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“The truth, it’s even worse in Honduras.” Migrant caravan faces misery at Mexican border

VICE News - 2 hours 26 min ago

TECUN UNAM, Guatemala – It’s just a fifteen-minute walk across the bridge separating Guatemala and Mexico. Now, this concrete stretch has become the scene of an unfolding humanitarian crisis as around 1,500 mostly Honduran migrants — many of them children — are sleeping here amid heaps of garbage with no bathrooms and no water except for what volunteers bring by in small plastic bags.

At the moment, this is the end of the line for nearly half of the estimated 4,000 migrants mostly from Honduras, part of a “caravan” headed ultimately for the U.S. border. Mexican federal police fired tear gas Friday to prevent an onslaught of migrants from storming the gates; now, the crowd has settled down and appear ready to wait here as long as it takes to get across the border.

“The municipality is collapsing because of the quantity of people here,” Gustavo Adolfo Arana Jui with Guatemala’s natural disaster commission, known as Conred, said in a press conference Saturday in Tecun Uman, where the migrants have converged.

In an effort to alleviate the crisis, the Guatemalan government is sending buses to Tecun Uman to offer free transport for Hondurans who want to return home. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said on Saturday around 2,000 members of the caravan have gone back to Honduras. Municipal officials in Tecun Unam pegged the number of returnees far lower — at around 1,200.

A group of Central American migrants cross the Suchiate River aboard a raft made out of tractor inner tubes and wooden planks, on the the border between Guatemala and Mexico, in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

Meanwhile, more than 1,400 migrants from the caravan have entered Mexico in the last week, according to estimates from Mexican government officials and shelters operating in the region. Some were granted legal entry by Mexico, although the majority appears to have crossed into the country illegally, crossing the Suchiate River on makeshift rafts.

Read: Migrant caravan: We're coming north whether Trump wants us or not

But the bulk of the migrants who joined the caravan are now living in makeshift camps on a bridge less than a mile long. Some are sleeping under tarps, but most have nothing to protect them from the rain and sweltering sun. And with no trash cans, trash heaps line the bridge, despite efforts by Guatemalan volunteers and the migrants themselves to keep the area clean.

Still, most of the migrants say they plan to stay as long as they need to – even those with children.

“The truth – it’s even worse in Honduras”

“The truth – it’s even worse in Honduras,” said Sadi Mejilla, who is four months pregnant and travelling with her four children, all under the age of 11. “Here, on the bridge, it’s basically okay. Except for sleeping on the ground underneath the sun, I still think it’s better than in Honduras.”

Mejilla, who wants to find work in Mexico or the United States, doesn’t have a plan for what’s next. She has thought about applying for asylum in Mexico but decided against it, because she believes Mexican officials will simply deport her. The Mexican government says it has processed 640 migrants from the caravan seeking asylum, and is prioritizing women and children.

Sandra Duarte, on the other hand, wants to ask for asylum for her and her son. But she hasn’t been able to reach Mexican officials to ask for it. She plans to keep trying.

“My son is about to turn 16. In Honduras — with so much crime and gangs — what future awaits him there?”

Central American migrants walking to the U.S. start their day departing Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

Orfa Catalina Lemos, 23, said she didn’t make enough money in Honduras to eat. She is enjoying all the donated food here in Guatemala. “If I had as much food in Honduras as I have here, I would have stayed,” she said.

Still, despite the migrants’ resolve, desperation is mounting.

Crowds of people gathered on the bridge to discuss whether they should try and cross into Mexico on raft. It’s a short trip — just a matter of minutes — but some had heard that the raft operators would take their money and turn them over to Mexican authorities.

Read: How Trump made "chain migration" an anti-immigrant buzzword

With no reliable information, no plan for how to cross into Mexico, and a potential public health crisis in the making, the situation on the bridge feels apt to erupt into violence at any moment.

And while the caravan started with a spokesman and organizer — the former Honduran legislator Bartolo Fuentes, who was arrested in Guatemala earlier this week and deported back to Honduras — any sense of leadership here has all but evaporated. A Honduran pastor who now lives in Guatemala walked the length of the bridge Friday night, imploring people to stay calm.

Some Hondurans have decided to call it quits. The journey has been too long and too hard already, and they have lost hope that they will be able to enter Mexico.

Boy on a bus returning migrants back to Honduras. (Photo: Jorge Patino)

Marcela Gutierrez, who had joined the caravan with her 11-year-old son, wanted to ask for asylum. She brought with her an official document from a Honduran prosecutor’s office saying she is a protected witness — she testified against her father’s murderer. But Gutierrez said she was unable to reach Mexican officials and show that paperwork.

“I’m terrified about returning to Honduras. But I don’t have another option,” she said. “I regret having left my country. It would have been better to keep hiding in Honduras than to spend eight days sleeping in the street, on the floor, and risking my son’s life. It would have been better to have just stayed there.”

But the caravan continues.

On Sunday morning, the estimated 2,000 migrants who’ve made it to Mexico set out headed north, continuing their march toward the United States from the border city of Ciudad Hidalgo. The migrant caravan is far smaller than just a few days ago, but those who remain have shown they will risk everything to continue ahead.

Cover image: A group of migrants rests at the central park in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. About 2,000 Central American migrants who circumvented Mexican police at a border bridge and swam, forded and floated across the river from Guatemala decided on Saturday to re-form their mass caravan and continue their trek northward toward the United States. (AP Photo/Oliver de Ros)

This is what happens when comedy writers collaborate with AI

VICE News - October 20, 2018 - 10:55am

First they came for the assembly line. Then they wanted to drive our cars. They're now integrated into every smartphone and app. Still, there were a few remaining spheres of humanity walled off to automation, like art, music, and comedy — until now.

Botnik is a Seattle-based writing collective that uses artificial intelligence and other machine learning techniques to write funny stuff. Basically, it’s a group of humans that collaborates with various bots to make stuff that probably wouldn’t get made otherwise, like computer-generated Netflix rom-coms, Oscar ballots and new Harry Potter books.

Now they're turning their attention to music with the release of "The Songularity," an album of songs written with Voicebox, a predictive text algorithm that suggests words in the style of any source text you feed into it.

The first single is called “Bored With This Desire to Get Ripped,” which is a Smiths-esque jam, set to lyrics based on the entire oeuvre of Morrissey — and all the Amazon customer reviews of the P90x workout DVDs.

To promote the album — and Kickstarter campaign behind it, which has been funded — the group traveled to New York for a working jam session and live show.

"I hope to show people that writing in this playful way with machines can be a really good experience," Botnik CEO Jamie Brew told VICE News. "You don't always have to assume the machine is there to help you be more efficient or write things faster. There's a whole world of playful purposeless machines that do nothing of business value but are just fun."

The crowd in NYC, made up entirely of humans, seemed to agree.

This segment originally aired October 11, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Saudis admit Khashoggi was killed but claim it was a “fistfight”

VICE News - October 19, 2018 - 5:57pm

Saudi Arabia finally conceded late Friday that dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi is dead, but they added a new cover story for how it happened: he was killed in a fistfight inside the consulate in Istanbul.

