Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

Fear and loathing of Bernie Sanders

October 14, 2016

Swat Team: The media’s extermination of Bernie Sanders and real reform by Thomas Frank for Harper’s magazine.  What the Washington Post’s coverage of the Sanders candidacy reveals about the liberal establishment mentality and the future of American journalism.

Spies, Wikileaks and the DNC hacks.

August 1, 2016

I haven’t seen anything in the news accounts of the Democratic National Committee e-mails that is either new or shocking.

We the public knew before the DNC hacks that the committee members and staff were supporters of Hillary Clinton.  That’s what smart and successful politicians do—put their supporters in positions of influence.

The e-mails reveal how much the DNC people disliked Sanders and favored Clinton, but I haven’t seen anything that shows the e-mails showed they actually did—as distinguished from talking about—anything unethical.

What wrongdoing I do know about comes from publicly available information, not e-mail hacks.  The Hillary Victory Fund, for example, raised money ostensibly for state Democratic Party organizations, but then funneled the money back to Clinton.  That’s dishonest and probably illegal, but those facts had already been revealed.

As to the source of the information, intelligence agencies of various governments have a long history of revealing information that is embarrassing to their adversaries.

What’s new about the publishing of confidential Democratic National Committee e-mails is that it was done through Wikileaks, which provides a platform by which whistle-blowers and hackers of any affiliation can reveal secret documents without being traced.  is not affiliated with any government and for that very reason provides a perfect cover.  This is ideal cover for secret intelligence agencies.

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, says his only responsibility is to verify the authenticity of the information, not to judge the motives of those providing it.   The problem is that the CIA, FSB and their counterparts in other countries are probably much more expert in faking the source of information than Assange and his friends are in detecting forgeries.

There’s a moral here.  The moral is that secret information is not necessarily more significant than public information that has been overlooked.


On the Need for Official Attribution of Russia’s DNC Hack by Matt Tait for the Brookinsgs Institution’s Lawfare blog.

Yet More Thoughts on the DNC Hack: Attribution and Precedent by Jack Goldsmith for Lawfare.

Memo to Donald Trump: Don’t tell jokes

July 28, 2016

Donald Trump was asked yesterday about the hack into the Democratic National Committee’s e-mails.

220px-Donald_Trump_August_19,_2015_(cropped)The Republican nominee said he did not know if Russia was behind that attack, but that he would like to see the Kremlin turn its attention to the 30,000 messages Mrs Clinton deleted prior to the FBI investigation into her email practices.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press,” he said.

Mr Trump, who was giving a press conference in Florida, said it gave him “no pause” to essentially sanction Russian cyber hacking on an American official.

“Hey you know what gives me more pause? That a person in our government – Crooked Hillary Clinton – that a person in our government would delete or get rid of 30,000 emails,” he said.

“Now, if Russia or China or any other country has those emails, I mean to be honest with you I’d love to see them.”

Source: The Telegraph (UK)

I thought that was funny, and I thought his joke had a point.  But almost every comment I’ve come across this morning treats Trump’s comment as a serious and shocking proposal.

Trump should have learned by this time something I learned very early as a newspaper reporter.  When you engage in humor or irony, vast numbers of people will not recognize it as such unless it is labeled as humor or irony.

The bogus issue of plagiarism

July 20, 2016

plagiarismmelaniamichelleimrs.phpI think Donald Trump is disqualified to be President because of his cruel rhetoric, his manifest ignorance and his unethical business record.

I wish people who think as I do would focus on what’s true and what matters rather than seizing on every little thing that comes up.

The whole plagiarism uproar, for example.

Melania Trump, in her speech to the Republican National Convention, praised people who work hard and keep their word.  Michelle Obama did the same thing in similar words at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.   I doubt if she was the first person ever to express these commonplace truths.

I remember the late Robert F. Kennedy saying that some people see things as they are, and ask why, but he dreamed things that ever were, and asked, why not?  As I recall, nobody ever blamed him for failing to attribute these words to George Bernard Shaw.

