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Both Opposition to and Support for Ukraine Aid May Be Less Than Polls Show

FAIR - September 28, 2023 - 2:45pm


Last month, the Biden administration requested an additional $24 billion to aid Ukraine in its war with Russia. Some Republican leaders are skeptical or outright opposed to new funding, prompting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to urge his fellow legislators, “It’s certainly not the time to go wobbly.” That sentiment, of course, was reinforced by President Joe Biden during Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s recent visit to the United States.

At first glance, however, support among Republican voters appears to be wobbly already. Late last month, Daily Kos (8/31/23) headlined a story that noted declining support among Republican voters for supporting Ukraine: “McConnell Abandoned by Post-Trump Republican Electorate.” And three recent polls suggest that rank-and-file Republicans are indeed negative toward aid to Ukraine.

But all three polls wildly overstate how engaged Americans, including Republicans, are in this issue. Opposition, as well as support, is probably far lower than what the media tell us.

Polls report GOP opposition

“It’s odd that the party who cheered loudest when Rocky took down Drago in the ’80s is now more reticent to stand up to Russian aggression abroad, but that’s the new reality,” says Fox pollster Daron Shaw (8/17/23).

The most recent poll by CBS/YouGov (9/10/23) finds support for aid to Ukraine among Americans overall, but a decline in support among Republicans since last February.

Overall, 64% of Americans are positive about support for Ukraine—saying the Biden administration is either “handling things as they should be” (38%) or should be doing more (26%). Only 36% say it should be doing less. Among Republicans, 56% say the administration should be doing less.

An earlier poll by Fox (8/17/23) reports similar figures. Overall, 61% of registered voters have positive views about US support for Ukraine—40% who believe the US is giving the right amount of aid, and another 21% who want the US to do even more. Just 36% say the US should be doing less. Among Republicans, 56% believe the US should be doing less, the same figure CBS found.

The most negative results about aid to Ukraine are found in last month’s CNN poll (8/4/23), which reported that a majority of Americans overall believe the US has “done enough to assist Ukraine” (51%) and “should not authorize additional funding to support Ukraine in its war with Russia” (55%). Among Republicans, 59% say the US has done enough, and 71% are opposed to additional funding.

Wording makes a difference

When CNN (8/4/23) asks if the US “should do more to stop” Russia, do respondents think that means continuing aid or increasing aid?

So all three polls report a majority of Republicans opposed to additional funding for Ukraine. But two of the polls, by CBS and Fox, find a net positive view of aid to Ukraine among Americans overall, while only CNN finds majority opposition.

The difference between CNN‘s and the other two polls is largely because of CNN’s tendentious wording:

CBS: Do you think the Biden administration should be doing more to help Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, should it be doing less, or is it handling things about as they should be?

Fox: Do you think the United States should be doing more to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, should be doing less, or is the US doing about the right amount to help Ukraine?

CNN: Do you think the United States should do more to stop Russian military actions in Ukraine, or has it already done enough?

(Note: Both CBS and CNN randomly rotated their response options.)

The CNN question gives just two options, compared with three in the other two polls. By itself, that is not a problem. What makes that question tendentious is that it provides a reason not to do more for Ukraine (because the US has “already done enough”), but provides no reason to do more (like, say, “the Russians refuse to stop their aggression”).

Also, the question is somewhat ambiguous: What does it mean for the US to do “more”? Does CNN mean more than the US has been doing, or does it mean to continue to provide aid at the same level? The other two polls make the issue clear—“more” means more than the US is doing now, because the middle option in those two polls (“doing the right amount” and “handling things as they should be,” respectively) essentially says the US should continue providing aid at the level it is currently doing. (The US has given Ukraine $77 billion so far over a year and a half of war, though it’s unclear how many respondents are aware of that.)

Given the problems with the CNN question wording, I’m inclined to discount its results in favor of the other two polls.

An idealized public

Still, even the other two polls have credibility problems. All three describe an idealized citizenry that is utterly at odds with reality. CBS suggests that 100% of Americans/voters have an opinion about the level of aid the US/Biden administration is providing Ukraine. For CNN, the comparable number is 99%. For Fox, 97%.

Such high responsiveness reinforces what two researchers have called the “folklore theory of democracy.” This notion of democracy posits that the vast majority of voters are well-informed and engaged on policy issues, so that when election time comes, they can make a sound judgment as to how well their elected leaders reflect the will of the people.

The reality, of course, is far different. As those authors make clear, the political science literature is replete with studies that describe widespread public ignorance of policy issues, as well as a lack of basic knowledge about the American government.

The illusion of public opinion

So, how did the three polls show virtually all Americans with an opinion on aid to Ukraine? Two major techniques.

First, they ask “forced-choice” questions, which give respondents positive and negative options to choose from, but do not provide an explicit “unsure” or “don’t know” option. Respondents feel obligated to give some answer, regardless of whether they have actually developed any opinion about it.

Second, the respondents are all “performing” for the interviewers. There is an implicit understanding that the respondents are there to answer questions. That is their “job.” If they didn’t want to answer questions, they wouldn’t be taking the poll. If the interviewer (or if the electronic form that respondents fill out online) explicitly offers the option of “no opinion,” then the respondent would feel free to choose that option. But with the forced-choice questions, respondents understand that they are expected to provide an answer.

CNN actually follows up volunteered “no opinion” responses by asking respondents if they “lean” toward one option or the other, thus ensuring they get close to 100% responses.

Unreliable results from unengaged citizens

Seventy-six percent of the respondents whose opinions Pew (6/15/23) cites say they are not paying “very” close attention to the Ukraine War.

How reliable are responses from people who are relatively uninformed? Again, political science research has long answered that question, and the answer is—not very. As one researcher explains:

The consequences of asking uninformed people to state opinions on topics to which they have given little, if any, previous thought are quite predictable: Their opinion statements give every indication of being rough and superficial…. [They] vacillate randomly across repeated interviews of the same people.

How many people are “uninformed”? That’s a bit tricky to measure, because it’s not a simple matter of informed vs. uninformed. People have varying degrees of knowledge. Pollsters avoid the problem by mostly ignoring it. But now and then, pollsters do try to measure how much people know about a given issue.

Last June, for example, a Reuters/Ipsos poll (6/28/23) reported that only 18% of Americans were following stories about the Russian invasion of Ukraine “very closely.” Another 39% said “somewhat closely,” leaving 43% saying not closely (or they didn’t know).

An earlier poll by Pew (6/15/23) also found few people paying particular attention to the war in Ukraine: 9% saying extremely closely and 15% very closely. Another 35% said somewhat closely. Again, 42% said not too, or not at all, closely (or they didn’t know).

Of course, people with little to no knowledge on an issue can still express an opinion about it, and sometimes even feel strongly about it—probably because they see the issue linked to something else they do feel strongly about, like party identification, or perhaps a political leader with whom they closely identify.

Still, if the poll question provides respondents with an explicit “don’t know” option, people who don’t know much about an issue will often choose that. And respondents who express an opinion, but don’t really care one way or the other, are likely to admit it if asked.

Few with strong feelings 

We can see this dynamic in a Pew poll last June (6/15/23), which—unlike the three polls described earlier—explicitly provided respondents with a “not sure” option. The result: Overall, 24% chose “not sure,” and another 1% did not respond.

Even that level of participation—75% expressing an opinion—may overstate the public’s level of engagement. It could reflect the “job” that respondents have taken on, to answer poll questions, regardless of how much they’ve really thought about the issue.

Evidence for this idea is found in the question asked of Pew respondents immediately prior to the one about continued aid: “Do you approve or disapprove of the Biden administration’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?” Options allowed respondents to express intensity of opinion.

As the table makes clear, overall just 30% of the respondents express a “strong” opinion: 13% who approve, 17% who disapprove.

Another 44% express mild opinions: 26% approve, 18% disapprove. Another 26% have no opinion.

What to make of the respondents who “somewhat” approve or disapprove?

Andrew Smith and I presented a paper at the annual meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research in 2010, which included research showing that respondents who expressed mild opinions (characterizing their feelings as “not strongly” or “somewhat”) also said in a follow-up question that they would not be “upset” if their opinion did not prevail.

The conclusions we drew were that large numbers of respondents who express an opinion on a “forced-choice” question, like the ones in the CBS, Fox and CNN polls, are not really invested in their own responses. They are simply not engaged enough to care strongly one way or the other.

Using that criterion, the Pew poll suggests that overall, about 7 in 10 Americans are unengaged in the issue of US aid to Ukraine. Among Republicans, about 65%; among Democrats, 72%.

Among people who are engaged, Republicans are clearly quite negative, by a margin of 31% who strongly disapprove to 4% who strongly approve. Engaged Democrats are more positive: 23% strongly approve, while just 5% strongly disapprove.

Had the other three polls also provided an explicit “unsure” option, and then measured intensity of opinion, the percentage of Republicans who strongly disapprove would no doubt be considerably below a majority. By the same token, the percentage of Democrats who approve would also be considerably below a majority. Most people are simply unengaged in this issue.

Performative vs. realistic polls

As a general rule, news media are not fans of polls that reveal how disengaged the public is on most issues. They prefer what I call “performative polls,” because such polls give the illusion of an attentive and informed public that is consistent with our general conception of how US democracy should work.

More importantly, reporting on polls that regularly show large segments of the public unengaged on the issues would call into question the utility of conducting the polls in the first place. Perhaps the media should spend more effort to keep the public informed on current issues than on performative polls that do little to enlighten.

The post Both Opposition to and Support for Ukraine Aid May Be Less Than Polls Show appeared first on FAIR.

Media’s ‘Sick Man of Europe’ Diagnosis for Germany Needs a Second Opinion

FAIR - September 28, 2023 - 9:37am


Bloomberg (8/3/23)

Since the 19th century, the epithet “sick man of Europe” has been used to describe European nations undergoing economic hardship or social restlessness—first the Ottoman Empire in the 1860s, then Russia in 1917, France in the 1950s, Britain in the 1960s, Italy in the 1970s and Germany in the late 1990s/early 2000s.

Corporate media outlets have recently been applying the phrase to Germany again in response to the Central European nation’s negative GDP growth. “Is Germany the Sick Man of Europe?” a Bloomberg video (8/3/23) asked. A CNN article (8/24/23) explained “Why Some Are Calling Germany ‘the Sick Man of Europe’ Once Again.” CNBC (9/4/23) reported, “Germany Is the ‘Sick Man of Europe’—and It’s Causing a Shift to the Right, Top Economist Says.”

But their reporting has consistently ignored what is likely a primary source of Germany’s economic illness: the sabotage on the Nord Stream pipelines that carried natural gas from Russia to Europe.

Blowing up the economy

CNBC (9/4/23)

There is substantial evidence that the “sick” German economy has been significantly impacted by the loss of the pipelines, and it can be verified that the dearth of inexpensive Russian gas is a major contributor to Germany’s succumbing to a recession. Natural gas accounts for around a quarter of Germany’s overall energy mix. In 2021, the year before fighting over Ukraine’s secessionist Donbas region deepened, Germany imported 142 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas, with 52% of it originating from Russia. In the three years leading up to the current conflict, Germany’s natural gas consumption averaged 89 bcm. (Germany was able to reexport much of its imports, reaping the economic benefits from selling the surplus gas to neighboring countries.)

Nord Stream 1 alone was vastly larger than any other Russian gas pipeline to Germany, annually delivering up to 59 bcm. Germany’s Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control does not identify the infrastructural origin of imported gas, so the public remains unaware of the exact volume of gas imports coming from Nord Stream. But Germany lost, at least for the foreseeable future, as much as a staggering 66% of its gas consumption, and 42% of its supply.

“The German economy is the European Union’s greatest economic casualty of the war in Ukraine,” economist Jeffrey Sachs told FAIR:

The destruction of Nord Stream, the loss of trade with Russia and the boomerang effect of US/EU sanctions will weigh very heavily on the German economy, and hence on the EU-wide economy, for years to come.

Scrambling to find replacements for Russian gas, Germany has turned to liquified natural gas (LNG) from the United States—and it may even turn to Russia LNG, too. The European Union and the United Kingdom saw their imports of US LNG increase more than threefold in the first four months of 2022 from the previous year. At the same time, Europe is now importing greater quantities of LNG from Russia than ever before. According to a report in Spiegel (9/12/23), “There are many indications that this fuel will ultimately also be burned in Germany.”

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is the largest component of natural gas; an estimated 56,000–155,000 metric tons were released into the atmosphere by the Nord Stream sabotage. If the destruction of the pipeline expedites the transition to green energy, its long-term net impact may be positive. However, there are short-term repercussions.

Russian pipeline gas is more cost-effective than LNG, and using the the latter as an energy source is more harmful to the environment: It requires energy-intensive, low-temperature storage, fuel for transatlantic shipping (in the case of LNG from the US), liquefaction and regasification, and often the construction of LNG terminals (as seen in Germany).

The $19 billion elephant

FAIR.org (10/7/22)

In September 2022, three of the four strands that make up the $19 billion Nord Stream 1 and Nord 2 pipelines were ruptured by underwater explosions. Russia held a 51% stake in the pipelines, with remaining ownership distributed among four Western European nations. Financing for the project came from a Russian energy firm and Western European companies. The pipelines made landfall in Germany, the nation that depended on them the most.

Nord Stream 1 began delivering gas in 2011. Nord Stream 2 never entered service, as its certification was suspended by Germany in February 2022 following Russia’s formal recognition of two breakaway regions in Ukraine. In August 2022, Russia halted gas flows through Nord Stream 1, citing maintenance work. After the sabotage, in October 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to supply gas via the one remaining line of Nord Stream 2 that had not been damaged in the attack; his offer was rebuffed.

Corporate media’s knee-jerk reaction was to blame Russia for what stands as one of the most significant acts of industrial sabotage in history (FAIR.org, 3/3/23, 10/7/22). Yet with emerging evidence suggesting a Western nation—either the US, Ukraine or possibly a combination of the two—as the likely perpetrator, self-appointed media doctors who have dubbed Germany the “sick man of Europe” are declining to associate German economic woes with the $19 billion elephant in the room.

