Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

‘We Live in an Economy That Provides Little Support to New Parents’

 

Janine Jackson interviewed Popular Information‘s Tesnim Zekeria about baby formula shortages  for the May 13, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Popular Info (5/12/22)

Janine Jackson: According to research cited by our next guest, the national out-of-stock rate for baby formula reached 43% last week. It’s a story that should shock the conscience: people driving for hours to get to a place where they can possibly buy the food that their baby needs, or paying insane markup rates to people who are exploiting the shortage to price-gouge.

The question is what do we do with that shock? One Texas newspaper responded with a no doubt well-intentioned op-ed beginning with the declaration that there “are some things that shouldn’t happen in America, and the shortage of baby formula we’re seeing now is one of them.”

Well, it’s past time to explore the implication that anything inhumane or harmful in this country must be an aberration, and that surely getting US institutions back to their roots, or back on track, would solve things.

We have, many of us, caught on to the fact that systems not designed for a multiracial democracy, or for super-powerful corporate actors—at this point, they’re part of the problem and not part of the solution, and so a conversation about how to reorient or replace those institutions is one of the most significant conversations that journalists could possibly host or encourage or platform right now. That we don’t see that is not about journalism itself, but just about journalism as it’s usually done.

On, in particular, the baby formula story, we’re joined now with a different way of doing reporting on it by Tesnim Zekeria, researcher with Popular Information. She joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Tesnim Zekeria.

Tesnim Zekeria: Hi, Janine. Thanks for having me.

JJ: So you’re a reporter presented with a reality, an important reality, but, you know, you can take it as “supply chain shortage,” or you can take it as “people are unable to feed their children.”

It seems to matter, the prism that you bring to a story, the way you report it. So I just wonder, where do you even start, as a reporter, in terms of what you think people need to know when they’re confronted with a problem, which a lot of folks just kind of woke up to and read in the paper: “Oh my goodness. There’s a shortage of baby formula.” Where do you start?

TZ: Yeah, that’s a great question. So first, there are immediate things that you can point to as reasons that explain why supplies are low.

So for instance, as you mentioned, supply chain disruptions; we’ve seen this across many industries. But then, you also have a contamination problem at Abbott, which is one of the largest baby formula manufacturers. And in February of this year, the FDA issued a guidance, warning consumers to avoid certain Abbott formula products from the company, following the death of two infants, I believe, and I think two others were also hospitalized.

But those are just pieces to the story. There’s also the reality that we live in an economy, and live in a government, that really provides little to no support or protection to new parents, and children, for that matter. So I think when you’re also looking into these stories, it’s important to look and ask the question of who is really being impacted by this the most, and research shows that it’s really low-income families who rely on formula, as well as families with babies who have special needs, that need these products the most, and unfortunately have been hit the hardest.

JJ: It’s interesting, because you’ll see outlets, like the Washington Post, saying “US Baby Formula Shortage Leaves Parents Scrambling: Low-Income and Rural Parents Most at Risk, Experts and Organizations Say.”

There’s no part of that that’s a lie; it’s all true. But to me, I don’t know, it just speaks to a number of failings. First of all, yeah. Yeah, a lack of formula is going to leave parents scrambling, and yes, the people who are low-income and rural and outside of things and marginalized are going to be hit worst.

There’s a thing I call “narrating the nightmare,” which is just, why do you present it as news that the people who are most marginalized are going to be the most hurt? I just have a question about a style of journalism that presents that as new. News is meant to be something new, right? And this is not new.

Tesnim Zekeria: “A lot of the audiences from these mainstream outlets are not necessarily the folks who are being hit the hardest by the shortage.”

TZ: Definitely. The other thing you have to consider is that a lot of the audiences from these mainstream outlets are not necessarily the folks who are being hit the hardest by the shortage, right? Maybe they’re going to a grocery store and they’re noticing that, hey, there’s a little less formula than there normally is.

But, for the most part, some of these elite publications have wealthy audiences that can get formula when they desperately need it.

JJ: Right. And then the need to say that people who are marginalized are most at risk when there’s a shortage, and the fact that you need to add in the headline, “experts and organizations say,” as though that might be not just a generically acceptable fact, but it might be, like, “depends on who you listen to.”

TZ: Yeah. The other thing, too, that I find interesting is that, I was curious to learn more about how the lack of paid family leave in this country has also contributed to this crisis.

And unfortunately, there’s only really a handful of pieces, like kind of blog posts, just things on the fringe, that really touched on the fact that, hey, a lot of moms in this country are unable to breastfeed. While, yeah, we did guarantee working moms breaks to pump milk, this requires adequate space, this requires expensive equipment. And, as a result, this means that it’s pretty inaccessible.

There’s also no federal requirement that workers are paid while they’re pumping. So for women who work in low-wage industries, like fast food, pumping milk is just not affordable nor practical.

JJ: That’s what I appreciate about this story, is that it starts from a question of: There’s a baby formula shortage. How can people feed babies? And that’s the question you start from, rather than, well, let’s talk to a CEO of a company that’s involved in the supply chain. It changes everything when you consider things as a problem, and try to think of it from the perspective of a person trying to navigate that problem. That seems to be just a categorically different way of doing reporting to me.

TZ: Definitely. Yeah.

JJ: So when you went into journalism, and I did a little research, and I know that you were a college journalist and editor, and had an idea of the role that journalism plays in the world. How did that transition when you became, then, a working journalist, if I can ask, and do you think, when you’re talking to other college journalism students, and they’re trying to find a place in the world, what do you say in terms of, yeah, you should still do this, it still can make a difference. What do you say?

TZ: I tell them that, both unfortunately and fortunately, there are a lot of stories that are kind of brushed aside, right? There are a lot of voices that are swept underneath the carpet. And there’s a lot happening that you don’t really necessarily notice.

And so I always really try to encourage folks to look beyond what they’re seeing from just general headlines from your mainstream publications, and to really ask, whose voices are missing here, right? Whose perspectives are missing here? Are we actually being holistic in our investigation? Are we really looking at problems through a systemic lens?

The reality is, I think sometimes it’s easy to chalk up a certain problem to just two or three reasons, and leave it at that, as opposed to taking on the more challenging task of being like, hey, as a journalist, it’s my responsibility to take this really complicated matter and try to distill it as best as I can to folks, and show people that a lot of these things that we’re seeing, right, even in the case of the baby formula shortage, it’s tied to other issues, or it’s tied to the fact that the Biden administration failed to pass their Build Back Better plan, because you had this multi-million dollar lobbying campaign from major, major corporations.

So that’s kind of a long-winded answer there, but I really believe in, as you mentioned, really just approaching things from a systemic point, and just figuring out, finding the points where things intersect, and shedding light on those points, because I think you actually end up touching on several issues with just one story.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Tesnim Zekeria from Popular Information. You can find their work on this story and others online at Popular.Info. Tesnim Zekeria, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

TZ: Yeah, thank you for having me; it was a pleasure.

 

The post ‘We Live in an Economy That Provides Little Support to New Parents’ appeared first on FAIR.

‘Disinformation’ Label Serves to Marginalize Crucial Ukraine Facts

 

NBC (4/6/22) referred to making charges against Russia for which there is “no evidence” as having “blunted and defused the disinformation weaponry of the Kremlin.”

Disinformation has become a central tool in the United States and Russia’s expanding information war. US officials have openly admitted to “using information as a weapon even when the confidence and accuracy of the information wasn’t high,” with corporate media eager to assist Washington in its strategy to “pre-empt and disrupt the Kremlin’s tactics, complicate its military campaign” (NBC, 4/6/22).

In defense of the US narrative, corporate media have increasingly taken to branding realities inconvenient to US information goals as “disinformation” spread by Russia or its proxies.

The New York Times (1/25/22) reported that Russian disinformation doesn’t only take the form of patently false assertions, but also those which are “true but tangential to current events”—a convenient definition, in that it allows accurate facts to be dismissed as “disinformation.” But who determines what is “tangential” and what is relevant, and what are the guiding principles to make such a determination? In this assessment, Western audiences are too fickle to be trusted with making up their own mind.

There’s no denying that Russia’s disinformation campaign is key to justifying its war on Ukraine. But instead of uncritically outsourcing these decisions to Western intelligence officials and weapons manufacturers, and as a result erasing realities key to a political settlement, the media’s ultimate guiding principle for what information is “tangential” should be whether it is relevant to preventing the further suffering of Ukrainian civilians—and reducing tensions between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.

For Western audiences, and US citizens in particular, labeling or otherwise marginalizing inconvenient realities as “disinformation” prevents a clear understanding of how their government helped escalate tensions in the region, continues to obstruct the possibility of peace talks, and is prepared to, as retired senior US diplomat Chas Freeman describes it, “fight to the last Ukrainian” in a bid to weaken Russia.

Coup ‘conspiracy theory’

The New York Times (4/11/22) drew a red line through Benjamin Norton for advancing the “conspiracy theory” that  “US officials had installed the leaders of the current Ukrainian government.” Eight years ago, the Times (2/6/14) reported as straight news the fact that US “diplomats candidly discussed the composition of a possible new government to replace the pro-Russian cabinet of Ukraine’s president.”

For example, the New York Times (4/11/22) claimed that US support for the 2014 “Maidan Revolution” that ousted Ukraine’s democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych was a “conspiracy theory” being peddled by the Chinese government in support of Russia. The article featured an image with a red line crossing out the face of journalist Benjamin Norton, who was appearing on a Chinese news channel to discuss how the US helped orchestrate the coup. (Norton wrote for FAIR.org frequently from 2015–18.) The evidence he presented—a leaked call initially reported by the BBC in which then–State Department official Victoria Nuland appears to select opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk to be Ukraine’s new prime minister—is something, he noted, that the Times itself has reported on multiple times (2/6/14, 2/7/14).

Not having been asked for comment by the Times, Norton responded in a piece of his own (Multipolarista, 4/14/22), claiming that the newspaper was “acting as a tool of US government information warfare.”

Beyond Nuland’s apparent coup-plotting, the US campaign to destabilize Ukraine stretched back over a decade. Seeking to isolate Russia and open up Ukraine to Western capital, the US had long been “fueling anti-government sentiment through mechanisms like USAID and National Endowment for Democracy (NED)” (FAIR.org, 1/28/22). High-profile US officials like Sen. John McCain even went so far as to rally protesters in the midst of the Maidan uprising.

In the wake of the far rightled and constitutionally dubious overthrow, Russia illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula and supported a secession movement in the eastern Donbass region, prompting a repressive response from Ukraine’s new US-backed government. Eight years later, the civil war has killed more than 14,000. Of those deaths, 3,400 were civilian casualties, which were disproportionately in separatist-controlled territories, UN data shows. Opinions on remaining in Ukraine vary within the Donbass.

When the Times covered the Russian annexation of Crimea, it acknowledged that the predominantly ethnic Russian population there viewed “the Ukrainian government installed after the ouster last weekend of Mr. Yanukovych as the illegitimate result of a fascist coup.” But now the newspaper of record is using allegations of disinformation to change the record.

To discredit evidence of US involvement in Ukraine’s 2014 regime change hides crucial facts that could potentially support a political solution to this crisis. When the crisis is reduced merely to the context of Russian aggression, a peace deal that includes, for example, a referendum on increased autonomy for the Donbass seems like an outrageous thing for Ukraine to have to agree to. But in the context of a civil war brought on by a US-backed coup—a context the Times is eager to erase—it may appear a more palatable solution.

More broadly, Western audiences that are aware of their own government’s role in sparking tensions may have more skepticism of Washington’s aims and an increased appetite for peace negotiations.

Normalizing neo-Nazis

In 2018, the Atlantic Council (6/20/18) wrote that the Ukraine government “tacitly accepting or even encouraging the increasing lawlessness of far-right groups” “sounds like the stuff of Kremlin propaganda, but it’s not.”

The outsized influence of neo-Nazi groups in Ukrainian society (Human Rights Watch, 6/14/18)—including the the Azov Regiment, the explicitly neo-Nazi branch of Ukraine’s National Guard—is another fact that has been dismissed as disinformation.

Western outlets once understood far-right extremism as a festering issue (Haaretz, 12/27/18) that Ukraine’s government “underplayed” (BBC, 12/13/14). In a piece called “Ukraine’s Got a Real Problem with Far-Right Violence (and No, RT Didn’t Write This Headline),” the Atlantic Council (UkraineAlert, 6/20/18) wrote:

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Front Line Defenders warned in a letter that radical groups acting under “a veneer of patriotism” and “traditional values” were allowed to operate under an “atmosphere of near total impunity that cannot but embolden these groups to commit more attacks.”

To be clear, far-right parties like Svoboda perform poorly in Ukraine’s polls and elections, and Ukrainians evince no desire to be ruled by them. But this argument is a bit of “red herring.” It’s not extremists’ electoral prospects that should concern Ukraine’s friends, but rather the state’s unwillingness or inability to confront violent groups and end their impunity.

Three years later, the Atlantic Council (6/19/21) was dismissing “the idea of Ukraine as a hotbed of right-wing extremism” as “rooted in Soviet-era propaganda.”

But now Western media attempt to diminish those groups’ significance, arguing that singling out a vocal but insignificant far right only benefits Russia’s disinformation campaign (New Statesman, 4/12/22). Almost exactly three years after warning about Ukraine’s “real problem” with the far right, the Atlantic Council (UkraineAlert, 6/19/21) ran a piece entitled “The Dangers of Echoing Russian Disinformation on Ukraine,” in which it seemingly forgot that arguments about the electoral marginalization of Ukraine’s right wing are a “red herring”:

In reality, Ukraine’s nationalist parties enjoy less support than similar political parties in a host of EU member states. Notably, in the two Ukrainian parliamentary elections held since the outbreak of hostilities with Russia in 2014, nationalist parties have failed miserably and fallen short of the 5% threshold to enter Ukrainian parliament.

‘Lead[ing] the white races’

Contrary to the Financial Times’ headline (3/29/22), the accompanying article seems to encourage readers to mistake Nazism for patriotism.

Russian propaganda does overstate the power of Nazi elements in Ukraine’s government—which it refers to as “fascist”—to justify its illegal aggression, but seizing on this propaganda to in turn downplay the influence and radicalism of these elements (e.g., USA Today, 3/30/22; Welt, 4/22/22) only prevents an important debate on how prolonged US and NATO military aid may empower these groups.

The Financial Times (3/29/22) and London Times (3/30/22) attempted to rehabilitate the Azov regiment’s reputation, using the disinformation label to downplay the influence of extremism in the national guard unit. Quoting Azov’s founder Andriy Biletsky as well as an unnamed Azov commander, the Financial Times cast Azov’s members as “patriots” who “shrug off the neo-Nazi label as ‘Russian propaganda.’” Alex Kovzhun, a “consultant” who helped draft the political program of the National Corps, Azov’s political wing, added a lighthearted human interest perspective, saying Azov was “made up of historians, football hooligans and men with military experience.”

That the Financial Times would take Biletsky at his word on the issue of Azov’s Nazi-free character, a man who once declared that the National Corps would “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade…against Semite-led Untermenschen [subhumans]” (Guardian, 3/13/18), is a prime example of how Western media have engaged in information war at the expense of their most basic journalistic duties and ethics.

Azov has opened its ranks to a flood of volunteers, the Financial Times continued, diluting its connection to Ukraine’s far-right movement, a movement that has “never proved popular at the ballot box” anyways. BBC (3/26/22) also cited electoral marginalization in its dismissal of claims about Ukraine’s far right as “a mix of falsehoods and distortions.” Putin’s distortions require debunking, but neither outlet acknowledged that these groups’ outsized influence comes more from their capacity for political violence than from their electoral participation (Hromadske, 10/13/16; Responsible Statecraft, 3/25/22).

London Times (3/30/22): You’d have to live in a “warped, strange world” to think that these gentlemen wearing SS-derived shoulder patches were Nazis.

