Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

‘This Is the Latest Chapter of a Long History of US Betrayal of Kurds’ - Khury Petersen-Smith on the Turkish Invasion of Syria

Janine Jackson interviewed IPS’s Khury Petersen-Smith about the Turkish invasion of Syria for the October 18, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: As we record on October 17, Turkey continues its offensive in northern Syria, a move seen as greenlighted by Donald Trump’s early October removal of some US troops from the area. Trump’s action, and his typically bizarre and contradictory response to subsequent events, account for much coverage.

At the same time, many Americans are learning for the first time about Rojava, the de facto autonomous Kurdish area and political project in northern Syria. It could be a chance to challenge received understanding of the US relationship with, not just the Kurds, but with Turkey, Syria, ISIS, indeed terrorism, and more—that is, if we could try and see people rather than maps, and look at events without elite media’s lens of implied imperialism.

Here to help us think differently about things is Khury Petersen-Smith, the Michael Ratner Middle East Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Khury Petersen-Smith.

Khury Petersen-Smith: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

JJ: The corporate media movie might be called The Betrayal of the Kurds: Turkey sees Kurdish militants as terrorists, but they fought against ISIS in Syria alongside the US, and now we’ve abandoned them. That’s kind of the “humane” line in the media, within, of course, a context in which we’re all at war against and among one another; our enemies have enemies, but are they our friends? You know, follow that bouncing ball.

But the point is, the Kurds have helped us, and therefore we should not be hurting them. And people are being killed and driven from their homes. But can I ask you to address this popular framing of “loyalty to the Kurds,” which never seems to have been much of a guiding principle?

CNN (10/15/19)

 

KPS: Right, exactly. And I’ll say first, too, that the frame is, “Trump has betrayed the Kurds, and the US should not do so,” but the conclusion of the sentence—whether it’s said out loud or not—is, “and that’s why the US should maintain its forces precisely where they were, at the border of Syria and Turkey.” And that, actually, the mistake was departing from what the US was doing in Syria, and the US should return to that.

That’s the kind of new-found sympathy for the Kurds, which I think is new-found among certain politicians, who have been in positions where they themselves actually bear responsibility for the betrayal of the Kurds. Whatever they’re saying about the Kurds now, the conclusion is always that the US should actually maintain what it was doing in Syria—which is wrong.

As you say, though, the idea that the US has a loyalty to the Kurds, that Trump has betrayed—I mean, phrases trending on social media are “Trump betrayed the Kurds,” “this is Trump’s betrayal” and so on—when, in fact, while that may be true, this is really the latest chapter of what is a long and bloody and really atrocious history of US betrayal of Kurds throughout the region: Kurds in Syria, Kurds in Turkey, Kurds in Iraq.

JJ: If we could take just a minute and talk about Rojava: It’s not a military camp; it’s not Woodstock, you know? What should we know about it?

KPS: That’s a good question. And Rojava is the Kurdish name for this region of Syria where they have been besieged, really, by forces like ISIS. And so there has been a military struggle against ISIS, but there’s also, within the territory—which is in control of Kurdish militia and allies—there’s been an effort to really have some experimentation in human freedom. There have been efforts at trying to make a society that has gender equality, and other forms of equality as well. So this was an effort by progressive Kurdish forces to try to carve out a space where they could live with some freedom and try to experiment in a freer society.

And they were also, of course, fighting for their lives against ISIS. That’s really important. The problem with Trump’s decision is that “the Kurds fought so well for us”—as though the Kurds are like mercenaries or something, when, in fact, they were fighting for their lives. And they entered into an alliance with the United States, which was also fighting against ISIS. It’s worth noting that Kurdish forces have entered into all kinds of alliances in their fight for their lives. So this notion that the whole project of the Kurdish militias is loyalty to the United States, which Trump has betrayed, is really wrong, and it just doesn’t make any sense.

JJ: In following from what you’ve just said, the Kurds were really maybe the least surprised by the US pullout, such as it is—it’s certainly not from all of Syria, and it’s certainly not from all of the world, and we can come back to that—but the Kurds had already been in conversation with Russia and with the Syrian government. But then, “scary Russia fills void when benevolent US leaves” is, we know, a big elite media hobbyhorse, and it’s implied throughout that the United States must be, and should be, at the table deciding Syria’s future; that kind of undergirds the whole conversation.

KPS: Exactly, yeah; there’s a couple of things happening here. The first is, as you said, Kurdish folks and people who support Kurdish freedom—if you know anything about the history of the Kurds and the ways that they’ve been betrayed by various forces, and in particular, the United States, then, yeah—there’s something that is horrendous about this, but not terribly surprising.

There’s this phrase, a Kurdish phrase, that is, “We have no friends, except for the mountains.” And that speaks to the many, many betrayals over the years by various forces. So that’s on one hand, and then, as you said, the kind of establishment critics of Trump’s decision, people like Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell, people like Nikki Haley, people like Hillary Clinton, I’ll say, who presided over all kinds of policies that were damaging to Kurds: Their critique, their problem, is really that this gets in the way of the United States having a seat at the table in deciding the fate of Syria, and therefore the fate of the region.

And one of the tragedies of the past several years, since 2011, regarding Syria, is that not only have there been internal struggles among Syrians that have been really disastrous, but various forces, regional and international, have jumped in and tried to decide the direction of Syrian society.

And, unfortunately, it’s ordinary people in Syria, and particularly the most marginalized people, who have paid the price for that.

JJ: The limits of the US media conversation are so clear, as you’ve indicated: If you think that Trump did anything wrong in leaving Kurds in northern Syria exposed to Turkish attack, well, then, what you want is for him to undo it, and for troops to be replaced there. And then if you’re opposed to Trump, then your voice in the media is Lindsey “this will be worse than leaving Iraq” Graham. It almost goes without saying that elite media debates include no genuine peace advocates, no genuine anti-interventionists, and that really shows in terms of the limits of what we’re allowed to consider as options.

KPS: It’s really incredible. There are many people, it has to be said, who are upset about what’s happened over the past week, this catastrophic situation in which more than 130,000 people have fled this border region, in which many have been killed and many more have been wounded. There are many people who are outraged about that, precisely because of their sympathy with the Kurds, for many for humanitarian reasons.

But the loudest critics, the people who we hear in the media critiquing Trump, people who are current members of Congress or former ambassadors or secretaries of state, these people are concerned with US power. That’s actually their issue; they actually want a greater US presence in Syria, not a reduced or modified one.

And so it’s true: In the mainstream media, there has been no voice that has been saying, “Well, why don’t we actually look at the history of what has transpired?” It’s as though we can only talk about the past week and a half.

And it’s like, what has the US actually done in Syria? That’s part of the problem, too, actually, is that there’s this idea that there was this really fantastic fight against ISIS that was going so well, and now Trump is going to set it back.

And so, it’s true: We have to read between the lines, and, actually, they’re saying it explicitly too, “Well, now Russia has stepped in.” Really, they’re concerned about the bigger picture and which world power gets to control Syria.

But this idea that there was some great, pristine fight against ISIS that Trump is backing down from also needs to be really examined. A big part of the US war on ISIS, which involved Kurdish allies, was the siege of the city of Raqqa, which was primarily an air war carried out by the United States, that was catastrophic. And some good journalists have documented that there were mass civilian casualties in Raqqa. Amnesty International has documented the fact that, as happens when you bombard a city from the air, there was no attention paid to civilians and civilian casualties.

So this stuff isn’t being talked about in the media, what the US has actually been doing, just in the past couple of years in Syria, let alone the longer history that the US has had in the region, and the history of US betrayal of the Kurds.

JJ: Let me just ask you, finally, if we use a different lens, if we don’t act as though we’re playing a big game of Risk, and we see people over maps, then different things are salient. I’ve heard you talk, for instance, about refugees and the implications for refugees. What other people and ideas might be lifted up if we look at things in a different way?

Khury Petersen-Smith: “There are people in the region who are fighting for their freedom, and we should hear those voices and look to those voices.”

KPS: That’s a really important question. I think the main thing is you can look at the situation in Syria, and it’s really quite disheartening. Obviously, it’s been just a humanitarian catastrophe for years now, with millions of people displaced, many hundreds of thousands killed, and, unfortunately, we could go on in terms of the description of the horror.

But the other thing is that we’ve also seen really pretty inspiring struggles of progressive movements in the region, in Syria and elsewhere in the region. Of course, the context in which the Syrian civil war emerged, the broader context was what’s called the Arab Spring, right, this massive upsurge all across the Middle East and North Africa, where people were fighting for their freedom in various ways, in various groups of people. And that has experienced all kinds of violent setbacks, largely by forces that are armed and allied with the United States.

But despite that, there continue to be protests in places like Egypt, there continue to be protests in places like Iraq. And when I think of the best of what the Kurds have done in places like Rojava, and various other experiments in human freedom, actually, throughout Syria—Syria has had some of the most inspiring examples of places where, even for a brief time, people will rise up and take control of their regions or their towns, and try to build democracy. And it has been besieged. And yet we see, there’s something really incredible there, there’s a kind of desire and a capacity of people to figure out their own destiny without forces like the United States.

And so, I think that if that’s our orientation, then it helps us do what we need to do, which is, really, call for US demilitarization. The US should not have troops in Syria. Also the US should not be arming Turkey. If we’re upset about the slaughter of the Kurds that’s taking place, well, we should ask why the United States has been arming Turkey. Again, a question that’s not being asked in the mainstream media.

And I think that those kinds of positions are important as a matter of principle, but I think that they can feel more viable when we understand that there are people in the region who are fighting for their freedom, and we should hear those voices and look to those voices.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Khury Petersen-Smith, Michael Ratner Middle East Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. You can find his recent piece, “Trump’s Betrayal of the Kurds Is Terrible, But the Answer Is Not Endless War,” along with other work, on the website IPS-DC.org. Khury Petersen-Smith, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

KPS: Thank you. Thank you for having me; so grateful to talk to you about these things.

Chinese Censorship of US Media: New Spin on an Old Tactic

by Justin Anderson

With China now the world’s largest economy, US media companies are increasingly looking at the country’s 1.4 billion consumers with dollar signs in their eyes. But access to this media market comes with one big rule: Don’t upset the Chinese government. This is most evident in the realm of blockbuster movies, where films that could run afoul of Chinese state censors are amended, rewritten or scrapped. But other media or media-dependent industries have come under the sway of the Chinese government and its massive market power.

Daryl Morey’s tweet (since deleted)

On October 6, Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets pro basketball team, tweeted: “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” Morey was referring to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong against proposed changes to Hong Kong’s extradition laws, which would allow dissidents in the semi-autonomous island city to be tried in Mainland courts. Since their start in June, the protests have expanded to encompass the wider political relationship between Beijing and the city. While in theory Hong Kong maintains a degree of independence under the “one country, two systems” principle agreed to after Britain returned its former colony to China in 1997, in practice the ruling Chinese Communist Party exercises a great deal of control over Hong Kong’s governance.

Morey deleted his comment shortly after posting and apologized the following night, and the NBA swiftly disavowed his views, calling them “regrettable.” The league’s statement was buttressed by new Brooklyn Nets owner (and co-founder of the Chinese internet company Alibaba) Joseph Tsai, who penned a letter expressing support for Chinese sovereignty in Hong Kong, and saying there is genuine popular resentment in China toward outside forces who are seen as trying to split up the country.

There are immense sums of money at stake for the NBA in China, where basketball is the most popular sport. The league hosts preseason and minor league games in the country, has numerous players partnering with Chinese companies like Li-Ning and, most importantly, broadcasts games to almost 500 million people in China through its $1.5 billion deal with Chinese tech giant Tencent.

Despite the NBA trying to perform damage control, China still flexed its muscles; the Chinese Basketball Association suspended its relationship with the Rockets, while state television operator CCTV cancelled the broadcast of two NBA minor league games that were to be played in China.

A few days later, the Rockets shut down CNN reporter Christina Macfarlane, who asked players China-related questions in a post-game press conference, requiring that she ask “basketball questions only.” Disney, the owner of ESPN, also seemed content to toe the Chinese government line. On Sportscenter’s October 9 morning show, in advance of the Lakers/Nets preseason game in Shanghai, the network broadcast a graphic showing a map of China that included the maximum extent of its disputed territorial claims, including Taiwan, India’s Arunachal Pradesh and the so-called Nine-Dash Line encompassing the South China Sea.

Sportscenter (10/9/19)

Videogame player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai donning a gas mask in support of Hong Kong protesters.

The power of the Chinese banhammer has also extended into the realm of videogames. Acquiescing to Chinese pressure, videogame conglomerate Activision Blizzard suspended professional Hearthstone player Chung Ng Wai, who plays the fantasy card game under the name Blitzchung. Chung, a native of Hong Kong, showed support for the protests by repeating the slogan “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” and donning a gas mask (now banned in Hong Kong) in an official interview after a tournament win. Blizzard also declined to pay out Chung’s winnings from the tournament, and fired the interviewers.

A recent episode of South Park (10/2/19) found the show’s characters in a similar free-speech predicament. Stan and his friends start a rock band and attempt to get a biopic made, only to find that the movie studio producing their film bow to the whims of the Chinese government, who demand numerous script rewrites and removal of references to the Dalai Lama and homosexuality. As the biopic’s director tells Stan, “You gotta lower your ideals of freedom if you wanna suck on the warm teat of China.”

The Chinese government obviously didn’t take kindly to being made fun of by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The government quickly removed episodes, clips and mentions of the show from the Chinese internet. Parker and Stone responded on Twitter (10/7/19) with a mocking apology:

Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy. Xi doesn’t look just like Winnie the Pooh at all. Tune into our 300th episode this Wednesday at 10! Long live the Great Communist Party of China! May this autumn’s sorghum harvest be bountiful! We good now China?

Even those who showed minimal support for South Park’s protest against Chinese incursions on media free speech have seen repercussions. Popular German DJ Zedd, after liking a tweet from South Park’s official Twitter account, was subsequently banned from performing his music in China.

 

China is not the only entity, or even foreign country, with the ability to influence or exercise veto power over what content major US media companies can produce. The ruling monarchy of Saudi Arabia has frequently used its oil wealth to influence portrayals of its regime. The Saudi government just recently paid Vice media to produce fluffy PR documentaries to play up the reforms of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Many other media outlets, such as the Wall Street Journal, CNN, NBC and the Washington Post (the former employer of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whom the Saudi government murdered), are regularly lobbied by Saudi foreign agents hoping to influence US press coverage of the country. The combination of the Saudi Arabia’s sizeable checkbook and the intimate economic and political relationship that the US maintains with the country surely plays a large part in shaping media coverage of the country (CounterSpin, 4/22/16).

Israel has also exercised influence over what media are OK for distribution in the US and the rest of the world. Last year, pressure from pro-Israel officials stopped the broadcast of an Al Jazeera–produced documentary The Lobby, which detailed the financial and political power of Israel’s advocates in DC political circles.

Israel has in the past barred major US news outlets like CNN from reporting on issues in the occupied territories of the West Bank. Likewise, large US-based tech platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have regularly censored Palestinian users on behalf of the Israeli government, which has threatened litigation against the companies if they didn’t comply.

Facebook in particular has an official policy of acquiescing to the demands of governments such as Indonesia, Pakistan and Myanmar when users run afoul of those governments’ own speech policies. Adherence to such rules can lead to violence and internal repression of people and groups that these governments disdain. For all the talk of media and tech platforms like Facebook being unaccountable transnational entities that are tough to govern, they seem to respect the prerogatives of many of the authoritarian countries in which they operate.

