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Updated: 14 hours 52 min ago

‘Objectivity’ Obliterates Empathy and Curiosity - Guest perspective

March 28, 2023 - 5:05pm


FAIR’s commentary by Conor Smyth (2/28/23) on former Washington Post editor Leonard Downie Jr.’s anti-objectivity manifesto (Washington Post, 1/30/23), and New York Times columnist Bret Stephens’ overwrought response to it (2/9/23), was right on point.

Leonard Downie Jr. (Washington Post, 1/30/23): The “objectivity” standard was “dictated over decades by male editors in predominantly white newsrooms and reinforced their own view of the world.”

I wouldn’t exactly characterize Downie’s shot across the bow of the mantra of corporate media as a mea culpa, since he says he didn’t consider “objectivity” a standard for his newsroom when he was the Post’s managing editor under Ben Bradlee from 1984–1991, and executive editor from 1991–2008. But, since he also says he “stopped…making up my own mind about issues” when he served in those roles—something I consider impossible to do and silly to declare—it’s an open question as to whether the Post didn’t fall prey to some of the same assumptions made by those who embrace “objectivity.”

As welcome as Downie’s indictment of “objectivity” is, it comes across as a little anticlimactic to me, even milquetoast, at least in his Post op-ed, though Smyth’s piece suggests that the full report Downie wrote with former CBS News president Andrew Heyward is stronger. To wit, the op-ed quotes high-up editors at establishment outlets, including the Post, New York Times, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, CBS, NBC and AP—whereas the report also quotes NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen. Ironically, by leaving Rosen and his critique of corporate media’s supposed lack of ideology out of the article, Downie reproduces the same narrow range of acceptable opinion “objectivity” has been bringing us all along; in other words, nobody too far to the left.

Nevertheless, Downie calls out allegiance to “objectivity” as a threat to democracy, while Stephens warns that Downie’s audacity in questioning the old saw is what threatens our democratic institutions. Downie is right.

Shoring up biases

The real threat to democracy continues to be the fervor with which too many arbiters of what gets printed or broadcast cling to notions of “objectivity” that were never logical, achievable nor fair. Those notions have always served to both shore up the biases of the powerful at the expense of the vulnerable, and excuse unconscionable laziness on the part of reporters and editors who blithely continue to see themselves as smart and hard-working.

“Objectivity,” as defined by many of the most powerful media properties in the US, is just idiotic, and always has been. “Using facts without distortion by personal beliefs, bias, feelings or prejudice,” the definition Downie offers, is not possible, and has led intelligent journalists to assert, obtusely, that they have no personal beliefs.

False equivalence: ABC‘s Matthew Dowd on Twitter (11/1/16)

Many believe that of themselves, wholeheartedly. Under this pretense, this delusion, the unacknowledged biases that have held sway at newspapers and TV stations have been those of rich, straight, white men.

The fear of being called biased has also led to “bothsideism,” the empty and intellectually dishonest practice of citing actors on either side of an issue without indicating whether one of them is lying, or giving equal time to stories that don’t warrant such treatment. (Think of the false equivalency of corporate media coverage of Charlottesville, which spent as much time denouncing anti-Nazis as Nazis—FAIR.org, 9/13/17.)

Diversifying newsrooms, Downie maintains, are calling all that into question, and hurrah for that. Though my experience tells me that it’s going to be tough for many at the top of the food chain to unlearn habits of mind they don’t even see as habits, but rather as the definition of doing the job right. It’s just so unconscious. And self-censorship by young people—leaving stuff out that would make their editor look askance at them—is real.

Jousting with ‘objectivity’

When I was a journalist, I jousted with “objectivity,” not unlike Don Quixote with that windmill. I started out in the left press, working at Southern Exposure and The Nation. Deciding I wanted to be writing every day, I went to Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism so I could scrub my resume, make sure I didn’t look like a communist, and get a job at daily paper. It worked! After graduation, off I went to a summer internship at the St. Petersburg Times and then a reporting job at the Louisville Courier-Journal.

There I was, wanting to tell the truth, expose evil and bring a voice to the voiceless, surrounded by fellow reporters who were motivated by, well, I couldn’t actually tell. I didn’t know what the heck they were doing there, and couldn’t grasp why they even wanted to be journalists. For they insisted that they had no opinions about anything.

But, as much as I was a fish out of water—in that I owned that I had deeply held beliefs, and was a product of my upbringing, with the inherent biases any and all upbringings bring—I understood what my job required. I knew that I had to keep my opinions out of the paper, and give equal space—which in those days literally meant the same amount of inches in the story—to both sides. Indeed, I argued (at home, to my partner, not in the newsroom) that the fact that I was aware of my own opinions made me better able to conform to daily journalism’s definition of “objectivity” than those who denied they had biases, and were therefore more likely to introduce said biases into their copy.

In practice, I usually wrote stories that embodied “objectivity” standards, but sometimes, out of paranoia, bent over backwards so far I introduced bias contrary to my own opinions into the paper. Case in point: When a state court issued a ruling on abortion, I knew the reaction piece had to give equal time to the local pro-choice forces and Kentucky Right to Life. But the head of the latter’s state chapter told me she didn’t know what she thought, and she’d need to call the national office to find out (which I didn’t have time for her to do). Since I was familiar with that side’s beliefs and priorities, even though they weren’t my own, I asked her, “Don’t you think this?” and “Don’t you think that?” and turned my story in on time.

Maybe I could have quoted her saying she didn’t know what she thought, and made her look like the ninny that she was, though that probably wouldn’t have made it into print. To be honest, sensitive to my editors’ suspicions about me, I probably gave her more inches than I gave NARAL and local abortion providers.

Illegitimate experience

But the experiences that indelibly burned into my mind the dangers of the assumptions that lay beneath the altar of “objectivity” came when I covered stories about working-class white people in Kentucky’s Appalachian mountains, and working-class Black people in Louisville’s West End.

When I attempted to provide context about structural, multi-generational poverty and racism while covering the news of the day, my editors refused to let me quote the people directly affected by the problems. Their experiences, and the solutions they’d identified out of their lived experience and that of their communities, as well as their own indefatigable research, were flat-out considered illegitimate.

After all, they were poor. They had accents. They didn’t have advanced degrees. They didn’t work for the government. They weren’t owners of coal mines or landfills. They didn’t control university boards. They certainly didn’t control local media.

I came to realize that one of the least discussed but most insidious and anti-democratic threats posed by the media’s concept of “objectivity” was its ironclad refusal to give up its definition of what constitutes an “expert.” That bias extended not only to refusing to give those suffering under unjust policies the courtesy of weighing in substantively on developments that directly threatened them. It also maintained an inviolate firewall against allowing those outside the halls of power to define what was news in the first place.

ABC‘s Maxine Crooks (Washington Post, 1/30/23): “We have to be able to use the voices of people whose neighborhoods we don’t normally go into and tell these stories from their vantage point.”

To editors, “objectivity” could only be maintained by citing people who nearly always had higher education and were affiliated with establishment institutions: universities, government, hospitals, corporations, well-known nonprofits. That leaves out a lot of people! It also sidelines informal groups formed for collective action, like the community organization created by residents of a mobile home park in Appalachia whose water supply had been declared carcinogenic by the state, and whose bills from the public utility were so high they couldn’t pay them.

Downie acknowledges this as one of the dangers of “objectivity,” and in the report advocates creating new beats and bringing back beats, such as labor, that have been mothballed. He quotes ABC’s Maxine Crooks saying her network’s stations are attempting to address the narrowcasting of “objectivity” by increasing coverage of real life, and have created “race and culture content” teams towards that end. “We have to be able to use the voices of people whose neighborhoods we don’t normally go into and tell these stories from their vantage point,” she says.

Stephens also, sort of, but not really, argues for a wider definition of who counts as newsworthy, by throwing a pity party for gun owners and religious fundamentalists, people he insists get ignored because of the media’s liberal bias.

Predictable and patronizing

I think it’s extremely difficult for highly educated, powerful people to even consider that those whose life experiences differ so greatly from their own possess wisdom, and to quote them in ways that lend their insights credence and heft.

Downie’s conceptual admonition about “objectivity” leaving out important voices, as welcome as it is, isn’t the only source of pressure on the legacy media to do a better job at quoting poor people and people of color and poor people of color. Other counties have been heard from.

Michael Moore

Trump’s 2016 victory shocked the talking heads, who really are coastal elites and really do live in bubbles, except for Michael Moore, who lives in Michigan and was one of few media figures to predict that election’s outcome. (I’m being facetious that he’s the only one, but you get the idea.) Much hand-wringing about journalists’ failure to report deeply from the heartland followed.

And so we were treated to predictable, patronizing stories that purported to respect Trump voters, but not-so-sneakily made them look, at best, like ignorant dupes. “Objectivity” obliterates empathy, it seems, as well as curiosity. Despite media vows to no longer resort to flyovers, those stories just served to reiterate divisions, reducing our complex country of complicated people into one with simple-to-grasp but inaccurate categories, like the one that suggests all working-class people are white, and the one that holds all working-class white people vote Republican. And don’t get me started on J.D. Vance. (See sidebar.)

Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd’s May 2020 murder put pressure on newsrooms to address their failures on covering racism. Regional media outlets are similarly put under the microscope each time another police killing occurs in a different city or state. Notwithstanding the Times’ 1619 Project, which got underway in 2019, it remains to be seen whether, in the corporate media as a whole, especially in outlets less illustrious than the Times, promises to do better on race are going to pan out.

And even though states passing or aiming to pass Don’t Say Gay and anti–Critical Race Theory laws are focused on schools, universities and libraries, it’s not off the wall to worry that such laws will have a chilling effect on non-national media outlets that had maybe begun inching towards implementation of claims to hire more Black and brown journalists and give them the power to direct coverage.

Writing off red states

If, say, you live in a big city in the Northeast, media coverage would have you think that there are zero folks who vote blue in the red states, who share progressive values and are fighting the good fight, and that’s patently untrue. You would think there’s nobody Black in Appalachia, and that’s not true, either.

My neighbors in Brooklyn sure believe such things. During Trump, several suggested we should just write off the South, because everyone there is a racist and it’s pointless to try to change their minds.

Patty Wallace and Ruth Colvin (Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, 11/24/16)

Folks in Eastern Kentucky were and are accustomed to outsiders thinking they can’t be trusted to know what’s best for themselves. They’ve been dealing with that for generations. It wasn’t surprising to Patty Wallace and Ruth Colvin, two gray-haired women who’d crept through the woods to take photos of workers standing in clouds of toxic asbestos dust employed by people thought by many, including prosecutors in New York, to have organized crime connections to illegally dump hazardous waste in a landfill meant for household garbage, that my editors wouldn’t let me report on their derring-do in the public’s interest. They knew they were not seen as the type of people who have their own agency and can solve problems.

Not long ago, Joan Robinett, a powerhouse activist from Harlan County, told me there wasn’t a single family her son, Dan, had grown up with who hadn’t been affected by Oxycontin. Yet despite the misery sweeping her rural community and so many others like it, for too long media coverage of the opioid epidemic didn’t reach the critical mass necessary to achieve two important goals: make those losing family members to painkillers feel seen, and force policy makers to substantively address the nightmare. And that’s in part because the people dying were people the media didn’t see, people who didn’t have so-called “experts” speaking up for them.

The opioid crisis, of course, is just one of many issues in rural America that are ignored or undercovered by the media. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that “objectivity,” and its bias against anyone who isn’t considered an “expert” by the status quo, helped lead to Trump’s election, as he preyed on the legitimate sense prevalent in many communities that their suffering didn’t matter.

I think this is something many well-meaning urban sophisticates fail to grasp. They shrug their shoulders and ask, “Why do they keep voting against their own interests?” as if that’s a rhetorical question, rather than a question that could be answered if they bothered to take a walk in the shoes of those they disdain. If they considered how they would feel—and vote—if they had had their lands and labor exploited and their intelligence insulted for generations by the country’s rich and powerful, with media offering nothing but justification for those behaviors and attitudes.

Breaking unspoken rules

Back at the C-J, I persisted. I wrote stories nobody else at the paper thought were stories, like the one about the Asian grocery that carried ingredients requested by immigrants from across the world that they couldn’t buy anywhere else in town, and the one about a Muslim feminist professor’s class on The Satanic Verses after the fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie.