Misdiagnosing the patient

NPR (9/27/22)

Hundreds of corporate media articles have recently focused on Germany, and many of them have characterized the country as the “sick man of Europe.” There is consensus in the reporting that skyrocketing energy costs, particularly the surging price of natural gas, are the primary drivers of inflation, recession and the plummeting industrial output of Europe’s largest economy. But omission of a key source, if not the main source, of the illness appears to be a significant oversight by the corporate press, akin to medical malpractice.

The case of Spiegel is a serious one, especially given the outlet’s recent history of breaking consequential stories about the Nord Stream sabotage. The attack is absent from a 7,000-word article—“Why Germany’s Economy Is Flailing—and What Could Help” (9/7/23)—bylined by no fewer than 11 reporters. The following week, the outlet continued to feign ignorance, posing the question “How Can That Be?” (9/12/23) in reference to Europe’s growing imports of Russian LNG.

NPR has covered the Nord Stream sabotage as well. However, an NPR article (9/27/22) on Germany’s energy crisis immediately following the attack excluded its impact. Published on the very day following the sabotage, NPR’s piece about Germany’s return to coal as a fuel amid the urgency to find alternatives to Russian gas notably neglected to mention the unprecedented attack on both the environment and industry.

“Nord Stream” and “sabotage” are missing words from these Spiegel and NPR reports, as well as from hundreds of articles assessing Germany’s energy crunch (e.g., PBS, 7/19/23). Here the omission is the bombshell news. The unreported constitutes the core of the story, serving as the viral headline that remains unwritten.

What connects the Spiegel pieces and much of NPR’s reporting is a suppression of the specifics of the breaking news. Euphemisms are employed to avoid providing an accurate diagnosis. In the case of Spiegel, the Nord Stream pipelines are rechristened “the Baltic Sea pipelines” and the deliberate act of sabotage is called “failed Russian pipeline gas.” For its part, NPR (12/26/22) found it suitable to bowdlerize the bombed pipelines as “now-defunct.”

Prescription: less rights for workers

CNN (8/24/23)

Having sidelined the sabotage as a major cause of Germany’s economic troubles, many in the corporate press went on to recommend dubious remedies. Take CNN (8/24/23):

One problem—the cost of natural gas—has been particularly acute for its [Germany’s] energy-guzzling manufacturers. European gas prices soared to all-time highs last summer. Although they have fallen steeply in recent months, they are ticking up again as the possibility of strike action at liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants in Australia has raised fears of a global supply crunch.

The “possibility” of a labor strike is scapegoated for the high “cost of natural gas.” The subtext is that workers’ rights, already dangerously widespread and infecting the economy, must be curtailed.

CNN appears to be constraining the wider facts. The outlet defines recession “as two consecutive quarters of declining output.” The data confirming Germany’s fall into recession are based on its GDP performance in the first quarter of 2023. Output, in other words, contracted over the first three months of the year, following a contraction of 0.4% in the fourth quarter of 2022. Both time periods precede the pathogens of organized labor allegedly “ticking up” gas prices and Germany’s recent designation as the “sick man of Europe” (New Statesman, 6/7/23).

This is not the first time FAIR (e.g., 8/10/23, 6/1/23, 9/1/97) has documented the corporate press scapegoating workers’ rights for economic conditions.

Slashing corporate taxes rates are also among the medications recommended in various articles about the “sick man of Europe.” The expertise of the chief economist at Commerzbank was sought by a number of media organizations (e.g., Financial Times, 8/20/23; Deutsche Welle, 8/1/23; Yahoo! Finance 5/25/23). The expert told CNBC (8/24/23) that

Germany needs lower corporate taxes, less red tape, faster approval procedures, more investment in roads, bridges and digital infrastructure, competitive electricity prices and better schools.

Some of those prescribed economic and structural restoratives may very well improve the patient’s economic health. But the articles touting corporate tax cuts as a cure overlook a critical fact: Corporate tax rates in Germany averaged 38.5% from 2001 to 2007, and have hovered at approximately 30% since 2008. How, despite these rates, the German economy managed to become, after 2008, a “powerhouse” and “economic superstar” doesn’t seem a question worth considering.

Too much social spending?

Politico (7/13/23)

Politico (7/13/23), too, seems to have recommended treatment unrelated to the disease:

A big flash point will be social welfare. Germany operates one of the most generous welfare states, with social spending accounting for 27% of the economy last year (compared with 23% in the US). With Berlin under pressure to spend vastly more on defense, the belt-tightening—and the public backlash—has already begun.

A lot to unpack there. Large military contractors, such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, provide Politico with advertising revenue. Axel Springer, the multibillion-dollar German media company that owns Politico, has a documented history of hostility toward social democracy.

Like the CNBC article, the 3,400-word Politico piece does not contain even one sentence informing readers that “social spending” by the German government has seen a minuscule increase—from 25.5% to 26.7%—over the last quarter-century. Nor are readers told that although social spending in countries such as France and Austria accounts for around 30% of GDP, their economies are being given much cleaner bills of health than Germany’s.

US no model patient

Economist (8/17/23)

The implication is that health would be regained if sickly Germany adopted an economic model more closely resembling that of the United States. But Germany’s economy minister seems to disagree that the German welfare state is a weakness that makes the economy sick.

“At the same time, the German economy retains a host of strengths,” Robert Habeck wrote in the Economist (9/14/23) in response to its August 17 cover story, “Is Germany Once Again the Sick Man of Europe?” “Our social-market economy maintains its traditions of employer-union co-operation and a powerful welfare state,” Habeck declared.

Is Habeck wrong to reject the US model as a cure for the “sick man of Europe”? Nein.

Following the pandemic, life expectancy in many other high-income countries rebounded. But life expectancy in the US, already lower than in peer nations, declined. The US spends more on the military than the next 10 countries combined, including China, Russia, India and Saudi Arabia. “Among industrial nations, the United States is by far the most top-heavy, with much greater shares of national wealth and income going to the richest 1% than any other country,” according to Inequality.org.

Perhaps most damning of all for the US, a country that prides itself on the “American Dream,” is its failure to even crack the top 25 on the list of nations with the highest socioeconomic mobility. Germany is ranked 11th, well ahead of the US.

But the health of the two countries may be more intertwined than initial diagnoses suggest. According to an MSNBC op-ed (7/13/23), “The US also has a lower inflation rate than any other G7 member—it’s not like Biden’s policies are driving up inflation in Germany.” But if the United States, either directly or through proxies, blew up the Nord Stream pipelines, it would bear a significant responsibility for the deteriorating condition of the “sick man of Europe”—and it’s going to need a really good medical malpractice defense lawyer, despite what establishment media have told readers.


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Scolding Striking Auto Workers in Advance for Wrecking Economy

FAIR - September 26, 2023 - 3:32pm


The New York Times (9/19/23) warns that “the strike could inflict collateral damage that creates frustration and hardship among tens of thousands of nonunion workers.”

The first person quoted in the New York Times’ rundown (9/19/23) on the United Auto Workers strike was a lawyer representing management from Littler Mendelson, the go-to firm for big corporations’ union avoidance.

“Right now, unions are cool,” said Michael Lotito of Littler Mendelson. But they “have a risk of not being very cool if you have a five-month strike in LA and an X-month strike in how many other states.”

The article, “Strike Is a High-Stakes Gamble for Autoworkers and the Labor Movement” highlights the “real pitfalls” of a so-called prolonged strike against the big three automakers: General Motors, Ford and Stellantis (which absorbed Chrysler). “Stand-up” strikes began at limited locations on September 15, and a week later expanded across the country. Without significant progress in negotiations, more workers continue to join the picket line.

The New York Timesdecision to platform one of the largest union-busting firms in the country, which currently represents management at Starbucks, Apple and Grindr, among others, is in line with other corporate media efforts to uplift CEOs and shareholders, and stoke fears around economic recession, green energy transition and “Bidenomics.”

Blaming Biden

About 13,000 autoworkers walked out in a limited strike at assembly plants in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri at the stroke of midnight on September 14. The workers are asking for a 36% raise in general pay over a span of four years, the end of a tiered system, a 32-hour week with 40 hours of pay, and a return of cost-of-living raises.

This strike comes on the tail of what some deemed “the summer of strikes,” following Hollywood writers’ and actors’ historic work stoppage, and the last-minute labor deal that stopped thousands of UPS workers from striking. Meanwhile, public support for unions is at a multi-decade high. This may explain why corporations and their allies are working overtime to make sure unions “aren’t cool.”

A Wall Street Journal op-ed (9/19/23) endorses the CEO of Ford’s claim that “meeting the United Auto Workers’ demands…would drive the company out of business.” The Journal story (2/2/23) it links to to document Ford’s woes projects a $9–11 billion profit for the company for 2023.

As Stephen Miran of the Exxon-funded Manhattan Institute wrote in the Wall Street Journal (9/19/23):

Strikes by auto workers, healthcare workers, and Hollywood writers and actors demonstrate that key pillars of President Biden’s economic agenda are bad for American industry.

Politicians like Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance took it a step further, blaming the administration and “Biden’s stupid climate mandates” for the strike’s necessity. Bloomberg (9/14/23) bemoaned Biden being left with limited options to avert a strike and called it “a tough juggling act.” Unlike with the rail workers last year, Biden cannot order autoworkers back to work. It seems the media want Biden to be involved in any way they find possible.

While some blame Biden for the strike, or blame him for being unable to immediately fix it, others are ready to condemn union workers for a future Biden loss in 2024. “I worry about the implications for our economy and for President Biden,” wrote Steven Rattner in the New York Times (9/20/23)

Rattner, who is currently managing Michael Bloomberg’s money, was formerly a part of the Obama administration’s auto task force, and was in charge of negotiating the very concessions that helped inflate executive salaries and initiate stock buybacks. Rattner spends 1,000 words fretting about losses to Big Three profits and telling union members to manage expectations, while brushing off the pay gap between workers and executives as par for the course of doing business in America. Meanwhile, the auto industry’s record-breaking profits flow to the salaries of the CEOs of Ford, Stellantis and GM—$21 million, $25 million and $29 million, respectively.

However, as it turns out, workers are on strike to negotiate a fair contract with those CEOs, not Joe Biden. Despite the most pro-union president’s tepid support for autoworkers and calls for them to be fairly compensated, the situation is not what the Wall Street Journal (9/15/23) called “An Auto Strike Made in Washington.”

As union president Shawn Fain rightfully declared, “This battle is not about the president” or the former president. While CNBC (9/18/23) claimed in a headline that Fain “downplays White House involvement in strike talks,” they repeated the basic media propaganda that “the union’s demands would cripple the companies,” uplifting Ford CEO Jim Farley’s statement that his company would have gone bankrupt under the UAW’s current demands. Meanwhile, the Big Three continue to make record-breaking profits, with $21 billion in just the first six months of 2023 and $250 billion over the last 10 years.

‘Billions in damage’

The Hill (9/17/23) failed to note that the “offer” Stellantis made was one the union had turned down before the strike began.

Many articles from corporate media grieve that the UAW members “want a 40% pay increase,” while often obfuscating or neglecting to note that the union wants that over a period of four years (Insider, 8/30/23; Forbes, 9/18/23; Fox, 9/25/23). Some also occasionally float a 46% number, which Jonah Furman of UAW says “comes from compounding, which is management’s way of lying about a reasonable raise.”

The Hill (9/17/23) pounced on the UAW for rejecting a 21% pay increase over 4.5 years, an offer that was notably not new; Furman (Twitter, 9/18/23) clarified that it was not a “fresh offer,” as the union had already responded to it before the strike deadline. Meanwhile, autoworkers’ real wages have fallen 30% over the past 20 years.

Even before the strike began, nearly every outlet cited the labor unrest as something that could “damage the economy” (CNN, 9/16/23), be “painful” for the economy (Wall Street Journal, 9/11/23) or throw the economy, especially in Rust Belt states, into a recession—”Even Brief UAW Strike Seen Causing Billions in US Economic Damage,” read Bloomberg (9/10/23).

A brief UAW strike could reduce US GDP by 0.02%—though that’s not how Bloomberg (9/10/23) chose to report the number.

Bloomberg also reported that a 10-day UAW strike could cost the US economy $5.6 billion. That number, invoked wherever possible, is provided by Anderson Economic Group. As Sarah Lazare noted for the American Prospect (8/23/23), General Motors and Ford are clients of Anderson Economic Group.

The consulting firm also warned that a “Potential UPS Strike Could Be Costliest in a Century.” Further, they published a dubious study asserting that “electric vehicles can be more expensive to fuel,” and released a study in June 2020 that claimed looting during Black Lives Matter protests cost businesses in major cities $400 million, a number picked up by Fox (6/5/20), the New York Post (6/12/20) and others.

To be clear, this $5.6 billion number comes from estimating a 10-day strike of all 143,000 United Auto Workers (UAW) members. Given the stand-up strike strategy, which involves striking a few seemingly random plants at a time, it’s unlikely that all members will be on the picket line anytime soon.

Still, outlets continue to threaten recession, or if they cannot do that, at least mention the strike’s ability to “put pressure on new car prices” (Wall Street Journal, 9/22/23). As the UAW’s Fain noted in a video on September 18, the average price of a new car is up 30% over the past four years. “You think UAW wages are driving up that increase?” he asks. “Think again.”

As the car prices line exemplifies, corporate media love to present the everyday person as a consumer, someone who should be worried about car prices, rather than a worker who should be enthusiastic about labor’s resurgence.

In that vein, while asked on CNN (9/12/23) about the UAW strike damaging the economy, Fain responded:

It’s not that we’re going to wreck the economy. We’re going to wreck their economy, the economy that only works for the billionaire class. It doesn’t work for the working class.

The post Scolding Striking Auto Workers in Advance for Wrecking Economy appeared first on FAIR.

NPR Report on Depleted Uranium Shells for Ukraine Was a One-Source Dud 

FAIR - September 26, 2023 - 10:01am


In its fundraising promotions, NPR touts shows like Morning Edition as providing listeners a “deeper look” at complicated stories.

