Media, politics and culture.
Don't miss scoop just posted by the AP on long-missing American in Iran who, it turns out, was working for the CIA. And against all protocols, hired by a rogue element.
It's an incredibe story but because of its sensitive nature--the man is still missing, it was a secret operation, and offiicials lied to us and Congress--the Associated Press debated about publishing it. As they related, "even after the White House, FBI and State Department officials learned of Levinson's CIA ties, the official story remained unchanged. 'He's a private citizen involved in private business in Iran,' the State Department said in 2007, shortly after Levinson's disappearance." Now that it has posted the piece, the AP carried a lengthy explanation."
Read the full story but, since I'm a media writer, here's AP defending why they are publishing now even though it presents some risk to the CIA man, if still alive.
Here's the full AP statement:
Publishing this article was a difficult decision. This story reveals serious mistakes and improper actions inside the U.S. government’s most important intelligence agency. Those actions, the investigation and consequences have all been kept secret from the public.
Publishing articles that help the public hold their government to account is part of what journalism is for, and especially so at The Associated Press, which pursues accountability journalism whenever it can. This seems particularly true on this subject at a time when the decisions of intelligence agencies are being extensively debated.
The AP has been seeking information on Levinson’s whereabouts from governments, agencies and any other source possible for several years. Government officials tell us that they, too, have hit a wall, though their efforts continue.
In the absence of any solid information about Levinson’s whereabouts, it has been impossible to judge whether publication would put him at risk. It is almost certain that his captors already know about the CIA connection but without knowing exactly who the captors are, it is difficult to know whether publication of Levinson’s CIA mission would make a difference to them. That does not mean there is no risk. But with no more leads to follow, we have concluded that the importance of the story justifies publication.
Last night Jon Stewart aptly hit the US media (and blogosphere) coverage of President Obama at the Nelson Mandela funeral this week. As he put it, “No act too petty for our media to completely blow out of proportion.”
There was the handshake with Castro (not even Fidel) and the selfie (was he flirting with the PM, making his wife mad?). And now we have the “hallucinating” guy who was not really signing.
Then Jon faked hanging himself in desperation. I guess he could have called it “Mourning in America.” The segment below. Also see The Guardian on the media and the selfie.
It essentially turned a memorial service for one of the greatest modern leaders into a soap opera. And like any good soap opera, it divided the female players into sexist archetypes: in this case Thorning-Schmidt played the blonde, ditzy seductress and foil to Michelle Obama, the jealous, shrewish wife.
It’s been another great year for hard-hitting or wonderfully creative documentary films, from Sarah Polley on her family to Jeremy Scahill on targeted killing abroad (and need I mention my own on Beethoven’s Ninth?).
Last night I watched another film on the just-announced shortlist of finalists for this year’s Academy Award for the genre: Blackfish.
As you may have heard, it takes a deep (so to speak) look at the practice, over the past four decades, of capturing orcas in the wild and hauling them to the Sea Worlds of the world. The film raises alarms not just about these magnificent creatures but the danger to trainers and performers at the water expos. We see shocking footage of numerous deaths or near-death experiences of humans leading to a current legal action that has, for now, curtailed the man-to-whale contact in the shows.
But at the heart of it, and I do mean heart, is the foul practice of capturing the orcas at sea and breaking up their families (among the tightest in creation). Who knew that, like Indian tribes of yore, each grouping of orcas has their own “language”? That they can live for 100 years? That the mothers and kids stay together their entire lives (yes, as often the case, the dads are around but not central). And so on.
You may shake with anger and sadness on viewing this film, or at least give your cat or dog an extra hug.
Here’s the trailer:
As most of you probably know by now, Seymour Hersh has written a major piece on the claims by the US (and others) that the pro-Assad forces used Sarin gas in Syria, and President Obama’s eventual response. This came after the article was turned down both by The Washington Post (which planned to publish it) and Hersh’s frequent home, The New Yorker.
