Is civil war breaking out in the Wall Street Journal over the editorial board’s coverage of Mueller?

Joe Pompeo writes: The editorial page has been doing crazy shit for a long time,” a former long-serving Wall Street Journal editor told me this week. This person was referencing the time-honored divide in most journalistic organizations between the newsroom and the opinion desk. At the Journal, that divide can be particularly fraught. While the paper has long been a leading bastion of conservative thinking, its editorial writers are known to take positions that are more extreme than many of their colleagues in the newsroom can stomach.

The friction is, in some ways, a hallmark of the institution. A decade ago, an editorial-page columnist attacked a 2006 Journal series about the practice of backdating stock-option awards that went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. The page also once defended billionaire junk-bond king Michael Milken, who got a 10-year sentence for securities fraud in 1990 based in part on exposés by Journal reporters. Nevertheless, several Journal veterans I spoke with described the current rift as among the more fractious they’ve witnessed. “It does feel like this is a different level of crazy,” the veteran editor said. [Continue reading…]

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Refusing Weinstein’s hush money, Rose McGowan calls out Hollywood

The New York Times reports: In late September, just as multiple women were days away from going on the record with reports of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct, one of his alleged assault victims, Rose McGowan, considered an offer that suggested just how desperate the Hollywood producer had become.

Ms. McGowan, who was working on a memoir called “Brave,” had spoken privately over the years about a 1997 hotel room encounter with Mr. Weinstein and hinted at it publicly. Through her lawyer, she said, someone close to Mr. Weinstein offered her hush money: $1 million, in exchange for signing a nondisclosure agreement.

In 1997, Ms. McGowan had reached a $100,000 settlement with Mr. Weinstein, but that agreement, she learned this summer, had never included a confidentiality clause. Ms. McGowan, who was most widely known for her role as a witch on the WB show “Charmed,” had recently developed a massive following as a fiery feminist on Twitter, but she was now, at 44, a multimedia artist, no longer acting, her funds depleted by health care costs for her father, who died eight years ago.

“I had all these people I’m paying telling me to take it so that I could fund my art,” Ms. McGowan said in an interview. She responded by asking for $6 million, part counteroffer, part slow torture of her former tormentor, she said. “I figured I could probably have gotten him up to three,” she said. “But I was like — ew, gross, you’re disgusting, I don’t want your money, that would make me feel disgusting.” [Continue reading…]

Ronan Farrow reports: In March, Annabella Sciorra, who received an Emmy nomination for her role in “The Sopranos,” agreed to talk with me for a story I was reporting about Harvey Weinstein. Speaking by phone, I explained that two sources had told me that she had a serious allegation regarding the producer. Sciorra, however, told me that Weinstein had never done anything inappropriate. Perhaps she just wasn’t his type, she said, with an air of what seemed to be studied nonchalance. But, two weeks ago, after The New Yorker published the story, in which thirteen women accused Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment, Sciorra called me. The truth, she said, was that she had been struggling to speak about Weinstein for more than twenty years. She was still living in fear of him, and slept with a baseball bat by her bed. Weinstein, she told me, had violently raped her in the early nineteen-nineties, and, over the next several years, sexually harassed her repeatedly.

“I was so scared. I was looking out the window of my living room, and I faced the water of the East River,” she said, recalling our initial conversation. “I really wanted to tell you. I was like, ‘This is the moment you’ve been waiting for your whole life. . . .’ ” she said. “I really, really panicked,” she added. “I was shaking. And I just wanted to get off the phone.”

All told, more than fifty women have now levelled accusations against Weinstein, in accounts published by the New York Times, The New Yorker, and other outlets. But many other victims have continued to be reluctant to talk to me about their experiences, declining interview requests or initially agreeing to talk and then wavering. As more women have come forward, the costs of doing so have certainly shifted. But many still say that they face overwhelming pressures to stay silent, ranging from the spectre of career damage to fears about the life-altering consequences of being marked as sexual-assault victims. “Now when I go to a restaurant or to an event, people are going to know that this happened to me,” Sciorra said. “They’re gonna look at me and they’re gonna know. I’m an intensely private person, and this is the most unprivate thing you can do.” [Continue reading…]

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Canning O’Reilly and other media men won’t change a thing. Here’s what would

Margaret Sullivan writes: So, now that the dam has burst on sexual misconduct at media companies, we’re good, right?

