Bush Administration Planted Fake News Stories In Media (Again)

May 31, 2006

From The Independent:

Federal authorities are actively investigating dozens of American television stations for broadcasting items produced by the Bush administration and major corporations, and passing them off as normal news. Some of the fake news segments talked up success in the war in Iraq, or promoted the companies' products.

Investigators from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are seeking information about stations across the country after a report produced by a campaign group detailed the extraordinary extent of the use of such items.

The report, by the non-profit group Centre for Media and Democracy, found that over a 10-month period at least 77 television stations were making use of the faux news broadcasts, known as Video News Releases (VNRs). Not one told viewers who had produced the items.

"We know we only had partial access to these VNRs and yet we found 77 stations using them," said Diana Farsetta, one of the group's researchers. "I would say it's pretty extraordinary. The picture we found was much worse than we expected going into the investigation in terms of just how widely these get played and how frequently these pre-packaged segments are put on the air."

Ms Farsetta said the public relations companies commissioned to produce these segments by corporations had become increasingly sophisticated in their techniques in order to get the VNRs broadcast. "They have got very good at mimicking what a real, independently produced television report would look like," she said.

The FCC has declined to comment on the investigation but investigators from the commission's enforcement unit recently approached Ms Farsetta for a copy of her group's report.

The range of VNR is wide. Among items provided by the Bush administration to news stations was one in which an Iraqi-American in Kansas City was seen saying "Thank you Bush. Thank you USA" in response to the 2003 fall of Baghdad. The footage was actually produced by the State Department, one of 20 federal agencies that have produced and distributed such items.

Many of the corporate reports, produced by drugs manufacturers such as Pfizer, focus on health issues and promote the manufacturer's product. One example cited by the report was a Hallowe'en segment produced by the confectionery giant Mars, which featured Snickers, M&Ms and other company brands. While the original VNR disclosed that it was produced by Mars, such information was removed when it was broadcast by the television channel – in this case a Fox-owned station in St Louis, Missouri.

Bloomberg news service said that other companies that sponsored the promotions included General Motors, the world's largest car maker, and Intel, the biggest maker of semi-conductors. All of the companies said they included full disclosure of their involvement in the VNRs. "We in no way attempt to hide that we are providing the video," said Chuck Mulloy, a spokesman for Intel. "In fact, we bend over backward to make this disclosure."

The FCC was urged to act by a lobbying campaign organised by Free Press, another non-profit group that focuses on media policy. Spokesman Craig Aaron said more than 25,000 people had written to the FCC about the VNRs. "Essentially it's corporate advertising or propaganda masquerading as news," he said. "The public obviously expects their news reports are going to be based on real reporting and real information. If they are watching an advertisement for a company or a government policy, they need to be told."

The controversy over the use of VNRs by television stations first erupted last spring. At the time the FCC issued a public notice warning broadcasters that they were obliged to inform viewers if items were sponsored. The maximum fine for each violation is $32,500 (£17,500).


Ralph Reed. Man of God? WWJD?

May 31, 2006

From The Washington Post:

In August 1999, political organizer Ralph Reed's firm sent out a mailer to Alabama conservative Christians asking them to call then-Rep. Bob Riley (R-Ala.) and tell him to vote against legislation that would have made the U.S. commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands subject to federal wage and worker safety laws.

Now those seven-year-old words are coming back to haunt Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition and a candidate for the Republican nomination to be Georgia's lieutenant governor.

"The radical left, the Big Labor Union Bosses, and Bill Clinton want to pass a law preventing Chinese from coming to work on the Marianas Islands," the mailer from Reed's firm said. The Chinese workers, it added, "are exposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ" while on the islands, and many "are converted to the Christian faith and return to China with Bibles in hand."

A year earlier, the Department of the Interior — which oversees federal policy toward the U.S. territory — presented a very different picture of life for Chinese workers on the islands. An Interior report found that Chinese women were subject to forced abortions and that women and children were subject to forced prostitution in the local sex-tourism industry.

It also alleged that the garment industry and other businesses set up facilities on the Northern Marianas to produce products labeled "Made in the USA," while importing workers from China and other Asian countries and paying them less than U.S. minimum wage under conditions not subject to federal safety standards.

Lisa Baron, a spokeswoman for Reed's campaign, said Millennium Marketing "was hired as a direct-mail subcontractor to assist in encouraging grass-roots citizens to promote the propagation of the gospel."

