Clear Proof Bill O'Reilly is a Serial Liar About His Past

Alternet - Media Culture - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 4:29pm
There's no wiggle room.

Fox News' Bill O'Reilly has been under fire following a series of revelations that seem to show he lied about numerous major reporting milestones in his career, from witnessing the murder of nuns in El Salvador to being witness to combat in the Falklands War to personally seeing the suicide of a figure involved in the JFK assassination investigation.

O'Reilly and his bosses at Fox have tried to explain away these apparent lies as simply matters of semantics, for example, claiming that he simply meant he viewed photographs of the assassinated nuns.

But a pair of new investigations provides the most damning evidence yet that O'Reilly outright lied about several events in his career, severely undermining whatever credibility he has left.

Video Of O'Reilly Reporting From Falklands' “War zone”

Mother Jones' David Corn and Daniel Schulman unearthed the original 1982 CBS News video featuring Bill O'Reilly reporting from Argentina. Recall that O'Reilly claimed to see soldiers “gunning down” Argentine civilians with “real bullets.”

Here's the actual video report he filed:

Although O'Reilly has admitted he was never actually in the Falkland Islands where the military conflict occurred, he claimed that the “combat situation” he was in involved at least violent protests in Argentina where killings occurred. The video clip above makes no mention of lethal violence in protests or a massacre that O'Reilly later claimed happened. He does mention that “some journalists behind the line were hurt” and the footage includes images of tear gas being used, but what is shown is similar to protests in the United States. In other words, there may have been heavy-handed use of police force, but there were no massacres, and it certainly wasn't the military combat zone O'Reilly later claimed it was.

Corn and Schulman summarize the video report this way: “With this footage, O'Reilly the reporter proves O'Reilly the pundit wrong.”

Bill O'Reilly's Audio Disproves His Own JFK Story

One other dramatic O'Reilly tale that has been called into question is his claim to have been present at the suicide of a figure who was sought for questioning in relation to the assassination of president John F. Kennedy.

CNN's Reliable Sources obtained a clear version of audio that contains the phone call between a congressional investigator (obtained through his surviving widow) and O'Reilly, which shows O'Reilly asking about the suicide, which would seem to completely disprove the idea that the Fox News host was actually present when it happened.

Here's the key section of the audio:

O'REILLY: Hi Gaeton, Bill O'Reilly.


O'REILLY: Look, something definitely did happen.

INVESTIGATOR: Yeah, I got it.

O'REILLY: What is it?

INVESTIGATOR: He committed suicide up here in – where I was trying to locate him.

O'REILLY: OK, where is that?

INVESTIGATOR: It's a place called Manalapan. M-A-N-A-L-A-P-A-N. Palm Beach County. […]

O'REILLY: OK, so he committed suicide, he's dead?


O'REILLY: OK, what time?

INVESTIGATOR: Late this afternon, I don't know.

O'REILLY: OK, gun?

INVESTIGATOR: I think, yeah, I think he said he shot himself.

O'REILLY: OK. Ah, Jesus Christ.

Media Matters captured the segment below:

Needless to say, there is little explanation for O'Reilly seeking all of the details of the suicide if he witnessed it himself.

More Scandals On the Horizon?

O'Reilly's tall tales about his reporting continue to be unearthed. The latest involves the 1992 LA riots. O'Reilly has claimed that while reporting about those events, he was attacked by rioters. But several of his former colleagues at Inside Edition say what really happened was he arrived at the scene of a smoldering neighborhood in a limousine and a man confronted him angrily over his behavior (O'Reilly reportedly asked “Don't you know who I am?”).

With several career milestones called into question, O'Reilly has been on the defensive, with his network calling the reporting on his past history an “orchestrated campaign by far left advocates.” As cable's most-watched news pundit, O'Reilly is in a precarious spot. Being called on his lies may point his career in the only direction it has left to go: down.

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Categories: Media

9 Social Panics the Gripped the Nation, Were Totally False, and Did Horrible Lasting Damage

Alternet - Media Culture - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 2:17pm
Americans flip out over the strangest things. The latest in AlterNet's Fear in America series.

Editor's note: The following is the latest in a new series of articles on AlterNet called Fear in America that launched this March. Read the introduction to this series here.

America is a fearful and gullible nation with a media misinformation machine that is more than happy to stoke our fears. Like windup toys, we obediently point in whatever direction the fearmongers tell us to and run, screaming and flailing our arms while demanding that someone do something about it. Many of these false social panics have done horrible and lasting damage, often long after the country has seemed to come to its senses.

Here are 10 of the worst social panics in recent American history.

1. Reds Under the Bed and Communist Hysteria

Red baiter Joe McCarthy would be right at home in today’s Republican party. Self-aggrandizing, prone to making baseless accusations, and cynically motivated by the endless pursuit of power, McCarthy was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1947. Though one of his first acts was to go to bat for a group of Nazis he claimed had been denied a fair trial, he was less concerned with justice for his fellow American citizens, whom he subjected to a witch-hunt that would make Bill O’Reilly proud.

McCarthy imagined communists, Soviet spies and “homosexuals” in the State Department, CIA, U.S. Army, Democratic Party, and likely, the constellations of the night sky. His campaign gave fuel to the House Un-American Activities Committee, which stepped up its own efforts to smear and blacklist “pinkos” in Hollywood. (For the record, Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis met in 1951 when she appealed to him, as head of the Screen Actors Guild, to remove her name from a list of Communist sympathizers.) After considerable damage was done to careers and lives, everyone finally got sick of McCarthy’s grandstanding and groundless fear-mongering, and he was censured—or technically, “condemned”—by Congress in 1954. But the long tail of McCarthy touches everything from Reagan’s much mocked “Star Wars” defense initiative, to '80s anti-Soviet movies (War GamesTop GunRocky IV), to Ted Cruz’s entire career.

2. AIDS Panic and Misinformation

The continuing AIDS crisis is a global tragedy that has devastated countless families, communities and an entire continent. Yet America’s reaction to the disease was nothing short of sheer hysteria that no amount of actual information could quell. Throughout the 1980s, movies, TV mini-series, talk shows and news items constantly warned of the dangers of young people contracting AIDS after just a moment of sexual “recklessness” (Something to Live ForKids). A 1987 episode of “Oprah” showcased a town in West Virginia that banded together against its lone HIV-positive resident. A family with three HIV-positive hemophiliac children (the Ray brothers) lost their home to arson after a court ordered a public school to allow the kids to attend. A posse of scared, overzealous parents banned teenager Ryan White from attending his school. And the nightly news showed doctors, nurses and cops wearing rubber gloves and, given the choice, hazmat suits for even the most casual contact with people presumed to have AIDS (which essentially meant all gay men). 

The message to kids coming of age in the 1980s and '90s was that sex—even thinking about sex—could kill. Kind of a terrifying environment in which to come of age.

2. Satanic Ritual Abuse

There were many victims of the satanic ritual child abuse panic of the 1980s and '90s. But the victims were not the children (unless you count the psychological damage to a four-year-old of being told that grownups dismembered babies in front of you). The scandals destroyed the lives of every adult associated with the McMartin Preschool in California, Frances and Dan Keller in Texas and hundreds of other daycare operators and workers. 

The scandal was the modern equivalent of a witch-hunt, and gullible America was riveted. The seeds for the panic seemed to have been planted by the publication of a book called Michelle Remembers, which Slate describes as “the best-selling account of a Canadian psychotherapist’s work with a woman named Michelle Smith, who, under his care, began recalling forgotten memories of horrific childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her mother and others who were part of a devil-worshipping cult.”

The McMartin Preschool trial involved hundreds of children, some highly questionable child therapy practices now recognized as coercive, and a trial spanning three years and millions of dollars that led to no convictions. Dan and Frances Keller were less lucky. They served 21 years in prison after swift convictions for insane acts like feeding children bloody Kool-Aid and dressing as pumpkins while they shot at children’s legs. The Kellers were finally exonerated when the only real witness against them, an inexperienced doctor who examined a little girl they supposedly raped, recanted his testimony. Oprah, Geraldo, Sally Jesse Raphael and the rest of the media all helped spread the satanic ritual abuse fear. 

Eventually, in 1992, FBI agent Kenneth Lanning, in his report on satanic ritual abuse, said that the entire phenomenon was not credible: “Hundreds of communities all over America are run by mayors, police departments, and community leaders who are practicing Satanists and who regularly murder and eat people? Not likely.” The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, under the federal Department of Health and Human Services, agreed the problem was nonexistent in 1994. Yet many Americans continued to believe it was real.

The Satanic abuse panic spanned the political spectrum, which probably fueled its power. According to Debbie Nathan, an investigative reporter who co-wrote Satan’s Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt, the preoccupation with Satan stoked the fears of the religious right; the desire to protect and believe the children motivated those on the left; and the anxiety about women going back to work and placing their children in daycare fanned the flames all around.

“I think it was a perfect storm of fear and anxiety,” Nathan told Slate. A perfect and horrific storm for the people in its path.

4. Superpredators

We still have not recovered from the myth of the teenage “superpredator,” which gave rise to a slew of harsh laws and crackdowns on juvenile crime, higher incarceration rates and thousands of ruined lives. In the early 1990s, the panic spread after a handful of high-profile murders involving children, a media frenzy and some social scientists more than willing to amp up the fear.

The (white) public was already primed to panic about (black) youth crime after the notorious Central Park jogger rape in 1989, for which four black teens and one Latino teenager were framed. The thinly veiled racist terms “wilding” and “wolfpacks” took off in the ensuing clamor. In 1994, the murder of an 11-year-old gang member nicknamed “Yummy” by two brothers aged 14 and 16 in Chicago shocked the nation and helped give birth to the notion that a generation of “superpredators,” remorseless, teenage psychopaths, was coming to get us. They were said to be “godless, fatherless and jobless,” and, everyone understood, mostly black. According to Berkeley criminologist Barry Krisberg, “when you describe another group of people as ‘Godless,’ you can do anything to them.”

A couple of academics added fuel to the fire, especially Princeton's John DiIulio, who crunched some demographic numbers and promised that juvenile crime would skyrocket in the ensuing years. He also coined the word “superpredator” which the media glommed onto. Northeastern University's James Fox warned of a coming “bloodbath of teenaged violence.” Politicians like Robert Dole and Newt Gingrich jumped on the bandwagon, and virtually every state enacted laws cracking down on juvenile offenders.

There was just one problem: Juvenile crime rates did the exact opposite of what the so-called experts predicted. They plummeted.

DiIulio repented. All of his predictions failed to materialize. “The superpredator idea was wrong,” he told the New York Times. “Once it was out there, there was no reeling it in.” He gave up social science and turned to religious faith. He also signed on to a friend of the court document in 2012 in a Supreme Court case that banned mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of murder.

5. The Marriage Crunch

In 1986, Newsweek magazine ran a cover story titled “The Marriage Crunch” that struck fear in many a white, single, college-educated, heterosexual woman. Based on a study from Harvard and Yale, it graphically (literally, there was a graph on the cover) told women that their chance of getting married after the age of 35 or 40 was so slim they were more likely to be killed by terrorists. From the age of 25-35, this demographic’s chances of snagging a husband was one precipitous plummet. The message was clear: young women, go snag a husband, any husband, and be eternally grateful you got one; your value on the marriage meat market is in decline.

Stunned, young, educated (marriage-minded) white women got together and cried their eyes out, or got furious, or in some cases got skeptical, while young (heterosexual), educated men gloated with the knowledge that the power and odds were strongly in their favor. They had their pick, and women had to settle, and perhaps curtail their educations, careers and dreams lest they end up old maids.

