Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

‘We’re Still Going to Be Making Sure People Have Access to Abortions They Want and Need’ - CounterSpin interview with Jill Heaviside and Oriaku Njoku on reproductive rights assaults

Janine Jackson interviewed Jill Heaviside and Oriaku Njoku about resisting assaults on reproductive rights for the May 17, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Clyde Chambliss (image: Facebook)

Janine Jackson:  Clyde Chambliss, Alabama senate sponsor of a law banning virtually all abortion, was asked whether the law would likewise criminalize in vitro fertilization clinics that discard embryos. His answer was clear: “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman.”

You could spend all day pointing out indications that the legislators seeking to curtail abortion access are not driven by concern for the sanctity of all (even potential) human life, but by the desire to exert authority over particularly some women’s lives and possibilities.

Blowing away the fog around the anti-abortion movement is useful, not as an end in itself, but if it helps us see how to move effectively to ensure all women’s human rights, while protecting those made particularly vulnerable under the current onslaught.

Joining us now from Georgia, where another anti-abortion law has been signed recently, are Jill Heaviside, a lawyer and If/When/How HIV–reproductive justice fellow with SisterLove, Inc., and Oriaku Njoku, co-founder and executive director of Access Reproductive Care—Southeast. They join us by phone from Atlanta. Welcome you both, Jill Heaviside and Oriaku Njoku.

Oriaku Njoku:  Thank you.

Jill Heaviside: Thank you for having us.

Rewire.News (5/13/19)

JJ: Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, Indiana: Multiple states, as listeners know, are passing bills curtailing access to abortion in various ways. If you look particularly at social media, you’d say we’re living in the end times. And that’s why I particularly appreciated the departure point of the piece that you co-authored for Rewire.News, reflected in the headline, “Abortion Care Is Still Legal in Georgia.” It’s not, in the piece, a rosy-tinted view, by any means, but why was it important for you to start there?

JH: It was important for us to start there because it’s true: Safe and legal abortion services are available in every state across the country, including Georgia.

Stories and discourse that lead with “Georgia just made abortion illegal” are dangerous, because they can deter people from seeking care.

In Georgia, specifically, we have lawsuits that are going to be filed soon. So this law may never go into effect. Every law prohibiting abortion this early in pregnancy has been blocked or overturned by courts.

So we just want to make sure people know that their pregnancy, miscarriage or abortion will not be further criminalized in Georgia. We’ve already seen an uptick in calls to clinics and advocacy orgs and abortion funds, from patients that are asking if they’re going to be arrested if they come in for their appointments.

So we want to make sure people know, as we in the movement know, that this is a long game. And while folks should be concerned, because these are troubling times, we need to be able to organize and plan for the fight ahead, while also making sure we’re taking care of each and every person seeking abortion services along the way.

JJ: There are issues with the specifics in these bills—the manipulative and misleading use of “heartbeat,” for example, which you should feel free to explain. And then the idea in the Georgia law, that the rape and incest exceptions would only apply if a police report’s been filed—you could see the problems there. But then, in another way, the specifics almost don’t matter, if you’re trying to explain the intent of a ban like Georgia’s.  You really do have to fight, then, on more than one level with this kind of legislation, don’t you?

JH: Yeah, that’s definitely true. To your point about the mechanics of the bill, the Georgia bill definitely raises some complex legal questions that aren’t settled under current law. But if we keep paying attention to what may happen, then we’re not really fighting for what we need in the moment right now.

The “heartbeat” descriptor of this bill is a misnomer, and was intentionally picked by anti-abortion legislators to really hone in on the messaging and control the narrative around these bills. But this bill, along with all similar bills, just basically are an outright ban on abortion, if they are allowed to go into effect.

ON: Just calling it a “heartbeat bill“ doesn’t do service to the reality that this is outright banning abortion, or an attempt to ban abortion and overturn Roe, essentially. So this is what we’re up against.

JJ:  It’s been pointed out that, first of all, you’re talking about electric activity around a fetal pole, as early as six weeks, at a time when many women don’t even know yet that they’re pregnant, which of course means that you really are trying to ban all abortions.

And also, folks like Clyde Chambliss over in Alabama says things like, “Well, I’m not trained medically, so I don’t know the proper terminology and timelines.” You know, they say that out loud.

And you can facepalm all you want, but the thing is, they don’t care that they sound unintelligent on the science, because that’s not their point. Their point is to criminalize abortion, right? So the details really don’t matter, as much as some folks say,  “Aha, look, we caught him in a hypocritical statement” or something.

Jill Heaviside: “The intent of this bill, and all similar bills that are being put forth across the country, isn’t to protect women’s health or preserve the sanctity of life; their intent is to control the reproductive lives and freedoms of people across the country.” (image: WTVF)

JH: That’s exactly right. The intent of this bill, and all similar bills that are being put forth across the country, isn’t to protect women’s health or preserve the sanctity of life; their intent is to control the reproductive lives and freedoms of people across the country, and to further criminalize abortion and pregnancy. If these legislators were interested in the sanctity of life or improving health outcomes, they would do things like expand Medicaid or address maternal mortality.

I mean, here in Georgia, where black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related outcomes than white women, those are the real “pro-life,” to use their term, issues that they should be focusing on, not how and when and by what means people should make decisions about continuing or terminating their pregnancies.

JJ: Well, Oriaku, you just raised it: Both proponents and opponents of these bans see them as aiming to be used to get at Roe v. Wade. How should we be thinking about Roe right now? What do we think would happen if it were, in fact, overturned?

ON: The reality of what Roe did was essentially make abortion legal in the United States, but it didn’t guarantee that abortion was going to be accessible. And so a lot of the people who we work with every day, that we’re in community with, have actually been living this post-Roe reality that people are scared of. That is actually the reality of folks who are on the ground, and has been for decades now.

So what has been happening is, yes, over the course of time, as a lot of this legislation and these laws have been introduced, it has made it harder to access an abortion. But I feel like that is also part of their strategy.

If they were to completely overturn Roe, I think one of the really beautiful things about this particular moment right now is that, while our legislators are focused on building power over us, we’re actually excited about building power with folks that we live with and work with and love in community. So no matter what happens, we’re still going to be making sure that people have access to the abortions that they want and need, no matter what.

I mean, there’s no way that we can truly predict what is going to happen. But we know that our role as grassroots organizations, or specifically, ARC-Southeast as an abortion fund, is to make sure that people have access to the abortions that they want and need, without any bias or other barriers.

JJ: Well, that actually leads me to another question. What is the relationship between abortion access and reproductive justice? What does that latter term entail?

ON: Yeah, so reproductive justice: If you want to think of it as three different things, there’s reproductive health, reproductive rights and reproductive justice.

And when reproductive justice was essentially created, by and for black women—it was coined in 1994, in a hotel room, you know? But when they came up with this term, “reproductive justice,” it was done as almost a counter to what the reproductive rights framework was putting out there, in that it was just about “choice.” By being a black woman, by being a person of color living in this country, we recognize that we do not live single-issue lives. And so the decisions that we make go beyond just making a choice or not. The decisions that we make are intersectional; they’re based on economics, our environment, our gender, our ability to get the funds that we need to have lives where we can thrive.

SisterSong, which is the women of color collective, defines reproductive justice as a “human right to maintain bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children that we have in safe and sustainable communities.”

JH: And to add quickly to what Oriaku shared, the fact that reproductive justice is an intersectional framework, it allows us to bring in organizations that may have different central missions, but all support reproductive freedom for all Georgians.

So SisterLove, where I work, we’re an HIV advocacy, sexual health and reproductive justice organization. And so we’re able to address these intersecting issues: how HIV and abortion and young pregnancy and other issues relating to sexual health are all stigmatized, and are all criminalized. So it’s a way for us to build our collective power and find our common goals, and really just work collectively in order to push through reproductive freedom.

JJ: Another, I would say, unpretty aspect of particularly social media around this issue has been a denigration of the South, as though that’s the place where these things happen. But organizers that I talk with tell me, especially in the last few years, that particularly for women of color, the South is where some of the deepest organizing is happening. I don’t guess you disagree with that.

ON: Oh, yeah. I mean, anytime anyone tries to, what I like to say, talk a mess about the South, anytime they try to do that, I’m like, “We’re actually choosing to live here. This is where our families come from.” The South is actually a beautiful place.

And this is not something, the organizing that has been happening, is not something that’s just been happening overnight. I remind people all the time of, the civil rights movement started in the South. Social justice movements came from the South, they were built and flourished from the South.

So this idea of talking bad about the South, or making the South seem like, “Oh, of course, it would happen in the South,” when the reality is, a lot of these laws started off in Ohio, they started in the Midwest, and then were brought down to the South…. The really beautiful organizing, especially from people of color living here, is…. Yeah, that’s what we do. That’s what we’ve always done.

JH: And my perspective, as a white woman from Connecticut, is that the South is an amazing place to do this work. There are so many opportunities to really learn from, and work for and with, the amazing women of color who have been leading reproductive justice and social justice and all this movement work for decades. And most of the people who are calling on the South as, “Oh, of course this is happening to the South. Let’s write off the South,” they’re all people who don’t live in the South, they are mostly people, mostly white people, from places outside of the South. And so it’s easy for them to write off the South. but we really need reinvestment in the organizations that are leading this work, to build our power and continue doing the amazing work we have been.

JJ: Well, that leads right to the next question. I don’t oppose boycotts, quite the contrary; I believe in people speaking with their consumer voice. But boycotting all of the states that pass draconian abortion restrictions—you know, at a certain point, that becomes a pretty blunt tool.

For people in states—and I mean states in the union, but also socioeconomic states—where they feel pretty secure in their own ability to access abortion, who are right now basically wringing their hands, what are some ways that you could suggest for them to help move us forward, to help in this moment?

ON: Yeah, one of the things that I keep thinking about is just the idea that part of reproductive justice is creating a space or an environment or a world where people can live their best lives, they can live their lives in a sustainable way.

And so when people are actively choosing to boycott, or divest from, areas or states that actually need the support, this is not only just “taking a stand,” or speaking with their consumer voice, this is something where it’s directly impacting the workers and the people and the families who depend on the jobs that they’re divesting from, that they need to live their sustainable lives.

So to me, it just creates that connection between economic justice and reproductive justice, and how a boycott ends up hurting a family’s ability to just do that, which is live a sustainable life.

JH: And something that we tried to emphasize in our piece is that if folks, particularly people who are outside of Georgia, and, as you mentioned, feel secure in their ability to access abortion and just want to help, that the best thing they can do is listen to the grassroots organizers who are on the ground and who have been doing this work.

If you don’t know the organizations, either in Georgia or the state that you want to help benefit, a great place to start is with the local abortion fund, because they definitely know all of the people who are doing the important work.

And while some are calling for boycotts, we have prominent leaders in Georgia who are saying, no, please, continue your investment, and come here and support the folks who maybe aren’t the actors in the movie, but are working on the set, working in the restaurants and working in the hotels and working in the supportive services.

Over the weekend, Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams said that they are not pulling out their projects, and instead are donating their proceeds to organizations who are actively doing this work. And that’s an amazing way to show support and leverage your financial privilege to help put forward these issues.

JJ: Let me ask what you would like to see media doing more of, or less of, in their coverage of this topic? There certainly are themes to the coverage; we can’t say they’re not covering this. But are there things that you would like to see journalists improve, maybe?

Oriaku Njoku: “There have been what feels like a lot of doomsday feelings around the coverage that has been coming out, and that is almost doing a disservice to the actual  joy and excitement that the folks on the ground actually have in doing this work.”

ON: Yeah, there have been what feels like a lot of doomsday feelings around the coverage that has been coming out, and that is almost doing a disservice to the actual  joy and excitement that the folks on the ground actually have in doing this work. We come and we answer the phones at ARC-Southeast, for folks who are trying to access abortion care, and do that with a radical, unconditional love every single day, do our work to take away that fear, that fear and that stigma, which end up also being barriers to accessing care. I feel like this was a really unique and opportune time to showcase that: Folks are still doing this work. I mean, they’re deeply committed to doing this work, no matter what.

And it’s folks from all communities. So we’ve got queer and trans folks, we’ve got other LGBTQ folks, we’ve got young people, we’ve got immigrants and people from the API community. It’s really taking all of us to create this cultural shift around how we address abortion. And we’re deeply encouraged by that, and are excited to see what can happen, because this is definitely a moment within this broader movement that is really being used to galvanize and energize our base to really shift the climate.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Oriaku Njoku and Jill Heaviside.  Their article, “Abortion Care Is Still Legal in Georgia” can be found at Rewire.News. Oriaku Njoku and Jill Heaviside, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

ON: Thank you.

JH: Thank you for having us.


There’s Far More Diversity in Venezuela’s ‘Muzzled’ Media Than in US Corporate Press


Time (4/16/19) joined in on the corporate media’s literary fad of fictionalized accounts of the Venezuelan crisis.

The international corporate media have long displayed a peculiar creativity with the facts in their Venezuela reporting, to the point that coverage of the nation’s crisis has become perhaps the world’s most lucrative fictional genre. Ciara Nugent’s recent piece for Time (4/16/19), headlined “‘Venezuelans Are Starving for Information’: The Battle to Get News in a Country in Chaos,” distinguished itself as a veritable masterpiece of this literary fad.

The article’s slant should come as no surprise, given Time’s (and Nugent’s) enthusiastic endorsement (2/1/19) of the ongoing coup led by self-proclaimed “interim president” Juan Guaidó. Time’s report is based on a trope oft-repeated by corporate journalists for over a decade (Extra!, 11–12/06), namely that Venezuela’s elected Chavista government is an “authoritarian” regime that brutally suppresses freedom of expression. Corporate outlets frequently speak of “Chávez’s clampdown on press freedom” (New York Times, 4/30/19), “a country where critical newspapers and broadcast media already have been muzzled” and “much of Venezuela’s independent press has disappeared” (NBC, 2/3/19, 5/16/19), or the Maduro “regime” controlling “almost all the television and radio stations” (Bloomberg, 1/29/19).

However, the Time journalist’s nightmarish narrative of Orwellian state censorship flies in the face of basic empirical facts that are readily apparent to anyone who has spent any time in Venezuela. While Nugent claims that, for Venezuelans, “finding out what’s going on around them has become a struggle,” it’s in fact quite common to witness informed political debates in bars, shops and public plazas. The idea Nugent tries to sell that it takes some photogenic gimmick of someone standing on a bus with a cardboard “television” to inform the public is ridiculous.


“Most television is state-run, and authorities ban the few independent TV and radio stations from covering Venezuela’s crisis as it unfolds,” Nugent assures readers. It is unclear whether Nugent has ever watched television in Venezuela, because few statements could be farther from the truth. In fact, Venezuela has three major private television stations (Venevision, Televen and Globovisión), each with millions of viewers.

As of 2013, when the last audience study was conducted by AGB Nielsen, billionaire media mogul Gustavo Cisneros’ Venevision dominated the national news market, with 36 percent of the total viewing public. Venevision was followed by state-run VTV, at 25 percent, with Televen and Globovision coming in third and fourth at 22 percent and 15 percent, respectively. While no new studies have been conducted since, evidence suggests private media’s dominance has strengthened, not weakened, over the last six years.

