Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

Maidan snipers: Ukraine’s Gulf of Tonkin?

April 18, 2014

The crisis in Ukraine was set off on Feb. 20 by snipers killing peaceful anti-government demonstrators in Kiev’s Maidan Square on Feb. 20.   Angry mobs surrounded the Ukrainian Parliament and forced President Yanukovych to flee the country, and he was replaced by an unelected provisional government.

Now an investigation by a German TV station, ARM Monitor, which was broadcast last week, indicates the sniper was working for the extreme Ukrainian nationalist Svoboda Party, which was part of the opposition and is now part of the new government.   Police as well as protestors were killed, and the bullets came from the same guns.   The snipers were operating from the roof of the Hotel Ukrayina, which was the headquarters of the protestors.

Now a member of the Svoboda Party is in charge of the investigation.   Families of dead protestors are unable to get autopsy reporters or other vital information.

Michael Hudson, a distinguished professor of research economics at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, was interviewed about this on the relatively obscure Real News Network  (which is listed on my Resources page).   The ARM Monitor investigation is headline news in Germany and (naturally) in Russia, he noted; why is it ignored in the United States?

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/04/ukraine-obama-channeling-cheney.html

http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=11730

I’m not saying that President Yanukovych or President Vladimir Putin necessarily have good intentions, or that the Russian secret services are not capable of false flag operations of their own, or that Russian-speaking Ukrainians necessarily want to be part of Russia.   I recognize that there are armed minorities in both east and west Ukraine who don’t necessarily speak for the people they claim to represent.   I do not claim to understand the intricacies of Ukrainian politics.

All I’m saying is that the Ukrainian people, and the American people, are being pushed toward war over something that didn’t happen the way we were told it did.

This is the news for April First

April 1, 2014

Hat tip to Gin and Tacos.

And now a word from our sponsor.

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George Orwell and the death of truth

March 14, 2014

Reading differing versions of the Ukraine conflict reminds me of George Orwell’s recollections of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939.  Orwell fought on the government side against rebels led by General Franco and was wounded in action.  Soviet Russia supported the government side; Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy supported the rebels.

Here’s what Orwell had to say:

George Orwell

George Orwell

I have little direct evidence about the atrocities in the Spanish civil war. I know that some were committed by the Republicans, and far more (they are still continuing) by the Fascists.

But what impressed me then, and has impressed me ever since, is that atrocities are believed in or disbelieved in solely on grounds of political predilection. Everyone believes in the atrocities of the enemy and disbelieves in those of his own side, without ever bothering to examine the evidence.

Recently I drew up a table of atrocities during the period between 1918 and the present; there was never a year when atrocities were not occurring somewhere or other, and there was hardly a single case when the Left and the Right believed in the same stories simultaneously.

And stranger yet, at any moment the situation can suddenly reverse itself and yesterday’s proved-to-the-hilt atrocity story can become a ridiculous lie, merely because the political landscape has changed. [snip]

govtposterspainI remember saying once to Arthur Koestler, ‘History stopped in 1936’, at which he nodded in immediate understanding.  We were both thinking of totalitarianism in general, but more particularly of the Spanish civil war.

Early in life I have noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie.  I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened.

I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’. [snip]

fascistposterspainOut of the huge pyramid of lies which the Catholic and reactionary press all over the world built up, let me take just one point — the presence in Spain of a Russian army.  Devout Franco partisans all believed in this; estimates of its strength went as high as half a million. Now, there was no Russian army in Spain.  There may have been a handful of airmen and other technicians, a few hundred at the most, but an army there was not.  Some thousands of foreigners who fought in Spain, not to mention millions of Spaniards, were witnesses of this.  Well, their testimony made no impression at all upon the Franco propagandists, not one of whom had set foot in Government Spain.

Simultaneously these people refused utterly to admit the fact of German or Italian intervention at the same time as the Germany and Italian press were openly boasting about the exploits of their ‘legionaries’.

I have chosen to mention only one point, but in fact the whole of Fascist propaganda about the war was on this level.

This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.  After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history. How will the history of the Spanish war be written?   If Franco remains in power his nominees will write the history books, and (to stick to my chosen point) that Russian army which never existed will become historical fact, and schoolchildren will learn about it generations hence.

But suppose Fascism is finally defeated and some kind of democratic government restored in Spain in the fairly near future; even then, how is the history of the war to be written?  What kind of records will Franco have left behind him?  Suppose even that the records kept on the Government side are recoverable — even so, how is a true history of the war to be written?  For, as I have pointed out already, the Government also dealt extensively in lies. [snip]

Yet, after all, some kind of history will be written, and after those who actually remember the war are dead, it will be universally accepted.  So for all practical purposes the lie will have become truth. [snip]

This prospect frightens me much more than bombs — and after our experiences of the last few years that is not a frivolous statement.

Click on George Orwell: Looking back on the Spanish War for the full article, published in 1943, which also describes his experiences in the war and his thoughts on the nature of fascism.   Orwell did NOT think the answer to lying propaganda was to assume that “the truth lies somewhere in between.”

