Joe Romm writes: In yet another example of how the New York Times is mis-covering the story of the century, it published an entire op-ed on the return of the Dust Bowl with no mention whatsoever of climate change.
It stands in sharp contrast to the coverage of the connection between climate change and extreme weather other leading news outlets and science journals. Consider the BBC’s Sunday article on the epic deluges hitting the UK, “Met Office: Evidence ‘suggests climate change link to storms’.” Consider the journal Nature, which back in 2011 asked me to write an article on the link between climate change and “Dust-bowlification”…
As James Hansen told me two weeks ago, “Increasingly intense droughts in California, all of the Southwest, and even into the Midwest have everything to do with human-made climate change.” [Continue reading...]
In a report exemplifying the kind of journalism-as-stenography in which David Sanger specializes, comes this observation about the pressures under which Director of National Intelligence James Clapper now operates — thanks to Edward Snowden:
The continuing revelations have posed a particular challenge to Mr. Clapper, a retired Air Force general and longtime intelligence expert, who has made no secret of his dislike for testifying in public. Critics have charged that he deliberately misled Congress and the public last year when asked if the intelligence agencies collected information on domestic communications. He was forced by the Snowden revelations to correct his statements, and he has been somewhat more careful in his testimony.
“Critics have charged” that Clapper perjured himself in Congress, but as studiously impartial journalists, Sanger (and his colleague Eric Schmitt) are incapable of making any determination on that matter.
This is really pseudo-impartiality since by avoiding using the word lied and framing this as a “charge” from “critics” the reporters are insinuating that Clapper might have merely made a mistake. Indeed, to say that he has since been more “careful” in his testimony suggests that his earlier statements were careless.
Seven members of Congress who in December called for a Justice Department investigation of Clapper, were not suffering from the same affliction which makes Times reporters mealy-mouthed so often. They called Clapper’s words by their real name: a willful lie.
Director Clapper has served his country with distinction, and we have no doubt he believed he was acting in its best interest. Nevertheless, the law is clear. He was asked a question and he was obligated to answer it truthfully. He could have declined to answer. He could have offered to answer in a classified setting. He could have corrected himself immediately following the hearing. He did none of these things despite advance warning that the question was coming.
The country’s interests are best served when its leaders deal truthfully with its citizens. The mutual sense of good faith it fosters permits compromise and concessions in those cases that warrant it. Director Clapper’s willful lie under oath fuels the unhealthy cynicism and distrust that citizens feel toward their government and undermines Congress’s ability to perform its Constitutional function.
There are differences of opinion about the propriety of the NSA’s data collection programs. There can be no disagreement, however, on the basic premise that congressional witnesses must answer truthfully.
A willingness to align oneself with those in positions of power is the explicit price of access for journalists who cherish their ability to communicate with senior officials, yet Jane Mayer describes how little such access can be worth:
Not long after coming to Washington in 1984 to cover the Reagan White House for The Wall Street Journal, I learned that Reagan’s embattled national security adviser was about to resign. I quickly went to see him and asked him about this point-blank, and with warm brown eyes that kind of looked like a trustworthy Labrador retriever, he looked across the desk at me and told me that he had absolutely no plans to resign.
I may be telescoping this in memory, but as I remember it, the very next day after I had shelved my story, they announced his resignation and I was stunned. Government officials lie. They lie to reporters boldly and straight-faced. It taught me that access is overrated. Never forget that the relationship between reporters and the subjects in power that we cover is, by necessity, one that is adversarial and sometimes full of distrust and opposition.
True. But I would argue that whether a journalist is aligned or in an adversarial relationship with power is an issue that can itself become a distraction.
What counts more than anything is a commitment to truth.
Such a commitment neither presupposes a trust or distrust of power. It is not in awe of power either positively or negatively. It recognizes that those perceived as the most important people in this world are never as grand as the positions they occupy.
In an editorial, the New York Times says: Once again, a thorough and independent analysis of the government’s dragnet surveillance of Americans’ phone records has found the bulk data collection to be illegal and probably unconstitutional. Just as troubling, the program was found to be virtually useless at stopping terrorism, raising the obvious question: Why does President Obama insist on continuing a costly, legally dubious program when his own appointees repeatedly find that it doesn’t work?
In a 238-page report issued Thursday afternoon, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a five-member independent agency, called on the White House to end the phone-data collection program, for both constitutional and practical reasons. The board’s report follows a Dec. 16 ruling by Federal District Judge Richard Leon that the program was “almost certainly” unconstitutional and that the government had not identified “a single instance” in which it “actually stopped an imminent attack.”
Two days later, a panel of legal and intelligence experts convened by Mr. Obama after the disclosures by Edward Snowden echoed those conclusions in its own comprehensive report, which said the data sweep “was not essential to preventing attacks” and called for its end.
