The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

Has Morley Safer Ever Told John Miller This Story?: 'Look, If You Think Any American Official Is Going to Tell You the Truth, Then You're Stupid'

Everyone who watched the 60 Minutes segment on the NSA should follow it up with this story involving Morley Safer—who, at 82 years old, is still a correspondent at 60 Minutes.

In August, 1965 Safer appeared in what became one of most famous TV segments of the Vietnam War, showing U.S. troops setting fire to all the huts in a Vietnamese village with Zippo lighters and flamethrowers.

A year later in 1966, Safer wrote an article about what he’d seen first hand during a visit to Vietnam by Arthur Sylvester, then Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (i.e., the head of Pentagon PR). Sylvester met at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon with reporters for U.S. news outlets:

There was general opening banter, which Sylvester quickly brushed aside. He seemed anxious to take a stand—to say something that would jar us. He said:

"I can’t understand how you fellows can write what you do while American boys are dying out here," he began. Then he went on to the effect that American correspondents had a patriotic duty to disseminate only information that made the United States look good.

A network television correspondent said, “Surely, Arthur, you don’t expect the American press to be the handmaidens of government.”

"That’s exactly what I expect," came the reply.

An agency man raised the problem that had preoccupied Ambassador Maxwell Taylor and Barry Zorthian—about the credibility of American officials. Responded the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs:

"Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you’re stupid. Did you hear that?—stupid."

One of the most respected of all the newsmen in Vietnam—a veteran of World War II, the Indochina War and Korea—suggested that Sylvester was being deliberately provocative. Sylvester replied:

"Look, I don’t even have to talk to you people. I know how to deal with you through your editors and publishers back in the States."

At this point, the Hon. Arthur Sylvester put his thumbs in his ears, bulged his eyes, stuck out his tongue and wiggled his fingers.

[continue]

Cable News Far More Hawkish On Syria Than The Public

Sometimes we’re offered perfect examples of what some refer to as “Manufacturing Consent”:

A Pew study on Monday attracted attention for its assertion that Al Jazeera America, which promised a different take on the world than its cable news counterparts, mostly mirrored their approach when it came to the debate over Syria. But an equally interesting portion of the study found that all of the cable news channels were markedly more hawkish in their coverage than the public as a whole.

Poll after poll after poll has found that a large majority of Americans opposed a strike on Syria.

But Pew found that, “in the week studied, the overall percentage of cable stories conveying a message that America should get involved (47% ) solidly outnumbered stories with messages counseling against a strike (27%).”

The breakdowns are striking. For Al Jazeera, pro-strike messages outnumbered anti-strike ones by 43-24%. On CNN, it was 45-23. On Fox News, it was 45-20.

MSNBC, Pew found, had by far the most pro-strike sentiment, with a whopping 64%. But the network also had far more messages of opposition (39%) than its counterparts.

Even so, Americans tuning in to their news networks saw a debate that was far more skewed in favor of the pro-strike view than the debate happening off-screen.

By no means was I treated as a hero when I first came forward. I was indicted and spent two years in court. But in those days, journalists were not turning on journalists. With Snowden in particular, you have a split between truly independent journalists and those who are tools — and I mean that in every sense of the term — of the government. Toobin and Grunwald are doing the work of the government to maintain relationships and access. Daniel Ellsberg (via azspot)

'[O]bjectivity' in Washington journalism does not mean being free of opinions; it means the opposite: dutifully echoing the official opinions and subjective mindset of those in political power. In the eyes of official Washington and its media mavens, spouting opinions is not a sin. The sin is spouting opinions that deviate from the ones expressed by and which serve the interests of those in power. Michael Hayden, Bob Schieffer and the media’s reverence of national security officials | Glenn Greenwald

Joy Ann Reid, Melissa Harris-Perry as Prosecutor & Cop Go After Snowden, Wikileaks, & the First Amendment

Nelson Mandela was on the run for years, a fugitive inside and outside South Africa, before being caught. The ANC maintained camps and facilities in African countries neighboring South Africa quite openly during the last decade or two of the apartheid regime, while receiving substantial aid from many African countries and most notably from the Soviet Union. They got none from the United States, by the way. Martin Luther King was arrested many times but usually refused bail for a day or two while the press and religious leaders successfully clamored for his release. Dr. King never faced the prospect of felony time except once, briefly, for breaking a silly law against boycotting. King’s longest stretch in jail was 11 days, during which he was allowed to write a short book, Letters From a Birmingham Jail, while receiving phone calls and interviews from people around the world.