Sometimes that is the case, but not this month, in its coverage of an announced decision by the Biden administration to further escalate the violence in Ukraine by supplying that country’s military with controversial depleted uranium (DU) anti-tank shells. Morning Edition (9/8/23) glossed over the reason many nations consider their use an atrocity. In fact, many commercial news organizations did a much better job in reporting in depth on this story.

‘Not nuclear or radioactive’

NPR‘s one source for its story (9/8/23) on depleted uranium (DU) munitions falsely assured listeners that “these are not…radioactive weapons.”

Morning Edition co-host Leila Fadel had one source for the three-and-half-minute report: Togzhan Kassenova, a senior research fellow at SUNY Albany’s Center for Policy Research, whom she introduced as “an expert on nuclear politics.” (The Center describes itself as having “a long and notable history of managing and implementing grants and sponsored programs for the government of the United States, including projects for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of Naval Research.”)

Kassenova, responding to questions from Fadel, misrepresented what DU is and what its risks are when used in battle. “Anti-tank rounds with depleted uranium are not nuclear or radioactive,” she claimed, adding without any further detail that “there are some safety implications that need to be kept in mind.”

In fact, as the US Environmental Protection Agency’s website explains, “Like the natural uranium ore, DU is radioactive.” DU is a mix of U-238 and some other, rarer uranium isotopes that are left after the fissionable U-235 used in nuclear bombs and as reactor fuel has been refined out. All uranium isotopes are significant releasers of alpha particles as they decay; in other words, they’re radioactive. These low-energy but relatively large particles, not even mentioned by Kassenova, are essentially helium nuclei, composed of two protons and two neutrons. They can do serious cellular and genetic damage when uranium dust is ingested or inhaled.

Fadel didn’t question her guest’s effort to minimize the risk posed by uranium projectiles, though even the most cursory attempt to research the issue would have disclosed these problems.

‘A serious health risk’

The EPA’s website warns that “if DU is ingested or inhaled, it is a serious health hazard.”

Pentagon apologists for DU weapons typically note that alpha particles are so low-energy they “fail to penetrate the dead layers of cells covering the skin, and can be easily stopped by a sheet of paper.” True enough, but when introduced into the body, where the tiny alpha-particle-emitting particles can become lodged in lung or kidney tissue, they prove to be quite good at killing or damaging adjacent cells.

Critics of DU weapons, whom Fadel only mentioned in passing, explain that it’s not the shiny uranium tip of a DU shell that poses a risk. The risk comes when that shell penetrates tank armor and explodes in the interior at a searing temperature of over 2,000 degrees, reducing the entire vehicle and the soldiers in it to cinders. At that point, the uranium has become uranium oxide dust, and that radioactive dust blankets the target and a wide surrounding area. Given that its constituent isotopes have half-lives ranging from 170,000 to 4.5 billion years, the DU residue will effectively remain there forever, until blown, washed or carted away, or until it migrates down into the water table.

Had Fadel bothered to check with the EPA, instead of just adopting the Pentagon’s self-serving line that DU is no big deal as far as radiation risk is concerned, she’d have learned that the agency’s website states: “If DU is ingested or inhaled it is a serious health risk. Alpha particles directly affect living cells and can cause kidney damage.”

Competitors more complete

Popular Science (9/8/23): “While depleted uranium poses some risk from radiation if ingested, the primary harms come from it being a heavy metal absorbed into a human digestive, circulatory or respiratory system.”

One-source reports on a controversial story like this one—where there is a long-running dispute about the use of a weapon—are lazy journalism, especially for a news organization that touts itself as providing more “depth” in its reports than its more openly commercial competition. (NPR gets 39% of its funding from corporate sponsorship, so it’s a stretch to call it “noncommercial.”)

Some of those competitors, in fact, ran more complete stories on the DU decision than Morning Edition did. The magazine Popular Science (9/8/23), for example, mentioned the EPA’s warnings about DU, even including a link to the agency’s article.

So did Associated Press (9/6/23) in an article by Tara Copp, at least when her article initially appeared on September 6. Unfortunately, Copp said she cut that paragraph in later revisions to make room for other background about DU.

The story by Copp, a former Pentagon correspondent, nonetheless stands out in corporate media coverage, providing a detailed account of where the US has been using DU weapons since Cold War days when the metal was first put into anti-tank shells and some rocket warheads.

She also mentioned reports of deaths, cancer and upsurges in birth defects that have sprung up in places where such weapons have been used in quantity. This information was left out of many other pieces on the Biden decision, including the one run by NPR.

Copp quoted a Russian source, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, who called  the US decision to supply depleted uranium ammunition to Ukraine “very bad news,” and said its use by the US in the former Yugoslavia (Serbia and Kosovo) had produced “a galloping rise” in cancers and other illnesses. “The same situation will inevitably await the Ukrainian territories where they will be used,” he added. (His points are backed up by reports in the Lancet7/8/21—and Declassified UK: 7/13/23.)

Copp followed these claims with Pentagon denials about DU health risks. Its flacks for decades have denied that there is any evidence that the uranium oxide produced by DU weapons when exploded and burned pose cancer or birth-defect risks in impacted communities or among US troops. Given the history of misinformation from US government sources about US military atrocities over the years, it’s bracing to see a Russian source included in a US-based news article, even if that source might not be very convincing to US readers in the current political environment.

While there’s not enough evidence to draw ironclad conclusions, what’s available points to Peskov’s claims about Yugoslavia being at least arguable. Moreover, a 2013 article in Al Jazeera (3/15/13) by US journalist Dahr Jamail, based on data provided by the Iraqi government health department, showed that in Fallujah, where an all-out US destruction of that city of 200,000 people included significant use of DU shells, the cancer rate in Iraq before the two wars on Iraq had been 40 per 100,000, but jumped to 1,600 per 100,000 by 2005.

As Copp also noted, “US troops have questioned whether some of the ailments they now face [such as Gulf War Syndrome] were caused by inhaling or being exposed to fragments after a munition was fired or their tanks were struck, damaging uranium-enhanced armor.”

‘Adds to environmental burden’

Citing the UN Environment Program, the Wall Street Journal (6/13/23) reported that “the metal’s ‘chemical toxicity’ presents the greatest potential danger, and ‘it can cause skin irritation, kidney failure and increase the risks of cancer.'”

In a September 6 article reporting on the Ukraine DU decision, written by Andrew Kramer and Constant Méheut, the New York Times acknowledged some controversy, saying, “Some advocates have expressed concerns that prolonged exposure could cause illness, or that spent ammunition could cause environmental contamination.” However, it dismissively concluded, “The Pentagon says those fears are unfounded.”

The Washington Post’s September 7 article on the depleted uranium weapons, by Adam Taylor, gave a voice to those “activists,” quoting a statement from the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons that called the US decision “self-destructive and deceptive.” The organization added that the new anti-tank weapon “adds to the war-related environmental burden of Ukraine, damaging its legal integrity as victim of aggression and illegal attacks.”

The Wall Street Journal, in a June 13 article disclosing the US was about to approve depleted uranium shells for delivery to Ukraine’s military, highlighted health and environmental concerns in its subhead: “The armor-piercing ammunition has raised concerns over health and environmental effects.”

Meanwhile, while Morning Edition host Fadel deserves a raspberry for her one-source, one-sided piece, her guest, research fellow Kassenova, at least should get credit for honesty in stating where her priorities lie. Asked by Fadel what her position was on the US provision of DU weapons, she said:

It is an important practical and symbolic action of support. Ukraine is losing people—both military and civilian—every day. So I think whatever can happen right now should be provided to the extent possible. So I am in support of the provision of these weapons.

Efforts by phone and email to obtain comments from NPR’s Fadel and from the University of Albany’s Kassenova went unanswered.

ACTION ALERT: You can send a message to NPR‘s public editor here (or via Twitter@NPRpubliceditor). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread of this post.





The post NPR Report on Depleted Uranium Shells for Ukraine Was a One-Source Dud  appeared first on FAIR.

Police Seek a Radio Silence That Would Mute Critics in the Press

FAIR - September 25, 2023 - 5:11pm


As a freelance journalist many years ago, I was walking the streets of Brooklyn, looking for a juicy story, anything that I could get into print. I was coming up empty. So I did what anyone would do in that situation. I had lunch.

Halfway through my Jamaican jerk chicken, I heard several gunshots, and in a flash, a man ran by the restaurant. I threw my money on the table and headed to the scene. When I got there a bystander pointed me toward the spent shells. I looked around and talked to witnesses. As one young man pontificated to me about poverty and unemployment leading to crime, I noticed that the cops weren’t there yet. But a photographer from the Daily News was.

That was because, like any good crime reporter, he was listening to police radio and responding to 911 calls, hoping to catch fresh crime footage, fires and other colorful photos that editors love. He’s not alone. Journalists around the country do this, as does anyone who is simply interested in cops, firefighters and other emergency services. Police scanners aren’t cheap, but they are readily available at many electronics retailers.

Restricting the right to listen in

Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen (Colorado Public Radio, 8/9/19) framed the issue as “public safety versus whether or not somebody can be entertained on a Friday night by listening to police dispatch.”

But today, the right to listen to police radio in real time is under attack. The Baltimore Police Department moved to encrypt its radio communications and implement a 15-minute delay (Baltimore Sun, 6/30/23). “The police department plans to provide the adjusted service on a radio broadcast via Broadcastify, and it will be free of charge,” reported WJZ-TV (7/1/23). This still allows for people to listen in, though not in real time.

But other departments are going further. The police in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, California, announced it will move to encryption (KTLA, 9/19/23). The New York Police Department is considering an overall encrypted system as some precincts have switched to new technologies (Gothamist, 7/29/23).

When the Denver Police Department moved to encrypt radio communications, Jeff Roberts of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition (Colorado Public Radio, 8/8/19) protested the move, saying, “We always need an independent monitor. And that’s what the news media does on the public’s behalf.”

And when journalists protested the Chicago Police Department’s switch to encrypted radio, then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot (WLS-TV, 12/14/22) claimed the scanner access allowed criminals to evade arrest: “It’s about officer safety…. If it’s unencrypted and there’s access, there’s no way to control criminals who are also gonna get access,” who will then “adjust their criminal behavior in response to the information that’s being communicated.”

Tracking police misdeeds

The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project’s Andy Ratto (City Limits, 8/25/23): Listening to police radio “allows reporters and photographers to identify events they can cover in real-time, on location.”

Crime reporting, of course, has always had its problems. On the one hand, covering crime is a public service by offering communities the ability to know about what happens in the streets every night. On the other hand, crime stories can be sensationalized and overhyped, painting crime as a bigger problem than it is, to bolster calls for bigger police budgets and more aggressive policing (FAIR.org, 10/10/18, 6/21/21, 5/6/22, 11/10/22, 12/7/22).

But police scanners are wonderful tools for journalists covering not just crime, but police as an institution of power, especially in their relationship to social justice movements. For example, during Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter uprisings in New York City, the citywide police channels offered play-by-play, block-by-block and arrest-by-arrest narratives of nightly confrontations. But this also gave reporters key insights into general police tactics and strategies.

It also allows for the public to track police misdeeds. For example, Alex Ratto noted at City Limits (8/25/23): “NYPD officers responding to protests were overheard on the radio telling each other to ‘shoot those motherfuckers’ and ‘run them over’” during the BLM protests of 2020. He added:

In 2021, radio traffic captured requests to the NYPD Strategic Response Group (SRG) for assistance with a missing person, which was rejected because the SRG was occupied monitoring a peaceful protest.

Even during the Occupy movement, it was clear the police knew these facts all too well. It was common to hear a commanding officer on the Occupy detail tell a subordinate to switch to a cell phone. The only reason for this was to evade public scrutiny. So it is no surprise that police are developing new communications systems that are meant to operate in the shadows.

In Mountain View, California, one major problem, as one newspaper editor pointed out, was that police are making these changes to radio encryption unilaterally. “The police shouldn’t be making their own policies,” wrote Dave Price, editor of the Palo Alto Daily Post (4/2/21). “They should be invited to provide their opinions about proposed policies, but the final decision should be that of the council members.”

Public deserves to know

Journalists and free speech groups are protesting the moves to hide police conversations from the public. And they should be—not mainly for the sake of getting spicy crime footage for the papers, but because the public deserves to know what police departments do.

Yes, more and more cops use body cameras. But those can be turned off (PBS, 4/15/22). Public records are available, but it takes time and institutional effort to obtain them.

The idea that encryption is necessary because criminals use scanners to evade police is questionable. There is, indeed, documentation showing that sophisticated criminal outfits have sometimes done this (e.g., Rolling Stone, 6/21/11). But in all the media frenzy in the last several years about shoplifting in San Francisco or rising murder rates in Chicago, very little seems to indicate that a prime source of the chaos was an epidemic of too many police scanners in the wrong hands. And even if a petty thief or a gang member did use a radio in the commission of a crime, one still doesn’t stand a chance against the vast police arsenal of street cameras, drones, helicopters and facial recognition technology. That’s hardly enough reason to keep the rest of the public in the dark.

“It’s yet another expansion of police power that’s completely lacking an evidentiary basis,” said Alex Vitale, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and the author of The End of Policing. “Where is the evidence of crime rates being affected by people using scanners?” He told FAIR:

It also assumes that there’s no public benefit to transparency. The police will sometimes mobilize an anecdote to make a broad claim without calculating the cost of what they’re proposing. We know that public access to scanner information has revealed abusive police behavior, racist exchanges between police officers, and there is a public value in having access to that.

Some police departments are trying to meet journalists halfway by offering the press access to encrypted communications. But as the Freedom of the Press Foundation (8/9/23) points out, this solution gives to the state enormous control over the information the public is allowed to have. And what constitutes a journalist? A staffer at a major institution who has police-issued credentials? What about a freelancer for an independent outlet? Some of the most important scrutiny of police abuse is done by citizen journalists—who are often not recognized by police as journalists at all (FAIR.org, 3/23/16).