Months ago I was among those strongly criticizing media coverage of what I saw as hyped, unproven (if not necessarily false) claims that nearly took us to war. After much protest from the left, and some on right (plus many MPs in the UK), Obama pulled back, somewhat mysteriously—and Assad then agreed to dismantle his arsenal. Soon Iran’s leaders were also responding favorably on nuclear inspections.
In Hersh’s view, those second thoughts by Obama were likely sparked not so much by antiwar protest, but the president realizing that he was being rolled with false or unproven intelligence by those those wanting us to bomb-bomb-bomb Syria. Hersh’s edgy investigative reporting is usually proven right, of course, but in recent years, one must admit, sometimes wrong. For myself, I’ve never claimed a belief that rebels, not the Assad forces, launched the attacks, but at a minimum the doubts about the whole tragedy—and the further deaths from our bombing and hardening of Assad and Iranian attitudes—should have precluded war.
Today, Hersh explained his findings and sourcing—and the turndowns from the Post and New Yorker—on Democracy Now! He admitted it was foolish to believe that The Washington Post would publish his piece. He stood by his reporting after Amy Goodman read the firm denials from a National Intelligence spokesman. See clips below. Hersh referred to himself as a “creepy troublemaker.”
The White House rejects the Hersh claims. Several news outlets have questioned Hersh’s (largely anonymous) sourcing and claimed that he ignores much fresh evidence. A nicely-balanced critique here from Ryan Goodman. The longest take I’ve seen is in Foreign Policy. Eliot Higgins concludes:
While Hersh rightly expresses concern about the way in which the U.S. government’s narrative of the Aug. 21 was built, significant information can be gathered from open sources about this conflict—information that he appears to be lacking. In the future, open-source information may become even more important for understanding hard-to-access conflict zones, and learning how to use it effectively should become a key skill for any investigative journalist.
Hersh later appeared on CNN with Jake Tapper.
Bob Dreyfuss explores the effects on Syrian diplomacy of the US-Iran accords.
David Simon, former newspaper reporter and creator/writer/showrunner of Homicide, The Corner, The Wire and Treme, is known for his often angry denunciations of modern-day captialist America and the staggering gap between the well-off and the struggling. Last month he appeared at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney, Australia, where he spoke at length on these themes.
It took a month, but on Sunday The Guardian published a highly edited version on its site—under the title, “There are now two Americas. My country is a horror show”—which drew wide attention. As far as I can see, no one posted the video of his entire talk, however, along with questions from a host and the audience. So here’s one excerpt from the edited piece and then the full video.
Societies are exactly what they sound like. If everybody is invested and if everyone just believes that they have “some”, it doesn’t mean that everybody’s going to get the same amount. It doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be people who are the venture capitalists who stand to make the most. It’s not each according to their needs or anything that is purely Marxist, but it is that everybody feels as if, if the society succeeds, I succeed, I don’t get left behind. And there isn’t a society in the west now, right now, that is able to sustain that for all of its population.
And so in my country you’re seeing a horror show. You’re seeing a retrenchment in terms of family income, you’re seeing the abandonment of basic services, such as public education, functional public education. You’re seeing the underclass hunted through an alleged war on dangerous drugs that is in fact merely a war on the poor and has turned us into the most incarcerative state in the history of mankind, in terms of the sheer numbers of people we’ve put in American prisons and the percentage of Americans we put into prisons. No other country on the face of the Earth jails people at the number and rate that we are.
We have become something other than what we claim for the American dream and all because of our inability to basically share, to even contemplate a socialist impulse.
Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, supports another potentially disastrous cut to food stamps, writes Greg Kaufmann.
When I was senior editor at Crawdaddy—for most of the 1970s—I convinced Gil Scott-Heron to become an occasional columnist. He was well-known, in certain circles, for his “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and for a later cult hit “The Bottle” and excellent album Winter in America, but he was hardly a commercial superstar. Crawdaddy never cared about that and was always eager to promote any kind of lefty musician. Gil’s antinuclear epic “We Almost Lost Detroit” remains relevant to this day (I linked to it here after the Fukushima disaster).
And who can forget “Whitey on the Moon”?