"As a defender of the unborn, Ralph was unaware of any allegations regarding inhumane or illegal treatment of workers, and he would strongly object to such practices, if true," she added.

Reed's close friend and political ally, disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, represented the commonwealth as a partner of Greenberg Traurig. The islands' government paid Abramoff $4.04 million from 1998 to 2002. Greenberg Traurig hired Millennium Marketing to print the mailing.

Reed is running for the GOP nomination against state Sen. Casey Cagle. The old mailing was brought to a reporter's attention by former employees of Reed, who said the support on behalf of Northern Marinas leaves their former boss exposed as a hypocrite.

The Mariana mailing adds another hurdle to Reed's campaign, which already has been plagued by the disclosures that Abramoff paid Reed more than $4 million to conduct grass-roots lobbying on behalf of Indian casinos seeking to prevent potential competitors from getting approval to open new facilities.

In N.Y., a Race for Runner-Up

New York Republicans, who have held the governorship of a distinctly Democratic-leaning state for 12 years, already had a poor chance of keeping control of the statehouse in Albany this year. State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has a huge lead in the polls.

Now it turns out whoever loses the GOP primary will stay in the race — in a position likely to siphon votes from the Republican nominee.

Former state Assembly leader John Faso won the Conservative Party nomination for governor last week. Last month, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld took the libertarian nomination.

Spokesmen for the two potential GOP nominees said they would run on the third-party line regardless of what happens in the GOP primary.

AG Gonzales Threatens To Resign Over Congressional Document Seizure

May 27, 2006

I say "Good Riddance!"

From The Washington Post:

The Justice Department signaled to the White House this week that the nation's top three law enforcement officials would resign or face firing rather than return documents seized from a Democratic congressman's office in a bribery investigation, according to administration sources familiar with the discussions.

The possibility of resignations by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales; his deputy, Paul J. McNulty; and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III was communicated to the White House by several Justice officials in tense negotiations over the fate of the materials taken from Rep. William J. Jefferson's office, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Justice prosecutors and FBI agents feared that the White House was ready to acquiesce to demands from House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and other lawmakers that the materials be returned to the Louisiana congressman, who is the subject of a criminal probe by the FBI. Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, David S. Addington, was among the leading White House critics of the FBI raid, telling officials at Justice and on Capitol Hill that he believed the search was questionable, several sources familiar with his views said.

Administration officials said yesterday that the specter of top-level resignations or firings at Justice and the FBI was a crucial turning point in the standoff, helping persuade President Bush to announce a cease-fire on Thursday. Bush ordered that the Jefferson materials be sealed for 45 days while Justice officials and House lawmakers work out their differences, while also making it clear that he expected the case against Jefferson to proceed.

Spokesmen for the White House, Cheney's office, the Justice Department and the FBI declined to comment, saying they would not discuss internal deliberations.

White House officials were not informed of the search until it began last Saturday and did not immediately recognize the political ramifications, the sources said. By Sunday, however, as the 18-hour search continued, lawmakers began lodging complaints with the White House.

Addington — who had worked as a staffer in the House and whose boss, Cheney, once served as a congressman — quickly emerged as a key internal critic of raiding the office of a sitting House member. He raised heated objections to the Justice Department's legal rationale for the search during a meeting Sunday with McNulty and others, according to several sources.

The talk of resignations adds another dramatic element to the remarkable tug of war that has played out since last Saturday night, when about 15 FBI agents executed a search warrant on Jefferson's office in the Rayburn House Office Building.

The raid — the first physical FBI search of a congressman's office in U.S. history — sparked an uproar in the House, where Hastert joined Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in demanding that the records be returned because they viewed the search as an illegal violation of the constitutional separation of powers.

Hastert wrote in an article published in USA Today yesterday that House lawyers are working with the Justice Department to develop guidelines for handling searches of lawmakers' offices. "But that is behind us now," Hastert wrote. "I am confident that in the next 45 days, the lawyers will figure out how to do it right."

Also yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) met with Gonzales at the senator's Capitol Hill office.

"We've been working hard already, and we'll continue to do so pursuant to the president's order," Gonzales told reporters on his way into Frist's suite just off the Senate floor.

Jefferson, 59, has been under investigation since March 2005 for allegations that he took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for using his congressional influence to promote business ventures in Africa. Two people have pleaded guilty to bribing him, including Brett Pfeffer, one of his former aides, who was sentenced yesterday to eight years in prison by a federal judge in Alexandria.

