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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

‘60 Minutes’ Finally Responds (Weakly) to Criticism Over Benghazi Report

Dylan Davies, Benghazi security team member

It took almost a week, but CBS and 60 Minutes have finally responded to criticisms of its recent “bombshell” report on the Benghazi tragedy which starred a contractor (and alleged witness) who seems to have changed his story dramatically.

The New York Times reports this morning that CBS and chief correspondent Lara Logan are standing by the story, admitting only that they should have mentioned that the new book written by the security contractor, Dylan Davies, is published by a CBS-connected company.

They did not admit, however, that they should have, at a minimum, disclosed that the report on the incident that Davies provided to his superiors immediately after it occured offered a completely different story than the one he now spins. In other words: He lied once. Now?

Davies has said that an account he gave US authorities matches the story in his book. His tale to his boss, he claims, was inaccurate because he was afraid to admit he had left his post against orders the night of the September 2012 incident.

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The Washington Post got that scoop and Media Matters has probed the conflict ever since. The 60 Minutes defense late yesterday came after Media Matters launched a petition drive calling for a full CBS probe or retraction of the report.

Media Matters responded today by pointing out:

Despite admitting error in failing to inform viewers on the financial conflict, CBS still “aggressively defended the report’s accuracy,” including Davies’ account of the attacks, according to the Times. What’s more, Logan, who interviewed Davies for 60 Minutes, blamed “intense political warfare” for the criticism of her report and claimed that, despite the fact that he admitted he lied in at least one of his accounts of the attacks, Davies “never had two stories. He only had one story.” Logan failed to specifically address any of the problems with the report.

Mike Calderone at Huff Post tweeted just now that he agrees that the CBS response is inadquate.

Greg Mitchell explores the inconsistencies in last week’s ‘60 Minutes’ report on Benghazi.

Media Hype Edward Snowden’s Request for ‘Clemency’—but Did He Even Ask for It?

Poster of Edward Snowden

It was another momentous weekend in the months-long series of revelations about NSA spying or snooping or “data gathering” (if you will). Massive pieces appeared in The New York Times and The Guardian about the agency attempting to secure every “morsel” of information out there, including tapping into Yahoo and Google.

All of this stems from the files “gathered” (to borrow a word) by former contractor Edward Snowden. He is also in the news today via a Der Spiegel cover story, in which the magazine raises the issue of “asylum” for him in Germany. At the same time, media of all stripes, from NBC to the Associated Press, have been busy gathering quotes from administration officials and congressmembers soundly rejecting Snowden’s call this weekend for “clemency.”

One problem: did he even make this request?

Glenn Greenwald, his reporter friend who should know, declared otherwise on Twitter this morning: “The US media fabricated this ‘Snowden is pleading for clemency’ fairy tale—where did this happen? Where did he ‘plead for clemency’?” And: “All weekend, mindless TV news personalities asked: ‘Snowden is pleading for clemency—what’s your reaction?’ This never happened.”

The media claim is that Snowden asked for this in a letter given to a German Green politician “on Friday.” Presumably, this is what became his “Manifesto for Truth” published by Der Spiegel. The Snowden line most quoted is: “Citizens have to fight against the suppression of information about affairs of essential importance for the public. Those who speak the truth are not committing a crime.” See this New York Times story for that.

But none of the stories actually directly quote Snowden asking for clemency. Greenwald apparently believes there was no direct “clemency” bid and merely a creative interpretation.

Indeed, Der Spiegel’s full report on the meeting between the German politician and Snowden makes no mention of a demand for clemency, but rather Snowden’s offer to come to Germany and offer testimony if it can be safely arranged.

Still, we had the clemency request put to the likes of Senator Dianne Feinstein, who on ABC was given the chance to reply, absurdly, “He was trusted. He stripped our system. He had an opportunity—if what he was, was a whistleblower—to pick up the phone and call the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, and say I have some information…. But that didn’t happen.”

And right-wing crusader Representative Mike Rogers also denounced the Snowden “demand.” This led Greenwald to tweet: “I’m formally opposed to Mike Rogers’ plea for clemency.”

Avoiding the black hole of Congress—with the help of able journalists—Snowden explains in his “Manifesto,” that “in a very short time, the world has learned a lot about irresponsible and sometimes criminal intelligence services operating over-monitoring programs.”

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For some eye-opening reactions to the latest revelations, thanks to Snowden, see letters from insiders in a new online column by James Fallows at the Atlantic site.

