TV NEWS ACCUSED OF PROPAGANDIZING WAR A recently released study accusing the news media of failing to scrutinize President Bush's policies following the 9/11 attacks is touching off international debate. The study by the University of Maryland's Center for International and Security Studies criticized TV and print journalists for, among other things, accepting the administration's "weapons of mass destruction" terminology without questioning what those weapons might be. Television news never sought to sound out the mass of military and political experts it presented on whether the weapons were nuclear missiles that could be lobbed across the Mediterranean or chemical weapons that could be smuggled across the Canadian border, the report, authored by Susan D. Moeller charged. In his intro, the center's director John Steinbruner, faulted the media for never asking how any responsible U.S. military commander could invade a country that he genuinely believed had the capacity for massive retaliation -- without a clue as to where that capacity was and how to disable it. In an interview with today's (Thursday) Toronto Star, University of Toronto history professor Paul Rutherford observed that the Maryland report discloses that "for a brief time the United States ceased to be a democracy and became a propaganda state. ... Effectively, democracy was overwhelmed by managed discourse, by managed speech."


Expressing his disgust with the continued downward spiral of CNN, Reese Schonfeld, the cable news network's co-founder who has monitored its fortunes on his website, wrote on Wednesday: "This is the last bit I intend to write about CNN. ... I find it both painful and futile." Schonfeld reported that last week's ratings indicate that CNN's share of the cable news audience was only 28.7 percent versus 55.1 percent for Fox News. (MSNBC had 9.6 percent; Headline News, 6.5 percent.) It was, he said, the "worst week in my memory" for CNN. His parting advice to CNN: "Revert to news flow" -- something he said that "would require a total change in CNN programming philosophy" -- while CNN's Headline News should adopt all-news radio's 20-minute news wheel.


While the FCC has adopted a virtual hands-off policy towards cable content, a sister agency, the Federal Trade Commission, indicated Wednesday that it intends to fine shopping network QVC heavily for continuing to sell so-called fat-absorption pills that promise consumers that they can lose weight without dieting or exercising. In a suit filed Wednesday by the Justice Department on behalf of the FTC, the government said that it wishes to fine QVC $11,000 for each ad making the allegedly "false and unsubstantiated claims." The FTC observed that ads for such products as Zero Fat, For Women Only, Lite Bits, and Bee-Alive breached a 2000 settlement in which it agreed to provide "competent and reliable scientific evidence" for claims made in ads for dietary supplements. "QVC's claims for these products are not only unsubstantiated, but for some, scientifically impossible," an FTC official said. QVC is owned by Liberty Media.


Even though it operates on the same channel, Nickelodeon plans to identify its Nick at Nite programming as a separate network, thereby producing two separate Nielsen ratings. Since the daytime children's programs and the nighttime reruns of oldtime TV shows both generate strong ratings, the result will be that some rival cable networks will drop down a notch. Tim Brooks, a Lifetime cable exec, told today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times that the ploy was a "blatant" effort to manipulate ratings. But Jack Loftus of Nielsen Research said that the company had approved the change because advertising on Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite is sold separately. And cable analyst Jack Myers told the Times that Nickelodeon and Nick at Night appeal to two very different audiences. "They program very differently, and advertisers don't buy Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite in tandem."


Melina Kanakaredes, who played the role of Dr Sydney Hansen on NBC's Providence,has been cast as the female lead opposie Gary Sinise in the upcoming CSIspinoff, CSI: New York. She will reportedly make her first appearance as police detective Stella Bonasera in a May sweeps episode of CSI: Miami. BREAKTHROUGH IN DIGITAL CINEMA? Digital Cinema Initiatives, a coalition of the seven major studios, announced Wednesday that it plans to create a pool of capital to help exhibitors convert to digital projection. The announcement of the subsidy plan by DCI CEO Charles Goldwater at the ShoWest convention in Las Vegas was seen as a breakthrough in the long-delayed conversion of movie houses from film to digital media. Exhibitors have shown little interest in retrofitting their theaters with expensive digital projectors, pointing out that they have little to gain from doing so, while distributors have pointed out that they have rarely made capital upgrades in theaters. Goldwater cautioned exhibitors, however, not to assume "that any conclusions or any agreements have been reached at this stage of DCI's discussions."