In an epic news dump issued at 1 a.m. in Riyadh, Saudi state media announced that 18 Saudis have been arrested in connection with the incident. In the same statement, the Saudi government said Khashoggi was killed Oct. 2 after an argument in the consulate resulted in “a fistfight that lead to his death.”

The kingdom’s latest explanation stands in stark contrast to its initial claim that the Washington Post columnist left the consulate the same day he entered it.

Read: Inside the Turkish newspaper landing some of the most explosive Khashoggi scoops

Of course, that story had won few takers, and ran contrary to reports from Istanbul, where Turkish security officials leaked one gruesome detail after another regarding the Saudi dissident’s murder. Citing these officials, Turkish media reported that Khashoggi had been tortured inside the consulate, murdered, and dismembered with a bone saw by a team of 15 Saudi assassins. His screams were even said to have been caught on audio tape.

Read: Everything we know about the alleged Khashoggi murder and Saudi cover up

Despite the change in tune, the new offering isn’t likely to move the heat off of the kingdom’s powerful young prince and de-facto leader, Mohammed Bin Salman. Prince Mohammed is believed to be behind the ordering of Khashoggi’s death and was known to be at odds with the dissident’s criticism of his rule.

Yet, the U.S. has been cautious to direct blame toward the young Saudi leader. On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. was giving the Saudi government “a few more days” to complete their own "thorough investigation" of what happened to Khashoggi before weighing in on the matter. President Trump has struck a similar tone, at once threatening a “very severe” response while also coming to the kingdom’s defense.

Central American migrants in caravan: We're coming whether Trump wants us or not

VICE News - October 19, 2018 - 4:47pm

MAZATENANGO, Guatemala — The municipal sports stadium turned migrant shelter was packed in this town about 55 miles from the Mexican border. Hundreds of people — nearly all of them Hondurans — lined the concrete bleachers with only a wire fence to separate the men from the children and women.

The smell of human sweat filled the stadium. Toddlers in diapers stumbled around the basketball court. Children just a few years older slept, passed out on blankets, despite the raucous noise echoing off the walls, exhausted from hours of walking.

This is just one way station for the so-called migrant caravan now making its way toward Mexico, and ultimately, the United States. The caravan isn’t really a caravan at all, but a mass of around 4,000 people spread out over Guatemala who are blindly following those in front of them, making their way — some by foot, others by bus and car — to the Mexican border and, they pray, to the United States after that.

“We left Honduras with a vision, a dream to have a house for my kids with a roof on it. A dignified life,” said Helena Gutierrez, who left the stadium in Mazatenango to walk to the Mexican border with her 5-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter.

Like a lot of migrants in the group, Gutierrez is well aware of the U.S. policy of deterrence but is proceeding anyway. “We know Donald Trump doesn’t want us,” she said. “If he says he is going to close the border until next year, I am going to stay there. I am not leaving until they are open. We are going to stay there until he opens them. Until God touches the heart of Donald Trump.”

On Friday morning, Gutierrez and hundreds of others set out for the Guatemalan border town of Tecun Uman, where migrants have been gathering for days.

“We are going to stay there until he opens them. Until God touches the heart of Donald Trump.”

Things are getting desperate. On Friday, thousands crammed, shoulder to shoulder, onto a bridge into Mexico, but no one was being let in. The migrants broke out into sporadic chants of “si se puede.” Those who rushed the gate were greeted by tear gas canisters thrown by the Mexican Federal Police.

As their calls went unanswered, some of the migrants began jumping from the bridge into the Suchiata River below, as there was no turning back once they reached the middle of the bridge.

Meanwhile, hundreds of migrants roamed the banks of the river to see if they could find a place to cross without being apprehended.

Mexican officials have said they will turn away anyone without a valid passport and a Mexican visa. That’s the case for most of the thousands of migrants who have arrived so far in Tecun Uman. In response, the Mexican government sent 300 additional federal troops to the Guatemalan border and asked the United Nations refugee agency to help process migrants seeking refugee status.

Trump has threatened to pull aid from Honduras, Mexico and El Salvador if they didn’t stop the caravan. He has also threatened to punish Mexico if they don’t stop the migrants by pulling out of the newly signed trade agreement that replaces NAFTA.

“With so many people, the authorities can’t do anything. They have to let us pass.”

None of this seems to discourage the migrants still making their way to Tecun Uman, who seem quite aware of what awaits them but still think it’s preferable to what they’re leaving behind.

Manuel Cano, 33, from El Salvador, said he saw the caravan as it was passing his house and decided to join with his family. He was carrying his 5-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, on his shoulders as he walked from Mazatenango toward Tecun Uman.

Manuel Cano joined the caravan as it passed his house earlier this week. Emily Green for VICE News.

He had tried to reach the United States in previous years before but failed to make it. Cano had recently heard Mexico was giving work visas to Central American migrants — a proposal Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has floated.

“With more people, we get braver,” he said. Cano had heard there were federal police waiting at the Mexican border, but he was undeterred. “You have to take a chance.”

If the migrants make it into Mexico, President Trump has threatened to deploy military to the U.S. border, which he cannot legally do. He has also turned it into an issue in the upcoming midterm elections. “It’s going to be an election of the caravan,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Montana Thursday night.

Most of the migrants, however, are completely disconnected from the news, and what they do hear comes from Facebook or via word of mouth. They don’t have money to charge their telephones, and they are following the people in front of them. Most have traveled for days, and the idea of turning back is not even a question.

Hundreds of people — nearly all of them Hondurans — lined the concrete bleachers of this municipal sports stadium turned migrant shelter in Mazatenango, Guatemala, about 55 miles from the Mexican border. Emily Green for VICE News.

At the sports center in Mazatenango on Friday morning, where hundreds of migrants were taking shelter, about a hundred people lined up for breakfast on the basketball court. It’s more bread. But no one complains. The Guatemalans have been extraordinarily generous, the Honduran migrants say.

Before dawn, dozens of people left the shelter en route to the Mexican border city of Tecun Uman. It’s only about two hours away by car, but most people are walking, at least for part of the trip. Nobody is quite sure how long it will take. By 7:30 a.m., the stadium is cleared out.

“I saw it on the television and decided to join,” said Sandy Sarandino Mesa, 28. That was three days ago. “I had thought about coming before but didn’t have the opportunity. But as God gave us this chance, I decided to take advantage of it.”

Sarandino said she worked in the coffee fields in Honduras as a seasonal worker, earning around $60 a week. She said her husband was killed by gang members three months ago. Like most people here, Sarandino has heard only rumors about what’s in store for them at the Mexican border.

“I heard they are going to let us pass, but I’m not really sure.” Then, she repeated a refrain many migrants say: “With so many people, the authorities can’t do anything. They have to let us pass.”

