Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

‘It’s This Culture of Secrecy That’s Pervading the Courts’ - CounterSpin interview with Melissa Goodman on the PATRIOT Act

Janine Jackson interviewed the ACLU’s Melissa Goodman about the PATRIOT Act for the September 30, 2005, episode of CounterSpin—a conversation that was reaired on the November 29, 2019, show. This is a lightly edited transcript of the rebroadcast.

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Janine Jackson: Librarians might be described as the canaries in the coal mine on US civil liberties, a kind of early warning system about predations on our freedom to gather and share information. As such, librarians were out in front in challenging the ominously sweeping powers given to law enforcement under the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act. And it’s libraries that are now at the center of a critical court case involving the PATRIOT Act and the right to talk about it, and even to know about it. Here to tell us what’s going on and what it means to us is Melissa Goodman, national security fellow for the American Civil Liberties Union, who are involved in this case. Melissa Goodman joins us now by telephone. Welcome to CounterSpin.

Melissa Goodman: Thank you, Janine, and I’m happy to be here.

JJ: First, please fill us in, if you would, on the basic facts on this Connecticut librarian case, and what is the current state of play?

MG: Sure. Well, let me first say what national security letters are. Essentially, they’re a tool the FBI can use to demand personal records from internet service providers, which includes more than just something like America Online, but also libraries, universities, even places like Amazon.com, any place where you can communicate over the internet, essentially.

Through these national security letters, the FBI can demand personal records about innocent people, without any court approval or any oversight. And essentially what happens is, if you are an organization or person who gets one of these letters, you are gagged forever from telling anyone about it, and saying anything about it whatsoever, even where there’s absolutely no threat to national security.

The ACLU’s client later turned out to be the Library Connection, a consortium of Connecticut libraries that included the Welles-Turner Memorial Library in Glastonbury.

The ACLU has actually filed two cases with regard to the national security letter power. Our most recent case we filed in Connecticut, challenging both the statute and a particular NSL that was—I can not say very much about it, because I am under a very heavy FBI gag order—but it was served on an organization with library records that is a member of the American Library Association. That’s all I can say about our client. Basically, as soon as they got this letter, they were gagged.

We challenged that gag and the NSL itself. What we did, because Congress is in the throes of finalizing the PATRIOT Act reauthorization legislation in the next week or so, we wanted to make sure that our client, who had very important things to say about the PATRIOT Act, could actually participate in that debate. However, because of the gag, they can’t, and also because of the gag, there’s a lot of information that the public can’t know as well.

So we went in and we asked a judge in Connecticut, who is Judge Hall, to give us a preliminary injunction, that basically would allow our clients to speak in time to participate in the PATRIOT Act debate. We actually won that, and Judge Hall granted an injunction.

But what happened is, she stayed her ruling for 20 days, which basically says this ruling won’t go into effect, and gave the government an opportunity to appeal the decision. The government rushed into the appellate court, which is the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and applied for a stay.

We opposed that, we opposed that strenuously, given that the debate is about to draw to a close in Congress, and they’re going to act without having vital information from people with firsthand knowledge of how the PATRIOT Act is being used.

What happened is the Second Circuit agreed with the government and granted a stay.

One good thing they did was, they set an expedited schedule for the appeal, which means it’s happening very quickly. Right after they granted that stay in the Second Circuit, we actually moved to vacate the stay—I’m actually not allowed to tell you why—and we just learned today that they denied that as well. So now we’re just waiting to finish the appeal.

Melissa Goodman: “If the government is going to come in and say you can’t say something you have a constitutional right to say, they have to meet a very high burden.”

JJ: Now, let’s be clear, from the Department of Justice perspective, the federal government’s line is that the reason for this gag order is that if the name of the people who’d been served with these national security letters were known, then the suspects—who, as you point out, under the PATRIOT Act, need not be under active investigation or have hard evidence against them—the suspects would somehow be able to piece together the investigation, and that this, therefore, trumps the librarians’—or whoever’s—free speech rights.

MG: That’s absolutely right, Janine. And in fact, the most troubling thing about what the government has done here is that, in the First Amendment context, if the government is going to come in and say you can’t say something you have a constitutional right to say, they have to meet a very high burden. It’s not enough for them to come in and say, “National security is affected.” The courts are very clear that you need to say more than that. You need to show, in this particular case, that the secrecy is needed because some very particular harm will happen.

And what they did here, rather than come in and say anything specific to this particular situation, this particular target, they came in and said, “Counterterrorism investigations are just different.” They essentially argue that you always need blanket and complete secrecy. And it’s an incredibly dangerous argument that they’ve been pressing, not just in this case, but in many other cases, and it’s depriving the public and the courts and Congress of vital, vital information that they need.

Attorney General John Ashcroft

JJ: In her ruling lifting the gag order, US District Judge Janet Hall cited some 2003 comments by Attorney General John Ashcroft, accusing people who feared government searches of reading records of hysteria. He said that no library records have been seized. Most recently, I saw him saying none were seized in the first two years of the PATRIOT Act. But I guess the point is, we don’t really know, do we, just how the government is applying the PATRIOT Act?

MG: That’s absolutely true.  The biggest problem, I can’t emphasize enough, with the PATRIOT Act debate, is that it’s an absolutely lopsided debate. Because of these gags that are built into all of the provisions, the National Security Letter provision, and the other provision—the one that Attorney General John Ashcroft was talking about with Section 215—those have built-in gags. So therefore, anyone who actually knows that the FBI is using their power in these ways that they’re denying that they’re using them, can’t tell anyone about it.

And it’s not even just that you’re gagging the people who have firsthand knowledge. The Justice Department has even refused to give information directly to members of Congress about how they’re using the PATRIOT Act. Over and over, members of Congress have complained that they’re doing oversight in the dark. And I’m not quite sure how Congress is supposed to make informed decisions about whether the PATRIOT Act simply went too far or not, or how the public is supposed to make that decision, when it’s impossible to know.

JJ: Journalists might say, then, that this is a story where there’s a lot of information lacking, a lot that they simply don’t know. But you might suggest that that itself is a worthy topic of some sort of investigation or coverage.

MG: That is absolutely true. I think that it is very important for the media to pay close attention, not just in this case, but actually in many other cases, cases where the government has come in and insisted on redacting a tremendous amount of what we consider to be innocuous information. It’s happening over and over. The government consistently files secret evidence, now, that we’re not allowed to see.

And it’s this culture of secrecy that’s pervading the courts, it’s pervading all aspects of life. It really has a tremendous impact on the foundations of our democratic system, and it’s really only the press who can consistently shine a light on that and question why, and try to push back against it.

JJ: That was the ACLU’s Melissa Goodman, on the show in September 2005.

 

‘Giuliani Did All the Wrong Things on That Day’ - CounterSpin interview with Wayne Barrett on Rudy Giuliani and 9/11

Janine Jackson interviewed the Village Voice’s Wayne Barrett about Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 for the August 17, 2007, episode of CounterSpin; that conversation was rebroadcast for the November 29, 2019, show. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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HarperCollins

Janine Jackson: “It was so well-orchestrated that you would have thought he had prepared for it forever.” That was how the secretary of former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani described Giuliani’s performance on September 11, 2001. Certainly that has become media’s memory of the then-mayor on that horrible day—calm, focused, effective—and consequently much of the public’s memory as well. Once media get hold of a storyline, they tend to run with it, and by the end of 2001, Time magazine had it that “Giuliani’s performance ensures that he will be remembered as the greatest mayor in the city’s history.” 

The troubling truth, according to a new book, is that the story that Giuliani has told, and that the press has repeated, about September 11 and his actions that day, doesn’t square with actual events. The book is called Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11. It’s co-authored by Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins. Wayne Barrett is senior editor at the Village Voice; he joins us now by telephone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Wayne Barrett.

Wayne Barrett: It’s so good to be here.

JJ: We’re talking about the historical record here. So what to you are the most significant differences between the Time magazine picture of Giuliani as “taking on half a dozen critical roles and performing each masterfully,” and the reality of his role on that day?

WB: Well, on that day, he said all the right things; I think he hit a chord with the American public generally, and of course, he was filling a void, because the president couldn’t be located. But he actually did all the wrong things on that day and in the lead-up to that day, in terms of preparing the city for any form of terrorist attack.

Remember, we were attacked once already in 1993, and it was a city that should have been ready, and should have understood the threat, particularly to the World Trade Center, since the terrorists said they were coming back. 

So what he did wrong that day in particular was that he violated his own protocols, which it’s not just Wayne Barrett saying that. John Farmer, who was the head of the 9/11 Commission unit that worked on the chapter that dealt with the city’s response, I interviewed him, and he said that everything Giuliani did by splitting the command posts that day was in violation of his own command-and-control protocols. 

What Giuliani did—and this story has been told a thousand times—is when he arrived in the vicinity of the World Trade Center complex, he met the police commissioner, Bernie Kerik, and with Bernie Kerik and almost the entire top-ranking uniformed officers of the police department, he walked over to West Street, on the far side of the towers, where the fire chiefs had set up their command posts. 

It was, after all, a fire, so the fire chiefs are supposed to be in charge, and under any unified command system anywhere in the United States, the fire chiefs and the police chief should have been at the same command post, working together. 

Instead, Giuliani spent about five minutes there, and then proceeded to leave and take the entire police brass with him, to another location on the far side of the towers, a safer location in the Barclay Building, an office building much further away from the towers. 

If he had left a single high-ranking member of the police department there with the fire chiefs, then everybody would have had, the fire chiefs would have had, all the police communications that were coming in from the helicopters; the police pilots were saying the towers were going to collapse, and the dysfunction of the fire department radios would have meant far less. 

But in fact, there were no police chiefs at the fire chief command post; there wasn’t any unified command, and that was a direct result of what Rudy himself did. That was his principal error that day; he made a few others, but that was his principal error.

And in the lead-up to 9/11, why were they even going to a command post? Why weren’t they going to the command center, which the city had spent up to $70 million creating and operating? And that’s because he put the command center in 7 World Trade, in the complex that had already been attacked, and it was vacated early in the day. So it was dysfunctional throughout the day, and that was a very costly error. Because there was no functioning command center, it heightened the importance of establishing a unified command, at this much more makeshift thing that occurs in all major events, this command post.

JJ: So let’s be clear: It’s not so much that what Giuliani did in the midst of this chaotic situation turned out to be a mistake. It really was that he didn’t follow existing rules on paper, about how something should be done.

WB: Rules that he himself created. Yes.

JJ: Now you indicate that Giuliani has never really been forced to explain, by reporters or anyone, this splitting-the-post decision. Did journalists just not want to sully the icon, or what’s going on there?

WB: Well, I don’t think anybody really examined it the way you can in a book. I know this is one of the best-covered news events of all time, but still, the National Institute of Standards and Technology did a 10,000-page study of the city’s response. It was a significant chapter in the 9/11 Commission Report. And both of them observed that there was a split command post, and that it was detrimental. But they didn’t hold anybody accountable for it: They never mentioned the mayor’s name, they never reviewed the circumstances that led up to that day. So that the media didn’t have some official body telling them how to figure this one out. And apparently they couldn’t figure it out themselves. 

I mean, I quote everyone, including the current police commissioner, Ray Kelly, as saying that this was a violation of the protocols. No one else had ever asked them.

JJ: You’re kind of shifting, well, you’re very much shifting the memory, the public’s and the media’s memory, of a significant event. What kinds of responses are you getting from reporters, in particular, to this book?

WB: You know, the book is five years after the event. And it’s not just a focus on this kind of a mistake. Most of the book is really about the lead-up to 9/11, and all the mistakes that were made. And I think there’s a very receptive media audience to it in New York. 

Nationally, there hasn’t been much of an audience for it yet. You know, the myth still is driving much of the anniversary spin about this event. As Giuliani emerges, more and more in time, as a presidential candidate, the national media may be more receptive to looking at the true facts, of not only what happened that day, but the failure to prepare for any form of a terrorist attack, that characterized the Giuliani administration for seven and a half years prior to 9/11.

JJ: Let me just ask you, finally, if you could characterize—media have had some time to cover follow-up, particularly here in New York, the environmental cleanup; it’s not like the story of September 11 is just what happened on that day. Do you feel that media are up to the task of really doing the first draft of history on this?

Wayne Barrett: “All of the media coverage in the aftermath of 9/11 stressed how Giuliani was the king of Ground Zero, that he ran it from top to bottom. That was at a time when everyone thought it was going so smoothly.” (cc photo: David Shankbone)

WB: There seems to be a fixation about the EPA and Christie Whitman and their role, which was certainly a culpable role, in the toxic aftermath of 9/11. But our book focuses very squarely on what we think is by far the more responsible party, and that is the city of New York. 

Again, it’s ironic, because all of the media coverage in the aftermath of 9/11 stressed how Giuliani was the king of Ground Zero, that he ran it from top to bottom. That was at a time when everyone thought it was going so smoothly, that they were getting rid of the debris, they were clearing the site so fast. 

Now, when everyone understands that this was a toxic nightmare, and an unnecessary toxic nightmare, especially after the first week or two, when it was clear that no rescues could be done—now no one seems to be saying, Giuliani was running that toxic nightmare, wasn’t he? Well, we certainly make the case that he was, that he made all the critical decisions. 

Just as an example, we cite a letter on October 5, that the EPA wrote the city’s health department, saying, Nobody’s wearing a respirator down there. There are no cleanup stations for anybody to get rid of the toxins as they leave. This letter was completely ignored by the city. The city did nothing about it. Christie Whitman, whose agency is certainly responsible for misrepresenting the condition of the air generally there, although the city did its own tests, tests that were never made public , that we reveal in the book, 87 test results, most of them positive, that were never released, and never put up on any website or anything by the city. Christie Whitman actually once saw on CNN, in the dead of night, that none of the firefighters and none of the construction workers were wearing respirators, and got on the phone herself calling city agencies. 

So Giuliani was running Ground Zero. And the toxic aftermath, it continues in the courts, will haunt his presidential prospects, because these suits are going forward, and the city’s culpability is becoming clearer every day in federal courts, not just involving the workers at Ground Zero, but the thousands of people who live down there, and Giuliani essentially said, “Clean your own apartments.”

JJ: That was reporter Wayne Barrett, speaking with CounterSpin in September 2006. Known as the first reporter to take Donald Trump seriously, describing him in 1979 as “a user of other users,” Barrett died the day before Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.

 

Moving Jobs to Mexico Was a Feature, Not a Bug, of NAFTA

The Washington Post (11/21/19) tells readers that “NAFTA was meant to expand trade…but it also proved disruptive in terms of…relocating businesses and jobs.

The Washington Post (11/21/19) gave readers the official story about NAFTA, diverging seriously from reality, in a piece on the status of negotiations on the new NAFTA. The piece tells readers:

NAFTA was meant to expand trade among the United States, Canada and Mexico by removing tariffs and other barriers on products as they were shipped between countries. The pact did open up trade, but it also proved disruptive in terms of creating new manufacturing supply chains and relocating businesses and jobs.

This implies that the disruption in terms of shifting jobs to Mexico to take advantage of low-wage labor was an accidental outcome. In fact, this was a main point of the deal, as was widely noted by economists at the time. Proponents of the deal argued that it was necessary for US manufacturers to have access to low-cost labor in Mexico to remain competitive internationally. No one who followed the debate at the time should have been in the least surprised by the loss of high-paying, union manufacturing jobs to Mexico; that is exactly the result that NAFTA was designed for.

NAFTA also did nothing to facilitate trade in highly paid professional services, such as those provided by doctors and dentists. This is because doctors and dentists are far more powerful politically than autoworkers.

It is also wrong to say that NAFTA was about expanding trade by removing barriers. A major feature of NAFTA was the requirement that Mexico strengthen and lengthen its patent and copyright protections. These barriers are 180 degrees at odds with expanding trade and removing barriers.

It is noteworthy that the new deal expands these barriers further. The Trump administration likely intends these provisions to be a model for other trade pacts, just as the rules on patents and copyrights were later put into other trade deals.

The new NAFTA will also make it more difficult for the member countries to regulate Facebook and other internet giants. This is likely to make it easier for Mark Zuckerberg to spread fake news.

A version of this post originally appeared on CEPR’s blog Beat the Press (11/29/19).

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.

Wayne Barrett on Rudy Giuliani, Melissa Goodman on the PATRIOT Act

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Mayor Rudy Giuliani at the WTC site.

CounterSpin this week revisits two interviews from the past, on topics very much of today. First up: Now that Rudy Giuliani is known as Donald Trump’s rabid fixer, whom we learned none other than John Bolton described as “a hand grenade” who would “blow everyone up,” the former New York City mayor has fallen out of elite media’s good graces. To which New Yorkers say, what took you so long? Much of media’s story around Giuliani was about how cool and effective he was on September 11, 2001. And much of that story is myth. In 2006, CounterSpin spoke with the late journalist Wayne Barrett, then at the late Village Voice, about his book, Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11, co-authored with Dan Collins. We’ll hear that interview today.

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(cc photo: Ralf Roletschek)

Also on the show: Another thing we can’t miss because it won’t go away: the PATRIOT Act, signed in 2001. House Democrats, unbelievably to some, just put through a reauthorization of the Act, in the midst of proceedings to impeach the person to whom it hands such incredible power. The PATRIOT Act was opposed from the very beginning, but did media do enough to reveal and resist the way it impedes the public’s right to know? In 2005, we heard from the ACLU’s Melissa Goodman about a particular case that showed just how draconian and anti-democratic the PATRIOT Act is. We’ll hear that conversation again today.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at recent coverage of the “strong economy.”

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‘This Was a Test Case to See How a Couple of Photos Could Silence Women’ - CounterSpin interview with Mallory McMaster on Katie Hill

Janine Jackson interviewed reproductive rights advocate Mallory McMaster about Katie Hill for the November 22, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Rewire.News (10/31/19)

Janine Jackson: Among the most striking things about the case of California Rep. Katie Hill is how eager some people are to dispense with it. Hill’s story was gone from headlines not long after her late October resignation. But the issues her case raised, including the way misogyny attempts to undercut women’s political agency by reducing them to sexual objects, aren’t going anywhere.

Hill was set to be investigated by the House Ethics Committee for an allegation from her ex-husband of a consensual sexual relationship with a staffer, which violates House rules and which she denies. While those are the facts, they weren’t the story, and that’s the problem.

Joining us now to talk about this is Mallory McMaster, a reproductive rights advocate and owner of the social justice communications firm,  the Fairmount Group. She joins us by phone from Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Welcome to CounterSpin, Mallory McMaster.

