Radio: Author Campbell Debunks Phony ‘News’ Stories

By Andrew Kreig

W. Joseph CampbellOur June 30 guest on MTL Washington Update radio was be journalism professor W. Joseph Campbell, left, author of Getting it Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism. His well-received recent book brings to the surface some of the most important and misrepresented stories of the past century.  Getting It Wrong

He joined me and my co-host Scott Draughon, founder of the My Technology Lawyer radio network that distributes the hour-long show nationwide as we discussed the book's findings and their implications for public policy. That part of our discussion begins at 17 minutes past the hour. It follows our weekly commentary on Washington-generated  news. We discussed also the 40-year Justice Department battle against organized crime that culminated in lst week's arrest on 19 murder charges of Boston mobster Whitey Bulger. I described also how the research for my Mafia articles this month represented a personal journey of discovery as I realized more fully what it was like for my mother to work as an undercover operative researchng the Mafia in the 1960s. She published a 1967 book about it, Black Market Medicine, and became the lead witness in one of the nation's first congressional hearings on the Mafia. One of the lessons for me is that children of all ages should better appreciate their parents while they are alive! Click here to listen to the show's audio archive.

Campbell's book addresses and dismantles prominent media-driven myths. These are stories about or by the news media that are widely believed but which, on close examination, prove apocryphal. In an intriguing exploration, Campbell describes how such myths feed stereotypes, deflect blame from policymakers, and overstate the power of the news media. Among these “myths” is the supposedly key role of CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow in thwarting right-wing Senator Joe McCarthy. Another chapter similarly downplays the clout of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in ending the Nixon Presidency.

Murrow is portrayed at left at work in 1957. Edward R. MurrowCampbell is a tenured professor in the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C.  His more than 20 years as a newspaper and wire service journalist took him across North America and to West Africa, Europe, and Asia. His careen briefly overlapped mine in 1984 when we were reporters at the Hartford Courant. He went on to earn a doctorate at the University of North Carolina and join the American University faculty in 1997. He has since written five books. As a sample of reviews of Campbell's latest book, Commentary magazine said: "It may be the best book about journalism in recent memory; it is certainly the most subversive."G. Robert Blakey

As this week's show explores the myths and derring-do of journalists past, our listeners may find it both relevant and entertaining to hear me describe what happened when I attended a forum this month by the Richard Nixon Foundation. It  convened some of the leading Justice Department, Congressional and White House staffers who helped create the crime-fighting legislation 40 years ago that broke the power of the Mafia. My column on this history, including a video link to the conference, is here: "Learning from Heroes Who Fought the Mafia." The gist is that the nation’s top leaders from both parties put aside their differences in the late 1960s to create tough-but-fair law enforcement tools. That process was the focus of a fascinating panel featuring such experts as Notre Dame School of Law Professor G. Robert Blakey, right.

Just after I finished that column, the FBI arrested Bulger, the most notorious mob figure in the nation still at large. By coincidence, the federal judge for whom I clerked in 1990 later investigated Bulger and in 1998 exposed in a 661-page judicial decision the extent of Bulger's collusion with authorities in a murderous reign for decades. This and the efforts of rogue FBI agents to protect Bulger and his gang will be part of our discussion on radio show, with your participation welcome.

Margaret Kreig Drug BuyMargaret KreigAlso, I learned more during this month's research about what a pioneer my mother had been in researching her1967 book about mob control of the counterfeit prescription drug industry. A former medical editor of Parent's magazine shown at right in a National Science Foundation photo, she persuaded federal authorities to share with her their investigative records. As part of this rare arrangement for her book, she participated in their undercover work, as in the photo at left where she posed as a truck stop madam seeking "uppers and downers" for "my girls." In June 1967, the House Government Operations Committee welcomed her testimony as its leadoff witness to show why the Mafia's control of ostensibly "legitimate" businesses and unions threatened the public.  The subcommittee hearing put the names and bios of two dozen reputed Mafia members on record as involved in drug trafficking. One was Joe Valachi, the first "made" Mafia informer in history. He had testified at a Senate hearing in 1963 that the Mafia existed, with a nationwide organization into families and with secrets punishable by death. But it was not until Peter Maas published The Valachi Papers in 1968 that the public could read a book-length, comprehensive account.

In all this, a larger theme arises relevant to our radio show's discussion: Our country's civic life depends on journalism, both in reporter commitment to the craft and in civic action by readers. Yet we shall hear from our guest that journalist influence on public affairs has long been exaggerated. Whatever the case on that, we are seeing massive and continuing layoffs, as indicated by some of the news stories below, at least at mainstream publications that have prided themselves on a general approach to the news. The conservative publication Newsmax, by contrast, reports strong growth with its more targeted fare.

What's next? Send us your thoughts by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.or phone.

Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment

Below are significant articles for this two-week period on legal reform and related political, security and media factors. The articles, including a strong representation from independent blogs and other media, contain a sample of news. See the full article by clicking the link.