An FBI affidavit released this week alleged that Jefferson was videotaped taking $100,000 in bribe money and that a search of his Washington apartment turned up $90,000 of that money wrapped in foil inside his freezer. Jefferson, who has not been charged, has denied any wrongdoing.

The unprecedented FBI raid on Jefferson's office triggered an extraordinary chain of events. Hastert, long one of the president's staunchest allies in Congress, and his chief of staff, Scott Palmer, were immediately angered by the tactic. On Monday, Hastert pushed Bush strongly on the issue during a trip the two shared on Air Force One coming back from Chicago. "Hastert was white-hot," said a senior administration official.

Bush expressed sympathy but did not take sides, the official said: "He did not say, 'I share your view.' He said, 'Look, we're going to try to work with you to help resolve this.' "

The view of the emerging political landscape was notably different at Justice, where officials feared they were quickly losing the debate. Prosecutors and FBI agents felt the materials were obtained from Jefferson through a lawful and court-approved search and that returning them — as demanded by Hastert and others — would amount to an intolerable political intervention in the criminal justice process.

Justice had one ally at the White House in Frances Fragos Townsend, the homeland security adviser and former prosecutor, who spoke in defense of the raid's legality at a meeting on Monday, according to two sources familiar with her remarks. Townsend was not invited to participate in subsequent discussions on the issue, however. A senior administration official said she would not normally be involved in the topic.

At a particularly contentious meeting Monday night at the Capitol, Palmer angrily upbraided William E. Moschella, the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, and two other Justice officials, saying they had violated the Constitution, several sources said.

As the week progressed, the confrontation escalated further. At some point in the negotiations, McNulty told Palmer that he would quit if ordered to return the materials to Jefferson, according to several officials familiar with the conversation.

McNulty, a former Alexandria prosecutor who was recently named Gonzales's deputy, was a central player in the contentious negotiations with Capitol Hill and the White House, sources said. He had also worked in the House for 12 years, as chief counsel for both the majority leader's office and a crime subcommittee.

A message that McNulty might quit was passed along to the White House, along with similar messages for Gonzales and Mueller. Sources familiar with the discussions declined to say which Justice officials communicated those possibilities to the White House.

The discussion of Gonzales and the others resigning never evolved into a direct threat, but it was made plain that such an option would have to be considered if the president ordered the documents returned, several sources said. "It wasn't one of those things of 'If you will, I will,' " one senior administration official said. "It was kind of the background noise."

"One of the reasons the president did what he did was these types of conversations and other types of conversations in the House were escalating," the official said, referring to murmured threats by some House Republicans to call for Gonzales's resignation.

The desire to do something before the Memorial Day recess also created an "artificial deadline" that Bush considered counterproductive. "As the week moved on," the official said, "there's no question emotions were running high on both sides. . . . People had a gun to their head, and it was really making people not more flexible but more intense. It was his view to say let's get more time."

The White House grew especially concerned about a House Republican Conference meeting scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday and later rescheduled for 3:30 p.m. In the heat of the moment, it could have gotten out of hand and wound up with some sort of resolution demanding that Gonzales step down. "You never know what's going to happen in a conference," the official said.

Bush decided to head off the situation. He summoned Cheney, Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, counselor Dan Bartlett, legislative director Candida Wolff, White House Counsel Harriet Miers, Deputy White House Counsel William K. Kelley and some other staff members to the Oval Office on Thursday morning and announced that he had decided to seal the Jefferson documents.

"I'm going to put an end to the escalation," one official quoted Bush as saying. "We've got to calm this down."

Bush directed Cheney to inform Hastert, while Bolten told Gonzales.

Bush aides were also worried about a war with the Republican House if the president did not act.

"If you tell the House to stick it where the sun don't shine, you're talking about a fundamentally corrosive relationship between two branches of government," the senior administration official said. "They could zero out funding; they could say, 'Okay, you can do subpoenas, so can we.' "

Hastert Now Under Investigation

May 25, 2006

From The Blotter at ABC News:

Federal officials say the Congressional bribery investigation now includes Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, based on information from convicted lobbyists who are now cooperating with the government.

Part of the investigation involves a letter Hastert wrote three years ago, urging the Secretary of the Interior to block a casino on an Indian reservation that would have competed with other tribes.

The other tribes were represented by convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff who reportedly has provided details of his dealings with Hastert as part of his plea agreement with the government.