In the London Times piece, Azov commander Yevgenii Vradnik dismissed the neo-Nazi characterization as Russian disinformation: “Perhaps [Putin] really believes it,” as he “lives in a strange, warped world. We are patriots but we are not Nazis.” Sure, the article reports, “Azov has its fair share of football hooligans and ultranationalists,” but it also includes “scholars like Zaikovsky, who worked as a translator and book editor.”

To support such “patriots,” the West should fulfill their “urgent plea” for more weapons. “To retake our regions, we need vehicle-mounted anti-aircraft weapons from NATO,” Vradnik said. Thus Western media use the “Russian disinformation” label to not only downplay the threat of Ukraine’s far right, but even to encourage the West to arm them.

Responsible Statecraft (3/25/22) pushed back on the media’s dismissiveness, warning that “Russian propaganda has colossally exaggerated the contemporary strength of Ukrainian extreme nationalist groups,” but

because these groups have been integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard yet retain their autonomous identities and command structures, over the course of an extended war they could amass a formidable fifth column that would radicalize Ukraine’s postwar political dynamic.

To ignore the fact that prolonged military aid could reshape Ukraine’s politics in favor of neo-Nazi groups prevents an understanding of the threats posed to Ukrainian democracy and civil society.

Shielding NATO from blame

Ilya Yaboklov (New York Times, 4/25/22): “NATO is the subject of some of the regime’s most persistent conspiracy theories, which see the organization’s hand behind popular uprisings around the world.”

Much like with the Maidan coup, the corporate media’s insistence on viewing Russian aggression as unconnected to US imperial expansion has led it to cast any blame placed on NATO policy as Russian disinformation.

In “The Five Conspiracy Theories That Putin Has Weaponized,” New York Times (4/25/22), historian and author Ilya Yaboklov listed the Kremlin’s most prominent “disinformation” narratives. High on his list was the idea that “NATO has turned Ukraine into a military camp.”

Without mentioning that NATO, a remnant of the Cold War, is explicitly hostile to Russia, the Times piece portrayed Putin’s disdain for NATO as a paranoia that is convenient for Russian propaganda:

NATO is Mr. Putin’s worst nightmare: Its military operations in Serbia, Iraq and Libya have planted the fear that Russia will be the military alliance’s next target. It’s also a convenient boogeyman that animates the anti-Western element of Mr. Putin’s electorate. In his rhetoric, NATO is synonymous with the United States, the military hand of “the collective West” that will suffocate Russia whenever it becomes weak.

The New York Times is not the only outlet to dismiss claims that NATO’s militarization of Ukraine has contributed to regional tensions. Jessica Brandt of the Brookings Institute claimed on CNN Newsroom (4/8/22): “There’s two places where I have seen China carry Russia’s water. The first is, starting long before the invasion, casting blame at the foot of the United States and NATO.” The Washington Post editorial board (4/11/22) argued much to the same effect that Chinese “disinformation” included arguing “NATO is to blame for the fighting.” Newsweek (4/13/22) stated that Chinese disinformation “blames the US military/industrial complex for the chaos in Ukraine and other parts of the world,” and falsely claims that “Washington ‘squeezed Russia’s security space.’”

Characterizing claims that NATO’s militarization of Russia’s neighbors was a hostile act as “paranoia” or “disinformation” ignores the decades of warnings from top US diplomats and anti-war dissidents alike that NATO expansionism into former Warsaw Pact countries would lead to conflict with Russia.

Jack F. Matlock Jr, the former ambassador to the USSR warned the US Senate as early as 1997 that NATO expansion would threaten a renewal of Cold War hostilities (Responsible Statecraft, 2/15/22):

I consider the administration’s recommendation to take new members into NATO at this time misguided. If it should be approved by the United States Senate, it may well go down in history as the most profound strategic blunder made since the end of the Cold War. Far from improving the security of the United States, its Allies, and the nations that wish to enter the Alliance, it could well encourage a chain of events that could produce the most serious security threat to this nation since the Soviet Union collapsed.

Weakening Russia

The US War College’s John Deni (Foreign Policy, 5/4/22) argues that NATO expansion is not to blame for Russian insecurity, because “over the centuries…Russia has experienced military invasions across every frontier,” and so it was going to “demonize the West” regardless.

These “disinformation” claims also ignore the more contemporary evidence that Western officials have an explicit agenda of weakening Russia and even ending the Putin regime. According to Ukrainska Pravda (5/5/22; Intercept, 5/10/22), in his recent trip to Kyiv, UK prime minister Boris Johnson told Volodymyr Zelensky that regardless of a peace agreement being reached between Ukraine and Russia, the United States would remain intent on confronting Russia.

The evidence doesn’t stop there. In the past months, Joe Biden let slip his desire that Putin “cannot remain in power,” and US officials’ have become more open about their objectives to weaken Russia (Democracy Now!, 5/9/22; Wall Street Journal, 4/25/22). Corporate media have cheered on these developments, running op-eds in support of policies that go beyond a defense of Ukraine to an attack on Russia (Foreign Policy, 5/4/22; Washington Post, 4/28/22), even expressing hope for a “palace coup” there (The Lead, 4/19/22; CNN Newsroom, 3/4/22).

As famed dissident Noam Chomsky said in a discussion with the Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill (4/14/22):

We can see that our explicit policy—explicit—is rejection of any form of negotiations. The explicit policy goes way back, but it was given a definitive form in September 2021 in the September 1 joint policy statement that was then reiterated and expanded in the November 10 charter of agreement….

What it says is it calls for Ukraine to move towards what they called an enhanced program for entering NATO, which kills negotiations.

When the media denies NATO’s culpability in stoking the flames of war in Ukraine, Americans are left unaware of their most effective tool in preventing further catastrophe: pressuring their own government to stop undermining negotiations and to join the negotiating table. Dismissing these realities threatens to prolong the war in Ukraine indefinitely.

Squelching dissent

Alan MacLeod (Mint Press, 4/25/22): “These new rules will not be applied to corporate media downplaying or justifying US aggression abroad, denying American war crimes, or blaming oppressed peoples…for their own condition, but instead will be used as excuses to derank, demote, delist or even delete voices critical of war and imperialism.”

As the Biden administration launches a new Disinformation Governance Board aimed at policing online discourse, it is clear that the trend of silencing those who speak out against official US narratives is going to get worse.

Outlets like Russia Today, MintPress News and Consortium News have been banned or demonetized by platforms like Google and its subsidiary YouTube, or services like PayPal. MintPress News (4/25/22) reported YouTube had “permanently banned more than a thousand channels and 15,000 videos,” on the grounds that they were “denying, minimizing or trivializing well-documented violent events.” At the same time, platforms are loosening the restrictions on praising Ukraine’s far right or calling for the death of Russians (Reuters, 3/11/22). These policies of asymmetric censorship aid US propaganda and squelch dissent.

After receiving a barrage of complaints from the outlet’s supporters, PayPal seemingly reversed its ban of Consortium News’ account, only to state later on that this reversal was “mistaken,” and that Consortium was in fact permanently banned. The outlet’s editor-in-chief Joe Lauria (5/4/22) responded to PayPal’s ban:

Given the political climate it is reasonable to conclude that PayPal was reacting to Consortium News’ coverage of the war in Ukraine, which is not in line with the dominant narrative that is being increasingly enforced.

As Western outlets embrace the framing of a new Cold War, so too have they embraced the Cold War’s McCarthyite tactics that rooted out dissent in the United States. With great-power conflict on the rise, it is all the more important that US audiences understand the media’s increasing repression of debate in defense of the “dominant narrative.” In the words of Chomsky:

There’s a long record in the United States of censorship, not official censorship, just devices, to make sure that, what intellectuals call the “bewildered herd,” the “rabble,” the population, don’t get misled. You have to control them. And that’s happening right now.

The post ‘Disinformation’ Label Serves to Marginalize Crucial Ukraine Facts appeared first on FAIR.

‘The First Story They Tell Is About the Leak Itself’

 

Janine Jackson interviewed FAIR’s Julie Hollar about Roe reversal  for the May 13, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Salon (5/9/22)

Janine Jackson: Commentators like Heather Digby Parton and others are already documenting lawmakers and lobbyists stating that their support for an abortion ban is just a part of their intent to eliminate reproductive rights entirely, including making contraception like IUDs and Plan B illegal, and prosecuting miscarriage as manslaughter.

It’s hard to imagine that there are people who think the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson ruling is only about abortion, but if there are, they can blame corporate media, at least in part, for years of downplaying and normalizing the scope and the scale of the assault on reproductive justice.

From reducing everything to Roe when that law has always left some potentially pregnant people out, to the current fascination with everything about this new ruling: who leaked it, how it’s okay to protest it, everything except what it means and how we got to this point, much less how we can get away from it.

FAIR’s Julie Hollar has been tracking this coverage for years. She’s FAIR’s senior analyst and managing editor, and she joins us now by phone from Brooklyn. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Julie Hollar.

Julie Hollar: Thanks, Janine; it’s good to be here.

FAIR.org (5/6/22)

JJ: I hope no one thinks we’re claiming that news media aren’t covering the import of this ruling. Of course they are. And that’s not the point. But when you look at the coverage now, and over time, as you have, you just don’t see news media rising appropriately to the occasion, would you say?

JH: I think you have to ask what’s the priority here for the corporate media in their coverage. And if you look, the day that this leak happens, it’s obviously front-page news. It’s at the top of the nightly newscasts. And yes, they talk about what’s the impact going to be for people in this country, but the priority here, the top of the show, the first story that they tell is about the leak itself, who might’ve done this, what is the impact on the Supreme Court, the relationships between the justices and their clerks. That’s story No. 1, and then story No. 2 asks, what are the consequences for others?

But even there, when you watch the nightly newscasts, it wasn’t exactly, “What’s the impact on people who might get pregnant?” It’s: “What is the impact on the clinics who serve them? What is the impact on the pro-choice and the anti-choice movement?” I didn’t see the people themselves who would be most impacted getting interviewed on these shows.

Julie Hollar: “There will be more people dying, there will be greater poverty. There will be worse health outcomes all across the board for people.”

So I think, yes, there is some coverage of that impact. It is downplayed, and it is sandwiched in between all of these other stories that are distracting attention from what is really the heart of what’s going on here.

JJ: And then even a finding within a finding, I thought it was interesting in the piece that you wrote about the initial coverage of this leaked ruling that one place when the question was asked, what’s going to happen to, they said to the women, many of them low-income, who every year get abortions in states like Mississippi, Texas, places like that—the one time that was asked, it was asked of the leader of an anti-choice group.

JH: Exactly, who gave a very reassuring answer: “Oh, we will step up our efforts to take care of those people and make sure the outcomes are good.”

Well, you know what, that’s not a satisfactory answer, because that’s not what’s going to happen. You know, there could be some “stepping up,” and what’s really going to happen is, all of the research has shown that, there will be more people dying, there will be greater poverty. There will be worse health outcomes all across the board for people.

FAIR.org (5/19/21)

JJ: I think that we have seen news media acknowledging that an overturning of Roe v. Wade will launch myriad of other efforts at the state level. They talk about these trigger bills, but at the same time, these things didn’t come out of nowhere. They’ve been building for years. And when you looked last year at coverage of these state campaigns, it seemed like media were not acknowledging them appropriately as they were brewing.

JH: Not at all, not at all. The first four and a half months of last year, there were hundreds of state-level restrictions introduced in state legislatures. Many of them passed, and the national media just simply ignored them, for the most part. You got a few mentions here or there, very short, nothing in depth. Nothing at all that gave a sense of the scale of what was going on.

FAIR.org (1/6/14)

And it’s not just last year. I feel like I’ve been writing this article since I started at FAIR, which was quite some time ago. I wrote this article 10 years ago when the right was ramping up state-level campaigns and laws to restrict abortion access.

And we saw a sharp drop-off in national media coverage of abortion exactly when these things are happening. So the media will pay attention when there’s a huge blockbuster story, like the Supreme Court leak. But during the steady drip-drip of what’s been happening for years, for decades, they’ve been just completely missing.

JJ: And when they do kind of refer to it in an offhand way, which if you just look up references to abortion, you will find lots of stories that kind of toss it off as an issue, as a political football. And one of the things that is often attached to it is the word “divisive.” And this is just, to me, like a drip, drip, drip of misinformation that people are consuming every time they hear a reference to abortion rights.

JH: “Divisive” is like one of the media’s favorite words, right, and the thing that they’re trying to put themselves outside of. They’re going to stay neutral and objective, and they’re just going to report both sides of the issue. And, in fact, we don’t have at all any sort of a balanced playing field here, as they’re trying to portray it.

JJ: Overwhelmingly, even in stories that will describe it as a controversial or divisive issue, they’ll then go on to say, “Oh yes, 7 in 10 people in the United States don’t want Roe overturned.” So if 7 out of 10 is divisive, then we gotta reconsider a whole lot of other opinions.

A lot of times at FAIR, we think, “What would we hope for from a free press in an aspiring democracy?” and compare that to what we’ve got. What we have in the wake of this, of this leak, of this incredibly important leak, we hardly even begin to know how important ruling, is we’re seeing free press, supposedly, defenders talking about how the most important thing to do is to not protest in a way that is uncivil. It’s kind of bizarre.

Washington Post (5/9/22)

JH: Right. So like the Washington Post, for instance, editorial board complaining about the protesters outside of the justices’ houses, and actually endorsing having them be fined and/or imprisoned for doing so.

They use the word “totalitarianism” in this editorial, which, frankly, I searched their website. I could not find another editorial in which they use the word “totalitarian” or “totalitarianism” referencing any sort of domestic context, only with respect to protesters in front of Supreme Court justices’ houses, protesting against the fact that the government is trying to take away their rights to their own bodies. The Washington Post editorial board clearly has some priority issues, I would say.

JJ: I often think it would be interesting to look up the way that news media talk about, for example, the civil rights movement, or the marches with Dr. King, etc., and they would present themselves as being staunch defenders of civil disobedience and of the right to speak up when you know that the system is failing. And yet you have to judge them by how they act in the moment, right? So we’re seeing what they choose to emphasize right now, and we should be paying attention, I guess.

JH: Absolutely. The Post did also have an editorial when the leak first came out, professing to be very concerned about this, saying that this was a blow to the Court’s legitimacy, that this is not what the Court should be doing. But then the next time they editorialize about the issue, it’s against the protesters. So it’s like they’re wanting to have it both ways.

JJ: So one of the things that I know that you found, when you looked at top-tier or major media coverage last year, in terms of the state-level predations, was that there were instances of attacks on reproductive rights that did seem to interest, for example, the New York Times. It just wasn’t Texas.

JH: Right. It’s easy for corporate media to raise these issues when they’re speaking about some sort of official enemy of the United States. So if it’s in Venezuela, if it’s in China, that’s front-page news. It’s not front-page news when it’s Texas, when it’s South Dakota, when it’s something more local.

It is the same as this “totalitarian” issue that’s with the Washington Post. There are different standards applied to different parties.

JJ: Finally, we know there’s going to be lots of coverage. What would be helpful to add to it—or maybe “who,” I guess, is the question—that could substantially improve the coverage of what could hardly be a more important issue?

JH: First of all, absolutely, there needs to be much more front-and-center coverage of the potential consequences of this, the potential concrete consequences. There have been a lot of studies done about what happens when reproductive rights are restricted or completely eliminated, and that needs to be really front and center so people understand what this is really about.

I think about in the nightly newscasts, they led off their shows with their justice correspondents, their legal correspondents. And you just have to think, what if corporate media could have rights correspondents instead of justice correspondents?

Justice, for them, is an institutional idea of, we’re going to cover the Justice Department. That’s your job. And if, instead, we could worry about the real-world consequences, what is going on with people’s rights in this country? If that could be what the media focused on, we would be in such a better place.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with FAIR’s own Julie Hollar. You can find her work on media coverage of abortion rights, along with other things, at FAIR.org. Thanks so much, Julie, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

JH: Thanks for having me.

