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NYT, WSJ Look to Hawks for Ukraine Expertise

FAIR - December 2, 2022 - 3:47pm

 

A crucial function of a free press is to present perspectives that critically examine government actions. In major articles from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal discussing the escalation of the war in Ukraine, however, such perspectives have been hard to come by—even as the stakes have reached as high as nuclear war.

In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated the war by announcing a mobilization of up to 300,000 extra troops (CNBC, 9/21/22) and threatened to use “all the means at our disposal” to ensure “the territorial integrity of our motherland” (CNBC, 9/23/22). A month later, a letter endorsed by 30 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus was sent to the White House (and quickly retracted), urging a “proactive diplomatic push” to reach a ceasefire in the war.

Both of these major incidents could have been an opportunity for the media to ask important questions about US policy in Ukraine, which is—according to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (Wall Street Journal, 4/25/22)—to “weaken” Russia. Instead, elite newspapers continue to offer a very narrow range of expert opinion on a US strategy that favors endless war.

Assessing the threat

Aside from Vladimir Putin, this New York Times article (9/21/22) is entirely sourced to “American and other Western officials,” “White House and Pentagon officials,” “Western officials,” the Pentagon press secretary, the British military secretary, President Biden “and other administration officials,” “current and former US military officials,” a National Security Council spokesperson, the director of Russia studies at the Pentagon-funded Center for Naval Analyses, “a former top US Army commander in Europe,” “experts,” a Russian military specialist (and former Marine) at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, “American officials and analysts,” “a former supreme allied commander for Europe,” “US intelligence and other security officials,” “officials,” “a senior State Department official” and the head of the US Strategic Command.

In the two days following Putin’s threats, the New York Times published three pieces assessing them. Of these pieces, expert analysis and commentary was provided by “military analysts” and a “director of Russia studies at the CNA defense research” (9/21/22),  a “French author” and “a former French ambassador to Russia” (9/21/22), and several current and former government officials (9/21/22).

In these articles, probably the most critical comment was provided by nameless “Western officials” who have “expressed concern that if Mr. Putin felt cornered, he might detonate a tactical nuclear weapon”—though the Times immediately reassured that “they said there was no evidence that he was moving those weapons, or preparing such a strike.” None of the officials or analysts that the Times referenced in these articles explicitly advocated for changing US policy.

In the same timeframe, the Wall Street Journal ran six articles assessing Putin’s actions, and did not find any space in these articles to criticize US policy.

Russian public opinion of the war was cited in one piece (9/21/22):

Public interest in the invasion was initially high in February but has been declining steadily—especially among young people, who would presumably be those asked to serve in the fighting, according to a poll by the independent Levada Center earlier this month. Younger people were also far more likely to favor peace negotiations, the poll results said.

Strangely, the Journal did not cite US public opinion on peace negotiations in any of its coverage. A poll commissioned by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft (9/27/22) found most American likely voters supported the US engaging in peace negotiations. Supporting this, an IPSOS poll has reported that most Americans support the US continuing  “its diplomatic efforts with Russia” (10/6/22).  I did not find a single Journal article that mentioned the Quincy Institute or IPSOS polls. The Journal has done its own polling on American opinion regarding the war (e.g., 11/3/22, 3/11/22); it does not ask for opinions about diplomacy as a strategy.

The Quincy and IPSOS polls are in line with Americans’ attitudes from a Gallup poll taken prior to the war, which found 73% of Americans “say that good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace” (12/17/19). It seems Americans generally favor diplomacy. A more recent Gallup poll (9/15/22) did not ask about Americans’ support for diplomacy, but whether the US was “doing enough,” which is a vague question that obfuscates whether it refers to military, diplomatic support, or other means. It also asked a question that presented only two approaches for the US to take toward conflict: “support Ukraine in reclaiming territory, even if prolonged conflict” or “end conflict quickly, even if allow Russia to keep territory.” Other diplomatic options, such as those regarding NATO’s ever-expanding footprint in Eastern Europe, were not offered.

Favoring hawkish perspectives

Part of the reason it was so easy to make progressives back away from their pro-diplomacy letter (Intercept, 10/25/22) is that the views behind the letter rarely appear in major media.

The October letter calling on the White House to consider a diplomatic end to the war was signed by 30 members of Congress and endorsed by a number of nonprofit groups, including the Quincy Institute (Intercept, 10/25/22).

To get a sense of how much tolerance there has been for dissenting expertise on the White House’s stance in the Ukraine war, I searched the Nexis news database for mentions of the Quincy Institute. As a Washington think tank backed by major establishment funders spanning the political spectrum, including both George Soros and Charles Koch (Boston Globe, 6/30/19), journalists should have little reservation in soliciting comments from experts associated with it.

In a Nexis search as of November 9, the Quincy Institute was mentioned nine times in the New York Times since February 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine; five of these were in opinion pieces. Of the four reported pieces, two (7/3/22, 9/27/22) included quotes from members of the Institute that were critical of US military strategy in Ukraine.

On the website of the Wall Street Journal, which is not fully indexed on Nexis, I turned up a single mention of the Quincy Institute in connection with Ukraine, in a piece (3/23/22) on Ukrainian lobbyists’ influence in the US.

Pro-war bias

Despite exposés that show CSIS literally functions as a PR organ for the weapons industry (Extra!, 10/16), the think continues to be a favorite source of establishment media.

That lack of coverage is all the more stark in comparison to a hawkish think tank. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), heavily funded by the US government, arms dealers and oil companies, is a consistently pro-war think tank: A FAIR investigation (Extra!, 10/16) of a year’s worth of CSIS op-eds and quotes in the New York Times failed to find any instance of the CSIS advocating for curtailment of US military policy.

At the Journal, a search for “Center for Strategic and International Studies” in Ukraine stories from February 24 to November 9 yielded 34 results. Four of these results were opinion pieces. For news articles, that’s a 30:1 ratio of the hawkish think tank to the dovish think tank.

In the same time period, CSIS appeared in the Times 44 times, according to a Nexis search, including five opinion pieces—a news ratio of just under 10:1.

It should be noted that, just as Quincy sources weren’t always quoted offering criticism of US Ukraine policy, affiliates of CSIS weren’t always advocating for an unrestrained stance in Ukraine. One even warned that “the risk of a widening war is serious right now” (New York Times, 4/27/22). But repeatedly reaching out to and publishing quotes from a well-known pro-war think tank will inevitably produce less critical reporting of a war than turning to the most prominent anti-war think tank in Washington.

And it’s not that these papers are seeking out “balance” from sources other than Quincy. Seven other nonprofit groups also endorsed the October letter; the New York Times has quoted a representative from one of those groups—Just Foreign Policy—exactly once (3/7/22) since the war began. The Journal has cited none. But considering the stakes at hand, reporters have a responsibility to seek out and publish such critical perspectives in their coverage of Ukraine.

Research Assistance: Luca GoldMansour

Featured Image: A US B-2 bomber from the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Project on Nuclear Issues page. CSIS receives funding from Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Bechtel, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Jacobs Engineering and Huntington Ingalls—all companies that profit from the manufacture of nuclear weapons.

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Nelson Lichtenstein on UC Strike, Marjorie Cohn on Evangelicals’ Supreme Court Lobbying

FAIR - December 2, 2022 - 10:34am

 

 

Dissent (11/22/22)

This week on CounterSpin: Former Vice President Mike Pence recently said with a straight face that Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, was “the most dangerous person in the world.” “It’s not a close call,” he said. “If you ask, ‘Who’s the most likely to take this republic down?’ It would be the teachers unions, and the filth that they’re teaching our kids.” More evidence, were it needed, that the current struggle for pay and dignity by teaching assistants and adjuncts and researchers at the University of California is really part of a bigger fight about whether educators, at whatever level, are actual workers—and who’s looking out for their rights. We hear from labor historian and UC Santa Barbara professor Nelson Lichtenstein about what’s happening at the University of California.

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Truthout (11/29/22)

Also on the show: Some elite media are expressing concern that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito may have leaked the Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling ahead of time to evangelicals looking to make hay from it. But as Sarah Posner put it at MSNBC.com: While figuring that out matters, it won’t necessarily address the deeper problem, that the court’s conservative majority itself “was deliberately cultivated to expand religious freedom for conservative Christians at the expense of the rights of those deemed less worthy of protection.” We talk with legal expert and author Marjorie Cohn about that.

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NATO Narratives and Corporate Media Are Leading to ‘Doorstep of Doom’

FAIR - December 1, 2022 - 3:00pm

 

Wall Street Journal (4/27/22): “Unless the US prepares to win a nuclear war, it risks losing one.”

A popular cartoon aptly expresses the political angst provoked by media pundits today as they chatter on about nuclear war: Two people, both a little hunched over, burdened with the world, are walking down a city street. The woman says to the man, “My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane.”

As we slide closer to what was once considered the ultimate insanity—nuclear Armageddon—corporate media seem to be egging on reckless leaders as they make thinly veiled threats across an imaginary nuclear line. On 60 Minutes (9/18/22), in response to the question, “What [would you] say to [Vladimir Putin] if he is considering using chemical or tactical nuclear weapons?” Joe Biden said, “Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. You will change the face of war unlike anything since World War II.” The president was, of course, referencing the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Biden also reiterated the US’s goal of total victory: “Winning the war in Ukraine is to get Russia out of Ukraine completely.” Interviewer Scott Pelley did not point out that this would mean driving Russia out of Crimea—territory that Russia has long promised to defend with nuclear weapons (Diplomat, 7/11/14).

Two months into the war in Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal (4/27/22) proclaimed, “The US Should Show It Can Win a Nuclear War.” Gone are the days of rational deterrence and Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), a doctrine based on knowledge of the deadly consequences of nuclear war: Just the threat of using such awesome destruction against an enemy would prevent the enemy’s use of those same weapons.

‘Dangerous’ peace deals

Insider (10/15/22) argues that “desire to avoid a nuclear war could actually make the world more dangerous.”

In a moment of sanity, the LA Times (8/15/22) admitted that a nuclear exchange involving only 3% of the world’s stockpiles would kill a third of the global population within two years. And The Nation (10/18/22) admonished the US and Russia both for what it called “playacting nuclear war,” each with its own nuclear games. Consortium News (10/31/22) warned that the US deploying nuclear-capable B-52s to Australia, presumably to threaten China, is “military madness.”