Don’t believe that for a moment.

The appalling behavior that’s been in the headlines for weeks isn’t going to stop just because some high-profile men have fallen from grace.

Yes, maybe, after this month of eye-popping revelations about influential media figures such as Bill O’Reilly, Mark Halperin and Leon Wieseltier, news organizations will do a better job of taking internal complaints seriously. For a while.

And maybe high-powered men will keep their pants zipped and their hands to themselves so that they won’t lose their positions atop the totem pole. For a time.

The revelations do matter. But something deeper — more difficult — has to happen, too.

Media companies have to address the deep-seated gender inequality that’s at the root of this mess.

“It shouldn’t be forgotten that sexual harassment is often more about abuse of power than sex,” wrote former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who with journalist Jane Mayer chronicled Anita Hill’s sexual harassment claims against Clarence Thomas during his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings in their book, “Strange Justice.”

When Abramson was top Times editor — the first woman to hold that coveted post — she promoted talented, qualified women so that half of her “masthead” was female. Good thing she moved fast; Abramson was fired after less than three years.

That kind of equity makes a difference. Having a critical mass of women decision-makers, rather than a token presence, allows ideas to bubble up and voices to be heard in new ways. This is, of course, true for racial diversity, too.

It’s rare, though — and not just in media-management ranks. [Continue reading…]

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Poll: 46 percent think media make up stories about Trump

Politico reports: Nearly half of voters, 46 percent, believe the news media fabricate news stories about President Donald Trump and his administration, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.

Just 37 percent of voters think the media do not fabricate stories, the poll shows, while the remaining 17 percent are undecided.

More than three-quarters of Republican voters, 76 percent, think the news media invent stories about Trump and his administration, compared with only 11 percent who don’t think so. Among Democrats, one-in-five think the media make up stories, but a 65 percent majority think they do not. Forty-four percent of independent voters think the media make up stories about Trump, and 31 percent think they do not.

Among the voters who strongly approve of Trump’s job performance in the poll, 85 percent believe the media fabricate stories about the president and his administration. [Continue reading…]

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How Stalin — and the foreign press corps — hid Ukraine’s famine from the world

Anne Applebaum writes: In the years 1932 and 1933, a catastrophic famine swept across the Soviet Union. It began in the chaos of collectivization, when millions of peasants were forced off their land and made to join state farms. It was then exacerbated, in the autumn of 1932, when the Soviet Politburo, the elite leadership of the Soviet Communist Party, took a series of decisions that deepened the famine in the Ukrainian countryside. Despite the shortages, the state demanded not just grain, but all available food. At the height of the crisis, organized teams of policemen and local Party activists, motivated by hunger, fear, and a decade of hateful propaganda, entered peasant households and took everything edible: potatoes, beets, squash, beans, peas, and farm animals. At the same time, a cordon was drawn around the Ukrainian republic to prevent escape. The result was a catastrophe: At least 5 million people perished of hunger all across the Soviet Union. Among them were nearly 4 million Ukrainians who died not because of neglect or crop failure, but because they had been deliberately deprived of food.

Neither the Ukrainian famine nor the broader Soviet famine were ever officially recognized by the USSR. Inside the country the famine was never mentioned. All discussion was actively repressed; statistics were altered to hide it. The terror was so overwhelming that the silence was complete. Outside the country, however, the cover-up required different, subtler tactics. These are beautifully illustrated by the parallel stories of Walter Duranty and Gareth Jones.

In the 1930s, all of the members of the Moscow press corps led a precarious existence. At the time, they needed the state’s permission to live in the USSR, and even to work. Without a signature and the official stamp of the press department, the central telegraph office would not send their dispatches abroad. To win that permission, journalists regularly bargained with foreign ministry censors over which words they could use, and they kept on good terms with Konstantin Umansky, the Soviet official responsible for the foreign press corps. William Henry Chamberlin, then the Moscow correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, wrote that the foreign reporter “works under a Sword of Damocles—the threat of expulsion from the country or of the refusal of permission to re-enter it, which of course amounts to the same thing.”