Mallory McMaster: Hi, Janine, thanks so much for having me on.

JJ: I’m just going to recap a bit here. The right-wing website RedState runs a story alleging that Katie Hill was having an affair with her male congressional legislative director—not much traction.

Then they run a story saying that Hill, her now ex-husband, and a female member of her campaign staff, had been in a relationship, with photos of Hill and the female staffer.

And then something is unleashed: Because the woman worked on Hill’s campaign before she was elected, that relationship is considered not illegal but inappropriate, and Hill apologized for it. But whatever folks are saying now, that sequence of events says a lot about the way our attention has been focused, wouldn’t you say?

MM: Oh, absolutely. I think the lack of attention around the initial claims wasn’t surprising, but the fact that immediately when there were two women involved, there were photos of a sexual nature involved, when her sexuality was called into the headline—it wasn’t heteronormative: She was bisexual and involved in a polyamorous, or open, relationship, and the word “throuple” was thrown in.

No one seems to be centering her well-being, her safety, or anyone’s well-being or safety, in fact. They were sexualizing the entire situation, focusing on othering her and othering her partners. And  lifting up the nature of the photographs that were released, and viewing the photographs that were released; I think that they were viewed millions of times on the internet that week, instead of people taking a critical look at what was happening in Hill’s life that was contributing to the abuse she was experiencing.

JJ: Well, RedState knew what they were doing. Conservative media followed up with details about other relationships in the past that had nothing to do with anything. They knew that they could just wave a hand in the sex direction, and then say “unfit for office,” and other folks would take it from there.

But let me put to you what, you know, serious-minded folks were saying. Some people were saying, “Look, it’s cut and dried, she broke the #MeToo rule—that, by the way, you ladies were clamoring for.…”

But that’s the allegation she denies, is the relationship with her actual staffer, and the staffer has not come forward. So this line of She broke the law, you’ve got to have a single standard—next!, feels like an eagerness to wash our hands of what we know was really the troubling thing going on here.

MM: Oh, absolutely. And I think that there’s, on both sides of the political aisle—and I don’t even know that there’s a big divide anymore in the political aisle, when you look at the situation—there’s a huge double standard.

We have the president of the United States, who’s facing…. I’ve lost count of the serious, credible accusations of sexual misconduct, and even rape. We have sitting members of Congress who have been accused of sexual misconduct and rapes, and they are indignantly remaining in their seats.

But in the case of Hill, everyone just shut it down and said, “Well, you broke the rules.” They didn’t give her any chance to defend herself. No one offered the opportunity for due process. No one looked at it in the holistic lens or the greater picture of what she was going through at the time, and how the allegations were part of the abuse she was experiencing from her ex-husband, and how the right-wing media…. We found out later that the journalist who reported on these had worked for Hill’s opponent.

JJ: Right.

MM: And had been tweeting about how she couldn’t wait to beat Hill, right? So we knew that this was an orchestrated attempt by the GOP to take Hill down. And it was all connected. And no one took a holistic view with that, because we’re all so weird and icky about sex.

JJ: It’s true. It’s true. I find that part fascinating: The RedState reporter who published the photos was a campaign advisor for Republican congressman Steve Knight, who Hill unseated. And then after the pictures were up, RedState tweeted support for Mike Garcia, the Republican who’s now running for Hill’s seat.

And as you say, I think it’s interesting, because media are usually interested in partisan political skulduggery. But in this case, the tools that were used were too shiny an object for them to see past.

So they’re comparing these pictures that were taken, as I understand it, without Katie Hill’s even knowledge, right, and certainly released without her consent, that’s being compared to instances in which men sent unsolicited naked pictures to women. It’s like, Naked stuff! It’s all the same! We can’t think about it, you know.

Mallory McMaster: “We all have stuff that lives on our phones and social media that could potentially have the same effect, if it’s released in the way that Katie Hill’s information was released.”

MM: Right. I actually did not realize that the photos had been taken without consent until I watched her heartbreaking resignation speech on the floor. And that made the situation even more heartbreaking, right? It’s already horrible, and it’s abuse: If you take photos consensually, you share them with your partner, you’re supposed to be able to trust your spouse or your partner, or a friend or anyone else that promises to keep something private, and releases them without your consent.

But the fact that the photos were actually taken without her knowledge is horrifying. Hearing that Speaker Pelosi, behind closed doors, has chastised her for making the bad decision of being in the photos. She didn’t even know she was in the photos, right? And Pelosi has made comments like, Well, I guess we have to teach kindergarteners not to take photos like that. And that’s just so condescending and patronizing and rude and slut-shaming and victim-blaming, and we’re moving in the wrong direction.

And it sends a message to potential and current candidates that, if you have anything in your background, like we all do, right, where you know, as a generation, millennials all have nude photos. We all have stuff that lives on our phones and social media that could potentially have the same effect, if it’s released in the way that Katie Hill’s information was released.

It scares us. And it silences us. And it’s very useful in oppressing us. And the GOP clearly realized this, and this was a great test case to see how effectively a couple of photos could be used to silence women. And I think the Democrats gave them exactly what they wanted, which was a really easy tool to shut us up.

JJ: I don’t even like the term “revenge porn” very much, because I think “porn” sounds consensual. But nonconsensual pornography, image-based sexual abuse, it’s a crime in 46 states, and yet Katie Hill’s pictures are still up on RedState, as Masha Gessen points out, still generating revenue.

And the New York Times can only bring itself to say that, while “most people would agree” that Hill is “clearly…in the wrong,” they say, “The publication of sensitive photos and texts, which she blamed on her estranged husband, arguably makes her a victim as well.” I have a real problem with that, but I want to bring you back to the scolding, because sometimes that scold is really explicitly spelled out.

“It Boils Down to This: Don’t Pose Nude for the Camera.” That was the headline and the substance of this combo finger-wag and pearl-clutch from Gene Lyons, a columnist. And his line was, The husband, or whoever leaked the photos, is awful. The media who released them are awful. But the real blame is Katie Hill’s, because, what was she thinking? 

And it’s just what you said, whether or not she knew—to me, it’s immaterial, even, whether she knew, although it absolutely adds a layer of horribleness to it, in her case—but in general, as you say, the idea that images of you might exist on social media. Here’s Gene Lyons saying, “If that’s your hobby, find a different profession.”

MM: That’s disgusting.

JJ: It feels like such backlash. It feels like such fear of a new group of folks—and I don’t think it’s only generational, because you can be anti-sex and anti-difference and anti-whatever your mother and me don’t understand, you know, at any age, but it does tell young people, “Public office isn’t for you, standing in the public arena is not for you.”

And here’s what I hate most—I know I’m talking a lot—but what bothers me most about that line is, it’s often followed with, including in Lyons’ case: If Katie Hill had the courage of her convictions, she’d have stayed, she’d have stayed and fought. And the unspoken part is, She should have stayed to face both those people who openly despise her, and the likes of me, who are going to claim to support her, but actually not support her. It’s a particular kind of hypocrisy, you know?

MM: Yeah. I was disappointed when I saw that Hill resigned from Congress. And I don’t blame her for a second. When she disclosed during her resignation speech that she hadn’t gotten out of bed that week, I could feel that. And she also disclosed that her abuser had also shared hundreds of other images, that they’d threatened to release slowly if she didn’t resign from Congress.

It sounds like she’s focusing full time on fighting the battle of her life, which is to fight back against her abuser. And I understand exactly why she wants to focus on that. And she has every right to.

So I think that we all need to take a good, long look in the mirror, and think about what we need to do differently moving forward, because this is sending a really strong message, not just to Hill, and not just to the GOP, but to young women and young people all over, who are expressing their sexuality in a way that makes us feel good, and a way that we have every right to, and we’re being punished for it.

JJ: We don’t know all the details of Katie Hill’s story, and that’s sort of the point: Her accusers have told the story. And so maybe unsurprisingly, it’s yet another time when I’m glad that there are independent media, where bisexuality isn’t novel and strange, where women can be sexual and powerful without apology, and we can hear and tell stories that look more like our lives. The chance to have another kind of conversation on issues like this, or at times like this, seems to me especially crucial.

MM: Oh, absolutely. And I think that also the fact that we are missing those lives, or those experiences and those perspectives, in the mainstream media is exactly what led to this problem. And that’s what Hill promised and ran on as her platform. She was openly bisexual and openly imperfect, and talked about that a lot. And millennials see that and appreciate it and need it. So we should be embracing and supporting our differences and our diversity and other perspectives and voices, instead of silencing them and shutting them out. But we have to fight like hell to lift them up, and create spaces that are safe for people to be themselves, and push them into the national media spotlight, because that’s the only way we’re going to create safe spaces for people to be themselves at every point in our lives and throughout the country.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Mallory McMaster. You can find her article, “Katie Hill’s Resignation Should Have Been Met With Outrage, Not Silence,” on Rewire.News. Mallory McMaster, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

MM: Thanks for having me.

 

We’re Still Waiting for ‘Early and Often’ Climate Debate Questions

by Julie Hollar

As the Democratic Party prepared for its first presidential primary debates in June, climate activists pushed the DNC to schedule a single-issue debate on the climate crisis, given the urgency of the problem and the lack of attention given to it in previous debates. DNC chair Tom Perez refused, saying he had “the utmost confidence” that climate disruption would be discussed in the debates “early and often” (FAIR.org, 6/18/19).

Now that seven nights of debates have passed, and multiple media outlets have been given a chance to decide how early and often each issue is discussed, how accurate has Perez turned out to be? Pretty much dead wrong.

Across all the debates thus far, questions on the climate crisis have accounted for 7% of all questions, or 1 in every 14. (In raw numbers, it’s 47 out of 638.) And last week’s MSNBC debate was the first in which climate made it into the first hour of questioning—slipping in at the 59-minute mark. It has never been the lead question in a debate.

It’s not just climate activists that want to hear the environment discussed in the debates—it’s the public. Polls consistently show climate ranked among Democratic voters’ top concerns, and one that they want to see discussed more in debates. The New York Times asked readers what they wanted to hear about both before and after the debate they co-hosted; climate topped the list both times. But during the debate, the Times hosts (and their CNN counterparts) didn’t ask a single question about it (FAIR.org, 10/17/19).

NBC‘s Chuck Todd (6/26/19)

FAIR’s accounting counts hand-off prompts (such as, “Senator, your response?”) as questions, since we’re interested in who’s being given the chance to speak on which topics. If you only count unique questions on climate, 20 have been asked across all debates.

Some have been useless, being too broad (“Explain specifically what your [climate proposal] is”—NBC‘s Chuck Todd, 6/27/19) or too convoluted (“Who pays for the mitigation to climate, whether it’s building seawalls, for people that are perhaps living in places that they shouldn’t be living? Is this a federal government issue that needs to do that. Do they have to move these people? What do you do about that,  where maybe they’re building a house someplace that is it safe? Who pays to build that house, and how much should the government be bailing them out?”—Todd again, 6/26/19). Many have focused on the idea that major climate action is not “realistic,” or that it threatens people’s freedoms to do things like drive gas-guzzling cars or eat meat.

Bernie Sanders, who has pivoted hard toward the climate issue in recent weeks, has been given the most speaking prompts on climate—but not a single unique question. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, the only other candidates appearing in every debate who have received higher than a B+ grade from Greenpeace on their climate plans, have gotten one unique question each. Hand-off prompts, under the rules enforced by the media hosts, are generally limited to either 30 or 45 seconds, which means that the candidates with the most ambitious climate plans have been given criminally little time to explain them.

Debate moderators do not act like they live on a planet where rapid, unprecedented cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are necessary to avoid “widespread, catastrophic effects” (Washington Post, 11/26/19).

Perez may point in his defense to the climate town halls hosted by CNN (9/4/19) and MSNBC (9/19/19, 9/20/19), which did force candidates to speak in more detail about their plans—but, as we noted at the time, those forums get a fraction of the viewership and follow-up coverage that debates get (FAIR.org, 9/6/19). If anything, it seems the events gave media hosts a pass to minimize climate in subsequent debates, as CNN did in the debate they co-hosted after the town halls (FAIR.org, 10/17/19).

While media report on a “bleak” new UN report that finds, in the words of a Washington Post reporter (11/26/19), “rapid, unprecedented cuts in greenhouse gas emissions offer the only hope of averting an ever-intensifying cascade of consequences,” you can’t help but be struck by how blithely they undercut such reporting by minimizing the climate problem in the public forums that are expressly designed to help determine who might lead our country for the next four years.

Media Wonder: Why Can’t Venezuela Be More Like Bolivia?

by Joshua Cho

Western corporate media outlets have often cried foul when foreign elections don’t go the way the US empire wants them to, and find roundabout ways to label the violent attempts by vocal right-wing minorities to use military forces to overthrow leftist governments as “protests” rather than coups (FAIR.org, 5/16/18, 5/1/19). But it’s still rare to see them blatantly call for a right-wing coup without a hint of their usually subtler pretenses.

For Reuters (11/11/19), the failure of “Maduro’s” military to launch a coup “stands in the way” of regime change in Venezuela.

Reuters’ report, “Maduro’s Military Stands in the Way of a Bolivia Repeat in Venezuela” (11/11/19), noted that “Venezuelan opposition leaders looking to oust their country’s socialist government” can “take some hope” from the “resignation of its leftist ally in Bolivia, Evo Morales.” There’s just one problem:

But one key factor makes the Bolivia playbook a difficult one to carry out against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro: Venezuela’s armed forces have consistently refused to take the side of protesters as Bolivia’s military did on Sunday.

Reuters’ Brian Ellsworth and Vivian Sequera complained that “Venezuela’s barracks have stood by the ruling Socialist Party,” despite a “crippling economic meltdown,” “waves of major protests” and “broad condemnation of Maduro’s 2018 re-election that was widely described as fraudulent.” (Despite such descriptions, which are indeed widespread, there is no reason to question whether President Nicolás Maduro won the May 2018 election, which was largely boycotted by the opposition.)

Reuters lamented that the unpopular US-backed Juan Guaidó’s unconstitutional efforts to “court the armed forces have not been enough to sway their allegiance to Maduro,” despite his being “recognized by more than 50 countries as Venezuela’s legitimate president.” (Note that this means that approximately 75% of the world’s countries don’t recognize Guaido, who lacks UN recognition.) The implication is that the Venezuelan military should stage a coup, just as the Bolivian military did when the armed forces commander William Kaliman

called on Morales to step aside, giving momentum to street protestors alleging fraud at an October presidential election that Morales was judged to have narrowly won.

Morales’ run for the presidency was approved by the Bolivian Supreme Court (whose judges are elected, rather than appointed as in the US), and, as was predicted in pre-election polling, Morales “narrowly won” the October 2019 election by more than 10 percentage points, which is why he did not face a runoff election. The Center for Economic and Policy Research found that there’s no evidence discrediting the legitimacy of Morales’ reelection. Only one US president in the past 50 years—Ronald Reagan in 1984—has won the popular vote by more than 10 percentage points.

Reuters (7/28/19) ponders the “mystery” of why Venezuela’s military hasn’t overthrown the elected government.

But Reuters has a history of lamenting that Venezuela’s military is more loyal to its democratically elected government than the US empire. In another report pondering why the Venezuelan military remains loyal to Maduro and the Socialist Party, Reuters (7/28/19) complained that the Socialists took steps to prevent another coup like the one that temporarily removed Hugo Chávez from power before he was restored by popular support. The piece by Brian Ellsworth and Mayela Armas also criticized the Venezuelan military for assisting in public works programs like refurbishing schools, filling potholes, planting vegetables and clearing garbage; apparently a proper military spends its time preparing to invade other countries.

Reuters (8/22/19) has also presented Venezuelan efforts to prevent a military coup, such as removing disloyal officers, as sinister Cuban-inspired “repression” that has “cowed” the military. “Opposition pleas for a military rebellion have gone unheeded,” as reporter Angus Berwick lamented.

The Daily Beast’s report  “Evo Morales Is Out. Is Nicolás Maduro Next?” (11/13/19) likewise bemoaned the lack of a “domino effect” that would bring a Bolivian-style coup to Venezuela. The Beast’s Eduard Freisler acknowledged:

In Bolivia, it was largely the Bolivian army that forced Evo Morales out. This was the strategy that Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó tried in order to force Maduro out. But the young leader, who in late January proclaimed himself the interim president here, has never managed to sway the powerful and affluent generals to his side and away from Maduro.

The Daily Beast described Morales as “one of several presidents in Latin America who have claimed to represent the masses in their countries…sometimes helping to raise them from poverty, sometimes plunging them back into it.” The role of US sanctions in punishing the economies of countries that stray from Washington’s agenda was, of course, never mentioned in either of these reports (FAIR.org, 5/6/19)—as the Beast complained that “concerted economic and political pressure from the United States couldn’t shake” elected left-wing governments in Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua. Neither do these reports mention CEPR’s relevant findings that recognition of Guaidó as Venezuela’s “legitimate president” effectively functions as a devastating oil embargo on the country.

After a “classic military coup” failed to materialize in Venezuela, the Daily Beast (5/2/19)wondered, “How many more disappointments can the Venezuelan people stand?”

Like Reuters, the Daily Beast also has a history of mourning the improbability of the Venezuelan people and military’s supporting a US-backed coup. An earlier piece by Christopher Dickey (Daily Beast, 5/2/19) mourned the failure of Guaidó to convince the military to overthrow Venezuela’s government, claiming, that “a classic military coup, a quick and decisive golpe de Estado, would have been welcomed by many, and probably most, after years of suffering under Maduro.” Dickey also asserted that “no doubt some Venezuelans would welcome US military intervention,” though he thought that was unlikely. “How many more disappointments can the Venezuelan people stand?” he concluded.

It’s not accidental that both outlets downplayed the fact that a US-supported coup had occurred in Bolivia by acting as if only defiant left-wing governments in Latin America deem what happened in Bolivia to be a coup. Reuters (11/11/19) cited “leftist governments saying [Morales] was victim of a coup,” while the Beast (11/13/19) reported that “Chavista party members…termed Morales’ demise a coup,” even though both reports openly acknowledge, and indeed celebrate, the Bolivian military’s role in forcing Morales out (FAIR.org, 11/11/19). Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act requires that the US must cut off aid to any country “whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.”

FAIR has documented how corporate media consistently criticize the success of left-wing political agendas pursued abroad in countries like Venezuela and Bolivia—in defiance of US imperialism—because they are afraid of the threat of a good example (FAIR.org, 2/8/19). That might be why corporate media are wondering why Venezuela can’t be more like Bolivia in calling for a repeat coup there—which they won’t call a coup, of course.

