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Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is a real estate genius (especially when the pork's been primed)

Sunlight Foundation investigative blogger/Senior Fellow Bill Allison has been doggedly pursuing his scoop on Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert's sketchy real estate deals on land that just happens to be near a multi-million dollar highway improvement project created by the Speaker himself.

Procter & Gamble's Marketing Madness Continues

For the past few months, I've been blogging on "WIMN's Voices," a group blog hosted by the organization Women in Media & News. The subtitle of the blog is "Women, Media, AND..." The 50-some women contributors add their area of expertise to the "and," such as marketing, popular culture, immigration, and LGBT issues, to name just a few. It's been interesting to read others' posts and it's great to be a part of the project.

Video News Releases: The Fantasy vs. Reality

To get an idea of just how low news standards can fall, take a look at <a href="" target="_blank">one of the VNRs we caught</a>, which promoted Victoria's Secret's new Beauty Rush line of candy-flavored lip glosses. The VNR, which was used as news by the <a href="" target="_blank">Daily Buzz</a> morning news show, featured glamour shots of Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, who sucked on a lollipop and declared that if you use Beauty Rush products, "I think you're cool.Television stations have maintained a studied silence about our report on the use of video news releases, but the print media has fewer qualms about discussing it. Saturday's Indianapolis Star carried an op-ed piece by Jeffrey McCall, a professor of communication at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. McCall described the use of VNRs as a "sneaky strategy" by "some wayward television news operations" that blurs the line "between reality and fantasy."

At Least the Lies Have Improved

Pundit Andrew Sullivan, who supported the war in Iraq but has lately begun to notice that he may have been mistaken, is nevertheless clinging to hope that the debacle can be salvaged. Yesterday he posted the following observations, from "a source of mine whom I've learned to trust as an honest observer," about the recent killing of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi:

I am impressed with Casey, Khalilzad and the new Iraqi PM. ... As for Zarqawi, they all recognize the essential silliness of portraying him as the embodiment of the opposition, but given the resources the US has poured into this massive psyops, their feeling is: why not get a little boost out of it themselves? Hence the claim that it's the end of al Qaeda in Iraq, and the out-of-perspective presentation of al Qaeda's role in the insurgency. ... So: misleading, but very sound politics.

US "Atypical" Mad Cow Threat Was Predicted

The small scientific world of prion researchers -- the scientists who investigate "transmissible spongiform encephalopathies" (TSE) such as mad cow disease in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in humans -- is abuzz. That's because the two confirmed cases of US mad cow disease in Texas and Alabama are an "atypical" strain different from the British strain but identical to an atypical strain found so far in a small number of cattle in France, Germany, Poland and Sweden. The discovery of "atypical" mad cow disease in the US should not be surprising. Sheldon Rampton and I reported way back in 1997 that very strong evidence of an "atypical" TSE disease infecting US cattle was established by the work of Dr. Richard Marsh, the researcher to whom we dedicated our book Mad Cow USA.

Thinking About Think Tanks

Juan Cole's website has an interesting commentary by William O. Beeman, titled "The Journalism/Think Tank Merry-Go-Round and the Dilemma of the Academic Public Intellectual." Beeman laments the fact that "think tanks, where no one ever has to go through peer review before publishing the most questionable material, are in the ascendancy. Real scholars are derided as the academy is openly attacked by these quasi-intellectual bodies." So who's to blame?

Lazy, news-cycle driven and subject to the pressure of ideology and publicity flackers, it is so much easier to just call the think tank down the street, or a PR firm like Benador Associates where someone is on call and already in suit and tie, or skirted suit to get to the studio within the next 20 minutes, than to spend the extra half-hour trying to locate an ISDN feed in . . . Minneapolis or Austin to get the best possible expertise on a subject at hand. ...

Sadly, the academy has reacted badly to this state of affairs--not by encouraging its members to shine the light on the slime and mold generated by these propaganda machines, but by fomenting retreat into its own dark little corner where it can be safe and "uncontroversial."