Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Q Tips

NPR related comments are always welcomed...play ball!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bad Fears, Good Fears, and Radio Activities at NPR

I promise to keep this short, but I just had to post on NPR's interesting take on fear. Given that the energy industries have a history that...well...let's just say puts profits before people, and given that the worst nuclear accident on record killed at least tens of thousands (if not a million people)... a rational person might consider the public's fear of nuclear energy - especially in light of the ongoing disaster in Japan - as reasonable. On the other hand, given that the likelihood of being a victim of terrorism is extremely small - along with the ridiculously low number of estimated al-Qaida fighters - a rational person might consider the US obsession with fears of al-Qaida to be bizarre at best and, at worst, a sham used to shred Constitutional guarantees, expand the US Security state, and benefit war profiteers. Want to guess what NPR's take on these two fears is relative to the Japanese nuclear disaster and the uprisings in the Middle East?

On the nuclear radiation fears, NPR is generally dismissive:

(from the National Archives - view b&w version here)
  • On March 22nd ME, NPR highlighted psychiatrist, Dr. Robert DuPont who, as Steve Inskeep explained, "told our own Renee Montagne that the American response to the nuclear threats has been way out of proportion."
  • On March 26 Weekend Edition Saturday, Josh Hamilton opened his report with: "Well, I'll start with the good news, which is that there hasn't been any major release of radiation in actually quite a few days now. The bad news is that there are still a lot of problems at the plant." Later in the show, Scott Simon's main question was, "Do you contain the fear of radiation or does that spread all over the country?"
On the uprisings in the Middle East - fear is in the air:

  • On February 26 Weekend Edition Saturday, Temple-Raston blows the al-Qaida fear trumpet regarding the uprising in Libya.
  • On March 19 Weekend Edition Saturday, Temple-Raston is back to warn us that, "The general turbulence in the Middle East and North Africa has provided political vacuums al-Qaida can exploit."
  • On March 24 ME NPR warns about al-Qaida opportunities in Yemen. Discussing a defecting general gives us this interchange between Linda Wertheimer and her guest Robert Powell:
Wertheimer: "How seriously do we take the reports that he is a very conservative person, that he is an Islamist,...?
Powell: "Well, you can bet that the U.S. State Department's alarmed...He has a history that goes back to the 1980s. He used to recruit Islamist fighters to fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the mujahideen, and most vividly to fight with Osama bin Laden. And more recently there has been accusations that he has been recruiting al-Qaida to fight against the Shia in the north of the country."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Halter on Siegel

Zounds, on Thursday evening's ATC, Mr. Heft and Humanity himself, Robert Siegel, was even more jazzed for the dazzling "accuracy" of our air-war toys than his guest, General Halter. And who is this Halter fellow? I'll let Siegel describe him: "Irv Halter. That's retired U.S. Air Force Major General Irving Halter Jr., who is now with the applied technology group of the defense contractor, CSC. " CSC? Oh them...ka-ching!

Here are some of Siegel's laser-guided questions for the Halter:
"Does a pilot who is flying over Libya today have a very different and clearer sense of what his targets are than a pilot who was flying over, say, the Balkans back in the early '90s?"
"Is the result of all this that when a plane goes out and it's hoping to hit a tank on a highway, that the odds of hitting the gas station alongside the highway are far, far, far less than they might have been, say, 15 or 20 years ago."
To which Halter gleefully answers:
"Absolutely. We had pretty good precision 20 years, 15 years ago. We have much better precision now. But at the end of the day, something can occur, for instance, you know, during the Serbian fight there was a situation where an individual was getting ready to drop a bomb on a bridge and he noticed that there was a train coming for that bridge. And so, he had to steer the weapon away at the last minute. That was a decision that the pilots made. If he hadn't have seen that, then something bad could have happened."
Let's just say that "pretty good precision" depended on whether you were on the delivering or receiving end of NATO's humanitarian operation, and that BS about not hitting the train is pure Reaganesque making-crap-up - but since NPR seems to do so little research for these pieces, there is no attempt at correcting the record. Then again NPR never lets facts get in the way of selling the idea that US airpower is the most compassionate in the world.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

