Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category


About ten years ago I set up a Facebook account purely in order to get back in touch with old friends I’d lost touch with. Mission accomplished.

After that, I left the account to moulder, but for very occasional interactions with those old friends.

Now it’s time to terminate that account. And I’d urge you to do the same.

Why?

  • Facebook has poisoned political discourse in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world.

How?

There are three primary ways it’s done this:

  • Facebook feeds you “news” you already agree with. This aggravates problems with both under-informed leftist and rightist subscribers in that it reinforces established, irrational views. Facebook for the most part doesn’t expose or challenge already established ignorant viewpoints. It reinforces them.
  • Facebook promotes a “let’s you and him fight” attitude by thrusting into your face the most obnoxious opinions opposed to yours. That drives engagement (time spent on Facebook). It’ll raise your blood pressure, leave you depressed, will leave no one convinced of the rightness of your viewpoint — and increase your time spent on Facebook.
  • Facebook encourages people to think they’re informed, no matter how crazy the views it pushes at them. To put this another way, other than being spoon fed crazy conspiracy theories, how could the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist have gone in guns blazing?

Beyond that:

  • Facebook is a “walled garden” controlled by self-interested oligarchs, the exact opposite of the “open Internet” a lot of us were hoping for two decades ago. The Facebook oligarchs harvest and sell your/our data, and their purchasers use that data to sell us things we don’t need and politicians and political movements we really don’t need.

And beyond that:

  • Facebook is the ideal means for repressive governments to spy on citizens. This goes beyond direct surveillance — very easy via Facebook — to the set-up of honey traps to ensnare political opponents. “Black Lives Matter”? (They do.) The FBI (in all probability) and Russians (certainly) have set up fake “black lives matter” accounts to lure political dissidents, mislead them, and track them.

Then there’s the obvious:

  • Facebook is a huge time suck, and wasting time on it will not only pour your precious time down the drain but will waste the time you could use to do something — anything — more useful.

And after that, for the few who want to use Facebook to good ends:

  • Almost any other means of online organizing (see vpn, TOR browser) is safer than Facebook.

Here’s a link to how to deactivate or delete your Facebook account. I hope you’ll do either.

https://www.trustedreviews.com/news/how-to-delete-facebook-account-2950145

I’m now free of the near unmitigated evil of Facebook.

Please join me.

Again, your choice: family photos, cat videos, and enabling those who exploit and oppress you, or a temporary minor inconvenience. Your choice.

(There’s a great new book on the topic, Antisocial Media, that I’ll review here shortly. More details when I do so. Please stay tuned.)

 

 


Four-and-a-half years ago I published a piece — reproduced below — analyzing whether MSNBC was as bad as Fox News. The verdict was that it was bad, but not as bad as Fox.

Since then, things have apparently deteriorated at MSNBC. (I cut the cable cord  in late 2014 and have seen little of MSNBC since then.) Former MSNBC host Ed Schultz (who died recently) revealed a few months ago that MSNBC deliberately limited coverage of Bernie Sanders’ campaign in 2016, that MSNBC president Phil Griffin “often” told hosts what to talk about on their shows. and that he was fired because of his support of Sanders.

That was bad enough, but over the last year or two MSNBC’s support of Hillary Clinton and the rest of the corporate wing of the Democratic Party has become even more overt and has taken a very ugly turn: redbaiting of those on the left opposed to the corporate-lackey Democrats. This redbaiting includes the broadcasting of outright lies by at least one of the “analysts” from the intelligence agencies and Pentagon that MSNBC employs. Almost worse, when the blatantly false nature of the smears was revealed by one of their victims (highly respected journalist Glenn Greenwald), MSNBC not only took no action against the liar/smear-merchant, they didn’t even broadcast a single retraction. Greenwald has an informative post about the matter on The Intercept: “MSNBC Does Not Merely Permit Fabrications Against Democratic Party Critics. It Encourages and Rewards Them.”

