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Updated: 5 hours 54 min ago

Advocate of Saddam/Al Qaeda Conspiracy Will Save Us From Fake News

6 hours 51 sec ago

The New York Times promotes an unlikely champion of the cause of truth.

The New York Times‘ Jim Rutenberg (3/26/17), alarmed by right-wing websites with “no commitment to truth,” is eager to balance them out with some respectable conservative journalists—and seems to think he has found one in Weekly Standard editor-in-chief Stephen Hayes.

Hayes, writes Rutenberg, is following in the tradition of William F. Buckley:

Mr. Buckley designed National Review to win the larger argument through “logic and superior command of the subject,” as his biographer Sam Tanenhaus (a former writer for the New York Times) told me last week — through facts. And it inspired successive generations of conservative journalists to get in the game, too.

One of them was Stephen F. Hayes….

Unfortunately, as Rutenberg tells it, not everyone in right journalism shares Hayes’ self-proclaimed commitment to “basing our arguments on facts, logic and reason”:

The movement he joined had succeeded in breaking the mainstream news media’s informational hegemony (something the mainstream media had a hand in, too, he said). But as it evolved, grew and splintered, something else broke: any universal sense of truth.

“That’s a problem for our democracy,” he told me last week….

There are right-leaning voters who “don’t believe what they’re getting from the networks and the left-leaning cable outlets” and therefore may be open to false or unsubstantiated content that provides affirmation at the expense of true information, he said.

Aside from the false frame that mainstream media once represented a “universal sense of truth,” or that corporate media don’t themselves provide affirmation (of neoliberal economic dogma, for instance) at the expense of “true information,” this relay race of responsible right-wingers passing along the torch of truth-committed journalism falls down at both ends. For one thing, Buckley was kind of a monster—a supporter of eugenics, Jim Crow, apartheid, fascism (in the form of Spain’s Francisco Franco), McCarthyism, nuclear war (against China and Vietnam) and the tattooing of people with HIV (Extra!, 5–6/08). It’s not clear that he arrived at these positions through “logic and superior command of the subject.”

Even more problematic for contemporary journalism is offering Stephen Hayes as a model of fact-based journalism. Hayes is the reporter who famously used the Weekly Standard as a platform for recycled claims of a connection between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Al Qaeda—an article that FAIR’s Seth Ackerman (Extra!, 1–2/04) characterized as being based on pieces of evidence “so painfully flimsy it’s hard to believe they found their way into an official memo or a national magazine article.”

The New York Times is suggesting the guy who wrote this will lead the fight against “false or unsubstantiated content that provides affirmation at the expense of true information.”

Hayes went on to publish a book on the claim—called The Connection: How Al Qaeda’s Collaboration With Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America. The Times‘ review of Hayes’ book (9/19/04), by Foreign Affairs‘ Gideon Rose, said that

Hayes cannot bear to let his pet theory fall by the wayside, whether it is borne out by the facts or not…. He tries to make the facts fit his theory, rather than his theory fit the facts.

So it’s odd to see a profile of Hayes in the Times bearing the headline, “The Weekly Standard’s Arsenal to Fight Falsehoods: ‘Facts, Logic and Reason.’”

The Weekly Standard, lest we forget—as Rutenberg clearly has—was second to no publication in using shoddy journalism to sell a war that would leave countless hundreds of thousands dead. As Michael Corcoran wrote in Extra! (9/09):

Following the [9/11] attacks, the Standard advanced what became virtually all the noteworthy tactics of the Bush administration’s “war on terror”: focusing the response to 9/11 on Iraq using flawed and flimsy evidence (11/24/03), widening U.S. foreign policy interventions far and wide (11/01/04), dismissing all calls for even partial withdrawals of US troops (5/10/07), shunning the recommendations of the realist-dominated Iraq Study Group (12/11/06) and escalating troop levels in what became known as “the surge” (1/21/08).

The rhetoric in the Standard’s editorials and articles was often indistinguishable from that of the administration, as it downplayed war crimes committed by US troops (6/12/06) and labeled antiwar activists and legislators as anti-American (8/14/06).

Although US intelligence had found little evidence that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks (McClatchy, 9/22/01), the first Standard released after 9/11 (9/24/01) tellingly featured a cartoon of Saddam Hussein and immediately began making the case for targeting his government: “While it is probably not necessary to go to war with Afghanistan, a broad approach will be required,” wrote Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly. Despite acknowledging that Hussein “might not” have been involved in the 9/11 attacks, “the larger campaign also must go after Saddam Hussein,” said the authors. Weeks later, Max Boot (10/15/01) asked, “Who cares if Saddam was involved?” as he pushed for regime change.

One can understand why Rutenberg, unnerved by the likes of Breitbart and InfoWars, would be looking for signs of hope on the right. But expecting a journalist and a magazine that led the most disastrous journalistic scam of the 21st century to restore honesty to conservative media is not hopeful—it’s delusional.

Jim Naureckas is the editor of FAIR.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @JNaureckas.

You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com  (Twitter:@NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

NYT Says Congress Has ‘Duty’ to Make War–Rather Than the Right to Reject It

March 27, 2017 - 4:03pm

The New York Times argues that Congress has a duty to authorize war–rather than a responsibility to determine whether war should be fought.

As reports come in detailing the degree to which Donald Trump has escalated the “War on ISIS”—and killed hundreds more civilians in the process—this would seem like a good time for the country to sit back and examine the United States’ approach to fighting “terrorism” and its recent iteration, the so-called Islamic State.

Not for the New York Times editorial board, which didn’t take the wave of civilians deaths as a reason to question the wisdom of America’s various “counter-terror,” nation-building and regime-change projects in the Middle East, but instead chose to browbeat Congress into rubber-stamping a war that’s been going on for almost three years.

The editorial, “Congress’s Duty in the War With ISIS” (3/26/17), began with a false premise:

But as the American military is doing its job, Congress is refusing to do its duty. Nearly three years into the war against ISIS, lawmakers have ducked their constitutional responsibility for making war by not passing legislation authorizing the anti-ISIS fight.

Congress does not have a “constitutional responsibility for making war”; it has a constitutional right to make war, which is to say it can authorize it or not authorize it. Congress is under no obligation—legal, moral or otherwise—to rubber-stamp existing wars started without its consent.

Presidents, on the other hand, do have a duty under the Constitution to get Congress’s approval before waging war.

Originally launched in August 2014 under the auspices of “targeted,” “limited” airstrikes to stop an impending genocide, the war on ISIS has since expanded to include four countries, 50,000+ bombs, 1,000 attacks on civilians and over $11 billion handed out to defense contractors.

The New York Times chose not to editorialize about the US killing hundreds of civilians, but rather about getting a congressional seal of approval on the war that killed them.

The Times correctly notes that the one-page “War on Terror” AUMF used to justify the original launching of the war in 2001 is on thin legal ground. But instead of then interrogating the legality or wisdom of this initial act—or whether or not the public would have gone along with it had they known it would eventually spiral into a global, never-ending war—it simply uses this initial bait-and-switch as further reason for Congress to validate it:

The Pentagon has operated under the 2001 authorization for the use of military force that was passed after Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks. But that justification is of questionable legality because ISIS did not exist when the authorization was approved.

The United States can claim a legal basis for its involvement in Iraq because Baghdad sought American help…. But there has been no such request from the Syrian government, which believes that a US-led attack on Raqqa would be illegitimate unless it were coordinated with Damascus, the chief Syrian negotiator to peace talks in Geneva, Bashar Ja’afari, said on Friday. Such coordination is unlikely, given how little the Pentagon thinks of President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian backers.

It’s not clear why the Times is bringing up Iraq and Syria’s differing stances on the US bombing their country; the approval of Iraqi government—which was ranked “not free” by the US-funded Freedom House at the time it green-lighted the US to bomb it—does not make a war unsanctioned by Congress any more constitutional. And a congressional OK would not make bombing a country’s territory against its government’s will any more legal under international law. But perhaps the key phrase here is “can claim a legal basis”; if an appearance of legality is more important than actually following the law, then any kind of official-looking action would be better than nothing.

And the Times  (8/7/14) had no apparent problem with President Obama using the 2001 AUMF to launch the war in the first place. It did not then mention what it now calls the ”questionable legality” of the authorization, instead playing up the ticking time bomb nature of the war effort, and even going out of its way to chide Obama for not following through on veiled threats to bomb the Assad regime the previous year.

The New York Times editorial board, as FAIR (2/9/17) has noted before, consistently protects and advances US national security orthodoxy. In the past 30 years—from the Persian Gulf to Bosnia to Kosovo to Iraq to Libya—the New York Times editorial board has never once opposed a US war. The Times’ power-serving function was starkly evidenced when in January 2016, it opposed the US bombing Libya to fight ISIS without congressional approval, only to do a 180 and endorse the war effort the day after President Obama began bombing in August 2016.

To the extent the Times is concerned with legality, it is only so in a very narrow, domestic way. What international law says about the US-led bombing of Syria is hardly broached, much less explored. Like the scores of US drone bombings and special forces deployments, it just is.

The whole point of granting war-making powers to Congress, it should be noted, was so that Congress could serve as a barrier to war. Somehow for the paper of record, this task has morphed into a “duty” to approve wars that are already taking place, lest the self-evidently good and noble war effort be undermined.

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst for FAIR.org. You can find him on Twitter at @AdamJohnsonNYC.

You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com (Twitter:@NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

Dan Goldberg on Neil Gorsuch, Marianne Lavelle on Climate Change Denial

March 24, 2017 - 10:09am
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Actual Washington Post headline

This week on CounterSpin: When Neil Gorsuch’s name was first announced as a candidate for the Supreme Court, corporate media’s focus was on his “eloquence” and “intelligence.” The Washington Post published 30 articles, op-eds, blog posts and editorials in the 48 hours after the announcement—not a single one overtly critical or in opposition to his nomination. That changed somewhat when Gorsuch actually faced questions, but have we learned enough about the record and the ideas of the man who may get one of the most powerful jobs in the country? We’ll talk about Gorsuch with Dan Goldberg from Alliance for Justice.