Extra rewards were available to those, like Walter Duranty, who played the game particularly well. Duranty was The New York Times correspondent in Moscow from 1922 until 1936, a role that, for a time, made him relatively rich and famous. British by birth, Duranty had no ties to the ideological left, adopting rather the position of a hard-headed and skeptical “realist,” trying to listen to both sides of the story. “It may be objected that the vivisection of living animals is a sad and dreadful thing, and it is true that the lot of kulaks and others who have opposed the Soviet experiment is not a happy one,” he wrote in 1935—the kulaks being the so-called wealthy peasants whom Stalin accused of causing the famine. But “in both cases, the suffering inflicted is done with a noble purpose.”

This position made Duranty enormously useful to the regime, which went out of its way to ensure that Duranty lived well in Moscow. He had a large flat, kept a car and a mistress, had the best access of any correspondent, and twice received coveted interviews with Stalin. But the attention he won from his reporting back in the U.S. seems to have been his primary motivation. His missives from Moscow made him one of the most influential journalists of his time. In 1932, his series of articles on the successes of collectivization and the Five Year Plan won him the Pulitzer Prize. Soon afterward, Franklin Roosevelt, then the governor of New York, invited Duranty to the governor’s mansion in Albany, where the Democratic presidential candidate peppered him with queries. “I asked all the questions this time. It was fascinating,” Roosevelt told another reporter.

As the famine worsened, Duranty, like his colleagues, would have been in no doubt about the regime’s desire to repress it. In 1933, the Foreign Ministry began requiring correspondents to submit a proposed itinerary before any journey into the provinces; all requests to visit Ukraine were refused. The censors also began to monitor dispatches. Some phrases were allowed: “acute food shortage,” “food stringency,” “food deficit,” “diseases due to malnutrition,” but nothing else. In late 1932, Soviet officials even visited Duranty at home, making him nervous.

In that atmosphere, few of them were inclined to write about the famine, although all of them knew about it. “Officially, there was no famine,” wrote Chamberlin. But “to anyone who lived in Russia in 1933 and who kept his eyes and ears open, the historicity of the famine is simply not in question.” Duranty himself discussed the famine with William Strang, a diplomat at the British embassy, in late 1932. Strang reported back drily that the New York Times correspondent had been “waking to the truth for some time,” although he had not “let the great American public into the secret.” Duranty also told Strang that he reckoned “it quite possible that as many as 10 million people may have died directly or indirectly from lack of food,” though that number never appeared in any of his reporting. Duranty’s reluctance to write about famine may have been particularly acute: The story cast doubt on his previous, positive (and prize-winning) reporting. [Continue reading…]

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Russia is showing increasing contempt for Trump

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It seems that Russian state media is starting to chip away at Trump’s burnished image.
Maxim Apryatin

By Cynthia Hooper, College of the Holy Cross

Four major Russia investigations are underway in Washington, along with at least six related federal inquiries.

Anxiety currently swirls around the Kremlin’s manipulation of popular social media platforms Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. Cybersecurity sleuths claim Russia used Pokemon Go to inflame racial tensions and accuse Twitter of deleting crucial data detailing Russian efforts to sow discord during the 2016 presidential election.

“Russia, Russia Everywhere,” read The New York Times Oct. 13 “Week in Technology” review.

But as a cultural historian, I’m interested in how Russia’s media outlets – many of which are state-controlled – are covering these same stories.

It’s no secret that for years the Kremlin has claimed Washington possesses a knee-jerk, anti-Russian bias. Moscow officials have cast recent U.S. charges that Russia has been acting to “undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order” as simply part of this same phenomenon, albeit one that has blossomed, of late, into full-fledged hysteria.

Russia’s most popular media outlets compare the investigations to those of the McCarthy era, calling them “witch hunts” focused on a “phantom menace.”

However, I’ve noticed something surprising. Amid all the emphasis of “Russophobia run wild,” Russian media coverage seems to have become more positive in regard to one issue: the Justice Department’s investigation led by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.

