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How to respond to racist remarks: Talk about the remark, not the person making it

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This is from 9 years ago, but was featured this morning in a post by Tim Carmody at Kottke.org, who has more to say about it (and more good (that is, well worth watching) clips by Jay Smooth) at the link. Still good advice, still worth watching:

And, speaking of racism, the conservatives who vociferously complained about Obama’s playing golf from time to time are silent as President Trump plays golf almost every weekend. Apparently, the complaints were not about golf per se, but about a black person playing golf. Shawn King pointed that out in his column “Conservatives don’t hate a golfing President, but they hated an uppity Negro golfing President“:

No President in American history has ever golfed more per week than Donald Trump. In his first 12 weeks in office Trump took a staggering 18 golf course trips. That’s unheard of. In his first 12 weeks in office, President Obama didn’t visit a single golf course. By the end of this year, it’s likely that Trump will have golfed more than President Obama has in his entire presidency.

And that’s strange. It’s really strange. Because Donald Trump and other conservative pundits seemed to be deeply bothered by the times President Obama went out and golfed. It appeared to genuinely offend them. They obsessed over it.

Throughout the campaign, Trump frequently riffed on how much Obama golfed and pledged, “I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go play golf.” The crowd ate it up.

Throughout the Obama administration, any time President Obama golfed, some famous conservative pundit chimed in. It was a reliable punchline that consistently got a rise out of their base.

In 2013 Sean Hannity tweeted, “Glad our arrogant Pres. is enjoying his taxpayer funded golf outing after announcing the US should take military action against Syria.”

Just a few months earlier, Newt Gingrich tweeted (his misspellings not mine), “Trump and president obsma both golf but trump doesn’t charge the taxpayers $920,000 for a golf weekend in florida.”

Neither of those tweets have aged well. Now it is Trump enjoying his taxpayer-funded golf outings after announcing military actions all over the world, including Syria. Now it’s Trump charging the taxpayers not $920,000 per golf outing in Florida, but reportedly much more.

Suddenly, the costs of golfing don’t seem to offend Trump or Newt or Hannity anymore. And I sincerely, genuinely don’t think the problem is political. It’s racial.

More than ever, it’s clear that conservatives never really had a problem with a golfing President, what they hated seeing was a black golfing President. I also think this was the subconscious message that Trump was pulling on throughout the campaign trail to his almost exclusively white audiences.

The racist caricature of the “uppity negro” has deep roots in this country. Uppity negroes have irritated white folk for over a hundred years. In its most simple form, the uppity negro is a black man or woman who enjoys anything other than working from sunup to sundown. Particularly, an uppity negro is a black man or woman who enjoys creature comforts in life that some whites may not yet be able to afford to enjoy — say a musical, a play, fine dining, or, you guessed it, a round of golf.

It’s why referencing Obama golfing got such a rise out of white, working-class crowds. It was a coded way to say, “How dare that uppity negro golf and enjoy leisure time while we work hard to make this country what it truly is?” Of course, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 April 2017 at 9:58 am

Extremely good article in the Boston Globe: “The media are misleading the public on Syria”

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Stephen Kinzer writes in the Boston Globe:

COVERAGE OF the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press. Reporting about carnage in the ancient city of Aleppo is the latest reason why.

For three years, violent militants have run Aleppo. Their rule began with a wave of repression. They posted notices warning residents: “Don’t send your children to school. If you do, we will get the backpack and you will get the coffin.” Then they destroyed factories, hoping that unemployed workers would have no recourse other than to become fighters. They trucked looted machinery to Turkey and sold it.

This month, people in Aleppo have finally seen glimmers of hope. The Syrian army and its allies have been pushing militants out of the city. Last week they reclaimed the main power plant. Regular electricity may soon be restored. The militants’ hold on the city could be ending.

Militants, true to form, are wreaking havoc as they are pushed out of the city by Russian and Syrian Army forces. “Turkish-Saudi backed ‘moderate rebels’ showered the residential neighborhoods of Aleppo with unguided rockets and gas jars,” one Aleppo resident wrote on social media. The Beirut-based analyst Marwa Osma asked, “The Syrian Arab Army, which is led by President Bashar Assad, is the only force on the ground, along with their allies, who are fighting ISIS — so you want to weaken the only system that is fighting ISIS?”

