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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

A stunning surprise coming out of this year’s elections is that the most dominant contenders were not glad-handing braggarts, but the least likely of participants: Shy people.

That’s strange, since running for office these days is assumed to be an ego game, attracting the loudest of self-promoters. But the big winners on Tuesday were a group that actually campaigned anonymously, not even whispering their names to the voters.

Indeed, these were not the candidates listed on your ballot, but shadow candidates that are not even people. They are corporations that have been empowered by the Frankenstein-majority on our Supreme Court to exercise the political rights of us real human-type persons. Only they’ve been endowed with far more political power than you and me, for the Court decreed that these corporate “persons” can spend unlimited amounts of their shareholders’ money on TV ads and other campaign tools to elect or defeat whomever they choose — without disclosing their names to voters.

What we have here is the rise of a stealth oligarchy in America. These politically shy corporations are pumping untold millions of dollars out of their practically bottomless corporate treasuries to elect congresscritters, governors and ultimately presidents who will serve their narrow special interests at the expense of the public interest. You would know these cagey corporate campaigners, for they are major brand names from Big Oil, Big Food, Big Pharma, etc. Normally, they’re not at all timid about promoting themselves, but — shhhh — they don’t want us to have any inkling that they’re running surreptitious, multi-million-dollar campaigns that have become a deciding factor in who holds public office in America.

One reason they hide their names is that they run overwhelmingly negative campaigns, degrading our so-called political discourse with the most disgusting, mendacious and vitriolic smears against the opponents of the corporate-friendly candidates they hope to elect. They would never want such slime attached to their corporate brands, for it would anger and repel their customers, employees and shareholders. That’s why their lawyers pushed the Supreme Court so hard to let them do their repugnant politicking, yet not have to be accountable for it.

Another reason that corporations want to “vote” in our elections without showing their identities is that honest disclosure would tarnish their favored candidates as shameless corporate toadies. If Exxon Mobil Corp. had to reveal that it put up $50,000 or $100,000 or more to elect Bob Bogus from Bogullusa to Congress, voters would surely suspect that Bob was going to back Exxon Mobil’s plan to frack their community. With the legalization of secret campaigns, however, Exxon Mobil can hitch Bob to its wagon without voters even knowing.

We’re about to see this formula of secret money equals election, equals bad policy in action. Just in terms of campaign donations it disclosed, Wall Street put more money than ever into this year’s elections, and a bigger portion of that than ever went to Republicans. We don’t know how much dark money the banksters donated to the GOP because, obviously, the donors can keep that their little secret. But we do know that the new Republican Congress has gleefully declared Wall Street reform one of its top priorities.

Following the greed-fueled financial meltdown of 2008, reformers passed the Dodd-Frank bill, imposing modest restrictions on Wall Street’s reckless speculation and setting up a new consumer watchdog to protect people from predatory financial greed. Even though both reforms have proven beneficial, and even though no GOP candidate dared to promise voters that “I’ll kill those protections and unleash the arrogant greedmeisters on you again” — that’s exactly what the Republican majority will now vote to do.

The message of this election is that money matters — it matters more than what We The People want lawmakers to do, or not do. At the very least, shouldn’t we be told the truth about who’s buying what with their massive, self-serving political spending?

How ironic that cynical lawmakers demand that us commoners show our picture on an official “voter ID” card in order to be allowed to cast a ballot, yet they allow enormously rich corporations to buy our elections (and, therefore, our public policies) without showing a “Donor ID” card. If you’re wondering who’s in charge, there it is.

To battle oligarchic rule-by-money, connect with Public Citizen: www.citizen.org.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

AFP Photo / Stan Honda

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Rep. Bennie Thompson

Photo by Customs and Border Protection (Public domain)

Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) Friday afternoon announced the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack has issued subpoenas to 14 Republicans from seven states who submitted the forged and "bogus" Electoral College certificates falsely claiming Donald Trump and not Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election in their states.

The Chairman appeared to suggest the existence of a conspiracy as well, noting the "the planning and coordination of efforts," saying "these so-called alternate electors met," and may know "who was behind that scheme."

