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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

UPDATE: ‘The Guardian’ and ‘Washington Post’ Win Pulitzer Prizes for NSA Reporting

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald speaks to media in Hong Kong on June 10, 2013. (AP/Vincent Yu)

UPDATE 3 pm: Yes, it's a win—and go here for full list of prizes, and finalists, and comments by Edward Snowden, and more, such as fiction, poetry and theatre winners.

Earlier: They won a prestigious Polk Award the other night for their wide-ranging and groundbreaking journalistic work on the NSA and Edward Snowden—and they took a risk flying to the United States to pick it up. But now it’s Pulitzer day, and we’ll soon get an answer to the question that’s been posed for months: Will the committee up at Columbia University honor them with a major one?

Speculation has run riot for the past several weeks. Back in the days when I was editing Editor & Publisher we would have had that halfway solved by now. My ace reporter Joe Strupp found a way each year to get leaks from Pulitzer panel members, put them together, stick out his neck and predict, or rather reveal, the three finalists in most categories, although the winners, picked at nearly the last moment, were harder to get and we felt we shouldn’t reveal them out-front anyway.

However, we would then run fun stories about how most of the winners were told hours or a day in advance, making some of the “surprise” shots at 3 pm on the Monday afternoons a little goofy.

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So it’s safe to say that Poitras and Greenwald, and compatriot Bart Gellman, know what’s up by now. But stay tuned this afternoon. (Years ago I covered Greenwald’s work extensively in my books on Iraq and the media and on Wikileaks and Chelsea Manning.)

Meanwhile, here’s the full Greenwald-Poitras press conference in New York.

Read Next: Greg Mitchell: “Stephen Colbert Gets Letterman’s Job—and Right-Wingers Freak Out.”

Stephen Colbert Gets Letterman’s Job—and Right-Wingers Freak Out

Stephen Colbert

Stephen Colbert at the &lquo;Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear&rquo; on the National Mall in Washington, DC (Reuters/Jim Bourg)

Yes, many wanted a woman to break the old- and older-boy network late night line-up, but the news from CBS that Stephen Colbert, as rumored, would take David Letterman’s seat next year brought general applause or at least acceptance—except from many conservatives he had long parodied or mocked on his current show.

They got a true “Colbert” bump—and didn’t like it. Apparently his satire has hit too close to the bone. On Letterman’s ex-show, however, he has vowed to just be himself, not a right-wing blowhard.

Meanwhile, reacting to the Letterman news late last night: Jon Stewart opened The Daily Show with the Colbert news, a clip (the famous gay-banana crack-up), and other exclamations about this “wild” day. He recalled the difficulty in not cracking up on air when Stephen was doing his bits on Jon’s show. “The exciting news,” he concluded, “is I no longer need a cable subscription to enjoy Stephen Colbert.” (This was generous, as Stewart helped create and has a financial stake in the outgoing Colbert Report.)

Then he paid tribute to Letterman as the “best” TV host there ever was but claimed Stephen is “up to the challenge… There’s no greater joy than to see a genuinely good man get the success he deserves.” He added that he looks forward to seeing Colbert’s name on marquee of the Ed Sullivan theater.

Then Colbert opened his show by deadpanning that he’ll miss Letterman on the air now. He has watched him since college and “he influenced every host who came after him, and some who came before. And I tell you, I do not envy anyone they try to put in that chair. Those are some big shoes to fill—and some really big pants.”

Meanwhile, on the right, as Salon reported:

While many people responded to the news with pleasure and excitement, right-wing talk-radio king Rush Limbaugh was quick to offer his two cents, saying that Colbert’s hiring was a declaration of war on the American “heartland” by CBS.

And as a perusal of the right-wing Twitter community shows, Limbaugh was hardly the only conservative to greet Colbert’s promotion with anger and dismay. Indeed, the sentiment on the right in response to the news can be summarized like so: Stephen Colbert’s being chosen to succeed David Letterman shows that liberal media bias is real. And, also too, Colbert’s not funny, anyway.

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Ben Shapiro offered a typical view from those quarters: “Colbert? Really? Why not just wait until President Obama is out of office and hire him to replace Letterman directly?”

And just because it never gets old: here’s that classic Colbert putdown of the media and President Bush (to his face) at the White House Correspondents dinner:

Read Next: Stephen Colbert points out the absurdities of lethal injection secrecy laws.