Cover image: Honduran migrants rush across the border towards Mexico, in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, Friday, Oct. 19, 2018. Migrants broke down the gates at the border crossing and began streaming toward a bridge into Mexico. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

Podcast: Brazil’s upcoming elections and the echoes of Trump in 2016

Columbia Journalism Review - October 19, 2018 - 4:05pm
ON THIS WEEK’S EPISODE, CJR Editor and Publisher Kyle Pope speaks with Sarah Maslin, the Brazil correspondent for The Economist, about the country’s upcoming October 28 run-off election. Lead candidate Jair Bolsonaro of the conservative Social Liberal party is running a campaign that challenges reporters there much as Trump’s 2016 run did the US press.

The NYPD has started arresting Proud Boys involved in violent Manhattan brawl

VICE News - October 19, 2018 - 3:30pm

The New York Police Department has started arresting members of the fascist street gang “Proud Boys” in relation to the violent brawl on the Upper East Side of Manhattan last week.

As of Friday afternoon, two Proud Boys had been taken into police custody. Geoffrey Young, 38, was arrested Thursday and slapped with misdemeanor rioting charge and an attempted assault with intent to cause physical injury, also a misdemeanor, according to court records.

On Friday, police confirmed that they’d taken another into custody another Proud Boy, whom the Daily Beast identified as Jay or “Johnny” Kinsman. Charges against Kinsman are pending.

“Investigation continues with additional arrests expected,” NYPD Chief of Detectives Dermot F. Shea tweeted Friday.

Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes told the New York Times he was making arrangements for at least eight of the members to turn themselves in and said they were “going to be in the Tombs by tonight.” McInnes has touted himself and his organization as an ally to law enforcement: On Sunday, during a podcast segment, McInnes boasted that he had “a lot of support in the NYPD.” At the same time, McInnes has made it clear he has no problem with Proud Boys committing violent acts, which he has said is “a really effective way to solve problems.”

The NYPD said Monday that they were seeking 12 people in connection with last Friday’s events, including nine Proud Boys.

The Times also reported that police have opened a “broad criminal inquiry into the group’s activities” after members clashed with protesters last Friday following McInnes’ speaking appearance at the Metropolitan Republican Club.

READ: Cuomo calls for FBI and New York hate crime investigation into Proud Boy violence

Widely circulated video of last week’s clashes showed a few dozen Proud Boys, many wearing red MAGA hats and their trademark black-and-yellow Fred Perry shirts, roaming the streets, shouting homophobic slurs, and violently beating protesters. In one video, a Proud Boy is heard bragging about kicking a “foreigner” in the head.

The incident prompted an outcry from state and city officials, who condemned the Proud Boys and urged the NYPD — which was initially criticized for not doing enough to protect protesters — to investigate and arrest the violent instigators. In the aftermath of the clashes, the NYPD arrested three anti-fascist demonstrators who were protesting McInnes’ speech but did not immediately arrest any Proud Boys.

Disclosure: The Proud Boys organization was founded by Gavin McInnes, a co-founder of VICE Media. McInnes left VICE in 2008 and has not been involved in the company since.

Cover image: Geoffrey Young (Photos provided by NYPD)

Yet another city magazine, this one in San Francisco, fights for its life

Columbia Journalism Review - October 19, 2018 - 3:26pm
The November issue of San Francisco magazine will feature a 6,000-word true crime piece about a kidnapping in Mountain View, California, a profile of Bennet Omalu, the doctor who pioneered research on traumatic brain injury in the NFL, and a ten-page spread ranking the Bay Area’s 101 best cities. (Spoiler alert: San Francisco doesn’t win.) […]

The U.S. just named the “chief accountant” behind Russia's election meddling operation

VICE News - October 19, 2018 - 3:24pm

U.S. officials accused a Russian citizen on Friday of being the chief bookkeeper for a sweeping, multimillion-dollar plot to interfere with U.S. elections in both 2016 and 2018, under the broader goal of sowing total chaos throughout American political life.

Elena Khusyaynova, 44, is the “chief accountant” for a secret operation dubbed “Project Lakhta,” U.S. officials said, unsealing a criminal complaint against her.

“Project Lakhta” is still active and targeting this November’s midterm Congressional elections, the Department of Justice said.

“This case serves as a stark reminder to all Americans: Our foreign adversaries continue their efforts to interfere in our democracy,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.

Khusyaynova, who lives in St. Petersburg, allegedly stands at the center of a vast network of secretive financial flows aimed at supporting the various components of the operation, which its members refer to as “information warfare,” U.S. officials said.

The plot is allegedly funded by notorious Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, dubbed “Putin’s Chef” due to his closeness to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his background in the restaurant business. Prigozhin, two of his companies, and 12 others were indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller in February for allegedly running a large, organized, online operation to interfere with the American political system.

Read: 13 Russian nationals indicted for meddling in U.S. election

The Russian effort allegedly involved the creation of thousands of phony social media personas, who went on to try to inflame hot-button political issues, according to the department.

Russian trolls have sought to exploit a lengthy list of the most controversial subjects in the U.S., including virtually anything that Americans might want to argue about on Twitter.

According to the DOJ, topics include:


—Gun control and the Second Amendment

—The Confederate flag

—Race relations

—LGBT issues

—The Women’s March

—The NFL national anthem debate

—Church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, and in Las Vegas

—The violence surrounding Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally

—Police shootings of African-American men

—The key decisions of President Trump

Throughout this effort, Khusyaynova kept the organization humming and helped make sure everyone involved got paid, U.S. officials claimed.

Read: Everything we know about the Russian operatives accused of meddling in the U.S. election

Khusyaynova “managed the budgeting and payment of expenses associated with social media operations, web content, advertising campaigns, infrastructure, salaries, travel, office rent, furniture, and supplies, and the registration of legal entities used to further Project Lakhta activities,” FBI special agent David Holt said in an affidavit released Friday.

Between January 2016 and June 2018, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget was over $35 million, the Department of Justice said. Between January and June 2018 alone, Project Lakhta’s proposed operating budget exceeded $10 million.

Prigozhin has consistently dismissed the charges against him as unfounded, and one of his companies, Concord Management and Consulting Ltd., has hired a top-shelf team of Washington lawyers to fight Mueller in a U.S. court. He's also laughed off U.S. efforts swipe back at him, including through sanctions.

After one recent round of U.S. sanctions in March, the man known for cooking even cracked a food joke.

“I have no business in the U.S. or with Americans,” Prigozhin said at the time. “It doesn’t bother me. Except now I’ll stop going to McDonald’s.”

Cover image: FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Video shows drunk white woman shouting slurs at black men in Kansas City

VICE News - October 19, 2018 - 2:28pm

Wow, what do you know — a video of a white woman being racist has gone viral.

This time there was alcohol involved: The woman, who is visibly drunk in the video, is leaned against a wall in Kansas City, Missouri, shouting at two black men. She proceeds to yell racial slurs about the men filming her.

“It is what it is,” she said. “I’m a white fucking cracker. You a caramel n---er.”