Some saw it for what it was: an attempt to put ambitious young women in their place, and scare them into a more submissive role. (Followup reporting on the women featured in the piece has pretty much debunked the study’s findings.) "How gleefully they warn that an uppity woman may be overqualified for the marriage market. Reach too high, young lady, and you'll end up in the stratosphere of slim pickings," Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman wrote.

All these years later, the picture has changed, and it is unlikely those scare tactics would work on a generation of millennials who assume they will delay marriage, if marriage is in the cards at all. No one seems terribly worked up about the issue.

6. Recovered Memory Syndrome

In the 1980s and ‘90s, recovered memory syndrome wreaked a fair amount of havoc in numerous American families. A therapist would work with a patient to “uncover” deeply buried memories of childhood trauma, most often involving childhood sexual abuse at the hands of male relatives (and sometimes mothers and grandmothers). Once “recovered,” the memories fueled confrontations in families that quite often resulted in permanent and often heartbreaking estrangement.

Though childhood sexual abuse within families is certainly a real problem, some experts and just regular folks began to seriously question whether memories “recovered” under suggestive and sometimes manipulative therapeutic circumstances were trustworthy. The pendulum began to swing the other way. Instead of blindly believing anyone who leveled accusations against a family member based on memories recovered in therapy, people began to be skeptical. 

Accused parents started the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, citing the psychologist Elizabeth Loftus who proved in her work just how easy it is to implant false memories in certain vulnerable people. (Loftus has also done important work with the unreliability of eyewitness testimony in criminal trials.) False memory syndrome was relegated to the realm of pseudoscience along with the notion that vaccines cause autism. But like the vaccine-autism theory, there are still some who believe in recovered memories. The media has largely lost interest in the story, but the damage to many families lives on.

7. Crack Babies

The crack epidemic gave rise to all sorts of bad laws, disproportionate, racist penalties and misplaced hysteria, including trumped-up concern about so-called crack babies. Images of these poor, trembling, underweight creatures, said to be born doomed because of their mother’s crack addiction, inspired both pity and fear. The fear was that the babies would never be able to live anything resembling a normal life, would themselves be addicted to crack, have brain damage, cost a great deal of money, have no conscience, and likely grow up into a dreaded “superpredator” if they grew up at all. What most people didn't know was that the crack baby scare was based on one very small study of 23 babies in 1985. Yet it was enough to cause a media frenzy.

Every major network and newspaper sounded the alarm, airing the results of the tiny study with alarmist rhetoric. "A cohort of babies is now being born whose future is closed to them from day one,” Charles Krauthammer pontificated in the Washington Post in 1989. “Theirs will be a life of certain suffering, of probable deviance, of permanent inferiority. At best, a menial life of severe deprivation."

Subsequent studies indicated that the fears about crack babies were overblown, and some of the babies even grew up to have productive lives. Cocaine use by pregnant women, while not good, turns out to be far less damaging than excessive alcohol use. But the crack baby panic did have a lasting effect on the criminal justice system, and has aided and abetted the criminalization of poor women with drug problems.

8. Various Disease Pandemics

Remember Mad Cow Disease? For a fleeting moment in 2002, our news media assured us daily that it would almost certainly kill us all. Most of us miraculously escaped with our lives, and the threat went away as quickly as it appeared.

It’s a pattern that’s become all too familiar. Fear — and ratings — won’t stoke themselves, so our news media endlessly reports on disease “pandemics” that often pose little to no threat to most Americans. (These diseases may wreak havoc in other, often developing, nations, but as a country, we don’t really care about that.) One 2014 poll found that the more Ebola news coverage people consumed, the more misinformed they were about the disease and its actual threat. What’s more, people are less likely to be killed by Ebola than by a TV falling on them, choking on food, or being attacked by a cow. West Nile Virus, SARS, bird flu, H1N1, and MERS have all gotten the hysteria treatment.

9. Heavy Metal, Dungeons & Dragons, Satanism and Suicide

The 1980s Satanic panic manifested not only in allegations of Satanic ritual abuse, but in hysteria about heavy metal songs and fantasy games with 12-sided dice. Suburban parents, trying to make sense of huge leaps in the teen suicide rate, decided heavy metal and D&D’s “occult” imagery contained secretly encoded messages telling kids to try satanism and suicide. Patricia Pulling, the bereaved mother of a boy who killed himself, started Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD) in 1983.

Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne were sued by the families of teenagers who said their music had directly and insidiously led these young people to take their own lives. Neither case was successful. (A documentary about the Judas Priest trial is worth watching, particularly for a scene in which Rob Halford points out that the supposedly suggestive lyrics also sound like a request for a basket of peppermints.) News programs including “20/20” covered heavy metal and its connection to “ghoulish images, violent theatrics and even" (dramatic pause) "suicide.” By the mid-’90s, no one had proved that backmasking—recording words backward onto a track that is played forward—had any effect at all, much less convincing kids to kill themselves. For all their trouble, Tipper Gore and the PMRC only succeeded in getting parental advisory labels put on records, which just helped sell even more explicit albums. 

Read more of AlterNet's new Fear in America coverage area. 

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Categories: Media

WaPo Can Find Climate Denial Embarrassment Closer to Home

FAIR Blog - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 12:58pm
The Washington Post (3/1/15) is afraid that Sen. Jim Inhofe's ridiculous claims about climate change are going to be a "national embarrassment." It takes a much more tolerant attitude toward the climate deniers in its own employ. Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, took to the floor of the Senate to try to debunk the "hysteria on global warming" with a snowball and a photo of a snow fort. As the Post accurately notes: Global warming is a long-term and worldwide trend. The fact that it’s cold at one place on the Earth at […]
Categories: Media

Why Do People Believe Stupid Stuff, Even When They're Confronted With the Truth?

Alternet - Media Culture - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 9:23am
The "backfire effect" helps explain how strange, ancient and kooky beliefs resist science, reason and reportage.

This story is cross-posted from You Are Not So Smart.

The Misconception: When your beliefs are challenged with facts, you alter your opinions and incorporate the new information into your thinking.

The Truth: When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.

WiredThe New York TimesBackyard Poultry Magazine – they all do it. Sometimes, they screw up and get the facts wrong. In ink or in electrons, a reputable news source takes the time to say “my bad.”

If you are in the news business and want to maintain your reputation for accuracy, you publish corrections. For most topics this works just fine, but what most news organizations don’t realize is a correction can further push readers away from the facts if the issue at hand is close to the heart. In fact, those pithy blurbs hidden on a deep page in every newspaper point to one of the most powerful forces shaping the way you think, feel and decide – a behavior keeping you from accepting the truth.

In 2006, Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler at The University of Michigan and Georgia State University created fake newspaper articles about polarizing political issues. The articles were written in a way which would confirm a widespread misconception about certain ideas in American politics. As soon as a person read a fake article, researchers then handed over a true article which corrected the first. For instance, one article suggested the United States found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The next said the U.S. never found them, which was the truth. Those opposed to the war or who had strong liberal leanings tended to disagree with the original article and accept the second. Those who supported the war and leaned more toward the conservative camp tended to agree with the first article and strongly disagree with the second. These reactions shouldn’t surprise you. What should give you pause though is how conservatives felt about the correction. After reading that there were no WMDs, they reported being even more certain than before there actually were WMDs and their original beliefs were correct.

They repeated the experiment with other wedge issues like stem cell research and tax reform, and once again, they found corrections tended to increase the strength of the participants’ misconceptions if those corrections contradicted their ideologies. People on opposing sides of the political spectrum read the same articles and then the same corrections, and when new evidence was interpreted as threatening to their beliefs, they doubled down. The corrections backfired.

Once something is added to your collection of beliefs, you protect it from harm. You do it instinctively and unconsciously when confronted with attitude-inconsistent information. Just as confirmation bias shields you when you actively seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information seeks you, when it blindsides you. Coming or going, you stick to your beliefs instead of questioning them. When someone tries to correct you, tries to dilute your misconceptions, it backfires and strengthens them instead. Over time, the backfire effect helps make you less skeptical of those things which allow you to continue seeing your beliefs and attitudes as true and proper.

In 1976, when Ronald Reagan was running for president of the United States, he often told a story about a Chicago woman who was scamming the welfare system to earn her income.

Reagan said the woman had 80 names, 30 addresses and 12 Social Security cards which she used to get food stamps along with more than her share of money from Medicaid and other welfare entitlements. He said she drove a Cadillac, didn’t work and didn’t pay taxes. He talked about this woman, who he never named, in just about every small town he visited, and it tended to infuriate his audiences. The story solidified the term “Welfare Queen” in American political discourse and influenced not only the national conversation for the next 30 years, but public policy as well. It also wasn’t true.

Sure, there have always been people who scam the government, but no one who fit Reagan’s description ever existed. The woman most historians believe Reagan’s anecdote was based on was a con artist with four aliases who moved from place to place wearing disguises, not some stay-at-home mom surrounded by mewling children.

Despite the debunking and the passage of time, the story is still alive. The imaginary lady who Scrooge McDives into a vault of foodstamps between naps while hardworking Americans struggle down the street still appears every day on the Internet. The memetic staying power of the narrative is impressive. Some version of it continues to turn up every week in stories and blog posts about entitlements even though the truth is a click away.

Psychologists call stories like these narrative scripts, stories that tell you what you want to hear, stories which confirm your beliefs and give you permission to continue feeling as you already do. If believing in welfare queens protects your ideology, you accept it and move on. You might find Reagan’s anecdote repugnant or risible, but you’ve accepted without question a similar anecdote about pharmaceutical companies blocking research, or unwarranted police searches, or the health benefits of chocolate. You’ve watched a documentary about the evils of…something you disliked, and you probably loved it. For every Michael Moore documentary passed around as the truth there is an anti-Michael Moore counter documentary with its own proponents trying to convince you their version of the truth is the better choice.

A great example of selective skepticism is the website They collect Facebook comments of people who believe articles from the satire newspaper The Onion are real. Articles about Oprah offering a select few the chance to be buried with her in an ornate tomb, or the construction of a multi-billion dollar abortion supercenter, or NASCAR awarding money to drivers who make homophobic remarks are all commented on with the same sort of “yeah, that figures” outrage. As the psychologist Thomas Gilovich said, “”When examining evidence relevant to a given belief, people are inclined to see what they expect to see, and conclude what they expect to conclude…for desired conclusions, we ask ourselves, ‘Can I believe this?,’ but for unpalatable conclusions we ask, ‘Must I believe this?’”

This is why hardcore doubters who believe Barack Obama was not born in the United States will never be satisfied with any amount of evidence put forth suggesting otherwise. When the Obama administration released his long-form birth certificate in April of 2011, the reaction from birthers was as the backfire effect predicts. They scrutinized the timing, the appearance, the format – they gathered together online and mocked it. They became even more certain of their beliefs than before. The same has been and will forever be true for any conspiracy theory or fringe belief. Contradictory evidence strengthens the position of the believer. It is seen as part of the conspiracy, and missing evidence is dismissed as part of the coverup.

This helps explain how strange, ancient and kooky beliefs resist science, reason and reportage. It goes deeper though, because you don’t see yourself as a kook. You don’t think thunder is a deity going for a 7-10 split. You don’t need special underwear to shield your libido from the gaze of the moon. Your beliefs are rational, logical and fact-based, right?

Well…consider a topic like spanking. Is it right or wrong? Is it harmless or harmful? Is it lazy parenting or tough love? Science has an answer, but let’s get to that later. For now, savor your emotional reaction to the issue and realize you are willing to be swayed, willing to be edified on a great many things, but you keep a special set of topics separate.


The last time you got into, or sat on the sidelines of, an argument online with someone who thought they knew all there was to know about health care reform, gun control, gay marriage, climate change, sex education, the drug war, Joss Whedon or whether or not 0.9999 repeated to infinity was equal to one – how did it go?

