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Net Neutrality Repeal Is Only Part of Trump’s Surrender to Corporate Media

December 14, 2017 - 1:38pm

The FCC is under attack—and so too is the First Amendment. As the primary regulator of how media and information gets to our nation’s citizens, the Federal Communications Commission has a critical role to play in protecting the open Internet, free speech, and free press in our democracy. Though the agency has always enjoyed a cozy relationship with the industries it regulates, ever since the Trump administration arrived in Washington, the FCC’s mission to preserve the public commons has been threatened, assaulted and torn asunder. And like a bad horror movie cliché, these calls to eviscerate the FCC have been coming from inside the agency.

Repealing net neutrality has drawn a huge amount of public visibility—and rightly so—but that decision is just the latest in a string of ominous, industry-friendly giveaways by the Trump administration’s FCC. It has also rolled back local TV station ownership limits on media giants like Sinclair Broadcasting Group and rescinded the longtime “main studio” rule that required local stations to maintain community newsrooms and fostered more local journalism. And the agency’s leadership has begun a campaign to actively abdicate its enforcement mission and pass it over to the smaller, less well-funded Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which lacks the FCC’s deep industry knowledge and proactive regulatory power.

Ajit Pai (photo: FCC)

“This is the worst FCC I can remember,” says Michael Copps, bluntly. Copps, who served as FCC commissioner from 2001 to 2011 and now advises Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative, says he has watched new FCC chair Ajit Pai’s leadership with growing alarm. “There’s an audacity to it, a lack of process. It’s just God-awful,” Copps says of the agency’s breakneck pursuit of a reactionary, “market-based” agenda. “This FCC is on an outright tear to wreak untold damage on our media ecosystem, on our news and information, free speech, democracy and self-government.”

Death of the Open Internet?

The FCC’s 3–2 vote to repeal net neutrality—with the two Democratic commissioners dissenting—is the most high-profile and controversial step the agency has taken in the Trump era. It reverses a rule passed by the Obama administration FCC in February 2015 that put internet traffic under the “Common Carrier” protections of Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. In effect, net neutrality means the government prohibits cable companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from blocking, slowing or otherwise discriminating against the web traffic of their users. Much like a public utility, all content to the consumer must be treated the same—hence, net neutrality. Right-wing opponents of the rule—which included then-Commissioner Pai, who voted against net neutrality—complained it was a case of unnecessary government overreach, and made a series of apocalyptic claims about its potential impact.

“One of the things that’s really outlandish about how this FCC has gone about its net neutrality proceeding is that Pai has just straight-up ignored all the available evidence of the impact of the rule,” explains Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the media industry watchdog group Free Press:

Net neutrality opponents talked about how internet infrastructure will suffer. But if you actually look at what the phone and cable companies are reporting to their own investors since 2015: They’re bragging about deployment, they’re talking about all the faster speeds they’re providing, they’re talking about doing more with less money.

In endorsing a return to the “light touch” status quo ante—which is itself a misreading of the agency’s regulatory history—Pai cites studies that show a slight dip in broadband investment since 2015. But that proof is notably funded by the telecom industry, and other reporting on companies like Comcast contradicts his claims. So, like the widespread passage of draconian voter ID laws to combat a nonexistent epidemic of vote fraud, the Trump administration FCC’s justification for killing net neutrality is a right-wing “solution” to a phony problem. Aaron chalks up this FCC’s unwillingness to accept the truth as proof they don’t really care about consumers or the public interest. “To them, it really comes down to regulation is bad, and regulations passed by the Obama administration are worse.”

Even if motivated by partisan spite, the impact of losing net neutrality could be devastating for all news consumers and a free and independent press. With no legal or regulatory prohibitions stopping them, telecom companies and ISPs would feel emboldened—spurred on by their shareholders—to start picking and choosing one kind of content over another to maximize profits.

Comcast‘s net neutrality pledge, before and after the day (4/26/17) the FCC’s Ajit Pai announced his plan to scale back net neutrality requirements. (Ars Technica, 11/29/17)

Coincidentally, on the same day Pai announced his plan to roll back net neutrality last April, Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company and the owner of NBCUniversal, was caught subtly changing the language of its online net neutrality pledge. Before, the company promised to never offer “paid prioritization” (fast lanes) of Internet traffic; now it merely said it would not engage in “anti-competitive prioritization.” That vague, legalistic language amounts to a semi truck-sized loophole, ripe for abuse.

“There’s just so much incentive for a Comcast, which owns all these channels and movie studios, to give their own content a leg up and they can do it in ways that, as an end user, you might not know what’s going on,” Aaron points out.

For example, you might try to watch a Democracy Now! broadcast and you get that spinning wheel of death. It’s not loading, so unless you’re really committed to seeing it, you’ll probably go somewhere else, like NBC News, that loads quicker. That’s the kind of advantage they want. It’s like a big horserace, except they own the track and can give themselves a head start, and even if it’s only a few seconds in load time or a certain percentage in quality difference, that’s a big deal.

The backlash to the repeal has been ferocious. Just between Pai’s announcement in April and the end of August, the FCC received nearly 22 million public comments about the rule change. Most of these comments opposed the repeal: a Pew analysis found six out of the seven most prevalent comments supported net neutrality. And public polling also finds a majority of Americans prefer to keep net neutrality.

There was also a large-scale campaign of fraudulent FCC comments using 1 million stolen identities, which the FCC is refusing to help investigate. On the day before the repeal, 18 state attorney generals went public with a letter calling on Pai to delay the vote until the million-plus fraudulent public comments could be properly investigated.

Part of the overwhelming response can be attributed to comedian John Oliver, whose May segment in support of net neutrality went viral and has garnered more than 6 million views online. But the resistance runs far deeper than that.

Reddit‘s front page, devoted to pointing out lawmakers who supported net neutrality–or sold it out. (image: Cory Doctorow, 1/11/17)

An open letter signed by more than 50 mayors of US cities, from New York City to Salem, Virginia, called on the FCC to abandon its repeal. On the same day Michael Flynn pleaded guilty, the entire front page of Reddit was devoted to supporting net neutrality and expressing outrage at industry-funded lawmakers who failed to support it. (Even in the r/NASCAR subreddit, the most upvoted story ever is now about the need to protect net neutrality.) Members of Congress have been deluged with calls and comments as well. During the week of Thanksgiving, Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley reported 4,204 constituent calls supporting net neutrality, 0 against. Even the “father of the Internet,” Vint Cerf, and numerous other tech leaders have spoken out in support of net neutrality.

“Net neutrality has become a new third rail,” Aaron says. “This is very much a political issue now.” Despite the broad grassroots opposition, not to mention the unanswered questions about the legitimacy of some of the FCC comments, Pai and his fellow Republicans on the commission pushed ahead and voted to end net neutrality anyway.

Gutting Big Media Accountability

“What Pai is doing is moving us to an anti-competitive, ‘pay to play’ system of the internet, one that makes it harder for citizen journalists who have a camera or a phone to report and compete with big media companies,” explains Phillip Berenbroick, senior policy counsel for the open internet advocacy group Public Knowledge. And a mostly overlooked element of this plan, Berenbroick adds, is Pai’s push to strip the FCC of its regulatory and enforcement duties.

“In effect, the FCC is trying to dump enforcement of the Internet onto the FTC, which is already overtaxed,” Berenbroick explains. Pai justifies this move as a step toward more accountability, and he often calls the FTC, which oversees everything from diapers to airlines, the “nation’s premier civil law enforcement agency.” This tough talk is just a ruse, however, and glosses over the fundamental weaknesses inherent in dumping the FCC’s enforcement responsibilities onto another agency. Even FTC commissioner Terrell McSweeny acknowledged back in April that his agency would not be as capable as the FCC at policing internet blocking or tiered-content prioritization.

First of all, Berenbroick points out that the FTC lacks deep institutional knowledge of the communications industry, making it unlikely to effectively deal with technical or legal issues that could lead to anti-competitive behavior by massive media corporations. The agency also has roughly 550 fewer employees than the FCC, and Trump has just proposed cutting its fiscal year 2018 budget to $306 million, $16 million less than the FCC’s.

Most importantly, the FTC can only enforce “unfair and deceptive trade practices.” In effect, it can only police companies after the fact for failing to live up to their own voluntary commitments. With legions of lawyers at their disposal, giant media corporations are unlikely to be swayed by consumer complaints of internet traffic discrimination when these same companies are able to write (and rewrite) the rules they’re supposed to follow.

Not really, says Trump telecom policy advisor Mark Jamison (AEIdeas, 10/21/16).

Of course, the Trump FCC’s abdication of its regulatory duties is not surprising. One of Trump’s early telecom policy advisors, Mark Jamison, talked openly about eliminating the agency during last year’s presidential transition period. Just weeks before Trump’s election, Jamison had written an op-ed for the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, not-so-subtly titled: “Do We Need the FCC?” (Of note: Jamison previously advised cell phone corporation Sprint on regulatory issues.) In the post, Jamison claims one reason the FCC is no longer necessary is that “telecommunications network providers and ISPs are rarely, if ever, monopolies.” In fact, Pai’s predecessor, former FCC chair Tom Wheeler, pointed out in 2014 that four out of five Americans had only one choice for an ISP at basic broadband speeds of 25Mbps.

“The FCC, as the expert regulator of the communications industry, is far better positioned to deal with internet regulation, because it has the authority to write rules that prohibit bad behavior from happening in the first place,” Berenbroick notes. “If I were a cable company [Pai’s plan] is exactly what I would want.” For his part, Pai, a former lawyer for telecom giant Verizon, seems unconcerned about the appearance of bias. In fact, at a telecom industry dinner last week—hosted by Sinclair—the FCC chair joked about his “love” of his former company.

