Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

YouTube Continues to Selectively Enforce Its Terms of Service

by Justin Anderson

Another day, another internal debate at YouTube about whether it will enforce its own content policies. And yet again, YouTube’s decision seems to solidify that the video platform will continue to be a welcoming home for channels that promote hate speech and harassment, and serve as a conduit for laundering far-right ideology—as long as those channels continue to make YouTube money.

Carlos Maza, host of the Vox online video show Strikethrough, published a tweet thread on June 4 detailing the online harassment he has received as a result of a campaign against him by right-wing pundit and comedian Steven Crowder. Crowder has repeatedly used anti-gay rhetoric to attack Maza, calling him a “lispy queer,” an “angry little queer” and “Mr. Gay Vox,” among other insults. He frequently refers to Maza’s ethnicity, calling him a “gay Mexican” or a “gay Latino from Vox.”

Since I started working at Vox, Steven Crowder has been making video after video “debunking” Strikethrough. Every single video has included repeated, overt attacks on my sexual orientation and ethnicity. Here’s a sample: pic.twitter.com/UReCcQ2Elj

— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) May 31, 2019

Crowder, a former Fox News contributor, is perhaps best known for his “change my mind” meme, where he attempts to debate college students over issues like how many genders there are. His YouTube show centers around rants, pranks and sketches designed to shock or “trigger” the usual targets of right-wing anger, like feminists, gays, immigrants and “social justice warriors.” Crowder has a history of using racial slurs in his comedy, and also sells T-shirts on his YouTube page and website that declare “Socialism Is for F*gs.” (He coyly maintains that the word in question is “figs.”)

Steven Crowder’s “change my mind” shtick (YouTube, 12/5/17)

Multiple studies of YouTube’s algorithm have placed Crowder firmly within the same crowd of conspiracy theorists, white supremacists and outright Nazis on the website, all of whom network with one another through interviews and promotion, exploiting the algorithm and autoplay functions built into the website in order to increase their views and subscriptions.

While Crowder might not be as extreme as some of his contemporaries, the so-called Intellectual Dark Web and the far-right anti-SJW cadre aren’t some small subculture tucked away deep in the Internet’s basement; they are massively popular and major money makers for YouTube, whose business model is based around selling advertisements. Crowder alone has almost 4 million subscribers, and many of his videos amass tens of millions of views.

In response to Maza’s thread, YouTube reviewed Crowder’s statements in his videos and “found language that was clearly hurtful.” However, the company maintained that Crowder’s videos did not violate their website’s content policy. Never mind that the torrent of hate Maza has documented from both Crowder and his millions of fans violates YouTube’s rules against harassment. Crowder’s videos targeting Maza’s sexual orientation and ethnicity clearly violate the platform’s rules against hateful content as well.

Google‘s New York headquarters (photo: Justin Anderson)

According to Gizmodo (6/5/19), who reached out to YouTube parent company Google, the website maintains that it focused on whether the videos were centered “primarily on debating the opinions expressed,” or whether the videos were “solely malicious”—as though slurs embedded in a coherent far-right ideology are preferable to ones uttered at random.

Obsession with “debate” is a constant fixture of the online right. Crowder and contemporaries like Ben Shapiro relish in constantly calling for debates with their ideological opponents, using debate as a mask for their own interest in trolling, harassing and employing slurs against their targets. When their opponents refuse these clearly bad-faith challenges, the right decry the left’s supposed lack of “logic,” “reason” and “rationality.” (Strikingly, when these right-wingers actually do get challenged to real debates, they either refuse or embarrass themselves; when they aren’t arguing with 18-year-old college freshmen, they don’t tend to do so well.)

According to Maza, when he was doxxed last year, he was greeted with an endless stream of texts calling for him to “debate” Crowder. But because Crowder didn’t explicitly instruct his followers to harass or doxx Maza, YouTube decided that Crowder was not in violation. As Maza noted to Vox (6/5/19), “a policy that says that all you need to do to get away with hate speech on the platform is to mix it with something else is an instruction manual to monsters who want to figure out a way to target people based on identity.”

YouTube’s refusal to seriously address Maza’s complaints exposes the platform’s avowed support for the LGBT community as nothing but hollow branding. Like many companies, YouTube and Google have heavily integrated Pride Month and LGBT themes as marketing tools. YouTube’s own spotlight homepage currently displays the company logo in rainbow colors, with the backing of a LGBT mural. All of YouTube’s other official social media accounts use the same branding. The top promotion on the YouTube spotlight homepage is a playlist celebrating Pride. The company also created a Pride documentary commemorating gay liberation struggles, and plans to release two more during the month.

YouTube Spotlight homepage (6/5/19)

There is clearly a fundamental disconnect between the inclusive PR-shaped image that YouTube seeks to promote, and the tolerance for homophobia of its actual content policies in practice. Here is a member of the LGBT community clearly being harassed based on their sexual orientation and race, while the supposedly progressive platform for the harassment throws up its hands, saying that there’s nothing it can do. This sort of “pinkwashing” is the norm within companies that profess to support LGBT rights. However, YouTube’s hypocrisy is much more visible, considering the leeway they give creators who are hostile to the LGBT communities, immigrants and people of color generally.

YouTube’s business model is about empowering creators who attract eyeballs, no matter what content those creators publish. It’s why it took them years to kick the massively popular conspiracy theorist Alex Jones off the platform. And it’s why YouTube has long been a conduit for conspiracy theories, far-right reactionary ideology, white supremacy and Nazism.

Following a day’s worth of online backlash to their handling of the Maza/Crowder affair, YouTube declared that it would “demonetize” Crowder’s channel, a sanction that it has previously imposed on numerous LGBT channels. (“I’ve done multiple tests in proving that the word ‘transgender’ on my channels has demonetized my videos,” trans YouTuber Chase Ross complains—The Verge, 6/4/18.) However, this decision amounts to a mere slap on the wrist: All of Crowder’s videos remain up, they just won’t get promoted, or make money through YouTube’s AdSense network, until he removes links to his web store that sells the “Socialism is for F*gs” t-shirts. Crowder appears to have met these incredibly lax terms, but followed up by publishing a half-hearted apology video where he maintained that he is not in violation of YouTube’s content policy, and continued to promote his T-shirts—via his website rather than YouTube. In response to the affair, Crowder’s followers have since took to selling T-shirts declaring “Carlos Maza is a F*g.”

Along with Crowder’s demonetization, YouTube announced that it was finally banning content that promotes white supremacy. However, YouTube did not specify which white supremacist accounts had been banned. At first glance, numerous white supremacist accounts, such as Red Ice, American Renaissance and Identity Evropa, along with Charlottesville marchers James Allsup and Nick Fuentes, are still active on the platform. While some of these channels have been demonetized, their continued existence on the site signal that YouTube is ultimately OK with keeping this sort of content on their site. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that most of the accounts that were actually banned were smaller channels with mere handfuls of subscribers.

As an addendum to the white supremacist bans, YouTube’s Chris Dale put out a blog post saying that the platform would take a look at its content policies, and potentially update policies on harassment and hateful content. However, Dale said he was reluctant to ban speech that YouTube considered to be “borderline,” noting that if YouTube “were to take all potentially offensive content down, we’d be losing valuable speech.” “Valuable,” apparently, being the operative word here.

YouTube is not taking a free speech absolutist position, yet it still accords users the right to stir up hatred against a “lispy,” “angry little queer” among millions of followers. Regardless of what YouTube chooses to do about its content management in the future, the white supremacist ban and Crowder’s demonetization have given fuel to the right’s constant paranoid refrain that social media sites like YouTube and Facebook are biased against them.

Crowder, along with scores of other right wingers like Tim Pool and Dave Rubin (who misleadingly labels himself a “classical liberal”), would post videos lamenting “censorship” and a “crackdown” against free speech by YouTube. Popular commentators like Joe Rogan, whose show has hosted numerous members of the alt-right and the Dark Web, equated Crowder’s homophobic content to videos of left-wing figures debunking right-wing videos. As a guest on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show (2/6/19), free speech advocate and Intercept editor Glenn Greenwald confoundingly called Maza “powerful” and Crowder “marginalized.”

The Mr. Allsop History channel (2/13/17) is not using clips of Adolf Hitler to promote genocide.

In the midst of Crowder’s demonetization and the bans of racist extremists, YouTube, likely on accident, demonetized or banned a number of channels that were not white supremacists or Nazis, but actually ones that document them. These casualties include News2Share‘s Ford Fischer, who extracts clips from the far right to document extremism, and filmmaker and history teacher Mr. Allsop, who uses World War II–era Nazi footage as a teaching tool.

Following the unintended demonetization of Fischer, Allsop and others, the right instantly seized on YouTube’s mistakes, circulating the hashtag #VoxAdpocolypse and accusing Maza of leading a coordinated campaign to silence journalists, citing his support for deplatforming Nazis and throwing milkshakes at members of the far right. Commenters on 4Chan continued to spread blatant lies about Maza, while others dug through his tweets for potentially damning comments, taking many out of context.

There will always be issues with giving multi-billion-dollar tech companies like Google the power and responsibility of policing online discourse, especially when deplatforming tactics intended for the far right are frequently turned against the left. But YouTube, as a private company, has terms of service that clearly bar harassment and the promotion of hatred based on sexual orientation, ethnicity and other identities—yet it allows homophobic slurs to be continually directed against an individual, so long as that target’s ideas are ridiculed along with his identity.

Clearly, YouTube’s content regulation policy is in practice arbitrary, or at the very least not enforceable to the standards that they currently publish on their website. Under this system, whichever way YouTube decides to enforce its content policy on any given day will always piss someone off. More often than not, however, YouTube sides with the creators who drive the most views and engagement, and thus make it the most money. Right now, the platform is too afraid to upset their money-making machine—that is, the content mill of far-right reactionary ideology that brings in tens of millions of views.

As Maza himself said, Crowder isn’t necessarily the problem. There will always be homophobes, racists and bigots in the world. But YouTube gives them an outsized voice and the ability to reach millions of followers, not just by hosting the videos but by steering audiences to them via its system of recommendations.

As long as YouTube continues to adhere to an advertising-based business model that rewards harassment and hate in its recommendation algorithms, high earning bullies like Crowder shouldn’t have much to fear. The same can’t be said about vulnerable members of the LGBT community that YouTube supposedly cares about.

Featured image: Steven Crowder marketing his coyly homophobic T-shirt.

North Korea Law of Journalism Strikes Again as Envoy Rises From Dead

by Alan MacLeod

When it comes to North Korea, stories are often too bad to be true.

The country has been in the news of late, as ongoing negotiations between the Trump and Kim Jong-un administrations appear to have soured. The chief casualty of this diplomatic failure, the New York Times (5/31/19) breathlessly reported, was Kim Jong-un’s negotiating team, with the vice chair of the North Korean Workers’ Party, Kim Yong-chol, being sent to a forced labor camp in “the latest example of how a senior North Korean official’s political fortune is made or broken at the whims of Kim Jong-un.”

Note how “reportedly” drops out from the video caption (Bloomberg, 5/30/19).

Other outlets went further; Bloomberg (5/30/19) and Fox News (5/31/19) claimed Kim Jong-un had executed five top envoys for their failure, while Reuters (5/31/19) reported that a Korean interpreter had been locked up in a prison camp for a mistranslation, as part of what CNBC (5/30/19) called “a massive purge to divert attention away from internal turmoil and discontent.”

The story, based solely on an unverified claim from conservative South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo, which has a history of printing highly inflammatory and even fake stories on the North, was picked up across the press, including by the Wall Street Journal (5/31/19), Time (5/31/19) and ABC News (5/31/19). There was one problem: Kim Yong-chol appeared only a few days later at a high profile art performance alongside Kim Jong-un.

This is far from the first time corporate media have been caught printing fake news about the country based on highly questionable sources. For example, it was widely reported (CNBC, 8/29/13; LA Times, 8/29/13; Business Insider, 8/29/13) that popular Korean singer and reputed former lover of Kim Jong-un, Hyon Song-wol, was executed in a “hail of machine gun fire while members of her orchestra looked on,” according to the same Chosun Ilbo—only for her to later appear in numerous public places, including at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Three years later, media were awash with supposedly factual reports that Gen. Ri Yong-gil (the officer President Trump awkwardly saluted in 2018) had been dramatically executed (e.g., Guardian, 2/10/16; Washington Times, 2/10/16), as part of a “brutal consolidation of power” (CNN, 2/10/16), only for him to turn up at a party congress. Even in its story about the miraculous resurrection, CNN (5/10/16) returned for more “expert” analysis to the same anonymous South Korean official who fed them fake news in the first place. This time, he repeated a highly dubious assertion that another general, Hyong Yong-chol, had been executed with an anti-aircraft gun, an accusation based on South Korean spies who the Washington Post  (5/12/15) admitted were “as wrong as often as they are right” even as they passed along their claims anyway. (See FAIR.org, 5/13/15.)

So you’d be arrested for saying you thought this Independent report (9/8/16) was super credible, right?

North Korea is also a favorite location for wacky and easily disprovable stories. The BBC (3/28/14) originally reported that all men were required to wear their hair like Kim Jong-un, with other haircuts banned. Watching any video featuring North Korean officials would show this was untrue. Meanwhile many outlets (Fox News, 9/8/16; Daily Telegraph, 9/8/16; London Independent, 9/8/16) claimed the country had “banned sarcasm.”

Many of these stories are written by experts who appear to either display an astonishing lack of knowledge about the country or be engaged in active disinformation. The Washington Post’s Korea specialist claimed that tall buildings and electricity are “unknown” in North Korea (a cursory Google image search for “Pyongyang” would disprove this), while other journalists, such as Andrea Chalupa, believe that North Koreans are taught Australia and Africa don’t exist. Ironically, Chalupa styles herself an expert on George Orwell’s work.

