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 Post subject: Re: FAIR Stuff...
PostPosted: 28 Apr 2009, 10:53 
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Robert Samuelson, Not an Economist
04/18/2009 by Peter Hart

Washington Post/Newsweek economics columnist Robert Samuelson was recently out plugging his new book at an event recorded by C-SPAN. Samuelson began his remarks (watch the video here, at the 4:20 mark) by saying:

I am not an economist. I'm a journalist. And so that anything I say that seems contradictory to what a freshman in college would learn in your basic Principles of Economics course, I should be absolved of any sin for that, because as I say I am not a card-carrying member of the fraternity.

No one is asking Samuelson to be an economist. But it sounds like what he's saying is that not being one frees him to write about things like trade, inequality or Social Security without the burden of knowing much about the issues.

Samuelson is one of the few mainstream pundits who still doubts the science on climate change. The problem there isn't that he's not a climate scientist, but that he doesn't believe they know what they're talking about.

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 Post subject: Re: FAIR Stuff...
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Spanish Torture Indictments Dead?
04/18/2009 by Steve Rendall

Reading some of the latest headlines, one might think that Spanish investigations and possible indictments of six former Bush officials for alleged involvement in torture were dead in the water. As the Associated Press banner put it (4/17/09): "Spain: No Torture Probe of U.S. Officials," while the Los Angeles Times headlined a news brief (4/17/09), “Spain; Prosecutors Reject Trying Bush Officials."

On the prosecutors' announcement, the AP story reported:

While their ruling is not binding, the announcement all but dooms prospects for the case against the men going forward. On Thursday, Spain's top law-enforcement official Candido Conde-Pumpido said he would not support an investigation against the officials--including former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

So perhaps Bill O'Reilly is be excused for celebrating the news last night (O'Reilly Factor, 4/16/09), though the Fox host may have gone too far when he claimed credit for Spain's reported change of heart: "I don't know if the Factor was a factor in this decision, but I am taking full credit for it," said O'Reilly, who went on to suggest that it was his recently threatened boycott that forced Spain's hand: "We were going to boycott Spain,' said O'Reilly, "and they folded pretty damn fast."

But according to Harper's legal blogger Scott Horton, the reports, and the O'Reilly boasts they seem to have prompted, are, at least, premature. Appearing on Democracy Now! on Friday, Horton criticized AP's reporting, pointing out that in the Spanish system, investigating judges make the call on indictments, not prosecutors.

Well, the Associated Press is giving you extremely faulty legal analysis, because a decision as to whether the case will go forward rests entirely with the investigating judge. The Spanish system is not like the American system, where prosecutors decide who and when to bring cases and who to prosecute.

And Horton explained that the investigating judge in this case, Baltazar Garzon, is not known for acceding to advice from Spanish prosecutors:

In the Spanish system, the prosecution is managed by an investigating judge. In this case, it’s Baltasar Garzon. And you may recall he handled the case involving Augusto Pinochet, and he did that against the stern opposition of Spanish prosecutors, I think which shows you the weight that that recommendation may hold with him in his court.

Horton underlined another important fact, a point that was reported in some news media (e.g., New York Times, 4/17/09), but missed by others, including by O'Reilly: The Spanish prosecutor thinks the U.S. should prosecute the Bush officials:

But there's a different consideration to weigh in here, as well, and that is that this is a statement that was announced by the prosecutors at the Audencia Nacional in Madrid, and we know, in fact, that those prosecutors who have made this recommendation not to go forward in fact concluded that the case should be prosecuted.

They prepared a 37-page memorandum--and I've discussed, I've talked with several people in Madrid who have read it--that laid out the case, showed how it could fairly easily be brought, how it involved a joint criminal enterprise, how it could be sustained on the basis of documents, including some of those that were released yesterday. And that decision by the career prosecutors was overridden in a political act by Spain's attorney general, who's a political figure. He was a member of the cabinet of Prime Minister Jose Zapatero.

And Horton reports a story that to our knowledge has not been reported in U.S. corporate media thus far, that the top Spanish prosecutor's decision to oppose indictments was prompted by politics--high-level communications between the U.S. and Spanish governments. Because of this, according to Horton, the prosecutors objections were likely to be taken less seriously when and if indictments are considered:

Moreover, the attorney general's decision, which was announced yesterday morning in Madrid, came after several days of high-level discussions between Washington and the Zapatero government, during the course of which, I've been told, the Obama administration suggested very strongly that the pendency of this case was inconvenient and that it would be viewed as a great favor by Washington if Zapatero's government could do what was within its power to shut this down. And I think what we see here is an accommodating nod from Jose Zapatero.

