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Blaming the Victims—Not the System—for Bronx Fire Deaths

FAIR - January 19, 2022 - 2:49pm


Was it the space heater on the third floor? The open door on the 15th floor? The faulty fire alarms that went off frequently? The nonexistent sprinkler system? Colonel Mustard with the candlestick in the library?

As local and national corporate media covered the devastating fire in the Bronx that killed 17 people on January 9, two culprits were somehow never on the list of what and who was responsible: the landlord and the city’s Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) department, which is responsible for making sure landlords comply with housing codes. Always under suspicion were the tenants themselves, who were implicitly blamed throughout the coverage.

The space heater

The New York Times (1/9/22) blames the victims: “Residents should have known where escape routes were located,” it reported, citing the fire commissioner.

“A Space Heater Is Blamed for the Deadly Fire in a Bronx Apartment Building,” said a New York Times headline (1/9/22). It was one of dozens of similar headlines that prominently mentioned the “malfunctioning space heater” as the cause of the fire. Why a space heater was needed in the first place was not a question that was ever asked. Like the Times piece, several articles went out of their way to indicate that the heat was working in the building, or was probably working. “The Commissioner said he believed the heat was working in the building and that the heater was being used to supplement the heat.” “Supplement the heat” sounds nice, kind of like a throw pillow that might add an accent to your couch. The reality that it was too cold is never admitted.

The New York Daily News (1/11/22) was one of several outlets that followed up by reporting that the apartment where the fire started “had several space heaters running at the time of the fire—and all of them, including the one that sparked the fatal blaze, had been left on for days.” In case you missed the not-too-subtle blame-the-victim vibe here, the article goes on to cite building tenants who “wondered why the resident in the fire apartment had so many space heaters,” and who said their apartments were plenty warm. It also includes data on how many fires are caused by space heaters locally and nationally.

Oh, incidentally, it mentions that an anonymous tip on the day after Thanksgiving said that the entire building had no heat, “but the situation was quickly corrected and the complaint was closed,” so let’s carry on with our head scratching about the space heaters.

The Daily News (1/11/22) said “the fire was the city’s deadliest since the 1990 blaze at the Bronx’s Happy Land Social Club”—leaving out a rather famous fire from 2001.

Back at the New York Times, an article on January 10 reminded us, “space heaters, particularly older models, are a well-known risk.” It didn’t need to add that the tenants really should have known better. The piece went on to admit that space heaters are “a fixture in many units during cold snaps,” but pointed out again that that’s only “to supplement built-in radiators.”

It then revealed that a city survey found that “low-income neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn and northern Manhattan that are historically home to communities of color have a higher percentage of residences that rely on supplemental heating sources.” It might have added that being a person of color is a well-known risk, but it didn’t. Nor did this survey warrant any commentary or analysis.

In case you missed the message, the Times (1/10/22) went on to devote an entire piece to the dangers of space heaters, including lots of details about their parts, and reminding us that “the problem is that many people still rely on outdated heaters with minimal safety features, or they do not know how to use heaters safely.” There is zippo, nada, bubkes indication that people should not need to rely on “supplemental” heat.

The open doors

As it became clear that all 17 victims died of smoke inhalation, initial coverage blaming the space heater and the tenants who needed it shifted to reporting about building doors that were not closed, creating the deadly smoke conditions. But as with the space heater, there was no meaningful interrogation of whose fault the open doors were, though there was plenty of innuendo that it was the tenants’ fault.

In “Two Open Doors Created ‘Flue Effect’ of Deadly Smoke at Bronx High-Rise,” the New York Times (1/10/22) said Mayor Eric Adams “vowed to ‘double down’ on a decades-old campaign by the city to raise awareness about the importance of closing doors during a fire.” It goes on to say that when the residents in the unit where the fire started fled, “crucially…they did not shut the door to the hallway behind them.” As an afterthought, it mentions that the door is supposed to be—by law—self-closing, but “it did not function properly.” Once again, the less-than-subtle message is that the tenants themselves are responsible for the deadly fire.

In the 33rd paragraph of this 39-paragraph story, we learned that the building has been repeatedly cited by HPD for violations related to the self-closing safety functions of its doors. But lest we be tempted to shift the blame for the fire, the Times tenderly introduced the subject by saying the problems “do not appear” to be “an entirely new issue.” By contrast, the article was firm in its affirmation that all the violations “had been resolved.”

And just as it had devoted a piece to the importance of space heater safety, the Times  (1/11/22) followed up here with a piece on the importance of closing doors during a fire. After condescendingly explaining how fire requires oxygen, the article returned to the apartment door: “City officials have not yet said precisely why the apartment door failed to close.” It went on to discuss springs and pistons, dirty or worn-out parts, even the angle at which the door might have been opened. But it never asked the question behind the question: Is it the slumlord who owns the building that is responsible for the failure?

The Washington Post (1/10/22) managed to blame both the space heater and the door—but not the landlord or city regulators.

As bad as the New York Times coverage of the doors was, the Washington Post was worse. In “Officials Blame Space Heater for Bronx Fire, Say Smoke May Have Spread Because of Open Door,” the Post  (1/10/22) managed to blame both the space heater and the open doors, but never mentioned any of the building’s safety violations. It prominently quotes the NYC Fire Commissioner saying, “If you’re in a building, an apartment building that has self-closing doors, make sure it works, and if it doesn’t, please point that out.” Once again, we’re led not-so-subtly to blame the tenants who in this case of course did “point out” non-working doors, as we know from the multiple violations—but the reader doesn’t know that.

It gets worse. In a piece the next day (“Faulty Safety Doors at Bronx High-Rise Were Repeatedly Flagged Before Deadly Fire, Officials Say,” 1/11/22), the Washington Post included information about the door safety violations, though a cynic might wonder why this information couldn’t be included in the previous piece. The piece, like all the others that mentioned the violations, confidently asserted that they had all been resolved.

The facts on the ground, however, are that there were multiple doors in the building that did not work properly. So the Post threw in this random speculative accusation: “It remains unclear whether the doors failed mechanically or if they were manually disabled.” There’s absolutely no evidence cited for the possibility that the doors were manually disabled.

Violations but no violators

This New York Post piece (1/11/22) quoted state Attorney General Letitia James making a rare criticism of the system that produced the Bronx tragedy.

Some outlets, notably the New York Post (1/9/22, 1/10/22), reported early on the building safety violations, though the big national outlets lagged in covering them. But even the best of this coverage fell far short of framing the problems as systemic, and the idea that it is the landlords’ fault is nowhere to be found in the corporate coverage.

“I will also use the law both as a sword and as a shield to get to the bottom of this fire,” New York State Attorney General Letitia James said at a vigil on Tuesday night:

There’s a lesson to be learned about the neglect of government… and there’s a lesson to be learned about why this continues to happen in this corner of the Bronx.

This quote appeared in a very short New York Post piece (1/11/22) on the vigil, and it was, as far as I can tell, the only quote by any government official cited in the corporate press that placed any blame on the failures of government oversight, or indicted ongoing housing injustice in NYC’s poor neighborhoods.

It stood in sharp contrast to Mayor Eric Adams, whose early comments were in the blame-the-victim genre, and whose relationship to the landlords (the principal of one of the developers that owns the building, Rick Gropper of the Camber Property Group, was a donor to Adams’s campaign, and served on his transition team for housing) was regularly mentioned in the press but rarely analyzed.

Also missing in the corporate coverage were the voices of housing activists and experts. The building’s tenants were regularly interviewed for various articles, but they appear in the stories as props to support the reporters’ narratives or as trauma porn, not as autonomous subjects with views on housing policy, or on the culpability for the fire.

In its first piece on the fire, the Washington Post (1/9/22) wrote, “Saidatu Hammed, a resident of the 12th floor, expressed frustration with building management and said the smoke made it difficult to breathe as she and her family ran down floor after floor.”  You might think that it would go on to detail what Hammed’s frustrations with management were, but you’d be wrong. The article never returned to that. It never mentioned any of the safety violations. It did intone, “The Bronx apartment blaze is a tragic example of the dangers of smoke inhalation.”

You’d be forgiven if you thought this coverage was designed to steer readers away from thinking about the dangers of for-profit housing, or the vice grip that real estate developers have had on New York City since they “bought” Manhattan from the Lenape in 1626.

The post Blaming the Victims—Not the System—for Bronx Fire Deaths appeared first on FAIR.

RNC Renounces Broken Debate System It Helped Create

FAIR - January 19, 2022 - 10:03am


The New York Times (1/13/21) reported that the Commission on Presidential Debates was “founded by the two parties in 1987 to codify the debates as a permanent part of presidential elections.” But the League of Women Voters had run independent debates in the previous three election cycles.

The New York Times (1/13/21) broke the news that the Republican National Committee intends to require future GOP candidates for president to “sign a pledge not to not participate in any debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates.”

It’s not clear what this would mean for future presidential debates. The CPD has run general election presidential debates since wresting control of them from the League of Women Voters in the late 1980s. Characterized by the Times and other outlets as a “nonpartisan” group, the CPD in fact was created by the chair of the Republican National Committee himself, along with his Democratic counterpart (New York Times, 2/19/87). The point of the new group was to give the two major parties the power to exclude third party candidates (like Ross Perot and Ralph Nader), and to allow the Democratic and Republican parties, not the truly nonpartisan LWV, to set the rules (FAIR.org, 8/29/00).

FAIR has consistently criticized the news media, who continued to offer moderators and air the debates under the CPD’s authority, for submissively allowing the two major parties to dictate the rules—including vetting the moderators (FAIR.org, 10/3/12, 8/26/16). We have also consistently criticized the CPD-approved debate moderators, chosen from prominent corporate media outlets, for the right-wing corporate framing of many of their questions (FAIR.org, 8/26/16, 8/2/19, 2/29/20, 10/2/20, 10/9/20).

One could reasonably ask whether this matters: Are presidential debates even useful anymore? After the disastrous 2020 debates, in which Donald Trump’s refusal to follow any rules of debate (or decency), many pundits called for the CPD to allow moderators to simply cut participants’ microphones. As we argued at that time (10/2/20):

Mike-cutting is no solution, given a media obsessed with the appearance of evenhandedness. By two different counts, Trump was responsible for more than three-quarters of the interruptions (Washington Post, 9/30/20; Slate, 9/30/20). A committed corporate journalist would cringe at the idea of cutting off one candidate three times as much as the other, no matter the facts of the case, but cutting them off equally would clearly be absurd.

