Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

‘The Decision to Not Combat the Coronavirus Was a Choice’ - CounterSpin interview with Jim Naureckas on Covid-19 resurgence

Janine Jackson interviewed FAIR’s Jim Naureckas about the Covid-19 resurgence for the June 26, 2020, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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AP (6/24/20)

Janine Jackson: AP reports hospitalizations and case loads from the novel coronavirus rising to new highs in several US states. In some places, new cases more than doubled. Only the truly selective listener can avoid accepting that this country’s abject mismanagement and failure of leadership continue to lead to thousands and thousands of avoidable deaths and illnesses. But the US is still pushing to “reopen,” because the people most likely to be harmed have less political clout than those who can more comfortably avoid hazards.

It’s a kind of nightmare playing out in broad daylight, but have corporate media given up on doing more than charting it? How else could they meaningfully intervene?

For an update on the pandemic and media’s coverage of it, we’re joined now in studio by FAIR’s editor Jim Naureckas. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Jim Naureckas.

Jim Naureckas: Thanks for having me back on.

JJ: I think if you just landed from space and skimmed the news media, you’d see places in the country described as in various “phases” of “reopening.” And you would think that, though there might be disagreement about it, the US had essentially weathered the worst, and was moving cautiously toward recovery.

For those who can’t bring themselves to look at the latest information, or who are frankly confused by it, where is the US right now in terms of beating back the pandemic, compared to other places in the world?

91-DIVOC (6/25/20)

JN: It is very striking when you look at the course of the coronavirus in the United States, and you compare it to what’s going on, particularly, in other wealthy countries that have the same kind of resources that the United States has. The contrast between the countries that have brought the spread of coronavirus virtually to a halt and the United States, which, after a slight drop from the worst spread in April, down to a kind of plateau of maybe two-thirds of what we were seeing, is now headed sharply back up, and we will soon—barring some reversal of fortune—be passing up the heights that we reached before, be on uncharted territory of levels of this pandemic.

JJ: It’s just incredible when you see just the images of the trajectory, the line in the US going up and up compared to other countries. It’s frankly heartbreaking and infuriating.

JN: It really does call into question the whole model of US media, which is based on this idea that everyone should be able to read a newspaper and think, “Well, that’s pretty much the way I see the world.” And when you have a political party, that is in power, taking the position that a deadly danger is not really so dangerous, and in fact will fade away without us doing anything about it, to produce news that will allow people with that worldview to say, “Well, yeah, this is speaking for me, this is covering the world as I see it,” to try to mesh that kind of denial into a realistic view of a serious, deadly problem facing the nation—it inevitably produces just confusion, and a completely incomprehensible picture of what’s going on; that is the basis for people saying, “I think that we’ve got this pretty much under control now, and are ready to go about business more or less as usual.” The kind of spike that we’re seeing is the direct consequence of that kind of approach.

FAIR.org (6/24/20)

JJ: When you were here last month, you were taking issue with New York Times reporting on Sweden, as having had apparent success without anything so extreme as a lockdown. Their “experience would seem to argue for less caution, not more,” said that Times piece by Thomas Erdbrink and Christina Anderson. What’s the latest there?

JN: We have looked at Sweden a couple times at FAIR, because it has been offered as this sort of alternative approach to the coronavirus—that, really, you don’t have to take it so seriously, and can let it run its course, and eventually you’ll be immune, you’ll have herd immunity.

This was never borne out by the numbers. When people were saying, “Look how well Sweden has done,” Sweden had not done well at all. I believe when we wrote the first piece on it, it had the tenth-highest per capita death toll in the world, and compared to its neighbors was just looking terrible.

And now, the latest piece that we saw in the New York Times was about how the other Scandinavian countries—Norway, Denmark, Finland—are not letting people from Sweden into their country. And it’s because those countries have basically halted coronavirus, and are now able to resume life more or less as usual, while being careful to look for the stray outbreaks. Whereas Sweden, it’s still running rampant.

And the same writer, Thomas Erdbrink from the New York Times, was writing now about Sweden being shut out of the other countries. And he really made it sound like this had a lot to do with the resentment that other Scandinavian countries feel towards the success of Sweden. And he cited IKEA and Volvo and ABBA as reasons why they are so jealous. And they took seriously this idea that it’s not the fact that, in the case of Finland, they have 1/100th of the amount of new infections as Sweden; I think the closest is Denmark, which has one-twelfth of the infections of Sweden.

And the idea that you would, after you’ve painstakingly driven out this disease, at considerable cost, that you would let people from a country that has really not taken the disease seriously at all, just wander into your country and start new outbreaks, is kind of crazy. But for the New York Times, the reporter, who had been touting Sweden as a model, seemed unwilling to acknowledge just how crazy it would be to let a country that had followed this model wander around your country without restriction.

JJ: Yeah, surely it must just be that ABBA resentment that is driving that conflict. Well, that earlier Times piece described Swedes as “laugh[ing] and bask[ing] in freedoms considered normal in most parts of the world not long ago.” And it’s obvious that some politicians and pundits here think that laughing and basking in freedom is the cure for whatever ails, but it seems like the EU restrictions that we’ve just seen on travel from the United States, that’s gotta throw some kind of cold water on this magical thinking, doesn’t it?

Jim Naureckas: “While we have been acting like we’ve done a good enough job on the coronavirus, and now can get back to what we were doing before, other countries have really taken seriously the fact that they have this deadly pandemic going on.”

JN: Our relationship to the European Union is very much like the relationship of Sweden to the other Scandinavian countries. While we have been acting like we’ve done a good enough job on the coronavirus, and now can get back to what we were doing before, other countries have really taken seriously the fact that they have this deadly pandemic going on, and have brought the spread down to—I don’t think any European country has eliminated it, but they have very much brought new cases down to a trickle. Europe is talking about letting international travel resume, and they’re making lists of the countries that can and can’t send their people to the European Union, and, according to the New York Times, it looks like the United States is definitely going to be on the do not visit list, which, again, it would be nonsensical to have put the effort into controlling this virus, and then let people from a place that has not made a real effort to control it into your country, because a substantial number of people in United States are carrying this virus, and would spread it to their European destinations.

JJ: The pandemic and anti–police violence protests are obviously the megastories of the day, and they do intersect. It’s kind of been kind of a thing going around that we’ve been hearing about; what do you think we should know about the notion of marches and demonstrations as potential virus spreaders?

JN: You do see a lot of people talking about how dangerous it is to protest, and how this is going to inevitably result in a spike in cases. And it really hasn’t; when you look at places like New York; like Minneapolis, Minnesota; the District of Columbia, where there have been a lot of protests, you have not seen a corresponding spike in infections. The places where you have seen big spikes are largely in the South and West, where places have declared it was time to resume normal business operations.

I really think that people underestimate the distinction between outdoor and indoor activities, and activities with masks and without masks; those really do make a huge difference in terms of the danger of spreading the disease.

And also the fact that the number of people involved in an activity makes a great deal of difference. If you’re talking about something that a few percent of the population is doing, it’s obviously going to have a much smaller impact on the trajectory of the infection than something that most of the population is doing.

But when you see people doing something that you don’t like, there’s a tendency to think, “Oh, well, that’s a thing that they shouldn’t be doing anyway. If there’s any risk at all, it’s too much risk.” And people really need to be thinking more probabilistically. Are you really increasing your chances of spreading the virus, compared to what you would be doing in your everyday life? And how many people are doing it?

Which is why I think the most dangerous thing that people can be doing is going back to work, because it’s generally done indoors. Most places, it’s done without masks. And it’s something that you do eight hours a day, five days a week, and it has the potential to really create a huge spike in cases of Covid if we stop working remotely and start congregating in offices again.

There was an interesting study that came out, talking about the economic impact of the coronavirus, and noting that the people who are hardest hit by this are poor people, whose jobs very seldom allow them to work from home, and particularly poor people who work in rich neighborhoods, because the rich people are able to isolate, are taking this disease seriously, and not going out to the places they would have been going out to. And so the much poorer people who work in those places are economically very badly hit.

New York Times (6/25/20)

JJ: Finally, I incline toward the skeptical, but I balked at the New York Times interactive feature that they had up on June 25; not the content of the feature itself, but the headline, “How the Virus Won.” There’s certainly been a tragedy of missed opportunities, but it can’t be that there’s nothing we can do now, or that media could do now?

JN: There is this assumption that, as Ned Flanders’ parents said, “We’ve tried nothing, and we’re all out of ideas.” The decision to not have a serious national strategy to combat the coronavirus, that was a choice. We decided that we were not going to do what it took to actually stop it, and instead, try to mitigate the spread of it, slow down the spread of it so it doesn’t overwhelm our healthcare system.

If you don’t stop the virus, it will eventually spread to virtually the entire population. People think that 70, 80% of people will get infected. The disease has something like a 0.5 to 1% fatality rate. When you do the math, you are talking about millions of people, in the United States alone, dying from the coronavirus. That is the implication of a strategy that does not try to stop the virus. And I think we’ve never had an actual conversation about whether a seven-figure death toll is something that we’re willing to accept or not.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Jim Naureckas, he’s the editor at FAIR.org. Jim Naureckas, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

JN: Thanks for having me on.


For Politico, ‘Objectivity’ Means Asking Only Arms Industry Sources About an Arms Industry Endorsement


Journalists often cling to the idea of objectivity as the key to their credibility. New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet, for instance, defends his insistence on not calling Donald Trump a racist, or not calling out right-wing lies, because doing so would supposedly undermine the paper’s claim to objectivity, and therefore the impact of its reporting; his aim, he told a Times reporter in an interview (The Daily, 1/31/20; Press Watch, 1/31/20), is “sophisticated, true objectivity.”

FAIR has argued against this idea over and over again, and today we offer yet another example of the impossibility of objectivity, and the ways in which media’s explicit or tacit claims to it in fact produce subjective interpretations of events.

The head of a major arms industry group—the Aerospace Industries Association that represents companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon— recently announced his personal endorsement of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. As a news outlet, how do you report this story? Who do you interview about it?

Once you put news about the US military under the heading “Defense,” you’re already selling propaganda (Politico, 6/29/20).

We have Politico‘s answer (6/29/20) in a piece yesterday under the headline, “The Head of the AIA Endorsed Biden for President. Will That Create Problems?”

You might read that and think, “Sure, that could create problems, since most people are against endless war and endlessly increasing budgets for the military/industrial complex.”

You’d be right (see, e.g., The Nation, 6/6/20)—but you wouldn’t be thinking like a Politico reporter.

Politico aspires to be an essential Beltway media outlet; it advertises itself as aiming to “create, inform and engage a global citizenry,” but also to “inform the powerful, particularly those who have a political, professional or financial stake in politics and policy.”

Like the Times‘ Baquet, Politico‘s editorial leadership boasts of its objectivity. At a 2019 event (Daily Trojan, 4/17/19), Politico editor Carrie Budoff Brown told her audience:

None of us are not biased. I know that. I’m not asking people to curb all of their feelings, but I do want them to bring objectivity to [reporting]….

I want everyone to look at the media and believe it’s a credible institution. I’m trying to do my part. There’s a time and a place for expression [and] opinion, and I think if you’re a reporter at Politico, you know what our jam is.

In other words, you’re unlikely to find a Politico reporter who hasn’t drunk the objectivity Kool-Aid. But you start running into problems with “objectivity” before a word is even written, because by calling the section in which it publishes the story “Defense,” Politico has already adopted the propagandistic military/industrial term for our overwhelmingly offensive military force.

With that kind of starting point, perhaps it’s no surprise that the piece looks exclusively within the industry for comment, letting sources from the for-profit arms business frame the story. Thus the potential “problem,” reporter Jacqueline Feldscher explained, is that “defense companies and lobbyists” worry that the “trade group may not be able to represent their interests to the Trump administration.” This, according to her “interviews with 10 industry officials, lobbyists, staffers and experts.”

But what about those opposed to the influence of the military industry on our elections, and on our political system more broadly? For such sources, the obvious questions the endorsement raises would be about how it might influence Biden’s military policy, and perhaps whether such an endorsement would be demotivating for antiwar voters in Biden’s voter base. At the very least, some kind of reference to Biden’s military policy and political record would seem to be pertinent to the story—but no such information can be found in Feldscher’s version.

Politico might argue that such a framing would be for its “Election” news section—except there’s no such article there, nor does siloing news in that way serve any purpose but to shield the “defense” industry from voices it presumably doesn’t want to hear. And so the “powerful” people Politico seeks to inform—as well as the broader “global citizenry” it gestures toward—are left with the impression that such political endorsements have no implications worth considering outside of those directly affecting the military industry, and that the only opinions worth considering on this issue are those of members of that industry.

Feldscher didn’t write about her personal feelings on the issue, sure. But that doesn’t make this kind of reporting anything approaching “objective”—which is exactly Politico‘s jam.

Featured image: Screengrab from the Aerospace Industries Association website.

Bombing People Is Not Feminist, No Matter How You Spin It


Fox News (6/12/20) noted that Capt. Emily “Thompson had an all-female maintenance crew to launch her historic flight.”

Have you heard the good news, ladies? You too can bomb the Middle East!

Some corporate media have recently been taken with the “inspirational” story of Emily Thompson, the first woman to pilot the super-costly F-35 jet in combat. At an unspecified time earlier this month, Thompson took off from her base in the United Arab Emirates to bomb an unnamed country.

The New York Post (6/13/20) described her as “breaking the glass ceiling—at lightning speed.” Other outlets used the words “historic” (Fox News, 6/12/20), “awesome” (Australian, 6/15/20) and “empowering” (Jerusalem Post, 6/11/20) to describe the event. “What an inspiration,” concluded Unilad (6/12/20).

Thompson’s ground crew was also all-female, a number of outlets reported, with the International Business Times (6/13/20) including a quote from her bomb loader, telling young girls: “Be confident and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because you can.”

The story was picked up primarily in the military press (e.g.,Task and Purpose, 6/10/20; Air Force Times, 6/11/20) and in more conservative media (Breitbart, 6/13/20; Epoch Times, 6/16/20), with notable right-wing figures like Ivanka Trump (Twitter, 6/14/20) and Fox anchor Martha MacCallum (Twitter, 6/15/20) hailing the event as a step forward for women.

Many of the reports gave background about Thompson’s life, the cost of the F-35 and other military matters. But none questioned whether this was really a victory for equality, nor the ethics of nearly two decades of continuous US warfare and occupation in the region. The effect was to use the language of social justice to cloak the violence of wars in the Middle East, which were started under false pretexts (FAIR.org, 3/19/07, 7/6/16) and have killed huge numbers of women, men and children.

CNBC (1/16/19) reported that after Gina Haspel became director of the CIA, the agency “celebrated its progress towards gender parity.” Haspel was confirmed by the Senate despite overseeing torture and destroying evidence of the CIA’s torture program (FAIR.org, 6/6/19).

While Thompson’s story was primarily retold by conservative media, outlets with more liberal audiences have also put a progressive face on inherently violent, oppressive institutions. Last  year, CNBC (1/16/19) essentially presented the CIA as a feminist institution, now that women head its key directorates for the first time, while many outlets (ABC News, 7/13/18; LA Times, 8/8/18; The Week, 1/2/19; MSNBC, 1/3/20) cheered the news that four of the five largest weapons manufacturers were headed by female CEOs.

Politico (1/2/19) described the news women now headed the major weapon-producing corporations  as a “watershed” moment in what “has always been a male-dominated bastion.” Women “knocked down” the barriers of machismo, the outlet declared, quoting individuals who praised the defense industry as a “meritocracy” that now “generally rewards high performers regardless of color or creed or gender.” The piece, headlined “How Women Took Over the Military/Industrial Complex,” included a section entitled “questioning orthodoxy,” but at no point did it examine the unstated Washington orthodoxy that endless wars are necessary, a premise that industry depends on.

The term “military/industrial complex” was popularized by President Dwight Eisenhower in his farewell address to the nation, where he warned that weapons contractors were beginning to dictate state policy for their own benefit:

Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government…we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military/industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

That this structure still exists, reaping untold violence across the world, only it is now headed by women, is hardly a step forward for feminism, which is about the emancipation of billions from an oppressive system that hurts everyone.

Featured image: MSNBC graphic (1/3/20) celebrating female heads of weapon-making corporations and military agencies.

Corporate Media Looks to Purveyors of State Violence Abroad to Condemn State Violence at Home


Anti-racist protests have swept across the country over the past month, demanding justice for George Floyd, police accountability and the defunding of law enforcement.

In response to these uprisings, President Donald Trump publicly toyed with the idea of deploying active-duty military to American cities—a proposal that most corporate media, with a few glaring exceptions, have condemned as an abuse of power.

However, when we look at who media have called upon to denounce the Trump administration’s response, a revealing pattern emerges. Rather than providing a platform for protesters, who were met by heavily armed law enforcement toting chemical agents and flashbang grenades, media decided to turn to the enforcers of state violence abroad: the US national security apparatus. Several outlets asked current and former intelligence officials to weigh in on Trump’s response, utilizing their testimony to equate the crackdowns with those in other countries:

  • Washington Post (6/2/20): “CIA Veterans Who Monitored Crackdowns Abroad See Troubling Parallels in Trump’s Handling of Protests”
  • Independent (6/2/20): “I Asked Police, Veterans and a Former CIA Agent What They Think of Trump’s Response to the Protests. Even They Are Horrified.”
  • International Business Times (6/3/20): “George Floyd White House Protest: Donald Trump Acting Like Dictator During Racial Tensions, Intelligence and Defense Officials Warn.”

These articles are correct in pointing out that Trump’s militarized suppression of dissent at home has “troubling parallels” with authoritarian crackdowns abroad. The testimony of US state officials, especially former ones, can aid the public in taking cognizance of these parallels, given that they are responsible for enforcing similar crackdowns around the world. But because media present these sources uncritically and refuse to include vital context, they fail to examine our own empire, and ultimately make all the wrong connections.

Whitewashing war on dissent

The Washington Post (6/2/20) quotes “current and former U.S. intelligence officials” on the “similarity between events at home and the signs of decline or democratic regression they were trained to detect in other nations.”

In response to the Trump administration’s handling of the protests, the Post article includes a quote from Marc Polymeropoulos, who spent 26 years in the CIA:

“It reminded me of what I reported on for years in the Third World,” Polymeropoulos said on Twitter. Referring to the despotic leaders of Iraq, Syria and Libya, he said: “Saddam. Bashar. Qaddafi. They all did this.”

