Mumia Abu-Jamal Taken to Hospital in Emergency, Surrounded by Guards; Family & Friends Denied Access

Democracy Now! - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 11:41pm

Imprisoned journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal has been taken to the Intensive Care Unit of Schuylkill Medical Center in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, after he was removed from prison for a medical emergency without any notification to his family, friends or lawyers.

Abu-Jamal's longtime friend Johanna Fernández said she only learned he had been transferred when she went to visit him Monday morning at SCI Mahanoy after worrying that he had sounded sick when the two spoke by phone last week.

"Upon arrival I was told I could not see him," Fernández told Democracy Now! "We were told he was in diabetic shock and taken to the hospital."

For the past three months Fernández says Abu-Jamal has complained of suffering from an "extreme eczema outbreak" and described his skin as "akin to that of an elephant's."

"He tried to access whatever healthcare was available to him and it was woefully inadequate," said Noelle Hanrahan, producer of Prison Radio.

Abu-Jamal's brother and next of kin, Keith Cook has traveled from North Carolina to Pottsville, but so far has been denied access.

Prison authorities say they refuse to comment on inmate medical conditions or hospitalizations, and a hospital official said he had no information about Abu-Jamal.

Abu-Jamal was convicted in 1982 of killing of a Philadelphia police officer, but has long maintained his innocence and is one of the world's most famous political prisoners.

Supporters say hospital staff has confirmed Abu-Jamal is in the ICU. They think he is being held in a private room that has the curtains drawn and is under armed guard. No updates have been given on his condition. They remain extremely concerned and are asking for people to call authorities and request that his family be allowed to see him.

"Taking prisoners to outside hospitals is not standard operating procedure," Hanrahan noted. "You have to be extraordinarily sick."

For more see

See all of Democracy Now!'s coverage of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Categories: Media

Leading Papers Incite ‘Supreme International Crime’

FAIR Blog - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 5:32pm
To advocate for war, as the Washington Post and New York Times op-ed pages have done, is to incite a crime--“the supreme international crime,” as the chief prosecutor at Nuremberg noted.
Categories: Media

What Happened When I Posed As a Man on Twitter

Alternet - Media Culture - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 2:37pm
For one week, I got to see what it's like to be treated with respect online.

Last weekend I became a man. I’ve dreamed about becoming a man before, wondered what it would be like to have genitalia that hangs, imagined myself free to walk alone with headphones on, fantasized about running at night. I didn’t get to experience that. But I did become a man on Twitter.

My partner and I talk about injustice a lot. He is aware of his male privilege. He is a feminist. He tweets about how we are treated differently:

My handle on Twitter is @hippoinatutu because I identify with those big beautiful hippos in tutus in Fantasia. Body-shaming is never OK with me, and I openly talk about being a fat woman. I am aware that I am fat. I’m also short, yet no one ever feels the need to “disagree” with me by calling a “disgustingly short” person.

I am told I am fat and ugly all the time. I get rape threats regularly, even though I'm also told I'm "too ugly to rape." Even though these people on the Internet are not clever, and aren't saying anything new, it hurts. The online abuse is just a small sliver of what women hear every single day.

We do not just get threatened by faceless eggs on the Internet. We are attacked. We are abused. One in six of us will be assaulted/raped. People murder us. We are not just told to shut up by Twitter handles with four followers, we are shushed by bosses and stifled by media. Senators silence us. We internalize and silence ourselves. We aren’t just told we are fat; we are told we should be ashamed of our bodies by people who love us, people who should know better. Trolls are merely an echo of the harassment we hear every day.

It’s wrong that we cannot speak, even on the Internet, without fearing verbal harassment, rape threats, presumptions about our sex lives. It’s agonizing that I cannot voice my own experience, talk about my pain, because trolls spend hours trying to silence me. I could show you nauseating things, so many screen shots of vile intended insults. But I will give only one an audience here.

Got this one on Christmas.

So I became a man, in the sense that my name is Alex, and I changed my picture to a (presumably) hetero man. I talked to some fellow writers who reminded me about Stephen Colbert’s call for women of color to become “dudebros,” and the powerful results. I decided to try it for one week, doing everything the same way I normally did, only with a male picture.

“Won’t people be surprised by my username?” I asked my partner that evening.

“I don’t think they’ll notice. Once people see a man, they see a man.”

I tried it out:

Using my own face, this kind of tweet came with trolls. 

Nothing happened. I was retweeted, some folks favorited my statements, and no one told me I was fat or ugly. No one threatened to rape me. It turned out I hadn’t gone from woman to man, but from object to human.

I was able to end disagreements like this!