Daniel Ellsberg was released on bond after no more than a day or two in custody, and the “Moral Monday” folks are typically booked for disorderly conduct or some such trivial offense.

None of that compares with the way the US treats political dissidents, and even suspected political dissidents today. Bradley Manning has been confined almost 3 years, the entire first year naked and in solitary confinement, no letters, no interviews, no phone calls, no writing materials, and a gag order slapped on his lawyers. What’s a gag order mean? It means you can’t talk about the case publicly or privately, sometimes that you can’t tell an outsider the defendant says “happy birthday” to so-and-so. Veteran civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart is about to die in a federal prison for transmitting an innocuous public message from a defendant convicted of terrorism.

King was allowed to write a book in prison. Iman Jamil Al Amin, who as H. Rap Brown led SNCC and risked his life to start freedom schools, organize co-ops and register voters in rural Alabama was finally framed for the shooting of a deputy in Atlanta. To keep him from family and other Georgia prisoners, he was moved to federal custody and is now in an underground supermax cell half a continent away in Colorado, allowed one phone call and one letter to family per month. California prisoners found with just the name —- not his books, just the scrawled name —- of Black Panther leader George Jackson or other political items are classified as “gang members” and placed in automatic solitary confinement for the remainder of their sentences, which may also be lengthened due to that classification.

(Source: azspot)

It is best to assume that presidents and members of congress are lying when they make justifications for waging war. The media must also be added to the liars’ list. They have little interest in giving us easily provable facts when there is favor in need of currying. History will judge not only our political leaders harshly, but every institution which aided and abetted them. The corporate media ought to be placed at the top of that ignominious list. Margaret Kimberly, Obama’s Syrian Press Pass

The press merely repeat what the president says and call it journalism. The public are left in the dark and in the absence of real reporting are forced to read tea leaves to figure out what is really happening. Margaret Kimberly, Obama’s Syrian Press Pass

If Obama and his NATO cohorts are all bellowing loudly that “Assad must go” they think they have him on the verge of defeat. If they propose a peace conference they have acknowledged that Assad’s forces are winning. If they give mixed messages about a peace conference and then claim Assad is using chemical weapons and also announce they are arming the rebels they are in full panic mode because their plans for easy conquest have gone awry.

The Obama administration, and any other presidential administration, ought to be afraid to tell such lies to the public. They should fear that their claims will be thoroughly examined and all facts will be exposed. But like his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama has no reason to feel any such discomfort.

A quick perusal of the major corporate media will show that the very premise of American intervention in Syria or anywhere else is accepted without question. Even worse, America’s role in fomenting war is rarely pointed out. There would be no carnage in Syria absent the machinations of the U.S. and its NATO allies. There are Syrians who want changes in their government, but their wishes alone wouldn’t bring about a civil war. Anyone aware of this important point certainly hasn’t relied upon the major broadcasters or newspapers for information.

The average American believes that the intervention is humanitarian in nature because the government and the corporate media have told them so. News talk shows debate whether the United States should choose sides without mentioning that the entire conflagration is the result of American plans to remake the region into a huge vassal state.

“Assad must go” is the mantra but no one on Meet the Press, the Newshour, MSNBC or the New York Times asks why this is so and why an American president has any right to decide the fate of millions of people. Once again Americans are kept in a state of disinformation, unaware that their government is responsible for the deaths of thousands even as it claims humanitarian motives.

Did You Know That Food Stamps Was a $760 Billion Program? | Dean Baker

I sure didn’t, which is why I was surprised to see an NYT article refer to it as “the $760 billion program.” This number is referring to the cost of the program over a 10-year budget window, which careful readers may have gleaned from the rest of the sentence which tells us that fraud accounts for 1 percent of the program’s cost or $760 million a year. Nowhere does the piece directly say that the $760 billion figure refers to a ten year spending number and not a one year number.

This is a great example of the absurdity of budget reporting. It is highly unlikely that most NYT readers assume that budget numbers are for a ten year horizon. While this is a standard in budget wonk circles, it is hardly a normal practice anywhere else. Giving a spending figure without even explicitly telling readers the number of years it covers is not providing information. This should not have gotten by an editor.

It would have been simple to write this in a way that would convey information. The government is projected to spend a bit over $50 trillion in the next decade. If the piece had described projected spending on the food stamp program as a bit more than 1.5 percent of projected spending then most readers would have a reasonable idea of the importance of the program in the budget and to their tax obligations. If it makes people feel better it could also include the dollar figure, but since almost no one knows the size of the projected budget (especially over a ten year horizon), the percent number would provide far more information.

