Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

‘These Terms Have a History and a Power We Have to Acknowledge’ - CounterSpin interview with Lawrence Glickman on racism & euphemism

Janine Jackson interviewed Lawrence Glickman about racism and euphemism for the July 19, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: When Iowa Rep. Steve King casually asserted the superiority of white people over others, asking, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive?” it wasn’t a misstep. King keeps a Confederate flag on his desk, and he’d already made and defended the comment that US culture must be restored, but it can’t be “with somebody else’s babies.” But NBC News ordered reporters to “be careful to avoid characterizing [King’s] remarks as racist,” though “it is OK to attribute to others, as in ‘what many are calling racist’ or something like that.”

The King story is a reminder that the reluctance unto avoidance unto refusal to use the word “racism”—on awkward display in the wake of Trump’s latest spewing against four congresswomen of color—isn’t just human nature, it’s policy. To the very real extent that language has effects, maybe recognition that this avoidance is a tactic, with a history, can help us resist them.

Here to help us think about that is Lawrence Glickman, professor of American studies at Cornell University, and author of, among other titles, Buying Power: A History of Consumer Activism in America. He joins us now by phone from Ithaca. Welcome to CounterSpin, Lawrence Glickman.

Lawrence Glickman: Thank you very much.

Boston Review (11/26/18)

JJ: We’re supposedly in this stark era—“Democracy Dies in Darkness,” you know. But Donald Trump tells four women of color in Congress to “go back where they came from,” and we have tone-setters out here saying, “Why I declare, that’s downright racially charged.”

In your recent article for the Boston Review, “The Racist Politics of the English Language,” you talk about, for one thing, the obviousness and awkwardness of linguistic evasions like that around racism; sometimes words are really turned into nonsense. But besides telegraphing that there’s something touchy here, what does the use of terms like “racially charged,” or “racially tinged”—what does that convey?

LG: Yeah, well, that’s a great question, and I think a lot of people have been wondering that. In fact, just the other day, Peter Baker of the New York Times wrote an analysis of Trump, and he talked about how Trump likes to play with “racial fire.” And I was trying to imagine how fire can be “racial” when I was reading that headline.

I think that what my research shows is that these sorts of terms—“racially tinged,” “racially charged,” etc.—mostly arise during the civil rights era. And I think partly they do so because prior to that, there was much more willingness for politicians and others to just outright call themselves white supremacists, without qualification and without dog whistles.

But as we entered an era where colorblindness became the way in which mainstream culture chose to talk about race, I think there became a suspicion, a fear of using the charge of racism, and so this seemingly neutral language arose, of saying things were “racially charged” or “racially tinged,” often to ridiculous effect, and inaccurate effect.

JJ: Yeah, I think certainly some people are calling Trump’s racism “racism.” And the Associated Press has changed its style book, to say don’t use “racially charged,” or terms like that, as euphemisms.

But I think some people think that, in general, the country’s moving steadily from “not naming” to “naming,” moving towards frankness and acknowledgement. And, in fact, the trajectory hasn’t really been that way at all. In fact, if you look back at papers in the late ’50s, people might be surprised by the language they saw.

LG: Yes, I think that’s right. Much more forthright language was used then than now, and the kind of linguistic somersaults we have been seeing recently, I think, are a result of the idea that there’s nothing worse than the charge of racism. And a lot of times, I think, there’s a feeling that someone being charged with racism is almost worse than being racist itself.

One thing I’ll say is that in the last few months, since my piece came out and since AP changed their style guide, I’m finding more and more explicit, straightforward uses of the term “racist,” and I think the House Resolution the other day called them “racist” tweets explicitly.

So I think we’re kind of now at a middle point, where it’s hard to say which way it will go, whereas a year or so ago, very few people in the mainstream media were saying “racism.”

JJ: Yeah, sometimes today it feels as though media work harder than politicians to police the boundaries of conversation. Some of our listeners may remember, not that many years ago, bigwig reporters saying, “You can’t just say the president is lying.” You know, “you can’t say lying.” And they would go further and say, “We think it’s more powerful to say, ‘The president’s words did not comport with events,”’ or something like that. And that’s because lying, like racism, was seen as, above all, a charge or a slur.

And I guess what I want to get at is, words mean things; we can’t have a conversation about “talking about talking about,” you know; racism is a real thing, it exists in policies and structures and actions, yeah?

Lawrence Glickman: “So much of this language protects Trump and others who use it, by making ambiguous what is really not that ambiguous.”

LG: I agree completely. And one of the points that I tried to make in my Boston Review piece is that the problem with saying things like “racial undercurrents,” “racial attacks,” “racial connotations” and “racial fears,” and so forth, is it creates a sort of a false equivalence.

When you say “racial”—and most always the media is talking about attacks on people of color, using language or participating in actions that oppress people—the language of “racially tinged,” “racially charged,” kind of suggests that it could go either way. It doesn’t really get at the question of power relations, which is central to racism.

So on the one hand, it’s kind of wishy-washy, inaccurate language, but on the other hand, it’s also really obfuscating language. And I think, as you started the interview by talking about the Washington Post motto, which—I forget exactly what it is….

JJ: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

LG: Right. “Democracy Dies in Darkness” suggests that we need to shine a light on things and try to say what they are. And so that’s part of my other critique of the term is that it’s more than just using a euphemism. It’s also misplacing what the issue is, and it’s denying the question of power relations that has been central to the history of white supremacy, in the United States and elsewhere.

JJ: Years ago, pollster Lou Harris found and said that Americans support “affirmative action,” but they don’t support “preferential treatment,” and he went on to say, for reporters to use those terms interchangeably amounts to a kind of journalistic malfeasance.

When I presented that information to journalists, I was told, essentially, “You know, it’s words, and we’re writers, and we don’t want to repeat the same phrase throughout a story.” And there just was no owning of the impact of the language.

But my takeaway, also from the affirmative action thing, was, to the extent that reporters were really talking about the thing itself, talking about acts or policies or structures or systems, and not “talking about talking about” the thing, you know, there was less need for those gloss terms to begin with.

LG:  There’s a way in which so much of this language protects Trump and others who use it, by making ambiguous what is really not that ambiguous. And so I think getting at those questions, about what these things mean, what they connote, how they’re situated in history, are all really important.

Washington Post (7/15/19)

JJ: And I guess maybe you’ve answered it, but if you had any thoughts, you say you have seen some, we’ll call them improvements—I think using words to mean what they mean is an improvement—in the last few months. Maybe it’s because people think, “OK, Trump has finally gone too far.” But then I think, as you also note, the definition of “too far” has itself shifted, and is itself shaped.

LG: That’s partly why it’s so important for the media to convey what is happening, how have these phrases been used before.

I think yesterday or the day before, the Washington Post did a really excellent story on the history of the phrase “go back where you came from,” and showed that, because one could imagine in this colorblind sense…. And Trump initially tried to say something like that: “Oh, there was no…. I was just saying people should go back where they came from.” But they showed that that phrase is completely intertwined with the history of American racism.

As journalists do that, it makes it harder to give that sort of wiggle room, that these terms have a history and they have a power. And we need to acknowledge that, not pretend that that history doesn’t exist.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Lawrence Glickman, professor of American studies at Cornell University. His book Free Enterprise: An American History is forthcoming from Yale University Press. You can still read his article, “The Racist Politics of the English Language,” online at BostonReview.net. Lawrence Glickman, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin. 

LG: Thank you very much for having me.


Mother Jones Is Failing Its Namesake

by Naomi LaChance

Kevin Drum: Shouldn’t the cages for kids be more comfortable?

Kevin Drum, a political columnist for Mother Jones, wrote in a blog post (6/26/19) last month that he did not understand why workers do not want their employer to work with the government agencies carrying out President Donald Trump’s brutal immigration policies, particularly Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). When workers at home goods website Wayfair staged a walkout because their company was supplying bunk beds  and mattresses for a child detention camp in Texas, Drum could not fathom their insubordination.

“This is a genuine question, not snark,” Drum wrote. He continued:

They want Wayfair to stop sales to ICE or CBP or any other agency involved with keeping kids in cages…. But isn’t our whole complaint that these kids are being treated badly? Shouldn’t we want companies to sell the government toothpaste and soap and beds and so forth? What am I missing here?

What Drum is missing, and in a just slightly better world could have realized with moment of thinking, is that there is no reason whatsoever for children to be detained. The dismal conditions are part of the cruelty, but the existence of a place to sleep in a prison certainly does not negate the evil of its condition. Even detainees at Guantánamo Bay get beds.

Kevin Drum (Mother Jones, 7/12/19) worries that under Elizabeth Warren’s immigration plan, “no one will ever be deported.”

This month, Drum further revealed his disdain for immigrants in a piece, “Are Democrats Now the Party of Open Borders?” (7/12/19), criticizing Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren’s border plan. Once again, he asked, “Am I missing something here?” And then:

Does Warren’s plan explicitly make it vanishingly unlikely that anyone crossing our border will ever be caught and sent back?

At In These Times (3/21/19), immigration attorney and Current Affairs editor Brianna Rennix explained that the right uses the idea of open borders as a rhetorical tool:

In recent months, Trump and other Republicans have begun to wield “open borders” as a cudgel against Democrats, despite the fact that few (if any) Democrats advocate it. The Right is well aware that for most of the public, “open borders” triggers a xenophobic fear of invasion.

She argued:

Immigration restrictions have devastating human consequences that significantly overshadow the few, highly questionable benefits, and that we should aim to do away with as much of our immigration enforcement system as possible and in no way expand it.

Much of Drum’s writing about immigration is focused on a concern about stopping so-called “illegal immigration,” a cruel, fascistic expression. He wrote of Warren’s plan:

There’s nothing about either a wall or a “virtual wall.” There’s nothing about E-Verify. There’s nothing about “smarter” or “more efficient” enforcement. No one will ever be deported—except, presumably, for serious felons, though Warren doesn’t even say that explicitly. Expedited removal will be ended.

Just like there should be no need for beds in child prisons because there should be no child prisons, there is no need for a wall or criminalizing migration. In a cruel and violent world, full of exponentially increasing climate change, natural disasters, food shortages and wars, people cross borders in search of a place where they have a sliver of a chance to survive. That determination for life should be celebrated, not criminalized. Drum has an attitude toward immigrants that is xenophobic and deeply embarrassing for Mother Jones.

Last year, Drum (5/24/18) explained that he viewed his position on immigration as toward the middle, although in fact it sounds like Trump’s rhetoric of “go back where you came from”:

I just want people to know that there’s a fairly reasonable way to apply for legal entrance, but if you’re in the country illegally you’ll eventually end up back where you came from. That’s all.

Legal entry happens through an extremely arduous bureaucratic system designed to take as much time as possible. It isn’t reasonable. People cannot return to where they came from due to a whole array of safety risks, including but not limited to violence stoked by the US, nor should they have to.

Since Drum is so fond of rhetorical questions, allow me to now ask: Why does Drum feel the need to expel people who are in the US? Does he fear a smarter blogger out there  somewhere will take his job? Does he not realize how many criminals and rapists are American citizens?

Former child refugee Mary Harris “Mother” Jones

The legacy of Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, the radical labor organizer who famously said to “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living,” has long been let down by the magazine named for her, but Drum’s latest columns are a substantial deterioration. Jones was herself a child refugee. She fled famine in Cork, Ireland, for Toronto, Canada, with her family in the 1840s.

Jones organized for the rights of child workers in 1903. According to her autobiography, she traveled to Pennsylvania, where 75,000 textile workers were on strike, 10,000 of whom were children. She led a group of children to march from Philadelphia to New York City to end child labor.

In her autobiography, she describes speaking about children who had been injured at work to a crowd in Philadelphia:

I put the little boys with their fingers off and hands crushed and maimed on a platform. I held up their mutilated hands and showed them to the crowd and made the statement that Philadelphia’s mansions were built on the broken bones, the quivering hearts and drooping heads of these children. That their little lives went out to make wealth for others. That neither state or city officials paid any attention to these wrongs.

During a presentation at Coney Island, Jones put children in cages to dramatize their working conditions. She later described daily life for child mill workers in Cottondale, Alabama:

At 5:30 in the morning, long lines of little grey children came out of the early dawn into the factory, into the maddening noise, into the lint-filled rooms…. At the lunch half-hour, children would fall to sleep over their lunch of cornbread and fat pork. They would lie on the bare floor and sleep. Sleep was their recreation, their release, as play is to the free children. The boss would come along and shake them awake…. I often went home with the little ones after the day’s work was done or the night shift went off duty. They were too tired to eat. With their clothes on, they dropped on the bed…to sleep, to sleep…the one happiness these children know.

Mother Jones worked to stop cruelty toward children. Kevin Drum, Mother Jones writer, criticizes workers who protest the practice of child detention. In the factories, and in the concentration camps, children deserve to experience more from life than only suffering and a place to sleep.

You can send a message to Mother Jones at backtalk@motherjones.com  (or via Twitter @MotherJones). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

‘White Men Have No Electability Advantage’ - CounterSpin interview with Brenda Choresi Carter on the electability myth

Janine Jackson interviewed Brenda Choresi Carter about the electability myth for the July 19, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: “‘Electability’ Is the Most Important, Least Understood Word in the 2020 Race,” was the headline on a recent NBC News piece. That electability is important in an election sounds tautological. But NBC is, of course, getting at the fact that Democrats, for example, when asked by pollsters who they would like to see in office, will often give a different answer than to the question of who they will vote for—the difference based on some ill-defined calculations about who their neighbors might vote for, or who media are telling them stands a chance.

But what are those things based on? And, more to the point, if we continue to define who’s electable based on who has been elected—ahem, white men—how will change ever happen?

The Reflective Democracy Campaign is an effort to illuminate questions of the demographics of political power, and to disrupt them. Their latest report is called The Electability Myth. Brenda Choresi Carter directs the Reflective Democracy Campaign. She joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Brenda Choresi Carter.

Brenda Choresi Carter: I’m happy to be here.

NBC News (6/23/19)

JJ: Let’s leap right in. Describe the database—unique, I believe—that you’re working with, and how does your latest running of the numbers challenge the conventional wisdom around electability?

BCC:  Our database looks at the race and gender of everybody who holds elected office in America at the county level and higher, plus in the 200 largest cities. We also analyze the race and gender of candidates on the general election ballot for those same offices.

This is, as you noted, a first-of-its-kind database that provides this kind of comprehensive mapping of race and gender and political power in America. And we feel like it’s really important just to actually have the numbers.

So we looked at who ran in 2018, up and down the ballot, and who won, and who holds office now. And this is a continuation of studies that we’ve been doing since 2014, tracking race and gender and political candidacy and political office.

And we found that when we looked at who was on the ballot in 2018 by race and gender, and who won by race and gender, white men have no electability advantage; they do not win at higher rates than other groups, and, in fact, if you really want to get specific about it, they actually win at slightly lower rates than other groups. So they are not the safe bet they are often assumed to be when thinking about political candidates.

JJ: Now, you note at the outset, of course, that white men dominate politics. And so when you say they don’t have an electability advantage, what is it that you’re tracking that is showing that?

BCC: The reason that white men disproportionately hold political power—well, there are a lot of reasons.

JJ: Right.

BCC: But in terms of just looking at the data, it’s because they’re disproportionately on the ballot.

JJ: Right.

BCC: So when candidates get on the general election ballot, regardless of their race and/or gender, they win at the same rates. So the real problem here is who’s ending up on our ballots, who voters are offered to choose from when they go to vote.

Newsweek (6/17/19)

JJ: So it sounds like Newsweek is assessing it correctly when they say that the research suggests that

the over-representation of white men in politics is less about voters’ discrimination, than barriers to entry that keep fewer women and people of color from running in the first place.

