Thursday, September 26, 2002

sen. boxer, isn't your arm getting tired

patting yourself on the back so much? here's another email report we got from the senator:


The Need for an Effective National Forest Fire Prevention Plan

The Senate is continuing debate on fire prevention and firefighting in our National Forests. I recently addressed my Senate colleagues about this matter. If you would like to receive a full transcript of my thoughts on fire management and forest ecology, please send a message to senator boxer.

People around the nation who love our forests and natural places have shared a common sorrow this year as we have watched fire consume millions of acres. The Administration, supported by Senators Larry Craig and Pete Domenici, proposes that we adopt a plan that would give agencies nearly complete discretion to engage in thinning and log salvaging without environmental review. This is a recipe for disaster. The waiver of environmental safeguards and the elimination of judicial review are not steps to be taken lightly. In this case, there is simply no justification for it because they are not the source of the problem.

The truth is that fire ecology is complicated. We do not understand it all yet. The Administration tried to simplify the issue and suggest that areas that are thinned won't burn and areas that are left alone will be subject to catastrophic fire. As we have seen from fires this year, that is simply not so. The point is that these issues are complex and site specific. Such complexity argues for the kind of environmental analyses that our environmental laws require.

Superfund Trust Fund

With several of my colleagues, including Senator Lincoln Chafee, I have written to President George W. Bush asking that he include reinstating Superfund fees in his fiscal year 2004 budget request. The Superfund Trust Fund has been shrinking and is expected to be out of money by 2004. The elimination of the Superfund fee has also resulted in a dramatic shift in who pays for Superfund cleanups from the polluter to the American taxpayer. In 1995, taxpayers paid 18 percent of the cost of the Superfund Trust Fund; that will increase to 54 percent by 2003. We are asking that America's oil and chemical manufacturers pay their part to clean up the toxic sites created by their products.

Celebrate National Public Lands Day on September 28

Saturday, September 28 will mark the ninth annual National Public Lands Day. This year, more than 70,000 volunteers will gather at locations nationwide to help restore public lands. If you would like to take part in this celebration and improve a trail or pick up trash or plant trees, you can find National Public Lands Day events by visiting

Our public lands are a wonderful national resource, providing habitat for plants and animals, watersheds that supply clean water, and wonderful refuges from urban life. I encourage you to do your part in preserving and protecting these wonderful places.


For more information, please go to senator boxer's home page

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

i spy

another action alert from fairness & accuracy in media:

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and activism

(**Special NYC event this week: details below)

Spying in Iraq: From Fact to Allegation

Nothing makes a newspaper prouder than a juicy foreign-policy scoop. Except, it seems, when the scoop ends up raising awkward questions about a U.S. administration's drive for war.

Back in 1999, major papers ran front-page investigative stories revealing that the CIA had covertly used U.N. weapons inspectors to spy on Iraq for the U.S.'s own intelligence purposes. "United States officials said today that American spies had worked undercover on teams of United Nations arms inspectors," the New York Times reported (1/7/99). According to the Washington Post (3/2/99), the U.S. "infiltrated agents and espionage equipment for three years into United Nations arms control teams in Iraq to eavesdrop on the Iraqi military without the knowledge of the U.N. agency." Undercover U.S. agents "carried out an ambitious spying
operation designed to penetrate Iraq's intelligence apparatus and track the movement of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, according to U.S. and U.N. sources," wrote the Boston Globe (1/6/99).

Each of the three news stories ran on the papers' front pages. At first, U.S. officials tried to deny them, but as more details emerged, "spokesmen for the CIA, Pentagon, White House and State Department declined to repeat any categorical denials" (Washington Post, 3/2/99). By the spring of 1999, the UNSCOM spying reported by the papers was accepted as fact by other outlets, and even defended; "Experts say it is naive to believe that the United States and other governments would not have used the opportunity presented by the U.N. commission to spy on a country that provoked the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and that has continued to tangle with U.S. and British forces," USA Today reported (3/3/99).

But now that the Bush administration has placed the inspectors at the center of its rationale for going to war, these same papers have become noticeably queasy about recalling UNSCOM's past spying. The spy scandal badly damaged the credibility of the inspections process, especially after reports that data collected through UNSCOM were later used to pick targets in the December 1998 bombing of Iraq: "National security insiders, blessed with their unprecedented intelligence bonanza from UNSCOM, convinced themselves that bombing Saddam Hussein's internal apparatus would drive the Iraqi leader around the bend," wrote Washington Post analyst William Arkin (1/17/99).

Suddenly, facts that their own correspondents confirmed three years ago in interviews with top U.S. officials are being recycled as mere allegations coming from Saddam Hussein's regime.

The UNSCOM team, explained the New York Times' Barbara Crossette in an August 3 story, was replaced "after Mr. Hussein accused the old commission of being an American spy operation and refused to deal with it." She gave no hint that Saddam's "accusation" was reported as fact by her Times colleague, Tim Weiner, in a front-page story three years earlier.

