Sunday, January 31, 2010

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Help Wanted - Seriously

So far I've heard from one person interested in writing for a group NPR Check blog that would continue the work of this blog, but as a group effort. There must be more of you. I'm thinking of some of you who frequently post thoughtful comments here and on the NPR website. You would not have to commit to any number of posts, just be interested in occasionally writing brief or long, progressive analyses of NPR News.

I'd like to get it up and running by March or April. If interested just email me [see sidebar].

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Zinn and the Art of Character Assasination

(click the graphic for the source, the inspiring Americans Who Tell the Truth site)

When I heard that historian and activist Howard Zinn died on Wednesday, I wondered how (or even if) NPR would cover his death. They have quite a track record of glorifying some of the vilest characters of the right (e.g. torture apologist and dictator loving Jeanne Kirkpatrick, economist Milton Friedman, and Jerry Falwell) when their lives come to an end, so I wondered how an avowedly leftist person such as Zinn would fare.

When I searched the NPR site the next morning, the only piece was there at the time was from the AP feed that NPR now features on its website. Though the AP article featured Arthur Schlesinger's snide remark - "I don't take him very seriously. He's a polemicist, not a historian" - it did give a fair bit of substance regarding Zinn's WWII service, his academic background, his profound influence, and his consistent bravery in taking on various injustices as an activist. But...

Then came the NPR "remembrance" on ATC, cooked up by NPR history distorter, Allison Keyes. Keyes must have some seriously limited research abilities because for comments about Zinn, she could only come up with Noam Chomsky (makes sense), Julian Bond (okay), and David Horowitz...seriously, Keyes turns to the extremist, right-wing Horowitz, sleazy polemicist "with no...actual occupation" and "no academic credentials" so he can weigh in on the scholarship and character of Howard Zinn. The result ain't pretty. Keyes, dignifying Horowitz with the title of a "conservative pundit and author," tells us that he "calls A People's History of the United States a travesty." She also includes sound bites of Horowitz saying,
"There is absolutely nothing in Howard Zinn's intellectual output that is worthy of any kind of respect," and "Zinn represents a fringe mentality which has unfortunately seduced millions of people at this point in time. So he did certainly alter the consciousness of millions of younger people for the worse."
I'm not of the belief that nothing contrary should be said about the recently deceased. It would be great if NPR's coverage of important figures who die featured honest assessments of their deeds - think Ford, Reagan, Oral Roberts, William F. Buckley, etc. If a person of renown dies, why not mention their accomplishments and their failings. If Howard Zinn were a historian who was inaccurate and dishonest or plagiarized that would be important. Of course, since there is nothing erroneous or false in the histories that Zinn wrote, NPR has to use character assassination to smear his reputation - and that is frankly inexcusable.

Fortunately, FAIR noticed this hatchet job by NPR and launched an action alert, and NPR obviously has heard from many disgusted listeners - judging from its Thursday ATC letters segment.

Loud Was the Voice of the Lonely Goatherd

Readers of this blog pointed out - as did listeners on each story's NPR's web site - Steve Inskeep's cozy with House Republican leader, John Boehner on Wednesday morning, followed up on Thursday morning with an equally uncritical schmooze with Republican Senator Jon Kyl.

Here's a sample of the completely unchallenged statements by Boehner that Inskeep helped air:
  • "We've reached out over the last year, and we're going to continue to reach out. But there has been no reaching back from the White House or from our Democrat colleagues."
  • "Their trillion-dollar stimulus plan from a year ago clearly has not worked."
  • "The president has a decision to make on Wednesday night: either listen to what the American people are saying, begin to work with Republicans in a bipartisan way and keep his campaign promises, or to ignore them and to continue to go down this very liberal path."

And here are some low-lights from the Kyl interview. Again not a single challenge or critique expressed:
  • "And more than a year after he's sworn in, he's still complaining about the Bush administration...."
  • "You know, he has created a huge deficit as a result of his spending. Now, he said, well, it was necessary to get us out of the mess. It wasn't. The $800 billion stimulus bill has been shown not to have provided the benefits that he said it would."
  • "The point is that we are not saying no to everything, and we do not require 60 votes for everything. That's typical misrepresentation by the president..."
Seems like Inskeep has a hankering for right-wingers [e.g. Doug Feith or Republican Mike Murphy], but gets his undies in a bunch when he's talking to supposedly liberal Democrats such as Charles Rangle or Rahm Emmanuel.