NPR Drones and Disappearing Civilian Casualties

It took awhile, but on Tuesday morning (3-22-11) NPR finally got around to covering (covering up) the March 17th drone-slaughter of civilians in AfPak. On the positive side, the report did feature the dire mental health effects that drone strikes have on residents of the area, and Julie McCarthy did contact a shopkeeper who ends the report by explaining:
"If anyone thinks that people here are happy over the drone strikes, they are foolish....In fact, the drones are fomenting hatred against the government and turning the people against America. We are killed by drones and then labeled as terrorists."
However, the story is undermined from the start. Steve Inskeep kicks things off this way,
"An attack last week reportedly killed at least 40 people. Some WERE militants but most are DESCRIBED as tribal elders." [No mention of where the confirmation of "militants" came from or why those other dozens are only "described" as elders.]
From this modest beginning, Julie McCarthy goes full-in:
"The U.S. has been conducting a covert program using unmanned drones to target militants in Pakistan since 2004. According to the Long War Journal, an authoritative website, the large majority of the 2,000 killed since 2006 were from the Taliban, al-Qaida and affiliated groups."
This statement tells you a lot about the rigor of NPR's standards. If thoroughly enmeshed with US state security/military institutions means authoritative - then the Long War Journal (LWJ) is very authoritative. Take a look at its website where you'll find out that its managing editor Bill Roggio has close ties to the conservative Hoover Institute and The Weekly Standard, frequently embeds with the US and allied militaries, and "presents regularly at the US Air Force's Contemporary Counterinsurgency Warfare School on the media and embedded reporting" (oh, and he also "served as a signalman and infantryman in the US Army and the New Jersey National Guard from 1991 to 1997.") As the LWJ masthead indicates, it is a project of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies - which a glance at its "Who We Are" section (rogues gallery) reveals what kind of "authoritative" viewpoint one can expect from the LWJ:
"Our Leadership Council of Distinguished Advisors includes former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former State Department Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky, Forbes CEO Steve Forbes, former National Security Advisor Robert “Bud” McFarlane, former Ambassador Max Kampelman, Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol, Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT), and former CIA Director R. James Woolsey."
No surprise then that the LWJ's snappy charts claim - absent of any hard evidence - that in 2010, US airstrikes killed 801 Taliban/al-Qaeda operatives and only 14 civilians. In all the searching I've done it is clear that hard evidence is extremely difficult to come by - and that estimated of rates of civilian casualties in US drone strikes range from very high (over 90%) to high (about 30%) to low (3.5% ) to the LWJ's very low 1.7%! Given that the US and Pakistani governments have every reason to low-ball civilian casualties - and given that the US military always denies civilian casualties unless confronted by hard evidence - only a propagandist for the US military would claim a source for the lowest number as "authoritative."

This opting for the lowest numbers of civilian victims of the US long, long, long war is nothing new on NPR, in fact it's their gold standard.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Q Tips

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Libya: The Narrow View

With the cruise missile attacks and subsequent airstrikes in Libya, the US is now in it's third active war in a Muslim country (and second in a oil rich nation), and I listened to all of NPR's programming from Saturday's All Things Considered - which was packaged as "special coverage of the military situation in Libya" - and then Sunday morning's Weekend Edition.

It's truly astounding that we live in a country where the engagement in war is strictly prescribed by our Constitution to our House of Representatives. Glenn Greenwald has an excellent summary of how the US participation in the war on Libya defies any adherence to the Constitutional constraints on war-making powers of the President. It seems that some liberal Democratic Representatives are also angered at the dismissal of Constitutional concerns by our Constitutional Professor in Chief, but not NPR. You can listen to all the stories in these crucial NPR news shows from the first day of US participation in the war in Libya and never hear one word about the Constitutional issues raised by US military action in Libya. This is especially striking since on All Things Considered, Tom Bowman made a point of noting that War Secretary Gates made it very clear that this action in Libya "meant going to war."

The Constitutional issues are one point that any thinking US citizen should wonder about regarding the war in Libya. Another obvious question would be the rather gross hypocrisy of launching military action to "protect civilians" when the US is massively arming Saudi Arabia, one of the most radically repressive fundamentalist Islamic states in the region - a state that has helped murder unarmed protesters in its occupation of Bahrain.

