Monday, May 23, 2011

Which So-Called "News" Organization Has the Worse Journalistic Ethics: Fox News or the Vermont Commons Journal and Blog?

Admittedly, that's a hard call even for me to make but I think the evidence will show that News Corp, the parent organization of Fox News, has squeaked ahead of the self-described "statewide independent news journal," "Vermont Commons", at least with regard to the issue of proper disclosure of in-kind political campaign contributions.

Let me explain.

A story in last Sunday's New York Times details a policy change that may have come about after shareholder complaints concerning undisclosed campaign contributions made by News Corp to conservative organizations like the Republican Governor's Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
"After the controversy over those donations, the News Corporation’s board of directors decided to revisit its policies about disclosure, and on April 12 it adopted a policy 'to publicly disclose corporate political contributions annually on News Corporation’s corporate Web site.'"

"The first such statement will be published by July 15, and later statements will be published each January. A News Corporation spokeswoman declined to comment further."

"The decision may have stemmed from shareholders who raised questions about the donations at an annual meeting last October."
A piece by Julie Carr Smyth in last Friday's HuffPost adds:
"... (T)he RGA donation was prompted by (News Corp media magnate Rupert Murdoch, who controls the company and) his friendship with then-Ohio governor candidate John Kasich."

"Kasich, a former Republican congressman, spent several years as a commentator and occasional guest host on Fox. Since winning the governor's race in November, he has remained a frequent guest on the network."

"Kasich won the election after an expensive campaign against incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland. According to Ohio campaign finance reports, the RGA spent at least $5 million in the state from May and October."
Murdoch's News Corp had donated $1 million dollars to the RGA.
"The Democratic Governors Association filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission during the campaign alleging Fox provided Kasich with an illegal in-kind contribution when they displayed his website address during one of his appearances on "The O'Reilly Factor."


"The liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America, a frequent critic of Fox, on Friday called News Corp.'s new disclosure policy a tacit admission that "they were on shaky ground" with the 2010 contributions."

"Unfortunately, the new policy has the style but not the substance of transparency," executive vice president Ari Rabin-Havt said in an email. "Filing contribution information in the next calendar year in no way meets standards of disclosure. The public deserves to be informed about News Corp.'s financial backing of candidates before an election, so that they can assess for themselves the bias of the coverage they see on Fox News."
Similarly, it appears that VTCommons may have been engaged in its own bit of campaign chicanery during the 2010 election cycle.

Perhaps no freelancing journalist has been more responsible for peddling
the myth that the Vermont seceshers are relevant to the Vermont body politic than Brooklynite Christopher Ketcham. In fact, he says he's writing a book about the seceshers.

You see, back in August of last year Ketcham wrote a piece about the Vermont secesher candidate for governor, Connecticut native Dennis Steele, for the Huffington Post. In it he repeated the nonsense about how a 2007 "poll" is supposed to show that 13% of Vermonter voters support the idea of secession,
"And they have a surprising degree of support from the street: when last polled on the matter of secession, in 2007, 13 percent of Vermont voters were for it."
(Disclosure: Last fall Christopher Ketcham had asked to interview me and it was in large part because of Ketcham's promotion of this blatant piece of political disinformation in his HuffPo piece that I saw no need to submit to what would have likely been similarly misrepresenting treatment in the interview.)

I've posted at length about the shenanigans associated with that poll in particular. Such as, Second Vermont Republic's Thomas Naylor doing interviews in which he repeatedly says that "UVM did a poll, blah, blah, blah," when the truth is that Naylor commissioned the poll questions from University of Vermont's Center for Rural Studies to do in conjunction with their annual Vermonter Poll. Naylor, the baas of SVR, made the disclosure that he'd commissioned the poll while he was speaking on-air to James Edwards, the racist, anti-Semitic, Holocaust denying host of the Memphis TN based, white supremacist Internet radio program, The Political Cesspool.

