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Updated: 5 hours 34 min ago

‘Women Take Home Less Money Than They’ve Rightfully Earned’ - CounterSpin interview with Deborah Vagins on the gender pay gap

8 hours 39 min ago

Janine Jackson interviewed Deborah Vagins about the gender pay gap for the April 12, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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MP3 Link

The Root (4/2/19)

Janine Jackson: Designating April 2 the day when US women’s salary “catches up” to men’s of the previous year, is a device, of course, a way to illustrate the gap that persists between what women and men are paid. Equal Pay Day is not, as The Root’s Maiysha Kai put it, a day to celebrate, but to educate, coordinate and advocate. Media can help or hinder that effort, and they do some of both.

We’re joined now by Deborah Vagins, senior vice president for public policy and research at the American Association of University Women. She joins us by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Deborah Vagins.

Deborah Vagins: It’s a pleasure to be back.

JJ: Before we talk about misunderstandings, let’s get some understanding. What are, for you, the salient numbers or data points that illustrate the scope and the scale of the pay gap problem?

DV: Absolutely. So the latest numbers from the US Census Bureau once again reveal that women working full-time, year-round, are typically paid only 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. This is an average overall, looking at all jobs. And African-American women and Latinas make, respectively, 61 and 63 cents on the dollar, as compared to non-Hispanic white men.

JJ:  So, yeah, that intersectional breakout is important. The numbers can get glommed together, but when you factor in race, you get a whole other level of the issue, right?

DV: Right. It’s particularly bleak for women of color. I’ll note that when President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, the overall wage gap for all women was 59 cents on the dollar, and today, in 2018—this is from data from last year—Latinas make 53 cents on the dollar, 55 years later.

CNN (4/2/19)

JJ: Wow. CNN ran a column from a right-wing pundit, which, you know, it would be one thing if people argued, “I don’t think women should be able to be economically independent, because that undermines the familial and societal structure that I think is best.” But they don’t say that. Instead, they say, as this piece on CNN’s website did, the pay gap is not just a lie, but it’s a mean lie that hurts women. This piece checks the familiar boxes: Women just prioritize family over the workplace, we just gravitate to lower-paying work.

But I was especially tickled by what’s clearly intended as a slam dunk. It says, “The truth is that wage discrimination is illegal.” As if nominally illegal things don’t happen all day long. Can you talk about some of the persistent misunderstandings around the gender pay gap? And are we seeing them maybe loosen their hold, a little bit?

DV: Wow. So there’s a lot. I haven’t seen that article, but there’s certainly a lot to unpack in just the little snippet that you read. Very, very troubling.

If I had to make a generalization about people who perpetuate erroneous myths about the pay gap, it’s they never have any real data. So they talk about women dropping out of the workforce, and that’s what causes the wage gap. Well, we’ve looked at something called the motherhood penalty, and that is, employers make assumptions about women, that somehow because they could be mothers, that they have less commitment to the job, or that they will drop out. And we see that women are paid less because of these assumptions, not necessarily because they are actually doing any of the things that employers make assumptions about.

So for example, I gave you some numbers at the opening, [and] we know that working moms make 71 cents on the dollar, as compared to working fathers. And we also, through research, have seen that men receive a fatherhood bonus—that is, when they become parents, they actually make more money.

I mean, that’s just one of them. Our research shows that even when controlling for factors known to affect earnings—such as education or training, marital status, college education—women still earn 7 percent less than men just one year out of college, so meaning, before these purported life choices take hold. And the other research we’ve seen is that women take home less money than they’ve rightfully earned in virtually every industry, no matter what they do, no matter how much education they have, or where they are from in the country.

JJ:  Even some of the ostensibly sympathetic stories have, first of all, that lack of data that you’re talking about; they are just kind of impressionistic, and say things like—and I’m not remembering where I saw this, but—women should “get intentional about what you want.” We’re so invested in the idea of fairness that we think that the cause of inequities has got to be at the individual level. But I understand that the AAUW has done some polling that says that, actually, folks are letting go of the idea that it’s just women’s life choices; folks can actually grasp the idea of systemic bias.

Deborah Vagins: “There is stigma—still—about the value of women’s work, and that when women enter fields, the pay actually goes down.”

DV: I think that’s right. There’s been a lot of work and a lot of effort and a lot of data that have been put into this movement. I mean, the polling data backs it up. Basically, nobody chooses to make less money for the same job. Nobody wants to be relegated to a lower-paying subspecialty, or put in a female-dominated occupation, and to make less because of that. What we’ve seen is that there is stigma—still—about the value of women’s work, and that when women enter fields, the pay actually goes down, meaning that when men occupy a field, it’s actually paid more. One of the stark factoids I like to say is, “We actually pay men watching cars more than we pay women watching children in America.” And that’s because of the value of women’s work, unfortunately.

JJ:  And it sort of leads toward another point that argues, of course, for rectifying it, which is the linchpin nature of women, in that raising women’s pay is going to have a ripple effect on families and on communities, wouldn’t it?

DV: That’s right. There are all different types of arguments we hope will appeal to people who may be opponents, or may just not be aware of the issue. But I think at bottom, if you are paying women equally, this isn’t just a women’s issue, this helps men in those families, this helps families overall, this helps lift children out of poverty, this helps the economy. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research did a study that said if we paid women equal pay for equal work, they would contribute $512 billion to the economy. That helps everyone.

JJ:  I do want to call attention to a tremendous victory that we’ve just seen here in New York; Local 1180 of the Communications Workers, and their president Gloria Middleton, just won an EEOC complaint that they filed in 2013, where they had found that some 1,600 administrative managers—overwhelmingly women of color—were paid less, $16,000 less, than their white male counterparts, and this is over years. They’ve just won this tremendous recognition, some $15 million of restitution that may be coming.

And I have to say media could not care less about this story that I think is just such a tremendous victory. Assuming, then, 1180 didn’t get to this victory by telling women to lean in, what are some of the policy and legislative responses to the pay gap that are already in play, or that are necessary?

DV: Well, I think that sounds like a fantastic victory. And these are not as frequent as one might think. It’s very difficult to bring and prove these cases, in large part because of the way that discrimination works. So going back to one of your earlier comments, on the article opposing all of this that said, “Well, these laws exist.”

Well, the laws exist, but employers don’t announce when they discriminate. And in fact there’s quite a bit of opaqueness about pay and salary, and certainly about discrimination that’s happening, that’s quite intentional. So it’s hard to root out when you’re being paid less, and it’s very hard to bring these cases. And over time, the laws have gotten weaker through court interpretations.

And on top of that, the laws were passed, the first law, the Equal Pay Act, was passed in 1963. The next one was Title VII of the ’64 Civil Rights Act. And since then, we’ve learned a lot about how pay discrimination operates in the workforce.

CNBC (3/28/19)

So all of that leads us to the fact that we need new policies, new tools, in order to root out pay discrimination. So, for example, we had a great victory in the House of Representatives on what’s called the Paycheck Fairness Act that was just passed a couple weeks ago, prior to Equal Pay Day. That important piece of legislation would update the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to address some of the things I’ve talked about, to address the weakening through court decisions, would address some employer practices that have come to light over the last five decades, and would give women new tools to challenge the pay gap.

JJ:  Let me just ask you, finally: I know that a piece of that Paycheck Fairness Act has to do with salary history. Can you just speak to the importance of work around that question, of asking people what they earned at their previous jobs?  It’s such a commonplace thing, and yet it can be so significant.

DV: So this is about prohibiting the use of salary history to set current wages. And you’re right, that prohibition—and I’ll explain it—is in the Paycheck Fairness Act. It’s also in—there’s state legislation that’s considering this; there have been state and local bans on it. And also, this is actually something employers can do right now.

So let me explain it. Sounds pretty innocuous: We’ve all been in job interviews when we’ve been asked our prior salary. The problem is that if women or workers of color have been discriminated against in prior jobs, then your current employer, even a well-intentioned employer, might be carrying forward the pay that has been tainted by discrimination in setting your current wages.

So, for example, if you were paid something that was discriminatorily low, and they give you a 5 percent or 10 percent raise, if you’re lucky, going to your next job, that’s carrying forward what happened in the past. What really makes sense is for employers to do market research, peg the salaries to what’s competitive for that job, what those duties are worth to the employer, and this just keeps it fair and transparent.

JJ:  All right, we’ll end on that note. We’ve been speaking with Deborah Vagins; she’s senior vice president for public policy and research at the American Association of University Women. You can find their work on the gender pay gap, along with other issues, online at AAUW.org. Deborah Vagins, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

DV: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.

 

‘Purity Tests’: How Corporate Media Describe Progressives Standing Up for Principles

April 17, 2019 - 3:13pm

 

Barack Obama (HuffPost, 6/4/19) accused progressives of “shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues.”

The Democratic primaries are heating up, and dozens of candidates representing all manner of political positions have entered the ring hoping to be the party’s 2020 presidential nominee. One notable feature of the race is the strong presence of progressive candidates, a sign of the rising influence of the left in the party.

This phenomenon has many in the establishment wing of the party worried. Barack Obama, the most recent Democratic president, recently decried the “purity tests” of the left, which he called an “obsessive” ideological fanaticism that is setting the party up for failure.  Obama told an audience in Berlin, Germany (HuffPost, 6/4/19):

One of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States…is a certain kind of rigidity where we say, “I’m sorry, this is how it’s going to be,” and then we start sometimes creating what’s called a circular firing squad, where you start shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues, and when that happens, typically the overall effort and movement weakens.

In the political world, the term “purity test” has a very specific meaning, largely used by elites to chastise and attack the left, or to gaslight them into supporting more centrist or right-wing policies.  Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi (4/24/17), for example, bemoaned the ideological “activists” infiltrating the Democratic Party, undermining “more pragmatic party leaders everywhere” with their “purity tests.” She highlighted the supposed “danger” in “pushing the party too far to the left and imposing rigid orthodoxy,” warning that they are creating a “one-size party suitable only for zealots.”

An example Vennochi gave of an intolerable and self-defeating purity test was leftists’ pressure on Sen. Elizabeth Warren to change her mind about supporting Trump nominee Ben Carson to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Apparently opposing one of Trump’s most stridently right-wing appointees constitutes a “demand for ideological purity.”

“The demands for anti-corporate purity keep increasing,” wrote the Atlantic‘s Peter Beinart (12/18/18).

Much has been written about Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders’ refusal to accept corporate donations for their presidential campaigns, with many outlets (Atlantic, 12/18/18; 3/5/19; Politico, 2/25/19; The Hill, 8/24/17) describing this as a new Democratic “purity test” to establish progressive credentials.

2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (CNBC, 2/5/16) scorned Sanders’ test, claiming, “Under his definition, President Obama is not a progressive because he took donations from Wall Street!” Some might argue that is accurate, particularly as Obama describes himself as a 1980s-style “moderate Republican.”

Another key issue in the primaries is healthcare. A lack of health coverage kills around 45,000 Americans yearly, and hospital bills drive the large majority of bankruptcies in America. Many Democratic candidates, including Warren and Sanders, support a European-style Medicare for All system. But corporate media have been resistant, even hostile.

Writing in the New York Times (3/21/19), Paul Krugman demanded that we “don’t make healthcare a purity test,” warning that Democrats who do not support a single-payer system may not be seen as progressive, or be viewed as a corrupt “shill” for the pharmaceutical industry. According to Krugman, this would be inaccurate. The Washington Post (2/11/19) was more scathing of the Medicare for All “purity test,” attacking the leftist “cranks” using “empty slogans instead of evidence-based policy.”

It is often made explicit that “purity test” is merely code for the Democratic base wanting more leftist policies, and being disgruntled with politicians who block them. The Denver Post (1/31/19) described Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper as a progressive, pragmatic and “moderate problem-solver” in favor of “bipartisanship,” under attack from the “hard-core” left who demand “drastic” change. Their “purity test,” wrote the Post, will destroy a candidate with perhaps the most “credible” chance to beat Trump.

In contrast, behavior or policies imposed on the left from establishment Democrats are rarely if ever framed as a “purity test.” For example, Sanders appointed Briahna Joy Gray as his press secretary, who had previously declared she voted for the Green Party’s Jill Stein in 2016. Instead of this being seen as the party expanding its appeal to third-party voters, it produced a scandal among liberals on social media. For many, it was proof, as they had been saying all along, that Bernie was not a real Democrat—in other words, it was an opportunity for them to excommunicate an ally for being insufficiently orthodox.

On this story, New York magazine (3/20/19) described Sanders’ campaign as an “irrational cult” of “left-wing factionalists” that were attempting to “split the party” by “intentionally misleading” voters. These kind of attacks are not seen as “purity tests,” however.

Neither was the anger generated by the decision of candidates like Sanders, Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke not to attend the AIPAC conference presented as such a test. Nor were corporate media demands that the left embrace Trump’s regime change strategy in Venezuela lest they be accused of supporting a “dictator” (FAIR.org, 3/5/19). When these things are imposed on the base from the top down, they are not framed as purity tests.

Instead, the left is browbeaten and cajoled into supporting business-friendly right-wing Democrats, and told their preferred policies are either unrealistic or unpopular. The Hill (8/24/17) warns us, “If Democrats want to destroy any chances of winning national office, establishing purity tests is the quickest way to do it.”

But this is demonstrably not the case. Seventy-five percent of Americans (and nearly two-thirds of Republicans) support Medicare for all. Three-quarters of the population support higher taxes on the wealthy, while tuition-free public college is popular even among Tea Party supporters. One can make a strong case that these policies would tend to attract rather than repel Trump voters to the Democratic cause.

The dichotomy between credible, pragmatic centrists and the fanatical, inward-looking left demanding ideological purity is a framing generally made in bad faith to shield corporate-backed candidates from criticism. FAIR (2/26/19) has already highlighted the “Republican best friend” trope, where Republicans offer supposedly selfless advice to the left on how to win next time—which turns out to be by doing and saying exactly what the right wants.

“Purity test” is a common talking point for these fake friends. The Associated Press (2/21/19) published an article from a Republican consultant who warned that applying “intense” leftist purity tests to “pragmatic” candidates capable of beating Trump was self-defeating: “As the Democratic presidential candidates move further to the left, it will make President Trump’s path to re-election clearer.”

Meanwhile, writing in Yahoo! News (3/19/19), conservative National Review writer David French claimed it would take a “brave person” to withstand the “attack” of the “vicious,” “scornful” and “toxic” left and their destructive purity tests. Proposing free healthcare, a Green New Deal or other popular left-wing policies would surely lead to Trump’s victory in 2020, he advised Democrats.

Carolyn Dupont asks in the Washington Post (2/14/19), “Where are the Perfect Ones who can pass a lifelong purity test?” In other words, who hasn’t appeared in blackface in their college yearbook?