This does not fit with Washington’s narrative. As a result, much of the American press is reporting the opposite of what is actually happening. Many news reports suggest that Aleppo has been a “liberated zone” for three years but is now being pulled back into misery.

Americans are being told that the virtuous course in Syria is to fight the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian partners. We are supposed to hope that a righteous coalition of Americans, Turks, Saudis, Kurds, and the “moderate opposition” will win.

This is convoluted nonsense, but Americans cannot be blamed for believing it. We have almost no real information about the combatants, their goals, or their tactics. Much blame for this lies with our media.

Under intense financial pressure, most American newspapers, magazines, and broadcast networks have drastically reduced their corps of foreign correspondents. Much important news about the world now comes from reporters based in Washington. In that environment, access and credibility depend on acceptance of official paradigms. Reporters who cover Syria check with the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House, and think tank “experts.” After a spin on that soiled carousel, they feel they have covered all sides of the story. This form of stenography produces the pabulum that passes for news about Syria.

Astonishingly brave correspondents in the war zone, including Americans, seek to counteract Washington-based reporting. At great risk to their own safety, these reporters are pushing to find the truth about the Syrian war. Their reporting often illuminates the darkness of groupthink. Yet for many consumers of news, their voices are lost in the cacophony. Reporting from the ground is often overwhelmed by the Washington consensus.

Washington-based reporters tell us that one potent force in Syria, al-Nusra, is made up of “rebels” or “moderates,” not that it is the local al-Qaeda franchise. Saudi Arabia is portrayed as aiding freedom fighters when in fact it is a prime sponsor of ISIS. Turkey has for years been running a “rat line” for foreign fighters wanting to join terror groups in Syria, but because the United States wants to stay on Turkey’s good side, we hear little about it. Nor are we often reminded that although we want to support the secular and battle-hardened Kurds, Turkey wants to kill them. Everything Russia and Iran do in Syria is described as negative and destabilizing, simply because it is they who are doing it — and because that is the official line in Washington.

Inevitably, this kind of disinformation has bled into the American presidential campaign. At the recent debate in Milwaukee, Hillary Clinton claimed that United Nations peace efforts in Syria were based on “an agreement I negotiated in June of 2012 in Geneva.” The precise opposite is true. In 2012 Secretary of State Clinton joined Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel in a successful effort to kill Kofi Annan’s UN peace plan because it would have accommodated Iran and kept Assad in power, at least temporarily. No one on the Milwaukee stage knew enough to challenge her. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2017 at 4:48 pm

Posted in Media, Mideast Conflict

Roland Barthes – How to Read the Signs in the News

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I found this brief video that describes how Roland Barthese looked at TV news to be quite interesting:

And then I found this series of four brief videos on YouTube. Worth watching especially nowadays. It’s an interesting way to look at media, for example: peeling off and lifting up the cultural overlay on reality, removing the memes to see what is underneath.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2017 at 7:22 pm

Posted in Books, Education, Media, Memes

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How Right-Wing Media Saved Obamacare

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Conor Friedersdorf writes in the Atlantic:

As the Republican Party struggled and then failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, pulling a wildly unpopular bill from the House without even taking a vote, a flurry of insightful articles helped the public understand what exactly just happened. Robert Draper explained the roles that Stephen Bannon, Paul Ryan, and others played in deciding what agenda items President Trump would pursue in what order. Politico reported on how and why the House Freedom Caucus insisted that the health care bill repeal even relatively popular parts of Obamacare. Lest anyone pin blame for the GOP’s failure on that faction, Reihan Salam argued persuasively that responsibility rests with poor leadership by House Speaker Paul Ryan and a GOP coalition with “policy goals that simply can’t be achieved.”

But dogged, behind-the-scenes reporting and sharp analysis of fissures among policy elites do not capture another important contributor to last week’s failure—one Josh Barro came closest to unpacking in a column titled, “Republicans lied about healthcare for years, and they’re about to get the punishment they deserve.”

The article isn’t an attack on conservatives and libertarians.

Plenty of plausible alternatives to Obamacare have been set forth by people who are truthful about the tradeoffs involved. For instance, The Atlantic published a plan in 2009; Ezra Klein and Avik Roy usefully illuminated the disagreements between serious conservative and progressive health-care wonks; and Ross Douthat suggested reforms that borrow heavily from Singapore. Barro is aware of many smart right-leaning critiques of Obamacare and sympathetic to some.