While it’s true that Trump’s response has been militant, these articles present this reaction as a disturbing departure from otherwise morally sound US leadership throughout history. Trump may be the first US president to tweet the words, “When the looting starts, the shootings starts,” but despite media’s historical amnesia, violent government crackdowns on anti-racist protests in the US have always been the norm, not the exception.

Take, for example, the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, which targeted thousands of activists through tactics like psychological warfare, blackmail and assasination. Or when the Philadelphia Police Department dropped a bomb on a residential neighborhood in order to disband a Black liberation group, killing nearly a dozen people and leaving hundreds of residents homeless. More recently, the FBI’s counterterrorism division has labeled “Black identity extremists” as a domestic terror threat, due to their “perceptions of police brutality against African Americans.”

By relying on CIA testimony, media shift the focus away from the tyranny in our own backyard in favor of pointing fingers at the “despotic leaders” of “the Third World”—never mind the fact that the US has no qualms with oppressive leadership in the Middle East when it aligns with our interests, as evidenced by our alliance with Saudi Arabia.

The International Business Times (6/3/20) cites a former CIA officer who “likened Trump’s rhetoric and behavior to that of Saddam Hussein, Bashar Assad and Moammar Gadhafi.”

The articles by the Post and International Business Times both include a quote from Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who tweeted, in response to Trump’s crackdowns on protests: “As a former CIA officer, I know this playbook.” Her tweet goes on to compare his actions to those “undertaken by authoritarian regimes throughout the world.”

Of course Spanberger, as a former CIA official, knows this playbook—it’s one that the CIA practically wrote themselves. In 1973, it sponsored a coup that overthrew Chile’s democratically elected socialist government, installing the autocratic Augusto Pinochet, who rounded up, tortured and executed thousands of political dissidents. The CIA also opposed democratic forces in Zaire and backed the corrupt dictator Mobutu, whose decades-long regime regularly tortured and murdered its critics. And in the early 2010s, the Pentagon armed and trained Turkish mercenary forces, who went on to commit a litany of war crimes, including beheading Kurds in Northern Syria.

But the Post presents Spanberger’s intimate knowledge of this “playbook” as a result of her experience “monitoring democratic regression” and “societal unraveling” in the Global South. Another CIA analyst, Gail Helt, is described as “responsible for tracking developments in China and Southeast Asia.”

Nowhere in these articles is there any admission that the US national security apparatus does not just “track developments” abroad—it also plays a monumental role in shaping those developments, often using the same tactics of brutality and repression they claim to oppose.

Endless wars come home

By looking to state agents for moral authority and failing to provide any context that would impugn the CIA’s legitimacy, media espouses US imperialism by default, and reaffirms the chauvinistic belief that we have the right to impose our will on other countries by any means necessary.

The Post includes a quote from Brett McGurk, who helped institutionalize America’s bloody imperial occupation of Iraq, and pushed for the euphemistic “surge” which saw an additional 30 thousand US troops deployed to Iraq in 2007:

“The imagery of a head of state in a call with other governing officials saying, ‘Dominate the streets, dominate the battlespace’ — these are iconic images that will define America for some time,” said McGurk…. “It makes it much more difficult for us to distinguish ourselves from other countries we are trying to contest” or influence, he said.

But whether or not the US has ever had the credibility required to shape other countries’ policies—let alone present ourselves as a model of freedom and democracy—remains largely unexamined.

This is especially evident in the piece by Post, which claims that the Trump administration’s response characterized “US cities as a foreign war zone” and includes an anecdote about a US intelligence official “venturing into downtown Washington…as if taking measure of the street-level mood in a foreign country.”

The Independent (6/2/20) quotes a veteran of the Iraq and Afghan wars saying that repressive techniques are meant to be used “against enemy insurgents overseas, not Americans protesting on the streets of Washington.”

The Independent describes “helicopters with US Army markings flying low over protesters,” a technique that one of the pilots they interviewed says is “for use against enemy insurgents overseas, not Americans protesting on the streets of Washington.”

In other words, when Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper urged governors to “dominate the battlespace” to end the unrest in cities, it was wrong only because he was talking about American cities.

The Independent article later includes a quote from ex–CIA officer Patrick Skinner, who has previously provided valuable insight into the ways that fascist maneuvers abroad inevitably make their way home. Skinner correctly condemns a dangerous “mentality among police that they are soldiers in a ‘war on crime.’”

If media had any real interest in exposing the reciprocity between urban policing at home and counterinsurgency abroad, as these articles supposedly propose, this would have been a good time for them to delve into the many ways in which the American carceral state and our endless wars in the Middle East are intrinsically connected.

Perhaps they could include that the tactic used to murder George Floyd—the knee on the neck—was imported by the Israeli Defense Forces, who are bankrolled by the US and frequently provide training for American cops, including those in Minnesota. (As many have pointed out, there are stark parallels between the police murder of George Floyd and the police murder of Iyad Halak, an unarmed, autistic Palestinian man whose killing has sparked protests in Jerusalem.)

Or media could mention other tactics that police, many of whom are military veterans, have picked up over years of continuous warfare: the use of torture to get confessions, stop- and-frisk searches targeting blacks and Latinos, and invasive surveillance techniques aimed at Muslim residents. Also relevant is the fact that, since the 1990s, the military has given police departments billions of dollars worth of surplus equipment—including tanks, grenade launchers and assault weapons—with a requirement that they make use of it within a year.

When done right, international analysis in times of domestic upheaval can shed light on the shared, global struggle for liberation against US occupation and militarism—a movement which spans from Minneapolis to Palestine.

But, as is inevitable when they uncritically look to the CIA for “expertise” on freedom and human rights, media come to an entirely different conclusion: It’s normal, necessary and perhaps even noble—after all, it is in the name of democracy—for our military tanks to line the streets of the Middle East. But when those same military tanks invade DC, New York or Minneapolis, they’ve gone too far.

Sidelining activists to uplift the state

This reliance on state agents to shape the narrative is also a staple of network Sunday morning political talk shows. In the two weeks after the police murder of George Floyd, FAIR analyzed every episode of ABC’s This Week, CBS’s Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press. Across all networks, only one show featured an interview with someone affiliated with Black Lives Matter in its coverage of the protests. However, every network found time to interview current and former members of the US national security apparatus, resulting in 12 appearances altogether.

Among these guests was Chad Wolf, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who was asked to weigh in on the protests by ABC’s This Week (6/7/20) and Fox News Sunday (6/7/20). He spoke in support of Trump’s call to send active-duty troops to quell the uprisings—a predictable stance, given that, as one of the architects of the family separation policy, Wolf’s response to undocumented migration has been to take at least 4,000 children away from their parents and imprison them in cages. Despite this horrifying resume, NBC and Fox still saw it fit to give him a platform on national television to share his thoughts on state violence.

CNN‘s Jake Tapper (5/31/20) interviews the National Security Council’s Robert O’Brien.

One of the guests featured on CNN’s State of the Union (5/31/20) was Robert O’Brien, the US National Security advisor, who has long defended the  indefensible—including Trump’s pardon of war criminals, and the assassination of Iranian military leader Qassem Solemani. Like Wolf, he denied the irrefutable fact that US law enforcement is intertwined with systematic racism—a declaration that was barely challenged by CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Only moments after defending Trump’s militaristic response to the uprisings, O’Brien favorably compared the US attitude towards the protests with other countries: “That’s the difference between us and our foreign adversaries. We’re going to allow people to protest.” Given that the US has arrested at least 10,000 protesters (AP, 6/4/20), this seems like a dubious distinction.

This is not to say there’s no value in interviewing former intelligence officials; some have provided valuable insight on the military/industrial complex, and many have provided critical information as whistleblowers.

Much more frequently, however, these interviews serve only to legitimize US authoritarianism abroad and whitewash state violence at home. As protesters take to the streets, facing tear gas, rubber bullets and arrest for demanding change, perhaps instead of uplifting the voices of state officials, media should hand the microphone to the people.








Jim Naureckas on Covid’s Preventable Nightmare, Clare Garvie on Police Facial Recognition

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(Chart: 91-DIVOC)

This week on CounterSpin: It’s hard to understand how journalists can report Donald Trump’s repeated claim that the US should do less coronavirus testing because “with smaller testing, we would show fewer cases!” without following up with “and that’s why we’re calling for his resignation.” Trump’s bizarre delusions on Covid-19 aren’t just bats in his attic; they’ve driven a response that is nothing short of disastrous. He’s backing up the no test/no disease fallacy, for instance, by cutting funding for testing sites around the country, a move that, Talking Points Memo reports, local officials met with a “mixture of frustration, resignation and horror.” We’ll get an update on the preventable Covid nightmare, and US media’s approach to it, from FAIR editor Jim Naureckas.

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(image: Center on Privacy & Technology)

Also on the show: As public protests against racist police violence grow, so too does law enforcement’s capacity to criminalize that protest—including with the use of tools like facial recognition technology, which is almost certainly more prevalent and more meaningful to you than you realize. Police have access to millions of images, from social media, from cameras on the street, from drivers licenses—but little transparency about how they’re using them, and few rules for how they should. We’ll talk about that with Clare Garvie, senior associate with the Center for Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law.

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CNN’s Portrayal of North Korea as Lawless Aggressor Reverses Reality


The Grayzone’s Ben Norton (5/4/20) once observed that there is

no other country on Earth lied about more than North Korea. Western corporate media outlets have absolutely zero editorial standards when reporting on the country.

FAIR (7/6/17, 6/10/19, 4/29/20) has repeatedly pointed out how coverage of North Korea epitomizes the way corporate media’s editorial standards drop as official US hostility towards a country rises—what Adam Johnson dubbed the North Korea Law of Journalism. Not only does Western media coverage of North Korea traffic in obvious falsehoods and unverifiable claims, it’s also exceptionally vindictive, to the point of sadism.

CNN (6/9/20) declares North Korea to be in “violation of international law” by selling sand.

CNN’s headline “North Korea Might Be Making Millions—and Breaking Sanctions—Selling Sand. Yes, Sand” (6/9/20) is clearly intended to get its audience to laugh at North Korea, mocking it for exporting a commodity Westerners take for granted. The missing context is that this is a country that has been intentionally impoverished by a decades-long siege by the most powerful country on Earth, which has never forgiven Pyongyang for refusing to submit to the US’s brutal domination of the Korean peninsula after World War II.

CNN’s report, written by Joshua Berlinger, was based on findings that North Korea has been involved in a “massive operation allegedly worth millions of dollars involving 279 ships which appeared to be skirting international sanctions.” The findings were from the Washington-based Center for Advanced Defense Studies, described as “a nonprofit that analyzes and investigates security issues using big data.” It was observing North Korea, the story said, because

Pyongyang has been accused of selling coal and other valuable goods, sometimes in very big quantities, on the high seas to get around the prying eyes of customs officers, who must enforce United Nations sanctions on North Korea.

For CNN, the punchline of this cruel joke is that these North Korean ships were being used to “dredge and transport sand.”

Sand ‘may seem innocuous’

CNN (6/9/20) presents evidence that North Korea continues to engage in economic activity despite the West’s best efforts to starve the country.

CNN’s report stressed that although “Pyongyang has seemingly cashed in on the sand trade for years,” and that exporting sand “may seem innocuous,” it’s a crime for North Korea to do so because it is “barred from exporting earth and stone under United Nations sanctions passed in December 2017.” For CNN, the mere possibility of North Korea’s economy and its people becoming slightly more prosperous by selling sand is unacceptable: “It’s up to individual countries to uphold UN sanctions,” the network exhorted, because “the international body doesn’t have an enforcement arm.” CNN presented North Korea’s sand trade as an effective get-rich-quick scheme, noting that a UN investigation found North Korea to have “raked in at least $22 million last year.”

On a national scale, $22 million is a trifle—0.1% of North Korea’s GDP of $18 billion. If we compare that paltry sum to South Korea’s GDP of $1.69 trillion or the US’s $21.2 trillion, then it becomes clear how vindictive and cruel it is to advocate relentless enforcement of UN sanctions on exporting sand (a key ingredient in concrete, glass and processors), which is not nearly as objectionable as selling weapons to countries committing war crimes. In 2019, the US exported $531 million in sand as the world’s top sand exporter, yet that is not worthy of ridicule to CNN.

Felix Abt, a Swiss entrepreneur who served as a pointperson for investments in North Korea for seven years, and headed Pyongsu, North Korea’s first foreign-invested pharmaceutical company, wrote a memoir that described repeatedly witnessing the effects of draconian US and UN sanctions on North Korea. They  prevented the country, Abt wrote, from doing necessary things like rebuilding water supply and drainage systems, hindering imports of mechanical parts and fuel to operate agricultural machinery, and causing electrical shortages that are “the largest bottleneck to any industrial development of North Korea.” He also noted that less than 20% of North Korea’s land is arable—which makes it heavily dependent on food imports, like his native Switzerland—yet illegal unilateral US sanctions compounded the damage caused by droughts, floods and the collapse of major trading partners like the USSR, causing between 500,000-600,000 deaths by starvation in North Korea during the 1990s (Al-Jazeera, 3/27/14). CNN calling for stricter enforcement in light of what have historically been genocidal sanctions—which are still causing harm to the North Korean people—is especially callous.

Yet CNN doesn’t seem to think it worthwhile to question the justice and legality of UN sanctions on North Korea; the report makes it seem as if only North Korea considers UN sanctions to be “hostile acts,” or “questions their legitimacy.”

Rogue state

Despite frequent US accusations, echoed by corporate media, of North Korea being a “rogue state” threatening the US and its allies like South Korea and Japan with nuclear weapons, the truth is the reverse: North Korea has generally been adhering to international law, while the US and the UN Security Council have been the ones acting outside their legal prerogative by arbitrarily sanctioning North Korea for acquiring nuclear weapons.

In violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) forbidding nuclear weapons states from using the “threat or use of force” against other nations “in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations,” the US has ceaselessly threatened North Korea with destruction by nuclear or conventional arms, from the Korean War to recent years (FAIR.org, 9/27/17). The NPT allows a member country to withdraw if “it decides that extraordinary events” have “jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.” Although North Korea initially joined the NPT in 1985 as a way to protect itself from US aggression, a North Korean diplomat explained that the country withdrew from the NPT in 2003 following the US’s illegal invasion of Iraq, which occurred after the US placed North Korea and Iraq on a hit list of “Axis of Evil” countries to be eliminated.

North Korean diplomat Ri Yong Ho explained that the UN Security Council lacks the authority to punish North Korea for beginning to test nuclear weapons in 2006, nor are there any international treaties forbidding the testing of ballistic missiles, because every single permanent member of the UN Security Council would also be in violation of it. North Korea was not bound by the NPT’s terms when it began testing, and therefore cannot be guilty of violating it.

Political analyst Stephen Gowans pointed out in Patriots, Traitors and Empires that if the UN Security Council actually possessed the authority to forbid North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons, there would be no need for the NPT, as the Security Council could simply issue edicts forbidding any other state, aside from its permanent members, from acquiring them.

The Security Council cannot compel countries to abide by the terms of treaties they refuse to be a part of. This is why India, Israel and Pakistan are not being punished for having nuclear weapons, despite not being part of the NPT. This might also be why Ri noted that the UN Secretariat had been ignoring North Korea’s requests to organize a forum of international law experts to assess the legality of Security Council resolutions against them, when he gave his remarks criticizing the hypocrisy of singling North Korea out for sanctions on missile tests other countries are free to conduct.

Spoiling reconciliation

CNN (6/16/20) sees North Korea’s destruction of an empty building as a “turning point” in relations between North and South—rather, than, say, South Korea’s resumption of military exercises with the United States that are designed to simulate an attack against the North.

However, reports like CNN’s “North Korea Blows Up Liaison Office in Kaesong Used for Talks With South” (6/16/20) continue to reverse reality by portraying North Korea, rather than the US (FAIR.org, 2/14/18, 3/15/18), as the aggressor spoiling all efforts at reconciliation between the Koreas. CNN’s choice of headline is problematic, giving no hint that North Korea was responding to aggression from South Korea and the US, rather than acting spontaneously with no rationale.

The article did note that North Korea “framed its decision” to blow up an empty building within its borders as “a retaliatory measure after a group of defectors used balloons to send anti–North Korean leaflets north of the DMZ.” But CNN omitted the fact that US conservative groups are paying these defectors to launch these balloons, against the wishes of locals residing near the DMZ (Hankyoreh, 6/15/20, 6/16/20).

CNN also reported that “the destruction of a building meant to facilitate dialogue” is “highly symbolic,” and “may mark a turning point in relations between two countries that had committed themselves to ‘a new era of peace’ fewer than three years ago.” Why does CNN consider this action to be a “turning point” in relations between the Koreas, rather than previous actions by South Korea and the US? How come CNN frames North Korea’s demolition of an empty building as an attempt to “manufacture a crisis,” rather than a nonlethal way to highlight the genuine crisis caused by punitive sanctions?

Not to mention the annual joint war games by the US and South Korea which simulate an invasion and occupation of the North, including assassination of the country’s leadership as well as nuking the North? Last year, North Korea ended its self-imposed moratorium on ballistic missile tests after the US and South Korea conducted their Dong Maeng invasion simulations (FAIR.org, 9/20/19).

These are all longstanding attempts to stunt North Korea’s economic growth and engineer its collapse by pressuring North Korea to divert money from social spending into military spending. They also violate the agreement the South’s Moon Jae-in and the North’s Kim Jong-un made in 2018 to cease “all hostile acts and eliminating their means,” yet only the distribution of propaganda leaflets is presented as a possible violation. One possibility is that CNN considers ceaselessly threatening the North’s destruction and harming North Korean livelihoods with collective economic punishment a desirable status quo, rather than a “crisis” to be solved.

Bastion of freedom

Outlawing a political party and expelling its representatives from parliament (New York Times, 12/19/14) is odd behavior for a country described by CNN (6/16/20) as a “liberal democracy which prizes freedom of speech.”

When CNN isn’t busy reversing reality by presenting North Korea, a country whose entire military budget is less than the NYPD’s, and less than a tenth of South Korea’s, as a serious “threat,” it also falsely presents South Korea as a bastion of freedom.

