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Five Years Later, US Admits Lies About Deadly Honduran Shooting

May 26, 2017 - 3:59pm

An edited transcript of Dana Frank’s interview ran in the July 2012 Extra!.

A Justice and State Department review reveals that top Drug Enforcement Administration officials lied repeatedly to Justice and to Congress about deadly shootings in Honduras in May 2012—including an incident off the Mosquito Coast in which a boat was fired on, killing four passengers, among them a 14-year-old boy. DEA officials long maintained, and media reported, that those killed were drug dealers who had fired first.

Presented now as a shocking revelation unearthed by government digging, the findings are no surprise to regional experts like University of California/Santa Cruz historian Dana Frank—nor should they be to the press. When CounterSpin (5/25/12) spoke to Frank in May of 2012, she had this to say:

This is a great opportunity to talk about critical thinking about the US media, because this story would never have been broken if it wasn’t for a couple reporters. I saw in the Honduran papers the day after it happened [5/12/12]; it was reported in the Honduran papers as, “DEA agents and Honduran troops killed drug traffickers and had a successful raid.” And over that next weekend, the indigenous people of the region put out a statement, saying, “Wait a minute, we were killed by the military here, and we were shot on from above and we are not drug dealers.”

And that went nowhere, because, frankly, if you follow Honduras closely, those kind of statements [come] from people being killed all the time by Honduran troops and police, and so you have to wait and see who’s even going to confirm that, because no one will believe you.

And then what happened was on Tuesday morning [5/15/12], one Honduran paper reported that the mayor and the congressman from that region, in the Mosquitia, said that the people that had been killed by the troops were civilians, and that they had been killed by the DEA as well as Honduran troops. Thank goodness that was picked up by Bloomberg News, in a piece that didn’t move that far, and AP picked up that story and moved with it, and we really want to celebrate Bloomberg for doing it and AP for doing it.

And then they started talking to the DEA and the State Department, and then of course the spin machine kicked in. The State Department said in its briefing that, yes, they did acknowledge that DEA agents were on board the helicopters, there were two helicopters at least, and they acknowledged that the helicopters are owned by the State Department, and also that there were Guatemalan military on board, which is also interesting. But at the same time, the State Department spin started to be—implying that these people were in fact drug traffickers; there was some remark about, well, local authorities are often drug traffickers, sort of impugning the mayor who had said it, and saying that, well, they had been shot at first.

And, you know, I can tell you as a historian that we don’t want to believe a word that the State Department is saying here. There’s just way too much of a history of lying about things. Of course, we can believe them when they admit to bad things, but I think we have a lot to learn about what was going on in this incident.

So the point isn’t so much now it can be told, as now it can be admitted.

Ari Berman on the Attack on Voting Rights

May 26, 2017 - 9:54am
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(cc photo: Michael Fleshman)

This week on CounterSpin: In a new wrinkle, Iowa Republicans, pushing a strict voter ID law that the ACLU says could disenfranchise 11 percent of the state’s eligible voters, admit that the claim that such laws are needed to prevent voter fraud is bogus. “It is true that there isn’t widespread voter fraud,” state Rep. Ken Rizer told the New York Times. “But there is a perception that the system can be cheated. That’s one of the reasons for doing this.” That perception, of course, having been cooked up by Republicans themselves.

One would hope that such transparent, cynical maneuvers would suffice to wake media up to their own role in the deception, of course—but more broadly, to shift coverage from seeing fights over voting rights as partisan bickering to recognizing an attack on democracy for what it is. Most if not all journalists would tell you elections are a big story, one of the biggest. But that rings painfully hollow if they aren’t interested in who gets to take part.

Ari Berman reports on voting rights as a senior contributing writer at The Nation and a fellow at the Nation Institute. He’s also author of, most recently, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.

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And we take a look back at recent press, including assaults on journalists, looking on the bright side of loss of health insurance, and overdue Honduras admissions.

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Elite Media Need to Recognize Assaults on Reporters as a Pattern–and a Threat

May 25, 2017 - 5:41pm

It is heartening at least that Montana newspapers withdrew their endorsements of Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte, after he grabbed Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs by the neck for trying to ask him a question, slammed him to the floor and punched him repeatedly (Fox News, 5/24/17). More heartening would be a full recognition across elite media that the incident is far from isolated.

As Huffington Post‘s Michael Calderone (5/24/17), for one, pointed out, a Republican state senator in Alaska, David Wilson, reportedly slapped reporter Nathaniel Herz earlier this month over a story Wilson didn’t like; FCC security pinned reporter John M. Donnelly against a wall for trying to ask a commission member a question last week; and West Virginia reporter Dan Heyman was arrested May 10 for trying to ask a question of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who declared himself pleased with that outcome.

Calderone notes that this behavior is of course fanned by Donald Trump, who didn’t invent distrust in media but escalated it dramatically in his campaign—blacklisting outlets, shoving reporters around and restricting movements at events, declaring the press the “enemy of the American people”…and now suggesting putting whistleblower journalists in prison.

The New York Times‘ apparently unironic effort to “say something nice about Donald Trump.”

Establishment journalists failed their “first they came for the Communists…” moment at the very beginning of the Trump administration, when DC police arrested and charged at least nine alternative journalists for covering protests at Trump’s inauguration that included property damage. Charges have since been dropped against most of the reporters, but felony charges are still pending against two: Aaron Cantu (who has written for FAIR.org) faces a maximum of ten years in prison for “rioting,” while Andrei Wood could get up 70 years on charges of rioting and destruction of property. No evidence has been presented to date that either one had any role at the protests other than covering them as news events, but their colleagues in establishment media have not made the criminalization of journalism into a cause celebre.

It’s hard to fathom how a press corps worth its salt would see the imperative of the present as ginning readers up to “say something nice” about Trump, as a new New York Times feature does, but Calderone cites a survey showing that 75 percent of White House reporters say they view Trump’s anti-press rhetoric as a distraction, rather than a threat. In that vein, CNN‘s Chris Cillizza (5/25/17) has referred to Gianforte’s assault as an “error,” as though it were a tactical misstep rather than an attack on press freedom.

One wonders, and worries, what it will take for elite media to change their minds about that.

WaPo Provides Platform for Calls to Imprison WaPo Sources

May 25, 2017 - 3:40pm

Washington Post editorial (9/16/16)

For the third time in a year, the Washington Post has promoted the prosecution of Washington Post sources.

Last September,  the Post controversially published “No Pardon for Edward Snowden” (9/16/16), an editorial calling for prosecution of the whistleblower who helped the paper win a Pulitzer Prize in 2014.

In the past weeks, two Post columnists have joined the Post editorial board in calling for Post sources to be jailed—this time in regard to the Post’s major scoop (5/16/17) about President Donald Trump leaking classified intelligence to Russian diplomats.

First up was former head of the CIA, pro-torture pundit and frequent Trump critic Mike Morell, whose op-ed piece (5/17/17)  took aim at the Post’s sources for this story—anonymous “current and former US officials”—arguing that “the leakers did commit a crime, and they should be held accountable.”

Washington Post‘s Marc Thiessen (5/22/17)

Post columnist, pro-torture theologian and former Bush official Marc Thiessen (5/22/17) joined him the following week in “Leakers Who Revealed Israel as Intelligence Source Did Far More Damage Than Trump”:

The decision of these anonymous leakers to share code-word intelligence with the media is a crime that did far more damage than Trump’s apparently inadvertent disclosures to the Russians.

The Post may argue the editorial side is independent of the news side, and that the opinions expressed there—including those of the editorialists, whose writings are tagged as “The Post‘s View”—have no bearing on its newsgathering practices. But this assumes that the Post draws its opinion writers out of a hat rather than deliberately deciding to give a platform to a specific range of ideological perspectives.

With the exception of one Katrina vanden Heuvel column (9/20/16) from last September that advocated a pardon for Snowden, the Post hasn’t featured any opinion pieces countering these calls for the prosecution of the paper’s sources. Post-election, the Post has branded itself the vanguard against Trump—and indeed, its reporting side has often lived up to this billing. But the editorial side of the paper has repeatedly thrown its reporters’ sources under the bus.

Why should a source leak to the Post when its editorial board toes the national security state line to such a rigorous degree? If “democracy dies in darkness”—as the Post’s new tagline claims—what happens to democracy when any attempt at exposing the inner workings of the government leads to multiple felony counts?

But the calls for prison time for whistleblowers are part of a broader problem with the Washington Post opinion section—the prevalence of pro-government, pro-national security state voices over all others.

In one 24-hour period this month, for example, the Post ran op-eds by the former head of CIA, the former head of NSA, a former vice president and an ex-CIA agent. While the Post will sometimes allow outside voices, its opinion section is disproportionately and overwhelmingly populated by current and former boosters of US national security orthodoxy. The same goes for their editorial board, which, in addition to calling for the prosecution of Washington Post sources, runs interference for US allies and is a lockstep advocate for all of its wars.

Whistleblowers are already under attack on multiple fronts—from lengthy jail sentences to “cruel and inhuman” pre-trial punishment to the draconian Espionage Act. The question the Post should ask itself is: In addition to all of this, do whistleblowers really need the paper that publishes their revelations using its opinion pages to call for their imprisonment?

Messages can be sent to the Washington Post at letters@washpost.com, or via Twitter @washingtonpost. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.



For USA Today, Healthcare Glass Is 1/24th Full

May 25, 2017 - 2:27pm

The Congressional Budget Office released its analysis  (5/24/17) of the GOP’s Obamacare repeal, and the takeaway was that a staggering 23 million Americans would lose their insurance under the law.

Well, this was the takeaway for most media outlets, anyway, as they announced the results on Twitter. The New York Times (5/24/17), Washington Post (5/24/17) and Associated Press (5/24/17)—along with virtually every other news organization—cited this fact when they tweeted the breaking news. And no wonder: This figure nearly doubles the number currently uninsured in the United States.

USA Today, however, had a very different emphasis when it broke the news on the social media platform.  The paper emphasized to its 3.3 million followers that the report was an improvement over the past CBO projection of an earlier different version of the law. “#BREAKING: CBO says House Obamacare repeal bill covers 1 million more people than prior draft.”

#BREAKING CBO says House Obamacare repeal bill covers 1 million more people than prior draft https://t.co/rjVUTCF9Kq

— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) May 24, 2017

Talk about looking for the silver lining: By disinsuring 23 million people rather than 24 million, the latest version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA)  is 1/24th less bad than its previous incarnation.

