Media, politics and culture.
Seven years ago—that is, an appalling five full years after the US invasion of Iraq—the first major TV special hitting the press performance appeared. No surprise, it came from Bill Moyers, on PBS, in April 2007.
Here’s how I wrote ahout it at the time, as drawn from the updated edition of my book on media malpractice and the war (which was hailed by Moyers). When I appeared on Moyers’s show about a week before Baghdad fell in 2003, we were among the few to raise serious questions about what might happen after our “victory” in Iraq.
Here's link for full video of the landmark Moyers program on media in 2007.
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The most powerful indictment of the news media for falling down in its duties in the run-up to the war in Iraq will appear on April 25, a 90-minute PBS broadcast called “Buying the War,” which marks the return of “Bill Moyers Journal.” While much of the evidence of the media’s role as cheerleaders for the war presented here is not new, it is skillfully assembled, with many fresh quotes from interviews (with the likes of Tim Russert and Walter Pincus) along with numerous embarrassing examples of past statements by journalists and pundits that proved grossly misleading or wrong. Several prominent media figures, prodded by Moyers, admit the media failed miserably, though few take personal responsibility.
The war continues today, now in its fifth year, with the death toll for Americans and Iraqis rising again—yet Moyers points out, “the press has yet to come to terms with its role in enabling the Bush Administration to go to war on false pretenses.”
Among the few heroes of this devastating film are reporters with the Knight Ridder/McClatchy bureau in D.C. Tragically late, Walter Isaacson, who headed CNN, observes, “The people at Knight Ridder were calling the colonels and the lieutenants and the people in the CIA and finding out, you know, that the intelligence is not very good. We should’ve all been doing that.”
At the close, Moyers mentions some of the chief proponents of the war who refused to speak to him for this program, including Thomas Friedman, Bill Kristol, Roger Ailes, Charles Krauthammer, Judith Miller, and William Safire. But Dan Rather, the former CBS anchor, admits, “I don’t think there is any excuse for, you know, my performance and the performance of the press in general in the roll up to the war. We didn’t dig enough. And we shouldn’t have been fooled in this way.”
Bob Simon, who had strong doubts about evidence for war, was asked by Moyers if he pushed any of the top brass at CBS to “dig deeper,” and he replies, “No, in all honesty, with a thousand mea culpas, I don’t think we followed up on this.” Instead he covered the marketing of the war in a “softer” way, explaining to Moyers: “I think we all felt from the beginning that to deal with a subject as explosive as this, we should keep it, in a way, almost light—if that doesn’t seem ridiculous.”
Moyers replies: “Going to war, almost light.”
Walter Isaacson is pushed hard by Moyers and finally admits, “We didn’t question our sources enough.” But why? Isaacson notes there was “almost a patriotism police” after 9/11 and when the network showed civilian casualties it would get phone calls from advertisers and the administration and “big people in corporations were calling up and saying, ‘You’re being anti-American here.’”
Moyers then mentions that Isaacson had sent a memo to staff, leaked to the Washington Post, in which he declared, “It seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan” and ordered them to balance any such images with reminders of 9/11. Moyers also asserts that editors at the Panama City (Fla.) News-Herald received an order from above, “Do not use photos on Page 1A showing civilian casualties. Our sister paper has done so and received hundreds and hundreds of threatening emails.”
Walter Pincus of the Washington Post explains that even at his paper reporters “do worry about sort of getting out ahead of something.” But Moyers gives credit to my old friend, Charles J. Hanley of The Associated Press, for trying, in vain, to draw more attention to United Nations inspectors failing to find WMD in early 2003.
The disgraceful press reaction to Colin Powell’s presentation at the United Nations seems like something out of Monty Python, with one key British report cited by Powell being nothing more than a student’s thesis, downloaded from the Web—with the student later threatening to charge U.S. officials with “plagiarism.”
Phil Donahue recalls that he was told he could not feature war dissenters alone on his MSNBC talk show and always had to have “two conservatives for every liberal.” Moyers resurrects a leaked NBC memo about Donahue’s firing that claimed he “presents a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war. At the same time our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.”
