Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

NYT, WSJ Look to Hawks for Ukraine Expertise


A crucial function of a free press is to present perspectives that critically examine government actions. In major articles from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal discussing the escalation of the war in Ukraine, however, such perspectives have been hard to come by—even as the stakes have reached as high as nuclear war.

In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated the war by announcing a mobilization of up to 300,000 extra troops (CNBC, 9/21/22) and threatened to use “all the means at our disposal” to ensure “the territorial integrity of our motherland” (CNBC, 9/23/22). A month later, a letter endorsed by 30 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus was sent to the White House (and quickly retracted), urging a “proactive diplomatic push” to reach a ceasefire in the war.

Both of these major incidents could have been an opportunity for the media to ask important questions about US policy in Ukraine, which is—according to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (Wall Street Journal, 4/25/22)—to “weaken” Russia. Instead, elite newspapers continue to offer a very narrow range of expert opinion on a US strategy that favors endless war.

Assessing the threat

Aside from Vladimir Putin, this New York Times article (9/21/22) is entirely sourced to “American and other Western officials,” “White House and Pentagon officials,” “Western officials,” the Pentagon press secretary, the British military secretary, President Biden “and other administration officials,” “current and former US military officials,” a National Security Council spokesperson, the director of Russia studies at the Pentagon-funded Center for Naval Analyses, “a former top US Army commander in Europe,” “experts,” a Russian military specialist (and former Marine) at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, “American officials and analysts,” “a former supreme allied commander for Europe,” “US intelligence and other security officials,” “officials,” “a senior State Department official” and the head of the US Strategic Command.

In the two days following Putin’s threats, the New York Times published three pieces assessing them. Of these pieces, expert analysis and commentary was provided by “military analysts” and a “director of Russia studies at the CNA defense research” (9/21/22),  a “French author” and “a former French ambassador to Russia” (9/21/22), and several current and former government officials (9/21/22).

In these articles, probably the most critical comment was provided by nameless “Western officials” who have “expressed concern that if Mr. Putin felt cornered, he might detonate a tactical nuclear weapon”—though the Times immediately reassured that “they said there was no evidence that he was moving those weapons, or preparing such a strike.” None of the officials or analysts that the Times referenced in these articles explicitly advocated for changing US policy.

In the same timeframe, the Wall Street Journal ran six articles assessing Putin’s actions, and did not find any space in these articles to criticize US policy.

Russian public opinion of the war was cited in one piece (9/21/22):

Public interest in the invasion was initially high in February but has been declining steadily—especially among young people, who would presumably be those asked to serve in the fighting, according to a poll by the independent Levada Center earlier this month. Younger people were also far more likely to favor peace negotiations, the poll results said.

Strangely, the Journal did not cite US public opinion on peace negotiations in any of its coverage. A poll commissioned by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft (9/27/22) found most American likely voters supported the US engaging in peace negotiations. Supporting this, an IPSOS poll has reported that most Americans support the US continuing  “its diplomatic efforts with Russia” (10/6/22).  I did not find a single Journal article that mentioned the Quincy Institute or IPSOS polls. The Journal has done its own polling on American opinion regarding the war (e.g., 11/3/22, 3/11/22); it does not ask for opinions about diplomacy as a strategy.

The Quincy and IPSOS polls are in line with Americans’ attitudes from a Gallup poll taken prior to the war, which found 73% of Americans “say that good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace” (12/17/19). It seems Americans generally favor diplomacy. A more recent Gallup poll (9/15/22) did not ask about Americans’ support for diplomacy, but whether the US was “doing enough,” which is a vague question that obfuscates whether it refers to military, diplomatic support, or other means. It also asked a question that presented only two approaches for the US to take toward conflict: “support Ukraine in reclaiming territory, even if prolonged conflict” or “end conflict quickly, even if allow Russia to keep territory.” Other diplomatic options, such as those regarding NATO’s ever-expanding footprint in Eastern Europe, were not offered.

Favoring hawkish perspectives

Part of the reason it was so easy to make progressives back away from their pro-diplomacy letter (Intercept, 10/25/22) is that the views behind the letter rarely appear in major media.

The October letter calling on the White House to consider a diplomatic end to the war was signed by 30 members of Congress and endorsed by a number of nonprofit groups, including the Quincy Institute (Intercept, 10/25/22).

To get a sense of how much tolerance there has been for dissenting expertise on the White House’s stance in the Ukraine war, I searched the Nexis news database for mentions of the Quincy Institute. As a Washington think tank backed by major establishment funders spanning the political spectrum, including both George Soros and Charles Koch (Boston Globe, 6/30/19), journalists should have little reservation in soliciting comments from experts associated with it.

In a Nexis search as of November 9, the Quincy Institute was mentioned nine times in the New York Times since February 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine; five of these were in opinion pieces. Of the four reported pieces, two (7/3/22, 9/27/22) included quotes from members of the Institute that were critical of US military strategy in Ukraine.

On the website of the Wall Street Journal, which is not fully indexed on Nexis, I turned up a single mention of the Quincy Institute in connection with Ukraine, in a piece (3/23/22) on Ukrainian lobbyists’ influence in the US.

Pro-war bias

Despite exposés that show CSIS literally functions as a PR organ for the weapons industry (Extra!, 10/16), the think continues to be a favorite source of establishment media.

That lack of coverage is all the more stark in comparison to a hawkish think tank. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), heavily funded by the US government, arms dealers and oil companies, is a consistently pro-war think tank: A FAIR investigation (Extra!, 10/16) of a year’s worth of CSIS op-eds and quotes in the New York Times failed to find any instance of the CSIS advocating for curtailment of US military policy.

At the Journal, a search for “Center for Strategic and International Studies” in Ukraine stories from February 24 to November 9 yielded 34 results. Four of these results were opinion pieces. For news articles, that’s a 30:1 ratio of the hawkish think tank to the dovish think tank.

In the same time period, CSIS appeared in the Times 44 times, according to a Nexis search, including five opinion pieces—a news ratio of just under 10:1.

It should be noted that, just as Quincy sources weren’t always quoted offering criticism of US Ukraine policy, affiliates of CSIS weren’t always advocating for an unrestrained stance in Ukraine. One even warned that “the risk of a widening war is serious right now” (New York Times, 4/27/22). But repeatedly reaching out to and publishing quotes from a well-known pro-war think tank will inevitably produce less critical reporting of a war than turning to the most prominent anti-war think tank in Washington.

And it’s not that these papers are seeking out “balance” from sources other than Quincy. Seven other nonprofit groups also endorsed the October letter; the New York Times has quoted a representative from one of those groups—Just Foreign Policy—exactly once (3/7/22) since the war began. The Journal has cited none. But considering the stakes at hand, reporters have a responsibility to seek out and publish such critical perspectives in their coverage of Ukraine.

Research Assistance: Luca GoldMansour

Featured Image: A US B-2 bomber from the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Project on Nuclear Issues page. CSIS receives funding from Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Bechtel, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Jacobs Engineering and Huntington Ingalls—all companies that profit from the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

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Nelson Lichtenstein on UC Strike, Marjorie Cohn on Evangelicals’ Supreme Court Lobbying



Dissent (11/22/22)

This week on CounterSpin: Former Vice President Mike Pence recently said with a straight face that Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, was “the most dangerous person in the world.” “It’s not a close call,” he said. “If you ask, ‘Who’s the most likely to take this republic down?’ It would be the teachers unions, and the filth that they’re teaching our kids.” More evidence, were it needed, that the current struggle for pay and dignity by teaching assistants and adjuncts and researchers at the University of California is really part of a bigger fight about whether educators, at whatever level, are actual workers—and who’s looking out for their rights. We hear from labor historian and UC Santa Barbara professor Nelson Lichtenstein about what’s happening at the University of California.

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Truthout (11/29/22)

Also on the show: Some elite media are expressing concern that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito may have leaked the Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling ahead of time to evangelicals looking to make hay from it. But as Sarah Posner put it at MSNBC.com: While figuring that out matters, it won’t necessarily address the deeper problem, that the court’s conservative majority itself “was deliberately cultivated to expand religious freedom for conservative Christians at the expense of the rights of those deemed less worthy of protection.” We talk with legal expert and author Marjorie Cohn about that.

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NATO Narratives and Corporate Media Are Leading to ‘Doorstep of Doom’


Wall Street Journal (4/27/22): “Unless the US prepares to win a nuclear war, it risks losing one.”

A popular cartoon aptly expresses the political angst provoked by media pundits today as they chatter on about nuclear war: Two people, both a little hunched over, burdened with the world, are walking down a city street. The woman says to the man, “My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane.”

As we slide closer to what was once considered the ultimate insanity—nuclear Armageddon—corporate media seem to be egging on reckless leaders as they make thinly veiled threats across an imaginary nuclear line. On 60 Minutes (9/18/22), in response to the question, “What [would you] say to [Vladimir Putin] if he is considering using chemical or tactical nuclear weapons?” Joe Biden said, “Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. You will change the face of war unlike anything since World War II.” The president was, of course, referencing the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Biden also reiterated the US’s goal of total victory: “Winning the war in Ukraine is to get Russia out of Ukraine completely.” Interviewer Scott Pelley did not point out that this would mean driving Russia out of Crimea—territory that Russia has long promised to defend with nuclear weapons (Diplomat, 7/11/14).

Two months into the war in Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal (4/27/22) proclaimed, “The US Should Show It Can Win a Nuclear War.” Gone are the days of rational deterrence and Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), a doctrine based on knowledge of the deadly consequences of nuclear war: Just the threat of using such awesome destruction against an enemy would prevent the enemy’s use of those same weapons.

‘Dangerous’ peace deals

Insider (10/15/22) argues that “desire to avoid a nuclear war could actually make the world more dangerous.”

In a moment of sanity, the LA Times (8/15/22) admitted that a nuclear exchange involving only 3% of the world’s stockpiles would kill a third of the global population within two years. And The Nation (10/18/22) admonished the US and Russia both for what it called “playacting nuclear war,” each with its own nuclear games. Consortium News (10/31/22) warned that the US deploying nuclear-capable B-52s to Australia, presumably to threaten China, is “military madness.”

But other media have engaged in strained linguistic maneuvering to promote the murder of billions of people. One pretzeled headline from Insider (10/15/22): “Putin’s Nuclear Threats Are Pushing People Like Trump and Elon Musk to Press for a Ukraine Peace Deal. A Nuclear Expert Warns That’s ‘Dangerous.’” The article began, “An understandable desire to avoid a nuclear war could actually make the world more dangerous if it means rushing to implement a ‘peace.’”

Seeking to explain how we’re learning to love to bomb and give up our engagement with reasoned thought, sports writer Robert Lipsyte (TomDispatch, 10/18/22) noted that we’ve been trained to look for something huge, like a big bang or grand slam:

The dream of the game-changing home run has shaped our approach to so much, from sports to geopolitics. Most significantly, it’s damaged our ability to solve problems through reason and diplomacy.

When the Bomb is treated as the ultimate home run, the loss of reason and diplomacy lies directly at the feet of war censorship and propaganda, which have permeated corporate news since World War I. The domination of NATO narratives has followed this lead, even as the stakes have become existentially higher.

Demonize the enemy

Washington Post (3/10/22): “Perhaps nuance is overrated.”

There has been no better villain than Vladimir Putin, a point recognized by the Washington Post (3/10/22), which recalled decades of some of the worst movie stereotypes. But it concluded, “Real life provided the foundation for every pop culture depiction of Russia.” In other words, Putin really is a Bond villain.

He’s an enemy beyond redemption, not part of the human family, an unspeakable monster, an evil Other who cannot be reasoned with (Extra!, 5/14; FAIR.org, 3/30/22, 7/21/22). And this extends from Putin to Putin’s government to Russia itself.

Many Western news outlets repeated unsourced allegations made by Lyudmila Denisova, Ukrainian commissioner for human rights, of atrocities carried out by Russian troops. An implausible story about how two Russians raped a one-year-old baby to death was repeated in Business Insider, the Daily Beast, the Daily Mail, the Sun, Metro, the Daily Mirror and Yahoo News (Consortium News, 6/1/22).

Newsweek (4/8/22) promoted another story sourced to Denisova that claimed, “Russians Raped 11-Year-Old Boy, Forced Mom to Watch: Ukraine Official.” This story lacked the warning that an earlier Newsweek piece (3/4/22) about rape charges included: “Although rape is common during wars, accusations of rape can also be used as a propaganda tool to vilify the enemy and this tactic has been used in past conflicts.”

In response to Denisova’s stream of atrocity narratives, Ukrainian journalists and media outlets signed an open letter requesting that reports of rape and sexual assault be “published with caution,” particularly when involving children. The letter criticized Denisova’s reports, many of which were unverified, that went into great detail about the alleged rape of children, some as young as six months old, by Russians. They asked her to “check the facts” and disclose only information with “sufficient evidence.”

One week later, Denisova was fired from her position (Newsweek, 5/31/22).

Beyond redemption

Common Dreams (3/18/22) reports on a media “a narrative that war is inevitable, diplomacy is exhausted (before it even gets started), and being against militaristic US or NATO solutions to the crisis is unpatriotic at best.”

While rape and sexual assault are indeed military strategies in war, tales of raping and killing babies have also long served to foster outrage toward official enemies, from World War I German soldiers bayoneting babies to Kuwaiti babies yanked out of their incubators in the first Persian Gulf War.

But most Americans, especially young people, don’t recognize propaganda, because even when it is exposed at the time, it is not incorporated into the broader narratives of war. Debunked tales have gone down the Orwellian memory hole, and most of the true history of war goes down the same hole. As Bryce Greene pointed out on Counterspin (2/24/22), the roots of the escalations leading up to the war in Ukraine were “completely omitted from the Western media.”

 Because the evil enemy is always solely responsible and beyond redemption, there is no need to include an accurate history, or correct the false claims, or include the reasons for war. As FAIR (3/4/22) pointed out, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is frequently described as “unprovoked.” The explanation for war is simple: It’s good vs evil.

And the US is always good, even though the country has perpetrated a senseless, expensive and brutal war in the Middle East for the entire 21st century. When corporate media did “explain” the war in Ukraine, it “almost universally gave a pro-Western view of US/Russia relations and the history behind them” (FAIR.org, 1/28/22). Common Dreams (3/18/22) observed that journalists were more hawkish at news conferences than Biden’s press secretary, often “cheerleading for US escalation in Ukraine,” with more weapons and no-fly zones.

 Getting to the edge of  doom 

Real News (10/28/22): “Ukrainians have been paying a terrible price for the failure of ensuring sensible and reasonable negotiations.”

Foreign Affairs (9–10/22), citing US officials, reported that in April 2022, two months into the war, “Russian and Ukrainian negotiators appeared to have tentatively agreed on the outlines of a negotiated interim settlement,” in a deal worked out in Turkey. This  deal was scuttled, however, reportedly after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson went to Kiev and told President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that the West wasn’t ready for a deal, and that there would be no Western security for Ukraine if he signed the accord (Ukrainska Pravda, 5/5/22; see ScheerPost.com, 9/1/22). In public remarks (8/24/22) four months later, Johnson declared that “this is not the time to advance some flimsy plan for negotiation with someone who is simply not interested”:

You can’t negotiate with a bear while it’s eating your leg, you can’t negotiate with a street robber who has you pinned to the floor, and we don’t need to worry about humiliating Putin any more than we would need to worry about humiliating the bear or the robber.

The US has likewise continually refused to negotiate the end to the war. The Real News Network (10/28/22) reported that before the war started, the Kremlin told Biden that Russia was interested in “legally fixed guarantees that rule out NATO expansion eastward and the deployment of offensive strike weapons systems in states adjacent to Russia.” The talks were not pursued—in the context of US establishment media offering opinions that a war would hurt Russia, and would therefore be a good thing for the US (FAIR.org, 1/15/22).

Protests across the country, organized by Code Pink and the Peace in Ukraine Coalition, hit the streets in September to call for an end to the war. The organizers interrogated the ahistorical, one-sided, distorted NATO narrative that leaves out NATO’s role in the conflict. Led by the US, NATO has now expanded from 12 countries to 30. The inclusion of Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Lithuania pushed right up to Russia’s borders (Common Dreams, 9/20/22).

On a long Twitter thread (2/28/22), commentator Arnaud Bertrand cited over a dozen “top strategic thinkers” who had warned what was coming if NATO continued on the path it was taking. In 1998, George Kennan said NATO expansion would be a “tragic mistake” that would certainly provoke a “bad reaction from Russia.” John Mearsheimer, a leading US geopolitical scholar, warned in 2015 that the West was leading Ukraine down a “primrose path,” and it would result in Ukraine getting “wrecked.” Russia scholar Stephen Cohen told Democracy Now! (4/17/14) that moving NATO toward Russia’s borders would militarize the situation. These arguments are rarely included in corporate news reporting on the Ukraine War.

Further, the US supported the 2014 coup in Ukraine, and has loaded Ukraine with arms to undermine the 2015 Minsk II peace agreement. Russia and Ukraine signed the accord to end the civil war that followed the coup and left an estimated 14,000 people dead in Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region. Corporate media habitually omit Minsk II, and actively deny the documented history of fighting between the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion and Russian separatists.

‘This isn’t a card game’

UN chief António Guterres (Axios, 9/26/22): “Nuclear weapons are the most destructive power ever created…. Their elimination would be the greatest gift we could bestow on future generations.”

Without context and accuracy, reasoned discourse and the ability to find solutions or engage in diplomacy are beyond our reach as we approach nuclear Armageddon. Corporate newsframes regularly exclude alternative voices of peace and those who call for an end to war, leaving out an entire discourse that has animated global discussions about conflict resolution for decades.

Karl Grossman (FAIR.org, 8/5/22) reported that talk of nuclear weapons proliferated in US newspapers this year—mentioned 5,243 times between February 24 and August 4, 2022—but calls for an end to the nuclear threat were rare. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which went into effect in 2021, was mentioned only 43 times, mostly in letters to the editor or opinion columns.

There is a reason that threatening war, and threatening violence against another state, are violations of Article 2.4 of the UN Charter. As Chris Hedges says, war itself is the greatest evil. War itself causes the ultimate humanitarian disasters.   

Speaking at an event to commemorate the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, UN Secretary-General António Guterres (Axios, 9/26/22) said:

The era of nuclear blackmail must end. The idea that any country could fight and win a nuclear war is deranged. Any use of a nuclear weapon would incite a humanitarian Armageddon.

And the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) observed:

This isn’t a card game, the risk of nuclear war is increasing with every threat. Using nuclear weapons or threatening to use nuclear weapons is unacceptable and this must stop now.

The number of countries now signed onto the treaty to end nuclear arms has risen to 91. That most of the world is not on the side of the US is information that is absent from big journalism’s reporting. The many entreaties from governments across the globe to negotiate an end to the war in Ukraine are not on corporate news agendas.