As Bradley Manning Trial Begins, Press Predictably Misses the Point | Matt Taibbi

Well, the Bradley Manning trial has begun, and for the most part, the government couldn’t have scripted the headlines any better.

In the now-defunct Starz series Boss, there’s a reporter character named “Sam Miller” played by actor Troy Garity who complains about lazy reporters who just blindly eat whatever storylines are fed to them by people in power. He called those sorts of stories Chumpbait. If the story is too easy, if you’re doing a piece on a sensitive topic and factoids are not only reaching you freely, but publishing them is somehow not meeting much opposition from people up on high, then you’re probably eating Chumpbait.

There’s an obvious Chumpbait angle in the Bradley Manning story, and most of the mainstream press reports went with it. You can usually tell if you’re running a Chumpbait piece if you find yourself writing the same article as 10,000 other hacks.

The CNN headline read as follows: “Hero or Traitor? Bradley Manning’s Trial to Start Monday.” NBC went with “Contrasting Portraits of Bradley Manning as Court-Martial Opens.” Time magazine’s Denver Nicks took this original approach in their “think” piece on Manning, “Bradley Manning and our Real Secrecy Problem”:

Is he a traitor or a hero? This is the question surrounding Bradley Manning, the army private currently being court-martialed at Fort Meade for aiding the enemy by wrongfully causing defense information to published on the Internet.

The Nicks thesis turned out to be one chosen by a lot of editorialists at the Manning trial, who have decided that the “real story” in the Manning case is what this incident showed about our lax security procedures, our lax of good due diligence vetting the folks we put in charge of our vital information.

“With so many poorly protected secrets accessible to so many people, it was only a matter of time,” Nicks wrote. “We can be grateful that Bradley Manning rather than someone less charitably inclined perpetrated this leak.”

Dr. Tim Johnson of the Telegraph took a similar approach, only he was even less generous than Nicks, calling Manning the “weirdo [who] tried to bring down the government,” a man who was “guilty as hell” and “deserves to do time.”

“Private Manning was a self-absorbed geek who should never have enjoyed the level of access that he did,” Johnson wrote. He went on to argue that Manning’s obvious personality defects should have disqualified him for sensitive duty, and the fact that he was even hired in the first place is the real scandal of this trial:

His personality breakdown was there for all to see – criticising US policy on Facebook, telling friends, “Bradley Manning is not a piece of equipment”, and even entertaining “a very internal private struggle with his gender”. He told hacker Adrian Lamo that he “listened and lip-synced to Lady Gaga’s Telephone while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history.” You go, girl.

All of this shit is disgraceful. It’s Chumpbait.

If I was working for the Pentagon’s PR department as a hired press Svengali, with my salary eating up some of the nearly five billion dollars the armed services spends annually on advertising and public relations, I would be telling my team to pump reporters over and over again with the same angle.

I would beat it into the head of every hack on this beat that the court-martial is about a troubled young man with gender identity problems, that the key issue of law here rests inside the mind of young PFC Manning, that the only important issue of fact for both a jury and the American people to decide is exactly the question in these headlines.

Is Manning a hero, or a traitor? Did he give thousands of files to Wikileaks out of a sense of justice and moral horror, or did he do it because he had interpersonal problems, because he couldn’t keep his job, because he was a woman trapped in a man’s body, because he was a fame-seeker, because he was lonely?

You get the press and the rest of America following that bouncing ball, and the game’s over. Almost no matter what the outcome of the trial is, if you can convince the American people that this case is about mental state of a single troubled kid from Crescent, Oklahoma, then the propaganda war has been won already.

Because in reality, this case does not have anything to do with who Bradley Manning is, or even, really, what his motives were. This case is entirely about the “classified” materials Manning had access to, and whether or not they contained widespread evidence of war crimes.

This whole thing, this trial, it all comes down to one simple equation. If you can be punished for making public a crime, then the government doing the punishing is itself criminal. [continue]

The Food Stamp Fight | Dean Baker

Congress is debating whether to cut the Food Stamp program, the government’s main nutrition program for low-income families. The coverage of this debate is a great example of “fraternity reporting,” that is reporting that shows you are a member of the reporters fraternity but has nothing to do with informing the audience.

We see this by the convention of referring to the $80 billion annual budget for the program (here for example). It is standard practice to refer to the dollar amount being spent on the program, pretending that this is actually providing information to readers.