Newspaper Layoffs andGrowth

New York Post, Daily News Firings, Keith Kelly, June 29, 2011. Newsmax Media, the right-leaning news org that is bucking trends by aiming for readers in Heartland America in the 50+ age bracket -- and growing in the process -- is also bucking the trend on the real estate front. Instead of following the likes of Condé Nast, the Daily News and American Media Inc. by heading downtown, Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy is moving his small but growing New York wing operation from the Grand Central area to a 5,500-square-foot operation overlooking Bryant Park. "I think you have to be in Midtown, that's where the action is," said Ruddy, who is still basing most of his 150 employees in West Palm Beach.  And in the age of cutbacks, Ruddy appears to be making good on his claim to keep hiring journalists. He said the New York office will have space for 35 people, which will include more editorial as well as advertising and marketing personnel. Ruddy said the company had 2010 revenue of about $52 million. He wanted to reach $70 million, but he said that the soft stock market placed a damper on that. Still, he anticipates revenue will grow to the $60 million to $70 million bracket. The company, founded in 1998, turned cash-flow-positive in 2002, he said.

Nieman Watchdog, In Des Moines, Gannett’s cuts are devastating, Michael Gartner, June 25, 2011.  The latest round of layoffs at The Register is devastating. The layoffs are devastating for those involved, of course – for those whose lives have been jolted by sudden joblessness, for those who survived but now have new uncertainties about their own futures, and for those who had to make the excruciating decisions about who would stay and who would go. Editor’s Note: For those who depend on the Register to tell them what is going on in Iowa, writes former editor and NBC News president Michael Gartner, 'what matters is all the news that we won't know. And, of course, we don't know what we won't know.'

Romanesko / Poynter Institute, Gannett to Lay Off About 700 Newspaper Employees, Jim Romensko, June 21, 2011. That’s about 2 percent of the workforce, according to Gannett US Community Publishing division president Bob Dickey. “The economic recovery is not happening as quickly or favorably as we had hoped and continues to impact our U.S. community media organizations,” he says in a memo that’s posted below. “Publishers will notify people today and we will make every effort to reach everyone by end of day.” In March it was disclosed that Gannett CEO Craig Dubow received a $1.25 million cash bonus and had his salary doubled.

FBI Mob Arrests, Internal Misconduct  Mafia-Fighting Through the Decades

Brothers BulgerJustice Integrity Project, FBI Confronts Its Demons By Busting Mobster Whitey Bulger, Andrew Kreig, June 28, 2011. The FBI’s capture of Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger in California last week on 19 murder charges shows impressive commitment. Agents used a $2 million reward and an innovative publicity campaign to locate the former FBI informant even though his prosecution could bring the FBI new embarrassment. Two top FBI agents have already been accused of murder in the shocking tale of Bulger’s reign as a stone-cold killer protected both by law enforcement and his brother, William “Billy” Bulger, the longtime president of the Massachusetts senate and a powerbroker with national-level clout.

Los Angeles Times, Whitey Bulger's victims have been 'denied justice,' deserve swift trial, prosecutors say, Andre
Black Market Medicinew Blankstein and Richard Winton, June 28, 2011. Federal prosecutors said Tuesday they want to get James "Whitey" Bulger on trial "as soon as possible," saying the families of the 19 people he's accused of killing deserve justice. U.S. Atty. Carmen Ortiz said in court papers filed in Boston that there was "substantial public interest in ensuring the defendant faces the most serious charges before the end of his natural life.

Boston Herald, Weld, Dukakis and others deserve blame, Howie Carr, June 28, 2011. It takes more than two guys, no matter how monstrously evil they are, to terrorize and corrupt a city as big as Boston for 25 years. It takes a lot of craven enablers, hacks who were always available to avert their gaze, investigators who would leave no stone unturned, except of course the one the Bulgers were hiding under. Many of these people are now deceased, but not all.

Law Enforcement Threats to the Press & Privacy

Salon /Unclaimed Territory, Climate of Fear: Jim Risen v. the Obama administration, Glenn Greenwald, June 23, 2011. The Obama DOJ's effort to force New York Times investigative journalist Jim Risen to testify in a whistleblower prosecution and reveal his source is really remarkable and revealing in several ways; it should be receiving much more attention than it is.  On its own, the whistleblower prosecution and accompanying targeting of Risen are pernicious, but more importantly, it underscores the menacing attempt by the Obama administration -- as Risen yesterday pointed out -- to threaten and intimidate whistleblowers, journalists and activists who meaningfully challenge what the government does in secret.

Harvey Silverglate

Reason, What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You: The peril of vague criminal statutes, Harvey Silverglate, July 2011. The Soviet Union enacted an infamous law in 1922 that criminalized “hooliganism.” The crime was in the eye of the beholder, the beholder of consequence being the Soviet secret police. Because it was impossible for dissidents to know in advance whether they were violating this prohibition, they were always subject to arrest and imprisonment, all ostensibly according to law. One of the gravest threats to liberty today is the federal government’s ability to prosecute the innocent under hopelessly vague statutes and laws. Far too many federal laws leave citizens unsure about the line between legal and illegal conduct, punishing incorrect guesses with imprisonment. The average working American adult, going about his or her normal life, commits several arguable federal felonies a day without even realizing it. Entire lives can change based on the attention of a creative federal prosecutor interpreting vague criminal laws.