Media, politics and culture.
When I launched this blog on May 3, 2010, I promised, “Every day…we’ll probe the latest media outrages, and uncover a few ourselves, while also providing links to important articles and blog posts at other sites (both mainstream and alt-), along with essential or amusing video. Since this is The Nation, we’ll pay special attention to media politics and media culture, and update often, even at night and on the weekends.”
The blog’s original title and logo, MediaFix, soon bit the dust, but for more than four years, this promise, I believe, was largely fulfilled (especially the weekend part, as it would turn out). Today, however, marks my final post here. So, a few reflections and highlights.
Certainly worth recalling are two long-running, nearly “live” blogs.
The first, covering WikiLeaks revelations and controversies, started in November 2010 and ran nearly 24/7 for six months, establishing what some called the all-time record for a blog devoted to a single subject, with a dozen or more updates daily. (At least two fans created artwork likening this to Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak or Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak.) A Nation intern, Kevin Gosztola, played a strong supporting role. It would be the “most-read” offering on the Nation site almost every day for nearly the entire six months. Out of this, I wrote the first book about WikiLeaks and then, with Gosztola, the first book about Chelsea Manning.
The second “streak” concerned Occupy, and this time the daily, almost-live blog, started in October 2011, would run for five months or so. This too led to an ebook, the first on the movement. Like the WikiLeaks blog, this one would prove to be the popular material on the Nation site most days for many weeks.
Also popular, though not quite as long-running, were my daily postings on the 2012 election, which also led to an e-book. What I remember most vividly was somehow covering the final week of the campaign, with frequent updates, from a hotel room with spotty Wi-Fi—after we got knocked out of our home due to Hurricane Sandy. Never thought I ‘d cover an election night from a Comfort Inn without the excuse of a candidate’s headquarters in the ballroom.
I can’t possibly cite, or even recall, many other highlights of roughly 1,000 blog postings. Although of much shorter duration, my coverage of the Steubenville rape case drew tremendous readership and linkage. An interview with my friend and co-author Robert Jay Lifton produced just about the wisest commentary on the Obama drone program anywhere, if I say so myself. I interviewed Oliver Stone and Alex Gibney and often tackled the scourge of executions—state murder—in this country. Along the way there were tributes to everyone from Beethoven and Upton Sinclair to Phil Ochs and Bruce Springsteen (not to mention Kurt Vonnegut, Steve Earle, Pete Seeger, Sam Cooke and Billy Bragg). I debuted my Vonnegut and Me book here. Also my book on when Hollywood turned left.
I tried to rally the forces that ultimately convinced President Obama not to bomb Syria last year. Very recently, I’ve attempted to do the same (with outcome uncertain) re: a return to air strikes in Iraq.
Although the subjects ranged widely, in nearly every case I focused partly or mainly on media or pundit failures. Rarely did I go after Fox—that was too easy, as Stewart and Colbert show every week. Although hardly the worst actor, The New York Times probably drew most of my attention—for coming up short far too frequently. Several columnists—notably Bill Keller, Thomas Friedman and David Brooks but also Nick Kristof—drew criticism. At the same time, I often tipped my hat to the Times’s excellent public editor, Margaret Sullivan.
I regret that I won’t be able to write my multiple annual pieces here related to the atomic bombings of Japan in 1945, the aftermath and the nuclear lessons for today, but you can find some of the previous ones using the search function or check out my Atomic Cover-up book here.
But now, as they’ve told me, it’s time to go. If you remain interested, please check out my long-running and popular blog, Pressing Issues, which also concentrates on politics and media but with (even) more rock ’n’ roll and humor in the mix. (My e-mail remains email@example.com). For now, I’ll just quote one of this magazine’s patron saints, Woody Guthrie: So long, it’s been good to know you…I got to be driftin’ along.
Read Next: Greg Mitchell on right-wing violence—and the media’s unwillingness to call it terrorism.
* * *
* * *
* * *
BM: And yet, there’s this still almost religious belief in force as the savior.
BM: Pre-emptory strikes.
BM: So is it duplicity or self-delusion?
Read Next: Robert Scheer on our government’s soft spot for brutal dictators.
There’s been a rising tide of criticism of mainstream media coverage of the US response (real or desired) to the new crisis in Iraq, from Maddow to Maher and with even Megyn Kelly joining in. The reliance on officials and journalists who were so wrong back in 2003, and often for years after, has been decried, culminating in a segment this morning on one of the networks that has joined in the disgraceful resurrection of ye olde Iraq hawks.