Adam Johnson puts forward the theory of the “North Korea Law of Journalism,” where editorial standards and quality of reporting on a country are inversely proportional to its relationship with the US (FAIR.org, 7/6/17). Friendly countries are reported on favorably, whereas anything goes with enemy states like Venezuela, Iran or North Korea. FAIR has also documented how the threat the country with an economy less than one-thousandth the size of the US poses to us is consistently overemphasized (FAIR.org, 1/6/16, 3/22/17, 5/9/17).

Stories about the secretive nation are disproportionately based on accounts from biased sources with a clear incentive to lie, such as South Korean intelligence or media like Radio Free Asia, a US government-funded propaganda outlet created by an act of Congress. Added to this are the testimonies from North Korean defectors who are paid in cash for interviews, which the poor, jobless and isolated defectors themselves complain forces them to exaggerate their stories and reproduce certain narratives that journalists ask for.

Nor do journalists have incentive to report more neutrally or factually about Korea. Articles from the other side of the world that do not grab attention will not be commissioned by editors. Blood and guts sell, meaning the most alarmist stories are encouraged, and those offering them will go further in the business.

Errors in factual reporting that would lead to censure, dismissal or perhaps even worse if reporting on domestic affairs, or events in friendly nations, are forgiven, or even perversely incentivized, when writing stories about official enemies. (Governments typically discipline reporters by controlling access to official leaks, but these are of little value when they come from enemy states.)

In contrast, even factually reporting on the crimes of the US state or official allies is not an advisable career move, as seen by the treatment of whistleblowers, or publishers like Julian Assange. Such is the upside-down world of corporate journalism on enemy nations.

Featured image: Screenshot from a CNN report (5/10/16) on an “executed” North Korean official attending a party conference.

Decades After False Convictions, ‘When They See Us’ Highlights Media Failure

by Xavier Best

Ava DuVernay on Democracy Now! (6/7/19): “They are not the Central Park Five. I came to feel that that was a political moniker. It was something that was given to them by the press. It was something that was given to them by the prosecution. It was something that allowed them to be seen as a gang, as a wolf pack, and not as Yusef, Korey, Kevin, Antron and Raymond, you know, real people, real boys, with real families, memories, hopes, dreams, that were dashed the day that they were captured at a park.”

When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s harrowing retelling for Netflix of the false conviction of the five New York youths who became nationally known as the Central Park Five, has reignited discussions about race, stereotypes and how America’s penal system has historically brutalized black people under the banner of “criminal justice.”

Yet this conversation would be incomplete without a serious reckoning with corporate media’s role in fanning the flames of racist hysteria and misinformation, which condemned these innocent youth—Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise—as guilty in the court of public opinion long before the official verdict was handed down. “The press response to this, and the press failure around this case, is something really important to interrogate,” DuVernay told The Root (5/28/19).

While the highly publicized antics of Donald Trump and the coldhearted manipulation of lead investigator Linda Fairstein have received a great deal of condemnation, less attention has been paid to how prominent media outlets, like the New York Times and the New York Daily News, fell in lockstep with the myth of five deranged black youths randomly attacking white cyclists and joggers in Central Park.

Take, for example, a Times article written by David E. Pitt (4/25/89). Under the headline “Gang Attack: Unusual for Its Viciousness,” Pitt indulged all of the now disproven cliches that accompanied the public vilification of the five young men, including the media buzzword of “wilding” and the reference to the brutal rape of Trisha Meilia—in a phrase borrowed from New York prosecutor Peter Reinharz—as a “wolf-pack attack.”

Aside from disregarding the elementary fact that it had yet to be established that the rape was carried out by more than one person (DNA testing later found evidence of only one rapist), the use of the “wolf pack” label to describe a rape allegedly carried out by black youth was disturbingly consistent with the general trend of dehumanization that prevailed in mainstream discussion of the five defendants.

From the beginning, coverage emphasized the non-human nature of the accused (Daily News, 4/21/89).

Some of the most flagrant examples of this brand of dehumanization occurred in the pages of the Daily News, which ran fear-mongering headlines like “Marauding Packs Have Run of the City” (4/25/89). News writers Adam Nagourney (who now writes for the Times) and David J. Krajicek exemplified this mood, writing:

Bands of marauding teenagers similar to the one that ran wild in Central Park last week are creating pockets of anarchy in the city by taking over subway trains …. Cops call them wolf packs; merchants call them rat packs. A social worker says they rampage because “there are no more rules.”

These alarmist portrayals of young people of color, often accompanied by highly dubious psychiatric diagnoses of the teens as uniquely remorseless and cruel, helped to create a climate of mass panic that ensured once the suspects were punished, there would be no serious reflection on the ethical, moral or legal reasoning that informed judicial decision-making.

Tragically, this absence of reflection is more the rule than the exception in current media treatment of the case. Although these outlets ran numerous propagandistic and highly misleading stories—neglecting even to use the word “alleged” to describe the accused in 95 percent of news articles—barely any instances of contrition can be found today.

One exception is an article by New York Times journalist Jim Dwyer (5/30/19), who accepts personal accountability, wishing he “had been more skeptical,” and “had shouted, rather than mumbled, the doubts [he] did express.” Interestingly, he notes in the next sentence:

The enormity of what went wrong was first revealed to a broad audience in a 2012 documentary, Central Park Five, by Ken Burns, David McMahon and Sarah Burns.

This was a full ten years after the sentences against the five exonerees were vacated in 2002, thanks to DNA evidence revealing the crime to have been committed by serial rapist Matias Reyes, but the “enormity of what went wrong”—namely, the public persecution and false imprisonment of five teens for 6 to 13 years—didn’t dawn on him until a filmmaker made a documentary about it? Go figure.

The Daily News TV critic (5/31/19) complains that Ava DuVernay presents false convictions as an entirely bad thing.

And where the New York Times is halfhearted in regret, the New York Daily News is wholly unapologetic in its disregard for basic journalistic integrity. Reviewing When They See Us, Daily News writer Kate Feldman (5/31/19) criticizes the “black-and-white version of the Central Park Five case,” and calls attention to “details DuVernay glosses over,” specifically the fact that some believe “the teens should have been exonerated for the rape, but not other beatings and muggings that occurred that night.”

DuVernay’s refusal to engage with this idea that the five teens may have been violent muggers despite not being rapists prompts Feldman to conclude, “More important than the facts is the idea that the facts no longer matter.” It is the height of irony that a writer for a publication that regularly trafficked in the worst forms of counterfactual, anti-black racism during this period has more to say about the artistic choices of a filmmaker than the real-life decisions of her editors, or the systems of authority to which these editors often subordinate themselves.

While individual gestures of accountability are certainly welcome, no meaningful reconciliation for the trauma inflicted on these youths and their communities at the hands of the most respected media outlets can be achieved until there is a recognition of the systemic character of the misrepresentations that paved the way for many other young black people like them to enter the penitentiary. This would mean official statements from the New York Times board of editors pointing out the errors in judgement they participated in, and, more importantly, steps being taken today to ensure those moral failures are not repeated. Anything less would be a disservice to McCray, Richardson, Salaam, Santana and Wise, their families, and the countless others who strive every day for a more just and equitable culture of justice.

Featured image: Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise in When They See Us.

Netfa Freeman on Cuba Sanctions, Reynard Loki on Indigenous Oil Victory

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(cc photo: Falkenpost/Pixabay)

This week on CounterSpin: A former US diplomat to Cuba, Wayne Smith, wrote once that Cuba “seems to have the same effect on American administrations that the full moon once had on werewolves.” It comes to mind as you hear of National Security Advisor John Bolton denouncing Cuba’s “malign influence and ideological imperialism”—to an audience including veterans of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, no less—as the reason for renewed sanctions on the country, including restrictions on US citizens’ ability to travel there. It could be occasion for the press to explore the US’s “international outlier” stance toward Cuba. We’ll talk about what’s happening with Netfa Freeman of the Institute for Policy Studies.

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(cc photo: kleverenrique/Wikimedia)

Also on the show: Corporate media would have us believe they’re interested in climate action, but they’re failing a key test of that, which would be taking seriously the lives and deaths of people on the frontline. The recent court victory of Ecuador’s indigenous Waorani, against the government’s push to auction off their land to oil companies, brings together critical things: Biodiversity, the global impact of the Amazon, the integrity of agreements between indigenous communities and the state, and legal protections for nature. But coverage suggests it’s just not that interesting to corporate media. We’ll get the story from Reynard Loki, Editor at the Earth | Food | Life project of the Independent Media Institute.

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WSJ Says CIA Chief Wouldn’t Do Anything ‘Inappropriate’—Despite Record of Torture and Coverup

by Joshua Cho

The Wall Street Journal (5/25/19) says “returns to the shadows” like that’s a good thing.

A Wall Street Journal report (5/25/19) by Warren Strobel whitewashed CIA Director Gina Haspel’s career and put a positive spin on the CIA’s insulation from public accountability with its turn towards its greatest opacity “in decades.”

While one might expect CIA officials to support greater secrecy around the organization, it’s odd that ostensibly independent journalists—with a mission to hold official organizations accountable by informing the public—would treat less information coming from the agency as a positive development.

Yet that’s exactly what the Journal report did, depicting Haspel’s strategy of avoiding backlash from the Trump administration by not publicly contradicting its dubious claims as “protecting the agency” from “the domestic threat of a toxic US political culture.”

“She and her agency have adopted their lowest public profile in decades,” Strobel writes—just before summing her up as a “CIA director who has been warmly received by the workforce she has spent her life among.”

In other words, for the Journal, a public intelligence agency sharing its intelligence with the public is a bad thing, unless it supports US foreign policy by agreeing with whatever the Trump administration is saying. This position is echoed in the piece by official sources, like former CIA official and staff director of the House Intelligence Committee Mark Lowenthal, who assures us, “It’s not going to be any good for her [Haspel] to be out there attracting lightning bolts.”

However, the most egregious part of Strobel’s report is its whitewashing of Haspel’s disturbing record in the CIA by uncritically transmitting glowing endorsements by other CIA officials:

Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell said he is absolutely confident that Ms. Haspel will push back if policy makers ask the agency to do something it shouldn’t.

“I was told that somebody asked that the agency do something that was inappropriate. Her response was, ‘No. And don’t ask again,’ ” said Mr. Morell, who hosts the Intelligence Matters podcast. He said he did not have details of the incident.

Strange: That’s precisely the opposite of what Haspel did when she was asked to violate domestic and international law by torturing post-9/11 prisoners (euphemized by Strobel as “controversies” over “treatment of detainees”), and peddling lies about torture’s effectiveness (National Security Archives, 4/26/18).

Nor did Haspel say “No. And don’t ask again,” when told to destroy videotape recordings of the CIA inflicting torture on its captives, which was condemned as “obstruction” by 9/11 Commission chairs Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean (Intercept, 3/13/18; New York Times, 1/2/08).

Haspel actually supervised Detention Site Green in Thailand, one of the US’s notorious “black sites” where suspects were sent to be tortured after being kidnapped and held in another country to evade legal accountability in the US (Washington Post, 11/2/05). Sondra Crossby, a US Navy Reserve doctor with extensive experience treating torture victims around the world, described one of Haspel’s prisoners as “one of the most traumatized individuals I have ever seen.”

John Kiriakou, a former CIA official not cited in this laudatory profile, said that Haspel was known to other colleagues as “Bloody Gina” because people like her “tortured for the sake of torture, not for the sake of gathering information” (Democracy Now, 3/14/18).

Detail of Wall Street Journal photo (5/25/19) of Gina Haspel with Donald Trump and national security advisor John Bolton, all overseen by the spirit of Andrew Jackson. (photo: Zuma Press)

Many of Haspel’s champions have offered the irrelevant and unacceptable “Nuremberg Defense” of “just following orders” to shield her from criticism. Morell himself is one of those people, as he praised her nomination as deputy director specifically because she obediently follows immoral orders (Cipher Brief, 2/2/17):

Haspel does not shy away from the toughest jobs; in fact, she gravitates toward them.  Some of the assignments that she took on have later come under political fire, but in each case she was following the lawful orders of the president.

Morell, as FAIR (10/29/13) has noted, is a propagandist who denies that the CIA engaged in what is indisputably torture, and echoes CIA lies about drone strikes being a “very precise weapon,” with “very low” collateral damage. Such dishonesty is par for the course for CIA higher-ups (Guardian, 1/7/13).

Strobel presumably knows this, as FAIR (Extra!, 4/06) has also noted that Strobel provided some of the most critical reporting on the Bush Jr. administration’s WMD hoax in real time, as Morell was doing his best to advance it. That Morell would defend Haspel is predictable, given that he conducted an internal investigation “clearing” her of any wrongdoing (Intercept, 5/14/18).

Since Strobel’s report depends on current and former intelligence officials as sources, it’s unsurprising that Haspel is considered to be “a good steward” of the CIA precisely because she won’t be a “transformational leader” who would dare to do radical things like respecting the US Constitution’s rejection of “cruel and unusual punishment” and international humanitarian law. The piece downplays the CIA’s illegal activities as mere “controversies,” and presents Haspel and the CIA’s attempts to avoid scrutiny and accountability as “no small accomplishment.”

Perhaps if outlets like the Wall Street Journal provided less adulatory coverage of the CIA’s leaders and the organization’s illicit activities, it would be harder for its members like “Bloody Gina” Haspel to get away with lying. Perhaps instead of getting promotions, they’d face accountability for their actions (FAIR.org, 5/20/09; NBC, 2/9/11).