 

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ACTION ALERT: WaPo Calls Peaceful Protest Against Roe Reversal ‘Totalitarian’

 

The Washington Post(5/9/22) calls for “appropriate action” against peaceful protesters at anti-Roe justices’ homes—which according to the law the Post cites means up to a year in prison.

With the right to bodily autonomy on the line and protesters demonstrating outside of Supreme Court justices’ houses, the Washington Post editorial board (5/9/22) weighed in:

The right to assemble and speak freely is essential to democracy. Erasing any distinction between the public square and private life is essential to totalitarianism. It is crucial, therefore, to protect robust demonstrations of political dissent while preventing them from turning into harassment or intimidation. An issue that illuminates this imperative in sharp relief is residential picketing—protests against the actions or decisions of public officials at their homes, such as the recent noisy abortion rights demonstrations at the Montgomery County dwellings of Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. The disruptors wanted to voice opposition to a possible overruling of Roe v. Wade, as foreshadowed by a leaked majority draft opinion last week. What they mainly succeeded in doing was to illustrate that their goal—with which we broadly agree—does not justify their tactics….

A Montgomery County ordinance permits protest marches in residential areas but bars stationary gatherings, arguably such as those in front of the Roberts and Kavanaugh residences. A federal law—18 U.S.C. Section 1507—prohibits “pickets or parades” at any judge’s residence, “with the intent of influencing” a jurist “in the discharge of his duty.” These are limited and justifiable restraints on where and how people exercise the right to assembly. Citizens should voluntarily abide by them, in letter and spirit. If not, the relevant governments should take appropriate action.

To be clear, the cited federal law states that the appropriate action taken against violators is that they “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”

A search of the Post‘s website turns up no other instances of the editorial board applying any variation of the word “totalitarian” to the domestic context. In the Post‘s view, then, those people protesting an attempt by unelected government officials to give the state control over one’s own body—including, by the way, various state laws that deputize neighbors to report on neighbors—are the ones putting our country at risk of totalitarianism, and they should be punished with a fine and/or prison.

The Supreme Court ruled in Madsen v. Women’s Health Center (1994) that the government could not ban marches in front of the homes of abortion clinic employees.

No one has seriously argued that the peaceful protesters were “harassing” or “intimidating” the justices; they were exercising their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and speak freely. The Post also refused to consider that, as many observers have pointed out, the Supreme Court itself  (Madsen v. Women’s Health Center, 1994) has ruled that requiring anti-choice protesters—who, by contrast, have a documented history of harassment and intimidation—to stay more than 300 feet from clinic doctors’ private homes violated their First Amendment rights.

The Post‘s screed against protesters came days after the very same editorial board (5/3/22) charged that Samuel Alito’s draft opinion “would inaugurate a terrifying new era in which Americans would lose faith in the Court, distrust its members and suspect that what is the law today will not be tomorrow,” and that overturning Roe would be

a repugnant repudiation of the American tradition in which freedom extends to an ever-wider circle of people. By betraying this legacy and siding with the minority of Americans who want to see Roe overturned, the justices would appear to be not fair-minded jurists but reckless ideologues who are dangerously out of touch and hostile to a core American ethic.

The Washington (“Democracy Dies in Darkness”) Post presents itself as a great defender of democracy and freedom—unless, God forbid, your angry cries against attacks on those things might make a reckless, out-of-touch ideologue uncomfortable while enjoying his dinner.

ACTION: Please tell the Washington Post that its call for repression of peaceful assembly is incompatible with democracy.

CONTACT: You can send a message to the Washington Post at letters@washpost.com, or via Twitter @washingtonpost.

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

 

Featured image: Washington Post depiction (5/10/22) of protest outside the Fairfax, Virginia, home of Justice Samuel Alito (photo: Kent Nishimura/EPA-EFE).

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‘Liberal’ Newspapers Liked the Justices Who Will Kill Roe

 

Politico (5/2/22) broke the news that five Supreme Court justice—including three nominated by Donald Trump—planned to vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that could destroy Roe v. Wade (Politico, 5/2/22) reportedly has the support of three justices appointed by Donald Trump. That’s important for a number of reasons.

Neil Gorsuch was appointed after the Republican Senate blocked Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Antonin Scalia until after the election, in hopes of retaining a 5–4 conservative balance. Brett Kavanaugh replaced Anthony Kennedy, who stepped down specifically so his seat could continue to be held by a Republican appointee. And the last appointee, Amy Coney Barrett, replaced liberal stalwart Ruth Bader Ginsburg, solidifying a 6–3 conservative advantage a week before the 2020 presidential election. Barrett’s confirmation also exposed the cynicism of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had blocked Obama’s pick for Scalia’s seat on grounds that it was an election year, but hurried Barrett’s confirmation.

All three were nominated by a president who did not win the popular vote, further undermining the bench’s credibility as a democratic institution. (The author of the leaked opinion, Samuel Alito, was also named by a popular vote loser, George W. Bush—as was Chief Justice John Roberts, considered a possible sixth vote, along with Clarence Thomas, for overturning Roe.)

And in all three of Trump’s nominees, major liberal-leaning outlets offered pieces reassuring readers that fears that these justices would undo Warren Court decisions upholding civil rights were overblown.

Important studiousness

Law professor Akhil Reed Amar (New York Times, 7/9/18) endorsed Donald Trump’s view of Brett Kavanaugh as “someone with impeccable credentials, great intellect, unbiased judgment, and deep reverence for the laws and Constitution of the United States.” 

Kavanaugh had two prominent liberal defenses in the media after Trump offered him to the public. In the New York Times (7/9/18), Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar rested his defense on Kavanaugh’s scholarship, saying that he “has taught courses at leading law schools and published notable law review articles,” and is “an avid consumer of legal scholarship.” Amar added, “This studiousness is especially important for a jurist like Judge Kavanaugh, who prioritizes the Constitution’s original meaning.”

Even before sexual allegations against Kavanaugh emerged, liberals worried about his partisan record, namely his role in the special prosecution of Bill Clinton (NPR, 8/17/18) and his opinions on abortion rights (New York Times, 7/18/18). But the Amar defense—coming from not just a liberal but a renowned constitutional scholar—was joined by another Yale scholar (9/6/18), emeritus law professor Peter Schuck, offering the argument that “justices often do not perform the way partisans and the news media expect them to.”

In particular, Schuck suggested, “even some conservative justices may resist overturning Roe v. Wade,” because “it is hard to predict how courts will apply the multiple criteria…for deciding when precedents may be overturned.” While supporters and opponents both saw Kavanaugh as “a guaranteed vote to overrule Roe…hard cases often cause justices to confound ideological expectations.” Rather than seeing Supreme Court nominations as “a Manichaean liberal/conservative battle for legal supremacy,” the professor urged senators and journalists to focus on “the fascinating interplay among legal doctrine, textual interpretation and the factual record in determining outcomes.”

Conservative Times columnist Bret Stephens (7/12/18) insisted that “liberals always cry wolf” about threats to reproductive rights. (The Times editorial board—9/26/18—did come out against Kavanaugh, saying the allegations against him were grave and put the integrity of the court at risk.)

Lisa Blatt, a constitutional lawyer and self-described liberal feminist, deferred to Kavanaugh’s warm personality (Politico, 8/2/18), saying he “is a great listener, and one of the warmest, friendliest and kindest individuals I know.” She also said “other than my former boss, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I know of no other judge who stands out for hiring female law clerks,” a line that that makes one wince when put next to the sexual allegations against him (PBS 9/16/19).

‘A sense of fairness and decency’

“Gorsuch will be a hard man to depict as a ferocious partisan or an ideological judge,” law professor Robert George wrote in the Washington Post (2/1/17). “As Gorsuch himself has frequently observed…good judges sometimes have to vote or rule in ways they do not like.”

On Gorsuch, the New York Times (1/31/17) had Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general under President Obama, saying liberals should support Gorsuch because the conservative jurist “brings a sense of fairness and decency to the job, and a temperament that suits the nation’s highest court.” He “would help to restore confidence in the rule of law,” Katyal assured, because he has defended “the paramount duty of the courts to say what the law is, without deferring to the executive branch’s interpretations of federal statutes.”

The Washington Post seemed to make getting Gorsuch confirmed a crusade. As Extra! (3/17) noted:

In the first 48 hours after Neil Gorsuch was nominated to the Supreme Court by Donald Trump (1/31/17–2/2/17), the Washington Post published 30 articles, op-eds, blog posts and editorials on the nomination. Thirteen were explicitly positive, while 17 could be construed as neutral—but not a single one was overtly critical or in opposition to Gorsuch (FAIR.org, 2/2/17). Apparently editors thought columns like “Ignore the Attacks on Neil Gorsuch. He’s an Intellectual Giant—and a Good Man” (2/1/17) required no balance.

As for Amy Coney Barrett, O. Carter Snead, a Notre Dame law professor, wrote in the Washington Post (9/26/20) that “liberals have nothing to fear” from her: “She genuinely seeks to understand others’ arguments and does not regard them as mere obstacles to be overcome on the way to reaching a preferred conclusion.” It was Barrett’s religion, Snead said, that led to “her commitment to treating others with respect.” But put this in context: Snead is vocally against Roe (National Affairs, 11/7/21; Washington Post, 5/5/22).

All of these pieces exhibit a kind of naivete about the right’s vision of the court. They share the assumption that while all the nominees were conservative, as jurists they were also “above politics,” because their scholarship and congeniality made them different from partisans in the executive and legislative branches. But it has been very clear since the civil rights era that part of the conservative movement’s long game has been to appoint justices to federal courts who would undo gains made under the Warren Court, and to advance the interests of conservatives (Time, 6/22/21).

It’s easy to scoff at these articles as “pieces that didn’t age well.” But the polite “above the fray” attitude toward the Court that they embody hasn’t been the governing norm for decades. The 5–4 majority in favor of handing the 2000 election to the Republicans without counting the votes made it clear, if it hadn’t been already, that the Court is utterly politicized. And the move by Mitch McConnell’s Senate to deny Obama the right to appoint a justice who could have tipped the political balance of the Court proved that the Republican approach to top judge nominations is simply not in good faith. But even during the Trump administration, it seems that a lot of what are called “liberal” media could not fully come to terms with that fact.

Featured image: Detail from an NPR graphic (5/3/22) of Supreme Court justices who supported a draft opinion that would overturn Roe.

 

The post ‘Liberal’ Newspapers Liked the Justices Who Will Kill Roe appeared first on FAIR.

Media Ignore Criticism of DHS’s New ‘Disinformation’ Board—Unless it’s from the Right

 

AP (4/28/22): “The new board also will monitor and prepare for Russian disinformation threats as this year’s midterm elections near and the Kremlin continues an aggressive disinformation campaign around the war in Ukraine.”

Testifying in front of a House committee, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas recently announced DHS’s formation of a “Disinformation Governance Board.” The board’s stated mission would be to address “disinformation spread by foreign states such as Russia, China and Iran,” as well as “transnational criminal organizations and human-smuggling organizations.”

Little is known about the board, and Mayorkas has claimed it will have “no operational authority or capability.” Still, leading media instantly heralded its creation. The Associated Press (4/28/22) accepted the premise that a DHS-helmed body would “counter disinformation” coming from Russia and “human smugglers” targeting people seeking to immigrate to the US. MSNBC (4/29/22) maintained that the initiative “makes sense.” Notably, not a single reference to the DHS’s history of incessant violence against immigrants, Muslims, Black Lives Matter organizers and other activists was deemed relevant to either story.

A ‘Soviet’ plot?

Despite their decidedly uncritical framing, media have acknowledged broadsides against the board—but almost exclusively those from the far right. In the wake of Mayorkas’ announcement, right-wing policymakers like Sen. Josh Hawley (R.–Mo.) and Fox News personalities including Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity groused about the Disinformation Governance Board, condemning it as an Orwellian, “Soviet,” Democrat-masterminded ploy to spy on and muzzle conservatives. News outlets subsequently alarmed readers of a brewing “tempest” (Washington Post, 4/29/22), “uproar” (CNN, 5/1/22) and “partisan fight” (New York Times, 5/2/22) over the board.

To CNN‘s Brian Seltzer (5/1/22), government “counter-disinformation efforts…to give us accurate information” “sounds like common sense.”

Taking these right-wing cries of persecution at face value, CNN’s Dana Bash (5/1/22) asked Mayorkas to address them, handing him an opportunity to paraphrase a DHS press release. Other than a fleeting question about a disinformation board under a hypothetically re-elected President Trump, Bash inquired no further regarding any harms the board may pose, nor did she so much as flinch when Mayorkas—deputized to manage “disinformation” about immigration—reiterated his enduringly callous message to would-be US immigrants: “Do not come.”

The same day, CNN’s Brian Stelter (5/1/22) invited Moira Whelan of the federally funded National Democratic Institute (NDI) on his show to tout the board as a civil liberties–honoring public good. The think tank’s funding comes in part from the National Endowment for Democracy and US Agency for International Development—both of which function as facilitators of US covert operations—as well as the State Department, rendering Whelan a dubious source. Stelter welcomed the development of the board as “common sense,” while raising only the concerns of the right, and characterizing the discourse as “mostly a Fox world story.” Any further interrogation of the board, apparently, was unnecessary.

‘Cruel, unlawful and ineffective’

The Guardian (10/21/21) reported on declassified DHS documents that documented abuses ranging “from child sexual assault to enforced hunger, threats of rape and brutal detention conditions.”

While it’s entirely justifiable to impugn right-wingers’ tantrums, it’s inaccurate to suggest those objections are the only ones that exist.

As noted, outlets have been conspicuously incurious about a decision to place the stewardship of “disinformation” directly under the authority of the DHS. Conceived in the thick of post-9/11 anti-Muslim “counterterrorism” hysteria, the department oversees ICE and Customs and Border Patrol, two gravely abusive agencies that have been responsible for the death and disappearance of at least tens of thousands of undocumented asylum seekers. The DHS’s cruelty is notorious, prompting activists, journalists and organizations like the ACLU to call for its dissolution. More recently, DHS continued its pattern of violently disrupting civil rights protests in the US when it descended on Los Angeles demonstrators defending the right to an abortion amid a pending overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Mayorkas, a Biden appointee and former US attorney for the Central District of California, offers little hope that any of this will change. Though he’s voiced mild disagreement with DHS’s rhetoric and tactics, activist groups have described Mayorkas’ DHS as implementing “cruel, unlawful and ineffective deterrence-based policies that extend rather than dismantle the previous administration’s approach to migration.” A glossy Washington Post profile (11/1/21), largely heedless of these concerns, informed readers that Mayorkas “leans into his days leading a team of prosecutors when wooing politicians skeptical that he will aggressively enforce America’s immigration laws.”

Overseeing Mayorkas’ new board is Nina Jankowicz, a self-described “expert on disinformation” and alum of the National Democratic Institute. At NDI, Jankowicz “managed democracy assistance programs to Russia and Belarus”—a phrase that can’t be divorced from the think tank’s soft- and hard-power funding sources.

‘A certain amount of gumption’

The New York Times (5/2/22) allowed Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to absurdly claim, “We in the Department of Homeland Security don’t monitor American citizens.”

When considered in concert with Mayorkas’ and the DHS’s virulent jingoism, one might start to view Jankowicz with suspicion. Mainline media, however, have instead embraced Jankowicz as a credentialed, principled and neutral authority (New York Times, 5/2/22), and defended her from the right’s vitriol. “Spare a thought for Nina Jankowicz, who has stepped up to lead this effort at the Department of Homeland Security,” Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce (4/29/22) implored. “Volunteering to be a piñata takes a certain amount of gumption.”

News media have issued some reservations about the board, but these amount to little more than process critiques, comments on semantics and light McCarthyism. Esquire’s Pierce opined:

I am concerned what this operation would look like under, say, President DeSantis, and there had to be a more deft way to roll it out than having DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas just drop it into his testimony before a House committee.

