Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Coverage of Colin Powell's address to UN Security Council in Sept. 2003: Democracy Now versus NPR/PBS

The major media generally, and NPR and PBS specifically, failed the American citizenry in their reporting on the pre-war Iraq news and commentary generally and on the specific coverage of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s address to the United Nations Security Council on September 5, 2003. The reporting may have satisfied media managers, producers, and many journalists, but it rigidly and uncritically applied their paramount standards. The reporting may have been objective in a narrow sense, in that public radio and television reporters sought valid information, but they typically did so uncritically and without adequate verification of the information they received from their sources. It may have been balanced, in consulting or interviewing two or more sources who were thought to have somewhat different views on an issue, but often the views were not very different. It may have been fair, in accurately reporting what their sources said, but their sources were unreliable and deceptive. And, with respect to the looming Iraq war in 2002 and early 2003, the sources all sang variations of the same tune. Ultimately, it was a tune that sang, more or less loudly and patriotically, a lets-go-to-war song.

One very significant story that both NPR and PBS got terribly wrong, and Democracy Now got right, had to do with the coverage of then Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation on February 5, 2003, to the U.N Security Council. This is not the only example that could easily be culled from the archival and contemporary records of these broadcasters and programs. The public was told that Secretary Powell has assembled the “best” information from the CIA and government intelligence sources with respect to Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. Powell made assertions about other issues in his U.N. presentation (e.g., connections between al Qaeda and the Iraq regime), but those concerning WMDs were the most important when it came to the Bush administration’s determination to launch an invasion of Iraq. Powell’s presentation was a pattern-reinforcing event of great significant, in that it helped to continue the momentum behind the Bush administration’s push to war with Iraq. The reactions to Powell’s presentation by guests and interviewers on NPR and PBS were by and large uncritical, in some cases fawning, in their praise. On the basic issue of whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the view was unanimous that Powell had presented a powerful and compelling case that Iraq did possess such weapons. This was the key contention and justification of the Bush administration for launching an attack on Iraq.

At the same time, Democracy Now hosted guests who were critical of Powell’s evidence and forthrightly opposed to an invasion of Iraq. There is a very important implication here. If Democracy Now had been included in WOUB’s programming in February 2003, many members of their audiences might not have been as likely to succumb to the Bush’s administration’s propaganda in favor of the invasion. Communities in the WOUB broadcast area would have at least had the opportunity to consider alternative perspectives on the merits of Secretary of State Powell’s assertions. As it turned out, the major media, including the public media, echoed the Bush administration’s deceptions and lies. This was not just another routine daily news item, as the terrible consequences of this war attest. We are reminded daily of these consequences, the lost lives and maimed US soldiers and Iraqi civilians, the 4.2-plus million Iraqi refugees (as of October 2007), the devastated infrastructure, education and health care systems, the heart-rending traumatized children, the ongoing violence that permeates the society and affects surrounding countries, and the fruitless and ongoing expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer money.

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

If you go to the transcripts or audio versions of the coverage of Secretary of State Powell’s presentation, here’s what you’ll find. On PBS on the evening of February 5, 2003, there were two segments on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer devoted to Powell’s speech.

In one segment, Margaret Warner interviewed three guests, including Rolf Ekeus, former executive chairman of UNSCOM, “which ran the chemical and biological inspections in Iraq from 1991 to 1997, David Albright, “a former analyst and inspector who monitored Iraq’s nuclear program from 1992 to 1997,” and Daniel Benjamin, formerly a director for counterterrorism on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.”

Warner asked them “How compelling was Sec. Powell’s case?” Ekeus and Albright agreed that there were materials related to weapons of mass destruction unaccounted for, and the Iraqis were not cooperating with the U.N. inspectors. Still, Ekeus found Powell’s presentation on these matters “quite convincing.” Ekeus also found the satellite photos of a Iraqi chemical plant “compelling and very clear” as evidence of chemical weapons production. Albright thought Powell’s reference to “radio intercepts were quite compelling” and that it was likely that the Iraqi’s were hiding chemical warheads.” Benjamin responded that “much of the really important information we have gotten about Iraq’s arms programs has come from defectors. So that’s an important source. We need to analyze it closely.” He did not reject this information, later proven to be false, but wanted it more thoroughly scrutinized. On other issues, Albright wanted more information on whether the aluminum tubes were really for nuclear enrichment activities, and Ekeus and Benjamin were curious about Powell’s evidence on the connections between high officials in the Iraq government and al Qaeda. Overall, they gave Powell high marks.