The growing agreement among those who have studied the program closely makes it imperative that the administration, along with the program’s defenders in Congress, explain why such intrusive mass surveillance is necessary at all. If Mr. Obama knows something that contradicts what he has now been told by two panels, a federal judge and multiple members of Congress, he should tell the American people now. Otherwise, he is in essence asking for their blind faith, which is precisely what he warned against during his speech last week on the future of government surveillance.
“Given the unique power of the state,” Mr. Obama said, “it is not enough for leaders to say: trust us, we won’t abuse the data we collect. For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached.”
The more likely reality is that the multiple analyses of recent weeks are correct, and that the phone-data sweeps have simply been ineffective. If they had assisted in the prevention of any terrorist attacks, it is safe to assume that we would know by now. Instead, despite repeated claims that the bulk-data collection programs had a hand in thwarting 54 terrorist plots, the privacy board members write, “we have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation.”
That reiterates the findings of Judge Leon — who noted that even behind closed doors, the government provided “no proof” of the program’s efficacy — as well as the conclusion of a report released this month by the New America Foundation that the metadata program “had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism and only the most marginal of impacts on preventing terrorist-related activity.”
No one disputes that the threat of terrorism is real and unrelenting, or that our intelligence techniques must adapt to a rapidly changing world. It is equally clear that the dragnet collection of Americans’ phone calls is not the answer.
An Editorial in the New York Times says: Seven months ago, the world began to learn the vast scope of the National Security Agency’s reach into the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the United States and around the globe, as it collects information about their phone calls, their email messages, their friends and contacts, how they spend their days and where they spend their nights. The public learned in great detail how the agency has exceeded its mandate and abused its authority, prompting outrage at kitchen tables and at the desks of Congress, which may finally begin to limit these practices.
The revelations have already prompted two federal judges to accuse the N.S.A. of violating the Constitution (although a third, unfortunately, found the dragnet surveillance to be legal). A panel appointed by President Obama issued a powerful indictment of the agency’s invasions of privacy and called for a major overhaul of its operations.
All of this is entirely because of information provided to journalists by Edward Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who stole a trove of highly classified documents after he became disillusioned with the agency’s voraciousness. Mr. Snowden is now living in Russia, on the run from American charges of espionage and theft, and he faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life looking over his shoulder.
Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.
Mr. Snowden is currently charged in a criminal complaint with two violations of the Espionage Act involving unauthorized communication of classified information, and a charge of theft of government property. Those three charges carry prison sentences of 10 years each, and when the case is presented to a grand jury for indictment, the government is virtually certain to add more charges, probably adding up to a life sentence that Mr. Snowden is understandably trying to avoid.
The president said in August that Mr. Snowden should come home to face those charges in court and suggested that if Mr. Snowden had wanted to avoid criminal charges he could have simply told his superiors about the abuses, acting, in other words, as a whistle-blower.
“If the concern was that somehow this was the only way to get this information out to the public, I signed an executive order well before Mr. Snowden leaked this information that provided whistle-blower protection to the intelligence community for the first time,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference. “So there were other avenues available for somebody whose conscience was stirred and thought that they needed to question government actions.”
In fact, that executive order did not apply to contractors, only to intelligence employees, rendering its protections useless to Mr. Snowden. More important, Mr. Snowden told The Washington Post earlier this month that he did report his misgivings to two superiors at the agency, showing them the volume of data collected by the N.S.A., and that they took no action. (The N.S.A. says there is no evidence of this.) That’s almost certainly because the agency and its leaders don’t consider these collection programs to be an abuse and would never have acted on Mr. Snowden’s concerns.
In retrospect, Mr. Snowden was clearly justified in believing that the only way to blow the whistle on this kind of intelligence-gathering was to expose it to the public and let the resulting furor do the work his superiors would not. Beyond the mass collection of phone and Internet data, consider just a few of the violations he revealed or the legal actions he provoked:
■ The N.S.A. broke federal privacy laws, or exceeded its authority, thousands of times per year, according to the agency’s own internal auditor.
■ The agency broke into the communications links of major data centers around the world, allowing it to spy on hundreds of millions of user accounts and infuriating the Internet companies that own the centers. Many of those companies are now scrambling to install systems that the N.S.A. cannot yet penetrate.
■ The N.S.A. systematically undermined the basic encryption systems of the Internet, making it impossible to know if sensitive banking or medical data is truly private, damaging businesses that depended on this trust.
■ His leaks revealed that James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, lied to Congress when testifying in March that the N.S.A. was not collecting data on millions of Americans. (There has been no discussion of punishment for that lie.)