Choosing planet over war

Common Dreams (9/5/22): “The only realistic alternative to this endless slaughter is a return to peace talks to bring the fighting to an end.”

Journalists and peace activists alike have argued that war in general, and the war in Ukraine exacerbate the climate crisis. The Intercept (9/10/22) documented the destructive power of the $40 billion worth of weapons the US has supplied to Ukraine, now up to $50 billion, which is over “four times the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency during an existential climate crisis of wildfires, droughts, storms and rising sea levels” (Common Dreams, 9/20/22). And World Beyond War estimates that the enormous fossil fuel footprint of the Department of Defense makes it the largest institutional user of oil in the world.

Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies (Common Dreams, 9/5/22) warned:

Further escalation should be unthinkable, but so should a long war of endless crushing artillery barrages and brutal urban and trench warfare…. The only realistic alternative to this endless slaughter is a return to peace talks to bring the fighting to an end.

The fact that 30 progressive politicians felt compelled to pull back a letter requesting negotiations to end the war in Ukraine the day after it was delivered to President Biden indicates the severity of the lockdown on public debate about war in the US.

Today US combat troops remain stationed in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Kenya, Somalia, Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, Turkey, the Philippines and Cyprus, while Washington conducts counterterrorism operations in 61 additional countries around the world. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed by US airstrikes alone in the last two decades. US wars are still killing and starving people around the world.

To date, there has been no accountability for wars’ failures, or for the trillions of dollars unaccounted for, or the atrocities perpetrated on the people of the Middle East. The Real News Network (9/14/21) reported that the total “cost of US militarization since 9/11 is a staggering $21 trillion.” After so much destruction in the Middle East fighting a “war on terror,” the worldwide number of both terrorist attacks and victims are “three to five times higher annually than in 2001” (Brookings, 8/27/21). As the Institute for Policy Studies’ John Cavanagh and Phyllis Bennis (The Nation, 9/10/21) argue, “That money should have been used for healthcare, climate, jobs and education.”

Big journalism does not tie military spending to the lack of funding for  domestic programs popular with Americans such as Medicare for All, and even left-wing democrats have not found a way to make that case. And the voices for peace are censored by the search algorithms that hide the alternative media and the broader dialogue that can be found there.

Caitlin Johnstone (4/7/22) has argued that “the US empire has been working to shore up narrative control to strengthen its hegemonic domination of the planet” for some time, and the war in Ukraine has certainly furthered that goal.

Declassified Australia (9/22/22) detailed a “covert online propaganda operation” promoting “pro-Western narratives” for two decades, operating mostly out of the United States.  Declassified Australia (11/3/22) further revealed that a team of researchers at the University of Adelaide unearthed millions of tweets by fake “bot” accounts pushing disinformation on the Ukraine war. The “anti-Russia propaganda campaign” of automated Twitter accounts flooded the internet at the start of the war. Of the more than 5 million tweets studied (both bot and non-bot), 90% came from accounts that were pro-Ukraine.

Every day we move closer

“The big one is coming,” promises the commander of the US nuclear force (DoD News, 11/3/22).

Navy Adm. Charles Richard (DoD News, 11/3/22; AntiWar.com, 11/6/22), the commander of US Strategic Command, stated that so far in Ukraine, it’s been “just the warmup.” He warned: “The big one is coming…. We’re going to get tested in ways that we haven’t been tested [in] a long time.”

Recently the US released the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which reported that “arms control has been subdued by military rivalry.” The position document affirmed the US doctrine allowing for the first use of nuclear weapons, and identified one use of nuclear weapons as to “achieve US objectives if deterrence fails.”

As journalist and war critic Ben Norton put it on Twitter (11/6/22), “The US empire really is threatening all life on Earth with potential nuclear apocalypse.”

Even in the face of the lack of reasoned nuclear war  reporting in corporate media, nearly 60% of Americans support diplomatic efforts to end the war in Ukraine “as soon as possible,” even if that means Ukraine having to make concessions to Russia. As Alfred de Zaya, former UN independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, tweeted:

If the US were a functioning democracy, US citizens would be asked whether they want billions of dollars to be given to Ukraine for war, or whether they would prefer promoting mediation with a view to a ceasefire and sustainable peace.

Corporate media are failing democracy, and failing to disclose our current, stark choice between war on the one hand and life and the planet on the other. They speak in a loud voice that shouts for more war. In doing so, they censor and poison public discourse and position Americans as targets of propaganda—the denizens of empire—instead of citizen participants in a democracy who determine their own fates.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (1/20/22) warned, “The doorstep of doom is no place to loiter.” The sane alternative to war—and the humane thing to d0—would be to close the door on war, lock it, and throw away the key.

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ACTION ALERT: NYT Has Found New Neo-Nazi Troops to Lionize in Ukraine


The New York Times has found another neo-Nazi militia to fawn over in Ukraine. The Bratstvo battalion “gave access to the New York Times to report on two recent riverine operations,” which culminated in a piece (11/21/22) headlined “On the River at Night, Ambushing Russians.”

New York Times (11/21/22): “The Bratstvo battalion has undertaken some of the conflict’s most difficult missions, conducting forward spotting and sabotage along the front lines.”

Since the US-backed Maidan coup in 2014, establishment media have either minimized the far-right ideology that guides many Ukrainian nationalist detachments or ignored it  completely.

Anti-war outlets, including FAIR (1/28/22, 3/22/22), have repeatedly highlighted this dynamic—particularly regarding corporate media’s lionization of the Azov battalion, once widely recognized by Western media as a fascist militia, now sold to the public as a reformed far-right group that gallantly defends the sovereignty of a democratic Ukraine (New York Times, 10/4/22; FAIR.org10/6/22).

That is when Azov’s political orientation is discussed at all, which has become less and less common since Russia launched its invasion in February.

‘Christian Taliban’

“We need to create something like a Christian Taliban,” Dmytro Korchynsky told the Intercept (3/18/15). “The Christian Taliban can succeed, just as the Taliban are driving the Americans out of Afghanistan.”

The lesser-known Bratstvo battalion, within which the Times embedded its reporters, is driven by several far-right currents—none of which are mentioned in the article.

Bratstvo was founded as a political organization in 2004 by Dmytro Korchynsky, who previously led the far-right Ukrainian National Assembly–Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense (UNA-UNSO).

Korchynsky, who now fights in Bratstvo’s paramilitary wing, is a Holocaust denier who falsely blamed Jews for the 1932–33 famine in Ukraine, and peddled the lie that “120,000 Jews fought in the Wehrmacht.” He has stated that he sees Bratstvo as a “Christian Taliban” (Intercept, 3/18/15).

In the 1980s, the Times portrayed the religious extremists of the Afghan mujahideen—who were receiving US training and arms—as a heroic bulwark against Soviet expansionism. We all know how that worked out.

In an echo of that propaganda campaign, the Times neglected to tell its readers about the neo-Nazi and theocratic politics of the Bratstvo battalion. Why should anyone care who else Bratstvo members would like to see dead, so long as they’re operating in furtherance of US policymakers’ stated aim of weakening Russia?

Modern-day crusade

The article’s author, Carlotta Gall, recounted Bratstvo’s Russian-fighting exploits in quasi-religious terms. Indeed, the only instances in which the Times even hinted at the unit’s guiding ideology came in the form of mythologizing the unit’s Christian devotion.

Of Bratstvo fighters embarking on a mission, Gall wrote, “They recited a prayer together, then loaded up the narrow rubber dinghies and set out, hunched silent figures in the dark.” Referring to battalion commander Oleksiy Serediuk’s wife, who also fights with the unit, Gall extolled, “She has gained an almost mythical renown for surviving close combat with Russian troops.”

The piece even featured a photograph showing militia members gathered in prayer. Evoking the notion of pious soldiers rather than that of a “Christian Taliban,” the caption read, “Members of the Bratstvo battalion’s special forces unit prayed together before going on a night operation.”

The Times also gave voice to some of the loftier aims of Bratstvo’s crusade, quoting Serediuk’s musing that, “We all dream about going to Chechnya, and the Kremlin, and as far as the Ural Mountains.” Nazi racial ideologues have long been enamored by the prospect of reaching the Urals, which they view as the natural barrier separating European culture from the Asiatic hordes.

While plotting Operation Barbarossa, Hitler identified the Urals as the eastern extent of the Wehrmacht’s planned advance. In 1943, referring to the Nazi scheme that aimed to rid European Russia of Asiatic “untermenschen” so the land could be settled by hundreds of millions of white Europeans, Himmler declared, “We will charge ahead and push our way forward little by little to the Urals.”

‘Mindset of the 13th century’

Bratstvo commander Oleksiy Serediuk explained to Al Jazeera (4/15/15): “I left the Azov because it was full of pagans. Committed Christians in the Azov were not allowed to stop to pray throughout the day.”

The only two Bratstvo members named in the piece, meanwhile, are Serediuk and Vitaliy Chorny. While Chorny—who the Times identified as the battalion’s head of intelligence gathering—is quoted, his statements are limited to descriptions of the unit’s fighting strategy. Serediuk’s recorded utterances are similarly lacking in substance.

Far more illuminating is an Al Jazeera article (4/15/15) titled “‘Christian Taliban’s’ Crusade on Ukraine’s Front Lines,” which quotes both Serediuk and Chorny extensively. Serediuk, Al Jazeera reported, “revels in the Christian Taliban label.” In reference to his decision to leave the Azov battalion, the piece went on to say:

Serediuk didn’t leave the Azov because of the neo-Nazi connections, however—extreme-right ideology doesn’t bother him. What does irk him, however, is being around fighters who are not zealous in their religious convictions.

In the same piece, Chorny invoked the violently antisemitic Crusades of the Middle Ages to describe Bratstvo’s ideological foundation:

The enemy—the forces of darkness—they have all the weapons, they have greater numbers, they have money. But our soldiers are the bringers of European traditions and the Christian mindset of the 13th century.

To circumvent the Times’ exultant narrative, one has to do a certain amount of supplementary research and analysis. But even the most basic inquiry—searching “Bratstvo battalion” on Google—reveals the far-right underpinnings of the unit with which the Times embedded its reporters.

The seventh search result is a June 2022 study from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, which reported, “Another such far-right entity is the so-called Brotherhood (Bratstvo) ‘battalion,’ which includes Belarusian, Danish, Irish and Canadian members.”

The ninth result is an article from the Washington Free Beacon (4/6/22), which quoted a far-right Canadian volunteer as saying on Telegram that he was “fighting in the neo-Nazi ‘Bratstvo’ Battalion in Kyiv.”

SS memorabilia

The New York Times (11/21/22) captioned this photo, “Members of the Bratstvo battalion’s special forces unit prayed together before going on a night operation.”

In a world where journalists actually practiced what they preached, someone at the paper of record surely would have noticed the Nazi insignia appearing in two photos in the piece. In this world, however, the Times either forgot how to use the zoom function—though the paper made extensive use of this capability when reporting on China’s Communist Party Congress the month before (FAIR.org, 11/11/22)—or they simply did not want to report on this ugly and inconvenient discovery.

Totenkopf insignia worn by Bratstvo member in photo above.

One soldier is seen wearing an emblem known as a “Totenkopf” in a photo of Bratstvo’s prayer circle. The Totenkopf, which means “death’s head” in German, was used as an insignia by the Totenkopfverbande—an SS unit that participated in Hitler’s war of annihilation against the Soviet Union, and guarded the concentration camps where Nazi Germany condemned millions of Jewish men, women and children to death.

Totenkopf emblem on eBay.

Individuals donning the Totenkopf also took part in the murder of millions of others in these camps, including Soviet prisoners of war, political dissidents, trade unionists, persons with disabilities, homosexuals and Romani people.

In September, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted—and then quietly deleted—a picture on social media of himself with a number of soldiers, one of whom was wearing a Totenkopf patch similar to that seen in the Times’ photo of Bratstvo’s prayer meeting. One can easily find this particular iteration on Amazon or eBay.

The New York Times described this photo as “Russian volunteer fighters preparing to go on a joint night operation with the Ukrainian Bratstvo battalion.“


The Totenkopf insignia can also be seen in this photo.

Later in the Times article, another photograph of a soldier wearing a slightly different version of the insignia appeared. Here, bathed in the light of an interior room and staring out from the very center of the image, the Totenkopf is even harder to miss. Amazon’s product description for this specific variant reads, “This gorgeous replica piece takes you back to World War II.”

Amazon promises that “this gorgeous replica piece takes you back to World War II.”

If the Times simply failed to identify the Totenkopf in two separate photos—both of which were taken by a Times photographer while he was embedded with Bratstvo, and were then featured prominently in the article—that would certainly amount to a journalistic failure.

The alternative scenario is that the Times did recognize the SS memorabilia worn by the soldiers they chose to embed with, and decided to publish the images anyway without commenting on the matter.



Please remind the New York Times to clearly identify neo-Nazi forces when they appear in coverage, and to refrain from depicting such movements as heroes.


Letters: letters@nytimes.com

Readers Center: Feedback

Twitter: @NYTimes

Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your communication in the comments thread.

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Maybe Bill Gates’ Billions Don’t Make Him an Expert on Hunger in Africa


The tire fire that Elon Musk seems to be making out of his new toy, Twitter, is leading some to call for an overdue, society-wide jettisoning of the whole “if he’s a billionaire, that means he’s a genius” myth.

AP (9/13/22): “Gates’ view on how countries should respond to food insecurity has taken on heightened importance in a year when a record 345 million people around the world are acutely hungry.”

Here’s a hope that that critical lens will extend not just to Elon “don’t make me mad or I won’t fly you to Mars” Musk but also to, can we say, Bill Gates, who, while he doesn’t talk about other planets, has some pretty grandiose ideas about this one.

Fifty organizations, organized by Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and Community Alliance for Global Justice, have issued an open letter to Gates, in response to two high-profile media stories: an AP piece headlined “Bill Gates: Technological Innovation Would Help Solve Hunger” (9/13/22) and a Q&A in the New York Times by David Wallace-Wells (9/13/22) that opened with the question of the very definition of progress: “Are things getting better? Fast enough? For whom?” and asserting that “those questions are, in a somewhat singular way, tied symbolically to Bill Gates.”

In their letter, these global groups—focused on food sovereignty and justice—take non-symbolic issue with Gates’ premises, and those of the outlets megaphoning him and his deep, world-saving thoughts.

First and last, Gates acknowledges that the world makes enough food to feed everyone, but then goes on to suggest responses to hunger based on low productivity, rather than equitable access.

He stresses fertilizer, which the groups note, makes farmers and importing nations dependent on volatile international markets and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, while multiple groups in Africa are already developing biofertilizers with neither of those issues.

New York Times (9/13/22):  Bill Gates is “by objective standards among the most generous philanthropists the world has ever known.”

Gates tells Times readers, “The Green Revolution was one of the greatest things that ever happened. Then we lost track.” These on the ground groups beg to differ: Those changes did increase some crop yields in some places, but numbers of hungry people didn’t markedly go down, or access to food markedly increase, while a number of new problems were introduced.

AP says the quiet part loud with a lead that tells us: Gates believes that

the global hunger crisis is so immense that food aid cannot fully address the  problem. What’s also needed, Gates argues, are the kinds of innovations in farming technology that he has long funded.

Presumably “Squillionnaire Says What He Does Is Good, By Gosh” was deemed too overt.

But AP wants us to know about the “breakthrough” Gates calls “magic seeds”—i.e., those bioengineered to resist climate change. Climate-resistant seeds, the letter writers note, are already being developed by African farmers and traded in informal seed markets. Gates even points a finger at over-investments in maize and rice, as opposed to locally adapted cereals like sorghum. Except his foundation has itself reportedly focused on maize and rice and restricted crop innovation.

Finally, the groups address Gates’ obnoxious dismissal of critics of his approach as “singing Kumbaya”: “If there’s some non-innovation solution, you know, like singing Kumbaya, I’ll put money behind it. But if you don’t have those seeds, the numbers just don’t work,” our putative boy-hero says. Adding pre-emptively, “If somebody says we’re ignoring some solution, I don’t think they’re looking at what we’re doing.”

Community Alliance for Global Justice (11/11/22) et al.: “We invite high-profile news outlets to be more cautious about lending credibility to one wealthy white man’s flawed assumptions, hubris and ignorance.”

The open letter notes respectfully that there are “many tangible ongoing proposals and projects that work to boost productivity and food security.” That it is Gates’ “preferred high-tech solutions, including genetic engineering, new breeding technologies, and now digital agriculture, that have in fact consistently failed to reduce hunger or increase food access as promised,” and in some cases actually contribute to the biophysical processes driving the problem. That Africa, despite having the lowest costs of labor and land, is a net exporter is not, as Gates says, a “tragedy,” but a predictable and predicted result of the fact that costs of land and labor are socially and politically produced: “Africa is in fact highly productive; it’s just that the profits are realized elsewhere.”

At the end of AP‘s piece, the outlet does the thing elite media do where they fake rhetorical balance in order to tell you what to think:

Through his giving, investments and public speaking, Gates has held the spotlight in recent years, especially on the topics of vaccines and climate change. But he has also been the subject of conspiracy theories that play off his role as a developer of new technologies and his place among the highest echelons of the wealthy and powerful.

The word “but” makes it sound like a fight: between holding a spotlight (because you’re wealthy and powerful) or else being subject to presumably inherently ignorant critical conjecture (because you’re wealthy and powerful). Not to mention this anonymously directed “spotlight”—that media have nothing to do with, or no power to control.


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Milton Allimadi on Media in Africa



New York Times (1/31/60)

This week on CounterSpin: According to Techcrunch, before its ignominious flameout, the cryptocurrency firm FTX had acquired more than 100,000 customers in Africa. Evidently, FTX—led by wunderkind–turned–object lesson, with not much actual learning in evidence in between—Sam Bankman-Fried built a following in part by capitalizing on unstable banking access on the continent. Media like the New York Times and Bloomberg abetted Bankman-Fried’s scheming, with rose-colored stories describing him as a kind of “Robin Hood,” whose “ethical framework” called for “decisions calculated to secure the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.” Well, the golden boy has now filed for bankruptcy, having disappeared some billion dollars in client funds, ho hum.

Don’t look for FTX post mortems to go deep on why Sub-Saharan Africa was specially targeted, or to plumb the implications of Bankman-Fried’s comments, made to Vox in 2021, that Africa is “where the most underserved globally are, and where there’s a whole lot of lowest-hanging fruit in terms of being able to make people’s lives better.” How’d that work out?

The African continent as a playing field for white people to test their theories, extract resources and stage proxy wars is time-tested. As much fable as active framework, it’s a lens that requires constant challenge.