Did you teach the other party a valuable lesson? Did they thank you for edifying them on the intricacies of the issue after cursing their heretofore ignorance, doffing their virtual hat as they parted from the keyboard a better person?

No, probably not. Most online battles follow a similar pattern, each side launching attacks and pulling evidence from deep inside the web to back up their positions until, out of frustration, one party resorts to an all-out ad hominem nuclear strike. If you are lucky, the comment thread will get derailed in time for you to keep your dignity, or a neighboring commenter will help initiate a text-based dogpile on your opponent.

What should be evident from the studies on the backfire effect is you can never win an argument online. When you start to pull out facts and figures, hyperlinks and quotes, you are actually making the opponent feel as though they are even more sure of their position than before you started the debate. As they match your fervor, the same thing happens in your skull. The backfire effect pushes both of you deeper into your original beliefs.

Have you ever noticed the peculiar tendency you have to let praise pass through you, but feel crushed by criticism? A thousand positive remarks can slip by unnoticed, but one “you suck” can linger in your head for days. One hypothesis as to why this and the backfire effect happens is that you spend much more time considering information you disagree with than you do information you accept. Information which lines up with what you already believe passes through the mind like a vapor, but when you come across something which threatens your beliefs, something which conflicts with your preconceived notions of how the world works, you seize up and take notice. Some psychologists speculate there is an evolutionary explanation. Your ancestors paid more attention and spent more time thinking about negative stimuli than positive because bad things required a response. Those who failed to address negative stimuli failed to keep breathing.

In 1992, Peter Ditto and David Lopez conducted a study in which subjects dipped little strips of paper into cups filled with saliva. The paper wasn’t special, but the psychologists told half the subjects the strips would turn green if he or she had a terrible pancreatic disorder and told the other half it would turn green if they were free and clear. For both groups, they said the reaction would take about 20 seconds. The people who were told the strip would turn green if they were safe tended to wait much longer to see the results, far past the time they were told it would take. When it didn’t change colors, 52 percent retested themselves. The other group, the ones for whom a green strip would be very bad news, tended to wait the 20 seconds and move on. Only 18 percent retested.

When you read a negative comment, when someone shits on what you love, when your beliefs are challenged, you pore over the data, picking it apart, searching for weakness. The cognitive dissonance locks up the gears of your mind until you deal with it. In the process you form more neural connections, build new memories and put out effort – once you finally move on, your original convictions are stronger than ever.

When our bathroom scale delivers bad news, we hop off and then on again, just to make sure we didn’t misread the display or put too much pressure on one foot. When our scale delivers good news, we smile and head for the shower. By uncritically accepting evidence when it pleases us, and insisting on more when it doesn’t, we subtly tip the scales in our favor.

- Psychologist Dan Gilbert in The New York Times

The backfire effect is constantly shaping your beliefs and memory, keeping you consistently leaning one way or the other through a process psychologists call biased assimilation. Decades of research into a variety of cognitive biases shows you tend to see the world through thick, horn-rimmed glasses forged of belief and smudged with attitudes and ideologies. When scientists had people watch Bob Dole debate Bill Clinton in 1996, they found supporters before the debate tended to believe their preferred candidate won. In 2000, when psychologists studied Clinton lovers and haters throughout the Lewinsky scandal, they found Clinton lovers tended to see Lewinsky as an untrustworthy homewrecker and found it difficult to believe Clinton lied under oath. The haters, of course, felt quite the opposite. Flash forward to 2011, and you have Fox News and MSNBC battling for cable journalism territory, both promising a viewpoint which will never challenge the beliefs of a certain portion of the audience. Biased assimilation guaranteed.

Biased assimilation doesn’t only happen in the presence of current events. Michael Hulsizer of Webster University, Geoffrey Munro at Towson, Angela Fagerlin at the University of Michigan, and Stuart Taylor at Kent State conducted a study in 2004 in which they asked liberals and conservatives to opine on the 1970 shootings at Kent State where National Guard soldiers fired on Vietnam War demonstrators killing four and injuring nine.

As with any historical event, the details of what happened at Kent State began to blur within hours. In the years since, books and articles and documentaries and songs have plotted a dense map of causes and motivations, conclusions and suppositions with points of interest in every quadrant. In the weeks immediately after the shooting, psychologists surveyed the students at Kent State who witnessed the event and found that 6 percent of the liberals and 45 percent of the conservatives thought the National Guard was provoked. Twenty-five years later, they asked current students what they thought. In 1995, 62 percent of liberals said the soldiers committed murder, but only 37 percent of conservatives agreed. Five years later, they asked the students again and found conservatives were still more likely to believe the protesters overran the National Guard while liberals were more likely to see the soldiers as the aggressors. What is astonishing, is they found the beliefs were stronger the more the participants said they knew about the event. The bias for the National Guard or the protesters was stronger the more knowledgeable the subject. The people who only had a basic understanding experienced a weak backfire effect when considering the evidence. The backfire effect pushed those who had put more thought into the matter farther from the gray areas.

Geoffrey Munro at the University of California and Peter Ditto at Kent State University concocted a series of fake scientific studies in 1997. One set of studies said homosexuality was probably a mental illness. The other set suggested homosexuality was normal and natural. They then separated subjects into two groups; one group said they believed homosexuality was a mental illness and one did not. Each group then read the fake studies full of pretend facts and figures suggesting their worldview was wrong. On either side of the issue, after reading studies which did not support their beliefs, most people didn’t report an epiphany, a realization they’ve been wrong all these years. Instead, they said the issue was something science couldn’t understand. When asked about other topics later on, like spanking or astrology, these same people said they no longer trusted research to determine the truth. Rather than shed their belief and face facts, they rejected science altogether.

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else-by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate

- Francis Bacon

Science and fiction once imagined the future in which you now live. Books and films and graphic novels of yore featured cyberpunks surfing data streams and personal communicators joining a chorus of beeps and tones all around you. Short stories and late-night pocket-protected gabfests portended a time when the combined knowledge and artistic output of your entire species would be instantly available at your command, and billions of human lives would be connected and visible to all who wished to be seen.

So, here you are, in the future surrounded by computers which can deliver to you just about every fact humans know, the instructions for any task, the steps to any skill, the explanation for every single thing your species has figured out so far. This once imaginary place is now your daily life.

So, if the future we were promised is now here, why isn’t it the ultimate triumph of science and reason? Why don’t you live in a social and political technotopia, an empirical nirvana, an Asgard of analytical thought minus the jumpsuits and neon headbands where the truth is known to all?

Among the many biases and delusions in between you and your microprocessor-rich, skinny-jeaned Arcadia is a great big psychological beast called the backfire effect. It’s always been there, meddling with the way you and your ancestors understood the world, but the Internet unchained its potential, elevated its expression, and you’ve been none the wiser for years.

As social media and advertising progresses, confirmation bias and the backfire effect will become more and more difficult to overcome. You will have more opportunities to pick and choose the kind of information which gets into your head along with the kinds of outlets you trust to give you that information. In addition, advertisers will continue to adapt, not only generating ads based on what they know about you, but creating advertising strategies on the fly based on what has and has not worked on you so far. The media of the future may be delivered based not only on your preferences, but on how you vote, where you grew up, your mood, the time of day or year – every element of you which can be quantified. In a world where everything comes to you on demand, your beliefs may never be challenged.

Three thousand spoilers per second rippled away from Twitter in the hours before Barack Obama walked up to his presidential lectern and told the world Osama bin Laden was dead.

Novelty Facebook pages, get-rich-quick websites and millions of emails, texts and instant messages related to the event preceded the official announcement on May 1, 2011. Stories went up, comments poured in, search engines burned white hot. Between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. on the first day, Google searches for bin Laden saw a 1 million percent increase from the number the day before. Youtube videos of Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood started trending. Unprepared news sites sputtered and strained to deliver up page after page of updates to a ravenous public.

It was a dazzling display of how much the world of information exchange changed in the years since September of 2001 except in one predictable and probably immutable way. Within minutes of learning about Seal Team Six, the headshot tweeted around the world and the swift burial at sea, conspiracy theories began to bounce against the walls of our infinitely voluminous echo chamber. Days later, when the world learned they would be denied photographic proof, the conspiracy theories grew legs, left the ocean and evolved into self-sustaining undebunkable life forms.

As information technology progresses, the behaviors you are most likely to engage in when it comes to belief, dogma, politics and ideology seem to remain fixed. In a world blossoming with new knowledge, burgeoning with scientific insights into every element of the human experience, like most people, you still pick and choose what to accept even when it comes out of a lab and is based on 100 years of research.

So, how about spanking? After reading all of this, do you think you are ready to know what science has to say about the issue? Here’s the skinny - psychologists are still studying the matter, but the current thinking says spanking generates compliance in children under seven if done infrequently, in private and using only the hands. Now, here’s a slight correction: other methods of behavior modification like positive reinforcement, token economies, time out and so on are also quite effective and don’t require any violence.

Reading those words, you probably had a strong emotional response. Now that you know the truth, have your opinions changed?

Check out a copy of the book "You Are Not So Smart."

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Categories: Media

How a Father With a Twitter Account Stopped a White Supremacist Terrorist from Shooting a Bunch of School Kids

Alternet - Media Culture - Mon, 03/02/2015 - 2:19pm
9/11 truther spewed terrifying and hateful threats, and one dad could not let it go.

How do you stop a bad man with a gun? How about a good man with a Twitter account? That’s how things played out over the President’s Day weekend.


It began on Saturday night with a single tweet by Jonathan Hutson—linking to a New York Times story about that day’s deadly attacks at a free-speech event and synagogue in Copenhagen—and a torrent of hateful responses, including threats to kill schoolchildren and Jews. It ended with the arrest of a 28-year-old suspect, David Joseph Lenio, late Monday afternoon at Whitefish Mountain Resort, near Kalispell in Flathead County, Montana, just one county east of Idaho, immediately south of the Canadian border. In the interim, Lenio had retrieved two rifles from a storage locker, one a semi-automatic to add to his semi-automatic pistol. If it hadn’t been a three-day weekend, there’s no telling what he might have done before the police and the FBI caught up with him.

“He had motive, and he had means,” Hutson told Salon, “and one sheriff’s deputy told me, ‘Thank God it’s Presidents’ Day weekend; because of the holiday we have an extra day to track him down and try to catch him.’ And they did. They also had a plan for the schools, to go on soft lockdown, and have enhanced security. They took it very seriously.”

Lenio is now in jail on felony charges of malicious intimidation and criminal defamation, and on a half-million dollar bond. But it’s easy to see that it could have ended up like another Sandy Hook instead.

“I can tell you as a mom, and as one of two rabbis in the Flathead Valley, this event really rocked the community,” Rabbi Francine Green Roston told Salon. That placed her in the very center of those most targeted by his threats.

“Thank you, Jon. Really, deeply, thank you,” Antonia Malchik, the mother of Whitefish first-grader tweeted Hutson in gratitude.

“I was terrified. It sounds so overblown,” Malchik, a writer, told Salon. “I’m from this area, but we recently moved back from upstate New York, and we lived quite close to Newtown, Connecticut, and ever since that happened … Yeah. I was terrified.”

“Thank you for your kind words, Antonia. I’m hearing from a lot of Montana Moms. I did what any Dad or Mom would do,” Hutson tweeted back.

“But you were paying attention & followed through,” Malchik responded. “For that we’re so grateful, to you & law enforcement.”

“I am a parent of a child in Whitefish, Montana,” another mother emailed. “Thank you for reporting David Lenio’s threats to the FBI. I cannot fully express my gratitude to you for your efforts in this particular situation and for the work you do for the Brady Campaign. Your humble response that you were just a concerned dad warms my heart.”

By day, you see, Hutson is communications director for the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a job he’s held since last Dec. 1. But 24/7 he’s the father of a first-grade son, and that’s the role that was really key in motivating him, especially after his hate-filled interlocutor—original identified only as “@PyschicDogTalk2”— asked him where his own children went to school.

