Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

The Persistently Faulty Record of Generic Ballot Polling

In midterm elections, the president’s party typically loses House seats, especially in the president’s first term, and in particular when the president’s approval rating is low. Given President Joe Biden’s current low approval rating, and that this is his first midterm, the expectation has been for a bad election year for Democrats—as epitomized by the Forbes headline (6/14/22) last summer: “Democrats Midterm Nightmare: Polls Suggest Party Could Face Historic Loss.”

Yet, in the past several weeks, numerous news stories (e.g., Washington Post, 8/27/22; Washington Examiner, 8/20/22; New York Times, 9/16/22) have suggested that the Democrats may not suffer disastrous losses in the House after all.

One of the key indicators mentioned in these articles that portend a possibly more salubrious future for the Democrats is the generic ballot. But reporters have not been especially conscientious in warning readers about how unhelpful that measure can be.

‘The best tool we have’?

The generic ballot is a poll question that asks voters who they will likely support for the House of Representatives in the November election—a Republican or Democrat. It’s called “generic” because no specific candidates’ names are mentioned, only the major party that voters will choose.

538 (6/5/17) considers the generic ballot to be “the best tool we have for understanding how the midterms are shaping up,” and Pew (10/1/02) notes that “it has proven to be an accurate predictor of the partisan distribution of the national vote.” (Spoiler alert: Yes, but not necessarily an accurate predictor of the distribution of House seats, which is what we really care about.)

“Why Was The National Polling Environment So Off in 2020?” asks 538, whose formula rarely works

On September 23, Democrats led in the 538 generic ballot by 1.9 percentage points, though the lead has gone back to 1.3 points as of this writing. RealClearPolitics had Democrats up by 1.3 points recently, but that lead has flipped, with Republicans currently leading by 0.9 points.

How predictive are the generic ballot averages of the actual outcome? History suggests: Not very.

Generic record

There are two parts to analyzing the usefulness of the generic ballot for projecting the political outcome: How accurate is it in predicting the national vote? And how well does the national vote predict House seats?

With respect to the first question, we can look at the records of the two sites that regularly average poll results on this question: 538 (since 1996) and RCP (since 2002). For purposes of comparison, only the data from 2002 onward will be analyzed. Excluding the earlier election years does not disadvantage 538, because its record in those years is a tad worse than its record since then.

Neither site conducts its own polls. They both tabulate averages of polls conducted by other organizations. However, they do average the results in somewhat different ways, so that their final figures, while close, often differ.

Shown below is 538’s own record (2/23/21) of its generic ballot results compared with the actual national vote. (Some of the “national vote” numbers in this table differ slightly from those in 538’s record, but the current numbers are all verified on Wikipedia’s website. For example, here are the 2020 results.

 

Note that in eight of 10 election years, 538’s polling average over-predicted Democratic strength. In 2020, for example, the final average showed Democrats leading by 7.3 percentage points, but they won the national vote by only 3.1 points—an overestimate of 4.2 points.

538 over-predicted Republican strength only once—in 2008. In 2018, the prediction was right on target.

The last row shows that over the ten elections, Democrats led in the generic ballot on average by 3.5 percentage points, but actually won the national vote by only 1.0 points. The net result is the average 2.4 percentage point over-prediction of Democratic strength. (Arithmetic discrepancies are due to rounding.)

RCP distributes its errors a bit more evenly than does 538. As the table below shows, for six years, the final generic ballot averages over-predicted Democratic strength, while for four years they over-predicted Republican strength.

The 2020 results show similar results between RCP and 538: The former had Democrats leading by 6.8 points, but the party actually won the national vote by just 3.1 points, for a net over-estimate of 3.7 points.

On average, RCP showed Democrats ahead by 2.2 points, though they actually won the vote by an average of 1.0 points—for a net average error of 1.1 points.

The RealClear Politics formula has also frequently missed the mark

National vote vs. House seats won

It’s important to note that the national congressional vote, like the presidential popular vote, has no procedural significance. In the actual election, of course, it’s the vote totals in each of the 435 congressional districts that determine how many seats each party wins. And the national vote doesn’t necessarily predict that distribution.

In fact, theoretically, if the 435 districts were politically homogeneous, one party could win every district with 50.1% of the vote, and win 100% of the House seats. In actual practice, however, the national vote and the distribution of House seats show some recurring patterns.

Shown in the table below is a comparison of the national vote results with the actual number of House seats won.

* Data on the distribution of House seats come from Wikipedia compilations for each year. For 2020, go here.

As the table shows, the national vote has over-predicted Democratic House seats every year since 2002, except for 2008.

In 2020, for example, Democrats won the national vote for the House by 3.1 percentage points, but won 222 seats of the 435, for a 2.0 percentage point margin. The national vote over-predicted their success in the House by a margin of 1.0 percentage points.

The previous year showed the national vote to be even better in predicting House seats. Democrats beat Republicans across the country by 8.6 percentage points, and won more House seats than Republicans by an almost identical 8.3 points.

But that close match between the national vote and House seats was not at all expected.

Trigger warning 2018

In fact, in 2018, given the previous three elections, when the national vote over-predicted Democratic strength by 9.7, 7.9 and 8.7 percentage points respectively, some reporters issued a trigger warning about the generic ballot. It wouldn’t be enough for Democrats to win the national vote by one or two points, they would note. Democrats would have to win by seven or eight points just to break even in the number of seats.

Once such caveat came from Nate Silver of 538 (6/5/17), who, in the year before the midterms, argued: “A final generic ballot average showing Democrats up 7 points would suggest that they’d be about a 50/50 proposition to take back the House.”

The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice had an even more cautious view, suggesting those figures were likely to be far off the mark. In an extensive report, “Extreme Gerrymandering and the 2018 Midterm,” scholars at the Brennan Center made these observations (italics added):

Maps drawn after the 2010 Tea Party wave to favor Republicans, particularly in big swing states like Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio, mean Democrats would need to win the national popular vote in 2018 by the biggest margin in a midterm since 1982….

To attain a bare majority, Democrats would likely have to win the national popular vote by nearly 11 points.

The actual election results surprised everyone: Democrats won the national vote by 8.6 percentage points, and they won more House seats than Republicans by an almost identical margin of 8.3 percentage points.

What happened to that gerrymandered advantage the GOP was alleged to have had? It appeared as though the Trump presidency was especially effective in energizing Democrats to turn out, overwhelming whatever districting disadvantage they faced.

Again, in 2020, the national vote percentage was close to the percentage of seats won by Democrats: They won the vote by a 3.1 point margin, and had a 2.0 point margin in seats won.

Generic Ballot and House Seats – 2002-2020

Overall, the generic ballot has not been especially accurate in predicting how many House seats each party has won. As shown above, both RCP and 538 have typically over-predicted Democratic results in the national vote. And the national vote almost always over-predicts the number of House seats Democrats win.

When the errors are added together, it shows how far off the generic ballot predictions actually are. Shown below are two tables—one that compares the percentage of House seats won with the 538 generic ballot averages, the other that makes the same comparison with RCP data.

 

For journalists using the generic ballot to estimate how the parties might fare in the midterms, this table should provide a clear warning. Only once in those ten elections did the 538 generic ballot averages come close to predicting the outcome of the election. That was in 2018. In every other year, the discrepancy between the generic ballot and the outcome was greater than 4 percentage points.

The “absolute error” averaged 7.4 points, with most of the error over-predicting Democrats (by an average of 5.5 points).

 

The RCP averages were somewhat more accurate, with an “absolute error” of 6.2 percentage points, and a biased error (in favor of Democrats) of 4.2 points. The latter figure was the result of RCP showing Democrats ahead on average by 2.2 points, though they lost on average by 2.0 points.

The predictions in two years—2018 and 2010—were within two points of the actual results. Still, in eight out of 10 elections, RCP’s predictions were off by 3.8 points or greater.

Scatterplots of 538 and RCP Generic Ballots with House Seats

Another way to illustrate the relationship of the generic ballots and House seats is through the use of scatterplots.

The 538 scatterplot below shows a fairly strong correlation between the two measures (R2=.69), but at the same time reveals significant errors.

The two most recent elections—2018 and 2020—are pretty close to the projected line, but other years—such as 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016—are all four or more points above or below the line.

The regression formula suggests that for Democrats to have a 50/50 chance of winning the House, they would need to lead the 538 generic ballot by 5.0 points (where the regression line crosses the horizontal zero line).

The RCP scatterplot is similar, with a slightly higher correlation (R2=.72).

This regression model suggests Democrats would have to lead Republicans by 3.6 percentage points in order to have a 50/50 chance of winning the House.

In each case, the standard error of the estimate is substantial, suggesting the projections could be wrong in either direction by several percentage points.

Predicting the 2022 midterms

The scatterplots provide a good visual illustration of how well the generic ballots predict House seats. These regression models, however, are only slight improvements over the earlier tables that show the average error in prediction. For 538, the tables suggest an average error of 5.5 percentage points, while the regression model suggests the projection will be off, on average, by 5.0 points. For RCP, the comparable figures are 4.2 and 3.6 points.

Nate Silver of 538 (9/16/22) admits his House model “probably does overstate the case for Democrats.” He went on to suggest that the model

corresponds to current polls overstating Democrats’ position by the equivalent of 1.5 or 2 percentage points. Put another way, we should think of a race in which the polling average shows Democrats 2 points ahead as being tied.

But that’s two points ahead in the national vote. Add to that the 3.0 percentage point average discrepancy between the national vote and percentage of House seats, and we’re back to thinking about a race in which the polling average shows Democrats five points ahead as being tied.

And even then, the projection is likely to be off by several points.

Perhaps the best advice for reporters assessing the likely outcome of the midterms is expressed by Walter Shapiro on Roll Call (9/27/22), who suggests that 2022 is an unusual election year that does not fit the pattern of election years past (“You just can’t account for the weirdness of 2022”).

His advice: “For those tempted to predict the midterms—don’t.”

The post The Persistently Faulty Record of Generic Ballot Polling appeared first on FAIR.

King Mourns Mother? Breaking News. Democracy Under Threat? Not So Much.

President Joe Biden on September 1 delivered a roughly 25-minute primetime speech from Independence Hall in Philadelphia about Trumpism’s threat to US democracy. Primetime, that is, for the two major US television networks that aired it live: MSNBC and CNN. The others—ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox—opted not to carry the address, because they deemed it “political” (Washington Post, 9/2/22).

CNN is one of two major US TV networks that aired President Joe Biden’s speech live from Philadelphia.

Across the Atlantic just over a week later, King Charles III addressed Britain and the world about his 96-year-old mother’s death and his preparations to take over the solely symbolic role of British monarch. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox all presumably found it more newsworthy than the President’s remarks, because they carried it live (MediaMatters, 9/9/22). (CNN and MSNBC carried both Biden’s and Charles’ speeches.)

Biden’s speech urgently named MAGA Republican ideology as an imminent threat to democracy, rejected violence and extremism, and condemned conspiracy theories. The “political” speech took an explicitly bipartisan tone, with Biden repeatedly claiming that Trumpism doesn’t represent the majority of the Republican party, and appealing to the American public regardless of political affiliation to defend democracy.

“I’m an American president—not the president of Red America or Blue America, but of all America,” he said.

Charles’ speech, on the other hand, was essentially a eulogy. He waxed poetic about Queen Elizabeth II’s public and private lives, praising her “warmth” and “humor” and the “sacrifices” she made to uphold her “duty.” It was appropriately vague and inoffensive for a figurehead whose job is to be apolitical.

Despite the President of the United States’ speech being patently more relevant to the American people than the symbolic figurehead of another country’s address, the latter had not only more networks airing it, but nearly as much analysis and coverage in the 48 hours surrounding it as the former: A Nexis database search of ABC, CNN, NBC, MSNBC, CBS and Fox transcripts the day of and the day after each of the respective speeches turned up 113 mentions of Charles’ speech and 116 of Biden’s.

The networks varied widely in the relative amount of coverage they gave to the two speeches. ABC and NBC had roughly twice as many segments on Charles’ speech compared to Biden; Fox and MSNBC had closer to twice as many segments on Biden’s speech. CBS and CNN had roughly similar numbers of segments on each speech.

‘Politically charged’

However much time they gave it, each of these networks characterized the president’s speech as inflammatory, ignoring much of its content, and “balancing” it with a chorus of Trump-aligned politicians.

Fox characterized Biden’s speech as a “dark and depressing” “diatribe.”

Unsurprisingly, on Fox News’s Hannity (9/2/22), fill-in host Tammy Bruce whined that Biden “bashe[d]” Republicans in his “rage-filled speech” that she later described as a “dark and depressing” “diatribe.” But this same right-wing indignation could be heard across network news, regardless of their presumed political leanings.

ABC’s World News Tonight anchor Mary Bruce (9/2/22) called the remarks “scathing,” saying the speech “slam[med]” MAGA Republicans. The segment quoted Republican former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who served as UN ambassador for Trump: “It was one of the most unbelievable things I’ve seen in a long time. It’s unthinkable he would be so condescending and criticize half of America.”

Putting aside that Haley’s own history of opinions about Trump are mixed—“He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him,” she said after January 6—the segment did not bring up Biden’s repeated clarifications:

  • “Now, I want to be very clear up front: Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology.”
  • “There are far more Americans—far more Americans from every background and belief—who reject the extreme MAGA ideology than those that accept it.”
  • “Democrats, independents, mainstream Republicans: We must be stronger, more determined, and more committed to saving American democracy than MAGA Republicans are to destroying American democracy.”

Reporter Craig Melvin on NBC’s Today show (9/2/22) described the speech as “politically charged,” and anchor Peter Alexander called it “blistering,” including derisions from Republican California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, without including any voices of those who found Biden’s condemnation of Trumpism necessary. The segment also described the speech being delivered in front of a “military backdrop”—that is, two Marines standing behind Biden. (Marines have been present at other debatably “political” presidential speeches, including Trump’s at the RNC in 2020.)

CBS Morning News’ Bradley Blackburn (9/2/22) chose the word “sharp.” And though CNN opted to air the remarks in primetime, they included the opinion of former Trump White House official Gavin Smith, who posited that threats to democracy are not a priority to discuss in a 25-minute speech, and that Biden should have spoken instead about rising prices (CNN New Day, 9/2/22). (To her credit, anchor Brianna Keilar pushed back against this statement.)

MSNBC’s The Beat (9/2/22) took Biden’s speech more seriously, with anchor Katie Phang calling out the irony of the GOP labeling a speech about the GOP’s divisiveness as divisive. “There’s so many Trump supporters,” she said:

They’re screaming about how Joe Biden now has promoted this divisiveness. But you know, the reality is, they’re not looking in the mirrors, right? There’s this hypocrisy that seems to be the currency that these Republicans are trading in.

Believers in the ‘storm’

Instead of engaging in handwringing over Biden’s tone, these outlets could have investigated the truth of his claims that MAGA ideology—regardless of what percentage of the Republican party subscribes to it—is a threat to democracy. Beyond the deadly January 6 insurrection itself, polling backs up Biden’s assertions that there are  widespread anti-democratic tendencies within the Republican Party.

In February, a PRRI report found that a quarter of Republicans consider themselves believers of the QAnon conspiracy theory. When polled on the three central delusions of QAnon, 16% completely or mostly agreed that  media and economy are run by a Satan-worshiping cabal of child sex-traffickers; 22% completely or mostly agreed that a coming “storm” will wipe away these elites and restore the country to its rightful leaders; and 18% completely or mostly agreed that violence may be necessary to save the country.

Additionally, the Washington Post (9/18/22) recently questioned 19 GOP candidates running in gubernatorial and Senate races about whether they’d accept the results of the upcoming elections. Twelve either refused to commit or declined to respond. All 19 Democratic nominees committed to accepting the results of the elections.

Sowing distrust in legitimate democratic processes—and resorting to violence in an attempt to prevent them—is certainly dangerous to democracy.

‘A very significant event’

Of course, Charles’ address the day after the queen’s death served a much different purpose than Biden’s: celebrating and remembering a figurehead, versus warning against a rising domestic threat to American democracy. While comparing the content of these two addresses would be comparing apples and oranges, networks’ attitudes toward each are telling.

“Breaking News”: CBS had extensive live coverage from London surrounding King Charles III’s speech.

On Chris Jansing Reports (9/9/22), MSNBC’s British historian Andrew Roberts called Charles’ speech “very significant.” CBS Evening News’ Norah O’Donnell and Charlie D’Agatta (9/9/22) called it “historic.” On CNN’s Erin Burnett Outfront (9/9/22), CNN International diplomatic editor Nic Robertson foreshadowed the upcoming ceremony that marked Charles’ official ascension to the throne, also calling it “perhaps a very significant event.”

While the death of the 96-year-old queen and ascension of her son might be significant for royalists—and the pomp, circumstance, anachronism and celebrity of the monarchy might be entertaining and appealing to many Americans—it has almost no political implications for the world. That’s because the British monarch’s role is ceremonial, and, as the constitution dictates, apolitical.

But the British monarch is also inextricably linked to the British Empire and is a living symbol of that imperial legacy, as well as of an extreme elitism based on nothing more than the privilege of birth (Economist, 9/15/22). Elizabeth’s death spurred significant conversations about Britain’s brutal, bloody legacy of colonialism around the world and abolishing the monarchy—all of which was left out of the above segments, and the majority of network news coverage.

US news networks instead largely discussed the queen’s death as if everyone agreed on her legacy. “The world mourns the death of Queen Elizabeth,” said CBS Mornings’ Anne-Marie Green (9/9/22), who described the late monarch as “one of the most beloved women in the world.”

‘We need to examine that history’

The entire world was not, in fact, mourning the death of Britain’s queen. On Democracy Now! (9/13/22), Amy Goodman discussed the possibility that “British Overseas Territory” (read: colony) Antigua and Barbuda might cut ties with the British monarch. When asked to respond to the queen’s death, Dorbrene O’Marde, chair of the Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Commission, said:

I’m under no obligation, I think, to be mourning her death. And that is simply because of, I think, my understanding of history, my understanding of the relationships of the British monarchy to African people and Asian people, but to African people certainly, on the continent and here in the Caribbean. And so that my response is perhaps to recognize the role that the queen, Queen Elizabeth II, has played, how she has managed to cloak the historical brutality of empire in this veneer of grandeur and pomp and pageantry, I guess, and graciousness. But I think that at this point in time, we need to examine that history a lot more closely.

