Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

Western Media: Venezuelan Elections Must Be Undemocratic, Because Chavismo Won


The main “flaw” identified by the New York Times (11/23/21) in the recent Venezuelan elections is that the wrong party won.

Corporate media’s coverage of Venezuela has been constantly biased over the past 20 years, but especially when reporting on elections (FAIR.org, 11/27/08, 5/23/18, 1/27/21).

The latest flurry of dishonesty and faithful stenography came as Venezuelans voted for new regional and local authorities on November 21. The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won resoundingly, securing 19 of 23 governorships and 212 of 335 mayoralties. Pundits who are happy to equate “democracy” with elections are not so keen on people voting when Washington’s enemies are poised to win (Washington Post, 11/22/21).

The hardline Venezuelan opposition made life easy for the media establishment in recent years by boycotting elections altogether. Outlets could then just echo the ever baseless “fraud” allegations from US officials and move on (NPR, 5/21/18; BBC, 5/21/18; Reuters, 5/20/18; Bloomberg, 5/7/18; New York Times, 5/17/18).

However, this time around, these right-wing actors returned to the ballot. Corporate journalists, having paid little attention to Venezuela in recent months as US-backed regime change efforts floundered, had to scramble to explain and discredit the events. Unable to reheat the “fraudulent” label, there was a return of classics such as “rigged” (CNN, 11/24/21) or “flawed” (New York Times, 11/23/21), which happened to be the State Department’s choice too.

‘Flawed’ reporting

There was already a sense that the US-favored parties would not do so well on their return to the electoral path. Reports talked of a “skeptical” opposition (Al Jazeera, 11/19/21; AFP, 11/19/21) to dampen expectations, after building the myth that anti-government parties had overwhelming support in the country.

Reuters (11/22/21): “Some Maduro opponents fear the freedom being given to the opposition to campaign is part of a government strategy to deliberately lower political tensions and so discourage participation.”

Beyond managing expectations, there were less-than-convincing efforts to explain the change of course. Reuters (11/22/21) claimed that, in justifying boycotts, the opposition argued “a fair ballot was impossible because of interference from President Nicolas Maduro’s government and violent gangs loyal to him.” But then the same piece ends up undermining the thesis that the boycott was all about “fair” conditions. In saying that the return to the ballot happened “amid frustration over the failure of US sanctions to dislodge Maduro,” there’s an unwilling confession that opposition forces hoped US intervention would rid them of Venezuela’s democratically elected government.

It was not the first time that Reuters ran the “interference and gangs” line (11/17/21). But then to explain how “cautiously optimistic” opposition politicians were able to campaign free from intimidation, the explanation was that the hillside barrios of Caracas no longer “belong to Chavismo.” Journalists Vivian Sequera and Mayela Armas could not hide their disdain for the poor and working class who identify with the Bolivarian Process, referring to popular neighborhoods as “fiefdoms of former president Hugo Chavez and…Maduro.” For what it is worth, Chavista candidate Carmen Meléndez secured the Caracas mayoralty with 59% of the vote, performing even better in those very barrios.

Making use of EU

The opposition’s electoral defeat prompted some outlets to publish sobering headlines, suggesting that the opposition needed to “regroup” (NPR, 11/25/21), “rebuild” (Reuters, 11/22/21) or “lick wounds” (Financial Times, 11/25/21). But others doubled down on propaganda.

The New York Times (11/23/21) led the way, as Isayen Herrera and Anatoly Kurmanaev argued that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro had found a “way to retain power”: winning elections. In a hyperbolically dramatic tone, the Times charged Maduro with “subverting the vestiges of democratic institutions” and “perfect[ing] a political system” that ensures success.

The paper of record flagrantly distorted the conclusions of the European Union’s electoral observation mission. The article’s teaser says “European observers said the elections were neither free nor fair.” But that was not the case. Rather, the mission’s chief, Isabel Santos, when repeatedly asked the question, declined to answer, which other reports made clear (Reuters, 11/23/21). To assume this means the mission declared the elections not to be free or fair is disingenuous, to say the least.

Oddly, US sanctions designed to force out the Venezuelan government by destroying the nation’s economy were not mentioned by the Washington Post (11/23/21) as part of an “uneven playing field.”

Most corporate outlets clung to EU conclusions that pro-government candidates allegedly spent state resources in campaigning, or were favored in public outlets (Washington Post, 11/23/21; Financial Times, 11/25/21; Bloomberg, 11/23/21). Of course, opposition forces getting foreign resources (Financial Times, 7/18/19) or being favored in private media (FAIR.org, 5/20/19) has never been a concern.

Corporate journalists conveniently downplayed the mission’s endorsement of the reliability of Venezuela’s voting system, seriously undermining past and future “fraud” claims. Indeed, Washington, the Post (11/8/21) admits,  was “not amused” by its European partners actually wanting to witness the process. US officials even wanted to impose the report’s findings ahead of time.

The coverage likewise suggests the European presence by itself meant improved conditions and a previously absent level of international scrutiny, when in fact the EU had been repeatedly invited to send electoral delegations. Not just that, all Venezuelan elections have had numerous international monitoring missions, only not from close US allies (Venezuelanalysis, 5/31/18, 12/9/20).

The ‘divided’ opposition

There was an overriding consensus that opposition disunity proved costly. The results speak for themselves, with the PSUV securing most offices, despite having less than 50 percent of the vote. However, instead of scrutinizing why opposition parties could not get on the same page, many outlets found it easier to just blame Maduro.

The New York Times (11/23/21) accused the seemingly all-powerful Venezuelan president of “dividing opposition parties” to compete against “carefully calibrated opponents.” Times journalists accused the non-hardline candidates of adopting “a softer line against the president,” when in fact the key difference is that moderate opposition sectors condemn US sanctions and US-endorsed coup attempts. Corporate journalists will accept nothing less than absolute loyalty to Washington’s designs.

Reuters (9/23/21) had set the tone in the build-up to the elections by referring to non-US-backed figures as “spoiler candidates,” with possible “disguised ties” to the government. They were said to pose a threat to the “opposition,” meaning that reporters Vivian Sequera and Brian Ellsworth took it upon themselves to decide who qualified as “opposition.” In fact, the “spoilers” had promising candidates in a number of races, and it was the US-backed Democratic Unity Roundtable (known in Spanish as MUD) that cost them victory by fielding their own.

One of the highest-profile cases of opposition infighting happened in the state of Miranda, where candidates Carlos Ocariz and David Uzcátegui traded barbs and accusations. Ocariz did finally drop out, and as the Washington Post (11/21/21, 11/23/21) reported more than once, “the electoral council ruled it was too late” to take his name off the ballot. The Bezos-owned newspaper makes this sound like an arbitrary decision by a pro-government body, when the electoral calendar had been published months before. And Ocariz knew it, since he was posting messages on social media announcing “there is X time left to reach an agreement.”

The cardboard ‘interim president’

The Western media’s sudden scrutiny of election rules and opposition candidates contrasts with its laissez-faire attitude towards the self-proclaimed “interim president” Juan Guaidó. The opposition leader’s made-up post never had a constitutional leg to stand on, but the Washington Post (11/23/21) is happy to let him talk about his “constitutional mandate.”

The Post  (11/21/21) likewise remains wedded to the idea that “50 other countries” recognize Guaidó, when this number is probably closer to single digits after the European Union withdrew its recognition earlier this year. In contrast, it is refreshing to see some outlets stop pretending and just admit that in their view it is up to the US to decide who is the legitimate (parallel) leader of Venezuela (Financial Times, 11/25/21; Bloomberg, 11/22/21).

Pretend president Juan Guaidó watches as a cardboard presidential seal falls off the backdrop behind him during a news conference (Twitter, 11/22/01).

For his part, Guaidó recently had an unfortunate episode as a presidential shield made of cardboard fell to the floor behind him in the middle of a press conference. It is not hard to imagine how the symbolism of the affair would have stolen headlines had it involved Maduro or any other official enemy. But the corporate media chose to look the other way, just as it does concerning a string of scandals that have seen the opposition leader jeopardize billions worth of state assets under his control, leaving them at the mercy of corporate predators (Venezuelanalysis, 9/25/21; 10/4/21; 10/23/21).

All in all, the latest elections have shown how, like the US State Department under Biden, media will not change their tune on Venezuela. Rather than correcting past biases, corporate journalists continue to look for ever more creative ways to push the official line coming from the White House, even if that means propping up a discredited con artist like Guaidó or, worse, whitewashing  policies that kill tens of thousands (FAIR.org, 6/4/21). And a self-declared commitment to democracy rings very hollow alongside such efforts to discredit elections because the US empire did not like the results.

The post Western Media: Venezuelan Elections Must Be Undemocratic, Because Chavismo Won appeared first on FAIR.

‘White Supremacists Were Willing to Hold the United States Hostage’


Janine Jackson interviewed Emory’s Carol Anderson about democracy vs. white supremacy for the November 26, 2021, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Kyle Rittenhouse

Janine Jackson: Those sifting for signs of critical weakness in the prosecution argument in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial are missing the forest for the trees. We ask the law to deliver us from injustice. But remember why people were protesting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the first place—to protest the inadequacy of US systems and institutions to protect or to value Black life.

The head-spinning outrage of this case, from police thanking Rittenhouse for roaming around with an illegal assault rifle, up through his acquittal of the murders he committed, may make it seem that what we used to quaintly call “race relations” have gone to a whole other level.

But it’s important to remember that the roots of these events, along with other things we see happening, are entwined deeply throughout this country’s history. And as our guest’s work reminds us, we aren’t just talking about the relationship between Black and white Americans. We’re talking about the relationship between Americans and democracy.

Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African-American Studies at Emory University, and the author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide and One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy. She joins us now by phone from Atlanta. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Carol Anderson.

Carol Anderson: Thank you so much for having me.

Guardian (11/10/21)

JJ: I’ve been hearing the term “turning point.” And I want to believe it. But if we are to be at a turning point, seeing where we’ve been can show us what we need to do, and what will be insufficient. And that’s why I wanted to talk about your most recent piece for the Guardian, whose headline really encapsulates the lesson: “White Supremacists Declare War on Democracy and Walk Away Unscathed.”

You’re talking, yes, about the January 6 insurrection, and the response to that. But you talk about it as an echo of actions and responses, going really all the way back to the beginning of the country.

CA: Absolutely. And what struck me—and this really began to come out for me as I was working on my latest book, The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America

JJ: Oh boy.

CA: —was the way that white supremacists were willing to hold the United States of America hostage in order to advance their white supremacist ideology, in order to embed it into the bedrock foundation of this nation. And that they were willing to destroy the United States if they didn’t get their way. And for that, they should have been held accountable.

But instead, they were revered. Instead, they were allowed to walk away. And that lack of accountability, over and over and over, only emboldens the white supremacists, and puts the United States of America and its ideas and this democracy at risk.

JJ: You talk about how even during the War of Independence, we’re talking about South Carolina, take us back to that. Because I don’t believe that people—I think people think, yes, I remember the Civil War. But it goes before that.

John Laurens

CA: It goes before that. And so you had the British, who said that they were going to hit the soft underbelly of the revolution, which was the South. And the British hit Georgia, and just took Savannah, boom, like that. And then they were headed up to South Carolina. And George Washington sent his emissary, his aide-de-camp, down to South Carolina, to plead with the government there to arm the enslaved. Because South Carolina did not have enough white men to take on that 8,000-strong British force that was coming for the invasion.

And South Carolina looked at John Laurens—and John Laurens is a son of the South. He is a South Carolinian. And they looked at him, and they were outraged. They talked about how horrified they were. They were absolutely alarmed that he would even suggest this, that this would be coming from Washington, this would be coming from the Continental Congress. To try to arm the enslaved, just because the British were invading? No way, because whites had deployed white men to act as the militia to control that enslaved population, that the government had defined as the threat.

So this is in the middle of a war, and the threat are Black people. You know, they began to talk about surrendering to the British, and trying to declare their neutrality in this war, just so they would not have to arm the enslaved.

And so think about that. They were willing to walk away from the United States of America, the thing that folks had been fighting for, the thing that folks had been dying for, just so they could continue to enslave human beings, enslave Black people.

JJ: And so it’s very meaningful, then, that after that fact, there was no kind of comeuppance. There was no kind of, you know, you didn’t have our back there; you weren’t really with us. There was no kind of assessment or real consequences for South Carolina.

CA: No consequences. There was some grumbling, like, ugh, they didn’t even fight. But the thing is that they were fully welcomed into the halls of power. They were fully welcomed into the Constitutional Convention where, again, they flexed their Southern muscles to demand that the bedrock document for the United States of America, the Constitution, would have embedded in it inordinate power for slaveholders, for the enslavers. And that it would continue to protect slavery. And they kept making clear, we will walk away unless we get what we want.

And so you had folks like James Madison, who was the architect of the Constitution, and Rufus King out of Massachusetts, who were beside themselves, going, we had to give in. Because the United States of America was worth it. They were willing to destroy the United States of America unless they got their way.

Preston Brooks’ assault on Charles Sumner

And so their way included 20 additional years of the Atlantic slave trade. It included the Fugitive Slave Clause. And it included the Three-Fifths Clause that added additional Congressional representation to the Southern states in Congress by counting their enslaved people as three-fifths for population numbers. And it was that Three-Fifths Clause that added an additional 18 to 20 seats to the South in Congress, where they then flexed their muscle again. And for all of that, no consequences.

JJ: Can you just take a note about the beating up? You know, we’re not talking just haranguing. What they did to get their way, it would blow minds today.

CA: Joanne Freeman wrote a brilliant book, Field of Blood, where she lays out how the South bullied and beat on Northern Congressional representatives to ensure that language and bills that would try to curtail slavery did not see the light of day. So this led up to the caning, actually, of Charles Sumner, where he was beaten on the Senate floor by Preston Brooks out of South Carolina. No consequences.

JJ: Right.

Carol Anderson: “White supremacy keeps bullying, keeps beating, keeps threatening the viability of the United States of America.”

CA: And what this does, is white supremacy keeps bullying, keeps beating, keeps threatening the viability of the United States of America. White supremacy cannot be satisfied, cannot be sated. There’s not enough that you can give it to make it go, OK, I’m fine. We’re cool. Instead, without having consequences for that horrific behavior, it only emboldens. And this is what leads us into the Civil War.

JJ: Absolutely. And so I hope that listeners know about the Civil War and the Confederacy.

But let’s skip, if we would, to the way they were treated. Again, we’re talking about repercussions for aggression. We have folks who are so emboldened that they’re declaring war on the United States. Then when they lose, again they get folded back in, right?

CA: Oh, oh, oh! I mean, so imagine killing over 600,000 American troops, costing the US billions of dollars, trying to get the British and the French to hop into the war to fight against the United States of America. And after the South loses the war, then you have Andrew Johnson, as president, granting amnesty to the Confederate leaders. Because the whole point for Johnson was that this was a war to keep the Union together. And so  you don’t have the consequences for those who waged war against the United States of America. These are traitors.

And instead what happens is that you get not only this folding in of these traitors into the United States of America, but you get then this narrative that comes through in the textbooks, this “lost cause,” that this war was about Southern heritage, and it was about states’ rights. It wasn’t about slavery. And that this was the War of Northern Aggression, when it was the South that fired on Fort Sumter because Lincoln had won the election, and his platform was that he did not want to see slavery extended out West. Not that he wanted to abolish slavery, but that he didn’t want to have it extended out West.

And that’s what I mean about white supremacy cannot be sated. White supremacy cannot be sated, and particularly if it does not have to face the consequences of the damage that it does to this nation, to American democracy.

JJ: The importance of that narrative being allowed to continue and to grow can’t be overstated. But I also wanted to note how you point out that folding those Confederates back into the US, that was also helped by the Supreme Court undoing decisions that Congress had made, and we’re still living with that as well.

Ku Klux Klan uniform

CA: Absolutely. So the Reconstruction Congress had put in place, basically, the 13th, the 14th and the 15th Amendments: 13th abolishing slavery; the 14th providing for birthright citizenship, due process and equal protection under the law; and the 15th providing that no state shall abridge the right to vote on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.

Congress also passed acts to ban white domestic terrorism, because of the rise of the Klan and the violence of the Klan and its ilk, such as the Knights of the White Camellia and the Red Shirts, were raining down on Black folk. And so Congress had tried to provide those protections.

And you had the US Supreme Court going through, in decision after decision, and undermining every one of those protections. And what that did was it allowed the rise of that white supremacist regime to go on unchecked, and rain down its violence and its discriminatory actions that, again, undermined American democracy. This is where we get the rise of Jim Crow, and this is where we get the rise of lynching.

JJ: And it shows the intertwining of law and this vigilantism. I mean, it’s not just the narrative of the lost cause and the War of Northern Aggression that’s been allowed to go unchecked. But we also have these laws that tell people that somehow the law has their back.

And that brings us back to January 6 at the US Capitol, where people are believing that they are supporting something, believing that they are also continuing some historical thrust. And they have reason to believe that, yeah? And then also the consequences here—again, folks may say, this is so surprising. This is an echo of what’s happened before.

CA: This is an echo of what happened before. Because what this was about at its base was the demonization of voters of color. So you had the Republicans laying out that the election was stolen from Trump in Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Detroit, cities where you have sizable Black populations. So when they say if you only count the legal votes, he won. Which meant, if you don’t count the votes from Black folk in the city, he won.