But other media have engaged in strained linguistic maneuvering to promote the murder of billions of people. One pretzeled headline from Insider (10/15/22): “Putin’s Nuclear Threats Are Pushing People Like Trump and Elon Musk to Press for a Ukraine Peace Deal. A Nuclear Expert Warns That’s ‘Dangerous.’” The article began, “An understandable desire to avoid a nuclear war could actually make the world more dangerous if it means rushing to implement a ‘peace.’”

Seeking to explain how we’re learning to love to bomb and give up our engagement with reasoned thought, sports writer Robert Lipsyte (TomDispatch, 10/18/22) noted that we’ve been trained to look for something huge, like a big bang or grand slam:

The dream of the game-changing home run has shaped our approach to so much, from sports to geopolitics. Most significantly, it’s damaged our ability to solve problems through reason and diplomacy.

When the Bomb is treated as the ultimate home run, the loss of reason and diplomacy lies directly at the feet of war censorship and propaganda, which have permeated corporate news since World War I. The domination of NATO narratives has followed this lead, even as the stakes have become existentially higher.

Demonize the enemy

Washington Post (3/10/22): “Perhaps nuance is overrated.”

There has been no better villain than Vladimir Putin, a point recognized by the Washington Post (3/10/22), which recalled decades of some of the worst movie stereotypes. But it concluded, “Real life provided the foundation for every pop culture depiction of Russia.” In other words, Putin really is a Bond villain.

He’s an enemy beyond redemption, not part of the human family, an unspeakable monster, an evil Other who cannot be reasoned with (Extra!, 5/14; FAIR.org, 3/30/22, 7/21/22). And this extends from Putin to Putin’s government to Russia itself.

Many Western news outlets repeated unsourced allegations made by Lyudmila Denisova, Ukrainian commissioner for human rights, of atrocities carried out by Russian troops. An implausible story about how two Russians raped a one-year-old baby to death was repeated in Business Insider, the Daily Beast, the Daily Mail, the Sun, Metro, the Daily Mirror and Yahoo News (Consortium News, 6/1/22).

Newsweek (4/8/22) promoted another story sourced to Denisova that claimed, “Russians Raped 11-Year-Old Boy, Forced Mom to Watch: Ukraine Official.” This story lacked the warning that an earlier Newsweek piece (3/4/22) about rape charges included: “Although rape is common during wars, accusations of rape can also be used as a propaganda tool to vilify the enemy and this tactic has been used in past conflicts.”

In response to Denisova’s stream of atrocity narratives, Ukrainian journalists and media outlets signed an open letter requesting that reports of rape and sexual assault be “published with caution,” particularly when involving children. The letter criticized Denisova’s reports, many of which were unverified, that went into great detail about the alleged rape of children, some as young as six months old, by Russians. They asked her to “check the facts” and disclose only information with “sufficient evidence.”

One week later, Denisova was fired from her position (Newsweek, 5/31/22).

Beyond redemption

Common Dreams (3/18/22) reports on a media “a narrative that war is inevitable, diplomacy is exhausted (before it even gets started), and being against militaristic US or NATO solutions to the crisis is unpatriotic at best.”

While rape and sexual assault are indeed military strategies in war, tales of raping and killing babies have also long served to foster outrage toward official enemies, from World War I German soldiers bayoneting babies to Kuwaiti babies yanked out of their incubators in the first Persian Gulf War.

But most Americans, especially young people, don’t recognize propaganda, because even when it is exposed at the time, it is not incorporated into the broader narratives of war. Debunked tales have gone down the Orwellian memory hole, and most of the true history of war goes down the same hole. As Bryce Greene pointed out on Counterspin (2/24/22), the roots of the escalations leading up to the war in Ukraine were “completely omitted from the Western media.”

 Because the evil enemy is always solely responsible and beyond redemption, there is no need to include an accurate history, or correct the false claims, or include the reasons for war. As FAIR (3/4/22) pointed out, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is frequently described as “unprovoked.” The explanation for war is simple: It’s good vs evil.

And the US is always good, even though the country has perpetrated a senseless, expensive and brutal war in the Middle East for the entire 21st century. When corporate media did “explain” the war in Ukraine, it “almost universally gave a pro-Western view of US/Russia relations and the history behind them” (FAIR.org, 1/28/22). Common Dreams (3/18/22) observed that journalists were more hawkish at news conferences than Biden’s press secretary, often “cheerleading for US escalation in Ukraine,” with more weapons and no-fly zones.

 Getting to the edge of  doom 

Real News (10/28/22): “Ukrainians have been paying a terrible price for the failure of ensuring sensible and reasonable negotiations.”

Foreign Affairs (9–10/22), citing US officials, reported that in April 2022, two months into the war, “Russian and Ukrainian negotiators appeared to have tentatively agreed on the outlines of a negotiated interim settlement,” in a deal worked out in Turkey. This  deal was scuttled, however, reportedly after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson went to Kiev and told President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that the West wasn’t ready for a deal, and that there would be no Western security for Ukraine if he signed the accord (Ukrainska Pravda, 5/5/22; see ScheerPost.com, 9/1/22). In public remarks (8/24/22) four months later, Johnson declared that “this is not the time to advance some flimsy plan for negotiation with someone who is simply not interested”:

You can’t negotiate with a bear while it’s eating your leg, you can’t negotiate with a street robber who has you pinned to the floor, and we don’t need to worry about humiliating Putin any more than we would need to worry about humiliating the bear or the robber.

The US has likewise continually refused to negotiate the end to the war. The Real News Network (10/28/22) reported that before the war started, the Kremlin told Biden that Russia was interested in “legally fixed guarantees that rule out NATO expansion eastward and the deployment of offensive strike weapons systems in states adjacent to Russia.” The talks were not pursued—in the context of US establishment media offering opinions that a war would hurt Russia, and would therefore be a good thing for the US (FAIR.org, 1/15/22).

Protests across the country, organized by Code Pink and the Peace in Ukraine Coalition, hit the streets in September to call for an end to the war. The organizers interrogated the ahistorical, one-sided, distorted NATO narrative that leaves out NATO’s role in the conflict. Led by the US, NATO has now expanded from 12 countries to 30. The inclusion of Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Lithuania pushed right up to Russia’s borders (Common Dreams, 9/20/22).

On a long Twitter thread (2/28/22), commentator Arnaud Bertrand cited over a dozen “top strategic thinkers” who had warned what was coming if NATO continued on the path it was taking. In 1998, George Kennan said NATO expansion would be a “tragic mistake” that would certainly provoke a “bad reaction from Russia.” John Mearsheimer, a leading US geopolitical scholar, warned in 2015 that the West was leading Ukraine down a “primrose path,” and it would result in Ukraine getting “wrecked.” Russia scholar Stephen Cohen told Democracy Now! (4/17/14) that moving NATO toward Russia’s borders would militarize the situation. These arguments are rarely included in corporate news reporting on the Ukraine War.

Further, the US supported the 2014 coup in Ukraine, and has loaded Ukraine with arms to undermine the 2015 Minsk II peace agreement. Russia and Ukraine signed the accord to end the civil war that followed the coup and left an estimated 14,000 people dead in Ukraine’s industrial Donbas region. Corporate media habitually omit Minsk II, and actively deny the documented history of fighting between the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion and Russian separatists.

‘This isn’t a card game’

UN chief António Guterres (Axios, 9/26/22): “Nuclear weapons are the most destructive power ever created…. Their elimination would be the greatest gift we could bestow on future generations.”

Without context and accuracy, reasoned discourse and the ability to find solutions or engage in diplomacy are beyond our reach as we approach nuclear Armageddon. Corporate newsframes regularly exclude alternative voices of peace and those who call for an end to war, leaving out an entire discourse that has animated global discussions about conflict resolution for decades.

Karl Grossman (FAIR.org, 8/5/22) reported that talk of nuclear weapons proliferated in US newspapers this year—mentioned 5,243 times between February 24 and August 4, 2022—but calls for an end to the nuclear threat were rare. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which went into effect in 2021, was mentioned only 43 times, mostly in letters to the editor or opinion columns.

There is a reason that threatening war, and threatening violence against another state, are violations of Article 2.4 of the UN Charter. As Chris Hedges says, war itself is the greatest evil. War itself causes the ultimate humanitarian disasters.   

Speaking at an event to commemorate the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, UN Secretary-General António Guterres (Axios, 9/26/22) said:

The era of nuclear blackmail must end. The idea that any country could fight and win a nuclear war is deranged. Any use of a nuclear weapon would incite a humanitarian Armageddon.

And the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) observed:

This isn’t a card game, the risk of nuclear war is increasing with every threat. Using nuclear weapons or threatening to use nuclear weapons is unacceptable and this must stop now.

The number of countries now signed onto the treaty to end nuclear arms has risen to 91. That most of the world is not on the side of the US is information that is absent from big journalism’s reporting. The many entreaties from governments across the globe to negotiate an end to the war in Ukraine are not on corporate news agendas.

Choosing planet over war

Common Dreams (9/5/22): “The only realistic alternative to this endless slaughter is a return to peace talks to bring the fighting to an end.”

Journalists and peace activists alike have argued that war in general, and the war in Ukraine exacerbate the climate crisis. The Intercept (9/10/22) documented the destructive power of the $40 billion worth of weapons the US has supplied to Ukraine, now up to $50 billion, which is over “four times the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency during an existential climate crisis of wildfires, droughts, storms and rising sea levels” (Common Dreams, 9/20/22). And World Beyond War estimates that the enormous fossil fuel footprint of the Department of Defense makes it the largest institutional user of oil in the world.

Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies (Common Dreams, 9/5/22) warned:

Further escalation should be unthinkable, but so should a long war of endless crushing artillery barrages and brutal urban and trench warfare…. The only realistic alternative to this endless slaughter is a return to peace talks to bring the fighting to an end.

The fact that 30 progressive politicians felt compelled to pull back a letter requesting negotiations to end the war in Ukraine the day after it was delivered to President Biden indicates the severity of the lockdown on public debate about war in the US.

Today US combat troops remain stationed in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Kenya, Somalia, Yemen, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, Turkey, the Philippines and Cyprus, while Washington conducts counterterrorism operations in 61 additional countries around the world. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed by US airstrikes alone in the last two decades. US wars are still killing and starving people around the world.

