Archive for the ‘Media/Journalism’ category

07.06.16 Apology to Bernie Sanders + Don’t trust NYT

July 6, 2016

On May 29, I wrote about the hypocrisy of the Sanders campaign’s having opposed the superdelegate system in principle, while turning to superdelegates as the the last hope for overturning the will of the voters. While I stand by the my post, as a whole, it included these unfortunate words: “his supporters. . .throw things.” This was an oblique reference to an incident that was widely reported as taking place at the Nevada state convention in May. I should never have made that reference and hereby apologize for it.

As it turns out, there was no chair throwing in Nevada. According to the myth-busting website, Snopes.com, the incident was completely made up by a Nevada journalist by the name of Jon Ralston and then further propagated by such liberal bastions as Rachel Maddow and the New York Times.

Your blogger was gullible enough to take Maddow’s and NYT’s reports at face value. Dear Reader, as an one-person opinion blogger, I cannot promise you that I will engage in the kind of fact checking that I would expect of professional journalists and the institutions they work for. I find it outrageous that Maddow and NYT (not to mention hundreds of other media outlets) didn’t do their due diligence on this. I have learned a new lesson about relying on them and will try harder to verify controversial items I see in the mainstream media.

Ultimately, I don’t think this particular piece of misreporting changed in any significant way the outcome of the race: Bernie Sanders pretty much had no hope of victory by then. But it certainly contributed to greater hostility between the Clinton and Sanders campaigns, which has not been good for anyone (except Trump and the GOP).

So, what of the Bernie claim that the media was horribly unfair to him from the moment he got in the race. I certainly saw clear evidence of this from the Washington Post, which is a consistent pro-corporate rag with no line between editorial and reporting. But I again failed to notice New York Times’ irresponsibility. This outstanding piece by Bill Moyers sheds good light:

Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone wrote a scathing takedown of The Times’ most egregious offense: a March article by Jennifer Steinhauer on how Sanders functioned as a legislator. Headlined “Bernie Sanders Scored Victories for Years Via Legislative Side Doors,” as originally published, the article recounted how effective Sanders was at attaching amendments to pieces of legislation, both Republican and Democratic, and forging coalitions to achieve his ends. The piece was bandwagon stuff.

But then something happened. The original article, already published, underwent a transformation in which Sanders suddenly wasn’t so effective a legislator. Even the headline was changed to “Via Legislative Side Doors, Bernie Sanders Won Modest Victories.” And this paragraph was added: “But in his presidential campaign Mr. Sanders is trying to scale up those kinds of proposals as a national agenda, and there is little to draw from his small-ball legislative approach to suggest that he could succeed.”

Responding to angry Sanders supporters, The Times’ own public editor, Margaret Sullivan, asked why the changes were made and wrote, “Matt Purdy, a deputy executive editor, said that when senior editors read the piece after it was published online, they thought it needed more perspective about whether Mr. Sanders would be able to carry out his campaign agenda if he was elected president.” Yeah, right.

Moyers also reports the numbers:

On CNN, Clinton got more than 70,000 of the Democratic-candidate mentions, while Sanders got just under 42,000. On MSNBC, Clinton got more than 93,000 mentions to Sanders’ roughly 51,000. On Fox News, she got more than 71,000 mentions to his more than 28,000. The numbers are similar on the Lexis-Nexis database of newspapers.

Moyers’s conclusion about why all this happened, though, contradicts one part of the conspiracy theory held by many Bernie supporters. According to Moyers, media bias against Sanders was not the result of a corporate, right-wing cabal to defeat the left, but rather resulted from a self-reinforcing echo chamber. That is, the media assumed from the start that Sanders couldn’t possibly win against Clinton. Therefore, they under-covered him and denigrated him to justify their firm conclusion that he was and would be a loser. Writes Moyers:

. . .this isn’t just what the MSM think of Bernie Sanders. It is what the media think of losers. They don’t like them very much, and they seem determined to make sure that you don’t like them either — unless they beat the press’s own odds and become winners.

Do I suspect anti-left bias in the media? To some extent. But in some ways it’s even more alarming to learn that the news sources we rely on are just so completely irresponsible that truth and balance simply don’t matter. If you can’t rely on the New York Times, whom can you rely on?

