Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The White (Wo)Man's Burden

Interviewing is just not NPR's strong suit. Regarding Iraq Renee Montagne this morning let Nancy Pelosi get away with this statement: "The United States overthrew their dictator, gave them elections. Now it is their turn to take responsibility for their security and safety of their people, and the reconstruction of their country."

That is a doozy! It deserves a little unpacking: Overthrew their dictator? No, overthrew OUR dictator, and that only after dismantling THEIR country 16 years ago (...that is so 2oth century), and choking it slowly for another ten. Oh and let's not forget an illegal and lethal invasion and occupation started just four short years ago. Oh, and a corrupt occupation authority. Oh get the picture.

What is Renee Montagne's follow up to this distortion of the past? She asks Pelosi, "Did you learn from the Prime Minister precisely what the benchmarks are that are being discussed?" Unlike interviews, non sequiturs are definitely NPR's strong suit.

This is not just nit-picking. Allowing this statement to go unchallenged is immoral and dangerous. It not only covers-up the gross violence of US foreign policy, but actually glosses it with a veneer of the "noble cause." Also it shifts all the blame onto the Green Zone Government of Iraq. And finally, it justifies the Bush invasion of Iraq, only finding problems with the timing of it and the execution of the occupation, not the entire project.

Open Thread - Wednesday

NPR related comments welcomed.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

My Prayers Answered

Okay, I promise; this will be my parting shot on the Juan Williams' interview with Bush.

Unlike "Thanks Buddy, glad your here," Williams, I wasn't praying for the President during the interview; I was praying for even one intelligent, challenging follow-up question to the BS
Bush responses that Williams dutifully lapped up during his talk with the Decider yesterday. And I have to credit NPR for answering my prayers tonight.

Remember during the interview when Williams mentions that NPR has a reporter with the Minnesota National Guard and tells Bush that one of the soldiers has a question? Williams reads Bush the question from Specialist Ryan Schmidt, "What if your plan for a troop surge to Baghdad does not work?"

Now that is a question! It really cuts to the chase doesn't it? The implied subtext is so perfectly disguised yet obvious: "Given that all your other 'plans for victory' have been disasters, what's the plan going to be when this one goes down the tubes too?"

And Bush's answer? Drum roll please: "Well I would say to Ryan, uhh, I put it in place, uh, with, on the advice of a lot of smart people, particularly the military people who thinks it will work, and, uh, let us go into the, into this aspect of the uh, of the, uh, Iraqi strategy, feeling it will work. But I will also assure Ryan that we are constantly adjusting to conditions on the ground."

I swear to God that's what he said. And how does razor sharp 'Buddy' Williams' respond? He says, "Let's talk about Iran for a second, Mr. President." Let's talk about Iran? Iran? Read it and weep.

But then tonight John McChesney, embedded with Schmidt's Guard Unit, says, "We asked Specialist Schmidt if he was satisfied with the President’s answer." And then NPR (bless them) airs this soldier's response:

"No it did not answer my question. I would have liked to know more so that there will be a plan if this does not work For some of us that are over here, particularly me, my unit, we all feel that why, what’s the point of us being extended if your initial plan to send more troops over here DOES NOT WORK. What are you going to do Mr. President?"

Actually two prayers were answered. An intelligent question and follow-up AND a replacement for the worthless Juan Williams (and Inskeep, and Montagne, and Liasson, and Block, and Siegel, and....)


The Interview and the F-Word

If you (to quote Cheney) have a "strong stomach" and can listen to the whole of the interview between Juan Williams and the Decider you can't help but wonder, "What about the F-word?"

Which F-word?

You might think FOOL (as in Juan Williams) : "People are praying for you, want to be with you, Mr. President....So I wonder if you could give us something to go on, give us something – say, you know, this is a reason to get behind the president right now."

Or perhaps FALSEHOODS (from Bush): "We all thought that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and 'we all' being not only the administration, but members from both political parties in the Congress....there was a universal belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction...."

But the F-word that came out of Bush's mouth, though not Williams', was FAILURE. Talking about his Iraq "plan," Bush says, "What will happen if there’s failure…chaos…failure would endanger the homeland…enemy likely would follow us here…ills can come home to haunt us...."

Wouldn't it be great if Williams had said, "But Mr. President, with all due respect, the Iraq mission is already a failure. That is clear from the facts on the ground, that was the opinion of the voters in November and is even the opinion of many of your closest allies and other conservatives." Sadly, this obvious fact that the Iraq war IS already a failure (disaster, fiasco, monstrous crime, terrible tragedy, etc...) never escapes William's mouth. Instead he just goes right along with the Bush fantasy of the "half-glass full"[sic] where there has been tremendous progress in Iraq, and where his latest "plan" is the only option for victory(!).

Oh, and the grade that NPR and Williams get for this cozy chat with slouching Bush? What else - F!

Open Thread - Tuesday

NPR related comments welcomed.

Monday, January 29, 2007


A reader notes, "Heard a narrative story from a soldier in Iraq this morning -- something I've not heard before. The soldier told a riveting narrative about an attack on his platoon, and the bravery of his fellow soldiers. It was something right out of a GI Joe magazine."

Here are a few tidbits from this NPR warnography featuring Benjamin Tupper, "a military trainer stationed in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army National Guard."
Now we found ourselves in a cross fire ambush....Corporal Polanski was the machine gunner...he was the most powerful weapon we had. Bullets and RPGs were raining down on our forces, but "Ski," as we called him, bravely remained in the gun turret....

"Ski" and I were shocked, then we both grinned happy to be alive. Then Ski was shot in the ear....

A burly major stepped out of the first humvee. "What’s the situation here," he said coolly.
"We’ve been surrounded and taken fire for two hours!" I said.
“Surrounded?” A look of amusement rose on his face, “ I LOVE being surrounded!”

The reasonable reader above also asks, "What do you know about this new kind of piece? Is NPR now going to routinely give Pentagon-approved soldier accounts about combat? Or is it likely a one time deal?" I wish I could say that this was a new kind of piece, but NPR is a frequent purveyor of slop from the Pentagon (see this for a prime example). For a striking contrast take a look at Democracy Now! from a few days ago or from today to hear from the military heroes taking on the empire for the sake of our republic.

Slouching Toward Tehran

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
- from the "Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats

This morning NPR launches its exclusive interview with President Bush. The job of the interview goes to Juan Williams, who chummed with Cheney at the White House Carnival last October.