To date, there has been no accountability for wars’ failures, or for the trillions of dollars unaccounted for, or the atrocities perpetrated on the people of the Middle East. The Real News Network (9/14/21) reported that the total “cost of US militarization since 9/11 is a staggering $21 trillion.” After so much destruction in the Middle East fighting a “war on terror,” the worldwide number of both terrorist attacks and victims are “three to five times higher annually than in 2001” (Brookings, 8/27/21). As the Institute for Policy Studies’ John Cavanagh and Phyllis Bennis (The Nation, 9/10/21) argue, “That money should have been used for healthcare, climate, jobs and education.”

Big journalism does not tie military spending to the lack of funding for  domestic programs popular with Americans such as Medicare for All, and even left-wing democrats have not found a way to make that case. And the voices for peace are censored by the search algorithms that hide the alternative media and the broader dialogue that can be found there.

Caitlin Johnstone (4/7/22) has argued that “the US empire has been working to shore up narrative control to strengthen its hegemonic domination of the planet” for some time, and the war in Ukraine has certainly furthered that goal.

Declassified Australia (9/22/22) detailed a “covert online propaganda operation” promoting “pro-Western narratives” for two decades, operating mostly out of the United States.  Declassified Australia (11/3/22) further revealed that a team of researchers at the University of Adelaide unearthed millions of tweets by fake “bot” accounts pushing disinformation on the Ukraine war. The “anti-Russia propaganda campaign” of automated Twitter accounts flooded the internet at the start of the war. Of the more than 5 million tweets studied (both bot and non-bot), 90% came from accounts that were pro-Ukraine.

Every day we move closer

“The big one is coming,” promises the commander of the US nuclear force (DoD News, 11/3/22).

Navy Adm. Charles Richard (DoD News, 11/3/22; AntiWar.com, 11/6/22), the commander of US Strategic Command, stated that so far in Ukraine, it’s been “just the warmup.” He warned: “The big one is coming…. We’re going to get tested in ways that we haven’t been tested [in] a long time.”

Recently the US released the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which reported that “arms control has been subdued by military rivalry.” The position document affirmed the US doctrine allowing for the first use of nuclear weapons, and identified one use of nuclear weapons as to “achieve US objectives if deterrence fails.”

As journalist and war critic Ben Norton put it on Twitter (11/6/22), “The US empire really is threatening all life on Earth with potential nuclear apocalypse.”

Even in the face of the lack of reasoned nuclear war  reporting in corporate media, nearly 60% of Americans support diplomatic efforts to end the war in Ukraine “as soon as possible,” even if that means Ukraine having to make concessions to Russia. As Alfred de Zaya, former UN independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, tweeted:

If the US were a functioning democracy, US citizens would be asked whether they want billions of dollars to be given to Ukraine for war, or whether they would prefer promoting mediation with a view to a ceasefire and sustainable peace.

Corporate media are failing democracy, and failing to disclose our current, stark choice between war on the one hand and life and the planet on the other. They speak in a loud voice that shouts for more war. In doing so, they censor and poison public discourse and position Americans as targets of propaganda—the denizens of empire—instead of citizen participants in a democracy who determine their own fates.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (1/20/22) warned, “The doorstep of doom is no place to loiter.” The sane alternative to war—and the humane thing to d0—would be to close the door on war, lock it, and throw away the key.

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ACTION ALERT: NYT Has Found New Neo-Nazi Troops to Lionize in Ukraine

FAIR - November 30, 2022 - 5:23pm

 

The New York Times has found another neo-Nazi militia to fawn over in Ukraine. The Bratstvo battalion “gave access to the New York Times to report on two recent riverine operations,” which culminated in a piece (11/21/22) headlined “On the River at Night, Ambushing Russians.”

New York Times (11/21/22): “The Bratstvo battalion has undertaken some of the conflict’s most difficult missions, conducting forward spotting and sabotage along the front lines.”

Since the US-backed Maidan coup in 2014, establishment media have either minimized the far-right ideology that guides many Ukrainian nationalist detachments or ignored it  completely.

Anti-war outlets, including FAIR (1/28/22, 3/22/22), have repeatedly highlighted this dynamic—particularly regarding corporate media’s lionization of the Azov battalion, once widely recognized by Western media as a fascist militia, now sold to the public as a reformed far-right group that gallantly defends the sovereignty of a democratic Ukraine (New York Times, 10/4/22; FAIR.org10/6/22).

That is when Azov’s political orientation is discussed at all, which has become less and less common since Russia launched its invasion in February.

‘Christian Taliban’

“We need to create something like a Christian Taliban,” Dmytro Korchynsky told the Intercept (3/18/15). “The Christian Taliban can succeed, just as the Taliban are driving the Americans out of Afghanistan.”

The lesser-known Bratstvo battalion, within which the Times embedded its reporters, is driven by several far-right currents—none of which are mentioned in the article.

Bratstvo was founded as a political organization in 2004 by Dmytro Korchynsky, who previously led the far-right Ukrainian National Assembly–Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense (UNA-UNSO).

Korchynsky, who now fights in Bratstvo’s paramilitary wing, is a Holocaust denier who falsely blamed Jews for the 1932–33 famine in Ukraine, and peddled the lie that “120,000 Jews fought in the Wehrmacht.” He has stated that he sees Bratstvo as a “Christian Taliban” (Intercept, 3/18/15).

In the 1980s, the Times portrayed the religious extremists of the Afghan mujahideen—who were receiving US training and arms—as a heroic bulwark against Soviet expansionism. We all know how that worked out.

In an echo of that propaganda campaign, the Times neglected to tell its readers about the neo-Nazi and theocratic politics of the Bratstvo battalion. Why should anyone care who else Bratstvo members would like to see dead, so long as they’re operating in furtherance of US policymakers’ stated aim of weakening Russia?

Modern-day crusade

The article’s author, Carlotta Gall, recounted Bratstvo’s Russian-fighting exploits in quasi-religious terms. Indeed, the only instances in which the Times even hinted at the unit’s guiding ideology came in the form of mythologizing the unit’s Christian devotion.

Of Bratstvo fighters embarking on a mission, Gall wrote, “They recited a prayer together, then loaded up the narrow rubber dinghies and set out, hunched silent figures in the dark.” Referring to battalion commander Oleksiy Serediuk’s wife, who also fights with the unit, Gall extolled, “She has gained an almost mythical renown for surviving close combat with Russian troops.”

The piece even featured a photograph showing militia members gathered in prayer. Evoking the notion of pious soldiers rather than that of a “Christian Taliban,” the caption read, “Members of the Bratstvo battalion’s special forces unit prayed together before going on a night operation.”

The Times also gave voice to some of the loftier aims of Bratstvo’s crusade, quoting Serediuk’s musing that, “We all dream about going to Chechnya, and the Kremlin, and as far as the Ural Mountains.” Nazi racial ideologues have long been enamored by the prospect of reaching the Urals, which they view as the natural barrier separating European culture from the Asiatic hordes.

While plotting Operation Barbarossa, Hitler identified the Urals as the eastern extent of the Wehrmacht’s planned advance. In 1943, referring to the Nazi scheme that aimed to rid European Russia of Asiatic “untermenschen” so the land could be settled by hundreds of millions of white Europeans, Himmler declared, “We will charge ahead and push our way forward little by little to the Urals.”

‘Mindset of the 13th century’

Bratstvo commander Oleksiy Serediuk explained to Al Jazeera (4/15/15): “I left the Azov because it was full of pagans. Committed Christians in the Azov were not allowed to stop to pray throughout the day.”

The only two Bratstvo members named in the piece, meanwhile, are Serediuk and Vitaliy Chorny. While Chorny—who the Times identified as the battalion’s head of intelligence gathering—is quoted, his statements are limited to descriptions of the unit’s fighting strategy. Serediuk’s recorded utterances are similarly lacking in substance.

Far more illuminating is an Al Jazeera article (4/15/15) titled “‘Christian Taliban’s’ Crusade on Ukraine’s Front Lines,” which quotes both Serediuk and Chorny extensively. Serediuk, Al Jazeera reported, “revels in the Christian Taliban label.” In reference to his decision to leave the Azov battalion, the piece went on to say:

Serediuk didn’t leave the Azov because of the neo-Nazi connections, however—extreme-right ideology doesn’t bother him. What does irk him, however, is being around fighters who are not zealous in their religious convictions.

In the same piece, Chorny invoked the violently antisemitic Crusades of the Middle Ages to describe Bratstvo’s ideological foundation:

The enemy—the forces of darkness—they have all the weapons, they have greater numbers, they have money. But our soldiers are the bringers of European traditions and the Christian mindset of the 13th century.

To circumvent the Times’ exultant narrative, one has to do a certain amount of supplementary research and analysis. But even the most basic inquiry—searching “Bratstvo battalion” on Google—reveals the far-right underpinnings of the unit with which the Times embedded its reporters.

The seventh search result is a June 2022 study from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, which reported, “Another such far-right entity is the so-called Brotherhood (Bratstvo) ‘battalion,’ which includes Belarusian, Danish, Irish and Canadian members.”

The ninth result is an article from the Washington Free Beacon (4/6/22), which quoted a far-right Canadian volunteer as saying on Telegram that he was “fighting in the neo-Nazi ‘Bratstvo’ Battalion in Kyiv.”

SS memorabilia

The New York Times (11/21/22) captioned this photo, “Members of the Bratstvo battalion’s special forces unit prayed together before going on a night operation.”

In a world where journalists actually practiced what they preached, someone at the paper of record surely would have noticed the Nazi insignia appearing in two photos in the piece. In this world, however, the Times either forgot how to use the zoom function—though the paper made extensive use of this capability when reporting on China’s Communist Party Congress the month before (FAIR.org, 11/11/22)—or they simply did not want to report on this ugly and inconvenient discovery.

Totenkopf insignia worn by Bratstvo member in photo above.

One soldier is seen wearing an emblem known as a “Totenkopf” in a photo of Bratstvo’s prayer circle. The Totenkopf, which means “death’s head” in German, was used as an insignia by the Totenkopfverbande—an SS unit that participated in Hitler’s war of annihilation against the Soviet Union, and guarded the concentration camps where Nazi Germany condemned millions of Jewish men, women and children to death.

Totenkopf emblem on eBay.

Individuals donning the Totenkopf also took part in the murder of millions of others in these camps, including Soviet prisoners of war, political dissidents, trade unionists, persons with disabilities, homosexuals and Romani people.