Military Times (1/6/21;  photo: Sarah Sicard)

And it is that anger, that Black folks and Asian Americans and Native Americans and Hispanics did not overwhelmingly vote for an avowed white supremacist, that you get this attack on the US Capitol, on American democracy, as Congress is doing its work of certifying the election by counting the electoral votes. And where they’re, “Hang Mike Pence,” and they’re hunting for Nancy Pelosi. As one of the assailants said, they wanted to drag her where her head was hitting every one of the steps coming down out of that Capitol. They saw themselves as patriots.

But what they were doing is assaulting American democracy for white supremacy. That should have been stunning enough. But instead what we get is the January 6 Commission taking months upon months to come into being. And then its subpoenas being like, Ha! Who cares about a subpoena?

JJ: Right.

CA: Where you’re getting the assailants who went into the Capitol, who defecated in there, beat on police officers. We got the first real sentence of 41 months. But generally, you were getting probation. You were getting, you can go on vacation. Uh, wow.

JJ: Wow. Yeah.

CA: Wow. When you don’t have consequences for assaulting American democracy, it empowers and it emboldens white supremacy to assault and attack it again.

JJ: Many people think of history as moving, if not smoothly, still directionally, you know? Like, we’re still sort of stepping towards equality among races, with a few steps back. But part of that narrative is: You don’t fight for equality. Equality is about everybody getting along, you know? And so Black people being angry is part of the problem. There’s this narrative confusion about what it takes to make history, and that somehow history is going to happen even if I don’t do anything.

Frederick Douglass

CA: And as Frederick Douglass said, power never concedes anything without a demand. It never has and it never will. To me, the story of America is that we are an aspirational nation. “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” That’s the aspiration.

And you have those that confuse that aspiration with achievement. Like, we have overcome? When in fact it has been Black folk who have been fighting to make that aspiration real. It has been those who have been marginalized in the society, those who have faced the brunt of the worst that white supremacy has to offer. And who believed in America enough to fight for it—not fight against it, but to fight for it.

JJ: I’ve been thinking of this Raymond Williams quote. “To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.” I find it difficult to grapple with right now, but in your work, you talk about imagining. You talk about, what if Reconstruction had actually honored the citizenship of 4 million freed people?

CA: Yes.

JJ: What if Brown v. Board of Education were really honored?

CA: Wow.

JJ: Being able to imagine, to envision, that’s the way to get to hope. That’s the only way. Isn’t it?

CA: Yes, because it is in that imagining that you know what you’re fighting for. That you don’t look around you and say, well, this is the way it is, and so it’s not going to get any better. It is in that imagining—I think about the enslaved. They had to imagine what freedom looked like. Wow. Imagine hundreds of years of being enslaved, and you imagine freedom, and that freedom is a possibility for you and your family, for those that look like you. That’s powerful.

It is those who came under Jim Crow who imagined what a system looked like that did not have Jim Crow as its operating principle. We have to have that power of imagination now. It looks really, really bad. But when we imagine what our future could be, and what our present could be, and we organize and we mobilize, we vote for that future. Wow. Wow.

JJ: Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African-American Studies at Emory University. You can find her important article, “White Supremacists Declare War on Democracy and Walk Away Unscathed,” on TheGuardian.com. Thank you so much for joining us this week, Carol Anderson.

CA: Oh, thank you so much for having me. Thank you.


The post ‘White Supremacists Were Willing to Hold the United States Hostage’ appeared first on FAIR.

Dorothee Benz on January 6 Insurrection, Vera Eidelman on Anti-Protest Laws


Washington Post (10/31/21)

This week on CounterSpin, two archival interviews: As the year nears its end, it’s hard not to think back to how it started—with the violent assault on the Capitol by a crowd intent on preventing the declaration of Joe Biden as president. We spoke with organizer and strategist Dorothee Benz the next day about the import of the events of January 6.

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ABC News (8/13/17)

Also on the show: While response to the insurrection came slowly, states have been cracking down on peaceful protests. We talked about that worrying trend with the ACLU’s Vera Eidelman around the Fourth of July.

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‘Now I Can Say Anything About You and Not Be Sued for It’


Janine Jackson interviewed Elon University’s Enrique Armijo about the Alex Jones lawsuit for the November 19, 2021, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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The Conversation (11/15/21)

Janine Jackson: An article by our next guest begins with the news that a Connecticut judge has found radio host Alex Jones

liable in the defamation claim brought against him by parents of six- and seven-year-old children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre for falsely claiming they were accomplices in faking the murders of their own children.

Because that’s the kind of sentence we get to hear in 2021.

Alex Jones has urgently and repeatedly told millions of people that Hillary Clinton runs a child-trafficking ring from the back of a pizza parlor, that Donald Trump won the 2020 election, and that Tangy Tangerine supplements made him lose 37 pounds in two months. The thing is, when Jones’ ex-wife was suing him for custody of their children, because, reportedly, she didn’t want them around someone who tells ardent followers he wants to break people’s necks, or have women sexually assaulted, or lawyers’ heads brought to him on a pike, Jones’ defense was that he is just playing a character. Nobody is supposed to believe what he says. Asking Jones to account for things he says, his lawyers assert, is like judging Jack Nicholson by his depiction of the Joker in Batman.

Well, Jones’ most recent court loss is around those claims that the 2012 Connecticut shooting that killed 20 first graders and six educators was a government plot to take away American guns, and that grieving parents were paid actors in the scheme. It’s that case, and what it leaves unresolved, that our guest is here to discuss.

Enrique Armijo is a law professor at Elon University, as well as an affiliate fellow of the Yale Law School Information Society Project. He joins us now by phone from North Carolina. Welcome to CounterSpin, Enrique Armijo.

Enrique Armijo: Thanks for having me, Janine.

InfoWars‘ Alex Jones

JJ: This judgment from Connecticut, which is similar to previous ones around Jones’ shtick around the Sandy Hook massacre, it was a “default judgment.” What does that mean, and what doesn’t that mean?

EA: What it basically means is that the reason that Alex Jones has, in effect, for purposes of this trial, been found to be liable is not because his legal arguments were considered on their merits and rejected, but rather that he just refused to defend himself against these state law claims, brought against him in Connecticut and Texas by the Sandy Hook parents for—the claim is of defamation.

So what that means is that the juries in these cases are now simply going to go on and decide damages, that is, the degree to which Alex Jones’ statements harmed the reputations and caused emotional distress for these families. What it doesn’t mean, as I said, is that there have been conclusive rulings at the state court level, or really the United States Supreme Court level, with respect to the First Amendment, regarding some of the First Amendment issues that would have been at issue in this case had it been litigated on the merits.

JJ: Yeah, it seems important that his actions are self-protective, in a way. Like, by just not participating, he preserves his ability in the minds of some to say, “I never had my day in court,” and at the same time to say, “I refused to participate in this corrupt system,” which of course is going to be part of his rhetoric.

But in your piece for The Conversation that explores this, you talk about how this sort of defamation claim might have been seen differently by courts, even up to the 1950s. So what’s changed?

EA: Prior to the 1950s, and prior really to the United States Supreme Court’s intervention into state law defamation claims—basically, allegations that a speaker has said something that’s false, and that negatively affects the reputation of the subject of that statement, and which has caused the subject of the statement damages that are compensable in state court.

Basically, prior to the constitutionalization by the United States Supreme Court of these state law claims, plaintiffs like the Sandy Hook parents would have simply had to show that the statement was about them, and that it caused them some harm, and that there was some minor (what’s known in the law of defamation as) degree of fault, where basically the statement was made by the speaker defendant without any kind of reasonable investigation, or whether or not the statement was actually true.

So what happened in a case that I talk about, a very famous case called New York Times v. Sullivan, is that the United States Supreme Court basically said, because of the First Amendment, people should be freer to speak about public officials, including the possibility that some of the statements that they make about public officials might be false. So we had to protect these kinds of statements, even false statements, by saying that the plaintiff in these cases—in other words, public officials who thought they were defamed by other people’s statements—would have to show what’s known as actual malice. What that means is that the speaker had to have made the false statement either knowing that it was false, or with reckless disregard as to whether or not it was true.

So the New York Times v. Sullivan was a case brought by a police commissioner in Alabama against the New York Times. And in later cases, as I go through in some detail in the piece, this idea that it should be harder for public officials to show defamation, because the First Amendment wants to encourage people to talk about public officials without risk of being held liable, that was extended to not just public officials—and the case basically means elected officials or individuals in very high levels of government— but also what the Supreme Court called public figures.

So these are folks that are not elected officials, they’re not servants in government. But they’re otherwise notable, in a way that the First Amendment should permit discussion about them. And the Supreme Court essentially applied a degree of fault to public officials from the Sullivan case to public figures in a series of cases. And public figures, essentially in many instances, are otherwise private people. So the idea that it would be harder to show defamation extended to private people who were for purposes of litigation what’s known as limited purpose public figures.

JJ: Which is an odd sort of thing. It’s like you came into the news, so now you are a limited purpose public figure. And that’s Gertz v. Welch that you’re talking about. How did that change things in that way?

EA: Exactly. So in other words, if you were a person who had inserted yourself into a controversy, in the Gertz case, the Supreme Court said that it should be harder for you to show that someone else has defamed you, because, again, there’s a First Amendment interest in talking about the controversy.

And one of those justifications, in saying that it should be harder for public figures to show defamation is, as you just said, that the public figure has the opportunity to protect their own reputation. So in other words, if I’m a public figure and I’m defamed, and I want to rebut that defamation, people will listen to me, right? There will be an audience for my self-help. And also, and I think this is the issue in the Jones case that I talk about, the fact that I voluntarily inserted myself into a controversy essentially means that I have assumed the risk of potential defamation when other people talk about that controversy, including my role in that controversy.

JJ: We can see why this is very much a live and thorny issue. And there is the role of the internet, which, as you indicate in the piece, has changed defamation laws, as you’re starting to talk about, has changed that idea that folks have a platform to speak back against defamation. And yet we still have the law, and harm is still done. So how does that bring us back to Alex Jones?

Enrique Armijo: “The internet has really changed the distinction between public and private…to make it much easier that someone is a public figure.”

EA: The legal issues in the case, as brought by the parents, were initially being litigated. And one issue to litigate, initially, is basically Alex Jones, and other folks involved with InfoWars, their state of mind with respect to these statements that they were making about the parents. And what Alex Jones was arguing is that the parents essentially had to show that Alex Jones made the statements knowing that they were false, because the parents had injected themselves into this controversy about gun rights, and that in one case they were advocating about stricter gun laws in the United States in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting.

And what I try to get at in the piece is that that is a very dangerous argument for defendants in defamation cases to make, because, as you said, the internet has really changed the distinction between public and private. And one of the things that it’s done with respect to defamation law is to make it much easier that someone is a public figure, right?

So in other words, if you put something on the internet, if you make an argument on the internet, and then someone defames you, the person that defames you is going to basically say that you’ve inserted yourself in the controversy. Now I can say anything about you and not be sued for it, unless you can show that I knew it was false. And, obviously, state of mind is hard to prove, right? So as you said at the beginning, Alex Jones and these types of folks’ modus operandi is to say, “I’m just raising questions. I don’t know what’s true or false.” You know, to use the quintessential Donald Trump term, “People are saying this. I’m not saying it, but people are saying it.”

So once you get into this very rigorous requirement that you have to basically show that someone knew the defamatory statement was false, or acted with what’s known as reckless disregard as to whether or not it was true, by making it easier to argue folks are public figures, you’ve also made it much more difficult for people who claim that they’re still private people to successfully sue for defamation.

JJ: And I just want to end on that note, that it’s being presented, and can be presented, as just media mouthiness, and we can’t lose sight of the fact that there are people impacted here. And in the piece, you say that one of the impacts, one of the effects of making individuals prove actual malice against someone like Jones, would encourage families, for example, to take the tragedies that happen to them and swallow them silently.

So once again, when we talk about the First Amendment, when we talk about speech, we often talk about the speaker. And we have to also keep in mind the chilling effect, and the effect on other people when they are not allowed to hear things, ’cause people are scared to say them.

EA: And that’s really the fear that I express in the piece with respect to this issue, is that I don’t think—I certainly wouldn’t want, and I don’t think any fair-minded person would want, a parent who has suffered this kind of tragedy to be thinking about preserving their right to sue someone for defamation later, if they decided that one of the things they wanted to do with that grief is try to make sure the incident didn’t happen again.

I think what would happen is if the Alex Jones side of this argument would win, these parents, rather than speaking out and trying to prevent other school shootings, they would think, well, I want to remain private. I want to protect my own reputation. And there’s a real First Amendment loss to that, because we don’t get to hear from people who really have the most important things to say about these tragic events, and how to potentially prevent them in the future.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Enrique Armijo, professor of law at Elon University. His article, “Alex Jones Loses Sandy Hook Case, but Important Defamation Issues Remain Unresolved,” can be found at TheConversation.com. Enrique Armijo, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

EA: Thank you.

The post ‘Now I Can Say Anything About You and Not Be Sued for It’ appeared first on FAIR.

Politico Doesn’t Have ‘Woke Police’—It Has Staffers Calling Out Bad Journalism


The Daily Beast (11/28/21) described a union bid backed by 80% of the Politico newsroom as a “divisive unionization drive.”

According to the Daily Beast (11/28/21), Politico‘s newsroom may have a “flashy exterior,” but it hides a “series of burgeoning conflicts.”

Politico might have internal problems, but it’s interesting to note two of the key issues the Daily Beast focuses on: “personnel issues, including complaints about internal ‘woke police'” and “a divisive unionization drive.”

According to the Daily Beast‘s Zachary Petrizzo and Lachlan Cartwright, the “older guard” at Politico is “vexed” that

the newsroom now centers around younger, more politically “woke” staffers who wield large amounts of influence, especially when it comes to ensuring a more diverse set of voices are featured in the outlet’s reporting.

Several of these staffers complained to the Daily Beast about “a vigilant ‘woke police’ force within the newsroom,” with one claiming that there are “woke police around every corner.”

‘Not inclusive enough’

The primary example offered of “woke policing” centered on an article (Politico, 3/5/21) by reporter Gabby Orr about the GOP campaign to bar transgender girls from competing in girls’ sports:

Two colleagues raised concern about what Orr had written, leading to a Zoom call between the reporter, who has since joined CNN, and Politico’s director of editorial diversity initiatives, Robin Turner, among others. The in-house diversity champion ultimately agreed that the article was not inclusive enough of transgender voices, the people familiar with the matter said.

This Politico article (3/5/21) was criticized by the “woke police”—otherwise known as the “basic journalistic standards police.”

By “not inclusive enough,” the Daily Beast means not inclusive at all: Not a single trans person was quoted.

Like too many corporate media pieces on the GOP’s anti-trans campaign (FAIR.org, 5/6/21), Orr’s article covered the story as one of political strategy and debate, not of the human lives affected. While it didn’t quote a single person identified as trans, it did quote two anti-trans activists and seven Republican politicians discussing the campaign as an electoral strategy, only two of whom expressed anything less than full-throated support for it. This barrage was “balanced” by a spokesperson for the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, who was not described as trans.

As trans journalist Katelyn Burns (Medium, 11/29/21) observed:

If this was a story about any other minority, and a reporter didn’t quote a single member of that minority, while quoting five who make a living off of demonizing that minority, you’d call that shoddy journalism, not wokeness run amok.

‘Mischief making’

Politico turned over its Playbook feature (1/14/21) to Ben Shapiro to make the extended argument, “Yes, but Democrats are mean.”

The Daily Beast also pointed to an incident the week after the January 6 insurrection in which Politico handed the reins of its popular daily newsletter to right-wing bigot Ben Shapiro—who claimed Republican opposition to impeachment derived from “a deep and abiding conservative belief that members of the opposing political tribe want their destruction,” and downplayed Trump’s January 6 speech as “commonplace.”

Politico‘s editor subsequently defended the choice as part of the outlet’s commitment to “mischief-making” (FAIR.org, 1/18/21). That didn’t sit well with over 100 editorial staff members, who signed a letter asking for an apology and an increase in newsroom diversity, among other things.

As a result, the epithet “woke police” has apparently become so commonplace among certain staffers that the unionization drive felt compelled to address it in a Q&A handout (Q: “Are you guys the woke police?” A: “No. We are trying to get people paid fairly and protect their benefits.”)

‘Divisive’ unionization

Remarkably,  despite the Daily Beast‘s framing of it as “divisive,” the unionization drive seemed remarkably uncontentious. After it gained the support of over 80% of eligible employees, management voluntarily recognized the union, rather than force an election—which employers opposed to unionization typically do, so that they can then try to illegally thwart the effort.

So what was so “divisive” about it? First:

Several veteran reporters who spoke with the Daily Beast argued that talk among staffers about pushing to be allowed to attend “activist marches” in a personal capacity could spell trouble for an institution claiming the mantle of a nonpartisan news operation.

A union spokesperson noted that while this was a “conversation that existed in the newsroom before the union effort began…it has never been part of our organizing activities.” They also noted that “the PEN Guild has never advocated for reporters to be allowed to attend activist marches.”

In other words, it would seem to be a non-issue regarding unionization. (We would note that the Shapiro guest-editing incident might spell more trouble for that “nonpartisan” reputation—not to mention the demand by new owner Axel Springer that all employees be pro-NATO, pro-capitalist and pro-Israel: FAIR.org, 11/5/21.)

Dropped from group chat

The second point these anonymous sources named was that they felt the drive was not “inclusive,” as “more senior staffers” were either not initially invited to a group chat about the union, or were removed from it “at the end of October…for having not yet signed on as supporters.” Given that the campaign went public on October 29 announcing their 80% support (Bloomberg, 10/29/21), it’s not exactly clear why this removal at the end of the campaign would be either surprising or offensive.