Wheeler, who led the fight to pass net neutrality, has likewise criticized the FCC’s efforts to dump enforcement on the FTC, calling it an “abomination.” In an op-ed last week, Wheeler noted the irony of such a move, since telecom giant AT&T recently won a court case where it successfully argued that the FTC had no jurisdiction over its internet traffic activity.

Sensing the fury aimed at this naked surrender to industry, Pai released a joint Memorandum of Understanding just two days before the repeal about how the FCC and FTC would work together to monitor the internet. But the substance of the plan was little changed; it  was little more than a blatant attempt at damage control. Democratic FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn blasted it as a “confusing, lackluster, reactionary afterthought.” The repeal vote still happened, however. Because in the Trump era FCC, the prospect that multi-billion-dollar media conglomerates could fall through the cracks, and their online control over the nation’s news and information could go essentially unregulated, is more a feature than a bug.

Undermining Local Journalism

The damage wrought by this FCC doesn’t stop with repealing net neutrality, though. As that more public battle has raged, the agency quietly gutted media ownership rules last month, opening the door to even more local TV consolidation, which could have a catastrophic impact on news diversity and local journalism. “Net neutrality has gotten more attention, because consumers can better understand the idea of my Netflix feed slowing down and buffering if I don’t pay Verizon more for video streaming,” notes University of Delaware public policy professor Danilo Yanich. “But media consolidation suffers because it is an abstract concern for news consumers; it’s hard for viewers to be outraged about the stories your new local TV station doesn’t cover.”

Companies like Sinclair, Gray and Nexstar have bought up hundreds of TV stations since 2004.  (Chart: Pew, 5/11/17)

Local TV, which just a few years ago was considered a dying backwater, has become among the hottest properties in the media industry recently. Between 2013 and 2016, the local TV news industry saw more than $20 billion in mergers and acquisitions deals, with hundreds of stations changing hands. As a result, several dominant players, among them Sinclair Broadcasting and Nexstar, have emerged. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of BIA Kelsey data, by the time 2017 arrived, five companies owned 37 percent of all full-power local TV stations in the country. This has translated into $2 billion in additional revenue for these companies since 2014.

“The mantra from these big media groups now is ‘go big or go home,’” says Yanich.

Mergers create more leverage for local TV media groups to charge broadcasters and cable companies more money for retransmission. And the reason they can say that is because they now control dozens or hundreds of stations across the country.

But local TV has also turned into a lucrative cash cow thanks to the radically changed landscape of political advertising in the wake of the 2011 Citizens United ruling, he explains. After analyzing the finances of seven major TV station corporations, a Pew report found that their combined political ad revenue jumped from $574 million in 2012 to $696 million in 2014 to $843 million last year. And those numbers are projected to grow even more in the future.

“Local TV news remains an extremely important vehicle for political communication,” Yanich explains. That is, in part, because local journalism is the most trusted form of news. Currently, Yanich is working on a book studying the relationship between political ads and news content in the 2016 election. He notes that this trust factor, plus the fact that local TV reaches a large number of voters who aren’t hardened partisans, makes it an appealing target for political influencers. “So a lot of money will keep going into local TV for political ads in 2020, because that’s the best way to get the message across to these undecided voters.”

Greater media consolidation may be good for the bottom lines of local TV conglomerates, but it’s not good for journalism. “This has huge implications, and it’s going on in the backyards of America, but most folks don’t know it because it’s simply not covered,” Yanich says.

It’s certainly not covered in depth in the mainstream press. It might be covered by FAIR or industry journals, but a local TV station in Philadelphia is certainly not going to tell you about the duopoly it has with another local station. What it instead says is: “We are extending the reach of the primary station.”

That’s why the FCC’s under-the-radar accompanying decision to rescind the “main studio” rule is so damaging. Previously, local TV stations were required to maintain a newsroom in the communities they covered, the goal being to keep their journalism centered on local issues. But with the rule lifted, local TV giants are now free to gobble up more and more stations, and then shut down those newly acquired local newsrooms to pad their profits. They can then pipe in pre-packaged news produced in faraway studios to save even more money. “You end up with the same anchors, same videos, same narrative,” Yanich explains. “Coupled with the move to end net neutrality, more media consolidation will have the effect of squelching dissent, whether for ideological or commercial reasons.”

Former Trump and Sarah Palin advisor Boris Epshteyn is one of Sinclair‘s must-carry commentators (7/8/17).

Indeed, greater local media consolidation will make it much easier to manipulate the news to fit the agenda of a corporate parent. Nowhere is this more apparent than at Sinclair Broadcasting, the largest TV station owner in the country, which has a well-established track record of coloring its news to favor right-wing ideology. A recent example: Back in May, when  Montana Republican Congressional candidate Greg Gianforte physically attacked a reporter on the eve of a special election, the local Sinclair affiliate refused to cover the story, even though numerous other news outlets did and a Fox affiliate witnessed and had an audio recording of the assault. Even more egregious, Sinclair forces its affiliates to run long, pro-Trump commentaries in its news broadcasts as many as nine times a week. Now Sinclair wants to bring this kind of broadcast mindset to even more of the country—in May, it proposed a massive acquisition of the fifth-largest local TV company, Tribune Media, which would give it more than 200 stations nationwide, and broadcast access to three out of four American homes.

The consequences for the homogenization and hollowing out of local and independent news are ominous. “As a viewer in a community, I’m better served if there are multiple newsrooms trying to hold public officials accountable. You want competing sources of information, different viewpoints and voices,” Free Press’s Aaron points out:

But if it’s all under the same corporate roof and literally produced by the same people, you can’t have that. In multiple communities right now, if you’re clicking through on Election Night, your local outlets might be simulcasting the same content on multiple channels.

The Fight Ahead

While this flagrant rollback of media consolidation rules looks unlikely to be reversed anytime soon under the Trump administration, net neutrality stands a better chance of being preserved. The political pressure on Congress to protect Title II internet regulation shows little signs of stopping. And numerous free press and civil liberties groups plan on suing the FCC to temporarily halt and, ultimately, reverse the repeal.

“We think this FCC completely botched the process. It has just ignored the public and never addressed the apparent fraud happening in the comments,” Aaron says. Likewise, the FCC’s public review simply disappeared the more than 50,000 consumer complaints lodged against internet providers since net neutrality went into effect. Notes Aaron:

When it comes to the FCC and administrative law, the fact that there is a new president, in and of itself, is not a winning argument for changing rules. There was a 10-year fight to get net neutrality, and then the decision was upheld in court. So here comes Ajit Pai who says, “Sorry, new sheriff in town, we don’t need any of it.” There’s a legal burden there to prove that. We will sue him, it will go to federal court and we like our chances.

That legal fight could take more than a year to reach a final resolution, almost guaranteeing that net neutrality will be a key campaign issue in the 2018 midterm elections. Republican Sen. John Thune has been at the forefront of this issue, publicly calling for a bipartisan, congressional fix to settle the open internet issue once and for all. Some media giants, like AT&T, have echoed his call for a legislative solution as well. But upon closer inspection, these Republican and corporate definitions of “open internet” would still shortchange consumers and make it harder on the independent press. No Democrats have signed on to sponsor his bill.

“We shouldn’t fall for a compromise that is 5 percent less awful than what the FCC is doing,” Aaron warns:

Senator Thune’s bill codifies basic internet protections, but strips the FCC of any ability to adjust or adapt to new abuses or tactics. It will also prohibit tactics the telecom and media companies don’t have any intention of doing anyway. They will call it “net neutrality,” but it will be a toothless version.

Getting the American public more involved in a real, transparent debate over net neutrality—along with a broader discussion of what kind of media and news environment we want to encourage—is critically important to the future of our country, says former FCC commissioner Copps. And it would stand in stark contrast to Pai’s cloistered approach, where he rarely ventures outside a friendly bubble of conservative think tanks and the airwaves of Fox News to tout his industry-first policies.

“The American people need to know what he wants to do, and he needs to really hear what the American people think,” Copps says of Pai. The former FCC commissioner points to two dark forces at work right now gaining ever greater control over our national discourse: the power of big money and big media, and an extreme, right-wing ideology that thinks an unfettered free market is the cure for all evils.

“We have this technology that has the potential to be the town square of our democracy, but this FCC is setting up fewer and fewer, huge gatekeepers to that,” he says. As a result, cherished ideals like freedom of expression and freedom of the press are now under threat from a Trump administration that prioritizes multinational telecom and corporate media profits above all else. “Big media sees you and me and all the people in the United States not as citizens,” Copps says, “but as products to be delivered to advertisers.”

 

NYT Prints Government-Funded Propaganda About Government-Funded Propaganda

December 13, 2017 - 4:00pm

A New York Times op-ed (12/11/17) warns of “efforts by government authorities to shape and control online discussions”–but doesn’t mention the government authorities who pay most of the author’s salary.

An op-ed by the president of the right-wing human rights group Freedom House, published in the New York Times Monday (12/11/17)—later boosted by New York Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker—warned of the menace of “commentators, trolls, bots, false news sites and propaganda,” and their negative effects on democracy. Missing from its analysis was any account of how the government that funds their organization—86 percent of Freedom House’s budget comes from the US government, primarily the State Department and USAID—uses social media to stir unrest and undermine governments worldwide.

What the reader was left with was a very selective, curated impression that online social media manipulation is something done exclusively by brown and black people and those dastardly Slavs. The column condemns “surreptitious techniques pioneered in Moscow and Beijing to use the internet to drown out dissent and undermine free elections,” going on to cite online skullduggery in the Philippines, Kenya, Turkey, Mexico and Iran.

