Sunday, May 31, 2009

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Some Journalists are More Equal Than Others

(graphic by Jim Conte - used with permission )

In the post below regarding a letter to the Ombudsman, I noted that Simon referred to former Vice President Al Gore in a story on the two US journalists detained in North Korea. The detention deserves coverage, as did some coverage of Saberi's arrest in Iran (though not the wall to wall attention given by NPR).

In the May 23rd open thread comments, a reader posted a link to this LA Times article on another irregular (illegal?) detention of a journalist. In this case the journalist was seized by US forces and its allies. The reader noted the lack of NPR coverage on the abduction/detention of Ibrahim Jassam, complaining that NPR has voiced "not a word" - which this search of NPR proves.

A glance at the Committee to Protect Journalists report for "Attacks on the Press in 2008: United States" reveals that Jassam's case is not an anomaly (e.g. Jawed Ahmad). What is not an anomaly is NPR's utter disregard for, and refusal to investigate, attacks against journalists that are initiated by the United States government / military. Jeremy Schahill has written incisively about the US strategy of violence and intimidation against critical media and the complicity of mainstream US media outlets (such as NPR) in covering it up.

Consistently Inconsistent

I contacted the Ombudsman regarding Scott Simon and the "Your Letters" feature on yesterday's Weekend Edition Saturday. Here's my letter, and I'll definitely post any response (in the unlikely event that there is one that is not a robo-response):

In the "Your Letters" portion of the program Scott Simon stated,

"We'd like to clarify an issue first. Many of you wrote in to complain that NPR news analyst Juan Williams and I referred to Dick Cheney as Vice President Cheney during our discussion last week. Several correspondents said that because Mr. Cheney is no longer in office, he should not be addressed by that title. 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 Justic O'Connor, President Clinton, and Vice President Cheney and the policy's applied uniformly regardless of political party or ideology."

This sounds like a statement of NPR policy and if so it clearly inaccurate and strikes me as unprofessional.

First NPR sometimes refers to former officials by name only (search Al Gore or Jimmy Carter in the NPR search bar for examples) without any reference to previous office.

Second, the suggestion that an elected office bestows a grant of "lifetime honorific" on a person is an arbitrary conclusion, and one which runs contrary to the spirit the US founders and of representative democracy .

Third, this usage can be confusing, whereas the use of "former _______ " makes perfect sense and is ironically used by Scott Simon during the same show in the piece on "Jailed American Journalists in N. Korea" where he refers to "former Vice President Al Gore."

Lastly, Simon cites "Justice O'Connor" as an example of "former elected officials" whereas Supreme Court justices are appointed - and to life terms at that!

How about if NPR simply uses the elected title when referring to actions carried out in the past while holding said office (e.g. President Reagan met with Mr. Gorbachev in Iceland, etc.), or refer to people as "former _______" when discussing them in the present regarding present activities (e.g. Former Vice President Cheney defended the practices in a speech.) Wouldn't that be simple and consistent?

Thanks for considering this. I would love to hear your opinion on the matter.

Matthew Murrey (Mytwords)
NPR Check

Saturday, May 30, 2009

With Friends Like These - More Fair and Balanced from NPR

A reader of this blog earlier noted his letter to the OMBOTsman regarding NPR's habit of always having supposedly liberal Daniel Schorr balanced out on every show by a more rightwing voice (can you say Foxista Juan Williams?).

This morning featured Juan Williams (and Scott Simon) parroting the right wing talking points on the Sotomayor nomination:
(Williams) "But on the face of it Scott, you'd have to say that her language - and if you took it for what it was worth - was racist."
That was the view from the right, but what about the liberal views on the weeks news? Consider these statements from Schorr talking with Simon later in the program:
  • "We have not witnessed a nuclear explosion in anger since 1945..."
  • "Nuclear weapons going steadily into more and more hands and not very responsible hands..."
  • "Probably the most immediate dangerous is what's called proliferation. Israel has already had to bomb an installation in Syria which apparently had North Korean help in getting a nuclear weapon."
  • "And so for the civilized world right now the immediate thing is to prevent further proliferation which may mean having to board and search ships at sea."
Holy smokes! However - civilized, responsible Schorr wasn't done yet. With a prompt from Simon, he's off an running on Iran:
(Simon): "Does the policy of extending a hand in friendship look a little naive this week?"
(Schorr): "I don't know if it looks, if it is naive, but it looks as though it's not getting very far..."
I'm not sure what hand of friendship Simon and Schorr are fantasizing about. Maybe they mean one of the AIPAC enriched palms of Dennis Ross - chief of Obama's non-diplomacy policy toward Iran.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