■ The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rebuked the N.S.A. for repeatedly providing misleading information about its surveillance practices, according to a ruling made public because of the Snowden documents. One of the practices violated the Constitution, according to the chief judge of the court.
■ A federal district judge ruled earlier this month that the phone-records-collection program probably violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. He called the program “almost Orwellian” and said there was no evidence that it stopped any imminent act of terror.
The shrill brigade of his critics say Mr. Snowden has done profound damage to intelligence operations of the United States, but none has presented the slightest proof that his disclosures really hurt the nation’s security. Many of the mass-collection programs Mr. Snowden exposed would work just as well if they were reduced in scope and brought under strict outside oversight, as the presidential panel recommended.
When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government. That’s why Rick Ledgett, who leads the N.S.A.’s task force on the Snowden leaks, recently told CBS News that he would consider amnesty if Mr. Snowden would stop any additional leaks. And it’s why President Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden’s vilification and give him an incentive to return home.
Philip Weiss writes: The lobby is doing its utmost to sandbag the breakthrough agreement between the U.S. and Iran. The Congress is now readying yet more sanctions bills; the Forward says Democrats are backing the legislation or doing nothing to oppose it because “These are the men and the women, after all, who are on a first-name basis with most of the board of AIPAC.” MJ Rosenberg says the Israel lobby is the reason Sens. Tim Kaine, Sherrod Brown and — conspicuously — progressive Elizabeth Warren have been silent on the diplomatic breakthrough.
One reason that supposed liberals can get away with this is that the New York Times and the Washington Post give them no heat. In reporting on the sanctions effort, our leading papers leave out the lobby’s role, allowing the nightflower to remain a nightflower. [Continue reading...]
In an editorial, the Washington Times says: The New York Times intends to take its case against the Obama administration to the Supreme Court. In July, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with administration lawyers in ruling that New York Times reporter James Risen must reveal the confidential sources he used for a series of articles and a 2006 book, “State of War,” about the CIA’s bungled efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program. On Tuesday, the 4th Circuit refused to change its mind, leaving the Supreme Court with the final say in the matter.
Mr. Risen’s investigative work has assumed new significance now that we’ve learned the breathtaking scope of the National Security Agency collection of telephone calls, emails and GPS location data. Mr. Risen won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for exposing the existence of a domestic wiretapping program. This was a thin slice of the larger program, but it was a hotly guarded secret at the time. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. personally authorized government agents to go after Mr. Risen in court, which gives his instructions every appearance of payback.
The federal government should never be allowed to engage in vendettas against the press, and this is not special pleading for newspapers. Exposing embarrassing foreign-policy failures and the existence of constitutionally questionable domestic surveillance enterprises is precisely the job of reporters in a free society. The Founding Fathers understood this, which is why the language of the First Amendment plainly says that Congress can’t do anything to abridge the freedom of the press. James Madison explained further that “the liberty of conscience and of the press cannot be canceled, abridged, restrained or modified by any authority of the United States.” Abridging press freedom is abridging the speech of everyone. [Continue reading...]
Margaret Sullivan, public editor for the New York Times, writes: Eric Schmitt remembers being surprised when, as a member of a Times newsroom committee on reporting practices, he was given information about what bothered readers of The Times most. It wasn’t political bias, or factual errors, or delivery problems.
“The No. 1 complaint, far and away, was anonymous sources,” Mr. Schmitt, a longtime and well-respected national security reporter in the Washington bureau, told me last week. “It goes to the heart of our credibility.”
The committee’s 2004 report followed two damaging episodes at The Times: the flawed reporting in the run-up to the Iraq war and the dishonesty of the rogue reporter Jayson Blair. That report reminded journalists to use anonymous sources sparingly. The current stylebook puts it this way: “Anonymity is a last resort.”
Mr. Schmitt and I talked last week because I had criticized an article that he co-wrote earlier this month, which not only relied heavily on anonymous government sources but also described them in the most general terms, including “a U.S. official.”
From that conversation, and others with Times journalists, and from the contact I have continually with readers, I see a disconnect — a major gap in understanding — between how journalists perceive the use of anonymous sources and how many readers perceive them.
For many journalists, they can be a necessity. And that necessity is increasing — especially for stories involving national security — now that the Obama administration’s crackdown on press leaks has made news sources warier of speaking on the record. (Leonard Downie Jr., a former executive editor of The Washington Post, has written revealingly about this for the Committee to Project Journalists.)
“It’s almost impossible to get people who know anything to talk,” Bill Hamilton, who edits national security coverage for The Times, told me. Getting them to talk on the record is even harder. “So we’re caught in this dilemma.”