The British Empire committed many atrocities during Elizabeth II’s reign (Liberation News, 9/9/22):

  • The “Malayan Emergency” (1948–60) was a guerilla war fought between Britain and the Communist Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA) after the territory sought independence from British rule. During this 12-year-long war (of which eight years were fought under Elizabeth), British forces set fire to homes and farmland of those suspected to be affiliated with the MNLA, sent 400,000 people to concentration camps and destroyed crops with Agent Orange. 6,700 MNLA fighters and more than 3,000 civilians were killed.
  • The Mau Mau rebellion (1952–60) took place in Kenya when the Mau Mau rebels launched an uprising against colonial powers, white settlers and loyalists in the country. The British launched a counterinsurgency campaign, sending more than 100,000 people to detainment camps where they were tortured, interrogated and abused. The Kenyan Human Rights Commission estimated 90,000 Kenyans were killed, maimed or tortured, and 160,000 were detained in camps.
  • The Covert War in Yemen (1962–69) cost an estimated 200,000 lives. After the death of Yemeni King Ahmed in 1962, Arab Army nationalists backed by the Egyptian army seized power and declared the country a republic, with popular support. Britain claimed it would not intervene, but supplied fighter jets and weapons to royalist forces.
  • Bloody Sunday (January 30, 1972) was just one incident during the Northern Irish Troubles, a 30-year fight for independence from Britain. Marchers in Derry, in British-occupied Ireland, were protesting against British legislation that allowed suspected Irish nationals to be imprisoned without trial; the British military opened fire on them, killing 14.

Even though Elizabeth II had no legislative abilities, this colonial violence was enacted to uphold the empire she helmed (Vox, 9/13/22).

‘They know nothing about colonialism’

Fox specifically scolded those criticizing the monarchy, claiming colonized countries should be grateful for the image of stability Elizabeth upheld, arguing she led the decolonization process. Contributor Douglas Murry claimed on Hannity (9/9/22):

They know nothing about colonialism. They clearly know nothing about the decolonization process. They know nothing about the late queen’s extraordinary work with the commonwealth countries. If the queen would preside over this, was it a genocidal empire? Unbelievable. There’d be nobody alive if it had been a genocidal empire. And they smear her with this total lack of knowledge.

There are a handful of scholarly and international legal definitions of genocide. “Everyone has to be dead” is not one of them.

Other programs may not have engaged in this kind of royalist admonishment, but they still delighted in the royal corgis (ABC’s Nightline, 9/9/22), swooned over Charles’ “emotion” (CNN Newsroom, 9/9/22), admired his handshaking with the crowd (Fox Special Report, 9/9/22) and saluted his promise of a “life of service” (NBC Nightly News, 9/9/22), with little space given to substantive critique of what the monarchy represents.

Outlets aired King Charles III’s speech live and spent the surrounding hours commending his life in service and glossing over Britain’s colonialism.

As noted, none of the aforementioned TV segments that effusively memorialized the queen and relished in the pomp and circumstance of the monarchy addressed colonialism. In fact, of the total 113 segments on network TV that mentioned Charles’ speech, only 29 mentioned—even in passing—Britain’s colonial legacy or calls to abolish the monarchy. Fifteen of those were from CNN, five from MSNBC, four from NBC, three from Fox (all of which condemned criticism of the monarchy), one from ABC and one from CBS.

CBS’s mention denied that there was any movement for change: “There is no current, no modern, serious movement to abolish the monarchy,” journalist and royal-watcher Tina Brown said on CBS Mornings (9/9/22).

That depends on what you define as “serious.” In Australia, thousands marched for abolishment, shutting down streets in Melbourne on the country’s National Day of Mourning for the queen (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/22/22). #AbolishTheMonarchy trended on social media (Forbes, 9/9/22). Pro-republican campaigns in Australia, New Zealand and Canada are expected to gain traction now (Wall Street Journal, 9/11/22).

Many shows repeated the term “colonial past” (e.g., NBC’s Today, 9/9/22; CNN Newsroom, 9/9/22), as if British colonialism is not ongoing. Today, British companies still own $1 trillion of Africa’s gold, diamonds, gas and oil, and an area of land in the continent about four times the size of Britain itself (Guardian, 4/17/18).

Other legacies of colonialism still reverberate: In 2013, Carribbean heads of governments established the Caricom Reparations Commission (CRC) to demand reparations for Britain’s genocide, slave trade and apartheid in the region, citing illiteracy, physical and mental health issues and generational poverty as modern-day effects of British rule and slave trade.

Suffice it to say, worldwide opinion about the British monarchy, the death of Queen Elizabeth and the rise of King Charles is far from unanimous, despite US television news framing Charles’ speech—unlike Biden sounding the alarm over the threat to democracy—as something we all could agree on.

The post King Mourns Mother? Breaking News. Democracy Under Threat? Not So Much. appeared first on FAIR.

Palestinian Erasure Starts in Preschool—With Sesame Street’s Endorsement

 

Many children in the United States will never meet a Palestinian in person, and if they do, they may need to overcome the negative images and stereotypes that pervade popular culture: terrorist, religious extremist, misogynist, etc. For this reason, books are a critical if underused opportunity for kids to learn about the people of Palestine.

Palestinians are important because they are human beings, and also because they play a  central role in US foreign policy in the Middle East, and are a major focus of US financial and military resources. If US kids are to grow up to be responsible global citizens, they must understand Palestinian experiences and perspectives, among others.

Are US kids getting good insight about Palestinians from books? My ongoing research project examining kids’ books involving Palestine has already yielded some interesting findings: Even the youngest children are subjected to narratives that erase Palestinians.

Erasure through appropriation 

The Palestinians who constitute roughly half of the people under Israeli control are dissolved into Israel’s “diverse cultures.”

Rah! Rah! Mujadara!, for example, is a 12-page board book for ages 1–4 that has an attractive tagline: “Everybody likes hummus, but that’s just one of the great variety of foods found in Israel among its diverse cultures.”

There’s a subtlety in that tagline that may be lost on some. While diversity is acknowledged, it is represented only within the Israeli sphere, without its own history and separate identity. This is a political position that  jibes with Israel’s intentional deployment of the term “Israeli Arabs” to refer to Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, whom Israel wants to incorporate as an Israeli minority, fragmenting them from the larger Palestinian community and from their national identity.

Since Palestinians represent 20% of the citizens of Israel and about 50% of the people who live under Israeli control, readers should expect to see them included. And it is possible that the girl on the top left of the cover is meant to be a Muslim Arab, despite the inauthentic way her headscarf allows her bangs to show.

Newbies to the the Israeli/Palestinian narrative war may also not realize that food is an active battleground. Palestinians consider Israel’s claiming of hummus and falafel, among other foods, to be cultural appropriation.

Palestinians, therefore, are likely to consider both the people and the food appropriated  when the same girl is featured behind the text:

Blow, slow.

Taste. Whoa!

Brown fa-LA-fel,

big green mouthful!

Respectful Jewish and Jewish Israeli chefs acknowledge this violence, and counter it by giving credit where credit is due. Since the state of Israel is not even 75 years old, any food with a longer pedigree must have been originated by someone else. But while Kar-Ben Publishing is surely aware of this contention, they either choose to ignore it or intentionally intend to steer readers towards the Israeli narrative—by hiding the Palestinian one.

B is for Bedouins, “who come from Israel’s deserts”—despite having existed for centuries before the establishment of Israel.

Cultural appropriation is taken to a new level in Israel ABCs: A Book About the People and Places of Israel (Holly Schroeder, Picture Window Books, 2004).

On page 5, titled “B is for Bedouin,” the text reads: “Bedouins are Arab people who come from Israel’s deserts.” In fact, Bedouins lived on and cultivated land that is now in the State of Israel for hundreds of years prior to the establishment of the state, and have been systematically discriminated against since. The book’s use of the words “Israel’s deserts” imply that the land belonged to Israel before Arab Bedouins arrived. This is an easy-to-miss example of text that implies that not only does the land belong to Israel, but so do the indigenous Bedouins.

Erasure through deception

Both All Around the World Israel

Unfortunately, the erasure of Palestinian reality continues in books for older children. I looked at introductory books about Israel for ages 7–11 years, including All Around the World Israel (Kristine Spanier, Jump!, 2019) and Travel to Israel (Matt Doeden, Lerner Publishing, 2022).

These books share a shocking but easily overlooked flaw: Their covers feature a photo of East Jerusalem alongside the title “Israel.” East Jerusalem is the Palestinian side of the city, previously administered by Jordan and illegally annexed by Israel following its occupation in the 1967 War.

Again, the uninitiated may not realize the significance of linking the state of Israel to East Jerusalem in the minds of readers, and might even think it positive that Israel is making Palestinian areas visible.

However, Israel’s widely condemned annexation of East Jerusalem is illegal under international law. In 1980, Israel declared the “unified” Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but until Donald Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, not a single country in the world followed suit.

…and Travel to Israel use a picture of occupied East Jerusalem to symbolize “Israel.”

Moreover, Israel has used every possible administrative and military tool available to make East Jerusalem unlivable for Palestinians, in an effort to get them to leave so their land can be repurposed for Jewish use. These cover photos not only fail to acknowledge the reality of life for Palestinian Jerusalemites, they deceptively cover it up.

Putting East Jerusalem on the cover of books about Israel jibes with Israel’s narrative that Jerusalem belongs to Israel, and not to Palestine or the Palestinians, and helps preempt fair and open negotiations about the final status of Jerusalem as promised in the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Erasure through both-sidesism

For Sesame Street, Palestinian East Jerusalem and a Tel Aviv beach combine to represent “Israel.”

Welcome to Israel With Sesame Street (Christy Peterson, Lerner Publishing, 2021) also has a problematic cover, but, consistent with the rest of the book, it is a type of distortion/erasure that can be called “both-sidesism.” The cover is split, with half showing Palestinian East Jerusalem (though a less iconic photo than the Dome of the Rock) and the other half showing an Israeli beach.

Inside, the book continues with this “both sides” approach, starting by teaching children how to say hello in both Hebrew and Arabic (pages 4–5).  This “both sides” approach makes a nice visual while hiding Israel’s disrespect for Arabic and Arabic speakers, which is clear in the fact that Arabic had been an official language of Israel until it was officially downgraded in the 2018 Jewish Nation State Law.

Presenting “both sides” is a device used to appear neutral, which conjures a sense of objectivity and truth. It is also a way to stake a claim to antiracism and respect. For example, page 11 says that Jerusalem is “special to people of many religions,” over a  photo of Palestinian school girls, some wearing the Muslim hijab.

But presenting Palestinians only as linguistic and religious minorities of Israel, and not as a national group in and of itself, is an Israeli narrative tactic that dehumanizes  Palestinians and undermines readers’ ability to understand Israel. While appearing respectful of diversity, the text and photo cleverly omit that Israel is an explicitly, self-declared Jewish state, that enshrines Jewish supremacy over non-Jews (and the corresponding inequality of Palestinians) by saying, in law, that only Jews have the right to self-determination.

Palestine literally erased

Where in the world is Palestine? Nowhere, according to Sesame Street‘s map.

While maps can be controversial when presenting Israel and Palestine, there is one fact that is not controversial: The West Bank and Gaza Strip are not part of Israel. The population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are not citizens of Israel, and the idea of Israeli annexation of the West Bank has been rejected internationally, including by United Nations officials. Despite this, page 6 of Welcome to Israel With Sesame Street incorrectly displays a map of Israel (“and Surrounding Area”) including the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the same shade of yellow. The outlines of the occupied Palestinian territory are visible but not labeled. (Notably, the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights is shown as part of Syria.)

While Welcome to Israel With Sesame Street is not the worst of the books I reviewed, it stands out to me because of the Sesame Street branding. Librarians tell me they rely more on reviews than branding when purchasing or recommending books, but as a mom myself, I think parents—and kids—do pay attention to the stamp of credibility that the Sesame Street imprimatur gives to educational materials. Welcome to Israel With Sesame Street illustrates how branding can help to obfuscate rather than illuminate the information we need as global citizens to be constructive problem-solvers.

The Sesame Street brand, and the nonprofit Sesame Workshop that owns it, has previously been criticized for compromises they’ve made in order to address funding shortfalls and stay in business in an increasingly difficult market. Supporters argue that licensing has long been a part of their funding model, and doesn’t necessarily contradict the educational mission that Sesame Workshop has committed to.

Welcome to Israel With Sesame Street, however, is not harmless. It uses subtle messages to contribute to erasure and distortion of Palestinians, which should cause concern among people who care about the educational reputation of the brand. Unfortunately, Sesame Workshop failed to respond to my several inquiries about this book.

Incorporating Palestinian voices

US children will be lucky if they see a book or two mentioning Palestinians in their entire  educational careers—so the books they read should be good! There are a few books that offer some age-appropriate information about Palestinians, like ones referenced in Rethinking Schools and listed by the National Council for the Social Studies. These books contribute to an important educational objective—to help students of all ages understand that the world is diverse, that different groups have different experiences, that conflicts and wars hurt people, and that US taxpayers play a role in that. Publishers can do better by incorporating Palestinian voices into their commitments to center diverse voices and by taking a stand to protect and promote Palestinian children’s book writers.

The post Palestinian Erasure Starts in Preschool—With Sesame Street’s Endorsement appeared first on FAIR.

Julio López Varona on Puerto Rico Colonialism, Guerline Jozef on Haitian Refugee Abuse

 

(New York, 9/22/22)

This week on CounterSpin: As Puerto Rico struggles under another “natural” disaster, we’re seeing some recognition of what’s unnatural about the conditions the island faces, that determine its ability to protect its people. We’re even getting some critical mumblings about “finance bros”—people from the States who go to the island to exploit tax laws designed to reward them wildly. New York magazine described “a wave of mostly white mainlanders” that “has moved to Puerto Rico, buying real estate and being accused of pushing out locals who pay their full tax burden.” Gotta get that passive voice in there. But of course, it isn’t just that these tax giveaways favoring non–Puerto Ricans are gross and unfair; you have to acknowledge in the same breath that money going to them is money not going to Puerto Rico’s energy systems, schools, hospitals, housing. We talk about the harms inflicted on Puerto Rico that have nothing to do with hurricanes, with Julio López Varona, co-chief of campaigns at the Center for Popular Democracy.

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(AP via PBS, 9/24/21)

Also on the show: Customs and Border Protection released findings from an internal investigation a few months back, declaring that no horse-riding Border Patrol agents actually hit any Haitian asylum seekers with their reins, as they chased them down on the Southern border last fall. That finding is disputed, but consider the premise: that people would need to create tales of horror about the treatment of Haitians at Del Rio, where people were shackled, left in cold cells, denied medicine, and separated from children as young as a few days old. Media subtly underscore that skepticism: AP ran a piece at the time telling readers that the appalling images shocked everyone:

But to many Haitians and Black Americans, they’re merely confirmation of a deeply held belief: US immigration policies, they say, are and have long been anti-Black.

The Border Patrol’s treatment of Haitian migrants, they say, is just the latest in a long history of discriminatory US policies and of indignities faced by Black people, sparking new anger among Haitian Americans, Black immigrant advocates and civil rights leaders.

Understand, then: The racism in US immigration policy is a mere “belief,” held by Black people, and only they are upset about it. And this dismissive, divisive view is “good,” sympathetic reporting! We get another, grounded perspective from Guerline Jozef, founder and executive director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance.

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The post Julio López Varona on Puerto Rico Colonialism, Guerline Jozef on Haitian Refugee Abuse appeared first on FAIR.

‘There’s a Lot of Jubilance and Healing in Reparations’ - CounterSpin interview with Alicia Bell and Collette Watson on media reparations

 

Janine Jackson interviewed Alicia Bell and Collette Watson about media reparations for the September 23, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: The 1968 Kerner Commission report didn’t just say that US journalists were mistelling the reality of recent civil unrest in Newark and Detroit and elsewhere. They declared that that coverage was only part of a broader media failure to “report adequately on the causes and consequences of civil disorders, and the underlying problems of race relations.”

And the report linked that failure to the industry’s abysmal record in seeking out, hiring, training and promoting Black people.

For those that remember Kerner, that’s where it seemed to end. But actually, the report didn’t say more Black journalists were the answer. It said that affirmative action was a necessary part of the process of de-centering US reporting’s white male view.

It wasn’t just about making newsrooms look different. It was about changing the definition of news as being only, or primarily, about white men, and about doing that for the good of everybody.

(Image: Media 2070)

The Kerner report’s themes resound in the experience of Elizabeth Montgomery, a former Arizona Republic reporter and the subject of the new short film Black in the Newsroom.

The film and the actions around it are part of a project called Media 2070 that aims at acknowledging, reconciling and repairing harms the US media system has caused and continues to cause to the Black community.

Alicia Bell is a co-creator and founding director of the Media 2070: Media Reparations Project, and also current director of the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund, housed within Borealis Philanthropy.

Collette Watson is director of Media 2070 and vice president of cultural strategy at the group Free Press.

Welcome, Alicia Bell and Collette Watson to CounterSpin.

Collette Watson: Thank you.

Alicia Bell: Thanks so much for having us, Janine.

Elizabeth Montgomery (photo: Arizona Republic)

JJ: Well, to either of you, I would say obviously Elizabeth Montgomery is special—you know, we all are, but she’s really special—but what is there about her experience that made you think, this is representative enough to hold it up, to use it to highlight some things that we need to talk about? What made you want to tell her story?

CW: I guess I’ll start us off and say that Elizabeth really was not only representative of many people’s experiences, but also very courageous in her willingness to be transparent.

And so often one of the greatest barriers to our ability to shift these negative dynamics, these dynamics of anti-Blackness in newsrooms, is the reticence that surrounds, or the taboo that surrounds, talking about issues of compensation or representation or bias, or just experiences of anti-Blackness within newsrooms. For good reason, because we understand that there’s often the threat of retribution, or losing one’s livelihood, and other kinds of repercussions.

But in Elizabeth’s case, she was in that tradition of brave truth tellers in our community. She was willing to be very upfront about what she was experiencing. And I felt that, for us, it was important to honor that courage, and to help amplify her story.

JJ: What were some of the things, some of the elements of her experience, that had resonance for you, or that you thought would have resonance for other Black reporters who’ve tried to do the work within these “mainstream” institutions.

Arizona Republic (1/25/20)

CW: Absolutely. Alicia works with a lot of media makers every day, and I’m sure will have thoughts. For me, it was the fact that she was doing such great work. And there’s a quote in the film where she says, “I’m making y’all look real good out in the street.”

And I love the way she said it, because so much of any newspaper or media organization’s ability to exist is its relationship with its community and its reputation.

And Elizabeth was covering these incredible stories of the Black bookstore, the only one in Arizona. We talk about that. She was covering this wonderful Black woman resident of the greater Phoenix area whose ancestors were among the first people transported to this land as enslaved African folks.

And that’s just a tiny fraction of the coverage she was providing, and really enabling her newsroom to represent the community in a way it had not, prior to her taking on that reporter role.

And despite that stellar work, despite that real community impact that was bringing to life what this newsroom says it wanted to be about, despite all of that, she was really being mistreated. And I think that that’s an experience that a lot of Black folks in media can identify with.

