Later On

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Archive for the ‘Washington Post’ Category

Something big is brewing when you read something like this in a NY Times story

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From a report by David Carr in the NY Times.For context, read the story to which this is a parenthesis:

(In one bit of irony in the aftermath of the events on Wednesday, President Obama said, “Here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their job and report to the American people what they see on the ground.” This from an administration that has aggressively sought to block reporting and in some instances criminalize it.)

And you can see here how Twitter exploded.

And do read the story at that first link. It’s an important account of events that show how we’re headed.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 August 2014 at 12:40 pm

When newspapers become outlets for military-industrial propaganda

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The reports on Israel’s Iron Dome defense system read like press releases—which, indeed, they are, for all practical purposes. And like most press releases, the truth is not to be found in them.

James Fallows has some excellent examples of the propaganda articles, and also some pushback from actual experts, who point out that the system doesn’t work all that well.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 8:43 am

A punch to the nose from the Washington Post to the NY Times

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The NY Times seems to be losing interest in accuracy and truth. I would say that Glenn Kessler landed a solid blow in this column:

There was a moment at the height of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 when Soviet ships approached to within just a few miles of a U.S. naval blockade and then, at the last minute, turned back — prompting then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk to utter one of the most famous lines from the Cold War: “We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

— opening sentence of a column, “Putin Blinked,” by Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, May 27, 2014

The Fact Checker does not normally assess the accuracy of claims of pundits, keeping our gaze generally on politicians and political ads. But we are going to make an exception in this case, in part because this is an interesting case brought to our attention by our old colleague Michael Dobbs, who first started The Fact Checker in 2007.

The issue is this: When new primary source documents demonstrate that a historical myth has been proved incorrect, shouldn’t people who repeat the discredited myth admit their error? An even odder element here is that the Times has previously publicized the fact that the myth was wrong, citing this very research, and yet it refuses to correct the error in Friedman’s column.

The Facts

The myth in question is the supposed “eyeball to eyeball” confrontation of U.S. and Soviet ships during the Cuban Missile Crisis — an event spun at the time by the Kennedy White House as a pivotal moment that demonstrated courage and coolness under fire.

But Dobbs, in his 2008 book One Minute to Midnight, demonstrated conclusively that there was no high seas engagement. Sixteen missile-carrying Soviet ships had already been turned around on the orders of Premier Nikita Khrushchev the day before. (Here’s an English translation of the minutes of a Soviet Communist Party presidium meeting ratifying the decision.) The orders were issued early in the morning of Oct. 23, 1962.

Of course, President John F. Kennedy and his aides did not know that on the morning of Oct. 24 as they awaited a potential clash. An aircraft carrier group led by the USS Essex had orders to intercept the Kimovsk and her submarine escort. Kennedy nervously canceled the intercept, issuing an order to the Essen: “Secret. From Highest Authority. Do Not Stop And Board. Keep Under Surveillance.”

At the time, Dobbs concluded, Kimovsk was nearly 800 miles away from the Essex, not “just a few miles.” This was all eventually figured out by U.S. intelligence analysts — here are the CIA records obtained by Dobbs — but the White House failed to correct the historical record. After all, the eyeball to eyeball imagery was simply too good for political memoirs.

In the book, Dobbs printed a map showing the ship positions. . .

Continue reading. The Times doesn’t look good in this, embracing the error and denying clear evidence that Friedman’s anecdote is non-historical fiction. “Surprisingly, when Dobbs pointed out that Friedman had repeated historical fiction in his column, the Times refused to correct the mistake.” Read the whole column. The Times has some arrogance (and ignorance) problems.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2014 at 9:13 am

Eric Alterman Warns: Pundits and Partisans Are Up to Old Tricks in Iraq

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Estremely good column by Eric Alternman at

In a column entitled “Bush’s toxic legacy in Iraq,” terrorism expert Peter Bergen writes about the origins of ISIS, “the brutal insurgent/terrorist group formerly known as al Qaeda in Iraq.”

Bergen notes that, “One of George W. Bush’s most toxic legacies is the introduction of al Qaeda into Iraq, which is the ISIS mother ship. If this wasn’t so tragic it would be supremely ironic, because before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, top Bush officials were insisting that there was an al Qaeda-Iraq axis of evil. Their claims that Saddam Hussein’s men were training members of al Qaeda how to make weapons of mass destruction seemed to be one of the most compelling rationales for the impending war.”

There was no al Qaeda-Iraq connection until the war; our invasion made it so. We have known this for nearly a decade, well before the murderous ISIS even appeared. In a September 2006 New York Times article headlined “Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat,” reporter Mark Mazetti informed readers of a classified National Intelligence Estimate representing the consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ the analysis cited the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology: “The Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,’ said one American intelligence official.”

The Bush Administration fought to quash its conclusions during the two years that the report was in the works. Mazetti reported, “Previous drafts described actions by the United States government that were determined to have stoked the jihad movement, like the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.” Apparently, these were dropped from the final document, though the reference to jihadists using their training for the purpose of “exacerbating domestic conflicts or fomenting radical ideologies” as in say, Syria, remained.

At the beginning of 2005, Mazetti notes, another official US government body, the National Intelligence Council, “released a study concluding that Iraq had become the primary training ground for the next generation of terrorists, and that veterans of the Iraq war might ultimately overtake Al Qaeda’s current leadership in the constellation of the global jihad leadership.”

On the one hand, it is impressive how well our intelligence agencies were able to predict the likely outcome of the Bush Administration’s foolhardy obsession with invading Iraq. On the other, it is beyond depressing how little these assessments have come to matter in the discussion and debate over US foreign policy.

