Wednesday, July 29, 2009

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Radio Games

This morning NPR revisits an old story: controversy over a video game (see this April 09 USA Today article) glorifying the US pulverization of Fallujah. If you don't recall what the US did in NPR, don't expect to ever learn about it on NPR - but others have covered it.

A year after the attack, Dahr Jamail described the many war crimes he covered during and after the assault including the use of "various odd weapons" (including banned incendiary devices) and frequent, intentional killings of civilians. Also a year after the assault, George Monibot reported in the Guardian,
"Both the invasion of Iraq and the assault on Fallujah were illegal acts of aggression. Before attacking the city, the marines stopped men "of fighting age" from leaving. Many women and children stayed: the Guardian's correspondent estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 civilians were left. The marines treated Falluja as if its only inhabitants were fighters. They levelled thousands of buildings, illegally denied access to the Iraqi Red Crescent and, according to the UN's special rapporteur, used 'hunger and deprivation of water as a weapon of war against the civilian population'."
Interestingly, NPR's coverage of the video game is almost identical to the same "fair and balanced" story on Fox and Friends back on June 11, 2009 - although NPR's story is - if anything - more praiseworthy of the US destruction of Fallujah. Both stories cover only the critique of the video game as offensive to the families of US soldiers killed in Fallujah - not the atrocities committed by the US military there. Like Fox's coverage, NPR's positive spin focuses on the use of the game to teach about what NPR's Laura Sydell calls "a pivotal moment in the Iraqi conflict." Like Fox she allows game consultant and Fallujah veteran, retired Marine Captain Read Omohundro to tout the educational value of the game, claiming that it "will explain the war to people in a manner that helps them associate why war is not a game." Given the complete omission of the cost of the Fallujah attack on human life and infrastructure in the city, Leyden's statement that "Six Days in Fallujah recreates the feel and look of the city as well as actual events in the battle" is painful to swallow.

As an interesting aside, if you look at this web page from Atomic Games, the company creating "Six Days of Fallujah" you can read the following in the "About Atomic Games" section:
"Headquartered in Raleigh, NC, Atomic Games is a video game development studio pioneering new kinds of Historical Action video games. Atomic is owned by a variety of employees and investors, including In-Q-Tel, a private venture capital firm funded by the United States Central Intelligence Agency."

Monday, July 27, 2009

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Reciprocity Anyone?

Certain things often get discussed on NPR that make my skin crawl. On Saturday's ATC Guy Raz talks with Richard Clarke about "probing" Bush-era crimes by ignoring US laws and international obligations and instead holding a "kind of truth and reconciliation commission." Why NPR thinks it's adequate to have a legal no-nothing like Guy Raz interview Clarke on such matters is beyond me, but one part of the interview really jumped out - the endorsement of extrajudicial executions.

Raz says, "...a few weeks ago, of course, the CIA director Leon Panetta shut down a program to assassinate members of al-Qaeda - a program that was actually never implemented..." [Raz just accepts that the program was never implemented because CIA officials said so to the New York Times - even though Seymour Hersh reported a strikingly similar implemented program back in March].

Clarke eventually gets around to talking about the assassination program. The conversation proceeds as follows:
[Clarke] "The other issue is should we have a hit squad to go out after the leadership of a terrorist organization that's trying to kill us. I think most Americans would say yes we should under very tight controls, and frankly CIA is not the right place to do that..."
[Raz] "...who should do it?"
[Clarke] "the best way to do it is to give it to a well-trained, well disciplined unit in the US military."
[Raz] "Forgive me, this may sound terribly naive, but why should the United States government be in the business of doing this at all?"
[Clarke] "Only because we have enemies out there who do wish to do us harm and we do need to act in our own self defense against terrorists."
That's it: a pathetic "Forgive me, this may sound terribly naive..." whimper is the only challenge offered to a US Government program of assassinations. Missing is any discussion of international laws and human rights issues, including the recent UN concern. Also missing is any history on any similar US assassination programs - even by "well-trained, well disciplined units." If in some ideal world the US actually had reliable, actionable intelligence (which it often does not) then why not arrest and prosecute? In Pakistan the US military use of drone assassinations highlights the rampant slaughter that almost always follows a policy of supposed "targeted killings."

Finally, Raz's deafening silence after Clarke's justification for carrying out extrajudicial killings ["because we have enemies out there who do wish to do us harm and we do need to act..."] begs the question of reciprocity. Why doesn't he ask, "So by your standard, countries - let's say Cuba, Nicaragua, or Iran - that have experienced state terror from the United States would have the right to launch assassination programs against US officials and agents, wouldn't they?"