[Read more…]

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Put women in charge

Michelle Goldberg writes: Most women I know — and probably most women you know — have stories about sexual harassment. Mine happened in college, with a professor who was older than my father and who made me think he was genuinely interested in my writing. One day in his office, he told me he wanted to “kiss and molest” me. I muttered something about having a boyfriend and fled.

As stories like this go, I got off easy. I remember thinking at the time, “Huh, so this is sexual harassment.” I wasn’t particularly traumatized, but it was a blow to my faith in my own talents. I felt ridiculous for having believed that this man, whom I very much admired, saw me as a person with promise instead of an easy mark.

Cumulatively, incidents like this erode women’s self-confidence and make it hard for them to find mentors as their male peers do. But in my case, there was no accumulation; I never again experienced anything like it. There’s plenty of harassment in the media; in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, some women passed around an anonymous, crowd-sourced Google Doc listing men in my industry accused of sexual transgressions. I’d heard some of these stories but have somehow been immune since that office visit so many years ago. Why?

I’m sure the friendly people on the internet will say it’s because I’m undesirable, but despite the Weinstein affair, it’s not just dewy bombshells who experience harassment. Maybe I’ve simply been lucky. But I credit the fact that I worked at a succession of publications — Salon, Newsweek and The Daily Beast, The Nation, Slate — headed, for most of the time I was there, by women. (This was unusual; as of 2016, according to the American Society of News Editors, women still made up only 37.11 percent of “newsroom leaders.”) The books I’ve published have been acquired and edited by women. For most of my 20s and 30s, I never had to worry that getting ahead in my career meant staying in the good graces of a straight man.

More women should have the same privilege. [Continue reading…]

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Trump threatens NBC over nuclear weapons report

The New York Times reports: President Trump threatened on Wednesday to use the federal government’s power to license television airwaves to target NBC in response to a report by the network’s news division that he contemplated a dramatic increase in the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

In a story aired and posted online Wednesday morning, NBC reported that Mr. Trump said during a meeting last summer that he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, stunning some members of his national security team. It was after this meeting that Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson reportedly said Mr. Trump was a “moron.”

Mr. Trump objected to the report in two messages on Twitter later Wednesday and threatened to use the authority of the federal government to retaliate. [Continue reading…]

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Anti-Semitism’s rise gives The Forward new resolve

The New York Times reports: The Forward has chronicled the experiences of Jews in the United States for 120 years. Initially published as a Yiddish-language lifeline for those who fled hatred and strife in Europe, in recent years it had to work harder to stay relevant to a community now largely assimilated, finding new stories to tell about transgender rabbis, the challenges of interfaith marriage and even the “secret Jewish history of The Who.”

Then came 2016, and a sudden clarification of its mission that would be strikingly familiar to the publication’s founders: covering the rise of public displays of anti-Semitism.

“There’s something different happening now,” Jane Eisner, The Forward’s editor in chief, said in a recent interview in her office, where a photo of the publication’s founder, Abraham Cahan, peered from the wall. “And here I’m speaking not just as a journalist, but as a close observer of the American Jewish scene. I feel it’s my responsibility as a writer and editor to illuminate that for people.”

Since the summer of 2016, about a year before The Forward went from being a weekly newspaper to a monthly magazine, it has beefed up its coverage of the so-called alt-right; assigned a reporter to go to white nationalist rallies like the one in Charlottesville, Va., in August, which featured chants like “Jews will not replace us”; and pursued more investigative reporting. [Continue reading…]

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Troll-in-chief: ‘Maybe it’s the calm before the storm’

The Washington Post reports: As President Trump posed for a formal photo with his top military commanders and their spouses in the State Dining Room at the White House on Thursday evening, Trump pointed to the leaders gathered around him and asked the small group of reporters standing before him: “You guys know what this represents?”

“Tell us,” shouted out one of the reporters unexpectedly summoned to witness this photo session.

“Maybe it’s the calm before the storm,” the president replied.

Reporters asked the president what he was talking about, what storm was coming.

“Could be the calm before the storm,” he said a second time. [Continue reading…]

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Trump pushes for Senate intel panel probe of ‘Fake News Networks’ in U.S.

Politico reports: President Donald Trump urged Congress Thursday morning to launch an investigation of the news media, wondering online “why so much of our news is just made up.”