 

When you see real US military equipment being used in a Hollywood movie, as in Black Hawk Down, you can be sure that the script has been scrutinized to remove anything that makes the Pentagon look bad.

The US national security state, of course, has a long history of involvement and say over what content is acceptable in Hollywood, the videogame industry and the US news media.

The Department of Defense frequently grants film productions access to equipment, vehicles and locations. The huge price tag for military equipment like jet planes or high-tech weaponry—paid for by taxpayers—functions as an effective subsidy for the US film industry. Yet Pentagon involvement comes with the catch that movie scripts must pass muster with the DoD’s Hollywood liaison, who makes sure that the producers sign and adhere to the terms of the military’s Production Assistance Agreements. The CIA and NSA’s Hollywood liaisons oversee similar processes. At least 1,800 movies, documentaries and TV shows have been produced under the watchful eye of the US military, while others were abandoned due to lack of military support.

As with war films like Top Gun and American Sniper, the US military sees videogames as effective recruiting and training tools. Indeed, the military has long been heavily involved in the videogame industry, both releasing official videogames themselves and consulting on massively popular games such as Call of Duty.

Some see this military/entertainment complex as a good thing, at least when placed in the context of US soft-power competition with China. In a recent piece for the Atlantic (9/15/19; FAIR.org, 10/3/19), Boston College’s Martha Bayles argued that the US should ramp up cooperation between the military and media to compete globally with China, whose growing media influence helps them project power.

In addition to movies, TV and videogames, the US military also funds other entertainment entities, like the NFL, which uses the money for troop tributes and jet flyovers during pregame shows. Accordingly, the NFL has often taken a hard line against players who speak their mind on select political issues; the league essentially blackballed former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality, which many on the right misinterpreted as a hostile gesture towards the US military.

US news media are also far from immune from government influence. There is a long history of wartime censorship of correspondents embedded with troops—indeed, in World War I and II, there was literally a government agency called the Office of Censorship. Such press censorship continued through America’s later wars, including Vietnam, all the way through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where film crews and embedded reporters were directed by military personnel to report stories in ways that adhered to the military’s official line.

Other government branches have influenced press coverage. The censorship and blackballing of Communists and suspected Communists in Hollywood and broadcasting during the McCarthy era is well known. The CIA, through its Operation Mockingbird, also paid and intimidated both domestic and foreign reporters into writing stories that would support the agency and their aims.

 

The Chinese government’s ability to set the terms of free speech in the US media and entertainment sphere is surely alarming. The far-reaching censorship powers the Chinese state has over internet and other media both inside and outside the country is truly frightening. China might be a unique example in the history of media censorship and influence: Never before has a country deemed a US antagonist exercised such financial power over the media conversation.

However, fears of Chinese censorship might be overreported in comparison with the long history in the US of media censorship at the behest of the US military, government agencies and other foreign countries. Chinese influence over US media shouldn’t be ignored, but air must also be given to the myriad other ways in which other entities, like the US government, “friendly” foreign countries and large tech platforms, control and influence what counts as acceptable speech.

Featured image: the Rockets’ James Harden (cc photo: Keith Allison)

Only One View at The View: Biden Not So Bad

by Douglas Grant

When the then–Democratic frontrunner stopped by the table of The View on April 26 for his first interview since announcing his presidential run, he was afforded an honorific rarely applied to US vice presidents: “The legendary Joe Biden!”

It was a warm homecoming. They called him Joe; he called them friends. Meghan McCain asked him, “What took so long to get into the race? We’re so happy you finally announced.”

When the subject turned to Biden’s handling of the 1991 Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings, Joy Behar joked, “Welcome to The View apology tour.” She all but fed Biden lines on how to handle apologizing to Hill (“You know, I think what she wants you to say is…”), but Biden wouldn’t bite.

Joy Behar on Joe Biden (The View, 9/4/19): “He’s touchy-feely and he didn’t mean it.”

Still, The View has served as a sort of daytime rapid response room for Biden’s candidacy: defending him against charges of being too old (Ana Navarro: Biden “is running against Donald Trump, guys. He’s not running against Usain Bolt”—3/22/19), inoculating him against charges based on his decades-long career (Abby Huntsman: “We all know any dirty laundry he might have”—1/30/19), normalizing his invasive interactions with women (Behar: “He’s touchy-feely and he didn’t mean it”—9/4/19) or dismissing his mangling of a war story (McCain: “He’s probably just exhausted, too”—9/4/19).

The panel seemed particularly intent on squelching memories of the Hill hearing: Sunny Hostin (4/29/19) declared Biden’s apology “should be the end of it,” while Huntsman insisted, “If folks on the left are going to rake him over the coals for something that happened so long ago…then you deserve Trump.” McCain (3/27/19) seemed to offer her youth as a defense of Biden: “This was 27 years ago. I was in elementary school. I have no memory of this.”

The View hosts are quick to boost a Biden union endorsement (4/30/19) or offer general words of support (Huntsman: “I love Joe Biden. I want him to do well”—9/5/19). But it’s their standing up against the many questions that could be raised about Biden’s candidacy that distinguishes the panel.

This tendency has not gone unnoticed at the table. During a discussion of Kamala Harris laughing at a voter using a slur against the developmentally disabled about Donald Trump, Hostin (9/9/19) said, “The men get passes every single time. Every single time. Especially Joe Biden. We’ve given him a pass, really, at this table very, very often for the gaffes.” Moderator Whoopi Goldberg replied, “I think Joe has gotten a pass at this table because, at least a couple of us, actually know, know, know him.”

The New York Times (5/22/19) described The View as “a place where Democrats and Republicans alike go to introduce themselves to a national audience.”

The View’s name conveys that the show is meant to showcase a range of perspectives from a diverse cross section of women, but in practice their views often converge on the Washington consensus. Conceived by pioneering journalist Barbara Walters (a regular dinner party host of Henry Kissinger, and professional reference for an aide to Syria’s Bashar al Assad) as a “dessert” after decades as a globe-trotting interviewer, The View has undergone a radical change from its interviews with soap stars, and episodes with names like “Hip, Fun and Fashionable Mall Clothing/How to Avoid Spreading Germs,” to now leading an episode with a national security adviser’s resignation and a co-host labeling Brazil’s president a fascist.

With about 3 million daily viewers, about as many as Fox News star Tucker Carlson garners each night, The View has become what the New York Times (5/22/19) has called “the most important political TV show in America.” A must-stop for candidates running and politicians rising, its influence extends far past its single hour each weekday. The show’s hosts, past and present, have jumped to lofty media perches like NBC‘s Today (Meredith Vieira), Fox NewsFox and Friends—in effect, the new presidential daily briefing (Elisabeth Hasselbeck), CNN (Sunny Hostin and Lisa Ling). and MSNBC (Nicole Wallace). ABC in particular uses the show as a source of talent, finding homes for hosts at This Week (Meghan McCain), Good Morning America (Sara Haines) and Good Morning America Weekend (Paula Faris).

Despite its wide influence on news and politics, The View is still treated with condescension: when Bill Maher said recently that he never misses an episode of the daytime staple, his liberal audience laughed.

The View is not without its capacity to surprise, quoting Colin Kaepernick’s reference to Robert L. Allen’s Black Awakening in Capitalist America, and using Black History Month, LGBTQ Pride Month and Hispanic Heritage Month to celebrate overlooked contributions to American life, and introduce the life stories of people like Sylvia Rivera and Robert Smalls to a daytime audience. At its table, The View has had discussions about police violence, sexual violence, sexism, and racism. The show featured 9/11 first responders’ fight for healthcare years before Jon Stewart championed the cause on air, and its hosts have championed the importance of unions.

Nearly a decade before the New York Times debated using the word “lie” in its pages, Joy Behar (9/12/08) called John McCain’s negative ads against Barack Obama “lies”—to the GOP presidential candidate’s face, an appearance that Cindy McCain said “picked our bones clean.” (That was long before McCain’s daughter became one of the panelists on the show, of course.) The View also gave Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz a thorough grilling on his vapid run (1/30/19) that repelled his attempts at both-sidesism, its knowing audience laughing at Schultz’s insistence that “you can’t buy the presidency.”

But it also introduced into daytime talk the 2008 controversy about Barack Obama’s relationship with former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers, before Glenn Beck even had a Fox News contract. They allowed Alan Dershowitz to filibuster against his alleged sex abuse victim, indulged in Russiagate and facilitated the Ilhan Omar smear. When The View does a deep dive on issues in the news, they turn to ABC News’ Jonathan Karl to provide impartial analysis, though Karl came up through the right-wing media ecosystem (Extra!, 7/11), and despite his more recent checkered record.

Following the third Democratic debate, Behar (9/13/19) dismissed differences between candidates of the center and of the left:

They’re all on the same page…. So you’re not just voting for a person, you’re voting for a party. I think people need to remember that. So that if you don’t love Joe Biden, remember if he can get elected, he will do the right thing.

But in fact, political figures to Biden’s left, like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Ilhan Omar, do not get the same treatment on The View: They are seldom given passes, and are often met with a marked skepticism.

While the hosts largely believe that a 76-year-old creature of Washington can reunite the country and appeal to Trump voters, cold water is consistently thrown on any more progressive politicians. Speaking of Ocasio-Cortez, Behar (3/11/19) said, “Half the things she talks about are impossible to do, right now.” On who Ocasio-Cortez might endorse in the presidential race, Behar (6/17/19) said: “She wants a transformational presidential candidate. We would love that. I say, get somebody in there who can not AOC but W-I-N, OK? Win, and then we can worry about being transformational afterwards.” Or candidates get written out: “It’s a two-person race, Warren and Biden, period,” McCain (9/13/19), an ABC News contributor, said, which might come as news to residents of Iowa and New Hampshire, and donors in all 50 states.

Meghan McCain (The View, 9/13/19): “I hate ageism,” but “I thought Bernie Sanders was going to cough himself into a coma on the stage last night.”

After the hosts condemned Julian Castro’s contentious debate exchange with Biden as a “cringeworthy” display of “ageism,” and mere moments after herself declaring, “I hate ageism,” McCain (9/13/19) followed that up with, “I thought Bernie Sanders was going to cough himself into a coma on the stage last night, if you want to talk about somebody looking old.”

Or candidates get ignored after they leave the table: Three weeks after Sanders insisted on The View that he, like Andrew Yang and other candidates, supports taxing big tech companies like Amazon and Facebook, Goldberg (9/26/19) asked Yang:

Why do you think no one on either side, or in the middle, has embraced this idea that companies that make their bones in our country should help us participate in our growth?… Nobody’s saying, “That’s a great idea…and suddenly no one’s paying taxes but us?”

Challenging national security conventions does not go down well at the table, either: In 2011, when Michael Moore suggested Osama bin Laden should receive a trial, in keeping with the tradition of Nuremberg, he received a chilly response, even from its nominal liberal panelists. And when Julian Assange was arrested, and McCain (4/11/19) railed that he was a “cyber terrorist,” the bipartisan Washington consensus was upheld by moderate, conservative and liberal panelists alike: Behar said that Assange had “hacked into the Democrats’ computers and helped Trump get elected, basically,” while Huntsman said, “There is a difference in being a whistleblower and a straight-up hacker.”

It took Hostin, a former federal prosecutor, to point out that if McCain had a problem with WikiLeaks, “then you need to have a problem with the Pentagon Papers, the Panama Papers, the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs being released.”

The View signs off each episode by reminding its audience, “Take a little time to enjoy the view.” It’s good advice, but they should think about broadening theirs.

You can send feedback to ABC here (or via Twitter: @TheView). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread.

Media Alarmed by Imaginary US Pullout From Syria

by Gregory Shupak

President Donald Trump’s modification of the US’s Syria policy has generated a torrent of confusion, so it’s worth reviewing the record.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham announced on October 6:

Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria . The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial “Caliphate,” will no longer be in the immediate area.

The statement is notable both because it declines to oppose the Turkish invasion—aimed at the Kurdish-led, US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—and because it suggests that the US will stay in Syria, but will move its forces from the “immediate area” that Turkey is attacking; nothing in these remarks can be read as saying that the US would be withdrawing from Syria.

The initial report from AP (10/6/19) described US troops not “pulling out” but “step[ping] aside.”

An anonymous senior US official quoted by the Associated Press (New York Times, 10/6/19) said that the US will “pull back [its troops] from the immediate area” in northern Syria that Turkey is assaulting. The official, however, went on to say that the Turkish onslaught “is expected to trigger a large combat response from the SDF, and US troops will almost certainly withdraw completely from Syria.”

Trump tweeted that, of the 1,000 troops the US admits to having in Syria, “we only had 50 soldiers remaining in that section of Syria, and they have been removed.” But he has also framed this development as part of a longer term process of getting out of wars in Syria and elsewhere, tweeting, for example, that “we are slowly & carefully bringing our great soldiers & military home.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon statement on Syria said nothing to suggest the US would be withdrawing from the country.

To summarize, an anonymous official speculated that the US might eventually leave Syria, while Trump tweeted that the US was merely shifting “50 soldiers remaining in that section of Syria,” at the same time indicating that he eventually wants to bring the troops home and leave Syria alone, without offering anything close to a concrete plan or timeline. Neither of the two official US government statements—the one from Grisham or the one from the Pentagon—can possibly be taken to mean that the US is taking its hands off Syria, and there is simply no evidence that that’s what’s happening.

 

Yet you wouldn’t know it from media coverage of these developments. Just like last December, when Trump suggested he might soon withdraw from Syria, and when Trump floated the same possibility in March 2018, news outlets consistently and baselessly reported on the issue both as though the US had announced plans to leave Syria, and as though the US has a right and possibly a duty to permanently occupy Syria.

A New York Times headline (10/7/19) described the redeployment of troops within Syria as the “Pulling of US Troops”—helping to spread the misimpression that troops were being pulled out.

The New York Times (10/7/19) ran an article with the headline “Pulling of US Troops in Syria Could Aid Assad and ISIS.” It would be natural to assume that this meant that US troops were being pulled out of Syria, even though that’s not what was occurring.

A report in The Hill (10/7/19) was headlined “Trump Knocks ‘Ridiculous Endless Wars’ Amid US Troop Pullout From Syria,” which suffered from one minor shortcoming, namely that no “US troop pullout from Syria” is taking place.

An Associated Press story (10/7/19) was headlined “US Troops Begin Pulling Out of Syria, Leaving Kurds Without Support.” As noted, there was no evidence that the US was actually “pulling out of Syria.”

USA Today (10/7/19) warned its readers about “’A Reckless Gamble’: Four Reasons Critics Decry Trump’s ‘Impulsive’ Syria Withdrawal.” But those critics can rest easy, since Trump hasn’t withdrawn from Syria.

NBC News (10/8/19) had a segment called “How Allies Are Responding to US Troops Pulling Out of Syria,” but a day earlier, a senior Trump administration official told reporters that the government’s “announcement did not constitute a full US withdrawal from Syria, and that only 50 to 100 US special operations forces were moving to other locations in Syria.” “Moving to other locations in Syria,” clearly, is not the same thing as “pulling out of Syria.”

Still, a Business Insider headline (10/8/19) offered, “Here Are the 5 Major Players That Will Feel the Impact From Trump’s Decision to Withdraw Troops From Syria.”

It’s going to be difficult for Americans to develop an informed opinion about their government’s continuing occupation of Syria, one which lacks a basis in international law, when US media keep wrongly suggesting that the US is exiting the country.

 

Doctors Without Borders (10/11/19) describes the human cost of the Turkish invasion.