We talked about this last fall with Milton Allimadi. He teaches African history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and publishes the Black Star News, a weekly newspaper in New York City. And he’s the author of the book Manufacturing Hate: How Africa Was Demonized in Western Media. We hear some of that conversation with Milton Allimadi, this week on CounterSpin.

Transcript: ‘The Demonization Was Meant to Pacify Readers to Accept the Brutality’

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look back at recent press coverage of Bill Gates.

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It’s Time to Hold News Media Accountable for Transphobia


Five people are dead and more than a dozen others injured after a gunman opened fire at Club Q, a LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs in the early hours of November 20.

November 20 is also Transgender Day of Remembrance, which memorializes victims of anti-trans violence. Two transgender people, Kelly Loving and Daniel Aston, are among the dead in Colorado Springs. This attack was reminiscent of the 2015 massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in which the gunman took 49 lives. If two Club Q patrons—Richard Fierro, an Army veteran, and an unnamed patron who witnesses say was a trans woman—did not disarm the shooter, he likely would have killed more people.

As morally depraved transphobic politicians like Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert offer their “thoughts and prayers,” and news outlets offer wall-to-wall coverage of the tragedy, it is important to remember the media’s role in normalizing violent and hateful right-wing rhetoric.

MSNBC’s Ben Collins (Twitter, 11/22/22) spoke Tuesday morning  about the shooting and asked what reporters can do differently to avoid being part of the problem:

I think we have to have a come-to-Jesus moment here, as reporters. Are we more afraid of being on Breitbart for saying that trans people deserve to be alive? Or are we more afraid of dead people?

Conversations on Twitter in response to Collins’ question mention the need for more transgender representation in the newsroom and the need to stop covering anti-LGBTQ talking points as anything but hate.

Documenting transphobia

In the wake of the Colorado Springs shooting, Tucker Carlson (Fox News, 11/21/22)doubled down on transphobia.

FAIR has been documenting homophobia (3/7/16, 10/24/19, 5/26/21) and transphobia (5/6/21, 9/24/21, 5/5/22) in the corporate press for years. Right-wing pundits like Fox‘s Tucker Carlson certainly come to mind first as culpable in spreading this hate.

In the days since the shooting, Fox News has been relatively silent about the trans issues, with only five mentions as of November 22. And some of the coverage was  hate-filled business as usual, as when Caitlin Jenner condemned a young trans athlete for winning in a race on America Reports (FoxNews.com, 11/21/22).

One of the few mentions of the shooting was Carlson himself (11/21/22) lambasting people for blaming an anti-LGBTQ attack on people like him.  He claimed people were blaming the right for the mass shooting because they “complained about the sexualizing of children.”

The Washington Post (4/5/22) offered up the same bigoted conspiracy theories served by Tucker Carlson—but presented as neutral reporting.

These delusional conspiracy theories about LGBTQ people “grooming” children are a fixture of outlets like Fox. But centrist and “liberal” media must also answer for their platforming of transphobic points of view, and chronic “both-sidesing” of bigots with LGBTQ people and allies.

Below is a list of some of the instances of normalized homophobia and transphobia FAIR has documented in recent years:

  • A New York Times article by Judith Shulevitz (10/15/16) argued that  anti-transgender sentiment cannot be described as “mere intolerance,” presenting anti-transgender radical feminists as a more rational voice in opposition to trans rights. The article also framed the debate about transgender rights as an issue of “clashing values” (FAIR.org, 11/15/18).
  • Washington Post opinion writer Thomas Wheatley (1/17/17) argued that “society’s broader trend toward gender nullification—and its dissolution of prudent, time-tested boundaries of conduct”—what he described as “the more disagreeable aims of the transgender movement”—will “directly endanger women,” because “traditional gender roles still serve as a deterrent to predatory behavior” (FAIR.org, 11/15/18).
  • An Economist piece headlined “Who Decides Your Gender?” (10/27/18) suggested that allowing gender self-identification could harm efforts to “keep women and children safe” (FAIR.org, 11/15/18).
  • The Guardian (10/17/18) argued for rewriting Britain’s Gender Recognition Act, which allows British citizens to legally change their gender. “Women’s oppression by men has a physical basis, and to deny the relevance of biology when considering sexual inequality is a mistake,” the editorial maintained. “Women’s concerns about sharing dormitories or changing rooms with ‘male-bodied’ people must be taken seriously”  (FAIR.org, 9/24/21).
  • CNN (3/16/21) quoted Republican Rep. Andy Biggs calling the federal Equality Act a “devastating attack on humanity” that “recklessly requires girl’s and women’s restrooms, lockers, gyms or any place a female might seek privacy, to surrender that privacy to biological males” (FAIR.org, 3/3/21).
  • NBC (2/25/21) gave the right-wing Heritage Foundation a platform for baseless claims about the impact of the Equality Act—from stating that people might lose their jobs or businesses if they don’t “conform to new sexual norms,” to asserting that the bill would “leave women vulnerable to sexual assault” (FAIR.org, 3/3/21).
  • A New York Times Magazine cover story “The Battle Over Gender Therapy” (6/19/22) wondered if gender-affirming care for trans kids shouldn’t be so easy to access. In doing so, it laundered far-right views for a broader audience, making hostility to trans people’s basic rights more acceptable. Cisgender doctors, not trans youth, are centered in the story (FAIR.org, 6/23/22).
  • The Washington Post (4/5/22) published a piece headlined “Teachers Who Mention Sexuality Are ‘Grooming’ Kids, Conservatives Say.” It spent 12 paragraphs quoting transphobic bigots’ points-of-view before introducing another perspective (FAIR.org, 4/12/22).

This list is, of course, not exhaustive.

Transphobia costs lives

If “transgender girls are at the center of America’s culture wars,” they’re not at the center of this Washington Post piece (1/29/21); only one is quoted, in the article’s very last paragraph.

FAIR has also documented the lack of transgender youth quoted in both centrist and far-right news outlets (FAIR.org, 5/5/22).  When the Washington Post (1/29/21, 4/15/21) covered the anti-transgender sports campaign in two 2021 articles, sources that were transgender athletes were outnumbered 11 to 1 and 17 to 3, respectively (FAIR.org, 5/6/21). Right-wing efforts to demonize trans people (as well as others in the LGBTQ community) are that much more effective when the targets are denied the ability to speak for themselves.

Transgender people are more than four times as likely as cisgender people to experience violence including rape, sexual assault, and aggravated or simple assault. Transgender people of color are disproportionately victims of fatal violence. Eighty-two percent of trans youth have considered killing themselves, and 40% have tried. Trans adults are more likely to not have health insurance and report cost-related barriers to healthcare. In general, data suggests the mortality rate of trans people is more than twice that of cis people.

The risk of living as a transgender person is widely known, yet news outlets still treat their existence as something that’s up for debate. As we’ve seen time and again, transphobia costs lives.

News outlets need to be held accountable for their complicity in presenting and watering down this hateful, violent ideology.

Featured image: Demonstration at White House, 2017 (CC photo: Ted Eytan)


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Media Misled on Issues Important to Midterm Voters


“The political press blew it.” So wrote Dana Milbank of the Washington Post (11/9/22), calling the fourth estate the “biggest loser of the midterm elections.” As he points out, most of the headlines leading into Election Day forecast a “Democratic wipeout.” And, it hardly bears mentioning, such a Democratic rout didn’t occur.

Looking at where the prognosticators went wrong, a common theme is an emphasis on the wrong campaign issues. A pre-election article in Politico (10/19/22), which purported to explain the “GOP’s midterm momentum,” encapsulated many pundits’ predictions about the House contest:

Twenty days out from Election Day, voters are overwhelmingly focused on the economy and inflation, Republicans are more trusted to handle those issues, and crime beats out abortion as a second-tier issue.

This view was also reflected in Fox’s final “Power Rankings” (11/1/22) that predicted “Republicans to take control of the House with a 19-seat majority, or 236 total seats.” Actually, if Republicans had won 236 seats, that would leave the Democrats with 199—giving the GOP a majority of 37 seats, not 19.  But why so bullish in the first place? “Republicans are winning on the economy and crime, and that translates into a decisive House majority.”

And Blake Hounshell argued in the New York Times (10/19/22) that the election was breaking in favor of Republicans for three reasons: the importance of inflation and crime, the relative unimportance of abortion, and the historical pattern of midterm elections that tend to be a referendum on the party of the president.

All these claims, of course, turned out to be wrong.

Mismeasuring issues

Fox (11/1/22) greatly overestimated the size of the GOP House majority because it underestimated the importance of Democratic-leaning issues.

Measuring the importance of issues to voters is fraught with ambiguity. There is no single method for identifying such issues, and thus polls find different and often conflicting results.

Prior to the election, for example, a poll by Fox (11/1/22) reported that 89% of voters were “extremely” or “very concerned” about inflation, 79% about crime, 74% political divisions, 73% Russia/Ukraine, 72% what is taught in schools, and 71% abortion.

That form of the question allows respondents to give their opinions on all the issues picked by the pollsters. Fox interpreted the results to mean that only the top two “concerning” issues—inflation (89%) and crime (79%)—would have any significant impact on the outcome. What to make of the fact that three other issues were “concerning” to more than seven in ten voters? That’s hardly a trivial number. Yet the other issues were completely dismissed.

Another way to ask the question is to require respondents to identify just one issue that is most important to them. But even then, different polls find different results.

A prime example can be found by comparing the two 2022 Election Day polls: the network exit poll and AP/Fox Votecast.

The former asked respondents to indicate which one issue was most important to their vote.

Source: Network exit poll

As the table shows, 31% of voters chose inflation, and among that group, 28% voted for a Democratic member of Congress, 71% for a Republican—for a net GOP advantage of 43 percentage points. Another 27% chose abortion, which favored Democrats by a 53-point margin.

The Votecast poll of 2022 voters also asked respondents to specify just one issue, though the question was phrased somewhat differently, asking for the most important issue facing the country. The question also included four additional items.

Source: AP/Fox Votecast

Note that the five issues listed by the network exit poll are virtually the same as the first five issues of Votecast. The only difference is how each characterized the economy—“inflation” and “economy and jobs” respectively.

Yet that difference in wording, as well as the number of issues, produced startlingly different results. Almost half (48%) of Votecast respondents chose “economy and job,” while only 31% of exit poll respondents chose inflation. Also, Votecast shows just 10% choosing abortion as the most important issue, while the network exit poll reported 27% listing abortion most important.

In short, according to Votecast, the economy and jobs issue overwhelmed abortion, while the exit poll suggested inflation was only marginally more important to voters than abortion.

Other significant differences can be found as well. Both polls show about 9% to 10% of voters listing immigration as most important. But Votecast says the issue favors Republicans by a 78-point margin, while the network exit poll says only a 48-point margin. Such differences among polls are typical.

Also, it’s worth noting that climate change tied for third place in Votecast, but was overlooked in the exit polls. This difference illustrates how subjective and arbitrary are the choices that pollsters make in determining which issues to examine.

Partisan differences on issues

In the previous analyses, little effort was made to differentiate the top issues of Democrats, Republicans and independents. But any attempt to understand the electorate requires such a differentiation.

Richard Brownstein (CNN, 10/11/22) argued the 2022 midterms boiled down to the issues of “your money or your rights?”

In his analysis of “the central tension driving the ’22 election,” Ronald Brownstein (CNN, 10/11/22) emphasized that Democrats and Republicans were focused on quite different issues. He cited Whit Ayres, a veteran GOP pollster: “The blue team cares about abortion and democracy, and the red team cares about crime and immigration and inflation.”

Brownstein went on to write:

The national NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll released last week offered the latest snapshot of this divergence. Asked what issue they considered most important in 2022, Republicans overwhelmingly chose inflation (52%) and immigration (18%).

A comparable share of Democrats picked preserving democracy (32%), abortion (21%) and healthcare (15%).

Independents split exactly in half between the priorities of the two parties: inflation and immigration on the one side, and democracy, abortion and healthcare on the other.

The important and obvious, but often overlooked, point is that different voters are motivated by different issues. To note, for example, that abortion is a motivating issue for only 12% of the overall electorate overlooks the possibility that it may be a crucial motivating issue for Democrats (21% chose this issue) to turn out, and perhaps for independents to choose one party or the other.

Fundamentally flawed concept

Apart from the inconsistency in poll results, the notion that national polls can identify the issues that will determine which party will win control of the House is fundamentally flawed.

The assumption behind the previous analyses is that most voters choose candidates based on the issues. But that is backward for the vast majority of voters. People who identify with a party will overwhelmingly vote for that party, regardless of the issues.

Both Votecast and the network exit poll, for example, report that only 5% to 6% of party identifiers voted for a candidate not of their own party.

Pollsters may ask respondents to identify the important issues for them in this election, but the question is irrelevant for most Republicans and Democrats. They will choose among issues suggested by the poll interviewers. But the issues they choose will almost always be the issues that conform to what their party leaders are already stressing.

To put it graphically, for most voters PARTY —> ISSUES, not the reverse.

Of course, at some point in most voters’ lives, they will probably choose a party that best reflects their political values—or that their parents, or spouse, or other loved one prefers, or that appeals to them for some other miscellaneous reason.

But, in any given election, most voters have already decided which party they prefer, and will simply vote for their party.

That’s one reason why national polls on issues don’t explain why an election was won or lost. The identification of issues is irrelevant—except for a narrow slice of the electorate, which includes small percentages of swing voters, and of occasional voters who are indeed motivated by issues. And it’s this group that will provide the deciding votes.

These are the “persuadables”—voters who might be expected to vote for their own party and don’t; or independents who are persuaded to choose a Democrat or Republican this time, though they might change in the next election; or infrequent voters who decide to turn out in this election because of a particular issue or set of issues.

Motivating a tiny slice

As the Washington Post (12/31/18) pointed out, turnout in the 2018 midterms was the highest in 50 years—following 2014, which was the lowest in 70 years. (2022 turnout is expected to be about 46%—closer to 2018 than to 2014.)

How narrow is this slice? The short answer: About 10% to 15% of voters could be considered “persuadable.”

Votecast reported that in the 2022 election, the number of independents (who don’t lean to either party) was 8%. Add to this party identifiers who switched their allegiance (representing about 4% of the whole electorate). And add to that an unknown (but probably small) number of occasional voters who turned out this time but not some other time, and the total could be as high as 15%.

The number could be even higher in a wave election. Turnout in the 2018 midterms, for example, was the highest in 50 years. This suggests an unusually high number of occasional voters (and “new” voters who had reached voting age in the previous four years) were persuaded to turn out, because of “issues” or some other factor. But it’s impossible for pollsters to predict how large the turnout in any given election will actually be.

Another complication, specifically for the congressional contests, is that only persuadable voters in competitive districts can make a difference. 538 estimates that 124 congressional seats were competitive this year, or 28.5% of the total—45 that leaned Democratic, 39 Republican, and 40 “highly competitive” seats that leaned in neither direction. What these numbers mean is that only about 4% to 5% of the national electorate (15% of 28.5%) are in a position to determine the outcome of the House contest. Even if it were a wave election with, say, 25% of the voters in the persuadable category, that still means that only 7% to 8% of the electorate would be casting the decisive votes.

Pollsters simply can’t tease out such a small proportion of the respondents in their sample to see what motivates them to vote.

Traditionally, pollsters present their data as I summarized their findings earlier in this article: How many voters overall prefer each issue, and how do respondents who prefer a given issue actually vote?

Clearly, that didn’t work in this election. And there is no reason to be confident it will work in any other given election.

Post-election issue importance

The post-election period is more amenable to analysis of issues. By then we know the actual vote totals, and can compare which districts over- and under-performed with respect to party distribution, and how they compared with other districts and with the national vote. From those comparisons, it is possible to infer which issues might have been decisive.

One example is abortion. Just four days before the election, an article in the New York Times (11/4/22) carried the headline: “At Campaign’s End, Democrats See Limits of Focus on Abortion.” Too few people overall cited abortion as a crucial issue.

William Saletan (Bulwark, 11/11/22): “Dobbs didn’t just influence which candidates people voted for. It also influenced whether they showed up at the polls at all—and this provided a crucial boost to pro-choice candidates.”

After the election, William Saletan of the Bulwark (11/11/22) reviewed both the network exit poll and Votecast, and concluded that in fact, “Abortion was a decisive issue in the 2022 midterms.” In enough districts, it affected a small but significant number of voters in both their decision to vote and who to vote for.

Another example: Looking at the pattern of voting across all congressional districts and in the crucial Senate elections, Nate Cohn of the New York Times (11/16/22) concluded that, on average, Trump-endorsed candidates under-performed non-MAGA candidates by an average of about 5 percentage points. Although not mentioned as a typical “issue,” it would appear that the former president was nevertheless a significant influence on the election.

No doubt, similar analyses can address the relative importance of other issues. Analyzing what happened, based on actual data, is much more insightful than predicting what might happen.

The real problem with the 2022 news coverage, however, is not that it was off target, but rather, as Julie Hollar noted previously on this site (11/10/22), “prognostication-as-reporting is utterly dysfunctional.” Judd Legum (Popular Information, 11/10/22) likewise argues that the political media is “broken”:

Even if media predictions were correct, they represent a style of political reporting that is dysfunctional. Campaign coverage is increasingly focused on anticipating who will win through polling analysis. But politics is unpredictable, and polls are not nearly precise enough to predict the outcome of a close contest.

That’s a lesson we relearn each election.


The post Media Misled on Issues Important to Midterm Voters appeared first on FAIR.

‘Lula’s Victory Is One of the Most Impressive Political Comebacks of the Last 100 Years’ - CounterSpin interview with Brian Mier on Brazilian election


Janine Jackson interviewed BrasilWire‘s Brian Mier about the Brazilian election for the November 18, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson:  In the run-up to Brazil’s fateful October presidential election, elite US news media coverage was dominated by the theme that Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters, a la Trump, might not accept election results.

In the immediate wake of the remarkable victory of much-maligned progressive candidate Lula da Silva, elite US media coverage was dominated by the theme that Jair Bolsonaro, and his supporters, a la Trump, might not accept election results.

Palpably less interesting to these media is how and why Lula won against multiple odds, including the power of incumbency, a sea storm of targeted misinformation and the amplified threats of disruption.

Those priorities, that focus, represent lost opportunities for US citizens to learn, not a gloss about a savior, but to learn about the deep, complex, coalitional work that goes into defeating a neofascist at the polls. And that focus will surely shape coverage of what comes next.

We’re joined now by Brian Mier. He’s co-editor at BrasilWire and correspondent for TeleSur’s news program From the South, author/co-editor of the book Year of Lead: Washington, Wall Street and the New Imperialism in Brazil, as well as a freelance writer and producer. He joins us now by phone from Recife. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Brian Mier.

Brian Mier: Hi. Thanks for having me back.

