Saturday, August 29, 2009

Q Tips

I'm going to go back to the old format of just Q Tips, so put any NPR related comments here.

The Art of Framing at NPR

There are many ways you could frame the role of Senator Kent Conrad, one of the gang of six senators who are working very hard to preserve the profitable dominance of private health insurance in the US. A report marvel at why six senators representing less than 3% of the US population is controlling the fate of health insurance reform. A serious report might look at the obscene amounts of campaign cash flowing into these senators coffers from the for-profit health insurance industry and its allies.

Ah but not on NPR. Yesterday, on Friday's ATC Andrea Seabrook explains Kent Conrad's opposition to the pubic option and offer of health insurance co-ops as the result of his expertise on fighting government deficits and his commitment to centrism and bipartisanship.

Before introducing Seabrook's report, Siegel sets the tone, "Conrad's focus on the deficits and debt makes him a pivotal figure in the health care debate." After that it's all Seabrook:

"he's keenly aware of the long-term problems the United States faces when it comes to government spending and the national debt. And when it comes to health care? Conrad sees big, new problems with the idea of big, new government programs."

"Democratic leaders could ram a health care bill through the Senate; they'd have to use a special set of rules known as reconciliation. Conrad knows this; he just thinks it's a terrible idea."

"Now, because Conrad is at the nexus of budget expertise and political centrism, Senate Democratic leaders and committee chairs asked him to devise a plan that could pass the Senate and get some Republican votes."

"Health care co-ops would be to private insurance companies what credit unions are to private banks. The co-op would provide health insurance, but it would be a nonprofit business owned by its members. A big plus, says Conrad, they'd be a lot cheaper in the long-term. The idea already has support from centrists of both parties."

"He could end up being the guy who represented the rational middle or the guy who killed real reform."
There's just one little, tiny problem with all this emphasis on expertise, budget deficits and BIG, NEW PROBLEMS, great co-ops, and winning Republican votes: it doesn't wash. First there is no consensus that deficit spending is a bad thing. As far as the danger of a BIG, NEW GOVERNMENT PROGRAM costing sooooo much more money than what we've got - that's a factually challenged assertion, too. But Health Insurance Co-ops are a good thing, like Credit Unions, right? Wrong, they are a sham. Well, at least the bit about getting Republicans on board makes sense, yes? Wrong again.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Listener Care - NPR Style

Earlier this month I posted on NPR's false claim that in Israel "hate crimes are almost unknown." In addition to the post I contacted the Ombudsman with the following:
On Sunday, August 3rd, during the hourly five minute news updates, I repeatedly heard Linda Gradstein assert in reporting on the anti-gay killings in Israel that "The shooting has shocked many in Israel where hate crimes are almost unknown." This is false and misleading: 1) In May of 1990 an Israeli gunman killed 7 and wounded 10 Palestinian day laborers not far from Tel Aviv in Israel. 2) On August 5, 2005 an Israeli gunman killed four Israeli Arabs and wounding 13 others on a bus in Israel and 3) on August 17, 2005 - though not in Israel proper - an Israeli citizen killed 3 and wounded 2 random Palestinians near a settlement in the West Bank. Does NPR only consider deadly, unprovoked attacks "hate crimes" only if they don't involve Arab Israelis or Palestinians. You owe your listeners a correction and an apology.
Well, about a week ago I received a "response" in my email from "NPR - Listener Care" :
Dear Listener;

Thank you for contacting the NPR Office of the Ombudsman. We appreciate your taking the time to write regarding NPR's Middle East coverage and take your comments seriously.

For future reference, some of your concerns may be addressed on the Ombudsman's weekly column, which you can find on NPR's Ombudsman page.

Like many media outlets, NPR faces challenges in reporting events in the Middle East and elsewhere. No matter what the issue, however, NPR strives to adhere to the highest journalistic standards. Our goal is to report the stories factually and in context. The balance between the day's news and the historical context is always considered.

Because of intense interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, NPR makes available free transcripts of its coverage.

NPR's commitment is to ensure that its reporting of Middle East events will continue to provide an important and reliable service to our listeners.