To find any alternative views on the supposed "humanitarian" view of US warmaking in Libya, you'll have to go to The Independent, Chris Floyd, Common Dreams, or Al Jazeera - but if you want the Pentagon/White House presentation of this latest US military action then stick with NPR...you won't be disappointed.

Steve Inskeep - More Tortured Distortions

On Tuesday Morning Steve Inskeep did an interesting story about a popular Egyptian singer who was recently [after the overthrow of Mubarak] detained and tortured by the Egyptian military. Inskeep's direct and moving reporting on the singer, Essam's, torture prompted The Modest Egotist to post the following comment on NPR:

This part of Modest Egoist's comment -
"But, how come when Inskeep/NPR describes the same treatment of prisoners by American troops at Gitmo and Ab Gruib it's only "harsh interrogation"?
Guess I just don't like my morning coffee with big spoonful of hypocrisy.
Ahem, who has been training the Egyptian military of the past decade?
- drew the following reply from Steve Inskeep:

So Inskeep claims,
"As for the 'Modest Egotist' question about why we don't refer to torture by Americans as torture. Actually, we do, and I have. Not room enough for all the links here, but many examples are searchable at npr.org at any time. Thanks again, Steve."
Sounds like a challenge for the NPR-BS detector to me. I spent a bit of time looking on the NPR site and on this blog, and if I were using the truth-o-meter from Politifact, I'd give Inskeep's claim a "barely true" - and I mean barely. I'll quickly list the evidence I could find:
  • Probably the strongest case for Inskeep's claim is in one report in November 2009, which describes extensive waterboarding as torture. Here's his interchange with NPR's Temple-Raston:
    Inskeep: "...this is a man [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] who was waterboarded 183 times. What difficulties are raised by bringing in a man to a civilian court when some of the evidence against him would appear to have been obtained by torture?"
    Temple-Raston: "...No, you are exactly right. And this is one of the really big issues here, although in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he actually admitted, before being tortured, that he was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. So that makes him slightly different than some of these other detainees who have been tortured, who maybe only admitted to something after they were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques, or torture."
  • Also back in May of 2006 Inskeep gets credit for using the word torture in an interview with Alfred McCoy. He asks McCoy, "Can we set aside a moment, questions of morality, and just talk about practicality. Many people have said that physical torture does not produce good information, that people will say anything to get it over with. What about psychological torture? Has it ever been shown to be useful, whatever you may think of it?" Given that McCoy was talking about the use of brutal isolation, nakedness, sleep deprivation, etc., the fact that Inskeep calls it psychological torture is exceptional for NPR.
Far more common when the word torture is used for US practices, are qualified uses of the term.
  • In August of 2009, discussing revised interrogation standards, Inskeep makes this statement about CIA torture of detainees, "In addition to the moral objections to what many would define as torture, is there now a consensus among people who do this work that it also wasn't practical to be abusing prisoners?"
  • In "Torture Issue Won't Die Down" from May of 2009 - even though photos showing "nudity, guns being aimed at detainees, people in shackles" are being discussed along with previous photos from Abu Ghraib, there is only ONE reference to torture when Inskeep says "the so-called torture memos."
  • In a June 2006 interview with Alan Dershowitz who wants to prescribe and legalize "limited" torture, Inskeep says about Dershowitz - and a doctor who will be the next day's guest, "Yet, the doctor and Dershowitz agree on one thing. They say the United States is, indeed, practicing torture." Again it's distanced and qualified by "they say."
That's about as much evidence as I could find supporting Inskeep's claims. If I missed something significant, I hope someone will email me or post it in the comments section so I can update this post. As you can see, this supporting evidence is pretty thin and is swamped by NPR's and Inskeep's overall tendency to use euphemisms for torture - or to imply that abuse of detainees is not such a bad thing after all. For example
  • In June of 2006 Inskeep interviews an Army torturer and NEVER once mentions torture, even when the interrogator describes prisoners who were forced to crawl across gravel being unable to walk afterwards, or when he details subjecting them to hypothermia, dogs and months of complete isolation. In fact this treatment was not apparently brutal enough to intrigue Inskeep's moral instincts and he asks, "Did anybody ever ask you to go beyond the kinds of - well, let's call it abuse, if you don't mind, the kind of abuse that you have described..."
  • In February of 2007 Human Rights Watch issued a damning report on US torture of detainees, and Inskeep presented a short blurb on the report which featured more Bush-spin than report - and featured Inskeep noting that in the report is one "Jihadist" who "claims to have been tortured."
  • In December of 2008 when a damning Senate Report on US torture of detainees was released not only did NPR not cover it, they had Inskeep conduct an interview with a "good guy" Army interrogator who worked in Iraq. Inskeep never mentioned torture, but did find time to wonder if uncooperative prisoners ever got the interrogator to the point "where you really wanted to hit the guy."
I could go on and on (search this blog's label "torture" for example) about the direct and indirect ways that NPR's coverage or outright censorship of the US torture of detainees has greatly enabled the establishment and legitimization of formal US torture and detainee abuse practices. A record that makes Inskeep's claim all the more hollow, and of course, I've not even touched on the fact that NPR's ombudsman has asserted that calling waterboarding torture reflects bias and that the policy of NPR is to refrain from the use of such language - a fact that Modest Egoist referred and linked to in his original post.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Q Tips