You can send letters to the editor of the Wall Street Journal at wsj.ltrs@wsj.com. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

In Media’s Looking Glass, US Doesn’t Threaten Iran But Merely Responds to Iranian Threats

by Gregory Shupak

US leaders have been threatening Iran for years, but US corporate media persistently and wrongly paint US escalations against Iran as defensive countermeasures.

George W. Bush said in 2008 that “all options are on the table” in terms of the policies the US will consider toward Iran, which was a way of saying that the US might militarily attack Iran—even a nuclear first strike would fit under “all.” (Oddly, when officials talk about “all options,” options that involve killing people seem to be the only kind they have in mind.)

President Barack Obama repeatedly made the same threat, vowing “we will do anything” to stop an Iranian nuclear weapons program that US intelligence agencies have long said Iran doesn’t have (FAIR.org, 10/17/17). Signing a nuclear accord with Iran did not end his administration’s belligerence, as Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, repeated the threat: “The president, this president or the next president, will have all options on the table, including military ones.”

The current national security advisor wrote a column (New York Times, 3/26/15) urging the US to “bomb Iran”yet media depict the US as a country being threatened by Iran.

John Bolton openly urged a military attack on Iran (calling for “a thorough job of destruction”—New York Times, 3/26/15), and President Donald Trump went on to appoint him national security advisor. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that, you guessed it, “all options” are on the table against Iran, including military ones. Recently Trump refused to rule out a war against Iran (“I don’t want to say no, but hopefully that won’t happen”).

Surrounding a country with military forces is also a threat. Major US military bases have encircled Iran. The US has ships, jets, drones and tens of thousands of soldiers on Iran’s doorstep—surely US media would see it as threatening if Iran deployed comparable forces to Canada, Cuba and the Gulf of Mexico. Further, the US has openly talked about drawing up plans to invade Iran.

The US has gone beyond making threats to actually carrying out attacks against the country. Sponsoring Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran and helping Iraqi President Saddam Hussein use sarin and mustard gas in that war, as the US did, is one example. Throttling Iran socio-economically, as the US is currently doing, is another.

Nevertheless, US media have persisted in ignoring this long record of US threats and hostile actions against Iran, casting Tehran as the aggressor in its conflict with the US.

The Hill (5/13/19) published an article under the headline, “B-52s Conduct First Mission of Counter-Iran Deployment.” The sources for the notion that Iran is doing something that the US needs to “counter” are such impartial observers as a statement released by the US Air Force Central Command (AFCENT) and comments from an AFCENT spokesperson.

The article moved on to treat those claims as if they merited no skepticism, branding the US’s intimidation from the sky a “response:”:

The B-52s were deployed to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar last week as part of the US response to what the Trump administration described as “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” for Iran.

From uncritically repeating the administration’s interpretation of Iranian conduct, The Hill went on to absorb that worldview, describing the US sending offensive weaponry to the Gulf as a “response” to some unspecified Iranian action: “As part of the Iran response, the Trump administration also sent the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group to the region.”

A Foreign Policy headline (5/13/19) said “US Sends More Firepower to Counter Iran.” Apart from the unimpeachable word of the Pentagon, the sole proof offered for the claim that Iran is taking actions in need of “countering” is that

Tehran issued an explicit threat to the Abraham Lincoln, which transited through the Suez Canal. In the past, a US aircraft carrier would be a threat; now, it is a “target,” said Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guard’s air force.

However, the “explicit threat” can be read very differently from the way Foreign Policy suggests. Here are Hajizadeh’s remarks, quoted in Al-Jazeera (5/13/19), via the hyperlink in the Foreign Policy article:

“An aircraft carrier that has at least 40 to 50 planes on it and 6,000 forces gathered within it was a serious threat for us in the past. But now it is a target and the threats have switched to opportunities,” said Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guard’s air force.

“If [the Americans] make a move, we will hit them in the head,” he added, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).

Foreign Policy’s article is written as though the second half of Hajizadeh’s statement—saying that Iran will defend itself if attacked by the large military force assembled on its borders—didn’t exist. It’s extremely misleading to call the statement as a whole an “explicit threat.”

ABC used the headline (5/24/19) “1,500 More Troops and Defensive Capabilities Headed to Middle East to Deter Iran.” How the US sending soldiers to the doorstep of a country that has not attacked it is “defensive,” or the evidence of the need to “deter” Iran, goes unexplained, an egregious omission when one considers that there is every reason to doubt US claims that Iran is about to attack the US.

No matter how military armament the US sends to the other side of the world, it can always be described as a “counter” to a “threat” (CNBC, 5/24/19).

A CNBC headline (5/24/19) told readers that the “Pentagon Will Send 1,500 Troops, Along With Drones and Fighter Jets, to the Middle East to Counter Iran Threat.” CNBC presents US officials’ justifications for their military maneuvers as though they were facts:

Currently, the USS Arlington, USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, a Patriot missile defense battery and a US Air Force bomber task force have been sent to the region in order to deter Iranian and proxy threats.

Rather than being the debatable claims of US officials, these “Iranian and proxy threats” are presented as flat descriptions of reality. The article functions as a sort of information-laundering service, turning state talking points into neutral pieces of data:

The movement of additional US forces to the Middle East is the Trump administration’s latest effort to pressure Tehran over its support for weapons proliferation and extremist groups in the Middle East.

What’s most remarkable about this piece is that its next two paragraphs describe US maneuvers that not only constitute a threat against Iran, but actual aggressive actions the US has taken against the country:

Earlier this month, Trump ordered new sanctions placed on Iranian metals, Tehran’s largest non-petroleum-related source of export revenue. The US also took aim at Iranian oil by effectively ordering countries worldwide to stop buying Tehran’s oil or face sanctions of their own.

Additionally, the US designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist group. Iran responded with threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, where about a third of the world’s oil export vessels pass. The US then announced it was expediting the deployment of a carrier strike group equipped with bomber aircraft to the region.

The article says that the US is “counter[ing]” the Iran “threat,” but offers no concrete evidence of such a threat. Meanwhile, specific hostile actions the US has taken against the country, including menacing troop movements and US government attempts to subvert the Iranian economy, are not depicted as a US threat against Iran.

Both the ABC and CNBC articles note that Vice Adm. Michael Gilday, the director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, blamed Iran for attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure and for a rocket that landed near the US embassy in Baghdad. Neither piece notes that US officials have said they have no evidence that Iran was behind either drone attacks on the pumping stations or the sabotage of four oil tankers, two of which were Saudi, in the Persian Gulf. Nor did either report inform their readers that the US produced no evidence that Iran was responsible for the rocket in Iraq. (Yemeni Houthis, falsely depicted as pawns of Tehran, said they carried out attacks of Saudi oil pumping stations in retaliation for the Saudi/US/UAE/UK/Canadian invasion and immiseration of Yemen.)

Iran is a threat to US interests in the sense that Iran is a barrier to full-spectrum US domination of the Middle East. But there’s no evidence Iran will attack the US, which is how the word “threat” will generally be interpreted by consumers of news media.

The media’s false implication that Iran is a danger to the population of the United States makes US escalations against the country appear necessary and justified, and reduces the likelihood that a sufficient number of US citizens will mobilize to stop the potential and actual harm being inflicted in their name.

Featured image: ABC News report (5/24/19) on “Responding to Iran Threat.”

Corporate Media Have Second Thoughts About Exiling Julian Assange From Journalism

by John C. O’Day

“Democracy dies in darkness,” reads the Washington Post slogan—though apparently sometimes it’s good to put people in prison for exposing government wrongdoing (4/11/19).

After British police arrested Julian Assange on April 11, the first instinct of corporate journalists was to perform a line-drawing exercise. In so doing, corporate media dutifully laid the groundwork for the US Department of Justice’s escalating political persecution of the WikiLeaks founder, and set the stage for a renewed assault on a free and independent press by the Trump administration.

Following the philosopher of science Karl Popper, I’ll call this the problem of journalistic demarcation. Facing his own demarcation problem in 1953, Popper set out “to distinguish between science and pseudoscience.” This philosophical exercise had an overtly political purpose: Popper hoped to draw his line in such a way as to specifically exclude Marxism from the ranks of scientific theory. Stripping Marxism of its claim to scientific status would help undermine the legitimacy of a political movement that, at the time, posed a serious challenge to the ascendancy of Western capitalist powers following World War II.

The problem of journalistic demarcation is no less ideologically motivated and, through their effort to discredit Assange and WikiLeaks, corporate media have snugly aligned themselves with the contemporary brokers of US imperial power against a journalistic movement that, over the last decade, has presented them with their most significant challenge.

As Assange’s asylum was violated and he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London at the behest of US authorities, the DoJ unsealed an indictment against him carrying one conspicuously minor charge. Despite their much-ballyhooed skepticism toward the Trump administration, corporate media instantly took the bait and drew their line.

To paraphrase the Nixon White House, Bloomberg (4/11/19) presented WikiLeaks‘ exposure of Iraq War crimes as nothing but a third-rate burglary.

Alan McLeod detailed for FAIR.org (4/18/19) that, because the Trump administration had “done well” by only charging Assange with conspiracy to “hack” a government computer, the prevailing corporate media response was to exclude him from the ranks of journalism. “If Assange Burgled Some Computers, He Stopped Being a Journalist,” read a paradigmatic headline at Bloomberg (4/11/19). This reaction intersected normal partisan boundaries, with a similar line collectively drawn by the Washington Post (4/11/19), National Review (4/12/19) and Fox News (4/12/19).

Individual journalists also took to social media to exile Assange from their profession. Katie Benner, a Justice Department reporter for the New York Times, tweeted (4/11/19) that true journalists “don’t help sources pick the locks on the safes that hold the information.” David Corn (Twitter, 4/11/19), the DC bureau chief for Mother Jones, similarly drew a line between himself and Assange: “As a journalist, I’ve been careful to distinguish between accepting info and inducing or helping leakers break laws to obtain information,” he declared.

When the US DoJ predictably superseded its initial indictment of Assange on May 23, charging him with 17 additional counts of espionage, corporate media’s demarcation problem just as predictably blew up in their faces. As Assistant Attorney General John Demers announced the new charges, he boldly traced the all-important line, guided by corporate media’s hand: “Julian Assange is no journalist,” he asserted.

Because the new indictment is significantly more severe and relates to with WikiLeaks’ publication of classified material, not just with how that material was obtained, corporate media are now unsurprisingly questioning the line they were so eager to draw. The New York Times (5/23/19) no longer thinks the Trump administration is doing well by Assange. Bloomberg (5/23/19), the Washington Post (5/24/19) and Fox News (5/30/19) are also having second thoughts.

David Corn (Twitter, 5/25/19), for whom the line was so clear a month ago, now sees “a threat to journalists.” Katie Benner apparently deleted her previous demarcation tweet and has since contributed to a new article (New York Times, 5/23/19) about the “frightening charges” now facing Assange.

It is impossible to accept that corporate media were simply naïve to the inevitability of further charges against Assange. Moreover, we have known all along that, as C.W. Anderson said nearly ten years ago, “it’s very hard to draw a line that excludes WikiLeaks and includes the New York Times” (CFR, 12/23/10). So why the sudden change of heart?

Here Popper’s demarcation question about science becomes relevant, not only formally but also substantively, because WikiLeaks is a vehicle for what Assange calls “scientific journalism”—an approach that threatens corporate journalism.

Assange wrote in a 2010 op-ed that WikiLeaks aspires to “work with other media outlets to bring people the news, but also to prove it is true.” “Scientific journalism,” he explained,

allows you to read a story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: is the story true? Did the journalist report it accurately?

This considerably ups the ante in terms of professional accountability for journalists. While corporate media are content with sourcing “people familiar with the documents,” for WikiLeaks obtaining and publishing those documents is not just a bonus or a lucky break, it is a requirement.

This documentation-based journalism precludes the blockbuster fabrications that make corporate media boatloads of money, from never-opened bridges in Venezuela to the entire #Russiagate debacle. Readers can’t click online to see whether the Guardian’s story (11/27/18) about a secret meeting between Paul Manafort and Assange is true, because it simply isn’t true.

So long as the persecution of Assange seemed only to do with his particular style of journalism, corporate media were happy to throw him under the bus. Now seeing that their own jobs could get caught up in the collateral damage (Consortium News, 6/5/19), all of a sudden corporate media are scrambling to erase their line.

Columnist Marc Thiessen (Washington Post, 5/28/19) says Assange is clearly not a journalist because “Assange did not give the US government an opportunity to review the classified information” before he published it.

Meanwhile, much has been made, both by corporate media and the US officials pursuing him, of Assange’s supposedly inadequate harm-prevention effort in releasing unredacted classified documents. Marc Theissen of the Washington Post (5/28/19), for example, reproduced the US’s latest indictment at length to illustrate the “unfathomable damage” allegedly caused by WikiLeaks as it revealed actual crimes perpetrated by the US military.

Aside from the fact that there is no harm-prevention proviso in the First Amendment, and the further fact that the Pentagon previously could not demonstrate any harm stemming from the disclosures in question, it was actually the Guardian that released the password to the unredacted Cablegate archive (WikiLeaks, 9/1/11). Guardian editors disputed WikiLeaks’ characterization of this mistake, but not their paper’s role in it. Yet no one expects Alan Rusbridger to stand trial, or for the Washington Post to clamor to see him in the dock.

Corporate media jealously guard their self-anointed prerogative to set a limit on what the public may know. Ironically, while Popper sought to exclude Marxism from science because it was too occult, corporate media have sought to exclude WikiLeaks from journalism because it is not occult enough. In both cases, however, the division ultimately comes down to ideological rather than semantic lines.