So let’s talk a little about some of the barriers to women and people of color being on the ballot in the first place, that your report notes.

BCC: Yes, that’s exactly right. When voters go into the voting booth to vote, they are presented with a ballot that is the result of a long and usually invisible process of selection and support. There are pretty high barriers to entry into politics for everyone, but women and people of color face even higher ones.

And, in particular, the problem of political gatekeepers is one that I think even engaged voters often don’t understand, because it’s so invisible. So political parties, major donors, advocacy organizations, groups like the Chamber of Commerce or the Sierra Club, or other organizations that shape who is on the ballot, and which candidates get the support to run and win, are a crucial bottleneck in the system here.

Those political gatekeepers are themselves disproportionately white men; they really capture the phrase “old boys’ club.” And when they’re looking around, deciding who they’re going to support for political office, they often choose from their own networks, from people they already know, and from people who end up looking a lot like themselves.

JJ: And you note that a lot of that gatekeeping is hidden, really, from public view; by the time you get in the voting booth, it’s already happened. When I think of gatekeepers, I also do think of media; they clearly have a role here, they have their own criteria for electability that has to do with fundraising, but then also they can kind of themselves declare candidates unelectable.

Listeners might remember the Howard Dean scream; media were just like, “Oh, he’s toast,” you know? And everyone said, “Oh, I guess he’s toast.”

I think using actual numbers, you know, as you, as you said, at the outset, would be a great advance beyond anecdote, but how could media talk about this set of issues more responsibly?

BCC: I do think the numbers are incredibly important here. You know, you really can’t argue with them. And having reality-based conversations and analysis, rather than coverage that’s based on hunches or feelings or conventional wisdom, would be incredibly helpful.

Of course, the electability conversation is really swirling around the Democratic presidential primary right now, for very good reasons. There’s so much hand-wringing about whether a woman can win. And, you know, I’m not a prognosticator about political elections; that’s not what I do. But looking at the historical data, we have one data point to look at, where there was a woman as a major party nominee in recent history, and that was Hillary Clinton, and she won a majority of votes.

JJ: Right.

BCC:  It’s surprising to me how often that gets overlooked or swept under the rug in the discussion on this question.

JJ: I find something just heartrending about the disconnect, about people saying, for example, as they do, they would be happy with a woman president, but their neighbors wouldn’t be. Or the Democratic poll that said that people said if they had a “magic wand,” this person would be president, but that’s not who they’re going to vote for. It sort of reminds me of parents who say, “I’m not sorry that my child is gay, it’s just that I know others are going to be unkind to them.”

It’s a kind of pre-worry, based on this kind of Gresham’s law, that the worst is always going to win out, so we should just do what’s been done, to keep safe. And it ensures that the future is going to look like the past.

BCC:  Yeah, that’s very well put. I think it’s also, maybe a different way of saying it, it is a kind of illustration of the really diminished expectations that people have come to have of political life and political representation. We are so used to one group, white men—and in most cases, wealthy white men—dominating political life and political decision-making, that to imagine anything else seems just to be almost like it’s hoping for the impossible. But our data shows that that’s not the case.

JJ: Exactly. Yeah.

Brenda Choresi Carter: “The problem here is not, by and large, voters; they are not the reason we don’t have a reflective democracy. They are voting for women and people of color just as often as white men.”

BCC: And so that’s why I do think our research and the data that we found is actually incredibly hopeful. The problem here is not, by and large, voters; they are not the reason we don’t have a reflective democracy. They are voting for women and people of color just as often as white men.

JJ: And then, because it’s not, after all, an artificial exercise to get more women and people of color into elected office; it’s working towards there being a real relationship between power and people.

And I guess I also am very heartened by the report, and I guess I also, based on what we’ve just been saying, I’m also heartened that so many women and people of color see electoral politics as a place for them, as a ground that they won’t cede, despite the way they’re often treated, as we’re seeing right this minute. And so part of my takeaway from this report is that people are thinking, “The water’s not fine at all, but you should still jump in,” if you are thinking of standing for office at any level.

BCC: Yeah, I think that’s true. I mean, we saw a real uptick, really a surge of women of all races in 2018, running and winning up and down the ballot. And I think it reflects the incredible urgency that people feel about the moment that we’re in, given how really unwelcoming the political field is to nontraditional candidates.

Like you said, the water is not fine. People are still willing to plunge into it, because it’s very clear that leaving decision-making power in the hands of the groups who have long held it, to the exclusion of the rest of us, is not working. And we can’t wait for that to somehow work itself out, because it won’t work itself out. We have to bust in and insist that power be shared in a different kind of way.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Brenda Choresi Carter of the Reflective Democracy Campaign. You can find their work, including the report The Electability Myth, online at WhoLeads.US. Brenda Choresi Carter, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

BCC: Thank you for having me.

Media Just Can’t Stop Presenting Horrifying Stories as ‘Uplifting’ Perseverance Porn

by Alan MacLeod

“No… it’s not awesome at all. It’s a painful indictment of the state of healthcare in America,” reads the first comment under this tweet by Fox 5 DC (5/28/19).

“THIS IS AWESOME!” That’s how Fox 5 DC described its story (5/28/19) about Logan Moore of Cedartown, GA, a disabled two-year-old whose parents were unable to afford to buy him a walker, so employees at Home Depot fashioned one together themselves for him.

The story closely resembles another recent CNN report (4/1/19): “A Two-Year-Old Couldn’t Walk on His Own. So a High School Robotics Team Built Him a Customized Toy Car.” That piece noted how Minnesotan toddler Cillian Jackson couldn’t walk due to a genetic condition, and how his parents couldn’t afford treatment. It described the ingenuity of the school children who built him a car, and Cillian’s new found freedom, but did not explore why a baby with a disability had been abandoned by US society.

The clear implication in these stories was that those children would have been left permanently unable to move if not for the help of underpaid employees or the kindness of other children. How many disabled American children with poor parents were not so lucky? The articles did not ask. Instead, they were presented as “uplifting” human interest pieces.

Cillian’s story is part of CNN’s Good Stuff series, which asks its readers:

Want more inspiring, positive news? Sign up for The Good Stuff, a newsletter for the good in life. It will brighten your inbox every Saturday morning.

Unfortunately, these stories are part of a popular trend of unintentionally horrifying “uplifting” news, which we at FAIR have catalogued before (FAIR.org, 8/3/17; 3/25/19), where out-of-touch corporate media give us supposedly charming, wholesome and positive news that actually, upon even minimal retrospection, reveals the dire conditions of late capitalism so many Americans now live under, and makes you feel worse after reading it.

A lot of these stories involve mothers and the extremely difficult circumstances of raising children in the US while poor. CNN’s “feel good” story (8/24/18) about a teacher sitting in a car with her student’s baby so the new mom could attend a job fair raised far more questions than it asked (which was zero). Why is there so little public childcare in the US? Should a new mother really need to immediately find a job so badly? Is this good for infants’ development?

Donated maternity leave is a “trendy” gift you don’t need—unless you live in the United States or Papua New Guinea (Good Morning America, 7/17/18).

On a similar subject, Good Morning America (7/17/18) describes the “trendy” new baby-shower gift of donating your pregnant co-worker your days off to give her maternity leave. Every country in the world except the US and Papua New Guinea guarantees paid maternity leave, meaning the trend is unlikely to catch on abroad.

Many outlets (CBS, 5/20/16; Huffington Post, 8/6/16; People, 4/11/16) cheerfully reported on how one man did at least 15 years of backbreaking labor as a night shift janitor at Boston College so his children could attend for free. But none even mentioned that if he lived in nearly any country in Western Europe, this wouldn’t have been necessary, as university there is free or virtually free to attend.

In fact, rather than discussing ballooning tuition costs, Yahoo! (11/15/17) used the story to take jabs at disloyal millennials:

Millennials move from job to job in order to climb the ladder…. For baby boomers and other generations…loyalty and dedication to a single company or career drove, and still drives, much of their working lives.

Any of these stories could have been used to explore the pressing social and economic realities of being poor in the United States, and having to work for things considered fundamental rights in other countries. But instead they are presented as uplifting features, something only possible if we unquestionably accept the political and economic system.

Kids Do the Darndest Things

Many of what Think Progress (8/2/18) labels “feel-good feel-bad stories” involve children doing things they wouldn’t have to in any reasonable society. CBS invites us to enjoy an account of a boy selling his Xbox computer to help his (single) mom (4/2/19), and another repairing his town’s ravaged roads himself (4/12/19). The Hill (6/10/19), meanwhile, describes a nine-year-old saving his pocket money to pay off his school friends’ “lunch debts.”

“Hardships were never an excuse for Moseley,” CNN (5/22/19) reports—as they are, implicitly, for homeless teens who aren’t offered millions in scholarships.

NBC (5/22/19) likewise shared the story of homeless Tennessee teen Tupac Moseley graduating high school as a valedictorian and earning many college scholarships, something that was widely reported (BBC, 5/22/19; Newsweek, 5/21/19; Business Insider, 5/21/19). NBC matter-of-factly noted that after his father died, Moseley’s family’s home was foreclosed and they were on the streets, accepting this situation without comment. This was still among the most critical of the reports, however, as many did not even describe why a child in the richest society in history became homeless. CNN’s report (5/22/19), for example, did not explain the background circumstances, let alone comment on them, and frames the story with the sentence, “Hardships were never an excuse for Moseley.”

This sentence is telling: To corporate media, even the trauma of losing a parent and being forced onto the streets is merely an excuse, not a cause for poor grades. The implication is that poor housing, a lack of an adequate safety net, underfunded schools and a decimated public education system are simply excuses from bellyaching lazy people as to why they did not attend the private Boston University (at over $54,000 per year tuition), like the article’s author did.

“No excuses” is a common phrase in “perseverance porn” stories. For example, Today (2/20/17) used it in the headline of a story about a Texas man who is forced to walk 15 miles to work every day. It reveals the ultimate bootstrap ideology of the media, where societal factors are irrelevant and everyone is where they are on merit.

Thus Moseley’s story is effectively weaponized by CNN against anyone who would question the system. Terrible work conditions? No excuses! Homeless? Stop complaining!

In case you thought homeless children were something of an aberration in America, CNN (7/2/19) also recently ran a story about how over 100 homeless children graduated high school in New York City this year alone—again without comment on what this says about US society.

Another reprehensible story treated as heroic by media was that of a Michigan mother who had to quit her job to look after her terminally ill son, who died of leukemia. She could not afford a headstone, so his best friend, 12-year-old Kaleb Klakulak, worked many jobs to attempt to pay for one. Many media outlets (e.g., Associated Press, 12/8/18; Fox News, 12/9/18; NBC Chicago, 12/12/18) celebrated Kaleb’s spirit, but none asked why children are  performing hard, outdoor labor through a Michigan winter so other children can have adequate burials. Such reporting implicitly normalizes this situation, and the system that allows it to happen.

“Sweet” Stories

Such stories (CBS, 5/29/18) rarely if ever ask why a baby with a life-threatening illness is forced to rely on his nine-year-old brother’s selling lemonade to pay for treatment.

A common media trope is presenting kids selling lemonade as cute,  sweet stories, no matter how horrifying or depressing the reason, including to pay off school lunch debts (Yahoo! News, 5/21/19; MSN, 5/22/19), or to raise money for their baby brother’s medical treatment (New York Post, 5/28/18; CBS, 5/29/18) or their mother’s chemotherapy (KTSM El Paso, 8/4/18).

Or how about the story of a New Mexico girl selling lemonade trying to fund her mother’s kidney transplant? People magazine (5/9/18) applauded her resolve, and local radio described it as “heartwarming” that she had raised over $1,000. The massive problem is a kidney transplant in America can cost over $400,000. To anyone with a heart, what this story actually represents is the desperate struggle of a child trying in vain to save her dying mother. Worse still is the fact that if she lived in Sweden, Spain or Saskatchewan, she would be given a kidney free of charge and without question.

Any of the numerous other outlets (ABC, 4/30/18; Good Morning America, 5/1/18; Albuquerque Journal, 4/30/18) that picked it up could have used the story to discuss the dysfunctional healthcare system that is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the country, while producing some of the worst health outcomes in the developed world, or to scrutinize how corporate healthcare gouges the sickest and most vulnerable Americans, including children. Surely the most basic function of government should be to prevent its citizens from needlessly dying? Not if you wholly accept the tenets of neoliberalism, where education, housing and healthcare are not basic, inalienable human rights, but commodities to be bought and sold and bargained for on the market.

To be clear, while we can admire the never-say-die attitude of those in tough conditions, this is no substitute for guaranteed public programs to help those in dire need. The problem with perseverance porn is not the brave subjects of the articles, but the lack of any journalistic scrutiny examining the failings of society that placed them in such desperate circumstances to begin with.

What these articles highlight so clearly is not only the grim, inhuman and unnecessary conditions so many Americans are forced to live under, but the degree to which mainstream corporate journalists have completely internalized them as unremarkable, inevitable facts of life, rather than the consequences of decades of neoliberal policies that have robbed Americans of dignity and basic human rights. Because corporate media wholly accept and promote neoliberal, free-market doctrine, they are unable to see how what they see as “awesome” is actually a manifestation of late-capitalist dystopia.




Tech Reporter’s Breaking Stories May Have Cost Him His Job

by Olivia Riggio

Three years after tech reporter Christopher Calnan was terminated from the Austin Business Journal, he received threats from its parent company for the same reason he was hired and praised for in the first place: his ability to cover breaking news about the powerful Austin-based Dell Technologies Inc.

“They recruited me because they were having a hard time getting any real, breaking news at all,” Calnan said. “Even in the interview, they asked me if I could break anything on the company, because Dell was the big company in Austin.”

Calnan had worked for the American City Business Journals (ACBJ)—a company that runs 43 local business news outlets across the country—for 11 years, and was recruited to the Austin Business Journal (ABJ) after three years of covering technology at ACBJ’s Boston-based Mass High-Tech.

ACBJ is owned by Advance Publications, Inc., perhaps best known as the parent company of Conde Nast, which owns 18 publications, including the New Yorker, Wired and Vogue. Advance is also the majority shareholder of the social media/news aggregator site Reddit. Advance was founded by the Newhouse family, which funds the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University, one of the most renowned journalism schools in the country.

Michael Dell (cc photo: Hartmann Studios/Oracle)

Calnan’s issues with Advance and Dell began in 2015, when he wrote an article for ABJ about Dell CEO Michael Dell accepting an award from the environmental group Keep America Beautiful. The article pointed out that Dell had paid $75,000 to sponsor tables at the luncheon where he was presented with the award.

Calnan said during his reporting process, he reached out to Dell for comment and received no objections to the story. But after leaving the office on vacation, Calnan returned to find the story removed from ABJ’s site. He was asked to delete the accompanying tweets.

“When I came back into the office, my publisher told me Michael Dell personally called our corporate office, and two weeks after I was called in for a surprise performance review and I was told that my job was in jeopardy,” Calnan said.

Calnan said he believes the performance review served to cover up the true reason behind his ultimate termination: corporate censorship by ABJ for fear of Dell’s wrath.

“It was all handled behind closed doors, and they tried to cover it with the annual review,” Calnan said. “I hadn’t had an annual review in over three years.”

In fact, prior to this incident, Calnan had received glowing reviews from his higher-ups and the business news community. In 2010, he was awarded ACBJ’s Eagle Award for Excellence for 2009, recognized his reporting prowess and work ethic. In a 2012 performance review, he was described as “one of the most professional reporters we know,” whose ethics were “above reproach.”

But In 2016, Calnan said, Dell denied him press access to the company’s annual conference, DellWorld, with a spokesperson even telling his editors that they would allow anyone else from ABJ.