An AGB Nielsen study shows that the privately owned Venevision dominates Venezuela’s television news market.

First, while coming in way behind Venevision and Televen in terms of overall ratings, for years VTV undoubtedly had its news viewership buoyed by the charismatic presence of the late President Hugo Chávez, who even had his own highly popular weekly talkshow, Aló Presidente, on the network. It’s a reasonable bet that VTV’s news ratings have taken a significant dip in the six years since Chávez’s death, with the gradual onset of a deep economic and political crisis that has sapped vital resources and political morale from the state channel.

Secondly, data from Venezuela’s telecommunications watchdog, CONATEL, shows a steady increase in private television subscribers, which rose from 17 percent in 2000 to a peak of 68 percent in 2015. As of last year, over 60 percent of Venezuelan households paid for a private cable or satellite subscription.

Subscriptions are highly affordable, with top satellite provider Direct TV offering packages beginning at the equivalent of just 70 cents per month on the parallel market rate, or about the price of a cold beer.

In the case of Direct TV, which controls 44 percent of the paid subscription market, plans include a host of international news channels, including Fox News, CNN, BBC and Univisión—none of which could be mistaken for pro-Chavista mouthpieces.

Contrary to Nugent’s story of a state-run media monopoly, the available data suggests that under Chavismo, Venezuelans have progressively expanded their access to private international news channels, most of which display a decidedly right-wing, anti-government slant in their coverage.

Even aside from US-based networks like Fox and CNN, Venezuela’s private TV news spectrum is dominated by pro-opposition perspectives. The only exception is Globovisión, which a 2015 American University study found to have “no significant bias in favor of the government or the opposition”—contrary to claims by the New York Times (2/21/19) that the private network “changed its editorial line to support Mr. Maduro” following its ownership change.

Despite opposition allegations that Venevision has likewise become a “pro-regime” outlet, the channel frequently interviews leaders of opposition parties; for example, it recently ran a sympathetic, 12-minute interview (5/2/19) with Sergio Vergara G., leader in the National Assembly of Guaidó’s ultra-militant right-wing Popular Will party. Needless to say, spotlighting the views of a party actively engaged in trying to overthrow the government is not a hallmark of “state-run” television.

Nugent’s claim is also false with regards to radio, with numerous opposition-aligned stations filling the airwaves, including most notably Radio Caracas Radio, while Union Radio is popular nationwide for its independent, even-handed coverage.

Print media

Nugent matter-of-factly talks about newspapers and magazines having “all but disappeared,” as if amidst a severe economic downturn, Venezuela was expected to buck the worldwide trend of declining print media.

Nonetheless, Venezuela does still have a number of national circulation papers, which Nugent could confirm with a visit to any Venezuelan newspaper kiosk. Moreover, as in other countries, newspapers that no longer circulate in print have continued their operations on digital platforms and social media.

El Universal (2/17/19) published an op-ed, headlined “Venezuelan Scenarios,” that positively contemplates the outcomes of a US invasion of Venezuela.

Today, Venezuela has five nationwide dailies still in print, the majority of which are anti-government. While Últimas Noticias and of course state-run Correo del Orinoco take a pro-government line, any cursory glance at El Universal, Diario 2001 and La Voz will find them all to be staunchly anti-Chavista.

El Universal has a weekday circulation of 35,000, which relative to population is comparable to the Washington Post.  Considered the voice of the so-called “moderate” opposition, the paper has been grossly misrepresented by the New York Times’ Nick Casey (1/16/16), among others, as “toe[ing] a largely pro-government line.”

On February 17, the newspaper published an op-ed by one of its frequent contributors, Datanalisis pollster Luis Vicente León, who nonchalantly weighs the pros and cons of a military coup, a negotiated transition “pressured” by criminal US sanctions and military threats, and an outright invasion. Leon regards that last scenario favorably, so long as it takes the form of a “Panama-style intervention” that topples Maduro “without greater consequences” (translation: collateral damage limited to poor brown people, as in El Chorrillo).

More recently in the same paper, columnist Pedro Piñate (4/4/19) argues that Venezuela needs to be rid of “Castro-communist” ideas, Francisco Olivares (4/27/19) claims Maduro’s ouster is “vital for the Western democratic world,” while Antonio Herrera (4/25/19) sounds alarm bells about the presence of “Cubans, Russians, Iranians, Middle Eastern terrorists and guerrillas from Colombia.”

Not only do Venezuela’s anti-government newspapers exercise unfettered freedom to publish, including opinion articles explicitly calling for military coups, they have a long history of publishing explicitly racist cartoons caricaturing Chavez and other Chavista leaders that would scandalize liberals in any Western country.

Social media

Nugent’s allegations of draconian government censorship extend to the digital realm as well, as she writes:

Venezuela’s Internet freedom has been weakening for several years, with the country finally dropping from “partly free” to “not free” in annual reports by global democracy monitor Freedom House in 2017.

Freedom House, a US government–funded think tank, labeled Venezuela “not free” in their 2017 annual world freedom report.

The Time reporter fails to disclose that Freedom House is almost entirely funded by the US government, which is currently spearheading a coup d’etat in Venezuela. Bracketing that minor detail, it must be asked, is the internet really any less free in Venezuela than in the Global North?

It is true that Venezuela’s state phone and internet provider, CANTV, does block some Venezuelan anti-government news sites, including El Nacional, La Patilla and El Universal, which can only be accessed via VPN, cable or cellular data.

While such a policy is indefensible and perhaps self-defeating, it must be placed in context. Would any Western government tolerate news outlets that openly serve as mouthpieces for a violent, foreign-backed opposition that is currently in the middle of its sixth major coup attempt (the 2002 Carmona coup, the 2002–o3 oil lockout, the 2013 post-election opposition violence, the 2014 and 2017 street blockades having failed) in the past 20 years?

Given the lengths the US and UK are going to prosecute Chelsea Manning and WikiLeaks, without any of them posing a real national security threat, the short answer is “no.”

Although Venezuela is hardly immune from state censorship, it is a gross distortion to claim the country is “now subject to frequent information blackouts.” In addition to having a decisive, if not dominant, presence in television and print media, Venezuela’s right-wing opposition exerts considerable influence in social media, which has even allowed it to circulate fake news among the public. While Nugent disingenuously writes that “it’s not clear who is behind the false stories,” it is very obvious who stands to gain from baseless rumors of “the military conscripting minors” or “Russian troops arriving in Venezuela.”

Erin Gallagher’s investigation (Medium, 1/30/19) revealed a social media campaign to position pro-opposition hashtags on Twitter, generating billions of daily impressions.

Furthermore, an extensive independent investigation revealed the rampant use of “automation, coordinated inauthentic behavior and cyborgs” to position anti-government hashtags on Twitter, with some accounts tweeting hundreds of thousands of times per day and generating billions of daily impressions. The Venezuelan opposition has consistently looked to fire up social media ahead of potential flashpoints, while, on the other hand, official or pro-government accounts have routinely been shut down by Western social media giants, including seven Venezuelan government accounts being suspended by Twitter just recently.

A recent example of Washington and its opposition clients’ capacity to shape the corporate media narrative via social media is the February 23 “humanitarian aid showdown” on the Venezuelan/Colombian border (FAIR.org, 2/9/19). Following a controversial incident involving a USAID truck catching fire, top US officials and opposition leaders immediately took to Twitter to blame the Maduro government. The claim was repeated by corporate outlets, despite the existence of readily available evidence, which the New York Times only reported two weeks later, proving a Molotov cocktail–wielding opposition militant set fire to the truck. The Times’ (largely ignored) retraction notwithstanding, February 23 was a clear cut case of US/opposition social media dominance allowing a false narrative to be put in place unquestioned.

Press freedom via coup d’etat?

The narrative of a Venezuelan government crackdown on press freedom is by no means a recent invention, harkening back to the Chavez government’s 2007 decision not to renew RCTV’s (Radio Caracas Televisión) broadcasting concession. RCTV had played a crucial role in the 2002 coup, when the opposition removed Chávez from power for 47 hours—unleashing a wave of terror—and later in the 2002–03 oil lockout. RCTV was merely removed from the public spectrum, and continued broadcasting via cable and satellite.

The Nation (2/8/19) reported the role the US government played in building the latest right-wing opposition movement in Venezuela.

Nevertheless, the episode opened the way for a fresh wave of anti-government protests, led by a new generation of middle-class right-wing student leaders, funded and trained by Washington. Among the new opposition cohort was George Washington University–educated Juan Guaidó, himself a veteran of the violent 2014 opposition street protests known as “the Exit,” which left 43 people dead.

The myth of a sustained assault on media freedom in Venezuela forms the ideological touchstone of Venezuela’s anti-Chavista opposition, for whom “freedom of expression” stands for unfettered private control over mass media. Given their own privileged position in a global media sphere monopolized by a tiny handful of conglomerates, corporate journalists like Nugent instinctively defend this viewpoint to absurd degrees.

The Time correspondent writes, “Venezuelan authorities regularly detain journalists, claiming that they have entered the country illegally or breached ‘security zones.” There are currently over 50 foreign news agencies with correspondents on the ground in Venezuela, where they need to get a special visa to report. As in the US, one cannot sneak around restricted security areas near Miraflores Presidential Palace in the middle of the night without proper identification and accreditation. The outrage over Venezuelan government efforts to regulate media amidst a foreign-backed coup effort is grossly hypocritical, given Western journalists’ failure to speak out against their own governments’ crackdown on whistleblowers.

FAIR (4/30/19) has previously reported that zero percent of elite US newspaper and talkshow pundits challenged the idea of regime change in Venezuela.  More than a considered or even clear-eyed view of Venezuela’s media landscape, fairy tales like Nugent’s about totalitarian state censorship in Venezuela reflect US corporate media regime’s own self-censorship, which is far more efficacious than any so-called “authoritarian” leader could imagine. Without deliberate constriction of the spectrum of “acceptable opinion,” after all, the Trump administration would never be able to get away with its brazenly illegal coup and an economic blockade that has already killed 40,000 Venezuelans in the past two years with total impunity.

Featured Image: Time‘s depiction of Juan Guaidó talking to the press. (photo: Luis Robayo).

‘A Nice Guy, Everybody Loved Him’ - With San Diego synagogue shooter, media once again normalize white male violence

by Alan MacLeod

This Associated Press headline appeared in outlets across the country—in this case, the Colorado Springs Gazette (4/30/19).

After opening fire at worshipers celebrating the Jewish holiday of Passover at the Poway Synagogue near San Diego, California, 19-year-old John T. Earnest was arrested. Earnest killed one woman and injured three other worshippers before his semi-automatic weapon jammed and he fled the scene, calling 911 himself to report the shooting.

The shooter published an open letter online explaining that his actions were designed to defend the United States and preserve his race from “cultural Marxism,” an idea drawn from the Nazi term “cultural Bolshevism” and propagated by the likes of neo-Nazi mass murderer Anders Breivik and far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Earnest claimed to have been radicalized on online forums, and inspired by Christchurch shooter Brenton Tarrant and the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting of October 2018. He also took credit for a March 2019 arson attack at a nearby mosque as well.

Yet much of the media have taken pains to present him in a relatively positive light. In a widely republished article, the Associated Press (CBS, 4/30/19) presented him as a lover of music who was “a nice guy…. Everybody loved him,” according to one source, who said of his family, “They are outstanding. Some of the finest people I’ve ever met.”

The article insisted that he “counted Jews and black people among his friends,” as though to claim the Hitler-idolizing attacker of a mosque and a synagogue might not be a racist. It took pains to present him as a musical genius whose performances “drew audiences to their feet…. Crowds would be cheering his name.”

The original headline on the AP piece, reprinted by many outlets (e.g., MSN, 4/30/19) informed us Earnest was a “Star Scholar and Athlete.” Meanwhile, USA Today headline (4/28/19) read, “California Synagogue Shooting: Suspect Known as Quiet, Smart While Authorities Question if He Was Hateful.”

‘Lone Wolves’ and ‘Gentle’ Killers

The Washington Post‘s original headline (10/2/17) over a story about a killer who massacred 58 people. (h/t @MillennialShep)

Even if you have not followed the story at all, I am sure you can guess the shooter’s race by now. The San Diego shooting is merely the latest example of corporate media normalizing white male extremism, something we at FAIR (e.g., 11/23/16, 11/27/17) have cataloged.

For example, Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock, who killed 58 people and wounded over 400 others in 2017, was not depicted as a monster in the press, but as a “lone wolf” (New York Times, 10/2/17; London Independent, 10/2/17)—a racialized code word for “white terrorist”—who “does not fit the mass shooter profile” (NPR, 10/6/17), despite the fact that white men commit far more mass shootings than any other group. If white privilege is anything, it is being responsible for one of the worst atrocities in modern American history and being eulogized by major media such as Newsweek (10/2/17) and the Washington Post (10/2/17) as a quiet man who enjoyed gambling and country music.

The New York Times (11/29/15) described the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooter as being “dedicated to his family,” “artistic” and “good to his son,” allowing one source to claim he was “pleasant” and a “good role model,” and even used the word “gentle” to describe the killer of three people (FAIR.org, 11/30/15).

The incongruous idea of a “gentle” killer is a surprisingly common trope for the Times, when discussing (white) shooters. In 2014  (8/25/14), it described Michael Brown’s killer, Officer Darren Wilson, as “well-mannered” and “soft-spoken,” and quoted one source describing him as “a gentle, quiet man.” Wilson’s “gentle” actions sparked months-long protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

The New York Times‘ artistic photo (5/6/19) of a war criminal staring thoughtfully in a field. (photo: Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman)

On May 6, President Trump pardoned Lt. Michael Behenna, convicted of the murder of Iraqi prisoner Ali Mansur. Mansur was taken into the desert, blindfolded, bound, stripped naked and shot in the head by Behenna, who claimed he felt no remorse and “would do it again,” as he was acting in “self-defense.”

Major media outlets like the Washington Post (5/6/19) and NBC (5/7/19) illustrated their stories with touching images of Behenna embracing loved ones, while the New York Times (5/6/19) featured an artistic shot of him staring thoughtfully in a field. Conservative media were more forthright. Fox News host Sean Hannity described him as “an American hero” who was “defending himself” (5/7/19), as Behenna discussed how he stripped, cuffed, tortured and shot Mansur. Meanwhile, Newsmax (5/7/19) claimed the “brave” Behenna had “finally found some form of justice.”

The Demonization of Black Victims

In comparison, African-American victims of violence are rarely treated with similar respect by the media, especially if the perpetrators are agents of state power. On the same day it was portraying Wilson positively, the Times (8/25/14) smeared Brown as “no angel”; someone who “dabbled in drugs and alcohol” while writing “vulgar” rap lyrics. Thus the Times presented the white killer more favorably than his deceased black victim. If the racial disparity weren’t blatant enough, one guest on CNN (10/26/15) described Brown as a “thug” who “set upon” a police officer.