“That chilled my blood,” Hutson recalled, and it motivated him to keep working until the suspect, David Joseph Lenio, was safely in custody. By then, he’d already encountered “dozens of threats to execute grade-school kids and Jews.”

“It’s very difficult as a dad trying to explain to my first-grader what was going on,” Hutson reflected. “He got up on Sunday morning and he saw daddy on the computer, and he heard daddy on the phone, and he wanted me to play video games with him. And I wanted to, but I just couldn’t.” The pain was palpable in Hutson’s voice. “So I had to explain to him why I couldn’t play with him, why I had to be stuck on the computer and on the phone. And it broke my heart to shatter his innocence and reveal to him the idea, which was totally novel, that a bad man with the gun would want to shoot grade-school kids. And brag about it on the Internet.”

“His eyes got really wide and he thought about that all day,” Hutson continued. “That night, when I was putting him to bed, he said, ‘Daddy can you tell the police my idea? That man should be locked up for a long time, until he’s much, much better.’

“‘Yes, sweetie, I will,’ [Hutson replied]. And I did.”

While his own child’s safety—and the safety of others like him—was one factor looming large over Hutson, two others were the disturbing nature of the tweets—along with other online content from the same anonymous individual, who had already had one Twitter account closed down on Jan. 5 for violating terms of service—and his own experience as an investigative reporter, which he drew on to distinguish between ordinary Internet trollery and something distinctly more ominous.

Here’s a sample of Lenio’s tweets from just a one-hour period two days before their first encounter, drawn from list Hutson sent to law enforcement:

2:52 a.m. – 12 Feb. “I want to shoot up a school”

2:55 a.m. – 12 Feb. 2015: “Talk mental health all you want but if I must work for piss poor #homeless slave #wages & can’t get property in my homeland..I may kill kids”

2:57 a.m. – 12 Feb. 2015: “I bet I could get at least 12 unarmed sitting ducks if I decide to go on a killing spree in a #school Sounds better than being a wage slave”

3:38 a.m. – 12 Feb. 2015: “USA needs a Hitler to rise to power and fix our #economy and i’m about ready to give my life to the cause or just shoot a bunch of #kikes…”

3:50 a.m. – 12 Feb. 2015: “If I had to pick between being homeless or shooting up a school and becoming dead, I’d say shooting up the school… Social security my ass”

“The tone and the pace of his tweets was frantic,” Hutson said. “He was tweeting obsessively at all hours of the day and night, becoming increasingly unhinged over a 72-hour period.” Hutson spent hours sifting through the tweets, culling the examples that were threatening from the ones that were merely offensive, creating a list of tweets “that would be relevant to a law enforcement officer.” He didn’t want to report it in a way that would be “sorted into the free speech bin,” he stressed. “The issue is not, ‘Hey, I’m offended,’ the issue is ‘Hey, this is threatening, and this is specific, and this guy is increasingly unhinged,” he explained. “It was threatening imminent violence and he was being specific and graphic.

“I’m relieved that instead of clicking on the radio or firing up the Internet and reading about school shooting in Kalispell, we’re reading about a dangerous man who has been locked away from the community and no longer has guns in his hands,” Hutson reflected. “I thought, if I don’t stay up and keep on this guy, to bring him down and he goes through with his threat, I won’t be able to bear that. And that’s what I tried to communicate to the sheriff in Oregon. And even after it turned out that this man had no tie to their tiny town, or their county or their state, they stayed with the story, because they got it, and they made sure that the police in Michigan and Montana got it, too.”

As he was putting together his list of tweets to make his case to law enforcement, Hutson was also looking for clues about the then-unknown tweeter’s identity, interests, habits and location.

“While I profiled this gentleman, I told the FBI and local law enforcement that the man threatening to shoot up a school and a synagogue was a young and athletic white supremacist, worked a low-paying job, probably in a restaurant, possibly as a cook, and that he enjoyed snowboarding and marijuana, and that he owned more than one gun,” Hutson said. “I said they could track his IP address through his Twitter account. [Which proved crucial in apprehending him.] I said he had a history of negative experiences with mental healthcare.”

Hutson then ticked off all the ways that had proven true. “When they arrested this white supremacist, he had just finished a day of snowboarding in Montana. He had marijuana and a pipe in his van (along with jugs of urine). He worked as a cook in a local restaurant, and had three guns. He had on Sunday retrieved ammunition and two rifles—a bolt-action and a semi-automatic—from his storage locker. His father, who lives in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area told Michigan police that he believed his son was mentally ill.”

He was less successful in identifying where Lenio was. Mistaking Lenio’s invocation of the white nationalist fantasy homeland “Cascadia” for an actual place—and reinforced by Lenio’s retweeting a tweet from Sen. Ron Wyden, saying “Happy Birthday, Oregon”—Hutson’s first guess was Linn County, Oregon, about 70 miles south of Portland in the Willamette Valley, home to an unincorporated community, and a state park named “Cascadia.” So Hutson first contacted the FBI office in Portland. Followed by the Linn County Sheriff’s Department, sending them an email with a culled collection of 37 tweets, including the ones listed above.

“There’s a Holocaust-denying bigot on Twitter who appears to be experiencing suicidal ideation–specifically, thoughts of suicide by cop—and who is tweeting that he wants to shoot and kill 30 or more ‘grade school children’ and Jews because he is angry at being homeless and ready to give his life ‘for the cause,’” Hutson wrote. “Over the past 72 hours, he has apparently become increasingly unhinged.”

Hutson also examined Lenio’s online videos, and interactions with other like-minded individuals. The picture that emerged from these was not as frantic as the recent Twitter record, but it was clearly disturbed. “It seems that he’s intelligent, but it seems to me that he’s mentally ill,” Hutson said. “He’s intelligent, his ideas are sophisticated, although illogical.” Indeed, while his thought processes showed disturbing content, they could be seen as potential evidence either of mental illness, or of a sophisticated epistemological strategy.

At the time, Hutson was focused entirely on the former, concerned with the very real threat of imminent violence. He even reached out to other white supremacists, to see if they could help identify or locate @pyschicdogtalk2. He figured they might help, since his threatened execution of school kids would be terrible for their cause. It didn’t pan out, but Hutson was willing to try anything that might help avoid a tragedy.

Yet, it’s a mistake to think that only crazy people think the way Lenio did. The point was addressed head on by Rachel Carroll Rivas, executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network. On the one hand, “It is important to note that there are only a few actors in these larger extremist movements that act violently on their legitimate frustrations of economic insecurity,” she said, but “it is also important to remember that while some of those violent actors may struggle with mental health instability, the ideology of these movements can make everyday people spin deeper and deeper into the fear, scapegoating, and conspiracy theories to the point of violence.”

Now that Lenio is no longer an imminent threat, we can look at that same online material to see what it can tell us about how that ideology works to warp people’s understanding. Rivas said something more that drives home how important this can be. “Just like far-right extremists succumb to conspiracy theories that give simple answers to complex questions, society as a whole does the same when placing the blame only on the individual and/or their mental state and not on the movement, ideology, beliefs and those spewing hate through the microphones,” she said. “In addition, we vilify those struggling with mental health issues when we call all of these violent actors ‘crazy.’ There is more to it and it behooves us to understand and stand against these beliefs and movements of the extremist right.”

Precisely because Lenio’s online ideological ramblings are so uneven, crude in some ways, sophisticated in others, they provide an interesting way to approach such material. One of his most telling YouTube creations is “Channel Surfing for 9/11 Truth: A Video Investigation,” a nearly 90-minute video, combining his own ramblings with a variety of video clips from different sources. It provides examples of his muddled, illogical and/or self-contradictory thinking, at a more leisurely pace, so that watching it one can become familiar with the themes, catchphrases and mental tics that obsesses him, as well as the fears and forces he is struggling with.

The video started off to be a short five-minute distillation created for the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Lenio explains. But he just couldn’t fit everything into such a compact format. In fact, it takes him almost 13 minutes of multilayered digressions to get to the first clip of his compilation. He makes clear at the beginning that he’s not interested in proving that 9/11 was a hoax; instead he simply asserts it as a fact, citing physical evidence that Popular Mechanics comprehensively refuted long ago, with more recent updating as well. Rather than proving his case, he wants to focus on who would benefit, and how—which, logically, does nothing to prove the underlying assertion—but does make it more psychologically satisfying to embrace.

Similarly, he also says, “Israelis were involved with it, it’s just a fact.” He says there were “some factions” of the U.S. government involved, but, “There were some people that were loyal to another government. And that’s Israel.” Then he adds, “You know when you start talking about Israel, and Jews or whatever, that’s taboo, the Holocaust, or whatever.” In short, he takes for granted a whole constellation of conspiracist beliefs, and he takes the fact that others find this odd, unproven or even unbelievable as proof that he is in the know and others are foolish or ill-informed.

This reflects an aspect of conspiracist thinking that I talked about in a previous story for Salon. Regarding conspiracy theories, the philosopher Brian L. Keeley observed, “These theories throw into doubt the various institutions that have been set up to generate reliable data and evidence. In doing so, they reveal just how large a role trust in both institutions and individuals plays in the justification of our beliefs. The ultimate point of such theories, then, is to destroy the foundations of how things are known—not just to question specific factual claims.

While engaged in this sort of destructive process, it helps to adopt a “reasonable,” “non-threatening” demeanor, and to the best of his ability, this is just what Lenio does in the video, “Just keep in mind, there’s no hate in this video,” he says, straight-faced. “I’m not saying that all the Jews did it, or whatever.” Then, however, he begins to slip: “But at times some of the things I say, I feel that kind of sounds like skin-headish shit, and like, until I started investigating 9/11, I never thought I’d say some of the things I’ve said about Jews. So, I don’t know, I’ll probably make a video about what I think about Jews, too…. I’m not spreading hate, I just want a real investigation in 9/11.”

“I’m not spreading hate, I just want a real investigation,” it might as well be the GOP’s national motto in the Obama years. But who does he think he is fooling? One can’t help wondering, watching the video. It seems like perhaps he’s trying to fool others, in order to fool himself. Self-deception and redirection of anger and blame reappear again and again in his videos—and more rapidly, in the blink of an eye, in his twitter stream.

At one point he starts out in a place he returns to frequently, commenting on his own poverty and lack of resources, and how it limits what he can do with his 9/11 video. He then imagines what he could do if he had some real power—but this quickly escalates into a brutal fantasy, which he must quickly disavow—but only halfheartedly (“whatever”) and certainly not enough to forgo the pleasure of contemplating his imaginary triumph:

“I’m just a kid whose broke, and dealing with how I’m going to eat… I don’t have a job doing this. I’m just doing this from what I found on YouTube, to show you that the information is out there. And, if I was a lawyer, or somebody, getting paid and had subpoena power to put somebody on the stand and say ‘You’re going to get on the staand and answer these questions’, well, shit would be a lot different. And if I was waterboarding some of these assholes—which I don’t condone, and I think is wrong, you know, whatever, shit would be a lot, lot, lot different.”

Ruminations like these—and others, unrecorded, which must have helped form them—give evidence of a familiar mental landscape of anti-Semitic mythology, which in turn makes some of his tweets chillingly familiar, even as they are wildly at odds with his “I’m not spreading hate” claim:

3:00 p.m. – 13 Feb. 2015: “I think every jew on the planet deserves to be killed for what kikes have done to our #dollar and cost of living Killing jews > wage #slave”

3:04 p.m. – 13 Feb. 2015: “Best way to counter the harm #jewish #politics is causing is #ChapelHillShooting styling [sic] killing of #jews til they get the hint & leave”

Then there’s the added element of systematic denial, which Lenio’s online record shows he not only applies to the Holocaust and 9/11, but to high-profile mass killing like Sandy Hook. And yet he’s ambivalent, because he is so fascinated with spectacles of destruction. Hence we get tweets like the following;

4:14 p.m. – 14 Feb. 2015: “I’m not even opposed to shooting up a random school like that sandy hoax stunt only realer, to voice my displeasure with being a wage slave.”