Based on the USA Today tweet alone, one would get the impression that the CBO scoring was good news for Trumpcare, and not a devastating calculation that is among the reasons only 17 percent of the country supports the AHCA.

The paper’s tweet prompted a flood of comments virtually unanimous in their befuddlement over how one could find this marginal difference to be bigger news than 23 million Americans potentially losing their insurance. “What a misleading headline,” one reader summed it up. “You should be ashamed. This bill covers 23 million less than Obamacare.”


It appears the publication did notice the criticism. Almost an hour later, it replied to its own tweet with a more appropriate headline: “CBO: House Obamacare repeal will increase uninsured by 23 million.” But this response got much less play, with 64 rather than 108 retweets, and 62 vs. 128 likes, at last count. A little later, the paper posted a new tweet—not a reply—with a graphic that emphasized the 23 million figure. But this wasn’t able to capture the attention that the original, misleading tweet was able to garner as it sizzled through cyberspace at peak news time.

House #Obamacare repeal will increase uninsured by 23 million https://t.co/LEDiDoNZNP pic.twitter.com/lQRATkZFyT

— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) May 24, 2017

Messages to USA Today can be sent here or via Twitter (@USAToday). Remember that respectful communication is the most effective.

Deficit Scare Tactics Are What Citizens Should Really Be Afraid Of

May 24, 2017 - 1:21pm

No, it doesn’t–but not because it doesn’t do enough to cut Social Security and Medicare.

The New York Times (5/23/17) ran a column by Maya MacGuineas, the president of the Peter Peterson–backed Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The piece begins with the ominous announcement:

President Trump entered office facing the worst ratio of debt to gross domestic product of any new president in American history except Harry Truman—an onerous 77 percent.

It could have also begun with the announcement that the ratio of debt service (interest on the debt, net of payments from the Federal Reserve Board) to GDP is less than 1 percent. This contrasts with a ratio of almost 3.0 percent in the early and mid-1990s. Are you scared yet?

Actually, you should be. Folks like Ms. MacGuineas have pushed austerity policies in the United States and around the world for the last decade. These policies have prevented the government from spending the amount necessary to restore the economy to full employment. This has not only kept millions of people in the United States from having jobs, it has prevented tens of millions from getting pay increases by weakening their bargaining power.

Furthermore, the lower levels of output have an enduring impact on the economy. They are associated with less investment in public and private capital, and less money spent on research and development. In addition, unemployed workers don’t gain the experience they would have otherwise. Many of the long-term unemployed drop out of the labor force and may end up never working again.

As a result of these effects, the Congressional Budget Office now estimates that the economy’s potential level of output for 2017 is 10 percent less than what it had projected for 2017 back in 2008, before the Great Recession really took hold. The loss in output due to this austerity tax is roughly $2 trillion a year. This is the reduction in wages and profit income as a result of the smaller size of the economy. That comes to $6,000 per person per year.

This is the burden that the Peter Peterson crew have imposed on our children and grandchildren due to their scare tactics on the deficits. (Hey, remember the Reinhart-Rogoff 90 percent debt-to-GDP cliff?) And fans of logic everywhere know that it will not matter one iota to our kids’ well-being if the government were to increase taxes on each of them by $6,000, or whether its austerity policies lead them to earn $6,000 less each year.

Not to mention the rents from government-granted patent and copyright monopolies. As I point out in Rigged, these come to close to $400 billion a year in the case of prescription drugs alone. This is the difference between the patent-protected price and the free-market price. It is effectively a privately collected tax. If we add in the rents from medical equipment, software and other items, the figure could easily be twice as high. In other words, we are making our kids pay $400 billion to $800 billion a year to pay for the research and creative work that was done in the past.

Anyone seriously concerned about the burden we impose on our kids has to include this cost in their calculations. Otherwise, they just deserve to have their pronouncements treated with ridicule.

Unfortunately, because of the distribution of money and power in society, it is only the taxes that will draw attention. The fact that inept economic management needlessly caused us to sacrifice economic growth, and did so in a way that disproportionately hurt the poor and middle class, is considered rude to mention in polite company.

Instead, we get columns with meaningless figures about debt to GDP that are designed to scare people.

A version of this post originally appeared on CEPR’s blog Beat the Press (5/24/17).

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

‘What Bail Does Is Coerce Guilty Pleas’

May 23, 2017 - 4:55pm

Janine Jackson: National Mama’s Bailout Day aimed, successfully, to get dozens of incarcerated black women home for Mother’s Day. The action could be supported with data: Black women are 44 percent of the US jail population, 80 percent of women in jail have young children, 82 percent are in custody for nonviolent offenses, and many are not convicted of anything at all. Or we could ask philosophically: Given that our society predicates a great deal on the idea of law as an equalizer, is it acceptable that anyone is jailed for an inability to pay a cash amount?

Well, Mama’s Bailout Day was about data and ideas, but first and foremost, it was about mamas. Our next guest was one of the organizers behind it. Arissa Hall is project manager at the National Bail Fund Network, which is housed at Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. She joins us now by phone from Brooklyn. Welcome to CounterSpin, Arissa Hall.

Arissa Hall: Thank you for having me.

JJ: One of the things I appreciate about this action, about Mama’s Bailout Day, is that it’s lateral. It’s about a system, the bail system, but it’s not an action that simply says, hey, look at this bad system. It’s person to person. What can you tell us about how Mama’s Bailout Day came to happen?

Arissa Hall: “Black folks are very familiar with…communal gathering of resources for liberation, as it goes back to during slavery, when black folks also had to buy their freedom.”

AH: It came to happen at a convening that about 25 people attended, hosted by the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table, and also Color of Change, in Atlanta at the end of January. And this convening was specifically about bail. We were in a brainstorming session, and folks were just bringing up ideas—interventions in the bail system, or how we can highlight that bail system. Mary Hooks, who is the co-director of SONG, Southerners On New Ground, offered up the idea of a national bailout, which then was accepted by the larger group, and specified as, we should do it around Mother’s Day, and highlight how we celebrate mothers, but how all mothers are not celebrated, specifically marginalized black moms who find themselves detained.

JJ: Brandon Patterson at Mother Jones quoted Mary Hooks from SONG saying, “Black people have a tradition of using our collective resources to buy each other’s freedom.” And she also said, “The sooner we can get folks out, the ability for them to mitigate their cases increases and the less collateral damage they are likely to incur.” And again, that point, that this action looked at the bail system from a communal perspective—what’s the impact on communities—I think that’s one of the other interesting things about it.

AH: Yeah. I work at National Bail Fund Network. Bail funds have always been a community thing, and whether that has been at the church, where folks have collected their resources to bail out a member of the congregation, or someone kin to someone at the congregation, it always has been communal and it always has been basically a form of resistance, resisting the system which imposes these fines on us for our freedom. Unfortunately, as Mary says, black folks are very familiar with that sort of communal gathering, and communal gathering of resources for liberation, as it goes back to during slavery, when black folks also had to buy their freedom. So this is a long tradition of purchasing our freedom, and we’ve seen this evolve. And here we are for Mama’s Bailout Day…recognizing this has always happened—at smaller scales, but definitely happened before.

JJ: Right. Well, the harm is communal and the help is communal, in this case.

AH: Yes.

Washington Post (5/12/17)

JJ: But it also has a special relevance with bail. I read an op-ed in the Washington Post by a law professor named Jocelyn Simonson, who was saying that the modern conception of setting bail is that a judge is weighing the interests of an individual defendant against those of a larger community. And so when the judge sets bail, they’re saying they’re doing it on behalf of the community. And so bail funds like you work with are saying: not in our name.

AH: Right. And that’s the fallacy, one of the many fallacies of bail. A lot of judges and magistrates and bail commissioners say things such as, these people pose a risk to the community. And the way that they measure this risk is usually from risk assessment tools, which ask these very standardized questions that we’ve seen to be very biased, and based on the score that you get, bail will be set. So that’s how the system is basically determining who’s a risk to our community, and the community has no say-so in that. So yes, we are saying, not in our name.

People are so used to “that’s just the way it goes,” that a lot of us haven’t just sat down—even people that are mostly impacted by the bail system—haven’t had an opportunity to just sit down and reflect on, just why does this system exist, and what’s the point of this system?

JJ: Right.

AH: I remember talking to a friend about bail before we went down to Atlanta, and I was telling him, bail is supposed to just be a guarantee. You know, the reason that bail is set up is so it’s the guarantee that you come back to court. And he was like, I had no idea. That’s the theory behind bail, is that, hey, if Arissa gets arrested, if she pays $100 to the court, because she wants her money back (because bail is supposed to resolve once the case is resolved), she’ll come back. And what we know is that that’s not true, because when we pay bail through bail funds, these folks have no financial risk, as they haven’t put up their own money, and they do come back to court.

The main barriers to coming back to court are usually that there’s no interest in the defendant, in their lives; so you can have a doctor’s appointment or your mother’s birthday or you have to work, and they don’t care about that when they set court dates, right? Or they don’t care about if $3 or $2.75 to get to court is a financial barrier, and you have children and…. So it’s just real-life factors that create barriers for you to go back to court, but it’s not the money of bail that creates barriers. And what bail does is it coerces guilty pleas, and it makes you…. Yeah, you don’t fight. In 90 percent [of cases] in our country, people plead guilty, instead of actually having to go to court and fight for trial.

And another thing that I find is, if you are in jail—and again, you are supposed to be innocent, right, innocent until proven guilty—these folks have not been proven guilty, which is very important to remember. Being in jail is harmful on so many different levels, but another way that it causes harm is that you can also get more charges on you while you are in jail for various different reasons, which also then creates a larger barrier for you to be released.

JJ: And listeners may remember the case of Kalief Browder; that was just a bail story. That was years that a young man spent on Rikers Island not convicted of anything.

AH: Right. Right. And Kalief was an anomaly, in the sense that he didn’t plead guilty, because he wasn’t guilty, and he wouldn’t do what most people do, which is plead guilty just to get out, right? He wanted the system to do as they say, which is give a fair trial.

JJ: Well, media talk about inequality, and they talk about talking about inequality, but I’m always struck at how little interest they can muster when an actual mechanism of inequality is laid before them. And I was actually thinking about the federal appeals court ruling that said that if a person has suffered wage discrimination in the past, has been paid less due to sexism or racism or their intersection, that it’s okay for that inequity to be reproduced and perpetuated forever, because employers can base your pay on your previous pay.

AH: Right.