The piece leads off with a question from Williams to Bush: "If Iran escalates its military action in Iraq, how will the US respond?" Good God, what a stupid question! Why not ask, "Given that most, if not all US casualties are being caused by Sunni insurgents backed by US allies such as Saudi Arabia, why are you focusing on Iran?" or "Given that the powerful SCIRI and Dawa members of the Iraqi government are close allies of Iran, what are you possibly hoping to achieve by being more aggressive with Iran?" Or even, "Since the Iraq Study group recommended working with Iran and Syria, why are you discarding all of their advice and opting for confrontation with Iran and Syria?" No, can't be contrary...instead Williams asks a question you might expect to hear from someone on Fox News -oops!

All right, off to a bad start but lets see where this goes. Bush answers, "If Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops and/or innocent Iraqi people we will respond firmly."

Back in the studio Inskeep then asks Williams a reasonable question: "And Juan do you get the sense that the President is looking for a fight with Iran?" And Williams responds, "No Steve, I had the sense that he’s defensive about this....he kind of shied away from the idea that that necessarily meant an escalation...."

I never thought I'd recommend turning to Bush for counsel in such a matter, but the clueless Williams might just want to consider the words of the Decider from way back in 2002: "There's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee -- that says, fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again." Hey Juan, remember all that BS about WMD's and war as a last resort before March of 2003? Ringing any bells?

Green Zone Nonsense

If you've been in touch with any news over the last day you've seen reports about 300 "militants" being killed by Iraqi and American forces around Najaf in Iraq. It's grimly fascinating to hear how NPR reporters holed-up in the Green Zone try to wedge this confusing story (see Juan Cole's coverage) into a Pentagon approved script of Iraqi forces successfully taking on their first major battle with insurgents with back-up help from Uncle Sam's army. In the headlines at the top of the hour and half past the hour during Morning Edition today, I heard Diana Douglas and Anne Garrels respectively give this narrative. Both made little attempt to clarify what the specific sources were for their reporting. Here is how Douglas' report was worded:

"Iraqi and American forces attacked the hideout of an apocalyptic Muslim militant group near Najaf. They called themselves ‘The soldiers of heaven,’ and were digging trenches and preparing to attack pilgrims that came to Najaf for the Ashura religious holiday. The fighting lasted all day yesterday with American helicopters and tanks offering support to Iraqi soldiers and National Guard…the Iraqi government said they killed 300 of the fighters."

You would think Douglas was either there, or interviewed various eyewitnesses to make such definite assertions. Although the whole story is questionable, only the death toll is attributed to the Iraqi government. If you read Juan Cole's piece linked above you will see how blatantly skewed Douglas' report is and how interesting the real story might well be (Shiite on Shiite violence? The 'militants' being more anti-Iranian than the government attackers? The US taking sides in a purely religious dispute?) It is clear that Douglas either doesn't have a clue about any of the complexities of the situation, or is purposely flattening the narrative into the usual good-guys versus bad-guys, us-against-them story.

Imagine how different the impression would be if the reporters opened by stating: "Listeners should note that often the information we get in the Green Zone - both official and unofficial - has often proved to be exaggerated, unreliable, or fabricated." That would be informative, wouldn't it?

Open Thread - Monday

NPR related comments welcomed.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Timing Is Everything

Yesterday a reader left this comment: "There is something really devious, oppressive, and Orwellian about NPR's ongoing "Crossing the Divide" series of reports(focused on the themes of 'bipartisanship and compromise'). And the timing is, of course, extremely suspect."

Yes, there is something exceedingly perverse about NPR's zeal for "bipartisanship" in the wake of the November 2006 elections. After five years of neocon triumphalism (think of Bush's swaggering "I've got capital" after the 2004 elections) and the accelerated gutting of Constitutional liberties and checks on executive power, the November elections offered a slim hope that the march of far right excesses might finally be checked. Instead of covering events, NPR jumped right in to construct the "issue" of bipartisanship, climaxing in this weeks really bizarre series of "crossing the divide." Here are a few of the lowpoints of this series:

  • On Thursday ATC features drug addict hypocrite, homophobe, racist and sexist radio personality Rush Limbaugh noting mainly that he is "conservative" and not interested in bipartisanship.
  • On Friday Morning Cokie Roberts puts a shine on the good ole' days when Congress was all male, all white, and "knew what a real enemy was — it was a dictator across the ocean, not a guy across the aisle." Not a peep about McCarthyism. Not a mention of the commitment to white supremacy--which her father, Hale Boggs, supported in 1956.
  • Friday's ATC featured a piece on the wonderful compromise on slavery! This report lionized Senator Henry Clay known for the Missouri Compromise, crediting him with putting off the Civil War for decades (I wonder if slaves liked that!). It featured historian Robert Remini who says he believes that Clay could have kept the Civil War from occuring--hmmm.
  • In a most unbipartisan swipe, NPR brings on the discredited bigot and rightist Dinesh D'Souza, who offers his sloppy thinking on Vietnam and Iraq. Not one word about D'Souza's sleazy history and latest extremist remarks.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Company You Keep

Steve Inskeep followed up yesterday's hostile interview of Jimmy Carter by hosting Emory University history professor Kenneth W. Stein, a critic of Carter's book. In some ways the interview proves the validity of Carter's stated goal - encouraging debate on Israel's land confiscation and human rights atrocities against the Palestinians. Stein is unable to refute the allegations made by Carter against the Israeli government, and when asked about the use of the term apartheid, he is reduced to claiming that just because Israeli policy is in every respect like apartheid it shouldn't be called that (he says just because it looks, walks, quacks and smells like a duck doesn't make it a duck!)

Inskeep instead continues quibbling about Carter's meeting with Assad of Syria in the 1980s and whether his account of it makes the Israelis appear less flexible than the Syrians (as if this is the heart of the book's argument). Stein's weak argument against the book is that it doesn't blame Palestinians enough for corrupt Palestinian leadership and for terrorist acts against Israel, however, he in no way can counter the assertion that Israel is a gross abuser of Palestinian rights and has illegally seized and annexed Palestinian land. In fact he admits that it is true.

What I find significant in this report how blandly it is mentioned that Stein has published a rebuttal to Carter's book in the Middle East Quarterly (and they provide this link to the article). This deserves far more attention. What NPR doesn't tell us is the nasty little organization of extremist Likudnik neocons that runs the Middle East Quarterly - The Middle East Forum. The director of this bunch of smear artists and bigots is the vitriolic Daniel Pipes. That a history professor would want his "work" to appear in such a disreputable forum is indicative of the lack of integrity of his attack on Carter's book - and NPR's neglect in identifying the bias of the Middle East Forum indicates where their sympathies lie.

Open Thread - Friday

NPR related comments welcomed.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Inskeep Shines

I've been waiting since November for NPR to host Jimmy Carter; today they finally got around to bringing him on for an interview. Steve Inskeep gets the nod for this hatchet job on Carter's latest book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. This interview is remarkable for it's complete unwillingness to address the substance (Israeli oppression of Palestinians and land confiscation) of Carter's book and for the fact that every question Inskeep asks is an attack.

