- October: Since 1992, Russian arms merchant Victor Bout has been selling weapons to Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, but this month he switches sides and begins selling weapons to the Taliban and al-Qaeda instead. The deal comes immediately after the Taliban captures Kabul and gains the upper hand in Afghanistan's civil war. Bout formerly worked for the Russian KGB, and operates the world's largest private weapons transport network. Based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bout operates freely there until well after 9/11. The US becomes aware of Bout's widespread illegal weapons trading in Africa in 1995, and of his ties to the Taliban in 1996, but they fail to take effective action against him for years. US pressure on the UAE in November 2000 to close down Bout's operations there is ignored. After President Bush is elected, the US abandons all attempts to constrain Bout until after 9/11. In one trade in 1996, Bout's company delivers at least 40 tons of Russian weapons to the Taliban, earning about $50 million. Two intelligence agencies later confirm that Bout trades with the Taliban "on behalf of the Pakistan government." In late 2000, several Ukrainians sell 150 to 200 T-55 and T-62 tanks to the Taliban in a deal conducted by the ISI, and Bout helps fly the tanks to Afghanistan. Bout moves to Russia in 2002, where he enjoys the protection of the Russian government. Bout may have worked with the CIA when he traded with the Northern Alliance, and this fact may be hampering current international efforts to catch him. (CCR)
- October: The current issue of Public Perspective features a study, conducted by Kenneth Dautrich and Jennifer Necci Dineen and entitled "Media Bias: What Journalists and the Public Say About It," that claims to show that 89% of Washington journalists voted for Bill Clinton in 1992. While few doubt that a majority of Washington-based journalists are registered Democrats, this particular study is so riddled with methodological flaws that it is virtually worthless as any sort of measurement or reference. (Paul Waldman)
- October 1: The minimum wage in the US rises to $4.75/hour due to a recent law enacted by Congress; it will rise to $5.15/hour a year later, where it will remain. In order to get the law passed, Republicans are given a number of legislative sops in the minimum wage bill, which total to $21 billion of government handouts to large corporate interests. (Department of Labor, Hilton and Testa)
- October 6: The Fox News Channel is launched. It is owned by Australian conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch and headed by former Reagan political consultant Roger Ailes. Besides the Fox Broadcasting Network, notorious for its predilection for airing television shows heavy on sex and violence, Murdoch owns 20th Century Fox, the Los Angeles Dodgers, satellite news outlets around the world, the neoconservative Weekly Standard and over two dozen other magazines including TV Guide, and HarperCollins Publishers. He also owns the largest single number of television stations in the US, and 130 English-language newspapers, including the London Times and the New York Post. Murdoch's reputation as a billionaire sleazemeister is well-founded, as shown by this comment from the Columbia Journalism Review: "Murdoch uses his diverse holdings...to promote his own financial interests at the expense of real news gatherings, legal and regulatory rules, and journalistic ethics. He wields his media as instruments of influence with politicians who can aid him, and savages his competitors in his news columns. If ever someone demonstrated the dangers of mass power being concentrated in few hands, it would be Murdoch." While portraying himself as a staunch anti-communist, in 1993 he cut a lucrative deal with the government of Communist China to begin broadcasting his Sky News satellite news network into that country...and instituted a policy among his other news outlets to stop criticizing Chinese policies. "The truth is...that authoritarian societies can work," he told critics. He also removed the BBC from his Star broadcasts at Chinese behest. Along with carrying water for his Chinese clients, Murdoch has been a powerful supporter of Western conservative politicians such as Newt Gingrich and Margaret Thatcher, who have in turned helped Murdoch with tax breaks and questionable deregulation decisions. As for Ailes, he has earned his nickname of the "Dark Prince" of conservative attack politics.
- Ailes was one of the minds behind the 1988 Willie Horton ads for candidate George Bush; Ailes was the one who said, "The only question is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it." Ailes was the executive producer of Rush Limbaugh's failed TV show, and Ailes is the creator of the two infamous Fox News slogans, "Fair and Balanced" and "We report, you decide." Tucker Carlson, one of the few conservative talk show hosts with anything approaching a sense of humor, has said that Ailes chose the slogans "to drive liberals crazy." When Ailes became the head of the embryonic Fox News, one of his first actions was to clean house of the "liberals" in-house. According to the then-president of Fox News, Joe Peyronnin, "I had about forty people working for me, and [Ailes] asked some of them if they were liberal or not. There was a litmus test. He was going to figure out who was liberal or conservative when he came in, and try to get rid of the liberals." Peyronnin complained that Ailes's actions were inappropriate, and resigned his position. Ailes chose news anchor Brit Hume, a contributor to the far-right Weekly Standard and American Spectator, and chose Hume's wife Kim to head Fox's Washington bureau. Kim Hume's claim to fame is her stated belief that most mainstream news stories are "all mushy, like AIDS, or all silly like Head Start." Fox will add former Gingrich speechwriter Tony Snow to its Sunday morning talk lineup, and add right-wing radio hosts Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity to its schedule with their own talk shows. Hannity's show is putatively balanced by "liberal" commentator Alan Colmes, who, many observe, plays the hapless Washington Generals to Hannity's freewheeling Harlem Globetrotters. Colmes himself describes himself as a moderate, not a liberal.