So it has really nothing to do with justice, and it has nothing to do with the merits of the case. It's a political act. And it's certain to be understood by the judges of the Audencia Nacional as a political act, which means I don't think it really forms much of a barrier to the prosecution going forward.

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 Post subject: Re: FAIR Stuff...
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Playing the Left on TV
04/20/2009 by Peter Hart

Regular NewsHour left/right panelists Mark Shields and David Brooks were off on April 18. Sitting in on the right was former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson. In the liberal chair was Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, who is not exactly known for her strong progressive views.

And in fact, Marcus established that fact right from the start on the debate over torture, showing (once again) that a good TV leftist is usually not, well, a leftist:

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ruth, to you first. The release of these Bush administration-era interrogation memos and, simultaneously, the decision not to prosecute the CIA agents who carried them out--right move, wrong move by this administration?

RUTH MARCUS, Washington Post: Right move on both, and a very brave move on both. The president opened himself up, as he knew he would, to criticism from the right, as in the Wall Street Journal op-ed that was referenced in the previous piece, that by disclosing this he was making America weaker.

And he opened himself up to a firestorm of criticism from the left that he was--I know actually how much criticism you can get for this, because I wrote a few months ago that I didn't think these folks should be prosecuted, and I was called a torture-enabler. And I don't think of myself that way.

And so the left is very unhappy about the failure of prosecutions. They're latching onto this hope that maybe some of the higher-ups will be prosecuted, and I honestly do not think that that's going to happen.

In a world where torturers don't think of themselves as torturers, it's not surprising that torture-enablers don't think of themselves as torture-enablers. But what else are you supposed to call people who argue that laws against torture shouldn't be enforced?

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 Post subject: Re: FAIR Stuff...
PostPosted: 28 Apr 2009, 10:55 
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ABC's 2007 Pro-Waterboarding Propaganda
04/20/2009 by Peter Hart

Today the New York Times is reporting that waterboarding was used far more often than we have been told--almost 300 times on two prisoners, including Abu Zubaydah. This stands in rather stark contrast to what we heard about the instant, positive effects of waterboarding--as the Times notes:

A former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, told ABC News and other news media organizations in 2007 that Abu Zubaydah had undergone waterboarding for only 35 seconds before agreeing to tell everything he knew.

Of course, someone who relented in "35 seconds" would not need to be waterboarded 83 times. And as been several accounts discussed, the information Zubaydah offered was of debatable value.

Those ABC reports by Brian Ross stood out at the time because they seemed so eager to take this information at face value. Listeners to FAIR's radio show CounterSpin on December 21, 2007, heard this critique of ABC's reporting:

On December 7, the New York Times reported that the CIA had destroyed videotapes of interrogations of two high-ranking Al-Qaeda detainees. The tapes reportedly offered the most direct evidence of just exactly what types of interrogation techniques--including torture-- were employed during the 2002 sessions. The ensuing controversy has been big news. But three days after the story surfaced, ABC reporter Brian Ross offered up his version of a blockbuster exclusive-- a report that amounted to a defense of the CIA's torture.

Ross scored an exclusive interview with a former CIA field officer who was part of a team that waterboarded one detainee--Abu Zubaydah. His story must have been music to the White House's ears: Zubaydah wouldn't talk, but once they began torturing him he spilled the beans, and they disrupted dozens of attacks. But ABC's Ross never once raised the most basic question in all of this: Does torture actually produce reliable information? The consensus among law enforcement and military officials is that it does not. But that inconvenient bit of perspective could not find its way into Ross' breathless reporting.
The problems with Abu Zubaydah's interrogation have been well-covered by several other outlets, including Vanity Fair. There are serious doubts about whether any of the information he offered was of any value whatsoever-- facts that were laid out most recently by the Washington Post.

At the close of Brian Ross' report, anchor Charlie Gibson asked why this CIA source had come forward now to talk about torture. The answer would seem pretty clear: The administration's torture policies were once again under critical review, so that would make it a good time to present the argument that torture works. All that was needed was a credulous journalist to air this story. That's exactly what they found in ABC's Brian Ross.