JJ: And I thought, well, here’s a chance—we’re actually seeing inequality be reproduced. And the media reaction was like, eh, you know, what are you gonna do? So I have to say that I was surprised a little bit to see a kind of earnest reaction to Mama’s Bailout Day.

AH: Yeah.

JJ: I expected a lot more cynicism. What did you make of the media, and how can reporting help, do you think, on this issue?

AH: Yeah, the media was definitely surprisingly gracious about Mama’s Bailout Day, and I’m not sure why. I think that it touched a lot of people, because mothers.

JJ: Right.

AH: Right? Because of that sort of familial connection—we all have mothers, regardless of what our relationships to them are. So that was a good thing, and part of the strategy with the Bailout, a good thing that all of us could connect to. But then also recognizing that people’s lives should not be contingent on their familial ties, and having children or things like that. So just highlighting both of those, it caused a lot of conversations around bail, around our ideals, around innocence and guilt, our ideals around who’s worthy and who’s unworthy, and it forced continued conversations. So I think that the media was definitely helpful in that way, in just lifting up these stories and these injustices. And I think what the media can continue to do is continue to lift up these stories and the injustices, and also have people ask these questions as to, why is bail being set?

And then, I know in the beginning you said “lateral,” but what we’ve learned from Mama’s Bailout Day, and what I’ve learned from working at the National Bail Fund Network, is that bail is so different, depending on where you are. And that’s part of just how the system works to make it harder for you to actually fight against it. The New York City bail system is very different than California’s bail system. So that was definitely something that we had to navigate, in figuring how this action could be successful.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Arissa Hall of the National Bail Fund Network, housed at the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. You can still get information on Mama’s Bailout Day at NoMoreMoneyBail.org. Arissa Hall, thank you so much for joining us today on CounterSpin.

AH: Thank you. Thank you.

‘It’s the Most Misogynist, Gender-Segregated Country in the World’

May 23, 2017 - 10:26am

Janine Jackson interviewed Medea Benjamin about Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia for the May 19, 2017, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Republican operative Ed Rogers’ comment in the Chicago Tribune (5/16/17) on Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia.

Janine Jackson: It’s some indication of US corporate media’s understanding of Saudi Arabia that outlets like the Chicago Tribune would run an op-ed referring to Trump’s visit to the country as an escape from controversy. Trump’s staff must welcome the round of “photo ops, pleasantries and handshakes to dilute the stories plaguing the administration at home,” wrote Ed Rogers. And while Rogers is a GOP strategist, that angle was echoed in, for instance, a New York Times piece about how the latest Comey development will cast a pall on a trip meant to be invested with “historic grandeur.”

As we record this show May 18, there’s a new headline up at the Times, “Saudi Arabia to Give Trump a Royal Welcome, Ignoring his Slights.”  Is that all that’s being ignored right now? Medea Benjamin is co-founder of the peace group Code Pink. Her latest book is Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US/Saudi Connection. She joins us now by phone from Miami. Welcome to CounterSpin, Medea Benjamin.

Medea Benjamin: Thanks for having me on, Janine.

JJ: Last year around this time, Barack Obama was visiting Saudi Arabia, and media were talking about the “special relationship” between the countries, but never explaining why the US needed to maintain a special relationship with a country that beheads people for witchcraft, for example. There’s a new president, but looking at the headlines around Trump’s visit, it doesn’t seem as though the reasons for that friendship are going to be interrogated this time, either.

MB: Well, that’s right, and unfortunately there will be little talk about what Saudi Arabia is, in terms of how it treats its own people, what its role is in the world. And what is most astounding to me, Janine, is that the regime is fueling the very extremism and intolerance and violence that Trump says he’s out to eradicate.

This is a regime that exports its intolerant interpretation of Islam, Wahhabism, around the globe, that has been funding terrorism worldwide, and that represses its own people in all kinds of ways, from forbidding free speech, free association, no political parties, no trade unions, repressing religious minorities. It’s the most misogynist, gender-segregated country in the world, and I can go on and on. So it would be nice if the press would focus a little bit more on why in the world we have such a close relationship with the regime that is most responsible for spreading extremism internally and abroad.

JJ: The feeling you get, to the extent that corporate media get into it, or even talk about the repression and the problems with the regime, it’s like we have to hold our nose and have this relationship. There’s some reason that means we have to be partnered with this country which seems to represent all these things that people at least don’t stand up and say that they care about. And it used to be that the truism was “it’s all about oil,” but now I think weapons—I mean, between oil and weapons, that seems to be a lot of what’s going on.

MB: That’s right, it is the toxic relationship based on oil, originally, that dates back to the finding of the vast reserves of oil in the 1930s, and has become also dependent on Saudi weapons purchases from the United States. They are the No. 1 purchaser of US weapons. And just like under President Obama, the White House bragged about $115 billion worth of weapon sales during his tenure, now it seems like President Trump wants to outdo him, being even more of a weapons salesman, as he travels to the Saudi kingdom to clinch a deal for $100 billion, and this is just five months into Trump’s time in the presidency.

JJ: I think it’s very interesting the way media talk about that. Because, you know, the Times had a story on May 16, “Trump About to Visit Saudi Arabia, Is Urged to Help Yemen,” and I was struck because it sort of suggests that what the US is being asked, gently, is to apply some pressure on Saudi Arabia, and then several paragraphs down it says, oh, and by the way, there’s $100 billion of weapon sales going on. And then the coalition is always described as “Saudi-led” but “US-backed.” If the US decided not to support Saudi’s efforts in Yemen, obviously that would have a huge impact there. But it’s sort of as though the US is the tail being wagged?

Medea Benjamin: “The Saudis could not do their devastating bombing campaign in Yemen were it not for the US.”

MB: The Saudis could not do their devastating bombing campaign in Yemen were it not for the US. Whether it’s talking about the actual weapons that they’re using, or the continued refueling of their airplanes in the air by the US, or the logistical support the US has been giving, yes, it is a Saudi-led campaign but driven by US support. So if the US wanted to say, stop this devastating campaign that has turned Yemen into a catastrophic situation, as one of the humanitarian aid people says, of biblical proportions, it could simply pull out, stop the weapons sales, stop the logistical support, stop the refueling of the Saudi planes, and that would be a pretty strong statement.

Instead the US has continued to support, but with some reservations. And I want to point out one important reservation that Obama had made, which is he did not support the attack on the port of Hodeidah, where the majority of the humanitarian aid has been flowing through, and now it looks like Trump is going to give the OK for that. We and many groups have been pushing very hard against this, but I’m very concerned that part of the talks that they will have in Saudi Arabia will be to give a green light to this attack that will push Yemen over the brink into a full-blown famine.

JJ: So when as US citizens, we read about the horrific conditions in Yemen, and there’s sort of a missing connection in terms of what US responsibility is there, we could be drawing a real direct connection there. And I guess that’s what I mean: For activists, how can folks get involved in fighting and resisting this? It seems like this time, while Trump is traveling, might be a good time to call attention to these issues. What can folks do?

MB: There are some people in Congress who have made these connections, like Sen. Chris Murphy, who says the US has blood on its hands in terms of Yemen, and so we have to push them further. And there are efforts, both in the House and the Senate now, to reject the $100 billion Saudi weapon sales. The Congress has the right to reject any weapon sales. They did not do it under the Obama administration. It’s time they do it under the Trump administration. So I would say that people have to contact their congresspeople and their senators and tell them, say no to the $100 billion weapon sale to Saudi Arabia.

JJ: And then finally, in terms of media, the hypocrisy is hard to avoid. It’s not as though we can’t find editorials on Egypt’s el-Sisi and the Philippines’ Duterte. When Trump has reached out to them, we’ve seen kind of angry articles, you know, he’s “an enemy of human rights.” Meanwhile, our look-around found very few articles even mentioning the arms deal that we’re discussing here today. So obviously there’s a role for the press as well.

BM: Right, to talk about the hypocrisy of the arms deal, the need to do something to save the people of Yemen, and also to do something to support the real democrats inside Saudi Arabia that are in prison, executed and in other ways muffled by their own government.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin. They’re online at CodePink.org. Her book is called Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US/Saudi Connection. Thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin, Medea Benjamin.

MB: Thank you.

Arms Deal Stories Omit War Crimes Arms Will Be Used For

May 22, 2017 - 4:35pm

Reports on the Trump/Saudi arm deals focused on who would get paid–and ignored who it would cost.

The Trump administration wrapped up a weapons deal with the Saudi Arabian government this week that will be worth up to $350 billion over the next ten years. News of the deal came as Trump visited Riyadh and paid fealty to one of the United States’ most enduring allies in the Middle East.

The vast majority of the reports on the topic, however, omitted a rather key piece of context—namely, whom the weapons will be used to kill.

The famine and brutal two-year-long war in Yemen being waged by the Saudis that has killed over 10,000 civilians wasn’t mentioned once in reports of the $300 billion deal to Saudi Arabia by CNN (5/19/17, 5/20/17), Washington Post  (5/19/17), The Independent (5/19/17), New York Daily News (5/20/17), CNBC (5/20/17, 5/22/17), CBS News (5/20/17), Business Insider (5/20/17), Time (5/20/17), Fox News (5/20/17), Reuters (5/20/17), ABC News (5/20/17), Fortune Magazine (5/20/17) or Chicago Tribune (5/20/17).

The arms deal was typically framed in vague “security” terms, with an emphasis on Saudi Arabia’s role in fighting “terrorism” (e.g., “The White House says the package includes defense equipment… to help the Arab nation and the rest of the Gulf region fight against terrorism”—Fox News, 5/20/17), despite the fact that the bulk of its military activity is focused on bombing Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen that have nothing to do with terrorism as such.

That hundreds of billions of arms would be going to Al Qaeda’s allies wasn’t touched on in reports on the arms deal.

Indeed, the head of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed earlier this month his forces were “fighting alongside” the Saudi-backed Yemeni government. This detail was also omitted from reports on the arms deal, presumably because it would messy up the “Saudi Arabia–as–partner–in–War on Terror” narrative the press was uncritically echoing.

In his report on the arms deal, the Washington Post’s Steven Mufson (5/21/17) got quotes from the CEO of Lockheed Martin and reps from General Electric and private-equity firm Blackstone, but found no time to interview a human rights expert or aid worker or victim of Saudi bombing of Yemen; indeed, that bombing wasn’t even mentioned. Likewise, CNBC (5/22/17) issued a sexed-up press release Monday morning about how “defense stocks soar to all-time highs on $110 billion US/Saudi Arabia weapons deal”—with no mention of whom, exactly, said weapons were killing.