In the wake of the Manning and Snowden leaks, Northeastern University professor Candice Delmas tried to nail down what it is about these events that provokes such uncritical reaction. Government whistleblowing of the sort WikiLeaks has enabled, she argued, amounts to a kind of “political vigilantism” that “involves violating the moral duty to respect the boundaries around state secrets, for the purpose of challenging the allocation or use of power.” This coheres with Assange’s own assessment: “We deal with almost purely political material—I don’t mean party-political, I mean how power is delegated,” he said in 2011.

Corporate media have made it clear that, Trump or no Trump, they remain ideologically committed to the objectives of US imperialism. Whether inciting war with Iran (FAIR.org, 10/4/18), promoting regime change in Venezuela (FAIR.org, 4/30/19), whitewashing crimes against humanity in Yemen (FAIR.org, 4/9/19) or downplaying the last three decades of occupation in Iraq (FAIR.org, 4/16/19), it is evident that corporate media retain little interest in challenging US imperial power.

Still, one might have thought that, when drawing a line between Pulitzers and prison, corporate media would instinctively err on the side of caution and go to bat for Assange. Instead, their ideological and vocational attachments to US power, along with their professional jealousy and fear of WikiLeaks, rendered him a political target who was simply irresistible…at least until now.

Corporate media’s belated and self-interested reinvestment in the Assange case might have come too late, both legally and with regard to the humanitarian situation. The UN special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, recently reported that Assange’s prolonged isolation and crushing political persecution are now manifesting as “intense psychological trauma.” Even in a best-case legal scenario, he may never fully recover.

Legally speaking, despite their newfound concern, this isn’t the last we will hear of corporate media’s demarcation problem. Insofar as the First Amendment issue rides on whether Julian Assange is a journalist, US prosecutors will no doubt introduce the litany of unsympathetic line-drawing exercises provided by corporate media journalists as evidence that he does not qualify for protection. Sadly, this means that, should the Trump administration’s campaign succeed, Assange will indeed have been convicted by a jury of his peers.

‘There Was a Story Being Told About Why They Were Asking for This Information’ - CounterSpin interview with Ian Head on freedom of information

Janine Jackson interviewed Ian Head about freedom of information for the May 31, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Center for Constitutional Rights (5/19)

Janine Jackson: We frequently hear calls for transparency from government entities, complaints about a lack of openness from agencies and departments and barriers to access to documents intended by law to be public. And such calls and complaints are well-warranted.

But sunshine on the shrouded actions of the state isn’t so much a quest for knowledge as a tool for change. In other words, we need to keep asking, “Transparency for what?”

A new project seems to be aimed right at that question. The Center for Constitutional Rights has just launched the Open Records Project: FOIA for the Movement. The project is coordinated by Ian Head, senior legal worker at CCR, co-editor of the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook and a former executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild. He joins us now by phone from here in town. Welcome to CounterSpin, Ian Head.

Ian Head: Thanks so much for having me.

JJ: Justice advocates of all stripes know we’re kind of in the Hellmouth right now, on many fronts; there’s a lot of work to be done. What is the particular problem, or need, or deficit, that this project is a response to? Why did you think we need to do this, now?

IH: This project really comes out of Center for Constitutional Rights hearing from our grassroots partners and community partners on the ground, about their use of both FOIA, the federal FOIA requests, and state open requests as a really important tool for their campaigns and movement priorities.

And I think, instead of having us at the Center racing around and trying to answer requests when we can, and helping out here and there, creating this new open records project provides a more centralized place that can work on resources that come out of what we’ve been hearing from folks on the ground, and can be used by them, as well as potentially give trainings, connect them with legal resources….

We just put out a guide called FOIA Basics for Activists. And we’re hoping that that’s a helpful resource for just getting grounded and starting using FOIA requests, and state open records requests, for organizers and organizations.

We’re looking to hopefully provide online webinars, in-person trainings, additional electronic resources, and connect people to other FOIA experts who are out there. We are definitely not the only people litigating and doing FOIA requests. There’s a significant amount of expertise out there. And I think we just want to create a new point that specifically is targeted as a resource for activists, rather than just, say, journalists or just other groups that might be using FOIA.

JJ: “Journalists, you probably think FOIA requests are about you,” was the lead on a piece in Columbia Journalism Review a couple of years ago. And it actually reported that journalists are just a small fraction, 7.6 percent, of requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

And, in fact, it’s businesses, law firms and individuals who are using FOIA more often, which I think might be surprising to people, a little bit, but the truth is that the gatekeeper journalists are not—although there are examples of journalists using FOIA to tremendous effect, of course—but they are not the main folks using it. So it’s important that other people know how to.

IH: Absolutely.

JJ: Well, where would you like reporters, though, to see themselves in this project?

Ian Head: “The reporters play such a key role in often assisting our movement partners to achieve their goals, reporting on the findings of these requests, and helping shape the narrative that is so important for our grassroots partners and their campaigns.”

IH: The reporters play such a key role in often assisting our movement partners to achieve their goals, reporting on the findings of these requests, and helping shape the narrative that is so important for our grassroots partners and their campaigns, to push forward and reach, whether it’s reach other people in their community or reach the places in power, Congress and others. I think it’s critical that journalists are part of this.

JJ: Yeah, I always say with regard to whistleblowers, whistleblowers can pitch, but reporters have to catch.

And it’s the same for data: If it’s allowed to be accessed, but nobody bumps it with a trumpet, you know, or puts it to use, then the power of the knowledge is kind of squandered. In the case of the whistleblower, that could be their whole life that went into getting this information out, and we can’t just let it lay on the page.

And that’s what I see in this project, of really trying to not just get the information, but use the information to make a difference in the world.

IH: Exactly.

USA Today (4/26/19)

JJ: Talking to media using it, USA Today, for example, has compiled this incredible national database on police officers that have been banned from the profession. It’s information that was kept secret by lots of folks. And they used state open record laws to collect these public records about police conduct.

And they actually have been detailing just how difficult it is. They said, “in state after state, USA Today had to employ the assistance of its lawyers to gain access to the public records, a resource that citizens walking in the door searching for public information often don’t have.”

So the state level, even though the project names FOIA, the state level is really critical here, too, right?

IH: Absolutely. The state level is, especially right now, really critical. And we’ve definitely had certain successes in getting records, and getting records faster, at times at the state level rather than through the FOIA.

JJ: Are there any cases that, for you at CCR, make especially clear the importance of these access laws around things like FOIA?

IH:  I mentioned that we’re doing these FOIAs on behalf of, or just supporting FOIA requests from, our grassroots partners. So, one of our partners recently was Color of Change, which is a great organization that does a lot of advocacy around racial justice issues.  They have been hearing from their people about the surveillance of black activists, especially around a lot of the protests against police brutality in the last several years.

We did together a FOIA request to DHS and FBI, to get more information about this surveillance. CoC chose to connect with journalists and try to build some press around the request and the litigation itself, so that there was a story being told about why they were asking for this information, the importance of getting this information from the government. So even before we started getting documents, I think it was really amazing to see how CoC strategized around using the request in that way.

And then among the documents we got were a number of scary reports and emails. But one of them was a series of emails that referred to something called, literally, the DHS analysts were calling it the “Race Paper,” that’s how it was referred to in the emails. And we actually had the so-called “Race Paper” produced to us as well, but completely redacted. There was nothing visible except for just a big black square on eight pages of paper. And again, we litigated to try to get at least part of that unredacted.

Ultimately, a judge looked at that, and said that it was a draft paper, and so it couldn’t be released. But the organizing around the litigation, by CoC and others, got a lot of media attention, going back to what we were saying about the importance of journalists. And so there was a lot of bubbling of, “What is this ‘Race Paper’? Why are they hiding it? What is this? Does it connect to the leaked FBI report on so-called ‘Black Identity Extremists’?”

And that has continued and, actually, Rep. Donald Payne, I believe, of New Jersey, in a recent hearing with DHS officials, questioned them about what the “Race Paper” is—in fact, holding up the eight redacted pages in the hearing to say, “Why can’t you tell me what it what this is? Why is there something that’s been produced called the ‘Race Paper’?”

JJ: That’s a great illustration of how sometimes even when you don’t get the information, you get the story. Because the digging reveals something that is it in itself informative.

IH: Absolutely.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Ian Head, senior legal worker at the Center for Constitutional Rights, and you can find out more about the Open Records Project: FOIA for the Movement at their website, CCRJustice.org.

Thank you very much, Ian Head, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

IH: Thanks so much.

 

‘Cultural Marxism’: The Mainstreaming of a Nazi Trope

by Ari Paul

When Norwegian right-winger Anders Breivik invoked “cultural Marxism” as the reason for his 77-person killing spree in 2011, many observers placed the notion in the same category as the killer—the fringe. But since the election of Donald Trump, Brexit and the rise and re-election of other far-right governments around the globe, “cultural Marxism” has become a well-known nationalist buzzword, alongside “globalism”: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro denounces it, and the media empire of former White House advisor Steve Bannon revolved around fighting it.

The phrase is seeping into mainstream media discourse, a far cry from its former days as an extremist catch phrase, and it’s creating a dangerous situation with an ominous historical context.

David Brooks (New York Times, 11/26/19) explains the “generation gap” by invoking a buzzword ultimately derived from Nazi propaganda.

Doing his usual shtick of a more refined version of Abe Simpson, columnist David Brooks (New York Times, 11/26/19) lamented that today’s youths “tend to have been influenced by the cultural Marxism that is now the lingua franca in the elite academy,” giving them a “clash of oppressed and oppressor groups” worldview. Also in the Times, contributor Molly Worthen (4/20/19) quoted the phrase “cultural Marxism”—not approvingly, but not explaining what it meant, either, just offering it as an example of what “conservatives” were complaining about. A Times story in 2017 (8/11/17) about a former White House aide reported that the aide believed “globalists” would “impose cultural Marxism in the United States”—again, without defining for the layperson what that might mean.

The Washington Post (like other newspapers) invoked the phrase in its reports on Bolsonaro’s rise to power last year, and even on the hipster styles of the new wave of American white nationalists: In November 2016, the Post (11/30/16) reported that the style of shaved sides with long hair combed back is “worn by men who feel their whiteness has been infringed upon by the ‘cultural Marxism’ of the Americas.” And opinion-haver Andrew Sullivan took to New York (2/9/18) to denounce “cultural Marxists” for inspiring social justice movements on campuses.

What does cultural Marxism mean for the far right? In the modern iteration, in spaces like Breitbart or Infowars, it is the belief that a failure by communists to topple capitalism through worker revolt has led to a “Plan B” to destroy Western society from the inside. By tearing down the gender binary, de-centering Christianity values, championing the weak over the privileged and creating a multicultural society, revolutionaries have unanchored traditional Western order. Everything from gay rights to Muslim immigration is, in the language of the far right, part of a plot to finish the job that radical worker organizing could not.

Suffice it to say, this is a most paranoid fantasy. Most Marxists don’t speak in these terms, and people who do advocate for immigration, multiculturalism or secularism do so out of a certain regard for human and civil rights. But the far right still obsesses that this is a historical cultural struggle.

Like others on the right, the National Review (8/9/18) saw proof of the plot in the Frankfurt School, which

was born out of a psychological need to explain why communism had failed to take root, initially in Germany but more broadly in the West. The answer that Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer and others settled on—after borrowing some ideas from Freud and Nietzsche—was that the structure of capitalist society (which they perversely and ludicrously equated with fascism) was even more totalitarian than they had realized. In other words, communism couldn’t take root because fascism already had.

It’s far from a cultural grappling with the Frankfurt School’s actual ideas, which live mostly in academia. As Spencer Sunshine, an associate fellow at Political Research Associates, points out, the focus on the Frankfurt School by the right serves to highlight its inherent Jewishness. “A piece stands in for the whole,” he said.

This isn’t one of those “yeah, it could be interpreted as antisemitic” things—it’s straight from Nazi ideology, with just enough cosmetic changes to make it acceptable for the modern right.  “Cultural Bolshevism” was the term used by Nazi critics of modernist art, which they believed to be rooted in Jewish decadence and thereby, according to Nazi logic, connected to the communist specter. As Dominic Green (Spectator USA, 3/28/19) wrote in a conservative critique of conservatives’ complaints about “cultural Marxism”: “For the Nazis, the Frankfurter School and its vaguely Jewish exponents fell under the rubric of Kulturbolshewismus, ‘Cultural Bolshevism.’”

William Lind meeting with Donald Trump (American Conservative, 10/17/16).

It came into the American sector through paleoconservative writers William S. Lind and Paul Weyrich, who in a series of articles recrafted the Nazi idea of “cultural Marxism” as a scare tactic for the American right. “These guys were all Jewish,” Lind told a Holocaust denial conference in 2002; Lind would be later be cited as a prominent influence on Trump’s nationalist agenda.

As Sunshine noted:

It is deeply disturbing that it is used by mainstream conservatives when it’s clearly antisemitic…. They attribute it to all these things, anything from Black Bloc to Hillary Clinton, any kind of social liberalism.

It’s not too surprising that the nationalistic right still clings onto such fascist anachronisms; it’s clearly helping them at the voting booth, from the United States to Europe to Brazil.  It’s an important mobilizing call for the far right, depicting things like immigration and secularism not simply as liberal values, but as far-left revolutionary tools.

What should be shocking is the cavalier way some traditional media, like the Times and the Post, are allowing it to live on their pages. Brooks rebrands cultural Marxism as mere political correctness, giving the Nazi-inspired phrase legitimacy for the American right. It is dropped in or quoted in other stories—some of them lighthearted, like the fashion cues of the alt-right—without describing how fringe this notion is. It’s akin to letting conspiracy theories about chem trails or vaccines get unearned space in mainstream press.