Unfortunately, on NPR it never enters the newsreaders' or reporters' heads to apply a standard good enough for the rest of the world to the United States - because we are so exceptional.

Going Ga-Ga Over $100 Billion a Year

If you go to the historical budget information of the US government and look at Section 3, table 3.1 (Excel file) you can see budget figures for "National Defense" over the years [does not include veteran spending]. Way back in 1978 the spending for the war department topped 100 billion dollars and continued to grow over the years. I'd say that means that well over a trillion dollars was dumped into the war-hole between 1978 and 1988 [not to mention that with the FY 2010 $533.8 billion request from Obama-Gates [official DOD pdf letter] - it now takes just two years to officially get to that magical trillion-plus number for keeping us safe!]

But if a watered down pathetic bit of health insurance reform legislation might cost $1 trillion over the next ten years then OMG! even chief planet monkey David Kastenbaum says, "I really can't wrap my head around a trillion dollars." He explains that it's "six times NASA's budget..."

At least Linda Wertheimer has the sense to ask, "How would it compare to the Iraq War?" But David's not going down that road and dismisses it with a simple "100 billion a year is roughly, ballpark what we are spending on the Iraq War." God forbid he mention that the old Iraq War will probably cost a bit more than that - at least by a factor of 2 if not 5!

As readers have noted, Dean Baker has been an astute critic of NPR's economic monkey business and he has already noted the silliness of NPR's fixation on the figure of a trillion.

Got to love the comment under the piece on NPR's website by Madchen Vapid who writes, "Dear Planet Monkey, What does 1 trillion bananas look like?"

Friday, July 24, 2009

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

More Blood Soup

NPR do luv them some Nagl. John Nagl, Mr. Soup with a Knife genius, has been one of their regular counterinsurgency go-to guys for a while - and they did pick the right horse. Nagl is climbing the rungs of power (to the Defense Policy board along with neo-imperialist Robert Kaplan). You can bet we'll hear a lot from this COIN snake oil soup salesman.

Yesterday on ATC Siegle had a chummy talk with Nagl about our clients in the colony of Iraq. It was the typical "training wheels" talk about whether Iraqis can manage without all the great protection and security the US military has brought to Iraq. Siegel asks Nagl, "How well prepared are the Iraqis to deal with threats to their own security?"

Nagl brags that they are capable of handling counterinsurgency, but "they certainly still need our help for deterring conventional attacks from some of their neighbors." Later in the interview Siegle picks up this thread to remind us of the Iranian threat(!?):
"Are Iraqi forces sufficiently trained and improved to deal with any interference in their country by Iran?"
That was certainly out of the blue, but Nagl doesn't miss a beat and chimes in with, "No. The short answer is no."

Yet again NPR's discussions about US counterinsurgency is an utter whitewash - never touching on the sickeningly brutal aspects of these dirty wars. Instead they allow people like Nagl to peddle their "brilliance" without challenge. Probably the best all-around dissection of the movement that Nagl represents is found in this piece by Justin Raimondo.

Honduras? Never Heard of It


It's really quite telling how drastically different NPR's coverage of Iran is from it's non-coverage of the Honduran coup. Do a search on NPR's site of Honduras coup and see what's been offered on Morning Edition, All Things Considered and the two Weekend Edition shows in the last week:
  • A July 11th ATC sympathetic piece on coup supporters in Miami (which I critiqued here)
However search Ahmadinejad on NPR's site and see what the past week has featured:
  • July 22 ATC on deepening divisions, demonstrations, and state violence against protesters
  • July 21 ME on challenges to the election from former leaders
I don't have any complaint with NPR giving coverage to events in Iran, but the non-coverage of Honduras is stunning. After all, this past week has been very eventful in Honduras with ousted President Zelaya accepting a mediated solution only to have the coup government reject it.

