By Norman Solomon

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ABOUT THE COLUMNS – These columns will be posted each week as 2-page articles ready for printing as inserts into an 8.5" by 11" binder. The cover (above) may be downloaded for printing as a binder insert.
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NEW – December 22, 2003
Announcing the P.U.-litzer Prizes for 2003
The P.U.-litzer Prizes were established more than a decade ago to give recognition to the stinkiest media performances of the year. As usual, I have conferred with Jeff Cohen, founder of the media watch group FAIR, to sift through the large volume of entries. In view of the many deserving competitors, we regret that only a few can win a P.U.-litzer.
And now, the twelfth annual P.U.-litzer Prizes, for the foulest media performances of 2003.

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NEW – December 14, 2003
Prosecuted: For telling the truth
Few Americans have heard of Katharine Gun, a former British intelligence employee facing charges that she violated the Official Secrets Act. So far, the American press has ignored her. But the case raises profound questions about democracy and the public’s right to know on both sides of the Atlantic. Ms. Gun’s legal peril began in Britain on March 2, when the Observer newspaper exposed a highly secret memorandum by a top U.S. National Security Agency official. Dated Jan. 31, the memo outlined surveillance of a half-dozen delegations with swing votes on the U.N. Security Council, noting a focus on “the whole gamut of information that could give U.S. policy-makers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals” – support for war on Iraq.
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NEW – December 11, 2003
Breakthrough and peril for the Green Party
Up against the campaign of a wealthy businessmanwho outspent him nearly 10-to-1, a strong progressive candidate nearly won the runoff election last Tuesday to become San Francisco’s mayor. Some national news stories depicted the strong showing for Matt Gonzalez as a big surprise. But it shouldn’t perplex anyone when vigorous grassroots organizing combines with a sound strategy to get breakthrough results.
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December 4, 2003
Howard Dean faces the corporate media machine
Howard Dean is asking for media trouble. On Dec. 1, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination went where few national politicians have dared to go — directly challenging the media conglomerates. Don’t get me wrong. Dean’s record in Vermont hardly reflects an inclination to take on corporate power. His obsession with balancing budgets and coddling big business often led him to comfort the already comfortable and afflict the afflicted. Low-income people suffered the consequences of inadequate social services.
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November 20, 2003
Linking Iraq occupation with the ‘War on Terrorism’
Reuters is one of the more independent wire services. So, a recent news story from Reuters — flatly describing American military activities in Iraq as part of “the broader U.S. war on terrorism” — is a barometer of how powerfully the pressure systems of rhetoric from top U.S. officials have swayed mainstream news coverage. Such reporting, with the matter-of-fact message that the Pentagon is fighting a “war on terrorism” in Iraq, amounts to a big journalistic gift for the Bush administration, which is determined to spin its way past the obvious downsides of the occupation..
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November 13, 2003
Media clash in Brazil: A distant mirror
After a quarter-century of intensive grassroots organizing and a victorious presidential campaign a year ago, Brazilian social movements are in a strong position as they push the left-wing Workers Party government to fulfill its promises. The contrast to Washington’s current political climate is as diametrical as the opposite seasons of the two countries. Yet Brazilian activists are now giving heightened priority to the same concern that preoccupies an increasing number of people in the United States — the imperative of challenging the corporate media.
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November 4, 2003
The Iraq trap: Watch out what you ask for
Media outlets are filled with bad news about Iraq. A theme is emerging: This administration doesn’t know how to run an occupation. Those who oppose President Bush may welcome the recent shift in the media climate. But when war-makers get frustrated, they’re inclined to heighten the violence. And some critics of the occupation’s management are reinforcing assumptions that lead to more bloodshed. The New York Times Magazine started off November with a long essay by David Rieff lamenting that “the United States is playing catch-up in Iraq.” Rieff declared “the mess that is postwar Iraq is a failure of planning and implementation.” His piece epitomizes what’s wrong with so much of the media’s criticism of the occupation.