In Chicago and Denver, it might be too late to turn the clock back toward more open police communications. But journalists, free speech advocates and good-government groups should strive to fight this kind of encryption where they can. Vitale, for example, noted that in addition to calling for governance transparency in policing, the public should question this new technology on budgetary reasons as well.

“This is very costly to local governments,” he said of proposed contracts with communications firms. “We need to ask them about their sweetheart contracts.”

Featured image: Police officer using radio in car (Creative Commons photo: Government of Prince Edward Island).

The post Police Seek a Radio Silence That Would Mute Critics in the Press appeared first on FAIR.

The Baltimore Sun’s Reckoning on Freddie Gray

FAIR - September 22, 2023 - 5:26pm


The Baltimore Sun‘s timeline (4/24/15) of Freddie Gray’s arrest and death relied heavily on the Baltimore Police Department’s narrative.

Five days after Freddie Gray’s death, the Baltimore Sun (4/24/15) published on its website an interactive slideshow on his arrest, which it updated later that month as the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) added information. Audiences could click through a timeline of details of Gray’s long April 12, 2015, ride in a Baltimore police van, during which police reportedly made six stops before officers said they discovered their prisoner was unconscious. (Gray died on April 19, after a week in a coma.)

The slideshow was almost entirely sourced from the statements given by BPD leaders during press conferences, without independent corroboration. Some of the police claims were repeated as fact, with no attribution. “The driver of the transport van believes that Gray is acting irate in the back,” it stated at one point.

There was one small sign of resistance to the police narrative included in the slideshow: “Multiple witnesses tell the Sun they saw Gray beaten [at the second stop], but police say evidence including an autopsy disputes their accounts.” Here, as elsewhere in its Gray coverage, the Sun implicitly “corrected” witnesses with the police version of events.

The slideshow illustrated the Sun‘s general approach to coverage of Gray’s death, one of the biggest national stories to come out of Baltimore in decades: The narrative was largely shaped by police’s version of events, presented by the paper with limited skepticism or contradictory information. When witness accounts did appear in the Sun, they were usually reduced to brief uncorroborated soundbites.

Public strategically misled

Freddie Gray (1989–2015)

In a new book, They Killed Freddie Gray: The Anatomy of a Police Brutality Cover-Up, I reveal extensive evidence that undermines most of what the Sun reported in its slideshow timeline. My book is sourced to discovery evidence from the prosecution of six officers that was never presented in court, internal affairs investigation files and more. I reveal that police and prosecutors were aware of physical abuse that happened during the first two stops of Gray’s arrest, but strategically misled the public and manipulated evidence to hide it (as I also reported elsewhere: Appeal, 4/23/20; Daily Beast, 8/19/23).

In particular, I reveal that there were at least nine witnesses who saw police pull Gray out of the van at its second stop at Mount and Baker streets, shackle his ankles, and throw him headfirst back into a narrow compartment in the van. They also saw him becoming silent and motionless at that stop. Many of them reported these details to investigators early on. The medical examiner determined Gray’s fatal injury was caused by headfirst force into a hard surface, but she wasn’t told about these statements.

While the public saw a viral video of Gray screaming while he was loaded into the van during his arrest at the first stop, it heard much less about what happened at Mount and Baker streets. My book takes a look at the role the media played in both enabling the police’s coverup and gaslighting the witnesses.

The Sun was hardly alone in its “police say” approach to this story, but it arguably did the most damage. For one, it invested extensively in its Gray coverage, becoming the paper of record on the case, with its content republished or cited frequently by other outlets (e.g., Chicago Tribune, 4/25/15; CNN, 6/24/15). And much of the Sun’s coverage took a decidedly, and increasingly, pro-police slant.

Making a mystery

The Baltimore Sun (4/24/15) turned Freddie Gray’s death into a “mystery” by marginalizing witnesses who saw Gray physically abused by police.

Twelve days after police seized Gray, the Baltimore Sun (4/24/15) published “The 45-Minute Mystery of Freddie Gray’s Arrest,” exploring what was known and still unclear about his detention. The article cited three witnesses describing different types of excessive force used against Gray, alongside the police’s narrative. Over the next two years of protests, riots, trials of four officers (with no convictions) and outside investigations, the Sun continued fostering “mystery” and speculation around Gray’s cause of death (epitomized by the Rashomon-like documentary Who Killed Freddie Gray?, co-produced by the Sun and CNN2/12/16).

Yet Gray’s death was a mystery by design. Police and city leaders began insisting early on that his cause of death could never be known. “It’s clear that what happened happened inside the van,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said on April 20, one day after Gray died; she asserted that Gray’s fatal injury must have happened while the van was moving, when there was nobody present to witness it.

Two days later, the Fraternal Order of Police’s attorney made a similar statement: “Our position is, something happened in that van, we just don’t know what.”

There was no evidence to support these claims—police had more evidence of excessive force at that time—but the narrative took hold. The Baltimore Sun (4/23/15) followed those statements by speculating about “rough rides,” a practice where police van drivers harm unseatbelted prisoners by driving erratically.

As city leaders invalidated the claims of witnesses, the Sun stopped highlighting their accounts in its stories, even investigative stories. A May 2015 article (5/20/15) disclosed a cellphone video that showed a few seconds of Gray silent and motionless at Mount and Baker streets, the second stop. “Less is known about what happened…when the van stopped at Baker Street and he was shackled,” the article stated.

Yet the story omitted what witnesses had previously told Sun reporters (4/24/15, 4/24/15) about Gray being beaten and thrown headfirst into the van at that stop. The accompanying video to the May 2015 article said that officers merely “placed him back into the van” at the second stop, which was the police’s narrative.

By the time the autopsy report was leaked to the Sun (6/24/15) in June, revealing that Gray’s fatal injury was caused by headfirst impact into a hard surface—comparable to “those seen in shallow-water diving incidents”—the witness accounts of the second stop were seemingly forgotten.

While the Sun marginalized and ultimately erased witnesses, it did not hesitate to give frequent weight and credibility to the claims of police, even anonymously sourced. The Sun (4/30/15) headlined one such claim in “Gray Suffered Head Injury in Prisoner Van, Sources Familiar With Investigation Say,” with the story reporting:

Baltimore police have found that Freddie Gray suffered a serious head injury inside a prisoner transport wagon with one wound indicating that he struck a protruding bolt in the back of the vehicle, according to sources familiar with the probe.

During the trials, the medical examiner refuted the bolt claim entirely, explaining that she had told detectives on April 28 that the bolt was not consistent with any of Gray’s injuries. Two days later, the bolt story was leaked to the media.

Embedded journalism

CJR (5/5/15) noted that even as the Baltimore Sun was granted “exclusive access” to the BPD Freddie Gray task force, “a coalition of news organizations demanding that police respond to requests for records related to the Gray case was being stonewalled.”

In 1991, former Baltimore Sun journalist and TV writer David Simon published the book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, which reflected the year he spent “embedded,” as he has often described it (e.g., Simon’s blog, 3/25/12, 7/7/23), in BPD’s homicide unit. Decades later, many of the cases brought forward by the detectives Simon made famous were overturned due to withheld evidence, coerced confessions and other misconduct; a local Innocence Project leader called Homicide “a cautionary tale for embedded journalism” (New York, 1/12/22).

In 2015, Sun journalist Justin George used the same language, “embedded,” to describe the nine days he spent attending meetings of BPD’s Freddie Gray “task force” (e.g., Twitter, 10/9/15). Police set up the task force to investigate the case during the last two weeks of April 2015. While BPD promoted George’s involvement as evidence of its transparency, the department denied even basic evidence, including 911 tapes, to other news outlets (CJR, 5/5/15).

The Sun (5/2/15) published George’s first article on the task force, “Exclusive Look Inside the Freddie Gray Investigation,” on May 2, the day after State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced charges against six officers. Then it published his four-part series, “Looking for Answers” (10/9/15), in October, ahead of the first trial.

BPD picked the right news outlet to give exclusive access. George’s articles read like a love letter to BPD and an implicit challenge to any serious prosecution of the officers. He described the investigators having to hide their identities, while passing angry residents and a “Fuck the Police” sign:

They all realized the importance of their investigation and that they were part of a pivotal moment in Baltimore history…. Amid the allegations of brutality, they wanted to show that they would leave no stone unturned.

George turned up the rhetorical dial in describing Homicide Major Stanley Brandford, “a former Marine who kept his gray hair shorn close” with “a calm demeanor, quick wit and an uncanny ability to memorize facts.” Brandford, George reported, worked late through the night of his birthday, the last night of the task force’s investigation, to prepare files for the State’s Attorney’s Office:

Brandford didn’t finish copying the files until 3:30 a.m. He took the case file home, told his wife what he was about to do, and snapped some photos of the file as a keepsake. The next morning, Brandford placed the thick file in a blue tote bag and returned to police headquarters.…

It was less than a half-mile walk, but he felt the weight of history in his hands. He waited for walk signs before he crossed streets, fearful a car might hit him, scattering hundreds of important documents over the street, he said later.

In a speech the next day, Mosby described the files Brandford delivered as “information we already had.” George did not include this statement in his reporting—undercutting as it did the “weight of history” in the anecdote.

Dramatizing a locker search

The Baltimore Sun produced a dramatic video of the search of Officer Caesar Goodson’s locker—a search that turned up nothing notable.

The online version of George’s four-part series includes several highly produced videos following Lamar Howard, a chatty, well-dressed detective having a busy couple of days. He hands out fliers to people in the street and stops by a school to collect security footage.

The video also shows Howard participating in a raid on the locker of the van driver, Officer Caesar Goodson, on April 28. (The case files show that BPD was seeking to pin liability on Goodson from early on; Goodson is cast in a cloud of suspicion throughout George’s articles.) As papers and clothes are removed from Goodson’s locker, Howard looks toward the camera and shakes his head in dismay.

The Sun’s video editors added stirring music and artful stills and jump cuts to its videos. The camera zooms in on big bolt cutters forcing open the lock on Goodson’s locker. It then cuts dramatically to a close-up of a broken lock on the ground.

Nothing of note was ever found in Goodson’s locker. But the Sun invested its multi-media budget in doing PR for BPD.

Case files show that, by the end of the two-week task force, investigators had collected statements from a dozen witnesses describing Gray being tased, beaten, kicked, forcefully restrained and thrown headfirst into the van. None of George’s stories included any reference to these witness accounts.

George does cite Detective Howard arriving at a conclusion about Gray’s death that seemingly left the case unsolved for BPD: “‘Whatever happened,’ Howard said, ‘happened in the van.’” It was the same claim made by the mayor before the task force ever met.

Ignoring evidence 

The Baltimore Sun (12/21/17) published texts messages from police officers it described as “candid, even vulnerable.”

In 2016, the Sun was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for its Freddie Gray coverage. Yet as more evidence in the case emerged over the years that followed, the news outlet neglected to update the public on it. (Until 2022, when the nonprofit Baltimore Banner launched, the Sun was the only major news outlet in the city.)

In 2017, BPD finally released files from the Gray investigation to the Sun (12/20/17) and other news outlets, including nine binders of paperwork and six sets of photos. While police withheld a lot of evidence, the binders still offered a gold mine. They included a transcript of the statement of the lieutenant involved in Gray’s arrest, which was never played in court and incriminates him in a coverup story; an alternate map of the van’s route that investigators were considering while promoting their official narrative publicly; dispatch reports that undermined the police narrative of when officers called for a medic; hospital photos showing marks on Gray’s body indicating excessive force; and more.

The Sun only reported on the files in one article (12/21/17), which covers some of the officers’ text messages. Reporter Kevin Rector described the text messages as “candid, even vulnerable.” He recounted the officers denying ever harming Gray and discussing the pressures they felt from so much “anti-police sentiment.” The article did not mention that, in the same text conversations, the officers discussed that they should be careful what they texted to each other.

In 2015, George wrote that the task force investigators had left “no stone unturned.” By 2017, the Baltimore Sun didn’t change that narrative by looking closely at any of the investigators’ work.

The Sun continued to overlook new evidence in Gray’s death in 2020, when I published an article in the Appeal (4/23/20) that contained embedded audio and video files never released to the public. These included the statements witnesses gave to investigators starting from hours after the arrest, photographic and other evidence of excessive force, and evidence of the officers developing their first-day coverup story around their knowledge of what happened at the second stop.

One Baltimore Sun reporter, Justin Fenton (4/27/20), tweeted out the Appeal article, indicating that he had at least reviewed the new evidence. A few months later, Fenton co-wrote an article (7/16/20) revisiting the Freddie Gray story in light of how Gov. Larry Hogan discussed it in his new memoir. The article gave no indication of new evidence in the case, while it perpetuated old narratives of a vague mystery:

[Hogan] writes that the cause of the man’s injuries and death is “in dispute.” But he offers just two possibilities: either the injuries were the result of “a tragic, unforeseeable accident,” or officers purposely gave Gray a “rough ride.” Could it have been something else? Hogan leaves out the possibility of anything in between, such as negligence on the part of officers in handling Gray’s transport.

In keeping with the Sun’s legacy in covering the Gray case, Fenton left off the accounts of more than a dozen witnesses who saw Gray abused by police and thrown headfirst into the van, the exact kind of mechanism that the autopsy report claimed caused his “shallow-water diving accident” type of injury.

The Baltimore Sun’s seemingly stubborn refusal to share specific new evidence in Baltimore’s best-known and reported story in at least a decade is perhaps more of a mystery than how Gray was killed by police. Whatever the Sun’s reasoning, the effect has been to support police and other officials in hiding facts behind a veil of endless speculation.

Parts of this story were adapted from Justine Barron’s book They Killed Freddie Gray: The Anatomy of a Police Brutality Cover-Up (Arcade, 2023).

Featured image: Detail from the cover of They Killed Freddie Gray.

The post The Baltimore Sun’s Reckoning on Freddie Gray appeared first on FAIR.