Rev. Louis Coleman (image: WHAS11, 2/25/21)

Soon after I became the higher education reporter, the state government—without bothering to give advance notice to Woodford Porter, the West End funeral parlor scion who was the University of Louisville’s one Black board member—altered U of L’s admissions policies in such a way that fewer Black students would be admitted, thereby threatening the “urban mission” of its state charter. I covered the protest at U of L’s board meeting. It was organized by the Rev. Louis Coleman, Louisville’s most prominent Black activist, and Anne Braden, a white woman who’d dedicated her life to anti-racist work after her husband was accused of sedition and jailed for selling a house in a white neighborhood to a Black family.

Then, when a mid-level functionary in the federal Department of Education said that U of L couldn’t spend money earned at Arizona’s Fiesta Bowl on minority scholarships (U of L’s football team was only invited because other schools were boycotting Arizona for refusing to honor the MLK holiday), I broke what became a national story, picked up by the New York Times, etc., about the threat this ruling posed to affirmative action in general. It wasn’t long before George H.W. Bush’s administration put the kibosh on that initiative.

Soon after I’d written those stories, according to a Black state representative who spoke with me off the record, U of L’s president called the Courier-Journal’s publisher and told him to get Robin Epstein off his back. So much for the supposed separation between journalism’s church and state, the publishing side and the editorial side of the newspaper. I’d broken the unspoken rule that the paper didn’t probe Louisville’s racial inequities, because doing so might lead to unrest. The city’s fathers didn’t want a reprise of the busing riots of 1975.

Did the paper celebrate that I’d recognized that a local story raised questions that pertained far beyond U of L, and done enough digging to place it in a larger context? Were the editors proud that one of their reporters had perhaps helped save the college education of untold numbers of minority students across the country? No.

‘Don’t ask for too much’

Emily Bingham (left) and Eleanor Bingham Miller (Courier-Journal, 6/1/21): “The shortcomings of the companies our family own are real—and many.”

I’d arrived at the C-J in 1988, two years after Gannett bought the paper, and rocking the boat was certainly not encouraged. My fellow reporters often lamented that it wasn’t the way it used to be. Indeed, historically, under the Bingham family, which owned the paper from 1918 to 1986, the C-J had had enterprising moments for a publication of its size. Though it’s hard to imagine, given the current sorry state of daily newspapers thanks to media consolidation and contraction, the C-J at one time had its own foreign correspondents! (Joel Brinkley won the paper a Pulitzer in 1980 for a series from Cambodia.)

But even in its heyday, which began well before school desegregation and lasted a decade after it, when budgets were flush as compared to under Gannett, the paper didn’t dig deep on the lack of racial justice in its own backyard.

In the summer of 2021, a year and a few months after Breonna Taylor was murdered, historian Emily Bingham and her aunt, Eleanor Bingham Miller, put out a statement apologizing for the lack of forthright coverage of racism when their family owned the C-J:

We have no doubt the shortcomings of the companies our family owned are real—and many. These failings of the “‘public trust” harmed Black lives and extended white supremacy in our community. The Courier Journal advocated progress for Black people but only at the pace its owners and editors considered manageable and appropriate. Our constant refrain was “go slow,” “don’t ask for too much at once,” “don’t you see we’re trying to help you?” and more of the like.

Scuttlebutt I’ve read posted on Facebook by friends in Louisville, including some former C-J reporters, indicates that the paper nowadays is thinner than ever, though I have seen a few good pieces it’s published since Taylor was killed.

However, back in the early ’90s, my punishment for breaking that unspoken rule, for covering (not creating) news about institutional racism, and for following the implications of that news to its logical conclusion? I was yanked off the higher ed beat and banished to the Southern Indiana bureau. When I quit a few months later, the editor who had hired me had the condescending gall to tell me in my exit interview that I would now be able to “think globally and act locally.” That was his way of saying I’d never belonged in a newsroom in the first place, because I had opinions and couldn’t be “objective.” As if he could.

A need for humility

To me, perhaps the most depressing thing about the way adherents to the “objectivity” principle go about their business is their utter lack of humility. They don’t know what they don’t know, and they don’t think about it. As long as they lazily give equal time to “both sides,” they think they’ve passed muster. As Downie says, that lets mainstream journalists off the hook from their responsibility to search hard for and report the truth to the best of their ability.

But it also gives them permission to avoid questioning whether their own lives have in any way blinkered them to who is a legitimate source and to what is a legitimate story. So, they reflexively reproduce pieces that fit into preordained formats sanctioned by their bosses, who also operate under their own unexamined devotion to a narrow, class-bound, racist, sexist, homophobic and superficial conception of expertise.

The discourse churned out by the legacy media, despite Downie’s hope that self-critique is underway and will result in meaningful change, still falls short of reflecting the reality of the lives lived by people who don’t run the nation’s newsrooms. And our democracy is so much poorer for it.


Sidebar: It’s Structural, Not Pathological

Here are some resources if you’re hungry for some Appalachian perspectives that provide an antidote to Sen. J.D. Vance’s corrosive, self-serving, victim-blaming bootstrap-ism.

To Read:

(Belt Publishing, 2018)

Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy
Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll, editors

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia
by Elizabeth Catte

Flight Behavior

By Barbara Kingsolver

A Is for Affrilachia
Children’s picture book by Frank X. Walker

Facing South

Bitter Southerner


To Watch: 

Image from Stranger With a Camera

Stranger With a Camera
A documentary film directed by Elizabeth Barrett

A Message From Tyler Childers
About his song “Long Violent History”

To Hear: 

Trillbilly Workers Party Podcast

To Check Out: 


Highlander Research and Education Center


The post ‘Objectivity’ Obliterates Empathy and Curiosity appeared first on FAIR.

Cop City Coverage Fails to Question Narratives of Militarized Police

March 27, 2023 - 4:07pm

Protests against the construction of an 85-acre police training facility—dubbed “Cop City”—in a suburban Atlanta forest turned deadly when police shot and killed a demonstrator occupying the area. The police mobilization against the occupation involved the Atlanta Police, DeKalb County Police, Georgia State Patrol, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and the FBI (Guardian, 1/21/23). Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, a protester known by most as “Tortuguita,” was shot at least a dozen times.

After quoting the police justification for Tortuguita’s killing, the Guardian (1/21/23) added, “but they have produced no evidence for the claim”—an observation rarely made in US corporate media coverage of police violence.

Officers claimed they shot Tortuguita (who used gender-neutral they/them pronouns) in response to the protester’s shooting and injuring a Georgia State Patrol officer. A GBI investigation is still underway, and it remains unclear what occurred in the moments leading up to the shooting. The Georgia State Troopers responsible for Tortuguita’s death did not have body cameras. The Atlanta Police in the woods at the time captured the sound of gunshots, and officers speculating the trooper was shot by friendly fire, but no visuals of the shooting.

Tortuguita’s death was reported as the first police killing of an environmental protester in the country’s history. It propelled the “Stop Cop City” protests into broader national and corporate news coverage. Much of the reporting—especially by local and independent outlets—was commendable in its healthy skepticism of cops’ unsubstantiated claims. But other reporting on the shooting and subsequent protests was simply police-blotter regurgitation that took unproven police statements at face value, and demonized Tortuguita and others in the Stop Cop City movement.

Bodycam questions

Almost two months after the police killing of Tortuguita, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was warning against “inappropriate release of evidence” (NPR, 3/11/23).

Anti–Cop City protests over the first weekend of March led to dozens of demonstrators being arrested and charged with domestic terrorism (Democracy Now!, 3/8/23). The following week, an independent autopsy revealed Tortuguita was likely seated in a cross-legged position with their hands raised when they were shot (NPR, 3/11/23; Democracy Now!, 3/14/23).

The GBI said a gun Tortuguita legally purchased in 2020 was found at the scene, and matched the bullet found in the wound of the officer (Fox5, 1/20/23). But accounts from other protesters, statements from Tortuguita’s family and friends (AP, 2/6/23), and Atlanta Police bodycam footage have cast doubt on the cops’ claims that Tortuguita shot the officer (Democracy Now!, 2/9/23).

ABC (2/9/23) described the video, which includes the voice of an officer seemingly responding to the shootout by saying, “You [expletive] your own officer up.” The Intercept (2/9/23) added that the same officer later walked up to others and asked, “They shoot their own man?”

Both outlets do their due diligence in clarifying that the officer was speculating, and that the GBI’s investigation is still underway.

Truthout (2/10/23) also included another quote from the bodycam footage in the moments after the shooting:

In one video, after gunshots ring out through the forest, an officer can be heard saying, “That sounded like suppressed gunfire,” implying the initial shots were consistent with the use of a law enforcement weapon, not the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9 mm the GBI alleges Tortuguita purchased and fired upon the trooper with, which did not have a suppressor.

The piece noted that the sound of a drone can be heard in the background, indicating there may be more footage of the incident that the GBI has not released. An article in the Georgia Voice (2/16/23) also mentions the suppressed gunshots referred to in the videos.

Trailing behind Fox

The Blaze (12/16/22) shows how to present people sitting in trees as a clear and present danger.

A Nexis search of  “Cop City” reveals that prior to Tortuguita’s killing, coverage of the protests, which have been going on since late 2021, had been relegated to mainly local outlets and newswire coverage. There were, however, a handful of notable exceptions, including the Daily Beast (8/26/21, 9/9/21, 12/14/22), Politico (10/28/21), Atlantic (5/26/22, 6/13/22), Guardian (6/16/22, 12/27/22), Rolling Stone (9/3/22) and Economist (9/27/22).

Right-wing outlets like Fox News (5/18/22, 5/20/22, 7/1/22, 12/16/22, 12/29/22, 12/29/22), Daily Mail (5/18/22, 12/15/22, 12/16/22, 12/17/22, 12/19/22), Blaze (12/16/22) and Daily Caller (12/15/22) all demonized the protesters, often referring to them as “violent” and affiliated with “Antifa” (which, for the record, is not an organized group, but an anti-fascist ideology).

In the first few days following Tortuguita’s January 18 shooting, coverage on major TV news channels and national papers was scant, with most centrist outlets trailing behind Fox in the volume of coverage. A Nexis search for the terms “Tortuguita,” “Terán” or “Cop City,” from the day of Tortuguita’s death (January 18) until the end of January, found that Fox covered the shooting and protest more than all the other national networks combined, dominating the conversation with a pro-cop spin. It raised the issue on eight shows, while CNN covered it four times, ABC and CBS once each, and NBC and MSNBC not at all. Meanwhile, USA Today offered no coverage and the New York Times ran two articles. A separate search of the Washington Post, which is not on Nexis, brings up three articles, one of which was an AP repost.

Beyond the police version 

Kamau Franklin (Democracy Now!, 1/20/23): “The only version of events that’s really been released to the public has been the police version.”

Independent and local outlets generally led the way in reporting on Tortuguita’s killing. A couple days after the shooting, Democracy Now! (1/20/23) dedicated an entire segment to the murder and movement. Host Amy Goodman interviewed Atlanta organizer Kamau Franklin, who wrote an article headlined “MLK’s Vision Lives On in Atlanta’s Fight Against New Police Training Facility” (Truthout, 1/17/23) the day before Tortuguita was shot.

On Democracy Now!, Franklin said:

The only version of events that’s really been released to the public has been the police version, the police narrative, which we should say the corporate media has run away with. To our knowledge so far, we find it less than likely that the police version of events is what really happened…. As the little intel that we have, residents said that they heard a blast of gunshots all at once, and not one blast and then a return of fire. Also, there’s been no other information released. We don’t know how many times this young person was hit with bullets. We don’t know the areas in which this person was hit. We don’t know if this is potentially a friendly fire incident. All we know is what the version of the police have given.

Many other local and independent outlets also reported on Tortuguita’s death with a healthy dose of skepticism of police claims. Shortly after the killing, the Bitter Southerner published a piece by journalist David Peisner (1/20/23), who had been covering the Stop Cop City protests (12/23/22) and had spent extensive time interviewing the activist. Peisner’s article is essentially a eulogy for Tortuguita, vouching for their character and quoting pacifistic statements they made in interviews. Peisner wrote:

“The right kind of resistance is peaceful, because that’s where we win,” they told me. “We’re not going to beat [the police] at violence. They’re very, very good at violence. We’re not. We win through nonviolence. That’s really the only way we can win. We don’t want more people to die. We don’t want Atlanta to turn into a war zone.”

Piesner acknowledged the possibility that Tortuguita may have been disingenuously advocating peaceful protest, but made clear he saw no evidence of that.