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The Counterinsurgency Channel

If you were listening to NPR last night you might have thought Tom Bowman was describing US foreign policy in Afghanistan when he said, "picture a Brinks truck on steroids." Actually he was simply describing a US armored vehicle.

The report itself is meant to promote an aspect of US counterinsurgency in Afghanistan - the training of Afghan police as part of Task Force Phoenix [what dumb ass names these operations anyway?]. The report opens with some great editorializing from Michele Norris:
"If American policy is ever to be successful in Afghanistan, it will be because of people like Army Major Jim Contreras; he's the top American police trainer in Helmand province in Southern Afghanistan. Afghan police are key to fighting insurgents: they know the neighborhoods, the people, who is an insurgent and who is not."
In spite of the likely failure of the US "mission" in Afghanistan - and the dismal (and lucrative) history of the US training program for Afghan police forces, Norris assures us that this will be the "key to fighting insurgents." It's striking, too, how apropos of nothing, Norris confidently asserts that they know "who is an insurgent and who is not"?

There is nothing in the report to indicate how disastrous the new Bushama/Obamush War in Af-Pak will be, instead there is the focus on one program (and one man) that will deliver that ever elusive, mythical (can you say Phoenix?) success that empires are always gunning for in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Economists Who Couldn't Shoot Straight

This morning NPR featured a National Association of Business Economics survey (available to members only) which predicts a modest upturn in the US economy. Here's David Greene introducing this "news":
"We've taken a look at a new survey of top economists and they conclude that this recession will probably end by the second half of this year but according to that survey from the National Association of Business Economics the job market will still remain weak..."
Frankly, when a news station tells me that some non-public survey predicting economic recovery reflects the opinion of top economists - I want to know who they are and whose interests they represent. Especially when the organization sponsoring the survey brags on its website:
"Past Presidents have included several former Federal Reserve Governors, the former Chairman of the Board of Governors for the Federal Reserve System, Alan Greenspan, and other senior business leaders."
In addition to the basic information about who these surveyed jokers are, it would have helped to note that NABE's previous survey predictions have been less than accurate - as noted by blogger, Walt Thiessen and by Barry Ritholz at RGE Monitor.

Monday, May 25, 2009

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

NPR hosts Obama-Cheney debate

President Obama engaged former vice president Dick Cheney in a heated debate last week on both administrations' use of torture and other violations of human rights.

Actually, the debate never happened; the two men were in completely different locations, each attacking the policies of the other administration and defending their own positions in speeches in front of friendly audiences unable to challenge them. Nonetheless, ME presented them as a face-to-face debate between the two men, alternating soundbites from each.

Yes, this is the same Dick Cheney who determinedly avoided all forms of open information and accountability during the eight miserably long years he was VP, and who has every motivation to cover up the various crimes committed under his reign in the Bush administration. So one might reasonably ask, Who gives a shit what Dick Cheney has to say now?

Well, evidently NPR does, because they gave Cheney equal billing with the president in a piece titled "Obama, Cheney: Different Views on National Security." The title is offensive not only because it presents Cheney's views as equally relevant as the current president's, but also because it refers to the crimes of torture, the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and indefinite detention without trial, as simply "national security." (At least the extended web version of the "debate" is titled "Obama, Cheney face off on torture.")

And in case you were wondering who won the debate, Steve Inskeep introduces the article with:
"Cheney warned that the new administration was tearing down the policies that kept America safe, yet the new president also faces criticism for keeping the essence of many Bush administration policies in place."
I am not going to get into the details of the misreprentations and dissembling in both speeches. These have been covered well elsewhere. My point here is to just to ask why NPR decided it was appropriate to present Cheney's blatantly self-serving propaganda as anything remotely relevant to current policy.