Featured image: Daily Beast photo illustration (11/13/19) of Raul Castro, Evo Morales, Nicolas Maduro and Daniel Ortega.

Talking Turkey About Impeachment Hearings - NYT coverage teaches us how not to discuss the end of democracy

 

Congratulations, you made it through the public hearings of the impeachment inquiry, one eye on the livestream and one eye on your work email, and somehow you met your deadlines even as you followed along blow by blow. So what are you going to say about it around the Thanksgiving dinner table?

There were certainly some moments designed to stoke feelings of patriotism as we head into the heavily mythologized, uniquely American holiday this week. Alexander Vindman (New York Times, 11/19/19): “The uniform I wear today is that of the United States Army. We do not serve any particular political party; we serve the nation.” Fiona Hill (New York Times, 11/21/19): “I have no interest in advancing the outcome of your inquiry in any particular direction, except toward the truth.”

Perhaps you faithfully read every New York Times piece on the hearings (131 by my count as of November 22, 2019, based on their impeachment landing page). So you’re ready, maybe, to go toe-to-toe with Trump-supporting Uncle Joe about how Sondland’s story has changed and why his public testimony is the one Uncle Joe should believe.

You’re revved up by the descriptions of the “bombshell” revelations (11/20/19), “extraordinary” testimony (11/20/19) and “riveting” witnesses (11/21/19). Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, you are itching to pronounce no later than your first piece of pumpkin pie, are clearly, documentably a quid pro quo and an impeachable offense.

You’re right about that, but let me suggest a different approach to your anticipated intra-familial political discussion.

Burying the lead

To the New York Times (11/19/19), the interesting news is that Trump was tweeting against White House staffers—not that the Army was considering moving an officer’s family onto a military base because his criticisms of the president may have put them in danger.

On November 19, in a news analysis piece titled “A White House Now ‘Cannibalizing Itself,’” the Times  (11/19/19) went on at length (1,600 words) about the novelty of a sitting president publicly attacking members of his own staff. What the Times deemed “remarkable” was not Trump’s “attacks on his enemies real or perceived,” which “have become so routine that they now often pass unnoticed,” but rather that the “rhetorical howitzer” was now aimed at people who “still work for the very same White House that was publicly assailing them.”

Halfway through this article, there is this spartan description of threats to one such person, Col. Vindman:

The Army has been assessing potential security threats to Colonel Vindman and his brother Yevgeny, who also works at the National Security Council. There have also been discussions about moving the Vindmans and their families onto a military base for their protection.

But in contrast to the adjective-rich astonishment the Times expressed at Trump’s attacks on his own staff, this tidbit is unworthy of further comment for the paper of record. Sadly, threats of violence to anti-Trump witnesses are not new (think Christine Blasey Ford), but they are much more important to the story of the impeachment proceedings—and the survival of what is left of US democracy—than the new but unsurprising fact that Trump’s Twitter vomit has now landed on people inside the White House as well as outside.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, the presiding officer at the impeachment hearings, had admonished Trump about witness intimidation four days earlier, when Trump assailed Marie Yovanovitch in a tweet during the former ambassador’s testimony.  The Times article (11/15/19) on that incident reported:

Mr. Trump has a history of using his platform to excoriate people who are in a position to serve as witnesses to his own potential wrongdoing, using Twitter and statements at his political rallies to criticize less well-known people by name, in humiliating and sometimes threatening ways…. The tactic functions not just as an attempt to discredit his critics, but as a warning to deter others from coming forward.

This is solid and appropriate context in the story but, once again, the article stays on the surface and avoids even hinting at the consequences of this kind of political behavior, opting instead to dive into legal definitions of witness-tampering.

At the risk of stating the incredibly obvious, I’m going to say that a society in which witnesses have to fear for their safety when they expose government corruption or other wrongdoing is a society distinctly titling more towards authoritarianism than democracy. That the New York Times hasn’t raised the alarm about that is… alarming. It is more Nazi-normalizing barf journalism.

I might also suggest that phrases like “rhetorical howitzer” are better avoided under these circumstances.

Missing the point 

A New York Times headline (11/18/19) combines politics as theater review with election coverage as fundraising horse race.

The larger problem with the Times’ coverage of the impeachment hearings is also exemplified in the “cannibalizing itself” article. Yes, Trump is an equal-opportunity bully and liar who is willing to attack his own staff. But the first half of that sentence is more important than the second. The Times’ emphasis in this piece reminds me of the time our son got drunk, went skateboarding, and ended up in the ER. What did he learn? we asked him afterwards.

“I shouldn’t ollie a full flight of stairs while drunk,” he replied.

The bigger and more important story is that Trump and the GOP are assaulting the legitimacy of the impeachment inquiry itself—it’s not that they are using one particular tactic or another. Everything—from refusing to turn over documents, to pressuring witnesses not to testify, to intimidating and smearing them when they do—is about a claim to unlimited executive power that is straight out of the authoritarian playbook.

The New York Times’ voluminous coverage of the hearings details many of the pieces that make up the overall strategy, but the vast majority of it boils down to the predictable formula of covering the whole process like a partisan horse race. A sampling of Times headlines:

  • “An Ideal Witness for the Democrats” (11/13/19)
  •  “A ‘Circus’ or an ‘Education’: How Impeachment Is Playing on the Radio” (11/14/19)
  • “How Swing State Voters Feel About Impeachment” (11/15/19)
  • “Jordan Brings Pugnacious Style to Impeachment Defense of Trump” (11/15/19)
  • “In Prime Time, Two Versions of Impeachment for a Divided Nation” (11/16/19)
  • “Republicans Shift Defense of Trump While He Attacks Another Witness” (11/17/19)
  • “A GOP Star Emerges in Impeachment Hearings. Democratic Donors Notice.” (11/18/19)
  • “House Democrats Adopt a Sharper, Simpler Vocabulary” (11/18/19)
  • “Partisan Lawyers Seize Leading Roles in Impeachment Hearings” (11/19/19)
  • “A Republican Strategy Revealed” (11/19/19)

It sounds alternately like an NFL halftime report and a review of a Broadway show.

Even the five pieces described as “news analyses” that ran during the phase of the public hearings fall short of deserving that label, and none go any deeper than the rest of the coverage. “The Impeachment Witnesses Not Heard” (11/21/19), for instance, rehashes the relevant details of the administration’s refusal to cooperate  with the investigation, and analyses the partisan considerations in GOP stonewalling and the Democrats’ decision not to go to court over it. “But it leaves some frustrated about the missing pieces,” the article says, and, folks, that’s as deep as it gets.

Less than the sum of the parts

Masha Gessen (New Yorker, 11/14/19): “To upset the equilibrium, the Democrats would have to devise a strategy that would penetrate the Republicans’ reality bubble…like an attack on all fronts.”

Masha Gessen (New Yorker, 11/14/19) provided a framing analysis in a single column that the New York Times could not manage to do in its 131 articles. The impeachment hearings, they said, consist of two simultaneous realities: one where Trump “is guilty of abusing power in many ways and on many occasions, and one such occasion is being dissected and laid out in great detail,” and the other where “Democrats are out to get Trump at any cost, have latched onto a muddled and inconsequential incident, and are laying it out in great detail.”

“These two realities do not overlap,” they note.

What euphoric Reality One acolytes see as damning testimony and obvious evidence of Trump’s guilt, Reality Two adherents dismiss out of hand as further proof that Democrats/the liberal establishment/the deep state/the media are out to get Trump. Critically, what the Reality One camp doesn’t understand is that for the Reality Two camp the incoherence of Republican attacks on the evidence doesn’t matter. Gessen gets to the heart of it:

Republicans are not actually defending the president against accusations of abuse of power; instead, they are mounting an offense against the Democrats, whose very enterprise they consider illegitimate.

Gessen’s point is that the Republicans are playing a whole different game than the Democrats, and the Democrats don’t realize it and will lose as a result:

The impeachment hearings ought to lay down a record of abuses that will make future historians blush, rather than a protocol of the time that the Democrats tried to get Trump on the one obscure smoking gun they had—and failed.

Agreed.

But that the Democrats have, true to form, opted to make the whole less than the sum of its parts, is no excuse for the media to do the same.

Why exactly the New York Times is studiously keeping its impeachment coverage so superficial I don’t know. My hunch is that it has to do with the Times’ longstanding affinity for legitimizing power and, as I’ve said elsewhere, the belief that the stability of US institutions is more important than their integrity. Naming and scrutinizing the extent of the assault on democratic norms revealed in the impeachment proceedings would lay bare the fragility of those institutions. But honestly, I don’t know, and that is a speculation.

But that this approach to covering the Trump administration is deliberate is quite clear.  On Sunday, former Times copy editor Carlos Cunha (Salon, 11/24/19) exposed what he called the  “project of Trump-dignification” at the paper (and I call, following Bess Kalb, Nazi-normalizing barf journalism), detailing not only how he was fired for a single edit seen as unfair to the Trumpists, but also how the Times’ upper brass has sought to placate Trump (including the refusal to call him a racist).

The myth of objective journalism 

While I can’t answer the big question of why the Times’ coverage is content to stay lost in the trees and avoid looking at the forest, I want to highlight two factors that clearly contribute to the phenomenon.

In the New York Times (11/15/19), Trump attacking a witness testifying against him isn’t witness intimidation; it just “raises charges of witness intimidation.”

The first is the use of false equivalencies in the name of “not taking sides” (a well-documented problem that FAIR readers are familiar with). This takes the form of he-said-she-said reporting, for instance in the pairing (11/15/19) of Adam Schiff’s statement that Trump’s tweet about Yovanovitch was witness intimidation with the White House’s statement that it was not; and also the presentation of both true and false statements as ‘so-and-so claims…’ “Democrats argued that Sondland’s testimony bolstered their case for impeaching Trump” (11/20/19), for example, could more accurately be rendered, “Sondland’s testimony bolstered the Democratic case for impeaching Trump.”

The larger problem with this approach to reporting is that it severely inhibits the ability to offer any analysis of political processes, a fact that itself reinforces the status quo and thus belies the idea that this approach is somehow objective.

The second factor clearly contributing to the Times’ narrow lens on the impeachment process is that your Uncle Joe is in fact right: The “liberal media” do hate Trump. (You say liberal, I say neoliberal… basically corporate media; not all of it, but most of it.)

Mainstream media disdain for Trump is obvious in thousands of details every day, but precisely because of the myth of objective journalism, reporters’ and editors’ views of how Trump is a bad president or a terrible human being have no legitimized expression. Rather than being clearly stated, where they can be debated, they are passive aggressively inserted in nuggets like the Times’ comment (11/20/19) on the note Trump read to reporters—“scrawled out in large block letters.”

I believe it is that same anti-Trump perspective that has led the New York Times to follow the Beltway impeachment crowd over the cliff in their pursuit of that “one obscure smoking gun,” as Gessen put it. Rather than explore the full extent of the Trumpist lurch towards authoritarianism, much of which is palpable and documentable but not necessarily “provable” in the way the Ukrainian extortion scheme is, they’ve gone all in on the obsession with the smoking gun.

It’s a bitter irony that the Times’ bias against Trump has contributed to the downplaying of the danger he poses to the US.

But it might give you and Uncle Joe something to agree on, from which, who knows, maybe you’ll convince him to start watching Democracy Now! with you.

You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com (Twitter:@NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

 

 

Bloomberg’s Scandals Ignored or Underplayed by Press Cheerleaders

by Ari Paul

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s entrance into the crowded presidential race hasn’t caused big changes in polling for the top three Democratic candidates Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. It has, however, brought a number of media cheerleaders for the city’s richest resident out of the woodwork.

In the New York Post (11/9/19), columnist Michael Goodwin said that Bloomberg’s record of raising “student test scores, creating jobs and cutting crime,” while being liberal on “abortion, climate change and gun control,” is the kind of sensible centrism needed to counter the “militant class warfare” he sees in candidates like Warren, who he called an “Occupy Wall Street brat.”

Thomas Friedman (New York Times, 11/12/19) says Michael Bloomberg “will forcefully put a Democratic pro-growth, pro-innovation, pro-business agenda on the table.”

In the New York Times (11/12/19), Thomas Friedman yammered on about Israeli politics before he celebrated Bloomberg as an industrialist, which he described as a more virtuous form of making billions of dollars than investing or trading, and claimed that Bloomberg would be well-positioned to address inequality, because doing so requires “celebrating and growing entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship — and fostering a culture of accountability, lifelong learning and self-motivation.”

Columnist Bret Stephens (New York Times, 11/8/19) took a similar tone, contrasting Bloomberg’s real business leadership with Trump’s fakery, and asserting that the former mayor is immune to the right’s usual rallying cries against liberals:

The right’s charge-sheet against today’s Democrats is that they hate capitalism, hate Israel, hate the cops, think of America as a land of iniquity, and never met a tax or regulation they didn’t love. Against Bloomberg it all falls flat.

At the New York Daily News (11/13/19), contributor Judi Zirin scoffed at anti-billionaire zealotry, saying it was Bloomberg’s business acumen that allowed him to turn the city’s “budget deficit into a huge surplus.”

There’s a clear theme emerging: In a world where Sanders and Warren are moving the Overton window to the left on economic issues, and Republicans are lock-step behind a white nationalist incumbent, a new pro-business centrist is needed to restore sanity to our discourse. In a world where it’s fun to hate billionaires, a money-maker who gives to nice causes, hates guns and supports environmentalism is the person who can give capitalism a good name again.

Better yet, Bloomberg, at least on the surface, appears to be a kind of tough, successful executive, of both a major company and the nation’s largest city, in a Democratic field dominated either by legislators or candidates with smaller-town executive experience. (Sanders was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, for example.)

But if the media are going to celebrate Bloomberg’s achievements as a private and public executive, they  need to address his baggage in those roles as well. The media crowing for Bloomberg’s sensible executive skills leave out several notable scandals during his mayoralty.

The CityTime scandal, which federal Judge George Daniels called “the largest city corruption scandal in decades,” was a 2011 debacle in which digitizing the city’s payroll system resulted in ballooning costs and the conviction of three contractors for bilking the city. Unions had rallied against the system, but Bloomberg, who oversaw and championed the overhaul, pressed on.

The Daily News‘ Judi Zirin (11/13/19) says  “Bloomberg’s personal success doesn’t preclude his candidacy; it endorses it.”

As long-time city reporter Bob Hennelly noted on WNYC (6/29/11), even though Bloomberg never faced prosecution in the mess, this was his responsibility:

The irony here is rich. “The massive scheme” started as an outsourced city contract to design a payroll system that would precisely track the hours worked by city employees. After a couple of false starts with other vendors, defense contractor Scientific Applications International Corporation was awarded the job in a no-bid contract by the Giuliani Administration.

Under Mayor Bloomberg, the contract ballooned from $63 million where it had started out in the Giuliani years , to more than $700 million. Federal prosecutors now say at least $600 million of that was “tainted.” At every level, federal prosecutors allege grafters had honeycombed CityTime into a paragon of corruption.

Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez, one of the main journalists to focus on the ripoff, called it the “biggest scandal of the entire Bloomberg era” (Democracy Now!, 12/23/10). But the late investigative journalist Wayne Barrett, in the now-defunct Village Voice (7/22/09), proposed another contender for that title: the deadly Deutsche Bank fire in Lower Manhattan, which he argued was a scandal that went up to the highest reaches of city power.

For months, Lower Manhattan residents and worker advocates had raised alarm bells about the controversial simultaneous decontamination and demolition of the former Deutsche Bank Building, which had been badly damaged on 9/11. They alleged that shoddy contracting could endanger the community, but the city pressed on despite these loud objections. On August 18, 2017, faulty construction work led to a fire that killed two firefighters, largely because the contractors had violated construction codes that would have allowed for quicker emergency exits. The incident soured relations between the Lower Manhattan community and the administration, and inflamed tensions between Bloomberg and the firefighter unions.

Then we have Bloomberg’s long record of sexism as a boss, which often seems forgotten. The Washington Examiner (11/11/19):

For instance, a New York Magazine journalist reported that in his time spent with Bloomberg, he degraded women based on their appearance, in one instance ignoring the conversation they were in to gesture at a woman and say, “Look at the ass on her.” The same article recounts a female politician detailing how the mayor shamed her for wearing flats rather than heels and demeaned the gray streaks in her hair.

New York Magazine also reported on a list of “Bloombergisms,” common phrases and quips the mayor used to make. These reportedly included “If women wanted to be appreciated for their brains, they’d go to the library instead of to Bloomingdale’s,” and “I know for a fact that any self-respecting woman who walks past a construction site and doesn’t get a whistle will turn around and walk past again and again until she does get one.”

This matters not just because we live in a world of #MeToo, but if part of the outrage of Donald Trump is that his governance is intertwined with sexism, why is it so different that Bloomberg is similar, just behind closed doors? (Hint: It’s not.)

In the New York Post, Michael Goodwin (11/9/19) says Bloomberg “could help save the party from following Sanders or Warren into the political wilderness.”

“As Bloomberg’s New York Prospered, Inequality Flourished Too” (New York Times, 11/9/19) is corporate media’s ambivalent way of acknowledging that Bloomberg’s tenure benefited the few at the expense of the many, with the “growth and prosperity” the Times illustrated with the controversial Atlantic Yards/Barclay Center in Brooklyn accompanied by increases in rents, gentrification and homelessness.

Finally, elite media celebrating Bloomberg as “our best chance to bring America together again,” as Judge Judy Scheindlin did in a USA Today op-ed (10/16/19), can only do so by downplaying the severity of the harm done by his eager expansion of the NYPD’s racist and unconstitutional stop-and-frisk program. Charles Blow (New York Times, 11/10/19) used his column to denounce as a “non-negotiable deal breaker” Bloomberg’s support for the scheme, which targeted black and Latino males as young as 13, making their routine harassment and humiliation “just a fact of life in New York” (New York Times, 11/17/19). But news articles and profiles still prevaricate, like the Times explainer (11/17/19) that referred to stop-and-frisk as a “crime-prevention strategy,” though it acknowledged that research revealed the stops no more successful at finding weapons than simple chance, and the city’s crime rate famously declined with the program’s phaseout.

Bloomberg defended stop and frisk up until it “emerged as a vulnerability for him on the campaign trail,” and his “apology” (“Our focus was on saving lives”) rings false.