CNN points out that it’s “illegal for average North Koreans to consume information that is not approved by the country’s powerful propaganda machine,” which can result in “dire consequences,” and contrasts South Korea as a “liberal democracy which prizes freedom of speech.” In reality, South Korea has a totalitarian law, the National Security Act, which authorizes the monitoring and censoring of information that is deemed to be “pro-North,” which can result in deportation, imprisonment and torture, and was used to execute political prisoners back when South Korea was a fascist military dictatorship supported by the US.

In 2014, the National Security Act was invoked to dissolve the United Progressive Party and imprison its leaders for being too “pro-North,” and for its left-wing politics (New York Times, 12/19/14). It’s unclear how fair it is to describe South Korea as a “liberal democracy” when it can outlaw political parties and criminalize political beliefs.

Western propaganda on North Korea ingeniously reverses cause and effect, and effectively blames the North for the consequences of the US and the South’s aggression. When an international siege campaign impoverishes the North and causes mass starvation, US propagandists sadistically mock the North for selling sand, calling it a “rogue state” that “starves its own people.” When North Korea acquires nuclear weapons, legally according to international law, in response to illegal threats from countries with overwhelming military superiority, outlets like CNN portray North Korea as the lawless and dangerous aggressor.


‘You’re Not Allowed to Read Transgender People Out of Protection Because You Dislike Them’ - CounterSpin interview with Ezra Young on LGBT ruling


Janine Jackson interviewed attorney Ezra Young about the Supreme Court’s LGBTQ ruling for the June 19, 2020, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: The Supreme Court ruled this week that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects people from job discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity. In other words, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against a worker because of their sexual orientation or their transgender status.

That might sound like basic fairness, but the ruling was reported as a surprise, given the court’s conservative majority. So how did it happen, and how far reaching are the repercussions?

Ezra Young is a civil rights attorney whose litigation and scholarship center on trans rights. He joins us now by phone from Brooklyn. Welcome to CounterSpin, Ezra Young.

Ezra Young: Hi, thanks for having me, Janine.

JJ: We’ll talk about arguments and impact, but first, I wondered: What was just your initial professional and/or personal reaction to the court’s ruling on Monday?

Ezra Young: “Generally applicable nondiscrimination laws protect everyone, including unpopular groups, including, in this specific instance, LGBT people; and we’re not going to read extratextual exceptions into them.”

EY: Personally and professionally, I felt vindicated for several reasons. Firstly, I’m transgender, I’m also bisexual. And this is obviously a landmark opinion. It affirms that generally applicable nondiscrimination laws protect everyone, including unpopular groups, including, in this specific instance, LGBT people; and we’re not going to read extratextual exceptions into them.

That’s huge. That’s tremendous. And as you said, Janine, for this court in particular, it’s somewhat surprising that they would come down on the side that they have. Professionally, I’ve worked the last eight years of my life pretty narrowly on sex discrimination laws, specifically as to transgender people, litigating and writing about why these laws do protect transgender people in a lot of different instances, and most of my cases have been Title VII cases, so this is a great thing to see.

JJ: Listeners will know that this was two sets of cases: two suits from gay men who had been fired because of that, Bostock and Zarda, and then Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, which was the gender identity case brought by Aimee Stephens, who was fired when she told her employer that she was transitioning. So what, simply put, was the argument that the court wound up supporting 6-to-3?

EY: The opinion written by Justice Gorsuch essentially says that the court is going to read the statute as written. The statute says employers may not discriminate on account of a number of different statuses, one of them is “sex.” It doesn’t really say what “sex” is; there are a few examples, many of which pertain to pregnancy discrimination, because of other cases. But literally, it just says whatever sex discrimination is, it’s prohibited in employment.

So most of Justice Gorsuch’s opinion tries to reason out how they could figure out what Congress meant or didn’t mean in 1964, and a good chunk of the opinion goes into what I think is very important, both in this case and other cases: how we cannot import old historical biases that may have existed when a statute was passed, and read those into a statute if Congress didn’t write them in. Meaning, maybe Congress didn’t like transgender people or gay people or lesbians or bisexuals in 1964; that’s probably true. But because they didn’t write in that exception to the statute in express words, that can’t carry the day; we have to just read the statute as written.

California Law Review (3/20)

JJ: Not to say I told you so, but you did kind of tell us so, actually. Remembering that we are laypeople, what led you to say in your California Law Review piece in March, that if Harris—that’s Aimee Stephens’ case—were to be won, that it would come down to that textual reading that you’ve just described, saying we’re not talking about intent; we’re talking about the words on the page, and that it would come down to Gorsuch?

EY: This is something that a lot of legal scholars and laypeople equally have gotten wrong for a very long time—and I mean a long time, basically for the last 40, 50 years. A lot of people have assumed that ideologically conservative judges and justices would be against recognizing protection for transgender people, as well as LGB people, under Title VII. But actually in the court decisions since the 1970s, and since these cases first started coming up, it’s actually been the ideological conservative judges who have pushed the idea that LGBT people are protected…which, it sounds baffling, right? I realize that.

So the first circuit case to go up in the 1970s in the Ninth Circuit, which is known for being a fairly liberal jurisdiction, it was the two liberal judges on that panel who said that the transgender person wasn’t protected. It was a Nixon appointee—Judge Goodwin, who is not liberal by any means—who wrote a pretty lengthy dissent. The language is a little bit wonky because it’s from the 1970s, but it more or less tracks what Justice Gorsuch wrote in his opinion just a few days ago—more or less just says, “There’s no exception here. We have to read the text as written. This might be weird, this might scare us, this might be odd to some people, but those are fact issues, and those aren’t really relevant to what the law says.”

And again and again and again, very, very conservative judges—another example is Judge Pryor from the Eleventh Circuit, also very, very conservative—have come out in favor of transgender people.

Now, Justice Gorsuch in particular? Overlooked at the time he was nominated, by many people: Justice Gorsuch, then Judge Gorsuch in 2009, in a Ninth Circuit opinion, he sat by designation because there was a gap in a panel, sat on a case much like Harris, it was a transgender woman who was fired for being a transgender woman. And though the opinion’s per curiam, which means no judge signed their name to it—sometimes that just happens, doesn’t really mean anything—but that opinion was written in a tone that looks like Justice Gorsuch, and more or less came to the same reason that he came to this week in Bostock: There’s no exception to transgender coverage; it doesn’t say that in the text, so we’re not going to find an exception. Pretty, pretty big thing in 2009. My thinking was, if he was willing to go that far in 2009, which I think was the right decision, I don’t see why in 2020, he’d go back on that. If nothing, he’s pretty principled, he sticks to his guns. I don’t always agree with him on a variety of issues, but he doesn’t just flip-flop on case to case. So that’s much of what I guess went into my reasoning.

JJ: Maybe it’s worth spelling out what we’re talking about when we talk about the plain textual reading of Title VII, of sex discrimination. The court seemed to be saying, “If you’re trying to discriminate against a lesbian, you will say, ‘Well, she’s dating a woman!’ If she were a man, would that be a problem? No? Well, then, it’s sex discrimination.”  It really is kind of straight along those—straight!—it really is along that line, that simple, essentially.

EY: Yeah, essentially. And the vast majority of courts to ever hear these cases have come out in that way. And that’s something else that’s sort of a lost history in Title VII litigation. This might be a political football right now—well, maybe no longer after Monday—but for decades and decades and decades, the vast majority of judges to hear these cases, regardless of what party appointed them, regardless of their personal beliefs and religious affiliations, any of those things, the vast majority of judges thought this way. This is not a controversial stance, legally.

Washington Post (6/15/20)

JJ: The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin wrote that this ruling reminds us that:

While we might be slow in getting there and are diverted time and again, Americans can eventually be prevailed upon to come down on the side of fairness, equality, inclusion and simple human decency.

That sounds nice and everything, but it makes it sound as though the expansion of civil rights is like water running downhill, with the implication that we can do something other than fight tooth and nail every day for it. What do you make of that?

EY: Well, I think that’s one way to look at it, maybe a century from now, when it does seem so obvious, when we haven’t actually lived the day-to-day struggles of what it took to get this opinion, right? This took decades upon decades of scholars; of workers, everyday workers, standing up for their rights; lawyers like me, putting their livelihoods on the line to try to push this forward. Plus a lot of luck, having to seat a conservative justice who was willing to stick to their guns on this issue and was able to speak to his colleague, Justice Roberts, to get him to side on the right side, right. It took all of these things; it took a lot of luck, to be frank, on top of a lot of hard work, a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

I mean, I think it’s good to look at it as: this is an American value now, that we do the right thing, read laws the way that we should, and we don’t try to diminish Congress’s intent by our own prejudices. But it misses, as you suggested, Janine, a huge part of the story, a huge part of the struggle, and the many hundreds, thousands, of lives that were sacrificed to get it, to be quite honest. Of the three cases that went to the Supreme Court, two of these plaintiffs died waiting; Aimee Stephens died just last month in May, waiting for this decision. She never got to see it.

JJ: Right. We don’t want to erase that.

And just as with having to argue that Black Lives Matter, for Pete’s sake, I have seen a few folks saying, “Of course I’m relieved, but how excited do you want me to get that, having had to litigate my humanity, I won?” But also, not to put too fine a point on it: There are still plenty of places and plenty of ways to discriminate, against trans people in particular.

Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch (photo: Franz Jantzen)

EY: Yeah. And we might, in the years to come, see inroads there. I know some people have critiqued Justice Gorsuch’s opinion as being kind of dry, because it is; it’s not like an opinion by Justice Kennedy. Some people might remember Obergefell, the big marriage equality decision in 2015. A lot of gay people, a lot of gay friends I know, when they got married after that decision, they read excerpts from the opinion at their ceremony. It was flowery, it was beautiful, it talks about equal dignity and those sorts of things. That’s not Justice Gorsuch’s style, right?

But from a legal point of view, Justice Gorsuch’s opinion might be useful, trying to talk to other conservative judges, at the state and federal level, about how we read other laws. That you’re literally not allowed to read transgender people out of protection just because you dislike them, or just because you’re scared of transgender people. So in that way, it might prove particularly useful. But obviously, the struggle will keep going; there will be more cases, there will be pushback.

JJ: A question, a specific question that I know a lot of people have: What does this Supreme Court ruling mean for the HHS move that came just in advance of it, that was eliminating protections against anti-trans discrimination, also, that against women seeking abortions, in healthcare. Does this ruling connect with that?

EY: Yes, I think it does. So the HHS regulation is basically based upon—not to get into the details of how the statutory regime works—but basically a very similar law that generally bans discrimination on the basis of sex. Under the Obama administration, there had been regulation in the healthcare context that basically said, “Whatever sex discrimination is in healthcare, it most definitely includes discrimination against transgender people trying to seek certain types of healthcare, as well as persons who have had abortions, who are discriminated against because they’ve had an abortion, because the experience of having had an abortion has a direct link to one’s sex.”

So it’s very likely, based upon the Bostock decision—which is one of the first big decisions about what sex discrimination does and doesn’t mean in a very long time, outside of the LGBT context—it’s very likely, I think, based on Bostock, that the HHS regulations which were released last Friday are just dead in the water. It embraced a very, very cramped view of sex discrimination that  Justice Gorsuch’s opinion just totally eviscerates.  And Justice Alito’s dissent about that sort of admits as much, saying that all these things in healthcare, and a variety of other areas… those limits no longer exist, they can’t under Bostock.

JJ: The case that the court looked at does cover the workplace, and the workplace is only one arena in which we live, and we do want to be mindful of what writer Dorothee Benz calls “Swiss Cheese Civil Rights”: You can be protected in one arena and then suddenly not. But the workplace is a huge place to start and does have, or could have, a bigger meaning, right, if it means, for example, that more trans people can get into the workforce. So this really—it really is big.

EY: It’s really big, and beyond that, I would say if it were any other civil rights statute, I might agree with the possibility of the “Swiss Cheese Rights” problem, but Title VII in American law is tremendously important. The vast majority of federal and state courts, when they’re interpreting federal or state laws about sex discrimination in any area of law, defer to how the Supreme Court reads Title VII, because Title VII is just sort of the end-all and be-all of what sex discrimination is. So it is more likely than not, in my opinion, that this reverberates throughout all sorts of sex discrimination laws, far beyond the workplace.

JJ: Finally, there are a couple of prevalent media frames that I’ve noticed, that… they’re not wrong but I find them limiting. One is reading the Supreme Court’s ruling as a rebuke to the White House, which of course it is. But we know of course, it’s bigger than just anti-Trumpism. It extends before him and beyond him.

And then there’s the, you know, “It’s a victory for liberals.”  Like, OK, you won this round, people-who-believe-in-human-rights, but we’re coming back for you.  And even the really well-meaning “It’s a victory for LGBTQ people,” which, of course it is, and I know I sound like a language prig, but I just think, why not say, “A victory for fairness;” why not say “A victory for a healthier society”?

I’m just wondering what your thoughts are about the way media come at this set of issues generally; if there’s anything you’d like to see more of, or less of? What about that piece of it?

EY: I think one line of messaging that is being missed right now—and it’s perhaps the least sexy, pun intended, of what one can say—is, if nothing else, this is a victory for all of those things, but it’s also a tremendous victory for textualism. It’s the school of statutory interpretation Justice Gorsuch and the late Justice Scalia led with. This is showing that textualism can allow progressive pro-LGBT outcomes to occur.

And I think we’re going to see a divide on the conservative side about that, because for a long time, legal conservatives have been saying, “Well, of course, that’s possible, it just so happens we never support those outcomes.” But this is a case that shows that maybe there’s a way that conservatives and liberals, conservatives and progressives, can speak to each other sanely about the same issues, and come out to the same outcome, even if we speak about these issues differently.

I know some people, it bothers them that there’s not a lot of dignity and, sort of, happiness from Justice Gorsuch’s opinion. I think at the end of the day for a lot of poor trans folks, poor gay folks, many folks who are people of color, too, who are just struggling, trying to make ends meet, that want jobs—they don’t really care what the opinion says; they care that they have rights, and this is how they got it. And I think maybe it’s just dark 2020 times right now, but that in itself, that’s a gift, however we get it.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with civil rights attorney Ezra Young. You can follow his work at EzraYoung.com.  Thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin, Ezra Young.

EY: Thank you so much.


Are Swedes Shunned for High Covid Rates—or Is It Really ABBA?


Sweden’s insistence on remaining open in the face of the coronavirus “does not seem to have hurt them,” the New York Times (4/28/20) was reporting in late April.

The New York Times reporter who offered “Sweden’s apparent success in handling the scourge without an economically devastating lockdown” (4/28/20) as a model for other nations grappling with the coronavirus is now writing about how Swedes are no longer allowed to visit other Scandinavian countries—and explaining it in a way that minimizes having to acknowledge how much he sold deadly snake oil to New York Times readers.

Back in late April, Times reporter Thomas Erdbrink was reporting (with Christina Anderson) that “Sweden does seem to have been as successful in controlling the virus as most other nations,” even though it “defied conventional wisdom and refused to order a wholesale lockdown to ‘flatten the curve’ of the coronavirus epidemic.” Erdbrink and Anderson painted a glowing portrait of “younger Swedes throng[ing] bars, restaurants and a crowded park last week, drinking in the sun”:

They laughed and basked in freedoms considered normal in most parts of the world not long ago, before coronavirus lockdowns, quarantines and mass restrictions upended social norms. As other nations in Europe begin to consider reopening their economies, Sweden’s experience would seem to argue for less caution, not more.

FAIR (4/30/20) noted at the time that this was dangerous nonsense, pointing out that Sweden at the time had the tenth-highest cumulative rate of death from Covid-19 in the world. (It’s now fifth among countries with populations over 10 million.) FAIR’s post observed that Sweden’s Scandinavian “neighbors’ rates of death from Covid-19 have been far lower: Norway and Finland’s have been one-sixth as high, while more densely populated Denmark has had one-third as many deaths per capita.”

The New York Times (6/22/20) now acknowledges Sweden’s “differing outcomes.”

Jump forward two months, and those neighbors have gotten their Covid-19 outbreaks under control, while the pandemic still rages unabated in Sweden. The result is that Scandinavia’s traditionally porous borders have been closed; as Erdbrink writes, in “Sweden Tries Out a New Status: Pariah State” (6/22/20):

This year, Swedes are forbidden to enter Norway.

And Norway isn’t the only Scandinavian neighbor barring Swedes from visiting this summer. Denmark and Finland have also closed their borders to Swedes, fearing that they would bring new coronavirus infections with them.

Explaining this decision, Erdbrink presents it as a retrospective issue:

While those countries went into strict lockdowns this spring, Sweden famously refused, and now has suffered roughly twice as many infections and five times as many deaths as the other three nations combined, according to figures compiled by the New York Times.

While reporting differences can make comparisons inexact, the overall trend is clear, as is Sweden’s new status as Scandinavia’s pariah state.

The epidemiologist behind Sweden’s disastrous coronavirus policy—described as “widely admired for his determinedly maverick approach”—is allowed to make a case that this is unfair discrimination:

Swedish officials, including the architect of the country’s measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, Anders Tegnell, are not amused. They say Swedes have been stigmatized by an international campaign to prove Sweden was wrong…. Mr. Tegnell also said that infections in Sweden “had peaked,” and were now falling, a trend reflected in the Times’ figures.

Though Anders Tegnell denies Sweden is “striving for so-called herd immunity,” he’s still peddling the same junk science US media were taken in by earlier (FAIR.org, 5/27/20).

(Erdbrink continues to take seriously Tegnell’s “herd immunity” bullshit—see FAIR.org, 5/27/20—though it’s repackaged in different language. The doctor “warn[s] their neighbors that they are going to be much more vulnerable if a second wave of the virus hits in the fall,” he reports, quoting Tegnell boasting, “We are really confident that our immunity is higher than any other Nordic country’s.” Tegnell claims this “is contributing to lower numbers of patients needing hospitalization, as well as fewer deaths per day.” Actually, Sweden’s case fatality rate—deaths per recognized case of Covid—is 8.4%, far higher than Denmark’s 4.8%, Finland’s 4.6% or Norway’s 2.8%.)