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Also on the show: One thing we do know about the Trump administration—they include many people who don’t believe in climate change. We are now seeing policy decisions that reflect that absurd idea. What will it mean, for the country and the planet? Marianne Lavelle is a reporter for InsideClimate News. She’ll talk with us about just what’s going on.

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Right-Wing Foundation, Scary Nuke Maps Drive Narrative on North Korea ‘Threat’

March 22, 2017 - 5:16pm

Tensions between the United States and North Korea are making their way back into the news after a series of missile tests and presidential Twitter threats. Meanwhile, a conservative think tank—previously thought all but dead—has seen a resurgence in relevancy, thanks to its alignment with Donald Trump. The result is that the Heritage Foundation has provided much of the narrative backbone for North Korean/US relations in the age of Trump, making the rounds in dozens of media articles and television appearances.

Heritage talking heads have been featured in North Korea stories in the Washington Post (2/28/27, 3/19/17), New York Times (3/16/17), AP (3/19/17), Christian Science Monitor (3/17/17), Boston Herald (3/9/17), BBC (3/17/17), Fox News (3/10/17), CNN (3/15/17), MSNBC (3/19/17), CNBC (3/7/17), Voice of America (2/24/17) and Vox (3/17/17).

The most prominent of Heritage’s experts is former CIA analyst Bruce Klingner, who plays the part of the Reasonable Hawk, insisting North Korea is “growing [its] nuclear and missile capabilities” and is an “existential threat to South Korea and Japan and will soon be a direct threat to the continental United States,” but opposes preemptive bombing or invasion until the threat is “imminent”—a term he never quite defines (but one, it’s worth noting, the current Secretary of State uses to describe the situation.)

Along with policy analyst Michaela Dodge and director of Heritage’s Asian Studies Center Walter Lohman, Klingner peppers media reports with quotes that  paint North Korea and China as the only bad actors, assert the urgent necessity for US military “leadership” and frequently call for more military spending:

  • “‘Essentially, after the Cold War we took a vacation from modernizing the nuclear deterrent,’ said Michaela Dodge, a policy analyst specializing in nuclear weapons policy at Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense.” (CNBC, 3/7/17)
  • “‘There’s that sense that they are assured for the moment,’ said Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, ‘but Japan and South Korea are like skittish small dogs that need constant reassurance and are constantly nervous.’” (New York Times, 3/16/17)
  • “‘China has been part of the problem rather than part of the solution,’ said Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, who describes North Korea as a global military threat…. ‘[China has] this value-neutral response of calling on both Koreas not to raise tensions, when it is only their Korea which is doing so.’” (CNN, 3/15/17)

MSNBC (3/19/17) recently had Klingner on for a breezy, uncritical interview. Host Jacob Soboroff teed up softballs about North Korea’s sinister intent and the urgency of US military prominence, using a variation of the “some say” rhetorical trick to smuggle in highly contestable assumptions about North Korea’s motives:

A lot of people have interpreted these latest actions, provocations by North Korea, as a direct message to the United States. Why, in your estimation is North Korea so focused on the United States of America?

Who are these “lot of people”? What are the motives? Was there a poll of experts on North Korea’s intent? Soboroff doesn’t say.

The Hypothetical Scary Nuclear Map

One key feature of reports on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is the Hypothetical Scary Nuke Map that shows an entirely hypothetical, not-yet-proven-to-have-been-built intercontinental ballistic missile hitting the US mainland.

One recent example in the New York Times (3/4/17) shows the pitfalls of the Hypothetical Scary Nuke Map:

Note the inclusion of two missiles, the KN-14 and KN-08, at the bottom corner covering the United States. These missiles have not been tested by North Korea, thus contradicting the corresponding table’s only criteria of “rockets currently being tested.” Note the table’s acknowledgement that the two missiles that can purportedly reach the United States do not belong on the table:

Foreign Policy (3/10/17) also used a similarly misleading map that buried the fact that the range indicating the US could be nuked had not, in fact, been demonstrated:

The rockets had to be included in order to get the Big Scary Nuke circle to cover mainland United States, so the Times and Foreign Policy tossed in theoretical missile capacity to help round the threat up.

While the smaller circles on these maps represent missiles that have been tested, that should not mislead readers into thinking that the ranges claimed for the missiles have actually been demonstrated by North Korean tests. For example, the next-largest circle on these maps—a 2,200-mile radius that encompasses the Philippines, Guam and parts of Thailand—represents North Korea’s Musudan missile. According to an exhaustive rundown of North Korea’s missile tests in Business Insider (10/29/16):

So far this year, North Korea has conducted eight Musudan missiles tests. All launches except the sixth one on June 22 were considered to be failures.

The missile in the successful test reached 250 miles (Business Insider, 6/21/16), a little more than one-tenth the range claimed for the missile by maps of the North Korean threat. North Korea has conducted one more successful test of the Musudan since then, achieving a range of 310 miles (CNN, 2/13/17). The furthest any missile has gone in tests by North Korea, in reality, is 620 miles, or 998 kilometers (New York Times, 3/5/17).

Late Tuesday night, yet another missile test exploded “within seconds” of launching. Thus far, the assertion that this missile can reach Tokyo, let alone Thailand, remains speculative.

Obviously, the former map is still a potential danger to the millions who live in its radius, but war narratives are rarely built on making up threats from whole cloth, but rather by exaggerating or hyping them. North Korea’s potential range is certainly newsworthy, but how many readers skimming these Hypothetical Scary Nuke Maps come away thinking these are tested, actual ranges based on current capacity? The gap between what’s objectively true and what’s possible blurs into a globe-consuming nuclear winter.

The Heritage Foundation provides its own Hypothetical Scary Nuke Map, with publications like Business Insider (2/10/16, 2/16/16, 12/2/16), Daily Caller (2/11/16) and Real Clear Defense (2/9/16) inserting it into reports about the nuclear capacity of North Korea over the past year:

The graph is almost always inserted into stories about North Korea’s nuclear capacity but is, upon inspection, only about North Korea’s non-nuclear missile capacity. This sleight-of-hand may not have been the intent of the map’s creator—who is clear that it does not imply nuclear payload capacity—but that’s how it’s being presented in multiple articles, lumped together with headlines warning of North Korea’s nuclear ambition.

Whether North Korea could reach the mainland US with non-nuclear missiles remains speculation. The Heritage Foundation’s own report on the topic (Daily Signal, 2/9/16) uses the qualifiers “may have” and “could” when describing the alleged 13,000 km range—a figure arrived at by looking at the technical components and abstracting out potential capacity, rather than actual evidence of a missile test. This calculation appears in a single byline-free report from Japanese outlet Mainichi (2/8/16), which doesn’t provide an original source for the number.

Other outlets, such as Business Insider (1/13/17), Time (3/8/17) and Washington Post (2/8/16), report it’s unlikely or unknown whether or not North Korea currently has the capacity to bomb the United States, much less nuke it.

According to Heritage Foundation’s Luke Coffey, the 13,000 km figure—needed to expand the range to include all of mainland United States—comes from the South Korean Defense minister. When asked specifically on what date the minister made this claim, or a link to where the claim appears, Coffey responded: “I’m not your researcher. Do your own research.” The only citation found on Heritage’s website was to the anonymous Mainichi source.

Heritage does not disclose its donors, and has had issues of conflicts in the past. In the late ‘90s, it was criticized for accepting $1 million in funding directly from the South Korean government. A 2015 report in The Intercept (9/15/15) showed the cozy relationship between the foundation and military contractor Lockheed Martin, with Heritage building the requisite marketing collateral to lobby Congress to expand the F-22 program, urging the purchase of 20 planes for resale to Japan, Australia and “possibly South Korea.” Mackenzie Eaglen, the researcher named in the emails, vehemently denies allegations of a quid pro quo.

The Heritage Foundation did not respond to request for comment from FAIR about its funding, and whether or not it currently receives donations from the South Korean government or its associated foundations.

Though there’s been scattered reports of a falling out over the healthcare roll-out, the Heritage Foundation has been incredibly influential in the Trump administration, having written many of its budget-slashing proposals and shaping policy at a high level.

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst for FAIR.org. You can find him on Twitter at @AdamJohnsonNYC.

 

Black Man Stabbed to Death by White Supremacist–Then Smeared by Media

March 22, 2017 - 3:27pm

New York Post images of an alleged white supremacist murderer and his victim. Guess which one the tabloid described as a “career criminal”?

According to police, white 28-year-old Maryland man James Harris Jackson took a Bolt bus up to New York City Friday for the express purposes of killing black men and did just that, stabbing 66-year-old Timothy Caughman in Hell’s Kitchen Monday night. Police say the suspect, an ex-military member of a white supremacist hate group, asked police to arrest him, warning he would attack again if they didn’t.

Reading media reports of the incident, however, one would hardly know which of the two men was the cold-blooded killer and which was the victim. The New York Daily News (3/22/17)—which has a history of smearing black suspects simply on the say-so of the NYPD (FAIR.org, 5/2/16)—felt the need to mention the black victim’s prior, wholly irrelevant police record (emphasis added):

Coughman lived in transitional housing on West 36th Street that serves people with HIV/AIDS. Praxis Housing Initiatives holds a contract with the city. He has 11 prior arrests, including for marijuana, assault, resisting arrest and menacing.

What, one might ask, does this have to do with anything? The reader is provided with no indication of Jackson’s criminal record, or whether there was any attempt to find it out, but somehow the rap sheet of the murder victim was primed and ready to go.

Daily News reporters Rocco Parascandola, Graham Rayman and Thomas Tracy also all-lives-matter the hate crime by inserting a non sequitur case of a black man driving up from Baltimore more than two years ago to kill cops:

In December 2014, Ismaaiyl Brinsley traveled to the city from Baltimore and assassinated Police Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were in the car near Myrtle and Tompkins Avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Brinsley had made anti-police statements on social media prior to the murders.