But it’s also not clear why an overwhelmingly popular unionization drive, or efforts to improve journalistic standards to include the voices of those impacted in a story and to avoid giving editorial control to a bigot, should be considered problematic instead of good for journalism. In another world, one might imagine that a story focused on these incidents and themes would be framed as something like, “Positive Changes at Politico Despite Sale to Axel Springer.” Apparently the disgruntled minority at Politico opposed to such changes knew they’d find a sympathetic ear at the Daily Beast.

ACTION ALERT: You can send a message to the Daily Beast at editorial@thedailybeast.com, or via Twitter  @TheDailyBeast. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in comments.

Featured image: Politico‘s depiction (10/25/21) of its newsroom.



The post Politico Doesn’t Have ‘Woke Police’—It Has Staffers Calling Out Bad Journalism appeared first on FAIR.

Media Don’t Factcheck Right-Wing Migration Myths


The New York Post (11/4/21) was either lying, was never told or had forgotten about the dubiousness of Peter Doocy’s question.

Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy asked a bizarre question at President Joe Biden’s November 3 press briefing. The president seemed to misunderstand the question, which referred to potential settlements of a lawsuit stemming from the Trump administration’s notorious 2017–18 family separation policy. Biden bungled his response, apparently calling reports about the settlement “garbage.”

Not surprisingly, the media ran with the story of Biden’s blunder. Doocy’s question, on the other hand, was mostly ignored or played down.

The Fox reporter had asked whether the possible settlements, reportedly as high as $450,000 a person, “might incentivize more people to come over illegally.” But as the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake (11/4/21) noted, the question didn’t make sense: “The [family separation] policy is no longer in effect (thus rendering such future payments inapplicable for would-be border-crossers).”

Other reporters, however, didn’t seem to notice this issue. CNN’s Daniel Dale (11/5/21) factchecked Biden’s answer, but not the notion that a settlement based on a terminated policy could somehow incentivize future migration. Over at Politico (11/3/21), Myah Ward reported Doocy’s question, but not how strange it was. New York Times White House correspondent Zolan Kanno-Youngs (11/3/21) didn’t even bother to report the question, merely noting that Biden was “asked on Wednesday about compensating the migrants.”

In contrast, the New York Post (11/4/21) (owned, like Fox, by the Murdoch family) responded with an editorial backing Doocy’s implication that the settlement could encourage unauthorized migration. This followed an earlier Post article (10/29/21) that quoted a total of 11 Republican politicians denouncing the reported settlement amount. Neither piece mentioned the public outrage at the practice of tearing apart children and parents fleeing violence (PBS, 6/18/18)—an outrage so intense that the Trump administration was forced to end the policy in June 2018 (NPR, 6/20/18).

Misperception or misrepresentation?

Unfortunately, this imbalance is typical of much corporate media immigration coverage. Right-wing media figures and Republican politicians get little pushback when they promote evidence-free, often absurd claims about incentives for unauthorized immigration.

Chart: Manhattan Institute/National Immigration Forum (3/30/06)

Doocy didn’t answer emails asking him to explain his November 3 question, but presumably he was referring to a misperception migrants might have that the Biden administration was handing out money to border crossers—a misperception the right has worked overtime to create. But two surveys of unauthorized immigrants indicate that misperceptions about US migration policies don’t actually play a significant role in spurring unauthorized border crossing.

In 2005, the Bendixen & Associates polling company interviewed 233 undocumented immigrants for a study sponsored by the National Immigration Forum and the conservative Manhattan Institute. The study reported that 68% of the subjects said they’d migrated here to work, 15% to get better education and healthcare for themselves and their families, 12% to escape violence and 3% to join their families. Just 2% cited other reasons.

Eight years later, Latino Decisions surveyed 400 undocumented immigrants for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund and America’s Voice Education Fund. This study reported that 39% of the people interviewed came for better jobs and economic opportunities, 38% for a better life for family or children, 12% to join family members, and 4% to escape political oppression. Other reasons accounted for 6%.

What history shows

Migration patterns over the last half-century support the findings of the two surveys. Increases and declines in unauthorized immigration mostly correlate with changes in job opportunities and other economic conditions in the United States and in nearby countries.

The US undocumented population grew at a fairly steady rate during the first half of the period, but the pattern had started changing by the mid-1990s, when the undocumented population increased sharply, tripling by 2007. It then gradually declined through 2019. There was an increase in asylum seekers after 2010, although not enough to reverse the overall decline.

The population of unauthorized immigrants has been mostly declining since 2007. (Chart: ProCon.org)

Vox (7/4/21) pointed out that a “law to legalize the undocumented population…could actually reduce unauthorized immigration and give the US economy a boost.”

The US economy was growing during most of the 1990s, but Mexicans continued to suffer from the effects of the 1982 debt crisis. Their situation worsened after a 1994–95 financial crisis, and NAFTA’s disruption of the rural economy left millions of Mexicans unemployed or underemployed. The resulting increase in undocumented immigration from Mexico eased a little in the early 2000s, as the Mexican economy stabilized; border crossings dropped further when the 2007–09 Great Recession knocked out millions of US jobs.

The more recent increase in asylum seekers came as levels of violence rose in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

It’s true that one US policy helped swell the undocumented population, but not because the policy attracted migrants. The Clinton White House started a significant intensification of border enforcement; this continued through subsequent administrations. The policy made border crossings more dangerous, resulting in at least 7,000 border deaths from 1998 to 2020 (Guardian, 1/30/21).

And as Vox reporter Nicole Narea (7/4/21) explained, Princeton sociologist Douglas Massey and other scholars have found that the stepped-up enforcement ended a circular pattern in which Mexicans had alternated periods working in the United States with periods spent at home. As crossing the border became riskier and more expensive, many Mexican workers chose to settle here instead of returning to Mexico.

Long wait for ‘amnesty’

The New York Times (2/22/00) blamed the rise in unauthorized immigration on a 1986 amnesty—not on the trade policies that it editorially supported.

This history explains most spikes in unauthorized immigration, but anti-immigrant forces prefer to make up their own explanations.

Their favorite centers on a 1986 law that provided a path for legalization to some 2.7 million immigrants during the Reagan administration. The right claims that the sharp increase of the undocumented population during the mid-1990s—seven or eight years after the law went into effect—somehow resulted from this “Reagan amnesty.” So legalizations must “beget more illegal immigration,” as the New York Times (2/22/00) announced in a 2000 editorial:

Amnesties signal foreign workers that American citizenship can be had by sneaking across the border, or staying beyond the term of one’s visa, and hiding out until Congress passes the next amnesty.

The Times and other centrist media now seem to have backed away from this post hoc, propter hoc argument, but they often don’t challenge others who make it, despite studies by demographers that undercut the premise.

LA Times (3/18/21): “As each side seeks to rally supporters and shape public opinion, the parties have pressed dueling narratives.”

US News & World Report (2/18/21) quoted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s claim that Biden’s proposed immigration reforms would create “huge new incentives for people to rush here illegally,” but the publication failed to present any alternative view. The Los Angeles Times (3/18/21) deferred in the same way to Sen. Lindsey Graham when the South Carolina Republican charged that legalization without increased border enforcement would “continue to incentivize the flow” of migrants.

Reporters often ignore a rather obvious problem with this argument: the fact that no legalization bill has been passed since 1986.

“Legalizing countless millions of illegal aliens—even discussing it—rings the bell for millions more to illegally enter the US to await their green card,” Heritage Foundation researcher Lora Ries announced in January, according to New York Times reporter Miriam Jordan (1/27/21). The paper’s Nicholas Fandos (3/18/21) cited Rep. Tom McClintock, a California Republican, as claiming in March that a new legalization would mean border crossers “need only wait until the next amnesty.”

Apparently neither reporter thought to point out that based on past experience, the wait “until the next amnesty” could last as long as 35 years, nearly half a lifetime. 

The center does not hold   

Washington Post (10/7/21): “The journey starts with a calculation: What am I willing to sacrifice to reach the United States?”

What’s striking about corporate media’s immigration coverage is that conservative think tankers and Republican politicians so often get a platform, while the US public hardly ever learns about immigration from the immigrants themselves (FAIR.org, 6/19/21).

There are important exceptions. Jordan’s January New York Times article failed to question the notion of “awaiting” the next amnesty, but it did include valuable reporting on migrants’ point of view. A recent Washington Post feature (10/7/21) by Arelis Hernández provided nuanced descriptions of the complex motives that have led Haitians to appear at the US border. And the Vox explainer cited above is a good example of how the media can present a realistic picture of immigration patterns.

But there’s too little reporting of this caliber. The right wing goes all out; the center rarely provides the necessary balance. Coverage of the poverty and violence that actually drive migration—and the role of US policies in creating them—appears in left media, as in a Jacobin piece (6/8/21) by Suyapa Portillo Villeda and Miguel Tinker Salas, but this sort of reporting is marginalized in corporate media.

The result is a public that’s primed to believe a Republican politician like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz when he casually distorts a lawsuit’s possible settlement into “@JoeBiden wants to give $450k to every illegal immigrant.”



The post Media Don’t Factcheck Right-Wing Migration Myths appeared first on FAIR.

Corporate Media Celebrate Criminal Justice System—While Differing on Outcomes


The not guilty verdict on November 19 in the Kyle Rittenhouse case gave corporate media the opportunity to take a measured approach to systemic violence in the US—and for the most part, they fell short.

The jury’s finding came after more than a year of a political back and forth over the killing of two protesters and the wounding of a third during a Black Lives Matter uprising in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 25, 2020.

The trial was marked by early allegations of witness tampering and Judge Bruce Schroeder constantly interfering in the case on Rittenhouse’s behalf, including barring prosecutors from bringing up the defendant’s meetings with members of the Proud Boys and a previous fight he had been in. Though those points were raised in some media during the case, they were largely dismissed in the wake of the verdict, or portrayed as incidental to the system working. Rather, the jury’s decision was framed as a verdict that upheld the right to self defense, never mind the fact that that right tends to appear and disappear depending on whose self is in danger.

‘Justice was done’

Virginia Lt. Gov.-elect Winsome Sears (right) told Dana Bash (CNN, 11/21/21), “We ought to let the American justice system speak for itself.”

Measured, respectable right-wing voices framed the Rittenhouse decision as the result of a criminal justice system that came to the right conclusion—while feeding into the idea that the shootings were so clearly justified they made any charges a farce.

“Justice was done in that and the jury system works,” Former Republican New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told Bret Baier on Fox News Sunday (11/21/21). “You know, I was a prosecutor for seven years, and those charges should never have been brought.”

NBC’s Meet the Press’s Twitter account (11/21/21), meanwhile, framed the verdict as part of a legal system working to uphold a very specific principle of self defense:

Kelly O’Donnell, Kristen Soltis Anderson, David Henderson and Rev. Al Sharpton join the Meet the Press roundtable to talk about the Rittenhouse verdict as “stand your ground” wins a victory in Rittenhouse trial.

On CNN (11/21/21), Republican Virginia Lieutenant Governor-elect Winsome Sears told host Dana Bash that “we ought to let the American justice system speak for itself.” ABC reporter Terry Moran (11/21/21) told that network’s Martha Raddatz that Rittenhouse had “won this case on the witness stand,” because his defense lawyer prepared a line of questioning “structured right at the Wisconsin law of self-defense”—presenting the case and the lives lost as simply part of a hard fought, but abstract, debate.

“It was not a crusade in that courtroom,” Moran added in a somberly approving tone. “​​It was a trial.”

Persistent grievances

“What a sweet boy,” Tucker Carlson (Fox, 11/22/21) said of Rittenhouse.

At Fox News, Tucker Carlson (11/22/21) aired an exclusive interview with Rittenhouse, and his Fox Nation show tailed the defendant through the court proceedings, enjoying unparalleled access.

Though many in right-wing media delighted in the verdict, they still found grievances to air. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) termed the disapproval expressed by President Joe Biden over the verdict an example of “cancel culture” in an appearance on Justice With Judge Jeanine (11/20/21).

Friday on Fox (11/19/21), Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro raised the possibility Rittenhouse could sue Biden for “defamation” over a September 30, 2020, tweet from last year (9/30/20) suggesting the shooter was a white supremacist.

Geraldo Rivera disagreed about Biden’s liability, but paired it with an admission that in his view, Rittenhouse had a “clear-cut case of self-defense.” The media narrative on Fox is clear: The jury’s finding cannot be questioned in this case, and the validity of the Rittenhouse defense is an established fact.

‘Anger at the vipers’

USA Today legal analyst Jonathan Turley (11/19/21) complained, “Many viewers may not have learned that Rittenhouse spent his time cleaning graffiti off the high school.”

Elsewhere, conservative and right-leaning pundits turned their attention to the rest of the media and other perceived political enemies for their alleged roles in perpetuating a false narrative. The not guilty verdict conclusively debunked, in the view of conservative media, the supposedly widespread assumption by centrist media that Rittenhouse acted out of racial animus and in service of right-wing politics.

In an opinion piece for USA Today (11/19/21), legal analyst Jonathan Turley called the reporting on the trial and Rittenhouse himself the result of “passion” overwhelming clear-eyed reasoning, and fretted that there would be more “misinformation” spread as political polarization continues.

“The growing disconnect between actual crimes and their coverage is unlikely to change in our age of rage,” Turley wrote. “Rittenhouse had to be convicted to fulfill the narrative, and any acquittal had to be evidence of a racist jury picked to carry out racist justice.”

Megyn Kelly, the former Fox and NBC star who now hosts a show on SiriusXM, tweeted that she had “relief for Kyle, yes, but also anger at the vipers who did this to him” in the minutes following the verdict while she was on air.

‘Deceitful and morally repugnant’

Matt Taibbi (TK News, 11/19/21) decried “a year of pronouncing the ‘Kenosha shooter’ a murderer”—but failed to quote any journalists doing so.

Substack bloggers got in on the attacks on media coverage as well. Hours after the trial ended, Glenn Greenwald wrote (11/19/21) wrote:

I went live on Rumble to provide my views of why, after having watched the entire trial, I believed this verdict was just, and why the media narrative was particularly deceitful and morally repellent.

Matt Taibbi (11/19/21) wrote:

In a tinderbox situation like this one, it was reckless beyond belief for analysts to tell audiences Rittenhouse was a murderer, when many if not most of them had a good idea he would be acquitted. But that’s exactly what most outlets did.

(Taibbi did not cite any examples of “analysts” at  “most outlets” who “[told] audiences Rittenhouse was a murderer.”)

And Bari Weiss took the opportunity afforded by the not guilty verdict to reup her article from earlier in the week (11/17/21), which claimed the American people were “served a pack of lies about what happened during those terrible days in Kenosha”—unless, of course, they had listened to her fellow conservatives Jacob Siegel (Tablet, 8/24/20) and Jesse Singal (Substack, 11/10/21), who cast doubt on the official narrative in favor of Rittenhouse from the beginning.

‘This trial was a warning shot’

AP (11/21/21): “A difficult political atmosphere for President Joe Biden may have become even more treacherous with the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse.”

More centrist networks did not ignore the role of race in the trial. On ABC’s This Week (11/21/21), attorney Channa Lloyd told Raddatz that if Rittenhouse had been Black, he likely would have faced a different outcome for killing two and wounding another. “Had Rittenhouse been an African-American young man…would the verdict have been the same?” Lloyd said. “Statistically, what we find is that it would not be.”

On CBS’s Face the Nation (11/21/21), NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson said that it was hard to reconcile the experience of Black Americans in the US criminal justice system with the treatment received by Rittenhouse. “This trial was a warning shot,” he added, telling host Margaret Brennan that the verdict opened the door for more right-wing “vigilante justice.”

Still, corporate media couldn’t help but turn the verdict into horse race coverage. The Associated Press (11/21/21), in an article Saturday headlined “Rittenhouse Acquittal Tightens the Political Vise for Biden,” warned that Biden and the Democrats could face political fallout from their comments about the trial.

“The verdict in the case comes at a moment when Biden is trying to keep fellow Democrats focused on passing his massive social services and climate bill and hoping to turn the tide with Americans who have soured on his performance as president,” according to AP.

It’s a message that’s unlikely to resonate with the victims, the killer or their respective supporters—and in that respect, it’s something of a centrist success.

The post Corporate Media Celebrate Criminal Justice System—While Differing on Outcomes appeared first on FAIR.

‘They Do Not Tell Both Sides of the Inflation Story’

Janine Jackson interviewed Jon Schwarz about inflation fears for the November 19, 2021, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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CNN (11/18/21)

Janine Jackson: A New York Times headline read, “Inflation Warning Signs Flash Red, Posing Challenge for Washington.” A subsequent Times piece underscored the problem and the solution: “The White House Says Its Plans Will Slow Inflation. The Big Question Is When?”

That framing is echoed and adumbrated everywhere in corporate media. “Inflation Is Coming for Your Cup of Coffee Next,” says CNN. “Inflation’s Wrath Hits Home” was USA Today’s rubric. And then—surprise, surprise—CNBC has “Inflation Has 88% of Americans Worried.”

True, there’s an admixture of, for example, the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s “History Says Don’t Panic About Inflation.” But anyone can see that, judging by sheer focus and attention, “serious, smart people” organize their thinking around “inflation” more than many another economic indicator.

Intercept (11/10/21)

In the recent words of our guest, whenever the corporate media moves en masse like this, it’s a good idea to slow down and consider what’s actually happening and why. Jon Schwarz writes for TheIntercept.com. He joins us now by phone. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Jon Schwarz.

Jon Schwarz: I’m so happy to be here, especially to talk about this in particular. Because this is one issue where you realize that there is no one room where all the people get together and decide what is going to be in the US media, but it really does seem like there is.