This purity test trope is so blatantly used to defend anyone in power it sometimes stretches credulity to the breaking point. In a Washington Post  op-ed (2/14/19) headlined “The Left’s Quest for Purity Could Destroy Potentially Worthy Leaders,” Carolyn Dupont bemoaned the purity tests of the “rigid, self-righteous and blind” left after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was criticized for wearing blackface. The column compared this censure to the guillotines of the French Revolution that killed many “righteous” politicians for “small blemishes on their ideological purity,” describing Northam’s blackface as a “moment of imperfection.” The desire to have policies affecting people’s lives crafted by people who haven’t ritually ridiculed and devalued them, apparently, is another purity test.

Democrat Bill O’Neill, an Ohio Supreme Court justice, also made headlines after defending politicians Roy Moore and Al Franken (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 11/17/17). O’Neill decried the unreasonable “purity tests” for “sexual indiscretions” (multiple sexual assault charges, in Moore’s case, from some as young as 14) . He claimed those calling for Franken’s resignation were “dogs” involved in a “feeding frenzy,” chasing out good politicians (USA Today, 11/18/17).

The term is used much less frequently in reference to the right wing, but when it is, it is used in the same manner: to describe policies supported by a party’s base that corporate media disagree with. Many outlets (New York Times, 11/23/09; Wall Street Journal, 11/24/09; US News, 12/23/09) described the attempt to get party officials to endorse a ten-point bill, including opposition to abortion and firearms regulation, as a “purity test.”

When you hear the phrase “purity test” in the media, be on the alert. The phrase is code for elites being pressured in ways they don’t like, and is often a shield against legitimate criticism of corruption or dependence on corporate power.

Maybe Rich Liberals Don’t Hate Sanders Because They Fear He Can’t Win, But Because They’re Rich

April 16, 2019 - 5:13pm

by Adam Johnson

For the New York Times (4/16/19), “mainstream Democrats” are found “from canapé-filled fund-raisers on the coasts to the cloakrooms of Washington.”

Why does the New York Times take rich liberals at their word that their concern with Bernie Sanders is that he would lose to Trump, rather than the obvious, glaring fact that his election would run counter to their interests?

The New York Times (4/16/19) profiled a network of “wealthy liberal donors” who, shockingly, are not fans of Bernie Sanders, who according to the same report has rejected their big-bundler funding and instead opted for small donations. (The Times reported the same day that 84 percent of Sanders’ donations are less than $200; by contrast, only 37 percent of Kamala Harris’ donations are.)

That a network of multi-millionaire and billionaire donors would dislike a candidate who not only rejects their funding, but is actively trying to tax them at rates not seen since 1960, would surely be enough reason to explain why these wealthy elites would want to “stop” his nomination. But not to the credulous New York Times, which takes at face value rich donors’ claim to oppose Sanders because they believe he simply can’t defeat Trump:

Mainstream Democrats are increasingly worried that their effort to defeat President Trump in 2020 could be complicated by Mr. Sanders….

“Some in the party still harbor anger over the 2016 race, when he ran against Hillary Clinton, and his ongoing resistance to becoming a Democrat. But his critics are chiefly motivated by a fear that nominating an avowed socialist would all but ensure Mr. Trump a second term.”

For the wealthy, ideology simply doesn’t exist. No, they’re just Very Concerned about fielding the Best Candidate.

Because it would be unseemly to suggest a group of super-rich hedge fund managers, Hollywood producers and CEOs would dislike a candidate who has made a career out of promising to expropriate the bulk of their wealth, we get a faux pragmatism argument. But polls show Sanders defeating Trump with numbers comparable to any other declared candidate—a fact the New York Times never bothers to mention, letting the idea go unchallenged that “socialist” (!!) Sanders is an electoral liability. The simpler, less altruistic motive is simply never entertained.

It’s a variation on the Inexplicable Republican Best Friend trope FAIR previously documented (2/26/19): Instead of assuming that lifelong conservatives may just prefer more conservative politicians, progressive-bashing GOP pundits are propped up as neutral observers simply looking out for the Democratic Party. Just the same, super-wealthy Democratic donors can’t oppose Sanders because they simply prefer more centrist, pro-Wall Street candidates; they must have a sincere, pragmatic concern he would lose the general election.

Throughout the article, the TimesJonathan Martin bizarrely used “mainstream Democrats” and “Democrats” to refer to what is little more than a clique of wealthy donors. “Mainstream Democrats are increasingly worried” he tells us.  “Stopping Mr. Sanders,” he added, “or at least preventing a contentious convention, could prove difficult for Democrats.”

But why would “Democrats” want to “stop Mr. Sanders”? Sanders has a 78 percent favorability rating among Democrats and leads every poll among declared candidates. Martin is, of course, not talking about “Democrats” or “mainstream Democrats”; he’s talking about rich donors. But because it would be vulgar to mention their obvious class interests, they morph into simply “Democrats” without explanation.

Oddly, the New York Times article about the “stop Sanders” movement has three photos, none of which show anyone from the Stop Sanders movement. This is Rufus Gifford’s Twitter image.

The idea that the interests of millionaire film producer Rufus Gifford—who’s heavily quoted in the article as a stand-in for “Democrats”—would run counter to those of the average voter is glossed over entirely. Why would guy who made Daddy Day Care and Doctor Dolittle 2 be given a voice by the Times instead of, say, literally any random person picked off the street?

Martin then advances the curious construction that super-wealthy donors blatantly conspiring to prevent Sanders from winning the nomination––and even resorting to undemocratic superdelegates at the Democratic National Convention to do so—“plays into the hands” of Sanders:

Mr. Gifford, who has gone public in recent days with his dismay over major Democratic fundraisers remaining on the sidelines, said of Mr. Sanders, “I feel like everything we are doing is playing into his hands.”

But doing out in the open the thing Sanders says Democrats do isn’t “playing into his hands”; it’s true that it affirms his core ideological proposition, that the wealthy have too much political power, but what it mainly is is the wealthy using that power against him.

A similar gambit is used when liberal publications hand-wring that Trump and Rubio openly threatening and planning to invade Venezuela “plays into Maduro’s hands,” and that’s why it’s bad. In fact, it’s bad because the things being discussed, invasion and coup-mongering, are bad things—and they’re not “playing into Maduro’s hands,” they’re actual threats to the sovereignty and lives of those in Venezuela.

Trying to distract attention from the sinister thing happening before everyone’s eyes by commenting that it has some meta, second-order effect of increasing left-wing paranoia is an attempt to smear the left for correctly calling the sky blue.

Rich donor broker and Clinton-hatchet man David Brock, in the very last line of the article, attempts this sleight-of-hand again:

“You can see him reading the headlines now,” Mr. Brock mused: “‘Rich people don’t like me.’”

Simply drawing attention to the fact that a bunch of wealthy donors affirms Sanders primary argument for running doesn’t make it go away. It’s a writer’s trick, and one the New York Times passes off without criticism: LOL Isn’t it ironic we’re doing that bad, evil thing Sanders says rich donors do?

Wait, what? No, it’s just bad, in and of itself. The piece is openly floating a conspiracy of wealthy donors seeking to undermine a democratic process, then laughing it off something that could be mistaken for the actual bad thing it is. Meanwhile, the self-evident fact that rich donors dislike Sanders because he runs counter to their interests is ignored in favor of a child-like fantasy that they oppose him simply because they’re looking out for the best interests of the party.

To the Times, the rich have no ideology, no beliefs, no self interest; this is reserved instead for Sanders “embolden[ed],” “fervent supporters,” whose desire to defeat Trump is presented as at best incidental.

You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com (Twitter:@NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

Featured image: New York Times photograph of Bernie Sanders’ “fervent supporters.” (photo: Lauren Justice)

 

Scaring Up Division and Hatred

April 16, 2019 - 4:09pm

 

Dear FAIR friends,

Trump’s presidential campaign continues to this day with constant rallies around the country. Corporate media are served up to the audience as targets of abuse from the stage and from the audience.

Yet the same outlets Trump derides as “enemies of the people” continue to boost him— highlighting presidential tweets that scare up division and hatred as news is a dangerous course for corporate media to follow.

Elite media also seem to think that reinterpreting officials’ statements to make them more palatable is part of journalistic professionalism. FAIR recently challenged corporate media to use the words that actually describe what they are reporting:

Calling Racism by Its Real Name
For years, that’s been the deal with corporate media and racism. Actions, policies,
statements and ideas that regular people have no trouble identifying as racist become,
in elite media hands, “racially tinged,” “racially charged,” “race-related.” And if racism
isn’t a thing our famously objective reporters can see, well, maybe it’s not really
out there, right?

Through it all, FAIR continues to challenge the media, calling them out on the real harm that trivial, power-worshipping reporting does to a democracy.

We need to keep doing this work—and we need your help!

Please support us in this work. All donations are appreciated.

 Thanks, Deborah, Janine & Jim

 

P.S. Back by popular demand. For a donation of $35 or more, you can opt-in to receive a fabulous thank-you gift: a T-shirt commemorating the 25th anniversary of Nirvana’s concert for FAIR.  We have reissued the iconic concert T-shirt with the terrific “DISinformation” art by Robbie Conal on the front and two concert rosters listed on the back.

 

 

 

 

FAIR is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and your donation is tax-deductible

 

 

Scaring Up Division and Hatred

April 16, 2019 - 2:34pm

 

Dear FAIR friends,

Trump’s presidential campaign continues to this day with constant rallies around the country. Corporate media are served up to the audience as targets of abuse from the stage and from the audience.

Yet the same outlets Trump derides as “enemies of the people” continue to boost him— highlighting presidential tweets that scare up division and hatred as news is a dangerous course for corporate media to follow.

Elite media also seem to think that reinterpreting officials’ statements to make them more palatable is part of journalistic professionalism. FAIR recently challenged corporate media to use the words that actually describe what they are reporting:

Calling Racism by Its Real Name
For years, that’s been the deal with corporate media and racism. Actions, policies,
statements and ideas that regular people have no trouble identifying as racist become,
in elite media hands, “racially tinged,” “racially charged,” “race-related.” And if racism
isn’t a thing our famously objective reporters can see, well, maybe it’s not really
out there, right?

Through it all, FAIR continues to challenge the media, calling them out on the real harm that trivial, power-worshipping reporting does to a democracy.

We need to keep doing this work—and we need your help!

Please support us in this work. All donations are appreciated.

 Thanks, Deborah, Janine & Jim

 

P.S. Back by popular demand. For a donation of $35 or more, you can opt-in to receive a fabulous thank-you gift: a T-shirt commemorating the 25th anniversary of Nirvana’s concert for FAIR.  We have reissued the iconic concert T-shirt with the terrific “DISinformation” art by Robbie Conal on the front and two concert rosters listed on the back.

 

 

 

 

FAIR is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and your donation is tax-deductible

 

 

US Media Lament Internet Censorship—in China, Not US

April 16, 2019 - 12:56pm

 

The New York Times (8/6/18) invites us to pity the Chinese teens who are deprived of US tech giants.

Among mainstream US media, there’s a consensus that China is depriving its population, and possibly others, of the internet’s full capacities.

The New York Times invoked this trope last summer (8/6/18) when it fretted that “a generation” was coming of age without access to such US-founded internet companies as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram (a Facebook property) and Google, whose availability is restricted in China. Instead, Chinese youth were using Chinese-founded platforms, including social-media service Weibo, search engine Baidu and shortform-video application Tik Tok.

By dint of their internet options, according to the Times, teenagers and 20-somethings living in China are excluded from the “Western liberal democracy” embodied on US platforms. The internet to which they’re exposed is censored, the Times contended—without elaboration of the forms said censorship took—and thus stripped of the values of free speech and expression employed on, say, Twitter or Google. The argument garnered an endorsement from Columbia Journalism Review  (8/8/18) two days later.

The Washington Post (2/20/19) similarly wrung its hands via a February opinion piece. Written by a member of the historically US-aligned nonprofit Human Rights Watch, the op-ed expressed apprehension over the popularity of Chinese social-media platform WeChat, which it claimed censored posts containing “‘sensitive words’—such as Tiananmen Square, Liu Xiaobo and Occupy Central.”

A Washington Post op-ed (2/20/19) warned against “the Chinese government’s use of WeChat as a surveillance tool”—ignoring Edward Snowden’s revelation that “the National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants” (Guardian, 6/7/13).

A month prior, the New York Times (1/23/19) warned that censorship was intensifying as China “appear[ed] to block Microsoft’s Bing,” and that “the Chinese internet was developing into a series of walled gardens, rather than the sprawling forum for ideas that makes online life appealing to many.” (Service resumed two days later; Reuters1/27/19—indicated that this wasn’t an intentional block, but rather the product of a technical error.)

Corporate US media, it would seem, are ready to decry apparent censorship when it originates in what’s deemed an enemy state. Yet when US tech companies demonstrate clear patterns of restricting information—particularly from figures and outlets with adversarial positions on US policy—the mainstream press fails to sound the same alarm.

A number of left-leaning activists, media organizations, and governments have seen their presences flagged and minimized on US tech platforms. In one example, in 2017, a number of publications often critical of Western policy—AlterNet, Black Agenda Report, Democracy Now!, Common Dreams, Global Research and Truthout, among others—claimed that their Google-directed traffic sank as much as 63 percent in the wake of a Google algorithm change designed to bust the ill-defined specter of “fake news.” Simultaneously, many of corporate media’s heavy hitters—namely, the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN—appeared to have been spared.

Accordingly, and in contrast to their extensive consternation about China, these publications remained mostly mum on the issue. While the New York Times  (9/26/17) published one story on these claims of left-media censorship, neither the Washington Post nor CNN appears to have reported on the matter.

Other examples abound. Last year, YouTube prevented videos rebuking Israeli militarism from being broadcast in such countries as the United Kingdom, France and Italy. Last month, Twitter temporarily restricted the account of TeleSur English, which has opposed the US’s attempted coup in Venezuela and US foreign policy more generally.

In February, Facebook suspended the account of digital video production company In the Now for its indirect connection to RT, a private media organization funded by the Russian government; Facebook eventually reinstated the account, contingent on In the Now disclosing its funding. (As Jim Naureckas observed for FAIR—3/1/19—such US and UK government-subsidized outlets as NPR, the BBC and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty aren’t required to disclose funding.)

The US corporate press not only fails to condemn this marginalization, but also actively enables it. In July 2018, Facebook announced that, in response to panic over Russian election meddling, it had “removed 32 pages and accounts from Facebook and Instagram because they were involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior.” Multiple pages related to anti-colonialist subjects, and at least one of those pages was that of an anti-fascist coalition—Shut It Down DC—raising a red flag regarding Facebook’s shadowy vetting procedures. Publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Vox and Mother Jones parroted Facebook’s narrative (In These Times, 8/2/18), providing no evidence of a connection between these groups and Russia.

Another Washington Post op-ed (2/25/19) complained not just about China’s censorship but about its “onerous privacy rules,” which discriminate against US companies whose business models depend upon invasion of privacy.