Lisa Xu on Auto Workers Strike

FAIR - September 22, 2023 - 11:04am
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Photo: UAW

This week on CounterSpin: An unprecedented labor action is underway as thousands of Midwest autoworkers working for the Big 3—Ford, GM and Stellantis (which used to be Chrysler)—went on strike at the same time. Some things workers are calling for may sound familiar: a pay raise for workers that bears relation to raises that owners have generously given themselves; reinstatement of cost-of-living increases. Others—a shorter work week; the elimination of “tiered” jobs, where some folks are just never on the track for benefits; and a seat at the table for workers in any conversations about climate-related economic transitions—sound downright visionary.

It would be a critical story at any time. But right now,  every day brings news—like Australian real estate developer Tim Gurner’s declaring, out loud, in public, “We need to see unemployment rise, unemployment has to jump 40–50%, in my view. We need to see pain in the economy”—that tells us that the situation isn’t about “the economy working,” but about for whom the economy is supposed to work.

Unionized autoworkers are saying that profits—like the $21 billion the Big 3 have declared in the first six months of 2023—have to mean better conditions for the people doing the work. “We can’t afford it” is a harder message for corporate media to support as unions grow in strength, and as people find other sources than major corporate outlets to look to for explanations about what’s happening.

Lisa Xu, organizer with Labor Notes, is in Detroit right now. We talk with her about this historic UAW strike.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at recent press coverage of depleted uranium and RICO indictments.

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For NYT, Cluster Munitions Are Completely Wrong—When Russians Use Them

FAIR - September 21, 2023 - 5:29pm


Before the US started sending cluster bombs to Ukraine, the use of such weapons was seen by the New York Times (3/5/22) as something you would “accuse” another country of doing.

For the New York Times news department, cluster munitions fall into two categories—clearly wrong or complexly controversial—depending on who uses them.

There was no ambiguity when Russia apparently started using cluster weapons during the invasion of Ukraine. Five days after the invasion began, the Times (3/1/22) front-paged a story that described them in the second paragraph as “internationally banned” and went on to report:

Neither Russia nor Ukraine is a member of the treaty that bans cluster munitions, which can be a variety of weapons—rockets, bombs, missiles and artillery projectiles—that disperse lethal bomblets in midair over a wide area, hitting military targets and civilians alike.

Given that the Times is a US-based outlet, the long article unduly detoured around some basic facts—notably, that the United States is also not “a member of the treaty that bans cluster munitions.” And the 1,570-word piece failed to mention anything about the US military’s firing of cluster munitions during its own invasions and other military interventions, including Yugoslavia in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. The Congressional Research Service has noted that “US and British forces used almost 13,000 cluster munitions containing an estimated 1.8 to 2 million submunitions during the first three weeks of combat in Iraq in 2003.”

When the Times (3/5/22) followed up a few days later with a piece headlined “NATO Accuses Russia of Using Cluster Bombs in Ukraine,” the ostensible paper of record still did not mention Washington’s refusal to sign the treaty banning cluster munitions. As for US use of those weapons, the piece buried a single sentence with a deficient summary at the end of the 24-paragraph article, telling readers:

NATO forces used cluster bombs during the Kosovo war in 1999, and the United States dropped more than 1,000 cluster bombs in Afghanistan from October 2001 to March 2002, according to a Human Rights Watch report.

The Pentagon’s massive use of cluster munitions during the invasion of Iraq went unmentioned. So did a Tomahawk missile attack with a cluster bomb, launched from a US Navy warship, that killed 14 women and 21 children in Yemen a week before Christmas in 2009.

A ‘most vexing question’

Based on its url, the original headline of this July 14 New York Times story was “Widely Banned Cluster Munitions From the US Arrive in Ukraine.”

Appropriately, the New York Times reporting on Russia’s use of cluster munitions was unequivocally negative in tone and content, devoid of justifications or rationales. But when President Joe Biden decided in early July of this year that the United States should supply cluster munitions to Ukraine, it was a different story. A frequent theme was the urgent need to replenish dwindling Ukrainian supplies of weaponry, while the United States possessed enormous quantities of cluster munitions.

In some coverage—“Here’s What Cluster Munitions Do and Why They Are So Controversial” (7/6/23), “Democrats Denounce Biden’s Decision to Send Ukraine Cluster Munitions” (7/7/23) and “Cluster Weapons US Is Sending Ukraine Often Fail to Detonate” (7/7/23)—Times reporting explained that those weapons are especially inhumane time bombs. Their shrapnel tears into the bodies of civilians who encounter duds that explode months or years later.

But such concerns were soon overshadowed by emphasis on a knotty American dilemma, which the Times (7/11/23) described as “vexing.” For months, the newspaper explained in a written introduction to its Daily podcast:

President Biden has been wrestling with one of the most vexing questions in the war in Ukraine: whether to risk letting Ukrainian forces run out of artillery rounds they desperately need to fight Russia, or agree to ship them cluster munitions — widely banned weapons known to cause grievous injury to civilians, especially children.

Shift to ‘impact on battlefield’

The New York Times (7/14/23) reports that the effect of arming Ukraine with cluster bombs will be “modest,” but will “make the Ukrainian artillery a little more lethal.”

As the reportorial focus shifted, military concerns became dominant. “US Cluster Munitions Arrive in Ukraine, but Impact on Battlefield Remains Unclear” (7/14/23) was the headline over a story that fretted about insufficient impact:

US officials and military analysts warn that American-made cluster munitions probably will not immediately help Ukraine in its flagging counteroffensive against Russian defenses as hundreds of thousands of the weapons arrived in the country from US military depots in Europe, according to Pentagon officials.

From there, the Times tracked the progress and potential effectiveness of the newly shipped US weaponry, with stories like “Cluster Munitions Reach Ukraine a Week After Biden’s Announcement” (7/14/23), “Ukraine Starts Using American-Made Cluster Munitions in Its Counteroffensive, US Officials Say” (7/20/23) and “Ukrainians Embrace Cluster Munitions, but Are They Helping?” (9/7/23).

Notably absent from the newspaper’s coverage of US cluster munitions were names or photos of anyone who’d been maimed or killed by them—except for a long piece about US servicemembers who were accidental victims of those US weapons in Iraq, “Three American Lives Forever Changed by a Weapon Now Being Sent to Ukraine” (9/3/23).

As for the Iraqi lives forever changed by those weapons, there was no space for their names or pictures. In fact, Iraqi victims weren’t mentioned at all.

ACTION ALERT: You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com (Twitter: @NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your communication in the comments thread.


The post For NYT, Cluster Munitions Are Completely Wrong—When Russians Use Them appeared first on FAIR.

NYT’s Incredibly Low Bar for Labeling Someone ‘Pro-Putin’ 

FAIR - September 20, 2023 - 3:39pm


When former French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested that a total Ukrainian military victory was unlikely, the New York Times‘ Roger Cohen (8/27/23) charged that “the obstinacy of the French right’s emotional bond with Russia owes much to a recurrent Gallic great-power itch.”

It doesn’t take much in our media system to be labeled a “Putin apologist” or “pro-Russia.” In this New Cold War, even suggesting that the official enemy is not Hitlerian or completely irrational could earn ridicule and attack.

After the largely stalled Ukrainian counteroffensive against the Russian occupation, conditions on the front have hardened into what many observers describe as a “stalemate.” Like virtually all wars, the Russo-Ukrainian War will end with a negotiated settlement, and the quicker it happens, the quicker the bodies will stop piling up.

Despite this, anyone who advocates actually pursuing negotiations is immediately attacked. The New York Times (8/27/23) did this in an article about former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in an article that argued he “gives a voice to obstinate Russian sympathies.” The Times wrote:

In interviews coinciding with the publication of a memoir, Mr. Sarkozy, who was president from 2007 to 2012, said that reversing Russia’s annexation of Crimea was “illusory,” ruled out Ukraine joining the European Union or NATO because it must remain “neutral,” and insisted that Russia and France “need each other.”

“People tell me Vladimir Putin isn’t the same man that I met. I don’t find that convincing. I’ve had tens of conversations with him. He is not irrational,” he told Le Figaro. “European interests aren’t aligned with American interests this time,” he added.

To Times writer Roger Cohen, Sarkozy’s remarks “underscored the strength of the lingering pockets of pro-Putin sympathy that persist in Europe,” which persist despite Europe’s “unified stand against Russia.” Cohen didn’t challenge or rebut anything the former president said—he merely quoted the words, labeled them “pro-Putin,” and moved on.

The New Cold War mentality has encouraged a new wave of McCarthyite attacks against anyone who dissents against the establishment status quo. Merely pointing out that Putin is “not irrational” flies in the face of the accepted conventional wisdom that Putin is a Hitler-like madman hell bent on conquering Eastern Europe. That conventional wisdom is what allows calls for negotiation to be dismissed without any serious discussion, and challenging that wisdom elicits harsh reactions from establishment voices.

ACTION ALERT: You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com (Twitter: @NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your communication in the comments thread.

The post NYT’s Incredibly Low Bar for Labeling Someone ‘Pro-Putin’  appeared first on FAIR.

‘There’s This Notion That the “War on Terror” Was Just Something That Happened Abroad’ - CounterSpin interview with Maha Hilal on Innocent Until Proven Muslim

FAIR - September 19, 2023 - 2:07pm

Janine Jackson interviewed the Muslim Counterpublics Lab‘s Maha Hilal about her book Innocent Until Proven Muslim for the September 15, 2023, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: Islamophobia existed before September 11, 2001, but the response to that day’s attacks leveraged the power of the state in service to that discrimination in ways that continue to shape foreign and domestic policy, and everyday life.

And all along the way, corporate news media have not just platformed, but megaphoned the idea that Muslims, because they are Muslim, are dangerous and suspicious; that their humanity is, at best, contingent.

That media’s looks back on the day overwhelmingly failed to even acknowledge the so-called “War on Terror’s” ongoing impacts on Muslims is just testament to the mainstreaming of this particular brand of scapegoating.

(Broadleaf Books, 2023)

Maha Hilal is the founding executive director of the Muslim Counterpublics Lab, and author of the book Innocent Until Proven Muslim: Islamophobia, the War on Terror and the Muslim Experience Since 9/11, from Broadleaf Books. She joins us now by phone from Arlington, Virginia. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Maha Hilal.

Maha Hilal: Thank you so much, Janine, for the invitation.

JJ: When we think about the wreckage from the attacks of September 11, 2001—not just the attacks themselves, but the actions in the wake of them—for a lot of people, our minds go to the wars on Afghanistan and on Iraq, with validity, right?

But it’s important for Americans not to see the “War on Terror” only as something that the US state is inflicting on others, elsewhere—particularly as the domestic facets, while maybe not front-page news, are still very much in effect, right? It’s not somewhere else, and it’s not in the past.

MH: Absolutely. So there’s been this notion, as you are describing, that the “War on Terror” was just something that happened abroad. And in fact, when we look at the trajectory of the “War on Terror,” immediately after the 9/11 attacks, Muslims and Arabs were targeted, were racially profiled, and were being scrutinized and surveilled domestically within the United States.

And it’s always been interesting to think about how the “War on Terror” has been constructed so narrowly, so that Americans think it’s abroad.

And there was a summer in which there was a lot of discourse around the 1033 Program, and the ways that the military was giving equipment to police offices around the country. And the narrative there was that now the “War on Terror” is “coming home”; whereas, as I write about in my book, the “War on Terror” started at home, and the “War on Terror” has been home.

And this speaks a lot to, who do we understand as being American? Who do we understand as being within the borders of this country? And who do we care about when it comes to state violence?

And we know that it’s obviously not just Muslims who are treated with little to no regard, but also other BIPOC communities. So it does raise this question of, who do we actually care about?

And so I think it’s important, as I outline in the book, to really look at the taxonomy of the “War on Terror.” What is the “War on Terror” in its totality? And it’s only by answering that question that I think we can ask the other question, which is, what do we need to do to abolish the “War on Terror”?

JJ: And you talk about the various aspects of it. It’s so in the ether that we almost don’t think about it, but things like registration, things like detaining people, there are multiple questions around immigration, so-called. There are multiple elements that reflect the domestic manifestation of the “War on Terror.”

Daily Beast (9/10/23)

MH: Absolutely. I just wrote an op-ed in the Daily Beast about the terrorism watch list, which turns 20 this week. And that has been a very systemic, systematic, pervasive policy that has impacted not just Muslims, but also Muslim Americans.

And this is a policy that has been in place to scrutinize and surveil Muslims, many of whom face extremely harsh interrogations at airports when they’re flying and when they’re traveling. And for a lot of others, it’s this process that needs to be done. Muslims are the enemy, so it’s OK. It’s normal to see them being singled out in places like airports, because that’s the sort of places of violence that we associate Muslims with.

But suffice it to say, there are so many ways that the “War on Terror”—I think on this point, it’s important to mention—has been so normalized. So not only is there a lack of knowledge and understanding that it has a very domestic front, but also we’re so accustomed, I think we’ve just sort of accepted everything that the “War on Terror” has entailed, to the point where there are so many tentacles of the “War on Terror” that we no longer see.

And that’s why, again, we think about the narrative around that 1033 Program, and the idea that the “War on Terror” was coming home, as opposed to the “War on Terror” has always been home.

That’s one of the problems that we come across when people aren’t informed about what’s happening domestically to people in their communities and their societies and their neighborhoods.

JJ: I think some people might actually be surprised to hear that what we used to call the “No-Fly List,” that that’s still a thing. That is an enduring impact. You may have read about it 20 years ago and thought that it disappeared, but, in fact, it’s still affecting people’s lives around this country and around the world.

MH: Absolutely. And I think with things like the No-Fly List, people can sort of brush it off as minor inconveniences, right, that it’s just additional scrutiny, and eventually the person is able to travel. As opposed to recognizing the complete humiliation that is repeated over and over again.

And the symbolic message that it sends to Americans and to people traveling that Muslims continue to be the enemy, and that when it comes to Muslims traveling and Muslims in general, there’s always this propensity of violence, because Muslims are inherently violent. And so these policies reiterate that over and over again.