"As recently as Sunday, Iraqi officials called the inspectors spies and accused them of deliberately prolonging their work," the Washington Post's Baghdad correspondent wrote recently in a story casting doubt on the Iraqi regime's intentions of cooperating (9/8/02). Readers would have no way of knowing that the Post's Barton Gellman exhaustively detailed the facts of the spying in a series of 1999 articles.

"Iraq accused some of the inspectors of being spies, because they remained on their host countries' payrolls while reviewing Iraq's weapons," the Boston Globe's Elizabeth Neuffer wrote recently, in an oddly garbled rendition of the charges (9/14/02). She could have boasted that her paper's own Colum Lynch (now with the Washington Post) was widely credited with first breaking the story of UNSCOM's spying in a January 6, 1999 front-page expose. But she chose not to.

It's hard to avoid the impression that certain media outlets would rather that UNSCOM's covert espionage had never been exposed in the first place. The day after Barton Gellman of the Washington Post first reported the spying charges, in a story sourced to Kofi Annan's office, his own paper ran a thundering editorial denouncing Annan's "gutless ploy" ("Back-Stabbing at the U.N.," 1/7/99) and instructing the U.N. leader that instead of providing the information to a Washington Post reporter, he and his aides should have "raised their concerns in private."

ACTION: Please remind these leading newspapers that espionage by U.N. weapons inspectors, now being treated as an allegation made by Saddam Hussein, was previously reported by these papers as a fact.


New York Times
Howell Raines, Executive Editor

Boston Globe
Helen Donovan, Executive Editor

Washington Post
Phil Bennett, Assistant managing editor, foreign news

As always, please remember that your comments are taken more seriously if you maintain a polite tone. Please cc with your correspondence.

Robert McChesney and John Nichols-- two outstanding media critics and authors-- will be speaking at NYU this Friday. McChesney and Nichols are co-authors of "Our Media, Not Theirs: The Democratic Struggle Against Corporate Media" (forthcoming from Seven Stories Press). For more information, about their work, see Robert

Friday, September 27, 7:30 PM
New York University, Kimball Lounge
246 Greene St. (btw Waverly Pl. & Washington Pl.), New York City
Free and open to the public

Co-sponsored by FAIR, the Project on Media Ownership (PROMO) and Seven Stories Press, the talk is part of PROMO's series on "Critical Perspectives on the Media Cartel."

Monday, September 23, 2002

does pbs stands for pretty benign suckers?

we got another action alert from fairness & accuracy in reporting, this time concerning the softball questions jim lehrer asked sec. of defense donald rumsfeld. we ourselves did not see the program in question, so we pass this on to you without endorsement, other than to said fair is usually pretty correct in their observations.

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and activism

PBS Fails to Hold Rumsfeld Accountable

September 20, 2002

Asking tough questions of those in power is one of a journalist's most important jobs-- especially when a country may be going to war. But PBS's Jim Lehrer failed to challenge Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a September 18 interview on the "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer"-- even when Rumsfeld made factually inaccurate assertions.

For instance, Rumsfeld repeatedly referred to the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) weapons inspectors being expelled from Iraq, saying,
"We have seen the situation with Iraq where they have violated some 16 U.N. resolutions and finally threw the inspectors out." Rumsfeld went on to say that "we have gone through... four years where they threw the inspectors out and there's been no one there."

In December 1998, the U.N. inspectors were not thrown out; they were pulled out by UNSCOM chief Richard Butler prior to a U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq. As Madeleine Albright told Lehrer at the time (12/17/98), Butler "made an independent decision that UNSCOM could no longer work."

Rumsfeld also made a dubious assertion about Iraq's plans for "invading Saudi Arabia, which they were ready to do." This was presumably a reference to the Pentagon's claim in September 1990, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, that Iraq was massing hundreds of thousands of troops along the Saudi border in preparation to take over that country as well.

But the St. Petersburg Times (1/6/91) published satellite imagery from the region that appeared to disprove the Pentagon claim, since no massive Iraqi build-up was visible in the satellite photos.

After the war, a U.S. "senior commander" admitted to Newsday (3/1/91) that reports of a major Iraqi troop mobilization were exaggerated, saying, "There was a great disinformation campaign surrounding this war." Despite the serious doubts about the veracity of Rumsfeld's charge, Lehrer allowed it to stand without comment.

A recent segment on CNN demonstrates precisely how journalists can clarify misleading statements from government officials. On September 18, CNN reporter Richard Roth explained the confusion about the UNSCOM inspectors this way:

"On our air, Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense... said look, it was Iraq, he said, that booted out, kicked out those weapons inspectors. That's not exactly accurate. It was the U.N. and the weapons inspections agency that withdrew them, under pressure from the U.S., because they had barely gotten out with their bags when U.S. military strikes occurred."

It's always important for journalists to correct misstatements of fact, but when an official is offering misinformation as a justification for war, that journalistic duty becomes an imperative.

ACTION: Please contact the PBS NewsHour and encourage them to correct the inaccurate statements made by Donald Rumsfeld. You might also suggest that NewsHour media correspondent Terrence Smith take a look at how the NewsHour and other broadcast outlets handle official inaccuracies.

NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

As always, please remember that your comments are taken more seriously if you maintain a polite tone. Please cc with your correspondence.