In September, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted—and then quietly deleted—a picture on social media of himself with a number of soldiers, one of whom was wearing a Totenkopf patch similar to that seen in the Times’ photo of Bratstvo’s prayer meeting. One can easily find this particular iteration on Amazon or eBay.

The New York Times described this photo as “Russian volunteer fighters preparing to go on a joint night operation with the Ukrainian Bratstvo battalion.“

 

The Totenkopf insignia can also be seen in this photo.

Later in the Times article, another photograph of a soldier wearing a slightly different version of the insignia appeared. Here, bathed in the light of an interior room and staring out from the very center of the image, the Totenkopf is even harder to miss. Amazon’s product description for this specific variant reads, “This gorgeous replica piece takes you back to World War II.”

Amazon promises that “this gorgeous replica piece takes you back to World War II.”

If the Times simply failed to identify the Totenkopf in two separate photos—both of which were taken by a Times photographer while he was embedded with Bratstvo, and were then featured prominently in the article—that would certainly amount to a journalistic failure.

The alternative scenario is that the Times did recognize the SS memorabilia worn by the soldiers they chose to embed with, and decided to publish the images anyway without commenting on the matter.

 

ACTION:

Please remind the New York Times to clearly identify neo-Nazi forces when they appear in coverage, and to refrain from depicting such movements as heroes.

CONTACT:

Letters: letters@nytimes.com

Readers Center: Feedback

Twitter: @NYTimes

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

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Maybe Bill Gates’ Billions Don’t Make Him an Expert on Hunger in Africa

FAIR - November 29, 2022 - 2:57pm

 

The tire fire that Elon Musk seems to be making out of his new toy, Twitter, is leading some to call for an overdue, society-wide jettisoning of the whole “if he’s a billionaire, that means he’s a genius” myth.

AP (9/13/22): “Gates’ view on how countries should respond to food insecurity has taken on heightened importance in a year when a record 345 million people around the world are acutely hungry.”

Here’s a hope that that critical lens will extend not just to Elon “don’t make me mad or I won’t fly you to Mars” Musk but also to, can we say, Bill Gates, who, while he doesn’t talk about other planets, has some pretty grandiose ideas about this one.

Fifty organizations, organized by Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and Community Alliance for Global Justice, have issued an open letter to Gates, in response to two high-profile media stories: an AP piece headlined “Bill Gates: Technological Innovation Would Help Solve Hunger” (9/13/22) and a Q&A in the New York Times by David Wallace-Wells (9/13/22) that opened with the question of the very definition of progress: “Are things getting better? Fast enough? For whom?” and asserting that “those questions are, in a somewhat singular way, tied symbolically to Bill Gates.”

In their letter, these global groups—focused on food sovereignty and justice—take non-symbolic issue with Gates’ premises, and those of the outlets megaphoning him and his deep, world-saving thoughts.

First and last, Gates acknowledges that the world makes enough food to feed everyone, but then goes on to suggest responses to hunger based on low productivity, rather than equitable access.

He stresses fertilizer, which the groups note, makes farmers and importing nations dependent on volatile international markets and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, while multiple groups in Africa are already developing biofertilizers with neither of those issues.

New York Times (9/13/22):  Bill Gates is “by objective standards among the most generous philanthropists the world has ever known.”

Gates tells Times readers, “The Green Revolution was one of the greatest things that ever happened. Then we lost track.” These on the ground groups beg to differ: Those changes did increase some crop yields in some places, but numbers of hungry people didn’t markedly go down, or access to food markedly increase, while a number of new problems were introduced.

AP says the quiet part loud with a lead that tells us: Gates believes that

the global hunger crisis is so immense that food aid cannot fully address the  problem. What’s also needed, Gates argues, are the kinds of innovations in farming technology that he has long funded.

Presumably “Squillionnaire Says What He Does Is Good, By Gosh” was deemed too overt.

But AP wants us to know about the “breakthrough” Gates calls “magic seeds”—i.e., those bioengineered to resist climate change. Climate-resistant seeds, the letter writers note, are already being developed by African farmers and traded in informal seed markets. Gates even points a finger at over-investments in maize and rice, as opposed to locally adapted cereals like sorghum. Except his foundation has itself reportedly focused on maize and rice and restricted crop innovation.

Finally, the groups address Gates’ obnoxious dismissal of critics of his approach as “singing Kumbaya”: “If there’s some non-innovation solution, you know, like singing Kumbaya, I’ll put money behind it. But if you don’t have those seeds, the numbers just don’t work,” our putative boy-hero says. Adding pre-emptively, “If somebody says we’re ignoring some solution, I don’t think they’re looking at what we’re doing.”

Community Alliance for Global Justice (11/11/22) et al.: “We invite high-profile news outlets to be more cautious about lending credibility to one wealthy white man’s flawed assumptions, hubris and ignorance.”

The open letter notes respectfully that there are “many tangible ongoing proposals and projects that work to boost productivity and food security.” That it is Gates’ “preferred high-tech solutions, including genetic engineering, new breeding technologies, and now digital agriculture, that have in fact consistently failed to reduce hunger or increase food access as promised,” and in some cases actually contribute to the biophysical processes driving the problem. That Africa, despite having the lowest costs of labor and land, is a net exporter is not, as Gates says, a “tragedy,” but a predictable and predicted result of the fact that costs of land and labor are socially and politically produced: “Africa is in fact highly productive; it’s just that the profits are realized elsewhere.”

At the end of AP‘s piece, the outlet does the thing elite media do where they fake rhetorical balance in order to tell you what to think:

Through his giving, investments and public speaking, Gates has held the spotlight in recent years, especially on the topics of vaccines and climate change. But he has also been the subject of conspiracy theories that play off his role as a developer of new technologies and his place among the highest echelons of the wealthy and powerful.

The word “but” makes it sound like a fight: between holding a spotlight (because you’re wealthy and powerful) or else being subject to presumably inherently ignorant critical conjecture (because you’re wealthy and powerful). Not to mention this anonymously directed “spotlight”—that media have nothing to do with, or no power to control.

 

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Milton Allimadi on Media in Africa

FAIR - November 25, 2022 - 10:25am

 

 

New York Times (1/31/60)

This week on CounterSpin: According to Techcrunch, before its ignominious flameout, the cryptocurrency firm FTX had acquired more than 100,000 customers in Africa. Evidently, FTX—led by wunderkind–turned–object lesson, with not much actual learning in evidence in between—Sam Bankman-Fried built a following in part by capitalizing on unstable banking access on the continent. Media like the New York Times and Bloomberg abetted Bankman-Fried’s scheming, with rose-colored stories describing him as a kind of “Robin Hood,” whose “ethical framework” called for “decisions calculated to secure the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.” Well, the golden boy has now filed for bankruptcy, having disappeared some billion dollars in client funds, ho hum.

Don’t look for FTX post mortems to go deep on why Sub-Saharan Africa was specially targeted, or to plumb the implications of Bankman-Fried’s comments, made to Vox in 2021, that Africa is “where the most underserved globally are, and where there’s a whole lot of lowest-hanging fruit in terms of being able to make people’s lives better.” How’d that work out?

The African continent as a playing field for white people to test their theories, extract resources and stage proxy wars is time-tested. As much fable as active framework, it’s a lens that requires constant challenge.

We talked about this last fall with Milton Allimadi. He teaches African history at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and publishes the Black Star News, a weekly newspaper in New York City. And he’s the author of the book Manufacturing Hate: How Africa Was Demonized in Western Media. We hear some of that conversation with Milton Allimadi, this week on CounterSpin.

Transcript: ‘The Demonization Was Meant to Pacify Readers to Accept the Brutality’

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look back at recent press coverage of Bill Gates.

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It’s Time to Hold News Media Accountable for Transphobia

FAIR - November 23, 2022 - 4:58pm

 

Five people are dead and more than a dozen others injured after a gunman opened fire at Club Q, a LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs in the early hours of November 20.

November 20 is also Transgender Day of Remembrance, which memorializes victims of anti-trans violence. Two transgender people, Kelly Loving and Daniel Aston, are among the dead in Colorado Springs. This attack was reminiscent of the 2015 massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in which the gunman took 49 lives. If two Club Q patrons—Richard Fierro, an Army veteran, and an unnamed patron who witnesses say was a trans woman—did not disarm the shooter, he likely would have killed more people.

As morally depraved transphobic politicians like Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert offer their “thoughts and prayers,” and news outlets offer wall-to-wall coverage of the tragedy, it is important to remember the media’s role in normalizing violent and hateful right-wing rhetoric.

MSNBC’s Ben Collins (Twitter, 11/22/22) spoke Tuesday morning  about the shooting and asked what reporters can do differently to avoid being part of the problem:

I think we have to have a come-to-Jesus moment here, as reporters. Are we more afraid of being on Breitbart for saying that trans people deserve to be alive? Or are we more afraid of dead people?

Conversations on Twitter in response to Collins’ question mention the need for more transgender representation in the newsroom and the need to stop covering anti-LGBTQ talking points as anything but hate.

Documenting transphobia

In the wake of the Colorado Springs shooting, Tucker Carlson (Fox News, 11/21/22)doubled down on transphobia.

FAIR has been documenting homophobia (3/7/16, 10/24/19, 5/26/21) and transphobia (5/6/21, 9/24/21, 5/5/22) in the corporate press for years. Right-wing pundits like Fox‘s Tucker Carlson certainly come to mind first as culpable in spreading this hate.

In the days since the shooting, Fox News has been relatively silent about the trans issues, with only five mentions as of November 22. And some of the coverage was  hate-filled business as usual, as when Caitlin Jenner condemned a young trans athlete for winning in a race on America Reports (FoxNews.com, 11/21/22).

One of the few mentions of the shooting was Carlson himself (11/21/22) lambasting people for blaming an anti-LGBTQ attack on people like him.  He claimed people were blaming the right for the mass shooting because they “complained about the sexualizing of children.”

The Washington Post (4/5/22) offered up the same bigoted conspiracy theories served by Tucker Carlson—but presented as neutral reporting.

These delusional conspiracy theories about LGBTQ people “grooming” children are a fixture of outlets like Fox. But centrist and “liberal” media must also answer for their platforming of transphobic points of view, and chronic “both-sidesing” of bigots with LGBTQ people and allies.