As we know, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the other architects of the war did everything possible to intimidate, and when necessary, discredit those in the intelligence agencies who warned of the predictable consequences of war. Cheney and his deputies made repeated trips to Langley to challenge professional intelligence work and used pliant members of the media — including Robert Novak of The Washington Post and Judith Miller of The New York Times, among many, many others — to undermine the integrity of people like Joseph P. Wilson and Valerie Plame lest the truth about the administration’s lies come out. Rather incredibly, they even went so far as to ignore the incredibly detailed planning documents, created over a period of a year at a cost of $5 million by the State Department, that had a chance of providing Iraq with a stable postwar environment. Instead, they insisted on creating an occupation that generated nothing but chaos, mass murder and the terrorist victories of today.

One of the many horrific results was the decision to support Nouri al-Maliki as a potential leader of the nation. Maliki’s sectarian attacks on Sunni Muslims on behalf of his Shiite allies are the immediate cause of the current murderous situation. And his placement in that job, as Fareed Zakaria aptly notes, “was the product of a series of momentous decisions made by the Bush administration. Having invaded Iraq with a small force — what the expert Tom Ricks called ‘the worst war plan in American history’ — the administration needed to find local allies.”

One could go on and on (and on and on and on) about the awful judgment — the arrogance, the corruption, the ideological obsession and the purposeful ignorance — by the Bush Administration that led to the current catastrophe. As Ezra Klein recently noted, “All this cost us trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives.” And this is to say nothing of the destruction of our civil liberties and poisoning of our political discourse at home and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died, the millions of refugees created, the hatred inspired in the world toward the United States.

But to focus exclusively on the administration begs an obvious question. How did they get away with it? Where were the watchdogs of the press?

Much has been written on this topic. No one denies that the truth was available at the time. Not all of it, of course, but enough to know that certain catastrophe lay down the road the administration chose to travel at 100 miles per hour. Top journalists, like those who ran the Times and The Washington Post, chose to ignore the reporting they read in their own papers.

As the Post itself later reported, its veteran intelligence reporter Walter Pincus authored a compelling story that undermined the Bush administration’s claim to have proof that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. It only made the paper at all because Bob Woodward, who was researching a book, talked his editors into it. And even then, it ran on page A17, where it was immediately forgotten.

As former Post Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks later explained, “Administration assertions were on the front page. Things that challenged the administration were on A18 on Sunday or A24 on Monday. There was an attitude among editors: ‘Look, we’re going to war, why do we even worry about all this contrary stuff?” The New York Times ran similarly regretful stories and its editors noted to its readers that the paper had been “perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper.” (Bill Moyers’ documentary special “Buying the War: How Big Media Failed Us” tells the story, and in conjunction with that Moyers report, you can find an Interactive Timeline as well as post-March 2003 coverage of Iraq.)

Many in the mainstream media came clean, relatively speaking, about . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2014 at 4:31 pm

Strong pushback against George Will column

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And I imagine that this is but the opening volley. The pile-on will shortly begin because his column is so incredibly rancid and angry and borderline crazy. Are we seeing dementia?

I wonder what Jeff Bezos, who owns the Washington Post, thinks of that column and—more to the point—what he thinks he should think.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2014 at 4:18 pm

Why proportionately more PTSD cases from Iraq than from Afghanistan

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The wars were different in the nature and proportion of stress events.

This Washington Post article has graphs that highlight the differences.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2014 at 3:32 pm

Snowden and Hamsterdam

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The Wife and I have been binge-watching The Wire, and last night finished Season Three, in which Bunny Colvin, a major in the Baltimore Police Department, in effect legalized drugs (unbeknownst to his superiors). Pressure to bring down the crime statistics, with a strong push to massage the data, downgrading felonies so that the statistics look better, he decides to report the actual truth.

In the Police Department meeting of all departments, he is strongly criticized because his statistics went up as a result and he is threatened with reduction in rank if the statistics do not go down. So he finds three vacant lots, which are relatively remote from residences, businesses, and schools, and has his men force the street dealers to get off the street corners and deal in those three areas only. If they do that, the police will ignore them.

The results: with a concentration of addicts in three specific areas, public-health people set up needle exchanges, condom distribution, and clinics to treat illnesses. The crime rate goes down 14%, an unheard-of drop—so much that his bosses believe that he must be fiddling the data. But he’s not. And he also gets a stack of favorable letters from residents who like having their street corners back, and feel safer on the streets now that the drug dealers are gone.

Of course, the drugs are being used, but then they were being used before. The only change that use is now limited to three spots, and thus can be monitored. (The “free zones” are overseen by police who allow no weapons or violence, so the sites simply become drug sales and use, with the rest of the district now free of drug dealers.)

Needless to say, the Department of Justice and the Federal government immediately take a very aggressive attitude, threatening to shut off half-a-billion dollars of Federal money that Baltimore receives in various ways, if the city does not end the “free zones” and return drug trafficking to the streets. The anger at the change is evident and completely ignores the good outcomes. The focus is totally on the illegality of drug sales. (You can see the same sort of anger and pressure directed at, e.g., Uruguay, which legalized the sale of marijuana. That has outraged the US, which is bringing to bear all the pressure that it can, given that two US states have done the same.)

It’s a very good season—though best seen following Seasons One and Two: the story builds.

I was thinking of this with regard to the incredibly strong condemnation visited on Edward Snowden by Obama and the Right. For an example with an astonishing amount of venom and hostility, read Ruth Marcus’s column in the Washington Post: she has really nothing good to say at all about how Snowden has shown us what our government is doing. “Ad hominem” is insufficient for the viciousness of her rhetoric. And how is she able to completely ignore what Snowden has revealed. It’s very much like the way officialdom in the Hamsterdam incident are able to completely ignore what Colvin’s experiment revealed: that what we are doing is enormously less effective than an alternative approach. At least the NY Times recognizes what is going on beyond Snowden breaking his nondisclosure agreement.

And again: Snowden took no “oath”; he signed a nondisclosure agreement—a contract. Legal penalties do apply, but Obama has ramped this up beyond all reason, as we’ve seen with how Obama has treated other whistleblowers: with a level of persecution that reveals an inordinate desire for vengeance—mainly, I suppose, to send a message. And Snowden got the message.