I only met Gil a couple of times, including once backstage at a Central Park concert where I picked up a column (it seemed the only way I’d ever get it). But we chatted on the phone a few times and corresponded. He was a bright and engaging guy, and about to go a little more mainstream with his semi-hit song “Johannesburg.” Before its release, he wrote about it for me at Crawdaddy. It was based on his mid-1970s trip there, with Nelson Mandela a long way from being freed, and gave us the lyrics before the single came out.
“Hey brother have you heard the word—Johannesburg!” Brothers were “defying the man” and Gil hated “when the blood starts flowing” but he was “glad to see resistance growing.” And hey, weren’t some aspects of US ciites, such as Detroit, “like Johannesburg”? One of the great songs of the 1970s. R.I.P. Mandela—and Gil.
Douglas Foster eulogizes Nelson Mandela.
I’m not a big Coen brothers fan, but for nearly two years I have followed the filming and unveiling of their Inside Llewyn Davis, which opens tomorrow in a few theaters. That’s partly because I lived and worked in Greenwich Village for many years, but more than that: I am old enough (ouch) to remember watching Hootenanny on TV every week—not knowing what to make of some guy named Pete Seeger getting banned—and then growing absorbed in the early careers of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan.
The New York Times already has a review online. It’s quite favorable. We already knew the T-Bone Burnett music, for it was swell, based on excerpts on YouTube and live shows. Dave Van Ronk, whose memoir helped inspire it (though he was quite different from the main character, trust me), has also gotten a good deal of well-deserved ink this week.
Dylan’s publicity this week has been of another sort (a ridiculous “hate crime” charge in France). I haven’t seen the film yet so I can’t say how strongly, and fairly, it portrays the folk protest/politics of the early-’60s era, but we know it’s in there.
A Showtime “concert” doc is coming a week from Friday—see trailer below, featuring a Mumford and the great Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. And below that, a full clip from the film of trio (with “Llewyn” joined by Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver) doing a goofy “Please Mr. Kennedy”:
Pierre Omidyar, new-media publisher (with Glenn Greenwald and others) and First Amendment advocate, last night at The Huffington Post revisited his former company’s move to block donations to WikiLeaks three years ago. We speak, of course, of PayPal. That affair has prompted one of several criticisms leveled at Greenwald of late (see my piece here this week) and now Omidyar writes at length about the sensitive issue.
Omidyar explains how he joined an editorial about the WikiLeaks protest (at his Honolulu newspaper), but then hits the excessive Anonymous efforts to crash and otherwise hurt PayPal. This comes as the trial of the “PayPal 14” is about to begin. Omidyar seems to argue for leniency in any sentencing of those found guilty, especially since they are standing in, one might say, for the actions of thousands of others. “Their case as well as PayPal’s actions in 2010 raise important questions about press freedoms and the nature of online protests,” he explains.
And now WikiLeaks responds to his piece on Twitter, including: “Appreciate some of the other comments but they are undermined by the central issue of the blockade being falsely presented…. As far as we are aware the PayPal blockade of WikiLeaks has never been lifted. No direct transactions to WL. You list 3rd parties.”
Also yesterday, PandoDaily, which had published the major Mark Ames critique of Greenwald and his alleged “privatizing” of and “profiteering” off the Snowden leaks (which Greenwald then rejected in his full response), posted a pro-Greenwald piece by David Sirota.
Sirota charges that a “smear campaign” against Greenwald “is, in short, an effort by those reliant on an old power structure and outdated media business models to selfishly maintain that structure and those models—journalism, facts, and democracy be damned.” And he contrasts the treatment of Greenwald with that of Bart Gellman of The Washington Post, who has also made wide use of the Snowden docs but as an “insider” has drawn much less criticism.
Greg Mitchell surveys the dustups between Glenn Greenwald and his critics.
At his personal blog yesterday Glenn Greenwald published a lengthy response to PandoDaily’s Mark Ames and other critics who have hit him lately for “privatizing” and allegedly “profiteering” off Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks and even for launching a new venture funded by billionaire Pierre Omidyar. Some have raised concerns about Omidyar’s past business ventures, along with his former company PayPal’s blocking donations to WikiLeaks.