And it’s not as if the Times doesn’t know this. In 2018, Columbia University historian Samuel Moyn wrote in a Times blog post (11/13/18):

That “cultural Marxism” is a crude slander, referring to something that does not exist, unfortunately does not mean actual people are not being set up to pay the price, as scapegoats to appease a rising sense of anger and anxiety. And for that reason, “cultural Marxism” is not only a sad diversion from framing legitimate grievances, but also a dangerous lure in an increasingly unhinged moment.

Newspapers should be responsible with such phrases, and it’s easy to do that. It is common—and good practice—for mainstream journalists to avoid imprecise phrases like “pro-life,” and instead call the position “anti-abortion.” Reuters has tight rules for using the word “terrorist,” because the label is too often thrown around. For those with strong feelings about terrorism, it might have seemed insensitive, but for the sake of straight reporting, it was necessary. Brooks shouldn’t have used “cultural Marxism,” not because he should be censored, but because what he meant was “political correctness” and not (we hope) a century-old antisemitic trope.

It would be sensible, when the term is invoked by far-right extremists, to provide readers with a definition of the phrase and its origin. And unless it is invoked in a quote, writers like Brooks should be encouraged not to use it all. “They should define it as an antisemitic conspiracy theory with no basis in fact,” Sunshine said of mainstream news editors.

Failure to do that, as places like the Times and Post are guilty of, has bitter consequences. “It is legitimizing the use of that framework, and therefore it’s coded antisemitism,” Sunshine said.

Featured image: Illustration of “cultural Marxism” from a neo-Nazi website.

‘It Puts You Into a Process That Hugely Favors the Employer’ - CounterSpin interview with Celine McNicholas on forced arbitration

Janine Jackson interviewed Celine McNicholas about forced arbitration for the May 31, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: Fast food workers winning a higher minimum wage. Public school teachers winning smaller class sizes. Workers have had some remarkable victories recently.

CPD/EPI (5/19)

At the same time, a new report from the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for Popular Democracy describes the disturbing rise of a particular constraint on workers’ voices and their power.

The press release for the report contains a quote that presents the problem clearly. Brenda Rojas, a college student in Oregon, says:

While working at Buffalo Wild Wings, my coworkers and I experienced wage theft regularly, and worked in an environment of constant sexual harassment. Complaining about these working conditions was pointless, because we had signed a forced arbitration clause, and the company knew that we couldn’t fight back in court. None of us understood the forced arbitration language when we signed our new-hire paperwork. But we were told that if we did not “check all the boxes,” we would not be hired. How can students like me build a brighter economic future when our employers are allowed to rip us off?

How indeed?

But there is resistance, too, to be found in the report, called Unchecked Corporate Power: Forced Arbitration, the Enforcement Crisis and How Workers Are Fighting Back.

We’re joined now by one of the report’s authors. Celine McNicholas is director of government affairs and labor counsel at the Economic Policy Institute. She joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Celine McNicholas.

Celine McNicholas: Thank you for having me.

JJ: First of all, the report was released, for a reason, on the one-year anniversary of a Supreme Court decision. What was the significance of Epic Systems v. Lewis? How did that ruling spur this report?

CM: Epic Systems essentially codified the problem that you just revealed in the quote that you read, that workers are increasingly being required to sign away their right to sue when their employment rights are violated by their employer.

And Epic Systems essentially green-lighted employers embracing that practice, and unfortunately, going into the decision, the majority of workers were already facing the threat of this. And we now know that employers are increasingly embracing it since the decision. So a year out, we’re seeing this more and more.

JJ: Well, we talk, in media and elsewhere, about the labor “market,” as though people were mobile economic actors who can make informed choices about where to work. So if you don’t want to sign away your right to a class action lawsuit, the unspoken thinking goes, don’t take a job that requires it.

We should take issue with that idea, and, obviously, people have never been identically situated with regard to choices.

But your report makes it clear that in the private sector, in the nonunion private sector, not signing these things is increasingly just not an option. And it’s not just college students and their first jobs.

CM: That’s exactly right. And I think you hit on the fundamental myth, right, that we’re all sort of free agents in this economy.

And I think it’s wonderfully encouraging that unemployment continues to decrease, and wages, for the first time in a long time, we’re actually experiencing some level of an uptick. But still, most working people feel lucky to have a job, and feel that they have very little leverage, in that initial negotiation with their employer for the terms and conditions of their work.

And so in practicality, we all know, we can all admit, that we signed the paperwork on the first day on the job—and we’re happy to be signing up for, potentially, if we’re lucky enough, healthcare, and all of the other tangential forms—but we also may be signing away this right, without even really realizing the implications of what we’ve been asked to sign as a condition of working there. And that’s a really troubling trend, because it applies across all employment rights.

JJ: These forced arbitration clauses that the report projects, by 2024, 80 percent of private-sector, nonunion workers will be covered by these forced arbitration clauses. Let’s spell it out: What is wrong with forced arbitration?

CM: So short answer is “everything.” We’ll go into detail here: So essentially, when you are forced to arbitrate a claim, an employment claim, I would argue, in particular, because we just talked about the fact that most workers, you have limited leverage on the job; the employer, if they’re not happy with you, they can fire you for any reason at all, just not a narrow set of prohibited reasons that are protected reasons under the law.

Let’s say you’re being sexually harassed in your workplace, but you’ve been forced to sign an arbitration agreement on that first day. That means that, if you’re not getting any kind of relief, you go to HR, you go to your supervisor, and he or she says, “OK, we’re going to help you resolve this, but we’re going to do it through arbitration, you have no right to sue us.”

That immediately limits your leverage. But it also puts you into a process that hugely favors that employer, because you’re going it alone, you’re using a system that they’re paying for, “they” being the employer. That disadvantages all workers.

JJ: You very specifically are prohibited from joining together with other folks in the workplace who are experiencing the same problems that you might be.

CM: Yes, because many of these waivers include what you just referenced, a class or collective action component. And that means that you are in this system, arbitration, which is this unequal, unfair system, because the employer is really the entity that is a repeat player; that means that they are more familiar with the arbitrators, they’re often giving them business. So there’s this implied injustice in the whole system itself.

But then, in addition to that, you’re doing this alone, you’re navigating as an individual worker. Whereas if you brought suit as a class or collective action, you would have a great deal more leverage.

JJ: And I understand that, mainly, what it does is just kind of discourage. It’s not even so much that workers lose when they go through this process; knowing that that’s their only option pretty much discourages them from taking action in the first place.

CM: I think that that’s exactly right. And it makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. Just think of how difficult in practicality it is to voice any kind of concern in your place of work. Figuring out who do you go to. Oftentimes, a supervisor may be, unfortunately, involved in the conduct that is violating the law.

And so you’re navigating an already difficult process, and then you’re being compelled to do so on your own. Most folks are not familiar with arbitrations; it sounds like an incredibly formal process. And it would not be incorrect if the employer says, “This is going to cost you money,” because oftentimes workers are absorbing some of the cost for the process itself. And in addition to that, they can say, “You’re going to be unlucky in this system, because we’ve navigated this a couple of times, and your fellow workers haven’t done very well in the process.” And as you point out, that is true.

So it’s not as advantageous. People do worse in the system than they do in court.

JJ: There are meant to be entities that are enforcing these workplace rules. Even if the sort of David vs. Goliath situation of individual workers is disadvantageous, there are protective entities, government agencies, that are meant to be looking out for them. The report also deals with problems in that enforcement area. What’s the problem or the concern there?

Celine McNicholas: “At the same time that many of us in our work are being asked to sign away our private right of action through this system of forced arbitration, we are also facing fewer and fewer cops on the beat in terms of public enforcement of those rights.”

CM: This is sort of a perfect storm, in my view, because what you’re seeing is decreased public enforcement; there are fewer and fewer public dollars being invested in enforcing workplace protections.

So at the same time that many of us in our work are being asked to sign away our private right of action through this system of forced arbitration, we are also facing fewer and fewer cops on the beat in terms of public enforcement of those rights. The Department of Labor’s, state departments of labor’s, budgets have decreased, while the workforce has expanded, and that leaves all of us with less protection in the workplace, and also, combined with forced arbitration, it’s such an incredible advantage—which is where that ominous title of this report comes from—it is an incredible advantage to corporate employers at this point, because they are making enforcement of any means, whether private or public, something that the vast majority of the workforce is losing access to.

JJ: We have these laws, you know, we make these laws on wages, against wage theft or on workplace safety. And then it seems like with Epic, the Supreme Court is just kind of waiving them away.

I mean, it’s kind of a balance of powers question, too, isn’t it? It seems like a real lopsided power that the Court is exercising here.

CM: Absolutely. And, in my view, Congress needs to act on this to restore the rights that were hard-won protections when they were originally enacted. Title VII, the right that fundamentally you can’t be discriminated against, harassed in the workplace, that’s an enacted law, that’s an enacted protection. And, essentially, it has been made very difficult, if not impossible, for many, many workers in this country to access that right.

Congress needs to then restore the right and say, “Hey, Supreme Court, you’ve misinterpreted this, you’ve essentially made this something that is no longer enforceable for the vast majority of workers when we gave this protection to the US workforce. You’ve overstepped”—just as you said—“and now we want to correct you.”

And this is not the first time that something like this has happened, where Congress has had to come in and correct something that the Supreme Court has misinterpreted. And it is my hope that they will do so here, because this cuts across fundamental rights, like even being paid the minimum wage. It is more difficult to enforce those rights when you have a system of forced arbitration that the Supreme Court has essentially blessed at this point in time.

JJ: Let me just ask you, finally, about specifically the legislative moves that are underway. How do the Restoring Justice for Workers Act and the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act address this outrage? And what’s the status of those legislative pieces?

CM: Both bills that you just referenced would prohibit forced arbitration, and class and collective action waivers, in any kind of employment disputes, so workers could no longer be compelled, on their first day on the job, to sign away those rights.

And both bills are pending, both in the House and Senate. So they’ve been introduced. And I really encourage listeners to contact their representatives, and encourage them to insist on passage of those bills.

The Fair Labor Standards Act, the National Labor Relations Act, our health and safety protections, they’re only as meaningful as our ability to enforce them. And without the Restoring Justice for Workers Act or the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal Act, we are going to be increasingly unable to enforce those fundamental rights. So we really need Congress to act to restore them on our behalf.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Celine McNicholas, director of government affairs and labor counsel at the Economic Policy Institute. You can find the report, Unchecked Corporate Power, on EPI’s website, EPI.org. Celine McNicholas, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

CM: Thank you for having me.

 

A Million Extinctions Eclipsed by One Royal Grandbaby

As many as 1 million of the estimated 8 million plant and animal species on Earth are at risk of extinction — many of them within decades — according to the scientists and researchers behind a new UN report. The assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is the most comprehensive review to date of the damage humans are causing to biodiversity. The group’s chair, Robert Watson, says:

The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.

CNN‘s royal correspondent (5/6/19) covers the British queen’s granddaughter-in-law going into labor.

Nevertheless, a survey by German newspaper Deutsche Welle (5/22/19) found that the report and its grave implications didn’t get the front-page stories you might expect for news of this import, and they suggest, sadly, that that has to do with the fact that the assessment was released on the same day that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had their first child. Their findings match those of US group Media Matters (5/21/19), which noted that ABC News, for one, gave more time to the royal baby’s birth in the week he was born than to all stories about the climate crisis in all of 2018.

The UN report calls on policymakers to take immediate concrete action to protect nature—sustainable agricultural practices, equitable water management, renewable energy sources and more. It’s beyond shameful that among the obstacles such crucial efforts face, corporate media’s disinterest looms large.

Celine McNicholas on Forced Arbitration, Ian Head on Freedom of Information

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CPD/EPI (5/19)

This week on CounterSpin: Quaint as it may sound, the idea is still operative for many people that if you work, you earn wages and fair treatment. We can’t seem to shake the storyline that employers, graciously, offer this, and workers should, gratefully, accept it. But a new report outlines just how tilted the workplace balance of power has become in this country, and what we need to do to restore workers’ voice and power at work. Titled Unchecked Corporate Power: Forced Arbitration, the Enforcement Crisis and How Workers Are Fighting Back, the report comes from the Center for Popular Democracy and the Economic Policy Institute. We’ll speak with one of the authors, EPI director of government affairs and labor counsel Celine McNicholas.

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(image: CCR)

Also on the show: Government actors have, it seems, endless reasons to shroud their actions in secrecy; that’s why tools like the Freedom of Information Act and state open records laws are so critical. But it turns out it isn’t journalists who are making the most of FOIA, for instance, but other people—and increasingly, activists working with, but if necessary around, gatekeeper media to achieve social justice goals. The Center of Constitutional Rights has a new project aimed at helping those efforts along. We’ll talk with project coordinator Ian Head.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at recent press, including the proposed Gulf War monument and the coming wave of extinction.

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‘It Makes a Hell of a Lot More Sense to Negotiate Sharing Technology, Rather Than Locking It Down’ - CounterSpin interview with Dean Baker on Trump's trade war

Janine Jackson interviewed Dean Baker about Trump’s trade war with China for the May 24, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: To be generous to journalists, Donald Trump has introduced a new dimension to policy-making. In assessing his current trade war with China, for example, reporters are forced to consider: Does Trump believe, as he says, that tariffs imposed on Chinese goods are paid by the Chinese? Does he not know how tariffs work? Is he pretending not to know? Does it not matter, because he just wants to be seen to be “clashing with Beijing”? Which of these possibilities are China and other countries responding to? And will Fox air a show on Chinese checkers next week, and all of this changes? It’s not clear.