Many outlets went with the “jobs” frame, echoing the White House narrative that the selling of arms to a dictatorship waging a brutal war on a neighboring country was, in fact, good because it “created jobs.”

A Trump campaign ad wouldn’t have framed the issue differently than this CBS Miami report.

“Trump Says Arms Deal He Signed With Saudi Arabia Will Create Jobs,” was the NPR headline (5/20/17). “Trump Says Saudi Arabia Deal Will Create ‘Jobs, Jobs, Jobs,’” CBS Miami (5/20/17) reported. Neither of these reports used the words “Yemen” or “bombing” or “famine.”

To the extent the Saudi bombing of Yemen was gestured at, it was in vague, Risk game–like terms about how Saudi Arabia was a “check” against “Iranian aggression”—an opaque framing that reduces all Shia populations in the Middle East into mindless Iranian drones in urgent need of an application of Saudi munitions.

“The United States likes to see Saudi Arabia with a strong military because it is seen as a counter to the forces of Iran,” CNN Newsroom (5/20/17) euphemistically explained. It’s not spelled out that “counter” here means bombing one of the poorest countries on earth for over two years, unleashing what the UN calls “famine-like” conditions affecting nearly 7 million people.

In stark contrast, reports in US media of Russian arms sales to the Assad government in Syria—even before Russia directly entered the war in September 2015—would always mention the stakes of the deals in terms of human life. Weapons sales by other countries are put in clear moral terms—as they should be. Those by the United States are sterilized, rendered abstract by omitting the deaths that will inevitably result.

The New York Times (5/15/17) did mention the famine and war in Yemen in the context of the arms deal last week, but one article on the subject from Thursday (5/18/17), for unknown reasons, removed this passage expressly noting the Saudis’ history of buying US weapons:

The Saudis have spent a fortune on US weapons over the years, and a series of new deals that could be worth more than $300 billion over the next decade are close to completion, Reuters reported this month.

You can see the original, as reprinted in the Boston Globe, here.

As of Monday afternoon, no major newspaper—New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, LA Times, Chicago Tribune or Daily News—has run an editorial condemning Trump for cozying up with and selling massive amounts of arms to the Saudi dictatorship. As FAIR noted last week (5/17/17), this outrage remains solely directed at dictatorships not in good standing with the US State Department.

Such is most reporting on the US’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. The human rights framework so much of the pundit class lives by—the moral positioning that gives the US the unique right to interfere in conflicts throughout the globe—is suddenly, and without explanation, suspended. The US backs Saudi war crimes despite their brutality, never because of it. It sells arms in hopes they will reform, never because they have.

And unlike our enemies, no one in particular is responsible. No “Salman regime did X,” no “forces loyal to Salman regime bombed Y.” Saudi Arabia remains a game of moral hot potato, no one is to blame and, somehow, everyone is a reformer.


At CNN, Imagining an Absurd Iranian/ISIS Alliance

May 19, 2017 - 4:24pm

Alan Dershowitz (Anderson Cooper 360, 5/17/17) denounces Trump whistleblower as “a felon [and] a criminal.”

Pro-torture legal scholar Alan Dershowitz was on CNN the other night (Anderson Cooper 360, 5/17/17) arguing that the person who told the Washington Post that Donald Trump had disclosed classified information about ISIS to Russian visitors in the Oval Office was “a felon, a criminal and should go to jail.” After former Obama strategist demurred that publishing leaks was sometimes in the public interest, Dershowitz replied:

I have no problem with the Washington Post publishing it or the [New York] Times publishing it. I do have problems with the people who work for the national security agencies leaking confidential information that may cost lives, may make it much more difficult to detect laptops. Remember, the only way ISIS got this information is through the leak.

Anderson Cooper suggested that Russia would give secret intelligence to ISIS, which boasted of blowing up a Russian civilian airliner in 2015, killing 224 people.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper took issue with this last claim. “You can’t say definitively what Russia would have done with the information,” he insisted. To which Dershowitz replied, accurately enough: “They’re not giving it to ISIS. They’re not on talking terms.”

Axelrod chimed in: “What about Iran? Professor, what about Iran?” Cooper attempted to back up this claim:

Bashar al-Assad has certainly done things which are actually helpful to ISIS in Syria. It’s not as if Bashar al-Assad is fighting a war against ISIS.

Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin attempted to clarify: “David is saying he’s allied with Iran”—though it’s not clear whether the “he” in question was Syrian President Assad or Russian President Vladimir Putin. Leading to this finale of the discussion:

DERSHOWITZ: That’s very speculative.

COOPER: Oh, we just don’t know.

DERSHOWITZ: We know the first public disclosure of it came from the leaks from within the National Security Agencies and those leaks should be plugged.

Mass videotaped executions of Syrian soldiers by ISIS (Reuters, 8/28/14) did not persuade Anderson Cooper that ISIS and the Syrian government were really at war.

Well, we do know, contrary to Cooper’s assertion, that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is fighting a war against ISIS, along with a variety of other rebel factions. As Newsweek (5/5/17) reported earlier this month:

With support from Russia, Iran and pro-government militias, the Syrian military has secured most of the country’s population centers taken over by insurgents and ISIS earlier throughout the nation’s six-year war. After retaking the former rebel bastion of Aleppo in December, Syrian troops and their allies ousted ISIS from the historic city of Palmyra earlier this year. Representing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the forces pushed further Thursday, capturing four areas from the jihadists in Palmyra’s southeastern countryside, according to pro-government Al Masdar News. The Syrian military is aiming to relieve an enclave of fellow soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians under ISIS siege in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour since 2014.

Furthermore, Axelrod’s suggestion that Iran might be sharing intelligence with ISIS is absurd. ISIS’s stance toward Shia Islam, the kind practiced by most Iranians, is openly genocidal: “Shia have no medicine but the sword,” an ISIS video proclaimed, showcasing Shiites decapitated by ISIS’s militants (Independent, 3/20/14).

The Iranian government is predictably hostile toward a movement that would exterminate 90 percent of its citizens. Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds special forces unit, called ISIS “a plague and a grave catastrophe in the world” in explaining why Iran was supporting the government in Syria’s civil war (Al-Monitor, 3/8/15): “We need to quarantine our borders and aid our neighbors so this cancer does not spread to our country.”

Donald Trump was rightly scorned when he gave a foreign policy speech which seemed to not understand the Shia/Sunni division in the Muslim world. The New York Times editorial board (8/16/16) lectured him:

Lumping Iran, which is a Shiite nation, with the Sunni militants of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda makes no sense. In fact, Iran and the Sunni groups are enemies.

Indeed, it’s the kind of thing you’d want a presidential candidate to know. But it’s also something you’d hope that hosts and leading analysts on national cable news networks would understand as well. Dershowitz’s proposal to put journalists’ sources in prison deserves a better retort than this geopolitical nonsense.

h/t Sam Husseini

Messages to CNN can be sent to here (or via Twitter @CNN). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.


Chelsea Manning Is Free–but Whistleblowers Still Face Prison

May 19, 2017 - 1:06pm

Chelsea Manning, a free woman.

Human Rights Watch is glad that Chelsea Manning is free. A statement from the group’s General Counsel’s office notes that Manning’s “absurdly disproportionate” 35-year sentence for passing classified documents to Wikileaks in 2010, commuted by Barack Obama on his last day in office, was prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917, which they warn still stands ready for use against the next potential whistleblower.

The Act was intended to punish those who leak secrets to foreign governments, but the US government is increasingly keen to turn it against those who give information to journalists. Critically, those prosecuted under the Act can’t argue they intended to serve the public interest, and prosecutors don’t have to prove that national security was harmed at all, much less that it outweighed the public’s right to know.

So as Manning walks free after seven years and 120 days (or “just seven years,” as USA Today had it—5/17/17), some of it in solitary confinement, it’s worth remembering that corporate media did virtually nothing in support of her clemency, even though her revelations were the basis for countless media reports—including revelations about a 2007 US military attack in Iraq that killed two Reuters journalists.

As FAIR analyst Adam Johnson (1/18/17) noted, it’s a strange day when the US president is to the left of the country’s editorial pages. But even though her conviction posed and poses a chilling threat to all media sources who seek to expose government wrongdoing, the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and USA Today ran no editorials supporting Manning’s release.

The Washington Post ran three op-eds calling for leniency for Roman Polanski vs. none for Manning, but maybe the best reflection of things: The US counter-intelligence official who led the Pentagon’s review into the fallout from the WikiLeaks disclosures testified that no instances were ever found of any casualties resulting from the releases. But on her sentence commutation, the outraged tweet “How many people died because of Manning’s leak?” came from none other than the New York Times‘ Judith Miller, whose front-page promotions of bad intelligence paved the way for the Iraq War.

‘Puerto Rico Is Emblematic of the Excesses of These Financial Systems’

May 19, 2017 - 12:32pm

Janine Jackson interviewed Ed Morales about Puerto Rico’s recent filing for bankruptcy amidst its debt crisis for the May 12, 2017 episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript. 

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Janine Jackson: A CNN story headlined “Five Facts About Puerto Rico’s Utter Economic Misery” invited readers to marvel at the $74 billion in debt and $50 billion in pension obligations that led to the largest municipal bankruptcy ever filed. Puerto Rico owes $8 million to Microsoft alone, readers are told, but now they may be shielded by the court as they try to negotiate that settlement. “There’s no established rulebook to shape what comes next” in Puerto Rico, said a recent Bloomberg report, which described fights around the debt as “about to plunge into the unknown.”

There is much that is unclear about the way forward in Puerto Rico, but some things about how we got here are just not being much talked about. We’re joined now to discuss the situation by Ed Morales, author and journalist and lecturer at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Ed Morales.

Ed Morales: Hi. Thanks for having me.

JJ: When we had you on the last time in 2015, in July, talking about Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, you said that the moderate position is that Puerto Rico should be allowed to declare bankruptcy, but even if that happened, “there is still going to be a price paid by Puerto Rico.” And you also noted at the time that the Puerto Rican government had its own committee looking at restructuring the debt, but that there was “noise from more right-wing Republicans, who want a US oversight committee that would take away a lot of the autonomy of Puerto Rico to determine its economic future.” Well, that sounds a lot like where we’re at about now. I can’t imagine that you’re surprised by the current situation.