And the late Nelson Rockefeller was fond of the phrase, the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God.  As I recall, nobody ever blamed him for not attributing this phrase to the great Unitarian preacher, Theodore Parker.  It’s one thing to plagiarize a whole article or speech; it’s another to use a phrase somebody else has used before.

The reason that it’s wrong to use anything and everything that comes to hand to attack your opponent is that you make it hard for members of the public to separate signal from noise.

Attacking Donald Trump unfairly is wrong in itself and also actually helps him, because it diverts attention from what he really is doing and saying wrong.


Red Star Over Trump by Peter Lee for China Matters.  Another bogus issue.

How Seymour Hersh uncovers the inside story

May 18, 2016

Seymour Hersh’s writings always remind me of how little I know about what is really going on.

I am better informed as a result of reading his work and watching this video, and you may be, as well.


If the New York Times wrote Jesus’s obituary…

March 27, 2016

Sam Roberts, an obituary writer for the New York Times, was asked to imagine what Jesus’s obituary would have been like.

jesus-christ-obit-satire 2Jesus of Nazareth, a Galilean carpenter turned itinerant minister whose appeals to piety and whose repute as a healer had galvanized a growing contingent of believers, died on Friday after being crucified that morning just outside Jerusalem, only days after his followers had welcomed him triumphantly to the city as “the anointed one” and “the Son of David.”  He was about 33.

For a man who had lived the first three decades of his life in virtual obscurity, he attracted a remarkable following in only a few years.  His reputation reflected a persuasive coupling of message, personal magnetism, and avowed miracles.  But it also resonated in the current moment of spiritual and economic discontent and popular resentment of authority and privilege, whether wielded by foreigners from Rome or by the Jewish priests in Jerusalem and their confederates.


After running afoul of the Jewish elite in Jerusalem for blasphemy and his arrest on Thursday, Jesus was sentenced to death by Governor Pontius Pilate. (The Jewish authorities lacked jurisdiction to impose capital punishment.)  The charge, in effect, was treason, for claiming to be King of the Jews or “the anointed one” (Messiah in Hebrew and Aramaic; Christos in Greek).  After he was declared dead on Friday night, he was buried nearby in a cave.

On Sunday, his disciples reported that the body was missing.


Click on What Would Jesus’s New York Times Obituary Look Like? to read the whole thing in Vanity Fair.  Hat tip to

If newspapers die, will we lose anything?

March 23, 2016

My friend and former editor Anne Tanner worries about the future of journalism, and of newspapers in particular, as I do.  She e-mailed me a link to an article in Britain’s Prospect Magazine about the future of newspapers, from which I pull the excerpt below.

So far, the online news world has had a slightly shabby reputation.  On the one hand there are endless feeds simply repeating or re-tweeting the same basic information; the spread of lazy list-based journalism; and the parasite websites, picking the dirty bits out of the teeth of the major news corporations.  On the other hand there is the reactive underworld of almost incoherent anger, the moon-faced, flabby-fingered trolls who reduce all public argument to puerile sexual abuse.

newspaper-2Yet as more and more of us turn to our laptops, the news is getting better.  When I am researching I like to “read sideways”—that is, find a story or a footnote, trace it down to its origin, and keep going from there.  This sideways reading, made possible by hyperlinks, is the essence of the best of what is on the web.

On websites such as Buzzfeed, there is delight as well as disappointment.  The disappointment is that although there are in-depth essays and some foreign coverage, it’s still a long way from the regular, reliable foreign news service that the average news junkie would expect from the average serious newspaper.  The delight is about the ingenuity and creativity of its staff—if you haven’t seen Kelly Oakes’s “If newspaper headlines were scientifically accurate” you are missing something special.

It’s not only possible to become a really well-informed and engaged person by reading the news—it’s getting easier all the time. But relying on a single, under-funded, pressurized editorial team and a dampish wodge of flattened spruce arriving on your doormat every day is no longer the best way to go about it.  You just have to be more proactive and spend a bit more time to get what you need

Source: Prospect Magazine


Why do reporters accept being penned up?