AB: One thing I’ll add to that is that I met Elizabeth when she was a reporter working at a newsroom in Wilmington, North Carolina. And so when I met her is when she moved and went to another newsroom in Arizona, and I was able to introduce her to Collette and they were able to meet; she had similar experiences.

And the fact that this story of her being a Black journalist who was doing excellent community-rooted reporting, answering questions that folks had, sharing stories so that people could see themselves in the coverage, and lifting up issues that were previously not being lifted up, that was something that she was doing in North Carolina, and it’s something that she was doing in Arizona.

And the fact that in both of those places and spaces, that she was undervalued and underpaid, I think is indicative of the fact that this is not a one-newsroom fix issue. It means that it’s not a regional issue. It’s not just specific to her. And it’s something that carries across the United States, across a variety of Black experiences that folks have going into newsrooms.

And the other thing I’ll add is that we also have data and information to contextualize this story within, right? We have some salary data that shows that Black folks, and especially Black women, are underpaid.

We have the work that Meredith Clark was doing recently with the journalism and diversity surveying work, where folks were just not responding and sharing their demographic information, or sharing salary information, or anything like that.

And so we also knew that this was only a microcosm of a larger issue, because we were able to situate it within data that was existing, and data that folks didn’t want to release, likely because it tells a really terrible story about how Black folks are treated and valued within journalism.

Jill Nelson (image: Charlie Rose)

JJ: Back in, I guess it was 1993, Jill Nelson wrote in the book Volunteer Slavery, she talked about how, when she was at the Washington Post, she wanted to tell stories about the Black community that she suspected and worried would be done less well if somebody else did them. And then at the same time, she was irritated when anything would happen involving Black people, and everyone would kind of look at her like: “So this is you, right? You’re going to do this one, right?”

She wanted to do right by her community, but she also wanted to do any kind of story and be a Black reporter doing it, you know? And it was about that dual or even multiple layering of work that Black journalists have to do within these organizations.

And that’s why hiring and retention are not the same thing, right, why folks will take jobs but not stay?

CW: Absolutely. And all of that plays into a sort of dehumanization that folks experience in newsrooms. Another reason that we honed in on Elizabeth’s story was because, around the time that she was publicly testifying about her experience, a study was released by the NewsGuild that showed that 14 different Gannett newsrooms were underpaying women and journalists of color, by as much as $27,000 annually, in comparison to their white male colleagues.

So you’re underpaid and you’re experiencing this sort of hyper-visible hyper-invisibility in the newsroom, similar to what you were describing with Jill Nelson.

Source (8/26/20)

The experience of that, and also not having the leadership that’s needed to ensure that folks’ full humanity is being recognized, that there’s care in the newsroom during those traumatic storytelling experiences—all of that becomes very dehumanizing, and therefore folks leave the field.

And Carla Murphy has done incredible work around that, which we touch on in the film, with her “Leavers Survey.”

And what that results in is really a lack of Black leadership, of folks of color in leadership positions, and people really leaving at the mid-career point, just when they would have been able to step into those leadership positions, and really maybe change the direction of a newsroom.

And so when we lose folks at that mid-career point, we lose so much more. We lose the ability for these newsrooms to evolve.

JJ: Absolutely. Well, we have seen some efforts toward what is forever being called “reckoning,” but outlets like the Philadelphia Inquirer, which has this “A More Perfect Union” project headed by Errin Haines that is examining systemic racism in, in particular, institutions that are rooted in Philly.

But we see outlets around the country at least saying that they believe that they have a responsibility to examine their own institutional racism. I’m not exactly sure what I make of it.

I wonder what your thoughts are about the seriousness, or even what would be the proof in the pudding, of this self-reckoning that we see some media outlets at least saying that they’re doing right now.

Alicia Bell: “We have so much more work to do and so much more to fight for, because we have not had anywhere near an adequate amount of accountability and restitution.”

AB: I think that it does garner a lot of feelings and a lot of emotions. When I think about the work of media reparations, I think about something that our colleague Diamond Hardiman lifts up quite frequently, and Collette lifts this up as well, that reparations is already happening.

It’s already been seeded and it’s already blooming. And so the way that I understand that, and the way that we understand media reparations and reparations more broadly, is that it requires at least four kinds of actions.

It does require reckoning, and that kind of knowledge, study, publication. It requires acknowledgement, to say, “This is what we did and it was harmful, and it did this, or it had this impact.”

But the thing that we don’t see happening right now in this journalism reckoning space, and more broadly in any sort of space and place where we see folks commissioning studies around systemic racism or racist histories or anything, we don’t see the next two pieces, which is accountability and restitution.

So accountability being: How do I make up for this harm now? How do I heal it now? How do I stop it now?

And then the restitution part of: How do I make sure that it doesn’t have soil to grow in in the future?

Very often, we see folks stop after the reckoning and after the acknowledgement, and they’ll say like, “We did the thing: We published the report, we published the information. We apologized, even.”

But if there’s none of that in conjunction with stopping the harm and disrupting the soil that the seeds grew in in the first place, to ensure that it doesn’t happen into the future, then it’s not enough.

So I know that reparations have been seeded, and I know that reparations are already blooming and are already coming, because I see the reckoning and the acknowledgement work happening.

But I also know that we have so much more work to do and so much more to fight for, because we have not had anywhere near an adequate amount of accountability and restitution into the future.

And I see that in journalism, but I see that more broadly across a lot of different kinds of reparation work.

JJ: Absolutely. Reparations are so often presented as backward-looking, instead of as a generative idea, as an idea about the future. And Alicia, I know when we spoke back in 2020, in the midst of public protest after the police murder of George Floyd, we were saying how people are talking about building relationships between police and community.

And you were saying, “Well, what about building relationships between media and community?” That needs to also be a real relationship, with real accountability.

And so, you’ve just done it to talk about what reparations might look like, but just the idea, if you want to say any more, either of you, about how it’s a forward-looking, generative thing. It’s about things changing, now and in the future. And it’s a very positive, joyful potential thing about dreaming, and about forging a shared future.

Chicago Commission on Race Relations (1922)

CW: Absolutely it is. That’s why we named our project Media 2070. We understood that 50 years ago with the Kerner report, and 50 years before that was the Chicago Race Relations Commission and the report it issued after the Chicago race riots, that we were in an every-50-years cycle of unrest followed by analysis, that in each case honed in on media as a key aspect of the systemic oppression that Black folks experience in this country.

And so we want to break that cycle, and in 50 years, we want be in a time when we have truly transformed our media, and created a future in which there is abundant resources for Black folks to be able to control our own narratives, from ideation through creation into production and even out into distribution.

And that is a future that is not only abundant with Black narratives, power and control, but also with Black media makers having the resources and the care and support that’s needed in order to tell stories in ways that are truthful and nuanced, and really contribute to our shared truths as a society.

And so when we look toward 2070, it’s not that we’re waiting until then. We’re starting now. As Alicia said, the seeds have been planted, and we understand reparations are inevitable, and we want to know what is the media system that gets us to that future. And that’s the journey that we’re on together.

AB: I really appreciate when you’re lifting up that it’s a joyful thing, that there’s a lot of jubilance and healing that’s there in reparations, because we do understand that to be true. We understand it to be a practice of creating a culture and a society that is more caring for everybody, that is more nimble and responsive and accountable when harm happens, when conflicts happen.

This is not an expectation of perfection, it is not an expectation that there will never be harm again, but it is an expectation that we do better, and that we maintain a certain level of buoyancy.

And as someone who’s raising children, I have never met, and I’m sure these people exist, but I have never met a single parent, across races, across ethnicities, who does not want to raise caring children.

And yet, somehow we allow, we are co-creators of, we are complicit in maintaining a society that does not care for all people.

And so reparation is really looking at what are the infrastructures, the institutions, the policies, the practices that we need to have that care be permeable and felt by everyone.

And what I know is that when all of our folks are cared for, and all of our folks are able to navigate things, to navigate conflict nimbly, have access to joy, to leisure, to work that is serving, work that is fulfilling, that that’s a better society for everyone.

(image: Media 2070)

JJ: Finally, let me just say to you both, Black in the Newsroom I know is not just a film, but an opportunity, an opening, for conversation. I think that’s how you see it.

And I wonder if you could tell us about how Phoenix went with the debut, and how you hope to use this film going forward as you travel with it around the country.

CW: You know, thank you for asking. Phoenix was beautiful. We had such a lovely room and conversation after the film screening, we had a panel of organizers and artists and journalists who really talked in a real way with each other about the challenges of being Black in the newsroom, and also the challenges of connecting and telling Black stories, despite so many of the institutional barriers that we face in just trying to exist, much less be in community with each other.

And I think that as we go around the country with this project—we’ve been privileged to be selected for a few film festivals and invited to a few university campuses and things like that. As we move around with this project, it is definitely an invitation, Janine, I’m so glad you put it that way, into extended conversation between community members and the journalists, who are also members of their communities, and for folks to understand that the solution we’re offering is solidarity.

Collette Watson: “Myths of Black inferiority have been baked into our media system and its practices since the very, very beginning.”

Because we often get asked, “What’s the solution? What’s next? How do we solve it all?” It’s solidarity between community members and organizers who are agitating for that future in which everyone has the care they need, that beautiful future Alicia just described, in solidarity with journalists and other media makers and artists.

And for us to be co-creating this shared future and the narratives that will get us there, because we understand that narratives and myths of Black inferiority have been baked into our media system and its practices since the very, very beginning, as we outline in our Media 2070 essay.

But the reparations framework invites us, as Alicia so beautifully laid out, to acknowledge and reckon with that history, and then to go about truly building that shared future.

And we believe that the Black in the Newsroom conversation, and the lens of understanding the unique experiences of Black journalists, and the care that they deserve as they try to tell Black stories, brings us into a larger conversation of how we can understand our solidarity as we forge that future that’s ripe with reparations, and the just media that we deserve.

So it’s an entry point into the world of Media 2070, into a beautiful shared future. And, really, it’s been an honor to help tell Elizabeth’s story in a way that invites us all into being in relationship and building with one another.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Alicia Bell and Collette Watson. For more information on Media 2070 and Black in the Newsroom, you can check out the website MediaReparations.org. Alicia Bell and Collette Watson, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

AB: Thank you.

CW: Thank you.

 

The post ‘There’s a Lot of Jubilance and Healing in Reparations’ appeared first on FAIR.

US Media Held Murdered Russian Journalist to a Dangerous Standard

 

After the August 20 car-bomb assassination of Darya Dugina, the daughter of a Russian ultranationalist political philosopher, US media outlets quickly branded the 29-year-old as an agent in Russia’s “disinformation war.” Rather than treating her as a member of the civilian press, they seemed to downplay her death as a casualty of war.

CNN (8/27/22) used Darya Dugina’s assassination to talk about “Russia’s vast disinformation machine”—citing Dugina’s website, which was the 945,284th most popular site in the world in July.

CNN (8/27/22) ran an article to this effect, failing to characterize her murder as an assassination, instead stating Dugina was “on the front lines” of Russia’s war effort, linking her to “Russia’s vast disinformation machine.” NPR (8/24/22) reported that  Dugina was a “Russian propagandist” whose killing signaled the war was coming to Russian elites in their own territory. Foreign Policy (8/26/22) called Dugina a “dead propagandist” whose “martyrdom” did more to achieve her goals in death than she could have hoped for in life.

It is certainly true that during her life, Dugina, who espoused the philosophy of Russian Eurasianism, an expansionist political doctrine veiled as an objective analysis of Russian interests, had very little impact on Western audiences. This is true of most Russian journalists, despite the frequent warnings in US corporate media about the threat posed by Russian media messages. For instance, RT, often considered the foremost Russian outlet in the West, accounted for only 0.04% of Britain’s total viewing audience in 2017 (New Statesman, 2/25/22), and reached about 0.6% of the UK’s online population from February 2021 to the start of 2022—and this was before Western media platforms sharply restricted access to RT and other pro-Moscow outlets in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.

Far more prevalent for Western viewers is the constant barrage of pro-NATO, pro-Western propaganda that vastly overstates the significance of Russian disinformation. Such was the case when CNN noted that Dugina ran a “disguised English-language online platform that pushed a pro-Kremlin worldview to Western readers.” By “disguised,” CNN is suggesting that the site she worked for, United World International, engaged in outright deception by not disclosing its Russian origins—much like CNN does not describe itself as a US-based outlet, but rather as a “world leader in online news and information.”

Whether UWI is purposefully misleading or not, CNN‘s underlying assumption is that Western audiences are so fickle that the most minimal exposure to pro-Kremlin viewpoints represents a threat to national security. It’s this stance that turns journalists with foreign ideologies into the equivalent of enemy combatants.

If CNN thinks disclosure is what separates journalism from propaganda, it might have disclosed the biases of the sources it used to contextualize Dugina’s murder. The article mostly relied on information from the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab and the Center for European Policy Analysis, both of which are “used to promote the information interests of the US-centralized power alliance in Europe and North America” (Transcend.org, 9/5/22) and are funded by the US government, European allied nations and weapons manufacturers.

‘An appropriate target’

CNN personalities were fervent defenders of the US invasion of Iraq and the lies that justified it. Did that put them “on the front lines” of the war effort, negating their civilian status?

Whether or not one agrees with what they are saying, journalists of every nationality deserve protection from those who would use violence to silence them. So when CNN or other Western media downplay the assassination of Dugina on the grounds that she spread Russian propaganda, or even disinformation, that supported a war of aggression and other war crimes, they are setting a standard that puts their own colleagues at risk. (The exceptionalism that holds that US institutions can avoid the consequences faced by others is, of course, a central pillar of US propaganda.)

US corporate media have a long track record of advocating for illegal US aggression while knowingly parroting their government’s false pretenses. The New York Times, for instance, hasn’t opposed a US war since its tacit disapproval of Ronald Reagan’s invasion of Grenada in 1983 (FAIR.org, 8/23/17). The Times advocated for the illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (8/8/01, 2/12/03); the CIA’s attempted regime change in Syria (8/26/13); and US drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia (2/6/13). With the body count from these conflicts far surpassing that of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, how would the assassination of a New York Times editorial board member differ from Dugina’s murder? Aside, of course, from the fact that Dugina supported Washington’s geopolitical adversary.

This isn’t the first time US journalists have been less than sympathetic about the targeting of journalists from nations adversarial to the US. During the Iraq War, human rights groups condemned the US bombing of Iraqi TV in Baghdad, emphasizing that it is not permissible to bomb a news outlet “simply because it is being used for the purposes of propaganda” (Amnesty International, 3/26/03). But prior to the bombing, Fox News‘s Bill O’Reilly argued, ““I think they should have taken out the television, the Iraqi television.” His colleague John Gibson wondered: “Should we take Iraqi TV off the air? Should we put one down the stove pipe there?” (Extra!, 5–6/03). After the bombing, New York Times reporter Michael Gordon said on CNN (3/25/03):

Personally, I think the television, based on what I’ve seen of Iraqi television, with Saddam Hussein presenting propaganda to his people and showing off the Apache helicopter and claiming a farmer shot it down, and trying to persuade his own public that he was really in charge, when we’re trying to send the exact opposite message, I think was an appropriate target.

On the very same day in 1999 that NATO bombed Radio TV Serbia, killing 20 journalists and other civilians (Extra!, 7–8/99), Thomas Friedman argued in the New York Times (4/23/99):

Let’s at least have a real air war. The idea that people are still holding rock concerts in Belgrade, or going out for Sunday merry-go-round rides, while their fellow Serbs are “cleansing” Kosovo, is outrageous. It should be lights out in Belgrade: Every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted. Like it or not, we are at war with the Serbian nation (the Serbs certainly think so), and the stakes have to be very clear: Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too.

Just a few weeks earlier, columnist Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post (4/8/99) had cheered that NATO was “finally…hitting targets—power plants, fuel depots, bridges, airports, television transmitters—that may indeed kill the enemy and civilians nearby.” Do such abhorrent, pro–war crimes arguments turn these columnists from journalists into “propagandists,” unworthy of protection from assassination?

CNN reported that Dugina’s death “has shone a light” on the inner workings of a Russian media sphere that unquestioningly parrots Kremlin talking points as if they were true. But, lacking in self-awareness, CNN and other US outlets relied heavily on Western government sources, exposing their own eagerness to toe the state line.

When US media report on Russia’s disinformation apparatus, they are implicitly claiming that something similar does not exist in the US. But if you’re interested in how US reporting advances Washington’s “soft power” objectives, the turning of a murdered journalist into an object lesson for “Russia’s vast disinformation machine” is a fine example.

The post US Media Held Murdered Russian Journalist to a Dangerous Standard appeared first on FAIR.

Alicia Bell and Collette Watson on Media Reparations

 

 

Newspaper ad from the Freedom on the Move database.

This week on CounterSpin: If US news media never used the terms “wake-up call” or “racial reckoning” again, with regard to the latest instance of institutional white supremacy brought to light, that would be fine. Far better would be for them to do the work of not just acknowledging that US news media have supported and inflicted racist harms throughout this country’s history, but shedding critical light on the hows and whys of those harms—and taking seriously the idea of repairing them and replacing them with a media ecosystem that better serves us all. The Media 2070: Media Reparations Project encourages conversation and action around that vision. We’ll hear about the work from Alicia Bell, a co-creator and founding director of Media 2070 and current director of the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund, housed within Borealis Philanthropy. And from Collette Watson, director of Media 2070 and vice president of cultural strategy at the group Free Press.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at recent press coverage of student debt relief, China’s zero-Covid policy and Afghan sanctions.

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Dragging Trump Into Spotlight Feeds His Dangerous Movement

 

In a recent New York Times “America in Focus” opinion piece (9/13/22), the paper gathered 16 Americans to discuss their views on the economy and how it’s affecting their personal finances.

The focus group included seven conservatives, seven “liberals and progressives,” and two moderates. Participants ranged in age from 24–65, lived in several different states, represented a handful of ethnicities (though the majority were white), and worked in occupations from food delivery to law.

The paper ran with the headline: “Is America in a Recession? Here’s What 16 Biden and Trump Supporters Think.”

Supporters of a losing candidate

Vox (8/19/22) details the numerous criminal investigations facing Donald Trump.

Now, asking individuals whether the US is in a recession is peculiar, given that the most widely accepted definition of a recession—“two consecutive quarters of decline in a country’s GDP”—is not subjective. You might as well convene a focus group to ask whether a heat wave was breaking temperature records.

But most concerning is the second part of the Times’ headline. Donald Trump lost his second presidential bid nearly two years ago, and is being investigated for inciting an insurrection to retain power, removing classified documents from the National Archives, and other criminal charges. He has not officially announced any plans to run in 2024.

