Sunday, August 18, 2013

Media: Fantasies and Fancies in place of Facts

'We are the most important story and the only one that matters and our opinions are far more important than actual facts.'


No, we aren't offering our philosophy.  We're merely summing up a troubling one that keeps emerging in the media.  For example, on Thursday editor and CEO of The Progressive Matthew Rothschild was arrested.  No, barnyard animals were not involved.  Rothschild was attempting to photograph a woman being arrested at a Madison, Wisconsin protest and he got arrested instead.

Immediately came attempts to turn this into national news.  Again, no farm animals were involved and Rothschild had his pants up -- as far as we know.  It was a minor regional story at best.

But there he was on KPFA, talking to tired and needs to retire Kris Welch on Saturday Morning Talkies, about how awful it was -- while slipping in that others were arrested for protesting.  It's that way in his bad article as well.

He names Bonnie Block four times.  Ellen Holly and Mark Clear are named once each.   But, in his column, he refers to himself with "me" or "I" 37 times.

Yet he goes whining to Welch on Saturday and insists that he's so glad she has him on because the protests need national attention as does the efforts against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

"Walker's arrested" X number of people Rothschild repeatedly maintained -- despite the fact that he -- along with many others --  have a problem calling out Barack Obama for his administration's actions -- they prefer to instead hide behind Hillary Clinton or Eric Holder.  Doubt it?  Check out Sherwood Ross' cowardly coverage of Bradley Manning's apology last week.  Cowardly?  Yes, it is cowardly to call out Hillary Clinton in the second paragraph and save criticism of Barack for the last paragraph.  Clinton was never president so she never had a say over whether or not Manning faced a court-martial.  In addition, she's not even in the administration (she resigned at the start of the year).  Barack's responsible for the court-martial so you call him out first and foremost unless you're a coward.

We were also struck by the nonsense Rothschild and Welsh offered regarding Wisconsin.  At one point, Rothschild insisted, "Well it was devastating when he [Walker] won the recall I've got to say because we had a million people sign signatures to get him out of office, all we needed was about 400,000 more people to vote against him and he'd have been out of office."

Facts are needed for an honest debate.  400,000 votes were not needed.  Walker received 1,335,585 votes while Tom Barrett received 1,164,480 votes.  171,106  was the amount of additional votes needed to defeat Walker.  Does Rothschild struggle with basic addition and subtraction?  That would explain a great deal.

(For any wondering, 939,266 registered voters did not vote in the recall.  Had Rothschild and company worked harder, they wouldn't have had to pull from Walker's support, only motivate 1/4 of the registered non-voters to vote and vote for Barrett.  All figures from the Government Accountability Board of the State of Wisconsin.)

Rothschild clearly struggles with other realities.  Despite the (small) ongoing protests against Walker, his approval rate was 48% with 46% disapproval.  Rothschild may want to portray Walker as hugely out of step with Wisconsin but the polling does not suggest that's the opinion of the state's citizens.

That doesn't mean Walker's good or great.  It does mean that despite running off national readers with their near exclusive focus on Wisconsin, The Progressive has failed to communicate effectively to the people of Wisconsin on what they see as Walker's faults.

But what does that matter when (Californian) Kris Welch is noting her outrage over Walker?  Does the idiot not grasp that one thing that can force the public to support a politician is attacks from outsiders?

As we listened to Matt whine and whine, we were reminded that Little Media only mirrors Big Media.

So while Matt obsesses over a protest which he fails to properly communicate, in Big Media, Bob Schieffer mistakes himself for the government.  As Glenn Greenwald (Guardian) pointed out last week:

Just yesterday, Face the Nation featured Hayden as the premiere guest to speak authoritatively about how trustworthy the NSA is, how safe it keeps us, and how wise President Obama is for insisting that all of its programs continue. As usual, no mention was made of the role he played in secretly implementing an illegal warrantless spying program aimed directly at the American people. As most establishment media figures do when quivering in the presence of national security state officials, the supremely sycophantic TV host Bob Schieffer treated Hayden like a visiting dignitary in his living room and avoided a single hard question.

Schieffer wasn't the only one confusing himself with the government on the program.  Hayden declared on the CBS program, " And so the President is trying to take some steps to make the American people more comfortable about what it is we're doing." While we agree -- and even applaud -- Hayden for noting that Barack's cheap remarks were little but an effort to sell the (illegal) spying, we have to stop on "what it is we're doing."  We're?

Is Michael Hayden unaware he's no longer in the government?  If that simple fact confuses him, he doesn't need to be invited on any program because he left government service four years ago and, if he can't register that, he has sanity issue that should preclude him offering judgment on anything.

Reporters are supposed to ask questions.  You can -- and many do -- slam them for offering opinions when they're supposed to be reporting, but they are supposed to ask questions.

Barton Gellman (Washington Post) broke the news:

The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.

When he broke that news, questions should have been asked.

Instead, most outlets included the NSA's defense:  "We're a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line."  And that was that.

The only real exception was This Morning (CBS News) where Norah O'Donnell pointed out of the NSA's claim, "But we have been assured, both up and down, on background with officials and on television, that the proper oversight it in place.  And yet this audit wasn't even shared with top members of Congress."