March 18, 2016
Reporters covering Hillary Clinton's participation in a Fourth of July parade in Gotham, New Hampshire

Reporters covering Hillary Clinton’s participation in a Fourth of July parade in Gotham, New Hampshire

For decades, reporters who travel with Presidential candidates have been denied the right of ordinary spectators to move about freely at campaign events.

The Secret Service and the candidates’ own security people deny them the right to mingle with crowds.  Instead they restrict them to observing campaign events from special roped-off or fenced-off areas.

Such restrictions apply only to members of the national press corps traveling with the President.  The local press is usually free to sit in the audience and take notes.

This has no logical relation to protecting the candidates from threats, except to the degree a candidate regards free reporting is a threat.  Any restrictions that were necessary to the personal safety of a candidate would logically apply to everyone, not just members of the national press corps.

What is the legal basis for this?  Why don’t newspapers and broadcasters protest on Constitutional grounds?

The basis for it is that broadcast and print journalists depend on the candidates to provide them with transportation and the communications facilities they need to do their jobs.  Without that help, they or their employers would have to buy their own airline tickets, find places to recharge their computers and cameras and set up their own communications for writings and pictures.

More importantly, the candidates control access.  Reporters need to be able to talk to the candidates and the candidates’ staffs, and they won’t get this access unless the candidates see some benefit in giving it.  If you’re a reporter, you don’t just need access.  You need as much access as your main competitor.

So candidates have many means of punishing reporters they consider hostile or even out of line.   Some keep the press on a tight rein, some on a loose rein, but the reins are always there.


What’s wrong with this picture?

December 17, 2015

pollsandersclinton12346429_10205252351251720_455515267058200796_nHat tip to Avedon’s Sideshow.

TV news coverage ignores Sanders, puffs Trump

December 17, 2015

Public opinion polls show Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders with roughly equivalent public support.  Yet Trump dominates TV news coverage while Sanders is hardly even noticed.

Eric Boehlert of Media Matters quoted these results from a survey called the Tyndall Report.

The network newscasts are wildly overplaying Trump, who regularly attracts between 20-30 percent of primary voter support, while at the same time wildly underplaying Sanders, who regularly attracts between 20-30 percent of primary voter support. [snip]

Obviously, Trump is the GOP frontrunner and it’s reasonable that he would get more attention than Sanders, who’s running second for the Democrats.  But 234 total network minutes for Trump compared to just 10 network minutes for Sanders, as the Tyndall Report found?

Andrew Tyndall provided the breakdown by network of Sanders’ 10 minutes of coverage, via email … :

  • CBS Evening News: 6.4 minutes
  • NBC Nightly News: 2.9 minutes
  • ABC World News: 0.3 minutes

But how can that be?  ABC News, for instance, clearly devoted more than 20 seconds to covering the Democratic debates, which featured news of Sanders, right?

As Tyndall explained to me, the number “counts stories filed about the Sanders campaign or from the Sanders campaign.  Obviously he is mentioned in passing in other coverage of the Democratic field overall, specifically his performance in the debates.”

So in terms of stand-alone campaign stories this year, it’s been 234 minutes for Trump, compared to 10 minutes for Sanders.  And at ABC World News Tonight, it’s been 81 minutes for Trump and less than one minute for Sanders.


The USA needs real presidential debates

November 10, 2015

The so-called Presidential debates are not debates.  They are televised group press conferences.

The so-called US Presidential debates are not debates.  Going back to the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960, they are televised group press conferences.  The American voting public would be better served by actual debates.

An actual debate would be over just one question, selected in advance.  Candidates would be given time to speak their minds, and then to rebut what the other candidates said.

The role of the moderator would be to enforce debate rules.  Any questions would be asked by the candidates of each other.

The press conference format measures the ability of the candidates to think on their feet and to memorize and remember information.  A debate format would measure the depth and breadth of their thinking, and give an idea of what they would do if elected.