JJ: You talk a bit about the power of language in the book, the work that language has done. I always thought that when news media took “War on Terror” out of quotation marks, that something really changed, once they started saying that this was an unironic term.

Because, of course, once we’re “at war,” well, media have a lot of imagery around that that takes over. But “War on Terror” itself is, at the same time, deeply evocative and also a total thought-stopper of a term. It just justifies endlessly, doesn’t it?

Maha Hilal: “When you use nebulous phrases like ‘War on Terror’…it opens the door for basically the US government to do whatever it wants.”

MH: Yeah, absolutely. And the first time that Bush used the phrase “War on Terror” was in his speech nine days after the 9/11 attack. And so the context in which he was using it was to actually say that, essentially, we’re going to wage an endless war. There’s no timelines. There’s no boundaries. We’re basically going to do whatever we want. And, in fact, he said that Americans should expect a “lengthy battle.”

And that’s what happens when you use nebulous phrases like “War on Terror,” is that it opens the door for basically the US government to do whatever it wants, because the phrase is unclear as it is. But also, you can always fit things into, what does terror look like? And this is our “War on Terror,” this is how we have to seek out revenge, this is how we have to intervene into the ways that we were victimized.

JJ: And media’s acceptance, journalists’ acceptance of that term, I really thought, all bets are off at this point. And a thing that I thought that media never acknowledged: I remember Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, telling Howard Kurtz, who was then at the Washington Post, talking about the “War on Terror”: “This is the most information-intensive war you can imagine…. We’re going to lie about things.”

And I always thought, a self-respecting press corps, that would’ve set them on just a categorically different course. And I wonder, can you talk about the role of media here, which of course is so important in propagating this idea and sustaining this idea of Muslims as the enemy?

MH: Yeah, absolutely. I think media in the “War on Terror” have often just basically operated as a mouthpiece for government. Not only have they reported very uncritically about what the government is doing, they’ve repeated a lot of the terminology and the phraseology and accepted, for example, what does “terrorism” mean, right, in the ways that the US government chooses to define it.

Or the idea, for example, that I write about in the book as well, that state violence is inherently more moral than non–state actor violence. And this is not to say that any violence should be condoned, but it is to say that there should be a critical lens in terms of what kind of violence is actually more destructive. But the government is able to continue to assert its violence as morally superior, in part because of the way that the media operates.

And another specific problem with the media, I think, is, in the last two decades-plus, whenever there is, for example, an attack or an act of violence by someone who’s not Muslim, the ways that it’s described is often in terms like “non-jihadist violence” or “non-Islamic extremism.” And that is to say that Muslim violence is essentially the gold standard, that we cannot conceive of violence as organic, included in this country, that it has to be in comparison to Muslim violence.

And that has been a particular construction that has been repeated over and over again. And obviously, the point of that is to entrench the idea that Muslims are inherently terroristic and violent.

JJ: Some of us may remember folks like Steve Emerson, who, right after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, said: “This was done with the attempt to inflict as many casualties as possible. That is a Middle Eastern trait.”

Now, of course, we know who was behind the Oklahoma City bombing. The point is Steve Emerson continued to appear as a terrorism expert on news media for years afterwards. So it’s just exactly what you were saying: You never lose in US news media and corporate news media by linking violence and Islam. Even if you’re wrong, even if you’re incredibly wrong, somehow it’s never points off.

MH: Yeah, and Steve Emerson belongs in the category of what we would refer to as a moral entrepreneur. And these are people that operate in the space between media and government. And their specific role is to present a particular problem, a social issue or political problem, and attach it to one particular group. That is to say, that that problem can be attributed to that group. And so they continue to forge those connections and repeat it over and over again.

And he’s one of many, right? There’s been Daniel Pipes, many others, and I don’t know if you’ve come across this term, but Daniel Pipes came up with this idea of “sudden Jihad syndrome,” which is basically about Muslims randomly erupting into violence. And that is obviously the trope that has been entrenched over and over again, that we’re inherently violent. So it’s not a matter of if they’re going to commit violence, it’s a matter of when, because they’re inherently predisposed to committing acts of violence.

JJ: And the point that you’re making, and that we’re underscoring, is that this isn’t just a cultural bias; this isn’t just Steve Emerson showing up on TV. US policy is shot through with this bias. US policy is reflecting this bias in terms of actions, in terms of policies and behaviors, and the way people are treated. It’s not just a wackadoo prejudice that’s sort of floating around. It’s actually institutionalized.

MH: Absolutely. And I think one of the ways that the US government tries to be evasive about this is, a lot of the laws and policies and bills that are passed, the language in them is neutral. It doesn’t specify you must target Muslims, or Muslims are the target of the specific policy. But when it comes to implementation, that’s when you can begin to understand exactly who the policy was intended to target.

And when you continue targeting a particular group, you’re also entrenching, again, a particular construction, and you’re positioning them as the problem.

And I think that in the “War on Terror,” what has been extremely frustrating, even in left and liberal spaces, is this idea that the targeting of Muslims was either unintentional or coincidental, as opposed to being extremely intentional, well-thought-out.

And you have to know that in order to inflict the amount of violence that the United States has inflicted on Muslim communities domestically and across the globe, there has to be such a deep level of dehumanization in place. And for that to happen, there has to be a robust narrative infrastructure. And that’s exactly what was developed in the aftermath of 9/11, as well as built on by successive administrations after Bush.

JJ: And let me just pick you up on that point, because if we think of this as a George W. Bush policy, we’re missing it, because it’s Obama and it’s Trump, and it’s Biden, too. You want to talk about that?

MH: Yeah, the “War on Terror” is bipartisan, and I think that tends to get ignored. I know under Obama, he sort of backed away from the use of the phrase “War on Terror,” but he didn’t change anything about what was happening, the violence that was being unleashed under the guise of the “War on Terror.” So it was basically just a semantic change.

And I just want to offer this, is that I use the term “War on Terror” specifically. Obviously, you can think about it in multiple ways, as to whether or not that’s helpful. But to me, when you take away that term “War on Terror,” especially two decades later, then it becomes harder to map out what this war has entailed, and the violence that has been waged under its scope. And if you do that, then what you see is disparate policies that are disconnected, when in reality they’re part of a robust infrastructure.

Now, when we think about Biden, Biden is also continuing the “War on Terror.” There is no president thus far who’s been willing to challenge the status quo on the “War on Terror,” and national security in particular.

And we know Democrats always fear being seen as too liberal on national security and counterterrorism. And so what often happens is that there’s overcompensation, as opposed to withdrawing from these problematic policies.

TomDispatch (9/5/23)

JJ: Your recent piece for TomDispatch focused on drone warfare in particular, and the particular role that that is playing in targeting Muslims. There’s little evidence, you say, that anybody is really thinking seriously about the failures of drone warfare at all. What is key for you in that issue, as a particular element of what we’re talking about?

MH: It’s the ease through which this form of violence is committed. And when I started writing this particular piece, I was focusing mostly on the Biden administration’s policies governing drone warfare, and then I started looking into the psychology of what it takes to enable people to kill so mercilessly.

So basically you have the policies, you have the rules governing drone warfare, and then you have the psychology of what makes it so easy. And when you put those two things together, it becomes exponentially more catastrophic.

And a lot of times the US government has said the “War on Terror” is over, and I always ask the question, “over for whom?” Because the “War on Terror” is not over for the countries that the US continues to drone strike. We know that, right?

And in the piece, I refer to a quote by a young Pakistani. It was said at a congressional hearing in 2013: “I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer gray skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are gray.”

And to me, that is a particular form of violence, when a young child looks up at the sky and associates its color with the probability of state violence. And until that is no longer the case, then the “War on Terror” is not over.

For Americans whose lives have pretty much resumed normalcy, right, since 9/11, they might think the “War on Terror” here is over, but it’s not. And I think when we talk about Muslims and people that are being targeted, right, by the “War on Terror,” and by US state violence in general, as “collateral damage” or other ways that dehumanize them, then they become inconsequential. It doesn’t even really matter.

Whenever there’s American deaths, there’s a specific number. It’s “13 service members died,” for example. When it’s Muslim deaths, it’s like, oh, well, there’s a lot of Muslim deaths. We don’t really know how many. We couldn’t even bother to count, because it doesn’t really matter anyway.

JJ: What, finally, has been the response to the book so far, and what would you like folks to use the book to do? What are you hoping for?

MH: The response to the book has been pretty positive, minus some Islamophobic backlash here and there, but I think it’s been pretty positive, especially because I tried to take such a broad approach, and also to really look at not just the way that external factors have impacted the Muslim community in the form of state violence, but also the Muslim community itself has played a part in its own demonization, because of internalized Islamophobia.

What I really want to impart in this book, and what I hope that readers really get out of it, is the understanding that in order to dismantle and abolish the “War on Terror,” we have to include a lens of Islamophobia. Islamophobia has to be mainstreamed into the analysis. Because unless we understand the targeting of Muslims as integral to the “War on Terror,” then it can’t truly be abolished.

And throughout the book, obviously, I repeat and illustrate, examine, criticize the ways in which the targeting of Muslims has been intentional, leaving the reader, hopefully, with no doubt that that has always been the case; it has always been the intention of the “War on Terror.” and that the US government continues to inflict violence, harm, destruction, humiliation on the Muslim community, with no end in sight.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Maha Hilal. The book is Innocent Until Proven Muslim: Islamophobia, the War on Terror and the Muslim Experience Since 9/11, out from Broadleaf Books.

You can find her recent piece “Ordinary US Muslims Still Victimized by War on Terror” at the Daily Beast, and “22 Years of Drone Warfare and No End in Sight” at TomDispatch.com. Thank you so much, Maha Hilal, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

MH: Thank you so much, Janine.



The post ‘There’s This Notion That the “War on Terror” Was Just Something That Happened Abroad’ appeared first on FAIR.

‘Propaganda Against North Korea and the Travel Ban Go Hand in Hand’ - CounterSpin interview with Amanda Yee and Hyun Lee on Korea

FAIR - September 18, 2023 - 5:04pm


The September 8, 2023, episode of CounterSpin included a new interview with Liberation News‘ Amanda Yee on the Korean travel ban and an archival interview with Women Cross DMZ’s Hyun Lee on forgotten Korean history.  This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Janine Jackson: The White House has announced it’s extending the ban on people using US passports to go to North Korea. Corporate media seem to find it of little interest; who wants to go to North Korea? That fairly reflects media’s disinterest in the tens of thousands of Korean Americans who want to visit family in North Korea, along with media’s overarching, active disinterest in telling the story of the Korean Peninsula in anything other than static, cartoonish terms—North Korea is a murderous dictatorship; South Korea is a client state, lucky for our support—terms that conveniently sidestep the US’s historic and ongoing role in the crisis.

Amanda Yee is a writer and organizer, and an editor of Liberation News. We’ll talk with her about the role the travel ban plays in a bigger picture.

And we reference hidden history in that conversation. CounterSpin got some deeper understanding on that a couple years back from Hyun Lee, US national organizer for Women Cross DMZ, part of the coalition Korea Peace Now!. We’ll hear just a little bit from that conversation today as well.


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AP (8/22/23)

JJ: “The Biden administration is extending for another year a ban on the use of US passports for travel to North Korea.” AP reported the decision as coming “as tensions with North Korea are rising over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” and concern about what’s happened to US servicemember Travis King, who entered the country in July, though there’s no indication that King made use of a passport when he suddenly ran across the border while on a civilian tour of a village.

North Korea is, for US news media, so much more an object lesson than a real place with real people that reports like AP’s make no mention of the effects of the ban on Korean Americans with family there—families that, incidentally, candidate Joe Biden promised to reunite.

Our next guest wrote recently about what many press accounts are leaving out. Amanda Yee is a writer and organizer, and an editor of Liberation News. She joins us now by phone from Brooklyn. Welcome to CounterSpin, Amanda Yee.

Amanda Yee: Thanks, Janine, for having me. It’s a pleasure.

JJ: As a quick point of information, given its official enemy status, people may feel that travel has been frozen between North Korea and the US forever, but this ban started with Donald Trump, right?

AY: Yes. This is a relatively recent travel ban that was set in place by Trump in 2017, and has been renewed annually ever since. Before 2017, people could actually travel to North Korea, and, actually, a lot of Korean organizations in the States would organize delegations to go there.

But the travel ban was set in place by Trump, and has been renewed every year since then. And, as you said, despite his own campaign promise in 2020 to reunite Korean Americans in Korea who’ve been separated for decades, Biden has renewed the ban every year he’s in office.

So the travel ban is extremely strict. While there are travel restrictions in place for places like Cuba for US passport holders, you can still go to Cuba as long as you meet certain requirements under a certain set of conditions.

In contrast, no US passport holder can go to North Korea. You have to apply for a special validation passport, and those are handed out by the State Department in very rare, exceptional circumstances, and they usually only go to professional journalists or people who work for the Red Cross.

So this ban separates as many as 100,000 Koreans in the US from visiting their families in North Korea. In late July of this year, a number of Korean peace organizations held a rally in Washington, DC, on the 70th anniversary of the signing of the armistice agreement, demanding that the US sign a peace treaty to officially end the Korean War.

These organizations delivered a thousand postcards, as well as an open letter calling for the lifting of the travel ban, to the State Department. So despite widespread opposition from Americans year after year, the administration in place still renews this travel ban every August.

Liberation (9/3/23)

JJ: In your piece, you talk about one woman, but it’s representative or illustrative of what’s happening to a lot of families. And I wonder if you could just take a moment to talk about what this means.

This is about people not being able to see their grandmother; a one-year extension—well, people are aging, so that might mean losing that chance forever. There’s a human aspect that I feel like media are not talking about.

AY: Yeah, so the generation of Korean War survivors are aging well into their 80s now, and so lifting the travel ban is really a matter of urgency, so that they’re able to see their families in North Korea for what may be the last time.

I did a couple of interviews for the article; I talked to one activist with the women’s peace organization Korea Peace Now!. She was born in Korea, and she moved to the US at the age of 15. And before 2017, she was able to visit North Korea and visit her family members. After the travel ban went into place, she can no longer visit her cousins or close relatives there. She can no longer see family there.