When has the paper ever sought the opinions of supporters of a losing presidential candidate—let alone one under multiple criminal investigations—two years after their loss, to “balance” supporters of the elected president? We weren’t hearing from panels of “Clinton supporters” in 2018, or “McCain supporters” in 2010, or “Gore supporters” in 2002.

An often inaccurate guess

Focus group director Frank Luntz comments on the near-absence of talk about Trump.

However, it’s not clear that the headline accurately describes the participants. Trump’s name doesn’t even come up in the conversation until the very end—which moderator Frank Luntz and some of the interview subjects acknowledged. “We were this close,” Luntz joked.

Throughout the entire piece, participants are classified by their ideologies, and the article only definitively identifies two Biden voters. Otherwise, subjects are classified as conservatives, liberals/progressives or moderates—not by whom they voted for or plan to vote for.  It’s presumptuous, irresponsible journalism to assume all conservatives are “Trump supporters” and all progressives are “Biden supporters”—especially given that recent polling averages show that 47% of Republican respondents would like a figure other than Trump to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024.

On the other side, the New York Times itself (7/11/22) reported that 64% of Democrats do not want Biden to run in 2024—a figure that would likely be greater if the many liberals and progressives who don’t consider themselves Democrats were included. So labeling participants chosen for their ideologies as supporters of particular politicians is a guess, and often an inaccurate one. (A real sample of US adults, of course, would include the one-third of eligible voters who don’t vote, largely because they don’t see the point.)

The choice to nevertheless silo the participants as either Biden or Trump supporters two years after the election that Trump lost is a concrete example of how the corporate press feeds into the sensationalist circus of Trumpism, keeping him at the forefront of the news cycle, even in stories that barely involve him.

Violent and delusional worldview

On his own social media platform, Truth Social (5/16/22), Donald Trump “ReTruthed” an image that linked him to the QAnon conspiracy theory and its foretold “storm.”

Still, Trump’s chokehold on the Republican Party has 70% of its voting bloc believing the unequivocally false claim that Biden lost the 2020 election (Poynter, 6/16/22). This highlights the danger of normalizing Trump’s ideology as the counterbalance to an establishment Democrat like Biden.

Criticism of Biden and Democrats is valid and necessary, but Trumpism is something else entirely: Thousands of his followers took part in the deadly January 6 insurrection that sought to obstruct a democratic transfer of power. A quarter of Republicans believe in the central tenets of the QAnon conspiracy theory: that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles control the government and media, and that an ever-coming “storm” helmed by Trump will destroy their power (PRII, 2/24/22).

A politician who actively tried to manipulate election results and sow baseless distrust in electoral outcomes is a direct threat to democracy. Casually treating his political base as the natural alternative to the elected government confers legitimacy on this violent and delusional worldview.

The issue, of course, is not whether the Times should be interviewing people who disagree with Biden—of course it should. But using “Trump supporters” as a default term for conservatives, and presenting them as the inevitable balance to the views of moderates and progressives (whose diverse political views are subsumed under the label “Biden supporters”) serves to mainstream a radical, far-right movement.

A mention of the president’s name in a conversation about the US’s current economic position and his student debt relief plan need not be “balanced out” by a headline dropping the name of a one-term president who lost to him two years ago, and who was barely mentioned in the conversation at all. Shoehorning Trump into conversations that don’t substantially involve him implies a false equivalence between the president and a political pretender.

Unrelenting frequency

CJR (11/13/19) tracked how much more the New York Times talks about Trump than about any other recent president.

The unrelenting frequency with which Trump is mentioned in the New York Times and the US media as a whole is well-documented. During his initial bid for the presidency in 2015, Trump received 327 minutes of nightly broadcast network news coverage, while Hillary Clinton received 121 and Bernie Sanders received 20 (Tyndall Report, 12/21/15). As CBS CEO Leslie Moonves (Extra!, 4/16) said in 2016, the cult of Trump “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

During his presidency, the Times mentioned Trump more than it did his predecessors during theirs. A Columbia Journalism Review study (11/13/19) found that two years after his election, “the Times talks about Trump almost three times as much as they did Obama at the same point in his term.”

Three years later, amid criminal investigations and deadly conspiracy theories, Trump has managed to continue bullying his way into the political conversation. The threat the Trump movement poses requires media scrutiny, but when it comes time to discussing policy options, the New York Times should rule out those who reject the validity of democratic elections.

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

Featured Image: Caricatures of focus group participants from the New York Times‘ “Is America in a Recession? Here’s What 16 Biden and Trump Supporters Think” (9/13/22).

 

The post Dragging Trump Into Spotlight Feeds His Dangerous Movement appeared first on FAIR.

‘We’ve Incentivized Corporations to Go After This Price-Gouging Strategy’ - CounterSpin interview with Chris Becker on inflation coverage

 

Janine Jackson interviewed the Groundwork Collaborative’s Chris Becker about inflation coverage for the September 16, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: In a section labeled “Core of the matter,” the Economist declared: “Despite rosier figures, America still has an inflation problem. Is higher unemployment the only cure?”

Economist (9/13/22)

I guess we’re meant to find solace in the idea that the magazine thinks there might conceivably be other responses, in addition to what we are to understand is the proven one: purposely throwing people out of work, with all of the life-changing harms that come with that.

CNBC‘s story, “Inflation Fears Spur Shoppers to Get an Early Jump on the Year-End Holidays,” encouraged us to think that “inflation is a Scrooge.”

So—an abstraction that is somehow stealing Christmas, to which the healthy response is to make more people jobless while corporate profits soar. It makes sense to corporate media, but if it doesn’t make sense to you, you are far from alone.

Chris Becker is the associate director of policy and research, and senior economist, at the Groundwork Collaborative. He joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Chris Becker.

Chris Becker: Thank you so much for having me, and just having this very important discussion.

JJ: I know that lots of people don’t really understand much about how the economy works, and I don’t hold it against them, frankly. I do hold it, in part, against corporate news media, who I think rely on that lack of knowledge to sell ideas that people wouldn’t buy if they understood them.

So if you’re having a first conversation with someone who says, “Boy, prices are high, this inflation is killing us. And, you know, the paper says it’s wages,” how would you try to reorient that conversation? Where would you start?

CB: Right. I think there is a lot of misinformation and misunderstandings floating around that are perpetuated by the media at times. And so where I would start with the conversation is to say that when we’re thinking about inflation, we need to understand that there are stark differences in how American households and consumers are experiencing the post-pandemic economy, versus how corporations are faring.

So for consumers, what this has meant is higher prices: higher prices at the grocery store line, at the pump, even for essential goods like baby formula that are required for basic nutrition of infants. And so the bottom line for consumers is that it’s become harder and harder to make ends meet.

But corporations have turned consumers’ pain into their own gain. So what we’ve seen corporations do is that they’ve used all these crises as an excuse to pass on higher prices to consumers, padding their pockets in the process, and then funneling the extra money back to their wealthy shareholders and investors.

And like you mentioned, there are a lot of narratives going around that corporations were forced to raise these higher prices, that they had higher input costs, or that wage demands were simply too large, and they had to raise prices to compensate for that.

Truthout (8/26/22)

But what we’ve seen, actually, is that not only have corporate profits hit record highs, far exceeding what we saw prior to the pandemic, but also profit margins have hit their highest level in 70 years.

And so what that means is that for every dollar that these corporations are earning, a larger percentage of that is going to corporate profits, rather than paying off input costs or paying wages, than what we’ve seen since the 1950s. So not only are corporations making a lot of money, they’re actually squeezing consumers for more than they have in 70 years.

And so, yes, input costs have gone up, wages have gone up, but corporations have passed all of that onto consumers in the form of higher prices, and then a little bit more, so they’re actually making more and more profits than they used to.

JJ: And I just want to add, the way that media framing tends to talk about workers and consumers as though they were different people is very frustrating in terms of understanding what’s going on, right? I’m the one paying at the pump and at the grocery store, and I’m also the one working for wages. So it’s very obfuscating to separate those groups rhetorically.

CB: Yes, absolutely. And one of the biggest problems is that wages are not rising fast enough. We’ve seen that wages have gone up, but not by as much as inflation has gone up.

So the purchasing power of these workers, in terms of what their wage actually buys them, has gone down. And so we actually need higher wages, not lower wages. We need to ensure that workers are being fairly compensated for the higher prices that they’re seeing. That’s exactly right.

JJ: When I see outlets like the Economist toss off phrases like the “remorseless mathematics” of economic policy-making, that’s sending a message, right, to readers that choices aren’t being made. It’s as if it’s the hand of God.

And as well as misrepresenting what you and I know is the very contested nature of economics—if you have different goals, you want different policies—it also seems to encourage a kind of passivity on the part of people. “There’s really nothing you can do about it. It’s just math, you know, it’s just math.” It’s very frustrating.

CB: I think that’s exactly right. And when we’re thinking about corporations, they do have options. They do have other choices of how they want to go about making profits. We often frame it as if it’s this question of, should corporations be allowed to make profits or not? And, of course, in a strong economy, where everyone’s doing well and everyone’s making money, corporations will make profits too.

The real issue is how they’ve gone about making these profits. And so, unfortunately, we’ve incentivized these corporations to really go after this price-gouging, profiteering strategy, rather than pursuing other strategies that could be good for all of us.

So, for example, one option that corporations have is that it’s not obvious that higher prices are always better for corporations either; if corporations keep their prices low, consumers can afford to buy more from them, and they’ll make more money. But, unfortunately, they put all their eggs in this price-gouging basket instead.

In the long run, low prices could be good for corporations. If you keep your prices low and the products are affordable, consumers will see that, and they’re more likely to keep shopping with you. They’re able to expand your customer base.

So I think even the high prices could, in some ways, be short-sighted for corporations, too.

Another big problem is that corporations are not investing this money. We know that corporations are making all these profits. They could be taking this extra money and saying, “Let’s actually invest it so that we can have long-term profitability, long-term sustainability. Let’s try to bring our costs down. Let’s try to expand our productive capacity, so we can produce more in the future and make more money.”

Unfortunately, they’re not doing that either. What we’re seeing instead is that corporations are taking all those extra profits and doing share buybacks and dividends, and funneling extra money to their shareholders.

These shareholders don’t necessarily have the best interest of the corporations in the long run, or the economy as a whole, in mind. They want to see a short-run return right now, make sure they make their money while they can. And so they’re incentivizing these corporations to go all in on price-gouging; funnel the money back rather than taking the more risky investments in the long run that could benefit all of us.

We need to really move away from this model where corporations are so reliant on shareholders who are really prioritizing short-run profits and profiteering over far more investment.

JJ: I was struck by a recent tweet of yours in which you said we can continue arguing about precise causes of inflation, but we have to connect it to corporate profiteering. And you said:

Whether this profiteering is a cause of inflation or just a distributional consequence, we don’t have to accept this. We can build institutions that ensure everyday Americans get a bigger piece of that pie.

I wonder if you could just finally talk a little bit about that. What institutions need to be grown? How do we build them? Just tell us a little bit about that positive vision.

Chris Becker: “Unfortunately, we have built a system that relies on exploitation of labor rather than building up workers’ rights and good pay.”

CB: Sure. I think that a lot of it goes back to what you were talking about before, where the consumers are workers.

And, unfortunately, we have built a system that relies on exploitation of labor rather than building up workers’ rights and good pay. So corporations are not paying workers well, they’re not giving them proper rights, they’re not respecting their dignity in the workplace. And we see the consequences of this.

We’ve seen it very recently in the labor strike that we’ve seen in the railroad industry. Railroad workers are workers that our economy really depends on; they’re essential workers within our supply chains that allow consumers to access the goods and services that they need. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in this crisis, it’s how important our supply chains are.

But railroads, instead of treating these workers well and taking care of them, have assumed that they can continue to exploit them over and over again, and those workers will always be there when we need them.

And, finally, these railroad workers are saying enough is enough. They’re making very simple demands, just to have basic paid sick leave so that they don’t worry about losing all their income when they get sick.

And so now we are faced with this situation where we could have a railroad strike, which will throw our economy into disruption once again, and raise prices for everyone.

And so we should be investing in workers, investing in higher wages, investing in unions because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it will allow workers to focus on their jobs, get the essential tasks they do done without having to worry about having enough money, being able to make the right choices for their family.

So I think a lot of it just starts with investing in workers first instead of corporate exploitation.

JJ: We’re going to end on that note. We’ve been speaking with Chris Becker, associate director of policy and research, and senior economist, at the Groundwork Collaborative. Their work is online at GroundworkCollaborative.org. Thank you so much, Chris Becker, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

CB: Thank you.

 

The post ‘We’ve Incentivized Corporations to Go After This Price-Gouging Strategy’ appeared first on FAIR.

John Miller ‘Chose to Lie About Something That’s Well-Documented’ - CounterSpin interview with Sumayyah Waheed on CNN's John Miller

 

Janine Jackson interviewed Muslim Advocates’ Sumayyah Waheed about CNN‘s John Miller for the September 16, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: In March of this year, John Miller—then deputy commissioner of intelligence and counter-terrorism for the New York Police Department—told a New York City Council meeting that “there is no evidence” that the NYPD surveilled Muslim communities in the wake of September 11, 2001—”based,” he said, “on every objective study that’s been done.”

NPR (4/15/14)

At that point, media had extensively documented the unconstitutional discrimination of the NYPD’s so-called “Demographics Unit,” including installing police cameras outside mosques, and reporting store owners who had visible Qurans or religious calendars. And the NYPD had agreed to disband the unit in the face of multiple federal lawsuits.

In September, CNN hired John Miller as “chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst,” part of changes attached to CNN‘s absorption by Warner Brothers Discovery, whose most powerful shareholder is libertarian billionaire John Malone, who has stated that he would like CNN to feature more “actual journalism,” citing, as an example, Fox News.

Forget what it portends for CNN. The Miller hire is a message to Muslim communities about who it’s OK to harm under official sanction, and how eagerly some will strive to deny and erase that harm and its ongoing effects.

We’re joined now by Sumayyah Waheed, senior policy council at Muslim Advocates. She joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Sumayyah Waheed.

Sumayyah Waheed: Thank you so much for having me.

CNN‘s John Miller

JJ: I want to read just a little bit more context for the statement that John Miller made to New York City Council member Shahana Hanif, when she asked for transparency and an official apology for the NYPD surveillance and harassment of Muslims.

Just before he said there’s no evidence, Miller said:

Perception allowed to linger long enough becomes reality. I know from my own conversation with Muslim members of the community, and Muslim community leaders, that there are people…who will believe forever…[that] there were spies in their mosques who were trying to entrap people.

It seems important to acknowledge that this isn’t just lying. This is gaslighting, right?

SW: Yeah. And it’s lying under oath. He was providing testimony under oath to the City Council.

It’s important to note he had choices in terms of how to respond to this, the request for an apology. He could have flatly refused it. He could have defended the NYPD’s program. I wouldn’t agree with that, either, but he could have done that.

Instead, he chose to lie about something that’s well-documented. And as you said, specifically something that harms a marginalized community, the Muslims in the New York area, whose harms that they suffered from this massive surveillance echo through today.

Pulitzer Prizes (2012)

And this was not that long ago. This program started in the aftermath of 9/11, so about 20-plus years ago, and then the AP reported on it in, I think, 2012. They won a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting on it.

And they reported with a treasure trove of documents, internal documents from the NYPD, some of which our organization utilized in our lawsuit against the NYPD for their spying. And a federal appeals court explicitly said that our client’s allegations were plausible, that the NYPD ran a surveillance program with a racially discriminatory classification.

So he chose to lie about something that’s well-documented. He chose to basically spit in the face of Muslim communities who were harmed by this program. And he has basically been rewarded for it, by being hired by a major news outlet with a position that, I don’t even know how much he’s going to be compensated, but he’s now got a national platform to further spread lies.

JJ: It’s incredible, and I just want to draw you out on one piece, which is that folks, even critically thinking folks, will have heard, yes, this was a program that happened, but it was ended, despite what Miller, in his brain, which we don’t want to explore, believes. The program ended, and so therefore maybe things are better.

Could I just ask you a little bit about the harms from something like this surveillance program, which is—cameras outside of mosques, interrogating people in stores, you know? The harms don’t disappear when the program is officially ended.

CLEAR et al. (2013)

SW: Not at all. So first of all, just from our lawsuit—and our lawsuit was specifically for New Jersey Muslims who were affected by this, and there were other lawsuits for the New York Muslims, and there were Muslims outside of the New York and New Jersey area who were affected by this. But just from our lawsuit, we knew that the NYPD spied on at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two grade schools and two Muslim student associations in New Jersey.

So every aspect of Muslims’ lives was being surveilled, and the community finding out about this pervasive surveillance, that’s not something that you can just dismiss. The community basically was traumatized by this.

And the result—there’s a Mapping Muslims report that actually goes into all the effects, some of the impacts on the Muslim community from this notorious program of surveillance. And they found that Muslims suppressed themselves, in terms of their religious expression, their speech and political associations.

It sowed suspicion within the community, because people found out, you know, the person sitting next to me at the mosque was an informant. How can I go to the mosque and trust everyone there? Maybe I won’t go.

Of course, it severed trust with law enforcement, and then contributed to a pervasive fear and unwillingness to publicly engage.

So that you can’t just flip a switch on. If the NYPD actually wanted to address those harms, that would be a really long road to repair.

And by having John Miller in his position, and not actually censuring him or firing him for those comments, the NYPD signaled the opposite, right, that they’re going to back somebody who doesn’t care to address the harms of the department.

And then, of course, now he’s being further validated by a national news media company.

FAIR.org (6/21/17)

JJ: And Miller does Big Lie—a term, by the way, that is now reportedly forbidden at CNN with reference to Trump’s stolen election.

But in 2017, as Josmar Trujillo wrote for FAIR.org, Miller was on a local radio station, WNYM, saying that

activists have in their mind this idea that police departments and cities like New York run massive surveillance programs, targeting innocent civilians for no reason. Now, that’s nutty. I mean, why would we do that? How could we do that? And how would it make sense?

Again, this is beyond misinformation to disinformation. And it’s very clear that this is his jam, you know? And so CNN has to want him for that, and not despite that. It just, it’s breaking my brain.

SW: Yes, because news networks should be helping us sort fact from fiction, not further destroying the line. Otherwise they’re nothing better than propaganda machines.

And this is not just propaganda. This is specifically erasing the experiences of marginalized people —and to elevate law enforcement above any criticism, much less actually holding it accountable to ordinary people.

And we know that law enforcement has a pattern of systemically depriving communities that are already marginalized: Black communities, Latinx communities, poor communities, Muslims, disabled communities. I mean, the list goes on.

So, basically, CNN is signaling that this is where they’re putting their weight.