NPR's non-coverage ignores Zelaya's compromise and is helpful in covering up the supportive role that the US military is continuing to offer the Honduran military in spite of official US denunciation of the coup. It also allows NPR to ignore the increasing repression of the coup government and the role of graduates from the US School of Coups in the overthrow of the Honduran president.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It's What's On the Table


Back on June 8, 2009 NPR's ombudsman wrote, "I'm a big fan of blogs and of reading listener opinions. I plan on updating my own blog more frequently over the next few months." Alicia Shepard's more frequent posts have been illuminating, to say the least. If you want to get a glimpse into how establishment media (in this case NPR) justifies its subservience to power Shepard's posts are a great place to start:
  • In June, there was her attempt (and even worse follow-up attempt) to justify NPR's refusal to call torture torture when carried out by US agents.
  • On July 8th, Shepard claims that an insultingly stupid piece about the health care "public plan" was a "laudable attempt."
  • By July 14th Shepard touts NPR's excellence based on - not content, accuracy, courage, or depth, but - the perceptions of a listeners survey! For Shepard, it's all about views: "...most listeners who contact us appear to fit into the liberal category, and many complain that NPR's reporting does not mirror their views."
  • On July 20th Shepard is praising Cronkite for making Watergate a story when others wouldn't because he "sensed there was something more to the story than a third-rate burglary." It never occurs to Shepard that such praise rings pretty hollow when her employer can't even sense "something more" when the story is right in their face (e.g. fixed intelligence, vote caging, FISA lawbreaking, detainees tortured to death, etc).
Finally take a look at Shepard's recent attempt to justify NPR's hostility to the single-payer health option for the United States. Here is the excerpt that explains how the NPR sausage gets made:
"The decision not to devote a lot of attention to single-payer, I'm told, is based on pragmatism.

'This issue is not getting a lot of attention from NPR because it's simply not on the table in Congress,' said Julie Rovner, NPR's lead reporter covering the health care overhaul."
And that brings us to this morning's report from...yep...Julie Rovner about "Providing Better Health Care for Less Money." This is the second major feature (the first was on June 29, 2009) that NPR has devoted to the supposed wonders of providing great Insurance Industry Care for less money. A quick look at the sources for this morning's report shows that the Insurance Industrial Complex definitely knows how to set the table.

Rovner's star expert in the report is Don Berwick of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI). On NPR's website, you also can see that the other experts for this report were Elliot Fisher of the Dartmouth Institute (him again), Dr. Atul Gawande of Brigham and Women's Hospital (a founding member of the Blue-Cross loving Partners Healthcare - a "non-profit" association whose CEO pulled down a cool $1.37 million in 2007 - from IRS 990 at Guidestar)



Looking into Berwick and the IHI is also eye-opening. Take a look at the lower part of the IHI page describing "donors" to its programs - its 5 million lives campaign received over $5 million from Blue Cross and Blue Shield. IHI has also been pretty good to Don Berwick - to the tune of $637,000 in 2008 - from IRS 990 at Guidestar)



NPR's health care coverage is definitely based on pragmatism - it just all depends what (and how much) is on the table.

Monday, July 20, 2009

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Visit Me at NPR

I occasionally comment on NPR stories at the NPR website. Over on the sidebar I have a link that will take you to my page at NPR. From there you can go right down the page to "RECENT ACTIVITY" and see what stories I've posted on. For example, I've most recently commented on yesterday's report from Guy Raz which gave no context to the Pentagon's complaints about the video of the captured US soldier, and then on this morning's Planet Monkey shenanigans in "explaining" wages - apparently to what NPR thinks is an audience of morons.

Update on Lifetime Honorifics

At the end of May I posted about Scott Simon's troubling (and inaccurate) assertion about honoring US government officials with lifetime claims to the titles of offices they have held. About a week later I heard NPR refer to former Vice President Al Gore as "Al Gore" and sent the following letter to the ombudsman:
I contacted you over a week ago about Scott Simon claiming on May 30, 2009 Weekend Edition that "Like many other media organizations, NPR treats titles like Vice President, President, or Senator as lifetime honorifics - that's why you'll hear us continue to call former elected officials by their titles like Justice O'Connor, President Clinton, and Vice President Cheney and the policy's applied uniformly regardless of political party or ideology."

I posted my inquiry on my blog (http://nprcheck.blogspot.com/2009/05/consistently-inconsistent.html) and
I'm still awaiting a reply, but wanted to point out to you that as recently as this Monday (6-08-09) on Morning Edition during the story on the US journalists imprisoned in N. Korea, Renee Montagne said, "they were working for the cable channel Current TV - now Al Gore is the founder, one of the founders of that TV Channel" and Anthony Kuhn reported that the North Koreans might be interested in negotiating with "some current high ranking or retired US official, such as Al Gore."