Here's how this slam on Carter's book begins (before the interview even starts):
Renee Montagne: "He’s been accused of getting some facts wrong, of mislabeling maps, and slanting the book against Israel."
Steve Inskeep: "Some supporters of Israel were especially unhappy with the title, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. Some members of an advisory board at his Carter Center resigned."

And here are the questions Inskeep asks:
  • "Could you just make briefly the best case you can for why apartheid is the right word to use?"
  • "Why not just describe that rather than bring in this word that’s freighted with so much history from another place?"
  • "Would you describe for us, simply because the book has been criticized for its details, how did you write the book?"
  • "Well, you’ve been challenged in your recollections of’s been alleged....less reasonable than might actually have been the case. What was your version based on? Did you go back to notes and other documents that you had from the time?"
  • "But when you recollect...were you working from your own notes?"
  • "Ken Stein...has alleged that his recollection of that meeting is somewhat different."
  • "There’s also been some criticism which you addressed this week at Brandeis...a sentence on page 213 of your book...."
  • "Has that set you flipping through the pages of the book to see if there’s anything else there that you maybe just wasn’t expressed the way you intended?"
  • "You mention you’ve been labeled an anti-Semite. You do use the word apartheid...which defenders of Israel regarded as a label that called into a lot of bad associations...would you agree that kind of labeling is not very productive?"
I don't have any problem with challenging Carter, but Inskeep doesn't even once probe any of the following assertions that Carter makes: "Forced separation within the West Bank…total domination and oppression of Palestinians by the dominant Israeli military," "the horrible oppression and persecution of the Palestinian people," "massive Israeli confiscation of land and colonization of its choice sites," and "the apparently permanent acquisition, confiscation and colonization of choice sites throughout the West Bank." Instead, Inskeep attacks Carter's book with innuendo and second-hand criticism because if he were to address the issue of Israeli oppression and land confiscation, the facts of Israeli injustice would be irrefutable and indefensible.

Oh, and if this slam weren't enough, Inskeep promises that a critic of Carter's book will be interviewed on tomorrow's show. I'll wager that it won't be so hostile.


As a follow up service to anyone with sense who is put off by the Petraeus worship (see previous post) on NPR, take a look at this post on "Bush's New Generals" from Helena Cobban. Also for those troubled by NPR's love of counterinsurgency check out her more recent post on the fundamentally anti-democratic nature of counterinsurgency. If you've never read Cobban's Just World News, I'd recommend it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Saint Petraeus

The Petraeus worship has to stop! Guy Raz is at it again on Morning Edition today. Raz says, "Almost every Senator indicated support, relieved to be dealing with a military commander who’s prepared to tell it like it is." And then, "The President is sending Petraeus off to save America in Iraq. The Senate wants him to save the military from the President, and Petraeus – ever the diplomat – knows how to walk between those drops of rain."

Tell it like it is? Can we have a little evidence? Did Petraeus "tell it like it is" on the illegality of the war? the torture of detainees? the flattening of Fallujah? Or does he care more about that precious 4th star than taking a stand against the idiocy of the "surge?"

"Save America in Iraq?" What of "America" is there to save in Iraq? To save Bush's butt would be more like it? To turn our Stalingrad into a Dunkirk - maybe? And who is going to save our creaky Republic from the Pentagon loving militarists that Guy Raz is so comfortable hanging out with?

"Walk between those drops of rain"? Something's in the water at NPR!

Show Me the Money

One of today's kind readers noted this great post from blogger Olvlzl. The money(!) quote:

  • "This puts all three of these news readers at the falsely named National Public Radio firmly in the top 1%, personal income group. I don't remember who said it but it is a mighty rare person who isn't changed by an income over a quarter of a million dollars a year. A sort of aristocratic amnesia sets in, forgetting what it was like to get by on the less than a tenth of that amount, what most Americans have to live on."

Amen. Read it and weep...

Open Thread - Wednesday

NPR related comments welcomed.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Back to Mr. Death Squad

This morning NPR has Steve Inskeep talking to Kalev Sepp about counterinsurgency in Iraq. This is not the first time NPR has gone to "Salvador" Sepp for spin on counterinsurgency. NPR supposedly is committed to balance, so I'm still waiting to hear from some of the recipients of US counterinsurgency (someone like Jennifer Harbury or a representative from the Human Rights Office of the Diocese of San Salvador would be interesting).

It is sad and inexcusable for NPR to continually ignore the role of the US in Iraqi death squads, or to provide the historical context of US involvement in death squads. For a remarkable presentation of this sordid story take a look at this site from the UK.

Open Thread - Tuesday

NPR related comments welcomed.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Saving Bipartisanship on a Sinking Ship

Worried about health insurance, the rise of the surveillance state, climate devastation, the takeover of government by corporate money, the prospect of endless war, etc? Don't fret, because the real issue of the day is BIPARTISANSHIP.

After the November 2006 elections I posted on NPR's attempt to distort the significance of the results, and NPR is back at it with a vengance. Not only is NPR picking a non-issue to focus on, but they the coverage they give is telling.

This morning Mara Liasson presided over a laugher. Imagine seriously trying to pass off the center-right Brookings Institute as moderate left! That's exactly what Liasson does! It explains how NPR can consider itself balanced when the range of their ideology extends from the Brookings Institute to the Hoover Institute which is presented as the "moderate right." Given NPR's strangled ideological boundaries, I guess Reagan would be a centrist, George H. W. Bush would be left-of-center and Bill Clinton would be far-left!

And who else does Liasson talk to in this sorry piece? Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Tom Mann of the Brookings Institute.

Sadly NPR doesn't deal with the real bipartisan issues that people are concerned about. For those reality-based numbers you'll have to go elsewhere. Or you can always go to and read this nonsense: "As part of our Crossing the Divide series, Melissa Block brings together the far left and the far right for a conversation with members of Congress Carol Shea-Porter and Bill Sali." Far left! Honestly, they're not kidding...

Open Thread - Monday

NPR related comments welcomed.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Conflicted Coverage on the Conflict in Bolivia

On Saturday's Weekend Edition Julie McCarthy reports from Bolivia. The substance of the report is pretty good. She interviews Morales supporters and opponents and talks to Jim Schultz of the Democracy Center in Cochabamba (how refreshing!). But as all broadcasters know, the opening of a report (like the lead in a newspaper story) is what sticks in a listener's mind. Here is how NPR frames it.

Steve Inskeep introduces McCarthy's piece with, "but a year on, partisan rancor over the direction of the country has deeply divided Bolivians, and there is growing concern that Morales’ style of governing may be fueling that division."

