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Catalyst Radio News Analysis

News Analysis for April 8th, 2005

Linda – On Thursday March 31st, News 8 ran a story on the recently released government report on U.S. Intelligence and Iraq WMD’s.

Tom – This piece from news 8 is typical of much of the coverage of Iraq over the last three years that we at GRIID have monitored in that it relies entirely on government sources of information. This particular story goes further, actually, relying only on voices created by, or friendly to the current administration. The story starts out noting that this report on Intelligence failures was created by the president and that they conclude that the pre war intelligence was wrong and recommend 70 changes. The newsreader never elaborates on what specific things were found to be wrong and gives only a very cursory description of the 70 proposed changes. This is followed by a short clip of the President, who says “to win the war on Terror we will correct what needs to be fixed and build on what the commission calls solid intelligence successes.” The News reader does not elaborate or question what the president means by “solid intelligence successes”.

Linda – so were any other voices included to provide balance to the story?

Tom – the only other perspective provided in this piece is local congressman Pete Hoekstra, who is the chairman of the House intelligence committee and a Republican. The News reader prefaces Hoekstra’s comment by saying that the report “puts to rest the accusations that the Bush Administration changed the intelligence for political gain”. Hoekstra is then quoted saying that the report shows that the Bush administration did not pressure the intelligence community to distort information. Hoekstra’s comment and the report itself do not address the question of how the Bush administration used what ever intelligence that was given to it. So the question of whether the administration selectively used intelligence that supported their position while ignoring intelligence that did not; this question is not addressed in the report, and yet the news reader’s comment frames the story to make it appear that it does.

One other point worth mentioning is that none of the local news outlets reported that the sections of this report dealing with intelligence on North Korea and Iran, two nations that the President has singled out as part of the axis of evil, were included in the declassified version of the report.

Linda – on March 29, WZZM 13 ran a story on a new McDonald’s ad campaign. Jeff Smith, what kind of news story was this and what can you tell us about this new ad campaign?

Jeff – This was basically a commercial for McDonald’s, where channel 13 used what appears to be video news release footage of McDonald’s. They reported that this new ad campaign, which is to get known rap artists to use the words Big Mac in their lyrics, will begin this summer. This was basically the news story, without doing any basic journalistic work of then asking what public health professionals might think, or particularly, what musicians might think.

Linda – Are those perspectives readily available and have you found any response from musicians or those in the music world?

Jeff – These perspectives are readily available. For instance, you can get a critical perspective by going to Action Coalition for Media Education website and look at their media literacy curriculum on fast food. There are also several responses from the music world online. Rapper BIG MIKE has offered up some lyrics on McDonald’s, just critical ones. He writes - The Hamburgler is tryin to steal, From fake emcees who ain't keepin it real, In front of the arches, we continue to kneal, Come on hip-hop, don't bite on this deal. West Coast Hip Hop DJ Davey D. has responded to the McDonald’s campaign with a very informative online piece where he does some of his own journalism, by providing a link to the actual marketing plan for McDonald’s. McDonald’s hired Maven Strategies for this marketing campaign, which at a minimum would be useful information for viewers of WZZM 13.

Linda – This story can also be found on the GRIID website, in their new section called Dissecting the Local News.

Linda – On March 31 WXMI 17 ran a short news piece about former deputy defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz being approved to be the next president of the World Bank.

Tom – This was a short piece, but more than WZZM 13 or WOOD 8, which did not report at all on this story on the 31st. The news story reports that Wolfowitz is considered to be the architect of the Iraq war and an administration “Hardliner” on foreign policy. The newsreader also mentions that he has been the targets of critics both at home and abroad. None of these critics are listed not are the reasons for the criticism provided. The story then has a single sentence about the World Bank, saying “The mission of the World Bank is to fight poverty and improve the standard of living in developing countries.”

Linda – Is this an accurate description of the World Bank?

Tom – Certainly that is its mission on paper, the World bank was founded after WW2, along with it’s sister organization the International Monetary Fund, ostensively to provide assistance and resources for the developing world. Now the reality is that the record of the World Bank is much more controversial than its purported mission would suggest. Numerous critics and organizations have noted that the reality of the World Bank is that its policies have increased poverty and lowered standards of living in the developing world, rather than the opposite. According to the group Global Exchange, World bank policies have led to massive debt among third world nations who are in turn forced by World Bank and IMF policies to adopt austerity programs which cut social spending in order to pay back debts. This process of “structural adjustment”, while benefiting some elite sectors in the developing country and often also benefiting construction and energy firms from the first world, have led to increased poverty and polarization of wealth in these developing nations as well.

Linda – On Sunday, the Grand Rapids Press ran as its front page story the death of the Pope, with the headline “He Changed the World.” Jeff Smith, what can you tell listeners about the Press’s coverage on the passing of the Catholic Pope?

Jeff – Not surprising this was the front page story and the focus of a great deal of media attention over the past week or so. The Catholic Church is one of the largest religions in the world, so the passing of their leader certainly merits attention. However, it is important to ask questions about the coverage. In the first paragraph of the Press story it says the pope “whose strong-willed activism helped unravel the Soviet Union.” Then on page 3 the Press ran another story entitled “Pope inspired war on communism.” These are pretty big claims. In the front page story, the only information provided to substantiate the unraveling of the Soviet Union was that the Pope opened the doors to former Soviet leader Gorbachev.

Linda – What sort of sources did the Press coverage rely on, when commenting about the impact of this Pope? Jeff – In the wire service stories, it was a few Catholic Church leaders, and then other world leaders such as US President George Bush who called a “Champion of Peace.” Not included in the comments by or about Bush’s relationship with the pope, was that this Pope was strongly against the US war in Iraq, so much so that after the war in Iraq started and the Vatican persisted in it’s opposition that the Bush administration sent Condolezza Rice to Rome . On a local level, the Press also ran comments from several local Catholics, plus other non-Catholic religious views. Listeners could ask themselves why no non-religious perspectives were provided and no critical perspectives were provided.

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