Freddie Gray, who died of spinal injuries after being brutalized by Baltimore police in 2015, was also dismissed as the “son of an illiterate heroin addict” by CNN (11/30/15), before a public outcry shamed the latter into changing the story.

It’s long been noted that if an African-American or Muslim person commits an act of violence, the media tend to hold their entire group responsible, while white male violence is rarely pathologized in the same way. Earnest’s strong Presbyterian faith will not be postulated as a driver of his actions to the same extent as Muslim terrorists’ religion have been. There will be no ban on white males entering the country to keep us safe. Indeed, when white men like Dylann Roof commit acts of violence, media often frame it as a mental health problem (New York Times, 2/2/17; NBC, 2/3/17; LA Times, 2/2/17).

The point is not that white people should be described as “terrorists,” “thugs” or other racialized words, but to underline the racial biases inherent in mainstream reporting, where corporate media promote sympathy for white mass killers while stoking suspicion, mistrust, or even hatred for black victims of violence.

Featured image: USA Today headline (4/28/19) on San Diego synagogue shooting. (The man pictured is not the suspect, but Oscar Stewart, who helped foil the shooting.)

Amin Husain on Decolonizing Museums, Nikole Hannah-Jones on School Resegregation

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American Museum of Natural History (cc photo: Travis Wise)

This week on CounterSpin: If someone makes lots of money by, say, knowingly and cynically exacerbating opioid addiction, is it OK as long as they give some of that money to an art museum? Cultural institutions are important sites of public conversation, but the public doesn’t have much say in who gets to lead that conversation, or the stories they tell. Activists are asking us to talk about what that means, and what it would mean to change it. We’ll talk about accountability for cultural institutions with Amin Husain, core organizer with the group Decolonize This Place.

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(image: ProPublica)

Also on the show: 65 years ago this month, the Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education ordered the desegregation of America’s public schools, declaring segregated schools “inherently unequal.” Five years ago this month, as media marked the 60th anniversary, we spoke with journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose “Segregation Now” series for ProPublica described 21st century Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where, she noted, nearly one in three black students attends a school that looks as if Brown never happened. We’ll revisit that conversation on resegregation on today’s show.

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‘Bernie Speaks’—and Politico Hears Deviations From Cold War Orthodoxy


Politico magazine (5/3/19) was apparently “startled” by what they found in Bernie Sanders’ 1980s TV show, Bernie Speaks.

Politico magazine  (5/3/19) took a deep dig into Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “bizarre, charming and, at times, startling cable-access TV show,” Bernie Speaks With the Community—produced in the 1980s when Sanders was mayor of Burlington, Vermont. While the article and accompanying video are relatively friendly to the senator—remarking on his humor (“who knew?”) and other agreeable personality quirks—writer Holly Otterbein’s description of certain clips as “startling” was more eye-opening than anything Sanders actually said.

Rather than explicitly condemning any of Sanders’ statements from the episodes, the piece used the dodge that other people (not us!) might use them against the presidential hopeful. Even though Politico literally paid for all 51 tapes of the show to be digitized, the piece disingenuously noted:

Whatever good it did for Bernie Sanders at the time, Bernie Speaks With the Community is now 1,667 minutes of material for opposition researchers, healthcare insurance companies and Trump’s reelection campaign to pick through.

In other words: We’re just gonna leave this here, with absolutely no motives, after spending hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars digitizing it for anyone who wants to watch. People are using it to attack a Democratic 2020 candidate we just happen to red-bait? Oops! So sorry, Bernie!

Otterbein went on to construct a road map of Sanders’ apparently damaging statements for a hypothetical “30-second” attack ad by “his opponents”:

The Nicaraguan Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega “happens not to be a Communist.” Nora Astorga, the Nicaraguan ambassador to the United Nations who had recently visited Sanders, might have gotten cancer because of the “tremendous grief and suffering that’s going on in her own country” caused by the war. The Soviet Union’s economy is being “devastated” by military spending. And perhaps, as he proposed to a classroom of small children, Burlington should develop an exchange program with communist and socialist countries around the world. “I would like to see families—your mothers and dads and yourselves maybe—go to the Soviet Union and learn about that country, and people from there come to here,” he says. “If you actually had kids here who were from Nicaragua or from the Soviet Union, and they could tell you what’s going on in their own country, boy, you could learn a whole lot. And then if kids from Vermont or Burlington were in those countries, they could tell those people what was going on in their hometown.”

Is it a coincidence that all of the things Politico picked out in their “short, and surely incomplete,” list of supposedly damning Sanders quotes have to do with improving relations with countries the US government and corporate media have stopped at nothing to divide and conquer?

Sanders explained that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega “happens not to be a Communist” (Bernie Speaks 4/19/88)—an accurate observation that Politico imagined would show up in an attack ad.

That Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega “happens not to be Communist”…happens to be true. As Jim Naureckas noted in Extra! (6/05), “Nicaragua under the Sandinistas had a mixed economy, multiple opposition parties and a vocal opposition press, features that were not found in actual Communist countries.” If you actually watch the clip, Sanders’ larger point is that corporate media repeat endless lies about Nicaragua—like the claim that Ortega is a dictator, regurgitated tirelessly by corporate media from the ’80s unto the present day, despite his repeated victories in internationally recognized elections (Extra!, 10–11/87, 1–2/07; FAIR.org, 11/17/08, 8/23/18).

The article might have flagged Sanders’ comment that “grief and suffering” could cause cancer for being a bit wacky. (Can stress cause cancer? Evidence is “weak,” says the National Cancer Institute.) But there’s also a suggestion that it’s absurd, or at least impolitic, to suggest that the US could be responsible for said grief or suffering; a similar suggestion is made elsewhere when Otterbein puts scare quotes around Sanders’ reference to the “immorality” of the US-backed Contra war. FAIR (4/11/16, 3/5/19) has previously shown how corporate media performatively frame Sanders as a red menace for defending—and refusing to denounce—leftist countries targeted by US imperialism.

In this case, Sanders was defending the Nicaraguan people, who suffered immeasurable harm in the Contra war to oust the Sandinista government—the product of a popular revolution that overthrew the murderous US-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza. The “immorality” Sanders was talking about, and Politico calls into question, is the tens of thousands of Nicaraguans killed by US-trained, armed and financed Contra death squads. Maybe Politico has an editorial rule against referring without irony to war crimes as immoral when the perpetrators are backed by Washington.

And because you can’t do a proper red-bait without a Russia connection, Otterbein includes Sanders’ contention that military spending “devastated” the Soviet economy in the list of no-nos. Oddly, the position that Sanders is being attacked for is the conventional wisdom on why the Cold War ended with the collapse of the USSR. As AP (6/5/04) reported when Ronald Reagan died in 2004:

His famed “Star Wars” program drew the Soviets into a costly arms race it couldn’t afford…. He is vividly remembered in Russia today as the force that precipitated the Soviet collapse.

“Reagan bolstered the US military might to ruin the Soviet economy, and he achieved his goal,” said Gennady Gerasimov, who served as top spokesman for the Soviet Foreign Ministry during the 1980s….

Even though Reagan’s “Star Wars” never led to the deployment of an actual missile shield, it drew the Soviets into a costly effort to mount a response. Many analysts agree that the race drained Soviet coffers and triggered the economic difficulties that sped up the Soviet collapse in 1991.

But underscoring the US’s hand in another country’s economic demise conflicts with the narrative of the natural collapse of socialism, in which corporate media are heavily invested. Corporate outlets systematically overlook the fact that when the United States wages economic warfare, for whatever reason, it produces catastrophic effects on the economies and people of its “enemy” targets.

Politico deemed it scandalous that Sanders (Bernie Speaks, 11/6/87) told Burlington schoolchildren, “Boy, you could learn a whole lot” from exchange programs with leftist nations.

Regarding Sanders’ more lighthearted desire for leftist/capitalist nation exchange programs, as Branko Marcetic pointed out, they already existed long before the 1987 clip. Even if they didn’t, though, what’s so scandalous about cultural exchanges that ameliorate interactions between hostile nations? If anything, exchanges might humanize foreigners who the US government and media have often dehumanized, and dispel the lies they push about nations to justify imperial aggression.

Let’s sum up the fresh dirt Politico so helpfully prepared for anti-Sanders campaign consultants:

  • Sanders is against the media lying about countries targeted by the US government.
  • Sanders is against the US backing crimes against humanity.
  • Sanders is against economic warfare and coercion.
  • And Sanders is for exchange programs that would ease hostility between the US and other countries.

Now, I haven’t watched all the tapes. It’s very possible that Bernie Sanders said something “startling” in the 51 episodes of Bernie Speaks—but if he did, Politico didn’t find it. Instead, the publication showed us its own failure to dislodge from the corporate media’s anti-Communist, neo–Cold War worldview. In a Sanders story that tried to play nice—a rare find in establishment outlets—Politico nonetheless gave us a peek at US media jingoism that was past its sell-by date nearly three decades ago.

Anyway, thanks for the funny tapes, Politico.

‘How Does the US Compensate the World for the Damage It Has Done?’ - CounterSpin interview with Basav Sen on beyond the Paris Accord

Janine Jackson interviewed Basav Sen about going beyond the Paris Climate Accord for the May 3, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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In These Times (4/22/19)

Janine Jackson  When Donald Trump declared he’d pulled the country out of the Paris accord in 2017, US news media decried what was called an “irresponsible abdication of American leadership.” In 2018, one headline had it that, “A year on since Trump left the Paris accord, the world still craves US leadership.”

As with other issues, corporate media seem to see a bright line between Trump’s stance on international climate agreements and that of Barack Obama. As with other such demarcations, that’s not quite right, and in some ways unhelpful. For those less interested in partisan scorekeeping than in planetary change, the touchstone is what must happen, as opposed to what any of various elites deem “politically feasible,” virtual code for preserving existing relationships.

What’s called for, our next guest says, is nothing less than to chart an entirely new path on international climate policy. Basav Sen is the Climate Justice project director at the Institute for Policy Studies. His article, headlined, “How Trade Agreements Stand in the Way of an International Green New Deal,” appears in the April 22 Getting to Zero issue of In These Times. He joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Basav Sen.

Basav Sen: Thank you for having me on your show.

JJ:  I would like to start where your recent article starts, with what is problematic about an overweening focus on Paris, with the suggestion that the US rejoining that accord would represent serious action, commensurate with the current climate situation. What’s wrong with that?

BS: To start with, the Paris Agreement is flawed. It’s a lowest-common-denominator agreement, which requires nations to make only voluntary, as against binding, commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. It states a goal of keeping the rise in temperatures within 2 degrees Celsius, with 1.5 degrees listed as an aspirational goal. And we know from the most recent science that 1.5 degrees is an absolute upper limit of tolerable global temperature rise, if we aren’t to have disastrous impacts worldwide.

One thing that’s not recognized very widely, especially by the corporate media here in the United States, is that the United States was in fact instrumental in ensuring that the pledges in Paris were voluntary. It turns out it’s because the Obama administration claimed that a binding agreement, which would need congressional approval, would never get approved by Republicans in Congress. And that is, in fact, true.

However, one must ask, what would a real political leader do? A real political leader would do what is needed, namely a binding global agreement, and build the political case for it at home, instead of subjecting the safety of the entire planet to the domestic political compulsions and calculations of the United States, which is what ended up happening.

JJ: Let’s talk about what science and justice require, with specific regard to the United States, because the United States does, as you say—and I think it is generally understood—play an outsized role in the crisis. I wonder if you can talk about what that role is, and then what would it mean to acknowledge that role?

BS: Right. So first of all, the United States has one of the largest global emissions of any country in the world, second-highest in aggregate after China, and one of the highest in per capita terms, excluding some wealthy oil-producing countries.

Also, cumulatively, the United States has by far the highest emissions of any country ever, 25 percent, about, of global emissions since 1870. And cumulative emissions matter, because carbon dioxide, in particular, lasts in the atmosphere for up to thousands of years. And so the warming effects we are experiencing today are attributable, to some extent, to greenhouse gases that have been emitted since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and not just today’s emissions.

And given our outsized role, we obviously have an outsized responsibility to fix the problem. And one thing I emphasize in my article is that this isn’t charity. Rather, it is fixing what we have broken. And so, just based on that very simple principle of justice, the United States owes the world on funding for climate mitigation and climate adaptation.

And just to break it down briefly for listeners, climate mitigation means transitioning the world away from our destructive fossil fuel economy to a renewable energy, regenerative economy. And adaptation means making our economy and our societies more resilient to the effects of climate change, that we will inevitably keep experiencing even after we go through this transition, because of what I said earlier about greenhouse gases lasting in the atmosphere for a long time, and therefore warming effects persisting for a long time, even after we cut back on our emissions.

JJ: And you point out that part of what the US responsibility, or debt, really, to the rest of the world would be, would involve helping other countries with things like aid and sharing of technology, and that one of the things that gets in the way of that are trade agreements.

Basav Sen: “Democratically enacted changes by democratically elected governments, in the public interest, can be overruled by unelected panels of so-called experts at the behest of a corporation.” 

BS: Absolutely. Two elements of trade agreements, in particular, I want to highlight as obstacles to serious climate action worldwide. One of them is intellectual property provisions that a lot of these agreements have that could be an obstacle to the kinds of technology transfer that need to happen. Technology transfer for, let’s say, thin film solar panels, or for energy storage like lithium ion batteries, etc.

And the second element is what is called investor/state dispute settlement, which is where companies can sue governments—never the other way around—in secret trade tribunals, where a group of unelected, so-called trade experts judge whether a country’s regulations, be it for environmental protection or worker protection or community safety, interfere with the profits of private companies. And if the policies enacted by these countries are found to impact the profits of foreign private investors, then the tribunal could order the country to pay compensation to the corporation.

JJ: It’s such an insult to sovereignty, is it not, on the face of it?

BS: Absolutely, and to democracy, if you think about it.

JJ: Yes.

BS: Because democratically enacted changes by democratically elected governments, in the public interest, can be overruled by unelected panels of so-called experts at the behest of a corporation.

JJ:  Absolutely.

BS: That’s a profound end-run around just basic self-determination and democracy. And yet that is enshrined in any number of international trade agreements.

And that can really interfere with climate action. For instance, if countries decide to “keep it in the ground,” in other words, to phase-out fossil fuel extraction, then extractive companies could sue countries on that basis.

And this isn’t just hypothetical. It has actually happened to Canada, where a US corporation called Lone Pine Resources has sued Canada over a fracking moratorium in Quebec.

JJ: Let me just ask you, finally: It sounds as though part of what we need to change is to change the media conversation, and the public conversation, from this vague notion about the US “taking leadership globally” on climate change, and make it more about the US taking responsibility. And that is many magnitudes beyond a rhetorical change; that’s the biggest change we could make, really.

BS: Yes. Ultimately, this is about hubris. The notion that the United States leads the world in climate action, or even that the United States should lead the world in climate action, is based on arrogance. It’s based on this idea that of course we are the world’s greatest nation, and therefore, of course, we should lead.

While, ethically, as we’ve talked about on the show, really the question we should be asking is, how does the United States compensate the rest of the world for the damage it has historically done, in terms of emitting greenhouse gases? Which is a shift, a real shift, in popular thinking in the US that needs to happen.

