Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Yesterday former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt sent the following message to <$NoAd$>executives at Sinclair Broadcasting Group ...

Dear sirs:

I'm told you were involved in a decision to order Sinclair stations to carry anti-Kerry propaganda. If my information is false, please forgive this intrusion. While I do not believe you should be required to carry pro-Kerry content, except of course for an even-handed sale of your advertising time to both campaigns, I do wish to register my objection and concern if in fact you have obliged your stations to carry anti-Kerry propaganda.

I assure you that if you were carrying anti-Bush propaganda I would be equally concerned.

The problem is this: How can it be part of a broadcaster's public interest obligation to aspire to alter the perceptions of the audience about a presidential candidate by showing biased content that in no way reflects either breaking news or even-handed treatment of the issues? Why should a broadcaster keep its licenses if it behaves in this manner? I hope you will reconsider your edict -- unless, of course, I am misinformed, in which case I do hope you forgive this message.

-- Reed Hundt

He hits on the key point: the stations' licenses. And here are some good ideas about how to proceed.

The Times today has a piece on the anti-Kerry documentary Sinclair Broadcasting Group has ordered its 62 local stations to broadcast in the days before the election. Those 62 stations include affiliates of all six major broadcast networks in Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada and Pennsylvania. The broadcast will preempt normal prime-time programming on those channels.

In case you are holding out some errant hope about the accuracy or fairness of the presentation, you'll be happy to know that the major claim-to-fame of the movie's producer, Carlton Sherwood, is Inquisition, his 1991 expose on the US government's alleged 'persecution' of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

Sherwood's report was so 'independent' that he let Moon's representatives pre-screen it and make changes to the text. They also reportedly agreed to buy 100,000 copies of the book for good measure.

Welcome to the world of Rove.

Amazing. Just as the Department of Health and Human Services did last year with the White House's Medicare reform bill, it seems the Department of Education has been sending out faux 'news' videos to local TV stations promoting the No Child Left Behind bill.

(They even use the same faux reporter -- 'Karen Ryan' -- as appeared in the earlier HHS videos.)

What really popped out at me in this new AP story, however, was this: The company that the Department of Education hired to produce the 'news' videos was also hired to analyze and rank news coverage of the law in order to gauge the success of their PR campaign.

One might say that this was a reasonable use of public money if the coverage were being judged on the basis of how effectively it informed the public about benefits they could receive under the law, and stuff like that. But according to the AP story, in the rankings paid for by the Department, "points are awarded for stories that say President Bush and the Republican Party are strong on education."

What's the public interest in that exactly? That's campaign work, paid for by tax dollars.

Longtime TPM readers will remember the election day 'phone-jamming' scandal in New Hampshire in 2002. The state Republican party hired an Idaho company to knock out the phones of the Democratic get-out-the-vote operation on election day by placing hundreds of automated hang-up calls to their phone banks. The whole episode might seem to be fading back into history were it not for the fact that a motion filed Friday in US District Court in Concord claims that a key player in the felonious scheme was none other than the man who now serves as the New England Chairman of Bush-Cheney 2004.

To put this all in context, let's review what we know.

As we noted in August, two men have already entered guilty pleas in the case: Chuck McGee, former Executive Director of the State Republican party and Allen Raymond, a Republican political consultant. But earlier court filings and press reports had already made it clear that there was a third person involved.

Some details about this unnamed individual's role were revealed in open court in July by prosecutor Todd Hinnen, when he told the court ...

In late October 2002, the defendant, Allen Raymond, then the president of Virginia-based political consulting company GOP Marketplace, LLC, received a call from a former colleague who was then an official in a national political organization. The official indicated that he had been approached by an employee of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee with an idea that might give New Hampshire Republican candidates an edge over New Hampshire democratic (sic) candidates in the upcoming election. (emphasis added)

The suggestion that this accomplice was then "an official in a national political organization" caught the notice of folks who were watching the case. And later, on August 12th, TPM and the Manchester Union Leader both reported that the person in question held a senior position in the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign.

As the Union Leader put it, "We can’t tell you who it is or whether he broke any laws, but we can tell you the person questioned by the feds has a significant role in the Bush-Cheney campaign."

But on Friday, counsel for the New Hampshire State Democratic party filed a motion in the case that sheds some new light on the identity of this mystery individual.