That simple point was too much for other commercial network on airs -- broadcast and cable.

But no one on TV was as embarrassing as government groveler and apparent snitch Tom Gjleten when he appeared Friday on All Things Considered (NPR -- link is text and audio):

Now, a couple of things. These do seem to be inadvertent violations. For example, in some cases, these foreigners whose communications were being monitored came into the United States. The NSA did not realize they were in the United States. They continued to monitor their conversations while they were in the United States.

The NSA didn't realize that?  Tom established that how?  In a little bedroom talk with Keith B. Alexander (Director of the National Security Agency) while Tom spread under or over Alexander?

Otherwise, there's nothing to back up Gjleten's ridiculous (and NSA excusing) remarks.  He continued to put out:

Well, let's be realistic, Audie [Cornish]. I think what this shows is that it's not possible to expect that these privacy rights will be protected absolutely. The scope of this NSA surveillance program is so vast, there are going to be incidents like this. 

Sorry, Gjleten's a government spokesperson or he's a reporter?  We would guess his remarks would leave many listeners confused and NPR might want to address that.


Carol E. Leonnig also had an important report in the Washington Post, noting that the FISA Court states they're unable to monitor the NSA to ensure it complies with the law.  She discussed her colleague Barton Gellman's report and her own Friday with Margaret Warner (The NewsHour, PBS -- link is text, audio and video):

MARGARET WARNER: Now, had these violations been reported to the court, as I gather they are required to?

CAROL LEONNIG: What's from the document, because it's really an NSA internal audit, is how many of these were reported to the court. A portion them should have been that have to do with FISA authorities, when you're looking into Americans' records.
And we honestly don't have the rest of the chain to know what was reported. What we do know is that there are thousands of them and that the Obama administration has assured us and the public before this came out that it happens infrequently, once in a while.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, equally startling was your companion piece, what the district court judge, Reggie Walton, said to you about the FISA court's authority when you asked him about this. Explain that a little more.

CAROL LEONNIG: So he's the chief judge of the secret spy court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court, that is supposed to be the linchpin for the checks and balances on our government spying programs.

It takes it really seriously. It does everything in a classified, secret skiff, but it's a diligent, careful court. What he essentially said was, there are practical limitations on what we can do, and we must trust the government to report to us these violations, because we can't independently, with our resources, ferret that out.

Good for them.

Now if only someone could take on the NSA's statement:   "We're a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line."

Doctors aren't allowed to get away with "we're a human-run agency."  They have a code of conduct.  If they fail to observe it, they no longer practice.  The NSA's actions were already operating outside the Constitution.  That they were also outside the FISA Court goes to the fact that they don't feel bound by the law.  "We're  a human-run agency" doesn't cut it.  They are supposed to be protecting the rights of the American people, not trampling on them.  When they fail to protect the rights of the American people -- either due to accident or intention -- they should face the same punishment and process of a doctor whose actions result in the death of a patient.  The Constitution matters, our rights matter.

We applaud those like Norah O'Donnell, Margaret Warner and Carol Leonnig who told the truth over the airwaves.  We have contempt for those like Kris Welch, Tom Gjleten and Matthew Rothschild who were unable to.  Matt can at least take comfort in the fact that Alexa O'Brien came off as last week's serial liar in journalism as she repeatedly insisted Bradley Manning's apology wasn't anything new  and split hairs over the difference between "hurt" and "harmed."

Proving that there were all-stars last week in Little Media as well were  Kevin Pina and Kevin Gosztola who addressed Bradley's apology honestly on Thursday's Flashpoints (KPFA):

Kevin Pina:  Well you know the problem of course with taking that position is should they give him the 90 years anyway, then, of course, we will probably hear the truth again which is on behalf of the American people which many people applaud him for.  There's now a movement to award him the Nobel Peace Prize.  We've had Norman Solomon on this program telling us about that, that there's a grassroots movement to get him named Nobel Peace Prize for having done this on behalf of the American people.  But if he gets the 90 years anyway, having apologized for what he did, it's going to make it really difficult for people.  The right-wing is going to have a hey-day attacking his credibility with his second statement, aren't they?

Kevin Gosztola:  Sure.  I place the blame on the defense team for this one.  I don't blame Bradley Manning for doing what his defense team says is appropriate at this stage.   So clearly, David Coombs could have maintained a whistle-blower defense but decided that that was a risk that he was not willing to take.  He's not playing this like Bradley Manning is a political prisoner which, I think, there's a lot to indicate he is a political prisoner.  And, in fact, I would suggest to you that if he does get sentenced to whatever amount of time -- and I kind of think that the judge is probably going to sentence him to 30 or 40 years in prison -- and I say that a lot of people are going to be very upset and they're going to get down and they're going to think  how horrid this is but  I also say that there are a lot of supporters around the world and because he is a political prisoner in many respects, it could be 15 to 20 years and we will see his sentence commuted because of all of the activism around him and all of the support for his actions.  I just don't see him getting punished for that long period of time, being kept in prison.

The two Kevins were as rare in Little Media last week as Carol D. Leonnig, Margaret Warner and Norah O'Donnell were in Big Media.  That so many airwaves are used to transmit so little honesty speaks loudly to the current state of the media.

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