The problem is not one that can be solved by new rules, because debates—from high school debate club to presidential debates—are predicated on certain assumptions: that each person has a right to be heard, that competing positions are put forth, that claims must be supported by logic and facts, and that debaters are not entitled to their own facts. When one candidate refuses to acknowledge or play by these rules, no amount of tweaking by the CPD will change the outcome.

And when you have a candidate—who also happens to be the sitting president—who will not respect the rules of debate, who deliberately casts doubt on the legitimacy of the election, and who issues directives to white supremacist groups from a national stage, the only reasonable thing for journalists to do is to not just call for an end to the debates, but to call for an end to the Trump presidency.

Now it’s not just Trump that has abandoned such rules; nearly the entire GOP has thrown in with the authoritarian wing of the party. The corporate press have hardly been treating the GOP’s hard shift to authoritarianism as the emergency it is (FAIR.org, 10/1/20), but they still largely traffic in facts that the GOP is working hard to deny and wall off their own voters from. It’s hard to imagine the party being willing to face even the minimal real-time factchecking that debate moderators have occasionally offered. Recall that Trump threw a fit over Fox News‘ Chris Wallace being given a moderator slot in the 2020 debate (Vox, 9/29/20).

At the same time, the GOP resistance to a commission their own party helped form and continues to influence obviously sends a clear message about their willingness to engage with even a highly flawed version of democratic debate. While we shouldn’t mourn the apparent end of the CPD debates, we must insist that our news media cover the GOP’s unabating authoritarian push—not just on democratic debate, but voting rights, election security, the January 6 investigation, etc.—with the same level of relentlessness.

The post RNC Renounces Broken Debate System It Helped Create appeared first on FAIR.

How Media Reports of Their Own Polls Can Mislead

FAIR - January 18, 2022 - 5:07pm


Investor’s Business Daily (1/10/22)

A new media poll last week by Investor’s Business Daily (1/10/22), conducted with the polling firm TIPP, announced that “Biden Approval Rating Relapses as Omicron Surges, Stock Market Slumps.”

There are at least two problems with the Murdoch-owned outlet’s announcement.

First is that the “relapse” in approval rating is reported to be “nine-tenths of a point.” While the author, Jed Graham, does not specify a margin of error, we can safely say that a difference of less than 1 percentage point clearly falls into the category of random variation. One cannot reasonably conclude, therefore, that there has been a significant change in opinion.

A second problem is that the standard way of reporting the IBD/TIPP poll results shows Biden’s approval rating actually increasing by 1 percentage point over December. (That difference is still not significant.)

Creating a ‘relapse’

How, then, did the poll report a “relapse”?

The poll report excluded respondents who were unsure or refused to give an opinion, which changed the base. In doing so, the poll reported a 50.1% approval in December, and a 49.2% rating in January—which produced the mentioned decline of 0.9 of a percentage point.

Typically, pollsters do not exclude “unsure” respondents, because to do so is to distort what public opinion actually is. People who are unsure still constitute a significant portion of the public, and should be included in the analysis.

When IBD/TIPP follows this standard approach, its January poll shows 44% of adults who approve of Biden’s job performance, 45% who disapprove, and 11% with no opinion. When the IBD (12/6/21) released its December poll (12/1–4/21), the comparable figures were 43% approve, 43% disapprove, 14% no opinion. Using those figures, one would conclude Biden’s approval increased by one point over December.

The author of the article chose to focus on the decline in approval of (essentially) 1 percentage point, rather than the increase. And he probably did so because the lapse fit in with the story that Biden was being hurt by the spread of Omicron and the declining stock market. It would have been a more awkward story to note that Biden’s approval had actually increased during these troubling times. How to explain that?

Other polls unmentioned

A related problem is that the author fails to mention trends reported by other polls, as though the IBD/TIPP poll is the only poll to measure Biden’s approval rating. If a news organization is going to report on the beat of public opinion, certainly other polls are relevant sources to examine.

But reporting on other polls is not the norm when media organizations sponsor their own polls. Instead, each organization tends to do what Investor’s Business Daily did—treat their own poll as the definitive description of what the public is thinking.

The author of this report does note that while the IBD/TIPP poll found a 44% approval rating (using standard methods of reporting), the RealClearPolitics average of other polls at the time had Biden’s approval rating two points lower (42.1%). The author does not, however, acknowledge that the trend in Biden’s approval rating essentially showed small fluctuations with no significant change—which would have undermined the central theme of the story.

Reports that mislead

USA Today (11/7/21)

Investor’s Business Daily is not alone in failing to account for other poll results. In early November, USA Today (11/7/21) announced the results of its poll (11/3–5/21) showing President Biden’s approval rating at a “new low” of 38%. On the generic ballot—a question that asks whether a voter would choose a Democrat or a Republican in the 2022 congressional election—Republicans outperformed Democrats by an 8-point margin, 46% to 38%.

A week later, ABC News/Washington Post (11/14/21) reported that their poll (11/7–10/21) also found a “new low” for Biden’s approval rating of 41%, and a record-setting Republican advantage on the generic ballot of 10 points, 51% to 41%.

Ten days later, NPR (11/24/21) reported the results of its poll (11/16–19/21) showing Biden’s approval rating with, yes, a “new low” of 42%. Only in the tenth paragraph does NPR acknowledge that its generic ballot measure nevertheless shows Democrats ahead by “a slight 46%-to-41% advantage.”

All three poll reports were seriously misleading. First, there were not three times that month when Biden’s approval rating reached a “new low.” Second, all three polls produced outliers on the generic ballot, misleading their consumers as to a more plausible picture of public opinion.

Aggregating results

None of the three poll stories mentioned the results of other media polls. Each report treated its own media poll as though it alone has the current temperature of the American public. Yet, because of statistical variation, any given poll can be off the true mark. An average of credible polls is one way to correct for variable results from individual polls.

As noted by the American Association for Public Opinion Research, referring to electoral polling:

The benefit of a poll aggregator is that an average of polling results should give a reporter a more reliable and wider perspective on a race, rather than relying on just one poll’s result.

For example, because of variation among the polls, looking at the average across a number of polls to characterize the presidential race…would provide a more complete and more stable picture than looking at the result of just one poll.

There are at least two major poll aggregator websites—538 and, as noted earlier in this article, RealClearPolitics (RCP)—which routinely provide averages of major polls about both Biden’s approval ratings (538 and RCP) and the generic ballot (538 and RCP).

Here I focus on 538, because it adjusts the impact of polls based on the quality of the polling organization, and because it screens polls to insure they meet minimum standards. Still, the differences between the two sites are minor.

Compared to the average 

During the three day period that USA Today found Biden’s approval rating at 38%, 538 showed an average 42.9%, essentially five points more positive. The USA Today poll was a clear outlier compared with most other polls. Of course, the newspaper did not mention that fact.

Presidential approval polling averages (538, 1/18/22)

The other two polls, showing Biden’s approval rating at 41%–42%, were in the ballpark (within 2 percentage points) of the averages at the times of the interviews, but it would be incorrect to describe either result as a sudden “new low”—though that’s how the poll results were characterized.

As for the generic ballot, all three polls produced significant outliers. ABC News and the Washington Post reported Republicans with a 10-point advantage. The USA Today 8-point GOP advantage was almost as dramatic.

Averages by 538, however, showed Democrats actually in the lead during the interviewing periods of both polls—by 2.0 points during the USA Today polling period, and 1.1 points during the ABC/WP polling period. The net differences between the averages and the individual polls were 10 and 11 points, respectively, in favor of Republicans.

Generic congressional ballot polling averages (538, 1/18/22)

The NPR poll, showing Democrats leading in the generic ballot by five points, was an outlier in the opposite direction. During its polling period (11/16-19/21), 538 showed an average GOP lead of 0.5 points—a net difference of 5.5 points.

A more realistic view

As the 538 averages suggest, there was hardly any movement in Biden’s approval rating during November, and there was only a modest movement in the generic ballot.

In contrast to the three polls, which suggest a sudden drop in Biden’s approval rating in early November, recovering to about 41%–42%, the 538 averages suggest that Biden’s approval rating remained almost constant during the whole period, varying only within a half of a percentage point. That pattern prevailed into December and early January, when IBD/TIPP conducted its polls.

On the generic ballot, in contrast to the three polls that show Democrats trailing by 8 and 10 points in early November, then dramatically recovering to a five-point lead in mid-month, the 538 averages show the generic ballot moving from a modest 2.7-point advantage for Democrats in early November to less than a 1 point advantage for Republicans in mid-November.

Why not cover other polls?

From a journalistic point of view, there is no excuse for a news organization to report the results of its own poll and ignore similar results already published.

News media justify conducting their own polls as covering the “beat” of public opinion. As ABC News explains (italics added):

At the ABC News Polling Unit, we are news reporters first; we think of public opinion as our beat—like covering the Supreme Court, the White House or the Pentagon. In many ways the process is the same: We pick a topic, formulate questions, go to our best sources, ask what we need to know and report what we’ve learned.

The requirement to go to the “best sources” must certainly include not just the news organization’s own poll results, but those by other reputable organizations as well. And RCP and 538 provide journalists with an easy reference to such other sources—at least for the president’s approval rating and the generic ballot.

Of course, each media poll is likely to include numerous questions not aggregated by RCP and 538. But that’s no excuse for the reporter to exclude contemporary trends when they are available.

Still, it’s understandable why most media poll reports do so. The news organization has just invested a considerable amount of money to conduct its own poll, and it certainly doesn’t want to undermine its results by showing how far off they are from a poll average.

Had IBD/TIPP reported the RCP trend showing essentially no change in Biden’s approval rating, that would have undermined their story that linked the surge in Omicron to Biden’s decline in approval.

It is what they say it is

ABC (11/14/21) announced that “Republican congressional candidates currently hold largest lead in midterm election vote preferences in ABC News/Washington Post polls dating back 40 years.” Not mentioned: Most polls at the time found an advantage for Democrats.

Another example is ABC News (11/14/21), which made much of its findings on the generic ballot:

That’s the biggest lead for Republicans in the 110 ABC/[Washington] Post polls that have asked this question since November 1981. Indeed, it’s only the second time the GOP has held a statistically significant advantage (the other was +7 points in January 2002) and the ninth time it’s held any numerical edge at all.