Below is a list of some of the instances of normalized homophobia and transphobia FAIR has documented in recent years:

  • A New York Times article by Judith Shulevitz (10/15/16) argued that  anti-transgender sentiment cannot be described as “mere intolerance,” presenting anti-transgender radical feminists as a more rational voice in opposition to trans rights. The article also framed the debate about transgender rights as an issue of “clashing values” (FAIR.org, 11/15/18).
  • Washington Post opinion writer Thomas Wheatley (1/17/17) argued that “society’s broader trend toward gender nullification—and its dissolution of prudent, time-tested boundaries of conduct”—what he described as “the more disagreeable aims of the transgender movement”—will “directly endanger women,” because “traditional gender roles still serve as a deterrent to predatory behavior” (FAIR.org, 11/15/18).
  • An Economist piece headlined “Who Decides Your Gender?” (10/27/18) suggested that allowing gender self-identification could harm efforts to “keep women and children safe” (FAIR.org, 11/15/18).
  • The Guardian (10/17/18) argued for rewriting Britain’s Gender Recognition Act, which allows British citizens to legally change their gender. “Women’s oppression by men has a physical basis, and to deny the relevance of biology when considering sexual inequality is a mistake,” the editorial maintained. “Women’s concerns about sharing dormitories or changing rooms with ‘male-bodied’ people must be taken seriously”  (FAIR.org, 9/24/21).
  • CNN (3/16/21) quoted Republican Rep. Andy Biggs calling the federal Equality Act a “devastating attack on humanity” that “recklessly requires girl’s and women’s restrooms, lockers, gyms or any place a female might seek privacy, to surrender that privacy to biological males” (FAIR.org, 3/3/21).
  • NBC (2/25/21) gave the right-wing Heritage Foundation a platform for baseless claims about the impact of the Equality Act—from stating that people might lose their jobs or businesses if they don’t “conform to new sexual norms,” to asserting that the bill would “leave women vulnerable to sexual assault” (FAIR.org, 3/3/21).
  • A New York Times Magazine cover story “The Battle Over Gender Therapy” (6/19/22) wondered if gender-affirming care for trans kids shouldn’t be so easy to access. In doing so, it laundered far-right views for a broader audience, making hostility to trans people’s basic rights more acceptable. Cisgender doctors, not trans youth, are centered in the story (FAIR.org, 6/23/22).
  • The Washington Post (4/5/22) published a piece headlined “Teachers Who Mention Sexuality Are ‘Grooming’ Kids, Conservatives Say.” It spent 12 paragraphs quoting transphobic bigots’ points-of-view before introducing another perspective (FAIR.org, 4/12/22).

This list is, of course, not exhaustive.

Transphobia costs lives

If “transgender girls are at the center of America’s culture wars,” they’re not at the center of this Washington Post piece (1/29/21); only one is quoted, in the article’s very last paragraph.

FAIR has also documented the lack of transgender youth quoted in both centrist and far-right news outlets (FAIR.org, 5/5/22).  When the Washington Post (1/29/21, 4/15/21) covered the anti-transgender sports campaign in two 2021 articles, sources that were transgender athletes were outnumbered 11 to 1 and 17 to 3, respectively (FAIR.org, 5/6/21). Right-wing efforts to demonize trans people (as well as others in the LGBTQ community) are that much more effective when the targets are denied the ability to speak for themselves.

Transgender people are more than four times as likely as cisgender people to experience violence including rape, sexual assault, and aggravated or simple assault. Transgender people of color are disproportionately victims of fatal violence. Eighty-two percent of trans youth have considered killing themselves, and 40% have tried. Trans adults are more likely to not have health insurance and report cost-related barriers to healthcare. In general, data suggests the mortality rate of trans people is more than twice that of cis people.

The risk of living as a transgender person is widely known, yet news outlets still treat their existence as something that’s up for debate. As we’ve seen time and again, transphobia costs lives.

News outlets need to be held accountable for their complicity in presenting and watering down this hateful, violent ideology.

Featured image: Demonstration at White House, 2017 (CC photo: Ted Eytan)

 

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Media Misled on Issues Important to Midterm Voters

FAIR - November 23, 2022 - 3:50pm

 

“The political press blew it.” So wrote Dana Milbank of the Washington Post (11/9/22), calling the fourth estate the “biggest loser of the midterm elections.” As he points out, most of the headlines leading into Election Day forecast a “Democratic wipeout.” And, it hardly bears mentioning, such a Democratic rout didn’t occur.

Looking at where the prognosticators went wrong, a common theme is an emphasis on the wrong campaign issues. A pre-election article in Politico (10/19/22), which purported to explain the “GOP’s midterm momentum,” encapsulated many pundits’ predictions about the House contest:

Twenty days out from Election Day, voters are overwhelmingly focused on the economy and inflation, Republicans are more trusted to handle those issues, and crime beats out abortion as a second-tier issue.

This view was also reflected in Fox’s final “Power Rankings” (11/1/22) that predicted “Republicans to take control of the House with a 19-seat majority, or 236 total seats.” Actually, if Republicans had won 236 seats, that would leave the Democrats with 199—giving the GOP a majority of 37 seats, not 19.  But why so bullish in the first place? “Republicans are winning on the economy and crime, and that translates into a decisive House majority.”

And Blake Hounshell argued in the New York Times (10/19/22) that the election was breaking in favor of Republicans for three reasons: the importance of inflation and crime, the relative unimportance of abortion, and the historical pattern of midterm elections that tend to be a referendum on the party of the president.

All these claims, of course, turned out to be wrong.

Mismeasuring issues

Fox (11/1/22) greatly overestimated the size of the GOP House majority because it underestimated the importance of Democratic-leaning issues.

Measuring the importance of issues to voters is fraught with ambiguity. There is no single method for identifying such issues, and thus polls find different and often conflicting results.

Prior to the election, for example, a poll by Fox (11/1/22) reported that 89% of voters were “extremely” or “very concerned” about inflation, 79% about crime, 74% political divisions, 73% Russia/Ukraine, 72% what is taught in schools, and 71% abortion.

That form of the question allows respondents to give their opinions on all the issues picked by the pollsters. Fox interpreted the results to mean that only the top two “concerning” issues—inflation (89%) and crime (79%)—would have any significant impact on the outcome. What to make of the fact that three other issues were “concerning” to more than seven in ten voters? That’s hardly a trivial number. Yet the other issues were completely dismissed.

Another way to ask the question is to require respondents to identify just one issue that is most important to them. But even then, different polls find different results.

A prime example can be found by comparing the two 2022 Election Day polls: the network exit poll and AP/Fox Votecast.

The former asked respondents to indicate which one issue was most important to their vote.

Source: Network exit poll

As the table shows, 31% of voters chose inflation, and among that group, 28% voted for a Democratic member of Congress, 71% for a Republican—for a net GOP advantage of 43 percentage points. Another 27% chose abortion, which favored Democrats by a 53-point margin.

The Votecast poll of 2022 voters also asked respondents to specify just one issue, though the question was phrased somewhat differently, asking for the most important issue facing the country. The question also included four additional items.

Source: AP/Fox Votecast

Note that the five issues listed by the network exit poll are virtually the same as the first five issues of Votecast. The only difference is how each characterized the economy—“inflation” and “economy and jobs” respectively.

Yet that difference in wording, as well as the number of issues, produced startlingly different results. Almost half (48%) of Votecast respondents chose “economy and job,” while only 31% of exit poll respondents chose inflation. Also, Votecast shows just 10% choosing abortion as the most important issue, while the network exit poll reported 27% listing abortion most important.

In short, according to Votecast, the economy and jobs issue overwhelmed abortion, while the exit poll suggested inflation was only marginally more important to voters than abortion.

Other significant differences can be found as well. Both polls show about 9% to 10% of voters listing immigration as most important. But Votecast says the issue favors Republicans by a 78-point margin, while the network exit poll says only a 48-point margin. Such differences among polls are typical.

Also, it’s worth noting that climate change tied for third place in Votecast, but was overlooked in the exit polls. This difference illustrates how subjective and arbitrary are the choices that pollsters make in determining which issues to examine.

Partisan differences on issues

In the previous analyses, little effort was made to differentiate the top issues of Democrats, Republicans and independents. But any attempt to understand the electorate requires such a differentiation.

Richard Brownstein (CNN, 10/11/22) argued the 2022 midterms boiled down to the issues of “your money or your rights?”

In his analysis of “the central tension driving the ’22 election,” Ronald Brownstein (CNN, 10/11/22) emphasized that Democrats and Republicans were focused on quite different issues. He cited Whit Ayres, a veteran GOP pollster: “The blue team cares about abortion and democracy, and the red team cares about crime and immigration and inflation.”

Brownstein went on to write:

The national NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll released last week offered the latest snapshot of this divergence. Asked what issue they considered most important in 2022, Republicans overwhelmingly chose inflation (52%) and immigration (18%).

A comparable share of Democrats picked preserving democracy (32%), abortion (21%) and healthcare (15%).

Independents split exactly in half between the priorities of the two parties: inflation and immigration on the one side, and democracy, abortion and healthcare on the other.

The important and obvious, but often overlooked, point is that different voters are motivated by different issues. To note, for example, that abortion is a motivating issue for only 12% of the overall electorate overlooks the possibility that it may be a crucial motivating issue for Democrats (21% chose this issue) to turn out, and perhaps for independents to choose one party or the other.

Fundamentally flawed concept

Apart from the inconsistency in poll results, the notion that national polls can identify the issues that will determine which party will win control of the House is fundamentally flawed.

The assumption behind the previous analyses is that most voters choose candidates based on the issues. But that is backward for the vast majority of voters. People who identify with a party will overwhelmingly vote for that party, regardless of the issues.

Both Votecast and the network exit poll, for example, report that only 5% to 6% of party identifiers voted for a candidate not of their own party.

Pollsters may ask respondents to identify the important issues for them in this election, but the question is irrelevant for most Republicans and Democrats. They will choose among issues suggested by the poll interviewers. But the issues they choose will almost always be the issues that conform to what their party leaders are already stressing.

To put it graphically, for most voters PARTY —> ISSUES, not the reverse.

Of course, at some point in most voters’ lives, they will probably choose a party that best reflects their political values—or that their parents, or spouse, or other loved one prefers, or that appeals to them for some other miscellaneous reason.

But, in any given election, most voters have already decided which party they prefer, and will simply vote for their party.

That’s one reason why national polls on issues don’t explain why an election was won or lost. The identification of issues is irrelevant—except for a narrow slice of the electorate, which includes small percentages of swing voters, and of occasional voters who are indeed motivated by issues. And it’s this group that will provide the deciding votes.