Put it all together and you have a pretty good picture of the kind of executive Bloomberg was: the kind who would tolerate criminal negligence and excessive waste, all to make some absurd point about workplace efficiency. The kind who led an administration whose obsession with thrift and lack of appreciation for safety near the World Trade Center contributed to the needless deaths of two of New York’s Bravest.

All of this had an effect on real New Yorkers, especially working-class, and in the case of policing, non-white New Yorkers. That narrative often gets left out of the narrative that he’s a “get things done” type who can run the US government like a successful business.

For Bloomberg’s cheerleaders in the press, the reality of his record as a governing executive is left out of their case that he’s the one to cure the nation of populism across the political spectrum. This is shoddy journalism, even if it’s partisan and on the opinion pages, largely because none of these things are secrets—these are stories that were doggedly covered by city reporters at the time.

These omissions show just how out of touch the punditry around Bloomberg is—not just with regular New Yorkers, but with journalism itself.

Featured image: Photo of Michael Bloomberg accompanying Bret Stephens’ “Run, Mike, Run!” (New York Times, 11/8/19).

 

After Al-Baghdadi’s Death, Media Failed to Ask Where ‘War on Terror’ Is Going

by Joshua Cho

The death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October, during a raid by US special forces in Syria’s Idlib province, would have been an opportune time for US media to reflect on the 18-year-long “War on Terror,” and US policy more broadly in the Middle East. But the circumscribed coverage of al-Baghdadi’s death represented yet another artful evasion of any critical discussion of imperial foreign policy.

“The night unfolded with methodical precision and unexpected turns,” AP (10/28/19) breathlessly reported.

Time (10/27/19) declared that “al-Baghdadi’s death is a crucial symbolic victory in the battle against the embattled terrorist group” and “a victory for the Trump administration.” The Associated Press’ report, “The Tip, the Raid, the Reveal: The Takedown of al-Baghdadi” (10/28/19), read like a Hollywood action movie treatment of the assassination raid, excitedly describing how “the night unfolded with methodical precision and unexpected turns,” presenting the “daring raid” as the “culmination of years of steady intelligence-gathering work.”

The New York Times (10/27/19) reveled alongside Trump in the “daring American commando raid” that claimed “a significant victory” in the “War on Terror,” and wrote how al-Baghdadi’s death could be “a signal moment in the generation-long war against terrorists as well as in Mr. Trump’s presidency,” because it “culminated” in the elimination of a “ruthless enemy.” To the extent the Times was critical of the operation, it echoed Democratic criticisms that Trump didn’t keep congressional leadership informed, questioned the veracity of Trump’s account of the raid before his death, or scolded him for not maintaining proper presidential etiquette by using “boastful and provocative language unlike the more solemn tone typically adopted by presidents in such moments.”

On the same day, the Times’s 3,000-word obituary (10/27/19) of al-Baghdadi described details of his life—including his brutal crimes, the significance of his claim to be restoring a theocratic “caliphate” through ISIS, and how his movement differed from Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda—all without explaining the US’s role in creating ISIS, or mentioning US assistance to its Al Qaeda rivals (FAIR.org, 3/21/16, 1/4/17). Nor did the obituary explore why people in the Middle East, like the “tens of thousands of followers” ISIS “electrified,” would seek to “take up arms” against US presence in the Middle East, which would mean examining US Mideast policy and the US’s own war crimes (FAIR.org, 9/11/19).

This Washington Post story (10/27/19) originally had the headline, “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Austere Religious Scholar at Helm of Islamic State, dies at 48.”

The Washington Post’s original headline for its obituary, “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Austere Religious Scholar at Helm of Islamic State, dies at 48” (10/27/19), was widely derided because it could have been used to describe an academic who died in his sleep, as opposed to a violent guerrilla leader killing himself and his three children while being pursued by US commandos.

Like the Times, the Post downplayed the role US Mideast policy plays in inspiring animosity against the US; it said the US invasion of Iraq offered the things ISIS “needed most: a new cause and a fresh and nearly boundless source of recruits and arms,” but did not explain why US intervention—generally portrayed in the Post as benevolent and altruistic—would prompt such a response. It attributed ISIS’s success in seizing and holding “territory that would form the basis of a declared Islamic caliphate” to al-Baghdadi’s “canny pragmatism as a leader,” allowing him to “meld…a fractious mix of radical Islamist militants and former Iraqi Baathists.”

Why do radical Islamist militants want to attack the US, instead of countries like Costa Rica and Switzerland? Why would former Baathists, who weren’t sympathetic to any form of Islamism—despite popular narratives seeking to exonerate the US’s role in the rise of ISIS, based on Saddam Hussein’s 1993 Faith Campaign—want to join fanatics like ISIS? Could the Bush administration’s decision to disband the Iraqi army and render more than 500,000 well-armed and well-trained troops unemployed overnight be a reason why many former Baathist military leaders have leading roles in ISIS (Time, 5/29/15; Intercept, 1/29/18)? The Post gave no answers to these kinds of critical questions.

The Wall Street Journal’s report on the raid (10/27/19) also triumphantly described al-Baghdadi’s death, describing it as “fulfilling a long-held US goal and marking the most significant setback for the militant group since losing the last of its territorial caliphate earlier this year.” The Journal’s accompanying obituary (10/27/19) also downplayed the US role in creating ISIS—omitting, for example, the US decision to dissolve the Iraqi military. It also obfuscated US support for Al Qaeda fighters opposed to the Syrian government (misleadingly referred to as “moderates” or “rebels” throughout corporate media), when it discussed how al-Baghdadi helped “establish an Al Qaeda affiliate called Nusra Front in 2012,” and later managed to lure “most of Nusra’s foreign fighters to Islamic State,” without mentioning this important fact.

Watching Fox News‘ coverage (10/27/19), you might think the Al-Baghdadi raid was aimed as much at the Democrats as at ISIS.

Fox News (10/27/19) exemplified the vapidity of hyperpartisan journalism by immediately emphasizing the political benefits the death of al-Baghdadi would offer the Trump administration as the impeachment process began. Instead of giving facts about the mission, or raising questions about the continued War on Terror and how the US contributed to al-Baghdadi and ISIS’s rise, Fox tried to play “Gotcha!” by contrasting Washington Post coverage of Osama bin Laden and al-Baghdadi’s deaths, as well as citing how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats lavished praise on Barack Obama after his assassination of bin Laden, “while pointedly avoiding complimenting the president in any way.” Is the degree of adulation accorded presidents for killing foreign leaders really the most important issue to be addressed?

Matt Taibbi (Rolling Stone, 10/28/19) articulated the problem with our broken media’s tunnel-vision emphasis on the political benefits for the two major parties, at the expense of all other considerations:

This ought to have been a moment to reflect on what’s happened in the last 20 years, and if our policies across multiple administrations have been the right ones. Would we even be launching operations against such a person if we hadn’t invaded Iraq all those years ago? What’s the endgame? What do the people of the region think?

It’s telling that one of the few questions corporate media raised about the raid was to criticize the Trump administration’s subsequent, largely imaginary “pullout” from Syria, further reinforcing the notion that the US has the right—and even obligation—to illegally invade and occupy Middle Eastern nations (FAIR.org, 10/18/19). Despite reporting on al-Baghdadi’s time in US captivity in Camp Bucca, corporate media obituaries omit that eight out of the ten months al-Baghdadi spent in US captivity were at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison (Intercept, 8/25/16). Both US prisons were notorious for being sites of brutal torture, as well as for being “jihadi universities” that ISIS members actively infiltrated to recruit and train new members; al-Baghdadi connected there with the jihadists and former Iraqi military officials who would later make up ISIS’s leadership. Yet these pertinent details of al-Baghdadi’s biography weren’t used to question the US’s continued presence in the Middle East.

Despite lies from US Iraq War architects claiming to be “surprised” by the lengthy violent insurgency erupting from Iraq after the illegal invasion, prewar assessments by the CIA and the National Intelligence Committee warned the Bush administration that the invasion would result in a deeply divided Iraqi society prone to violent conflict, with increased sympathy for terrorist objectives (New York Times, 9/28/04, 10/13/05). The destabilization and power vacuum following the invasion is what allowed ISIS to rise, making ISIS an indirect US creation, and a fulfillment of Osama bin Laden’s objectives behind the 9/11 attacks (Extra!, 7/11; CounterPunch, 9/19/14; Guardian, 7/6/16).

A 2004 Defense Science Board Task Force report concluded that “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies.” Indeed, US officials have known for more than half a century that US Mideast policies engender hatred against the US, and consciously pursued them anyway. In 1958, Dwight Eisenhower noted to his staff that there “is a campaign of hatred against us, not by the governments, but by the people,” with his National Security Council later noting that “the majority of Arabs” (labeled “Arab nationalists”) believe that the US is “seeking to protect its interest in Near East oil by supporting the status quo and opposing political or economic progress.” The NSC paper explicitly noted that the US can’t afford to “accommodate” the demands of “Arab nationalists,” because of the “disparities between our interests.” The paper foresaw the “probable necessity of continued deployment of troops in the Near East, with the likelihood of increasingly serious incidents and the resultant risks of war.”

Just as the US cultivated Osama bin Laden and the mujahideen fighters in the 1980s to fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, a 2012 Pentagon report predicted and even welcomed the possibility of a “Salafist principality” (Salafism being ISIS’s official ideology), because it hoped an organization like ISIS would lead a violent insurgency to weaken the Syrian government (Salon, 11/18/15; Guardian, 6/3/15).

Corporate media can’t bring themselves to mention this information in their coverage of al-Baghdadi’s death, or of the endless wars in the Middle East. Informing their audiences of the possibility that US officials are consciously endangering Americans by cultivating and sponsoring terrorist groups, or that aspects of US foreign policy can qualify as terrorism, would endanger US imperialism, the military/industrial/media complex and the entire basis for this so-called “War on Terror” (Extra!, 8/05; FAIR.org, 3/13/19).

False Equivalence in the Age of Trump

 

Even in the Trump era, corporate media, forever insistent on an “objective” approach that always hears out “both sides,” continue to exhibit a dangerous blindness to their own biases.

In “In Primetime, Two Versions of Impeachment for a Divided Nation” (11/16/19), the New York Times‘ Michael Grynbaum offered “a glimpse at the country’s divided political reality” by describing the contrasting ways Fox News and MSNBC are reporting on the Trump impeachment hearings:

The New York Times (11/16/19) characterized Fox News and MSNBC as “opinionated outlets with irreconcilable differences”—offering no clue as to which if either might be closer to reality.

From her set inside MSNBC headquarters, Rachel Maddow opened her prime-time coverage of the Trump impeachment hearings by calling the first day’s testimony “a double-barreled problem for the president—triple-barreled, maybe.” President Trump, she said, had been “caught doing something illegal” at the “direct expense of the country’s national interest.”

One block south, from a Fox News studio, Sean Hannity welcomed viewers by declaring “a great day for the United States, for the country, for the president — and a lousy day for the corrupt, do-nothing-for-three-years, radical, extreme, socialist Democrats and their top allies known as the media mob.”

These distinct visions—delivered simultaneously from skyscrapers roughly 1,000 feet apart — were beamed at the 9 p.m. hour into millions of American living rooms. It was a striking reflection of today’s choose-your-own-news media environment, and a far cry from the era when Americans experienced major events through the same television hearth.

It’s true that both cable outlets are essentially partisan outlets pushing their own party’s line—though ideologically, MSNBC and Fox each represent the right wing of their respective parties (FAIR.org, 6/30/17), which means the television “choose-your-own-news” world is hardly the free-for-all Grynbaum suggests. But at a time when one party adheres to an anything-goes strategy that has taken brazen lying to a new level, denies science, and regularly attacks journalists as “the enemy of the people,” painting a “both sides do it” picture of the partisan media environment glosses over very real and important differences.

For Grynbaum, media outlets simply have “irreconcilable differences”—so Fox’s puerile (but strategically us vs. them) media commentary that veteran foreign service officers testifying against Trump “looked like people who sat by themselves at recess” is equated with MSNBC’s commentary that those same officers gave “a fuller picture of the corrupt abuse of power by the president of the United States.”

Grynbaum’s other main example, in which “tribal allegiances to news outlets mean that any hint of heresy can provoke an outcry,” is egregious. Here, he equated as “similar backlash” the “liberal” criticism of an NBC.com analysis (11/13/19) that found the impeachment hearings lacking in “pizazz,” and “conservative” ire that Fox‘s Bret Baier noted that Trump’s real-time attacks on an impeachment witness allowed Rep. Adam Schiff to characterize Trump as engaged in “witness tampering or intimidation.” The analogy is incomprehensible: In one case, a political reporter judges impeachment by its entertainment value—which one would hope a serious media analyst would recognize as problematic, regardless of one’s political ideology—while in the other, a political reporter makes a factual observation that his partisan viewers apparently felt shouldn’t be mentioned, because it makes Trump look bad.

It’s also not clear who in the world might have a “tribal allegiance” to NBC—but by presenting the centrist outlet as an analog to Fox News, the Times lends credence to the right-wing strategy of painting all corporate outlets besides Fox as “liberal” (and therefore untrustworthy).

The Washington Post (11/18/19) presents the impact of climate on weather as a matter of opinion.

In another example, “Regional Weather Patterns Are Viewed through Partisan Lenses, Poll Finds” (11/18/19), the Washington Post demonstrates how this insistence on equivalence extends throughout coverage. In the article, Scott Clement, Emily Guskin and Dan Balz report that common experiences across the United States of extreme weather events

have not produced a political consensus on the causes. Democrats are likely to cite global warming and climate change as the force behind some of the new weather patterns. Republicans are likely to discount climate change as the culprit.

“The results highlight the degree to which regional weather patterns are now viewed through partisan lenses,” the Post explains, “just as the national debate about climate has been dominated by sharp differences between Republicans and Democrats over whether scientific evidence of climate change is valid.”

As the paper acknowledges in one easily missed line, scientists agree that climate disruption has exacerbated extreme weather events. So what the poll actually shows is that Democrats view regional weather patterns through a science-based lens, while Republicans reject the science-based view, presumably because of partisanship—and the “reality” their media of choice creates for them. That’s not a “both sides do it” story, as the paper would have readers believe; it’s a “one side does it” story. But, like Grynbaum, the Post won’t tell it that way, because it must take pains not to offend either “side” more than the other.

This is the fiction that so many corporate journalists cling to: that objectivity is possible and preferable, and that taking flak from the left and from the right means they’re doing a good job. Grynbaum’s nostalgia for an era of a single broadcast reality (the “same television hearth”), which he and the rest of the “objectivity” crowd no doubt see themselves as a part of, erases the ideology of the outlets that refuse to acknowledge any biases.

The New York Times‘ Dean Baquet (Guardian, 11/18/19) says he’s “reluctant to allow his reporters to ascribe value judgments to the president” whose attacks he views as putting those journalists’ lives in danger.

New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet recently commented that he is “constantly fighting against pressure to ‘take a full-bodied side’ against the president,” and resists demands to call Trump racist or sexist because he is “not in a position to know whether he [makes comments] because he is a racist.” According to an interview with the Guardian (11/19/19), Baquet

warned junior staff and readers against pushing to embrace left-wing Democratic candidates such as Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, saying the outlet would lose its status if it openly sided with particular politicians.

“They probably want a more political New York Times than I’m willing to give them. I hope they will learn over time that a New York Times that plays it straight has much more power and much more longevity.”

Instead, he insisted the organization’s lengthy investigation into the president’s taxes had more impact, because of the division between reporting and comment. “The way I look at it, that story would not have been believed had it been written by a news organization that had spent two years advocating against Donald Trump.”

It’s telling that Baquet only warns staff and readers against left-wing candidates, not centrist ones. Corporate journalists rarely see centrism as an ideology; it’s not conservative or liberal, so it must not be political and therefore must not be problematic. In the face of a no-holds-barred attack against media (and government institutions), corporate media’s response is to continue to pretend they can exist outside of the fray, looking down equally at “both sides” from their unassailable perch in the center, and imagining that lengthy investigations about the president’s taxes are going to change things. As the election nears, genuine truth-telling—as opposed to disingenuous false equivalence—is more urgent than ever, but it’s just as unlikely as ever that corporate media will be up to the challenge.

 

Michael Edison Hayden on Stephen Miller, Mallory McMaster on Katie Hill

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(image: SPLC)

This week on CounterSpin: Calls are coming in for the resignation of Trump policy advisor Stephen Miller, after leaked emails show him promoting white nationalist books and ideas to the far-right outlet Breitbart. I wouldn’t call the documents a “smoking gun”; the smoking gun is the 70,000 migrant children held in US government custody over the past year. The emails just reveal the recipe—invoking the same warped “Great Replacement” ideas you’ll find in the manifesto of a mass shooter, for example. We’ll talk with the investigative reporter behind the story, Michael Edison Hayden from Southern Policy Law Center’s Hatewatch.

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Katie Hill (photo: Zach Gibson / Getty Images)

Also on the show: Quick question: What happened to Katie Hill? If you’re like many, you didn’t look too closely: something something nudes, something throuple….  And the next thing you know, an up-and-coming young Democrat is resigning. Whatever happens with Hill, this vapors-having, best-look-away response is taking a toll, including possibly discouraging other young women, in particular, from public life. Mallory McMaster wrote about Katie Hill for Rewire.News; we talked with her about the case.

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‘Years From Now, It’ll Be Clear to Everyone There Was a Coup in Bolivia’ - CounterSpin interview with Alex Main on Bolivia coup

Janine Jackson interviewed CEPR’s Alex Main about the Bolivian coup for the November 15, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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New York Times print edition (11/11/19)

Janine Jackson: When a president announces his involuntary resignation—after weeks of law enforcement mutiny backed by armed forces and the public urging of military commanders—the way to convey that is not to say that the president “stepped down,” “left office” or had an “abrupt departure.” Yet that is what elite US media are telling the public about events in Bolivia, where Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, was forced out of office after weeks of protests around supposed irregularities in the most recent election.

The magazine Foreign Policy stated, “It’s not a coup in any sense of the word, and Bolivia and Latin America have experience with actual coups.” Although not enough, apparently; just last year, Foreign Policy ran a piece headlined, “It’s Time for a Coup in Venezuela.”

After Morales and the vice president, other officials—citing threats to their families—stepped down in succession, and now, as we record on November 14, a second vice president of the senate, Jeanine Áñez, has declared herself president—with a Bible no less—and the State Department says they are looking forward to working with her.