Journalism is an imperfect craft and mistakes can occur. Your concern will be forwarded to the appropriate person within NPR's news division.


Office of the Ombudsman
Oh wow, NPR takes my comments seriously! And they might or might not address them on the Ombudsman's erratic (and often irrelevant) column. But no matter how inaccurate and slanted the coverage - NPR adheres to the highest journalistic standards. Hey, even if you point out specific falsehoods, NPR claims a commitment to factual reporting with historical context! If there were distortions and outright lies, no big deal because, you know, journalism is such an imperfect craft and mistakes can occur.

I am so reassured...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

News Check

Longer critiques of specific stories on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, or Weekend Edition Saturday/Sunday programs.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Enhanced Absurdity from NPR

NPR's refusal to call torture torture when committed by the US or its agents leads to some unbelievably stupid statements. On the hourly news bulletins this morning the aptly named David Schaper states the following regarding the forthcoming report on CIA torture (forced out by a FOIA from the ACLU - not NPR):
"The report is expected to be harshly critical of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques used inside of the agencies secret will detail how agents used mock executions in their prisoner was allegedly threatened with a gun and a power drill."
Any simpleton can read the US Law on torture [ 18 U.S.C. § 2340 et seq. ] and see that torture is clearly defined as "threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering" or "the threat of imminent death." There is no gray area here - unless one's organization is committed to propaganda - it is not "harsh interrogation" or the disgusting "enhanced interrogation" that Schaper calls it. It's friggin' TORTURE.

Raz Gets a Lesson (or Two)

First, praise is in order for whoever lined up guests for two shows on Saturday's All Thing's Considered. Guy Raz was hosting the show and for a report on Afghanistan's election NPR turned to "Jean MacKenzie, a correspondent for and the director for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in Afghanistan." To cover the forthcoming report on CIA torture Raz spoke with former CIA agent, Robert Baer.

Here's what happens when guests are not the usual parrots for the US military or government:

On the Afghanistan election:
RAZ: "Jean, we're hearing from some officials in Afghanistan, western officials, that this election has gone off better than expected, not much violence, high voter turnout, a free and fair process. Is that what you've been saying?"
Ms. MACKENZIE: (laughs out loud) "That sounds very far from the perception of people who have been intimately involved in the process, I would say. I think the threshold of success for this election has been getting lower and lower."
On the CIA report:
RAZ: "I mean, our country, Robert Baer, like other countries, sometimes has to do dirty things, right?"
Mr. BAER: "No. You know, this goes back to Nuremberg - the Nuremberg defense...."
It is really telling when a former CIA agent has to remind a journalist about Nuremberg and the rule of law (maybe there is hope after all) - and the outright laughter from Jean Mackenzie was one of the most honest moments I've heard on NPR all year.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Open Thread vs. News Check

In an effort to keep NPR Check alive - and to maintain my humanity - I'm committed to listening to NPR less and only blogging about 1 post per week. I've noticed in the "Q Tips" open thread discussions that people will frequently present an excellent critique/analysis of a particular story on one of NPR's news stories. Therefore, I'm going to try something a little different:

When I put up the "Q Tips" post I'll also put up a separate "News Check" post. If you hear a story on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, or the Weekend Edition shows and want to thoughtfully critique it (especially with links) - go ahead an put it in the "News Check" comments section, and I'll periodically select one (or more) to repost as separate blog entries (with attribution, of course). Hopefully this will keep things interesting and fresh - but will also allow me to lighten my work load in relation to NPR Check.

News Check

Readers' critiques or analyses of specific news reports from Morning Edition, All Things Considered, or Weekend Edition Saturday or Sunday.

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Murderer Known as Prince from the Company Formerly Known as Blackwater


Leave it to NPR to find a way to "cover" the Blackwater assassination squad and drone squad story without ever mentioning Erik Prince's uber-creepy dominionist Christian vision and lust for wiping out Muslims. And of course no point in bringing up charges that Prince may have a room on his hit list for employees who might cooperate with federal investigators.

