The ‘ISIS cyberwar’ hype machine is doing more harm than good

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai writes: Last week, hackers claiming to be affiliated with the extremist group known as the Islamic State released an Anonymous-style video making vague threats of “electronic war” against Europe and the US.

There is no proof or evidence that the video actually comes from the group, nor there is any evidence the group, also known as ISIS, has any ability to do anything damaging online other than taking over Twitter feeds or random media sites with their “cyberattacks.”

Yet, that didn’t stop a new round of breathless hype. On Sunday, The Hill wrote that ISIS was preparing for “cyberwar” and an “all-out cyber crusade.”

Looks like ISIS wannabes successfully hacked the media once again. [Continue reading…]

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Seymour Hersh dodges questions about why his articles no longer appear in the New Yorker

Seymour Hersh’s blockbuster articles used to appear in the New Yorker. Indeed, by his own account he was once apparently the star writer contributing to the magazine. “There was a point with the New Yorker where I thought they should rename the fucking magazine the Seymour Hersh Weekly,” Hersh told Isaac Chotiner in an interview for Slate.

Why the New Yorker no longer publishes Hersh’s major articles is a question for which Hersh offers no clear answer.

“I am the one that decided to publish it wherever the hell I please,” he says, implying that his latest report on the killing of Osama bin Laden had not been declined by anyone.

Dylan Byers reports, however:

Sources with knowledge of the matter said Monday that Hersh began pitching the magazine on the story years ago and that The New Yorker declined it on the grounds that it didn’t hold up to scrutiny. The New Yorker similarly declined Hersh’s 2013 article, also published in the London Review of Books, alleging that the Obama administration “cherry-picked intelligence” from the chemical attack in Syria in order to make the case for attacking President Bashar Assad.

Hersh would like people to believe that he’s the victim of some kind of conspiracy — that his work is too hot to handle for any American publisher and thus he has to turn to more courageous publications such as the London Review of Books.

But when pressed on the issue, it becomes clear that just as much as he wants to posture as an outspoken maverick, he nevertheless seems to have difficulty giving straight answers to straight questions:

Chotiner: If people here are turning down stories because of certain politics — you yourself said it was easier in Europe — that is a story that should be written.

Hersh: Now you said the first intelligent thing you have said. If you had asked whether he [David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker] didn’t run this because he is in love with Obama and all that stuff that people think, no … It is a very good question. Although we have huge disagreements. My children and I have huge disagreements. I have a huge disagreement with my dog. We have a lot of disagreements and there are times when he will call me and I will not answer the call. Oh fuck hold on. He always has said to me he welcomes any information and it was I who said fuck it.

Chotiner: OK but you have talked about the New Yorker’s Americana and said my question was a good one, so is there something to it?

Hersh: I think it is a great question.

Chotiner: So what do you think of it?

Hersh: I just told you what I think. In the case of the Bin Laden story, he is open for anything. It was I who made the decision.

Chotiner: I feel like you are telling me two different things. One is that you get less pressure in Europe, and the other is that this story would have been fine at the New Yorker.

Hersh: So fine, I am glad you are confused. Write whichever one makes you happy.

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What to keep secret in a secret war

Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor for the New York Times, writes: If you were reading the two sentences by themselves, you might be surprised they appeared in the same newspaper.

One suggested a news organization that is tough-minded, calling its own shots about acceding to government requests for secrecy. It appeared in an article about whether the C.I.A.’s drone-strike program is properly monitored by Congress. The story named the program’s architect, Michael D’Andrea.

“The C.I.A. asked that Mr. D’Andrea’s name and the names of some other top agency officials be withheld from this article,” it said, “but The New York Times is publishing them because they have leadership roles in one of the government’s most significant paramilitary programs and their roles are known to foreign governments and many others.”

The other sentence suggested, by contrast, a news organization that provides anonymous cover for government officials touting the merits of their underexamined war. It appeared in an article on the effectiveness of the drone program, based partly on interviews with American officials. One of them was quoted anonymously: “‘Core Al Qaeda is a rump of its former self,’ said an American counterterrorism official, in an assessment echoed by several European and Pakistani officials.”

As The Times covered the recent unintended deaths of two Western hostages in a drone strike, a split personality was on view.

In many ways, the coverage has been remarkable for straightforward truth-telling.

A front-page news analysis by Scott Shane, for example, included this memorable paragraph, not in a quote but in the author’s own voice: “Every independent investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit. Gradually, it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess.” (Mr. Shane’s knowledge comes in part from his book, due for September publication, on the 2011 drone strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born imam.)

