American Idol on Fox News

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Analysis:

There is not much that can be said about this story, since it is clearly a self-promotional piece about a show that appears on their station. What is interesting is the insertion mid-way through the story about a teacher who takes her students to a production of American Idol as an educational opportunity. It is quite possible that is why it was inserted, to justify the story as something about educational opportunities.

Story:

FOX 17 News reader – Last night fans of Mario Vasquez were stunned to find out he quit the competition. Tonight Nikko Smith got a second chance to become the next America’s Idol.(clip of singer) He got that one more chance but he didn’t get any special treatment. Simon told Nikko he didn’t sound very good tonight. It takes a lot of work behind the scenes to make all the contestants look flawless and 32 high school production students went on a field trip to find out what exactly goes on backstage. Their teacher used to work in television and wanted to show the kids what the business is all about.

Teacher – Those who were interested or dissuaded from doing this, just have a much more realistic picture than when I went out there and started.

News reader – Another Idol finalist will say goodbye tomorrow. Find out who it is at 9 o’clock here on Fox 17.

Total Time – 50 seconds

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Images of war make military life a hard sell

Analysis:

On Thursday March 10 the Grand Rapids Press ran a front page headline story that read “Images of War make military life a hard sell.” The article is about the difficulties that area military recruiters are having with obtaining new recruits, but it is written in such a way that accepts the military position on what recruiters can offer young people. For instance, the story mentions that the military offers money for college and job skills that will help people after they leave the military. There are perspectives that significantly challenge these recruiting tools, but those perspectives are not provided in this story.

No where in the article are mentioned the numerous national and regional groups working on counter military recruitment efforts, groups that claim that the money for college is always less than what was promised. According to the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors “Two-thirds of all recruits never get any college funding from the military. Only 15% graduated with a four year degree.” Then there is the issue of job skills that are learned in the military which would be beneficial in civilian life. “Ohio State researchers, who received funding from the military, found that only 12% of male veterans and 6% of female veterans surveyed made any use of skills learned in the military in their civilian jobs.” The Press reporter could have provided this perspective from a local group called the Committee for Military Dialogue, which has been organizing around military recruiting. Another issue that went uncontested was the opinion from the Military recruiter when he said “the story in Iraq is much better than the media portray, a complaint lodged by some returning soldiers and many proponents of the war in Iraq.” This statement is never verified by the reported, nor investigated despite a great deal of studies being done on the US Media Coverage of the war in Iraq, nor is there another opinion provided to counter such a statement.

For more information on counter military recruitment efforts and resources go here.

Story:

Thursday, March 10, 2005

By Ted Roelofs

The Grand Rapids Press

The chance to earn a free Army hat was too good to pass up.

Under the watchful eye of a recruiter, Wayland Union High School junior Levi Urias dropped to the cafeteria floor and pumped out 50 push-ups without breaking a sweat.

He got his hat, all right. But join the Army?

“I haven’t even thought about it,” said the muscular Urias, 16, who looked like he could pose for a recruiting poster. “I think I’ll go to college if I can.”

At a nearby table, senior Matt Hendricks shook his head when asked about his prospects of signing up.

“Not at all,” said Hendricks, 18. “People are dying in Iraq. They keep sending people over there to die.”

His friends nodded in agreement: The Army, they said, isn’t for them.

With the Iraq war entering its fourth year, that kind of wary attitude is making the military nervous as recruitment begins to fall short of goals.

The Army began the fiscal year in October with only 18.4 percent of the year’s target of 80,000 active-duty recruits, less than half of last year’s figure. The active-duty Army missed its target for February by 27.5 percent and slipped 6 percent behind its year-to-date goal for fiscal 2005, which ends Sept. 30.

A local recruiter concedes the war isn’t making his job easier.

“It does give people pause,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason Gallimore.

Gallimore, 31, presides over recruiting efforts from his Wyoming station that reaches from Grand Rapids south as far as Wayland and west to Jenison and Hudsonville. His job takes him from high schools and colleges to malls to monster truck shows at Van Andel Arena.