Later on the NewsHour program on February 5, 2003, Jim Lehrer interviewed Zbigniew Brzezinski, “professor of American foreign policy at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University,” and former national security advisor in the Carter administration, and two U.S. Senators, including Richard Lugar, republican of Indiana and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Carl Levin, democrat from Michigan and ranking Democrat on this committee.

Lehrer asked his informants whether Powell had made a “strong case.” Brzezinski responded: “I thought he made a very impressive presentation. I felt it was quite compelling.” Lugar said: “I thought Sec. Powell was compelling and persuasive.” He thought that, if anything, Powell had understated the case against Iraq. Levin said, “There was a strong case that Sec. Powell made. And it’s clear that there is a threat there just the way there is a significant threat of North Korea, which has weapons of mass destruction by its own proclamation and has thrown out the inspectors.” They agreed that Iraq was not cooperating with the U.N. inspectors. Brzezinski wanted to use the Powell presentation as a basis for uniting “international pressure on Iraq to comply or for coercion [war] if it does not.” Levin agreed with this point, saying “it is vital that we deal with this threat as a world community and that we not go at it unilaterally.” However, both Brzezinski and Levin did not take the use of military force off the table. Levin later said: “If we catch them and get them with the goods, then it seems to me we’ll clearly united the world in military action, if necessary, to disarm Iraq.” Lugar was skeptical that inspections would ever work and was inclined to use force sooner rather than later.

Later that week, on Friday, February 7, 2003, Terence Smith took over for Jim Lehrer in interviewing syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of then of the Weekly Standard about reactions to Powell’s speech at the U.N. Mark Shields was ecstatic, saying: “…Colin Powell is a gift to the country, and a treasure to this administration. I mean if there has ever been anybody who had cabinet tenure like a professor at an Ivy League school, I mean it is Colin Powell. He is absolutely fire proof.” And Brooks said: “I think we’ve crossed another phase in this whole Iraq debate. The cards are on the table. This is all the administration is going to release. Some people are not persuaded, but a lot of people are. Enough Americans are persuaded for the U.S. to go ahead, enough countries are persuaded for the U.S. to go ahead. The U.S. will go ahead with a number of countries. That is inevitable unless Saddam converts to Methodism or something next week.”

The thrust of the NewsHour interviews was to laud Sec. Powell’s presentation. None of the guests questioned the underlying premise of the presentation, namely, that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. There was some division about whether force should be used before more solid information on WMDs was found, but all agreed (when they commented directly on the question) that force would be appropriate and necessary if evidence of WMDs were found.

There are four other points worth noting with respect to the dubious PBS coverage of Sec. Powell’s presentation and related issues.

First, the framework for these interviews was stacked in favor of experts and former government officials. Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), www.fair.org/index.php?page+3158, “examined the 393 on-camera sources who appeared in nightly news stories about Iraq on ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. The study began one week before and ended one week after Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 5 presentation at the U.N, a time that saw particularly intense debate about the idea of a war against Iraq on the national and international level.” The findings of FAIR’s study finds:

“…two-thirds (267 out of 393) of the guests featured were from the United States. Of the U.S. guests, a striking 75 percent (199) were either current or former government or military officials. Only one of the official U.S. sources – Sen. Edward Kennedy (D.-Mass) – expressed skepticism or opposition to the war.” The FAIR report continued: “…when both U.S. and non-U.S. guests were included 76 percent (297 out of 393) were either current or retired officials. Such a predominance of official sources virtually assures that independent and grassroots perspectives will be underrepresented. Of all official sources, 75 percent (222 of 297) were associated with either the U.S. or with governments that support the Bush administration’s position on Iraq; only four out of those 222, or 2 percent, of those sources were skeptics or opponents of the war.”

Of the 96 guests without a current or former government connection, the views were “slightly more balanced”, with “26 percent” taking a “skeptical or critical position on the war.” However, of all 393 sources, “only three (less than 1 percent) were identified with organized protests or anti-war groups.”

Second, the media tended to overstate the administration’s case alleging that Iraq had WMDs. On February 4, 2003, “Fair released a media advisory, “Iraq’s Hidden Weapons: From Allegation to Fact,” www.fair.org/index.php?page-3062, “which points out that the media’s intensive coverage of the U.N. inspections has repeatedly glided from reporting the allegation that Iraq is hiding banned weapons materials to repeating it as a statement of fact.”