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde is also allowed to argue that Sweden is being treated unfairly:

“It is sad and frustrating that regions on the borders were so easy to close,” said Ms. Linde. She pointed to southern Sweden, where coronavirus infections were much lower than in bordering Denmark. Nevertheless, she said, “suddenly there were border guards” on the bridge connecting the two countries.

“That will take time to heal, it was too harsh,” she added. “It is very difficult to understand. There were far more deaths in Copenhagen.”

The brief rebuttal to this Swedish self-pity is likewise framed in terms of cumulative deaths. “Experts in the other Scandinavian countries say…such talk misses a major point,” Erdbrink writes:

“When you see 5,000 deaths in Sweden and 230 in Norway, it is quite incredible,” said Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former prime minister of Norway and the former director of the World Health Organization…. “It will take a lot to even out this difference a year or two into the future.”

But the argument for closing Scandinavia’s borders doesn’t rest on how many Swedes died in the past; rather, it’s the number who are currently getting infected with the coronavirus that is of great concern to its neighbors—and should be. As of June 22, Sweden was averaging 90.5 new cases a day per million residents; this was 12 times the rate of infection in Denmark, 32 times the rate in Norway and fully a hundred times as many people as were catching the virus in Finland:

Chart: 91-DIVOC

It’s true that the rate of new cases “had peaked”—three days earlier, on June 19—and “were now falling,” to levels that were still far above those seen by other Scandinavian countries at the worst of their epidemics.

Is it jealousy of ABBA that has made Scandinavians close their borders to Swedes—or sky-high infection rates?

Given that Sweden is still in the midst of an uncontrolled outbreak, it’s no wonder that countries that have made great sacrifices to virtually halt the spread of the coronavirus within their borders are unwilling to allow Swedes to wander about their countries without restriction. Yet Erdbrink gives credence to the idea that the closures are related not to health concerns, but to “resentments and differences that usually are obscured by a Scandinavian sense of mutual identity and niceness.”

“Sweden is a sort of regional hegemon, and, its critics say, given to a certain arrogance and exceptionalism that can be grating,” he writes, suggesting that its neighbors are jealous of Sweden having “successful brands like Volvo, Ikea and H&M, as well as the band ABBA.” The story closes with Swedish journalist Asa Linderborg moaning: “We are supposed to sit here in our corner of shame, and the worst part is that you’re savoring it…. All Norwegians, all Danes and all Finns are loving that the Swedes aren’t welcome anywhere.”

A reporter’s effort to put the happiest face on coverage that hasn’t aged well wouldn’t matter so much if the New York Times hadn’t been one of the most prestigious news outlets pointing to Sweden as a model for a “what me—worry?” approach to the coronavirus. This reporting, ridiculous in real time, contributed to the premature reopening of states shut down to curb Covid-19—and thus is partially responsible for the fact that the US too faces a resurgence in infection rates, to the point where the European Union is talking about barring travel from the United States until we get our outbreak under control.

The New York Times story (6/23/20) on the EU’s prospective ban on US visitors is actually much better than its coverage of Scandinavia’s ostracism of Sweden—making it clear that it’s infection rates, not “resentments and differences,” that make Europeans wary of American travelers.  Perhaps reporter Matina Stevis-Gridneff doesn’t have any embarrassing celebrations of a lackadaisical approach to the coronavirus that she needs to live down.

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



Covering a Pandemic, Election-Style


For months now, public health experts have been hammering home a crucial strategy for managing the Covid-19 pandemic: testing, tracing and isolating. Without widespread testing, you don’t know where the virus is or how quickly it is spreading, and you certainly can’t limit its spread except with the bluntest of tools—like complete shutdown.

But to Donald Trump, testing is “a double-edged sword.” In his recent campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma—an indoor gathering of thousands of mostly unmasked people in a state experiencing a rapid spike in cases—Trump commented:

When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, “Slow the testing down, please.” They test and they test.

Trump has questioned the value of testing before, calling it “overrated” (Wall Street Journal, 6/19/20) because increased testing leads to a rise in confirmed cases, which “makes us look bad.” But his rally remarks were a remarkably brazen admission that he would rather cover up the growing pandemic than actually work to address it, at the cost of an untold number of lives.

Criticism from whom? CBS (6/22/20) made it sound like it came from Trump’s political enemies, who “swiftly seized on Mr. Trump’s comments.”

They’re remarks well worth highlighting in the media—and immediately debunking via public health experts. But to some major media outlets still apparently operating on campaign coverage auto-pilot, the story was just a “he said, she said” election story, with Trump and his aides facing off against the Biden campaign.

At CBS (6/22/20), headline writers told us that “Trump Draws Criticism” for his comments. By whom? If you read the lead, it’s just Democrats, who “quickly denounced” Trump’s suggestion, whereas Trump aides “defended his remarks.” One line in the piece perfunctorily noted that Trump’s “argument that the recent surge in cases in some parts of the country can be fully explained by an increase in the availability of testing has been refuted by public health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci”—but no such experts were actually quoted.

NBCNews.com (6/21/20) headlined a top White House aide’s claim that Trump didn’t really mean what he said, with a subhead reading:

 “Come on now. Come on now. That was tongue-in-cheek. Please,” Peter Navarro said. “I know it was tongue-in-cheek. That’s news for you, tongue-in-cheek.”

NBC (6/21/20) described Trump as “joking” when he complained that so many tests are being given “people don’t even know what’s going on.”

In addition to Navarro, a White House trade advisor, the piece also cited “a senior White House official” who said Trump “was clearly speaking in jest to call out the media’s absurd coverage,” as well as acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf who said Trump was speaking out of “frustration” with the media’s focus on “an increasing case count.” Smith himself described the president as “joking” when he contended that so many tests are being conducted “that people don’t even know what’s going on.”

As at CBS, the only quotes from critics were from Joe Biden and other leading Democrats.

CBS and NBC might have looked to the Washington Post for a more appropriate journalistic response (6/21/20), where reporters put “experts” offering “harsh rebukes” in the lead (rather than Democrats), and quoted three of them in its report.

At the Associated Press (6/21/20), after leading with Trump’s comments, reporter Kevin Freking turned to Biden’s rejoinder. After quoting zero public health experts, the article concluded, with remarkable credulity:

Rising case numbers can partially be explained by the wider availability of testing. Mild cases, previously undetected because of limits on who could be tested, are now showing up in the numbers.

Sure, rising positive cases could be deceptive, if you previously weren’t testing nearly enough people to capture what was really going on. In that case, if infections are dropping but you are testing far more people, you’ll turn up more positives—but a much smaller percentage of your tests will be positive. On the other hand, if you increase testing and the percentage positive stays the same or increases, you clearly are witnessing an increase in cases. And if hospitalizations are likewise increasing—as they are in many of the states with rising positive cases—that certainly can’t be explained away by testing numbers. It’s extremely irresponsible for journalists to lend support to Trump’s false claims with incomplete explanations.

Featured image: Associated Press depiction (6/21/20) of Donald Trump at his Tulsa rally (photo: Evan Vucci).


Debunking Trump and Corporate Media’s WHO/China Coverup Conspiracy Theories


FAIR has criticized the plausibility of various origin theories regarding Covid-19 (4/17/20, 5/7/20), and of unfounded allegations of a Chinese cover-up laundered by corporate media (4/2/20, 4/9/20). Other persistent myths are allegations of Chinese manipulation of the World Health Organization (WHO), and blaming Chinese secrecy for the lack of early action on containing the coronavirus.

The Trump administration suspended funding to WHO in April—the UN’s primary infectious disease–fighting body—accusing it of “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” and of taking China’s allegedly deceptive claims about its handling of Covid-19 at “face value.” But corporate media had already been boosting these same talking points.

The Wall Street Journal (2/12/20) reports that “the WHO has rarely had to deal with an entity as politically and economically powerful as China today”—other than the US from 1948–2014, of course.

The Wall Street Journal’s “The World Health Organization Draws Flak for Coronavirus Response” (2/12/20) effectively accused WHO of being “too deferential to China in its handling of the new virus,” and criticized WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus for “bending to Beijing” after lauding China’s unquestionably effective swift quarantine of 60 million people, and for declaring that “China is actually setting a new standard for outbreak response” and identifying the virus in “record time.” The Journal further expounded the conspiracy theory of a seemingly omnipotent China having WHO under its thumb:

Over its decades of battling epidemics, the WHO has rarely had to deal with an entity as politically and economically powerful as China today. It can’t afford to alienate the country’s leadership, whose clout and financial largess it aims to attract to global health causes. It needs Beijing’s cooperation in preventing a full-blown pandemic—and this may not be the last time. China is the source of many emerging pathogens, which jump from animals to humans in its teeming live markets and can cause deadly epidemics.

Bloomberg (4/1/20): “The officials asked not to be identified because the report is secret, and they declined to detail its contents.” But trust us—China is not being transparent!

According to the Journal’s logic, when WHO praises China for an effective response containing Covid-19 and giving the rest of the world ample time to take health precautions, it is “compromising its own epidemic response standards, eroding its global authority, and sending the wrong message to other countries that might face future epidemics.” When Dr. Bruce Aylward—a Canadian medical expert with 30 years of experience combating polio, Ebola and other global health emergencies—concluded that he “didn’t see anything that suggested manipulation of numbers,” after leading a team of experts visiting China for WHO, that can’t be an accurate observation. For corporate journalists, it can only be because he was duped by the devious Chinese government “underreporting both total cases and deaths it’s suffered from the disease” (Bloomberg, 4/1/20).

The Journal flimsily explained that China wields such formidable control over the WHO because China is a “future source of funds and a partner with which to tackle the biggest global health problems,” and not as a “current donor.” That would be because a cursory examination of  WHO’s funding would reveal that the US donated more than 10 times more money to WHO ($893 million) than China ($86 million), despite the US having almost $200 million in arrears before suspending payments (Axios, 4/15/20).

Neither does the Journal explain how or why WHO could possibly withhold information from Western nations even if it wanted to, when its leadership is stacked with Americans and Europeans, and 15 US officials were embedded with the WHO in Geneva, given that the US is the most “politically and economically powerful” nation on Earth. This makes the Trump administration’s declaration of the US terminating its membership in WHO after threats to permanently cut funding especially egregious.

Nor can the Journal explain the source of China’s fearsome influence over independent and prestigious medical journals like Nature (5/4/20), Science (3/28/20) and the Lancet (3/7/20), which also credited the effectiveness and transparency of China’s response for saving thousands of lives (CGTN, 5/1/20, 5/10/20). Does China’s mysterious and awe-inspiring influence extend over Western medical journals as well?

When Foreign Policy (5/12/20) reported on the exclusive scoop of a leaked dataset of coronavirus cases and deaths from the Chinese military’s National University of Defense Technology, it confirmed that the leaked information “matches” the publicly available numbers the Chinese government posts online—which poses an inconvenience to those spouting conspiracy theories of a Chinese government coverup. Corporate media accounts of Chinese deception and fake statistics also fail to explain how the Chinese government possesses the fantastical ability to deceive governments and independent medical experts around the world, even if it wanted to. As FAIR’s Jim Naureckas (4/2/20) pointed out earlier:

The reality is that it’s very hard to hide an epidemic. Stopping a virus requires identifying and isolating cases of infection, and if you pretend to have done so when you really haven’t, the uncaught cases will grow exponentially. Maintaining a hidden set of real statistics and another set for show would require the secret collusion of China’s 2 million doctors and 3 million nurses—the kind of improbable cooperation that gives conspiracy theories a bad name…. If China is merely pretending to have the coronavirus under control, the pathogen will rapidly surge as people resume interacting with their communities. Once international travel is restored, it will be quite obvious which countries do and don’t have effective management of Covid-19.

China revising its tally of coronavirus deaths was presented by the Guardian (4/17/20) as a suspicious development. Two days earlier, when New York City similarly added missed cases to its death toll, the Guardian (4/15/20) reported this as a move that would “help New York City determine the scope of the crisis.”

Countries revising their figures upon receiving new information is to be expected, and is not necessarily evidence of deceit, as plenty of nations besides China revise their data upwards. Yet only China is singled out as being exceptionally deceptive. For example, in the same week New York revised its death toll upwards by nearly 3,800, China’s adding almost 1,300 dead to its Wuhan data was presented as a possible coverup (Politico, 4/14/20; Guardian, 4/17/20). The Moon of Alabama blog (4/1/20) explained some of the complexities in reporting numbers during a pandemic in real-time:

Does one include co-morbids or not in the count? What about casualties of a car accident that also test positive for Covid-19 when they die? What about those who died with Covid-19 symptoms but could not be tested for lack of test kits? Are the tests really working reliably?… What about asymptomatic cases that test positive. Are these false positives, or do these people really have the virus? One can only know that by testing them a month later for antibodies.

Other arguments for Chinese control of the WHO cite the delay in declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), or pandemic. A Foreign Policy op-ed (4/2/20) argued that “Beijing succeeded from the start in steering” WHO, because it was “reluctant” to declare a PHEIC. Similarly, reports in the Washington Post (2/8/20) and New York Times (4/8/20) criticized WHO for “moving too slowly in declaring a global health emergency.”

However, historian Vijay Prashad (People’s Dispatch, 4/29/20) pointed out that the US and European countries were the ones that pushed to revise the rules for declaring a PHEIC or pandemic in 2005, which now requires a delay in announcement until air travel and trade wouldn’t be unduly disrupted. This means that the very same countries who are criticizing Chinese “influence” over the WHO are the ones whose actual clout was responsible for constraining WHO in the first place.

Another angle on China’s supposed manipulation of WHO are claims that China and WHO buried early Taiwanese warnings. Reuters published several reports (3/24/20, 4/11/20) claiming that the WHO “ignored Taiwan’s questions at the start of the coronavirus outbreak.” The Foreign Policy op-ed (4/2/20) on China’s control of WHO accused the agency of “ignoring warnings from Taiwanese doctors.”

This claim is based on an email the Taiwan CDC sent to WHO on December 31, presented as the smoking gun of Taipei warning WHO of human-to-human transmission, because it referred to “case hav[ing] been isolated for treatment.” However, as Beijing-based journalist Ian Goodrum pointed out on Twitter (4/11/20), China informed the WHO that same day, December 31. that “all patients are isolated.” When one actually reads the email, it’s clear that Taiwan didn’t send any warning to WHO about human-to-human transmission (which is never explicitly mentioned), and was instead, after citing Chinese sources, asking for more information.

AP (4/15/20) doesn’t note that at the beginning of the “six key days,” the death toll from Covid-19 stood at one. On the sixth day, it rose from three to six.

Perhaps the most persistent false narrative of Chinese deception and concealment has nothing to do with fake statistics or Chinese manipulation of the WHO, but with China allegedly withholding details from the world and silencing whistleblowers. The Associated Press’s widely circulated report, “China Didn’t Warn Public of Likely Pandemic for Six Key Days” (4/15/20), contained many blatant falsehoods and omissions.

The AP report blamed the “delay” in informing the public between January 14 and January 20, after “top Chinese officials secretly determined they likely were facing a pandemic from a new coronavirus,” for infecting millions and killing thousands.

The AP’s claims about the Chinese government not informing the public for six crucial days are demonstrably false, as Chinese state media published multiple reports before this “crucial” period, informing the public of a “new virus” in Wuhan (China Daily, 1/9/20).

Although the AP notes that raising the alarm prematurely would damage the Chinese government’s credibility and “cripple their ability to mobilize the public,” that is not given credence as an explanation for the government “waiting” until leading Chinese epidemiologist Dr. Zhong Nanshan confirmed human-to-human transmission of Covid-19 on January 20. Instead, AP claimed that “China’s rigid controls on information, bureaucratic hurdles and a reluctance to send bad news up the chain of command muffled early warnings,” despite WHO and AP itself (1/15/20) reporting on Chinese officials warning that the possibility of human-to-human transmission could not be ruled out during this supposed period of “silence.”

AP  (3/19/20) cited Dr. Li Wenliang as an example of a “whistleblower” silenced by Chinese authorities, though he asked his friends not to make public his concerns that SARS had reappeared in China.

An earlier AP report (3/19/20) shared a similar perspective, citing the familiar (and repeatedly debunked) myth of the Chinese government silencing Dr. Li Wenliang, a supposed “whistleblower” who warned the public of Covid-19. I previously noted (FAIR.org, 3/6/20) that Dr. Li was not a whistleblower, nor the first doctor to discover the Covid-19 outbreak, and neither was he ahead of the Chinese government. However, Vijay Prashad, Du Xiaojun and Weiyan Zhu’s timeline of the Chinese government’s response offers more clarity (People’s Dispatch, 3/31/20, 4/7/20, 4/14/20).

Dr. Zhang Jixian was the first to discover the Covid-19 outbreak, and was not a whistleblower either, because she followed established protocol by reporting it to her hospital’s disease control department on December 27. This resulted in an announcement by the Wuhan Health Commission on December 30, which is why Reuters (12/31/20) was able to report on this supposedly “secret” information in real-time.

On December 30 (the same day as the Wuhan Health Commission announcement), Dr. Ai Fen saw a test report of unidentified pneumonia, circled the words “SARS coronavirus” in red before taking a picture of it and sending it to a medical school classmate. From there, it spread in medical circles before reaching Dr. Li, who had shared it with seven colleagues in a private WeChat group on December 30 as well. Dr. Li didn’t consider himself a whistleblower, and asked them not to share the message to the public before it was leaked on December 31, the same day China notified WHO.

Dr. Li and his seven colleagues were reprimanded on January 3 (the same day China notified the US CDC) for not following established protocol, as Dr. Zhang had (who was never punished, but rewarded), and for potentially causing unnecessary panic, given that the SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequence wasn’t identified and shared until January 9. While the Chinese government doesn’t pretend to have handled the outbreak perfectly—as it apologized to Dr. Li’s family and disciplined the police officers who had initially handled the case—it is hard to believe officials had a mandate to suppress knowledge of the novel coronavirus, considering nobody knew the true nature of the disease at the time.

Despite the Chinese government making much of this information readily available in their timelines, corporate media conveniently leave these crucial details out of theirs in order to advance New Cold War propaganda (Business Insider, 5/22/20; New York Times, 5/26/20).

ABC (4/8/20) reported that—contrary to detailed reconstructions of the outbreak in leading medical journals—China was actually dealing with a serious Covid-19 outbreak “as far back as late November,” when US intelligence learned it was “changing the patterns of life and business, and posing a threat to the population.” But they didn’t tell the president about this until early January, because “it would have had to go through weeks of vetting and analysis.”