JJ: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. We hear media complain about how we used to all talk around the water cooler and agree on everything. And we know that’s not true. And yet, you have to acknowledge the power of media of making it seem as though we’re all in one conversation. And so the phenomenon really here is corporate media alarm, and the worldview that that reflects. But let me ask you, first, about what “there” there is there. What reality is it that these headlines are referring to?

JS: The reality is that inflation went up from last October to this past October by 6.2%, I believe it was, according to one measure that includes food and fuel.  And so that tends to go to extremes more than the standard measure, which excludes them. But just to be fair, because food and fuel are important for people, the number to think about is legitimately 6.2%. So that’s over a year. And it happened that inflation went up from September to October by 0.9%, meaning that if something cost $10 in September, it now cost $10.09.

JJ: So is that the bare understanding? Because if I’m reading headlines, I’m reading about costs of things that I want to buy going up in a way that’s really going to affect my life. And it seems as though the increase in inflation is most meaningful in terms of how much it’s going to affect the price of my coffee, or how much it’s going to affect something else that I as an individual are buying. But there’s other things that inflation means that are really maybe more at work behind the alarm here.

Washington Post (11/10/21)

JS: That’s right. It’s funny. The Washington Post had not one but two above the fold stories about inflation this week on one particular day. One talking about how terrible inflation was, and one about how it destroyed Biden’s agenda. And they also had a chart covering, I don’t know, the last 10 or 15 years, that by itself explained that their story was not what they were telling you. It was a chart showing real wages going down a little bit over the last year when inflation is taken into account, meaning that inflation was 6.2% over the last year. Wages for regular people went up by 5.8%, so the purchasing power went down a bit.

But the chart itself showed that people’s purchasing power being eroded, going down in real terms when inflation was taken into account, had happened a lot over the past 10 years. And it wasn’t a gigantic, front-page emergency then. Like, what was the difference?

The difference was this, was that there were not high rates of inflation making that happen in the past, during the Obama administration, and I think even during a little bit of the Trump administration. And the difference is that now it is happening with higher rates of inflation, and higher rates of inflation affect people with tons of money in a way that is never described in the corporate media, to my knowledge. I literally have never seen this.

And the story there is that household debt in the United States is about $14.5 trillion. So that’s a very big number. It’s about 75% of the size of the entire US economy. And when there is inflation, most of that debt is a fixed rate debt like mortgages, student loans, things like that. And the inflation erodes the value of that debt, because it’s set in nominal terms. Like, it stays at $15.5 trillion, no matter what level of inflation there is.

JJ: Right.

Jon Schwarz: “People with a lot of money do not like to lose it. And that’s really at the root of this inflation freak-out.”

JS: And so 6.2% inflation, that works out to a transfer of wealth from creditors to debtors of about $850 billion. So almost a trillion dollars. That is a lot of money. It doesn’t work out precisely, as different people have different levels of debt. It’s not totally a transfer of $850 billion from the rich to the poor. But it is a significant amount. And you may have noticed people with a lot of money do not like to lose it. And that’s really at the root of this inflation freak-out.

It’s that plus the fact that there’s a very tight labor market right now, meaning that there’s low unemployment, and workers have much more power than they generally do. And the standard treatment for an economy with high levels of inflation is to increase interest rates, slow the economy, which throws people out of work. And that is the goal, that they do not like a booming economy. They do not like low levels of inflation, creditors in general do not. And what they would like to see is a slower economy, with lower rates of inflation and higher rates of unemployment. So it’s these two things—their goal to slow the economy, raise unemployment, and the eroding value of the debt that they hold.

JJ: You’re talking about differential impacts, both of inflation and of proposed responses to inflation, and differentiating that impact is exactly what elite media don’t generally do. They talk about us and them in a way that is meant to collapse other folks into the us that really don’t belong there.

New York Times (11/16/21)

And so the New York Times’ Neil Irwin has an explainer that’s a kind of piece where it’s like, you don’t need to know the details, just here’s the nuts and bolts of this issue that you’re hearing about. And it’s called, “Who’s to Blame for Rising Prices?” And this is already collapsing inflation to rising prices in ways that are unnuanced, as you’ve just discussed. But still, in this let’s-make-it-simple, let’s-break-it-down, “Who’s to Blame for Rising Prices?,” one of the New York Times’ acceptable answers is “all of us.”

JS: Ha! Exactly.

JJ: And the reason is we—I’m quoting—”we shifted our spending toward stuff, rather than services.” That’s one of the reasons. And then, also, “and many of us elected to stop working, or work less.” This is the New York Times, the paper of record, trying to talk to people and say: Prices are going up. Here’s why. And their reason is, you messed up, you know? You messed up during the pandemic. You started buying the wrong things, and you made wrong choices about employment.

I mean, we talk about this as an economic issue. But it’s obviously a media, a corporate media issue as well.

JS: Yeah, it’s a class issue. It’s one of the issues where the class bias of the media really shows up in its most powerful form. It’s absolutely unmistakable.

JJ: Yeah, I don’t know what I wanted you to say in response to that New York Times article, except that these kinds of headlines and stories, they’re not just lamentations. They’re also calls for action.

JS: The call for action is to get back to work.

JJ: Exactly. And in terms of actions that are responses from various entities about dealing with this abstract-sounding “inflation,” well, some of those responses are going to also affect people in their day-to-day lives, so it’s meaningful to unpack what media think, or are telling us is the right thing to do here.

JS: Yeah, there is another class-based aspect of this that the media should be covering, and are not. People have generally and rightfully said that you do have to take into account, especially, elderly people who are living on a fixed income. But the reality that, again, many people don’t actually understand this, is that Social Security is not a fixed-income benefit. Social Security is inflation-adjusted, and so people who are anxious about being able to pay their bills, inflation means that Social Security benefits will be raised by 6%, almost, in January. So that is going to be a welcome help for people in that situation.

But, again, not something that people are saying: Hey listen, don’t panic, because your benefits are going up. People don’t hear that, because that is not being covered for the most part.

JJ: Just finally, looking forward in terms of what folks are going to be hearing, including about themselves: Before we got on, I saw a Yahoo Money headline: “Americans Are Feeling Lousy About Their Finances, Even Though They’re Doing Fine.” I mean, I don’t know. Isn’t that gaslighting? Just looking forward to the headlines we’re going to be seeing about inflation, what are some questions you would have folks just keep in mind as they read and hear that media coverage?

JS: Yeah, so just keep in mind the class bias of the media. As I say, it is particularly apparent now. They do not tell both sides of the inflation story by any means.

And also keep this in mind a year from now, when they are going to have completely forgotten about this issue, because inflation almost certainly will dissipate, and will be more like 2 or 3%.

JJ: Absolutely.

We’ve been speaking with Jon Schwarz. You can find his work on TheIntercept.com. Thank you so much Jon Schwarz, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

JS: Thank you very much for having me.

The post ‘They Do Not Tell Both Sides of the Inflation Story’ appeared first on FAIR.

Carol Anderson on White Supremacy vs. Democracy

Guardian (11/10/21)

This week on CounterSpin: What do we want? Multiracial democracy. When do we want it? Now. What stands in the way? White supremacy that has disregarded, derailed and violently defied that democracy at multiple turns.

Those anguished over the Rittenhouse acquittal, depressed by racist police brutality, unnerved by the failure to take seriously the January 6 insurrection, and worried about systemic predations on voting rights are sometimes led to say: “This isn’t America!” If you attend to actual US history (importantly different from what you might’ve read in your history textbook, or what you might someday be allowed to read in your history textbook), you will understand that this is America. But that still doesn’t mean it has to be. This can be a turning point, if more of us understand that history isn’t something that happens to us, but something we DO.

Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler professor of African-American studies at Emory University, and the author of White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide and One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy. We talk with her about her recent Guardian column on the historical and ongoing struggle between white supremacy and this country’s hopes for democracy.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at coverage of protest in India.

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The post Carol Anderson on White Supremacy vs. Democracy appeared first on FAIR.

Legal Wrangle Between NYT and O’Keefe Puts Press Freedom at Risk

“Oh please, dear? For your information, the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint,” a patriotic Walter Sobchak tells a diner waitress after she implores him to keep his voice down in the 1998 film The Big Lebowski. So iconic is this pop culture reference to American jurisprudence that it was actually cited by a Texas judge in a First Amendment case (Business Insider, 9/5/14). 

John Goodman as Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski: “Oh please, dear? For your information, the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint!” The NYT case shows his absolutism was overstated.

Yet Sobchak’s absolutism was overstated. The line is a reference to the famous Pentagon Papers case of 1971, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not restrain the New York Times and the Washington Post ahead of time from publishing classified documents pertaining to the Vietnam War.

But the court did not strike down prior restraint outright. As attorney Floyd Abrams, who represented the Times in the case, later wrote, “A majority of the Supreme Court not only left open the possibility of prior restraints in other cases, but of criminal sanctions being imposed on the press” (New York Times, 6/9/21). Indeed, Chief Justice Warren Burger said in his dissenting opinion that the court had given the press too much power over the state:

But why should the United States government, from whom this information was illegally acquired by someone, along with all the counsel, trial judges and appellate judges, be placed under needless pressure? After these months of deferral, the alleged “right to know” has somehow and suddenly become a right that must be vindicated instanter.

Would it have been unreasonable, since the newspaper could anticipate the government’s objections to release of secret material, to give the government an opportunity to review the entire collection and determine whether agreement could be reached on publication?

Burger outlined the road not taken by the Supreme Court: one in which news outlets could be prevented from revealing the secrets of the state until “agreement could be reached” with the government about whether it wanted its secrets revealed.

NYT under prior restraint

That’s why it rang alarm bells among First Amendment advocates when Westchester County Judge Charles Wood ruled in favor of the right-wing organization Project Veritas against the New York Times, enjoining the paper from reporting on certain documents related to the group (New York Times, 11/18/21). New York Appellate Court Judge Leonard Austin refused to lift the block while the case makes its way through appeals (Reuters, 11/22/21), and the original judge extended the order “at least until December 1, a deadline for Project Veritas to respond in writing to the Times‘ bid to end it” (Reuters, 11/23/21).

“We’re disappointed that the order remains in place, but we welcomed the opportunity to address the court directly on the serious First Amendment concerns raised by a prior restraint,” said Danielle Rhoades Ha, a Times spokesperson (New York Times, 11/23/21), who added, “No libel plaintiffs should be permitted to use their litigation as a tool to silence press coverage about them.”

James O’Keefe is perhaps most famous for tricking corporate media—including the Times—into believing he went into ACORN offices dressed in this cartoonish pimp costume, leading to the community organizing group’s demise (FAIR.org, 3/11/10).

For anyone who needs a reminder, Project Veritas is a video entrapment organization founded by right-wing activist James O’Keefe; it targets progressive organizations as well as media outlets, usually by offering deceptively edited undercover footage to suggest wrongdoing or corruption. The group has had its successes, including its 2009 hoax about the community activist group ACORN (FAIR.org, 3/11/10) that fatally hurt its reputation, even though O’Keefe ended up agreeing to pay $100,000 to a former ACORN employee for “misrepresenting him in a widely distributed video” (Guardian, 3/8/13). 

O’Keefe has also faced federal charges for attempting to tamper with the phone of then-Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (Washington Post, 1/27/10), and his organization got caught trying to feed a false story about Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore to the Washington Post (11/27/17). O’Keefe similarly attempted to embarrass NPR; as FAIR pointed out, even when its misrepresentations are exposed, Project Veritas is able to insert enough innuendo into the discourse that its fake stories do real damage (FAIR.org, 8/26/11). The group experienced a boom in conservative financial support during the Trump administration (New York Times, 5/13/21).

‘To embarrass an adversary’

The recent court order against the Times is related to its coverage (11/11/20) of the legal advice Project Veritas gets on using undercover operations to embarrass liberal politicians, organizations and activists. The article cited memos by Project Veritas lawyer Benjamin Barr, which the group maintains are protected by attorney/client privilege. 

Project Veritas claimed that the Times reported on the memos, Reuters reported, “to harm and embarrass a litigation adversary”: Veritas was already suing the Times over its coverage (9/29/20) of a Veritas video that is meant to show that Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar committed voter fraud. While conservatives trumpeted this concocted outrage (New York Post, 9/27/20), USA Today (10/16/20) reported that there “is no actual proof of fraud or any relationship between individuals in the video and Omar or her campaign.”

The Times may, indeed, emerge victorious in the end, but the fact that it has been prohibited at least for a time from publishing journalism, and must even fight off the possibility that a right-wing activist group may be able to essentially edit and censor a story after it is published, has press advocates worried. A victory for Project Veritas in this instance would be a significant victory for the right in its campaign against freedom of the press.

Curtailing press freedom

In 2019, Politico (9/23/19) outlined a string of court rulings curtailing US press freedom, including how

the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals revived a lawsuit against the Times by Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee…[who] complained that a Times editorial published in 2017 inaccurately linked her to the 2011 shooting rampage in Arizona that gravely wounded then-Rep. Gabby Giffords and killed six others.

After ordering an unusual hearing, a US District Court judge in New York accepted testimony by the Times’ editorial page editor, James Bennet, that the reference was a mistake, but the three-judge appeals court panel faulted that ruling and unanimously reinstated the suit. The appeals judges said Palin should have the right to issue subpoenas for records and demand testimony to prove her case.

Sarah Palin filed a libel lawsuit against the Times, in another case threatening press freedom.

The “case” referred to was Palin’s contention that Bennet and the Times intentionally lied about her having a connection to the shooting.

This case was part of a trend, as the next day, Judge Amos Mazzant, a federal district judge in Texas

dealt a blow to NPR by rejecting the network’s motion to throw out a $57 million lawsuit challenging its reporting about efforts by a conservative investor, Ed Butowsky, to stir up interest in the death of Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee staffer, and the unsubstantiated possibility that he leaked Democratic emails to WikiLeaks

Mazzant “said the NPR reports implied ‘wrongdoing’ by the investor, and were not protected by privileges for reporting on public legal filings.”

The previous year, Bruce Brown (Time, 2/5/18), the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, wrote that then-President Donald Trump’s intentions of changing libel laws to stifle journalists hostile to administration was proof that the political and legal movement against press freedom was “mobilizing.”

FAIR (3/26/21) also reported on one prominent conservative judge who had resurrected the judicial right’s animosity toward New York Times v. Sullivan, which in 1964 held that plaintiffs who are public figures must prove “actual malice” to win a libel suit.

‘Everything else is PR’

The clash between the Times and Project Veritas comes as the latter has had to fight its own battles against the government. The Committee to Protect Journalists (11/15/21) reported that the “FBI seized O’Keefe’s cellphones during a November 6 raid on his home in Mamaroneck, New York, as part of a court-ordered investigation into the theft of a diary” of President Biden’s daughter Ashley, a raid the CPJ “expressed concern” about, while also questioning Veritas‘ methods.

Without suggesting that Veritas‘ style of journalism has any value in itself, the raid on its offices is still troubling (Dissenter, 11/17/21). While it is certainly possible to imagine O’Keefe committing an actual crime in the guise of practicing journalism, on its face the search seems to be justified on the dubious equation of holding unauthorized documents with possession of stolen goods (FAIR.org, 10/6/16).

And while it’s hard to imagine a legitimate public interest in the contents of Ashley Biden’s personal diary, the entire notion of accountability journalism is based on leaked documents and information that people in power don’t want to be seen by the masses. As George Orwell probably didn’t say: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.” 

Thus the criminal investigation into Veritas‘ reporting may reflect the same effort to chill journalism that Veritas is taking part in by suing the New York Times. If the prior restraint it sought stands up, that opens the door to government agencies, businesses and powerful individuals using the courts to keep journalists from pursuing stories that could embarrass them or question their authority.

A loss by the Times would be a victory for the right, which views the free press not as a pillar of free discourse, but an organized enemy of the Republican Party, commerce and Christianity (Politico, 1/27/17). A victory for Project Veritas, which very much embodies that political movement, will give the right a new legal lever to use against journalists and keep the public in the dark.

The post Legal Wrangle Between NYT and O’Keefe Puts Press Freedom at Risk appeared first on FAIR.

Does Biden’s Lower Approval Rating Mean Democrats Should ‘Move to the Center’?


New York Times (11/4/21): “Significant parts of the electorate are feeling leery of a sharp leftward push in the party.”

Recent polls show that President Joe Biden’s approval rating has declined significantly since he took office.

A decline is not unexpected, of course, given the historical phenomenon known as a honeymoon period. But many in the media have interpreted this decline as a negative assessment specifically of Biden’s too-progressive agenda (FAIR.org, 11/5/21).

Numerous articles and editorials have thus argued that Biden should return to the “center” (see here, here and here), a rather vague political location these days, but one that would require him to significantly downsize many proposals in his Build Back Better legislation.

A prime example is a recent New York Times editorial (11/4/21) with the headline, “Democrats Deny Political Reality at Their Own Peril.”

The alleged reality: That “significant parts of the electorate are feeling leery of a sharp leftward push in the party,” and that “the concerns of more centrist Americans about a rush to spend taxpayer money, a rush to grow the government, should not be dismissed.”

The solution?

What is badly needed is an honest conversation in the Democratic Party about how to return to the moderate policies and values that fueled the blue-wave victories in 2018 and won Joe Biden the presidency in 2020.

Bait and switch

In all of these articles and editorials, the authors focus on Biden’s declining approval rating as “bait”—what we should be concerned about—and then switch to talking about the president’s legislative agenda. But there is no necessary connection between the two. People could disapprove of the president’s performance in office for many reasons not related at all to the proposed legislation.