This is a bizarre journalistic choice that appears to be some kind of attempt at “balancing” the coverage, suggesting that there could be a bit of score-settling going on: Yes, this black man was senselessly murdered by a white supremacist, but some other black guy killed cops two-and-a-half years ago, so….

The New York Post (3/21/15) would do one better, turning Coughman—again, let’s remember, the victim of a heinous, gratuitous hate crime—into the bad guy:

Caughman, who has 11 prior arrests, walked for about a block after the stabbing and staggered into the Midtown South Precinct, looking for help. He died hours later after being rushed to a nearby hospital.

Police sources said the career criminal was refusing to talk to police about the incident and acting combative before his death.

A homeless man is fatally stabbed by a Nazi with a 26-inch sword, simply because of the color of his skin, and the Post insists on calling him a “career criminal,” and accuses him of “acting combative” to police right before he had the audacity to bleed to death.

The bizarre inclusion of the victim’s criminal record probably explains why an AOL News report (3/22/17) based on the Daily News article mistakenly attributed the priors to the person who is actually accused of the crime:

Jackson has 11 prior arrests, including for marijuana, assault, resisting arrest and menacing, according to New York Daily News.

It’s an understandable mistake–after all, we typically discuss the criminal pasts of suspects, not victims.

It’s not uncommon, though, for the media to dredge up the unrelated pasts of black victims. An August 2014 New York Times profile of Michael Brown, who was shot and killed two weeks prior by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson, infamously insisted he “was no angel,” despite no one ever insisting that he—or any other human—was. When the LAPD shot and killed homeless man Charly “Africa” Keunang, local media, as FAIR noted at the time (3/4/15), rushed to bring up all his prior bad acts and plaster his mug shot all over their websites:

The LA Times digs up irrelevant dirt on a homeless man killed by the LAPD.

The Washington Post (4/29/15) helped smear Freddie Gray after he was killed by the Baltimore Police Department, insisting in a since-discredited and corrected story that Gray had caused his own injuries.

It’s unclear why editors and reporters can’t resist the impulse to bring up black victims’ irrelevant prior bad acts. Given the frequency of this trope in corporate media, the effect—regardless of intent—is one of racist smear.

UPDATE: Daily News reporter Aidan McLaughlin’s byline was removed from the piece in question after this post was published. McLaughlin said on Twitter that neither the suspect nor the victim had been identified at the time he wrote the original short item the article was based on. The reporters now mentioned in the post now are the ones whose bylines are currently on the article.

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst for FAIR.org. You can find him on Twitter at @AdamJohnsonNYC.

 

‘Media Are Unwilling to Look at Government and Say There’s Conscious Malfeasance’ - CounterSpin interview (2004) with Robert Dreyfuss on Iraq War intel

March 22, 2017 - 11:17am

Steve Rendall interviewed Robert Dreyfuss about pre–Iraq War intelligence for the February 27, 2004, episode of CounterSpin; the interview was reaired for the March 17, 2017, edition. This is a lightly edited transcript.

 

Robert Dreyfuss: “The idea that they were invading Iraq based on faulty intelligence has it exactly backwards. They had already decided they wanted to invade Iraq. So the intelligence was then used to justify a pre-existing policy.” (image: Kent Bye/YouTube)

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Janine Jackson: The toll of the US war on Iraq, following years of devastating sanctions, can hardly be reckoned. At least half a million people killed, millions displaced, made ill, their homes and communities destroyed, of course the political repercussions in the region, and thousands of US servicemembers killed and wounded—all of it based on falsehoods peddled to the US public by warmongering politicians enabled by the press.

After months of coverage dominated by pro-war pundits and former generals—Iraqis themselves rarely heard from—many Americans likely accepted the official story that the invaders would be welcomed as liberators in the streets of Baghdad. But vast numbers did not. Millions marched in the streets in opposition to the war before it started, but that viewpoint was sidelined and worse in corporate media, whose current rehabilitation of the author of the nightmare, George W. Bush, is only the latest sign of their eager amnesia about the role they played in leading us to an illegal war based on lies.

In February of 2004, CounterSpin spoke with investigative journalist Robert Dreyfuss about pre-war intelligence on Iraq, and the role of a secret and largely unaccountable organization inside the Pentagon in manufacturing and publicizing it. Dreyfuss co-authored an article for Mother Jones on the matter called “The Lie Factory.” This is CounterSpin’s Steve Rendall in early 2004, speaking with journalist Robert Dreyfuss.

*****

Graphic from “The Lie Factory” (Mother Jones, 1-2/04)

Steve Rendall: Robert, when David Kay announced that he didn’t think they’d find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he was adamant that the administration was misled by the CIA, and that intelligence was not shaped or distorted by the Bush administration. Much of the media discussion followed that same line, but your article suggests that there’s a lot more to the story. Tell us a little bit about what you found.

Robert Dreyfuss: Well, I think the most important thing is that while the CIA probably did not get very much right about Iraq, they were at least convinced, most of the intelligence agencies, that there was a lot of doubt, that there were a lot of things they didn’t know. The doubts got completely erased in the policymaking circles, and in particular the Pentagon—which set up its own little sort of rump intelligence unit called the Office of Special Plans under Douglas Feith at the Pentagon bureaucracy—not only was responsible for deleting these doubts, but they had some value added too.

They added in their own spin and their own intelligence, part of which came from Iraqi exiles, part of which came from their own staff, which was doing its own intelligence. And they created talking papers that ended up wildly exaggerating the threat that Iraq allegedly posed to both the United States and to its neighbors, and that information went directly to Vice President Cheney’s office and to the White House, and it led the administration in the direction of going to war, because that was a war they already wanted.

In other words, the idea that they were invading Iraq based on faulty intelligence has it exactly backwards. They had already decided they wanted to invade Iraq. So the intelligence was then used to justify a pre-existing policy.

And for Bush to argue, or anyone else to argue, that the administration went to war based on faulty intelligence is just plain silly. They would have gone to war in any case, but they were afraid to make the argument that Saddam Hussein is a bad guy and therefore, for reasons of national strategy, for reasons of oil, for reasons of Middle East policy and protecting Israel, for all these reasons, we’re going to invade Iraq. That probably wouldn’t have sold, either to the American public or to Congress, so instead they picked on this “Iraq is a threat” argument.

SR: So, Robert Dreyfuss, can I assume that the “lie factory” referred to in the title of your piece refers to this internal Pentagon Office of Special Plans?

RD: Yeah. It started right after 9/11, within a month of 9/11, they set this unit up. It wasn’t called the Office of Special Plans then; it had a different name. It went from being something like two or three people, and it expanded and brought in contractors and consultants, and eventually took the name Office of Special Plans, which incorporated this intelligence unit. That’s what became, basically, the war planning office at the Pentagon.

SR: And from what you report, they pushed out analysts that weren’t going along with the program to some degree.

RD: They really purged anybody who wasn’t part of the zealous team of missionaries that believed in the war. These people were forced into retirement, they were transferred to other offices, some of them just quit in disgust. And they brought in people, ironically, who were not intelligence experts, people who were ideologues but who were not particularly skilled at either intelligence collection or analysis.

So what they did is they took these piles and piles of information, the thousands of little data bits, and they picked out the ones that supported the case for going to war, and they discarded all the rest. And any intelligence conclusion is based on evaluating all of the information, a lot of which is going to be contradictory. Some of it’s based on forged documents, on lies, on misinformation, on just plain old honest human mistakes. So all of that information isn’t going to agree, and the job of an intelligence analyst or a professional is to look at it all and say, here’s my conclusion, and here’s the reasons why my conclusion isn’t a hundred percent, so I give this a certain percent validity.

Well, this office didn’t do that at all; they just basically said, we’re gung ho for war, and Iraq is an enormous threat to American national security. And all of the junk that we heard about unmanned aerial vehicles striking the United States, and Iraq building its nuclear program and importing WMD-related materials, all of that was a crock.

Karen Kwiatkowski

SR: In your reporting of this, you conducted a lot of interviews, and one that was particularly compelling was one you did with a certain former Air Force colonel. Tell us about that story briefly.

RD: Her name’s Karen Kwiatkowski. She was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, and she worked inside the Pentagon in the Near East/South Asian Affairs Office, which is where this Office of Special Plans took shape. And so she watched it all, week by week, taking shape, and she was horrified by it. She is a tremendously courageous whistleblower, in fact, because she’s a conservative, not someone who’s some sort of fuzzy-minded liberal. She was, however, shocked by what she calls the neoconservative cabal that was shaping the way this office operated. And, in particular, by the intervention of people like Dick Cheney’s staff director Lewis Libby and others, who were tasking or assigning jobs and missions to this unit, which is highly unusual. It’s an office that should work down deep in the bowels of the Pentagon, and here’s the vice president’s office operating on a day-to-day basis in touch with them.

SR: At this point it seems that some very good reporting has come out of mainstream media, particularly from the Washington Post. But some critics suggest the Post hasn’t pushed its reporting to the front page often enough. Even Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler wrote recently, “Make sure you read Page A17, or wherever the next piece of the puzzle appears.” What do you think of the priority the media has given to this story so far?

RD: Well, I think it has gotten somewhat lost for two reasons. One is it got lost because the aftermath of the war was so catastrophically bad, with an insurgency and a complete mess and a seemingly completely bumbled US administration over there, that that’s become the main story.

And then second, it’s sort of obvious that Bush and Cheney were saying WMD for months and months and months, and we got over there and they weren’t there. So what else can you say except, well, we didn’t find them and they were wrong? So I think they sort of lost the handle on how to investigate the wrongdoing.

I think the core of the problem is the media are unwilling to look at the government and say that there’s conscious malfeasance happening. They much prefer to say, this was a mistake, or this was just, you know, incompetence or conflict of interest, or all kind of other things that are more, I guess, easier to swallow than to say that someone was out there deliberately manufacturing evidence.