This skewed coverage stems from a sense of chauvinism; outlets like the Times and Post imply that the freest, most democratic internet paradigm is the one developed and used by Westerners. Exemplifying this point, a February Washington Post op-ed (2/25/19) maintained that China was putting the “future of the global internet at risk.” The piece went on to suggest that, in prioritizing the development of its own tech platforms over Western ones, China was further instituting a policy of “censorship” and “digital authoritarianism.” Further, it cited the NATO-championing Council on Foreign Relations to portray China’s tech sector as an impediment to “foreign competitors”—i.e., the US.

A similar sentiment appeared in a New York Times editorial (10/25/18) that warned that, in the future, “America’s [internet] won’t necessarily be the best.” In the wake of news that Google may be developing a Chinese search engine known as Dragonfly—a move Vox called “bad for humanity” (8/17/18)—the board bemoaned the notion that “American companies that once implicitly pushed democratic values abroad” may want to do business with the Chinese government.

US media have demonstrated an inveterate double standard for the concept of “censorship,” applying far more stringent criteria to countries that are the targets of US aggression than to the US and its allies. Corporate outlets’ insistence that the US’s configuration of the internet is “free” is a justification for homegrown platforms’ bolstering of Washington’s empire. Moreover, these outlets’ trepidation that China’s technological development poses a global threat is a condescending, thinly veiled avowal of Western supremacy. US media aren’t making useful prescriptions for a free internet; they’re merely stoking the flames of the new Cold War.

 

Defining Endless War Down - How corporate media factcheckers dismiss nearly three decades of combat in Iraq

April 16, 2019 - 7:04am

by Reed Richardson

Taking a country to war is the most consequential step political leaders can take. So it would follow that a free press tasked with holding political leaders accountable for such a fateful decision would exercise the utmost scrutiny when it comes to reporting on the costs—both financial and human.

This  necessarily rigorous journalistic oversight should never be satisfied with repeating vague claims of progress or accepting easily contradicted evidence about having achieved peace. Literal human lives, both civilian and military, hang in the balance, and so as a war drags on, it becomes increasingly important for a free press to avoid complacency and ruthlessly interrogate the facts on the ground.

Tragically, coverage of US military combat in Iraq offers an untold number of examples where the corporate press spectacularly failed to live up to this critical responsibility. Whether it was the unabashed cheerleading that colored much of the reporting during the first Gulf War (Extra!, 4/91) or the credulous parroting of false WMD claims in the lead-up to the 2003 re-invasion—with the New York Times earning special condemnation (FAIR.org, 7/21/16)—the US media has compiled a dreadful record when it comes to Iraq.

And, true to form, in the past two weeks we’ve see another, less monumental but still insidious, case of inaccurate Iraq war coverage. Coincidentally, this latest mistake comes courtesy of corporate media’s “factchecking” structure.

Beto O’Rourke: “Twenty-seven years in Iraq…with no definition or strategy or end in sight.” (cc photo: Erik Drost/Wikimedia)

It all stems from a comment by Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who has begun inserting a critique of our country’s endless war posture into his stump speeches. At his campaign launch in February, and in several public appearances since, he has commented along these lines (from a March 30 speech):

Do we really want to fight wars forever? Twenty-seven years in Iraq, 18 years, almost, in Afghanistan and counting, with no definition or strategy or end in sight. Trillions of dollars we are spending to fight and to rebuild countries that we’ve invaded.

While the claim of 18 years of military combat in Afghanistan is incontrovertible, some in the press pounced on O’Rourke’s description of an Iraq war that is “27 years and counting.” The Associated Press (4/2/19) drew first blood. In a long factcheck of false statements by Trump, writers Hope Yen, Calvin Woodward and Eric Tucker incongruously wedged in a critique of O’Rourke’s 27 years claim, flatly declaring that he had “misstated the length of the US involvement in the Iraq War.”

This kind of forced false equivalence in factchecking is not new. FAIR (12/7/19) has previously demonstrated how traditional news orgs, already awash in a sea of Trump’s dishonesty, often contort themselves to shoehorn supposedly false comments by left-of-center politicians into the voluminous coverage of the president’s many lies and distortions.

“His math is off,” the Washington Post (4/9/19) said of O’Rourke’s statement that the US had been at war in Iraq for 27 years–as if it were a question of arithmetic, and not of the Post‘s insistence that air patrols over an unwilling country are not an act of war.

Not to be outdone, the Washington Post (4/9/19) also took O’Rourke to task for his “27 years and counting” claim. Writing in his Fact-Checker column, Glenn Kessler said “O’Rourke’s math for the Iraq War left us flummoxed.” Parsing what he asserts were the begin and end states of US military combat in Iraq, Kessler rests his main objection on the 12-year interregnum between the end of coalition ground hostilities in the first Gulf War in late February 1991 and the second US ground invasion in March 2003. Giving O’Rourke “Three Pinocchios,” Kessler concluded:

There are three, or maybe four, points at which the United States can be labeled as fighting in Iraq in the past three decades. But there has not been a continuous war.

This is, simply put, not true. But it offers a clear tell to how corporate media have grown inured to nearly two generations of US military combat in Iraq, and increasingly normalized our nation’s violent power projection around the world.

In fact, the end of ground hostilities in 1991’s Operation Desert Storm merely marked a transition to a new kind war in Iraq: a US/UK air combat occupation known in military parlance as operations Northern and Southern Watch. This “no-fly zone” covered more than half of Iraq’s total airspace, and lasted from the end of the 1991 Gulf War right up until the March 2003 invasion. Nevertheless, Kessler quickly glosses over this period in two paragraphs, briefly mentioning 1998’s Desert Fox cruise missile attack on Iraq, but then archly concludes: “But no troops entered Iraq in this period.”

This is a chilling and astoundingly outdated calculus by Kessler. (The AP avoided this particular mistake by failing to mention the 12-year no-fly zone altogether—an even more stunningly negligent oversight.) War is not simply defined by the presence of infantry soldiers maneuvering over foreign terrain. Taking control of another country’s airspace with armed aircraft is no less an act of war than implementing a naval blockade of a country’s ports.

NATO’s military commander recognized that a no-fly zone is an act of war (Stars & Stripes, 5/31/13)—but that reality eluded the Washington Post factchecker.

But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Phillip Breedlove saying the exact same thing back in 2013 , when US politicians like Sen. John McCain began calling for a no-fly zone over parts of Syria in the early stages of that country’s horrible civil war: “It is quite frankly an act of war and it is not a trivial matter,” he told Stars &  Stripes (5/31/13).

And even though the Iraq no-fly zones were ostensibly a continuation of UN Resolution 688, that doesn’t make them any less of a form of combat operations. UN-sanctioned war is still war.

Indeed, to read this public report from the UK National Archives is to get much better grasp of the deadly consequences of the US/UK no-fly-zone operations. From just 1991 to 1993, the report noted at least five separate air combat incidents:

The first two years involved relatively routine patrolling of the no-fly zone, although two Iraqi fighters were shot down and elements of Iraq’s ground based air defen2e system posing a threat were attacked in three incidents in December 1992 and January 1993.

During the last of these series of US/UK attacks—a strike against Iraqi intelligence headquarters in retaliation for an alleged assassination plot to kill President George H.W. Bush—nine civilians were reportedly killed and 12 more were wounded by an errant coalition missile. In September 1996, the allied coalition also launched two separate cruise missile attacks into Iraq, in response to an Iraqi army incursion against Kurds in northern Iraq.

Then, in December 1998, the US and Britain launched Operation Desert Fox, after Iraq refused to comply with UNSCOM inspections at a few sensitive sites, although, contrary to many subsequent, erroneous press reports, Iraq did not expel the inspectors from the country (FAIR.org, 3/6/00).

Though Kessler does mention Desert Fox as “four-day bombing campaign” in his column, he left out all the details and key context of the scale of what was involved. According to the UK archives, in Desert Fox:

US and UK forces used over 400 cruise missiles (more than in the 1991 Gulf Conflict) and 218 tactical bomber sorties to attack 100 targets, including:

  • sites identified as being involved in Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs;
  • command and control facilities through which Saddam controlled military and internal security forces;
  • the Iraqi Republican Guard;
  • the Iraqi air defense system;
  • airfields, including those associated with helicopter forces used for internal repression.

While no specific figures exist for Iraqi military personnel killed by Desert Fox, various contemporaneous reports put the civilian casualty total at several hundred, with around 60 to 70 killed. In the wake of this carnage, Iraq summarily refused to accept the continued no-fly zone patrols, and for the next five years resisted this air occupation with repeated combat responses, as the UK report points out:

Coalition aircraft were fired at by Iraqi surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery or targeted by fire control radars. In responding to this threat, coalition aircraft targeted a variety of different elements of Iraq’s Integrated Air Defense System, such as radar sites and associated communications and control networks, surface-to-air missile batteries and anti-aircraft artillery positions. RAF Jaguars flying reconnaissance operations in the northern no-fly zone did not carry or drop air-to-ground ordnance, but RAF Tornado aircraft did so in the southern no-fly zone on numerous occasions.

During the more than 12 years of air patrols over Iraq, the US alone averaged more than 34,000 annual military sorties, according to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. And an October 2002 Congressional Research Service report calculated that the total costs of these two massive, ongoing no-fly zone operations came to more than $10 billion.

All of these attacks and untold number of deaths does not rise to the definition of war to the Post’s Kessler or to the AP. This is both historical and journalistic malpractice—and the furthest thing from accurate, contextual factchecking.

One wonders if these two news organization would so cavalierly dismiss, if not wholly disappear, Russian or Chinese fighter jets patrolling the eastern half of the United States and occasionally shooting down our military aircraft or bombing our air defense systems. Of course, the question answers itself.

Although the Washington Post (4/17/16) reported in 2016 that “American troops have been in Iraq since the 2003 invasion,” for purposes of factchecking Beto O’Rourke in 2019, they didn’t exist.

Kessler also subtracts the nearly three years, from 2012 to late 2014, when regular US ground combat units were absent from the country. Once again, though, having regular troops on the ground is not the definition of being engaged in combat. In fact, one US soldier was still killed by hostile fire during this period, according to iCasualties.org. Furthermore, a Post report (4/17/16) noted that US special operations advisors had remained in northern Iraq from the claimed end of combat hostilities in 2011 right up through the ISIS takeover of Mosul in 2014.

But what’s even more inexplicable is that Kessler brushes aside an admission by the US military itself that our country has been in continuous combat operations since the first Gulf War. In his column, Kessler included this defense of the 27 years claim by an O’Rourke campaign aide:

Evans said O’Rourke’s remarks were inspired by Gen. Stephen W. Wilson, the Air Force’s vice chief of staff, who came before the House Armed Services Committee on October 3, 2017, and stated: “The 26 years of continuous combat has limited our ability to prepare . . . against advanced future threats. Scenarios with the lowest margin of error and the highest risk to national security. This nonstop combat, paired with the budget instability and lower than planned top lines, has been the United States Air Force, the smallest, oldest equipment and least ready in our history.”

If anything, one could argue O’Rourke is slightly too low, and that 28 years and counting would be more accurate. But Kessler effectively dismisses this testimony, in a classic case of “Who are you going to believe: Me or your lying eyes?” and instead sides with a handful of former Bush and Obama White House officials who say otherwise. His verdict for O’Rourke: “Three Pinocchios,” his column’s second-highest rating for rhetorical dishonesty.

For context, here are some other, recent “Three Pinocchio” fact-checks from the Washington Post, for comparison:

  • Trump’s claim that his daughter Ivanka has created “millions of jobs” (2/27/19)
  • GOP Rep. Liz Cheney’s claim that the Green New Deal would “eliminate air travel” (2/14/19)
  • Vice President Pence’s claim that the Trump administration “has stood strong for a free and independent press and defended the freedom of the press on the world stage” (11/20/18)

The absurdity on offer here by the Post (and the AP) is obvious, but it’s also symbolic of corporate media’s broader bias in war coverage toward US military adventurism, and the institutional timidity that it creates. In a way, O’Rourke’s scathing critique of the excessively violent nature of US foreign policy for the past three decades also contains an implied condemnation of the media that have enabled this endless war posture. After all, you’ll never succeed in holding politicians accountable for flawed wars if you can’t recognize what war looks like in the first place.

Messages can be sent to the Washington Post at letters@washpost.com, or via Twitter @washingtonpost. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

Featured image: US fighter planes over Iraq in 1998 (photo: Greg L. Davis/USAF)

 

 

Which Candidates Are Mentioned Most Often on TV News?

April 14, 2019 - 1:12pm

by Jim Naureckas

Curious about how much media coverage the Democratic presidential hopefuls were getting, I asked FAIR intern Teddy Ostrow to do a count, using the Internet Archive’s TV News Archive, of candidate mentions in 2019 (1/1/19–4/11/19). He used the list of declared or exploratory candidates on Wikipedia, plus Joe Biden, since he leads most national polls of the race.

Somewhat to my surprise, the results tracked fairly closely with candidates’ positions in the polls. When one candidate’s mentions are divided by the total of all candidates’ mentions, the resulting percentage generally resembles the polling average published by Real Clear Politics (3/14/19–4/7/19):

 

The one candidate who’s getting a much smaller percentage of TV news mentions than his average in the polls is Biden, who got 16 percent of the mentions and is averaging 31 percent in polls. Of course, Biden has not announced he is running, and further does hold a current office that might keep him in the news. Bernie Sanders also is covered somewhat less than his polling numbers: He got 18 percent of mentions, and averages 21 percent in polls. Andrew Yang, the least covered of the candidates who got more than a tiny amount of coverage, got 0.6 percent of mentions with a 0.8 percent polling average.

All the other candidates are getting a share of coverage equal to or greater than their share of support in polls. The biggest gap was for Elizabeth Warren, who got 16 percent of mentions and averages only 6 percent in polls. Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Kirsten Gillibrand also got a substantially larger share of coverage compared to their poll averages.

A couple of caveats are crucial. One is that the relationship between how much a candidate is covered and how much polling support they have can obviously go both ways: News managers may or may not decide how much to cover a candidate based on how much support they have, but voters are highly unlikely to express support for a candidate they’ve never heard of. Getting next to no coverage almost guarantees that a candidate will have little or no presence in polls—as the chart bears out.

The other thing to keep in mind is that all coverage is not the same; if coverage focuses on a candidate’s scandals, gaffes or perceived weaknesses, they may believe less is more. There is some research that suggests that female candidates, in particular, are being covered more negatively than the men (Storybench, 3/29/19).

Of course, whoever runs as the Democratic nominee for president will have to contend with the co-dependent relationship between corporate media and Donald Trump—which can only be strengthened by his running as an incumbent. With that in mind, it can only be encouraging that all the Democratic candidates together got more coverage—slightly—than Trump by himself, with 23,677 vs. 19,895 mentions.