Events in Bolivia are in flux. Here to ground us a little is Alex Main, director of international policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He joins us by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Alex Main.

Alex Main: Thank you, Janine; it’s good to be back.

JJ: Definitions do matter, but setting that aside for the moment, what comes through clearly in US media coverage is the idea that Evo Morales was so unpopular after 14 years in office, so deeply unliked, that he had to jigger the constitution to try and stay in office. I wanted to ask you, first, just to talk a little bit about Morales’ tenure to date, and actual public opinion in Bolivia.

AM: Well, sure. I think the polls in the country gave a pretty good idea of his popularity. And, in fact, what’s interesting in terms of the media coverage is that you saw a real shift, where some of the initial coverage—you can look at the Washington Post, for instance, just before the elections took place—were pretty much announcing that this is a done deal, that Evo Morales is most likely going to win these elections, quite possibly in the first round of the elections that took place on October 20.

Americas Society/Council of Americas (10/18/19)

And, of course, there’s a good explanation for that: The economy of Bolivia is doing really well, particularly compared to other economies of Latin America. And Evo Morales’ policies over the 13 years that he’s been president have been very successful in reducing poverty, in reducing inequality, in improving infrastructure throughout the country.

Now, of course, there is a strong opposition. But that opposition, in the last few elections, has failed to overturn him, get him out of the presidency, or really manage to have a significant opposition even within the congress of the country. So the polls that came out give us a good sense of where Evo Morales stands in terms of public opinion. But then the media narrative shifted quite dramatically in the following days.

JJ: Yeah, and now the line, strange as it is, seems to be that, “Well, it wasn’t a coup, but even if it was, that’s OK, because there were serious irregularities in the election,” as if that would somehow justify a coup.

But I wonder if you can talk us through what people are reading were the groundings for this widespread protest and for the military intervention, which is that somehow Morales or his people fiddled with this most recent election. What can you tell us, including from CEPR’s work, we should know about that?

Alex Main: “The Organization of American States and much of the major media misled public opinion as to what was happening with these elections.”

AM: I think what you need to know is that there are two groups that didn’t do their job around this, in terms of really informing public opinion.

The first group was the Organization of American States, that was down in Bolivia observing these elections, and that produced a communiqué the day after the elections, in which they said that there had been a “drastic change in the trend” in the electronic vote count, the quick count that was taking place, and that it was unexplainable that there had been such a drastic shift in the trend.

This particular statement was very easy to debunk. You didn’t really need a think tank like ours to do that; I think anyone who really looked at the election results carefully could do it. You could see that there wasn’t a drastic shift in the results, and that also the shifts that you saw towards the end of the election, which the OAS was referring to—and there was a progressive shift in favor of Evo Morales that widened his margin—he had originally had, I think, 83% of the quick vote count, about 7 points ahead of the closest contender, Carlos Mesa, and gradually, with the remaining votes that came in, the margin increased to over 10 points, which was what was needed for Evo Morales to win in the first round.

And that was entirely explainable. In fact, it’s what we saw in previous elections; it’s pure geography: The areas of the country that reported the results last were the areas of the country that happened to be poorer, more remote, and much, much more favorable, traditionally, to Evo Morales. So it was quite normal that the margin shifted in his favor. So this was a really misleading statement that had absolutely no basis, that came from the OAS.

And then that had a huge influence on the second group that I would say misled public opinion, and that’s, of course, the media, the mainstream media, that took these statements from the OAS at face value, and ran with them, didn’t even try to form any kind of assessment of their own as to the value of these statements, and did two things: one, gave these statements complete credit. We and other folks, independent statisticians, were pointing out that these statements made no sense; they didn’t take that into consideration at all. The OAS is the voice of authority and they left it at that. Secondly, the media decided that references to what was the electronic vote count, quick vote count—which was not the official vote count of the election—was the same thing as the official vote count.

So there was this sort of confusion (I think some of the media was genuinely confused); they focused on the fact that there had been an “interruption” in the reporting of the quick vote count, which, by the way, was something that had been anticipated to begin with. They pointed to that and said, “OK, well, then that means that the integrity of the vote count is in question,” when, of course, the official vote count that had been occurring—and that’s a much more lengthy and meticulous count, and took place over four days—was never interrupted. And there was never anything from the Organization of American States or anybody else that suggested that there was really a problem with that vote count process.

So again, the Organization of American States and much of the major media misled public opinion as to what was happening with these elections, and created this belief that there had been severe irregularities in the vote count. And that, gradually, in terms of the media coverage, became something portrayed as fraud and stolen elections, even though there’s no evidence pointing to that at all.

JJ: Well, but if you tell people who are unhappy with an election outcome, “Well, that was due to fraud,” you’re bound to get a response, particularly if you are a powerful entity like the United States, like the OAS, saying, “Yeah, you shouldn’t accept that result.”

So now we get protests in Bolivia. And how would you describe those initial protests, and take us through the timeline in between the start of those protests and Morales’ “resignation”?

AM: What happened with these protests is that they were by and large in urban areas, they were largely middle-class protests. They definitely grew after October 21, and, I would say, after the misleading statements from the Organization of American States came out. This legitimized discourse from the opposition, which was that these elections were fraudulent, and that really galvanized the protest movement, and it turned violent. Some of that violence was oriented towards the voting centers, and the voting authority, and there were voting centers that ended up damaged, ransacked. Voting material, including ballots, were destroyed, which, of course, made it more difficult to audit the elections afterwards.

And there was also violence directed at supporters and leaders of the Movement Toward Socialism or MAS, Evo Morales’ political party, and towards indigenous people writ large. So there was also a racist element to these protests.

They grew more and more out of hand, and then you had police mutinies that were staged, I would say, Thursday, Friday, Saturday of last week, in which the police forces in some of the biggest cities in Bolivia, including Cochabamba and La Paz, declared themselves in mutiny, and refused to intervene against any of the violent protests that were taking place. Of course, this opened the door to more chaos. And then what really sealed the deal was the fact that the military then came out, the high command of the military, said that they would not intervene against the police. So at that point, you had a complete breakdown, I would say, in law enforcement in the country, and particularly in terms of dealing with the more violent elements of these protests.

And, finally, you had the high command of the military that called on Evo Morales to resign. Of course, that’s when we really could see that a coup was taking place. And shortly afterwards, Evo Morales and the vice president of the country, Álvaro García Linera, announced that they were resigning. In their announcement, they also made very clear that a coup was occurring. Afterwards, they went into hiding, and the next day managed to get on a plane, with some difficulty, but managed to get on a plane to Mexico, where they were offered asylum, and where they are now located, whereas some of the other leadership from the MAS party was holed up in the Mexican embassy and also offered asylum.

New York Times (11/11/19)

So very much a military coup, reminiscent in some ways of the coup in Honduras in June of 2009, a military coup where the president was taken out of the country, the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya. And, similar to back then, even though everyone, I think, at this point is clear that there was a coup in Honduras in June of 2009, back then you also had this sort of debate in the media as to whether or not it was a coup.

And I think in part it had to do with the ambivalent position of, at that time, the Obama administration. And now we’re seeing, of course, from the Trump administration, a position that’s not even ambivalent, that’s fully supportive of the coup that’s occurred. Of course, they’re not calling it a coup. And I think that sets the frame for a lot of the media coverage, which is also failing to call it a coup, and in some cases, such as the New York Times, in an editorial that was published just three days ago, celebrating what has happened in Bolivia as a step forward for democracy.

JJ: I wanted to ask you about the US role. How would the United States feel about an economically successful Latin American country run by an indigenous man and a party called the Movement Towards Socialism? What has been the US role with regard to the Morales administration, and then with regard to this coup?

AM: The relations between the two countries—between the two governments, I should say—have been very bad for quite a long time, and this stemmed from the US, through its diplomats, and particularly through its ambassador that was in Bolivia at the time in 2008, supporting violent protests. Again, this took place in August-September of 2008, when you had the ambassador who met with some of the hardline protest leaders that were encouraging protests that were also very racist, and going after indigenous peoples and MAS leaders and so on. This led to a break in diplomatic relations. The US ambassador was kicked out of Bolivia and, of course, the US reciprocated. They haven’t had ambassador-level relations since then.

And, of course, in terms of its own domestic and foreign policies, Bolivia has really gone in a different direction from that that the US government has wanted to see. And they did away with US assistance to not be reliant on that. So US AID ended up leaving the country, at the request of the Evo Morales government. And then, of course, Evo Morales was close to Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, and other left-wing leaders in the region.

And so I think, whether under the George W. Bush administration or the Obama administration, the US government really saw the Bolivian government of Evo Morales as an adversary in the region, and sought to undermine Evo Morales, probably not as actively as the government in Venezuela but still, I think, fairly actively, certainly in multilateral settings.

But what’s happened with these last elections is that you’ve had the Organization of American States that’s there observing. They’ve observed elections in Bolivia before; there were no real issues. But I think there was a sense of an opportunity now with these elections, and the fact that there was some controversy around the elections, due to the fact that Evo Morales was standing for another term. And the constitution allowed him two terms; he was standing for a third term under this constitution. Of course, that had been authorized and was legal because of a court decision. But, ultimately, you had a sector of the population that was riled up about that. And that was part of what was behind the protest movement.

So you already had a context of some social tension that was there, that the US took advantage of, and they did that in large part through the Organization of American States. And you saw a great deal of coordination between the Organization of American States’ electoral mission and statements and the statements of the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, and the statements and positions coming from the State Department and the White House throughout this whole episode, which shifted from “There needs to be a runoff election” to “There need to be completely new elections” to supporting the forced resignation, under military pressure, of Evo Morales, to supporting a coup.

So you had both the US and the Organization of American States that were very much in line and, of course, the US has an enormous influence within the Organization of American States and provides something like 60% of its funding, not to mention that the Organization of American States is located in the middle of Washington, DC, just next to the US State Department.

AP (via Voice of America, 11/13/19)

JJ: And that brings us up to now, where we have protests by indigenous people against the coup in Bolivia, and also, as you noted, attacks on MAS representatives and serious unrest.

And we have also Jeanine Áñez, who was a lower-level official, now saying, “I’m the president now.” And the Associated Press has a headline saying, “Bolivia’s Declared Interim President Faces challenges,” not noting that [she’s] declared by herself, you know, and we’re hearing from the State Department, which just got through supporting the coup, has a statement, at least from one official, saying, “We look forward to working with Jeanine Áñez.” Is that legal? Now we have someone stepping forward, it sounds a lot like Venezuela, someone saying, “Oh, you know what, call me president now.”

AM: No, it’s absolutely not legal. So you could consider that as sort of the second part of the coup, the first part being the forced resignation, under military pressure, of the president and vice president, and also other officials that were in the constitutional succession to be president. They were all under threat. They were being threatened personally, or their families were being threatened, and then they either left the country or went into hiding. But at any rate, that was a military coup right there. And then, when you had Jeanine Áñez, who stepped up in the senate and declared herself president, that was also a coup.

You had, of course, in the constitutional line of succession, the president of the senate, that would have eventually become president. However, she, Jeanine Áñez, was not the president of the senate; she belonged to the minority opposition party in the senate. And she took advantage of the fact that the legislators of both houses were not there, were in hiding, weren’t able to assist in the discussion, so there was no quorum. So she spoke before a plenary that wasn’t a quorum. I was not legal; you didn’t have enough members of the senate that were present. And declared herself president of the senate, before then saying, “OK, if I’m president of the senate, then that makes me president of the country.”

And I think what really made it clear what this was all about was when you had the military high command, one of the officers in the military high command, who was the one who put the presidential sash around the body of Jeanine Áñez, in place, of course, of the outgoing president.

Those are the sorts of things that the media have not described in what’s happened: the very unconstitutional nature of this presidential succession. Most of the articles that we’re seeing now coming from most of the media are just describing Jeanine Áñez as the interim president, period, and not even mentioning the fact that there might be some debate as to her legitimacy as an interim president.

Foreign Policy (6/5/18)

JJ: Even when US media talk about what’s going on, the words they use to emphatically say—for example, Foreign Policy, which said, this isn’t a coup by any understanding of it. Their subhead on their article that called for a coup in Venezuela said, “Only nationalists in the military can restore a legitimate constitutional democracy.” Now, that’s them talking about Venezuela, but it’s an indication that words don’t mean what you might think they mean when you’re reading US media’s foreign policy coverage, you know? It’s just kind of a topsy-turvy world in elite US media, when we’re trying to understand what’s going on in Latin America, certainly.

AM: Yeah, that’s right. And it’s, again, very reminiscent of Honduras in 2009. At that time, you had a lot of the media commentators that were pointing out that Manuel Zelaya had been trying to change the constitution, supposedly because he wanted to stay president indefinitely, and so on. And so then saying, “Well, then, it wasn’t really a coup.” And you’re seeing something similar now because of this debate over Evo Morales’s re-election, which, again, was legal, which was approved by the courts, but they’re using that debate to say, “Well, you know, it wasn’t even really legitimate for him to be running in these elections,” leaving aside the fact that he was most certainly still the president of the country until January 20, until the end of his term, and that he’d been forcibly removed from office.

And I think we’re going to have a similar situation where today, no one really questions the fact that there was a coup in Honduras. I think, weeks, months, maybe years from now, it’ll be clear to everyone that there was a coup in Bolivia, but by then, it will be too late. Public opinion will have only been awoken long after the coup has occurred, and people will not be mobilizing, I think, as they should, to put pressure on the US government, on the US Congress and so on, to do the right thing, and to denounce and work to undo the coup that’s just occurred in Bolivia.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Alex Main. He’s the director of international policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Their work on Bolivia and on other issues is online at cepr.net. Alex Main, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

AM: Thank you, Janine.

 

Sanders’ Plan to Fight Global Climate Disaster Too Ambitious, Says NYT

by Julie Hollar and Jim Naureckas

When Sen. Bernie Sanders announced his $16.3 trillion climate plan, corporate media were quick to throw cold water on it, arguing that the Democratic presidential candidate’s plan was too expensive, and logistically and politically impossible (FAIR.org, 9/6/19). As Sanders fleshed out his plan in more detail, the media pushback continued: “Sanders’ Climate Ambitions Thrill Supporters, but Experts Aren’t Impressed,” announced a recent New York Times headline (11/14/19).

Reporter Lisa Friedman first compared Sanders’ plan to Trump’s border wall (“with the fossil fuel industry footing much of the bill, much as Mexico was to pay for the border wall”) and then panned it in no uncertain terms: “Climate scientists and energy economists say the plan is technically impractical, politically unfeasible and possibly ineffective.”

 

Who are the ‘experts’?

The New York Times (11/14/19) describes Bernie Sanders as “the climate candidate with the most expensive plan.”

Who are the “experts” who are troubled by Sanders’ plan? The piece quotes 11 sources, two of whom are “thrilled supporters” of the sort referenced in the headline, and another a Sanders spokesperson. A fourth is Joel Payne, who suggests Sanders’ program doesn’t “exactly check out,” but described as a “Democratic strategist,” he’s not exactly an “expert.”

Of the remaining seven sources, two are offered as examples of how “not everyone sees doom” in the Sanders climate platform: Daniel Kammen, identified as “an energy expert at the University of California, Berkeley,” who called it “audacious but doable,” and Noah Kaufman, a “researcher at Columbia University” (more specifically a climate economist), who said Sanders is “proposing policies that match” the scale of the crisis.

That leaves five critical “experts,” some of whom are not particularly critical. Paul Hawken, author of a work that “analyzes solutions to global warming,” said Sanders’ “sense of urgency in here is correct,” but it could be “more effective”—specifically, by embracing nuclear power. Jesse Jenkins, an “energy systems engineer” at Princeton University, credited Sanders with “trying to set a marker in terms of the pace and scale of spending that he’s proposing,” but doesn’t think it “represents a very nuanced understanding.” Michael Oppenheimer, “a professor of geoscience and international affairs at Princeton University,” questioned Sanders’ backing off from support of a carbon tax, but defended the candidate’s approach as appropriate for “the political arena.”

Finally, there are two people cited in the piece who are entirely critical of Sanders’ blueprint. David Victor is quoted as saying it “can’t work in the real world,” though his identification as a  “professor of international relations at the University of California San Diego and a climate adviser to Pete Buttigieg” might lead a reader to question his objectivity. And Severin Borenstein, “a professor at the Haas School of Business of the University of California, Berkeley,” said, “I just don’t see that getting off the ground.”

So of the seven “experts” quoted by Friedman, two are supportive of Sanders’ proposals to fight climate disruption, two are critical and three somewhere in the middle—a weak validation of her sweeping thesis, that “climate scientists and energy economists” as a whole call the Sanders plan “impractical,” “unfeasible” and “possibly ineffective.”

Undisclosed conflicts

Worse, the bulk of the “experts” quoted by Friedman have unacknowledged conflicts of interest. Borsenstein, who can’t see Sanders’ plan “getting off the ground,” is faculty director at the Energy Institute at Haas, which takes funding from energy companies like Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.  Jenkins, who said Sanders wasn’t “very nuanced,” works at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, whose “E-Filliates” include ExxonMobil, NRG and Siemens. Hawken, who complained Sanders was too anti-nuclear, leads the Highwater Investment Group, whose top holdings have included Ford Motors and EnerNOC, now part of the energy conglomerate Enel, which produces nuclear power.

The Times did mention Victor’s connection to Buttigieg, but didn’t note that he runs UCSD’s Laboratory on International Law and Regulation, funded by BP and the electricity industry’s Electric Power Research Institute. (His earlier project at Sanford was bankrolled by more than $9 million from BP.) The non-“expert” Payne, in addition to being a “Democratic strategist,” is a PR consultant who has worked for General Motors, South Jersey Gas and the American Chemistry Council.

Bernie Sanders’ climate plan is the only one awarded an A+ rating by Greenpeace.

Funding doesn’t necessarily dictate the views of academics, of course; Kaufman works at Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy, which is backed by BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil, but still managed to be supportive of Sanders’ program. But corporations do give money to think tanks in the hope of influencing scholarship in their favor, so the Timesgeneral failure to note such connections when quoting critics of Sanders does a disservice to readers.

Even with a roster of “experts” skewed towards industry-funded research, the actual quotes from Friedman’s sources, as opposed to her paraphrases of what “climate scientists and energy economists say,” present a range of disagreements about the exact methods by which the climate crisis should be addressed, but a general consensus that the crisis must be addressed urgently. And Sanders is one of a few candidates treating the climate crisis as an urgent matter—which you would think should inform the framing of an article about expert opinion of his plan.