Moyers also throws some stats around: In the year before the invasion William Safire (who predicted a “quick war” with Iraqis cheering their liberators) wrote “a total of 27 opinion pieces fanning the sparks of war.” The Washington Post carried at least 140 front-page stories in that same period making the administration’s case for attack. In the six months leading to the invasion the Post would “editorialize in favor of the war at least 27 times.”
Of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS nightly news in the six months before the war, almost all could be traced back to sources solely in the White House, Pentagon or State Dept., Moyers tells Russert, who offers no coherent reply.
The program closes on a sad note, with Moyers pointing out that “so many of the advocates and apologists for the war are still flourishing in the media.” He then runs a pre-war clip of President Bush declaring, “We cannot wait for the final proof: the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” Then Moyers explains: “The man who came up with it was Michael Gerson, President Bush’s top speechwriter.
“He has left the White House and has been hired by the Washington Post as a columnist.”
NOTE: Moyers recently did a full segment on the new film that I co-produced, Following the Ninth, on the amazing political and cultural influence of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and "Ode to Joy."
Greg Mitchell’s new edition of So Wrong for So Long includes a preface by Bruce Springsteen, a new introduction and a lengthy afterword with updates right up to Bradley Manning’s hearing last month.
Read Next: Greg Mitchell: At Anniversary of Iraq Invasion: 15 Media Outrages.
As we approach the eleventh anniversary of the US attack on Iraq this week, we may face a bit more media coverage of that tragic conflict than usual. How much of it will focus on the media misconduct that helped make the war possible (and then continue for so long)? It’s certainly not something the media like to dwell on.
For now, let’s relive just some of the good, the bad and the ugly in war coverage from the run-up to the invasion through the five years of controversy that followed. In updating the first e-book version of my book, So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits—and the President—Failed on Iraq, which features a preface by Bruce Springsteen, I was surprised to come across once-prominent quotes and incidents that had faded a bit, even for me. Here is a list of fifteen episodes, in roughly chronological order.
1) In late March 2003, the day before the US invasion, Bill O’Reilly said, “If the Americans go in and overthrow Saddam Hussein and it’s clean, he has nothing, I will apologize to the nation; I will not trust the Bush administration again, all right?”
2) After the fall of Baghdad in April, Joe Scarborough, on MSNBC, said, “I’m waiting to hear the words ‘I was wrong’ from some of the world’s most elite journalists, politicians and Hollywood types.”
3) The same day, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews declared, “We’re all neocons now.”
4) Thomas Friedman, who had called this a “legitimate war of choice,” now wrote at The New York Times, “As far as I am 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.”
5) Phil Donahue suddenly lost his show at MSNBC, he later claimed, because he did not wave the flag enough. A leaked NBC memo confirmed Donahue’s suspicion, noting that the host “presents a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war…. At the same time our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.”
6) President Bush’s “comedy” routine during the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner on March 24, 2004—nearly one year into the war—included a bit about the still-missing WMD. While a slide show of the president searching the White House was projected on the wall behind him, he joked, “Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere… Nope, no weapons over there… Maybe under here?” Most of the crowd roared, and there was little criticism in the media in following days. David Corn, then Washington editor of The Nation, was one of the few attendees to criticize the routine. Corn wondered if they would have laughed if Ronald Reagan had, following the truck bombing of our Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 241, said at a similar dinner, “Guess we forgot to put in a stoplight.”
7) When The New York Times carried its belated editors’ note on May 26, 2004, admitting some errors in its WMD coverage, it appeared on page A10 and Judith Miller’s name was nowhere to be found. The note is often described today as an “apology,” but it was no such thing. On the day it ran, Executive Editor Bill Keller (who once called himself a “liberal hawk” on Iraq) termed criticism of the Times’s coverage “overwrought” and said that the main reason it even published the note was because the controversy had become a “distraction.”
8) It’s often said that The Washington Post issued an apology for its coverage of the ramp-up to the war. But the criticism of its prewar coverage came not in an editors’ statement but in an article by the paper’s media critic, Howard Kurtz. Post editors offered several defenses for the coverage, and top editor Len Downie argued that it didn’t make much difference anyway, because tougher coverage would not have stopped the war.