Research and charts: Teddy Ostrow

‘There’s Increased Hunger for Diverse Stories That Represent All of America’ - CounterSpin interview with Shireen Razack and Tawal Panyacosit Jr. on inclusion in TV writing

April 12, 2019 - 3:20pm

Janine Jackson interviewed Shireen Razack and Tawal Panyacosit Jr. about inclusion in television writing for the April 5, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: TV, for many of us, is a place where, at the end of the working day, you can experience places and circumstances far from your own, where human lives can be shown more three-dimensionally than on the nightly news, and where people who are marginalized, and worse, in “real life” can be the star, and speak in their own voice.

It matters deeply that, even as it expands in platforms and formats, TV is not actually exploring all of its creative potential, simply because the people telling the stories do not themselves represent the range of identities and experiences that exist in the world. Those who could bring the underserved perspectives—people of color, women, LGBTQ and nonbinary people, people with disabilities, and all of the intersections of those—are not just rarely hired to be the storytellers. If they do get in the room, they’re treated differently than their white, male, cis and abled colleagues, such that their voices still can’t always come through.

Behind the Scenes: The State of Inclusion and Equity in TV Writers Rooms (3/19)

A new report, called Behind the Scenes: The State of Inclusion and Equity in TV Writers Rooms, documents the issue and suggests responsive actions. The research comes from the Think Tank for Inclusion & Equity, a consortium of working TV writers from various segments of the industry.

We’re joined now by the project’s leaders, Shireen Razack and Tawal Panyacosit Jr. They join us by phone from Los Angeles. Welcome to CounterSpin, Shireen Razack and Tawal Panyacosit Jr.

Shireen Razack: Hi, thank you so much for having us.

Tawal Panyacosit Jr.:  Yeah, we’re excited to be here.

JJ: Folks may say, “Of course, we know this.” But documentation is critical for a problem that can be hard to pin down, and easy to wave away. TV jobs, more so than some others, are based on person-to-person connections, getting the right meeting with the right person. And there’s not always going to be a smoking gun, as it were; they can just say, “No, thank you.” So I’m guessing that part of the aim of this research was to give some specificity, to name some particular things that happen and the effect that they have, rather than simply say, “TV writing isn’t diverse enough.”

SR: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, when we started down this road, it actually started with a diversity town hall, that was about three years ago, that I went to. And I was listening to the stories of a lot of diverse writers at that town hall. And they echoed a lot of the same stories that I was hearing from many of my diverse writer friends, about issues that they’re facing in the rooms, barriers to advancement and that kind of thing. But a lot of that, whenever we would talk to other people, these stories were dismissed as anecdotal or the exception. And so what we decided to do when we brought the Think Tank for Inclusion &  Equity together, was to try and put numbers to those anecdotes, to prove that it wasn’t exceptional or anecdotal, that there are systemic barriers.

TPJ: Yeah, I think that what’s really important to know is that this is really the first time that TV writers are talking to others in the industry, and really lifting the veil behind what’s happening in the writers room. And there’s lots of amazing studies out there, that often are done by activist organizations, and have really set the stage for a lot of the work that we’re doing here. But we really wanted to share, from the vantage point inside the writers room, what is actually happening and, as Shireen was saying, connect numbers with those anecdotes.

JJ:  Absolutely. And I think the part of the value of this work is that it says that, you know, “hiring” and “inclusion” are not the same thing, and I think that’s really critical. To me, one of the standout findings, if we can just get into it, is that 78 percent of writers of color said that they were the only person of color on their staff. And then I was surprised and disheartened to learn that that tokenism is actually structural. What is the “diversity hire,” and then, what’s the effect of that?

SR:  I can actually speak to that from experience. I was the diversity hire on two shows when I first started out. And it’s basically, the diversity slot is for a staff writer, which is the entry level point to your writers room. And generally speaking, what that is, is that networks create these positions on their shows, and the money for those writers comes out of the network’s budget, as opposed to the show’s budget.

Now, it’s great for getting people that foot in the door. But the problem is, the next year or the next season, if the show gets picked up, then that writer’s salary now has to come out of the show’s budget. So what ends up happening is this revolving door, where showrunners don’t want to take on that financial burden, and so instead, go for another free writer, as opposed to bumping up the writer that has been in the room and contributing to the story.

TPJ: Yeah, it’s important to note, also, that in this day and age where there’s increased hunger for diverse stories that represent all of America,  and the world, even, when you’re the only person in the room, and generally, it’s at the staff-writer level—you know, TV writers rooms are generally very hierarchical—so when you’re the lowest person in the room, you’re there to be the idea machine, but not necessarily to have any sort of decision-making power in terms of what actual stories make it to script, and eventually to the screen or casting. And that’s really why I think we chose to go over TV writers, but also because writers are producers, and really shepherd stories from creation to production and all the way through.

JJ:  Well I just think that this is a surprise, I think, to a lot of listeners, to know that the television shows that they’re watching—and we’re talking about cable, network, animated, drama, comedy, you’re spanning the whole range—that the idea that there is a diversity slot, and that that is structurally different from the other writers, I genuinely think that folks are surprised by that. And the idea that that’s kind of like, you know, we understand that we’re supposed to have this voice, but we don’t necessarily accept that we’re really, genuinely meant to incorporate it.

TPJ: It really is a double-edged sword. While it does a great job of getting that foot in the door, and many writers expressed to us, both in the survey, and then we also did a series of focus groups afterwards, and many expressed the stigma that you carry as a diverse writer, similar to affirmative action, where there are questions, or perceptions, that somehow these writers are less talented, or don’t necessarily deserve to be there. And for many, that’s just blatantly untrue. Many of these programs are so rigorous—

SR: The vetting process for most of the network programs is very intense, and they get thousands of submissions. And so the people that get into the programs are the cream of the crop. So to think of them as “less than,” because they were hired because they are diverse, is just holistically untrue.

TPJ: We’re not trying to downplay the role of programs and fellowships, because those are absolutely crucial. But in trying to address one problem, which is entry, it really reveals a newer problem, which is advancement, is that once people are getting in the door, they’re not progressing and getting promoted.

Many are having to repeat titles, once, twice, I mean 73 percent of diverse writers across the board are repeating titles, which means they have to go back a second season at the same level, and 46, I think, had to do it twice or more. And we have a number of examples where people have had to do it three, four, five times.

So this really starts to answer the question, when people say, “Where are the diverse showrunners, where are the diverse upper-levels?” Well, they’re there, but they’re being systematically held back.

SR: They have the experience but they don’t have the title.

JJ: I understand how often—and it’s not just television, it’s in lots of industries—where the person of color, or the LGBTQ person, gets in there, they’re the only person there, and then they feel this complicated responsibility where they both want to represent the stories that they feel only they can represent, because they’re not being represented. But they also want to do lots of other things. So tokenism works in a more complicated way than people might understand, right?

SR:  Gosh, there’s so many different facets to that one statement. Well, one of them is just that, once you’re in the door, there’s a version of the room where they look at the diverse writer as being the person that’s going to answer all the questions about every possible diversity there is.

And so it’s like, for me being South Asian, having to comment on what a Vietnamese community is like, is just kind of absurd, but that’s sometimes expected.

The other version of this can be that you’re the only diverse voice in the room, you’re also the lowest level on the totem pole, and so they don’t listen to you at all. They kind of expect you to just sit in the corner and be silent.

TPJ:  Many of us are more than just our identity, we’re genre geeks, or something.

SR: Yeah, I mean, Tawal and I are a great example of this; one of the reasons we wanted to be TV writers is because we’re huge genre geeks.

TPJ: Sci-fi, fantasy, horror, all that stuff.

SR: You know, we can bring a lot to those genres from our backgrounds, but it’s also just we’re big geeks. I mean, we want to write those genres. And we shouldn’t be relegated to basic dramatic storytelling where there is a diverse character.

TPJ: Right. And I think that that was one of our findings, too. It was like something like 51 percent of diverse writers had never worked on a show that had non-diverse leads. So in other words, sometimes diverse writers aren’t even in the room, because there needs to be some sort of justifying factor. If there’s not a black storyline, or a Chinese storyline, or a gay storyline, or a storyline about people with disabilities, then there’s no need to have those people in the room.

JJ: Right.

TPJ: And so I think that really relates to what you’re talking about Janine, which is the recognition that people are three-dimensional beings, and I think what we’re really hoping for is the ability to bring those three dimensions into the room.

Anna Quindlen (image: Charlie Rose)

JJ: Years ago, a columnist/writer, Anna Quindlen, was talking about editors who were rejecting her column and they would say, “Oh, we don’t need your column, we already carry Ellen Goodman,” who was another white woman. And so what Anna Quindlen said was, “There’s not only a quota, there’s a quota of one.” And that was just evidence that there’s not an actual understanding that inclusion and diversity enriches and improves. It’s not like, “Take your medicine, and then you can go play again.”

TPJ: Right.

JJ: It’s that this actually makes the work better. I feel like I should just say, “period,” but I would add that one of the things that the report underscores is that it also is good business; if you’re trying to say you’re interested in business, well, it’s also good business, right?

SR: Absolutely. I think I heard a statistic that by, I think it’s 2042, minorities will be in the majority. And if that’s true, there needs to be a lot more representation on TV, and there needs to be a lot more authentic storytelling to reach those audiences and to feed the hunger for authentic stories for those audiences.

JJ:  I think lots of us look to…I know that lots of us look to creative arts—like music, like movies, like TV—not just as an escape from our daily life, though heaven knows that can serve a useful function, but as offering different ways to look at life, and different lives to look at. I doubt you could count the number of white people, for example, who changed their minds about black people because they saw Bill Cosby. It’s just true. There are lots of folks who have that cousin who “hates the gays,” but, you know, “Queer Eye! It’s so great, it’s so fun and human!” Television changes our view of the world, and of one another. It’s a keystone industry.

TPJ: It saves lives. Before TV writing, I was an activist and organizer. And so that’s kind of how I got to be involved in all this. I actually went into TV writing because it was something that I loved, it was something that always brought me solace and comfort, especially during those times when I was struggling with identity, and feeling alone and isolated. But I could find myself reflected in shows and and in people, and that made it a little better, that made it a little easier getting to that next day. And I wanted to really do that for others. And it was a real eye opener to realize that I wanted to write stories that could kind of change the world, but that even in TV writing itself, that a lot of the same things that we wanted to speak to are being experienced by studio writers.

JJ: There’s no excuse for discrimination in any field. But it seems weirder when the field is creative, you know? You can do a show about talking cows in outer space, but it can’t be written by a person with a disability? It just shows that the criteria once again are just people, you know, people who are used to being with people who look like them. And yet, in a way, the impact is multiplied, because this is our window on other worlds, on other possibilities.

TPJ: TV is a platform. Regardless of how you feel, you’re making a statement either way. You’re adding something to the culture.

SR: Yeah, and one of our friends often says, “With a great platform comes great responsibility.”

TPJ: Totally Spider-Man!

SR: But we took that very, very, very seriously, and we want all TV writers to take that very seriously, because if we’re perpetuating stereotypes on screen, we’re putting that out there into the general consciousness, it’s contributing to the divisiveness in society. So if we can get rid of those stereotypes and speak to the communities that are being essentially demonized on TV, and show them as human beings, and amplify their humanity, it could help with a lot of the problems that we’re having in society right now.

JJ: The report that we’re discussing, Behind the Scenes: The State of Inclusion and Equity in TV Writers Rooms, it’s self-reported from TV writers, but it also swept in a lot of television writers; it’s also representative in many ways. So I want to ask you about that, but also, what about the recommendations that the report provides? And what do you make of the response to it?

TPJ: In terms of our sample, we definitely wanted to be conservative. I think it was important that we didn’t overreach. We wanted this to be taken seriously. So we were doing our due diligence. And you’re right to say that the sample was self-reported, self-selected. So what that means is, we can really only confidently, statistically speaking, speak to the experiences of the writers who took the survey.

Here’s the other thing: The actual numbers representation for many diverse writers working are so small that we, in our collection, we managed to hit about 10 percent of all TV writers, almost a quarter of all women, nonbinary working TV writers, 50 percent of people of color. The numbers, unfortunately, aren’t tracked for LGBTQ and people disabilities, so we’re not sure what percentage, but we imagine we tracked a high percentage of those people too, because those numbers are so small and because, as Shireen pointed out earlier, many of us are all connected, we speak to each other, we provide support for each other to lean on as we’re kind of going through some of these challenges.

SR: In terms of recommendations, we’ve broken them up by different groups, I guess you could say. We’ve looked at it from the perspective of, what can agencies and management companies do better? What can studios and networks do better? What can showrunners and upper-levels do better? And what can the guilds and unions do better? Some of the recommendations are spread across all of them, because it’s a big issue, it’s a big problem, and it’s going to take everybody working together.

So the first and foremost thing that we need is a better reporting and tracking of the data, because the only way we’re going to know if we’re moving the needle, or if things are getting better, is if the data is being collected and reported.

TPJ: And reviewed.

SR: Yeah, reviewed. And that it’s transparent.

TPJ: One of our biggest recommendations is also just education. A lot of writers are creative geniuses, and then they’re thrust into this showrunner role, where they have to oversee hundreds of employees, including the writers room. And many don’t have any general management experience. So management education is important.

Implicit bias. Just really thinking about how can we be more open and really more aware about how our biases are impacting our worldview and our interactions with others. I think really bringing that, there’s an opportunity there. I think for all of us, education is something we can all really, truly benefit from.

And then lastly, I think, people asked like, “Well, why does this matter? Why is this important now?” Some of the things we found—for example, 64 percent of diverse writers have experienced bias, discrimination, harassment in the writers room—this is an urgent issue. And so one of the other major recommendations is that there has to be an independent, third-party reporting system for people, somewhere that’s not at the same studio where people are worried about, am I going to be able to be hired by them next time? Or really, really providing some safe outlet for reporting. And we’re also talking about exit interviews, and why those are important.

SR:  Yeah, because a lot of times when writers are not asked back to a show, the narrative that is presented to the networks and the studios is entirely coming from the showrunners and the upper-levels, but the writer who’s being let go is never allowed to tell their side of the story. And so for diverse writers…

TPJ: Many are scared to tell their side of the story.

SR:  Yeah, absolutely. But there are a lot of stories that we’ve heard from the salons, from the survey, and from talking with our friends, that the reason why people are being let go, or why people sometimes are choosing to leave: There are significant reasons, and they need to be addressed by the networks and the studios, which is why we want exit interviews to be implemented.

JJ:  And I think also activating audiences, and helping audiences understand what they’re missing—because I want to say that, although I knew the hiring numbers, generally speaking, I was not aware of the behind-the-scenes things that were happening, that were keeping even diverse folks who were hired from getting their voices through. And I think a lot of folks are in that position, and were sort of thinking, “This is a creative realm. We’re getting to see all the best that’s coming at us.”

And so I think that just this Behind the Scenes, as the report is titled, is very, very useful, and that audiences will also be very useful in demonstrating their hunger for these new kinds of stories.