The Washington Post (4/29/22) also chimed in, calling the name Disinformation Governance Board “a bit ominous; it sounds less like an effort to combat disinformation rather than to, well, govern it.” In a later piece, the Post’s editorial board (5/3/22) cautioned that the initials of the Disinformation Governance Board were the “Soviet-sounding DGB,” presumably meant to evoke the KGB.

The Post went on to assure readers that the board “could do a great deal of good” with just a bit of transparency and a few language tweaks, adding that “the reality isn’t nearly so scary” as the right suggests. But therein lies the problem: If only the right gets to weigh in on what’s “scary,” the voices of those who truly suffer will continue to go unheard.

 

The post Media Ignore Criticism of DHS’s New ‘Disinformation’ Board—Unless it’s from the Right appeared first on FAIR.

Julie Hollar on Roe Reversal, Tesnim Zekeria on Baby Formula Shortage

 

Washington Post (5/11/22)

This week on CounterSpin: Corporate news media want you to be alarmed about an “extraordinary breach” of privacy. It’s the privacy of the institution of the Supreme Court which, one CBS expert told viewers, had been dealt a “body blow” by the leak of a ruling overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision allowing the right to terminate a pregnancy to remain between the pregnant person and their doctor. And corporate media are in high dudgeon about protecting people from invasions of their right to privacy—but again, only if by that you mean protecting Supreme Court justices and their “right” to never be confronted by people who disagree with the life-altering decisions they make.

You almost wouldn’t think the real news of the past week was the nation’s highest court declaring that more than half of the population no longer have bodily autonomy. That’s to say, no longer have the control over their own body that a corpse has—since people can refuse organ donation after their death, even if it would save another person’s life.

Elite media are interested in abortion as an issue, as a thing people talk about, but that it is not understood as a human right is clear from reporting—years of reporting—that suggest that for them it’s most importantly a partisan football, and any fight over it needs equal and equally respectful attention to “both sides,” even if one of those sides is calling for human rights violations. We talked with FAIR’s Julie Hollar about that.

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Popular Information (5/12/22)

Also on the show: In corporate media–land, it’s controversial that people be allowed to determine whether they give birth, because, after all, we care so much about the birthed. It sounds sarcastic, but that’s the underlying premise of coverage of the shortage of baby formula—which incorporates an implied shock at the denial of basic healthcare with another implied shock that somehow capitalism doesn’t allow for all infants to be treated the same. There’s really no time left for pretended surprise at system failure in this country. We can still talk about journalism that shines a light on it, rather than an obscuring shadow. We’ll talk with Tesnim Zekeria from Popular Information about applying a public interest prism to, in this case, the story on baby formula.

 

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at coverage of murdered Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

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The post Julie Hollar on Roe Reversal, Tesnim Zekeria on Baby Formula Shortage appeared first on FAIR.

The Extraordinary Supremacy of the Hyperwealthy

New York Times Magazine (4/7/22)

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader wrote to the New York Times Magazine in response to its “Money Issue” (4/10/22), which focused on billionaires.

Your engrossing issue on megabillionaires—their road to riches and influence—devoted little attention to billionaire CEOs directly running their giant corporations. For example, how did CEO Tim Cook of Apple get his board to pay him $50,000 an hour or $850 a minute, while Apple store workers are making under $20 per hour? Apple’s wealth draws from a million serf laborers in China making iPhones and computers they cannot afford to buy.

Under Cook, Apple decided to pour over $400 billion of excess profits into unproductive stock buybacks. How fascinating would have been the Times covering how these decisions were made, in place of raising wages, thorough recycling, reducing prices for Apple’s expensive consumer products, bringing some production back to the USA or, heaven forbid, paying its fair share of income taxes.

While the hyperwealthy do attract celebrity treatment, it is when they manage multinational companies that their extraordinary supremacy becomes clearer.

Ralph Nader

Washington, DC

The post The Extraordinary Supremacy of the Hyperwealthy appeared first on FAIR.

‘What if We Use Public Money to Transform What Local Media Looks Like?’

 

 

Janine Jackson interviewed Free Press’s Mike Rispoli for the May 6, 2022, episode of CounterSpin about funding local journalism. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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(photo: New Jersey Civic Information Consortium)

Janine Jackson: CounterSpin listeners understand that the news media situation in this country works against our democratic aspirations. There are so many problems crying out for open, inclusive conversation, in which those with the most power don’t get the biggest megaphone, leaving the vast majority outside of power to try and shout into the dominant noise, or try to find the space to talk around it.

It’s no surprise, in that context, that conversations about how to make a different media system—differently structured, differently accountable—are among the hardest to have. But while corporate media can give the impression that, like it or not, billionaires controlling the flow of information is the only way things can go, that, like a lot of the elite narrative on political possibility, is simply untrue.

One project proving that is an effort to replenish and re-imagine local news, which listeners know has suffered dramatically in years of media consolidation, in this case in New Jersey. The New Jersey Civic Information Consortium is a first-in-the-nation project using public funding to support more informed communities. Early movers behind the project were the group Free Press, and we’re joined now by Free Press senior director of journalism policy Mike Rispoli. He joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Mike Rispoli.

Mike Rispoli: Hey, thanks for having me.

JJ: The New Jersey Civic Information Consortium was established in 2018, but the press resources on the website go back to 2016. What is it that happened then?

Free Press (9/30/20)

MR: In 2016, New Jersey was looking to sell some old broadcast public media licenses that it held, and in the selling of those state assets, the state received $332 million.

And Free Press Action was doing some work in New Jersey at the time. We were organizing in communities, trying to find ways to have communities partner with local newsrooms, but also hold local newsrooms accountable.

And so we were doing organizing around the state, and talking to people about the future of local news in New Jersey. And at that time, they’re set to receive this windfall from the sale of these TV licenses. And so we thought, hey, what would it look like if some of that money coming into the state was reinvested back into communities to address the growing gaps in news coverage and community information needs?

And so with that, we began the idea of what became the Consortium that ran a statewide grassroots campaign called the Civic Info Bill Campaign. And that work began in 2017.

JJ: I want to address just that point, because often when you hear about a new project that addresses an old problem, sometimes the vibe is: “We’ve invented something over here. We’ve created something. Now everybody line up and see if you can get access to this new thing we created.” But what you’re talking about is a very different model. It’s rooted. It grew, the Consortium grew, from a lot of relationship-building, didn’t it?

MR: It did, and I think what’s really interesting, especially in the case of New Jersey—so New Jersey receives essentially all of its broadcast media from out-of-state. It’s sandwiched between the New York and Philadelphia media markets. And so the state always had a really long and rich history of hyper-local print media.

And obviously we all have seen and experienced and have been impacted by the loss of local news, especially over the past 20 years. And many communities have never been well-served, even in the “good old days of journalism.” There are many communities who were never, never really well-served by local media.

JJ: Right.

MR: And so when we were looking at this windfall that the state was going to receive, we thought, how could we use public funding to not just invest into local news, or to “save journalism.” But instead, what if we use public funding and public money to help rebuild and really transform what local media looks like in the state? How do we leverage public funding to invest in projects that are filling in gaps left by the commercial media market?

And public media and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, when that was created, one of its missions was to fill in gaps left by the commercial media market. Those gaps are huge now. They’re so much bigger, and especially in a case like New Jersey.

And so we thought, this is a re-imagining of how public funds can be used to strengthen local news and information, but it’s also a new way of doing it, because the Civic Information Consortium, it’s an independent non-profit that receives public funds, and then invests that into new and innovative local news and information projects, especially in communities that have been historically underserved, which include BIPOC communities, immigrant, poor, rural communities, among the least well-served in the state of New Jersey.

So how are we using public funds to address those really long-standing information needs, as well as the communities who have been impacted by the recent loss of local news in the state? And so it’s building on this precedent of public media, but also doing it in a much more innovative way, that uses state funds to address a community’s information needs, and really centering community in that process, as opposed to centering the journalism industry or corporate media.

JJ: I liked the description, I was struck by the description of the Consortium  on NJCivicInfo.org, that says that it “funds initiatives to benefit the State’s civic life and meet the evolving information needs of New Jersey’s communities.”

It doesn’t say, as you’ve just noted, it doesn’t say “newspapers,” or “give money to websites.” We always talk about the fact that the contribution of a news source isn’t just whether the reporters are smart or whether the visuals are high-tech—that it has to do with its structure, with who supports it and who it’s accountable to.

I think it’s interesting that we’re talking about information needs, and of course that includes journalism and media outlets, but that’s not the definition.

Mike Rispoli: “What we talked about was not the woes of one specific industry, but instead we talked about the impact on communities when local news and information is not accessible.”

MR: Absolutely. And I think that what we knew when we began this campaign was that if this was a campaign to bail out the journalism industry, that wasn’t a thing that people were going to get behind. That was a thing we didn’t even think lawmakers were going to get behind.

But instead, really what we talked about was not the woes of one specific industry, but instead we talked about the impact on communities when local news and information is not accessible. And we know from data, when local media is deficient or disappears altogether, it has significant consequences on civic participation. Fewer people vote, fewer people volunteer, fewer people run for public office; fewer federal dollars go to districts where there’s no local media presence. Government corruption increases, government spending increases.

So there are all these really profound effects on civic participation and the overall health of our communities when local media isn’t meeting people’s needs. And so we wanted to make the campaign, as well as the bill, really centered around that, as opposed to giving government handouts to corporate media, who contributed so much to the mess that we are in right now, and that we’re trying to figure our way out of.

JJ: Absolutely. I liked the comment from Columbia Journalism Review back in 2018; Heather Chaplin said that what’s so interesting about what was then the New Jersey Civic Information Bill was that

it seems to acknowledge in a very concrete way that “journalism” is not just its own island floating out in the middle of the ocean somewhere, but rather is just one part of a larger interconnected system that supports democratic life.

Let me ask you, Mike Rispoli, finally, to bring us up to this week, because there’s new news just recently. What’s the latest?

CJR (8/16/18)

MR: Sure. So just this past week, the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium, which I’m grateful to also be a board member of, announced nearly a million dollars in grants to projects all around the state, all different types of projects: projects that train community members in the skills of journalism, and how to report on their communities; grants to high schools to train student journalists; grants to research institutions to look at community information needs of the state; grants to civil society, so people who maybe don’t come from a journalism background but do things like voter engagement or voter outreach; and giving money towards civic engagement projects, again with a particular emphasis on communities that have been the least well-served by New Jersey media.

What’s really exciting is that this round of grants just went out. We also gave out a half a million dollars last year, so the Consortium, even though the bill passed in 2018, it’s really only been doing grantmaking for the past two years or so. But we’re already starting to see the impact of how public dollars can not just help support these really interesting projects, but it will also help our grant recipients to attract philanthropic dollars as well.

And so we’re actually beginning to see more philanthropy going into local news projects in New Jersey, as a result of state funds being used to help get these projects off the ground. And I’ve been fortunate to be involved in this work, like you said, since 2016 or 2017, and always had an idea of the types of projects that the Consortium could support, but looking at the list of grantees now, and the really good, critical work that they’re doing, makes me feel really, really proud of this initiative.

And like you mentioned at the top, it’s really a first-of-its-kind in the nation, but we’re also beginning to see other states look to the New Jersey model, and take up similar legislation where they are. So what we’re really hopeful for is that not only will the Consortium have an impact with its grantmaking in New Jersey, but will hopefully also inspire other states, and maybe even Congress, to look at how public funding can support local news and information.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Mike Rispoli, senior director of journalism policy at Free Press. You can learn more about the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium on their site, NJCivicInfo.org. Thank you so much, Mike Rispoli, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

MR: Thank you so much for having me.

 

The post ‘What if We Use Public Money to Transform What Local Media Looks Like?’ appeared first on FAIR.

‘The Race Crisis and the Democracy Crisis Are Inseparable’

 

Janine Jackson interviewed the Forum‘s Chris Lehmann about media in a multi-racial democracy for the May 6, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Twitter (3/15/21)

Janine Jackson: The concerted attack on critical race theory is one of the most appalling called shots in recent memory. Right-wing activist Christopher Rufo declared publicly:

The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think “critical race theory.” We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.

“In the newspaper” is not a metaphor here. Media have been the vehicle for this absurd anti-anti-racism campaign, which has achieved devastating traction in a country in which overwhelming majorities– 76% in a recent poll–acknowledge racial and ethnic discrimination as a big, not a past or historic, but a big problem.

Right-wingers know they can play a press corps that will seek to normalize whatever they do as representing one pole of a debate they can pretend they’re hosting, even as those actions threaten core democratic ideas. All of which makes corporate media the wrong place to talk about the assault on critical race theory, and all that it’s really about.

Into the breach is a new website primed for launch. The Forum is a daily site of news and commentary published by the African American Policy Forum. AAPF, where I serve as a board member, was co-founded by Kimberle Crenshaw, key expounder of critical race theory.

The Forum’s editor-in-chief is Chris Lehmann, former editor-in-chief for the Baffler and the New Republic, and author of The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity and the Unmaking of the American Dream.

He joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Chris Lehmann.

Chris Lehmann: Thank you, Janine. Really happy to be here, and thanks for the great introduction.

JJ: As I understand it, while not denying that critical race theory, or what’s presented as that, is under attack, the Forum isn’t defining itself as a defense, but more a user of what is, after all, a tool. Is that right?

Chris Lehmann: “We cannot downplay or disregard the white nationalist assault on multi-racial democracy, and we have to document it everywhere it turns up.”

CL: Absolutely, Janine. Early on in the bad faith attacks from the right, it became very clear, when you’re locked in a battle with someone who’s lying, and shamelessly lying, the conventional, incremental fact-checking approach is doomed to fail, for the reasons you cited in your introduction.

So the Forum is meant to be a free-standing proof of concept for people curious about what critical race theory actually is and does. We’re not engaged in the doomed effort to call out the defamations and bad faith attacks from Rufo and company. Rather, we’re here to insist, what is more desperately clear than ever, that the race crisis and the democracy crisis are one and the same.

For entirely too long in American political history, political elites on all sides have regarded racial justice as something you can negotiate away in provisional, political calculations. We’re in this situation now because of that mindset, and the Forum is very much dedicated to demonstrating, in real time, the disastrous consequences of those kinds of calculations.

JJ: It’s interesting. With some people, it’s as if when we center race, we’re no longer talking about them.

CL: Exactly, yes.

JJ: It’s like, “oh, you’re going to talk about accents, but I don’t have an accent,” you know?

CL: You’re talking to a Midwesterner.

JJ: Exactly. “I’m neutral, I’m neutral.”

I appreciate very much that the Forum is not sort of pitching in as a defense of critical race theory, particularly given that the people behind this assault have made clear they don’t know or care what critical race theory is; it’s a vehicle for them to attack Black people and teachers and history and multiracial democracy in general. So I’m wondering, what is a sense of the range of pieces and perspectives that you’re looking to include, and what are you thinking of as a kind of cohering principle for the content?

The Forum (5/5/22)

CL: I think the cohering principle is that we cannot downplay or disregard the white nationalist assault on multi-racial democracy, and we have to document it everywhere it turns up.

So this week on the Forum, we have a great piece by Rafia Zakaria, author of “Against White Feminism,” on the bombshell leak of the draft opinion by Joseph Alito to strike down Roe V. Wade, explicitly saying it has been a racial project to control women’s bodies, going back even before the founding of the United States, but certainly throughout the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow, that has been front and center. So that’s just a timely example.

Last week, we had a piece about Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, and how it also reflects what is, at bottom, a colonialist mindset: wealth conquering, literally, the terms by which we engage in public discourse, and sort of leaving a scorched earth behind.

JJ: So it’s showing the range of things that you may not have associated with this toolbox of ideas, but, in fact, it’s useful to apply this prism to.