Such a format might not be commercial enough for the major networks, but I am sure PBS and C-SPAN would be willing to host a real debate.

Russia’s propaganda offensive: links 11/2/2015

November 2, 2015

Russian propaganda under Vladimir Putin is innovative, and not in a good way, in finding ways to masquerade as independent journalism and spontaneous social media comment.   Actual press freedom in Russia is being slowly shut down.

The How-To Guide to Modern Propaganda: Or, How the Russians Get Kudos for Bombing Syria While the Americans Get Trashed on Geopolitics Made Super.

Game of trolls: the hip digi-kids helping Putin’s fight for on-line supremacy by Alec Luhn for The Guardian.

Russian Media Resist Kremlin Crackdown on Press Freedom by Benjamin Bidder and Matthias Schepp for Der Spiegel.

Russian Politicians Building an International Extreme Right Alliance by Anton Shekhovtsov for The Interpreter.

Politics as a spectator sport 2015

September 16, 2015

USA Today listed six things to watch for in tonight’s Republican presidential candidates’ debate.

  • Whether Donald Trump will be hurt by attacks from the other candidates.
  • Whether the presence of a woman, Carly Fiorina, will change the tone of the debates.
  • Whether Jeb Bush can put an “exclamation point” into his performance.
  • How many times the candidates will invoke Ronald Reagan.
  • Whether Hugh Hewitt will trip up any of the candidates with foreign policy questions.
  • Whether any of the candidates, especially the minor ones, will eliminate themselves from competition.

All interesting questions.  But what do any of them have to do with making an informed choice as a Republican voter?

The passing scene – August 20, 2015

August 20, 2015

Struggle and Progress: Eric Foner on the abolitionists, Reconstruction and winning “freedom” from the Right, a conversation with Jacobin magazine writers.

Eric Foner

Eric Foner

Historian Eric Foner pointed out that the abolition of slavery was truly a second American Revolution.  It involved the confiscation without compensation of the most valuable form of property at the time—enslaved African people.

The Civil War is sometimes interpreted as a triumph of industrial capitalism over a backward agrarian economy.  Foner said that, although this is true in a way, the pre-Civil War capitalists got along very well with the slaveowners.

The abolitionists included moderates, radicals, wealthy philanthropists, lawbreakers, politicians, former black slaves and racists who opposed slavery because it was harmful to white people.  Although sometimes working at cross-purposes, Foner said their diverse approaches created a synergy that made the movement stronger.   This has lessons for our own time.

The Last Refuge of the Incompetent by John Michael Greer for The Archdruid Report.

John Michael Greer wrote that a successful revolutionary movement will (1) discredit the existing order through relentless propaganda, (2) seek alliances with all those with grievances against the existing order, (3) create alternative institutions of its own and (4) offer a vision of hope, not despair.

In the USA, this program is being carried out not by what Greer called the “green Left,” but the “populist Right”.


I never was a fan of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show

August 16, 2015

A friend of mine never watched TV network news.  Instead he watched Jon Stewart’s Daily Show on Comedy Central, because Stewart said things that the network commentators wouldn’t.

I give Stewart due credit, but I hardly ever watched his show.   I don’t think I would have watched it much even if I still watched TV regularly.

There was something about his self-satisfied smirk that turned me off.   I can’t abide knowing smiles.

stewart-2Stewart’s accomplishment was pointing out the ridiculousness of so much of American politics and journalism.   The problem with that is that treating everything as a joke is a way of maintaining the status quo.   If you take things seriously, people think you fail to get the job.

Now Stewart might justly reply that he is a comedian, and to criticize a comedian for treating everything as a joke is like criticizing the Pope for treating everything as a matter of faith and morals.  Stewart also might reply that it is not his fault that the mainstream news is so lacking in substance that people turn to comedians.

Stewart’s role was as a court jester, who is allowed to say things that others can’t precisely because people don’t take him seriously.   His basic political position was the defense of moderation against extremism, which at the end of the day is also a defense of the status quo.