Much of the coverage professes concern for people living in the parts of northern Syria that Turkey is attacking. These worries are well-founded. In the first days of this invasion, Turkish airstrikes and artillery fire hit several villages and towns, already killing dozens and sending thousands fleeing from their homes. In the border town Tal Abyad, shelling has forced the vast majority of people to leave, while Doctors Without Borders

is concerned that the many thousands of women and children living in camps such as Al Hol and Ain Issa are also now particularly vulnerable, as humanitarian organisations have been forced to suspend or limit their operations.

The United States is directly implicated in this, beyond even Trump’s initial greenlighting of the assault. Turkey is a member of NATO, an alliance in which the US is the most powerful member, and NATO declined to suggest that Turkey not invade its neighbor, or even offer explicit criticism of this illegal aggression, with the organization’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg offering remarks that served to legitimize the “security” pretext that Turkey is offering as a justification for the attack.

Stoltenberg said on a visit to Turkey on October 11, “While Turkey has legitimate security concerns, I expect Turkey to act with restraint.” He went on to describe “serious concerns about the risk of further destabilising the region, escalating tensions and even more human suffering.”

Moreover, two US military officials told the New York Times (10/11/19):

As Turkish military officials planned the assault, they received American surveillance video and information from reconnaissance aircraft. The information may have helped them track Kurdish positions. Because of an American counterterrorism partnership with Turkey, Turkish aircraft were given access to a suite of American battlefield intelligence in northeast Syria. Turkey was removed from the intelligence-sharing program only on Monday, a Defense Department official said.

One official said that United States warplanes and surveillance aircraft remained in the area to defend the remaining American ground forces in northeast Syria, but said they would not contest Turkish warplanes attacking Kurdish positions.

In 2017, the most recent year for which the numbers have been fully reported, Washington gave Turkey $154 million in aid, the fourth-highest amount of US aid sent to any country in Europe and Asia. From 2011–18, the US sold $3.7 billion worth of weapons to Turkey. Though the US has no right to occupy Syria, it needn’t do so to stop the Turkish attack: If the US said its support and collaboration were at stake, it’s a virtual certainty that Turkey wouldn’t be attacking northern Syria; Turkey wanted to carry out this invasion for months, and didn’t do it until the US gave its blessing.

Calling for the US to get out of Syria and for an end to the Turkish attack is a consistent position: When Turkey attacked largely Kurdish Afrin in Syria in early 2018, plundering the area and driving out 220,000 civilians, the US had forces in Syria, as it does during the present onslaught. The demand that the US keep its forces in Syria to prevent Turkish violence against Kurdish and other Syrian people ignores the fact that US forces in Syria are not an obstacle to Turkish violence.

 

In fact, US intervention is a central reason for this bloodshed, and much more, in the Middle East. Aiding Turkey in its invasion is the Syrian National Army (SNA), a rebrand of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), an umbrella group that the US spent years nurturing to fight the Syrian government; the same scenario unfolded in Afrin, when the FSA also fought alongside Turkey.

US intervention against the Syrian government directly drove violence against minorities in Syria, including Kurds: The US supplied weapons to anti-government groups in Syria that ultimately empowered ISIS, who carried out “attacks on family members of Kurdish fighters and kidnappings of hundreds of civilians on the basis of their ethnic identity.”

The US government can no more be expected to protect Kurds or any other group than can Chevron be expected to undertake green initiatives, because protecting people isn’t the goal of US policy. Seen in the context of longer-term US ruling-class approaches globally and in the Middle East, there is every reason to conclude that US policies towards Syria have been about building military bases, and bleeding and weakening rivals like Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and the Syrian government.

Thus, Washington’s efforts to control the Middle East are a driving force behind the violence in the region. That points to the conclusion that the answer to violence in the region isn’t more US involvement, but less. Yet my research produces no evidence of discussion of this perspective in US corporate media.

 

There is, however, a great deal of coverage asserting that the US should continue occupying Syria so as to weaken its government and other US rivals. The New York Times new headline “Pulling of US Troops in Syria Could Aid Assad and ISIS” (10/7/19) unambiguously indicates that the US should keep its forces in Syria because removing them would benefit the Syrian government. This perspective assumes that the US has a legitimate right to use its military to shape, and perhaps outright dictate, the relative strength of other countries’ governments. The attached article went on to say that the shift in US policy

could also create a void in the region that could benefit President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Russia, Iran and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. And it would likely further limit the United States’ influence over the conflict.

The article seems to endorse the view put forth by Brett McGurk, a former presidential envoy, that if Turkish attack forces a Kurdish redeployment, it would put “American objectives at risk” by benefiting “Russia, Iran and ISIS.” According to this point of view, the US should do what it can to keep Syria in a proxy war for as long as possible, because that state of affairs is bad for the US government’s international rivals.

A Times editorial (10/7/19) advocated subjecting Syria to that condition indefinitely—to maintain an open-ended occupation of Syria as a “counterweight to Turkey and Syria’s Russian and Iranian allies”—because otherwise unspecified “foe[s]” will not “look at [America] and fear a determined adversary.” Intimidating unnamed political forces is, to say the least, an unconvincing justification for maintaining an illegal military occupation.

A Washington Post editorial (10/7/19) starts from the premise that “President Trump abruptly ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Syria”–displaying an ignorance that would be stunning if one were unfamiliar with the standards of the Post editorial page.

A Washington Post editorial (10/7/19) opined that

the 1,000 US troops in Syria could be forced to withdraw entirely, which would be a major victory for Russia and open the way for Iran to entrench its forces along Israel’s northern border.

For the Post, Syrians are pawns whose fates the US should hold hostage because of a grander imperial game. Another reason the paper gave for supporting a US presence in Syria is that

the United States was able to partner with the SDF to destroy the would-be Islamic caliphate and gain de facto control over a large swath of eastern Syria. That impeded Iran’s expansion in the country and gave Washington vital leverage over any eventual settlement of the Syrian civil war.

Why it’s “vital”—or even legitimate—for Washington to have “leverage over any eventual settlement” of the war in Syria is unexplained. It’s simply taken for granted that the United States should play a major part in shaping Syria’s future.

Influential sectors in corporate media clearly believe that US policy in Syria should be tailored toward assuring worldwide US hegemony. That’s necessarily going to entail Kurdish and many other peoples winding up in body bags.

 

‘Finance Can Be Something That Helps Rather Than Harms Our Communities’ - CounterSpin interview with Trinity Tran on public banking

Janine Jackson interviewed Public Bank LA’s Trinity Tran about public banking for the October 11, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Fresno Bee (10/2/19)

Janine Jackson: The October 2 Fresno Bee reported that California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law allowing cities in California to start their own public banks, to make it easier to fund projects in the public interest. Atypically for such a story, the Bee led with opponents’ argument that “such ventures are risky and impractical,” before offering supporters’ successful view, and a statement from the bill’s author, which the story then undercut with the reporter’s claim that “analyses” determined public banks “could reduce state tax revenue.” Followed by a statement from the California Bankers Association that public banks could “harm local banks,” put taxpayer dollars at risk, and “aren’t always in the best interest of the public.” Before closing with the words of the head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association that the commercial banking industry already provides any services public banks could, and “government tends to mess up most of the things it touches.”

While that story was almost humorously negative, don’t expect a lot of corporate media love for public banks, precisely to the extent that they represent, as David Dayen wrote recently, “a radical shift in understanding money, what it represents, and how it can work collectively.” Of course, that’s exactly why the idea, and this historic step, is so exciting. Joining us now to talk about what just happened in California is Trinity Tran. She’s the co-founder and lead organizer for Public Bank LA, and a founding member of the California Public Banking Alliance. She joins us by phone from Los Angeles. Welcome to CounterSpin, Trinity Tran.

Trinity Tran: Thank you, Janine, thanks for having me.

JJ: Well, this is a big deal. But I haven’t seen too much media yet, outside of California. So let’s just start with what the Public Banking Act, formerly AB 857, that Newsom signed–what does it do? Why is it historic?

Trinity Tran: “It essentially is a David vs. Goliath story of an all-volunteer group of activists that went toe-to-toe with well-funded banking lobbyists to push this bill through the California state legislature.” (image: Public Banking Institute)

TT: Yes, this has been a low-key win. But it’s been quite incredible, because it essentially is a David vs. Goliath story of an all-volunteer group of activists that went toe-to-toe with well-funded banking lobbyists to push this bill through the California state legislature. And, of course, as you just mentioned, Governor Newsom signed the bill last week.

So what AB 857 does is, it sets up a legal and regulatory framework for public banks to be regulated by the California Department of Business Oversight. It allows and empowers California cities and counties to form their own banks.

Currently in California, we don’t have a public banking option. The only public bank in the United States is the Bank of North Dakota, in the state of North Dakota, which is one of the only banks that survived the economic crash of 2008, really, and has been highly successful for the last century. Returned 18% on investment back to the general fund. So that provides a great model for us to emulate here in California.

So now that Governor Newsom has signed this bill, it opens the doors for cities and counties in California to be able to create a business plan, and submit the business plan to the Department of Business Oversight for approval, to begin the process, to be able to recapture all the interest and fees that right now we pay to out-of-state Wall Street banks, who don’t have a fiduciary duty to invest in California communities.

So this is a very exciting step for California, and is potentially going to shift the national conversation behind finance. What we’re doing is reenvisioning what finance is; it can be something that helps rather than harms our communities. We’re redirecting the flow of money. Instead of our taxpayer dollars going to Wall Street banks, who then leverage our funds to finance private prisons and immigrant detention centers and fossil fuel projects, we’re able to circulate that money back into our local economies, to actually address things that we need in California, such as affordable housing and green energy infrastructure and small business loans.

JJ: Part of what is so different about public banks is not just what they would fund, but how they work. The idea that they would be more transparent than commercial banks and more accountable and more, essentially, local. It’s not just a what; it’s also how it works and who’s involved, isn’t that right?

TT: Exactly. Deposits are made locally, investments are local, the decisions are made locally. It’s a return to local control. In California, over the last 20 years, we’ve lost over 75% of our local banks. And that means that wealth is getting siphoned out of the communities, to line the pockets of out-of-state bankers.

Cal Matters (4/28/19)

JJ: One of the most widely circulated columns was this column by Dan Walters, in which he worried that if the bill became law, we could see political pull being used to direct loans from these banks. And that made me think of how withholding loans and redlining, how much lasting damage that did and does, in the black community in particular, and the idea that somehow having it in the hands of the public would introduce the idea of this kind of interference…is very disturbing. But what I really wanted to say was, what I think is so interesting about public banking, is that it’s not trickle-down. Democratized finance really helps the worst-off first, in a way.

TT: Absolutely. Regarding the decision-making process on loans and investments, the bank will have an independent board of directors.

JJ: Right.

TT: And that’s going to be worked out in the business plan, that has to get approved by the California Department of Business Oversight, to ensure that there isn’t any political interference. And, of course, activists will be working hand-in-hand with legislators across the state to ensure that the banks are going to be the most democratic and transparent as possible.

JJ: And then, just the idea, to the point that communities of color might see themselves particularly invested in this sort of effort, as having been particularly harmed by the private banking industry.

TT: Yes, having stakeholders be a part of the buildout of the banks is going to be very critical to its success. We don’t want these banks just to be built by financial experts and bankers. We plan on, here in Los Angeles, and I know with our allies across the state, we plan on having community forums to educate constituents and bring in community leaders and stakeholders, to be part of the conversation on what the buildout of these banks is going to look like.

AB 857 was created as a very lightweight bill, so we would be able to give flexibility to localities and local governments across the state to design a bank with lending priorities that would reflect the needs of their constituents.

JJ: Some of the coverage that I’ve seen has noted that North Dakota, as you mentioned earlier, the only other state with a public bank system, or a public bank; that was 100 years ago, and now California. It seems unlikely that we will wait another hundred years to see another place take up public banking. You do see what happened in California as a flexible frame, as you’re putting it, but still a frame for something that other places could take up?

TT: Absolutely. It really is the inevitable evolution of a financial system that’s only served a very small handful of people. And this has been said many times before: It is an idea that is long overdue, it’s an idea whose time has come. So we were so thrilled to get the endorsement of over 180 organizations across the state, from grassroots to grass-tops, elected officials, including 17 cities and counties who signed on to endorse the bill, Democratic central committees from across the state, social justice groups, environmental groups; all across the board, people are unifying behind this idea. So we hope that this sets a precedent, California can set a precedent, for cities and states across the country.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Trinity Tran of Public Bank LA and the California Public Banking Alliance. Trinity Tran, thank you so much for joining us today on CounterSpin.

TT: Thank you, Janine. Appreciate it.

Khury Petersen-Smith on Turkey & the Kurds, Alex Vitale on the Purpose of Policing

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(cc photo: Kurdishstruggle)

This week on CounterSpin: “US withdraws from Syria, in a remarkable betrayal of the Kurds”  is a fair characterization of corporate news media’s take on recent events—the only problems being that the US has not withdrawn from Syria, and a US betrayal of the Kurds is not at all remarkable, if by that we mean surprising. World events can be confusing, but they’re made much more so by media coverage that insists, against all evidence, that righteousness is what guides US foreign policy. We talk about Syria and Turkey and the Kurds with Khury Petersen-Smith of the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Atatania Jefferson

Also on the show: The Fort Worth police officer who killed Atatania Jefferson has been arrested (and released on bond) and fired (after he resigned). As with the murder of Botham Jean in his home by a Dallas police officer, Jefferson’s killing is spurring handwringing over what it’s implied is a “corruption” of law enforcement, a turning against its original purpose of community protection and service. This time two years ago, CounterSpin talked about the mythology in that conception with Alex Vitale, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of the book The End of Policing. We revisit part of that conversation this week.

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In Ohio Debate, Media Stuck to an Increasingly Rigid Script

by Julie Hollar

This week’s Democratic presidential debate, hosted in Westerville, Ohio, by CNN and the New York Times, confirmed that media are stuck in a fairly rigid debate script that elevates questions about healthcare and the economy above all else, and leaves many pressing topics deeply underexplored.

The October 15 debate focused heavily on the economy, which made up 30% of all the questions. The next most frequent topic? Non-policy issues (17%), which in this case consisted of questions about electability along with the closing question to every candidate, which challenged them to describe a “different” friendship they had that might be similar to the one Ellen DeGeneres recently defended having with George W. Bush.

CNN‘s Anderson Cooper (10/15/19) challenged each of the candidates to name “a friendship that you’ve had that would surprise us”—in the “spirit” of Ellen DeGeneres and George W. Bush “laughing together at a football game.”

Certainly, questions concerning things like jobs, inequality and tech monopolies can be serious and helpful to voters. (The same can’t be said of the non-policy questions.) And with 12 candidates on the stage, covering every topic of interest to voters would be impossible. But together, economic and non-policy questions accounted for nearly half the night’s questions. Questions about abortion rights, raised for the first time since the initial round of debates in September, were not even given to every candidate. The climate emergency was completely ignored, as were issues about race, LGBTQ issues and even immigration—until now, a frequent debate topic.

By all appearances, CNN and the Times read their mandate as targeting a local suburban Ohio audience they perceived as straight, white and male, and unconcerned about issues of civil rights, social justice or the long-term existence of life as we know it on our planet. (Meanwhile, CNN anchor John King underscored the evening’s extremely white perspective when he wondered in post-debate commentary—10/15/19—whether new endorsements from congressmembers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib indicate that Bernie Sanders’ support is “too urban.”)