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November 2, 2003
The steady theft of our time
One of the worst things about today’s ultramodern systems of communication is hiding in plain sight: They waste our time. Sure, gizmos like computers and cell phones and pagers can be real time-savers. But what’s less obvious is the great extent to which high tech keeps us waiting. Whether you’re rich, poor or somewhere in between, time probably seems to be in short supply. And when intrusions keep draining away precious moments, you probably feel some combination of annoyance, frustration and anger.
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October 31, 2003
The politics of media filtration
Now, after all the national media have done for George W. Bush, the guy’s complaining. “There’s a sense that people in America aren’t getting the truth,” he says. What an ingrate! “I’m mindful of the filter through which some news travels,” the president groused recently, “and sometimes you have to go over the heads of the filter and speak directly to the people.”
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October 16, 2003
Brand loyalty and the absence of remorse
Midway through this month, a Wall Street Journal headline captured the flimflam spirit that infuses so much of what passes for mass communications these days: “Despite Slump, Students Flock to Ad Schools.”
Many young people can recognize a growth industry, and the business of large-scale deception is booming. But if Madison Avenue makes us think of subliminal twists and brazen lies, then Pennsylvania Avenue should bring to mind a similar process of creating and perpetuating brand loyalty.

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October 9, 2003
Media tips for the next recall
Now that California’s electorate has rewarded a dramatic recall effort, some sequels are likely elsewhere in the near future. It’s a good bet that political operatives in many states will try to learn from this fall’s Golden State extravaganza.
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October 2, 2003
Unmasking the ugly ‘anti-American’
Strong critics of U.S. foreign policy often encounter charges of “anti-Americanism.” Even though vast numbers of people in the United States disagree with Washington’s assumptions and military actions, some pundits can’t resist grabbing onto a timeworn handle of pseudo-patriotic demagoguery.
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September 25, 2003
Wesley & Me: A real-life docudrama
Here’s the real-life plot: A famous documentary filmmaker puts out a letter to a retired four-star general urging him to run for president. The essay quickly zooms through cyberspace and causes a big stir. For Michael Moore, the reaction is gratifying. Three days later, he thanks readers “for the astounding response to the Wesley Clark letter” and “for your kind comments to me.” But some of the reactions are more apoplectic than kind.
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September 18, 2003
The get-rich con: Are media values better now?
Presidential candidates have become fond of asking whether Americans are better off now than they were four years ago. Looking back at a sensational Time magazine story that appeared in late September 1999, we might want to ask a similar question: “Are media values better than they were four years ago?”
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September 11, 2003
Triumph of the media mill
The Bush administration never hesitated to exploit the general public’s anxieties that arose after the traumatic events of September 11, 2001. Testifying on Capitol Hill exactly 53 weeks later, Donald Rumsfeld did not miss a beat when a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee questioned the need for the United States to attack Iraq. Senator Mark Dayton: “What is it compelling us now to make a precipitous decision and take precipitous actions?” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld: “What’s different? What’s different is 3,000 people were killed.”
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September 8, 2003
The political capital of 9/11
The Bush administration never hesitated to exploit the general public’s anxieties that arose after the traumatic events of September 11, 2001. Testifying on Capitol Hill exactly 53 weeks later, Donald Rumsfeld did not miss a beat when a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee questioned the need for the United States to attack Iraq. Senator Mark Dayton: “What is it compelling us now to make a precipitous decision and take precipitous actions?” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld: “What’s different? What’s different is 3,000 people were killed.”
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September 6, 2003
The quagmire of denouncing a ‘quagmire’
When I hear pundits warn that Iraq is becoming a “quagmire,” I wince. “Quagmire” is a word made famous during the Vietnam War. The current conflict in Iraq comes out of a very different history, but there are some chilling parallels. One of them has scarcely been mentioned: These days, the editorial positions of major U.S. newspapers have an echo like a dirge.