“Things aren’t the same as they were right after Sept. 11,” Gallimore said. “There was a feeling of patriotism in America. It continued until we hit that long-term feeling, after we had been in Iraq more than a year.”

Other branches of the service are facing similar stresses.

The Marine Corps, the other main pipeline for the estimated 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, missed its recruiting contracts goals for February.

Last year, Army Guard recruiters fell nearly 7,000 short of their goal of 56,000 soldiers. The Guard’s goal this year is an even more ambitious 63,000. But four months into the recruiting year, the Guard had just 12,821 new soldiers, almost 24 percent below the target for that period.

The numbers are not yet bad enough to pose an imminent threat to the all-volunteer military. But they have the attention of the Army, which has bumped its maximum college fund from $50,000 to $70,000 for enlistments of four to six years. It has also dangled $5,000 bonuses for soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq who re-enlist.

But military officials say it’s tough to compete against the images of U.S. soldiers killed or badly wounded by roadside bombs, as the total of soldiers killed in Iraq exceeds 1,500.

Gallimore contends the story there is much better than the media portray, a complaint lodged by some returning soldiers and by many proponents of the war in Iraq.

“The media doesn’t show all the good things these guys are doing,” Gallimore said. “If there’s something bad that happens, that’s the first thing they report.”

Still, the 13-year Army veteran is optimistic the Army will get the job done in Iraq — and meet its quotas.

He estimated that he and a half-dozen other recruiters talk to 3,000 potential recruits each month for every 10 or 11 they sign up. Gallimore says he can tell these potential recruits about the advantages of the Army, about the college fund, and the chances to learn job skills that will help them after they leave the military.

But he says the word of soldiers who have already served are sometimes better than the Army’s best sales pitch.

“The best advertising we have is word of mouth,” Gallimore said.

Hudsonville High School senior Lyndi Kuyers wasn’t thinking of the Army when she visited the University of Michigan campus last fall. She bumped into a recruiter there, who in turn sent her to the Army’s Wyoming recruiting office.

It helped that Kuyers, 18, talked to a classmate who had already gone through boot camp last summer.

“He seems to like it a lot,” Kuyers said.

She signed up for a six-year stint in the Army Reserves and will ship out July 28 for basic training in Missouri. Kuyers said she has been told it’s unlikely she will be sent to Iraq because of her job specialty as a laboratory technician.

When she gets out, she plans to use her college fund to go to Michigan State University.

In the meantime, Kuyers said she’s ready to serve if her country decides she has to go to war.

“I think it would definitely be scary. But you would get through it, I think.”

Scared into bankruptcy

Analysis:

On Thursday March 10 the Grand Rapids Press ran a story in the business section entitled “Scared into Bankruptcy”, which was about bankruptcy reform legislation. The article appeared the same day these bankruptcy reforms were voted on, so the actual vote was not reported on. Nor was the vote actually reported on in the GR Press in the days following. The GR Press article states that the Reform legislation was “expected to pass”, which it did, 74 to 25. All the opposing votes came from Senate Democrats. The two Michigan senators split on this issue, with Levin voting nay and Stabenow voting yea.

As to the actual legislation, the article gives little actual information. A lawyer and a federal Bankruptcy judge are quoted. The judge is quoted giving a hypothetical example of how current bankruptcy laws could be abused while the Bankruptcy lawyer gives some general information about the type of people that declare bankruptcy. No where in the article does the reporter corroborate these statements with statistics or resources. At one point the reporter refers to advocates for this legislation but does not say who they are, merely noting that “Bankruptcy reform is needed, advocates say, because some people abuse the system.” The primary advocates for this legislation is the credit card and financial industry, which has been a major source of campaign contributions for both parties.

These reforms make it harder for individuals to get their debts absolved through the bankruptcy process. 1.6 million Americans file for personal bankruptcy protection–more than five times as many as in 1980, every year. According to a new study by the think tank Demos, 90 % of those who declare personal bankruptcy do so as the result of job loss, medical bills, or divorce. The Credit card industry claims that abuse of the personal bankruptcy laws costs them 3 to 4 billion a year. Again, according to Demos, the credit industry, which grossed a profit of about 30 billion last year, is not required by this new legislation to alter their behavior at all. So reforms such as reining in credit card solicitations or putting caps on interest rates or late fees, over-the-limit fees and other penalties, which could possibly help keep people out of bankruptcy in the first place, are not part of these reforms.