Missing from the piece by Freedom House’s Michael Abramowitz is any mention—much less discussion—of numerous reports detailing online manipulation by US and allied governments and Western PR firms.

No mention of the Defense Department’s $100 million program Operation Earnest Voice software that “creates fake online identities to spread pro-American propaganda.” No mention of the US Air Force’s 2010 solicitation of “persona management” software designed to create hundreds of sock puppets, “replete with background, history, supporting details and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent.” No mention of USAID (the same government agency, incidentally, that funds Freedom House) secretly creating an entire social media platform to “stir unrest” in Cuba. No mention of the US State Department’s newly-created $160 million Global Engagement Center, targeting English-language audiences with unattributed Facebook videos combating, in part, “Russia propaganda.”

US manipulation of social media was off the radar of US-funded Freedom House.

Nor was there mention of the UK’s “team of Facebook warriors,” “skilled in psychological operations and use of social media to engage in unconventional warfare in the information age.” Or reference to the half-dozen reports of Israeli troll farms promoting pro-Israel propaganda online.

Though the op-ed had a particular focus on “governing parties” using covert online tools to “inflate their popular support and essentially endorse themselves”—warning that this “devastating new threat to democracy” is used to “undermine elections, political debate and virtually every other aspect of governing”—there was no acknowledgement of the fact that the Hillary Clinton campaign spent $1 million in the 2016 primary to promote its candidate using unattributed social media personas. Nor was there mention of a torrent of pro-Trump bots that infected the 2016 campaign on social media.

None of this merits mention, much less investigation. Instead, the piece primarily consists of little insight or larger discussion as to the scope of the problem. “The United States and other democracies” are positioned as the victims of online manipulation, never its author. Amidst platitudes about “the future of democracy” and “malevolent actors,” the West’s place as noble defenders of Real Information online is simply taken for granted, with, by implication, their ideological satellites—like Freedom House—as neutral arbiters of what is and isn’t propaganda, never practitioners of propaganda themselves.

The US Department of Defense admitted in 2011 that it runs fake social media accounts in Farsi; the vast majority of Farsi speakers live in Iran. What were these accounts doing? Did they influence any elections there? Does Freedom House ask the question, much less attempt to answer it? Of course not; Iran can only be guilty of “[manipulating] discussions…on social media,” never the victim of it.

Should the New York Times have disclosed that the author of a piece about government propaganda runs a group overwhelmingly funded by the US government? The reader could theoretically do research on their own time to find out who backs the benign-sounding “Freedom House” (who doesn’t love freedom?), but this is a fairly tall order for the average media consumer, doubly so when one considers the whole point of the piece is criticizing unattributed propaganda.

Buzzfeed (11/28/17) warns that “by democratizing media on platforms that reward pure attention capture, you enable manipulation on a profound scale”–but it’s thinking of “Russian trolls,” not USAID.

Also missing from Freedom House’s cartoon narrative of Good Western Democracies vs. Bad Governments in the Global South is the issue of sophistication. One of the reasons groups like Freedom House know about clandestine attempts by these governments and affiliated parties to influence online messaging is they’re mostly bad at it. Hacky, easily identifiable bots, sloppy knock-off websites, transparent “fake news.” The software solicited by the US Air Force in 2010, which would allow each user to control up to ten social media personas at once “without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries,” would presumably be much more difficult to detect.

Social media manipulation is a major problem in urgent need of robust discussion. But outlets like the New York Times—and others, such as Buzzfeed—that focus only on attempts by Official US Enemies, and never direct any criticism inwards, aren’t concerned with having an earnest discussion of the problem. They are, instead, using the specter of online manipulation to smear those in bad standing with the US State Department while deflecting any conversation about what the most powerful country in the history of the world may be up to online.

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

Russia or Corporate Tax Cuts: Which Would Comcast Rather MSNBC Cover?

December 13, 2017 - 2:34pm

Chris Hayes starting his MSNBC show, as he usually does, with Trump and the Russians.

At the beginning of December, liberal TV hosts Chris Hayes and Rachel Maddow—the anchors of MSNBC‘s primetime schedule—were confronted with ever-escalating breaking news. In the span of a week, from December 1 through December 7, President Donald Trump shrank two national monuments, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, saw his travel ban upheld by the Supreme Court and possibly began to create his own spy network. Meanwhile, the Senate passed a tax “reform” bill that would radically restructure the US economy at the expense of poor and middle-class Americans, and climate change-fueled wildfires devastated Southern California.

Yet on the days their shows aired during those seven days—the weekdays, December 1 and 4–7—both Hayes and Maddow bypassed all these stories to lead with minutiae from the ongoing Russia investigation that has consumed MSNBC‘s coverage like no other news event since the beginning of the Trump presidency. Topical news of the day, whether on legislation or natural disasters, took a backseat. The Comcast-owned network’s two most popular personalities used their position to focus endlessly on speculative coverage of Russia’s role in the 2016 election—devoting the bulk of each show’s 15-minutes opening segment to the story, at a minimum.

The streak was broken on December 8, when Hayes’ All In show led with the sexual harassment scandals roiling the nation, though he still devoted substantial time to Russia later in the broadcast: “The plot to stop Mueller is growing,” Hayes ominously intoned during the introduction, letting viewers know the story was coming.

Rachel Maddow teases her Dossier special.

While Hayes devoted his December 8 show to the allegations of sexual assault and harassment surrounding the president and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, Maddow devoted her full Friday hour to her much-hyped special on “The Dossier”—a full hour devoted to a year-old document, as if it contained fresh news, complete with a graphic misusing Russian typography.

“We’re going to step back and look at the 35-page Trump Russia dossier,” Maddow said in the opening of the special. “And depending on which way the news is blowing, the allegations contained in this document can sound outlandish, or they can sound freakishly spot on.”

If this focus on Le Carré–style foreign machinations at the expense of all other news seems like a wild departure from the network’s nominal liberalism, then you’ve not been paying attention to FAIR’s reporting on MSNBC from the last two decades. There’s always been an air of discomfort around MSNBC at the way the cable news channel has in the last decade become—almost by default—a go-to spot for liberals seeking news and analysis. It took on this role only after repeated failures to share the conservative media market with Fox News.

Iran/Contra criminal Oliver North was hired by MSNBC in 1999.

When disgraced Reagan official Oliver North was hired by MSNBC in early 1999, along with John McLaughlin and Laura Ingraham, FAIR (2/5/99) called it “a familiar format to viewers grown accustomed to the pairing of rabid right-wingers with tepid centrists supposedly representing the left.” Two years later, after the 9/11 attacks, NBC chief Robert Wright instructed his subordinates to tilt right: “We have to be more conservative than they are,” Wright said of Fox.

This hope was frustrated by Phil Donahue’s progressive talkshow becoming the network’s highest-rated show—though that experiment was cut short by the coming of the Iraq War, when Donahue was fired after one executive expressed fears that the show could become “a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” This was followed by the short-lived cash grab of giving a show to virulent right-wing radio host Michael Savage in 2003 (FAIR.org, 1/12/03), just when the far right seemed to be ascendant in American politics. As Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman said at the time:

Five months ago, MSNBC overhauled their schedule. The network’s most progressive voice Phil Donahue was out. A team of well-known conservatives were quickly hired.

While Savage’s inability to rein in his hate-filled rants soon cost him his TV show, another of those “well-known conservatives”—former Republican Rep. Joe Scarborough, who had a 95 percent lifetime approval rating from the American Conservative Union—is still with MSNBC, co-hosting the crucial morning slot that sets the tone for a cable network’s news day.

Yes, they very well might: MSNBC ad touts right-wing personalities Mike Murphy, Nicolle Wallace, Hugh Hewitt, Steve Schmidt, Michael Steele and Ben Ginsberg.

After unsuccessfully attempting to sell audiences on Tucker Carlson in 2005, the channel grudgingly turned to the left—giving Maddow a show in 2008 and hiring Hayes in 2011. Yet even as the network has promoted nominal progressives to anchor the lineup over the past decade, the nagging feeling that MSNBC would rather be pursuing a different agenda has never gone away.

That’s allowed the Russia story to fill an important role: It’s both a way for liberals to blow off steam and grumble at the sinister plots of the Trump administration, and for MSNBC executives to obfuscate policy in favor of tabloid-style reporting.

Though a personality like Hayes has substantial pull and influence in liberal circles, he didn’t use that influence to push his audience to pay attention to the tax bill making its way through the Senate. Rather, on Friday, December 1, as the GOP-led Congress was voting for legislation that would rewrite the code of the American economy, lay waste to the healthcare system and effect one of the greatest transfers of wealth from the 99 Percent to the 1 Percent in US history, the tax plan merited only a brief mention, 45 minutes into the show, when Hayes got the thoughts of right-wing Utah independent Evan McMullin on the bill.

It’s not as if Hayes didn’t know that the news was breaking, important, and that the Republican-led chamber was making law on the fly. “The Senate GOP is in such a massive rush to give benefits to corporations and the wealthy,” Hayes said during his December 1 segment, “it is literally rewriting the American tax code at this hour by hand.” This was not as urgent, though, as covering the latest turn in Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s Russia ties.

Things were better, though not much, for the next week. Hayes did make his way to telling the stories of the day, which ranged from Trump’s prodding of international tinderboxes and desecration of domestic resources, though these stories were frequently overshadowed by ever-growing and ever more ethereal visions of Russian machinations.

