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Howard Kurtz Media Notes

Canada's Press Crackdown

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 5, 2005; 8:38 AM

Is anyone in the market for some non-Pope news?

With the papal passing still dominating the media, especially on cable, I thought I might check in on what else is going on out there.

You often hear about dictatorships cracking down on Internet news to maintain censorship as tightly as possible. These are generally the kind of regimes that not only try to choke off free expression but are fighting a losing battle against technology in the process.

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And the latest offender is . . . Canada?

Yes, our democratic neighbor to the north, which lacks a First Amendment and has a somewhat narrower view of press freedom, is cracking down on an American blogger for reporting on a corruption investigation that apparently has to do with advertising contracts being steered to politically connected firms. The blogger is Ed Morrissey of Captains Quarters, and this London Free Press story brings us up to date:

"A U.S. website has breached the publication ban protecting a Montreal ad executive's explosive and damning testimony at the federal sponsorship inquiry. The U.S. blogger riled the Gomery commission during the weekend by posting extracts of testimony given in secret Thursday by Jean Brault.

"The American blog, being promoted by an all-news Canadian website, boasts 'Canada's Corruption Scandal Breaks Wide Open' and promises more to come. The owner of the Canadian website refused to comment.

"Inquiry official Francois Perreault voiced shock at the publication ban breach, and said the commission co-counsel Bernard Roy and Justice John Gomery will decide today whether to charge the Canadian website owner with contempt of court."

The Toronto Globe & Mail plays catchup:

"An unassuming 42-year-old call-centre manager and Star Trek fan from Minneapolis, Minn., has provoked a political firestorm in Canada.

"Ed Morrissey -- Captain Ed to his friends -- published on the weekend what no Canadian is allowed to print or broadcast. . . .

"By midday, 131,000 people had visited the site. In just one hour before lunchtime, he had 26,000 hits and by the end of the day he estimated he was on track for about 300,000 hits, many from Canadians. He averages 22,000 visits a day."

This Globe & Mail captures the difficulty of writing about something you're not supposed to cover:

"While senior opposition politicians and staff denied the rumours of clandestine meetings and possible non-confidence motions, it's apparent that most politicos in Ottawa are aware of the substance, if not the minute details, of last week's testimony."

Here's the reaction from Captains Quarters

"The Canadian website in question is Nealenews.com, which linked to my post on Saturday night or early Sunday morning. It only provided a link back to my site; it carried none of the testimony itself. In fact, it's still headlining a link to CQ despite the threat of legal action.

"In an age of instant communications and greater freedom of the press, one would think that this kind of publication ban would obviously prove futile, especially when dealing with the kind of corruption that the Gomery Commission is investigating. . . .

"However, if Perreault is to be believed, no one even considered the notion that someone might talk. Either M. Perreault is hopelessly naive, or he gets the Captain Louis Renault award for being shocked, shocked that free speech goes on in a democracy."

Michael Jackson may have been bumped from cable by the Pope, but the trial goes on:

"The son of Michael Jackson's former maid testified Monday that he was fondled three times by the singer, who paid money to settle charges of molestation," says the Los Angeles Times.

"The man, now a married auto parts salesman and active in area churches, broke down as he described the incidents that he said took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He and his family received a civil settlement, reportedly of at least $2 million, after he made his allegations against the pop star."

All right, I'll do a couple of Pope items, because this Powerline scooplet is too delicious to pass up. The site reproduces a New York Times report on John Paul's death:

"Even as his own voice faded away, his views on the sanctity of all human life echoed unambiguously among Catholics and Christian evangelicals in the United States on issues from abortion to the end of life.

"need some quote from supporter"

That's what it said, folks, prompting this line from Powerline's John Hinderaker : "There you have it. The Times' criticisms are ready to go, a few good words for the Pope are an afterthought."

But blogger Dave Winer has the opposite view:

"Listening to the endless radio 'coverage' of the Pope's death, it's remarkable how unbalanced it is. They have priests, saying we all know deep inside the Pope was right about everything. Hello. Earth to Catholics. The Pope was a good PR guy, but come on, he was against birth control. The Catholics actually burned condoms in AIDS-plagued Africa. Now would be a great opportunity for some of the real reporting the pros are so famous for. Instead they're running an endless infomercial for the Catholic Church."