SR:  Absolutely. And one thing that I can definitely say is that networks and studios are very much tracking what’s going on, especially on Twitter, and what people are saying about the shows, what they like about the shows, what they don’t like about the shows. So if there’s something that audiences want, or want more of, or something they don’t like, you know, social media is a great thing sometimes.

JJ: Well let me just ask you, Shireen Razack and Tawal Panyacosit Jr.,  final thoughts? Things you’d like to say to listeners about this new report? Why you think it’s so important?

TPJ: One of our recommendations, absolutely, is that the industry as a whole needs to kind of pull resources together and create a system for monitoring, tracking and reviewing inclusion and equity in writers rooms, but also within the ranks of executives and the different kinds of players.

But we will do it again if we have to. And I think it’s important that this is really, I said it before, but this is unprecedented. This is really the first time that people within the industry are really trying to speak up on these issues.

And we’re following writers room rules, which is, it’s not just about identifying problems, but it’s offering solutions. And that’s really what we wanted to do.

There are a lot of amazing groups and entities that are doing this work already. And we wanted to provide whatever support we could from our insight in the room. And I think what we really hope to see, at the end of the day, are writers rooms where everyone can respectfully contribute without fear of censure or retaliation, where the stories and the people are thriving in a safe and creative environment.

JJ:  We’ve been speaking with Tawal Panaycosit Jr. and Shireen Razack of the Think Tank for Inclusion & Equity. The report is called Behind the Scenes: The State of Inclusion and Equity in TV Writers Rooms. Tawal Panyacosit Jr. and Shireen Razack, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

TPJ: Thank you, Janine.

SR: Thank you so much for having us.

 

Assange’s ‘Conspiracy’ to Expose War Crimes Has Already Been Punished

April 12, 2019 - 2:52pm

by Joe Emersberger

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should never have been punished for working with a whistleblower to expose war crimes. Chelsea Manning, the whistleblower, has done more time in prison, under harsher conditions, than William Calley, a key perpetrator of the My Lai massacre. Remarkably, Manning is in jail again, failed by organizations that should unreservedly defend her, as the US tries to coerce her into helping inflict more punishment on Assange.

As for Assange, he has already been arbitrarily detained for several years, according to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Its 2016 press release on the matter stated:

The expert panel called on the Swedish and British authorities to end Mr. Assange’s deprivation of liberty, respect his physical integrity and freedom of movement, and afford him the right to compensation.

Now Assange could be punished even more brutally if the UK extradites him to the US, where he is charged with a “conspiracy” to help Manning crack a password that “would have” allowed her to cover her tracks more effectively. In other words, the alleged help with password-cracking didn’t work, and is not what resulted in the information being disclosed. It has also not been shown that it was Assange who offered the help, according to Kevin Gosztola (Shadowproof, 4/11/19). The government’s lack of proof of its charges might explain why Manning is in jail again.

The indictment goes even further, criminalizing the use of an electronic “drop box” and other tactics that investigate journalists routinely use in the computer age to work with a confidential source “for the purpose of publicly disclosing” information.

In other words, the purpose of the conspiracy was to gather evidence of government wrongdoing and report it to the public.

In 2010, the Guardian, like the New York Times and a few other corporate newspapers, briefly partnered with WikiLeaks to publish the contents of thousands of confidential US diplomatic cables, known as Cablegate. That year, WikiLeaks released other confidential US government information as well: the Afghanistan War Logs, the Iraq War Logs, the infamous “Collateral Murder” video.

The material exposed atrocities perpetrated by the US military, as well as other disgraceful acts—like US diplomats strategizing on how to undermine elected governments out of favor with Washington, spying on official US allies and bullying poor countries into paying wildly exorbitant prices for life-saving drugs.

The van from WikiLeaks“Collateral Murder” video, attacked by the US military when it stopped to help victims of a US airstrike, including two Reuters reporters.

One US soldier involved in the “collateral murder” airstrike that Manning and Assange exposed, Ethan McCord, was threatened and reprimanded by a superior officer for requesting psychiatric help after the  atrocity. (“Get the sand out of your vagina,” he was reportedly told.) McCord had tended to wounded children during the massacre. He was soon expelled from the military, apparently now “unsuited” for it.

The point of journalism is to expose horrific crimes like this so that the powerful people who order them pay legal consequences, not the ones who expose them. Presumably that is why “press freedom” is considered important, and why it’s guaranteed by the First Amendment. The law should have protected Manning from punishment, the same way it protects somebody who uses violence in justifiable self-defense or in defense of others.

In Manning’s case, that was especially true, because she exposed grave crimes while stationed in Iraq, as the US perpetrated an even higher-level crime—a war of aggression based on a fraudulent pretext.  If the law should have protected Manning, who was at the very heart of the “conspiracy” to expose gruesome crimes, then it obviously should protect Assange, and any of the outlets that worked with him.

Last year, James Goodale, former general counsel to the New York Times, commented on the (now confirmed) idea that a “conspiracy” charge would be brought against Assange by the US government:

As a matter of fact, a charge against Assange for “conspiring” with a source is the most dangerous charge that I can think of with respect to the First Amendment in almost all my years representing media organizations.

The reason is that one who is gathering/writing/distributing the news, as the law stands now, is free and clear under the First Amendment. If the government is able to say a person who is exempt under the First Amendment then loses that exemption because that person has “conspired” with a source who is subject to the Espionage Act or other law, then the government has succeeded in applying the standard to all news-gathering.

Tweet from independent journalist Matt Kennard (4/11/19).

One way to avoid being accused of a conspiracy is to simply not publish information that powerful people don’t want published, as independent journalist Matt Kennard, author of The Racket, noted on Twitter.

Another way to protect against prosecution would be to help the government unofficially designate a class of acceptable “journalists,” and join the government in vilifying anyone outside this club as a “spy,” “hacker”—anything but a journalist. 60 Minutes (1/26/11) suggested he was “not really a journalist at all” because “he is an anti-establishment ideologue with conspiratorial views.” An example of such paranoia? “He believes large government institutions use secrecy to suppress the truth and he distrusts the mainstream media for playing along.”

British journalists, too, have taken to this task with glee for many years. Unsurprisingly, Assange’s arrest prompted vicious comments about his appearance from prominent members of the club.

The Guardian editors dropped any pretense of having journalistic standards when it comes to Assange when it published an outlandish claim that Assange met repeatedly with Paul Manafort in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Glenn Greenwald has done tremendous work exposing that journalistic outrage. It has become a “scoop” (heavily tweaked and qualified after publication) that the Guardian doesn’t retract, but doesn’t mention either—even in a very recent editorial (4/11/19) about Assange’s case.

In that editorial, the Guardian, disregarding the UN experts who said Assange had been arbitrarily detained for years, still calls for Assange to be “held to account” for “skipping bail” (though not extradited to the US). Journalism like that, at the “liberal” end of the spectrum, explains why Assange and Manning are in jail, while George W. Bush and Tony Blair walk free.

Featured image: Julian Assange being arrested by British police at the London Ecuadoran embassy. (Image: Ruptly)

Deborah Vagins on Gender Pay Gap, Nusrat Choudhury on the New COINTELPRO

April 12, 2019 - 10:31am
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This week on CounterSpin: Looking back at Equal Pay Day, April 2, it seems strange that when the subject is the fact that women continue to be paid less than men for the same work—and women of color still less—such a lot of the conversation is not about how we can fix the problem quickly and concretely, but about whether the numbers really say what they seem to; or whether maybe it’s not so bad; or women’s fault; or will, left alone, get better over time. We’ll talk about the persistent reality of the gender pay gap with Deborah Vagins, senior vice president for public policy and research at the American Association of University Women.

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Also on the show: We’ve just passed the April 4 anniversary of the 1968 killing of Martin Luther King Jr., hounded for years, listeners will know, by the FBI, which sought to disrupt and discredit the powerful protest of King and other black activists with a program called COINTELPRO. What for many is a shameful episode in US history seems to be a source of inspiration for today’s FBI, whose fabrication of a category of domestic threat dubbed “Black Identity Extremism” seems to have eerily similar goals. We’ll talk with Nusrat Choudhury, deputy director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program, about efforts to expose and resist the FBI’s dangerous ideas.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at press coverage of Russia in Africa.

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Dictator: Media Code for ‘Government We Don’t Like’

April 11, 2019 - 3:10pm

by Alan MacLeod

Most dictatorships in the world are supported by the United States (Truthout, 9/23/17)—but this isn’t true of most governments described by US media as “dictatorships.”

Let’s start with a quiz: Quick! Name some dictators!

I’m willing to bet most of you responded with just a few of the same names: Assad, Putin, Castro, Kim Jong-un, Gaddafi, Maduro. This is not because they are the only dictators in the world (far from it), or that all of them even necessarily qualify for the title, but precisely because these are the figures most constantly labeled as such by our media.

“Dictator” is a very powerful moniker to give someone. There is a hard-to-define but very important distinction between a government with authoritarian tendencies or a poor human rights record, on the one hand, and a full-blown dictatorship. The very name implies that dictatorial governments should, nay, must be resisted and overthrown, while the same action is not appropriate or justifiable for the former.

Democracy is a supposedly sacred ideal for Americans. Politicians and media tell us that the United States “stands for” democracy and opposes dictatorships everywhere, one reason why the US must continue to involve itself diplomatically and militarily around the world.

However, Freedom House’s “Freedom in the World” studies find that 49 countries—over a quarter of the world’s governments—are “not free”, a designation they use interchangeably with “dictatorships” on their website and their reports. Why then, do most politically savvy people not know the names of all these dictators? Why are they not household names, like Assad and co.? Is it because the United States provides military assistance (training, sales and aid) to three-quarters of them, as Rich Whitney’s study (Truthout, 9/23/17) suggests?

How Free is Freedom House?

Defining and quantifying what does and does not constitute a dictatorship is a notoriously tricky business, and Freedom House’s strong conservative political bias makes its list and judgments all the more questionable. For one, the “non-governmental” organization is actually overwhelmingly funded by Washington, who employed Freedom House in 2006 to perform “clandestine activities”—i.e., regime change operations—in Iran.

The man in charge of compiling the freedom list, used by Whitney and many others, admitted his methodology consisted of “hunches and intuition.” And as many scholars have indicated, Freedom House also has a long history of supporting US client state dictatorships and attacking enemy states such as Nicaragua; the ratings have a strong conservative and pro-US ideological bias. Nevertheless, its index is useful, as it is the most commonly cited source on the matter, and one can assume that it is not going out of its way to falsely label US allies as dictators.

When you look at the governments that Freedom House describes as dictatorships, those that are also Official Enemies are frequently described as such in corporate media—for example, Russia (Washington Post, 5/8/18), Cuba (USA Today, 2/26/19), Syria (New York Times, 3/2/19), Belarus (ABC, 3/5/19),  North Korea (USA Today, 3/22/19) and Venezuela (New York Times, 4/10/19). Yet “our dictators”—that is, the “not free” governments that Washington supports—are rarely if ever labeled as dictatorships by the establishment press. In fact, there is very little coverage at all of those countries that are “behaving themselves” as far as the US State Department is concerned.

Let’s look at the press coverage of four of Freedom House’s “dictators” who receive US military aid, all of whom have been in the news recently: Paul Biya of Cameroon, Abdel el-Sisi of Egypt, Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria and Kazakhstan’ s Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Cameroon

VOA (2/14/19) frames coverage as though Paul Biya’s age is the issue, rather than his anti-democratic rule.

The 86-year-old Paul Biya, the longest serving non-royal head of state in the world, has held office in Cameroon since Gerald Ford was president. He recently won a seventh term in office that Foreign Policy (10/22/18) described as a “farce.” Cameroon has been in the news of late, due to the government’s human rights abuses pushing the country to the brink of a civil war. Freedom House considers it to be one of the least free countries in the world.

However, when discussed at all, Biya was presented matter-of-factly by the media, without the need to add call him a “dictator.” The New York Times (10/6/18) presented him euphemistically as “one of the world’s longest-serving presidents.” From the coverage, readers would not know he is a dictator, even by Freedom House’s standards. In fact, going through fully 20 years of coverage in the Times, Biya was never once described as a “dictator,” “despot,” “tyrant” or any other similar designation.

When Biya was rebuked at all, the tone of the coverage was less condemnatory and more muted criticism. Voice of America (2/14/19) noted that Biya’s decision to remove presidential term limits (meaning he could rule for life) led some “critics” to call the move “authoritarian.”

Egypt

CNN (2/13/19) reports on a “debate” over whether Gen. Abdel el-Sisi should continue to “serve as president” for the next 15 years.

Gen. Abdel el-Sisi came to power in 2013 in  a military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of President Mohamed Morsi. Sisi recently announced his plan to rule until 2034—effectively in perpetuity.

The New York Times’ article (2/14/19) on the subject noted that this would “further entrench his authoritarian rule,” and even noted he had jailed “tens of thousands” of opponents, muzzled the internet and taken over the courts. Nevertheless, it stopped well short of calling him a dictator. Indeed, it noted that he enjoyed strong support from around the world, and was seen as a “bulwark against Islamist militancy” in the region, endorsed by the US and France. Other media outlets followed this tendency. CNN (2/13/19) simply described him as “current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi,” while NPR (2/14/19) likewise just referred to “Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.”

While accurately noting Sisi’s “unprecedented crackdown on dissent,” which imprisoned “tens of thousands of people,” the BBC’s report (2/15/19) labeled him neutrally as “president,” and only characterized his steps to rule virtually indefinitely as something “opponents of the proposal describe” as “a further step towards authoritarianism.” Thus, its strongest criticism of Egypt is that it’s accused of moving toward “authoritarianism”—a long way from being a full-fledged “dictator.”

Algeria

On CNN (3/11/19), Abdelaziz Bouteflika is not presented as a dictator stepping down but as a president making an electoral decision.

After he announced he intended to stand once again for president, massive protests broke out all around Algeria against 82-year-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The uprising has been serious enough that he has promised to stand down. Despite coming to power fraudulently and ruling with an iron fist for 20 years, media outlets (e.g., CNN, 3/11/19; Reuters, 4/2/19) have refrained from describing him as a dictator, with the BBC (3/6/19) simply referring to him as a “reclusive president.”

Indeed, reading the Guardian’s coverage  (4/1/19), one would have no idea he was not the epitome of a democrat. The New York Times (3/12/19) also praised Bouteflika for “bringing back stability” to the North African country, and “restoring the honor of the nation’s army.” As with Cameroon’s Biya, Bouteflika has never once been described as a “dictator” in the last 20 years of Times coverage.

Kazakhstan

Another ruler propped up with US military aid is Nursultan Nazarbayev. The 85-year-old, in power since 1989, recently announced he would step down. It was also revealed that Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, would be renamed Nursultan in his honor (not a common occurrence in democracies—with Washington, named for the winner of an election that involved approximately 1 percent of the population, arguably not an exception).