But Hayes was positively devoted to broad coverage of the news compared to his counterpart in the 9 p.m. hour. The channel’s crown jewel of liberalism for a decade, Rachel Maddow, has been Russia 24/7 for months. (It took Maddow 45 minutes to get to the tax bill on December 1, too.)

As FAIR reported over the summer (6/29/17), the Russia obsession is not unique to Maddow, or even to MSNBC—after all, it was CNN president Jeff Zucker who allegedly said his network’s prime news goal should be “let’s get back to Russia.”

Yet even in corporate media, Maddow stands alone in her devotion to the Russia story at the expense of all else. That was made clear on December 4, when Maddow told her audience that the news of the day was almost overwhelming: The Supreme Court had upheld the president’s ban on Muslims entering the country, the tax bill had been passed, a potential government shutdown, the shrinking of natural resources in the west by presidential fiat, the Olympics banning Russia, and the Alabama Senate race were all topical, important and worthy of coverage.

But for Maddow, they were a subordinate distraction to the only story worth covering.

“All those stories happened today,” Maddow told her audience:

Any one of these stories might reasonably have been expected to start the world spinning backwards on its axis at any other time, right? In any other administration, at any other time in modern life. But in this administration, all this stuff is happening at once, and it’s all happening in the context of the most serious criminal and counterintelligence investigation that any US president has ever faced.

After 11 months in office, the Trump administration is covered on the nation’s nominally liberal cable news channel in a way that makes clear that the priority isn’t to explain the reality of the administration and the human cost of the things that it does—but rather to blame the existence of Trump on a foreign conspiracy, and offer hope that a white knight in the form of a special prosecutor will come to our rescue. Along with that concentration on Russia comes the deprioritization of the real-world effects of the Trump presidency and active political efforts to oppose them—and that tells us all we need to know about the priorities at Rockefeller Center. MSNBC is a hopped-up Cold War cover band, and its two lead singers are Maddow and Hayes.

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.

WaPo Nostalgic for Good Old Days of Trump Campaign Tax Lies

December 11, 2017 - 4:31pm

Trump’s “distinctive brand of economic populism” always promised massive benefits to the 1 percent and corporations.

A Washington Post article (12/9/17) on the Republican tax proposals being considered by Congress implies that they are a sharp departure from the plans Donald Trump put forward in the campaign in the benefits they provides to the rich. The headline is “As Tax Plan Gained Steam, GOP Lost Focus on the Middle Class.”

This description is pretty much 180 degrees at odds with reality. While Donald Trump always promised to help the middle class, the proposals he put forward during his campaign were hugely tilted toward the rich. The Tax Policy Center’s analysis of the last tax cut plan he proposed before the election showed 50 percent of the benefits going to the richest 1 percent of the population.

In fact, the Republicans are putting in place a tax plan similar to what they campaigned on. If the fact that it mostly helps the rich is a surprise to anyone, it is due to the poor quality of reporting during the campaign.

 

A version of this post originally appeared on the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s blog Beat the Press (12/10/17).

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.

After Trump’s Jerusalem Move, Media Worry About ‘Violence’–Not Violation of International Law

December 8, 2017 - 5:15pm

CBS News (12/5/17), like other outlets, stressed the threat of violence over the illegality of occupation.

President Donald Trump declared that the US saw Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced the US would move its Israeli embassy there—reversing decades of policy and removing any pretense of US neutrality in negotiating “peace” between Palestinians and Israelis.

Though both  Congress and past presidents of both parties have supported the move in principle for decades, much of the US media establishment is now fretting about the Jerusalem announcement, continuing to push the illusion that a nebulous “peace deal” is still right around the next watchtower.

The American “recognition” of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital further entrenches and condones Israel’s occupation, ethnic cleansing and colonization of Palestinian land. But outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post and CBS, in editorials and straight reporting, downplayed and skirted matters of substance, reserving critical attention for questions of optics or process.

Thus the frame that dominated headlines as news of Trump’s announcement broke was not on the meaning of the move, but on potential reaction to it, specifically vague “fears of violence” from Palestinians and Muslims throughout the Middle East:

  • “Fears of Violence Amid Talk of Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital” (CBS News, 12/5/17)
  • “Trump’s Jerusalem Announcement Could Spark Violence, State Department Warns” (Daily Beast, 12/6/17)
  • “Warnings of Violence Ahead of Trump’s Jerusalem Embassy Move” (The Week, 12/6/17)
  • “Trump Says US Recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital, Despite Global Condemnation; World Leaders Warned Trump That the Move Could Spark Violence and Would Create a Major Impediment to the Israeli/Palestinian Peace Process” (Politico, 12/6/17)

Editorials in the Washington Post (“possibly trigger violence, including against Americans”—12/6/17) and the New York Times (“perhaps inciting violence”—12/5/17) used similar language. Neither opposed Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem or Israel’s brutal, illegal occupation of East Jerusalem as such. Both had lots of Concerns and leveled minor critiques on process grounds (the most popular being that the move could “harm” peace efforts), but neither of the two leading papers in the United States could bring themselves to condemn Trump for his radical departure from US policy and international law in and of itself.

This is often the case when it comes to Israel/Palestine: Media focus is on the reaction to injustice, not on the injustice itself. The illegality of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem is rarely mentioned. Nor is the fact that the United States is now virtually alone out of the 195 countries on Earth in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, or that the city has been, and is still, designated by the United Nations as a corpus separatum since 1947; that is, a separate territory under international jurisdiction. (The Economist12/7/17—was one of the few who did point this out.) Likewise ignored are the UN Security Council’s repeated condemnations of Israel’s 1967 annexation of East Jerusalem and its 1980 declaration of the city as its capital, on the grounds that “acquisition of territory by military conquest is inadmissible.”

The broader context of the 60-year military occupation is likewise out of the picture, along with the dozens of international laws Israel breaks on a daily basis. Many of these relate directly to Jerusalem, including the expulsion of residents from the occupied territory of East Jerusalem and the transfer of hundreds of thousands of colonists there since 1967.

NBC News (12/7/17) depicts a burning Trump poster.

The primary focus is, instead, the possibility of “fresh violence in the region,” which evokes tropes of mindless Arab rage and barbarity. As Marya Hannun explained over at Slate (12/6/17), when we center “angry Arab” cliches, we perpetuate the notion that violence is the alpha and omega of resistance:

There is also a more insidious message being sent by warnings about the potential for a “third intifada” in response to President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, one that has long haunted, not just the conflict over Palestine and Israel, but also other instances where human rights, civil rights and sovereignty are violated. When we focus on violence as the only preventive force against unjust policies, we reinforce the notion that violence is the only effective means of resistance. Perhaps more often than not, these assessments prove to be accurate, but it’s a dangerous game, and only aids those who see no point in working toward peace at all.

By leading with warnings of a “Middle East on edge” (NBC News, 12/7/17), where “Palestinians Vent Their Anger” (New York Times, 12/7/17) and “clashes escalate” (Washington Post, 12/7/17; BBC, 12/7/17), the media double down on dangerous stereotypes, marginalize legitimate frustration and resistance, and obfuscate history in favor of the ever-convenient, shoulder-shrugging, “they’ll just never get along” narrative.

No mention of redoubling of efforts of the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, or other civil-society efforts to resist Israel aggression. No mention of calls for solidarity by Palestinian activists. A singular focus on violence (albeit violence that, it should be noted, is sanctioned by international law) reduces Palestinians to cartoon hotheads rather than a deeply disenfranchised population suffering decades of displacement, discrimination and occupation, while the most powerful country on the planet condones, funds and arms their continued dehumanization.

The Reagan ‘Boom’ Echoed Glory Days of Ford/Carter

December 8, 2017 - 5:11pm

The “boom” following Reagan’s tax cuts was similar to the growth during the Ford/Carter years, not remembered as a time of great prosperity. (cc photo: Ryan Dickey)

A Morning Edition segment on the Republican tax cut plan made comparisons to the Reagan tax cuts, referring to the “boom” that occurred following those cuts. While the economy did grow rapidly in the years from 1983 to 1986, the main reason was the severity of the 1981–82 recession. Economies tend to bounce back quickly following a severe recession.

We saw the same story in the 1970s. The economy grew at a 5.7 percent annual rate in the 13 quarters from the fourth quarter of 1982 to first quarter of 1986. This is not hugely different than the 5.3 percent annual growth rate from the first quarter of 1975 to the third quarter of 1977. The key to the more rapid growth in the Reagan recovery was the somewhat greater severity of the 1981–82 recession, which pushed unemployment to almost 11 percent.

It is also worth mentioning the poor performance of investment following the reduction in the corporate income tax in 1986. The tax reform act passed in that year lowered the corporate rate from 46 percent to 35 percent, roughly the same size reduction as is included in the current bill. Rather than leading to a boom, investment actually fell as a share of GDP over the next three years.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s blog Beat the Press (12/7/17).

You can contact NPR ombud Elizabeth Jensen via NPR’s contact form or via Twitter@EJensenNYC. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

Normalizing Ethnic Supremacy in Israel/Palestine

December 8, 2017 - 3:47pm

New York Times (12/7/17)

The New York Times (12/7/17) ran an article about whether Trump’s declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel would eliminate the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. The Times’ Mark Landler, David Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner wrote that while the PLO was now saying that Israel and Palestine should be

a single state, but with Palestinians enjoying the same civil rights as Israelis, including the vote…Israel would be unlikely to accede to equal rights, because granting a vote to millions of Palestinians would eventually lead to the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

One could imagine the New York Times in the 1980s writing similarly about the ANC’s insistence on equal rights for blacks, including one person, one vote, in apartheid South Africa:

South Africa would be unlikely to accede to equal rights, because granting a vote to millions of blacks would eventually lead to the end of South Africa as a white state.