The elusive facts about the Ukraine conflict

March 11, 2014

ukrainepropaganda

I have been trying for a couple of weeks to educate myself about the political conflict in Ukraine, and I am not sure even of basic facts.

Consider these two articles, each of which I would believe contained the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, if I hadn’t read the other.

A Petition by Scholars: Don’t Brand Kiev Maidan Protestors as Extremists.

The Crimean “Crisis” and Western Bias by Outlook Zen.  Hat tip to ClubOrlov.

About the only thing I feel sure of is that the Russian Federation, United States and other governments are trying to turn the Ukrainian political factions into their proxies in their global competition for geopolitical and economic power.

Washington Post maps that explain the world

August 27, 2013

Max Fisher of the Washington Post has compiled 40 interesting maps that do throw a lot of light on what’s going on in the world.   I linked to some of them in my posts on country comparisons of religion and IQ and racism and diversity.

You can click on 40 maps to see them all, starting with a geopolitical map of world powers as of 200 A.D. and ending with an interactive time-lapse map of the earth as seen from space over 12 months.

Many of the maps have links to accompanying Washington Post article.  If the video link above doesn’t work, you should be able to see the same video on the 40 maps link.

What we’d know if news media were liberal

August 13, 2013

Jack Akadjian, who writes for the Daily Kos web log, recently listed 15 things that all Americans would know if the news medical really were liberal.

1.  Where the jobs went.

2.  Upward wealth redistribution and/or inequaliy.

3.  ALEC.

4.  The number of people in prison.

5.  The number of black people in prison.

6.  U.S. health care costs are the highest in the world.

7.  Glass-Steagall.

8.  Gerrymandering.

9.  The number of bills blocked by Republicans in Congress.

10.  The Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

11.  Nixon’s Southern Strategy.

12.  Tax cuts primary benefit the rich.

13.  What’s happened to the bees.

14.  The impact of temporary workers on the economy.

15.  Media consolidation.

For details, click on 15 things everyone would know if there were a liberal media.

Correction: Amazon not world’s largest retailer

August 11, 2013

Contrary to what I wrote in Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to buy Washington Post, Amazon is not the world’s largest retailer.   It is the largest on-line retailer, but is far behind Wal-Mart and other giants in total sales.

Click on 2013 Top 100 Retailers for information about its revenues and ranking.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to buy Washington Post

August 6, 2013

Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, will buy the Washington Post for $250 million.  I suppose it is not as bad as the Post being bought by the Koch brothers or Rupert Murdoch.  We’ll see.

Bezos’ politics might be described as Silicon Valley liberalism.  He is a champion of gay rights, but not in the right of his employees to decent working conditions.

I worked on newspapers for 40 years, and liked to believe that journalism was a calling and more than just a way for journalists to earn a salary and owners to earn a profit.

Most (not all) of the historically great American newspapers were owned by families who believed in the newspapers’ mission, rather than by corporations whose main business was elsewhere.

Bezos will own the Washington Post as an individual and incorporate it into Amazon, so he doesn’t fall into either category.  It will be interesting to see what his intentions are.

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The Koch threat to independent newspapers

August 2, 2013

The billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, are the fourth and fifth richest Americans, according to Forbes magazine.  They own Koch Industries, a conglomerate corporation founded by their father, Fred Koch, which Forbes says is the second largest privately-held American company.

Little known to the general public, they have spent decades funding right-wing, conservative and libertarian organizations, such as the Cato Institute, the Federalist Society, Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

They reportedly are interested in acquiring the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun and other newspapers owned by the Tribune Company.

My friend Anne Tanner e-mailed me a copy of this letter from David Simon, former Baltimore Sun reporter and creator of The Wire television series, about his concerns regarding the possible Koch takeover.

Dear Friend,

Strange that I acquired a certain notoriety and success writing television drama, yet for some dumb luck, I’d be in a newsroom somewhere watching what is happening to American journalism and wondering when anyone is going to speak up and act.  Yes, I make television now; but The Wire and Treme are narratives rooted in what I came to value in print journalism, and the world that the Baltimore Sun opened up for me when I arrived in that city, fresh out of college.

A newspaper — an honest one — was a marvelous place to learn about the world and to convey what is learned to the community it serves.  But this is only true, of course, if the newspaper is of and for the community and if it values its daily report more than any pre-determined point of view.  So it is alarming to me that the Koch brothers, the billionaire duo so actively engaged in supporting a particular political ideology, are interested in buying the Baltimore Sun and a dozen other newspapers including the Los Angeles Times , the Chicago Tribune and the Hartford Courant .

Join me in signing a petition asking the Tribune Company not to sell to the Koch brothers, and to instead support the local ownership of American news organizations.

My concern does not stem from my distaste for the Koch brothers’ right-wing ideology.  I would be appalled if, say, Arianna Huffington or Ralph Nader or any other politically engaged voice was attempting to buy my local newspaper.  Good journalism needs to be unaligned and indifferent to ideological cant and partisan politics; it needs to be about the acquisition of unaligned fact.