A letter to the editor on Workers.org (2/8/23) pointed out how police’s unproven claims and charges of violence against Tortuguita served to dampen publicity and reduce sympathy for them. Julia Wright’s letter also called out the double standard in dozens of land defenders being charged with “terrorism,” unlike the Capitol insurrectionists, whose deadly riot sought to dismantle US democracy:

The postmortem image of Tortuguita has been twisted and exploited to make them look like a “terrorist,” whereas none of those who invaded the Capitol were charged with or sentenced for terrorism.

Local Atlanta news outlet 11Alive (2/6/23) reported that Tortuguita’s family was publicly questioning the police-driven narrative of their child’s death, and demanding more transparency from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. While outlining the official narrative, the outlet also offered significant space to those contesting it.

Claim becomes fact

Fox News (1/22/23) condemned Democrats for not speaking out against broken windows in Atlanta.

Other outlets, however, were far less skeptical of the unsubstantiated law enforcement claims, whether presenting claims as facts or simply not challenging those claims.

In its report on the killing, Fox Special Report (1/20/23) played a soundbite from the GBI’s chief: “An individual, without warning, shot a Georgia state patrol trooper. Other law enforcement personnel returned fire in self-defense.” The segment went on to play a short soundbite of unidentified protesters urging people not to believe the police narrative, but correspondent Jonathan Serrie’s outro implied that he did believe it:

Top Georgia officials, including the governor and director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, say they embrace the right to protest, but cannot stand by when protesters resort to violence and jeopardize innocent lives.

Just a few hours later on Fox (1/20/23), police claims had become fact, with a brief update beginning, “In Georgia, a protester shot a state trooper without warning.” There was no mention of the incomplete investigation underway, nor the protesters’ accounts.

After further protests, the Wall Street Journal editorial (3/7/23) accused the “left” of “justif[ying] a violent assault on a police-training site,” saying that “Cop City” was under siege from “Antifa radicals.”

The Journal relied entirely on official accounts of the protests, reporting only the police’s account of events that day:

Authorities say Terán refused to comply with officers’ commands and instead shot and injured a state patrol trooper. Officers returned fire, striking Terán, who died on the scene, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The investigation isn’t finished, but the bureau says the bullet “recovered from the trooper’s wound matches Terán’s handgun.”

As of this writing, even with the most recent autopsy results suggesting Tortuguita’s cross-legged, hands-up position at the time of their death, neither the police’s nor the activists’ accounts have been proven. Still, the Wall Street Journal has already made clear which narrative it finds newsworthy.

Vandalism as ‘violence’

A lack of skepticism of official accounts was not limited to right-wing media. The New York Times (1/27/23), reporting on Georgia’s governor calling in the National Guard amid the protests, wrote, “The authorities claim that Terán fired a gun at a state trooper during a ‘clearing operation’ in the woods before being killed by the police.” No sources were quoted who questioned that claim.

The Washington Post headline (1/21/23) implied that protesters were violent—though the only attacks on people described in the piece were police tackling demonstrators.

Covering the protests after Tortuguita’s killing, the Washington Post (1/21/23) made the actions of protesters rather than police the issue, with the headline “Violent Protests Break Out in Atlanta Over Fatal Shooting of Activist.” While the headline implies that the protesters were violent, the only attacks on other humans described in the piece were police tackling protesters. The Post included no reports of protesters committing bodily harm, but parroted Atlanta’s mayor referring to property damage as “violence”—elevating vandalism over assaults on people. (FAIR—2/6/18—has documented that news media do not commonly refer to other, apolitical instances of property destruction—such as sports fans celebrating a win—as “violence.”)

Only toward the end of the article, below a featured image of a car on fire and descriptions of smashed bank windows, did the Post add that the Atlanta police chief “emphasized that those who caused property damage were a small subset among other peaceful demonstrators.”

The headline “In Atlanta, a Deadly Forest Protest Sparks Debate Over ‘Domestic Terrorism’” (Washington Post, 1/26/23) implies the protesters’ actions were deadly—but the only people who caused death were the police who shot Tortuguita.

Another Post piece (3/6/23) offered history on the construction of Cop City and the movement against it under the headline “What Is Cop City? Why Are There Violent Protests in an Atlanta Forest?,” but prioritized depicting the demonstrations as “violent” over describing the shooting that led to the backlash in the first place, using the adjective three additional times in the piece.

(It also referred to Tortuguita using he/him pronouns, though that has been corrected.)

“State authorities claimed self-defense and said that Paez Terán purchased the gun that shot a Georgia State Patrol officer, but the shooting is under investigation,” the article said, without mentioning the protesters’ claims, or the bodycam footage.

Holding back evidence

A New York Times overview (3/4/23) gave a detailed account of how police say Tortuguita was killed—but not what protesters say happened.

Some coverage that did mention the doubts of Tortuguita’s family and supporters failed to explain the evidence that could back their claims. In a New York Times report (3/4/23) that attempted to put the protests in context, the only person quoted supporting Tortuguita’s innocence was their mother. The piece quoted Belkis Terán describing her child as a “pacifist,” and mentioning the first independent autopsy revealed 13 gunshot wounds—but made no mention of the bodycam evidence that suggested the officer may have been shot by friendly fire.

(The second autopsy’s results that indicated Tortuguita was likely sitting cross-legged with their hands up when they were shot were not available when this article was published. At the time of this article’s publication, the Times has not published any articles on the second autopsy’s results.)

The mourning mother’s grief adds emotion to the story and briefly paints Tortuguita in a sympathetic light, but her claims are not granted the same amount of authority and credibility as the cops’ assertions, which are offered in detail:

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is looking into the shooting, has said that on January 18, as the police sought to clear the forest of protesters, Tortuguita fired first “without warning,” striking a trooper. Officers returned fire, according to the authorities.

Despite the investigation being incomplete, the police narrative is still able to stand alone, without any mentions of opposing allegations and evidence.

Ignoring recent history

To draw a sharp contrast between police treatment of  Cop City opponents and earlier environmental protests,  NBC (2/5/23) had to ignore precedents like police at Standing Rock sending two dozen Indigenous water defenders to the hospital in a single event (Guardian, 11/21/16).

Even after the GBI’s report comes out, journalists should clearly present the evidence supporting protesters’ and police narratives, given police’s well-documented record of lying in reports, affidavits and even on the witness stand (New York Times, 3/18/18; CNN, 6/6/20; Slate, 8/4/20).

In early February, NBC (2/5/23) reported that Tortuguita’s killing was the first of an environmental activist, but made this police killing seem like a fluke. “Police have often been important intermediaries in environmental protests,” the article’s subhead claimed. “In a forest outside Atlanta, they were opponents.”

If you read the story, though, a source acknowledges that “there’s a long history of law enforcement confronting direct-action environmentalist activists and those confrontations turning hostile.” Going back to the 1980s, activists who engaged in civil disobedience “were sometimes dragged away and thrown in vans, sometimes pepper-sprayed.”

To claim that the violence at Atlanta represents an “unprecedented” escalation, as the article argues, requires ignoring recent history like the suppression of the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. There police used water cannons, pepper spray, tasers, sound weapons and more against peaceful—mostly Indigenous—protesters, in one incident injuring 300 and putting 26 in the hospital (Guardian, 11/21/16).

Regardless of who shot the first bullet, the story of Tortuguita’s death is about protests against militarized policing being met with more militarized policing, which ultimately resulted in a fatal shooting. Unquestioningly spreading unproven police claims is not only irresponsible, it misses the story’s entire point.

The post Cop City Coverage Fails to Question Narratives of Militarized Police appeared first on FAIR.

What Fox’s Bad Calls on Election Night 2020 Say About 2024

March 24, 2023 - 5:12pm


The problems Fox News had on Election Night 2020 don’t bode well for the election of 2024.

iMediaEthics (5/19/21): In Arizona, “the actual results were much closer than what VoteCast predicted.”

A little before midnight Eastern time on November 3, 2020, the Fox network, which was collaborating with the Associated Press on vote projections, predicted that Biden would win Arizona. The decision desk director at the time later acknowledged it seemed “premature.” Almost two years ago, on iMediaEthics (5/19/21), I outlined the reasons why the call should not have been made, based on Associated Press’s own post mortem assessment. More recently, Nate Cohn of the New York Times (3/13/23) made a similar argument.

On Election Day 2020, Fox also predicted Democrats to win the House, with their majority expanding by “at least five seats.” That was incorrect, also noted in my article. While Democrats retained the majority, they actually lost 13 seats. Cohn does not mention this miscall.

The predictions were based on a new system that Fox and AP had developed in conjunction with the National Opinion Research Center (NORC). Called  VoteCast by AP, and Fox News Voter Analysis by the network, it was born out of Fox’s frustration with the slow pace of predicting winners in 2016.

At that time, the network was part of a consortium, the National Election Pool (NEP) run by Edison Research, which uses exit polls and related data to project election winners. With its new system, Fox would presumably be able to make quicker decisions.

It did not go well.

Neither quicker nor more accurate

The New York Times‘ Peter Baker (3/4/23) suggests that Fox‘s problem was that its polling was too good.

Yet, earlier this month, Peter Baker of the New York Times (3/4/23) seemed to embrace the notion that the Fox/AP/NORC system is superior to the NEP system used by the other networks.

He alluded to a meeting of Fox executives after the 2020 election, when they were discussing how, in the future, they could avoid calling an election for a Democrat before the other networks. Information about the meeting came from evidence in Dominion Voting Systems’ $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit.

Baker wrote:

Maybe, the Fox executives mused, they should abandon the sophisticated new election-projecting system in which Fox had invested millions of dollars and revert to the slower, less accurate model.

It seems unlikely the executives would have referred to the NEP as a “less accurate” model. Slower, perhaps; that was the catalyst for developing the new system. But accuracy was not an issue, at least as publicly stated. It seems more a projected characterization by Baker.

In any case, Baker’s own words appeared to embrace VoteCast as a superior system:

Fox reached its call earlier than other networks because of the cutting-edge system that it developed after the 2016 election, a system tested during the 2018 midterm elections with great success—Fox projected that Democrats would capture the House before its competitors.

The only evidence Baker offered for VoteCast as a “cutting-edge” system is that Fox called the 2018 House contest “before its competitors.” In 2020, Fox also called the House contest before the other networks but, as already noted, that call was a rush to judgment that forced the network to eat crow more than a week later. Hardly cutting edge. NEP made no such error.

Baker ignored altogether the lopsided competition between the two systems in the 2022 House elections. Data posted on the Edison website shows that NEP correctly called the winners before AP and VoteCast in 296 congressional districts, while AP beat NEP in just 73 districts.

A dangerous competition

Personally, I’ve long been skeptical about the competition among networks to be first in calling winners. The public has no immediate need to know who the winner will “likely” be. In most cases, a few more hours will see a completed ballot count and the actual winners announced. If the counting extends for several days, so be it.

The real utility of the election night systems is the statistical information that is collected, which allows for a more in-depth understanding of the factors that motivated voters for one candidate or another. Projecting winners on Election Night is at best an added advantage, and at worst—when miscalls are made—a danger to democracy.

Then–Florida Gov. John Ellis “Jeb” Bush and his first cousin, Fox executive John Ellis, together made the decision that Fox would call Florida for their brother/cousin George W. Bush (image: Media Matters, 2/3/15).

That was the case in the 2000 election, when—at 2:16 in the morning after Election Day—Fox was the first to project George W. Bush the winner in Florida. The head of the decision desk was John Ellis, Bush’s cousin. Bush’s brother Jeb, then governor of Florida, was on the phone with Ellis, and urged his cousin to make the call, though the data did not support it. This projection caused the other major networks to follow suit, only to rescind the call hours later. Chaos ensued.

The miscall and resulting confusion caused Roger Ailes, chair and CEO of Fox News Network, later to admit, “In my heart, I do believe that democracy was harmed by my network and others on November 7, 2000.” (See my book How to Steal an Election: The Inside Story of How George Bush’s Brother and Fox Network Miscalled the 2000 Election and Changed the Course of History for further details.)

That kind of chaos could have happened again in 2020. As Cohn argues about the early call:

There’s not much reason to believe that there was a factual basis for a projection in Arizona. It came very close to being wrong. If it had been, it could have been disastrous.

The public’s confidence in elections would have taken another big hit if Mr. Trump had ultimately taken the lead after a call in Mr. Biden’s favor. It would have fueled the Trump campaign’s argument that he could and would eventually overturn the overall result.