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 Post subject: Re: FAIR Stuff...
PostPosted: 28 Apr 2009, 10:56 
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Commentary's Trumped-Up Case Against I.F. Stone
04/22/2009 by Jim Naureckas

Right-wing historians are back again with more claims that the renowned progressive journalist I.F. Stone was a KGB operative. Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes and Alexander Vassiliev have an article on Commentary's website headlined "I.F. Stone, Soviet Agent--Case Closed." "Until now," they write, "the evidence was equivocal and subject to different interpretations. No longer."

So what is this unequivocal, case-closing evidence, subject to only one interpretation? It's notes from co-author Vassiliev's notebooks, made when the former KGB agent was allowed to examine Soviet intelligence files in the early 1990s. He says he had to leave the notebooks behind in 1998, and retrieved them in 2002. And now, in 2009, he notices that they contain damning evidence about one of the right's major villains. OK.

Only, when you lay it out, it's not all that damning. They've got a KGB note from April 1936 giving Stone the code name "Pancake," describing him as a "lead." Then there's another note a month later saying:

Relations with Pancake have entered the channel of normal operational work. He went to Washington on assignment for his newspaper. Connections in the State Dep. and Congress.

The Commentary writers gloss the phrase "channel of normal operational work" as meaning that "Stone had become a fully active agent." If you enter "normal operational work" into Google with "KGB," you get two hits, one to the Commentary article and one to Stone's Wikipedia article quoting Commentary; if you put those key words into Nexis, you get no hits at all. So the implication that this is how the KGB routinely describes its operative work is dubious; on its face, the expression means nothing more than that Stone is being dealt with in the usual way that intelligence agents deal with their contacts. If the KGB officer had gotten any information from Stone more exciting than the fact that he was being sent to Washington, don't you think he would have mentioned it to Moscow?

The article takes a long digression into the kinds of things that journalists might do for spy agencies--planting false stories, slanting the news, helping to find people who will steal documents and so on--and then says that "Stone assisted Soviet intelligence on a number of such tasks." But what are the tasks that Vassiliev et al actually have Stone carrying out? Gossiping, basically. Here's the longest quote from the KGB files that Commentary provides:

Pancake reported that Karl Von Wiegand works in Berlin as a correspondent for the Hearst agency Universal Service. He had been ordered to maintain friendly relations with Hitler, which was supposedly dictated by the fact that the German press was buying the agency's information. Hearst is in a deal with German industry to supply the latter with a large consignment of copper. Wiegand does not agree with Hearst's policy. He turned to Pancake's boss for advice.
Put aside the fact that in a sensible world, allegations that a major news outlet had been pushing a pro-Hitler editorial line in order to protect its parent company's economic relationship with Nazi Germany would be bigger news than any alternative journalist's supposed relationship with the KGB. Is there really anything in that paragraph that seems surprising in the context of a conversation between a reporter and a foreign government source? Should Stone have treated what he had heard about Hearst's Nazi sympathies as some kind of state secret? If so, why?

The Commentary piece continues:

Commenting on Stone's work as a KGB talent spotter and recruiter, the KGB New York station reported, "Pancake established contact with Dodd. We wanted to recruit him [Dodd] and put him to work on the State Dep. line. Pancake should tell Dodd that he has the means to connect him with an anti-Fascist organization in Berlin."

Note the nefarious interpretation of the relatively innocuous behavior described in the KGB memo: A memo that supposedly shows "Stone's work as a KGB talent spotter and recruiter" actually says that Stone contacted Dodd, a lefty whose father was the U.S. ambassador to Germany. The rest of the memo is about what the KGB wanted Stone to do; supposing that he did those things because the KGB wanted him to do them is a classic example of assuming what is to be proved.

The last description of Stone's supposed KGB cooperation contains no quotes, so we have to rely, unwisely enough, on Commentary's interpretation of the memos. As the authors put it:

Stone briefly functioned as Dodd's intermediary with the KGB, providing him with a contact in Berlin when he went to join his father at the embassy. Stone also passed on to the KGB some information Dodd picked up from the American military attaché in Berlin about possible German military moves against the USSR and the name of a suspected pro-Nazi embassy employee.

Again, what did Stone do? He introduced somebody the KGB was interested in to someone in Berlin. That this was done on behalf of the KGB is Commentary's undocumented assertion. He also passed on information about a possible German attack on Russia and a supposed Nazi sympathizer; this is supposed to be suspicious behavior, telling someone you heard Hitler was going to attack their country? Journalists do often talk to intelligence sources, and the intelligence sources often glean information from these conversations; you have to show more than that was happening to show that Stone was not acting as a journalist.