As a practical matter, almost no one has a clear sense of how much much $80 billion a year is. They don’t have their heads in budget documents. (Yes, I know the Post has a well-educated readership, but it doesn’t matter.) It would mean pretty much the same thing to the vast majority of readers if the number was $8 billion or $800 billion. Often budget numbers appear without even telling the readers the number of years being covered.

If the standard practice was to write the numbers as a percent of total spending it would be providing actual information to a large percentage of its readers. In this case, current spending on Food Stamps is a bit over 2.2 percent of total spending. This figure is bloated by the downturn, since people qualify for benefits based on their income and many of the unemployed or underemployed qualify. (Contrary to Republican claims, President Obama did not ease the eligibility rules for food stamps.) The projections show that spending on food stamps will fall to 1.2 percent of the budget over the next decade as unemployment falls back to more normal levels.

It would be useful if we had a debate based on an informed public, with the country actually having a sense of how much food stamps and other programs cost. However, as long as fraternity reporting is the norm, large segments of the public will continue to believe that half of the budget is going to pay for food stamps.

America’s ruling National Security State, under the Obama regime, has expanded, through the CIA, ‘covert’ paramilitary operations from 60 countries in 2008 to 120 nations. If we are ever to have a whiff of true democracy, we need our journalists to reveal the extent to which the CIA commands and controls these operations, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we need them to explain, on a daily basis, how the National Security State corrupts intelligence and ‘news’ for the same racist imperial purposes that have defined US foreign policy since the Vietnam War. War Crimes as Policy

War Crimes as Policy | Douglas Valentine and Nicolas J.S. Davies

In February the Guardian and BBC Arabic unveiled a documentary exploring the role of retired Colonel James Steele in the recruitment, training and initial deployments of the CIA advised and funded Special Police Commandos in Iraq.

The documentary tells how the Commandos tortured and murdered tens of thousands of Iraqi men and boys. But the Commandos were only one of America’s many weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Along with US military forces – which murdered indiscriminately – and various CIA funded death squads – which murdered selectively – and the CIA’s rampaging palace guard – the 5,000 man strong Iraq Special Operations Forces – the Commandos were part of a genocidal campaign that killed about 10% of the Sunni Arabs of Iraq by 2008, and drove about half of all Sunnis from their homes.

Including economic sanctions, and a 50 year history of sabotage and subversion, America and its Iraqi collaborators visited far more death and destruction on Iraq than Saddam Hussein and his regime.

For the last few weeks, American pundits have been cataloguing the horrors. They tell how the Bush and Obama regimes, united in the unstated policy of war crimes, probably murdered more than a million Iraqis, displaced around five million, and imprisoned and tortured hundreds of thousands without trial.

A few have further explained that the dictatorial administrative detention laws, torture, and executions that characterize the occupation are still in place under Prime Minister Maliki. The prime minister’s office, notably, is where the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau is currently ensconced.

All of this meets the definition of genocide in the Genocide Convention, and violates multiple articles of the Geneva Conventions, which guarantee protection to civilians in time of war. But the responsible Americans have gone unpunished for their war crimes, not least of which was falsifying intelligence about Iraq’s non-existent weapon of mass destruction as a pretext for the invasion. British legal advisors repeatedly warned their government that invading Iraq would be a crime of aggression, which they called “one of the most serious offenses under international law.”

For anyone familiar with the CIA, this was predictable. But the US Government, through secrecy and censorship, destroyed much of the hard evidence of its war crimes, making it harder to prove. And the media is content to revise history and focus public attention on front men like Steele, rather than the institutions – in particular the CIA – for whom they work.

History, however, provides contextual evidence that what happened in Iraq amounts to a policy of carefully planned war crimes.

[…] Another problem, apart from historical amnesia, is that each war crime is viewed as an isolated incident, and when the dots are connected, the focus is on some shadowy character like Steele. The Guardian made an attempt to connect Steele to Petraeus and Rumsfeld, which again, is commendable. But the fact is that the entire National Security State has been designed and staffed with right-wing ideologues who support the unstated US policy of war crimes for profit.

We know who these security ideologues are. The problem is, they regularly have lunch with the reporters we trust to nail them to the wall. [READ]

We Are So Disappointed With the Corrupt Afghan Government | A Tiny Revolution

I’m sure it’s tough for many reasons to work for the Sulzbergers and Carlos Slim at the New York Times. But I’d have an especially hard time coming into the office every day and being forced to write paragraphs like this in today’s story about Afghanistan:

American and NATO officials in Kabul…said that [development] aid would continue, although the amounts given were likely to be reduced over time. And the Afghan government would have to live up to its commitments to battle corruption and run a more open government for the aid to keep flowing.