CL: Yes, absolutely. Again, the race crisis and the democracy crisis are inseparable. And I think to talk responsibly about the fate of our democracy entails always acknowledging that the anti-democratic forces in our history, and in our political world today, are committed first and foremost to sowing racial divisions and to, as you indicated earlier, propel this mythic idea of a real America that excludes certain people, largely on the basis of skin color, but also gender.

Kim Crenshaw also founded intersectionality, which is the analytical tool that insists that you can’t separate out race and gender oppression and other forms of oppression. They are all part of one movement. As we’re seeing at this moment, when the initial attack on CRT in our schools has now metamorphosed into the “Don’t Say Gay” bills, the attack on trans Americans. It is all of a piece.

And we have to respond as one movement, saying that this is all an attack on our democracy. The Supreme Court opinion is a clarion call, in my view, that we have to organize at the most fundamental levels to stop these unaccountable, elite institutions that have spun out of democratic control.

The Forum (4/28/22)

JJ: And just on that note, that has been where people see, I think, a huge void on the part of corporate media, in the failure to see these things as a coherent front, as a coherent campaign. It was maddening to see how many media just kind of picked up the script they were handed, and presented the attack on critical race theory not as an explicit disinformation effort that’s aimed at the same dusty, racist goals, but presented it as a “controversy,” sprung up organically from the soil of school boards around the country.

And that’s media telling the wrong story, and really fundamentally misrepresenting the scale of things that are going on. And I think when a lot of people complain, to FAIR certainly, about media, what they’re looking for is a sense of urgency, a sense that the chips are down, and that journalists need to pick a side. And what we’re getting instead from elite media is, well, you know, some people think Black people are inferior, and then other people call those people racists, and why don’t both sides just kind of calm down?

CL: Right. And, as they say on the Sunday shows, “We have to leave it there for now,” you know what I mean? Yeah, that whole mindset is disastrous in conditions of democratic peril and the conditions we’re living through now. We have a major party that is now weaponized by white nationalist ideology, and undertook a coup on January 6 of 2021.

And our media, the mainstream media industrial complex, is sleepwalking through this moment, in part because they have institutional investment in treating politics as a game. It is not a game. This is not a drill. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for anyone who cares about the democratic future of this country.

And, yeah, our media cannot afford to just reflexively both-sides something as fundamental as the right to know what our history is, and the right to learn, and the right to, yes, pursue actual racial equity in our institutions, because it is long past time to do so.

JJ: All right, well then, into the breach, as I say, come new spaces, like the Forum. We’ll look out for it.

CL: Thank you so much, Janine. I really appreciate it.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Chris Lehmann, editor-in-chief at the new news and commentary site the Forum. Thanks again, Chris, for joining us on CounterSpin.

CL: Sure thing. Anytime.

 

The post ‘The Race Crisis and the Democracy Crisis Are Inseparable’ appeared first on FAIR.

Manufacturing Opinion on Lifting Title 42 Border Restrictions

 

The Biden Administration intends to fully lift the Title 42 border restrictions, which have been in place since March 2020, on May 23. A federal judge appointed by Donald Trump, however, has ordered a two-week halt to the phasing out of those restrictions.

In the meantime, three media polls—Politico/Morning Consult, Fox and CNN—have conducted surveys to get the views of the public on this proposed change.

As the graph below indicates, all three found majority opposition to lifting the restrictions: Politico by a 19-point margin (35% favor, 54% oppose), Fox by 36 points (27% to 63%) and CNN by 14 points (43% to 57%).

The public’s widespread lack of information on political matters has been amply demonstrated over the years. (See here, here and here.) Yet Politico and Fox are able to coax opinions on this rather obscure policy from 90% of their samples. CNN is even more talented, with fully 100% of its sample expressing an opinion on whether Title 42 border restrictions should be lifted or not.

Fox News‘ subhead (5/3/22) said Title 42 “limited illegal immigration”—when it actually barred seekers of asylum, an internationally guaranteed legal right.

Before asking about Title 42, both CNN and Fox asked their respondents how attentive they had been to the issue. CNN found just 12% of their sample who said they had been following the news about Title 42 “very closely.” Another 29% said “somewhat closely.”

Fox reported 29% saying they had heard “a great deal” about the Biden administration’s decision to end Title 42 restrictions. Another 32% said they had heard “some” about the decision.

It’s the 12% and 29% figures that are of most interest, because only people who paid a great deal of attention might have a genuine sense of the issues at stake. People who have heard of the issue only casually (followed the issue “somewhat” closely, or heard “some” information) are highly unlikely to know much.

Yet somehow all three news organizations report 90–100% of the public with a meaningful opinion on the issue. Clearly these results are illusory.

Points of information

Here are some relevant points one might want to know about and consider in determining whether to support lifting the Title 42 border restrictions.

  • The US has a legal obligation to hear asylum seekers about their reasons for seeking asylum, based on US law and as signatory to international protocols.
  • Toward the start of the pandemic, the Trump administration invoked Title 42 to allow the US to return asylum seekers to their home countries without a hearing. The justification was that it would help prevent Americans from getting Covid.
  • The CDC initially refused to comply with the order, because the scientists argued there was no evidence that such restrictions would slow the coronavirus. The organization was overruled by Vice President Mike Pence.
  • As a consequence, 1.7 million people have been denied a legal hearing, and will be ready to apply for asylum as soon as Title 42 is lifted. Some people argue the flood of migrants could overwhelm the ability of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to process all asylum claims.
  • Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas predicted that up to 18,000 asylum seekers could cross the border per day once the restrictions are lifted: “We’re not projecting 18,000, but what we do in the department is we plan for different scenarios, so we’re ready for anything.”
Eliciting opinion

CNN (5/5/22) connected polling numbers to a fears of a “mob” of migrants prepared to “surge” into the US.

Media pollsters typically use two techniques to elicit opinions from respondents who might otherwise admit they have “no opinion.”

The first is to ask forced-choice questions—whether the respondents favor or oppose a policy, with no explicit “unsure” or “don’t know” option. Respondents who have agreed to participate in the poll feel obligated to please the interviewers, to do what is “right,” what is expected of them. So if at all possible, respondents will try to find something in the question itself to help them come up with an opinion. Very few will insist on volunteering they don’t have an opinion.

The second tactic is to simply give respondents a limited subset of knowledge about the issue, and then immediately ask whether they support or oppose the policy.

The limitations here should be obvious. First, once respondents have been given specific information, they no longer represent the larger population they are supposed to represent—because the general public has not been given the same information.

The second limitation is that almost any given issue is too complex to describe fully. So pollsters have to decide how to limit what information they give. The result cannot help but be biased.

Fox, for example, told their respondents that the border restrictions were enacted during the pandemic to “enable the US to block migrants from entering the country based on public health concerns.”

If you didn’t know anything about the issue, of course you would be against lifting the restrictions—since, according to the poll interviewer, they’re “based on public health concerns.”

The other two polls also informed their respondents that the restrictions were implemented for health reasons. No mention was made of the United States’ legal obligation to have hearings to judge whether asylum should be granted, nor the CDC’s initial evidence-based refusal to comply with the Trump administration’s invocation of Title 42. Nor did they mention that the Homeland Security Secretary specified that numerous steps had been taken to deal with the expected surge of migrants.

Had some or all of that information been provided, the polls might well have produced quite different results.

Still, even then, those samples would not represent a cross-section of the general public, which would not have been given the same information.

The polls simply do not represent the US public.

What do polls really measure?

It’s clear the poll results cannot be interpreted literally, as though the vast majority of the US public has come to a conclusion about lifting Title 42 restrictions.

But the results do indicate that emphasizing health concerns as the reason for Title 42 resonates with the public.

CNN asked a few additional questions, with these results:

  • 68% of adult Americans believe the situation at the Mexican/US border to be a “crisis.”
  • 73% disapprove of the way migrants are being treated in the US.
  • 56% favor allowing refugees from Central America to seek asylum in the US.
  • 74% are not confident that once Title 42 is lifted, the Biden administration will be ready to handle the increase in the number of migrants who will try to enter the US.

Each one of those questions is seriously flawed, yet overall they indicate the public’s top-of-mind reaction to be generally positive toward migrants, but concerned about the ability of the government to deal with large numbers of asylum seekers.

How many people are actually engaged enough to hold those opinions, however, the polls don’t tell us.

The post Manufacturing Opinion on Lifting Title 42 Border Restrictions appeared first on FAIR.

‘The Core of Copaganda Is the Symbiotic Relationship Between Press and Police’

 

Janine Jackson interviewed Copwatch Media‘s Josmar Trujillo about hyper-policing for the April 29, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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New York Times (4/13/22)

Janine Jackson: When the news got out that someone had shot people in New York City’s subway system, many of us knew just what would come next, and we were not surprised. Immediate, urgent calls for more police and more policing, for tougher treatment of homeless and/or mentally ill people. Forget tolerance or empathy or social services, because look where that gets us.

It’s an argument that we’ve heard for decades, but it’s not an abstract debate. Just because patterns and practices are old doesn’t mean their harms are not fresh. So, yes, it matters very much whether the news convinces people that they’ve just been saved from lethal threat by, as the New York Times explained, “hundreds of officers from a multitude of agencies,” using methods “as modern as scrutinizing video from surveillance cameras and parsing electronic records, and as old-fashioned as a wanted poster.”

And it matters how that tees up your reaction to New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ declaration of the suspect that, “if all goes well, he will never see the outside of a prison cell again,” as unmitigated celebration and a renewed sense of security.

Josmar Trujillo is an activist and writer. He works with Copwatch Media, a community-based project that does print and video reporting about law enforcement’s effects on hyper-policed communities. He joins us now by phone from here in town. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Josmar Trujillo.

Josmar Trujillo: Great to be back. Hi, Janine.

JJ: It seems worth talking about the Frank James coverage, the suspect in this subway shooting, in part because it was so boilerplate, and it shows the bare bones of a conversation, or what pretends to be a conversation, that we have seen countless times. What would you say were the key markers here? What made this sort of classic copaganda?

JT: So the subway shooting incident was a little bit of a mix of copaganda, and also a little bit of a throwback to big crisis moments, not quite at the level of 9/11, but moments of panic, sheer panic. For the last couple of years, local media, not just in New York City but around the country, have been spreading copaganda, inciting fear and pushing the conversation away from the issue of Black lives mattering or social justice, and towards this idea that we’re all not safe.

A subway shooting, because it’s in a public space where millions of people jump on a transit system to go to work, to go around the city, was treated like it was an attack on the entire city. So it had that extra element of fear, of panic, that this could happen to anyone, anywhere. And that escalated the level at which the copaganda operated.

Now, some of the things that were clear were, one, the NYPD was thrust into the leading role, to be some agency that’s there in the forefront, looking to bring the bad guy into custody and to keep us all safe. And the NYPD not only didn’t stop the subway shooting from happening—even though thousands of police officers have been added into the subway system, and there’s cameras in every subway station in New York City—but were also unable to capture him. Part of the copaganda was, one, putting them in the forefront to say they’re going to stop this guy, they’re going to catch this guy, which they did neither.

NBC News (4/14/22)

But then the media also just ignored and politely overlooked the fact of what the NYPD was unable to do, and that the suspect—and we should note that he’s a suspect; because the cameras in the subway weren’t working, we don’t even have clear footage that he did what he did—but the fact that he was suspected of doing it, he called the authorities on himself, after 30 hours of walking around some of the most densely populated parts of the city in broad daylight, using the subway system for hours after the incident, where you would think the police would be looking for him.

I mean, this spectacular failure of public safety was on full display. And the media not only ignored it, but afterwards still managed to somehow credit the NYPD, and the brave men and women of the NYPD, for capturing the suspect, while begrudgingly noting that he actually did call—he was seen by regular people on the street, who had to point out to police officers that he was on the street,  but that he also had to, at some point, just call Crimestoppers on himself.

And that was, to me, one of the most amazing things, is this idea that not only will the media always lionize the cops, but when the cops are clearly inept, and clearly not doing what they’re theoretically supposed to do, that the media will cover for them, and politely omit that failure.

Washington Post (4/16/22)

JJ: And it’s so important, because this isn’t a moment where we’re just talking about an event that happened and made people scared. It’s linked to solutions, and the solution is more police. So it’s meaningful. It’s not just like, oh, we should call out cops because their crackerjack work didn’t actually wind up apprehending this suspect.

It’s because we know—and we saw, it’s already happened, the solution has already been called for, and it’s more police and more policing. So it’s extra meaningful that that actually doesn’t work. Forget the ideology for a moment. It just doesn’t seem to work in terms of what people are claiming it works for.

JT: Yeah. Police enjoy a really convenient arrangement in terms of perception of crime, and the responsibility for keeping the public safe. On the one hand, when crime goes down, when a crime stat goes down one percentage point, they’ll hold a press conference and pat themselves on the back, and say, “Look at us, you should praise us. We’re the men and women of the NYPD, and we keep you safe. Look at the crime stats going down,” which they did for many years, as crime continued to decline in New York City.

But when crime goes up—and some crime categories have gone up, because of the pandemic. That’s another conversation, that the media has failed to factor in the pandemic effect into some crime categories going up, and also across the city, which was predictable.

But you would say, well, if police deserve credit when crime goes down, whose responsibility is it when crime goes up? The police are nowhere to be found. Then they’ll point the fingers at anyone else. And in the case of the NYPD, there’s a big conversation about bail reform, a really disingenuous conversation about some of the moderate reforms that were passed in New York state about incarceration, [claims] that are completely fabricated, have no basis in any evidence at all, but have been used to blame reforms for causing crime.

And so they push blame for crime increases on everyone else: Black Lives Matter protest, social justice movements, anything except themselves. So it’s like a “heads we win, tails you lose.” They only get credit for when things go right in terms of crime stats. And when things go wrong, it’s the fault of social justice movements.

JJ: Let’s lateral into media, because it’s such a co-operative relationship. There’s kind of a sideways acknowledgement from reporters that more police don’t actually make people more safe, but they make people feel more safe, and that perception is what we’re going to address. It’s very  shadows on the cave wall. Like, we’re not going to actually deal with safety, we’re going to deal with perceptions of safety.

And that’s why I feel like media are so core to this conversation. The stories that reporters tell people have a lot to do with what people believe about what law enforcement does, what it doesn’t do, who’s harmful, who’s not harmful, and all of that.

JT: And people should understand the term “copaganda,” which I know is being used now more readily. It’s not just an example of when police are overly quoted in a story, or used as the only source in the story, or when there is favorable coverage or bias given to them. The stories are the symptoms. The core of copaganda is that symbiotic relationship between the press and police. Police rely on press and press rely on police.

For example, local reporters here rely on access to police officers to get access to crime scenes, to get information that is not yet publicly available, because the police hold so much public information before it goes out.

That access, to be able to say, “Hey, can we interview you for this new policy that’s going into effect? Can we go for a ride-along for this operation that you’re planning?” This symbiotic relationship, that’s at the core of copaganda, so the stories that you see are the products of that relationship, and that relationship, I think, is what we need to talk about more and more, and why the media is relying—not all of the media, but much of the mainstream and corporate media, and especially the local media, they’re very dependent on access to police officers or police officials.

The City (4/26/22)

And then how police also utilize the press, to, one, stoke fear when they need to, because fear is a really crucial element to validate police authority, and how that goes both ways. And it’s an unspoken relationship, and it goes on and on, and it creates an element of fear that makes the public much more malleable in terms of what they’ll allow to happen without being skeptical, whether you want to bring back stop and frisk, or you want to bring drones to New York City for the police—any return to a horrible form of policing or an escalation of a new form of policing depends on people being properly scared enough.

And police benefit from it, because they’ll have their budgets expanded, which just happened yesterday; the mayor is proposing more funding for the NYPD. But also it sells newspapers, it gets clicks. It gets people to buy into this narrative that the media has been cultivating for the better part of two years, and you can even say longer than that—many, many years. So there’s a benefit for both sides of that arrangement.