Third, over the ensuing years, a great deal of research and congressional testimonies have examined the claims made by Colin Powell. The essence of what has been learned is reflected in the quotes that follow from two best-selling books. Thomas E. Ricks reports on Powell’s U.N. presentation on page 90 of his best-selling book Fiasco, as follows:

“Powell didn’t know it, but his bravura performance [at the U.N.] was a huge house of cards. It is now known that almost all of what he said wasn’t solid, the much of it was deemed doubtful even at the time inside the intelligence community, and that some of it was flatly false. The official, bipartisan conclusion of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s review of the prewar handling of intelligence was, ‘Much of the information provided or cleared by the Central Intelligence Agency for Inclusion in Secretary Powell’s speech was overstated, misleading, or incorrect.

Michael Isikoff and David Corn, the authors of the best-selling book Hubris, note on p. 189 of the book, “Virtually all of the allegations Powell presented would turn out to be wrong. But, at the time, few in the media bothered poking at the details of Powell’s address.”

Fourth, reporting on www.salon.com on May 4, 2006, Eric Boehlert notes that many big-name journalists apologized for their poor coverage of the pre-war stories leading up to the invasion of Iraq, some admitted the poor and misleading coverage but, like Jim Lehrer, offered excuses. Here are some relevant excerpts from Boehlert’s article.

“Looking back, bigfoot journalists conceded they failed to do their jobs during the run-up to war. ABC's Ted Koppel admitted, "If anything, what we've been criticized for, and probably more justifiably, is that we were too timid before the war." Dan Rather agreed: "We did not do our job of pressing and asking enough questions often enough." They weren't the only ones disappointed. A majority of Americans thought the news media could have done a better job informing the public about Iraq and the stakes involved in going to war, according to an August 2005 survey conducted by the McCormick Tribune Foundation in Chicago.

“While some journalists admitted their mistakes, most refused to admit it was political pressure from the right and a fear of being labeled unpatriotic that fueled the timidity. Instead, journalists offered up head-scratching explanations for their timorous prewar performance. PBS's Jim Lehrer suggested journalists just weren't smart enough to have foreseen all the troubles that would plague Iraq following the invasion. Appearing on MSNBC's "Hardball," Lehrer was asked by host Matthews about the press's wartime performance. Matthews noted, "During [the] course of the war, there was a lot of snap-to-it coverage. We' re at war. We have to root for the country to some extent. You' re not supposed to be too aggressively critical of a country at combat, especially when it's your own." Matthews asked Lehrer if he thought the press had failed to provide "critical analysis" in the months before the war.
Lehrer: I do. The word "occupation," keep in mind, Chris, was never mentioned in the run-up to the war. It was "liberation." So as a consequence, those of us in journalism never even looked at the issue of occupation.

Matthews: Because?

Lehrer: Because it just didn't occur to us. We weren't smart enough to do it. I agree. I think it was a dereliction of our -- in retrospective.

It never occurred to journalists that the United States might have to effectively occupy Iraq in the wake of the invasion? That's just not believable. It's far more likely journalists were too anxious to express their doubts during the drum-beating of early 2003. Lehrer later returned to the topic, suggesting even if journalists had been smart enough to figure out the occupation angle, it still would have been hard to report it out:

Lehrer: It would have been difficult to have had debates about that going in, when the president and the government of the -- it's not talking about "occupation." They're talking about -- it would have been -- it would have taken some -- you'd have had to have gone against the grain.

"Could 'courage' be the word Lehrer sought?" asked the Daily Howler. "Did he want to say: 'It would have taken some courage' " for the nation's press to have gone against the grain.

Reports on Powell’s speech from NPR

NPR’s Michelle Keleman reported on Sec. Powell’s comments before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the substance of his UN on the day after the speech, February 6, 2003. The transcript of Keleman’s report is available at www.npr/programs/atc/transcripts/2003/feb/030206.kelemen.html According to Keleman, Powell told the Committee that he had “made some headway in bilateral talks with [UN Security] [C]ouncil members after his presentation yesterday. Keleman reported that “Both Democrats and Republicans lavished praise on Powell, describing his performance yesterday as splendid and compelling.” She also noted that “several senators did question whether the U.S. is really leaving any options open for a peaceful solution.” Russell Feingold (Democratic, Wisconsin) worried that a U.S. invasion “could help destabilize some of our key allies in the Muslim world,” and “that a new Persian Golf war could provoke more terrorism.” But there is nothing reported that the senators has any reservations about Powell’s basic claims regarding WMDs. Keleman also reports that Powell was optimistic about the consequences of a “successful’ invasion of Iraq, and is quoted, “when we win this and when the Iraqi people are liberated, and when it is no longer necessary to have that many US forces stationed in the region and we don’t have to worry about weapons of mass destruction floating out of Iraq, the oil of Iraq is being used for constructive purposes and not the destructive purposes.” In all of this, NPR’s Keleman reports uncritically on Powell’s statements. What were audiences to believe?