If Biden’s approval rating has declined because of the size of his proposed legislation, then we should expect either that public approval of his proposals has been low, or that approval has declined. But neither is the case.

FAIR.org (10/15/21): “The margins in favor of the reconciliation package vary from a low of 12 points in the WP/ABC poll, to 24 points in the Pew poll.”

In an earlier post (FAIR.org, 10/16/21), I cited several polls showing double-digit margins of support for Biden’s initial plan costing $3.5 trillion. Polls since then confirm majority public support for that package, as well as the compromised package of just under $2 trillion recently passed by the House.

If the size of the legislation was a problem for the public, then we would expect to find higher support for the new compromised version than for the original bill. But the polls do not reflect such a difference.

The ABC/Washington Post poll (11/7–10/21) and the Quinnipiac poll (11/11–15/21) found almost identical results for the $2 trillion bill—58% to 37% and 58% to 38%, respectively.

And these figures were quite close to what Quinnipiac (10/1–4/21) and ABC/Washington Post (8/29/21–9/1/21) reported earlier about the $3.5 trillion package: 57% to 40% and 53% to 41%, respectively.

‘Too big for voters to comprehend’

Biden’s “gotta lead from the middle out,” says pollster Joel Benenson (Washington Post, 10/23/21), whose clients include Google, Comcast, Viacom, Microsoft and Bank of America.

It would appear that many of the cited articles reflect the long-held opinions of the authors, who hold on to those views regardless of what the polls might show.

Perhaps they are persuaded by the prevailing view, as reflected in a recent Gallup poll, that most people want less, rather than more, government spending. These pundits don’t seem to accept the notion, as noted in an earlier post (FAIR.org, 10/24/21), that while most Americans may express conservative beliefs, in fact large majorities generally support activist government.

That disjuncture is reflected in an article by the Washington Post’s Paul Kane (10/23/21), who apparently could not believe that Americans might support such a costly bill. He refers to an argument by two pollsters—one a Republican, the other a Democrat—who acknowledge that “individual pieces of this massive agenda are popular,” but then assert that “the package is either too big for voters to comprehend, or the price is so high that it sounds scary.”

That sounds like a classic case of denial. There is no polling evidence for such an assertion. In fact, polling suggests the opposite.

There are many possible explanations for Biden’s low approval ratings. Pushing for his Build Back Better legislation is not one of them.

The post Does Biden’s Lower Approval Rating Mean Democrats Should ‘Move to the Center’? appeared first on FAIR.

Breaking News: AOC’s District Has Opinions


New York Times (11/12/21): “Where Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was once seen by many political observers as at the vanguard of the party’s new direction, she may now be more emblematic of its divides.”

The residents of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s district, like all New Yorkers, love to argue. No one can agree which Colombian bakery has the best empanadas. Given that the district is in both the Bronx and Queens, it is home to both Mets and Yankees fans.The state’s 14th congressional district is well-known for its diversity. It’s the type of place where you might find a Bangladeshi woman in full body covering selling Korans next to a sex worker. Everyone has their differences, but for the most part people get along.

So it’s not surprising that if you walked around Roosevelt or Tremont Avenues and asked 10 people for their thoughts on a particular political subject, you’d probably receive about 13 different answers. Alas, the New York Times (11/12/21) turned this into a shocking expose: It turns out some people in the district were unhappy with Ocasio-Cortez’s “no” vote on the federal infrastructure bill.

The Times noted that the federal infrastructure bill would bring billions for the state, but that “Ocasio-Cortez and five fellow progressives voted against it; they argued that the bill was too modest”—before adding the actual reason that these lawmakers voted against it, that they “sought to use their votes to pressure wavering moderates to support a bigger climate and social safety net bill that is pending.”

The six progressives were sticking to what the plan had been all along, which was that the infrastructure bill would be passed after the social spending bill, to get conservative Democrats an incentive to vote for the latter; without that incentive, the fate of the social spending bill is now very much in doubt.

‘Sharp disagreements’

The Times piece—which was co-authored by Kate Glueck, the paper’s chief metro political reporter, with Nicholas Fandos—explores the reaction of the district to this break with the rest of the Democratic Party. The piece says, “There are sharp disagreements unfolding over how far left the party should go,” based on “interviews with more than three dozen constituents, elected officials and party leaders.”

Bret Stephens (New York Times, 9/21/21) still trying to make “fetch” happen.

Given her stature as a progressive leader, it is fair game to get responses from AOC’s district to a controversial vote. Yet we’re not used to seeing other elected leaders receiving this kind of coverage. First-year New York Rep. Ritchie Torres has a district that borders AOC’s, and has been heavily touted by media as a better model of “progressive” up-and-comer (FAIR.org, 1/26/21). Yet we don’t see a lot of in-depth coverage of how the poorest district in the country feels about his prioritization of US aid to Israel, when that money could be spent at home; instead, he’s treated to a puff piece from conservative Times columnist Bret Stephens (9/21/21).

The most telling part of the November 12 article is when it quotes Tony Avella speaking negatively of AOC, calling her a “lightning rod.” The Times describes Avella as a “moderate Democrat who appears to have lost a City Council district in Queens that includes a more moderate part of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional district.”

So many words, and yet it leaves out so much. Avella isn’t a nobody. He is a former Democratic state senator who joined the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a renegade group of conservative Democrats who caucused with Republicans, thereby handing the New York Senate majority to the GOP. He lost his re-election primary, along with most of the other IDC senators, in 2018, in the same wave of progressive electoral energy that swept AOC to victory in her primary (Intercept, 9/13/18); in Queens, the anti-IDC campaigns often included volunteers who also worked for AOC. This is a key piece of context that helps explain Avella’s antipathy toward AOC’s success and her leftward stances, and the Times leaves it out.

But the other quotes don’t seem random, either. Another quote taking a swipe at AOC comes from Thomas Grech, the CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, a business association whose natural inclination is to remain at the business-friendly center. Further, Grech made several contributions to the mayoral campaign of Eric Adams, the mayor-elect who has vowed to wage political combat against AOC and her allies (New York Post, 7/27/21).

The Times also quoted a negative comment from Jennifer Shannon, who is identified as a local activist, but the Times doesn’t say what kind of activist. Well, she helped organize a protest against a new homeless shelter (Queens Chronicle, 12/6/18), and appears to be an active member of a Facebook group for a civic association that backed at least one Republican candidate in a local election. That’s a bit of context the Times should share when it comes to a story like this.

To understand the degree to which these voices are outliers and not the norm, remember: AOC won re-election in the general election with 72% of the vote.

The piece does offer a favorable quote from Assemblymember Zohran Kwame Mamdani, who the paper calls “a democratic socialist who represents one of the most left-leaning neighborhoods.” But even that makes Mamdani sound like an outlier of support. AOC’s district also includes part of the City Council district that recently elected Tiffany Cabán, who was also backed by the Democratic Socialists of America. The congressional district is also home to state Sen. Jessica Ramos, a progressive although not a socialist, who was an anti-IDC challenger swept in during the same wave that brought in AOC in 2018. AOC is probably the most familiar expression of progressive electoral success in western Queens, but she is hardly alone.

‘Self-proclaimed woman of the people’

This type of article, which frames the district revolting against the congressmember with quotes that are questionably presented as a random sampling, isn’t new.

The New York Post (8/20/19) wrote a long piece on Ocasio-Cortez’s insufficient office phone system; communications problems at one’s district office aren’t nothing, but hardly an outlier in the world of automated phone systems. The Post (3/30/19) also claimed AOC’s “constituents turn against her,” a fiery headline for a story based on quotes from exactly two people. One of those people is Anthony Vitaliano, whom the Post refers to as an ex-cop, who was later not reappointed to his community board post after allegations surfaced that he had discriminated against a board staffer (The City, 8/10/20). This is one of the best people the Post could find to sully AOC’s performance, apparently.

New York Post (11/15/21): “The self-described socialist has taken heat for not paying enough attention to her constituents as she burnishes her national reputation as a leftist darling.”

The Post (11/15/21) also lifted one of the takeaways from the Times piece, that her district office is physically open only twice a week, saying “this self-proclaimed woman of the people thinks they are best served from afar,” adding that on the “other three weekdays, AOC’s district office appointments are held virtually.”

Not until the 14th paragraph does the Post mention the obvious reason for the closures: The country is still in the midst of a pandemic, killing on average more than a thousand people a day across the US in early November (a statistic not mentioned by the tabloid). Whether one likes it or not, many businesses, nonprofits, unions and institutions of higher learning are still operating remotely at least part of the time. Turning this into a news story suggests that Post reporters are forced to scrape the bottom of the barrel; one pictures an AOC-obsessed editor barking for literally anything to hit the congressmember with. (It doesn’t hurt that this particular story ties into the Murdoch empire’s opposition to anti-Covid public health measures—for the public, of course, not for the conglomerate’s own staffers.)

And one can’t really blame this desperation on the Post’s conservative politics. The Times piece on the reaction to AOC’s infrastructure vote quoted state Sen. John Liu taking a dig at the congresswoman’s presence in the district, referring to “her visibility in the district—ubiquitous online, less so in person.” This follows previous AP coverage (6/11/20) which quoted a pro-business advocate on “this perception of her being this Hollywood glam girl,” which the AP said was part of “accusations that she’s lost touch with her district.” The AP’s alarm bell turned out to be nothing: AOC sailed to victory in her primary later that month (CNN, 6/24/20), with 75% of the vote.

Ask yourself, how often do you actually see your congressional representative just hanging around your neighborhood? I am a resident of AOC’s district, and while I can’t tell you how many actual hours per week she spends on the streets of the district, I can say that I’ve laid eyes on her at my local farmers market, my nearest park, a meeting on public education, a Hanukkah party for the community and a rally for LaGuardia airport workers. According to her social media, we also just missed each other at the same Tibetan momo joint (Twitter, 9/30/19). And that’s just one corner of the district. To suggest that she’s somehow not around is just not based on reality.

And, of course, none of these swipes at AOC’s physical presence take into account that she has had to face death threats in the district (Daily News, 4/26/21). This is all happening as Republican Rep. Paul Gosar shared a video cartoon depicting him murdering her (Newsweek, 11/15/21), and then reshared it after he was censured by his colleagues (CBS, 11/18/21).

The anti-spending socialist

Fox News (11/7/21) told its audience that “voters in New York City didn’t hold back their criticism of far-left US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez this weekend”—citing a New York Post report (11/6/21).

Negative coverage of AOC has a tendency to drift into surrealism. Take Fox News’ response (11/7/21) to her infrastructure vote: The conservative network took the opportunity to quote Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, who voted with the Biden administration because the bill will pour money into the city, to blast AOC for her no vote. So here you get an anti-spending news organization quote a lawmaker from the anti-spending party blasting a socialist for voting against spending.

It’s not hard to understand why AOC gets this type of attention. Given that she is the de facto leader of the Squad, an alliance of democratic socialist congressmembers, she is the obvious target for both establishment centrist papers like the Times and conservative outlets like the New York Post. Her ability to capture the limelight, like being on the cover of Vanity Fair (12/20), makes it easy to suggest she isn’t the working-class defender she says she is. But again and again, these attacks fall flat under scrutiny.

The post Breaking News: AOC’s District Has Opinions appeared first on FAIR.

Corporate Media’s Portrayal of Generational Divide Is So Cheugy


“Twenty-somethings rolling their eyes at the habits of their elders is a trend as old as Xerox, Kodak and classic rock,” Emma Goldberg (New York Times, 10/28/21) acknowledges, “but”—there must be a story here somewhere.

Millennials, you’re not young and cool anymore. Gen Z thinks your skinny jeans are basic, your side-parted hair is dorky and your choice of the laughing/crying emoji is embarrassing. Moreover, they’ll take sick days for period cramps, ask higher-ups to take on projects and ask if your organization celebrates Juneteenth.

This, at least, is what you’ll glean from the New York Times’ trend piece, “The 37-Year-Olds Are Afraid of the 23-Year-Olds Who Work for Them” (10/28/21).

The lighthearted feature highlighting intergenerational conflict isn’t unique. Older people have been rolling their eyes at “kids these days” for decades—and the kids have been rolling their eyes right back. The phenomenon has even been documented by researchers.

True to the genre, the Times piece starts with quirky anecdotes about Millennial professionals (born between 1981 and 1996) who are insecure about their emoji choices and worry about being seen as “uncool” by younger employees. (Those employees might call their bosses “cheugy“—internet slang for trying too hard to be trendy and hip, coined in 2013 but made popular by Gen Zers on TikTok in 2021.)

But the story quickly shifts to outline the “new boldness” with which Gen Z (1997–2012) dictates not only what’s trendy, but also the way corporate America operates: They have the audacity to take days off for mental health. They don’t understand why they need to be at their desks until 5:00 if they finish their work early. They demand the company publicly speak out against the murder of George Floyd.

The article is written by Emma Goldberg, a Millennial, and includes nine sources, seven of whom are Millennials. Only one is a Gen Zer, and the other is an organizational psychologist whose age isn’t included. Excluding the once-quoted psychologist, all sources (even the Gen Zer) are higher-ups at their companies. Seven are founders and/or CEOs, and one is a manager.

‘Entitled’ demands

Picking up the New York Times story, the Daily Mail (10/31/21) tied the idea of generational conflict to the panic over  “wokeness.”

A Daily Mail article (10/31/21) recycling the Times piece with even more sensationalism included a headline as loaded as it is long:

Gen Z Workers Are Terrifying Millennial Bosses With Woke Demands: Junior at Vibrator Startup Called Boss on Weekend to Demand BLM Support, While Others Assign Tasks to Their Bosses, and Demand PTO for ‘Anxiety’

“Generation Z workers are terrifying their millennial bosses with a series of woke and entitled demands,” the piece starts,

including that their companies support BLM, provide paid time off for “anxiety” and telling the CEOs to do the assignments themselves.

The snarky use of scare quotes for “anxiety” serves to diminish one of the most prevalent mental health issues—affecting more than 18% of US adults—as a generational trend. But mental hygiene’s impact on workplace performance isn’t a fad of the TikTok generation: An Anxiety & Depression Association of America survey found that 56% of people say anxiety and stress impact their work performance. This survey took place in 2006, before most Gen Zers entered middle school, let alone the workplace.

It’s true that young people report higher rates of mental illness than older adults, but maybe there’s more at work here than younger generations’ supposed lack of grit.

Any combination of present-day factors could lead to an uptick in these numbers. There are even positive changes, like a general decrease in mental illness stigma, which research has found to decrease both suicidality and unemployment. But negative present-day realities also put an outsized burden on young people—for example, the psychological effects of climate change (Epidemiology and Psychiatric Studies, 4/18):

A 2021 study by the Lancet Planetary Health journal surveyed 10,000 young people across 10 countries and found that 56% of them agree with the statement, “humanity is doomed,” as it relates to climate change. Forty-five percent of 16–25-year-olds said climate-related anxiety and distress is affecting their daily lives and ability to function normally.

More than half of young people across 10 countries believe humanity is doomed, but instead of addressing how this profound distress might affect Gen Z work habits, publications like the Times and the Daily Mail prefer to frame young employees as audacious and “entitled,” highlighting their quirky affinity for Y2K fashions rather than their genuine and grounded concerns.

‘Woke’ demands

Ari Paul (FAIR.org, 11/17/21): “The media equation between “woke” and anything vaguely in the realm of social justice allows the right to paint once fairly moderate liberal ideas as some kind of fringe.”

The Daily Mail’s use of the word “woke” as an insult is also notable. The term, which has been bastardized by the right as a new pejorative synonym for “politically correct” or “overly sensitive” (FAIR.org, 11/17/21), comes from African-American Vernacular English and dates back to the 1930s, when it simply meant to be alert to racial prejudice and discrimination (Independent, 1/22/21).

Some of the “woke” and “entitled” demands that shocked Millennial higher-ups: taking sick days due to period cramps (which can, indeed, be debilitating for people with certain conditions, like endometriosis, which affects up to 10% of women), and asking about the company’s response to racist violence.

While some companies are welcoming the chance to reckon with disparities historically perpetuated by corporate America, “some managers are also struggling to balance the demands of their employees for political engagement with their own sense of what’s appropriate for their brands,” the Times article said.

One source said she thinks it’s “shortsighted” to call out higher-ups for their “missteps.” “Is it worth the social clout of getting gratification on social media but then trashing someone who could continue to help you professionally?” she asks.

Depending on the “misstep” at issue, a better question would be, “Do you want professional help from an unethical leader?”

Stereotype déjà vu

A 2007 60 Minutes broadcast (11/11/07) set forth stereotypes about Millennials that would late be recycled for Gen Z.

If these stereotypes of Gen Z sound familiar, it’s because just a few years ago, Millennials were described nearly identically. The Times piece quoted a 2007 60 Minutes segment called “The ‘Millennials’ Are Coming” (11/11/07). “These young people tell you what time their yoga class is,” the segment warned.

The difference, according to the Times, is that young people entering the workforce on the heels of the 2008 financial crisis were grateful to have any work. Their industriousness gave rise to an industrious culture of “hustling.” Meanwhile, Gen Z is entering the workforce during a pandemic that normalized remote work and shook up the typical 9–5 schedule.  The piece cited an anecdote from a Millennial CEO:

Mr. Kennedy interviewed a Gen Z candidate for a full-time position who asked if she could stop working for the day once she’d accomplished the tasks she’d set out to do. He responded that her role was expected to be a nine-to-five.