The website describes the piece as a "Special Preview"; is there more evidence held back that actually proves the case? Apparently not; the authors write, "There is only one other reference to I.F. Stone's cooperation with the KGB in the 1930s, a note listing him as one of the New York station's agents in late 1938.... It is likely that he broke relations with the KGB in late 1939."

As the piece notes in passing, the word "agent" doesn't mean a whole lot; there's another memo from 1945 that lists (by code name) both Stone and the New York Herald-Tribune's Walter Lippman as among the KGB's "agent capabilities." Lippman, Commentary writes, knew his KGB contact "only as a Soviet journalist with whom he traded insights and information." The articles says that "Lippmann's inclusion in the list...makes it impossible to determine the nature of Stone's relationship to the KGB in 1945"; more accurately, Lippman's absence from the list would have allowed Commentary to claim that the list proved something that it obviously doesn't.

Was Stone too sympathetic to the Soviet Union in the 1930s? Stone later came to think so, denouncing the 1939 Hitler/Stalin pact, and more comprehensively denouncing Soviet Communism in the 1950s. Is there any reason to think that his relations with Soviet officials were not those of a friendly journalist toward his sources? Commentary hasn't given us any.

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 Post subject: Re: FAIR Stuff...
PostPosted: 28 Apr 2009, 10:56 
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George Will and D.C. Vouchers
04/24/2009 by Peter Hart

The school voucher program in Washington, D.C., has been the subject of serious research, with opponents and supporters of vouchers using at as a test for whether the idea works in practice. Conservatives tend to insist that it's been a success, though the studies of the program don't seem to bear that out.

Washington Post columnist George Will (4/23/09), though, sees a new Education Department study bolstering the case for vouchers, which means the White House's decision to curtail the program is a horrible blow to children in the struggling D.C. schools:

After Congress debated the program, the Education Department released--on a Friday afternoon, a news cemetery--a congressionally mandated study showing that, measured by student improvement and parental satisfaction, the District's program works. The department could not suppress the Heritage Foundation's report that 38 percent of members of Congress sent or are sending their children to private schools.

Huh. Given all the attention paid to the D.C. voucher experiment, it's striking that this apparently significant news would pass with so little comment. But if you go to the Department of Education website to find this report proving that the "District's program works," you find this summary of the research (OSP stands for Opportunity Scholarship Program):

The evaluation found that the OSP improved reading, but not math, achievement overall and for 5 of 10 subgroups of students examined. The group designated as the highest priority by Congress--students applying from "schools in need of improvement" (SINI)--did not experience achievement impacts. Students offered scholarships did not report being more satisfied or feeling safer than those who were not offered scholarships, however the OSP did have a positive impact on parent satisfaction and perceptions of school safety. This same pattern of findings holds when the analysis is conducted to determine the impact of using a scholarship rather than being offered a scholarship.

So improved reading scores, but not math, and no discernable positive impact on the students most in need. Maybe these results, which are in keeping with previous studies of the D.C. system, didn't get much attention because they actually aren't helpful to conservatives pushing to expand school vouchers--no matter what George Will seems to think.

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Neutral Coverage of Climate Change?
04/24/2009 by Janine Jackson

Andrew Revkin's April 24 piece, about how an energy industry group publicly denied links between emissions and global warming even as their own scientists confirmed such links, is pretty damning, if utterly unsurprising.

This part leaps out:

George Monbiot, a British environmental activist and writer, said that by promoting doubt, industry had taken advantage of news media norms requiring neutral coverage of issues, just as the tobacco industry once had.

"They didn't have to win the argument to succeed," Mr. Monbiot said, "only to cause as much confusion as possible."

Note that it isn't Monbiot who refers to media's "neutral coverage," but the Times. In reality, what the industry counted on, successfully, was not neutrality at all, but the corporate media's entirely artificial balancing of the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists with the patently self-interested views of industries profiting from fossil fuels.

The Times' rendering has a tone of "our strength was, ironically, a weakness is this case." But really it was just their weakness being a weakness. Again.