9) Stephen Colbert’s riotous routine at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in April 2006 is remembered for the in-his-face mockery of President Bush—but he also spanked the press, perhaps one reason his mainstream reviews were mixed at best. In fact many journos criticized him for alleged bad taste. This itself was revealing. Addressing the correspondents directly, Colbert said, “Let’s review the rules. The president makes decisions; he’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Put them through a spell-check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know—fiction.”
10) Fox News’s John Gibson ripped Neil Young after the rocker released his excellent protest album Living With War. Gibson demanded that Young go see the new United 93 movie and even offered to buy his ticket. Young, it was soon pointed out, had actually written one of the first 9/11 songs,”Let’s Roll,” about, you guessed it, Flight 93.
11) Surprise: David Brooks, Thomas Friedman and Oliver North all came out against the “surge” in 2007 after it was announced by President Bush. George Will wrote a column titled, “Surge, or Power Failure?” And, after the botched hanging of Saddam, Charles Krauthammer declared, “We should not be surging American troops in defense of such a government.”
12) On March 27, 2007, John McCain, referring to the supposed calm settling on Baghdad, said, “General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed Humvee.” This turned out to be pure bunk, but McCain quickly visited Iraq to try to prove his overall point. There, the Arizona senator went from the ridiculous to the maligned, touring a Baghdad market and claiming all was safe—while troops surrounded him and helicopters twirled overhead. Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) likened the scene to “a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime.”
13) When Valerie Plame Wilson finally testified before Congress in March 2007, much of the media coverage focused on her appearance. Mary Ann Akers wrote a piece for The Washington Post titled “Hearing Room Chic,” noting that Plame wore “a fetching jacket and pants” and should be played by Katie Holmes in the movie version of her story because they both favor Armani.
14) The New York Times, which had editorialized against the invasion, did not call for a change in course or the beginning of a withdrawal from Iraq until July 8, 2007.
15) On Meet the Press in July 2007, David Brooks declared that 10,000 Iraqis a month would perish if the United States pulled out. Bob Woodward, also on the show, challenged him on this, asking for his source. Brooks admitted, “I just picked that 10,000 out of the air.”
Greg Mitchell’s new edition of So Wrong for So Long includes a preface by Bruce Springsteen, a new introduction and a lengthy afterword with updates right up to Bradley Manning’s hearing last month.
Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel: “This Week in ‘Nation’ History: The Horrific Legacy of the Invasion of Iraq.”
Last week I noted that an important original eight-part CNN series was starting (last Sunday) on the death penalty in the USA, with ace documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney and some guy named Redford as producers and Susan Sarandon (let’s not forget the great Dead Man Walking) as narrator. There’s a full web site up and details here. I observed that it will “call into question various beliefs surrounding America’s justice system and the death penalty.” That sounded like a good thing, and echoes my two books on the subject, including this recent ebook, Dead Reckoning.
Coming this Sunday in Part II of series: how Joyce Ride, mother of famed astronaut Sally Ride, helped free a woman on death row in California. I’ve previewed it and it’s terrific. If you can’t wait, there’s a full article about it here. Excerpt:
It wasn’t until the early 1990s that Joyce Ride came to the rescue.
She was visiting women inmates as a member of Friends Outside, one of many nonprofits across the nation that help inmates and their families cope with incarceration and transitioning to and from prison life. By supporting prisoner visits by friends and family members, Friends Outside says, it reduces stress among prisoners, preventing despair and unhealthy behavior.
Ride had already raised two daughters as a California housewife. One had grown up to become a Presbyterian minister. The other, the late Sally Ride, had become NASA’s first woman astronaut.
A nun who volunteered by visiting women in jail inspired Ride to learn more about why so many women who are victims of domestic abuse end up in prison. After her husband died, Ride began dedicating many of her days to visiting incarcerated women. “It interested me,” she said.
Ride’s younger daughter, the minister, understood. But it confused her astronaut daughter. “Sally couldn’t figure out why I was visiting prisons,” Ride said. Compared to her work at NASA, she said, “it was a whole other world.”
Read Next: Hannah Rappleye and Lisa Riordan Seville: The Town That Turned Poverty Into a Prison Sentence.