11 Years Ago Today: Media Coverage of the Fall of Baghdad Suggested ‘Mission Accomplished’

Ramadi, Iraq

US Marines drive through smoke and dust from a roadside bomb in Ramadi, Iraq. (AP Photo/Jim MacMillan)

On the morning of this day eleven years ago, in 2003, I happened to be sitting in the ballroom of the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans waiting for Dick Cheney. This may sound like the beginning of a joke, perhaps with a musical or culinary kicker, but the punch line in this case is quite tragic.

I was covering a newspaper convention as editor of Editor & Publisher and the vice president had been scheduled weeks earlier as the featured morning speaker. We wondered if he’d show up: US forces had just entered central Baghdad and victory had been declared. Now, along with millions of others, I watched as locals, apparently acting on their own, toppled a giant statue of Saddam Hussein. I remember it well. There were two giant, if fragile, screens set up on either side of the stage where Cheney would soon appear—and just as the statue of Saddam was pulled down, live, the screen on the right also started to topple.

I should have known the worst was yet to come right there. Actually, unlike most in the mainstream media, I’d been warning about that for weeks, just the previous weekend on Bill Moyers’s PBS show.

A few minutes later, Cheney arrived and naturally hailed the events of the day. He also told us that critics of our conduct of the war were merely ”retired military officers embedded in TV studios.” Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, back in Washington, gushed, “The scenes of free Iraqis celebrating in the streets, riding American tanks, tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad are breathtaking. Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain.”

Okay, we expected nothing less from the architects of the war. But what about our media? Commentators suffered from premature ejaculations. Chris Matthews on MSNBC announced, “We’re all neo-cons now.” Joe Scarborough, also on MSNBC, declared: “I’m waiting to hear the words ‘I was wrong’ from some of the world’s most elite journalists, politicians and Hollywood types.”

Fred Barnes at Fox News said: “The war was the hard part. The hard part was putting together a coalition, getting 300,000 troops over there and all their equipment and winning. And it gets easier. I mean, setting up a democracy is hard, but it is not as hard as winning a war.” Dick Morris at Fox News: “Over the next couple of weeks, when we find the chemical weapons this guy was amassing, the fact that this war was attacked by the left and so the right was so vindicated, I think, really means that the left is going to have to hang its head for three or four more years.”

And William Safire in The New York Times:

Like newly freed Parisians tossing flowers at Allied tanks; like newly freed Germans tearing down the Berlin Wall; like newly freed Russians pulling down the statue of the hated secret police chief in Dzerzhinsky Square, the newly freed Iraqis toppled the figure of their tyrant and ground their shoes into the face of Saddam Hussein….

Even in the flush of triumph, doubts will be raised. Where are the supplies of germs and poison gas and plans for nukes to justify pre-emption? (Freed scientists will lead us to caches no inspectors could find.) What about remaining danger from Baathist torturers and war criminals forming pockets of resistance and plotting vengeance? (Their death wish is our command.)

Alas, extensive looting soon began in Baghdad and many other large cities, with prizes ranging from household items to deadly weapons and bomb-making equipment. Rumsfeld explained, “Stuff happens…. Freedom’s untidy.” Mobs were greeting Americans as something less than liberators. On April 18, tens of thousands of Iraqis demonstrated against a US occupation in Baghdad. In late April, in separate incidents in Baghdad and Fallujah, US troops fired on demonstrators, killing more than dozen and inspiring grenade attacks on Americans.

Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times, “As far as I’m concerned, we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war…. Mr. Bush doesn’t owe the world any explanation for missing chemical weapons.” David Ignatius of The Washington Post wrote a column along the same lines. Richard Perle on May 1 advised in a triumphal USA Today op-ed, “Relax, Celebrate Victory.”

The same day, President Bush, dressed in flight suit, would land on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and declare an end to major military operations in Iraq—with the now notorious “Mission Accomplished” arrayed behind him in the war’s greatest photo op. Chris Matthews called Bush a “hero” and PBS’s Gwen Ifill said he was “part Tom Cruise, part Ronald Reagan.”

Of course, there is much that can be, and has, been written about the decade that followed in Iraq, the treasure squandered, the media malpractice, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost (see my updated book on Iraq and the media, So Wrong for So Long). But on this day, I’d simply recommend a now-forgotten 2011 piece at The New Yorker and Pro Publica by Peter Maass.

He had covered the taking of Baghdad for The New York Times that day as a non-embedded or “unilateral” reporter. His article lays out, in detail, what actually happened that day in Baghdad—revealing the full nature of the media malpractice. The crowds that gathered around the statue of Saddam were much smaller and less enthusiastic than the TV images showed, and US marines played a central role in pulling down the statue. And the images would have profound and long-lasting negative effects in America, he argues. He also quotes from the likes of John Burns of The New York Times admitting that his gratitude toward the US marines that day was explicit. “They were my liberators, too. They seemed like ministering angels to me.”