Don Gonyea attempted to explain it by saying: "The administration seemed to relish the mano a mano competition, pitting the popular Mr. Obama against an unpopular former vice president."

Actually, it was NPR that seemed to relish it most. And, of course, Gonyea couldn't help but jump into the make-believe debate himself, with his own thoughts on just how darn difficult it is to stop torturing people:
"But the real battle for President Obama is not in outshining Dick Cheney but persuading a reluctant Congress and public that he can shudder Guantanamo without compromising security."

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Friday, May 22, 2009

On NPR Supermax is Super Funny

Considering whether Guantanamo detainees might end up in the Florence, Colorado Supermax prison, NPR put Melissa Block on the phone with Bob Wood. According to Block "He's publisher of the Florence Citizen; his newspaper was active in helping bring Supermax to Florence and he says the prison is good for the local economy." Essentially, Wood tells block that bringing Guantanamo prisoners to the Supermax in Florence is not a controversial issue at all.

Block glibly closes the interview with this anecdote:
"By the way we also called the mayor of Florence, Colorado - Bart Hall - who told us this: 'Florence is used to having very bad boys at the Supermax. We weren't expecting it to house a bunch of kindergartners."
Oh man, that is so funny. Unlike those bitter, humorless Quakers, I just laughed and laughed to think of "more than twenty thousand prisoners in the United special super-maximum security facilities....locked in small, sometimes windowless, cells....A few times a week...let out for showers and solitary exercise....[with] almost no access to educational or recreational activities...." What a riot! Ho! and kindergartners....yes, the idea of children in inhumane detention is just so clever and witty....

I just hope that NPR will hurry up and call up some of America's finest torturers enhanced interrogators so they can regale us with torture humor. Oh Melissa, you certainly are a very bad girl!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

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Summer Camp With Steve and Jackie

At the top of the hour Thursday morning I had to hear Inskeep cheerily remark that NPR would visit Guantanamo where prisoners are "taking art classes, growing tomatoes, and learning English..." Inskeep also described the prisoners as "terror detainees."

Jackie Northam was the tour guide for this Potemkin trip to Gitmo where we heard from chummy US military personnel about the inmates of Camp 4 - the "highly compliant" inmates who get to stay outside their cells, use basketball and soccer facilities, take art classes, garden and learn English.

There were a few details missing in this story about current conditions at Guantanamo. Somehow Jackie missed out on the rough and tumble fun of detainee v. Immediate Reaction Force games. She could have found a redacted history of these brave competitors at the UC-Davis Human Rights Center or talked with one of the detainee players. Amazingly, Jackie also missed the family-style feedings attended by 10% of Guantanamo "terror detainees."

Maybe I'm not being fair to Jackie and Steve. After all, change is in the air (not), summer is almost here, and things are just so much improved at Guantanamo...aren't they?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

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Criminal Reporting

Poor Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson couldn't do a decent report out of Afghanistan if someone else wrote it and handed it to her. On Tuesday's ATC she describes an assassination attempt against one of the sleazy Karzai brothers [this one - not this one] as follows:
"For now, provincial council members meet in the well-guarded home of council chair Ahmed Wali Karzai...the brother of Afghan President. He was himself the target of an assassination attempt outside Kabul last week when gunmen ambushed his convoy."
Given that Ahmed is widely believed to be a key drug lord in the thriving Afghan heroin trade you might expect that information to find its way into the story. Not a chance; the possibility that the assassination attempt was related to Ahmed's criminality doesn't fit NPR's narrow script of good guys (the US and any and all followers) v. bad guys/Taliban (any Afghan who takes up arms against the US-led occupation of Afghanistan). Introducing Nelson's report, Michele Norris reinforces the narrative with this bit of speculation:
"In Kandahar...just yesterday suspected Taliban militants tried unsuccessfully to assassinate the brother of President Hamid Karzai...head of the area's provincial council."
To add insult to injury, not only does Nelson stick with this interpretation but then she hands the microphone to this thug so he can lecture us about "the struggle" (I think it's called Enduring Freedom...hee, hee):
"This is a war for justice and for freedom and for democracy, and we're not going to just run away from it. So it's tough but we will continue with our struggle against the terrorists and al-Qaeda."
To cut her a bit of slack, perhaps Nelson featured this truth, justice and the American way cant because she was afraid of what freedom-lovin' Ahmed Karzai might do to her if she did any actual reporting on him...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Simon Says as Simon Does