The Times could easily have written that, but it would have been wrong. It would be wrong as a prediction, of course: Under international pressure, South Africa did accede to one person, one vote, and today is a functioning multiracial democracy. But it also would have been wrong in the ethical sense for the Times to implicitly accept as normal politics a refusal to allow democracy to undermine ethnic supremacy.

It may be true, as the actual Times article states, that Israel is determined not to allow Palestinians equal rights. It certainly bolsters that determination when the United States’ most powerful paper suggests it’s a normal thing for a “Jewish state” to rule over a population that is roughly 50 percent non-Jewish.

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.

 

 

Suyapa Portillo on Honduras Electoral Chaos, Rebecca Cokley on GOP ‘Tax on Disability’

December 8, 2017 - 10:48am
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(cc image: Joe Catron)

This week on CounterSpin: US media reporting on the electoral chaos in Honduras—where a president has not been declared nearly two weeks after voting—can choose to tell an “exotic” story about failings of democracy in Central American countries. Or they could more usefully connect the dots between a bipartisan US foreign policy that supports leaders deemed friendly to US “interests,” and the hardship and violence and voicelessness that pushes many to flee the countries run by those “friends.” We’ll talk about Honduras with Suyapa Portillo, assistant professor of Chicana/o-Latina/o Transnational Studies at Pitzer College, recently returned from the country, where she was an election observer.

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(cc photo: Jennifer D)

Also on the show: While still giving far too much attention to whether it means a “victory” for Donald Trump, corporate media have pointed out some ways the GOP tax bill would benefit the wealthy and corporations at the decided expense of the non-wealthy and non-corporate. But some of the most impacted get the least attention. We’ll speak with Rebecca Cokley, senior fellow on disability policy at the Center for American Progress, about why she describes the Republican plan as a “tax on disability.”

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Plus a quick look back at recent coverage of the tax bill.

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Media Downplay Class Warfare as ‘GOP Victory’

December 6, 2017 - 6:53pm

Like many outlets, USA Today (12/2/17) described the Republican tax bill as “tax cuts”—even though most Americans will be getting a tax hike.

The fallacy of “neutral,” “both sides” journalism rings loud and clear in corporate media reporting on the Republican Party’s tax plan. The GOP bill, passed by the Senate in the early hours of December 2 and described by major media outlets as a “tax cut,” is in reality an explicit handout to large companies and the ultra-rich that will actually increase taxes on working-class Americans.

But under the cover of a shallow understanding of “balance,” corporate media have internalized the outlandish idea that it is “partisan,” and thus not “neutral,” to acknowledge the undeniably destructive effects of particular political policies. These inconvenient facts are hence not emphasized in news reporting, and cannot be presented alone without being “balanced” with an opposing perspective—even if that contrary view is demonstrably false.

In the case of the GOP legislation, which will slash the corporate tax rate and add some $1.4 trillion to the national debt, the deception took a variety of forms.

The primary distortion, as noted, was portraying the Senate GOP bill as a massive “tax break.” Headlines and reports spoke of “tax cuts” and “tax breaks” vaguely, without indicating that the breaks were not for Americans as a whole, but rather for corporations and the rich.

  • Reuters (12/2/17): “Senate Approves Major Tax Cuts in Victory for Trump”
  • New York Times (12/2/17): “Few Hurdles Left, GOP Is Confident Tax Cuts Will Be Signed This Month”
  • USA Today (12/2/17): “Senate Passes Huge Tax Cuts After Last-Minute Changes; Conference With House Next”

By way of contrast, HuffPost (12/2/17) provided an apt corrective to the vagueness: “Senate Passes Massive Tax Cuts for the Rich in Middle of the Night.” While The Atlantic (12/2/17) had a euphemistic main headline—”Senate Republicans Pass Their Tax Cuts”—the subhead clarified: “The bill slashes corporate tax rates, but millions of middle-class families could face tax increases under the $1.47 trillion bill.”

The Intercept (12/1/17) stressed further, “The GOP Plan Is the Biggest Tax Increase in American History, by Far.” After noting that the bill includes some $6 trillion in tax reductions, largely for corporations and households with annual incomes above $400,000 (i.e. the 1 Percent), reporter Ryan Grim pointed out:

[The bill] gets referred to as only a $1.5 trillion cut because it raises $4.5 trillion in taxes elsewhere. But the key question is who gets a tax hike and who gets a tax cut. Put simply, the bulk of the tax cut is going toward the rich, while the tax increases go to everybody else.

For most Americans, the GOP “tax cuts” are actually a tax increase. (chart: ITEP)

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a nonpartisan think tank, reported that, “The lowest-earning three-fifths of Americans would pay more on average in federal taxes, while the top 40 percent on average would receive a tax cut,” with the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans receiving an average cut of more than $9,000.

The Institute added, “The legislation is described as tax reform but would cut hundreds of billions of dollars in healthcare spending.” The AARP similarly warned that the Senate GOP bill would trigger up to $25 billion in cuts to Medicare.

It would also add at least $1 trillion to the US federal deficit, according to Congress’ own Joint Committee on Taxation. The nonpartisan Penn Wharton Budget Model estimate is even higher, at an additional $1.4 trillion in government debt. This will no doubt be used to justify massive cuts in social spending, including Social Security and Medicare, which leading Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Marco Rubio are already promising to go after.

In other words, the Republican tax-deal-for-the-1-percent is nothing short of class war: The working class will lose even more of the little wealth that it has, and the capitalist class will reap all the benefits. The legislation even includes a tax break for owners of private jets, along with banks and oil companies.

Many reports did highlight some of these deleterious impacts of the tax plan in the body of the story, but they buried the lead. And the majority of Americans do not read past the headline.

Depicting a Working-Class Disaster as a ‘Victory’

Focusing on the Washington players, not on the real-world consequences (Washington Post, 12/2/17)

Another way corporate media whitewashed the undeniably destructive effects of the Republican tax plan is by portraying it primarily as a “victory” for Trump and the GOP:

  • Washington Post (12/2/17): “Senate GOP Tax Bill Passes in Major Victory for Trump, Republicans”
  • BBC (12/2/17): “Tax Bill: Trump Victory as Senate Backs Tax Overhaul”
  • AOL (12/2/17): “Trump Wins First Major Legislative Victory of Presidency as Senate Passes Republicans’ Tax Reform Bill”
  • Guardian (12/4/17): “Markets Rally After Trump’s Tax Victory”

It’s striking how little this presentation—from “mainstream” media, supposedly critical of Trump—diverged from that of right-wing outlets that openly support Trump and the GOP, such as Fox News (“Trump Takes Victory Lap After Senate Passes Tax Bill, Calls It ‘Largest Tax Decrease…by Far,'” 12/2/17).

The contradiction was highlighted in a SFGate report (12/2/17) with a headline focused on political gamesmanship—”Senate Narrowly Passes GOP Tax Overhaul Bill in Major Victory for Trump”—but a lead that acknowledged the losses for regular people:

Securing a desperately sought legislative victory for the Trump presidency, the Senate approved a $1.5 trillion tax overhaul Saturday morning that provides massive tax cuts to large corporations and wealthy individuals but could lead to higher tax bills for millions of Californians.

So why not headline the bill’s impact on the vast majority of people? Why showcase the Trump victory angle?

ABC News (12/4/17) likewise exhibited these contradictions within one broadcast. In a segment  titled “Tax Bill Seen as Victory by Trump, GOP,” the host said, “Right now the bill is pretty unpopular,” without explaining why or providing any further information.

“This is a big legislative win, the most significant one for the Trump administration thus far, and this is something to take home to your constituents,” declared ABC analyst Meghan McCain. The daughter of neoconservative Sen. John McCain even referred to the Republican Party as “we.”

It was not until further in the segment that ABC analyst Matthew Dowd noted, “Seventy percent of the benefits of this tax bill go to the very wealthy, the top 1 or 2 percent of the country.” Refuting the title of the segment, Dowd added:

This may be a legislative victory, but it’s not a political victory. It’s an unpopular bill, the most unpopular tax bill ever passed, pushed by an unpopular president, passed by an unpopular Congress.

More and More Euphemisms

The ubiquitous euphemism “tax reform” was used to put a positive spin on massive giveaways to the wealthy (CNN, 12/2/17).

The ubiquitous term “tax reform” (e.g., CNN, 12/2/17; The Hill, 12/4/17; Politico, 12/5/17; CNBC, 12/5/17) has a misleadingly benevolent connotation—who doesn’t like reform?—so long as media don’t ask who benefits and who is harmed. Likewise other headline language, such as “tax overhaul” or “revision,” that fails to reflect the different impacts of Republicans’ plan:

  • Reuters (12/2/17): “US Senate Approves Republicans’ Tax Overhaul”
  • CBS (12/2/17): “Tax Bill: Senate Passes Sweeping Tax Overhaul in Early Morning Vote”
  • Wall Street Journal (12/2/17): “Senate Passes Sweeping Revision of US Tax Code”

With euphemisms like “mixed bag” and “mixed blessings,” several outlets seemed to gesture weakly toward the massive assault on working-class Americans. Reuters (12/2/17) reported that the “sweeping tax overhaul” will move “Republicans and President Donald Trump a major step closer to their goal of slashing taxes for businesses and the rich while offering everyday Americans a mixed bag of changes.” The Washington Post (12/2/17) noted the bill “bestows extensive benefits on corporate America and the wealthy while delivering mixed blessings to everybody else.”