The Democratic nomination race has now had six nights of broadcast debates, with over 500 questions asked by journalists from NBC, CNN, ABC and the New York Times. The most heavily covered topic has been healthcare, with 117 questions; non-healthcare economy-related questions come in a close second, at 106. After that, there’s a rather precipitous drop to the next tier, which encompasses international/foreign policy questions (76), non-policy questions (68) and immigration (61). No other issue breaks the 10% bar, according to our count.

Education has been the subject of 2% of questions (12 total). LGBTQ issues have been raised in exactly two questions so far, voting rights in none.

Some outlets have held town halls on individual issues, like MSNBC‘s (9/19–20/19) and CNN‘s (9/4/19) climate town halls, and CNN‘s LGBTQ town hall (10/10/19). While these have offered in-depth, one-on-one questioning of candidates on these issues, the debate media hosts seem to have taken them as passes to get out of addressing those issues in the much more widely viewed debates. Things like climate disruption, LGBTQ issues, education, race and abortion aren’t boutique issues—they’re essential policy areas that are currently under grave threat from the Trump administration and the conservative-packed courts. If debate hosts won’t give them the time they deserve, the DNC must allow single-issue debates.

Democratic Debate Question Topics, June–October 2019

Methodology: FAIR counted all questions except for requests for opening or closing statements, interjections, clarifications and follow-ups to the same candidate on the same subject. Some questions were classified as belonging to more than one category, so total percentages exceed 100%.

‘People Taking Action Inspires Other People’ - CounterSpin interview with Mike Elk on the GM strike

Janine Jackson interviewed Payday Report’s Mike Elk about the GM strike for the October 11, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: As we record the show on October 9, we understand contract talks are resuming between the United Auto Workers and GM. Some 49,000 GM workers have been on strike since September 16, over issues including healthcare, job security and the use of tiered pay scales. You couldn’t say the labor action isn’t being covered, but few reporters are really embedded in the labor movement these days—and it shows.

Mike Elk is the senior labor reporter and founder at Payday Report. He also covers labor and immigration issues for the Guardian and numerous other outlets. He joins us now by phone from Rochester, New York. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Mike Elk.

Mike Elk: Great to be on the show with you, Janine.

JJ: You are now on the road, and you’ve been nonstop on the road, covering this strike for Payday Report. When you lift your head up from reporting, I wonder, and read other outlets, or watch TV about the strike, what impresses you? How does what you read compare with what you see yourself?

ME: Well, what I read isn’t a human story. What I read is a horserace story: Where’s the union at? How many people are getting laid off at suppliers? How is the stock price at GM being hurt? It’s not the story about what is changing inside the people on the picket line, the new sense of power that’s being born among folks. To me, that story is much more interesting. Because, as we know, strikes inspire other strikes; people taking action inspires other people.

And when you go out to the picket lines, you see people from all kinds of different unions out on those picket lines. And in the process, people are being radicalized, people are being changed, and people are given a new sense of hope.

But you’re not seeing that. What you’re seeing in the press alternates between horserace coverage and poverty porn: “Oh, look how poor, look how much people are suffering out on strike” versus “look what’s changing in people.” And to me, that’s the much more interesting story, the human part of it.

JJ: Well, it’s interesting you say that, because I when I look at coverage, I see it sort of collage-y. There’ll be a kind of a human interest story over here, with some soundbites from folks on the line, and then it’s separated from the analysis over here, where we read things about, like, for example, a piece I saw in the Washington Post talking about the “staggering cost of employees’ incredibly good health benefits.”

Washington Post laments the “staggering cost of employees’ incredibly good health benefits” in recent article.

You know, outside of Payday Report, honestly, we don’t often hear, No. 1, workers speaking at length about the conditions that they’re protesting, really explaining them. But then, even more so, you don’t hear workers give their own analysis; you know, not just say, “It’s hard. I have kids,” but explain how workers are pitted against one another in the workplace, but don’t want to be; the way they feel connected in the community, and feel forces trying to divide them. It’s just, as you say, kind of, there are humans over here, and then the real story is over here, and the twain don’t meet.

ME: Yeah, and that’s what we see all the time. And I think a big part of the reason for that is, look, part of the reason I write from the perspective I do is I come out of a union household. My mother was an auto worker, she worked at the Volkswagen plant in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. My father’s a union leader. I grew up around union values. So when I go out to go cover picket lines, it’s not some zoo safari-like experience of, “Oh, I’m going into real America, I’m going to meet some real workers….” These are the kind of people that hang out around my house, and I treat them the way I would treat people I grew up with and still see a lot.

You know, I live pretty close to the neighborhood where I grew up in Pittsburgh. And that’s a much different perspective than most people that are coming out of journalism school, or coming out of high-income backgrounds, where they’re like, “Wow, this is some rare bird in the wild, workers on strike!”

JJ: Yeah, yeah. And I think they bring a prism to it that makes them miss certain things. You’re one of the few people, for example, that I’ve heard even mention that there are African-Americans in the UAW; that doesn’t even come through, really.

ME: That’s one of the things that outrages me the most. Look, African-Americans comprise 10 percent of the workforce overall, but they comprise 19 percent of the auto workforce, and even more in the unionized plants. And there’s a wide variety of lists of reasons for this. In large part, the big auto plants in the Midwest, when they were being built was at the same time that African-Americans were coming up from the South, looking for jobs. So African-Americans have played a huge role in the founding of the auto industry in this country. And not only that, in the 1950s and ’60s, the UAW fought GM to not discriminate in hiring. So you have a workforce in some of these plants in some of these bigger cities that is 30, 40% black in some instances.

JJ: It’s an important angle in the story that if you bring in just your standard labor/management strike glasses, you overlook it.

Well, bigger picture, if I read one more story that blandly cites management’s need for “flexibility,”
when they mean upending people’s lives without giving them a say… So much of this story is about the broader economic transition: What are society’s responsibilities to workers, to communities, when it makes sense to stop mining coal, or making certain kinds of cars? But it’s presented as, well, Michelline Maynard had an op-ed in the Washington Post that says it. She says, “The carmakers would have you think that every American wants a big ol’ SUV or pickup truck. And the union, with its walkout, is saying it wants to keep things the way they are.”  Neither side gets it, is the point, that, you know, times are changing. There’s an insistence on saying that unions and workers want to resist change, rather than that they want a say in how changes are made.

ME: I find that all the time. Some people are saying, well, aren’t these workers opposed to the Green New Deal? And I say, no, they don’t have a problem with the Green New Deal. They just want to build the cars.

JJ: Right. That piece ended by saying, GM may not know what the future holds, but “by walking off the job, the UAW is showing it doesn’t want to help GM find out.” And it’s, again, this idea of labor as fundamentally backward-looking, which seems to go against what you see when you just hold your head up and look around today. There’s a lot of energy, forward-moving energy, in the labor movement.

ME: Yeah, when they talk about flexibility, you know, if General Motors wants more flexibility, they should go to a yoga class. You don’t get that out of treating your workers poorly. You just screw them over. And so many people in the press are willing to just do this kind of, “Oh, let’s split it down the middle,” when there’s no splitting it down the middle when it comes to workers and bosses; they’re the 1% and these are the “everybody else,” right? The majority of people are behind the workers. And yet there’s this false frame of, “Let’s split it down the middle and see how it goes.”

JJ: You talked about strikes inspiring other strikes. That doesn’t disappear, even if the strike doesn’t win everything that it’s trying to. What happens to that energy—the strike’s gone on a very long time—if things come out mixed, or even negative?

ME: I think people learned something; people saw how much support they can get. And not only that, other unions have been mobilizing members to show up to picket lines; people got training on what happens. A mentor of mine once said, “No organizing is ever wasted. People learn things. People make mistakes and they learn from those mistakes. People learn things they did well and they gain confidence in themselves.” So I think, win or lose, this is really changing the framework of the country.

JJ: I’ll ask you, just finally — any thoughts for reporters who—you know, we’re saying there are going to be more and more labor actions like this; there’s hopefully going to be more coverage of it. What do you have to say to reporters who might be starting to cover labor actions today or tomorrow?

ME: Make friends with people in organized labor, just don’t call them up for comment; go out to lunch, go out to their union meetings, go to the barbecues, get to be personal friends with these people. I mean, I’m personal friends with a lot of people I cover in the labor movement. And it helps your perspective to really put yourself in the shoes of what people are doing. And I would say that’s the biggest problem, is most people that cover issues in this country would never sit down to lunch with a blue-collar worker unless they were there to interview them.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Mike Elk, senior labor reporter at Payday Report. You can follow their work, and support it, at PaydayReport.com. Mike Elk, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

ME: Thanks, Janine.

 

WSJ, NYT Celebrate ‘Shale Revolution’ for Investor Class, Despite Its Leading to Our Doom

by Joshua Cho

It’s not hard to figure out that corporate media represent the perspectives and interests of a small elite investor class of the US population, rather than its vast working class majority. Simply compare the size of the “Business” section in major newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times—ostensibly on opposite sides of the political spectrum—with the nonexistence of their “Labor” sections.

But it is hard to think of a more palpable example of corporate journalists seeing themselves aligned with the interests of the investor class, against literally everyone else on the planet, than the celebration of the “shale revolution” and US “energy independence,” found in their cheerleading coverage of the US’s journey to becoming the world’s top oil producer despite the ongoing climate catastrophe.

The Wall Street Journal (6/25/17) is trying to seduce us.

A 2012 editorial in the Wall Street Journal (11/14/12), “Saudi America,” salivated over the prospects of the US surpassing Saudi Arabia as the “world’s largest oil producer as early as 2020,” due in large part to fracking and other methods of extracting fossil fuels from underground shale deposits. But this enthusiasm for new sources of carbon to burn is virtually indistinguishable from the ostensibly “objective” coverage found in the regular reporting of the Journal and the Times.

The Journal’s “The Shale Revolution’s Staggering Impact in Just One Word: Plastics” (6/25/17) gloated over how “new parents in Rio de Janeiro buy[ing] baby food in plastic containers” are “bringing home a little piece of the US shale revolution.” The Journal noted how the “boom in drilling” has lowered “the prices for the primary ingredients” the US chemical industry uses to make “tiny plastic pellets” that are then “melted and shaped into plastic products,” and how “integrated oil firms” like Exxon Mobil and Shell are “racing to take advantage of the cheap byproducts of the oil and gas being unlocked by shale drilling.”

The Journal noted how “a spike in demand” for the raw materials used to manufacture plastics “could make drilling more profitable,” without once mentioning the climate catastrophe or the devastating pollution from plastics for the environment (Guardian, 6/9/18).

The Journal’s “US Becomes Net Exporter of Oil, Fuels for First Time in Decades” (12/6/18) declared that the US becoming “the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas” was a “symbolic milestone,” because a “renaissance in US drilling” is solving the apparent “problem of scarcity” that had “defined US thinking and strategy around oil, the world’s economic lifeblood.” The Journal relished the thought that “reducing American dependency on oil imports” meant that “America is moving closer to achieving ‘energy independence’” as a result of “the shale revolution.”

There was no acknowledgment that this meant that the US—already the biggest carbon polluter in history—would be leading the planet toward an even greater climate disaster, against the opposition of less-developed countries with large indigenous populations (TeleSur, 4/1/19).

Fracking “has dramatically reshaped the global oil industry over the past decade,” the Wall Street Journal (3/11/19) reports—with no mention of how it’s reshaping the Earth’s atmosphere.

This year, the Journal’s “Second Wave of US Shale Revolution Is Coming, Says IEA” (3/11/19), noted that the US had surpassed “Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the world’s largest producer of crude oil,” with current output “hovering around 12 million barrels a day.” It credited “the use of hydraulic fracturing in the US to drill for oil in shale rock, a process known as fracking,” with allowing the US to “rival traditional producers like Russia and Saudi Arabia” for “market share.”

It also covered the International Energy Agency’s annual five-year outlook report, which projects that the US is “expected to double its gross crude oil exports to 4.2 million barrels a day by 2024, while total exports of crude and refined products should reach 9 million barrels a day.” US crude production, “driven by relentless growth in shale oil,” is “expected to account for 70% of the total increase in global production capacity over the next five years.”

If the Journal were interested in providing useful information to people interested in preserving a hospitable planet—instead of wealthy investors—another forecast it could have included in its recounting of the US oil industry’s prospects from fracking would have been the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s announcement that carbon pollution needs to be cut, not increased, by 45 percent by 2030 to keep the planet below the critical 1.5°C warming threshold necessary to prevent irreversible devastation (Guardian, 10/8/18).

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that an outlet with “Wall Street” in its name caters to investors (though even financiers need a habitable planet). However, one can scarcely tell the difference between the coverage of the “shale revolution” in the “conservative” Wall Street Journal and the “liberal” New York Times.

“The shale revolution is going global,” the New York Times (6/17/14) reported.

The Times’ report (6/17/14) on “the shale revolution going global,” as “the world’s largest energy companies are on the hunt for new sources of what they call unconventional oil and natural gas,” described how these “multi-billion dollar investments” could “change the face of global energy markets.” The Times’ Mark Scott emphasized the size and profitability of the potential shale energy resources—rather than the dangers in extracting them:

In total, global recoverable shale gas resources may reach 7.3 trillion cubic feet, or the equivalent of four times Russia’s proven gas reserves, according to the Energy Information Administration in Washington. Shale oil deposits could total 345 billion barrels worldwide, or more than Saudi Arabia’s current conventional oil resources.

That Scott views the potential to transfer this buried carbon into the atmosphere as an opportunity rather than a calamity was demonstrated when he listed “environmental campaigners” who raise concerns about the negative consequences of fracking among the “many obstacles” for the otherwise “bullish prospects” for investors.

Some of the Times’ coverage of the “shale revolution” did mention the climate crisis—only to absurdly spin fracking as somehow part of the solution. The TimesEduardo Porter (1/20/15) discussed how the 1970s oil embargo motivated the US to lay “the foundation of an industrial policy that over the span of four decades developed the technologies needed to unleash American shale oil and natural gas onto world markets.” The Times noted that “environmentalists against any government involvement in the fossil fuels business will hate this,” but still made the curious argument that unleashing this carbon could help “deliver a low-carbon future,” because the “cheap oil” following the US-driven supply glut would create an opportunity to raise revenue for “new energy technologies” by raising “gas taxes without angering voters.”

The neoliberal ideology of the Times was on full display when Porter portrayed the “heavy government investment in research and development” and the “collaboration between government and business in pursuit of energy independence”—i.e., government subsidies for fracking—as a “valuable lesson” for combating climate change. An alternative left-wing strategy for combating climate change that doesn’t depend on fracking—which contaminates our drinking water and releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas—in the form of a Green New Deal that would ban fracking and dramatically raise taxes on heavily subsidized oil corporations, not consumers, wasn’t considered (FAIR.org, 9/6/19).

The Times’ “Oil Boom Gives the US a New Edge in Energy and Diplomacy” (1/28/18), by Clifford Krauss, depicted the US oil industry as a resilient underdog overcoming fierce enemies to liberate captive populations, as well as a cudgel to beat down US enemies. Krauss narrated how oil companies’ “success” came despite “the efforts of Saudi Arabia and its oil allies to undercut the shale drilling spree in the United States,” and how the oil industry “overcoming three years of slumping prices” to challenge the “dominance of Saudi Arabia,” and undercutting “Russian energy dominance over Eastern Europe,” constitutes evidence of the “resiliency” of the “shale boom.” He noted how a “resurgence in American oil production” is also offering Washington “strategic weapons once unthinkable,” by providing a “supply cushion” whenever “political turmoil” in other countries threatens to “interrupt flows to markets,” thereby giving “leeway to apply sanctions on other producers” like Iran, Venezuela and Russia.