“They wouldn’t give me press credentials to DellWorld, and my editors didn’t even object to that,” Calnan said.

Calnan’s job was terminated that same year, after he wrote an article about Dell planning to move the 2017 conference from Austin to Las Vegas, and highlighted that the move would cost the Texas city millions in annual revenue.

Upon termination, Calnan was offered an $8,500 nondisclosure agreement, which he refused. He moved back to Boston and later published articles on his website, ChristopherCalnan.com, continuing to write about Dell’s censorship tactics and his own experience with them.

Paul Sweeney, an Austin-based tech reporter of 30 years, spent months researching and reporting on Calnan’s story and Dell’s censorship tactics for the Texas Observer. Two years later, the article’s draft remains unpublished.

“The editor at the Texas Observer didn’t feel it was strong enough,” Sweeney said.

From what I recall, it was that it was too circumstantial.… I stand by the story. Everything I wrote about was documented, or I talked to people. There’s no question on the information. …  Maybe he wanted more of a smoking gun than I gave him, but the theme of the story is this is what happens to a good reporter, this is the way they do it.… The story isn’t that Michael Dell showed up in the office and walked up and pointed at him and said, “Off with his head.” … It’s very subtle. There are phone calls made, there’s a paper trail created…a period of ostracization.

However, since Sweeney’s story, Advance has taken even more steps against Calnan. This past March, Calnan received a letter from Advance’s attorney, threatening legal action on two claims that Calnan and his attorney easily refuted.

The first was an allegation that Calnan was illegally accessing one of ABJ’s Twitter accounts to post his own content. “Please be advised that any future attempt by you to improperly use an ACBJ social media account may result in ACBJ pursuing all available legal remedies against you, including the civil and criminal remedies available under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act,” the lawyers wrote.

However, the account in question, @ABJTech, was formerly Calnan’s, @abjcanlan. After his termination, the company took over the account and changed the name. The articles that were shared on @ABJTech were posted via bit.ly, because Calnan’s usurped Twitter account and bit.ly accounts were linked.

The second claim was that Calnan was infringing on copyright by creating a website called Business Journal Network with the domain name, austinbizjournal.com, names confusingly similar to that of American City Business Journals. One article he had posted on his own website allegedly appeared on the site, but Calnan said he had never heard of it, and still said he has not visited the page. The site with the domain name austinbizjournal.com no longer exists.

When Calnan and his attorney responded to Advance refuting their claims, they did not receive a reply.

Neither Advance nor ABJ responded to FAIRs requests for comment.

Steve Gilmore, a member of Dell’s global communications team responded to FAIR via email: “Our only comment on this matter is that any suggestion of Dell involvement in ABJ’s HR matters, at any level, is simply baseless.”

However, as Sweeney said, Michael Dell need not walk into newsrooms and demand reporters be fired to have an effect on personnel matters. Calnan said he had heard his pieces sparked Dell to threaten legal action.

“One of my editors told me that the company threatened them with a lawsuit,”  Calnan said.

But why would a subsidiary of Advance, a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate, fear a libel suit for stories based in fact about a public figure who would need an extremely high burden of proof to win? Calnan said he was never able to find out, but that he knows Dell is a big advertiser for many outlets.

In Austin, Dell has just about as much influence as money can buy. Michael Dell is worth $35 billion, and his philanthropy has placed his name on the Dell Children’s Medical Center, Dell Seton Medical Center, Dell Diamond baseball field, Dell Medical School at the University of Texas, Michael and Susan Dell Hall and more.

So when it comes to unfavorable press, Sweeney said, “He just has the ability, apparently, to call the top executives and put out any kind of brush fire.”

Post-Calnan coverage of Dell in the Austin Business Journal (7/19/17)

Sweeney also said tech outlets like ABJ often work as mouthpieces for powerful companies, rather than upholding the journalistic ethic of being critical of power.

“Something like these business journals are designed to be the booster press,” Sweeney said.

After Calnan left ABJ, the company certainly made efforts to boost Dell. Calnan’s successor, Mike Cronin, penned an article (7/19/17) about Dell’s clever product placement in the Spider-Man: Homecoming film.

“It was uncritical,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney told FAIR corporate headquarters are gaining more power over what content outlets publish.

“I want readers to realize that their news is being sanitized,” Calnan said. “It’s being company-approved.”

Featured image: Christopher Calnan

On Climate, ‘Looking at the Structural Barriers to Progress Is Important’ - CounterSpin interview with Zoë Carpenter on GOP’s Oregon power grab

Janine Jackson interviewed Zoë Carpenter about the GOP’s Oregon power grab for the July 12, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson:The bizarre experience in Oregon last month, in which Republican lawmakers fled the senate—and the state—to prevent the quorum necessary for a vote on climate legislation, might have looked, as our guest writes, like a bit of “Wild West political theater.” But in truth, it’s a deeply unfunny story about the power of corporate interests and a small group of ideologues to squash legislation more than a decade in the making.

Zoë Carpenter reported on the story behind the stunt in Oregon for The Nation, where she’s associate Washington editor. She joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Zoë Carpenter.

The Nation (6/28/19)

Zoë Carpenter:Thanks for having me.

JJ: Even as it seemed like absurdist theater, the Oregon standoff was scary: One GOP Senator Brian Boquist now has to give 12 hours’ notice before he shows up at the capitol, because of threats that he made, including, after Gov. Kate Brown suggested sending state police to bring back the runaway lawmakers, and Boquist said that they should “send bachelors and come heavily armed.” He also told the senate president, on the senate floor, “If you send the state police to get me, Hell is coming to visit you personally.” That’s scary.

But the implications of the situation, as you report it, are as disturbing in terms of what they say about people’s ability to respond legislatively to climate disruption. So what was, first of all, the legislation that was going to be voted on in Oregon?

ZC: The legislation was essentially a cap-and-trade bill. It was often referred to as “cap-and-invest” legislation, because the revenue that would have been raised through the carbon marketplace would have been reinvested in a variety of different areas, including jobs program in communities that are most affected by climate change, and in some infrastructure, in particular in rural areas.

So the largest polluting companies in Oregon would have been required to buy credits for their carbon pollution. And then that limit on their pollutions would gradually be ratcheted down, to either lower their emissions or purchase more credits, on a regional exchange that includes California and some Canadian provinces.

JJ: Oregon does have a kind of particularly swampy situation, you might say, in terms of corporate/political coziness, yeah?

Zoë Carpenter: “In contrast to Oregon’s reputation as a sort of liberal hippie paradise, the state actually has incredibly weak campaign finance laws. So, for example, there are no limits on what corporations and individuals can contribute to candidates.”

ZC: Yeah, it’s actually pretty striking. In contrast to Oregon’s reputation as a sort of liberal hippie paradise, the state actually has incredibly weak campaign finance laws. So, for example, there are no limits on what corporations and individuals can contribute to candidates. And there are only four other states in the entire US that are so permissive. One of the results of that has been that Oregon environmental laws are actually much weaker than neighboring states, California and Washington.

JJ: The storytelling can be unhelpfully reductive. The bill’s opponents ran a line of, as one sheriff was quoted:

This state was built by the timber industry and by farms, ranchers, construction and other blue-collar industries, not on coffee businesses and marijuana dispensaries.

But sometimes news media can cast things almost as crudely, and your piece, I think it’s interesting that it underscores that there aren’t really any monolithic players here. It’s more complicated than that. How so?

ZC: I think in terms of the general narrative that you hear, it’s generally painted as an urban vs. rural story. And to some extent, it is true that most of the support for this bill came from the more liberal, urban areas of Oregon—you know, the Portland to Eugene corridor, essentially. But there were lots of businesses that operate in rural areas—for example, some major forest donors—who were supportive of the legislation.

And another thing that got lost is what the bill actually could have done for rural areas in terms of the reinvestment dollars. And, of course, in terms of the broader goal to limit the damage from climate change, which will impact rural areas and constituents in pretty serious ways.

When you have a bill that’s this complicated—it’s a pretty technocratic approach to climate policy-making—your communication strategy has to be really clear. And I think there was a lot of disinformation that was allowed to persist, regarding the impacts on rural places.

JJ: Key for me in your piece was this sentence:

The villains in this narrative are out-of-touch Democrats using their legislative supermajority to run roughshod over loggers, ranchers and other working people, while the corporations actually affected by the regulation are largely invisible.

I think from a narrative perspective, from a media perspective, if you’re leaving out the most powerful actors, if you’re leaving out corporations, and just making it kind of ranchers vs. latte drinkers, you’re really telling the story wrong, in a fundamental way.

ZC: Yeah, it’s missing, basically, the infrastructure of power that makes this kind of legislation either pass or not. For example, I write about one CEO, Andrew Miller, who runs a big timber company. He is one of the largest Republican donors in Oregon. He’s spent many, many years trying to use his money to affect state politics — largely ineffectively, when it comes to electing his allies. But in this case, his influence was not often mentioned.

But there are ties between him and a so-called grassroots group, called Timber Unity, that does appear to have a lot of membership among people that work in the forest products industry, among other industries, many of whom are his employees. So the connection between him and his influence, and this so-called grassroots group, that’s an example of something that was not really covered in media portrayals of this conflict, but that, I think, was actually very important.

JJ: And it’s going to be very important, looking at those connections going forward, because, as you say, this legislation is going to be complicated; you know, responding to climate disruption is not going to be simple. And so we’re going to need people to parse it in a way that’s helpful. The sort of thing that happened in Oregon, with the running away to neighboring states, doesn’t happen often. It’s not unique, but it doesn’t happen often.

But it is frightening to think that people might look on this as a viable tactic: If you don’t get your way legislatively, you run away and shut things down and, in the case of these Republicans, threaten actual physical violence against people who might try to get things running again.

And the thing is, it seemed to work. I mean, the bill died, isn’t that right?

ZC: Yeah, that’s correct. Walkouts have been used by both parties in recent years.

JJ: Right.

ZC: Democrats in Wisconsin, for example. I think what was notable and different here were the threats of violence that accompanied the walkout.

JJ: Yeah.

ZC: And the fact that the legislation that they were walking out over did have broad public support.

One final point I’ll make is that Democrats were also at fault here. There were three holdout Democrats in the Senate. And, honestly, once the walkout ended, the Democrats could have called the vote on the legislation, but it wouldn’t have passed, because of those three holdout Democrats. All three of them have stronger ties to corporations than many of their colleagues, including one in particular who was concerned about the legislation’s impact on Boeing, even though Boeing would not directly be affected by this emissions cap.

New Yorker (6/28/19)

JJ: I read a piece by Carolyn Kormann in the New Yorker about the Oregon standoff. And she said, yes, but if you look around, there are other good signs of progress in the 2018 midterms; more than 600 candidates on all levels were elected who had clean energy in their platforms, and six states have just done what Oregon did not do, which is follow through on what voters supported and pass major climate legislation.

So I guess another thing I would say for journalism is, it’s probably helpful to not just put a gloss on it, but to look at what’s happening in different states and different tactics and things like that, in terms of not just telling the story in a more granular way, but also in a more kind of hopeful way, that things are happening differently in different places.

ZC: I don’t think journalists should go looking for hope, unless it’s real, you know?

JJ: Right.

ZC: I think the enormity of the challenge that we’re facing is really severe, and we should be scared about that. But yes, it is very helpful to hear about the different tactics that are working or not working in other places.

JJ: Yeah, I just think the urgency is such that the point of parsing these setbacks should be, “How do we do it differently going forward?” I mean, that to me, that’s the response to urgency as well. I don’t want feel-goodism. But, golly, we can’t pull up the covers.

ZC: To your point, I mean, looking at the structural barriers to progress is important. I think we talk a lot about the political barriers, whether we’re electing people who believe that climate change is an urgent issue, and want to do something about it. That’s one issue. But then, once those people get elected, what are the structures in place that will or will not allow them to actually move forward on those policies? At the federal level, the filibuster in the Senate may become a huge issue after 2020, depending on who gets elected.

JJ: That’s an excellent point.

We’ve been speaking with Zoë Carpenter, associate Washington editor at The Nation.You can find her recent article, “Behind Oregon’s GOP Walkout Is a Sordid Story of Corporate Cash,” online at TheNation.com. Thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin, Zoë Carpenter.

ZC: Thanks for having me.

Brenda Choresi Carter on the Electability Myth, Lawrence Glickman on Racism & Euphemism

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This week on CounterSpin: There’s a vigorous public argument right now—mainly among Democrats, along with some IRBF’s, the Inexplicable Republican Best Friends to whom elite media offer op-ed space to offer assuredly good-faith counsel to Democrats — about “electability.” The upshot for many seems to be that to beat Trump, Democrats should run someone as much like him as possible, and must on no account run a “nontraditional” candidate, no matter how excited people are about them. It’s very “Fears Not Hopes” — and is it even true? A new data-driven study says no, actually; white men are not inherently more “electable” than women or people of color. We’ll talk about the Electability Myth with Brenda Choresi Carter, director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign.

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(image: Boston Review)

Also on the show: As Trump amps up his racist attacks on congresswomen of color, some corporate media are still fairly contorting themselves to describe such attacks as racism-adjacent. Denaturing the word “racism” has a particular history in this country, worth knowing as you hear pundits talk about racially-charged this and -tinged that—as is the fact that, when it comes to media, the people who decide whether “racism” is the right word are the least likely to have experienced it. We’ll talk about the power of language and the language of power with Lawrence Glickman, American Studies professor at Cornell University and author of the recent Boston Review article, “The Racist Politics of the English Language.”

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at the upcoming Democratic presidential debates.

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 To Media, No Democrat Can Possibly Be Right-Wing

by Alan MacLeod

The 2020 presidential candidacy race is in full (absurdly early) swing, and there is a clear and obvious internal battle currently raging for the soul of the Democratic Party. One faction is attempting to pull the party in a more populist, social-democratic direction, while another favors maintaining a neoliberal, pro-business course.

We all know the most prominent members of the first group: The likes of presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders and freshmen representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley are constantly referred to (accurately) as representing the left of the party (e.g., New York Post, 7/9/19; New York Times, 4/10/19; New Yorker, 6/18/19), but also as a cabal of “extremist” (Atlantic, 4/3/19; The Hill, 6/17/19), “far-left” revolutionaries (CNN, 7/7/19; CNBC, 7/5/19)  who have “contempt” for Americans (Fox News, 7/11/19). Given the broad overlap of their political positions with those of the public at large (FAIR.org, 1/23/19), those labels, popular as they are in the media, are pretty dubious.

The Atlantic (4/3/19) warns against the Democrats’ “leftward lurch,” as epitomized by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

But if there is a left wing of the party, there must, logically, be a right. And it is equally obvious to those paying attention who represents that right wing: figures like Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar come to mind.

The media do report on the split, but they never identify the latter as representing the right at all. In fact, the phrase “right-wing Democrat” has not appeared in the New York Times for over 30 years.

Last week, the Boston Herald (7/11/19) decried Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Omar as far-left “bullies” who were undermining Pelosi, and “sowing division” at a time when the party “needs to project a unified—and more centrist—front to retain its majority and knock Donald Trump from office.” The piece did not, however, scrutinize Pelosi’s political positions—or even identify them at all.

This is a common occurrence in media, and has the effect of normalizing the right wing of the party as the default. Constantly reminders that Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez and co. are leftists  prime the news consumer to be on the defensive. “You are about to hear socialist propaganda,” is the subtle message delivered. But an analogous message is not transmitted if others are not identified as on the right. Understanding the power of this technique, in 2015, nearly 90,000 Britons signed a petition asking the BBC, in the interests of even-handedness, to start describing Prime Minister David Cameron as “right-wing,” just as it constantly called Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn “left-wing.”