One of the men, 21-year-old Drake Lewis, told the Kansas City Star that he and his friend were walking around downtown Kansas City when they encountered the woman.

“It was really random,” Lewis said. “Me and my friend were just out taking photos and we were walking down the street talking about different stuff and we overheard the lady.”

He told her not to say racist slurs, and then she began screaming at them. That’s when he started filming. The woman has yet to be publicly identified, but the Star reported that she had been fired from her job over the video.

This is the latest video of several videos of white people being racist in the United States to go viral in the last two weeks. Last week it was 53-year-old Teresa Klein (aka “Cornerstore Caroline”) caught on a bystander’s video, calling the cops on a 9-year-old child whom she falsely claimed sexually assaulted her in a Brooklyn bodega.

Earlier this week, Hilary Thornton was filmed while trying to block a black man from entering his own apartment in St. Louis.

Unknown in America, disliked in the UK: Nick Clegg is right for Facebook

Columbia Journalism Review - October 19, 2018 - 1:17pm
Nick Clegg’s appointment as Facebook’s new vice president of global affairs and communications raised eyebrows on both sides of the Atlantic—Brits’ in withering bemusement, Americans’ in “who he?” ignorance. In Brussels, Berlin, and Paris, however, the hire will have made perfect sense. Clegg has become a punchline in the UK; his spell as a centrist, […]

Inside the Turkish newspaper landing some of the most explosive Khashoggi scoops

VICE News - October 19, 2018 - 12:41pm

ISTANBUL — U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration have been cautious about assigning blame for the disappearance of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, preaching patience as the Saudis conduct their own “thorough investigation” into the matter.

But Sabah — Turkey's most widely read daily newspaper — hasn’t made the waiting easy for Trump or his friends in Riyadh. The pro-government news outlet has been the source of some of the most explosive scoops inside the case, revealing startling details about the alleged assassination, and providing a persuasive case that links the plot back to the highest rungs of Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom, including its de facto leader: Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Sabah was the first to report that private jets linked to Saudi Arabia landed in Istanbul shortly before Khashoggi’s entered the Saudi consulate on Oct. 2, and release details on the 15 men believed to be behind the killing, dubbing them an "assassination squad."

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has slow-walked the investigation, denying Turkish investigators access to the consulate until this week, and only after a cleanup crew had gone in.

Yet again Sabah managed to move the story forward, publishing a written transcript of parts of an audio recording, which anonymous Turkish officials said capture the grizzly moments leading up to Khashoggi’s murder.

VICE News spoke to Sabah’s investigative journalist Abdurrahman Simsek and his team as they were preparing to publish exclusive new details on the Saudi suspects they believe were in charge of the so-called assassination squad.

“I think higher authorities are involved,” said Simsek. “All this will come out after the investigation. But I can say this: 15 intelligence members arrive in Istanbul on two planes. It is very unlikely that they came here without the knowledge of the Saudi government and King Salman’s family.”

But the paper’s fondness for Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Sabah’s owner is his pal) also raises questions about the deeply complicated diplomatic dynamic at the heart of this international saga.

From a foreign policy perspective, Turkey has played the crisis to its advantage, and Sabah has appeared helpful in communicating its message. Through its reporting, which relies heavily on unnamed sources inside the Turkish state, the paper has ramped up pressure on Saudi Arabia at a time when top-level Turkish government figures have been cautious to publicly assign blame.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey may be regional rivals, but they are also bound by strong business ties — the Saudis are one of the biggest foreign investors in Turkey. Washington, meanwhile, is stuck in the middle. Both are regional allies of the United States, with Washington selling billions of dollars of weapons to each country.

VICE News travelled to Istanbul to cover the unfolding story that has captured the world’s attention, and raised many difficult questions for Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince.

This segment originally aired October 18, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Why Is Russiagate Rumbling Into the 2018 Midterms?

FAIR - October 19, 2018 - 12:36pm

New Yorker (10/1/18)

The November 6 midterms are fast approaching, yet much of the media is still looking back to the 2016 elections, and specifically the alleged Russian interference in them.

The New Yorker (10/1/18) published a 7,000-word article headlined “How Russia Helped Swing the Election for Trump.” Considering other explanations for Trump’s victory and Clinton’s loss, such as her tactical campaign errors, gerrymandering, vote suppression, racism and the actions of James Comey for only a paragraph, it quotes one expert claiming, “It stretches credulity to think the Russians didn’t” win it for him.

Meanwhile, the New York Times (9/20/18) released an intensive 10,000-word history and analysis of the Trump/Russia story, explaining to its readers that it was Putin’s “seething” ambivalence towards the West and his “nostalgia for Russia’s lost superpower status” that were the driving forces behind Russia’s nefarious actions.

There is also a great deal of fear about supposed hacking of the upcoming midterms. USA Today (10/9/18) warned, “As Russia and perhaps other foreign governments seek to undermine democratic elections, Congress and states need to get serious about defenses.” The PBS NewsHour (10/11/18) quoted one official who noted, “Given our experiences of 2016 and what we saw the Russians attempt to do across the nation’s election equipment, the election infrastructure, we certainly have a degree of concern of what their capability is.” Meanwhile, the Washington Post (9/26/18) writes, “While Russia is clearly trying to influence the 2018 elections, this time the United States is prepared and taking action to counter it.”

New York Times (9/20/18)

There is little concrete evidence offered in these reports; see Gareth Porter in Consortium News (10/10/18) for a dash of cold water on the New York Times’ narrative. Yet even the lack of evidence is an ominous sign for some. The Daily Beast (10/8/18) published an article headlined, “No Evidence That Russia Is Messing with Campaign 2018—Yet.” Despite that lack of evidence, the article asserted that the US should brace itself: “Russia has an arsenal of disruption capabilities… to sow havoc on election day,” it said, and “everyone is expecting the 2016 shock and awe” again.

The concern of the media over Russian actions has not resonated with the public more generally; a July Gallup poll reported that the number of Americans who considered Russia a top problem for the country was less than 1 percent. On the subject of the midterms and threats to their legitimacy, NPR (9/17/18) found that large majorities feel voter fraud or suppression to be a much greater danger to election integrity than foreign interference. Yet these concerns are not addressed nearly as thoroughly by the media. A search for “Russia” and “election” in the New York Times database generates 4,489 stories since the start of 2017, as compared to just 234 for “voter suppression” and “election,” 306 “gerrymandering” and “election” and 727 “racism” and “election.”

Daily Beast (10/8/18)

The question is not whether Russia, like other countries with extensive intelligence apparatuses, seeks to influence the elections of foreign nations. The question is why corporate media are concentrating on foreign interference, and not the other threats to democracy. In a previous article (FAIR.org, 7/27/18), I argued that the Democrats are using Russia to deflect anger and discontent away from their own failings. If Russia is to blame, there is no need for introspection, nor to address the deep race and class divides in the country that are addressed by surging political movements on the left, from Sanders to Black Lives Matter, and exploited by Trump and the alt-right. The focus on Russia as the sole reason for Trump’s victory allows establishment Democrats to continue as normal, without need for radical internal or policy change. As Clinton said, “America is already great.” To deflect pressure from the left, they can construct a narrative to explain why they lost to the most unpopular candidate ever.