©2016 Keith Berner

02.21.16 BREAKING NEWS: WaPo is a right-wing rag

February 21, 2016

The fact that the Washington Post’s editorials are right wing does not, in itself, make the newspaper a rag. And, to be fair, this supposed bastion of the “liberal media” is not all right wing. On social policy, from capital punishment to gay rights to reproductive freedom, WaPo is reliably progressive. It’s all the other topics that get under a progressive’s skin:

  • On foreign policy, the paper is almost always hawkish neocon, ala W, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz
  • The paper is virulently anti-labor
  • Its coverage of the local region is wearyingly pro-corporate/pro development.

What makes the paper a rag is mostly the lack of a firewall between its editorial opinions and its news coverage. Two recent instances come to mind.

On January 20, the Post covered Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan’s budget under a headline including the words “tax relief.” Last time I checked, the objective term for lower taxes was “reductions” or “cuts.” The moniker “relief” comes directly from Grover Norquist: taxes are ipso facto bad and any reduction in them is about alleviating a burden on the suffering populace.

Another example is on the front page of today’s Metro section (no link provided, because I’m referring to the hard copy), where a headline declares: “Hogan learns to lead his way: Governor finds success while foiling foes’ attempts to vilify him.” On the continuing internal page, the headline reads “Hogan’s moderate agenda leaves Democrats little to attack.”

Neither of these statements is objectively true. First, one can hardly call Hogan’s record a success, when the Democratic legislature just overturned six of his vetoes. Reacting to the last veto override – restoring voting rights to ex-felons – the governor threw a temper-tantrum, unleashing a barrage of hard-right attacks and threats against Democratic lawmakers. Since that outburst, Hogan has taken to name-calling and assaults on legislators’ integrity that have embarrassed even the GOP.

Second, “moderate” is clearly in the eyes of the beholder. Many of us would not consider a refusal to allow citizens to vote moderate at all. (One can disagree with me on this, but the very point I’m making is that the Post is stating its opinion as objective fact.)

Further evidence of the WaPo’s “raggishness” comes from the decreasing quality of its reporting and writing. The newspaper has nearly given up covering the metro area at all. There is a single political reporter (Bill Turque) assigned to 1-million strong Montgomery County, for example, and his writing is usually superficial and vapid. (A county politician I discussed this with yesterday called Turque “lazy.” I think it’s the publication’s fault for allowing him to be.)

I have seen the lack of a firewall between opinions and reporting in the Post for years: consider the decades-long refusal to acknowledge now-County Councilman Marc Elrich’s very existence in print, because they didn’t like his stand on growth (slow it down!) and unions (support them!).

Many, see a recent decline in overall quality since Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post two-and-a-half years ago. The bottom line is that WaPo has gone from being irritating and unprincipled to being an outright embarrassment.

Sadly, there is only one quality daily newspaper left in this country of over 300 million: the New York Times. And even the NYT hardly matters, when most of the country gets its news from Fox, comedy shows, and internet conspiracy theorists. Seeking explanations for the Trump phenomenon? The decline of quality journalism is certainly one of them, with WaPo as Exhibit 1.

©2016 Keith Berner

09.27.15 FFRF’s Attack on Pope Francis

September 27, 2015

An open letter to Freedom from Religion Foundation

I am an atheist of Jewish heritage and an avid secularist. I have also been a supporter of FFRF.

I am writing regarding your wrong – and wrong-headed – full page ads in the Washington Post and New York Times on the occasion of the Pope’s speech to Congress:

Wrong. An invitation to a foreign dignitary and figure of worldwide respect has nothing to do with separation of church and state. (The opening of each congressional session with a prayer does, however.) Congress – and the American people – benefit from hearing the views of international leaders.

Wrong-Headed. FFRF is foolish to try to raise its profile by attacking this pope, who is beloved by the devout (of many religions) and secular across the world. Yeah, you will likely say, “We were attacking his speech to Congress, not him as a person.” But that is not the way your full-page ads will be perceived and this is all about perception. Your choice of this high-profile campaign is likely to alienate more people than it will attract and, thereby, set back the cause of secularism.