The letter was written shortly after a fund-raiser for Hastert at a restaurant owned by Abramoff. Abramoff and his clients contributed more than $26,000 at the time.

The day Abramoff was indicted, Hastert denied any unlawful connection and said he would donate to charity any campaign contribution he had received from Abramoff and his clients.

A spokesman for Speaker Hastert told ABC News, "We are not aware of this.  The Speaker has a long history and a well-documented record of opposing Indian Reservation shopping for casino gaming purposes."

This week, Hastert has been outspoken in his criticism of the FBI for its raid on the office of another congressman under investigation, Democrat William Jefferson of Louisiana.

"My opinion is that they took the wrong path, Hastert said of the FBI.  "They need to back up, and we need to go from there."

Santorum Takes Most Money From Lobbyists

May 24, 2006

In a report released today by Public Citizen, Senator Rick Santorum opped the list of those who have benefitted most from lobby gifts, raking in a whopping $560,738.

Public Citizen's Press Release:

Lobbyists Contributed $103 Million to Lawmakers Since 1998

Public Citizen Report Reveals Names and Numbers Behind Biggest Lobbyist Contributors

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Lobbyists and their political action committees (PACs) have contributed at least $103.1 million to members of Congress since 1998, according to a new report released today by Public Citizen. This is the first comprehensive effort to match names of lobbyists with Federal Election Commission campaign contribution data. The result provides details about the biggest lobbyist contributors and congressional recipients of campaign largesse and furnishes a contribution total nearly double the previous estimate.

The report, released today in a telephone press conference, details the amounts given to members of Congress since 1998 by the 50 biggest lobbyist money-givers. Twenty-seven percent of lobbyists have contributed an amount to lawmakers large enough to be recognized by the Federal Election Commission ($200 or more), and a select 6.1 percent of lobbyists have contributed at least $10,000 – totaling 83.4 percent of all lobbyist contributions. Many of the top recipients of congressional campaign money are on appropriations committees that dole out federal money.

The report also records the rise of contributions by lobbyists from $17.8 million in the 2000 election cycle to $33.9 million in the 2004 cycle – a 90.3 percent increase. In the 2006 election, lobbyists and their PACs are already on track to give about 10 percent more than in the previous cycle, not accounting for the expected increase in contributions as Election Day draws nearer.

“These numbers reveal the seamier side of Washington’s congressional decision-making,” said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen. “Such enormous sums buy commensurate access, shutting most Americans out of the process and skewing legislation and budget allocation.”

Profiling the 10 lobbyists who have given the most to members of Congress since 1998, the report provides behind-the-scenes glimpses of some of the most egregious policy-making fiascos in recent years. One prime example is Kenneth Kies, who served as the chief of staff of the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation from 1995 to 1998 and who, along with his wife Kathleen, is the study’s fifth-highest lobbyist-contributor to Congress with $292,866 since 1998.

Kies played an indispensable role in preserving the “synfuel” tax credit, which has allowed exploitative companies to bilk the Treasury out of $1 billion to $4 billion per year merely by spraying coal with diesel fuel or other substances and claiming a tax credit for creating a “synthetic” fuel. The top recipient of their largesse, House Ways and Means Select Measures Subcommittee Chairman Jim McCrery (R-La.), has helped protect the synfuel tax credit from a crackdown by both the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service.

Lobbyist Denny Miller, whose $293,203 in contributions to members of Congress since 1998 rank him fourth in Public Citizen’s study, was one of two lobbyists to negotiate the proposed $30 billion Boeing tanker deal in 2001. Miller was a former chief of staff to Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-Wash.), the former senator for Boeing’s hometown and corporate headquarters.

When on the verge of passage, the deal imploded amid revelations that leasing the planes would be more expensive than purchasing them outright, that the military didn’t truly need the planes and that the negotiations repeatedly violated regulations. This near-miss is considered one of the worst procurement abuses in recent decades and has resulted in prison sentences for a Boeing executive and a Pentagon official.

“The campaign contributions lobbyists make from their own checkbooks, while significant, are just a fraction of the equation,” said Claybrook. “This report also reveals that top lobbyist contributors coordinate lucrative fund-raisers for the lawmakers they hope to influence and bring in a steady stream of contributions from their corporate clients far greater than they alone give.”