This morning Scott Simon - one of America’s most admired writers and broadcasters [hee, hee] - retreads a valid point made four days ago by HuffPo' Phil Bronstein: homophobe Carrie Prejean and Barack Obama have made similar statements about gay marriage. Ah, but Simon is wanting to be extra-clever and so hired actors to recite Prejan's jumbled anti-gay marriage statements with a "sophisticated" British accent, followed by Obama's anti-gay marriage statement read with a middle-American plain accent.

After each statement he challenged us to guess "Who said that?"

Well, let's play Simon's game with Simon's [and a different President's] own words. We'll go back to October of 2001.

For the first speaker, imagine a well meaning, gentle, oh-so sincere, sensitive man-voice reading:
"Today we focus on Afghanistan, but the battle is broader. Every nation has a choice to make. In this conflict, there is no neutral ground....We're a peaceful nation. Yet, as we have learned, so suddenly and so tragically, there can be no peace in a world of sudden terror....We defend not only our precious freedoms, but also the freedom of people everywhere to live and raise their children free from fear....Today, those sacrifices are being made by members of our armed forces who now defend us so far from home."
For the second, imagine a clipped, faux-Texas, folksy, tough guy macho voice saying,
"In confronting the forces that attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, American pacifists have no sane alternative now but to support war....People who try to hold certain American policies or culture responsible are trying to decorate the crimes of psychotics with synthetic political significance....But those...who have been pacifists must admit that it has been [their] blessing to live in a nation in which other citizens have been willing to risk their lives to defend [their] dissent....Only American (and British) power can stop more killing..."
So, who do you think was the speaker of the first? Your choices are either Scott Simon or George W. Bush. And what about the second speech - Bush or Simon? It's hard to tell, isn't it? The first is Bush announcing the US assault on Afghanistan in October of 2001 and the second is Scott Simon justifying that same war in the Wall Street Journal.

Simon ends this morning's piece with the usual smug, self-congratulatory bit of moralizing:
"It makes it a bit harder, but more important, to do real journalism and sometimes tell an audience, 'We know what you think you know. But listen to this.'" Real journalism...yeah, listen to this...

Friday, May 15, 2009

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Obama v EPA; Shogren v memo

Tuesday's ATC carried a story titled "OMB criticizes EPA finding on greenhouse gases." OMB refers to the White House Office of Management and Budget, and the story asserts that the Obama administration disagrees with the recent EPA ruling that greenhouse gases and global warming are a threat to public health and welfare.

Here is how Robert Siegel introduced the piece:
"A White House document has reignited the debate over whether the government should regulate greenhouse gases... The document that's come to light raises questions about the EPA's findings."
And here is Elizabeth Shogren's summary:
"Some industry representatives say the White House document shows that the EPA might be stretching the science to increase its regulatory might."

These are basically the talking points from the oil industry and the Senate Republicans who promoted this story, but it is not quite true.

David Roberts at Grist explains that Republican senators are promoting a memo that had been submitted in response to the EPA’s call for comments on the recent “endangerment finding” on greenhouse gases. The memo is extremely critical of the EPA’s greenhouse gas decision. But rather than the official position of the Obama White House, the OMB memo is a compilation of comments and opinions from staff in various federal agencies, including Bush administration officials. The comments were compiled over the first couple months of the Obama administration, when Bush officials were still in place and before the Obama administration had appointed new agency leads.

As Grist's Roberts puts it: "The OMB is not challenging the EPA. All these memos show is that there are people somewhere in the vast federal bureaucracy, either now or from the Bush era, who don’t like the idea of the EPA regulating greenhouse gases."

Far be it from me to defend the Obama administration, but it seems quite a stretch for NPR to portray this as the official position of Obama or the OMB. So why are Siegel and Shogren parroting propaganda from the global warming deniers? I don't know. But to cap it off, Shogren ends the story with,
"Some environmentalists...say there is no doubt that greenhouse gases endanger public health."
Again, no. It is not just those pesky environmentalists who say that greenhouse gases and global warming are a problem. It is the EPA who says so.