BTW, the NY Times Public Editor has an interesting comment on that editorial.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2014 at 1:01 pm

Has false-equivalence passed now?

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James Fallows has an excellent post—well worth the click—on the (belated) emergence of reality-based reporting regarding Congress. That is, instead of the tactful but false position that “both sides are to blame,” a recognition that in this particular crisis, the GOP is completely to blame. They deliberately refused to follow the regular budget process, would not conference with the Senate to work a budget, and explicitly said that they would move nothing forward on the budget in order to force a crisis and achieve their demands (to repeal a law passed by Congress and signed by the President and declared constitutional by the Supreme Court). The GOP lacks the votes to repeal the law, so they resorted to holding the country’s budget hostage to get their way.

His whole post is worth reading. What’s particularly remarkable is the breakthrough is in the Washington Post, which for years has blamed Democrats (and occasionally both parties) for failures of government. I wonder whether Jeff Bezos has already begun making some changes, moving to reporting based on reality.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 October 2013 at 11:22 am

What Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post face

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Very good article in Wonkblog by Timothy Lee:

This week, journalists at The Washington Post (including, full disclosure, me) got our first look at our new boss’s vision for The Washington Post. There was a lot to like. Bezos emphasized the importance of a focus on the long term, dedication to readers and learning from scrappy upstarts like Business Insider. But part of Bezos’s vision for The Post represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the online news business — and what it will take for The Post to thrive in it.

“The problem is how do we get back to that glorious bundle that the paper did so well?” Bezos asked at a question-and-answer session with Post journalists.

Bezos lauded the “daily ritual” of reading the morning newspaper over coffee. “That daily ritual is incredibly valuable, and I think on the Web so far, it’s gotten blown up.”

But that daily ritual got blown up for good reason. Trying to recreate the “bundle” experience in Web or tablet form means working against the grain of how readers, especially younger readers, consume the news today. In the long run, it’s a recipe for an aging readership and slow growth.

Joy’s Law

Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy once said that “no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else.” That’s why the smartest executives, especially in the technology sector, are constantly looking outside the boundaries of their own firm for good ideas.

Joy’s Law has a correlary for the news business: No matter how good your news organization is, most of the best journalism is being done somewhere else. That’s because no publication, even storied outlets such as the New York Times or The Washington Post, can hope to hire a majority of the world’s most talented journalists.

And this is why the smartest readers have increasingly eschewed “bundled” news outlets in favor of third-party aggregators that provide them with links to the best news from around the Web. In the early years, the most tech-savvy users used RSS readers. Then news aggregators like Google News, Digg and Reddit began to appear.

In the past five years, aggregation has been democratized by social media. A growing number of younger readers don’t actively seek out news at all. Instead, they read the news that’s recommended to them by friends on Facebook and Twitter.

That’s more convenient, because most young people are spending time on Facebook and Twitter anyway. More importantly, it serves as a finely honed news filter. Probably the best predictor of what news stories you’re going to want to read is what news stories your friends and colleagues found interesting.

If this trend continues, and I think it will, then the future of news is one of radical unbundling. A large share of every publication’s traffic will come from referrals from third-party aggregators, and the key to success will be crafting content that performs well on these sites. Readers who prefer to read a publication’s news “bundle” from front to back will represent an aging and shrinking demographic.

The power of Facebook

In yesterday’s Q&A, Bezos was dismissive of this approach to news. “If our readers read a couple of articles through the Web or Google News, a couple per month, that’s a small business,” he said. But this ignores another corollary to Joy’s Law: No matter how popular your news site’s home page (or tablet app) is, most readers are going to rely on someone else’s site to decide which news stories to read. There are about 200 million adults in the United States. If every American read two Washington Post articles per month, that would amount to 400 million monthly page views. I’m not privy to The Post’s own traffic statistics, but for comparison, the Los Angeles Times Web site got less than 20 million page views in February, its best month ever to that point. Two visits a month from each American would represent a massive boost in the L.A. Times’ readership.

And there’s no reason to think . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 September 2013 at 12:08 pm

Posted in Media, Washington Post

A heartfelt column from Alex Pareene

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It seems to me that there’s a lot of good writing going around. This, for example.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 August 2013 at 12:42 pm

Wow! Jeff Bezos (not Amazon, but Bezos as an individual) buys the Washington Post

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I am amazed. Here’s the report by Paul Farhi in the Washington Post:

The Washington Post Co. has agreed to sell its flagship newspaper to founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos, ending the Graham family’s stewardship of one of America’s leading news organizations after four generations.

Bezos, whose entrepreneurship has made him one of the world’s richest men, will pay $250 million in cash for The Post and affiliated publications to the Washington Post Co., which owns the newspaper and other businesses.

Seattle-based Amazon will have no role in the purchase; Bezos himself will buy the news organization and become its sole owner when the sale is completed, probably within 60 days. The Post Co. will change to a new, still-undecided name and continue as a publicly traded company without The Post thereafter.

The deal represents a sudden and stunning turn of events for The Post, Washington’s leading newspaper for decades and a powerful force in shaping the nation’s politics and policy. Few people were aware that a sale was in the works for the paper, whose reporters have broken such stories as the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate scandals and disclosures about the National Security Administration’s surveillance program in May.

For much of the past decade, however, the paper has been unable to escape the financial turmoil that has engulfed newspapers and other “legacy” media organizations. The rise of the Internet and the epochal change from print to digital technology have created a massive wave of competition for traditional news companies, scattering readers and advertisers across a radically altered news and information landscape and triggering mergers, bankruptcies and consolidation among the owners of print and broadcasting properties.

“Every member of my family started out with the same emotion—shock—in even thinking about” selling The Post, said Donald Graham, the Post Co.’s chief executive, in an interview Monday. “But when the idea of a transaction with Jeff Bezos came up, it altered my feelings.” . . .

Continue reading.