But for many readers, anonymous sources are a scourge, a detriment to the straightforward, believable journalism they demand. With a greater-than-ever desire for transparency in journalism, readers see this practice as “stenography” — the kind of unquestioning reporting that takes at face value what government officials say.
Whether journalism appears like stenography does not hinge on over-reliance on anonymous sources. It can just as easily come in the form of an on-the-record interview such as one with director of the NSA, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, published yesterday.
Reporters David E Sanger and Thom Shanker wrote: “He has given a number of speeches in recent weeks to counter a highly negative portrayal of the N.S.A.’s work, but the 90-minute interview was his most extensive personal statement on the issue to date.”
Given the paltry amount of information their report contains, one has to ask: what were they talking about for 90 minutes?
If journalists want to demonstrate that they are not operating like stenographers, then they need to start reporting on the process of reporting.
“The director of the National Security Agency, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, said in an interview that to prevent terrorist attacks he saw no effective alternative to the N.S.A.’s bulk collection of telephone and other electronic metadata from Americans.”
Did Sanger or Shanker challenge that assertion? Did they point out that by the NSA’s own admission there has only been one conviction that was based on the use of this data?
If during the course of a 90 minute interview, Alexander made few substantive statements, was it because he wasn’t being asked any tough questions or because he deflected or refused to answer such questions?
Transparency is not simply about sources revealing their identities; it’s also about journalists revealing how they work.
We get told: “General Alexander was by turns folksy and firm in the interview.” And how were the reporters? Chummy? Meek? Deferential?
In a July report on the NSA tightening its security procedures, Sanger’s primary source was Ashton B. Carter, the deputy secretary of defense. Sanger neglected to mention that Carter is “an old friend of many, many years”. Is Alexander another of Sanger’s old friends?
Margaret Sullivan: An NYT ombud who dares to challenge her paper’s cozy relationship with the government
Greg Mitchell writes: With criticism and debate over the Obama administration’s deadly drone policy at a high level, it’s easy to forget that this was not the case until very recently. What set off the uproar was NBC’s decision in early February to publish a Justice Department white paper on rules governing US drone strikes aimed at American citizens abroad. This led to an examination of the entire program by the media and some in Congress, and put John Brennan on the spot during his congressional confirmation hearings for director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Although the White House has drawn criticism, less has been said about the media’s failure to probe the drone program, and the way they knuckled under to government requests to withhold secrets. One of the few prominent critics of this journalistic “cover-up” was Margaret Sullivan, who happened to be working at the nation’s most influential media outlet, The New York Times. Her main target was… The New York Times.
Sullivan, the former editor of Warren Buffett’s Buffalo News, became the latest person appointed to the paper’s rotating post of public editor (a variety of ombudsman) last September. On October 13, she took the Times to task, charging that “its reporting has not aggressively challenged the administration’s description of those killed as ‘militants’ — itself an undefined term. And it has been criticized for giving administration officials the cover of anonymity when they suggest that critics of drones are terrorist sympathizers…. With its vast talent and resources, The Times has a responsibility to lead the way in covering this topic as aggressively and as forcefully as possible, and to keep pushing for transparency so that Americans can understand just what their government is doing.”
This earned her the praise of others who have criticized previous public editors at the Times for their soft critiques of the paper. “On drones and the Times’s withdrawal from the ‘informal arrangement’ not to disclose the Saudi Arabia base, she was right,” Erik Wemple, a Washington Post media critic, told me. “Right and quick, too. I was pursuing interviews with the paper that morning, and she beat me to the punch, scoring a bunch of insightful material from [managing editor] Dean Baquet.”
When I recently asked Sullivan for an update on her current concerns, she replied, “This is a subject that is very important to me, and I’m sure I will keep paying close attention to it. I did see after I wrote about it in October that there was a slightly different and more precise use of the language in stories, and I was heartened by that. The key is not just the language but the whole question of secrecy around the program and how the newspaper interacts with the government.”
But the drone column and later posts on this subject were hardly exceptions to Sullivan’s crisp reviewing. Among other issues she has raised that drew wide coverage and might even have sparked changes: the policy of the Times, and many other outlets, of granting quote approval to their sources; the perils of “false equivalency” in covering hot-button issues; social media posts by Jodi Rudoren, the newspaper’s Jerusalem bureau chief, that appeared to reveal bias against Palestinians in Gaza; the paper’s failure to send a reporter to cover Pfc. Bradley Manning’s first day of testimony at his trial for passing documents to WikiLeaks; the paper’s decision in early March to shut down its popular “Green” blog on environmental issues; and many more. [Continue reading...]