But in other ways, drone coverage is still lacking in skepticism about government claims on classified killings — something I criticized in 2012. [Continue reading…]

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How Western media would cover Baltimore if it happened elsewhere

Karen Attiah writes: If what is happening in Baltimore happened in a foreign country, here is how Western media would cover it:

International leaders expressed concern over the rising tide of racism and state violence in America, especially concerning the treatment of ethnic minorities in the country and the corruption in state security forces around the country when handling cases of police brutality. The latest crisis is taking place in Baltimore, Maryland, a once-bustling city on the country’s Eastern Seaboard, where an unarmed man named Freddie Gray died from a severed spine while in police custody.

Black Americans, a minority ethnic group, are killed by state security forces at a rate higher than the white majority population. Young, black American males are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than white American males.

The United Kingdom expressed concern over the troubling turn of events in America in the last several months. The country’s foreign ministry released a statement: “We call on the American regime to rein in the state security agents who have been brutalizing members of America’s ethnic minority groups. The equal application of the rule of law, as well as the respect for human rights of all citizens, black or white, is essential for a healthy democracy.” Britain has always maintained a keen interest in America, a former colony. [Continue reading…]

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How the media became one of Putin’s most powerful weapons

Jill Dougherty writes: From his first days as president, Putin moved quickly to dominate the media landscape in Russia, putting not only state media but privately owned broadcast media under the Kremlin’s influence.

“The limitations on the media have existed for the 15 years that Vladimir Vladimirovich has been in power,” Alexey Venediktov, editor in chief of Echo of Moscow, Russia’s only remaining independent radio station, told me during a December visit to the Russian capital. The war in Ukraine, he added, has solidified Putin’s view of the media: “It’s not an institution of civil society, it’s propaganda. [The Russian broadcasters] First Channel, Second Channel, NTV, Russia Today internationally — these are all instruments for reaching a goal inside the country, and abroad.”

Early in his presidency, Venediktov said, Putin told him how he thinks the press works: “Here’s an owner, they have their own politics, and for them it’s an instrument. The government also is an owner and the media that belong to the government must carry out our instructions. And media that belong to private businessmen, they follow their orders. Look at [Rupert] Murdoch. Whatever he says, will be.”

Putin pursues a two-pronged media strategy. At home, his government clamps down on internal communications—primarily TV, which is watched by at least 90 percent of the population, but also newspapers, radio stations, and, increasingly, the Internet. State-aligned news outlets are flooded with the Kremlin’s messages and independent outlets are pushed — subtly but decisively — just to the edge of insignificance and extinction. At the same time, Putin positions himself as a renegade abroad, deploying the hyper-modern, reflexively contrarian RT — an international news agency formerly known as Russia Today — to shatter the West’s monopoly on “truth.” The Kremlin appears to be betting that information is the premier weapon of the 21st century, and that it can wield that weapon more effectively than its rivals.

When Western news outlets report on a “takeover” of the press by the Russian government, it usually evokes images of Putin, a puppet master behind Kremlin walls, ordering armed men to break down doors and haul away journalists. But in Russia, there are other ways to control the media — less dramatic, less obvious, but just as potent [Continue reading…]

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Yemen: The rise of the Houthis

The Rise of the Houthis was filmed in late 2014 and aired on the BBC last month.

Safa Al Ahmad, the freelance Saudi journalist who made this documentary, talks about her work in the short video below. On March 18, she won the 2015 Freedom of Expression Award for journalism, from the Index on Censorship.

Her 30-minute documentary, Saudi’s Secret Uprising, was broadcast by the BBC in May 2014:

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Russian propaganda exploits Western weakness

Andrew Kornbluth writes: It is becoming clear that certain authoritarian models of government are capable of matching and, in some respects, even exceeding the accomplishments of their democratic counterparts. Whether Russia, with its dependence on energy exports and otherwise undiversified economy, should be counted among them is debatable, but there is one area in which the Russian state has so far demonstrated a clear mastery over its Western opponents: its propaganda or, to use the public relations term, its messaging.

But impressive as the information component of Russia’s current “hybrid war” over Ukraine has been, its success arguably owes less to its ingenuity than to ingrained flaws in Western democratic culture for which there is no simple solution.

The effectiveness of Russia’s spin is difficult to deny; in addition to the almost 90 percent of Russians who support their president and, albeit passively, his expansionist campaign, a large part of the Western public, especially in Europe, remains convinced that Russia bears little or no responsibility for the war in Ukraine.

Ironically, Russian messaging has worked by exploiting vulnerabilities in precisely those mechanisms of self-criticism and skepticism which are considered so essential to the functioning of a democratic society. The modern Western culture of self-doubt has proved particularly susceptible to manipulation in a 21st-century confrontation that strongly recalls its Cold War origins.