I’m hoping Bezos will clear out deadwood and dedicated Villagers and get some good investigative reporters who are more interested in digging up stories than in going to parties and hobnobbing with the wealthy and powerful. I have a whole list of names to go: Charles Krauthammer, George Will, Roger Cohen, Jennifer Rubin, Robert Samuelson—all the fact-challenged columnists who simply make things up and never look at evidence. And Fred Hiatt should clear out his desk and leave immediately. Wouldn’t it be nice to replace Samuelson with Dean Baker, for example?

Written by LeisureGuy

5 August 2013 at 2:04 pm

Posted in Media, Washington Post

The Washington Post continues to ignore reality

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The Washington Post, along with the NY Times, was an enthusiastic cheerleader for going to war in Iraq (to find the weapons of mass destruction, you’ll recall). There were no such weapons, as authoritative sources at the time knew well.  Indeed, the US forced UN weapons inspectors out of Iraq because Bush & Co. definitely did not want the lack of weapons reported, because if it were, that might prevent the war. But, of course, if the purpose of war was to remove such weapons, finding out that Iraq didn’t have them would be what most people would call “good news.”

UPDATE: The Post‘s ombudsman won’t have much to say about this: the Post eliminated that position (which they had had for 40 years) on March 1. The ombudsman was an independent critic, and the Post decided that they would rather have one of their own employees do the job, so they now have a “reader representative,” whom they can threaten with firing if s/he doesn’t toe the company line. They don’t want anyone rocking the boat. As you’ll note in the article at the link, the story about ending the ombudsman’s role was posted at 9:13 p.m. on a Friday. The comments to the story are worth reading.

At any rate, take a look at this story in The Nation by Greg Mitchell, whom the Post hired to write about the Post‘s pre-war reporting (and see this Gawker report on how the Post killed the story because it told the truth—and the comments at the Gawker link are quite interesting):

UPDATE  The piece below was written, in only slightly different from, on assignment for The Washington Post but killed by the paper’s Outlook section on Thursday.   They later ran a piece by their own Paul Farhi claiming that the media “didn’t fail” on Iraq.  When I wrote about this today it drew wide attention across the Web.   Follow that all here.

For awhile, back in 2003, Iraq meant never having to say you’re sorry, at least for the many war hawks. The spring offensive had produced a victory in less than three weeks, with a relatively low American and Iraqi civilian death toll. Saddam fled and George W. Bush and his team drew overwhelming praise, at least here at home.

But wait. Where were the crowds greeting us as “liberators”? Why were the Iraqis now shooting at each other—and blowing up our soldiers? And where were those WMD, biochem labs, and nuclear materials? Most Americans still backed the invasion, so it still too early for mea culpas—it was more “my sad” than “my bad.”

By 2004 it was clear that Saddam’s WMD would never be found, but with another election season at hand, sorry was still the hardest word. But a few very limited glimmers of accountability began to appear. So let’s begin our catalog of the art of mea culpa and Iraq here. Much more in my new ebookSo Wrong for So Long.

PLAUSIBLE DENIABILITY President Bush and many others—including scores of Democrats—who once claimed “slam dunk” evidence on Iraq’s WMD now admitted that this intelligence was more below-average than Mensa. But don’t blame them! They simply had been misled. Judith Miller of The New York Times, perhaps the prime fabulist in the run-up to war, explained that she was only as good as her sources—her sources having names like “Curveball” and “Red Cap Guy.”

But the news media, which for the most part had swallowed whole the WMD claims, was not facing re-election, so some self-criticism, at least of the “mistakes-were-made” variety came easier.

THE MINI-CULPA This phrase was coined by Jack Shafer of Slate after The New York Times published an “editors’ note” in May 2004, admitting it had publishing a few “problematic articles” (it didn’t mention any authors) on Iraqi WMD, but pointing out it was “taken in” like most in the Bush administration.

Unlike the TimesWashington Post editors three months later did not produce their own explanation but allowed chief media reporter Howard Kurtz to write a lengthy critique. Editors and reporters admitted they had often performed poorly but offered one excuse after another. With phrases such as “always easy in hindsight,” “editing difficulties,” “communication problems” and “there is limited space on Page 1.” One top reporter said, “We are inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power. “ Topping them all, Kurtz reported that Bob Woodward “said it was risky for journalists to write anything that might look silly if weapons were ultimately found in Iraq.”

STONEWALLING As years passed, the carnage in Iraq intensified but accepting blame for this in America was still pretty much AWOL. President Bush and Vice President Cheney said that even if the WMD threat was bogus, they’d still do it again. Reason: They’d deposed a “dictator”—and would you rather have Saddam still in power?

A THOUSAND MEA CULPAS Bob Simon of CBS on doubts about the WMD: “No, in all honesty, with a thousand mea culpas, I don’t think we followed up on this….I think we all felt from the beginning that to deal with a subject as explosive as this, we should keep it, in a way, almost light—if that doesn’t seem ridiculous.”

Now let’s flash forward to this past two weeks, when Iraq (remember Iraq?) re-emerged in the news and opinion sections. But anyone who expected that hair shirts would come into fashion must have been sadly disappointed. The mea culpas would not be maxima. First, those who accepted some blame.


Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2013 at 9:03 am

Three years old and well worth reading: On Michael Hastings

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Glen Greenwald referenced this article by Barrett Browning in his column I blogged yesterday. It does indeed seem to be true that the top priority of many journalists today is to become friends of those in power and then to maintain and work to deepen that friendship, ostensibly for the sake of occasional exclusive tidbits—cheap payoff for those in power—but mainly to derive visibility and a kind of borrowed power: the journalists moves up in the world of journalism with a column and the like. The idea of reporting things that would discredit their friends is felt as a betrayal, a traitorous, contemptible act—the truly honorable thing, as they see it, is to protect their friend who has such an important position, so important that some things are obviously too insignificant to mention.

