Saturday, November 29, 2008

Privatizing Public Radio

On Thursday morning Steve Inskeep spoke to Reva Bhalla about the events unfolding in Mumbai. It was an odd interview, because as the interview went on, it was clear that Bhalla didn't really know much about what was going on. Here's a sample of here "expert" analysis:
  • "...what's more likely is that this is part of a larger outfit India Mujahadeen which has been on the militant scene for a while now...."
  • "...already there are some indications when they're bringing up the boats where the militants supposedly came by, um, some hints of Pakistani links..."
  • " far it looks like there's seem to be some reports of them being Pakistani, more were looking most likely at Islamic militants."
Really, Bhalla offered nothing that any listener to the BBC couldn't have come up with: blah, blah, blah...India Mujahadeen...blah, blah, blah...the boats where the militants supposedly came by...blah, blah, blah...Pakistan...etc.

The only explanation given by Morning Edition for spending several minutes with Bhalla was that "she is director of geopolitical analysis at Stratfor, which is a private intelligence company in Austin Texas." The striking thing about Stratfor, is how little you can find out about it. Barron's ran an interesting article about Stratfor back in October of 2001. You can also find Stratfor produced and purchased information featured by several right-wing sites such as Bill O'Reilly, Right Side News and Right Bias. A critic, Al Giordano of NarcoNews has pointed out how in line with the US State Department policy Stratfor's information and analyses are (which coincidentally makes it a perfect fit with NPR News.) Some information on Stratfor can be found at Sourcewatch and almost nothing from their own corporate site.

As far as information on Ms. Bhalla, I similarly could find almost nothing, except her byline on Statfor published articles. However I did find that she has a profile on Facebook which notes that she is a Texas alum '04 (UT Austin I presume) and a Georgetown grad student.

Wondering how NPR justifies using such a "source" I sent an email to the Ombudsman noting the inaccessibility of information on Bhalla and Statfor and asking "why NPR uses Stratfor as a news source when it is not open to any kind of public scrutiny. Does NPR pay Stratfor, and if so how much?"

I'll add an update to this if I hear anything back.


Anonymous said...

I have been following the India terrorist attack situation pretty closely, and I have noticed this Bhalla chick on lots of outlets. She seems to know what she's talking about.... I have to disagree with your opinion that she's "just a grad student" or whatever. Some of the smartest, most informed people don't even have college degrees. I mean, with a name like that, she might even be from India for all we know.

I guess I'm saying that you are reading way too much into this, and she's probably more qualified than 99.999% of people in the world. I'd call her an expert.

I'm also not surprised you can't find much on a "private intelligence company" - Stratfor. I don't even know what that means, but it makes sense you can't find much.

Porter Melmoth said...

I think it's prudent to be wary of the plethora of media-manufactured talking heads so casually labeled as 'experts'. Experts usually have to have at least some credentials if they are going to be taken seriously. Otherwise, it's just someone with an opinion - only with a mass-media platform in which to voice it.

There are plenty of vetted experts available to comment on the Indo-Pak situation. One of them, Ahmed Rashid, was actually on NPR this morning, and his observations were credible and careful. They were also non-conclusive, and non-leading. That's what a genuine expert does with a developing situation.

Mytwords said...

I stand by my evidence from the NPR interview which was filled with conjectures and what ifs. It's also not "opinion" that she's a grad student, that's what's on her Facebook page. My issue is that there is no way to check her credentials.
If you don't think that publicly funded and listener supported radio should have transparency in its sources, then we simply disagree about what is proper for such radio. I want to know who funds them, what companies and governments they work for etc.

Anonymous said...

Stratfor is pretty rightwing (check out the wikipedia page on founder George Friedman), and I've often found their analysis very off base with a strong republican/pro-war (in all forms) bias. I rolled my eyes when I heard a Stratfor analyst show up on the piece you mentioned.

empty said...

Thank you very much for this site. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. Screaming at my car radio was not doing my blood pressure any good along with the looks I was getting.

Anonymous said...

Intelligence is only as good as the people involved.

The best "intelligence" analysts are NOT the people who are blabbing for hire all over the media.

The blabbers have more in common with psychics than with intelligence analysts.

Like psychics, they are rarely called to task on previous wrong predictions.

When they are right, they -- and the media -- play it up to no end.

When they are wrong, the media ignore it (and they are silent, of course)

here's a comment that on Stratfor that I think is relevant.

Anonymous said...

NPR has a poor track record when it comes to vetting sources and/or disclosing the agendas and government ties of their sources.

But don't waste the electrons required to send a complaint to NPR's Ombudsman.

More likely than not, Shepard will simply defend what NPR is doing, as she has in the past.

From SourceWatch

"One of the analysts mentioned in Barstow's original story was Robert H. Scales Jr., who appeared on programs for both NPR and Fox News programs. Barstow noted that Scales, "whose consulting company advises several military firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, wanted the Pentagon to approve high-level briefings for him inside Iraq in 2006.'Recall the stuff I did after my last visit,' he wrote. 'I will do the same this time.'"[1] In 2003 Scales co-founded a "defense consulting company" Colgen, which boasts that it is "America's Premier Landpower Advocate".[7]

[NPR ombudsman] Shepard noted "since February 2003, he has been on NPR 67 times, most often (28 appearances) on All Things Considered (ATC). The latest was March 28, when he gave ATC listeners an assessment of the fifth anniversary of the war ... Only once in December 2006 was Scales' relationship to Colgen mentioned."[8]

Here's another example, documented by Media Matters in which NPR fails its duty to disclose.

Anonymous said...

another example of NPR Ombudsman defending what amounts to propaganda.

NPR's previous ombudsman (Dvorkin) was FAR superior to its current one.

No contest.

Dvorkin understood the difference between "balance" and propaganda.

I suspect that may actually be why he left. He could not stomach any more of the propaganda that NPR was churning out in the name of "balance"

Anonymous said...

I've been reading Stratfor off and on since its inception. Here's the test: read Stratfor on any topic or region you know very little about. Sounds pretty plausible, doesn't it? Now read Stratfor on anything you actually know something about - not even a great deal, just "NY Times for a year or so" knowledge. Now what do you think? Not very good, is it? Well, it's all like that. Half baked predictions. Mechanical analysis straight out of IR 101. Trying to brand "Geopolitics," which is IR 102: Old-School Realism. It's galling to see this pack of charlatans quoted as though they actually possessed the genuine authority of expertise. From time to time, founder and intellectual light George Friedman makes some sense, albeit in a very predictable, neo-conservative "the world is filled with darkly intentioned state actors" manner, but who can take very seriously ANYONE who would entitle a book "The Next 100 Years"? Think 1908 and conjure up those next 100 years. Save your money, or subscribe to the Financial Times, or even, if you want your opinions straight up, The Economist (but there you need to expect to be exasperated by several things each week).