It is striking that Gore is not even referred to as former Vice President - just plain old "Al." Seems to me that despite Simon's claim, there is quite a bit of regard for party and ideology.

Why not be consistent?

I await your response...still...

Surprisingly, a few days ago I received this response from the ombudsman's intern:
Dear Mr. Murrey;

Thank you for contacting NPR.

We appreciate your thoughts regarding NPR protocol in referencing former officials of the United States.

It is the policy of NPR to refer to former elected officials by their title, occasionally prefacing it with "former." In the programs you mentioned, it was oversight by the reporter and editor to not refer to Al Gore as Vice President Al Gore or former Vice President Al Gore. I will forward your findings to the appropriate department.

Thank you for listening, and for your continued support of public broadcasting. For the latest news and information, visit NPR.org.

Sincerely,

Anna Tauzin
Office of the Ombudsman
NPR
Of course, we'll all be listening for more "oversights." Be that as it may, I followed up with the following response:

Dear Ms. Tauzin,

Thank you for taking the time to respond. Regarding NPR's general policy, I still strongly disagree with referring to former officials by their elected titles (unless referring to their actions as officials). It really runs contrary to US custom and law in which political office is not a lifetime appointment and where - at least in the ideal - one returns to the status of private citizen when one's term ends due to resignation, legal limits, election defeat or death. I hope you'll pass this concern on to NPR's policy department.

Sincerely,
Matthew Murrey (Mytwords)
NPR Check

Update on Detained Journalist Jassam

At the end of May of this year I posted about NPR's dismal track record in covering up the US military's attacks on journalists - especially Ibrahim Jassam. This morning NPR's Quil Lawrence conducted a fairly decent report on Jassam's baseless detention. As Jeremy Scahill has pointed out, there is far more than Jassam's detention to investigate, but for NPR this was a small, though commendable step.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

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Friday, July 17, 2009

The Catch Phrase if You Will

If you wondered why the US is in Afghanistan [has nothing to do with the sordid geopolitics of uranium, copper, oil and gas -of course], it's all about keeping promises - so says Steve Inskeep:
"The increase in American troops this summer is in some sense an effort to make good on a promise that the international community made back in 2001 - to bring peace and a measure of prosperity to a country that's been at war for decades..."
Bringing peace and prosperity...of course. How's that for objective journalism?

To bolster the story that the US has nothing but the noblest aims NPR turns to Seth Jones, RAND expert on Afghanistan. He explains that the problem of the Soviet Army's war in Afghanistan was "their decision to treat this as a conventional war and what becomes clear when you look at counterinsurgency operations is the focus should be on protecting the local population not on killing it."

Every time I hear someone talking about counterinsurgency "protecting the local population" it blows my mind. Just what alternate universe counterinsurgency is Jones talking about? Anyone who reads history knows that most counterinsurgency operations are about extreme levels of state terror being applied to vulnerable - usually poor - civilian populations. I'm thinking of Vietnam, El Salvador, Chile, Argentina, Indonesia, East Timor and of course the US godchild of counterinsurgency - Guatemala.

Montagne jumps in to explain that [protecting the local population] "is now the catch-phrase if you will of the US military...McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, that's precisely what he says US troops and NATO troops are there to do now."

Oh silly me, I didn't realize that the "top US commander" said that's what the US military is doing - dang! I guess if the good general says it's so then it must be true. Seth Jones is not about to disagree either, stating that "the focus...has shifted to try to protect the local population." I guess it's not only the military that owns this catch-phrase.

Lastly, the report closes with Inskeep's announcement that "Renee is packing her bags to travel to Afghanistan and we'll be hearing from her..." That is great news, Montagne has done some really profound reporting from Afghanistan including stories of BIG VICTORIES.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

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Rare Praises for NPR

I was going to write about yesterday's deceitful and stupid report on the CIA by Pamela Hess of the AP (Media Bloodhound and Left I on the News often expose the AP for being the lazy rebroadcaster of US government propaganda that it is) or Juan Forero's (the reporter who couldn't read straight) pro bono work this morning for the owners of Venezuelan plantations (farms in Forero-speak) or Inskeep's coffee-clutch against the public health insurance option with the PR man for Wellpoint the parent company of a foundation that just happens to be one of NPR's biggest annual donors (hint: it's the California Endowment).