Thus the powerful are today protected by a thick, soft safety cushion of friendly media—for example:

  • interview shows (with all softball questions because the program wants guests to return if the program wants them back, so by no means will the host state or ask anything that might antagonize a guest—aggressive questioning is simply beyond the pale), and
  • print journalists who thoughtfully clear their stories with the subjects and, if requested, will hold the story back for over a year to better ingratiate themselves with the powerful and probably get moved on up to (rare) dinner invitations.

Jon Stewart’s commentary (though not his interviews with guests—because after one tough interview he’d probably get another guest (courage not being a strong suit of the powerful these days) is the sort of thing that I’m talking about, but of course in the court of the powerful only a jester is allowed to point out things that are not generally mentioned. But the program can never turn serious: only the jester may speak. (Perhaps also—or mainly—audiences today simply will not watch serious programs (speaking of denial).)

When a true journalist breaks with the polite serfdom that mock journalists (“hacks”) have embraced, he becomes the object of much anger and vitriol from the hacks—mainly, I suspect, because (a) their powerful friends want the true journalist punished for what he reports and (b) the true journalist makes all the others look bad and exposes the phony game they’re playing, and that is incredibly hard to face, so they don’t and get angry instead. (Well-known response when one’s state of denial is threatened: cf. homophobia.)

Maybe everyone could calm down if these hacks, like some homophobes, finally drop their denial and accept who they are: the homophobe recognizes that he’s gay, and the hacks can start wearing patches on their clothing, like racing car drivers, to display their sponsors’ names or logos. A top-flight hack would have a suit just covered with them—think Robert Samuelson or George Will or Tom Friedman or any of the Fox “News” crowd. A jumpsuit wouldn’t be enough for some—they’ll require a cape, as well: the superheroes of American News Reporting! In fact, Fox “News” more or less does this now, and that is obviously a perfectly acceptable model for at least part of our society: they in fact now prefer to get something that is as close to news as Twinkies are to food. They have become intellectually obese and unfit: couch potatoes of the mind.

Not all journalists today are hacks, of course, but certainly some are. Consider Bill Keller, for example, who also went out of his way to boost the Iraq War, which probably got him in good standing, and holding the illegal surveillance story for over a year cemented it.

And the powerful patrons of the hacks strikes at true journalists, it’s not just vitriol, it means years in prison, because you annoyed powerful people, who are perfectly willing to use their power to protect their privilege and maintain the status quo of the power structure. Those who are greatly empowered by any structure, from office to business to government, will resist efforts to change the status quo because they figure that they can only worsen their position through change. What results is true corruption: using official powers for personal benefit.

At any rate, here’s Barrett Brown describing how Hastings shows up “journalist,” which of course rather pointedly shows up “journalists” even more, so Brown becomes a target of the Establishment. From Vanity Fair, June 23, 2010:

On the occasion of what may prove to be the most significant story of the year, in terms of the revelations it brings forth and the aftereffects of those revelations, National Review editor Rich Lowry began his commentary with the following “point,” as he describes it:

1) Rolling Stone? Rolling Stone???

Yes, Rich; the most impact-laden story of the year, the one in which General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and his aides talked trash about President Barack Obama and members of his administration, appeared in Rolling Stone, notNational Review. And it was written by a perfect specimen of the new breed of journalist-commentator that will hopefully come to replace the old breed sooner rather than later, and which has already collectively surpassed the old guard by every measure that counts—for instance, not being forever wrong about matters of life and death.I should note—not only in the interest of full disclosure, but also necessary context—that I am a friend and admirer of Michael Hastings, the author of the Rolling Stone piece in question. He was kind enough to blurb my upcoming book on the failures of the American punditry (and is planning on writing a novel on the same topic, incidentally); he shares my opinions on the state of journalism and opinion in this country; and he has joined up with Project PM, my perhaps quixotic attempt to do a small part in improving that media whose flawed reporting on matters of war and peace has recently had a hand in leaving hundreds of thousands dead and injured our republic’s ability to rationally operate both at home and abroad. I first spoke in support of Hastings before I’d ever made contact with him, which is to say that my opinion of him is not based on our association; my association with him is based on my opinion of him. That opinion is derived from the unassailable and unfortunately noteworthy competence and conduct he has displayed throughout his relatively short career.

Those who have seen fit to question Hastings’s motivations in writing this article ought to know a little about him before making the pronouncements they will continue to make on his character, inconvenient as that knowledge may be to those who are in the business of casting aspersions on those about whom they know nothing. Hastings was for a time Newsweek’s Baghdad correspondent. In 2008, that mediocre publication assigned him to cover our republic’s most recent and ridiculous electoral contest, and as a consequence the fellow got an insider’s view of how terribly destructive is the manner in which this country covers its most important decisions. This sentiment is widespread among the more observant media professionals, who generally do not act on it out of concern for their own careers. In contrast, Hastings quit Newsweek and wrote a damning exposé about what he had seen and experienced during his stint. During a time in which many journalists thought of little more than how they would attain security for themselves, Hastings ensured that he would never be trusted by the establishment media ever again.

At this time, Hastings is in Kandahar performing further crimes against the status quo and is thus unable to defend himself against those who are responsible for the problems he has helped to bring to light, and so I will take this opportunity to do it for him. This brings us back to Rich Lowry, whom we last saw declaiming Rolling Stone for not being as respectable as National Review and who later that day found time to voice more substantive objections: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2013 at 12:18 pm

Faulty thinking on Social Security

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The Washington Post really doesn’t like the Social Security program for some reason, and they constantly run opinion pieces on how the program should be cut. Dean Baker points out the (abysmal) quality of reasoning displayed in one such column:

How Much Money Do You Need to Get an Op-ed in the Washington Post?

That’s what readers of Jim Roumell’s column on wealth-testing Social Security must be asking. The column, “the rich can save Social Security by giving up their checks,” gets almost all its facts wrong, and suffers from huge problems of logic.

The basic idea is that we have some very rich people who don’t need Social Security, therefore there shouldn’t get it. Of course these people did pay for their Social Security. While Roumell is certainly right that the very rich don’t need the money, they generally wouldn’t need the interest on the government bonds they own. We could also deny them the interest on these bonds, that would make as much sense as Roumell’s proposal on Social Security, but let’s not get bogged down in such moral considerations.