His basic harmlessness is shown by the fact that celebrities as disparate as Bruce Springsteen, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, John Kerry and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly all took part in his farewell program.   He was a member of an elite club whose members have more in common with each other than any of them do with me or anybody I know.


The Uncertain Legacy of Jon Stewart by Robin Marie on the U.S. Intellectual History blog.  A response.

The Daily Show in the Age of Irony by Johann Neem for The Hedgehog Review.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Truth and lies in journalism and law enforcement

August 2, 2015

Ted Rall , one of my favorite cartoonists, was fired last Monday from his job at the Los Angeles Times after somebody produced an audiotape indicating he had lied in a column his bad treatment by a Los Angeles police officer when arrested for jaywalking in 2001.

Ted Rall

Ted Rall

He said the tape consisted of about 20 minutes of talk and 6 minutes of unintelligible noise, so he asked an audio technician to try to restore the original tape.  Lo and behold! – the tape indicated that Rall was telling the truth.

He was charged with the worst offense that a professional journalist can commit.  To be caught lying in print or on the air will not only cost you your job, but make you unemployable.   At least this was true during the 40 years I worked on newspapers, and I assume the same is true in the respectable non-Murdoch press and broadcasters.

The Los Angeles Times should either reinstate Rall or have the honesty to say they don’t want to use his cartoons for whatever political or other reason.

What about police?  Don’t they have an equal obligation with journalists to tell the truth?  Suppose it is proved that the tape was doctored.  Shouldn’t falsifying evidence make a police officer unemployed and unemployable?


A note to readers by the Los Angeles Times.

How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired From the LA Times — And How I Proved They Lied by Ted Rall on RallBlog.

Ted Rall LAPD Scandal: Rall Vindicated, LAPD Under Fire by Tom Ewing for A New Domain.


Julian Assange’s epic struggle for justice

July 31, 2015

jul650Julian Assange is a great hero of our time.

Subject to a 24-hour police siege, confined to a single windowless room, he continues to fight, and fight effectively, for truth and justice.

WikiLeaks continues to provide a means by which whistle-blowers can reveal how governments, corporations and other organizations conspire against the public.  Most of what the American public knows about the toxic Trans Pacific Partnership, for example, has been made known by WikiLeaks.

John Pilger wrote an excellent article, updated on Counterpunch, about the how the U.S. government, abetted by the governments of the United Kingdom and Sweden, are bending international law and their own laws to deprive Assange of his freedom.

He is wanted for extradition to Sweden for questioning in a sexual misconduct case.  He has not been charged with any crime, and the alleged victims in the case do not accuse him of any crime.  He has offered to testify in London, or to go to Sweden to testify if he can be assured that he won’t be extradited to the United States.

A grand jury has been meeting in secret in Alexandria, Va., for five years trying to figure out ways to define Assange’s truth-telling as a crime.   The details of the ongoing investigation of Assange have been defined themselves as a state secret.  One of the crimes the grand jury is pondering is violation of the U.S. Espionage Act, which carries a maximum penalty of death or life imprisonment.

Assange might be in a U.S. prison today, or worse, if not for the courage of the Ecuadorian government, which despite all pressure and threats offered him refuge in its London embassy.

The U.S. government treats Assange as it might treat a terrorist.  And in fact, to a government whose policies are based on secrecy and lies, truth-tellers and whistle-blowers are more terrifying than killers or suicide bombers.

I think a good litmus test for whether an individual believes in freedom and democracy is the person’s attitude toward Julian Assange.   President Obama most certainly fails that test.   I think Assange will be remembered when Obama is forgotten.


Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice by John Pilger for Counterpunch.

Interview of Seymour Hersh on bin Laden killing

May 14, 2015

As I think about it, I can understand why the governments of the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia preferred to permanently silence Osama bin Laden than to question him or put him on trial.  I don’t like this, but I can understand it.

The most damning thing about Seymour Hersh’s article on the killing of Osama bin Laden was how President Obama panicked when a helicopter crashed, and broke the U.S. agreement with Pakistan on the agreed-upon cover story on the bin Laden killing.