It’s not just that the New York Times itself uncovered the story of the CIA giving the Karzai government millions in bags of cash one week ago. It’s that the bags of cash article was written by the same reporter, Matthew Rosenberg.

Yet here he is today, faithfully passing along the news about how anonymous American officials sincerely want Karzai to be less corrupt. It’s like breaking the Eliot Spitzer prostitution story, and then quoting him a week later explaining how he’s going to continue paying Ashley Dupré as long as she lives up to his longstanding demand that she be less of a prostitute.

(I have much more sympathy for the payee in both situations. In Karzai’s case, he likely remembers that after the Soviets left, their last puppet was castrated, dragged through the streets of Kabul behind a jeep, and then publicly hanged. So you can understand if he wants to keep some cash on hand.) [read]

From the outset, the establishment media’s coverage of the Boston bombing and its aftermath has been marked by a combination of hysteria and ineptitude. From the initial reports of police seeking a ‘dark-skinned male’ to wholly erroneous and still-unexplained Day One reporting which claimed that a suspect had actually been detained, the average viewer of Fox, CBS or MSNBC would arguably be far less informed from their coverage than they would have been by completely abstaining from television news during the crisis.

Murtaza Hussain

After several hours of reporting to their millions of credulous viewers important “facts” which later turned out to be little more than unsubstantiated rumours, CNN’s Chris Cuomo would admit: “Ok. Now, that would be, you know, we don’t know what’s right or not at this point.” One would hope for such forthcoming honesty from a major news organisation before the subsequent reporting of a major story instead of afterwards, but unfortunately the reverse proved to be true.

While the fast-paced reporting of rumours, hyperbole and innuendo serves very little to the cause of informing and enlightening the millions who rely on cable news for information, it undoubtedly does well at generating widespread fear and hysteria. This is less the result of a grand conspiracy than of simple market economics. Throughout the crisis, ratings at major cable news stations surged - shooting up 194 percent from normal averages at CNN while also posting smaller yet still materially-significant gains at Fox News and MSNBC.

For an advertisement-driven industry where these ratings are the standard bearer of success and financial viability, the Boston bombings provided a major boost. In this light, the impetus to avoid salacious rumour-mongering and speculation - something which would inevitably trigger great fear in a viewing audience devoid of its own means of gauging events - markedly diminishes. Fear and uncertainty may be bad for the populace at large as well as for the functioning of a healthy democracy, but they are undeniably good at generating bigger and more lucrative audiences for news media. In an oligarchic media landscape where both barriers to entry and competitive pressure among existing players are high, cable news outlets have every reason to keep pumping up the hysteria if it means greater viewership. As their hyperbolic coverage of the Boston crisis has shown, they have little hesitance about doing this when the opportunity arises.

U.S. Militarism and Perpetual War | Jeff Cohen

I spent years as a political pundit on mainstream TV – at CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. I was outnumbered, outshouted, red-baited and finally terminated. Inside mainstream media, I saw that major issues were not only dodged, but sometimes not even acknowledged to exist.

Today there’s an elephant in the room: a huge, yet ignored, issue that largely explains why Social Security is now on the chopping block. And why other industrialized countries have free college education and universal healthcare, but we don’t. It’s arguably our country’s biggest problem – a problem that Martin Luther King Jr. focused on before he was assassinated 45 years ago, and has only worsened since then (which was the height of the Vietnam War).

That problem is U.S. militarism and perpetual war.

In 1967, King called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” – and said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Nowadays MSNBC hosts yell at Fox News hosts, and vice versa, about all sorts of issues – but when the Obama administration expanded the bloody war in Afghanistan, the shouting heads at both channels went almost silent. When Obama’s drone war expanded, there was little shouting. Not at MSNBC, not at Fox. Nor at CNN, CBS, ABC or so-called public broadcasting.

We can have raging debates in mainstream media about issues like gun control and gay marriage and minimum wage, but when the elites of both parties agree on military intervention – as they so often do – debate is nearly nonexistent. Anyone in the mainstream who goes out on a limb to loudly question this oversized creature in the middle of the room known as militarism or interventionism is likely to disappear faster than you can say ‘Phil Donahue.’ [++]