In another transcript of “news special” on NPR’s website, www.npr.org/news/specials/cpowell/, there is another report of some of Powell’s activities on the day after his U.N. speech. The transcript of the program records that Powell is “the Bush administration’s lead advocate for military intervention against Iraq,” and that “Saddam Hussein and his regime will stop at nothing until something stops him.” The report also refers to the types of evidence included in Powell’s address with no analysis. Powell is also reported as saying that “Iraq has not give sufficient proof that it destroyed any of the biological or chemical weapons that it has been known to possess since the 1990s,” and that Iraq “has two of the three necessary components to build a nuclear bomb: nuclear scientists and a working design.” He added that Hussein is “desperately” trying to acquire the third component, namely, enriched uranium. There is more in this report, but the gist of it is an uncritical description of what Powell is asserting, falsely as it turns out.

Democracy Now had guests with very different and skeptical views of Powell’s presentation

One of the two featured stories on Democracy Now, February 6, 2003, dealt with Sec. Powell’s address to the U.N Security Council “to argue for a first-strike attack on Iraq.” The host, Amy Goodman, spoke to three guests, including: Phyllis Bennis, “fellow at the [progressive] Institute for Policy Studies in Washington Dc, specializing in Middle East and United Nations issues.” The second guest was James Paul, “Executive Director of the Global Policy Forum,” who has “also worked as a writer and consultant with projects for Human Rights, and many others.” Paul “was awarded the World Hunger Media Award in 1987 and he received a ‘Peacemaker’ award from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in 1996. He is the editor of the World and his most recent book is Humanity Comes of Age. The third guest was As’ad AbuKhalil, “author of Bin Laden, Islam, and America’s New ‘War” on Terrorism,’ and the forthcoming The House of Bush and the House of Saud. He is professor of political science at California State University at Stanislaus.”

Democracy Now’s summary of this discussion captures the very different and very skeptical story line than one gets from PBS or NPR. The summary states:

“Powell’s 70-plus minute presentation can be boiled down to a few main points. Powell says Iraq possesses extremely dangerous weapons of mass destruction; Iraq is systematically trying to deceive UN inspectors and hide prohibited weapons; and Iraq is harboring terrorists, including Al Qaeda.” The reaction to these claims by the three guests is described, at best, as skeptical, as the summary states: “But much of Powell’s presentation is impossible to verify. Powell’s speech was peppered with assertions like: ‘Our sources tell us,’ or ‘we know that….’” It continues: “Powell also resorted to drama at times. At one point, he held up a vial filled with white powder and said less than a teaspoon of dry anthrax shut down the US Senate in the fall of 2001.”

Phyllis Bennis, one of the three guests, said: “the main problem he [Powell] faced is that the evidence – so-called – cannot be verified. It was based on claims of what, for example, a photograph of a big truck with thins on it really was. He says it’s a mobile biological laboratory, something that Hans Blix has said they never found evidence even existed.” Bennis later emphasized: “Under these circumstances [of Powell’s claims] where they [members on the UN Security Council] were asked to accept assertions that we know this, this come from good sources, is simply not an acceptable means of diplomatic persuasion.”

As’Ad Abukhalil characterized Powell’s address as “an anthology of generalizations, inaccuracies, and redundancies.” Regarding the recording of a telephone conversation presented by Powell, Abukhalil commented: “…I listened to the original Arabic recording and I say that what was played to us…the phone intercepts, first of all, I mean, we can very much be very suspicious about anything coming out of either Iraq or the United States at these highly propaganda times….I am personally not impressed with the Arabic translation….For example, when the two people are referring to the committee coming, there is no reference to the committee in the Arabic original. They talk about the folks are coming.”

James Paul commented as follows: “I mean, United States and the United Kingdom had both made all sorts of charges about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and programs and those charges have been examined by the inspectors. There’d been inspections in all of the sites that had been mentioned in the CIA and Tony Blair reports and so forth. Nothing had been found. They’d mentioned things about tubes and one thing and another. The inspectors had examined those issues and had come up with nothing.”