I mean, one of the most obvious cases is, no one has really investigated who forged those uranium documents. There’s no argument that those documents were deliberately forged by someone. It wasn’t a mistake. And finding out what we know about who forged them—and I believe that somebody in the intelligence system here knows—is something that reporters ought to be just leaping into, and I don’t see that too many people are even asking the question.

And there are other questions like that that I think have just been ignored, and in part because reporters follow the official investigations, and now there have been several efforts by the Republicans in Congress to intimidate investigations and say, well, there’s nothing there. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has pretty much said that point blank. So I think to the extent that the official investigations are turning into cover-ups, then I think the media is finding it difficult to get these more explosive charges onto the front page.

SR: You’ve appeared on CounterSpin before, discussing Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi and his unreliability. A recent Knight Ridder story points out that in spite of the fact that defectors and witnesses put forth by Chalabi’s INC “exaggerated what they knew, fabricated tales, or were coached by others what to say,” the US intends to continue funding the INC’s intelligence-gathering. The Knight Ridder story hasn’t received much attention in other media now. What are your thoughts on this part of the story? Bear in mind that we only have a few seconds left, Robert.

RD: Well, we’re not just funding them, we’re supporting him to become the next president of Iraq! I mean, here’s a guy who is a long-term historic crook and bank-embezzler; now we know he’s also a liar about intelligence, and [we’re] depending on and still supporting him to become the leader of the nation, never mind a couple million dollars to fund his organization. So I continue to be stunned and amazed that Chalabi has any credibility whatsoever with anyone, although apparently he’s been quite a valuable source for Judy Miller at the New York Times over the years. So I guess he’s got some friends in the media himself.

*****

Janine Jackson: That was Robert Dreyfuss speaking with CounterSpin’s Steve Rendall. The article “The Lie Factory,” by Dreyfuss and Jason Vest, can still be found on MotherJones.com.

 

*****

Trump in No Hurry to Staff ‘Enemy of the People’ Offices

March 21, 2017 - 2:40pm

The New York Times on making America late again.

The New York Times (3/12/17) reported that the Trump administration, for a variety of reasons, was filling the offices of administrative agencies at a glacial pace. From the Department of Agriculture to the Weather Service, over 2,000 mid-level political-appointee positions were still unfilled; the Times called it “the slowest transition in decades.”

One place that slowness has showed up clearly is in the staffing of what are variously called Public Affairs offices, Newsrooms or Media Offices of these government departments and agencies—the very offices that reporters in both Washington bureaus and in newsrooms around the country depend on to get routine information about what these departments and agencies are doing, or, in the case of more investigative assignments, to ask basic questions and set up interviews with key personnel.

This reporter stumbled upon the problem earlier in the month while researching a story for High Times magazine on the fate, in the Trump administration, of the now 19-year-old ban on federal student aid for any students who are convicted of even a minor criminal drug violation. In my case, I began by calling the Department of Education’s Press Room. (As of March 17, the website was still listing Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education, though he left a year ahead of Obama, and there was another secretary, John King, before Trump nominee Betsy DeVos took over.)

I reached a receptionist who took down my number, and a couple of days later received a call from a Jim Bradshaw, who asked me to send him a list of questions. I responded quickly with a list of 13, later adding two more, which ranged from policy questions to basic facts, such as how many students had lost aid or been banned from getting aid in 2016 because of a drug conviction, to simple information, such as whether DOE rules required a student to complete an approved drug rehab program, or simply to enroll in one, to have a ban lifted.

Bradshaw said he’d try to get me answers. Telling him my deadline was March 10, I asked him to please get me answers as he obtained them, and not to wait until he had them all, which he agreed to do.

After two weeks of repeated emails and phone messages to Bradshaw, and no answers, he finally emailed this hilarious non-response response:

We checked on your questions about federal student aid and here is what we can tell you. On background, not for quotation by name but attributed to “The US Department of Education” or an “Education Department spokesman”: “The Department does not have any comment at this time.”

Later, recounting this to the press officer for a major Republican senator, I was told:

Well, you know, that guy probably isn’t even actually a press officer. We’ve found that the Trump administration is being pretty slow about filling mid-level appointed positions, like heads of different operations, including public affairs, and that some rooms are just empty desks. It can be hard to get someone. Many people from the last administration have left, and the people who are there don’t know what they can say, and can’t get any guidance. In some cases, the offices are just empty.

This does seem to be the case. A call to the number for the listed press officer for climate change questions from the media at the EPA reached not that press officer, but a receptionist, who said to write the question in an email addressed, not to her listed email, but to press@epa.gov. I said I was on deadline that day with my question; by press time the following week, I had still gotten no response.

The Interior Department—which oversees the EPA, among other agencies, along with 500 million acres of public land—is worse. There, calling public information just elicits a recording where you can leave a message. After days, still no response. Its website—and this is true for a number of government websites now under the new administration—lists no press office or media office or public affairs office. Press releases provide no contact person to call for further information; just a general email address of interior_press@ios.doi.gov.

Interior Department photo of Secretary Ryan Zinke’s meeting with Blackfoot leaders.

On the Interior Department site’s Media Advisories page on March 17, five events were listed, all for March 10. Two of them—a Blackfoot tribal blessing in honor of Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and an address by Zinke to the Montana legislature—were listed as “open to the press,” while three—a meeting by Zinke with Glacier Park leadership and staff; a Zinke visit to the Bureau of Land Management’s office in Lewistown, Montana; and a second site visit to the BLM regional office for Montana and the Dakotas—were listed as “closed to the press.” This raises the obvious question: Why are these on the “Media Advisories” page at all? As a taunt, perhaps?

The bureau chief of one DC news bureau noted that reporters there were finding some departments less staffed and available than others. Some departments, like Defense, Homeland Security and Justice, have well-staffed press offices listed on their websites, making access easier, but others, like Agriculture and Interior, do not. (Interior got a special thumbs down.)

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department’s website still lists the offices of director of public affairs and press secretary as “vacant.” Commerce, one of the government’s largest departments, oversees the now extremely controversial and, from a news perspective, critically important Office of Economic Analysis, as well as the Census Bureau, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and Economics and Statistics Administration.

The Trump administration’s slow pace at restaffing public affairs/press offices may be just part of the general organizational chaos and infighting reported at the White House, but it could also be part of what is being described as a Trump war against the established (and parts of the alternative) media. The unprecedented barring of major news organizations at White House press briefings, the barring of press from what are nevertheless called media events, the barring of the press from the secretary of State’s plane on international trips, and the president’s reference to the media as an “enemy of the people” certainly suggest that it also may be a case of being in no hurry to open up government to inspection.

One can certainly overstate the importance of press offices and press officers, whose role is often as much or more to obfuscate, hinder, delay and manipulate as it is to assist reporters in getting information on a story, but—particularly for those reporters who work on national stories from outside the Beltway—getting basic information from a government agency or department via an initial call to the department’s public affairs office is an important first step, and usually a big time saver. When it can’t be done because there’s no there there, and time-consuming work-arounds are required, the public is the loser.

Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time (Common Courage Press, 2003), an investigative book about the Mumia Abu-Jamal case. He is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an independent online alternative newspaper.

 

 

 

 

 

‘Housing, Community, Land Are Human Rights’ - CounterSpin interview with Tony Romano on HUD cuts

March 21, 2017 - 11:23am

Janine Jackson interviewed Tony Romano about housing cuts for the March 17, 2017, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Tony Romano: “If something is that important to our lives, it should not be something that’s sold on the market, like a hamburger.”

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Janine Jackson: The Trump White House has plans, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post, to cut some $6 billion from HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development: cuts to programs supporting housing for low-income families, for the elderly, for homeless veterans and people with disabilities, for Native Americans—cuts of millions of dollars each from programs that were already overburdened.

That the country faces a crisis of scarcity, and that this means we should take more from those who are struggling, is a bizarre idea that seems to silently undergird much mainstream media discourse. The gutting of programs that keep roofs over people’s heads offers another chance to dismantle that idea, but it would require corporate media giving serious space to other, different ways of seeing the world.

Tony Romano is organizing director with the Right to the City Alliance. He joins us now by phone from Atlanta, Georgia. Welcome to CounterSpin, Tony Romano.

Tony Romano: Hi! Good to be here with you.

JJ: Let me ask you, first of all, what do you think would be the on-the-ground effects of this kind of financial cut to HUD that we’re hearing about? Whose lives are likely to be most directly impacted?

TR: The impact is going to be severe and swift if it happens—and hopefully it won’t; there’s great resistance. $6 billion from the HUD budget essentially guts HUD, and HUD right now is the only source of housing and funding for very low-income people, people who make zero to 30 percent of AMI, which could be like zero to $15,000 in a lot of our cities. There is no housing that those folks have access to, other than public housing, or housing where they have a Section 8 voucher.

And if you have public housing or you have Section 8, what’s very important about that is you only pay a third of your income —they’re messing with that formula a little bit, but that’s what it’s been—and that’s the essence: You pay a third of your income, which means if your income declines, you lose your job, you pay less. So the idea is that that’s truly affordable housing. And it’s not a bad measure to say, generally, if you pay over a third of your income, it’s not affordable. Now, of course, we believe if you make under a certain amount, then you don’t have any money to put to housing and you shouldn’t have to pay any.

But with that said, the poorest folks right now in this country—who are retired folks, extremely low-wage workers, folks differently abled—these folks, the only homes where they can live are these homes. So if there are cuts, what it means literally is these folks are on the street. $6 billion means the elimination of hundreds of thousands of public housing units and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Section 8 vouchers. That means those folks are on the street. And if you make $2,000 a year, if you make $10,000 a year, $15,000 a year, there is no place for you to live except under a bridge.

So we’re talking thousands and thousands of additional homeless people. I’m not even talking about the level of crisis right now. And for whatever home housing remains, there’s going to be a whole ‘nother level of burden on those residents, who are likely paying, you know, a third of their income, to paying much more of their income. So we’ll see more and more people in HUD housing that don’t have affordable rents.