EM: Yeah, I’m not surprised. I was always skeptical, unfortunately, about the Democratic position, about pushing for the bankruptcy provision that would be contained in the PROMESA bill that they wound up working out, because it’s still going to involve a level of austerity in terms of budget cuts. And that’s actually what’s happening now, and causing a lot of political turmoil in Puerto Rico.

The university students have been on strike for about a month, and actually today, as we speak, they’ve had a court order to open up the gates of the university, which they’ve maintained closed, and they have refused to leave. And so now we’re waiting to see if the government is going to send police or the riot squad. There’s actually already been reports of police showing up around the perimeter of the school, but that’s because students are engaging in street protests outside of the gates.

Washington Post editorial (5/7/17)

JJ: You know, I think that activism is almost off the page in US media coverage of the debt situation and the bankruptcy, so-called. And the Washington Post’s editorial ended by saying that Puerto Rico is going to have to endure a difficult adjustment before it starts to see the results, and they actually talk about an “initial dose of austerity.” In other words, some media accounts are making it sound as though Puerto Rico’s going to try austerity now. But the reason that students are out in the street is because austerity has been happening and been happening, and has not led to what we’re told it’s going to lead to.

EM: Well, yeah, sure. I mean, even the IMF, in several reports issued over the years, have said themselves that austerity does not help economies rebound from debt crises like these. But the situation right now has come about because there are direct cuts that have been proposed for the university itself. There’s also been an announcement of 178 public schools that are going to be closed. The thing is that measures of austerity may have something close to catastrophic effects on the average Puerto Rican, including a lot of taxes and fines and things like drivers’ licenses all going up at the same time.

JJ: Let’s talk about what’s being presented as the reason for these draconian-sounding cuts and measures, which is the debt, the debt itself that Puerto Rico is said to owe. Now, even the Washington Post says some of those creditors are so-called vulture funds, who swooped in when there was already a crisis and were just looking for a big payoff. But you say that some of it is actually illegal debt.

EM: Yeah. I mean, it’s not only me but, first of all, the independent debt audit commission, which was dissolved by the new Gov. Ricky Rosselló just a few weeks ago, found several irregularities having to do with the fact that Puerto Rico has a constitutional limit on the debt that it’s allowed to issue, and that that may have been violated by these Wall Street practices of switching interest rate indices so that they don’t really show up as going over the limit. The debt that’s based on the new sales tax that they implemented several years ago, which is 11.25 percent, is also being legally challenged. But then there’s also been a study by a public interest group based out of Chicago that has found similar irregularities.

JJ: It sounds as though what’s needed is sunlight. I mean, it sounds as though, why don’t we just open up the process of exactly who is owed this debt, and talk about it, and talk about which of it is illegal and which of it is odious, and all of those various categories. But it doesn’t sound as though the political process is very transparent right now.

Ed Morales: “Measures of austerity may have something close to catastrophic effects on the average Puerto Rican.”

EM: Well, both sides—and what I’m talking about is the US financial sector and the US state apparatus in maintaining the status of colonialism, and on the other side, the Puerto Rican political and financial elites—have stuff that they want to hide. I talked earlier about the unsure payday loan Wall Street practices that has added really huge amounts, up to $18–$20 billion of just outrageous interest rates and underwriting fees. And then, on the other hand, it’s the revolving door between the Puerto Rican government and the Puerto Rican financial sector, who also participated in these irregularities. And so both of those things stand to be exposed, the Wall Street abuse and the collaboration by corrupt Puerto Rican government and government bank officials.

JJ: Well, there’s a tremendous amount of history that’s difficult to get to in this short space of time. I mean, we can go back all the way to 1917, when the US law said that Puerto Rico could raise money by issuing tax-exempt bonds, and there are various laws and policies put into place from Washington, DC, that have curtailed Puerto Rico’s ability to control its own economic destiny. And that is just missing from so much of the coverage of the situation now. And that history, it’s complicated, it’s long, but at the same time, it’s not that complicated, and it so influences the present moment that you would hope that media, for example, would make it relevant to their coverage today.

EM: Yeah. Well, absolutely. I mean, going back to 1917, and the whole process of the US control over Puerto Rico has consisted of using it as a laboratory for various things. And I think I mentioned last time, the sort of NAFTA-like tax avoidance and lower wages that were used to use Puerto Rico as a dumping ground for a lot of US products, and also a source of cheap labor. And then, when you get up to 1984, and the mysterious ruling which took away Puerto Rico’s right to bankruptcy, which no one has a way to explain. And so the fact that Puerto Rico was known not to have the bankruptcy option is what drove a lot of the sales of the bonds as well. And that’s why a lot of the bondholders are angry with the process, because part of the reason they bought some of the bonds is because they were under the understanding that Puerto Rico could not declare bankruptcy, and they actually had that right until 1984.

JJ: Right. That’s a fascinating footnote that we can’t figure out: In 1984, an unknown person added a provision to federal law that explicitly barred Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia from sheltering from creditors in Chapter 9 bankruptcy. I mean, it’s just rich with things that you would hope reporters would dig into and would talk about, but the question then is how they talk about it. And so in some ways, it’s a very familiar story.

The Washington Post’s editorial says, “What matters now for Puerto Rico is reasonably shared sacrifice by all—creditors, public employee pensioners, bloated government agencies—so as to restore financial order.” There’s this notion that everybody played and now everybody’s got to pay, and it doesn’t really divide up the actors in a way that, as a reader, you would really understand what’s going on.

EM: Yeah. Well, I’m also part of this working group at Columbia that’s studying the Puerto Rican debt crisis and comparing it to other ones, say like in Greece and Argentina. And one of the things we’re trying to do is develop, what are the narratives about the debt crisis? And this is the narrative that is being used to justify what would seem to be the reasonableness of the bondholders’ position, and the lack of fault that the US colonial policy has in Puerto Rico.

So, yeah, I mean there’s a deliberate skirting around the issue of not only the history of the US involvement, but in a way what happened in Puerto Rico is emblematic of the excesses of these financial systems, the whole idea that betting on risk is something that actually happened in sequence from Argentina to Greece and Puerto Rico. A lot of the same hedge fund and vulture fund groups actually went in that sequence. They almost all have ties to both areas. And so it’s part of the whole process that happened with the end of Glass-Steagall and the deregulation of the financial markets in general.

So it’s almost even beyond just the colonial relationship. It’s like the perfect ending point of this flight of risk capital investment, which is one of the few areas where profit is generated in the whole global financial system.

JJ: Well, I’m going to have to end you on that note, which is rich for further exploration, and ask folks, indeed, to seek out Ed Morales’s previous interview on CounterSpin, which fills in a lot of the history that we’ve been alluding to here. Ed Morales is the author of Living in Spanglish and of the book Latinx, which is forthcoming from Verso. Ed Morales, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

EM: Thank you.

Medea Benjamin on Saudi Arabia, Arissa Hall on Mama’s Bail Out Day

May 19, 2017 - 10:27am
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(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

This week on CounterSpin: “While Saudi Arabia’s restrictions on freedom and ban on women driving often grab headlines, Trump is not expected to make human rights concerns a centerpiece of his talks with Saudi royals on Saturday.” That, from AP‘s story on Trump’s state visit, leads one to wonder: If Saudi Arabia’s abuses are such common press fare, how does that sit with the credulity suggested earlier in the same piece, with the unchallenged statement that King Salman says he and Trump will “‘forge a new partnership’ in the war against extremism”? We’ll hear from Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the peace group Code Pink and author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US/Saudi Connection.

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Brooklyn Community Bail Fund

Also on the show: National Mama’s Bail Out Day pooled resources to bring dozens of black women home for Mother’s Day. The grassroots action called attention to the country’s feudalistic bail system, in which people convicted of no crime are jailed for inability to pay a cash amount. At a time when some are calling openly for theoretical “grown ups” to come and save us, such creative, loving actions remind us what community can do. Arissa Hall is project manager at the National Bail Fund Network. She’ll join us to talk about Mama’s Bail Out Day.

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First we’ll take a quick look back at recent press, including cut-and-pasted ICE press releases and freedom for Chelsea Manning.

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  • “10 Reasons Trump Should Not Strengthen Saudi Ties,” by Medea Benjamin (Common Dreams, 5/17/17)
  • Mama’s Bail Out Day
  • Selling Off Our Freedom: How Insurance Corporations Have Taken Over Our Bail System, by Color of Change (5/10/17)

Roger Ailes: No One Did More to Debase US Politics

May 18, 2017 - 1:36pm

Roger Ailes (cc photo: US Army/Christopher Tobey)

Roger Ailes, the man who pioneered “alternative facts,” is dead. During the first five years of Fox News—which was built almost single-handedly by Ailes’ genius—I was a regular on-air contributor/panelist there. I dealt with his right-wing lieutenants plenty, but only met Ailes once, at a Fox News “Holiday Party.” The invite did not call it a “Christmas Party.” It was one of hundreds examples of hypocrisy at the TV channel that would soon launch the “War on Christmas” hoax.

Fox News was created in Ailes’ image—a channel that preached family values while subjecting women employees to intense harassment and body-shaming.  Before Ailes launched Fox News with Rupert Murdoch’s millions, he was executive producer of Rush Limbaugh’s syndicated TV show—which once displayed a photograph of Chelsea Clinton while Limbaugh referred to her as the “White House dog.” She was 13 years old at the time.

I wrote this in my book Cable News Confidential:

I met Ailes once at a Fox News holiday party. If you knew nothing about him, this short, pudgy, balding fellow might appear cuddly, almost huggable, like a nice old uncle you’d nickname Jolly Roger.

Looks can be deceiving. Ailes was the media consultant for Bush Sr.’s vicious 1988 campaign that linked Democratic candidate Mike Dukakis to black rapist Willie Horton. “The only question,” Ailes remarked, “is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it.” Lee Atwater, his partner in the campaign, said that Ailes has “two speeds—attack and destroy.”

So Rupert Murdoch was putting Ailes in charge of a TV network during the reign of Bill Clinton, whom Ailes scorned as “the hippie president.” Given his genius with 30-second TV attack ads, imagine what Ailes could do 24/7.

What Ailes accomplished from 1996 until last year was a political/media revolution. As much as I hate to admit it, I can’t think of a single individual who’s had more impact on our country’s politics over the last 20 years. There would have been no Trump presidency without the decades of disinformation spewed by Fox News (and talk radio allies) to millions of voters—on issues from Christmas to immigrants to abortion, from economics to “socialist” Obama to “liberal media bias.”