(New York Times, 11/10/22—updated headline)

JJ: I see a number of tells in elite US coverage of Lula’s victory. And let’s just start with election integrity. So many words, so many words, like these from the New York Times’ Jack Nicas, their guy on this: “Brazil Election Report Finds No Sign of Fraud, yet Fuels Disbelief.” And the story goes:

Brazil finds itself in a tricky situation. Security experts say its electronic voting system is reliable, efficient and, like any digital system, not 100% secure. Now politically motivated actors are using that kernel of truth as reason to question the results of a vote in which there is no evidence of fraud.

So the current is: Fraud? There was no fraud, but people think there was fraud. It’s a problem how much fraud people think there was. Now to be clear, there’s no evidence of any. But did we mention fraud?

I’m thinking that things are going to change going forward, but right now, while declaring it a non-issue, US media have made the predominant topic, in the immediate wake of the election, the idea that there are a lot of people that think that the election was not legitimate.

Now, not that those denialists aren’t a story, but what the heck?

BM: Yeah. It kind of plays into the entire “Stop the steal,” which American business elites, and the people like Steve Bannon and other far-right actors, Jason Miller, are trying to export to Brazil, have been exporting.

I mean, Bolsonaro started announcing preemptively that there was going to be fraud a year and a half ago. He set up a military commission with cronies in the army to try and do a parallel audit of the election to the work being done by the Brazilian electoral court system, which has been around since 1932.

Even though their job was to find fraud, they found no fraud. And then when they finally released the report after the second-round election, after a couple days of protests on the street that were financed by wealthy truck company owners and things like that, their report also said there was no evidence of fraud, but there could be in the future, maybe, but there wasn’t in this election.

So that’s all. It’s a non-story, as you say. So why do they keep talking about it?

Today (10/31/22)

JJ: Yeah. And keep it in front of people.

Let’s talk about another thing that is very much hidden in plain sight. This is NBC‘s Today show talking about a “stunning political comeback in Brazil”:

Da Silva was Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010. He is credited with building an extensive social welfare program and helped lift tens of millions into the middle class. But in 2017, he was convicted of corruption and money-laundering charges. He spent 19 months in prison.

The next thing from NBC‘s Today show is “back here to the NFL.”

The New York Times called him “once-imprisoned former President Lula,” just matter of factly, a person whose “history of scandals has divided voters.”

(New York Times, 10/30/22)

And at their most expansive discussion of this, the New York Times said:

Years after he left office, the authorities revealed a vast government kickback scheme that had flourished during his administration. He was convicted on corruption charges and spent 580 days in prison. Last year, the Supreme Court threw out those convictions, ruling that the judge in his cases was biased, though he was never cleared of any wrongdoing.

And they went on to say that the “scandal” made Lula “a flawed candidate.”

So, I would refer listeners, for the long version, to previous interviews we’ve done on Lava Jato, but for the short version, when I read “Lula was in prison and he was never cleared,” what do I need to know?

BM: That they’re just lying. That’s what you need to know. He was cleared.

And the thing that he was imprisoned over didn’t happen while he was president. It was a trumped-up, fake charge that he had received a free upgrade to a slightly nicer apartment in a building that his wife had been paying installments for for years; it was her purchase. He’d never actually visited the apartment in question. They never came up with any paper trail showing he’d ever received this apartment.

But even so, if it had happened, which there’s no evidence that it did, it was after he left office, so it was impossible to prove conflict of interest.

Money laundering was not a charge that he was ever convicted of. That’s just total disinformation.

Now what happened is that, over the course of the time he was in jail, it was revealed that the prosecution team had been illegally collaborating with agents of a foreign government, the US Department of Justice, using informal communications, bypassing Brazil’s sovereignty laws, in which low-level public prosecutors were supposed to channel all of their communications with foreign governments through the Justice Ministry, but they were just talking one on one.

They had a group of 18 FBI agents meeting with them every 15 days for years, coaching them through how to use different media tactics, and things like that, to smear Lula. What the Supreme Court ruled was that the case had been illegally forum-shopped to a friendly jurisdiction in a state where the alleged crime did not take place. So it was just out of jurisdiction.

The courts also ruled that the evidence that they had presented was tarnished through judicial bias. The only evidence they actually had on Lula to arrest him was one coerced plea bargain testimony from a corrupt businessman who had massive sentence reduction, and was allowed to retain millions of dollars in illicit assets, in exchange for the story he gave. He changed the story three times before he got out of jail. And the court ruled that that was invalid.

And so what it then ruled was that any Lava Jato conviction of Lula would have to be reopened, any charges would have to be reopened, in the proper jurisdiction in Brasilia.

What the New York Times and these other papers are not mentioning is that when all of those charges were attempted to be filed against Lula in the Brasilia court, they were immediately dismissed by the judge, because there was no evidence, and ruled that they could never be opened again.

(Intercept, 6/9/19)

So he wasn’t just released on a technicality. He has been fully exonerated from every charge related to the Lava Jato operation. And we know subsequently from the leaked Telegram conversations that Glenn Greenwald initially revealed in the Intercept, a small portion of them, we know that the judge [Sergio Moro] was bizarrely allowed to oversee the investigation and the trial.

He rejected over a hundred defense witnesses for Lula during the trial. He had been collaborating illegally with the prosecutors, coaching them on how to smear Lula and his family, how to deal with the media, and all of these things, the entire time.

And then immediately after the 2018 presidential election—he illegally leaked information smearing Lula’s replacement candidate, Fernando Haddad, on the eve of the election—immediately after that election, he was awarded a ministry in Jair Bolsanaro’s government. There’s leaked conversations of the prosecuting team from Lava Jato, saying they were “praying to Jesus” that the Workers’ Party would lose that election and that Bolsonaro would be elected.

He’s under investigation for a series of crimes right now, including conflict of interest, accepting a cabinet ministry in a government that he helped put in power using illegal tactics.

So it’s really slanderous to pretend that Lula was convicted and that he just got out on a technicality. That’s slander. If someone said that during the election in Brazil, they would be guilty of electoral crime.

Even the most hostile media groups like Global TV, which cheerled for Lava Jato for years, they had to announce on the air that Lula was totally innocent, there was no charges against him, everything that he’d been accused of was fraudulent, and he was completely free of any kind of involvement in corruption.

So the fact that American papers are still repeating this bogus narrative, with all kinds of disinformation inserted into it, like money laundering? He was never charged with money laundering, or convicted of money laundering, or anything.

What happened was during the week that they launched the charges against Lula, in order to justify transferring the case out of its proper jurisdiction into this friendly court, run by US Department of Justice asset Sergio Moro, in Curitiba, they invented a charge of money laundering, related to Petrobras petroleum company.

(ABC World News Tonight, 10/30/22)

One week after the case was transferred in 2016, they removed it from the charges. And in Lula’s actual conviction, the judge specifically states that there was no money laundering.

So they’re still repeating this fake narrative from 2016 that was used to justify the illegal forum-shopping of the case. It’s irresponsible, because it’s a way of undermining Lula’s victory, which is one of the most impressive political comebacks, I think maybe rivaled only by Nelson Mandela, of the last hundred years.

JJ: Let’s start right there, because we have seen matter-of-fact references to an amazing political comeback from Lula, but somehow it’s still not, yet anyway, the center of the story, that comeback, in the way that one can’t help but imagine that it would be, if Lula were someone that US elites liked.

So we read frequent references to “fifth-grade education,” or in the New York Times, Lula is described as a “former shoeshine boy,” and that all lands very different when we know that they’re talking about somebody that they don’t like, you know?

I mean, ABC News had “Bolsonaro Loses Brazilian Election, Leftist Former President Wins by Narrow Margin.” He doesn’t even have a name.

And I have to wonder why it’s so much more interesting for US corporate media to talk about a monster, you know, than it is for them to explore coalitional, bottom-up work of marginalized people, even when that work is remarkably, historically successful.

Brian Mier: “None of them would ever want a former labor union leader to become president of the US. That’s pretty obvious, right?””

BM: First of all, it’s because none of them would ever want a former labor union leader to become president of the US. That’s pretty obvious, right? I mean, they really downplay the labor union angle here.

Not only did [Lula] lead wildcat strikes in the late ’70s that helped bring down the US-backed neofascist military dictatorship, that was so beloved to Jair Bolsanaro, but he and the people he was working with in the unions, they created a new kind of labor organization, which academics have created a term to describe it, “social movement unionism.”

The other big union federation they used, besides the CUT, which Lula founded, to describe this phenomenon is COSATU in South Africa during the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a concept of labor unionism in which the union doesn’t just fight for wage increases and benefits for its workers, it fights for the betterment of society as a whole, for ending economic injustice as a whole.

So they’ll fight for raising the minimum wage, they’ll go on strike for raising the minimum salary for everyone. That always gets left out of the picture.

He’s one of the greatest union organizers, anywhere in the world, of the last 50 or a hundred years, and he’s a legendary union organizer, but it’s better for them to say he’s a former shoeshine boy, because that makes it easier for them to label him as a “populist,” and not a social democrat, or democratic socialist, who’s read thousands of books, he has this incredible ability to explain concepts from, like, Marx’s Capital in everyday language that poor, illiterate people can understand, concepts like alienation, exploitation and things like that.

They leave that out to make it look like he’s just this ignorant person with a lot of charisma.

JJ: Yeah. And also that he was simply a backlash candidate. You know, the references that I saw to Lula being able to build a broad coalition, the New York Times, I guess it was, said, “The strong opposition to Mr. Bolsonaro and his far-right movement was enough to carry Mr. da Silva back to the presidency.”

PBS NewsHour (10/27/22)

So it’s only being defined negatively and not positively, in terms of people voting for something.

Now, there was one exception to that in terms of US news media coverage, and that was climate. That was one area where media carved out some space to say, you know, “Hey, in terms of humanity, Lula is obviously better.”

And that spurred some of the more humane and better journalism; Jane Ferguson at PBS NewsHour, for example, was one of the few places where you heard actual Indigenous people talk about the meaning of the election for them. Hey, Indigenous people have voices—you wouldn’t know it from US elite media, but NewsHour had some things.

CNN turned the importance of the votes of poor people, the importance of the votes for poor people, and particularly Indigenous people, into the idea that—this just killed me—“the poor and destitute could become Brazil’s kingmakers.”

BM: Great.

JJ: I don’t even know what to say to that, but it’s bizarre, the idea that because people get a vote, and that because there are a lot of poor people, somehow poor people are running the show? To me, that’s just reporters engaging the shadows on the cave wall,  just talking about demographics and not talking about human beings.

Reuters (11/16/22)

Finally, on climate, before I ask you, I’m already worried when I see things like Reuters from yesterday, November 16, saying, at COP27, Lula was “greeted like a rock star.”

To me, that’s already the beginning of a kind of diminishment. He’s just about “popularity.” He can’t really do anything. People think of him as a “celebrity” and not quite a politician. And yet, the point is, climate is one area where media seem willing to acknowledge that Bolsonaro was a problem, and Lula is better.

BM: At some point, even the elites have to realize that if they burn down the entire Amazon forest, everyone’s going to die, you know? That’s like 20% of the world’s oxygen supply.

I think FAIR’s pointed this out in the past in multiple articles, like, the one area that the flack machine, or whatever Chomsky and Herman would call it, the manufactured consensus, allows some kind of breathing room for left opinion is in the environment these days.

And you see newspapers like Guardian, which is now more popular in the US than it is in England I think, they’re economically 100% neoliberal. They ran like 35 articles normalizing Jair Bolsonaro in October 2018, between the first and second round elections. They gave him headline space to compare himself to Winston Churchill, and say that the real fascists were the leftists.

They’re not progressive at all economically, but the thing that makes their reputation as being progressive is that they have this emphasis on environmentalism, you know? So you see that in the US as well.

But I think what really happens here, Janine, is that having a clown in power isn’t good for anybody, really, not even for elites. At some point, even US business interests get disturbed by instability generated by this kind of clown in power.

And the idea that there could be this Bill Clinton-style neoliberal candidate that had a chance of taking power from Bolsonaro was just laughable. I mean, the neoliberal parties ended up with 1% and 0% in the first-round elections.

Nobody in Brazil buys that “we need more austerity and privatization” line anymore; it’s dead. So the only person capable of beating Bolsonaro at this time was Lula.

So they begrudgingly accept Lula’s victory, and they have to celebrate his environmental stance, like promising to stop cutting down trees and all of that, which he had a good record on the first time around.

But they’re going to do everything they can, I think—I mean elites, but through the media—to try and undermine and belittle his presidency, so that nobody like him can ever come to power again in the future.

Because in his acceptance speech, the first thing he said is that, “I’m going to eliminate hunger. My No. 1 goal of this administration is that every child, every person in Brazil can eat three meals a day again, because there’s 30 million people passing in hunger right now.”

And imagine any precedents around the world of this: He’s not even in power yet, he’s taking power on January 1. He’s already pushing through a constitutional amendment to remove the neoliberal spending caps on health and education that were pushed through after the coup against Dilma Rousseff in 2017, with a lot of support from the US at that time.

I’ve seen left analysts in the US media saying, “Well, how is he going to govern? How could he possibly govern?”

He’s already almost got a majority in Congress. He’s not even in office yet.

All the stuff they’ve talked about in BBC and in other places about the power of the evangelicals, how the evangelical Christians were going to keep Lula out of office—Bolsonaro’s biggest evangelical supporters are now lining up to align with Lula. The leaders of the biggest evangelical churches, they’re all switching their game. They’re going to end up siding with him.

One thing that people don’t understand in the US about countries that have lots of different political parties and things; there’s 23 parties represented in congress. Imagine if, like in the US, let’s say Biden wins the election, and 50% of the Republican senators and congressmen switch parties to the Democrats.

This is what happens every time someone takes power in Brazil. Half of the opposition politicians switch parties and join up with the person who just took office, because they know that the president is charged with the budget, and they all want more money for their jurisdictions, for their districts, and stuff like that.

So it is always like this. This idea that there would be these huge problems for Lula to govern because the country’s so polarized and blah, blah, blah, it’s all just melting away now.

(France 24, 10/31/22)

JJ: Yeah. The “razor thin” margin of victory, right?

BM: Yeah. Razor thin. It was the first time in history, since the end of the US-backed military dictatorship, that an incumbent has lost reelection. Bolsonaro outspent Lula. In personal donations, he had over 30 times more.

There’s no corporate donations in Brazil, which really helps the elections stay a lot fairer, you know? But from rich individuals, Bolsanaro got 30 times more campaign donations than Lula, mostly from a handful of these big right-wing truck-company owners, and agri-business people who are making money cutting down the Amazon.

And according to Reuters, which is hardly a sympathetic voice to the Latin American left, even Reuters noted that Bolsonaro had channeled 273 billion reais, that’s about $53 billion, of federal funding into strengthening his reelection campaign.

He did that by artificially lowering gasoline and food prices, by lowering that tax; he rerouted money from cancer prevention and treatment into lowering gasoline prices. Fifty percent increase on welfare checks that kicked in two months before the elections, which, cynically, a lot of people thought that was going to throw the election to Bolsonaro, and as it turns out, the poor people didn’t change their votes because of that.

JJ: I think we are going to see US media compartmentalize Lula’s climate efforts, and, given their economic views, say, “Oh, isn’t that a pretty idea? Too bad he’s not going to be able to do it.” That feeds into this whole thing that you’re talking about, about, isn’t it going to be really tough for him to govern?

BM: They’re going to say it’s bad for the economy, probably.

(New York Times, 10/30/22)

JJ: Yeah. Well, let me just say, the more honest talk about what Lula “means” for the US and Latin America, that’s probably going to come later. But there is some writing on the wall.

There was a New York Times piece titled, “What Does Brazil’s Election Mean for the United States?” And it started with, Bolsonaro made baseless claims about the election. But while Bolsanaro’s whole anti-democracy thing was a snag:

Still, the two countries have found common ground in trade policy, with Washington pushing to accelerate Brazil’s bid for membership in the OECD, a 38-member bloc that includes some of the world’s largest economies.

“This process will continue if Bolsonaro is re-elected,” said this source, a professor at a Brazilian university, “But it’s not clear if it will be a priority for Lula.”

I think this is starting to tell us what we can maybe expect to hear more from as Lula’s presidency goes forward, that, “umm, you know, ultimately Bolsonaro was a bad egg, but he did have some geopolitical ideas that align more closely with the US.”

BM: In fact, he was the biggest bootlicker to the United States government of any president in Brazilian history. So there’s a lot of ways they’re going to reframe that, I’m sure.

There is the new Cold War starting up, already in full swing, obviously, and the fact that Lula is going to refuse to take sides on the Ukraine/Russia conflict, and he’s going to maintain good ties with China and refuse to demonize Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, that’s going to annoy a lot of people in Washington.

But I think, for now, the Democrats are just happy that Bolsonaro is gone, because of his relationship with Steve Bannon. I think they’re going to put up with some of Lula’s insistence on maintaining sovereignty, and linking up with other Southern Hemisphere governments, South/South collaboration and things like that, because they’re just so happy that Steve Bannon and his movement have lost a toehold in the Americas.

And I think that US Democrats should study how the Brazilian electoral court system worked and how they defeated these kinds of tactics, because it will help them defeat the right—I’m not saying that Democrats aren’t right, but, you know, to defeat fascists in the upcoming presidential election in two years.

I think they could learn from that, instead of just labeling people and labeling things and saying what went wrong, what Lula’s doing wrong and stuff, why not stop and look and see, what were the tactics that were employed that worked? How is the Lula administration now going to systematically dismantle this fascism? Because it’s already crumbling.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Brian Mier. He’s co-editor at BrasilWire, correspondent for TeleSur’s From the South, author/co-editor of the book Year of Lead. He’s been speaking with us from Recife. Thank you so much, Brian Mier for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

BM: Thanks for having me.


The post ‘Lula’s Victory Is One of the Most Impressive Political Comebacks of the Last 100 Years’ appeared first on FAIR.

While Crypto Bro Scammed Clients, Reporters Scammed Readers


Today, you probably know who Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX are, and the details of why he and his company are front-page news are emerging at an amazing pace. Here’s the short version: Bankman-Fried—a boyish-looking cryptocurrency baron known commonly as SBF—announced that his lauded cryptocurrency exchange, FTX, had lost at least $1 billion in client funds, sending the crypto market into a tailspin (Fox Business, 11/16/22). The company, once the third-largest cryptocurrency exchange (AP, 11/16/22), has filed for bankruptcy. Lest one think this is a debacle that only affects crypto bros, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warns that “the sector’s links to the broader financial system could cause wider stability issues” (New York Times, 11/17/22).

How could this happen? How could no one have seen this coming? These are the questions many people are asking. One problem is that in the months leading up to Bankman-Fried’s transition from financial genius to possible financial criminal (Yahoo Finance, 11/14/22), he received little scrutiny in the media. On the contrary, he was celebrated.