The lobbyist couple Denny and Sandra Miller once hosted a pair of fund-raisers for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) that netted the lawmaker $160,000 in just four hours. The total the Millers could have contributed as individuals under the campaign finance law at the time was $4,000. Denny Miller was also among 15 lobbyists who coordinated a fund-raiser for a Stevens foundation in 2004 that raised $2 million.

And while disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff ranks 30th among the lobbyists considered in the report with $180,503 in contributions to members of Congress since 1998, his clients contributed a total of $2.6 million to members of Congress in the same time period.

To limit this type of waste and malfeasance, Congress should prevent lobbyists from making contributions of greater than $200 per election to lawmakers’ campaign committees or from contributing more than $500 per election cycle to national parties or leadership PACs, the report says. Lobbyists should also be prevented from arranging contributions to federal candidates, serving as officials on candidate campaign committees and leadership PACs, funding events “honoring” members of Congress and contributing to foundations controlled by lawmakers. None of these limitations are in the pending ethics and lobby reform bills before Congress, revealing how inadequate they are.

The report recommends publicly financing campaigns as the only real remedy to abuses and scandals. Public funding would pay for itself by saving billions wasted in lobbyist-brokered corporate giveaways.

“Our system of selling federal tax breaks, contracts, subsidies, loan guarantees and regulatory cutbacks to the highest bidder is not only subverting the democratic process, it’s costing the country billions and driving up the national debt,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and the principal author of the report. “Even spending as much as $2 billion a year to publicly finance campaigns would be cheaper than the synfuel boondoggle alone – and that’s just one of the tax credits that has emerged from the toxic combination of influence-peddlers and campaign contributions.”

FCC Won’t Investigate NSA

May 24, 2006

FCC Chariman Kevin Martin announced today that the FCC was incapable of investigating the telecommunications companies who gave their customer's records to the NSA.  Congressman Markey, who is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet had requested Martin open an investigation.

 Martin writes to Mackey: 

"In this case, however, the classified nature of the NSA's activities makes us unable to investigate the alleged violations discussed in your letter at this time," writes Martin. "The representations of [Director of National Intelligence John] Negroponte and [National Security Agency Director] General Alexander make clear that it would not be possible for us to investigate the activities described in your letter without examining highly sensitive classified information."

"The Commission has no power to order the production of classified information."

In his response, Markey chastised the FCC for "refus[ing] to demand answers."

"We can't have a situation where the FCC, charged with enforcing the law, won't even begin an investigation of apparent violations of the law because it predicts the Administration will roadblock any investigations citing national security," Markey remarked. "If the FCC initiates an investigation and gets blocked by the White House, then the White House is stonewalling. But if the FCC refuses to even demand answers, then the White House never has to block the enforcement agency from getting to the bottom of this. The American people deserve answers." 

Official notification is posted here.

Islamist From Ohio Spreads Disinformation Concerning 9/11

May 22, 2006

Here are excerpts from a speech on Kuwait’s Al-Risala TV by Dr. Sallah Sultan, president of the American Center for Islamic Research in Columbus, Ohio, who tells the Arab audience that America planned the 9/11 attacks in order to control and terrorize the entire world. And it was all based on a Denzel Washington movie.  The television show aired on Al-Risala TV on May 17, 2006.

Sallah Sultan: The film “The Siege,” starring Denzel Washington, portrayed the Muslims in a very bad light. They are shown calling for prayer, performing the ablution, praying, and then planning multiple bombings – a government building, a security agency, the FBI, a bus carrying young men and women, adults and children. They bombed shops.

The film came out in April 1999. It paved the way for 9/11, since it was filmed in Brooklyn, New York. The truth is that immediately after 9/11, I said people should view these events in the context of “The Siege,” because these events were identical.

This scenario… I still believe to this day… The scenario still baffles me. I share the view of many Americans, French, and Europeans, who say that 9/11 could not have been carried out entirely from outside [the U.S.] – by Muslims or others. The confessions of some people could have been edited. But even if they were not edited, I believe that these people were used in a marginal role. The entire thing was of a large scale and was planned within the U.S., in order to enable the U.S. to control and terrorize the entire world, and to get American society to agree to the war declared on terrorism, the definition of which has not yet been determined.

The U.S. remains the only country to determine who is a terrorist, and what is the definition for terrorism, and it can pin it on anyone. The most recent instance is the case of Dr. Al-Zindani, who has been accused of terrorism, even though he is known worldwide for his refinement, virtue, and broad horizons.