It would be hard to imagine the report then saying, “Actually, our results are way out of line with other polls, which show an average advantage to Democrats. Our record GOP lead is probably an outlier.”

Admitting that their polls may not be the best measure of public opinion, and in some cases may in fact be seriously flawed, would undermine the credibility, not just of the generic ballot measure or Biden’s approval rating, but of all the other questions in the poll as well.

In short, there is a financial/corporate incentive for media poll reports not to tell the whole truth about the state of public opinion. As far as the news organization is concerned, regardless of what other polls show, public opinion is what their new poll says it is.

This is, of course, a reason not to put too much weight on any single report about an outlets’ polling results.

The post How Media Reports of Their Own Polls Can Mislead appeared first on FAIR.

It’s Not ‘Encouraging’ That Mostly People With Disabilities Die Despite Covid Shots

FAIR - January 15, 2022 - 3:42pm


CDC director Rochelle Wallensky told Good Morning America (1/7/22) that it was “really encouraging news” that the vaccinated people dying from Covid were mostly “people who were unwell to begin with.”

Asked on ABC‘s Good Morning America (1/7/22) about “encouraging headlines that we’re talking about this morning, this new study showing just how well vaccines are working to prevent severe illness,” CDC director Rochelle Wallensky responded:

The overwhelming number of deaths, over 75%, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities, so really these are people who were unwell to begin with. And, yes, really encouraging news in the context of Omicron; this means not only just to get your primary series but to get your booster series, and, yes, we’re really encouraged by these results.

As the hashtag #MyDisabledLifeIsWorthSaving began trending on Twitter, disability rights activists like Ady Barkan were asking, “Are our deaths less tragic? Are our lives less valuable? Are we less human?”

Because they were picked up by right-wingers as proof that Covid concerns are overblown, media outlets like CNN (1/12/22) went into factcheck mode to explain that Wallensky’s comments were distorted and taken from context.

CNN‘s factcheck (1/12/22) focused on the false claim that Covid-19 is not a real threat—and not on the genuine implication that it’s “really encouraging” when mostly people with health issues die from Covid when they’re vaccinated.

Crucial seconds were missing from the tape, you see, which would clarify that Wallensky was referring specifically to the results of a study that found that a majority of deaths among the vaccinated involved comorbidities, not deaths overall. The subtext seemed to be that it’s a confusing time and, just maybe, some people might be looking for something to be offended by.

Yeah, no. Information may certainly be unclear or shift with time, but priorities and attitudes remain—and those reflected in a statement that, within whatever subgroup, fatalities affecting primarily those with preexisting health issues are “good news” is disturbing. (For what it’s worth, some of the things the CDC defines as comorbidities: diabetes, high blood pressure, Down’s syndrome, cystic fibrosis, obesity, pregnancy and asthma.)

Susan Henderson of the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund did not misunderstand the context of Wallensky’s comment. She wrote in an open letter that the message from the CDC was not only

abhorrent, it perpetuates widely and wrongly held perceptions that disabled people have a worse quality of life than nondisabled people and our lives are more expendable.

When physicians hold these beliefs, and they do…the outcomes for disabled people, especially during a pandemic such as we are living through, can be fatal.

Messages from the head of the CDC must convey that all lives are valuable, and the loss of any life from COVID-19, whether it is the life of a person with a disability, an older adult, or a 32-year-old with no known disabilities, is a tragedy.

As Barkan said:

We live in the wealthiest country in history. We can afford to give healthcare to everyone. We can afford enough masks, tests and medical staff to keep everyone safe. But that requires seeing the full humanity of each of us.

News media could aid that effort if they would set aside the frame of back-and-forth political gotchas, and assume the value of all human beings, and our right to live full lives, as not a talking point but a premise.

The post It’s Not ‘Encouraging’ That Mostly People With Disabilities Die Despite Covid Shots appeared first on FAIR.

Hawkish Pundits Downplay Threat of War, Ukraine’s Nazi Ties

FAIR - January 15, 2022 - 8:07am


Alexander Vindman (New York Times, 12/10/21): “A prosperous Ukraine buttressed by American support” could persuade Russians “to eventually demand their own framework for democratic transition”—i.e., regime change.

With the United States and Russia in a standoff over NATO expansion and Russian troop deployments along the Ukrainian border, US corporate media outlets are demanding that Washington escalate the risk of a broader war while misleading their audiences about important aspects of the conflict.

Many in the commentariat called on the US to take steps that would increase the likelihood of war. In the New York Times (12/10/21), retired US Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman wrote that “the United States must support Ukraine by providing more extensive military assistance.” He argued that “the United States should consider an out-of-cycle, division-level military deployment to Eastern Europe to reassure allies and bolster the defenses of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” even while calling for a strategy that “avoids crossing into military adventurism.” He went on to say that “the United States has to be more assertive in the region.”

Yet the US has been plenty “assertive in the region,” where, incidentally, America is not located. In 2014, the US supported anti-government protests in Ukraine that led to the ouster of democratically elected, Russia-aligned Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych (Foreign Policy, 3/4/14). Russia sent its armed forces into the Crimea, annexed the territory, and backed armed groups in eastern Ukraine.

Since then, the US has given Ukraine $2.5 billion in military aid, including Javelin anti-tank missiles (Politico6/18/21).  The US government has applied sanctions to Russia that, according to an International Monetary Fund estimate, cost Russia about 0.2 percentage points of GDP every year between 2014 and 2018 (Reuters, 4/16/21).

Furthermore, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—a US-led military alliance hostile to Russia—has grown by 14 countries since the end of the Cold War. NATO expanded right up to Russia’s border in 2004, in violation of the promises made by the elder George Bush and Bill Clinton to Russian leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin (Jacobin, 7/16/18).

“Russia has shown its intent to violate its international commitments by demanding NATO cease expanding,”  Rob Portman and Jeanne Shaheen argue in the Washington Post (12/24/21)—ignoring the US’s violated commitment to not expand NATO eastward.

In the Washington Post (12/24/21), Republican Sen. Rob Portman and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen jointly contended in Orwellian fashion that the Biden administration should take “military measures that would strengthen a diplomatic approach and give it greater credibility.” They wrote that “the United States must speed up the pace of assistance and provide antiaircraft, antitank and anti-ship systems, along with electronic warfare capabilities.” The authors claimed that these actions “will help ensure a free and stable Europe,” though it’s easy to imagine how such steps could instead lead to a war-ravaged Europe, or at least a tension-plagued one.

Indeed, US “military measures” have tended to increase, rather than decrease, the temperature. Last summer, the US and Ukraine led multinational naval maneuvers held in the Black Sea, an annual undertaking called Sea Breeze. The US-financed exercises were the largest in decades, involving 32 ships, 40 aircraft and helicopters, and 5,000 soldiers from 24 countries (Deutsche Welle, 6/29/21). These steps didn’t create a “stable Europe”: Russia conducted a series of parallel drills in the Black Sea and southwestern Russia (AP, 7/10/21), and would go on to amass troops along the Ukrainian border.

Afghan precedent

Max Boot (Washington Post, 12/15/21) suggests the US should point out to Russia “that Ukraine shares a lengthy border—nearly 900 miles in total—with NATO members Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland.” Pretty sure they’re aware of that, Max.

Max Boot, also writing in the Post (12/15/21), argued:

Preventing Russia from attacking will require a more credible military deterrent. President Biden has ruled out unilaterally sending US combat troops to Ukraine, which would be the strongest deterrent. But he can still do more to help the Ukrainians defend themselves.

The United States has already delivered more than $2.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since 2014, with $450 million of that coming this year. There are also roughly 150 US troops in Ukraine training its armed forces.

But Ukraine is asking for more military aid, and we should deliver it. NBC News reports that “Ukraine has asked for air defense systems, anti-ship missiles, more Javelin antitank missiles, electronic jamming gear, radar systems, ammunition, upgraded artillery munitions and medical supplies.” The Defense Department could begin airlifting these defensive systems and supplies to Kyiv tomorrow.

Later in the article, Boot contended that the US should help prepare Ukraine to carry out an armed insurgency in case Russia intensifies its involvement in Ukraine. He said that “outside support” is “usually the key determinant of the success or failure of an insurgency”: Because of aid from the US and its allies, he noted, the mujahedeen in Afghanistan “were able to drive out the Red Army with heavy casualties.” Amazingly, Boot said nothing about the many alumni of the mujahedeen in Afghanistan who joined the Taliban and al-Qaeda (Jacobin, 9/11/21).

That it might be possible to reach an agreement in which Ukraine remains neutral between NATO and Russia (Responsible Statecraft, 1/3/22) is not the sort of possibility that Boot thinks is worth exploring. He apparently would prefer to dramatically increase the danger of armed conflict between two nuclear powers.

Whitewashing Nazis

The Nation (5/6/21): “Glorification of Nazi collaborators and Holocaust perpetrators isn’t a glitch but a feature of today’s Ukraine.”

US media should present Americans with a complete picture of Ukraine/Russia so that Americans can assess how much and what kind of support, if any, they want their government to continue providing to Ukraine’s. Such a comprehensive view would undoubtedly include an account of the Ukrainian state’s political orientation. Lev Golinkin in The Nation (5/6/21) outlined one of the Ukrainian government’s noteworthy tendencies:

Shortly after the Maidan uprising of 2013 to 2014 brought in a new government, Ukraine began whitewashing Nazi collaborators on a statewide level. In 2015, Kyiv passed legislation declaring two WWII-era paramilitaries—the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)—heroes and freedom fighters, and threatening legal action against anyone denying their status. The OUN was allied with the Nazis and participated in the Holocaust; the UPA murdered thousands of Jews and 70,000–100,000 Poles on their own accord.

Every January 1, Kyiv hosts a torchlight march in which thousands honor Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, who headed an OUN faction; in 2017, chants of “Jews Out!” rang out during the march. Such processions (often redolent with antisemitism) are a staple in Ukraine….

Ukraine’s total number of monuments to Third Reich collaborators who served in auxiliary police battalions and other units responsible for the Holocaust number in the several hundred. The whitewashing also extends to official book bans and citywide veneration of collaborators.