Speaking from Iraq, Democracy Now correspondent in Iraq, Jeremy Scahill, comments on what he had learned from the UN weapons’ inspectors in Iraq: “they [weapons inspectors] said that much of what Colin Powell said about the Iraqi deceptions, the current Iraqi deception, was just flat out untrue.” For example, Scahill said: “it was just not true that the Iraqis were able to move anything from any facility within twenty-four hours.”

One can get a further idea of the views of Phyllis Bennis on Powell’s presentation from an article she wrote in reaction to Powell’s UN speech that appeared the same day as the speech on www.alternet.org/story/15108. She writes that “CIA and FBI officials still believe the Bush administration is ‘exaggerating’ information to make their political case for war.” She also stresses that “’Even if’ everything Powell said was true, there is simply not enough evidence for war. There is no evidence of Iraq posing an imminent threat, no evidence of containment not working.” Bennis appears regularly on Democracy Now.
Democracy Now had been devoting programs to the views of war skeptics for months. Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) produced on March 19, 2007, “Iraq and the Media: A Critical Timeline,” which can be found on” www.fair.org/index.php?page=3062. According to this timeline, on October 27, 2002, “Democracy Now! features an interview with former Iraqi nuclear scientist Imad Khadduri, who tells listeners the program has long been dormant.” And on February 9, 2003, “Democracy Now interviews Cambridge University lecturer Glen Rangwala, who first discovered that a key British intelligence report was in fact plagiarized from an American student’s doctoral thesis. The report had been cited by Colin Powell in his speech to the UN as proof that the Iraqis had weapons.”

Glen Rangwala, professor at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, and a guest on Democracy Now on February 9, wrote a detailed critique of Secretary of State Powell’s “Remarks to the United Nations Security Council.” It was originally posted on the Traprock Peace Center website on March 18, 2003, and then included on a long list of articles dealing with “intelligence failure” from any different sources on the Iraq Archives of the War Report webside (www.comw.org/pda/fulltext/Rangwala.pdf. In the article, Rangwala offers a comprehensive outline of the flaws in Powell’s speech. For example, Rangwala writes that Powell’s “strong claims about Iraq’s retention and development of conventional weapons” are not supported by credible evidence. Rangwala writes: “instead of providing proof of any of those claims, Powell instead produced photos of al Taji ammunition storage facilities that shows a small shed and a truck adjacent to the bunker. Powell claimed that these are ‘a signature item’ for chemical bunkers. This seems on the fact of it to be a wholly implausible claim: a picture of a truck and a shed by themselves reveal nothing about the contents of the adjacent bunker.”

Concluding points

I have two concluding points. One, Secretary of State Powell’s presentation and the WMD story is only one of many examples of how Democracy Now differs in its coverage of important issues and events from public radio and television. Two, NPR and PBS generally do a reasonable job in covering the news and in its commentary on and analysis of important issues and events. I am not arguing that public radio and television should be transformed. Rather, my point is simply that the programming on WOUB, which draws much of its national and international news and related information from NPR and PBS, would be enhanced by the addition of Democracy Now, and, with Democracy Now added to its schedule, WOUB would better fulfill its obligation to the citizens of its coverage area. And, as my example of Colin Powell’s UN address indicates, the inclusion of Democracy Now in WOUB’s programming schedule would increase the chance that the overall programming of WOUB would be closer to achieving true journalistic standards and the truth than without Democracy Now.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Local group lobbies WOUB to carry progressive news show

By Jim Phillips

A local group of media activists is stepping up the pressure in its campaign to persuade WOUB, the public TV/radio station at Ohio University, to pick up a hard-hitting progressive news show.

Station officials say that while they consider "Democracy Now!" (DN) a quality program, they think it carries a left-wing bias, and isn't better than the news programming they carry now.

They also argue that while supporters of the program are passionate, they probably represent a small activist minority in WOUB's broadcast area.

Members of the Athens Free Press group say they believe DN could attract a wide audience on WOUB TV and/or radio if it got a chance, and would help open the airwaves to a wider range of views.

"Basically, our position is that WOUB and NPR is great, but it's not adequate," explained Robert Stewart, a member of Athens Free Press and associate director of OU's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. "We don't want it to go away - we want more."

Last summer the group met with WOUB decision-makers and made its case for picking up DN, which is hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. Station officials politely declined to add the show, citing a variety of reasons in a letter to Athens Free Press.

"In radio, it's pretty simple," Tim Myers, WOUB's director of radio and online services, explained Friday.