JJ: Yeah. And you know, at that point, Josmar Trujillo was writing about how the NYC City Council was calling on the police department to be transparent about surveillance operations. That was something called the POST Act, and the police and the right-wing media came in shrieking, like this is going to be a “roadmap for terrorists” to how to attack us.

But the point is, that hysteria pulled the goalpost to the right. So now transparency—what surveillance operations are you doing—becomes the weirdest thing that you can call for. And ending that discriminatory surveillance and harassment is pushed off the page and off the table.

And I just wonder what your thoughts are about media and journalism, and what they could do to help, or could stop doing that hurts.

Sumayyah Waheed: “News networks are supposed to help us sort fact from fiction, not further destroy the line.”

SW: Right. I think that, again, going back to my point that news networks are supposed to help us sort fact from fiction, not further destroy the line, and specifically with the powerful actors, whether they’re police departments or elected officials, to utilize that truth-telling, the investigatory process, to hold those actors accountable.

Because that should be the role of the news, is finding the information that might not be obvious, accessing the records that should be public, because we live in a free and open society, supposedly, and enabling people to take that information and hold their elected or public officials accountable.

So simply ceding ground because there’s a loud, screaming, radical voice out there is definitely not the answer. And to further reiterate, you know, the AP, by reporting on this, won the Pulitzer Prize. So it’s not like there’s no reward for it besides, you know, a free and well-engaged society. We should be rewarding truth-telling and proper investigations by journalists.

But you know, this is a rightward shift at CNN under the new chairman, and it comes after the firing of Brian Stelter and John Harwood for criticizing Trump and Republicans who engage in election denials.

So the story is already being told by these moves, right? So it’s just really alarming and disturbing for anyone who values truth, who values our democracy—and particularly for the marginalized communities, who know that this type of gaslighting, this type of elevating law enforcement above any kind of reproach is going to continue to harm us.

JJ: And I wish I didn’t have to note that nothing about that program made anybody safer.

SW: Yes.

JJ: Because what we’re going to hear is, “OK, yeah, we’re harming some people’s civil liberties, but it’s all about safety.”

And so I wish we didn’t have to say it, but the thing is that that harm didn’t make anybody safer.

FAIR.org (9/14/22)

SW: Right, the entire massive surveillance apparatus did not lead to one investigatory lead.

And I’ll also point out: the federal appeals court that ruled for our clients also cited the Japanese internment as a bad example of being overly deferential to the executive branch, which law enforcement is part of, and not wanting to repeat that shameful history.

So one step towards repeating history is denying it. Another step is forgetting it. But active denial just accelerates that process. So it’s very unsettling, and CNN should really just reverse course, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen, so it’s pretty discouraging.

JJ: Well, we’re going to encourage listeners to encourage that to happen.

We’ve been speaking with Sumayyah Waheed, senior policy council at Muslim Advocates. You can find their work online at MuslimAdvocates.org. Thank you so much, Sumayyah Waheed, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

SW: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

 

The post John Miller ‘Chose to Lie About Something That’s Well-Documented’ appeared first on FAIR.

Biden’s Afghan Shell Game Prompts Media Shrugs and Stenography

 

More than a year after it froze $7 billion of Afghanistan’s central bank reserves in the wake of the Taliban’s military victory, the US has announced it will use half the money to establish a fund at a Swiss bank to help stabilize the cratering Afghan economy.

The New York Times (9/14/22) wrote that the US “explored trying to directly recapitalize the Afghan central bank”—in other words, considered giving some of Afghanistan’s money back to Afghanistan.

President Joe Biden’s refusal over the past year to allow the Afghan central bank access to its own reserves has caused an economic crisis that has pushed most of the population into extreme poverty and malnutrition. Moreover, in February, Biden announced that he was reserving half of Afghanistan’s money for families of 9/11 victims, sparking international outrage—and yawns from TV news outlets (FAIR.org, 2/15/22).

The establishment of the “Afghan Fund” is a half measure that, while almost certain to provide some much needed relief, continues both the unjust theft of half the funds and the hobbling of the country’s recovery by undermining the central bank. (Economist Andrés Arauz describes Biden’s plan as “starting a parallel private foundation ‘central bank’ from scratch,” and argues that it’s a “terrible idea”—CEPR, 9/15/22.)

When a government invades a country, occupies it for 20 years, and then sends it into a humanitarian crisis by appropriating most of its money, you’d expect good journalists from that country to follow the story closely and vigorously hold their government to account. In the US, instead, you get largely shrugs and government talking points.

Obscuring US responsibility

The story of Biden’s reallocation of Afghanistan’s reserves wasn’t mentioned by a single TV news outlet, according to a search of the Nexis news database. That failure is sadly unsurprising, given their overwhelming lack of interest in the Afghan people once the US military withdrawal was complete—after incessant wailing about the fate of those people during the withdrawal itself (FAIR.org, 12/21/21).

The AP story the LA Times (9/15/22) ran on the Biden administration’s reallocation of Afghanistan’s banking reserves didn’t quote any Afghans.

The Los Angeles Times (9/15/22) ran an AP report on the funds on its front page. That report—which also ran in major papers like the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun—obscured the US responsibility for the situation, using passive language to explain that “international funding to Afghanistan was suspended” and “billions of dollars of the county’s assets abroad, mostly in the United States, were frozen” after the US withdrawal.

That Biden had unilaterally announced that half the money would be effectively stolen from the Afghan people, who had nothing to do with 9/11, and reserved for families of 9/11 victims, was likewise reported with passive language and no hint of controversy: “The other $3.5 billion will stay in the US to finance payments from lawsuits by US victims of terrorism.”

The only quotes the AP offered were from US officials and the Swiss bank.

CNN.com (9/14/22) also quoted only US officials, and offered the rather credulous assessment: “By setting up this mechanism, the US is making it clear that they intend to get the frozen funds to the Afghan people”—which is hard to square with the earmarking of fully half the funds for US citizens, not the Afghan people.

‘Unusual dilemma’

The Washington Post headline (9/14/22) reflects the framing that Afghanistan is to blame for the theft of its reserves: “US officials say the Taliban has refused to do what is necessary for the funds to be returned.”

The New York Times and Washington Post at least included a human rights critic each, but still included language downplaying US culpability. At the Times (9/14/22), reporter Charlie Savage told readers the crisis is “a highly unusual dilemma”:

Afghanistan’s economy went into a free fall when its government collapsed amid the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021. Financial aid and international spending dried up, in part because the Taliban are a designated terrorist group subject to US and international sanctions that make it a crime to transfer money that could reach them.

In this framing, it’s not US sanctions that are to blame, but rather the fact that the “Taliban are a designated terrorist group” and thus subject to sanctions. Designated by whom? By not answering this question, the Times deflects attention from US decision-making and its catastrophic impact on the Afghan people.

The only unalloyed criticism appearing in any US news outlet we could find came from Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, who told the Washington Post (9/14/22), “This move can’t possibly compensate for the harm to the Afghan economy and millions of people who are starving, in large part because of the US confiscation of Afghanistan’s central bank reserves.”

The Post‘s Jeff Stein also was nearly alone in including criticism from a spokesperson for the Afghan central bank. (The only other major US news outlet we found that included a quote from a Taliban spokesperson was the Wall Street Journal9/14/22).

Even so, the Post couldn’t help tucking an old-fashioned both-sidesing into the story:

Economists say the freezing of these funds has fueled the collapse of Afghanistan’s economy and its hunger crisis, but the Biden administration and other analysts have said the Taliban cannot be trusted to administer such substantial amounts of money.

Urging release of funds

The Intercept report (6/6/22) frankly refers to “the humanitarian disaster triggered by the Biden administration’s decision to seize Afghanistan’s $7 billion in banking reserves.”

The US isn’t alone in its concerns about the Taliban, but Washington’s argument is disingenuous. Central bank funds are not the property of the country’s government, and that government cannot simply withdraw them for its own purposes; the vast majority—some 90%—of the bank’s holdings in fact belong to Afghan citizens and businesses (CEPR.net, 9/15/22).

That’s why a wide range of individuals and groups around the world, including human rights groups, economists and the UN secretary general, have urged the release of the entirety of the funds to the central bank.

The earmarking of half the funds for 9/11 families—which a group of economists including Joseph Stiglitz called “arbitrary and unjustified”—is particularly galling. Kelly Campbell, co-founder of 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, told the Intercept (6/6/22):

The fact of the matter is that these reserves are the Afghan people’s money. The idea that they are on the brink of famine and that we would be holding on to their money for any purpose is just wrong. The Afghan people are not responsible for 9/11, they’re victims of 9/11 the same way our families are. To take their money and watch them literally starve—I can’t think of anything more sad.

Missing: women’s voices

Al Jazeera (12/4/21): “The Afghan people should not be denied vital healthcare and be abandoned without food because the international community sees economic starvation as the only available tool to influence the Taliban regime. “

Even those the West most professes concern for, Afghan women, have deeply criticized Biden’s handling of the funds. In March, the US canceled talks in Doha with the Taliban about the funds, ostensibly because the Taliban reversed its decision to allow girls to attend high school (Reuters, 3/27/22). But as Jamila Afghani, founder and president of the Afghan chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, pointedly argued (Al Jazeera, 12/4/21): “We are not supporting Afghan women by starving them.”

In an op-ed for Foreign Policy (1/31/22) several months into the freeze, Jamila Afghani and Yifat Susskind of the global women’s human rights group MADRE argued that US policymakers’ framing of the situation offers a false choice between economic relief and women’s rights—which, they point out, is “grounded in historical hypocrisy,” as the US used women’s rights to justify their war, despite spending nearly 1,000 times more on military operations than promoting women’s rights. (See FAIR.org, 8/23/21.)

“In reality,” Afghani and Susskind wrote, “the best way for policymakers to ensure their actions promote an effective economic recovery is to center the voices of Afghan women leaders and heed their recommendations.”

US journalists’ over-reliance on official sources means that the false choice between economic relief and women’s rights is not just the dominant policymaker narrative, but the dominant media narrative as well. In not a single story in the latest round of coverage was an Afghan woman’s voice heard—let alone centered. Nor were any civilian male voices heard, for that matter. In a story fundamentally about the fate of the Afghan people, to US journalists, those people are little more than silent pawns.

The post Biden’s Afghan Shell Game Prompts Media Shrugs and Stenography appeared first on FAIR.

PBS and BBC Team Up to Misinform About Brazil’s Bolsonaro

 

Both the US and British governments supported the rise of Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. Future Prime Minister Liz Truss had secret meetings with the future president in 2018 to discuss “free trade, free markets and post-Brexit opportunities”  (BrasilWire, 3/25/20).

The US Department of Justice was a crucial partner in the Lava Jato (“Car Wash”) investigation, which resulted in the prosecution and jailing of Brazil’s left-leaning former president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva. The politically motivated legal campaign against Lula served to prevent his participation in the 2018 presidential election, in what Gaspard Estrada calls “the biggest judicial scandal in Brazilian history.”

Because of this history, and because Brazil is a hard country to explain concisely, I was weary to learn that the British and US state-affiliated media outlets BBC and PBS had co-released a documentary about Jair Bolsonaro only a few weeks before this year’s Brazilian presidential election (10/2–30/22). It didn’t fail to disappoint.

Rise of the Bolsonaros was released on August 28 on PBS, and is airing as a three-part series in Britain on BBC2.  It tells the story of Brazil’s far-right president through the words of people like Steve Bannon, Bolsonaro’s son Flavio, journalists, and current or former allies of the president, including a far-right lawmaker who is merely introduced as an “anti-corruption crusader.”

Feigned objectivity

The only time a member of the Brazilian Workers Party got to speak was when Rep. Maria do Rosario was asked to describe her reaction to a misogynistic taunt from Bolsonaro.

With over 20 interviewees, the producers feign objectivity by granting a small proportion of airtime to progressive politicians. Two of the three progressive interviewees, however, are from the relatively tiny PSOL party—a nonthreatening source, given that the party is not even running a presidential candidate this year. The single representative of Lula’s Workers Party, Rep. Maria do Rosario, is given around 30 seconds to answer the following aggressively uncomfortable question: “How did you feel when Bolsonaro told you you didn’t deserve to be raped?”

The cast of journalists included some of the biggest cheerleaders for Lava Jato and Lula’s politically motivated imprisonment. Given the most airtime among the journalist interviewees was Brian Winter, who was introduced as a former Reuters chief in Brazil. The fact that Winter’s current job was not mentioned is indicative of the documentary’s editorial bias.

Winter is vice president of policy at Americas Society/Council of the Americas, the think tank founded by David Rockefeller in 1963 that was a key player in the 1973 coup against Chilean President Salvador Allende. Since then, AS/COA has worked, most recently  through its media arm, Americas Quarterly—of which Winter is editor-in-chief—to promote nearly every other far-right US intervention in Latin America, including the recent regime-change efforts in Venezuela and Bolivia.

AS/COA held a closed-door meeting in New York in 2017 with US business leaders and Bolsonaro—then a presidential hopeful—evidently prompting Americas Quarterly to lend increasingly favorable coverage to the far-right demagogue. The think tank’s current list of donors reads like a who’s who of mining and agribusiness corporations, many of which have benefited immensely from the massive privatization and environmental deregulation campaigns that followed the 2016 legislative coup against President Dilma Rousseff.

Desertification = development

During the Rise of the Bolsonaros opening montage, as footage of a burning rainforest appeared on screen, Winter said, “Jair Bolsonaro believes that the Brazilian Amazon is the magical path to economic prosperity.” There was no mention of Winter’s prominent role within AS/COA, which counts the agribusiness giant Cargill as one of its “elite corporate members.” This omission is especially glaring, since Cargill has been repeatedly cited as one of the main culprits in the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

This set the tone for the film’s treatment of one of the only Bolsonaro policies that was criticized in the nearly three-hour production: illegal deforestation. Every time footage related to this issue appeared, a journalist or Bolsonaro ally arrived on screen to water it down, usually by a ratio of at least two to one.

Bolsonaro meme designer Camila Azevedo describes how deforestation is helping the Indigenous.

One example came nearly an hour in, when the issue of deforestation was first given in-depth treatment. “From the very beginning, Bolsonaro wanted to develop the Amazon economically,” BBC‘s Katy Watson said—as if it were a given that the desertification of former rain forests, the poisoning of rivers with mercury and the destruction of renewable commodity chains is good for the economy.

Similar treatment was given to Bolsanaro’s systematic persecution and dispossession of Brazil’s Indigenous communities, some of which still live with little or no contact with outsiders. APIB—a coalition of Indigenous associations from across Brazil—has already called on the International Criminal Court to investigate Bolsonaro for genocide and crimes against humanity. After Indigenous leader Maial Kayapó explained how Bolsonaro encourages violence against her people, Camila Azevedo, the Bolsonaro family’s young meme designer, pops on the screen and says: “Most Indigenous, they want land to till…. They don’t want to walk around naked for the rest of their lives.”

Rags to riches

 

Jair Bolsonaro gives PBS viewers a tour of his childhood home.

Bolsonaro’s early years are framed as a rags-to-riches story of rugged individualism. The story begins with the laughable claim that Bolsonaro grew up in the “badlands” of Brazil. In fact, Bolsonaro was born in Campinas, a relatively wealthy city with a metro area population of 3.7 million.

The banana-farming town of Eldorado, where they moved when he was 11, while located in one of the poorest regions of Brazil’s richest state of Sao Paulo, could hardly be called a “badlands.” Brazil’s badlands are the semi-arid back country of the Northeast, where gangs of Wild West–style outlaws called cangaceiros roamed on horseback until the 1940s.

In introducing Brazil’s sub-fascist military dictatorship (1964–85), corporate PR flack Brian Winter tells us that it was Bolsonaro’s “golden age.” Brazilian studies professor Anthony Perreira says:

If you were in one of the armed left groups, if you were a member of the Communist Party, if you were a student, and if you were engaged politically, it was a very dangerous time. But for a lot of people, it was a period of growth.

For the last 500 years, Brazil’s export commodity–based economy has been characterized by cyclical boom and bust periods. During the 21-year dictatorship, there was indeed a five-year boom period between 1968–73, but due to the government’s repression of organized labor and its efforts to suppress wages, it was accompanied by a drastic increase in income inequality. By the time the dictatorship ended, Brazil had become one of the most unequal countries in the world.

This inequality was exacerbated by the military government’s lack of commitment to public education, and its eagerness to take out massive loans from the World Bank to fund unsuccessful, environmentally devastating projects in the Amazon rainforest. Such failures led to the economic stagnation, hyperinflation and crippling foreign debt of what is now referred to as the “lost decade” of the 1980s.  When Perreira says, “For a lot of people it was a period of growth,” he is clearly referring to the elites who currently finance Bolsonaro rather than the Brazilian working class, which this documentary misrepresents as constituting the president’s primary base of support.

Man of the people

Bolsonaro’s petit bourgeois origins, glossed over in the film, are revealed in the story of his military career. Agulhas Negras, the elite Brazilian army academy where Bolsonaro studied after attending the Preparatory School of the Brazilian Army, has an extremely competitive admissions process.  It’s not the type of place where someone who grew up in “rags” would get into, but a traditional pathway of social ascension for members of the lower-middle class.

The documentary also relates how, in September 1986, then-Captain Bolsonaro wrote an article that appeared in Veja (9/3/86), a national news magazine, complaining about military officer salaries. A journalist says Bolsonaro “couldn’t afford to buy a house,” without mentioning that he was arrested for breaking army regulations by publishing the article. The documentary frames Bolsonaro as being broke and unable to support his family, but at the time of the article, Brazilian army captains earned 10,433 cruzados per month—over 12 times the country’s minimum salary of 804 cruzados.

Brian Winter: “I was there when a reporter asked….” Where was he? At AS/COA. What was he doing there? Introducing Bolsonaro to his corporate sponsors in the mining, petroleum and agribusiness industries.

The salary may have been lower than what Bolsonaro felt he deserved, but it placed him among the roughly 10% of the national population in the upper-middle class.  Accurately portraying Bolsonaro as a Brazilian elite, however, doesn’t fit with the director’s attempt to portray Lula, who grew up in a mud shack and started working in a factory at age 14, as a liberal elite, and Bolsonaro as a man of the people, the same way Fox NewsTucker Carlson recently did during his one-week stay in Brazil running electoral propaganda for the president (FAIR.org, 7/25/22).

Bolsonaro’s 2017 visit to New York is presented as a brilliant strategy to validate his future candidacy to the Brazilian public, to show that “important people in the US wanted to listen to what he had to say.” Interviewee Brian Winter’s role in introducing Bolsonaro to US business elites is not mentioned at all, only alluded to by his anecdote about how cleverly Bolsonaro answered a question from a US reporter at the time about his rape comments directed at Maria do Rosario.