But heck, it's summer and let's give credit where credit is due. First to Robert Siegel (there I said it!) who, on Monday's ATC, presented the Alito remarks about empathy as a counter to the attacks on Sotomayor's remarks about empathy. Siegel was interviewing the twittering Chuck Grassley of Iowa and confronted him with the Alito statements AND even asked a few follow-ups when Grassley tried to squirm out of making a complete ninny of himself. It was delicious.

More importantly, this morning Peter Kenyon actually covered the story of the 25 IDF soldiers who have documented the systematic war crimes of Operation Cast Lead. NPR actually sent a reporter on the ground in Gaza and talked to a Gazan who lost his parents to Israeli shooters in a case similiar to one related by an Israeli soldier. Several commenters on the web site of the story thanked NPR for reporting this - one who summed it up well as a commendable "baby step."

Damn the Constitution, Full Steam Ahead

Yesterday morning, before heading out of town, I had to hear Mara Liasson weighing in on why holding US government officials and agents accountable for grave crimes is so not-looking-forward.

Montagne opened the segment with this: "Today President Obama will attempt to keep the national focus on his plans for the future." She failed to mention that NPR would also be attempting to keep the focus there, too.

Liasson - even after noting that investigations or prosecutions would not target those who ordered and provided legal cover for torture, but only "operatives who went beyond even the legal guidance they were getting from the Bush justice department" - closed with this gem:
"...however this opens up a huge can of worms and if they do start prosecuting CIA operatives it will be a big distraction from the main issues on the President's agenda - like health care and the economy."
Take a look at Glenn Greenwald's post regarding a similar situation at NBC. Greenwald describes the NBC piece "as typical a discussion as it gets among media stars as to why investigations are so very, very wrong and unfair and unwise." The same could be said of the editorializing from NPR.

Temple-Raston Busted Under New Restrictions

Damn! I guess Ms. Temple-Raston forgot to read the new policy I posted (see note below) for NPR employees about using stupid and misleading language such as "bad guys" in a report. If she had read it she would know that she now owes $1000 for this zinger during yesterday's glowing report on data mining software that will supposedly help catch terrorists:
"That's how it's supposed to work if you start with a specific target in mind. The harder problem is whether this approach can find a bad guy no one has already suspected was a terrorist..."
Actually, Temple-Raston's report was really a twofer - managing to promote a data mining software company AND to throw out some lop-sided propaganda about Hezbollah being nothing but a terrorist operation with "global reach." Given that NPR doesn't want to "take sides" when shooting off it's loaded-language pistol, I'm guessing Hezbollah (a political party and armed resistance group that repelled an aggressor, occupying power out of a sovereign nation) qualifies as a terrorist operation for killing and kidnapping civilians during its history. All right, if purposely targeting and killing civilians (and kidnapping them) qualifies a group as terrorist, then according to my own data mining I found a group that "no one [at least no one at NPR] has already suspected was a terrorist": the Israeli Defense Forces, of course!

Given the nature of her transgression, I hereby order Ms. Temple-Raston to donate $1000 to the inside source of the information on Israel's latest operation of civilian mass killings - the soldiers of Breaking Silence. She can just click right here and make a donation, and she can feel good about it because they definitely are "good guys."

NOTE: In my original memo to NPR I stated that the use of the phrase "bad guys" was forthwith prohibited. Temple-Raston - being very FBI sneaky - tried to get around this by dropping the "s" from "guys" and claiming that she was, therefore, not in violation of said policy. I submitted our dispute to binding arbitration and Temple-Raston was found to have clearly violated the spirit and intent of the guidelines and was ordered to make the payment immediately. Sorry Dina...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

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Monday, July 13, 2009

The Linguistically and Legally Challenged at NPR

(click picture for partial source)

There are times when I read my transcription of a report on NPR and I ask myself, "Did they really say that?" This morning was one of those cases. Mary Louise Kelly was "reporting" on the CIA program that Panetta cancelled - and which was so secret that even the few members of Congress required by federal law (see short PDF file here) to be informed of such things - were told nothing.