On the US struggle, Buzzfeed News (7/10/19) reports Pelosi has been “publicly feuding” with “left-wing members of the caucus and their staff,” while the Washington Post (7/2/19) sympathetically portrayed her has being under attack from an “open rebellion” of “hard-liners” in the party, with neither suggesting she herself holds any particular political ideology. The effect is to present the battle between left and right as one between radical revolutionaries and the “mainstream,” “normal” or “default” position.

All this despite the fact that Medicare For All and free college tuition are very popular in the US, with even a majority of Republican voters supporting the former. Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez’s tax hike proposal for the super rich is more popular than Trump’s tax cuts, and a plurality of Americans support her supposedly radical leftist Green New Deal. When the public, not political parties, define the left/right spectrum, the landscape appears very different.

When any position is assigned to those who have controlled the party for many decades, it is often misleading. Maureen Dowd in the New York Times (7/6/19) describes Pelosi as “trying to keep the party center left” with the goal of ousting Trump from office by appealing to the American people, only for that to be “jeopardized” by the party’s supposed “lurch” to the “far left.”

CNBC (7/5/19) labels Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as “far left” and allows Joe Biden to identify himself as “center left.”

Another Democrat not only on the right of the party, but on the right side of the political spectrum more generally, is Joe Biden, a current frontrunner for the presidential nomination. Biden began his political career by opposing busing and maintained a very close friendship with arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond until his death, performing the eulogy at his funeral. Among the most hawkish of Democrats, he strongly supported the Iraq War and even boasted he was the true author of George W. Bush’s PATRIOT Act. He opposed immigration and suggested using troops against undocumented workers.

As a senator from Delaware, he is a friend of large finance and tech corporations, and blocked student debt forgiveness. In this election cycle, he opposes Medicare for All and claimed that billionaires were being “demonized,” assuring them that if he were president, “nothing would change” about America. “I need you very badly,” he told a group of extremely wealthy donors. He also suggests moving the party to the right by working with the GOP.

Despite this, Biden describes himself as “center-left,” as do media (e.g. Politico, 6/8/19; Real Clear Politics, 6/12/19; Wall Street Journal, 6/3/19). As the Washington Examiner (6/21/19) noted, the dilemma for the party was between picking a leftist like Sanders or steering a “center-left” course with Biden.

Successfully positioning yourself in the center is a powerful rhetorical and psychological tactic. Many people like to think of themselves as in the middle. The center is often considered (wrongly) as the default position, and therefore free of bias, as opposed to those on the extremes, which hold negative connotations.

As explored previously (FAIR.org, 3/23/19), every political organization Washington supports is presented as a moderate, centrist force. Indonesian military dictator General Suharto, who presided over genocides against ethnic Chinese and Timorese, was described as a moderate (Christian Science Monitor, 2/6/87). The New York Times (3/7/33) even described the “new moderation in the political atmosphere” in Germany as Hitler came to power, while the Philadelphia Daily Bulletin (1/30/33) praised his “indications of moderation” (cited in the Daily Beast, 12/20/15).

Even Donald Trump Jr., someone not noted for his high intellect and political wisdom, is in on this trick. Writing in The Hill (7/11/19), he “warns” us that if the Democrats undermine “centrist” “moderates” like Pelosi, allowing “radical left” “extremists” like Ocasio-Cortez to come to power, his father will be assured of winning the next election. This has to be the apotheosis of the “Inexplicable Republican Best Friend” trope (FAIR.org, 2/26/19), in which media conservatives offer supposedly good-faith advice to Democrats on how to beat them (which always entails surrendering progressive principles and embracing conservative policies).

Corporate Democrats have now begun to use the “this is why Trump won/will win” tactic on the left. The Washington Examiner (7/10/19) warns the “left-wing elites” that their single-minded charge towards is socialism will isolate and alienate them from “moderate Democrats” and the vast political center of America. Instead, they must be “pragmatic” and choose the best candidate: Joe Biden.

Amy Klobuchar (CNN, 2/18/19) explains her “pragmatic” opposition to Medicare for All. Not mentioned: the $462,000 she’s taken from the insurance industry.

“Pragmatic”—meaning adapting sensibly and adopting realistic, fact-based positions—is another newspeak word media use to describe right-wing Democrats espousing pro-corporate policies, regardless of what the facts actually are. CNN (2/18/19), for example, applauds Klobuchar for being the “pragmatic” presidential candidate. Her pragmatism, according to the positive CNN portrait, was “resisting the urge to pander to the party’s progressive wing,” as shown by her strong opposition to Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and free college—all of which, we have seen, are distinctly popular with the public (Jacobin, 8/24/18; Atlantic, 6/21/19) and could be huge vote-winners.

That “pragmatic” is usually used as a euphemistic codeword for moving towards the right can be seen by glancing at recent headlines:

  • Pragmatic Pelosi Points Democratic Party Toward the Center (CBS SF Bay Area, 5/14/19)
  • Pelosi’s Pragmatic Approach to Balancing Democrats’ Leftward Shift (Christian Science Monitor, 2/11/19)
  • Idealism vs. Pragmatism: How Style Divides the Democratic Candidates (NPR, 1/27/16)

Even explicitly anti-left organizations are not described as right-wing. On a story covering the Democratic Majority for Israel, which it notes was set up by “major donors and Washington insiders” expressly to counter left criticisms of Israel in the party, the Huffington Post (7/11/19) did not describe it as “conservative” or any similar label, but framed the debate as being between the left and the “pro-Israel” wings of the party. If wealthy donors and “Washington insiders” don’t count as the right wing of the party, no one can.

Corporate media are funded by the same sources that fund both parties and broadly share the same ideology, hence the reluctance to critique them. By refusing to position them on the political scale, or falsely identifying them as left of center, they are attempting to close the Overton window and prevent a leftward shift in US politics. But that does not mean that we as news consumers have to accept these framings.

Featured image: Wall Street Journal depiction (6/3/19) of Joe Biden.

‘Journalism Is Helping to Normalize the Concentration Camps’ - CounterSpin interview with Arun Gupta on immigration abuses

Janine Jackson interviewed Arun Gupta on Trump’s concentration camps for the July 12, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: The horrific treatment inflicted intentionally by the state on people legally seeking asylum at the US southern border is not happening under cover of darkness. There has been powerful, brave journalism, bringing harrowing stories and images of the cruel conditions inside the concentration camps to light, some even detailing how hard the Trump administration is working to keep us from seeing what’s happening, or caring about it.

But connecting outrage and heartsickness to transformative action is an unfamiliar exercise for many Americans, in part because of elite media’s deliberate and invidious distinction between citizens (good) and activists (bad)—and, even more, their constant reassurance that ultimately, the system works.

As conversations devolve into rhetoric about whether this is really what America stands for, maybe it isn’t only the country’s history of atrocities that media could usefully remind us of, but its history of response to atrocities.

But whatever media do, for the majority of the public, whether concentration camps have a place in American life is not a question worthy of consideration. The only question is what to do now.

Our next guest is part of a new call to action on the issue. Longtime journalist Arun Gupta has written for The Intercept, the Guardian and numerous other outlets. He joins us now by phone. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Arun Gupta.

Arun Gupta: Thanks for having me back, Janine.

No More Concentration Camps

JJ: Like I say, it isn’t that I don’t think people need to keep being informed, confronted even, with the realities, the specific dead-father-and-daughter-in the-river realities, of this horror show.

But I am a little tired of people saying that nobody’s doing anything, when it sounds like what they’re saying is, “How come I can’t just click on something and make this all stop?”

I’m a media critic, but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for corporate media to connect whatever the most horrific news is to anything—not about how to debate it, but how to stop it. And I frankly just wonder, when reporters look back on this time, if they’re going to think that narrating the nightmare was the only responsible role that journalists could take.

So all of that said, what does the call to action—recently drafted by yourself with Juan Carlos Ruiz of the New Sanctuary Coalition, and signed by a growing list of social justice advocates—what does that call to action say? And how are you hoping that it will be used?

AG: What we’re trying to do is to highlight what is going on, that there is a lot of action going on. We’re calling on people to support the frontline communities who’ve really been in the lead, for years and decades, against this brutal system. The architecture really starts to come into place during the Clinton years, and then it starts to get just more and more repressive, the border gets more and more militarized, after September 11. And then the last decade or so, the rising anti-immigrant hysteria that has just really taken off under Donald Trump.

So there are all these different sorts of actions, in terms of the people who are protesting at these concentration camps near the border. There’s a campaign against tech companies who supply ICE and the Border Patrol with much of their infrastructure, their digital infrastructure, that is important; for instance, Amazon is selling them facial recognition technology.

People are also targeting the banks. Recently Bank of America said that they would no longer fund any companies in the private prison industry. And we’re seeing these new child influx centers being opened, which is costing something like $800 a day to house these children.

And, by the way, this is another one of the ways in which the story is the result of poor reporting. The Department of Health and Human Services recently had a dog-and-pony show where they invited in the media to see how great these child influx shelters are. And, in fact, the NPR reporter John Burnett talks about, these are like these self-contained little towns in the desert brush.

But the influx shelters are the direct result of the Trump administration’s policies, many of them which are illegal and criminal policies, that are resulting in the keeping of these children in these shelters. There should be absolutely no need for these shelters if the Trump administration was following the law, and if they weren’t inciting so much fear around the border issues.

But what we’re really calling for is to raise the level of general resistance. And what we’re hoping to see—many of the people who are involved in drafting the call are veterans of a lot of the biggest direct action and protest movements of the last 20 years. We’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of the Battle in Seattle and the global justice movement, the Iraq anti-war movement, Occupy Wall Street, Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter. These are moments where you have this inchoate mass outrage around an issue, and then a spark helps to set something off that coalesces that outrage into a movement in the real world, right, into a real mass movement.

Jewish News (7/5/19)

There’s been these great actions by a lot of Jewish activists recently, under the banner of Never Again, where they blockaded ICE facilities in New Jersey and Boston; they also blockaded the federal building in San Francisco, where Nancy Pelosi has her offices, because the Democrats just absolutely botched the recent immigration funding bill; they essentially are funding what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff called child abuse centers. They completely flubbed managing their own caucus in Congress.

So what we’re hoping is that something takes off and captures the public and media imagination, and then completely shifts the debate, the way that Occupy Wall Street completely shifted the debate from economic austerity to economic inequality, or the way that Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter shifted the debate to systemic police violence and killings of people of color, especially black Americans.

So we’re calling on that Occupy model or Seattle model that we’ve seen to self-organize and to find targets, and especially to follow the lead of the immigrant communities: Find the immigrant rights and frontline organizations, and work in conjunction with them, but then go after specific targets.

Something that may work is using nonviolent direct action tactics to disrupt ICE raids.  Trump is essentially threatening, once more, these mass raids on the weekend; I believe it’s actually July 14, which is ironic, because that’s Bastille Day, right? The day the French celebrate for tearing down the prison, this is when Trump wants to throw thousands of families who haven’t done anything wrong, except overstay a court order, he wants to tear these families apart and throw them in prison.

JJ: Yeah, well, I think many people are ready for big narrative-shifting, world-changing ideas. The urgency is such that people are not interested in half measures, or in rhetorical diversion. And I just want to draw you out for a moment and in terms of media, because as some journalists are braving logistical obstacles, outright intimidation and harassment to get these stories out, other journalists seem to be busy, as I would say, derailing themselves and their audiences with pretend serious questions, or should I say concerns, about language. And I want to ask you, what have you learned about traps laid by journalists, including—in fact, most emphatically—”sympathetic” journalists, when you try to talk about social action like this?

All Things Considered (7/10/19)

AG: It’s interesting, because when we launched the campaign, the Institute for Public Accuracy, which tries to get non-mainstream voices into the mainstream, they sent out a press release about this effort, and I pretty much immediately was contacted by NPR’s reporter for the borderlands and immigration, John Burnett. And it was a bizarre and disturbing exchange, because, essentially, he was trying to set a trap for me. He doesn’t even say, like, “Oh, I’m interested in this story. What is this about blah, blah, blah.” He just starts immediately, “Which of the facilities are concentration camps?”

And we start having an exchange, where I’m like, “I’m not going to be drawn into this game.”

And finally he admits, “Well, I’m touring the new HHS child influx center in Carrizo Springs tomorrow; so I wanted to know, like, which one of these specific shelters are concentration camps.”

And I’m like, “You were basically playing a gotcha game; you wanted me to say, like, ‘They’re all concentration camps,’ then you’re going to go on this Trump administration-run tour, and talk about how great it is.”

And in fact, that is exactly what he did in his report, but he couldn’t attribute it to anyone. He starts out by saying, you know, “Critics called these child prisons and concentration camps. But this is definitely not one of them,” or something like that; people can go listen to the report.

And then I asked him, “What do you think are concentration camps?” And he basically says, “That’s an unknowable question. And this is a controversial topic.” This is how we get euphemisms in the mainstream, where torture becomes “enhanced interrogation,” or war crimes against civilians become “collateral damage.”

Basically, anyone who is an expert in this field has said, “These are concentration camps. They meet the historical definition.”

No one is calling them “death camps.” But in 1933, the death camps were concentration camps,  and there’s all the historical examples, from Spain and Cuba, Germany and Namibia, British in South Africa. This is how they began. This is basically similar. The US has its own experience with concentration camps: reservations for Native Americans in the 19th century that were places of disease, death and brutality, to the strategic hamlets in Vietnam, which were essentially concentration camps. And so now we’re seeing this on the borders again.

But what we have is a media that is both overly legalistic, where you can’t say anything unless it arises to a judicial level of proof.

JJ: Right.

Arun Gupta: “What we have is a media…where reality is determined by who holds the most social power. If you can harangue the media enough, criticize the media enough, they will adopt the language that you use. And it’s especially the right that has gamed this system almost perfectly.”

AG: And where reality is determined by who holds the most social power. If you can harangue the media enough, criticize the media enough, they will adopt the language that you use. And it’s especially the right that has gamed this system almost perfectly.

JJ: And to me, I would add, I think it’s about defining who acceptable sources are and who should be listened to. So if you can get Arun Gupta to say, “Oh, yeah, that’s a concentration camp,” and then show a picture of what looks like a sanitary facility, then you can say, among myriad other things you’re saying, you can say, “Activists are dumb, they don’t even know what words mean, they don’t understand history. They’re just trying to gin up emotions.”

And what you tell people, you say, as Burnett says to you explicitly in that exchange, “I’m just trying to be very careful, I’m just trying to be very thoughtful about what I say.”

What you’re telling people is, “You’re seeing these horrific images, it’s okay to feel bad about it, it’s okay to feel sick about it. Just don’t imagine that you should listen to anyone about how to change it, except for these experts that we’re going to bring on for you.” And they’re going to basically tell you the status quo is all going to work it out.

I feel that a lot of people see through that now; I feel that more people are recognizing the way that journalism, and their framing, can be a problem that really blocks us from changing things in the world. And part of that is not just the ahistorical nature of their coverage of concentration camps, or of protest against concentration camps, but also a kind of ahistorical presentation of journalism, that says, “It always has to just be objective; people are saying this, some people are saying that. We don’t really know.” You know, that’s not what journalism has to be. That’s not what it has been.

And I just want to ask you, finally, what is the role for journalists in moving us forward here, and not just in keeping us locked in this horrific status quo?

AG: I was talking about this with Ari Paul, who’s a regular contributor of FAIR.

JJ: Right.

New Yorker (6/21/19)

AG: We were discussing the fact that we need a new New Journalism. It should be standard in any article, pretty much any article about Trump, especially if it involves race and immigration, that it’s just like, “Donald Trump”— then comma— “a racist” or “a white nationalist.” Take your pick. That is who he is. His agenda is clearly white nationalism. But you’re not allowed to say that, unless he basically says it himself.