Greg Mitchell has written more than a dozen books and you can find them here.

Jesselyn Radack chronicles her visit with Edward Snowden.

Did ‘60 Minutes’ Get Conned in Its Explosive Benghazi Report?

Dylan Davies

That belated 60 Minutes hit job on the Benghazi tragedy—much ballyhooed this week, especially by Fox News, Sen. Lindsay Graham and others on the right—is now under attack for severe credibility problems.

The Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung leads the way with this report, strongly calling into question the star witness promoted by Lara Logan—who just happens to have a book to sell, has asked for money for his account, and told a completely different tale on his official report on the fateful night.

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In Davies’s 21 / 2-page incident report to Blue Mountain, the Britain-based contractor hired by the State Department to handle perimeter security at the compound, he wrote that he spent most of that night at his Benghazi beach-side villa. Although he attempted to get to the compound, he wrote in the report, “we could not get anywhere near…as roadblocks had been set up.”

He learned of Stevens’s death, Davies wrote, when a Libyan colleague who had been at the hospital came to the villa to show him a cellphone picture of the ambassador’s blackened corpse. Davies wrote that he visited the still-smoking compound the next day to view and photograph the destruction.

Media Matters is also exposing this today.

Bob Dreyfuss gives a rundown of the misleading hysteria surrounding Benghazi.

For Decades, the Media Have Ignored the Rapes Behind a Famous Vietnam War Photo

Villagers during the sexual assault and massacre at My Lai, Vietnam.

Nearly everyone has seen that most famous atrocity photo from Vietnam—the naked girl with napalm on her skin running down a road in terror, toward a camera. The girl was even found years ago and interviewed numerous times. Not long ago I posted a piece about an amazing update on the photo at the terrific site that focuses on news photos, Michael Shaw’s Bag News.

Now they’ve just posted an in-depth and important piece, by Valerie Wieskamp, on another famous photo from the war—the one showing frightened villagers at My Lai just moments before getting gunned down by US troops.

What this piece reveals is the largely “missing” (in the media) story—that villagers were also raped or sexually brutalized just before the shootings.

One of the villagers, in fact, is the young woman in the right rear of this photo, who is shown buttoning up her blouse. The rapes were clearly documented at the time—by the photographer, a reporter and later by the official commission—but downplayed by the media back then, and now almost always ignored when today’s media revisit the tragedy. Why? Especially with the image of a young woman, dubbed “The Black Blouse Girl,” re-buttoning her shirt. Why would she be doing that at this moment?

Wieskamp writes:

While the My Lai Massacre is widely recognized as a military atrocity and an act of mass murder committed on civilians and non-combatants, true appreciation of the event as an act of mass rape and sexual abuse has never clearly materialized in the American consciousness, in spite of public data and testimony shortly after the massacre happened. Media presentation of the photograph of the Black Blouse Girl mirrors this amnesia.

There’s much more in the piece, so read it now.

The ‘Times’ Finally Covers Racial Profiling at Barneys—After a Critique by Its Public Editor

Barneys’s flagship store in New York. (Courtesy of Jim Henderson, CC0 1.0)

Well, well. Within hours of an online column by its public editor criticizing The New York Times for ignoring a major local controversy, lo and behold, the first article on the issue appeared at the newspaper’s site last night and in print (on page 24A) today.

The simmering issue concerns alleged racial profiling at famous New York department stores such as Barneys and Macy’s and has been covered widely by some other local news outlets for days. There’s even a Jay-Z angle. The state’s attorney general is investigating. But the Times had ignored it completely, drawing an angry response from some readers, which in turn sparked yesterday’s blog post by the paper’s excellent public editor Margaret Sullivan.

She revealed the excuse offered by Times editors—that the story broke elsewhere and they had no fresh angle on it. The editors also sneered about the Daily News’s riding it as a hobby horse, day after day, in the tabloid manner, so what could they do? Sullivan, however, concluded:

My take: The Times doesn’t have to turn this into a campaign or publish daily front-page articles about it. But the subject is a serious one—allegations of racial profiling—one that The Times has devoted plenty of its own resources to in the coverage of the city’s “stop-and-frisk” police practices, which were successfully challenged in court. And, while The Times can’t cover every story, this one is newsworthy.

At the very least, The Times could publish a wire-service story, summarizing the situation. But it’s also worthy of a deeper look. If there are concerns about the “he said, she said” aspect of what’s been written elsewhere so far, why not get under the surface to report it fully and energetically?