A subject I’ve been writing about for, oh, the past decade or so—the media’s sad, tragic performance during the run-up to the US attack on Iraq—never gets old, at least for me. It provides such a revealing glimpse of, and warning about, how leading media outlets usually cave to the “official narrative” from the “serious” policymakers and pundits. Howard Kurtz, now at Fox, calls it, aptly, the media’s “biggest failure of modern times.”
Obviously this is relevant in today’s world where the US is pushed to intervene abroad by many of the same macho crew from 2002-2003, who have no shame, from Senator John McCain to “liberal hawks” such as Bill Keller. Consider how close we came to going to war in Syria a few months ago, when much of the media again fell short again.
The New York Times and Judith Miller get much of the blame for the media failures in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, so let me shine a light here on the Washington Post. My book So Wrong for So Long reviews the article Kurtz wrote for the Post in 2004, taking the newspaper to task for some of its misconduct (the paper itself did not assign is own probe).
Because of the notoriety surrounding Judith Miller, the Post’s almost equally poor coverage and opinion pieces drew too little attention after WMD were not discovered. The Post ran Kurtz’s critical August 12, 2004, piece on the front page, something it inevitably failed to do with stories skeptical of the march to war.
By the Post’s own admission, in the months before the war, it ran more than 140 stories on its front page promoting the war, while contrary information “got lost,” as one Post staffer told Kurtz. So allow me to pursue a few points (see my book for much more on media misconduct in war coverage). First, two quotes (beyond the Woodward gem) from Post staffers that speak for themselves:
• “There was an attitude among editors: Look, we’re going to war, why do we even worry about all the contrary stuff?” —Pentagon correspondent Thomas Ricks.
• “We are inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power.“ —Reporter Karen DeYoung.
“[Bob] Woodward, for his part, said it was risky for journalists to write anything that might look silly if weapons were ultimately found in Iraq.”
Next, consider the highly revealing excuses, offered by Post editors:
• Executive Editor Downie said experts who questioned the war wouldn’t go on record often enough. But his paper, and others, quoted unnamed pro-war sources willy-nilly.
• Downie also asserted that “voices raising questions about the war were lonely ones.” This is simply rewriting history. On the eve of the invasion, polls showed that half the public wanted to delay the invasion to give the United Nations inspectors more time to do their duty, and millions had already marched in the streets. Many of the editorial pages of major US newspapers (though, crucially, not the Post’s) were expressing their own doubts about the need for war. Key intelligence experts questioned the administration’s evidence but were given little play, on or off the record, at the Post.
• Liz Spayd, assistant managing editor for news, offered another weak defense in explaining why a key article questioning the existence of WMD by thirty-two-year Post veteran Walter Pincus was finally published on Page A17. Pincus’s stories are “difficult to edit,” as she put it. Matthew Vita, then national security editor and now deputy assistant managing editor, offered another defense for the Pincus miscue: “We were dealing with an awful lot of stories, and that was one of the ones that slipped through the cracks.”
• That rationale also applied to another sad case. In the days before the war, Dana Priest and Karen DeYoung finished a piece that said CIA officials had communicated significant doubts to the administration about evidence linking Iraq to an attempted uranium purchase. The story was held until March 22, three days after the war began. “Editors blamed a flood of copy about the impending invasion,” Kurtz explained.
• Vita had a different excuse on another missed opportunity. One of the fresh revelations in the Kurtz piece was how, in October 2002, Thomas Ricks (who has covered national security issues for fifteen years) turned in a piece titled “Doubts,” indicating that Pentagon officials were worried that the risks of an invasion of Iraq were being underestimated. It was killed by Vita. He told Kurtz that a problem with the piece was that many of the quotes with names attached came from “retired guys.” But the Post (and much of the rest of the media) rarely shied away from “retired guys” who promoted the war.
• Other excuses rippled through the Kurtz piece, featuring phrases like “always easy in hindsight,” “editing difficulties,” “communication problems” and “there is limited space on Page 1.” One editor explained, “You couldn’t get beyond the veneer and hurdle of what this groupthink had already established,” even though the British press somehow managed to overcome that. Amid all the excuses, Post staffers denied that the paper was under any pressure from the White House.