I learned from my five years on-air at Fox News that its viewers were a fanatical bunch. Not serious readers or thinkers, but ardent voters. Years before pro-Trump “fake news” hoaxes were shared by millions on the Internet during the 2016 campaign, Ailes had reached his audience of voters with cable TV’s version of fake news. It matters that millions of hardcore activists and voters are operating from a worldview where racial minorities, women, immigrants, foreigners and terrorists have the upper hand against beleaguered white males, the depleted US military and persecuted corporations (I mean, “job creators”).

Perhaps Jon Stewart said it best in 2001 when The Daily Show earned a Peabody Award, given for excellence in television without any specific categories. Jon Stewart accepted the award by joking that he had won in the “News Parody” category: “There was not much competition this year. It was just us and Fox.”

Media to Trump: Don’t Cozy Up to Dictators–Unless They’re the Right Dictators

May 17, 2017 - 1:55pm

The New York Times (5/1/17) is critical when Trump embraces a despot not on the Approved Despots List.

After a series of friendly gestures by President Donald Trump toward Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte and Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi over the past few months, US media have recoiled with disgust at the open embrace of governments that ostensibly had heretofore been beyond the pale.

“Enabling Egypt’s President Sisi, an Enemy of Human Rights,” was the New York Times‘ editorial position (4/4/17)—followed by “Donald Trump Embraces Another Despot” (5/1/17). A week later, Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) lectured Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the Times op-ed page (5/8/17) on “Why We Must Support Human Rights.”

“How Trump Makes Dictators Stronger” was Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum’s lament (5/1/17).

“Trump keeps praising international strongmen, alarming human rights advocates,” reported an upset Philip Rucker (Washington Post, 5/2/17). Post contributor Tom Toles (5/2/17) added, “Trump invites ruthless dictators to the White House.” Trump had gone too far, was the media message, crossing a line with his enthusiastic outreach to brutal tyrants.

So the Trump administration’s announcement of a plan for not just a friendly visit to Saudi Arabia—scheduled for May 20–21—but also the sale of up to $300 billion in weapons to the oppressive regime, must have provoked the same outcry from these critics, right?

Actually, no. Thus far, the LA Times, CNN, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, ABC and CBS haven’t reported on Trump’s massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia, much less had a pundit or editorial board condemn it.

Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen has killed at least 10,000 civilians, resulted in near-famine conditions for 7 million people and led to a deadly cholera epidemic—all made possible with US weapons and logistical support.

John McCain, whose New York Times op-ed was unironically shared by dozens of high-status pundits, aggressively backs Saudi Arabia’s brutal bombing of Yemen, and has called for increased military support to the absolute monarchy.

When Obama acted to protect Saudi despots, the New York Times (9/28/16) endorsed his support for a “difficult ally.”

The New York Times hasn’t written an editorial about Saudi Arabia since October of last year (10/1/16), when, for the second time in the span of a week, the paper defended the regime against potential lawsuits over its role in the 9/11 attacks. When the Times does speak out on the topic of Saudi Arabia, it does so to run interference for its possible connection to international terrorism.

Nice words to the wrong dictators unleash a torrent of outrage from our pundit class. Nice words to the right dictators—along with billions in military hardware, which unlike nice words will be used to continue to slaughter residents of a neighboring country and suppress domestic dissent–result in uniform silence. Not a word from Anne Applebaum, no condemnation from Philip Rucker, no moral preening from Sen. John McCain, no sense that any line had been crossed from the New York Times editorial board. The US’s warm embrace and arming of the Saudis is factored in, it’s bipartisan, and thus not worthy of outrage.

While the New York Times’ news pages did note the $100 billion–$300 billion Saudi weapons sale, they did so in passing, in paragraph six of a broader article about Trump’s Middle East trip (5/15/17)—though to his credit, reporter Nick Cumming-Bruce did note:

criticism that the United States is supporting Saudi military operations that have struck hospitals, schools, markets and mosques and inflicted thousands of civilian casualties.

The Washington Post (5/17/17) reported on the arms deal in paragraph 12 of a story about Trump attempting to create an “Arab NATO.”

Jackson Diehl’s suggestion (Washington Post, 5/14/17) for “how Trump could lead on human rights” is that he should focus mostly on US citizens’ rights.

The Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia in the run-up to Trump’s visit echoed the “reformist” narrative advanced by Post columnist David Ignatius (FAIR.org, 4/28/17). “It seems promising,” Cairo bureau chief Sudarsan Raghavan (5/12/17) wrote of the Saudi King’s “calls” for “reform.”

Editorial page editor Jackson Diehl (5/14/17) even suggested in earnest that Trump could “lead on human rights,” finishing off his sheepish, somewhat self-aware headline with “Really.” In the piece, “human rights” is used as a placeholder for getting US citizens out of foreign prisons—a perfectly fine suggestion, but more about US rights than human ones. And, like the Post’s editorial board and the rest of the opinion section, Diehl’s musing on the topic of human rights entirely omitted Trump’s cozying up to Saudi Arabia.

This isn’t to say that major US media shouldn’t note when US leaders glad-hand despotic governments—they certainly should. But their almost uniform silence on Trump’s ramping up ties with one of the world’s worst human rights offenders, and the material, physical act of selling them munitions to use on Yemeni civilians, speaks to the arbitrary and self-serving nature of US media’s moral posture.

‘Many More People Would Die if Republicans Are Successful’

May 17, 2017 - 9:47am

Janine Jackson interviewed Margarida Jorge about the Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut funding for Medicaid for the May 12, 2017, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript. 

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Margarida Jorge: “They’re using ACA repeal as a political vehicle to really express their bigger vision and ideology about healthcare, which is that people should just be on their own, and that the government shouldn’t have any responsibility for making sure that people have adequate coverage.”

Janine Jackson: The US healthcare conversation has come to an odd pass. We have an elected representative who maintains that, because you can go to an emergency room if you’re dying, it’s unreasonable to talk about insurance as a life or death issue. At the same time, there are those who think, in part because of the outrage around the widely reviled legislation the House just passed, that there might be a better opening for a move to a single-payer or Medicare-for-all system, as indeed some states seem to be doing.

How do we hold on to a vision for a truly humane healthcare system, while at the same time fighting just to hang on in the face of efforts to turn the country into something out of Dickens? Margarida Jorge is co-executive director of Health Care for America Now and Health Care for America Now Education Fund. She joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Margarida Jorge.

Margarida Jorge: Thanks for having me.

JJ: Well, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to healthcare,” said Raul Labrador of Idaho. That’s a pretty amazing statement, don’t you think?

MJ: Uh-huh.

JJ: Of course, it was met with derision, as well as factually debunked. But it does show, among other things, how differently healthcare can be experienced by differently situated people, which in a way makes the reporting very important in explaining the potential impacts of things. Now, I saw plenty of concerns raised about this Republican legislation—around pre-existing conditions, for example—but I wonder, what did you make of media coverage of this process? Is there more that might have been done?

MJ: Well, there’s a lot in the bill, and there were two particular pieces that Health Care for America Now and our partners worked quite a bit on that I thought didn’t get as much coverage as I would have liked, given that the impact of those things would have been tremendous. One of those things is the proposal in the Republican bill, not just to roll back Medicaid expansion, which is the way that a lot of people got coverage under the Affordable Care Act, but actually the proposal to go after traditional Medicaid, the Medicaid that’s been around for 50 years, that we all know and like, that takes care of seniors, that provides services to people with disabilities, that insures up to half the kids in the country, that pays for most births in most states, that provides family planning services.

Rep. Raul Labrador (R.-Idaho): “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to healthcare.” (cc photo: Gage Skidmore)

So the proposal to radically restructure that program through caps and block grants would really create devastation over time. And to get back to Representative Labrador’s comment about folks not dying because they don’t have healthcare, certainly many more people would die—they are the poorest people, seniors, women, children—if in fact the Republicans are successful in creating this restructure of Medicaid. So I was surprised that that didn’t get much attention, especially because it would just have devastating consequences on state budgets as well.

And the other piece that I thought didn’t get much attention was the tremendous redistribution of wealth in the legislation. Because, of course, the bill doesn’t just take away coverage from 24 million people, it doesn’t just roll back important provisions that protect people with pre-existing conditions and all those things, but the bill actually cuts almost a trillion dollars out of healthcare and then turns right around and gives over half of that back to wealthy people, insurance companies and prescription drug companies, which I think adds insult to injury, that not only are we taking away people’s healthcare, not only are we endangering people’s lives, not only are we making it difficult for even people who have coverage to get the kind of coverage that they need, if they have a pre-existing condition or they need something under the essential health benefits provision, but then at the same time, we are giving money back to the very insurance companies and prescription drug companies that gouged us in the first place.

JJ: It’s pretty amazing, and I share your feeling that it wasn’t stressed, exactly, in the coverage. And to your point about Medicaid—I mean, it really was presented, this Republican bill, as repealing Obamacare, you know, the long-awaited effort to dismantle the ACA. And you’re making the point that it actually did much more than that, and so it speaks to the broader agenda.

MJ: They’re going well beyond repealing the Affordable Care Act, or making a few tweaks here or there. Though that might not be obvious to everybody, because, of course, they did this through a very expedited process. No CBO score, not much analysis on the policy, and no hearings. But they did it on purpose, because they’re using ACA repeal as a political vehicle to really express their bigger vision and ideology about healthcare, which is that people should just be on their own, and that the government shouldn’t have any responsibility for making sure that people have adequate coverage, that seniors, children, people with disabilities, people that are going to be the most vulnerable, are provided with the healthcare that they need, even after a lifetime of work, or even if they happen to be born with a disability through no fault of their own.

Rep. Mo Brooks to CNN‘s Jake Tapper (via Vox): The AHCA “will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher healthcare costs to contribute more to the insurance pool that helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives.”

And so we’ve heard Labrador’s comment on people dying. There was a comment earlier by another representative that people who live “good lives” aren’t going to have to worry about pre-existing conditions. And it certainly does make you wonder who is it that these folks in Congress associate with, what is their social circle, what kind of communities do they live in, that they don’t know any seniors that are struggling on a limited income and need Medicaid for their in-home care? They don’t know anybody whose kid was born with a heart defect or with a disability? And I think it certainly does speak to how out of touch they are with their own constituents, that they would vote for a piece of legislation that really does harm to their own people, the people that their job is to actually represent and protect.

JJ: Well, and that’s, of course, why so many are trying to dodge those very constituents, and not address them and not address their concerns.