US-style culture war

Meanwhile, Steve Bannon and his far-right allies like Jason Miller have maintained communications with the Brazilian president’s family for years. In fact, the relationship between Bolsonaro’s sons and the American far right is so good that one of them attended the January 5, 2021, “war council” in Washington, DC, prior to the invasion of Capitol Hill. Bannon’s claim in the documentary that he reached out to the Bolsonaros to learn about their social media strategy seems like a blatant lie, since many of the tactics employed by Bolsonaro were clearly based on the Trump campaign’s culture war rhetoric.

The idea that Lula and Bolsonaro are at opposite ends of a US-style culture war is given disproportionate emphasis in the documentary. For example, at certain times when Lula is discussed, footage of men kissing at a pride parade appears on screen, as does an image of the former president holding a rainbow flag.

Such exaggerated treatment of Lula’s role in the cultural sphere ignores the fact that his popularity was largely driven by massive increases in spending on public health and education and successful poverty-reduction policies. Although, unlike Bolsonaro, Lula is not openly homophobic, he has faced criticism from the LGBT community for not going far enough to advance LGBT rights, and from feminists for not legalizing abortion.

Showcasing Flavio Bolsonaro’s sensitive side.

Nevertheless, the largest protests of Brazil’s working class since Bolsonaro took office had nothing to do with culture wars. The 2019 Education Tsunami protests, organized by student groups and teachers unions, brought over 2 million people into the streets of dozens of cities, and effectively stalled the Bolsonaro administration’s attempts to charge tuition at public universities.

Rio de Janeiro city councilor and anti–police violence crusader Marielle Franco, who is introduced only as an LGBT activist, was not a member of Lula’s Workers Party. Her assassination at the hands of members of a Rio de Janeiro militia, whose leader Adriano da Nobrega’s wife and mother both worked as “ghost employees” in Flavio Bolsonaro’s state congressional cabinet, is another scandal involving the Bolsonaro family that the documentary glosses over.

Instead, Flavio Bolsonaro, who appears several times in the documentary, shares humorous anecdotes about his childhood, and cries to the camera while remembering the 2018 stabbing incident involving his father, which far-right forces falsely tried to blame on Communists.

Missing Moro

Conspicuously absent: Sergio Moro, who broke the law to remove Lula from the 2018 presidential elections then went on work as Bolsonaro’s minister of justice, is not mentioned once in the documentary.

The most glaring problem in the deeply flawed Rise of the Bolsonaros is the omission of arguably the single most important player in Bolsonaro’s rise to the presidency: former Lava Jato investigation judge Sergio Moro. During a period in which the Lava Jato task force was having frequent meetings with the US Department of Justice and the FBI, Moro repeatedly broke the law by collaborating with prosecutors to discredit the Workers Party and help Bolsonaro.

The documentary doesn’t mention that Lula’s election-season arrest, on charges of committing “undetermined acts of corruption,” was made after the Brazilian supreme court, under threats from the Army, opened an exception to the Constitution to enable his imprisonment while his appeals were ongoing. Instead, it brings up frivolous charges that were dropped before his trial even started, such as “receiving 1 million euros in bribes.” The fact that Lula was ultimately released from prison after the election is written off as a “technicality.” There is also no acknowledgment  that this delay was only made possible by the political bias of a crooked judge who illegally colluded with prosecutors throughout the trial.

While stating that the supreme court ruled that Lula could run for public office, the documentary omits the fact that he was fully exonerated on all charges, while the judge who imprisoned him, Sergio Moro, was found by that same court to have been tainted by judicial bias. An especially relevant piece of information left out of Rise of the Bolsonaros is the supreme court’s charge that Moro leaked fraudulent audio tapes to media in order to damage the reputation of Workers Party candidate Fernando Haddad just one week before the presidential elections, and then, in a clear conflict of interest,  accepted a cabinet position in the Bolsonaro government.

Not even mentioning Moro, let alone describing the crimes he committed to empower Bolsonaro, discredits the entire documentary. Without Moro, a false impression is left that Jair Bolsonaro’s rise to power was based entirely on his family’s cunning.

Steve Bannon gets the last word.

The program ends, laying any doubts about its lack of objectivity to rest once and for all, with the narrator saying, “The fate of Brazil is in the hands of its people,” followed by a 40-second pep talk by Steve Bannon—giving the last word on the upcoming Brazilian election to one of the main advocates for overturning the last US election.

The fact that US and British state-affiliated media outlets would promote misleading narratives less than a month before the most complicated Brazilian presidential election in modern history is another sad example of the long tradition of Western media facilitating imperialist meddling in Latin American elections.

Featured image: Jair Bolsonaro and sons, pictured in Rise of the Bolsonaros.

Messages to PBS can be sent to viewer@pbs.org (or via Twitter: @PBS). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

The post PBS and BBC Team Up to Misinform About Brazil’s Bolsonaro appeared first on FAIR.

Sumayyah Waheed on CNN’s Copaganda Hire, Chris Becker on Inflation Coverage

 

 

CNN‘s John Miller

This week on CounterSpin: Journalist-turned-cop-turned-journalist-turned-cop-turned-journalist John Miller makes a blur of the revolving door. For years, he’s been back and forth between the New York Police Department (and the FBI) and news media like ABC. And now he’s the new hire at CNN. Don’t miss the message: For corporate media, being a paid flack for the police in no way disqualifies you to offer what viewers will be assured is a dry-eyed analysis of law enforcement patterns and practices. The hire is part of CNN‘s rebranding under new leadership; the major stockholder cites Fox News as an exemplar. But while it’s tempting to say CNN is acting like the kid who imagines his bully will let up if he offers both his and his little brother’s lunch money, the harder truth is that CNN knows it won’t attract or appease Fox or Fox viewers. So we should focus less on how one network “counters” the other than on whom they’re both ready to throw under the bus—in this case, Muslims. We’ll talk about the Miller hire with Sumayyah Waheed, senior policy counsel at Muslim Advocates.

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Atlantic (9/5/22)

Also on the show: Listeners may have seen the “just asking questions, don’t get mad” Atlantic article about how it might make sense to keep pricing insulin out of the reach of diabetics because, wait, wait…hear me out. (The idea was that if insulin winds up cheaper than newer, better drugs, more people might die.)  Other outlets are musing about how higher unemployment might be the best response to higher prices. Why are we doing thought experiments about hurting people? Implied scarcity—”obviously we can’t do all the things a society needs, so let’s discuss what to jettison”—is a whole vibe that major media could upend, but instead enable. We’ll talk about how that’s playing out in coverage of inflation with Chris Becker, associate director of policy and research and senior economist at the Groundwork Collaborative.

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The post Sumayyah Waheed on CNN’s Copaganda Hire, Chris Becker on Inflation Coverage appeared first on FAIR.

ACTION ALERT: Crime Claims of CNN’s New Police Expert Don’t Hold Up to Facts

 

In its latest move to the right, CNN recently hired former NYPD flack John Miller as its “chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst.” As Josmar Trujillo observed more than five years ago (FAIR.org, 6/21/17), Miller “has spun the revolving door between law enforcement and media like perhaps no one else,” moving back and forth between jobs at the NYPD, FBI, ABC and CBS.

Just last year, while working for the NYPD, Miller falsely testified that there was “no evidence” the department had spied on Muslims in mosques—when, in fact, AP had won a Pulitzer in 2012 for uncovering how after 9/11 the NYPD “systematically spied on Muslim neighborhoods, listened in on sermons, infiltrated colleges and photographed law-abiding residents” (Popular Information, 9/7/22). Shahana Hanif, the Muslim city council member who called out Miller’s lies, told Popular Information:

John Miller had the audacity to lie under oath about the nature of this program to my face…. Someone like John Miller should not be in public service nor should they be given a platform on a mainstream cable news network.

Predictably, within days of joining CNN, Miller offered up a healthy dose of dishonest copaganda to the network’s audience.

Heads I win, tails you lose

John Miller misexplains crime stats to CNN‘s audience (New Day, 9/7/22).

On CNN New Day (9/7/22), anchor John Berman brought up the issue of crime in New York City, noting that murder and shooting rates had fallen over the past year, and asking Miller to explain “how…that was achieved.”

Miller replied:

Well, I know how it was achieved because I was there. And that was achieved by extraordinarily smart deployments, which is the Bronx was driving the shooting numbers for the city a year ago. They flooded the Bronx with police officers on overtime. They flooded the Bronx with police officers working a sixth or seventh day.

They shifted tours around. They were very strategic, watching every shooting, every dot on the map and pushing resources there. And they were able to suppress that.

Berman then asked Miller how to explain the seeming anomaly that “you can get the murder right and shootings down, but robbery, felony assaults and overall crime, all up?”

Miller responded:

When you take the larceny, burglary, auto theft, these are all covered under New York’s new bail reform laws, which is, criminals know — criminals have very good intelligence, as good as the police when it comes to collecting information and distributing that among each other—they know that there are certain charges where the judge in New York state, not just New York City, is legally prohibited, prohibited by law, from setting bail in that case.

So they know I commit the crime, if I get caught, I’ll be out as soon as I get my hearing. Now, that has caused recidivism, which was always a problem, to skyrocket. So basically when you look at the larceny, the robberies—which are just larcenies where somebody tried to stop them—the burglaries, the auto thefts…. We have people, John, coming from New Jersey, where they have plenty of cars, to steal cars in New York City, because they know if they get caught, they will not go to jail.

In sum: some crimes are down because police have flooded crime-ridden neighborhoods, but that same flood of police has nothing to do with an increase in other crimes, because bail reform.

New York Post (7/8/20): “Most people released under the criminal justice reforms or amid the pandemic had no known ties to the bloodshed…. Cops should focus on the flow of illegal guns into the city.”

Unsurprisingly, this is exactly the argument Miller’s former employer, and New York mayor and former cop Eric Adams, have been making recently, based on data they will not publicly release, and that contradicts all actually available data (City and State New York, 8/3/22; Crime and Justice, 2021; Quattrone Center, 8/16/22).

Curiously, when shootings were up in 2020 (and other crimes were down), the NYPD’s argument had it that that was the result of bail reform. At the time, the total mendacity was called out by even the right-wing, cop-loving, Murdoch-owned New York Post (7/8/20). Now with the crime rates reversed, the NYPD and its allies are hoping the baseless bail reform blame will stick on a different target.

Contrary to evidence

In fact, murder and shooting rates are down slightly nationwide, after two years of increases. Criminal justice observers note that, while one should always be cautious in attempting to explain short-term changes in crime rates because of the many interacting factors involved, the nationwide shifts strongly point to national, rather than local, causes—foremost among them the major social and economic dislocations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic that have diminished as pandemic-related restrictions have lifted (Brennan Center, 7/12/22). Gun sales in particular have been mostly dropping since the spring of 2021, after a massive spike from March 2020 through January 2021—a surge in available weaponry that surely encouraged the rise in gun-related crimes like homicide and shootings (FAIR.org, 7/20/21).

Indeed, it would be very surprising if the NYPD were able to significantly reduce shooting rates by “flooding the Bronx with police officers,” as most research has found no or minimal reductions in violent crime with increased policing—including in New York City. Instead, more cops mostly translates into more arrests for low-level crimes, and the substantial costs those impose on heavily policed communities (FAIR.org, 1/27/22).

Vera Institute (4/19): “While the pretrial population comprised about half of people in jail prior to the early 1990s, it now accounts for approximately two-thirds of people in jail nationwide.”

Bail reform is not a policy that says that people who get caught “will not go to jail.” The purpose of bail historically was to make sure that someone accused of a crime—presumed innocent until proven guilty—would show up for their trial. But over the past few decades, the number of people in jail who have not yet been convicted of a crime has increased dramatically, and bail has become a punishment for the poor and a cash cow for the multi-billion dollar bail bond industry.

In fact, research shows that pretrial detention increases the likelihood of conviction, the harshness of the sentence, and the likelihood of recidivism. Given that detainees often wait months for trial, pleading guilty regardless of the circumstances can often seem like the best option for getting back to their life, job (and income), family and community. That pretrial detention also increases crime shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the disruptions it causes in people’s lives, and given that their increased conviction rate makes it harder for them to get work after release (Vera Institute, 4/19).

New York State’s 2019 bail reform prohibited bail for most misdemeanor and nonviolent felony charges, and required judges to consider the person’s ability to pay when setting bail. Other states and cities have pursued similar reforms. These reforms have reduced the number of people in jail awaiting trial. But according to all available evidence, they haven’t increased crime.

In the most comprehensive assessment of the impact of bail reform on recidivism in New York City, the city’s Office of Criminal Justice reported that as of June 2021, pretrial rearrest rates—the recidivism Miller claimed was skyrocketing “because they know if they get caught, they will not go to jail”—”have remained consistent over time and have not changed with bail reform,” at around 4%. And fewer than 1% are arrested for felonies, like auto theft and burglary.

Moreover, rollbacks in spring 2020 to those reforms allowed judges to set bail for even nonviolent felony cases that involved “persistent felony offenders”—which means the recidivism Miller and the NYPD are highlighting is not impacted by bail reform.

In other words, basically everything Miller said about NYC crime was false pro-punishment propaganda. And that’s what passes for “objectivity” at today’s CNN.

ACTION: 

Please ask CNN to explain why a person who lied repeatedly and under oath about law enforcement actions, and is now misrepresenting the evidence on the causes of crime trends on CNN‘s own programming, should be offered to its viewers as an expert on police policies and practices.

CONTACT:

Messages to CNN can be sent here (or via Twitter @CNN). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread of this post.

The post ACTION ALERT: Crime Claims of CNN’s New Police Expert Don’t Hold Up to Facts appeared first on FAIR.

NYT Scolds China for Not ‘Learning to Live’—or Die—With Covid

 

Four and a half million people.

That’s how many Chinese people would have died from Covid-19 had its government taken the same approach to the pandemic that the United States has taken, and gotten the same results.

Instead, China has had 15,000 deaths from Covid—most of these from an outbreak in the spring of 2022 in Hong Kong, which has its own healthcare system.

Meanwhile, the United States has lost more than a million people to Covid since the pandemic began. Deaths currently continue at the rate of about 450 a day, which would add up to roughly 160,000 a year if present trends continue.

The New York Times (9/7/22) continues to present the Chinese government’s saving millions of lives as an unmitigated disaster.

Clearly China and the United States have very different systems, and what works in one place would not necessarily work in the other. But given the remarkable success that China has had in protecting its population from a deadly and pernicious virus, surely US-based journalists are examining what lessons China has to teach us?

No, not if you work for the New York Times. There you’ll be writing yet another in a series of articles about how China has had the enormous misfortune of avoiding mass death.

“China’s ‘Zero Covid’ Bind: No Easy Way Out Despite the Cost,” is the headline of the latest iteration (9/7/22), written by Vivian Wang. The article begins:

Tens of millions of Chinese confined at home, schools closed, businesses in limbo and whole cities at a standstill. Once again, China is locking down enormous parts of society, trying to completely eradicate Covid in a campaign that grows more anomalous by the day as the rest of the world learns to live with the coronavirus.

But even as the costs of China’s zero-Covid strategy are mounting, Beijing faces a stark reality: It has backed itself into a corner. Three years of its uncompromising, heavy-handed approach of imposing lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing to isolate infections have left it little room, at least in the short term, to change course.

The New York Times maintains it’s the country with the orange line, not the dark blue one, that has the Covid policy problem.

Nowhere in the article is any comparison of the respective death toll in China and the US. Or any hint that life expectancy in the US has now dropped below that of China—76.1 vs. 77.1 years, respectively (Quartz, 9/1/22)—an acknowledgment that would render ridiculous the Times‘ assertions that that China’s “government has pushed propaganda depicting the virus as having devastated Western countries,” and that President Xi Jinping “has prioritized nationalism over the guidance of scientists.”

But it’s not just the Covid death toll that the Times has to hide in order to make its anti-China spin remotely credible. Much of the piece deals with the hardship supposedly caused by the zero-Covid policy: “The social and economic cost will continue to increase,” insists one of the article’s relatively few sources, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Yanzhong Huang (author of the New York Times op-ed “Has China Done Too Well Against Covid-19?”—12/29/20which argued thatChina’s comparative success now risks hurting the country”).

Wang sure does make the economic situation in China sound grim:

Many Chinese have found ways to cope, even if reluctantly: putting in longer hours to scrape up more money, cutting back on spending. Complaints about a shortage of medical care or food often emerge, but some residents say they support the overarching goal….

Youth unemployment is soaring, small businesses are collapsing and overseas companies are shifting their supply chains elsewhere. A sustained slowdown would undermine the promise of economic growth, long the central pillar of the party’s legitimacy.

But what is the actual cost of China’s Covid success? In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, China’s GDP grew by 2.2%, while the US’s shrank by 3.4%. In 2021, the US economy bounced back, with 5.7% growth—but not as much as China, which grew 8.1%. Projections are for the US to grow by 1.3% in 2022, while China is expected (by Goldman Sachs) to grow 3.0%.

When you add it up, China is expected to be 13.8% richer at the beginning of 2023 than it was when the pandemic began—whereas the US will be just 3.4% better off. So which country’s belts need tightening as a result of its Covid strategy?

The New York Times (9/7/22) reported that China “suffered from low vaccination rates”—but a glance at the Times‘ own vaccination tracker shows that China in fact has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.

The Times similarly had to suppress any comparative numbers to make it seem like China’s vaccination strategy was particularly dangerous:

Buoyed by its early success at containment, the party was slow at first to encourage vaccination, leaving many older Chinese vulnerable….

While other countries prioritized vaccinating the elderly, China made older residents among the last to be eligible, citing concerns about side effects. And it never introduced vaccine passes, perhaps sensitive to public skepticism of its own vaccines.

In late July, about 67% of people aged 60 and above had received a third shot, compared to 72% of the entire population. Medical experts have warned that an uncontrolled outbreak could lead to high numbers of deaths among the elderly, as occurred during a wave this spring in Hong Kong, which also suffered from low vaccination rates.

Go to a helpful page of the New York Times website called “Tracking Coronavirus Vaccinations Around the World,” however, and you’ll find that China isn’t “suffer[ing] from low vaccination rates”; it actually has one of the highest rates of Covid vaccination in the world, with 93% receiving at least one dose and 91% “fully vaccinated.”  The latter number compares with 86% in Australia and South Korea, 84% in Canada, 81% in Japan and Brazil, 79% in France, 76% in Britain and Germany—and 67% in the US.

That last number, in China, is treated by the Times as a dangerously low percentage of the elderly to have received booster shots—but in the US, only 41% of those aged 65–74 have received booster shots, along with 42% of those 75 and over—and just 26% from 50–64. Isn’t the US booster rate much more ominous?