The Times awkwardly inserted brisk mentions of environmentalists arguing that shale drilling is “extending the life of fossil fuels to the detriment of the environment” and “cleaner energy,” but moved on to praise the “sheer force” of US oil production, the “supremacy of its technology” and their “unmatched pipeline, refinery and storage structure” in capping oil prices. It also brushed off the harmful effects of increased oil production with blithe predictions that production and demand for oil will be curbed “over the next few decades,” when it would already be too late.

The main downside of the “oil boom” seen by the New York Times (2/3/19) is that it might “drive down prices too much.”

The Times’ Krauss (2/3/19) continued this heroic portrayal of the US oil industry this year when he described how the Permian Basin straddling Texas and New Mexico “withstood the onslaught” of a “global collapse of oil prices,” boasting of its becoming the world’s “second-most-productive oil field” with a “combination of technical innovation, aggressive investing and copious layers of oil-rich shale.” The Times exulted that the “bounty” of oil has “empowered the United States diplomatically,” allowing it to “impose sanctions on Iran and Venezuela without worrying much about increasing gasoline prices.”

In the style of a Journal report, the Times’ Permian Basin story clearly aligned itself with the interests of wealthy investors by omitting all consideration of the ongoing climate crisis and environmental harm, with Krauss describing how the formation is “bursting with production and exploration,” with the “biggest concern” being “how to create more capacity to get all that oil to market.” The “biggest risk” of “too much output” is not that it might render the atmosphere incapable of supporting civilization, but that it might “drive down prices too much and jeopardize their profitability.”

To be fair, the Times and the Journal also provided negative coverage of the “Shale Revolution”—but, again, primarily on behalf of wealthy investors profiting off the planet’s destruction. A Times news article (6/30/19) reported that “US Oil Companies Find Energy Independence Isn’t So Profitable,” conveying worries that “the industry” might possibly be forced to “leave oil and gas in the ground” to combat climate change. The Journal has reported on “shareholders’ disillusionment with shale,” and shale executives emphasizing “free cash flow” to investors, rather than promises to “ramp up” production, as in the shale revolution’s golden years, because shale stocks have “reached historic lows” (Wall Street Journal, 8/13/19, 9/9/19, 9/29/19).

The bipartisan expansion of US oil production is a major indicator that Washington has never taken the climate catastrophe seriously, viewing US oil reserves not as a peril that needs to be kept underground but as an opportunity for profit and geopolitical advantage. Examining how corporate media have cheered on the “shale revolution” and US “energy independence” suggests that the “conservative” Wall Street Journal and the “liberal” New York Times sound the same because they are both owned by for-profit corporations owned by the same investor class, which has a strong financial stake in continuing to profit off the disastrous status quo (FAIR.org, 8/1/17).

The False Balance Between Fascists and Antifascists

by Gregory Shupak

Right-wing terror is a feature of daily life in present-day America. Ostensibly spontaneous violence incubates in the same ideological ecosystem as organized reactionary political associations.

Tribute to victims at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh. (photo: Wikimedia)

Robert Bowers, the man arrested for a rampage that killed seven at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, was seemingly steeped in the ultra-right’s internal online debates, blaming Jews and Muslims for what he sees as the “certain extinction” toward which Americans and “Western Civilization” are supposedly headed. Right before the killing spree, Bowers posted on Gab, a social media platform used by white nationalists, that he “can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered,” singling out HIAS, a pro-refugee organization that Tree of Life supports, as a particular villain.

Bowers is a believer in “white genocide,” a white-supremacist delusion that holds that demographic and social changes in the US and other countries—such as immigration, an increase in multiracial children, multiculturalism and feminism — are all part of a plot to exterminate the white race.

A massacre in El Paso left 20 dead, and the suspect appears to have posted an anti-immigrant manifesto immediately before the rampage that echoes white-nationalist talking points on the supposed threat of the “ethnic displacement” of white people; it warns against “race mixing,” and refers to immigrants as “invaders.”

Meanwhile, hate crimes in America rose by 9% in 2018, the fifth consecutive year of increase and a trend that so far continues into 2019. The most frequently targeted groups were black, Jewish and LGBTQ people; almost all the hate-based murders were carried out by white supremacists and misogynists, and none were attributable to leftists.

Fascists march in Charlottesville (cc photo: Tony Crider)

This is the backdrop against which conflicts between fascists and antifascists must be considered, particularly as the movements on the vanguard of the American right are implicated in violent attacks of their own.

The Proud Boys are a group of violent neo-fascists who are anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-transgender people. Violence is in the organization’s very DNA. Their initiation rituals involve applicants being beaten by people in the group, as well as prospective members “serv[ing] the ‘cause’ . . . by engaging in a physical brawl with members of ‘antifa.’” In October of last year, after a New York City lecture by the organization’s founder, Gavin McInnes, a mob of Proud Boys was captured on video beating several men while yelling homophobic slurs. Ten Proud Boys were charged in the assault, and two have been convicted.

Patriot Prayer is a violent, radical right-wing group. In 2018, Patriot Prayer members were arrested for assaulting multiple people in Portland. On August 3, Portland police arrested six members of the organization, including its leader, Joey Gibson, for attacking antifascists on May Day; the group has also been caught on video planning assaults.

The Three Percenters are an armed anti-migrant group;  one of its most well-known leaders, Chris Hill led an armed protest against the construction of a mosque. Earlier this year, three men tied to the group were sentenced to a combined 81 years in prison for plotting to bomb Somali and Muslim communities in Kansas.

American Guard, which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a hate group, has members who previously belonged to the KKK. Brien James, who founded American Guard in Indiana in 2016, is alleged to have punched and stomped a man to the brink of death at a party for refusing to “seig heil,” and has boasted of being “tried for attempted murder and multiple batteries and hate crimes,” as well as having a Joint Terrorism Task Force file “a mile long”; in 2006, he was part of a group that beat up a rival fascist in front of the latter’s wife and daughter.

Antifa activist, Portland (cc photo: Old White Truck)

Antifascists organize to try to stop these movements as one prong of an effort to build a more equal world. “Antifa” refers to one set of tactics used to physically confront such groups; Cornel West says that antifa saved his life and those of other nonviolent protestors resisting the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.

Maximillian Alvarez, a writer and PhD candidate who organizes with the Campus Antifascist Network, says that contemporary antifascists “rely on collective, autonomous, grassroots power to disrupt, expose, block and overwhelm fascist gatherings.” He describes people engaged in antifascist practice as taking the view that

staying put is fatal while violent extremists take bolder action and banal institutional powers conspire more brazenly against us in the shifting terrain of our increasingly extreme moment; to resist surges in far-right extremism while constantly moving to build popular support for a progressive dismantling of the material and cultural conditions that engender it—this is the core of any antifascist politics worthy of the name.

Historian Mark Bray (Boston Review, 11/29/17) explains that while the overwhelming majority of antifascist action is nonviolent,

they take fascist ideologues at their word when they threaten to murder immigrants. The antifascist conception of self-defense amounts to an argument for the minimization of harm to marginalized communities. The best way to accomplish this, antifascists argue, is to stop white supremacists from taking even the first step toward building power rather than waiting for them to show up at someone’s house with baseball bats.

This goal, Bray says, is usually accomplished through a wide variety of nonviolent methods—

actions which tend to fly beneath the public radar. But when such tactics fail, as a last resort antifascists are willing to physically shut down a Klan rally—even one that is “law-abiding.”

Thus the qualitative differences between antifa and the uber-right could hardly be more stark. The latter preclude debate by dehumanizing the majority of people in America (and on earth) who aren’t white, male, straight and cisgender, and by enacting threatening violence against women and minorities because of who they are. Yet when the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, the Three Percenters and American Guard rallied in Portland, Oregon, last month—at least in part, it would seem, in an effort to encourage the government to curb left-wing dissent by classifying antifa as an “organization of terror“—mainstream media repeatedly suggested that these outfits are analogous to antifa.

USA Today (8/17/19) used vague language to obfuscate the nature of the conflict, describing explicit racists and explicit anti-racists as “competing groups” who “faced off with heated, verbal exchanges,” engaged in “political skirmishes” as “protesters and counter-protesters battled.”

Fox News (8/17/19) presented the antifa response to fascist demonstrations as “dueling protests.”

Fox News (8/17/19) applied the same phony balance in its headline, “Portland Mayor Praises Police After ‘Largely Peaceful’ Day of Far-Right, Far-Left Demonstrations.” Using “far” as a modifier for both factions makes them sound like they are mirror images of each other, rather than one group of people that wants to promote violence against some of the most vulnerable in America and another that wants to stop that from happening.

The first sentence deployed the same trick:

The mayor of Portland, Ore., said Saturday night that his city had avoided the “worst-case scenario” after members of far-right groups and far-left members of antifa held dueling demonstrations in the center of the city that lasted for hours on end.

The article implied the conflict was between forces that are similar because they are on the fringes of opposite ends of the political spectrum, “dueling demonstrations” rather than people attempting to prevent fascists from building their movement to murder, assault and oppress women and minorities. Similar gatherings in Portland had, the piece noted, “erupted in clashes,” as if these “clashes” can be best understood as a depoliticized force of nature, like a volcano, instead of violent groups bent on dehumanization meeting pushback when they hold public events to spread their message.

The Boston Herald (9/3/19) had a veneer of both sides-ism, saying in an editorial that “antifa and various far-right groups have continuously clashed on the streets of Portland, with escalating violence” and that any form of “violent and disruptive behavior cannot be normalized by our politicians.” (Opposing all forms of “disruptive behavior,” of course, means opposing all protests.) Yet it’s clear that in this article, which focuses on the antifa presence at Boston’s so-called “Straight Pride Parade,” the Herald wasn’t committed to moral equivalency between violent right-wing bigots and those who are fighting back against them: The article strongly implied that antifa is a more urgent social ailment, arguing that “our elected leaders need to call out antifa for what they are: a hate group,” without saying the term “hate group” should apply to the “Straight Pride” organizers, or any of the anti-minority, anti-women outfits that gathered in Portland; nor do the authors specify which demographic people using the antifa tactic supposedly hate, presumably because no such demographic exists.

The “conservative journalist” in CNN‘s headline (8/16/19) is Andy Ngo—described by Jacobin (8/16/19) as a “right-wing provocateur” and “the most dangerous grifter in America.”

Equation of antifa with its antagonists is a problem that unites conservative and centrist media. A CNN report (8/14/19) obscured the qualitative differences between violent racist, misogynist formations and those who oppose them in its headline, “Portland Braces for Dueling Protests: What We Know.” “Dueling protests” implies that the groups confronting each other are equivalent, though the article eventually noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center considers one side to be “a mix of white supremacists [and] neo-Nazis.”

The article’s lead referred to “multiple far-right and extremist groups” planning to attend, and its fourth sentence said that Joe Biggs, formerly of the right-wing conspiracy website Infowars, “has posted he wants the protest to ‘put an end to domestic terrorism,’ specifically left-wing antifascist extremists known as antifa.” The word “extremists” does not appear in quotes, so CNN appears to be endorsing its use.

Applying the term “extremist” to both antifa and the far right only a few sentences apart sends the message that they are substantively the same. Likewise, when CNN reports, “There are fears that the rally will attract many right-wing extremists, as well as antifa counter-protests,” the suggestion is that there’s as much reason to fear antifa as the violent fascists.

A New York Times article (8/17/19) criticized Trump for saying that antifa should be designated a terror organization by writing that Trump “did not mention any of the right-wing groups, although both they and antifa have a history of using violence against their opponents.” In this formulation, attacking people with the explicit goal of trying to subjugate the vast majority of the country and the world that is not white, male, cisgender and straight is indistinguishable from confronting such attacks.

Such framing obscures what ought to be made obvious: that there is a stark difference between groups who see violence as tool to make the world a more racist, misogynist, transphobic and homophobic place, and those who defend against such violence.

 

‘The Public Is Clearly on the Side of Net Neutrality’

Janine Jackson interviewed Free Press’s Craig Aaron about the net neutrality setback for the October 4, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: A federal appeals court has ruled that it was OK for the FCC, over the overwhelming, openly stated will of millions of people, to classify internet service providers as “information services”—rather than what we understand them to be, “telecommunications services”—and thus allow them to avert rules about open and nondiscriminatory access. It’s a big loss, but it doesn’t sound like the fight is over, so much as maybe changing locale. Joining us now to catch us up is Craig Aaron, president of the group Free Press; he joins us by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Craig Aaron.

Craig Aaron: Thanks so much for having me back.

JJ: It would have been great for the court to push back against this Republican-led FCC ruling, which listeners will know went against the desires and demands of the vast majority of the public who commented. The agency went through all manner of shenanigans trying to distort that public comment, and then just ignored it; but it also went against common sense, and our knowledge about the role that the internet plays in our lives today.

So the ruling stinks, I guess, is the first thing to say.

CA: I’m certainly very disappointed in the outcome. But you can look at all 186 pages of this ruling. What it all essentially boils down to is, the court said, “This is up to the FCC. They’re the expert agency, and we defer. And in this case, we defer, no matter how misguided, ideologically motivated or devoid of facts the FCC’s approach was; it’s ultimately up to them. The Supreme Court precedent backs them up.”

This was the high bar for challengers to clear, and the judges, while questioning how much the internet has changed, while going out of their way to talk about a number of areas where the FCC really lacked evidence or strong arguments, ultimately said, “You’re the expert agency. This Court are not the experts and we defer to you,” which, somewhat ironically, and not very satisfying, was the same reason that the previous FCC prevailed in making strong net neutrality rules. And when the industry challenged, they said, “Nope, it’s up to the agency.”

So here we are again. And, of course, that means a future FCC could step in to restore real net neutrality, and actually get this right.

JJ: Yeah, and it really makes it a conversation about, “What space are we having this fight in and who’s in charge of it?”

It was interesting; usually, industry and regulatory enablers like Ajit Pai say, “These public interest obligations are so old and dusty, and everything’s different now.” But in this case, the court said, “This ruling from 2005, this Brand X case, that just ties our hands. That was the way it was interpreted before, and so we have to look at it that way again this time as well.”

Craig Aaron: “This FCC… just simply, clearly ignored the way the internet works, in order to favor the biggest phone and cable companies.”

CA: That’s certainly true. It it can be a constantly moving time frame on “What do we actually do?” And, of course, we’re disappointed. And we challenge these rules because this FCC so clearly ignored the evidence; they so clearly ignored the public will. They just simply, clearly ignored the way the internet works, in order to favor the biggest phone and cable companies.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t silver linings here. And one thing the court did do is they rejected the FCC’s claims that they could overrule state legislation out of hand, that they could say the states had no place here; the courts did not agree. And so they’ve opened the door; a number of states, four states already, including California, have passed strong net neutrality laws. And now they’re going to have a chance to defend those laws on an individual basis. And there’s an opening to say, “Hey, if the federal government has abdicated the responsibility to protect the free and open internet, the states can step in.” And so this is a fight that’s going to move to the states.

And this is also a fight that’s going to move to Congress, because this really pushes Congress to act to restore what the FCC has taken away. The House of Representatives passed overwhelmingly this year a bill called the Save the Internet Act that would restore the 2015 FCC rules, clearly protect net neutrality.

The Senate could vote on that; it’s sitting right in front of them. Will they? Well, Mitch McConnell’s still there, so I don’t know. It’s going to take a lot of public pressure. But whether it’s this Congress or the next Congress, they have a chance to still get this right.

