Thursday, December 30, 2010

Q Tips

As 2010 sputters to an end, NPR related comments are encouraged and welcomed.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bobble Siegel's Profound Humanity

After Rachel Martin's pumped up assessment of Plans A & B on Monday's ATC [see previous post], we were treated to further explanations of the Global War on Terror from Robert Siegel - a reporter of "intellectual heft and profound humanity." Robert Siegel's sympathetic attitudes toward criminal secrecy, the slaughter of civilians, and the erasure of history are breathtaking.

Siegel opens the interview stating, "
I'm joined by Ben Venzke, CEO of IntelCenter. It's a counterterrorism contractor. And we're going to hear about other fronts in the war against al-Qaeda and its allies."
We are already in a propaganda minefield here. The first problem is the non-information provided about Ben Venzke. He runs IntelCenter that distributes "terrorism" videos of questionable sourcing, and he worked with iDefense before starting his company. At iDefense, Venzke worked closely with military intelligence operative, Jim Melnick, a Rumsfeld propaganda operative. Given his background, he is an untrustworthy "expert" at best. The second issue in this brief opening is Siegel's description of "other fronts in the war against al-Qaeda." The media's use of the language of conventional war (e.g. "other fronts") to describe US operations against a minuscule number of al-Qaeda operatives has to be one of the great propaganda triumphs of the US security/permanent-war state.

If this were the only problem with Siegel's interview, I'd chalk it up to typical NPR laziness, and would not have bothered working on this post. But after its lackluster opening, it becomes truly pathological. Siegel asks a direct question about US involvement in Yemen, and Venzke says, "Well, I can't comment because of our involvement with the government...." To which, Siegel follows up with
"According to one of the biggest disclosures in the WikiLeaks cables, one of the biggest contributions of Yemen's president is not bombing al-Qaeda targets, but saying he is and letting the U.S. bomb al-Qaeda targets. Is there a vigorous local counterterrorism effort in Yemen? Or is it more simply permitting the United States to do what it has to do there?"
To do what it has to do there? One has to assume that Siegel is talking about slaughtering 55 human beings - including 14 women and 21 children; after all, that is what the WikiLeak cable is about. To this question Venzke again hides behind secrecy, "That's not something that I could comment on." And Siegel's response? He laughs. I'm not kidding; here's the transcript from NPR:
Siegel: "Can't comment on that. (Soundbite of laughter)"
In the finale of this bloodsport of an interview Siegel directs his line of questioning to Somalia. After Venzke explains the supposed terrorism threats posed to the US by Somalia's al-Shabab, Siegel asks,
"And is there any countervailing authority in Somalia that's doing anything there? Or do they really have a dysfunctional state and have the run of the place?"
Of course the direct US role [involving a grotesque level of indiscriminate slaughter] in creating this "dysfunctional state" (by pressuring and then assisting a reluctant nation to invade Somalia when it was beginning to stabilize) is never mentioned. And why would it be? - on NPR it was never covered in the first place.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Less Tea Drinking, More Drone Strikes

NPR's perky sock monkey has earned her own comic strip with her latest effort. All Ms. Martin's statements are straight from Monday's ATC "report" which is introduced by Audie Cornish. Hover over panels to see which ones have superpowered hyperlinks!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Dunces Weigh in on Education

In its education coverage, NPR consistently ignores the negative effects of poverty on student outcomes - and instead opts for the corporatist focus on "effective teachers." It's an approach that one expects from right-wing think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, not from a news organization [though the American Enterprise Institute gets inordinate and favorable airtime on NPR].

Today's Weekend Edition featured two education reports that ran back to back and are striking for highlighting NPR's intentional focus on the small effects of teacher effectiveness versus the overwhelming effects of poverty.