Brian Stelter hosted a segment on his Reliable Sources today, introducing it with a reference to my recently updated book and ebook on Iraq and the media, So Wrong for So Long. Then he introduced one of the heroes of that book (one of the few in the press who was not “wrong”), Jonathan Landay, of McClatchy; and Peter Beinert, who favored the war but has repeatedly attempted to repent.
There seems to be this historical habit of the American media to rehabilitate people… On the Iraq invasion, I mean, you have people on CNN who were mouthpieces for the Bush administration and were handing out misleading and inaccurate information to the American public and the world—who are treated as legitimate, credible political commentators. I think that is a very serious problem for the media that it needs to get a grip on.
I think it’s definitely true that the media’s foreign policy conversation has an instinct towards kind of Beltway insiders who share basic assumptions. And some of the people who had the intellectual foresight and creativity to question the assumptions that led us to Iraq still don’t get on the air, which is a big problem…
But I don’t have a problem putting on people who were architects of the Iraq war on to talk today—as long as they have to reckon with what happened in the past. We shouldn’t treat the past as if it’s irrelevant. It’s not irrelevant. It’s highly relevant.
David Carr at The New York Times joins in today with a column on the media and the war—and Micheal Hastings' new novel, set at the beginning.
Here’s video of the full CNN segment:
Greg Mtichell’s book, So Wrong for So Long, which covers ten years of media malfeasance, starting with the run-up to the Iraq war, features a preface by Bruce Springsteen. This is his final week at The Nation. His popular personal blog is Pressing Issues.
Read Next: Obama sets us a on a slippery slope to war in Iraq.
Finally, a major newspaper has axed George Will—and apologized—for his truly disgraceful column on how “privileged” and “alleged” rape victims on campus are often the real victimizers. And are so often “delusional.” Why? Because victomhood has supposedly become “a coveted status that confers privileges.”
Now the venerable St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the leading news outlet in that neck of the woods, has decided to free Will. Editors revealed yesterday:
The change has been under consideration for several months, but a column published June 5, in which Mr. Will suggested that sexual assault victims on college campuses enjoy a privileged status, made the decision easier. The column was offensive and inaccurate; we apologize for publishing it.
Now for the bad news: Will will be replaced by the equally disturbing (on other issues) Michael Gerson.
It’s worth returning to what Will actually wrote.
Colleges and universities are being educated by Washington and are finding the experience excruciating. They are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (“micro-aggressions,” often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate. And academia’s progressivism has rendered it intellectually defenseless now that progressivism’s achievement, the regulatory state, has decided it is academia’s turn to be broken to government’s saddle.
Consider the supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. “sexual assault.”…
Now the Obama administration is riding to the rescue of “sexual assault” victims. It vows to excavate equities from the ambiguities of the hookup culture, this cocktail of hormones, alcohol and the faux sophistication of today’s prolonged adolescence of especially privileged young adults…
UPDATE: Will continues to defend the column, even some say, doubling down. And it turns out all of the Washington Post editors who okayed it were male.
Note: I will be leaving The Nation after four years next week. You can continue to follow my posts daily at my long-running blog Pressing Issues. Thanks. -- G.M.
Read Next: Michelle Goldberg on why the campus rape crisis confounds colleges.
The incident drew wide coverage earlier this week: an audience member at a large right-wing forum in Washington, DC, on, what else, Benghazi, was taunted by a crowd after simply asking why panelists were acting like most Muslims are terror-connected. The woman was clearly identifiable as a Muslim herself. Dana Milbank of The Washington Post was there to offer the bad news.
But then Dylan Byers, media reporter at Politico, after getting the organizers’ spin, charged that Milbank’s account was misleading. He claimed that the event was merely held at the Heritage Foundation, they were not behind it. And he asserted that the taunting was over-hyped and the woman didn’t seem to really mind all that much. So Milbank’s account was a “disaster.”
Well, Milbank has responded this morning by throwing the same charge back at Byers. He claimsthat the Politico columnist was basing his retort on a nine-minute video of the entire proceedings—while Milbank was actually there and saw the whole thing. Heritage, in fact, was a co-sponsor of the event. The woman, in fact, was very upset. The taunting and cheering actually was considerable. And so on.