Another example of US propaganda trying to distort this history came from ABC News (4/8/20) falsely reporting (based entirely on anonymous sources) that the US National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI) possessed a report showing that the White House was informed about the pandemic in November—suggesting that “China’s leadership knew the epidemic was out of control even as it kept such crucial information from foreign governments and public health agencies.” When the report was updated the next day, the NCMI’s director, Col. R. Shane Day, debunked this sensationalist claim, noting that “no such NCMI product exists.”

However, this manipulation of public opinion by the US government and corporate media appears to be working. According to a recent Ipsos survey, more than 30% of Americans have witnessed someone blaming Asian people for the coronavirus pandemic (even though new research indicates that travel from New York City was the primary source of the US outbreak, with New York’s outbreak originating in Europe). Pew Research (4/21/20) found that around two-thirds of Americans have an unfavorable view of China, which is the most negative rating for the country since Pew began asking the question in 2005. This suggests that public opinion has been turned against China, despite it being the first to detect the virus, alert the world and provide a model for containing it.

Media Project Trump Crimes Onto Empire’s Enemies


CNN (6/7/20) presents US repression as a foreign import.

US President Donald Trump threatened on June 1 to send active duty troops to crush the anti-racist rebellion sweeping the country in the wake of George Floyd’s police murder. The announcement was followed by a photo op in front of St. John’s Church in DC’s Lafayette Square, which was brutally cleared of demonstrators by military police.

The reaction from corporate media was to chastise Trump’s move as “un-American” (CNN, 6/3/20), obscuring the domestic sources of inspiration for his vicious crackdown.

Putin, Xi, Chávez, Oh My!

A cascade of op-eds likened Trump and his militarized attempted power grab to Washington’s official bogeymen. Foreign Policy (6/2/20) compared the president to Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, while CNN (6/7/20) declared that Trump is “reading out of the Middle East autocrats’ playbook.”

“Mr Trump is infatuated with military and political strongmen. He sides with authoritarians like Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un and Rodrigo Duterte,” decried the Guardian’s editorial board (6/4/20), linking to a New York Times column (6/4/20) that lambasted the US leader for “follow[ing] a strongman’s playbook.”

A Washington Post column (6/3/20) compares the US government’s attack on democracy at home to the response to the US government’s attack of democracy in Venezuela.

The Washington Post (6/3/20) rolled out Western media’s favorite analogy (FAIR.org, 5/7/20), likening the US president who just threatened a coup d’etat to the literal victim of a Washington-sponsored coup: Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. Post columnist Francisco Toro accused Venezuela’s popular elected leader of having “broke[n] the back of Venezuelan democracy” by activating a plan to deploy active duty military to the streets.

The Venezuelan emigre blogger falsely claimed that the “army stumbled into staging a coup, but not one anyone had calculated ahead of time,” suppressing the extensive evidence that military brass and business elites had planned Chávez’s overthrow weeks, if not months, in advance, with full US knowledge.

Similarly, Edward Asner penned an op-ed for the Daily Beast (6/10/20) headlined, “Trump’s Anti-Protest Authoritarianism Has Echoes of Venezuela.” The famed actor equated white supremacist pro-Trump militas with black and brown people in Venezuela’s barrios organizing community self-defense groups, or colectivos, long vilified by opposition elites and the Western media to justify anti-Chavista violence and murderous US economic sanctions (e.g., Voice of America, 4/10/19; Washington Post, 8/14/19).

The Cult of US Exceptionalism 

Other pundits compared the repression in Lafayette Square to that seen during China’s 1989 Tiananmen protests. Washington Post reporter Adam Taylor (6/4/20) complained that by savagely escalating the clampdown on the eve of the 31st Tiananmen anniversary, Trump had “surrender[ed] soft power” and done more to distract from the commemoration “than Beijing’s censors ever could.” Taylor also scolded Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton for failing to mention the anniversary in his now notorious New York Times op-ed (6/3/20) cheerleading Trump’s crackdown, though the Post journalist did not otherwise criticize the op-ed’s argument.

Times columnist Nicholas Kristof (6/3/20) similarly appropriated Tiananmen to question Trump’s “manhood,” while safely cordoning off the US empire and its military from critique:

No, United States troops won’t massacre protesters, as Chinese troops did, but Trump’s deployment of troops for political purposes would betray our traditions, damage the credibility of the armed forces and exacerbate tensions across the country.

He apparently did not appreciate the irony of fretting over the “credibility” of a genocidal institution literally responsible for killing millions of people across dozens of countries, including Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Korea, Haiti, Philippines and North America—and indirectly involved in arming and training client regimes guilty of murdering millions more.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Trudy Rubin (6/4/20) doubled down on Kristof’s Orientalism, claiming that US military brass’ reticence to enter politics “is what separates us from China, Russia, Turkey, Egypt and others, and the way their autocrats use the military to put civilians down.”

Rubin and other commentators’ outrage at Trump’s “fetish” for military violence (New Republic, 5/29/20; Washington Post, 6/3/20; Guardian, 6/7/20) concealed their own idolatry of US exceptionalism.

Imperial Crocodile Tears

When an example is needed from the 1980s of government using massive deadly force to crush dissent (Guardian, 5/10/20), shouldn’t Americans think first of an incident from Philadelphia rather than Beijing?

As Louis Allday observed, the Trump administration’s threat to target the imperial death machine on the domestic “battle space” is hardly unprecedented, having been brought to bear by previous US rulers now normalized by the corporate media (FAIR.org, 9/19/17, 3/7/17).

From the white supremacist and anti-labor massacres of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, through the FBI’s COINTELPRO of the 1960s and ’70s, to the bombing of the MOVE black liberation organization in Philadelphia in 1985 that leveled 61 houses, the US state and its proxies have not hesitated to employ terrorism against the population.

The US national security state’s unfulfilled intentions are even more terrifying. In 1950, the FBI drew up plans for the “permanent detention” of 12,000 US citizens accused of subversion in Guantánamo-style military prisons, while Congress passed a bill authorizing the construction of concentration camps for dissidents, six of which were in fact built. In the 1960s, the Pentagon prepared to wage counter-insurgency warfare in 25 US cities if the popular uprisings against white supremacy and imperial militarism overcame the brutal state crackdown and continued to escalate.

In the 1980s, the Miami Herald (7/5/87) reported, the Federal Emergency Management Agency drew up, under the direction of the National Security Council’s Oliver North,

a secret contingency plan that called for suspension of the Constitution, turning control of the United States over to FEMA, appointment of military commanders to run state and local governments and declaration of martial law during a national crisis.

It doesn’t seem to occur to Business Insider (6/2/20) that the US government uses countries like Iran and China to undermine criticism of its own authoritarianism.

Refusing to reckon with these horrors, Western journalists from across the political spectrum accused Trump of tarnishing Washington’s image as “the world’s moral guardian” (CNN, 6/6/20) and allowing official enemies to “us[e] the protests…to undermine the US’s criticism of their own authoritarianism” (Business Insider, 6/2/20; also Politico, 6/1/20; NBC, 6/3/20; BBC, 6/5/20; ABC News, 6/6/20; Newsweek, 6/8/20; Washington Post, 6/8/20).

Senior military brass likewise raised the alarm that Trump was not only delegitimizing the domestic “forces of order” but also, as Brookings Institution president and former four-star Marine Gen. John Allen warned, “wreck[ing] the high regard Americans have for their military” (Foreign Policy, 6/3/20), which should only be mobilized to crush internal dissent as a last resort.

Former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen (Atlantic, 6/2/20) touted the “compassion” of the US military, which he said must never treat “fellow citizens” as an “enemy.” The admiral, who helped direct Obama’s drone terrorism program responsible for thousands of extra-judicial killings around the world, including US citizens, urged us not to “lose sight…of institutional racism.”

But behind their pandering, elite pundits and anti-Trump war criminals’ main concern is not the president’s coup-mongering per se, but the danger that his thuggish repression will further discredit the US empire, especially its police, military and media (FAIR.org, 6/4/20, 6/7/20, 6/9/20).

They justifiably fear that, emboldened by Trump’s naked criminality, the growing mass movement against white supremacy will radicalize into a full-scale rejection of the system as a whole, which no amount of kente-clad kneeling can appease.


What Journalism Needs Is Not More Diversity, but Less White Supremacy


If you saw Amazon putting out a statement on the company’s “missteps” on the path to “diversity,” you would recognize that for the institution-protecting gesture that it was (AP, 6/10/20).

As police violence against Black people and those who would rise in their defense forces a national engagement—of a sort—with the reality of white supremacy in our institutions, the widening recognition that the batons and tear gas are just one part of it, that there is more than one way to choke the life out of a people, meant that it was just a matter of time before news media would need to acknowledge the call coming from inside the house.

So we have the week just past—wherein we learned that numerous powerful media figures have not just tweeted, joked or dressed up as…but have enforced policies and practices and pay differentials that, deepbreath, do not reflect the values they now hold, they now understand to be deeply hurtful, they only wish they’d been alerted to sooner, they are taking time to reflect deeply upon, they are committed to doing better about going forward, they look forward to be challenged on, and about which, heaven only knows, they are listening.

Journalism is a public service, but media outlets are institutions in many ways like many others in this country—they have hierarchies and unspoken rules and power plays and anti-Black racism.  It’s just that white supremacy in the outlets we rely on to show us the world has especially resounding repercussions.

When you see Amazon, for example, saying they “stand in solidarity with the Black community,” it’s easy to recognize that for a gesture, an effort to wave off criticism without taking seriously the—actually truly challenging—work of interrogating the role that structural and interpersonal racism play in their workplace and their field.

Translated into journalism, that surface-skimming effort looks something like the AP‘s June 10 rendering of the situation:

Headline-Making Missteps Put Focus on Newsroom Diversity 

The New York Times (6/3/20) told readers, and all the other media that take their lead from the paper, to listen respectfully to a call for the US military to take to the streets against Black people. The paper did not merely accept but solicited the piece, “Send in the Troops,” from Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton.

The New York Times (6/3/20) thought that using the US military against Black people taking to the streets was an important idea that needed to be considered.

When Black staffers said amplifying that call put them in danger, the editorial page editor first said essentially “all viewpoints matter,” then admitted he hadn’t even read it. Calling that a “misstep”—as though the paper were going somewhere good, but got a tiny bit off track—is not describing but compounding the harm.

Defining the missteps as “headline-making” shows a certain self regard, as if if media didn’t notice media messing up, media wouldn’t be messing up. “Put focus on” is more of the same. Whose focus? The Black and Brown staffers complaining aren’t saying anything they haven’t said before and been rebuffed over. So if this focus is new, why is that? Who’s in charge of when it stops?

Alexis Johnson, a Black reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was barred from covering protests because she tweeted photos of “horrifying scenes and aftermath from selfish LOOTERS”—before revealing they were actually “pictures from a Kenny Chesney concert tailgate.” Johnson was told that, after this “commentary,” her—or any colleagues who tweeted support for her—covering the George Floyd uprising might cause “the credibility of the newsroom [to] be questioned.”

AP tells readers, “Johnson ran afoul of rules that discourage journalists from being publicly opinionated on social media posts and elsewhere.” But it doesn’t note that the Post-Gazette‘s white editor runs the newsroom while also writing opinion columns—including one defending Trump’s attack on “shithole countries,” and another that called feminism “a step back toward barbarism.” What does that mean for the paper’s pretenses around credibility? AP doesn’t ask, because “diversity” doesn’t require it to go that deep, just to include a quote from Johnson.

The Philadelphia Inquirer later wrote that “an apology on its own is not sufficient” after a headline like this one (6/2/20).

And about that diversity. AP‘s definition of the problem revealed by the Times calling for military assaults on citizens, and the Post-Gazette banning Black reporters from covering the story of the day, and the Philadelphia Inquirer running the headline “Buildings Matter, Too,” and on and on…is “news media’s sluggishness in building diverse newsrooms.” And it cites the 1968 Kerner Commission —formally the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders—which indicted news media, along with police and politicians, for their role in driving the racial divisions that roiled the country.  “Shockingly backward,” AP reminds, is how the Kerner report described US journalism’s record of hiring and promoting African Americans.

The report did call for hiring more Black people, and a number of great reporters got their breaks in the wake of it, reporting not just on urban unrest but on everyday life in communities of color, filling a void left by a press corps that, Kerner charged, “acts and talks about Negroes as if Negroes do not read the newspapers and watch television, give birth, marry, die and go to PTA meetings.”

But hiring flagged. African Americans were just 2% of newspaper employees in 1978, few in decision-making roles, and two-thirds of the nation’s papers had no employees of color, according to a survey by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The group called for the reignition of Kerner’s demands, setting a goal of minority employment in newspapers equal to their proportion of the country’s population by the year 2000.

By 1998, it was clear this was nowhere close to happening—Black people were 13.3% of the population, and still just 5.4% of newsroom employees…. So they pushed the goal back to 2025.

In 2017, ASNE found just 5.6% of newsroom employees were Black, and 4.6% of newsroom leaders. The group’s statement the following year, on Kerner’s 50th anniversary, acknowledged the goal wasn’t met, or anything like it, adding, “But ‘diversity’ is now part of industry language.”

But that’s just it: The Kerner report didn’t call for “diversity.” It called for US journalism to de-center its white male view. Media “report and write from the standpoint of a white man’s world.” Coverage “reflects the biases, the paternalism, the indifference of white America.” And, the report said, this isn’t just lamentable; it is “not excusable in an institution that has the mission to inform and educate the whole of our society.”

For Kerner, the meaningful representation of Black people in editorial roles was not a sop, or a nice thing to do, but a core value. Inclusion was crucial as a means toward an end—which was media that would “meet the Negro’s legitimate expectations in journalism.” Can you hear the difference between that and, 52 years later, AP‘s anodyne statement:  “A failure to include journalists of many different backgrounds means missing stories.”

In the apology to readers and staffers about the headline suggesting an equivalence between the loss of buildings and the lives of Black Americans, Philadelphia Inquirer editors stated, “We also know that an apology on its own is not sufficient.”

What would be sufficient? That’s an important conversation. But a start would be for media to stop saying “missteps” when they mean sustained, systemic failures; and to get it through their heads that the demand is not for more “diversity,” but for less white supremacy. Journalists ought to speak plainly, including when they’re talking to themselves.

Featured image: National Guard troops sent to quell protests in Washington, DC, following the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King (photo: Darryl Heikes via Bettmann Archive/Getty Images).



Ezra Young on Supreme Court LGBT Ruling

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(cc photo: Ted Eytan)

This week on CounterSpin: A typically temperate Donald Trump decried what he called “horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court” as “shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives.”

He meant, of course, the ruling stopping his administration (for now) from ending DACA, the program protecting hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation—and, maybe even more so, the historic ruling from earlier in the week declaring that Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 does in fact make it illegal for employers to discriminate against a worker because of their sexual orientation or their transgender status. That 6-to-3 decision surprised and elated many. We’ll talk about how we got here and what it means going forward with civil rights attorney Ezra Young, whose litigation and scholarship center on trans rights.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a look at recent self-examination on the part of corporate media in the wake of the uprising against police violence

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‘Immunity Shouldn’t Be Part of the Conversation’ - CounterSpin interview with Remington Gregg on corporate immunity

Janine Jackson interviewed Public Citizen’s Remington Gregg about corporate immunity for the June 12, 2020, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Intercept (5/26/20)

Janine Jackson: The US now has more than 2 million confirmed coronavirus cases; health officials will tell you the real number is doubtless much higher. At least 113,000 people have died. The pandemic is far from under control. But that isn’t stopping the White House, and many states, from pushing to fully reopen, even as we see places that have reopened reporting increases in hospitalizations.

But wait, there’s more. As millions try to weigh the safety risk of returning to work with the economic cost of not doing so, there’s a push, led in Congress by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to grant corporations legal immunity from liability for any harms workers may suffer from being forced back into workplaces that are unsafe.

We’re joined now by Remington Gregg, counsel for civil justice and consumer rights at Public Citizen. He joins us by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Remington Gregg.

Remington Gregg: Thank you. Good to be here.

JJ: Well, I want to ask: Are they serious? But we know they are. Are we missing something? Or is it that basic: that if a person’s job requires them, for example, to work in close quarters with other people, or doesn’t provide masks or sanitizer, and that person gets sick with Covid-19, there’d be no way for them to get accountability from the employer?

RG: That’s the long and short of the proposal. Now, that’s with the caveat that there is nothing on paper. So we just have to go with what Mitch McConnell and others are saying, and they are saying that they want to immunize businesses from liability for coronavirus-related lawsuits. It’s not just workers and consumers who would get the shaft, but it could conceivably extend to other types of claims. For example, civil rights claims or environmental claims. You claim that the business has been polluting and not following the proper regulations. And they can say, “Well, I’m sorry. You can’t sue us, because this is coronavirus-related.” So it is a sweeping proposal, both in the breadth of what it would do, but also in the sense that it would paper over the laws of all 50 states.

JJ: Wow. Well, if the notion is that we should just trust companies to do what’s right, don’t we already have evidence that that doesn’t work?

RG: Exactly. Just this week, we’ve seen data that infection rates are increasing in meatpacking plants. We now know that almost 40% of all coronavirus deaths are from nursing home residents and workers in those spaces. So a lot of businesses are not doing what they need to do to take reasonable precautions to protect workers and consumers, and that’s why we need strong laws on the books. The problem is that we don’t, right?

JJ: Yeah.

RG: The Trump administration has flat-out refused to issue any sort of standards they would require businesses to follow as they reopen. So they’re refusing to issue those because, you know, the Trump administration doesn’t believe in regulation, so why would they start now? If you then take away people’s right to go to court as well, then there’s absolutely no way to hold bad actors accountable.

JJ: We’ve seen a bunch of deregulatory moves recently, and the line seems to be, “Well, companies can’t be bothered to follow regulations now, because that’s holding back the reopening.” Well, call me cynical, but it seems like the pandemic is just being used as cover to bring out a wish list that they’ve had for some time now.