‘Pragmatic style’

The New York Times (5/14/22) largely embraced Sam Bankman-Fried’s self-presentation as “a straight-talking brainiac willing to embrace regulation of his nascent industry and criticize its worst excesses.”

Among the silliest suck-ups came from the New York Times (5/14/22), in which David Yaffe-Bellany, the paper’s cryptocurrency correspondent, said that Bankman-Fried’s “pragmatic style” came from his parents, who “studied utilitarianism, an ethical framework that calls for decisions calculated to secure the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.” Yaffe-Bellany added that “Bankman-Fried is also an admirer of Peter Singer, the Princeton University philosopher widely considered the intellectual father of ‘effective altruism.’” (Singer has been criticized for his eugenics-like approach to disability—FAIR.org, 1/20/21.)

Yaffe-Bellany was also widely lambasted for providing media cover for Bankman-Fried even after his empire collapsed (New York Times, 11/14/22). As Gizmodo (11/15/22) put it:

The new article in the New York Times by David Yaffe-Bellany lays out the facts in ways that are clearly beneficial to SBF’s version of the story and leaves many of his highly questionable assertions without proper context or even the most minimal amount of pushback. The result isn’t to illuminate the shadowy world of crypto. It reads like…the Times had conducted an interview with Bernie Madoff after his Ponzi scheme collapsed and ultimately suggested he just made some bad investments.

Bloomberg (4/3/22) called Bankman-Fried “a kind of crypto Robin Hood, beating the rich at their own game to win money for capitalism’s losers.”

The conservative New York Post (11/15/22) used Yaffe-Bellany’s reporting to tweak the establishment Times for its coziness with someone who may face criminal indictment. But the Post‘s sibling paper, the Wall Street Journal (10/30/22), had just weeks earlier given Bankman-Fried free, uncritical space to pump out optimism about cryptocurrencies, including the idea that value drops in crypto were just part of a general economic fluctuation: “It wasn’t just crypto…. By and large what we saw this year was a broad-based risk-asset selloff, as this monetary inflation reared its head, became noticeable enough to inspire policy change.”

Bloomberg (4/3/22) likewise had painted Bankman-Fried as an eccentric financial whiz kid, whimsically frugal with a “Robin Hood–like philosophy,” while Reuters (7/6/22) ran with his claims that not only did he have “a ‘few billion’ on hand,” but that he would graciously use it to “shore up struggling firms.” An accompanying photo of Bankman-Fried with a T-shirt and disheveled hair made him look like the reincarnation of Abbie Hoffman.

Barron’s reran an AFP story (2/12/22) that, again, highlighted Bankman-Fried’s “spartan lifestyle,” his vegan diet and his casual wardrobe. Matthew Yglesias (Slow Boring, 5/23/22), an economics commentator and a graduate of Slate and Vox, wrote, “I think [his] ideas, as I understand them, are pretty good.” None of these pieces really probed whether his business was sustainable.

Shadowy sector

How on Earth did this T-shirt-clad man charm American media into thinking that he could manage billions of dollars in wealth, based on an intangible commodity that has no intrinsic value? Analysts have long tried to get the media class to understand that crypto has many inherent problems (Jacobin, 12/26/17, 10/17/21), that the crypto market’s value has tanked (CNBC, 6/15/22), that Bitcoin wealth is highly concentrated (Time, 10/25/21) and that Bitcoin, despite being Internet-based, is highly environmentally destructive (Guardian, 9/29/22).

One might think—or hope—that, after Enron, WorldCom, Bernie Madoff, Jordan Belfort and the 2008 financial crisis, that the business press could harbor skepticism about financial and business leaders in general, but particularly those in a shadowy, emerging sector known for its instability (Forbes, 5/10/22) and its susceptibility to scams (Forbes, 9/23/22).

Bankman-Fried, unfortunately, was a dangerous combination of factors that could win over reporters. He was optimistic about a troubled financial sector. He was making billions while spouting altruistic ideas and remaining personally thrifty, a kind of mysterious being who could be presented as a poster child for a more ethical version of capitalism. His insistence on casual dress suggested that he was just so smart, his brain operated above the mundane details of regular business.

His image was simply fun to write about. And this all made for the kind of good copy—and photographs—that will make an editor happy at deadline time. But this allowed his image to be the main focus for the press, rather than the goings-on of his business.

Doug Henwood, host of KPFA’s Behind the News and the author of Wall Street: How It Works and for Whom, told FAIR:

The business press is rarely skeptical about the speculative heroes of the moment. There are exceptions; if you read carefully, you can get a good critique. But the general culture is boosterish. Just a few months ago, SBF was a genius. Elon Musk, too, though his antics at Twitter are making that cult harder to sustain. Before that it was Elizabeth Holmes and her magical blood-testing machine. Go back a couple of decades and it was Ken Lay and Enron (celebrated by none other than [New York Times columnist] Paul Krugman, who’d also been paid a consulting fee by the company).

There are a lot of reasons for this. Many business journalists identify with the titans they cover—some even aspire to join them, as did former New York Times reporter Steven Rattner, who became an investment banker. Then there’s the fear of alienating your sources—the dreaded loss of “access.” And then there’s the general reluctance to be the skunk at the picnic—when markets are frothing, it’s more fun to play along than play the critic.

NBC (11/16/22): Bankman-Fried “is hardly the first wealthy donor, and certainly won’t be the last, whose ideological agenda is difficult to disengage from business motives.”

As NBC (11/16/22) noted, Bankman-Fried’s wide spending bought him wide influence, as he

visited the White House, attended a congressional retreat, and held countless meetings with lawmakers and top regulators. He got chummy with Bill Clinton after paying the former president to speak at a conference. He spent $12 million getting a referendum on the ballot in California. And he earned praise during Senate testimony from Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., for a “much more glorious afro than I once had.”

In just two years since Bankman-Fried’s first political donation, his money hired dozens of top-flight lobbyists and political operatives, made major investments in newsrooms like ProPublica and Semafor, and made him the second-biggest Democratic donor of the 2022 midterms, behind only the 92-year-old financier George Soros. He said $1 billion would be a “soft ceiling” for his spending in 2024.

The whole mess is sparking a conversation about whether cryptocurrency markets demand tighter and more robust regulation (Fortune, 11/14/22; Washington Post, 11/17/22). But there needs to be a discussion about the media’s role in this as well. Reporters should be skeptical of crypto market actors, for all the reasons stated above, but they also should be skeptical of business leaders more generally.

Good public relations is as important to a business’s bottom line as the strength of its product. Reporters and editors need to fight the urge to be a part of that.

The post While Crypto Bro Scammed Clients, Reporters Scammed Readers appeared first on FAIR.

For Corporate Media, Sandinistas’ Electoral Success Proves Their Repressiveness


The headline in the Washington Post ahead of Nicaragua’s local elections hinted at skepticism: “Nicaragua Ruling Party Seeks to Expand Hold in Local Votes” (11/6/22). The story itself, taken from an Associated Press report filed from Mexico City, was worse, framing the elections as a “farce” carried out “under the absolute control” of the governing Sandinista party.

AP (Washington Post, 11/6/22) presented Nicaraguan local elections as a “consolidation of the totalitarian regime of Daniel Ortega.”

Why, one might ask, would the Post be interested in municipal elections in a small Latin American country, if not to support Washington’s attempts to discredit its government? The reality, that the elections again demonstrate that there is a thriving democracy in Nicaragua, has to be twisted into an argument that they represent a “consolidation of the totalitarian regime of Daniel Ortega.”

On Sunday, November 6, as a Nicaraguan resident for 20 years, I went to vote, and later toured various polling stations in Masaya, Nicaragua’s fourth-largest city. At the start of a new four-year electoral cycle, mayors and councilors were being chosen for every city hall in the country, from the smallest to the largest—the capital city of Managua.

Nicaragua has a well-organized system for supplying all those aged 16 or over with identity cards, which automatically put them on the electoral register. On polling day, 3,722,884 people were eligible to vote.

In the last general election, a year ago, 65% of registered voters took part. This time—not surprisingly, given that these elections were local—the percentage was smaller (57%). Yet it was still very respectable in international terms: Neighboring Costa Rica’s last local elections brought only a 36% turnout. Across the US, only 15% to 27% of eligible voters cast a ballot in their last local election. In Britain, turnout in local elections is usually about 30%, and only in Scotland have a few small districts seen turnout exceed 57%.

Reflection of success

Here is a summary of the provisional results. On the day, 2.03 million valid votes were cast. (Some 3.8%, or 80,000, were judged to be invalid or spoiled.) Of the total, 1.49 million (73%) went to the Sandinista coalition, and the remainder to opposition parties. The vote for President Daniel Ortega’s party was sufficient to win the mayoral vote in every district, although the makeup of each local council will depend on the proportionate split of the vote between parties.

In the national tally, the next largest share of the votes was that of the Partido Liberal Constitucionalista (PLC); its 256,000 votes represented almost 13% of the total. Four small parties took the remainder. There were four small towns where the total opposition vote exceeded that for the Sandinistas, but in each case, the vote was split between different parties, and the Sandinista candidate was elected as mayor.

That the governing party nationally won all 153 mayoral posts was no surprise, since it had been making steady advances over the last two decades. As commentator Stephen Sefton (Tortilla con Sal, 11/7/22) reports, in 2000 the party captured the Managua council for the first time, together with 51 other councils. By 2004, the number had increased to 87; by 2008 it was 105, in 2012 it reached 127, and by the last election in 2017, 135.

The number of mayoralties won by the Sandinista party has been rising for years, even before the Sandinistas returned to power on the national level in 2006. (Chart: Bases Sandinistas.)

Given that in the 2021 general election, the Sandinistas won 75% of the vote, Sunday’s result was fully expected. It reflects both the governing party’s success in stabilizing the country after the violent coup attempt in 2018, the enormous program of social investment it is carrying out (for example, building 24 new public hospitals in the last 15 years) and the country’s successful emergence from the Covid pandemic with less damage to its economy than neighboring countries experienced. The municipalities, which administer 10% of the national budget, have made important contributions to these efforts.

Of course, this is far from the image created by Ortega’s opponents. Brian A. Nichols, US assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said before polling that

Nicaraguans will once again be denied the right to freely and fairly choose their municipal leaders. As long as opposition leaders remain unjustly imprisoned or in exile, and their parties banned, there is no choice for the Nicaraguan people in yet another sham election.

Unsurprisingly, he ignored the crimes committed by so-called “opposition leaders,” for which they had been tried and convicted. While a conditional amnesty in 2019 released from prison those convicted of crimes in the 2018 coup attempt, some who organized violence had begun to do so again in the run-up to the 2021 elections, or had been convicted of money laundering, or of actively seeking US intervention or sanctions. None of those “leaders” had ever run in local elections, nor were they members of registered political parties.

Ludicrous assertion

As is usually the case, reports in the corporate media followed the same line. According to the Washington Post, the vote followed “an electoral campaign without rallies, demonstrations or even real opposition.” Various other media used the same story—for example, ABC News (11/6/22) and the British Independent (11/6/22). Yet it was a complete lie: Scores of pro-Sandinista rallies and demonstrations had taken place across the country in the preceding weeks, as did far smaller opposition ones.

The party that gained most opposition votes, the PLC, was unquestionably the “real” opposition, as it had held power nationally only two decades ago, and has won seats in all recent municipal elections. On the Caribbean coast, the regional Yatama party also gained more than a third of the vote in several cities and it, too, has recently held power.

Who is Urnas Abiertas? Where does it get its funding? Its website gives no clue.

As they did a year ago, the corporate media quoted the “evidence” supplied by an obscure body called Urnas Abiertas (“Open Ballots”)—cited in five of the AP piece’s 22 paragraphs. No one knows who this group is or where its money comes from. (Its website gives no clue.)

In a report quoted in  corporate media, it claims that people queued at polling stations only because they were forced to vote. This relied on various messages allegedly from public sector officials urging their employees to vote—but of course if they voted, they did so in a secret ballot, and were at liberty to support one of five opposition parties, or to spoil their ballot paper. In any case, as I visited several polling stations, I could see that people were voting enthusiastically, not out of compulsion.

Oddly, in a claim that appears to contradict its main one, Urnas Abiertas also ludicrously asserts that a huge 82% of people abstained from voting and that “the streets were empty.” In an article for Council on Hemispheric Affairs (11/16/21), I showed that similar claims made after last year’s election were baseless. In any case, social media offered plentiful evidence of large numbers of people going to voting stations on November 6.

If the claim had been correct, it would imply that the government faked nearly 1.5 million votes. Urnas Abiertas fails to provide any evidence of how this was done, in an electoral process that is tightly administered, involves around 70,000 officials and where all the contesting parties have representatives scrutinizing each stage. Nor, apparently, did AP think to question Urnas‘ claims.

Washington talking points

COHA (6/29/22): “The empirical evidence indicates that migration to Costa Rica has almost certainly fallen sharply.”

Other elements of the AP report simply repeat Washington talking points. Apparently, “Nicaragua has been in political and social upheaval” since 2018, something invisible to people who actually live in the country. The government has “shuttered some 2,000 nongovernmental groups and more than 50 media outlets as it cracked down on voices of dissent,” a misrepresentation previously analyzed by FAIR (6/16/22). And “more than 200,000 Nicaraguans have fled the country since [2018], most to neighboring Costa Rica,” an assertion I debunked in an article for COHA (6/29/22).

Corporate media are so in thrall to the State Department’s propaganda about Nicaragua that they can’t ask simple questions: Could this election and the previous one mean that Nicaraguans really do endorse their government’s record? Why is Washington so exercised about a small country’s local elections? Is it that, once again, Nicaragua’s democratic achievements pose the “threat of a good example”? After all, in countries which claim to be superior democracies, a far smaller proportion of their electorates actually manages to vote. Instead of subjecting Nicaragua to ever-tougher sanctions, Western countries should ask whether they might perhaps learn something from a government that manages to win and sustain such a high level of popular support.

The post For Corporate Media, Sandinistas’ Electoral Success Proves Their Repressiveness appeared first on FAIR.

Musk’s Money Is Playing Old Games With New Media


Elon Musk’s $8/month “verification” scheme predictably resulted in a flood of fake tweets.

Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has been difficult to satirize. The company is losing revenue (Reuters, 11/7/22), thanks in large part to the $1 billion in additional debt payments Musk has saddled it with. His idea to sell blue-check verifications for $8 was widely ridiculed (Variety, 11/2/22)—predictably resulting in a flood of fake posts from “verified” accounts—and mass layoffs have put the website’s infrastructure in jeopardy (MIT Technology Review, 11/8/22). A lockdown of the company offices had many wondering if Twitter would survive the pre-Thanksgiving weekend (Daily Beast, 11/17/22).

For the right-wing press, Musk—who backed the Republicans in the recent midterm elections (Reuters, 11/7/22)—is a social media savior who is appalled by content moderation, factchecking and the banning of certain extremist content. Fox News (11/16/22) lauded him for reducing spending at Twitter, and others say he’s a free-speech champion trying to end Big Tech censorship (Deseret News, 11/1/22). The New York Post (11/11/22) said that the advertiser boycotts of Musk’s Twitter were signs of a liberal conspiracy to enforce wokeness online, while Matt Taibbi (Substack, 11/15/22)—who once wrote about the greed of big banks for Rolling Stone—attacked critics of the anti-union billionaire media baron for conducting a pro-conformity witch hunt.

For all of Twitter’s problems—mean-spirited fights, harassment, bots, extremist content—the social media network has been a liberating way for writers, activists and academics to build platforms and followings free from corporate media filters. Under Musk, Twitter could become such a cesspool of hate speech (Scientific American/Nature, 11/8/22) and impersonators (CNN, 11/9/22) that it becomes unusable, or the stress caused by layoffs and the revenue losses could bring down the whole thing.

Monied parties

This would be a loss for a lot of users, but such a situation is hardly new in US media. There’s a long history of monied parties taking over media and watering them down, even breaking them up for parts. It’s just that this time it involves the world’s richest man and social media.

Look at American radio. “Since passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Clear Channel”—now called iHeartRadio—“has grown from 40 stations to 1,240 stations,” which is “30 times more than congressional regulation previously allowed” (Future of Music Coalition, 11/18/02). The company famously silenced the trio the Dixie Chicks on its stations in retaliation for the group’s antiwar stance (Jacksonville Business Journal, 3/18/03; Cracked, 1/14/22), and its news and talk stations are home to right-wing commentators—including, formerly, the late Rush Limbaugh (AP, 3/27/12). These owners’ biases have had enormous political implications due to the consolidation of the radio market.

American Prospect (10/1/20): “Hedge funds control one-third of US newspapers, and all four of the largest local newspaper chains are owned or managed by these poorly regulated financial institutions.”

Meanwhile, Sinclair Broadcast Group, which operates nearly 200 local television stations, was staunchly supportive of the Trump administration (CounterSpin, 8/11/17; Vox, 4/3/18), and the group has given generously to Republicans (Center for Public Integrity, 4/3/18). The group has the largest local television reach in the country, and its influence is only growing (New Yorker, 10/22/18).

It’s an old story in newspaperland as well. Columbia Journalism Review (7/15/13) reported on how Wall Street investors took over Tribune Company, “liquidating the newspapers” and “taking declining businesses and effectively selling off their remaining assets that are stable or growing.” It’s a story later retold by Vanity Fair (2/5/20) and Atlantic (10/14/21) as the situation with Tribune papers worsened.

McClatchy was similarly purchased by Chatham Asset Management (New York Times, 8/4/20). As the American Prospect (10/1/20) noted, these deals often force papers to shed staff and even close down papers, due to the “practice of cutting costs to the bone to maximize short-term returns.” For example, McClatchy recently outsourced its design and typesetting work (Poynter, 3/29/21).

In both of these cases, consolidation of local media ownership hasn’t just skewed content to the right, but it has created local news deserts where, if papers and stations exist locally, local coverage is either scraped together with barebones staff or audiences and readers are left to dine on warmed over wire copy. This is a deficit for democracy.

Advancing mogul politics

Dan Froomkin (CJR, 9/27/22): “Pretty much every public-policy issue the Post covers affects Bezos’s sprawling personal and business interests in material ways.”

And consider for a minute that Musk, the CEO of Tesla, is the world’s richest person, while No. 2 is Jeff Bezos of Amazon, who also owns the Washington Post. Like Musk, Bezos is another rich, corporate boss who wants to influence the public discussion through control of a major media outlet. It’s unclear how much editorial sway he has, but FAIR (10/3/17) has pointed out the Post‘s factchecker (10/2/17) defending Bezos against Sen. Bernie Sanders’ accusation that Bezos has a lot of money. The Columbia Journalism Review (9/27/22) speculates that Bezos has at least passively influenced the direction of  the Post‘s news and opinion sections. Musk and Bezos are two sides of the same coin here.

