Saturday, January 14, 2017

When news media changed the definition of objectivity, they opened door to ignorance & Trumpism

Once upon a time, the news media defined objectivity as presenting the facts, and just the facts, usually substantiated by at least two reliable sources. Then the right-wing, led by its own sometimes vibrant sometimes moribund cadre of media, hammered mainstream media that its side wasn’t getting a fair hearing.  

According to Nicole Hemer’s Messengers of the Right, which covers the development of the right wing media from the end of World War II until the ascent of Rush Limbaugh and his various imitators, the right wing began assaulting the idea that the mainstream news media was objective from the early days of William Buckley’s National Review and Regenery Press, which published right wing screeds about communism and the evils of labor unions and government regulation, usually financed by their trust fund authors or bulk purchases by corporations run by right wingers.  But the real assault on objectivity began in the 1970’s, about the time that the right wing added cultural issues such as abortion to its agenda. In place of objectivity in coverage, the right-wing proposed balance—presenting all sides of the issue.  

The right wing never admitted it, nor did anyone notice at the time, but the critique of factuality as the central value of reporting correlated with the general compliant that the mass media were too “liberal,” by which they meant “left-wing” or “collectivist.” The right was subtly admitting that liberal positions were right, because the facts supported them. The news media only print facts. The facts skew liberal.   

Thus the right wing pushed the notion that judging by the facts in and of itself didn’t create objectivity. 

Their substitute definition of objectivity—balanced reporting—required journalists to quote the one crackpot who doesn’t believe in global warming when they had already talked to two thousand who do. Stories that should have been about how to we are addressing human-caused global warming instead rehashed whether it existed or not. This balanced approach enabled many lies to sneak into news coverage on a wide range of issues, including women’s reproductive rights, immigration, crime, science, education and health care. The biggest band leader for balance was, of course, Fox News, which did not balance its coverage but applied major pressure on other media to balance theirs. That brings us to the current situation in which most Americans have their choice of right-wing news or news that presents both the right and the left without evaluation of the truth, validity or factual basis of either side.

Remer doesn’t speculate on why the mainstream news media responded to the exhortations to replace facts with balance as the guide star of journalistic objectivity and integrity, but I’m pretty sure that two motivations drove the mainstream news media; 1) The inherent controversy in “presenting both sides” is more dramatic than a technical discussion and therefore more like entertainment; 2) Writing he said-she said stories is easier than becoming an expert and developing an in-depth discussion of an issue. 

From letting people tell lie in these balanced stories to accepting their lies without question, as the media has done with trump, was a small step. Balanced reporting allowed Trump to flourish because he is a master of phrasing every argument as an “us-versus-them” battle, or, to be more specific, the great Donald versus them. 

Remer’s book walks an interesting tightrope. It focuses on the right wing media’s various players, their media mix and marketing techniques, their internal squabbles, especially on whether to cut ties with the proto-alt-right John Birch Society and to support Nixon, their suspicions that the media was too left-wing, and their attempts to influence elections, political parties and mainstream media. But very little is said about the actual positions that the right-wing media held, except that they believed in the ascendancy of individual rights over what’s good for society and they disliked unions. The opposition to the civil rights movement, government regulation and all social welfare programs, including Social Security; the belief that communists had infiltrated the government; the flirtation with racist organizations; the ultra-hawkish militarism; and the belief that an elite of highly educated white men should lead society—none of these planks in the right wing media’s platform in the 1950’s and 1960’s are worthy of discussion in Remer’s telling of the story. It’s a bit like discussing the Donald Trump phenomenon without talking about the lies, lechery and lawsuits.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Editorial: Investigate Real Election Wrenchers

Donald Trump has perhaps protested too much — first that there was no proof that Russia hacked the emails of Democratic Party officials and then, even if the Russians were responsible for exposing Democratic secrets, there was no proof that it helped Trump win the election, and it was the Democrats’ fault for getting hacked.

It is easy enough to believe the 17 US intelligence agencies who agree that the Russian government was behind the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails and the transfer of stolen texts to WikiLeaks for dissemination by Julian Assange, even if the US spymasters don’t reveal how they tracked the caper.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had a grudge against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom he blamed for encouraging mass protests in Russia after disputed 2011 parliamentary elections challenged Putin’s rule. Also, some of Putin’s friends among the Russian oligarchy reportedly have a substantial financial interest in Trump’s business deals.

Assange also reportedly blamed Clinton for pushing to indict him on espionage charges for his role in the release of military and diplomatic documents provided by former US soldier Chelsea Manning in 2010 and 2011. But Assange has not been indicted, and Assange would have a strong defense in any such criminal prosecution that he was protected as a journalist in publishing the material. He’s been a guest of the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012 to avoid prosecution for alleged sex crimes in Sweden.

The hacking by the Russians was a heavy-handed interference in the US election, but it was far from an act of war that some have claimed. And although the disclosures helped reinforce the meme that Clinton and her associates were playing fast and loose, and treated Bernie Sanders unfairly, it probably didn’t sway the election.

Sanders, in an interview with the Washington Post (Oct. 24), played down the importance of the leaked emails, saying there was little among them that surprised him, including one in which Clinton ally John Podesta called Sanders a “doofus.”

“Trust me, if they went into our emails — I suppose which may happen, who knows — I’m sure there would be statements that would be less than flattering about, you know, the Clinton staff,” Sanders said. “That’s what happens in campaigns.”

Sanders said the leaks confirmed what he knew all along.