The typical reaction to this in the West is that Ukraine can’t be celebrating Nazi collaborators because it elected [Volodymyr] Zelensky, a Jewish president. Zelensky, however, has alternated between appeasing and ignoring the whitewashing: In 2018, he stated, “To some Ukrainians, [Nazi collaborator] Bandera is a hero, and that’s cool!”

Furthermore, according to a George Washington University study, members of the far-right group Centuria are in the Ukrainian military, and Centuria’s social media accounts show these soldiers giving Nazi salutes, encouraging white nationalism and praising members of Nazi SS units (Ottawa Citizen, 10/19/21). Centuria leaders have ties to the Azov movement, which “has attacked anti-fascist demonstrations, city council meetings, media outlets, art exhibitions, foreign students, the LGBTQ2S+ community and Roma people”: the Azov movement’s militia has been incorporated in the Ukrainian National Guard (CTV News, 10/20/21). Azov, the UN has documented, has carried out torture and rape.

Absent information

The fact that that Ukraine’s government and armed forces include a Nazi-sympathizing current surely would have an impact on US public opinion—if the public knew about it. However, this information has been entirely absent in recent editions of the New York Times and Washington Post.

From December 6, 2021, to January 6,  2022, the Times published 228 articles that refer to Ukraine, nine of which contain some variation on the word “Nazi.” Zero percent of these note Ukrainian government apologia for Nazis or the presence of pro-Nazi elements in Ukraine’s armed forces. One report (12/21/21) said:

On Russian state television, the narrative of a Ukraine controlled by neo-Nazis and used as a staging ground for Western aggression has been a common trope since the pro-Western revolution in Kyiv in 2014.

Nothing in the article indicates that while “controlled” may be a stretch, the Ukrainian government officially honors Nazi collaborators. That doesn’t mean Russia has the right attack Ukraine, but US media should inform Americans about whom their tax dollars are arming.

In the same period, the Post ran 201 pieces that mention the word “Ukraine.” Of these, six mention the word “Nazi,” none of them to point out that the Ukrainian state has venerated Holocaust participants, or that there are Nazis in the Ukrainian military. Max Boot (1/5/22) and Robyn Dixon (12/11/21), in fact, dismissed this fact as mere Russian propaganda. In Boot’s earlier Ukraine piece (12/15/21), he acknowledged that the UPA collaborated with the Nazis and killed thousands of Polish people, but his article nevertheless suggested that the UPA offer a useful model for how Ukrainians could resist a Russian invasion, asserting that “all is not lost” in case of a Russian invasion, because “Ukrainian patriots could fight as guerrillas against Russian occupiers”:

They have done it before. The Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) was formed in 1942 to fight for that country’s independence. Initially, it cooperated with Nazi invaders but later fought against them. When the Red Army marched back into Ukraine in 1943, the UPA resisted. The guerrillas carried out thousands of attacks and inflicted thousands of casualties on Soviet forces while also massacring and ethnically cleansing the Polish population in western Ukraine. The UPA continued fighting until the 1950s, forcing Moscow to mobilize tens of thousands of troops and secret policemen to restore control.

“All is not lost,” for Boot, though the lives of thousands of Poles and Jews were, the latter of whom he didn’t bother to mention. Calling the perpetrators of such atrocities “Ukrainian patriots” is a grotesque euphemism that, first and foremost, spits on the victims, and also insults non-racist Ukrainians. After a two-paragraph interval, Boot wrote that

the Ukrainian government needs to start distributing weapons now and, with the help of US and other Western military advisers, training personnel to carry out guerrilla warfare. Volodymyr Zelensky’s government should even prepare supply depots, tunnels and bunkers in wooded areas, and in particular in the Carpathian Mountains, a UPA stronghold in the 1940s.

Evidently neither the UPA’s precedent of fascist massacres, nor the presence of similarly oriented groups in contemporary Ukraine’s armed forces and society, give Boot pause.  He’d rather the US continue flooding the country with weapons; the consequences aren’t a concern of Boot’s.

Readers seeking riotous calls to violence in Eastern Europe should turn to the Times and the Post, but those who are interested in a thoroughgoing portrait will be disappointed.


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Elite Media Remember Lani Guinier as ‘Embattled’—and Forget How They Battled Her

FAIR - January 14, 2022 - 5:40pm


The Boston Globe (1/8/22) framed its obituary for Lani Guinier around her teaching career and civil rights advocacy.

“Harvard Law Professor Guinier Dies at 71; Known for Civil Rights Work, Public Service,” was the headline on the Boston Globe‘s January 8 obituary for teacher, voting rights advocate and author Lani Guinier. The story cited Harvard Law School dean John Manning, saying that Guinier “changed our understanding of democracy—of why and how the voices of the historically underrepresented must be heard and what it takes to have a meaningful right to vote.” New York’s Daily News (1/7/22) had “Lani Guinier, Civil Rights Attorney, Voting Rights Advocate, Dies at 71.”

In big national media, it was different: The New York Times story (1/7/22) was headlined “Lani Guinier, Legal Scholar at the Center of Controversy, Dies at 71,” while the Washington Post (1/9/22) went with “Lani Guinier, Law Professor and Embattled Justice Department Nominee, Dies at 71.”

For some elite media, what’s most important—about an event, a country or a human being—is whatever media have chosen to center, generally just the relationship to the official power that for them is the source of all meaning.

In Guinier’s case, it’s the fact that she was nominated by Bill Clinton to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, but when conservative activists, upset about Supreme Court fights over Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, campaigned to attack her nomination by transparently distorting her opinions (Extra!, 7–8/93), Clinton dropped her like a hot rock. That is the “takeaway” from Guinier’s life and work.

The New York Times (1/7/22) stressed Guinier’s role as the “center of controversy.

That corporate media center their own perspective does not mean they acknowledge their own role. No; the Times can report that Republican assertions that Guinier championed affirmative action quotas were baseless, and that many of her criticisms around, e.g., redistricting have since become “mainstream.” But don’t expect them to remember that on the day her nomination was withdrawn, the paper ran an op-ed (6/3/93) premised on the false idea that she was in favor of “segregating Black voters in Black-majority districts.”

Or that when the paper finally devoted an article (6/4/93) to her actual views, rather than to the political firestorm that raged around them, after the nomination had already been killed, there still was not a single quote from any of her writings. “Almost everyone is relying on reconstructions by journalists and partisans, injecting further distortions into the process,” reporter David Margolick wrote—with that ”everyone,” as he acknowledged in an interview with FAIR, including himself.

The Washington Post (1/9/22) can talk about how “conservative activists” seized on articles whose actual content they neglected to cite, in order to discredit Guinier—without even pretending to explore how some of their own leading lights, like Lally Weymouth (5/25/93), had attacked Guinier’s support for affirmative action while advancing their own support for protection for racial minorities—when they’re white South Africans (Washington Post, 7/15/93).


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Reformist DAs Spark Murdoch Empire Freakout

FAIR - January 14, 2022 - 3:36pm


Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who took office January 1, wasted no time getting in the headlines, telling his prosecutors (New York Times, 1/6/22) that they should seek “jail or prison time only for the most serious offenses—including murder, sexual assault and economic crimes involving vast sums of money.” He also told them to “avoid seeking jail time for…certain robberies and assaults, as well as gun possession” if “no other crimes are involved.”

Criminal justice reform advocates see this move as a victory. Calling it a “balanced approach,” Allen Roskoff, president of a progressive New York City LGBTQ Democratic club, said in a statement that the “LGBTQ community, especially Black and brown queer people, have suffered much of the brunt of over-policing for minor crimes,” as well as “under-protection from serious offenses.”

Bragg and his directives are part of a national movement of progressive DAs—including San Francisco’s Chesa Boudin and Philadelphia’s Larry Kushner—who seek alternatives to incarceration, a less-radical sister movement to prison abolitionism, reducing the carceral state’s role in the criminal justice system through electoral reformism. That’s why Rupert Murdoch’s biggest outlets, whose bread and butter is scaremongering reports on crime, have spent the beginning of 2022 on a full-scale attack against Bragg’s directives.

‘Decade of the criminal’

Joseph Giacalone (New York Post, 1/9/22) on Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg: “What he has done is invite all sorts of criminals from the outer boroughs to join in on the mayhem.”

Murdoch’s New York Post (1/9/22) said the move, along with bail reform and limiting the prosecution of children as adults, welcomed in “the decade of the criminal.” The Post highlighted negative comments about Bragg from big business (1/10/22), the twice-ousted former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton (who blamed Bragg’s election on  Jewish billionaire George Soros—1/9/22), Republican gubernatorial wannabes (1/10/22) and the city’s sergeants union (1/8/22), which has a long history of corruption (ProPublica, 12/14/21) and racism (Daily News, 6/4/21). The paper (1/9/22) blasted Bragg for even responding to the criticism against him, stressing that the city’s four other DAs aren’t following Bragg’s path.

The Post’s most comical display of this theme was a major news story (1/12/22) about GOP gubernatorial candidate Andrew Giuliani and Guardian Angels founder (and recent Republican mayoral candidate) Curtis Sliwa’s petition to recall Bragg. The Post admits that “New York does not have a recall provision for voters to remove an elected official before their scheduled re-election,” and that the online petition had less than 2,000 signatures, giving the effort’s success a snowball’s chance in Hell. But the Post’s insistence on giving such a non-news story prime coverage is a testament to how big a priority Bragg is to the editors.

The Wall Street Journal (1/6/22), also Murdoch-owned, said Bragg was getting in the way of the tough-on-crime agenda of new NYC Mayor Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain, by “instructing prosecutors not to do their jobs.” Murdoch’s cable news outlet, Fox News, said he was “bringing disorder to the halls of justice” (1/5/22) and, like the Post, featured criticism from the police and business (1/6/22), and had former congressmember and federal prosecutor Trey Gowdy calling Bragg’s reform “dangerously stupid” (1/10/22).

Other targets of scorn

Michael Shellenberger (Wall Street Journal, 11/26/21 )claims that San Francisco has seen “an increase in crime so sharp that San Francisco’s liberal residents are now paying for private security guards.”

The firestorm from Murdoch-owned outlets might seem overblown for one memo from one of a city’s five chief prosecutors. But the Manhattan DA is seen as a national trendsetter, and his policy directive falls in line with both Boudin and Krasner, two DAs the Murdoch empire has also piled scorn upon.