The first "report" featured host, Liane Hansen talking to Claudio Sanchez and Larry Abramson about education (if there were merit pay for reporting on education both these characters would be seeing pay decreases). To his credit, Sanchez made these startling points:
"...and finally a handful of reports are out that are kind of scary. They warn that the poverty rates among children and families are on the rise and the numbers are off the charts. The Southern Education Foundation for example says that over 2 million Americans now face acute hunger, homelessness and medical problems - and all of this, of course, has horrible implications for school-age children and how schools deal with them."
How does Liane Hansen respond to this stunning statement? She says, "Is there an issue or event that might make news early in 2011?" That's it. These are exceptional observations that Sanchez has made, and any rational (not to mention compassionate) human being would be interested in pursuing more information about them. He is absolutely correct - the data is scary

and the implications for education are horrible. But as a writer for the Washington Post (of all places!) pointed out, discussions about poverty and its effects on student achievement are the elephant in the room for our press.

Ignoring Sanchez' statements, Hansen then turns to Abramson to ask briefly about higher education and finally turns her sights where NPR loves to focus:
"What about the emphasis on teachers performance? How will that play out in 2011?"
Abramson then introduces the theme of the next story on the show; he says, "...I think what a lot of people are more focused on...what makes an effective teacher...There's one program that I looked at that's pretty interesting from the Gates Foundation. They're spending millions of dollars to answer that question..." And what is this "pretty interesting" program? The amazing idea of - brace yourself - videotaping teachers as part of evaluating their classroom practice.

Whoa, how cutting edge! It just happens that in 1987, when I was working on my masters in education at the University of Iowa, we used videotaping to evaluate our teaching techniques. Good thing one of the beneficent billionaires is "spending millions of dollars" to help teachers be more effective. If only these billionaires had 80%-90% of their wealth taxed, maybe we'd have less poverty to begin with - and then we really could justify focusing on teacher effectiveness.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pottersville Persists - Happy Holidays

(click here to see original still)
Seems like a million years ago when I first put up a Wonderful Life remix, and it's been a long year since Wonderful Obamaville greetings. Here goes again: this is for all those savvy businessmen and all those savvy Americans benefiting from the latest Middle-Man tax cuts. On the other hand you working poor, long term unemployed, leftist losers, and public option supporters - there's always room under the bus...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Where's the Beef?

(original graphic here)

(Update below)
Over the past week or so there were some very important stories that somehow just didn't make it into the main NPR news shows:
Maybe I'm being a bit hard on NPR, after all there is only so much time in a broadcast and it's important to touch on the finer things in life like cappuccino ala Milton Friedman, $60 a bottle wine tasting with Scott Simon, and exciting mail-order gourmet meats (click the graphic at the top of the post) that will help a Tea Party crooner give money to groups like Focus on the Family. Oh baby, life is good!

To their credit, the NPR "Two Way" bloggers did have posts on the anti-war protest and on Pat Boone's creepy creds, but those posts were brief, and don't begin to compare with the exposure of featured, on-air news stories. Furthermore, as readers of this blog have pointed out, the online snippets and AP-wire feeds allow NPR to claim that they are covering news that they are essentially ignoring.

Update (12-23-10)
On Thursday morning, NPR covers the passage of the reduced First Responders bill and essentially ignores the media criticism of John Stewart's scathing episode against the non-coverage of the Republican attempts to kill the original Zadroga bill. It's really a brazen piece of hypocrisy and I'd recommend people to visit the story and post comments...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Q Tips

Comments, critiques and/or observations related to NPR are always welcomed. (I apologize for comments that are delayed due to Blogger's spam filter, which apparently is not optional. I try to check the spam box every day or so and get them posted.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Good JSOC Monkey

On Thursday morning our favorite sock monkey had this to say about the US war in Afghanistan:
"Administration officials say this review isn't a referendum on the strategy itself, but a close look at how it's being implemented; a gut check on what's working and what's not. And there are things that are working. U.S. led operations in the southern part of the country have pushed insurgent groups out of key areas. Special forces raids have captured or killed hundreds of insurgent leaders in the past few months."
Yes, there are things that are really working in Afghanistan: airstrikes are working wonders, civilians are benefiting immensely, operations in the south are clearly driving somebody out, and JSOC (special forces) raids - well they are definitely working. Astounding really. And the evidence offered? Martin says,
"Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says some progress was inevitable."
This is the same Anthony Cordesman who weighed in on Mr. Holbrooke on Tuesday's ATC and summed up his work in Af-Pak as follows:
"Mahatma Gandhi, had he been involved, could not have done better."
Now why didn't I think of Mahatma Gandhi when I thought of Richard Holbrooke? I guess that what experts like Cordesman are for - and why NPR returns to him again and again.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