I spent the week discussing systemic oppression and race. An intersectional feminist, I dove into rape culture. I talked about the need for police accountability, condemning domestic violence and amplifying other voices. It was almost always without interruption. My voice felt so unrestricted. How beautiful it felt to speak without fear of retribution. I felt such freedom.

For an entire week, I got to see what it is like to be treated with respect. As a man, I could use the same words and be met with discussion, disagreement, or even nothing at all, instead of insults. I became an equal human being, one whose voice deserved to be heard.

Dehumanizing "feminists" and "social justice warriors" also dehumanizes me and so many others because we are not just those labels, we are people.

Something strange happened. I experienced privilege in a way I had not expected. Jessie Hernandez was 17 years old, queer, Latina and killed by police officers in a stolen vehicle. I, along with thousands of others, immediately expressed outrage at her death. I expressed outrage at what I see as a pattern of police brutality against people of color, and to speak her name: Jessie Hernandez, who was killed because of what I see as a broken system.

With millions of Latinas to choose from, a vast community of perspective, Buzzfeed chose “me” to express the outrage at the very top of its piece. I was surprised. Though I have been quoted numerous times, I have never been the first quote, and I had to question “my” white male face sitting at the top. (With a typo, I might add.) Might it not have been for valuable to see a woman? Or a queer woman? Or, heaven forbid, a queer woman of color?

Don’t get me wrong, righteous outrage should be featured front and center, and outrage from white men is not an awful thing to include, but I’m pretty sure my outrage about police brutality is not what we need to amplify the most right now. Like really, really sure.

How it looked with me as male.

Yesterday I awoke anxious. It had been a week. I didn’t really want to change my picture back. For the most part, I had enjoyed the privilege I’d experienced. I enjoyed being a human being. 

But I believe that part of the fight is simply to be myself: female, fat, queer, loud, and honest. In order to be honest, I felt my words should be read with my own true face beside them.

I changed it back. I still have the vast privilege of whiteness, and therefore the ability to leave the conversations about race at any time, (though I won’t), but I can no longer speak freely about what it is like living in a culture that supports rapists, that does not punish those who commit assault regularly, statistically against women. I can no longer testify to my own experience without harassment. Like the conch in Lord of the Flies, I have lost the presumed-penis that gives me the right to speak.

So I’ll speak while I can:

Can you hear me when I say it hurts? Can you empathize with my pain? Your rape threats hurt a real person. They remind me of trauma that I have experienced. Do you really wish me to hurt just because I am not a man?

How does denying me my humanity serve you? What do you lose by putting that energy elsewhere? I don't want to yell at you. I don't want to take anything away. I want you to hear me and acknowledge my humanity.

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Categories: Media

Stigmatizing Depression and Suicide Won't Help Explain Germanwings Tragedy

Alternet - Media Culture - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 1:13pm
Yes, copilot Andreas Lubitz was treated for suicidal thoughts. That doesn't mean we can make blanket statements about depression.

Andreas Lubitz, the copilot authorities claim intentionally downed a plane in the French Alps week, was treated for suicidal tendencies before receiving his pilot's license, the New York Times reports.  

German prosecutors said Lubitz was treated by psychotherapists “over a long period of time” but did not provide exact dates. During followup doctors' visits, “no signs of suicidal tendencies or outward aggression were documented,” the Times noted.

French prosecutors claim Lubitz, 27, was at the wheel of Germanwings Airbus A320 jetliner last Tuesday when he set it on course to crash into the mountains in southwest France. The captain was locked out of the cockpit and pleading with Lubitz to open the door in the moments before the fatal crash. All 150 passengers on the plane were killed.

Over the past week, commentary about Lubitz’s emotional health has dominated headlines, with the Daily Mail UK running a front page story titled, “Suicide pilot had a long history with depression. Why on Earth was he allowed to fly?”

Then there is the racial dynamic. If Lubitz were Muslim, would the media be calling this an act of terrorism instead of focusing on his mental health? I certainly believe they would be exploring the terror angle if that were the case, even though authorities have ruled out the possibility of terrorism.

But I want to focus on the troubling portrayals of mental illness I’m observing.

It will not be easy to determine why Lubitz by all accounts purposefully crashed the plane. But social media conversations about this tragedy and headlines like the Daily Mail's are worrisome because they can lead to dangerous stereotypes about depression and suicidal ideation.

Here in the United States, the CDC reports that nearly 39,518 people committed suicide in 2011; most who kill themselves do so with a firearm. According to the World Health Organization, 800,000 people commit suicide each year worldwide. The CDC also reports that 8.3 million people, or 3.7 percent of the U.S population, reported having suicidal thoughts in 2008-2009. A poll in South Korea reports that half of that country's teenagers reported having suicidal thoughts in the first half of 2014.