RG: You couldn’t have put it better. I mean, the US Chamber of Commerce has been seeking this for years, if not decades. It’s really sad that such a powerful organization would use a pandemic simply to get something on their wish list, but here we are. And that’s why we have to fight incredibly hard against these proposals, against any action by McConnell and Senate Republicans, and we have to make it clear to House Democrats, Speaker Pelosi, to Senate Democrat leader Schumer, that people won’t stand by and have their rights taken away in a pandemic.

JJ: And corporations are pretty protected already, aren’t they? I mean, so many have forced arbitration, where you can’t really sue them anyway. It seems like it’s not even really necessary, frankly.

RG: Well, that’s right. It isn’t necessary, but just because it isn’t necessary, doesn’t mean that they won’t fight for it, because that would mean that they would be completely immunized. You know, workers have a difficult time bringing claims because of, as you said, forced arbitration. But also, almost every state has worker compensation laws, which means that if you get sick on the job, you have to go to workers comp, you cannot sue an employer. And so you have those barriers that stop you in your tracks, basically, from being able to sue your employer.

And then the final piece is—for everyone, employers and consumers—it would be almost impossible, it’d be incredibly difficult, for you to prove that you contracted coronavirus, say, in a store, a hair salon, dry cleaners or restaurant. Why? Because under the law, you have to prove causation. You have to prove that this place took unreasonable actions, and you can follow the line from those unreasonable actions to you getting coronavirus. But if states are opening up, as we see, opening up too fast and too soon, people are going to swimming pools, they’re going to dry cleaners and restaurants and movie theaters. There’s no way to prove that you got it at the, say, movie theater versus the dry cleaners.

JJ: Right.

RG: Or even that you got it in the workplace versus on the bus to work. So this idea that they need this is just this Chicken Little notion that they have that the sky is falling, when, in fact, if anything, it’s anything but.

Public Citizen (6/11/20)

JJ: You have just come from a presser, a telepresser, I should say, on this issue, with Sen. Sherrod Brown; Public Citizen has a new report. But tell us how that press conference went. What are reporters wanting to know about?

RG: Well, they want to know how serious Republicans are about this, or is this “chest thumping.” And we say that, again, the Chamber of Commerce has been pushing this for 30 years, so they’re just pushing every lever and every button to do this, and we walk through, step by step, the reasons why this is unnecessary, and why it would be harmful to workers and consumers.

One reporter said that she asked Sen. John Cornyn, who was the second-in-command in the Republican leadership in the Senate, what he wanted to see. And he said that he’s for immunizing businesses, so long as a business chooses to abide by some sort of health guideline.

Now, when you say that, if you just say it off the cuff, you go, “OK, I guess.” But when you know anything about employment law, or public health, or any sort of law, you see how absolutely ridiculous this is. He’s saying, No. 1, as long as you choose some sort of guidelines. Well, No. 1, there are no federal guidelines.

And then, No. 2, what are you going to choose, state guidelines or local guidelines? Basically, he wants companies to be able to choose the least robust and the least enforceable guidelines that are out there.

And then he says, well, “guidelines.” And we have to be very clear: There’s a difference between regulations and guidelines. The Trump administration has put out a lot of guidelines, saying you may do this or you should do that. But they haven’t put out anything that says you must, as workers are going back to work, as we push, especially, black and brown workers, low-income workers, back to work without protections. It’s laughable that Senate Republicans are saying we don’t need any sort of government standards in place to force businesses to do what’s right. We’re just going to allow them to do whatever they kind of, sort of want to do, if they have a moment to take away time from building up their profit.

JJ: So if people go back into workplaces that aren’t safe and they get sick, besides the harm that’s done to them, won’t that ultimately slow the economic recovery that this is all supposedly aiming for?

Remington Gregg: “Guess what won’t instill consumer confidence? A law that immunizes businesses if they don’t do what’s right to keep people safe.”

RG: That’s the reason why this is just so ludicrous when you scratch the surface. Consumer confidence is at an all-time low, and Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell said a week or two ago that he’s convinced that the economy will not get back up and running until there’s consumer confidence. Well, guess what won’t instill consumer confidence? A law that immunizes businesses if they don’t do what’s right to keep people safe. Why, in Heaven’s name, would I decide to go back to restaurants and movie theaters if they have no incentive to do the right thing to keep me safe?

JJ: We already have seen workers who complain about health risks or unsafe workplaces being punished for that by their employers. So you wonder how you can turn around and say, but we should still trust those same employers to protect workers without the possibility of any legal pushback.

RG: Right. We’ve seen workers try to say something; it’s easier when you have a union. People who don’t, they submit whistleblower complaints, and sometimes those are successful and sometimes they’re not. We’ve seen some workers in local unions go out on wildcat strikes, which are strikes that aren’t authorized by the union itself, to protest some unsafe conditions. And again, we’ve seen a lot of these localized unions are mainly black and brown people, recent immigrants, and they don’t have as big of a bully pulpit. Make no mistake: people are complaining, people are shouting, people are trying to sound the alarm. But the question is, are we going to listen to them? And are we going to stand up for the people who have essentially been keeping our economy running while we have all been staying home?

JJ: And I keep saying “workers,” but colleges want immunity, nursing homes have immunity, which is already an issue. So it really is everyone that is ultimately affected by this.

RG: This is a societal issue. Obviously, we think first and foremost about workers and consumers. But soon, I mean, we already are starting to think about what this means for students going back. Just think about it, a dorm is like a cruise ship on land, right? And if you’re not willing to go on a cruise right now, we need to think really carefully about what that means for our dorms. And so for schools to be saying, we want to immunize ourselves for not taking the reasonable precautions we should be taking, is crazy.

You know, ensuring that we protect our seniors and others living in long-term care facilities. Remember, long-term care facilities are not just for seniors, but they’re for people living with disabilities and others. Make no mistake about it, the nursing home lobby is one of the most powerful lobbies in this country. And they have been systematically going from state to state to immunize themselves.

And they’ve been successful, but they’ve also hit some roadblocks. New York recently gave them immunity, but now there’s pushback, and some legislators are thinking about how they’re able to roll that back, because they’re seeing how much is happening in nursing homes: 40% of all deaths, from residents and workers. Why should they be immune from accountability?

So stay tuned. There’s a lot going on both on the federal level, but because the Chamber of Commerce is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful lobby in this country, and they have a massive amount of resources. And they are going from state to state, if they possibly can, to try to get their wish for immunity.

NBC News (5/17/20)

JJ: We will stay tuned. Let me just ask you, finally, I was disturbed to read Nancy Pelosi not saying a strong no on this, at least back in May. “We have no red lines,” she said. The public unsurprisingly hates the idea, polling shows, of corporate immunity. But if it winds up being part of a stimulus bill that has other things that people want, it might get horse-traded into reality, or couldn’t it?

RG: We are continuing to talk about how important it is to ensure accountability for all people. Look, right now, we don’t have much accountability when it comes to the stimulus money; there’s very little oversight being done there. We have no oversight of the Executive Branch; the Congress is trying, but the administration is flouting everything. So the best way that we the people right now are able to hold people accountable is through the justice system. And so removing that would be incredibly harmful to everyday people.

Right now we should be—and this is the message that we will continue to talk about—we have to save our economy from another Great Depression. We need to provide for first responders and teachers. We need to ensure that our unemployment insurance is extended. We need to ensure that everyday people can provide for their families.

We shouldn’t be talking about immunity. This shouldn’t be part of the conversation.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Remington Gregg of Public Citizen. Their new report is called Corporate Accountability: The Next Coronavirus Casualty? You can find that and lots of other work on their website, citizen.org. Remington Gregg, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

RG: Thanks for having me.


Western Media Rehabilitate Brazil’s Criminal Ex-Justice Minister for Presidential Run 


The Guardian (4/24/20) described “the celebrity Justice Minister Sergio Moro” as “one of the most popular and powerful figures in Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right administration.”

Brazilian Justice Minister Sergio Moro resigned from his post in the far-right Bolsonaro government on April 24, accusing the president of “political interference” in the country’s police force.

Western corporate media apparently saw no irony in the allegations made by the former judge, who played an instrumental role in an “anti-corruption” witch hunt aimed at illegally jailing former President Luis Ignacio “Lula” da Silva and destroying his left-wing Workers’ Party.

Rather, they fawningly described Moro as an “anti-corruption crusader” (BBC, 4/25/20), “celebrity justice minister” (Guardian, 4/24/20) and “a figure who for many represented a new, better Brazil” (Washington Post, 4/24/20), cheering the “tantalizing” prospect of a 2022 presidential bid (Bloomberg, 5/6/20).

The majority of the press, including the BBC (4/25/20), Washington Post (4/24/20), Reuters (4/24/20) and Deutsche Welle (4/24/20) scandalously omitted any mention of the bombshell whistleblower revelations published by the Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald (6/9/19). The thousands of hours of leaked conversations on the Telegram platform between Moro and prosecutors with the operation codenamed Lava Jato, or “Car Wash,” showed the former not only illegally giving instructions on how to improve the accusations he was responsible for impartially evaluating, but also advising the prosecutors on how to smear Lula in the media (FAIR.org, 11/14/19).

A few outlets did mention the revelations, but dismissed them as “claims [Moro] had improperly plotted to jail Lula” (Guardian, 4/24/20) or buried them in a single line in the 17th paragraph (Bloomberg, 5/6/20).

The harshest criticism Time (5/21/20) allows of Moro is a journalist saying, “We have law enforcement and judges bulldozing due process and bending the rules in order to do the right thing.”

Time did the heavy lifting, however, in whitewashing Moro, whom it had extolled in their “100 Most Influential People” list of 2016 (4/21/16). London-based journalist Clara Nugent (Time, 5/21/20) penned a hagiographic profile of the former judge, headlined: “’I Didn’t Enter the Government to Serve a Master.’ Brazil’s Star Justice Minister on His Resignation and Clash With President Bolsonaro.” 

In the exclusive interview, Nugent—whom FAIR.org (5/20/19) previously exposed for spreading falsehoods about media “censorship” in Venezuela—dutifully labored to scrub Moro’s tarnished reputation of any trace of systematic US-sponsored lawlessness. Sympathetically describing him as a “somber bureaucrat” whose “scowl…tends to be a bad omen for Brazilian presidents,” the corporate journalist wrote off Moro’s well-documented criminality in the Lava Jato lawfare operation as “controversy”:

But Moro’s conduct during the investigation also attracted controversy. In March 2016, he shocked many Brazilians when he sent the audio of tapped phone conversations between Lula and then-President [Dilma] Rousseff to the media.

Nugent omitted the crucial detail that, as Brian Mier reported for FAIR.org (11/14/19), the wiretap on Rousseff was illegal, as was the leak to the press. Rather, she repeated the false claim that “Rousseff had appointed Lula as her chief of staff, allegedly in order to shield him from Car Wash prosecutors,” ignoring that Moro had edited the recording to make it appear incriminating. In fact, the real purpose of the appointment was to enlist Lula in resisting a parliamentary coup against Rousseff, and had nothing to do with Lava Jato.

The Time reporter did admit that the leak “was decisive in building the public outrage that underpinned Congress’ drive to impeach Rousseff four months later, on charges of manipulating government financial data.” But she declined to add that “manipulating government financial data” was actually a common budgetary infraction known as “fiscal pedaling,” which was legalized by the Brazilian Senate one week after Rousseff was removed from office (CounterSpin, 12/12/18).

Like her corporate colleagues, Nugent went on to dismiss the Intercept revelations exposing Moro’s rampant misconduct as mere allegations, despite later quoting the former minister confirming the veracity of their content:

In July 2019, investigative site the Intercept published a trove of messages which they said showed that, as a judge, Moro had inappropriately consulted with federal prosecutors on strategy to take down high-profile figures.

Nugent failed to mention that the “strategy” in question was to convict Lula—who was leading all polls for the 2018 presidential race—for “indeterminate acts of corruption,” with prosecutors secretly admitting just hours before the final trial that they had no evidence, but that Moro would deliver a conviction anyway. In a particularly egregious omission, she hid the fact Moro and Lava Jato prosecutors illegally spied on Lula’s defense team—a grave offense that would have had Moro disbarred in most countries.

She was also happy to indulge Moro’s mystifications that “it was never a personal issue with ex-president Lula,” suppressing the fact that Lava Jato prosecutors had conspired to muzzle Lula on the eve of the election, and that task force leader Delton Dallagnol had said he was literally “pray[ing]” that Bolsonaro would win.

Brian Mier on CounterSpin (11/30/18): “The judge, Sergio Moro…was allowed to rule on his own investigation, with no jury, an eccentric Brazilian legal tradition, which goes back to the Inquisition.”

Time joined the rest of the Western media in likewise concealing the public and notorious US hand in the lawfare operation (CounterSpin, 12/12/18). Neither Nugent nor her counterparts reported that Lava Jato was a joint investigation with the US’s Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission. The two agencies collected billions in fines from Brazilian companies that were considered strategic for national development, including construction giant Odebrecht, state aircraft manufacturer Embraer and state oil firm Petrobras. Meanwhile, Moro ordered Odebrecht and other implicated construction companies to paralyze their projects, causing 500,000 job losses and an estimated 2.5% fall in GDP in 2015 alone. The US-backed economic coup paved the way for the 2016 parliamentary coup and the fraudulent 2018 election, in which the baseless corruption accusations against Lula and Dilma were decisive (CounterSpin, 6/28/19).

Much of that coordination between the prosecution task force overseen by Moro and US agencies was informal and illegal, because it was not authorized by the Brazilian Foreign Ministry. In one particularly damning Telegram message, Dallagnol told Moro that decisions regarding the investigations “depend[ed]… on the Americans.” During his tenure as “super-justice minister,” Moro further opened the door to US infiltration in legally dubious ways, expanding US cooperation with prosecutors and police, creating an intelligence “fusion” center with FBI participation in the Tri-Border Region, and sharing sensitive biometric data with the agency.

Time, along with the entirety of Western corporate media, unsurprisingly turned a blind eye to this grave breach of Brazilian sovereignty. More surprising was their total concealment of Moro’s far more flagrant acts of lawlessness while serving as top cop. Moro sought to obstruct an investigation in which he was a possible defendant, attempting to destroy evidence that he had interfered in the 2018 presidential election to thwart a Workers’ Party victory. In particular, he tried to prevent the release of the Intercept leaks, while also publicly ordering the illegal destruction of proof seized from hackers imprisoned by the Federal Police, which likewise implicated him in crimes committed during Lava Jato.

The Western press also censored any mention of the fact that Moro may be very likely implicated in the “explosive” allegations (Time, 5/21/20; Guardian, 4/24/20) he made against Bolsonaro, which has led the Supreme Court to open an inquiry. The probe will not only look into the eight alleged crimes committed by Bolsonaro, but will also examine whether Moro had prior knowledge of them and refused to go public until leaving the government, which would constitute a crime of “official misconduct” under Brazilian law.

In rehabilitating Moro as a “whistleblower,” corporate journalists hide their own role in shamelessly promoting the Washington-backed lawfare operation that ousted Brazil’s first female president, and installed a neo-fascist whom they now scapegoat as the posterboy for murderous coronavirus denialism (FAIR.org, 4/12/20).

Bolsonaro certainly has ample blood on his hands. But Moro, his US sponsors and the imperial media share full responsibility.


‘We Should Be Committed to Decriminalizing if We Want to Help Communities of Color’ - CounterSpin interview with Maritza Perez on drugs and overpolicing


Janine Jackson interviewed the Drug Policy Alliance’s Maritza Perez about the war on drugs and overpolicing for the June 12, 2020, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: As Derek Chauvin crushed the life out of George Floyd, one of his colleagues said to appalled onlookers, “Don’t do drugs, kids.” The police who broke into Breonna Taylor’s home and killed her say their no-knock warrant was related to drugs.

US law enforcement can be violent and racist even without the so-called war on drugs, but it often provides pretext for their actions, and reading that a victim of police brutality was “on drugs” can put an asterisk on the story for many. Understanding the use of the war on drugs should be part of our general understanding of law enforcement’s war on black and brown people.

Maritza Perez is director of the office of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. She joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Maritza Perez.

MP: Hi, thanks for having me.

JJ: Let’s get right into it. Drug Policy Alliance released a statement this week on the new piece of police reform legislation in Congress, the Justice in Policing Act. How much do you think the act, as is, would do—in reality, on the ground—and what won’t it do that’s still needed?

MP: So first, we’ll start off by saying that the act does have some really good elements to it; the first time that we would have legislation around creating a national use-of-force standard, also around data collection; the first time we would have a national database keeping track of police misconduct, also use-of-force incidents. There are other things in there, like banning chokeholds, which is great. So there are things in the bill that are good, but the bill is still lacking in areas, specifically in areas that are related to the drug war, which is why we haven’t been able to fully support the bill.

On one hand, we definitely appreciate that Congress is taking a hard look at police reform. This is one of those areas in Congress that is always really, really hard to move on, for a number of reasons. So the fact that they even have a bill, a comprehensive bill at that, is a feat. But we also think that this moment and this opportunity requires something that is much bolder.

Breonna Taylor

So some things that we have specifically said that we need to change about the bill are around the war on drugs. For instance, the bill does provide a ban on no-knock warrants, which, as you said in the segment before this interview, that’s what happened in Breonna Taylor’s case. She was shot while she was sleeping in her own bed. The officers who came to her home had a search warrant in the form of a no-knock warrant, which means that they didn’t have to notify Breonna that they were on the premises, didn’t have to notify folks about their intent before ramming into the home.

No-knock warrants are actually really prevalent. Thousands are issued every year. It’s actually really easy to get sign-off from a judge on a no-knock warrant. Usually they’re used in the context of drugs, so the officers will just have to say that, “We think that if we give notice, our lives will be in danger,” or “people will dispose of the evidence, or the drugs.” So it’s very rare that a judge will not sign off on a no-knock warrant. And they’re often used in SWAT deployments, which just makes it even more deadly, and it’s certainly a deadly combination.

So the bill does prohibit no-knock warrants. However, it doesn’t also prohibit quick-knock warrants, which are legally slightly different from the no-knock warrant, but in practice, it’s the same thing: It’s the police officers barging into your home before you have any idea of what’s happening, before you can respond, before you have time to react, and this is what leads to deadly incidents.

Because this practice is not just deadly for civilians, although it is definitely more deadly for civilians than police officers. But it also affects law enforcement, because officers have lost their lives using these types of warrants. Why? Because if somebody barges into your home, your first thought is going to be that it’s somebody trying to break in. So you might try to retaliate.