You're Soaking It In Now

About a week ago ATC ran one of those OMG! stories about how poorly educated US students are. The report was sloppy - telling us nothing about differences in the pools of students surveyed or the overall rates of public education in areas being considered. A great deal was made about the superiority of students in Shanghai compared to the entire US public school student population, though an "expert" in the story actually referred to Shanghai as a "country." Whatever shortcomings our public schools may have, US journalism schools are having no problem churning out job-ready knuckleheads for the US media market. (Did someone say Ombudsman?)

The report lamented how badly US students perform when it comes to math and science. Hmmm...I wonder why Americans might be so poorly informed when it comes to science? Could it be that some media outlets constantly present junk science as deserving equal treatment with real science?

That brings us to NPR's Wednesday morning's dirty story about dishwashing detergents that don't have phosphates in them. The phosphates have been removed because more and more states have banned their use because they contribute to water pollution. The gist of the story is that consumers are devastated by the poor performance of non-phosphate detergents in their dishwashers. Here are some of the dire conditions that NPR's Elizabeth Shogren describes:
  • "...something was seriously amiss with her dishes."
  • "...many people across the country are tearing out their hair over stained flatware, filmy glasses and ruined dishes."
  • "...months of aggravation and expense..."
Shogren does at least mention why the dish detergents are phosphate-free:
"Seventeen states banned phosphates from dishwasher detergents because the chemical compounds also pollute lakes, bays and streams. They create algae blooms and starve fish of oxygen."
Not a bad start, but let's pick it up at the end there and see what comes next:
"...and starve fish of oxygen. But dirty and damaged dishes are turning lots of people into skeptics, including Wright."

Ms. Wright: "I'm angry at the people who decided that phosphate was growing algae. I'm not sure that I believe that."
There it is. Just left there as if it's a perfectly rational statement: I'm angry at what scientific research has proven so I just won't believe it.

Probably the most reprehensible part of this whole rehashed, dish detergent story (and it is an old story), is when Shogren - instead of rebutting the ignorance with researched facts (this link was posted in the early comments on the story) or pointing out responsible solutions for frustrated consumers - gives listeners detailed instructions on how they can defeat the ban by adding phosphates to their dishwashing machines...I'm not kidding:
"But not everyone is willing to adjust. Sandra Young figured out a way to undo the phosphate ban, at least in her own kitchen. She bought some trisodium phosphate at a hardware store and started mixing her own formula. "
Who needs clean lakes, rivers and streams? The important thing is to defeat the "nanny state" by any means necessary. Go FOX...I mean NPR.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Q Tips

Q Tips is an open thread forum for NPR related comments and posts.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Got History?

This past week NPR had Quil Lawrence providing us with "history" lessons on Afghanistan - always a dodgy prospect on NPR. This series features a major hole in the narrative; the active, long-term role that the United States played in bringing Islamic extremism and terror to Afghanistan is both ignored and covered up.

On Monday's ATC Quil gives us the long history of imperial adventures in Afghanistan. He says this:"In 1978, a communist coup installed a pro-Soviet president. The tribes rose up, and the Soviets invaded. Andrey Avetisyan is Russian ambassador in Kabul....By the mid-'80s, the United States was aiding the Mujahedeen to the tune of half a billion dollars...." [This "mid-80s" claim is furthered with a time-line on the web version of the story.]