Maas reveals that two CNN correspondents elsewhere in Baghdad were each ready to go on air with coverage of Iraqis firing on US troops but producers kept the focus on the statue for two hours. One of them, Walter Rodgers, seemed to defend this later: “Pictures are the mother’s milk of television, and it was a hell of a picture.”

Meanwhile, on CNN, Wolf Blitzer described the toppling as “the image that sums up the day and, in many ways, the war itself” and anchor Bill Hemmer added, “You think about seminal moments in a nation’s history … indelible moments like the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that’s what we’re seeing right now.” Fox anchor Brit Hume said, “This transcends anything I’ve ever seen…. This speaks volumes, and with power that no words can really match.”

Maass relates that a study found that between 11 am and 8 pm that day, “Fox replayed the toppling every 4.4 minutes, and CNN every 7.5 minutes. The networks also showed the toppling in house ads; it became a branding device.”

Anne Garrels, a leading NPR reporter in Baghdad, revealed that her editors requested that she emphasize the celebratory angle, because the television coverage was more upbeat. In an oral history, Garrels claimed she told her editors that they were getting the story wrong: “There are so few people trying to pull down the statue that they can’t do it themselves…. Many people were just sort of standing, hoping for the best, but they weren’t joyous.”

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Robert Collier, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, “filed a dispatch that noted a small number of Iraqis at Firdos, many of whom were not enthusiastic. When he woke up the next day, he found that his editors had recast the story. The published version said that ‘a jubilant crowd roared its approval’ as onlookers shouted, ‘We are free! Thank you, President Bush!’” Collier told Maass, “That was the one case in my time in Iraq when I can clearly say there was editorial interference in my work. They threw in a lot of triumphalism. I was told by my editor that I had screwed up and had not seen the importance of the historical event. They took out quite a few of my qualifiers.”

Among Maass’s conclusions:

I had little awareness of the media dynamics that turned the episode into a festive symbol of what appeared to be the war’s finale. In reality, the war was just getting under way. Many thousands of people would be killed or injured before the Bush administration acknowledged that it faced not just “pockets of dead-enders” in Iraq, as Rumsfeld insisted, but what grew to be a full-fledged insurgency. The toppling of Saddam’s statue turned out to be emblematic of primarily one thing: the fact that American troops had taken the center of Baghdad. That was significant, but everything else the toppling was said to represent during repeated replays on television—victory for America, the end of the war, joy throughout Iraq—was a disservice to the truth….

The media have been criticized for accepting the Bush administration’s claims, in the run-up to the invasion, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The WMD myth, and the media’s embrace of it, encouraged public support for war. The media also failed at Firdos Square, but in this case it was the media, rather than the government, that created the victory myth.

Among the handful of studies of Firdos Square, the most incisive was George Washington University’s, led by Sean Aday, an associate professor of media and public affairs. It concluded that the coverage had “profound implications for both international policy and the domestic political landscape in America.” According to the study, the saturation coverage of Firdos Square fueled the perception that the war had been won, and diverted attention from Iraq at precisely the moment that more attention was needed, not less. “Whereas battle stories imply a war is going on, statues falling—especially when placed in the context of truly climactic images from recent history—imply the war is over,” the study noted.

Read Next: Greg Mitchell: “New Surge in Death and Violence in Iraq—Eleven Years After We Took Baghdad.”

New Surge in Death and Violence in Iraq—Eleven Years After We Took Baghdad

Baqouba, Iraq

Security forces inspect the scene of one of three suicide bombings in Baqouba, Iraq, March 3, 2010. (AP Photo)

In the wake of George W. Bush’s gaining serious treatment as an artist over the weekend, and being greeted warmly at NCAA basketball finals last night—even as we mark eleven years since the US took Baghdad (based on his lies)—there’s this today from Agence France-Presse:

Attacks in Iraq left 15 people dead Tuesday while security forces said they killed 25 militants near Baghdad amid worries insurgents are encroaching on the capital weeks ahead of elections.

The latest violence is part of a protracted surge in nationwide bloodshed that has left more than 2,400 people dead since the start of the year and sparked fears Iraq is slipping back into the all-out sectarian fighting that plagued it in 2006 and 2007.

The unrest has been driven principally by anger in the Sunni Arab community over alleged mistreatment at the hands of the Shiite-led government and security forces, as well as spillover from the civil war in neighboring Syria.