He noted that Athens Free Press asked to have DN added to the FM schedule. But to make a slot for it in the 5 a.m.-7 p.m. weekday schedule would require bumping something from the current lineup, which already includes such news and commentary programs as "Morning Edition," "BBC Newshour," "The Diane Rehm Show," "Talk of the Nation" and "All Things Considered" - any of which, Myers suggested, is at least as good as "Democracy Now."

"We just don't think the program compares in quality to what we already have," he explained. "At this point, content-wise, (our news programming) is better than what's coming out of 'Democracy Now.'"

Though WOUB TV's evening schedule is less heavy with newsy shows, the other objections still hold, according to WOUB staffers: DN is slanted, and might not appeal to a wide enough swath of the WOUB audience, which includes people as far afield as Portsmouth and Ironton. This is important to a public broadcaster that relies on donations, they say.

On its Web site, DN boasts that it "provides our audience with access to people and perspectives rarely heard in the U.S. corporate-sponsored media, including independent and international journalists, ordinary people from around the world who are directly affected by U.S. foreign policy, grassroots leaders and peace activists, artists, academics and independent analysts."

Stewart argues that DN offers not so much a left-wing as an anti-authoritarian slant.

"I think it could come off as seeming anti-right, but the reality is, it's anti-power," he suggested.

Athens Free Press member Robert Sheak, an emeritus sociology professor at OU, recalled that the group first approached WOUB as a result of a conference on media reform held at the university.

"They said (DN) didn't measure up to journalistic standards of objectivity, balance and fairness," he recalled.

After the first meeting with WOUB officials, Athens Free Press members contacted Scripps College Dean Gregory J. Shepherd to enlist his help.

Shepherd sent an e-mail Oct. 12 to Carolyn Bailey Lewis, director of the WOUB Center for Public Media, in which he stressed that it's not his job to make programming decisions for the station.

He also, however, asked Lewis to consider putting an Athens Free Press member on the WOUB advisory board, and to set up a time frame for reconsidering the DN proposal.

"Perhaps we can... have WOUB consider a new request in six months time, or so," he suggested, adding that it would probably be good for Athens Free Press to come up with some new material by then, such as more information on what stations now carry "Democracy Now," and how those stations' fundraising has gone after picking up the program.

Lewis said Friday that this is where she thought the process was at - both sides gathering more information to prepare for reviewing a new request. "We continue to do our research," she said, and the latest push by Athens Free Press - which has included letters to the editor and opinion pieces in local newspapers - came as something of a surprise.

Myers said he understands the motives of Athens Free Press members, who want to reform media they see as dominated by corporate viewpoints. However, he said, WOUB may not be the best place to start attacking that problem.

"We feel kind of caught in the middle of this stuff," he said. He also warned that "if we appear to carry the show because of some pressure from a particular group," this sets a precedent that could be exploited by groups with right-wing political agendas.

WOUB officials also suggested that Athens Free Press might do better trying to get the show onto a local public-access TV or low-power radio station. These types of outlets host the show in many localities, they said.

Stewart said he finds it hard to put much stock in the political-bias argument, considering that the Scripps College last year accepted a large donation from OU alum Roger Ailes, CEO of FOX News, which is on the conservative side of the political spectrum.

"One of the first things we heard from WOUB on this matter was, they were worried that 'Democracy Now' was kind of a left-wing version of FOX News, and we couldn't have that," he noted ironically.

Stewart also noted that WOUB could try out "Democracy Now" for a year free of charge, and argued that the station can't know how the program plays with its audiences unless it's given a try. While WOUB staffers suggest much of their audience won't like it, Stewart maintained, that claim is largely based on an impressionistic idea of what that audience is like.

In a written response to some of WOUB's objections, Athens Free Press has cited the testimony of a supporter of the show from conservative northeast Tennessee, where "Democracy Now" reportedly does quite well on WETS radio. Stewart said some stations that carry DN report that "this is the show that produces the largest number of pledges...While (WOUB) might lose some people, they would gain many, many more," he predicted.

Currently in Ohio, DN is carried by five TV stations, most or all of which appear to be public-access cable shows, and six radio stations, in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Delaware, Gambier, Kent and Kingsville.

Both sides in the debate stressed that they respect the other and want to keep the debate civilized.

"We're really not trying to back them into a corner," Stewart said, but want to make sure that WOUB truly takes public input into account in its programming decisions.

Meyers noted that many of the Athens Free Press members are friends and supporters of WOUB. "This is not enemy group," he said.

The next meeting of the WOUB advisory council is scheduled for Feb. 19.

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