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 Post subject: Re: FAIR Stuff...
PostPosted: 05 Sep 2009, 07:49 
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http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3857
New FAIR Study
Right Ebbs, Left Gains as Media 'Experts'
Think tank balance still skews right

9/3/09

FAIR's just-released annual think tank study shows think tank citations declining for the fourth year in a row in 2008, as newspaper column space devoted to national and international news continued to shrink. The decline was particularly notable for conservative think tanks' citations, while progressive think tanks increased in number.

The study, a special online-only feature of FAIR's Extra! magazine, is available at http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3857.

Among the study's findings:

-The overall decline in citations primarily hit conservative or right-leaning think tanks, whose share fell from 36 percent to 31 percent in 2008, while progressive or left-leaning think tanks increased from 17 percent to 21 percent.

-Centrist tanks still dominated with 48 percent, and the centrist Brookings Institution, the top-cited think tank, had more than twice as many citations as its nearest competitor, the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

-Progressives were cited 30 percent less than conservatives, and half as often as centrists.

-Progressive and left-leaning think tanks took a record five spots in the top 15 most-cited list, and had by far the greatest percentage increase of citations in this annual survey. The most notable increase was in progressive think tanks with an economic focus, such as the Economic Policy Institute, the Center for Economic and Policy Research and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Michael Dolny, author of the study, noted, "Both the economic crisis and the poor showing of conservative candidates in the 2008 elections appear to have raised questions about the role of conservative think tanks." However, pointing out that despite these gains, progressive think tanks are still underrepresented compared to their centrist and conservative counterparts, he also observed that "we are still a long way from true diversity of news sources."

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 Post subject: Re: FAIR Stuff...
PostPosted: 05 Sep 2009, 07:59 
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http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3891
Media Advisory
Erasing Katrina
Four years on, media mostly neglect an ongoing disaster

9/2/09

August 29 marked the fourth anniversary of the day Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The devastation wrought by both the hurricane itself and the government's inept response prompted remarkably critical corporate media coverage that promised to fight for Katrina survivors and change the way we talk about poverty and race (FAIR Media Advisory, 9/9/05).

As NBC's Brian Williams told the St. Petersburg Times (3/1/06), "If this does not spark a national discussion on class, race, the environment, oil, Iraq, infrastructure and urban planning, I think we've failed." But four years later, corporate media outlets seem to have largely forgotten about Katrina and its survivors, let alone the conversations about race and poverty that were supposed to accompany it.

The Institute for Southern Studies issued a report (8-9/09) in which more than 50 Gulf Coast community leaders graded officials on their response to the ongoing disaster; the Obama administration received a D+, while Congress received a D. (George W. Bush received a D- in an earlier survey.) One million people are still displaced, rebuilding continues at a glacial pace, and the levees being rebuilt have been judged insufficient to protect New Orleans from another Katrina-level flood.

But amazingly, according to a search of the Nexis news media database, neither the Washington Post nor the L.A. Times ran a single piece on Katrina in the past week. ABC and Fox News didn't mention the hurricane or its aftermath once.

CBS ran two segments (8/28/09, 8/31/09), as well as a brief headline (8/29/09) on Barack Obama's weekly radio address that discussed post-Katrina reconstruction. The one mention on MSNBC came on the Ed Show (8/27/09), when host Ed Schultz singled out right-wing talk radio host Neal Boortz for his hateful remarks about displaced Katrina survivors, such as his recent commentary: "Obama wants to rebuild New Orleans? Why? 'Build it and they will come'? 'They'? The debris that Katrina chased out?"

NBC ran four segments, all of which put a remarkably upbeat spin on the situation. In one piece (8/30/09), reporter Ron Mott declared that while a third of the homes in New Orleans are still vacant or abandoned, "positive news abounds. The population is steadily climbing as are test scores in the overhauled public school system." Another segment (8/30/09) reported that "the city and its most famous cultural treasure are now well on the mend," while a day earlier (8/29/09), Saturday Today anchor Lester Holt introduced a short piece on "encouraging new signs for the city," in which reporter Mott announced that "much has improved and a lot of people are working."

The New York Times published a few pieces on Katrina, including an op-ed chart (8/28/09) and a report (8/30/09) on Obama's speech. The cover story of its weekend magazine (8/30/09) was a long piece by Sheri Fink, of the nonprofit journalism outfit ProPublica, on the "deadly choices" at a New Orleans hospital following the hurricane--one of the few anniversary pieces to touch even obliquely on issues of racism, quoting one doctor who helped euthanize patients as saying he was worried about "the animals" outside--that "these crazy black people who think they've been oppressed for all these years by white people" might start "raping...or, you know, dismembering" people.