At this point, MSNBC seems to have morphed into a mirror image of Fox “News.” Neither by any stretch of the imagination is a real news organization. They’re both propaganda machines whose primary difference is that they serve different masters.

My piece from 2014 on MSNBC and Fox is reproduced below.

* * *

MSNBC and Fox News are comparable in some ways, but differ in others. They’re similar in that they’re primarily opinion channels, and they both have political agendas. Fox is unabashedly right-wing evangelical Republican and outright Obamaphobic, while MSNBC is moderately secular-Democratic and outright Obamaphilic. Both have hired politicians as hosts and commentators, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin being the most prominent GOP politicians on Fox, and Washington Democratic insiders Chris Matthews and Lawrence O’Donnell being the most prominent on MSNBC.

But that’s where the similarities end. Fox at least makes a pretense of being a news channel, while MSNBC doesn’t–it consists of little but pro-Obama opinion. Fox spends about four times as much as MSNBC on news coverage, though the quality of that coverage tends to be poor. Fox viewers are the least well informed of all news viewers. They’re so poorly informed that people who do not follow the news at all are better informed, while MSNBC viewers are just barely better informed than those who don’t follow the news.

Another place in which Fox and MSNBC vary is in their approach to news and opinion. Fox “News” hosts get daily directives from the head of Fox “News,” Roger Ailes. Ailes tells them what stories to emphasize and even, apparently, the talking points they should use, as witnessed by the identical and near-identical phrasing Fox hosts routinely employ. (Catch “The Daily Show” for examples of this on a regular basis.) As well, Fox day in and day out does its best to manufacture stories that will benefit the Republican Party, reinforce Republican positions, and bolster the fears and hatreds of Fox viewers. Examples include outright false reports about ACORN perpetrating voting fraud; grossly exaggerated reports about the tiny New Black Panther Party intimidating voters; repeated reports about the relatively few cheaters using the SNAP program (food stamps–most beneficiaries are children and the elderly); and the never-ending blather about the “war on Christmas” and supposed attacks on religious freedom, which invariably turn out to be the government’s refusing to allow right-wingers to use public facilities for religious purposes or the government refusing to give bigots the right to discriminate based on their religious “principles.”

Rather than employing the same Machiavellian manipulation of the news, MSNBC takes a simpler approach: It seems to hire only hosts who share the same rather narrow, Obama-worshipping ideological views. Several of MSNBC’s most prominent hosts–Chris Matthews, Ed Shultz, Al Sharpton–virtually never criticize the Obama Administration for anything, while routinely heaping fulsome (in both senses of the word) praise on it. Other hosts will occasionally criticize Obama and his administration, though their criticisms tend to be muted, and they also routinely defend Obama. The most prominent hosts in this category are Rachel Maddow and Laurence O’Donnell. One suspects that even the most independent host on MSNBC, Chris Hayes, who dares to routinely criticize the Obama Administration from a left-leaning/civil-liberties viewpoint, mutes his criticism.

This brings up another apparent part of MSNBC’s approach: self-censorship. MSNBC hosts avoid certain topics like the plague. One very noticeable example is the Israeli brutalization of the Palestinians, and more especially the stranglehold of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) on American politicians and policies regarding the Middle East. MSNBC hosts never examine this stranglehold, and rarely mention it even when AIPAC (which represents the Israeli extreme right) and its numerous minions in Congress are trying to stampede the U.S. into war on Israel’s behalf.

Other matters that MSNBC hosts do their best to avoid include the Obama Administration’s assault on whistleblowers and civil liberties, and its massive, illegal surveillance program. Some MSNBC hosts even take the part of the Administration. Ed Schultz, for example, called whistleblower Edward Snowden a “punk,” and Lawrence O’Donnell a few nights ago smirked about Snowden’s being unable to criticize Putin’s policies in Russia because the U.S. government has trapped him there.