Misleading distinctions

AP says of its VoteCast system, “We meet voters where they are”—meaning they don’t meet voters where they vote.

The hype about the VoteCast system begins with the misleading descriptions found on each news media’s website. Each has a slightly different description of the wonders of their new system, but both emphasize the limits of exit polls as its genesis.

AP: In the 2020 general election, less than a third of voters cast a ballot at a neighborhood polling place on Election Day. That’s why we meet voters where they are, surveying them via mail, phone and online to create a comprehensive data set that empowers accurate storytelling…. AP VoteCast is the product of more than a decade of research and years of experiments aimed at moving away from traditional, in-person exit polls to an approach to election research that reflects the modern approach to voting.

Fox: With more voters than ever voting early or by mail, the new method overcomes the limitations of in-person exit polls and captures the views of all Americans.

The descriptions imply the old, unnamed system, the one they used to belong to (NEP), relies solely on “in-person exit polls.” It does not. And the people at Fox and AP know that.

NEP has been much more than an exit poll operation, ever since its incarnation in 2004. I was with the previous media consortium, called Voter News Service (VNS), on Election Nights 1996 and 2000, and even then, the consortium supplemented exit polls with pre-election polls to measure the preferences of early and by-mail voters.

These days, NEP supplements Election Day exit polls with exit polls at early voting locations around the country, plus multi-mode pre-election polls of absentee voters, including interviews conducted by phone and web.

You can see a comparison of the two methodologies as outlined by NEP and AP Votecast. The comparison reveals two major differences:

  1. The Fox/AP system relies solely on surveys of voters done before polls close, while NEP uses pre-election polls to measure preferences of absentee voters and exit polls to measure preferences of voters as they have just finished voting.
  2. All voter preferences gathered by NEP are based on probability samples, the “gold standard of survey research.” Less than a third of VoteCast respondents are selected using probability methods.

To be fair, given the low response rates of phone surveys, or even of multi-mode surveys (those which include, as NEP does, phone and web), it’s not clear that probability samples continue to be superior to non-probability surveys (Pew, 5/2/16; 538, 8/11/14; 3Streams, 3/18/21).

VoteCast or NEP?

Journalists should welcome the addition of a statistically based Election Day coverage system like VoteCast to compete with NEP. Until 1990, the three major broadcast networks—ABC, CBS and NBC—each conducted their own exit poll operation, providing somewhat different takes on the electorate. But in 1990, because of prohibitive costs, they formed a consortium (and added CNN), originally called Voter Research and Surveys. The consortium expanded to include Fox and AP, but still there was only one take on the electorate.

Just as it’s useful to have more than one poll on any given race, it’s useful to have more than one election night operation. But there’s nothing to substantiate the idea that this new operation is especially “cutting edge” or superior to the one that already existed.

In fact, VoteCast is not so much cutting edge as duller edge. Its main advantage in avoiding any in-person exit polling and using mostly non-probability samples of voters is lower cost, rather than any increase in quality.

VoteCast cuts costs dramatically by getting rid of the whole exit poll operation, both in early voting states, and especially on Election Day, which (for NEP) includes 734 exit poll stations across the country, along with recruiting and training interviewers and establishing a live call-in reporting process for the results.

Fox and AP are not alone in trying to find cheaper methods of polling voters. There is an industry-wide effort to cut polling costs, because of abysmally low response rates. As Pew (5/2/16) noted several years ago:

For decades the gold standard for public opinion surveys has been the probability poll, where a sample of randomly selected adults is polled and results are used to measure public opinion across an entire population. But the cost of these traditional polls is growing each year, leading many pollsters to turn to online nonprobability surveys, which do not rely on random sampling and instead recruit through ads, pop-up solicitations and other approaches.

By 2020, most election polls had in fact turned to non-probability samples. As one article noted, from September 1 to November 1, 2020, only 23% of the reported election polls on 538 were based on strict probability samples. The rest were based either totally (61%) or partially (16%) on non-probability samples. Pew observed:

The advantages of these online surveys are obvious—they are fast and relatively inexpensive, and the technology for them is pervasive. But are they accurate?

That is the question that faces the industry overall. The advent of VoteCast, which mostly relies on non-probability samples, is yet another effort to develop more cost-effective ways of measuring public opinion. As such, it should provide useful information for other pollsters as the industry morphs away from the very expensive probability standard.

But the key test should not be which system is quicker in projecting winners, though it is naïve to assume the networks won’t continue to compete in this area. Instead, an evaluation of the two systems should rely on how accurate and plausible are the data each system provides about the nature of the electorate, and the factors that influenced the election.

What about Election Night?

Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott was worried about “the impact to the brand” of calling Arizona for Joe Biden (New York Times, 3/4/23).

Among the media partners in each system, it appears that only one media organization can’t be trusted to make projections in a timely manner based on the statistical findings. Baker makes clear in his New York Times article (3/4/23) that following the 2020 election, Fox executives’ primary concern about the Arizona call was not that it was right, but that coming before any other network, it infuriated Trump and his aides, and angered their own viewers.

Discussions followed, even by their two main news anchors, who, according to Baker,

suggested it was not enough to call a state based on numerical calculations, the standard by which networks have made such determinations for generations, but that viewer reaction should be considered.

As Baker points out, that had already happened. When its decision desk decided to call Nevada for Biden on Friday night, November 6, Fox president Jay Wallace refused to air it. By VoteCast’s models, Arizona would have given Biden the electoral votes he needed to be declared president. Wallace didn’t want his network to be the first. He waited until all the other networks had made the call the next day, and then allowed Fox to follow suit.

Once a network has decided it’s more important to tell viewers what they want to hear, rather than what the data provide, it doesn’t matter how good the election night system might be. The calls can’t be trusted.

The post What Fox’s Bad Calls on Election Night 2020 Say About 2024 appeared first on FAIR.

‘People Have Been Protesting Against Cop City Since We Found Out About It’ - CounterSpin interview with Kamau Franklin on Cop City

March 24, 2023 - 2:18pm


Janine Jackson interviewed Community Movement Builders’ Kamau Franklin about the fight against Cop City for the March 17, 2023, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: The clearing of land, including forests, in South Atlanta, to build a gigantic police training complex brings together so many concerns, it’s hard to know where to begin.

NPR (3/11/23)

The January police killing of a protester and environmental activist known as Tortuguita, whose autopsy suggests they were sitting down with their hands raised when cops shot them multiple times, is a flashpoint illuminating a constellation of harms proposed by what’s been dubbed “Cop City,” as well as resistance to them.

Our guest is in the thick of it. Kamau Franklin is founder of the national grassroots organization Community Movement Builders, and co-host of the podcast Renegade Culture. He joins us now by phone from Atlanta; welcome to CounterSpin, Kamau Franklin.

Kamau Franklin: Hey, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Cop City seems to bring together so much that is wrong and painful for Black and brown people. But we can actually start with the land itself. The place where this paramilitary police camp is planned has some meaningful history, doesn’t it?

KF: Yeah, this land, which has been dubbed by us the Weelaunee forest, was originally the home of part of the Muscogee nation. The Muscogee nation was the native occupiers of that land, the original occupiers of that land, and they were removed in an ethnic cleansing war by the United States from that land and pushed off.

And since that time period, the land has been used, initially, partly as a plantation, where enslaved Africans were brought to the land and made to work on that land. Later, the land was transferred into a prison farm, where working-class people and poor people and, again, particularly Black folks were put on the land to continue working for the state at, obviously, no wages, being punished and harassed and brutally treated.

The land has also served as a youth imprisonment camp, and the police have done trainings on that land.

So that land has been, over a time period, used for the brutal and harsh treatment of Black people in particular, but also of poor and working-class people.

One quick thing I want to say, also, is that that land, in terms of it being a forest before the invention of Cop City, was promised to the adjacent community, which is 70% Black, as a recreational and park area, particularly as the land re-forested itself over time, park areas where there were supposed to be nature trails, hiking available, parks available, and when the idea of Cop City arose, from the Atlanta Police Department, the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Police Foundation, all of those plans were scrapped immediately, without any input from that adjoining community, and instead they decided to move forward with this idea of Cop City.

New Republic (3/9/23)

JJ: I think that’s why folks are talking about, I’ve heard a reference to “layers of violence” at work here. And I think that’s what they’re getting at is, there’s what this place would be for, its purpose, and then there’s also the process of how it is being pushed on people that didn’t want it. And then there’s also the physical, environmental impact of the construction. It’s a lot, and yet they’re all intertwined, these problems.

KF: Yeah, this is a perfect illustration of how the state, vis-a-vis the city, the state government and even, in some ways, the federal government, operate in tandem, and a lot of times, most of the time, it doesn’t matter what party they are, but operate in tandem at the whim of capital and at the whim of a, relatively speaking, right-wing ideological outlook.

And, again, it doesn’t matter which party it is we’re talking about. It doesn’t matter whether or not those folks are Black or white, but an ideological outlook that says overpolicing in Black and brown communities is the answer to every problem.

And so here in particular, you talked about the process. This process of developing Cop City came after the 2020 uprisings against police violence, the 2020 uprisings that were national in scope, that started after Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and, here in Atlanta, Rayshard Brooks was killed by the police, and it caused a massive uprising and movement across the nation again.

The response by the authorities here in Atlanta was to push through their plans on building Cop City, to double down on their efforts, again, to continue the overpolicing of Black communities, particularly here in Atlanta. Atlanta is a city that is gentrifying at an astronomical rate. It’s gone from a 60% Black city to one that’s less than 50% in only a matter of 20, 30 years, all of that under Black leadership.

It’s a city that, in terms of those who are arrested, 90% of those who are arrested in Atlanta by the police are Black people; its jails are filled with Black people.

And so this is a city that doubled down on police violence and police militarization after these uprisings.

In addition, we feel like the part of Cop City, in terms of its militarization—over a dozen firing ranges, its mock cities to practice urban warfare, its military-grade structure that it’s bragging about—the fact that its past facility is called the Paramilitary Center, and this one is also going to be a paramilitary center.

In its earliest iterations of what it was supposed to be, it included a landing pad for Black Hawk helicopters, something they’ve now said that they’ve taken out.

This, for us, has been put forth to harass and stop future mobilizations and movements and uprisings against police brutality and misconduct.

Guardian (2/9/23)

It was pushed through the City Council. Seventy percent of the people who called in on the night of the vote voted against Cop City, but yet the City Council members decided to still enact this. And so this has been run over the heads of the community, without community input.

And it is something that we think is dangerous for both the overpolicing, and, as you restated earlier, the environmental concerns of stripping away a forest of 100 acres immediately. This particular area is something that is given to having floods. Once they start stripping even more of the forested area away, there’s going to be even more and increased floods.

The loudness of the shooting, the other things that’s going to be happening, this is going to be something that’s extremely detrimental to the environment, and the continued degradation of the climate, if it is allowed to take place and happen.

JJ: I think folks listening would understand why there are multiple points of resistance, why there are a range of communities and folks who would be against this. Some listeners may not know, people have been protesting Cop City for years now.

But now, Tortuguita’s killing amid ongoing protests has given an opening for corporate media to plug this into a narrative about “violent activists” and “clashes.” And this is par for the course for elite media, but, and I’m just picking up on what you’ve just said, it’s especially perverse here, because we’re seeing community resistance and rejection of hyper-policing presented as itself a reason for more of that hyper- and racist policing. It’s a knot. It’s a real complicated knot here.

KF: No, you’re exactly right. And we should say, again, that people have been protesting against Cop City since we found out about it in 2021. And our protests have been, since its beginning, met with police violence.

When we were protesting at City Hall, doing petition drives, town halls, contacting our legislators, when all that was happening and we were doing protests at City Hall and other places, the police would come and break up our protests.

They conducted over 20 arrests during the early stages of our protest movement against Cop City. At that particular time, people were being arrested for charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, obstruction of governmental administration.

LA Times (3/15/23)

After they passed the resolution to grant the lease to the Atlanta Police Foundation, and part of our tactics began to have—there were folks who moved to the actual forest and became forest defenders as an act of civil disobedience.

Then the policing agency in Atlanta basically hooked up and created a task force. So the Atlanta Police Department, DeKalb County Police Department, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security actually formed a task force where they first began having discussions on bringing charges of state domestic terrorism.

And so in December of last year, they conducted a raid in the forest and arrested approximately five or six people. And those were the first folks who were charged with domestic terrorism.