I strongly disagree with Barack Obama’s policies and priorities, which I think are very different from what his supporters think they are, but I always thought of him as exceptionally cool and self-controlled.  Apparently not.   Of course revealing sensitive security information for political purposes isn’t new.

The video embedded above is most of an interview of Seymour Hersh by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!  Below is a link to the full interview, with a transcript.

Seymour Hersh Details Explosive Story on Bin Laden Killing & Responds to White House, Media Backlash | Democracy Now  [Hat tip to Mike Connelly]

Below is a link to an interview with Jeffrey Sterling, who either is a brave whistleblower who is going to prison because he revealed corruption and incompetence in the Central Intelligence Agency to investigative reporter James Risen, or a victim of injustice who was convicted on circumstantial evidence.

Exclusive: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling Speaks Out upon Sentencing to 3.5 Years in Prison | Democracy Now

Why liberals no longer believe Seymour Hersh

May 13, 2015

Bush liberals conservatives militarism

When George W. Bush was President, most liberals believed the exposes of investigative reporter Seymour Hersh.  Now that Barack Obama is President, they are more skeptical.

As Espeth Reeve pointed out in The New Republic, liberals and Hersh are no longer on the same page.

militarism Obama liberals conservativesLINKS

The Killing of Osama bin Laden by Seymour M. Hersh in the London Review of Books.

The Loneliness of Sy Hersh by Elspeth Reeve for The New Republic.

Matt Taibbi on political journalism

April 30, 2015

We’re conditioned to believe that the candidate who has the early assent of a handful of executives on Wall Street and in Hollywood and Silicon Valley is the “serious” politician, while the one who is merely the favorite of large numbers of human beings is an irritating novelty act whose only possible goal could be to cut into the numbers of the real players.

via Rolling Stone.

Lance Mannion on political journalism

April 30, 2015

Sports journalism treats games as if they’re matters of life and death.  Political journalism treats matters of life and death as if they’re all part of a game.

via Lance Mannion.

Rand Paul shows his inexperience

April 14, 2015

Senator Rand Paul lost his temper at reporters for  NBC and The Guardian last week and CNBC back in February for asking him unfair questions.

If he were a more seasoned politician, he simply would have ignored the questions he was asked and answered the question he wished he were asked.

How journalists can be fooled

February 24, 2015

This interview with alleged ISIS fighters was broadcast last Nov. 1, but it’s one more thing that’s new to me.

Its significance is the claim of RT News (formerly Russia Today) to have exclusively interviewed ISIS fighters in the field, a remarkable accomplishment if true.

But a number of things in the interview should have raised alarm bells before the broadcast.

The supposed ISIS fighters, located in a Lebanese village near the Syrian border, say they are a “sleeper cell” in Lebanon, who will be activated when the time comes.

Why would members of a “sleeper cell” alert the Lebanese government to their existence by giving interviews?   It doesn’t make sense.   Advertising a sleeper cell defeats the purpose of having a sleeper cell.

Then, too, the interviewees either disagree with ISIS practice or don’t understand it.

The so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria beheads journalists, but the interviewees follow the mainstream Islamic teaching that journalists are messengers and so should be spared.  ISIS murders Christians, Shiite Muslims and people of other faiths, but the interviewees say it is impractical to establish a Caliphate in Lebanon because it is a nation of many religions.

I think the young men who claim to speak for ISIS are intentionally deceiving the reporter, or they are ISIS sympathizers who don’t fully understand the ISIS ideology.

Another reason, besides RT News’ sponsorship by the Russian government, to take RT News broadcasts with a grain of salt.


Fox affiliate faked ‘kill a cop’ video

December 25, 2014

I think Fox News over the year has done more to stir up racial conflict than peaceful protesters ever have.

Why it’s hard to know what is going on

October 20, 2014

Number of American journalists, correspondents and broadcast news analysts.


Number of Americans with security clearances.

5.1 million.