Realistically, that candidate’s question shouldn’t have been so shocking: A recent UK study suggested that during a 9–5 workday, a typical worker is only productive for a little more than two hours. A “results-oriented work environment” (ROWE), which focuses on productivity rather than hours at a desk, is an established corporate strategy (Harvard Business Review, 7/27/21), pioneered (for a time) by Best Buy in 2005, and since adopted by a number of businesses, mainly in the tech sector.

The association of Millennials with the industrious 9–5 “hustle” has not always been the case. Like Gen Z, when they first entered the workforce, they were also characterized as “lazy” and “entitled” (Time, 5/9/13).

They also preferred “videoconferencing and anything that is going to save the most time,” desired “interaction with management” and expected “that a company embraces certain social values — for example, supporting local charities or hiring ex-offenders—even if the employer is not a social enterprise” (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 6/18/17).

Just five years ago, the New York Times (3/19/16), in a piece labeled “What Happens When Millennials Run the Workplace?,” associated Millennials with “a sense of entitlement, a tendency to overshare on social media, and frankness verging on insubordination.”

As recently as 2018, Sanford Health characterized Millennials as the “wellness generation” who value work-life balance; emphasize mental, physical and social health; want to be valued for results, and not hours “clocked”; and want their organization’s higher purpose to be clear.

In these pieces, the terms “Millennials” and “Gen Z” are essentially interchangeable.

Where real differences lie

Louis Menand (New Yorker, 10/11/21) notes that nearly all the figures we associate with the political and cultural upheavals of the 1960s—from Martin Luther King to Gloria Steinem, from Bob Dylan to Nina Simone—were members of the “Silent Generation,” not Baby Boomers.

Biologically speaking, a “generation” refers to kinship structure: You, your siblings and cousins constitute one generation, and your parents and their siblings and cousins are another. But as Louis Menand wrote for the New Yorker (10/11/21), the term soon became applied to society:

The new idea was that people born within a given period, usually 30 years, belong to a single generation. There is no sound basis in biology or anything else for this claim, but it gave European scientists and intellectuals a way to make sense of something they were obsessed with, social and cultural change.

Grouping people together based on similar proximity to historical events and trends can help us make sense of social changes. But it can also obscure more crucial differences. For example, gaping class and race divides in the US cause more sinister and stark disparities than whether someone’s high school years were spent on MySpace or Instagram.

Pitting generations against each other benefits corporate media outlets owned by wealthy elites because it draws attention from other, more consequential divides. As Alan MacLeod wrote for FAIR (11/8/19):

While there are certainly genuine divides along age lines in Western society, they are all too often promoted in lieu of discussing more relevant class divides, effectively pitting the generations off against one another, leaving those responsible for the current mess laughing all the way to the bank.

We live in a country where the wealth of the Fortune 500 corporations make up two-thirds of the US GDP, and at least 55 companies got away with paying no federal income taxes in the 2020 fiscal year (Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, 2020). Yet 11.4% of Americans live below the poverty line (Census 2020), and 10.5% of households reported being food insecure in 2020 (USDA, 2020).

When the CEO they work for makes up to 351 times more than the average worker, is Gen Z’s disinterest in embodying sanitized corporate etiquette so outlandish?

Generational differences may not be as stark as media narratives want us to think, but if each new generation does become more hungry for change, is that really such a bad thing?


The post Corporate Media’s Portrayal of Generational Divide Is So Cheugy appeared first on FAIR.

Jon Schwarz on Inflation, Enrique Armijo on Alex Jones

The Wall Street Journal (2/3/21) explains inflation.

This week on CounterSpin: If you read a paper, you know that inflation is a dire, important thing right now, a problem for the Biden administration, for economic policymakers, and for…regular folks who want to buy milk? You don’t need to understand it, elite media seem to say, but you do need to be mad about it, and direct blame for it toward…yourself? Jon Schwarz writes about elite media’s confusing and conflicting instructions around inflation, among other things, at the Intercept; we’ll talk with him about the current economic reality—and storyline.

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Alex Jones

Also on the show: Ethically deficient radio host Alex Jones‘ defamation case is a political story about the impact of energetic, intentional disinformation. It’s a media story about how the profitability of hateful BS seems to change the terms around whether things that call themselves news outlets should be held accountable for demonstrably harmful lies. And it’s a speech rights story about whether you can yell fire in a crowded theater and then say, Ha! any dummy would know I was just kidding (but I’m not kidding about these vitamin supplements, please buy them). We’ll ask, “How does the legal system solve a problem like Alex Jones?” with Enrique Armijo, professor of law at Elon University.

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The post Jon Schwarz on Inflation, Enrique Armijo on Alex Jones appeared first on FAIR.

Media’s Anti-‘Woke’ Mania Moves Social Justice to the Fringe


CNN‘s Chris Cillizza (11/4/21) (11/4/21) said of James Carville’s anti-woke tirade, “After Tuesday, Democrats should bring Carville in and listen to every word he says.”

“Woke” is the label the aggrieved conservative suburbanite puts on the indignity of having to call their Starbucks barista “they” and finding Ibram X. Kendi on their child’s school reading list. But as the Democrats prepare for the midterm election cycle, anti-wokeness has become a key theme about the party’s future. Woke activists have been chief culprits in Terry McAuliffe’s loss in the Virginia governor’s race, correspondents tell us, and the electoral ground loss generally by the Democrats (The Hill, 11/7/21).

The meaning of this ubiquitous term often shifts with context. Originating in Black vernacular English, according to Merriam-Webster, to “stay woke” means to question “the dominant paradigm,” and to carry awareness of racial and other forms of oppression. The phrase became a Black Lives Matter call to action in the Ferguson uprising of 2014, but as that revolutionary spirit ebbed, “wokeness” has become a stand-in for what the right once decried as “political correctness” (Extra!, 5–6/91).

It’s a buzzword that can indict liberals as the speech police, or denounce anything from diversity initiatives (Newsweek, 10/15/21), criticisms of aggressive policing in Black communities (Fox News, 8/7/21) and LGBTQ complaints about Dave Chappelle’s Netflix comedy special (New York Daily News, 10/28/21).

“Karl Marx called his system ‘scientific socialism,’” Paul Rubin wrote in the Wall Street Journal (10/5/21). “Modern leftists advocate a similar ideology and call themselves ‘woke’ to indicate that they understand the world better than the rest of us.”

In the wake of Black Lives Matter uprisings and the rise in awareness of white nationalist organizing, corporate media have taken up the term, often in a pejorative or sarcastic context. The Wall Street Journal editorial page has featured the word in dozens of headlines, in pieces defending opting out of Covid-19 vaccines (10/29/21), transphobia (10/14/21), anti–teachers union positions (7/7/21), free-market capitalism (10/5/21) and voter suppression (4/28/21). The Journal has even used it to attack the Chinese Communist Party (3/7/21; FAIR.org, 3/17/21).

This parade of anti-woke pieces is part of an ongoing crisis of legitimacy at the Journal. As the Columbia Journalism Review (Fall/21) noted, nearly 300 news-side employers in July 2020 signed a letter to the paper’s publisher “complaining about a ‘lack of fact-checking and transparency’ on the editorial page,” which “was undercutting the paper’s credibility and making it difficult to recruit and retain journalists of color.” The “anti-woke” backlash serves as a prime illustration: The editors are eager to attach a current buzzword about race and gender anxiety to any issue they can, no matter how much a stretch, to defend corporate America and the Republican Party from any form of politics anchored in addressing economic inequality.

Unifying disdain

David Brooks (New York Times, 5/13/21) on “woke” language: “Performing the discourse by canceling and shaming becomes a way of establishing your status and power as an enlightened person.”

At the New York Times, the liberal and conservative columnists are united in their disdain for wokeness, seen as both an attack on Western openness and an albatross for the Democratic Party. Maureen Dowd (11/6/21) said “there is some truth” that wokeness sunk Democratic candidates; she cited corporate campaign consultant James Carville denouncing “this defund the police lunacy, this take Abraham Lincoln’s name off of schools,” even though neither of these things originated within the Democratic Party.

David Brooks (5/13/21) lamented how the language of wokeness was entering the corporate landscape, undermining “meritocracy” because wokeness “instigates savage word wars among the highly advantaged.” Thomas Edsall (5/26/21) warned that questioning the gender binary, as well as calls to “defund the police,” polled poorly.

Bret Stephens (2/22/21) denounced wokeness as a liberal, censorious crusade against offensive comedy, although this same columnist tried to get a professor fired for making a joke at his expense on Twitter (LA Times, 8/28/19). Stephens (11/9/21) returned to the topic again with high-octane sanctimony, saying that wokeness asserts that “racism is a defining feature, not a flaw, of nearly every aspect of American life,” and is a form of “indoctrination and extirpation, based on a relentless form of race consciousness that defies the modern American creed of” color-blindness.

Zaid Jilani (New York Times, 10/26/21) wrote that John McWhorter sees “the woke racial worldview as harmful…because it deprives Black people of their humanity by infantilizing them.”

The problem is not just the opinion page. John McWhorter, a Times contributor, has written a critical book against “wokeness,” and the Times (10/26/21) didn’t just give him a favorable review: It hired Zaid Jilani—a former contributor to progressive outlets like the Intercept and FAIR.org, now writing for right-wing outlets like Quillette and Tablet, and devoted full-time to Twitter assaults against wokeness—to give the book a public relations boost. Jilani began with the stated assumption that the left’s “worldview” is that “nonwhites are little more than virtuous victims cast adrift on a plank in an ocean of white supremacy,” and that this view has quickly taken over everything from universities to corporations. Jilani’s only criticism of McWhorter’s book was that it didn’t offer a “thorough” enough takedown of racial justice writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Robin DiAngelo, Ibram X. Kendi and Nikole Hannah-Jones for Jilani’s taste.

Both Jilani and McWhorter are on the board of advisors of the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, which, despite its name, includes other activists who are riding the anti-woke wave, including Islamophobe Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Middle East Eye, 12/15/17) and Bari Weiss, who dramatically resigned from the New York Times (7/14/20) on the grounds that some of her colleagues disagreed with her conservative views. The review was rigged to prop up the right’s hysteria about “wokeness.”

‘War over “wokeness”‘

At CNN (11/7/21), wokeness is why Democrats are losing electoral ground, and the news channel focused on (8/5/21) moderate Democratic New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries’ anti-woke attack on his left-wing party colleagues. Chris Cillizza, covering Jeffries’ statements, said that while “Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez remain hugely prominent voices within” the Democratic Party, there are “limitations of the activist left,” a statement that is true about any political faction.

Cillizza added that “the Democratic leadership is fed up with having to hear from the Twitter left about how everything they are doing isn’t good enough.” In summation, the crime of “wokeness” is being a part of the party’s left flank, and being too vocal about it.

The Hill (11/6/21) went further, saying that the party has gone “to war over ‘wokeness,’” which the paper described as the left’s accusation that the party’s centrists “are cravenly abandoning the party’s core supporters and its core purpose.” And former AP reporter Dan Perry (Daily News, 11/3/21) said the “American center” has a “visceral distaste for the cultural war stoked by the woke project,” throwing around phrases like “defund the police” and “trigger warnings,” but never linking these catch-phrases with the platform of the Democratic Party.

Labeling anti-racism as ‘woke’

NPR (10/1/19) chose a word to describe progressive views on race that is almost always used to mock progressive views on race.

This year, especially in the wake of the 2021 elections, there seems to be an explosion of coverage where wokeness is flimsily pasted alongside “the Democrats,” with no particular obligation to show that ideas like “white privilege” or respecting trans people’s pronouns are part of the mainstream party’s platform (or that such notions are disastrously unpopular). But this problem has been brewing for years.

With a headline trumpeting that white liberals have become “woke,” NPR (10/1/19) two years ago reported that since 2012, “polls show an increasing number of white liberals began adopting more progressive positions on a range of cultural issues.” The piece reported that progressive whites are “more likely than in decades past to support more liberal immigration policies, embrace racial diversity and uphold affirmative action.”

This inclination isn’t described as negative in the piece, but because NPR is the closest thing liberals have to counterbalance the conservative dominance of US talk radio, it’s notable that the organization chose “woke,” a term that now acts as a catch-all pejorative for excessive cultural acceptance, to reference not particularly radical ideas, like that there’s bias against Black people in the criminal justice system.

Conservative talking points

The media equation between “woke” and anything vaguely in the realm of social justice allows the right to paint once fairly moderate liberal ideas as some kind of fringe—an East Coast and California counterculture that is woefully out of step with meat-eating, flag-waving straight white America. Worse, this trend of corporate media declaring “wokeness” as the contemporary existential crisis of American liberalism falsely converts tired political debates into something novel.

The Brooks column invoking meritocracy captures a fairly old conservative talking point about affirmative action (National Review, 6/3/03), and the Stephens column asserting that racial consciousness is clinging to past injustices and won’t reckon with a post-racial present echoes the George W. Bush administration (1/15/03). The idea that openness to immigrants is a multicultural affront to American culture can be heard in Pat Buchanan’s famous ad playing off fears of “press 1 for English” (CBS, 10/10/00).

Kyle Mann (Wall Street Journal, 11/9/21) defends Dave Chapelle’s mockery of trans people because it reminds us that “those with an ironclad grip on our cultural centers are not imperial gods.”

The conservatives rallying behind Chappelle’s rant against the trans community are using the banner of edgy comedy as a form of retribution for perceived liberal dominance in media and entertainment; the Wall Street Journal (12/1/20, 7/27/21, 11/9/21) has devoted at least three opinion pieces to the subject of wokeness and humor in the last year, while The Hill (3/4/21) frets that this ambiguously defined “woke cancel culture” has “robbed us of…our sense of humor.” But that’s an argument that comes from City Journal editor Brian C. Anderson’s 16-year-old book South Park Conservatives, a product of the George W. Bush era of conservatism (New York Times, 6/26/05).

“It’s a straight-up moral panic,” Steven Thrasher, a journalism professor at Northwestern University who has served as a writer for the Guardian and Village Voice, told FAIR—the whole thing is “beat for beat the same thing as political correctness in the 1990s.” The difference, as Thrasher sees it, is that the words “woke” and the contemporary “cancel,” unlike “affirmative action” or “diversity,” come from Black vernacular, so when the corporate press mocks or belittles these terms, there is “a glee of having co-opted it, that’s like an extra twist of the knife.”


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‘Moderna Is Trying to Turn This People’s Vaccine Into a Rich People’s Vaccine’


Janine Jackson interviewed Public Citizen’s Peter Maybarduk about the NIH/Moderna vaccine patent for the November 12, 2021, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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New York Times (11/10/21)

Janine Jackson: The front-page November 10 New York Times told us, “Moderna Moves for Total Credit in Vaccine Patent; Won’t Share With US.” It’s an odd thing to read, but corporate news media often present readers with linguistic juxtapositions that accurately, if unwittingly, reflect deep questions about US society.

In this case, it’s the fact that a private company is seeking to deny the involvement of the NIH in inventing the main component of its Covid-19 vaccine, with, as the paper notes, “broad implications for the vaccine’s long-term distribution and billions of dollars in future profits.”

It’s nice that the vaccine’s lifesaving capacity comes first in the phrase, before the billions to be made. But is that the priority of the process at work here?

Joining us now by phone is Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Peter Maybarduk.

Peter Maybarduk: It’s great to be back.

JJ: Very simply, what is Moderna claiming it did, and how does that comport with your understanding of the invention of this vaccine?

PM: Moderna says that it independently designed the sequence used in the NIH/Moderna vaccine, what we might think of as the vaccine itself. The National Institutes of Health says that it sent over a sequence which Moderna plugged into its process. So it is a technical dispute regarding, essentially, authorship of the vaccine.

Now, what’s not in dispute is that the National Institutes of Health and Moderna have been partners in this process for several years. And it’s important but often overlooked: The National Institutes of Health are the world’s leading funder of biomedical research, with about $40 billion taxpayer dollars invested every year in products that are eventually sold, largely under monopoly conditions, by the pharmaceutical industry.

In this case, federal scientists pioneered research into coronaviruses long before Covid-19. You recall that we had SARS and MERS, and were aware that there was a coronavirus threat, and it was the federal government that pushed much of that research ahead, and also played a role helping pioneer the various vaccine platforms, including MRNA, which has proved so effective.

So in this case, we have a dispute over who is the inventor of the core patent at the heart of the world’s most effective Covid-19 vaccine. And NIH and Moderna just don’t agree. And we are now starting to get rumblings out of NIH that perhaps they will take this to the next level, and seek a legal resolution. What we understand is that the company and the US government have been fighting about this behind closed doors for a year now.

Public Citizen (8/10/21)

JJ: What is the meaningful impact? What would it, for instance, limit the US government from doing if Moderna gets sole credit for invention here? And what would it allow Moderna to do?

PM: If the US government is a co-inventor, it has more formal power, as well as more informal leverage, to insist on certain uses of the vaccine, to license the technology to more manufacturers worldwide, to help scale up production, for example. Or, and to your initial point, to insist on royalty payments to the government in exchange for Moderna’s use of some of this publicly funded technology.

The truth of the matter is that the NIH and the US government actually have broader powers than just what are in this patent. And we believe and have said all along that the US government, under its contract with Moderna, or under the Defense Production Act and the Bayh/Dole Act, and other powers under existing law, has the power to share key vaccine information, license other producers, perhaps simply share the entire NIH/ Moderna vaccine recipe with the World Health Organization, to see production scaled up and this key invention made available to all the world’s people, who so desperately need it.

But there’s no doubt that, in reputational terms, in terms of the story that is told, potentially in terms of dollars, the issue of who really invented the vaccine just has great salience and implications for what kinds of decisions the government makes about that power that we believe it has.

