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TIME magazine covers: US v. the world

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Very interesting differences. The comparison was made 4 years ago, but the differences are remarkable.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2015 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Media

“Snowden ready to return home”: Media deceit? or media incompetence?

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Glenn Greenwald writes at The Intercept:

Most sentient people rationally accept that the U.S. media routinely disseminates misleading stories and outright falsehoods in the most authoritative tones. But it’s nonetheless valuable to examine particularly egregious case studies to see how that works. In that spirit, let’s take yesterday’s numerous, breathless reports trumpeting the “BREAKING” news that “Edward Snowden now wants to come home!” and is “now negotiating the terms of his return!”

Ever since Snowden revealed himself to the public 20 months ago, he has repeatedly said the same exact thing when asked about his returning to the U.S.: I would love to come home, and would do so if I could get a fair trial, but right now, I can’t.

His primary rationale for this argument has long been that under the Espionage Act, the 1917 statute under which he has been charged, he would be barred by U.S. courts from even raising his key defense: that the information he revealed to journalists should never have been concealed in the first place and he was thus justified in disclosing it to journalists. In other words, when U.S. political and media figures say Snowden should “man up,” come home and argue to a court that he did nothing wrong, they are deceiving the public, since they have made certain that whistleblowers charged with “espionage” are legally barred from even raising that defense.

Snowden has also pointed out that legal protections for whistleblowers are explicitly inapplicable to those, like him, who are employed by private contractors (rendering President Obama’s argument about why Snowden should “come home” entirely false). One month after Snowden was revealed, Daniel Ellsberg wrote an Op-Ed in the Washington Postarguing that Snowden did the right thing in leaving the U.S. because he would not be treated fairly, and argued Snowden should not return until he is guaranteed a fully fair trial.

Snowden has said all of this over and over. In June 2013, when I asked him during the online Guardian chat why he left the U.S. for Hong Kong, he said: “the US Government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home . . . That’s not justice, and it would be foolish to volunteer yourself to it if you can do more good outside of prison than in it.” In January 2014, AP reported about a new online chat Snowden gave: “Snowden said returning would be the best resolution. But Snowden said he can’t return because he wouldn’t be allowed to argue at trial that he acted in the public interest when he revealed the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs.” In that chat, he said: “Returning to the US, I think, is the best resolution for the government, the public, and myself.”

In his May, 2014 interview with NBC News’ Brian Williams, Snowden said: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 March 2015 at 4:27 pm

Unfreedom of the press in the UK

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The UK has never placed a high value on actual freedom of the press. The government and people are content to let tabloids run amuck, digging up and publishing direct on private individuals (though the limits are loose, they do indeed exist, as Rupert Murdoch and minions discovered), but serious reporting on the British government and what it’s doing? Not allowed, really: the Official Secrets Act seems to be wielded often and without hesitation to stop the publication of stories that the government doesn’t want the public to see, ostensibly for purposes of “national security,” that magical catchall.

But now the UK government has come up with an even more powerful weapon than the Official Secrets Act: regulations to forbid the publication of any reports the government simply doesn’t like. Glenn Greenwald writes in The Intercept:

In 2001, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II used the occasion of the annual “Queen’s Speech” to unveil a new statutory proposal to regulate all media operating in her realm, one provision of which was the creation of the “Office of Communications” (Ofcom) to monitor and punish television outlets which exhibit “bias.” In 2008, the BBC heralded the Queen’s Speech as “one of the high points of the parliamentary calendar, unrivalled in its spectacle and tradition,” as the monarch “delivers the speech from the grand throne in the House of Lords.” The press monitor’s Twitter accountboasts: “We keep an eye on the UK’s telecoms, television, radio and postal industries to make sure they’re doing the best for all of us.”Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 9.16.02 AM

Ofcom has rarely punished establishment British media outlets for “bias” even though the British media is notoriously and slavishly loyal to the state and other British political and financial elites. Just last week, Guardian editor Seumus Milne noted: “as one academic study after another has demonstrated . . . . from the coverage of wars to economics, [the BBC] has a pro-government, elite and corporate anchor. The BBC is full of Conservatives and former New Labour apparatchiks with almost identical views about politics, business and the world.” Indeed, of all the countless media outlets around the world covering NSA reporting over the last 18 months, the BBC has easily been the worst: the most overtly biased in favor of mass surveillance and official claims. Ofcom’s authority over BBC is limited, but plenty of British media outlets — certainly most of its largest ones — are driven by these same biases.