We’ll chart how Byers responds. But Milbank, while qualifying a couple of his own statements (now that a full video is out), hits him hard, especially for allegedly lazy “armchair” reporting.
It’s possible, of course, that Byers could have sat at my side for the entire event and still thought I misjudged it; such interpretations are subjective. But had he witnessed all these remarks, and heard the hisses in the audience and observed the moderator’s sneers, he might have understood better the exchange with Ahmed that followed. That’s why there is no substitute for shoe-leather reporting.
UPDATE Byers so far has only responded on Twitter, with: "Two quick thoughts -- 1. Funny that
@Milbank's talking shoe-leather journalism after failing to adequately report on an event he attended...… and 2, you'd be surprised, @Milbank, how much news you can break from an armchair." Meanwhile, latest Milbank piece has drawn 613 comments, and counting.
Read Next: Leslie Savan on how Fox News created a monster—and made two others disappear
What a Sunday of surprises in our two leading newspapers.
A column by Nick Kristof at The New York Times did the impossible—almost letting George W. Bush off the hook on the current crumbling of Iraq because, you know, so many are to blame. There’s Maliki, of course, but he also cites John McCain and others blaming Obama—and with classic “balance,” states that “some on the left” somehow find “fault” with Bush. As if they’re the only one in the US who blame Bush for setting all in motion with his invasion.
And factually, I suppose, it should be “everyone of the left.”
Then there’s this from Kristof: “The Democratic narrative is that President Bush started the cascade of dominoes. The problem with that logic is that Obama administration officials were boasting just a couple of years ago about how peaceful and successful Iraq had become because of their fine work.” Again: It’s just “the Democratic narrative,” not an objective fact, that Bush “started the cascade of dominoes.”
Just the latest Kristof embarrassment. And let’s not forget that he strongly urged Obama to bomb Syria last year—which would have aided the ISIS rebels.
On the other hand, in the same edition (even the same section), the Times handed over op-ed space to Chelsea Manning, and here you go. It’s mainly on journalists and the “embed” (or “in bed”) program, with claims that reporters play along with the military for access. (See my updated book on Manning.) Much of all this should hardly be news to most but still… from her “Fog Machine of War”:
Among the many daily reports I received via email while working in Iraq in 2009 and 2010 was an internal public affairs briefing that listed recently published news articles about the American mission in Iraq. One of my regular tasks was to provide, for the public affairs summary read by the command in eastern Baghdad, a single-sentence description of each issue covered, complementing our analysis with local intelligence.
The more I made these daily comparisons between the news back in the States and the military and diplomatic reports available to me as an analyst, the more aware I became of the disparity. In contrast to the solid, nuanced briefings we created on the ground, the news available to the public was flooded with foggy speculation and simplifications.
Meanwhile, over at The Washington Post, there was quite an account, with full details on the frantic attempts by the US to seize or trick or snatch Edward Snowden after he released his NSA bombshell, hoping he’d do something stupid—like get on a plane to Bolivia or some such (and they famously did divert one flight).
As it crossed Austria, the aircraft made a sudden U-turn and landed in Vienna, where authorities searched the cabin—with Morales’s permission, officials said—but saw no sign of Snowden.
The initial, official explanation that Morales was merely making a refueling stop quickly yielded to recriminations and embarrassment.
Austrian officials said they were skeptical of the plan from the outset and noted that Morales’s plane had taken off from a different airport in Moscow than where Snowden was held. “Unless the Russians had carted him across the city,” one official said, it was unlikely he was on board.
Even if Snowden had been a passenger, officials said, it is unclear how he could have been removed from a Bolivian air force jet whose cabin would ordinarily be regarded as that country’s sovereign domain—especially in Austria, a country that considers itself diplomatically neutral.
“We would have looked foolish if Snowden had been on that plane sitting there grinning,” said a senior Austrian official. “There would have been nothing we could have done.”
And finally, a great John Oliver segment last night ripping Washington Redskins team owner ("Chief Running Without Moral Compass") over failure to change team name.
Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss on how Iraq's crisis got started—and how it didn't.
In a column yesterday I asked, “As Iraq Crumbles, Will US Media Back Obama Bomb Strikes?” As the day went on, as you know, things in that country went from worse to worst. And top news outlets here started weighing in, on their editorial pages or commentary, on the question.