The New York Times (3/19/19) doesn’t shy from labeling Nursultan Nazarbayev the “longtime president of Kazakhstan,” though in the ninth paragraph it notes “he won repeated elections with nearly 100 percent of the vote each time.”

Nazarbayev has a long history of cracking down on freedom of speech, the press and  religion, and uses torture against his political opponents. Despite this, he was presented positively in the media, with the New York Times (3/19/19) simply referring to him as the “longtime president of Kazakhstan.” The Associated Press (3/19/19) called him “the only leader that independent Kazakhstan has ever known,” praising him for “maintaining stability.” Reuters (3/19/19) claimed he was a “widely popular” leader, with none of the above using the “dictator” moniker.

The Washington Post editorial board (3/29/19) published a glowing appraisal of his tenure. It presented him as a visionary leader, an ex-steelworker “who led the former Soviet republic out of the empire’s chaotic implosion,” claiming he brought Kazakhstan into a peaceful, prosperous new era, while “building national identity” and stopping any ethnic conflict. While noting that he “ruled as a strongman” and “would have been wiser to view dissent and democracy with more tolerance,” the editorial implied his repression was justified, concluding “he won’t be soon forgotten” by his people.

Double Standards

This is not the kind of headline you get if you are a government in good standing with Washington (Miami Herald, 2/25/19).

The double standard is highlighted by the constant media references to enemy states as dictatorships, whether the label is warranted or not. The Washington Post (1/4/19) describes leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales as “wishing to become a Venezuela-style dictator,” while the Guardian (12/3/18) carries warning of Bolivia becoming an “imminent ‘Venezuelan-Cuban-style’ dictatorship.”

The leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua is constantly called a “dictatorship” as well. The New York Times (8/2/18) published an opinion piece from a Nicaraguan headlined “A Dictatorship Is Rising in My Country Again.” Many other outlets describe him as a “dictator” (Economist, 7/12/18; Time, 3/18/19) carrying out a “terrifying crackdown” (National Review, 3/15/19)—language that is never used for US-backed dictatorships.

And it takes only a cursory glance at the headlines to see how Nicolas Maduro, “the child butcher of Venezuela” (Washington Examiner, 2/21/19), is portrayed:

  • “The Dictator of Venezuela Earns His Title” (New York Times, 2/27/19)
  • “Venezuela’s Dictator Maduro Survived a Tough Week, but His Problems Are About to Get Worse” (Miami Herald, 2/25/19)
  • “Why Are Progressives More Focused on Disagreeing With Trump Than Countering a Dictator [Maduro]?” ( Washington Post, 3/2/19)
  • “Newt Gingrich: Venezuela’s Dictator Maduro Must Go—Even if the Military Has to Intervene” (Fox News, 3/14/19)
  • “Maduro Really Didn’t Like Being Asked if He’s a ‘Dictator’” (New York Post, 2/26/19)
  • “Gen. Jack Keane, Hans Humes on Venezuela’s Socialist Dictator Maduro’s Potential Exit” (Fox Business, 3/7/19)

Is it truly a coincidence that these three countries with elected leftist heads of state are constantly labeled “dictatorships”? Bolivia is not even on Freedom House’s “not free” list—unlike Cameroon, Egypt, Algeria and Kazakhstan. Venezuela and Nicaragua were recently added to it, despite the fact that both countries’ latest elections were endorsed internationally.

While there are some clear shortcomings to Venezuela and Nicaragua’s political systems, the US-dominated Organization of American States observed the 2017 Nicaraguan municipal elections and declared that “the popular will [was] expressed through the vote in the vast majority of Nicaragua’s municipalities.” (With 53 percent turnout, the governing Sandinista party won in 135 out of 152 communities, with the Independent Liberal Party taking 12 of the remainder.)

Meanwhile, Venezuela’s 2018 elections were endorsed by 150 international observers, including foreign ex-heads of state like Spain’s Jose Zapatero and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, with three international election observation teams endorsing the result, despite the fact that US media wrote them off as a sham (FAIR.org, 5/23/18).

The same cannot be said for Kazakhstan, even by Freedom House, that notes that “none of the elections held in Kazakhstan since independence have been considered ‘free and fair’ by credible international observers.” Nursultan was declared to have won 98 percent of the vote in 2015.

Enemy states are covered far more and far more harshly in US corporate media than friendly ones. A search for Paul Biya in the NYTimes.com database elicits 97 results, compared to 1,135 for Maduro, 713 for Morales and 3,517 for Ortega, despite the fact that Biya has been in power as long as the other three combined. (Cameroon’s population is 24 million, three-fourths the size of Venezuela, more than twice as big as Bolivia and four times as populous as Nicaragua.)

In a recent article (FAIR.org, 3/23/19), I suggested that the term “moderate” or “centrist” has a tactical definition when used in the media. It does not refer to any political positions, but is used as a way of conveying legitimacy. Thus anyone the media approve of is, by definition, a moderate. FAIR (8/20/18) has also noted that a “regime,” in US media usage, is simply a government that is at odds with the US empire.

The “dictator” label is also a powerful cue, used by media to prime the reader to see a particular country or leader a certain way. Readers are invited to feel outraged at the misdeeds of Assad, Putin or other anti-US head of states, while authoritarian rulers that toe the US line are ignored or even praised. The choice of whether to use a word like “dictator” frames a country in a way conducive to elite US interests, conveying legitimacy or the lack thereof in a single label.

Bill to End Yemen Siege Passes—No Thanks to MSNBC - After Khashoggi outrage passes, cable network goes back to ignoring US-backed humanitarian disaster

April 9, 2019 - 5:05pm

by Adam Johnson

Progressives—along with a handful of libertarian-leaning Republicans—finally passed a bill in both houses of Congress last week to invoke the War Powers act and end US support for the Saudi-led bombing of Yemen, an entirely one-sided war that’s killed thousands of Yemeni civilians over the last four years with assistance and direction of the US military.

The bill’s proponents achieved this human rights victory with virtually no help from America’s leading liberal cable network.

As activist pressure on lawmakers mounted over the past few months, the nominally liberal media powerhouse MSNBC was once again AWOL. The 24-hour cable news channel has yet to cover the war in all of 2019, repeating a similar no-show record when activists were attempting to end the war last spring; MSNBC ignored Yemen entirely from September 2016 through July 2018 (FAIR.org, 3/20/18).

In August 2018, after almost two years of not doing a single segment on the US war on Yemen (August 31, 2016–August 9, 2018), Chris Hayes finally reported on a US-made bomb that killed over 40 children in a Yemen school bus. (A widely circulated FAIR Action Alert two weeks prior—7/23/18—pointing out MSNBC had 455 mentions of Stormy Daniels and 0 of Yemen from July 2017 to July 2018 may have contributed, but it’s impossible to know for sure.)

Joe Scarborough’s interview with Sen. Chris Coons (D.-Delaware) (12/14/18) appears to be the last time the war in Yemen was discussed on the MSNBC cable channel.

The October 2, 2018, murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, and the subsequent bipartisan, CIA-sanctioned outrage by US media that one of their own was killed, did provide cover for a handful of MSNBC segments on the Yemen siege in the final three months of 2018. But as that outrage receded, so too did the interest of Hayes (and MSNBC’s other big name hosts) to highlight Yemen. It’s been 116 days since December 14, 2018, the last time anyone on the network has mentioned Yemen, according to a search of MSNBC’s website and Twitter feed—a time period when anti-war activists needed it the most.

With a bill making its way to Trump’s desk that would finally end US arms sales, as well as intelligence and logistical support, for the Saudi campaign (which, CIA veteran Bruce Riedel insists, the war could not continue without), it’s worth reckoning with how inadequate and jingoistic liberal corporate media are when it comes to matters of US violence overseas. Big name progressives like Hayes, Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell should be leading the charge on ending the war, inviting the likes of Bernie Sanders and Barbara Lee to come on to explain in real time why liberals should support anti-war legislation making its way through Congress.

Instead, the anti-war mantle is mostly ceded to grotesque, tabloid antisemites on the right—like Breitbart, which has run half a dozen articles in favor of ending US support for Saudi Arabia in 2019. Progressives in Congress, who have been leading the fight for peace in Yemen for years, are given little to no support from the media’s most prominent liberal messaging platform.

You can send a message to Rachel Maddow at Rachel@msnbc.com (or via Twitter: @Maddow). Chris Hayes can be reached via Twitter: @ChrisLHayes. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

Featured image: Washington Post depiction (4/5/19) of Yemen bombing damage. (Photo: Lorenzo Tugnoli)

 

Federal Reserve ‘Independence’ Means It’s Free to Serve the Financial Industry

April 8, 2019 - 4:12pm

New York Times (4/6/19)

Neil Irwin had a New York Times article (4/6/19) warning readers of the potential harm if the Federal Reserve loses its independence. The basis for the warning is that Donald Trump seems prepared to nominate Steven Moore and Herman Cain to the Fed, two individuals with no obvious qualifications for the job other than their loyalty to Donald Trump. While Irwin is right to warn about filling the Fed with people with no understanding of economics, it is wrong to imagine that we have in general been well-served by the Fed in recent decades, or that it is necessarily independent in the way we would want.

The examples Irwin gives are telling. Irwin comments:

The United States’ role as the global reserve currency — which results in persistently low interest rates and little fear of capital flight — is built in significant part on the credibility the Fed has accumulated over decades.

During the global financial crisis and its aftermath, for example, the Fed could feel comfortable pursuing efforts to stimulate the United States economy without a loss of faith in the dollar and Treasury bonds by global investors. The dollar actually rose against other currencies even as the economy was in free fall in late 2008, and the Fed deployed trillions of dollars in unconventional programs to try to stop the crisis.

First, the dollar is a global reserve currency; it is not the only global reserve currency. Central banks also use euros, British pounds, Japanese yen and even Swiss francs as reserve currencies. This point is important, because we do not seriously risk the dollar not being accepted as a reserve currency. It is possible to imagine scenarios where its predominance fades as other currencies become more widely used. This would not be in any way catastrophic for the United States.

On the issue of the dollar rising in the wake of the financial collapse in 2008, this was actually bad news for the US economy. After the plunge in demand from residential construction and consumption following the collapse of the housing bubble, net exports was one of the few sources of demand that could potentially boost the US economy. The rise in the dollar severely limited growth in this component.

Former Fed chair Arthur Burns

The other example given is when Nixon pressured then–Fed chair Arthur Burns to keep interest rates low to help his re-election in 1972. This was supposed to have worsened the subsequent inflation and then severe recessions in the 1970s and early 1980s.

The economic damage of that era was mostly due to a huge jump in world oil prices at a time when the US economy was heavily dependent on oil. While Nixon’s interference with the Fed may have had some negative effect, it is worth noting that the economies of other wealthy countries did not perform notably better than the US through this decade. It would be wrong to imply that the problems of the 1970s were to any important extent due to Burns keeping interest rates lower than he might have otherwise at the start of the decade.

It is also worth noting that the Fed has been very close to the financial sector. The 12 regional bank presidents who sit on the open market committee that sets monetary policy are largely appointed by the banks in their regions. (When she was Fed chair, Janet Yellen attempted to make the appointment process more open.) This has led to a Fed that is far more concerned about keeping down inflation (a concern of bankers) than the full-employment portion of its mandate.

Arguably, Fed policy has led unemployment to be higher than necessary over much of the last four decades. This has prevented millions of workers from having jobs, and lowered wages for tens of millions more. The people who were hurt most are those who are disadvantaged in the labor market, such as African Americans, Hispanics and people with less education.

Insofar as the Fed’s “independence” has meant close ties to the financial industry, it has not been good news for most people in this country.

A version of this post appeared on CEPR’s blog Beat the Press (4/6/19).

You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com (Twitter:@NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

Ignoring Lessons of #metoo, Media Scrutinize Biden’s Accusers

April 8, 2019 - 1:56pm

 

Lucy Flores’ essay in The Cut (3/29/19) reopened a conversation about Joe Biden’s interactions with women.

As women come forward to accuse former Vice President Joe Biden of inappropriate touching, some media have responded by scrutinizing their political motives.

Former Nevada Assemblymember Lucy Flores described in an essay for New York magazine’s The Cut (3/29/19) how in 2014 Biden put his hands on her shoulders, smelled her hair and slowly kissed the back of her head. Since Flores spoke out, six other women have come forward to say that Biden touched them in ways that made them feel uncomfortable.

Shortly after Flores explained to CNN’s Jake Tapper (3/31/19) that Biden made her feel “shocked” and “powerless,” Tapper questioned her politics. He asked Flores to explain her political motivations, mentioning that she supported Bernie Sanders for president in 2016, and recently attended a Beto O’Rourke rally.

“I would say politics was definitely the impetus,” Flores answered. “The reason why we’re having these conversations about Vice President Joe Biden is because he’s considering running for president.”

“Did you have any conversations about what happened with any presidential campaign before you wrote that piece for The Cut?” Tapper followed up.

“No,” she answered.

Biden’s creepy behavior has been written about for years, but apparently video evidence, combined with his poor record on abortion and his 1991 interrogation of Clarence Thomas accuser Anita Hill, is not enough information for pundits to determine whether Biden could in fact have some issues with accepting women as actual people with bodily autonomy.

On ABC’s The View (4/1/19), Whoopi Goldberg said that she doubted Flores for not immediately saying something to Biden, dismissing the idea that the power dynamic between a vice president and a state lawmaker could discourage someone from speaking up:

It would have been nice if she would have turned to him and said, “You know what, J, I don’t really like this.”…  Something, cause he’s standing right there.

Goldberg engaged in classic victim-blaming logic: “If someone makes you uncomfortable, tell them.” She added: “Don’t sit and wait and say ‘I’m uncomfortable’ on national television, because it makes us suspect of your thoughts.”

Jonathan Capehart, an opinion writer at the Washington Post (4/2/19) who wrote that Biden had touched him and it was OK, cast doubt on Flores on MSNBC’s AM Joy (3/31/19). Capehart said that he “was wondering, you know, people were talking about Vice President Biden going for the Democratic nomination in 2016, so why not come out then?”

There is a very simple answer to Capehart’s disingenuous question, which is that the last time Biden was considering running for president, the #metoo movement had not started yet. This context does not diminish what Flores is saying; rather, it makes her point stronger, because it’s clear that this more nuanced conversation would not be happening without all the other people who have already come forward to demand accountability from politicians, celebrities and CEOs for the way their actions have caused harm.

Lucy Flores to Jake Tapper on CNN (3/31/19): “This really is about women feeling like we have agency.”

Flores told Tapper:

Frankly, on a much larger scale, we also need to have a conversation about powerful men feeling that they have the right to invade a woman’s space whenever they’d like. This really is about women feeling like we have agency.

Analysts have been clear to point out that no one has accused Biden of sexual harassment, but what’s missing is an understanding of the way that inappropriate behavior toward women can impact women’s political advancement or even exclude them from a career.