Four assumptions popular in contemporary Western democratic discourse have been co-opted by Russian messaging in the present crisis. The first is that all sides in a conflict are equally guilty. Never far beneath the surface, Europe’s suspicion of the leader of the Western alliance, the United States, has been reinvigorated by successive scandals over the war in Iraq, torture and eavesdropping. Everyone has committed crimes — so the thinking goes — so how can the West possibly reproach Russia?

Likewise, in this confused moral landscape, the “illegality” of the Ukrainian revolution is blithely juxtaposed with the illegality of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, while the enormous differences in nature, scale and motive between the subjects under comparison go unmentioned.

The second assumption is that there are “two sides to every story.” The desire to consult multiple sources and the unwillingness to accept just one narrative are part of a healthy critical outlook, but the system breaks down when one side is a fabrication. There is no middle ground, for example, between the claim that the Russian army is fighting in Ukraine and the claim that it is not. [Continue reading…]

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Remembering Bob Simon

The following segment was broadcast on 60 Minutes in 2012:

Bob Simon died in a car crash in New York City on Wednesday evening.

Daoud Kuttab writes: “At the time that his colleagues were enjoying the Tel Aviv sun and beach, Bob was ploughing the streets of Gaza and the villages of the West Bank looking for that unique voice, that special interview, which he could beautifully embroider into his news masterpieces.”

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Remembering David Carr — in conversation with Poitras, Greenwald, and Snowden

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The international media is failing to report the Syrian war properly

By Scott Lucas, University of Birmingham

February 2015 has already seen some major developments in Syria’s four-year conflict. At the start of February, rebels launched more than 100 rockets into Damascus and the Assad regime fired mortars on areas of its own capital, hoping to discredit the insurgents. At least six people were killed in the attacks.

Then came almost 50 regime air strikes on opposition-held areas near Damascus, which killed at least 82 people. Another 25 were killed in Aleppo when a barrel bomb hit a bus on a roundabout.

Meanwhile, rebels also claimed to have blown up 30 men fighting for the Assad regime – Hezbollah troops, Iranians, and Iraqis among them – at a militia headquarters west of Damascus.

All this while US-led coalition air strikes were carried out in eastern Syria against the Islamic State (IS), with Jordan in particular vowing to “wipe them from the face of the Earth” after the group murdered a captured pilot.

Take a look at the world’s media coverage, though, and you might be forgiven for thinking things were rather more quiet.

[Read more…]

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What the CIA didn’t want Americans to know

Politico reports: For a year, Newsweek held a story on the assassination of top Hezbollah operative Imad Mughniyeh at the CIA’s request, the magazine confirmed Friday — only to be scooped by The Washington Post last week.

The CIA made a forceful case for holding the story in conversations and a meeting at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va., and Newsweek honored that request, according to Editor-in-Chief Jim Impoco.

“In the geopolitical context at that moment, the CIA made a very persuasive case,” Impoco said in an interview – but declined to say what arguments the CIA made at the time. The CIA also declined to comment. [Continue reading…]

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Under-reported conflicts seen affecting millions in 2015

Reuters reports: While wars in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine make headlines in the West, around 30 other conflicts receive little press coverage, and the resulting lack of pressure for change could have serious implications for millions of people, experts say.

Civil wars in Sudan’s western Darfur region and its southern states have almost disappeared from the media despite affecting huge numbers and displacing 2.4 million people in Darfur alone.

Neighbouring South Sudan is also an overlooked crisis that urgently needs attention, said Jean-Marie Guehenno, president of Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group, which is currently tracking more than 30 conflicts globally.

South Sudan ranked alongside Afghanistan and Syria last year as the three least peaceful countries in the world in an annual index compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

“The horrific violence you still see in South Sudan is because there is no pressure from public opinion,” Guehenno told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The civil war there is entering its second year, bringing the world’s newest country to the brink of bankruptcy and famine as violence has displaced at least 1.9 million of the nation’s 11 million people and killed more than 10,000. [Continue reading…]

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American Sniper illustrates the West’s morality blind spots

Gary Younge writes: Say what you like about the film American Sniper, and people have, you have to admire its clarity. It’s about killing. There is no moral arc; no anguish about whether the killing is necessary or whether those who are killed are guilty of anything. “I’m prepared to meet my maker and answer for every shot I took,” says Bradley Cooper, who plays the late Chris Kyle, a navy Seal who was reputedly the deadliest sniper in American history. There is certainly no discursive quandary about whether the Iraq war, in which the killing takes place, is either legal or justified. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the Iraqis,” wrote Kyle in his memoir, where he refers to the local people as “savages”.