Of course, the nation’s mainstream press does not speak with a monolithic editorial voice. At one end of the limited spectrum, the strident and influential Wall Street Journal cannot abide any doubts. Its editorials explain, tirelessly, that the war was Good and the occupation is Good – and those who doubt are fools and knaves. (LBJ called such dissenters “Nervous Nellies.”
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August 27, 2003
How fair and balanced are the 10 Commandments?
A national media spotlight has focused on the battle between the Constitution of the United States and some religious fundamentalists who viewed themselves as angels of Montgomery. The removal of a big Ten Commandments monument from an Alabama courthouse on Wednesday was good news for people who prefer democracy to theocracy.
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August 15, 2003
News flash: This is not a ‘silly season
Contrary to media cliches about “the silly season,” this is a time of very serious – and probably catastrophic – political maneuvers. From California to the U.N. building in New York City to the sweltering heat of Iraq, the deadly consequences of entrenched power are anything but humorous.
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August 7, 2003
To err is human, to truly correct is divine
For America’s newspapers, the New York Times is a pacesetter. And this summer, with the Times expanding its daily “Corrections” slot on page two, some other papers seem open to more rigor in setting the record straight. This is commendable. But the limitations of the genre leave much to be desired.
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August 5, 2003 (from Newsday)
U.S. media are too soft on the White House
This summer, many journalists seem to be in hot pursuit of the Bush administration. But they have an enormous amount of ground to cover. After routinely lagging behind and detouring around key information, major American news outlets are now playing catch-up.
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July 31, 2003
The gang that couldn’t talk straight
We’re living in an era when news coverage often involves plenty of absurdity. That’s the case with routine U.S. media spin about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So, on the July 29 edition of NPR’s “All Things Considered” program, host Robert Siegel and correspondent Vicky O’Hara each recited scripts referring to a “security barrier” that Israel’s government is building in the West Bank. The next day, many news outlets – including the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, New York Times, Chicago Tribune and The Associated Press – also used the “security barrier” phrase without quotation marks, treating it as an objective description rather than the Israeli government’s preferred characterization.
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July 25, 2003
Green Party takes the plunge for 2004
For the 2004 presidential race, the Green dye is cast. “The Green Party emerged from a national meeting ... increasingly certain that it will run a presidential candidate in next year’s election, all but settling a debate within the group over how it should approach the 2004 contest,” the Washington Post reported on July 21. The Green Party promptly put out a news release declaring that Greens “affirmed the party’s intention to run candidates for president and vice president of the United States in 2004.”
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July 16, 2003
Bush’s war boosters: No time to voice regrets
The superstar columnist George Will has an impressive vocabulary. Too bad it doesn’t include the words “I’m sorry.”Ten months ago, Will led the media charge when a member of Congress dared to say that President Bush would try to deceive the public about Iraq. By now, of course, strong evidence has piled up that Bush tried and succeeded.
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July 9, 2003
Summertime, and the politics of money is easy
While President Bush’s re-election campaign accumulates an unprecedented pile of dollars, the country’s news media are deep in a rut of reporting about the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. With the next national Election Day scarcely 15 months away, most signs point to a new triumph for the politics of money.
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July 3, 2003
Visual images and how we see the world
Media critics often say that visual images trump words. The claim makes some sense: Pictures have major impacts on how we see the world. And we’re apt to pay less attention to photo captions or the voice-overs that accompany news footage on TV screens.
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June 26, 2003
Tilting Democrats in the presidential race
The corporate Democrats who greased Bill Clinton’s path to the White House are now a bit worried. Their influence on the party’s presidential nomination process has slipped. But the Democratic Leadership Council can count on plenty of assistance from mainstream news media.
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June 19, 2003
The media politics of impeachment
Early summer has brought a flurry of public discussion about a topic previously confined to political margins – the possibility of impeaching President George W. Bush. The idea is still far from the national media echo chamber, but some rumblings are now audible as people begin to think about the almost unthinkable.