On January 18, they did a second raid, and they charged another five or six folks with domestic terrorism, and that was the raid in which they killed Tortuguita, the forest defender, activist and organizer who, again, as you pointed out earlier, through a private autopsy done by the family, because the Georgia Bureau of Investigation refuses to release information on their supposed or alleged investigation into this matter, the private autopsy is the first indication we have that the police narrative on how they were killed was a complete lie.

Tortuguita was sitting cross-legged and hands were up to protect their face from the firing directly into their body, they were hit approximately 13 times. And it may be more, but the second autopsy could not determine which were exit wounds and what were entry wounds.

After the killing of Tortuguita, another six or seven protesters were arrested at a rally downtown. And then this past Sunday, during our week of action against Cop City, another 35 arrests took place; 23 of those people were charged with domestic terrorism.

So we now have approximately 41 or 42 people who have been charged with domestic terrorism. And this is a scare tactic meant to demoralize the movement. And it’s also meant to criminalize the movement in the eyes of the larger public.

And this is something that’s been a tactic and strategy of the state since day one. But with the help, as you said, of corporate media, they’re trying to get this narrative out there. And we’re left to fight back against this narrative, which is obviously untrue.

JJ: And it’s been long in the works, and long on the wish list. I remember talking to Mara Verheyden-Hilliard about J20, about people who had been arrested protesting Trump’s inauguration, and the slippery tactics that, not just law enforcement, but also the courts were using to say, you were near a person or dressed similarly to a person who we believe committed a crime against property, and therefore you are swept up in this dragnet and charged with felonies, and with a lifetime in prison.

And let’s underscore, it’s a scare tactic. It’s a way to keep people in their homes. It’s a way to keep people from coming out in the street to use their voice on issues they care about.

Kamau Franklin: “These domestic terrorism charges are purposely meant to put fear in the heart of organizers and activists, not only on this issue, but in future issues.”

KF: Yes, definitely. I think it’s important what you pointed out, I’m sure viewers may have seen pictures of property destruction.

And, again, this movement is autonomous, and people are engaged in different actions. We don’t equate property destruction with the violence that the police have rained on Black and brown communities over centuries, to be clear; we don’t equate the idea of property destruction with the violent killings that led to the 2020 uprisings and the prior violent killings by the police of unarmed Black people over, again, decades.

But what’s important to point out even in these arrests, is that the folks who have been arrested and charged with domestic terrorism, who are actually involved in acts of civil disobedience at best, the people in the forest who were arrested during the first two raids we spoke about, were people who were sitting in tree huts and sitting in camps under trees, that police had no evidence whatsoever to suggest that they had been involved, either at that time or prior, in any destruction of property.

And even if they did have such evidence, then the correct legal charge would be vandalism or destruction of property. These domestic terrorism charges are purposely meant to put fear in the heart of organizers and activists, not only on this issue, but in future issues, when the state levels its power, it’s going to say that you tried to, and this is how broad the statute is, attempt to influence government policy by demonstrative means—so civil disobedience can be interpreted as domestic terrorism.

And this is the first time in Georgia that the state statute has ever been used. And the first choice to use it on are organizers and activists who are fighting against police violence.

JJ: And are we also going to see, I see Alec Karakatsanis pointing out that we’re also seeing this line about “outside agitators.” You know, everything old is new again. In other words, all these old tropes and tactics, it seems like they’re all coming to the fore here, and one of them is the idea that this isn’t really about the community. This is about people who are professional activists, professional troublemakers, and the phrase “outside agitators” is even bubbling up again. And that’s a particular kind of divide-and-conquer tactic.

KF: Most definitely. We should be clear that the heart of the Stop Cop City movement has been organizers and activists and community members, voting rights advocates, civil rights advocates, who have either been born or who have lived in Atlanta for a number of years.

But that movement has welcomed in people from all across the country to try to support in ending Cop City, whether or not that’s national support that people give from their homes, and/or whether or not that’s been support that people have traveled down to Atlanta to give support to either forest defenders or the larger movement to stop Cop City.

We see the language of “outside agitators” as being, as you said, a trope that is born from the language of Southern segregationists, that were used against people like Dr. King, the civil rights movement, Freedom Riders.

And so when we have Black elected officials parroting the language of Southern segregationists, it tells us how far we’ve come in terms of having representative politics, where basically you have Black faces representing capitalism, representing corporations, representing developers who have turned their back on the working-class and poor Black communities who they’ve helped pushed out of the city, in favor of these corporations, and in favor on strengthening a police apparatus that, again, is going to be used against every Black community that they claim to represent.

JJ: Well, finally, one of the corporate investors in Cop City, along with Home Depot and Coca-Cola and Delta, is Cox Enterprises, which owns the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which I understand is editorially supportive of Cop City.

I wonder what you’re making of local media that may be in contrast to national media or international media. And then, as a media critic, it’s strange, but a lot of what I want to say is, don’t follow them, don’t look to media to tell you about what’s happening, about what’s possible, about who matters, because it’s a distortion.

So I want you to talk a little about the resistance for folks, but also, maybe they’re not seeing that resistance in their news media, and there are reasons for that.

KF: We have a couple of reporters, I’ve singled them out, who have attempted at least to give a fair hearing to the struggle around Cop City.

However, the overwhelming local reporting has been in favor, and has led continually with the police narrative, with the city narrative, with the state narrative on this benign training center, as they present it, and these “outside agitators” we spoke of earlier, organizers who are coming in. That’s been the central narrative.

So even when we talk about police violence, they never use the term “police violence.” They only use “violence” in conjunction with the organizers and activists, that’s whether or not a so-called peaceful protest has been taking place and the police arrest organizers. And that’s whether or not there’s this quiet civil disobedience by staying in the woods. Anytime organizers or activists are brought up, they don’t hesitate but to use the word “violence.”

Atlanta Journal-Constitution (8/21/21)

And so we understand that not only the media that’s directly connected to Cox, which is a funder of the Atlanta Police Foundation and a funder of Cop City, and, as you stated, editorially, has put out four, five, six, editorials that have all been supportive of Cop City, and that have all tried to label organizers and activists as “violent.” But other corporate media, local corporate media, has been on that same bandwagon, except for a few notable exceptions.

We’ve gotten much better press, much, much more favorable hearings, that at least tells our side, from national media, from outlets who have a perspective and understand what organizing and activism and capitalism is vis-a-vis the way the society works, and from international media.

The things that have helped us get the word out to talk about the struggle has been media platforms like this, and others which have a perspective that understands the role of the United States, and the United States government entities and corporations, and how the world is run.

Without that perspective, we would be completely at a loss to get the word out in any way that could be considered fair and/or accurate.

Truthout (3/14/23)

JJ: You want to shout out any reporters or outlets? I would say Candice Bernd at Truthout has been doing some deep and thoughtful things on it. And, internationally, I’ve seen a few things. But if there are reporters or outlets that you think deserve a shout out, by all means.

KF: The Guardian has done a good job of representing organizer and activist concerns. As you said, Truthout. Millennials Are Killing Capitalism, as a podcast, has done a fantastic job. Cocktails and Capitalism has done a fantastic job. We’ve had some good reporting in Essence magazine, actually.

And so there have been outlets that have given us, again, a fair hearing on our views on the history of policing, on understanding capitalist development and capital development and corporate development here, not only in Atlanta, but in other urban cities across the country.

And so we thank those outlets for at least the opportunity to give voice as we fight back against a dominant corporate narrative that is all about supporting the police, supporting violent and militarized policing, and supporting the continued criminalization of movements that fight against it.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Kamau Franklin. He’s founder of the national grassroots organization Community Movement Builders. They’re online at CommunityMovementBuilders.org. He’s also co-host of the podcast Renegade Culture. Kamau Franklin, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

KF: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.


The post ‘People Have Been Protesting Against Cop City Since We Found Out About It’ appeared first on FAIR.

Norman Solomon on the Iraq Invasion, 20 Years Later

March 24, 2023 - 10:38am
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New York Times (3/18/23)

This week on CounterSpin: In the immediate wake of the September 1, 2001, attacks, a military official told the Washington Post of the newly minted “war on terror”: “This is the most information-intensive war you can imagine. . . . We’re going to lie about things.” If reporters don’t evidence skepticism after a declaration like that, it says more about them than anyone or anything else.

But US elite news media did the opposite of what you would hope for from an independent press corps in a country launching an illegal and baseless invasion, whose leaders had announced in advance they would lie to support it. You can dig out the reality if you read, but if you rely on the same media you were looking at 2003, you will be equally misled, and in the same, frankly, boring ways you were before: The US is great and only wants democracy; other countries are bad, and if our reasons for invading them and replacing their leadership with folks we like better, and killing anyone who doesn’t agree with that, don’t add up, well, we’ll come up with others later, and you’ll swallow those too.

What passes for debate about why we must remain at some kind of war—cold, hot, corporate, stealth, acknowledged, denied—with Russia or China or whomever else is designated tomorrow, has roots worth studying in 2003. We’ll talk about it with author, critic and longtime friend of FAIR Norman Solomon.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look back at media coverage of ex-FCC nominee Gigi Sohn.

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The post Norman Solomon on the Iraq Invasion, 20 Years Later appeared first on FAIR.

20 Years Later, NYT Still Can’t Face Its Iraq War Shame

March 22, 2023 - 4:36pm


On the 20th anniversary of the US- and British-led invasion of Iraq, the New York Times continued to dedicate itself to a waffling narrative, one that writes out most of history and opts for a message of “it’s complicated” to discuss the disaster it can’t admit that it helped create.

The New York Times (3/18/23) looks back on the Iraq invasion: “For many Iraqis, it is hard to appreciate the positive developments.”

On Saturday, the Times (3/18/23) published an article on its website headlined, “20 Years After US Invasion, Iraq Is a Freer Place, but Not a Hopeful One.” The next morning, the article (under the headline “Lost Hopes Haunt Iraqis, Two Decades After Invasion”) was featured at the top-right corner of its front page—making it one of the most prominent articles in the English-speaking world that day.

The article, by Baghdad bureau chief Alissa Rubin, began and ended in a Fallujah cemetery, and it certainly painted a gloomy picture of both present-day Iraq and the ravages of war. Yet the Times couldn’t help but balance the gloom with positive notes. Rubin quoted former Iraqi President Barham Salih explaining that there have been “a lot of positive developments” in Iraq. For instance: “Once [Saddam] was gone, suddenly we had elections. We had an open polity, a multitude of press.” Another of those positive developments, Rubin wrote, was “a better relationship with the US military.”

And yet, Rubin went on, “For many Iraqis, it is hard to appreciate the positive developments when unemployment is rampant.” She also pointed to the fact that “about a quarter of Iraqis live at or below the poverty line” and, above all, to “the increasingly entrenched government corruption.” (Today, Iraq shares the rank of 157 out of 180 countries on the Transparency International corruption index with Myanmar and Azerbaijan, as the Times noted.)

Rubin offered only glimpses of responsibility. Of the George W. Bush administration’s claims of weapons of mass destruction, she simply wrote, “no evidence to back up those accusations was ever found.” Of the power vacuum that Iran stepped into, Rubin wrote, “Abetting and expanding Iran’s influence in Iraq was hardly the intention of American policymakers in 2003.” The power-sharing government system the US installed “is regarded by many as having undermined from the start any hope of good governance,” she explained. “But Mr. Crocker and others said that at the time it seemed the only way to ensure that all sects and ethnicities would have a role in governing.”

Understating catastrophe

Looking back on six years covering Iraq, the New York Times‘ Alissa Rubin (11/1/09) acknowledged that “Americans, too, did their share of violence”—but she didn’t call it “horrific crimes” or “brutality.”

It’s perhaps an unsurprising framing, coming from a journalist whose reflections on Iraq in 2009 (11/1/09; FAIR.org, 11/3/09) included the observation that while Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq committed “horrific crimes,” and Kurds displayed “brutality,” the “Americans, too, did their share of violence.” But maybe, she seemed to suggest, Americans didn’t commit enough violence?

Among the worst they did was wishful thinking, the misreading of the winds and allowing what Yeats called “the blood-dimmed tide” to swell. Could they have stopped it? Probably not. Could it have been stemmed so that it did less damage, saved some of the fathers and brothers, mothers and sons? Yes, almost certainly, yes.

Though her present-day article did emphasize the deaths and loss suffered by Iraqis, the numbers Rubin offered represented the floor, not the ceiling, of estimates. She wrote that “about 200,000 civilians died at the hands of American forces, Al Qaeda militants, Iraqi insurgents or the Islamic State terrorist group, according to Brown University’s Cost of War Project.”