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Happystan and Memory Holes

In the midst of its own autos-da-fé to its right wing executioners (I'm still waiting for that signed open letter decrying NPR's policy on US torture) - NPR is not about to quit spinning news to favor the US Permanent War Projectand sending major stories down the memory hole [see earlier post] when they reflect poorly on that war project or on the Washington Consensus. Consider just a few tidbits from the past week.
Yes, this is the what we get from the "superb," "impartial news service" that is NPR.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Indefensible NPR

Given the piece o'crap O'Keefe's punking of NPR and the ensuing shedding o'Schillers that has followed it, I figured a brief round up of some of the reaction to it was in order. It is interesting that most of the liberal to leftist reactions to the whole affair are critiques of NPR's spineless capitulation to the O'Keefe sting that point out what regulars at NPR Check already know - NPR is a solidly conservative/Republican-friendly news organization.
  • Media Matters highlights how several conservatives have weighed in with praise for the friendly territory that NPR News offers them. No surprise there...
Unfortunately, NPR's devotion to US power elites and conservatives didn't sway some critics from their delusions that NPR news represents some kind of gold standard of journalism.
  • Jay Rosen at PressThink points out that NPR's capitulations to the right in this affair will have no effect on the triumphalist, take-no-prisoners conservatives who hate all public media and will only be satisfied when it is fully destroyed. Unfortunately, in his critique Rosen perpetuates the false notions that NPR is a valuable news source. He describes NPR as being "in the business of reporting facts," lauds Vivian Schiller as "a visionary leader who knew where NPR had to go in the digital age," and claims that NPR has been guided by a "commitment to [be] an impartial news service."
  • Worse than Rosen's were Joel Meares' comments about NPR at the Columbia Journalism Review. After making the point that NPR's actions will not appease its conservative enemies, Meares drifts into the land of pure fantasy, stating that
    "NPR is a legitimate, independent news organization that is consistently strong and tough in its reporting."
    Gad! I hope he'll send me a link to that alternate universe NPR so I can listen to some of that "strong and tough" reporting.
Of all the reactions to the NPR Schiller debacle, the one that really saddened me most was the article, "In Defense of NPR," by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship first posted on Salon.com and later republished by Common Dreams which interestingly has never shown any interest in publishing NPR critiques I have submitted to them - including the earlier relevant post on NPR funding campaigns by progressives. It was depressing to read Moyers and Winship promoting the lies that NPR has a
"superb news division"
and to see them close their defense with this painfully ironic warning
"But for all its flaws, consider an America without public media. Consider a society where the distortions and dissembling would go unchallenged, where fact-based reporting is eliminated."
And where, pray tell, on NPR are those distortions and dissembling being challenged? And where is all that fact-based reporting? If you find it on any of the NPR flagship news shows - Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and the Weekend Editions - please write to me and I'll post them here on NPR Check.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Q Tips

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Saturday, March 05, 2011

It's the History, Stupid

(free candy from the US Air Force)