JJ: Now, it seems enough to say that that’s unacceptable on its face, to be creating homelessness, driving people into having fewer and fewer options. But in case it needed saying, this also has an impact on communities. It’s not to say that if you are not yourself right on that edge, that it won’t have an impact on the community that you live in, because after all, we’re talking about working families, folks who are living in a neighborhood or a city because that’s where they work. So the rippling impact is also important here, is it not?

TR: Very true. And we know that gentrification is rampant throughout the country. We know there’s an eviction epidemic, where thousands of families are being evicted literally monthly in cities across this country. And the one thing right now that allows residents to stay in a community where they’ve been for decades and decades is HUD housing.

The other thing we should note here is, we are in the midst of one of the worst national housing crises in the history of this country. So when we talk about $6 billion in cuts, we can talk about the devastation of people who are in HUD housing right now, right? The thousands and thousands that will be made homeless, the thousands and thousands that will have to pay a lot more of their income to housing, and thus not be able to pay for prescriptions or a bus pass. But what we’re not talking about is the fact that millions and millions of people, one in every two renters in this country, have unaffordable rent right now, and they’re in the private sector.

So actually, at a time when we’ve been pushing the government to step up its role, to support the expansion of truly affordable housing, this is what happened. And it should be noted that it doesn’t evenly impact all peoples and communities. So it’s the black communities, Latina communities, Asian communities that are hardest hit.

JJ: I think part of what Right to the City wants to say and emphasize is that it doesn’t have to be that way. So let me just say, it’s clear that this move of gutting HUD, this is part of a bigger plan on the part of the Trump administration. We know that the money that they’re taking out of social programs is going to fund a bigger military, and it’s going into private pockets. They have a vision, if you will, and those of us who want something different have to be just as bold with our competing vision. So I want to ask you, what’s the new vision for housing? How does housing fit into the vision of the world we want to live in, and what do we need to do to get there?

TR: Great question. And for us, everything we do is driven by vision, and how we feel the world should be. And actually, for us, and regular folks out there, working people, it’s not that complicated. Housing and our community are vital to us being able to live and thrive. Without home and without community, nothing else becomes possible, and everything else becomes a crisis. So if something is that important to our lives, it should not be something that’s sold on the market, like a hamburger, where everything is driven by folks that want to maximize profit.

We believe, clearly, housing, community, land are human rights. And our vision and answer has already been proven to work. Our answer is, move housing and land to a place where it’s fundamentally there to serve people’s need to have a stable, healthy, thriving home and community. And we’ve seen that happen. There are places where the land is collectively owned by the residents. Some of the residents are homeowners, some of the residents are renters. What’s unique about those communities is the land is collectively owned by everyone who lives on it.

So let me give you an example. If you look at Boston from 2007, the number of evictions, thousands; the number of foreclosures, thousands; the number of people who have lost their homes, the number of people made homeless, the number of people putting most of their income to housing, is devastating. If you looked at a map of Boston, and there was a red dot for every eviction or foreclosure, it would like like a bloody corpse.

Dudley Street, Boston (image: Google Street View)

Except there would be one part that would have no red dots, and you would think it must be a lake, right, or a big body of water, because people couldn’t live there. Actually, it’s called Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. It’s a community land trust that’s been there for decades. Because the folks collectively own the land, they have not suffered evictions and foreclosures. And even if someone loses their job, then their rent, or their payments to housing—because the land’s collectively owned—they work [it out] together.

JJ: Right.

TR: Right? So some homeowners move to be a renter and vice-versa. So it’s proven to work when the land is collectively owned.

Let me tell you the other thing that’s worked. Even if people do not collectively own the land, where people have actually been in place, and been able to be stable and secure and not have a threat of eviction, is when they have rent control.

If people have rent control, then no matter what happens, if there’s investment in the community, which people long for, if there’s development, they get to help shape and benefit from that development. But of course, rent control is being eroded. So for us, our vision is to decommodify land and housing, and to create stability for renters and homeowners.

And what that means is, one, renter’s rights, so let’s expand rent control. How about universal rent control? If you’re a renter, you have rent control. That would prevent rising, ridiculous rents.

And then, second, even beyond that, where people start to have direct control over the land through community land trusts. What does that mean? It means when the cities, the governments, HUD, Fannie and Freddie, are handing over land and properties to developers, we’re saying, hey, we got an idea, why don’t you, right now, put a third of all your land, and turn it over to communities to collectively own the land?

JJ: Right.

TR: And then they will decide what happens on that land. And they will foster development investment, but they will shape it and they will benefit from it. So there’s some very simple things that can happen in terms of—our demands were to expand HUD funding. And in terms of scarcity versus abundance, we know there’s an abundance. We know the finance capitalists, we know the big corporations, the Blackstones, they are making profits hand over fist, and none of that is going back into folks.

So financial transaction taxes, real corporate taxes—that would generate enough money to definitely allow rents to be stable, allow the HUD budget to be significantly increased, and to allow people to be able to live where they aren’t paying most of their income to housing, and having to literally make a choice of, do I pay rent or do I get my medication? Do I pay rent or do I pay for childcare for my kid? Those are the kinds of dilemmas families are facing every day.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Tony Romano. He’s organizing director at Right to the City, a national alliance of racial, economic and environmental justice organizations. You can find their work on housing and other issues online at RightToTheCity.org. Tony Romano, thank you very, very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

TR: Good to be here. And if people want to hear and learn more information or get involved in the resistance, you can go to www.HomesForAll.org, and that’s F-O-R spelled out. You can also go to www.RightToTheCity.org. And you can join—we’ll support you in starting to organize tenant unions or community organizations, which are the heart and soul of this growing movement, and we’ll also help you connect with existing, very powerful, resident-led organizations in your area.

JJ: All right then. Thank you so, so much, Tony Romano.

TR: Thank you, Janine.

The Political Economy of ‘Moral Authority’

March 20, 2017 - 4:41pm

In her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention last year (7/28/16), Hillary Clinton forcefully rebutted President Donald J. Trump’s call to “make America great again”: “America is great because America is good,” Clinton declared, repeating a truism that has been misattributed to Alexis de Tocqueville and invoked by Democrats and Republicans since Eisenhower (Weekly Standard, 11/12/95).

The implication of this phrase, of course, is that the United States derives its greatness from a presumed moral authority. Corporate media are now sounding the alarm that the US’s moral authority is suddenly under attack by the Trump administration.

New York Times Paris bureau chief Alissa J. Rubin (3/10/17) lamented “another step by the Trump administration away from America’s traditional role as a moral authority on the world stage,” noting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s absence at the release of the US’s annual human rights report. Citing interviews with diplomats, she warns that “the United States under President Trump was poised to cede not only this global role, but also its ability to lead by example.”

On NBC’s Meet the Press (3/5/17), Times columnist Thomas Friedman alerted the audience, “This president has formal authority, but every day you see him eroding his moral authority,” and by extension the moral authority of the nation. US News & World Report (3/1/17) complained that Trump’s travel ban “has simultaneously undermined America’s moral authority and national security.”

Prisoner transfer at Guantanamo Bay (photo: Shane T. McCoy/US Navy)

In the course of advancing this critique, however, corporate media could not avoid admitting that the presumption of US moral authority is for the most part rhetorical. Rubin noted that “Guantánamo Bay, the use of torture on suspected terrorists [and] the civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan” have “already eroded [the US’s] moral standing.” Yet media are now looking back on, for instance, George W. Bush’s insistence that the US was not anti-Muslim—rhetorical cover for those virulently anti-Muslim policies—with nostalgic longing (FAIR.org, 1/7/16, 3/7/17).

Verizon’s Huffington Post (2/28/17) comforted readers by arguing that, notwithstanding Clinton’s electoral defeat, the popular vote shows that her agenda “continues to be the prevailing moral authority in the nation.” That authority was seemingly undiminished by, for example, Secretary of State Clinton’s gleeful celebration of the torture and murder of a leader she targeted for regime change in Libya, or her readiness as a candidate to “kill a lot of Syrians” if she had her way with that country.

Back at the New York Times (3/5/17), the editorial board scored Trump’s claims about former President Barack Obama tapping his phones not for being unsubstantiated but for their “sheer indifference to…the moral authority of the American presidency.” Meanwhile, as Time (2/17/17) reported, less than a month after he vacated the office, academics ranked Obama the 12th best president in history, citing his “public persuasion and moral authority.”

There is a subtext to the concern for Trump’s impact on the nation’s moral standing: The US’s self-proclaimed moral authority is good for business. Huffington Post recently ran an open letter from Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim (2/17/17), who argued that Trump’s travel ban “undermines our moral authority as the leader of the free world” and precludes “a more dynamic and inclusive economy.” The Los Angeles Times (3/12/17) confirmed this fear, warning that the US could forfeit $10.8 billion in spending by tourists disinclined to travel here (though the specter of Trump has so far been great for the news industry).

This would certainly not be the first time the US’s “moral standing” has been deemed problematic insofar as it interferes with global capitalism. Official concern over the US image in the world marketplace and its persuasive power in geopolitics stretches back generations.

As the Cold War ignited following World War II, the US Foreign Service began to notice that state-sanctioned segregation and the frequent lynching of black Americans did not play well in the ideological battle between Communism and Western democracy. “The United States has been embarrassed in the conduct of foreign relations by acts of discrimination taking place in this country,” the US solicitor general noted in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in 1947, which was set to hear the Shelley v Kraemer case on racial segregation in housing. “The gap between the things we stand for in principle and the facts of a particular situation may be too wide to be bridged,” he warned.

Derrick Bell (image: Charlie Rose)

The Court ruled for the plaintiff in that case, effectively outlawing racial housing covenants by finding their enforcement to be a violation of the 14th Amendment—thus starting a process of chipping away at the legal basis for segregation, culminating in the celebrated Brown v Board of Education of Topeka decision seven years later. Rather than cementing America’s moral authority in the world, however, the slow establishment of racial equality as a principle of law revealed an altogether different phenomenon, according to Derrick Bell, a Harvard law professor and progenitor of critical race theory who passed away in 2011.