These are the “persuadables”—voters who might be expected to vote for their own party and don’t; or independents who are persuaded to choose a Democrat or Republican this time, though they might change in the next election; or infrequent voters who decide to turn out in this election because of a particular issue or set of issues.

Motivating a tiny slice

As the Washington Post (12/31/18) pointed out, turnout in the 2018 midterms was the highest in 50 years—following 2014, which was the lowest in 70 years. (2022 turnout is expected to be about 46%—closer to 2018 than to 2014.)

How narrow is this slice? The short answer: About 10% to 15% of voters could be considered “persuadable.”

Votecast reported that in the 2022 election, the number of independents (who don’t lean to either party) was 8%. Add to this party identifiers who switched their allegiance (representing about 4% of the whole electorate). And add to that an unknown (but probably small) number of occasional voters who turned out this time but not some other time, and the total could be as high as 15%.

The number could be even higher in a wave election. Turnout in the 2018 midterms, for example, was the highest in 50 years. This suggests an unusually high number of occasional voters (and “new” voters who had reached voting age in the previous four years) were persuaded to turn out, because of “issues” or some other factor. But it’s impossible for pollsters to predict how large the turnout in any given election will actually be.

Another complication, specifically for the congressional contests, is that only persuadable voters in competitive districts can make a difference. 538 estimates that 124 congressional seats were competitive this year, or 28.5% of the total—45 that leaned Democratic, 39 Republican, and 40 “highly competitive” seats that leaned in neither direction. What these numbers mean is that only about 4% to 5% of the national electorate (15% of 28.5%) are in a position to determine the outcome of the House contest. Even if it were a wave election with, say, 25% of the voters in the persuadable category, that still means that only 7% to 8% of the electorate would be casting the decisive votes.

Pollsters simply can’t tease out such a small proportion of the respondents in their sample to see what motivates them to vote.

Traditionally, pollsters present their data as I summarized their findings earlier in this article: How many voters overall prefer each issue, and how do respondents who prefer a given issue actually vote?

Clearly, that didn’t work in this election. And there is no reason to be confident it will work in any other given election.

Post-election issue importance

The post-election period is more amenable to analysis of issues. By then we know the actual vote totals, and can compare which districts over- and under-performed with respect to party distribution, and how they compared with other districts and with the national vote. From those comparisons, it is possible to infer which issues might have been decisive.

One example is abortion. Just four days before the election, an article in the New York Times (11/4/22) carried the headline: “At Campaign’s End, Democrats See Limits of Focus on Abortion.” Too few people overall cited abortion as a crucial issue.

William Saletan (Bulwark, 11/11/22): “Dobbs didn’t just influence which candidates people voted for. It also influenced whether they showed up at the polls at all—and this provided a crucial boost to pro-choice candidates.”

After the election, William Saletan of the Bulwark (11/11/22) reviewed both the network exit poll and Votecast, and concluded that in fact, “Abortion was a decisive issue in the 2022 midterms.” In enough districts, it affected a small but significant number of voters in both their decision to vote and who to vote for.

Another example: Looking at the pattern of voting across all congressional districts and in the crucial Senate elections, Nate Cohn of the New York Times (11/16/22) concluded that, on average, Trump-endorsed candidates under-performed non-MAGA candidates by an average of about 5 percentage points. Although not mentioned as a typical “issue,” it would appear that the former president was nevertheless a significant influence on the election.

No doubt, similar analyses can address the relative importance of other issues. Analyzing what happened, based on actual data, is much more insightful than predicting what might happen.

The real problem with the 2022 news coverage, however, is not that it was off target, but rather, as Julie Hollar noted previously on this site (11/10/22), “prognostication-as-reporting is utterly dysfunctional.” Judd Legum (Popular Information, 11/10/22) likewise argues that the political media is “broken”:

Even if media predictions were correct, they represent a style of political reporting that is dysfunctional. Campaign coverage is increasingly focused on anticipating who will win through polling analysis. But politics is unpredictable, and polls are not nearly precise enough to predict the outcome of a close contest.

That’s a lesson we relearn each election.

 

The post Media Misled on Issues Important to Midterm Voters appeared first on FAIR.

‘Lula’s Victory Is One of the Most Impressive Political Comebacks of the Last 100 Years’ - CounterSpin interview with Brian Mier on Brazilian election

FAIR - November 22, 2022 - 4:45pm

 

Janine Jackson interviewed BrasilWire‘s Brian Mier about the Brazilian election for the November 18, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson:  In the run-up to Brazil’s fateful October presidential election, elite US news media coverage was dominated by the theme that Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters, a la Trump, might not accept election results.

In the immediate wake of the remarkable victory of much-maligned progressive candidate Lula da Silva, elite US media coverage was dominated by the theme that Jair Bolsonaro, and his supporters, a la Trump, might not accept election results.

Palpably less interesting to these media is how and why Lula won against multiple odds, including the power of incumbency, a sea storm of targeted misinformation and the amplified threats of disruption.

Those priorities, that focus, represent lost opportunities for US citizens to learn, not a gloss about a savior, but to learn about the deep, complex, coalitional work that goes into defeating a neofascist at the polls. And that focus will surely shape coverage of what comes next.

We’re joined now by Brian Mier. He’s co-editor at BrasilWire and correspondent for TeleSur’s news program From the South, author/co-editor of the book Year of Lead: Washington, Wall Street and the New Imperialism in Brazil, as well as a freelance writer and producer. He joins us now by phone from Recife. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Brian Mier.

Brian Mier: Hi. Thanks for having me back.

(New York Times, 11/10/22—updated headline)

JJ: I see a number of tells in elite US coverage of Lula’s victory. And let’s just start with election integrity. So many words, so many words, like these from the New York Times’ Jack Nicas, their guy on this: “Brazil Election Report Finds No Sign of Fraud, yet Fuels Disbelief.” And the story goes:

Brazil finds itself in a tricky situation. Security experts say its electronic voting system is reliable, efficient and, like any digital system, not 100% secure. Now politically motivated actors are using that kernel of truth as reason to question the results of a vote in which there is no evidence of fraud.

So the current is: Fraud? There was no fraud, but people think there was fraud. It’s a problem how much fraud people think there was. Now to be clear, there’s no evidence of any. But did we mention fraud?

I’m thinking that things are going to change going forward, but right now, while declaring it a non-issue, US media have made the predominant topic, in the immediate wake of the election, the idea that there are a lot of people that think that the election was not legitimate.

Now, not that those denialists aren’t a story, but what the heck?

BM: Yeah. It kind of plays into the entire “Stop the steal,” which American business elites, and the people like Steve Bannon and other far-right actors, Jason Miller, are trying to export to Brazil, have been exporting.

I mean, Bolsonaro started announcing preemptively that there was going to be fraud a year and a half ago. He set up a military commission with cronies in the army to try and do a parallel audit of the election to the work being done by the Brazilian electoral court system, which has been around since 1932.

Even though their job was to find fraud, they found no fraud. And then when they finally released the report after the second-round election, after a couple days of protests on the street that were financed by wealthy truck company owners and things like that, their report also said there was no evidence of fraud, but there could be in the future, maybe, but there wasn’t in this election.

So that’s all. It’s a non-story, as you say. So why do they keep talking about it?

Today (10/31/22)

JJ: Yeah. And keep it in front of people.

Let’s talk about another thing that is very much hidden in plain sight. This is NBC‘s Today show talking about a “stunning political comeback in Brazil”:

Da Silva was Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010. He is credited with building an extensive social welfare program and helped lift tens of millions into the middle class. But in 2017, he was convicted of corruption and money-laundering charges. He spent 19 months in prison.

The next thing from NBC‘s Today show is “back here to the NFL.”

The New York Times called him “once-imprisoned former President Lula,” just matter of factly, a person whose “history of scandals has divided voters.”

(New York Times, 10/30/22)

And at their most expansive discussion of this, the New York Times said:

Years after he left office, the authorities revealed a vast government kickback scheme that had flourished during his administration. He was convicted on corruption charges and spent 580 days in prison. Last year, the Supreme Court threw out those convictions, ruling that the judge in his cases was biased, though he was never cleared of any wrongdoing.

And they went on to say that the “scandal” made Lula “a flawed candidate.”

So, I would refer listeners, for the long version, to previous interviews we’ve done on Lava Jato, but for the short version, when I read “Lula was in prison and he was never cleared,” what do I need to know?

BM: That they’re just lying. That’s what you need to know. He was cleared.

And the thing that he was imprisoned over didn’t happen while he was president. It was a trumped-up, fake charge that he had received a free upgrade to a slightly nicer apartment in a building that his wife had been paying installments for for years; it was her purchase. He’d never actually visited the apartment in question. They never came up with any paper trail showing he’d ever received this apartment.

But even so, if it had happened, which there’s no evidence that it did, it was after he left office, so it was impossible to prove conflict of interest.

Money laundering was not a charge that he was ever convicted of. That’s just total disinformation.

Now what happened is that, over the course of the time he was in jail, it was revealed that the prosecution team had been illegally collaborating with agents of a foreign government, the US Department of Justice, using informal communications, bypassing Brazil’s sovereignty laws, in which low-level public prosecutors were supposed to channel all of their communications with foreign governments through the Justice Ministry, but they were just talking one on one.

They had a group of 18 FBI agents meeting with them every 15 days for years, coaching them through how to use different media tactics, and things like that, to smear Lula. What the Supreme Court ruled was that the case had been illegally forum-shopped to a friendly jurisdiction in a state where the alleged crime did not take place. So it was just out of jurisdiction.

The courts also ruled that the evidence that they had presented was tarnished through judicial bias. The only evidence they actually had on Lula to arrest him was one coerced plea bargain testimony from a corrupt businessman who had massive sentence reduction, and was allowed to retain millions of dollars in illicit assets, in exchange for the story he gave. He changed the story three times before he got out of jail. And the court ruled that that was invalid.

And so what it then ruled was that any Lava Jato conviction of Lula would have to be reopened, any charges would have to be reopened, in the proper jurisdiction in Brasilia.

What the New York Times and these other papers are not mentioning is that when all of those charges were attempted to be filed against Lula in the Brasilia court, they were immediately dismissed by the judge, because there was no evidence, and ruled that they could never be opened again.

(Intercept, 6/9/19)

So he wasn’t just released on a technicality. He has been fully exonerated from every charge related to the Lava Jato operation. And we know subsequently from the leaked Telegram conversations that Glenn Greenwald initially revealed in the Intercept, a small portion of them, we know that the judge [Sergio Moro] was bizarrely allowed to oversee the investigation and the trial.