But the murk around the White House’s thinking is all the more reason for reporters to be as clear as possible in explaining the actual impacts on differently situated people of economic actions. Joining us now to help with that is Dean Baker, senior economist and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and author of the book Rigged, among other titles. He joins us now by phone from Utah. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Dean Baker.

Dean Baker: Thanks a lot for having me on.

Twitter (5/10/19)

JJ: Just over a week ago now, Trump tweeted:

Tariffs are NOW being paid to the United States by China of 25% on 250 Billion Dollars worth of goods & products. These massive payments go directly to the Treasury of the U.S.

Why or how is that statement untrue?

DB: I think he’s very confused, or at least what that statement indicates, he’s very confused about who’s paying the tariff. The tariff’s a tax. So let’s just say it’s a tax, a tax on imports from China.

So most immediately, who pays the tax on imports from China? Well, US consumers are paying it.

And to just make an analogy, when I lived Washington, DC, they put a five-cent tax on plastic bags. So if you’re going to the grocery store and you want a plastic bag, they put a five-cent tax on it. Who paid that? Well, if you’re the person getting the bag, you paid the five-cent tax. Now, you can make an argument, some of that may end up being absorbed by the grocery store, maybe they cut their prices a tiny bit, so I only end up paying four cents a bag, that’s entirely possible. But most immediately, I’m paying that five-cent tax.

And same story here with imports from China. We have a 25 percent tariff. It’s the people who buy shoes that are made in China, clothes that are made in China, toys, all the other things we get from China—the people who buy those products are going to be paying that 25 percent tax.

JJ: Media have acknowledged that tariffs don’t work in the way that Trump is saying they do. But that’s not meaning, necessarily, that they’re saying that they’re bad policy. The New York Times had an editorial in which they said:

Mr. Trump could make an honest case for this tax increase. He could argue that Americans must endure higher prices, because China will suffer too…. [And that is because] there is widespread agreement, both in the United States and among America’s allies, that China is engaged in unfair practices, such as state-subsidized manufacturing, theft of intellectual property, and both formal and informal constraints on foreign businesses.

So the Times and others are saying, China has been engaged in these unfair practices, and tariffs are a tool to get them to change their behavior.

DB: Well, they use an overblown analogy. I mean, they use the term “trade war.” So let’s make an analogy to actual war.

If you fight a war, people are going to die. That’s bad, everyone should be able to agree on that. On the other hand, if we’re fighting the Civil War, and we want to end slavery, well, that could be worth that; if we’re fighting World War II and stop the Holocaust, that could be worth that.

So there’s no doubt, tariffs are imposing a cost on US consumers, on the US economy. And that’s a negative. But if it’s for some positive end, at the end of the day, that we could hope to gain, then that could be a good thing.

Now, what I’ve taken issue with here is, originally Trump was focused on manufacturing products; he went around the country yelling China’s a “currency manipulator.” I’m not very fond of that term; but China was deliberately keeping down the value of its currency, and that gave it an advantage in trade. So if its currency is 20 percent lower, relative to the dollar, that in effect makes its goods 20 percent cheaper for people in the United States, makes our goods 20 percent more expensive for people in China. So we import more from them. And we export less to them. He had a legitimate point there.

But currency has largely disappeared from his agenda. And what has seemed to be front and center is this idea of intellectual property. And this takes two basic forms. One is that, the argument goes, they don’t respect our patents and copyrights, and make copies of products that US companies have patent and copyright claims on, and they don’t compensate them for that.

The other is that when a company like Boeing or GE comes to China, they’re required to get a domestic partner, domestic Chinese partner, and, in effect, share their technology with them. So that company then becomes a competitor, three, four or five years down the road, when they’ve mastered the technology.

So this has become front and center in Trump’s trade war. And what I’d argue is, there’s a legitimate issue for workers here, that we could have more manufacturing jobs if we got them to raise the value of their currency, say, by 20 percent; it’s an arbitrary number, but say they raise the value of their currency by 20 percent. I don’t mean next week, I mean over three years or whatever.

JJ: Right.

Dean Baker: “The ‘trade war’ seems to be about arguing points that would actually increase the profits of US companies, and do nothing, and possibly even be a negative, for workers in the United States.” (image: BillMoyers.com)

DB: That would mean more jobs for manufacturing workers in the US. When it comes to the question, are they respecting Microsoft‘s intellectual property, or Pfizer’s intellectual property, and their drugs? That’s not for workers in the US, that’s for Microsoft’s profits, that’s for Pfizer’s profits.

When there’s an issue of Boeing and General Electric being unhappy that, when they open up shop in China, they have to share their technology with the Chinese firm that’s going to be a competitor, that’s Boeing and GE’s profits.

And furthermore, if we win that battle, and they say, “OK, Boeing and GE no longer have to do that,” we’re encouraging outsourcing, they’ll be more likely to outsource to China. That’s not an issue that US workers have a stake in.

So there are legitimate complaints against China, which Trump actually mentioned endlessly during his campaign. Those seem to have gone off the table. And instead, the “trade war” seems to be about arguing points that would actually increase the profits of US companies, and do nothing, and possibly even be a negative, for workers in the United States.

JJ: Well, and that’s why this big, unchallenged frame of China versus America is so uselessly crude, because, of course, we know that that’s not exactly the way lines are drawn, and people are differently situated within each of those nations.

It’s been interesting to see fissures showing in unexpected places. You have Lou Dobbs telling Trump to “ignore all the Wall Street firms,” and Corey Lewandowski is talking about the Chamber of Commerce as the “chamber of horrors.” And then other fissures are being papered over, as when, for example, this CBS and AP explainer says that the cost of import taxes is falling on US “consumers and businesses,” as though me and, as you’re just saying, Boeing, you know…. “Consumers and businesses,” and then workers, are being all lumped together, as though they were identically situated and impacted in just the same way. It seems like in some ways, media are drawing lines where it’s not most illustrative of what’s really going on.

DB: Yeah, well, they try to make it sound, I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this written, I’ve made fun of it in my blog a number of times, where they talk about “our” intellectual property. Well, China’s never taken any of my intellectual property. And I suspect most people in the country can make the same statement. So it’s not ours, it’s Boeing’s intellectual property, it’s Microsoft’s intellectual property. And those are arguable points.

I mean, I understand that, if you have companies in the US that are spending all this money on technology, and China just gets it for free, that is an issue. But that’s a very, very different issue than saying that you and I somehow have had something stolen because Microsoft takes a loss on not getting their patents and copyrights respected in China.

I’ve also made the point, this is kind of remarkable to me, we should actually be interested in getting technology from China—just simple arithmetic here. China’s economy is already 25 percent larger than ours, and most projections show it being twice the size of the US economy in less than a decade. They spend roughly the same share of their GDP on research and development as we do.

And you just go, OK, well, people in China aren’t stupid, as best I could tell; if they’re spending more on research and development than we are, then there’s probably more technology they’re developing that we should want than technology we’re developing that they would want. So rather than focusing on locking down Boeing and GE’s technology, we should be focused on how we can make sure we have access to China’s technology.

And just to give a very specific example, China has as much solar and wind capacity as the rest of the world combined. This year, they can produce as many electric cars as the rest of the world combined. They have a lot of good technology in clean technology, clean energy use, that we should want access to. And that’s probably more important than making sure that Boeing doesn’t have to get a domestic partner in China who’s going to master its technology.

JJ: When you describe it that way, you can think of a world in which countries are engaged with one another, but when you read just the language of this media coverage: Trump isn’t going to “flinch.” The Chinese are “looking for weakness.” We’re reading about Trump’s refusal to “soften,” all of this bellicose imagery. Even the New York Times editorial, Trump should have sold tariffs by saying, well, it’ll hurt Americans, but it’s OK because “China will suffer, too.”

This idea of nations as natural enemies or rivals, whether it’s a hot war or an economic war, this kind of zero-sum vision of global interaction starts to feel so outmoded. It feels like a cartoonish way of looking at the way that countries interconnect; there has to be a different economic vision of the way that countries can exist together.

Truthout (5/20/19)

DB: Well, the irony of this is that these were all the people who were talking about trade being a win/win. So they’ve just flipped over 180 degrees. And particularly, it does get down in a very important way to this question of intellectual property, where they’re concerned to lock it down, patents and copyrights. And, to my view, this is absolutely nuts. I mean, patents and copyrights, God didn’t give them to us. These are relics of the medieval guild system, which, you know, we could argue whether that was a good system back then, or even 100 or 200 years ago. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t; it’s not a good system in the 21st century with a globalized economy. We should be thinking about how we could share technology, and certainly share the cost. So we should have some international agreements where we’re going to spend a certain share of our GDP, China will, the European countries….

People say, “Well, that’s really hard to negotiate.” And I like to point out: Guess what, guys, it wasn’t easy for you to negotiate patent and copyright issues in your trade deals. In fact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Obama would have had that finished and approved by Congress before the end of his term, if they hadn’t been fighting over drug patent issues right to the end. So, yes, it’s not going to be easy to negotiate something like that. But what we have now surely isn’t easy to negotiate. And it makes a hell of a lot more sense to negotiate something that aims toward sharing technology, rather than locking it down, as our current system does.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, online at cepr.net. His article, “Trump’s Trade War With China Is Waged to Make the Rich Richer,” can be found there, as well as on Truthout.org. Dean Baker, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

DB: Thanks a lot for having me on.

‘The Merger Would Increase Prices—and You Don’t Have to Take Our Word for It’ - CounterSpin interview with Leo Fitzpatrick on T-Mobile/Sprint merger

Janine Jackson interviewed Leo Fitzpatrick on the T-Mobile/Sprint merger for the May 24, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Washington Post (12/15/13)

Janine Jackson: The Washington Post headline was blunt: “T-Mobile and Sprint Want to Merge. Here’s Why You Should Worry.” The lead was also direct, with the reporter’s assertion that, at the news of a possible merger between the two big wireless carriers, “A collective groan went up from industry-watchers: Ugh, this again?

That’s because telecom companies’ urge to merge is relentless; their promises of more and better for everyone perennial, though unproven; and their public interest critics exasperated.

The Post article was, as it happens, from 2013, but it might as well have been this week. T-Mobile and Sprint still want to merge. They’re still promising benefits for all concerned, and consumer advocates are lined up to say, Ugh, this again? again.

Now, though, we have a Republican-led FCC, chaired by the cartoonishly co-opted Ajit Pai, who has just announced that the agency will approve the deal.

We’re joined now to talk about what happens next by Leo Fitzpatrick, policy counsel and C. Edwin Baker fellow at Free Press. He joins us by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Leo Fitzpatrick.

LF: Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

JJ: Let’s leap right in with what in particular is bad, or potentially bad, about this merger between two of the country’s four biggest wireless carriers. What would it likely mean, and for whom, if T-Mobile is allowed to acquire Sprint?

LF: I think the biggest harm that would come from this is that the merger would increase prices. And you don’t actually have to take our word for it. For instance, T-Mobile‘s own economists have sent models to the FCC, saying that their prices would go up.

There’s a whole group of companies known as MVNOs, which is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator. They don’t own any of their own cell phone towers. So they go ahead and lease some space or buy wholesale from the big carriers, and then resell them to consumers.

Essentially, those resellers tend to service what’s known as the prepaid market. Those are the people that don’t sign up for contracts, they buy their minutes on cards. It’s pay-as-you-go, essentially. The folks that rely on prepaid tend to be communities of color and low-income folks. They’re the ones that can’t sign up for a two-year contract. They’re the ones that might not be able to pass a credit check that a lot of the larger carriers require.

A lot of the maverick ethos that T-Mobile has built in itself since the rejection of the 2011 merger has been to be a very innovative brand. But that’s only been as a result of competing very directly with Sprint. Within the prepaid market, they’ve been duking it out, and it’s actually led to price decreases.

One of the innovations that T-Mobile introduced was unlimited data. And very shortly thereafter, within a couple weeks, all the other national carriers, including AT&T and Verizon, followed suit. So what would happen with a merger is that the incentives that helped create this maverick brand would evaporate.

JJ: And that sounds like the market working the way we’re told that it does, you know, companies compete with one another by offering things to consumers. But the FCC and Ajit Pai and their endorsement of this T-Mobile/Sprint merger seem to be saying, “Well, yes, but any concerns about that are going to be completely offset, because they’re going to do other stuff that’s going to make that stuff OK.”

And one of the things that they’re talking about is that this new mega-company would “close the digital divide,” because they’re going to get “5G,” whatever the heck that is, they’re going to get that to “99 percent of Americans in six years,” and that all sounds very good, but I assume that we’re right to have some questions and concerns about that promise.

LF: Well, more and more 5G is being used in a way that evokes, to me, the old Simpsons episode of the man who comes into town and utters the wonders of the monorail, where the mere utterance of an exciting opportunity somehow preempts very necessary skepticism.

Leo Fitzpatrick: “The potential applications of 5G are very exciting. However, if we can get to the same place, without having to raise prices on folks who are going to be disproportionately affected, then we shouldn’t.”

I don’t want you to get me wrong. I’m a techie. The potential applications of 5G are very exciting. However, if we can get to the same place, without having to raise prices on folks who are going to be disproportionately affected, then we shouldn’t.

Essentially what these companies have done is, even before the merger was dreamt up, they had already a nationwide 5G deployment plan laid out. And now they are coming back and saying that, “Well, without this merger, we can’t do the same thing that we had been promising to our investors prior to the announcement of the merger.”

So one of the most important things that your listeners need to come away with is, a lot of the promises are not merger-specific—which is to say that, whether the merger happens or not, we’re still going to get 5G. There are still four national carriers who are very eagerly seeking out customers for 5G, and deploying the network that a lot of them have already planned out.