The Journal (11/12/19) mocked “revolutionary San Francisco” for choosing Boudin, whom the editorial board saw as an advocate for urban decay. The paper (11/26/21) promoted the current recall campaign against him, a movement being bankrolled largely by a single Silicon Valley capitalist (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/25/21). The Journal (12/22/21) cited the December robbery of a man’s watch as summing up the holiday season in Krasner’s Philadelphia, and Fox News (12/7/21) sought out former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a conservative Democrat who accused the “Soros-funded DA” of “white wokeness” and “white privilege.”

The right and its chief corporate media partner, Murdoch, have reason to be worried about public opinion these days, because Bragg, Boudin and Krasner are not alone. While democratic socialist Tiffany Cabán did not win the Democratic primary for Queens DA, she did come close (New York Times, 7/29/19), and thus has continued to be a so-called pro-crime punching bag for the New York Post (9/1/21, 10/23/21) now that she is a member of the city council.

And polling shows that while the “defund the police” movement is still in the minority (USA Today, 3/7/21), ideas about gradual reforms of the prison and criminal justice system are gaining popularity (Pew, 10/21/16; Gallup, 11/16/20). Last year, the Austin, Texas DA made waves for his tough policies—not against petty criminals, but against cops, as his office has “obtained indictments of five Austin police officers, two county deputies, an assistant county attorney and a sheriff, on charges including tampering with evidence and murder” (Washington Post, 12/17/21).

Familiar themes

The Murdoch propaganda against reformist DAs these days usually draws on some familiar themes. One theme is the one-sided commentary from police brass, police unions and opposing political forces who are obligated to be critical of a serving Democrat, while the groups that brought these DAs to power and criminal justice reform advocates are absent. Another is the idea that Manhattan and San Francisco, some of the most expensive housing markets in the country and home to a vast concentration of wealth, have become dystopian crime dens.

But this doesn’t match the data. New York City’s own reporting shows that felony rates in every category have steadily decreased since 2000. In San Francisco, the felony rate for most categories has remained on a steady flat trajectory since 2010, the exception being larceny theft, which increased during the pandemic, but is still far below its 2017 peak.

Since Chesa Boudin became San Francisco’s DA in January 2020, violent crime in the city has actually dropped sharply.

Another troubling feature is the obsession with Soros; Nutter in the Fox piece and Bratton in the Post piece both invoke Soros as a funder, and thus responsible for DAs like Krasner and Bragg. Fox recently “deleted its social-media posts portraying [Soros] as a ‘puppet master’—a common antisemitic trope” (Daily Beast, 12/15/21). Even the pro-business Forbes (9/12/20) said, “There is a troubling and undeniable truth about the constant attacks on George Soros: antisemitism.” In short, Soros has become a modern day symbol of the Jewish cabal, like the Rothschild family once did.

New York Post (12/16/21): George Soros ” funnels cash through a complicated web.”

In context, these comments add to the shopworn narrative that a shadow Jewish banking cabal is conspiring to unravel white Christian society from the inside. During the Black Lives Matter uprising of the summer of 2020, some right-wing pro-police partisans went so far as saying Soros was monetarily fueling the unrest (Reuters, 9/29/20). Tying Soros to progressive prosecution is the logical next step in that narrative.

This isn’t a dog whistle, either; the Post (12/16/21) has been an air horn for the idea that this one Jewish industrialist is masterminding the revolution against American order through DA reform. This is a feature of the rest of the intellectual right, too. The Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal (8/11/21) said of San Francisco: “much of the blame for the burgeoning crime problems lies at Boudin’s doorstep and his Soros-backed marching orders.” The Washington Examiner (9/1/21) lays it on thick, saying “Soros-backed DAs” and their policies “are destroying cities.”

Given that this is a midterm election year, and beyond that Donald Trump is signaling his attempt to win back the White House in 2024 (New York Times, 1/4/22), you can expect this hysteria to continue.

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Pardiss Kebriaei on Guantánamo Prisoners

FAIR - January 14, 2022 - 10:55am


Prisoners of Guantánamo (photo: Shane T. McCoy/US Navy)

This week on CounterSpin: As we pass the grim milestone of 20 years of the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, even Michael Lehnert, the Marine general who set the camp up, calls for it to close, says it shouldn’t have opened, that it’s an affront to US values. And yet here we are.

The number of Muslim men and boys in Guantánamo has shrunk from some 800 to 39—that’s meaningful. But when you read an offhand reference to those men as “awaiting justice,” one wonders: What do reporters imagine “justice” might mean to people charged with no crime, deprived of liberty unlawfully for decades, in a place designed to keep them from accessing justice, and to keep anyone else from hearing about them, much less questioning the processes that put them there?

We are a long way from understanding the full meaning of Guantánamo. But we can get the remaining detainees out. Our guest says that’s something that can happen and should happen, now. Pardiss Kebriaei is senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She’ll join us to talk abut how closing Guantánamo is not everything we can do, but it is something we can do, and should.


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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at recent press coverage of Lani Guinier, Desmond Tutu, and Covid and disability.


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‘Workers Are the Best Guarantors of Their Own Safety When They’re Organized’

FAIR - January 13, 2022 - 5:39pm


The January 7, 2022, episode of CounterSpin included an archival interview with Barbara Briggs that originally aired June 5, 2015. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: If the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory had had its appropriate response, there never would have been a Rana Plaza. But it didn’t, and there was. More than 1,100 people, mainly women, lost their lives in a factory collapse in Bangladesh—which might sound like a long way away, but they were making clothes that you might have on your back right now. We talked about that with worker rights advocate Barbara Briggs in 2015.


NPR (4/30/17)

Officials in Bangladesh have filed murder charges against some of the people involved in the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory that killed more than 1,100 mostly women workers, and injured thousands of others under circumstances almost too cruel to fathom.

It doesn’t require speaking for the deceased to imagine that they would hope not only for justice for themselves, but for whatever actions are necessary to prevent such a disaster happening to others. Are we seeing some of those actions? Are real lessons being learned from what’s been called the garment industry’s deadliest disaster?

Joining us now to discuss these issues is Barbara Briggs, associate director of the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights—where, I will note, I am a board member. Welcome to CounterSpin, Barbara Briggs.

Barbara Briggs: Good afternoon.

JJ: We often hear the sweeping term “conditions,” the “conditions” in these factories. The charges here reflect different aspects of those conditions. There is the violation of safety rules; additional floors had been added to a building in a way that wasn’t structurally sound. But the Bangladeshi police report calls what happened on April 24 in 2013 a “mass killing,” and that’s because of actions that go beyond having workers in unsafe buildings. Can you remind us of what actually happened on that day?

BB: The history of what happened with Rana Plaza, and ending in the tragedy of April 24, really was a crime from beginning to end. As you said, there was too much sand in the concrete. There was poor quality steel used in the rebar. The building had been built up an extra three floors over its permitted five floors. And it was built as a commercial building, not an industrial building. And the weight of the heavy machinery and generators of the apparel factories on the upper floors was a much heavier load than the building was even designed for.

On April 22, big, visible cracks appeared in the building, and the building was evacuated. An inspector was called in, and declared the building dangerous. The bank and the commercial businesses on the first floor of Rana Plaza remained closed. But on April 24, the workers gathered, and they came to the factory, not to go in, but to find out when the repairs would be done, when they could expect to go back to work, and also when they would be paid for the almost month that they had worked.

The response of the owners of the five factories in the Rana Plaza building was that they ordered the workers to go back to work immediately, and said that if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be paid for the month. They had shipment deadlines; they had to get the product out.

For these workers, if you’re not paid for a month’s work, you’re not able to feed your families. Garment workers in Bangladesh at that point were making as little as 18 cents an hour, $38.65 a month; they really, literally, lived from hand to mouth. And they still do.

For the workers who still refused to go back into the factory, the owner of the building, Sohel Rana, who’s also a local strongman, called in thugs with sticks, and threatened that they would break the bones of anybody who didn’t go into the building immediately. So at 8:00 a.m., all the workers went into work. At 8:45 a.m., the electricity went out, which is not unusual in Bangladesh. And simultaneously, the five factories’ five big generators kicked on. Within minutes, the building began to rock and sway, and it went down with virtually all of the workers inside.

Barbara Briggs: “Not all is hopeless, and with international pressure, it’s possible to push change. “

The lesson that I take from this, for us an absolute certainty, is that if the workers in the Rana Plaza building had had a union to represent them, this tragedy would have played out very differently. The workers knew the building was dangerous. There were huge cracks; you could see from the outside to the inside. But alone and without the ability to come together, speak as a group and be represented, they became victims.

What happened in subsequent months, first of all, there were dozens of US and Canadian and European companies producing in those factories. Joe Fresh, Walmart, Gap and virtually every major US apparel company, and European apparel company, does produce somewhere in Bangladesh, because labor is so cheap.

I think what’s happened, what happened on that day, is that the international brands have realized that tragedies like Rana Plaza, which killed over 1,100 workers; fires like the Tazreen factory, which killed 112 behind locked factory gates just a few months before; these kind of accidents are just too great a reputational risk. And the companies do not want their products associated with workers who were burned and who were crushed to death.

And so there really have been ongoing, systematic efforts, and a fair amount of money, on an international coordination to see that these factories are inspected, and to assure that they’re at least basically safe. They’re demanding, and in some cases financing, the installation of fire exits, sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers and emergency trainings. But I’ve got to say that other kinds of abuses continue.

JJ: It sounds as though some, at least, of the transnationals involved have made some pledges, and have followed through on those, in terms of some infrastructural improvements. But what needs to happen that hasn’t happened?

BB: The direct contract factories really are beginning to get some of the safety requirements that they’re having. I mean, there’s training, they try not to lock the gates anymore, there are basic sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers and that sort of thing, fire escapes.

What we’re seeing, though, is that there still are considerable abuses. And we’ve always known that inside even the best facilities, worker treatment is not always good. And the law is not always respected.

So in factory after factory after factory, some of them producing for brands with really good and progressive reputations, we see extraordinary amounts of forced overtime. We see women, when they get pregnant, pressured and harassed into quitting, so that they don’t have to pay their maternity leave. We see workers screamed at and verbally abused.