For corporate media, the story of Russia covertly influencing the country promotes a climate where they can re-tighten their grip on the means of communication by accusing alternative media on both left and right of being Russian-sponsored “fake news.” As previously reported (FAIR.org, 8/22/18), under the guise of protecting readers, big media companies like Google, YouTube and Bing have changed their algorithms, resulting in devastating drops in traffic for reputable alternative media sites. Alternative media has been deleted, de-ranked, de-listed and de-monetized, effectively sidelining them. In response to ostensible Russian meddling, media giant Facebook announced last week (Washington Post, 10/11/18) it had shut down over 800 US accounts and pages for “inauthentic behavior,” a term even more nebulous than “fake news.” Included in the 800 were several police accountability watchdog groups and other alternative media, adding to its recent (temporary) deleting of TeleSUR English.

USA Today (10/9/18)

However, the best example of fake news and “inauthentic behavior” by media outlets in the modern age remains the manufacture of consent for the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions, with the crucial assistance of corporate outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post and NBC (FAIR.org, 11/1/01; 3/18/03; 10/23/17). Forty-five percent of Americans get their news from Facebook, but it seems doubtful the tech giant will remove accounts belonging to those publications.

While it is clear that Moscow has an interest in who the US elects and doesn’t elect, the media’s focus on Russiagate through the midterm elections has as much to do with its political utility as with the evidence. With President Trump accusing China of midterm interference (CNN, 8/26/18), it appears that both major parties have sown doubt into the process and have a pre-made excuse if they fail on November 6. Both sides undermining trust in the democratic process does not augur well for the future of US politics.


Nonconsensual game of footsie forces Southwest flight to redirect

VICE News - October 19, 2018 - 11:28am

A Southwest flight was forced to redirect this week after a male passenger wouldn’t stop harassing a woman aboard the flight with an attempted game of footsie, according to a criminal complaint filed in Albuquerque.

Justin Riley Brafford of Denton, Texas, was arrested after attempting to “play footsies” with the woman, kicking her repeatedly, and grabbing at her sweater. He also repeatedly asked her about her plans after the flight and if she was staying alone, according to the complaint. The female passenger complained to a flight attendant and asked to be moved, according to the Albuquerque Journal, but even after she moved, Brafford wouldn’t stop and approached her again.

When a flight attendant told Brafford to return to his seat, the 29-year-old man went from “zero to sixty in nanoseconds,” according to the complaint, and began screaming at the flight crew. A flight attendant contacted the cockpit, and a pilot who overheard the yelling diverted the plane, which was bound for Dallas, to Albuquerque.

Brafford later claimed to authorities that the woman came onto him and he felt a connection with her. He did admit that he may have gone too far, according to the complaint.

Brafford has been charged with interference with a flight crew and simple assault. He made an appearance in court on Wednesday, according to the Journal, where a judge overseeing the case said that Brafford has a criminal history, a history of violence, and no stable residence.

Sexual assaults aboard aircrafts are on the rise, according to the FBI. And about one in five flight attendants say that they have witnessed a passenger being sexually assaulted or have had a passenger report a sexual assault to them, according to a survey by the Association of Flight Attendants. About 70 percent of flight attendants themselves say they’ve been sexually harassed.

Cover image: Southwest jet aircraft departing, Orlando International Airport/Getty Images

American women have a new way to order abortion pills online

VICE News - October 19, 2018 - 10:50am

A Dutch doctor who helps ship abortion-inducing pills to people living in countries where abortion is illegal has now expanded her services to the United States.

Rebecca Gomperts founded the online abortion service Women on Web, which performs remote consultations and sends people prescription pills for at-home, self-managed abortions, in 2005. But until recently, Gomperts had refrained from sending pills to the United States, where abortion is legal but often difficult to obtain, because she feared opposition from the American anti-abortion movement.

But six months ago, Gomperts started Aid Access, which will offer similar services to Women on Web to Americans who want abortions less than nine weeks into their pregnancies.

“I got an email from a woman who was living in a car with two kids,” Gomperts told the Atlantic, which first reported the news Thursday. “Something had to be done.”

Gomperts writes Americans prescriptions for mifepristone and misoprostol, which are more than 95 percent effective in ending pregnancies and commonly used in the United States. As a general-practice physician, she gets the prescriptions filled and shipped through an Indian pharmacy she trusts, the Atlantic reported.

This is all legal, Gomperts told the outlet, since the FDA allows people to import medications for their own personal use. A spokesperson for the FDA told VICE News that the agency is looking into the matter. People who take the pills, meanwhile, must grapple with a patchwork of murky state laws that may leave them facing legal consequences.

So far, Gomperts estimates she’s sent the pills to about 600 American women. Aid Access’s website suggests people who use the service pay $95, but it “will also try to help when you cannot afford this.”

Kristen Hawkins, the president of Students for Life of America, told the Atlantic that she considers the Aid Access service to be risky. “The pro-life movement will absolutely be committed to preventing this dangerous business from harming American women,” Hawkins wrote in an email.

Medication abortion is already widespread within the United States — in 2014, 31 percent of all non-hospital abortions in the United States were performed via medication abortion, the Guttmacher Institute found. Most people undergoing medication abortion will take the first pill in the presence of a doctor and then follow up with a second pill, to complete the abortion, at home.

American women have already tried to find abortion-inducing pills online, a July study found, but other suppliers aren’t as reliable as Aid Access, according to Plan C, which rates online purveyors of medication abortion pills. The group gave Aid Access an “A” grade, based on shipping time, product quality, and its physician oversight.

Even when people use both mifepristone and misoprostol at home and without a doctor’s supervision, studies have also found medication abortion pills to be overwhelmingly safe. A 2016 FDA report found that the procedure “has been increasingly used as its efficacy and safety have become well-established by both research and experience, and serious complications have proven to be extremely rare.”

Cover image: Founder of Dutch abortion rights organization "Women on Waves", Rebecca Gomperts, gives a conference on contraception in Buenos Aires, Friday Dec. 10, 2004. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Britain just released a radical hate preacher considered the country's most dangerous extremist

VICE News - October 19, 2018 - 10:35am

A radical Islamist hate preacher regarded as Britain’s most dangerous extremist was released from prison Friday, sparking fears it could fuel jihadi and far-right activity.

Anjem Choudary, 51, was released on automatic parole after serving half of the five-and-a-half-year sentence he received in 2016 for urging support for ISIS, despite a warning from British Prisons Minister Rory Stewart that he remained “genuinely dangerous” and security services declaring him a continued threat. Under British sentencing laws, prisoners can become eligible for parole after serving half of their sentence.