“Why Isn’t the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!” the president wrote on Twitter Thursday morning. He did not single out a specific story or media outlet that he believed to be guilty of inaccurate reporting.

Trump’s “fake news” complaints have been a staple of his political rhetoric, a label he often applied to stories that feature negative reporting about him or his presidency. Most recently, Trump has railed against reports that have characterized his administration’s hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico as inadequate, as well as against an NBC News report that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the president a “moron” over the summer and nearly resigned.

Another frequent “fake news” target for Trump has been the multiple ongoing investigations into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election, one of which is being conducted by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The president often refers to those investigations collectively as a “hoax” or a “witch hunt.” [Continue reading…]

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Maria television reporting raises echoes of Katrina coverage

The Associated Press reports: As the days pass since Hurricane Maria ripped across Puerto Rico, television reports increasingly echo those after Katrina a dozen years ago in sounding the alarm for a desperate population frustrated by the pace of relief efforts.

The question is: how many people are listening this time?

The words were blunt by the usually easygoing Bill Weir on CNN: “This is a humanitarian crisis the likes of which we have not seen for a long time.” His report, though, came 20 minutes into a Jake Tapper newscast that was led by political developments in the United States.

The story has struggled to get the attention of predecessor hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which struck the U.S. mainland. The emotional plea of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz on Friday felt like a turning point, although it was overshadowed in the news by the resignation of President Donald Trump’s health secretary, Tom Price.

Trump himself brought it back into the news Saturday, with Twitter attacks on how the “Fake News Networks are working overtime in Puerto Rico doing their best to take the spirit away from our soldiers” and first responders.

He may have done more to focus people on the story than television had up until the past few days. So far NBC’s Lester Holt has been the only broadcast network anchor to report on the storm from Puerto Rico, a telling measure of the story’s importance to news executives. Puerto Rican developments led NBC’s “Nightly News” each night this past week; on ABC’s “World News Tonight,” it was the lead story once.

Wind and rain stinging Chris Cuomo’s face was a defining image of Hurricane Irma coverage from Florida. Yet until Anderson Cooper arrived on Friday, Maria hadn’t attracted cable news’ marquee stars. [Continue reading…]

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‘Isn’t that the Trump lawyer?’: A reporter’s accidental scoop

Kenneth P Vogel writes: I have always thought of overhearing conversations as an underappreciated journalistic tool.

When political donors, lobbyists and politicians gather at hotels for meetings and strategy sessions, they often keep out reporters. But they usually can’t keep us out of the lobby bars and restaurants where they gather afterward to gossip. And I’ve picked up all manner of tantalizing nuggets — from U.S. senators, billionaire donors and influential operatives, among others — by positioning myself within earshot of those conversations while nursing a beer at the bar.

Sometimes, those nuggets have been featured in my journalism, including in my behind-the-scenes reporting on how major donors have influenced politics; more often, they’ve merely helped me add texture to my reporting on money and influence.

But I’ve never overheard a conversation quite like the one I accidentally encountered last Tuesday, when I met a source for lunch at BLT Steak, a downtown Washington steakhouse frequented by the capital’s expense-account set. My source chose the restaurant, but I didn’t protest, since BLT is on the same block as The New York Times’s Washington bureau and has a delightful tuna niçoise salad with fingerling potatoes and green beans.

Being a rare temperate day in Washington with tolerable humidity, we requested a table in the restaurant’s outdoor section, which abuts a busy sidewalk. Not long after we’d ordered, my source noticed someone he thought he recognized being seated at the table behind me.

“Isn’t that the Trump lawyer?” he asked. [Continue reading…]

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RT, Sputnik and Russia’s new theory of war

Jim Rutenberg reports: One morning in January 2016, Martin Steltner showed up at his office in the state courthouse building in western Berlin. Steltner, who has served for more than a dozen years as the spokesman for the Berlin state prosecutor, resembles a detective out of classic crime fiction: crisp suit, wavy gray hair and a gallows humor that comes with having seen it all. There was the 2009 case of the therapist who mistakenly killed two patients in an Ecstasy-infused session gone wrong. The Great Poker Heist of 2010, in which masked men stormed a celebrity-studded poker tournament with machetes and made off with a quarter-million dollars. The 2012 episode involving the Canadian porn star who killed and ate his boyfriend and then sent the leftovers home in the mail. Steltner embraced the oddball aspect of his job; he kept a picture of Elvis Presley on the wall of his office.