*(thanks to Rodgers and Hammerstein for the title)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Looking Ahead

Readers have probably noticed that my posts are averaging about 1 per week. This May will mark 4 years of writing this blog, and I'm looking to wind it down by that time. If any regulars to this blog - or those frequently critiquing NPR on its website - would be interested in writing for a group NPR Check blog that would supersede NPR Check, please email me. I'm thinking the new blog would look a lot like this one. I've set up a beta version at NPR Team Check.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Asymmetric Accomplices to Murder

Remember back in June of 2006 when three Guantanamo detainees allegedly killed themselves? At the time I opined that "reports should say 'the alleged suicides' of three captives with no access to due process." And a few days later when Dan Schorr allowed John Ydstie to report the deaths as suicides, I noted that "it is essential that when prisoners are seized and held extrajudicially and die in custody, one must be skeptical about the conditions of the deaths..."

My skepticism was justified. On January 18, 2010, Harper magazine published a stunning investigative piece documenting (with FOUR named military sources) the apparent murders of those three detainees by US agents at the Guantanamo Prison Camp - and the subsequent coverup of the murders at the highest levels (e.g. war criminal Admiral Harris). The news of these likely murders is not completely unexpected, because as Scott Horton pointed out over a month ago (Dec. 7, 2009), a professor and Seton Hall students poured over the 503 page redacted military investigation (huge PDF file here) and found not only glaring inconsistencies (e.g. the victims had rags stuffed in their throats - the victims had no rags stuffed in their throats), but ludicrous assumptions underlying the official military story (i.e. under intense prison surveillance all three had to simultaneously bind themselves and hang themselves and go undetected for two hours!)

So how did NPR react to this damning news? So far absolutely nothing in the on-air news shows. This is completely inexcusable given the things that NPR reported (repeated) as facts regarding the detainee deaths:
  • June 10, 2006 ATC (first major report on the deaths) - Jackie Northam: "the military says that the men hanged themselves....everything is coming from the Pentagon at this point, and they're saying that the suicides were planned and were coordinated....They described them all as dangerous members of terrorists organizations....they described this as an act of warfare...."
  • June 11, 2006 Weekend Edition Sunday- Jackie Northam: "All three of the men had made nooses out of their bedclothes and out of the sheets and that, and that's how they hanged themselves.....[the US military] said it was well planned out by these men, who they called dangerous prisoners.....the military called this, not an act of desperation, Liane, but an act of warfare. The Guantanamo commander...Navy Rear Admiral Harry Harris said that these men were committed Jihadists....And this falls in line with what the military has always said, that anytime that these suicide attempts are made, it's a tactic used by al-Qaida to garner support..."
  • June 12, 2006 ME - Jackie Northam: "...a prison guard at Guantanamo Bay discovered one of the detainees had hanged himself....Shortly after, guards discovered two more prisoners in the same area of the detention camp, had also hanged themselves.....Harris called the three men committed jihadists....Harris said the suicides were an act of what he called asymmetric warfare..."
  • June 12, 2006 ATC - Jackie Northam: "Military officials at Guantanamo say the three detainees who committed suicide were ardent Jihadists who were willing to kill Americans and others....The Pentagon says he was a mid- to high-level al-Qaida operative. [The second] is described as a frontline fighter for the Taliban....Guantanamo Bay spokesman Commander Robert Duran said today that [the third] also had links to a terrorist group."
  • May 31, 2007 ME [almost a year later] reporting on another supposed suicide Northam again states, "We're expecting to hear later today...whether he hanged himself like the other three prisoners did last summer, or whether it was something else." Renee Montagne adds, "And those of three prisoners who succeeded in killing themselves last year, they hanged themselves. What does the military do to try to prevent suicides?"
As you can see, not only did NPR repeat all the claims of the Pentagon as fact, but also repeated verbatim the US military's completely unsubstantiated claims about the detainees being dangerous terrorists. It's really tragic that it took a law professor and his students to slog through the military's sloppy coverup and that one reporter at Harper's magazine manages to get four former military men to go on the record with their revelations. It's funny that no one at NPR knows how to read long PDF files or how to get in touch with whistleblowers... If NPR had a shred of integrity, it would quickly and forcefully revisit it's coverage of the detainee deaths, issue an apology and remind listeners that there was never any proof for the statements that it repeated again and again as fact.