A truly informative and fair piece here would compare Sanders’ plan to those of the other presidential candidates (including Trump). Some prominent environmental organizations do this, and rank Sanders’ plan at the top of the primary crowd. (Greenpeace awards him its only A+ score, and 350.org gives him 3/3 thumbs up, along with Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren and Marianne Williamson.)

But instead, the only comparison the Times gives readers is the misleading and unhelpful parallel it draws between Sanders’ insistence that the government-subsidized fossil fuel industry help pay for his climate plan through “litigation, fees and taxes,” and Trump’s demand that the government of Mexico foot the bill for his wall. Note that the fossil fuel industry, which has spent massive amounts of money to deny climate science and block restrictions on carbon, is made up of corporations subject to US law (at least in their US subsidiaries), unlike the sovereign country of Mexico.

Sanders’ plan to prevent global climate catastrophe and Trump’s anti-refugee wall are not obviously alike in any substantive or significant way; it’s as if the paper can’t resist slipping in gratuitous digs at Sanders any chance it gets, even as the world burns.

Meanwhile, in the presidential debates, journalist moderators have devoted fewer than 10% of their questions to the climate crisis (FAIR.org, 10/17/19). Until media start to treat the climate crisis with the urgency the scientific community continually tells us it requires, they will continue to be a major part of the problem.

You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com (Twitter:@NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread.

‘Community Control Over Police Should Be a Democratic Right’ - CounterSpin interview with Netfa Freeman on police militarization

Janine Jackson interviewed IPS’s Netfa Freeman about Trump’s police “surge” for the November 8, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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New York Times (10/28/19)

Janine Jackson: Corporate media made Donald Trump’s recent speech to a conference of police chiefs in Chicago a story about the hate/hate relationship between Trump and the city, and in particular its black superintendent, who didn’t attend. Factchecking consisted of noting that, actually, homicides are down in Chicago, and rehashing Trump’s fabricated tale about a cop who told him he could “fix” the city’s violence “in one day.”

For the press, Trump’s comment that “Afghanistan is a safe place by comparison” was just another slam at the city, proof of how histrionic Trump is, and even how unpatriotic: He imagines the US could be as bad as someplace else. But for black communities in Chicago and elsewhere, the comparison to an occupied country isn’t outlandish at all. In fact, Trump announced an alarming plan to escalate the militarization of the police, unleashing what he called “a new crackdown on violent crime,” “targeting gangs and drug traffickers” in cities and rural areas. It will be, he said, “very dramatic”: “Let’s call it ‘The Surge.’”

What fresh horrors this administration has in mind under the guise of a new crackdown on crime ought to be of grave concern to the press. It assuredly is to communities across the country.

Joining us now to talk about that is Netfa Freeman. He’s events coordinator and policy analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies. He joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Netfa Freeman.

Netfa Freeman: Thank you for having me, Janine.

JJ: Donald Trump explicitly boasted of making $600 million worth of surplus military equipment available to local law enforcement, saying, “If you remember, the previous administration didn’t want to do that…. They didn’t want to make you look so tough. They didn’t want to make you look like you’re a threat.” I didn’t read that, though, in the New York Times report, but in Jake Johnson’s piece on Common Dreams; the Times told me Trump “struck a law-and-order tone.”

Well, law enforcement being encouraged to see themselves as “at war” is a different story when you’re the enemy, right? What do you make, first of all, of media’s burying the lead on this? “Let’s call it ‘The Surge’”? I mean, the headline wrote itself. What do you make of this whole event, and of media’s kind of non-response to it?

NF: Yeah, it’s pretty interesting. I don’t think it really should be surprising, and I think it’s less about Donald Trump and their declared “surge” than it is about the intrinsic nature of law enforcement as entities for control and containment. They’re actually counterparts to what the military does abroad, is what the police do here.

I think what helps us understand it is if we understand this country as a settler colony, and settler colonialism as a system that persists. Not settlers being something in history that happened—the Pilgrims and then it’s over; it persists in terms of indigenous people’s rights being curtailed, and also in enslaved Africans being brought here. That same relationship of colonizer to colonized, particularly under the settler colonial paradigm, still exists.

And the antecedents of the police were the slave patrols, that’s where it evolved out of. And it becomes even more of an understanding if—for example, Donald Trump makes his pronouncement trying to disparage Barack Obama, but I mean, he hasn’t even reached Barack Obama’s achievement of having expanded the 1033 Program, which is the Department of Defense program that authorizes the transfer of military equipment to local police forces. Under Barack Obama, this program expanded by 2,400%. And this is not a new program, and precedes Barack Obama all the way back to 1990. It was authorized in an act called the National Defense Authorization Act of 1990, which first started it. And you also hear, with the rise of Black Lives Matter, and the concern over police killings of us with impunity and brutalization, you hear about the repair of the community’s distrust of police, instead of looking at root causes of that distrust, being the violations the police commit against the people.

JJ:  I wanted to say one thing about whatever may happen. Trump is announcing something that we’re told Attorney General Barr is going to roll out soon, and I want to just say one thing about the media coverage we’re likely to see, which is, you’re talking about getting to the actual root of what police are for. And I know that with the rollout of this, there’s going to become this distinction between violent criminals…. that this is targeted, you know, this is just about “violent criminals.”

This is the oldest strategy. We always see the aid cutoffs, pretending to distinguish between “deserving” and “undeserving” poor; we see this attempt to separate immigrants against one another. And I’m afraid that media are going to see some significance in this idea that this is a targeted crackdown. And what I wanted to say about it is, in Trump’s speech in Chicago—which media had so little interest in, relatively—he indicated how wide the de facto net was going to be. He identified the enemy when he talked about how, before him, he said, “Radical activists freely trafficked in violent anti-police hostility, and criminals grew only more emboldened as a result.”

Nobody should fool themselves that anything that calls itself being about “crime” is about crime at all.

Netfa Freeman: “The police and law enforcement are needed to sustain the status quo, and put down threats to the status quo that emanate from the people, but particularly organized and politically conscious formations and efforts.”

NF: That’s right. You hit it on the head, and we can’t divorce this development from the development of the FBI’s designation of “Black Identity Extremists,” the actual use of the 1033 Program and the militarized police in the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore, and all these things. And even in the earlier times, the real use of  SWAT, and its starting, was against the Black Panther Party. And so what they’re really seeing—and I’m referring to the purveyors of the world power elite—are threats to the system, that are really coming out of the results of neoliberal policies, which increase unemployment, which increase all these different disparities, and [they] have much more of what would be considered a surplus population that they have to contain and control.

Under the “war on drugs”, most of the people that were subject to the mass incarceration that was a result were nonviolent people dealing with drug charges (and some of them weren’t really guilty of them). So it really is something that we should be concerned with, in terms of an intensified fascism.

And not only is the media very tellingly silent, so are the Democratic candidates and policymakers who claim to be a “resistance,” and claim to be against Trump. They at least made some pronouncements of standing up to the egregious and very draconian immigration policies and the lock-up of people. This has implications for that same thing, but they’re not talking about it. And so they have to, at some point.

This is where we see the bipartisan consensus: The police and law enforcement are needed to sustain the status quo, and put down threats to the status quo that emanate from the people, but particularly organized and politically conscious formations and efforts.

JJ:  Well, yes, and going right from that, I think we do see people, despite the void of corporate media—and the stories that I saw on this, I would say again, were independent media, some college media, and also libertarians, who are concerned about the feds getting involved in local law enforcement — but even around those media voids, we see people pushing back at a deeper level, at a more structural level, not only protesting when police kill somebody, for example, but recognizing when criminality is being manufactured—and I’m thinking about here in New York, with this new crackdown on people who don’t pay subway fares.

New York Post (11/2/19)

We saw major action just this week, with Decolonize This Place and others—“cop-hating law breakers” as the New York Post had it—converging to protest and to say, “We’re not going to turn against ourselves. We don’t buy your divisions of ‘criminal’ and ‘law-abiding,’ we don’t respect that whole system.”

So I know you’re involved with Black Alliance for Peace, on that Coordinating Committee. I see trouble, but I also see hope, and I wonder if you can leave us with what folks are doing.

NF:  Yeah, we should really boost up some of these programs and campaigns that are on the ground. The Black Alliance for Peace recently launched, it’s been a few months now, our campaign “Defeat War Against African/Black People in the US and Abroad,” making the links between the militarization of the world, particularly AFRICOM, the US Africa command, and the 1033 Program here. The campaign is focused on mass incarceration, police exchanges with Israel — which we really need to pay attention to, it speaks to the shared settler colonial nature, and why they have so much interest together, the police in Israel and here train each other, and share different ways of controlling the population, the so-called “exposing” of elected officials, making them take a position, rather, on things like the Blue Lives Matter bill, that makes it a hate crime to assault a police officer (which, we know, the assault of police officers can be really misused). That campaign is trying to nationalize and get louder voices around this militarization of police, and the repression that ends up happening within black and brown working-class communities.

An organization that I’m in, it’s a member organization of the Black Alliance for Peace, is Pan-African Community Action (PACA), here in Washington, DC. And one of the campaigns that we have, that’s also within the policy platforms of the Movement for Black Lives, is Community Control Over Police, asserting that the communities that have these armed forces in them should be able to decide who these armed forces are, what the priorities of these armed forces are, who gets to be police, what happens if they do something, you know, misconduct, if they get fired—they’d have the power to do that. Not advocate to review boards or oversights or anything, but actually have a democratic process of community control over public safety and police, which is something that is possible to have, and should be the democratic right of people.

And we’re not the only ones doing that. There’s other formations around the country that are calling for community control of the police, which is a just thing that shifts power and takes it out of the traditional legacy that police grow out of, and makes “Protect and Serve” a real policy, versus some kind of public relations ploy.

And so those are the kind of things that we have going on, and I think people should check into that, and look at the history and the role and purpose, and how the militarization of the police and the US trajectory to militarize the world, how they’re related.

JJ: Absolutely. Well, community control of police; we’ve been talking on the show about community control of banks, public control of utilities; the community control of police seems absolutely of a piece with that. It seems like an idea that ten years ago, I’m not sure what people would have said, but I think folks are more than ready to have that kind of conversation right now.

NF: If I can say that the history of it goes back to the Black Panther Party, during the ’60s; they actually got it as a referendum on the ballot, which is what we’re trying to do, in ballot initiative. And almost won, in Oakland, I think; it was California, but I’m not sure if it was Oakland specifically. And it had to be actually sabotaged, in terms of the campaign, for them to lose; they lost by a very close margin. But that’s where the history comes from.

JJ:  The work that you’re doing is linking, of course, black people in the United States and in Africa and elsewhere. And I think seeing Americans through an international prism, you know, and thinking about communities that are affected by police brutality, and the way that they would be looked at by a UN rapporteur, for example. It’s an unusual position, I think, for a lot of US citizens. And I think it’s a useful prism. It’s a hopeful way forward, I think, to think about making these connections across across national borders.

NF: Yes it is, and it’s very necessary, and it helps people get out of the American exceptionalism that manifests itself in more than the obvious ways, just the fact that the United States can put sanctions on a country, for some so-called benevolent purpose, and have no more moral authority, or legitimacy, to be able to do such a thing… and have their troops all around the world and all kinds of US command forces, networks all around the world, at the expense of people here, in terms of basic human needs, and things like universal healthcare and education that they could be funding, and also at the expense of the safety and livelihood of people outside of this country. So we really have to, like what you mentioned, this is our effort to try to establish a real internationalism.

JJ:  We’ve been speaking with Netfa Freeman, events coordinator and policy analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies. Netfa Freeman, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

NF: Thank you.

 

Record Inequality and Corporate Profits Are What Media Call a ‘Strong Economy’

 

Who are you going to believe, “hard data” or your lying eyes (CNBC, 10/7/19)?

Last month, CNBC (10/7/19) reassured us that fears of a potential recession are “overblown,” because the “hard data” shows that the “US economy remains strong.”

If you’ve been keeping track of corporate media coverage of the US economy over the past several years, you might have noticed a contradictory pattern. You’ll find that corporate media make ubiquitous references to a “strong economy,” while simultaneously providing many reports on the increasingly impoverished and precarious working class alongside the continuously rising fortunes of the rich.

Last month, a New York Times report (10/20/19) exemplified this seemingly bizarre practice when it wondered why so many workers are striking when we apparently live in such a “strong economy,” because the piece also discussed how “today’s strikes are fueled by a deeper sense of unfairness and economic anxiety.”

Even though corporate media are now warning us not to be too complacent because of a potential imminent recession and slowing GDP growth (CNN, 8/18/19; Wall Street Journal, 10/30/19), references to a “strong economy” and an “economic recovery” from the Great Recession still abound.

 

Three years ago, the New York Times (12/2/16) remarked that former President Barack Obama was handing off a “strong economy” to President Donald Trump, even as it noted that “tens of millions of Americans understandably feel that the recovery has passed them by.” Two years later, Times columnist David Brooks (11/29/19) led off a column by declaring, “We’re enjoying one of the best economies of our lifetime.”

LA Times (5/3/19)

This year, the Los Angeles Times (5/3/19) pondered the two “great conundrums” of the Trump presidency: “How does his approval rating stay so bad when the economy is so good, and what might that forecast about his prospects for reelection?”

Politico (10/15/19) and Reuters (10/15/19) advise us that election models are forecasting Trump’s likely reelection based on “economic trends in key swing states” under his administration, as CNN (7/5/19) proclaimed that the “strong economy” is functioning as Trump’s “safety blanket” for his reelection chances. The Financial Times (5/8/19) declared that “there is no doubt that the US is the strongest large economy in the world,” even as it warned that “much of the growth surprise appears temporary.”

The “strong economy” narrative is so thoroughly entrenched, the Atlantic (8/5/19) observed that even Democratic presidential candidates are wary of mentioning “economic growth,” lest it sound like an implicit endorsement of the Trump administration’s policies. However, following slower GDP growth and recession forecasts, some Democratic presidential candidates, like Joe Biden, are changing their campaign strategies by claiming that Trump is “squandering” the “strong economy” inherited from the Obama administration, reversing their previous view of discussing the “strong economic data” as a “losing” electoral strategy (Reuters, 8/22/19).

To the extent that there is a “debate” over the existence of a “historic recovery” and a “strong economy,” it is largely restricted to whether the economy was better under the Obama administration or under the Trump administration, and over who “really” deserves credit for this allegedly amazing economy.

The Washington Post has run several comparative articles (6/25/18, 5/7/19, 8/20/19) arguing that Trump “inherited” the “strong economy” from Obama, even wondering if this economy is “too good to be true?” while noting that the “vital signs look solid.” CNBC (9/7/18) declared that Trump has “set economic growth on fire,” praising a “economic boom uniquely his” as a “tremendous achievement.” The Wall Street Journal (5/5/19) discussed how a poll found that “select groups of Americans” who disapprove of his job performance are still willing to credit Trump for a “bustling economy,” while USA Today (7/1/19) discussed a survey that found that the “solid economy is doing little to bolster support for President Donald Trump.” Some articles have pushed back on the idea that Trump deserves the credit for the “strong economy,” instead crediting the Federal Reserve and Congress, or a vague “broader, global trend” (New York Times, 8/8/19; Wall Street Journal, 11/8/17).

 

Common Dreams (4/29/19)

But who determines whether we live in a “strong economy,” and what metrics should we use to find out? Despite what media say, most Americans believe that the economic system is “rigged” to benefit the wealthy elite at the expense of the working class (CNN, 6/28/16; Pew Research, 10/4/18; Common Dreams, 4/29/19). Do the standard economic metrics deployed by corporate journalists accurately capture and explain the feelings and economic situation of most American workers?

When one also reads the contradictory coverage found in corporate media regarding the precarious situation facing the American working class, it’s clear they don’t. Here’s a nonexhaustive catalog of facts that make elite pundits like the New York Times’ David Brooks’ declaration that “We’re enjoying one of the best economies of our lifetime” appear fatuous and puncture this myth of a “strong economy.”

Overwhelmingly, many of these reports point to GDP growth (increased annual spending on total goods and services), a low unemployment rate (currently at 3.6%) and the number of jobs added to the US economy as evidence of a “strong economy.”

However, the standard unemployment rate in the US only includes people with no job who have been searching for work within the past four weeks; this leaves out significant portions of the population, like the underemployed and involuntary part-time workers (those who want full-time work but can’t find any), and discouraged workers who have given up searching for a job (Quartz, 6/7/18). This is why the New York Times (10/31/19) found that there are still millions of people not captured in the official unemployment rate, and people having trouble finding work in this “strong economy.” The U-6 unemployment rate, considered to be more accurate by economists because it includes discouraged workers and part-time workers seeking full-time employment, is 7%—almost double the U-3 unemployment rate usually cited by corporate media.

Another figure that complicates this picture of a “strong economy” is the labor force participation rate (the sum of all workers who are employed and actively seeking employment divided by the total working age population). The current labor force participation rate is 63.3%, 4 percentage points lower than the average of 67.3% at the beginning of the 21st century.

Although the number of involuntary part-time workers dropped this year, even people who only work one hour a week would not be considered unemployed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A 2016 study by economist Lonnie Golden found that the number of involuntary part-time workers increased almost 45% from 2007.

While there has been pushback against a widely cited 2016 study from economists Lawrence Katz and the late Alan Krueger, which found that 94% of job growth from 2005 to 2015 has been in precarious “alternative work arrangements” in the “gig economy,” there’s no shortage of studies and projections showing that freelancing, independent contracting and temp work for corporations like Uber are playing a larger role in the US economy, without much of the job security and benefits found in more traditional jobs (NBC, 8/31/17; Forbes, 2/15/19; New York Times, 8/22/19).

Critically, throughout several years of reports on this “strong economy,” there have also been numerous reports on the persistent problem of low and stagnant wages. Although there are reports indicating that workers are finally seeing slightly better wage growth after decades of stagnant wages, it’s still only a fraction of record corporate profits (Washington Post, 11/2/18).

The long-term trend of wages not keeping up with the prices of essentials hasn’t improved much, as it’s been reported that minimum-wage workers can’t afford a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the US. (The Economic Policy Institute—7/19/18, 2/5/19—found that if the minimum wage tracked productivity growth since the 1960s, it would now be over $20 an hour.)