Or consider when the late Republican mega-donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson bought the Las Vegas Review-Journal for $140 million, prompting columnist Jon Ralston (New York Times, 1/2/16) to say, “I find it hard to believe that he would have so dramatically overpaid for that paper without having some agenda in mind.” Under Adelson, the paper (11/7/16, 10/3/20) endorsed Donald Trump for president twice. Adelson, who was an ardent conservative Zionist, also set up a free Israeli newspaper, Israel Hayom, that until recently “served as an unofficial mouthpiece” for Benjamin Netanyahu (AP, 1/12/21).

Moguls use their money to advance their politics, both through campaign contributions and through media acquisitions. In addition to Musk’s recent endorsement of Republican candidates, his interest in conservatism grew after the presidential election of Donald Trump. “Starting in 2017, Musk’s donations began to skew much more heavily toward Republicans than Democrats, spending nearly seven times more on GOP campaigns,” Business Insider (6/15/22) reported, adding that Musk “accepted positions on two of Trump’s White House councils.” He cheered on a coup in Bolivia (Jalopnik, 10/19/20) and is outspokenly hostile to unions (NPR, 3/3/22).

Musk’s acquisition of Twitter seems like a new chapter in history, but his choice to either skew Twitter to be friendly to the right (as his right-wing cheerleaders believe he is doing) or to run the network into the ground is only the latest episode of monied interests pillaging our communications infrastructure for financial or ideological gain. Musk’s Twitter takeover seems new, because it impacts new media rather than the old. But what Musk is doing to social media has long been done by monied interests to traditional media—much to the poverty of our journalistic culture.

Featured image: New York Times depiction (11/17/22) of Elon Musk (photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images).

The post Musk’s Money Is Playing Old Games With New Media appeared first on FAIR.

Climate Confusion and Complicity at the New York Times 


“Yes, Greenland’s Ice Is Melting…”

The headline of the interactive New York Times opinion piece (10/28/22) by conservative columnist Bret Stephens is placed over an image of Greenland’s melting ice cap crashing into the slushy meltwater below. With one more scroll, the word “But…” appears over the ice, which resembles a melting snowplowed slush pile in a parking lot.

From just a glance at the headline, it was clear where this article was going. The 6,000-word piece went on to chronicle Stephens’ trip to Greenland as a self-proclaimed global warming “agnostic.” There, the dramatic effects of climate change “changed [his] mind” about the problem, but reinforced his “belief that markets, not government, provide the cure.”

Stephens’ point of view represents a new climate denialism: No longer can any rational person claim that climate change isn’t happening at an accelerated rate due to human causes, or that it’s not causing harm. Instead they argue, like Stephens, that the swift, decisive action scientists say is necessary is “magical thinking,” that genuine existential fear is “alarmist,” that most humans will be able to adapt to climate disaster.

In a nutshell, the new climate deniers say, “Yes, the climate is changing at an alarming rate, but the solution lies here in the status quo.”

Same data, opposite headlines

What a difference a day makes: dueling New York Times headlines (10/26/22, 10/27/22)

That same week, the New York Times served up two conflicting headlines. “Climate Pledges Are Falling Short, and a Chaotic Future Looks More Like Reality” (10/26/22) featured an image of a displaced Somali woman and her three young children, playing amid carcasses of cattle killed by the drought in the region this spring.

The front-page piece by reporter Max Bearak began:

Countries around the world are failing to live up to their commitments to fight climate change, pointing Earth toward a future marked by more intense flooding, wildfires, drought, heat waves and species extinction, according to a report issued Wednesday by the United Nations.

The article went on to explain that the planet is on track to warm 2.1–2.9 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels by 2100. The goal set at the 2015 Paris agreement was 1.5 degrees, above which scientists warn the risk for serious climate impacts increases.

Yet one day later, the Times‘ popular newsletter the Morning—read by millions every day—carried the subject line, “The Climate’s Improved Future” (10/27/22). The data cited in the newsletter by Times reporter German Lopez is no different than that in the dire news article published the day before: The Earth is likely to warm by 2–3 degrees Celsius by 2100, well above the target scientists have said would be relatively safe.

The New York Times Magazine (10/26/22) reassures us that we are “beyond catastrophe.”

The difference is that Lopez was summarizing a new David Wallace-Wells cover story for the Times Magazine (10/26/22) that expressed the writer’s newfound optimism that the world won’t reach a worst-case scenario climate “doomsday” of 5 degrees of warming that he had explored five years earlier in a New York magazine piece (7/17). Wallace-Wells wrote:

The window of possible climate futures is narrowing, and as a result, we are getting a clearer sense of what’s to come: a new world, full of disruption but also billions of people, well past climate normal and yet mercifully short of true climate apocalypse.

Compared to five, of course, two to three degrees is better. But it’s important to keep in mind that the Earth’s temperature rising even by 1.5 degrees is still damaging. For context, in 2021 temperatures were about 1.1 degrees over the pre-industrial baseline (UN, 5/9/22).

In 2021, deadly heat waves spread across North America and the Mediterranean; cataclysmic floods devastated the European Union, China, India and Nepal; and sea levels hit record highs (World Economic Forum, 5/18/22; FAIR.org, 7/9/21, 7/22/21; US News, 12/23/21). With that 1.5-degree increase still to come, climate events around the world are already costing lives and livelihoods.

In the Morning, Lopez cited reasons for a possibly less catastrophic climate future: Coal is on the decline, renewable energy prices are dropping, and global powers are adopting policies to combat climate change. “Those countries include the United States, which recently enacted sweeping incentives for cleaner energy through the Inflation Reduction Act,” Lopez wrote.

It’s true, but just a day before, Bearak reported in the same outlet the following: “The new law will still only get the United States about 80% of the way to its current pledge to cut emissions.”

Once again, context matters.

Lopez was sure to note that “better does not mean good,” and that countries are falling short of their climate commitments. “Even under the most optimistic climate forecasting models, such extreme weather will get worse and become more common in the coming decades,” he wrote.

‘Manageable’ for the rich 

Democracy Now! (11/9/22): “A new UN-backed report says the Global South needs at least $2 trillion a year to fight the climate crisis.”

Lopez concluded that “the takeaway is mixed”:

If you had asked a politically cynical person 30 years ago what the climate future looked like, they might have answered that we’d end up at a temperature level that was difficult but manageable for the rich countries of the world but much, much harder for developing nations. And that looks like what we’re heading for.

Continuing and worsening extreme weather making life “difficult but manageable” for rich nations and “much, much harder” for developing ones earns a headline celebrating the climate’s “improved future” at the New York Times, just a day after it warned (10/26/22):

With each fraction of a degree of warming, tens of millions more people worldwide would be exposed to life-threatening heat waves, food and water scarcity, and coastal flooding while millions more mammals, insects, birds and plants would disappear.

As climate justice activists have been saying for years, it is poor nations and individuals most affected by climate disaster. The centrality of the topic of “loss and damage” in the COP27 conference going on now further demonstrates this (Democracy Now!, 11/9/22).

An International Disaster Database report on the first half of 2022 lists the top 10 countries most impacted by natural disasters by number of deaths, number of people affected and economic damage, respectively. Every country on the “deaths” and “people affected” lists is in the Global South, and none are in Europe or the Americas.

Fossil fuel talking points

Guardian (10/27/22): “Current pledges for action by 2030, if delivered in full, would mean a rise in global heating of about 2.5C and catastrophic extreme weather around the world.”

Not only are we headed for at least a 1.5-degree rise, but a new UN report from October 27 says there is currently no credible plan in place for nations to meet that goal. Current pledges put us at about a 2.5 degree Celsius rise by the end of the century.

Inger Andersen, the executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), told the Guardian (10/27/22):

We had our chance to make incremental changes, but that time is over. Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.

Still, in his 6,000-word opinion feature, Stephens argues that the answer to the climate disaster lies in “the market” that got us here. As Judd Legum and Emily Atkin point out for Popular Information (11/3/22), the solution to capitalism’s problems being more capitalism is nothing more than a fossil fuel industry talking point.

So is the following:

Many people tend to think of fossil fuels mostly in terms of transportation, electrical generation and heating. But how often do we consider the necessity of fossil fuels in the production of nitrogen fertilizer, without which, [Canadian author Vaclav] Smil noted, “it would be impossible to feed at least 40% and up to 50% of today’s nearly 8 billion people”?

Stephens essentially argues that turning completely against fossil fuels is “against human nature,” and climate solutions thus far are all like a cancer treatment with painful side effects.

OK, let’s go with that metaphor: If current solutions are like chemotherapy for lung cancer, then fossil fuels are like cigarettes. You don’t keep feeding cigarettes to someone who is undergoing cancer treatment. It would be absurd to suggest that cigarettes were a necessary stopgap in treating cancer.

When the fossil fuel–friendly New York Times publishes arguments like Stephens’, and plays volleyball with whether or not the same climate data is horrifying or reassuring, it helps confuse the public and keep us complacent—and complicit. It’s this corporate propaganda—not “human nature”—that keeps our culture from making the shifts necessary to avoid an unpredictable and deadly future.

ACTION ALERT: 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 communication in the comments thread.

The post Climate Confusion and Complicity at the New York Times  appeared first on FAIR.

Brian Mier on Lula Election Victory



ABC World News Tonight (10/30/22)

This week on CounterSpin: ABC World News Tonight told viewers what it thought they needed to know: “Bolsonaro Loses Brazilian Election, Leftist Former President Wins by Narrow Margin.”

The victor of Brazil’s consequential presidential race has an actual name; it’s not “leftist former president”…or “former shoeshine boy,” as the New York Times had it–or even “savior,” as CNN suggests supporters view him. He’s a person, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, a popularly supported former president, whose program had, and has, more to do with helping poor people in Brazil than with securing the kind of extractive, profit-over-all, devil-take-the-hindmost international relationships that elite US media applaud. So just, get ready, is all we’re saying. For a Latin American president taking steps to protect the human life–supporting Amazon to be presented in the press as a flawed, corrupt self-server, which maybe suggests that uplifting the poor and saving humanity might just be too expensive a proposition.

It’s hard not to imagine the use that a differently focused press corps might make of Brazil’s change of direction. We’ll talk about it with Brian Mier, of Brasil Wire and TeleSur‘s From the South, as well as co-author/editor, with Daniel Hunt, of Year of Lead: Washington, Wall Street and the New Imperialism in Brazil.

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ACTION ALERT: NYT Invents Left Extremists to Make ‘Moderation’ the Midterm Winner


Of the many lessons to be learned from this year’s midterms, in which Democrats defied historical trends to largely hold off a GOP wave, the New York TimesJonathan Weisman and Katie Glueck  (11/14/22) singled out corporate media’s recurring favorite: Moderation won.

With the widespread losses suffered by extremist Republican candidates, it’s no surprise that journalists and pundits are reading lessons into that for the GOP. But in true Timesian fashion, Weisman and Glueck argued that it’s both extremes that voters rejected. “On the Right and Left, People Voted to Reject Extremists in Midterms,” announced the headline to their piece in the print edition.

‘Similar dynamic’

This New York Times article (11/14/22) started with a list of three “extreme candidates”—including Oregon’s Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who apparently made the list because she’s a “liberal Democrat.”

In a jarring lead, they laid out three examples of “extremism” losing: Adam Laxalt (running for Senate from Nevada) and Doug Mastriano (running for Pennsylvania governor), both GOP election deniers and abortion-rights opponents—and Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a Democratic House candidate in Oregon who was described by the local paper (Oregonian, 10/12/22) as someone whose “ability to target common objectives will be key for uniting constituents” in a diverse district.

Confused? Republicans, Weisman and Glueck went on,

received a sweeping rebuke from Americans who, for all the qualms polls show they have about Democratic governance, made clear they believe that the GOP has become unacceptably extreme.

But, they argued, “on a smaller scale, a similar dynamic could be discerned on the left,” where “Democratic primary voters chose more progressive nominees over moderates in a handful of House races,” and thereby lost seats “that could have helped preserve a narrow Democratic majority” in the House.

It’s a bizarre case of journalists prioritizing balance at all costs, which they can only achieve by not pointing to a single thing that might qualify the Democrats in question as “extremists.”

The piece described some of the actual extremism that voters apparently rejected on the right, including “embrace of Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election,” “a morass of conspiracy theories and far-right policy positions,” the “drive to ban abortions,” and “a drift away from fundamental rights and democracy itself”—not to mention “the bizarre claim, given credence by some Republican candidates, that children were going beyond gender and identifying as cats who needed litter boxes in classrooms.”

While most would accept that these are extremist positions, the reporters matched them on the left with mere labels (“from the liberal wing of their party,” an “ardent progressive”) and not a single policy position, statement or action. Apparently if you call a politician “progressive” at the Times, it’s meant to be understood that they’re extreme, with no further explanation required.

Who’s an ‘extremist’?

But let’s take a closer look at all of the “extremist” House Democratic candidates the Times offered as examples: McLeod-Skinner of Oregon, Michelle Vallejo of Texas and Christy Smith of California.

In her primary, McLeod-Skinner defeated incumbent Kurt Schrader, described by the Times as “moderate”—like “progressive,” a word not defined or substantiated by the reporters. How “moderate” is Schrader, exactly? After voting against the overwhelmingly popular American Rescue Plan, playing a key role in weakening the Democrats’ Build Back Better agenda, and calling the impeachment of Donald Trump for the January 6 insurrection a  “lynching,” Schrader lost the support of two-thirds of the Democratic county parties in his district, who accused him of voting in the interests of the industries that bankrolled him, not his constituents (Intercept, 3/24/22).

McLeod-Skinner herself ran with a populist approach and was embraced by progressives, but declined to accept the “progressive” label for herself (American Prospect, 11/7/22). In the Oregonian endorsement (10/12/22) noted above, the editors also wrote: “Her priorities are not partisan, but focused on people’s needs, she noted—rebuilding the economy, increasing the availability of housing and supporting working families.”

Christy Smith, one of the New York Times‘ Democratic “extreme candidates,” has now lost to an election-denying Trumpist three times; after her first loss, the American Prospect (5/18/20) noted that her “platform featured few of the progressive agenda items that excited voters.”

Christy Smith, perhaps the most baffling choice for the Times to include, is a former state assembly member characterized by the LA Times (5/16/22) as “a levelheaded centrist with years of relevant experience.” Smith’s district, long Republican, was won in 2018 by Democrat Katie Hill, who, running as a progressive, won by a 9-point margin (the kind of outcome that demonstrates the potential strength of a left-of-center platform even in a swing district). After Hill’s resignation, Smith lost the seat to her Republican opponent in a special election—running as what the American Prospect (5/18/20) described as a “safe centrist” with a “lack of motivating policy ambitions,” such as Hill’s support for Medicare for All. That the Times included Smith as an example of extremism run amok in the Democratic Party shows just how far it has to stretch to find balance in all things.

Smith won her primary against John Quaye Quartey, a former naval intelligence officer described by Weisberg and Glueck as what the veterans group VoteVets thought was a “dream candidate.” That “dream candidate,” a newcomer to both the area and politics, had the backing of some Washington Democrats, but netted just over 4,000 votes to Smith’s 34,000—which raises the questions of whose dreams such a candidate fulfills, and why the New York Times thinks he might have stood a better chance than Smith in the general election.

Michelle Vallejo, the sole example who did, in fact, embrace the progressive label, promoted as her top issues Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, abortion rights and investments in green energy jobs.

While those sorts of issues tend to be branded by corporate media as “far left” or “extreme,” they are quite popular among Democratic voters, and often more broadly as well (FAIR.org, 5/18/18). By trying to tell a story of voters rejecting extremism on both left and right, the Times puts such things as threatening democracy, engaging in conspiracy theories and supporting draconian abortion laws on the same footing as  seeking adequate representation for local interests and rights—and suggests that both are the kinds of things the parties would do well to avoid.

Progressive scapegoats

The establishment Democrats who lost four seats in the New York Times‘ home state (The Nation, 11/15/22) did not figure into the paper’s analysis that the 2022 midterms were a victory for “moderation.”

The Times blamed these so-called progressive candidates for helping the party lose the House. But was it those Democrats’ policy positions that cost them their races? McLeod-Skinner, who refused to take corporate donations in her fight against a millionaire Republican, was abandoned by the national party and ended up being vastly outspent by her opponent (Intercept, 11/11/22)—yet still came within 3 percentage points of winning.

Vallejo was even more overwhelmingly outspent, and even more ignored by the national party, which focused its spending on defending the seat of the anti-abortion rights Democratic incumbent Henry Cuellar in the next district over (American Prospect, 10/28/22)—who, the Times crowed, “trounced” his own Republican opponent after narrowly escaping a primary challenge from progressive Jessica Cisneros.

And Smith? You guessed it, wildly outspent and left for dead by her party (Politico, 10/14/22).

Meanwhile, in perhaps the highest-profile win by a Democrat who defeated a more centrist primary opponent, John Fetterman (who bested centrist Conor Lamb in the primary) won his hard-fought Pennsylvania Senate race. The Times briefly noted Fetterman’s win as a counterexample and moved quickly on.

But of course left-of-center candidates weren’t the only ones to lose key House races for the Dems. In New York alone, the Democrats lost four House seats; none of the losing candidates were progressives. While court-ordered redistricting in New York left Democrats scrambling, it’s notable that the Times analysis didn’t mention the high-profile loss of New York representative, DCCC chair and quintessential “moderate” Sean Patrick Maloney.

After pushing out a progressive incumbent who had represented most of that district prior to redistricting, and defeating another popular progressive in the primary with the help of a 5-to-1 funding advantage and vicious attack ads (Intercept, 8/12/22), Maloney lost, despite the district voting for Biden in 2020 by more than 10 points, and despite the full backing—and funding—of the centrist wing of the party (Slate, 11/14/22).

What does Maloney’s loss say about voters’ “support for moderation”? Don’t ask Weisman and Glueck. Plenty of political observers had things to say about it (e.g., The Nation, 11/15/22), but the Times reporters only quoted centrist Democrats and organizations who supported their absurd argument.


Please tell the New York Times to explain how the Democrats cited in its November 14 piece qualify as “extremists.”


Letters: letters@nytimes.com

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Twitter: @NYTimes

Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your communication in the comments thread.


The post ACTION ALERT: NYT Invents Left Extremists to Make ‘Moderation’ the Midterm Winner appeared first on FAIR.

‘Who Do We Want to Own Our Neighborhoods?’ - CounterSpin interview with Gene Slater on affordable housing


Janine Jackson interviewed CSG Advisors’ Gene Slater about the affordable housing crisis for the November 11, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Atlantic (4/13/19)

Janine Jackson: Home ownership is a key ingredient in what is still called the “American Dream.” Beyond the meaningful symbolism of having one’s own patch, home ownership is instrumental in wealth creation—the difference between living paycheck to paycheck and being able to think about the future.