JJ: Back in April, you said:

One of the greatest public health private/profit tensions in this story is the value of “vaccine recipes” and vaccine technology. A company like Moderna isn’t thinking only about the value of its MRNA vaccine–which is actually [you noted] is actually an NIH, a publicly developed vaccine, in partnership with Moderna, paid for by taxpayers over many years already. But they’re thinking about the value of future products.

Which is just my way of saying, I don’t imagine that this twist in the story comes as a complete surprise to you.

Peter Maybarduk: “From the beginning of the pandemic, unfortunately, the US government’s position has been to be extremely deferential to corporate interests.”

PM: That’s right. We’ve been tracking it for some time, and of course the US government and Moderna have been fighting about it for some time.

You know, worldwide, more than 10 million people so far have died as a result of the pandemic. And a core issue there is that there have not been enough vaccines to go around. And NIH/Moderna is the people’s vaccine, or should be the people’s vaccine–publicly funded, publicly pioneered, public science leading the way, and even running the clinical trials. Taxpayers paid for 99% of this vaccine’s development.

But Moderna is trying to turn this people’s vaccine into a rich people’s vaccine. It has been available primarily to wealthy countries, very few doses going to COVAX or to the global relief effort, and the technology not being shared with the World Health Organization, or others that could build on it.

So that’s what’s at stake, and from the beginning of the pandemic, unfortunately, the US government’s position has been to be extremely deferential to corporate interests, rather than noting the scale of the crisis, and noting the government’s own involvement, and saying, you know what? We are co-owners of this vaccine, and we shall make it available to the world, because the crisis calls for that.

Our position always has been that the US government can compensate Moderna for its investment and its scientific engagements, but that we should not allow, that humanity cannot afford, for such an important medical tool to be held corporate confidential, and limited in its rollout at this time.

JJ: This is, I guess, another point on that question. I do believe that for most people, protection from a fatal disease is not seen as like having a fancy car, you know: if you can’t afford it, you just go without it. So it brings us back to an underlying question of private resourcing of public health.

And the news coverage on this latest twist has had a sort of subtheme of, this is so sad because the private/public partnership on vaccines was like the holy grail, and now it’s getting kind of messed up. The New York Times called it “one of the few bright spots of the pandemic.” And I get that. But I also hear, like, God forbid the state just do a thing on its own in the public interest, you know? Because that would mean government worked, and we can’t have that.

And so the problem is being defined, for those who think there’s a problem, as Moderna might get these billions, but if the US got some of these billions, it would go to the Treasury. And the vision that calls up is drugs, lifesaving drugs are a pot of gold, and private companies and governments are fighting over it. And that whole vision seems kind of effed up to me, as a way to resource public health.

PM: Certainly more important is the government’s responsibility for stewarding the technology that it is helping develop, for one. But also, even if the government hadn’t developed this technology, simply recognizing the role of the world’s most powerful government in a time of global crisis–if it were war, we would treat the technology differently. We would not allow any company’s particular rights or investments to prevent us from developing the best defense technologies. So should it be in health. But we aren’t there yet, politically, and it’s a corner that we desperately need to turn, because so many people, of course, are dying in this case.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Peter Maybarduk. He’s director of the Global Access to Medicines Program at Public Citizen. You can find them online at citizen.org. Peter Maybarduk, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

PM: Thank you.

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US and UK Press Mock New Zealand’s Incredibly Successful Covid Response


New Zealand’s “absurd” Covid strategy (London Times, 10/4/21) resulted in a pandemic death toll 330 times smaller than Britain’s—while avoiding Britain’s 2020 economic crash.

When New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country’s transition away from its coronavirus elimination strategy, also known as “zero-Covid,” US and British media outlets framed the decision as a recognition of the inevitable failure of an irrational goal.

The London Times (10/4/21) made its analysis clear in the headline, “New Zealand Abandons ‘Absurd’ Zero-Covid Strategy After Failure to Stop Delta Strain.” The outlet highlighted the contrast between Ardern’s approach and that of her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison: “Until today, Ardern had remained committed to the elimination strategy despite the view of her Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, that such a goal was ‘absurd.'”

The London Daily Mail (10/4/21) reported on New Zealand’s transition in more triumphalist terms, stating:

New Zealand has finally acknowledged what most other countries realized long ago, that it cannot completely eradicate Covid.

Jacinda Ardern is abandoning her draconian “Zero Covid” strategy after admitting she cannot stop the spread of the Delta variant with harsh lockdown measures and aggressive contact tracing.

AP (10/4/21) acknowledged, “While other nations faced rising death tolls and disrupted lives, New Zealanders went back to workplaces, school yards and sports stadiums safe from any community spread.”

The Associated Press’s “New Zealand Admits It Can No Longer Get Rid of Coronavirus” (10/4/21) similarly framed New Zealand’s previous zero-Covid strategy as an unusual deviation that would inevitably fail, although it acknowledged that the elimination strategy worked “remarkably well”:

New Zealand’s government acknowledged Monday what most other countries did long ago: It can no longer completely get rid of the coronavirus.

Since early in the pandemic, New Zealand had pursued an unusual zero-tolerance approach to the virus through strict lockdowns and aggressive contact tracing.

CNBC (10/5/21) reported that New Zealand has “become the latest country to abandon a zero-Covid strategy” and has been “notoriously strict in its tackling of Covid,” citing the time Ardern put the country in a strict lockdown after one coronavirus case was detected (the first caused by the Delta variant) in August.

“Notorious” is an interesting way to describe New Zealand’s performance, considering how frequently it featured on numerous lists of countries credited for handling the pandemic the best compared to the rest of the world prior to the outbreak of the Delta variant (Newshub, 1/28/21; New Zealand Herald, 9/29/21; Guardian, 10/8/20).

CNBC made it seem as if New Zealand was trying to maintain zero-Covid forever, and cites experts claiming that the highly infectious Delta variant makes such approaches “futile,” even though Ardern explained that New Zealand’s elimination strategy was always intended to be temporary. China—with far fewer geographic and population advantages compared to New Zealand—has managed to sustain a zero-Covid approach, with less than 5,000 total deaths from the virus throughout the pandemic, in a population of 1.4 billion, with nationwide cases fading to zero in August.

Mockery and disdain

However, it is erroneous to present the shift as a failure of New Zealand’s pandemic response, or to falsely caricature their initial approach as being motivated by a naive belief they could sustain it indefinitely. Rather, countries only need to pursue these measures until a sufficient number of their population are fully vaccinated. Singapore transitioned out of its zero-Covid strategy in phases after targeting an 80% vaccination rate, with the vast majority of their new cases not falling seriously ill due to being vaccinated.

Ardern explained her shift by citing the increased availability of vaccines, and stated that the decision to transition away from New Zealand’s zero-Covid approach was inevitable. She said that her policy had shifted due to the greater transmissibility of the Delta variant, which makes it harder to bring cases down to zero, and announced that New Zealand will be ending national lockdowns when it reaches a 90% vaccination rate (Wired, 10/8/21).

“Poetic justice is beautiful,” declared Matthew Lesh in the London Telegraph (8/19/21).

The mockery and disdain for New Zealand’s pandemic response was nowhere more apparent than when it was widely reported that the country initiated a level 4 lockdown (the highest level in New Zealand) after detecting a single Delta variant case with the Delta variant on August 17 in Auckland (New Zealand’s most populous city).

The London Telegraph (8/19/21) scorned New Zealand as  a “once-welcoming nation” turned into a “isolated dystopia, where liberties are taken away in a heartbeat and outsiders are shunned.” The paper claimed a fetishization of “zero risk” gave the state “limitless justification to interfere in our lives in the most extreme of ways.” Ardern’s right-wing predecessor, former Prime Minister John Key, wrote a widely shared op-ed (Stuff, 9/26/21) declaring that “the aim should no longer be to exist in a smug hermit kingdom,” and not to “continue the North Korea option.”

Libertarian pundit Glenn Greenwald continued this line of thought by tweeting that Australian and New Zealand officials seem “demented, oblivious to the costs of sustained isolation” because of the lockdown.

More or less normal

Morgan Godfrey warned in the Guardian (10/5/21) that shifting from a zero-Covid policy to a reliance on vaccination risks Covid-19 “becoming a disease for brown people,” as vaccination rates trail among Maori and Pacific people in New Zealand.

However, what critics like Greenwald omitted was that the lockdown was initially supposed to last only three days, and that New Zealanders have not been under “sustained isolation” since their zero-Covid approach quickly stamped out the virus in previous outbreaks. In fact, plenty of people living there have pointed out that it’s hard for people outside the country to grasp how normal life has been there for most of the pandemic (Guardian, 10/5/21):

For 18 months, New Zealanders were living life as if there were no pandemic. We were gathering outdoors and indoors in the thousands, mask mandates were literally a foreign concept, and business and public services were operating more or less as normal. We were watching governments that let the virus rip with a good dose of horror and, if we’re honest, a modest dose of smugness.

This is not a mere anecdote. When one looks at the Covid-19 Stringency Index provided by the University of Oxford, which measures how restrictive policies are for countries by tracking various metrics like school and workplace closures, as well as travel bans, it’s clear that New Zealanders have enjoyed more freedoms throughout most of the pandemic than Americans or Brazilians (where Greenwald is based). Right before the latest lockdown measures in August, New Zealanders had been living normally with not a single Covid case for six months, demonstrating that powerful measures for a brief period of time actually grant citizens more freedom, and are more effective than sustained half-measures that predominate in the US and UK.

Also omitted is that the vast majority of New Zealanders were supportive of their zero-Covid policy, as numerous polls and the Labour Party’s landslide 2020 reelection confirm (ABC, 10/8/21; Otago Daily Times, 9/2/21). While economic activity is not a perfect proxy for normal living, it’s worth noting that New Zealand’s economy grew 1.0% in 2020, while the US’s dropped 3.5% and Britain’s plunged 9.8%.

Throughout most of the pandemic, New Zealand’s Covid rules have been much less stringent than either the US’s, Britain’s or Brazil’s. (Chart: Our World in Data)

Caricatured as ‘Covid prison’

Fox News (10/28/20) depicted people arriving in New Zealand being required to take a Covid test before they could enter the country ass the “end of personal freedom.”

Yet these facts don’t stop outside commentators from condemning and caricaturing New Zealand’s policy as throwing away “personal freedoms” for quarantine “camps,” or falsely portraying New Zealanders as if they are languishing in a “Covid prison” (Fox News, 10/28/20; London Times, 8/22/21).

As it happens, New Zealand’s decision to initiate a swift lockdown after detecting a single case is similar to how other countries adopting a zero-Covid approach, like China, handle things. And that decision was later vindicated by the discovery of even more previously undetected cases, as one detected case on August 17 turned into 63 new cases by August 25, due to the more transmissible Delta variant, along with not being able to detect more cases without additional testing (Gizmodo, 8/25/21). Since officials are supposed to revise their approach upon gaining additional information in real time, it’s not a surprise or a sign of incompetence that the initial three-day lockdown was repeatedly extended upon learning of more Covid cases throughout the lockdown.

This is not to say that a zero-Covid strategy is easily replicable. Many people living in countries that pursue virus elimination strategies, like New Zealand and China, have pointed out that they both depend on “social license,” or trust in their government’s public health response. The general public complies with public health measures because they feel like they are working together to contain the pandemic, in addition to government action having clear rationales (Time, 10/14/21). Even if the US government possessed the technical capabilities of New Zealand and China, that doesn’t mean the US would be capable of replicating their success with widespread compliance, since Americans have consistently displayed low trust and satisfaction in their government compared to New Zealand and China (Pew, 5/17/21).

Nor is it to say that New Zealanders have no criticisms of their pandemic response. Critics have charged that the Labour Party’s sudden transition from an elimination to a containment strategy took place too quickly, given New Zealand’s slow vaccine rollout. With children and the indigenous Māori population not having the same vaccination rates as adults and white people, this risks Covid-19 “becoming a disease for brown people” (Guardian, 10/5/21; RNZ, 8/24/21). Numerous experts have argued that herd immunity and virus eradication (which differs from virus elimination by seeking to entirely wipe out Covid-19 from the planet like smallpox) may be unrealistic goals, as Covid-19 is most likely going to be endemic like influenza, in part because other countries have not pursued New Zealand’s elimination strategy (Nature, 3/18/21; Vox, 10/22/21; MedPage Today, 4/11/21).

One gets the sense that corporate media outlets in countries like the US and Britain mocking or criticizing New Zealand’s pandemic response are following a “misery loves company” ethos (FAIR.org, 9/17/21). But one can simply compare New Zealand’s 6.9 Covid deaths per million with the US and the UK’s 2,313 and 2,131 deaths per million, respectively, to see if New Zealand should listen to the US/UK media’s spiteful coverage, and to assess which governments have failed their populations by putting profits before people (BMJ, 2/4/21).


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‘It’s About Giving People Tools So We Can Reach Transparency Critical Mass’



Janine Jackson interviewed Media Alliance’s Tracy Rosenberg about Aaron Swartz Day for the November 12, 2021, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Aaron Swartz (cc photo: Doc Searls)

Janine Jackson: While an ethics fellow at Harvard, young programmer and activist Aaron Swartz downloaded articles en masse from the academic database JSTOR, triggering the aggressive pursuit of MIT’s IT department, and eventually what’s been described as a grand jury runaway train gone off the rails. Threatened with decades in prison and a seven-figure fine because, in the words of US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, “stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar,” Swartz took his own life in 2013. After his death, it was revealed that he, in fact, had authorized access to JSTOR from MIT.

The persecution of Aaron Swartz was a sign of the animus with which some system-representing actors will go after relatively powerless individuals they choose to make examples of. It’s also been taken up as a call to advance the demand to liberate data, for regular citizens to be able to get the information they need to confront power, and to have a say in decisions affecting them.

Joining us now to talk about that work is Tracy Rosenberg, executive director of Media Alliance and co-coordinator of the group Oakland Privacy. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Tracy Rosenberg.

Tracy Rosenberg: Thank you for having me.

JJ: Aaron Swartz wasn’t alone in his concerns or values, and his projects and ideas persist, including in work that you’re involved in on public surveillance by police, and the technology that facilitates and indeed drives that. You talked about it when we spoke a few years ago back in 2018. Can you just catch us up on that project?


TR: Sure. Aaron Swartz Day, which people might or might not be familiar with, is an annual hackathon dedicated to continuing Swartz’s work, to basically free the information, in whatever interesting and exciting ways people can come up with to do that work.

Some years ago, they reached out to us regarding how the hackathon could support policing and surveillance transparency work. And so the Aaron Swartz Day Police Surveillance Project was born, and among other things, it’s filed hundreds of public records requests, looking for information on surveillance equipment. And it has sued police and sheriff departments, including in Sacramento, Fresno and Long Beach.

Our latest project is called the Bad Apple Database, and the reason for that name is the common idea that problems in policing are related to “bad apples,” or just a small number of specific people. So the idea of the Bad Apple Database was that we should identify who some of those bad apples are, and how we can get them out of policing.

So Bad Apple has four basic parts. The first is we have a database of police oversight commissions throughout the country, which is now up to 178 entries. We have public records templates for requesting information on police misconduct and surveillance activities. We have a fully anonymous, super secure tip line. And we have a growing database of actual police misconduct and investigatory reports.

JJ: And I bet that private tip submission form has more privacy protection than the sort of “crimestopper” hotlines that we see police and media collaborating on, in which they encourage people to sort of vigilante on their neighbors. Privacy is obviously a serious concern for people who are wanting to talk about wrongdoing on the part of law enforcement.

TR: Yes, it’s important for people to understand that our anonymous tip line is so anonymous that, in fact, we don’t even have people’s IP information if they choose to use it.

So I do have an announcement that’s going to be formally made at Aaron Swartz Day this year, which will be at the Internet Archives on November 13, which is we have produced an API for the Bad Apple Database, which basically lets people take the information that we are collecting on that site and do interesting things. So for those who are tech-oriented, we think the API is a pretty exciting development.

So basically you can contact us and get an API key. And you can do that by writing to info@badapple.tools, or sending a direct message to @AaronSwartzDay on Twitter.

JJ: And what’s that going to do, exactly? What does that mean?

TR: An API basically allows people to get into the back end of some of the data that we’ve collected, and be able to manipulate it, move it around, express it in different ways. So you might, for example, create a heat map of where oversight commissions are located in the US. Or you may be able to use the public records template to issue a large amount of public records requests. Basically, it’s a tool.

And it’s very much in the spirit of Aaron Swartz’s work, which is to basically say, this is public information that we should be able to use to advance policy goals. Let’s get it out there in the public domain.

Lens (10/21/21)

JJ: The backdrop of this work, and the need for this work, is the rise of urban mass surveillance, or “neighborhoods watched,” as a piece last month from the New Orleans Gulf Coast newsroom The Lens phrased it. Just to clarify, for people who don’t know, we’re talking about surveillance technology being deployed widely in communities, that sometimes even the elected officials don’t know that law enforcement are using this technology. So this is really a matter about getting access to information that everyone in the community should know.

TR: Yes, that is absolutely correct. When it comes to surveillance technology, as we’ve said for years, it’s a black box. The decisions are made by law enforcement. The implementation is done by police departments that, by their own accounts, are full of what we call bad apples. And it’s simply a fact that police misconduct records have been largely sealed. In California, we just passed laws in 2018 and again in 2020, SB1421 followed by SB16. In New York, I believe it’s called Article 50. Is that correct, Janine?

JJ: I’m not sure.


JJ: But I think it’s news we should learn, right?