“What accounted for the sudden shift in 1954 away from the separate but equal doctrine and towards a commitment to desegregation?” Bell asked a Harvard Law symposium in 1978 (Harvard Law Review, 1/80). “The decision in Brown to break with the Court’s long-held position on these issues,” he argued,

cannot be understood without some consideration of the decision’s value to whites, not simply those concerned about the immorality of racial inequality, but also those whites in policymaking positions able to see the economic and political advances at home and abroad that would follow abandonment of segregation.

Thus Bell introduced his famous concept of interest-convergence, according to which such accommodations are made “so long as policymakers find that the interest of blacks converges with the political and economic interests of whites,” as he later wrote for the New York Law School Review. “The Brown decision,” Bell noted, “advanced US interests because racial segregation was hampering the United States in the Cold War with Communist nations and undermining US efforts to combat subversion at home.”

By this time, Bell could point to research by Mary Dudziak, a professor of law at Emory University. In response to his initial 1978 commentary on interest-convergence, Dudziak wrote in the Stanford Law Review (11/88) that “neither Bell nor other scholars have developed this approach historically.” Her article, “Desegregation as a Cold War Imperative,” presented an exhaustive survey of official correspondence (including the amicus brief quoted above) that, in Dudziak’s view, “demonstrates Derrick Bell’s interest-convergence thesis: The consensus against racial segregation in the 1950s resulted from a convergence of interests on the part of whites and persons of color.”

Almost 70 years later, Obama’s election as the US’s first black president was in the eyes of many a historical triumph for racial progress and US moral authority on the order of Brown. Clinton was expected to quickly build upon that feat by becoming the US’s first woman president, somehow setting an example for a world that has already known dozens of female heads of state.

In its endorsement of Obama in 2008, the New York Times (8/23/08) wrote of a “battered and drifting” country with “a scarred global image” at the end of Bush’s tenure. Upon Obama’s election, the Times (9/4/08) celebrated “a strikingly symbolic moment in the evolution of the nation’s fraught racial history,” which produced “a national catharsis—a repudiation of a historically unpopular Republican president and his economic and foreign policies.”

The symbolism of Obama’s presidency was even enough to satisfy Dudziak, who wrote a Times  op-ed (7/22/16) prior to the 2016 election, headlined “Donald Trump and America’s Moral Authority,” which cautioned against Trump’s “war on American values, and his effort to hollow out the nation’s image in the world.” While she recalled her research on civil rights and the Cold War, Dudziak failed to mention that this project was undertaken to corroborate Bell’s thesis that our country’s moral authority was not quite what it seemed.

The modern “gap” between US rhetoric and particular material conditions is evidenced by Obama’s drone wars. In 2014, the human rights group Reprieve (11/24/14) found that US drones had killed over 1,100 unknown people in Yemen and Pakistan during unsuccessful attempts to assassinate 41 named targets. Yet when Trump asked Bill O’Reilly (O’Reilly Factor, 2/5/17), “Do you think our country’s so innocent?” MSNBC (2/8/17) characterized that as “the most anti-American statement ever made.”

More broadly, the historians surveyed by Time lauded Obama’s role in “extricating America from two protracted, inconclusive wars,” despite the fact that he expanded America’s “war on terror” from two nations to seven. Remiss to leave out the economic angle, they also noted “an economy that is in far better form than it was when he took over,” even though Obama himself admitted nearly all of the gains were going to the richest, and economic anxiety is seen as a significant factor in sweeping Trump to power.

Nate Silver (FiveThirtyEight, 3/10/17) recently concluded that “there really was a liberal media bubble” in the run-up to Trump’s election. “The conditions of political journalism,” Silver argued, “are poor for crowd wisdom and ripe for groupthink.” Over and above the failure to predict Clinton’s loss, however, is the more widespread groupthink behind the US’s so-called “moral authority” that Trump suddenly throws into doubt, as though he came from nowhere.

Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville—the 19th century French sociologist who did not say “America is great because America is good”—did offer insights into the American mindset in his prescient book, Democracy in America. Noting that democratic societies “plunge the greater part of man in constant active life,” Tocqueville observed that an American

has perpetually occasion to rely on ideas which he has not had leisure to search to the bottom; for he is much more frequently aided by the opportunity of an idea than by its strict accuracy; and, in the long run, he risks less in making use of some false principles, than in spending his time in establishing all his principles on the basis of truth.

The truth of the US’s “moral authority” is at the very least questionable—but, as Obama demonstrated, even a false principle presents rhetorical opportunities, in domestic discourse and on the world stage. Truth be damned, those opportunities are threatened as Trump applies a more ghastly veneer to the nation’s image.

If Tocqueville is right that ordinary citizens in a democracy cannot be expected to have time to search such an idea to the bottom, this responsibility must fall in part on an independent media—the so-called Fourth Estate. Indeed, Tocqueville said “the sovereignty of the people and the freedom of the press may therefore be looked upon as inseparable institutions.”

What he neglected to make clear is that the press must also be willing to do the work. According to Dudziak’s study, foreign media played a pivotal role in pushing the United States to practice what it preached on the issue of civil rights. “Newspapers in many corners of the world covered stories of racial discrimination against visiting non-white foreign dignitaries and Americans,” she reported, having surveyed examples from Haiti to China.

Lately, our corporate media seem more interested in simply declaring the United States’ moral authority rather than thoroughly investigating the basis for such a claim. This approach may be less risky, as Tocqueville predicted, but it is not likely to bridge the historical gap between the idea of US moral authority and its realization any time soon.

John C. O’Day is a graduate philosophy student at Texas A&M.

Tony Romano on Housing Cuts, Robert Dreyfuss on Iraq War Intel

March 17, 2017 - 10:14am
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(cc photo: Albert Duce/Wikimedia)

This week on CounterSpin: The White House wants to cut $6 billion from HUD, the Department of Housing and Urban Development—or 13 percent of the agency’s funding. Team Trump says that programs that support affordable housing for families, the elderly, and people with disabilities haven’t “justified their existence.” It’s not a mystery how devastating such cuts would be, and for whom—or why. So how do we fight back with a different vision of housing and community? We’ll talk about that with Tony Romano, organizer with the Right to the City Alliance.

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Also on the show: March 20 marks 14 years since the US-led invasion of Iraq, the launch of an illegal war based on lies. Corporate media don’t make much of these anniversaries, and still less of their own role at the time—and no wonder: So poorly did US journalists perform their function that research shows those who got their news from TV were more likely to believe that weapons of mass destruction had been discovered in Iraq, that evidence closely linking Iraq to Al Qaeda had been found, and that world opinion approved of the US invasion. Perhaps the biggest lie now is that “everyone believed” Iraq had banned weapons—because, after all, “the intelligence” said so. CounterSpin talked about that intelligence in February 2004, a year into the war, with investigative journalist Robert Dreyfuss. We’re going to bring you that conversation today, as antidote to tales about what “everyone” believed.

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‘That Violence Against Our Community Is Often Not Told by Media’ - CounterSpin interview with Kris Hayashi on trans non-ruling

March 16, 2017 - 9:57am

Janine Jackson interviewed Kris Hayashi about the Supreme Court’s non-ruling on trans students for the March 10, 2017, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Kris Hayashi: “The actions of the administration just send such a clear message to young people, who are already facing harassment, that this administration does not value them and will not protect their rights.”

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Janine Jackson: Listeners may know the name Gavin Grimm, the transgender teen boy from Virginia whose case for his right to use the boys’ bathroom in his high school the Supreme Court has just declined to hear. You are less likely to know the name Ciara McElveen, a New Orleans outreach worker for the homeless, or Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, a nursing student in South Dakota, two of the at least seven trans women killed violently just so far in 2017.

The failure of institutions like the Court to prioritize the human rights of transgender people, and the daily violence committed against them, might seem like two separate, if related, stories. But maybe it’s really only one story, about continued resistance to accepting transgender people, including kids, as fully human, deserving of inclusion and protection.

We’re joined now by Kris Hayashi, executive director of the Transgender Law Center. He joins us by phone from Oakland. Welcome to CounterSpin, Kris Hayashi.

Kris Hayashi: Thank you for having me.

JJ: When media headlines reported that the Trump White House’s retraction of the Obama administration’s guidance around the rights of transgender students in public schools, when the headlines said that meant those rights were “rescinded” or “revoked,” they were just wrong, and it seems important to make clear that that kind of move doesn’t change the law, no matter what anybody says.

But it’s also the case that a decision like the one the Supreme Court just made on Gavin Grimm, that kind of thing can still have an effect, can’t it? I wonder what’s your response, in particular to the Court’s decision.

KH: Absolutely. I mean, I think it’s important to be clear that both the Trump administration’s rescinding of the guidance a few weeks ago and the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Gavin Grimm’s case and to send it back down to the Fourth Circuit—none of those changed the fact that the law is firmly on the side of transgender students, and that transgender students are protected from discrimination under the law in this country. However, it is very true that both the rescinding of the guidance, coupled with the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Gavin’s case, really sends a very clear message to transgender students that this new administration does not value them and will not protect their rights. I think it also sends a really clear message to school districts around the country that this new administration will not hold them accountable to the law.

And for transgender young people, who already face violence and harassment on the streets and in their schools, even though transgender students are protected under the law from discrimination, we hear stories all across the country from transgender students who continue to face discrimination and harassment in their schools simply for who they are. And the actions of the administration just send such a clear message to young people, who are already facing harassment, that this administration does not value them and will not protect their rights.

JJ: The Transgender Law Center just filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of some groups that work with trans students and families. And I think there’s a value to showing it as being about family, after all, and saying, these aren’t “controversies,” they’re kids. And I think media could use that re-centering too.