The fight does continue. There are new openings. The FCC, in a number of areas, got things sent back to them. The courts noted another couple of areas where they barely scraped by. So this was not an overwhelming victory for the FCC, but it does leave their terrible decision in place. And we’re going to have to fight really hard to undo that in the years ahead, and in whoever’s in power in 2021.

New York Times (10/2/19)

JJ: Let me just ask you quickly about the states. Former FCC chair Tom Wheeler just had this op-ed in the New York Times in which he said, “Internet service providers should be quaking in their boots.” And the reason is, now they’re going to have to deal state by state with requirements about access. California already says, “No, net neutrality is going to be the law in our state.” So it seems, and it’s just what you’re saying: We have to keep our eyes on both things. We want states to go forward, right, even as we push for Congress to do something that would that would obviate the need for that, maybe.

CA: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely right. Because, again, when the FCC, when the referee who’s supposed to be in the game, says, “Well, we don’t see anything anymore,” someone’s going to step in. And California already has. Obviously, if you’re an internet company, an internet service provider, you have to pay attention to what California is doing. Obviously, if we were to have a bunch of different rules in a bunch of different places, that gets very complicated very quickly. But this, unfortunately, is a result of what the FCC decided to do.

So I think you will see the companies be very nervous about that. I think you will see them try to push fake compromises through Congress, bad legislation written by them, tilting the scales in their favor, and that’s going to be another thing we’re going to have to fight against.

But why I’m confident, why I’m more determined than discouraged, is because the public is clearly on the side of net neutrality, clearly on the side of the free and open Internet. And  99.7% of the comments that went into the FCC that were original, that weren’t cut-and-pasted, or weren’t made up, as the case may be—there’s a lot of fraud, unfortunately, in that docket—99% of those individual comments said they supported net neutrality. That reflects the will of the public. The hundreds of protests that have taken place in the last few years on this issue show where the public is, and I think the politicians and policymakers will catch up. Unfortunately, on this decision, it’s a little bit more of an uphill climb than it should be.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Craig Aaron, president of Free Press; find them online at FreePress.net. Craig Aaron, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

CA: Thank you for the time.

 

Britain’s Pro-Brexit Press: When in Doubt, Blame the Irish

by Ari Paul

The Daily Express (10/4/19) defies the reality that Brexit has a great deal to do with Ireland.

The deadline for Britain to come up with a deal under which it would exit from the European Union is less than a month away. With no agreement in sight between Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a hardline Brexiteer, and his EU counterparts, the country has been jittery, to say the least. Political rebellions in Parliament and blows against Johnson in the courts have had people guessing: Will Johnson resign as prime minister, or renege on his promise that he will not ask for an extension on the October 31 deadline?

We have our answer. The BBC (10/4/19) reported that Johnson “will send a letter to the EU asking for a Brexit delay if no deal is agreed by” October 19, in order to be in compliance with a recently enacted UK law.

This all comes as a great blow to Brexit supporters within the Conservative Party and the Northern Ireland-based Democratic Unionist Party, who valued a swift exit from the EU over reaching a deal with the continental bloc.

So who’s the blame for this humiliation, according to the pro-Brexit faction of the British press? The Irish Taoiseach, or prime minister, Leo Varadkar, of course

It’s true that Ireland is central to this debacle. One of the main reasons the EU and the UK cannot come up with a Brexit deal is that the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state, insists on keeping an open border with Northern Ireland, which is governed by London. The open border is seen by Dublin as a key factor in ending sectarian violence on the island, as well as a pillar of the Irish economy. Even if Britain leaves the EU customs union, Ireland wants free trade across the border preserved as a so-called “backstop”—something hardliners like Johnson see as ceding British sovereignty.

Varadkar, whose country would have to deal with an entirely new border situation in the case of a no-deal Brexit, has a vested interest in pushing the UK and the EU toward some kind of an agreement. And the papers just aren’t having it.

The Daily Express (10/4/19), for example, highlighted claims from Brexit supporters that the Irish premier was “meddling” in British affairs:  “‘It’s Got Nothing to Do With You Mate!’” the tabloid’s headline read, though clearly Brexit would impact the Republic of Ireland as well as Britain. The paper quoted angry Leaver MPs from the DUP,  but nothing from the anti-Brexit Sinn Fein lawmakers who represent the opposition in the North. The Express (10/1/19) also headlined DUP leader Arlene Foster’s claim that a no-deal Brexit would be Varadkar’s fault.  condemned the Irish leader as “panicked” (10/4/19), in his looking to avert a no-deal scenario—as if any leader would be sanguine as their nation’s only land border were to be hardened without their consent.

The Telegraph (10/4/19) figures out a way to work the word “drunk” into a headline about the Irish prime minister.

Journalist/politician Patrick O’Flynn, writing in the Telegraph (10/4/19), accused Varadkar of being “drunk” on his hatred for the “accursed English”—combining the ugly stereotype of Irish drunkenness with scorn for Britain’s former imperial subjects (Varadkar is of both Irish and Indian descent) in a tone that would have been familiar a century ago. The Telegraph’s Liam Halligan (10/2/19) went so far as to say Varadkar was exploiting the border issue just to ruin Britain’s dream of sovereignty.

The Telegraph (10/2/19) also trumpeted the claim by the DUP—which until recently propped up the Tory majority in Parliament—that Varadkar’s accurate observation that Remain has outpolled Leave since Johnson’s ascendancy shows that rather than the border issue, “the Irish government’s true intention was to keep Britain in the EU.” The London Times (10/4/19), too, headlined DUP claims that Varadkar was “Trying to Scupper New Brexit Deal.”

The Sun (10/3/19) claimed that Varadkar “sparks anger” with his suggestion of a second referendum on Brexit, a fairly un-radical political position in the UK.  The Daily Mail (10/4/19) also said Varadkar had “sparked outrage” with his “meddling.”

Varadkar is a good scapegoat for the pro-Brexit press: He’s foreign, he isn’t white and he’s pushing for some kind of transnational accommodation to preserve peace on the island, all things that rub Union Jack-wavers the wrong way.

The deeply colonialist approach of these presentations reflects the imperial nature of Brexit itself. They paint Ireland as an outsider trying to impose its will on the UK, rather than as a former colony of the British directly impacted by this crisis. And while Brexiters can point to the 2016 referendum as proof that the UK’s decision to leave was a democratic one, this ignores that the status of the two Irelands will change against their will—the Republic didn’t get a vote, and 56% of the North voted to remain—as if Britain’s is the only sovereignty that matters.

The New York Times (10/4/19) recently showed how the Brexit processes inverted the power relationship between the formerly colonized and its former master:

Unless Mr. Johnson can satisfy [Varadkar] that it will not disrupt the fragile peace in Northern Ireland, it is highly unlikely that he will be able to persuade the other 26 members of the European Union to accept it.

When one thinks of how emasculating this is for an empire that once controlled a quarter of the globe, the tabloid histrionics about Varadkar seem almost like a hegemonic death rattle. Worse, as Fintan O’Toole at the Irish Times (10/3/19) writes, Johnson’s perception of finding a consensus isn’t about finding one with the EU, but finding one with the hard right of the Tory and DUP alliance. Such a view on international cooperation is as colonialist as it is hypocritical; as O’Toole points out, keeping the border open is also mandated under the British law authorizing the EU exit. He writes, “Britain just can’t live up to this commitment.”

Pointing the finger at Varadkar by Brexit partisans, and their friends in the press, isn’t just about deflecting from Tory mismanagement—it’s a clear statement that for Brexiteers, the fate of Ireland simply doesn’t matter to them.

Featured image: Cartoon from the Sun (3/31/19) depicting Britain’s then–Prime Minister Theresa May as a leprechaun demanding that Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar “solve the backstop problem.”

 

Mike Elk on GM Strike, Trinity Tran on Public Banking

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(image: UAW)

This week on CounterSpin: One of the ways corporate media coverage of the now more than three-week-old GM strike is like coverage of every strike is the use, so common as to be invisible, of constructions like “GM strike leaves thousands of outside workers without a job,” “The strike may begin to drag the economy in places like Michigan,” or “In Flint, at least 1,200 truckers and production workers from suppliers have lost their jobs because of the strike.” To describe the intervention—the strike—as the cause of all attendant harms suggests that the status quo (to which the strike is a response) is blameless. Management’s predations—in this case including cutting healthcare, and using tiered wage scales and temporary workers to undercut pay and security—are daily and grinding and deeply unfair. But it’s the strike that’s “disruptive” and damaging and somehow out of bounds. We’ll talk about the strike reality outside media’s frame with Mike Elk, senior labor reporter and founder of Payday Report.

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(image: CPBA)

Also on the show: California’s corporate lobbyists did not want the state to pass the Public Banking Act, but a coalition of non-lobbyists—worker and climate justice and civil rights and community groups—made it happen, and now California’s the second state in the country, after North Dakota, to allow jurisdictions to build banks that are local, accountable, environmentally responsible, and invested in the commons rather than profit-making. We’ll hear about that from Trinity Tran, co-founder and lead organizer for Public Bank LA and a founding member of the California Public Banking Alliance.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look back at coverage of Pentagon greenhouse emissions and Bernie Sanders’ heart attack.

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Actually, Giuliani Has Always Been Like This

by Ari Paul

“He wasn’t always like this,” a former Giuliani press secretary insists in the New York Times (10/7/19).

“I will be the hero! These morons—when this is over, I will be the hero…. Anything I did should be praised.”

These are the words of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, speaking of the government operative who leaked information about the president’s conversations with the Ukrainian president that has led to impeachment proceedings. Out of context, they appear to be narcissistic ravings. In context, they are just another installment of the constant refrain Americans are used to hearing from the president’s lead defender. No matter how unhinged Giuliani sounds in one interview, the cameras go back to him again and again.

The regular media meltdowns have almost become a real-time comedy for US news consumers, although it has all taken a serious turn. He’s now the focus of the impeachment probes as well; two of his associates were recently arrested.

US media are asking: How could this happen? How did a two-term mayor of a major city, previously a famous federal prosecutor, and someone thought to be a future president, once lauded for reducing crime in New York City and serving as a rallying figure after the World Trade Center attacks, turn into such a primetime clown of the Trump era? How could a crime fighter become the center of criminal intrigue?

In the New York Times (10/7/19), a former Giuliani mayoral campaign operative asked “what happened” to the former mayor, recalling a brave man who took on a powerful Democratic Party and a broken city, citing his successes in “reducing crime, improving the quality of life and reforming welfare as mayor.”

The New York Daily News editorial board (9/28/19) sharply posed several questions to Giuliani as Trump’s personal lawyer, but not before lauding him:

What’s really impossible is recognizing this Rudy as the man we once admired, first as a US attorney who dismantled the mob, then as a mayor who drove down crime, rescued a suffering city from decline and led us through our darkest days on 9/11 and its aftermath.

Max Boot (Washington Post, 5/4/18) claimed that “Giuliani, more than any other individual, made New York what it is today: one of the safest, richest and most dynamic cities in the world.”

Even before the election of Donald Trump, Bloomberg columnist Albert Hunt (10/4/16) lamented that the ex-mayor’s sycophancy for Trump overshadowed how “he once captivated Americans with his take-charge leadership after the terrorist attacks of September 11.” Hardcore neoconservative and “never Trump” Republican Max Boot, in the Washington Post (5/4/18) last year, listed Giuliani as one of the comrades he had “admired and respected” who had “failed the Trump test.”

It seems like so much of the media cannot square the Giuliani of today with the towering figure of the 1980s and ’90s. But Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker (9/3/18) pulled it together:

As mayor, he was the law-and-order leader who kicked “squeegee men” off the streets of New York. Now he’s a talking head spouting nonsense on cable news. But this version of Giuliani isn’t new; Trump has merely tapped into tendencies that have been evident all along. Trump learned about law and politics from his mentor Roy Cohn, the notorious sidekick to Joseph McCarthy who, as a lawyer in New York, became a legendary brawler and used the media to bash adversaries. In the early months of his presidency, as Mueller’s investigation was getting under way, Trump is said to have raged, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” In Giuliani, the president has found him.

For New York City reporters who covered Giuliani’s operatic mayoralty, the Giuliani who famously claimed in defense of Trump that “truth isn’t truth” hasn’t changed so much.

Robert Polner—who covered the mayor for Newsday and edited a book on Giuliani, America’s Mayor, America’s President?—told FAIR that “you’re seeing a more extreme version of what he was doing as mayor,” a politician who was obsessed with being the center of the media’s attention and who stoked racial tension for political advantage.

To show just how petulant and petty Giuliani could be as mayor, consider this: He attempted to force the Grammy Award ceremony out of New York City due to a dispute with its organizers over whether he’d be the one to read a list of the nominees. In 2000, he announced at a press conference that he was leaving his wife, Donna Hanover, before telling her of his divorce plans. Giuliani pushed out his police commissioner, Bill Bratton, not because he was failing to implement the mayor’s anti-crime agenda, but because Bratton was stealing the media spotlight from Giuliani. Noted Polner:

There was always a side of Rudy that was overreaching, hyperbolic, throwing punches in order to control the media narrative of that day or that work or out of pettiness, or as he would say, rein in the liberal city.

Giuliani was famously gruff with the media during press conferences, painting them as part of the effete liberal class he was fighting against, foreshadowing Trump’s current campaign against the press.

But it isn’t just mere theatrics that unite Trump and Giuliani; it’s also political substance. While many Republicans ally themselves with the president for political expedience, the president and the former mayor share an obsession with “law and order,” a focus on militarized policing as the solution to racialized fears of crime, and a tendency toward a more fascistic section of the right than the rest of the Republican Party.

Some saw that early on. The late Jimmy Breslin likened Giuliani to Benito Mussolini, calling him “a small man in search of a balcony.” The Daily Show’s first host, Craig Kilborn, routinely called him “Benito Giuliani.”

Polner pointed to another connection between the former mayor and the current president:

Giuliani was really focused on his base, and he never got beyond that. He could have reached out the black community, but never did, and used them to appeal to the base of white ethnics. He alienated blacks, he alienated Haitians, he alienated Latinos.

Giuliani’s fierce “anti-crime” agenda resulted in what many consider to be a reign of anti-black police terror, marked by the wrongful deaths of black men like Patrick Dorismond and Amadou Diallo, and the brutal beating and violation of Abner Louima by police officers.

Polner also questioned Giuliani should be credited with other victories, like reducing homelessness or reforming welfare, as pieces like the Times op-ed (10/7/19) did. These reforms resulted in things like homeless people being arrested. On welfare reform, while Giuliani cut the city’s welfare rolls in half, welfare advocates argued that this forced the next mayor, Michael Bloomberg, to inherit a ballooning poverty increase.

“It was done without too much thought to the human impact,” he said.

The racial animus Trump has for Latino immigrants, for example, echoes Giuliani’s racist politics, in which he consistently dismissed black anger over police violence. “The patronizing talk is similar,” Polner said. “He had no black support, and he didn’t seem to care.”

A great deal of this gets forgotten, since Giuliani was heralded as a hero when the United States was desperately looking for one after the WTC attacks—despite the fact that his actions on the day of the attacks contributed to the deaths of emergency responders, and his insistence that the air at Ground Zero was safe to breathe without filtration no doubt led to the deaths of many more (Extra!, 11–12/06, 5–6/07). He was also credited with a drop in crime, which allowed capital to return to the city—though the decline in the city’s crime began in 1990, three years before Giuliani took office, and paralleled similar declines in violence in other large cities (FAIR.org, 8/20/13, 12/3/14). Both these myths helped establish his image nationally.