During my first week writing at the Guardian, a long-time observer (and one-time member) of the British media warned me about the extreme group think bias of U.K. journalists, and I quoted that warning in the context of describing their extreme and deeply personal animus toward WikiLeaks: “Nothing delights British former lefties more than an opportunity to defend power while pretending it is a brave stance in defence of a left liberal principle.” Needless to say, none of that extreme, power-serving media bias — including the avalanche of deceit and lies much of the British media peddled to sell Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq — has ever provoked any punishment from Ofcom.

By rather stark contrast, Ofcom has repeatedly threatened the Russian-state television outlet RT with revocation of its license. Last November, that outlet launched a British-specific, London-based version of its network, but previously had been broadcasting its standard English-speaking programming in the U.K. At the time of its launch, the Guardian noted that RT “is facing six separate investigations by media regulator Ofcom.”

That investigative history included a finding last fall whereby the network was “threatened with statutory sanctions by [] Ofcom after the Kremlin-backed news channel breached broadcasting regulations on impartiality with its coverage of the Ukraine crisis.” RT executives were “summoned to a meeting with Ofcom after it was found guilty of breaching the code governing UK broadcasters” and told they could face revocation of their license if these breaches of “impartiality rules” continued.

Today, Ofcom announced a new “bias” investigation into RT. The offense this time, according to the Guardian, is the broadcasting of “anti-western comments in a late-night discussion on Ukraine.” Specifically, “the programme is understood to have featured a number of anti-Western views in the discussion between the presenter and three studio guests.”

Unfortunately, RT told the Intercept this morning that it was barred by Ofcom regulations even from commenting on this new investigation. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2015 at 9:17 am

Posted in Government, Media

Will US condemn UK for using terrorism laws to suppress journalism?

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As Trevor Timm points out in his post on Boing Boing, the US does not hesitate to condemn governments that use overly-broad laws regarding terrorism to punish journalists simply for reporting what is happening. But when the UK does it, will the US speak up? The post begins:

In a disturbing ruling for democracy, a lower court in United Kingdom announced today that the detainment of journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda was lawful under the Terrorism Act, despite the fact that the UK government knewMiranda never was a terrorist. This disgraceful opinion equates acts of journalism with terrorism and puts the UK on par with some of the world’s most repressive regimes. Miranda has vowed to appeal the ruling.

Glenn Greenwald has much more on what this means for press freedom, but I’d like to expand on one particular point:

Over the past several years, the US State Department has publicly criticized several governments for using overly-broad terrorism laws against journalists and has even claimed its their policy to oppose “misus[ing] terrorism laws to prosecute and imprison journalists.” As we pointed out a couple months ago, they have criticized Turkey, Ethiopia, Morocco, and Burundi all within the past year.

Just last week, the State Department harshly criticized Egypt for detaining over twentyAl-Jazeera journalists and charging them under the regime’s terrorism statute. A State Department spokesman said, Egypt’s “targeting of journalists and others on spurious claims are wrong and demonstrates an egregious disregard for the protection of basic rights and freedoms.” She continued: “any journalist, regardless of affiliation, must not be targets of violence, intimidation or politicized legal action. They must be protected and permitted to freely do their jobs in Egypt.”

Will the US State Department condemn very similar behavior by one of its closest allies, the United Kingdom? Sadly, in November when the UK first made its argument in court, the State Department refused to comment when asked about its stance by the Guardian‘s Paul Lewis. Now that a court has ruled in the UK’s government favor, it’s time for the State Department to speak out.

With the ruling, the UK government has vastly widened the definition of terrorism to include ensnare people who have not committed violence, who have no intention to commit violence, and who aren’t even associated with people who intend to commit violence. The lower court essentially agreed with the government’s warped definition it put forth in court documents in November: . . .