I don’t want to say it’s ineffective investigative reporting. You know, I do investigative reporting, but I think it’s just the deference to power. And so we need a more speculative, a more historical, a more kind of essay-style journalism.

And I will point to one piece, and one writer in particular, in the mainstream media who has really done, I think, an excellent job, is Masha Gessen for the New Yorker.

JJ: Right.

AG: And she had a recent piece about the unimaginable reality of American concentration camps. And I think she really nailed the subject on the head, that the reason we can’t use that term, the media can’t use the term, is because concentration camps are supposed to be unimaginable, right? They’re supposed to be this horror, but in fact, what we’re seeing is the normalization, where they become imaginable, but we are not allowed to use that term. And John Burnett is just a symptom of this. He can look back and tell his children and grandchildren, “I helped to normalize concentration camps,” if they ask him, “Where were you when there were concentration camps being set up?”

This is what journalism is now doing. They are helping to normalize the concentration camps.

JJ: The call is not to journalists; it’s to human beings around the country. And I think I’d just like to end on that note, that as important as we know media are, people are more important.

AG: Exactly.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with journalist Arun Gupta; find the call to action, “Close the Concentration Camps Now!,” and hook into the work at NoMoreCamps.org. Arun Gupta, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

AG:  Thanks for having me on.


ACTION ALERT: CNN Should Treat Left and Right Alike in Presidential Debates 

by Julie Hollar

CNN is hosting the next Democratic primary debates on July 30 and 31. Three people have been selected to ask questions: CNN anchors Jake Tapper and Don Lemon, and CNN correspondent Dana Bash.

In the last presidential elections, the first Republican primary debate CNN hosted likewise featured three questioners: Tapper, Bash—and right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt, of the conservative Christian Salem Radio Network.

Hewitt’s presence wasn’t a one-time thing, either. He asked questions alongside CNN journalists for each of the four GOP debates CNN hosted; Salem was its official media partner, as part of a deal brokered with the RNC. The conservative Washington TimesStephen Dinan also made an appearance in the March 2016 CNN debate.

But—funny thing—when CNN hosted Democratic primary debates, it didn’t partner with any left-wing media. Its partner for the first debate was tech giant Facebook—a current target of the Warren and Sanders campaigns—while NY1 joined for the third debate. (The second featured no media partner.) The Facebook partnership brought no additional moderator into the debate; instead, CNN read aloud some questions viewers had submitted via Facebook. For the third debate, held in New York City, local NY1 journalist Errol Louis participated.

Hugh Hewitt: “Can you be as ruthless as Churchill was?” (cc photo: Bill Rice)

As FAIR pointed out at the time, having questioners who make no pretenses about their objectivity changes the tenor of the debate. For example, Hewitt prodded Trump on whether “you still want to stay neutral when the Palestinian authority is inciting these [terrorist] attacks” (prompting Trump to protest that “there’s nobody on this stage that’s more pro-Israel than I am”).

Telling the candidates, “I think all of you are more qualified than former Secretary of State Clinton,” Hewitt asked whether or not they thought they should be attacking her more directly.

On the subject of the Supreme Court vacancy that the Republicans were holding unfilled under President Obama, Hewitt asked candidate Ted Cruz, “Do you trust Mr. Trump to nominate conservative justices?” He then pressed Trump:

Will you commit to voters tonight that religious liberty will be an absolute litmus test for anyone you appoint, not just to the Supreme Court, but to all courts?

Hewitt asked Ben Carson if, with his medical background, he could “order air strikes that would kill innocent children by not the scores, but the hundreds and the thousands?” After Carson’s answer, Hewitt continued to prod:

So you are OK with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilians?… That is what war — can you be as ruthless as Churchill was in prosecuting the war against the Nazis?

The CNN journalists tapped for this month’s debate, in contrast, play it straight. Lemon, who has recently been outspoken about his opposition to Trump, has also delighted right-wing commentators in the past with his “pull up your pants” advice to black people to “fix our community” in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict.

Neither Tapper nor Bash are conservative favorites, but neither are they journalists with a progressive worldview. Tapper devoted a segment (12/21/17) to defending Trump’s move of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, saying that some of the 128 nations that voted at the UN to condemn the move had “some questionable records of their own” (FAIR.org, 12/24/17).

CNN‘s Dana Bash: “Really? Another government program?”

Moderating a Democratic debate for the 2016 presidential race, Bash (Salon, 10/14/15) pressed Hillary Clinton to answer GOP candidate Carly Fiorina’s charge that “if the government requires paid [maternity] leave, it will force small businesses to, quote, ‘hire fewer people and create fewer jobs.’” Bash’s follow-up question:

There are so many people who say, “Really? Another government program?” Is that what you’re proposing? And at the expense of taxpayer money?

There are any number of  progressive media outlets that could provide qualified journalists who would offer an avowedly left perspective; Democracy Now!, The Nation and the Intercept come to mind.

There’s no excuse for CNN to partner with a right-wing outlet for Republican debates and not have any left-wing outlet involved in Democratic debates; please call on CNN to play fair and include a progressive journalist in its Democratic debates.



Please call on CNN to include a progressive journalist from an avowedly left media outlet as a moderator in its Democratic debates.


Web: CNN Feedback
Phone: 404-827-1500
Twitter: @CNN

Featured image: CNN‘s announced Democratic debate moderators, Dana Bash, Don Lemon and Jake Tapper.

Why Does WaPo See Black as an ‘Identity’—but Not Multi-Millionaire?

by Julie Hollar

The Washington Post‘s “identity politics” writer put out a piece this week (7/9/19) devoted to what Robert Johnson, the ultra-rich founder of Black Entertainment Television, thinks about the Democratic primary race. The piece leads off:

Few demographic groups are more faithful to the Democratic Party than black Americans. But one of the first black billionaires is suggesting that the party has moved so far to the left, it risks alienating them.

Reporter Eugene Scott acknowledges—and quotes people who affirm—that Johnson’s political views are completely out of step with most African-American voters, but apparently that’s not enough to convince Scott or his editors to change the framing (or existence) of the piece, which clearly illustrates a fundamental problem with the way the Post understands “identity politics.”

Citing “one of the first black billionaires,” a Washington Post column (7/9/19) suggests the Democratic Party “has moved so far to the left” that “it risks alienating” black voters.

Yes, Robert Johnson is black. Robert Johnson is also extremely wealthy; according to Forbes, he’s no longer a billionaire, but his wealth still puts him in a demographic that has entirely different economic views and interests than the vast majority of the African-American population.

For instance, he says he thinks the economy is “doing great,” and that he gives “the president a lot of credit for moving the economy in a positive direction that’s benefiting a large amount of Americans.” Meanwhile, polling shows that 90 percent of African-American voters think that economic conditions have not changed or have gotten worse, and that 85 percent of black people believe that “low wages that are not enough to sustain a family” are a “major problem,” with more respondents identifying it as the single-most pressing problem facing black communities than any other issue.

But it gets worse. In fact, Johnson himself doesn’t claim to speak for all black Americans—it’s the Post that reads his words that way. In the CNBC interview (7/9/19) the Post column is based on, Johnson makes it clear both that he is a “centrist” and that he’s speaking for himself: “The party in my opinion, for me personally, has moved too far left.” A few lines later in the interview, he talks about the Democratic candidates’ programs as “not resonating with the majority of the American people”—note the lack of a particular race attributed to those people. At no point does he reference the political opinions of African Americans as a group.

Though the Post includes the first quote above, it takes as its premise that Johnson is speaking for his race, soliciting responses to this premise that point out his outlier status in the African-American community. For instance, Adrianne Shropshire, the executive director of Black PAC, tells the paper:

Frankly, the policy positions of the current Democratic field of candidates are aligned with the issues and priorities of those [black] voters. So while Mr. Johnson may share the interests of millionaires and billionaires, he’s out of step with black voters.

Shropshire is exactly on point. Johnson’s identity is multifold, like everyone’s. He is both black and ultra-rich (among other things). But his views on political candidates clearly align more with the latter identity than the former. So in an “identity politics” column, why does the Post talk only about whether and how much he represents the black demographic, not the wealthy demographic? And, if the Post wants to talk about the black demographic, why frame its article around an outlier multi-millionaire, rather than the majority of the African-American electorate?

When the Black Futures Lab released its 2019 Black Census, based on the largest survey of black people in the United States since Reconstruction, do you know how many stories the Post ran on it? Zero—just like most major corporate outlets. Scott’s column is one of the only places in the Post that aims to center the views and interests of traditionally marginalized groups; it’s a shame to see that even there, the voices of the wealthy few can be so unthinkingly substituted for those of the struggling multitude.

Messages can be sent to the Washington Post at letters@washpost.com, or via Twitter @washingtonpost. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

Featured image: Screenshot from CNBC interview (7/9/19) with Robert Johnson.

‘Hypersonic Missiles’ Aren’t Starting an Arms Race—Washington Is

by Joshua Cho

The New York Times Magazine (6/19/19) presents the push to build hypersonic missiles as driven by fear that “the nation might fall behind Russia and China”—downplaying the US’s systematic dismantling of arms control treaties.

“Fast, effective, precise and unstoppable — these are rare but highly desired characteristics on the modern battlefield.” That’s how the New York Times Magazine (6/19/19) described the hypersonic missiles being pursued by the United States, Russia, China and other countries in a nearly 5,000-word collaborative article that seriously misleads readers on who started and is currently driving the next phase of the global arms race.

The Times article, “Hypersonic Missiles Are Unstoppable. And They’re Starting a New Global Arms Race,” opened with statements by Michael Griffin, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for research and engineering. Characterized as “an unabashed defender of American military and political supremacy” and the “chief evangelist for hypersonics,” Griffin brags about being an “unreconstructed Cold Warrior” and cites the US’s rapid development of the atomic bomb as a precedent for treating hypersonic missiles as the “highest technical priority”:

This is a country that produced an atom bomb under the stress of wartime in three years from the day we decided to do it…. This is a country that can do anything we need to do that physics allows. We just need to get on with it.

A RAND graphic demonstrates how much more difficult it is to intercept a hypersonic missile (called an HGV here) vs. a traditional ballistic missile (Business Insider, 4/30/18).

Following the usual alarmist formula used to sell military upgrades to the public, the Times then made the predictable pivot to uncritically transmitting false claims about the need to “act quickly” lest the US “fall behind” the Russian and Chinese menaces. The piece advanced several scary scenarios—like China rendering US aircraft carriers “obsolete,” or attacking “military headquarters in Asian ports or near European cities”—and went on to advertise the potential advantages that “revolutionary” weapons having the “unprecedented ability to maneuver and then to strike almost any target in the world within a matter of minutes” could offer US foreign policy and military strategy:

Hypersonic missiles are also ideal for waging a decapitation strike — assassinating a country’s top military or political officials. “Instant leader-killers,” a former Obama administration White House official, who asked not to be named, said in an interview.

Within the next decade, these new weapons could undertake a task long imagined for nuclear arms: a first strike against another nation’s government or arsenals, interrupting key chains of communication and disabling some of its retaliatory forces, all without the radioactive fallout and special condemnation that might accompany the detonation of nuclear warheads.

The Times mentioned that the hypersonic missiles the US is developing will “only be equipped with small conventional explosives,” while noting that “nuclear warheads” are being fitted onto Russian hypersonic missiles, without expanding on the significance of this divergence.

Analysts and experts not cited in the article have noted that the conventional narrative of US hypersonics lagging behind Russia and China’s is misleading, because the countries have different goals. Russia and China’s hypersonics program is focused on delivering nuclear warheads, which require much less precision and investment than US hypersonics, focused on the “much more difficult” task of delivering non-nuclear warheads (CNBC, 5/11/18).

Other experts have argued that the conventional narrative is false, because the US is “still the leader” in hypersonic missiles, having researched them for over a decade, and has “done a lot more than Russia and China have,” while noting that Russian and Chinese hypersonic development is aimed at overcoming US missile defense systems near their borders to preserve their nuclear deterrent (Business Insider, 4/30/18).

Russia and China have consistently warned that the US’s scrapping of arms treaties will inevitably lead to a dangerous arms race (Newsweek, 1/18/19).

As I’ve written earlier (FAIR.org, 5/17/19), nuclear strategists have long known that “missile defense” systems are actually offensive weapons designed to obtain a first-strike advantage by neutralizing retaliatory strikes. Yet the crucial context of Russia pursuing its hypersonics program as a cheaper and more rational strategy—as opposed to pointlessly competing with the US by creating its own missile-defense systems—and as a response to the US’s unilateral 2001 withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty limiting those systems, is buried near the end of the article, in the 43rd paragraph.

Instead, the Times preferred to ascribe agency and responsibility to mysterious forces and inanimate missiles manipulating the US both in its headline—it’s the missiles that are “starting a new global arms race,” not the government—and in its claim that “the rush” to possess hypersonic missiles has “pushed the United States into an arms race with Russia and China.”

In fact, the Times misleadingly points to “the threat” hypersonics pose to “retaliatory weapons,” which could “upend the grim psychology of Mutual Assured Destruction,” without once noting that destabilizing US ballistic missile defense systems deployed near Russian and Chinese borders are already doing just that, with Russia and China pursuing hypersonic nukes capable of penetrating US missile defenses precisely to  restore the balance of Mutual Assured Destruction.

Nor did the Times quote statements from Russian and Chinese officials warning that US missile defense expansion will “inevitably lead” to an “arms race in space” with “the most negative consequences” for “international security and stability,” and their desire to avoid an arms race because the US already has a military budget much larger than Russia’s and China’s combined. This is consistent with FAIR’s findings (Extra!, 5/01) of corporate media ignoring the US’s long-term goal of weaponizing and dominating outer space under the pretense of expanding missile defense systems.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (10/26/18) argues that “the decision to scrap the INF Treaty endangers the entire architecture of nuclear arms control agreements.”

However, the most glaring omission in the Times’ coverage of the arms race—in keeping with its cover for US missile defense expansion—was its failure to ever mention the US plans to unilaterally scuttle the crucial 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty banning US and Russian medium-range missile arsenals, despite Russian attempts to save it (Al-Jazeera, 1/17/19).

That Russia is developing mid-range hypersonic nuclear weapons in response to US suspension of the INF treaty would be an important thing to mention. Also worth mentioning: that US drones and the Aegis Ashore missile defense system are in clear violation of Article II in the INF Treaty, while US allegations of Russian violations have never been demonstrated (Common Dreams, 2/1/19).

Physicist Theodore Postol published an exhaustive report (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 2/14/19) refuting false media coverage and official US claims, echoed by credulous media coverage, that its Romanian and Polish Aegis Ashore sites aren’t in violation of the INF Treaty because they lack offensive capabilities, and are merely deployed to counter long-range missiles from Iran. Postol pointed out that the US Aegis systems in Eastern Europe lack the ability to detect long-range missiles, but are capable of launching cruise missiles that could make near-zero warning nuclear strikes on Russia.

While US allegations of Russia’s 9M729 missile being a “blatant violation” of the INF Treaty could be true, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (10/26/18) has noted that the “blatant violation” narrative has been uncritically accepted across the media, despite being almost impossible to verify, because the US hasn’t publicly released any evidence for its claims. The Congressional Research Service’s report on the matter repeatedly mentions that the US hasn’t publicly provided “any details” and has failed to “cite the evidence” used to make this determination.

The New York Times laments that “stopping an arms race is much harder than igniting one,” while falsely referring to how all the military superpowers have decided to go “all in.” More to the point, it’s very hard to stop an arms race when major newspapers obscure who or what is driving it, perpetuating the false narrative that the US only responds to threats, and never instigates them.