One editor told her, “We very well might write about it in the future, but there would have to be a smart way for us to move the story ahead, or a newsbreak—like a resignation or a major change in store policy.” So: what appeared in the story they suddenly ran, a few hours later?

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I don’t see anything really new except for a meeting between the Rev. Al Sharpton and Barneys execs. No resignation or major change in store policy. In fact, the story links to scoops in the dreaded New York Post and the Daily News.

It was catch-up time—and only in response, in seems, to the public editor.

An incident at a recent public forum highlighted the misogyny still plaguing progressive movements.

Glenn Greenwald vs. Bill Keller on the Future of Journalism

Bill Keller and Glenn Greenwald

The unexpected Glenn Greenwald vs. Bill Keller back-and-forth in The New York Times yesterday was interesting itself—Andrew Sullivan called it one of the high points of debate in the digital era, no less—but as always, the reaction across the web was just as revealing.

Keller billed it as a profound discussion of “what journalism is becoming.” You should read it at length, though The Guardian has a good summary. But it does often revolve around the question of “objectivity” and hiding vs. revealing your biases—not exactly a new subject, but it’s given deeper life here.

So here are some of the early responses, although to this point it seems most of the key observers seem to be taking it all in before responding. Jay Rosen, for example, simply tweeted: “One of the more important texts to emerge in the debate over newsroom objectivity. Ever.” David Carr at the Times said: “Packs a walllop [sic], not one of those dreary future of news discussions.” Dan Kennedy wrote: “I didn’t expect conversation between and to be this good. Read it.”

So I will add to what follows as the day goes on.

First from Andrew Sullivan who says we need both of those approaches:

I think Glenn has the advantage. And that’s because his idea of journalism is inherently more honest—declaring your biases is always more transparent than concealing them. That’s why, I think, the web has rewarded individual stars who report and write but make no bones about where they are coming from. In the end, they seem more reliable and accountable because of their biases than institutions pretending to be above it all. In the NYT, the hidden biases are pretty obvious: an embedded liberal mindset in choosing what to cover, and how; and a self-understanding as a responsible and deeply connected institution in an American system of governance. These things sometimes coexist easily—as a liberal paper covering the Obama administration, for example, with sympathetic toughness. And sometimes, they don’t—as a liberal paper covering the Bush administration, for example, and becoming implicit with its newspeak.

On the latter, Glenn’s strongest point is about the NYT’s decision not to call torture torture when reporting on the torture regime of Bush and Cheney. Keller still has no good answer here—except, quite obviously, his desire not to burn bridges with an administration and not become a lightning rod for right-wing press critics. Trying to appear objective, in other words, by appeasing both sides in a dispute, is not actually being objective or impartial. It’s enabling war crimes—which I think the New York Times did under Bill Keller’s leadership. No one ever hesitated to use the word torture to describe waterboarding in the past, and the NYT itself did so when other countries were guilty. So hiding your biases, and trying to appear objective, can mean the opposite of honest.

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Marcy “Emptywheel” Wheeler found the debate valuable and sides with Greenwald, but pointed out:

Sadly, however, in his first response to Keller’s self-delusion of belonging to the journalistic tradition of “newspapers that put a premium on aggressive but impartial reporting[] that expect reporters and editors to keep their opinions to themselves,” Greenwald seemed to cede that such journalism constitutes, “concealing one’s subjective perspectives.” That permitted Keller to continue his self-delusion that his journalism—at both the level of reporter and that reporter’s larger institution—achieved that silence about opinions until they started fighting about the role of national allegiance and national security.

Dylan Byers, media critic at Politico:

Both journalists agree that “fairness and rigorous adherence to facts,” as Greenwald puts it, are prerequisites for sound journalism. But only Greenwald sees it as a journalist’s duty to rigorously fact-check government claims, whereas he says the Times adhers to a “‘here’s-what-both-sides-say-and-I-won’t-resolve-the-conflicts’ formulation.”

Keller does, however, make a convincing case when he says “the need for impartial journalism is greater than it has ever been, because we live now in a world of affinity-based media, where citizens can and do construct echo chambers of their own beliefs.”

Greg Mitchell discusses Glenn Greenwald’s departure from  The Guardian and his new media venture.

Billy Bragg Gives New Lyrics to the World’s Most Popular Anthem

Musician Billy Bragg in a still from Following the Ninth.