In Tuesday’s bloodiest incident, soldiers killed 25 militants in an ambush southwest of Baghdad, the capital’s security spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan said. Elsewhere in Iraq on Tuesday, attacks north of the capital killed 15 people overall, security and medical officials said, including six members of the same family shot dead inside their home on the outskirts of the restive city of Mosul.

Near-daily bloodshed is part of a long list of voter concerns that also include lengthy power cuts, poor wastewater treatment, rampant corruption and high unemployment.

Looking through an article in The New York Times eleven years ago today (Baghdad would fall on April 9, 2003), one is struck by how many were already noting that we were not being greeted as liberators and that tough times were ahead, though none recognized the true scope of the problem (and the crime of the invasion to start with). “Chaos” and “looting” were also beginning, amid false US reports that “barrels” of chemical agents had been found, a possible “smoking gun,” as one official put it.

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Thomas Friedman, later rightly mocked for his prediction, over and over, for years, that things would be turning around there within six months, was pretty clear-eyed in a column titled ‘Hold Your Applause,” which closed with:

America broke Iraq; now America owns Iraq, and it owns the primary responsibility for normalizing it. If the water doesn’t flow, if the food doesn’t arrive, if the rains don’t come and if the sun doesn’t shine, it’s now America’s fault. We’d better get used to it, we’d better make things right, we’d better do it soon, and we’d better get all the help we can get.

Greg Mitchell’s new book on Iraq and media malpractice is So Wrong for So Long.

Read Next: Greg Mitchell: “Eleven Years Ago: Questions Arise About ‘Embedded’ Media Coverage of Our Iraq Invasion.”

When Hollywood Stars Resisted a Strong-Arm GOP Funding Scheme

Upton Sinclair

Author Upton Sinclair broadcasts a speech during his campaign for governor of California, November 4, 1934. (AP Photo)

UPDATE: LIsten to me talk about this and more on Sam Seder’s Majority Report radio show today.

In the wake of the latest US Supreme Court ruling, the problem of money in politics will soon reach a true crisis point, if it’s not already there. Of course, this has been a slow, steady match to this precipice.

The first modern campaign to raise massive amounts of money, secretly, via front groups or consultants outside the political party offices, sometimes with strong-arm tactics, and across the country—even though it was a state contest—took place in 1934, when the famous Socialist author Upton Sinclair swept the Democratic primary and appeared headed for victory leading a mass movement known as EPIC (End Poverty in California). I’ve written about this at length previously here (and in my book The Campaign of the Century), so I’ll just provide a link to the full story.

But one of the key sources of money was right in California—within the Hollywood studios, where tens of thousands toiled. My new e-book, When Hollywood Turned Left, was published last week. It focuses on the wild response in Hollywood—then controlled by conservative Republicans—to Sinclair, which included the creation of the first use of the screen for “attack ads,” thanks to MGM’s Irving Thalberg. The right-wing attack was so outrageous it sparked liberals out there to organize, and Hollywood has tilted left ever since.

Here’s an excerpt about one of the most notorious aspects: almost all the studio chiefs docked their employees, from low-level to top stars, one day’s pay to go for the slush fund of the hack Republican candidate, Frank Merriam. One of those who protested but lacked the clout to resist was the young screenwriter (later famed director) Billy Wilder, who had arrived in the US just recently. Jimmy Cagney and Kate Hepburn, already top stars, did fight back.

* * *

Stars in the studio system enjoyed a wide variety of benefits and privileges. The studio bosses at least asked them to donate to the Merriam fund before threatening to dock them. Some writers, such as Donald Ogden Stewart, went along with the request. Less established figures were given no choice in the matter.

Take the young writer Billy Wilder over at the Fox studio, for example. Wilder, who was still trying to salvage Raoul Walsh’s East River, received his latest paycheck, normally $250, only to find $50 missing.

“There’s something wrong,” Billy said to the studio cashier in his heavily accented English. “There’s been a mistake.”

“There was no mistake,” she replied. “They took fifty dollars from everyone to give to Governor Merriam. If you have any complaints, talk to Mr. Sheehan.”

Billy didn’t know what this was all about, but he knew one thing: he desperately needed that fifty dollars to make the rent on his tiny room at the Chateau Marmont and to pay for his English lessons. He was behind on payments on his ‘28 De Soto, too. In no position to approach Winnie Sheehan, Fox’s top man, he cornered another studio exec instead.

“Will you please explain?” Wilder asked. “I’m just here on a visa, I’m not interested in politics.”

“Sinclair is dangerous,” the executive replied, “he must be defeated. The Communists want to take over.”

“Shouldn’t I have the privilege of making the donation myself?” Billy asked innocently.