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Chris Cuomo

News Literacy Week 2022, an annual awareness event started by the News Literacy Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to making everyone “smart, active consumers of news and information and equal and engaged participants in a democracy” has closed out. From January 24 to 28, classes, webinars, and Twitter chats taught students and adults how to root out misinformation when consuming news media.
There’s no downplaying the importance of understanding what is accurate in the media. These days, news literacy is a survival tactic. One study estimated that at least 800 people died because they embraced a COVID falsehood — and that inquiry was conducted in the earliest months of the pandemic. About 67 percent of the unvaccinated believe at least one COVID-19 myth, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
It’s not that accurate information isn’t available; people are rejecting reports of vaccine efficacy and safety because they distrust the news media. A third of Americans polled by Gallup said they have no trust at all in mass media; another 27 percent don’t have much at all.
Getting people to believe information presented to them depends more on trust than it does on the actual data being shared. That is, improving trust isn’t an issue of improving reporting. It’s an issue of improving relationships with one’s audience.
And that’s the real news problem right now; some celebrity anchors at cable news outlets are doing little to strengthen their relationships with their audiences and a lot to strengthen their relationships with government officials.
The most obvious example is how CNN terminated Prime Time anchor Chris Cuomo last month for his failure to disclose the entirety of his role in advising his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on the sexual harassment accusation that unfolded in Albany, a scandal that eventually led to Andrew Cuomo’s resignation.
But there are others. Just this month, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol revealed that another anchor on another cable news network, Laura Ingraham of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, texted then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows last January, advising Meadows how Trump should react to reports of possible armed protests at state capitols around the country. This revelation followed the story that Sean Hannity, host of the eponymous news hour at Fox News, also texted Meadows with advice last year.
And while he didn't advise a government official, CNN anchor Don Lemon revealed information not available to the public when he texted embattled Empire actor Jussie Smollett to tip him off about the Chicago Police Department’s wavering faith in his story about an assault. That’s from Smollett’s own sworn testimony.
When English philosopher Edmund Burke joked about the press being the Fourth Estate — in addition to the First, Second and Third (the clergy, nobility and commoners, respectively) — his point was that, despite their influence on each other, these “estates” — bastions of power — are supposed to be separate.
The Fourth Estate will always be an essential counterweight to government. But, since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, we’ve been so focused on stopping an executive branch from pressing the press to support an administration's agenda — either by belittling journalists or threatening to arrest them for doing their jobs — that we’ve ignored the ways that it affects and influences other Estates, and not necessarily through its reporting.
That is, we have news personalities-cum-reporters who are influencing government policy — and not telling us about it until it’s too late.
The United States has fostered an incredible closeness between the Second Estate — which in 2021 and 2022 would be political leaders — and the Fourth Estate. About a year ago, an Axios reporter had to be reassigned because she was dating one of President Biden’s press secretaries. Last year, James Bennet, the former editorial page editor of the New York Times and brother of Colorado Senator and 2020 Presidential candidate Michael Bennet, had to recuse himself publicly from the Gray Lady’s endorsement process. In 2013, the Washington Post reported at least eight marriages between Obama officials and established journalists.
To be clear, there aren’t any accusations that anyone just mentioned engaged in anything other than ethical behavior. But I, for one, don’t believe that James and Michael Bennet didn’t discuss Michael’s campaign. I don’t think the Axios reporter and her West Wing-employed boyfriend — or any journalists and their federally employed spouses, for that matter — didn’t share facts that the public will never know. Such is the nature of family and intimacy.
And as long as those conversations don’t affect the coverage of any news events, there’s nothing specifically, technically wrong with them. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t damaging.
As these stories show, when we don’t know about these advisor roles, at least not until someone other than the journalist in question exposes them, it causes a further erosion of trust in news media.
What’s foolish about the Cuomo, Ingraham, Hannity, and Lemon improprieties is that they don't necessarily need to be the problem they’ve become. Cuomo’s show contained opinion content like 46 percent of CNN’s programming. An active debate rages on as to whether Fox News is all opinion and whether or not it can rightly even be called opinion journalism since its shows are so studded with inaccuracies and lies.
What that means is that Cuomo, Ingraham, Hannity, and Lemon are allowed to take a stand as opinion journalists; Cuomo and Lemon never really worked under a mandate of objectivity and Ingraham and Hannity likely wouldn’t honor it if they did. Indeed, a certain subjectivity — and explaining how it developed for the journalist — is part of an opinion journalist’s craft. To me, little of these consulting roles would be problematic if any of these anchors had just disclosed them and the ways they advised the people they cover.
But they didn’t. Instead, the advice they dispensed to government employees and celebrities was disclosed by a third party and news of it contributes to the public’s distrust in the media. While personal PR advisory connections between journalists and politicians haven’t been pinpointed as a source of distrust, they may have an effect. Almost two-thirds of respondents in a Pew Research poll said they attributed what they deemed unfair coverage to a political agenda on the part of the news organization. No one has rigorously examined the ways in which individual journalists can swing institutional opinion so it may be part of the reason why consumers are suspicious of news.
Cleaning up ex post facto is both a violation of journalistic ethics and ineffective. Apologies and corrections after the fact don't always improve media trust. In other credibility contests, like courtroom battles, statements against one’s interests enhance a person’s believability. But that’s not necessarily true of news; a 2015 study found that corrections don’t automatically enhance a news outlet’s credibility.
It’s a new adage for the 21st century: It’s not the consulting; it’s the cover-up. Journalists need to disclose their connections to government officials — up front — to help maintain trust in news media. Lives depend on it.

Chandra Bozelko did time in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent, and she later established a blog under the same name that earned several professional awards. Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.


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