Greenwald had already responded with numerous tweets, such as: “In a week where we published docs in Holland, Norway, Canada, Germany and HuffPost: seems a bad week to claim docs are ‘monopolized.’ ” He also pointed out that few complained when, say, Bob Woodward made many millions writing books that disclosed state secrets. But now he’s replied in full.
Just for starters, Greenwald hits other writers/edtiors—such as Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall—for hypocrisy since they also do work funded by billionaires. Example:
I have nothing but contempt for the DC functionaries who are cynically embracing that Pando post that holds out the WikiLeaks dump-it-all model as the ideal—the Josh Marshalls and Fran Townsends of the world—as though they would prefer we did that instead. Those are the very same people who hate WikiLeaks, and would be first in line to accuse us of recklessness and likely demand our prosecution if we followed that model (here, for instance, is a CNN debate I did in 2010 with the very same Fran Townsend when I defended Julian Assange after he signed a $1.2 million book deal).
Marshall then replied on Twitter: “Notable: this twitter firestorm & @ggreenwald’s new (as usual misleading) attacks have been triggered by my simply tweeting link to article.” The critical Ames article, that is.
It is absolutely the case that I consider the opportunity to help build this new media venture to be a once-in-a-career dream opportunity. That’s because the organization is being built from the start to support, sustain and encourage truly independent, adversarial journalism. It has the backing and is being built by someone whom I am absolutely convinced is dedicated to this model of independent, adversarial journalism. It has the real potential to enable innovative and fearless journalism….
Being skeptical and asking questions about any new media organization is completely appropriate. I’m sure I’d be doing the same thing of other new organizations. But we haven’t even begun yet. When I moved to Salon and then to the Guardian, I heard all sorts of claims about how I’d have to moderate or dilute my work to accommodate those environments and the interests and views of those who own and run them. I don’t think anyone can reasonably claim that happened. And I am quite certain that the same will be true here. The people we work with and, ultimately, the journalism we produce will speak volumes about exactly the reasons we’re doing this and why I’m so excited about it.
On Twitter, David Frum mocked Greenwald for writing at such length, again. Yes, one must admit, Frum only needed to use three words to shame himself as the author of “axis of evil.” And Iraq’s “WMD”: just three letters. Not even a full word.
And now we have Pando’s response to Greenwald, via Mark Ames’s editor. There’s even a Nation angle.
A little later in the day, as the controversy swirled online, there was a heated back and forth on Twitter between Greenwald and James Manley, former top spokesman for Senator Harry Reid who later took an insider P.R. job in DC. Manley tweeted a link to the Mark Ames hit on Greenwald at Pando. Greenwald tweeted referring to Manley’s new post: “‘Revolving door sleaze’, noun: disease plaguing Washington & destroying the nation—see e.g. @JamesPManley http://t.co/QTHKaZQLsz.”
Manley then replied: “and you are a dangerous man. A zealot, full of sanctimonious self righteousness playing a game way out of your league.”
John Nichols and Robert McChesney offer a plan to “free the media.”
We’ve lauded the tireless New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan—tirelessly—but it now seems that there’s another example of how her work has resulted in a truly important shift at the paper (though she won’t say so directly) .
Last June she wrote that the Times produces high-quality reporting on poverty—but far too little of it. Now she observes that there has been a lot more lately, including Wednesday’s haunting portrait on how many kids go hungry in New York (even at Thanksgiving). Much of this, of course, is related to devlish cuts in money for food stamps, post-stimulus.
And she notes, looking ahead:
The Times has other changes in mind. For example, the reporter Rachel Swarns on Monday will begin a weekly column, “The Working Life,” exploring “the experience of working—or not working—in New York,” Mr. Jamieson said. And Michael Powell’s “Gotham” column will change to twice from once a week to help highlight some of the experiences of lower-income New Yorkers.
Prediction: Though awards may be largely trumped-up and meaningless, I think Sullivan will be a Pulitzer finalist if not winner next April.
Activists protesting outside of Walmart on Black Friday were arrested, reports Allison Kilkenny.