“No, the house is burning down,” the exec said, “and we need as much water as possible to put it out. That son of a bitch bolshevik Sinclair must be stopped.”

“And my hard-earned fifty dollars is going to stop him?” Wilder wondered.

Billy was aghast. It seemed childish, foolish and incipiently fascist at the same time. And he knew something about fascism. He went back to his office and asked his colleagues, red-blooded Americans all, what he should do. After all, he was just a hick from Austria and unwise to the ways of American politics. This just didn’t seem like the American way, as he understood it.

They said, “It had to be done,” and “There’s nothing you can do.” You can’t fight city hall, and all that. Some of them agreed that Sinclair
was a Communist. Wilder said he knew a little bit about Sinclair and he was not by any means a Communist.

“Oh, you’re a Communist too?” one writer replied. “You better watch it.”

Wilder was out of fifty dollars and left with two conflicting thoughts concerning the forced donations. One was: It may not be democratic, but it’s a brilliant idea. Maybe if businessmen in Germany had deducted fifty marks from their workers to stop Hitler, Europe would be a safer place today.

The other was: I fled fascism for THIS?

Another Hollywood figure rebelling against the so-called Merriam tax was that “professional againster” James Cagney. He was back in Los Angeles after shooting Devil Dogs of the Air in San Diego. Politically, Jimmy was still skating on thin ice thanks to the flap over his alleged role in last summer’s Communist uprising, so it behooved him to go along with Jack Warner’s request for money for Merriam. But Cagney wouldn’t sign the studio’s check.

At least that’s what he told Frank Scully, head of the writers’ committee for Upton Sinclair, when they met, for secrecy’s sake, just outside the Warner Brothers gate. Scully found it amusing that two solid Americans were huddling on the street, speaking in whispers, as if they were plotting a revolution. Cagney told Scully not only that he had refused to sign the check delivering one day’s wage to Merriam but that if the studio forced him, he would donate one week’s salary to Sinclair. Since that represented a six-to-one advantage for EPIC, Jimmy figured that would stop them.

Unlike the writers, Hollywood’s acting talent, with the exception of Jimmy Cagney and a handful of others, seemed to go along with the Merriam tax without much of a fuss. Early reports that Jean Harlow planned to buck the system proved premature. But the name of another
young star supposedly fighting the Merriam tax had surfaced in Hollywood. It raised eyebrows, for the actress, Katharine Hepburn, had much to lose, having just won an Academy Award. While Jean Harlow’s career, in the Production Code “decency” era, appeared to be imperiled, Hepburn had clear sailing.

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But 1934, by and large, was not kind to Kate. After a flop or two, criticism of Hepburn’s cool manner and unconventional dress mounted. Gossip columnists referred to her as La Hepburn. One writer dryly commented that she “occasionally has human impulses and she is not all snobbery and self-satisfaction.” On October 7, Louella Parsons revealed that “photographers have agreed not to take a single pic of her because she’s been so rude.”

Yet, if anything, Hepburn took herself less seriously than others did. When her habit of wearing men’s pants caused a stir in Paris, she commented, “I couldn’t be dignified if I tried.” She hated reading references to Kit Hepburn as the mother of Katharine Hepburn. “My mother is important,” she explained, “I am not.” Kate wished she could paint, play music, or write books instead of act, but “alas, I’m not talented at all.” With her friend Laura Harding she lived in an isolated home in Coldwater Canyon.

As the California governor’s race heated up this autumn, Hepburn was filming The Little Minister, based on the J. M. Barrie play, for RKO. It was a big-budget production, and the studio expected the film to put Hepburn’s career back on track. With that much invested, RKO executives could not have been pleased when rumors circulated that Kate Hepburn favored Upton Sinclair or would not pay the “Merriam tax,” or both. Now the Los Angeles district attorney had sent an investigator to find out what Hepburn really believed—and whether RKO had threatened to punish her for those beliefs.

Read Next: Greg Mitchell on racial politics in the New York theater

Questions Arise About Staged or Faked News Photos From Syria

Homs, Syria

Men unload boxes of UN humanitarian aid in a besieged section of Homs, Syria (Reuters/Yazan Homsy)

Once again the site BagNewsNotes has done a service for journalists and readers by raising concerns (following on recent work by others) about possibly staged or faked news photos widely-published by Reuters from Syria in recent weeks. 

BagNewsNotes focuses on analysis and "literacy" of images in the media. As they explain, "No other site is as committed and singularly focused on the social, cultural and political 'reading' of the individual picture. Given the power of photos to influence and persuade, we feel it is vital for citizens to become better 'readers' and consumers of visual news, messaging and spin."