JJ: We have been speaking with Basav Sen, Climate Justice project director at the Institute for Policy Studies. His article, “How Trade Agreements Stand in the Way of an International Green New Deal,” can be found on the In These Times website, InTheseTimes.org. Basav Sen, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

BS: And thank you for having me on your show, Janine.


‘Climate Change Is the Real Job Killer’ - CounterSpin interview with Joe Uehlein on Green New Deal

Janine Jackson interviewed Joe Uehlein about the Green New Deal for the May 3, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Splinter (3/27/19)

Janine Jackson: Republican Rep. Sean Duffy likely thought he was onto a winner when he dismissed the Green New Deal as “elitist,” the sort of thing that “sounds great” if you are “a rich liberal from maybe New York or California.”

Opposing environmental concerns with the livelihoods of working-class people has been a tried and true method for dividing people: industry versus industry, the coasts versus the supposed “heartland,” and dividing people against themselves, as we’re presumed to have to choose between having clean air to breathe or having a job.

The immediate, cogent pushback to Duffy’s characterization from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—who, along with Ed Markey, introduced the Green New Deal—is one indication that things have changed. Old fissures can’t be counted on to confuse people about their shared interest in fighting climate change and advancing workers’ rights. Though that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for confusion about what alternative visions could look like—particularly when news media, as in coverage of the Green New Deal, shortchange the role of workers in that vision.

Our next guest works to fill that void. Joe Uehlein is founding president of the Labor Network for Sustainability. He joins us now from Takoma Park, Maryland. Welcome to CounterSpin, Joe Uehlein.

Joe Uehlein: Thank you.

JJ:  Even before the Green New Deal—which is not legislation, but a resolution, calling for decarbonization of the economy—you’ve been talking about the impact of climate change on workers, and the role workers and labor could play in what, if we take science seriously, has to be the response.

What’s your starting point when you talk with people who think this isn’t labor’s fight, or workers whose experience suggests they’ll get the short end of the stick?

Joe Uehlein: “It’s the best framework that we, in labor, have seen in a very long time for advancing workers’ rights.”

JU:  Well, I start with two things. One is that climate change is the real job killer, not the answers to climate change. And we’ve done studies to show that, but, for a lot of working people, it’s very obvious.

For example, if you work in the public sector, which a lot of people do, the only way you can negotiate good contracts is if you have healthy state and local budgets; those budgets will be decimated by the impact of climate change. And we’re seeing that, not only in New York, in the aftermath of Sandy, but up and down the entire West Coast, with the budget increases those states have seen to fight forest fires. As Sara Nelson talks about—she’s the president of the Flight Attendants Union—they’re already losing jobs to more and more flights being grounded due to increased turbulence caused by climate change. And that list goes on and on.

But I start there, and then point out that the Green New Deal, this 14-page resolution—and I always stress that, because everybody says, “Well, what are the details? It’s short on specifics.” Yeah, it is. It’s a framework—it’s the best framework that we, in labor, have seen in a very long time for advancing workers’ rights. It sets a federal jobs guarantee for people who want to go to work fighting the climate crisis, and it also provides for what they call living wages, or family-supporting wages, in that jobs guarantee. And it steps up to the plate on climate.

JJ: Media often speak, kind of crudely, about “winners and losers” under policy changes, but of course it’s true that societal shifts have fallout. If we get Medicare for All, well, people who are now in the insurance business will need new jobs. But we don’t say, “Well, we need to keep making asbestos,” you know, “because those people need work.” It’s really more about whether you acknowledge the possibility of guaranteeing people’s well-being through a transition that society needs to make.

JU: Yeah, I mean, there are 10 industries right now, including healthcare, that are in transition, with no guarantee that that transition will be just. The Green New Deal does call for just transition for all displaced workers.

So, again, regardless of the industry you work in, whether it’s food or healthcare or transportation—energy, obviously—lots of people are going to either lose jobs in an unjust and unfair way, or transition into other jobs with income maintenance and the retention of their health and pension benefits. That’s what we’re fighting for.

USA Today (2/11/19)

JJ: USA Today, back in February, ran a piece from a guy from the Cato Institute, warning that:

This green-painted Trojan horse is filled with the biggest single government expansion the United States has seen since the 1930s.

So they’re actually trying to scare people with the New Deal. Like, remember how much you hate Social Security? Is this going to be the tactic, to just paint it as socialism and therefore it’s just bad, we can’t even have a conversation?

JU: Yeah, it will be. And it’s the talking points of the American Petroleum Institute, the fossil fuel industry, and a lot of people use their talking points. So yes, and look, they’ve got a lot of money. We’re talking about the Koch brothers and others here, and there will be a well-funded pushback campaign that will say what you just said, about, “This is socialism, expansion of the federal government.”

But also, they’ll say that it hurts working people. We have a little document we just prepared that takes on the six most prevalent lies that we see out there. And these are being covered extensively by the right-wing press. So we’re trying to counter that with good, solid arguments.

JJ: Yeah, I have to say, I resent, above many things that elite media do, the way they tell folks, “It’s just not possible for everyone to have a decent life. We just can’t,” you know? And so, you might think, “Well, golly, we do need to overhaul our energy system, and at the same time, we have a lot of people unemployed and underemployed. Surely, these things can be brought together.” But then here come the Very Smart People to say, “Ah, that sounds right. But, you know, we can’t do it, because…reasons.” It’s just very frustrating.

But you have found that when you’re able to talk around some of these undermining narratives, people, rank-and-file working people, understand it, right? And there are labor groups that are that are building these bridges.

JU: Yeah, there are. There are also labor groups that are trying to tear those bridges down. So we’re right in the middle of that scrum, if you will.

JJ: Yeah. Well, we often see politicians counterposing, as I said earlier, the environment and workers. And from politicians, it’s often very fake. You know, “I have to oppose regulation, because I care so much about these coal miners,” where we don’t necessarily see that concern in evidence in many other places. But still, I think it can be easy to sell people on being afraid when people are already struggling, you know?

JU: Yeah, absolutely. Fear is a very powerful motivator, maybe the most powerful motivator, and they know that. One thing I would point out is, where have they been over the last 20 years, as tens of thousands of coal miners have lost their jobs? They’ve not been there fighting for them. Coal miners still don’t have the federal guarantee of retaining their pension and health benefits in retirement that was promised to them. And who’s opposing it? All the same forces who oppose the Green New Deal.

So we’re fighting for that, for coal miners in retirement to retain pension and healthcare. And the other side, they’re fighting against it. And then they still use that fear argument. It’s a bit frustrating, but we’re putting the materials out there that counter all of that.

In These Times (12/12/18)

JJ: You were on the UN Commission on global warming for decades, an organizer with the AFL-CIO; I know you worked on the anti-WTO demos in Seattle, so this is a long time coming for you. Do you feel like this is it? Certainly it’s an opportunity on a scale that we haven’t seen in in many, many years.

JU: Yes, I do feel like this is it. And I do feel that it is a great opportunity. And I’m disappointed when I hear labor leaders, including Rich Trumka the other day, who said, “We’re opposed to the Green New Deal.” And then he rattled off some reasons that kind of indicated maybe he hasn’t read that resolution. He said there’s no worker interest in it. There’s more worker interests in that 14-page resolution, like I said before, than anything we’ve seen.

So I do think this is it. Not only because of the absolute urgency of the climate crisis—and we see a whole new wave, now, of really young people, rising up and striking, not going to school, that’s going to grow—and this better be it. We have to win this. We have to solve the climate crisis, and we have the opportunity to do it in a way that improves the world we live in for working people and everyone. Why don’t we take that?

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Joe Uehlein. He’s founding president of the  Labor Network for Sustainability. They’re online at Labor4Sustainability.org. That’s the numeral four.

His piece with Jeremy Brecher, “12 Reasons Labor Should Demand a Green New Deal,” can still be found on InTheseTimes.org. Joe Uehlein, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

JU: Thanks for having me.

Corporate Media Target Gabbard for Her Anti-Interventionism—a Word They Can Barely Pronounce


Tulsi Gabbard being challenged on The View (2/20/19) by Ana Navarro: “Why are you so against intervention in Venezuela?”

Presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard has not garnered much press coverage since announcing her bid on February 2; she’s the 13th-most-mentioned Democratic candidate on TV news, according to FAIR’s most recent count (4/14/19).

But when corporate media do talk about the Hawaii congressmember, they tend to reveal more about themselves than about her.

A veteran of the Iraq War, Gabbard is centering her presidential campaign around anti-interventionism (2/3/19): the belief that US interference in foreign countries, especially in the form of regime-change wars, increases the suffering of the citizens in those countries.

When corporate outlets talk about this anti-interventionist position, they primarily use it to negatively characterize the candidates who espouse it. Few in establishment media seem interested in going any deeper or considering the veracity of arguments raised by anti-interventionists.

The Washington Post (1/15/19) listed Gabbard’s anti-interventionism as a factor that hurts her electability in a video titled, “Why Some See Tulsi Gabbard as a Controversial 2020 Candidate.” Part of the video’s explanation: “The congresswoman has raised concern among Democrats in the past when she criticized Obama’s strategy on Iran, ISIS and Syria.”

CBS News (2/4/19) briefly interviewed Honolulu Civil Beats reporter Nick Grube regarding Gabbard’s campaign announcement. The anchors had clearly never encountered the term anti-interventionism before, struggling to even pronounce the word, then laughing and saying it “doesn’t roll off the tongue.” When asked to define the candidate’s position, Grube equated it to President Trump’s foreign policy. But “America First” rallying cries aside, it hardly seems accurate to call Trump an anti-interventionist, given his administration’s regime change efforts in Venezuela, his unilateral reimposition of sanctions on Iran (FAIR.org, 5/2/19) and his escalation of the drone wars (Daily Beast, 11/25/18).

When Gabbard appears on talkshows, she is typically on the receiving end of baseless questions coated in assumptions of military altruism. Gabbard appeared on ABC’s The View (2/20/19) and articulated her argument that US intervention does more harm than good to the people purportedly being helped. Rather than respond to any of the points she raised, however, the hosts resorted to the kinds of shallow questions that have been supporting interventionism for decades.

Sunny Hostin asked, “So should we not get involved when we see atrocities abroad?” Fellow panelist Ana Navarro elaborated:

I’m very troubled by the tweets about Venezuela that you’ve put out…. [Maduro] is not allowing humanitarian aid, he is a thug, he is a dictator, he is corrupt. And I am very supportive of what the United States is doing right now…. Why are you so against intervention in Venezuela?

Tulsi Gabbard being asked by CBS‘s Stephen Colbert (3/11/19) why she doesn’t see the US as a “force for good in the world.”

On CBS’s Late Show With Stephen Colbert (3/11/19), the host resorted to old-fashioned American exceptionalism and Cold War–style paranoia to counter the congressmember:

Nature abhors a vacuum. If we are not involved in international conflicts, or trying to quell international conflicts, certainly the Russians and the Chinese will fill that vacuum…. That might destabilize the world, because the United States, however flawed, is a force for good in the world, in my opinion.

Comments like these may seem harmless; why not, after all, fight “atrocities”? In fact, they contain the same language that media have used for decades to justify interventionism and quiet dissenters.

Colbert’s exceptionalism argument, in particular, is reminiscent of the centuries-old vision of the US as a “shining city upon a hill.” It’s also a frame historically employed by media to rationalize the country’s foreign policy. As communications scholar Andrew Rojecki wrote in his 2008 research article (Political Communication, 2/4/08) on elite commentary of George W. Bush’s military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, “Over the course of the two crises, American exceptionalist themes made up a constant background presence in elite commentary and opinion.”

In other words, the assurance that Colbert has that the US has been “a force for good in the world” has paved the way for some of the greatest disasters of the modern world, including the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan (or almost 40 years, if you date from the US deliberately provoking the 1979 Soviet intervention) and the half-million-plus killed in the Iraq War. Other difficult cases for proponents of intervention include Libya, where removing an authoritarian ruler devastated the nation and brought back slave markets, and Syria, where hawks evade responsibility for the hundreds of thousands killed in a US-backed effort to overthrow the government by pretending that the US has failed to intervene.

Currently, in Venezuela, where Navarro is “very supportive of what the United States is doing,” Washington has imposed sanctions that are blamed for killing 40,000 in the last two years (CEPR, 4/25/19). Meanwhile, the US offers as a publicity stunt a convoy with “humanitarian aid” valued at less than 1 percent of the assets it has blocked Venezuela from spending.

Fox News screenshot from a Washington Post video (1/15/19) titled “Why Some See Tulsi Gabbard as a Controversial 2020 Candidate.”

Another easy to way to discredit anti-war critics is to accuse them of siding with the enemy (FAIR.org, 4/1/06). So it’s not much of a surprise that when Gabbard gets mentioned in establishment news, a comment about her meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is usually soon to follow.

Gabbard traveled to Syria in 2017, on what her office called a “fact-finding mission.” During her trip, she met and spoke with al-Assad, prompting the media to question her loyalties ever since, equating her meeting to tacit support of his regime. (Gabbard calls Assad a “brutal dictator,” but says US efforts to overthrow his government are “illegal and counterproductive.”)

New York Times columnist Bari Weiss appeared on the popular Joe Rogan Experience podcast (1/21/19) and confidently called Gabbard an “Assad toadie.” When Rogan asked her what “toadie” meant, she couldn’t define the word, asking the show’s producer to look it up for her. (It means “sycophant”).

The New York Times (1/11/19) and Associated Press (Washington Post, 5/2/19) both identified Gabbard’s meeting with Assad as a factor that made her a controversial candidate. In an article about Gabbard’s apparent fall from grace within the Democratic party, Vox (1/17/19) characterized Gabbard’s opposition to the funding of Syrian rebels as “quasi-support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the dictator responsible for the outbreak of the Syrian civil war and the conflict’s worst atrocities.”

Interviewers from MSNBC’s Morning Joe, ABC’s The View, CBS’s Late Show and CNN’s Van Jones Show all asked Gabbard to justify her meeting with Assad, or pressured her to renounce him as an enemy. None were interested in asking even the most basic question of substance, “What did you and Assad talk about during your meeting?” The implication is clear: When it comes to those designated by the state as official enemies, communication is suspect.

So perhaps the simplest explanation for corporate media’s treatment of Gabbard is that she opposes the kind of intervention that they have historically been complicit in.

FAIR (e.g, 4/91, 3/19/07, 8/11) has documented mainstream media’s consistent support for US intervention across the globe. FAIR has also been documenting corporate media’s support for intervention in Venezuela, finding recently that zero percent of elite commentators opposed regime change in that country (4/30/19) and noting corporate media’s harsh admonishment of Bernie Sanders after he tepidly questioned US intervention in Venezuela (3/5/19).

Gabbard’s campaign is just one small piece of a larger phenomenon in the mainstream media: Space for dissenting opinions on the US’s neoliberal, interventionist foreign policies must not be allowed.

Featured image: Tulsi Gabbard on CNN‘s Van Jones Show (1/12/19).