That “everybody else” is reduced to a subordinate clause perfectly represents how corporate media’s pretense of “balance” barely veils their reflexive positioning on the side of the rich.

 

‘A Massive Blow to Social Movements if Our Voices Are Able to Be Blocked’

December 6, 2017 - 1:05pm

Janine Jackson interviewed Erin Shields about net neutrality repeal for the December 1, 2017, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Boston Globe (11/28/17)

Janine Jackson: The Boston Globe technology writer says concerns about the FCC’s plan to repeal net neutrality are “overhyped”: Probably what will happen, if the agency eliminates the rules that keep the internet a level playing field, as it seems set to do, is…not much. In the same column, Hiawatha Bray describes net neutrality as “regulatory overkill on a massive scale.” So, a “massive scale” thing whose elimination will nevertheless not mean much.

Should, for example, a company like Comcast block access to, say, Amazon Prime video, so subscribers have to use Comcast’s service, Bray says, “millions of angry customers” would just “switch to a rival service.” So your head’s already well-scratched before Bray gets to the presumably ingenuous question: “What internet company would put itself in the crosshairs of public outrage just to gain a slight and temporary advantage over a rival?”

You may chuckle, but this is the level of argument in support of the FCC’s effort to repeal net neutrality rules. The truth is, advocates have everything on our side—public opinion, legal precedent, actual understanding of how the internet works. What opponents have, though, is corporate power, and its government supporters. So what now? Joining us to discuss where we are in this critical fight is Erin Shields, national field organizer for internet rights at the Center for Media Justice, one of the front-line groups on the issue. Welcome to CounterSpin, Erin Shields.

Erin Shields: Thank you for having me.

JJ: I suspect CounterSpin listeners have a healthy mistrust of media corporations claiming that they would never go against the public interest for a silly little thing like profit, but some might be persuaded that the effect of a repeal just might not be so bad, or might not mean so much. You bring people to Capitol Hill to talk with lawmakers. What sorts of concerns do they have, what kinds of stories do they tell?

ES: So a lot of my work is bringing people from the field who are doing work with media, organizing in movements, working in their communities, to talk about what net neutrality repeal would mean for them personally. And what you hear, over and over again, is this underlying issue around being able to control your own narrative.

There are a lot of other things that net neutrality repeal would impact, such as people’s access to online education or to health information online. A lot of people in low-income communities and communities of color access education through the internet, or are doing their homework through the internet.

But also, on a larger social scale, the internet has been critical to getting around larger media corporation’s control of our narratives. And so a lot of times when we’re talking with lawmakers and decision makers, what we’re emphasizing is the internet’s impact on our communities being able to tell our own stories. I’m thinking about Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock, and a lot of the work that was being done by ADAPT up on Capitol Hill to stop the repeal of the ACA. A lot of that was powered by the internet, and our ability to push back on these dominant narratives that are often pushed in mainstream media.

And in these mainstream media arenas, oftentimes we’re not even invited to the table, and so it’s critical for us to be able to use blogs and Twitter and Facebook to share information, to talk about what’s really happening on the ground. And I think that will be a massive blow to social movements moving forward, if our voices are able to be blocked and censored in those ways.

JJ: The FCC has three Republicans and two Democrats, and they often vote along party lines, and so it seems as though this move to repeal may go through in this December vote. But that’s not the end of it. What would happen, what happens then?

ES: We’re anticipating, as much as we hate to discuss it, that the repeal will happen. But what’s next is, likely, many organizations, like Center for Media Justice and EFF, will take the FCC to court. And we feel like we have a great chance at winning, because we’ve won in the past. I think you were touching on it earlier. The 2015 open internet rules have been upheld twice in court. And we believe that, based on what we’ve seen, orders that we’ve seen come out of the FCC around this repeal, that they don’t have a very good standing if we were to challenge this in court.

On the other side of that, there’s a move to pressure lawmakers to introduce some sort of net neutrality legislation. And while that may seem good on the surface level, what we’re concerned about is — I mean, as everyone, as I’m sure your listeners know, the state of this Congress is not hospitable to a net neutrality order that would keep the 2015 open internet rules as the floor. Of course there are going to be ISP lobbyists in the room when that bill is being made. And so what we’re asking congressional members to do now is to speak out publicly against this repeal and for the rules that we already have, and to demand that Chairman Pai do his job and enforce the rules that have been upheld by courts, that were come to in a democratic way, millions of comments submitted supporting these rules, and to not be beholden to his prior employers and to these four ISP companies who would benefit most from this repeal.

So there’s still a battle to be had, and we don’t want to lose organizing energy; we don’t want people to take their ball and go home after the repeal. There’s a lot that we can be doing to pressure Congress into standing publicly for the 2015 rules. And if there is any legislation put forward, to make sure that it codifies the 2015 open internet rules, and nothing less. We actually can’t take anything less than that.

JJ: So not that we are giving up on other channels, like contacting legislators, like contacting the FCC. All of that is necessary, but I know that we’re also talking about going back to the street again, aren’t we?

Erin Shields: “We really don’t want Chairman Pai to be able to repeal this without there being some sort of visible pushback, and letting him know who exactly is going to be impacted by this repeal.”

ES: Yeah, absolutely. We’re planning on December 14, the day of the vote, to have a massive rally, in order to keep the energy up around this issue, right outside of the FCC. We really don’t want Chairman Pai to be able to repeal this without there being some sort of visible pushback, and letting him know who exactly is going to be impacted by this repeal. I mean, I think a lot of times people think net neutrality is like this fight between internet companies, and it’s really important for us, for CMJ in particular, to say, actually, hold on, the repeal of these [rules] is not just going to cost more for Netflix, but it will actually cost more for our communities, the ways that we’re able to talk with each other, to organize, to access job opportunities, to access education. It’s a real human impact, not just an impact on a corporation’s bottom line.

And so I think that’s why you’ll see in the coming weeks a number of demonstrations, actions, and really disruptions to business as usual, because we really can’t let this repeal happen without letting our communities, the media, general public writ large, know that we disagree, and that we disagree staunchly.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Erin Shields, who’s national field organizer for internet rights at the Center for Media Justice. They are online at MediaJustice.org. Erin Shields, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

ES: Thank you so much for having me.

Headlines Ignore the Abuse Reports That Make Moore Endorsement Newsworthy

December 5, 2017 - 5:24pm

The LA Times (12/4/17) was one of many outlets that left what was most newsworthy about Trump’s endorsement out of the headline.

Headlines typically attempt to draw in readers by including the most relevant or pertinent information, but in the case of breaking news Monday that President Trump had endorsed Roy Moore in next week’s Senate special election in Alabama, the single most important fact of the case—that Moore faces multiple sexual abuse charges—was omitted by the majority of outlets altogether.

  • LA Times (12/4/17): “Trump Fully Endorses Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore”
  • CNN (12/4/17): “Trump Calls Roy Moore to Offer His Endorsement”
  • New York Times (12/4/17): “Roy Moore Gets Trump Endorsement and RNC Funding for Senate Race”
  • Politico (12/4/17): “Trump Endorses Roy Moore, RNC Plans to Go Back Into Alabama Race”
  • Washington Post (12/4/17): “Trump: ‘We need Republican Roy Moore to Win in Alabama’”
  • Chicago Tribune (12/4/17): “RNC Restarts Support for Roy Moore After Trump’s Hearty Endorsement“

The fact that a Republican president would endorse a Republican for a Senate race is not really news. Under normal circumstances, it would be hardly worth a mention…but these aren’t normal circumstances. What makes it news—what justifies the entire reporting of the story—is that Trump is backing someone accused by multiple people, backed by years of circumstantial evidence, of sexual assault and child sexual abuse. The far more relevant framing is “Trump Backs Alabama Senate Candidate Accused of Sexual Abuse.” That’s what makes it a story.

Those that do mention the abuse often used a vague “sex allegation” framing. The instinct to downplay the charges can be seen in two New York Daily News headlines (12/4/17). When the story is viewed full-sized, it has the awkward, redundant  headline, “Trump Officially Endorses Roy Moore, Despite Sexual Allegations Claims, With ‘Go Get ‘Em, Roy’ Message.” When the window is reduced, however, the story bears the more accurate headline, “Trump Endorses Moore Despite Sex Assault Claims.”

Similarly,  CNBC (“Trump Formally Endorses Roy Moore Despite Sex Allegations Against the Alabama Senate Candidate,” 12/4/17), Vice (“What Happens Now After the Roy Moore Sex Allegations? Here Are a Few Possibilities,” 11/9/17) and New York Times (“Sex Allegations Against Roy Moore Send Republicans Reeling,” 11/9/17) framed the issue in terms of “allegations,” turning acts of violence into nebulous “sex” scandals.

NPR (12/4/17) watered down this headline from the already euphemistic “Trump Endorses Roy Moore for First Time Since Sex Allegations.”

NPR’s original headline was in the same vein: “Trump Endorses Roy Moore for First Time Since Sex Allegations.” That was apparently deemed too specific for public radio, however, and was replaced by  “RNC Restores Financial Support for Roy Moore as Trump Gives Full Endorsement”  (12/4/17). Bloomberg (12/4/17), on the other hand, originally had “Trump Endorses Roy Moore for Senate, Despite Sex Allegations,” and later amended that to “Trump Endorses Roy Moore Despite Sexual-Misconduct Allegations.”