And according to The Note most American politicians and activists can forget about making news for awhile:

"This isn't Martha, or Michael, or Scott -- the election of the new head of the Catholic Church is that rarest of modern stories -- something both important (and thus of interest to, say, ABC News and the New York Times) and event-generating (and thus of interest to, say, cable news).

"So while the great process, policy, and political machines will continue to lurch hither and yon, Washington planners will have to factor in the Roman schedule on any given day to figure out if there is enough oxygen to justify entering the media room."

Jeff Jarvis had this to say, before the papal passing:

"As I said during Schiavovision deathwatch, the four cable news channels each fear not having the big story the other one has on as you pass by, and so they all have the big story all the time. Before we had competitive cable news networks, nine years ago, we got wall-to-wall coverage on broadcast news only for the really, really big news -- assassinations, moonwalks -- for such news was an expensive exception to their business model while, of course, it is the business model of cable news. So now it appears as if all America, all the world has stopped to watch the deathwatch. But this only shows how news has changed, how we no longer wait for it but it waits for us, how we demand news on demand. The cable networks have the big story all the time so that we can get it anytime.

"What we need, perhaps, is one cable news channel that covers the big story all the time and another cable news channel that covers the rest of the news. Then we'd get what we can't get now: choice."

USA Today critic Robert Bianco assesses the blanket coverage:

"Yes, it would be better if TV news in general and cable networks in particular were capable of holding more than one thought in their heads -- making room, say, for the attack on Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But at least the focus on John Paul allowed television to address important topics it often ignores, from the effect one man can have on history to the future of the Roman Catholic Church to questions of faith, spirituality and the clash between modern ways and ancient values. . . .

"And yet sadly, almost immediately upon his death, John Paul's life was hijacked by commentators on both sides of the cultural divides.

"All weekend, they used his words to shore up their own well-honed political positions, one side stressing his condemnation of the death penalty and the wars in Iraq, and the other stressing his opposition to abortion and communism. (Just try to count how many times per day Fox News runs that picture of John Paul with Ronald Reagan.)"

Here's what some folks had to say during my online chat yesterday:

"Washington, D.C.: Do you think that the media has overestimated how much people really care about the Pope and his death? Certainly many do care, but not so much to warrant the endless coverage. I suspect that as with Michael Jackson and Terry Schiavo, they're just happy to have something the drone about endlessly. Much easier than trying to dig up new stories."

"Re: Pope: I see the recent coverage of the Pope's death as very similar to the coverage of Reagan's death. Neither death was unexpected, so there were a great deal of mini-shows already in the can to use. Plus 24/7 coverage. Plus most, if not all, positive reflections. I don't think you should deride someone who's just died, but isn't this a very, very good time for us to assess what exactly John Paul was and what he wasn't? Why are media organizations so hesitant to do that?"

"Iowa: I am frankly astonished at the level of media coverage of the passing of the Pope, and I am Catholic."

The Nation's Katha Pollitt feels her side exposed the other side in the Schiavo melodrama:

"Maybe, just maybe, the religious right and its Republican friends have finally gone too far with the Terri Schiavo case. Americans may tell pollsters the earth was created in six days flat and dinosaurs shared the planet with Adam and Eve, but I don't believe they want Tom DeLay to be their personal physician. I don't think they want fanatics moaning and praying outside the hospital while they're making hard decisions. I don't think they want people getting arrested trying to 'feed' their comatose relatives, or issuing death threats against judges and spouses in the name of 'life.' I don't think John Q. Public wants Jeb Bush to adopt his wife or Newt Gingrich to call her by her first name or Senator Frist to diagnose her by video, or Jesse Jackson to pop in at the last minute for a prayer and a photo-op.

"The Terri Schiavo freak show is so deeply crazy, so unhinged, such a brew of religiosity and hypocrisy and tabloid sensationalism, just maybe it is clueing people in to where the right's moral triumphalism is leading us."

Ambivalent, she's not.