• At the end of the Kurtz piece, Downie offered his ultimate defense. “People who were opposed to the war from the beginning and have been critical of the media’s coverage in the period before the war have this belief that somehow the media should have crusaded against the war,” Downie said. “They have the mistaken impression that somehow if the media’s coverage had been different, there wouldn’t have been a war.”
Two responses to that final excuse come quickly to mind.
Most of those against the war did not ask for a media “crusade” against invasion, merely that the press stick to the facts and provide a balanced assessment: in other words, that the Post do its minimum journalistic duty. If anything, the Post, and some other major news outlets, came closer to crusading for the war.
And did Downie honestly believe that nothing the media might have done could have possibly stopped the war? Especially when, as noted, public and editorial opinion on the eve of war was divided? Does he take issue with Walter Lippmann’s notion that the press plays a vital role in “manufacturing consent”? And does he really believe his must-read newspaper lacks any clout? If so, what does that say about the state of modern newspapering?
Greg Mitchell’s So Wrong for So Long, on the media and the Iraq war—with a preface by Bruce Springsteen—has been published in an expanded edition for the first time as an e-book.
Read Next: Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr.: Why We Need a New Church Committee to Fix Our Broken Intelligence System.
Most probably knew Joe McGinniss, who died yesterday at the age of 71, as the author of Fatal Vision, on the Jeffrey McDonald murder case (or his recent battle with Errol Morris over that). Or from the controversial Janet Malcolm book about his reporting on McDonald. Others never heard of McGinniss until he moved next door to Sarah Palin a few years ago, got slammed by Republicans, and wrote about it anyway.
But for me he will always be the guy who penned the astoundingly influential The Selling of the President, about the new world of “mad men” execs selling Richard Nixon to the world in 1968. Young Roger Ailes, then a producer for Mike Douglas’s daytime talk show, played a key role. This was a world barely probed in Theodore White’s “Making of a President” bestsellers in 1960, 1964 and 1968.
The McGinniss book, which I read in college, influenced all campaign coverage that followed, including my own two books exploring the real birth of that “selling”—to defeat Upton Sinclair in his race for California governor in 1934, and to get Nixon into the US Senate in 1950.
McGinniss revealed on Facebook several months back that he might be in the final months of a fight with prostate cancer, and now he has lost that fight.
It’s worth perusing his The Selling of the President for, among other aspects, it’s coverage of Ailes. Here’s one excerpt:
Paul Keyes sat in the chair that had been brought out for Richard Nixon. “It’s too loose. It’s got to have a solid back to it.” “Okay, I’ll take care of that,” Roger Ailes said, and he went slowly back to the control room and called the set designer and told him they needed another chair. The designer protested. “Do you want him to tip over?” Ailes said. “The back is loose. Do you want him to lean back and go over on his ass?” The designer suggested using an orange chair he had brought out earlier. “Goddamn it, no, we’re not going to use an orange chair. We’ve been through that … I said we’re not going to use an orange chair … well, fuck it, then. Forget it. I’ll get the goddamn chair.” He put down the phone and turned to Dolores Hardie, the assistant.
“Get Bob Dwan to get a goddamn chair. I told that creepy bastard of a designer as soon as he brought it out that we weren’t going to use an orange chair.”
It was four o’clock in the afternoon. Frank Shakespeare was worried about the studio getting too hot.
“Make sure you’ve got that handkerchief soaked in witch hazel,” Roger Ailes told someone. “I can’t do that sincerity bit with the camera if he’s sweating.”
Ailes then said, “This is the beginning of a whole new concept. This is it. This is the way they’ll be elected forevermore. The next guys up will have to be performers.”
McGinniss had actually met Ailes in 1967, when Joe was a reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer. They remained friendly and this got him in the door at the Nixon campaign, which made Joe’s career. Here’s McGinniss in 2011 reflecting:
If Roger and I have ever agreed about anything having to do with politics or policy, I sure can’t remember it. From Richard Nixon to Rupert Murdoch, I think everyone he’s ever worked for has harmed this country in some way. I also think Fox News is an excrescence. And Roger knows that. Mutual candor is one aspect of our friendship. Roger’s terrific sense of humor is another: he is one of the funniest people I know. I don’t think I’ve spent five minutes in his company, privately, without laughing out loud at least three times at things he’s said.