So we think it’s very important, especially in drug cases, that officers announce their presence, and give the occupants time to answer their door, to avoid death. So one thing that we’ve been pushing for with this bill is to include quick-knock warrants in the prohibition around no-knock warrants.

Militarized SWAT team at Ferguson protests (cc photo: Jamelle Bouie)

Something else that we think is missing from the bill is the fact that this bill attempts to reform the Department of Defense’s 1033 program. The 1033 program is a program that’s been around for approximately 30 years at this point. It allows the Department of Defense to transfer military-grade equipment to local and state police departments.

I think the public really became aware of this program around the time of the Michael Brown protests in Ferguson. I think people were really just astonished to see that local law enforcement had access to things like tanks, riot gear, the types of things that you think you would see in a war zone, not in a community or in a neighborhood.

But the reason that law enforcement has this is because over the years, this program has allowed billions—more than $7 billion worth of equipment—to get transferred to local and state departments.

This program is also notorious for being mismanaged. In fact, a couple of years ago, the Government Accountability Office conducted a report and review of the program. And they actually created a fake law enforcement agency, and were able to get military-grade equipment from the program, pretending to be this nonexistent law enforcement agency. So that just kind of paints a picture of how little-managed and how little oversight there is of this program, which is scary because, again, it’s military equipment going into the hands of police officers, and who knows who else.

The bill does include reform around the program, but we don’t think reform is enough. We think that the program needs to be abolished. One reason that law enforcement can make a case for getting this equipment is saying that they are conducting counter-narcotics investigations. The bill would take that piece out, but law enforcement would still be able to get the equipment through other ways, including saying that they are conducting counterterrorism investigations; that could be another way to get this equipment.

Our concern is that the equipment would still go to them, and it would still be used against people, and that’s what we don’t want. And I do want to point out that military equipment, and no-knock warrants, are super tied. I mentioned before that no-knock warrants are often used in conjunction with SWAT raids. The police will often use quick-knock, no-knock warrants during SWAT deployments, specifically during drug investigations, disproportionately against people of color in drug investigations. So we really think that reform won’t save the program; the program needs to be done away with. We just need to put an end to militarized policing.

Maritza Perez: “I think this bill really does fail to imagine what public safety could look like. That’s our biggest problem with it. They’re not listening to people on the ground.”

And then lastly, what we think the bill fails to do is just really reimagine what public safety can look like. It’s still relying on federal funding to encourage police officers and law enforcement to do the right thing. It’s still saying, “Well, if you do these things, if you implement these policies, we won’t take away your funding.” But, ultimately, it’s still diverting resources to law enforcement. And, in fact, there are other areas within the bill that give law enforcement money to implement some of these rules. It’s not just being used as a stick, saying, “Well, we’ll take your money if you don’t do this.” It’s also like, “We’ll give you money so you can do X, Y and Z.”

And I think that Congress really needs to listen to people on the ground, who are saying now is the time where we need to divest from law enforcement and invest in our communities, invest in things that actually create public safety and create safe communities, things like quality education, things like jobs and living wages, things like safe and affordable housing, things like harm reduction.

If we’re talking about people who use drugs, I think a better investment would be in harm reduction services, and programs for people who really need them; that would save lives. That would reduce violence.

I think this bill really does fail to imagine what public safety could look like. That’s our biggest problem with it. They’re not listening to people on the ground. And we’re trying to just help Congress think through what people are actually asking. They’re not saying, “Fund police” right now. In fact, they’re saying the opposite. They’re saying, “Invest in our communities.” This bill doesn’t go far enough.

So unfortunately, as the bill currently is written, we cannot throw our support behind it. We hope that in the coming days, Congress gets the bill to a place where we could support it, because, like I said, there are a lot of good things in the bill. There are some good things in there, and Congress hasn’t acted on police reform in quite some time. So this is a really great opportunity, but we think they should seize the moment and really push for something bold. The moment today requires bold action, and this bill is just not it.

JJ: Let me ask you, also: I think that some people think, “Well, cannabis is legal now. Is the war on drugs really still happening?” I think they imagine there’s been a sea change in that. When you’re answering how the war on drugs fits in the overall picture of police racism and of overpolicing, how do you explain it to people? Like that it’s still going on; just because you can go to the dispensary and get some pot doesn’t mean that people are not still being policed and harmed by law enforcement under the guise of a war on drugs.

MP: I think that’s one reason that we actually have, for a long time, been saying that we need to think beyond marijuana legalization, and we need to think about all drug decriminalization. Because as long as we criminalize things that are low-level, one, and then things that a lot of people turn to for survival, for example, drug selling or sex work—those are things that some people do just to survive. And as long as those things remain criminalized, it’s giving police cover to go after black and brown people for things that are crimes on the books, even though they may not be harming anybody, even though the crime may not be a threat to public safety.

The fact is that we would have criminal laws on the books, and a number of criminal laws will always disproportionately hurt minority communities, people of color, because we feel the brunt of police enforcement. So we need to chip away at all of those things; really, we need to ask ourselves, “Is this actually something that needs to be criminalized, that will actually endanger public safety?” And if the answer is that it won’t, then we should take it off the books, because we need to make sure that they don’t have excuses to continue to harass and target our communities, because it’s just going to continue to happen.

Marijuana dispensary, Eugene, Oregon (cc photo: Rick Obst)

I think what you said earlier about marijuana being legalized, you can go to a dispensary—I think, unfortunately, people just have different experiences in America based on your skin color. I think if you’re white and you don’t experience police harassment, you might think marijuana legalization did it, right? I can go get my weed from a store and things are fine, nobody’s harassing me.

But data says something different. Even if you look at states that have legalized marijuana, the people who are still being disproportionately arrested for marijuana activity, the people who are still being cited, are black and brown people, the people who feel the brunt of all police enforcement.

So I think we should all just be committed to just decriminalizing things, getting things off the books, if we really want to help communities of color. But also, we just need to rethink law enforcement. I mean, do we really think it’s a good use of taxpayer resources to throw somebody in jail, or give somebody a life record, for smoking marijuana, something that’s legal in most states at this point? So it’s a good question, and something that we should reconsider. I think policing is a good start, but I think we also just need to continue to chip away at criminal justice, and have a conversation about criminal justice reform.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Maritza Perez of the Drug Policy Alliance. You can follow their work online at DrugPolicy.org. Thank you so much, Maritza Perez, for joining us on CounterSpin.

MP: Thank you for having me.


‘Trump Judges Are Showing Just How Extreme They Are’ - CounterSpin interview with Elliot Mincberg about Trump's judicial appointments

Janine Jackson interviewed People For the American Way’s Elliot Mincberg about Trump’s judicial appointments for the June 6, 2020, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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People For the American Way (4/19)

Janine Jackson: Donald Trump has done so many high-profile egregious things as president—building a wall on the Mexican border, calling white supremacists “very fine people” and trying to ban Muslims from the country—that it can distract from other behind-the-scenes harms his administration is enacting. Importantly, harms that will outlast his presidency. At the top of that list: judges.

Indeed, this week the Senate ignored numerous issues, but did vote to confirm Federalist Society member John Badalamenti as federal judge in Tampa, Florida. That makes him Trump’s 197th  judicial appointment. Appointments that last a lifetime.

Particularly as some look to courts to protect us from the outrages of the Trump White House, it’s critical to see how this putative check on executive power can be turned against that mission, and to name the names of those doing it. That’s what People For the American Way are doing with Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears, a blog series and database of Trump-appointed judges and the impacts they’re having.

We’re joined now by People For senior fellow Elliot Mincberg. He joins us by phone from Maryland. Welcome to CounterSpin, Elliot Mincberg.

Elliot Mincberg: Pleasure to be here. Thank you.

JJ: If we could first spend a minute on the project itself: Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears, is a blog series, but it’s also a searchable database. What’s in it? And how would you hope that folks would use it?

Brett Kavanaugh

EM: What is in the database and in the blog entries are a series of posts focusing on decisions involving Trump judges who are on the appellate courts—not the district courts, but the courts one step below the Supreme Court, where most of the critical legal decisions are made—and, of course, the Supreme Court itself.

And what we’ve looked at are all cases where there’s a difference of opinion among those judges—so, for example, a case where a Trump judge has written a majority opinion but there’s a strong dissent, sometimes, frankly, even by other Republican judges. Or a case where the majority has issued one decision but a Trump judge dissents, and wants to take the law even further to the right.

And what you can find on this database are pretty much a description of all such cases—other than those that relate to issues like one corporation versus the next. Cases that relate to discrimination issues, environmental issues, conflicts as to presidential power: You name the issue, you’ll find it there. And what you will find is just how extreme the Trump judges are.

JJ: Let’s talk about some examples that illustrate the impact that a judge can have. I know that you’ve just written about the role federal judges can play in…well, here’s a thing:  police accountability.

EM: It’s straight out of today’s headlines, but, frankly, the Trump judges were there before the recent headlines started.

JJ: Right.

People For the American Way

EM: There’s a doctrine that’s been referred to, called qualified immunity, in which courts sometimes rule that a police officer is immune from a lawsuit for damages, no matter how severe their misconduct may be. And we have documented cases where police shot an unarmed person in the back, literally arrested a young African-American man for doing nothing more than going to a white suburban shopping center and looking for space heaters on a cold winter night, another case where a young man was shot, fled to his father’s yard, then was tased and died as a result. In just about all of these cases, you have Trump judges who wind up casting the deciding votes to rule that there should be absolutely no liability for these police, for this incredible misconduct.

And that is something that needs to change. Congress, I know, is considering legislation on the issue. Frankly, what really needs to change is getting judges in who appreciate the need for appropriate accountability with respect to the police.

JJ: One Trump-appointed judge whose name folks will know—I really appreciate the database, because it calls up folks in cases that you won’t have heard of—but one judge that folks will know about is Brett Kavanaugh, on the Supreme Court, and also deeply relevant right now. He just wrote this kind of strange dissent, pushing for an exception for churches to be able to stay open in the pandemic. What was striking to you there?

EM: What is really striking about that and other cases involving the pandemic, which is another area where Trump judges have shown their stripes recently, was, most of the time, Trump judges have been very supportive of government action during the pandemic, even when that action takes away individual rights and is very harmful. For example, in every case where Trump judges have voted in the lower courts, they have ruled, or tried to rule, to sustain restrictions on abortion, even though the medical evidence is quite clear there was no good reason to do that.

In this case, the issue related to a church, a megachurch in California, that wanted to have a large church service, with many people shoulder to shoulder, clearly risking serious spread of the pandemic. And the lower court and the Supreme Court basically upheld what the state of California was doing. But Brett Kavanaugh wrote a dissent, joined by the other Trump justice, Gorsuch, as well as by Clarence Thomas, that said this was improper, that the church should have been allowed to meet, maybe do a little social distancing, but should have been allowed to do that. And, in fact, there was a similar situation in the court of appeals, where, again, the majority ruled for California, but another Trump judge filed the dissent, arguing against. So Covid-19 is yet another from-the-headlines example of how Trump judges are showing just how extreme they are.

JJ: And John Roberts took apart that Kavanaugh dissent, and found what seemed like some pretty basic flaws in it. And I’m also thinking about the election eve ruling the Supreme Court made that forced Wisconsin to hold their in-person primary. Kavanaugh’s position just seems, you know, just seems kind of dumb, like, beyond ideology. It just seems like bad lawyering. There are evident mistakes that you can pick out.

Elliot Mincberg: “What we see from President Trump’s nominees to these powerful courts of appeals and the Supreme Court is a consistent right-wing ideology, frankly going further even than some Reagan and Bush appointees.”

EM: Well, I do agree with you. I think you can pick out the evident mistakes, but there’s no question that ideology is motivating that. Unfortunately, in the Wisconsin case, John Roberts went along with Kavanaugh and the other right-wing justices. So in that case, it was a majority. And there were tens of thousands of individuals in Wisconsin who couldn’t cast their vote, or who had to risk infection in order to do it in person. And some of them, in fact, have gotten infected, as subsequent reports show.

But, again, what we see from President Trump’s nominees to these powerful courts of appeals and the Supreme Court is a consistent right-wing ideology, frankly going further even than some Reagan and Bush appointees. There are numerous examples where the dissenters have not been just Democratic appointees, but Republican appointees, who have said, “These guys are going way too far in distorting the law in a way that helps big corporations, helps the powerful and hurts the ordinary person.”

JJ: It’s not part of the project, per se, but you’ve had a long career in government and the law, and I can’t help but ask your thoughts on the country’s top lawyer, Attorney General Bill Barr. Does his behavior look to you like a guy fighting for a particular vision of law that he supports, or something else?

EM: I think Attorney General Barr is a disgrace. I remember, frankly, because I was working in the area when he was attorney general under the first President Bush, where he was further to the right than Bush wanted to be. Now he’s found a president who is willing to push, as far as he will, these extreme views on presidential power, on limiting the authority of Congress to protect the American people as they’ve tried to do.

And Barr, I think, is nothing short of a disgrace to the office that he holds. He’s refused to testify recently in front of the House Judiciary Committee. There are scheduled to be hearings involving a  whistleblower, too, from the Department of Justice. I strongly recommend people tune into that. The only reason we don’t spend more time on Barr is because we don’t want to divert attention from just how terrible Trump has been. But he has quite a partner in Bill Barr as attorney general.

JJ: Finally, Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears, which is searchable by judge or by issue, the database—it seems like a terrific resource for reporters. Is there any role for the public here, besides awareness of the role that these federal judges play?

EM: Absolutely. In addition to awareness, it’s important to take a look at what has happened with respect to judges that your own senators have voted for. We’ve worked with groups in Iowa to do an ad focusing on Joni Ernst, for example, and indicating some of the terrible decisions by judges that she’s voted for, and what that means for the future.

And I think people can essentially do the same themselves, to look up by judge, by issue, and then question their senators, question the president, question others: “What are you doing? Why are you continuing to confirm these folks?” There are several up right now, that may be voted on soon in the Senate, that are right out of the Trump/Federalist Society playbook. I think people should do everything they can, based in part on this tool and other work, to oppose the confirmation of those judges.

JJ: We’ve  been speaking with Elliot Mincberg, senior fellow at People For the American Way. You can find Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears on their website, pfaw.org. Thank you very much, Elliot Mincberg, for joining us today on CounterSpin.

EM: You’re very welcome. Thank you.


‘To Tell Stories of Communities That Are Authentic and Genuine, You Have to Have a Conversation’ - CounterSpin interview with Alicia Bell on police attacks on journalists

Janine Jackson interviewed Free Press’s Alicia Bell about police attacks on journalists for the June 6, 2020, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: Human rights, civil liberties and journalist groups are joined in outrage at US police targeting members of the media covering protests sparked by the police murder of African-American George Floyd. “Targeting,” because journalists are not being swept up in assaults by police on protesters, which are themselves horrific, but are being individually shot at with rubber bullets and pepper balls, tear-gassed and beaten, even after showing credentials. Well over 100 of such violations of press freedom have been collected, as of June 3.

CNN (6/1/20)

How is being treated as the “enemy of the people” that Trump and his supporters have long labeled them affecting reporters’ relationship to the issues and the people they’re covering? Though it seems to have subsequently shifted tone, CNN was still issuing headlines like “Protesters Face Off With the Forces of Order,” even as its own reporters were being wrongfully arrested.

What’s clear from these violent, unconstitutional attacks is that some “forces of order” will fight to prevent media amplification of voices protesting their brutality. That could chill reporters—or bring them into closer solidarity with overpoliced communities, whose stories so obviously need telling.

Alicia Bell is organizing manager with the group Free Press, working on the News Voices project. She joins us now by phone from North Carolina. Welcome to CounterSpin, Alicia Bell.

Alicia Bell: Hi, Janine. Thanks so much for having me on.

Cincinnati police swarm Cincinnati Enquirer journalist Pat Brennan (recorded by ABC affiliate WCPO, 6/1/20).

JJ: People are talking about First Amendment rights, as well they should be. But it isn’t just that reporters have a legal right to cover protests from up close. They have a journalistic responsibility to do so, you could say.

AB: Absolutely. I think one of the common expectations of journalism, both from journalists and from people engaging with journalism, is that the journalists are speaking truth to power. I’ve heard a lot of different journalists in newsrooms talk about amplifying voices of people who are not often given a platform. And so it absolutely makes sense that they would be doing this work right now, and have a duty to be covering and telling the stories of these protests and different organizing efforts that are happening in cities across the world.

JJ: The particular violation—and it really is shocking to see police attacking journalists, and it’s important, I think, to talk about that in itself, and respond to it on its own—but we know that this now is not a story about reporters. You know, we know that reporters covering a Tea Party protest or a Trump rally would not be beaten up or shot at. So it’s clearly about who they were trying to give voice to.

Alicia Bell: “It does make sense that for the people who are trying to amplify the voices of people who are resisting police violence, that the police might not be too happy about that.”

AB: Absolutely. I think it absolutely has to do with the fact that they are amplifying voices and showing the faces and showing video and lifting up demands from communities of color, from working class communities, from queer and trans communities, all the different identities that black and brown people hold. Those are the folks who are showing up on the streets, that are showing up in protest of police brutality and of police violence, which is a centuries-old issue in the United States. And so it does make sense that for the people who are trying to amplify the voices of people who are resisting police violence, that the police might not be too happy about that.

JJ: Right

AB: And would want to try to shift that and shut that down, as opposed to someone who’s protesting and is wanting to give more power to policing, give more power to various government bodies. But for the people who aren’t doing that, which is people right now, then the police have a stake in shutting that down.

JJ: Folks talk about building relationships between the police and the community. And they can mean all kinds of things by that. You’ve said this moment underscores the importance of relationship-building between newsrooms and communities. I wonder if you could talk a little about the value of that, and how do you facilitate that?

AB: There’s often conversations about the future of journalism and the future of news. And when we think about journalism and news as an institution, and an infrastructure in our community, then what we know is that when our communities are stronger and our communities are more powerful, institutions and infrastructure within our communities are also stronger and more powerful. And the same thing goes for news and for journalism.

Photojournalist Christopher Rusanowsky arrested by a Dallas police officer (photographed by Tom Fox, Dallas Morning News, 5/30/20).