Continue reading. The interpretation the UK government offers is Orwellian in its deliberate effort to crush journalists.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 February 2015 at 11:48 am

Red Cross fights reports by lying like a rug

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The American Red Cross has become a dysfunctional organization that has decided that their best defense is to lie. The organization should be avoided until it has undertaken a thorough housecleaning rid itself of the vermin currently in charge. Report here, worth reading, by Justin Elliott and Jesse Eisinger in ProPublica:

The American Red Cross recently sent ProPublica and NPR a request for corrections to our series of stories about the charity’s failures in responding to Hurricane Isaac and Superstorm Sandy, misleading donors about how money is spent, and other issues. We stand by our reporting and have found no instances of errors. We have responded in detail below, noting where the Red Cross’ assertions are misleading or incorrect.

The organization’s request for corrections came shortly after we sent questions related to our ongoing reporting, specifically about the Red Cross’ response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Our stories have been scrupulously fair to the Red Cross. The Red Cross had an opportunity to respond to every fact, detail, and allegation from our reporting before every story. Before the stories ran, we sent the Red Cross extensive and detailed questions, documents and had in-person interviews with officials. We took the charity’s responses seriously and modified our stories based on the Red Cross’ responses.

Our core conclusions about the Red Cross’ response to Sandy and Isaac were drawn from the charity’s own high-level internal assessments. We posted those documents.

We also interviewed dozens of Red Cross officials and volunteers, storm victims, and government officials.

Below, we have summarized the charity’s complaints about our coverage, followed by our responses. (Here are the Red Cross’ criticisms in full.)

1. Emergency response vehicles diverted for PR purposes

Red Cross complaint (pg. 1):

The charity takes issue with our reporting that executives diverted vehicles for public relations purposes. In particular, the Red Cross asserts that NPR’s version of the story erroneously refers to multiple “incidents” where 40 percent of available emergency response vehicles were used for press conferences. The Red Cross also says our reporting relied on a “lone source.” It both denies that any emergency vehicles were diverted away from providing relief and says that the 40 percent figure is wrong.

Our response:

The Red Cross’ claim that we referred to multiple “incidents” where 40 percent of vehicles were diverted is based on its use of a misleading, truncated quotation.

NPR’s transcript makes clear the word “incidents” refers to a variety of episodes, not just the diversion of trucks:

Our reporting found incidents where the charity sent as many as 40 percent of its emergency vehicles to press conferences instead of into the field, where it failed to show up as promised to open shelters, allowed sex offenders to hang out in a shelter’s play area.

As for the Red Cross’ claim that our account was based on a single source, that is false.

The account of the Red Cross’ use of its vehicles for public relations purposes was based on interviews with multiple Red Cross officials and volunteers, including two current Red Cross senior managers. Their accounts were bolstered by internal documents and twocontemporaneous emails, one to senior Red Cross officials at the time and another a month later to Red Cross disaster volunteers.

After our story published, we were contacted by a Red Cross driver who received orders to stop delivering goods to storm victims and instead show up at the press conference cited in the story with Red Cross President Gail McGovern.

“The press conference did keep us from being able to provide any meaningful response that day,” the driver told us.

Another Red Cross official at the event told us, “The only purpose for sending the ERVs there was to show a large presence. The vehicles were told where to park, which was behind where the podium was set up,” the official said. “They were not providing services there.”

All of those first-hand accounts are in line with the Red Cross’ own Lessons Learned PowerPoint presentation, produced out of national headquarters in Washington, whichlists “diverting assets for public relations purposes” as a “hindrance to service delivery.”

As for the Red Cross’ claim that even if vehicles were diverted, it wasn’t 40 percent of them: In supporting its point, the group cites a “disaster log” showing a count of emergency response vehicles assigned during Sandy in New York state overall. It is not a log of the vehicles available in the relevant area, New York City. We asked Red Cross officials for that information before publication and they have declined to provide it.

2. Hurricane Isaac volunteers sent where they weren’t needed . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2015 at 4:50 pm

Posted in Business, Media

Stephen Kim: Destroyed by the Espionage Act

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An interesting account. The US government certainly doesn’t want its citizens to know what it’s doing. Peter Maas reports at The Intercept:

ON THE MORNING of June 11, 2009, James Rosen stepped inside the State Department, scanned his building badge and made his way to the Fox News office in the busy press room on the second floor. It was going to be a hectic day. Like other reporters working the phones that morning, Rosen was looking for fresh news about the latest crisis with North Korea.