As Mary Elizabeth Williams explained (Salon, 6/29/12) in 2012, referring to sexual assault or attempted child rape merely as “sex” flattens the predatory nature and severity of the crime:

When you’re dealing with a story that involves rape or harassment or abuse or molestation or child porn or anything that falls under the rubric of criminal behavior, you should call those things rape and harassment and abuse and molestation and child pornography. You know what you shouldn’t call them? Sexy sexy sex scandals, that’s what…

A sex scandal is Mark Sanford ditching his state to cavort with his mistress. A sex scandal is Tiger Woods and a waitress…. But when the media uses the word “sex” within a story about something where there are alleged victims of assault, it’s a semantic failure on an epic scale. It diminishes crime. It sensationalizes it. It removes the distinction between a normal, consensual act and violence.

FAIR has repeatedly pointed out that only 40 percent of readers read past the headlines, which means most people form their worldview based on how a story is framed. Perhaps editors assumed readers were intimate with the allegations against Moore, that the antecedent was obvious. But recent polls show people are either ignorant or confused, with 89 percent of likely Alabama voters pinning the allegations on “newspapers and the media” and 10 percent having never heard of them at all. Certainly the fact of the president—himself accused by assault by multiple women—throwing his considerable weight behind someone running under a cloud of pedophilia should lead the story.

Editors perhaps want to avoid harsh or unseemly language. Which is a perfectly fine instinct, if such language is gratuitous or unrelated—but in this case, the depravity and visceral disgust of the crime in question is the story. By skirting the terms “child abuse” or “sexual assault,” media are burying the severity of the major issue at hand: that the most powerful person earth just endorsed a possible child molester. Newspapers aren’t meant to be managers of cognitive dissonance; in theory, they’re conveyors of truthful information. By burying and downplaying what makes this story news, they are protecting people’s feelings rather than plainly stating what’s at stake, and in doing so providing cover for an accused child abuser and his growing list of enablers.

‘This Is Very Much a US/Saudi War on Yemen’

December 5, 2017 - 11:33am

Janine Jackson interviewed Shireen Al-Adeimi about the Yemen crisis for the December 1, 2017, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: The enormity of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is staggering. At least 10,000 people have died in the last two years of Saudi war in the country, already among the poorest in the region. The UN says Yemen faces the worst famine the world has seen for decades, with at least 7 million people in need of immediate food aid. More than a half million children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, and millions more lack access to any healthcare at all. This while Yemen faces an outbreak of cholera that’s being called possibly the worst in history.

Yet Americans have heard little about what’s happening in Yemen, and still less about how it relates to us. Shireen Al-Adeimi is a doctoral candidate and instructor at Harvard University, working to bring attention to the crisis. She joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Shireen Al-Adeimi.

Shireen Al-Adeimi: Thanks for having me.

60 Minutes‘ Scott Pelley (11/19/17) introduces a report on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen–without mentioning the US role in the conflict.

JJ: It has been noted that US media are doing really very little, particularly television, on the ongoing disaster in Yemen. One outlet that did, CBS’s 60 Minutes, reported compellingly, and under difficult journalistic conditions, about the famine and the bombing victims, and they indicated the Saudis as aggressors. But despite being a US program aimed at a US audience, 60 Minutes said not one word about US involvement, leaving the impression of a regional conflict, fitted into this familiar, reductive “Sunni versus Shia” framework. What would you have Americans understand about this country’s role in the Yemen crisis?

SAA: Thanks for bringing up the CBS report, because that was a huge disappointment. It was just one opportunity for a mainstream audience in the US to learn, for the first time, perhaps, what is going on in Yemen, and what our role is especially. But it was quickly, like you said, characterized as a Sunni/Shia conflict, which is far from the truth. And not once was it mentioned that the US is, in fact, very much involved in Yemen, and has been from the onset of the war.

So when the Saudis decided to attack Yemen in March 2015, the Americans, under Obama’s administration, were right there along with them in the command room, helping them with targeting practice, helping them with logistics and training. The US military refuels Saudi jets midair as they’re bombing. And so we have been heavily involved, we’ve continued to be involved under Trump’s administration, and this is, of course, in addition to the billions in weapons sales that have occurred over the past couple of years.

JJ: There also is the role that the US plays in shielding Saudi Arabia at the UN, isn’t there?

SAA: Exactly. Over and over, the UN has failed to really take any decisive stance against Saudi Arabia. In fact, there have been some really outrageous moves. For example, they’ve been allowed to investigate their own crimes in Yemen, and of course they come out, months later, saying that they were cleared. So it’s just been an absurd game that they’re playing in the UN, and people’s lives are at stake here. And we’ve been shielding them from any independent investigation.

JJ: The latest headlines are about an easing of the Saudi blockade, with some food and vaccines coming through, but we’re told not really to take that as a sign of real easing of the hardship there.

SAA: Not at all. So it’s trickling in; whatever aid is coming right now is trickling in. And like you mentioned, 7 million people are in desperate need of that aid. You know, they need it immediately. But then you also have 20 million people who need food who can’t afford what little food remains in the country. And so we don’t only need aid coming in, but we need trade. And in fact we can’t be begging the Saudi-led coalition to make these positions and [allow them] to hold an entire country hostage and to use starvation as a war tactic. In fact, we should be demanding that they end this intervention in Yemen, so that people can go back to their lives, and try to rebuild and deal with their internal conflicts.

From “Yemen’s War Is a Tragedy. Is It Also a Crime?” (New York Times, 11/22/17)

JJ: The New York Times had a piece on November 22 that talked about how this isn’t any sort of natural disaster. It used the phrases “when food is a weapon,” “when disease is no accident,” and “when civilians are targeted.” And it even noted:

United Nations experts have warned that some of the actions carried out by the warring parties, the Saudi-led coalition and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, could amount to crimes against humanity because of their systematic and widespread execution.

Still, that seems to me to be, at most, talking about the US pressing the Saudis, and not about US citizens pressing their own lawmakers here.

SAA: Exactly. This is presented as an equivalent war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and again it couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s very little evidence that Iran is involved at all in Yemen. And the way Yemenis see it is that this is very much a US/Saudi war on Yemen, with the help of other regional powers. And so to characterize this as something that’s just happening over there in a foreign land, and we’re trying to put an end to it, that’s really not the case. We are at the center of this, and if our citizens don’t really know our involvement, then there’s no hope for us to be politically involved to try to push our elected officials to do something about our role in Yemen.

JJ: We have of course Donald Trump bragging about $110 billion of arm sales to Saudi Arabia, which the best thing you can say is that he’s probably lying about that amount. But at the same time, the House of Representatives, they passed this resolution stating that US military assistance to Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen is not authorized under this authorization for use of military force, this post-9/11 legislation. Now, it’s nonbinding, it doesn’t actually stop the support, but it does acknowledge the US role. How meaningful do you think that resolution is?

SA: So the problem with that resolution is that it was a compromise resolution. The previous resolution was House Concurrent Resolution 81, which actually called for the US to stop helping Saudi Arabia in any way, shape or form. And that was proposed by Congressman Ro Khanna in California. Basically he had invoked the War Powers Resolution, which meant that it had to go to vote, and they had to debate it in the House. But it was quickly stripped of its privileged status, and they had to negotiate this compromise bill that was, like you said, nonbinding. And, yes, it acknowledged that this war is unauthorized, but it doesn’t mean anything for US involvement in Yemen; nothing changes. We continue helping the Saudis without any repercussions.

JJ: And am I right that there is nothing in the Senate that’s comparable?

SA: There’s nothing in the Senate right now. There are a couple of senators who’ve been vocal against this, so Sen. Chris Murphy, for example. We need senators to introduce legislation that would extricate the US from the war on Yemen.

Shireen Al-Adeimi on the Real News (11/24/17)

JJ: I read some of the comments after your appearance on the Real News, and one of them said, well, yes, you’ve outlined the suffering in Yemen, but what about the root causes? And what I hear in that is a suggestion that there could be some political or strategic consideration that would somehow make 7 million starving people make sense.

SA: Of course the US has interests in the region. Yemen is at a strategic location at the Red Sea and it’s at the Bab al Mandab Strait, and there’s some oil barrels that go through there every day; not many in the grand scheme of things, but still, the US has interests there. And Saudi Arabia, of course, has always wanted to maintain control in Yemen, and they’ve been involved in Yemen’s various wars and internal politics over the years.

But this comes down to this alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United States that we refuse to even reconsider given the tremendous humanitarian impact in Yemen. This is not just, as I think the Saudis had imagined, a war that was going to end in a couple of weeks, where they were going to come bomb, and leave, and things were going to go back to normal for them. They didn’t anticipate that this was going to drag on for two years and eight months now.

So we should be reconsidering our help with the Saudis. We’re not just selling weapons; like you said, we’re so involved in many ways. And every ten minutes, a child is dying, 130 children are dying every single day. Sixty-three thousand children died last year, 50,000 more died this year. So the numbers are incredible, and the suffering is just horrendous. At what point do we stop and say, well, maybe we should reconsider this alliance, because it’s not helping anyone?

Shireen Al-Adeimi: “We’re not asking for intervention. We’re asking for them to stop this intervention, to remove themselves from this conflict.” (Image: BBC)

JJ: To the extent that that 60 Minutes segment referenced a US role, it was by spotlighting the American who heads the UN’s World Food Program. So if anything, we’re sort of the heroes of the piece. I have a concern that even as headlines come in about people dying, about cholera, that Americans will then talk about the need for the US to “take action,” you know, as if we weren’t taking action now. So to be clear, if the US were to cut off the refueling and the targeting aid and the shielding at the UN, it would change the situation here?

SA: Absolutely. Yemenis are not asking the US to come and save them from Saudi Arabia. We have to be very clear about that. We’re not asking for intervention. We’re asking for them to stop this intervention, to remove themselves from this conflict, to stop interfering in the politics of Yemen and causing this egregious humanitarian suffering by helping the Saudis at all these levels.