This only includes violent deaths, and only of civilians. A peer-reviewed study in 2013 estimated that more than 400,000 Iraqi deaths from March 1, 2003 through June 30, 2011 were directly attributable to the war, with more than 60% due to violence and the rest to other war-related causes.

Meanwhile, Opinion Research Business (Reuters, 1/30/08) used polling methods to estimate that, only five years into the war, “more than 1 million Iraqis have died as a result of the conflict in their country since the US-led invasion in 2003.”

And the New York Times didn’t mention another dark part of the Brown University study: The war helped create more than 9 million Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people. Also unreported at the Times: US war and sanctions left an estimated one in 10 Iraqis disabled (Reuters, 1/21/10). In other words, however bleak a picture it might have painted, Rubin’s piece understated the catastrophe.

Selling the case for war

New York Times (9/8/02): “The attempted purchases [of aluminum tubes] are not the only signs of a renewed Iraqi interest in acquiring nuclear arms.”

Rubin also did not acknowledge that by the New York Times’ own admission (5/26/04), a year after the invasion, the paper had published numerous articles based on anonymous Iraqi informants that promoted false claims about Iraq’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

The magnitude of the Times’ role in selling the case for the Iraq War is staggering. A few of the dubious articles about Saddam’s weapons program involved the infamous reporter Judith Miller (9/8/02, 1/23/03, 4/21/03), who today works at the conservative Manhattan Institute, writing pieces for City Journal about the superiority of Red State policies (3/1/23) and condemning “cancel culture” (6/6/21).

Many of Miller’s key pieces of disinformation were co-written with Michael Gordon, who remained a lead journalist for the Times for many years, continuing to relay the charges of anonymous US officials against official enemies (FAIR.org, 2/16/07; Extra!, 1/13). Now he’s doing much the same thing for the Wall Street Journal (FAIR.org, 6/28/21).

After Gordon and Miller dutifully transcribed the fabricated case that Iraq was pursuing a nuclear bomb—a story generated by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney—Cheney was able to go on Meet the Press (NBC, 9/8/02) and issue dire warnings about a nuclear-armed Iraq, citing “a story in the New York Times this morning” (FAIR.org, 3/19/07).

When UN weapons inspectors failed to find the nonexistent WMDs prior to the invasion, the Times (2/2/03) dismissed the lack of evidence; after all, “nobody seriously expected Mr. Hussein to lead inspectors to his stash of illegal poisons or rockets, or to let his scientists tell all,” correspondent Serge Schmemann reported.

Times reporter Steven Weisman (2/6/03) praised Colin Powell’s deceptive UN presentation as an “encyclopedic catalog that reached further than many had expected.” A Times editorial (2/6/03) called it “the most powerful case to date that Saddam Hussein stands in defiance of Security Council resolutions and has no intention of revealing or surrendering whatever unconventional weapons he may have.”

Explaining why journalists didn’t ask President George W. Bush critical questions about the evidence put forward as justification for war, Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller (Baltimore Sun, 3/22/04) later explained, “No one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.” (Bumiller is now the TimesWashington bureau chief.)

Deriding the opposition

The New York Times  (3/14/03) rounded up a bunch of “reluctant hawks”—all of whom had been reluctantly hawkish on the Gulf War 13 years earlier.

Other New York Times pieces derided the world’s opposition to war, with correspondent Elaine Sciolino (9/15/02) mocking “old French attitudes” like those of President Jacques Chirac, who “made it clear that he doesn’t think it is the business of the world’s powers to oust leaders simply because they are dictators who repress their people.”

While doing its best to ignore massive protests against the war (FAIR.org, 9/30/02), the Times highlighted supposedly surprising supporters of invasion. Under the headline “Liberals for War: Some of Intellectual Left’s Longtime Doves Taking on Role of Hawks,” Kate Zernike (3/14/03) argued that “as the nation stands on the brink of war, reluctant hawks are declining to join their usual soulmates in marching against war.” It cited seven people by name as “somewhat hesitant backers of military might”—every one of whom is on the record as having supported the 1991 Gulf War.

On the eve of war, Baghdad correspondent John Burns (3/19/03) declared, “The striking thing was that for many Iraqis, the first American strike could not come too soon.” Burns was the reporter who could glean the feelings of Iraqis about the invasion by viewing them on the street from his hotel room:

From an 11th-floor balcony of the Palestine Hotel, it was not possible to hear what the driver of the red Mercedes said when he was pulled over halfway down the block, but his gestures conveyed the essence powerfully enough. “Get real,” the driver seemed to be saying. “Look at the sky. Look across the river. The old is giving way to the new.”

Invasion advocacy

This fantasy of Saddam Hussein’s hidden WMDs (New York Times, 12/28/01) accompanied Richard Perle’s post-9/11 call for an attack on Iraq.

Things were no better in the opinion section. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (4/27/03) said after the invasion, invoking Saddam’s repression, “As far as I’m concerned, we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war,” and later (9/18/03) accused France of “becoming our enemy” for opposing the invasion.

Ex-CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack (New York Times, 2/21/03), who serves at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and was praised by New Yorker editor David Remnick (1/26/03) as the most clear-thinking invasion advocate, wrote that because of Saddam’s “terrifying beliefs about the utility of nuclear weapons, it would be reckless for us to assume that he can be deterred.” While “we must weigh the costs of a war with Iraq today,” Pollack advised, “we must place the cost of a war with a nuclear-armed Iraq tomorrow.”

Even as the nation was still in shock from the 9/11 attacks, Richard Perle (New York Times, 12/28/01), a prominent neoconservative and then chair of the White House’s Defense Policy Board, demanded action against Iraq, because Saddam maintained an “array of chemical and biological weapons” and was “willing to absorb the pain of a decade-long embargo rather than allow international inspectors to uncover the full magnitude of his program.”

The Times even gave column space (1/23/03) to then–National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to say “Iraq has a high-level political commitment to maintain and conceal its weapons.”

It’s no wonder that the Times, despite its liberal reputation, is remembered in antiwar circles as a public relations arm of the Bush administration.

‘Bumbling into conflict’

“The world may never get a definitive answer” as to why the US invaded Iraq—if it waits for the New York Times (3/18/23).

Accompanying Rubin’s piece after the jump was an analysis by Max Fisher (3/18/23) and a spread of Iraq War photos (3/18/23). Fisher’s piece, headlined, “Two Decades Later, a Question Remains: Why Did the US Invade?” wondered:

Was it really, as the George W. Bush administration claimed in the war’s run-up, to neutralize an active Iraqi arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that turned out to not exist?

Was it over, as the administration heavily implied, suspicions that Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s leader, had been involved in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which also proved false?

Was it to liberate Iraqis from Mr. Hussein’s rule and bring democracy to the Middle East, as the administration would later claim?

Oil? Faulty intelligence? Geopolitical gain? Simple overconfidence? Popular desire for a war, any war, to reclaim national pride? Or, as in conflicts like World War I, mutual miscommunication that sent distrustful states bumbling into conflict?

“I will go to my grave not knowing that. I can’t answer it,” Richard Haass, a senior State Department official at the time of the invasion, said in 2004 when asked why it had happened.

Ultimately, Fisher wrote, “The world may never get a definitive answer.” After a lengthy examination of various officials’ and scholars’ thoughts about the question, Fisher concluded that it comes down to “a mix of ideological convictions, psychological biases, process breakdowns and misaligned diplomatic signals.”

Designed to obfuscate

George W. Bush’s Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were among the PNAC signatories demanding regime change in Iraq—as were Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Under Secretary of State John Bolton, the National Security Council’s Elliott Abrams, Cheney chief of staff Scooter Libby and several other Bush administration officials.

Like Rubin’s piece, Fisher’s piece seems designed to obfuscate any direct accountability for the devastation wrought by the war, leaning heavily on passive constructions and quotes, such as another from Haass: “A decision was not made. A decision happened, and you can’t say when or how.”

When Fisher asks, “Did the administration sincerely believe its rationale for war, or engineer it as a pretense?,” his conclusion—even after pointing out that the official rationale changed from Saddam Hussein’s purported involvement in 9/11 to his purported secret stash of WMD (and, later, to US democracy promotion)—is that “the record suggests something more banal”: that various senior officials wanted Hussein out “for their own reasons, and then talked one another into believing the most readily available justification.” It’s hard to see how talking each other into false justifications for pre-established goals isn’t far closer to “engineer[ing] it as a pretense” than it is to “sincerely believ[ing] its rationale.”

Later, Fisher writes, “Few scholars argue that Mr. Bush’s team came into office plotting to invade Iraq and then seized on September 11 as an excuse.” Again, this seems like splitting hairs at best. Fisher had just noted that neoconservatives represented by the Project for a New American Century (PNAC)—who later formed Bush’s inner circle—”now spoke for the Republican Party,” and that as far back as 1998, PNAC insisted that Hussein be removed from power. In a 2000 memo, PNAC suggested this might require “some catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a new Pearl Harbor.”

Fisher’s piece reiterates some of the most prominent myths about the invasion rationale. He claims that during the Clinton administration, “Mr. Hussein had ejected international weapons inspectors”—an error that the New York Times has repeatedly had to correct (2/2/00, 9/17/02, 10/4/03, 10/8/03; FAIR.org, 10/7/03). As news outlets correctly reported at the time but later consistently misrepresented (Extra! Update, 10/02), the UN withdrew its inspectors from Iraq on December 16, 1998, because the United States was preparing to bomb the country.

Fisher also gives credence to the claim that Saddam Hussein

overstated his willingness to fight and concealed the paltry state of his weapons programs to appear strong at home and deter the Americans, who had attacked in 1998. But Washington believed him.

This theory that the Iraq War was caused by Hussein’s “bluffs” is not based on evidence (Extra!, 1–2/04, 5–6/04, 3–4/08), but rather on a desire to blame Iraq for the United States’ refusal to accept its repeated and forceful denials that it had any secret banned weaponry.

‘Carried and amplified’

Adam Johnson (Real News Network, 3/17/23): “Not only have none of the hawks who promoted, cheerled or authorized the criminal invasion of Iraq ever been held accountable, they’ve since thrived: They’ve found success in the media, the speaking circuit, government jobs and cushy think tank gigs.”

Meanwhile, the only mention in the entire article of corporate media’s role was to acknowledge that the administration’s WMD “claims were carried, and amplified, by America’s major media outlets.”

Neither anniversary article brought up the burning question: If such a devastating war was based on such faulty information, shouldn’t there be some kind of accountability, not just inside the government but within the press, in order to ensure this never happens again?

That’s important, because while the New York Post and Fox News, drunk on the post-9/11 sentiment of the time, were able to rally their conservative audience behind the Bush administration, the New York Times‘ fearmongering was key to selling the idea of war to Democrats and centrists from Central Park West to Sunset Boulevard.

At the time of the invasion, despite the raging street protests, corporate media were unified in cheering for the president’s plan—FAIR found in the lead-up to the war that at four major television news networks, the number of pro-war guests on Iraq segments dwarfed skeptical voices (FAIR.org, 3/18/03). And much of the US public supported the war (Pew Research, 3/19/08). For a decent retrospective on the corporate press’ role in the lead-up to the war, one should glance at Al Jazeera’s Marc Lamont Hill (3/17/23) interviewing Katrina vanden Heuvel (publisher of The Nation), Norman Solomon (of the Institute for Public Accuracy) and former Telegraph commentator Peter Oborne.

But like the Bush administration, the Times and the rest of the corporate journalists who sold the disastrous war have never faced accountability.

Research assistance: Conor Smyth

The post 20 Years Later, NYT Still Can’t Face Its Iraq War Shame appeared first on FAIR.

ACTION ALERT: Trump Rules Remain at FCC as Democrats Cave to Big Cable, Fox News

March 17, 2023 - 3:31pm


Remember Ajit Pai, the former Verizon lawyer Trump put in charge of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)? When he gutted net neutrality rules and kneecapped the agency’s ability to regulate telecom monopolies, voters from across the political spectrum were outraged. The internet erupted in protest.

Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to popular opinion by promising to restore net neutrality rules (The Hill, 3/20/19).

Millions of people from across the political spectrum called their elected officials and submitted comments to the FCC, and thousands took to the streets. It was a rare moment of genuinely popular public revolt that defied partisan DC logic. If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that we don’t want our cable or phone company screwing us over more than they already do, selling our browsing habits and real-time location to advertisers, or dictating what websites we can visit or which apps we use.