JJ: Absolutely. So much I could say… I do think that honest, observant people would acknowledge that the game-changing media on police brutality, on police racism, has not come from salaried journalists, who are charged with and constitutionally protected for speaking truth to power.

It’s not come from there. It’s come from—we’re calling them “citizen journalists.” What they are are regular people on the street with a phone who, I was going to say “are not afraid to use it,” but I think often they are afraid to use it, but they just know that if they don’t record this… they recognize that they’re now the historical record, and if they don’t record this and show it, then people are going to deny that it happened.

And so if we could just talk about the redefining of journalism, the fact that if we’re talking about police brutality and aberrations by police, it matters so much that just regular folks are creating media and reporting about it.

JT: Absolutely. And this goes back, in a very recent history, to Ferguson. This goes back to the highs of the Black Lives Matter movement, the recording of the interaction that killed Eric Garner in Staten Island, the Ferguson protesters who were using social media to shoot images out to the world of what the police department was doing in response to protests.

So you can call it “citizens”—we use “copwatch,” because copwatch is a form of people using cameras to be vigilant of police and tracking what they’re saying, because, unfortunately, we live in a society where police’s word is always taken at a higher value than a regular person’s word.

So you need that camera. You need that evidence, but you also need to show the world what’s happening. We use “copwatch,” we use “citizen,” you can just say “the public.” Some people will say “activist.” I never got a card in the mail that said I was an activist. I was a person who just started to give a crap about what was going on, and I started to do things about it, you know?

It’s regular people being able to document what’s going on. And in particular with the police, because policing is most harmful in communities of color, it’s those people in low-income communities of color that have the most experience, the most perspective, the most context to be able to speak about this.

And not just write about it for a one-time story because, you know, the story is hot, or an editor told you to go over to Harlem and check out what’s going on, but because maybe you live there and maybe you know what’s going on. Maybe you have connections in the community that enlighten your understanding of what’s happening from just a one-time incident to a continuation of a historical oppressive system.

So I think it’s really important that that conversation of us not relying on salaried, constitutionally protected reporters, or card-carrying members of the press, to understand that storytelling is about people. And that’s the most important element that we can start from, and in terms of policing, there are certain people that are policed more than others. And if we acknowledge that, then we also have to acknowledge that they might be the better suited ones to have an honest conversation about it.

JJ: Absolutely. You know, if video evidence were enough, we wouldn’t be in conversation right now. We’ve seen videos. We have video—Rodney King—we have video, video exists.

JT: No, I’ll, I’ll never forget what you told me once. I think it was some event that we saw you at, where you said evidence is not the problem. It’s never been about a lack of evidence, like we just need to compile more evidence, more proof.

It’s important to document things, but it’s also important to understand that this is not just about winning over people with the rationality of our argument, but really understanding this is a war of information, and a literal war as well.

I mean, there’s physical violence, death. There are things that are happening in communities at the hands of the police. There is a literal and figurative war that’s happening, and in those cases, it’s not about you sitting down and having an honest intellectual debate with someone who will concede when you have a point.

They will not concede. The people who are against this are not willing to acknowledge that bail reform has not contributed to crime. It’s beside the point, the facts don’t matter to them. It’s just about pushing an agenda forward, and being the loudest and the most aggressive in that way. I think if we understand that, I think we’ll also have a better understanding of how to counteract that.

JJ: Well, precisely, and thank you very much, Josmar, for that. And I just want to ask you, finally, if you do think about—you know, we’re not anti-reporter, we’re not anti-journalism—if you think about what useful journalism around this set of issues would look like, or what it would include, what are we talking about? How do we get off the dime on this conversation?

Josmar Trujillo: “We have to understand that journalism is something that anybody should be able to do. We should all be able to document our stories.” (image: Joseph Hayden)

JT: Well, this is a long conversation. We could have a big conversation, a couple of days’ worth of conversations, about that. But there’s been kind of a reckoning, from what I’ve seen, in media about, at the very basic level, diversity in the newsroom, right? Like just acknowledging that, right? Not to mention, people aren’t moving enough in that direction, but acknowledging that white supremacy is not just an issue of people in power in police departments or in government, but also in the people who shape and tell the stories of our society.

But there’s this idea also that it’s not just about diversity. It’s also about tearing down the walls of saying, like, this person is a reliable person because this person has a press pass, and this person is  a crazy or a fringe person because they put their stuff on social media.

There has to be, I think, room for us to understand that citizen journalism and journalism can be made stronger by not thinking of ourselves in these silos, and not thinking of ourselves as “real reporters and people who are really objective,” and “people who are not credible,” and start to open up that conversation.

Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of stuff since the Capitol riots where there’s this whole battle for information about who’s right and who’s wrong. And there’s a deeper conversation about censorship and all of this stuff. But I think we have to understand that journalism is something that anybody should be able to do. We should all be able to document our stories, and there needs to be, I think, a push for traditional newsrooms to understand that, possibly create programs and put resources into helping bridge that gap, right? So we’re not just hiring from the journalism schools, and we’re creating apprenticeships or creating programs, ways for people to be able to enter the profession, but also for us to not think that the profession is the end all and be all of storytelling, because it’s not.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with activist and writer Josmar Trujillo. You can find Copwatch Media online at Copwatch.Media, and his work many places around the internet, including FAIR.org. Thank you so much, Josmar Trujillo, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

JT: Thanks, Janine. Thanks so much for having me.

 

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Media Shocked by the Leak, Not the Opinion

 

When Politico (5/2/22) published a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion that would, if handed down by the Court, overturn Roe v. Wade and undermine the foundation for many privacy rights enjoyed by Americans today, it was a headline story across US news outlets. But in the flood of coverage, too many elite media outlets focused on the leak itself and treated the issue as a political football, rather than centering the real-world implications the opinion would have for everyday people.

NBC Nightly News (5/3/22) reassures viewers as to “the integrity of the Court’s operations.”

On NBC Nightly News (5/3/22), for instance, anchor Lester Holt turned first to Justice correspondent Pete Williams to explain what happened. Williams began by offering viewers his take: “While the publication of the draft is a shock, the conclusion of the draft shouldn’t be.”

Though most court observers did expect the conservative super-majority to overturn Roe (CounterSpin, 9/15/21), Alito’s conclusion—that not only was Roe “egregiously wrong,” but that “unenumerated rights” to privacy or autonomy in general have no constitutional grounding—was, in fact, shocking to many of those who analyzed it (e.g., Slate, 5/2/22). And just because something is anticipated doesn’t mean it’s not still shocking.

But with that framing, it was little surprise that the first expert Williams turned to for commentary, Tom Goldstein of SCOTUS Blog, spoke only of the gravity of the leak. (“This has never happened in American history. And the Court may never be the same when it comes to the trust between the justices and all of their law clerks.”)

Holt’s only question to Williams had a similar focus: “Pete, let me ask you. How does the Court plan to proceed in investigating this leak?”

‘Shocking breach of privacy’

CBS Evening News‘ Jan Crawford (5/3/22) wasn’t sure “how this Court will ever recover” from the leak of a draft opinion.

CBS Evening News (5/3/22) likewise led off its coverage with its chief legal correspondent, Jan Crawford, who explained:

This is really a shocking breach of privacy, something that didn’t even happen when the presidency was on the line in Bush vs. Gore. It raises questions about how this Court will ever recover and what that final decision will be.

The irony of worrying about the Court’s privacy as it contemplates eliminating a right to privacy for all Americans was not addressed. Crawford later characterized the leak as a “body blow to the Supreme Court.”

Williams and Crawford are legal correspondents, so it’s perhaps logical that their focus centers on repercussions for the Court rather than for the general public. But this highlights the trouble with Washington reporting, which prioritizes inside baseball over real-world impact, allowing outlets to tout their professionalism and access with little danger of appearing partisan—or of giving the public the information it needs.

Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino told Fox News (5/3/22) the leak was “absolutely jaw-dropping.” Severino’s group has spent at least $37 million to ensure a right-wing majority on the Court.

The rarefied focus also played into the right-wing framing of the story, which unsurprisingly cast the leak itself as far more important than the opinion’s implications for people seeking to end unwanted pregnancies. At FoxNews.com (5/3/22), Alito’s majority draft opinion “elicited shock from longtime observers of the Court,” not because of the potential elimination of a fundamental right to bodily autonomy, or the anticipated overthrowing of a 50-year-old precedent, but because the Court “rarely had information about its deliberations leak to the public.”

Notably, none of these networks mustered similar outrage over revelations about Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife Ginni repeatedly urging the White House chief of staff to illegally overturn the 2020 election results, and Justice Thomas’s refusal to recuse himself from cases related to January 6. In that case, all three newscasts framed the story as merely a partisan battle, with Democrats enraged and Republicans supportive of Thomas, rather than a “body blow” to the Court itself.

Impact on politics more than lives

Beyond examining the impact on the Court, the networks still often framed the Roe leak story in terms of politics rather than lives. In a segment introduced as exploring “how this could play out across the country,” NBC reporter Stephanie Gosk (5/3/22) concluded: “It is an issue that has long divided the country. And if Roe v. Wade is overturned, those divisions may grow deeper.”

ABC World News Tonight‘s David Muir (5/3/22) said the leak “has certainly fueled both sides in this emotional debate.”

Anchor David Muir on ABC World News Tonight (5/3/22) framed the story in his first segment foremost as a political football, saying that the leaked draft

has certainly fueled both sides in this emotional debate, alarming millions who came to trust the 50-year-old right to privacy in making this choice as legal precedent and heartening millions of others who have fought to overturn Roe v. Wade for 50 years.

All the primetime shows did talk as well about the likely impact on those seeking abortions, which was almost always described as clinics or providers having more difficulty doing their jobs, or women having to travel farther to access abortions. Brief nods were occasionally made to the disproportionate impact on low-income and BIPOC communities (e.g., NBC 5/3/22), and the fact that “there’s already dwindling access that could quickly disappear” (CBS, 5/3/22). But what that would mean in practical terms—that more pregnant people will die and more families fall into poverty—was never directly stated.

Indeed, while NBC‘s Gosk interviewed leaders of abortion clinics in Texas and Mississippi, her sole question explicitly asking “what will happen to the women, many of them low-income, who every year get abortions in states like Mississippi, Texas, places like that?” was directed to the CEO of an anti-choice group, who assured viewers that they will be “providing them with holistic life-affirming options to make sure that they get access to the resources and the help that they need.” Gosk offered no counterpoint to that rosy view.

Pointless whodunnit

More recently, Mark Penn has been an advisor to Donald Trump—but describing him that way wouldn’t have lent credibility to Fox News‘ conspiracy theory (5/4/22).

Much of the press was also fixated on the drama of who leaked the draft—a question of far greater interest to political insiders than to people contemplating a sharp curtailment of their rights. The right in particular devoted significant time to piecing together clues and determining what their motive might be, and, primarily, whether the leaker was liberal or conservative. One Fox piece, “Supreme Court Draft Decision Leaked to Energize Democrats’ Base, Former Clinton Adviser Says” (5/4/22), featured right-wing Democrat Mark Penn claiming Democrats initiated the stunt to bring suburban women voters back to the party: “I think that that breathed new life into Democratic hopes for those midterm elections.”

Right-wing outlet Newsmax host Grant Stinchfield (5/3/22) accused Kentaji Brown-Jackson—who is not yet on the Supreme Court, and thus does not have any access to their computers or documents—of leaking the draft.

With an investigation underway, such speculation and baseless accusations could easily go on for weeks, working to turn a story about a highly unpopular and undemocratic conservative move, one that strips people of a long-held and extraordinarily consequential right, into a pointless whodunnit. Corporate media have spent too long ceding the framing of the abortion story to the right and failing to show the devastating consequences the right’s decades-long attack on reproductive rights has already produced (FAIR.org, 5/19/21; CounterSpin, 5/28/21).

The essential story journalists need to be telling now is the story of the further concrete consequences the decision would have on millions of people’s lives throughout the country. Otherwise the real-life effects of a country without Roe are lost to the theatrical, sensational focus on the leak.

 

The post Media Shocked by the Leak, Not the Opinion appeared first on FAIR.

Chris Lehmann on Multi-Racial Democracy, Mike Rispoli on Funding Local News

 

(illustration: The Forum)

This week on CounterSpin: Listeners are aware of the no-less-destructive-for-being-baseless assault on critical race theory. Just like with affirmative action (where conservatives said, “steps toward racial equity really means unfair quotas”), media took this charge, “steps toward racial equity really means telling white children to hate themselves,” and made it into “something some folks are saying”—while, of course, out of fairness they’ll acknowledge, “others disagree.”  (Media themselves, they suggest, occupy the intellectually and morally superior center.) A new website engages the attack more productively, by using critical race theory as a prism to explore the current range of threats to multi-racial democracy and our ability to fight for it. The site’s called The Forum; we’ll talk with editor-in-chief Chris Lehmann.

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(photo: New Jersey Civic Information Consortium)

Also on the show: Between Rupert Murdoch and Elon Musk, who would you prefer preside over what information you can access? It’s kind of like being offered a choice between a poke in one eye or the other. If the problem is media outlets with priorities that poorly serve even our aspirations for democracy—and it is—the response is media with different priorities, which we know really only come from having a different bottom line. How can that work? We’ll talk about one model with Mike Rispoli of the group Free Press; he’s been working with the New Jersey Civic Information Consortium—a new way of thinking about and meeting local communities’ need for news.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a very quick look back at recent coverage of Roe v. Wade.

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Trans Youth Targeted by Texas Are Marginalized by Corporate Media

 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott put out a directive on February 22, following a legal opinion from state Attorney General Ken Paxton, insisting families with transgender kids be investigated for potential “child abuse.” While not legally binding, the move provoked several investigations into parents of trans kids.

It’s one more state government assault in what’s beating 2021 as the worst year for anti-trans backlash. The far right’s obsession with reversing LGBTQ progress is nothing new, nor is the gross conflation of gender affirmation with harm to children. But the bigotry is experiencing an unprecedented mainstreaming—through the careful calculations of conservative media, and the callous indifference of centrist media.

FAIR (3/3/21, 3/12/21, 5/6/21) has previously criticized corporate news outlets for their failure to respond to the vitriolic and well-funded anti-gender movement. In a new study of coverage on the Texas directive across six outlets, we found once again a dearth of trans sources and perspectives, treating those most harmed by the directive as subjects to be debated, not humans worthy of providing insight into their own lives.

Amount of coverage

FAIR counted news and opinion stories mentioning the Texas directive, as well as the types of sources cited, in the centrist outlets New York Times, Washington Post and Slate, along with the right-wing Breitbart, Daily Caller and Federalist, between February 22 and March 22. The majority of stories were text-based, but some of the results for Slate were transcriptions of podcasts. Stories in the Times were found using the Nexis database, while the other five were counted directly from the sources’ websites.

The conservative outlets published 33 stories on the directive, versus 38 in the centrist outlets. Breitbart alone covered it more times (23) than the New York Times and Slate combined (21). The coverage we studied included a total of 200 sources; 40% of these sources appeared on Breitbart, a measure of the far-right outlet’s obsession with the topic.

It’s a principle of good journalism that coverage should be centered on those most affected by an issue. As trans people were those most impacted by Abbott’s directive, one should hope they would be centered in news coverage of the matter. Yet of the 200 sources across all the outlets, only 30, or 15%, were identified as trans.

Outlet by outlet, 27% of sources cited by the New York Times in directive stories were trans, and 26% at Slate. Breitbart had markedly less trans representation, with 11% trans sources—though this was more than the Washington Post or Daily Caller, which each had 8%. The Federalist, meanwhile, had no sources identified as trans in its stories on the Texas anti-trans directive.