McCarthy then begins the piece with, "Evo Morales rose to prominence as a master of confrontational politics; critics say he’s practicing them as President and cite recent events...."

Listening to this you would assume that the problem lies with Morales, a view eerily similiar to the January 11th propaganda of our criminal Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte: "Democracy is most at risk in Venezuela and Bolivia. In both countries, the elected presidents, Chavez and Morales, are taking advantage of their popularity to undercut the opposition and eliminate checks on their authority."

I'd recommend that if your time is limited, take a look at the blog of Jim Schultz (who is interviewed by McCarthy). You'll get a much more nuanced and complex coverage of the conflict in Bolivia.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Kid Gloves for Joe

There's fierce competition these days for most shameless, disgraceful character in American politics, but Joe Lieberman is definitely a front runner. The man is a compulsive war monger and hypocrite who showed utter contempt for the democratic process when he turned on the party that built his career because its voters turned him down in the primary.

Lieberman was on NPR's ATC yesterday for a friendly chat with Melissa Block. Here's a few of Lieberman's statements that went unchallenged:
  • "I say to those who are opposed to what the President is now suggesting, that they have a responsibility to do one thing, one is to come up with a better plan if they don’t like this one...." [If Block had done 5 minutes worth of research before this interview she might have come across this list of MANY alternate plans for Iraq that don't include escalation and used it to challenge Lieberman's distortion.]
  • "Look, many mistakes have been made in Iraq, in the prosecution of this war. I’ve spoken of those mistakes at length, but we are there now...." [Except for this one critique of the post invasion situation, Lieberman has spent most of the Iraq war attacking critics of the war and praising the "real progress"of the war.]
  • "Elected leaders have a responsibility to do what they think is right for the country and the future of the country and not to play to public opinion...." then later "....extremists and terrorists…can break our national will." [Just what is this amorphous "national will?" Or does he mean the will of the extremists neocons that he represents.]
  • "If the Democratic party can not convince the American people that we are prepared to protect them in a dangerous world, ultimately we’re not going to be successful." [Funny, I thought the policy that Lieberman is pushing has made the world more dangerous and made the country less secure.]
This failure of the media to act as a watchdog in challenging those responsible for the disaster of Iraq was noted by David Sirota of the San Francisco Chronicle - a failure that NPR seems to relish.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Wish Lists

What could be more upbeat and exciting than "a huge display of new weapons and defense technology?" NPR takes us to the Marine West Expo which Michele Norris tells us is "an opportunity for defense contractors to meet with their most reliable customers, the Marines who use their gear on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan."

In the story, guest reporter Alison St. John, provides a lively tour:

  • One weapons salesman proudly relates, "the products you see here are primarily shoulder-fired rockets and then the SMAI’s(?) the large enhanced-blast rocket that can be used to take snipers out of buildings; it basically knocks the building down with the sniper in it… the Marines love it." (the image above is from Fallujah and looks like it had a sniper "taken out of it.")
  • Of a high-tech 3-D tactical map of Iraq, St. John breathlessly says, "It’s almost like virtually going there before you’ve gone there."
  • When she sees a new drone she gushes, "there’s new technology that could have come out of a science fiction movie like an unmanned aircraft…it does look a bit like R2-D2."
  • As the report ends, you'd swear that it was about school kids leaving the county fair and not about people who are being sent off to slaughter and be slaughtered: "The young Marines left the expo with bags full of posters and free samples. Many of these products will be on their wish list the next time they deploy."

God, isn't war just great? As Chris Hedges noted, it gives us meaning, at least NPR thinks so.

Selective Justice

In the run-up to the war in Iraq, a conservative coworker handed me the part of the British Dossier on Iraq that focused on human rights abuses under Saddam Hussein - a report that relied heavily on Amnesty International [AI] and Human Rights Watch [HRW] reports. I read it out of respect for the friendly but serious disagreements we were having about the coming war. I recall thinking to myself, "Yes, you'll use AI and HRW reports now, but I bet you're not so keen on them when they challenge allies of the US or the US itself."

I had a similar reaction this morning as NPR took up the cause of press freedom. The focus was on - guess what country? - Venezuela...what a surprise! The shadowy Juan Forero was reporting on Chavez government's plans to shut down a major opposition television channel, RCTV. I have to agree that I strongly oppose such a move - it seems dangerously arbitrary (see this report from Reporters without Borders).

In Forero's report he talked to Carlos Lauria, an Argentine journalist and representative of the respected organization, the Committee to Protect Journalists that has criticized the moves of the Chavez government. And this is where my concerns with NPR's coverage come in. Why focus on Venezuela? Is is just because it is the enemy de jour of the Bush administration? Will NPR give as much coverage to other serious press issues that the Committe to Protect Journalists has raised such as US actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the actions of US allies such as Pakistan or Israel? I'm not holding my breath, besides covering those stories wouldn't allow Forero the chance to air such a "substantive" quote as this one from Chavez opponent, Americo Martin:
  • "We can’t say that Chavez is a Hitler, that would be an exaggeration, but we’re headed that way....this regime…it’s on the way to becoming a totalitarian system."
Couldn't make this up if I tried!

Open Thread - Friday

NPR related comments welcomed.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

They're Extremists Dummy

Michele Kelemen is traveling with Secretary of State Rice. Listening to Kelemen, it's hard to separate Rice's statements from Kelemen. Here's a little sample from today's Morning Edition:
  • Kelemen: "...rather than reaching out to all of Iraq’s neighbors, Secretary Rice has tried to divide them in groups; so you have the moderates – the Arab allies with whom she met and won some support for the President’s plan for Iraq - those are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and the Gulf States. And that’s versus the extremists, and she accuses Iran and Syria fueling extremism in Iraq. Now many in the region are worried about Iran’s influence, not only in Iraq, but in the whole region..."
Amazing how seamlessly Rice's propaganda weaves into Kelemen's assertions. Notice how Kelemen moves from "Rice has tried to divide" to "so you have the moderates...." and "that's versus the extremists."

Oh yes, Saudi Arabia is truly moderate (except when it rapes detainees, tortures and beheads people, and punishes people with eye gouging. And Egypt which gets so much US support is also a model of moderation. So what does makes a country an extremist? It surely isn't human rights abuses; it also isn't invading other countries at will (that would have to include the US and Israel) since Iran hasn't invaded anyone. It can't be illegally making and stockpiling nuclear weapons (Israel). It seems that for NPR the defining characteristic of "extremism" is to actively oppose (e.g. Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Syria, etc....) the United States foreign policy of global dominance through militarism and economic control.

If NPR were abiding by it's ethical guidelines ("...we present all important views on a subject – and treat them even-handedly" and "we separate our personal opinions – such as an individual's...political ideology – from the subjects we are covering..) then Kelemen would be in for a serious reprimand. That is a big "if."