JJ: Of course, all these promises that are being offered by T-Mobile and Sprint, who’s going to be assessing whether they even hold up to these promises if this merger is allowed to go through? And who that would be would be the FCC, again, who I think listeners know have been failing, really, the public interest for a long time, but now seem to be almost sprinting away from it.

And I think if we look at the FCC’s actions with regard to Puerto Rico, post-hurricanes, which I know that Free Press has been working on, I think that that’s relevant, really, if we’re going to be talking about getting an understanding of the FCC’s priorities, and who they feel accountable to, and whether they are really going to hold carriers to their promises. What’s happening in Puerto Rico has some some relevance there; I wonder if you could tell listeners briefly what’s happening with that?

LF:  Sure. On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck the island. And what followed was, by many measures, a disaster that was quite on par with what happened in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.

What we’ve been trying to focus in on is, the FCC never actually followed up and conducted an independent investigation, or had the intellectual curiosity to examine this crisis that affected 3.5 million people. There was only one AM station broadcasting on the entire island 24 hours after the storm; we had first responders who had difficulty reaching out to each other. And the fact that the FCC never actually conducted an investigation is shocking to us. And I think this ties into Pai’s very ideological approach, that deregulation and the free market will be the thing that fixes everything, and that consumers will be better off when the FCC does as little as possible.

One of the things that the FCC did do after Hurricane Maria was allocate funds that would go directly to the carriers. We welcomed this investment in helping to rebuild, but they actually didn’t request, or put into place, any accountability measures. The money was supposed to accelerate the recovery and to build more resilient networks. But they didn’t come back to the carriers with accountability measures, they didn’t actually have any methods to measure—how do you know you’re accelerating the recovery if you’re not actually keeping track of it?

A lot of the work that is occurring is happening behind closed doors. And this actually hearkens back to the merger, because this past Monday, Chairman Pai came out with a statement in support of the merger.

What we’re slowly finding out is that it seems that the staff at the DoJ came up with a recommendation against the merger. And after they had made that determination, the FCC met with T-Mobile and Sprint, and came up with additional conditions, in a way to, at least apparently, preempt the announcement coming out of the Department of Justice.

And just to give you some background, telecom mergers typically need approval from both the FCC and the Department of Justice. A lot of times, they have different calculuses. The FCC reviews the mergers under what’s known as a public interest standard, and the DoJ follows more of a competition-based, will-this-increase-prices analysis.

But a lot of times they work together in unison to come up with these decisions. Typically, the Department of Justice is the one that comes out and approves the merger first, and then the FCC follows suit. So the fact that the FCC came out before the DoJ is just something that a lot of my peers have not ever seen before.

JJ: I was going to ask what happens now, does it go to the DoJ? It sounds like, as with many things under this administration, things are happening that we’re not quite prepared to calculate for. But just process-wise, the DoJ still has to officially approve this merger between T-Mobile and Sprint?

LF: Essentially the DoJ’s role is more allowing, whether they are going to come in and actively challenge the merger or not. So the FCC goes ahead and votes and comes out with an order saying, “Yes, we approve of this merger”; the DoJ can just sit back and do nothing and the merger goes through. But otherwise, they would come in, depending on whether they listened to the recommendation from the staff, and also assuming that they consider the new conditions that were introduced.

Again, I would just like to point out that this is truly unusual, in the sense that it’s moving the goalposts pretty close to the 11th hour. We might see some action in the next month or two. But we probably know only as much as your listeners do, from reading these reports and this sort of infighting of leaks from both FCC and DoJ, that’s just, again, unprecedented.

JJ: It is a weird place to be in. And I’ll just say, finally, is there a place for the public? How would we even direct our energy at this point? I mean, once an agency like the FCC fakes a cyberattack to avoid acknowledging public comments, and they then, as you’re now describing, kind of step in front of the DoJ in order to say, “Yes, we would like to pre-approve this merger.” It doesn’t seem like they care, frankly, about public input on the question. But we care about it. What should folks do with their concerns?

LF:  Well, one thing that Free Press has done is, we’ve asked our members to go ahead and call the Department of Justice to voice their concerns about the merger, and perhaps in support of the staff recommendation not to approve the merger. But also, there are a couple of state attorney generals that have been examining the issue, particularly in New York and California, and if you live in those states, contacting those Departments of Justice there and voicing the potential harms that would come from this merger might be helpful at this point.

JJ: All right, then. We’ll keep following the issue. We’ve been speaking with Leo Fitzpatrick; he is policy counsel and C. Edwin Baker fellow at the group Free Press. You can find their work on T-Mobile/Sprint, on the FCC and Puerto Rico, and on a range of other issues at FreePress.net. Leo Fitzpatrick, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

LF: Thank you.

NYT Parrots US Propaganda on Hezbollah in Venezuela

by Lucas Koerner and Ricardo Vaz

The New York Times (5/2/19) publishes sensational charges about an official enemy, based on documents only the Times has seen, vouched for by unnamed intelligence agents. What could go wrong?

Judith Miller and Michael Gordon published their now infamous New York Times article on September 8, 2002, falsely claiming on the basis of unnamed “American officials” that Iraq had acquired “aluminum tubes” with the aim of producing “an atomic bomb.”

Disgraced by her regurgitation of bogus claims, Miller left the Times in 2005, but her spirit is “alive and well” at the “paper of record.” Nicholas Casey follows faithfully in Miller’s footsteps, authoring dubious, anonymously sourced stories that coincidentally happen to further US regime-change objectives.

In a recent piece headlined “Secret Venezuela Files Warn About Maduro Confidant” (5/2/19), the Times’ Andes bureau chief claimed, on the basis of a leaked Venezuelan intelligence “dossier” that only his paper has seen, that Venezuela’s Industry minister and former Vice President Tareck El Aissami has active links to Hezbollah and drug trafficking. Casey wrote:

The dossier, provided to the New York Times by a former top Venezuelan intelligence official and confirmed independently by a second one, recounts testimony from informants accusing Mr. El Aissami and his father of recruiting Hezbollah members to help expand spying and drug trafficking networks in the region.

Unsurprisingly, the article has been endorsed by Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, widely considered the point man for Trump’s Latin America policy, and whose zeal for regime change in Caracas appears unperturbed by elementary facts or international law. In a May 16 tweet, Rubio openly celebrated the fact that Venezuelan President Maduro “can’t access funds to rebuild electric grid,” thereby dispensing with any pretence that US sanctions are not directly aimed at the Venezuelan population.

The claims of an alleged relationship between Caracas and Hezbollah are, however, entirely unoriginal, having been repeated by corporate journalists and national security pundits without evidence for years.

Attempts to tie Venezuela to demonized Middle Easterners are nothing new (The Hill, 1/13/17).

“Hezbollah has a long and sordid history in Venezuela,” wrote Foreign Policy (2/2/19) earlier this year. Newsweek claimed in a 2017 article (12/8/17) that the Lebanese political party “was involved in cocaine shipments from Latin America to West Africa, as well as through Venezuela and Mexico to the United States,” while The Hill (1/13/17) labeled El Aissami a “fan of Iran and Hezbollah,” rehashing US allegations going back to 2008.

Likewise, corporate media claims about Hezbollah presence in Latin America have not been exclusive to Venezuela, with similar baseless rumors circulating about the Lebanese political party operating in the so-called Tri-Border Area of Paraguay (Extra!, 9–10/07).

Such stories just happen to buttress similar unsupported claims by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Hezbollah has “active cells” in Venezuela. Pompeo and other senior administration officials have repeatedly warned that a military option to remove the Maduro government is “on the table,” while self-proclaimed “interim president” Juan Guaidó has requested “cooperation” from the Pentagon’s US Southern Command.

Casey himself has a long-established track record in dodgy Venezuela reporting, ranging from ludicrous stories about Cuban doctors (FAIR.org, 3/26/19) to false claims that private media like Globovision and El Universal “toe a government line.” (See FAIR.org, 5/20/19.)

Suspect sources

New York Times depiction (5/2/19) of Tareck El Aissami with an airplane. (photo: Yuri Cortez/Agence France-Presse)

According to Casey’s “dossier,” Tareck El Aissami conspired with his father, Carlos Zaidan El Aissami,

in a plan to train Hezbollah members in Venezuela, “with the aim of expanding intelligence networks throughout Latin America and at the same time working in drug trafficking.”

We should begin by recognizing that Casey provides no proof of the authenticity of the alleged documents, and there is no reason why readers should take the assurances of unnamed “former top Venezuelan intelligence official[s]” at face value, especially those currently outside Venezuela collaborating with Washington. Similar sources were used to craft the fraudulent case for war in Iraq.

For instance, former Venezuelan intelligence czar Hugo “El Pollo” Carvajal, who broke with the Maduro government in 2017, is facing extradition to the US from Spain on cocaine-smuggling charges. In February, the ex-general gave an interview to Casey and the Times (2/21/19) in which he accused El Aissami of similar drug trafficking and Hezbollah links. Nowhere in the article did Casey think it relevant to mention that Carvajal plans to cooperate with US authorities, and thus has reasonable motive to fabricate information that improves the conditions of his plea bargain.

Taking refuge in anonymity, which the Times’ own handbook describes as a “last resort,” Casey leaves open the question of whether his source is Carvajal or another ex-official collaborating with the US who authored the dossier after leaving Venezuela, since no date is provided. From “Curveball” to North Korean defectors, corporate media have been consistently guilty of not examining sources’ motives so long as their “information” bolsters US foreign policy interests, even at the cost of tens or hundreds of thousands of lives.

Urea-gate?

Beyond the issue of sourcing, the alleged “dossier” has a troubling number of logical and factual inconsistencies. A case in point is the alleged testimony from an unnamed National Guard officer about a 2004 raid near the border with Brazil, which reportedly found more than 150 tons of urea in a warehouse. Casey disingenuously refers to urea as a “precursor substance used to make cocaine,” when in fact over 90 percent of industrially produced urea is used for fertilizer. Casey does concede later on that urea has non-cocaine purposes, but cannot conceive of the possibility of the substance being stored in a given location only to be used elsewhere.

The narrative function of the urea bust, which for some reason was not reported until a mysterious dossier was handed to the New York Times 15 years later, is to provide a link to Walid Makled, allegedly the owner of the urea warehouses, and a drug trafficking kingpin of sorts. Even assuming that the urea was meant for cocaine production, and not for more mundane agricultural purposes, a key fact is that Makled is currently serving a jail sentence in Venezuela for drug trafficking. This inconvenient reality, noted but not explained by the Times, on its face seriously undermines the idea that the current Industry minister, supposedly a close associate of Makled, is a powerful figure running a drug ring at the heart of the Venezuelan state.

That aside, it’s worth reviewing the “links” that Casey presents between Makled and El Aissami:

  • According to the “dossier,” El Aissami’s brother, Feraz, went into business with Makled.
  • The government gave “contracts” to a company “tied to Mr. Makled.” (Casey doesn’t think it relevant to explain the nature of these “ties” or “contracts”)
  • The US government offered a similarly vague level detail regarding El Aissami’s alleged “ties” to drug-running when it sanctioned the then-vice president in 2017, and even Casey admits that Washington “never revealed the evidence.”
  • “Two people familiar with [El Aissami’s] family” identified Haisam Alaisami as being El Aissami’s cousin, with Alaisami supposedly telling prosecutors he was a legal representative of Makled’s company. Beyond the anonymous genealogy, no concrete evidence is presented linking El Aissami to Alaisami, and hence to drugs.

In the absence of any externally verifiable evidence, what Casey presents as bombshell revelations of solid links to drug trafficking come out looking like 15-year-old gossip from unnamed sources.

Hezbollah hysteria

While Casey’s story provides very questionable allegations on links to drug trafficking and to Hezbollah, the connection between both is even more dubious.

The dossier concludes with informant testimony on the family’s ties to Hezbollah…. One of the sources of the information was the drug lord, Mr. Makled, who described Mr. El Aissami’s involvement in the scheme, according to the intelligence memo.

After establishing highly questionable ties between Tareck El Aissami and Walid Makled, largely based on their shared Syrian ancestry, Casey’s “dossier” then claims it is none other than Makled who “reveals” El Aissami’s supposed Hezbollah plot.

According to the alleged “documents,” El Aissami and his father were “involved in a plan to train Hezbollah members in Venezuela, ‘with the aim of expanding intelligence networks throughout Latin America and at the same time working in drug trafficking.’”

As’ad AbuKhalil on Politically Incorrect (11/30/01)

The unspoken assumption is that Hezbollah, which is a resistance movement and political party that forms part of the the elected Lebanese government, would be interested in conducting such illicit activities halfway around the world. Here Casey displays a geopolitical illiteracy on par with top Trump administration officials since, according to Middle East expert As’ad AbuKhalil, “there is no agenda or reason for Hezbollah to have an international presence.”

“For what purpose? Doesn’t the party have enough on its plate in Lebanon itself?” he asked, while acknowledging that the party does have sympathizers and supporters worldwide.

On the assertion that Hezbollah is engaged in drug trafficking, the University of California at Stanislaus professor is equally skeptical. “There has been no credible story in Arabic or in Western languages about Hezbollah’s involvement in drugs,” he stressed:

Hezbollah publicly and organizationally took a stance against drugs and issues fatwas against drugs not only among members but even in Shiite areas of Lebanon.  Hezbollah has even allowed Lebanese government agencies to penetrate deep into its strongholds [this year] to search for drug traffickers.

Casey and his editors cleverly shield themselves from any reputational damage over the ludicrous nature of these allegations with a rather significant proviso buried in the 14th paragraph of the article:

Whether Hezbollah ever set up its intelligence network or drug routes in Venezuela is not addressed in the dossier. But it does assert that Hezbollah militants established themselves in the country with Mr. El Aissami’s help.

