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The NY Times once again fails at the basic journalistic task: Seeking evidence that disconfirms Administration claims

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As every schoolchild knows, the way you establish the truth of claims is to seek disconfirming evidence: evidence that contradicts the claims. If you find such evidence, the claim is false; if you can’t find it, even though you searched hard, the claim may well be true. But you certainly do not start with the assumption that the claim is true and then seek only evidence that supports the claim.

Unless, that is, you’re the NY Times and the claims are from the Administration in power and are being made in support of waging war. Then, being the NY Times, you believe the claims absolutely, ignore or minimize conflicting evidence, and provide a platform for anonymous claims by scores of Administration and military officials. In other words, the NY Times embraces its role as a propaganda outlet and drops any pretense of actual journalism.

We saw that clearly in the run-up to the Iraq war: Bill Keller and Judith Miller became advocates for the war, credulously repeating all the lies propagated by Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Pearl, Bush, and others, constantly reporting stories to support going to war and minimizing (or ignoring) evidence that contradicted Administration claims.

The Times has recently said that it has learned its lesson—but let’s look for evidence that disconfirms that claim. And we immediately find a story by Eric Schmitt on the front page of today’s Times: “With ISIS in Cross Hairs, U.S. Holds Back to Protect Civilians.” Take a look:

  • Many anonymous sources quoted in support of waging a more ruthless and wider war: check
  • Credulous reporting of Administration claims: check
  • Absolutely no effort made to look for evidence that contradicts Administration claims: check

This story might as well have been reported by Judith Miller under Bill Keller’s editorship.

Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept rightly takes the Times to task:

The New York Times this morning has an extraordinary front-page article claiming that the U.S. is being hampered in its war against ISIS because of its extreme – even excessive – concern for civilians. “American officials say they are not striking significant — and obvious — Islamic State targets out of fear that the attacks will accidentally kill civilians,” reporter Eric Schmitt says.

The newspaper gives voice to numerous, mostly anonymous officials to complain that the U.S. cares too deeply about protecting civilians to do what it should do against ISIS. We learn that “many Iraqi commanders, and even some American officers, argue that exercising such prudence is harming the coalition’s larger effort to destroy” ISIS. And “a persistent complaint of Iraqi officials and security officers is that the United States has been too cautious in its air campaign, frequently allowing columns of Islamic State fighters essentially free movement on the battlefield.”

The article claims that “the campaign has killed an estimated 12,500 fighters” and “has achieved several successes in conducting about 4,200 strikes that have dropped about 14,000 bombs and other weapons.” But an anonymous American pilot nonetheless complains that “we have not taken the fight to these guys,” and says he “cannot get authority” to drone-bomb targets without excessive proof that no civilians will be endangered. Despite the criticisms, Schmitt writes, “administration officials stand by their overriding objective to prevent civilian casualties.

But there’s one rather glaring omission in this article: the many hundreds of civilian deaths likely caused by the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria. Yet the only reference to civilian deaths are two, ones which the U.S. government last week admitted: “the military’s Central Command on Thursday announced the results of an inquiry into the deaths of two children in Syria in November, saying they were most likely killed by an American airstrike,” adding that “a handful of other attacks are under investigation.”

Completely absent is the abundant evidence from independent monitoring groups documenting hundreds of civilian deaths. Writing in Global Post last month, Richard Hall noted that while “in areas of Syria and Iraq held by the Islamic State, verifying civilian casualties is difficult,” there is strong evidence [that] suggests civilians are dying in the coalition’s airstrikes.”

Among that evidence is the data compiled by, a group of independent journalists with extensive experience reporting on that region. Last week, the group reported:

To May 13th 2015, between 587 and 734 civilian non-combatant fatalities had been reported from 95 separate incidents, in both Iraq and Syria.

Of these it is our provisional view – based on available reports – that between 370-465 civilian non-combatants have been killed in incidents likely to have been conducted by the coalition.

A further 130-145 claimed deaths attributed to coalition airstrikes are poorly reported or are single-sourced, while an additional 85-125  reported fatalities resulted from contested events (for example, claims that the Iraq military might instead have been responsible.)

In addition, 140 or more ‘friendly fire’ deaths of allied ground forces have been attributed to the coalition, with varying levels of certainty.

In his article, Hall quotes one of the Airworks journalists, Chris Woods (formerly with the drone-tracking Bureau of Investigative Journalism) as saying “he has ‘no doubt’ that civilians have been killed by coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, and that the number is probably somewhere in the hundreds.” Local media reports in Iraq have frequently reported civilian deaths at the hands of the U.S.-led bombing campaign.