The Times also ran an article (8/31/09) that talked about how the goal in New Orleans isn't to "revert to the city that existed here before the flood," but instead focusing on "revitalization." (See Extra!, 7-8/07.) Further down it mentioned that "fundamental problems" still exist, like high unemployment, and some neighborhoods that "seem barely touched" since four years ago. Race, though, wasn't mentioned a single time.

The day before the Katrina anniversary, the Times did manage to run a front-page piece on the abysmal state of flood recovery--in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (8/28/09): "Flooded Iowa City Rebuilding and Feeling Just a Bit Ignored." As reporter Susan Saulny put it, "The outpouring of attention toward New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, ratcheting up again now as the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, has not been seen here. In fact, the people of Cedar Rapids are feeling neglected."

As Saulny quickly made clear, her premise itself is flawed: "To be sure, Hurricane Katrina's huge reach and a botched emergency response devastated a far greater swath of the country than did the flooding in the Midwest, and no one here is trying to make tit-for-tat disaster comparisons. No lives were lost in the flooding in Cedar Rapids, and the government's initial response to the crisis was generally considered a success." And yet, the New York Times saw fit to run a front-page piece on Cedar Rapids and not Katrina. That "outpouring of attention" for Katrina victims Saulny described as attending the fourth anniversary certainly wasn't to be found in the Times.

CNN, whose relatively heavy Katrina coverage helped boost host Anderson Cooper's profile at the network (Extra!, 7-8/06), dedicated much more time than any other major outlet to the anniversary, with a few dozen segments over the days before and after August 29. But while some of the coverage dug deeper than other outlets, it betrayed CNN's lack of consistent interest in the issue. In one report, for example, correspondent Gary Tuchman "tracked down" a story on vigilante justice in which a white militia formed in a largely white neighborhood and shot black passersby in the chaotic days following the hurricane. It's a critical story--so why did CNN only come to it nearly nine months after ProPublica journalist A.C. Thompson (interviewed briefly in CNN's piece) broke the news in a lengthy investigative report published in the Nation (1/05/09)? It would seem the Katrina anniversaries are the only time such stories are considered newsworthy.

The media's neglect of the Gulf Coast is not a new thing; Extra! was writing about it as far back as July/August 2006. According to the Tyndall Report, which monitors TV news, there were 367 minutes on Katrina's aftermath that year (TVNewser, 1/3/07). In 2007 it was down to 116 minutes, while in 2008 it was not among the top 20 stories of the year. In the first seven months of 2009, Tyndall finds, there were just six Katrina-related stories (TyndallReport.com).

There are plenty of ongoing stories to be told today. The Institute for Southern Studies report also highlighted some startling statistics: In addition to the estimated 1 million people still displaced by Katrina, rents in the New Orleans area have increased by 40 percent since the hurricane, and an estimated 11,000 people are currently homeless there. The report also reveals striking racial disparities in the impacts: Less than 49 percent of households in the largely African-American and working class Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans are actively receiving mail today (compared to 76 percent city-wide), for example, and black children's enrollment in public and private schools dropped from 49 percent of all students to 43 percent.

Independent journalists and outlets, such as Jordan Flaherty (CounterPunch, 8/26/09) and Democracy Now! (8/31/09), as well as local journalists like the New Orleans Times-Picayune's Jarvis DeBerry (e.g., 8/21/09), have been documenting such ongoing disparities and unfulfilled promises. It's work the major outlets can and should be doing--and it doesn't even have to wait until the next anniversary.

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NYT Covers Harper's Investigation… Sort Of
02/10/2010 by Peter Hart

As Steve Rendall noted here (1/22/10), Scott Horton's explosive Harper's report (3/10) on several ostensible suicides at Guantanamo has received very little mainstream media attention--despite the fact that Horton's account suggests that the prisoners were murdered by U.S. officials at a "black site" within the Guantanamo facility.

But never fear--the story has finally broken through. And in the New York Times, no less!

Sort of... it's on the letters page.

To the Editor:

Re "Editorial Shake-Up as Harper's Tries to Stabilize in a Downturn" (Business
Day, February 1):

I'd like to clarify your report of something I said at a Harper's Magazine
staff meeting on January 27. When I complained that "the mainstream media is
ignoring it to death," I was referring not to the magazine itself but to our
March cover story by Scott Horton, which challenges the official government
account of the alleged suicides by three prisoners at Guantánamo in 2006.