KH: Absolutely. And I would also say that it’s absolutely important to hear the voices and stories of transgender students themselves, and their families, all across the country. And it’s also true that there are transgender young people all across the country who are also incredible leaders and organizers and who are fighting for their rights in their schools and in their communities, speaking out at rallies and protests, making public statements, that transgender young people themselves are also taking action and standing up for their rights.

JJ: Part of the reason, of course, that people are concerned about the Supreme Court’s punt, if you will, is that by the time it comes back to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court could be different. In just a few weeks, we’re going to be looking at hearings around Trump’s appointment, Neil Gorsuch. What would a Gorsuch appointment mean, or what could it mean, for transgender people?

KH: We are really clear that a Gorsuch appointment, that he clearly does not support the rights of transgender people, and that that would be incredibly harmful for him to be on the Supreme Court. I’ll also say that a piece of this story that is important to know, too, is that in addition to Gavin’s case, there are also a number of other cases of transgender young people across the country. For example, at the Transgender Law Center, we are representing a transgender boy who lives in Wisconsin and, similar to Gavin, his school discriminated against him; he was singled out to use a restroom separate from other boys in the school, and his school actually took it a step further, and they required that all transgender students wear green wristbands so they could better monitor their bathroom use.

JJ: Oh, my gosh.

KH: We were successful in getting a preliminary injunction on behalf of the young person, and so the school is not able to enforce that policy. And that case is actually going to be heard in the Seventh Circuit on March 29, so really at the end of this month.

JJ: That is shocking. And I guess it takes me to the question—the fact that I think many listeners will not have heard about that brings me to the question of media coverage. I’ve been saying that I think there’s some link between, not just the difficulty in getting a court to assert clearly the full human rights of trans people, but also the difficulty in getting media to accept it as a human rights issue and not a “controversy” or a “political football”—that there’s a link between that and actual harm to trans people. But if that kind of coverage can push in one direction, what sort of coverage would move us in a more positive direction? I mean, I would start with just information about the cases like the one that you’ve cited.

KH: Yeah, definitely. I also think that it’s important—you know, we’re in this moment, right, where for the transgender movement, there is a level of visibility that we have that is so different than even three or four years ago. We have folks like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, highly, highly visible people.

And then the reality is that at the same time, the majority of transgender people, particularly transgender people of color in this country, are really struggling to survive on a daily basis, and facing violence and harassment. As you were speaking to earlier, there have been seven murders of transgender women of color in this country, and we’re only barely into March. 2016, we saw the most reported number of murders of transgender people that we ever have, and, again, those are just the murders that we know about.

And it’s that type of violence against our community that is often not told by the media, along with the incredible organizing and leadership, that both transgender young people and transgender adults all across the country are continuing to move forward, in the face of incredible violence and discrimination, to fight for the rights of our communities, to keep our communities safe and to build a different vision for what this world can look like.

JJ: All right then. I’d like to thank you. We’ve been speaking with Kris Hayashi of the Transgender Law Center. They’re online at TransgenderLawCenter.org. Kris Hayashi, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

KH: Thank you for having me.

‘Trumpcare Is Very Destructive to Both Medicare and Medicaid’ - CounterSpin interview with Nancy Altman on Trumpcare

March 15, 2017 - 5:47pm

Janine Jackson interviewed Nancy Altman about Trumpcare for the March 10, 2017, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

Nancy Altman: “Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, and other Republicans have been gunning for all these programs for decades. And now I think they see they have their chance.”

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Janine Jackson: “Far from seamless” was how the Washington Post described the debut of House Republicans’ much vaunted—by them—replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Like others, this story was about how right-wing Republicans might present hurdles to the plan’s passage, because it’s too much like the dreaded Obamacare, and how they might be appeased.

So much coverage of healthcare is set in terms of the political process—who presents obstacles, what groups are being whistled to—that the specifics, the reality of how changes in policy could affect actual people, can sometimes get lost. And healthcare could hardly be a worse place for that to happen.

Here to help us see some of what’s going on with this GOP bill is Nancy Altman. She’s co-director of Social Security Works and co-chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition and campaign. She joins us now by phone from Maryland. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Nancy Altman.

Nancy Altman: Thank you so much for having me.

JJ: It seems that in the media Medicare and Medicaid are mostly mentioned as a kind of in-one-breath tag-on to Social Security, when a story is giving a thumbnail of so-called “entitlements”; these programs are rarely center stage. I wonder if you could tell us about how this Republican plan, from what we know of it, would affect Medicare and Medicaid, and, along the way, remind us of what those programs do?

NA: The so-called Trumpcare, this new healthcare plan that the Republicans have just rolled out, is very destructive to both Medicare and Medicaid. The Republicans ran against the Affordable Care Act, the so-called Obamacare, but no one ran against Medicare and Medicaid, because the programs work very well and they’re very popular.

Both programs were enacted in 1965. The idea behind Medicare—it’s a part of Social Security—is that you cannot really be economically secure if you’re one illness away from bankruptcy. So Medicare provides basic health insurance for those 65 and over who are receiving Social Security.

Medicaid is intended as a low-income program, but it is the only part of our healthcare system that provides basic insurance for long-term care. So actually many seniors, many middle-class seniors, who find themselves in need of long-term nursing home care wind up relying on Medicaid.

So they are both programs that cover much of the Social Security beneficiary population. All three programs work very well; they’re very popular. And I should say one more thing, that Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, and other Republicans have been gunning for all these programs for decades.

JJ: Right.

NA: And now I think they see they have their chance. So what this does is it basically destroys Medicaid. That was expanded under the Affordable Care Act. That expansion is going to be gone, but in addition they’re going to, instead of now having, if you’ve got that insurance and you need a medical procedure, it gets paid for, instead they’re going to do a kind of cousin of block-granting, where they’re going to give the states money and just say, OK, you take care of your own population. States often are strapped. It will be very hard to keep that coverage.

And for Medicare, they literally raid Medicare. They take about several hundred billion dollars out of Medicare and what they do is give very large tax breaks for the very wealthy.

JJ: Let me just add that Medicaid, listeners should know, besides seniors, of course, it’s also a main source of funding for a wide variety of disability services as well. People with disabilities, including older people who need attendants or even, you know, Ari Ne’eman wrote a piece on Talk Poverty, talking about the 24-year-old with Down syndrome who gets a job coach, the six-year-old with a disability whose parents need support. Medicaid is also critical to people with disabilities and providing them more independence and freedom, that’s true.

NA: That’s exactly right. And to millions of children in this nation, too, who are low-income.

JJ: Right. Right.

NA: And Medicare also provides basic insurance for people with disabilities. So it’s seniors, which is why the AARP has come out against this bill, but, as you point out, it’s millions and millions of other Americans.

JJ: Right. Well, the Washington Post, that piece had a source from Heritage who was talking about how this GOP plan isn’t good enough, because it doesn’t create a “free-market healthcare system.” So that’s one of the points on the continuum of conversation, is a system where poor people just die—because I don’t know what else that means. Now, some people may be ideologically OK with that, but for a lot of people, I think it fits with their understanding that we’re just in a situation of scarcity; we can’t afford a system that the government administers. That’s, if you would say, the big lie.

NA: That is the big lie. We are the wealthiest nation in the world, and we are at the wealthiest moment in our history. We’re wealthier than we were in 1935 when Social Security was enacted. We are wealthier now than we were in 1965 when Medicare and Medicaid were enacted. And you’re exactly right, the long-range plan for Medicare is to what they call “voucherize” it, which is basically to turn the clock back before 1965.

Before 1965, millions of seniors could not get health insurance at any price, because they had pre-existing conditions; they were just seen as too expensive. And those that could, had to pay huge mark-ups for health insurance, and that’s why we wound up getting Medicare. They want to turn this back to the private sector and let people just go out, give them some premium support to go out and to buy insurance and help pay for premiums, when that is just the wrong way to go.

JJ: I guess we have to push back, then, with a big truth, or a bigger vision. And I have seen some people saying, well, the fact that this plan is creating these kind of fissures, even among Republicans, for whatever reasons, but they think maybe that’s opening space to talk about single-payer….

NA: Medicare for All. Medicare was intended as a first step. In fact, there was a debate whether you first covered all children, because it’s much less expensive and they have a lifetime of health, or seniors, where, as I said, the need was dire…but they saw it as simply the first step. Even though Medicare covers the most expensive part of our population—seniors and people with disabilities—it is much more efficient than private-sector insurance, because it is universal for all people over age 65.

Other countries can provide all of their citizens with complete, affordable access to healthcare, and they have better health outcomes and they spend less than we do. If we expanded Medicare to for-All, and start it by simply lowering the age to 62, putting in a MediKids program, we would have a much more efficient program. And maybe that’s where we’re going, because that is a system that works.

JJ: Right. And just in terms of how we talk about it, it seems, maybe not “easy,” but straightforward. And then also: It’s estimated one in five Americans have some form of disability. Everybody’s going to get old if they’re lucky. And yet these show up as “interests” in the media conversation. There’s a New York Times piece: “Repeal of Health Law Faces a New Hurdle: Older Americans.” There’s this frame of some against others, like it’s Lord of the Flies, as though we can’t think about healthcare from a whole-society viewpoint, which of course seems like the way to go.

NA: It is. I mean, this is really Washington at its worst, where families are interest groups, you have children against grandparents…. That is not how America works. Our grandparents are not better off if their grandchildren are not educated, and grandchildren are not better off if their grandparents can’t afford the basic necessities of life. So we are all in this together. It’s one of the strengths of all of these programs, Social Security and Medicare. The concept is: We all contribute and, as you say, we all hope to get old; if we have the misfortune of becoming disabled, we have these basic programs that are there for all of us; it unites us. And we are certainly wealthy enough, not only to afford these current programs, but to expand them.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Nancy Altman. She’s co-director of the group Social Security Works and co-author of the book Social Security Works: Why Social Security Isn’t Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us. Nancy Altman, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

NA: Thank you.

