In honor of "Sunshine Week," a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) would like to recognize Wisconsin's champions of backroom deals, secret pledges and cloaked campaign contributions.
"Mr. Hodai had a history at the conference--not a very pleasant history. He was considered to be a persona non grata..."
-- Westin Kierland General Manager Bruce Lange to Olivia Ward of the Toronto Star.
Evicting the Press, Part 1: Meet Mr. Black
Scottsdale, Arizona--A suburb awash in money and golf courses, set against the backdrop of the jagged mountains surrounding Phoenix.
I was sitting in a sports bar of the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa, swapping journalism stories with Olivia Ward of the Toronto Star on one of the bar's overstuffed leather couches. Over the course of an hour, the bar filled with conventioneers from the American Legislative Exchange Council's 2011 States and Nation Policy Summit (SNPS). (A new story on Westin's connections to other ALEC corporations is available here.)
My assignment was to cover the 2011 SNPS, taking place at the resort from November 29 through December 2. ALEC had refused to grant me media credentials. Nevertheless, I was a paid guest at the resort.
Michael Schmidt is a Canadian dairy farmer, and he's scared. Why?
"Over the last 17 years I have made every effort to engage the authorities in a constructive dialogue about the issue of non-pasteurized milk in Ontario and Canada. In return my farm has been raided by armed officers, my family has been terrorized and I [have] been dragged through the courts -- first being acquitted and then being found guilty.
As they sometimes say in the South, it's all about taking care of bid'ness.
But don't tell that to the group of 100 or so protesters, who on Friday afternoon marched on the Marriott hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA), where corporate lobbyists were voting with state lawmakers on "model" legislation at the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) 38th Annual Meeting.
The protest, organized in part by Louisiana State University's Student Labor Action Project, the Defend Ohio Campaign, and activists from across the country, began at the Hale Boggs Federal Building in downtown NOLA. That same day, members of the local community also gathered to celebrate the conviction of five police officers on charges stemming from the notorious Danziger Bridge case. A federal jury found the officers guilty of civil rights violations in the shootings of unarmed citizens.
In late July, shortly after the launch of ALECexposed.org, Lousiana State Rep.Noble Ellington, a Republican from the state's 20th district and the national chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council, spoke to NPR about the recent spate of criticism leveled at his organization. When discussing the behind-closed-doors process used to craft ALEC model legislation, Ellington dismissed concerns raised by NPR, assuring interviewer Terry Gross that the public "have an opportunity to talk to their legislators about the legislation -- so I don't see how you can get more transparent than that."
On Wednesday morning, a group of Americans from across the political spectrum, and the country, held a press conference in New Orleans to highlight the devastating impact of the "model" legislation voted on by corporations through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
The event, hosted by People for the American Way and moderated by Center for Media and Democracy Executive Director Lisa Graves, was held directly across the street from ALEC's 38th annual meeting, where corporate lobbyists and state legislators gathered to attend Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindall's PhRMA-sponsored keynote address.
By Katya Szabados
(From CMD: This report was originally printed as the cover story in the March 2, 2004 edition of the Madison-based newspaper "The Wisconsinite," titled "Dr. No and the Spectre of ALEC." While written more than seven years ago, the story it tells about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its role in Wisconsin government is illuminating and remains relevant today.
A former executive who in 1996 helped launch Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, told the UK Telegraph that at the time Fox News had a high-security "black ops" department he called a "brain room" at its New York headquarters where employees carried out counterintelligence on the channel's enemies, including illegally hacking private telephone records. Former Fox News managing editor Dan Cooper said he helped design the unit, which employed 15 researchers who worked behind a guarded door. Another former Fox News senior executive who asked to have his name withheld told the Telegraph that the Fox Channel ran an internal "Soviet-Style" spying network tasked with reading the emails of Fox News staff to make sure they weren't leaking information to outside media. The channel denies all the allegations, and a spokesman for Fox News says Cooper was fired six weeks after the Fox News Channel was launched, and that he has "peddled these lies for the past 15 years." The FBI is currently investigating charges that journalists at a Murdoch-owned British newspaper, News of the World, may have tried to hack into 9/11 victims' phones. Both Mr. Cooper and the unnamed executive said they thought Mr. Ailes would not have let his reporters engage in such activities.
The American Legislative Exchange Council's Annual Meetings and Task Force Summits are held in some of the nation's top travel destinations, at swanky hotels where state legislators and corporate executives enjoy lavish accommodations and exclusive excursions.
The efforts of Google, Yahoo, Facebook and other major websites to tailor our online experiences to our supposed interests can affect our ability to get a view of the world the way it really is. Instead, we are fed a view of the world that these organizations "think" we'd like to see. Google, Yahoo, Facebook and other websites use proprietary algorithms to "personalize" news for us -- that is, to select news they think we will like to see -- not to select news that challenges the user, contradicts his or her views or that the user would be unlikely to see. The algorithms work invisibly, so users have no way of knowing what the websites are editing out and preventing us from seeing. The algorithms pick information based on what we usually look at, resulting in a feedback loop that Internet guru Eli Pariser calls "autopropaganda" -- unknowingly indoctrinating yourself with your own views. If you and another person you don't know both perform a search on Google on the exact same term, you can both get shockingly different results, based on Google's analysis of what each of you usually look at. What this means is that Internet users essentially get an edited worldview based on personal information over which they have no control. The fact that this activity is hidden leaves users without the ability to seek out sources of information and news with which they are unfamiliar, that might challenge them or give them a broader view of the world.