And so if the US were to stop, like you said, refueling, shielding the UN—there are even reports that they’re helping impose the blockade—if we stop all of this, then there’s no way that the Saudis can continue this war much longer, because they’re so incredibly dependent on the US’s support.

JJ: So if people are looking for something to do right now, in response to this information, what would you recommend?

SA: I’d recommend that people call their senators and their congressmen, email them, visit their local offices, and really urge them to introduce or support legislation like House Concurrent Resolution 81, that really pushes the US to stop its support of the Saudi Arabians in their war against Yemen.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Shireen Al-Adeimi. Her October article, “Only Americans Can Stop America’s War on Yemen,” can be found on Common Dreams. Shireen Al-Adeimi, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

SA: Thank you so much for having me.

WaPo’s One-Sided Cheerleading for Coup and Intervention in Venezuela

December 4, 2017 - 5:16pm

A Washington Post op-ed (11/15/17) argues that “where the military sides with the people, democracy becomes a real possibility.”

The only voices allowed in the Washington Post on the subject of Venezuela over the past year have been those calling for the overthrow or sanction of its government. A review of 15 opinion pieces featured in the Post shows voices even remotely sympathetic to the government of President Nicolás Maduro are omitted entirely. For the capitol’s paper of record, Venezuela joins the status of Adolf Hitler or ISIS: a settled evil without any nuance.

Columns and editorials in the Post are uniformly pro–regime change, pro-intervention, pro-sanctions or outright pro-coup. Meanwhile, nations with deplorable human rights records that are in good standing with the US government, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, are routinely given puff piece op-eds (7/14/15), softball Q & A’s (8/7/17) and framed over and over again as “reformers” of their own abuses (FAIR.org, 4/27/17). The opinion pieces on the topic of Venezuela, however, range from pro-sanction to pro-invasion:

  1. “Venezuela Is Lurching Closer and Closer to Chaos” (Editorial, 12/26/16)
  2. “In Venezuela, We Couldn’t Stop Chávez. Don’t Make the Same Mistakes We Did” (Andrés Miguel Rondón, 1/27/17)
  3. “The Organization of American States Decides to Have a Serious Talk With Caracas” (Francisco Toro, 3/29/17)
  4. “What It’ll Take for Venuezela’s [sic] Protests to Work, According to an Opposition Expert” (Amanda Erickson, 4/26/17)
  5. “Analysis: In Venezuela and Turkey, Strongmen Fear the Limits of Their Power” (Ishaan Tharoor, 4/27/17)
  6. “Beware Maikel Moreno, the Hatchet Man Who Runs Venezuela’s Supreme Court” (Francisco Toro and Pedro Rosas, 4/28/17)
  7. “Venezuela Is Heading Toward Cataclysm” (Editorial, 5/3/17)
  8. “Goldman Sachs Makes an Irresponsible Deal With the Corrupt Venezuela Regime”  (Editorial, 6/4/17)
  9. “The Region Cannot Just Stand By as Venezuela Veers Toward Civil War” (Editorial, 6/30/17)
  10. “Why One Man’s Bizarre Attack on the Government Is Reverberating in Caracas” (Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez, 6/30/17)
  11. “Venezuela’s Lawless Regime Staggers Toward a Coup”  (Editorial, 7/27/17)
  12. “Venezuela Is Imploding. These Citizens Were Desperate to Escape” (Tamara Taraciuk Broner, 8/2/17)
  13. “The Specter of Civil War in Venezuela” (Editorial, 8/13/17)
  14. “Venezuela’s Warning to America: Beware the Populist-Turned-Dictator” (Federico Finchelstein, 9/18/17)
  15. “The Odds of a Military Coup in Venezuela Are Going Up. But Coups Can Sometimes Lead to Democracy” (Ozan Varol, 11/15/17)

The last contribution on the list, from law professor and PR consultant Ozan Varol, suggests a coup could bring about “democracy,” despite Maduro winning in 2013 by roughly 1.5 percentage points (not exactly dictatorial numbers), in an election overseen and sanctioned by international election monitors—including the US-based Carter Center. While one can debate the democratic properties of measures taken since, few doubt Maduro won the election held in April 2013 after President Hugo Chávez’s death, nor can one easily explain how, if the elections were rigged, Maduro’s party overwhelmingly lost the Assembly election two years later. Maduro will face voters again in less than a year, in October 2018.

Since a CIA-backed coup in 2002 temporarily removed Chávez from office (a coup both the Post 4/14/02—and the New York Times4/13/02—cheered on), every election has been contested by the opposition as unfair. Perhaps this is sometimes true, perhaps it’s not. But for the Post, it’s never discussed. It’s simply taken for granted Maduro is a cartoon dictator; the only question dissected is how best to kick him out—regardless of what voters may think. When it comes to Venezuela, the paper’s self-aggrandizing, Trump-era motto, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” reads less like a warning and more like advice.

The Post’s editorial board was no less bellicose than the op-eds—though it did stop short of outright calling for a military coup. In six editorials over the past year, the board routinely used the delegitimizing label “regime,” echoed the Trump administration’s arbitrary use of human rights language, and called, again and again, for “tougher” sanctions on both the Maduro government and its allies.

Suggesting without any evidence that the government secretly stages violent attacks to promote a political agenda (Washington Post, 6/30/17) is generally seen as irresponsible–unless, of course, the government is an official enemy.

One editorial (6/30/17), mimicking Alex Jones, casually advanced a conspiracy theory that Maduro had assaulted his own government in a false-flag attack. (“Opposition leaders understandably wondered whether the incident was orchestrated by Mr. Maduro. If so, it wouldn’t be surprising.”)

The Post, always alarmed and morally superior in tone, constantly implored the United States government to “do something”—as, of course, has been Washington’s wont in Latin America for more than a century.

Without any clear criteria, the Post has decided the subject of political repression in Venezuela is a settled question, beyond debate; the Maduro “regime” is categorically evil and must go. Any assessment as to how US sanctions or Trump’s surly rhetoric or street violence by opposition extremists (including lighting black Chavistas on fire) or food-hoarding by wealthy industries may contribute to the unrest is never broached, much less discussed.

Essentially, the Post is curating a media conversation in which Venezuela is in the same moral category as Hitler or ISIS—unworthy of any defense. The paper presents only one side of that nation’s crisis—one in which a sizable percentage of the people, disproportionately the poor and indigenous, remain supportive of Maduro. Dozens of other controversial governments receive “both sides” coverage in the Post’s opinion pages—including the Trump administration, which has its own in-house PR rep on the Post’s staff. The only discernible criteria for why Venezuela doesn’t is that its government is out of favor with the US State Department.

* The Washington Post has a vertical called “Analysis”; when this “analysis” veered into editorializing the moral properties of the government, it was listed as opinion for the purposes of the list.

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.

 

Shireen Al-Adeimi on Yemen Crisis, Erin Shields on Net Neutrality Repeal

December 1, 2017 - 10:21am
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(photo: Abdo Hyder/AFP/Getty Images, via Washington Post)

This week on CounterSpin: After years of a Saudi-led war, Yemen is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis on a scale hard to comprehend: at least 10,000 dead, looming famine and now a shocking outbreak of cholera. But US citizens looking to understand the US role—in driving the disaster or in potentially easing it—get little help from accounts like that of the Washington Post, which told readers, “It’s a complicated story.” Shireen Al-Adeimi, a doctoral candidate and instructor at Harvard University, will join us to talk about what reports like that are leaving out.

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(image: Free Press)

Also on the program: Listeners know that hard-won net neutrality rules prohibit internet service providers from “blocking, throttling and paid prioritization” of internet content, and how important that level playing field has been—for everyone, but especially for those who historically and currently have had little voice in major media, including people of color, and for organizers. Former Verizon lawyer, now FCC chair Ajit Pai has had those rules in his sights since taking office, and now we’re facing a December vote to repeal them. So what now? We’ll hear what now from Erin Shields, national field organizer for internet rights with the Center for Media Justice.
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Plus a quick look back at recent press, including the erased US role in Libyan slavery and the New York Timescorrection on Ed Herman’s obituary.

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Shireen Al-Adeimi on Yemen Crisis, Erin Shields on Net Neutrality Repeal

December 1, 2017 - 10:21am
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(photo: Abdo Hyder/AFP/Getty Images, via Washington Post)

This week on CounterSpin: After years of a Saudi-led war, Yemen is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis on a scale hard to comprehend: at least 10,000 dead, looming famine and now a shocking outbreak of cholera. But US citizens looking to understand the US role—in driving the disaster or in potentially easing it—get little help from accounts like that of the Washington Post, which told readers, “It’s a complicated story.” Shireen Al-Adeimi, a doctoral candidate and instructor at Harvard University, will join us to talk about what reports like that are leaving out.

PlayStop pop out
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(image: Free Press)

Also on the program: Listeners know that hard-won net neutrality rules prohibit internet service providers from “blocking, throttling and paid prioritization” of internet content, and how important that level playing field has been—for everyone, but especially for those who historically and currently have had little voice in major media, including people of color, and for organizers. Former Verizon lawyer, now FCC chair Ajit Pai has had those rules in his sights since taking office, and now we’re facing a December vote to repeal them. So what now? We’ll hear what now from Erin Shields, national field organizer for internet rights with the Center for Media Justice.
PlayStop pop out

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Plus a quick look back at recent press, including the erased US role in Libyan slavery and the New York Timescorrection on Ed Herman’s obituary.

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