But in order for journalists to really be accurately and adequately informing community needs and information needs, and in order for them to tell the stories of communities in ways that are authentic and genuine—you have to have a conversation; and you’re going to have a deeper conversation, you’re going to have a deeper reporting, when you’re in relationship with someone.

And the same thing goes with any kind of relationship, right? If we walk up to someone randomly on the street, and want to ask them about some of the most intimate moments, most important political moments of their lives, we’re less likely to get really rich, deep conversation.

But when we’re in conversation with people that we have relationships with, that we’ve established relationships with, there’s going to be so much more variety, so much more nuance. And the way that we build those relationships, the way that we are encouraging journalists to build those relationships, is really the same way that you build and sustain any relationship. If somebody only comes into your house and eats food out of your refrigerator and doesn’t say hello, doesn’t ask how you’re doing, doesn’t give anything back, you’re rightfully going to be frustrated.

So if journalists are only coming into communities, especially communities of color, black and brown communities, who have often been marginalized by newsrooms, and are only taking information and taking quotes from people, instead of asking how they’re doing, being present in different community spaces, then the relationship is not going to happen.

So right now, in this immediate moment, those are some of the ways that journalists can be building relationships. They can also be asking different people on the ground, from various community institutions, organizations, non-organizations: “What do you need? What questions do you have right now? What can we get answers to that you might not get answers to?” And do the work of answering those questions and providing that information.

Journalist Linda Tirado lost an eye to a rubber-jacketed bullet fired by a Minneapolis cop (5/29/20).

JJ: Yeah, yeah, and the depth and the complexity of the understanding seems to me like it’s going to be so especially important going forward on this case, when we know that folks will be trying to divide community against itself, you know, by saying, “These people are good protesters. These people are Antifa.” And for reporters trying to navigate that, you have to have some footing, you have to have some grounding within the folks that are going to be talked about.

The parachuting in, you sometimes hear about journalists “parachuting into a problem,” which is what you’re talking about with, when you just walk up to somebody, you don’t get the full story. And I think also, from the point of view of the reader, it truncates the timeframe, it distorts the story, by making it an arc, with a beginning and a middle and an end. There’s a protest and there’s a police response, then maybe there’s a legal response, and then it’s over.

But of course we know that racial injustice is an everyday story; it doesn’t arise and peak and then dissipate. But in a way, sometimes it’s just the way journalists approach a story, or the tools they’re given to get at a story, that seem to work against really getting that complex understanding that you’re talking about.

AB: Absolutely. And I think it’s worth thinking about some of the things that folks are protesting right now. When folks are protesting policing and police violence and state-sponsored violence, it’s really a protest of extraction, of “how have you extracted people and power from my community?”

And so for journalists, I think it’s important to not continue that same habit of extraction—because that extraction, that puts you in solidarity and an alignment with folks who are perpetuating state- sponsored violence with the same kind of tactic, just in a different shape and a different form—but instead to think of, “How can this be generative for this community? What kind of follow up can there be? How can I collaborate with journalists and newsrooms that are on the ground all the time? What does that look like?” That starts to shift that extraction to being really relational.

JJ: Let me just say, finally, we do see reporting that does that, I take it. You know, we’re talking about a movement we want to see, but it’s not like it hasn’t started yet. This is work that’s ongoing.

AB: Absolutely.

JJ: So in terms of folks who are doing the work, there are also folks who are producing resources for journalists to use, correct?

AB: Yes, the organization Press On has created a guide for journalists on reporting on protesting. Right now, City Bureau, the organization that’s in Chicago, has created some resources for journalists to reimagine how they cover crime and criminal justice more broadly. And then Free Press  is also distributing some more resources throughout the week, and has been throughout the past few weeks, to help reporters and journalists who are thinking about ways to shift their reporting right now.

JJ: Thank you very much. We’ve been speaking with Alicia Bell, organizing manager with the group Free Press. They’re  online at FreePress.net.  Thanks very much, Alicia Bell, for joining us today on CounterSpin.

AB: Thank you.


NYT Erases US Occupation’s Role in Prolonging Taliban Insurgency


The New York Times (5/26/20) attributes the Taliban’s continuing ability to recruit fighter to “deep loathing for… Western institutions and values”—not to the thousands of Afghan civilians killed by foreign occupiers.

The New York Times’ senior correspondent in Afghanistan, Mujib Mashal, somehow managed to write a 3,700+ word article “How the Taliban Outlasted a Superpower: Tenacity and Carnage” (5/26/20) that purported to explain how the Taliban managed to “outlast a superpower through nearly 19 years of grinding war,” without examining at all how the US contributed to reviving and sustaining the Taliban insurgency.

The Times credited a variety of reasons  to explain how the Taliban outlasted the US, ranging from an expansion of an “illicit funding regime built on crimes and drugs,” to a “system of terrorism planning and attacks” that pressured the US-backed Afghan government. “Positioning themselves as a shadow government,” the “corruption and the abuses of the Afghan government,” and their success with an “increasingly sophisticated information operation” designed to “ensure that recruitment streams would not dry up” were also cited as explanations.

Curiously, all these explanations exclude the US’s illegal occupation and state terrorism as the reason for the Taliban’s longevity and persistence. Instead, the Times condemned the Taliban for changing “little of its harsh founding ideology” and “clinging to its old ways of repressing women, art and culture,” as well as other offenses:

They have never explicitly renounced their past of harboring international terrorists, nor the oppressive practices toward women and minorities that defined their term in power in the 1990s. And the insurgents remain deeply opposed to the vast majority of the Western-supported changes in the country over the past two decades.

Although the Times mentioned that the US supported Osama bin Laden and the reactionary Mujahedeen extremists against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, it never explicitly acknowledged that the US is responsible for the Taliban’s rise, after they defeated other factions in the “vacuum left behind by the Soviet withdrawal.” There’s no indication that the US itself is responsible for the Taliban’s oppressive practices, even though the US intervened in a civil war against the Afghan Communist Taraki government—which had made advances towards ostensible US goals like educating girls and eliminating opium production—six months before the US baited the Soviet Union into invading Afghanistan in 1979 (FAIR.org, 3/21/14).

The Times also distorted history when it claimed that, after the US’s illegal invasion in 2001, the

Taliban reorganized as a decentralized network of fighters and low-level commanders empowered to recruit and find resources locally while the senior leadership remained sheltered in neighboring Pakistan.

The Taliban didn’t “reorganize” as a “decentralized network of fighters,” they surrendered shortly after the invasion. Not long after the Taliban’s leader at the time, Mullah Omar, resigned and went into hiding on December 5, 2001, the newly appointed leader, Mullah Obaidullah, reached an agreement with former Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the Taliban to surrender their weapons, as well as their last stronghold in Kandahar, in exchange for amnesty for Afghan Taliban fighters (ABC, 1/6/06).

Ryan Grim (Intercept, 8/22/17) on the Taliban: “When they were driven from power, the population was happy to see them go. The US managed to make them popular again.”

Not only did the US make no attempt to prevent war by ignoring the Taliban’s overtures to surrender bin Laden to the US for trial both before and after the September 11 attacks, the US also rejected the Taliban’s efforts to end the war by ignoring the publicly agreed upon amnesty in favor of persecuting, torturing and killing suspected former Taliban members, who had stopped fighting and returned to civilian life, or fled to Pakistan (New York Times, 12/7/01; Intercept, 8/22/17). The Times itself acknowledged that the Taliban had effectively disbanded when it noted that the “Taliban’s fighters went home as the Islamic Emirate disintegrated,” while simultaneously asserting that its leaders were planning “a longer war of attrition” against the US from safe havens in Pakistan.

According to journalist Anand Gopal (Foreign Policy, 11/10/10), even after fleeing to Pakistan, large segments of the Taliban leadership were still open to “returning to Afghanistan and abandoning the fight.” It wasn’t until May 2003 that the Taliban announced that it had regrouped under new leadership, and was prepared to expel the US through guerilla warfare (Christian Science Monitor, 5/8/03). It began to dramatically escalate violence in 2006–07 (Washington Post, 12/9/19). The Taliban’s resurgence wasn’t inevitable, as the Times acknowledged that many Taliban commanders interviewed for the article could “scarcely even dream of a day they might be able to fight off the US military” in the initial months after the invasion. It was the US’s insistence on rejecting amnesty in favor of finding and punishing Taliban fighters that led to that revival.

According to the Times, it wasn’t until 2007 that the Taliban began more “serious territorial assaults” by reviving and refining for use against the US military the “old blueprint the United States had funded against the Soviets in the same mountains and terrain.” After the Taliban’s resurgence in 2006–07, the Times noted that “fighters keep signing up…in part because of deep loathing for the Western institutions and values the Afghan government has taken up from its allies.”

In a New York Times op-ed (2/20/20), Taliban deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani said the Taliban stuck with talks despite an “intensified bombing campaign against our villages by the United States.”

If that’s part of the answer, what else explains how the Taliban were able to “keep recruiting enough young men to continue fighting,” even at the “peak of the long American military presence and the coordinating effort to help the Afghan government win hearts and minds in the countryside”? It’s no secret that the Taliban’s most important goal is the withdrawal of foreign military forces, and it’s patronizing to think the US ever had a shot at tricking Afghans into being content with imperial domination by winning “hearts and minds.” Their leaders even published an op-ed in the Times (2/20/20) explaining what motivates their insurgency, and why they keep pursuing a peace deal with the US:

We did not choose our war with the foreign coalition led by the United States. We were forced to defend ourselves. The withdrawal of foreign forces has been our first and foremost demand.

This is consistent with University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape’s finding that over 95% of all suicide bombing attacks since 1980 are motivated by a desire to expel foreign occupiers from their homeland (Foreign Policy, 10/18/10). When Matthew Hoh, a former top State Department official in Afghanistan, resigned in protest over continual US involvement in Afghanistan’s decades-long civil war, he noted in his resignation letter that many Afghans are fighting the US simply because its troops are there (Washington Post, 10/27/09; Extra!, 12/09).

Noam Chomsky (The Nation, 5/10/16) pointed out that studies of insurgencies reveal familiar cycles of violence. First, invaders are naturally disliked by the native population, whose resistance elicits increasingly forceful responses by the occupiers, which then escalates native opposition to their occupation until the occupiers either withdraw, or commit sufficient violence to subdue the occupied—up to and including genocide.

The violence US-backed forces have inflicted on Afghanistan includes horrific torture in CIA black sites, CIA-backed Afghan militias torturing and killing Afghans with near impunity, bombing Afghans with drone strikes, and alliances with brutal warlords that were once suppressed by the Taliban and are despised by the Afghan people. The Costs of War Project (1/20) found that while 2,300 US soldiers have died in the Afghanistan War, over 157,000 people have died since the invasion in 2001 (including 43,000 civilians).

Under international law, those who start a war of aggression, as the US did in Afghanistan, are responsible for all of the atrocities that subsequently occur, including the Taliban’s violence against US soldiers and Afghan civilians to compel US withdrawal. Yet nowhere does the Times article acknowledge that the “military invasion” the Bush administration sought for “immediate revenge” was a war crime in violation of international law. Indeed, seven out of nine references to “violence” in the article are reserved exclusively for violence committed by Afghans, with none referring exclusively to US violence (FAIR.org, 3/29/19). Mashal refers at one point to “instances of US or Afghan forces causing civilian casualties,” only to qualify them as “whether real cases or made up.”

The Times also demonstrated a commitment to the propagandistic narrative of the “War on Terror” when it condemned the Taliban for not showing “remorse for its past cooperation with Al Qaeda,” and using terms like “terrorism” and “terrorist” exclusively as descriptors for Muslims and their activities. The US is arguably the biggest sponsor and perpetrator of terrorism on the planet (FAIR.org, 3/13/19, 2/13/20), and has also cooperated with Al Qaeda with the support of corporate media (FAIR.org, 3/18/15, 1/4/17).

When an article purporting to explain how the Taliban outlasted the US doesn’t mention that the abuses under the illegal US occupation are what revived and currently sustains their insurgency—despite it being Osama bin Laden’s stated strategy to ensnare the US in protracted and expensive wars (Washington Post, 5/3/11; Extra!, 7/11)—it is imperial propaganda. Although it’s too early to say that the Taliban “outlasted” a superpower, because the US hasn’t withdrawn yet, the Times’ analysis ultimately fails because it doesn’t acknowledge how it’s logically impossible for the US to “win” a “War on Terror” in Afghanistan, when its occupation and state terrorism are the Taliban’s secret weapon.

Writers Guild East Leading Charge to Take Cops Out of Labor


Minneapolis police union chief Bob Kroll (Intercept, 6/2/20): “If you’re in this job and you’ve seen too much blood and gore and dead people, then you’ve signed up for the wrong job.”

The demand to expel police unions from mainstream labor organizations was once a fringe demand. Now, in the wake of the ongoing Black Lives Matter uprising, the demand is taking center stage in labor news, and the Writers Guild of America East—which has been proactive in organizing new media newsrooms—is leading the charge to remove cop unions from the AFL-CIO. (As this article went to press, the body voted to keep unions in the fold, but the debate rages within the labor movement.)

“As long as police unions continue to wield their collective bargaining power as a cudgel, preventing reforms and accountability, no one is safe,” the union said in its statement to the federation. “Therefore we believe that police unions do not belong in our labor coalition.”

As scrutiny of American policing has intensified, the New York Times (6/6/20) and NPR affiliate WNYC (6/3/20) have profiled how police unions have been a major force against meaningful police reform. The topic isn’t entirely new: The Al Jazeera show Fault Lines (12/6/16) investigated how the police union power in Chicago blocked accountability measures for cops, and Jacobin (1/12/14) took an in-depth look at police unions from a left perspective.

The WGAE asking the AFL-CIO to consider removing police unions from the federation is taking the conversation to the next level. It’s not an incongruous demand, given that  media workers have been particularly hard hit as victims of police while covering these protests: The Associated Press (6/3/20) reported that several of its workers were assaulted by cops while covering protests in New York. A Vice reporter (5/31/20) explained how he was attacked by cops while covering the protests in Minneapolis. The Hill (6/1/20) reported how an Indiana journalist lost an eye from a cop’s tear gas canister, while the New York Times (5/30/20) covered a similar incident in Minneapolis.

The ACLU of Minnesota is suing state and city law enforcement agencies over attacks on journalists. The US Press Freedom Tracker has tallied more than 400 aggressions against journalists during the George Floyd protests, including 79 journalists attacked and 23 arrested.

Dave Jamieson

So distrust between media unionists and the police is understandable. Dave Jamieson, a labor reporter for Huffington Post (a WGAE shop), who has written (6/6/20) about the issue of cop unions in relation to the current nationwide protests, emailed FAIR about the notion of removing cop unions from organized labor:

It’s been fascinating to watch it become a more mainstream argument pretty much in real time. Of course, there was a lot of talk about this after Michael Brown was killed in 2014, too. But I think the debate over this within the labor movement has shifted quickly for the same reason the broader discussion of police reform has: The protests that erupted after George Floyd was killed have changed everything. They’re raw, they’re broad-based and they’re everywhere, from big cities to small towns. When you see a city like Minneapolis moving to possibly disband its police force in its current form, major change really seems possible.

It’s a controversial idea in the labor movement, to be sure. Many non-cop unionists might have relatives or friends in police unions. In New York City, a Teamster local represents school cops, while the Communications Workers of America represents traffic cops. (The CWA is an umbrella organization that also includes the NewsGuild, which represents news workers.)

But the WGAE request has sparked the question: What do cop unions do for the rest of the labor movement? Obviously, if the house of labor is to keep police unions, the latter should be making some contribution to the former. Jamieson said:

I ran a Twitter poll, asking labor activists how frequently they’ve encountered off-duty police showing support at their protests or picket lines. This isn’t scientific, but the vast majority who responded said they have seen very little support from police generally when it came to their own unions’ causes. (Plenty did say, however, that they’ve had on-duty police undermine their labor actions.) Of course, there is a long history of police breaking up strikes and protests.

So I think a lot of people within the labor movement understandably feel that police are apart from them. There seems to be little sense of mutual aid.

Whether police should have collective bargaining rights is a completely different question from whether police should be part of the labor movement. I think a growing number of folks will say yes to the former but no to the latter.

Hamilton Nolan (In These Times, 6/8/20): “The biggest union coalition in America has as a member a union of more than 100,000 cops. They are the same cops who are beating, tear-gassing and otherwise oppressing all of the other working people who are right now out in the streets asking to be free of that oppression.”

And as labor journalist Hamilton Nolan, one of the WGAE councilmembers who voted (unanimously) in favor of the WGAE resolution, said at In These Times (6/8/20), unions have a responsibility to hold the labor movement accountable. “Many police unions are also run by racists, and have been for a long time,” he said:

There is no better sign of how bad police unions have become than the fact that the loudest calls to rein in their power are coming from inside the labor movement—from people who usually spend their time fighting against efforts to rein in unions.

There is concern that blaming cop unions for the lack of accountability in policing plays into the right’s talking points about public-sector unions generally, which hold that teachers’ unions protect bad teachers and hold back needed reform. Indeed, enthusiastically negative coverage of police unions from the libertarian magazine Reason (6/9/20, 6/3/20) might give some unionists pause. Jamieson, again:

We could see a situation where conservative lawmakers say, “Okay, if you want to take away the ability of cops to bargain over discipline, we think the same needs to be done for teachers and sanitation workers.” And I fully expect that argument to be made if reforming police unions actually makes it onto the table. I think that’s why some leaders of public-sector unions—even those that don’t represent law enforcement — will be leery of going down this road.

But the right will attack public-sector unions no matter what. With then–Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s move to strip the state’s workers of collective bargaining rights, and the Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME that forces a “right-to-work” regime on public-sector unions, the right’s war against these unions was declared long ago. The schism between some unions like the WGAE and the police unions might add fuel to the fire, but that battle will go on regardless.

The WGAE,  a union of both online media workers and entertainment writers, has a much more liberal inclination than, say, the building trades unions that make up one of the AFL-CIO’s most powerful blocs—kicking cops out of the federation was always a long shot. But just as “abolish police” and “defund police” were fringe ideas in May that became mainstream topics in June, the notion of excluding cops from labor federations is coming into the mainstream, in part thanks to the WGAE. And that’s happening not just because it is a relatively liberal union, but because the media workers covering these uprisings are risking their lives and safety in the face of an out-of-control police response.