Then on Tuesday's ATC - in a report that does at least note that many of the depraved warlords of the post-Soviet civil war are now in the government that the US is backing - we hear only that
"The mujahedeen, a patchwork army of Islamist guerrillas, bolstered with copious funding from Washington, defeated the Soviet army in 1989. What they couldn't do was unite to govern Afghanistan."
There are several problems with the NPR narrative:
  • It places the beginning of active US involvement in stoking conflict in Afghanistan in the mid-80s, when in fact the US was actively assisting Islamic extremists there starting in the early 1970s. As Robert Dreyfuss has documented, this policy was just one part of the US government decision to encourage and promote Islamic fundamentalist movements as a counterweight to nationalist movements in the Middle East and Central Asia.
  • The NPR version also ignores the role the US played in luring the Soviets into the Afghanistan trap (as recalled by Robert Gates and Zbigniew Brzezinski), leaving listeners to conclude that the US was simply reacting to events that were out of its control.
  • Finally, NPR presents the US as simply funding what mujahedeen forces existed, instead of accurately exposing how the US recruited, organized and supplied the most ruthless, criminal and fanatic elements for fighting in Afghanistan. The idea was to foster these Islamic terrorists as a way of attacking the Soviet Union. The fate of the Afghan people never figured into (and still doesn't) the geopolitical maneuverings of US foreign policy players. As this pre 9/11 article from The Atlantic notes:
    "...the CIA began providing weapons and funds -- eventually totaling more than $3 billion -- to a fratricidal alliance of seven Afghan resistance groups, none of whose leaders are by nature democratic, and all of which are fundamentalist in religion to some extent, autocratic in politics, and venomously anti-American."
Some might argue that NPR's oversight is not all that important to the current complications that the US/NATO finds itself entangled in. But understanding the cold-blooded, ruthless arc of US foreign policy is essential to a critical assessment of the current US occupation of Afghanistan. By ignoring this, NPR can present the current US mission in Afghanistan as having only noble aims, allowing Quil Lawrence to make this closing statement in his Friday ATC report on "the mixed report card" from Afghanistan:
"And many of even the harshest Afghan critics of the Obama policy think it would be a disaster for the U.S. to leave Afghanistan in the state it is today..."

[click picture to view the original WWI version]

Web Foxes

(click on the picture to Supersize it)

Somebody should start a blog that simply tracks all the utterly stupid things that appear on the NPR web site and the web versions of their stories. Notice that "War on Christmas" is not in quotes - see, there really is a war on Christmas... And in case you were confused by facts and thought that US foreign policy is in complete lockstep with Israel's policy of destroying the Palestinians and rendering any humane solution impossible, the web scribes are there to remind you that Clinton is trying another approach to "peace" in Middle East... Finally, you have to love the Ally Bank ad: "Everyone needs an ally" (hee...hee).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Good Sock Monkey

NPR has been sending crack reporter Rachel Martin to Afghanistan to accompany military bigwigs so that she can dutifully repeat what they say. And she doesn't fail.

On Tuesday morning she provided a positive account of her trips in Afghanistan with "Major General John Campbell...the U.S. commander in charge of the area in the eastern part of Afghanistan right along the Afghan-Pakistan border." She stated:
  • "So as you can hear, clearly this is an issue that gets under Campbell's skin: corruption. And it's another part of the war that commanders are trying to get a handle on." [Of course, as always on NPR, the corruption they're talking about is Afghan corruption - since the Americans involved in the Afghanistan War are above reproach.]
  • "But in other places where Campbell's troops are operating, they seem to have captured the momentum at least for the time being."
  • "General Campbell is adamant. He says that they are making progress every day. He sees examples of this progress, but it's really a mixed bag."
On Tuesday afternoon she was reporting on her travels with an upbeat Secretary of War Gates, and all his remarks were supplemented with other military spokespersons: Lieutenant Colonel Vowell, Major General John Campbell, and General Petraeus. Here's a sampling of Martin's critical input:
  • "Vowell says part of the reason violence is up is because the Pakistani military has pressured insurgents on its side of the border, and now they're being pushed over here into Afghanistan. Stirring up the hornet's nest is what some military officials call it. And Secretary Gates told U.S. soldiers in Kunar that it's working."
  • "The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, said the Taliban still has areas where it can operate freely, but there have been gains."
In case you didn't appreciate positive spin on the war being promoted by Sec. Gates, Martin was on one more time Thursday morning to give airtime to the optimism of military geniuses of the Afghanistan War and then to restate their remarks. This report featured this truly astounding segment, where a sound bite of Gates recounting the "successes" and rosy future of the US war effort is followed seamlessly by Martin - to the point where it is hard to tell them apart:
[Gates]: "...And as a result, more and more Afghan people are able to live without being terrorized."
[Martin]: "That is just the first step. The next goal is getting Afghan forces to take responsibility for providing security one province at a time, and ultimately for the Afghans to take full control of the security situation by the end of 2014."
See, the first step of saving the Afghan people has been accomplished with the gentle boots on the ground of the super-careful, relationship-building US military. Good thing the US isn't leaving Afghanistan anytime soon - otherwise the poor Afghans would be terrorized all over again.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Q Tips