Philip B. Corbett, who is in charge of The New York Times’s style manual and has the dubious title of associate managing editor for standards, is responsible for policing sentences like the following, which appeared in a February 8 article:
It turned out the activity was centered around a high school in Orange County.
center(v.). Do not write center around because the verb means gather at a point. Logic calls for center on, center in or revolve around.
Stan Carey, a linguist who unlike Corbett does not have his head stuck in the wrong place, points out the center around is an idiom and language isn’t geometry or logic. Corbett probably missed that tweet, or “twitter message,” as the Times insists on calling such pithy statements.
Meanwhile, I came across another lapse in the newspaper — one so commonplace among Americans that even the man in charge of “standards” at the Times probably sees no reason to correct it: the use of England and Britain as synonyms.
In “England Develops a Voracious Appetite for a New Diet,” Jennifer Conlin happily exchanges England and Britain, home of the British, in a way that those of us who hail from those parts and now live this side of the pond, know as all too familiar.
Explaining to an American that England and Britain are not the same, can end up feeling like providing an unsolicited tutorial in quantum physics. It’s an issue that probably lies far outside of the scope of the New York Times style guide.
But for what it’s worth — and that probably isn’t much — I put together a nifty graphic for those readers who have an interest and would not be at risk of mistaking the British Isles for a Rorschach blot.
And to round off the picture with a few small caveats: Britain, the UK, and United Kingdom are synonyms for the sovereign state that belongs to the European Union. Its citizens are British, though Catholics in Northern Ireland generally identify themselves as Irish. There are British who identify themselves as either English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish or none of the above. And some of the above don’t identify themselves as British.
Is that all clear? I can’t for the life of me understand why Americans find this confusing!
(Just in case anyone suspects that my omission of the labeling of the Republic of Ireland from this graphic represents some kind of British prejudice — far from it. I wouldn’t want to insult the Irish by including them in a parsing of the meaning of British.)
When heroes die, the institutions they represent sometimes feel driven to turn an avoidable tragedy into a final act of heroism. That’s what happened to Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. Did the New York Times journalist, Anthony Shadid, suffer the same fate?
Shortly after his death in Syria, the Times’ executive editor, Jill Abramson sent an email to the paper’s newsroom saying:
Anthony died as he lived — determined to bear witness to the transformation sweeping the Middle East and to testify to the suffering of people caught between government oppression and opposition forces.
The circumstances of Shadid’s death are now being questioned by his cousin, Ed Shadid, a physician in Oklahoma City.
In a speech delivered to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s convention on Saturday, Ed said that in his final phone conversation with his wife, Nada Bakri, Anthony said: “if anything happens to me I want the world to know the New York Times killed me.”
Ed said that in spite of being recently advised that it was unsafe for Anthony and his companion to enter Syria, he was nevertheless sent on the assignment.
According to Ed, a Times security consultant reviewed a plan to infiltrate Anthony and his photographer Tyler Hicks across the border between Turkey and Syria in December 2011, but rejected it as too dangerous. “There was a security advisor who said, in no uncertain terms, ‘You are forbidden to enter Syria,’” Ed says. “So Anthony wrote an email to Tyler Hicks and says, ‘Hey man, it’s off. We’re not allowed to go.’” But roughly six weeks later, Ed says, Anthony’s editors reversed course and asked him to go anyway.
“The situation was worse on the ground than it had been in December,” Ed says. “The only thing that had changed was that CNN had gained access to [the rebel stronghold] Idlid. My understanding is that CNN gaining access bothered his editors.”
Anthony further expressed his concern about the challenges involved in getting into Syria but didn’t get support from his editors.
He asked for camping equipment to bring along on the journey through the mountainous border, Ed says, but his editors said no. When the 43-year-old reporter complained about the physical demands of the journey, Ed says, Times foreign editor Joseph Kahn responded, “It sounds like you’re going to get a lot of exercise on this assignment.”
Was what Kahn described as a lot of exercise, enough physical stress to give Shadid a heart attack?
The New York Times claims that Shadid died from an asthma attack but his cousin now asks why the autopsy results — which should have revealed elevated antibody and allergen levels — have never been released.
The emphasis on asthma comes from Hicks, who wrote that Anthony sustained increasingly severe allergic reactions to the horses they travelled with. But according to Ed, Anthony took his young daughter to horseriding lessons once a week without any adverse reactions. “They put out a story that Anthony Shadid died from asthma — according to who? Dr. Tyler Hicks?” Ed says Hicks’ account of Anthony’s final moments — he “stopped and leaned against a large boulder [and] collapsed onto the ground…already unconscious and [not] breathing” — is much more consistent with a heart attack than an asthma attack. He also says an autopsy was performed on Anthony’s body in Turkey, and wonders why he hasn’t seen the results. “We don’t have them,” he says.