(On Sunday, state Democratic party Chair Kathy Sullivan confirmed the contents of the motion excerpted below and that the motion had been filed with the court late on Friday afternoon. A .pdf version of the motion is available here.)

It reads, in part ...

6. The victim believes that the unnamed individual who connected the criminal endeavors of convicted defendants McGee and Raymond was a regional director of the 2002 Republican Senatorial Committee and that his efforts were directed at depriving former governor Jeanne Shaheen of victory in her race for the United States Senate. This same individual is believed to currently be directing the New England Regional Bush-Cheney campaign, and thus is in a critical position from which he can engage in further illegal activities to distort the outcome of the presidential race of 2004. (emphasis added)

Now, who is this person they're talking about?

The New England regional chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign is Jim Tobin, a Republican political consultant and operative from Maine.

Tobin fits the other description contained in the motion as well: In 2002, when the phone-jamming incident happened, he was the Northeast political director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

There is simply no one else who fits the description in the motion.

Neither Tobin nor Bush-Cheney 2004 returned repeated calls requesting comment on the claims contained in the aforementioned motion, whether Tobin was involved in the November 2002 phone jamming episode, or whether he has been questioned by federal investigators in the probe.

Earlier this evening I flipped by the Fox News media criticism show and noticed that they were talking about the Mark Halperin memo posted on Drudge. I had the volume off so I didn't hear what was said. And there is a certain richness to Fox News discussing any other news organization's 'bias' when they're just a few days away from and have yet to explain why their chief political correspondent published a denigrating and fabricated story about the candidate he is supposed to be covering.

But what does this memo say, exactly?

Various right-wing barkers are trying to make it out as though Halperin has been caught in some impolitic or embarrassing remark. But quite the contrary is the case.

This is simply a news organization trying to grapple with the same reality that every respectable news outlet is now dealing with -- how to report on the fusillade of lies the Bush campaign has decided to use against John Kerry in the final weeks of the campaign.

The plain intent of the memo is to tell ABC reporters that they should feel neither obligated nor permitted to equate the level of deceptiveness of the Kerry and Bush campaign's if and when they are in fact not equal.

Everyone can see that they are not equal. Halperin is just saying it. And in doing so he has run smack into the epistemological relativism that now defines the Republican party.

The most noteworthy thing I've seen in the right-wing response is that there seems to be little effort to deny or engage the question of whether the Bush campaign is being qualitatively more dishonest than the Kerry campaign. All the whining is focused on the fact that any news organization would have the temerity to try to distinguish between them.

Which gets us to a key irony of the conservative assault on the concept of journalistic objectivity and claims of media bias. Though they attack the very notion that journalistic objectivity is practiced by the mainstream (i.e., non-Fox) media, they are most often -- and certainly in this case -- its great beneficiaries in as much as the failing of the current norm of objectivity is that it advantages liars. No surprise they'd want to maintain that advantage.

Hmmm. Karl Rove tells Sean Hannity about 'October Surprise' he's working on. "We've got a couple of surprises that we intend to spring," says Rove.

Hmmm. More information on the guy, Carlton Sherwood, who made the anti-Kerry film that Sinclair Broadcasting is ordering on to its stations across the country a few days before the election. Seems he worked for Tom Ridge in Pennsylvania and then got a gig with the Bush administration running part of their Homeland Security media operation.

Even the Times now is asking whether President Bush was wearing a wire in the first debate. When asked, the Bush campaign first said the photograph in question had been doctored. When shown that it was taken directly from the official debate feed, a spokeswoman, Nicolle Devenish, said it was "most likely a rumpling of that portion of his suit jacket, or a wrinkle in the fabric." Said the Times: "Ms. Devenish could not say why the 'rumpling' was rectangular."

David Brooks on what the Duelfer Report means ...

Saddam "was on the verge of greatness. [Had we not deposed him] we would all now be living in his nightmare."

Viva Booosh!

Viva la Muerte!

Amazing. Right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group, a company that owns local TV stations across the country, is ordering its local stations to preempt normal broadcasting a couple days before the election to air an anti-Kerry film made by a former 'reporter' for the Washington Times.

Basically it's a 90 minute Swift-Boat ad which Sinclair is ordering stations seen in a quarter of the nation's households to show a week before the election.

Check out Josh Green's article on Karl Rove in the current Atlantic Monthly if you want some clue what's going on here. See earlier TPM discussion of the article's contents here.