In other words, what was originally presented as anonymously sourced claims about Hezbollah spying and drug trafficking in Venezuela turn out to be little more than speculation about intent to carry out such activities.

In giving credence to these allegations, the Times repeats the propaganda of top Trump administration officials and the Israeli government about the “global terrorist ambitions” of Iran/Hezbollah, which is in league with Venezuela’s socialist “narco-dictatorship.”

Having played a key propaganda role in recent US regime change operations in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere, corporate media outlets like the New York Times are all too eager to beat the drums of war once again. With Washington actively threatening military force in both Iran and Venezuela, Nicholas Casey lends a hand in manufacturing public consent for not one but two illegal wars.

Featured image: New York Times depiction (5/2/19) of Tareck El Aissami and Nicolás Maduro at an economic conference. What are they whispering about? Drugs or terrorism, no doubt. (photo: Marco Bello/Reuters)

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.

Dean Baker on Trump’s Trade War, Leo Fitzpatrick on Wireless Merger

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(image: Pixabay)

This week on CounterSpin: Coverage of Donald Trump’s trade war on China has led to some odd writing, as when the Washington Post reported, “Dozens of US companies have complained that Trump’s earlier steel and aluminum tariffs drove up their costs and hurt more US workers than they helped. But Trump does not see it that way.” Or the New York Times says, “The president shows no signs of backing away from his stance that tariffs have helped the United States.” It’s true that the administration is both internally divided and intentionally ambiguous on trade policy and its impacts.  But what does that mean for reporters’ responsibility? Surely they can’t just throw up their hands? We’ll seek some clarity on tariffs and trade with economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

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(cc photo: Susan Sermoneta)

Also on the show: And then there were three? If the Republican-led FCC has its way, a horizontal merger between T-Mobile and Sprint will reduce to three the number of national wireless carriers. The Justice Department has concluded that you need at least four players to have anything like effective competition in an industry. But Ajit Pai says nah.  We’ll talk with Leo Fitzpatrick, policy counsel and C. Edwin Baker fellow at the group Free Press, about what the merger could mean for the public interest that’s of so little interest to the FCC.

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Round-the-Clock Disinformation

 

Dear FAIR friends,

In these unsettled times, you often hear people say that they can’t bear to read or watch one more news report on what the Trump administration is doing.

The round-the-clock disinformation emanating from the White House creates the chaos that Trump thrives on–obscuring the damage he does to the environment, to the most vulnerable, to democracy itself.

Rather than cutting through the chaos, corporate media capitalize on it—riding a wave of division and anxiety all the way to the bank.

Luckily, you don’t need to face the onslaught of media manipulation on your own. FAIR’s full-time job is sorting through the lies and distortions, pointing out missing perspectives and information, and rallying forces to stand up to concentrated media power.

We can’t do it without your support, though. Help us to sustain and grow the movement for a news ecology that serves to inform the public and protect the planet and its people. Please donate today.

 

The gang at FAIR,

Jim, Janine & Deborah

P.S. To those who have already given—each and every donation is appreciated.

P.S. Back by popular demand. For a donation of $35 or more, you can opt-in to receive a fabulous thank-you gift: a T-shirt commemorating the 25th anniversary of Nirvana’s concert for FAIR.  We have reissued the iconic concert T-shirt with the terrific “DISinformation” art by Robbie Conal on the front and two concert rosters listed on the back.

 

 

FAIR is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and your donation is tax-deductible

 

 

Round-the-Clock Disinformation

 

Dear FAIR friends,

In these unsettled times, you often hear people say that they can’t bear to read or watch one more news report on what the Trump administration is doing.

The round-the-clock disinformation emanating from the White House creates the chaos that Trump thrives on–obscuring the damage he does to the environment, to the most vulnerable, to democracy itself.

Rather than cutting through the chaos, corporate media capitalize on it—riding a wave of division and anxiety all the way to the bank.

Luckily, you don’t need to face the onslaught of media manipulation on your own. FAIR’s full-time job is sorting through the lies and distortions, pointing out missing perspectives and information, and rallying forces to stand up to concentrated media power.

We can’t do it without your support, though. Help us to sustain and grow the movement for a news ecology that serves to inform the public and protect the planet and its people. Please donate today.

 

The gang at FAIR,

Jim, Janine & Deborah

P.S. To those who have already given—each and every donation is appreciated.

 

P.S. Back by popular demand. For a donation of $35 or more, you can opt-in to receive a fabulous thank-you gift: a T-shirt commemorating the 25th anniversary of Nirvana’s concert for FAIR.  We have reissued the iconic concert T-shirt with the terrific “DISinformation” art by Robbie Conal on the front and two concert rosters listed on the back.

 

 

FAIR is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and your donation is tax-deductible

 

 

WaPo Hypes ‘Space Capitalists’—One of Whom Owns the Paper

by Julianne Tveten

The Washington Post (5/16/19)  touts “the birthplace of America’s Space Age…bouncing back, fueled by private industry.” 

“NASA lost its ability to launch humans from US soil when the space shuttle retired,” read a starry-eyed subhead under “Companies in the Cosmos,” a special section of the Washington Post (9/11/18) dedicated to the business of outer space. “Now, companies and billionaire entrepreneurs are defining a new space age.”

“The birthplace of America’s Space Age fell into decay once the shuttle retired,” another Post article (5/16/19) declared. “Now it’s bouncing back, fueled by private industry.”

Therein lies the premise of the Post’s general coverage of space exploration: Businesses can, must and will shepherd the future of the US’s space-exploration program. By parroting the propaganda of an emergent class of “space capitalists,” the Post extols the virtues of the private sector, its repackaged press releases masquerading as inspirational musings on American scientific progress.

Peppered throughout “Companies in the Cosmos” was a series of paeans to spaceflight firms: Boeing, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. The last of those four, aptly, is owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and owner, since 2013, of the Washington Post. (The Post consistently discloses Bezos’ ownership in articles related to him, though not when the paper discusses the space business more generally.)

The Post couched these profiles in lofty Kennedy-era bromides about human advancement. Shortly after Bezos peddled a Blue Origin Moon lander earlier this month, his newspaper (5/9/19) exulted in his presentation:

He made an emotional case for humanity to expand out into the cosmos, a passion he has held since he was a child and has called the most important work he is doing today.

A profile on Chris Ferguson (7/24/18), a test pilot for Boeing commercial spacecraft, asserted that Boeing seeks to make space “more accessible to civilians,” while a similar proclamation (8/14/18) was made for SpaceX, which allegedly seeks to “make space accessible to large numbers of people.”

The “accessibility” narrative translates to the lucrative prospect of space tourism—which the Post depicts as an unstoppable innovation. In 2017, the Post (12/15/17) published Blue Origin’s “released footage” from inside a Texas crew capsule it planned to use to launch tourists into space. Last summer, the Post (8/14/18) invited readers to take an “inside view” of a SpaceX rocket factory intended to send private citizens into space; whimsically, the paper likened it to Willy Wonka’s factory, touting its “sleek” spacesuits and the enthusiasm of NASA astronauts “decked out in matching SpaceX T-shirts.”

That spaceflight tickets are projected to cost $200,000 to $300,000 might discredit any notion of “accessibility”; the Post, however, countered this with a bizarre op-ed (9/18/18) claiming space will be accessible to all of us, eventually, because a wealthy art collector might board one of SpaceX’s rockets in 2023.

If you want your sales pitch for a Moon rocket to be written up as a news article in the Washington Post (5/9/19), it helps to own the Washington Post.

Just as it insists companies are breaching new frontiers, the Post also uncritically republishes Bezos’ glib professions that a space industry would “benefit Earth.” Bezos aspires to what’s essentially cosmic imperialism—that is, colonization and resource extraction of interplanetary bodies. “The Earth’s resources are limited, while the population and its appetite for energy, continue to grow,” the Post (5/9/19) stated this month.

The newspaper made no mention of what ecological effects Bezos’ and other companies have already had on Earth and may have on space; instead, it offered a pretext for Blue Origin and other firms to “exploit the limitless resources” in space, as humans, according to Bezos, inevitably move away from Earth. Bezos’ first target: The Moon, whose ice could be turned into rocket fuel.

Bezos’ interest in profiting from the “oil of the solar system,” as capitalists have long described the Moon’s water, comes at a fortuitous time for commercial space travel. The US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, or SPACE Act, of 2015 gives companies rights to the non-living resources they extract from space, including water and minerals. Upon the legislation’s passage, the Post (5/22/15) again framed a shift toward a billionaire-controlled solar system as a predestined good, declaring, “The future is here.”

The Post’s coverage also celebrates a third goal of commercial space travel: military contracts. Last fall, the paper  (9/27/18) repurposed a press release from United Launch Alliance (ULA), a government spacecraft contractor formed by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, announcing ULA’s use of a Blue Origin rocket engine. Calling Lockheed and Boeing “stalwarts in the national security launch business,” the Post welcomed the “new line of business” for Blue Origin, which already had plans for military launches–or, in Post-speak, “national security launches.” Shortly after, the US Air Force announced a $500 million deal with Blue Origin.

While the Post offers occasional criticism, most of its skepticism relates to mechanical safety. Several articles alert readers to failures and potential safety risks posed by companies such as Virgin Galactic, whose spacecraft crashed during a test flight in the Mojave Desert in 2014, and SpaceX, two of whose rockets have exploded. Even then, the Post frames these fatal events as the cost of doing business, “setbacks” from which to recover. Its omission of other criticism—the environmental costs of space exploration, the private ownership of space resources, the expansion of US military aggression (FAIR.org, 5/17/19) and the exploitative notion of celestial manifest destiny, to name just a few—is a clear indication of where the paper’s allegiances lie.

The goal of lustrous press for the titans of the “space industry” is to convince the public that spaceflight—as a budding “industry” spearheaded by the ruling class that transports the wealthy, extracts resources from astronomical bodies and bolsters the US military—is unequivocally good. For corporate media, domestically engineered space travel is largely immune to bad press, thanks to its profit potential and position as an arm of American hegemony. And, if the Washington Post’s Boeing advertorials and forthcoming space-race podcast are any gauge, this coverage won’t end any time soon.

 

Why Jon Chait Can’t Read

 

Just as an aside, Jonathan Chait’s critique (New York, 5/17/19) of Matt Taibbi is directed almost entirely at the headline of Taibbi’s piece (Rolling Stone, 5/16/19), which as I’m sure Chait is well aware was most likely not written by Taibbi.

New York’s Jonathan Chait (5/17/19) wrote a column attacking Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone piece (5/16/19), “The Liberal Embrace of War.” “I have read Taibbi’s story carefully,” Chait assures us—which is good to hear, because based on his treatment of a FAIR study that he discusses as one of Taibbi’s sources, I wouldn’t think he was a very careful reader at all.

Here’s how Chait describes the study—which you can read for yourself on FAIR.org (4/30/19):

The method of the FAIR study is to analyze a selection of commentary on the subject of Venezuela. Every piece that describes Maduro as a strongman or authoritarian is categorized as endorsing “regime change.”

Actually, as study author Teddy Ostrow said, we categorized commentary as endorsing regime change if it “expressed explicit support for the Maduro administration’s ouster.” Seventy-two percent of commentary fell into that category. Contrariwise, we would have categorized commentary as opposing regime change if it explicitly opposed Maduro’s removal—but we didn’t find any commentary that did that.

Chait calls this an “absurdly lax standard”—counting pundits as being pro–regime change if they endorse regime change. He seems especially dismayed that “FAIR’s ‘pro–regime change’ bin” included a piece by Rep. Ro Khanna (Washington Post, 1/30/19), which he claims is there because

it contains a “to be sure” sentence criticizing the regime—“To be sure, Maduro is an authoritarian leader who has presided over unfair elections, failed economic policies, extrajudicial killings by police, food shortages and cronyism with military leaders.”

That passage—which was not quoted by FAIR—was not why we categorized Khanna’s piece as pro–regime change. The passage we did quote was:

The United States should lend its support to diplomatic efforts to find some form of power-sharing agreement between opposition parties, and only until fair elections can take place, so that there is an orderly transition of power.

So we categorized him as pro–regime change, because he wrote that he supports “an orderly transition of power”—in other words, regime change.

Chait is critiquing an imaginary study by FAIR that judged media on whether they “describe[d] Maduro as a strongman or authoritarian.” His problem with this imaginary study “is that Maduro is considered an authoritarian by the entire human rights community.” In other words, FAIR (and Taibbi) are complaining that commentary is one-sided—but commentary should be one-sided. Why would anyone disagree with “the entire human rights community”?

In reality, of course, there is more to the human rights community than Chait imagines. There’s a statement, for example, signed by 70 Latin American scholars and humanitarian activists condemning “US support for an opposition strategy aimed at removing the government of Nicolás Maduro through extra-electoral means”—signed by leaders of such groups as the Alliance for Global Justice, the Center for International Policy, Code Pink, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the Institute for Policy Studies, the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research and Toward Freedom.

Would Chait disagree with these human rights advocates’ take on Venezuela? Probably—if he had ever seen it. But because he shares the approach of elite media decision-makers—if I disagree with it, there’s no need for it to be heard—he’s very likely unaware of the arguments they make, and certainly has had no real need to ever engage with those arguments.

That’s why, when he is moved to “carefully” respond to a fellow journalist’s critique of their mutual profession, the best he can offer is a caricature of that colleague’s sources. Jonathan Chait doesn’t know how to read critically because agreeing with everyone who matters means you never have to.

You can send a message to  New York  at comments@nymag.com (Twitter:@NYMag). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

Featured image: Photo illustrating from Venezuela illustrating Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone piece (5/16/19).

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