Story:

Thursday, March 10, 2005

By Julia Bauer

The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS — Bankruptcy lawyers and judges are bracing for a new wave of business from financially strapped people in West Michigan.

The threat of stricter rules for bankruptcy will push some people into court sooner rather than later, said attorney Christian Krupp II.

“We’re unbelievably busy. Amazingly enough, the news about the change in bankruptcy laws actually spawns a ton of phone calls,” Krupp said.

“As soon as they hear, they think it’s something a lot more severe. It scares them, and they immediately want to hurry up and file.”

Those who call are trying to beat new rules that would make it tougher to file for Chapter 7 liquidation.

As the most drastic form of bankruptcy, a debtor must sell most possessions to pay off creditors.

Once that process ends, the person is able to jettison most major debt such as credit cards and doctor bills.

“The debtor basically walks away from debts without losing much in the way of property,” said Judge Jeffrey R. Hughes, with the United States Bankruptcy Court of West Michigan.

“In many, many Chapter 7’s, there’s no distribution to unsecured creditors.”

Those are credit card companies, hospitals and other debts without collateral.

The legislation gliding toward congressional passage following the Senate vote would constitute the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. bankruptcy laws in a quarter-century.

Senate passage, expected today, and likely House approval of the bill next month would deliver to President Bush the second of his pro-business legislative priorities.

Bankruptcy reform is needed, advocates say, because some people abuse the system.

“A classic example of the inequitable use of Chapter 7 would be the medical student who just gets out of medical school and has a whole slew of credit card debt,” Hughes said. “He files Chapter 7, gets all that debt discharged and goes off and earns a six-figure income.”

Trustees who oversee the repayment by debtors can sway which type of bankruptcy the person can pursue, Krupp said.

If the reform is approved, the formula would be less flexible. Michigan families with incomes averaging $45,000, who also clear $100 or more a month, would be restricted to the repayment system of Chapter 13.

“One of the standard complaints by the consumer lobby is that the whole statute really isn’t designed to alleviate a problem,” Hughes said.

“(They say) it really is just simply a mechanism for making the banks more profitable.”

As one of three bankruptcy judges based in Grand Rapids, Hughes said he has no opinion on the reform bill. Whatever Congress approves, he will follow, he said.

Krupp said most financial crises come after a person loses a job or faces huge medical bills.

People do not tend to abuse the bankruptcy option, he said. They view it as a last resort.

“Usually it would be someone like people laid off from Steelcase who are now on unemployment, then they have burned through all of their 401(k).

“Then they are filing for bankruptcy. People say, ‘I can’t believe it has gotten this bad,'” Krupp said.

Town hopes for mountain of goodwill

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Analysis:

On Sunday the Grand Rapids Press ran an article by one of their staff reporters entitled “Town hopes for mountain of Goodwill.” “The Mountain of Goodwill” mentioned in the article is the Ice Mountain corporation which bottles and sells water. The city of Evart, about 85 miles of Grand Rapids, is looking to attract Ice Mountain to their community. Nestle Waters North America, the owner of Ice Mountain, is negotiating to buy water from Evart, likely paying less than $1 for every 1,000 gallons. By summer, the company wants to begin trucking it approximately 40 miles to the Ice Mountain bottling plant, south of Big Rapids. This deal would give Ice Mountain access to a well that pumps water at a rate of about 500 gallons a minute.

Ice Mountain has been a rather controversial topic in West Michigan. In Mecosta county Ice Mountain has been accused of pumping so much that water that the water table has been affected. They have received considerable resistance for citizens groups such as Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation.