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

‘This Is Designed to Shape the Electorate to Retain Political Power’ - CounterSpin interview with Steven Rosenfeld on gerrymandering

Janine Jackson interviewed Steven Rosenfeld on the Supreme Court’s gerrymandering decision for the July 5, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: Partisan gerrymandering, in which one party manipulates voting district maps to increase its power, is “incompatible with democratic principles.” So declared Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts—but he and the Court’s conservative majority nevertheless ruled it’s a “political” matter, and not one for federal courts to consider. 

Elena Kagan, in dissent from the ruling, Rucho v. Common Cause, wrote, “Of all times to abandon the Court’s duty to declare the law, this was not the one.”

Our guest says this ruling is just a part of a “power play,” employed overwhelmingly by Republicans, that seeks to narrow the metrics that determine how political power is allocated in the US political system. In other words, to suppress not just the political participation of, overwhelmingly, people of color, but the connection between participation and power.  

Democracy Betrayed (Skyhorse Publishing)

How to report responsibly on such an important story? Steven Rosenfeld is editor and chief correspondent at Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute, and author of, most recently, Democracy Betrayed: How Superdelegates, Redistricting, Party Insiders and the Electoral College Rigged the 2016 Election. He joins us now by phone from St. Paul, Minnesota. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Steven Rosenfeld.

Steven Rosenfeld: Thank you very much. I’m so glad to be here.

JJ: When you were last here, in October of 2017, we were talking about Gill v. Whitford. That case focused on Wisconsin, where in 2012, Republicans won just 48.6 percent of the statewide vote, but nevertheless captured 60 out of 99 seats in the state assembly. And you described how this crafty redrawing of maps, combined with things like very strict voter-ID requirements, was adding up to Republicans getting a significant “starting-line advantage.” 

If you say that a different way, voters aren’t really getting to choose candidates so much as candidates choosing their voters. It’s not hard to see how worrying this all is, whoever is doing it (and it’s, of course, overwhelmingly Republicans). 

So the Supreme Court is now saying, “Well, yes, all of that is true. It is concerning. But if we were to intervene, that would be political.”

SR: Exactly.

JJ: So what should we make of that? And what does Samuel Alito have to do with it?

SR: What Samuel Alito has to do with it is, in that North Carolina case, which presaged the decision that’s come up very recently, is he was signaling that, basically, he was not going to get involved in this. They were basically saying the culture of politics is one where human nature and bad instincts can run wild, but it’s not the judicial branch’s role to balance that. 

And actually, that’s exactly what happens in the Supreme Court decision there. And it’s also a sign of the times that this current Supreme Court—it’s not just this decision, but it’s going back recent years—is not going to get its hands involved in federal election regulations, checks, balances. And it’s almost as if—and I’ve been reading the law blogs, people are saying—they’re almost entering a period that’s like the early 20th century, where if you want to see progress on these issues, you have to look to the states. 

And in some ways, that’s sort of what the Supreme Court just signaled. So you look to the states, where you get support for amendments to the Constitution for an equal rights amendment, or to change the vice president from being appointed to an elected office. So that’s kind of the big arc. And, as you know, state politics can be slow and messy. And that’s sort of where we are right now.

Salon (6/29/19)

JJ: We’re looking at different points of intervention than we’re accustomed to thinking of, and I’ll bring you back to points of resistance. 

I did want to draw on something you’ve written about recently. Folks did see this gerrymandering decision come down together with a ruling on the census, and the question of adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census. And in that case, the Court, surprisingly to some, in this Department of Commerce v. New York, they blocked the Trump administration from adding this transparently suppressive “Are you a citizen?” question from the census. But you wrote recently about how the Justice Department efforts on the census reveal a strategy that’s of a piece with what’s going on with gerrymandering, and it’s really part of a bigger picture.

SR: First of all, the census question is not dead.

JJ: Right.

SR: Because basically what the Supreme Court said is, they caught the administration basically in a lie, creating a false pretext. And basically said, “If you come back and tell the truth, and you give, perhaps, a partisan reason, that you don’t want these people to be counted for political purposes, maybe we’ll let it through.”

So what are we talking about here? What we’re really talking about are bottom line frames. You can talk about votes and seats. You could talk about starting-line advantages. What does that really mean? 

Well, if people think back to before the 2018 election, we heard all about the blue wave, the blue wave. What does that really mean? 

It means that these political parties know very well who their most reliable voters are. And basically, voters are segregated, when you draw these districts, so that one party, when they look—and the people who are the map makers, the map writers, this is their party—you take a look at your most reliable voters, who turn out in the years where you lost the worst. 

So for this current decade, which is almost ending, we’re talking about the Republicans looking at who voted for John McCain in 2008, when Obama won by 10 million votes nationally. 

JJ: Right. 

SR: And you basically redraw your state legislative districts, and your congressional US House districts. So these are not statewide offices, this is not governor, this is not senator. And you take a look at who are the most reliable voters, and this is what the Republicans did in a dozen states; Democrats did it in one state where there was litigation, Maryland.

And you say, OK, we’re going to win with 46 or 48 percent of the vote as Republicans, and the Democrats are going to win with 69 or 70 or 71 or 72 percent.

So that’s how you get these supermajority legislatures, like the numbers you read in the beginning of this hour. You know, you have almost a 50/50 split. But you’ve got 65, 67, 70 percent Republicans;  30, 35 percent Democrats. 

And you do it by putting lines on a map, where you draw around the most reliable voters in different parties’ bases. If you have a concentration of Democrats, it’s called cracking or packing; you split it up or you keep them together.

So what you end up having here, people have been very quantitative about this. So literally, the starting-line advantage in these highly gerrymandered, extreme gerrymandered states, Republicans have a 6, 7, 8, 9 percent—and it varies from state-to-state—starting-line advantage in a normal election year—not a crazy election year, everyone is passionate and turnout is high. 

JJ: Right.

SR: You add on top of that other little nicks and sort of microaggressions, if you will, to undermine the turnout of your opponent’s base. And that’s where the voter ID stuff comes in. And that’s been shown by academics to knock off another 2 or 3 percent in turnout from a series of likely-Democratic groups. 

Who are we talking about? The poor, students, older people, people from communities of color. 

So what you had then—this was going into 2018—was literally, the Republicans had about a 10 percent, maybe a little bit more, of a likely-turnout advantage.

And that’s why we would see these polls, “Oh, the Democrats are up, you know, 15 percent!” But then come Election Day, it was so tight, but yes, a few of them sort of squeaked it out. Well, how could they be up so much in the polls, but just barely win on Election Day? It’s because the voters have been segregated.

And so where does the census question come in on this? The academic estimates are that in the communities that would be affected—now, this is not everywhere in America, but this is in certain communities, concentrations in blue states—approximately another 8 percent—we’re not talking about voters, we’re talking about the overall voting adult population—might not be counted. 

JJ: Right, right.

SR: And then the way that translates into voting is, you also have these Republicans who are arguing that—and this goes back to the whole states’ rights thing—that the states should decide that they only want to count the voting age-eligible population. So again, that means not counting students, not counting children, not counting noncitizens, who are here either legally with visas or undocumented.

And all of this is designed to shape the electorate so that the people who are authoring these laws will retain political power. 

Steven Rosenfeld: “And we know that the Republicans, which are primarily an aging white party, are getting diluted in an increasingly demographically diverse America. So this is what this is all about.”

And we know that the Republicans, which are primarily an aging white party, are getting diluted in an increasingly demographically diverse America. So this is what this is all about. And it’s not just map-making. It’s not just gerrymandering. We have seen, when Democratic governors have been elected in these states that have these supermajority red legislatures, like North Carolina or Wisconsin, the legislature will come back in—

JJ: Snatch back the victory, by undermining the powers of that official. Yep.

SR: So that’s just really what it’s all about. And what happens when you follow this stuff is, you could have a lot of technical explanations. Numbers and this and metrics and everything like that. But really, the bottom-line concepts, we’re talking about segregating the electorate, we’re talking about seats and votes, we’re talking about, who is the governing class? And are the rules being changed in the middle of the game?

And the Supreme Court has basically said, “We’re pulling back. We’re not going to touch this stuff. We’re going to revert to an era of states’ rights.” 

All your listeners I’m sure know,  “states’ rights” is a big synonym for what was the South under Jim Crow. Over the course of our lives, you don’t like the clock to go backwards. But that’s kind of what it is.

JJ: I just want to underscore that point about restricting the census to voting-eligible people. The census determines where hospitals are, and how roads are built, so you’re going to say, “Oh, no, we’re not going to include children. We’re not gonna include students.” I just want to be sure folks see the deep impact of—  

SR: And let’s be really clear about this: The people who are the intellectual authors of this idea of going to a citizen, voting-age population, these are the people who brought the suits against affirmative action in university admissions. “This is a race-free America.”  Unfortunately, we’re not a race-free America. 

JJ: No!

SR: And the people who tend to win out when you remove these forms of balancing tend to be white, entrenched majorities. This didn’t come out of nowhere. These folks have been fighting for years. And it’s pretty nasty stuff, quite frankly.

JJ: Let’s move on to the question, or back to it, because you talked about where pushback can be and is, which is at different levels, is at the state and local level. 

So I don’t want to let folks think that nothing is being done. There is work being done. 

What can be done in terms of practical resistance to the impacts of these democracy-distorting kinds of moves?

SR: It comes at the census and redistricting. What happens is, after the census every 10 years—although some states rush this calendar, and that’s a political decision—[states] redraw their district lines. And the fairest possible process is taking it out of the legislatures and having these citizen or bipartisan redistricting commissions.

So if you’re in a state where that is a possibility, that is the best path to go. And by the way, in some states where people have pushed for that, in Michigan, Democrats pushing for that, the Republicans have tried to stop it. Again, it’s just really brazen power-grab stuff.

But when it comes to the big picture here, what you’re talking about are some microaggressions, like voter ID, and things that are a little more macro, like have these starting-line advantages. 

The only thing that people can do to basically get past all this is to turn out and vote in large enough numbers, so the wave swamps these basic microaggressions’ nickel-and-diming of the process.

And that’s all we’ve got. That really is all we’ve got. And we saw it in 2018, where there was historic turnout, and hopefully there’ll be historic turnout in 2020. And hopefully we’ll have transparent vote counts and audit trails, so people can believe the results. 

Because one thing about the Republicans is, they have no hesitation to play dirty, and fight as hard as they possibly can to stay in power. And we’ve seen it again and again and again. We saw with blocking the Supreme Court nominee in Obama’s last year of his term. We’re seeing it in the census question. So you just have to look at this stuff realistically, and call it what it is.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Steven Rosenfeld; he’s editor and chief correspondent at Voting Booth, that’s a project of the Independent Media Institute. His most recent book is Democracy Betrayed: How Superdelegates, Redistricting, Party Insiders and the Electoral College Rigged the 2016 Election. If you want to find the Voting Booth work, it’s online at IndependentMediaInstitute.org.

Steven Rosenfeld, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

SR: Thank you so much. It’s a real pleasure.

For NYT, Inconvenient Facts Equal ‘Russian-Style Disinformation’


School’s out for summer, and corporate media are eager to enter their junior year of the Russiagate conspiracy, despite its utter obliteration by Robert Mueller in April. Perhaps some journalists have taken to heart the tips several Russiagate skeptics offered to the media via FAIR on how to avoid further erosion of their credibility,  but the New York TimesJune 29 exclusive is a sign that not all in the media are ready to let go of Russophobic concern-trolling about Putin “sowing discord” amongst the left with “disinformation.”

This time, however, the sneaky culprit isn’t Russian. His tactics are merely “Russian-style.”

In “Trump Consultant Is Trolling Democrats With Biden Site That Isn’t Biden’s,” the Times revealed that Patrick Mauldin, a Trump re-election media consultant and founder of the Republican consulting firm Vici Media Group, was the independent creator of the parody Joe Biden 2020 campaign website JoeBiden.info, which appeared as one of the first results on various iterations of Google searches for the presidential hopeful—though sometimes below a paid ad for Biden’s legitimate site. Prior to the Times story, the owner of the website, which states at the bottom that it is “political commentary and parody of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign website,” was anonymous. The page only states:

It is not paid for by any candidate, committee, organization or PAC. It is a project BY AN American citizen FOR American citizens. Self-Funded.

The satirical webpage features animated GIFs of Biden’s inappropriate behavior with women and girls, and mocks his “legislative accomplishments,” highlighting among other things his vote against gay marriage in 1996, his authorship of the notorious 1994 crime bill that fueled mass incarceration, and his crusade against school desegregation in the 1970s, for which he recently came under fire from Kamala Harris in the first 2020 Democratic Primary debate.

The New York Times (6/29/19) describes a website parodying Joe Biden’s campaign as “Russian-style disinformation,” though parody sites are a longstanding made-in-the-USA tradition.

The Times describes the site as “a slick little piece of disinformation,” but each of the hyperlink citations attached to his political record listed above are featured in that section of Mauldin’s website. See for yourself if Biden didn’t champion the Iraq War, didn’t vote for states’ rights to overturn Roe v. Wade, or didn’t help escalate the war on drugs.

While the presentation of Biden’s positions are perhaps decontextualized, and some of his views have changed—though fighting alongside segregationists for segregation is pretty hard to forgive in any context—nothing on JoeBiden.info appears to be factually incorrect.

The hook, of course, is Russia. The Times‘ featured image caption reads:

Armed with bogus websites that mock leading candidates, a Trump campaign worker is exploiting tensions on the left with Russian-style disinformation.

Continuing the thriller, the piece’s author, Matthew Rosenberg, writes:

Yet in anonymously trying to exploit the fissures within the Democratic ranks — fissures that ran through this past week’s debates — Mr. Mauldin’s website hews far closer to the disinformation spread by Russian trolls in 2016 than typical political messaging. With nothing to indicate its creator’s motives or employer, the website offers a preview of what election experts and national security officials say Americans can expect to be bombarded with for the next year and a half: anonymous and hard-to-trace digital messaging spread by sophisticated political operatives whose aim is to sow discord through deceit. Trolling, that is, as a political strategy.

Rosenberg perfectly executes the Russiagate article recipe: adopt sensational language like “armed,” “sow discord” and “deceit”; fall back on unnamed “experts” to ramp up an alleged threat; use an espionage-evoking word like “operative”; resuscitate the 2016 election trigger word “troll”; and imply the useful idiocy of what corporate media tend to call the “far left”—Rosenberg opens the report by coloring Mauldin’s depiction of Biden as “in terms that would warm the heart of any Bernie Sanders supporter” (but surprise! It was a Trump staffer!). It only takes 11 more paragraphs for the Times to mention that Mauldin also created less effective parody sites for Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.

Putin and any actual Russian involvement are the missing cherries on top. But the damage is done when the association is made. The result is a story that whitewashes a conservative Democrat’s unpopular record. Sound familiar?

It’s important to remember that the so-called Russian Pearl Harbor of our (otherwise ostensibly unmanipulated) social media, as journalist Aaron Maté pointed out before and after the release of the Mueller Report (The Nation, 12/28/18; RealClearInvestigations, 7/5/19), was a dud. The Mueller-indicted Russian clickbait firm whose “disinformation” the Times references—the Internet Research Agency (IRA)—produced mostly non-election content, its scale was minor, its budget was negligible, and its sophistication was…well, unsophisticated. The kicker is it’s not entirely clear the IRA was connected to the Russian government.