Other's Have Noticed picked up this post from Left I on the News disputing the UN report on Iraqi civilian casualties in 2006. There is a telling "update" following the post:
  • "A friend heard an NPR report on the U.N. report this morning. After an expert guest explained the limitations of the U.N. report (e.g., some deaths go unreported), he then explained the "better method" of actually surveying the population and how it had been done twice. But, here's the mention of Johns Hopkins or the Lancet, and no mention of the actual numbers produced by those studies! And, you won't be surprised to hear, no follow-up question from the NPR interviewer to ask what those numbers were."
It was even worse on Morning Edition that day. Renee Montagne said, "The UN reports more than 34,000 civilians died in Iraq last year, another 36,000 were wounded....the figures are a sharp increase from those previously reported. Earlier in the month the death toll was put at slightly more than 12,000 by the Iraqi government."

No Renee, the figures are a decrease from the approximately 200,000 a year estimate of the Hopkins/Lancet study, which as Left I's friend noted doesn't even get a mention. To see earlier critiques of NPR's assaults on the Lancet study click on the "civilian casualties" label below.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Finding Out Nothing

There are moments on NPR that reveal the beliefs and assumptions of the announcers and reporters delivering a story. This morning Renee Montagne reports about the doubts surrounding Bush's new "strategy" of escalation for Iraq. She says, "and in Baghdad a reporter told the US Ambassador, 'I just don’t see what has changed.' The US is adding more troops and focusing on security in Baghdad but it’s been tried that before." Not a bad start to a report, but...

Then Steve Inskeep says, "To find out what has changed we called the ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, and we asked him to define the American goal now." Hold it, stop, whoa! Talking to Khalilzad - Bush loyalist, Unocal frontman, and one of the original neocon architects of the Iraq War- is not going to help anyone "find out what has changed." Consider the ways Inskeep could have begun this interview:

Today we are going to get the perspective of US Ambassador in Iraq...
Now we will talk to Zalmay Khalilzad to hear his explanation of the President's plans...

Instead, as is often the case, instead of data, evidence, eyewitness testimonies, or investigation, NPR presents the statement of a powerful government official as if it were factual, legitimate information.

From the Playbook

Stripped of political and historical context, Linda Gradstein presents the truncated logic for war on Iran on Tuesday's Morning Edition.

  • Gradstein: "...most Israeli analysts believe it's only a matter of time until Iran has the capability of making a nuclear bomb."
  • Dani Yatom (former member of the Mossad and current member of Israel's parliament) : "...vital for Israel to convince the free world, led by the United States...not to exclude any military operation against Iran."
  • General Zvi Shtauber (Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies ): "...sooner or later - we are not yet at this junction - there will be a question of using military means."
  • Gradstein quoting Uzi Dayan (Former Israeli national security adviser): "...if Israel doesn't stop Iran in the next year, it may be too late."
  • Uzi Dayan: "The only way to prevent Iran later from achieving this capability will be by using military or even a non-conventional force." (What "non-conventional force" means is not explained.)
  • Dani Yatom: "it [militarily destroying Iran's nuclear capability] will be much more difficult. But still it is achievable."

At the end of this report I felt like I had been in the football huddle for Team Israel with each player chiming in and quarterback Gradstein making sure we all knew what the next play was: the option play...military option that is (it worked so well against Iraq and Lebanon after all).


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Open Thread - Wednesday

NPR related comments welcomed.

Incredibly Important

This morning Mara Liasson weighs in on the likely run for the presidency of US Senator Barack Obama.
  • "His lack of experience, the fact that he is a blank slate and so unknown is his strength and his weakness. He is certainly the most inexperienced candidate seeking the Presidential nomination this cycle – maybe he’s the most inexperienced [chuckling] candidate ever, I don’t know. But that will be his biggest problem to overcome. He has only been in the Senate for two years; before that he was in the Illinois State legislature – and that’s about an era when foreign policy and national security are incredibly important, so is experience."
Given the current boob running our ship of state on the rocks of foreign policy and national security, that Liasson can utter this bit of punditry with seriousness is quite a feat.

Instead of such silliness, why doesn't Liasson do a teeny-tiny little bit of research into Obama's Illinois legislative voting record or his Senate voting record and give us a little substance about where Obama stands on policy issues.

For little scary humor go back and listen to this NPR piece on W's inexperience when he was running back in 2000. You'll get to hear Bush say, "but I’m a fast learner, and uh, listen, I’m not gonna play like I’ve been a person who’s spent hours involved with foreign policy. I am who I am."

Monday, January 15, 2007


This morning Julie McCarthy does some serious seat-of-the-pants analysis in her reporting on the Iranian President's trip to South America. Here is the core her statements:

"He’s isolated Iran in the world...and many in Iran are not happy with this isolation and Ahmadinejad appears keen to show that he has backing that counters this, this, this isolationism. And there seems to be few more audacious ways to do that than in the backyard of the United States, his bitter enemy."

I found myself wondering how she knows that "many in Iran are not happy with this isolation?" Does she frequently read the Iranian press? Does she talk to various Iranians in Iran on a regular basis? Or is she just guessing?

Then there's the term audacious. Curious, but I don't recall hearing the US invasion of Iraq (or the latest posting of another aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf) described as audacious - why not? And backyard? Haven't heard that one since Reagan warned us about the Nicaraguans sneaking up on us through Brownsville, Texas! If Venezuela is our "backyard" what does that make Iraq, our corner gas station? Imagine if an NPR reporter called Iraq Turkey's front porch, Iran's back door, or Russia's backyard! To do that would contradict the unspoken assumption that the Middle East is our neighborhood. So much for sovereignty (and sanity). Listening to McCarthy did a least bring back nostalgia for the good old days of Teddy Roosevelt when our backyard WAS our backyard whether the people there liked it or not.

How Gradstein Sees It

Gradstein continues NPR's nonstop framing of Rice's trip to the Middle East. In amazing NPR GloboVision here's how Gradstein see's it:
  • "She’s trying to basically keep things on track..."
  • "...just by coming here she’s reminding both sides that the United States does care about this..."
  • "’s also a sign, I think to Palestinians…that if there is a new Palestinian government that is willing to meet the conditions of recognizing Israel and renouncing violence, that perhaps the United States will really work hard in order to try to get a peace process moving..." (not a peep about Israel's massive, ongoing violence and the fact that the US and Israel are trying to overthrow the legitimately elected Hamas-led government of Palestine)
I've written before about the biased, substandard reporting of Linda Gradstein: see posts of 12/28/06 or 10/5/06 for details.