Among the few to strongly oppose US intervention, at least for now, was The New York Times, which did so much in its news pages to help pave the way for the 2003 invasion. From an editorial posted late last night:
The United States has a strategic interest in Iraq’s stability and Mr. Obama on Thursday said America was ready to do more, without going into detail. But military action seems like a bad idea right now. The United States simply cannot be sucked into another round of war in Iraq. In any case, airstrikes and new weapons would be pointless if the Iraqi Army is incapable of defending the country.
Why would the United States want to bail out a dangerous leader like Mr. Maliki, who is attempting to remain in power for a third term as prime minister? It is up to Iraq’s leaders to show leadership and name a new prime minister who will share power, make needed reforms and include all sectarian and ethnic groups, especially disenfranchised Sunnis, in the country’s political and economic life—if, indeed, it is not too late.
On the other hand, Times columnist David Brooks in a new column blames most of the problem on… Obama. Of course, he leaves out the part about the Iraqis ordering us to get out. Brooks concludes: “The president says his doctrine is don’t do stupid stuff. Sometimes withdrawal is the stupidest thing of all.”
Fareed Zakaria at The Washington Post casts most of the blame on Maliki and concludes: “Washington is debating whether airstrikes or training forces would be more effective, but its real problem is much larger and is a decade in the making. In Iraq, it is defending the indefensible.” A columnist at the Los Angeles Times, Paul Whitefield, suggests Bush and Cheney should take care of the mess, since they caused it, but exactly how they’d do that remains a mystery.
But that appears to be a minority view right now. The always-ready-for-war Washington Post called for action to halt an ISIS takeover: “Not to do everything possible to avert that outcome would be a dereliction, and one that Americans might greatly regret for years to come.” David Ignatius may draw laughs with his urging the US to convene a Middle East “peace conference” where Sunni and Shia would, you know, “reconcile.” John McTernan at The Guardian closes with this howler: “We have to go back to Iraq to rescue democracy. After all, as Margaret Thatcher said at the time of the Falklands, why else do we have armed forces?”
Representative John Boehner suggests Obama took a “nap” while Iraq crumbled and naturally ol’ reliable arch-hawk (arch and hawk) Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post claims Obama isn’t just napping, he’s “surrendering.” Michael Gerson also makes Obama the goat. And at the same site James Dubik argues that there are no good options—but, hey, the US must take action. The Wall Street Journal, what a surprise, slams Obama for the “Iraq Debacle.”
And yes, the expert on all things Iraq, Judy Miller is back! And telling us she warned about all this, on Fox, natch (because Curveball told her?). Here’s a roundup of Fox hawks calling for bombers or at least drones.
For context for all this, see my book (now in updated e-book edition) on the media failures for a decade of the Iraq war, So Wrong for So Long.
Read Next: William J. Astore explains how we all got drafted into the American national security state.
See my Friday column on updated commentary from New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, more.
It seemed absurd, at least to me (and maybe to Jon Stewart, see below), yesterday as the US media, including MSNBC, focused overwhelmingly on the defeat of Representative Eric Cantor in Virginia, with all of 65,000 votes cast, just as Iraq—where we have lost 4,500 of our own soldiers, killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and spent more than a trillion dollar—was crumbling.
Today that’s even more true, as Iraq breaks apart even more. Now the Kurds have taken Tirkuk, and in Mosul the insurgents have liberated $435 million from just one large bank, making them, as The Washington Post points out, easily the world’s best-funded anti-American terror group. And that’s before the oil revenues roll in. But hey—as Jon Stewart pointed out after Cantor’s defeat—now there will be no bipartisan action in Congress!
But later today, perhaps, the focus will shift to the question of what the US—which brought Al Qaeda to Iraq in the first place—will do now.
Last night it emerged that Iraq had asked Obama to bomb insurgents’ positions last month, which he refused to do. But that was then and this is now, with Baghdad the next rebel target and the linkage with Syria conflict clear (and Iran, of course, very much in the picture). American bombing may now be a very open question. John McCain may call for another “surge” any minute now.
So we’ll start monitoring here the emerging calls in the media for action or inaction. But note: recall how close we came to bombing Syria just last autumn, with many prominent voices in the media calling for that and Obama, at the last minute, bailing out (thank goodness).
UPDATE Rep. John Boehner claiming Obama took a "nap" while Iraq crumbled. Here's a roundup of Fox hawks calling for bombers or at least drones. Columnist at L.A. Times suggests Bush and Cheney take care of it.