Choudary, a former lawyer who led the now-banned extremist group Al-Muhajiroun, which had inspired more than 100 radicals to join the Islamic State group, will be subject to the strictest monitoring conditions placed on a British parolee, in order to curb his influence.

Among the restrictions on him now, he’s banned from making any public statements or speaking with the media, preaching or organizing meetings, associating with known extremists, leaving the Greater London area, or using an internet-enabled device without permission. The surveillance will continue for 15 years, at a cost of about $2.6 million a year.

Choudary has also been added to a United Nations sanctions list, placing him under an asset freeze and travel ban.

Choudary’s network has been blamed for radicalizing many of Britain’s most notorious terrorists, including Khuram Butt, one of the fanatics who carried out the 2017 London Bridge attack; Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who murdered British soldier Lee Rigby on a London street in 2013; and the alleged ISIS executioner Siddhartha Dhar. He’s also inspired extremist groups elsewhere, such as Belgium’s Sharia4Belgium movement.

But despite his long track record of provocative statements, and key role in extremist networks, Choudary managed to stay just on the right side of British law — until 2014, when he and an associate recorded oaths pledging allegiance to ISIS which were circulated on social media. Prior to that case, British police had unsuccessfully tried to convict him 10 times.

Despite the stringent parole conditions that Choudary faces, observers fear his release could fuel extremism— both among Choudary’s Islamist networks, and the far-right, Islamophobic movements that have sprung up in response to Choudary’s provocations.

“No other British citizen has had so much influence over so many terrorists as Choudary,” said Nick Lowles, head of anti-racist group Hope Not Hate.

“His release is likely to breathe life back into the extremist movement he once led,” he said, adding that outrage over his release was also likely to motivate Britain’s rising far-right street movements, which are mobilizing around their opposition to militant Islam. Choudary’s release was a topic of outrage on social media Friday, with right-wing provocateur Katie Hopkins tweeting a photo of the London property to which he had been bailed. “We only want the best for our Beardy Weirdo Extremists in the U.K. when we release them from jail early,” she wrote.

Choudary’s early release has also fueled frustrations at a judicial regime that will allow a dangerous extremist back on the streets without demonstrating he has renounced his radical views, at a time when the country faces an elevated terror threat.

A conservative think tank, the Henry Jackson Society, said in a report that the case showed that offenders convicted of terror-related offenses should not be considered eligible for early release.

But others have cautioned against the dangers of overstating Choudary’s significance, arguing that the high-profile media platform given to the firebrand cleric over the years had only helped him recruit followers to his extremist network.

“At the end of the day, he is a pathetic groomer of others,” Mark Rowley, Britain’s former head of counterterror policing, told the BBC Friday. “I think we have to recognise that radicalizers look to generate a profile, look to prey on the vulnerable, and we need to be thoughtful about how we report their activity.”

Tina Vasquez on Child Separation, Mara Verheyden-Hilliard on Protest Suppression

FAIR - October 19, 2018 - 10:09am
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(photo: Department of Health and Human Services)

This week on CounterSpin: The horror stories are real—about migrant children pulled from their parents at the US/Mexico border, sometimes locked in cages, sometimes given up for adoption while ostensibly waiting to be reunited with families the government had no plan for reuniting them with. But when corporate media tell the story through the White House’s cruel prism—even if they criticize it—they’re obscuring ideas and actors that are moving things in a more humane direction. We’ll talk about why it matters who you talk to with Tina Vasquez, senior immigration reporter at Rewire.News.

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(cc photo: Ted Eytan/Wikimedia)

Also on the show: If it’s a new day, you’re right to ask if the Trump administration is coming for your rights in a new way, and the answer is yes. The White House is now—via the National Park Service—seeking to squelch public protest in Washington, DC, by, yes, charging for it. Because the important thing about Martin Luther King’s March on Washington is how much it cost to fix the lawn. It’s not hard to see through this anti-democratic ploy, but what does it take to fight it? We’ll hear from Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at CNN‘s coverage of the responsibility for climate change.

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Black Republican strategist stands by ad claiming white Democrats will bring back lynchings

VICE News - October 19, 2018 - 9:45am

The backlash has been swift over a new Republican political ad that warns of “white Democrats” bringing back the days of “lynchings when a white girl screams rape.” But the head of the group that ran the spot defended it as simply “hard-hitting” in an interview with VICE News.

The ad features two black women discussing the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. One woman wonders if Democrats can accuse Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault with “no evidence.”

“What will happen to our husbands, our fathers or our sons when a white girl lies on them?” she asks.

“Girl, white Democrats will be lynching black folk again,” the other woman interjects.

Vernon Robinson, head of Black Americans for the President’s Agenda, which aired the ad, said he’s put out a version supporting Arkansas Republican Rep. French Hill and one attacking Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a moderate Democrat who notably voted against Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

In a statement, Hill said he “condemn[ed] this outrageous ad in the strongest terms,” but Robinson said he has no plans to take it down because it points out the danger posed to black men, in particular, by the Me Too movement.

“All it is is hard-hitting. I believe the Me Too movement deserves every hit they take. Shifting the presumption of innocence to the presumption of guilt is very dangerous for black men,” Robison told VICE News. “Black men are going to catch hell if they’re accused.”

Robinson cited the case of Emmett Till, a black teen lynched in 1955 after a white woman falsely accused him of flirting with her and grabbing her waist. Robinson also pointed to the book, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” in which a black man is convicted for raping a white woman despite evidence suggesting his accusers were lying.

“White Democrats were responsible for the lynchings of every black person since 1880,” Robinson added. “The Klan was the paramilitary wing of the Democratic Party.” .

Pressed on whether he truly believes lynching would return to the mainstream if a Democrat defeats Hill, Robinson said it was possible. But his explanation for the ad seemed to draw on an earlier era, when relationships between white women and black men were seen as illicit.

If you get caught [with a white woman], she’s going to cry rape, and you will be toast,” Robinson said. “Every black man was told that. Every black woman told that to their sons.” Robinson said his own mother warned him to be wary of relationships with white women.

Robinson’s explanation of the controversial ad is an indication of his target audience: Older black voters. Backed by a relatively small media buy (less than $50,000), the ad is airing on urban contemporary radio aimed at voters 35 and older in the St. Louis, Kansas City, and Little Rock media markets. Robinson said he didn’t bother to air on hip-hop stations because “hip-hop voters don’t vote.”

The ad is the second in a series to make up for what Robinson sees as the “political malpractice” of the Republican Party ignoring black voters. The first focused on abortion. In that, one woman charges that Democrats view Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger as a “hero” but added that she created the organization to “exterminate black folks.”

“The next time a Democrat asks for our vote, ask them why they don’t want our children,” another woman says to conclude the ad.

Robinson also plans to air a third ad focused on the economy in the run-up to the midterm elections. He said cutting into Democrats’ historic advantage with black voters through “hard-hitting, high-contrast ads” could help the Missouri Senate seat to Republicans and defend Rep. Hill in Arkansas.

“Black voters are the voters that there is no Democrat wave without,” Robinson said.