It’s societally important, historically important, who is encouraged and enabled and facilitated in their ability to buy a home, and who is shut out.

This is why many people are looking with worry at the phenomenon of institutional investors—Wall Street—gobbling up a larger and larger percentage of homes. And particularly entry-level homes, the very ones first-home buyers would be looking at as affordable.

What’s the impact of this, in the neighborhood and in the wider world?

Gene Slater has worked on issues of affordable housing for many years. He’s chairman and founder of CSG Advisors. He joins us now by phone from the Bay Area. Welcome to CounterSpin, Gene Slater.

Gene Slater: Thank you so much.

JJ: First of all, this is something new, right? Institutional investors haven’t traditionally looked at single-family homes as, like, pork bellies to add to the portfolio.

So why are we seeing this now?

Gene Slater:

GS: You’re right; traditionally there have been many, tens of millions of ma-and-pa small landlords. But the idea of Wall Street, with virtually unlimited access to cash, buying up single-family homes is a recent phenomenon.

It started, in some way, in 2010, after the financial crisis, in part encouraged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who financed some of these entities to buy up homes.

And then it remained, and it sort of fell back and was at a modest level. And over the last couple of years, and toward the end of the pandemic, it’s really mushroomed significantly.

And I think that’s for two reasons. One, from the Wall Street point of view—and I’m talking about REITs, particularly general partnerships—they had raised tremendous amounts of capital before the pandemic to invest in real estate, and suddenly, in the pandemic, one wasn’t going to invest in shopping centers or retail or in office buildings.

So a lot of that got focused on either just buying normal rental properties, standard apartment buildings, but also got focused on buying single-family homes, because they saw single-family homes going up, becoming less affordable, and they could buy. And their focus was in buying in less expensive neighborhoods and less expensive, more affordable parts of the country.

And so they saw this as an opportunity to make long-term gains and to push up rents. And they did algorithms showing, we could add rent charges for this… Unlike ma-and-pa landlords, they could basically create standardized ways of doing this.

So they’ve seen this as a big opportunity. And the more inflation has heated up, the more they’re now pitching this to their investors as, “This is a perfect hedge against inflation.”

So I think that’s what’s been driving this.

Housing Wire (9/19/22)

JJ: It just sounds like a bad thing. In your very useful September piece for Housing Wire, co-written with Barry Zigas, you also point out, and you’ve just kind of hinted towards it, that these institutional purchases are highly concentrated in areas with minority families, with people of color.

And so with this country’s history of redlining and discriminatory government subsidies—we spoke with Richard Rothstein about this years ago—this has also huge racial ramifications as well, yeah?

GS: Yeah. In fact, part of the way I approached this problem is, I had just written a book last year, Freedom to Discriminate, on how the realtors conspired to segregate housing and divide the country. And as I’ve been talking about that in different places, this issue has come up in those discussions, in places I didn’t expect. Talking about this in Greensboro, North Carolina, and basically turned a community meeting about gentrification in East Greensboro into one of out-of-town investors buying homes.

(Heyday, 2021)

So it’s happening there. It’s happening virtually everywhere. It’s not only in minority areas; it’s not necessarily deliberately targeted, but it’s targeted, buying homes on average 26% below the statewide average.

So that means a focus on startup homes, on modest homes, many of which have been in minority areas. So it’s having an outsized impact.

There’s an excellent Federal Reserve of Minneapolis study, mapping where these corporate landlords are buying, and you can see tremendous overlap with areas where minorities live or would normally buy.

JJ: You also note—and you just tilted towards this, but it might need spelling out—with fewer families able to buy homes, those people stay renting, and so landlords can then push up rents as well. It’s kind of a self-feeding cycle.

GS: Yeah. Those people remain renters, and they’re at the top end of the rental market, so it allows landlords to push up rents in general. And these corporate landlords are pace-setting, and very explicitly. They’re deciding, “Well, the median income of our tenants is this; we can push to a higher percentage of disposable income.” That’s what’s happening.

And the impact is of reducing the number of homes that families can buy. This is what’s really key. There’s a record low level of how many homes are available for purchase, because people are staying in their homes longer, because they’re affected by being able to find another place.

And with that record low inventory—this happened especially during the pandemic—there’s a pressure to push up prices. If you remove a lot of the starter homes, the modest-cost homes, families can’t even bid on them, because they’ve been swooped up in all-cash, no-inspection offers that no family can compete with. They’re bidding against each other for a smaller and smaller share of homes.

That’s pushing up prices, and that’s pushing up rents.

JJ: And then also, ownership means power, so it matters, in terms of policy, that this market is now one where Wall Street is invested, and is going to be trying to call the shots. Who owns the homes in a neighborhood has an effect on policy in that neighborhood. And it’s just another element that this is affecting, right?

GS: Yes, absolutely. And it also has an effect on neighborhood stability, especially single-family neighborhoods that have been largely ownership, or significantly ownership, to remove the opportunities for ownership makes those into less stable neighborhoods.

It’s a long-term effect on home ownership in the country, and it’s really asking, “Who do we want to own America? Who do we want to own our neighborhoods?”

JJ: There has been some critical and thoughtful media coverage. I can’t list it all. I saw Alana Semuels in the Atlantic back in 2019. There’s been people illuminating this phenomenon and just saying, “Let’s pay attention to this.”

New York Times (10/19/22)

But then I see this piece in the New York Times that’s just so Timesian: “Is Wall Street Really to Blame for the Affordable Housing Crisis?” You know: “Who’s to blame? An increasingly popular answer among Democrats, and even some Republicans, is Wall Street.” So now it’s not about discrimination. It’s not even about policy. It’s just kind of partisan political football.

And then it becomes a caricature of an argument, rather than engagement with that argument: “Is private equity the true villain or a scapegoat?” The piece says, “Not everyone is convinced that Wall Street’s entry into the single-family rental market is uniformly bad.”

And then I’m going to close on this: “But unalloyed evil or not, institutional investors simply don’t have the market power to be driving the affordable housing crisis.”

I just find that so belittling and just kind of silly, the idea that there’s a problem and people are pointing fingers, and you want to point fingers at the powerful people, but that makes you emotional, so leave it to us cooler heads.

I just wonder how you react to coverage like that, that says, “Wall Street’s not to blame. They might be a scapegoat.”

GS: So I think this was an entirely false and wasteful use of time in the New York Times.

The issue isn’t who’s to blame for anything. There are so many factors that affect home prices: The Federal Reserve having kept interest rates low, zoning regulations for large-lot single-family homes. There’s no limit to the number of causes with which one could try and explain this.

The question is, what is the situation now? What’s making it worse? Are federal taxpayers subsidizing that?

So let me describe, first, the conversation we had with a leading economist who had worked for these hedge funds, who’s sort of the key spokesperson on this issue.

And her immediate response was, “Well, you’re saying that hedge funds are solely to blame for what’s happened to housing prices, and that’s obviously false.”

We say, we’re not saying that, nobody’s saying that, or at least nobody needs to say that at all.

Rather, we’re now in a situation where what was unaffordability of home ownership focused on a few metropolitan areas, in terms of the median family income and median family price—five years ago, that was like six or seven metropolitan areas in the country. That problem has now spread to like 90% of the metropolitan areas. We’re seeing a huge change in the difficulty of buying homes in the country. Home prices nationally have gone up by 40%. With interest rates going up, they add 45% to the monthly payment, to the cost of buying the same home.

You add those two together, and we’re now in a situation, an overall affordability crisis, that affects virtually everyone who doesn’t own a home, even the children of those who do.

And to put this in context, during the pandemic, household wealth, home equity, increased by $6 trillion in this country. A typical family in San Jose, their household wealth went up by $250,000. In Montana, by $50,000, wherever.

Where does that money come from? How do you suddenly wind up owning so much more? The answer is, that’s an obligation of all the people who don’t buy homes as to what it would cost them in monthly payments to buy homes, or to pay more rent.

So this is now a widespread problem. So that’s our situation, and part of what’s driven that is, the sales inventory of single-family homes is very low and at historic low levels. People are staying in homes longer. It’s hard to buy another home.

OK, so in that context, here you have one factor that’s particularly affecting starter homes in a concentrated way, in precisely the neighborhoods where families traditionally try to buy their first home.

There has been a dramatic reduction in first-time home buyers in general over the last year, and in families that are 25-to-34 years old. So it’s pushing the age at which people can afford to buy much longer. That’s the context.

And sure, these corporate landlords, they only own a small share in total of all the millions of homes in the country. That doesn’t matter. What matters is the impact on the inventory available for sale in a given market at a given time. That’s what drives prices. It doesn’t matter if they only own 3% of all single-family homes—institutional investors in Texas in 2021 bought 28% of the single-family homes for sale. That’s a broad definition of investment.

And they’re buying, on average, as I said, 26% below the median sale price. Their concentration is precisely where people could otherwise buy homes.

So the isn’t “who’s to blame?” The is: “Is this a problem, this situation American families are facing?” And when you step back and you realize that American taxpayers are subsidizing these purchases, that’s really the key.

The question isn’t who’s to blame. The question is, “Should we as taxpayers, all of us, be paying more so hedge funds and Wall Street investors can buy up the single family homes that families would normally be able to buy?”

Is that what we want our tax dollars to be being used for? Because that’s what’s happening.

JJ: Democrat representatives Ro Khanna, Katie Porter and Mark Takano have now introduced the Stop Wall Street Landlords Act. What should we know about that, and are there other ways forward that you’re thinking about?

Gene Slater: “Should we be subsidizing undermining home ownership in this country, especially at this time, or should we be supporting it?”

GS: The approach that Barry and I outlined, and that we’ve been talking on the Hill about and with the White House, is a very narrow, limited, focused approach to try and gain as broad support as we can, because we’re up against, obviously, some of the strongest forces in the country, who these buyers are.

And there are other laws being proposed, the one you mentioned and others that go much further, that have 100% transfer taxes….

I think all approaches can be good. The question is, what can be done that’s realistic, that can’t be challenged from the Supreme Court?

So what we focused on is a simple, narrow change to the tax law, so that if you’re a homeowner, you have a limit on the amount of interest you can deduct on your home, $750,000 of debt.

What we’ve proposed is to say, put a similar limit on these major funds. And say, if you own more than 100 single-family homes, you don’t get an interest deduction. That’ll reduce the rate of return, and here’s the key, we’re making this revenue-neutral by saying, investors now own such homes, and they bought them? Fine. You can recoup the deduction you’ll lose when you sell that home to a first-time home buyer in the next four years.

So it has a double power. It’s reducing the incentive to buy these homes, and it’s using that same tax subsidy to encourage investors to make those homes available to the first-time buyers. That’s really the key.

So it’s changing the nature of what American taxpayers are subsidizing, and that ought to be the question: Should we be subsidizing undermining home ownership in this country, especially at this time, or should we be supporting it?

JJ: All right then. I’m going to end on that hopeful note. We’ve been speaking with Gene Slater. You can find his and Barry Zigas’ piece, “Stop Subsidizing Wall Street Buying Up Homes,” on HousingWire.com.

Gene Slater, thank you so much for joining us this week on CountersSpin.

GS: Sure. Thank you very much.


The post ‘Who Do We Want to Own Our Neighborhoods?’ appeared first on FAIR.

US Media Searched for Crisis at China Party Congress


For the Western press, the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party offered a number of signals which—if read in good faith—could have been perceived as reassuring.

Instead, establishment outlets reverted to familiar narratives regarding China’s Covid mitigation strategy and tied these into renewed predictions of a long-prophesied economic disaster—one that would inevitably befall China as a result of its government’s decision to forsake the orthodoxy of open markets.

More than anything else, corporate media fixated on Hu Jintao’s departure from the congress hall, engaging in tabloid-variety speculation around the fate of CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping’s 79-year-old predecessor.

Invoking the specter of a purge, outlets like the New York Times and CNN pushed the narrative that Xi manipulated events to consolidate his power. However, the “evidence” used by corporate media to suggest that Xi orchestrated Hu’s exit as part of a power grab was far from convincing.

Substantive developments

If establishment outlets covering the congress were on the lookout for substantive developments—rather than additional fodder to comport with their prefabricated narratives—they could have found them.

Despite the Biden administration’s belligerent posture vis-à-vis Taiwan, demonstrated by escalations like Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island and Biden’s own promise to deploy US forces in the event of a forced reunification, Xi indicated that China would continue to approach cross-strait relations with restraint.

SCMP (10/16/22): “Analysts said Xi’s remarks suggested that Beijing was exercising restraint on Taiwan, despite the soaring tensions.”

Of Xi’s relatively measured statements on reunification, Sung Wen-ti, a political scientist at the Australian National University (Guardian, 10/16/22), said, “The lack of ‘hows’ is a sign he wants to preserve policy flexibility and doesn’t want to irreversibly commit to a particularly adversarial path.” Lim John Chuan-tiong, a former researcher at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica (SCMP, 10/16/22), deemed Xi’s message to the Taiwanese people “balanced and not combative.” This sounds like good news for everyone who wants to avoid a potential nuclear war.

In addition, Xi’s opening report to the congress placed particular emphasis on the task of combating climate change. The section titled “Pursuing Green Development and Promoting Harmony between Humanity and Nature” presented a four-part framework to guide China’s policy efforts in this area. Even the avidly pro-Western Atlantic Council had to admit that “China is showing its leadership in green development in a number of ways.”

Since China is home to one-fifth of the global population, and is currently the most prolific CO2-emitting country on Earth, its government’s decision to prioritize a comprehensive response to the climate crisis seems like an unambiguously positive development.

The congress even provided some encouraging news for those who claim to care about human rights. In a surprise move, Chen Quanguo, who was hit with US sanctions for his hardline approach as party secretary in both Tibet and Xinjiang, was ousted from the central committee.

But US corporate media generally failed to highlight these developments as positive news. In fact, with the exception of some coverage of Xi’s statements on Taiwan—which largely misrepresented China’s posture as more threatening than a good-faith reading would indicate—US news outlets had remarkably little to say about the substance of any news coming out of the congress.

Recycled narratives

As FAIR (3/24/20, 1/29/21, 9/9/22) has pointed out at various points in the pandemic, corporate media—seemingly disturbed by China’s unwillingness to sacrifice millions of lives at the altar of economic growth—have been almost uniformly critical of the Chinese government’s Covid mitigation strategy.

The New York Times (10/16/22) refers to the “idea” that China’s zero Covid policies “have saved lives”—as though it’s possible that China could have allowed the coronavirus to spread throughout its population without killing anyone.

Indeed, establishment outlets have persistently demonized the “zero-Covid” policy despite its successes—in terms of both lives saved and economic development. After Xi indicated to the congress that China would continue along this path, corporate media were predictably dismayed.

Returning to its familiar line that, contrary to evidence, China’s decision to prioritize public health would ravage its economy, the New York Times (10/16/22) reported:

Mr. Xi argued that the Communist Party had waged an “all out people’s war to stop the spread of the virus.” China’s leadership has done everything it can to protect people’s health, he said, putting “the people and their lives above all else.” He made no mention of how the stringent measures were holding back economic growth and frustrating residents.

The article went on to quote Jude Blanchette, a “China expert” at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), who declared, “There is nothing positive or aspirational about zero Covid.” That CSIS would disseminate such a narrative—with the assistance of the reliably hawkish Times—is unsurprising, since the think tank’s chief patrons share a common interest in vilifying China.

CSIS’s roster of major donors includes military contractors Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, as well as a litany of oil and gas companies—all of whom derive financial benefit from America’s military build-up in the Pacific.

CSIS has also received millions of dollars from the governments of Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. Sitting on its board of trustees are Phebe Novakovic, chair and CEO of General Dynamics, and Leon Panetta who—as Defense secretary in the Obama administration—helped craft the DOD’s “pivot to Asia.”

‘No to market reforms’

CNN (10/17/22) reported that “experts are concerned that Xi offered no signs of moving away from the country’s rigid zero-Covid policy or its tight regulatory stance on various businesses, both of which have hampered growth in the world’s second-largest economy.” CNN‘s experts don’t point out that China’s economy has grown 9% since 2019, when Covid struck, vs. 2% for the US.

In “Xi Jinping’s Speech: Yes to Zero Covid, No to Market Reforms?” CNN (10/17/22) framed Xi’s statement that China would not allow the deadly coronavirus to spread freely across its population as part of a broader rejection of liberalized markets by the CCP.

Aside from the obvious shortcomings of a framework that evaluates public health policy on the basis of its relationship to economic growth, CNN presented the opening of Chinese markets to foreign capital as an objective good—the forsaking of which would bode poorly for China’s economic prospects.

While China’s “reform and opening-up” has been immensely profitable for corporations—as evidenced in media coverage (Forbes, 10/24/22; NYT, 11/7/22) of global markets’ uneasiness over Xi’s alleged “return to Marxism”—its impact on Chinese workers has been uneven, to say the least. Living standards have improved generally, but labor conditions remain poor and inequality is growing.

Like the Times, CNN went the think tank route to support its thesis, quoting Craig Singleton—senior China fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD):

Yesterday’s speech confirms what many China watchers have long suspected—Xi has no intention of embracing market liberalization or relaxing China’s zero-Covid policies, at least not anytime soon…. Instead, he intends to double down on policies geared towards security and self-reliance at the expense of China’s long-term economic growth.

Despite the fact that China watchers have, for as long as one can remember, predicted a collapse of China’s economy that has yet to materialize, corporate media keep on returning to that same old well.

For its part, FDD—to which CNN attached the inconspicuous label of “DC-based think tank”—is a neoconservative advocacy group that has an ax to grind with China. The chairman of FDD’s China Program is Matt Pottinger, former deputy national security advisor to Donald Trump.

Early on in the pandemic, a Washington Post profile (4/29/20) of Pottinger stated that he “believes Beijing’s handling of the virus has been ‘catastrophic’ and ‘the whole world is the collateral damage of China’s internal governance problems.’” The article quoted Trump’s second national security advisor, H.R. McMaster—who is also currently employed as a “China expert” at FDD—as calling Pottinger “central to the biggest shift in US foreign policy since the Cold War, which is the competitive approach to China.”

Desperate search for a purge 

If consumers of corporate media only encountered one story about the congress, it probably had something to do with this seemingly innocuous development: During the congress’s closing session, aides escorted Hu Jintao—Xi’s predecessor as China’s paramount leader—out of the Great Hall of the People.

Later that day, Xinhua, China’s state news agency, said that Hu’s departure was health related. This explanation isn’t exactly far-fetched, since the 79-year-old Hu has long been said to be suffering from an illness—as early as 2012, some observers posited that the then-outgoing leader had Parkinson’s disease.