MSNBC is also careful to avoid critical examination of the role of the media in politics. This is especially so in its failure to analyze or to report on the role of the media in the run-up to the Iraq War. Last year’s documentary by Rachel Maddow, “Hubris: The Selling of the Iraq War,” is the prime example. Remarkably, in this documentary, Maddow only analyzes the actions of Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, et al., not those of the media. This is remarkable, because without the active complicity of the media (including MSNBC), Bush and company would never have gotten away with the massive con job that resulted in the Iraq disaster.

Maddow apparently made a deal with the devil. She apparently thought that telling half the truth to a relatively large audience was better than telling the whole truth to a smaller one (that is, not on MSNBC).

Her documentary exemplifies the primary difference between Fox and MSNBC: Fox actively manufactures “news” to fit its political agenda, while MSNBC avoids news that threatens its political agenda.

Beyond that, Fox appeals to the absolute worst in its viewers: cruelty, a preening “patriotism,” feelings of victimhood, and fear and hatred of scapegoats–poor, black, brown, gay, feminist, and nonchristian human beings. By and large it succeeds in this.

MSNBC appeals primarily but not exclusively–there’s a heavy dose of hero-worship/bootlicking in the mix–to the best in its viewers:  hope and compassion. And then it strives to turn those admirable qualities into support for politicians who cynically and systematically betray its viewers’ hopes.

Which is worse, the cynicism and viciousness embodied by Fox, or the cynicism and betrayal of hope embodied by MSNBC? You decide. I can’t.

 


Thomas Frank

“I don’t like Amazon, and I don’t like Donald Trump either. I would approve enthusiastically if a president started enforcing antitrust laws, but that’s not what Trump is proposing to do. What we are being offered instead is a choice between the worst president of our lifetimes and one of the most rapacious corporate enterprises in the country. And, eagerly, we are lining up with one or the other.

“This in turn seems to me an almost perfect representation of the wretched choices available to Americans these days, as well as the megadoses of self-deception we are swallowing in order to make them. It is everything that is wrong with our politics, and it extends from the most sweeping matters of state right down to the individual reader.

“. . . [T]his [is] where we are now in the world’s greatest democracy. We have the billionaire Republicans, with their bigotry and their war on all things public, and the billionaire Democrats, with their oblivious ideology of globe and technology. To the common people, assembled in all our majesty, the momentous question is posed: who do you hate more?”

Thomas Frank, in his wonderful piece in The Guardian,Trump’s enemy is not your friend

(U.S. readers might not be aware of this, but The Guardian [formerly  The Manchester Guardian] is the single best news source on the Internet, including sources hidden behind a paywall [e.g., New York Times or Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post]; The Guardian is the best source, period. I like them enough that I occasionally contribute money to them. The only other news outlet that I would unreservedly recommend is The Intercept, which due to lesser financial resources posts fewer stories than The Guardian, but whose journalism is arguably of even higher quality. For opinion mixed with news, you won’t do better than Truthdig.)


The Water Will Come front cover(The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World, by Jeff Goodell. Little Brown, 2018, 340 pp., $28.00)

 

It’s easy, even if you accept the science, to think of global warming as an abstraction, because, as regards the human perception of time, it’s a long term trend. That’s true even in many places which are already being affected, such as Southern Arizona, which is projected to suffer the highest temperature increases of anywhere in the lower 48.

We’re already experiencing drastic warming. Last year was the warmest ever here, we had our hottest June ever, with three days at 115F or above (46C), and we had almost no winter (well, what passes for winter down here: It’s below 70? Break out the parkas!).

The change in the weather is already affecting vegetable and fruit tree planting seasons here: What I and other gardeners used to plant in October, we now tend to put off until November (hottest ever last year). Or December. (It was so warm this winter that I’ve put off buying and planting a peach tree until this fall, hoping for cooler weather then.)

So, I’m already affected by long-term temperature increases, if only as a minor annoyance. But most people here don’t garden, are caught up in daily life, and find it easy enough to ignore gradually warming temperatures — at least until the next 116 or 117F day, which they’ll promptly forget once it cools down even slightly.

But it’s not so easy to ignore global warming in other places, specifically low-lying coastal areas and islands.