MJ: Uh-huh.

JJ: Now, I’ve heard you say that it’s really only because of constituent anger and activism that we were able to learn what we were able to learn, because certainly the congressmembers were not very forthcoming with information, in part because they didn’t have it.

MJ: That’s right, yeah. And, frankly, they continue to be very cagey. I was talking to a colleague this morning in New Jersey, who went to the MacArthur event there yesterday. Her sister went and asked a question; the woman had a story about being in recovery from substance addiction, mental illness, and the representative told her, “I guarantee you no one will lose Medicaid coverage under this bill.” Now, that’s an outrageous claim. If this bill became law, millions of people would lose coverage under Medicaid, because the bill repeals the Affordable Care Act; that rolls back the Medicaid expansion by 2020, so 11 million people will lose Medicaid. And then, going after the additional Medicaid program ensures that for many generations to come, fewer and fewer and fewer people will be able to get Medicaid, because of the shrinkage of money coming from the feds to the states to provide those services.

And so I really, I think like constituents out there that continue to be outraged, I continue to be outraged that representatives are making these outrageous claims. And it certainly does confirm the suspicion that we’ve all had, that many of these representatives didn’t even read the bill.

JJ: Right. Let me just ask you, finally, the bill that the House passed, it was disapproved of by not just constituents, but virtually every medical group, by doctors, by hospitals. Its future, as we record, in the Senate is unclear, but it did happen. And it seems like it’s illuminating something about the political process that’s not at all pretty. But I wonder, how does it shape your activism, and what are folks doing to get involved in this fight? What can they do?

MJ: Well, sometimes I say to my allies, and to the state grassroots groups that we work with, that what happened is that President Trump and the Republicans have become the best organizers amongst us. It is absolutely because of their dishonesty, because of their caginess, that so many people are getting involved and asking questions, including many, many people that never thought of themselves as activists, that never would have gone to a town hall meeting. But these outrageous proposals are causing a level of anxiety and worry that is making regular people want to go to a town hall meeting, want to seek out their representative, want to call the congressman’s office and ask those questions.

And really, that is what democracy is all about, and so in many ways, we are in a fortunate position that so many folks are willing to take action. And I’m really confident that if we continue to mobilize people to take action; that if regular folks continue to watch the news and to say, well, that doesn’t sound right, and call their members of Congress; if people step forward and talk about their own healthcare story; that we are going to be able to win this fight, and help people save their healthcare.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Margarida Jorge of Health Care for America Now. They’re online at HealthCareForAmericaNow.org. Margarida Jorge, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

MJ: Thank you so much.


13 Resets in 13 Months

May 16, 2017 - 5:23pm

The White House’s latest self-inflicted scandal—this time, the incredible allegation via multiple news reports that the president shared high-level classified intelligence with Russian diplomats in the Oval Office—isn’t just an indictment of Donald Trump’s general incompetence. It also represents another damning rebuttal to a recurring, fictional narrative that has been propagated by the press for well over a year—that Trump is just one new policy or staff shake-up away from being a normal president.

The latest iteration began over this past weekend, when Axios’s Mike Allen (5/14/17), the ne plus ultra of Beltway access journalism, offered up this juicy scoop for the process-obsessed press: “President Trump is considering a ‘huge reboot’ of his White House staff.” By Monday, NBC News (5/15/17), Fox News (5/15/17) and Vanity Fair (5/15/17) had all followed suit, focusing on the possible White House staff changes in advance of Trump’s first foreign visit as president later this week. This narrative, however, lasted all of 36 hours, going up in smoke as the White House tried to put out the five-alarm firestorm that was the news of Trump’s unwitting (or boastful) leak to the Russians.

That has become an all too familiar arc for the corporate media’s reboot framing. First, find a thinly sourced rumor of a staff reshuffle or a single, semi-normal political act. Next, ignore all the common sense and journalistic due diligence that would argue against drawing broad conclusions from random, anecdotal behavior. Then frame the piece in the form of a prediction or a forward-looking ‘What if?’ Finally—and this step is crucial—never run the risk of following up on the progress of your reboot storyline when it goes spectacularly wrong, spectacularly quickly.

Reuters (4/14/16)

While there were occasional questions from the press on whether Trump would moderate his behavior as the primary campaign progressed, this narrative phenomenon didn’t begin in earnest until the press began to seriously accept the prospect that Trump would be the Republican nominee. That moment arrived last spring, and, perhaps not coincidentally, that’s when Reuters’ political team ran a story (4/14/16) on how Trump was taking steps to “reset his campaign” and “soften his image.”

According to Reuters, Trump’s hiring of a top Republican operative, Rick Wiley, to be his national political director—after having just brought aboard Paul Manafort as campaign chair (more on him later)—were both steps that would “professionalize” his heretofore ad-hoc, undisciplined and extremist campaign. Of course, when Reuters subsequently reported on Wiley’s abrupt departure from the Trump campaign just six weeks later (5/25/16), the story included no analysis of how that “reset” turned out.

Once Trump effectively secured the Republican presidential nomination, almost one year ago, more resets were afoot. The Washington Post editorial board (5/4/16) took its turn dabbling in its own half-hearted version: “A Trump Reboot? Impossible.” Despite its skeptical headline, however, the Post still spent most of the op-ed theorizing what a “more presidential” Trump candidate might look like.

Weeks later, in June, The Atlantic (6/24/16) was among the many news orgs that resurrected the “Is Trump pivoting?” narrative. Its take, which at least possessed some semblance of self-awareness for the already dubious history of this genre, was entitled: “The Re-Re-Re-Re-Reboot of Trump.” But it too was prompted by a single, passable campaign speech—at one of Trump’s hotels, of course. CNN’s Don Lemon (6/24/16) joined in as well, talking about a “new, more presidential” Donald Trump.

In the lead-up to Trump’s RNC convention speech, a chorus of pundits began singing the same tune, of how it represented a chance for Trump to “pivot” to a more different, more serious, less combative tone. Politico (7/17/16) did its part to set that narrative: In a story that conveniently quoted RNC chair Reince Priebus essentially everywhere—including its headline, “Priebus: Convention Speech Is Trump’s Reagan Moment”—Politico included a long quote about how a “pivot” is so “important” to Trump. Of course, on the morning after Trump’s big convention speech, when the GOP nominee began insulting rival Ted Cruz once again, Politico (7/22/16) didn’t manage to get a quote from Priebus on how that Reaganesque “pivot” was going.

CNN (8/9/16)

Coincidentally, giving one, semi-coherent speech is what prompted CNN’s “Donald Trump Attempts to Reboot” story (8/9/16) last August as well. After a series of post-convention insults to a Gold Star family and his own party, Trump’s “on message” speech at the Detroit Economic Club somehow merited the soft bigotry of lowered media expectations. But not so fast: Not even two weeks later, CNN (8/22/16) was contradicting its own narrative  by saying Trump had been “floundering in recent weeks.” It went on to ask if Trump’s jettisoning of disastrous campaign chair Paul Manafort (remember him?) and—yes—giving one decent speech days earlier could result in a “reset [that] could last.”

To its credit, PBS NewsHour (8/10/16) ran a story in early August, “Reset It and Forget It: A Pattern in the Trump Campaign” that directly confronted the Groundhog Day nature of this constant reinvention and regression. PBS noted:

Trump’s campaign has attempted an unprecedented number of resets this year, according to presidential historians and political consultants following the election, in an effort to bounce back from a seemingly never-ending string of controversial statements and policy proposals.

But even this story lacked any broader self-awareness of the establishment press’s key role in feeding this vicious cycle of false reboots. That the media are not bound to buy into a political campaign’s transparently phony messaging, and that they have agency over how they choose to cover a candidate, were completely missing from the piece.

For the next few months, up through Trump’s election and transition, the reboot narrative was mercifully missing. But then a mere three days into his presidency, the Washington Post (1/23/17) was already talking “Fury, Tumult and a Reboot.” In a three-byline story, the Post detailed the new president’s public fight over his inauguration’s crowd size relative to his predecessor’s, along with new press secretary Sean Spicer’s bumbling, blatant lies about it. What’s not readily apparent in the story, however, is what exactly is worthy of characterizing as a “reboot,” other than Spicer’s single, not quite as shamelessly dishonest performance at his press briefing the following Monday.

Politico (1/29/17)

Less than a week later, Politico magazine (1/29/17) ran a story on the new president’s national security “reboot.” This article at least had the advantage of being pegged to actual, if arcane, news: Trump had just revamped the status and attendees of the National Security Council, making his political adviser, white nationalist Steve Bannon, a new member of the Principals Committee, a position that would now rank him higher in importance than the director of national intelligence or the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Bannon would be ousted from that committee a few months later—but without a corresponding “unreboot” narrative in the press.) “It’s possible the Trump administration will settle into a less frenetic, more orderly pattern in the weeks and months ahead,” Politico surmised, based on zero evidence, before acknowledging that Trump’s “reboot” of the NSC more closely resembled turning it off and not bothering to turn it back on: “So far, the NSC’s formal structure has been of little relevance to his actual decision and action process.”

Less than a month into the Trump presidency, Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald Seib (2/13/17) was ready to give the man in the Oval Office “a chance to reboot.” What followed in Seib’s column was a long list of suggestions that seemed completely oblivious to the realities of the human condition, or the campaign that brought their target to the White House: “Slow down. Stop acting as if everything that came before is flawed, by definition. Stop looking for chances to make enemies and make a few more friends.” Once again, Seib’s proof for Trump’s latest pivot rested almost entirely upon a single data point—this time, his administration’s release of a run-of-the-mill diplomatic statement condemning a North Korean missile test. But even this example soon unraveled; within hours, the country learned that Trump coordinated his sober response in the unsecured dining room at Mar-a-Lago, while members of his club at neighboring tables took snapshots.

Before the week was out, however, Trump was resetting yet again, according to the press. The Washington Post  (2/18/17), among others, talked of his “attempts at reset” at a campaign-style rally in Florida. Then, not even two weeks after that, his joint address to Congress produced another a deluge  of “Trump reset” predictions and reactions, among them from Time (2/27/17), Politico (3/1/17), AFP (3/1/17) and, naturally, Fox News (3/1/17). Yet again, the press’s short-term memory played right into the Trump White House’s messaging that the worst was behind them and the president’s focus was now on his party’s legislative agenda. Mere days later, though, the current president would be tweeting out the inflammatory accusation—without a shred of evidence—that President Obama illegally surveilled him and his campaign in Trump Tower.