Since the whole episode was caught on camera, however, corporate media were not satisfied with China’s mundane account of events. Instead, establishment outlets seized the moment and transformed Hu’s departure into a dramatic spectacle, laden with sinister connotations. The speculation that followed was almost obsessive in nature.

The New York Times (10/27/22) invited readers to scrutinize video of a 79-year-old retiree being escorted from a meeting for signs that he was “purged”—a conjecture that the Times otherwise provides no evidence for.

In a piece titled “What Happened to Hu Jintao,” the New York Times (10/27/22) resorted to a form of video and image analysis one would typically expect from the most committed conspiracy theorist. Despite conceding that “it’s far from evident that Mr. Hu’s exit was planned, and many analysts have warned against drawing assumptions,” the Times went on to do just that.

The article centered on nine video clips and three stills, providing a moment-by-moment breakdown of Hu’s exit from various angles and zoom levels. Some images even included Monday Night Football–style telestrator circles, which surrounded the heads of certain CCP cadres like halos in a Renaissance painting.

In reference to the haloed party figures whose “expressions did not change” as Hu was escorted away, the Times quoted Wu Guoguang, a professor at Canada’s University of Victoria:

Here was Hu Jintao, the former highest leader of your party and a man who had given so many of you political opportunities. And how do you treat him now?… This incident demonstrated the tragic reality of Chinese politics and the fundamental lack of human decency in the Communist Party.

While noting that Wu “said he did not want to speculate about what had unfolded,” the Times evidently did not consider this statement of caution as being at odds with his subsequent use of Hu’s departure to condemn the CCP in the broadest possible terms.

Indeed, the paper of record saw no problem with attributing the failure of Hu’s colleagues to react in a more appropriate manner—whatever that may have been—to “the tragic reality of Chinese politics” and a “fundamental lack of human decency” on the part of the CCP.

Here was a microcosm of corporate media’s contradictory approach to the episode: a professed reluctance to engage in conjecture, persistently negated by an overwhelming eagerness to cast aspersions. In line with this tack, the Times resorted to innuendo by posing a hypothetical question:

Was Mr. Hu, 79, suffering from poor health, as Chinese state media would later report? Or was he being purged in a dramatic show by China’s current leader, Xi Jinping, for the world to see?

Rather than asserting outright that Hu was the victim of a purge, the Times advanced this familiar red-scare narrative by including two photographs from the Cultural Revolution—one of which depicts Xi’s father being subjected to humiliation during a struggle session. With these images, the Times coaxed readers into making a spurious connection between Hu’s exit and the political repressions of yesteryear.

Unfazed by lack of evidence

The Wall Street Journal (10/27/22) subjected Hu’s exit to the kind of analysis usually done in movies with photos linked by string on a basement wall.

The same day as the Times released its “analysis,” the Wall Street Journal (10/27/22) published a similar piece under the headline “Hu Jintao’s Removal From China’s Party Congress, a Frame-by-Frame Breakdown.”

Short on substance, since there was no actual evidence to suggest that the 79-year-old—who hasn’t held power for a decade and has never even been rumored to oppose Xi—was being purged or publicly humiliated, the Journal chose to hyperfixate on every aspect of the footage.

Predictably, cable news networks and China watchers also took part in the orgy of speculation. On CNN’s Erin Burnett Out Front (10/25/22), international correspondent Selina Wang said this:

Now, I have spoken to experts who think there is more to this than that pure health explanation, including Steve Tsang of [the] SOAS China Institute. He told me that this is humiliation of Hu Jintao. It is a clear message that there is only one leader who matters in China right now and that is Xi Jinping.

She did not mention the fact that Tsang is a fellow at Chatham House, a think tank that derives a substantial proportion of its funding from the US State Department and the governments of Britain and Japan.

The day before, on CNN Newsroom (10/24/22), Wang stated, “Hu Jintao. . . was publicly humiliated at the closing ceremony of the Party Congress.” The only support she offered for this assertion came from Victor Shih, another China watcher from the aforementioned CSIS, who conjectured:

I am not a believer of the pure health explanation. And it seemed like [Hu] sat down in a pretty stable manner. And then suddenly, he was asked to leave. I’m not sure if he whispered something, said something to Xi Jinping.

Half-acknowledging that Shih’s description of events actually said nothing at all, Wang concluded: “Regardless, it was a symbolic moment. Out with Hu and the collective leadership of his era.” For Wang and for corporate media’s treatment of the episode writ large, “regardless” was the operative word—regardless of the fact that they were merely engaged in baseless speculation, they would still inevitably arrive at the most sinister conclusion.


The post US Media Searched for Crisis at China Party Congress appeared first on FAIR.

Gene Slater on Housing Crisis, Rakeen Mabud on Inflation Coverage



New York Times (6/24/22)

This week on CounterSpin: As Eric Horowitz noted at FAIR.org, a lot of elite media coverage of housing problems has focused on the idea that landlords of supposedly modest means are being squeezed; or that people living without homes pose a threat to the lives and property of homeowners, as well as to the careers of politicians who dare to defend them—besides, you know, dragging down the neighborhood aesthetics.

New views are needed, not only about the impacts of the affordable housing crisis, but also about its causes. It’s not just capitalism run amok, because that doesn’t happen without government involvement.

We’ll talk with longtime affordable housing advocate Gene Slater, founder and chair at CSG Advisors.

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NBC Nightly News (11/12/21)

Also on the show: Media continue to toss off the term “inflation” as the reason for higher prices, as if in hope that folks will stop their brains right there and blame an abstract entity. We have a quick listenback to our February conversation with Rakeen Mabud of Groundwork Collaborative, when media were working hard to tell the public that “supply chain disruptions” dropped from the sky like rain, rather than being connected to decades of conscious policy decision-making.

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Combined corporate and government choices—and how they affect the rest of us, this week on CounterSpin.

The post Gene Slater on Housing Crisis, Rakeen Mabud on Inflation Coverage appeared first on FAIR.

Media Muddled Midterms by Simplifying Crime’s Complexities


Fearmongering about crime in Democratic states and cities was certainly central to the Republican Party’s midterm elections strategy (Vox, 11/3/22), although at this point it is hard to say how effective it was.

As of this writing, Republicans look likely but not guaranteed to take control of the House of Representatives; the fate of the Senate is still anyone’s guess. Several governors’ races remain to be called, but so far Democrats have seen a net gain of two, aided by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul successfully fending off a surprisingly challenging run by Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Trumpian election denier (MSNBC, 10/27/22).

What is certain is that the Republican obsession with crime received major attention in the media, and the subject was not always handled with the proper context, often tipping the balance to the conservative partisan narrative.

Part of this is historical: Republicans—fans of heavy-handed policing and long prison sentences—love to paint Democrats and their bleeding-heart liberalism for allowing criminals to run amok, an electoral blueprint that goes back at least to Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign (AP, 8/27/20). Republicans have also driven a pro-police platform specifically against the Black Lives Matter uprising of the summer of 2020, which popularized the expression “defund the police” (CNN, 10/23/22).

‘Decades-long lows’

Violent crime rates are much closer to the trough reached in 2014 than they are to the peak hit in 1991. (Statista).

Has crime increased nationally while Democrats controlled the White House and Congress? According to the FBI’s report on crime statistics, the answer is complicated: “Overall violent crime volume decreased 1.0% for the nation from 1,326,600 in 2020 to 1,313,200 in 2021, which was up 5.6% from 2019.” In other words, in the one year we have data on since Democrats took over the White House and both houses of Congress, violent crime has gone down slightly.

Meanwhile, the “number of murders increased from 22,000 in 2020 to 22,900 in 2021,” thus signifying an “increase of 4.3% on top of the 29.4% increase in 2020”—so homicides have increased, but at a slower rate than before 2020’s Democratic victory.

The Marshall Project (11/5/22) put these recent shifts in historical context: “Since the 1990s, both violent and property crime reported to the police and estimated by survey research have declined.” It added that while “the violent crime rate increased slightly since the pandemic, it’s a little more than half what it was three decades ago.”

New York City, often depicted in the local and national media as the US equivalent of Beirut in the 1980s, has had a recent crime increase since the pandemic began, but this “obscures the fact that crime is still at decades-long lows” (Bloomberg, 7/29/22).

Crime is also not a Democratic problem, as the Brennan Center (7/12/22) noted:

Despite politicized claims that this rise was the result of criminal justice reform in liberal-leaning jurisdictions, murders rose roughly equally in cities run by Republicans and cities run by Democrats.

Looking at the geographic distribution of crime also muddies the Republican image: Eight of the ten states with the highest murder rates voted for Trump in 2020, and in fact none of those eight have voted for a Democrat for president in the current century.

‘Crime doesn’t feel complex’

Of course, the realities of crime data never stopped Republicans from painting Democrats as soft on crime, or blaming crime spikes—real or imaginary—on Democratic policies. In 2022, rather than combating such distortions, various media helped to amplify a simplistic depiction, becoming de facto propaganda arms for the Republican campaigns.

Democrats were haunted not so much by crime as by corporate media misrepresentations of crime (Yahoo News, 11/7/22).

Yahoo News (11/7/22) noted that while murders and rapes are down in 2022, aggravated assault and robbery are up, acknowledging a complex picture of crime. But Yahoo added, “Crime doesn’t necessarily feel complex to voters.” It said this perception has

benefited Republicans, who have been pressing crime as an issue for months, assailing Democrats for their supposed lack of empathy for both police officers and the victims of violent crime.

The idea is that Democrats are to blame not for the reality of crime, but for failing to comfort voter perceptions—an impossible expectation.

The New York Times (10/25/22), covering the governor’s race in New York, noted that while the truth about crime is “nuanced,” a

rash of highly visible, violent episodes, especially on the New York City subways, in recent months have left many New Yorkers with at least the perception that parts of the state are growing markedly less safe.

Ignore for a moment that the New York City mayor, not the governor in Albany, commands the city’s police department: This is another example of media suggesting that the myth of crime is as important as the actual numbers.

The Washington Post (10/26/22) studied the degree to which three major TV networks—CNN, Fox News and MSNBC—have driven this narrative. “Through July and August, all three networks were mentioning crime about as much as they did in the first half of the year,” the paper’s Philip Bump said. But by September, “mentions on Fox News began to soar,” and a month later, “mentions began to rise on CNN and MSNBC, too, in part as a reflection of the increased discussion of crime on the campaign trail.”

‘The grim reality’

When other outlets pick up on Fox News‘ politicized obsession with crime, Fox (11/6/22) trumpets that as proof that its fearmongering was reality-based.

This impact of right-wing, self-consciously political media on more centrist corporate media can be seen in individual reports. MSNBC (11/5/22) had a one-on-one interview with Hochul that focused heavily on her Trump-backed opponent’s obsession with the perception of rising crime. Immediately, this became fodder for the conservative media organs. Fox News (11/6/22) gloated, “MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle Clashes With Gov. Kathy Hochul Over Crime in New York: ‘We Don’t Feel Safe.’” The New York Post (11/5/22) and Newsweek (11/6/22) boosted the interview as well. Thus an ostensibly  “liberal” network can effectively create news content for conservative competitors, but also allow conservatives to say, “See? Even the liberal media believe crime is out of control.”

In New York, the Rupert Murdoch–owned media worked tirelessly to sully Hochul’s record on crime. In a particularly comical and incestuous example, a Wall Street Journal (10/24/22) editorial scoffed at Hochul’s anti-crime record, counseling that in order to learn about “the grim reality, read the New York Post”—a sensational tabloid Murdoch also owns—“where America’s hardest-working police reporters cover America’s hardest-working criminals.”

The suggestion from the Journal, supposedly the most serious of Murdoch’s outlets, is that truth shouldn’t be found from facts and data, but anecdotes from its hard-right sister publication. If you don’t get your news from tabloid headlines, you may be aware that New York City’s criminals are actually underachievers, resulting in a homicide rate that ranks 80th out of the US’s 100 largest cities.

The New York Post, in addition to constant crime coverage, portrayed Zeldin’s crime platform as ecumenical, gaining support from both ultra-religious Jews (11/1/22) to a busker known as the Naked Cowboy (11/2/22). Unsurprisingly, the Post (10/28/22) endorsed the Republican, citing crime as a reason.

Botching the truth and failing to provide context, the Post (10/30/22) reported that in support of Zeldin,

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blasted New York Democrats for “coddling” criminals…and blamed their leadership for sending residents packing for the Sunshine State.

One problem: The homicide rate in Republican-led Florida (7.8 per 100,000 people) is higher than it is in Democratic New York (4.7).

‘Stories of stabbings’

But you don’t have to be Murdoch-owned to distort the crime story. In an otherwise insightful and well-reported story about Ronald Lauder’s enormous financial support to Zeldin, the New York Times (11/6/22) said that Zeldin’s impressive polling was partly due to “rising crime,” that Lauder feared “crime is driving people from the city,” and that Republicans “tie Ms. Hochul to a rise in crime”—not clarifying that statistics about the city’s crime rates paint a complex and mixed picture (AP, 2/1/22), one that doesn’t support a conservative agenda. Only after several of these references did the report finally say that pro-Zeldin messaging included “context-free claims about crime.”

Corporate media almost never admit that voters’ perceptions of how much crime there is depends on how much crime they’ve been shown by media–and that’s what determines whether a “crime message resonates” (AP, 10/25/22).

A number of major media outlets have occasionally tried to paint a more complicated picture of crime concerns, noting that much of the fear is driven by Republican propaganda and feelings about crime rather than data (Reuters, 11/1/22; NPR, 11/3/22; New York Times, 11/3/22; Atlantic, 11/8/22). But day-to-day political coverage still presents tales of rising crime as fact, as when AP (10/25/22) said that Zeldin’s anti-crime message resonated with voters as he “spent much of the year railing against a streak of shootings and other violent crimes, including a series of unprovoked attacks on New York City subways,” and “lamented stories of stabbings, people being shoved onto the tracks by strangers….” The AP did mention that the “reality” of crime rates is “often more nuanced,” but included these complicating details farther down in the story.

Newsweek’s editor-in-chief, Jonathan Tobin (10/4/22), gloated that a recent crime spike would be good for Republican Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz. (Tobin is a former executive editor of Commentary, a neoconservative magazine.) In Georgia, Politico (10/30/22) editorialized in a news piece that incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp “linked” his challenger, Stacey Abrams, “to the now politically toxic ‘defund the police’ movement.”

Crime is like war. It’s an absolutely necessary subject for media to cover but, as in war, truth is often the first casualty. Shocking images and details of incidents often overshadow facts, data and history. Partisans can quickly capitalize on that emotional simplicity, crafting narratives that fit their aims—a phenomenon that responsible journalists should try to counteract rather than facilitate.

The post Media Muddled Midterms by Simplifying Crime’s Complexities appeared first on FAIR.

Prioritizing Fortunetelling Over Reporting Poses a Danger to Democracy


Most people who follow corporate news were probably surprised by the midterm election outcomes, which saw Democrats hold far more seats than predicted.

“Expected Republican Red Wave Now a Ripple,” announced USA Today (11/8/22). “Biden Touts Midterm Results as Democrats Defy Expectations, Avoid GOP Blowout,” was ABCNews.com‘s headline (11/9/22). The Washington Post (11/9/22) reported that “few foresaw that Democrats would defy expectations of a ‘Red Wave.'”

But whose expectations, exactly, did Democrats defy? It’s true that few in the media foresaw these results, despite the extraordinary amount of time and energy they put into prognostications.

Contrary to CNN‘s Chris Cillizza (10/26/22), the midterms were not so great for Donald Trump.

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank (11/9/22) compiled an illustrative sampling of headlines in the lead up to Election Day that voiced the media consensus, including:

  • “Red Tsunami Watch” (Axios, 10/23/22)
  • “Why the Midterms Are Going to Be Great for Donald Trump” (CNN.com, 10/26/22)
  • “Breaking Down the GOP’s Midterm Momentum” (Politico, 10/19/22)
  • “Democrats, on Defense in Blue States, Brace for a Red Wave in the House” (New York Times, 10/25/22)

How did the pundits and journalists get it so wrong? Both Milbank and Judd Legum (Popular Information, 11/10/22) point out that, in the wake of Trump’s 2016 victory, his overperformance relative to most polls meant conservative polling firms that forecast stronger GOP performance ended up with more accurate predictions. Those firms, including Trafalgar and Rasmussen, aren’t fully transparent and don’t follow industry standards for data collection. (Nor do they hide their biases: After the 2020 election, Rasmussen invoked Stalin to suggest that Vice President Mike Pence had the power to overturn Biden’s victory.) Yet respected aggregation sites like 538 include and rank them quite highly (Trafalgar an A-, Rasmussen a B). The weight given to these outfits was skewing polling averages in the GOP’s favor.

Whose expectations, exactly, did Democrats defy (ABC, 11/9/22)?

But as Legum notes, even if they had gotten it right, prognostication-as-reporting is utterly dysfunctional. Polling is ultimately a guessing game, which means it’s often wrong (see FAIR.org, 10/3/22), and it takes space and resources away from the kinds of substantive coverage that would be actually useful:

Prediction-based coverage comes at a high cost because it crowds out the coverage that voters actually need. To make an informed decision, voters need to know the practical impact of voting for each candidate.

In the case of the 2022 midterms, if Republicans regain control of the House, they will use the threat of a global economic collapse to try to force benefit cuts to Social Security and Medicare. We don’t have to speculate about this. We know it is true because Republican leaders have said it publicly. But, as Popular Information previously reported, major publications almost completely ignored the potential impact of the election on Social Security and Medicare.

The political media has substituted polling analysis, which is something only people managing campaigns really need, for substantive analysis of the positions of the candidates, something that voters need.

Horse race election coverage is nothing new, of course; reporting on polls and tactics in place of substantive issues is corporate media’s bread and butter (see, e.g., FAIR.org, 10/14/08; Extra!, 11/14). It generates clicks from anxious election watchers without risking charges of bias, whereas seriously talking about the issues would almost inevitably expose how far candidates are from truly representing most people’s interests—and some more so than others.

Prediction coverage takes political journalism and flips it on its head: Rather than informing voters so they can make decisions in their best interests at the ballot box, it obscures the most important issues with its endless guessing games about what those voters want.

It’s worse than useless; this kind of journalism works to shield politicians from accountability. And in this political moment, it’s even more dangerous than that: Setting false expectations is part of the GOP strategy for credibly claiming election fraud. When Republican pollsters release results that suggest they can’t lose, Republican voters are primed to disbelieve any losses that happen. And when even “liberal” media enable those false expectations, it lends credibility to those election fraud claims.

While in the vast majority of races this year, GOP candidates appear to be conceding without a fight, in 2024, with a presidential race on the line and hundreds of deniers firmly ensconced in Congress, results that don’t go the GOP’s way could come under a much stronger challenge. And news outlets’ substitution of fortunetelling for substantive reporting could become more consequential than ever.

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