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A Riddle Wrapped in Mystery

(H/T to Churchill for the title)

The contortionists at NPR are mighty busy these days being super, extra careful not to use the word torture to describe - well - torture. Keeping the English language in such painful stress positions leads to some rather interesting remarks. On ATC Wednesday I caught Bob Siegel stating,
"The infamous Abu Ghraib photos served as early evidence of harsh treatment of detainees. Today the White House announced its decision to fight against the release of other similar photos. The photos show the alleged abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan."
That little paragraph is just packed full of maneuvers. The now public Abu Ghraib photos are "evidence" of "harsh treatment" [not the T-word!]. However, the photos that the Bush Obama administration now wants to keep secret show the "alleged abuse" of detainees. It wasn't just Siegel referring to photos of "alleged abuse"; I heard it several other times during the 5-minute news summaries NPR broadcasts. So now undoctored photos of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment don't show that at all; they simply show "alleged" abuses.

Taking NPR's skeptical approach, I present to you a few photos of other "alleged" events.

The alleged assassination of President Kennedy:

The alleged "harsh policing" of civil rights protesters:


The alleged landing of a man on the moon:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

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Green Beret Love

[cross-posted at Corrente]

On Monday's ME, Tom Bowman and Renee Montagne assess the Obama War switch of commanders in Afghanistan from General McKiernan to General McChrystal and - boy - is Bowman juiced by McChrystal's Green Beret credentials.

"Well he's known, of course, for being a Green Beret - those are highly skilled soldiers that are adept at working with local forces and governments going after insurgents. He spent a lot of time in Afghanistan and Iraq as head of what's called the Joint Special Operations Command - that's a secretive and elite counterterrorism force. They were helpful in getting Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi....but he also has somewhat of a blemish on his record, too. He was involved in the case involving army ranger, Pat Tilman..."

Yes, indeed those Green Berets (and other US special forces) do have a history of being "adept at working with local forces and governments"! Green Berets involved in torture - what does that have to do with McChrystal and Afghanistan? Actually, quite a lot as Andrew Sullivan has noticed. As the Kaplan "Obama War" link above notes McChrystal's special force command included providing personnel to the US torture operations at Camp Nama in Iraq.

Bowman's not done putting the shine on the state terror that special operations are so special at. He tells us that
"McKiernan too conventional not really adept at this counterinsurgency warfare...he really wasn't focused on, they said, on protecting the population, which is the key thing in insurgencies like this."
Whew, I bet all those Afghans are so relieved that McChrystal will be helping to protect them, especially now that he will be "getting the added troops and civilian experts that they need to help rebuild the country..." Is that special, or what?

The polar bear in the room

ME carried a story about polar bears on Monday that started with:
"The threatened polar bear has become an icon for the potentially devastating effects of global warming. The animal depends on sea ice for its survival, and this ice is disappearing..."
Reporter Anne Feidt had followed federal Fish and Wildlife Service biologists studying polar bears in Alaska, and after the requisite crunch of ice under boot and the breathing of a sedated bear, she gave a basic rundown of global warming threats to polar bears. She paraphrased one biologist as saying that "the future for Alaska's polar bears is grim, and he's already seeing one potentially troubling sign — very few females with cubs."

Here's the weird thing: The article completely ignores the most glaring, recent, and newsworthy part of the story. Last week U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced his decision to continue the Bush administration practice of withholding Endangered Species Act protections from the polar bear. Bush had issued a "special rule" that said, although the polar bear's habitat is melting due to global warming, the government may not protect that habitat. Congress had given the Obama administration specific authority until May 9 to undo the damage done by Bush, and Salazar decided not to act on it.

This happened just last Friday, affecting the very polar bears whose breath Feidt was recording, announced by the boss of the researchers she was interviewing, and it was not even mentioned in the article.