“Giuliani’s behavior now reminds people of his divisiveness,” Polner said. But “New Yorkers cast a knowing eye on his antics on Fox…. They know how vicious he can be.”

 

Major Media Bury Groundbreaking Studies of Pentagon’s Massive Carbon Bootprint

by Joshua Cho

In 2010, Project Censored (10/2/10) found that the

US military is responsible for the most egregious and widespread pollution of the planet, yet this information and accompanying documentation goes almost entirely unreported.

The Conversation (6/26/19) ran a piece by the authors of the Durham/Lancaster study.

Almost a decade later, Project Censored’s observations are still applicable, with two major studies published in June remaining buried by most major media outlets. The first study, “Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change, and the Costs of War,” by Neta Crawford for Brown University’s Costs of War Project, confirmed previous findings that the US military is “the single-largest producer of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the world,” and that the Pentagon is responsible for between “77% and 80% of all US government energy consumption” since 2001, and that from the beginning of the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to 2017, the US military emitted approximately 1.2 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent.

The second study, “Hidden Carbon Costs of the ‘Everywhere War’: Logistics, Geopolitical Ecology, and the Carbon Bootprint of the US Military,” published by Oliver Belcher, Benjamin Neimark and Patrick Bigger from Durham and Lancaster universities in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (6/19), found that if the US military were a country, its “fuel usage alone would make it the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, sitting between Peru and Portugal.”

Yet these groundbreaking studies received no coverage in virtually all the US’s biggest newspapers and TV news channels. An initial search in the Nexis news database from June 1 to October 4 of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, NPR, PBS, ABC, MSNBC, CBS and CNN turned up nothing.

A broader Nexis search of all the English-language outlets only confirmed that the biggest media outlets in the country, with much better resources for reporting, are burying the study.

Here’s a list of the outlets, according to the Nexis news database, that mentioned the Costs of War study:

  • Arab American News (US)
  • Indian Agriculture News (India)
  • Yerepouni Daily News (Armenia)
  • Pressenza International Press Agency (Ecuador)
  • Washington Examiner (US)
  • Defense Monitor Worldwide (US)
  • International Business Times India (India)
  • The Conversation (US)
  • Straits Times (Singapore)
  • The Nation (US)
  • Defense One (US)
  • Real News Network (US)

Here’s a list of the outlets, according to Nexis, that mentioned the study published in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers:

  • Daily Mail (UK)
  • Asian News International (India)
  • Science Daily (US)

Forbes (6/13/19) ran a graphic comparing the Pentagon’s greenhouse emissions to those of medium-sized nations.

To be fair, Nexis isn’t able to catch every report or reprints in other outlets. On my own, I found nothing that contradicts the finding that these studies are being buried by most of the biggest media outlets in the US. But these studies were mentioned by Reuters (6/12/19), Grist (6/12/19), Gizmodo (6/13/19), Bloomberg (6/13/19), USA Today (6/14/19), Forbes (6/13/19), GQ (9/13/19), The Hill (6/13/19), New York Post (6/13/19), CNBC (6/13/19), UK Independent (6/13/19), Intercept (9/15/19), TomDispatch (6/23/19) and Mic (6/26/19). The Real News Network (7/10/19) provided exemplary reporting on these two studies by featuring their authors in an interview to discuss their findings.

Aside from the findings, these studies are also especially significant because they’re the first to use comprehensive data based on the publicly available emissions data from the Department of Energy, and on multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to the US Defense Logistics Agency managing the US military’s supply chains, which includes hydrocarbon fuel purchases and distribution. Most greenhouse gas accounting focuses on how much energy and fuel civilians use, because it has always been difficult to obtain reliable and consistent data on the Pentagon’s carbon bootprint; the Pentagon doesn’t publicly and regularly report its fuel consumption or greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite not signing the 1992 Kyoto Protocol international agreement to fight climate change, the US succeeded in obtaining an exemption for all countries’ militaries from having to report, let alone cut, their carbon emissions, which Congress later locked in. Although that exemption was later removed by the 2015 Paris Accord—despite the Obama administration’s longstanding policy of undermining international climate agreements—the Trump administration has the US due to withdraw from the Paris Accord in 2020 (New York Times, 6/1/17), which would make it harder to collect data and conduct future studies like the ones above. This is why it’s especially important for media outlets to cover studies like this when they’re published.

Although the authors of both studies acknowledge that the US military has been cutting its emissions over the years, they both note how “existing military aircraft and warships” are “locking the US military into hydrocarbons for years to come,” and that the “Pentagon does not acknowledge that its own fuel use is a major contributor to climate change.” That shouldn’t be surprising. Given corporate media’s propagandizing for starting and staying in wars (FAIR.org, 10/23/17, 9/11/19) and for neverending arms races (FAIR.org, 5/17/19, 7/12/19), one should expect corporate media to bury evidence that the US military is a threat to itself and its citizens with its massive carbon output.

WaPo Goes After Warren With a Posse of Centrist Sources

by Julie Hollar

Just two weeks ago, our survey of media coverage of Elizabeth Warren (FAIR.org, 9/23/19) found a fairly—though not exclusively—positive tenor, with stories often contrasting her favorably to Bernie Sanders and highlighting her outspoken commitment to capitalism. But with erstwhile frontrunner Joe Biden under fierce attack from Donald Trump, and Sanders recovering from a heart attack (FAIR.org, 10/7/19), establishment Democrats and their big donors are suddenly looking at Elizabeth Warren’s rising poll numbers as a sign that her candidacy has very real potential—and is a very real threat to their power.

As centrist Democratic sources go, so go the media.

Among the “events of the past two weeks [that] have created huge uncertainty for the candidates who have dominated the Democratic nomination race,” the Washington Post (10/6/19) lists “persistent doubts among some party leaders” about Elizabeth Warren

Under the headline, “Uncertainty Takes Over the Lead in the Democratic Presidential Race,” the Washington Post’s Michael Scherer and Matt Viser (10/6/19) report that recent events “have created huge uncertainty for the candidates who have dominated the Democratic nomination race.” Those recent events? For Sanders, a heart attack; for Biden, an uncomfortable role in the impeachment inquiry; and for Warren, the curiously un-event-like “persistent doubts among some party leaders that she is too liberal to win the general election.”

The Democratic Party has many leaders from both its left and right wings; for the Post, the adjective “some” serves to obscure the fact that its sources expressing those doubts are almost exclusively from the right.

People like former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, who lost her 2018 re-election campaign (in which she emphasized how often she voted with Trump) by more than 10 percentage points—who better to turn to for an opinion about how to win an election?

Or there’s consultant Donna Bojarsky, who has donated to Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker—all representatives of the corporate wing of the party. How about former Obama adviser David Plouffe, who went on to flack for Uber after his Obama years, and now runs policy for Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropy company? Then you have self-described “radical centrist” Mitch Landrieu, who told the Post:

[Warren] says she can do all these things. There’s a thing called political reality….  Aspiration is wonderful, but you can’t eat aspiration for lunch and send your kids to college on it. That’s a fundamental decision that Democratic primary voters need to make a decision on.

The best bits come from anonymous donors, though, who are given cover to sow fear about a candidate whose policy proposals (like a wealth tax and a lobbying tax) would directly impact their own finances and political influence:

As Warren has steadily marched upward in the polls, the reality that she could become the nominee has unsettled some of the party’s top donors, who worry that she would hand the race to Trump. If it starts to look like Warren will win the party’s nomination, a longtime Democratic bundler said, “there will be efforts to stop that.”

Another anonymous donor, who the paper tells us is “seeking a moderate as a nominee,”

expressed worries that if Warren is the nominee, her presence would ruin any Democratic chances to win the Senate, because voters would perceive having a Republican majority as “the only way to keep her in check” as president.

To end the hit parade, the Post reminds us that even if Biden falters, we still have centrist choices—calling up Michael Bennet and Tim Ryan, candidates currently polling below 1%, for some closing thoughts.

There’s obviously a lot of uncertainty at the moment; it’s just that the Washington Post, relying on its corporate centrist cast of characters, can’t give anything like an honest accounting of it.

Messages can be sent to the Washington Post at letters@washpost.com, or via Twitter @washingtonpost. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread of this post.

‘Political Interference in the Whistleblower Disclosure Process Is Horrifying’ - CounterSpin interview with Dana Gold on whistleblower protection

Janine Jackson interview the Government Accountability Project’s Dana Gold about whistleblower protection for the October 4, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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MP3 Link

New York Times (9/26/19)

Janine Jackson: The New York Times stands by its decision to publish identifying details about the whistleblower at the center of Donald Trump’s power-abusing call with the president of Ukraine. Trump’s people already knew this stuff, was the paper’s explanation for not doing more to protect the person Trump and his ilk are calling a spy and a traitor.

Whistleblowers have a long and important history in this country, in which journalists play a critical role, though recent history makes vividly clear that not all whistleblowers are treated the same. But that’s not because we don’t have guidance on best practices if, indeed, our goal is to preserve the ability of people to bring to light information the public should know, but is hidden from us. As Daniel Ellsberg was quoted recently: “Officials in any country want to keep their secrets. What defines a democracy is that they don’t get to.”

Joining us now for more light on this is Dana Gold. She’s senior counsel and director of education at Government Accountability Project, the veteran whistleblower protection and advocacy organization. She joins us by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Dana Gold.

Dana Gold: Thanks, Janine.

JJ: Trump and some others were out of the gate calling the figure at the center of this Ukraine scandal a “so-called whistleblower,” which suggests they do think there is such a thing, but this person isn’t one. But the way the term is tossed around, you almost get a sense that it’s just a subjective designation, or that it depends on how you feel about the information disclosed, or the person disclosing it. How do you define “whistleblower,” and distinguish it from other sorts of actions?

DG: There are a couple ways to answer that. And I tend to land, as a lawyer, on the legal definition. One of my colleagues, for instance, Tom Devine, who you know is our legal director, would define whistleblowing as “someone who exercises free speech rights to expose abuses of public trust,” which is a pretty big definition.

Under the law, which is a complicated patchwork, actually, of protections, but generally, we think of whistleblowers—again, not always, but often—as employees who have evidence that they reasonably believe evidences a violation of law, rule or regulation, gross mismanagement, gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety.

And I think that definition really matters, because it helps us identify what is and isn’t a whistleblower. For me, there are two big pieces rooted in the law. One, often we think of that person as an employee; that’s usually how the legal protections work. And that is because employees are in the best position to see evidence of wrongdoing, to find out first on the ground. They’re the best mechanisms for identifying problems, promoting compliance with the law, protecting the public interest, and so we want to empower them to be able to make disclosures.

But the other piece is that they’re not blowing the whistle on someone, you know, taking a pad of Post-It notes. The threshold, what matters, for a disclosure is high; it’s something that is rooted in the law, or is very significant to protecting the public interest. And so we look at the content of the disclosure to, I think, often decide whether or not something rises to a level of what would constitute whistleblowing.

Daily Beast (9/29/19)

JJ: Part of the “not really a whistleblower” line was the initial take from the Federalist, and then to Trump, that this whistleblower didn’t have “firsthand information,” and that therefore it didn’t rise to a certain standard within the intelligence community. Oh, and also that the rules had been hastily changed at the last minute so that firsthand evidence wasn’t required. That got debunked pretty thoroughly, but I think it just pointed to what you’re saying, is that different spheres might have different standards of things that you might need to meet.

DG: I think that’s right. I mean, I guess that, for those of us who work in this field, it was pretty laughable, actually, right? I mean, it sounds good [to say] that he didn’t have firsthand information. But the law has never required that standard. It’s a reasonable belief standard.

And you have to have evidence of the wrongdoing. But this whistleblower said, “I have firsthand, as well as some other, information.” That’s what the law requires. He could have just had other information, as long as that information proved to be, again, both credible and urgent—and that triggers a process for investigating and then disclosing up the chain of how a disclosure is supposed to work.

So it’s interesting, though, because I think you’re right, that charge, which was specious, feeds into mischaracterizations about what constitutes whistleblowing and what doesn’t. But we obviously know that the information was certainly credible. We know that from the partial transcript that’s been released of the phone call.

JJ: Exactly.

DG:  Right? I mean, we see that obviously the evidence is there. It far surpasses reasonable belief, as well as certainly meets what would constitute an abuse of authority, violation of law, all of the magic standards of threshold of concern.

JJ: Let me ask you about the actual laws that do exist about whistleblowing itself, or about the way whistleblowers are to be treated. What do we have protecting those folks?

DG: So it’s very complicated. There’s no one law that protects all whistleblowers or all employees who report concerns. There are big hunks of laws. So the Whistleblower Protection Act, which we’ve often heard referenced, but actually doesn’t apply to this whistleblower, but the Whistleblower Protection Act, which was amended by the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act in 2012, protects non-intelligence federal employees for reporting those kinds of concerns I mentioned; they have a right to make disclosures free from reprisal.

The intelligence community has a different set of protections. They have what’s called the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, and there are various presidential directives and executive orders that are the implementing pieces of that law. But it’s similar; they have the similar right to make disclosures, but the process by which they can make those disclosures is very prescribed and narrow, because they’re often working with classified information. So most federal employees are not dealing with classified information, but for those in the intelligence community, who might be, they need to make disclosures through the inspector general.

And then, of course, there are other employees who are whistleblowers, those in the corporate sector, those who are blowing the whistle on environmental issues or bank fraud, etc. And there is a patchwork of whistleblower protections around each of those laws.

So partly, what you’re blowing the whistle on can matter, in terms of what kind of protection you have; it can also matter what kind of employee you are, sometimes it matters what kind of reprisal you’ve experienced. So it’s very complicated, actually. It’s why lawyers actually matter in this sphere.

JJ: Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump said, in response to questions about whistleblower protections, “I don’t care.” He’s been demanding to meet this person face to face. It feels unprecedented to have the president threatening the whistleblower. I mean, it’s kind of witness tampering. This is kind of new territory, maybe.

DG: It is! I mean, I think that it really shows some weaknesses in terms of the law. But I think often it’s, we’re not envisioning the rot being at the top, and the accusation goes really all the way to the top here. So there are provisions in the law that protect the anonymity of the person making the disclosure, in part to preserve the integrity of an investigation, and certainly in part to minimize reprisal. You know, we’re kind of seeing the playbook mapped out for us, quite beautifully and frighteningly, right, but it’s like, you attack the messenger. You threaten them.

JJ: Yeah.

Dana Gold:It really becomes all about trying to focus on the messenger and not the message, to discredit, to deflect attention.”

DG: It really becomes all about trying to focus on the messenger and not the message, to discredit, to deflect attention. It also, certainly, creates a chilling effect on others who might think about speaking, supporting the whistleblowers’ disclosures, or coming forward on other issues.

JJ: In this case, the whistleblower didn’t go to media, they’re going through the much-vaunted “proper channels.”  But the reason that some got so upset at newspapers publishing information about the whistleblower was concerns about retaliation and harm, first of all, but also because anonymity, like you’ve just said, anonymity—I think it’s Jesselyn Radack who just said, it helps “strip away the tendency to shoot the messenger, rather than listen to the message.”  The anonymity is key to make the story what the story should be. You know, journalists love a story. But it’s crucial that they don’t focus on why whistleblowers come forward, or their backstory, because the story has to be what’s revealed.

DG: I think that’s all really true. You can understand, though, why, of course, in this competitive age of journalism, the story is made more colorful by the human interest of finding out about who the whistleblower is. I think you’re right to point out the issue of, what are the ethics here? What is the duty of journalists, when they know the degree of vulnerability that all whistleblowers experience, right? This one, particularly, this is just a scale that is why we’re all trained, all the world’s attention is trained on this story, right? And we all get that the risk of outing this whistleblower is high, because of the rhetoric and the stakes, right? The rhetoric is intense and hostile, and the stakes are incredibly high.