New York Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy told Politico:
With respect, we disagree with Ed Shadid’s version of the facts. The Times does not pressure reporters to go into combat zones. Anthony was an experienced, motivated correspondent. He decided whether, how and when to enter Syria, and was told by his editors, including on the day of the trip, that he should not make the trip if he felt it was not advisable for any reason.
When asked repeatedly by Gawker whether a security consultant had rejected the Syria trip in December, Murphy declined to comment. Kahn didn’t return a phone call.
The New York Times has yet to cover this story on its own pages or offer an explanation about why Shadid’s autopsy results have never been shown to his family.
Politico reports: Anthony Shadid, the Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times reporter who died in Syria this year, had heated arguments with his editors just prior to his final trip into the country, a cousin of Shadid’s says, and told his wife that were he to die the New York Times would be to blame.
“The phone call the night before he left [Turkey for Syria], there was screaming and slamming on the phone in discussions with editors,” Ed Shadid, a cousin to the late reporter, said last night at the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee’s convention in Washington, D.C.
“It was at this time that he called his wife and gave his last haunting directive that if anything happens to me I want the world to know the New York Times killed me,” Ed Shadid said. [Continue reading...]
John Hanrahan at NiemanWatchdog writes: A human rights lawyer and a group of investigative journalists who have exposed the extensive civilian casualties from CIA drone strikes in Pakistan are being smeared by anonymous U.S. government officials, who have even accused them of being sympathetic to al Qaeda.
Two of the anonymous accusations came in articles in The New York Times, despite the paper’s own rules against personal attacks by unnamed sources.
Pakistani human rights attorney Shahzad Akbar and the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) say the campaign is intended to deter mainstream news organizations from reporting that the White House is lying about how many innocent people are being killed by the drone strikes. [Continue reading...]
Thomas Friedman, all-American pundit: A review of Belen Fernandez, The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work
By John Robertson, Professor of History, Central Michigan University
With the publication of Belen Fernandez’s The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, Verso Press inaugurated a new series, called Counterblasts, with the intention of reviving a tradition of polemic that it traces back to the fiery political pamphleteers of the 17th century. Obviously, then, Ms. Fernandez was not supposed to produce an impartial, dispassionate analysis of the collected works of the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning chief foreign affairs correspondent. Rather, she has come up with something that the American public in general (and students of US foreign affairs and public diplomacy especially) undoubtedly need more: a systematic, detailed take-down of the neo-liberal bias, myopic US-Israeli chauvinism, and general intellectual shallowness that almost scream to be noticed in Friedman’s writing. Yet, lamentably, Friedman has been enshrined as a sort of American “Everyman’s” go-to guy for understanding what’s happening in the world, what needs fixing, and how “we” can and should do it.
Fernandez’s take-down is based on an almost exhaustive winnowing of Friedman’s NY Times columns as well as his several best-selling books (starting with his 1989 From Beirut to Jerusalem). She structures her presentation within three principal yet frequently overlapping categories of Friedman’s supposed expertise: America, the Arab/Muslim World, and the Special Relationship (i.e., the US-Israel relationship). Throughout, she bolsters her arguments with detail so profuse and tightly packed that a brief review such as this can hardly do it justice. But from that skein of specifics Fernandez is able to draw out specific tropes, methods, and assumptions that are woven throughout Friedman’s work:
- “USA! USA!” : The United States is almost always (and, in Friedman’s view, most obviously) the right model for the rest of the world, and “we” have the right and obligation to fix the world – the Middle East, in particular – whenever and wherever we choose. Just as obviously the right model is Neoliberal free-market capitalism and globalization; just ask the countless factory owners and local elites who tend to be Friedman’s go-to people for sourcing his analyses.
- “They” can “Suck.On.This”: Especially when it comes to the Middle East, Friedman’s prescriptions (all too often posited as what “we should do”) frequently combine the aforementioned assumption that America has the right “to do” something with the swaggering machismo that comes with knowing that “we” have the biggest and shiniest tools in the military box. Teddy Roosevelt spoke of America walking softly and carrying a big stick. Thomas Friedman, on the other hand, has been too eager for “us” to whomp someone (usually a Middle Eastern someone) with that stick, and in the aftermath trumpet “Suck on This” (as he did so infamously during an interview with Charlie Rose after the US invasion of Iraq).