Read Next: Tom Engelhardt takes stock of fifty years of miserably futile American warfare.
A powerful, moving commercial boosting the escalating campaign to force a Washington pro football team name change—rejected for the Super Bowl on TV earlier this year—aired last night in our seven largest cities during half-time coverage of game three of the NBA finals.
And that’s great. My only disappointment was that my Cherokee hero, Will Rogers, one of the greatest Americans ever, got cut out of the final version. He appears in the original two-minute version—which was cut to a minute for the current spot. You can watch both of them below.
I’d propose changing the DC team’s name to the Washington Rogers. This would pay tribute not only to a great Native American but also Will Rogers’s brilliant and biting commentary (still funny and relevant today) on the shenanigans on Capitol Hill and in the White House. And here’s a bit of his reflections on his (and our) heritage.
I love being down here in pilgrim country. I bet you when the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and they had the whole of the American continent to themselves, and all they had to do to get another 160 acres was to kill another Indian, you know, well, I bet they kicked at the cost of ammunition. Now, I hope my Cherokee blood is not making me prejudiced, but it was only the generosity of the Indians that allowed the pilgrims to land in the first place. Suppose it was the other way around.
Yeah, my ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower. They met the boat.
Read Next: Dave Zirin on John Carlos’s standing up to an NFL slur
UPDATE: Terrorist couple in Las Vegas IDed, plus photos, videos, online rants. UPDATE #2 AP and Reuters defend not calling right-wing terrorists 'terrorists"--because they must follow government agency and FBI lead. Washington Post story on this also weak.
It was a busy, violent weekend for right-wing nuts in America. But will the US media dare call them “terrorists”?
First, you had the Sovereign Nation shootout plus explosives outside the courthouse in Forsyth, Georgia. I’ll let the great Charles P. Pierce take it from here:
Let’s not kid ourselves. [Georgia shooter Dennis Marx] is a product of more than his own psychoses. He is a product of a conservative movement that has lost its moral bearings, a gun culture than imbibes paranoia the way some people drink iced tea, a media infrastructure—from Roger Ailes’s empire through the poison from which Clear Channel and other media conglomerate profit, all the way down to the guys broadcasting on short-wave from their root cellars in upper Michigan—that enables and encourages and empowers armed political paranoia and does so for the cheapest possible reasons, for political power and for corporate profit. And, no, Both Sides do not do this. There is nothing comparable on the Left to the vast ideological bunker of the mind that has been created and sustained by the institutions of modern conservatism within which Dennis Marx found a home. In a week in which Bowe Bergdahl has been slandered for cheap points and cheaper laughs, the emergence (once again) of an actual American terrorist should be a very sobering moment.
Then we have the Bundy-loving, Gadsden flag-draping Loonie and Clyde cop killers out in Vegas yesterday. From the major Las Vegas newspaper:
The shooters then stripped the officers of their weapons and ammunition and badges, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation. They then covered the officers with something that featured the Gadsden flag, a yellow banner with a coiled snake above the words, “Don’t tread on Me.”
The flag is named for Christopher Gadsden, a Revolutionary War general who designed it. It has recently come back in vogue as an adopted symbol of the American tea party movement….
Like many of the neighbors contacted, Krista Koch said she didn’t know the couple’s last names. She described them as “militant.” They talked about planning to kill police officers, “going underground” and not coming out until the time was right to kill.
Brandon Monroe, 22, has lived in the complex for about two weeks. He said the man who lived in the apartment that was being searched often rambled about conspiracy theories. He often wore camouflage or dressed as Peter Pan to work as a Fremont Street Experience street performer. A woman lived with him, Monroe said, but he didn’t see her as often.
They were weird people, Monroe said, adding that he thought the couple used methamphetamines.
The man told Monroe he had been kicked off Cliven Bundy’s ranch 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas while people from throughout the U.S. gathered there in protest of a Bureau of Land Management roundup of Bundy’s cattle.
Reached Sunday, the rancher’s wife, Carol Bundy, said the shooting and the April standoff against the federal government were not linked.
In a later report, CNN naturally refuses to ID them as right-wing nuts, leaving vague that they left behind a “flag” and manifesto. Just hated cops. ABC does better, mentioning swastika symbols found at apartment and so on.
Read Next: Leslie Savan asks, “Why is the right obsessed with castration?”