What he points out in his column is that the GOP didn’t honestly acknowledge the hard tradeoffs inherent in health-care policy before making the case for a market-driven system.

Republicans tried to hide the fact of tradeoffs:

For years, Republicans promised lower premiums, lower deductibles, lower co-payments, lower taxes, lower government expenditure, more choice, the restoration of the $700 billion that President Barack Obama heartlessly cut out of Medicare because he hated old people, and (in the particular case of the Republican who recently became president) “insurance for everybody” that is “much less expensive and much better” than what they have today. They were lying. Over and over, Republicans lied to the American public about healthcare. It was impossible to do all of the things they were promising together, and they knew it.

That is basically correct. And it helps explain how Republicans could win a presidential election and lots of congressional elections on the promise of repealing and replacing Obamacare, only to produce a bill that was wildly unappealing to voters.

Once Republicans commenced governing, the tradeoffs couldn’t be elided any longer.

Still, even the insight that Republicans spent years willfully obscuring the tradeoffs involved in health-care policy doesn’t fully explain the last week. Focusing on GOP officials leaves out yet another important actor in this debacle: the right-wing media. By that, I do not mean every right-leaning writer or publication. Over the last eight years, lots of responsibly written critiques of Obamacare have been published in numerous publications, and folks reading the aforementioned wonks, or Peter Suderman at Reason, or Yuval Levin, or Megan McArdle at Bloomberg, stayed reasonably grounded in the actual shortcomings of Obamacare.

n contrast, Fox News viewers who watched entertainers like Glenn Beck, talk-radio listeners who tuned into hosts like Rush Limbaugh, and consumers of web journalism who turned to sites like Breitbart weren’t merely misled about health-care tradeoffs.

They were told a bunch of crazy nonsense.

As I was drafting this article, Ted Koppel made headlines by telling Fox News entertainer Sean Hannity that he is bad for America. This upset some conservatives, who felt it was just another instance of the mainstream media attacking a fellow conservative. I don’t think that conservatives are typically bad for America. But I lament the fact that Hannity is still employed in my industry, in large part because his coverage of subjects like Obamacare is dishonest—and I say that as someone who has preferred a very different health-care policy since 2009. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2017 at 3:28 pm

Twitter Suspensions Reveal the Company’s Skewed Views on ‘Extremism’

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Jillian York reports at Motherboard:

Every society engages in censorship. Whether from church or state or otherwise, the desire to suppress information seems a natural human impulse, albeit one variant in all its manifestations. Most of us readily accept certain kinds of censorship—think child sexual abuse imagery—but are reluctant to call it by its name.

The restriction of content we deem beyond the pale is still, in fact, censorship. The word “censorship” is not itself a value judgement, but a statement of fact, an explanation for why something that used to be, no longer is. The American Civil Liberties Union defines “censorship” as “the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are ‘offensive’, [that] happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others.” The definition further notes that censorship can be carried out by private groups—like social media companies—as well as governments. And when carried out by unaccountable actors (be they authoritarian governments or corporations) through opaque processes, it’s important that we question it.

According to Twitter’s latest transparency report, the company suspended more than 377,000 accounts for “promoting extremism.” Twitter said that 74 percent of extremist accounts were found by “internal, proprietary spam-fighting tools”—in other words, algorithms and filters built to find spam, but employed to combat the spectre of violent extremism.

Few have openly questioned this method, which is certainly not without error. In fact, the filtering of actual spam inspired more of a debate back in the day—in 1996, residents of the town of Scunthorpe, England, were prevented from signing up for AOL accounts due to the profanity contained within their municipality’s name, leading to the broader realization that filters intended to catch spam or obscenity can have overreaching effects. The “Scunthorpe problem” has arisen time and time again when companies, acting with good intentions, have filtered legitimate names or content.

The Scunthorpe problem demonstrates that when we filter content—even for legitimate reasons or through democratic decisions—innocuous speech, videos, and images are bound to get caught in the cracks. After all, you can’t spell socialism without “Cialis”.