[Draft] Third Spring Appeal


[Draft] Third Spring Appeal for 100 New FAIRites [how about a more visual appeal?]

Dear FAIR Folks,

FAIR prides itself on keeping the fundraising to a minimum. We ask for what we need to keep the place going. There aren’t many frills here. [maybe a picture of the whole office would convince folks, ha-ha, from my desk to Jim’s desk]

FAIR hopes that the amazing posts, podcasts and transcripts that have gone out in the past week will inspire you to add your name and help add 100 new recurring donors to our rolls.

Recurring donations help give FAIR a steadier budget to work from month to month. We really do count on this kind of support. Consider this an easy way to support FAIR. $5 to $50—or any amount—it’s all appreciated. [pic of our exciting upscale hallway]

Your donations pay the writers, the landlord, the utilities, the computers, the salaries and our research resources. It’s a bare-bones operation, but we’re happy with it.

The wonderful weekly radio show & podcast Counterspin is produced in this spacious recording studio. [show Janine’s studio below]

FAIR doesn’t have ads or corporate sponsors. We aren’t bankrolled by wealthy partisan donors to promote or defend their interests. [do we have any celebrity names to throw in here?] Our small nonprofit operates with your support—and that’s the way we like it.

So let’s get to 100 new supporters—be sure to click on the  “Make this a recurring donation!”

A shout-out to all our current monthly donors—we know who you are and we love you!

And a regular donation is good, too.

Cool, Deborah

[Oh darn, did I hit “send?”]

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



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



Failed ‘Coup’ a Fake Corporate News Story Designed to Trick Venezuelan Soldiers—and US Public


After days of breathless reporting in the US media about public and military support for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro collapsing, and about an April 30 coup by presidential poseur Juan Guaidó, we now know the truth:  The whole thing was a fraud, staged at the instigation of Washington in hopes that the Venezuelan people and rank-and-file troops would fall for the trick and think an actual coup was underway.

We also know, from an excellent May 2 report by Michael Fox in the Nation magazine, that the US mainstream media and its reporters in country were promoting that dangerous fraud.

CNN ran Juan Guaido’s video, in which he falsely claimed to be “in the La Carlota air force base.”

Take CNN. In its reporting on the “uprising” announced by Guaidó on Tuesday, April 30, it ran a video from social media depicting Guaidó, accompanied by opposition leader Leopoldo López, along with some armed men in uniform, said to be military defectors, standing behind them. The video claimed they were on the La Carlota military airfield in eastern Caracas, which Guaidó said had been “liberated.” According to CNN, he was addressing “thousands of supporters” on the scene, urging the rest of the Venezuelan military to join the coup and oust the “usurper” Maduro.

But as Michael Fox and other observers noted, CNN didn’t show those “thousands” of supporters—because there were none. Nor did the cable network explain in its report that Guaidó and Lopez were not actually at the airbase, but rather were standing on a highway overpass outside the base—which was, in fact, never in rebel hands at all.

Guaidó and his “deserting” soldiers quickly left the scene as government troops headed their way, with López later that day holing up in the Chilean and eventually the Spanish embassy, seeking asylum for himself and his family, and with some two dozen soldiers who had deserted in support of Guaidó asking for asylum in the Brazilian embassy.

There are two possibilities here: Either CNN’s US-based editors were lied to by their reporters in Caracas, or they were well aware that their story of the takeover of a military airfield, along with reports of thousands of protesters on the scene in support of Guaidó, was a hoax. It’s not hard to imagine the latter being the truth, because CNN earlier was caught fraudulently reporting that Venezuelan troops had set aid trucks stopped at the Columbian border afire, when in fact the fires had been started by anti-Maduro protesters. Though this truth was proven by other reports and video, CNN never corrected its false story in that case, nor did it discipline its on-the-scene reporters.

Alan MacLeod (5/6/19) was one of several on Twitter who noted the absurd errors in CNN‘s May 5 report on Venezuela.

CNN’s standards of accuracy were further discredited by its May 5 claim that

pressure is mounting on Maduro to step down, following elections in January in which voters chose opposition leader Juan Guaidó over him for president.

Six reporters were credited for the story that contained this line, which has almost as many errors: Guaidó was not even a candidate in the May 2018 (not January 2019) presidential elections; Maduro won that race with 68 percent of the vote, a credible total given the opposition’s boycott of the balloting. Guaidó was chosen not by voters but by the National Assembly—which has been suspended by the Venezuelan Supreme Court—and ultimately by the Trump administration. As for “pressure…mounting on Maduro,” that seems like a dubious reading indeed of the post-coup attempt political terrain.

After much social media ridicule, CNN corrected the line, keeping in the bit about mounting pressure, but acknowledging that Guaidó “declared himself interim president.”

The New York Times hasn’t done any better. On the day of the fake coup, the Times reported, in an unusual unbylined article (at the end there was a note saying only that reporting was contributed by Isayen Herrera, Nicholas Casey, Anatoly Kurmanaev, Ana Vanessa Herrero, Rick Gladstone and Katie Rogers) headed “Venezuela Crisis: Guaidó Calls for Uprising as Clashes Erupt”:

“Today, brave soldiers, brave patriots, brave men attached to the Constitution have followed our call,” Mr. Guaidó said in a video posted on social media, speaking from Generalissimo Francisco de Miranda Air Base, a military airport in Caracas known as La Carlota.

The “newspaper of record” either made no effort to check its reporters’ “facts,” or went along deliberately with the charade that Washington’s hand-picked “legitimate president” Guaidó was actually speaking from a “liberated” military airfield, when he was really only standing on a highway overpass outside the airfield, which itself was never even contested, remaining in government hands throughout the day.

To compound the journalistic felony, the Times ran a Reuters wire photo showing Guaidó speaking to a street full of supporters, purportedly taken that day, but clearly not depicting where he had made his call for a coup, when he had only the camera to address, though incautious readers might well have assumed that is what the photo showed.

Did editors at the Times’ home office in New York double-check on the reporters’ claims before running their incendiary report of the capture of a government military airbase?  Why didn’t one of the paper’s many reporters and photographers in Caracas high-tail it to the La Carlota base to get a firsthand report and video of the first victory in this so-called coup attempt?

This New York Times article’s claim (4/30/19) of “a predawn takeover of a military base in the heart of the capital, Caracas,” remains uncorrected.

In another linked story published the same day, this time authored by Nicholas Casey, the Times again reported falsely, writing:

It was the boldest move yet by Juan Guaidó, Venezuela’s opposition leader: At sunrise, he stood flanked by soldiers at an air force base in the heart of the capital, saying rebellion was at hand.

Clearly Casey was either making it up or, more likely, had been too lazy to go (or to dispatch one of his colleagues to go) to the airport to confirm the veracity of Guaidó’s “bold” claim. But this is not just fraudulent reporting, it is dangerous and incendiary  propaganda. Its publication could have, and perhaps did, lead hundreds of coup backers to rush to the airport, where they were met by the Venezuelan military, with a number of protesters reportedly being injured in the ensuing confrontation.

Casey, in his article, writes that “by the end of the day,” it was clear that Guaidó had failed to precipitate a successful coup, but he doesn’t say what had been clear much earlier that day: that the airport had never been captured at all, and that Guaidó had not spoken from a liberated airfield, but from a bridge outside the airfield.  In fact, Casey must have known, or should have by day’s end, and well before the Timesdeadline, that his earlier report on Guaidó’s call-to-arms had been based on fake information. Instead, he was still pretending his story was fact-based, and presented as if he had been witness to the events he was reporting on. Even though his article notes that “by day’s end, news spread of another blow to the opposition: Leopoldo López, the political prisoner who heads Mr. Guaidó’s party, had fled into the Chilean Embassy, along with his wife, Lilian Tintori,” he continued with the fiction that an airbase had been captured and that the military was falling apart, writing:

The events also cast a harsh new light into the division within the armed forces, which puts Venezuela in a precarious position as the country’s political crisis deepens. While the highest ranks of the military dig into their support for Mr. Maduro’s government, many rank-and-file soldiers appear willing to defy their commanders and come to the aid of the opposition.

In fact, far from “many” soldiers deserting, it may have been no more than 25 men in uniform who defected in support of Guaidó, and they, as was well known by the time Casey filed his article, had sought asylum in the Brazilian embassy, a devastating sign of his failed call-to-arms, a reality which Casey didn’t bother to mention in his article.  (Sitting at home on the evening of April 30 and reading reports in publications like Telesur English and Al Jazeera, I was able to learn about this and about Lopez’s seeking asylum with his family in the Spanish embassy, so surely Times factcheckers should have also been able to get that information challenging Casey’s reporting.)

Interestingly, Casey did quote the Maduro administration as stating late Tuesday night in a public TV broadcast that the La Carlota airport had never been threatened or taken over by defecting soldiers. Instead of verifying it as fact, all Casey did was cite Maduro’s denial, hinting that maybe it had not actually been “liberated.”

The Casey article, still available online, contains a correction at the end, dated May 1:

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misidentified the CNN program on which Mr. Pompeo made his remarks about plans for Mr. Maduro to fly to Cuba. It was The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer, not State of the Union.

But as of this story’s May 7 posting date, no correction has yet been made by the Times concerning the article’s fundamental and far more serious errors of reporting, such as there had been “a predawn takeover of a military base in the heart of the capital,” or that Guaidó had made his video appeal for a rebellion from that “liberated” airbase.

How does any self-respecting news organization allow such abysmally inaccurate reporting to remain this long online uncorrected? The only possible answer is that Casey, and the other in-country reporters who were said to have contributed to his bylined piece (Isayen Herrera, Ana Vanessa Herrero, Anatoly Kurmanaev and Katie Rogers), were giving the New York Times exactly the propaganda piece that they and the coup plotters in Washington wanted.

Featured image: Venezuelan opposition figures Juan Guaidó and Leopoldo López calling for a military mutiny.



The Atlantic Illustrates Everything That’s Wrong With Media Coverage of Venezuela Sanctions


The Atlantic (4/17/19) wonders “whether slow suffocation will prove a match for the myriad international actors that have shored up support for Maduro.”

“Trump’s Venezuela Policy: Slow Suffocation,” an Atlantic report (4/17/19) by Uri Friedman and Kathy Gilsinan, passed up a rich opportunity to expose the humanitarian pretexts for economic intervention, and instead exhibited the worst tendencies of corporate media coverage of US policy in Latin America.

The report focused on the Trump administration’s new sanctions on the countries National Security Adviser John Bolton branded as the “troika of tyranny” and “three stooges of socialism”: Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. The administration plans to  activate provisions in the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act to allow US citizens to sue foreign companies “trafficking” in “stolen land.”

While the headline on its own could be read as accurately suggesting that the Trump administration’s policy was one of “slow suffocation” of the Venezuelan people, the subhead makes it clear that the Atlantic was really saying that the aim was “to tighten the noose on Nicolás Maduro”—described in the piece as Venezuela’s “authoritarian” leader. By primarily framing US sanctions against Venezuela as a “diplomatic” alternative to the “military solution,” and as a continuation of a new Cold War contest against Russia, the report continued the corporate media practice (FAIR.org, 2/6/19) of downplaying the real harm sanctions are already inflicting on Venezuelans.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (2/4/19) has pointed out how recognition of Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela effectively functions as an oil embargo on Venezuela. This is devastating, since Venezuela’s economy depends almost entirely on oil export revenues for essential imports like food, medicine and medical equipment (New York Times, 2/8/19). Newer US sanctions that have caused Venezuela’s crude oil production to plummet even further are expected to reduce revenues over the coming year by $2.5 billion, almost as much as the country spent last year ($2.6 billion) to import food and medicine (CEPR, 3/25/19).

CEPR (4/19) compared Venezuelan and Colombian oil production to show that while falling oil prices hurt Venezuela’s oil industry, US sanctions hurt far more.

Economists Mark Weisbrot of CEPR and Columbia’s Jeffrey Sachs  (CEPR, 4/25/19) have estimated that the death toll from US sanctions is more than 40,000 in 2017–18 alone, based on the experience of other countries in similar situations. They note that sanctions produce lethal effects by increasing unemployment and restricting access to essential imports like food and medicine, as well as preventing easy fixes to problems like rampant hyperinflation (Real News, 1/18/19). This is why UN human rights experts denounce US sanctions as “economic warfare,” which could amount to “crimes against humanity,” and compare the way they kill Venezuelans to a medieval siege (Independent, 1/26/19; Grayzone, 4/7/19).

Although it’s hard to see how one measures the “success” of sanctions—except by their capacity to immiserate the target populations—apparently the only “open question” for the Atlantic is whether or not “gradual economic strangulation” will “prove a match” for the support for Maduro from “foreign patrons” like Russia, China and Cuba. By confining itself to questions of tactical efficacy, and whether sanctions will triumph over the American empire’s rivals, the report completely omits questions of whether or not the US possesses the moral prerogative, and legal authorization, to impose unilateral sanctions and embargoes for regime change purposes.

The authors use the word “diplomatic” to describe sanctions several times throughout the piece, but oddly don’t cite a single diplomatic body to discuss them. If they had asked the UN Human Rights Council, which has condemned “unilateral coercive measures” like US sanctions against Venezuela, they might have noted that they are “contrary to international law.” Or the UN General Assembly, which has declared illegal the US’s ongoing embargo against Cuba for the 27th consecutive year in a recent vote of 189 to 2—with only the US and Israel voting against the resolution. The UN Charter, which grants the UN Security Council alone the legal authority to authorize sanctions and military interventions, or that of the Organization of American States, which forbids economic coercion altogether, would also have been good places to check on unilateral sanctions’ alleged diplomacy.

When discussing the Libertad Act, the Atlantic falsely referred to the revolutionary Cuban government’s nationalization of foreign-owned assets—which had often been given out by the former US-backed Batista dictatorship (CounterPunch, 3/23/16)—as “stolen land.” Legal scholar Marjorie Cohn has pointed out that a sovereign’s nationalization of the property in its jurisdiction doesn’t violate international law (Truthout, 2/24/19), as former US Secretary of State Dean Rusk admitted in 1962:

Any sovereign national has the right to expropriate property, whether owned by foreigners or nationals. In the United States, we refer to this as the power of eminent domain. However, the owner should receive adequate and prompt compensation for his property.

The Atlantic piece also failed to mention that the Trump administration’s activation of Title III of the Libertad Act would also overturn longstanding legal precedent, as the US Supreme Court determined, in 1964’s Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Sabbatino, that US courts shouldn’t decide the legality of taking property in Cuban jurisdiction. The Court held that such questions would be best resolved in state-to-state negotiations—which the US government has refused to engage in, despite the Cuban government’s repeated offers to comply with international law by compensating the nearly 6,000 US parties with outstanding claims, as it successfully did with investors from other countries.

Most importantly, the Atlantic blindly peddled the humanitarian pretext offered by Trump administration officials, that they are merely opposing “tyranny” in Latin America officials. Instead of recalling the US’s history of using sanctions to undermine popular leftist governments to “make the economy scream,” installing reactionary dictatorships in countries like Chile, or supporting a failed 2002 Venezuelan coup to remove the popularly elected President Hugo Chávez (Extra!, 5–6/02), the authors leaned into corporate media tropes about Latin American leftists.