John R. MacArthur
Publisher, Harper's Magazine
New York, February 6, 2010

So just to be clear: The Times story about Harper's referred to the magazine being ignored by the rest of the media--and the Times managed to omit the specific story the publisher said the media were ignoring.

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PostPosted: 05 Mar 2010, 11:25 
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NYT and Climate Change: It Gets Worse
02/12/2010 by Peter Hart

On Tuesday, the New York Times (2/9/10) was front-paging a non-story about criticism of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change-- hyping accusations about scientific misconduct and conflicts of interest that the paper itself called "half-truths" (FAIR Blog, 2/9/10).

Well, it turns out that there was quite a bit of snow on the East Coast this week, which seemingly inspired another awful piece (2/11/10), this one headlined "Climate-Change Debate Is Heating Up in Deep Freeze." The whole premise of the piece is based on complaints from right-wing climate change deniers--Sen. James M. Inhofe, assorted "global-warming critics," Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge and the Virginia Republican party.

Not to worry, though; they're anti-science hysteria is "balanced" by a few comments from actual scientists. But at one point reporter John Broder counterposes "most climate scientists" who argue that severe storms could be linked to climate change with "some independent climate experts" who don't see the link. Why such scientists are "independent" isn't clear; nor is it actually clear who the so-called independents are anyway, since that argument was substantiated with this:

As an illustration of their point of view, the family of Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, a leading climate skeptic in Congress, built a six-foot-tall igloo on Capitol Hill and put a cardboard sign on top that read "Al Gore's New Home."

James Inhofe is no way a climate expert--unless you count the number of times he is cited in the corporate media talking about climate change.

For more on corporate media's misreporting of global warming, see Extra!'s "Special Issue on Journalism and Climate Change" (2/10).

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NYT Documents NATO's Concern for Civilian Casualties
02/16/2010 by Peter Hart

From one of today's New York Times stories (2/16/10) about the NATO/U.S. campaign in Marja, Afghanistan (emphasis added):

The heavy civilian toll highlighted the stressful and confusing nature of the fighting, especially in Marja, and of the difficulties inherent in conducting military operations in a guerrilla war, where insurgents can hide easily among the population.

Still, the deaths are troubling to the American and NATO commanders, who have made protecting civilians the overriding objective of their campaign--even when doing so comes at the expense of letting insurgents get away. The stream of news releases flowing from NATO headquarters detailing the episodes is testament to how seriously military commanders here take the problem.

Indeed, nothing demonstrates humanitarian concern more profoundly than numerous press releases.

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Dana Milbank, Snow and Climate Change
02/16/2010 by Peter Hart

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank thinks it's pretty silly for Republicans and climate change deniers to say that the recent snowstorms mean that climate change is phony.

BUT.... don't think for a second that Milbank's going to let "greens" off the hook that easy. No way. As he put it on Sunday (2/14/10): "There's some rough justice in the conservatives' cheap shots. In Washington's blizzards, the greens were hoist by their own petard."

How so? Climate activists "have argued by anecdote to make their case," especially Al Gore, who has warned of a whole menu of negative consequences from climate change. Milbank writes: "It's not that Gore is wrong about these things. The problem is that his storm stories have conditioned people to expect an endless worldwide heatwave, when in fact the changes so far are subtle."

Milbank has more:

Scientific arguments, too, are problematic. In a conference call arranged Thursday by the liberal Center for American Progress to refute the snow antics of Inhofe et al., the center's Joe Romm made the well-worn statements that "the overwhelming weight of the scientific literature" points to human-caused warming and that doubters "don't understand the science."

The science is overwhelming--but not definitive. Romm's claim was inadvertently shot down by his partner on the call, the Weather Underground's Jeff Masters, who confessed that "there's a huge amount of natural variability in the climate system" and not enough years of measurements to know exactly what's going on. "Unfortunately we don't have that data so we are forced to make decisions based on inadequate data."

Aside from lamenting Romm's comments for being so "well-worn," did Jeff Masters really "shoot down" climate analyst Romm? That's not what Masters says happened; he has a response on his site, where he writes, "I agree with Dr. Romm's statement." Milbank's storyline--both sides are exaggerating--is a familiar one, but it's also entirely misleading. As is his drive-by summary of the whole "Climategate" scandal:

The scientific case has been further undermined by high-profile screw-ups. First there were the hacked e-mails of a British research center that suggested the scientists were stacking the deck to overstate the threat. Now comes word of numerous errors in a 2007 report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including the bogus claim that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear in 25 years.

