Backtracking on Blackwater:

A month after The Nation‘s

Jeremy Scahill

reported on


‘s activities in Pakistan (“The Secret US War in Pakistan,” December 21), Defense Secretary

Robert Gates

confirmed that the company is operating there. In a January 21 interview on Pakistan’s

Express 24/7

TV-news channel, Gates said, “They [Blackwater and another private security firm,


] are operating as individual companies here in Pakistan,” according to an official DoD transcript. The following day, a Pakistani official acknowledged that Blackwater was operating in the country’s frontier areas with the “consent and permission” of the Pakistani government, saying he had discussed the issue with officials at the US Consulate in Peshawar, who told him that Blackwater was training Pakistani forces.

When Gates’s comments began to make huge news in Pakistan, US defense officials began backpedaling. As the

Wall Street Journal

reported, “Defense officials tried to clarify the comment…telling reporters that Mr. Gates had been speaking about contractor oversight more generally and that the Pentagon didn’t employ [Blackwater] in Pakistan.” Then, on January 23, the US Embassy in Islamabad issued a “correction,” saying, “At no time did Secretary Gates say that Blackwater is operating in Pakistan.” As the saying goes, never believe anything until it has been officially denied.

Signing Off: Air America

, the liberal radio network, announced it would file for bankruptcy two days after

Martha Coakley

lost the Massachusetts Senate race. The timing was coincidental, but both progressive setbacks were functions of a right-wing media machine that is thriving in the Obama era. The same conservative talk-radio that put tea parties in

Ted Kennedy’s

backyard–Coakley lost even Kennedy’s home precinct of Hyannis–has so dominated media markets in redder states that Air America’s programming was never able to crack local stations. With time and cash on its side, right-wing radio had the upper hand, while Air America always struggled to make a profit.

Still, in six years Air America catapulted an impressive roster of progressives into radio, TV, new media and even Congress.

Al Franken

, the comedian turned senator, burnished his policy credentials on Air America, while

Rachel Maddow

, the most popular liberal woman on TV, launched her career as a political commentator there. The network gave platforms to

Thom Hartmann

, who now reaches 2 million people a week via syndication, and

Cenk Uygur

, who draws half a million daily YouTube viewers to his hybrid web-radio program,

The Young Turks

. Air America’s demise narrows the spectrum of opinion on the radio. But it is to the network’s lasting credit that so many alumni have succeeded on several platforms, joining a bumper crop of progressive talkers like

Ed Schultz


Bill Press


Stephanie Miller,

who keep the radio fair, if not balanced.   ARI MELBER