Roumell sees large savings if we deny Social Security to the rich:

“According to the Wall Street Journal, the top 1 percent of the United States’ 115 million households have a net worth of $6.8 million or greater. The top 5 percent have a net worth of $1.9 million or greater. If just the top 1 percent of wealthiest households gave up their Social Security income, assuming two-thirds of these households are of retirement age and will receive benefits averaging $30,000 a year, more than $200 billion would be saved in the first 10 years. That would contribute greatly to resolving the projected funding gap. If Social Security is gradually phased out for the wealthiest 5 percent of households, beginning with just a 10 percent benefit reduction, the savings climbs to nearly $500 billion over 10 years.”

Let’s see, two-thirds of the top 1.0 percent are over age 65? Where exactly did Roumell get this one? Has the Washington Post heard of fact checking?

If we eliminate Social Security for the wealthiest 5 percent, then we would be eliminating benefits for household with incomes of around $80,000 in their retirement. That’s a new definition of “rich.” It was $400,000 a year when we talked about small increases in tax rates.

But the best part of the story is trying to envision what Roumell’s wealth test even would look like. People tend to accumulate wealth during their working lifetime and spend it down as they approach retirement. How do we monitor people’s wealth? Do we do annual assessments of the value of their stock portfolios, their home and vacation properties, personal items like expensive paintings and jewelry? Then if they cross the magic $1.9 million threshold at any point in their lives we put a permanent hold on their Social Security benefits?

The long and short is that Roumell’s proposal is completely unworkable as anyone who has given it a moment’s thought would recognize. But hey, he wants to go after Social Security and he has a lot of money, why not give him a column in the Washington Post?

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2013 at 8:28 am

Pushing for war with Syria

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Unfortunately for the war hawks, the nerve gas (sarin) whose use is suspected in Syria was used by the rebels, not by the government. So as a causus bellus for attacking the Syrian government, it doesn’t work so well—but that hasn’t slowed the demand from war from those who pushed the Iraq War (“Weapons of Mass Destruction!!!!!”). And yet war really hasn’t seemed to solve any of the problems, but rather created more. (Of course, austerity as an economic policy has proved an utter failure, but still there are those who clamor for it—mainly those who will not feel its effects.) Robert Parry reports at

Israel’s bombing raids into Syria appear to have shattered whatever restraint remained in Official Washington toward the United States entering the civil war on the side of rebel forces that include radical jihadist elements. On Monday, the Washington Post’s neocon editors weighed in for U.S. intervention as did former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller.

Both the Post’s editors and Keller also were key advocates for invading Iraq in 2003 – and their continued influence reflects the danger of not imposing any accountability on prominent journalists who were wrong on Iraq. Those tough-guy pundits now want much the same interventionism toward Syria and Iran, which always were on the neocon hit list as follow-ons to Iraq.

The Post’s lead editorial  on Monday urged U.S. intervention in Syria as part of a response to a growing regional crisis that one could argue was touched off – or made far worse – by President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.However, rather than trace the crisis back to Bush’s invasion of Iraq – which the Post eagerly supported – the editors lament the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq and President Barack Obama’s hesitancy to intervene in Syria. Noting the renewed sectarian violence in Iraq, the Post’s editors write “it also makes intervention aimed at ending the war in Syria that much more urgent.”

Meanwhile, across the top half of Monday’s Op-Ed page in the New York Times, Keller urged any pundit chastened by the disastrous Iraq War to shake off those doubts and get behind U.S. military intervention in Syria. His article, entitled “Syria Is Not Iraq,” is presented in the same “reluctantly hawkish” tone as his influential endorsement of aggressive war against Iraq in 2003.

Keller’s special twist now is that he is citing his misjudgment on Iraq as part of his qualifications for urging President Obama to cast aside doubts about the use of military force in Syria’s chaotic civil war and to jump into the campaign for regime change by helping the rebels overthrow Bashar al-Assad.

“Frankly I’ve shared his [Obama’s] hesitation about Syria, in part because, during an earlier column-writing interlude at the outset of the Iraq invasion, I found myself a reluctant hawk. That turned out to be a humbling error of judgment, and it left me gun-shy,” Keller wrote. “But in Syria, I fear prudence has become fatalism, and our caution has been the father of missed opportunities, diminished credibility and enlarged tragedy.”

For the rest of the lengthy article, Keller baited Obama by presenting him as something of a terrified deer frozen in mindless inaction because of the Iraq experience. Keller quoted hawkish former State Department official Vali Nasr as declaring that “We’re paralyzed like a deer in the headlights, and everybody keeps relitigating the Iraq war.”

Keller then added: “Whatever we decide, getting Syria right starts with getting over Iraq.”

No Lessons Learned

But Keller doesn’t seem to have learned anything significant from the Iraq catastrophe. [In fairness, Keller has shown no signs that he's even capable of learning. - LG] Much as he and other pundits did on Iraq, they are putting themselves into the minds of Syria’s leaders and assuming that every dastardly deed is carefully calibrated when the reality is that Assad, like Saddam Hussein, has often behaved in a reactive manner to perceived threats.

Assad and many other Alawites (a branch of Shiite Islam) – along with many Christian Armenians who remain loyal to Assad – are terrified of what might follow a military victory by the Sunni majority, whose fighting forces are now dominated by Islamic extremists, many with close ties to al-Qaeda.

As the New York Times reported in its news page last month, the black flags of Islamist rule are spreading across “liberated” sectors of Syria. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 May 2013 at 9:39 am

Kurtz and Collins

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Here’s a more detailed description of Howard Kurtz’s sloppy … well, I hesitate to call it “journalism”. At any rate, Alex Pareene in Salon:

Update, 1:00 pm ET: The Daily Beast announced it is retracting Kurtz’s column.