Most countries have a national anthem, official or otherwise, but there’s really only one universal anthem: Beethoven and Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” from the final movement of the Ninth Symphony. It is heard and played and sung in every corner of the globe, from serving as the anthem of the European Union to the townships of South Africa and the smallest villages in Japan. It conveys, via music, and explicitly in the lyrics (when it is sung) the wish for the brotherhood and sisterhood of all.

For that reason it also often serves as an inspiration or rallying cry for activism and protests. Two years ago, for example, for an anti-austerity/pro-Occupy demonstration in Madrid, it sent a crowd of half a million into ecstasy, played by a small makeshift orchestra.

Kerry Candaele has directed a film (which I’ve co-produced) titled Following the Ninth, which captures some of this influence of the Beethoven symphony around the world. It explores how students used it in Tiananmen Square, wives and mothers in Pinochet’s Chile, young Germans (with Leonard Bernstein) at the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Japanese to draw people together following the tsuanami. And then there’s Billy Bragg, singing and chatting humorously about how he rewrote Schiller’s words for the “Ode to Joy” for modern political use—and sang it for the Queen.

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Our film premieres in New York at Lincoln Center (the Eleanor Bunin Munroe complex) this Tuesday at 6:30, and I’ll be moderating a panel with Kerry and conductor George Mathew afterward. (Tickets are very limited so order now.) Then it plays at the Quad Cinema in the Village for a week starting on Friday, with The Nation co-sponsoring the Friday and Saturday evening screenings, when I will again appear with the director and other guests. Full info here.

Now here’s audio of BIlly Bragg singing his new “Ode,” plus the trailer for the film. 


Greg Mitchell remembers Leonard Bernstein conducting the Ninth Symphony in Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

Another Poll Disputes Media Claims That Obamacare Is in Big Trouble

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act in Santa Monica, California, October 10, 2

Earlier this week I wrote a column here relating the surprising—to some—results of a new CNN poll. Although conservatives and many reporters and pundits declare, as if proven fact, that Obamacare is “very unpopular” or “most Americans oppose it because it goes too far,” progressives have long claimed that this is not really true, because many on the left have always felt it didn’t go far enough (no public option, or single-payer or Medicare-for-all) and this swells the “against” numbers in surveys.

That CNN poll, in fact, showed that 53 percent actually either support the ACA—or want it expanded.

Still, that number was disputed by critics of the new law, and the poll, in any case, was taken just before criticism of the tech problems with the rollout of the ACA truly ignited. Jon Stewart trained his mockery on Obama’s team early this week and some claimed if-Obama-has-lost-Stewart-he’s-lost-the-country. Some reporters who had backed the act, such as Ezra Klein, seemed to go overboard in critiquing the tech problems and/or predicting the law was now doomed and sure to lose much of the public support it enjoyed. Klein even complained that there was no “hold music” for callers to the ACA hotline who had to wait a long time.

Joan Walsh of Salon has hit this alleged overreaction. She engaged in a polite debate with Klein on Chris Hayes’ show last night and offers a new piece today.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to Obamacare losing much of its popular backing. A new CBS poll came out last night and, guess what, it shows virtually the same numbers that the CNN survey produced—even though it was taken amid that explosion of criticism this week. Where is the surge against the Obamacare from the right?

In the CBS poll, findings show that 29 percent feel the ACA law is okay, and 22 percent think it doesn’t go far enough—and 43 percent say it goes too far. And that’s despite the fact that the same poll shows that most Americans are not convinced they will pay less under the new law, nor necessarily get higher quality care. Properly skeptical but open-minded.

This suggests that most Americans, in reality, (1) desperately need the new coverage promised by the law, or (2) recognize that added benefits come with possible costs or restrictions, (3) are willing to give the law a chance to work (unlike critics and pundits) or (4) are willing to sacrifice a bit to help tens of millions others.

The most recent Rasmussen poll found that the ACA was most unpopular among senior citizens. Of course, this is the group that will benefit least from the law, since they already enjoy the benefits of Medicare.

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And a little-noted Washington Post/ABC poll a few days ago show that support for the law actually gaining a bit, and with those wanting to give a chance outnumbering those who want to repeal it by (wait for it): 2 to 1.

Which is not to say that opinions may be shaken if the tech problems are fixed soon. But for now the media claims about Obamacare-in-trouble need to be taken with several grains of salt.

Greg Mitchell unveils surprising public opinion on the Affordable Care Act.

‘Epic Media Failure’ in Coverage of Iraq Rape Case?