9:45 p.m. – 14 Feb. 2015: “Now that the holocaust has been proven to be a lie Beyond a reasonable doubt, it is now time to hunt the Nazi hunters.”

He’s also ambivalent on the subject of his own mental health—clearly resenting that it might be questioned, yet simultaneously wearing his state of distress as a PTSD-style badge of honor:

4:17 p.m. – 14 Feb. 2015: “I bet I’d take out at least a whole #classroom & score 30+ if I put my mind to it #Poverty is making me want to kill folks #MentalHealth?”

4:19 p.m. – 14 Feb. 2015: “No one faults slaves who snapped & violently lashed out at their masters or the society which enslaved them. Why different for wage slaves?”

This fragmented mental landscape was ultimately overwhelming for Lenio, offering no coherent way forward for him. But for a high strategist with a decent income, and none of Lenio’s material existential angst, the way forward is obvious: use this fragmentation and confusion to undermine the existing order, working every angle you can find, in the manner that Keeley suggests.

That’s the path that’s been taken by a far more prominent white nationalist resident of Flathead County, clean-cut Richard Spencer, head of the Virginia-based National Policy Institute, a white nationalist “think tank,” who strives to present his racism with a well-groomed, wholesome facade, as described for Salon by Flathead native Lauren Fox in a September 2013 profile, (“The Hatemonger Next Door”): “We have to look good,” Spencer said, adding that if his movement means ”being part of something that is crazed or ugly or vicious or just stupid, no one is going to want to be a part of it.”

But that facade is not nearly good enough for other facade-builders on the right, when things get hot enough. Spencer was spotlighted by Rachel Maddow in May 2013, when it was revealed that a researcher previously affiliated with Spencer as a contributor to his online white nationalist magazine had been hired by the Heritage Foundation as part of its team that produced its anti-immigration reform study. Heritage immediately tried to downplay that contributor’s role, and distance itself from his other writings.

While Spencer tries to make racism respectable, and respectable conservatives try to pretend they have nothing in common with him, he can’t help attracting the very sorts of “crazed or ugly or vicious or just stupid” people he is trying to distance himself from, particularly since other white supremacist figures who’ve moved into the area continue peddling their more gut-level messages, figures like April Gaede, whom Rivas singled out as a local leader Lenio had interacted with online, and may well have been responsible for drawing him to the area

Flathead County, home to Kalispell (pop.~ 21,000) and Whitefish (pop. ~ 6400), is Montana’s third most populous county, and although it’s been Montana’s most popular destination for white nationalist and assorted hate groups who have moved there over the years, it’s also home to a vigorous community-based countermovement embracing diversity and tolerance, spearheaded by the local group Love Lives Here, which works closely with the Montana Human Rights Network. Although outside leaders like Gaede and followers like Lenio have gravitated to the area over the years, they’ve never been able to tip the community balance—which may be part of the story behind Lenio’s seemingly explosive frustration.

“When the issue comes up, the people of Whitefish have rallied in support of diversity, in support of minorities,” Rabbi Roston said. “That was evident when there was an issue about Richard Spencer. People thought he was going to be opening an office here in Whitefish, and they were concerned. And the town very quickly drafted a resolution. It wasn’t any sort of legal law or statute, but it was just a resolution stating the values of the community. I was very impressed.”

Yet, she’s also feeling quite shaken and vulnerable in the wake of Lenio’s arrest. She’s a transplant from New Jersey where she’s accustomed to security in public meeting places as a matter of course. “There is a culture, as you may know, in Montana of trust … People are very loose with security … People leave their keys in their cars.” Now, for the first time, there will be security at their next public event.

“It’s something that our community has grown accustomed to,” said Tanya Gersh, a longtime lay leader in the local Jewish community. “It seems like every three, four or five years something happens, or someone, or some groups, or something like this that rolls through, and definitely shakes us all up. And we discuss it, and we count our blessings that nothing happened. But it’s not something that we are hung up and worried about. I would say, in general, we feel very, very safe in this community.

“Something we understand is that every once in a while there’s going to be some crazy lunatic that’s going to come through and have his opinions about one thing or another, and that’s something that Jewish people, in general, have been used to forever. Since the beginning of our time, we’ve had this.”

So it’s not a perfect community. But it’s far more hospitable for Jews than it is for anti-Semites. “We’re not dwelling on it. We do feel like it’s a very specific incident, and we don’t anticipate more problems. We’re not sitting home afraid,” Gersh said. “This town does not let hate groups stay.”

So the bigger question is not about Whitefish or Kalispell. It’s about America. Because you can’t say that about America as a whole. Perhaps a human-level, collaborative response in protecting our children would be a place where we could at least make a start.

Now that the immediate threat of violence is over, Hutson hopes others will learn from the experience. “Whether Lenio purchased his guns legally or not, and whatever his mental health evaluation suggests—we should all want to take this as a teachable moment, that there are things we could all do to keep guns out of dangerous hands,” he said, including “terrorists, convicted felons, and the dangerously mentally ill,” such as Lenio. “One of the best ways to do that is through Brady background checks,” Hutson said. “Since Congress passed the Brady law, with bipartisan support, 1993, Brady background checks have blocked the sale of 2.4 million attempted gun purchases by dangerous people. So, background checks save lives …”

“But another is if you see something, say something. Give law enforcement the opportunity to act on a tip from a concerned dad or mom. We can all play a role in making this the safer America we all want. As parents we can ask, ‘Is there a loaded, unlocked gun where my child plays?’ So, for me this is a story about how any concerned citizen can play a role in making this the safer America we all want.”

Given that those thanking him included proud gun owners, perhaps there really is an opening for common sense to help draw people together, and make us all more secure. It’s a good first step toward building wider trust, and finding even more that we can hold in common.


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Categories: Media

WATCH: In United Nations Speech, Noam Chomsky Blasts United States for Supporting Israel

Democracy Now! - Mon, 03/02/2015 - 12:22pm

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the United States to address the pro-Israeli lobby group AIPAC and Congress, we feature Noam Chomsky's United Nations address on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he’s taught for more than half a century. He spoke in October to more than 800 people packed the hall of the U.N. General Assembly — ambassadors and the public alike from around the world. The event was hosted by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

Click here to see Chomsky's question and answer session that followed his address.

“Don't miss our interview today with Noam Chomsky: Opposing Iran Nuclear Deal, Israel’s Goal Isn’t Survival — It’s Regional Dominance

Categories: Media

Big Ag Fights For Twitter Credibility

Alternet - Media Culture - Mon, 03/02/2015 - 12:07pm
The industry's assault on social media reveals an anti-democratic push to stifle debate.

Many consumers and food activists use social media platforms to stay informed and engage in important debates about the future of our food system. But increasing corporate influence in these spaces requires us to differentiate fact from spin as we encounter hundreds of posts and tweets per day. Big Ag’s attempts to shape social media debates expose its fear of criticism from a growing food movement demanding corporate transparency, more humane treatment of animals, better regulation, and sustainable alternatives to industrial agriculture. With 284 million monthly active users, Twitter has become a battleground for Big Ag’s credibility.

Half of social media users share news stories and discuss current events on social media [1] and all of the “Big Six” agribusiness companies—Bayer, BASF, Dow, Syngenta, DuPont, and Monsanto—maintain active social media presences. Searching for terms like GMO, agriculture, or farming on Twitter yields thousands of tweets from the Big Six. While I knew agribusiness companies used PR campaigns, I became more acutely aware of their social media tactics through an exchange I had with Bayer CropScience (@Bayer4Crops). It began when Bayer tweeted a UN Food and Agriculture Organization video on the impact of food waste:

Tweet from Bayer. Photo Credit: Twitter

I tweeted back that if we could stop wasting one third of food, the focus on increasing yields with biotech would become even less defensible:

Tweet from Teresa Miller. Photo Credit: Twitter

I thought that would be the end of the interaction: a big company tweeted something, and I replied as a concerned citizen. To my surprise, @Bayer4Crops not only responded to me personally, but engaged in a multi-pronged attempt to change my mind—or at least the minds of others who might encounter our tweets.

Bayer’s reaction reflects an economic reality: with Big Ag’s bottom line at stake, public perception matters. Monsanto, for instance, reported sales of $2.87 billion in the quarter ending Nov. 30, 2014, alone. Agribusiness sales require a regulatory environment allowing GM foods and crops on the market, as well as the widespread application of pesticide, herbicide, and synthetic fertilizer. As consumers, farmers, and voters question the safety and necessity of these products and methods, Big Ag is waging a fight for credibility on multiple fronts.

While in theory social media platforms like Twitter provide a democratic forum—anyone with Internet access can tweet anyone else—they are still subject to the distortions of financial influence. In the face of corporate attempts to manipulate discussion, tweets may rise to prominence because they offer new, compelling information—or because groups with vested interests pour significant resources into making tweets appear authoritative.

Big Ag’s assault on social media reveals an anti-democratic push to stifle informed debate and quash individual criticisms before they gain traction in the court of public opinion. Indeed, Big Ag, including Bayer, manipulates social media exchanges with a variety of obfuscating tactics: moving critics to corporate-controlled internet forums; downplaying the implications of the GMO debate; claiming they’re doing humanitarian (as opposed to profit-seeking) work that is either vilified or misunderstood; green-washing their image by appropriating activist language; and intentionally sowing doubt about the credibility of anyone who questions the safety of GMOs or industrial agriculture.

Tactic #1: Take the conversation off Twitter and into a biotech-controlled forum.

As Gary Ruskin outlines in “Seedy Business: What Big Food is hiding with its slick PR campaign on GMOs,” a new report published by the nonprofit US Right to Know, Big Ag companies have hired public relations firms like Ketchum and Fleishman Hillard to mitigate criticism with industry-created websites. For instance, the American Farm Bureau Federation reports that its PR firm “seeks out negative tweets on Twitter” relating to biotech and then directs the authors of those tweets to a website called Funding for the site comes from The Council for Biotechnology Information, which includes the Big Six [2]. The Farm Bureau reports that since launching its Twitter campaign last year, “there’s been about an 80 percent reduction in negative Twitter traffic as it relates to GMOs ”[3].

Sure enough, in my exchange with Bayer, @Bayer4Crops tweeted back to encourage me to join the discussion in the company’s online forum.

Twitter from Bayer to Teresa Miller. Photo Credit: Twitter

Tactic #2: Downplay what’s at stake.

Moving to the corporate forum would have taken me out of the searchable free-for-all of Twitter and into a Bayer-moderated space. But more than that, Bayer’s invitation to discuss implies that our fundamental disagreement about the impacts of industrial agriculture—with potentially life-altering consequences for humans and the biosphere—can be resolved through a friendly chat.

Monsanto uses the same strategy of minimization in its recent controversial ad set to appear in Oprah’s O Magazine. The ad shows smiling people sitting down to share a healthy and bountiful meal with the tag line “Grab a seat and let’s dig in: The best dinners are the ones with lively conversation.” The ad implies that organic and industrial practices can coexist, and the conflicts between Big Ag and its detractors are no more fraught than a spirited dinner conversation. In fact, there are irreconcilable contradictions between the approaches in question that preclude collaboration. Unlike biotech/chemical methods that seek to subjugate nature and human welfare to profit, organic agroecology works with nature to rebuild soil—and communities—over generations.