Well, yes—and that’s part of the reason that tens of thousands of elderly people will die this year as part of the US’s effort to “learn…to live with the coronavirus.”

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

The post NYT Scolds China for Not ‘Learning to Live’—or Die—With Covid appeared first on FAIR.

Media Summon Inflation Specter to Oppose Student Debt Forgiveness

 

President Joe Biden’s student debt cancellation plan may not be full forgiveness, but it can still have a life-changing impact on millions of people. Almost 20 million may see their debts wiped clean, and more than 40 million are directly affected. The plan is a step forward for debtors and activists who have spent decades struggling to abolish student debt and make higher education, long promised as the path out of poverty, affordable for everyone.

It represents an opportunity for America’s poor to imagine futures without instrumentalized and alienated labor. Without diseases of despair. Unpunished by debt. A future America’s ruling class has worked hard to prevent.

Bloomberg (8/22/22)

So, naturally, corporate media outlets like the Wall Street Journal (8/23/22), Financial Times (8/25/22), CNBC (8/24/22), Vox (8/25/22), CNN (8/24/22, 8/25/22), CBS (8/25/22) and Bloomberg (8/22/22) have thrown everything but the kitchen sink at it, trying to convince their audience there’s not enough to go around. Their primary weapon: the inflation bogeyman.

Regurgitating the views of conservative economists and politicians, corporate media are warning debt relief is inflationary, and even that it will transfer wealth upwards. These arguments are another example of how news media use the specter of inflation as a rationale for disciplining workers: Sorry, that’s it. There’s nothing left. No surplus. So how much are you willing to share? Don’t look over here at my huge pile of cash. The arguments trafficked by much of the corporate media in the aftermath of Biden’s debt relief announcement expose a reflexive hostility to social progress, and the use of government to improve the lives of ordinary people instead of benefiting corporations and wealthy individuals.

‘Inflation Expansion Act’

Wall Street Journal (8/23/22)

From headlines decrying Biden’s debt relief plans as pouring gas on an “inflationary fire” (Financial Times, 8/25/22) and dubbing the policy an “Inflation Expansion Act” (Wall Street Journal, 8/23/22), to citing manipulative studies by pro-austerity think tanks, the corporate media response to debt relief has stoked fears that providing much-needed relief to student debtors would increase demand, thereby exacerbating inflation.

If gains for working people will necessarily be nullified by corporate price hikes, maybe media should be questioning whether an economy where that’s the case should be reshaped. But media’s claims haven’t even been consistent on their own terms. Debt relief is not nearly as inflationary as media rhetoric suggests, even by the estimations of their most hawkish sources.

For example, the Financial Times, CNBC, Vox, CNN, CBS and The Hill (8/24/22) all cited “America’s foremost pro-austerity think tank” (American Prospect, 8/26/22), the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which estimates Biden’s cancellation could cost the federal government $360 billion over ten years, driving spending and increasing inflation. Marc Goldwien, senior policy director at CRFB and “America’s foremost spending scold” (American Prospect, 8/26/22), made the rounds across the corporate news media to share this estimate.

Max Moran (American Prospect, 8/26/22): “According to Goldwein, we couldn’t cancel student loans in 2020 because the boost to the economy would be a paltry $115–$360 billion. But we also can’t cancel student loans in 2022 because the boost to the economy would be a whopping, inflationary (gasp!) $70–$95 billion!”

Biden’s student debt relief plan “is going to worsen inflation and it is going to eat up all the deflationary impact of the Inflation Reduction Act,” Goldwien claimed in the Financial Times (8/25/22). Vox (8/25/22) quoted Goldwien saying Biden’s plan will “raise prices on everything from clothing to gasoline to furniture to housing.” Assuming that CRFB’s estimate is accurate—even though there is much reason not to think so—what the estimate actually says is a far cry from Goldwien’s claim that prices will increase.

Economists like Paul Krugman, far from a hero of the left, as well as Mike Konczal and Alí Bustamante of the Roosevelt Institute, pointed out how even CRFB’s estimate shows at most a 0.3% increase in inflation, which wouldn’t “reverse” or even “dent” larger deflationary trends like the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes, or even restarting student debt payments, as Biden intends to do at the start of the new year. Krugman explains that given the “fire-and-brimstone” inflation fearmongering, like the talk of “throwing gasoline on the fire” in the Financial Times (8/25/22), the reader might assume debt relief could cause another “major bout of inflation.” Even according to their own sources, this is far from true.

On top of this, the central argument in Goldwien’s case and across corporate media—that debt relief will spur demand—rests on the assumption that canceling people’s debt will incentivize them to buy things for which there is not enough supply to keep prices stable. Heidi Shierholtz, president of the Economic Policy Institute, took to Twitter (5/12/22) to shut this argument down:

The latest version of the claim “we can’t have nice things because inflation” is the idea that we can’t cancel federal student debt.… But folks, there is currently a pause on federal student loan repayments, which means that people with this debt don’t currently have debt payments. So even if somebody’s debt is entirely canceled under a new policy, their monthly costs won’t decrease relative to what they currently are. This will dramatically limit any impact on new spending and hence provide no upward inflation pressure relative to the status quo.

That corporate media would boost bad-faith arguments against a policy that represents such a sea change in people’s lives, as well as in the government’s role of helping working people, demonstrates a deep adherence to frameworks of austerity and neoliberalism. As Krugman pointed out in a separate Twitter thread (8/29/22), “what we’re seeing looks more like a visceral response looking for a rationale than a reasoned critique.”

Moreover, these arguments ignore evidence that current inflation is not a result of too much demand, but rather of corporate greed. As FAIR (4/21/22) has previously documented, corporate media have a penchant for putting “far more emphasis” on the contributions to inflation by policies that improve working people’s lives than on “the role of corporate profit-taking.” Despite troves of evidence that corporate monopolies are purposely exacerbating inflation by using the pandemic-related supply chain crisis as cover to needlessly raise costs on consumers—and make record profits doing it—corporate media have once again elected to opine on the inflationary effect of social spending.

‘Take from working class’

That student debt relief is inflationary is not the only argument corporate news outlets have peddled since Biden announced his plan. Critics of student debt relief have also framed the plan as a regressive giveaway to the wealthy, as well as unfair to those who have already paid off their debts.

The same Financial Times article (8/25/22) reported, “Canceling debt is not wholly progressive, given the poorest members of society are less likely to have gone to university.” CBS (8/25/22) noted Sen. Ted Cruz’s view that “what President Biden has in effect decided to do is to take from working-class people.” The New York Times’ morning newsletter (8/25/22) claimed student debt relief “resembles a tax cut that flows mostly to the affluent.”

Contrary to Newsweek‘s headline (8/24/22), polling finds a majority of past student borrowers support forgiveness of at least some student debt.

Never mind that if forgiving student loan debt were truly regressive, Cruz would be all for it. The reality is that student debt disproportionately impacts Black and brown and low-income borrowers (Roosevelt Institute, 9/29/21). Cancelation would go a long way towards addressing the racial wealth gap and addressing wealth inequality.

A Newsweek headline (8/24/22) reported that “Borrowers With Paid-Off Debt Feel Punished for Doing ‘Right Thing.’” The Wall Street Journal (8/23/22) claimed debt relief “insults the millions who paid their loans back.”

Astra Taylor, an organizer with the Debt Collective, told Democracy Now! (8/25/22) that this criticism was “so cynical”:

First off, I am one of the millions of people who did have to pay their debts. I paid it in full. I do not want anyone else to have to suffer just because I did. Social progress means that other people do not have to suffer through something that previous generations did. And the fact is, polling shows that most people have that attitude.

Student debt was designed as a barrier to keep Black, brown and low-income people from attaining a college education (Intercept, 8/25/22; Boston Review, 9/1/17). Partial debt relief makes self-determination for America’s most oppressed and exploited groups that much more possible. By trying to convince voters that debt relief will cost them, and that a more egalitarian society is impossible, corporate media are defending America’s ruling class from an educated working class.

The post Media Summon Inflation Specter to Oppose Student Debt Forgiveness appeared first on FAIR.

Matt Gertz and Eric K Ward on White ‘Replacement’ Theory

 

 

Fox News (7/19/22)

This week on CounterSpin: In May of this year, a white supremacist killed ten people in Buffalo, New York. He made clear that he wanted to kill Black people, because he believes there is a plot, run by Jews, to “replace” white people with Black and brown people. News media had an opportunity then to deeply interrogate the obvious spurs for the horrific act, including of course the media outlets and pundits and politicians who repeatedly invoke this white replacement idea, but it didn’t really happen.

The Washington Post offered an inane tweet about how Biden “ran for president pledging to ‘restore the soul of America.’ But a racist massacre raises questions about that promise.”

CounterSpin spoke at the time about the issues we hoped more media would be exploring, with Matt Gertz, senior fellow at Media Matters for America, who has been following Fox News and Tucker Carlson, and their impact on US politics, for years.

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And we spoke also with Eric K. Ward, senior fellow at Southern Poverty Law Center and executive director at Western States Center, about ways forward.

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We  hear these conversations again this week.

Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at recent press coverage of the assassination of Darya Durgina.

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The post Matt Gertz and Eric K Ward on White ‘Replacement’ Theory appeared first on FAIR.

‘We Could Be Living in the Future We All Dream About’ - CounterSpin interview with Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso on Powerlands

 

Janine Jackson interviewed Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso about her film Powerlands for the September 2, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: Powerlands is an award-winning documentary film about resource extraction and its impacts on Indigenous communities around the world. But if that’s all we, as watchers, take away, then we’re sort of missing the point, and may be almost part of the problem.

The film is about resource colonization, about the way that the same for-profit corporate forces that once took away whole peoples now do the same thing under the radar by usurping the resources, the minerals, the water out from under those people.

Powerlands (2022)

It asks those of us who aren’t at the immediate sharp end to see and to connect our interests in not harming people in Colombia, for example, with the desire to make use of this stuff that we don’t even know comes out from that extraction, that arrangement.

So saying Powerlands, the film, has won awards might imply that we understand that there’s a message, and we are engaged with answering that question, but that’s not necessarily the case. So if Powerlands didn’t need to be made, well, then Powerlands wouldn’t have been made.

We are joined now by Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso. Powerlands is her first feature film. She joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso.

Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: Hi, thank you so much for having me.

JJ: Many people might say, “OK. You’re documenting something in the film. You’re showing us something.” But you started out to say a certain kind of thing, and then it kind of expanded into many, many things. Can you just maybe start us off where you started off, and what was the process about?

ICMT: Yeah, so I grew up in Black Mesa, where Peabody Coal and BHP have been mining since the 1960s, and my family is on the wrong side of the fence. We’re on what’s called HPL, Hopi Partition Lands, not NPL, Navajo Partition Lands.

So I was born into the resistance. I come from the resistance. So that’s what I’ve always grown up knowing. And when I first met Jordan Flaherty, my producer, he had just come back from Colombia, filming a BHP coal mining site.

And we were talking about the similarities between the two. And that’s really where the whole conversation started. It’s been like, wow, this one company has done the exact same thing to these two communities.

And you almost wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, besides the language and they have monkeys. They look very similar. They sound very similar. We eat very similar.

And one thing that I’ve always grown up with is having what I call poverty porn constantly around me in, like, National Geographic, put on news stations. Like even late at night, with that sad Sarah McLachlan music behind it, it would be pictures of my family and my home and the things that I resonated with, flies flying around extended bellies.

And when I see my home, that’s not what I see. I see vibrant, brilliant, smart, funny people. And that’s exactly what we saw in Colombia and in the Philippines and in Oaxaca and in Standing Rock.

Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: “Indigenous people should be telling Indigenous stories because we see ourselves as people more so than anyone else ever will.”

And for me, it was just showing those human connections, those emotional connections, as well as showing that we’re all connected by these corporations at the same time. We’re all fighting the same, not to say, like, enemy—but enemy.

And I think that Indigenous people should be telling Indigenous stories because we see ourselves as people more so than anyone else ever will. And the thing is, is everyone’s indigenous to somewhere, so behave like you’re Indigenous.

And that’s what the root of the film is, is that we’re all together. We’re all in this together. We all laugh, we all cook. We all love, we all dance and sing. And we all need this planet to survive.

JJ: You know, I launched us right into the middle of it, and I think many folks come to it as, “All right. Well, there’s a relationship between folks who need resources and folks who have resources.”

But there’s a reason to start in the complicated middle, and to say that it’s not a simple question of users and extractors; we’re people across these lines. And what I think is so extremely important about the film is that it makes those connections, and it connects those dots.

I think we’re past it in 2022. I think those of us who are trying to think critically are past the idea that somehow there are some people who don’t mind being harmed, and that there are some people who we can just, like, Pinterest their way of life.

Here are people in the film, their water is being exhausted. And I know for a fact that there are folks who are like, “Oh, water. Water is life,” you know? We have to be one world. We have to connect it. And I feel like that’s what this film does.

ICMT: OK. So we need to look at Arizona, which is where I’m based currently. And we are seeing Lake Powell drop to levels that it’s never been this low before. We’re watching Lake Mead drop to levels that have never been this low before. The Southwest is in a massive drought.

The thing is, because we’re all on this planet together, the entire ecosystem affects everywhere else. So this huge drought here is actually helping to cause massive floods on the East Coast, because we’ve got this heat bubble that’s being formed. It’s pushing all of the would-be water coming here up and over, and it’s creating floods elsewhere.

And that’s just a small way to look at it. We’re losing water here; we’re flooding people out. But that water is no longer drinkable. It’s nonpotable. The less potable water that we continue to have, it’s going to affect the entire world.

And that’s just a very small, simple way to look at it. There’s so many different effects that go into it. Cinder hills are something that are very special to this area, and they’re a catcher of water, but they’ve been being mined for decades to create asphalt, which also helps to cause a heat bubble, which pushes water over, and then it floods somewhere else. And then, again, we lose our potable water.

So when we look at it, you making a change in one location can really affect everywhere else globally. And we can see it happening in lots of different places.

Here in the Southwest, we have massive wildfires, and then the East Coast having these floods. And it’s just going to keep getting more and more extreme until we, as people, come together and decide to fix the problem together.

And looking in your own backyard is the best place to start. And I hope that that’s one message that the film gets across: This isn’t just in these remote, small, quote unquote “Third World” countries. It’s happening literally in your backyard.

Look at Flint, Michigan. Look at what’s happening in like Skid Row, down in LA, that is extremely devastating to people. One, we should be treating people as people. But if we were to help clean up that area, and get those people the same mental health services that they needed, and just the simple way to fix houselessness is obviously give people houses, it would entirely revitalize that area. And we could start using a lot of those areas as farmland, where we grow crops that aren’t water-heavy based.

It’s just, there’s so many different ways and so many different ideas. And I know every single person out there has an idea. And if we each implemented them, we could be living in the future that we all dream about, with flying cars and healthy ecosystems.

JJ: Yeah, no, it’s part of what I resent so much about corporate media, is the way they deny us the possibilities, the way that we can imagine these beautiful futures.

Let me just ask you about the film. Any accounting of struggle, which is what Powerlands is about, it’s going to include unspeakable trauma, and that’s why folks should be aware that if they watch Powerlands, they’re going to cry. But at the same time, it also includes this irrepressible joy, and any conversation that doesn’t entail both of those is kind of not capturing it.

But then again, and I know this is a very hard question, when you make a film, it’s about communication, right? It’s about moving people to action. And I just would love to ask you, how do you balance the struggle and the joy in a way to communicate some message to the people who are going to see this film?

ICMT: I think a huge part of that goes back to, this is my community that we started telling the story in. This is my family. These are my friends. So I grew up in the struggle. I grew up having politicians come out and threaten family members. I grew up seeing family members get sick from cancer, or other various ailments, because of this stuff happening.

But at the same time, I also grew up going to ceremonies where me and the kids would be running around pretending to make rocks together, where me and my cousins would all sleep on the same mattress outside under the stars and tell ghost stories. And those are very similar moments that I think everybody shares, are those simple moments.

There’s a moment in the film where you see two young girls whispering to each other. And that’s a moment that everybody has experienced, is watching two young children talk to each other and giggle. And so when we’re talking about these moments, it’s not just like, “Oh, look at how hard it is for these poor brown people.” It’s, “Look at how hard this is for the entire world to be dealing with, and here’s an example of how these folks are getting through it.”

JJ: And that brings us back to where we started, which is the idea that you very quickly identify the idea of resource colonization (which I think is an excellent term) as a global thing.

You started with Dinétah, but it was very clear that this was something that’s happening everywhere, and that there was resonance everywhere for this message and this conversation.

ICMT: Yeah, we’re going to keep finding that, because the capitalist system, where it’s for profit and not for people, is going to continue to put us in these situations.

And the thing is, especially here in this country, Indigenous people have been the ones who have been put into those situations the longest at this point in time. So if you have any questions, reach out to us. We have lots of support. We have lots of community. We are willing to talk to people, and there’s so many different ways to go about it.

But we’ve been living, specifically here in America, on this land for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. So we know how to grow food without depleting the resources of this natural environment. And we know how to harvest things without depleting these resources.

One good example is this white sage trend that’s hitting. A lot of people are buying white sage that’s not sourced in a sustainable way. And it’s actually really detrimental to the Indigenous people in Southern California and Northern Mexico.

But if we were to, say, start outsourcing to only Indigenous suppliers or sustainable suppliers, then we would be able to help sustain that ecosystem, so that everyone can have white sage, and everyone can be burning it.

So it’s like, we need to be working together. And I think it’s really possible, because I see so many people coming to these screenings and coming to these events, being like, “Well, what can I do? What can I do?”

And I’m not always going to have all the answers. I’m but one person. But if you look in your own backyard, you just ask around, someone out there is already doing it, and you can definitely get in on the ground floor. And there’s also the chance that you could potentially make that resistance better.

JJ: I love that, actually, because my nightmare is, you support a system that basically erases a certain kind of people who say that their relationship is with the land, and that  where they are is part of who they are.

And you, as a government, support that erasure, and that you, as a culture, then try to recreate, aesthetically, that culture: “Isn’t it neat about how people are in relationship with the land?”

I guess what I’m saying is, I am very angry and resentful about the idea that media tell us that it’s okay to erase and harm people.

And then they’re going to, out of the other side of their mouth, tell us that, “Isn’t it neat to think about being the sort of person who has a relationship with the land?”

It’s beyond hypocrisy. It’s just a thing that makes me very angry, that has a particular relationship with the way US news media talk about Indigenous people in the United States.

So I guess, after that rant, I’m just asking you, is there anything in terms of news media that you would like to see more or less of, or framework-shifting that you think could be meaningful?

ICMT: I have really enjoyed seeing, in the past two years, the amount of representation that has been risen within media.