He rejected over a hundred defense witnesses for Lula during the trial. He had been collaborating illegally with the prosecutors, coaching them on how to smear Lula and his family, how to deal with the media, and all of these things, the entire time.

And then immediately after the 2018 presidential election—he illegally leaked information smearing Lula’s replacement candidate, Fernando Haddad, on the eve of the election—immediately after that election, he was awarded a ministry in Jair Bolsanaro’s government. There’s leaked conversations of the prosecuting team from Lava Jato, saying they were “praying to Jesus” that the Workers’ Party would lose that election and that Bolsonaro would be elected.

He’s under investigation for a series of crimes right now, including conflict of interest, accepting a cabinet ministry in a government that he helped put in power using illegal tactics.

So it’s really slanderous to pretend that Lula was convicted and that he just got out on a technicality. That’s slander. If someone said that during the election in Brazil, they would be guilty of electoral crime.

Even the most hostile media groups like Global TV, which cheerled for Lava Jato for years, they had to announce on the air that Lula was totally innocent, there was no charges against him, everything that he’d been accused of was fraudulent, and he was completely free of any kind of involvement in corruption.

So the fact that American papers are still repeating this bogus narrative, with all kinds of disinformation inserted into it, like money laundering? He was never charged with money laundering, or convicted of money laundering, or anything.

What happened was during the week that they launched the charges against Lula, in order to justify transferring the case out of its proper jurisdiction into this friendly court, run by US Department of Justice asset Sergio Moro, in Curitiba, they invented a charge of money laundering, related to Petrobras petroleum company.

(ABC World News Tonight, 10/30/22)

One week after the case was transferred in 2016, they removed it from the charges. And in Lula’s actual conviction, the judge specifically states that there was no money laundering.

So they’re still repeating this fake narrative from 2016 that was used to justify the illegal forum-shopping of the case. It’s irresponsible, because it’s a way of undermining Lula’s victory, which is one of the most impressive political comebacks, I think maybe rivaled only by Nelson Mandela, of the last hundred years.

JJ: Let’s start right there, because we have seen matter-of-fact references to an amazing political comeback from Lula, but somehow it’s still not, yet anyway, the center of the story, that comeback, in the way that one can’t help but imagine that it would be, if Lula were someone that US elites liked.

So we read frequent references to “fifth-grade education,” or in the New York Times, Lula is described as a “former shoeshine boy,” and that all lands very different when we know that they’re talking about somebody that they don’t like, you know?

I mean, ABC News had “Bolsonaro Loses Brazilian Election, Leftist Former President Wins by Narrow Margin.” He doesn’t even have a name.

And I have to wonder why it’s so much more interesting for US corporate media to talk about a monster, you know, than it is for them to explore coalitional, bottom-up work of marginalized people, even when that work is remarkably, historically successful.

Brian Mier: “None of them would ever want a former labor union leader to become president of the US. That’s pretty obvious, right?””

BM: First of all, it’s because none of them would ever want a former labor union leader to become president of the US. That’s pretty obvious, right? I mean, they really downplay the labor union angle here.

Not only did [Lula] lead wildcat strikes in the late ’70s that helped bring down the US-backed neofascist military dictatorship, that was so beloved to Jair Bolsanaro, but he and the people he was working with in the unions, they created a new kind of labor organization, which academics have created a term to describe it, “social movement unionism.”

The other big union federation they used, besides the CUT, which Lula founded, to describe this phenomenon is COSATU in South Africa during the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a concept of labor unionism in which the union doesn’t just fight for wage increases and benefits for its workers, it fights for the betterment of society as a whole, for ending economic injustice as a whole.

So they’ll fight for raising the minimum wage, they’ll go on strike for raising the minimum salary for everyone. That always gets left out of the picture.

He’s one of the greatest union organizers, anywhere in the world, of the last 50 or a hundred years, and he’s a legendary union organizer, but it’s better for them to say he’s a former shoeshine boy, because that makes it easier for them to label him as a “populist,” and not a social democrat, or democratic socialist, who’s read thousands of books, he has this incredible ability to explain concepts from, like, Marx’s Capital in everyday language that poor, illiterate people can understand, concepts like alienation, exploitation and things like that.

They leave that out to make it look like he’s just this ignorant person with a lot of charisma.

JJ: Yeah. And also that he was simply a backlash candidate. You know, the references that I saw to Lula being able to build a broad coalition, the New York Times, I guess it was, said, “The strong opposition to Mr. Bolsonaro and his far-right movement was enough to carry Mr. da Silva back to the presidency.”

PBS NewsHour (10/27/22)

So it’s only being defined negatively and not positively, in terms of people voting for something.

Now, there was one exception to that in terms of US news media coverage, and that was climate. That was one area where media carved out some space to say, you know, “Hey, in terms of humanity, Lula is obviously better.”

And that spurred some of the more humane and better journalism; Jane Ferguson at PBS NewsHour, for example, was one of the few places where you heard actual Indigenous people talk about the meaning of the election for them. Hey, Indigenous people have voices—you wouldn’t know it from US elite media, but NewsHour had some things.

CNN turned the importance of the votes of poor people, the importance of the votes for poor people, and particularly Indigenous people, into the idea that—this just killed me—“the poor and destitute could become Brazil’s kingmakers.”

BM: Great.

JJ: I don’t even know what to say to that, but it’s bizarre, the idea that because people get a vote, and that because there are a lot of poor people, somehow poor people are running the show? To me, that’s just reporters engaging the shadows on the cave wall,  just talking about demographics and not talking about human beings.

Reuters (11/16/22)

Finally, on climate, before I ask you, I’m already worried when I see things like Reuters from yesterday, November 16, saying, at COP27, Lula was “greeted like a rock star.”

To me, that’s already the beginning of a kind of diminishment. He’s just about “popularity.” He can’t really do anything. People think of him as a “celebrity” and not quite a politician. And yet, the point is, climate is one area where media seem willing to acknowledge that Bolsonaro was a problem, and Lula is better.

BM: At some point, even the elites have to realize that if they burn down the entire Amazon forest, everyone’s going to die, you know? That’s like 20% of the world’s oxygen supply.

I think FAIR’s pointed this out in the past in multiple articles, like, the one area that the flack machine, or whatever Chomsky and Herman would call it, the manufactured consensus, allows some kind of breathing room for left opinion is in the environment these days.

And you see newspapers like Guardian, which is now more popular in the US than it is in England I think, they’re economically 100% neoliberal. They ran like 35 articles normalizing Jair Bolsonaro in October 2018, between the first and second round elections. They gave him headline space to compare himself to Winston Churchill, and say that the real fascists were the leftists.

They’re not progressive at all economically, but the thing that makes their reputation as being progressive is that they have this emphasis on environmentalism, you know? So you see that in the US as well.

But I think what really happens here, Janine, is that having a clown in power isn’t good for anybody, really, not even for elites. At some point, even US business interests get disturbed by instability generated by this kind of clown in power.

And the idea that there could be this Bill Clinton-style neoliberal candidate that had a chance of taking power from Bolsonaro was just laughable. I mean, the neoliberal parties ended up with 1% and 0% in the first-round elections.

Nobody in Brazil buys that “we need more austerity and privatization” line anymore; it’s dead. So the only person capable of beating Bolsonaro at this time was Lula.

So they begrudgingly accept Lula’s victory, and they have to celebrate his environmental stance, like promising to stop cutting down trees and all of that, which he had a good record on the first time around.

But they’re going to do everything they can, I think—I mean elites, but through the media—to try and undermine and belittle his presidency, so that nobody like him can ever come to power again in the future.

Because in his acceptance speech, the first thing he said is that, “I’m going to eliminate hunger. My No. 1 goal of this administration is that every child, every person in Brazil can eat three meals a day again, because there’s 30 million people passing in hunger right now.”

And imagine any precedents around the world of this: He’s not even in power yet, he’s taking power on January 1. He’s already pushing through a constitutional amendment to remove the neoliberal spending caps on health and education that were pushed through after the coup against Dilma Rousseff in 2017, with a lot of support from the US at that time.

I’ve seen left analysts in the US media saying, “Well, how is he going to govern? How could he possibly govern?”

He’s already almost got a majority in Congress. He’s not even in office yet.

All the stuff they’ve talked about in BBC and in other places about the power of the evangelicals, how the evangelical Christians were going to keep Lula out of office—Bolsonaro’s biggest evangelical supporters are now lining up to align with Lula. The leaders of the biggest evangelical churches, they’re all switching their game. They’re going to end up siding with him.

One thing that people don’t understand in the US about countries that have lots of different political parties and things; there’s 23 parties represented in congress. Imagine if, like in the US, let’s say Biden wins the election, and 50% of the Republican senators and congressmen switch parties to the Democrats.

This is what happens every time someone takes power in Brazil. Half of the opposition politicians switch parties and join up with the person who just took office, because they know that the president is charged with the budget, and they all want more money for their jurisdictions, for their districts, and stuff like that.

So it is always like this. This idea that there would be these huge problems for Lula to govern because the country’s so polarized and blah, blah, blah, it’s all just melting away now.

(France 24, 10/31/22)

JJ: Yeah. The “razor thin” margin of victory, right?

BM: Yeah. Razor thin. It was the first time in history, since the end of the US-backed military dictatorship, that an incumbent has lost reelection. Bolsonaro outspent Lula. In personal donations, he had over 30 times more.

There’s no corporate donations in Brazil, which really helps the elections stay a lot fairer, you know? But from rich individuals, Bolsanaro got 30 times more campaign donations than Lula, mostly from a handful of these big right-wing truck-company owners, and agri-business people who are making money cutting down the Amazon.

And according to Reuters, which is hardly a sympathetic voice to the Latin American left, even Reuters noted that Bolsonaro had channeled 273 billion reais, that’s about $53 billion, of federal funding into strengthening his reelection campaign.

He did that by artificially lowering gasoline and food prices, by lowering that tax; he rerouted money from cancer prevention and treatment into lowering gasoline prices. Fifty percent increase on welfare checks that kicked in two months before the elections, which, cynically, a lot of people thought that was going to throw the election to Bolsonaro, and as it turns out, the poor people didn’t change their votes because of that.