Had it been published, the methodology that Naylor used would have been so damaging to his carefully crafted results that he's had to go to great lengths to hide the questions. "Vermont Commons", which calls itself "Vermont's statewide independent news journal", contributed to the deception by deleting the poll questions PDF from their archive when it was revealed on this blog, thus attaining a new low in news management - even if you've already printed/posted it, if it hurts the "cause" then just disappear it. Not so classy, Rob. (Some of what I've revealed about Naylor's poll puffing can be found in the Poll Section in the column to the right.)

Then last fall the secesher gubernatorial candidate garnered a mere 0.79% - that's right, barely three quarters of 1% of the vote or as Steele liked to call it, "Third." Even Naylor characterized Steele's showing as suffering from a "paucity of votes.":
"In spite of the paucity of votes attracted by candidate Steele, his campaign seems to have been perceived as a major threat to someone. During the four weeks before the election, Steele and the entire Vermont independence movement were the object of a vicious, CIA-style, cybersmear campaign. Three websites and a well-organized network of anti-secessionists bombarded cyberspace with charges of racism, homophobia, and anti-semitism. The exact nature of the relationship between the smear network and the hostile websites was unclear. What was clear was that the entire effort was extremely well organized and well financed."
Naylor likely was referring to me. Thing is that I never received a cent in my life from any super-spook source, nor did I spend anything. But then it's not unlikely that someone like Naylor, who's fudged poll results with shady questions, would hesitate to just make up facts for which he had no evidence.

What's interesting is that in March of 2010 I warned Williams that I'd be monitoring his upcoming campaign and mentioned specifically that I'd be reviewing the campaign contributions made to SVR associated candidates. The rest, as they sometimes say, is history, the short version of which is that I found an out-of-state contributor which then led to finding their super-secret listserv. No tip or funds from the CIA or Mossad, just an a plain, old fashioned, cyber-paperwork investigation. During the campaign, public statements from Steele took a more hateful, anti-Semitic turn and I later found on the listserv that Williams counseled Steele to tone down the hateful campaign rhetoric since it sounded like anti-Semitism, from what seemed, by Williams' words, to have come from media (as in Jewish controlled?) indoctrination of Vermonters:
"Since most Americans have been conditioned by years of corporate media training to associate anti-Israeli sentiment with Anti Semitism, talking about the Israeli Mafia smacks of antiSemitism blah blah. Holocaust, SVR are racists, etc ad nauseum. I have spent 4 years defusing the SVR/LOS nonsense and it is finally done, even in the blogosphere. Why go there again?"
Willaims, as a listserv honcho, certainly had to be aware of the racist and homophobic comments of Steele's #1 out-of-state contributor and that a standard practice is to return such funds. Steele wouldn't return the funds even when confronted on this blog and that no doubt had more to do with his ignominious defeat than any conspiracy alluded to by Steele's baas and money stream, Thomas Naylor.

As a result of the "cyber-paperwork investigation" for this post, I learned that in March of this year Ketcham made an amazing revelation that appeared at the CounterPunch website:
"Then, last September [s/be August]... as a favor to my friends in the Vermont secessionist movement, [I] wrote a piece at HuffPo about the secessionist’s (badly losing) candidate for governor, whose main platform was the destruction of the American empire. Due to the many eyes flitting about on HuffPo, the piece – for which I was not paid, as is the case for the vast majority of the “bloggers” at the website – was widely read and re-posted and Dugg and whatever, and brought some needed attention to the sales pitch of the crazy Vermonters."

"By my own logic, obviously, the more people blathering on digitally about a Vermont secession would render the subject contemptible and irrelevant. And so it came to pass: The article disappeared after a few days; produced no new converts to the secesh movement that I know of; garnered no campaign contributions for their gubernatorial candidate
[true]; and, in effect, made the whole movement look like a hiccup in the digistream [my point for years]. It may be that the movement is a hiccup, in Vermont itself as in electronic reality, or perhaps my writing wasn’t convincing over the long haul."

"For a brief moment, however, the article was good advertising."
At last, the truth: "advertising," as well as the startling admission that rather than having "a surprising degree of support from the street" as Ketcham had claimed in his August piece, the ad "made the whole movement look like a hiccup." A "mild belch" might be a more apt metaphor to describe Steele's barely three quarters of one percent showing in the vote totals.