Almost half of US families are unable to afford the basics like rent and food, and 40% can’t afford an unexpected $400 expense, with almost 80% of US workers living paycheck to paycheck. Perhaps this is why increasing numbers of people are living in poverty, in cars and on the streets, despite having jobs (CBS, 7/31/18; New York Times, 9/11/18; Washington Post, 3/22/19). These low and stagnant wages may also be why Americans are increasingly buried in debt, as student loan debt reached $1.5 trillion last year, exceeding all other forms of consumer debt except mortgages, and auto debt is up nearly 40% from the last decade, reaching $1.3 trillion (Wall Street Journal, 8/1/19).

One of the grimmest signs that the economy is not working for many is that US life expectancy continues to drop, from a peak of 78.9 in 2014 to 78.6 in 2017. The drop is led by rising deaths from suicide, drug overdose and alcohol-related disease—known as “diseases of despair”—among men, particularly those without college degrees (Brookings Institution, 11/7/19).

 

Atlantic (9/9/14)

Richard Wolff has been one of the few economists who have argued that the media’s false “recovery hype” is a “weapon of mass distraction” (Extra!, 12/14) and observed (in Capitalism’s Crisis Deepens) that the finance industry’s decades-long wave of spectacular growth has coincided with stagnating wages beginning in the 1970s, as more and more Americans have to rely on debt to maintain their lifestyle and keep up with the soaring costs of essentials like housing, healthcare and higher education. Historically, private debt—not public debt—is the harbinger of economic disaster, contrary to the obsessive focus of media austerity hawks (Atlantic, 9/9/14; Guardian, 11/4/13; FAIR.org, 2/22/19).

Despite corporate media’s ludicrous “factchecks” on presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ (correct) claim that “three people in this country own more wealth than the bottom half of America” (the Washington Post argued that the comparison is “not especially meaningful,” because “people in the bottom half have essentially no wealth, as debts cancel out whatever assets they might have”), journalists have consistently reported on the reality of rising prosperity of the wealthy, record stock markets and soaring corporate profits. (Of course, such stories are often presented as good news, as if higher stock prices benefited anyone other than people who own stock—Extra!, 7–8/02.)

Matt Bruenig at the People’s Policy Institute found that the top 1 percent’s net worth has increased by $21 trillion, while the bottom 50% of the population saw theirs decrease by $900 billion, from 1989 to 2018. Perhaps this is due to massive criminal tax evasion/avoidance by the wealthy and corporations in overseas tax havens (euphemistically labeled “loopholes”), coupled with unprecedented tax cuts for the rich, alongside relentless selective enforcement and increased taxes on the working class (FAIR.org, 12/6/17, 1/17/18).

Given all this, GDP growth tells us little about how wealth and income are distributed amongst the US population. It’s theoretically possible for GDP growth to be entirely accounted for by things like increased military spending for a US-driven arms race, corporations buying back stocks and paying out dividends to further inflate their stock prices—instead of giving raises to employees or hiring more of them—and the wealthy’s environmentally destructive conspicuous consumption of things like private jets and superyachts, since all of them count towards GDP. Journalists shouldn’t use GDP as an indicator of economic health without further context, because growing GDP alongside skyrocketing income and wealth inequality is not evidence of a “strong” economy, but of a parasitic economy.

What explains corporate media’s credulous reliance on uninformative economic measures, and contradictory references to a “strong economy,” alongside reports on a struggling working class? It makes little sense if one assumes corporate journalists are primarily concerned with informing the public. It makes a great deal of sense when one realizes that corporate news outlets have an inherent interest in cloaking class warfare by equating a “strong economy” with the prosperity of the investor class, even if it comes at the expense of everyone else (FAIR.org, 10/16/19).

Unpacking Media Propaganda About Bolivia’s Election - Pro-coup editorials rely on—and misreport—questionable evidence from the dubious OAS

by Gregory Shupak

To endorse the coup in Bolivia, numerous editorials in major US media outlets paint President Evo Morales as undemocratic. Exhibit A in their case is the Organization of American States’ (OAS) claims that there was fraud in the October 20 Bolivian election in which Morales was elected for a fourth term. They also argue that he should not have been allowed to run again in the first place.

The New York Times’ editorial (11/11/19) accused Morales of “brazenly abusing the power and institutions put in his care by the electorate.” The Washington Post (11/11/19) alleged that “a majority of Bolivians wanted [Morales] to leave office”—a claim for which they provided no evidence—while claiming that he had “grown increasingly autocratic” and that “his downfall was his insatiable appetite for power.” The Wall Street Journal (11/11/19) argued that Morales “is a victim of his own efforts to steal another election,” saying that Morales “has rigged the rules time and again to stay in power.”

The first basis on which the papers call Morales’ democratic legitimacy into question is by suggesting that he had no right to run in the 2019 election because he lost a 2016 referendum on whether the country should abolish term limits. But the next year, Bolivia’s constitutional court lifted limits to re-election, and its Supreme Electoral Court subsequently approved Morales’ run.  Even the head of the OAS, which would go on to play a crucial role in the coup, agreed that Morales had a right to run.

To support its assertion that Morales “had grown increasingly autocratic,” the Post linked to an AP report (Guardian, 12/17/16) that said Morales was going to run despite losing the referendum. That article was from before the two court rulings, and the Post doesn’t mention those decisions at any point. Thus readers were given the inaccurate message that the term limits story ended with the referendum.

New York Times (11/11/19)

The Times dismissed the court rulings by writing that “Morales had steadily concentrated power in his hands and planted loyalists in key institutions,” and that, following the term limits referendum, Morales “had the supreme court, by now stuffed with his loyalists, rule that limiting his time in office somehow violated his human rights.” Saying Morales “had” the court rule in a particular way implies that Morales forced it to reach that decision, but the paper provided no evidence to support that claim.

The Journal likewise described “a supreme court packed with his appointees [ruling that] he could run without term limits.” Words like “packed” and “stuffed” imply that it was unfair of Morales to do what democratically elected leaders in the United States, Canada and elsewhere have the right to do, namely appoint judges. That politicians use the power granted to them by winning an election to select judges who favor similar policies isn’t a sign of a nascent tyranny; it’s a sign of a politician working within the ordinary boundaries of representative, constitutional democracy. Besides, the country’s supreme court is elected, so it’s the Bolivian people who “packed” and “stuffed” the court with the judges that they voted for.

To suggest—as these papers do—that the Morales government’s maneuvers were indicative of a country descending into dictatorship is to overlook the ways in which the courts are consciously designed to function as checks on the popular will in liberal democratic states like the US and Canada. And if, as these paper seem to assert, the presence or absence of executive term limits is a definitive marker of democracy, then one assumes that there will soon be a deluge of editorials calling for coups in Canada and Britain, because these countries don’t have prime ministerial term limits (and the United States had no presidential term limits for most of its history).

If a sufficient number of Bolivians thought Morales’ candidacy was undemocratic, they could have voted him out in the October 20 election. There’s a paucity of evidence to believe that that’s what happened, but the editorials read as though it were a settled fact that the Morales government stole the election.

The official vote count conducted by Bolivia’s electoral authority found that Morales earned 47.08% of the vote, while Carlos Mesa finished second at 36.51%. To put Morales’ democratic legitimacy in context, Canada held a federal election the day after Bolivia in which Justin Trudeau became prime minister for a second term, even though his Liberal Party won 33.1% of the popular vote while the Conservatives got 34.4%, because of the way that Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system distributes parliamentary seats. Bolivian law stipulates that a second round runoff is not required if the first place candidate secures at least 40% of the vote and 10 percentage points more than the second place candidate.

The editorials, however, called Morales’ victory into question by uncritically parroting OAS claims about Bolivia’s election. The Times refers to what it calls the “highly fishy vote on October 20,” linking that phrase to one of its earlier articles (10/23/19), which said:

The outcome of the vote has been in dispute since election officials released preliminary results on Sunday night that pointed to a runoff between Mr. Morales and Carlos Mesa, a former president—only to backtrack within 24 hours. On Monday night, election officials released an updated vote tally showing Mr. Morales leading by 10 percentage points, the margin required to avoid a runoff.

The October 23 article went on to write that elections observers from the OAS

issued a withering assessment of the integrity on the [electoral] process…. The mission said that the trend reversal between Sunday and Monday was at odds with independent tallies of the results and asserted that the outcome warranted a second round.

Much of the confusion—deliberate or otherwise—around the Bolivian election relates to the existence of two separate vote-counting processes: a “quick count” that is meant to be partial and provisional, and an official tally that necessarily takes longer, is comprehensive, and determines the actual results of the election.

A rigorous study conducted by the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) showed that the quick count—what the Times seems to be referring to as “preliminary results”—did not, in fact, “point…to a runoff,” and there was no “trend reversal.” CEPR pointed out:

It is a general phenomenon that later-reporting areas are often politically and demographically different from earlier ones, and it has been noted that this is relevant to interpreting the results from a parallel vote tabulation such as a quick count. In Bolivia’s elections over the last decade and a half, votes from rural and peripheral areas of the country have tended to disproportionately favor Morales and the MAS-IPSP. Because of logistical, technological and possibly other limitations, these votes end up being computed later in the counting process. This is true of both the quick and the official counts, which are both affected by the same geography and infrastructure. Rural and poorer places, which have tended to heavily favor Morales, are slower to transmit data or send tally sheets to the electoral tribunals….

The quick count, in this case, was no exception. The gap between Morales and Mesa widened steadily as the counting process advanced. It was a predictable and unsurprising phenomenon that need not have surprised the OAS mission….

In addition, and contrary to public statements from the OAS mission, an analysis of the results of the quick count up until it was suspended on election day predict an outcome that is extremely similar to the actual final results.

So the paper’s editorial endorsement of the coup because the election was supposedly “highly fishy” does not stand up to scrutiny. It’s not clear, moreover, what “independent tallies” the Times (10/23/19) thought were “at odds” with the Bolivian electoral commission’s count, or what evidence the paper thought there is for believing that the latter isn’t independent. Perhaps the paper means that the OAS should be seen as “independent”—but it hadn’t conducted a “tally” at that point and, as we’ll see, there is little reason to believe it’s “independent.”

Washington Post (11/11/19)

The Post went even further than the Times’ “highly fishy,” asserting that “the electoral tribunal, which [Morales] controls, then moved to falsify the results of the October 20 vote so as to hand him a first-round victory.” To provide backup for this argument, the Post linked to an earlier article (10/24/19) that said Morales “emerged from an unexplained gap in the publication of election results in better shape than he entered it.” Here the paper was presenting the unofficial quick count, where there was a gap—one that was, in fact, perfectly explicable—as though it and the official tally are one and the same. They’re not, and it wasn’t even the official count to which the OAS objected at the time. As the CEPR report noted:

It is the official count that is legally binding, not the quick count that the OAS mission took issue with. The official count was never interrupted and was regularly updated online without any significant interruption.

The Post article (10/24/19) then noted:

The chief elections observer for the Organization of American States said Wednesday that Bolivian authorities had no valid explanation for the gap in publishing vote counts. The OAS, which met in Washington on Wednesday to discuss the election, has called the gap “surprising” and “worrying.”

Gerardo de Icaza, the OAS director of electoral observation and cooperation, said the election should go to a second round, no matter the results of the first.

But there is a “valid explanation for the gap in publishing vote counts.” As the CEPR documents:

While the TSE did suspend the verification of tally sheets in the quick count process on election night at 83.85 percent of tally sheets verified, this is consistent with what the TSE had pledged to do more than a week before the election: to publicize the result of a quick count that verified at least 80 percent of the preliminary results. The TSE thus followed through with this commitment, and its decision to stop the quick count was not in itself irregular or in violation of any prior commitment.

Furthermore, the CEPR report points out that “although the TSE suspended the verification of tally sheets for the quick count, tally sheets continued to be imaged by electoral workers and uploaded to the storage server.”

The gap between this reality and the Post’s fictional picture of Morales “falsify[ing] the results” could scarcely be wider.

Wall Street Journal (11/11/19

The CEPR’s findings deserved to be taken seriously and shared with a wide audience. Its report was available well before the coup, yet, in their apologies for Morales’ overthrow, the editorials write as though the CEPR’s damning critique of the OAS’s initial post-election complaint simply didn’t exist.

Hours before the coup, the OAS claimed that it conducted a preliminary audit that found “clear manipulation” of the election and called for the results to be annulled. Though Morales denied wrongdoing, he agreed to call a new election in keeping with his earlier promise—not exactly what would one expect of an “aspiring dictator,” as the Atlantic’s Yascha Mounk (11/11/19) baselessly called him. Neither the Times nor the Post mentioned in their pro-coup editorials that prior to the coup, Morales agreed to hold another election despite the lack of evidence that one was necessary: Such a detail would have complicated their portrayal of him as an antidemocratic despot.

The Times, Post and Journal’s  post-coup editorials all uncritically parrot these allegations from the OAS. In doing so, the papers present the OAS as if it is a neutral arbiter of hemispheric affairs. It isn’t. Sixty percent of its funding comes from the US, which gives Washington disproportionate leverage over the organization. This is not just a theoretical possibility: there’s ample evidence in the OAS’s history of it acting in accord with US ruling class wishes to subvert democracy in Latin American countries that elected left-leaning governments. One crucial adjunct of American foreign policy, USAID, acknowledges OAS’s function, noting that the body is a crucial tool in “promot[ing] US interests in the Western hemisphere by countering the influence of anti-US countries” like Bolivia.

As historian Greg Grandin points out, the OAS approved of the US isolating Guatemala  prior to the CIA’s 1954 coup against the elected government of President Jacobo Árbenz, and Cuba before the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. The organization went on to endorse the US’s 1965 invasion of the Dominican Republic.

The OAS’s sordid history in Haiti offers another example: In 2000, the organization initially declared the country’s election a “great success” and then reversed course, helping set the stage for a coup against the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, after which thousands were murdered and  officials of the constitutional government were jailed. In 2010, the OAS forced the reversal of the results of the first round Haiti’s election without conducting a recount or a statistical analysis.

The organization blessed Juan Orlando Hernández’s stolen election in Honduras and made no effort to stop Dilma Rousseff’s removal from power in Brazil.

Earlier this year, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro encouraged the coup attempt in Venezuela by recognizing the unelected, self-declared “president” Juan Guaidó’s envoy as the nation’s supposed “official delegate” to the group—even though doing so violated the OAS’s own charter.

Considering OAS’s decades-long track record, and in particular considering the dubiousness of the OAS claims immediately after the election, the minimum media outlets should have done was share this information with readers, who might not have otherwise known there was reason to be skeptical of OAS claims. But that’s not what happened.

The Times’ post-coup editorial simply noted that hours before the coup, the OAS “declared that there was ‘clear manipulation’ of the voting.” The Post flatly stated that “an audit released by the Organization of American States reported massive irregularities in the vote count and called for a fresh election.”

The Journal, writing as though the OAS were irreproachable, said, “The Organization of American States (OAS), which monitored the election, said Sunday after a vote audit that it had found serious irregularities and ‘clear manipulation.’”

Asked for comment on that “preliminary audit,” CEPR senior fellow Andrés Arauz said:

The preliminary audit relies heavily on its identification of technical vulnerabilities and process concerns for both the quick and official counts, but fails to show that these were exploited for fraudulent purposes or that they may have had a significant impact on the final results of the election. While we are still in the process of examining their statistical analysis, it does not appear to show a change in the trend seen in the quick count results that can’t be accounted for by geography. This supposed change in trend was their basis for casting doubt on the integrity of the election in their first press release on October 21.

The Times, Post and Journal could have exhibited journalistic skepticism about the OAS’s statements on the day of the coup. Instead, they chose to embrace an anti-democratic, racist, US-facilitated and encouraged right-wing coup.

 

Whose News Literacy? - Resources for teachers and students offer useful tools but reinforce status quo

by Jane Regan

In schools and campuses across the country, tens of thousands of students are in the midst of media and news literacy courses.

Employing online tools with names like Checkology, Allsides and The Trust Project, following online courses like “Making Sense of the News,” or like scores of classrooms across the nation and around the world, using materials from Stonybrook University’s Center for News Literacy, students are busy learning how to verify sources, detect falsified photos, trace Twitter hoaxes and determine the difference between “news” and “fake news.”

While inappropriately named, “fake news” is real. And while hoaxes, yellow journalism and propaganda have been around for centuries, starting a few years ago, and thanks to the “everybody’s a communicator” online world and social media platforms, “fake news” has become pernicious and dangerous.

The academy—and the funders—have stepped up with analyses, books, centers, tools and many millions of dollars. Fighting “fake news” is not only urgent, it’s also a big business.

But are students being taught to think critically? And what kind of news consumers are produced by these courses and tools?

Two tools

The Sift (9/30/19) provides useful guidance on how to spot doctored and out-of-context images.

Let’s look at just two of the many news-focused media literacy tools.

Checkology, from the News Literacy Project (NLP), offers middle and high school teachers online exercises and lessons. The project also has an excellent quiz page, Get Smart About News, and a weekly newsletter, The Sift, with usually superb and useful “teachable moments,” analyses and potential classroom exercises.

Funded by grants from corporate publishers, foundations, an audio technology company and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the NLP raised almost $1.5 million in 2017 and $2.8 million the year before. (The 2018 Form 990 has not yet been released.)

The Checkology course offers four of its “lessons” for free; for a fee, there are another six, with exercises and other resources.

Corporate media journalists from NBC, the Washington Post and Noticias Univision introduce the first three lessons. They emphasize the importance of “verification,” “multiple sources,” “context” and “fairness.” In the third lesson, the student is a reporter “on the scene” of an accident, and has to gather facts, verify details and report. In another lesson, students learn about investigative journalism and the importance of “questioning authority.” All of that is great.

But the lessons also reveal a very status-quo, middle-of-the-road approach to journalism and its roles in society.

For example, while NBC’s Tracie Potts tells students to beware of information that might be designed to deceive, she also draws divisions between information meant to “inform” and two other purposes: meant to “document” and to “persuade.” She implies that one ought to be wary of stories that aim to convince a person “to adopt a particular perspective,” even when the arguments are based on facts. Given the historic importance of politically committed journalism, from Thomas Paine through Ida B. Wells to I.F. Stone, this compartmentalization does no favors to students or journalists.

A reporter covering almost any subject has to research and report and then decide where the truth lies, even if that truth is not the currently accepted truth. Even the Society of Professional Journalists calls on reporters to “seek the truth and report it.” That might include laying out new facts and arguments in a way that is meant to persuade a viewer or reader, to convince him or her of the correct version of an issue (like climate change) or an event (like the search for Iraq’s alleged chemical weapons).