But even Steltner found the phone calls he received that morning confounding. They came from police officers from towns far outside Berlin, who reported that protests were erupting, seemingly out of nowhere, on their streets. “They are demonstrating — ‘Save our children,’ ‘No attacks from immigrants on our children’ and some things like that,” Steltner told me when I met him in Berlin recently.

The police were calling Steltner because this was ostensibly his office’s fault. The protesters were angry over the Berlin prosecutor’s supposed refusal to indict three Arab migrants who, they said, raped a 13-year-old girl from Berlin’s tight-knit Russian-German community.

Steltner, who would certainly have been informed if such a case had come up for prosecution, had heard nothing of it. He called the Berlin Police Department, which informed him that a 13-year-old Russian-German girl had indeed gone missing a week before. When she resurfaced a day later, she told her parents that three “Southern-looking men” — by which she meant Arab migrants — had yanked her off the street and taken her to a rundown apartment, where they beat and raped her.

But when the police interviewed the girl, whose name was Lisa, she changed her story. She had left home, it turned out, because she had gotten in trouble at school. Afraid of how her parents would react, she went to stay with a 19-year-old male friend. The kidnapping and gang rape, she admitted, never happened.

By then, however, the girl’s initial story was taking on a life of its own within the Russian-German community through word of mouth and Facebook — enough so that the police felt compelled to put out a statement debunking it. Then, over the weekend, Channel One, a Russian state-controlled news station with a large following among Russian-Germans, who watch it on YouTube and its website, ran a report presenting Lisa’s story as an example of the unchecked dangers Middle Eastern refugees posed to German citizens. Angela Merkel, it strongly implied, was refusing to address these threats, even as she opened German borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants. “According to Lisa’s parents,” the Channel One reporter said, “the police simply refuse to look for criminals.”

The following day in Berlin, Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party held a protest at a plaza in Marzahn, a heavily Russian neighborhood. The featured speaker was an adult cousin of Lisa’s, who repeated the original allegations while standing in front of signs reading “Stop Foreign Infiltration!” and “Secure Borders!” The crowd was tiny, not much more than a dozen people. But it was big enough to attract the attention of RT, Russia’s state-financed international cable network, which presents local-language newscasts in numerous countries, including Germany and the United States. A crew from the network’s video service, Ruptly, arrived with a camera. The footage was on YouTube that afternoon.

That same day, Sputnik, a brash Russian-government-run news and commentary site that models itself on BuzzFeed, ran a story raising allegations of a police cover-up. Lisa’s case was not isolated, Sputnik argued; other refugee rapists, it warned, might be running free. By the start of the following week, protests were breaking out in neighborhoods with large Russian-German populations, which is why the local police were calling Steltner. In multiple interviews, including with RT and Sputnik, Steltner reiterated that the girl had recanted the original story about the kidnapping and the gang rape. In one interview with the German media, he said that in the course of the investigation, authorities had found evidence that the girl had sex with a 23-year-old man months earlier, which would later lead to a sexual-abuse conviction for the man, whose sentence was suspended. But the original, unrelated and debunked story continued circulating, drawing the interest of the German mainstream media, which pointed out inconsistencies in the Russian reports. None of that stopped the protests, which culminated in a demonstration the following Saturday, Jan. 23, by 700 people outside the Chancellery, Merkel’s office. Ruptly covered that, too.

An official in the Merkel government told me that the administration was completely perplexed, at first. Then, a few days later, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, held a news conference in Moscow. Bringing up Lisa’s story, he cast doubt on the official version of events. There was no way, he argued, that Lisa left home voluntarily. Germany, he suggested, was “covering up reality in a politically correct manner for the sake of domestic politics.” Two days later, RT ran a segment reporting that despite all the official denials, the case was “not so simple.” The Russian Embassy called Steltner and asked to meet, he told me. The German foreign ministry informed him that this was now a diplomatic issue.