Using the same term used to hype the IRA’s vapid memes (NBC News, 12/17/18), the Times described as “sophisticated” Mauldin’s entirely routine buying a web domain, designing a fairly simple webpage, promoting it on Reddit and making T-shirts. You can go make your own website on WordPress with a first-year-free domain name for $5 a month. On the topic of Mauldin’s “digital know-how,” Rosenberg emphasizes that

he also appears to be very much on point in his choice of targets: Mr. Biden is the Democrat polling strongest against Mr. Trump and has been repeatedly singled out on Twitter by the president.

Mocking a frontrunner by pointing out his unpopular political history: ingenious strategy, indeed.

The web analytics firm SimilarWeb says that the fake website had 390,000 unique visitors through the end of May, 80,000 more than Biden’s actual website. It’s definitely problematic that search engines were directing more people to the Trump consultant–made faux site than to the real one. But the serious questions are: What was its impact, and is it worth such a blockbuster, front-page upset?

Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch is the one who fed media the uncheckable yet widely reported estimate of people who may have seen IRA content: 126 million. He also said this figure comprises 0.004 percent of content on people’s newsfeed. To put it in perspective, Stretch said, if its platform was TV rather than Facebook, “you’d have to watch more than 600 hours of television to see something from the IRA.” The scary figure the Times is pushing—the fake Biden site’s 390,000 visitors—is less than a third of a percent of the not-particularly-pervasive 126 million.

Lacking evidence that JoeBiden.info will actually affect voter turnout, Rosenberg invokes a study by Tovo Labs, an adtech firm for Democrats, that brags that the company suppressed moderate and conservative Republican turnout in Alabama’s 2017 special Senate election by 2.5 and 4.4 percent, respectively. The Times suggests that Mauldin’s satirical Biden website utilizes a similar divide and suppress strategy, although Tovo ran a much more complex and explicitly manipulative targeted-ad campaign. Republicans were served ads that took them to a website encouraging them to write-in a candidate other than Roy Moore, the far-right contender. Other ads brought them to a curated site with articles opposing Moore by religious and conservative figures.

In other words, Tovo, which boasts on its website “dynamic content, AI and the world’s best adtech to supercharge progressive campaigns and deliver persuasion and action at an unprecedented scale,” went far beyond Mauldin’s laughably fake campaign website. It’s a fear-mongering comparison between apples and oranges.

Just as corporate media sought to distract their audience from the significant failures of their preferred Democratic candidate in 2016 with a collusion narrative that was baloney from the beginning, the Times wants you to be scared of anything and everything except Biden’s actual policy record.

The Russiagate trope allows media to get away with feebly calling the inconvenient facts on JoeBiden.info “less-than perfect moments” (Daily Beast, 6/29/19), “unfavorable policy positions” (Newsweek, 6/29/19), “policies that might not be seen as liberal today” (The Hill, 6/29/19). In the end, the label the Biden campaign hopes you’ll apply  is the Russia-tinged one the Times  (6/29/19) supplies: “disinformation.”

Alan MacLeod (FAIR.org, 7/27/18) astutely characterized the utility of Russiagate after the 2016 election:

For the Democrats, Russiagate allows them to ignore calls for change and not scrutinize why they lost to the most unpopular presidential candidate in history. Since Russia hacked the election, there is no need for introspection, and certainly no need to accommodate the Sanders wing or to engage with progressive challenges from activists on the left, who are Putin’s puppets anyway. The party can continue on the same course, painting over the deep cracks in American society.

As media continue to evince bias against the more progressive ideas and 2020 candidates in the Democratic Party, this Times exclusive smells like Biden-loss excuse preparation. What better seasoning than Russian-style disinformation?

Featured image: Screenshot from JoeBiden.info, a Republican-made parody website.

Arun Gupta on No More Camps!, Zoe Carpenter on Oregon Power Grab

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(image: No More Camps!)

This week on CounterSpin: The US is facing humanitarian and political crises, and media will be judged on how they choose to respond.

When a government is holding people who have committed no crime in camps that Holocaust survivors describe as “concentration camps,” do you, as a media outlet, host dialog about how to put a stop to it—or about how there’s a debate about immigration policy in which there are many legitimate positions, one of which, maybe, is the concentration camp position?

We’ll talk about that with journalist Arun Gupta, one of the organizers behind the NoMoreCamps! campaign.

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(image: KOIN)

When faced with cataclysmic climate disruption, and witnessing legislators who take money from the companies profiting from the disaster prevent communities from passing laws to confront it, do you talk about how to stop that—or about how there’s a debate on how democracy works, and even Abe Lincoln avoided a vote, you know?

CounterSpin also talks this week with Zoe Carpenter, associate Washington editor at The Nation, who wrote about the Oregon GOP’s violent power grab to deflect the public will on climate action.

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Steven Rosenfeld on Gerrymander Ruling, Nathan Schneider on Alternative Economic Visions

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The original Gerrymander.

This week on CounterSpin: Corporate media often indulge in feel-goodism around Independence Day, presuming a shared, uncontested meaning attached to the day’s symbols, when for many the holiday in fact evokes the excoriating words of Frederick Douglass, who asked in 1852: “What to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license.” The distance between the democracy media talk about and the system we have is wrenching—and a recent Supreme Court ruling highlights right-wing efforts to increase that gap and set it in stone. We’ll talk about what the Court’s recent gerrymandering decision means for the whole idea of “one person/one vote” with Steven Rosenfeld, editor and chief correspondent at the Independent Media Institute’s Voting Booth project, and author of, most recently, Democracy Betrayed: How Superdelegates, Redistricting, Party Insiders and the Electoral College Rigged the 2016 Election.

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(cc photo: Magic Trax)

Also on the show: As ugly as much of US history is, it isn’t just one story. What we choose to remember or forget shapes our present possibilities. The financial crisis, for instance, is remembered as banks deemed “too big to fail” inflicting great harm on families and the economy; but there was another story, too—about some financial institutions, namely credit unions, that behaved differently. Last fall, CounterSpin talked about that, as part of a kind of hidden economic history with journalist Nathan Schneider, author of Everything for Everyone: The Radical Tradition That Is Shaping the Next Economy. We revisit that forward-looking conversation this week.

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Buttigieg Goes for Big Bucks as NYT Oversells His Small-Donor Support

by Jim Naureckas

On June 25, the day before the first Democratic presidential debates, Pete Buttigieg’s average in polls of the race stood at 7.0 percent. Today, after the attention and considerable positive media reaction that he got after the debates, he’s surged—to 5.2 percent.

Despite the fact that more people seeing him seems to have resulted in less people liking him, the media narrative about Buttigieg is that his is a campaign on the move—based almost entirely on his fundraising success. CNBC‘s headline (7/1/19) was:

Pete Buttigieg Raises $24.8 Million in the Second Quarter as His White House Bid Gains Momentum

Bloomberg News (7/1/19) had:

Buttigieg Raises $24.8 Million in Quarter, Continuing 2020 Surge

The Guardian (7/1/19) didn’t put too fine a point on it:

Buttigieg Raises $24.8m, Eclipsing Sanders as Candidate Cull Looms

The thread running through these takes is that money, not public support, is what defines a candidate’s “momentum” or “surge,” and determines who is in “eclipse.” Voters are great, seems to be the thinking—but what really counts are donors.

Of course, from a voter’s point of view, what really matters is not how much financial support a candidate is getting, but who they’re getting it from—because those supporters may not have the same interests as the voter. In the case of Buttigieg, the two main sources of funds seem to be the tech industry—in part because of personal ties between the tech world and Buttigieg, who was one of the first 300 users of Facebook (American Prospect, 6/25/19)—and the financial industry, that traditional source of funds for corporate-oriented Democrats.

A New York Times headline (6/16/19) told the story: “Wall Street Donors Are Swooning for Mayor Pete. (They Like Biden and Harris, Too.)” “A Harvard graduate and veteran of the McKinsey consultancy, Mr. Buttigieg is fluent in the language of elite New York circles,” the story noted.

Pete Buttigieg has courted big donors and small donors — but it turns out mostly big donors (New York Times, 7/1/19).

But being Wall Street’s favorite is not a good look, the financial industry being deeply unpopular with voters, particularly Democratic ones (Morning Consult, 12/7/18). So Buttigieg is being rebranded as a fundraiser who brings everyone together, rich and not so rich alike. And the Times (7/1/19) is happy to help out with that—with its gushing headline:

Big Donors, Small Donors: Pete Buttigieg Has Courted Them All — Successfully.

The piece, by Reid J. Epstein and Thomas Kaplan, reports:

During the second quarter, Mr. Buttigieg attended about 50 high-dollar fundraising events, for which ticket prices typically run $2,800, the maximum individual contribution allowed by federal law in the primary. But he also held 20 “grass-roots” fundraising events, for which ticket prices start as low as $15.

The piece claims that Buttigieg is relying on both of these revenue streams, the “big” and “small” donors of the headline, in contrast to the other leading candidates:

Mr. Buttigieg’s rivals have mostly favored one fundraising approach or the other. Mr. Biden has concentrated his efforts on the broad network of Obama donors in major cities, but the 76-year-old former vice president hasn’t energized the small-dollar grassroots world. Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren have sworn off closed-door big-donor events as a political strategy aimed at creating a wider universe of small donors.

But has Buttigieg, unlike Biden, really “energized the small-donor grassroots world”? The article notes, “The average contribution over the course of his campaign has been $47.42, according to his team.” That’s not all that different from the $55 average contribution that Biden says he’s been taking in (Washington Post, 6/18/19). In fact, Buttigieg a couple weeks ago was saying that $55 was the average contribution he was getting, too (Washington Post, 7/1/19).

This is a lot bigger than the average contributions reported by the other leading Democrats: $30 for Kamala Harris (Politico, 6/29/19), $28 for Elizabeth Warren (New York Times, 4/10/19), $18 for Bernie Sanders (Washington Examiner, 7/2/19). But if you look at the fundraising that Buttigieg has been doing lately, it looks like he’s jumped up to a new league: The Times reports that he “collected $24.8 million from more than 294,000 donors for the three-month period that ended Sunday.” The paper doesn’t do the math, but that’s $84.35 a donor—a big chunk of change for someone who supposedly “has married traditional high-dollar fund-raising with online small donations,” as the Times claims in the very same sentence.

Even that figure probably overstates how much support Buttigieg actually gets from small donors. As the Times (5/30/19) has noted, the fact that the Democratic National Committee has made number of donors a criterion for appearing in debates has led candidates to spend a great deal of money, often via social media ads, to attract small donors, who often contribute much less than they cost to find them—in effect laundering the money gotten from a handful of big money supporters to create the appearance of a broader base of support.

The big donor/small donor piece mentions that through the spring, “the Buttigieg campaign’s combined spending on digital advertising on Facebook and Google ($1.3 million) exceeded that of any other Democratic candidate except Mr. Biden and Ms. Warren.” But it doesn’t refer back to the earlier reporting that suggests that this spending in search of small online donors might not actually be netting any money.

Another Times story that seems to have gone down the memory hole is the piece about Wall Street “swooning” for Buttigieg. The July 1 piece mentions “tech executives in Silicon Valley,” “military veterans” and “educated liberals on the coasts” as sources he’s tapped for funds—but no whisper of his finance industry fans. I guess even when you’re trying to pitch your candidate as the unifier of all classes, it’s best not to mention them all.

Featured image: Detroit News depiction of Pete Buttigieg at the Miami debates.

Research assistance: Harrison Malkin

Warning to Progressive Dems: You’re Leaving Corporate Media’s Comfort Zone

by Julie Hollar

After the first round of Democratic primary debates, the line from corporate media and their overwhelmingly centrist sources was clear: The Democrats are moving dangerously to the left, at their own peril.

Washington Post reporter Michael Scherer (6/30/19), under the headline “Democratic Candidates Veer Left, Leaving Behind Successful Midterm Strategy,” pushed the media conventional wisdom—on display after every election, regardless of the circumstances or outcomes (Extra!, 9/92, 1–2/95, 6/04, 7–8/06; 1–2/07; FAIR.org, 11/7/08, 3/16/10)—that Democratic success comes about because of moves to the center, and failure comes from moves to the left:

Washington Post (6/30/19)

With a full embrace of liberal positions on hot-button issues such as immigration, healthcare, taxes and abortion, the Democratic presidential field has effectively abandoned the strategy that propelled the party to a landslide victory in the 2018 midterms, when Democrats flipped 43 GOP House seats and won 31 districts that Trump carried in 2016.

Never mind that the party’s greatest losses came in the Senate, where three centrist Democratic incumbents lost their seats by significant margins, while progressive Sen. Sherrod Brown held on easily to his seat in increasingly red Ohio—outcomes that seriously complicate Scherer’s analysis (FAIR.org, 11/9/18). The analysis also seems to forget the 2016 elections, in which the centrist Democratic candidate failed to turn out the party’s base in the way Obama did (FAIR.org, 11/27/16).

But given Scherer’s sources, it’s an unsurprising bias: The article’s first “expert” quote was from a Trump reelection campaign pollster, and the next from former DCCC head Dan Sena (who is also, unmentioned by the Post, current advisor to centrist candidate Michael Bennet). A few candidates and their spokespeople on both sides of the left/center divide were quoted, but without exception, all of Scherer’s sources outside of the Democratic campaigns themselves leaned to the center or right. A conservative Republican strategist was given the last word, to suggest that the path the party is taking isn’t likely to beat Trump.


New York Times (6/29/19)

In a news analysis under the headline, “Liberals Ruled the Debates, and the Moderates Are Anxious,” the New York Times‘ front-page story (6/29/19) the Sunday after the debates worried about the “risk of political backlash” from so many leftist ideas, informing readers that “the spring to the left has deeply unnerved establishment Democrats.”

The Times repeats the centrist talking point that the party’s midterm success was grounded in moderation, quoting centrist Democrats Rahm Emanuel, James Carville and Claire McCaskill. The article gives a few lines to “liberals” who “argue that victory in 2020 depends in part on inspiring turnout from young voters and progressives,” but quickly counters that idea with the centrist fears that “the party was squandering the chance to make the election a referendum on an unpopular president, and staking its fortunes on untested policy promises instead.”

It’s worth noting—since the Times does not—that Emanuel in 2017 earned the distinction of the “least popular mayor in modern Chicago history,” bottoming out at a 27 percent approval rating, and McCaskill was one of the three Democratic senators mentioned above who, touting their centrism, lost their reelection battles by wide margins in 2018.

Interestingly, one problem with Biden, the article notes, is that he is “struggling to excite voters the way his counterparts on the left, like Ms. Warren and Ms. Harris, have started to do.” Shouldn’t the fact that voters are excited by left-leaning candidates and not by centrists put something of a damper on the Times‘ analysis?


New York Times (6/29/19)

The same day, another Times article (“Democrats Veer Further Left on Immigration at Forum, Pleasing Base (and Trump),” 6/29/19) noted that while some of the immigration positions taken by candidates in the debates

excited many in the Democratic base…the debates also raised questions about whether the Democratic candidates were entering terrain that would be perilous in a general election.

Corporate-backed think tank Third Way, set up specifically to move the Democratic Party to the right, gets room for an extended quote to provide the foundation for the article, predictably urging Democrats to avoid “leaving themselves open to being accused of their own extremism.”

The piece goes on to frame the position taken by many candidates as “complicated”:

While Democrats have increasingly embraced more liberal rhetoric on immigration, decriminalizing the border would undoubtedly prove complicated, and it is unclear precisely how Democrats would direct border officials to deal with illegal border-crossers.

In fact, though the law the candidates seek to repeal goes back nearly 100 years, it was rarely enforced; until George W. Bush, illegal border crossings were typically treated as civil infractions, a history that the article itself partially explains—so it’s unclear why anyone would think it would be so complicated to tell border officials to go back to doing what they used to do pre-Bush.