The MPAA is considering a "rewards program" in which moviegoers would receive a payment for turning in anyone spotted operating a camcorder in a movie theater. Speaking at a panel called "Anti-Piracy Practices Within the Exhibition Industry," Bill Shannon, head of the MPAA's anti-piracy unit, told the ShoWest convention in Las Vegas that the rewards plan is currently only in the developmental stage.


Sony Pictures Entertainment said Wednesday that it plans a May 4, 2007 launch for Spider-Man 3. The studio's announcement, made at the ShoWest exhibitors convention in Las Vegas, comes three months before the premiere of Spider-Man 2, which the studio has now set for June 30, two days ahead of its original schedule. Sony said that Tobey Maguire will return in the title role for the third film and that Sam Raimi will be back to direct. [USA Todayreported today (Thursday) that the studio is now planning at least six installments of Spider-Man.]A screening of of footage from this summer's installment was well received at the convention. Al Teicher, the owner of a nine-theater chain based in Ohio, told USA Today,"Spider-Man is the one we're counting on. ... It can get everyone excited for summer. If that's big, then the whole season can be big, too. I believe in him."


A feature documentary about the Boston Red Sox's roller-coaster 2003 season is scheduled to open in Boston on May 7th and expand to more than 100 theaters in the Northeast in the following weeks, New York indie distributor THINKFilm announced Wednesday. The company said it is planning a wider release nationally during the summer. Producer Bob Potter said in a statement, "We've been in such a race to get this ready as a curtain raiser for the 2004 season that we haven't even had time to finalize the movie's title." He therefore conducted an Internet vote on five possible titles (Another Season, Fenway Blues, Red Sox Blues, This Is the Year) that began on Wednesday and continued through this morning (Thursday). The subtitle of the movie has already been set: "85 Years Without a Ring and Still Happily Married."


Citing rumors that the number of rank-and-file employees who withheld their votes from Michael Eisner in a shareholders election this month may have been "in excess of 70 percent," dissident former directors Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold have demanded through their attorney that the company release additional data on the election. In particular, lawyer David K. Robbins indicated, the dissidents want a breakdown of the votes by holders of shares in a 401(k) retirement plan administered by Fidelity Investments. Disney attorney Donald Wolfe responded in a letter to Robbins: "Your sole objective at this point is to manufacture artificial controversy." He maintained that only about 22,200 employees in the company's 112,000 workforce participate in the plan and traditionally most of them fail to participate in shareholders votes.


After two of its presidents were forced to resign under a cloud of controversy in less than three months, the Writers Guild of America announced Wednesday that it plans to hold a new election for president on Sept. 20, a year ahead of its scheduled vote. The decision staved off an investigation by the Labor Department, which had received complaints about the conduct of the last election, which resulted in the reelection of Victoria Riskin as president. The Labor Department was reportedly examining a complaint alleging that Riskin had persuaded producer Barry Kemp to offer her a writing job simply so that she could qualify as a candidate. Following Riskin's resignation, her successor, Charles Holland, became embroiled in controversy after questions were raised about the veracity of his claims that he had served in an elite military intelligence unit and had attended college on a sports scholarship. After he was forced to quit last week, he was replaced by Daniel Petrie Jr., a former WGA president, who said in a statement on Wednesday: "We completely agree that holding a new election for president is the best way to validate the voting rights of all guild members."


Although it employed hand-drawn animation and was produced at the Walt Disney Co.'s now shuttered studios in Orlando, Florida, Brother Bearhas crossed the $200-million mark in global ticket sales. According to Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook, the film has earned $85 million domestically and almost $116 million internationally. Cook observed that the film is still generating substantial sales in its ever-widening overseas roll-out, earning $4.7 million at 740 locations in Germany just last weekend.