Instead of turning to Jeremy Scahill, the expert who literally wrote the book on Blackwater - NPR turns Robert Siegel loose for a comfy chat with loyal New York Times reporter Mark Mazetti who in the course of the interview, incredibly claims that the New York Times has determined that CIA-employed Blackwater hitmen never killed anyone (I guess someone at the CIA confirmed that for him?) Mazetti also finds time to tell us that drones have been used for attacks on militants (no civilians there).

All we learn from Mazetti is that Blackwater was involved in the "never-used" hit squads and was helping provide security and operations for loading missiles on drones in the AfPak region. Mazetti downplays the significance, attributing it to the US being shorthanded when it comes to running covert operations...sheesh....

Here are the remarks of Mazetti mentioned above:
  • [Regarding all the civilians killed by US drones.] "...the pilotless drone airplanes, the Predators or the Reapers...are used regularly to attack militants in Pakistan."
  • ["Confirming" that black ops were never committed.] "As we've reported over the last month, there was never an actual operation performed as part of this program."
  • [As to why the CIA hired Blackwater - no mention of the obvious benefit of "plausible deniability"] "The security officers are needed in other parts of either Afghanistan and Pakistan or other parts of the world. And the feeling is that having Blackwater employees do the security and some of this more maintenance-type work is a good value for the government."
- and -
  • When 9/11 happened and all of a sudden the CIA and the Pentagon and intelligence services became a lot busier, they all of a sudden had more to do than they actually had people for. So they looked to outside contractors to fill in the gaps."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Monday, August 17, 2009

More Warrior Worship at NPR

(photo of a Vietnam era soldier reading a Navy antiwar newspaper - from Sir No Sir site)

In November of 2007 NPR's Allison Keyes trotted out the tired old myth about Vietnam vets being assaulted, harassed and showered with hate on returning from the war. The editors at NPR apparently felt like it was time to drag this corpse of a lie out again - so this afternoon they turned to Blake Farmer of WPLN in Nashville to report on a Vietnam veterans propaganda event being hosted by Fort Campbell in Kentucky. Siegel opens the report by claiming that returning vets "were often greeted with anger about the war," then Farmer takes the baton and is off and running:
  • "....and for some the only greeting as they walked off the airplane was from angry war protesters - until now."
  • "....says he was lucky, lucky he wasn't tossed into the hostility that awaited other discharged service members."
  • "Larry Hamm from West Chester, Pennsylvania recalls angry crowds lining the airport fence, throwing rotten eggs..."
There are a few little problems with Farmer's reporting. To start with, that bit about "until now" overlooks the 200,000 Vietnam Vets and 500,000 adoring spectators who turned out in Chicago in 1986 to honor the vets and pretend that the US military didn't actually slaughter about 4 million Vietnamese. The exaggeration of "crowds lining the airport fence" and "throwing rotten eggs" would be hilarious if it weren't being reported as fact. Jerry Lembcke carefully researched the claims of Vietnam Vet abuse and could find no substantiated evidence of their veracity - not one article, photo, or news broadcast. You probably can guess how interested NPR is in Lembcke's work.


I posted the following comment Monday afternoon on the NPR site for the story and had it removed as "inappropriate":
What a load of historical erasure this story is. NPR continues to cover up the active role Vietnam Vets played in ending the Vietnam War and their role in the "angry" antiwar movement. Frankly, the people claiming the nonsense about "spitting on vets" have no evidence to back up their claims and - in fact - a Vietnam vet, Jerry Lembcke, exhaustively researched the claims and found no evidence - none.

NPR could do us all a favor and cover the real heroes of US wars - people like Camilo Mejia and Victor Agosto who have shown the true courage of exposing US wars for what they are. Of course that would take some courage on NPR's part - something noticeably lacking these days...
I have no idea what made it "inappropriate," but I went ahead and posted this similar but revised version:
This report is full of hearsay and debunked inaccuracies. First, there was a huge Vietnam Vet welcome parade in Chicago in 1986. Second, many Vietnam Vets played an active role in the "angry" antiwar movement of the 60s and 70s. And third, people claiming the abusive treatment of vets have NO evidence to back up their claims and - in fact - a Vietnam vet, Jerry Lembcke, exhaustively researched these kinds of claims and found no evidence - none.