A majority of trans sources were experts representing NGOs and media outlets, such as Chase Strangio and Gillian Branstetter of the American Civil Liberties Union. While excellent sources to inform the public on trans advocacy, they represent only a small part of the trans population. Trans people who aren’t affiliated with major organizations naturally may fear for their safety when speaking to the press, but there wasn’t even an effort to cite trans members of the general public anonymously. Excluding expert sources, trans people provided a total of 5% of sources across all outlets, while parents of trans children constituted 10%.

Trans-suspicious ideologues

A trans woman embraced by the right for regretting gender reassignment was spotlighted by the Washington Post (4/11/22) as well.

The Washington Post, though it cited seven parents of trans kids, notably featured no quotes from trans youth themselves, or from any other trans members of the general public. This choice is all the more disquieting, given the lack of diversity in trans perspectives that the paper has highlighted in its opinion section.

While there were opinion pieces (2/25/22, 3/2/22) that were critical of the directive during the studied timeframe, none were by trans people themselves. But the following month, Corinna Cohn, a transgender software engineer, was given space to tell her own story. Cohn, who has become a fixture in conservative media as an ally to anti-trans advocates, penned a mournful op-ed (4/11/22) that expressed surgery-regret and alarm at “how readily authority figures facilitate transition.” She referred to her early transition self as a “callow young man who was obsessed with transitioning to womanhood,” and encouraged gender-dysphoric youth to take their time before making long-term decisions.

Conversations around regret, risk and the role of therapeutic interventions are essential when it comes to trans healthcare, but they’re difficult to have when the ground is almost entirely ceded to conservative gender politics. The sole trans experience detailed in the Post in the two months following the directive produces an incomplete picture of what gender-affirming care looks like. The absence of direct accounts of trans joy, pride, and resistance promotes the notion that transition is a tragic outcome, that stories such as Cohn’s are the rule and not the exception.

According to biologist and trans historian Julia Serano (8/2/16), outlets regularly employ “trans-suspicious” ideologues who, while expressing enough acceptance of trans people to appear moderate, or even being trans themselves, nevertheless partake in constant fearmongering over the rate of gender transition. Fellow trans historian Jules Gill-Peterson (New Inquiry, 9/13/21) identifies this rhetorical strategy as “laundering extremism”: filtering anti-trans bigotry through “liberal” rationalism while still pandering to the far-right. Whether it comes from cis or trans voices, this handwringing implies that access to gender transition is too easy, and thus laws restricting access to it are justified—all the while ignoring the damaging impact restrictive medical gatekeeping has had.

The Washington Post, despite ostensibly being to the left of outlets like Breitbart, carries water for those actively fighting to ban and criminalize gender-affirming care when it fails to provide a greater breadth of trans perspectives.

Deny and punish

Slate (3/2/22): “The child welfare system..is a particularly potent tool for transphobic politicians because it was set up to surveil families that fall outside of the white, middle class norm.”

The suspicion and concern around gender transition in the media belies the reality that it can be lifesaving for trans kids and adults alike. Trans healthcare is linked to better mental health outcomes and lower suicide risk, while a lack of family acceptance drives the disproportionate rates of homelessness among LGBTQ youth. The domino effect of denying care means trans young people will face exorbitant costs to transition in adulthood, creating even more barriers for a demographic that is 70% more likely to live below the poverty line than cis people. Not every young person experiencing gender dysphoria may require medical transition, but to deny and punish those that would benefit from it is both classist and anti-democratic, as it inserts punitive state authority between patients and qualified practitioners.

There were some notable exceptions to this framework. An episode of a Slate podcast (The Waves, 3/3/22) featured several prominent trans journalists and researchers, including Gill-Peterson and Evan Urquhart. They provided essential context, including the overrepresentation of LGBTQ youth in foster care, and the lack of families willing to accept them. Another article (3/2/22), by Roxanna Asgarian, took a deeper look than any of the other outlets into the carceral tactics of child protection agencies, such as their ability to investigate individuals and search their homes without alerting them of their rights, and the disproportionate targeting of poor, Black, Indigenous and LGBTQ families for problems that are often synonymous with poverty.

But overall, trans-centered perspectives were flashes in the pan, and hardly sufficient to counteract the present emergency plaguing trans people and their loved ones.

 

The post Trans Youth Targeted by Texas Are Marginalized by Corporate Media appeared first on FAIR.

On Venezuela, Only Hawkish ‘Dissent’ Allowed

 

Another NATO war means a media establishment in a propaganda frenzy once again. Corporate media outlets have cheered Washington for throwing fuel to the fire in Ukraine, with some demanding that the administration escalate yet more (FAIR.org, 1/28/22, 2/28/22, 3/18/22, 3/22/22). Be it through their choice of pundits, or their own reporters haranguing White House officials for not sending enough weaponry, one thing is clear enough: Elite media will only criticize official foreign policy for not being hawkish enough.

When it comes to Venezuela, corporate journalists have historically had little to criticize, given Washington’s “maximum pressure” regime-change efforts (FAIR.org, 12/19/20, 4/15/20, 1/22/20, 9/24/19, 6/26/19, 5/1/19).  However, a recent unexpected trip by a high-level US delegation to Caracas to meet with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro opened the spectrum of opinion ever so slightly. Besides the traditional bias and dishonest coverage, a familiar pattern emerged: Just like with Russia/Ukraine, the only allowed criticism of official policy comes from the right, demanding that the US be as extreme as possible in dealing with its “enemies.”

Media to Guaidó’s rescue

“Political winds shifted against any proposal to ease the US sanctions,” Reuters (3/22/22) reported–as though hostile media coverage wasn’t part of those “political winds.”

The early March talks, which broached subjects such as sanctions relief and Venezuela resuming oil supplies to the US, were soon discontinued after backlash from hardliners. But they had one clear loser: US-backed self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaidó, who was “sidelined” (Washington Post, 3/11/22). The Jeff Bezos–owned paper reported that the “notable leader” was left out of the plans (though his “notable” status is very dubious at the moment—AP, 3/2/22). The Post article acknowledged further down that the opposition figure “has little practical authority in the country and little influence outside.”

However, in Guaidó’s hour of need, corporate journalists came to his aid, treating as newsworthy that the hardline oppositionist was “angered” (Miami Herald, 3/7/22) or “astonished” (El País, 3/10/22) about not being informed of his Washington bosses’ plans in advance.

Efforts to prop up the fading politician included the oft-repeated lie that he is recognized by “more than 50” (Washington Post, 3/9/22) or “almost 60” countries (AFP, 3/7/22), which was true in 2019. The current number, based on a recent UN General Assembly vote to recognize the credentials of the Maduro government, is 16 (Venezuelanalysis, 12/8/21).

Soon after, news outlets gave Guaidó the floor to “press” the White House against dealing with the Venezuelan government, as well as to warn oil corporations such as Chevron to not pursue increased activity in Venezuela and “stick with democracy” (Reuters, 3/22/22), which in this instance stands for unconstitutionally replacing an elected president with a legislator whose term expired in 2020.

A Guaidó aide even asked, “What’s the value of the commodity of freedom?” Given how cheaply US officials and their media stenographers bring it up, not that high.

Reuters went further than most in the damage-control operation, telling readers more than two weeks after the fact that “the US officials met Guaidó after attending the meeting with Maduro.” The claim is very dubious, given prior reporting that the opposition frontman and the US delegation “didn’t meet face to face” (Washington Post, 3/11/22). Given Guaidó’s communications policy, which prompted him to boast of a phone call with Slovakia’s foreign minister, it seems unlikely he would host a White House delegation and stay quiet about it.

Inventing ‘hostages’

Wall Street Journal (3/9/22): Easing sanctions against Venezuela “would reward a rogue regime for taking American hostages with little energy benefit.”

The one “consequence” of the surprise Caracas summit was the release of two detained US citizens, Gustavo Cárdenas and Jorge Fernández. Cárdenas was one of the “Citgo 6” oil executives sentenced in 2020 for corruption, whereas Fernández was arrested in 2021 after allegedly entering the country illegally from Colombia while carrying a drone.

Outlets were happy enough to echo the administration’s claim that the two had been “wrongfully detained” (Al Jazeera, 3/9/22) and were used as “political pawns” (BBC, 3/11/22), but not so much to offer details on the corruption charges brought against the Citgo 6. Certainly none connected Fernández’s drone arrest to the assassination attempt against Maduro in August 2018, which used explosive-laden drones brought in from Colombia.

Some went even further by referring to the imprisoned US citizens in Venezuela as “hostages” (CNN, 3/16/22; Wall Street Journal, 3/9/22). It seems no crimes can be committed by US nationals in countries deemed evil by Washington.

Similarly apologetic were the references to Luke Denman and Airan Berry, former US Green Berets serving 20-year sentences after taking part in Operation Gideon, a failed paramilitary/mercenary invasion of Venezuela. Despite their own confessions and public statements by Gideon organizer Jordan Goudreau confirming their involvement, the two former soldiers are only “accused in a plot” against Maduro (Washington Post, 3/6/22; CNN, 3/8/22).

The Washington Post brought up the case of Matthew Heath, a “former Marine who was arrested while traveling along the Caribbean coast of Venezuela,” without noting that he was caught with heavy weaponry and explosives (Venezuelanalysis, 9/14/20).

An overdose of Rubio

The New York Times (3/8/22) quoted Sen. Robert Menendez (D.-N.J.) as saying the US “risks perpetuating a humanitarian crisis” by lifting sanctions that have killed over 100,000 Venezuelans.

To the extent that the media establishment was willing to entertain the possibility of Washington engaging with Caracas again, it did so on its familiar dishonest, US exceptionalist terms. As such, corporate pundits (NPR, 3/13/22; Financial Times, 3/13/22; Washington Post, 3/11/22) weighed the pros and cons of dealing with an “authoritarian” government. Others called it “autocratic” (Guardian, 3/14/22; Financial Times, 3/12/22; CNN, 3/8/22). The New York Times used both (3/8/22).

Laying down the law, Western journalists wrote that, in order for negotiations to proceed, Biden wants “progress toward restoring democratic governance” (Bloomberg, 3/10/22) and Maduro must “set aside his authoritarian impulses” (AP, 3/10/22), thus establishing both the Venezuelan president’s dictatorial tendencies and the country’s lack of “democratic governance” as background facts.

Likewise reheated were the unsubstantiated “fraud” claims concerning Maduro’s 2018 reelection (New York Times, 3/8/22; AFP, 3/7/22; Reuters, 3/6/22; see FAIR.org, 5/23/18), and the evidence-free “narco-terrorism” charges (BBC, 3/13/22; New York Times, 3/8/22; Washington Post, 3/11/22; see FAIR.org, 9/24/19). Reuters (3/22/22) ridiculously accused the Venezuelan president of “dragging his feet toward new elections” when the country’s constitution stipulates they be held in 2024.

But the most remarkable aspect of coverage was that the US politicians asked to weigh in on the Biden administration’s calculations were invariably foreign policy hawks. CNN (3/8/22) cited no less than five US politicians criticizing the rapprochement and the possibility of sanctions relief. The most featured by far was Sen. Marco Rubio (R.–Florida), who got to ramble unopposed about “narco-dictators” (Washington Post, 3/6/22; Bloomberg, 3/30/22; Financial Times, 3/13/22; Newsweek, 8/3/22).

No corporate outlet sought the opinion of those US representatives who in the recent past have strongly called for sanctions relief because of their documented impact on the civilian population (Venezuelanalysis, 8/14/21, 6/17/21, 2/11/21).

The sanctions script

Whether to lift or relax sanctions imposed on Venezuela in recent years is—leaving aside the Guaidó charade—the key decision facing Washington. Multilateral bodies and human rights rapporteurs have decried the measures, which have led to over 100,000 deaths, according to former UN Special Rapporteur Alfred de Zayas.

Despite a growing consensus demanding their removal, corporate media have stuck to their routinely dishonest coverage of sanctions and their consequences (FAIR.org, 6/4/21). A key misrepresentation across the board (CNN, 3/8/22; BBC, 3/11/22; Bloomberg, 3/10/22; Financial Times, 3/6/22, 3/13/22; Reuters, 3/9/22) is that sanctions against Venezuela’s oil sector only began in 2019.

In fact, the first key blow against the industry came in August 2017, when state oil company PDVSA was shut out of global credit markets. Studies on crude output pinpoint a sharper drop beginning at this point, and $6 billion in lost revenue in 12 months. The seminal report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) also begins with the 2017 sanctions. Whether a concerted effort or lazy copy-paste, saying that the measures began only in 2019 is a disingenuous way to claim that Venezuela’s economic collapse has nothing to do with US sanctions.

Viewing the sanctions debate though the prism of US imperial interests, corporate journalists will  state baldly that the deadly measures are meant to “force Maduro” from power (Washington Post, 3/6/22; Financial Times, 3/6/22); Washington’s right to do so is never in question. As such, Biden changing course is presented as a “gamble” at best (Bloomberg, 3/15/22) or a “strategic blunder” at worst (Wall Street Journal, 3/7/22). The argument against sanctions is that they are “counterproductive,” because they are “ineffective in reducing the power of the government” (Forbes, 3/24/22). Regime change remains openly the goal.

Readers are assured that sanctions were “intended to help restore Venezuelan democracy” (Guardian, 3/6/22) or “bring reform” (Washington Post, 3/9/22). Nowhere to be found are details of the devastating harm these unilateral measures inflict on the civilian population. Consequences, from lost crops to resurgent epidemics, are out of sight and out of mind.

Faced with the White House contemplating changes (even for the wrong reasons) to policies that have brought tremendous suffering for ordinary people, corporate media opted to obfuscate the sanctions’ impact, present the debate in the most US-exceptionalist terms, and platform the most hardline positions. In this way, the media establishment manufacture consent for silently killing Venezuelans.

 

The post On Venezuela, Only Hawkish ‘Dissent’ Allowed appeared first on FAIR.

Josmar Trujillo on Hyper-Policing

(image: Copwatch Media)

This week on CounterSpin: There are reasons that so much news media is consumed with crime. Not just any crime, not wage theft, not lethal pollution—but street crime, random, individual crime. “If it bleeds, it leads” journalism draws eyes to the set, doesn’t bother advertisers, is cheap to produce and lets news outlets look as though they’re tracking an important event in real time, and pretend as though they’re protecting real people…as they forcibly distract from actual humane efforts to respond to the ongoing crises—homelessness, poverty, addiction—that lead to crime, but are less cheap and easy to cover than cops and robbers. It’s a story old as journalism, but it’s still messed up. We’ll talk about that with activist and writer Josmar Trujillo, working now with Copwatch Media, a community-based project that reports on the effects of hyper-policing on communities.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look back at recent press coverage of inflation, immigration restriction and democracy.

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The post Josmar Trujillo on Hyper-Policing appeared first on FAIR.

Damn Good for CBS—but Really Bad for Democracy

 

The Washington Post (3/30/22) reported that CBS‘s hiring of former Trump aide Mick Mulvaney was “drawing backlash within the company because of his history of bashing the press and promoting the former president’s fact-free claims.”

CBS News hiring former Trump aide Mick Mulvaney speaks volumes about systemic problems in our media. Mulvaney notoriously defended various Trump chicaneries—including withholding military aid to Ukraine in an attempt to extort its president for political gain—and no democracy worthy of the name should give him a prominent media platform. But once again, commercial values trumped democratic principles in mainstream news media.

A recording of a staff meeting captured CBS News co-president Neeraj Khemlani explaining how the hiring decision was based on maintaining “access” to Republican elites (Washington Post, 3/30/22). He told the staff of CBS‘s morning show:

Being able to make sure that we are getting access to both sides of the aisle is a priority because we know the Republicans are going to take over, most likely, in the midterms.

Such media malpractice recalls the now-disgraced former CBS CEO Les Moonves (Extra!, 4/16) enthusing in 2016 how the Trump campaign “might not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

Misguided norms

De-prioritizing democracy is a recurring failure in our commercial news media, often enabled by misguided norms. As Washington Post media critic Margaret Sullivan (4/3/22) aptly noted, hiring Mulvaney reveals

the news media’s blind and relentless pandering to the outdated notion that both sides of the aisle are pretty much equal…just with different governing philosophies.