Read Next: William Deresiewicz on the unflinching fiction of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Late last night The New Yorker posted an exclusive Andrew Solomon interview with Peter Lanza, father of Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook mass killer, who has been largely silent. Solomon actually secured a series of interviews with Lanza, and obtained a number of interesting, even moving, revelations, at least concerning the father. For example, he says he hates to tell people his name and has considered changing it but will not.
Then there’s this:
Peter does not think that Adam had any affection for him, either, by that point. He said, “With hindsight, I know Adam would have killed me in a heartbeat, if he’d had the chance. I don’t question that for a minute. The reason he shot Nancy four times was one for each of us: one for Nancy; one for him; one for Ryan; one for me.”
And there’s this:
Since the shootings, Peter has avoided the press, but in September, as the first anniversary of his son’s rampage approached, he contacted me to say that he was ready to tell his story. We met six times, for interviews lasting as long as seven hours. Shelley, a librarian at the University of Connecticut, usually joined us and made soup or chili or salads for lunch….An accountant who is a vice-president for taxes at a General Electric subsidiary, he maintains a nearly fanatical insistence on facts, and nothing annoyed him more in our conversations than speculation—by me, the media, or anyone else. He is not by nature given to self-examination, and often it was Shelley who underlined the emotional ramifications of what he said.
Peter hadn’t seen his son for two years at the time of the Sandy Hook killings, and, even with hindsight, he doesn’t think that the catastrophe could have been predicted. But he constantly thinks about what he could have done differently and wishes he had pushed harder to see Adam.
At the conclusion he has to admit that it would have been better for the world if his son had never been born.
However, the lengthy piece offers very little new information or analysis of what made Adam Lanza go over the edge. We learn, again, about his mental and social issues, but that big leap to mass violence remains a mystery—despite this unprecedented access to the father (who was close to his son—until the crucial final two years).
But the main failing is that Solomon, and Lanza, barely mention the ex-wife’s leaving guns (and ammo) around the house with easy access, and Solomon doesn’t bring it up either. There’s just one passing comment from Peter Lanza about his ex-wife’s allowing the five rifles and guns, which suggests she must not have been afraid of her son. And that’s it. No discussion of the overall arsenal, not securing it in the house, Nancy writing a check for Adam to buy a pistol himself and encouraging his gun obsessions, with frequent trips to the firing range, etc.
Did the father ever question any of these red flags? We’lll never know, at least from Solomon.
Perhaps that is not the key angle in the Sandy Hook tragedy—but it certainly deserved more probing in this in-depth piece.
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Two days ago the Web and airwaves were filled with breathless reports of a leaked phone call, lasting about eleven minutes and posted on YouTube, between two officials, in which one reported a conversation with a certain Ukrainian doctor named “Olga.” She allegedly had told him that, based on the bullets found in and around the bodies of slain protesters and policemen in Kiev at the apex of the recent violent showdown, it appeared that the snipers had been hired by the rebels, not the government or military, since the bullets that killed victims on both sides matched.
Some, such as Russia-funded TV network RT, swallowed the claim whole from the start—and others joined in when the phone call was confirmed as real. (RT’s editor in chief, in attacking anchor Liz Wahl after she quit, even demanded to know why the US media was ignoring this firm evidence of the protesters hiring the snipers.) For whatever reason, it didn’t seem to matter to them that the fact that the phone conversation took place did not mean that the reported chat with the doctor had been interpreted and relayed accurately.
So the headlines, from partisans and quasi-journalists, rang out about this purportedly strong evidence, even proof, that the protesters had hired the snipers, apparently to shoot a few dozen of their own to draw international outrage and sympathy.
A few of us raised questions from the start about this single-sourced “evidence.” And who was this Olga? Could she be found and interviewed?
The evidence was weak from the start: secondhand, hearsay. Even though there was no way to judge the veracity and potential bias of the officials—and even if the official was trying to speak truthfully there was no way to know if he’d misinterpreted the doctor’s remarks—the conspiracy fans, pro-Putin agitators and faux journos promoted it widely.
Of course, it turns out the doctor, who we learn is quite famous in that country—Olga Bogomolets—denies suggesting any such thing. Here’s just one account of it, near the close of an excellent profile of her.