We know that companies, using low-wage human content moderators and algorithms, undoubtedly make mistakes in their policing of content. To err is human, and algorithms are built and implemented by humans, lest we forget. But when a company takes charge of ridding the world of extremism, with minimal to no input from society at large, there’s something more insidious going on.

Twitter’s deeming of some content—but not other content—as “extremist” is, after all, a value judgement. Although there’s little transparency beyond numbers, much of the banned content matches up neatly with the US government’s list of designated terrorist organizations. We don’t know what kinds of terms Twitter uses to weed out the accounts, but accounts expressing support for Islamic terror organizations seem to make up the bulk of takedowns. Meanwhile, neo-Nazis like Richard Spencer are rewarded with a “verified” checkmark—intended to signify a confirmed identity, but often used and seen as a marker of celebrity.

By choosing to place its focus on the faraway spectre of ISIS—rather than the neo-Nazis closer to home—Twitter is essentially saying that “extremism” is limited to those scary bearded men abroad, a position not unlike that of the American media. In fact, extremism is a part of our new, everyday reality, as elected officials opt for racist and sexist policies and as President Trump eggs on his most ardent white supremacist fans, offering tacit support for their vile views. As white supremacist hate gains ground, companies seem caught unaware, and unwilling or unprepared to “tackle” it the way they have Islamic extremism.

The question of whether to censor, of what to censor, is an important one, one that must be answered not by corporations but through democratic and inclusive processes. As a society, we may in fact find that censoring extremism on social platforms helps prevent further recruitment, or saves lives, and we may decide that it’s worth the potential cost. At that point, we could work to develop tools and systems that seek to prevent collateral damage, to avoid catching the proverbial dolphins in the tuna nets. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2017 at 3:06 pm

“What I Learned from Reading the Islamic State’s Propaganda Instruction Manual”

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Charlie Winter has an interesting post at Lawfare:

Editor’s Note: The Islamic State has long issued a steady torrent of sophisticated propaganda to demonize its enemies, inspire its followers, and advance its cause in general. How does the Islamic State think about its own propaganda efforts? Through serious sleuthing and impressive analysis, Charlie Winter of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation has unearthed the Islamic State’s media guide for its own operatives and explains to us its three-pronged strategy.

***

Two years ago, the Islamic State published a video about its propaganda operations. The 12-minute clip, which was produced by its Wilayat Salahuddin Media Office, celebrated strategic communication in a manner that was unprecedented. It framed offensive and defensive “information jihad” as an aspect of the Islamic State’s warfare that was easily as important as any of the material battles it was waging at the time.

The video wasn’t just interesting because of its hyperbolic exaltation of propaganda—there was something else, too. Right at its outset, a young man—one of the Islamic State’s media officials—was shown casting his eyes over a pocket-sized booklet titled Media Operative, You Are a Mujahid, Too. It was the self-proclaimed caliphate’s field guide for information warfare, a document that I’d heard rumours about, but never actually seen. After this video finally confirmed its existence, I spent months trawling through encrypted chatrooms and password-protected forums looking for it, but to no avail. Until, that is, 2016, when its second edition finally appeared on of the Islamic State channels I monitor on Telegram.

Media Operative makes for fascinating reading. The authors use the 55-page Arabic-language monograph to wax lyrical about information warfare, offering theological exhortation and strategic advice in equal measure to their target audience, the media operatives employed by the group to document battles, produce radio shows, photograph schools, and film ultraviolence. Its authors don’t just contend that information warfare is instrumental to jihad—part and parcel of Islam for over a thousand years—they give advice as to how Islamic State media operations should actually be constructed. In so doing, they shed light on the very essence of its propaganda strategy, a tripartite approach to communication that has given the group an edge over its rivals and transformed its war against the rest of the world.

If the international community is ever to meaningfully challenge the so-called caliphate’s information supremacy, it must begin by better comprehending the strategic logic that underpins it. To that end, I put together a research paper on the matter, using the Media Operative document’s innumerable insights as a lens through which to dissect its component parts.

Broadly speaking, the Islamic State has three information principles. First, present an alternative narrative, a comprehensive offer of existence; second, counter the “intellectual invasion” being conducted by the mainstream news media; and, third, launch propaganda “projectiles” against the enemy. Combined, these three facets form the foundations of the group’s propaganda strategy.