Hence the value of Jeff Goodell’s latest book, The Water Will Come. It serves as a timely reminder to those of us who live inland, those who are climate-change deniers, and those with head-in-the-sand attitudes living in low-lying coastal areas, that climate change (with a focus on ocean warming and sea level rise) is all too real, is already having drastic, destructive effects in some areas, and that the destructive effects will get worse, especially if we don’t do anything to mitigate them, while we still can.

Goodell, in plain, “just the facts, ma’am” prose, explores what’s already happening in places as diverse as Alaska (Inuit villages falling into the rising sea), Miami (ever-worse flooding), and the very low-lying Marshall Islands (which will disappear). Goodell does this through not only presenting the scientific facts, and through descriptive passages, but also through interviews with many local people who provide graphic illustrations of the effects of sea level rise on daily life.

While that’s valuable, I wish Goodell would have spent more time on mitigation efforts and ways of reducing CO2 emissions in the short term. But that’s not the point of The Water Will Come — those are topics for other books. Goodell’s point is that we have a real problem, and we need to start addressing it now.

If there’s one real fault with The Water Will Come, it’s that Goodell gives the Obama Administration, and Barack Obama himself, a complete pass in regard to dealing with climate change (and everything else). There are several passages in the book dealing with Goodell’s interviews with Obama Administration officials, and one with Obama himself, and the tone in those passages borders on worshipful.

Given how awful Donald Trump is, there’s a tendency on the part of liberals to venerate Obama while ignoring the fact that he was a lousy president who betrayed those who voted for him.

When he had real power, with big majorities in both houses of Congress during his first two years, what did Obama do? He produced a grossly inadequate stimulus package that was just large enough to save the big banks, but not the millions upon millions who’d lost their jobs and homes — for them, he did next to nothing; he pushed through a grossly inadequate healthcare measure (Michael Moore called it a “quarter of a loaf” measure) that was designed to preserve the parasitic healthcare insurance industry and big pharma; and beyond that, he didn’t even try to accomplish anything significant regarding climate change or much of anything else. (For more on Obama’s betrayal of the people who voted for him, see “Obama and His Base: An Abusive Relationship, part 3.“)

(I mention all this for two reasons: 1) one always suspects, generally correctly, that when writers treat politicians reverentially, it’s because they’re not fully doing their jobs — as Frank Kent famously said, “The only way a reporter should look on a politician is down”; and more importantly 2) because, if we elect another business-as-usual, corporate Democrat in 2020, it’s a good bet that his or her response to the climate crisis will be, as usual, very inadequate.)

But aside from the Obama worship, there’s little to dislike in The Water Will Come. The book is a useful reminder and illustration of the seriousness of the global warming problem, how bad its effects already are in some places, and how much worse those effects are likely to get — especially if we don’t start making real changes now.

Recommended.


(For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This is an expanded version of a post from 2014. We’ll be posting more blasts from the past for the next several months, and will intersperse them with new material.)

* * *

The media is abuzz, and friends have been calling me, about the so-called Super Moon. We’re having one tonight, and according to the excited local media (TV weather forecasters) we’ll be having two more in January. Wow! . . . Well, maybe.

In reality, there’s nothing to get excited about here, folks: the (full) moon will be at perigee (its closest point to the Earth) and about 14% larger in diameter than it is at apogee (its farthest point from the earth), and only about 7% larger than the full moon is on average.

As regards brightness, the moon at perigee is about 30% brighter than at apogee, and about 15% brighter than average. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? — until you realize that the eye’s response to increases or decreases in brightness is far from linear, and that the sun is approximately 400,000 times as bright as the moon. Thus, the average ratio of the sun’s brightness to the moon’s is about 400,000 to 1, and the ratio of the sun’s brightness to the “Super Moon’s” is about 400,000 to 1.15.

So, if they didn’t read the hype, and hence didn’t expect to see something, very probably 99% of people wouldn’t notice these rather subtle differences in the moon’s appearance. And the other 1% would be amateur and professional astronomers who’d be aware of them, but wouldn’t get excited about it.