In another interview, with the Telegraph, she could have been referring to the "journalists” when she said, “I think you can only say something like this on the basis of fact. It’s not correct and its not good to do this. It should be based on fact.”
Might she have said one thing to that official in the leaked call and is changing her story now? It’s possible, of course. I would certainly not declare, "New Statement By Doctor Proves Protestors Did Not Hire Snipers." But in any case, citing her as the only source for “evidence” that snipers backed protesters is ludicrous.
Valid charges that the protestors included many right-wingers--no one denies this--hardly proves that the snipers were linked to them, yet this is offered as more firm "evidence" of this.
Dr. Bogomolets, by the way, is so well-known and respected that she has been offered key positions in the new government there--which she has turned down because she is suspicious of whether the new regime will make good on promises for reform. She's also called for a full investigation of the sniper shootings, though her suspicions seem to run in the direction of outsiders brought in by the former regime or the Russians. In any case, unlike so many others, she wants to wait for the full facts before making a firm declaration.
Read Next: The Editors: Time for Realism and Common Sense on Ukraine.
Just one day after an RT anchor spoke out against Russia’s invasion of Crimea, a second anchor closed her show Wednesday by denouncing the same aggression, among other actions, and quitting right on the air. Then both of them appeared on CNN to explain and defend their moves.
RT, formerly Russia Today, is widely available on cable in the United States and in 100 countries abroad. It’s funded by the Russian government and rarely strays from the official line.
Probably by now you’ve read and heard a good deal about the first anchor, Abby Martin, and if not, you can catch up here. In short order, after her critique, RT said it would send her to Crimea to maybe learn more about what the troops from the home country were doing there, a kind offer she immediately refused. Then many media outlets, including The New York Times, published pieces on Martin’s history as a 9/11 “truther.” In any case, she was back on the air the next day.
Then the second anchor/reporter, Liz Wahl, dropped her bombshell, and went further (see video below). She said she can’t work for a TV network that “whitewashes the actions of Putin.” Many in the US applauded, while some pointed out that she had to know where the RT funding was coming from all this time.
Wahl, interviewed by The Daily Beast, claimed she’d been “disgusted” by what she had to report. While trying to stay “objective” she’s often been overruled by superiors. “It actually makes me feel sick that I worked there,” Wahl said. “It’s not a sound news organization, not when your agenda is making America look bad.”
She then went on CNN’s Anderson Cooper show (watch) and detailed pressure from management—and just today she had part of her interview with Ron Paul cut. As a reporter you need to “seek the truth,” she said, but RT is “not out for the truth” (though she knew that when she signed on) and merely “Putinist.”
Asked how RT will likely respond, she said she hadn’t seen an “official response.”
Well, she didn’t have to wait long. RT responded to Anderson Cooper’s people, who posted it on his site. Excerpt: “When a journalist disagrees with the editorial position of his or her organization, the usual course of action is to address those grievances with the editor, and, if they cannot be resolved, to quit like a professional. But when someone makes a big public show of a personal decision, it is nothing more than a self-promotional stunt.”
Wahl then went on on Piers Morgan’s CNN show and again accused RT of presenting “Putinist propaganda.” Piers asked why she went to work for RT to begin with. She replied, “That’s a very good question.” (No kidding.) She said she didn’t think there would be that much “propaganda” and “pressure.” Asked if she thinks Abby Martin should quit, she demured, saying Martin is allowed to speak out—because her “line” in her show is one RT likes (and can count on her backing).
Then Abby Martin went on Piers’s show and said she backs whatever Wahl chooses to do but she is not tempted to quit. Claiming she has full “independence,” she accused all of the TV networks in the US of being just as compliant with US policy and officials. “Corporate media” in US is no different than government-funded network, she claimed. Piers pushed back just a bit, suggesting that he spoke out often against US policy.
Well, Abby Martin has a point, to be sure, but apparently did not watch MSNBC in the final years of the Bush reign or Fox News every night of Obama’s two terms. Roll the video tape: Let’s see a few examples of more than a sliver of Putin criticism on RT (before this week).
The better point is how the American networks have gone along with so many US official lies and other nonsense—when, unlike RT, they didn’t really have to.