Trump’s kabuki cruise missile strike on Syria, which earned near universal applause from  corporate media (FAIR.org, 4/7/17), also loosed another barrage of Trump-reboot stories. Whether it was CNN pundit Fareed Zakaria absurdly saying Trump finally “became president” (FAIR.org, 4/7/17) or Washington Post warhawk Jennifer Rubin (4/7/17) asking if the bombing will “reset his presidency,” nothing seems to get elite pundits to credulously reassess a president quite like bombing a Middle Eastern country. Right on cue, Sen. John McCain weighed in with his own upbeat outlook for a Trump “reboot” that drove fawning headlines across the media landscape (Yahoo, 4/7/17; NBC News, 4/7/17; The Hill, 4/7/17).

NBC (4/30/17)

Of late, the standards for marking a “reset” seem to have eroded even further. A fairly ordinary, coordinated PR push at the end of April was evidence of another broad reboot for the Trump White House (Yahoo, 4/30/17; NBC News, 4/30/17). That one was supposedly bracketed by two other, smaller, country-specific reboots Trump has had with China (Wall Street Journal, 4/4/17; The Hill, 4/13/17; Chicago Tribune, 4/14/17) and, just last week, Russia (Politico, 5/10/17). Of course, the latter has gained a whole new ironic cast in light of recent events, particularly this passage about Trump’s closed-to-US-press meeting with Russian diplomats in the Oval Office last week: “The images and upbeat statements from the two sides were in jarring contrast to the rising alarm in Washington among Democrats and some Republicans that Trump might be concealing Russian influence over his actions.”

If you’re counting, that makes at least 13 reboot moments (with a few side resets) since last April—an average of one a month. But the exact number is less important here than the overall trend, which finds that the media’s thoroughly flawed “Trump reset” narratives have not stopped, but instead have clearly accelerated since he has become president. Corporate media, in other words, still have not learned their lesson about the skepticism and diligence needed to cover Trump in power. He and his administration may make infrequent, isolated changes around the margins, but there is zero reason to believe that he or it will—or indeed, can—fundamentally change. To keep pretending otherwise only erodes the already crumbling trust in the press, and does a disservice to the American public during one of the most critical times in the modern history of our democracy.

Is Hannity, the Last of the Longtime Fox Stars, Looking for the Door?

May 15, 2017 - 4:28pm

Sean Hannity (cc photo: Gage Skidmore)

With former CEO Roger Ailes and star anchor Bill O’Reilly gone, attention at Fox News Channel is shifting to Sean Hannity—the last of the channel’s big stars who have been with the network from the Clinton years to Trump. And it looks like network co-president Bill Shine’s departure last week might be the impetus for Hannity following him out the door.

After all, Hannity has said on Twitter (4/27/17) that if Shine leaves Fox, “That’s the total end of the FNC as we know it. Done.” Well, Shine is gone, and the network seems pretty much the same as it did last month. But perhaps Hannity’s words were a precursor to the host’s own departure, a possibility the acerbic anchor has hinted at at different times over the past year.

FAIR has covered Hannity extensively over the past two decades, as one of the news network’s most vicious purveyors of racial hatred, xenophobia and partisan spin. Hannity first broke into the mainstream through talk radio, delivering, with his boyish face and Long Island accent, right-wing rants that often tip-toed up to the line of outright bigotry—or beyond.

“Anyone listening to this show that believes homosexuality is a normal lifestyle has been brainwashed,” Hannity told Christian Right activist Gene Antonio in 1989 on Santa Barbara radio station KCSB. “It’s very dangerous if we start accepting lower and lower forms of behavior as the normal.” Later that year, Hannity’s comments to a lesbian mother—saying he felt sorry for her child, and questioning if she became pregnant by a “turkey baster”—got him fired from that station, but Hannity was just getting started.

In his early radio days, Hannity also promoted white supremacists like Hal Turner, though he denies his promotion of Turner today. Turner affected hurt feelings when Hannity distanced himself from Turner on air in 2008, saying the two men had an affinity, reflected in special treatment.

“When Hannity took over Bob Grant’s spot on 77 WABC in New York City, I was a well-known, regular and welcome caller to his show,” Turner said (Huffington Post, 5/25/11):

Through those calls, Sean and I got to know each other a bit and at some point, I can’t remember exactly when, Sean gave me the secret “guest call-in number” at WABC so that my calls could always get on the air.

Extra!, 11-12/03 (art by Matt Wuerker)

Controversy didn’t do much to slow Hannity down. He joined Rupert Murdoch’s fledgling Fox News Channel in 1996 as co-host of Hannity & Colmes, a Crossfire-style show whose working title was Hannity & Liberal to Be Determined. From the beginning, Hannity & Colmes was a one-sided affair. Hannity’s overbearing manner with his more demure co-host and the duo’s guests made him the star, rendering the back half of the partnership an ineffectual soundboard.

Hannity regularly made use of his ability to cut off debate by cutting microphones, FAIR found in a 2002 study. And he used this power disproportionately on guests of color and marginalized status. “All right, turn his mike down,” Hannity said in 1999, referring to African-American football legend Mercury Morris. “We’ll put him back in a second here because he’s not going to shut up.”

There didn’t seem to be much Colmes could or would do about it, either. As FAIR put it in 2003 (Extra!, 11–12/03), Hannity & Colmes was

a debate show that doesn’t add up to a fair fight, say many critics, because Colmes’ wishy-washy views and low-key delivery just can’t stand up to the relentlessly ideological and combative Sean Hannity.

When Hannity & Colmes ended in 2008 with Hannity going solo, FAIR’s Isabel MacDonald (11/24/08) wondered: “Will anyone notice?”

Hannity took on the Obama administration for the next eight years. Unchained from the light weight of Colmes, he indulged the worst impulses of his ideology: his hyper-partisanship, barely veiled racism and xenophobia. Secession and violent revolution were the subject of polls and games on his website as recently as 2009.

(cc photo: Gage Skidmore)

Hannity’s rage against Muslims has been another staple over the past two decades, with fake news and conspiracy theories used to promote fear and anger. “This president has committed to nearly 250,000 coming to America,” the Fox host told then-candidate Donald Trump in October of 2015. “That tells me we have a pre-9/11 mindset again.” Hannity’s claims were straight from joke news site Real News Right Now, but that didn’t stop the Fox host from repeating them.

Hannity has also claimed that terrorists have taken over large swaths of European cities and turned them into “no-go zones,” as FAIR noted in 2015 (1/15/15). “Are the police also searching in these areas that we call the no-go zones, where non-Muslims are usually not allowed, not even police and fire departments, usually?” Hannity asked Fox correspondent Amy Kellogg (1/8/15). Parisians mocked these baseless claims by publishing a guide to “Eating and Drinking in the No-Go Zones”—which included some of Paris’s trendiest neighborhoods.

Hannity has promoted Islamophobes, bringing on Pat Robertson (Hannity & Colmes, 9/18/02) to call Mohammad “an absolute wild-eyed fanatic” and claim that Al Qaeda was merely “carrying out Islam.” The Fox host has also provided a platform for author Mark Steyn (Hannity & Colmes, 1/30/07) to charge that Islam was really “a political project that has opened up branch offices on just about every Main Street throughout the Western world.” His attack on US Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota in 2006 provoked criticism from FAIR for its comparison of Islam to Nazism:

Remarking on reports that US congressman Keith Ellison, a Muslim, was planning to be sworn in with a Quran, Fox News personality Sean Hannity (Hannity & Colmes, 11/30/06) drew a parallel between Islam and Nazism, asking a guest on his show, “Would you have allowed him to choose, you know, Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which is the Nazi bible?” (Hannity insisted he was not equating Mein Kampf and the Quran, rendering his point entirely unclear.)

Trayvon Martin’s murder by George Zimmerman became a cause celebre for Hannity, as Steve Rendall reported (Extra!, 9/13). “There is a mountain of evidence supporting George Zimmerman not being a racist,” Hannity declared (7/23/13) of the man who once called 911 to report the “suspicious activity” of a black child under the age of 10 (Daily Beast, 3/22/13). As a sample of this mountain, Hannity (NewsHounds, 7/15/13) has offered, “Didn’t George Zimmerman date a black woman, take one to the prom?”

In November 2014, Hannity told Tavis Smiley that Smiley needed to take a moment to listen on matters of race and policing in America. “Let me educate you,” Hannity said to an incredulous Smiley, as the Fox host proceeded to excuse every police killing to date.

(cc photo: Gage Skidmore)

Finally, Hannity’s thin-skinned partisanship is legend. When the host was famously taken to task by then-candidate Barack Obama communications chief Robert Gibbs in 2008 for using the work of antisemite Andy Martin to attack the future president, he never forgot the slight. Hannity spent Gibbs’ tenure as press secretary mercilessly mocking and attacking him.

That partisanship is almost nowhere more clearly on display than in how his beliefs about extramarital affairs fluctuates depending upon whose is the wandering eye. When John Edwards’ affair was exposed in 2008, Hannity cried crocodile tears for the American people so scandalized by the North Carolina Democrat.

“I’m wondering,” Hannity asked rhetorically, “if you can’t keep the promise to your family, can’t keep your promise to your wife, you’re having an affair, you’re lying about the affair repeatedly, why should the American people trust you when you say you’re not going to lie to them?”

Yet as FAIR pointed out in 2009, Hannity had spent that primary season promoting the candidacies of Rudy Giuliani and John McCain—adulterers both—and frequently welcomed philanderers Newt Gingrich and Dick Morris on his show.

When co-host Alan Colmes (8/12/08) pointedly asked, “How can we trust John McCain,” who “cheated, by his own admission, on his first wife,” Hannity quickly made excuses, explaining that it happened “30 years ago after five-and-a-half years in a prisoner of war camp.”

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, whose marriage collapsed in scandal in 2010, found a defender in Hannity, who by 2011 was urging the governor to return to political life. Sanford would do just that in 2013, and is now a representative for South Carolina’s First District today. It seems that as long as you say the right things, your behavior is irrelevant to Sean Hannity.

Perhaps there’s something more to it, though. Hannity may be seeing the writing on the wall now that Shine, who left after mishandling a series of sex abuse scandals, isn’t there to protect him: The host was accused of sexual harassment by former Fox contributor Debbie Schlussel in April—though she later walked back her comments.

Ailes is gone. O’Reilly is gone. Shine is gone. Will Hannity be far behind?