Tuesday morning, March 1, NPR's Deborah Amos had a story on the rising popularity of Al-Jazeera in the US. Early in the report, Amos says,
"The range of breaking stories has gained Al-Jazeera an unprecedented number of new fans in the U.S., and more powerful enemies in the Middle East."
A little later in the story, Amos - providing no details or explanation - notes that,
"Al-Jazeera Arabic has been controversial since broadcasts began 15 years ago."
The focus of Amos' piece is on the current hostile reaction of authoritarian Middle Eastern regimes to the informative news that Al-Jazeera produces, but there is an odd and glaring lack of context to the report. Except for this one brief mention regarding Al-Jazeera English - " It was shut out of the American market by reluctant cable operators after the Bush administration labeled the network anti-American" - listeners would never know that Middle East dictators attacking Al-Jazeera are simply following the same playbook used by US during the past "controversial" decade. The tactics of the US playbook against Al-Jazeera range from mild to very extreme:
The complete omission of this background history leads to some excruciating irony - for instance, this bit from Amos:
"Al-Jazeera's office was closed and burned, journalists beaten and detained, tapes confiscated or destroyed."
She is talking about recent events in Egypt - not Iraq or Afghanistan.

Hearing this latest example of the NPR history scrub made me wonder if I was being too harsh on NPR. Perhaps they have covered some of the United States government's most egregious abuses against Al-Jazeera and so decided that repeating them was unnecessary. So let's see what on-air coverage NPR has given to the most significant cases of US assaults on Al-Jazeera:
  • US strike on the Kabul offices of Al-Jazeera - nothing
  • US strike on the Baghdad offices of Al-Jazeera - nothing
  • US detention and torture of Salah Hassan - nothing
  • US detention and torture of Suhaib Badr al Baz - nothing
  • the 6 year imprisonment, torture and eventual release of Sami al-Haj - nothing
What can you say? NPR has not given a single bit of coverage to even one of these US-orchestrated assaults on journalism in general - and Al-Jazeera in particular. I have to confess that - even as critical as I am of NPR - I was stunned at its absolute censorship of these stories. Given NPR's hypocrisy when it comes to covering attacks on journalists, I guess I should not have been the least bit surprised.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Q Tips

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

So Just Who is Sheera Frenkel?

Something caught my ear in Sheera Frenkel's vacuous piece on the Palestinian Papers this morning. Discussing effect of the Palestinian Papers on Saeb Erekat, Frenkel says,
"Erekat says he resigned in disgrace, because of leaks someone in his own office provided to Al-Jazeera, the popular Arabic satellite news channel. Thousands of documents - nicknamed the Palileaks - revealed much about the peace talks over the last decade."
"Palileaks"? I'm a bit of a news junkie and follow developments in the Middle East, but I have never seen or heard the Palestine Papers described as the "Palileaks." I thought maybe I had missed something and did a Google search on the term. The results are quite interesting: almost all of them are pro-Zionist sources. The first two are telling: The Jerusalem Post (that Frenkel has written for) and the an article from CBN (the far-right Christian Broadcasting Network). Interestingly if you search "Palileaks" on Al-Jazeera or The Guardian (the two press outlets that actually released the Papers) you get nothing.

Sheera Frenkel has done some pretty awful reporting from Israel, and I want to know who this reporter is - you know, the basics: her education, what jobs has she held, has she done internships, etc. NPR has no bio on her, and I still haven't found anything substantive online, except that she has written for the Christian Science Monitor, The Jerusalem Post, The Times of London, and McClatchy. I did turn up two interesting bits on Frenkel: she has an article on the Christian-Zionist Frontline Israel website and in the PDF brochure from a Crossing Borders Media Conference, August 2007, in Bonn, she is identified as being from California and an Israeli citizen (which seems relevant for a reporter covering the Israel/Palestine conflict).

If anyone finds a legitimate and relevant bio of Sheera Frenkel and can send it to me, I'll post it here. Until then I'll drop a line to the Ombudsman and request that NPR at least provide the basics on Frenkel who is a frequent contributor.

As a postscript, I should note that back on January 25th, I posted on NPR's distorted coverage of the Palestinian Papers back when they were released. A few days later Lourdes Garcia-Navarro did a decent piece that looked at the Palestinian negotiators' disappointment in the Obama administration as revealed in the papers. But that's it, and the critiques of my first post remain valid: NPR has been mute on the major revelation of the Papers: the utter sham of the entire "peace process" which has only furthered the violent US-supported Israeli policy of colonizing the Occupied Territories and destroying the possibility of any meaningful Palestinian state.