Ketcham posted his ad (more like a sloppy, wet kiss) for the ultimately failed Vermont secesher gubernatorial candidate, Dennis Steele, at HuffPo on Monday, August 30, 2010, after 10:00 PM. Hours later, just before dawn and in the wee hours of the following morning, Rob Williams, publisher of VTCommons and a campaign advisor for Steele, posted this for his VTCommons readers, along with the complete text from Ketcham's HuffPo piece:
"Thanks to independent journalist Christopher Ketcham and the Huffington Post for this article about our emerging independence movement here in the once and future republic of Vermont."

"Free Vermont! Long live the UNtied States."
You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to know that this was hardly a coincidence of events, especially with Ketcham's admission that:
"... as a favor to (his) friends in the Vermont secessionist movement, (he) wrote (the) piece at HuffPo"
Funny thing is, I didn't see an "in kind" contribution disclosure for that advertising on sesecher gubernatorial candidate Dennis Steele's frequently late campaign expenses and contributions disclosure forms when I last checked them. They haven't been amended yet this year either, according to Vermont Secretary of State records.

I'd long suspected that much of what Ketcham has been writing about secession is little more than flacking for the secesher crowd and said as much to him in response to his interview request. The scam works like this: someone like Ketcham writes a piece in support of his "friends" without revealing that the piece is a "favor," then the seceshers point to it endlessly as they did with his Time piece from January, 2010 and the HuffPo piece, even going so far as inserting the pieces as a reliable source (WP:RS & perhaps even more importantly WP:SPS) into Wikipedia articles without revealing the incestuousness of the process that is known at Wikipedia as coatracking.

Ketcham has written about secession in the past and there are also problems with his reporting then. He got so carried away with the puffing he was doing on behalf of SVR that he wrote this easily refutable bit of fiction:
"One day two years ago, I heard Sale speak before 1,500 attendees at a meeting of the SVR."


"The crowd exploded, but gently. They were young and old, hippies and farmers, old Right and new Progressive, college educated and tenth-grade educated. The room where they gathered, the great hall of the Vermont State Legislature, was hung with purple velvet, and built of fine wood and marble, and smelled clean."

Many Vermonters have at one time or another been to their statehouse and the idea that anyone could pack 1,500 people into the House chamber of the statehouse is absurd. By law, capacity to the House chamber is limited 350 occupants; the entire building, including all floors, is permitted for under 1,000 and is not available in its entirety for such events.

Here's a picture of one such secesher "crowd," taken nine months after Ketcham's article on the uncredible crowd of 1,500, this one seated on the east side of the House chamber :

Indeed. By then SVR baas was reporting that the "crowd" now attending had drifted downward to the vicinity of 200:
Over 200 people visited the House Chamber of the Vermont State House on November 7 for a festive event sponsored by the Second Vermont Republic.
Photos of the event suggest a somewhat lower total (Note: After I post on SVR files they are often taken down - screen caps are maintained for this blog's files.)

Last year, after Ketcham's fawning January 31, 2010 piece in Time about the inexperienced and somewhat megalomaniacal 7 or 8 secessionist candidates who'd announced their ill-fated campaign for various Vermont executive and legislative offices, I started to pay attention to his work. What Ketcham fails to mention in any of his bios attached to the articles he's written is that he can be seen to be very much in the tank and entangled with the Vermont seceshers.

The question, you might ask, is why would Ketcham jeopardize whatever reputation for objectivity as "a freelance writer, (who) has written for Vanity Fair, Harper's, GQ, The Nation, (and) Mother Jones" that he might have by making such a disclosure, to wit, that what he writes regarding secession may at times be viewed as advertising, coatracking and/or fact picking?

The answer would seem to be that in his zeal to disparage Huffington Post's creator, Arrianna Huffington, Ketcham's injudiciousness has much to do with a lack of reasonable self-constraint that typifies the secesher advocates, with the exception that he's not foul mouthed like Naylor, middle finger waving Dennis Steele, Peter Garritano and so many other of the Free Vermont listserv "cowboys," of whom Ketcham also was one - yes, he's even posted at their "secret listserv."