Wondering what Al Gore's been up to? The San Francisco Chronicle has the lowdown on his new network:

"Al Gore never said he invented the Internet. But the new San Francisco-based cable TV network he's heading promises to transform television by plugging it into the Internet.

"Current, the name of Gore's enterprise, hopes to do that by airing a shuffle of short, informational segments, some produced by the network but the vast majority submitted online by viewers. Current will also air segments every half-hour showing TV viewers what Google searchers are tapping into at that moment -- everything from dating to endangered species. It's all aimed at a generation that thinks nothing of plugging into more than one media outlet at once.

"'Those who are using the Internet are often watching TV at the same time,' said the former vice president, who's chairman of the board of Current, the new independent cable venture aimed at audiences advertisers covet -- people 18 to 34 years old. 'Part of our objective is to connect those two experiences.'''

I like the part about "Gore, looking very much the hip TV executive in a gray suit, black cowboy boots and an open-necked black shirt."

Some new poll numbers on DeLay, from the Houston Chronicle

"House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has earned support in his Houston-area district because of his principles, a spokesman said Sunday in a terse response to a Houston Chronicle poll about the Republican congressman and his constituents.

"In the Chronicle poll, conducted late last week and published Sunday, nearly 40 percent of 501 likely voters in his district said their opinion of DeLay is less favorable than last year, compared with 11 percent who said their view of him has improved. A DeLay aide pointed out that the congressman from Sugar Land has been elected with solid support for two decades. . . .

"Nearly 69 percent of people in the poll, including substantial majorities of Democrats and Republicans, said they opposed the government's intervention in the case. Nearly 58 percent were critical of DeLay's leading role in spurring Congress to pass a special law to get a federal court review of Schiavo's parents' attempts to have her feeding tube kept in place."

But Hotline notes the pollster is John Zogby, who worked for DeLay's opponent in 2002.

Ron Brownstein (a Pulitzer finalist yesterday) offers a critique of Beltway politics that is not exactly favorable to the Dems:

"From Social Security, to intervention in the sad case of Terri Schiavo, to the appointment of conservative federal judges, every major debate positions the parties in the same way: Republicans are on offense, Democrats on defense.

"The debate on the federal budget isn't about whether to raise taxes to reduce the deficit, it's over how much more to cut taxes. Washington isn't examining how to expand coverage for those without health insurance, but whether to cut the Medicaid program that provides the central strand in our society's safety net. Democrats are furiously laboring to prevent Bush from carving out private investment accounts from Social Security, but even if they succeed -- which increasingly appears likely -- they only will have preserved the status quo. . . .

"It's like watching a baseball game where one team is always at bat, or a basketball game where one team always has the ball. The best Democrats can do is hold down the Republican score; the Democrats have found virtually no opportunities to advance their own ideas or to steer the discussion onto their strongest terrain. Former Democratic presidential candidate and former Sen. Bill Bradley last week suggested that the party faced this problem because it had not developed enough compelling ideas. There's some truth to that."

Joe Conason, in Salon, objects to the presidential commission ripping the intel agencies but sparing the political appointees on the WMD fiasco:

"To blame the intelligence community for those blatant falsehoods is to absolve the rest of the Bush administration of any responsibility for the disasters that followed. Appointed a year ago by Bush, the intelligence panel's conclusions were hardly unexpected. Unlike the 9/11 Commission, this panel was a creature of the president rather than Congress. It was placed under the control of Judge Laurence H. Silberman, a reliable, aggressive and determined Bush advocate.

"During his tenure on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, Silberman was notorious for his partisan antics on behalf of Oliver North and other Republican miscreants. He was a strange choice to oversee a dispassionate assessment of the Iraq controversy. Assisted by former Sen. Charles Robb of Virginia, his conservative Democratic co-chair, Silberman succeeded in directing attention away from the administration's abuses of intelligence on Iraq. Such are the uses of what the White House billed as an 'independent commission.'. . . .

"Yet if Tenet and the intelligence community deserve blame for their inept collection and analysis of information, it should be equally clear that the president and his associates amplified those mistakes in beating the drums for war."

This would clearly be the media's Topic A if it weren't for those events in the Vatican.

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