It’s interesting to think about how both FCC Chair Kevin Martin and his wife, Bush White House aide Catherine J. Martin, view the news media. Kevin–in pursuing his plans for further news media consolidation and his policy for a non-neutral broadband digital system for the U.S.–is ultimately helping undermine a robust (and potentially combative to status quo) news media environment. Much like his predecessor Michael Powell, Kevin Martin isn’t really interested in learning about the facts roiling the news business today–and likely tommorow. Catherine’s role helping the Bush White House spin on the Iraq war–including her testimony about suggesting various leaks and other press manipulations–reveals the Administration’s contempt for the role of the news media. [reg. may be required]. (We know that “spinning” and leaks are non-partisan. But the zeal of this White House to cover-up the truth–and the deadly consequences to so many here and especially abroad–is beyond what can be claimed as politics as usual.) Here is an excerpt from a Los Angeles Times story [Jan. 27, 2007] which discussed Ms. Martin’s testimony in the Scooter Libby trial:

“She described how Cheney was obsessed with Wilson’s criticism, particularly after publication of an op-ed piece in the New York Times and how the vice president ordered a counteroffensive in parts of the press deemed receptive to whatever the administration wanted to dish out concerning the former diplomat. One of the options she recommended to Cheney was an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” because the program’s host, Tim Russert, would allow the vice president to “control the message.” (Russert, along with a number of reporters whom Libby attempted to make conduits of misinformation, will be testifying later in the trial.)

She also told the court that she suggested that the vice president’s office “leak” information that seemed to undercut Wilson’s credibility to carefully selected reporters at the New York Times and Washington Post, arranged a lunch for Cheney with right-wing commentators and advised him to avoid the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof because he had “attacked the administration fairly regularly.” Other witnesses this week testified that Libby had been assigned to contact selected reporters deemed receptive to information that might discredit Wilson as a critic and to plant with them anonymously sourced stories.

Martin called the word “leak,” which appeared in her notes as a “term of art” and testified, “If you give it to one reporter, they’re likelier to write the story.”

In the same article quoted above, written by Tim Rutten, media critic at the Los Angeles Times, he aptly writes: “The problem is that Cheney and his former aides aren’t simply contemptuous of the individual reporters or even of the press itself. They’re contemptuous of the principle under which the free press operates ×?’ which is the American people’s right to have a reasonable account of what the government does in their name.”

Both Kevin Martin and the Bush Administration support a communications policy agenda which relies on the fiction that its approach to media ownership and broadband will help strengthen our democracy. It’s a story, I suggest, the public–including the news media–shouldn’t buy.÷š

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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