UPDATE Lengthy, and angry, response posted at RT.com by the network’s editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan. After hitting the US media reaction, it concludes:
I can see very clearly why I continue to work for a channel that stands alone (!) face-to-face with thousands and tens of thousands of Western news outlets, showing everybody the other side of the story, under daily attacks from the media against which it can hardly fight back. It’s my country. There is no other choice for me. But the foreign journalists who work for RT across the globe do have a choice. Some of them might be asking themselves, “Why would I have to defend Russia at the expense of my career, my future, my reputation, why would I tolerate humiliation by my fellow journalists?” Few can say “Because I’m telling the truth, and there’s no one else to tell it.” Some will fail to find the answer and quietly resign. Others will perform their resignation on air in a self-promotional stunt, perhaps securing fantastic career prospects they wouldn’t have dreamt of before.
By the way, CNN is now covering the leaked phone call on speculation about the deadly snipers in Kiev mentioned in the post.
Read Next: Stephen Cohen on how the American media misrepresent Putin, Sochi and Ukraine
CNN has just announced an upcoming eight-part original series starting this Sunday on the death penalty in America, with award-winning, and tireless, documentary film maker Alex Gibney and some guy named Robert Redford as executive producers, plus Susan Sarandon (let’s not forget her role as Sister Helen Prejean in the great Dead Man Walking) as narrator.
That sounds like a good thing, and echoes my two books on the subject, including this recent ebook, Dead Reckoning.
Gibney promises, “The series provides stark examples of the struggle between the powerful and the powerless. The stakes—life or death—couldn’t be higher.”
Each show will spotlight one particular controversial case with guilt and innocence at stake. Here’s how they describe this Sunday’s opener:
Edward Lee Elmore, a 23-year-old African-American handyman, was charged with the murder of a well-to-do white woman in Greenwood, S.C., in 1982. The jury spent less than three hours deliberating before finding Elmore guilty of capital murder. It was not until a legal intern named Diana Holt investigated his case for the defense team that startling new evidence of his innocence began to emerge. The episode follows Holt and Elmore as the defense team embarks on a roller coaster ride through the criminal justice system, discovering negligence and cover-ups all along the way.
Ashleigh Banfield is doing a “Google Hangout” tonight at 6 pm with Gibney and others.
As I predicted in my book, the number of executions has been declining in many states as more “innocence” cases emerge, problems with obtaining the lethal injection drugs increase, and life-without-parole spreads as a credible alternative. But polls still show fairly strong support for capital punishment among the American public and the practice shows no signs of disappearing here.
The Code Pink co-founder is apparently in Turkey today, after millions learned—via her tweets—that she had spent a day in a cold Egyptian jail pen.
Medea Benjamin claimed abuse at the hands of her captors, leading to a broken arm or other arm/shoulder injury.
She had managed nevertheless to tweet a photo of her jail quarters, even of the food served to the group of women there, who had moaned all night, distressed or ill. (See @MedeaBenjamin). Her final tweet last night: “Help. They broke my arm. Egypt police,”
Now comes word that she has been deported—to Turkey. CBS confirms the story in this dispatch:
Benjamin said she was detained upon arrival in Cairo, where she was meant to join a delegation and then travel to the Palestinian territory of Gaza for a women’s conference.
Her plea for help was apparently answered by the U.S. Embassy, which confirmed to CBS News’ Alex Ortiz that Benjamin had left the country after the embassy provided consular assistance.
CODEPINK tweeted that she has been deported to Turkey.
Egypt’s government has cracked down harshly in recent years on opposition members, arresting dozens of supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. Several international journalists have also been arrested and held on terror accusations for merely speaking to members of Morsi’s now-banned Muslim Brotherhood.
However, CodePink takes issues with some of the early reports, including my own, that the US consular office provided aid. In a tweet to me this afternoon, they relate, “The claim that the US embassy helped
@medeabenjamin is totally false; they didn’t answer her calls or visit her in distress.”
And then: “Update:
@medeabenjamin is in Istanbul, where she was deported to, headed to hospital to receive treatment for shoulder. Flying to US tonight.”
Read Next: Steven Hsieh: “Marissa Alexander Now Faces 60 Years in Prison for Firing a Warning Shot in Self Defense”