In another lesson, Univision’s Enrique Acevedo reinforces the middle-of-the-road approach, stressing the need to avoid “bias” and the importance of “presenting the facts and context in a neutral manner,” and by emphasizing “balance,” which he describes as “representing multiple sides of an issue, event or controversy without giving unfair weight to one side or point of view.”

That kind of advice might be useful and important when covering the scene of an accident, but what if—for example—a journalist is reporting on a more complex issue, like conflict in Iraq, protests over food prices in Latin America, or the opioid crisis in the US? In all three of those examples, the context chosen by the reporter will depend on ideological and political orientations, of both the reporter and the news outlet.

Will the context stick to raw data, like protest deaths or price hikes or overdoses? Or will it go further—probing, for example, the role of US imperialism and the “War on Terrorism,” draconian tariff policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund, or how the commodification of just about everything, neoliberal capitalism and extreme individualism in the US might be at least partially responsible for addiction and “deaths of despair”?

In a recent plea to leave “objectivity behind,”  journalism educators Mark Lee Hunter and Luk Van Wassenhove decried media outlets and journalists who shy from taking a stand.

“Whatever their objective truth, the facts do not speak for themselves,” they wrote. “Someone must give them meaning and impact.” Arguing for facts and context, they added: “We will never be ‘objective’ again,” and insisted that instead journalists “must make clear what we stand for, and how.”

What are media corporations selling?

Stonybrook’s Center for News Literacy is arguably the most influential news literacy educator out there. Over 10,000 people, including this author, have enrolled (but not necessarily finished) in the six-module Making Sense of the News: News Literacy Lessons for Digital Citizens on Coursera, according to that website. It was designed in part by the Center.

More importantly, the Center offers a full 15-module, college-level course which it says has been taken by “over 10,000 students” at Stonybrook, and has also been used or adapted by over 30 US universities. (I used parts of it for a course at Boston University last spring.) The Center also says it collaborates with universities or programs in eight other countries.

Like the Checkology course, the Stonybrook course offers a myriad of useful tools, guiding the student (and the teacher) through—for example—the definition and importance of facts, context, verification, “journalistic truth,” sourcing, indirect and direct evidence, and transparency. The course also takes on more complex issues like cognitive dissonance and filter bubbles.  Each module comes with slides and documentation, using examples from recent, everyday social media and newsfeeds to which students can relate. All of that is great, and many elements of many of the modules very useful.

But there are also some troubling aspects to the course.

For example, Lesson 6 repeatedly stresses that reporting can only be considered reliable journalism if it’s verifiable, and if the journalist and media outlet are accountable, both of which are good guidelines. But it also emphasizes that they must be “independent,” defined as free from the control, influence or support of interested parties.” Native advertising, for example, is not independent because it is “trying to sell or promote something,” one slide notes.

But aren’t shareholders and hedge funds and for-profit media outlets also trying to “sell something”? Corporate outlets can and do produce good journalism, but mega-companies like GateHouse Media, which owns over 600 papers in 39 states, and Digital First Media are both owned by hedge funds, and have both proven that profit is the bottom line. For example, GateHouse regularly earns double-digit returns for shareholders while also slashing budgets for reporters, editors and even closing down newsrooms. A 2018 report from University of North Carolina on the “new media barons” that looked at hedge fund– and private equity–owned newspapers noted that the “standard operating formula” has included “aggressive cost-cutting, the adoption of advertiser-friendly policies” and “the sale or shuttering of under-performing newspapers.”

“This is journalism”—but is this all there is to journalism?

The course also emphasizes the need for sources to be, among other things, “independent” and “authoritative/informed.” What are the definitions of those terms? That depends on who uses them. Would a reporter from a mainstream outlet be likely to quote an “authoritative” economist who is not a cheerleader for capitalism in a story about a hike in the minimum wage? Maybe even an avowed socialist? Probably not.

Also troubling (but unsurprising) are the slides illustrating “journalism,” like one where a student sees that journalism equals outlets like NBC, the Washington Post and National Public Radio.

Where are the alternative, progressive and radical outlets doing excellent, law-changing and life-saving work? A brief list from this country might include Democracy Now!, The Intercept, The Nation and In These Times. These nonprofit outlets and/or their journalists have regularly won awards for journalistic excellence, uncovered “truths,” rigorously verify and supply context.

What is ‘newsworthy’?

Both Checkology and the Stonybrook courses also reinforce tired tropes of what is and what is not “newsworthy.”

While the Checkology’s “What is News?” lesson lies behind a paywall, a News Literacy Project article explains that Chicago Sun-Times’ Paul Salzman hosts it, and that he stresses four factors: timeliness, importance to “the public,” whether a subject is “interesting” and whether it’s “unusual enough to warrant attention.” The Stonybrook course and its online Coursera spinoff emphasize ten “universal news drivers,” including “importance,” “prominence” and “conflict,” and also “unusualness” and “relevance.”

But in both cases, the approach is quite limited. For example, who is or are “the public,” and what is “important” to it/them?

Is the “public” the older folks (above 65) who are mostly likely to get news from TV or cable news shows, according to the Pew Research Center? Or younger people, who look at Vox and Vice on their telephones? Or immigrants of varying backgrounds who might listen to Spanish-language radio (local or international) and read a local weekly?

Do a non-union waitress working three jobs and a hedge fund manager have the same news and information “interests”?

What about “conflict”? Do corporate media outlets cover protests and “conflict” in some poor country that doesn’t much interest the US, such as Haiti these days, the same way as they cover them in a place where Washington is happy to spar with a semi-nemesis (China), like Hong Kong (FAIR.org, 12/26/19)? Do the approved-of journalists and outlets dig deep to expose the roots of those conflicts, even if that might involve exposing some uncomfortable truths?

Media literacy’s radical roots

These two news literacy educational assets, and many others, offer tools that can be useful to teachers and students, but they are also dangerous.

At the very moment when the digital universe offers students access to news and information from hundreds of sources in the US and worldwide, the courses present extremely middle-of-the-road approaches. They are a far cry from the media literacy concepts promoted and taught in what is arguably the birthplace of modern media literacy: Ontario, Canada, where media literacy has been required since 1987.

One of the eight key concepts reads:

Media messages have commercial implications. Media literacy aims to encourage awareness of how the media are influenced by commercial considerations, and how they impinge on content, technique and distribution. Most media production is a business, and so must make a profit.

But neither Checkology nor the Stonybrook courses bring up the issues of ownership, commercial implications and profit. Not surprisingly, these days—in the US, at least—there are a whole slew of media literacy education groups that steer clear of the “commercial implications” concept. (In a recent International Journal of Education study—2016—Zoë Druick talks about the split between those who see media literacy as “a critique of capitalism” and those who do not. Druick also notes that “capitalist interests have long aimed to use media to train students as well as consumers,” and offers a fascinating exploration of the origins and uses of “media literacy,” for those wishing to explore further.)

The political economy–shy orientations do students a great disservice. Even the most basic communication theory textbooks at least mention how mass media can (and often do) reinforce the political, social and economic status quo. In the oft-used Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age textbook, the authors note the exponential gap in the wages of a CEO to the average worker. One reason, they explain, has to do with the mass media and its reinforcement of status quo, “common sense” thinking and discourse:

In convincing consumers and voters that the interests of the powerful were common sense and therefore normal and natural, companies and politicians created an atmosphere and context in which there was less challenge and criticism.

Unfortunately however, the two main news literacy tools do not explore what basic, middle-of-the-road textbooks do. Instead, they limit their critical thinking lessons and tools to much narrower margins.

And that’s not surprising. As Noam Chomsky and other media critics have pointed out repeatedly, one of the ways to control people’s thinking is by “creating the illusion that there’s a debate going on, but making sure that that debate stays within very narrow margins.”

In Allsides’ world, Slate, Democracy Now!, Jacobin and the New York Times op-ed page all share more or less the same worldview.

Charts like one from Allsides confirm Chomsky’s thesis and reinforce the idea that trustworthy journalism takes place between those margins, implying that the middle of the road is the safest place to be. For example, Allsides tells visitors that a “Center” rating means “the source or writer rated does not predictably show opinions favoring either end of the political spectrum.” Is that really true for the Wall Street Journal, The Hill and Bloomberg, all of which are rated “Center”? The chart also diametrically opposes outlets like New Yorker and The Nation (“Left”) to  the “Right,” which features, for example, Fox News Opinion and Breitbart. But are the latter two outlets as consistently fact-based as New Yorker and The Nation, both of which publish award-winning journalism?

The media outlets that Allsides could call “Center,” “Lean Left” and “Lean Right” are more are more accurately called “mainstream,” and with good reason. The publishers, editors and journalists do not question the status quo or so-called “common sense.” Indeed, as the New York Times editorial page editor acknowledged, they are unblinkingly “in favor of capitalism,” even though it has had so many negative outcomes. Allsides nevertheless lumps together the Times’ opinion section with outlets like the The Nation and Jacobin as “Left,” which suggests that the political spectrum used by this media literacy project does little or nothing to help news consumers understand the ideologies of news media.

Until the many well-funded news literacy and anti-“fake news” websites, tools and courses take a truly critical and open-minded approach, and teach students to really question authority all the way up the chain, including economic systems, foreign policy, accepted history and more, they will have to be used with caution.

Learning how to detect faked photos is great, but without teaching our students how to think critically about where they get their news, and about the orientations of those outlets, we are simply channeling them towards status quo journalism. While mainstream outlets can and do provide critical contributions, their investigations and outrage are mostly only poking at the edges of structural causes.

Featured image: The Center for News Literacy’s depiction of the world of journalism—who’s missing?

 

Missed Opportunity to Recall a Day to ‘Perpetuate Peace’

CNN (11/11/19) offered vets a guide to “deals and freebies.”

Media consumers were greeted on November 11 with stories like, “Veterans Served to Protect Our Country. Here’s Where They Can Get Served With Deals and Freebies Today,” on CNN (11/11/19). Newsweek (11/11/19) counseled readers that

unlike on Memorial Day, when it may be more appropriate to tell veterans to have a “meaningful day”…on Veterans Day, it’s entirely acceptable and encouraged to tell a veteran, “Thank you for your service.”

And, the magazine added, be sure to spell Veterans Day without an apostrophe!

It was a missed opportunity, to put it mildly, for those who recall the roots of the holiday. In 1918, the armistice agreement that ended World War I was signed. As David Swanson, board member of Veterans for Peace, noted this time last year (Let’s Try Democracy, 11/8/18), the Armistice Day resolution Congress passed in 1926 called for “exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding.”  Later, Congress added that November 11 was to be “a day dedicated to the cause of world peace.” It was only after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Korea and the Cold War, and the placing of US bases all over the planet that Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day in 1954. And groups like Veterans for Peace (in some places forbidden to march in Veterans Day parades) have been trying to reclaim it ever since.

The New York Times (11/10/19) said that Armistice Day was “broadened” when it stopped being a celebration of peace.

Those looking for the holiday’s deeper and deeply relevant meanings might have thought they’d found them in the New York Times story, “How Did Armistice Day Become Veterans Day in the United States?” (11/10/19). But that explainer offered a single sentence about how Alvin King of Emporia, Kansas, proposed changing the name “to recognize veterans from all wars and conflicts”—thus blurring the transition from a celebration of peace to celebrating veterans as a simple act of inclusion.

A new study out of the University of Alabama (Journalist’s Resource, 11/8/19) suggests media’s images of veterans are a bit fuzzy.  The school’s Veterans and Media Lab found that the photographs newspapers use to represent veterans (year round), for one thing, feature 14% female vets, when women are just 8% of living vets nationwide—but also 20% of news photos focus on World War II veterans, though most living male vets served in Vietnam, and for women, it’s since September 11, 2001. Lead author Steven Parrott said:

When I ask my 20-year-old students what they picture when they picture who a veteran is, it’s a World War II veteran, and I’m asking: “Why does that happen when World War II veterans are a minority? Why don’t they think about a 28-year-old who’s probably in their own classroom?”

A more accurate, less sepia-toned vision of who veterans are and what their lives are like might make it harder for media to dodge what Swanson and others say they hear from the veterans they listen to: that the only real way to honor veterans is to create fewer of them.

 

Western Media Whitewash Bolivia’s Far-Right Coup

 

The phrase AP (Chattanooga Times Free Press, 11/13/19) is looking for is “self-declared.”

Bolivia has a new US-backed puppet leader, and the Western media can hardly conceal their adulation.

Jeanine Áñez declared herself “interim president” in a near-empty Senate chamber on November 12, proceeding to don the presidential sash with the assistance of uniformed soldiers. Despite a lack of quorum rendering the move nakedly unconstitutional, Áñez was immediately recognized by the Trump administration and 10 Downing Street.

Tuesday’s scene seemed like a parody of January’s events in Venezuela, in which a virtually unknown lawmaker, invoking highly dubious constitutional arguments, proclaimed himself “interim president” to the delight of Washington.

For all the supposed threat Trump represents and the enthusiasm sparked by his possible impeachment, Western media continue to march lockstep behind his administration’s coups in Latin America.

For Reuters (11/14/19), the self-proclaimed head of state is the “Bolivia interim president,” whereas the elected president is just “Morales.”

Áñez has been sympathetically described as a “qualified lawyer” (BBC, 11/13/19), a “proud Christian” (France 24, 11/13/19) as well as a “women’s rights activist and television presenter” (Time, 11/12/19). Reuters (11/13/19) called her “Bolivian Interim President Jeanine Áñez,” AP (11/13/19) had her as “Bolivia’s newly declared interim president,” whereas for the BBC (11/13/19) she was simply “President Áñez.” AFP (published in France 24, 11/13/19) described her as “the South American country’s 66th president and the second woman to hold the post.”

This language mirrors corporate media profiles of Venezuelan coup leader Juan Guaidó (FAIR.org, 7/23/19), who was depicted as a “freedom fighter” (Fox Business, 1/29/19) and a “salsa-loving baseball fan” (Reuters, 1/23/19) who had “captured the heart of the nation” (New York Times, 3/4/19). References to Guaidó as “president,” however, have dwindled in the face of his repeated failure to seize power (FAIR.org, 7/23/19).

Tweet from Jeanine Áñez (11/6/19): “Natives??? Look.”

Meanwhile, corporate outlets have euphemistically labeled Áñez as “conservative” (Guardian, 10/13/19; New York Times, 10/12/19; Reuters, 10/13/19), eliding any mention of her far-right, virulently anti-indigenous politics. Áñez is a member of the right-wing Democratic Social Movement from the eastern lowland region of Santa Cruz, historically a bastion of separatist groups and home to some of the most powerful Bolivian oligarchic families. She has a history of making glaringly racist remarks, tweeting in 2013 (6/20/13) that the “Aymara New Year,” an indigenous holiday, was “Satanic”: “There is no replacement for God.” Just days before seizing power, she questioned on Twitter (11/6/19) whether some people being interviewed could really be Indigenous—because they were wearing shoes. For all of liberal journalists’ virtue-signaling concerning minority rights in the global North, the silence is deafening when it comes to blatant racism from pro-US elites in Latin America.

Áñez has another scandal brewing, which has yet to be reported in the English-speaking press: Her nephew was arrested for drug trafficking in 2017. According to EFE (10/20/17), Carlos Andrés Áñez Dorado was arrested in Brazil on October 15, 2017, in possession of 480 kilograms of cocaine—more than half a ton.

Given the extensive coverage corporate journalists gave to the arrest and conviction of Venezuelan first lady Cilia Flores’ “narco-nephews” in 2015–17 (e.g. Business Insider, 10/31/16; Miami Herald, 12/13/17; Daily Beast, 12/15/17), one could expect equally damning exposés in the case of Áñez. Readers shouldn’t hold their breath.

In addition to whitewashing Áñez, corporate journalists have sought to sanitize the image of the figure widely considered to be the real force behind the coup: Christian fundamentalist multimillionaire Luis Fernando Camacho.

Camacho is quite literally a fascist who got his political start in the sieg-heiling Santa Cruz Youth Union, an ultra-right paramilitary outfit that was instrumental in the Santa Cruz oligarchy’s 2008 US-backed secessionist plot which ultimately failed.

But none of this appears to matter to the Western media, which have portrayed Camacho as a “conservative protest leader” (BBC, 11/13/19), “a firebrand Christian” (Financial Times, 11/12/19) and a “civic leader” (Reuters, 11/7/19).

Also notoriously absent from mainstream coverage of the Bolivia coup are references to the fascist tactics employed by the opposition. Images and reports on social media showed MAS leaders attacked by mobs, tied to trees, their houses set on fire and several being forced to resign by opposition violence. Instead, corporate journalists innocuously described the increasingly violent right-wing mobilizations as “mass protests” (BBC, 10/31/19), “dissent” (AP, 11/8/19) and “civil disobedience” (New York Times, 10/31/19).

The right-wing violence was framed as “clashes” (DW, 11/8/19; France 24, 11/8/19) over “controversial” or “disputed” electoral results (Washington Post, 11/07/19; BBC, 11/7/19) enabling the US-backed opposition to don the mantle of pro-democracy protesters. To bolster this “fraud” narrative, Western journalists uncritically repeat the US-financed OAS’ claims of “irregularities,” and largely ignore a CEPR report that found no evidence discrediting the results.

Once Evo Morales was forced to resign, the switch was immediately flipped. State security forces, which had stepped aside to let Camacho’s fascist gangs wreak havoc and attack opponents, were now deployed to crush the inevitable resistance from indigenous MAS supporters. But now the media could resort to their tried and tested technique of criminalizing the anti-coup protests as “violence by looters or by Mr. Morales’ supporters” (New York Times, 11/12/19), just like was done in the case of anti-neoliberal rebellions in Chile and Ecuador (FAIR.org, 10/23/19). In some cases, journalists seemed to be preemptively justifying repression, for example writing that “violence erupted” after Morales’ resignation (Financial Times, 11/11/19), or that security forces were being deployed to “quell violence” (Reuters, 11/11/19). AP (11/13/19) asserted, perhaps wishfully, that “a sense of normalcy returned to the capital on Wednesday.”

Backed by Washington, the coup that the Western media deny is a coup (FAIR.org, 11/11/19) appears successful, at least for the time being. However, as in the short-lived 2002 coup in Venezuela, the media blackout and savage repression have not stopped multitudes of Bolivians from taking to the streets to restore democracy. Only time will tell if the pueblo will triumph.

Featured image: Jeanine Anez receiving the presidential sash from a representative of the Bolivian military (photo: EFE).

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