The thing is, is I have been making films since I was nine years old—I’m 27. And my uncle has been making films, my cousins have been making films, my aunts have been making films, but we have never been able to break into the Hollywood or the main media cohort in order to be seen and visualized.

And it’s just now starting that our work is getting out there. A lot of that came from Standing Rock and the remembrance that we, as Indigenous people, still exist.

And so people kind of got into it, it became a trend. And so let’s hopefully not make it a trend that goes away.

But there are so many of us out there who are creating incredible content and stories and telling these stories, and we’ve been doing it for decades.

So there’s so much out there. It’s just definitely the accessibility of it is a lot harder, because we don’t have the same resources as, say, Warner Brothers or Disney or Fox or one of those who is getting their larger stories out.

So it is amazing to see us in representation, for the first time ever, that is an accurate representation. And it’s incredible. So if you are Indigenous, keep telling your stories; we want to hear them. If you’re not Indigenous, you are indigenous to somewhere, so keep telling your stories. And I think it’s just so incredible to see the vibrancy of the truth and reality of humans being told for really the first time, and especially in Hollywood media.

JJ: Well, we are going to continue to stay, I hope, in conversation with you. We’ve been speaking with Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso. Thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

ICMT: Oh, thank you so much.

 

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‘The Real Issue With Dark Money: We Don’t Know Who’s Influencing Policy’ - CounterSpin interview with Andrew Perez on dark money donation

 

Janine Jackson interviewed the Lever‘s Andrew Perez about a massive dark money donation for the August 26, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: Many US citizens, while knowledgeable, skeptical, even cynical, still work from a base understanding of how politics and policy work, which is that people—numbers of human people—want and call for things, and elected officials navigate those needs, while encountering and engaging the better-resourced desires of corporations and other power players.

Some, of course, are more or less in the pocket of particular private interests, but if they weren’t interested in the public, they wouldn’t be in public office.

Well, even if you chuckle to hear that, it’s still the basic working premise of how politics are understood to work. You vote for people to represent your interests, and you expect, or hope, or just throw a rock at the idea that politicians will care about people in the main, and not just money.

Whatever its relation to reality, that’s the template that news media use to explain politics to us: Republican or Democratic voters wanted this or that. You can fight about it, but the understanding we’re given is that we’re in a fight on a playing field where whoever has the most popular support, even if it’s based on misinformation, will win.

News media worth their salt would make it their business to interrupt that understanding, and tell us how power and politics actually break down. And they have an opportunity right now with the news of the largest donation—as far as we know—to a political advocacy group ever, from a secretive Chicago billionaire to a new political group led by conservative activist Leonard Leo.

You don’t have to know about machinations to have them matter. So here to talk about all of this is Andrew Perez. Andrew Perez covers money and influence as senior editor and reporter at the Lever news. He joins us now by phone from Maine. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Andrew Perez.

Andrew Perez: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

JJ: I guess just bring us up to speed on the reality. What do we know about this donation, from whom to whom? And $1.6 billion? What actually just happened?

Lever (8/22/22)

AP: Sure. So what we’ve reported at the Lever, in partnership with ProPublica, is a look at how Barre Seid, a little-known businessman in Chicago, managed to donate $1.6 billion to a nonprofit run by Leonard Leo, who’s the conservative operative and anti-abortion activist who played a major role in building the conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court that recently overturned Roe v. Wade and invalidated federal protections for abortion rights.

And what we know is that Seid put his electronics company into a nonprofit, which is called the Marble Freedom Trust, which then sold the company. The end result was a donation of $1.6 billion to the group. The transaction was structured to allow Seid to avoid potentially hundreds of millions in taxes, we believe, for up to $400 million in taxes, and it kept him from experiencing a big tax hit, and it preserved, then, the larger amount of money available for Leo’s dark money operation.

And we believe that this is the largest donation in US history to a politically oriented 501(c)(4) dark money group.

JJ: Can you just explain, for a second, what “dark money” means exactly, and what it means in terms of democracy?

AP: Yeah. So thanks to the Citizens United decision, nonprofits are allowed to engage in politics, specifically 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations. And these organizations, their primary purpose cannot be on politics, but they can spend up to 49% of their expenses on politics, and they can then fund issue advocacy stuff, and really work to build, in this case, the conservative movement.

These have become a really favored route for really wealthy people to affect the political debate, because these groups do not have to disclose their donors, and they can accept donations of any size.

So they’ve really been supercharged in the last decade, and become a favored vehicle for the ultra-wealthy to influence politics.

New York Times (8/22/22)

JJ: I was a little taken aback by seeing the term “kingmaker” in a New York Times story about Leonard Leo, and it seems very cynical to just matter-of-factly toss off the idea that there’s a “kingmaker” who gets to decide whether or not people have the right to reproductive rights because he has a lot of money.

It just seems weird to hear that just tossed off as, “Oh, hey, yeah. That’s what’s happening,” from a press corps, you know, that’s supposed to be defending democracy.

AP: Yeah. I guess I get it, right, like if you have a $1.6 billion pile of cash at your disposal, you can do a lot with it, right? Like, you could probably parcel out tens of millions of dollars every year and just watch the actual overall pile of money grow.

It does make him one of the most powerful people in politics, and, truthfully, he already was one of the most powerful people in politics. Leonard Leo has played a key role in selecting five of the six conservative justices on the Supreme Court, and he’s buddies with the other guy, with the only one who he didn’t help in this kind of professional capacity: He’s really tight with Clarence Thomas.

So in the Trump era, he served as Trump’s judicial advisor, helping select Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, and helping install them on the court. So while he was selecting these judges, helping Trump select these judges, he was also leading this dark money network that was helping run their confirmation campaigns, supporting them with advertisements and media campaigns, and also funding a lot of other conservative groups that supported their nominations as well.

So he is a very powerful figure, but I do also understand the point you’re making, which is that it does sound a little crass.

JJ: And it sounds like what journalists—it’s not a thing that we could know. It’s not a thing that we could understand about how things work. And it’s exactly the type of thing that we would look for reporters to explain to us, to say, you think you’re just voting, and that’s a direct connection to the kind of policy and politics that you’re going to get, but actually there’s this behind-the-scenes machinations going on.

And I’m not saying they don’t ever cover it. I just feel that most people, even smart people, would not understand how much power these folks have behind the scenes, and how indirect, therefore, your connection of, “Hey, I’m putting down my vote,” how much obstruction that’s going to meet.

Andrew Perez: “There’s just very, very little transparency in this world. And they found ways to make this transaction in the group even darker.”

AP: Yeah. That’s the real issue here with dark money, is we don’t know who’s influencing policy, really. We have very little information about how these groups are spending in real time. It’s not like they have to report, “We spent this much on judicial confirmations.” Like, they just don’t have to report that at all.

You learn a little bit about it after the fact, like a year or two after the fact, but you, generally speaking, don’t know who’s financing these organizations whatsoever.

That’s where both the New York Times reporting, and our reporting at the Lever and ProPublica, that’s where we’ve been able to shine a light on one of the biggest-known, probably the biggest-known dark money transaction like this ever. When you learn the details about it, it should definitely raise all kinds of alarm bells.

So as far as the public knows, this group has never existed. It is organized as a trust. That’s not something that you can look up in state corporate filings. It never registered with state charity regulators. It never showed up in any kind of securities documents. So we’re learning about this group that was formed in April 2020, that saw all of this giant windfall in March 2021, a year and a half ago.

Again, the whole real-time issue, we don’t know what it’s really spending on right now at all. There’s just very, very little transparency in this world. And they found ways to make this transaction in the group even darker than what we characteristically see.

JJ: And then finally, I know that you’ve been doing press on this, and I’m not asking you to call anybody out at all, but I just would ask you, are there questions that you wish you would be asked by journalists? Are there questions that you wish journalists would stop asking you? What would you like to see news media do in terms of pursuing this story?

Guardian (8/29/22)

AP: Yeah, so there’s a few things, like part of the reason they were able to really supercharge this donation and avoid the tax bill was because in 2015, as part of this routine tax extenders bill in Congress, they passed legislation that said that there is no gift tax when you give to a 501(c)(4) group.

Like, there’s a gift tax if you donate to a political organization. There’s a question of why that was able to happen with very little controversy or fanfare or notice at all. But I think we’ve seen some coverage around this, but I guess I question whether there’s going to really be sustained coverage about this donation, or about how this is allowed to happen, and then how we’re allowing this kind of influence on our political system.

So Democrats have pitched, periodically, legislation called the DISCLOSE Act that would compel disclosure of donors to dark money groups that engage in politics, and also spend on judicial advocacy campaigns. And all of the coverage around that legislation has been treated as like, you know, Republicans are opposing this, and it’s a “he said, she said,” without any kind of context, without really contextualizing for people what this is, what the byproduct is of a system in which wealthy people can drop tens of millions of dollars, or in this case, $1.6 billion, into a dark money group that can function indefinitely, can really distort the political system and policy outcomes with just a giant pile of money.

JJ: Exactly.

We’ve been speaking with Andrew Perez. He’s from the Lever. They’re online at LeverNews.com. Andrew Perez, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

AP: So happy to be here.

 

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‘These Organizations Are Doing Critical Work to Advocate for Palestinian Rights’ - CounterSpin interview with Ahmad Abuznaid on Israeli human rights crackdown

 

Janine Jackson interviewed the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights’ Ahmad Abuznaid about Israel’s human rights crackdown for the August 26, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that Israel’s designation of a number of Palestinian rights organizations as “terrorist” raised concerns that the designations were being used to “halt, restrict or criminalize legitimate human rights and humanitarian work.”

Guardian (8/22/22)

Ten European countries and, not for nothing, the CIA agreed that Israel has not presented sufficient evidence for that terrorist labeling—or the subsequent raids conducted, computers stolen, files taken, entryways taped up.

The groups’ legal appeals were dismissed with no opportunity to defend against the “secret evidence” against them. The Biden administration says it’s “concerned,” and that “civil society organizations must be able to continue their important work.” And that’s where it ends, evidently: hearts and prayers.

Some might find it notable that the overt harassment of Palestinian human rights groups happens within context of the recent series of airstrikes in Gaza that killed at least 46 people, including 16 children.

It’s important to know that the crisis of occupation isn’t a sometime thing, and that having fewer voices to hold and host debate around that will absolutely impact what happens going forward.

Ahmad Abuznaid is executive director at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. He joins us now by phone. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Ahmad Abuznaid.

Ahmad Abuznaid: Hey, thanks for having me, Janine.

Washington Post (8/24/22)

JJ: Maybe we should just start with what’s been happening in Gaza recently. I don’t say that there’s been zero coverage, but quantity, in this case, is not so much the point as the quality of that coverage.

And I’m not sure how much context there’s been for the pieces that folks may have seen. Like, I saw a Washington Post reprint of an AP piece, “Gaza Militants Hold Parade After Latest Battle With Israel.”

So, given that context of US media coverage, what would you have folks know about just what’s been happening?

AA: Yeah, the first, most important thing I would share, for folks who are, I think, still gathering knowledge about the issue of Palestine, is to know that the people in Gaza have been separated and segregated from the rest of the Palestinian population because of a 15-year blockade imposed by the Israeli government.

And even when we use terms like “blockade,” it’s really important for us to help folks understand what that means. And so a blockade on the Gaza Strip means that Israel essentially controls everything that goes in via land or sea, and comes out via land or sea. And, of course, Gaza does not have an airport.

Ahmad Abuznaid: “This ongoing trauma persists as long as this blockade exists, as long as the occupation exists, as long as this settler colonialism exists.”

Furthermore, when you talk about the situation of the people of Gaza, you have to understand that limited electricity, 75% of Palestinian people in Gaza are food insecure. Hospitals and health services are struggling to operate and save lives, while themselves having to worry about being bombed.

And so this ongoing trauma persists as long as this blockade exists, as long as the occupation exists, as long as this settler colonialism exists.

And so for the Palestinian people all over, but particularly for the Palestinian people in Gaza, an intense blockade does not allow for them to experience the very basics of life. As I mentioned, the water being undrinkable at a 97% clip, electricity being something that’s limited, food insecurity, right? This is average, everyday life for the people of Gaza.

Now what’s also important to note is, because of a lack of an actual military, you have these confrontations between these various resistance groups in Gaza and the Israeli military.

And so then, I would say, the Palestinian people are an occupied population. And I think when most Americans think about Israel and Palestine, they think about a conflict between two nations, each with a military, each with resources, each with the weaponry to defend themselves, and that certainly is just not the case.

And so you end up in a dynamic where these resistance groups are firing rockets that rarely affect Israeli lives; meanwhile, Palestinians face bombardments with which we’ve seen, you know, over 40 Palestinians killed in this latest round of violence, but just last summer, over 260.

And so this is something that, unfortunately, kids 14 and under in Gaza have now experienced five times in their lifetime.

JJ: And just to the point that you’ve just made, that Washington Post—well, it was a reprint of, actually, an AP piece—talked about recent air strikes as a “flare-up” that “left 49 Palestinians dead.” And it makes it sound as though violence is intervening in Gaza, or suddenly and intermittently, there is violence in Gaza.

And it sounds like what you’re saying is we need to think about violence in terms of a daily violence.

AA: Yeah, absolutely. And I would say this passive voice that media operate in is also extremely problematic. Airstrikes didn’t just occur; the Israelis launched the air strikes.

Also, we’ve been hearing many folks talk about this as a defensive war, right? But I think, if folks were to read through a lot of the nonsense, they’d find that this was a strike that Israel launched without any kind of defensive necessity, right? This was an offensive, strategic strike that they started launching in Gaza, and then it escalated.

And then, yes, the point that you were uplifting that I made earlier is that the blockade is incredibly violent. When a young Palestinian student in Gaza wants to study abroad, and they’re denied the ability to travel by the Israeli government, that is incredibly violent, and a direct result of them being Palestinian.

When a cancer patient needs to access better health services in order to survive their battle with cancer, and they’re denied that ability, that is brutality.

When a fisherman has his boats off the sea in Gaza, and cannot leave past a certain radius that the Israelis grant them, that is incredibly violent.

And folks, I think, are not as understanding of that, when we think about terms like “blockade” and “occupation,” they don’t understand how a checkpoint or a blockade being in the middle of a family who needs medical care in a hospital can oftentimes lead to death and a trauma that, again, we have not had the chance to deal with as Palestinians, because it’s ongoing.

JJ: And I wonder what you make of the White House response, then, which is we’re against this, but we’re not going to do anything about it. I mean, that’s how it reads to me, is like, we want to be officially on the record as opposing both the raids on the human rights groups and the attacks on Gaza, but that’s not going to materially amount to anything in terms of policy change with regard to Israel.

AA: Yeah, that’s right. The Biden administration is really just like any other US administration in recent history. And what US politicos have uplifted as their truth is that you need to walk with Israel and allow no sunlight between the US and the state of Israel to succeed politically, domestically.

The problem is we, as Americans, have no idea why, strategically, that makes sense for us. And so Americans, I think every election, we witness the US president essentially pledging allegiance to the state of Israel, and we don’t know what we get out of the deal.

So even if we did not have the perspective of the immense human rights abuse and the colonization and the ethnic cleansing, we would at least, as Americans, be asking these questions about why is it our tax dollars are going to this state that continually occupies, and ethnically cleanses a people.

And so that’s why this media battle is particularly important. That’s why sources like this, where folks can get a different perspective, one that’s not often seen in mass media, are critically important, because there’s a voice of the Palestinian people that, even through it all, is able to shift the conversation in the US.

And that’s why you’ve seen, not only the targeting of these six NGOs in Palestine, but targeting of NGOs and Palestinian organizations here in the US.

Defense for Children International/Palestine

Before I get to any of that in the US, just to mention the six organizations, these are organizations doing critical work to support women organizing, agricultural workers, organizing political prisoners, and one of the orgs, DCIP, is literally, its mission is to defend children, right?

And so these organizations are doing critical work to advocate for Palestinian rights, to advocate for Palestinian dignity, to advocate for Palestinian justice. And, by the way, they’re doing this in a completely nonviolent fashion.

But the response that Israel has shown to these NGOs is exactly why we need to keep pushing, is exactly why we need to make sure that we’re involved in either BDS campaigns or Palestine organizing spaces in the US, or we need to donate.

Because if Israel’s telling us that the violent resistance groups are “terrorists,” right? That’s their terminology. That’s what they label the groups who resist. But then they’re also labeling the groups that are engaging in congressional advocacy and organizing and lobbying, they’re labeling those groups as “terrorists” too.

So what that means for us is that the lines have been blurred by the state of Israel, and they’re doing that because we’re winning; we’re shifting the conversation. Folks are seeing the atrocities that the Israelis are conducting on a day-to-day basis, and they can’t, from a PR perspective, continue to handle the way the conversation is going.

So then what they would do is continue to label BDS as antisemitic and terrorist-affiliated, continue to label organizations, such as these six organizations, as terrorist-affiliated. And that way, no matter how just or righteous their argument is, people would essentially tune them out.

JJ: And I only want to add to that—thank you so much, Ahmad—I just want to add, also, for listeners, that this idea that criticism of the state of Israel is inherently antisemitic: You can find progressive Jewish groups, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice come to mind, but there are a number of groups who can inform you about how concern for Palestinian rights does not amount to antisemitism, and that should not be able to be used as a wedge to divide people, in the US or anywhere, that that is a false conflict that’s being set up by people who have their own interests.

AA: Absolutely. Yeah. If I could just touch on that: Look, we all recognize the monstrosity that was Nazism, and the brutal nature of the Holocaust. And what happened to the Jewish people, obviously, at that point in time is something we are all opposed to, and we absolutely reject antisemitism. This is something that various Palestinian organizations have outright issued statements around. We reject antisemitism.

However, when you colonize people’s land and continue to do so, claiming to do so in the name of Jewish people worldwide, you’re actually, again, blurring the line between Judaism and Zionism. So I think Zionism is to blame with a lot of the confusion that people have around anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

New Press (2019)

You know, as Palestinian people, not only do we have Jewish folks that are in solidarity with us now, we had Jewish folks living with us in Palestine, side by side, speaking Arabic, and across the Arab world.

And actually, I’ll note there was a really great book released a couple of years ago by a Jewish author, titled When We Were Arabs, and it tells the story of Jews in Arab lands, so Jews who viewed themselves as Arabs, who woke up every day listening to Arabic music, eating Arabic foods, speaking Arabic amongst their families, and then Zionism abruptly changed that across the region and, of course, across the world.

And so we have to reject those kinds of lines that are being drawn. Anti-Zionism is absolutely not antisemitism. And I can see a future where people acknowledge that, and that’s of course going to be a future where Palestinians are finally free.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Ahmad Abuznaid from the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. They’re online at uscpr.org. Ahmad Abuznaid, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

AA: Thanks, Janine.

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