Original post: 
Howard Kurtz had a bad day yesterday. He wrote this whole column calling out Jason Collins, the NBA player who this week came out as gay, breaking a major American sports barrier and quickly becoming a widely celebrated and admired figure, for not telling readers of his Sports Illustrated piece that he once had a (female) fiancée. Except, one little problem with the entire concept of the piece: Collins explicitly wrote that he’d once been engaged in his Sports Illustrated piece. It took a few minutes for the Internet to point out this titanic error. Then, the the column was altered, without a correction, to say that Collins “downplayed one detail” instead of “left one little part out.” Finally, a proper correction was appended.

But Kurtz was defiant! Despite the central detail underlying the argument of his column being incorrect, Kurtz’s point stands, says Kurtz!

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 10.20.45 AM

We should all be so grateful to have legendary media critic Howard Kurtz around to police coming-out narratives.

The “Daily Download” video of Kurtz joking about Collins is probably more embarrassing than the Daily Beast column — the phrase “playing both sides of the court” is used — which is likely why it was taken down. You can see it at BuzzFeed orGawker still.

This is, easily, Kurtz’s worst error since the time he accidentally invented a conversation with a member of Congress. But while that one seemed like a truly weird circumstance, involving a massive misunderstanding, this one seems like the natural result of a lazy hack thoughtlessly weighing in on the news without actually thinking (or reading the article he was weighing in on). (Also does the Daily Beast not have editors anymore? They still have Photoshoppers!)

Speaking of people not telling the whole story, Kurtz has a slightly mysterious relationship with the Daily Download, which is apparently a real website and not the name of a fictional blog invented for a “Law & Order” episode. Kurtz is on the “Board of Advisers” for that site and writes (and appears in videos) for them constantly. As Michael Calderone reports, Kurtz plugs the site like crazy, tweeting links to the Daily Download six times more often than he tweets links to the site he actually works for, the Daily Beast. Kurtz says the board position is unpaid, so who knows what’s even going on there. But he is in a lot of bad, dumb videos that no one watches, except when the videos become controversial because Kurtz said stupid things.

Howard Kurtz is a media reporter, though he is often mistakenly referred to — and hired to act as — a media critic. As a media reporter, he is well-sourced. He is also an experiment in how many potential conflicts of interest one highly successful journalism professional can walk around with without ever having to change a single thing. For years he was supposed to cover the media — including, say, CNN — for the Washington Post, while also hosting a show on CNN. (He was also covering the media — including, say, the Washington Post — for CNN.) His wife is a professional flack who once worked for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Kurtz has interviewed his wife’s clients on his show. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2013 at 10:24 am

Posted in Media, Washington Post

Things to be thankful for: Howard Kurtz has been sacked

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Howard Kurtz—“Howie” to his friends, if any—is the worst of hacks, and regularly lies, misreports, slants, and deceives: the epitome of the person without principle. Robert Parry has a profile in farewell—though of course Kurtz will bounce back up: corporations always need shills.

For nearly a quarter century, Howard Kurtz has served as hall monitor for Washington’s conventional wisdom, handing out demerits to independent-minded journalists who don’t abide by the mainstream rules. So, there is some understandable pleasure seeing Kurtz face some accountability in his ouster as bureau chief for Newsweek and The Daily Beast.

However, the more salient point is that Kurtz, who continues to host CNN’s “Reliable Sources” show, should never have achieved the level of influence in journalism that he did. Throughout his career, he has consistently – and unfairly – punished journalists who had the courage to ask tough questions and pursue truly important stories.

When one looks at the mess that is modern journalism in the United States, a chief culprit has been Howard Kurtz. Yet, his downfall did not come because of his smearing of fellow journalists – like Gary Webb and Helen Thomas – but rather from a blog post that unfairly criticized basketball player Jason Collins after he revealed that he was gay.Kurtz faulted Collins for supposedly not revealing that he had once been engaged to a woman, but Collins had mentioned those marriage plans. Twitter exploded with comments about Kurtz’s sloppy error. On Thursday, The Daily Beast retracted the post, and the Web site’s editor-in-chief Tina Brown announced that Kurtz would be departing.

However, Kurtz has committed far more serious offenses during his years destroying the careers of journalists who dared make life a bit uncomfortable for Official Washington’s powerful elites. For instance, Kurtz played a key role in the destruction of investigative reporter Gary Webb, who had the courage to revive the long-suppressed Contra-cocaine story in the mid-1990s.

Working at the San Jose Mercury-News, Webb produced a multi-part series in 1996 revealing how cocaine that was smuggled into the United States by operatives connected to the Nicaraguan Contra war of the 1980s had contributed to the “crack cocaine” epidemic that ravaged U.S. cities. Webb’s articles put the major U.S. news media on the spot because most mainstream outlets had dismissed the Contra-cocaine allegations when they first surfaced in the mid-1980s.

My Associated Press colleague Brian Barger and I wrote the first story about the Contra-cocaine scandal in 1985 and our work was met with a mix of condescension and contempt from the New York Times and the Washington Post, where Kurtz worked for many years. Even after an investigation by Sen. John Kerry confirmed – and expanded upon – our work, the big newspapers continued to dismiss and downplay the stories.

It didn’t matter how much evidence was developed on the Contra-cocaine smuggling or on the Reagan administration’s role covering up the crimes; the conventional wisdom was that the scandal must be a “conspiracy theory.” Journalists or government investigators who did their job, looking at the problem objectively, risked losing their job.

Career Consequences

Journalistic up-and-comers, such as Michael Isikoff (then at the Washington Post), advanced their careers by focusing on minor flaws in Kerry’s investigation rather than on major disclosures of high-level government complicity with drug trafficking. Newsweek’s “conventional wisdom watch” mocked Kerry as “a randy conspiracy buff.”

So, when Gary Webb revived the Contra-cocaine scandal in 1996 by pointing out its real-world impact on the emergence of crack cocaine that ravaged inner cities across the United States in the 1980s, his stories were most unwelcome.