Honoring King's Legacy

How refreshing for NPR to revisit Dr. Martin Luther King's famous antiwar speech (and stance) on this national holiday celebrating his birthday. Instead of keeping the memory of King sanitized, NPR opts to look at one of his most controversial decisions--to oppose the Vietnam War. Without endorsing his views, NPR offers a timely and relevant look at King that is often missing from the news.

Kudos to NPR and Kathy Lohr.

A Very Busy Day in Iraq

After discussing the twin hangings this morning in Iraq with Jamie Tarabay, Steve Inskeep continues, "We’re talking with NPR’s Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad at a very busy time in Iraq, and Jamie I want to ask about another story. Last week a number of Iranians were arrested by the United States inside Iraq, in the northern city of Irbil, and that story’s continuing to develop. What’s happening now?" That seems a reasonable enough question. I know I'm curious. I'd like to hear from someone on the ground in Irbil (e.g. Ivan Watson did a professional job reporting from Irbil on the morning of the raid). I'd like to know if there is any hard evidence. Is there corroboration from anyone who knew the seized men?

What we get is Tarabay stating, "...the top military commander, the top American military commander, General George Casey, said that, in detention, these five men gave intelligence that gave the American military great confidence that these people were not diplomats; they’re actually intelligence operatives working inside Iraq..." So?

Tarabay needs to do a little brushing up on source reliability. General Casey is not a reliable source; here are a few things he had to say back in October 2006:
  • "...violence and progress coexist in Iraq, and we shouldn't be distracted from the positive things that are going on there amidst all the violence."
  • "the new government.....They're working hard to build unity, security and prosperity for all Iraqis."
  • "...we also continue to make progress with the Iraqi security forces."
  • "...lots of work to do with the police and still with the army, but the progress you're seeing there is heartening."
  • "...we continue to make progress across the country every day."

One can't fully blame Casey; after all he is subordinate to Bush and couldn't tell the truth if he wanted to, but to parrot his statements when asked "What's happening now?" is not honest reporting. It is also extremely sloppy (or intentional?) for Tarabay to correctly open her statement by attributing "Casey said that" but then to turn his groundless allegations into an assertion of fact: "they’re actually intelligence operatives working inside Iraq."

Really, why bother with parroting the claims of the Pentagon-unless it is to reinforce them? Why not honestly answer Inskeep's by stating, "Well Steve, I'm in the Green Zone and so have no way to verify anything regarding the raid on the consulate, but General Casey claims to have evidence justifying the raid--evidence that cannot be independently verified."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Let Them Eat Rice

NPR is "covering" Secretary of State Rice's latest trip to the Middle East.

Introducing Eric Westervelt's report on Saturday's Weekend Edition Scott Simon says, "...her attempt to jump start Arab-Israeli peace talks come at an extremely difficult time. Palestinians are embroiled in a fierce internal power struggle." Notice how this immediately accepts the premise that Rice is in anyway interested in "peace talks." It would be easy and more honest to simply state "she claims to be interested in in peace talks." Also it is inexcusable to report on the "fierce internal power struggle" without mentioning that there is a strong case to be made that this power struggle is exactly what Secretary Rice has been working hard to encourage.

NPR continues the narrative of Rice as peacemaker on Saturday evening. Describing Rice's trip, Debra Elliot declares, "but there are only limited expectations she can make progress in the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians." Elliot then whitewashes the cynical US policy of arming and training Fatah forces by reporting on it as a policy whereby " "the U.S. has been trying to embolden Abbas."

Then this morning on Weekend Edition Sunday, John Ydstie begins a report on Rice with, "She says she’s trying to empower moderates to counter rising extremism, not only in Iraq, but throughout the Middle East. Rice met one of those moderates today Mahmoud Abbas. " This is very subtle in the way that first he indirectly quotes Rice (fair enough), but then he seamlessly adopts her deceptive language of "moderates" and "extremists" by identifying Abbas as "one of those moderates." Why does NPR decide that Abbas is a moderate? And why isn't Sec. Rice identified as the extremist Fox-lover that she is? Is the US-Israeli-European policy of collective punishment/economic strangulation of the Palestinians moderate?

This kind of reporting on the Middle East is notable for how it wholly parrots whatever frame the State Department places on it and excludes any significant critiques or analyses of that frame, a trap that this satiric look at Rice's foreign policy doesn't do.

Last Post from Memphis

The conference ended with energetic speeches from Jane Fonda who mainly addressed the need for a multiplicity of viewpoints in the media - and especially greater access and presence of women. She mentioned two organizations she helped found - Greenstone Media and the Women's Media Center. My favorite quotes from her speech were that media should support democracy not the government, and enrich people not corporations. Amen...

The final speech was given by Van Jones, founder and head of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. He emphasized the need to always put forth not just criticism of how things are, but a vision for how things should be. I couldn't help thinking of the potential that NPR news represents - news of the "public," in the public's interest--instead of celebrating consumer products, the stock market, the power of the military and those holding high office.

This will be my last post from the conference. In a day or so I should be back to listening and commenting on NPR news shows. Until then keep writing NPR's ombudsman when you can and if possible get involved with your local NPR station. The station manager of our local NPR station, WILL AM 580, was attending the conference and spoke up during a session noting that many local stations like his are very open to media activists.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Three Ds and NPR

Today at the National Media Reform Conference I attended an afternoon session on the future of public broadcasting. One of the panelists was David Brancaccio of NOW. He spoke of the need for all public broadcasting to meet the criteria of "the three Ds": diversity, democracy, and daring. I found myself pondering these reasonable demands relative to NPR's news. Does it's coverage reflect the diversity of opinion, race, gender, interests etc. that one finds in this country? Does its coverage encourage democracy, people getting involved, organizing for their interests, taking action, being knowledgable? And finally, is the coverage daring - surprising, taking risks against power, stepping out of the mainstream?

Saturday Morning from the Media Reform Conference

Went to a great session on propaganda and the press. Presenters from Newshounds, Institute for Public Accuracy, Project Censored, and the Center for Media and Democracy discussed their work. I have to put in a plug for Sourcewatch (from the Center for Media and Democracy); it is extremely helpful in identifying many of the "experts" that NPR turns to - and whose interests they actually are representing. I've hyperlinked these groups; check out their websites.

I was quite interested that IPA functions like AP, Reuters, etc. in sending their releases to thousands of news outlets (I assume NPR) so it is clearly not a matter of NPR not being aware on perspectives outside the narrow Center-right to far-right perspective they offer on the news.

Again I would note that there was a great deal of interest shown when I spoke up about my work - and a shared agreement that NPR offers very little in the way of alternative perspectives or informative news.

Friday, January 12, 2007

At the Media Reform Conference

So far I haven't found any defenders of NPR News here at the National Conference for Media Reform. On the contrary, when ever I have spoken up about my blog, I've noticed many heads nodding in agreement.