It's not like it was just some small administrative technicality that was noticed only by politicos and treehuggers. The story was covered by all the usual suspects. However, NPR somehow managed not to mention it in their story about federal biologists studying the impacts of global warming on polar bears.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Chickens and Eggs

(Cross-posted at Corrente)
As mentioned in an earlier post on the most recent Afghan carnage from US air strikes, NPR presents heaps of skepticism when the US military is accused of any wrongdoing. This drumbeat was maintained by the "liberal" Dan Schorr on Saturday morning:
"...although military sources say they believe that the Taliban itself may have been responsible for at least some of those. The real problem there is that because we don't have enough troops in Afghanistan - that they do a lot of their work from the air, and if you are working from the air...clearly if we go on being blamed for, whether or not we did it, being blamed for the civilian casualties - it's not going to help our cause very much."
You've just got to love that phrase "work from the air" - Schorr is certainly doing his work on the air!

On Monday morning we get to hear from Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson who tells us
"There are very widely diverging accounts about what happened. You have the US military saying that the Taliban in fact may have caused these casualties. You have the human rights commissions saying these were caused by bombs, although they're basing this on second hand accounts....villagers that in fact the attacks did come from the Americans. BUT WHAT SEEMS TO BE CLEAR is that the Taliban instigated these attacks, that basically they had gone into these two remote villages and tried to collect taxes, behead people, or just take over the villages depending on who you talk to..."
How's that for logic? This is not a defense of the Taliban, but - seriously - because they are fighting the puppet of Kabul and the US/NATO occupiers they "instigated" the slaughter of civilians? But wait, shouldn't Nelson have said that the US instigated the deaths when it attacked Afghanistan in 2001? No, wait, maybe it was the Taliban who instigated the deaths when it hosted al-Qaeda who attacked the US in, wait, it was the US who helped extremists come to power by funding the, wait, it was the Soviets who invaded Afghanistan in wait it was the US who baited the Soviets into invading Afghanistan in the first place, no, wait....

Was it the chicken or the egg? On NPR, definitely the chicken...

Tortured to Death? Ho Hum...

Liane Hansen has a little chat with "Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez was in charge of the ground forces in Iraq when some of those techniques were used at the Abu Ghraib prison." During the interview Sanchez relates the following:
"We got a little bit of an insight into what they [CIA] were doing when they did drop off what came to be known as Iceman at Abu Ghraib in the fall of 2003....we clearly understood that they were using some very, very aggressive techniques, and in fact had wound up with this man dead in the course of an interrogation....he was brought to Abu Ghraib and handed off to my conventional forces there at the prison, and we eventually wound up repatriating him to his family to be taken care of and interred."
HOLY CRAP! Sanchez is describing the fact that the CIA and US forces tortured a man to death. Hansen doesn't express shock, disgust, surprise...anything. She manages a brief interruption to ask who "Iceman" was, but that's it.

Another chapter in the banality of evil.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

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Friday, May 08, 2009


Clowns not getting paid? That's funny. Evidence below indicates that they be laughing all the way to the bank...hee...hee...

(click for better resolution)

(image is from NPR's 2007 990 - pdf)

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Enduring Freedom

(click graphic to reveal the featured stenographer)

Take a look at the ICRC report on the recent killing of dozens of civilians in Afghanistan by US air strikes. Among other things, it states,
"The ICRC team was unable to determine the exact number of dead but their impression was that dozens of people, including women and children, had been killed.....We know that those killed included an Afghan Red Crescent volunteer and 13 members of his family who had been sheltering from fighting in a house that was bombed in an air strike,..."
The ICRC report was released on May 5, 2009. Consider NPR's coverage this morning (May 7, 2009).
Inskeep: " Afghanistan US forces are investigating a military operation that MAY HAVE killed dozens of civilians."
Montagne: "Local officials and the Red Cross say that CIVILIANS WERE APPARENTLY killed when US planes struck Taliban targets."
Contrast this heavy handed skepticism with the complete lack of doubt when the source is the US military.