“It’s amusing,” he said. “We said that the Clinton campaign was heavily influencing what the DNC was doing regarding debates, and that’s exactly what had been happening. None of that is a shock to me. Was I shocked to find out that the DNC was partial toward Clinton? Not exactly. That’s something we knew from day one.”

Despite the hard-fought Democratic primary, Sanders reconciled with Clinton at the Democratic convention and hit the campaign trail to urge his supporters to vote for her.

A much greater impact in swinging the election can be traced to the letter FBI Director James Comey released 10 days before the election that appeared to revive the claims that the use of private email servers by Clinton when she was secretary of state might result in criminal charges. That stopped Clinton’s momentum, and kept the race close enough that the Republican suppression of the votes of hundreds of thousands of black, Latino, Asian Americans and working-class whites helped Trump overtake Clinton in the key states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Investigative reporter Greg Palast reported that Interstate Crosscheck, a program started by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an adviser to Trump, raised questions about 7.2 million potential voters in 30 states controlled by Republicans. They ended up kicking 1.1 million — overwhelmingly people of color as well as Muslim Americans — off the voting rolls before election day.

Interstate Crosscheck was designed by Kobach to compare voter lists from each state in an effort to identify people who may have voted in more than one state. But Palast noted that the “double voters” were found by simply matching first and last names, so Michael Bernard Brown is supposed to be the same voter as Michael Anthony Brown. The same goes for common Latino names. Mark Swedlund, a database expert whose clients include eBay and American Express, was shocked by Crosscheck’s “childish methodology.” He said, “God forbid your name is Garcia, of which there are 858,000 in the US, and your first name is Joseph or Jose. You’re probably suspected of voting in 27 states.”

Potential double registrants were sent a postcard and asked to verify their address by mailing it back. “The junk mail experts we spoke to said this postcard is meant not to be returned. It’s inscrutable small print, doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t even say you’re accused of voting twice. It just says, please confirm your voting address,” Palast told The London Economic Nov. 15, “and most people of color, poor voters don’t respond to this sort of mailing, and they know that.”

“Many didn’t discover that their vote was stolen until they turned up [on election day] and found their name missing. In the US they are given something called a provisional ballot, but if your name is not on the voter roll, you can fill out all the provisional votes you like they’re not going to count your vote. They can’t even if you’re wrongly removed.”

Those who didn’t reply were purged from the voter lists, and in many key states the number of people purged by Crosscheck was much larger than Trump’s margin of victory. For example, in Michigan, the number of people purged from the voting rolls — at least 50,000 — was nearly five times times larger than Trump’s margin of victory — around 10,700 votes. And a record 75,355 ballots, mostly from heavily Democratic Detroit and Flint, were not counted because optical scanners used to count votes did not read the ballots, Palast noted Dec. 18 in a report for

Even after Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, put up millions of dollars for a Michigan recount using human eyeballs where the scanners missed the marks, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican, issued an order that no one could look at the ballots cast in precincts where the number of votes and voters did not match – “exactly the places where you’d want to look for the missing votes,” Palast noted. Schuette also ordered a ban on counting ballots from precincts where the seals on the machines had been broken – in other words, where there was evidence of tampering. “Again, those are the machines that most need investigating,” Palast said. The result: Recount crews were denied access to 59% of Detroit precincts.

This story was repeated in Wisconsin, where an estimated 300,000 eligible voters lacked the voter ID required to get to the polls. And even if they managed to cast a ballot, they were counted with the same Opti-Scan system as Michigan, Palast noted. Uncounted votes, sometimes called “spoiled” or “invalidated” ballots, were concentrated in Milwaukee, where most of the state’s blacks live. Stein put up over $3 million of donated funds for the human-eye review in Wisconsin, but GOP state officials told Milwaukee County to recount simply by running the ballots through the same blind machines. Not surprisingly, this replay produced the same questionable result of a 22,871-vote win for Trump, Palast noted.

Congress should investigate the role Russian hackers and disinformation played in the election, and investigators should look into whether there was coordination between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, though Republican leaders are not inclined to do so. But they are even less inclined to investigate the role voter suppression and faulty voting machines played in keeping eligible Americans from voting and having their ballots counted. Democrats should deny Trump’s legitimacy until the GOP comes clean. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2017

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Selections from the February 1, 2017 issue

COVER/Harvey J. Kaye
GOP sees its own rendezvous with destiny

Investigate real election wrenchers


Will Paul Ryan be next in line?

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Green energy soars but ranchers’ ledgers bleed red

Trump companies owe more than $1.8B;
Report: Russian mobsters bailed out bankrupt Trump;
House GOP revives old rule to purge fed workers;
Trump calls Obama envoys home;
Warren: no confirmation without ethics;
Session could roll back drug legalization;
Trump is still lying;
Obama goes out with economy still growing;
Trump cedes millions of clean-energy jobs to China;
Global warming made every state red in 2016;
Plenty of questions about election results;
Cons will spend $10M to bully Dem sens to confirm Trump's court pick;
Discovered notes prove Nixon treason. 

I’m not cheering the end of 2016

Five Resistance resolutions

White Evangelicals are fading, powerful, baffling

Waging class war in comfort

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas 
Needed: A stake to kill the vampire-myths

Trump will make it up as he goes along

Hamilton’s curse

Fake news and the new McCarthyism

Trumps ‘America first’ policies will hit Asia

BOOKS/Seth Sandronsky 
Citizen Governance Rising

BOOKS/Heather Seggel
Survival guides for the resistance

Farewell, Joe Shea, online news pioneer and defender of the First Amendment

Following British Procedurals

Мы все Русс ... (We’re all Russian now)

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Poetry in motion: Neruda

and more ...