And it’s not just her; as many as 100,000 Korean Americans in the US are barred from seeing their families.

And it’s not just Korean Americans who can’t travel there. Any US passport-holder is barred from visiting the country. So that effectively prohibits any kind of cultural exchange between Americans and North Koreans. And that kind of cultural exchange is really vital in challenging this huge disinformation propaganda campaign around North Korea, right?

FAIR.org (6/10/19)

A lot of the stories about North Korea in corporate media that we see rely on these total caricatures of Kim Jong-un, as well as the depiction of North Koreans as brainwashed. And you can literally say anything about North Korea, the most absurd thing you could imagine, and people would believe it.

And a lot of these stories come from unverified sources, or they come from Radio Free Asia, which is a US-funded propaganda arm of the US government.

And a lot of the stories also come from North Korean defectors, who are incentivized and pressured to grossly exaggerate and even lie, because there is an industry in the US that pays for stories about the human rights abuses in North Korea, because the US government can use these to justify its inhumane sanctions against the country. So you have this industry of defectors who are incentivized to make up the most absurd stories to get an interview.

And that’s how you get people like Yeonmi Park, the most famous defector, who goes on Joe Rogan claiming that North Koreans have no food to eat, so they’re forced to eat rats, or that the trains never work in North Korea, so people have to manually push them in order to get to their destinations, or that North Koreans don’t have a word for “love.”

But this propaganda campaign against North Korea and the travel ban go hand in hand. They complement one another. The US government uses the propaganda to justify the travel ban, but the travel ban not only prevents Koreans from visiting their families, it bans travel of any kind, of any American, to North Korea to see the country for themselves.

And every person I talked to who has visited North Korea before 2017, before the travel ban, they would say that what they saw was totally unlike what they read about in corporate media. So if Americans were allowed to visit, they would see that North Koreans are just like you and me, and the entire corporate media narrative would just fall apart.

JJ: I want to say, AP, for instance, did say that activists were protesting the ban, but they said that the protest was from humanitarian groups who say that the ban will make it hard to get aid to North Korea, which is “one of the world’s neediest countries.”

So even that is painting things a certain way: North Korea is a scary basket case, and how can we help them while most importantly containing them?

And you’ve given a great summation of the basic US media presentation of North Korea. But I would also say that readers of US media would have less than zero understanding, if I can say it like that, of the history of the Korean Peninsula and US actions there. The very fact that you use the term “Korea”… because if you’re just a media consumer, there is no Korea. There’s North Korea and South Korea.

The idea of the history and the US actions there, there’s a reason that the Korean War is called the forgotten war. And media are playing a big role, and it’s a big question, but the role of media in erasing Korean history and setting us up for the present conflict is huge.

Amanda Yee: “It’s called the forgotten war, but I think the US would rather us forget it, because its involvement in that war was just genocide.”

AY: Yeah, the Korean War is known as the forgotten war, but I think that’s a real outrage and a real tragedy. It’s not forgotten in Korea, and it’s not forgotten among the many Koreans in the US who have remained separated from their families in the North.

I think a lot of people are under the impression that the Korean War ended, but the signing of the armistice agreement in 1953, it brought an end to the fighting, but it did not end the war. An armistice is not a peace agreement, it’s only a ceasefire.

So the US, along with the South, they remain frozen in a state of war with the North. And to this day, the US still refuses to sign a peace treaty.

And it’s called the forgotten war, but I think the US would rather us forget it, because its involvement in that war was just genocide. There’s no way around it. The US dropped over 600,000 tons of bombs over the Korean Peninsula in just three years of that war. And so they completely leveled the North. They destroyed 90% of its cities and villages, and they killed 20% of its population. And the fact that North Korea was even able to rebuild after that is a miracle in and of itself.

And in three years of fighting, the US just committed atrocity after atrocity on the Korean Peninsula. They massacred civilians, they massacred refugees who were trying to flee. And even after the armistice was signed, the South remained, and it still remains, occupied by the US.

So every year, South Korea hosts joint military exercises with the US military where they simulate invasion of the North, and it’s basically practice for regime change in North Korea. And so it’s the US that constantly ratchets up tensions between North and South.

So this travel ban, it may seem like a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but it’s really another weapon of war. It’s part of this broader strategy that’s meant to further isolate the North and turn Koreans against each other, and inflame tensions on both sides of the Korean Peninsula.

Reuters (3/17/21)

JJ: When I spoke with Hyun Lee from Women Cross DMZ a couple of years ago, she said something that I found very compelling, which is that US policy, and consequently US media coverage, is shaped around this question of, how do we get North Korea to give up weapons, and specifically nuclear weapons.

The assumption is that North Korea’s weapons are the problem, and if “we” could get rid of them by squeezing the country, as Tony Blinken says, well then, problem solved. And what Hyun Lee said was, “How about if we ask the question, ‘How do we get to peace?’” And that sets up an entirely different conversation that involves acknowledging and addressing the US role in preventing peace, and that also brings different people to the table and into the conversation.

If we could think about a positive vision of what media coverage and a media conversation that was interested in peace in Korea would look like, what would that involve?

AY: A lot of the corporate media coverage in the US around North Korea, it’s framed a lot around its possession of nuclear weapons. And I would love a world without nuclear weapons, but in order for there to be a world without nuclear weapons, the US has to get rid of its nuclear weapons first, because it’s the US that presents the main challenge to world peace today.

And if you talk to North Koreans, they will tell you that they really believe if North Korea got rid of its nuclear weapons, they would’ve gone the way of Iraq. They would’ve been invaded by the US and totally destroyed.

JJ: The idea of the US setting aside its exceptionalism is not something that’s going to happen in news media, in terms of their overarching framing. But if we could hear from different people, then maybe folks could have a different understanding, or at least a recognition that there are human beings involved in what’s going on here. So media coverage could change in a way that would be helpful.

AY: Absolutely. As I said before, everyone I talked to who were lucky enough to travel to North Korea before 2017, they all said Koreans in the North are just like you and me. Just having the opportunity for Americans to see them as similar to themselves, that’s really the first step in countering this insane US propaganda that tries so hard to dehumanize these people in the service of its imperialist project.

Because the weapon of war against North Korea, or one of them, is sanctions. And these sanctions are really brutal, right? They cause malnutrition. They prevent medical supplies from coming in. And it’s a way of strangling the country and killing people without the spectacle of bombs.

Sanctions are a weapon of war, but that use of it is justified and held in place by the propaganda campaign, and also the travel ban. So the travel ban is just a really critical weapon of war in this Korean War that the US refuses to end.

JJ: I know I’ve kept you over time. I’m going to ask you one final question, which is just, speaking of hiding history and excavating history, your article can be found at LiberationNews.org, Globetrotter, PeoplesDispatch.org, CounterPunch.org, Eurasia Review, something called Scoop in New Zealand that I don’t know about, RadioFree.org. It just really speaks to the importance and the necessity of alternative information sources, particularly when US news media are so carrying the water for whatever US policy is. For folks to be able to get just alternative voices on that seems critical.

AY: I think we are heading straight into a major power conflict with China, and part of this broader strategy that includes the travel ban and ratcheting tensions between both halves of the Korean Peninsula, it’s part of this US strategy to corral South Korea into an alliance with the US against China.

And I think people in the US are just really, really tired of war, and they are really starting to question the US media narrative, which is constantly pushing for war, constantly supporting US imperialism, and they’re seeking out independent news outlets to maybe read a different opinion, something that challenges the predominant corporate media narrative.

So I think now, when we are really accelerating toward a war with China, it’s more urgent than ever to seek these alternative viewpoints.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Amanda Yee. You can find her piece, “The Korean War Continues With Biden’s Renewal of Travel Ban to North Korea,” at Liberation News and elsewhere, as I’ve indicated. Thank you so much, Amanda Yee, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

AY: Thank you, Janine.


Janine Jackson: When CounterSpin spoke with Hyun Lee in February 2021, US news media were offering headlines like “North Korea Using Cyber Attacks to Update Nukes,” while the coalition that she works with, Korea Peace Now!, was issuing a report called “Path to Peace.”

We asked Hyun Lee, US national organizer for Women Cross DMZ, what makes what many US citizens have been given to understand as a perhaps unpleasant stalemate between North and South Korea, an actual crisis.


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Hyun Lee: Your audience may know that when the Korean War ended in 1953, it ended with an armistice, which is a temporary ceasefire that recommended, within 90 days of signing the agreement, there should be a political conference held to discuss the permanent settlement of the Korean War.

Well, to this day, 70 years later, that has not happened. And so the war is unresolved, which means that tens of thousands of troops on both sides have been in a constant state of readiness for war. And that’s been going on every day for almost 70 years. The US still has 28,000 troops there.

This is not a normal situation, is what we’re trying to say through the report. All sides have been pouring billions of dollars into a perpetual arms race that is about the destruction of the other side, and people live in constant fear of war. Now it’s potentially nuclear war.

So what we’re saying through this report is, let’s end this abnormal, outdated armistice situation. Let’s end the unresolved Korean War, which is the longest US overseas conflict. And replacing the armistice with a peace agreement is the best way to do that.

Truthout (12/28/20)

JJ: In a piece that you wrote for Truthout in December, you say how US policymakers have spent decades asking—and, I would add, media have spent those decades echoing—”How do we get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons?” You know, that’s the question.

HL: Yeah.

JJ: And that what we’re hoping for, and we perhaps have an opening with a new administration, is to shift that to “How do we get to peace?”

HL: Yes.

JJ: How do we get to peace with North Korea? The current story is very much about fear and sanction and containment. And this report reflects a different vision of what’s possible. So tell us about the “peace first” approach that this report is talking about.

HL: Sure. So as you say, I do believe that for far too long, Washington has been asking the wrong question on how to resolve the conflict with North Korea. And that question has been, “How do we get rid of North Korea’s nuclear weapons?” Well, that assumes that the problem actually began with North Korea’s nuclear weapons, so the solution, naturally, is to get rid of them. This has been the approach for the last 25 years, and we have come up empty-handed.

Hyun Lee: “For far too long, Washington has been asking the wrong question on how to resolve the conflict with North Korea.”

What we’re saying with the report is, let’s step back and ask a different question: How do we actually get to peace, and prevent the risk of a nuclear war? And our solution is to get to the root of the problem, and that is the unresolved Korean War.

So I just want to stress the urgency of this issue. Secretary of State Tony Blinken has recently said that the US should “squeeze North Korea,” and cut off its access to resources, to get North Korea to the negotiating table. On the other hand, at North Korea’s Workers’ Party Congress last month, Kim Jong-un said they will continue to develop nuclear weapons unless there is a fundamental change in US policy.

So I believe that unless something shifts, the stage is actually set for another nuclear standoff. And I believe it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. But, as we know, we are currently grappling with multiple crises—the pandemic, climate change. We cannot afford another nuclear crisis, like what we saw in 2017.

So what we’re trying to say is, President Biden’s theme is to “build back better.” The best thing that he can do to reduce the threat of nuclear war with North Korea, and build back better on the Korean Peninsula: End the Korean War with a peace agreement.

JJ: I think for many people, the story is one about potential future conflict. And I think what this report, one of the things that it underscores, is that this is a crisis now, that the militarization, the literal separation of families, the absence of peace in the region, is a crisis now—although it could, of course, become a more encompassing, devastating beyond belief conflict. It already is a problem. I think that’s something missing from the US conversation about Korea.

HL: That’s right. And what our report also raises is a fundamental question about what makes us truly secure. We are spending close to a trillion dollars every year on military and defense. And we have to ask ourselves, has it made us safer? The multiple crises we face today cannot be resolved militarily.

So we’re also trying to say that we need to shift our priorities now, from war to human needs. And in the case of Korea, a peace agreement would actually allow all parties to do that, so that all sides can start to reduce their arms.

JJ: The coalition’s full name is Korea Peace Now! Women Mobilizing to End the War. It’s a global coalition of women’s peace organizations. And part of the message of the report is that women have to be part of the peace process. I take it, first of all, that that hasn’t been happening. Why is that so key?

HL: Yeah, because we believe that the human cost of the unresolved war has a gendered impact. And we talk about this in our report. There is a chapter dedicated to this issue– for example, the long history of state-sanctioned violence against women who work around US military bases in Korea. Also, the detrimental impact of sanctions on women in North Korea, that was the subject of another report we published two years ago.

And our feminist vision of peace raises a fundamental question about what actually makes women more secure. And war and militarization, we believe, are at the bottom of that list.


JJ: That was organizer Hyun Lee speaking with CounterSpin in 2021.

The post ‘Propaganda Against North Korea and the Travel Ban Go Hand in Hand’ appeared first on FAIR.

Hyping Ukraine Counteroffensive, US Press Chose Propaganda Over Journalism

FAIR - September 15, 2023 - 3:45pm


A Ukrainian presidential advisor asserted to CNN (5/30/23): “If there are timely deliveries of large quantities of the necessary consumable components…then of course the war can mathematically be over this year…. It will end undoubtedly on the borders of Ukraine as they were in 1991.”

It has been clear for some time that US corporate news media have explicitly taken a side on the Ukraine War. This role includes suppressing relevant history of the lead-up to the war (FAIR.org, 3/4/22), attacking people who bring up that history as “conspiracy theorists” (FAIR.org, 5/18/22), accepting official government pronouncements at face value (FAIR.org, 12/2/22) and promoting an overly rosy picture of the conflict in order to boost morale.

For most of the war, most of the US coverage has been as pro-Ukrainian as Ukraine’s own media, now consolidated under the Zelenskyy government (FAIR.org, 5/9/23). Dire predictions sporadically appeared, but were drowned out by drumbeat coverage portraying a Ukrainian army on the cusp of victory, and the Russian army as incompetent and on the verge of collapse.

Triumphalist rhetoric soared in early 2023, as optimistic talk of a game-changing “spring offensive” dominated Ukraine coverage. Apparently delayed, the Ukrainian counteroffensive launched in June. While even US officials did not believe that it would amount to much, US media papered over these doubts in the runup to the campaign.