What’s really at stake is nothing less than our democracy: whether producers and consumers have meaningful control over shaping our own food and agriculture systems, a concept known around the world as food sovereignty. Big Ag methods extract more from the soil—and the communities that work the soil—than they return. Industrial agriculture relies on mechanization, monoculture, pesticide, herbicide, fossil-fuel intensive synthetic fertilizer, and patented seed. These methods deplete the soil and favor large corporate farms, while putting small farmers into debt—or pushing them off their land entirely.

There are viable alternatives to Big Ag: small-scale, biodiverse, agroecological systems have the potential to produce safe, quality food in sufficient volume to feed the world. What’s really at stake is a robust debate examining the root causes of hunger and the full range of solutions, as well as the human and environmental impacts of those solutions. That’s not a trivial subject to relegate to casual speculation in the private sphere. The debate should take place publicly, in policymaking spaces, without the manipulative tactics of agribusiness lobbyists and PR firms.

Tactic #3: Pretend you’re just misunderstood.

Big Ag ads like Monsanto’s imply that critics are misinformed or worse, lashing out at companies’ valuable efforts to solve global hunger. In my exchange with @Bayer4Crops, I asserted that the GMO production model starts from an inaccurate premise of hunger caused by scarcity rather than poverty and inequality. In response, the Bayer tweeter feigned surprise, implying that I had misunderstood, or even willfully misrepresented, the company’s real interests.

Twitter exchange between Teresa Miller and Bayer. Photo Credit: Twitter

Bayer may, in fact, be “very committed” to helping farmers use their proprietary products. But alleviating poverty and inequality requires addressing inequitable access to wealth, resources, and food system decisions—i.e., political solutions—not a one-size-fits-all model of techno-fixes. Bayer’s tweet sidesteps the complexity of the issue and the scope of systemic change required to support farmers, while asserting a benign humanitarian goal.

Tactic #4: Green-wash language and assert a common interest.

In addition to asserting (false) alliances with small farmers, Big Ag hopes to coopt grassroots causes. If everyone appears to be fighting hunger and promoting sustainability, consumers see no reason for protest, which recasts the conflicting players as needing to work together.

In this spirit of false alliance, BASF—whose work diametrically opposes Food First’s support of agroecology and food sovereignty—tweeted a Food First link, making it seem as though they share common cause in the fight against hunger:

Tweet from BASF. Photo Credit: Twitter

In another example of green-washing and false alliance, Monsanto recently released a YouTube video narrated by Jerry Hayes, titled “How Monsanto Helps Keep the Bees Buzzin’.” Hayes says “it takes all of us working together” to protect honeybees, which have been “impacted negatively by…pests, predators, and diseases,” as well as by climate change. Hayes implies that individual citizens planting bee-attracting flowers in their backyards have the same responsibility and impact as Monsanto, which sells neonicotinoid-treated seeds. He never mentions the primary concern with regard to bee populations, colony collapse disorder, which is tied to using neonicotinoids (manufactured by Bayer and Syngenta and used on Monsanto seed).

Thus the video argues that Monsanto cares about the environment, too, but banning these chemicals isn’t the solution; rather, ordinary citizens have to step up and do their part.

One of the video’s many unaddressed weaknesses includes blaming climate change for decimating bee populations without acknowledging that industrial agriculture is a leading contributor to climate change. But passing the buck helps Monsanto assert a common interest with its detractors: Monsanto and environmentalists united against climate change! Blaming external forces also opens the market for profitable pseudo-solutions, like proprietary drought-tolerant GMO seeds.

Similarly, when I pointed out the connection between biotech and monoculture, @Bayer4Crops asserted Bayer shared my point of view, as evidenced by its “Respect the Rotation” initiative:

Twitter exchange between Bayer and Teresa Miller. Photo Credit: Twitter

Promoting the rotation of enormous GMO monocultures, and rotating the chemicals sprayed on them, in no way indicates a “shared view.” The lead image on Bayer’s “Respect the Rotation” page shows a large-scale, chemical-intensive monoculture—not the sustainable, diversified farming systems to which I was referring.

During the course of this exchange @Bayer4Crops also followed me on Twitter. When I tweeted that Bayer did not share my point of view, @Bayer4Crops unfollowed me and deleted its “Respect the Rotation” tweet.

Tactic #5: Sow doubt.

PR campaigns like “Respect the Rotation” want consumers to question criticism of agribusiness: If Bayer promotes crop rotation, then is industrial agriculture really so bad? Doesn’t crop rotation demonstrate a commitment to sustainability? Indeed, “sustainability” is subject to a wide range of definitions.

In December 2014, BASF hosted a Sustainable Brands conference in New Jersey, and BASF participates in other “sustainability” conferences around the globe. Again, though BASF’s products are inherently unsustainable, appropriating activist language encourages consumer doubt: how can critics call the host of a sustainability conference unsustainable?

The food sovereignty vs. monopoly agribusiness fight is asymmetrical: corporations have millions of dollars to coordinate advertising, PR campaigns, and political lobbying. By contrast, individual consumers, advocacy nonprofits, and academic researchers operate from a more diffuse power base, with far less funding.

Further complicating matters, a significant portion of scientific research on GMOs comes from agribusiness itself. Big Ag companies restrict access to their products for testing and actively seek to prevent the publication of criticism. For instance, Food & Water Watch found

When an Ohio State University professor produced research that questioned the biological safety of biotech sunflowers, Dow AgroSciences and [DuPont's] Pioneer Hi-Bred blocked her research privileges to their seeds, barring her from conducting additional research. Similarly, when other Pioneer Hi-Bred-funded professors found a new [genetically engineered] corn variety to be deadly to beneficial beetles, the company barred the scientists from publishing their findings. Pioneer Hi-Bred subsequently hired new scientists who produced the necessary results to secure regulatory approval.[4]

And Big Ag may not stop at withholding research material, as the case of University of California Berkeley Professor Tyrone Hayes and Syngenta illustrates. Originally hired by Novartis Agribusiness (later Syngenta) to study the effects of atrazine, Hayes found that the herbicide caused hermaphroditism in frogs. The company responded by pursuing a campaign to discredit Hayes both professionally and personally, prying into his professional speaking engagements and private life. US industrial corn crops widely use atrazine, and despite research indicating reproductive harm to humans as well as frogs, repeated EPA reviews have not resulted in a ban.

Thus, sowing doubt among consumers and voters about the validity of criticism, even from respected scientists in peer-reviewed journals, is a tactic to neutralize opponents and downplay concerns over human and environmental risks.

Becoming More Critical (Social) Media Consumers

Though Twitter is a relatively new forum, Big Ag’s highly funded [5] PR tactics are not new. The same PR companies and front groups now representing biotech interests previously defended big tobacco companies [6] and continue to spread confusion about human-caused climate change. In This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein describes the Heartland Institute, which has received funding from the Koch brothers, historically defended Big Tobacco, denies the human role in climate change, and attacks critics of GMOs.

In an age of intentional misinformation campaigns, critical consumption of media is imperative. We must ask: who is writing or speaking, who funds them, and what do they and their funders have to gain? Big Ag has responded to grassroots social movements by manipulating conversations on social media, which undermines public debate and erodes the democratic process. Food and environmental activists should respond by actively encouraging informed analysis among consumers. Green-washed websites, corporate-controlled discussion forums, and concerned-sounding tweets must not undermine the growing movement for healthy, culturally appropriate, and ecologically produced food.


[1] Monica Anderson and Andrea Caumont, “How social media is reshaping the news,” Pew Research Center, September 24, 2014, accessed February 6, 2015,

[2] “About GMO Answers: Founding Members,” The Council for Biotechnology Information, accessed February 9, 2015,

[3] David Bennett, “The battle over biotech food labeling heating up,” Delta Farm Press, August 4, 2014, accessed February 5, 2015,

[4] Quoted in Tom Philpott, “How Your College Is Selling Out to Big Ag,” Mother Jones, May 9, 2012, accessed February 5, 2015,

[5] Gary Ruskin, “Seedy Business: What Big Food is hiding with its slick PR campaign on GMOs,” US Right to Know, January 2015, accessed January 30, 2015,, 4.

[6] Fleishman Hillard, for instance, provides services to Bayer and Monsanto, having previously provided PR assistance for cigarette industry lobbying group The Tobacco Institute during the 1980s and 90s. See Gary Ruskin, op. cit., 24-25.

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CU’s Ad Campaign Highlights How the Comcast Merger Hurts Consumers

Hear Us Now - Mon, 03/02/2015 - 9:08am

“What’s Worse Than Comcast Today?  Comcast Tomorrow.” 

Consumers Union’s New Ad Campaign Highlights How The Comcast Merger Will Hurt Consumers 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As the nation’s biggest cable and broadband provider, Comcast has earned a poor reputation in customer satisfaction surveys year after year.  But consumers can get expect things to go from bad to worse if Comcast expands its national dominance by merging with Time Warner Cable, according to a new ad campaign launched by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports.

The ads are appearing in the Washington, D.C. market beginning in today’s editions of the Wall Street Journal, Politico, and Communications Daily and online at  A similar radio ad is being broadcast on WTOP-AM over the next week.

“If Comcast is allowed to swallow up Time Warner Cable, we expect things will get even worse for consumers,” said Delara Derakhshani, policy counsel for Consumers Union.  “Comcast stands to gain more control than ever over the choices consumers have and how much they will pay.  And a bigger, more powerful Comcast would have little incentive to improve its notoriously lousy customer service.  This merger is a bad deal for consumers and ought to be rejected by the federal government.”


The ads point out that the merger would give Comcast control over 60 percent of cable TV and more than half of the high speed broadband in the U.S.  Comcast already owns extensive programming through its previous merger with NBC Universal, as well as regional sports networks and other video content.   This latest merger would give Comcast unprecedented control over key programing along with the “pipes” to deliver those programs into American homes.

Comcast’s greater national dominance would give it tremendous power to dictate what programs are offered to consumers and to weaken Internet-based companies, as well as satellite and other wires into the home, as potential alternatives to the cable monopoly.

“The impact of this mega merger will be felt nationwide, far beyond Comcast’s disgruntled customer base,” said Derakhshani.  “The FCC did the right thing by adopting strong rules to keep the Internet open.  Now it needs to stop Comcast’s domination plan and reject this merger.”

Contact:  Michael McCauley,, 415-902-9537 (cell) or David Butler,, 202-462-6262

Categories: Media

Three Apparent Whoppers Bill O'Reilly Has Told About His Career

Alternet - Media Culture - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 1:47pm
The Fox blowhard has a, shall we say, shaky relationship with the truth.

Bill O'Reilly is consistently the most-watched opinion news pundit. But despite bringing in enormous ratings, O'Reilly has gotten himself into a bit of trouble as it appears that he has, on several occasions, blatantly lied about his reporting history.

Here's the three big whoppers uncovered so far:

1. Bill O'Reilly Lied About How He Covered The Falklands War: O'Reilly has claimed that he “reported on the ground in active war zones [like] the Falklands...having survived a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands war, I know that life-and-death decisions are made in a flash.” The reality is that O'Reilly, while working for CBS News, covered a protest in Buenos Aires, over a thousand miles away from the fighting over the Falklands.

2. Bill O'Reilly Lied About Witnessing The Suicide Of A Man In The JFK Investigation: O'Reilly has on numerous occasions said he witnessed the suicide of George de Mohrenschildt, who knew the JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. It's now apparent that O'Reilly actually called a congressional investigator to confirm the suicide – meaning he didn't witness it himself.

3. Bill O'Reilly Lied About Witnessing The Murder Of Salvadoran Nuns: O'Reilly claimed he saw nuns executed in El Salvador; after being called on the claim, he now says he merely saw photographs of the execution. Additionally, O'Reilly stands accused as intentionally failing to cover massacres during the war.