Several presenters such as Juan Gonzales (co-host on Democracy Now!) and Jeff Cohen, author of Cable News Confidential commented on the sad state of NPR news coverage. In talking with several attendees, many of them expressed a great deal of frustration with NPR's on air personalities never asking the "hard question" of rightwing guests.

The schedule is pretty full, so I won't have many opportunities to catch NPR News stories. I'll be back to regular commentary on Monday or Tuesday.

We Are Just So Conflicted

There was a remarkable moment in Michelle Norris' extended talk with Henry Reid on Thursday's ATC. Reid was articulate and mentioned that there is even growing Republican opposition to the Bush escalation plan for Iraq. Reids opinions are solidly in line with polling of US public opinion which consistently has been showing disapproval of Bush, the Iraq War, and the "surge" option hovering right up there near 70%! So how does Michelle Norris characterize this sea change that is essentially a reversal of public opinion on the eve of the war?
  • I wonder if this is good for the country, a country that is so conflicted about the war, to have another war going on here in Washington between Democrats on the Hill and the President in the White House."
Conflicted? Michelle Norris better go back and review her grade school math text on percentages. A whopping 67% opposition to a war is not "so conflicted" - unless perhaps if your sympathies lie with the President and his Iraq fantasy plan.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Open Thread - Thursday - Friday

NPR related comments welcomed.

From the Horse's...

You'll have to decide how to finish the title of this post after listening to this Somalia insight from NPR's "senior news analyist Ted Koppel. Renee Montagne brings Ted on, assuredly telling us that "he’s been talking with a senior US military official with first hand knowledge of operations in Somalia." Wow, a "senior" official - and with first hand knowledge too!

Regarding the blistering air attack(s) attributed to the US in Somalia, Montagne asks Koppel, "and do we know exactly who is being targeted?" Based on information from his unnamed connection, Koppel answers decisively:
  • Well they know that there are senior members of what they call the Council of Islamic Courts...and several members of that council are believed to have very close ties with Osama Bin Laden’s organization al-Qaeda and they believe that two or three of the members of that council were directly involved in the bombing of the US embassies in East Africa about eight years ago.
Okay, I don't know about you but I'm convinced! Koppel just overwhelmed me with evidence. I mean if US intelligence sources say there are direct ties to Osama Bin Laden's organization, they must know. In fact I bet they know right where Bin Laden is! And I'm sure if that vague "they" believes that two or three members of the council were "directly involved" it's because they've got the overwhelming evidence to prove it - just like before the Iraq invasion.

If it were a joke it would be amusing.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Old Lie

In an illegal war, based on lies, resulting in the over half a million civilian deaths and thousands of military deaths (both allies and foes), and leading to less civil liberties , and greater threats to security - you just might hope their would be a few expressions of guilt and remorse. Instead NPR treats us to...
  • "...but there are thousands of other mothers and dads, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, who carry that burden [of risk and sacrifice] every day so that I don’t have to."
  • "Every minute I get to spend with my daughter, is paid for by the sacrifices of soldiers better than me."
This is from Yale law student, former teacher at the Citadel, and former Navy pilot Ken Harbaugh. It says a lot about NPR that they consider this militaristic rubbish worthy of broadcast. I hate to tell Ken and NPR but EVERY single life lost or shattered by injury in Iraq has done absolutely nothing to advance freedom, dignity, or peace and security; on the contrary, each life has been a criminal waste and those leaders responsible should be investigated, tried and sentenced if found guilty. Over and over many young and idealistic people join the US military under the delusion that they will be spreading freedom and that their lives and sacrifices will never be cynically squandered for someone's political career or for corporate profits. And it is precisely people like Harbaugh (and stations like NPR) that continue to sucker people into it with " The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est /Pro patria mori."

(the image above is available from Vladimir Arts)

Open Thread - Wednesday

NPR related comments welcomed.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Killer Radio

This morning NPR joins the US government in promoting the slaughter of people as long as the claim (no matter how unsubstantiated) is made that terrorists are the target. The Somalia airstrikes are the subject this time.

First Renee Montagne interviews former NPR editor, Gwen Thompkins, who says, "The Ethiopians and Somalis and the US have been in lockstep about their aim to target as many terrorists as possible...." and "...these are outside extremists...who are linked to other violent incidents outside of Somalia."

Montagne joins in, "There’s a report that those targeted in this air strike were involved in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania."

Thompkins picks it right up, "Well the US has always maintained that the Islamic Courts Union was giving safe haven to outside terrorists. In fact Jendayi Frazier, she’s the assistant US Secretary of State for for Africa, she said late last year that al-Qaeda was operating with GREAT COMFORT when the Islamic Courts ruled Southern Somalia. Now the Islamic Courts have always denied this, but there are three suspects in particular whom the US believes are linked to the embassy bombings…"

In case you're a little slow and not getting the point, Montagne adds, "So they’re talking about outsiders?"

To which Thompkins hammers it home, "Yes, indeed they’re talking about outsiders. The United States and Ethiopia and the Somalis....[are] primarily interested in outsiders, people whom they link with al-Qaida or other terrorist cells operating around the world...and so they have been very firm in trying to make that distinction to the Somali people. Now whether the Somali people believe it, that’s a whole different matter."

And whether it's the least bit true, that's also a whole different matter.

You might think this bludgeoning was enough, but Steve Inskeep is not about to be left out of the action. He interviews the seemingly thoughtful Ken Menkhaus of Davidson College. Take a look at this little interchange (I think some sound editing went awry):
Menkhaus: " of the dangers now with the current situation is that we [the US] may have, uh, cells of residual Somali, shabab militia, the Islamist militia that could take matters into their own hands and launch some of these terrorists attacks.” Something got cut in there, but Menkhaus seems to be saying that the US actions may increase the likelihood of residual cells carrying out attacks. At this point the editing gets really weird, because Inskeep says, "Let’s talk about the dangers for the United States here, you mentioned the potential upside – it’s a chance, perhaps an opportunistic chance to hit some suspects the US has been looking at..." Whoaa - "the potential upsides," "an opportunistic chance to hit some suspects." Truly creepy.

The coup de grace comes at the very end with Inskeep updating us with this solid evidence, "...and again the news we have is that an official and witness, and a witness say that there have been two US airstrikes on different locations against terror targets inside Somalia." Ah yes, terror targets, of course...

Open Thread - Tuesday

NPR related comments welcomed.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Wrong Side of History

From NPR's Code of Ethics and Practices:

1. Fairness means that we present all important views on a subject – and treat them even-handedly.....

2. Unbiased means that we separate our personal opinions – such as an individual's religious beliefs or political ideology – from the subjects we are covering. We do not approach any coverage with overt or hidden agendas.

