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Monday, February 11, 2008

On Siegelman, 60 Minutes, and Such

Will the Real John Price Please Stand Up?
One of the questions raised by Larisa Alexandrovna's report that 60 Minutes was likely to kill the Don Siegelman story is: Who the heck is John Price?

Alexandrovna closed her piece with a cryptic note, saying that citizens might want to contact U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and ask him "who John Price is, you know, just for shits and giggles."

Well, your humble blogger has an enquiring mind, so I tried to figure out who John Price is. I stumbled upon a federal court case involving a John Price, of Price Rubber Corporation in Montgomery, AL. This John Price had been convicted in a murder-for-hire scheme that reads like it's right out of a Barnaby Jones episode. (God, I'm showing my age here. I know who Barnaby Jones is!) A reader left a comment saying that he or she had found evidence of a contribution to Sessions from a John Price in Montgomery.

The folks at the Cannonfire blog have another John Price in mind. They say he is a major Bush supporter who was ambassador to Mauritius (small tropical island off the eastern coast of Africa) until he developed legal difficulties over some questionable business deals and financial transactions. This John Price evidently made his money in the Utah real-estate market.

My guess is that the Cannonfire folks have the right John Price. But I'm glad I came across my John Price. I didn't know people still did murder-for-hire schemes. And who knows, maybe Jeff Sessions does have some connection to Price Rubber.


Talk About a Real Quid Pro Quo
Speaking of the Utah John Price, it turns out he is a real champ as a fund-raiser, reportedly raising $1.3 million for George W. Bush in 2000.

What was Price's reward? Why, the ambassadorship of Mauritas.

Which raises this question: How is this different from the deal that landed Don Siegelman and Richard Scrushy in federal prison. Siegelman was charged with taking money for an education-lottery fund and rewarding Scrushy with a seat on a state hospital-regulation board.

When Siegelman (a Democrat) conducts business in this way, the Bush Justice Department considers it a bribe. When George W. Bush himself conducts the same sort of business, the Justice Department evidently considers it smart politics.

That's what we mean by selective prosecution.

Focusing on America's Corporate Media

Even if 60 Minutes winds up running the Siegelman story, one still has to wonder about the integrity of our modern, corporate-owned press.

In fact, the only question is not: Will 60 Minutes run the story or not? There is also this question: Could CBS run the story, but do it in such a watered-down fashion that it is pretty much worthless? Could we wind up seeing a version that is approved by the Bush White House and U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions?

All of this raises the ghost of Dan Rather and the $70-million lawsuit the former news anchor has brought against CBS and its parent company, Viacom. Rather was dismissed from the network after a 60 Minutes II story on George W. Bush's National Guard service appeared to have been based partly on inauthentic documents.

I came across two splendid stories about the Rather situation, and both shed considerable light on what might cause the network to be squeamish about the Siegelman 60 Minutes story.

The first is "Dan Rather is Right," by Eric Boehlert at Media Matters. Boehlert notes that several right-wing bloggers drove the Rather story, but they never proved that the CBS memos were forgeries or that the Bush-skipped-out-on-his-National-Guard-duty story was false. In fact, Boehlert says the CBS report could have (and should have) been broadcast without the controversial memos. "And if it had been, the results would have been exactly the same," Boehlert writes. "Meaning, the documents were irrelevant because they provided texture (the supposed frustration of Bush's commander), not new facts about Bush's service."

We also learn that CBS has caved in to political pressure before. In September 2004 it decided not to run a previously scheduled and factually solid story done by the late Ed Bradley that chronicled how the Bush administration had misled the country into war.

Boehlert notes the network's strong ties to the Bush administration. The brother of Rather's replacement, Bob Schieffer, is a longtime friend and former business partner of Bush. After instant polls showed John Kerry clobbering Bush in their first 2004 debate, CBS commentators announced it had been virtually a draw. And CBS owner Sumner Redstone announced he was voting for Bush because, from a Viacom standpoint, "the election of a Republican administration is a better deal."

The second story is "Dan Rather Stands By His Story," by Sidney Blumenthal at Salon.com. Blumental says Rather intends to show in his lawsuit that he and his producers acted responsibily in presenting information in the Bush National Guard story and that the information is true. "Indeed, no credible source has refuted the essential facts of the story," Blumenthal writes.

Noting that Rather has said he is not interested in a financial settlement, Blumental gets to the heart of the lawsuit: "In his effort to demonstrate his mistreatment, Rather will detail how network executives curried favor with the administration, offering him up as a human sacrifice."

Pressure from the Bush administration started with the Abu Ghraib story in 2004. CBS had the story first, including some of the damning torture photographs, but only ran it upon learning that Seymour Hersh was about to scoop them for the New Yorker. And the network ran the story only once and did no promotion for it. "CBS's self-censorship set the stage for its reaction to the Bush National Guard story," Blumenthal writes.

Why would the network be so anxious to stay in good graces with the Bush administration. Blumenthal notes Sumner Redstone's desire to have loosening of media-ownership rules. "The Republican administration has stood for many things we believe in," Redstone said, "deregulation and so on."

Murrow Turning Over in his Grave
That last quote from Sumner Redstone reminds me of a song by one of my musical heroes, a fellow who, for my money, is one of the true geniuses of the modern rock/pop era.

I'm talking about Lindsey Buckingham, who wrote a song called "Murrow Turning Over in his Grave" for Fleetwood Mac's 2003 Say You Will album. Buckingham is the singer/songwriter/guitarist/arranger who, along with Stevie Nicks, helped turn Fleetwood Mac from a relatively unknown British blues band into one of rock's mega groups of the '70s and '80s.

Buckingham is best known for his work with Fleetwood Mac, but he has done some brilliant solo work. His 1992 album, Out of the Cradle, is his masterwork, with the title coming from a Walt Whitman poem. For anyone who appreciates inventive guitar and percussion work and lush vocal arrangements (not to mention superb melodies and lyrics), Out of the Cradle is a must have. The guitar intro and opening song "Don't Look Down" are worth the price of the CD by themselves. You can hear segments of the songs here.

And then we have Buckingham's 2006 release, Under the Skin. This is an almost all-acoustic album, with very little drum or bass. It's pretty much Buckingham and his guitar, and his fretwork is stunning. The album is superb from start to finish, with "Down on Rodeo," "Cast Away Dreams," and the title song being particular highlights.

The wife and I were fortunate enough to see Buckingham perform on his Under the Skin tour at the Davis Theatre in Montgomery. It was as good as any concert I've ever seen, better than the two Fleetwood Mac shows I was fortunate enough to see years ago. By the way, the Davis Theatre is an excellent venue, a spot I was not familiar with until I heard about the Buckingham concert. It's in downtown Montgomery, not far from the state capitol, and is part of the Troy University at Montgomery campus. Very nice.

But back to "Murrow Turning Over in His Grave." It is a scathing indictment of corporate media, set to a rip-snorting rock track with several dashes of the vocal quirkiness for which Buckingham is known. Great stuff, and I suspect Buckingham had folks like Sumner Redstone in mind when he wrote it.

Was hoping to find a video of Buckingham performing "Murrow." But one doesn't seem to be available on the Web. You can hear a segment of the song, along with other cuts from Say You Will, here.

And you can read the lyrics to "Murrow" here. Pretty clear our guy Lindsey is not real pleased with the corporate media. Join the crowd, LB.

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