There is no credible evidence that climate scientists were "stacking the deck." It is hard to figure out what he means by "numerous" errors in the 2007 report; there are two prominent allegations, including the aforementioned glaciers error. The New York Times determined that the complaints have amounted to "half-truths." Milbank's assertion, then, that the "scientific case has been further undermined" is specious. But the point of climate change denial is to manufacture a political scandal--which is what journalism like this does well.

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Washington Post's Tortured Euphemisms
02/16/2010 by Peter Hart

This Washington Post headline (2/13/10) caught my eye:

2008 Habeas Ruling May Pose Snag as U.S. Weighs Indefinite Guantanamo Detentions

You have to read the piece somewhat closely to understand what they're taking about. The terrorism case against one Guantanamo detainee was "ironclad" until a federal judge deemed it "too weak"--because some of the statements against the defendant had been "coerced." This has happened repeatedly--judges "'have gutted allegations and questioned the reliability of statements by the prisoners during interrogations and by the informants." This is bad news, we're told; "the government is likely to suffer further losses" in court.

You have to read almost to the end of the piece before you get a more direct view of things:

The government also relied on Hatim's interrogations and his testimony at military hearings, during which he is said to have admitted to training at an Al-Qaeda military camp. Judges have been skeptical of such statements unless the government provides evidence that the men were not seriously mistreated. In Hatim's case, the Justice Department did not dispute his contention that he was tortured in U.S. custody and that he made those admissions to avoid further mistreatment.

The government is trying to justify holding prisoners indefinitely based on evidence gleaned from torture. That is the "snag" referenced in the headline.

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NYT Stimulus 'Balance' Leads to Confusion
02/19/2010 by Peter Hart

Yesterday Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times (2/18/10) turned in a piece on the one-year anniversary of the stimulus plan--a favorite target of Republican lawmakers (when they're not happily enjoying the federal funds in their states and/or districts, that is).

The piece tells us that there's a rather bitter partisan dispute over the stimulus: Democrats say that it worked to create jobs, Republicans say it was a failure.

The third paragraph of the story would seem to render a verdict on the question: "There is little dispute among economists that the measure has kept the jobless rate from being even higher than it is."

That's clear enough. But then the piece--adhering to the notion of "balance" in which true and false claims must be given equal weight--manages to muddy it up:

At a time when both parties are talking about the virtues of working together, the anniversary touched off a bitter dispute between them, with each using the day to write its own political narrative around the bill. Democrats sought to portray Republicans as hypocrites for voting against the bill and then rushing to claim their share of stimulus money for projects in their home districts, while Republicans painted the measure as a failure.

The Republican National Committee posted a Web video aimed at Mr. Obama titled "Broken Promises," and the House Republican leader, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, issued a report titled "Where are the Jobs? A Look Back at One Year of So-called 'Stimulus.'"

If the major parties are each writing their "own political narrative around the bill," a reporter should try to examine the claims. But Stolberg's piece merely lists them:

In interviews and e-mail messages, Mr. Boehner and other leading Republicans, including Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana and the Republican National Committee chairman, Michael Steele, argued that Mr. Obama could hardly claim credit for improvements in the economy with 3 million jobs lost over the past year, unemployment at nearly 10 percent and a deficit at $1.6 trillion.

Since we were already told that most economists agree that unemployment would be worse without the stimulus, these GOP talking points are misleading, right? Apparently not:

Economists say that Mr. Obama and the Republicans are both, in a sense, correct. The economy has indeed lost jobs on Mr. Obama’s watch, but the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently calculated that the recovery package, formally called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, had saved or created between 900,000 and 2.3 million jobs.

"The economy has shed some 3 million jobs over the past year, but it would have lost closer to 5 million without stimulus," said Mark Zandi, who is currently advising congressional Democrats but also advised Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. "The economy is still struggling, but it would have been much worse without stimulus."

Mr. Zandi said: "It's legitimate to debate the efficiency of the stimulus; one could say, 'You're spending $800 billion plus and look at what we're getting for it.' But to say that this has not helped the job market is not correct."

So while the Times tells us that "economists" say both sides are "in a sense, correct," the actual economist they quoted to illustrate that fact says that in another, more accurate sense, the Republicans are wrong.

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