The strategist, however, isn’t known for his electoral successes. He’s made multiple failed bids for public office since the mid-90s and drew negative media attention for his role as the head of a super PAC formed to draft Ben Carson to run for president in 2016. In that role, he paid himself a salary of hundreds of thousands of dollars. As head of Black Americans for the President’s Agenda, he paid his own consulting firm more than $6,600 in the third fundraising quarter this cycle, out of the approximately $86,000 the group spent overall.

Cover image: Republican Vernon Robinson is shown March 16, 2004, during a candidate's debate in Kernersville, N.C. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Families are still searching for prisoners evacuated after Hurricane Michael

VICE News - October 19, 2018 - 8:07am

More than a week after Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 storm, Teresa Nelms still hadn’t heard from her son. He’s an inmate in Florida’s state prison system, and one of 4,200 evacuated in the days following the hurricane and scattered to facilities around the region.

The last time Nelms spoke to her son by phone (his name is being withheld for his safety) was 45 minutes before the storm made landfall Oct. 11. “I just want to hear his voice,” Nelms, who once worked as a corrections officer herself, told VICE News Thursday. Normally, she said, she speaks to her son, previously at , almost every day.

To track him down, Nelms used a website called Vinelink that helps victims of crimes track the movements of inmates. From that, she found he’d been moved from his previous place, Bay Correctional Institution, to Desoto Correctional, a men’s prison in Arcadia, more than 400 miles away in central Florida, and about 270 miles from Perry, where she lives.

“I get maybe two or three hours of sleep at night. Every time I try and eat, I get sick to my stomach,” she said.

There’s a fair chance he’s at Desoto for good, or at least until February, when he’s set to be released. Bay Correctional, a men’s prison in Panama City, Florida, was one of three state prisons that took a direct hit from the hurricane, and one of two that have been shut down completely, and possibly permanently.

Read: Florida is evacuating inmates from prisons hammered by Hurricane Michael

An aerial photo taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed a roof partially torn off a major structure at Bay Correctional. Inmates at nearby Gulf Correctional, also closed until further notice, said they witnessed roofs being torn off buildings.

“We anticipate it will be a couple of weeks before we have a determination about when the damaged facilities will reopen,” Florida Department of Corrections press secretary Patrick Manderfield told VICE News.

An aerial photograph taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after Hurricane Michael shows extensive damage to a roof at the facility.

While Florida continues to dig out from Hurricane Michael, the Department of Corrections is still assessing the damage sustained by the 12 state prison facilities across the panhandle. The 4,200 evacuated from the Bay and Gulf facilities will be redistributed to other Florida prisons, some hundreds of miles away.

When Hurricane Michael bore down on Florida, the Department of Corrections decided not to try to have the prisoners ride it out. As damage became severe, they started secretly evacuating prisoners to different facilities. Inmates were were distributed across six facilities around the state: Baker Correctional, Central Florida Reception Center, Century Correctional, Columbia Correctional, Desoto Correctional, Mayo Correctional, and Wakulla.

Read: Florida isn't evacuating all its inmates in Hurricane Michael's path

With overcrowding already an issue in the Florida prison system the burden will be felt throughout the system. Florida has one of the highest incarceration rates in the U.S., 20 percent higher than the national average. In the last year, inmate activists in Florida prisons have organized strikes in response to overcrowding and poor conditions.

To alleviate overcrowding, Florida lawmakers even passed a bill in 2010 ordering the construction of “Forestry Work Camps” to alleviate “an emergency situation” in state prisons. Inmates at six of those “camps” in or around Florida’s Panhandle were evacuated.

Two of those facilities – Gulf Forestry Camp and Panama Release Center – remain closed while authorities assess damage.

As of Thursday, phone lines and inmate money services were still down at Calhoun Correctional and Calhoun work center.

On Wednesday, inmates in affected prisons, plus those who were transferred to other institutions elsewhere, were given three free phone calls and 20 free stamps for emails.

Visitations are on hold statewide at all Florida prison facilities until Oct. 27

Read: The government is now tracking school shootings and the numbers are alarming

Jennifer Oneal, who works as an assistant manager at a Hungry Howie’s restaurant outside Orlando, said her boyfriend was transferred from Gulf Correctional to Mayo Annex, a smaller facility about 140 miles east. Her boyfriend learned that he was being transferred on Friday – days after the storm had hit.

Inmates were forced to leave most of their personal belongings behind. Oneal said her boyfriend was only allowed to carry his bedsheets, his “whites” or underwear, and some personal hygiene products with him. He would have to leave his other belongings, such as the new thermals she’d recently bought him, his tablet, and a different pair of shoes behind.

Once he got to Mayo, he was told that the move was permanent. Overall, Oneal said, Mayo is an upgrade compared to Gulf: there’s air conditioning in the dorms, and the food is better.

Corrections officials say that inmates’ personal items will eventually be shipped to them, but it’s not clear when that will be. Oneal said that it’s also not clear when money in his commissary account at Gulf will be transferred to Mayo. In the meantime, she said she’s had to pick up extra shifts at Hungry Howies, so that she can give him enough money to buy the things he needs, as well as pay for his food. “I’ve worked a week straight, to help get him extra money,” Oneal said.

It’s not just inmates and their families who have been affected by the hurricane. Corrections officers in the area are also being forced to readjust to life post-Michael.

“We have multiple staff in the region with significant property damage and losses,” Manderfield said. “Staff from affected facilities will be able to work at neighboring facilities until their institutions re-open, and we’re also bringing in officers from across the state to assist with the ongoing response efforts.”

Jim Baiardi, chapter trustee for Florida’s Police Benevolent Association, which advocates for the state’s correction officers, said he visited Gulf and Calhoun to examine damage to officer housing on prison grounds. He said things were bad.

“It looked like a scene from a war zone,” Baiardi said.

Baiardi said that the hurricane has put a significant strain on the corrections officers who work in those prisons that were damaged or evacuated.

Read: Two mental health patients were left to drown after sheriff's deputies drove their van into floodwater

“Most of them probably lost their homes, or their homes are at least severely damaged,” Baiardi said. “On top of that now, they’re gonna have to move to other facilities because there’s no inmates.”

That means a potentially longer commute. “While other people have been picking up their lives, they’ve been going to work. A lot of them have been working 16-hour days to get things back into shape,” Baiardi said. “Officers haven’t had any time off take care of their house or belongings, and they can’t afford to lose their house and their job in the same week.”

Cover: A bicyclist rides beneath storm-ravaged trees in Panama City, Fla., Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. On Wednesday this Florida panhandle community was blasted with 155-mph winds when Hurricane Michael made landfall just to the east of here. (Michael Snyder/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP)

Midterm coverage beyond Trump

Columbia Journalism Review - October 19, 2018 - 6:48am

After the 2016 contest for the presidency, when many media outlets missed the rise of Donald Trump, they were left grasping for explanations. There had been too much focus on the horse race, not enough coverage of people on the ground, a fundamental misunderstanding of what polls actually say. All were seen as missteps. Now, less than three weeks out from the midterm elections, it’s hard to quantify whether there has been any meaningful shift from empty prognosticating, though news outlets are talking a good game about having learned from the past.