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June 12, 2003
Britain: Not quite a parallel media universe
LONDON — The people of Britain and the United States are living in parallel, yet substantively different, media universes. Bonds of language and overlaps of mass culture are obvious. But a visit to London quickly illuminates the reality that mainstream journalism is much less narrow here than in America.
One indicator of a robust press: Nearly a dozen ideologically diverse national daily papers are competing on British newsstands.
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June 8, 2003
Trust, war and terrorism
In a democracy, leaders must earn and retain the public’s trust. No matter how loudly those leaders proclaim their dedication to fighting terrorism, we must not flinch from examining whether they are trustworthy. On March 17, 2003, in a major address to the American people, President George W. Bush declared: “Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.” On April 10, in a televised message to the people of Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Blair said: “We did not want this war. But in refusing to give up his weapons of mass destruction, Saddam gave us no choice but to act.”
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June 2, 2003
Spam - just another brick in the wall . . .
By now, millions of Americans are sick and tired of the spam that’s flooding their in-boxes with unwanted e-mail messages – mostly offering products, services and scams that tell of big bargains, implausible windfalls, garish porno and dumb scenarios for bodily enhancements. In 2003, we’re routinely slogging through large amounts of junk e-mail. These are aggressive advertisements that won’t quit. They’re doing a lot to pollute the Internet environment.
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May 29, 2003
Many a jest is spoken as truth
National Public Radio deserves credit for finally airing a candid summary of how media spin works at the top of the Executive Branch.
In late May, listeners across the country heard: “Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesperson, announced that he would be leaving his post sometime this summer. When asked why, Mr. Fleischer denied he would be leaving his post. When reminded that he had just said he was leaving his post, he denied that he had. Then he shouted, ‘Look over there! It’s Dick Cheney eating lasagna!’ and ducked out of the room.”
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May 22, 2003
Decoding the media fixation on terrorism
By now, it’s a media ritual. Whenever the U.S. government raises the alert level for terrorism – as when officials announced the orange code for “high risk” on May 20 – local, regional and national news stories assess the dangers and report on what’s being done to protect us. We’re kept well-informed about how worried to be at any particular time. But all that media churning includes remarkably little that has any practical utility.
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May 16, 2003
Why the FCC’s rules are important
Media outlets are the lifeblood of the body politic. Extensive circulation of ideas, information, analysis and debate must exist – not just once in a while, but all the time – or the consequences are severe, even catastrophic. You can gauge our society’s political and social health by checking somevital media signs: Scrutinize the programming of stations that fall under the purview of the Federal Communications Commission. Watch a few dozen TV channels. Listen to all the radio stations on the AM and FM bands. If the dominant content doesn’t make you feel sick, then you’re probably not paying close attention.
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May 8, 2003
Introspective media not in the cards
A new poll tells us that – by a two-to-one margin – Americans “use clearly positive words in their descriptions of the president.” The Pew Research Center, releasing a nationwide survey on May 7, declared “there is little doubt ... that the war in Iraq has improved the president’s image” in the United States. Such assessments stand in sharp contrast to views of George W. Bush overseas. In mid-March, the Pew center put out survey results showing that “U.S. favorability ratings have plummeted in the past six months” – not only in “countries actively opposing war” but also in “countries that are part of the ‘coalition of the willing.’
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May 1, 2003
A different approach for the 2004 campaign
Eighteen months from now, US citizens will vote for president. If the 2004 campaign is anything like the last one, the election returns will mark the culmination of a depressing media spectacle. For news watchers, the candidates and the coverage can be hard to take. Appearances on television are apt to become tedious, nauseating or worse. Campaign ads often push the limits of slick pandering. Journalists routinely seem fixated on “horseracing” the contest instead of reporting about the huge financial interests that candidates have served.