There are many who claim the internet has rendered professional reporting obsolete; that the careful, impartial coverage of an increasingly complex world can be left in the hands of citizen bloggers, that no one needs to be paid to cover institutions consistently and with unbiased and ethical rigor.

I don’t agree.  Reporting is a delicate and professional endeavor.  And maintaining that endeavor is the only way to maintain an open and honest society.  This will remain true whether a news report is delivered digitally or in print, and supporting professional journalism with a revenue stream that is rooted in a committed hometown readership that trusts its local newspaper.

The original sin of American journalism is having listened to Wall Street four decades ago, when it was first suggested that out-of-town ownership by publicly-traded chains were the optimum means of assuring profit and viability.  The seeds of this disaster predate not only the Koch brothers, or the internet, or even the Tribune ownership of my hometown paper.  It goes back nearly three decades to the moment when local ownership of that paper passed from Baltimoreans to those who did not live, or work, or live and die with this city.

Wall Street is very good at manufacturing short-term profit and little else.  And political ideologues are very good at manufacturing a stunted political argument. But for a newspaper to serve its community with care and precision and dedication, the newspaper must be of the city and a part of the city — and beholden only to that city.

To that end, there are Baltimore-based consortiums who have made clear to the Tribune Company that they are ready and willing to purchase the Baltimore Sun and operate the newspaper as a locally-owned enterprise.  There are people in my city who understand that a first-rate metropolis requires a daily paper that is not merely a vessel for profit or ideology, but rather for unbiased, unaligned and properly supported journalism.  And the Tribune company, in divesting itself of its newspaper assets with an eye to local ownership, could undo the great damage that news-chain journalism has done to our civic life.

A sale to the Koch brothers would indeed be a journey from bad to worse.  The only way to restore print journalism for the civic good is to have it practiced and owned by those who live in and are dedicated to the community itself.

Join me in asking the Tribune papers not to sell to the Koch brothers.

David Simon
Baltimore, Maryland

Click on Working Families to sign the petition.

[Update 8/5/13]  Another threat.  Washington Post to be sold to Jeff BezosIt is always a problem when a newspaper or news broadcaster is a component of a corporation in some other line of business, which has interests that will be affected by the way news is covered.  In this case, Jeff Bezos is buying the business as an individual rather than as CEO of Amazon, but the principle is the same.

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For an idea of the Koch brothers’ power and influence, click on the following links.

Inside the Koch Empire: How the Brothers Plan to Reshape America by Daniel Fisher in Forbes.

Political activities of the Koch brothers on Wikipedia.

The Koch Club – Koch millions spread influence through nonprofits, colleges by the Investigative Reporting Workshop of American University’s journalism school

Koch Brothers Influence Peddling Exposed for highlights of the AU students’ report on Daily Kos.

Affirmative action for conservatives?

July 1, 2013

Back when I was a reporter for the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, our city editor once did an informal poll on our internal e-mail system as to what reporters and editors thought about the topic of abortion.

Not all the reporters and editors responded, but of those who did, there was a large number (including me) who were pro-choice and one brave lonely individual who was pro-life.

I recalled this the other day when I read that the University of Colorado Board of Regents intended to conduct a survey to determine whether conservatives and conservative viewpoints were underrepresented on the university’s faculty.

newspaper-2In the case of the D&C newsroom, I think our near-unanimity was a handicap in doing justice to both sides.  We all tried to be as fair to all points of view as we could, but you never know what you are unconsciously taking for granted until you interact with someone whose assumptions are different.

I don’t what could have been done about this imbalance.  Nobody asked my political opinions when I was interviewed for the job.  I don’t think that would have been a proper question to ask, any more than a question about my religion.  If a newspaper were ever to start an intentional policy of hiring more conservatives and Republicans, what they would get is a lot of opportunists claiming to be whatever they thought would get them hired.

It is a fact of life that certain occupations attract certain types of people, and it is also a fact of life that working in certain occupations gives you a certain point of view.  I doubt you would find, to pick a few random examples, that the political opinions of military officers, climate scientists, engineers or bankers necessarily represent a cross-section of the population.

Looking back on my own work, I think I was biased not so much liberal or conservative as biased toward the point of view of the people I covered—in my case, the Rochester business community.  This is an old and familiar tendency in newspaper work.  The sports writer becomes a fan of the home team, the police reporter take on the point of view of the police, the political reporter starts to think of herself as a political insider.

The answer is not to try to correct a bias with a corresponding opposite bias, and certainly not to put journalism under the supervision of politicians, but to strive for professionalism, which means reporting the relevant facts as accurately and completely as you can, stating opposing views fairly and being willing to acknowledge errors and inconvenient truths.

I don’t in fact think we did a bad job of covering the abortion issue.  Both sides complained about our coverage in about equal measure.

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Click on University of Colorado plan to survey political climate draws mixed reactions for a report on the Colorado regents’ plan.  I found the link on the Unqualified Offerings web log.  I agree with  “Thoreau” on Class is a battlefield and Samuel Goldman of The American Conservative on Trolling for Conservatives.

What do you think?


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