The whole affair suddenly appeared a lot less mystifying. A realization took hold in the foreign ministry, the intelligence services and the Chancellery: Germany had been hit. [Continue reading…]

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How the Pentagon tried to cure America of its ‘Vietnam syndrome’

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A couple watch film footage of the Vietnam war on a television in their living room.
Library of Congress

By Paul Joseph, Tufts University

In August 1965, Morley Safer, a reporter for “CBS News,” accompanied a unit of U.S. marines on a search-and-destroy mission to the Vietnamese village of Cam Ne. Using cigarette lighters and a flamethrower, the troops proceeded to burn down 150 houses, wound three women, kill one child and take four men prisoner. Safer and his crew caught it all on film. The military command later claimed that the unit had received enemy fire. But according to Safer, no pitched battle had taken place. The only death had been the boy, and not a single weapon had been uncovered.

In describing the reaction, Safer would later say that the public, the media and the military all began to realize that the rules of war reporting had changed.

The New Yorker’s Michael Arlen dubbed Vietnam the “living room war.” The images of the war – viewed on evening news shows on the country’s three networks – enabled the public to understand the war’s human costs. In this sense, media coverage contributed to the flow of information that’s vital to any functioning democracy, and pushed Americans to either support or oppose U.S. involvement in the conflict.

However, in the country’s myriad military conflicts since Vietnam, this flow of information has been largely transformed, and it is now more difficult to see the human consequences of military operations. Despite a digital revolution that’s created even more opportunities to transmit images, voices and stories, the public finds itself further removed from what’s really happening on the front lines.

[Read more…]

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Study shows that Fox News is more powerful than we ever imagined

Vox reports: Fox News is, by far, America’s dominant TV news channel; in the second quarter of 2017, Fox posted 2.35 million total viewers in primetime versus 1.64 million for MSNBC and 1.06 million for CNN. Given that Fox was founded by a longtime Republican Party operative and has almost exclusively hired conservative commentators, talk radio hosts, and the like to host its shows, it would stand to reason that its dominance on basic cable could influence how Americans vote, perhaps even tipping elections.

A new study in the American Economic Review (the discipline’s flagship journal), with an intriguing and persuasive methodology, finds exactly that. Emory University political scientist Gregory Martin and Stanford economist Ali Yurukoglu estimate that watching Fox News directly causes a substantial rightward shift in viewers’ attitudes, which translates into a significantly greater willingness to vote for Republican candidates.

They estimate that if Fox News hadn’t existed, the Republican presidential candidate’s share of the two-party vote would have been 3.59 points lower in 2004 and 6.34 points lower in 2008.

For context, that would’ve made John Kerry the 2004 popular vote winner, and turned Barack Obama’s 2008 victory into a landslide where he got 60 percent of the two-party vote.

“There is a non-trivial amount of uncertainty” about those estimates, Yurukoglu cautions. “I personally don’t think it’s totally implausible, but it is higher than I would have guessed prior to the research.” And even if the effect were half as large as estimated, that’d still mean that Fox News is having a very real, sizable effect on elections. [Continue reading…]

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How much responsibility does the media have for creating Trump?

Matt Taibbi writes: Trump’s monstrousness is ironic, since the image of Trump as the media’s very own Frankenstein’s monster has been used and re-used in the last years. Many in the business are of the opinion that, having created Trump and let him loose in the village, we in the press now have a responsibility to hunt him down with aggressive investigative reporting, to make the world safe again.

That might indeed be a good idea. But that take also implies that slaying the monster will fix the problem. Are we sure that’s true?

Reporters seem to think so, and keep trying to find the magic formula. Just this week, staffers at the Wall Street Journal rebelled against editor-in-chief Gerard Baker. Baker, who has long been accused of being too soft on Trump, blasted his people for going too negative on the president in their coverage of the Arizona speech. He sent around a letter asking staff to “stick to reporting what [Trump] said,” rather than “packaging it in exegesis and selective criticism.”

Reporters fought back by (apparently) leaking the memo to the rival New York Times. This followed an incident in which a transcript of Baker’s recent interview with Trump was leaked to Politico earlier this month. In it, Baker mentions being glad to have seen Ivanka Trump in Southampton, and small-talks with Trump about travel and golf. The implication here is that it’s improper or unseemly for a newspaper editor to have a chummy relationship with this kind of a president.