There are lessons to be drawn from this.

As Oscar Wilde put it in The Critic as Artist, “[Journalism] keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”

And as Wilde put it so well in The Soul of Man Under Socialism, “[T]he public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands.”

There’s very little to add other than that journalism has advanced significantly since Wilde’s day and now manufactures things not worth knowing.


As anyone in his or her right mind would agree, you can’t trust the New York Times — not after their role in selling G.W. Bush’s Iraq invasion — nor the even further-right Washington Post, especially after Satan’s little brother (Amazon’s Jeff Bezos) took it over recently. So, what’s left?

A lot. I typically look at a good half-dozen news and/or compilation sites every day or two:

  • The Guardian (the single best paper on the ‘net)
  • El Pais (Spanish-language, the major Madrid daily)
  • CNN (international, i.e., the “adult,” edition — not the U.S. “kiddie” edition)
  • Al Jazeera (the best Middle East news site, and after The Guardian, probably the second best international news site; soft on Islam, but otherwise great)
  • The Intercept — by far the best behind-the-scenes whistle-blower and analysis site
  • Le Monde (French-language, the Parisian paper of record — my French is lousy, so I normally check this only when I want their take on particular stories or events)
  • Truthdig — Chris Hedges’ and Robert Scheer’s essential hold-their-feet-to-the-fire whistle-blower and analysis site
  • Truthout another good leftist compilation/analysis site
  • The Cult News Network Run by a conservative Republican (!), this is by far the best site on the ‘net for news about religious cults
  • The Underground Bunker — getting toward even more specialized news, this is the best source of info about one of the most two American bizarro, destructive cults (Scientology — the other is Mormonism)
  • Fark — The best weird news site, and one which will lead you down all sorts of rabbit holes, sometimes toward real understanding — but more often not.

Please pass along any feedback about these sites, or any others you’d recommend, in the comments section.

 

 


(reposted with permission of the author, Alexey Kovalev; this originally appeared on medium.com)

A message to my doomed colleagues in the American media

Vladimir Putin’s annual news conference, Dec 23, 2016 / kremlin.ru

Congratulations, US media! You’ve just covered your first press conference of an authoritarian leader with a massive ego and a deep disdain for your trade and everything you hold dear. We in Russia have been doing it for 12 years now — with a short hiatus when our leader wasn’t technically our leader — so quite a few things during Donald Trump’s press conference rang my bells. Not just mine, in fact — read this excellent round-up in The Moscow Times.

Vladimir Putin’s annual pressers are supposed to be the media event of the year. They are normally held in late December, around Western Christmas time (we Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas two weeks later and it’s not a big deal, unlike New Year’s Eve). Which probably explains why Putin’s pressers don’t get much coverage outside of Russia, except in a relatively narrow niche of Russia-watchers. Putin’s pressers are televised live across all Russian TV channels, attended by all kinds of media — federal news agencies, small local publications and foreign reporters based in Moscow — and are supposed to overshadow every other event in Russia or abroad.

These things are carefully choreographed, typically last no less than four hours, and Putin always comes off as an omniscient and benevolent leader tending to a flock of unruly but adoring children. Given that Putin is probably a role model for Trump, it’s no surprise that he’s apparently taking a page from Putin’s playbook. I have some observations to share with my American colleagues. You’re in this for at least another four years, and you’ll be dealing with things Russian journalists have endured for almost two decades now. I’m talking about Putin here, but see if you can apply any of the below to your own leader.

  • Welcome to the era of bullshit.