- When push comes to shove, Israel good, Arabs bad. Surely, Friedman has written critically of Israeli policies at times, and he deserves credit for doing so. But over the long haul, he has maintained an almost bred-from-birth conviction in the rightness of Zionism and Israel that he seems completely unable to examine or question. Individual Israelis whom he singles out tend to be heroes, in his estimation. Unfortunately, Friedman consistently couples that with a tendency (which Fernandez is able to spotlight consistently in Friedman’s work) toward a homogenizing reductionism and essentializing of Muslims, Arabs, and “their” culture that would make Bernard Lewis or Fouad Ajami proud. Nor does Friedman’s work tend to demonstrate much breadth or real depth in his understanding of Middle Eastern history. That’s surprising – and disappointing – in the work of someone who undertook Middle East studies at both Brandeis and Oxford. It’s also why the vast majority of mainstream scholars of modern Middle Eastern history cite his work only as a target for criticism.
- Collateral damage. Friedman’s work all too often reflects his seeming refusal to recognize – or inability to empathize with – the suffering and human toll taken by US and Israeli military action. In Friedman’s world view, death and destruction (unless it happens to Americans or Israelis) is all collateral damage for the greater good. This stands in stark contrast to the work of other journalists (such as Gideon Levy, Amira Hass, Robert Fisk, and Nir Rosen, all of whom Fernandez recognizes) whose work reflects not only their long experience “on the ground” in the Middle East, but also their much greater capacity to bring basic humanity to bear in their commentary and analyses.
Ironically, among the foremost in this regard was Friedman’s late colleague at the New York Times, Anthony Shadid. (One wonders if they had much contact with each other; it surely doesn’t show in Friedman’s work.) Shadid possessed a remarkable ability to connect with people on the ground, and seemingly in their souls, and then to share those encounters in lyrical, moving prose. Fernandez’s prose, though surely not as lyrical as Shadid’s, is in its own way very moving. It is more precise and intense – and often searingly sarcastic. It is also suffused with impassioned conviction that sometimes bleeds into anger and even ad hominem put-downs that, one might argue, detract from the incisiveness of her analysis.
Nonetheless, what Belen Fernandez makes plain as she scalpels into Friedman’s opus is that his position atop the pyramid of the American foreign-affairs commentariate rests more on attitude than on intellect. Moreover – and much more troubling – it is symptomatic of biases that widely infect the American mainstream media’s coverage of the US’s actions, policies, and attitudes toward the rest of the world in general, and the Middle East in particular.
Fernandez’s book deserves to be read widely and discussed in depth. After doing so, one may be much less prepared to say the same for the work of Thomas Friedman.
“I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.”
Brisbane (who, as public editor, speaks only for himself, not the Times) referred to two recent stories: the claim that Clarence Thomas had “misunderstood” a financial reporting form when he left out key information, and Mitt Romney’s assertion that President Obama gives speeches “apologising” for America. Brisbane asked whether news reporters should have the freedom to investigate and respond to those comments.
The reaction from readers was swift, voluminous, negative and incredulous.
“Is this a joke? THIS IS YOUR JOB.”
“If the purpose of the NYT is to be an inoffensive container for ad copy, then by all means continue to do nothing more than paraphrase those press releases.”
“I hope you can help me, Mr Brisbane, because I’m an editor, currently unemployed: is fecklessness now a job requirement?”
Brisbane had clearly not been expecting this excoriating and one-sided a reaction. Brisbane has since tried to clarify his views twice. The first was on the media blog JimRomenesko.com:
“What I was trying to ask was whether reporters should always rebut dubious facts in the body of the stories they are writing. I was hoping for diverse and even nuanced responses to what I think is a difficult question.”
The second was on the NY Times site:
“My inquiry related to whether the Times, in the text of news columns, should more aggressively rebut ‘facts’ that are offered by newsmakers when those ‘facts’ are in question. I consider this a difficult question, not an obvious one.”
This only added fuel to the fire.
Now, it’s worth noting that Brisbane’s question makes perfect sense, considered from the newsroom’s perspective. Romney’s claim that Obama makes speeches “apologising” for America isn’t readily amenable to fact-checking. Instead, Romney relied on what are sometimes called “weasel words”, in which an allegation is alluded to, without being made head-on. (Romney, for instance, never quotes any of the president’s speeches when making this assertion.) For Brisbane, the open question was whether a hard news reporter should be calling out those kinds of statements, or should simply quote the source accurately.
This is what was so extraordinary about his original question: he is evidently so steeped in newsroom culture that he does not understand – literally, does not understand, as we know from his subsequent clarifications – that this is not a hard question at all, considered from the readers’ perspective. Readers do not care about the epistemological differences between lies and weasel words; we want newspapers to limit the ability of politicians to make dubious assertions without penalty. Judging from the reactions to his post, most of us never understood that this wasn’t the newspapers’ self-conceived mission in the first place.
