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Monday, August 28, 2006

Fox, Henhouse and Chickens


The two journalists for Fox News — Steve Centanni, 60, an American correspondent, and Olaf Wiig, 36, a freelance cameraman from New Zealand — who were held for 13 days in an abandoned garage in the Gaza Strip were released unharmed on Sunday. Whilst in captivity, the men were forced to make videotapes denouncing the policies of the United States as well as dress in robes, hold the Q’uran and claim to have converted to Islam.

A recent controversy erupted when Mike Whitney suggested in an editorial, "Are FOX News Employees really 'Noncombatants'?," that FOX employees are not just innocent bystanders but rather an integral part of the American war machine.

Mr. Whitney’s suggestion is hardly a novel concept. In an editorial I wrote, published on September 01, 2002 called Jejune Journalism, I posited that the kidnapping and murdering of The Wall Street Journals’ Daniel Pearl could not be viewed in isolation from the childish, dangerous and vitriolic spewing of its Editorial pages, particularly as embodied by the big-mouthed, big-boned James Taranto.

Specifically, I wrote:

"If The Wall Street Journal's murdered Daniel Pearl was considered a journalist who sought to uncover real stories and present all sides – as has been posited by many who knew him, the racist diatribes that color The Wall Street Journal’s OpinionJournal would have been enough to provoke Ghandi to saw off a semi-automatic and retaliate with violence that would have made Rambo wince. For everything Daniel Pearl was said to represent, James Taranto serves as the polar opposite. While his OpinionJournal is as deserving as free speech as Mein Kampf was, for the most part, it tends to incite and fuel the same kind of racist, geocentric, culturally narrow jingoism that all but obliterates the respectability of the Wall Street Journal’s long standing brand."

While I am genuinely happy and releived for Mr. Centanni and Mr. Wiig, Mr. Whitney is not off base to suggest that Fox News cannot be viewed as an innocent bystander, no matter how "fair and balanced" they keep trying to convince themselves and their unquestioning audience they are. He wrote: "FOX is a fully-integrated cog in the corporate/state media apparatus; faithfully reiterating the official statements of Pentagon Big-wigs and administration powerbrokers. Their 'embedded' news team provides the splashy graphics and right wing chatter which energize their base and marshal public support for American aggression. They carefully create a narrative which makes deliberate acts of unprovoked warfare appear necessary and (even) humanitarian."

Mr. Whitney’s position – that Fox News violates the basic standards of journalistic integrity – is smack on target, but Mr. Whitney seems to reserve a special disdain for Fox News. "Reporters are given immunity because their work is perceived to be beyond the activities of combatants. That rule cannot be applied to FOX. FOX is the corporate-arm of the war machine; a critical cog in the Pentagon’s information-management strategy. It is as indispensable to the smooth operation of the modern army as any of the high-tech weaponry or space-age gadgetry," Mr. Whitney wrote. Perhaps if he watched a little MSNBC in the mornings, he would see that jingoistic, tirade-ridden xenophobia is not a uniquely Fox News characteristic.

Despite his reputation as a provocative, albeit aging, “shock jock,” MSNBC does a simulcast of Don Imus’ WFAN radio show, "Imus in the Morning," which is positioned by MSNBC as a news program, replete with the reporting muscle of NBC News at its disposal.

Despite the childish, sexist, homophobic and racist diatribes that define Imus and his crew, and have caused anchors like Contessa Brewer to cringe in embarrassment before bitter and public feuds separated them on-air forever more (or at least until MSNBC does a reality show about supposed journalists), it’s highly unlikely that a genuine NBC journalist reporting on developments in the Middle East will inspire any sympathy from groups like the “Holy Jihad Brigades” if they happen to catch Imus referring to Arabs as stinking ragheads with dirty laundry on their heads, as he has done before. (As he sits, ironically, with a gay cowboy hat in New Jersey).

Or in the case of the now-fired Imus sportscaster, Sid Rosenberg, who stated on-air that Serena and Venus Williams were best suited posing for National Geographic rather than Playboy and that Palestinians mourning the death of Yasser Arafat were "stinking animals” upon whom the Israelis "ought to drop the bomb right there, kill 'em all right now..." Perhaps it was the crack cocaine talking, but it was neither his drug habits nor that comment that got Rosenberg fired.

The reality is that the grim Pied Piper of Journalism, Rupert Murdoch, has led the way to the tabloidization of news, and every other journalistic entity, rat-like, has followed suit. Despite their “fair and balanced” mantra, the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, John Gibson, Michelle Malkin et al. ad nauseum wear their subjectivity as a badge of honor (and in an era where the notion of objectivity has become a joke, perhaps the only iota of truth to transmit across the airwaves).