Facts don’t matter. You can’t hurt this man with facts or reason. He’ll always outmaneuver you. He’ll always wriggle out of whatever carefully crafted verbal trap you lay for him. Whatever he says, you won’t be able to challenge him. He always comes with a bag of meaningless factoids (Putin likes to drown questions he doesn’t like in dull, unverifiable stats, figures and percentages), platitudes, false moral equivalences and straight, undiluted bullshit. He knows it’s a one-way communication, not an interview. You can’t follow up on your questions or challenge him. So he can throw whatever he wants at you in response, and you’ll just have to swallow it. Some journalists will try to preempt this by asking two questions at once, against the protests of their colleagues also vying for attention, but that also won’t work: he’ll answer the one he thinks is easier, and ignore the other. Others will use this opportunity to go on a long, rambling statement vaguely disguised as a question, but that’s also bad tactics. Non-questions invite non-answers. He’ll mock you for your nervous stuttering and if you’re raising a serious issue, respond with a vague, non-committal statement (“Mr President, what about these horrible human rights abuses in our country?” “Thank you, Miss. This is indeed a very serious issue. Everybody must respect the law. And by the way, don’t human rights abuses happen in other countries as well? Next question please”).

But your colleagues are there to help you, right? After all, you’re all in this together?

Wrong.

  • Don’t expect any camaraderie

These people are not your partners or brothers in arms. They are your rivals in a fiercely competitive, crashing market and right now the only currency in this market is whatever that man on the stage says. Whoever is lucky to ask a question and be the first to transmit the answer to the outside world wins. Don’t expect any solidarity or support from them. If your question is stonewalled/mocked down/ignored, don’t expect a rival publication to pick up the banner and follow up on your behalf. It’s in this man’s best interests to pit you against each other, fighting over artificial scarcities like room space, mic time or, of course, his attention. It’s getting especially absurd because some — increasingly many — reporters will now come with large, bright placards aimed at attracting the president’s attention to names of their regions or specific issues. This is what it looks like:

Also, some people in the room aren’t really there to ask questions.

  • Expect a lot of sycophancy and soft balls from your “colleagues”

A mainstay of Putin’s press conferences is, of course, softball questions. Which also happen to be Putin’s favorites. Mr President, is there love in your heart? Who you will be celebrating New Year’s Eve with? What’s your favorite food? “Questions” of this sort, sure to melt Putin’s heart, typically come from women working for small regional publications. A subtype of this is also statements-as-questions, but from people who really love the man on the stage and will bob their head and look at the stage adoringly and say something to the tune of “Mr President, do you agree that a lot of media are treating you unfairly?”

Another type of softball questions is hyperlocal issues that a president isn’t even supposed to be dealing with. Mr President, our road is full of potholes and local authorities aren’t doing anything about it. Mr President, our tap is leaking. Mr President, how about a chess club in our village. This is a real opportunity for him to shine. He will scold the local authorities and order to have a new road built. All of this, of course, has been choreographed well in advance.

Also, some of these people really love him and will meet his every answer with enthusiastic applause. There will be people from publications that exist for no other reason than heaping fawning praise on him and attacking his enemies. But there will also be one token critic who will be allowed to ask a “sharp” question, only to be drowned in a copious amount of bullshit, and the man on the stage will always be the winner (“See? I respect the media and free speech”).

  • You’re always losing

This man owns you. He understands perfectly well that he is the news. You can’t ignore him. You’re always playing by his rules — which he can change at any time without any notice. You can’t — in Putin’s case — campaign to vote him out of office. Your readership is dwindling because ad budgets are shrinking — while his ratings are soaring, and if you want to keep your publication afloat, you’ll have to report on everything that man says as soon as he says it, without any analysis or fact-checking, because 1) his fans will not care if he lies to their faces; 2) while you’re busy picking his lies apart, he’ll spit out another mountain of bullshit and you’ll be buried under it.

I could go on and on, but I think at this point you see where this is heading. See if any of this rings any bells if you covered Trump’s presser or watched it online.

P.S. You’re welcome to repost/reblog/republish this if you like.

My name is Alexey Kovalev, I’m a Russian journalist and I’m writing about propaganda, fake news and Russian state media on noodleremover.news. It’s all in Russian, but here’s an example of what I’m doing in English. You can contact me at kovalever@gmail.com. I tweet as @Alexey__Kovalev.