JJ: I think we are going to see US media compartmentalize Lula’s climate efforts, and, given their economic views, say, “Oh, isn’t that a pretty idea? Too bad he’s not going to be able to do it.” That feeds into this whole thing that you’re talking about, about, isn’t it going to be really tough for him to govern?

BM: They’re going to say it’s bad for the economy, probably.

(New York Times, 10/30/22)

JJ: Yeah. Well, let me just say, the more honest talk about what Lula “means” for the US and Latin America, that’s probably going to come later. But there is some writing on the wall.

There was a New York Times piece titled, “What Does Brazil’s Election Mean for the United States?” And it started with, Bolsonaro made baseless claims about the election. But while Bolsanaro’s whole anti-democracy thing was a snag:

Still, the two countries have found common ground in trade policy, with Washington pushing to accelerate Brazil’s bid for membership in the OECD, a 38-member bloc that includes some of the world’s largest economies.

“This process will continue if Bolsonaro is re-elected,” said this source, a professor at a Brazilian university, “But it’s not clear if it will be a priority for Lula.”

I think this is starting to tell us what we can maybe expect to hear more from as Lula’s presidency goes forward, that, “umm, you know, ultimately Bolsonaro was a bad egg, but he did have some geopolitical ideas that align more closely with the US.”

BM: In fact, he was the biggest bootlicker to the United States government of any president in Brazilian history. So there’s a lot of ways they’re going to reframe that, I’m sure.

There is the new Cold War starting up, already in full swing, obviously, and the fact that Lula is going to refuse to take sides on the Ukraine/Russia conflict, and he’s going to maintain good ties with China and refuse to demonize Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, that’s going to annoy a lot of people in Washington.

But I think, for now, the Democrats are just happy that Bolsonaro is gone, because of his relationship with Steve Bannon. I think they’re going to put up with some of Lula’s insistence on maintaining sovereignty, and linking up with other Southern Hemisphere governments, South/South collaboration and things like that, because they’re just so happy that Steve Bannon and his movement have lost a toehold in the Americas.

And I think that US Democrats should study how the Brazilian electoral court system worked and how they defeated these kinds of tactics, because it will help them defeat the right—I’m not saying that Democrats aren’t right, but, you know, to defeat fascists in the upcoming presidential election in two years.

I think they could learn from that, instead of just labeling people and labeling things and saying what went wrong, what Lula’s doing wrong and stuff, why not stop and look and see, what were the tactics that were employed that worked? How is the Lula administration now going to systematically dismantle this fascism? Because it’s already crumbling.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Brian Mier. He’s co-editor at BrasilWire, correspondent for TeleSur’s From the South, author/co-editor of the book Year of Lead. He’s been speaking with us from Recife. Thank you so much, Brian Mier for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

BM: Thanks for having me.

 

The post ‘Lula’s Victory Is One of the Most Impressive Political Comebacks of the Last 100 Years’ appeared first on FAIR.

While Crypto Bro Scammed Clients, Reporters Scammed Readers

FAIR - November 19, 2022 - 12:47pm

 

Today, you probably know who Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX are, and the details of why he and his company are front-page news are emerging at an amazing pace. Here’s the short version: Bankman-Fried—a boyish-looking cryptocurrency baron known commonly as SBF—announced that his lauded cryptocurrency exchange, FTX, had lost at least $1 billion in client funds, sending the crypto market into a tailspin (Fox Business, 11/16/22). The company, once the third-largest cryptocurrency exchange (AP, 11/16/22), has filed for bankruptcy. Lest one think this is a debacle that only affects crypto bros, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warns that “the sector’s links to the broader financial system could cause wider stability issues” (New York Times, 11/17/22).

How could this happen? How could no one have seen this coming? These are the questions many people are asking. One problem is that in the months leading up to Bankman-Fried’s transition from financial genius to possible financial criminal (Yahoo Finance, 11/14/22), he received little scrutiny in the media. On the contrary, he was celebrated.

‘Pragmatic style’

The New York Times (5/14/22) largely embraced Sam Bankman-Fried’s self-presentation as “a straight-talking brainiac willing to embrace regulation of his nascent industry and criticize its worst excesses.”

Among the silliest suck-ups came from the New York Times (5/14/22), in which David Yaffe-Bellany, the paper’s cryptocurrency correspondent, said that Bankman-Fried’s “pragmatic style” came from his parents, who “studied utilitarianism, an ethical framework that calls for decisions calculated to secure the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.” Yaffe-Bellany added that “Bankman-Fried is also an admirer of Peter Singer, the Princeton University philosopher widely considered the intellectual father of ‘effective altruism.’” (Singer has been criticized for his eugenics-like approach to disability—FAIR.org, 1/20/21.)

Yaffe-Bellany was also widely lambasted for providing media cover for Bankman-Fried even after his empire collapsed (New York Times, 11/14/22). As Gizmodo (11/15/22) put it:

The new article in the New York Times by David Yaffe-Bellany lays out the facts in ways that are clearly beneficial to SBF’s version of the story and leaves many of his highly questionable assertions without proper context or even the most minimal amount of pushback. The result isn’t to illuminate the shadowy world of crypto. It reads like…the Times had conducted an interview with Bernie Madoff after his Ponzi scheme collapsed and ultimately suggested he just made some bad investments.

Bloomberg (4/3/22) called Bankman-Fried “a kind of crypto Robin Hood, beating the rich at their own game to win money for capitalism’s losers.”

The conservative New York Post (11/15/22) used Yaffe-Bellany’s reporting to tweak the establishment Times for its coziness with someone who may face criminal indictment. But the Post‘s sibling paper, the Wall Street Journal (10/30/22), had just weeks earlier given Bankman-Fried free, uncritical space to pump out optimism about cryptocurrencies, including the idea that value drops in crypto were just part of a general economic fluctuation: “It wasn’t just crypto…. By and large what we saw this year was a broad-based risk-asset selloff, as this monetary inflation reared its head, became noticeable enough to inspire policy change.”

Bloomberg (4/3/22) likewise had painted Bankman-Fried as an eccentric financial whiz kid, whimsically frugal with a “Robin Hood–like philosophy,” while Reuters (7/6/22) ran with his claims that not only did he have “a ‘few billion’ on hand,” but that he would graciously use it to “shore up struggling firms.” An accompanying photo of Bankman-Fried with a T-shirt and disheveled hair made him look like the reincarnation of Abbie Hoffman.

Barron’s reran an AFP story (2/12/22) that, again, highlighted Bankman-Fried’s “spartan lifestyle,” his vegan diet and his casual wardrobe. Matthew Yglesias (Slow Boring, 5/23/22), an economics commentator and a graduate of Slate and Vox, wrote, “I think [his] ideas, as I understand them, are pretty good.” None of these pieces really probed whether his business was sustainable.

Shadowy sector

How on Earth did this T-shirt-clad man charm American media into thinking that he could manage billions of dollars in wealth, based on an intangible commodity that has no intrinsic value? Analysts have long tried to get the media class to understand that crypto has many inherent problems (Jacobin, 12/26/17, 10/17/21), that the crypto market’s value has tanked (CNBC, 6/15/22), that Bitcoin wealth is highly concentrated (Time, 10/25/21) and that Bitcoin, despite being Internet-based, is highly environmentally destructive (Guardian, 9/29/22).

One might think—or hope—that, after Enron, WorldCom, Bernie Madoff, Jordan Belfort and the 2008 financial crisis, that the business press could harbor skepticism about financial and business leaders in general, but particularly those in a shadowy, emerging sector known for its instability (Forbes, 5/10/22) and its susceptibility to scams (Forbes, 9/23/22).

Bankman-Fried, unfortunately, was a dangerous combination of factors that could win over reporters. He was optimistic about a troubled financial sector. He was making billions while spouting altruistic ideas and remaining personally thrifty, a kind of mysterious being who could be presented as a poster child for a more ethical version of capitalism. His insistence on casual dress suggested that he was just so smart, his brain operated above the mundane details of regular business.

His image was simply fun to write about. And this all made for the kind of good copy—and photographs—that will make an editor happy at deadline time. But this allowed his image to be the main focus for the press, rather than the goings-on of his business.

Doug Henwood, host of KPFA’s Behind the News and the author of Wall Street: How It Works and for Whom, told FAIR:

The business press is rarely skeptical about the speculative heroes of the moment. There are exceptions; if you read carefully, you can get a good critique. But the general culture is boosterish. Just a few months ago, SBF was a genius. Elon Musk, too, though his antics at Twitter are making that cult harder to sustain. Before that it was Elizabeth Holmes and her magical blood-testing machine. Go back a couple of decades and it was Ken Lay and Enron (celebrated by none other than [New York Times columnist] Paul Krugman, who’d also been paid a consulting fee by the company).

There are a lot of reasons for this. Many business journalists identify with the titans they cover—some even aspire to join them, as did former New York Times reporter Steven Rattner, who became an investment banker. Then there’s the fear of alienating your sources—the dreaded loss of “access.” And then there’s the general reluctance to be the skunk at the picnic—when markets are frothing, it’s more fun to play along than play the critic.

NBC (11/16/22): Bankman-Fried “is hardly the first wealthy donor, and certainly won’t be the last, whose ideological agenda is difficult to disengage from business motives.”

As NBC (11/16/22) noted, Bankman-Fried’s wide spending bought him wide influence, as he

visited the White House, attended a congressional retreat, and held countless meetings with lawmakers and top regulators. He got chummy with Bill Clinton after paying the former president to speak at a conference. He spent $12 million getting a referendum on the ballot in California. And he earned praise during Senate testimony from Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., for a “much more glorious afro than I once had.”

In just two years since Bankman-Fried’s first political donation, his money hired dozens of top-flight lobbyists and political operatives, made major investments in newsrooms like ProPublica and Semafor, and made him the second-biggest Democratic donor of the 2022 midterms, behind only the 92-year-old financier George Soros. He said $1 billion would be a “soft ceiling” for his spending in 2024.

The whole mess is sparking a conversation about whether cryptocurrency markets demand tighter and more robust regulation (Fortune, 11/14/22; Washington Post, 11/17/22). But there needs to be a discussion about the media’s role in this as well. Reporters should be skeptical of crypto market actors, for all the reasons stated above, but they also should be skeptical of business leaders more generally.

Good public relations is as important to a business’s bottom line as the strength of its product. Reporters and editors need to fight the urge to be a part of that.

The post While Crypto Bro Scammed Clients, Reporters Scammed Readers appeared first on FAIR.

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