 450 state laws during the 1999 and 2000 state legislative sessions.
In Trust Us, We're Experts, PR Watch editors Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber examined the ways that industry PR manipulates science and gambles with your future. Now British science writer Colin Tudge is exploring similar themes. Whether the topic is pharmaceuticals or genetically modified foods, he says, "people distrust what scientists tell them. And they are perfectly right to do so. ...
In the wake of the Enron meltdown, Business 2.0 magazine is running several articles offering "free advice for the suddenly non-credible," in which PR gurus offer their recommendations for helping clients who have been caught lying, cheating or committing atrocities. Perhaps the most interesting comments appear in the reader response section, which invites people to comment on the financial status and standards of their own companies. Most of the responses suggest that Enron is not an isolated case.
The Global Climate Coalition, a front group for the auto, oil, coal and other industries responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions that are changing the climate, recently announced that has disbanded, explaining that it "has served its purpose by contributing to a new national approach to global warming.