And really, pretty much across the board, we see that the workers still do not have their right to organize, to form an independent union, and to bargain collectively. And we know that workers are the best monitors of conditions, and the best guarantors of their own safety, when they’re organized and have an independent voice. So this is a really big flaw, including for the ongoing safety of these plants.

JJ: In the changes that have come about, what have been some of the driving factors? It hasn’t all been noblesse oblige on the part of the companies. There also is organizing going on on the ground to try to build up the workers’ voice, is there not?

BB: Yes, although the unions are in a real one-down position. First of all, there are too many of them, and they’re not unified. However, there are very committed organizations that are trying to help the workers. It’s not shop floor organizing. It’s labor unions and federations on the street helping the workers learn their rights, helping them begin to advocate for themselves, and helping them out, going to the labor ministry, making complaints and that kind of thing.

Not all is hopeless, and with international pressure, it’s possible to push change. And the Institute, and our partners in Bangladesh, have actually experienced a string of victories in the last year or so, starting with exposing abusive conditions at the Ha-Meem Group, a factory called Next Collections producing, actually, it was for The Gap, a couple years ago. We’ve moved on to several factory groups where we’ve been able to clean up conditions.

Our estimate is that at this point, over 70,000 workers are in a better state now, meaning that instead of working until 10:00 or 11:00 or til midnight, or sometimes until 5:00 in the morning, and working seven days a week, their hours have been cut back, and the overtime that they work is voluntary. It’s paid correctly. There’s been an end to the double sets of books, where the workers get pay stubs that are meant for the monitors to see, but have no reflection in reality. Instead, what’s on their pay stub are the hours that they actually work, and they’re being paid correctly for the hours that they work.

Women who are pregnant are treated with respect and are given their legal, paid maternity leave, which in Bangladesh is they’re supposed to be paid eight weeks before the expected birth and then eight weeks after. It’s a matter of life and death for the woman and her infant and family, because when you’re paid, at this point, the lowest wage is 33 cents an hour, and the highest is for a garment sewing operator is about 44 cents an hour. But when you’re paid that little, you can’t save money to take that kind of time off. These are big differences in the lives of workers, and it really is international visibility and pressure that can drive these changes.

JJ: So when we talk about how media can be useful, it’s increasing visibility, not just to the problems, but also to those places and those situations where responsive policies have actually been put in place and are working.

BB: Yes, absolutely.

JJ: All right then. We’ve been speaking with Barbara Briggs of the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights. You can find their work on the web at GlobalLabourRights.org. Thank you very much, Barbara Briggs, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

BB: Thanks, Janine.

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Obits for a South Korean Dictator Gloss Over US’s Anti-Democratic Role

FAIR - January 11, 2022 - 4:34pm


When former South Korean dictator Chun Doo-hwan passed away on November 23, Western media were forthcoming about his brutality, including his direction of the 1980 Gwangju Massacre, in which at least several hundred opponents of his regime were slaughtered. But the US role in supporting successive dictatorships in South Korea and its involvement in the 1980 massacre to preserve South Korea’s status as an American vassal state were either erased entirely, or whitewashed to distance Washington’s efforts to suppress democratic uprisings in Korea.

Praising a ‘pre-democratic era’

The Economist (11/24/21) said that Chun’s death “revived a debate about the legacy of military rule”—maybe “rapid economic growth” makes dictatorship worthwhile?

The Economist’s brief obituary (11/24/21) acknowledged that Chun’s dictatorship was “better remembered” for the “violent suppression of political dissent” than for the “rapid economic growth” he presided over, and even reported Chun’s unrepentant denialism of his role in Gwangju. Yet the Economist joined right-wing South Korean media outlets in expressing subtle praise for “the achievements of the pre-democratic era,” and made it seem as if there is a legitimate debate to be had about Chun’s legacy:

Left-wing outlets denied Mr. Chun his presidential title in their obituaries, but right-wing media made allowance for his successful economic policy and his eventual voluntary retreat from power. Mr. Chun may be dead, but the debate over the generals’ legacy will live on for a while yet.

Even though the Wall Street Journal (11/23/21) described how Chun “dispatched the military around the country and banned all political activities,” in addition to closing schools and forcing media outlets to “shut down or merge into government-controlled TV stations,” it engaged in similar praise for Chun’s rule:

Despite the political repression, Mr. Chun’s rule from the presidential Blue House was marked by economic prosperity. He successfully hosted the 1986 Asian Games and won the rights to host the 1988 Seoul Olympics, which is widely considered to be one of the most important international events in South Korean history, because it boosted the economy and the country’s morale.

Wall Street Journal (11/23/21): “Despite the political repression, Mr. Chun’s rule from the presidential Blue House was marked by economic prosperity.”

Like the Economist and the Journal, Reuters’ obituary (11/23/21) managed to discuss Chun Doo-Hwan’s dictatorship without once mentioning Washington’s support for Chun or its role in the Gwangju Massacre, reporting on events in South Korea as if it were a country independent of the US.

For instance, when writing on Chun’s military career before seizing power in a coup, Reuters merely wrote: “He joined the military straight out of high school, working his way up the ranks until he was appointed a commander in 1979.” This glosses over Chun’s involvement in what Vietnamese people call the Resistance War Against America, commonly known as the Vietnam War in the US. South Korea’s collaboration in the US invasion of Vietnam has largely been forgotten in the US, although South Korea sent more troops there than any other country besides the US.

South Korean troops, notorious for their brutality, committed numerous massacres and mass rape of Vietnamese women. Journalist K.J. Noh (CounterPunch, 12/3/21) pointed out that Chun and his handpicked successor, Roh Tae-woo, both fought in Vietnam, and were members of Hanahoe, an elite praetorian guard for their predecessor, Park Chung-hee, a US-backed dictator who collaborated with Korea’s Japanese colonizers (Hankyoreh, 11/23/21; Jacobin, 5/16/21). And the US Defense Intelligence Agency suggested a few weeks after the Gwangju Massacre that the savagery of the special forces involved could partially be attributed to their “Vietnam experience,” citing an anonymous American eyewitness who likened Gwangju to the My Lai Massacre (Jacobin, 6/25/20).

Whitewashing Washington’s role

The New York Times (11/22/21) quoted a former US diplomat as saying Chun “manipulated not only the Korean public, but also the United States.”

While other obituaries in Western media outlets were more transparent about Chun’s history, they also whitewashed the US role in backing Chun during the Gwangju Massacre and throughout his dictatorship.

The New York Times (11/22/21) noted that Chun took part in Park’s 1961 coup after Koreans in the south had overthrown the widely despised US-backed dictator Syngman Rhee in a democratic uprising in 1960:

As an army captain, he took part in Maj. Gen. Park Chung-hee’s coup in 1961, a move that secured his place in Mr. Park’s military elite. When Mr. Park’s 18-year dictatorship abruptly ended with his assassination in 1979, Mr. Chun, by then a major general himself, staged his own coup to usurp control.

The Times also reported on some of Chun’s atrocities while he was in charge:

Dissidents, student activists and journalists were hauled into torture chambers. Under Mr. Chun’s “social purification” program, the government rounded up tens of thousands of gangsters, homeless people, political dissidents and others deemed to be unhealthy elements of the society, and trucked them to military barracks for brutal re-education. Hundreds were reported to have died under the program.

The Gwangju Massacre occurred after Koreans in the southwestern city of Gwangju erupted in protest of Chun’s military dictatorship and his declaration of South Korean martial law. Chun sent in special forces troops on the night of May 17, 1980, that would later go on to kill hundreds of people over the course of several days to quash a citizen’s army that had seized weapons from local armories to throw out his martial law forces (The Nation, 6/5/15).

Tim Shorrock (The Nation, 6/5/15): “The Carter administration had essentially given the green light to South Korea’s generals to use military force against the huge student and worker demonstrations that rocked the country in the spring of 1980.”

Journalist and Korea expert Tim Shorrock noted that during the brief days where Koreans in Gwangju had resisted Chun’s dictatorship, they had formed a self-governing community that many Koreans liken to the Paris Commune of 1871. The date of the massacre is commemorated every year in South Korea to honor those who took up arms to defend democracy from US-backed dictators.

Even though the US retained operational control (OPCON) of the South Korean military, the Times uncritically cited Washington’s claims about its helplessness to prevent Chun from carrying out the massacre, without mentioning internal documents which contradict that narrative. None of the troops deployed there were under the control of US authorities at the time, the Times reported, implying that the US was “manipulated” by Chun:

To young Koreans, Washington’s perceived failure to stop the Gwangju Massacre, even though their country had placed its military under the operational control of American generals, was evidence of betrayal. Later, President Ronald Reagan’s “quiet diplomacy” toward Mr. Chun’s human rights abuses hardened their belief that Washington had ignored Koreans’ suffering under Mr. Chun….

Washington said that it had been caught off-guard by Mr. Chun’s coup, and that none of the forces deployed at Gwangju were under the control of any American authorities at the time. It criticized Mr. Chun’s martial law and called for restraint in Gwangju, but the government-controlled South Korean news media reported that the United States had approved Mr. Chun’s dispatch of troops there.

Noh argues that it’s absurd to portray South Korea as a fully sovereign nation when the US retained operational control of the South Korean military during the Gwangju Massacre, and officially retains operational control of the South Korean military during wartime, when Korean soldiers are placed under the command of a US general. Former US Ambassador Donald Gregg also openly acknowledged before Congress in 1989 that the US’s relationship with South Korea has historically been a patron/client relationship (though he claimed it had “evolved” into a “relationship between…equal partners”). Thus Noh argues that South Korean soldiers don’t get to commit massacres on their own without explicit or tacit US approval.

One recent blatant example of South Korea’s lack of full sovereignty due to OPCON was when South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense secretly had four additional launchers for the US’s Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD) delivered, without informing South Korea’s own supposed commander-in-chief Moon Jae-in (Korea Times, 5/31/17). The South Korean military cited a confidentiality agreement with the US military for not informing Moon.

Ambassadorial apologetics

The Washington Post (11/23/21) wrote that “US Ambassador William H. Gleysteen Jr. came to distrust Mr. Chun”—while the fact that US President Ronald Reagan invited Chun to a White House summit two weeks after his own inauguration was not worth mentioning.