Two weeks earlier, North Korea had conducted a nuclear detonation that showed the rest of the world it possessed a functioning bomb. The United Nations was on the verge of a formal condemnation, but no one at the U.N. or inside the U.S. government knew how North Korea’s unpredictable regime would respond and whether things might escalate toward war.

Rosen called Stephen Kim, a State Department expert on rogue nations and weapons of mass destruction. Kim, a U.S. citizen who was born in South Korea, spoke fluent Korean and had worked at one of America’s nuclear-weapons labs. He probably knew more about what was going on in Pyongyang than almost anyone else in the building.

The call, according to metadata collected by the FBI, lasted just half a minute, but soon afterward Kim called Rosen and they talked for nearly a dozen minutes. After that conversation, they left the building at roughly the same time, then spoke once more on the phone after they both returned.

A classified report on North Korea had just begun circulating, and Kim was among the restricted number of officials with clearance to read it. He logged onto a secure computer, called up the report at 11:27 a.m., and phoned Rosen 10 minutes later. A few minutes past noon, he left the building again, and a minute later Rosen followed. The destruction of Kim’s life would center on the question of what the two men discussed during that brief encounter outside the State Department.

Kim returned to the building at 12:26 p.m., but Rosen lingered outside to make calls to colleagues at Fox News — to lines for the network’s Washington bureau chief, as well as a vice president and assignment editor. Back inside, Rosen called the bureau chief’s line again, and then an official at the National Security Council. Around 3:00 in the afternoon, with typos that suggest it was written in haste, Rosen posted a story on the Fox News website under the headline, “North Korea Intends to Match U.N. Resolution With New Nuclear Test.” It said the U.S. government, in its latest intelligence assessment, believed U.N. sanctions would trigger retaliatory actions from North Korea, including another detonation.

As news goes, Rosen’s story wasn’t, in fact, much of a scoop. It merely confirmed the conventional wisdom of the day. According to court documents, one State Department official described the intelligence assessment as “a nothing burger,” while another official said Rosen’s story had disclosed “nothing extraordinary.” But the article had a seismic impact in another way. It occurred just as the Obama administration was intensifying its effort to crack down on leakers and whistleblowers; the FBI soon launched an investigation. Because Rosen used phones that were easy to trace and twice left the building at the same time as Kim, it was simple for the FBI to zero in on whom he talked with that day. Before long, Kim, who had worked as a civil servant since 2000, was being threatened with decades in prison for betraying his country.

Five years later, on April 2, 2014, I sat in a half-empty courtroom in Washington, D.C., and watched as Kim pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 February 2015 at 3:51 pm

US media and 13-year-old Yemeni boy burned to death by a drone attack

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The US expresses incredible outrage when a pilot of a friendly nation is burned alive, despite the US routinely burning people alive in its wars—civilians as well as combatants. How many tons of napalm has the US used over the years?

Glenn Greenwald reports at The Intercept:

On January 26, the New York Times claimed that “a CIA drone strike in Yemen. . . . killed three suspected Qaeda fighters on Monday.” How did they know the identity of the dead? As usual, it was in part because “American officials said.” There was not a whiff of skepticism about this claim despite the fact that “a senior American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, declined to confirm the names of the victims” and “a C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment.”

That NYT article did cite what it called “a member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” (AQAP), who provided the names of the three victims, one of whom was “Mohammed Toiman al-Jahmi, a Yemeni teenager whose father and brother were previously killed in American drone strikes.” The article added that “the Qaeda member did not know Mr. Jahmi’s age but said he was a member of the terrorist group.”

In fact, as the Guardian reported today, “Mr. Jahmi’s age” was 13 on the day the American drone ended his life. Just months earlier, the Yemeni teenager told that paper that “he lived in constant fear of the ‘death machines’ in the sky that had already killed his father and brother.” It was 2011 when “an unmanned combat drone killed his father and teenage brother as they were out herding the family’s camels.” In the strike two weeks ago, Mohammed was killed along with his brother-in-law and a third man.