The Islamic State Alternative

Regarding the first principle, the authors write that the Islamic State brand must be implicitly positive, an offer of an attractive lifestyle as well as an outright rejection of the status quo. “The Islamic ummah [community of believers] today,” they write, “is waiting for you to lead it by its hands to the sharia and rid it of the inferiority and injustice from which it suffers.” If presented with the “right” information and the “correct” narrative, they contend, Muslims everywhere will inevitably end up rallying around the caliphate’s banner.

In this pursuit, the authors repeatedly call upon media operatives to transmit “to the simple people a true picture of the battle without exaggeration and with no lies” to “paint a brighter picture” of the jihad without dwelling on any one issue. It is this idea that underpins the Islamic State’s remarkably comprehensive utopian propaganda, which ranges from depictions of grazing livestock, bustling markets, and sunsets, to dentistry clinics, mosques, and public amputations. According to Media Operative, propaganda must simultaneously address and water down the negative aspects of living under the Islamic State, while also conveying a rose-tinted image of its positive facets. In this way, the Islamic State can sell itself as a utopia to which Salafi-jihadists can go to live as heroes, rather than an insurgent group to which new adherents go to die as martyrs.

Undermining the Global Conspiracy

The next component consists of propaganda that directly “responds to the frenzied media campaign” and “deceptive ways” of the “enemy,” and “exposes the deviances of secularists and hypocrites, responding to those who dishearten, alarm or discourage the Muslims [and] call for tolerance and coexistence with the unbelievers.” In other words, it is propaganda explicitly designed to counter and discredit narratives about the Islamic State promoted by its opponents in the West and in the Muslim world.

The authors note that, while a positive central narrative is a necessary foundation upon which to build the caliphate brand, this counter-propaganda is an “especially critical” complement to it “given the rise and acceleration of the propaganda war that the Crusaders—led by America and its allies—are waging against the Islamic State today.” Media operatives are obliged to work to form a reservoir of arguments and rebuttals with which to repudiate claims made about the organization. In recent weeks, this kind of media has been more salient than ever, chiefly appearing as a way for the group to navigate through its seemingly inevitable undoing in Mosul.

With this in mind, the “monotheist media operative” who “says what is just and true in an era in which there are few companions of the truth and even fewer sincere ones,” is regarded as being on the intellectual frontline, charged with working constantly to counter the “daily lies and professionalized falsification” of the modern mainstream media.

Media Projectiles

The final prong of the Islamic State strategy—media “projectiles” —is regularly referenced in the document. These “weapons” are . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2017 at 2:52 pm

The Distractions are the Story

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David Pell writes in Medium:

For the past few months, we’ve seen a common trend emerge. It goes something like this:

Trump says something bombastic, offensive, jaw-dropping, terrible, dangerous, horrific, stupid, false, or — as is most often the case — all of the above.

Social media, as it’s designed to do, goes berserk. Mainstream media picks up on the moment as well, and covers it ad nauseam.

Then, across all forms of media, the backlash occurs. Social media rips mainstream media for being distracted by Trump’s follies, instead of focusing on the real story. Similarly-themed thinkpieces appear in publications right next to the stories still covering the distraction. And on cable news, pundits interject into their realtime coverage of the distraction to self-flagellate over their own failure to change the subject back to the real news (which they once again seem unable to do even as they critique their own failure to do so).

How can we be talking about tweets concerning Pence’s trip to Hamilton when there’s a more important story about the $25 million judgment against Trump University? How can we be focused on a slapstick press conference when we should be digging into the ties between Russia and the Trump team?

Stop beating yourself up.

The distraction is the story.

When Mike Pence goes to Europe, anxious leaders there need to be assured that their relationship with the US is still secure and can still be depended upon. The same goes for Mattis, Tillerson, and other members of Trump’s team. Trump’s erratic behavior, crazy statements, and horrible lies are precisely what we should be focused on; because the world is watching, and that’s exactly what they’re focused on — and deeply concerned about. Our allies have been offended and unnerved. Our enemies have been buoyed.

That’s no distraction. It’s a crisis.

When it comes to international relations, personalities matter. They can change history. And there’s almost no clear-thinking leader in the world who thinks Trump’s will change history for the better.

And the so-called distractions matter at home too. When Trump attacks the . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

17 March 2017 at 12:57 pm

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