Like Flores, the woman who came forward to say that Biden touched her inappropriately when she worked in his Senate office in 1993 (Nevada County Union, 4/3/19) has experienced media scrutiny for her political opinions. Alexandra Tara Reade explained that when she spoke up to Senate personnel about her concerns, Biden retaliated. She was unable to get another job on the Hill, changing the trajectory of her career. “My life was hell,” she said.

Edward-Isaac Dovere, a staff writer at The Atlantic, tweeted that Reade had previously written about her love of Russia and, given this, questioned whether her account of the blacklisting was accurate. The implication of Dovere’s line of thinking is that certain people are only entitled to personal space or careers if they have the correct opinion on Vladimir Putin:

latest woman to accuse Biden of touching her inappropriately – https://t.co/GY8BNSsOtI – wrote in December: “I love Russia with all my heart … President Putin scares the power elite in America because he is a compassionate, caring, visionary leader.” https://t.co/gzbhSRps43

— Edward-Isaac Dovere (@IsaacDovere) April 4, 2019

Some of those given space in corporate media to defend Biden have taken it upon themselves to do so on their children’s behalf. The Washington Post (3/31/19) asked Sen. Chris Coons (D.-Delaware) to speak for his daughter Maggie about a 2015 incident in which Biden was filmed kissing the then-13-year-old’s forehead and whispering in her ear.

“She did not think of it as anything,” Coons said. “All three of my kids have known Joe their whole lives.”

Although it seems journalistically irresponsible—not to mention paternalistic—to assume that Coons would accurately represent his daughter’s opinion, it’s clear from the video, where Maggie grimaces and moves away from Biden, that she isn’t having a good time.

Eve Gerber (Atlantic, 4/4/19) lamented that “avuncular attention” is “now interpreted as at best pernicious paternalism and at worst septuagenarian sexual harassment.”

 

A main defense of Biden is that there have been occasions where he did not cross a line, as if that invalidates the times when he did. Eve Gerber, whose husband, economist Jason Furman, was a top Obama administration appointee, wrote an essay for The Atlantic (4/4/19) to say that, actually, Biden is an “unusually good” man. Alongside photos of her young son and daughter with Biden, Gerber argued that he was “touchy-feely with everyone,” and her kids loved it.

At Vox, Matt Yglesias (4/2/19) asked

whether the real problem is “millennial snowflakes,” out-of-control political correctness, and a zealous neo-Puritanism that can’t even take a joke or see an affectionate gesture for what it is.

Calling Biden “old-school,” Yglesias builds on the false idea that Biden’s line-crossing has some kind of legitimacy as a vestige of an earlier time. The common narrative that the #metoo movement is generational is inaccurate. It erases older feminists like Biden accuser D.J. Hill, while also suggesting that some people should be allowed to behave inappropriately because of their age.

Defenses for Biden don’t necessarily follow a logical path. In addition to questioning the motives of the accusers and victim blaming, media analysts have invented reasons to excuse his behavior. At CNN (4/3/19), historian Douglas Brinkley brought up Biden’s cancer advocacy work.

“He’s been doing a cancer moonshot, and he’s talking to people that are afflicted with cancer a lot, and he grabs them a lot,” he said.

None of the accusers met Biden under these circumstances. And if they did? Cancer patients have boundaries, too.

 

Tips for a Post-Mueller Media from Nine Russiagate Skeptics - Evidence-based journalists on the mistakes media made and how to get it right moving forward

April 5, 2019 - 5:43pm

by Katie Halper

So many in media got so much so wrong over the past two years as they put all of their eggs in the basket of Trump/Putin collusion in the 2016 election. I asked some Russiagate skeptics to share what they saw as the worst moments or biggest failings during the 22-month spree, and their tips for moving forward.

1. Encourage debate and dissent, not conspiracy theories and clicks.
—Aaron Maté, journalist, The Nation

Aaron Maté

I’ll never forget that Rachel Maddow did a segment where she called some alleged Russian trolls, interfering on Bernie Sanders’ fan club page, “international warfare against our country.” Jonathan Chait came out with a story about whether Trump was a Russian military intelligence agent, and then Chris Hayes put him on his program that night, and they discussed it as if this was a serious prospect.

January 2017, basically right as Trump was taking office, was the last time someone who was skeptical of Russiagate from the left was allowed on MSNBC, because in December of 2016, Ari Melber interviewed Glenn Greenwald. But that was the last time for Glenn. And January 2017 was the last time Matt Taibbi was on MSNBC. That means that basically, throughout this entire affair, throughout Trump’s presidency, MSNBC has not allowed on a single dissenting voice. That’s extraordinary. And what does that say about a political media culture, that it’s somehow a fringe position to question the conspiracy between the president and Russia?

So the only possible victory here for politics and journalism is if there’s accountability: On the journalism front, if we learn how to follow the facts, not a narrative that benefits ratings and gets us clicks; and in politics, if we actually learn to start becoming a real resistance, mounting opposition to Trump based on opposing his policies, not based on believing in this fairy tale.

 

2. Stop playing into Trump’s hands and stop smearing reporters. Matt Taibbi, journalist, Rolling Stone

Matt Taibbi (image: BillMoyers.com)

People are already writing articles accusing me and other journalists of being smug and taking a “victory lap.” I don’t feel victorious! I’d settle for being able to write about this story without being called a traitor.

Because of the way the modern news landscape is divided, we’re really susceptible to groupthink and orthodoxies. Everyone settles on narratives, and it becomes forbidden to explore any alternative themes being pursued on the “other” media. With Russiagate, it was called “shilling for Trump” to wonder about whether any part of it was untrue. That makes it very hard for young reporters, especially, to challenge this.

The only way we could possibly lose with the public in a contest with someone like Trump is if we completely abdicated the standards of the profession and did what he accused us of doing, which would be politicizing our jobs and using trumped-up evidence to try to make him look bad. That was the one option out of an infinite number of ways we could have pursued covering his presidency. That was the one thing that could have really helped him. And we did it. Not only did we do it, but we did it, basically, to the exclusion of everything else, for years.

3. Stop spreading Russophobic paranoia. Yasha Levine, journalist, S.H.A.M.E. Project

Yasha Levine

The thing is that America’s media obsession with the Russian menace—this idea that Russia is the greatest threat to liberal civilization—predates the Mueller investigation. It predates the 2016 election, and it predates Trump. So this wasn’t a sudden mistake about a single investigation, but something that America’s been moving towards for over a decade. The Russian Menace has been a lucrative racket—paying the mortgages, car loans, kids’ college tuitions, for thousands of think-tankers, military contractors, academics and journalists.

After Trump, the Russia hysteria hit a new level of paranoia and bigotry. There was a need to blame America’s domestic political turmoil, and the failure of its political establishment, on someone or something—to deflect responsibility for what happened. So suddenly liberal media began to see “the Russians” everywhere—part of a shadowy foreign conspiracy to undermine America from within.

They weren’t just threatening Europe and NATO. They were in the White House, in American voting machines, in American electrical grids, in American children’s cartoons. They were hacking people’s minds. They were controlling both the international left and the international right—against the respectable political center. That’s how sneaky and devious and cynical they are. That’s how much they want to destroy America’s liberal democracy.

The Mueller report may provide us some much-needed respite from this insanity for a few weeks or months, but this focus on the Russian menace isn’t going away any time soon. You can already see Joe Biden’s creepy behavior with women being blamed on a devious Russian plot to help elect Bernie. So as we get closer to the election, this kind of stuff is gonna fire up again big time.

To treat this issue as a media problem that we “can solve” and “get right” in the future is a bit too optimistic, in my opinion. It assumes that our political and media establishment wants to actually “get it right.” What does getting it right mean, when they are the problem that needs to be corrected?  To “get it right,” they’d have to admit that they’ve been wrong — not just about Mueller, but about the decades of bankrupt neoliberal politics they’ve been complicit in pushing on America and around the world. To get it right, our political and media elite would have to voluntarily deplatform itself. And I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Yasha Levine

4. Talk to people with an actual understanding of history and Russia, not fake experts and uninformed  pundits.
Carl Beijer, writer

It’s remarkable how often the problems of Russiagate coverage came down to simple ignorance. From references to Russia as a “Communist” nation to basic translation errors, we’ve seen prominent pundits make mistakes that would embarrass a grade-school Muscovite.

This was in part a problem of people exaggerating their own credentials, but it was also a problem of the media deciding that no real expertise was needed. I don’t want to call for academic entry exams, but I think it’s clear that the media needs to move in the direction of treating Russian studies as a field of knowledge like any other. Do you speak the language? Have you spent more than a few weeks in the country? What and where have you published? Do you have a directly relevant professional background?

There are so many people who could give extraordinary answers to all of these questions, so it says everything about Russiagate when you look at who we heard from instead. From overt operatives to media hacks, corporate news is now overrun by pundits who function as PR professionals for the major parties. All of their professional and social incentives compel them to carry water for their party; if they happen to be right about a given issue, it’s purely by accident.

And with Russiagate, we saw the worst-case scenario play out: Republicans, who will defend Trump over anything, ended up being right—while Democrats, desperate to believe they had caught him in an impeachable crime, got it wrong. The only way around this problem, as far as I can tell, is to talk to pundits who are acting against their own political interests.

In this case, there were plenty of people in liberal-left media who clearly want to see Trump fail, but who were nevertheless Russiagate skeptics. Some of those voices were just being contrarians, of course, but some of them were acting from a place of conviction.

5. Don’t manipulate the truth to justify war. Rania Khalek, journalist, host of In the Now

Rania Khalek

From the start, we were warning people that pushing this evidence-free conspiracy theory was ultimately going to empower Trump. But even worse, it actually made the world a more dangerous place. In order to prove he wasn’t in bed with the Russians, the Trump administration pushed some of the most anti-Russia policies in the post Cold War-era, moving us closer to nuclear war and increasing the likelihood of more violence in places like Syria, Venezuela and Ukraine, all to prove that Trump isn’t Putin’s puppet.

This entire affair has also resurrected the careers of the neocons, who, until Trump came along, were largely disgraced for the horrors they inflicted on Iraq. Now they’ve been embraced by liberals for being anti-Trump, and they have more influence than ever. Not to mention the new McCarthyism that frames everything, from the NRA to white nationalism to even progressive advocacy groups that challenge the Democratic Party, as agents of the Kremlin, distorting everyone’s understanding of what’s going on today.

The Russiagate narrative has been a disaster, and it’s going to continue to be a disaster, because, despite being proven to be a sham, the corporate media and the corporate Democrats are still pushing it, distracting everyone from the real reasons for our miserable status quo.

It’s regime change anniversary month for Iraq, Libya and Syria.

These countries were the targets of the US regime change playbook and all are worse off because of it. And now the regime changers have moved on to Venezuela and Iran. Will it ever end? pic.twitter.com/nd58u3VQSV

— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) March 13, 2019

6. Be skeptical toward government officials and other authorities. Branko Marcetic, journalist, Jacobin

Branko Marcetic

The media seemed to replace caution and wariness with an overeager credulity towards those in power or positions of authority, whether it was the salacious, unproven tales collected by a British spy; the various false and misleading claims disseminated by mysterious, anonymous government officials; or perjury-tainted former intelligence officials asserting that Trump was being blackmailed or controlled by Putin. They seemed to forget the lessons of the Iraq War, that these people, too, have their own agendas and interests.

Given the dangers, and with allegations this wild—particularly the idea that Trump was wittingly doing Putin’s bidding, which is what this scandal has always been about—there was always good reason to be extra careful. Instead, some of those pushing this narrative actually chided people for being too skeptical.

It also would’ve helped if the press gave weight to countervailing views and to experts (Russian journalists, coincidentally, never bought into the scandal), focused less on Trump’s Putin-curious rhetoric than on his administration’s actual policies, and resisted the temptation to take an explicitly nationalistic standpoint when reporting.

It’s not too late to salvage the media’s reputation, but they’ll have to acknowledge what they got wrong, be transparent about how they plan to rectify it and prevent a repeat, and have at least some accountability. None of that seems to be on the menu right now.

7. Focus on the many actual crimes.
Esha Krishnaswamy, lawyer, host of historic.ly podcast

Esha Krishnaswamy

Collusion” is a vague word that is not defined as a crime in any federal statute. There are numerous other Trump crimes to focus on, such as soliciting contributions from a foreign national, computer fraud, wire fraud, bribery of a public official, conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy to defraud the US, or even a violation of the emoluments clause.

We already know that a Saudi official paid for a “conference” and 500 rooms in Trump hotels. We know about the bizarre ties with a Turkish money-laundering case. Jared Kushner tried to get Qatar to bail him out on a bad building investment, and, when they refused, Trump took aim at Qatar. Trump cut ties with Qatar after the Saudi crown prince bragged that he had Jared Kushner in his pocket.

Since war criminals get a free pass, the media may not notice. But genocide is still illegal under international law (which the US doesn’t really subject itself to) and also under US law. Under 18 USC 1091, “transfers by force children of the group to another group” counts are genocide. During his brutal ICE detentions, Trump separated parents from children, and some of the children were adopted out.

But focusing on “collusion” allowed the media to peddle stories related to Facebook memes instead of talking about the issues, like how our elections are basically auctions to the highest bidder. Trump and Clinton spent nearly $2 billion each but instead of covering this, the media focused on whether or not a random Twitter account with eight followers interfered with bad memes.

The media ignored the brutal bloodbath in Yemen, the Rohingya situation in Myanmar. Domestically, they ignored wage stagnation, the rising prescription drug prices, housing foreclosures, the opioid epidemic.

The media promoted outright bigotry against Russian individuals. Maddow said, “These are the Russians in Davos.” Would she have done the same segment about any other group? “These are the Jews in Davos”?

They also sparked dangerous foreign policy, subjecting Trump to “tests” to prove  that he wasn’t Putin’s puppet. Rachel Maddow encouraged NATO’s build-up in Ukraine. Many Democrats continued to encourage Trump to arm Azov Battalion (Nazis) in Ukraine. The only decent thing Trump tried to do was build peace with North Korea, and the media fear-mongered about that. As usual, they chose to push the “national security consensus” over the truth.

 

8. Pay attention to whom Trump is actually colluding with.   Kyle Kulinski, host of the Kyle Kulinski Show

Kyle Kulinski

I’d say the worst example of media fails would be Maddow saying, what if Russia cut off the electricity to the middle of the country during the polar vortex. That’s just hysterical fear-mongering. I also hate the conflation of “attacking the country” with random low-level troll farms.

There’s also a concerted effort to not discuss the substance of the leaks on the DNC, and simply dismiss them because the source might be Russia. Would they do that if the leaks exposed corruption within the RNC? With 100 percent certainty, we can say no. This also gave Trump credibility, because when he screams “fake news” in the future, people won’t be as quick to reject it.

