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Under and Un - Appreciated, That Is

07.12.2005 04:18 | DISPATCHES

From the Dossier of an Ex-Patriot.

9/11 triggered an explosion of reporting and commentary. In fact, the case can be made that we live in the Golden Age of Journalism. However, little reaches the bulk of the public.

Progressive voices no longer boast the power that forces for reform like Woodward and Bernstein and Seymour Hersh once did and that the hard-right media currently enjoys. In fact, our failure to create an impact makes us as liable as anyone to demean our own efforts. To help rectify this, what follows is an appreciation of two voices occupying distinctively different niches.

There’s no shortage of reasons to look askance at David Brancaccio. With all the qualified candidates to serve as Bill Moyers’s right-hand man on PBS’s NOW, appointing the host of sister station NPR’s business show, Marketplace, to the position smacked of corporate nepotism. Others may have objected to his book Squandering Aimlessly, the theme of which - how should one spend an unexpected windfall? – long ago passed its expiration date.

Now that Brancaccio is sole host of NOW, others may find he sells his show out by, a la McNeil-Lehrer, “balancing” with guests of competing points of view. However, not only was this Moyers’s style also, but as he explained on the show where he handed off to Brancaccio, their mission was “to sift through the untidy realities, weigh the competing claims, and offer to you our considered approximation of what’s really going on.”

In other words, nothing is left unchallenged. Brancaccio himself not only brooks no stonewalling, but, probing and tenacious, has a way of anticipating and asking the very questions the viewer most wants asked.

Regarding the recent stacking of the PBS deck to the right, the Village Voice asked, “. . . now that Moyers is gone, do they really need all this firepower to balance out . . . David Brancaccio?”

While the Voice piece ultimately turned out respectful, it typifies how lukewarm are the praises sung of Brancaccio, not to mention rare. But we’ve got to face it: Along with the Nation, NOW is probably America’s leading progressive outlet. While Brancaccio may not be a leading voice on the left, he’s preserved his half-hour show as a forum for first-rate - if distilled to within an inch of its life - journalism.

Except for touring the Guantanamo prison complex, for instance, his efforts are mainly in the service of the beleaguered American public. He’s reported on the overhaul of the bankruptcy bill, the high cost of prescription drugs to seniors, eminent domain, CAFTA, the scourges of Tom De Lay and Jack Abramoff, as well as antidotes like Colleen Rowley and John Perkins.

We need to treasure David Brancaccio and the staff at NOW while they’re still with us. It may be just a matter of time before PBS is completely Tucker Carlsonized. (Regarding concern for poverty in Africa generated by the G-8 conference, he actually said - to nodding heads around him – in so many words: “Ultimately America has got to do what’s best for America.”) Like Representative John Conyers, David Brancaccio may be the best friend you don’t know you have.

If Brancaccio epitomizes underappreciated, a former U.S. Naval officer assigned to the National Security Agency during the Reagan administration is emblematic of the unappreciated voice. A senior fellow of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Wayne Madsen also worked for security firms and with Congress.

Since 1992, however, Madsen has been a journalist specializing in security and intelligence issues. He’s written for the Voice, the Progressive, and Covert Action Quarterly. Nowadays he writes a column syndicated in select newspapers and can be found on Online Journal (also woefully unappreciated, but that’s a subject for another “Dispatch”) and on his own pants-on-fire

Recently he’s wielded the cutting edge on John Bolton’s weakness for wiretapping: “According to National Security Agency insiders, outgoing NSA Director General Michael Hayden approved special communications intercepts of phone conversations made by past and present U.S. government officials. . . Bolton requested transcripts of 10 NSA intercepts of conversations between named U.S. government officials and foreign persons. . .

“However, NSA insiders report that Hayden approved special intercept operations on behalf of Bolton and had them masked as “training missions” in order to get around internal NSA regulations that normally prohibit such eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. . . . the material in question was. . . transmitted in raw intercept form to external agencies for clearly political purposes – a violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and USSID 18.”

As you can see, Madsen’s a poster boy for wonkish - that self-damning term journalists use to justify how much easier they find it to cover personalities vying for power than boring, complicated policy. While hot on the trail of election rigging, MSNBC’s light-in-the-mainstream-media darkness Keith Olbermann explained why the issue got so little air time and column space: It was just too damned much work for reporters to parse and recite back to the public.

Madsen, too, came up big on election rigging. Sample his post-election Online Journal piece, “Saudis, Enron money helped pay for US rigged election.”

“According to informed sources in Washington and Houston, the Bush campaign spent some $29 million to pay polling place operatives around the country to rig the election for Bush. The operatives were posing as Homeland Security and FBI agents but were actually technicians familiar with Diebold, Sequoia, ES&S, Triad, Unilect, and Danaher Controls voting machines. . .

“The money to rig the election in favor of Bush reportedly came from an entity called Five Star Trust. . . directly tied to the Saudi Royal Family. . . Other money used to fund the election rigging was from siphoned Enron money stored away in accounts in the Cook Islands, which was once the base of one of the more questionable and Saudi-linked BCCI subsidiaries.

“In fact, the Cook Islands has been a favorite location for various covert intelligence activities [involving] several CIA operatives, including Lawrence John Fahey, who had an interest in InterAir of Nevada, one of the airlines used by Ollie North to funnel arms to Iran. It also involved. . . Michael Hand, a former Green Beret who reportedly served with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in Laos. . . later turned up associated with Euromac (European Manufacturing Center) Ltd., a British company that tried to sell nuclear trigger krytrons to Saddam Hussein before the first Gulf War. . .

“The sale of nuclear material to Iraq was funded through Saudi operations in Houston, including those associated with George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, James R. Bath. . . along with Salem Bin Laden, the older brother of Osama, funneled over $1 million into failed Bush ventures, including Arbusto, Spectrum 7, and Harken Energy. . .”


Okay, this goes beyond wonkish. In fact, the inability of a reporter to follow a trail this complicated trails makes him feel that much less of a journalist. Maligning what he can’t understand, he labels Madsen’s labor-intensive brand of reportage conspiracies. Madsen’s background and experience, however, immunize him from the current epithet of choice: “tinfoil hatter.” He wrote a book called The Handbook of Personal Data Protection (London: Macmillan, 1992) for God’s sake.

Seymour Hersh without the luxury of fact-checking, Madsen ranks with great intelligence writers like Thomas Powers (Intelligence Wars) and Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair (Whiteout).

We live in an age when there are no consensus heroes – one man’s hero is another’s villain. Thus, since it only serves to turn them into lightning rods for abuse, we’ll refrain from calling Brancaccio and Madsen heroes. Let’s just settle for national resources. And like all resources, you don’t miss them until they’re gone.


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