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24 April 2003
Media nix – Blix, Kucinich, and the Dixie Chicks
Hans Blix, Dennis Kucinich and the Dixie Chicks are in very different lines of work – but they’re in the same line of fire from big media for the sin of strongly challenging the president’s war agenda. Let’s start with Blix, who can get respectful coverage in American media – unless he’s criticizing the U.S. government. Belatedly, in mid-April, he went public with accusations that the Bush administration faked evidence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. And Blix declared that the United Nations – not the U.S. government – should deploy arms inspectors in Iraq now.
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15 April 2003
Mark Twain speaks: “I’m an anti-imperialist”
With U.S. troops occupying Iraq and the Bush administration making bellicose noises about Syria, let's consider some rarely mentioned words from the most revered writer in American history. Mark Twain was painfully aware of many people's inclinations to go along with prevailing evils. When slavery was lawful, he recalled, abolitionists were "despised and ostracized, and insulted" – by "patriots." As far as Twain was concerned, "Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul."
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10 April 2003
A lethal way to ‘dispatch’ the news
In times of war, journalists can serve as vital witnesses for the people of the world. So it's especially sinister when governments take aim at reporters and photographers. A few weeks ago, when I was talking with a CNN cameraman, he recalled an overseas stint to cover events in the West Bank. Anger was evident in his voice: "The Israelis were shooting at us." When military forces are assaulting civilians, commanders often try to prevent media from telling true stories with pictures and words. Governments that maim and kill civilians are routinely eager to stop journalists from getting too close to the action. Those who persist are vulnerable to retribution.
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4 April 2003
The thick fog of war on American television
Minutes after the dawn spread daylight across the Iraqi desert, “embedded” CNN correspondent Walter Rodgers was on the air with a live report. Another employee at the network, former U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark — on the job in a TV studio back home — asked his colleague a question. When Rodgers responded, he addressed Clark as “general” and “sir.” The only thing missing was a salute. That deferential tone pretty much sums up the overall relationship between American journalists and the U.S. military on major TV networks. Correspondents in the field have bonded with troops to the point that their language and enunciated outlooks are often indistinguishable.
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27 MARCH 2003
Obsessed with tactics and technology
Two months ago, when I wandered through a large market near the center of Baghdad, the day seemed like any other and no other. A vibrant pulse of humanity throbbed in the shops and on the streets. Meanwhile, a fuse was burning; lit in Washington, it would explode here. Now, with American troops near Baghdad, the media fixations are largely tactical. “A week of airstrikes, including the most concentrated precision hits in U.S. military history, has left tons of rubble and deep craters at hundreds of government buildings and military facilities around Iraq but has yielded little sign of a weakening in the regime’s will to resist,” the Washington Post reported on March 26.
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20 MARCH 2003
Casuaties of war: First truth, then conscience
The national media echo chamber is not receptive to conscience. On television, the voices are usually loud and facile. People often seem to be shouting. In contrast, the human conscience is close to a whisper. Easily unheard. Now, the biggest media outlets are in a frenzy. The networks are at war. Every cable news channel has enlisted. At the bottom of FM radio dials, NPR has been morphing into National Pentagon Radio.
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14 MARCH 2003
Conventional media wisdom: obedience
As the possibility of a U.S. invasion turns into the reality of massive carnage, the war on Iraq cannot avoid confronting Americans with a tacit expectation that rarely gets media scrutiny. In a word: obedience. When a country — particularly “a democracy” — goes to war, the passive consent of the governed lubricates the machinery of slaughter.
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6 MARCH 2003
American media dodges U.N. surveillance story
Three days after a British newspaper revealed a memo about U.S. spying on U.N. Security Council delegations, I asked Daniel Ellsberg to assess the importance of the story. “This leak,” he replied, “is more timely and potentially more important than the Pentagon Papers.”