Jamie Leigh Jones (Reuters)

This ought to provoke controversy. An extensive story was posted by Washington Monthly on Tuesday, probing the widely covered Jamie Leigh Jones rape case in Iraq. You remember, the one where a KBR worker was allegedly gang-raped then tossed in a shipping container by KBR. The charges drew massive media attention, from 20/20 and Maddow to the film Hot Coffee, and helped spark a very valuable law introduced by Senator Al Franken.

For most people, that’s where the story stops. Hot Coffee still shows on HBO and none of the media programs have revisited or admitted any errors. But now Stephanie Mencimer brings you up to date, and a lot of people may not like it. Read the piece yourself and then weigh in below.

Mencimer, who covered the case early and often for her main outlet, Mother Jones, admits she was among those in the media who (in her view now) got it all wrong.

In fact, she labels it “an epic media failure.” After much news research, she no longer believes most of  Jones’s claims, which were also dismissed by a jury—she was even ordered to pay KBR’s legal expenses. And Mencimer hits strongly at fellow reporters and TV hosts for not doing their own mea culpas, or even discussing this with her for the story. (Jones herself does talk to her at length and provide her side of the story again.) The man at the center of Jones’s accusations did go on to face charges… for assaulting another woman.

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Here’s one excerpt, but you really need to read the whole thing and make up your own mind.

In June 2012, I attended the Washington, D.C., premier of Hot Coffee, along with Al Franken. During the event, producer Susan Saladoff informed the audience that the Jones trial was under way. Since I was unable to cover the trial in person, the dates had slipped my mind. But as I walked out of the theater and listened to people fuming about the injustice heaped on Jones and ticking off the damning evidence—the shipping container, the lost rape kit, etc.—I decided to look at the trial records to see what sort of smoking guns Jones’s lawyers had come up with.

As it turned out, I found smoking guns, but not of the sort I was expecting. The next morning, I started looking through the filings posted online on PACER, the federal judiciary’s Web site. There I found expert witness reports filed by KBR, psychological evaluations of Jones conducted by workers’ comp companies, medical records, and much of what later came out at trial about her many previous rape claims and complicated mental health history. The trial record was so at odds with Jones’s public story that I was simply dumbfounded.

At the same time, she certainly wouldn’t have been the first deeply flawed individual to change the law for the better.

Jessica Valenti discusses the rhetoric and language around rape.

ProPublica Questions Evidence for Claims That NSA Spying Halted Fifty-four Terror Attacks

James Clapper, director of National Intelligence. (AP/Susan Walsh)

After revelations from Edward Snowden–inspired leaks caused an uproar, President Obama, top officials and NSA supporters from both parties in Congress claimed loudly and often that NSA actions had “thwarted” over fifty terror plots—somehow pinning that down, in most cases, to exactly fifty-four. I’ve questioned that here, but most media outlets either accepted this at face value or let it slide without much probing.

So I was glad this morning to see an important piece just posted by ProPublica on those claims.

ProPublica writers say, “There’s no evidence that the oft-cited figure is accurate. The NSA itself has been inconsistent on how many plots it has helped prevent and what role the surveillance programs played. The agency has often made hedged statements that avoid any sweeping assertions about attacks thwarted.”

And: “Asked for clarification of the surveillance programs’ record, the NSA declined to comment.”

In fact, even the NSA admits that of the fifty-four ballyhooed plots, only thirteen had any “nexus” with the United States. The agency has openly described only four of the plots and identified only one—involving a San Diego man convicted of sending $8,500 to Somalia to support the militant group Al Shabab—in which NSA surveillance played a dominant role.

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Yet the media hype continued. The ProPublica reporters, Justin Elliot and Theodoric Meyer, cite this beauty:

Mike Rogers, the Intelligence Committee chairman who credited the surveillance programs with thwarting 54 attacks on the House floor, repeated the claim to Bob Schieffer on CBS’ “Face the Nation” in July.“You just heard what he said, senator,” Schieffer said, turning to Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., an NSA critic. “Fifty-six terror plots here and abroad have been thwarted by the NSA program. So what’s wrong with it, then, if it’s managed to stop 56 terrorist attacks? That sounds like a pretty good record.”

And concerning one of only four plots disclosed:

A case involving David Coleman Headley, the Chicago man who helped plan the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. Intelligence officials have said that NSA surveillance helped thwart a subsequent plot involving Headley to attack a Danish newspaper. A ProPublica examination of that episode concluded that it was a tip from British intelligence, rather than NSA surveillance, that led authorities to Headley.

And so on.

Jesselyn Radack describes her visit with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in Russia.

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