Mimicking Bolton’s red-baiting, the Atlantic characterized the other two nations targeted by him as “repressive socialist governments”: Cuba and Nicaragua, where revolutionaries overthrew the reviled US-backed Batista and Somoza dictatorships in their respective countries (New York Times, 3/16/86). The Atlantic erased Maduro’s numerous domestic supporters, and the pre-sanctions social gains of the Bolivarian revolution (FAIR.org, 2/20/19), by depicting him as an isolated “strongman” propped up by “foreign patrons.”

Darth Vader illustrating the impact of US sanctions on Venezuela.

The “humanitarian” motivation of sanctions and embargoes is also belied by US State Department memoranda that openly strategized to undermine the fledgling Castro government by intentionally driving the population to “hunger” and “desperation.” These half-century-old documents are echoed by recent remarks by Trump administration officials boasting that US sanctions resemble Darth Vader’s death grip, and claiming that Venezuela’s “total economic collapse” is evidence that regime change “is working.”

However, one shouldn’t expect corporate media to provide the kind of illuminating journalism that would expose and contradict official pretexts, because their support for sabotaging popular left-wing political agendas abroad is fully consistent with their practice of discrediting similar agendas at home (FAIR.org, 2/8/19).

You can send messages to The Atlantic here (or via Twitter: @TheAtlantic) . Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

Featured image: Screenshot from video of pro-government rally in Caracas, May 1, 2019.

Joe Uehlein on Green New Deal, Basav Sen on Beyond the Paris Accord

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This week on CounterSpin: The Green New Deal is a vision, about how we might use the economic transformation required to address the climate crisis to advance workers rights and well-being. In the corporate press, it’s often either reduced to a story about Democratic Party fortunes, or vagued out to some ideas about the “green dream or whatever,” in Nancy Pelosi’s words. There’s another conversation, though, where people take seriously the need and the possibility to center working people in the fight for the planet. We’ll talk with Joe Uehlein, founding president of the Labor Network for Sustainability.

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(cc photo: Pedro Szekely)

Also on the show: House Democrats have introduced a bill to force the US to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. They, and reporters whose range doesn’t extend beyond them, may have been surprised to hear environmentalists respond overwhelmingly, “Oh come on.” As Food & Water Watch’s Wenonah Hauter put it, “The terms of the Paris Accord aren’t low-hanging fruit, they’re fruit that has fallen to the ground and begun to rot.” We’ll talk about what’s beyond Paris with Basav Sen, the Climate Justice project director at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look back at commentary on Venezuela.

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‘The FBI Appears to Be Engaged in a Modern-Day Version of COINTELPRO’ - CounterSpin interview with Nusrat Choudhury on FBI targeting of black activists

Janine Jackson interviewed Nusrat Choudhury about FBI targeting of black activists for the April 12, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.


An FBI intelligence assessment fabricated a new domestic terrorism threat category: “Black Identity Extremists.”

Janine Jackson: In the summer of 2017, as demonstrations roiled St. Louis, Missouri, in response to the acquittal of yet another police officer who killed yet another black person, the FBI issued an intelligence assessment that purported to designate a new domestic terror threat: “Black Identity Extremists.” And they predicted that

perceptions of unjust treatment of African Americans and the perceived unchallenged illegitimate actions of law enforcement will inspire premeditated attacks against law enforcement.

Does that sound like a bizarre and dangerously imprecise targeting of people of color engaged in righteous and constitutionally protected protest? It sure does.

But as we discussed at the time with our next guest, a tool in the hands of the country’s most powerful law enforcement need not be precise to be used to do tremendous damage.

Nusrat Choudhury is deputy director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program. She joins us now by phone from here in town. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Nusrat Choudhury.

NC: Thank you so much for having me.

JJ: When we spoke with you in the fall of 2017, the FBI Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit had just issued this weird and disturbing threat assessment, with this new fabricated category of “Black Identity Extremists.” And the ACLU and other groups were working to see just what they were doing—how was this being used? And the FBI wasn’t all that keen for the sunshine. What has happened, or not happened, since then, such that now the ACLU, along with the Center for Media Justice, have filed a lawsuit against the FBI?

Rep. Karen Bass challenges then-US Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the “Black Identity Extremists” FBI assessment in 2017.

NC: As you said, we requested, under the Freedom of Information Act, records about what appears to be a highly disturbing surveillance program, targeting a fictitious threat of so-called “Black Identity Extremists,” which we and civil rights groups, black-led organizations, black activists and even members of Congress have said raises a red flag that there may be racial profiling and the targeting of black protesters for their First Amendment–protected activity.

After sending that Freedom of Information Act request, what we got back from the FBI were two letters, refusing to even search for certain categories of records that we had requested, and a number of documents, several hundred pages of highly redacted FBI emails, in response to one of the three categories of requested records.

And the FBI, to the extent that it has disclosed any information, hasn’t explained why it’s keeping that information secret with any reliable justifications. So we don’t really know what else is even out there, as well as information from the emails that they’ve redacted.

And this refusal to search is barring the public from getting the information that we need to find out how this surveillance program, targeting this fictitious group that even some law enforcement have said doesn’t exist, is operating and impacting people on the ground.

And that’s why we need a lawsuit. And we the ACLU are standing with our partners at the Center for Media Justice to demand information on behalf of ourselves and the public.

JJ: You’re describing it as a surveillance program. I was going to ask, what sorts of activities do we think that this designation is trying to justify, or is trying to encourage? I mean, it sounds like it could be almost anything. Once you’ve designated something a domestic terrorist threat, it sort of greenlights all kinds of activities, mightn’t it?

COINTELPRO targeted civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. 

NC: The FBI appears to be engaged in a modern-day version of COINTELPRO, and many of us remember, COINTELPRO took place in the last century, in the ’50s and ’60s, targeting covert activities against civil rights leaders and black people who had the courage to protest racial discrimination and to advocate for full equality and racial equity in this country. It looks like it’s version 2.0.

And when we look at this document, this FBI intelligence assessment, from August 2017 that creates this label of “Black Identity Extremists,” it’s based on nothing; there’s no credible evidence that such a movement or group even exists.

But what that report shows is that the FBI is looking at First Amendment–protected activity to determine who is a so-called “Black Identity Extremist.” That report shows a focus at the FBI on social media activity, on the online search terms that people use, and what kind of internet content a person may like, as well as their associations with certain groups.

The Center for Media Justice announced a lawsuit in 2019 against the FBI for “hiding its surveillance of Black activists and organizations.”

A lot of that activity is protected by the First Amendment. And this is precisely why the Center for Media Justice and the ACLU are concerned that this creation of this label was simply to justify surveillance of black people who are protesting police violence and state-sanctioned violence against black people.

JJ: Yeah, even, I think, law enforcement—a former FBI agent, I seem to remember, giving a quote saying, basically, “It’s just black people who scare them”; they’re just working backwards from that.

There’s so many levels to this, but to imagine that various groups would only be fighting back against police racist brutality if they were part of a unified ideological project, and an inherently violent ideological project, that outrage at racist policing is not a motivation that anyone with eyes could have…. I mean, even if you thought that was their sincere belief, that would reflect a lack of intelligence that’s so painful it’s almost unbearable. But that would be the idea, that all of these groups must somehow be linked in an ideological project, otherwise, why would they be engaged in this resistance?

NC: And the assessment itself, this FBI report that creates this label of a “Black Identity Extremist” boogeyman, if you look at the text of it, it’s talking about these six incidents of violence or threatened violence against police. And it doesn’t even link them and, in points, actually says that some of the people involved in these incidents have divergent views.

The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives issued a press release that “expresses concern over the Black Identity Extremists FBI assessment.”

So it’s circular logic; it undermines itself. There’s really no basis; former law enforcement have criticized it as being a flawed intelligence product. And even current law enforcement, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, has called on the FBI to withdraw this assessment, because it is so faulty, and they’ve asked to eliminate the “Black Identity Extremist” threat classification. That means something, when even law enforcement are looking at this and saying, “This doesn’t make sense.”

Members of Congress have also articulated a concern that it looks like it’s directed at people who are protesting police killing of black people, and that includes the Movement for Black Lives.

And this is why this effort, through the lawsuit and through advocacy, to get information about this surveillance program, this effort by the ACLU and the Center for Media Justice, is so important. Racial justice in this country comes about when people protest, and black people have been critical to these movements that have brought about a better protection and realization of rights to equality and fairness that has benefited all of us.

The Movement for Black Lives

So these modern-day protest movements are critical to realizing the full potential of American democracy and promises to equality and racial justice. Those movements should not be surveilled. The law enforcement resources of this country should be directed towards real threats to public safety, not for targeting people because of their race and their protected beliefs.

JJ: Just finally, we’re talking about it as though it’s a potential tool, or as though it’s something that is on paper. We have to recognize that just the existence of this designation is already having a real effect on the ground, and putting folks in danger.

NC: Absolutely. When the FBI disseminates an intelligence assessment, and this one was disseminated to at least 18,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, when it does that, it risks inciting police fear of black people, particularly black activists. That is the real, tangible result. And despite the calls by members of Congress, as well as the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, to withdraw this flawed intelligence product, the FBI hasn’t done that. And so we have no reason to believe that that kind of incitement and harassment at the local and state level isn’t already happening.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Nusrat Choudhury; she’s deputy director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program. You can find more information on their work and on this lawsuit online at ACLU.org. Nusrat Choudhury, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

NC: Thank you for having me.


Amee Chew on Philippines Under Duterte

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Protest at Philippines consulate in New York (cc photo: VOCAL-NY/Wikimedia)

This week on CounterSpin: A March Washington Post article about Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said:

As of December, more than 5,000 people have been slain because of Duterte’s war on drugs, according to officials. That number, however, is significantly lower than the estimate given by human rights groups, which put the casualties at closer to 12,000 or even 20,000.

Note the passivity of “have been slain,” and the choice to lead with an official death toll, rather than human rights groups’ less self-interested numbers. The “12,000” figure provides a link to a Human Rights Watch report that has never been the subject of a Washington Post news story.

Among many things such reporting wouldn’t lead you to suspect: Two years ago, when the Philippine Senate tried to cut funding for the campaign of state and state-sanctioned violence, for which the toll of “even 20,000” is almost certainly conservative, it was the United States that stepped in with the money to fill the shortfall. That’s a direct line from your tax dollars to the leader who said, “Hitler massacred 3 million Jews…. There’s 3 million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

Corporate media don’t talk much about the Philippines, much less about the US responsibility there. A recent piece from Foreign Policy in Focus, headlined “It’s Time to End US Military Aid to the Philippines,” filled some of that void. We’ll hear from its author, Mellon-ACLS public fellow Amee Chew, and hear also from two Filipino activist/organizers, Ed Cubelo and Mong Palatino.


Media Cheer Assange’s Arrest

by Alan MacLeod

Julian Assange was arrested inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London on April 11. The Australian-born co-founder of Wikileaks had been trapped in the building since 2012 after taking refuge there. He was immediately found guilty of failing to surrender to a British court, and was taken to Belmarsh prison. An extradition to the United States is widely seen as imminent by corporate media, who have, by and large, strongly approved of these events.

The Washington Post (4/11/19) suggested that journalists who hope that their work affects the outcome of a political race are not really journalists.

A Washington Post editorial (4/11/19) claimed Assange was “no free-press hero” and insisted the arrest was “long overdue.” Likewise, the Wall Street Journal (4/11/19) demanded “accountability” for Assange, saying, “His targets always seem to be democratic institutions or governments.”

Other coverage was more condemnatory still. The View’s Meghan McCain (4/11/19) declared she hoped Assange “rots in hell.” Saturday Night Live’s Colin Jost (4/13/19) said it was “so satisfying to see an Internet troll get dragged out into the sunlight.” But it was perhaps the National Review (4/12/19) that expressed the most enthusiastic approval of Assange’s arrest, condemning him for his “anti-Americanism, his antisemitism and his raw personal corruption” and for harming the US with his “vile spite.”

Both the United Nations and the ACLU have denounced Assange’s arrest, with the former condemning Sweden and the UK for depriving him of liberty and freedom, ordering them to pay compensation for the many years he was confined to the embassy. Despite this, establishment media have overwhelmingly described this situation with a euphemism: Mr. Assange’s “self-imposed isolation” (CNN, 4/11/19; USA Today, 4/11/19; New York Times, 4/11/19), a phrase that conjures a very different image of the situation and the responsibilities of the various parties involved. The Daily Beast (4/11/19) made this implication explicit, describing Assange’s predicament as “voluntary confinement.”

Assange is a controversial character who originally took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy after England’s High Court ruled to extradite him to Sweden to face charges of rape. Yet most of the media coverage downplayed or even did not mention this (e.g., Bloomberg, 4/11/19; National Review, 4/12/19; Daily Beast, 4/11/19), suggesting they did not consider it relevant.

The universal charge of narcissism

The London Times‘ original headline (4/7/19) referred to Assange as an “albino narcissist.”

Celebrating his arrest, The Week (4/11/19) attacked Assange as a “delusional, childish narcissist” who undermined the security of every nation. A host of other media outlets across the spectrum (Washington Post, 4/12/19; New York Times, 4/12/19; London Times, 4/7/19) similarly framed him as a “narcissist,” one with an “outsized view of his own importance,” despite his poor “personal hygiene,” according to the New York Times (4/11/19).

The narcissist accusation is a common trope thrown at enemies of the US establishment, including Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez (National Review, 6/27/07; Economist, 3/9/13; Miami Herald, 7/25/15), Vladimir Putin (Atlantic, 4/15/14; Guardian, 3/10/18) and even Bernie Sanders (Huffington Post, 2/9/16; New York, 11/25/18). It was also exactly the same line of attack the media used against Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who leaked NSA documents (e.g., New Yorker, 6/10/13; Bloomberg, 11/1/13; Chicago Tribune, 12/23/14), and how the prosecution portrayed Chelsea Manning at her trial, suggesting it is a convenient putdown rather than a good-faith description of anti-establishment figures.

Manning had offered the files that came to be known as the Iraq War Logs to both the Washington Post and New York Times. However, only Wikileaks decided to publish them. The files showed evidence of US war crimes in the Middle East, and shot both Manning and Assange onto the world stage.

The UK press reaction

The Daily Mail (4/12/19) relished reporting that Assange’s “smirk vanished” in court.

The infamously acerbic British press responded to Assange’s arrest with undisguised glee. The Daily Mail’s front-page headline (4/12/19) read, “That’ll Wipe the Smile Off His Face,” and devoted four pages to the “downfall of a narcissist” who was removed from “inside his fetid lair” to finally “face justice.” The Daily Mirror (4/11/19) described him as “an unwanted guest who abused his hospitality,” while the Times of London (4/12/19) claimed “no one should feel sorry” for the “overdue eviction.”

The Mirror (4/13/19) also published an opinion piece from Labour member of Parliament Jess Phillips that began by stating, “Finally Julian Assange, everyone’s least favorite squatter, has been kicked out of the Ecuadorian embassy.” She described the 47-year-old Australian as a “grumpy, stroppy teenager.”