Further, I imagine your ads cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I cannot imagine that going after the pope will produce more in revenues for FFRF than the ads cost.

I cannot support an organization that does such a poor job of managing its resources, nonetheless adopts a public profile that will be so counter-productive. Fortunately, FFRF is not the only game in town. From now on, I will make an annual contribution to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, as a better steward of our cause.

©2015 Keith Berner

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03.27.11 AT&T + TMobile = Threat to Democracy

March 27, 2011

Commentators are bemoaning the effect of AT&T’s purchase of T-Mobile, combining the second and fourth largest cellular providers to become the undisputed number one. As they point out, the elimination of T-Mobile as the lowest-price carrier will certainly bring higher prices to consumers coast to coast.  But the greatest cost to the US public comes not in the form of higher prices, but rather in a further constriction in freedom of access to information.

Cellular consolidation is directly related to the unfortunately named “Net Neutrality.”  I say the term is unfortunate, because non-techies’ eyes tend to glaze over when they hear it.  I’d rather call the issue “internet freedom.” For those of you who have taken an interest in net neutrality, the issue has tended to be painted in economic or convenience terms (just as with the AT&T/T-Mobile merger). True, one hazard of allowing huge corporations to discriminate against content based on its source might be higher prices to get access to certain content or longer download times for content that the given corporation wants to disfavor because a rival produced it.

Much more chilling is the idea that huge corporations will simply prevent you from ever seeing anything they disagree with.  This has already happened at least once.  In September 2007, Verizon blocked NARAL (the abortion rights group) from sending text messages to its supporters. Why? Because Verizon disagreed with NARAL.

A commitment to — and legal enshrinement of — internet freedom would prevent the corporate elite not only from discriminating against the movie studio or TV channel their rival owns, but also against free speech that  they just don’t like. Late last year, the FCC took an apparent step in that direction; however, the “compromise” put forth by the agency applies only to internet access coming through wires (e.g., cable, DSL, FIOS). It totally exempts wireless connections, i.e., those you get through mobile devices.  Guess which kind of connection is the future of internet access.  You got it: the wireless kind.

So, how is the technology industry reacting to the FCC’s feckless compromise?  With absolute fury. Verizon, Google (that old “don’t be evil” motto means nothing) and every Republican in Congress believe that rights of corporations trump those of citizens.  To them, any restriction on corporate freedom — including the right to keep you from consuming whatever content you want on the internet — is to be combatted with all their considerable might.

To make matters worse, this entire spectacle is taking place in the context of enormous media consolidation. As daily newspapers disappear from towns and cities nationwide, broadcast news is now more or less reduced to CNN and Fox. Don’t let the latter’s right-wing ranting blind you to CNN’s ideology. Both networks are pro-corporate, militaristically nationalistic, sensationalist, and superficial.

I have long considered the internet to be the last bastion of freedom and democracy.  While decrying the fact that most Americans get their news from an ever-narrower list of sources — all of which buy into the pro-corporate status quo, I have also celebrated the fact that those of us looking for balanced perspectives and independent voices were free to find them. As imperfect as our democracy is, the threat of government censorship has remained negligible for a very long time.

But it is not government censorship we have to fear in the United States.  Rather, the biggest threat to meaningful freedom of speech and access to information comes in the form of corporate censorship.

Even under the most rosy scenario for net neutrality, the only three remaining cellular providers (AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint) will be exempt.  Sure, they’ll disagree with each other on this or that.  But, they will be in full cahoots with the Koch brothers, the rest of the US corporate leadership, and the US Congress (their nearly wholly owned subsidiary) to make sure that revolutionary thinking (even the unarmed kind) just can’t be found.

This fits precisely with the corporate elite’s purposeful program to dumb down the US public education system: a functionally illiterate populace lacking in analytical ability and spoon-fed an ideology of false freedom won’t have the means or desire to notice its invisible chains.  And corporate control, along with further enrichment of the ultra wealthy, will the unquestioned law of the land.

©2011 Keith Berner

03.13.11 Pro Labor!

March 13, 2011

During the past couple of years, I became increasingly opposed to the Montgomery County public employee unions.  Their pay and benefits are excessive within the context of the county’s fiscal crisis. Well compensated public employees need to give back substantially when programs for the needy are on the chopping block.