While compiling exact counts of civilian deaths is difficult, it’s astounding that theNYT would mention none of this, and reference none of these groups’ data or quote their experts, when trumpeting (and complaining about) U.S. restraint. To say that the picture painted by Schmitt is one-sided and incomplete is to understate the case.

One can obviously dismiss these civilian deaths, as many Americans routinely do, by casually invoking the “collateral damage” mantra and relying on cartoon versions of The Threat Posed by ISIS. But it’s outright bizarre for a paper purporting to report on excessive U.S. restraint to completely omit this data, just as U.S. media outlets have done for years with civilian deaths from drones. Beyond the humanitarian matter, killing civilians yet again in Iraq and Syria is highly likely to exacerbate the very problem the bombing campaign is supposedly designed to solve, as the NYTarticle itself recognizes: “Killing such innocents could hand the militants a major propaganda coup and alienate both the local Sunni tribesmen, whose support is critical to ousting the militants, and Sunni Arab countries that are part of the American­-led coalition.”  . . .

Continue reading.

So the NY Times apparently thinks, like the Administration, that we should be inflicting more civilian casualties in fighting ISIS. It’s like that job interview question “What are your weak points?” that is answered along the lines of  “I am perhaps too motivated and work too hard to produce truly excellent results quickly” and the like. “Our problem in fighting ISIS is that we are being too careful not to harm civilians. We’ve got to put those concerns aside and slaughter however many civilians we have to do kill the enemy easily.”

The NY Times, back at the old propaganda stand. Jesus.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2015 at 10:49 am

Velvet-glove dictatorships

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Interesting column in the NY Times by Sergei Guriev,a professor of economics at Sciences Po, Paris, and  Daniel Treisman, a professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles:

THE standard image of dictatorship is of a government sustained by violence. In 20th-century totalitarian systems, tyrants like Stalin, Hitler and Mao murdered millions in the name of outlandish ideologies. Strongmen like Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire left trails of blood.

But in recent decades, a new brand of authoritarian government has evolved that is better adapted to an era of global media, economic interdependence and information technology. The “soft” dictators concentrate power, stifling opposition and eliminating checks and balances, while using hardly any violence.

These illiberal leaders — Alberto K. Fujimori of Peru, Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Viktor Orban of Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela — threaten to reshape the world order in their image, replacing principles of freedom and law — albeit imperfectly upheld by Western powers — with cynicism and corruption. The West needs to understand how these regimes work and how to confront them.

Some bloody or ideological regimes remain — as in Syria and North Korea — but the balance has shifted. In 1982, 27 percent of nondemocracies engaged in mass killings. By 2012, only 6 percent did. In the same period, the share of nondemocracies with no elected legislature fell to 15 percent from 31 percent.

This sea change might have started with Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, who combined parliamentary institutions with strict social control, occasional political arrests and frequent lawsuits to cow the press — but also instituted business-friendly policies that helped fuel astronomical growth.

The new autocrats often get to power through reasonably fair elections. Mr. Chávez, for instance, won in 1998 in what international observers called one of the most transparent votes in Venezuela’s history.

Soaring approval ratings are a more cost-effective path to dominance than terror. Mr. Erdogan exploited his popularity to amend the Constitution by referendum and to pack Turkey’s Constitutional Court.

The new autocrats use propaganda, censorship and other information-based tricks to inflate their ratings and to convince citizens of their superiority over available alternatives. They peddle an amorphous anti-Western resentment: Mr. Orban mocked Europe’s political correctness and declining competitiveness while soliciting European Union development aid. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 May 2015 at 9:49 am

How Fox News continues to hurt the GOP

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James Fallows writes in his Atlantic blog:

Let me recommend for your weekend reading, or for your weekday reading if you’re seeing it then, a detailed study by Bruce Bartlett called “How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics.” You can download the 18-page PDF from this site of the Social Science Research Network.

The idea that Fox News operates with different aims and by different norms from those of, say, the BBC is familiar. But this presentation is notable for two reasons.

The first is its source — for those who don’t know, Barlett is a veteran of the Reagan and Bush-41 administrations and was an influential early proponent of supply-side / tax-cut economics. He also worked for Ron Paul. Since then he’s harshly criticized the Bush-43 administration, but in no sense does he come at this as a Democratic party operative.

The second and more important reason is Bartlett’s accumulation of detail showing (a) that Fox’s core viewers are factually worse-informed than people who follow other sources, and even those who don’t follow news at all, and (b) that the mode of perpetual outrage that is Fox’s goal and effect has become a serious problem for the Republican party, in that it pushes its candidates to sound always-outraged themselves.