The researchers at Media Matters are working around the clock to discover more fibs from O'Reilly's past. If three major whoppers have emerged in less than three weeks, it's likely we haven't seen the last of the Fox News anchor's lies.


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Amy Goodman on "Melissa Harris-Perry" on MSNBC Sunday, March 1st

Democracy Now! - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 1:09pm

Don't miss Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman on "Melissa Harris-Perry," this Sunday, March 1st. The show airs live from 10 a.m. to Noon ET on MSNBC.

Categories: Media

Paul Krugman: How Austerity Madness Was Dealt a Crucial Blow this Week

Alternet - Media Culture - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 10:10am
"The Greek government didn’t succumb to the bum’s rush, and that in itself is a kind of victory."

Paul Krugman takes a contrarian view of the deal the new Greek government reached with its creditors earlier in the week. The deal was widely derided on the left as a disaster,  a “surrender” on the part of Syriza, the new ruling coalition in Athens.

Krugman does not agree. "On the contrary," he writes in Friday's column, "Greece came out of the negotiations pretty well, although the big fights are still to come. And by doing O.K., Greece has done the rest of Europe a favor."

Here's his analysis:

To make sense of what happened, you need to understand that the main issue of contention involves just one number: the size of the Greek primary surplus, the difference between government revenues and government expenditures not counting interest on the debt. The primary surplus measures the resources that Greece is actually transferring to its creditors. Everything else, including the notional size of the debt — which is a more or less arbitrary number at this point, with little bearing on the amount anyone expects Greece to pay — matters only to the extent that it affects the primary surplus Greece is forced to run.

For Greece to run any surplus at all — given the depression-level slump that it’s in and the effect of that depression on revenues — is a remarkable achievement, the result of incredible sacrifices. Nonetheless, Syriza has always been clear that it intends to keep running a modest primary surplus. If you are angry that the negotiations didn’t make room for a full reversal of austerity, a turn toward Keynesian fiscal stimulus, you weren’t paying attention.

The question instead was whether Greece would be forced to impose still more austerity. The previous Greek government had agreed to a program under which the primary surplus would triple over the next few years, at immense cost to the nation’s economy and people.

Why would any government agree to such a thing? Fear. Essentially, successive leaders in Greece and other debtor nations haven’t dared to challenge extreme creditor demands, for fear that they would be punished — that the creditors would cut off their cash flow or, worse yet, implode their banking system if they balked at ever-harsher budget cuts.

And this is precisely where the new Greek government showed a lot more backbone in the negotiations than the previous one. In fact, Greece won new flexibility for this year, a luxury the embattled nation has not had for quite a while. The creditors not only did not pull the plug, they gave them financing for the next few months. Sure, there are big battles looming in the future, but for now, "the Greek government didn’t succumb to the bum’s rush, and that in itself is a kind of victory," Krugman writes.

The coverage about the agreement has been nearly uniformly negative, however. Some of that is justified: Syriza left in place some privatization of public assets, labor market regulation and promised to crack down on tax evaders, although that last one does not exactly sound like a terrible leftist defeat. Krugman:

Still, nothing that just happened justifies the pervasive rhetoric of failure. Actually, my sense is that we’re seeing an unholy alliance here between left-leaning writers with unrealistic expectations and the business press, which likes the story of Greek debacle because that’s what is supposed to happen to uppity debtors. But there was no debacle. Provisionally, at least, Greece seems to have ended the cycle of ever-more-savage austerity.

Meanwhile, there were some positive signs in the rest of Europe, and Krugman thinks they may have Greece to thank in some small measure. There are some signs that the continent is emerging from its austerity madness, and just in the nick of time. Example: the European Commission has decided not to fine France and Italy for exceeding their deficit targets.

We should all be rooting for Greece to keep calm and carry on. The rest of the world's economy may depend on it.


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WATCH: Sportscaster's Stirring Speech About High School Kids Who Held Up 'White Power' Signs

Alternet - Media Culture - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 9:24am
"Kids have to be taught to hate. I was."

When a group of students held up “white power” signs during a high school basketball game this week, in Flower Mound, Texas, parents and school administrators quickly rushed to pull them down, but it was too late. Someone captured a photo of the moment, tweeted it and it soon went viral.

Though some parents defended the students’ actions as a “mistake,” most people rightfully condemned the students' behavior, but the best reaction came from Dale Hansen of WFAA-TV of Dallas/Fort Worth, who delivered a powerful talk about how he is not as upset with the young people as some would think.

“Maybe because I used to be one of those kids,” Hansen said during a broadcast this week. “I was raised in a small Iowa farm town that had only one black family in the county and raised by a man who used the n-word like it was a proper noun. I think I was 12 before I realized that the n-word actually wasn’t the first name of Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Elston Howard and so many more. My dad always referred to the black athlete and any person of color he didn’t know that way.”

Hansen continued, “But he loved the Mathews family. Henry and Billy Mathews were good people. The whole family was. My dad always said, ‘They were different.’ The one black family [my father] knew were good people; all the others he didn’t know, they were the bad people. The ignorance in that reasoning if you think about it long enough will twist your mind and it twisted mine.”

"Kids have to be taught to hate," Hansen said. "I was."

He expressed hope that the kids who held up the racist signs could unlearn their hatred, but first people need to admit that what they did was wrong.

Dale Hansen spoke out in defense of football player Michael Sam, who faced homophobic reactions after publically coming out.

Listen to the rest of what Hansen has to say about the "white power" incident:

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CU’s ad campaign aims to keep the pressure on the FCC to reject the merger

Hear Us Now - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 2:00am

Consumers scored a major victory this week when the FCC voted to enact strong new rules to ensure the Internet remains free and open.  Now we’re hoping to capitalize on that momentum and continue the pressure on the FCC to reject the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger.

Beginning next week, Consumers Union will run ads in select Washington, D.C. media outlets urging the FCC to side with consumers and turn down the mega merger.  Our ads pose the question, “What’s worse than Comcast today?’  The obvious answer:  Comcast tomorrow if its merger with Time Warner Cable is allowed to go through.


CU’s ad campaign was made possible because of the generous contributions of our campaign supporters.  The ads point out that Comcast will gain control of almost 60 percent of the cable TV and more than half of the high speed broadband market in the country.  That’s too much power for one single corporation, especially a cable giant like Comcast that has consistently scored poorly in Consumer Reports’ annual customer satisfaction surveys.

Over the past couple of months, we’ve been working as part of the Stop Mega Comcast Coaltion to make the case against the merger and mobilize more opposition to the deal.  And we’ve been busy debunking Comcast’s dubious claims and stepping up the pressure in California where regulators are taking a close look at the takeover scheme.

All of our efforts are paying off but we’ve got to keep pushing.  We can defeat this disastrous deal if we continue to stand together and keep the pressure on the FCC!

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FCC votes to keep the Internet free and open!

Hear Us Now - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 4:29pm

Consumers scored a major victory today to protect the Internet from interference from big companies like Comcast and Verizon.  Help spread the good news by sharing this post:



Post by Consumers Union.
Categories: Media

Dumb Things Donald Trump, Fake Presidential Candidate, Has Said Just This Week

Alternet - Media Culture - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 2:34pm
This is just a tiny sampler of all the ludicrous things The Donald has said in the past few days.

Congratulations, America!: Donald Trump says he might run for President again.

Or rather, to put it more accurately, Donald Trump is again going around saying he might run for president. 

In an interview with the Washington Post, the reality TV star tried to assure readers that his latest presidential talk is about affecting real political change, and not a crass and pathetic attempt at maintaining a semblance of relevance.

“Everybody feels I’m doing this just to have fun or because it’s good for the brand,” Trump said. “Well, it’s not fun. I’m not doing this for enjoyment. I’m doing this because the country is in serious trouble.”

Um, Donald Trump does realize that we haven’t forgotten like, everything he’s ever said and done, right? Because it seems like Donald Trump is pretty sure we’re all idiots.

Let’s revisit a handful of the ridiculous things Donald Trump has said in just the last week:

1) On the Oscars. Donald called into "Fox & Friends" to toss off a few gems.

“There was a lot of conservative hatred there – there’s no question about that,” Trump said. He then stated that unlike the liberals over at the Academy Awards he “[hadn’t] seen any conservatives get up lately and start ranting and raving.”

So Donald Trump hasn’t read the Internet or watched TV or had any contact with media in very long time. Fine. But then, in response to wins for "Birdman" and its director Alejandro González Iñárritu, Trump stated:

“Well it was a great night for Mexico, as usual in this country...It was a great night…for Mexico. This guy kept getting up and up and up. I said, you know, what’s he doing? He’s walking away with all the gold.”

The Mexicans are stealing all the gold? And you're using "gold" as a poorly obfuscated code word for "jobs," yes? 

Though you can't hear it on the recording, Trump concluded his remarks by singing “America! Fuck Yeah!


2) On Obama and Israel. While being interviewed on conservative Hugh Hewitt’s radio show recently, Trump was asked if he thinks Obama is a friend of Israel.

“No, I think he’s one of the worst things that’s ever happened to Israel,” Trump said, as if we thought he might answer any other way. The he claimed to know Netanyahu very well – well, he calls him “Bibi” – and kept right on talking:

“[S]o many friends of mine, they contributed to the Obama campaign. I said, because they’re so pro-Israel, I said, 'How can you contribute to the campaign? This guy is the worst thing that ever happened to Israel.'”

And then History Professor Trump demanded to see Obama's birth certificate again. 


3) On Vaccinations Causing Autism. In the same interview with Hewitt, which is an embarrassment of riches, Trump decided to give science a spin, and pontificated on how large vaccine loads can cause autism.

“I am a total believer in getting the shots,” Trump began, before spotting a shiny object on the ground, picking it up, and putting it in his mouth. He then went on a rant about how “massive innoculations” have taken our “autism rate” to “a level that it’s never been.”

“And all I’m saying is spread it out in smaller doses over a longer period of time,” said Trump.

"So you believe there’s a causal connection between vaccines and autism?” Hughes asked.

Trump answered: "[I] know at least two people, one of them who works in the building that I’m in right now, a beautiful woman, has a child. The child is 100% healthy, takes the child, who was, I think, around a year and a half or two years old to get the shot, gets this massive shot of fluid pumped into the baby’s body. And a few days later, catches a fever, and all of a sudden, is severely autistic. And many people, many people have had that experience, Hugh. And I will tell you, on Twitter and on Facebook, where you know, so many people, I feel, it’s sort of interesting, because I get so much response, people are praying for me that I at least say that.”

I'm sure he meant to say "...praying to me."

Anyway, you can listen to the remarks in their entirety, below.


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We Won on Net Neutrality! FCC Designates Internet as a Public Utility

Alternet - Media Culture - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 12:46pm
Years of activism and mobilization overcome telecom monopolies.

The Federal Communications Commission made history today by legally reclassifying the Internet as a public utility.

Its action prohibits a shrinking number of companies providing the speediest service to create fast and slow lanes—in essence, having monopoly-like control over the growing online economy.

The FCC’s vote on “net neutrality” came after a years-long push by progressive organizers, who rallied online activists across the country, and a handful of content providers who said their growing businesses were at risk under the status quo.

“Big telecom just lost – and it lost because millions of grassroots activists spoke out for net neutrality,” said Becky Bond, Political Director and Vice President of CREDO Mobile, a phone company that has raised more than $78 million for progressive groups including the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Color of Change. “Today’s vote marks the culmination of over a decade of organizing to protect the Internet from corporate takeover.”  

“Republicans in Congress will no doubt spend years trying to roll back the progress we made today,” she continued. “But today’s vote makes clear that telecom giants and their allies in Congress should expect fierce and overwhelming resistance when they attack the open Internet.”