At the far-left of the corporate media spectrum, the New Statesman (4/12/19) described Assange as a “demented-looking gnome.” The Glasgow Herald editorial board (4/13/19) summed up the press reaction: “Julian Assange is not a journalist, and he’s not a hero, and his day in court is long overdue.”

Is Assange a journalist?

The central question of whether Assange a journalist has been discussed at great length this week in corporate media. The resounding response has been “no.”

Frida Ghitis (CNN, 4/11/19) maintained that Assange is “not entitled to the protections that the law—and democracy—demand for legitimate journalists.”

The National Review (4/12/19) declared him a “petty, biased, hostile foreign actor”; CNN (4/11/19) described him as an activist, not a journalist, demanding he “face justice.” Fox News (4/12/19) also labeled him an activist, one who is using journalism as a “fig leaf for his reckless conduct.” Other outlets (Bloomberg, 4/11/19; Washington Post, 4/11/19) have also been eager to insist Assange is not a journalist.

The New York Times editorial board (4/11/19) writes that while Assange’s arrest will likely raise questions about press freedom, for now, the Trump administration has “done well” by charging the “scraggly-bearded refugee” with an “indisputable crime.” They argue that there is currently technically no First Amendment issue because he is no journalist but a “foreign agent seeking to undermine the security of the United States through theft,” who highlights the “sharp line between legitimate journalism and dangerous cybercrime.”

Veteran journalist and supporter of Assange John Pilger disagrees, contending that his arrest is a historically important warning to “real journalists,” who are few and far between at establishment media, who resent him for highlighting their subservience to the elite.

Whatever your view of Assange might be, it seems clear he shares virtually nothing in common with those in positions of influence in big media outlets, who have been only too happy to watch his demise.

Featured image: Bloomberg depiction (4/11/19) of Julian Assange, described as looking “like a cranky, beleaguered version of Santa Claus.”

Outlets Denounced as ‘Enemies of People’ Still Promote Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Narratives

by Joshua Cho

This New York Times headline (3/5/19) hyping border crossings could have appeared on Fox News—which is presumably why FoxNews.com (4/11/19) highlighted it.

If you keep up with all the various xenophobic “crises” and “threats” propagated by corporate media—depicting the United States as an overwhelmed nation, besieged by teeming swarms of scheming foreigners intent on stealing jobs and seizing scarce public benefits from across the southern border—you’ll recall that the United States has apparently been under “invasion” for years now. Decades, even (Extra!, 1–2/95). The media have spread this contrived account even during periods where unauthorized immigration was continuously falling (FAIR.org, 12/1/13).

So it shouldn’t really come as a surprise to see Fox News (4/11/19) trumpeting the fact that establishment outlets like the Washington Post and New York Times are joining them in spreading the Trump administration’s racist narrative. Here are some recent headlines, offered as evidence by Fox that “Mainstream Media Outlets Change Their Tune on Border Crisis Amid Illegal Immigration Surge”:

  • “Border at ‘Breaking Point’ as More Than 76,000 Unauthorized Migrants Cross in a Month” (New York Times, 3/5/19).
  • “US Has Hit ‘Breaking Point’ at Border Amid Immigration Surge, Customs and Border Protection Chief Says” (Washington Post, 3/27/19)
  • “The US Immigration System May Have Reached a Breaking Point” (New York Times, 4/10/19)

However, when one examines the Times and the Post’s sources for these alarming reports of an overloaded immigration system hitting a “breaking point,” one finds that they consist almost entirely of named and unnamed Trump administration officials, like Kevin McAleenan, then commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection agency, now acting secretary of Homeland Security. There’s no reason, of course, to treat official pronouncements about an alleged border crisis as objective truth, especially ones coming from the Trump administration.

As FAIR (12/13/18) has previously noted, crucial context is often ignored in coverage of Central American migrants. When these reports aren’t omitting altogether the reasons why people are migrating and seeking asylum in the United States, primarily from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, journalists cite factors like “gang violence,” “death threats” and “deep poverty” without mentioning the connection between these realities and US foreign policy.

Washington’s history of providing political and military support to genocidal dictatorships, coups, oppressive military forces and civil wars has permanently damaged these countries, as documented in works like historian William Blum’s Rogue State. Unfair “free trade” agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA removed trade barriers so that millions of Central American farmers were forced to compete with highly subsidized American agribusiness. Coverage also omits the fact that although the Trump administration is canceling development aid to these countries, it’s still providing lethal aid to repressive police and military forces, and even death squads, in the present (Intercept, 4/12/16; CounterPunch, 4/8/19).

These reports by the Post and the Times mention a growing backlog of over 800,000 immigration cases judges need to “decide quickly,” and an insufficient number of prisons to detain families amidst recent spikes in the number of people crossing the border over the past few months, but almost none of them bother to explain why the Trump administration is on track to double the backlog of cases it began with—in large part due to its acceleration of mass roundups (ThinkProgress, 9/26/18).

None of these reports raise the important questions of why it is even necessary to “detain” asylum-seeking families (a euphemism for imprisoning people in concentration camps), why we should consider regular spikes and fluctuations in border crossings an “emergency,” or why it is necessary to “quickly” decide the cases of asylum-seekers who are facing death upon return to their countries—as Nathan Robinson did in Current Affairs (4/12/19).

None of these reports adequately consider the possibility that the Trump administration officials it relies on as sources are lying about wanting to reduce court backlogs and overcrowded prisons, and are intentionally punishing migrants in order to create the impression that the administration is hard at work to solve the “crises” it creates (Salon, 4/2/19). How else does one explain why the Trump administration consistently pursues actions that produce outcomes directly contrary to their stated objectives?

No one can argue that overfilled “detainment centers” and an increasing backlog of immigration cases aren’t the predictable results of initiating the longest government shutdown in history, refusing to hire enough immigration judges to adjudicate bigger caseloads, shutting down and rejecting more humane and cost-effective alternatives to imprisonment—some with 99 percent success rates—and pursuing a “zero-tolerance” policy of prosecuting and imprisoning all asylum-seekers as criminals, and denying their rights in violation of international law, in order to make “family detention” and separation standard practice.

This is important because, despite the Trump administration’s attempts (with the Post and Times’ help) to depict unauthorized migrants and asylum-seekers as criminals, asylum-seekers are actually following the law, which mandates that one can only apply for asylum status when physically present in the United States.

It’s not difficult to figure out why establishment media outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post, despite being denounced by Donald Trump as “enemies of the people,” “fake news” and the “Opposition Party,” invariably amplify ridiculous narratives by the Trump administration on issues like immigration. If corporate journalists were to evaluate policymakers by the predictable consequences of their actions rather than their professed intentions, and reject face-value transmission of claims by official sources in favor of critical examination, it would jeopardize the revolving door between media and politics, and threaten corporate media’s business model of staying on the good side of the rich and powerful for a reliable stream of information—trustworthy or not.

Featured image: Washington Post depiction (3/27/19) of a “Border at ‘Breaking Point'” (photo: Sergio Flores).

‘Women Take Home Less Money Than They’ve Rightfully Earned’ - CounterSpin interview with Deborah Vagins on the gender pay gap

Janine Jackson interviewed Deborah Vagins about the gender pay gap for the April 12, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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The Root (4/2/19)

Janine Jackson: Designating April 2 the day when US women’s salary “catches up” to men’s of the previous year is a device, of course, a way to illustrate the gap that persists between what women and men are paid. Equal Pay Day is not, as The Root’s Maiysha Kai put it, a day to celebrate, but to educate, coordinate and advocate. Media can help or hinder that effort, and they do some of both.

We’re joined now by Deborah Vagins, senior vice president for public policy and research at the American Association of University Women. She joins us by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Deborah Vagins.

Deborah Vagins: It’s a pleasure to be back.

JJ: Before we talk about misunderstandings, let’s get some understanding. What are, for you, the salient numbers or data points that illustrate the scope and the scale of the pay gap problem?

DV: Absolutely. So the latest numbers from the US Census Bureau once again reveal that women working full-time, year-round, are typically paid only 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. This is an average overall, looking at all jobs. And African-American women and Latinas make, respectively, 61 and 63 cents on the dollar, as compared to non-Hispanic white men.

JJ:  So, yeah, that intersectional breakout is important. The numbers can get glommed together, but when you factor in race, you get a whole other level of the issue, right?

DV: Right. It’s particularly bleak for women of color. I’ll note that when President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, the overall wage gap for all women was 59 cents on the dollar, and today, in 2018—this is from data from last year—Latinas make 53 cents on the dollar, 55 years later.

CNN (4/2/19)

JJ: Wow. CNN ran a column from a right-wing pundit, which, you know, it would be one thing if people argued, “I don’t think women should be able to be economically independent, because that undermines the familial and societal structure that I think is best.” But they don’t say that. Instead, they say, as this piece on CNN’s website did, the pay gap is not just a lie, but it’s a mean lie that hurts women. This piece checks the familiar boxes: Women just prioritize family over the workplace, we just gravitate to lower-paying work.

But I was especially tickled by what’s clearly intended as a slam dunk. It says, “The truth is that wage discrimination is illegal.” As if nominally illegal things don’t happen all day long. Can you talk about some of the persistent misunderstandings around the gender pay gap? And are we seeing them maybe loosen their hold, a little bit?

DV: Wow. So there’s a lot. I haven’t seen that article, but there’s certainly a lot to unpack in just the little snippet that you read. Very, very troubling.

If I had to make a generalization about people who perpetuate erroneous myths about the pay gap, it’s they never have any real data. So they talk about women dropping out of the workforce, and that’s what causes the wage gap. Well, we’ve looked at something called the motherhood penalty, and that is, employers make assumptions about women, that somehow because they could be mothers, that they have less commitment to the job, or that they will drop out. And we see that women are paid less because of these assumptions, not necessarily because they are actually doing any of the things that employers make assumptions about.

So for example, I gave you some numbers at the opening, [and] we know that working moms make 71 cents on the dollar, as compared to working fathers. And we also, through research, have seen that men receive a fatherhood bonus—that is, when they become parents, they actually make more money.

I mean, that’s just one of them. Our research shows that even when controlling for factors known to affect earnings—such as education or training, marital status, college education—women still earn 7 percent less than men just one year out of college, so meaning, before these purported life choices take hold. And the other research we’ve seen is that women take home less money than they’ve rightfully earned in virtually every industry, no matter what they do, no matter how much education they have, or where they are from in the country.

JJ:  Even some of the ostensibly sympathetic stories have, first of all, that lack of data that you’re talking about; they are just kind of impressionistic, and say things like—and I’m not remembering where I saw this, but—women should “get intentional about what you want.” We’re so invested in the idea of fairness that we think that the cause of inequities has got to be at the individual level. But I understand that the AAUW has done some polling that says that, actually, folks are letting go of the idea that it’s just women’s life choices; folks can actually grasp the idea of systemic bias.

Deborah Vagins: “There is stigma—still—about the value of women’s work, and that when women enter fields, the pay actually goes down.”

DV: I think that’s right. There’s been a lot of work and a lot of effort and a lot of data that have been put into this movement. I mean, the polling data backs it up. Basically, nobody chooses to make less money for the same job. Nobody wants to be relegated to a lower-paying subspecialty, or put in a female-dominated occupation, and to make less because of that. What we’ve seen is that there is stigma—still—about the value of women’s work, and that when women enter fields, the pay actually goes down, meaning that when men occupy a field, it’s actually paid more. One of the stark factoids I like to say is, “We actually pay men watching cars more than we pay women watching children in America.” And that’s because of the value of women’s work, unfortunately.

JJ:  And it sort of leads toward another point that argues, of course, for rectifying it, which is the linchpin nature of women, in that raising women’s pay is going to have a ripple effect on families and on communities, wouldn’t it?

DV: That’s right. There are all different types of arguments we hope will appeal to people who may be opponents, or may just not be aware of the issue. But I think at bottom, if you are paying women equally, this isn’t just a women’s issue, this helps men in those families, this helps families overall, this helps lift children out of poverty, this helps the economy. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research did a study that said if we paid women equal pay for equal work, they would contribute $512 billion to the economy. That helps everyone.

JJ:  I do want to call attention to a tremendous victory that we’ve just seen here in New York; Local 1180 of the Communications Workers, and their president Gloria Middleton, just won an EEOC complaint that they filed in 2013, where they had found that some 1,600 administrative managers—overwhelmingly women of color—were paid less, $16,000 less, than their white male counterparts, and this is over years. They’ve just won this tremendous recognition, some $15 million of restitution that may be coming.

And I have to say media could not care less about this story that I think is just such a tremendous victory. Assuming, then, 1180 didn’t get to this victory by telling women to lean in, what are some of the policy and legislative responses to the pay gap that are already in play, or that are necessary?

DV: Well, I think that sounds like a fantastic victory. And these are not as frequent as one might think. It’s very difficult to bring and prove these cases, in large part because of the way that discrimination works. So going back to one of your earlier comments, on the article opposing all of this that said, “Well, these laws exist.”

Well, the laws exist, but employers don’t announce when they discriminate. And in fact there’s quite a bit of opaqueness about pay and salary, and certainly about discrimination that’s happening, that’s quite intentional. So it’s hard to root out when you’re being paid less, and it’s very hard to bring these cases. And over time, the laws have gotten weaker through court interpretations.

And on top of that, the laws were passed, the first law, the Equal Pay Act, was passed in 1963. The next one was Title VII of the ’64 Civil Rights Act. And since then, we’ve learned a lot about how pay discrimination operates in the workforce.

CNBC (3/28/19)

So all of that leads us to the fact that we need new policies, new tools, in order to root out pay discrimination. So, for example, we had a great victory in the House of Representatives on what’s called the Paycheck Fairness Act that was just passed a couple weeks ago, prior to Equal Pay Day. That important piece of legislation would update the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to address some of the things I’ve talked about, to address the weakening through court decisions, would address some employer practices that have come to light over the last five decades, and would give women new tools to challenge the pay gap.

JJ:  Let me just ask you, finally: I know that a piece of that Paycheck Fairness Act has to do with salary history. Can you just speak to the importance of work around that question, of asking people what they earned at their previous jobs?  It’s such a commonplace thing, and yet it can be so significant.

DV: So this is about prohibiting the use of salary history to set current wages. And you’re right, that prohibition—and I’ll explain it—is in the Paycheck Fairness Act. It’s also in—there’s state legislation that’s considering this; there have been state and local bans on it. And also, this is actually something employers can do right now.

So let me explain it. Sounds pretty innocuous: We’ve all been in job interviews when we’ve been asked our prior salary. The problem is that if women or workers of color have been discriminated against in prior jobs, then your current employer, even a well-intentioned employer, might be carrying forward the pay that has been tainted by discrimination in setting your current wages.

So, for example, if you were paid something that was discriminatorily low, and they give you a 5 percent or 10 percent raise, if you’re lucky, going to your next job, that’s carrying forward what happened in the past. What really makes sense is for employers to do market research, peg the salaries to what’s competitive for that job, what those duties are worth to the employer, and this just keeps it fair and transparent.