I recommend the whole thing, but here are two samples. First, on misinformation, a quote from an academic study: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 May 2015 at 12:25 pm

Posted in GOP, Media

The legacy of I.F. Stone: True journalism

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I.F. Stone showed how journalism should be done. Jon Schwarz in The Intercept has a good background story and two videos. Here’s the first video:

Schwarz’s article begins:

I.F. Stone was arguably the greatest investigative journalist of the last 100 years, the “Patron Saint of Bloggers” and one of the main inspirationsof “Unofficial Sources.” If you already know and love Stone, check out parts one (above) and two (below) of a new video, “The Legacy of I.F. Stone.”

If you don’t know Stone but want to find out why he’s so beloved, the videos describe his approach and some of his accomplishments. They also feature Michael Moore, Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill explaining whythey love him. Most important is Stone’s bedrock principle: reporters should start from the presumption that powerful institutions are lying, rather than the presumption that they’re telling the truth.

Moore — who before he started making movies ran “Moore’s Weekly,” an homage to Stone’s one-man magazine “I.F. Stone’s Weekly” — says this: . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 May 2015 at 11:28 am

Posted in Media

VERY interesting: A bill to revoke corporate personhood

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Strange we haven’t read more about this. Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

Last Wednesday, the grassroots organization, Move to Amend, held a press conference at the National Press Club to announce that six members of the U.S. House of Representatives were introducing legislationto overturn Citizens United v FEC to make free speech and all other rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution available only to “natural persons,” not corporations or limited liability companies. The legislation would also give Federal, state and local governments the ability to limit political contributions to “ensure all citizens,  regardless of their economic status, have access to the political process.”

When corporations overturn the will of the people, it’s widely covered by corporate media. When the people fight back, the news is frequently blacked out. As of this morning, we could find no major corporate media outlet or corporate wire service reporting on last Wednesday’s press conference by Move to Amend. That might be because there was evidence presented at the press conference of a groundswell of public momentum to overturn Citizens United, the decision handed down on January 21, 2010 by the U.S. Supreme Court that opened the floodgates to corporate campaign spending in elections along with super wealthy donors.

The press conference revealed that 16 states have passed resolutions asking Congress to overturn Citizens United while almost 600 municipalities and local governments across the country have done likewise. Almost two dozen other states have resolutions pending or introduced.

Congressman Rick Nolan of Minnesota spoke at the press conference, telling attendees that “Good and successful movements in this country have always started with ordinary people who commit to accomplishing great things. And so it was with ending slavery, with child labor laws, environmental laws, women’s suffrage, civil rights, the progressive income tax, Social Security, Medicare, rights for the disabled – you name it – this movement transcends labels, it transcends political parties, it transcends regions and it transcends generations.”

Nolan added that “America’s future and American democracy is dependent upon the success of this movement.” In addition to Nolan, co-sponsors of the bill include Mark Pocan (WI), Matthew Cartwright (PA), Jared Huffman (CA), Raul Grijalva (AZ), and Keith Ellison (MN).

Leesa “George” Friday, who has been part of this grassroots movement since its beginning in 2009, said “Democracy isn’t a gift that we’re given, it’s a right. And with that right comes the responsibility to do a little bit more than just go to the polls every now and then or volunteer for a campaign, write a check or make some phone calls. It means being vigilant about what democracy means; about holding sacred that democracy; and doing the work.”

David Cobb, a member of the National Leadership Team of Move to Amend and the Green Party presidential candidate in 2004, called what has happened a “corporate coup d’etat” and said the group was broadening its strategy to include “Pledge to Amend,” where candidates running for office will be asked to pledge to support a constitutional amendment in order to get the support of voters, the majority of whom despise Citizens United.

The corporate coup d’etat could not have happened, of course, without the vote of five members of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision, which was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy with concurrence from Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

The dissent was scathing. Written by Justice John Paul Stevens (who retired five months later), it was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer. Stevens wrote:

The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court’s disposition of this case. In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure, and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.

The four dissenters also found that:

The majority’s approach to corporate electioneering marks a dramatic break from our past. Congress has placed special limitations on campaign spending by corporations ever since the passage of the Tillman Act in 1907…We have unanimously concluded that this ‘reflects a permissible assessment of the dangers posed by those entities to the electoral process…’

The view of the dissenters happens to dovetail with the majority view of the American people — meaning that five men in robes can overturn the will of a nation of 319 million citizens.

According to a 2010/2011 Peter Hart poll, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2015 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Business, Law, Media

Interesting profile of Arthur Chu

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A couple of days I blogged about a column by Arthur Chu on the Baltimore riots. I didn’t know who he was, and Salon did not have their usual brief description of the contributor. But he is, as you probably know, the guy who took Jeopardy! for a ride—and he turns out to be an interesting guy. Peter Baker (a former classmate of Chu’s) has a good profile of him in the Pacific Standard:

In January of 2014, I started getting text messages from my college friends asking whether I was following our old classmate Arthur Chu on Jeopardy! I wasn’t—I hadn’t watched the show for years—but I tuned in the next day.