The FCC’s vote is another progressive victory under the Obama administration, which, until recently, has underwhelmed activists on the left. It follows the White House veto of the Keystone XL pipeline, and executive orders to protect more than 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. In all those cases, Republicans in Congress have vowed to fight and reverse Obama’s actions.

The net neutrality fight is no different. In recent days on Capitol Hill, Republicans tried to intimidate the FCC from issuing the new net neutrality rules, accusing the FCC of every imaginable capitalist sin, and saying this fight will continue in court or would be reversed the next time the FCC has a majority of GOP appointees.

At a House hearing Wednesday, the FCC’s new rules were called “Obamacare for the Internet.” A parade of witnesses, mostly from the biggest telecoms that now control most high-speed service, claimed the new FCC rules would lead to Internet taxes, slower investment, hurt expansion of broadband overseas and even encourage censorship and quash First Amendment expression.

“This overheated rhetoric can’t withstand scrutiny, and bears no resemblance to the law and the facts,” said Free Press policy director Matt Wood. “Title II [the law designating the Internet as a public utility] isn’t Internet regulation or ‘Obamacare for the Internet,’ and it won't turn the Internet into a weapon of mass destruction. Big cable and telecom companies have paid their lobbyists and public relations firms to deceive the public with these claims. But the public isn’t buying it. That’s why millions of people have urged the FCC to make strong rules and protect our rights to connect and communicate online.”

The joint efforts of many progressive groups—such the ACLU, CREDO Action, Common Cause, Free Press, MoveOn, the National Organization for Women, Center for Media Justice, and many others—and Internet companies such as Netflix, Twitter and Mozilla, created a persuasive coalition of customers and users. While Internet providers offer an array of plans with different speeds and components, the fastest service providers were increasingly gaining monopoly control, a New York Times analysis said Thursday.

“For genuine high-speed Internet service most American households now have only one choice, and most often it is a cable company,” the Times said. “The new rules will not ensure competition from new entrants, ranging from next-generation wireless technology to ultrahigh-speed networks built by municipalities. Instead, strong regulation is intended to prevent the dominant broadband suppliers from abusing their market power.”    

The fact that a coalition of concerned customers and content providers could overcome the telecom lobby and their GOP apologists in Congress is noteworthy. It suggests that the ability to wield big money and platoons of lobbyists is not an unstoppable force in Congress.

“We don’t have an army of lobbyists to deploy. We don’t have financial resources to throw around,” Lisa Rubenstein, Tumblr’s director of social impact and public policy told the Times earlier this week. “What we do have is access to an incredibly engaged, incredibly passionate user base, and we can give the folks the tools to respond.”


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How We Won Net Neutrality

Alternet - Media Culture - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 12:39pm
Why the FCC did the right thing by standing up to the cable industry.

This is what democracy looks like.

That's not something I thought I'd ever say about the bureaucrats at the Federal Communications Commission.

After years of cronyism, corruption and cowardice, Thursday's vote for strong Net Neutrality rules at the FCC is unexpected if not unprecedented.

The FCC is reversing a decade of failed policies, rejecting a massive misinformation campaign from the cable and phone industries, and restoring the agency's authority to protect Internet users.

This is the biggest win for the public interest in the agency's history.

Yet even five months ago, this kind of victory looked impossible.

How We Got Here

Credit FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler for listening to his critics and changing his mind about how to best protect the open Internet. Praise President Obama for using his bully pulpit. Thank John Oliver for coining the memorable phrase "cable company fuckery."

But know that none of this happens without a relentless push from the grassroots. The real story here was dozens of public interest groups, new civil rights leaders and netroots organizers coordinating actions online and off, inside and outside Washington.

Artists, musicians, faith leaders and legal scholars bolstered their efforts. And about a dozen mostly unsung advocates in D.C. pushed back daily against the phone and cable lobby. This diverse coalition broke the FCC's website, jammed switchboards on Capitol Hill, and forged new alliances that are transforming how telecom and technology policy is made.

The long but probably still incomplete list of key groups that share in the credit for this victory includes 18 Million Rising, Access, the ACLU, the Center for Media Justice,, Common Cause, Consumers Union, CREDO Action, DailyKos, D.C. Action Lab, Demand Progress, Democracy for America, EFF, Engine Advocacy, Fight for the Future, Free Press, the Future of Music Coalition, the Internet Freedom Business Alliance, the Media Action Grassroots Network, the Media Democracy Fund, the Media Literacy Project, the Media Mobilizing Project, MoveOn, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Open Media, the Open Technology Institute, PCCC, Popular Resistance,, Public Knowledge, Revolutions Per Minute and SumOfUs.

These groups worked alongside online companies (notably upstarts like Etsy, Kickstarter, reddit and Tumblr), investors and an abundance of startups and small businesses that didn't want to get stuck in an Internet slow lane. Some of these innovators stepped in at key moments to lobby policymakers. But no matter what you might read in the Wall Street Journal or theNew York Times, the activists spurred the companies -- not the other way around.

The highlights of the past year included rallies outside the FCC and across the country, peoplecamped out on the FCC's doorstep, enormous video billboards erected in D.C., jam-packedpublic hearings, and street theater. More than 40,000 websites joined the historic Internet slowdown in September.

All told, more than 4 million people filed official comments with the FCC -- more than on any other issue in the agency's history -- with the vast majority of them calling on the chairman to scrap his earlier terrible plan and make strong rules under Title II of the Communications Act.

And for once, the FCC listened.

Why Title II Is So Important

Back in January 2014, when a federal court tossed out the FCC's previous attempt at open Internet rules, no one knew that the wonky shorthand for a key section of the Communications Act would become an activist rallying cry. But that's what happened with Title II.

In the hundreds of pages of rules the FCC votes on Thursday, the part that matters most is the agency's decision to recognize that broadband access is a telecommunications service. This is so important because it's the law, and it's the only way to restore the agency's the power to make rules against blocking, discrimination or slow lanes.

The rules are only as good as the authority they rest on and the FCC's willingness to enforce them. So we'll have to remain vigilant. But with the key sections of Title II intact, Internet users will be able to file complaints and actually stop corporate abuse -- including future nefarious schemes Comcast and Verizon haven't even dreamed up yet.

Almost everything the FCC does leads to a lawsuit -- and these new rules will be no exception. But the beauty of the Title II approach is that it will actually stand up in court. The phone and cable companies know that Title II gives the agency the strongest legal standing -- which is why they've been fighting so hard against it.

Lies, Damn Lies and Ajit Pai

Aware they've lost both the FCC vote and the public's support, our opponents in Washington have resorted to lies and deception. The crazy talk has reached a fever pitch with claims that these lightest-touch rules will raise taxes, re-impose the Fairness Doctrine, encourage dictators, unleash trial lawyers and smother puppies.

But trying to track all of the truthiness is a constant game of whack-a-mole, with the same lies popping up over and over. Taking the lead in this misinformation campaign has been Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who is unscrupulous but very media-savvy. Of course, his outlandish claims can't withstand any actual analysis or scrutiny.

What the FCC is proposing has nothing to do with Internet content or censorship: Net Neutrality rules don't regulate what's on the Internet any more than the FCC dictates what people say on phone calls.

Nothing the FCC is doing will raise your taxes. The Washington Post awarded the Progressive Policy Institute "three Pinocchios" for telling this lie. And Sen. Ron Wyden, author of the Internet Tax Freedom Act, summed up the cable-funded think tank's claims in a single word: "Baloney."

Title II's alleged harms to broadband investment also have been repeatedly debunked -- not just by Free Press, but by top executives at Verizon, Charter, Comcast, Google, Sprint, T-Mobile, Time Warner Cable and Verizon (at least when they're talking to Wall Street instead of Washington).

The industry is shelling out millions to deceive people, but they aren't buying it. Support for real Net Neutrality is strong across the political spectrum, and more than 80 percent of self-identified conservatives support protections like the ones the FCC is putting forward.

The Next Fight

With this victory, and the ones like SOPA that came before it, a new political force has awakened. But we've only just scratched the surface of what a well-organized Internet constituency can accomplish. Now we must figure out how to turn this exciting moment into a lasting political movement.

Comcast and Verizon are used to getting their way in Washington and won't take this defeat lying down. Soon we'll see legislation designed to undermine the FCC's new rules, attempts to defund the agency, and a new wave of Astroturf groups unleashed on the Hill and the airwaves.

So while we can celebrate today, we need to start defending Net Neutrality again tomorrow. That starts by showing Congress what we just showed the FCC: Messing with the Internet is a big mistake.

Categories: Media

Banksy Puts Up New Works Amidst the Bombed-Out Ruins of Palestine

Alternet - Media Culture - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 12:33pm
The artist offers a satirically upbeat travelogue of the devastation in Gaza.

Street artist Banksy posted photos and a short film on his website of works he recently put up in the streets of Palestine. In the aforementioned mini-documentary, the artist offers a satirical travelogue of Gaza’s bombed-out ruins.

One photograph depicts a Banksy mural of a kitten. The UK artist includes a caption:

"A local man came up and said 'Please - what does this mean?' I explained I wanted to highlight the destruction in Gaza by posting photos on my website – but on the internet people only look at pictures of kittens."

The video, satirically titled “‪Make this the year YOU discover a new destination,” features onscreen text welcoming viewers to Gaza and observations such as “Locals like it so much they never leave (Because they’re not allowed to)” and “Development opportunities are everywhere (No cement has been allowed into Gaza since the bombing).”

This is the second time Banksy has posted work in Palestine. In 2005, the artist left a series of images on the West Bank Wall.

You can check out the mini-documentary and some of the most recent images below. To see all of the new pieces, visit Banksy’s website.

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'Avatar' Director James Cameron Opening Up a Vegan School

Alternet - Media Culture - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 11:46am
In addition to blockbusters, the director says he's focusing on getting kids to eat "the right thing" to aid the planet.

James Cameron – best known for directing “Aliens,” “Titanic,” “Terminator 2” and “Avatar” – is now behind the launch of one of America’s first vegan schools. Cameron’s wife, Suzy, and her sister Rebecca, launched the MUSE School back in 2006. Now, the school is converting its menus to exclude all animal-derived foods. But the director is shying away from the word “vegan” in describing the new direction.

“Plant-based eating – meaning the meals that are served at MUSE will be 100 percent plant-based,” Cameron reportedly told the Hollywood Reporter.“The average person would say vegan, but we say whole food, plant-based. It’s about raising kids who don’t think it’s strange or exotic or worthy of a pat on the back to be doing the right thing for the living biosphere.”

The MUSE school is located in Malibu Canyon, which sounds about right. According to its website, it has an early childhood program “devoted to children ages 2.3 years to 4.9 years,” which seems very precise. There’s also a middle and high school. 


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TV Meteorologists Should Say It Loud and Clear: Climate Change Is Here

Democracy Now! - Thu, 02/26/2015 - 11:45am

By Amy Goodman with Denis Moynihan

President Barack Obama issued the third veto in his more than six years in office, rejecting S.1 (Senate Bill One), the “Keystone XL Pipeline Approval Act.” This was the new congressional Republican majority’s first bill this year, attempting to force the construction of a pipeline designed to carry Canadian tar sands oil to U.S. ports in Texas for export. A broad international coalition has been fighting the project for years. Climate scientist James Hansen, the former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, wrote in The New York Times that if the pipeline gets built, “it will be game over for the climate.”

This vote and veto came as much of the U.S. was gripped by extreme cold weather, with cities like Boston reeling from historically deep snowfall and Southern states like Georgia getting snowed in. Meanwhile, most of California braces for even more drought. The corporate television newscasts spend more and more time covering the increasingly disruptive, costly and at times deadly weather. But they consistently fail to make the link between extreme weather and climate change.

Click here to read the full column posted at Truthdig.

Subscribe to Amy Goodman’s podcast on SoundCloud and Stitcher Radio.

Categories: Media