No other site is as committed and singularly focused on the social, cultural and political “reading” of the individual picture. Given the power of photos to influence and persuade, we feel it is vital for citizens to become better “readers” and consumers of visual news, messaging and spin. - See more at: http://www.bagnewsnotes.com/about/#sthash.OGsQrq9g.dpuf

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This email from the site's longtime publisher Michael Shaw provides key links and background (you'll see many of the photos in question) so I will excerpt here:

Over the last three weeks, serious questions have been raised about the accuracy and integrity of photos and photo stories by freelancer/activists in Syria affiliated with Reuters. The first story was published by the New York Times Lens blog, the second by the NPPA. We published two more stories last week at BagNewsNotes:

Were the Reuters “Boy in a Syrian Bomb Factory” Photos Staged?—with analysis provided by photojournalists, photo editors and reporters familiar with the workings of these rudimentary factories in Aleppo.

The Dysfunctional Guitar: More on the Reuters Syria Photo Controversy—details the repeated appearance of the same damaged instrument in multiple images along with a look into a Reuters explanation.

In a post published last night by the British Journal of Photography, Reuters’ resistant stance -- and a hostility toward those raising questions -- was specifically called out. Because the news sphere has a short attention span and Reuters is such a powerful player in the world of news photography, there's a real risk that time will pass (while compromised pictures might even keep coming) and this situation will just be forgotten. Given the risk to the industry for the loss of integrity – including the integrity of all the talented and ethical people working for Reuters — that would be quite a blow.

That post closes with these questions:

When asked whether Khatib still worked for Reuters, the news agency refused to comment.

When asked whether the recent allegations had resulted in a change in Reuters’ news-gathering practices in Syria, the news agency refused to comment.

When asked whether Reuters would consider opening another investigation following the recent and specific allegations against its news operations in Syria, the news agency refused to comment.

And, more importantly, when asked why Reuters had been using Syrian activists as freelance photographers without informing its clients, the news agency again refused to comment.

We'll update as needed.

Read Next: Tom Engelhardt: How Sensational News Stories Distract Us From Real Crises.

‘WSJ’ Faults Obama Administration for Fort Hood Shootings—Others Blame Media, Too Few Guns

Guns exhibit

Guns hang at an exhibit booth during the 2013 National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Houston, Texas. (Reuters/Adrees Latif)

You have to hand it to the Wall Street Journal. They do it cleverly and between the lines, but in an editorial today they pinpoint as the main reason for yesterday's shootings at Fort Hood by a mentally-troubled soldier the actions and inactions of agencies under the Obama Administration (with no mention of the easy purchase of the weapon or any other factors):

And as military officials seek lessons from the tragedy to try to prevent similar events in the future, they should expect no help from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, known as Samhsa. According to a Journal editorial this week, this arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services "uses its $3.6 billion annual budget to undermine treatment for severe mental disorders."

Samhsa bureaucrats spend much of their time and taxpayers' money opposing efforts by doctors to promote medical intervention in such serious cases. Among the reforms sought by health professionals—and impeded by the bureaucracy—are "'need for treatment' standards in civil-commitment laws, or assisted-outpatient laws so courts can require the mentally ill to receive treatment to avoid hospitalization."

Military officials might also wish to consider the work of E. Fuller Torrey, who last year described in our pages how the federal government spends far too much time and money treating "the worried well," rather than the truly ill—and the truly dangerous.

Torrey, in fact, is a well-known advocate of returning to the days of institutionalizing the mentally ill against their will. Here's a piece at Scientific American criticizing a recent "60 Minutes" segment after the Naval Yard massacre that featured Torrey. You can find online much other criticism of Torrey from top professionals and journals.

Of course, it's absurd that the shooter would have been locked away before the attack.  Latest reports reveal that he had a clean record, a psychiatrist had indeed seen him in the past month and found no threat of violence, and simply prescribed a sleep aid.

The assistant managing editor at Bloomberg's Businessweek.com, meanwhile, largely blames the media for 'fueling" copycat shootings even as they exaggerate the number of mass killings in America which he claims are not increasing at all. (At least he mentions the problem of maybe not quite enough gun control.) 

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Fox & Friends, of course, places the blame on soldiers not being able to have arms at the ready to defend themselves—when attacked by other soldiers with arms at the ready.

“There you have our soldiers not being able to arm themselves,” host Elisabeth Hasselbeck opined. “Still, if they have a weapon, they are to register it within five days of purchase, and obtaining it. But then that must be stored away in these lockers so that it cannot be carried on their person, therefore leaving them vulnerable.”