The Washington Post (11/23/21) engaged in similar apologetics for the US when it implied Chun was operating outside US control and approval during the Gwangju Massacre, as it described Chun’s 1979 coup:

On the night of December 12—a night that quickly became known as 12/12—Mr. Chun launched the first stage in a two-part coup. The first involved capturing control of the military. Mr. Chun had his superior, a four-star general, arrested on charges of being involved in Park’s assassination. Generals loyal to Mr. Chun arrested key military figures and took over military headquarters, key roads and bridges, and media outlets.

Mr. Chun and his allies refused direct contact with the Americans until they had established effective control, former Washington Post correspondent Don Oberdorfer wrote in his book The Two Koreas. US Ambassador William H. Gleysteen Jr. came to distrust Mr. Chun, Oberdorfer wrote, and eventually consider him “almost the definition of unreliability…unscrupulous…ruthless…a liar.”

The Post’s citation of Gleysteen’s characterization of Chun, and self-serving depictions of himself as an unwitting official who was merely deceived by Chun and not complicit in some of Chun’s crimes, is especially ridiculous. Although the US didn’t facilitate Chun’s coup, they certainly accepted the outcome afterwards, as Gleysteen met with Chun two days after his coup on December 12 at his embassy residence. Gleysteen was also the one who made assurances to Chun that the US wouldn’t oppose contingency plans to use military force on May 8, days before the massacre began on May 18, 1980. Gleysteen also cabled the State Department to retract his earlier “careless” depiction of Chun’s takeover as a “coup in all but name,” and advised State Department officials to publicly refrain from using that term, as Kap Seol noted for Jacobin (6/25/20):

“Whatever the precise pattern of events, they did not amount to a classical coup because the existing government structure was technically left in place.” Gleysteen believed that the United States had to approve the general’s contingency plan to use military force in order to prevent South Korea from slipping into “total chaos.”

Approving Gwangju force

Responsible Statecraft (12/14/21): “The US government knowingly supported Chun’s military crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising.”

Shorrock and Korean journalist In Jeong Kim (Responsible Statecraft, 12/14/21) were the first to document the Carter administration’s approval of Chun’s plans to crush pro-democracy demonstrations in several Korean cities in the spring of 1980 with military force, before the subsequent Gwangju uprising. This contradicts a later 1989 white paper by the Bush administration claiming that the Carter administration was alarmed by Chun’s threats to use military force against nationwide demonstrations in 1980, and did not know in advance that special forces were sent to Gwangju. Shorrock and Kim also reported how the US was aware of key details about the Gwangju Massacre by May 21, yet approved further use of military force to retake Gwangju on May 22, as all of this is documented in the declassified “Cherokee Files.”

Before Chun sent his army’s 20th Division to destroy the Gwangju uprising, he had to first notify US Gen. John Wickham that he was removing them from Wickham’s control, and Wickham’s acknowledgment that he was notified is taken by many South Koreans to have constituted approval of Chun’s use of military force (LA Times, 8/29/96). In November 1987, in a recently uncovered top-secret report, the CIA confirmed that Washington knowingly supported Chun’s crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising, as the agency reported:

Most citizens remain bitter towards the government and the military, as well as the United States, because Chun used troops from the 20th Division, which is under the Combined Forces Command.

US opposition to democracy in South Korea can’t be limited to Washington’s support for brutal crackdowns and military dictators against pro-democracy forces. The South China Morning Post (7/20/19), reporting on CIA documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, noted that the establishment political faction supporting Chun’s handpicked successor, Roh Tae-woo, planned to use “dirty tricks” to ensure that he would win the 1987 election that Chun agreed to after fierce protests against his dictatorship. Although it is unclear to what extent Roh’s ruling political faction followed through on its plans to cheat in the election, Shorrock argued that the documents suggest the US intelligence establishment saw Roh as their preferred candidate at the time, since they indicate no intention to use the information to protect the elections against anti-democratic tactics.

The US’s installation of former collaborators with Japanese colonizers as the initial leadership of South Korea, its continued support for South Korean dictators like Chun Doo-hwan, its tolerance (at least) of brutal crackdowns like the Gwangju Massacre, its favoritism toward far-right electoral candidates: all contradict the US’s white savior propaganda of invading and occupying Korea under the pretext of defending democracy.

US complicity in the Gwangju Massacre is a major factor behind South Korea’s anti-imperialist sentiment against the US (crudely caricatured as “anti-American” sentiment in US media). Yet the Western media’s whitewashing of the legacy of people like Chun Doo-hwan betray that, to whatever extent South Korea can be considered a sovereign democracy, it is despite US meddling in the peninsula, not because of it.


The post Obits for a South Korean Dictator Gloss Over US’s Anti-Democratic Role appeared first on FAIR.

‘The Commercial System Isn’t Providing the Local News We Need’

FAIR - January 11, 2022 - 9:53am


Janine Jackson interviewed Craig Aaron about the future of local journalism for the January 7, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Washington Post (12/9/21)

Janine Jackson: The board of Lee Enterprises, which owns some 90 newspapers in the US, including the Buffalo News and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, rejected what the Washington Post called an “unsolicited offer to purchase the company” from hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

Many listeners will know Alden as the rapacious group that buys up newspapers and then lays off journalists in droves. The Lee board statement says the Alden buy “is not in the best interests of the company and its shareholders.” They might have noted that it’s also—some would say primarily—not in the interest of communities who rely on newspapers to tell them what’s going on and why it matters.

More than one in five local papers in the US have closed in just the last 15 years or so. And, yes, people are moving away from print as a form. But who is filling the void of regular, relevant, local reporting, informing people at the level at which most people engage?

Activists are tired of lamenting rampant consolidation, and the exclusion of new and diverse voices in news media. They’re working around the country on projects that both demand accountability from existing institutions and envision new systems, new processes, new ways of doing journalism that more accurately reflect and support communities.

We’re joined now by Craig Aaron, co-CEO with Jessica Gonzalez of the group Free Press. He joins us now by phone from Maryland. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Craig Aaron.

Craig Aaron: Thanks for having me back.

JJ: I get what Lee’s board is saying. They think their assets were being undervalued. But Alden’s problem is not that they don’t look out for shareholders. Although you might not read about it in the local paper, we have seen the impact of their and other groups buying up and stripping down papers around the country, haven’t we?

CA: We certainly have. The fact that these hedge fund vultures like Alden, when they go into a community—even a growing and vibrant community, which is what many of these papers are, places that are growing in population, with new businesses and lots of things happening—when someone like Alden comes to town, they are there really just to squeeze and cut back on the newsroom, and try to essentially bleed these properties dry of their assets. They’re there to sell off the buildings and sell off the equipment and put out, very often, the bare minimum kind of daily news product to just continue until they can take as much money out of it as possible.

Now, this is a strange situation, because it’s not like Lee is this amazing public steward that we can say, like, what an incredible company.

JJ: Right.

CA: And I want to be clear, there are good journalists in all these newsrooms trying to survive, trying to cover stories, trying to do a good job. But we’re sort of left here rooting for the really big and somewhat mediocre newspaper chain to fight off the hedge fund vultures, and hope that somehow that’s going to produce better local news.

And it kind of leaves me asking, like, there really must just be a better way and a better system, where our choices aren’t just: one big chain with somewhat of a commitment to local journalism versus terrible, greedy hedge funds that we know are going to come in and destroy what’s left of local journalism. Those really shouldn’t be our only choices.

JJ: Absolutely. Well, we’re coming into a new year. We’re trying to look forward, while being informed by our understanding of what is and what has been. And so I wanted to ask you to talk about some of the projects Free Press has been working on and collaborating on that are about the future, that are about making change in this so-important sphere of local media, including newspapers. What are folks doing around the country, and why is it hopeful?

CA: I think there is reason, despite everything I just said, to be hopeful. And that starts with those hardworking journalists in newsrooms, fighting against these corporate owners, getting organized, asking their institutions to reckon with their histories. That’s happening in newsrooms all over the country, and we are seeing an uptick in organized journalism, people forming unions in their newsroom. They’re working with community to hold leadership accountable; I think we’ve seen that in a lot of communities, from Los Angeles to Philadelphia and on and on. That’s a good sign, working within the existing system.

Outlier Media (8/11/21)

But probably why I’m more optimistic is I see, sprouting up all over the country, innovative journalism happening in small corners, in neighborhoods, in people starting new projects actually built with serving community in mind, in most cases noncommercial or nonprofit institutions, really devoted to rethinking how we do local news. I think of City Bureau in Chicago, or Outlier Media in Detroit. Something’s happening inside public media.

People who are really saying: Part of the problem with the system we have right now is, if it’s starting from a place of recognizing that for all the good journalism is capable of doing, the “good old days” for journalism just weren’t that good for so many people. And that we’re going to need to build new institutions, doing journalism in different ways, thinking about community service, thinking about the information that communities actually need, and thinking about a model that starts with community service, and not just profit.

So I see examples all over the country of new and interesting people starting up. The challenge is, can they actually sustain that work? And these are where I think the worlds kind of come together, where we have to begin to ask ourselves, what are the structures and policies we need to actually provide quality local news? And do we build it on the system we’ve always had? How do we support these new and innovative projects? And, of course, the age-old question: Where is the money going to come from?

And these are the big questions we have, because the commercial system that we’ve had for so long isn’t providing the local news we need. We’re not seeing newsrooms get stronger. We’re not seeing them able to do more. And we need to start thinking about what the future of journalism’s going to look like.

Craig Aaron: “You need to be asking…not just what’s going to be most profitable, but what do we actually need for communities to thrive?”

I increasingly believe the only choice we’re going to have is to really invest in a noncommercial system, a diverse local system. And that’s going to take new structures and policies to get us there.

We’re closer to the beginning of that fight than I would like to be. But I think we have seen, whether it’s in Washington, DC, whether it’s in the states, a new kind of conversation happening about what the public responsibility really is, and that we need new investments in order to provide that kind of local news.

So, for example, a couple of years ago we worked to pass a bill in the state of New Jersey to create a civic information consortium, using public money to support innovative local journalism projects. This year, the first checks from that new fund were handed out. It was a million dollars, so not enough to solve the problem of local journalism. But a great experiment showing that public dollars can go to support innovative products actually designed to serve local needs, to serve diverse communities, and reach communities that have never been served by the traditional media.