This criticism from environmental groups was mentioned, but only at the end of the article and the tone was rather negative toward them. Overall, the article painted this as a win-win for Ice Mountain and the town of Evart. The article starts by mentioning that Ice Mountain has offered to build new sports fields for the local high school. Later it quotes the school superintendent praising Ice Mountain for giving the schools 5000 free bottles of water. Now, the article never mentions what the possible negative results to the environment of Evart that could result from Ice Mountains presence would be, rather than choosing to focus on these relatively token gifts given to the city. In fact, the article is framed in such a favorable manner toward the City leaders in favor of this deal with Ice Mountain that the photo of the Evart City Manager is labeled “water lover”, a label not given to any of the environmental and water preservation groups in the article.

For more about water preservation in the Great lakes, check out the website for the Michigan Citizens for water preservation.

Story:

Sunday, March 06, 2005

By Ed White

The Grand Rapids Press

EVART — High school baseball and softball teams in this small northern Michigan town expect to play on 14 acres of new fields in 2006.

The outfields will have warning tracks, just like the big leagues. Pitchers will warm up in the bullpen. Players will lace their cleats in new locker rooms just steps from the diamonds.

“I’m tickled. It’s like Christmas,” Superintendent Howard Hyde said. “Our current fields are pretty nice but these are going to be better.”

The windfall comes courtesy of Evart’s water — and a company’s desire to buy it, bottle it and resell it under the Ice Mountain label.

Nestle Waters North America is negotiating to become Evart’s best-known water customer, likely paying less than $1 for every 1,000 gallons. By summer, the company wants to begin trucking it approximately 40 miles to the Ice Mountain bottling plant, south of Big Rapids.

It is willing to build ball fields and relocate at least 300 campsites at the Osceola County Fairgrounds to provide a natural buffer around Evart’s wells.

Nestle Waters wants this second source of water, partly because the wells that feed the plant in Mecosta County are restricted to a monthly average of 250 gallons per minute, the result of a lawsuit by a grassroots environmental group.

Unlike in Mecosta County, there is little opposition to selling Evart’s water for distribution elsewhere. Community leaders believe there may be a bonus down the road: a second Ice Mountain bottling plant and scores of new jobs.

“That’s really the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A future plant is the prize,” said City Manager Roger Elkins, who keeps a large map showing a possible site along U.S. 10.

Indeed, a Nestle Waters spokeswoman said it could be the “start of a long-term relationship.”

“We’ve been extremely well-received in Evart,” Deb Muchmore said. “The Ice Mountain brand continues to grow. Additional water capacity is needed.”

Evart, population 1,700, is 85 miles north of Grand Rapids, with U.S. 10 running through the center.

SpringHill Camps, a Christian camp just north of town, draws hundreds of young people each summer. The county fairgrounds here is the site of a dulcimer festival and the popular wood carvers roundup. A paved bike trail stretches for miles.

Evart’s economy is anchored by auto-parts suppliers and a dairy that ships milk to Meijer stores, together accounting for approximately 1,000 jobs.

The city’s courtship of Nestle Waters began less than a year ago. Collins &Aikman, a parts maker using more than 700 million gallons a year, warned that it might cut consumption by 90 percent because of changes in how it cools equipment.

“They purchase 90 percent of the water we produce,” Elkins explained. “There are fixed costs in a water system. If you don’t find other places to use water, it means rates could go up. I thought, ‘Gee, what are the other possibilities?’

“For the price of a stamp,” he said, “I sent a letter to Ice Mountain.”

The company sells bottled “spring” water, which means it must prove the groundwater is connected to a spring that flows to the surface, according to federal labeling rules. There also are internal standards for taste and quality.

‘These wells are theirs’

So far, Evart is passing the test. Three of the city’s seven wells near Twin Creek are drawing spring water, Muchmore said.

“These wells are theirs,” she said, referring to Evart. “The only unique arrangement is one of the wells would be dedicated to Ice Mountain. … The city gets a new customer, and rate-payer bills will be stable.”

Well No. 5 already has a state permit to produce as much as 500 gallons a minute, Elkins said. The water would be piped to a transfer station along U.S. 10, then transported by truck to the Ice Mountain bottling plant.

Nestle Waters is pledging to pay for projects to prevent contamination to the well field. A campground at the Osceola County Fairgrounds will be relocated.