The media should focus on policy and how it impacts regular people. If they did, they would’ve spoken quite a bit about Trump’s dealings with predatory payday lenders. They donated a lot to his inauguration, and recently have been funneling him money through his golf courses. In return, he dropped an Obama-era lawsuit against them, and blocked implementation of new regulations. They’ll now make $7 billion off society’s most vulnerable. You can almost say it was “collusion” between Trump and the industry. Too bad MSNBC and CNN don’t care—and probably don’t even know—about it.

9. Stop fear-mongering and engaging in “acceptable” bigotry. Jimmy Dore, comedian, host of the Jimmy Dore Show

Jimmy Dore (cc photo: Gage Skidmore)

When Keith Olbermann pounded his fist on his table, screaming, “SCUM! RUSSIAN SCUM!!!” I couldn’t help but thinking, that’s the only nationality he could insert there and get away with it. He couldn’t scream “Mexican scum” or “Chinese scum” or “Indian scum.” Russian bigotry is, I think, the only acceptable bigotry among the liberal media. Totally acceptable to the liberal media.

Rachel Maddow telling her audience in the middle of a polar vortex that Russia controls their power grid and could freeze them all to death at a moment’s notice was by far the most egregious example of fear-mongering. But that’s not the only bad thing the media’s done. They’re currently pushing regime-change wars in Syria and Venezuela.

The corporate news will never regain my trust or redeem itself, because they are owned and funded by the people they’re supposed to be investigating and exposing, like the richest man in the world, for instance, Jeff Bezos. He controls 51 percent of all the internet sales in the United States, sits on a Pentagon board and has a $600 million deal with the CIA. That’s the guy running the news!

Calling Racism by Its Real Name

April 5, 2019 - 1:43pm

Note that the New York Times‘ headline (1/10/19) was not “Steve King Defends White Supremacy”—though that was surely the most newsworthy aspect of this profile.

It should go without saying that things we don’t have names for…go without saying. For years, that’s been the deal with corporate media and racism. Actions, policies, statements and ideas that regular people have no trouble identifying as racist become, in elite media hands, “racially tinged,” “racially charged,” “race-related.” And if racism isn’t a thing our famously objective reporters can see, well, maybe it’s not really out there, right?

Things came to a forehead-slapping peak when Rep. Steve King (R.–Iowa) said to the New York Times (1/10/19):

White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that language become offensive? Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?

Endorsing the supremacy of white people—that’s racist, right?

Leaked reports showed NBC News, for one, instructing staffers otherwise (HuffPost, 1/15/19): “Be careful to avoiding characterizing [King’s] remarks as racist,” read the internal guidance, adding “It is OK to attribute to others as in ‘what many are calling racist’ or something like that.” Laugh if you will, NBC is reflecting polite society’s rule that besmirching someone—someone white, that is—with the label “racist” is worse than degrading the humanity of millions.

Shamed on social media, NBC reversed course, and now the news industry bible, The AP Stylebook, is reinforcing the move to Realityland. The 2019 edition tells journalists:

Do not use racially charged, racially divisive, racially tinged or similar terms as euphemisms for racist or racism when the latter terms are truly applicable. Mississippi has a history of racist lynchings, not a history of racially motivated lynchings. He is charged in the racist massacre of nine people at a black church, not the racially motivated massacre of nine people at a black church.

It might seem superficial, but for a press corps that calls itself clever for splintering off “factchecking” from reporting, that chest-thumps about the First Amendment but doesn’t defend whistleblowers when they go to prison, symbols can mean a lot.

There’s something else new in the new AP guide. It says, “Deciding whether a specific statement, action, policy, etc., should be termed racist often is not clearcut. Such decisions should include discussion with colleagues and/or others from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.” That diverse people need to be in the room, that reporting involves listening to and learning from them—now there’s a radical idea.

Shireen Razack and Tawal Panyacosit Jr. on Inclusion in TV Writing

April 5, 2019 - 10:34am
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Illustration from Behind the Scenes: The State of Inclusion and Equity in TV Writers Rooms

This week on CounterSpin: For many of us, while we recognize that the priorities and practices of news media affect our lives, news programming isn’t where we live, so to speak. It’s creative media—dramas, comedies, even cartoons—that engage us, with their opportunity to stretch imaginations, shift perspectives, reveal often hidden experiences. Which contributes to our disenchantment when the same structural problems that plague other US institutions show up in this realm, too, as we’re reminded every time we read a report on the staffing of, for example, television shows.

Year after year, we see people with disabilities, people of color, women and LGBTQ people un- and underrepresented in the rooms where ideas are generated. And, year after year, Hollywood pledges to “do better.” A new report on TV writers looks beyond the promises, and talks about the experiences of what it calls “diverse” writers once they get the job. The research comes from a group of working TV writers called the Think Tank for Inclusion & Equity. We’ll hear from project leaders Shireen Razack and Tawal Panyacosit Jr.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at AP‘s new guidelines on naming racism.

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Highlighting Israel’s Claims of Conquest, NYT Creates Confusion on Status of Occupied Territory

April 4, 2019 - 4:39pm

by Joshua Cho

The New York Times (3/26/19) highlights Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new rule for occupied territories: “If occupied in a defensive war, then it’s ours.”

When the New York Times (3/26/19) reported on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fait accompli pronouncement that nation-states can now seize territories acquired in defensive wars—after President Donald Trump announced via tweet that the United States asserts Israeli sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights—it seriously misled readers on the status of Israel’s illegal settlements on the occupied territories of the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

While the Washington Post’s report (3/26/19) on Netanyahu’s pronouncement made it clear that UN Security Council Resolution 497 in 1981 condemned Israel’s formal takeover of the Golan Heights as “null and void and without international legal effect,” the Times report, by David Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner, obscures the illegality of Israeli settlements by attempting to make “practical and legal distinctions” between the settlements in the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

This is not novel behavior. FAIR (6/26/02) has noted before that despite the lack of direct government interference, as is the case with Israeli media (Jerusalem Post, 7/12/18), the mass media in the United States often offer euphemistic descriptions of Israel’s settlements, pretending that they’re less of a blatant violation of international law than they really are.

The Times report repeats unchallenged assertions contrasting the Golan Heights with the West Bank made by American and Israeli officials (one of them actually living in a West Bank settlement), claiming that while the Golan Heights is occupied territory, the West Bank is only “disputed” territory, because it wasn’t “legally part of any sovereign nation” before it was captured by Israel, along with the Golan Heights, during the 1967 Six-Day War.

It also doesn’t challenge Israel’s practice of bargaining with territories it has no legal claim to in exchange for peace agreements, or explain why Trump and Netanyahu’s fiats cannot serve as a legal precedent for other land disputes, instead choosing to repeat official claims that the Golan proclamation is “an incredible, unique situation.”

Although UN Security Council Resolution 242 is criticized because it doesn’t mention Palestinian rights, its unanimous adoption leaves no room for “dispute” in terms of international law: Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and elsewhere on occupied territory, are in violation of international law, because Resolution 242 explicitly forbids the acquisition of territory by war, in addition to requiring Israel’s withdrawal from all the territories occupied in the 1967 war. Resolution 242 has repeatedly been reaffirmed and added onto, as recently as 2017’s Resolution 2334, which calls for an end to Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, despite Israel’s quibbling over a missing “the” in Resolution 242 (Al-Jazeera, 11/21/17).

Most notably, neither the Post’s nor the Times’ report question the credibility of the US and Israeli officials used as sources. Political scientist Michael Parenti has pointed out (in Inventing Reality) that one way to spread disinformation and lies is through “face-value transmission,” when reporters convey information known to be false without adequate confirmation or pushback, which FAIR (11/11/15) has already documented concerning the Times’ practice of uncritically spreading deceptive statements made by Netanyahu.

Setting aside the implausibility of Israel’s characterization of the Six-Day War as “defensive” when it began as its own surprise invasion (Real News, 6/4/17), neither paper can square official claims with other official admissions that the 1967 invasion was predicated on lies (Intercept, 6/5/17). Nor do they refer to candid reports in other places (e.g., Wall Street Journal, 2/5/17) admitting that mainstream Israeli political discourse assumes the legitimacy of Israel’s claims to the West Bank, in spite of overwhelming international opposition, and that settlements there are built for the purpose of annexation, in hopes of thwarting the creation of a Palestinian state, instead of for defensive purposes. No questions are raised about the validity of the narrative in which Israel is driven by concerns about security—as opposed to expansion—when Israel in the Syrian Civil War is known to be providing medical treatment to Al Qaeda fighters hostile to Israel’s existence, in an effort to deny a foothold for Hezbollah in the Golan Heights (Jerusalem Post, 3/13/15).

However, the Times failed to report that even if one believes that Israel seized the occupied territories out of self-defense, that still wouldn’t change the illegality of the settlements. Articles 2(4) and 39 of the UN Charter outline the proper procedure for determining and acting on security threats, and they forbid any threat or use of force outside the deliberations and recommendations of the UN Security Council, which were designed to prevent countries from unilaterally deciding to use force (Common Dreams, 6/6/16). Article 51 stipulates that the right to individual and collective self-defense arises when an “armed attack occurs” against a member of the UN, which would make the 1967 war launched by Israel illegal.

To be sure, after the headline (a crucial part of the message of every story) and the first five paragraphs laid out Netanyahu’s claims, the Times article did recognize that “legal experts and leaders of many foreign countries” hold that the prime minister’s assertion of a right to territorial conquest “did not comport with international law.” But the report’s failure to critically examine the conventional media narrative around Israel and its Middle Eastern neighbors, and its face-value transmission of false and irrelevant information given by US and Israeli officials, serve more to downplay the illegality of Israeli settlements under international law than to clarify their legal standing.

Despite what the New York Times would have us believe, there are no relevant “practical and legal distinctions” between Israel’s settlements on the West Bank and the Golan Heights; they are all illegal. Trump and Netanyahu’s argument that occupying territory is justifiable in a “defensive” war is correctly dismissed as absurd by legal experts and the international community.

You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com (Twitter:@NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

Featured image: New York Times depiction of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu surveying the Golan Heights with US Sen. Lindsey Graham (second from left) and Ambassador David Friedman (right). (Photo: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters.)

Corporate Media More Worried About Avocado Toast Than Human Lives

April 4, 2019 - 4:12pm

by Naomi LaChance

The New York Times (4/1/19) describes the impact that closing the southern border would have on “American manufacturers,” “grocery shoppers and farmers,” “business owners,” “border residents” and, finally—in the last two paragraphs of a 33-paragraph story—on “migrants.”

Trump’s border policies display zero regard for human rights, but for several news outlets, as Trump foments xenophobia, what’s at stake is brunch.

The New York Times (4/1/19) warned on Monday that the “beloved avocado” may soon be harder to come by in the US after President Donald Trump threatened in a tweet to close the Mexico border over migration. “The rise in the popularity of the avocado would not have been possible without trade with Mexico,” according to the Times.

CNN (4/2/19) reported, “The United States gets nearly 90 percent of its avocado imports from Mexico,” warning that “the US could run out of the trendy toast-topper in just three weeks.”

“If US/Mexico border closed, avocados would soon be toast, for starters,” CBS News (4/1/19) warned.

In a piece headlined “Avocado Shortages, Virgin Margaritas: Border Shutdown Would Hit American Palates,” Steve Barnard, president and chief executive of Mission Produce, told Reuters (4/1/19):

You couldn’t pick a worse time of year, because Mexico supplies virtually 100 percent of the avocados in the US right now. California is just starting and they have a very small crop, but they’re not relevant right now and won’t be for another month or so.

SFGate’s tweet (4/1/19), “Avocados could vanish in 3 weeks if U.S. closes Mexico border,” prompted a rash of responses:

so uh I like avocados but there are maybe other consequences that are more important if this happens https://t.co/Z6DHebKX5m

— noah, shinramyun samchun (@noahreservation) April 1, 2019

The food supply is, of course, not an unimportant concern. The avocado metric is “a handy shorthand way of illustrating how an abstract issue like international trade actually affects people’s lives day by day,” William Reinsch of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the Washington Post (4/2/19). But it’s a focus that allows journalists to tell the story of Trump’s border policies without addressing the human rights violations involved.

New York Times image (3/29/19) of refugees detained under the El Paso bridge (photo: Tamir Kalifa).

One of the most glaring examples of Trump’s immigration cruelty is the detainment of hundreds of migrants in a pen surrounded by chain-link fence and razor wire under the Paso del Norte bridge in El Paso, Texas. Asylum seekers were forced to sleep on gravel with only Mylar sheets in the cold, and subjected to other sleep deprivation tactics. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection officials, demanding an investigation.

Andre Segura, the legal director for the ACLU of Texas, condemned the practice (Newsweek, 4/2/19):

Locking up families with small children outside behind barbed wire fencing and forcing them to sleep in near-freezing temperatures is shocking even for an administration that has consistently developed cruel and inhumane immigration policies.

“The real crisis we must confront is that of the Trump administration violating the rights of those seeking refuge in our country,” Segura added.

“The care of those in our custody is paramount,” Border Patrol’s Andrew Meehan said in a statement.

When the Times (3/31/19) reported that people had been transferred from under the bridge, they didn’t include the entire story. Debbie Nathan, reporter for The Appeal, contradicted their account:

Wrong, @NYTimes! Lots of #migrants, including children still under the Santa Fe bridge in #ElPaso but on the east side, not both east and west sides. Just saw them this afternoon, March 31. Scores of them. https://t.co/5sgYgymAqZ

— Debbie Nathan (@DebbieNathan2) March 31, 2019

The veteran border reporter followed up:

CBP saying it closed the concentration-camp-style prison under an El Paso bridge. But this is what area looked like today. Constant monitoring necessary. Media should not believe a word CBP says; they routinely lie. pic.twitter.com/nppdV8mkK6

— Debbie Nathan (@DebbieNathan2) April 1, 2019

The Times’ deputy national editor, Kim Murphy, tweeted that the story had been updated because another part of the bridge was still being used to detain asylum seekers.

https://twitter.com/kimmurphy/status/1112498483804733440

UPDATE: Border Patrol says it’s transferring migrants from under Paso del Norte bridge to its El Paso Station. A second site on the other side of the bridge is still being used for processing. https://t.co/BBJvw3zQ7O

— Kim Murphy (@kimmurphy) March 31, 2019

Vice (4/2/19) reported that the border patrol relocated some 1,500 refugees to a parking lot with three tents.

The border patrol moved asylum seekers from under the bridge to other places. Some people have been released, but required to wear ankle monitors. Some people were moved to a parking lot that was even worse, a father from Honduras named Gustavo told Vice (4/2/19).

“The kids slept on top of our feet—we were standing up, because we didn’t fit,” Gustavo said. “You couldn’t see even one part of the floor. Just shoes and more shoes.”

His account offers a stark contrast to the frenzy over avocado prices.

“There were 1-year-olds,” he said. “They took away their blankets and they threw them in the garbage. They took away their hats. The kids trembled… It was so cold. There wasn’t anything to keep us warm.”

Featured image: Reuters depiction (4/1/19) of the kind of meal that would be threatened by an avocado shortage.

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