JJ:  All right, we’ll end on that note. We’ve been speaking with Deborah Vagins; she’s senior vice president for public policy and research at the American Association of University Women. You can find their work on the gender pay gap, along with other issues, online at AAUW.org. Deborah Vagins, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

DV: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.


‘Purity Tests’: How Corporate Media Describe Progressives Standing Up for Principles


Barack Obama (HuffPost, 6/4/19) accused progressives of “shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues.”

The Democratic primaries are heating up, and dozens of candidates representing all manner of political positions have entered the ring hoping to be the party’s 2020 presidential nominee. One notable feature of the race is the strong presence of progressive candidates, a sign of the rising influence of the left in the party.

This phenomenon has many in the establishment wing of the party worried. Barack Obama, the most recent Democratic president, recently decried the “purity tests” of the left, which he called an “obsessive” ideological fanaticism that is setting the party up for failure.  Obama told an audience in Berlin, Germany (HuffPost, 6/4/19):

One of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States…is a certain kind of rigidity where we say, “I’m sorry, this is how it’s going to be,” and then we start sometimes creating what’s called a circular firing squad, where you start shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues, and when that happens, typically the overall effort and movement weakens.

In the political world, the term “purity test” has a very specific meaning, largely used by elites to chastise and attack the left, or to gaslight them into supporting more centrist or right-wing policies.  Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi (4/24/17), for example, bemoaned the ideological “activists” infiltrating the Democratic Party, undermining “more pragmatic party leaders everywhere” with their “purity tests.” She highlighted the supposed “danger” in “pushing the party too far to the left and imposing rigid orthodoxy,” warning that they are creating a “one-size party suitable only for zealots.”

An example Vennochi gave of an intolerable and self-defeating purity test was leftists’ pressure on Sen. Elizabeth Warren to change her mind about supporting Trump nominee Ben Carson to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Apparently opposing one of Trump’s most stridently right-wing appointees constitutes a “demand for ideological purity.”

“The demands for anti-corporate purity keep increasing,” wrote the Atlantic‘s Peter Beinart (12/18/18).

Much has been written about Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ refusal to accept corporate donations for their presidential campaigns, with many outlets (Atlantic, 12/18/18; 3/5/19; Politico, 2/25/19; The Hill, 8/24/17) describing this as a new Democratic “purity test” to establish progressive credentials.

2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (CNBC, 2/5/16) scorned Sanders’ test, claiming, “Under his definition, President Obama is not a progressive because he took donations from Wall Street!” Some might argue that is accurate, particularly as Obama describes himself as a 1980s-style “moderate Republican.”

Another key issue in the primaries is healthcare. A lack of health coverage kills around 45,000 Americans yearly, and hospital bills drive the large majority of bankruptcies in America. Many Democratic candidates, including Warren and Sanders, support a European-style Medicare for All system. But corporate media have been resistant, even hostile.

Writing in the New York Times (3/21/19), Paul Krugman demanded that we “don’t make healthcare a purity test,” warning that Democrats who do not support a single-payer system may not be seen as progressive, or be viewed as a corrupt “shill” for the pharmaceutical industry. According to Krugman, this would be inaccurate. The Washington Post (2/11/19) was more scathing of the Medicare for All “purity test,” attacking the leftist “cranks” using “empty slogans instead of evidence-based policy.”

It is often made explicit that “purity test” is merely code for the Democratic base wanting more leftist policies, and being disgruntled with politicians who block them. The Denver Post (1/31/19) described Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper as a progressive, pragmatic and “moderate problem-solver” in favor of “bipartisanship,” under attack from the “hard-core” left who demand “drastic” change. Their “purity test,” wrote the Post, will destroy a candidate with perhaps the most “credible” chance to beat Trump.

In contrast, behavior or policies imposed on the left from establishment Democrats are rarely if ever framed as a “purity test.” For example, Sanders appointed Briahna Joy Gray as his press secretary, who had previously declared she voted for the Green Party’s Jill Stein in 2016. Instead of this being seen as the party expanding its appeal to third-party voters, it produced a scandal among liberals on social media. For many, it was proof, as they had been saying all along, that Bernie was not a real Democrat—in other words, it was an opportunity for them to excommunicate an ally for being insufficiently orthodox.

On this story, New York magazine (3/20/19) described Sanders’ campaign as an “irrational cult” of “left-wing factionalists” that were attempting to “split the party” by “intentionally misleading” voters. These kind of attacks are not seen as “purity tests,” however.

Neither was the anger generated by the decision of candidates like Sanders, Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke not to attend the AIPAC conference presented as such a test. Nor were corporate media demands that the left embrace Trump’s regime change strategy in Venezuela lest they be accused of supporting a “dictator” (FAIR.org, 3/5/19). When these things are imposed on the base from the top down, they are not framed as purity tests.

Instead, the left is browbeaten and cajoled into supporting business-friendly right-wing Democrats, and told their preferred policies are either unrealistic or unpopular. The Hill (8/24/17) warns us, “If Democrats want to destroy any chances of winning national office, establishing purity tests is the quickest way to do it.”

But this is demonstrably not the case. Seventy-five percent of Americans (and nearly two-thirds of Republicans) support Medicare for all. Three-quarters of the population support higher taxes on the wealthy, while tuition-free public college is popular even among Tea Party supporters. One can make a strong case that these policies would tend to attract rather than repel Trump voters to the Democratic cause.

The dichotomy between credible, pragmatic centrists and the fanatical, inward-looking left demanding ideological purity is a framing generally made in bad faith to shield corporate-backed candidates from criticism. FAIR (2/26/19) has already highlighted the “Republican best friend” trope, where Republicans offer supposedly selfless advice to the left on how to win next time—which turns out to be by doing and saying exactly what the right wants.

“Purity test” is a common talking point for these fake friends. The Associated Press (2/21/19) published an article from a Republican consultant who warned that applying “intense” leftist purity tests to “pragmatic” candidates capable of beating Trump was self-defeating: “As the Democratic presidential candidates move further to the left, it will make President Trump’s path to re-election clearer.”

Meanwhile, writing in Yahoo! News (3/19/19), conservative National Review writer David French claimed it would take a “brave person” to withstand the “attack” of the “vicious,” “scornful” and “toxic” left and their destructive purity tests. Proposing free healthcare, a Green New Deal or other popular left-wing policies would surely lead to Trump’s victory in 2020, he advised Democrats.

Carolyn Dupont asks in the Washington Post (2/14/19), “Where are the Perfect Ones who can pass a lifelong purity test?” In other words, who hasn’t appeared in blackface in their college yearbook?

This purity test trope is so blatantly used to defend anyone in power it sometimes stretches credulity to the breaking point. In a Washington Post  op-ed (2/14/19) headlined “The Left’s Quest for Purity Could Destroy Potentially Worthy Leaders,” Carolyn Dupont bemoaned the purity tests of the “rigid, self-righteous and blind” left after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was criticized for wearing blackface. The column compared this censure to the guillotines of the French Revolution that killed many “righteous” politicians for “small blemishes on their ideological purity,” describing Northam’s blackface as a “moment of imperfection.” The desire to have policies affecting people’s lives crafted by people who haven’t ritually ridiculed and devalued them, apparently, is another purity test.

Democrat Bill O’Neill, an Ohio Supreme Court justice, also made headlines after defending politicians Roy Moore and Al Franken (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 11/17/17). O’Neill decried the unreasonable “purity tests” for “sexual indiscretions” (multiple sexual assault charges, in Moore’s case, from some as young as 14) . He claimed those calling for Franken’s resignation were “dogs” involved in a “feeding frenzy,” chasing out good politicians (USA Today, 11/18/17).

The term is used much less frequently in reference to the right wing, but when it is, it is used in the same manner: to describe policies supported by a party’s base that corporate media disagree with. Many outlets (New York Times, 11/23/09; Wall Street Journal, 11/24/09; US News, 12/23/09) described the attempt to get party officials to endorse a ten-point bill, including opposition to abortion and firearms regulation, as a “purity test.”

When you hear the phrase “purity test” in the media, be on the alert. The phrase is code for elites being pressured in ways they don’t like, and is often a shield against legitimate criticism of corruption or dependence on corporate power.

Maybe Rich Liberals Don’t Hate Sanders Because They Fear He Can’t Win, But Because They’re Rich


For the New York Times (4/16/19), “mainstream Democrats” are found “from canapé-filled fund-raisers on the coasts to the cloakrooms of Washington.”

Why does the New York Times take rich liberals at their word that their concern with Bernie Sanders is that he would lose to Trump, rather than the obvious, glaring fact that his election would run counter to their interests?

The New York Times (4/16/19) profiled a network of “wealthy liberal donors” who, shockingly, are not fans of Bernie Sanders, who according to the same report has rejected their big-bundler funding and instead opted for small donations. (The Times reported the same day that 84 percent of Sanders’ donations are less than $200; by contrast, only 37 percent of Kamala Harris’ donations are.)

That a network of multi-millionaire and billionaire donors would dislike a candidate who not only rejects their funding, but is actively trying to tax them at rates not seen since 1960, would surely be enough reason to explain why these wealthy elites would want to “stop” his nomination. But not to the credulous New York Times, which takes at face value rich donors’ claim to oppose Sanders because they believe he simply can’t defeat Trump:

Mainstream Democrats are increasingly worried that their effort to defeat President Trump in 2020 could be complicated by Mr. Sanders….

“Some in the party still harbor anger over the 2016 race, when he ran against Hillary Clinton, and his ongoing resistance to becoming a Democrat. But his critics are chiefly motivated by a fear that nominating an avowed socialist would all but ensure Mr. Trump a second term.”

For the wealthy, ideology simply doesn’t exist. No, they’re just Very Concerned about fielding the Best Candidate.

Because it would be unseemly to suggest a group of super-rich hedge fund managers, Hollywood producers and CEOs would dislike a candidate who has made a career out of promising to expropriate the bulk of their wealth, we get a faux pragmatism argument. But polls show Sanders defeating Trump with numbers comparable to any other declared candidate—a fact the New York Times never bothers to mention, letting the idea go unchallenged that “socialist” (!!) Sanders is an electoral liability. The simpler, less altruistic motive is simply never entertained.

It’s a variation on the Inexplicable Republican Best Friend trope FAIR previously documented (2/26/19): Instead of assuming that lifelong conservatives may just prefer more conservative politicians, progressive-bashing GOP pundits are propped up as neutral observers simply looking out for the Democratic Party. Just the same, super-wealthy Democratic donors can’t oppose Sanders because they simply prefer more centrist, pro-Wall Street candidates; they must have a sincere, pragmatic concern he would lose the general election.

Throughout the article, the TimesJonathan Martin bizarrely used “mainstream Democrats” and “Democrats” to refer to what is little more than a clique of wealthy donors. “Mainstream Democrats are increasingly worried” he tells us.  “Stopping Mr. Sanders,” he added, “or at least preventing a contentious convention, could prove difficult for Democrats.”

But why would “Democrats” want to “stop Mr. Sanders”? Sanders has a 78 percent favorability rating among Democrats and leads every poll among declared candidates. Martin is, of course, not talking about “Democrats” or “mainstream Democrats”; he’s talking about rich donors. But because it would be vulgar to mention their obvious class interests, they morph into simply “Democrats” without explanation.

Oddly, the New York Times article about the “stop Sanders” movement has three photos, none of which show anyone from the Stop Sanders movement. This is Rufus Gifford’s Twitter image.

The idea that the interests of millionaire film producer Rufus Gifford—who’s heavily quoted in the article as a stand-in for “Democrats”—would run counter to those of the average voter is glossed over entirely. Why would guy who made Daddy Day Care and Doctor Dolittle 2 be given a voice by the Times instead of, say, literally any random person picked off the street?

Martin then advances the curious construction that super-wealthy donors blatantly conspiring to prevent Sanders from winning the nomination––and even resorting to undemocratic superdelegates at the Democratic National Convention to do so—“plays into the hands” of Sanders:

Mr. Gifford, who has gone public in recent days with his dismay over major Democratic fundraisers remaining on the sidelines, said of Mr. Sanders, “I feel like everything we are doing is playing into his hands.”

But doing out in the open the thing Sanders says Democrats do isn’t “playing into his hands”; it’s true that it affirms his core ideological proposition, that the wealthy have too much political power, but what it mainly is is the wealthy using that power against him.

A similar gambit is used when liberal publications hand-wring that Trump and Rubio openly threatening and planning to invade Venezuela “plays into Maduro’s hands,” and that’s why it’s bad. In fact, it’s bad because the things being discussed, invasion and coup-mongering, are bad things—and they’re not “playing into Maduro’s hands,” they’re actual threats to the sovereignty and lives of those in Venezuela.

Trying to distract attention from the sinister thing happening before everyone’s eyes by commenting that it has some meta, second-order effect of increasing left-wing paranoia is an attempt to smear the left for correctly calling the sky blue.

Rich donor broker and Clinton-hatchet man David Brock, in the very last line of the article, attempts this sleight-of-hand again:

“You can see him reading the headlines now,” Mr. Brock mused: “‘Rich people don’t like me.’”

Simply drawing attention to the fact that a bunch of wealthy donors affirms Sanders primary argument for running doesn’t make it go away. It’s a writer’s trick, and one the New York Times passes off without criticism: LOL Isn’t it ironic we’re doing that bad, evil thing Sanders says rich donors do?

Wait, what? No, it’s just bad, in and of itself. The piece is openly floating a conspiracy of wealthy donors seeking to undermine a democratic process, then laughing it off something that could be mistaken for the actual bad thing it is. Meanwhile, the self-evident fact that rich donors dislike Sanders because he runs counter to their interests is ignored in favor of a child-like fantasy that they oppose him simply because they’re looking out for the best interests of the party.

To the Times, the rich have no ideology, no beliefs, no self interest; this is reserved instead for Sanders “embolden[ed],” “fervent supporters,” whose desire to defeat Trump is presented as at best incidental.

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

Featured image: New York Times photograph of Bernie Sanders’ “fervent supporters.” (photo: Lauren Justice)


Scaring Up Division and Hatred


Dear FAIR friends,

Trump’s presidential campaign continues to this day with constant rallies around the country. Corporate media are served up to the audience as targets of abuse from the stage and from the audience.

Yet the same outlets Trump derides as “enemies of the people” continue to boost him— highlighting presidential tweets that scare up division and hatred as news is a dangerous course for corporate media to follow.

Elite media also seem to think that reinterpreting officials’ statements to make them more palatable is part of journalistic professionalism. FAIR recently challenged corporate media to use the words that actually describe what they are reporting:

Calling Racism by Its Real Name
For years, that’s been the deal with corporate media and racism. Actions, policies,
statements and ideas that regular people have no trouble identifying as racist become,
in elite media hands, “racially tinged,” “racially charged,” “race-related.” And if racism
isn’t a thing our famously objective reporters can see, well, maybe it’s not really
out there, right?

Through it all, FAIR continues to challenge the media, calling them out on the real harm that trivial, power-worshipping reporting does to a democracy.

We need to keep doing this work—and we need your help!

Please support us in this work. All donations are appreciated.

 Thanks, Deborah, Janine & Jim


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





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