In turn, new ball fields and a football practice field will be built across the road at Evart High School.

“They have been very generous,” he said. “They donated almost 5,000 bottles of water. … I have not heard one person say this is not right. As a superintendent, what they’re doing for schools — it’s a no-brainer.”

Evart hopes to have contracts with Nestle Waters within 30 days. Under the city’s standard rate structure, a customer who uses 100,000 gallons per quarter pays 88 cents per every 1,000 gallons.

A single 16.9-ounce bottle of Ice Mountain typically sells for less than $1 in stores. Nestle Waters’ parent is Nestle SA of Switzerland, the world’s largest food company.

Shouldn’t Evart charge more?

“It crosses everyone’s mind. It’s like a rich uncle — hit ’em up for everything,” Elkins said. “It wouldn’t be fair. The restaurant buys water from us and sells coffee at $1.25 a cup.”

Evart is the latest stop for a company that has been tangling with critics for years.

In Mecosta County, a group called Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, or MCWC, said high-capacity wells feeding the bottling plant were diminishing wetlands and a stream. A judge ordered the wells turned off, but the company won a reprieve from a higher court. The case remains on appeal.

Nestle Waters seems to be hitting no public turbulence in Evart.

Elkin received advice from the company on how to proceed. Muchmore advised him in an e-mail to “paint a vision” for residents, which would “provide a big block to any opposition.”

“Opposition tends to chip away by attacking specific details,” she wrote. “Let’s give them a big boulder to have to move.”

Is it legal?

MCWC has few members in Evart. The group’s attorney, however, has sent critical letters to the city and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Jim Olson compares Evart to Sherman, N.Y., a town that advertised its water for sale to anyone in 2001 before then-Gov. John Engler said it would be an illegal diversion outside the Great Lakes basin.

“Nestle does not use the water; it simply diverts and sells it in containers for private profit,” Olson wrote. “Until Michigan law is changed by the Legislature, municipal wholesaling of water for diversion and sale elsewhere should not be done.”

In Lansing, Jim Cleland of the DEQ’s Water Bureau said the state mostly wants to be assured that Evart will have enough water to serve other customers.

“How the water is used and where it goes, there is no regulatory structure that deals with that,” he said.

A member of the Nestle Waters legal team, Mike Haines of Grand Rapids, said Olson’s argument is “very fringe.”

Elkins recalled how the area was logged a century ago — a local writer called it “green gold.”

“The trees were shipped out of here. … I don’t see water as any different,” he said. “We see them as just another customer coming on line. You use the water as you see fit.”

© 2005 Grand Rapids Press.

Hostage decries “rain of fire”

Analysis:

On Sunday March 6 the Grand Rapids Press ran a story about the shooting by U.S. forces of a convey carrying a recently release Italian hostage in Baghdad. This story was about Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who was held for a month by Iraqi insurgents and was released due to the efforts of an Italian Military Intelligence agent. While nearing the Baghdad airport, the vehicle carrying the reporter was attacked by U.S. forces and she was wounded and the intelligence officer who had negotiated her release was killed. These facts were relayed in the GR Press, in a article pulled from the Washington Post. In the article the U.S. militaries version of events, that the column was speeding and “refused to stop at a checkpoint.” Also reported in the article was Sgrena’s claims that their vehicle was traveling at normal speed, was not at a checkpoint, but that they were attacked by a patrol without warning.

The Grand Rapids Press version of the article only includes Sgrena’s quotes contradicting the American description of events. The article does not include her comments about why she thought she attacked. According to an interview in Sky Italia, Sgrena said that a ransom was paid for her release and it was possible that she was deliberately targeted by US forces. She said: “The fact that the Americans don’t want negotiations to free hostages is known. The fact that they do everything to prevent the adoption of this practice to save the lives of people held hostages, everybody knows that. So I don’t see why I should rule out that I could have been a target.”

ITN Rome Correspondent, Fabio Sermonti told the Laura Flanders Show on Air America Radio that “[Sgrena] had some information about the use of illegal weapons by US forces in Fallujah that was very sensitive. A very hot topic. There were rumors of some use of chemicals and a number of weapons that are not legal — like [napalm] and phosphorus.”