This morning Steve Inskeep interviews freshman Senator Sherrod Brown and Inskeep keeps the focus on "free trade." Brown keeps emphasizing the need for "environmental and labor standards" in any trade agreements. Over and again he talks about the need for standards in global trade.

Steve Inskeep brings on Cokie Roberts and frames Brown's thoughtful comments as follows: "Cokie, is the notion of cracking down on free trade a winning issue for Democrats?" (Cracking down?) Cokie smugly responds, "’s a long term loser; it puts them essentially on the wrong side of history with globalization, and even though labor unions often lose in trade agreements – consumers gain...."

It's fine for Roberts to have her own US Chamber of Commerce opinions and ideology, but in is unprofessional, simple-minded and in clear violation of NPR's code of ethics for her to write off as "a long term loser" the global efforts of progressives to address problems of "free trade': sweat shops, fair labor standards, minimum wage, immigration, and greedy individualism.

What Cokie Roberts meant was that Senator Brown is on the wrong side of the wealthy and the powerful - something you could never accuse her of.

Open Thread - Monday

NPR related comments welcomed.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

History in a Blender

For another installment in its counterinsurgency marketing campaign (click on "counterinsugency" label below), NPR revisits one of the United States' model counterinsurgency campaigns of the 20th century - the tragedy of Guatemala. As if to head off any doubts about counterinsurgency that might result if the Guatemala nightmare is brought up, Linda Wertheimer cuts and pastes the history of Guatemala from 1954 to 1996 so as to downplay the US responsibilities there.

A strange pastiche emerges. Wertheimer gets off to a pretty good start. "The war started in opposition to state-sponsored terror against political enemies, but eventually turned into what some have called a genocidal campaign against native Mayans. Paramilitary groups fought the government for 36 years. It’s estimated that more than 200,000 civilians were killed." To her credit she notes the origin of the war as a struggle against "state-sponsored terror." Of course the state sponsoring that terror was none other than the United States, a role that she minimizes by saying, "We should note that the United States supplied the Guatemalan military with arms and training during the civil war which I assume has had some kind of lingering effect." Well yes, and what is not said is that the Guatemalan government, military, strategy, tactics and outlook was the proud offspring of the United States government - born with the US orchestrated coup of 1954. She also fails to mention that the report published by UN Historical Clarification Commission found that the Guatemalan Army was responsible for 93% of the 200,000 murders.

NPR's Guatemala piece is also odd for the guest expert that NPR turns to - Dennis Smith "a missionary for the Presbyterian Church in Guatemala City." (One might expect a Catholic activist, Indigenous rights campaigner, or a human rights worker instead). Looking at an article by Smith, he seems humane and in opposition to the rightwing Protestant backers of military terror in Guatemala, but his comments that get aired on NPR confuse the terms of the discussion and downplay the horrors of US policy. For example, Wertheimer describes the guerillas fighting against the Guatemalan government as "paramilitaries" a term that really should be applied to the Government death squads, and Smith then uses it to describe the current violence in Guatemala, saying, "we still have a significant presence of paramilitary forces throughout the country." An uniformed listener would assume that these current paramilitaries are remnants of the guerilla forces mentioned earlier (a huge distortion). Also, immediately after Wertheimer mentions the US aid and training to the Guatemalan military, Smith says, "I think it’s important to recognize that the United States has been among the international actors that has been helping Guatemala to address the problems of building a civil society and also strengthening the court system and the rule of law. " I hope the CIA sends him a thank you note!

As someone who followed the little US shop of horrors in Guatemala and visited that torture state in the 80s, Smith's lack of revulsion and outrage - and quickness to defend the US role in Guatemala - befit a sociopath like Negroponte, not a humane missionary. Smith's comments on this NPR piece are disingenuous at best (though perhaps they are the result of an editing chop job).

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Warm Fuzzy Counterinsurgency

Friday's ATC was especially bad, so one more critique. Tom Bowman (NPR's Pentagon spokesperson reporter) profiles (i.e. provides a glowing assessment) of Lt. Gen. David Petraeus who is set to take over command of all U.S. forces in Iraq.

What is especially misleading about this feature are the assertions made about counterinsurgency:
(Bowman): "Retired Army General Jack Keane says Petraeus understands how to work with the local population and encourage them to break with insurgents – the essence of what the military calls counter insurgency."
(Keane) says that Petraeus "clearly understands proven counterinsurgency practices which have got to be put in place."
(Keane): "It’s all about securing the population and it’s not been done, and he [Petraeus] clearly understands how to secure that population."
(Bowman): "Petraeus is no ordinary general he has a PhD from Princeton – his thesis topic: The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam. He is among those who believe the army after Vietnam forgot how to fight insurgencies. He recently coauthored a new army manual on that topic."

In theory, some of the manual sounds reasonable and even humane. But the record of US counterinsurgency is anything but reasonable and humane. As Matthew Yglesias points out at TPM Cafe, the "successes" the US has had with counterinsurgency (as in the Indian Wars or in Central America) have relied on mass killings and brutality.

This glossing over the bloody history of US counterinsurgency practice (versus propaganda) is pretty much par for the course at NPR (previous case in point). This doesn't make it any less reprehensible, especially since the only way to achieve the US imperial goals for the Middle East is probably going to be through more mass slaughter of those who live there.

Wonk Coup

Just about everything wrong with Guy Raz' report yesterday from the pro-war, far right American Enterprise Institute (AEI), I've already noted about a previous Raz report from the AEI.

Yesterday on ATC Raz opens with distracting banalities about the "roast beef wraps and chocolate chip cookie bars" at the AEI presentation that promotes sending thousands more US troops to Iraq. Keep in mind that this plan will undoubtedly kill tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of more Iraqis and thousands more US troops, but Raz describes this occasion as "Washington’s version of an LA movie premier…"

Raz has this to say: "AEI isn’t just another Washington wonk factory, it’s become – and I don’t say this lightly – a kind of unofficial policy shop of the Bush White House." He also should have said that AEI is a favorite "go-to" think tank of NPR News. Raz does mention that a protest was occurring and lets its director say, "Washington policy makers who listen to AEI are a heroin addict going back to the needle.” Raz then explains this by stating, "The needle he’s talking about here is the idea that Iraq can be won." That's not exactly right, I think he's using the metaphor to characterize the fact that policy makers (and NPR too) keep going back to AEI even though their theories and policies on Iraq and the Middle East have been proven to be completely wrong and morally bankrupt.

The story that NPR should be covering is the stunning truth that a small group of right-wing extremists housed at the AEI think tank is running the foreign policy of the US government in opposition to both the expressed and polled will of the populace. Now that would be a story.