Mohammed’s older brother Maqded said he “saw all the bodies completely burned, like charcoal” – undoubtedly quite similar to the way the Jordanian combat pilot looked after he was burned alive last month by ISIS. That’s not an accident: the weapons the U.S. military uses are deliberately designed to incinerate people to death. The missiles shot by their drones are named “Hellfire.” Of his younger, now-deceased 13-year-old brother, Maqded told the Guardian: “He wasn’t a member of al-Qaida. He was a kid.”

There are a few observations worth making about this repugnant episode:

(1) The U.S. media just got done deluging the American public with mournful stories about the Jordanian soldier, Moaz al-Kasasbeh, making him a household name. As is often the case for victims of America’s adversaries, the victim is intensely humanized. The public learns all sorts of details about their lives, hears from their grieving family members, wallows in the tragedy of their death.

By stark contrast, I’d be willing to bet that the name “Mohammed Tuaiman al-Jahmi” is never uttered on mainstream American television. Most Americans, by design, will have no idea that their government just burned a 13-year-old boy to death and then claimed he was a Terrorist. If they do know, the boy will be kept hidden, dehumanized, nameless, without the aspirations or dreams or grieving parents on display for victims of America’s adversaries (just as Americans were swamped with stories about an Iranian-American journalist detained in Iran for two months, Roxana Saberi, while having no idea that their own government imprisoned an Al Jazeera photojournalist, Sami al-Haj, in Guantanamo for seven years without charges).

When I was in Canada last October during two violent attacks – one in northern Quebec and the other in Parliament in Ottawa – both of the soldiers killed were (understandably) the subject of endless, intense media coverage featuring their lives, their dreams and their grieving parents. But I’d bet that the Canadian public was incapable of naming even a single foreign individual killed by their own government over the last decade.

It’s worth considering the extreme propaganda impact that disparity has, the way in which the U.S. media is so eagerly complicit in sustaining ongoing American militarism and violence by disappearing victims of U.S. violence while endlessly heralding the victims of its adversaries.

(2) I have no idea whether this 13-year-old boy was “a member of al-Qaeda,” whatever that might mean for a boy that young. But neither does the New York Times, which is why it’s incredibly irresponsible for media outlets reflexively to claim that those killed by U.S. drone strikes are terrorists.

That’s especially true since the NYT itself previously reported that the Obama administration has re-defined “militant” to mean “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants.” In this case, Mohammed did not even qualify for that Orwellian re-definition, yet still got called a terrorist (by both the Obama administration as well as a “member of AQAP,” both of whom are, for different reasons, motivated to make that claim). Whatever else is true, extreme skepticism is required before claiming that the victims of the latest American drone strike are terrorists, but that skepticism is virtually never included.

(3)  . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

If it were American teenagers rather than Yemeni ones regularly being burned to death – on American soil rather than Yemeni soil – does it take any effort to understand why there’d be widespread calls for violence against the perpetrators in response? Consider how much American rage and violence was unleashed by a single-day attack on American soil 13 years ago.

In fact, if it were the case that this 13-year-old boy were a “member of AQAP,” is it hard to understand why? Do we need to resort to claims that some primitive, inscrutable religion is to blame, or does this, from the Guardian article, make more sense:

When the Guardian interviewed Mohammed last September, he spoke of his anger towards the US government for killing his father. “They tell us that these drones come from bases in Saudi Arabia and also from bases in the Yemeni seas and America sends them to kill terrorists, but they always kill innocent people. But we don’t know why they are killing us.

In their eyes, we don’t deserve to live like people in the rest of the world and we don’t have feelings or emotions or cry or feel pain like all the other humans around the world.”

In 2009, the U.S. got caught using cluster bombs in Yemen in an attack that slaughtered 35 women and children. Obama then successfully demandedthat the Yemeni journalist who proved that the attack was from the U.S., Abdulelah Haider Shaye, be imprisoned for years. In December, 2013, a U.S. drone strike killed 12 people as they traveled to a wedding.

The NY Times is quite credulous of government claims—it functions somewhat along the lines of Pravda in the old Soviet Union: the “official” story (and the “official” suppression of stories, as when the NY Times refused to report on the massive program of illegal surveillance administer by the Bush Administration because the government told them not to).

See also this report.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 February 2015 at 3:48 pm

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