Media Find Room for ‘Trumpcare Too Progressive,’ but Not for Single-Payer - Right-wing critics of GOP health plan get near-constant media attention--while single-payer advocates' challenges to ACA were never taken seriously

March 15, 2017 - 2:42pm

In May 2009, at the infancy of the healthcare reform battle that led to the Affordable Care Act, a group of nurses and single-payer activists were arrested for disrupting a Senate Finance Committee meeting chaired by Sen. Max Baucus (D.–Mont.) (Democracy Now, 5/13/09). These activists had been ignored by politicians and corporate media for years (FAIR.org, 3/6/09), and hoped an arrest, or eight,  would bring attention to their cause.

Despite the efforts of the “Baucus 8,” the New York Times did not report on the event. Nor did much of the rest of the dominant media. Not even mass arrests could get the corporate media to give voice to single-payer advocates, even though their position is supported by the majority of the public (Gallup, 5/16/16).

This is worth remembering as the media cover the GOP House’s American Health Care Act (AHCA), the plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as Obamacare. While even eight arrests couldn’t get attention to left-wing critics of the Democrat’s milquetoast health reform plan in 2009–10, today the far right is given thousands of words in the press, and plenty of air time on television, to air its ideological opposition to the current GOP plan.

Their argument: The GOP plan is insufficiently regressive. That’s right: In the eyes of these critics, Republicans are just too generous to those in need of healthcare.  This despite the Congressional Budget Office’s determination (3/13/17) that the bill would cause 24 million Americans to lose their insurance, 14 million of them from the stroke of Trump’s pen.

The Washington Post offered ample space to Trumpcare’s critics from the right–space that somehow wasn’t available for Obamacare’s critics from the left.

After the GOP bill passed two House committees, the Washington Post (3/7/17) devoted three reporters and 1,500 words to an article that gave prominent space to right-wing critics of the bill,  which include the Club for Growth, Heritage Action for America and the House Freedom Caucus, along with senators Ted Cruz (R.–Texas), Mike Lee (R.–Utah) and Rand Paul (R.–Ky.)—right-wing forces who are cited as characterizing House Speaker Paul Ryan’s bill as “Obamacare Lite.”

This was just one of several articles that amplified the far-fetched notion that GOP House plan is too progressive. The very same day, another Post article (3/7/17), headlined “‘Obamacare Lite,’ ‘RINOcare’: Conservatives Rebel Against GOP’s ACA Bill,” gave yet more attention to those who want to shred any remnant of a healthcare safety net.  It quoted five right-wing critics of the bill, and not a single person countering their claims—not even a slightly less radical Republican.

“The House Republican proposal released last night not only accepts the flawed progressive premises of Obamacare but expands upon them,” Heritage Action president Michael Needham told Post reporter Dave Weigel. The article also quoted FreedomWorks policy analyst Jason Pye, who said in a statement that the plan “creates a new entitlement.” The article even uncritically quoted radio host Mark Levin—most famous for persuading President  Trump that Barack Obama wiretapped his office (Fox News, 3/7/16)—who also described the House bill as  “RINOcare.”

The New York Times provides a platform for those who felt Trumpcare was “not the Obamacare repeal bill we’ve been waiting for.”

The New York Times (3/7/17) also gave prominent voice to this “sudden revolt” from the right.  “This is not the Obamacare repeal bill we’ve been waiting for,” said Senator Lee to the Times, which noted he was “was joined by a constellation of conservative groups” including “Charles G. and David H. Koch’s Americans for Prosperity.” These articles from the Post and Times were picked up widely in papers across the country (e.g., Houston Chronicle, 3/7/17; Albuquerque Journal, 3/7/17), illustrating their agenda-setting function.

This great debate about whether or not the AHCA is too redistributive was also on display during the Sunday talkshows. On Meet the Press (3/12/17), the narrative was “repeal, replace and revolt,” and put a particular emphasis on right-wing critiques. “It appears to be the largest welfare program ever proposed by Republicans in the history of our country,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R.–N.C.) said on the episode. Senator Paul made similar arguments on Face the Nation (3/12/17).

Worthy and Unworthy Discussions
The amplification of these right-wing voices  should not be confused with a bias against the ACA or the Democrats. In fact, arguments against repeal of the ACA are widely published (Reuters, 3/13/17) and aired (CNN, 3/7/17). Chuck Todd on Meet the Press (3/12/17) cited the opposition from what he called the “left-leaning” Brookings Institution—a corporate-funded establishment think tank that corporate media view as representative of the American left (FAIR.org,  11/1/98, 7/1/12).

The issue here is the doctrinal, ideological parameters of the mass media that narrow debate considerably. On the issue of healthcare specifically, it accepts only “market solutions” as worthy of serious consideration (Washington Post, 12/25/13).

The “Propaganda Model,” described by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in Manufacturing Consent, posits that corporate media content will, broadly speaking, reflect elite interests (FAIR.org, 2/1/09). News and debate that does this will be covered and amplified; news and debate that threatens these interests are ignored and/or dismissed.

The ACA, however, doesn’t really threaten elite interests. It originated from a conservative think tank (Forbes, 10/20/11) and was crafted with major input from industry (New York Times, 6/8/12). Most of the more progressive elements of the bill, notably the public option (The Hill, 2/23/10), were removed or weakened. The industry did well under the ACA (Salon, 10/28/16), which maintains healthcare as a commodity and not a right (Truthout, 6/9/2016), and is largely ambivalent about the coming reform under Trump.

On the other hand, single-payer, or Medicare for All, does threaten centers of private capital, namely the drug and insurance industries. So even though it has popular support, corporate media mostly ignore it. When it is covered, it is usually dismissed.

The aforementioned treatment of the Baucus 8 is one example of this. The coverage of Sen. Sanders’ presidential campaign showed a similar bias (FAIR.org, 1/30/16).  But there are more direct examples to compare.

A ‘Different Discussion’: The Marginalization of Single-Payer

The New York Times‘ sole mention of single-payer following the unveiling of the ACA relegated it to “a different discussion”–which somehow never took place.

The GOP health plan passed through two committees in the House last Tuesday, launching a flurry of coverage. The first iterations of health reform made its way through Democratic committees in the House (CNN, 7/14/09) on July 14, 2009, probably the closest parallel to the news cycle we endured this week.

In the first week of coverage following the House’s unveiling of the Democrats’ legislation (7/15–21/09), there were no mentions of “Medicare for All,” and only one mention of “single-payer,” in the New York Times. That mention was from a conversation (7/16/09) between columnists David Brooks and Gail Collins, in which Brooks notes that a public plan (emphasis added) “only really works if it leads to single payer, which is a different discussion.” This is quite the case study of how the corporate media treats single-payer: It is reserved for a “different discussion” and therefore not worth mentioning, except to explain that it is not worth mentioning.

This is not all that different from the solitary mention of single-payer in the Times this week (3/7–13/17), a Paul Krugman blog post (3/7/17) that glosses over the policy in his defense of the ACA, something he did for much of the 2016 Democratic primary (Truthout, 2/25/16).

During coverage of this early stage of the Affordable Care Act (7/15/09), there was no reporting on the many single-payer advocates and organizations who were upset with the Democrats’ plan, including Physicians for a National Health Program (6/6/09) and Healthcare-Now!. The only progressive influence on the debate was a push for a “public option,” a plan that would have allowed for, at most, 1 percent of the population to be enrolled in a quasi-government-run insurance plan. The public option didn’t satiate many activists, but some progressives viewed it as a “voluntary transition toward single-payer” (Health Affairs, 6/10).

Either way, even mentions of this more modest proposal were brief and largely emphasized opposition to the plan, as in a New York Times report (7/15/09):

In addition to widespread Republican resistance to the government insurance plan, Democrats are also contending with apprehension within their own ranks. Centrist lawmakers including Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Joseph I. Lieberman, the Connecticut independent, have all expressed reservations about the idea.

The dismissal of those who insisted on having a public option in the bill became the status quo in the media in the following months (Extra!, 4/1/10). MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (12/17/09) said he was “not sure that they’re regular, grown-up Democrats,” while Joe Klein (Time.com, 12/16/09) attacked “left-bloggers in high dudgeon” for the same reason, saying their “nonsense” calls “into question the ability of the Democratic Party to govern this country.” Those who relented in their support, including President Obama (New York Times, 12/17/09; Politico, 12/7/09), were invariably described as “pragmatic.”

Corporate Media as an Obstacle to Healthcare Justice

That it would threaten women’s health is a criticism of Trumpcare that corporate media find less interesting than the claim that it’s too generous to the poor.

The coverage of the infancy of the ACA stands in stark contrast to how the media narrative is functioning as the GOP starts its reform process. The ideological push from conservatives is one of the major stories being pursued by corporate media, and outside pressure from the right toward the GOP is taken seriously. In the week since the AHCA went through committee, there were four articles mentioning the Heritage Foundation’s skepticism of the bill, and three mentions of “Grover Norquist,” in the New York Times alone. In other words, for every mention of single-payer healthcare, the Times had three mentions of Grover Norquist.

While corporate media focus on the ridiculous argument from the right that the repeal bill is too progressive, they are downplaying many important stories, such as how the GOP bill would hurt women’s health (Intercept, 3/6/17) or make cuts to mental health and addiction coverage (Mother Jones, 3/10/17).  Why is the Heritage Foundation taken more seriously than the National Alliance on Mental Illness (3/7/17), for instance, which has expressed grave concern over the bill?

Corporate media coverage is bolstering the false perception that “the center” on healthcare policy is somewhere between supporting the ACA and Rand Paul–style pseudo-libertarianism.  In fact, most Americans want a public, universal healthcare system to be a reality. But the corporate media won’t even let it be part of the discussion.

Michael Corcoran is a journalist based in Boston. He has written for the Boston Globe, The Nation, the Christian Science Monitor, Extra!, NACLA Report on the Americas and other publications. Follow him on Twitter: @mcorcoran3.