The film celebrates a man who has a talent for shooting people dead when they are not looking and who, apparently, likes his job. “After the first kill, the others come easy,” writes Kyle. “I don’t have to psych myself up, or do anything special mentally. I look through the scope, get my target in the crosshairs, and kill my enemy before he kills one of my people.”

Americans are celebrating the film. It has been nominated for six Oscars and enjoyed the highest January debut ever. When Kyle kills his rival, a Syrian sniper named Mustafa, with a mile-long shot, audiences cheer. It has done particularly well with men and in southern and midwestern markets where the film industry does not expect to win big. And while its appeal is strong in the heartland it has travelled well too, providing career-best opening weekends for Clint Eastwood in the UK, Taiwan, New Zealand, Peru and Italy.

And so it is that within a few weeks of the developed world uniting to defend western culture and Enlightenment values, it produces a popular celluloid hero who is tasked not with satirising Islam, but killing Muslims. [Continue reading…]

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Charlie Hebdo founder says slain editor ‘dragged’ team to their deaths

The Telegraph reports: One of the founding members of Charlie Hebdo has accused its slain editor, Patrick Charbonnier, or Charb, of “dragging the team” to their deaths by releasing increasingly provocative cartoons, as five million copies of the “survivors’ edition” went on sale.

Henri Roussel, 80, who contributed to the first issue of the satirical weekly in 1970, wrote to the murdered editor, saying: “I really hold it against you.”

In this week’s Left-leaning magazine Nouvel Obs, Mr Roussel, who publishes under the pen name Delfeil de Ton, wrote: “I know it’s not done”, but proceeds to criticise the former “boss” of the magazine.

Calling Charb an “amazing lad”, he said he was also a stubborn “block head”.

“What made him feel the need to drag the team into overdoing it,” he said, referring to Charb’s decision to post a Mohammed character on the magazine’s front page in 2011. Soon afterwards, the magazine’s offices were burned down by unknown arsonists.

Delfeil adds: “He shouldn’t have done it, but Charb did it again a year later, in September 2012.”

The accusation sparked a furious reaction from Richard Malka, Charlie Hebdo’s lawyer for the past 22 years, who sent an angry message to Mathieu Pigasse, one of the owners of Nouvel Obs and Le Monde. [Continue reading…]

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French court banned advertisement insulting Christian faith

On March 11, 2005, BBC News reported: France’s Catholic Church has won a court injunction to ban a clothing advertisement based on Leonardo da Vinci’s Christ’s Last Supper.

The display was ruled “a gratuitous and aggressive act of intrusion on people’s innermost beliefs”, by a judge.

The church objected to the female version of the fresco, which includes a female Christ, used by clothing designers Marithe et Francois Girbaud.

The authorities in the Italian city of Milan banned the poster last month.

The French judge in the case ordered that all posters on display should be taken down within three days.

The association which represented the church was also awarded costs.

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Jeremy Scahill slams TV ‘terrorism experts’

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Media coverage of Charlie Hebdo and the Baga massacre: a study in contrasts

By Ethan Zuckerman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Consider two tragic events that took place last week.

A small cell of Islamic terrorists attacked cartoonists at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and shoppers in a Paris supermarket, killing 17 people and sparking international outcry, solidarity and support.

The hashtag #JeSuisCharlie trended globally, and world leaders took to the streets to march in support of Parisian resilience.

In northern Nigeria, meanwhile, an army of Islamic extremists razed the village of Baga, killing as many as 2,000 people – mostly women and children who were unable to flee the attacks.

Later in the week, the same army – Boko Haram – introduced a horrific new weapon of war in the nearby city of Maiduguri. They strapped explosives to the body of a ten year old girl and sent her into the city’s main poultry market. The girl was stopped by guards and a metal detector at the market’s entrance, but the bomb detonated and killed at least 19.

There has been no global hashtag campaign or march for the victims of these most recent Boko Haram massacres.

[Read more…]

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Steven Emerson: Fox News ‘terrorism expert’ and ‘complete idiot’

Steven Emerson, who describes himself as “one of the leading authorities on Islamic extremist networks, financing and operations,” and is treated as such by Fox News had this to say after the Charlie Hebdo shootings:

Birmingham, Britain’s second largest city, completely Muslim! Naturally, this is a source of much city pride. Here’s the reaction from “Mobeen” (Gunam Khan):

(Since I’m not a brummie, I can’t make out everything this character is saying, but I get the gist of it. And since humor doesn’t often feature on this site, for those who don’t already get it, Khan is a stand-up comic.)

It wasn’t long before British Prime Minister David Cameron and others pointed out that Emerson is, in the PM’s words, “a complete idiot.”

Emerson was asked on the BBC how he reached his conclusions and how he feels about being called “a complete idiot.”

Needless to say, Emerson’s comments have generated an abundance of priceless tweets:

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