Co-host Steve Doocy noted that the military had decided to restrict sidearms on bases during President Bill Clinton’s (D) administration.

Doocy then pointed to the current Democratic president by quoting a conservative blogger: “Gateway Pundit, which is a way right-leaning blog, what they write this morning is, ‘The Obama administration is responsible for this mass shooting. They witnessed this before, they didn’t learn a thing. Gun-free zones are death zones. It is time to stand up to the lunacy.’”

Jon Stewart, your move.

Read Next: Greg Mitchell: Stephen Responds to #CancelColbert—After Jon Launches #CancelStewart.

Racial Politics in the New York Theater—With Lyndon Johnson and ‘Satchmo’


(Courtesy: LBJ Library)

Two wildly different takes on the racial politics of our time opened in New York theaters in the past two weeks. 

The most heralded: Bryan Cranston, at height of his fame coming off Breaking Bad, on Broadway in All the Way as President Lyndon B. Johnson twisting arms and skulls to promote passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is, by all accounts, a solid, if somewhat wonkish, play with a bravura performance (see New York Times review). Naturally, J. Edgar Hoover, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Senator Richard Russell all put in appearances. Johnson is shown pushing hard, partly because believes in the bill and partly to further his political ends (he needs a big win to prove he deserves to be president). Of course, Vietnam hovers in the distance.

I haven't yet seen the play so let me concentrate on one I did experience, just last night: Satchmo at the Waldorf, written by the estimable Terry Teachout, author of acclaimed books, including biographies of H.L. Mencken--and Louis Armstrong. It, too, puts racial politics upfront, not music.

This may seem odd to some. Armstrong was nothing less than the most important American musician of the last century--and the most influential singer. (Ponder that for a moment.) His recordings from about 1925 to 1932 changed the course of popular music and jazz forever. The play pays tribute to that but it's true aim is elsewhere.

It's set in Armstrong's dressing room at the Waldorf in New York in 1971, where he has just staggered through a performance, practically on his death bed (indeed, he would die of a heart attack a short time later, in his bed). John Douglas Thompson, in this fantastic one-man show, portrays a not-quite-broken "Satchmo" recalling some of the highlights of his life, going back to growing up fatherless and poor in New Orleans, through his breakthrough years in Chicago and New York and onward to world fame and riches. With Teachout at the helm, it adheres closely to facts (and I can vouch for this, having read several Armstrong bios).

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But much of the play revolves around Armstrong's racial identity and relationship with his white, Jewish, mob-connected manager Joe Glaser (also played by Thompson). Slowly we learn how and why Armstrong's stage persona and move away from innovative jazz mainly for black audiences to popular entertaining almost exclusively for whites developed. Glaser wanted the dough and also had to placate his mob partners; he easily exploited Louis, who just wanted to blow--and make people happy, black or white. (Watch part of it here.)

Armstrong was such an ambassador of goodwill it didn't take much arm-twisting. But along with that he lost his creative edge and drew the ire of other black jazz giants, who felt he treated Glaser like his "master" and often acted "minstrely" on stage. Miles Davis (Thompson, again) appears to voice these cruel putdowns. Indeed, most Americans today remember Armstrong for "Hello Dolly," not for the depth of early classics such as "Black and Blue."

But Armstrong counters: He genuinely wanted to please folks. He may have played to segregated audiences in the South--but he was the first to bravely tour there with a mixed-race band. He opened doors for black musicians everywhere (even in Hollywood).   And, in one of the best scenes, he recalls famously cursing out President Eisenhower for moving too slow during the Little Rock school integration crisis. 

In the end, it's a kind of tragedy within triumph: One of the giants of American history afflicted with doubts that maybe he had let Glaser push him too far from his genius and his race. Yet he remains justly proud of what he did accomplish. And getting ready to delight one more audience, which sadly would be the last. 

Below: Early Armstrong with race-based complaint "Black and Blue."

Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel: On Universal Pre-K, de Blasio Shows Democrats How to Lead From the Left.

Stephen Responds to #CancelColbert—After Jon Launches #CancelStewart

AP Photo

AP Photo

So the world watched and waited. How would Stephen Colbert respond to the online-driven drive to #CancelColbert?

Not very seriously. Or, perhaps, very, very seriously, since he responded at the very beginning of his show last night, and then a bit later, and then with a special guest—in fact, for the entire show. But also: Before that, Jon Stewart, his former boss on "The Daily Show" and partner in his current Comedy Central show, did his own commentary.