It's open thread time. Any and all NPR related comments are welcomed.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Hatchet Job

Liane Hansen works hard to convey a friendly, down-to-earth, aunt-like persona as she reads her scripts for NPR. But like the gooey Scott Simon, she too knows how to carry a blade. Don't you ever wonder what kind of dysfunctional, warped childhood people like Liane Hansen had that would make them want to front for a journalistically bankrupt institution like NPR? No? Of course not. What in God's name, does someone's childhood have to do with reporting on the actual content and substance of that person's behavior? Everything - if your purpose is to smear and discredit them. Which brings us to Hansen's chat on Sunday morning with the sleazy, discredited New York Times reporter, John Burns. Hansen opens up her tabloid discussion with this:
"Before we get to his current troubles, can you give us just a little bit of biographical information on Mr. Assange, specifically, what was his childhood like in Australia?"
Burns is more than willing to supply irrelevant hearsay:
"He was brought up by his mother. It was a nomadic life. I think he had some troubles in school. In fact, he very often wasn't in school."
And that's the nice stuff these two jorno-assassins had to say about Assange. Here's Hansen at her reportorial best:
"People who know him have described him as imperious, a control freak, an ideologue, an egomaniac, a genius, and unique."
"His detractors say he's reckless; he puts lives at risk."
And so it goes, with Burns providing most of the smears and hits:
"...he struck me as being, yes, brilliant, capricious, arrogant, but not terribly self-knowing..."
"He is strange because, as you said in your introduction, he lives in the spotlight, occasionally popping up at news conferences and bathing in the celebrity. And then he disappears again."
"...his mobile phones, which he other men switch shirts."
"He's very concerned about his security. And, who knows, maybe he has reason to."
Who knows? Yes, you might think powerful figures were calling for his assassination [e.g. here, here, and here] or execution, or that the the world's most bloated and violent military institution had targeted his organization for destruction [pdf of leaked document here], or that the nation that runs that institution is in the habit of assassinating "high value targets" or kidnapping [with its allies] and torturing such people. You have to love that Mr. Uber journalist John Burns can only murmur "who knows" and yet say about Assange:
"And he struck me as...not gifted, I have to say, with much of a sense of irony."
Irony indeed...

Saturday, December 04, 2010


NPR's web scribes, for the Friday ME story "US 'Connects the Dots' to Catch Roadside Bombers" tell us
"With his doctorate from Princeton, Army Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has become the prime example of a special breed of soldier: the warrior-scholar, trained in history and politics as well as how to fight wars. Now there's a variation on the theme: the warrior mathematician, adept in the complex modeling that has become a key part of military planning."
Hey, if it's all about scholars, war, and deep cover thoughts then who better than the CIA's best friend in journalism - Tom Gjelten. And why not honor Reporter Tom with another installment of his own dynamic, hyperlinked comic strip [click on each panel to visit the super-brainy links] :

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Q Tips

NPR related comments welcomed. I apologize if your comments disappear; Blogger software has added an automatic spam filter that occasionally dings legitimate comments until I clear them. I will try to check it regularly and move them past the filter. Lastly, for those of you who want to know how to put links in your comments:

Yak and Check

Longtime reader/commenter Porter asked if I'd cross-post his latest on Mr. Siegel. Here's the opening:
"Didn’t Siegel get some prize or whatever, a while back? Or am I thinking of somebody else?

Yesterday he was ‘considering’ a new film that deals with the speech problems of King George VI, and Colin Firth, the lead actor in the picture, was there to explain. He did so quite well, despite the fact that Siegel was more interested in the king being some sort of out-of-date figure, or whatever...."

I've put a link up to NYT Check on the sidebar. For a while I'll have it near the top and eventually move it into the company of the other media critique links. Happy to have the media hounds go viral....