Indeed, the FCC’s net neutrality rules—banning Internet Service Providers from blocking apps, throttling, discriminating or charging scammy fees—were overwhelmingly popular with the general public, regardless of political views.

When Pai repealed those rules, Democrats capitalized on the moment, loudly proclaiming that they were the party that would stand up to Big Cable and their deep-pocketed lobbyists. In speeches and fundraising emails, they promised they would fix this mess if they regained the White House.

Trump lost the election. But astonishingly, two years into the Biden administration, Trump still more or less runs the FCC. Pai is no longer employed at the agency, but his disastrous policies remain firmly in place. And unless we rekindle some of that collective outrage we felt when net neutrality was repealed, it’s looking increasingly likely that those Trump-era handouts to abusive telecom giants will continue for the foreseeable future.

Dark money smears

Right-wing media responded to Gigi Sohn’s nomination with a homophobic smear campaign (NBC, 2/3/23).

Last week, Gigi Sohn, who had been Biden’s nominee to fill the FCC’s crucial fifth seat, withdrew her nomination. Sohn is an eminently qualified candidate and well-known public interest champion who has dedicated her career to closing the digital divide. She was also a historic pick: the first openly LGBTQ nominee to the position. With Democrats holding the Senate majority, she should have been swiftly confirmed.

Instead, her nomination languished, as she faced a months-long, industry-funded smear campaign. Front groups for cable and phone companies flooded swing states with false and misleading ads. Pundits painted Sohn as “anti-police” because she had liked a few tweets in support of Black Lives Matter.

The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) piled on, painting Sohn as dangerous because she sits on the board of the highly respected Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which rightly opposes government backdoors in encrypted messaging (an issue the FCC has zero jurisdiction over, by the way).

The FOP has a longstanding reputation for “pay-to-play” lobbying. The group’s executive director, Jim Pasco, maintains a lucrative side business lobbying for corporations, which has sparked controversy when the FOP mysteriously adopts positions favorable to his outside clients. Pasco’s wife, Cybele Daley, was a registered lobbyist for AT&T as recently as 2009. She is currently the vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), copyright-maximalist lobbyists for Hollywood frequently criticized by Public Knowledge, the free expression nonprofit that Sohn co-founded.

The FOP has never been known to take a position on FCC nominations in the past. Its arrival to the fight seems suspicious at best.

Other groups opposing Sohn’s nomination are even more clearly paid shills for the telecom industry, like the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, which has been exposed in the past for “astroturfing” on behalf of telecom companies. Don’t forget these same companies were caught red-handed orchestrating a massive flood of fraudulent comments praising the net neutrality rules repeal that were submitted to the FCC in 2017, using real people’s stolen information.

Emboldened by industry-funded smears and Republican talking points, the right-wing media machine started cranking out even more slime, culminating in blatantly homophobic, QAnon conspiracy–style attacks attempting to paint Sohn as some kind of sexual deviant or predator. A particularly nasty and dishonest article in the Daily Mail (1/26/23) included a photo of Sohn and her wife.

Democrats could have stood up to these utterly disingenuous attacks. Party leaders could have forcefully condemned the smear campaign at any of the three Senate hearings that Sohn testified at, and made it clear that Senate Democrats wouldn’t allow homophobia and corruption to derail a qualified nominee’s confirmation process. Instead, they hung Sohn out to dry. Senate Democratic leadership, including Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell (D.–Wash.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D.–N.Y.), were shamefully silent about the homophobia and lies hurled at their party’s nominee.

The FOP’s leadership has a long history of racist and bigoted comments, and has routinely opposed police reforms. The organization endorsed Donald Trump for President. Twice. But in the end, a small handful of Senate Democrats chose to side with the FOP, Big Telecom and Fox News over labor unions, environmental groups, LGBTQ+ organizations, civil rights leaders, teachers, librarians, human rights advocates and small business associations—more than 400 in all—who supported Sohn’s confirmation.

And in the process, they handed Republicans a blueprint for how to sink any future nominee they don’t like, especially if they happen to be gay. It’s not just shameful, it’s an embarrassing strategic failure.

The battle for the net

So what happens next? Biden will have to nominate someone else to fill the FCC’s fifth seat. We can be sure that lobbyists for the likes of Comcast, Verizon and AT&T are already circulating their lists of “approved” candidates. And, given everything that has happened, we have every reason to be worried that Biden could take one of those names.

If the industry gets to install its preferred commissioner for the crucial fifth deciding vote, it will effectively own the agency that’s supposed to regulate it. Just like it did when Ajit Pai was in charge.

The stakes are too high to let the FCC coast on under policies set by Donald Trump (Vice, 11/17/21).

We can’t let that happen. The stakes are too high. The pandemic only exacerbated the digital divide, and ended any debate over whether access to affordable high-speed Internet is a “necessity” or not. Kids were sitting outside of Taco Bell using the wi-fi to go to school on Zoom. There is absolutely no reason we cannot ensure that every single child in this country has access to an internet connection they can use for school—except that for too long the agency tasked with protecting the public interest has been captured by the industry it’s supposed to oversee.

As Big Tech has gotten bigger, net neutrality has only become more important. While attention in DC has shifted from Comcast and Verizon to Amazon and Instagram, the problems with monopoly power and surveillance capitalism are widespread. Unless net neutrality rules are revived, it’s only a matter of time before Big Tech giants start cutting deals with Big Telecom gatekeepers, crushing competition from smaller players and startups and solidifying their dominance.

Beyond restoring Title II oversight and net neutrality protections, the FCC could use its rulemaking authority to crack down on cell phone carriers’ shady data collection practices. Stopping the collection and abuse of cell phone location data is one of the most concrete things the Federal government can do to protect the privacy and safety of people seeking, providing and facilitating abortions. One data broker was exposed selling the location data of people who had entered Planned Parenthood clinics. The FCC could also investigate and crack down on certain types of surveillance devices, like Amazon’s creepy flying Ring drones.

But they can’t do any of that until the Senate confirms a fifth commissioner. And they won’t do any of that if that fifth commissioner is a sleeper agent for the telecom industry. So it’s time to get organized.

This morning, more than 60 civil society organizations sent a letter to President Joe Biden, calling on him to “immediately put forth a new nominee” who:

  • “has a history of advocacy for the public interest;
  • “is free of industry conflicts of interest;
  • “demonstrates a clear commitment to championing the rights of low-income families and communities of color;
  • “and supports Title II oversight and laws that ensure the FCC the authority to prevent unjust discrimination and promote affordable access.”

When Biden nominated Gigi Sohn, it seemed like an opportunity to finally slam shut the revolving door between the telecom industry and the FCC. The industry saw this as a threat to their status as unregulated monopolies, so they threw money bombs and leveraged their immense influence in DC to kill her nomination.

Now all eyes are on Biden. Will he nominate another public interest champion who will implement his stated agenda at the FCC? Or will he start the revolving door spinning again? We’re about to find out.

ACTION ALERT: If you want to make your voice heard, you can use BattleForTheNet.com to call on President Biden to nominate another public interest champion for the FCC.

The post ACTION ALERT: Trump Rules Remain at FCC as Democrats Cave to Big Cable, Fox News appeared first on FAIR.

Kamau Franklin on Cop City Protests

March 17, 2023 - 10:07am



(CC photo: Chad Davis)

This week on CounterSpin: If there are ideas, tools or tactics that are part of both this country’s horror-filled past, and some people’s vision for its dystopic future, they are at work in Cop City. Over-policing, racist policing, paramilitarization, the usurping of public resources, environmental racism, community voicelessness, and efforts to criminalize protest (that’s some kinds of protest)—it’s all here. Add to that a corporate press corps that, for one thing, disaggregates issues that are intertwined—Black people, for instance, are impacted not only by police brutality, but also by the environment, breathing air and drinking water as we do—and seems intent on forcing a vital, important situation into old, tired and harmful frames.

Kamau Franklin is founder of Community Movement Builders, the national grassroots organization, and co-host of the podcast Renegade Culture. We’ll hear from him about Cop City and the fight against it.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at press coverage of DC’s crime bill.

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‘The Whole System Is Stacked Against a Person With a Disability’ - CounterSpin interview with Kim Knackstedt on disability policy

March 16, 2023 - 1:21pm


Janine Jackson interviewed the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative’s Kim Knackstedt about disability policy for the March 10, 2023, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: Human rights advocates everywhere marked the death, March 5, of groundbreaking disability justice activist, spokesperson and policymaker Judy Heumann.

Obituaries rightfully noted meaningful advances Heumann played a role in, like the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Washington Post (3/6/23)

It rang a bit odd though to read in the Washington Post that Heumann, born in 1947, “came of age at a time when disabled people had restricted access to libraries, schools and public transportation, with limited opportunities for education or employment.”

Perhaps the outpouring of attention for Heumann’s life and work could encourage journalists to explore present-day restrictions, limitations, crises, confronted by people with disabilities—one in four adults in the country—along with what responses, including policy responses, are called for.

Kim Knackstedt is senior fellow at the Century Foundation and director of the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative. She joins us now by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome to CounterSpin, Kim Knackstedt.

Kim Knackstedt: Hi. I’m glad to be with everyone today.

JJ: Well, I’m not making fun of that piece. But I was just struck by that “cast your mind back, if you can, to a time when disabled people didn’t enjoy all the freedoms…”

I guess my thought, just to start us off, is that. But also, Judy Heumann was emphatically not of the “wait patiently and progress will inevitably come” school of thinking, was she?

KK: Oh, no, no, not at all. Judy was definitely one to fight for what she wanted, and she was fiery. One of the words she loved to use was “feisty.” And she really went after what she knew was wrong.

And during her services yesterday—I was very lucky to attend and be in community with so many people from around the country, and by video, around the world—we got to hear so many stories about her, and every story had a note about her fighting for the rights of disabled people, and against the injustices that so many of us face.

Time (9/19/22)

JJ: And still face. And this is of course what I’m complaining about here, the treatment of disabled people as an afterthought in policy, in media, which I know is what you engage.

And it’s weird, given not only that so many people in the country are living with disabilities of varying kinds, but also because it’s a community that anyone can join at any moment. And, indeed, I’ve heard Covid described as a “mass disabling event.”

And I wanted to ask you, what is Covid showing us about policy responsiveness, about movement responsiveness? What are some of the impacts when the disabled community grows, as it were, suddenly in this way?

KK: I appreciate you pointing out that anyone can become disabled at any time, because that is part of what I think the US economy is actually facing right now, with the growth of the disability community in a very abrupt way because of Covid.

And we do have the largest influx of the community that we’ve seen in many, many years, and that has really caused the workforce to try to make an adjustment. And that adjustment’s been slow, it’s been difficult, because we have so many people that now cannot do the job that they used to do because of long Covid. And that is extremely difficult, not only for the entire, again, US economy, but for that person.

We’ve had some great pieces, actually, through one of the projects at the Century Foundation, called the Voices of Disability Economic Justice project, with people talking about this, and what it means to become disabled because of long Covid, and not be able to do the things you used to be able to do so easily every day.

Our policies have not changed fast enough to be able to support everyone. That includes our healthcare policies. That includes, now, our education policies. And it includes, again, those workforce policies and accommodations that people need.

Washington Post (7/23/22)

JJ: There was a thoughtful piece from last June in the Washington Post that talked about what supports and education veteran advocates can offer to “long haulers,” dealing with not just new problems, but with, as you’re saying, a new identity. And it also talked about tensions within the disability community, which as with many marginalized communities often finds itself struggling over limited resources. And now there are millions more people involved.

And it’s an interesting situation. But I just wanted to lift up—there was one quote in this piece from a guy who says long Covid gives a chance to make some updates to health policy, in part because the condition is affecting, he said, “a different mix of people than what we’ve seen in the traditional disability population.”

Now, I’m not trying to stir up trouble here, but it sounds a little like “we’re getting a better class of disabled now, not that ragtag group you’re used to,” and there’s an implication, in other words, that now maybe there will be the power to change things. And I guess that arouses mixed feelings in me, is what I want to say.

KK: It does. And I think there’s a couple ways to unpack that. One, there’s a narrative out there that the disability community are kind of fakers and takers. That’s a narrative that we have to undo, because it’s an incorrect narrative, and it’s a narrative that really doesn’t actually help, it only harms the disability community, because, again, anyone can become disabled at any point in their life.

That quote that you mentioned, it really ignores the fact that there’s a false narrative that’s already circulated about the disability community.