Kelly describes the secrecy of the program and - referring to a New York Times report - notes that "the reason the CIA didn't brief this to Congress sooner was because Dick Cheney told them not to." Inskeep then asks Kelly a reasonable question: "Was anybody at the CIA actually legally required to tell Congress about this?" And this is where things get really strange. Kelly replies,
"It's actually not 100% clear. The law that governs this is called the National Security Act of 1947 and it's been amended many times since then, but the relevant portion is this: 'Congress must be notified about all significant intelligence activities; also' - and this is important - 'all significant, anticipated intelligence activities.' So the question becomes What is significant?, Who gets to decide?, and clearly in the case of this particular program, people came out with very different views about whether it met the standard."
Ah yes, like that wily word torture, significant is such a relative term - open to so many shades of interpretation. Hmmm....just what could significant mean? Funny thing is that Kelly opened the story noting that "what we do know is this: it was a covert program, clearly began back in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. It continued in an on-again-off-again fashion up until last year." She also noted that "there is a lot of speculation that it had to do with a presidential authorization after 9/11 to capture or kill al-Qaeda leaders, so we're talking about using lethal force..." Ah yes, but whether a SEVEN YEAR covert program (and one that likely meant killing people) is significant is just so hard to really figure out.

Frankly the focus on "significant" is a red herring since the law amending the Security Act (P.L. 102-88 - go to page 13 of the PDF file here) clearly states "The President shall ensure that the intelligence committees are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, [kind of looks "100% clear" to me], including any significant anticipated intelligence activities as required by this title."

Kelly's not done yet. If nothing else she's determined. Not only is she playing the torture the English language game, but she closes up by advocating for criminal behavior by the executive branch. Even if the federal law was broken, Kelly notes that
"one former intelligence official I spoke to said, 'Look, the CIA didn't tell Congress about this because they didn't want it to leak' so they kept it to themselves and it didn't leak for EIGHT years. Last month it was briefed to Congress and now hear we are talking about it. So they've made a pretty compelling case for why the CIA might not want to tell Congress."
If only I were making this stuff up. Yep, that is one compelling case for breaking federal laws meant to maintain checks and balances. Apparently, Kelly didn't actually read the law because it also states on page 13 of the PDF copy of P.L 102-88 that
"Nothing in this Act shall be construed as authority to withhold information from the intelligence committees on the grounds that providing the information to the intelligence committees would constitute the unauthorized disclosure of classified information...."
So much for that compelling case. Given her masterful legal interpretations, I'd say Mary Louise Kelly missed her opportunity to work for the Bush-Cheney OLC....hey there's always the CIA, unless she's already....one can only wonder.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

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Shepard Spottings?

Did anyone get a chance to attend Shepard's presentation at the Newseum? Please contact me if so. BTW, you can watch Shepard in action with some US and international high school students as she explains/complains about her torturous torture contortions.

The BS Side of the Story

Gad! Greg Allen was in Miami and figured he'd just turn on the microphone and let the sons and daughters of the Honduran oligarchy have a go at it. All opinions aired were pro-coup and anti-Zelaya. Here are a sample:
  • "What happened in Honduras was not a coup."
  • "...it was not a coup; it was a constitutional action to prevent the president from trying to seek reelection indefinitely like other presidents in Latin America."
  • "we obey the law and we can not allow the international community to tell Hondurans what to do - imposing the return of former president Zelaya."
  • "...the only people that actually know what the internal problems of the country are are those people who know. This president [Zelaya, not Bush] is a criminal, has been a criminal, and has only made bad things to our country and government."
To put a professional sheen on this rant-fest Allen turned to Marifeli PĂ©rez-Stable of Florida International University (and the Miami Herald). She made sure to ignore the legal issues of the coup and instead hammered on merging Zelaya with Chavez of Venezuela:
"In Honduras the Chavez model has been stopped. I really think that it has been stopped. It's not going to fly."
The problem with this piece by Allen is not that he talked with and even aired some of the rather contorted viewpoints of these Hondurans in Miami - but there was no informative context whatsoever. I kept wondering about the class makeup of the people in this interview and wondering how many of them (or their parents) were active in the right-wing human rights abuses of the 1980s. I assumed they were connected to the very rich in Honduras, but Allen's report never spelled this out.

Rumors

I thought that NPR's spring 2007 campaign to convince listeners that Iran was running and supplying the Iraqi insurgency (April 11, 2007 and May 26, 2007 for example) was a thing of the past. But dang, on Friday's ATC Quil Lawrence is in Iraq talking up the dangers of the small, lethal shaped-charge RKG-3 grenades, which have been used against US forces for years (this from 2006), as if they were something new - and he casually slips in the following:
"Some of these grenades are rumored to be coming in from Iran..."
I guess it's important to keep all rumors "on the table."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Good and Bad I Define These Terms Quite Clear No Doubt Somehow

(BTW, title comes from Bob Dylan)

If you've been following events recently, you know that NPR listeners are a bit pissed off at the assist NPR and its ombudsman have given to US torturers by refusing to call their actions that cause "severe physical or mental pain or suffering" torture. In her bumbling explanation of why torture is not torture, Ombudsman Shepard stated that she was against "using loaded language."