These are some very strong accusations and would be easily dismissed except that there have been multilpe examples

examples of controversial journalist detentions and killings by U.S. forces. These are documented on the website of the Committee to Protect Journalists, which we will link to on our site. According to

Story:

From The Grand Rapids Press, Sunday March 6 edition

Freed Italian says car was doing nothing threatening

By Daniel Williams, Washington Post

Sunday, March 6, 2005

ROME, March 5 — An Italian journalist freed from captivity in Iraq said Saturday that a “rain of fire” from a U.S. roadside patrol hit her vehicle as it slowly approached the airport in Baghdad, injuring her and killing an Italian intelligence agent also inside. Her version of events ran counter to the one U.S. officials provided a day earlier.

Giuliana Sgrena, wearing a plaid shawl draped around her shoulders, was helped down the steps of an airplane at Rome’s Ciampino airport after arriving from Baghdad Saturday at noon. She later described the shooting and called the U.S. gunfire on the vehicle unjustified.

“We weren’t going very fast, given the circumstances. It was not a checkpoint, but a patrol that started firing right after lighting up a spotlight. The firing was not justified by the movement of our automobile,” Sgrena, a reporter for the Communist newspaper Il Manifesto, told Italian investigators, according to an account related by an official who interviewed her at a military hospital.

A statement released Friday by the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad said troops fired because the car was “traveling at high speeds” and “refused to stop at a checkpoint.”

The dead military intelligence agent, Nicola Calipari, had helped secure Sgrena’s release and was to accompany her on her trip back to Italy.

“We thought that the danger was finished after my handover. Instead, suddenly, this shooting. A rain of fire came,” Sgrena told a television station by telephone. “Nicola folded himself on me probably to defend me and then he collapsed. I saw that he was dead. The shooting continued and the driver did not even have the opportunity to explain that we were Italian.”

Sgrena was hit in the shoulder by shrapnel, and two other passengers, also security operatives, were wounded, Italian officials said.

In videotaped remarks from the garden of his official residence, the U.S. ambassador to Italy, Mel Sembler, said that Calipari had been a “valuable” U.S. ally. President Bush expressed his condolences in a telephone call to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has supported U.S. policy in Iraq and contributes about 2,700 troops to the U.S.-led force there.

Text from the original article ommitted from the Grand Rapids Press version:

U.S. officials said the Italians failed to inform military or diplomatic officials that Sgrena was on her way to the airport. Nighttime is particularly dangerous on the airport highway, which has been the scene of numerous car bombings and ambushes of U.S. troops, foreign contractors and other travelers. Berlusconi called in Sembler and demanded that the United States “take responsibility” and acknowledge a “tragic error.” Italian prosecutors are preparing to officially ask the United States for information about the shooting.

Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini called the incident “a joke of destiny.” A withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq or a souring of relations with the United States “would be the most deceitful attack on the memory of this hero,” Fini said, referring to the slain intelligence agent.

Opposition leaders raised questions about the incident. “Was there coordination between our intelligence service and the others in Iraq?” asked Piero Fassino, who heads the Democratic Left, the largest opposition faction. “Was the unified command in Iraq informed that a car was traveling to the airport with the just-liberated kidnapped person? What information was exchanged between our agencies and American forces?”

“Don’t believe a word of the U.S. version,” said Oliviero Diliberto, secretary of the Italian Communist Party. “There’s an attempt to mask what actually happened. The Americans deliberately fired on the Italians.”

Doctors described Sgrena’s condition as good and stable. Berlusconi, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the country’s ceremonial president, and Walter Veltroni, mayor of Rome, attended a low-key welcoming ceremony for her. Pier Scolari, Sgrena’s live-in companion, accompanied her from Baghdad after flying to Iraq overnight.

Sgrena, who had been taken hostage Feb. 4, gave few details about her captivity. She said her captors, who included a woman, did not mistreat her. She also said her pleas on a videotape released after she was seized were fed to her by her abductors. On the tape, she begs for her life and urges “pressure on the Italian government to withdraw its troops” from Iraq.