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27 FEBRUARY 2003
Follow-up needed after Iraqi weapons story
You gotta hand it to America’s mass media: When war hangs in the balance, they sure know how to bury a story. After devoting thousands of network hours and oceans of ink to stories about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, major U.S. news outlets did little but yawn in the days after the latest Newsweek published an exclusive report on the subject — a piece headlined “The Defector’s Secrets.”
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21 FEBRUARY 2003
'Globalization' and its malcontents
News outlets have reported that key international pacts like NAFTA and the World Trade Organization gained U.S. approval during the 1990s because most politicians in Washington favor “globalization.” According to conventional media wisdom, those globalizers want to promote unfettered communication and joint endeavors across national boundaries. Well, not quite. These days, at the White House and on Capitol Hill, the same boosters of “globalization” are upset about certain types of global action — such as the current grassroots movement against a war on Iraq.
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14 FEBRUARY 2003
The ace up Bush's sleeve – the terrorism card
These days, it’s a crucial ace up Uncle Sam’s sleeve. “Terrorism” is George W. Bush’s magic card. For 17 months now, the word has worked like a political charm for the Bush administration. Ever since the terrible crime against humanity known as 9/11, the White House has exploited the specter of terrorism to move the GOP’s doctrinaire agenda. Boosting the military budget, cutting social programs and shredding civil liberties are well underway.
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08 FEBRUARY 2003
Colin Powell is flawless - inside a media bubble
There’s no doubt about it: Colin Powell is a great performer, as he showed yet again at the U.N. Security Council the other day. On television, he exudes confidence and authoritative judgment. But Powell owes much of his touted credibility to the fact that he’s functioning inside a media bubble that protects him from direct challenge. Powell doesn’t face basic questions.
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01 FEBRUARY 2003
Waiting for the missiles in Baghdad
Picture yourself as an American reporter here in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital. You’re based in one of the fraying rooms at the Al Rashid, the large hotel where most Western journalists stay. Fear is in the air. And a sense of doom has fallen over the city like a smothering blanket. Day by day, as the probability of war nears certainty, you realize that you’re getting a small taste of the insecurity that Iraqi people have been facing for a long time.
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24 JANUARY 2003
Memo to Washington: When war is a rush
OK, let’s review the main points. A basic PR problem remains. While you’re in a hurry to launch an all-out war on Iraq, the main obstacle is that a large majority of Americans don’t feel the rush. Uncle Sam’s usual carrots and sticks have a long way to go at the U.N. Security Council. The big disappointment of January is that some key allies haven’t caved yet.
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17 JANUARY 2003
Mixed messages call for healthy skepticism
A special issue of Time, the nation’s biggest newsmagazine, was filled with health information in mid-January, offering plenty of encouragement under the rubric of medical science with an ethereal twist: “How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body.” But more than altruism is at work here. . . .
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10 JANUARY 2003
The latest in a long line of presidential spinners, Ari Fleischer, began a news conference on Jan. 6 with a nice greeting: "Good afternoon and happy New Year to everybody." But his bonhomie didn't last more than a minute . . . .
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03 JANUARY 2003
For more than a decade now, the P.U.-litzer Prizes have gone to some of America's stinkiest media performances each year. The competition was fierce as ever in 2002. Many journalistic pieces of work deserved recognition. Only a few could be chosen.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR – “The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media,” the latest collection of his Media Beat columns won Norman Solomon the George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language. The award, presented by the USA’s National Council of Teachers of English, went to Solomon’s ninth book. In the introduction to that book, Jonathan Kozol wrote: “The tradition of Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, and I.F. Stone does not get much attention these days in the mainstream press . . . but that tradition is alive and well in this collection of courageously irreverent columns on the media by Norman Solomon . . . He fights the good fight without fear of consequence. He courts no favors. He writes responsibly and is meticulous on details, but he does not choke on false civility.”

“Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You” by Norman Solomon and Reese Erlich, was published in late January by Context Books. For an excerpt and other information, go to:

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