It would be great if NPR could even once seriously cover the war resisters - people like Camilo Mejia and Victor Agosto who have shown the courage of exposing US wars for what they are. I won't be holding my breath though, since I don't think NPR has the courage to challenge the militarism and worship of war that is so pervasive in the US...
We'll see how it fares.

On the Leash with Montagne

Renee Montagne takes a "good news" tour and interview this morning with Ambassador Eikenberry in Afghanistan. Renee might as well have been Eikenberry's spokesperson. Here's Montagne on Eikenberry and role model Governor Atta Mohammad.
  • "Karl Eikenberry makes it his business to travel EVERYWHERE in Afghanistan..."
  • "...he's sincere in the idea that getting out of his armored car and in front of Afghans is important."
  • "Governor Atta Mohammad, he's the man who's credited with making this entire province secure enough to prosper after he helped drive out the of the most successful examples of a mujahadeen commander, turned warlord, turned politician - an educated man, comfortable with power, striding through the bazaar in a well-tailored suit alongside the American ambassador."
Things are as bad in the interview:
  • Montagne: "Is Masar i Sharif one possible future for Afghanistan?"
  • Eikenberry: "It is! There's prosperity, there's hope, there's order there and yes it should give us confidence that if we can get the government up and's possible to get things right in this country..."
and then later
  • Montagne: "and oftentimes walk right down through a market with the two of you [he and his wife] together showing a couple that are partners. Of course these aren't totally natural visits to markets and whatnot; you are surrounded by heavy security, often by the local press, what are you trying to acheive...?"
  • Eikenberry: "she's putting a spotlight on women's affairs in Afghanistan....assure the Afghan people that we are here for the long haul."
Montagne allows Eikenberry to close out the interview crowing propaganda: "The 20th of August will represent the first election of a president of Afghanistan ever led by the Afghan people in their history...a defeat for the enemies that we face, and that's international terrorism."

Death Panels and Pretty Militant

Cokie "but the Democrats" Roberts was on this morning to provide "analysis" with Steve Inskeep. Here are highlights:
Roberts: "and they [Republicans] make a big deal about something that distracts and frightens the voters like those so-called death panels - then the Democrats drop that and Republicans find something else to object to...."

Inskeep: "What about President Obama's core supporters, they've been pretty militant - I think that's a fair word - in saying that there must be a public option."
I'm enjoying many of the comments under NPR stories - a lot of listeners are dogging NPR for its lousy work. This story was no exception. I'd encourage all critics of NPR to post there, too.

Of course NPR has failed to provide any meaningful coverage of what a public option would actually be and how it would work - and why it is not "militant" but the bare minimum to any meaningful reform of the health insurance system in the US.

Back from Florida

I listened to all of about 5 minutes of NPR during the whole week - now that's a vacation. Anyway, had safe travels, fished for trout, tubed down a river and swam in the ocean. Enjoyed reading all the comments in the Q Tips when I got back.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Road Trip

Did I mention that I grew up in Florida? I'm driving down to see family and won't be listening to NPR or posting for at least a week (Aug. 10-17). On returning my goal is to post about once per week. I really am trying to listen to less NPR news and want to help my hands continue to recover.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Blackwater Blackout

On Tuesday, August 4th Jeremy Scahill broke the story about two sworn statements implicating Blackwater (now Xe) founder Erik Prince in the murder of employees or former employees who were cooperating in the federal investigation of Blackwater. He also revealed that sworn statements indicated that Blackwater was organized and run as an anti-Muslim, Christian identity paramilitary force. By any measure this is a major news story. It was picked up by ABC, Boston Herald, CNN, the Times, etc. Of course, DemocracyNow! featured Scahill the next day for a substantial interview and Scahill also was promptly featured on Olberman's Countdown on MSNBC. How about our nation's public radio news? I'll give you a hint it's less than one...