Of late I've noticed a descriptor that has become part of the working vocabulary of NPR staff. Can you spot it in these recent stories?

  • Morning Edition, June 19, 2009 NPR's macho war guy, Tom Bowman is interviewing Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who is in charge of nearly 90,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, says, "Your experience is in the area of special operations. You're basically a hunter-killer. You've hunted down bad guys like Saddam Hussein...."
  • Weekend Edition Sunday, July 5, 2009 Liane Hansen is interviewing RAND "expert" Christine Fair about the US Marine offensive in Afghanistan. Fair is talking about all the players involved in the poppy/narcotics trafficking and says "so you've got quite a mix of bad guys in this part of Afghanistan....a counterinsurgency approach is really not about killing the bad guys as much as it is about securing the population...."
  • Morning Edition, July 6, 2009 Tom Gjelten is reporting on the CIA's recruitment of Wall Street "pros" and hands the microphone to a recent recruit whose pseudonym is Alex. With no irony - and of course no comment from Gjelten - Alex brags, "There's no question that an understanding of the global financial system and how money moves from place to place and sort of the economic motivations of the bad guys that we look at are all important skills that I've been able to transfer from investment banking."
I realize in comic strip superhero world it's often a simple case of good guys versus bad guys, such as, well, Uncle Sam and his All Star Squadron saving the world -



or Captain America against the commies -



or Captain America, leader of US warnography in general



but, I think we all know where this stupid good guy versus bad guy crap leads, don't we [hurl alert!]-



After all just who are the "good guys" when it comes to handing over the Treasury to Goldman Sachs and friends, or to pulverizing Afghan civilians, or to the CIA and US military working some of its non-torture "harsh interrogation" magic on detainees?

I have a modest suggestion for NPR: every time one of its reporters or newsreaders uses the phrase "bad guys" or features a guest using it without any comment from the reporter, that person gets fined $1000 and has to give it to either Amnesty International, the ACLU, the Center For Constitutional Rights - or some other bunch of [hee, hee] good guys...

Thursday, July 09, 2009

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Shepard Unplugged

Glenn Greenwald updates Alicia Shepard's continued defense of the indefensible - NPR's decision to adopt euphemisms when discussing torture committed by agents of the US government/military. On KUOW's "Conversation" Shepard says the the following:
"I agree with people that when you say 'enhanced interrogation techniques' that is taking the side of particularly the Bush administration and then when you use the word 'torture' you are taking the opposite side." [How's that for intellectual rigor? I bet she could get a job teaching ethics to future journalists with that kind of brilliance.]
Then when she is asked why NPR referred - without qualifications - to a Gambian journalist as being tortured she responds, (brace yourself),
"...these were strictly tactics to torture him, to punish him, versus these in the United States in the way that it's used these are tactics used to get information."
Hey, not only could she get a teaching gig, I bet she could get a job being an apologist for some media outlet that serves as a mouthpiece for the Pentagon, the White House, the State Department, Homeland Security, the CIA, the....

As Greenwald notes, Shepard will be coming out of her rabbit hole to make a public appearance at the Newseum this weekend...wish I could be there.

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

3,000,000 + 58,000 = 58,000

One of history's great villains died yesterday, and NPR was on-call to provide its special math for the occasion . Robert Strange McNamara died yesterday and Monday's ATC featured three segments on his life and legacy - one by Daniel Schorr, the second by Mary Louise Kelly, and the last being Robert Siegel interviewing Errol Morris, McNamara filmmaker and documentarian.

Here's a challenge: listen to all three reports and see if you can find mention of the millions (2 to 4 is the usual estimate) of civilians killed by the United States in the Vietnam war. At least twice, you'll hear of the 58,000 US service people killed in Vietnam. Siegel safely mentions something that McNamara has already admitted to - 100,000 Japanese civilians burned alive in one night of bombing he helped engineer during WWII - but those millions of Vietnamese dead somehow just vanish.

In addition to disappearing millions of civilian victims - there are other distortions in the reports. Daniel Schorr describes McNamara's killing spree as "his stewardship of the Vietnam War." Also McNamara's presidency of the World Bank - where he lavished money on the torture states of Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Romania - is described by Mary Louise Kelly as "a successful tenure" and by Schorr as "helping underdeveloped countries." Schorr goes even further and sees it as McNamara's "way of working out a sense of guilt."