And it is, sometimes. Reporters who should be challenging presidents and candidates are pretty much always cheating the public when they turn interviews into mutual back rub sessions.

But these intramural ethical wars within our business may just be deflections that keep us from facing bigger problems – like, for instance, the fact that we have been systematically making the entire country more stupid for decades.

We learned long ago in this business that dumber and more alarmist always beats complex and nuanced. Big headlines, cartoonish morality, scary criminals at home and foreign menaces abroad, they all sell. We decimated attention spans, rewarded hot-takers over thinkers, and created in audiences powerful addictions to conflict, vitriol, fear, self-righteousness, and race and gender resentment. [Continue reading…]

While there is a measure of truth in Taibbi’s observations, an irony that he must be acutely aware of is that his own commentary comes with a click-bait headline and lots of hyperbolic overstatement. In other words, while assuming the posture of a mainstream media critic, he nevertheless makes use of the same tools that the rest of the media employs as intellectual honesty gets trampled on in the pursuit of profit.

“The Media Is the Villain – for Creating a World Dumb Enough for Trump.” With the pretext that it’s legitimate to echo Trump’s claim that the media is the enemy of the people when the writer’s intent is to engage in a cogent critique of media complicity in Trump’s rise, Taibbi is nevertheless trying to hook readers in the competitive sport of grabbing attention. No doubt, like countless others, he feels like the end justifies the means.

More importantly, the villainization of the media treats journalists as America’s preeminent educators, yet there are many other lead characters in the cast that keeps Americans dumb: teachers, preachers, politicians, celebrities, and others.

At the same time, a current of anti-intellectualism has long infected American culture, privileging sensationalism above thoughtfulness, and twisting ignorance and small-mindedness into folksy virtues in a country built by the toil of humble settlers.

Before getting too indignant about the idea that Trump is essentially a mainstream media creation, it’s also worth reflecting on the role played by those who have for years been demonizing the mainstream media and fueling hostility and fear of government, and recognizing that these trends in shaping public opinion have also played a huge role in facilitating the rise of Trump.

So, when it comes to attributing blame for Trump’s ascent to power, there’s plenty of blame to go around.

That said, ultimate responsibility for this mess still falls into the hands of a single man: Donald Trump.

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James Murdoch, rebuking Trump, pledges $1 million to Anti-Defamation League

The New York Times reports: James Murdoch, the chief executive of 21st Century Fox and the son of a frequent ally of President Trump’s, condemned the president’s performance after the violence in Charlottesville, Va., and pledged to donate $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League.

In an email on Thursday, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times and confirmed as authentic by a spokesman for Mr. Murdoch’s company, the Fox scion gave an extraordinarily candid statement against the white supremacist sentiment that swept through Virginia last weekend. It was also the most outspoken that a member of the Murdoch family has been in response to the week’s events.

Mr. Murdoch’s father, Rupert Murdoch, is a conservative media mogul who has become an informal adviser to Mr. Trump, recently dining with the president in the White House residence. The younger Mr. Murdoch has been less outspoken about his political views, making the email even more surprising.

With a subject line reading, “Subject: Personal note from James Murdoch re: ADL,” Mr. Murdoch addressed the note to “friends.”

“I’m writing to you in a personal capacity, as a concerned citizen and a father. It has not been my habit to widely offer running commentary on current affairs, nor to presume to weigh in on the events of a given day save those that might be of particular or specific concern to 21CF and my colleagues,” he wrote. “But what we watched this last week in Charlottesville and the reaction to it by the President of the United States concern all of us as Americans and free people.”

He added: “These events remind us all why vigilance against hate and bigotry is an eternal obligation — a necessary discipline for the preservation of our way of life and our ideals. The presence of hate in our society was appallingly laid bare as we watched swastikas brandished on the streets of Charlottesville and acts of brutal terrorism and violence perpetrated by a racist mob. I can’t even believe I have to write this: standing up to Nazis is essential; there are no good Nazis. Or Klansmen, or terrorists. Democrats, Republicans, and others must all agree on this, and it compromises nothing for them to do so.” [Continue reading…]

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