Responding to the effort to #CancelColbert because of a joke in the Twitter feed for his show (where he adopts a rightwing blowhard persona) making fun of "Orientals" —this related to the Washington NFL owner not dropping "Redskins"—Stewart took this route: He referred early on in his show to the Gov. Chris Christie administration’s treatment of former aide Bridget Kelly as a hysterical woman,  suffering from man trouble and yet needing approval from men. Stewart's graphic was headlined “Bitches Be Crazy, Right?” (Watch video here.)

At the bottom a new hashtag: #CancelStewart. (Not so new, however, since fans had already started one.) “How did that get in there?” Stewart asked. A quick check of  #CancelStewart at Twitter for early responses found most backing him and/or opposing the "Twitter fascists."

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And then Stephen Colbert responded in the opening to his show, and later, with more mockery: "Folks—I’m still here. The dark forces trying to silence my message of core conservative principles mixed with youth-friendly product placement have been thwarted!"

B.D. Wong, the Asian actor, appeared to help him along. Stephen did urge viewers to stop attacking his main antagonist Suey Park.  And he blamed it all on Comedy Central, since it was the network, not his personal feed, that put up (and then removed) the tweet that sparked the controversy. But he declared: “The Interweb tried to swallow me whole. But I am proud to say that I got lodged in its throat and it hacked me back up, like a hastily chewed chicken wing.”

Watch videos here. One re-cap described the conclusion:

After announcing he was shutting down his cringe-inducingly named faux foundation and firing its one staffer, but before blowing up Comedy Central’s real @ColbertNation so as to give Park’s followers something to crow about, Colbert brought out tonight’s guest.

“Here to apologize – the co-founder of Twitter, Biz Stone.”

“I am not here to apologize,” Stone insisted.

“I accept,” Colbert responded.

“Will we get a chance to talk about my new book?” Stone wanted to know.

“Yeah. When you founded Twitter, did you do it to attack me?”

Read Next: Greg Mitchell: Eleven Years Ago: Questions Arise About ‘Embedded’ Media Coverage of Our Iraq Invasion.

Eleven Years Ago: Questions Arise About ‘Embedded’ Media Coverage of Our Iraq Invasion


A US Marine takes cover behind an Iraqi Army humvee in Amarah, southeast of Baghdad, June 19, 2008 (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

The dangers were there from the start—and the results have been well chronicled since. But how did the media cover questions about its "embedded" coverage of the Iraq war near the start? 

As you'll recall, reporters and camera folks were allowed for the first time to sign up and travel fully with our invading (and later occupying) forces. This allowed valuable close hand reporting—although with various censorship restrictions. It also produced coverage that was, shall we say, often influenced by identifying with the troops and the mission a bit too much. Often we heard "we" are doing this or that as reporters sent along for the Jeep and Humvee rides. 

I was the editor of Editor & Publisher then and we raised many questions about the dangers of this from the start, with Joe Galloway, Sydney Schanberg and others sounding alarms.  We interviewed Chris Hedges, the longtime war reporter, three different times about this, and he accurately predicted the course of the invasion and aftermath and how many reporters, allowed to only see what their "minders" would allow, would misinterpret the quick victory.  But few others did the same.

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Here's the first New York Times report from eleven years ago that started to look at the issues, with quotes from Michael Kelly of The Atlantic, left (who would die there) and critic Todd Giltin and others. My new book on Iraq and the media covers this issue at length. It's worth remembering that the late Anthony Shadid did his greatest work there as an independent, not embedded, reporter.  Ditto for so many in the Baghdad bureau of Knight Ridder (later McClatchy).

From that New York Times story:

Bryan G. Whitman, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for media relations, is in charge of making the strategy work.

''We realized early on that our adversary was a practiced liar,'' Mr. Whitman said. ''What better way to mitigate the lies and deception of Saddam Hussein than having trained, objective observers out there in the field?''

Some critics have suggested that it has been difficult to tell journalists and military personnel apart.

''I am discouraged by reporters' willingness to swallow most of what is being told to them,'' said Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University. ''How can they keep referring to 'coalition forces' as if there were actually some sort of coalition?''


Jim Dwyer of The New York Times calls the arrangement ''professionally treacherous.''

''You are sleeping next to people you are covering,'' Mr. Dwyer said by satellite phone from his position with the 101st Airborne Division in central Iraq. ''Your survival is based on them. And they are glad we are here because no one would believe what is happening to them if they just came back and told war stories. People are willing to talk around the clock until it is time to go out and kill people. That is a very deep thing.''

And who can forget Geraldo Rivera getting booted out of Iraq for sketching troop locations in the sand.

Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel: This Week in ‘Nation’ History: The Fearless Idealism of Jonathan Schell.

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