Siegel's interview with Morris offers a telling bit of analysis from Siegel himself. Citing critics who have complained that if McNamara had admitted to some of his mistakes sooner it might have made an actual difference, he surmises "but that might have required his exile from the Washington establishment." Well, Mr. Siegel, turn that judgement on yourself and NPR: to investigate and report the news truthfully would put you and NPR on the outs with those who wield economic, military and political power - and might just lead to NPR's "exile from the Washington establishment." And that just wouldn't do...would it?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Q Tips

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Agent Gjelten Recruiting

For your reading pleasure - they're fortified with hyperlinks, too!





Agent Forero Checks In

On Independence Day Guy Raz asked Juan Forero why Honduran President Zelaya was overthrown in a coup. Forero answered,
[His] "term is supposed to end in January, but Zelaya is allied with President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and other left leaning leaders in Latin America that have found ways to change their constitutions to stay in power...."
By "found ways", I think Forero means that evil, leftist ploy of free and fair elections.

This morning was even worse. Ignoring the coup government's shooting of unarmed demonstrators (no Neda here), ignoring Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports of School of Americas™ style repression, Forero spends almost the entire Monday morning broadcast featuring apologists and supporters of the coup. Here is a sample of statements that Forero made this morning:
  • "...here though, rallies, complete with vendors and folk music, celebrate the ouster."
  • "...foes justify the coup by pointing to what had been his increasingly friendly alliance with leftists Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. To them it signaled a dark turn."
  • "...he says Zelaya would have practically handed over his rule to Chavez."
  • "...an almost irrational fear of Chavez had gripped the country and that was what drove lawmakers, the courts, and the military to conspire against Zelaya."
  • "...the last straw came late in June."
  • "...the first step toward a power grab" [of Zelaya not the coup leaders].

Thursday, July 02, 2009

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NPR related comments welcomed.

Putting Out Reliable Information


On her blog Alicia Shepard recently made an enhanced response to her initial harsh defense of not using "coded language" like the word torture, Alicia Shepard makes the following bold claim:
"But I am shilling for strong, credible journalism that is as objective as humanly possible. I am shilling for NPR to practice journalism based on putting out reliable information, to the best of its ability -- without taking sides -- so the public can make its own informed decisions."
Hey that's a noble thing to shill for, eh? Let's see how her employer's doing in "putting out reliable information" about some major news stories of the past week.
How did NPR do?
How's that for "strong, credible journalism"? My math might be a bit weak, but I'd say that's 0-for-4. At least Shepard was right about the shilling part.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

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All Around the Mulberry Bush


If you haven't seen it, be sure to head over to the NPR Ombudsman's page and check out her belated response (she was out of the office for the past week) to the flood of comments that Alicia Shepard ("as a journalist with almost 30 years' experience"!) received for her earlier defense of NPR's use euphemisms for torture authorized and committed by the US government/military.

It has to be read to be believed, but here is the heart of her "argument":
But no matter how many distinguished groups - the International Red Cross, the U.N. High Commissioners - say waterboarding is torture, there are responsible people who say it is not. Former President Bush, former Vice President Cheney, their staff and their supporters obviously believed that waterboarding terrorism suspects was necessary to protect the nation's security.

One can disagree strongly with those beliefs and their actions. But they are due some respect for their views, which are shared by a portion of the American public. So, it is not an open-and-shut case that everyone believes waterboarding to be torture.
And this from the Ombudsman of a "public" radio organization. If you are up for it, be sure to comment, email, call, etc.

BTW - Shepard has refused to be interviewed by Glenn Greenwald.

Addendum 1: Reader Gopol did a little research on Shepard's "professional" past and...
"noticed that she worked for the San Jose Mercury News about the same time as Gary Webb, who's book Dark Alliance I've been reading. So I Google 'Alicia Shepard' and 'Gary Webb' and came up with a Counterpunch article by Alexander Coburn, How the Press and the CIA Killed Gary Webb's Career

It turns out Alicia was instrumental in assassinating Webb's credibility at the News. She even wrote an article about it: Shepard, Alicia. The Web Gary Spun. American Journalism Review, Jan./Feb. 1997."
Great find Gopol!

Addendum 2: Simon Owens of Bloggasm contacted me about an interview he did with Glenn Greenwald regarding Shepard's refusal to be interviewed by Greenwald. You can read it here.