From Inskeep and Montagne's manufactured doubt about whether any civilians were killed, NPR turns to Tom Bowman for cleanup:
Bowman: " at the same time a local police official says the Taliban herded some civilians into a house - so that's one possible explanation for what happened here and now some US military officers are saying the Taliban may have played a larger role here; they may have tossed some grenades at civilians - but again they're still looking into this..."
Montagne signs off the story, telling us, "Tom Bowman is NPR Pentagon correspondent." I think she should have said stenographer.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Celebrity babies save swine flu

Tuesday's ME carried an article with the promising title "How well have media covered the flu outbreak?" which started with this from Renee Montagne,
"Headlines for the past ten days have featured words like pandemic, outbreak and contagion. Certainly likely to set off alarm bells..."
I couldn't believe it. NPR was actually going to analyze their coverage of their biggest story over the past week. They rarely acknowledge any critique beyond the carefully selected and highly contrived Listeners' Letters segments.

Unfortunately, I was immediately disabused of that fantasy as Montagne continued,
"NPR's David Folkenflik suggests the media has handled the swine flu more responsibly than some might think."
In fact, Folkenflik never even mentioned NPR, deciding instead to focus on CNN's coverage.

To be honest, I didn't find NPR's covereage of the swine flu particularly bad, beyond the fact that they dedicated an inordinate amount of time and energy to the story -- as many as three or more full articles per show, plus the breathless updates in the hourly news summaries -- without ever really explaining why it was such a big story. As Folkenflik put it,
"Even beyond menacing tone, the sheer volume of the coverage throughout the media is alarming..."
Exactly. After 30 or more ME and ATC articles plus constant updates on the progression of the outbreak, I definitely understood that this was a HUGE story and that I should be VERY afraid, but I had no idea why (other than the vague understanding that I was probably going to die). This last point was addressed in a separate article on Wednesday's ATC:
"The first reports about swine flu in Mexico made the disease sound highly lethal. But now, just a couple of weeks later, public health officials are saying the new H1N1 strain may be no more deadly than plain old seasonal flu..."
This article pointed out that this pattern has been seen many times before, most recently with SARS in 2003 and West Nile Disease in the late 1990s.
"Disease experts say a downgrade isn't surprising. It's a product of the way most disease outbreaks are detected... Swine flu isn't the first outbreak to look terrifying early on."
Rather than excusing their "terrifying" coverage, you'd think these recent examples of the authorities and the media overestimating the mortality rates and exaggerating the risks might have led NPR to be a little more restrained.

Folkenflik ends his piece with,
"And that reminds me of how many other obsessions have been indulged by the news media over the past week, like accused serial killers, celebrity babies, and anti-tax activists...which could be a the media's relatively responsible handling of the flu story, at least so far."
Apparently, as long as the "news" over the last week also included the usual lame distractions, the media were being responsible in their coverage of the swine flu. This philosophy might explain a lot about NPR: As long as we include lots and lots of junk, our overall coverage will have to balance out.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tick Tick Tick

(click here for graphic source)

For a long time NPR news has minimized (June 2006), dismissed (February 2007), ignored (April 2007), covered over (October 2007), and collaborated with (December 2007) the use of torture by agencies and agents of the US government. You can search NPR news in vain for any original investigative work on exposing torture or on any serious elucidation of the laws and conventions that prohibit the US from committing torture and require prosecution for violators.

Yesterday and today feature NPR continuing its function of justifying and sanitizing the US torture regime. On Monday's ATC, Alex Spielgel provides a long and sympathetic venue to torture psychologist and apologist Bryce Lefever. I posted this brief critique on NPR's website:
Norris says Spiegel is letting Lefever offer a "different view"? Different from what? When has NPR offered a thorough investigative critique of the war crimes committed by Lefever and his cohorts? NPR can barely even use the word torture when it covers these crimes. Norris also sees no irony in mentioning that Lefever went to work at Bagram in 2002 (that was a pleasant time there!).

It doesn't surprise me that liars and sadists like Lefever did what they did. What is disgusting is how NPR and other "news" outlets aided and abetted these torturers through refusing to report, cover and investigate the torture story that was breaking as early as 2002. And now NPR insults us by offering a "different view"? What a sad excuse for journalism...uggghhh.
Then on Tuesday morning Dina Temple-Raston is on to critique what Steve Inskeep describes as "the strongest argument for torture...the ticking time bomb scenario...." This is interesting, to say the least, since NPR has been a promoter of this argument before. As it turns out the report is not much of a critique.