From then on, I watched rapt as Chu racked up what was, at the time, the third-longest winning streak in the show’s history, drawing attention not only for the size of his haul (almost $400,000 in the end), but also for his supremely stereotypical nerdiness. He used an unorthodox strategy that drew on both game theory and statistical analysis of the Jeopardy! board. He was slightly pudgy, with glasses, and his hair was cut in a harsh horizontal line across his forehead. His shirts were rumpled, his ties poorly knotted. He spoke in a monotone and sometimes interrupted Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, cutting off Trebek’s patter so they could move on to the next question.

I had barely known Chu in college, but I loved watching him win. He seemed to simultaneously embody nerd stereotypes and vindicate them—by raking in a fortune. I especially liked his attitude toward his detractors: When people mocked him on Twitter, he re-tweeted their jibes, as if to demonstrate how little they hurt.

After Chu’s run ended, I found myself missing it. Several months later, checking his Twitter feed, I saw him announce he would be appearing on a panel at a gaming convention in Maryland called MAGFest, where he would be talking about “the general unpleasantness in the nerd community this year,” including “the#Gamergate fiasco.” This had the ring of familiarity, but I would have been hard pressed to say what any of it meant.

It didn’t take much research for me to pick up that 2014 had been a tumultuous year in American nerd-dom. Long-simmering tensions built into the very concept of “the nerd” had reached a boiling point, with shockingly vicious results: death threats, rape threats, and torrents of online abuse, most of them made by nerds themselves against those perceived to be finding fault with nerd culture.

To my surprise, some of the most interesting and well-circulated analyses of the mayhem had been written by none other than Arthur Chu, who had leveraged his 15 minutes of game-show fame into, of all things, a national platform for his opinions about nerds: What America gets wrong about nerds; what nerds—especially male nerds—get wrong about themselves; and why it matters. In Chu’s view, nerd-dom has a toxic, intolerant fringe, one that has gone unchecked in large part because nerds are awful at policing their own subculture, especially online. In an era when the nerds are increasingly ascendant, Chu wants to make nerd culture better—and to stop more of his fellow nerds from getting drawn into the worst of it.

In his MAGFest post, Chu asked his fans to come give him moral support. Debates about nerd-dom, he wrote, had recently become “a lot scarier.”

A few days later, I bought a pass to the convention.

When I met Chu in person at MAGFest—almost eight years since we’d been college students together—I was struck by how different he looked, not only from our college days but from when I’d first seen him on Jeopardy! . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2015 at 11:21 am

Posted in Daily life, Media

Associated Press admits their poll on drone strikes is bogus, but they don’t care

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Dan Froomkin and Jon Schwarz report in The Intercept:

The headline on the Associated Press story is unambiguous: AP Poll: Americans approve of drone strikes on terrorists. And that’s true! According to the AP’s poll, 60 percent of Americans support the use of drones to “target and kill people belonging to terrorist groups like al-Qaida.”

The problem is the U.S. drone program does much more than kill members of al-Qaida: it also kills a significant number of civilians, and drone operators often don’t even know exactly whom they’re targeting. So the AP’s own poll doesn’t show, as the story claims, “broad support among the U.S. public for a targeted killing program begun under President George W. Bush and expanded dramatically under Obama.” What it does show is broad support for a drone program that doesn’t exist.

And strangely enough, if you get all the way to the story’s ninth paragraph, you learn that the AP’s own reporters have a pretty good hunch that the previous eight paragraphs were bullshit:

The poll did not include questions about foreign civilian casualties or about public confidence in the government’s assertion that the vast majority of those killed in drone strikes are terrorists. Independent groups have estimated that at least hundreds, and possibly thousands, of noncombatants have been killed in the operations, a count the U.S. government disputes.

Drone skeptics say most polls on the subject frame the question with the assumption that those targeted are terrorists, when it’s not clear that is always the case.

“Almost everyone, of course, is going to support killing people who are trying to kill us, but that’s not who we are necessarily targeting in each case,” said Sarah Kreps, an associate professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University.

Kreps examined poll data and found that if respondents are confronted with evidence of errors and civilian casualties in some drone strikes, support for the strikes drops below a majority.

The story was written by Ken Dilanian (@kendilanianap)and Emily Swanson (@el_swan). Was this their way of saying: Our pollsters are a bunch of propagandists who ask questions to elicit the answers they want? Or are they saying: Some people think we’re not asking the right question, but just we don’t care?

I invite their response, and will update the post with any I get. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 May 2015 at 8:34 am


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