- Bill O'Reilly is another story entirely. A registered Republican who claims to be a political independent, O'Reilly will quickly build a reputation for telling rafts of lies, and bullying (sometimes to the point of physically intimidating) guests who disagree with him. Of the many, many stories of O'Reilly's prevarications, one of the best-known is his altercation with a C-SPAN interviewer about his former show, Inside Edition. O'Reilly took umbrage with the show being termed "tabloid," and claimed loudly that while he was hosting the show, it "won two Peabodys, the most prestigious award in journalism." At least three times, once in 1999 and twice in 2000, O'Reilly will claim that Inside Edition, a frankly tabloid-style entertainment news show, won two Peabodys. In reality, Inside Edition won one Polk award, an obscure citation that the show won after O'Reilly had left the show. When liberal gadfly Al Franken made an issue of the awards, O'Reilly retorted, "Franken is on a jihad against me" accused Franken of practicing "attack journalism," and claimed that he had never once claimed the show had won a Peabody. O'Reilly is also guilty of lying about his own background; he often proclaims he is from a working-class family in Levittown, Pennsylvania: "You don't come from any lower than I came from on an economic scale." That was news to his mother, who proudly boasted that the O'Reilly family lived in affluent Westbury, often vacationed in Florida, and sent their son Bill to private schools and private college on the family's dime. When asked about the discrepancy, O'Reilly claimed to have grown up in "the Westbury section of Levittown," a section that does not exist.
- October 10: CNN publishes a rare profile of Republican strategist and fund-raiser Arthur Finkelstein. Finkelstein, who lives in Westchester County, New York, is widely known in GOP circles as a kingmaker, but is so reclusive and publicity-shy that few outside the inner circles of American politics know his name. Stephen Rodrick of Philadelphia Magazine says, "It's almost to the point of whether or not he really exists. He has all this impact, but no one has ever seen him." Finkelstein is currently consulting on the re-election campaign of Republican senator Alfonse D'Amato, who calls him "one of the brightest, cutting-edge political scientists I've ever met." Finkelstein was a key player in the elections of D'Amato, New York governor George Pataki, and Israeli prime minister Benjamin (Binyamin) Netanyahu. Finkelstein's political ads are marked by two recurring themes: bashing his opponents as liberals and accusing them of either being gay or having ties to the gay community. The last accusation is ironic, considering that Finkelstein has long been known to be a closet homosexual. Finkelstein has lived with his male partner for decades, alone except for their two adopted children. "As recently as September 10th, four of Finkelstein's clients voted against [a Senate] anti-gay discrimination bill -- Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.), Jesse Helms (R-N.C), Don Nickles (R-Okla.) and Sen. [Bob] Smith (R) of New Hampshire," Rodrick writes. "I think it's clear that there is an element of hypocrisy where he lives this kind of sedate, gay lifestyle while making millions of dollars off of candidates who bash gays." Recently Nickles declared in a Senate speech, "Homosexuality is wrong, it's immoral and it shouldn't be condoned and it certainly shouldn't be elevated to a special protected status by the federal government." D'Amato defends Finkelstein thusly: "I don't think a person's sexual orientation, his private life -- a person's private life should be brought up and I think the question is offensive, it's wrong. He's a wonderful, decent person and whatever his sexual orientation is, that's his business." Finkelstein obviously doesn't believe in leaving his opponents' private lives out of his political campaigns. Later on, Finkelstein will lead a political smear campaign targeted at Democratic senator Hillary Clinton. (CNN, Working for Change)
- October 11: The British Telegraph publishes an article about pipeline politics in Afghanistan. It includes: "Behind the tribal clashes that have scarred Afghanistan lies one of the great prizes of the 21st century, the fabulous energy reserves of Central Asia. ...'The deposits are huge,' said a diplomat from the region. 'Kazakhstan alone may have more oil than Saudi Arabia. Turkmenistan is already known to have the fifth largest gas reserves in the world.'" (CCR)