Saturday, August 08, 2009


Shhhhh...whatever you do, don't say scramble on NPR when you talk about Africa. No matter how obvious (and crass) the military, energy and economic objectives of US foreign policy in Africa are - and no matter that others know a scramble when they see a scramble - keep the focus on the US military or State Department talking points about how noble the aims of the US in Africa are - or at least how they will stop the spread of terrorism there. Zwerdling interviewed Fisher of the BBC about Clinton's trip to Africa:
Zwerdling: "What are a couple of the countries there the US has the most potential problems ahead and what could they do to help you know ameliorate them?"

Fisher: "....but it seems like perhaps Somalia seems to have been a real focus of this trip meeting with that president in Kenya and also Zimbabwe here...two areas...hoping to push things forward..."

Zwerdling: "For example, Somalia, it's been an endless civil war there are apparently huge numbers of militants and extremists crossing the border into Kenya almost unchecked. What realistically could the US do about that?"

Fisher: " this Islamist group which is causing great concern in Washington, it's said to have links to al-Qaeda and the great fear is that Somalia as a failed state might act as a springboard for further terrorist Somalia is one of these very difficult problems which Africa has had to grapple with. It's been in a state of almost non-stop civil war since the early 90s so it's not a problem which is going to be solved overnight..."
Not only are the real motives of expanding US hegemony not discussed, but when the focus is on Somalia the recent history of US destruction of stability in Somalia is censored, as it always is on NPR (see April 2007 and November 2007 for two glaring examples). You can't help but sense that to honestly discuss what Uncle Sam is up to in the world might just lead someone to connect the dots and conclude that...STOP! We are not an empire, we are not an empire, we are not, not, not, not....

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


Scott Horsley states the following this morning:
"President Obama complained to Time magazine recently that the press had...reduced the story to a conventional battle between government-run health care and the free market....Mr. Obama has tried to substitute his own conventional narrative: in this one the insurance industry is cast as the VILLAIN. (soundbite of Obama) 'The truth is we have a system today that works well for the insurance industry but it doesn't always work well for you.' That makes insurance companies a convenient if not altogether appropriate foil."
Consider Horsely's verbal sleight of hand. He equates a completely false distortion - characterizing the tepid Democratic health reform proposals as "government-run health care" in opposition to "the free market" - with a completely fact-based statement - "we have a system today that works well for the insurance industry but it doesn't work well for you [the public]." Yes, the system works well (insurance profits more than quadrupled from 2000 to 2007) but not for the public which pays more for less and suffers about 22,000 deaths a year from the insurance industry's commitment to not covering people. How could anyone cast them as the villain?

Having set up this falsehood, Horsely turns to health insurance industry vampire representative, Karen Ignani (no stranger at at NPR - see March 7, 2009 and June 13, 2009), so she can claim how wrong Obama's statement is because the mob her industry supports "reforms."

Horsely ends this report with a bit of moralizing against the Democrats, noting that "Brookings scholar Hess thinks it's unfortunate the Democrats have chosen to demonize health insurance companies." Demonizing the health insurance companies, now why would anyone do that?

* I'm not sure but I think the Bosch painting shows claims adjusters at work in the offices of Blue Cross or Aetna.

Free Pass for Right-Wingers

Linda Wertheimer hosted Senator Kyl for a stop-health-insurance-reform commercial this morning.

Here's Kyl repeating chief insurance lobbyist, AHIP's talking points (pdf. file):
"91% of people, according to a Rasmussen survey, say that they have insurance and 84% of them rate their insurance as excellent or good."
That 91% should have raised a flag with any decent interviewer. A simple calculator shows that with at least 47 million Americans without health insurance divided by a population of 307 million means that 15.3% are without. The highest possible number of insured would then be 84.7% - and with the jobless rate spiking that 47 million is probably closer to 50 million. Of course, if you are a Fox News Poll lover (pdf. file) then you would get the EXACT numbers that Kyl was spouting - what a surprise! The Rasmussen poll in question gives no number for the insured and does claim a rise to 80% of covered respondents rating their insurance good to excellent a rise from 70% back in May. I've yet to meet anyone who pays a lot for private health care say they are satisfied with it - so I'd be curious to see numbers teased out for those with generous employer provided coverage or Medicare.