But I have never opposed the right of labor to organize. And all it took was Wisconsin to remind me how precious that right is.  The GOP march nationwide to destroy unions and chip away at voting rights is nothing less than an assault on democracy itself (tattered as it is after Citizens United and the overwhelming control a tiny corporate elite has over the media, government, and – by extension – education).

One interesting facet of the Wisconsin phenomenon is the stark difference between the Washington Post’s and New York Times’s editorial coverage:  The Times has repeatedly denounced the Wisconsin GOP’s power grab. All the virulently anti-labor Post could muster was a one meek piece declaring understanding for Wisconsin’s need to cut pay and benefits and hoping that the two sides could work it out.

Count me pro labor. Count me, futher, as one who never forgets to read the Post’s editorial page with a giant grain of salt.

©2011 Keith Berner


12.6.10 Wikileaks: US Does China One Better

December 6, 2010

Very few things in this world are black and white.  I was as joyful as the next dyed-in-the-wool anti-war activist when Wikileaks published a trove of secret documents about the Afghanistan War a few months ago.  A la Daniel Ginsberg (of Pentagon Papers fame), here was a tiny crusader revealing the dark secrets of the aggressive, imperialist power.  The Question Authority button glued to my psyche (if not my lapel) was shimmering with delight.

My gut reacted less favorably to the dump of diplomatic cables that came out last week.  It’s one thing, I thought, to help end fruitless (if not unjustified) wars.  It’s quite another to break down the secrecy essential to diplomacy.  I’m a graduate of a leading US school of international relations.  It’s in my blood to respect statecraft and its tools. After all, isn’t diplomacy the opposite of war?

So I was already primed to be distressed by this latest Wikileaks case, even before 24/7 mainstream media coverage of Wikileaks’ malfeasance kicked in.  I was also disturbed about Wikileaks founder Julian Assange: stories of disgruntled former compatriots leaving the fold with tales of megalomania and arrogance, not to mention sexual assault charges from Sweden.  (Something nagged at me about whether these stories represented balance or selective support for establishment the world view, but I wasn’t ready to embrace that interpretation.)

I was formulating my reaction, pondering a blog post about how just because something is secret doesn’t mean it ought to be revealed.  (Do your in-laws benefit – or do you? – if they find out you don’t think highly of them, after all?  Won’t that simply mean future Thanksgivings will be less manageable?)  I was prepared to jump on the bandwagon and toss Wikileaks under it.

Then I started reading the tech media’s response to the mainstream media.   (See, particularly TechDirt and ReadWriteWeb.)  Rather than the popular story about Wikileaks’ threat to Life As We Know It, what shows up there is a clear-eyed portrayal of the establishment fighting back:

  • The State Department has warned US students that so much as mentioning Wikileaks in their on-line writing could permanently bar them from the Foreign Service.
  • Federal workers are being forbidden by their employer from reading anything Wikileaks publishes.
  • Amazon.com declared that it would no longer host Wikileaks data.
  • PayPal announced that it would no longer process donations to Wikileaks.
  • EveryDNS.net revoked Wikileaks domain registration (wikileaks.org), making it impossible for law-abiding US citizens (or anyone else) to access it.

What we have here, folks, is a full-throttle attempt by the US government to censor the internet (not to mention free speech), exactly what it accuses China of.  What we also have is another chilling example of US corporations doing the bidding of the US national security state.  (Remember the cell companies’ eagerness to turn over customer records to the government in the 2000s?)

“Wait,” you say!  “You usually accuse corporate America of owning the government.  Now you’re calling them its stooges.”

It’s all the same thing, you see.  The mega-wealthy owners of our economy have a giant stake in the economic and political status quo.  Their relationship with the government is hand-in-glove.  Sometimes one suggests courses of action to the other. Sometimes, it’s the other’s turn to take the lead. For both parties, “democracy” is a useful marketing slogan, as long as it poses no threat to powers that be.