So we all understand, in this very graphic way, that there is real risk to this patriot who did the right thing, did his duty of reporting wrongdoing and did it through proper channels. So we see that. But all employees are at risk of reprisal, actually.

And so when you think about what the duty is on the part of journalists; the journalists’ duty is to their reader. The hard thing here is that this whistleblower actually isn’t a source.

JJ: Right.

DG: The whistleblower made a disclosure to the IG and not to the journalists. So how do we think about what the duty is, then, on the part of journalists to protect the whistleblower who’s actually not their source?

But I think, when we know that the risk to the whistleblower is—we’re not talking about normal levels of reprisal here, we’re talking about the physical risk of harm, I think, and I don’t think that’s me being a conspiracy theorist, right, or a fabulist, I think that that is the rhetoric that we’re hearing—that I think it puts a fine point on, if journalists, for instance, want information to come forward, what does it mean to do responsible journalism, whether or not that person is actually a source for that journalist?

JJ: Yeah. And, you know, I wish media did more to protect whistleblowers even when they are their source.

DG: Absolutely.

JJ: Daniel Ellsberg was a New York Times source for the Pentagon Papers, but they didn’t help him with his criminal case. And, in fact, Abe Rosenthal said the paper just had no policy for helping a source who was being prosecuted.

And certainly the way that media have reviled and ignored Chelsea Manning and Assange and Edward Snowden, after using their work to win prizes, I just think is perverse. I think journalists have a responsibility to just go on the record supporting folks who are in this position, but particularly, as you say, the standards are different when they have actually been your source.

But bigger picture for the country: a process that allows for people to get information out and not be retaliated against is crucial for a society with democratic aspirations. And it seems like, big picture, the US seems to be sliding backward in that sphere.

DG: Absolutely. I think that’s why this case is so important on every level, and even to the role of journalists, right, in terms of making sure that the public has information that they need to be able to self-govern. This is just a microcosm of democracy in action, and where it’s working and where it’s not.

You know, in some ways, it is working. Again, the best source of accountability and making democracy work did their job, reported wrongdoing, did it up the chain, and then things got gummed up when the acting director of National Intelligence failed to refer the complaint to Congress in the mandated seven-day period, because of political interference.

So to me, I think this is such a concerning scenario, not just because of the explosive content that the whistleblower disclosed about the abuse of authority, of pressuring a foreign interest to investigate a political rival and then to cover it up, right, the substance of the disclosure.

But the political interference in the whistleblower disclosure process is horrifying. Because if that’s not working right, Congress can’t do its job of overseeing the executive branch, information is going to dry up; we can’t, as a country, engage in governance. To me, that is actually the constitutional crisis that we’re in. That’s why we have to get this right, and why the role of the media is equally important, as the fourth estate in keeping the information flowing.

JJ: Absolutely.

DG: And how they treat that whistleblower now matters for how we think about the flow of information coming from employee sources in the future.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Dana Gold; she’s senior counsel and director of education at Government Accountability Project. You can find them online at whistleblower.org. Dana Gold, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

 

DG: Thank you so much for having me and for all your good work.

 

How Ageist Is Too Ageist to Be Published?

by Julie Hollar

In light of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ recent heart procedure, media musings about candidates’ ages have come to the fore again. When an older candidate is hospitalized after experiencing chest pains (later revealed to be a heart attack), you could look at it primarily from a medical perspective, examining what this might mean for the candidate’s overall health and how worried we should be about the candidate’s ability to continue campaigning or to carry out the duties of the presidency, assuming there are no further complications—as in the Atlantic (10/2/19) or Politico (10/2/19).

A candidate’s health is important, as are sober assessments of how serious medical incidents are; it is quite common to experience a heart attack and return to normal functioning fairly quickly (former Vice President Dick Cheney famously suffered five, the first at age 37), but more information and time will be necessary to see how Sanders will recover.

On the other hand, apparently, you could spin the story into ageist musings about whether candidates in their 70s are too old to be president, regardless of the fact that the three top-polling candidates in the Democratic race—Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren—are all septuagenarians. (Never mind that our current president is 73 years old.)

The New York Times (10/2/19) suggested voters should ask themselves whether they “would want to be keeping up such a rigorous schedule in their 70s.”

“Is Age Only a Number, Even When You’re Running for President?” wondered the headline over a New York Times piece (10/2/19) that presented the question “How old is too old?” as a campaign issue alongside things like “healthcare costs and college affordability, stagnant wages and immigration.”

“The averages paint a sobering picture,” the paper’s Lisa Lerer reported—despite the fact that population averages tell us next to nothing about an individual’s health or physical capabilities. And, as Cheney demonstrated, even politicians scarcely old enough to be president can have heart attacks. Medical experts, on the other hand, could offer useful insight. In fact, the geriatric medicine expert she interviewed rejected the premise of the article:

It’s true that rates of physical and cognitive impairment are age dependent but there’s all kind of variability…. Age should not be a disqualification for the presidency.

Then again, who needs experts when you can cite random voters drawing on their own experience? “Voters…are not sure they would want to be keeping up such a rigorous schedule in their 70s,” wrote Lerer. “Would you?”

Where one 70-year-old voter declared that “70 is the new 50,” Lerer reported that “others worry that an older commander-in-chief would share the declines they have experienced in their own physical and mental abilities over the years.”

In another Times story the same day (10/2/19), reporters suggested that Sanders’ heart procedure “could prove to be a political problem for him,” marshaling remarkably weak evidence of voter “discomfort” about candidates in their 70s: a Pew poll that found people believe the “best” age for a president would be in the 50s, and a 68-year-old voter on a portable oxygen tank who led off his comment with, “I’m not an ageist, and I never have been”—before concluding, based on his own experience, that “I think [age] does matter.”

The Hill‘s headline (10/2/19) framed age as an issue for Democrats—though the piece mentioned that Trump is also 73 years old.

The Hill (10/2/19) went a step further, giving a “Democratic strategist” anonymity to flaunt their ageism shamelessly: “You can be a young 78 but you’re still 78. I think the Bernie news is proof of that. They’re all old. Is this really the best we could do?”

By turning these Sanders health stories into age stories, journalists drag the other older candidates into their net as well. Seventy-six-year-old Joe Biden’s “rambling discourses” (New York Times, 10/2/19), “gaffes, misstatements and sometimes meandering speeches” (Washington Post, 10/2/19) or “verbal flubs” (TheHill, 10/2/19) are included to signal that candidate’s age-related decline—which conveniently forgets that media have been reporting on Biden’s “verbal missteps” since at least 2007, when they did not attribute them to his age (Media Matters, 11/5/08). And having recently turned 70, Elizabeth Warren, who has no publicly known health issues, has begun to get lumped into these stories as well.

At the same time, reporters tend to give Trump a pass in these stories. A Wall Street Journal article (10/7/19), headlined “Sanders’ Heart Attack Brings Age to 2020 Forefront,” described leading Democratic candidates’ age as “a source for renewed concern,” but counterbalanced Trump’s status as “the oldest president at a first inauguration” by noting that he “has already been taking age-based shots at at least one potential foe.” If Trump’s septuagenarian status isn’t a concern, why should Sanders’, Biden’s or Warren’s be?

Evan Thomas (Washington Post, 1/8/19) declared that old people “get worn out, mentally and physically, no matter how hard they try to stay vigorous and alert.”

This is just the latest round of ageist election reporting, which appears to be particularly rampant at the Washington Post. Early in the race, the Post‘s (78-year-old) Richard Cohen penned a column headlined, “Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders Are Too Old to Be President” (3/18/19), while guest columnist Evan Thomas—in a piece called “How Old Is Too Old to Be President?” (1/8/19)—warned that “older people can get stuck in their ways” and “get worn out, mentally and physically, no matter how hard they try to stay vigorous and alert.”

Former Post managing editor (and septuagenarian) Robert Kaiser published an opinion piece, “Can a President Be Too Old?” (4/9/19) that, despite claiming that “ageism is forbidden…by political correctness,” and acknowledging that “any given human could function at a high level well into his or her dotage,” turned to research on averages to argue that “we are too old to be effective in the White House.”

No one would deny that most people in their 70s would not be able to keep up with the demands of  the presidency. But most people in their 70s are not running for president.

Just as coverage wondering whether female candidates and candidates of color are “electable” serves to heighten the very stereotypes and prejudices it purports to be passively observing (FAIR.org, 7/22/19), “how old is too old” stories draw on tired prejudices that need to be challenged by reporters, not reinforced by them.

Featured image: Headline from the Washington Post (4/9/19)

Dana Gold on Whistleblower Protections, Craig Aaron on Net Neutrality Setback

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Trump threatens a whistleblower. (image: AP via VOA)

This week on CounterSpin: Who knows what will have happened by the time you hear this show, as Donald Trump seems to think nothing goes better after evidence that you tried to strongarm a country into digging up dirt on your opponents than evidence that you tried to strongarm another country into digging up dirt on your opponents. We’re in uncharted water with Trump and impeachment; part of what’s exceptional are Trump’s open threats to the whistleblower who brought forth the evidence of his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. What protections does that person have? And what’s media’s role and responsibility? We’ll talk with Dana Gold, senior counsel and director of education at the Government Accountability Project.

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Also on the show: Upwards of 80% of Americans support the net neutrality rules that a court just ruled the FCC was within bounds in eliminating. The fighting isn’t ending, but may be changing locales. We’ll get the latest from Craig Aaron, president of Free Press.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at New York Times coverage of a police officer’s death in the Bronx.

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Atlantic Calls on Hollywood to Produce More Government Propaganda

by Jim Naureckas

This Atlantic (9/15/19) essay’s main complaint about Chinese propaganda seems to be that Beijing is better at it than Washington.

The Atlantic (9/15/19) published a curious plea for more propaganda in Hollywood movies. The essay, by Boston College’s Martha Bayles, is ostensibly a warning about the growing power of China over the US film industry:

Simultaneously the world’s most profitable and censorious market, China has led Hollywood down the path of submission to a state censorship apparatus whose standards are as murky and unpredictable as those of most democratic countries are clear and consistent.

This may be a legitimate concern—absent the “clear and consistent” bit—but Bayles doesn’t offer much in the way of specific examples; the closest she comes is a complaint that

the trailer for the forthcoming Top Gun: Maverick—a sequel financed in part by the Chinese firm Tencent—omitted the Japanese and Taiwanese flag from Tom Cruise’s jacket.

Instead, her chief worry about propaganda seems to be that Beijing is better at it than Washington:

Beijing has a very clear idea of how a film industry should operate—namely, as an essential part of the effort to bring public opinion in alignment with the party’s ideological worldview.

The “Chinese propaganda machine,” Bayles writes, produces

bloody, ultra-violent action flicks, in which heroic, righteous Chinese soldiers kick some serious ass, including cowardly, decadent American ass, in exotic foreign places that are clearly in need of Xi Jinping Thought.

The prime example is Wolf Warrior 2 (2017), a nonstop tsunami of gun battles, massive explosions, wrenching hand-to-hand combat, and a spectacular tank chase, which hammers away at a single message: China is bringing security, prosperity and modern healthcare to Africa, while the United States is bringing only misery.

The Atlantic‘s writer complains that Hollywood doesn’t make movies like Wolf Warrior 2—even though it does.

Bayles’ claim, and complaint, is that the United States doesn’t make films like this—or at least doesn’t anymore. She explicitly pines for the days when Washington and Hollywood worked arm in arm to promote the American dream:

Over the years, the US government has often praised and defended Hollywood films as a key component of American soft power—that is, as a storytelling medium that can, without engaging in blatant propaganda, convey American ideals, including free expression itself, to foreign populations around the world. But Hollywood has long since abandoned that role. Indeed, not since the end of World War II have the studios cooperated with Washington in furthering the nation’s ideals.

The government helps the film industry fight “piracy” and pushes other countries to accept US entertainment products, Bayles notes:

But even while providing that help, Washington refrains from asking Hollywood to temper its more negative portrayals of American life, politics and global intentions.

After all those FBI warnings on all those DVDs, the film studios can’t even suppress criticism of the US government?

It is quite strange that an essay appearing under the banner of “Free Expression” is openly asking for the movie business to “cooperate with Washington” and censor content in the name of “soft power.” But equally strange is the suggestion by someone whose job involves studying the relationship between government and the culture industry that this kind of cooperation and censorship does not in fact go on routinely.

There is, in fact, a parenthetical admission in the piece that undermines its whole thesis: “(The exception is the Department of Defense, which insists on approving the script of every film produced with its assistance.)”  Oh, just the Department of Defense? I guess that does leave a lot of potential Housing and Urban Development–themed blockbusters going unfilmed.

If unvarnished military propaganda is what you want, Hollywood is happy to provide.

The Pentagon’s support for Hollywood is not a minor sidelight: Based on a FOIA request by Matthew Alford (Conversation, 7/26/17), who studies propaganda at the University of Bath, the DoD has helped produce 800 feature films between 1911 and 2017—including major franchises like Transformers, Terminator and Iron Man. It’s been even more involved with television, aiding series like  24, Homeland and NCIS.

Bayles is well aware of this practice; in the quote above about script approval, she links to a piece in Business Insider (3/5/14) in which the military official who decides which projects get the Pentagon’s help boasts that through such government-subsidized entertainments, “the image and message of the American armed forces gets projected before a global audience.” The article notes that in return for military assistance, which can shave tens of millions off a film’s production costs, Hollywood accepts strict censorship:

Films are denied Pentagon support…if they show the military in a negative light, such as scenes that include drug use, murder, or torture without subsequent punishment.

The Pentagon, in fact, supports exactly the kind of cheerleading, nationalistic entertainment that Bayles says China makes and the US (regrettably) doesn’t: Movies like Lone Survivor, 12 Strong, The 15:17 to Paris and Captain Phillips, and TV shows like NBC’s The Brave, CBS’s SEAL Team and CW’s Valor, are in every way the equal of China’s Wolf Warrior 2 in combining action thrills with a didactic message of the superiority of their country’s values and warfighting ability alike. Bayles buried this premise-destroying admission in a parenthetical—but at least she admitted it.

That’s not true of the other glaring contradiction to her article’s thesis, which goes entirely unmentioned: The CIA’s active and highly effective program to insert its messages in Hollywood product. The covert agency hasn’t been involved in as many projects as the Pentagon—60 since 1947, by Alford’s count—but arguably it’s had more cultural impact: The CIA-aggrandizing Argo won an Oscar for Best Picture, beating out the torture-apologetic Zero Dark Thirty (FAIR.org, 4/8/16). The CIA’s input into TV shows like 24 and Homeland (which were also aided by the Pentagon) helped to crucially shape the public narrative of the “war on terror” (Extra!, 4/14).

Why does Bayles ignore these clear examples of what her article is calling for, namely Hollywood cooperation with Washington to incorporate sophisticated messaging into entertainment products? And why didn’t anyone at the Atlantic notice the obvious omission, particularly when the website published an excerpt (7/14/16)  just three years ago from Nicholas Schou’s book on the very topic, Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood?

Just to venture a guess: Maybe it’s because when Hollywood cooperates with Washington, the “American ideals” it ends up promoting are not “free expression” but militarism, xenophobia and the efficacy of torture. Ignoring this sorry record makes for very poor journalism—but excellent propaganda, so perhaps according to Bayles’ own value system, she’s doing the right thing.

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Featured image: Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty.

 

 

 

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