It must be reassuring to be a radical free-marketeer, corporate blood-sucker, warmonger or miscreant going on NPR - knowing that you can say or make up anything and never have it questioned.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Superhumans and Subhumans on NPR

Covering the anti-gay shootings and killings in Tel Aviv, NPR's hourly news bulletin this Sunday morning stated the following:
(Dave Pignanelli): "Officials say they believe it is the worst hate crime in in Israel in decades."
(Linda Gradstein): "The shooting has shocked many in Israel where hate crimes are almost unknown."
Worst hate crime in decades? Hate crimes almost unknown? Ignoring the bitter irony of "hate crimes almost unknown" in a state that has a general policy of state run hate crimes against non-citizens in territory it controls - can one find evidence of deadly attacks by individual Israelis against people based solely on race, religion, etc?

Here are a few I found in about 5 minutes of Googling on the Internets:
  • May of 1990 a lone Israeli gunman killed 7 and wounded 10 Palestinian workers not far from Tel Aviv in Israel.
  • November of 1992 a grenade attack on an Arab market in Jerusalem killed 1 and wounded 11. Palestinians.
  • August 5, 2005 an Israelis gunman killed four Israeli Arabs and wounding 13 others on a bus in Israel.
  • August 17, 2005 - though not in Israel proper, an Israeli citizen killed 3 and wounded 2 random Palestinians near a settlement in the West Bank.
These incidents are clearly recognizable as standard hate crimes, but if your news coverage is almost always pro-Israeli government/military, it's hard not to adopt the same (widespread and very much alive) racist ideology that fuels Israeli expansionism and militarism and degrades the humanity of Arabs to the point where they have simply been erased.

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Another Scott Natural™

(re: NPR sponsor Scott Naturals™ and flushable wipes)

Scott Simon really oozed about Corazon Aquino this morning:
  • "Cory Aquino often told interviewers that those years in exile were her happiest. When your husband is thrown into jail for what he believes, in a country ruled by a dictator's words and whims, it is hard to trust that your children can be safe."
  • "'I am just one of the thousands and millions of victims of the Marcos dictatorship,' she told crowds."
  • "She displeased both leftists who wanted more radical land reform, and rightists who didn't want to talk to leftist radicals."
  • "Corazon Aquino didn't have the life she expected—and because of it, gave hopes to others that they could make better lives, too."
Notable is Simon's remark that "she displeased both leftists...and rightists." At NPR that is the mark of excellence in leaders and journalism: not courage, not facts, not truth, not a consistent set of moral or legal standards - but a perverse insistence that criticism from left and right validates any policy or action.

Sadly, Simon's tribute reduces Aquino to a one-dimensional heroic caricature, but her legacy was far more complex. Aquino clearly helped move the Philippines away from dictatorship - but she also tolerated gross human rights abuses and was close to many military leaders who helped overthrow Marcos - but were steeped in traditions of torture and repression.

The most glaring problem with Simon's praise is the complete lack of historical context (a typical feature of NPR reports). Simon fails to mention that the Marcos dictatorship and its "thousands and millions of victims" would not have been possible without staunch US support over many years.

Simon's omissions are quite relevant to current events both in the Philippines and here in the US. In the Philippines a surge in human rights abuses (and US involvement) has occurred since 2001 and continues up to the present under the Arroyo regime (including a US citizen who reported being recently tortured). As the Alfred McCoy link above and his book, A Question of Torture, indicate - there are obvious links between the CIA-assisted Marcos torture regime and the current US torture regime of slappings and beatings, "stress positions," sexual humiliation, waterboarding, sensory deprivation, etc. Perhaps most chilling are McCoy's conclusions that the intoxicating power of the torturers can lead them to attack the very governments they supposedly serve. As McCoy notes, the ability of the torture architects and practitioners to secure amnesty in the Philippines has allowed many of them to stay in power - and for their practices to resurface.