TR: Absolutely. But it’s a similar sort of legislation that for a long time made it extremely hard to access police misconduct records. And we’re talking about sustained findings that cops are doing things wrong. And the reality is, we could talk about bad apples all day and all night. But there needs to be action in identifying problematic cops doing problematic things and getting them off the force. Because these are public servants. And we can’t have these positions filled with bad apples that are dangerous to people. Can’t do it.

JJ: Well, I perhaps conflated two things, because in addition with the Bad Apple, which is about tracking police misconduct and records, which are often not shared, part of the work is also about tracking the equipment and the tools that police and law enforcement are allowed to use, that they maybe have got from the federal government, things like facial recognition, license plate readers, that listeners may have heard of, that are being deployed by law enforcement in their communities in ways that, as I say, sometimes not even the elected officials know about. That’s kind of a different arm of this work, but it’s also relevant.

TR: What links it together is the issue of transparency. And transparency is a tool by which we capture both the scope and the extent of surveillance activity, the scope and extent of police misconduct, and the ways in which, when things go wrong, it is hidden from the public. As we know, internal affairs is a black box, right? Nobody knows what happens. And surveillance technology, again, what’s being bought, what’s being deployed, where is it being used, and how is it being used, is also a black box.

So what we’re basically trying to do is provide tools for people to do the kind of digging and uncovering that Open Privacy and Aaron Swartz Day have been doing for years and years. Because the reality is, these are small groups, and they can’t be everywhere, like the problem is. The problem is everywhere. So it’s really about giving people tools, so they can do this kind of work in their own communities, and so we can basically reach transparency critical mass, which is not going to happen just from one handful of folks doing it in one place. It’s going to happen from organized, coordinated activities all over the country.

JJ: Thank you, and let me just say, finally, that these accountability tools are first and foremost and most importantly tools for citizen engagement, for citizens to learn and then take action. But they are also journalistic resources. There’s got to be a committed relationship, if you will, between openness advocates and journalists. And so what would you like to see reporters taking up with regard to this set of issues?

Tracy Rosenberg: “The press has an enormous role in partnering with transparency advocates to basically say, give me what you’ve got, so…we can make sure that everybody knows what has been uncovered here.”

TR: I definitely think that has been growing over the years, and it’s a wonderful development to see. I think certainly in past years, there was some tension there, between citizens who took it upon themselves to do transparency work and the media themselves.

But that is starting to change. And there are two different parts of this. One is that journalists themselves can use these kinds of tools and can do this kind of work. And there’s a great deal of journalists who have stepped into that space.

And, secondly, the press is a way to amplify what’s found. Because, yes, you can have a treasure trove of documents that you’ve uncovered. But if that information doesn’t get out to the community at large, then its value in terms of changing policy, and actions being taken, is limited.

So the press has an enormous role in partnering with transparency advocates to basically say, give me what you’ve got, so we can put it on the television, so we can put it in the newspaper, so we can send it out in our subscription email, so we can make sure that everybody knows what has been uncovered here, what it means, the context for it, and what actions should happen as a result.

JJ: Well, thank you very much. We’ve been speaking with Tracy Rosenberg. She’s from Media Alliance and Oakland Privacy, as well as a number of other groups. Tracy Rosenberg, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

TR: Thank you, Janine.


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‘The Anti-Blackness of the US Is Extending to Black Asylum Seekers’


Janine Jackson interviewed the Black Alliance for Just Immigration’s Nekessa Opoti about Haitian refugees for the November 5, 2021, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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New York Times (9/21/21)

Janine Jackson: People around the world were appalled to see pictures of US Border Patrol officers on horseback wielding reins like whips in the effort to corral and capture Haitian refugees along the Rio Grande. So alarming was the imagery that outlets like the New York Times took pains to clarify that there was no evidence that Border Patrol had actually whipped anyone.

That rather encapsulates corporate media coverage of Haitian asylum seekers and the treatment they receive, so inhumane that not one, but two officials have resigned over it. It’s a sort of liberal tut-tutting that not only fails to challenge US policy, but that tacitly sanctions its harms and their racist rationales with inattention.

Advocates, meanwhile, call for immigration policy that is rooted in human rights and dignity. Nekessa Opoti is communications director at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. She joins us now by phone from Los Angeles. Welcome to CounterSpin, Nekessa Opoti.

Nekessa Opoti: Thank you so much for having me.

JJ: Let’s leap right into why so many Haitians are being expelled from the US without an opportunity to present a case for asylum, and talk about Title 42, this public health services law. Because Homeland Security Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas has stated of the expulsions of Haitians, “We are doing this out of a public health need. It is not an immigration policy. It is not an immigration policy that we would embrace.” That’s a pretty confusing statement. Does that make sense to you?

Nekessa Opoti: “Processing people and allowing them to come into the country is the best public health policy.”

NO: No, it does not. And, in fact, we would argue that Title 42, because of its nature of sending people back, the images that people saw of Haitians—and it’s not actually just Haitians, Haitians and other Black asylum seekers—under a bridge in Texas, the camps that you see outside at the border between Mexico and the US: Those are the unsafe conditions. Processing people and allowing them to come into the country is the best public health policy.

JJ: You wonder how forcing people to live under bridges would be more sanitary.

NO: Right.

JJ: And then, also, Haitians, many of whom are not coming from Haiti right now, but have been traveling through South and Central America for years, they aren’t any more likely to have Covid-19 than any other people who cross the border, right? Or than any other refugees, like, say, Afghans, who are being rightfully accepted right now. So it seems like an exception.

NO: Right. And I’m glad you bring that up, because think about it. The US, at the moment, doesn’t have ways in which it screens people who are coming in from other parts of the country, whether it’s tourists or whoever else is traveling, business people. So not only is this measure anti-Black, it is also very, very classist.

Title 42 disproportionately impacts Black asylum seekers. But it also impacts other asylum seekers. So these are the most vulnerable of any population of people who are seeking, for whatever reason, migrating to the US, because they’re desperate. Because no one leaves their home and crosses through multiple countries and the jungle for fun, right? It is very clear that these people are in crisis. And these are the very same people that the US government has decided to turn away, and expose them to even further harm and violence.

BAJI (1/21)

There is a report that BAJI did at the beginning of the year called There Is a Target on Us. And it looks at the condition of Black migrants, mostly asylum seekers, but Black migrants in general, and violence of their experience at the border on their way into the US and in Mexico, the incarceration rate, the rape of women and children, and the robberies, the exposure to the elements. And so it is very, very clear, the anti-Blackness of the US is very well-known. First, historically, we have known the treatment of Black people in this country is extending to Haitians and other Black asylum seekers and migrants.

JJ: Maybe it’s quaint to contrast politicians’ actions with their promises. But Joe Biden did explicitly say that he would reverse Trump policy on Title 42, didn’t he, when he was running for office?

NO: He did. He did. And, in fact, not just his promise, but there is a video of Vice President Kamala Harris criticizing the Trump administration for using Title 42 and turning people around. She specifically talks about how it’s inhumane, and yet here she is, part of an administration that is doing the very same thing.

JJ: And, in fact, when a federal judge said that Title 42 should not be carried out, the Biden administration appealed that decision. So they’re not just kind of not paying attention to it, they actually are doubling down, in a way, on it.

NO: They are. They are. In the introduction, you talk about liberal politics. I think this is one of the dangers of liberals, is because we’ve spent so much time attacking or critiquing conservative governments—Trump, for example, or Bush before him—and then when it comes to a Democrat and a liberal, there is very little critique and pushback. And yet Democrats continue to hold the status quo. There are some ways in which they do things a little bit better, obviously, than conservatives, but they will uphold white supremacy. They will uphold the nation state.

And the idea that Hillary Clinton, famously saying, when she was secretary of state, did tell migrants who were fleeing not to come to the US. She blamed mothers for the children migrant crisis that we were having at the time. And the cruelty of someone like that, who is apparently a feminist, apparently better than a conservative, it’s sort of the same politics that is continuing with the Biden administration, that their migration policies are somehow more benevolent than that of a conservative, and yet the impact is the same. And particularly for Black folks, we see that we doubly suffer under any of these policies.

American Prospect (10/30/21)

JJ: In the American Prospect, Ella Fanger had a good report outlining some of that disparate treatment, including that when they can get a hearing, Black immigrants are believed less often when they claim credible fear of returning to their countries, when they claim threats to life or freedom. And she pointed out that immigration judges are usually white, and have served as prosecutors or ICE officials. So what BAJI’s work and that of others is saying, we don’t just have bad immigration policy—there are particular special problems that confront Black immigrants in particular, it sounds like you’re saying.

NO: Mmhm, yes.

JJ: Black Alliance for Just Immigration, along with other racial justice and civil rights organizations, you’ve sent public letters and made statements, to the White House and to Homeland Security, that say their stated commitment to racial equity has to extend to the treatment of immigrants. And I just wonder, what are some of the changes to policy that you’re calling for, that you would like to see?

NO: Yeah, thank you for that question. So there is a whole list of things. At the top of the list is for the folks who are at the border, granting them humanitarian parole. Humanitarian parole allows them to come into the US, find shelter, housing, and their organizations and family members that can accommodate that, and allows them a chance to apply for asylum. As you know, there’s a backlog in all sorts of things migration-related. That’s the top of the asks that we have. Other things include creating a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented folks.

JJ: Mmhm.

NO: And that, also, is an ask that we have of the administration. And there are folks who have been unjustly deported, not that any deportation is just, but there is also a demand that for those folks, that they should also be allowed to return to the US and be reunited with their families.

The biggest thing that we have—BAJI works at the intersection of race and immigration—is the impact of the criminal justice system on Black migrants. And that we know that, for example, 76% of Black migrants who are in detention have some form of criminal record. We also know that the criminal justice system is not just. And so we know of people who have been imprisoned, and then as soon as they get out of prison, they’re turned over to ICE, and then they’re detained, oftentimes indefinitely, oftentimes for many, many years.

And then, finally—well, there’s more, but another one that I’d like to highlight is, as the country grapples with criminal justice reform, that Black migrants must be included in that conversation, just because of what I would say the sum of the things that we face.

JJ: Absolutely.

Finally, if you have any thoughts on this, I know that you are also a journalist. I just wonder if there’s anything that you would like to see more of or less of in media coverage of the struggle of Haitians seeking asylum?

NO: I’m really glad that you asked this question, because narrative does impact policy, and it impacts how people see themselves in the world. One of the biggest catastrophes, for example, for the DACA program is that DACA was billed as, obviously, an immigration reprieve that was for any undocumented immigrant that fit into the specific criteria. What happened is, because it was specifically talked about as Latinx reprieve, a lot of Black immigrants did not know that they qualified for it. And so this is part of the danger of erasing Black migrants out of public discourse.

And the disappointing thing is just that, all Black people in this country, is that we are often left out of almost every conversation, and media coverage erases Black migrants. So now we know that, for example, this recent crisis with Haitians, everyone covered it. And then everyone has now disappeared.

There’s other issues that need to be talked about. There has been very little press about some of the things that I have uplifted in this call, and yet this data exists, these stories exist, these anecdotes exist, the research exists. It’s not just BAJI that has done this research. And yet, over and over again, the media willfully ignore these stories.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Nekessa Opoti of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. You can find their work online at BAJI.org. Thank you so much, Nekessa Opoti, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

NO: Thank you so much for having me.

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It Doesn’t Exclude Women to Acknowledge Everyone Who Can Get Pregnant


To say that abortion bans, like those recently passed in Texas, are part of a war on women is true. But to say they are a war on women alone is to erase the harm experienced by the transgender, intersex, nonbinary and gender expansive individuals whose lives are also deeply impacted by access to abortion and reproductive healthcare.

Even though US District Judge Robert Pitman noted in his short-lived stay of the Texas ban, “The court recognizes that not all pregnant people identify as women,” very few major media outlets have made any change in how they discuss abortion. A New York Times article (10/6/21) that focused on Pitman’s decision and language overlooked the footnote, as did subsequent reporting on the ruling in the Times and the Washington Post, where most articles on abortion used exclusively gendered language like “pregnant women.”

‘Political purity test’

Framing an issue as a “culture war” (Atlantic, 9/17/21) takes the focus off the people actually affected.

Other journalists have tried to minimize the importance of the issue. Emma Green argued in the Atlantic (9/17/21) that “only niche groups” seem to care about how we talk about gender and pregnancy. (The ACLU has a “niche” Twitter following of 2 million people, while Planned Parenthood has a “niche” audience of 987,000 on Facebook.)

Green spent much of her interview with Louise Melling, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, raising questions about whether “there’s something lost in trying to create a more inclusive vision of pregnancy.” In one question, Green argued that “aspects of these terms are also exclusionary. Talking about ‘birthing people’ means you are not talking about ‘women giving birth’ or ‘birth moms.’” To which Melling accurately responded:

Talking about birthing and gender discrimination is still something that women can do. We just also simultaneously want to talk about the ways in which we’re not recognizing trans men as parents. If we’re doing this right, we’re creating more, not less, conversation, because we’re talking about the many different ways in which gender expectations are playing out on who we are.

The Atlantic also featured Helen Lewis (10/26/21)—whose transphobic statements made her a controversial hire for the outlet two years ago—defiantly headlined, “Why I’ll Keep Saying ‘Pregnant Women.'” Lewis argued that people shouldn’t be forced to use gender-neutral language like “pregnant people,” which “progressives” have supposedly “turned…into a political purity test.” This is “an etiquette code set by the rich and well-educated,” she wrote, that ultimately obscures “the social dynamics at work in laws surrounding contraception, abortion and maternal health.” Her argument here not only minimizes the impact of language change on the lives of non-cisgender people, including those who are not rich or “well-educated,” but also falsely claims that including more than just cisgender women in this discussion erases the discrimination that women face.

Lewis even went so far as to paint “pregnant people” as the analog to “all lives matter.” But, of course, “all lives matter” erases the racism that “Black lives matter” highlights by decentering those most vulnerable, whereas saying “pregnant people” does the opposite. “Pregnant people” underlines the sexism and heteropatriarchy that abortion rights advocates work to highlight, by including another group of people equally or even more marginalized by those systems.

The pervasive current and historical reliance on the phrase “pregnant women” demonstrates how deeply embedded in our cultural conceptions is the assumption that pregnancy is inextricably linked to femaleness. Using the phrase “pregnant people” will not erase this connection to women, or suddenly suggest that cisgender men might be included under this umbrella.

A focus on the vulnerable

Politico (9/10/21) reported that some who reject inclusive language are “fearful of alienating potential supporters and provoking an even bigger backlash from the right.”

Nicole Huberfeld, professor of health law, ethics and human rights at Boston University, says that abortion and healthcare discussions often lose sight of those most affected: “The thing that often gets lost in these discussions is the real-world implications, especially for already vulnerable populations.”

A focus on the theoretical argument, rather than the people affected, results in discussions of sexual and reproductive health that are neither full nor accurate. Writers trying to bring awareness to the problematic nature of abortion bans are missing their responsibility to foreground the lack of access and adequate care for those who are not cisgender.

Talking about inclusive language and the Texas ban, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said (Politico, 9/10/21): “‘Whether you say A, B, C or D—get rid of the law…. That’s the most important thing.’” The implication is that getting rid of the Texas law will fix abortion care for everyone, so the language doesn’t make much of a difference. While such a move would absolutely help, the reality is reproductive rights and access are not currently equitable, and they haven’t ever been (CounterSpin, 9/10/21).

Using inclusive language does not minimize the reality that abortion bans affect cisgender women, but simply reflects the reality that transgender men and intersex, nonbinary and gender expansive individuals are also affected, and are especially vulnerable.

Consequences of exclusion

Ms. (3/11/21): “Transgender and nonbinary people access reproductive health services, including abortion, every day.”

Excluding them from the discussion, on the other hand, has dire material effects. BU Today (9/11/21) explains that “women-specific gendered language” in health conversations and settings can often

manifest in extreme discomfort—for example, feeling like one doesn’t belong in a medical center. Consequences of this harm include individuals not seeking regular, preventive healthcare.

Ivy Gibson-Hill, part of The Campaign for Southern Equality, says in an interview with Blue Ridge Public Radio’s Lilly Knoepp (5/17/19) that each time a non-cisgender person goes to the doctor, they

are having to think, “Am I in a stable enough mental place, to be able to put up with this, and to have my identity called into question and be disrespected in the doctor’s office, or have my pronouns laughed off—which is an experience that I have almost every time that I go to the doctor.”

Misgendering in healthcare can also lead to inaccurate or false diagnoses. According to an article in Ms. (3/11/21) by Sachiko Ragosta:

In clinic settings, language that conflates gender and sex assigned at birth can lead to inadequate or inappropriate screening and treatment for certain outcomes, including organ-dependent cancers, resulting in higher rates of cancer among TGE [transgender and gender expansive] people.

The effects are physically, mentally and emotionally damaging.

Words have impact

Language changes, then, are important at all levels—in politics and healthcare settings, in workplaces and everyday conversations—including in news media. This would mean incorporation of phrases like “pregnant people” and “birthing persons,” using “people” instead of specifying gender, using “they/them” pronouns when speaking about those affected, and noting that those affected include transgender men and nonbinary, intersex and gender expansive people.

This language change is not everything, but it is a basic first step. And it is a reminder to not just mention but to also take into account the experiences of these individuals and communities, and to advocate for them. Appropriate language on the impact of abortion bans wouldn’t stop at gender expansive, transgender, nonbinary and intersex individuals, but would also include unhoused, low-income, and Black and brown people, who are likewise especially vulnerable in their quest for adequate health- and abortion care.

Our words have an impact. It’s time journalists use them wisely.

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