Jay Rosen (PressThink, 9/25/16) : “A balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality.”

The tendency to rely on “he said/she said” false equivalence has long stained professional news practices—simultaneously presenting a veneer of neutrality while also accentuating partisan conflict. But this practice is especially egregious now that the Republican Party has become an openly anti-democratic force, often supporting the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen, and refusing to properly condemn the January 6 insurrection and broader efforts to overturn election results—in some cases even encouraging them. The recent revelation that Sen. Mike Lee supported such attempts—a coup by any other name—barely registered with major television media.

News outlets have increasingly normalized this fascistic threat, at least partly because to call it out and condemn it—as news outlets would in any functioning democracy—counters a key cornerstone in the commercial media model. “Bothsidesism” is arguably one of the worst symptoms of our media’s structural pathologies. Fixating on access to official sources, this practice typically indexes media coverage to the parameters of elite opinion, and naturalizes status quo power relationships instead of challenging them.

To confront the GOP’s neofascist turn would amount to a departure that, in the words of media critic Jay Rosen (PressThink, 9/25/16), “fries the circuits of the mainstream press.” A profit-driven media so closely wedded to the political elites within a two-party system could never dare alienate a large swathe of Americans who ensure the ratings that advertisers covet.

Obsession with ratings

The United States government spends 0.002% of its GDP on public media—vastly less than almost all other wealthy countries.

As former MSNBC producer Ariana Pekary (8/3/20) has publicly written, commercial media’s obsession with ratings warps and degrades media coverage. She described how it’s “practically baked into the editorial process,” but remains “taboo to discuss how the ratings scheme distorts content.”

Yet the damage is all around us. Ratings-driven news outlets focus more on facile coverage of pressing social issues—or provide no coverage at all—to privilege entertainment over information. This commercial logic drives media to emphasize dramatic and sensational storylines that keep our eyes glued to various screens, from online clickbait to cable television’s barking heads.

Several years ago, Chris Hayes made a revealing comment on Twitter (7/24/18) to this effect when he acknowledged that covering climate change is a “palpable ratings killer. So the incentives are not great”—which begs the observation that we must change the incentives driving our news media.

But why are commercial media so ratings-obsessed? It isn’t just a popularity contest, but rather stems from the core business model that undergirds the American media system: capturing our attention to deliver to advertisers. In the US, most commercial media organizations—from cable news to social media—rely on revenues from delivering eyes and ears to advertisers.

Even for many newspapers, it’s long been about an 80/20 split (80% from advertisers/20% from reader-support like subscriptions, though this ratio is changing with the collapse of ad revenue). At the same time, the US is almost literally off the chart compared to democracies around the globe for how little it allocates towards public media.

Captured by capitalism

Is having democracy better than not having democracy? “Ethical journalism” doesn’t need to make this “subjective value judgment,” argues SPJ board member J. Israel Balderas (Twitter, 4/6/22).

Progressives often attribute mainstream media’s failings to its corporate ownership. While news media’s allegiance to corporate power deserves ruthless criticism, it’s also important to underscore how these pathologies are baked into the very DNA of a commercial press, resulting in media’s capture by unfettered capitalism.

Democratic theorists have long warned us against this kind of market censorship, a filtering process that creates patterns of omission and emphasis in which some voices and views are elevated, and others muffled, according to commercial values, especially the need for profit to satisfy media owners and investors. They rightly observe that much of this power traces back to the influence of advertising, which privileges some narratives and some audiences over others, thereby essentially redlining the news by serving whiter and wealthier audiences.

A commercial press that’s overly reliant on advertising revenue and “access journalism” based on elite sources, simply is—and always will be—ill-equipped to defend democracy. Despite noble exceptions, such a profit-first system will consistently marginalize progressive issues and favor news frames that align with elite interests and worldviews.

For many journalists who have internalized these norms—a code of professional ethics that traces back to the first half of the 20th century when publishers assumed a semblance of “social responsibility” to stave off public criticism of commercial excesses in the press—these practices are carried out in the name of objectivity. It’s this orientation that led a board member of the Society of Professional Journalists to recently suggest that journalists shouldn’t adopt a pro-democracy bias in reporting.

This commercial system’s shortcomings are symptomatic of core structural maladies—namely, profit imperatives that overwhelm commitments to democratic principles. It’s not simply a few bad journalists and news organizations; it is deeply systemic. While critiquing corporate media is an important exercise—public pressure can help push the needle toward more progressive and democratic narratives—at least part of our focus needs to be on apprehending and changing the underlying structures that help produce bad journalism.

Democratizing media

This media reform project is especially urgent now, as much of the professional journalism ranks have been decimated in the last two decades. Our long-term strategies for democratizing media should include building nonprofit and public alternatives to failing commercial models.

Today, exciting new experiments are taking root across the country—many are independent, grassroots-driven and noncommercial—but we still need a society-wide approach to ensure that all members of the public not only have access to reliable and diverse news and information, but also have opportunities to make their own media and tell their own stories. Ultimately, we must democratize our media, but first we must remove journalism from the market as much as possible.

This task of de-commercializing our media is made more feasible by the market itself, as profit-seeking entities (with the unfortunate exception of vulture hedge funds) abandon local journalism altogether. We’re faced with a historic opportunity to create a new media system from the ground up. It’s incumbent upon all of us who have a pro-democracy bias to work towards building true structural alternatives to the run-amok commercial system we’ve inherited in the US. Because what’s damn good for CBS is really bad for democracy.

 

 

The post Damn Good for CBS—but Really Bad for Democracy appeared first on FAIR.

Trump’s Asylum Ban Hasn’t Disappeared—but Media Outrage Over It Has

 

The Washington Post (4/3/20) reported that Trump “shelved safeguards intended to protect trafficking victims and persecuted groups” and “created a pilot test for the impact of the more draconian measures he has long advocated.”

“Facing Coronavirus Pandemic, Trump Suspends Immigration Laws and Showcases Vision for Locked-Down Border,” a Washington Post headline (4/3/20) announced in April 2020, reporting on the administration’s invocation of Title 42, a public-health code provision that allows the government to take emergency action to prevent communicable disease. The lead explained:

President Trump has used emergency powers during the coronavirus pandemic to implement the kind of strict enforcement regime at the US southern border he has long wanted, suspending laws that protect minors and asylum seekers.

Almost exactly two years later, the same paper (3/24/22), including one of the same authors of the 2020 article, reported on the coming end of the same policy restrictions with this headline: “Biden Faces Influx of Migrants at the Border Amid Calls to Lift Limits That Aided Expulsions.” Here the lead said that increasing numbers of migrants and refugees at the border were “stirring fears that the Biden administration will face an even larger influx if it lifts pandemic restrictions next week.” An end to Title 42 deportations was announced the following week, to go into effect May 23.

It’s hard to even recognize it as the same policy in these two pieces.

I looked at the Washington Post’s coverage of Title 42—from its introduction to its effects, calls for its end as well as for its continuation, to its announced end—to track how the paper’s reporting changed from the Trump administration to the Biden administration. The differences, which were stark and consistent, reveal something about how the Post views the two administrations, but also a lot about how they analyze —or don’t—US immigration policy.

From pretext to pandemic policy

Two years later, the Post (3/24/22) said the number of people crossing the border was “stirring fears that the Biden administration will face an even larger influx if it lifts pandemic restrictions.”

Under the Trump administration, the Washington Post consistently framed Title 42 as a pretext for severe restrictions on immigration, rather than presenting it at face value as a legitimate public health measure. The April 3, 2020, article described the use of Title 42 as “a pilot test for the impact of the more draconian measures [Trump] has long advocated.” An April 21 Post piece spoke of “the pandemic as the reasoning,” not the reason, for the restrictions. On May 13, it attributed to “some experts” the belief that Title 42 was “an excuse to implement the kind of blanket closures President Trump has sought for years.”

Moreover, the 2020 coverage regularly included damning evidence supporting the view that the pandemic was merely a pretext for shutting the border, namely the fact that Covid was much worse in the US than anywhere else, and in particular, much worse than in Mexico and Central America. “Mexico has confirmed fewer than 1,500 positive cases of the virus so far, less than 1% of the number in the United States,” one report (4/3/20) noted. “Though Trump administration officials have tried to emphasize the external threat of the virus, the United States continues to have the worst outbreak in the world,” another (5/7/20) explained. “Despite the administration’s claims of an external threat, the United States remains the world’s worst coronavirus hot spot, by far,” the Post (5/13/20) told readers.

By contrast, in 2021 and 2022, with a different occupant in the White House, Title 42 restrictions were generally contextualized as a response to the pandemic.

In a July 2021 piece (7/28/21) headlined “Along Mexico Border, Covid Spike and More Migrant Families Stall Plans to End Title 42 Expulsions,” the claim that public health concerns were driving decisions about whether/when to end Title 42 is taken at face value. The piece goes so far as to relay a story from local Joya, Texas, police about a migrant mother “sneezing and coughing” walking into a fast-food restaurant, where the USians promptly called the police on the family. “This is day after day. We get hundreds of people, and they could all be sick,” the cop is quoted.

On the day this article ran, Mexico had 13,911 new Covid cases while the US logged 84,961—more than twice as many even on a per capita basis. These numbers, however, were missing from the account.

Similarly, in the March 24, 2022, piece, the Washington Post framed the upcoming decision on whether to continue or end Title 42 restrictions as a public health decision. If the administration chose to continue them, it noted,

it would not be the first time the Biden administration…opted to renew them as another wave of infection looms. The emergence of the omicron variant of the coronavirus last winter quashed speculation that an end to Title 42 was imminent.

Danger to migrants and refugees

The Post (5/13/20) noted that the Trump administration “has yet to publish statistics showing the impact of the measures on the thousands of migrants who arrive in the United States each year as they flee religious, political or ethnic persecution, gang violence or other urgent threats.”

In April 2020, the Washington Post (4/3/20) reported that Title 42 “bypassed court-ordered due process protections for minors, asylum seekers and others,” and said that Trump “has shelved safeguards intended to protect trafficking victims and persecuted groups.” That May (5/13/20), it revealed:

The Trump administration’s emergency coronavirus restrictions have shut the US immigration system so tight that since March 21 just two people seeking humanitarian protection at the southern border have been allowed to stay.

Such blunt statements about the devastating human rights impact of Title 42 were absent from the coverage in 2021 and 2022, however. In their place, the paper sometimes attributed concerns about dangers to migrants to critics of the policy.  “Advocates for immigrants have repeatedly sued over the policy, saying it endangers migrants and violates federal law,” it reported in March  2022 (“Democratic Lawmakers, Civil Liberties Groups Demand End to Title 42 Border Expulsions,” 3/10/22). It mentioned that a federal appeals court had days earlier ordered the Biden administration to stop sending families to countries where they face persecution, “citing reports that migrants have been raped, tortured and killed after being expelled.”

In the March 24 article, objective dangers were again couched as partisan opinions: “Democrats and immigrant advocates…say that the order is denying victims of persecution the right to seek asylum under US law.” On March 30, it was “activists” who “argue” that Title 42 is “an inhumane way to treat people seeking refuge.”

I dunno—rape, torture and murder seem objectively inhumane to me.

And while Trump’s use of Title 42 was described with words like “draconian” (4/3/20) and “crackdown” (5/7/20), such normative terms were absent when it came to explaining Biden’s border policy. In 2020, Title 42 was used to “summarily expel” migrants (5/7/20), but in 2022 it was used to “rapidly deport” them (3/24/22).

‘Migration pressures’ and ‘unprecedented strains’

Reporting on the prospect of Biden relaxing Title 42 restrictions, the Post (3/29/22) recalled “mass migration events…that placed severe strains on US agents, holding facilities, transportation networks, humanitarian shelters and border communities.”

In 2020, the Washington Post (5/13/20) was concerned that the border was shut “so tight” by Title 42 that only two people had gotten humanitarian protection. But in 2022 (3/30/22), it worried “lifting the policy could swell the border with migrants who view it as easier to come to the United States and claim asylum.” Apparently there’s such a thing as too much humanitarian protection.

Indeed, the biggest theme of the Biden-era coverage of Title 42 has been the perception that ending the restrictions would result in too many people seeking asylum or otherwise trying to immigrate to the US. “The quantity of border-crossers is now so large that if Title 42 were lifted, agents would not be able to safely detain migrants, especially if large numbers seek asylum,” “analysts” told the Post (7/28/21). In “Biden Officials Bracing for Unprecedented Strains at Mexico Border if Pandemic Restrictions Lifted,” the Post (3/29/22) talked about “a possible post–Title 42 border rush.”

“Biden officials insist the CDC renewal decision is driven by public health,” the March 24 article noted, “but in private, border authorities and others say it has become a management tool to cope with the historic migration pressures they have faced since early last year.” Under Trump, Title 42 was a pretext to implement “draconian” immigration policies, but under Biden it’s a “management tool” to deal with a legitimate problem.

Barely unspoken is that the Washington Post now considers it a necessary management tool to stem the “influx” of people migrating to the US. Thus 2020’s concern over “shelved safeguards” has dissipated, and in its place we have justifications for continuing the very same policy that two years ago was viewed as extreme.

Return to normalizing

“Because of the myth of objective journalism, reporters’ and editors’ views of how Trump is a bad president or a terrible human being have no legitimized expression” (FAIR.org, 11/26/19).

As I’ve argued earlier (FAIR.org, 11/26/19), I believe that most of the neoliberal media did dislike Trump and that bias influenced their coverage of the administration. The Washington Post—with its pretension to be the defender of democracy (“democracy dies in darkness”)—was fine with implying that Trump’s policies were beyond the pale, but is less inclined to paint the same policies the same way under the return-to-normal administration of Biden. What they disliked about Trump was not really his policies, but the fact that he said the quiet part out loud—in the case of immigration, the overt racism,  xenophobia and undisguised cruelty—and his unpredictability. With Biden, there is a return to a predictable bipartisan range of politics and policy.

And equally predictably, the Post has returned to its habit of legitimizing and stabilizing the US presidency, and framing immigration policy as part of a chess match between Democrats and Republicans.

Underlying the reflex to defend the administration is an unexamined bias in favor of our racist immigration and border policies, policies that have overall been the same before, during and after the Trump administration. As border crossings increased in the second year of the pandemic, Republicans, Democrats and the Washington Post are all in agreement that shelving human rights concerns is the price of keeping unwanted refugees and migrants out of the US.

You can send a message to the Washington Post at letters@washpost.com, or via Twitter @washingtonpost. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread here.

 

The post Trump’s Asylum Ban Hasn’t Disappeared—but Media Outrage Over It Has appeared first on FAIR.

Dorothy A. Brown and Dean Baker on Tax Policy

 

This week on CounterSpin: News media coverage of taxes falls broadly into two camps: There are, especially in April, lots of “news you can use”–type stories—like NBC‘s Today show on April 14 warning viewers to be mindful of typos and not be lazy about filing for extensions, or NBC Nightly News on April 18, noting that if you filed by mail, you might wait five to eight months for your return, due to backlogs at the IRS. Taxes as an “oh well, what are you gonna do” thing that all of us have to deal with.

Then there are other stories, disconnected stories, about tax policy: Who pays, how much, and why? We’ve talked about that a fair amount on this show, and we’re going to revisit two of those conversations today.

Last April, we spoke with Emory University law professor and author Dorothy A. Brown about how, though you can scour tax policy and find no mention of race, our tax system still affects Black people very differently, in ways most conversation obscures.

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And in February 2019, we spoke with economist Dean Baker about why the idea of raising taxes on the superwealthy makes sense to many mainstream economists and to the general public, but still faces a perennial headwind in corporate media.

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Two revelatory conversations about tax policy, this week on CounterSpin.

The post Dorothy A. Brown and Dean Baker on Tax Policy appeared first on FAIR.

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