I should mention that - with grotesque timing (and typical obliviousness) - NPR did have a related story on the same day that the Horton story broke: June 19th's Morning Edition featured the inept Madeline Brand interviewing torture lawyer, and dynamic professor, John Yoo who was on to pimp his book and his slimy reputation. Brand flailed about, mentioning water boarding once and pointing out the unending nature of the "war on terror," but never pursued Yoo's evasions with follow-up questions and never brought up the obvious criminal behaviors sanctioned by Yoo and his Office of Legal Counsel - forced nudity, wall slamming, forced coldness, sleep deprivation, enforced painful stress positions, etc. Needless to say, she made no mention of the numerous detainee deaths by torture which have followed from Yoo's determinations that US "terror" detainees are outside the protections of US and international laws.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

History Scrub - The Haiti Chapter

In February of 2009, FAIR noted my use of the term history scrub regarding NPR's coverage of Afghanistan. As I noted in my post on Afghanistan back then,
"...if the essential background history to a story reflects poorly on the actions of the US government - that history will be deleted, scrubbed, sanitized - sent down the memory hole."
NPR's Haiti earthquake coverage has been as dismally truncated as any of its censored-history stories. Everyone can agree that the earthquake in Haiti is a horror and that immediate rescue and relief is needed. But people do wonder why the devastation was so overwhelming and complete, and it does have a history. If the history is not honestly covered then the answers are provided by the creepy, rightwing fringe (sort of fringe) types like Pat Robertson (not always fringe on NPR either), or the creepy, respectable rightwing sorts like the smirking NPR regular, David Brooks who states in the NYT,
"Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.

We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them."
So how was NPR's coverage of Haiti's history?
  • On Wednesday, January 13, 2010 Morning Edition Deborah Amos interviewed Miami Herald writer Jacqueline Charles about how great the past year was for progress in Haiti: "I've been reporting on this country for years now and in the last couple of the last two or three years, the country has been enjoying relative stability. I just recently wrote a story about how it was going to get its first international hotel franchise in a decade because investors were starting to feel confident, both Haitians and non-Haitians alike." Ah yes, investors have brought such wonderful benefits to Haiti over the years.
  • On Thursday, January 14, 2010 All Thing Considered NPR turns to Johanna Mendelson Forman - stalwart of the US foreign policy and military establishment - to sing the praises of the UN's role in Haiti. Michelle Kellemen tells us that "she said the U.N. mission in Haiti had a lot of successes in recent years, ....everybody was looking at a 2010 that was going to have a much more significant investment future, a greater opportunity for jobs." That's an interesting take on the UN, because as Peter Hallward notes in the Guardian/UK, after the US-backed coup against Aristide in 2004, "The UN has subsequently maintained a large and enormously expensive stabilisation and pacification force in the country....[and] the same countries scrambling to send emergency help to Haiti now, however, have during the last five years consistently voted against any extension of the UN mission's mandate beyond its immediate military purpose."
  • On Friday January 15, 2010 ATC NPR goes looking for a Haitian willing to carve up history, and so heads over to the cynically named right-wing Haiti Democracy Project [which the above Timothy Carney once chaired - surprise!]. NPR finds Arielle Jean-Baptiste who -guess what? - blames Haitians for their disastrous history: "They resign themselves to what they have. They don't demand accountability from their government....So it is frustrating because there is a certain mindset in Haiti where they get together to get rid of a bad government, but they are unable to get themselves together to build." Her answer to "fix" Haiti? Got a guess? "We [the international community] should get more involved in agro industry in Haiti and economic growth." Just like the good old days, I guess. (NPR obviously knows just how unbiased [hee, hee] this "marching with the President Aristide's opposition" Jean-Baptiste character is.)
If the scale of this assault on memory and historical accuracy weren't such a potent weapon for continuing the US-led predations on countries like Haiti, the nonsense and myth that passes for coverage on NPR would be humorous. But as it is, this kind of aggressive rewriting of the past has consequences that are as deadly and tragic as the natural disaster it is supposedly trying to explain.

It's Not the Peabody, But...

NPR does occasionally throw the intelligent listener a bone, so let's throw them credit where credit is due.
Two in one week; that must be a like a record or something!

Update: Unlike most mainstream journalists Baker shows he's not concerned about sucking up to organizations like NPR in order to gain that mystical prize of "access." On Friday morning he turns his telescope on that home of economic idiocy known as Planet Money [which actually has won a Peabody!]

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Q Tips

NPR comments welcomed.

Simon Tweets Bauble

You might recall that Scott Simon's handsome salary made waves at the NPR Ombudsman's blog back in September. This past Saturday, Simon - returning from India - was not hosting Weekend Edition, but he was Tweeting:

If you click on the picture above you will be able to see the following tweet he posted from India:

I guess when you're clearing $300,648 your spending on "baubles" can be off by a $100 or so...zounds!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Great Taboo

(If you want to purchase these cute little monkeys they are just $9.95)