At first, the mainstream news media tried to ignore Webb’s work, but African-American lawmakers demanded investigations into the scandal. That prompted a backlash from the major news organizations. Webb’s articles were dissected looking for tiny flaws that could be exploited to again discredit the whole issue.

On Oct. 4, 1996, the Washington Post published a front-page article knocking down Webb’s series, although acknowledging that some Contra operatives indeed did help the cocaine cartels.

The Post’s approach was twofold: first, the Post presented the Contra-cocaine allegations as old news — “even CIA personnel testified to Congress they knew that those covert operations involved drug traffickers,” the Post sniffed — and second, the Post minimized the importance of the one Contra smuggling channel that Webb had highlighted in his series, saying that it had not “played a major role in the emergence of crack.” A Post sidebar dismissed African-Americans as prone to “conspiracy fears.”

Next, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times weighed in . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2013 at 10:18 am

Posted in Media, Washington Post

More idiocy in the Washington Post

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The Washington Post has fallen on very hard times, but still… The level of cringeworthy journalism in that paper is astonishing, though they still will occasionally run a good article. At Mother Jones Kevin Drum gives a solid put-down of an exceptionally poor WaPo article:

Here’s the lead headline at the Washington Post right now:

Feds spend at least $890,000 on fees for empty accounts

This kind of stuff drives me crazy because it preys on the innumeracy of the general public. Should agencies be more careful about shutting down bank accounts they no longer use? Sure. And does reporter David Fahrenthold acknowledge that the money involved is “a tiny fraction of the federal budget”? Yes he does.

But seriously, folks, “tiny fraction” barely even begins to describe this. In numbers, it represents about 0.000025 percent of the federal budget. But even that’s too small a number to really get a feel for, so let’s put this into terms that the Washington Post can understand. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 April 2013 at 8:19 am

Posted in Washington Post

Charles Krauthammer and the US Constitution, as viewed by Glen Greenwald

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Another good column by Glenn Greenwald:

Charles Krauthammer’s Washington Post column this morning, which calls on Congress to enact new legislation authorizing and regulating Obama’s drone attacks, is actually worth reading. That’s because it highlights the central fact about the Obama legacy when it comes to US militarism, war, and civil liberties. Referencing the monumental shift in how Democrats think about such matters now as compared to the Bush years, he writes:

“Such hypocrisy is the homage Democrats pay to Republicans when the former take office, confront national security reality, feel the weight of their duty to protect the nation — and end up doing almost everything they had denounced their predecessors for doing. The beauty of such hypocrisy, however, is that the rotation of power creates a natural bipartisan consensus on the proper conduct of this war . . .

“Necessity having led the Bush and Obama administrations to the use of near-identical weapons and tactics, a national consensus has been forged. Let’s make it open.”

That Obama has ushered in a “bipartisan consensus” for these policies – transforming them from the divisive symbols of right-wing extremism into the unchallenged framework of both parties’ establishments – is indisputable, one of the most consequential aspects of his presidency.

But Krauthammer’s real purpose with this column is to mock and excoriate Rand Paul’s anti-drone filibuster. As the New York Times describes today, there is an increasingly acrimonious split in the GOP about the policies of militarism and civil liberties enacted in the 9/11 era, and neocons like Krauthammer are petrified that the (relative) anti-war and pro-due-process stances articulated by Paul will gain traction. Krauthammer notes that, contrary to the claims of many progressives, Paul’s opposition was not merely to killing Americans on US soil, but was broader: it was about assassinating citizens without due process anywhere they may be found. Referencing a Washington Post Op-Ed in which Paul declared that “no American should be killed by a drone without first being charged with a crime,” Krauthammer writes: “note the absence of the restrictive clause: ‘on American soil'”. Here’s how Krauthammer describes Paul’s real purpose in launching the filibuster: . . .

Continue reading. His concluding two paragraphs are worth pondering:

. . . Like so many people who defend Obama’s War on Terror policies and mock Paul’s filibuster, Krauthammer suggests that the very idea that the US government could treat a US citizen on US soil as an enemy combatant and thus punish them without due process is so absurd as to be paranoid to even raise the question. Does anyone remember the Jose Padilla case: in which the Bush administration, in 2002, detained this US citizen, on US soil; declared him to be an “enemy combatant”; and then proceeded to imprison him for the next 3 1/2 years without charges or trial – all with little public resistance and, ultimately, endorsement from a right-wing court? Was Charles Krauthammer objecting to any of that? Were all of the people now claiming that it’s paranoia to think that the US government would use war power theories against a US citizen on US soil marching in the streets in protest over this? The answer is: no.

The US government has already asserted the very theory that many now mock Paul for asking about, and did so with very little resistance, including from the courts. It’s true that they did not kill Padilla, but the theory used to imprison him for years without charges – the president is empowered to declare anyone he wants to be an “enemy combatant” without charges and trial and then punish him as such: including US citizens found on US soil – is precisely the theory that would justify targeting US citizens on US soil for an Awlaki-type strike. Indeed, that is the theory invoked to justify the killing of Awlaki, and there is no cogent way to exclude US soil: since the entire globe is a battlefield, the president has the unilateral power to detain or kill anyone he wants, including citizens, without charges. To pretend that this is so beyond the pale of what US political culture would tolerate is to exhibit serious naïveté and/or ignorance of recent history.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 March 2013 at 12:43 pm

Very much worth reading and seeing the rapidity of the decline of the US

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The US press no longer even pretends to inform people—it sees its job instead as being to spin the news for the marketing demographic their advertisers want: present whatever it takes to get that group to click/read/tune in. Any effort to ground stories in consensual reality or actual science is summarily rejected and can very well cost someone her or his job.

Thus the government, freed from the bonds that an informed and active (i.e., voting) electorate imposes, is free to become corrupt, enriching everyone by looting the public treasury.

Not to be gloomy about it, of course. But just read this entire post by James Fallows.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 March 2013 at 12:52 pm


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