That’s just one promising example. But it’s the kind of example that I think suggests we can do things differently, and we can expand the narrow definition of what’s possible that’s dominated these questions over: How are we going to provide local journalism? What’s the business model? You need to be asking different questions, not just what’s going to be most profitable, but what do we actually need for communities to thrive? And I see new energy and ideas in that space, which makes me optimistic at a time of a lot of pessimism when it comes to the state of journalism.

Nieman Lab (12/21)

JJ: Let me just ask you, finally, in a piece I read on Nieman Lab, Free Press’s senior director of journalism policy, Mike Rispoli, wrote that over the past few years, “more lawmakers have begun to get serious about the collapse of the local news market and the threats it poses to civic participation and community health.”

So is something happening at a legislative level? Because we also know that the Aldens and the big media corporations have a lot of sway in policy-making. So I see statements of concern from legislators, but what’s happening at that level?

CA: I can certainly say, as someone who spends a lot of time on Capitol Hill talking about the future of journalism, that I have had more conversations, and more encouraging conversations, with legislators in the last two years, and in response to the pandemic and the related economic crisis, than at any time in the last 20 years. So I think that is a positive sign that legislators are beginning to take this seriously.

We have seen legislation start to move—for example, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, which is a bill that would create tax credits for hiring newsroom workers. In and of itself, that’s a good thing. We want to see more reporters on the beat and in newsrooms. The challenge with a bill like this is that while it would help a lot of newsrooms that really need it, it would also hand a lot of money over to these same hedge funds who have been destroying local newsrooms. It would hand a lot of money over to local broadcasters who themselves are getting rich off the broken campaign finance system.

So the reality, the political reality, is that to get a good thing, some tax credits for journalism jobs, you have to let in the big guys, to have the political clout to pass something. And that’s kind of the dilemma facing those of us trying to make good journalism policy in Washington. Local Journalism Sustainability Act might happen. It’s in the Build Back Better bill. If that happens, you could see support for journalists.

But even that support would really be a bridge. It would give us another couple years to figure out what is the long-term change we need. And we think that’s where we need to push this conversation. And we need to figure out, in that time, who’s going to fight for the kind of local journalism we actually need. It’s going to have to be a broader coalition. It’s going to have to represent the diverse communities that populate this country. If we make policy and the only folks that are in the room, or most of them, represent the hedge funds and represent the broadcasters, we’re going to get policies that are deeply flawed, and designed to hold up the existing system that’s not serving us.

But if we begin to build a broader coalition, we’re starting that organizing work through the organizing of a media power collective, bringing together these innovators and folks with big ideas over the future of journalism to try to say, we can have something different. We can figure out how to support it. We can figure out what the noncommercial future of journalism is going to be, and then actually go to legislators with new plans, bigger ideas, and the kind of political constituency that can actually make them happen, so that we aren’t having this same conversation in five, 10, 15 or 20 years. And we can start wrestling both with the history of our media system and how it brought us to this point in history, and what real alternatives could look like that actually serve local communities in the ways they need.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Craig Aaron, co-CEO of Free Press. Find their work, including about the Media Power Collaborative, online at FreePress.net. Thank you so much, Craig Aaron, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

CA: Thanks for having me.


The post ‘The Commercial System Isn’t Providing the Local News We Need’ appeared first on FAIR.

Craig Aaron on Local Journalism, Barbara Briggs on Workplace Disasters

FAIR - January 7, 2022 - 11:14am

(Image: Free Press)

This week on CounterSpin: At FAIR, we say you can change the channel all you want, but you can’t turn on what isn’t there. The loss of an information source—a particular place for debate, for conversation, on issues relevant to you—is incalculable, but very real. We talked about the loss of local journalism, and why we can still be hopeful, with Craig Aaron of the group Free Press.

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Rana Plaza collapse

Also on the show: Fashion is always a huge media story, but what goes into it is not. The “fashion” industry is a prime driver of structured exploitation, whether we’re talking about blocked fire exits or a piece-rate system that steals workers’ wages systematically. The Garment Worker Protection Act, passed in California late last year, aims to address some of those harms. In light of that undercovered victory, we’re going to remind ourselves of one of the spurs for it. Barbara Briggs, then associate director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights, spoke with CounterSpin in 2015 about the 2013 collapse at Rana Plaza, which brought murder charges against Bangladeshi factory owners and government officials—but, we can say now, somehow didn’t convince corporate media to keep a critical eye trained on the human costs of “fast fashion.”

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The post Craig Aaron on Local Journalism, Barbara Briggs on Workplace Disasters appeared first on FAIR.

Tutu Obits Underplay His Advocacy for Palestine

FAIR - January 6, 2022 - 4:16pm


AP (12/26/21) noted that Desmond Tutu “campaigned internationally for human rights”—but didn’t mention Israel/Palestine.

Obituaries in the corporate and establishment press for South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu rightly celebrated him not only as one of the key leaders of the struggle against apartheid in his own country, but as a global advocate against oppression, including being a fierce Christian voice against homophobia.

These obituaries often underplayed or ignored, however, that Tutu, as a South African crusader against apartheid, helped to normalize the idea that Palestinians suffered under a similar apartheid system. Likewise marginalized was the enormous amount of hate he received for his advocacy for Palestinians and his criticism of the Israeli government.

The New York Times (12/26/21) obituary reduced his Palestine advocacy to one incident in 2010  when “he unsuccessfully urged a touring Cape Town opera company” to not perform in the country, quoting his urging the company to postpone its production of Porgy and Bess “until both Israeli and Palestinian opera lovers of the region have equal opportunity and unfettered access to attend performances.”

The AP obituary (12/26/21) ignored this issue entirely, as did obituaries in USA Today (12/26/21), the BBC (12/26/21) and NPR (12/26/21). The Washington Post (12/26/21) did the issue some justice, saying that Tutu “repeatedly compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to South Africa during the apartheid regime.” While CNN‘s initial obituary (12/26/21) devoted only part of a sentence to his call for a boycott of Israel in 2014, a follow-up piece explored his broad range of activism: “As South Africa Mourns Desmond Tutu, So Do LGBTQ Groups, Palestinians and Climate Activists” (11/27/21).

Guardian petition

Critics complained that the Guardian‘s obituary (12/26/21) contained all of four words on Desmond Tutu’s criticism of Israel. The paper later printed an op-ed (12/30/21) on his advocacy for Palestinians.

As of this writing, more than 3,000 people had signed a petition demanding a correction to the Guardian’s obituary (12/26/21). Petitioners complained that while the obit

documents the archbishop’s tireless struggle against oppression and racism of all kinds…Tutu’s repeated criticism of Israeli apartheid policies, and his commitment to the cause of the Palestinian people, are all simply omitted.

The article’s lone mention of Israel cited Tutu’s blasting “the US for supporting the Contras in Nicaragua and Israel for bombing Beirut.” The petition said that the article “exemplifies the Guardian’s consistent pro-Israel bias,” a trend FAIR has previously documented (2/22/21). According to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (12/30/21), activists were concerned with the Guardian’s “deletion of a large number of comments in response to the obituary which all highlighted Tutu’s condemnation of Israeli apartheid.” The comments were restored upon pressure, the group said, but the original deletion, the group said, still inspired unease.

The Guardian (12/30/21) did eventually publish a piece on Tutu’s Palestine activism, in an apparent response to the media activism.

As the Middle East Eye (12/26/21) reported, Tutu likened Palestinians’ political conditions to those of Black South Africans under apartheid. He supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign as a form of peaceful pressure, and often spoke of Israel’s policies as being contrary to the teachings of Jewish and Christian values.

Upon his death, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz (12/26/21) quoted Tutu’s defense of boycotting Israel, saying those who continue to do business with Israel “are contributing to the perpetuation of a profoundly unjust status quo.” “Those who contribute to Israel’s temporary isolation,” meanwhile, “are saying that Israelis and Palestinians are equally entitled to dignity and peace.”

Reactionary pushback

Alan Dershowitz on Fox News (12/27/21): “Let’s make sure that history remembers both the goods he did and the awful, awful bads that he did as well.”

Skating over Tutu’s outspokenness about Palestinian rights in his official obituaries does a disservice to Tutu’s life, as his intense advocacy for Palestinians was a major part of his devotion to social justice, and like all campaigns for social justice, it inspired reactionary pushback from defenders of the status quo.

The pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League (5/3/12) said that he “veered into classical religion-based antisemitism” with his condemnation of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. AP (10/4/07) reported that Tutu had even been disinvited from speaking at a university because the administration “worried his views on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict would offend the Jewish community.”

The London Times (1/13/11) reported that a petition “signed by three well-known members of Cape Town’s Jewish community” accused Tutu of being a “bigot, dishonest, and a defamer of Israel and the Jewish community.” “Over the years,” they said, “Archbishop Tutu has been guilty of numerous antisemitic and anti-Israel statements.”

Alan Dershowitz—lawyer for Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein—even took to Fox News (12/27/21; Crooks & Liars, 12/28/21) to dance on Tutu’s grave: “Can I remind the world that…the man was a rampant antisemite and bigot?”

This backlash is rooted in the idea that advocacy for the Palestinians must be antisemitic because Israel is an officially Jewish state—an idea that borrows from the now-ridiculous notion that fighting apartheid in South Africa was somehow anti-white. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency‘s obituary (12/26/21) highlighted this absurdity, saying Tutu “identified closely with the historical suffering of the Jewish people in his forceful advocacy against apartheid in South Africa.”

A lasting legacy

Underplaying this aspect of Tutu’s life also understates his impact, because it was Tutu, as a hero of South African liberation struggle, who gave major legitimacy to both the movement to boycott Israel and to critics who labeled Israel’s occupation as apartheid. Tutu’s early recognition that Israel’s anti-Palestinian policies mirrored what he had campaigned against in South Africa laid the groundwork for human rights groups like Human Rights Watch (New York Times, 4/27/21) and B’Tselem (NBC, 1/12/21) to recognize Israel’s occupation as a form of apartheid.

The omission or underplaying of this facet of Tutu’s life is a reminder of how scared many corporate media institutions are of touching what is often called the third rail of politics. That the AP‘s obituary, for example, can highlight Tutu’s heroic commitment against homophobia but not his views on the Israel/Palestine conflict, or the backlash he faced as a result, underscores the limits of intersectional social justice in the establishment press.


The post Tutu Obits Underplay His Advocacy for Palestine appeared first on FAIR.

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