But I think, on the other side, what the quote does acknowledge is that having a whole new influx of people to the community gives a renewed energy, and a renewed movement, to the policies that are needed.

When all of the sudden you have a bunch of other people that have entered any community, any movement, there’s different energy behind it. You know, all of a sudden, we have senators saying, “I need this, I am part of this community. I guess now we need a bill on it.”

That’s very different, and we don’t always see that. And so we do get some of that renewed energy, and that’s really important. But at the same time, we have to balance that with the fact that we have a false narrative that exists. And that just breeds into the stigma against disability that we really need to try to overcome.

JJ: If the comment is partly acknowledging that some of the Covid long haulers have wealth, then one can, very sadly, ask, for how long?

The nexus between disability and poverty is central, and of course that’s key to the Collaborative’s work. I’m not sure that it’s really understood how policy choices—not disability, but policy choices—put disabled people in struggle, and keep them there. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Kim Knackstedt: “Undoing that entangled web of policies that really focus on keeping people with disabilities in poverty is extraordinarily difficult.”

KK: Yes, the problem is I could talk about that for hours! Disability and poverty are so connected, and some say the whole structure and the whole system is broken. Well, unfortunately, the whole system is actually working exactly how it was designed.

It is keeping disabled people in poverty because that’s how the system was structured. And so it’s not that the system was broken. The system has to be completely corrected. And what I mean by that is that so many of our policies have been designed to keep disabled people out of work, to keep disabled people from actually building wealth, and to keep disabled people from even getting the care that they need to live independently.

Some of our healthcare policies really actually preference institutional care, not living in a community.

So undoing that entangled web of policies that really focus on keeping people with disabilities in poverty is extraordinarily difficult, and that’s something that we have to do. Even outside of wealth, I would say, social and political capital that people hold? Leveraging that as we start to make some work on all of this is going to be really important.

JJ: CounterSpin listeners will have heard us referenced the “Medicaid divorce,” in which people have to get divorced in order to keep their health care because if they’re married, or they can’t get married, because together, they make too much money. It’s cruel, and it’s often hidden, I think, to other folks.

KK: Yeah, absolutely. And there’s so many choices that I think so many people do have to make, and it’s just how you start to allocate funds to try to just live day to day.

I mean, I acknowledge that I have privilege, because I work at a great place that has health insurance. But I also am a high health cost user; I have infusions that without insurance would be $30,000 a month. Thank goodness for insurance. I also have to spend a lot of money towards that, because I could never qualify for Medicaid to help pay for that.

So you think about, even though I acknowledge the privilege that I have to be able to afford what I do, the whole system is stacked against you when you are a person with a disability and trying to get the care you need, from the cost of prescriptions, the cost of specialists, the cost of getting home, community-based living, the cost of a direct care worker, trying to access the workplace you need. And the list goes on.

JJ: And the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative is saying there are things we can do, there are policy changes that we can make, that can, as you’re saying, not tweak and not fiddle with and “perfect” the system that we have, but really fundamentally overhaul it.

Century Foundation (1/12/23)

KK: Absolutely. So much of what we do does tinker on the edges, and we’re saying we need to stop just tinkering. And so much of disability policy is siloed, and again, we’ve been caught in this web that I mentioned before for so long.

Instead, what we’re saying is, let’s bring a lens of disability to all economic policymaking: food security, transportation, housing.

What we are trying to do at the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative is really bring a disability lens to all economic policymaking. And that’s really the goal, whether, again, you’re doing all of these different policies, it’s trying to embed disability into every single piece that you are working on.

So we are saying, let’s center the values that disabled people need, and bring that into all of our domestic policy work.

So I’m going to give an example. We believe every disabled person needs to have access to reliable, affordable and accessible transportation. That’s something that’s fundamental. And so we want to see that, no matter what the bill is, what the proposal is, what the law is, regulation—I could go on, right?—that’s the goal we want to see throughout. And the same thing for healthcare, access to healthcare they need, access to food.

And so we’ve developed a framework, we call it the Disability Economic Justice Policy framework; we want to see that embedded into domestic policymaking to really move the needle on how we think about policymaking with a disability lens.

JJ: Because every issue is a disability issue. And that goes for media as well as for policy. Every story that impacts disabled people should include awareness of the impact, is my feeling.

It’s not bad to have occasional reports that focus solely on disability or the disabled community. But if you’re reporting rent hikes or food prices or criminal justice, well, disabled people are in that reality, so they should be in the story.

Do you have any thoughts, finally, about media coverage?

KK: Yeah, I think it is really important for media coverage to think more about disability. I think one of the things we see is—you’re exactly right, there will be a story about something related to disability and then you won’t see something else until it’s very disability-centric, and everything in between ignores that disability exists.

And we know that that’s just not how disability is in our lives. Disability is part of the natural human experience.

And so, very much so, I think disability just needs to be embedded more into the stories that we hear about, and part of the narrative throughout everyone’s life.

I also would encourage, in the media, that it’s not about disability being an “inspiration.” I think that’s where the lean tends to go when there is a disability-centric story. And it’s just, disability is part of the life that we all live, and here’s the story that happens to be about a disabled person, or a narrative that we’re talking about.

And so those are some of the pieces that I think would be great to think about more.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Kim Knackstedt of the Century Foundation and the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative. You can find their work online at TCF.org. Kim Knackstedt, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

KK: Thanks for having me.


The post ‘The Whole System Is Stacked Against a Person With a Disability’ appeared first on FAIR.

‘Let’s Target Job Creation to These Forgotten Places and People’ - CounterSpin interview with Algernon Austin on race and unemployment

March 15, 2023 - 12:23pm


Janine Jackson interviewed CEPR’s Algernon Austin about race and unemployment for the March 10, 2023, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: The unspoken premise of most major news reporting is that people are all independent economic actors, making choices about what skills to acquire, what workplace to work at, what salary to negotiate. The economy, overall, reflects the range of those choices and their impacts. The idea that people find themselves in jobs or sectors with differing pay scales and workplace rights informs what news media see as acceptable states of affairs, and what they present as reasonable interventions.

Which is why it takes an active effort to see the role that policy has played, and does play, in shaping employment opportunities, and, what’s more, how using policy to help people would reflect not the insertion of the government hand into a hitherto untampered-with realm, but simply the use of policy to address a keystone problem.

Algernon Austin is the director for race and economic justice at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and author of, most recently, America Is Not Post-Racial: Xenophobia, Islamophobia, Racism and the 44th President.

He joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Algernon Austin.

Algernon Austin: It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Ascent (2/19/23)

JJ: The headlines tell me that unemployment in the United States is at a record low, and you sort of seem uninformed or churlish to not acknowledge, if not celebrate, that.

But it’s important, isn’t it, to recognize the limits of that raw number? What and who is being obscured there?

AA: Absolutely. The unemployment rate, it’s a valid statistical measure. However, it’s important to recognize its limitations.

To be counted as unemployed, you have to be actively looking for work in the past four weeks. And if you have faced significant obstacles in finding work, or if you are unfortunate enough to live in some of our more economically depressed areas, then you’re not likely to be actively looking for work, because you’ve been rejected repeatedly from employers, or you look around your community and you know that there are no jobs available.

And for individuals in those circumstances, they stopped actively looking for work, although they would like to work. But even though they don’t have a job and would like to work, because they’re not actively looking for work, they are not counted as unemployed.

So in that way, the unemployment rate presents a significant undercount of the overall rate of joblessness. And the undercount is most severe in populations that, as I mentioned, face a lot of discrimination in the labor market, or live in more economically disadvantaged communities.

So that means that, although the Black unemployment rate has been consistently about twice the white unemployment rate for the last 60 years–so this two-to-one ratio has been a permanent, sort of structural feature of our economy–although that Black unemployment rate being twice the white rate is still a high rate, it still undercounts the Black joblessness by a significant degree.

So, if we had a count of Black joblessness, it would be a multiple, two, three, four times what the official Black unemployment rate is.

JJ: I wanted to ask you, because part of the celebration about the relatively low unemployment rate has said, “and this is also reflecting advances in terms of Black employment.” So what is the status, you’ve just indicated it, but comparative Black and white employment, or unemployment, is that changing, historically, that relationship?

CEPR (2/1/23)

AA: No, over the last 60 years—and I highlight 60 years because this is the 60th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And the title, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—this is the march where Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech—people forget that there were significant economic demands, including demands for jobs, at that march.

And unfortunately, the Black unemployment rate was twice the white unemployment rate in 1963. It’s about twice the white unemployment rate today. And it’s been about twice the white unemployment rate for all 60 years. So this is a serious structural problem in American society, and it’s a problem because of racial discrimination in the labor market.

I talked about the economically depressed communities; Black communities have been hurt significantly by the decline in manufacturing, because of deindustrialization, etc.

And the broader problem, remember, I said that there’s lots of joblessness that’s not being counted. Mass incarceration that hit Black communities, and Black men particularly severely, contributes to that hidden joblessness in Black communities. Because if you’re a Black man and you have a criminal record, it becomes very difficult for you to find work, among the Black populations that are not likely to be counted in unemployment statistics.

JJ: I want to talk to you a little bit about history, which is so relevant here, but often kind of dropped out. The history is there to be found, but it seems like only some things survive as a dominant narrative.

And one thing that has dropped out is the role that the government played with regard to jobs during the Great Depression. And I wonder if you could just tell listeners a little something about that, and the import of that history today?

AA: Yes, it’s important to recognize, people don’t fully recognize—this gets me to a sort of tangential issue—our discourse about the working class in the United States tends to be coded white, but the majority of Black people are working-class people, the majority of Latino people are working-class people. And increasingly, as our country becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, the working class is every day becoming more and more racially and ethnically diverse.

So we really have to change our thinking: When we think about working class, remember that we’re also talking about the majority of Black people, and the majority of the Latino or Hispanic population.

So the WPA, the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, it’s really important for people to realize that in response to this massive economic downturn and massive high rates of unemployment, the government stepped in and directly created jobs for people.

And the positive thing about that is that it included Black people. And at the height of the WPA jobs program, over 400,000 Black workers were employed by the WPA.

So this is a really important example, because it shows that the federal government can create jobs, and can employ Black workers.

Algernon Austin: “Because a lot of Black joblessness is not counted in the unemployment rate, we still have a massive need for jobs in Black communities.”

Today, as I mentioned, even in a period of historically low unemployment rate for Black people, because the Black unemployment rate is still twice the white unemployment rate, and because a lot of Black joblessness is not counted in the unemployment rate, we still have a massive need for jobs in Black communities.

And the WPA shows us that the federal government can actually address this, through direct job creation, through subsidized employment programs, which is what the WPA was.

And I’m actually involved in a campaign that’s called Full Employment for All, that’s calling for the federal government to create a national subsidized employment program that’s targeted to communities that suffer from persistently high rates of joblessness, and people can find out about that, and sign on to it, at the website FullEmploymentForAll.org.

And although we’re talking about the importance and the crisis of joblessness for Black people, it’s important to recognize that there are other places across the country that also have significant levels of joblessness.

So, in Appalachia, you also have significant joblessness. In the Southwest, you can find several communities with high levels of joblessness. Among the Native American or American Indian population, you can find many of those communities suffering from high rates of joblessness.

President Biden, in his State of the Union address, talked about forgotten places and people. And so Full Employment for All is about, let’s target job creation to these forgotten places and people, and include them in the American economy.

JJ: Let me just ask you, finally, on the level of ideas and in terms of media, it’s seen as unserious or unsophisticated to say that you can’t understand why we have lots of people who want jobs and lots of jobs that want doing, and the idea that the government would play a role in connecting those things is somehow not serious.

And I just wonder how we fight that.

AA: Yeah, it’s like you said, I think, in your introduction, the government exists to serve the people, the government exists to make our lives better.

And, unfortunately, the American government does do that. But unfortunately, it does that primarily for the wealthy people who pay the lobbyists.

So the government is constantly enacting policies that help people–it’s often helping wealthy people via helping corporations.

But what we saw during the Great Depression, with the WPA, was the government working to help average working people. And we need more efforts to get our policymakers to enact policies that help average working people, or average people who would like to work, as I’m doing in the Full Employment for All campaign, making sure the government provides jobs for those people.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Algernon Austin; he’s director for race and economic justice at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. They’re online at CEPR.net. And that website we’ve discussed is FullEmploymentForAll.org. Thank you so much, Algernon Austin, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

AA: It’s been a great pleasure for me.


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