I remain unconvinced that the unveiling of diplomatic cables is a good thing, per se, nor am I unconcerned about Assange’s character and actions.  (I certainly don’t take accusations of sexual assault lightly.)  But whatever might be wrong with Assange and Wikileaks, the spectacle of US government and business collaborating to shut down free speech and access to information, aided and abetted by the mainstream media, is the most significant part of this sordid affair.

©2010 Keith Berner

10.11.10 For Want of Wisdom

October 11, 2010

Last week, fellow local blogger Dan Malouff bemoaned the turning of the United States from a “can-do to can’t” nation.  In the piece, he asks, “Are we really so poor that we can’t afford to pass along to our children a working infrastructure?”

The next day, Dinesh D’Souza – president of King’s College in New York City – opined in the Washington Post that President Obama “flays the rich.” D’Souza denounced Obama’s (in my view rather weak) attempts to get the rich to shoulder more of the burdens of society as “anti-colonialism” (as if that were a bad thing).

And the day after that, Ezra Klein – a Post economics columnist – started out writing about Facebook, but ended up painting a compelling picture of how innovation relies much more on societal infrastructure than on individual brilliance.  No surpirse to find him dismayed that our country is investing less and less in education and other prerequisites to progress.

Meanwhile, the Tea Party thunders its opposition to government and taxation. Though aspects of the movement (e.g, the sheer idiocy of some of its candidates) are troubling the GOP, it represents in fact the utter embodiment of the GOP’s world view for decades: starve government and transfer wealth to the wealthy.  Right here in Maryland, former governor Robert Ehrlich campaigns on tax cuts, without any specific mention of budget cuts or other costs, continuing the long ironic switch from the GOP to the Democrats as the party of fiscal responsibility.

What are the common threads of these columns and campaigns?  Selfishness and greed. Deception and gullibility. Theft from the future in thrall to the present, not to mention from the poor and middle class in subservience to the rich.

It seems remarkable how right wingers have successfully spun a populist tale such that seniors scream for the government to keep its hands off their Medicare and working-class families vote for policies that reward almost entirely the smallest sliver of wealthiest Americans.  It seems equally remarkable that this tiny sliver is so enamored of today’s tax breaks that it has lost touch with tomorrow’s bridge collapses (due to deferred maintenance) or costs to our collective wealth when inventions get developed in far-away lands.

This is all not really so remarkable, though.  After all it’s the ultra-rich who are underwriting the campaigns that result in education cuts.  They are the ones controlling almost all of the media that almost all Americans consume – a mainstream media that chooses to put their stories and idologies on the front page, while marginalizing other views.  The result is a populace less able to analyze truth and fiction, more susceptible to empty rhetoric, more ready to believe that the entire cake can be eaten and preserved at the same time, without cost to anyone.

As for the the wealthy’s inability to see beyond today, I can only guess that they are so captivated by their own deceptions that they have become true believers. The system they have created (Wall Street!) rewards this quarter’s results and neglects next year’s.  The participants get so fabulously, stinking rich that their seventh house and third yacht seem to be free.  Damn the torpedoes!  Damn tomorrow!

No, Mr. Malouff, this country is not too poor — in cash — to invest in its future.  We remain the wealthiest country on the planet by almost any measure.  Where we are desperately impoverished is in attention span and social conscience. And we have become that way, because that is the path the utlra wealthy have chosen for us.

When D’Souza and his ilk reinvent “anti-colonialism” as a pejorative, when thousands of teachers lose jobs as Wall Streeters regain their obscene bonuses, when GOP leaders fight to stop a $20-billion jobs program at the same time they toil tirelessly to preserve $700 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 1%, it is no accident.  It is all according to plan.

I loathe this selfishness and shortsightedness.  If that amounts to anti-colonialism and class warfare, bring me more.  Yes, I say, tax the rich: disable the pernicious influence their greed has on society by taking away at least some of their means to purchase that influence. Yes, I say, build more and better schools, enact laws that break up media dynasties, invest in clean energy and rebuild dams, and, yes — use money from the ultra wealthy to bring this about.  Do this because progress is not measured or produced by today’s stock market close or the number of houses owned by members of the Senate. Rather, it is measured and produced by wisdom.  And that is our greatest lack.

©2010 Keith Berner