For those of you who may not be familiar with the listserv, it was a message board where the "cowboys" felt comfortable chatting about conspiracies (like a secret US military and alien, dark-side of the moon, resource/technology exchange), race mixing, the ickiness of lesbians, income and asset caps for Vermonters, putting today's Vermont law enforcement on trial in the New Vermont Republic, creating capital offense charges for legislators who lie, forming alliances with other extremist groups like the Oath Keepers - you know, fun "cowboy" stuff. For some reason none of that, including this listserv message from Ketcham to the "cowboys", made it into Ketcham's piece:
"Hey all - wanted to get your take on this: What can be said about the socio-economic make-up of SVR supporters, and those who generally support secession in Vermont? By that, I mean: is it only professors, students, middle class intellectuals, and guys who work for Oracle and solar energy companies?"

"Any truckdrivers or gravediggers or construction workers? How about average Vermont farmers, not the CSA folks and the organic crowd? How about Vermont gun-nuts and 2nd
Amendment types? Any interest from Tea Party types? The Tenth Amendment folks?"

"You might have noticed that there was an Oath Keeper guy at the Jan. 15 announcement of the candidacies. (You're familiar with the Oath Keepers, I assume). He was drunk, and slurring his words, and when I interviewed him he generally made little sense except to say that he was a supporter of SVR and of secession. Not sure yet what to make of the Oath Keepers. They may just be right-wing morons playing the same old game."

Of course, lack of actual support for SVR from average Vermonters or incidents of real support for SVR from whackjobs made it into Ketcham's ads, er, articles; we just got allusions to the phony poll commissioned by Naylor from Ketcham.

Ketcham's a bit miffed that he can't turn a profit while propagandizing on behalf of SVR. I'm just guessing but I'd bet, based on what I saw Naylor contribute in the way of reported financial support for his first ever secesher gubernatorial candidate, that the SVR baas and paymaster, Thomas Naylor, is as tight as Arriana Huffington is said to be by Ketcham when it comes to compensating for content generation. Really, shouldn't Naylor have been the one to pay for the advertising for his hand-picked candidate?

So, like Naylor himself who lambasts Vermonters Fred Phelps-style when Vermonters enmass never do what he wants and says will be best for them, Ketcham lashed out in his piece entitled "Arianna Huffington as Parasite," and so "joins the flock of 'media oxpeckers who ride the backs of pachyderms, feeding on ticks,'" but without even the meager ethical standards of a Fox News employee.

In April of this year, Ketcham wrote about the lack of true objectivity among journalists and seemingly about himself in this ironically titled piece, "Intellectual Prostitution and the Myth of Objectivity." It's worth a read, especially where he gets into news-pegs, which seems very much like what he was doing in his HuffPo advertising piece.

Ketcham writes:
... "The pretense and veneer of objectivity is the goal. This renders idiot mistakes and outright falsities so much easier to sell to the public. After all, the marketer of the junk is presented as the all-seeing eye..."
Ketcham closed with quote from 19th century journalist John Swinton:
"We are intellectual prostitutes.”
Speak for yourself, Chris.

Perhaps Naylor, Steele, Williams and Ketcham will get together and discuss the worth of Ketcham's advertising on a well-known, national web platform, and then make the needed in-kind campaign contribution disclosure that is required under Vermont law. Ketcham has made an issue of not being paid by HuffPo and he certainly has a payment in mind that he'd consider appropriate for his work. Ketcham himself called what he did "advertising," so the exception "to any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication which has not been paid for" in 17 V.S.A. § 2801a does not appear to apply. 17 V.S.A. § 2892 would appear to control since I'm sure that Ketcham would value his work at better than $150.00.

Will the Vermont seceshers at VTCommons, the listserv and their flacks rise at least to the level of Fox News and commit to transparency (kinda) and disclosure of campaign contributions? We'll see. Oh, and I'm looking forward to reading Ketcham's future book on the secession "movement." I can't wait to read the chapters on flacking, polls, planting stories and how to inflate the importance of a moribund movement while keeping a straight face and, hopefully, makin' a buck.

I'll update when or if they do or do not amend the September 2010 campaign contributions and expenditures disclosure report that was filed last year.

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For the archive of the Free Vermont Framework listserv, click here.

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