On Friday's ATC Mara Liasson says one of the stupidest things I've heard on NPR in a while - which is saying something! Talking about the waning popularity of the BushLite Obama administration among more left leaning and progressive Democrats Liasson states,
"And there are other disagreements. On Afghanistan much of the Democratic base is opposed to the President's troop increase although the Christmas bomber may have taken some of the heat out of that sentiment."
In Liasson/Foxworld one's thinking seems to be limited to rather primitive stimulus/response equations, such as
Terrorist attempt [X] against a US target [Y] = more US military action [N] in Afghanistan [or Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan].
How else to explain the utter nonsense of her claim that progressives - who know that the Obama Afghanistan War is immoral, stupid, and ultimately destructive of real security - would change their minds based on one terrorist's attempt to bomb a US airliner? If Liasson had any clue about progressive/leftist voters she would realize that the attempted Christmas day attack contradicts the supposed rationale for stepping up the US war on Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, Liasson's comments reveal not just Foxified thinking but that of the mainstream media - and especially highlight its refusal to ever consider what creates and motivates acts of terrorism and/or violence against US assets.

After the Christmas Day bombing attempt, probably the biggest story of the week was the bomber who attacked the CIA in Afghanistan. Any curious person would want to know what motivated the apparently trusted attacker to infiltrate the US base and lethally target US/CIA operations. However, the stunning fact is how little attention is given in the mainstream media to the factors that motivate terrorists and irregular fighters who attack US forces. Glenn Greenwald has covered this taboo recently in two articles: the first regarding the Christmas Day bomber and the second on the CIA base bomber. Regarding the CIA bomber there's nothing unclear or hard to discern about his motives:
  • Time magazine notes "The Jordanian intelligence sources who spoke to TIME speculate that al-Balawi had become enraged at the Americans for killing a high number of civilians in their hunt for al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders."
  • CBS reports that the wife of the bomber stated that he "was outraged over the treatment of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison and the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan."
  • The New York Times reports that the bomber's brother explained "that his brother had been 'changed' by last year’s three-week-long Israeli offensive in Gaza, which killed about 1,300 Palestinians."

Friday, January 01, 2010

Q Tips

Happy New Year all. NPR related comments are welcomed as always.

Civilians, Terrorists, and Cold-blooded Killers

(Image by - click here for original)

I guess it's a challenge for a CIA-friendly news organization like NPR to decide how to report on an attack on a military base that kills CIA operatives. When the story broke in the evening on Dec. 30th the first reports out of Afghanistan referred to civilians being killed on a military base (which did seem odd). By Thursday morning, the BBC was already reporting that the dead were not "civilians" but CIA operatives. Given the CIA's history of murder and assassination, and its current role in military operations and extrajudicial killings in Af-Pak, you might expect that they would be referred to as paramilitary or irregular forces or simply CIA agent/operatives.

On Thursday morning, NPR's mouthpiece in Afghanistan, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson still hadn't figured out that no civilians were killed in the attack on the military base in Khost. She told Steve Inskeep that the suicide bomber
"ended up killing eight American civilians here, killing one Afghan and wounding up to a half dozen more."
As the day wore on NPR's top-of-the hour (TOTH) news bulletins had stopped calling the dead civilians - but now the lethal suicide-attack inside a heavily fortified military base housing CIA operatives was transformed into...a terrorist attack! Newsreader Lakshmi Singh, at midday was stating,
"The CIA says 7 of its employees were killed and six others wounded in a terrorist attack yesterday in Afghanistan. The officers were working in a base in the southeastern province of Khost."
By Thursday afternoon (Dec. 31), the reporting on the attack had morphed into a somber tribute to the noble CIA and all that sacrifices if has made to keep the world safe. Mary Louise Kelly was given the assignment for ATC and she talked to Robert Siegel about it.
Siegel: "And what kind of work were they doing in Khost province?"

Kelly: "Well, the agency is not confirming any specifics....But it's safe to assume that they were doing what CIA types do in remote areas of the world, which is help identify enemy targets, also help recruit locals who can serve as CIA agents, perhaps what was they were trying to do here." [Silly me, I thought they tortured and killed people, propped up dictators, and helped overthrow democratically elected governments.]

Kelly later goes on to note that seven is a very high number of fatalities for the CIA to have in one day:

"...And it's interesting, you know, you walk into CIA headquarters today, walk into the original headquarters building and on the big wall on the left, as you enter, is a wall of stars. Each star representing one of the CIA officers who gave their life in service - was killed in action. Now on that wall there are 90 stars. Remarkable really when you think about how dangerous that line of work is and how long..." [I'm just guessing that Kelly is very familiar with the inside of CIA headquarters.]
Siegel interrupts, "It's a very small number for all these years."

Kelly responds, "Exactly. They've been doing it for six decades now. So, that helps, I think, give some perspective on how devastating it is to have lost seven in one day." They definitely have been doing it...and if there were one star for every poor soul killed as a result of CIA "service" there wouldn't be a wall big enough to put them all on.