As MSNBC tout the likes of Fox clones, Joe Scarborough, Chris Matthews and Tucker Carlson, and CNN gives air time, money and prestige to the next breed of Robert Novak, the one-sidedness of these agenda-driven organizations becomes increasingly well defined. Assuming, hypothetically, a fanatical group, bored with commercials on al Jazeera, happens to catch Robert Novak cheerleading Bush, and then runs into Christiane Amanpour, how likely are they to do a quick analysis of Amanpour’s coverage to determine the slant of her coverage before deciding whether to take her hostage or not?

As Mr. Centanni and Mr. Wiig celebrate with good cause, they clarified their supposed conversion to Islam to Fox News. "I’m really fine, healthy in good shape and so happy to be free," Mr. Centanni who explained they had been induced to say that they were converting to Islam and taken Muslim names by gunpoint. "I have the highest respect for Islam. But it was something we felt we had to do because they had the guns, and we didn’t know what the hell was going on."

Following their release, the men met with the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Ismail Haniya of Hamas, who, the New York Times reported, "had called for their captors to free them."

None of this should sit too well with MSNBC’s Bernard McGuirk, the Executive Producer of "Imus in the Morning," (Imus’ racist, suspiciously homophobic sidekick) or Charles McCord, (Imus’ effete sidekick and "newsman"). When Christian Science Monitor’s Jill Carroll -- held hostage in Iraq for three months before being released -- appeared to sympathize with her captors, McGuirk quipped that Carroll is "the kind of woman who would wear one of those suicide vests You know, walk into the — try and sneak into the Green Zone." Not to mention suggesting that "she may be carrying Habib’s baby at this point." Adamant not to be hushed by widespread criticism, McGuirk continued the following day referring to Ms. Carroll as "Taliban Jill" and "carrying Zarqawi's baby. No doubt about it."

What do Bernard McGuirk, National Review’s John Podhoretz, who warned of "Stockholm Syndrome talk" to emerge, and Orrin Judd, a jackass "book reviewer" who with the benefit of neither insight nor experience, claimed Ms. Carroll was "a willing participant" have in common aside from inexcusably smearing the character of someone in a situation they know nothing about? None have the balls to approach Mr. Centanni or Mr. Wiig, and dare tell them that they must have been willingly sodomized by their captors before accusing them of lack of patriotism if not treason. Like chicken hawks the term for those warmongers that have never actually served, these pricks advocate defiance in the face of adversity, from a pampered studio in a secure, air-conditioned office complex in Secaucus New Jesrsey. Call them Chicken Hostages.

And therein lies the critical distinction of what constitutes a reporter versus a repeater, who spews pre-packaged spin, mollycoddled from a distance – courage versus cowardice. In a very brief news conference, Mr. Wiig hoped that their ordeal would not discourage other foreign journalists from covering Gaza, suggesting it "would be a great tragedy for the people of Palestine and especially for the people of Gaza."

The other great tragedy, already fulfilled, is that hate-filled morons, swathed in protective layers of faux legitimacy provided by self-defined “news organizations” are making it more and more dangerous to find, access and report the truth. And harsh as it may sound, Mr. Wiig, in all his idealism, cannot expect to perform his role as a journalist, no matter how noble his intentions, with blithe indifference to the corporate structure through which his contributions are filtered.

Jill Carroll, Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig are fortunate to have fared better than say Nick Berg or the 71 journalists that have been killed in Iraq since 2003 according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. As Mr. Whitney wryly pointed out, "It is not clear what will happen to the victims after the 3 day deadline passes, but the FOX duo appears to be in good health and there are no signs of torture or abuse. The same cannot be said for the victims of American detention in Iraq or Cuba."

"As long as Muslims are deprived of their rights and freedom, we can expect more random incidents of kidnapping and cruelty. These are the unavoidable consequences of injustice,” concluded Mr. Whitney.

As long as hard-working, courageous, idealistic and responsible journalists and reporters remain willfully ignorant of the corporatization of news, and allow and accept equal billing with loud-mouthed shills, spitting deliberate provocations in an increasingly divisive substitution of content for discontent, the remaining shreds of nobility in the profession of journalism will be irreparably damaged and news will forever be defined by shallow attempts to generate ratings and revenue, and to push agendas rather than explain them.

A bloody, deadly proposition indeed.

Clinton Fein can be emailed at


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