For CJR, David Uberti notes that some newsrooms that got Trump’s election spectacularly wrong have done away with their numerical projections entirely. Others have taken steps to tell their audience understand what the numbers mean. “As news organizations rev up their coverage for midterm elections, the credibility of polling analysis is back on the line,” Uberti writes. “And the question of how to predict what might happen looms ever larger given the political stakes, leaving prognosticators to reconsider how they frame predictions for laypeople—if they produce them at all.”

The midterms have been cast as a referendum on President Trump, but competitions for Senate and House seats are inherently local competitions. Ahead of November 6, CJR invited writers from around the country to spotlight stories that deserve closer scrutiny in their states. The subjects that the writers chose varied from coal to racial divides to voter suppression, and several dispatches lamented the dwindling resources of local news outlets.

RELATED: Covering a country where race is everywhere

From Montana, Anne Helen Petersen writes that the local press “simply lacks the resources or wherewithal to pursue the larger issues, institutions, and money-flows in depth.” The state’s lone congressional seat is held by Republican Greg Gianforte, who assaulted a reporter on the eve of his special election in the spring of 2017. “How do you cover a candidate whose antagonism towards the press includes physical abuse?” Petersen wonders.

Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas, is running for governor there. Kobach, a Republican who led President Trump’s voting fraud panel (since disbanded), has turned Kansas into the “epicenter of a national voter-suppression crisis,” Sarah Smarsh reports. “Readers, viewers and listeners deserve to understand the forces that might compromise the power of their ballots, from gerrymandering to unlawful purging of voter rolls,” she writes. “With pivotal midterm races across the country, no election coverage—in Kansas, and beyond—is complete without deep investigations into the voting process.”

And in Virginia, journalists are dealing with how to report on the racial demagoguery spouted by Corey Stewart, a Republican candidate for senate who has been abandoned by leading officials in his own party. “The press and public,” Elizabeth Catte writes, are “putting lessons learned covering Trump, about being less reactionary in news production and consumption, in practice.”

Trump’s dominance of national news storylines and his desire to inject his role into hundreds of local races mean that midterm voters may be thinking more nationally than in years past. But as CJR’s dispatches from around the country show, there are plenty of local and regional concerns that deserve coverage, too.

Below, more on the subjects that are driving some of the races around the country.


Other notable stories:

  • The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi tries to figure out why the murder of Jamal Khashoggi captured the outrage and media attention that previous atrocities by the Saudi government did not. “The answer may be a combination of the time and place of Khashoggi’s disappearance, and the gruesome circumstances of his apparent death, which may have made his story more ‘relatable’ to American viewers and readers,” Farhi writes. “The accumulation of details has created the kind of sustained news coverage that the faceless victims of war and violence rarely receive.”
  • This one has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately,” Trump told The New York Times in a brief Oval Office interview on Thursday. The president acknowledged that he believes Khashoggi is dead, and that high-level Saudi government officials were likely involved, but “stopped short of saying the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s death.”
  • CJR columnist Trevor Timm addresses the Trump administration’s crackdown on journalists’ sources, focusing on the recent arrest of senior Treasury official Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards. “Leak investigations strike at the heart of the press’s job,” Timm writes. “We should all consider this growing crackdown on leaks a danger to investigative journalism and stick up for the alleged sources involved.”
  • Meanwhile, at a rally in Montana, Trump praised Congressman Greg Gianforte for assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs last year. “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my guy,” Trump said to cheers from the crowd. “To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the First Amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it,” Guardian US Editor John Mulholland said in a statement. “We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the President will see fit to apologize for them”
  • Jenn Suozzo has been named executive producer of NBC Nightly News, removing the interim tag from a position she’s filled since Sam Singal left the role this summer. Singal had led the program for three years.

ICYMI: Remembering the man at the center of an international crisis

Trump concedes that Jamal Khashoggi is probably dead

VICE News - October 19, 2018 - 5:12am

President Donald Trump conceded Thursday that Jamal Khashoggi is likely dead — an admission that ramps up pressure on Saudi Arabia to explain what happened to the missing journalist.

Trump has spent almost two weeks downplaying the significance of Khashoggi’s Oct. 2 disappearance, so as not to derail his close relationship with the Saudi royal family.

But mounting evidence appears to have forced Trump to concede that the version of events pushed by Turkish officials — that Khashoggi was tortured, killed and dismembered inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul — is accurate.

“It certainly looks that way to me,” Trump told reporters at Andrews Air Force Base when asked if Khashoggi was dead. “It's very sad.”

Trump added that Saudi Arabia could face a “very severe” response from the U.S., but it will depend on the outcome of ongoing investigations.

Trump has been criticized for trying to minimize the Khashoggi crisis. In a bid to protect the president from blowback, a group of GOP lawmakers this week circulated articles from right-wing media outlets that smeared Khashoggi — highlighting his links to the Muslim Brotherhood in his youth, the Washington Post reports.

Trump’s turnaround came after a meeting Thursday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who debriefed the president about meetings in Riyadh with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as a sit-down with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

ABC News reported Thursday that Turkish officials shared with Pompeo an audio recording and transcript of the alleged murder — a claim the secretary of state denied.

“I’ve heard no tape, I’ve seen no transcript. And the network that reported that ought to pull down the headline that says I have,” Pompeo told reporters on his way to Mexico on Thursday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu said Friday that Turkey had not given the audio recordings to Pompeo or any other American official.

Trump’s apparent shift coincided with a coordinated announcement by France, Germany, the U.K. and the Netherlands that they are suspending all political visits to Saudi Arabia until the Khashoggi probes are complete. Many global business leaders, including US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, have also pulled out of a Saudi-hosted investment conference set for next week.

The move is significant because, like the U.S., Saudi Arabia is a major customer for British and French weapons industries.

Turkish police searching for Khashoggi’s body had initially focused on the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and the nearby consul’s residence. On Thursday, they broadened their search to include Belgrad Forest — some 10 miles north of the city center, as well as farmland in Turkey’s Yalova province.

READ: Everything we know about the alleged Khashoggi murder and Saudi cover-up

Samples taken from the consulate will be tested for Khashoggi’s DNA, officials told Reuters.

Along with the investigation led by Turkish officials, Saudi Arabia is conducting its own probe — which reportedly will paint the death as an accident. That explanation seems unlikely to pacify mounting international anger.

A White House source told The Washington Post that Riyadh will pin the blame on Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, the deputy head of Saudi intelligence and a close adviser to Prince Mohammed. The report will claim Khashoggi’s death was the result of an overzealous interrogation and seek to exonerate the leadership.

Cover image: Donald Trump talks to reporters while hosting workers and members of his Cabinet for a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on October 17, 2018 in Washington, DC. (The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)


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