Over the last three months, it has become clear that the Ukrainian military operation will not be the game-changer it was sold as; namely, it will not significantly roll back the Russian occupation and obviate the need for a negotiated settlement. Only after this became undeniable did media report on the true costs of war to the Ukrainian people.

Overwhelming optimism

A former top US general assured NPR (5/12/23) that “Ukraine’s long-anticipated counteroffensive against Russia will ultimately succeed.”

In the runup to the counteroffensive, US media were full of excited conversation about how it would reshape the nature of the conflict. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Radio Free Europe (4/21/23) he was “confident Ukraine will be successful.” Sen. Lindsey Graham assured Politico (5/30/23), “In the coming days, you’re going to see a pretty impressive display of power by the Ukrainians.” Asked for his predictions about Ukraine’s plans, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges told NPR (5/12/23), “I actually expect…they will be quite successful.”

Former CIA Director David Patraeus, author of the overhyped “surge” strategy in Iraq, told CNN (5/23/23):

I personally think that this is going to be really quite successful…. And [the Russians] are going to have to withdraw under pressure of this Ukrainian offensive, the most difficult possible tactical maneuver, and I don’t think they’re going to do well at that.

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius (4/15/23) acknowledged that “hope is not a strategy,” but still insisted that “Ukraine’s will to win—its determination to expel Russian invaders from its territory at whatever cost—might be the X-factor in the decisive season of conflict ahead.”

The New York Times (6/2/23) ran a story praising recruits who signed up for the Ukrainian pushback, even though it “promises to be deadly.” Times columnist Paul Krugman (6/5/23) declared we were witnessing “the moral equivalent of D-Day.” CNN (5/30/23) reported that Ukrainians were “unfazed” as they “gear up for a counteroffensive.”

Cable news was replete with buzz about how the counteroffensive, couched with modifiers like “long-awaited” or “highly anticipated,” could turn the tide in the war. Nightly news shows (e.g., NBC, 6/15/23, 6/16/23) presented audiences with optimistic statements from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other figures talking about the imminent success.

Downplaying reality

The Washington Post (4/10/23) noted that pessimistic leaked assessments were “a marked departure from the Biden administration’s public statements about the vitality of Ukraine’s military.”

Despite the soaring rhetoric presented to audiences, Western officials understood that the counteroffensive was all but doomed to fail. This had been known long before the above comments were reported, but media failed to include that fact as prominently as the predictions for success.

On April 10, as part of the Discord leaks story, the Washington Post (4/10/23) reported that top secret documents showed that Ukraine’s drive would fall “well short” of its objectives, due to equipment, ammunition and conscription problems. The document predicted “sustainment shortfalls” and only “modest territorial gains.”

The Post additionally cited anonymous officials who claimed that the documents’ conclusions were corroborated by a classified National Intelligence Council assessment, shown only to a select few in Congress. The Post spoke to a Ukrainian official who “did not dispute the revelations,” and acknowledged that it was “partially true.”

While the Post has yet to publish the documents in full, the leaks and the other sources clearly painted a picture of a potentially disastrous counteroffensive. Fear was so palpable that the Biden administration privately worried about how he could keep up support for the war when the widely hyped offensive sputtered. In the midst of this, Blinken continued to dismiss the idea of a ceasefire, opting instead to pursue further escalating the conflict.

Despite the importance of these facts, they were hardly reported on by the rest of corporate media, and dropped from subsequent war coverage. When the Post (6/14/23) published a long article citing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s cautious optimism about the campaign, it neglected to mention its earlier reporting about the government’s privately gloomier assessments. The documents only started appearing again in the press after thousands were dead, and the campaign’s failure undeniable.

In an honest press, excited comments from politicians and commentators would be published alongside reports about how even our highest-level officials did not believe that the counteroffensive would amount to much. Instead, anticipation was allowed to build while doubts were set to the side.

Too ‘casualty-averse’?

After noting estimates that 70,000 Ukrainian soldiers had died and as many as 120,000 wounded, the New York Times (8/18/23) reported that “American officials say they fear that Ukraine has become casualty averse.”

y July, Ukrainian casualties were mounting, and it became clearer and clearer that the counteroffensive would fail to recapture significant amounts of Ukrainian territory. Reporting grew more realistic, and we were given insights into conditions on the ground in Ukraine, as well as what was in the minds of US officials.

According to the Washington Post (8/17/23), US and Ukrainian militaries had conducted war games and had anticipated that an advance would be accompanied by heavy losses. But when the real-world fatalities mounted, the Post reported, “Ukraine chose to stem the losses on the battlefield.”

This caused a rift between the Ukrainians and their Western backers, who were frustrated at Ukrainians’ desire to keep their people alive. A mid-July New York Times article (7/14/23) reported that US officials were privately frustrated that Ukraine had become too afraid of dying to fight effectively. The officials worried that Ukrainian commanders “fear[ed] casualties among their ranks,” and had “reverted to old habits” rather than “pressing harder.” A later Times article (8/18/23) repeated Washington’s worries that Ukrainians were too “casualty-averse.”

Acknowledging failure

Wall Street Journal (7/23/23): “US Defense Department analysts knew early this year that Ukraine’s front-line troops would struggle against Russian air attacks.”

After it became undeniable that Ukraine’s military action was going nowhere, a Wall Street Journal report (7/23/23) raised some of the doubts that had been invisible in the press on the offensive’s eve. The report’s opening lines say it all:

When Ukraine launched its big counteroffensive this spring, Western military officials knew Kyiv didn’t have all the training or weapons—from shells to warplanes—that it needed to dislodge Russian forces.

The Journal acknowledged that Western officials simply “hoped Ukrainian courage and resourcefulness would carry the day.”

One Post column (7/26/23) asked, “Was Gen. Mark Milley Right Last Year About the War in Ukraine?” Columnist Jason Willick acknowledged that “Milley’s skepticism about Ukraine’s ability to achieve total victory appears to have been widespread within the Biden administration before the counteroffensive began.”

And when one official told Politico (8/18/23), “Milley had a point,” acknowledging the former military head’s November suggestion for negotiations.  The quote was so telling that Politico made it the headline of the article.

Even Rep. Andy Harris (D-Md.), co-chair of the congressional Ukraine Caucus, publicly questioned whether or not the war was “winnable” (Politico, 8/17/23). Speaking on the counteroffensive’s status, he said, “I’ll be blunt, it’s failed.”

The Washington Post (8/17/23) blamed the failure of “a counteroffensive that saw tens of billions of dollars of Western weapons and military equipment” on Ukraine’s failure to accept “major casualties” as “the cost of piercing through Russia’s main defensive line.”

Newsweek (8/16/23) reported on a Ukrainian leadership divided over how to handle the “underwhelming” counteroffensive. The Washington Post (8/17/23) reported that the US intelligence community assessed that the offensive would fail to fulfill its key objective of severing the land bridge between Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

As the triumphalism ebbed, outlets began reporting on scenes that were almost certainly common before the spring push but had gone unpublished. One piece from the Post (8/10/23) outlined a “darken[ed] mood in Ukraine,” in which the nation was “worn out.” The piece acknowledged that “Ukrainian officials and their Western partners hyped up a coming counteroffensive,” but there was “little visible progress.”

The Wall Street Journal (8/1/23) published a devastating piece about the massive number of amputees returning home from the mine-laden battlefield. They reported that between 20,000 and 50,000 Ukrainians had lost one or more limbs as a result of the war—numbers that are comparable to those seen during World War I.

Rather than dwelling on the stalled campaign, the New York Times and other outlets focused on the drone war against Russia, even while acknowledging that the remote strikes were largely an exercise in public relations. The Times (8/25/23) declared that the strikes had “little significant damage to Russia’s overall military might” and were primarily “a message for [Ukraine’s] own people,” citing US officials who noted that they “intended to demonstrate to the Ukrainian public that Kyiv can still strike back.” Looking at the quantity of Times coverage (8/30/23, 8/30/238/23/23, 8/22/23, 8/22/23, 8/21/23, 8/18/23), the drone strikes were apparently aimed at an increasingly war-weary US public as well.

War as desirable outcome

The Army War College’s John Deni (Wall Street Journal, 12/22/21) urged the US to take “a hard-line stance in diplomatic discussions,” because “if Mr. Putin’s forces invade, Russia is likely to suffer long-term, serious and even debilitating strategic costs.”

The fact that US officials pushed for a Ukrainian counteroffensive that all but expected would fail raises an important question: Why would they do this? Sending thousands of young people to be maimed and killed does nothing to advance Ukrainian territorial integrity, and actively hinders the war effort.

The answer has been clear since before the war. Despite the high-minded rhetoric about support for democracy, this has never been the goal of pushing for war in Ukraine. Though it often goes unacknowledged in the US press, policymakers saw a war in Ukraine as a desirable outcome. One 2019 study from the RAND Corporation—a think tank with close ties to the Pentagon—suggested that an effective way to overextend and unbalance Russia would be to increase military support for Ukraine, arguing that this could lead to a Russian invasion.

In December 2021, as Russian President Vladimir Putin began to mass troops at Ukraine’s border while demanding negotiations, John Deni of the Atlantic Council published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (12/22/21) headlined “The Strategic Case for Risking War in Ukraine,” which laid out the US logic explicitly: Provoking a war would allow the US to impose sanctions and fight a proxy war that would grind Russia down. Additionally, the anti-Russian sentiment that resulted from a war would strengthen NATO’s resolve.

All of this came to pass as Washington’s stance of non-negotiation successfully provoked a Russian invasion. Even as Ukraine and Russia sat at the negotiation table early in the war, the US made it clear that it wanted the war to continue and escalate. The US’s objective was, in the words of Raytheon boardmember–turned–Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, “to see Russia weakened.” Despite stated commitments to Ukrainian democracy, US policies have instead severely damaged it.

NATO’s ‘strategic windfall’ 

David Ignatius (Washington Post, 7/18/23) called the Ukraine War “a strategic windfall, at relatively low cost (other than for the Ukrainians)…. This has been a triumphal summer for the alliance.”

In the wake of the stalled counteroffensive, the US interest in sacrificing Ukraine to bleed Russia was put on display again. In July, the Post‘s Ignatius declared that the West shouldn’t be so “gloomy” about Ukraine, since the war had been a “strategic windfall” for NATO and its allies. Echoing two of Deni’s objectives, Ignatius asserted that “the West’s most reckless antagonist has been rocked,” and “NATO has grown much stronger with the additions of Sweden and Finland.”

In the starkest demonstration of the lack of concern for Ukraine or its people, he also wrote that these strategic successes came “at relatively low cost,” adding, in a parenthetical aside, “(other than for the Ukrainians).”

Ignatius is far from alone. Hawkish Sen. Mitt Romney (R–Utah) explained why US funding for the proxy war was “about the best national defense spending I think we’ve ever done”: “We’re losing no lives in Ukraine, and the Ukrainians, they’re fighting heroically against Russia.”

The consensus among policymakers in Washington is to push for endless conflict, no matter how many Ukrainians die in the process. As long as Russia loses men and material, the effect on Ukraine is irrelevant. Ukrainian victory was never the goal.

‘Fears of peace talks’

The Hill (9/5/23) publishes warnings that “creeping negativity among the US public” will “increase pressure for Ukrainians to negotiate with Russia.”

Polls show that support for increased US involvement in Ukraine is rapidly declining. The recent Republican presidential debate demonstrated clear fractures within the right wing of the US power structure. Politico (8/18/23) reported that some US officials are regretting potential lost opportunities for negotiations. Unfortunately, this minority dissent has yet to affect the dominant consensus.

The failure of the counteroffensive has not caused Washington to rethink its strategy of attempting to bleed Russia. The flow of US military hardware to Ukraine is likely to continue so long as this remains the goal. The Hill (9/5/23) gave the game away about NATO’s commitment to escalation with a piece titled “Fears of Peace Talks With Putin Rise Amid US Squabbling.”

But even within the Biden administration, the Pentagon appears to be at odds with the State Department and National Security Council over the Ukraine conflict.  Contrary to what may be expected, the civilian officials like Jake Sullivan, Victoria Nuland and Antony Blinken are taking a harder line on perpetuating this conflict than the professional soldiers in the Pentagon. The media’s sharp change of tone may both signify and fuel the doubts gaining traction within the US political class.

The post Hyping Ukraine Counteroffensive, US Press Chose Propaganda Over Journalism appeared first on FAIR.

Maha Hilal on Innocent Until Proven Muslim

FAIR - September 15, 2023 - 10:34am


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(Broadleaf Books, 2023)

This week on CounterSpin: New Yorkers who were here 22 years ago remember the proliferation of signs and stickers reading “our grief is not a cry for war”—and then the way that voice was shouted over by corporate news media, calling for war crimes with US flags on their lapels. Hosting old general after old general, as peace and human rights activists and the overall public begged for an answer to violence that wasn’t just more violence, for a conversation that would allow us to see one another as human beings.

Pretend-neutral news media have done crucial work in selling Islamophobia, in weaponizing centuries of misinformation and demonization for wartime purposes, with the war being the undefined, unending “war on terror.” Media’s job has involved lying to us about many things—but, crucially, about what we believed, what we were capable of, and what we wanted to see as the way forward. Key to that campaign has been the idea that Muslims are the enemy—violent, dangerous, irrational—if not now, soon; if not your friend, his friend.

September 11, 2001, is the exemplar of a past that isn’t dead, or even past, and for no one more particularly than Muslims. We talk about that with Maha Hilal, author of the book Innocent Until Proven Muslim: Islamophobia, the War on Terror and the Muslim Experience Since 9/11.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at recent press coverage of Ukraine, the UAW strike and Biden’s trip to Vietnam.

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Featured Image: Texas Muslim Capitol Day, Austin, Texas, January 28, 2015 (Creative Commons photo: Manuel Garza)

The post Maha Hilal on Innocent Until Proven Muslim appeared first on FAIR.

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