Valley Press Covers Up Fraud, Censors Courage

Media Rants

by Tony Palmeri

From the August, 2006 edition of The Valley Scene

By Tony Palmeri

Jack Pelton is the CEO of CESSNA. Ehren Watada is a US Army 1st Lieutenant. Pelton received the “Key to the City” of Oshkosh last month at the annual Experimental Aircraft Association. Watada faces over seven years in a military prison for refusal to deploy to Iraq and for showing “contempt toward President Bush.” Pelton’s and Watada’s treatment by the Fox Valley press says much about the values of mainstream, corporate media.

In late June, Gannett’s Oshkosh Northwestern reported that “distinguished visitor” Jack Pelton would receive the city of Oshkosh/EAA “Key to the City.” The Key recipient gets his name inscribed on a permanent plaque that hangs in city hall. As I type these words on July 21st, the Valley press have yet to inform the citizens of Oshkosh—a university town—that Pelton received two fraudulent “degrees” and did not have them removed from his resume’ until a televised expose’ made it impossible to continue the charade.

In November of 2004, CBS' Sixty Minutes did a feature on "Diplomas for Sale." Reporter Vicki Mabrey reported on online diploma mills, focusing specifically on "Hamilton University." According to the story:

"How do you get a degree from Hamilton? You start by filling out a form on a site that claims to be an independent referral service. But it really was set up to funnel business to Hamilton. You’ll then be offered dozens of degrees. If you’re accepted, and chances are good you will be, it can take as little as a week or two to get a diploma. Your main assignments are to write a short paper and a big check."

When Pelton became CESSNA CEO, his official bio stated:
"Pelton holds BS and MS degrees in Aerospace Engineering from Hamilton University. He is a resident of Wichita and currently serves on the board of directors for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and Wichita’s Habitat for Humanity. A commercial, instrument-rated pilot, he is Citation rated and flies regularly as pilot in command."

The Hamilton "degrees" have since been removed from Pelton's bio on the website of Textron, CESSNA's parent company. When hiring Pelton as CESSNA CEO in December of 2003, Textron's news release included the Hamiton "degree" credentials. After the Sixty Minutes story, CESSNA issued a statement sweeping Pelton's deception under the rug. Contrast the CESSNA whitewash with Radio Shack; there David Edmondson was forced to resign as CEO in February after he admitted that he lied about his academic credentials on his resume.

Pelton hails from Kansas. Students from that area attending Independence Community College and working hard for their diplomas said that Pelton's appointment as CEO should produce anger because: "Some of us actually work to obtain a degree. People like Pelton, who have not earned their credentials, should make us feel cheated. Some of us study hard to get through school; all he did was write a big check."

Lt. Ehren Watada will not be getting a key to the city anytime soon, in part because the mainstream media have minimized and censored his defiant stance against the Bush war machine.

On June 8th, Watada became the first commissioned officer of the US Army to refuse deployment to Iraq. He said, "My moral and legal obligation is to the Constitution and not to those who would issue unlawful orders. I stand before you today because it is my job to serve and protect America's soldiers, its people, and innocent Iraqis who have no voice." On July 5th, the 28-year old from Honolulu was charged with “refusing to be deployed with his unit on June 22 and with expressing contempt against officials, including the president, and conduct 'unbecoming' of an officer."

Watada’s decision to refuse to participate in what he understands to be an illegal war is supported by his parents. His mom said, "My son's decision to refrain from deploying to Iraq is an act of patriotism. It is a statement to all Americans, to men and women in uniform, that they need not remain silent out of fear - that that they have the power to turn the tide of history, to stop the destruction of a country and the killing of untold numbers of innocent men, women and children. It is a message that states unequivocally that blindly following orders is no longer an option.”

Lt. Watada is not a conscientious objector; he is not against all military actions. Rather, he has learned the lessons of the post World War II Nuremberg Trials: that it is the responsibility of soldiers to resist illegal and immoral orders. You can sign a petition in support of him at http://www.thankyoult.org/

What can be said about a media that refuses to report on the fraudulent accomplishments of a “Key to the City” recipient at the same time censoring the courageous actions of a soldier who chooses to act on his conscience even when facing the threat of jail? Both situations represent cases of media “lapdogism.” For Pelton, media play lapdogs for the Chamber of Commerce and the Experimental Aircraft Association. For Watada, media play lapdogs for the military establishment.

Media lapdogism on Pelton and Watada results in covering up fraud and censoring courage. Talk about a twisted value system.

Tony Palmeri (www.tonypalmeri.com) is an associate professor of communication at UW Oshkosh.