Temple-Raston's strongest critic is CIA-award-winning terrorism scholar Bruce Hoffman who states that "I've personally been told that they happen...but I have to admit...I've become increasingly skeptical...." To his credit he notes that the ticking time bomb scenario "becomes a default assumption, which in turn...becomes a legitimization or justification for torture...I've yet to see an actual documented case independently of what I was told."

Not a bad start, but in the ever shifting world of NPR moral relativism we have to get the "other side" on this one. Who better than a former member of the torture organization itself, former CIA agent Michael Scheuer, who we get to hear claim, "I happen to know at least through 2004 these activities were very productive, broke up plots aimed at our allies, and aimed against the domestic United States." Finally we are told that Michael Hayden claims torture produced good intelligence, while the FBI claims that's not true.

One of the most striking features of NPR's coverage of the torture issue is how rarely the featured "experts" are human rights or international law advocates or experts. Instead they are usually members or former members of various US government agencies - frequently of the very ones implicated in formulating and carrying out torture. Why is the flimsy "ticking time bomb" given a place of prominence and treated as worthy of debate? Why isn't the role of torture as an assault on the rule of law considered, or the way in which US torture is typical of all occupiers and imperialists, or the fact that most tortured detainees are innocent? Who decided that the only legitimate questions are whether torture "works" or what situations make it okay. NPR's framing of the "debate" gives legitimacy to torture and decontextualizes its historic role as a repulsive and pornographic tool of state terror which always falls most heavily on those who have done nothing but resist the repressive actions of the torture state.

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Listen Up Dummy

On Monday's ATC, Peres talks through Bob Siegel as this duo tries to drum up the fear factor regarding Iran. I loved this part in which Peres shares his political wisdom completely unchallenged:
"Political parties know that politics is based on compromises. Religious parties are uncompromising and that's the trouble with ___________________ ....they are so HOLY that they feel they have the right to kill other people...they are putting their own people in power. They've divided the Palestinian people. They invited an attack upon Gaza. They produce bloodshed..."
Only a complete dummy would miss the irony of Peres' description of the settler-friendly government of Israel Hamas.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

NPR skeptical on smart grid

ME and ATC just finished a week-long series on the potential for modernizing the nation's electricity grid. The ten-part series covered a lot of issues, but one message was clear from the first installment by Jeff Brady on Monday:
"It's fairly easy with coal and gas generators. You just fire one up when you need electricity. But solar and wind are far less reliable."
This turned out to be a major underlying message repeated throughout the week.

Christopher Joyce with:
"The grid can't handle all the new solar and wind power the president wants to build to create a greener energy economy."
"Despite the promise that these are needed to get more green energy from solar and wind generators, the proposal faces a host of obstacles."
"Does everyone really want renewable energy brought in from distant producers over power lines subsidized by the federal government?"
"Making the grid smarter and greener will cost a huge amount of money."
And Elizabeth Shogren with:
"There aren't enough transmission lines to carry the electricity from rural areas like his to the big cities where the electricity is needed."
Certainly the modernization of our country's energy infrastructure is a tremendous challenge, but why is NPR so down on the prospect? Part of the problem might be the fact that the reporters overwhelmingly spent their time interviewing representatives of the electric power industry, who just might favor the status quo.

To his credit, Richard Harris on Wednesday pointed out that power companies will profit regardless of whether new transmission lines carry renewable energy or electricity from coal-fired power plants.
"The big push to expand the electric grid into areas rich in renewable energy doesn't guarantee that the new, improved grid will be more climate-friendly."
However, even this misses the point that the nation's electric power supply is dominated by corporations that find the current system extremely profitable, corporations that might value profits over benefits to ratepayers, society, and environment. Although the costs of updating the electricity system would ultimately be borne by the public through rate hikes and taxes, that doesn't mean the changes wouldn't threaten the profits of the industry. In fact, many of these corporations have vast investments in coal-fired power plants that would be financially at risk from any move toward energy conservation and renewable power.

To be certain, it is nice to see NPR reporters show some healthy skepticism. But why does it seem such skepticism is most pronounced (and repeated) at precisely those times that it dovetails with the interests of the status quo?