This unfounded article of faith in corporate media that leftist ideas, in contrast to centrist ones, are “complicated,” radical or otherwise not pragmatic, extends to healthcare. The Post article, for instance, explained that “single-payer healthcare remains a confounding idea for many Americans,” using numbers from the recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll to make its case:

56 percent of the nation favors Medicare for All, compared with 74 percent of Americans who support expanded Medicare as an option for younger Americans in addition to private insurance.

When the same people were told that a Medicare for All plan would raise taxes and eliminate private health insurance, support fell to 37 percent. Most people surveyed under the age of 65 with private health insurance falsely believed they would keep their coverage under the proposal.

The poll indeed shows this, and it’s unsurprising that people are “confounded” by single-payer since, despite the fact that progressives (including Bernie Sanders in his 2016 run) have been talking about it for years, media have done a remarkable job of keeping the public uninformed (FAIR.org, 3/6/09, 3/15/17).

The very same poll, on the very same page, shows that support for Medicare for All shoots up to 67 percent when they are told it will eliminate all health insurance premiums and reduce out-of-pocket healthcare costs for most Americans, and to 71 percent when people are told it will guarantee health insurance as a right for all Americans. But media—including the first-debate moderators—continue to focus almost exclusively on the elimination of private insurance and on tax increases, ensuring that voters will continue to be confounded, and in a way that particularly benefits the private insurance industry.


Politico (6/30/19)

Some in the media felt uncomfortable not just with left-leaning proposals about healthcare and immigration, but also confrontations about race. Politico (6/30/19) allowed that “a measured clash of ideas and worldviews is healthy for a party seeking a return to power,” but drew the line at candidates calling out each other’s problematic positions on racial issues:

What’s not healthy for a party is when the front-runner, a white man, is waylaid by the ferociously talented up-and-comer, a black woman, who prefaces her attack: “I do not believe you are a racist ….”

The piece worried about the many “minefields” that await the party after such a raucous debate, including discussion of “the party’s ambiguous post-Obama foreign policy doctrine”; “pressure to conform to Castro’s argument on decriminalizing border crossings, a position that animates the progressive base but may well alienate moderates and independents”; “whispers of Buttigieg’s struggle with black voters”; and

litmus-test questions on issues such as abortion and guns, not to mention the ideological pressure placed on the field by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, neither of whom were seriously tested in the first set of debates but whose ambitious Big Government proposals are driving the party’s agenda and putting more moderate candidates in a bind.

The piece continues:

The gravitational pull of the party’s base will continue to threaten the long-term viability of top contenders, as evidenced by the continuing talk of eliminating private insurance and Harris’s own shaky explanations of whether she supports doing so.

Here, Politico betrays its unspoken pre-sorting of the field, which does not correspond to voter preference, as two of the three “top contenders,” according to all early polls—Warren and Sanders—are the very same ones pulling the field left on eliminating private insurance, and reflecting the other concerns of the party’s base. But candidates with “ambitious Big Government proposals” are never considered “top” or “serious” contenders by outlets like Politico (Extra!, 9–10/03).


USA Today’s single post-debate opinion piece came July 1 under the headline, “Lurching Leftward Won’t Beat Trump,” written by Board of Contributors member Tom Nichols, a self-declared “Never Trumper” who characterized Harris’ debate challenge to Biden as “nasty” (without any apparent irony or awareness of the term’s recent history) and criticized “liberal purists” for asking anything more of their candidate than to be capable of beating Trump.

There is no definitive answer to the debate over whether a candidate’s path to the White House is better achieved by mobilizing the party’s base or by winning swing voters. What is clear is that democratic elections ought to engage all Americans, not just the less than two-thirds who currently vote. You would think that more ideas and debate would be preferable to less. But for corporate media, who have never wavered in their adherence to the belief in the centrist swing-voter path, the Democratic primary field is a “circus” that needs to get under control—specifically, centrist control.

Creating a Climate for War With Iran


Fox News (6/14/19)

Media outlets are creating a climate for a US military attack on Iran by hyping the idea that Iran is an imminent threat to peace, by failing to offer evidence that calls the US’s accusations against Iran into question, by amplifying warmongers’ voices and by naturalizing America’s supposed right to spy on every country on earth.

Headlines are breathlessly suggesting to readers that Iranians are going to kill Americans if Americans don’t kill Iranians first.

A Hill article (6/7/19) told readers “Why Congress Needs Accurate Intelligence on the Iran Threat”; Fox (6/14/19) explained “The Trump Administration’s Strategy to Meet Threat from Iran.” A New York Times article (6/17/19) by David E. Sanger called Iran one of the “nuclear crises” facing the US, even though the International Atomic Energy Agency has said that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program and hasn’t been close to having one since at least 2003, and there is reason to believe that it never has been close.

Presenting Iran as a threat, nuclear or otherwise, over and over again carries the clear message that it must be confronted. Yet it’s much more accurate to say that the US is a threat to Iran than the opposite (FAIR.org, 6/6/19); after all, it’s the US government that is destroying Iran’s economy through sanctions that limit Iranians’ access to food and medicine, while surrounding Iran with military bases and land, sea and air forces. Iran has done nothing remotely comparable to the US.

As with the phrase “stumbling into war,” “careens” is a word that limits US agency (New York Times, 6/17/19).

Media outlets also create a climate for war when they fail to offer evidence that contradicts US government narratives about Iran. Sanger’s supposedly neutral piece of reporting in the Times (6/17/19) made three references to attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman for which the US blames Iran, in one case implying that readers should believe that Iran was responsible, writing:

Even the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam B. Schiff, no friend of Mr. Trump’s, says the evidence is overwhelming that Iran was responsible for the attacks on the tankers.

Schiff may be “no friend of Mr. Trump’s,” but that doesn’t necessarily make him a skeptic of intelligence claims about official enemies; he voted to authorize force against Iraq in 2002 on the basis of bogus intelligence claims that that country possessed unauthorized weapons of mass destruction.

At no point did the Sanger article mention the evidence that casts doubt on the claim that Iran carried out the attacks—for instance, the owner of one of the tankers, the Kokuka Courageous, said that it “was struck by a flying projectile, contradicting reports by U.S. officials and the military” that a mine was a source of the damage to the vessel.

Another ostensibly objective Times report (6/20/19), this one on Trump’s apparent approval and subsequent cancellation of a military attack after Iran shot down a US drone, said that

United States officials sought to bolster their case that Iran was responsible for last week’s tanker attacks, telling journalists at a briefing that fragments recovered from one of the tankers bore a “striking resemblance” to limpet mines used by Iran.

This account also leaves out that, in addition to the statement from the owner of the Kokuka Courageous, those aboard one of the other ships thought it was a torpedo that hit them.

An Associated Press story (6/20/19) on the drone affair reported:

The US has been worried about international shipping through the strategic waterway since tankers were damaged in May and June in what Washington has blamed on limpet mines from Iran, although Tehran denied involvement. On Wednesday in the United Arab Emirates, the US Navy showed fragments of mines that it said bore “a striking resemblance” to those seen in Iran.

This article, like the two from the Times, opted against noting the above-mentioned flaws in the US’s account of the June tanker attacks, or the strong political reasons for Iran to not carry out these acts. Nor does the piece mention the shortage of evidence for US government allegations that Iran damaged tankers in May.

Instead of mentioning these elements of the story, the reports exclusively gave voice to the US government’s version of events. Without the evidence that calls that account into question, US/Iran relations are presented as a series of attacks by Iran against the US and its partners—first oil tankers, and then a US drone—which encourages people to see Iran as a violent aggressor that needs to be dealt with violently. Providing readers with reasons to be skeptical about US government claims that Iran is responsible for the tanker attacks both undermines that master narrative, and can lead audiences to be suspicious about all claims Washington is making about Iran.

Note: Sinking the entire Iranian navy, as Bret Stephens (New York Times, 6/14/19) proposes, would kill some 18,000 people.

More directly, media outlets are creating a climate for war by giving megaphones to right-wing ghouls explicitly calling for a US military attack on Iran.

A column by the New York TimesBret Stephens (6/14/19) contended, “If Iran won’t change its behavior, we should sink its navy.” The word “behavior” telegraphs how Stephens presents Iran is a nation of children that needs to be disciplined by its masters in the civilized world. He writes that allowing Iran

to go unpunished isn’t an option. What is appropriate is a new set of rules — with swift consequences if Iran chooses to break them. The Trump administration ought to declare new rules of engagement to allow the Navy to engage and destroy Iranian ships or fast boats that harass or threaten any ship, military or commercial, operating in international waters. If Tehran fails to comply, the US should threaten to sink any Iranian naval ship that leaves port.

If after that Iran still fails to comply, we would be right to sink its navy, in port or at sea. The world cannot tolerate freelance Somali pirates. Much less should it tolerate a pirate state seeking to hold the global economy hostage through multiplying acts of economic terrorism.

In Stephens’ estimation, the US has the right to issue “a new set of rules” and, in the event that Iran doesn’t “comply” with the US’s imperial fiats about the waters off Iran’s shores, employ gunboat diplomacy to enforce them. Notice how quickly he slides from “the US” in the first of these paragraphs to “the world” in the second, as though these are one and the same. Interestingly, his definition of “economic terrorism” seems only to include actions that Iran is accused of taking but hasn’t been proven to have done, and not the full-scale destruction of the Iranian economy that the US has embarked on in plain sight.

Rather, argue El Lake (Bloomberg, 6/18/19), you should blame Iran for Trump’s aggression.

Similarly, Eli Lake (Bloomberg, 6/18/19) criticized the claim that

the US is somehow responsible for Iran’s [alleged tanker attacks], a point made by…Trump critics. This kind of analysis is leading to some bizarre policy recommendations. Already, European diplomats are urging Trump to drop his campaign of maximum pressure and adopt one of “maximum restraint.”

This is asking to be blackmailed. And now that Iran is threatening to exceed the limits to uranium enrichment it agreed to in the 2015 nuclear deal, it’s more important than ever to understand that restraint and dialogue will not bring Iran to heel.

For Lake, Iranians are disobedient animals who the US should bring “to heel”—through violence, a revolting prescription even when applied to actual misbehaving animals. That the “2015 nuclear deal” is effectively null and void because the US tore it up is not the sort of detail that troubles a war propagandist like Lake.

In the Washington Post, Michael G. Vickers (6/21/19) argued that “the Trump administration should respond to [the tanker episodes and Iran’s downing of the drone] with strikes of its own on Iranian and Houthi air-defense assets, offensive missile systems and Revolutionary Guard Corps bases,” on the grounds that “by reinforcing deterrence, a short-duration US military operation may well help to prevent a wider conflict with Iran.”

War is peace, argues Michael Vickers (Washington Post, 6/21/19).

In effect, his argument is that the best way to avoid a war with Iran is to have a war with Iran, as well as ratcheting up the war on Yemen, as if the US and its allies hadn’t done enough to Yemen already. What the US would be “deter[ing]”—a word that appears four times in the article, including in its headline—is Iran’s ability to interfere with the US capacity to spy on and bomb the country: Vickers called for bombing “air-defense assets,” giving away that his concern is with making Iran incapable, not merely of carrying out hypothetical and extremely unlikely offensive attacks, but of exercising its right to defend itself.

At no point does Vickers, or the Associated Press story on the downing of the drone, or the Times report (6/20/19) saying Trump approved and then called off bombing Iran over the drone incident, or any corporate media article I can find, question the assumption underlying the US government and much of the media’s fulminating over Iran shooting down the drone: If the drone was shot down in international airspace rather than over Iranian territory—and by no means has this been proven—it’s an outrage for Iran to interfere with the US’s divine right to spy on any nation it pleases, at any time and to any degree that it wishes. Even if the US is telling the truth, its claim is that it was 21 miles off the Iranian coast with a drone that has “powerful surveillance sensors to monitor ground or maritime activity in great detail.” It’s all but impossible to imagine a scenario in which US media take for granted Iran’s right to deploy powerful spy equipment 21 miles off the US coast. (That’s less than the distance from Dallas to Ft. Worth, or from Tampa to St. Petersburg.)

And treating arguments for bombing countries like those from Lake, Stephens and Vickers as though they are merely interesting ideas worthy of consideration—rather than calls to carry out war crimes—normalizes imperialist aggression. If the public is told that starting wars against other countries with no credible pretext is a reasonable action, the likely outcome is that ever more people will become inoculated against efforts to try to stop potential and ongoing slaughters.


NBC News Whitewashes Colombia’s Right-Wing President


Colombian President Iván Duque gave a talk on June 21 at the “Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity” on his book Orange Economy: An Infinite Opportunity. Duque wasn’t alone—Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, singer John Legend and former NBA star Dwyane Wade also made appearances at the French Riviera event.

Claire Atkinson, the senior media editor at NBC News (6/27/19), interviewed Duque after his talk—but instead of asking hard questions and doing deep political analysis, she turned to easy questioning, opting not to follow up on his answers, while omitting the realities on the ground in Colombia. It seems as if his stance on climate change and his ideas on creativity were good enough to erase his record.

NBC News (6/27/19) interviews Colombian President Iván Duque with kid gloves.

NBC News didn’t include the fact that the country’s Afro-Colombians, indigenous people and campesinos, among others, are protesting him in large numbers—with a recent poll showing that his approval rating is at 28 percent, only a year after he took office. NBC News readers were given no indication of his unpopularity or the opposition movement against him.

The Colombian people are protesting the army’s order to “double the number of criminals and militants they kill, capture or force to surrender in battle…and possibly accept higher civilian casualties in the process,” as the New York Times (5/18/19) reported. They’re protesting the mass murder of activists, a “systematic action,” and the degradation of workers rights. Public Radio International (4/26/19) documented that activists and human rights advocates are being murdered in Colombia at the rate of one every three days—and that Duque’s political allies have longstanding ties to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a notorious death squad. But we don’t see any questions from NBC News on these grim realities.

Public Radio International (4/26/19) reports a side of Colombia that you can’t see from Cannes.

In Duque’s talk, he said he wants Colombia to be the “Silicon Valley” of Latin America. To do this, he put in place a “zero income tax for seven years for creative and tech industries in Colombia.” Colombia Reports (1/7/15) writes that “inequality is a widely cited cause of Colombia’s armed conflict.” And so in Colombia, one of the most unequal countries in the world, the consequences of yet another policy favoring the wealthy isn’t investigated by NBC News.

The sub-headline of the NBC News interview is this quote from Duque: “We only produce 0.4 percent of CO2 global emissions, but we are one of the most vulnerable countries on climate change effects.” Accepting his self-portrayal as an environmental advocate, Atkinson didn’t ask Duque about his plans to expand aerial fumigation of coca farms, a tactic cheered on by the United States. Colombia Reports (4/4/14) explains that this means

the livelihoods and health of small-scale farmers are continuously threatened by the damaging effects of chemical pesticides dropped from government-contracted planes in Colombia’s remote regions.

The neoliberal Duque brought up the relationship between the United States and Colombia (the US sends $400 million dollars a year in military and economic aid to Colombia) while answering a question on the drug war. “We have been allies of the United States, and they have been allies in this task, but as I said, it’s a matter of co-responsibility.” The US’s relationship with Colombia, “our closest ally at this moment in South America,” according to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, isn’t explored any further by NBC News or Duque.

As NACLA (12/6/18) puts it, Duque’s

aggressive anti-drug rhetoric continues the approach of Plan Colombia, the failed counternarcotics strategy that defined US/Colombia relations between 1999 and 2015. Under Plan Colombia, US taxpayers contributed to the financing of widespread human rights violations.

NBCUniversal, a sponsor of the Cannes event, didn’t find the time to ask about this, either.

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Featured image: Colombian President Iván Duque at Cannes.