Robert Scheer writes: It is official now. The Ron Paul campaign, despite surging in the Iowa polls, is not worthy of serious consideration, according to a New York Times editorial; “Ron Paul long ago disqualified himself for the presidency by peddling claptrap proposals like abolishing the Federal Reserve, returning to the gold standard, cutting a third of the federal budget and all foreign aid and opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
That last item, along with the decade-old racist comments in the newsletters Paul published, is certainly worthy of criticism. But not as an alternative to seriously engaging the substance of Paul’s current campaign—his devastating critique of crony capitalism and his equally trenchant challenge to imperial wars and the assault on our civil liberties that they engender.
Paul is being denigrated as a presidential contender even though on the vital issues of the economy, war and peace, and civil liberties, he has made the most sense of the Republican candidates. And by what standard of logic is it “claptrap” for Paul to attempt to hold the Fed accountable for its destructive policies? That’s the giveaway reference to the raw nerve that his favorable prospects in the Iowa caucuses have exposed. Too much anti-Wall Street populism in the heartland can be a truly scary thing to the intellectual parasites residing in the belly of the beast that controls American capitalism.
It is hypocritical that Paul is now depicted as the archenemy of non-white minorities when it was his nemesis, the Federal Reserve, that enabled the banking swindle that wiped out 53 percent of the median wealth of African-Americans and 66 percent for Latinos, according to the Pew Research Center.
Why does the newspaper of the Establishment feel the need to knock down the Paul campaign?
Up until recently, the mainstream media treated Paul as the invisible candidate — a man supposedly so marginal that “serious” pundits could ignore him. But his growing popularity means he can no longer be dismissed and thus the Times editorial writers feel driven to try and swat this persistent irritant.
Even so, given that the Times will undoubtedly endorse Obama and given that the odds are at this point stacked quite heavily in the incumbent’s favor, why the need to attack Paul?
Because the New York Times thinks it is entitled not only to endorse its favored presidential candidate but also choose his opponent and that most likely would be Mitt Romney.
In a contest between Obama and Romney, the president can cast his opponent as the representative of Wall Street and present himself as a man of the people. And the newspaper that represents the status quo can disingenuously pose as an agent of change.
Paul has the power to upset that scenario and turn this into an election about issues instead of the usual beauty contest. The candidate who we are repeatedly told can’t be taken seriously threatens those whose vested interests are served by the trivialization of the electoral process.
This isn’t an endorsement for Ron Paul — simply a statement of what should be obvious: he has a positive role to play in 2012.
In their New York Times hatchet job on Ron Paul we are told that “white supremacists, survivalists and anti-Zionists who have rallied behind his candidacy have not exactly been warmly welcomed.”
White supremacists, survivalists and anti-Zionists? In the minds of these reporters, anyone who promotes the idea that Israel should become a state of all its citizens — Jews, Arabs and others — apparently looks like a political bedfellow of the likes of Stormfront or the Militia of Montana.The article reports on the appeal that Ron Paul has among some white supremacists and survivalists and yet says nothing on the anti-Zionist element. Rutenberg and Kovaleski were apparently content to merely insinuate that there is a link between criticism of Israel and racism.
The closest they come to providing evidence of such an association is the article’s opening sentence where the two books are linked.
March of the Titans: A History of the White Race is by Arthur Kemp, an advocate of white separatism and foreign affairs spokesman for the ultra-right and racist British National Party. Kemp is a Holocaust denier and was “linked to the murderer of the South African Communist party and ANC leader Chris Hani in 1993,” The Guardian reported in 2009.
The Invention of the Jewish People, first published in Hebrew in Israel with the title, Matai ve’ech humtza ha’am hayehudi?, is by Shlomo Sand, Professor of History at Tel Aviv University. The book was a bestseller in Israel for several months before being translated into French and English.
Tony Judt wrote: “Shlomo Sand has written a remarkable book. In cool, scholarly prose he has, quite simply, normalized Jewish history. In place of the implausible myth of a unique nation with a special destiny – expelled, isolated, wandering and finally restored to its rightful home – he has reconstructed the history of the Jews and convincingly reintegrated that history into the general story of humankind. The self-serving and mostly imaginary Jewish past that has done so much to provoke conflict in the present is revealed, like the past of so many other nations, to be largely an invention. Anyone interested in understanding the contemporary Middle East should read this book.”
Of course Rutenberg and Kovaleski would be unlikely to attach much weight to Judt’s assessment of Sand’s book — Judt was after all one of those dubious anti-Zionists.
The irony about linking anti-Zionists with anti-Semities is that Zionism is a philosophy that has obvious appeal to anti-Semites. Encourage all the Jews to move to Israel — why would the anti-Semites object?
Indeed, the emerging political convergence on the extreme right has been between anti-Semites and Zionists and that’s an unholy alliance that probably finds Ron Paul the least appealing among the GOP presidential hopefuls.