Given the stigmas around suicide and depression and people's unwillingness to discuss mental health issues publicly, those figures are likely much higher. There is a strong chance that many of us know a friend, family member or acquaintance who has once thought of suicide, or perhaps attempted it. But as far as the fear of aircraft-assisted suicide goes, only 24 out of the 7,244 fatal airplane crashes in the United States from 1993 through 2012 were caused by that method, according to a 2014 study. It is extremely rare.

There are a wide range of reasons that can lead to people ending their own lives or attempting to. But the coverage of the Germanwings crash seems to suggest that people who have experienced suicidal ideation or depression (and have overcome it) should be permanently deemed unfit to take on stressful assignments.

I haven’t been able to find any data that suggests this is true. In fact, the Federal Aviation Agency allows pilots who have been diagnosed with clinical depression to return to their flying careers after successfully undergoing treatment. And if Lubitz were suicidal, it doesn’t mean he would want to harm others. As Michelle Cornette, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology told New York Magazine, only two out of five suicides are murder-suicides. Not only are Lubitz's actions rare, but as Cornette added, "in true homicide-suicides, the primary intent or motive is suicide, and the homicide is secondary."

Bottom line: we may never know the specifics behind Lubitz’s actions or why he chose to kill a plane full of innocent people, but the commentary around his mental health is growing more stigmatizing, harmful and exaggerated by the day.

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Categories: Media

My Personal Libertarian Hell: How I Enraged the Movement and Paid the Price

Alternet - Media Culture - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 12:47pm
I used to be a Libertarian. Then I had the gall to criticize them in an article.

The most dangerous thing you can do on the Internet is to send your banking information to a mysterious Nigerian prince. The second most dangerous thing you can do is to write even the most tepid criticism of libertarians. I recently wrote piece about my trip to Honduras and how conditions in that country reminded me of a “Libertarian Utopia.” I was inspired not only by the trip but also from reading many articles that have outlined a failing libertarian experiment in that country (here and here, for instance). I focused on just this one small factor when, of course, I also realize that the problems of Central America are historical, entrenched, and above all, complicated. From the reaction online you would have thought I personally kicked Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek square in his wrinkled, decomposed sack.

Reaction was swift and personal, including widely circulated factoids that I’m both fat and bald (guilty on both counts). Some called for my utter, personal ruin. Fair enough. But there were comments that went too far, such as those that addressed my parenting skills or that examined my decade-old divorce. I was unprepared for the fire hose of rage and invective. In fact, it’s hard to overstate just how furious—and proud of it—this segment of America seems. I could provide links, but I’d rather not send them traffic. If you are compelled to see for yourself, feel free to take a refreshing dip into the libertarian cesspool, but try not to get any in your mouth.

I’m tempted to avoid this group altogether, but I think it would be chicken shit of me to back away because of some name-calling and an epic temper tantrum. Every badly written blog and hysterical, spittle-flecked Internet video only further proves the point that these people have serious problems.

I often write about libertarianism from my own personal journey through it. The biggest criticism I’ve heard while writing various pieces is that I was “never really a libertarian.” I was a Ron Paul delegate in Nevada and wrote about it for the Reno Gazette Journal (see above), and I supported other libertarian candidates and policies for years. The overuse of the “no true Scotsman fallacy” raises the question of what level of commitment is required to be considered a libertarian. Must I be branded or tattooed?  Does it require ritualistic testicular shaving (nod to Dr. Evil)? Libertarians demand a level of unexamined commitment unmatched by any institution except perhaps church, which makes sense because the movement is less about what is good for society and is more a series of articles in an indefensible faith.

Although not all libertarians hate, a sizable number make the movement look both angry and unstable. They rage against the smallest loss of unearned privilege in society, while screaming about a “meritocracy.” Those who get ahead in our country do so more often from connections, family money and privilege than from any innate goodness or intelligence, and libertarians gloss over all questions of class, race and privilege in the hope of a return to a pure market ideal that has never existed. The history of America is an unending fight between untamed market forces and human beings, and when the free market gets out of hand, real people suffer, as so many did in the Great Recession of 2008.

I know that I do things that piss off libertarians, because I would have been infuriated by my own observations just a few short years ago.  Most of all, I employ the shorthand of using “conservative,” “libertarian” and “Tea Party” interchangeably.  Some libertarians think this is unfair to “pure” libertarians, but in reality the lines between these groups have grown fuzzy to nonexistent. They battle for the same insane voting bloc and bad ideas. Despite the constant demand for purity, individual libertarians hold divergent and even contradictory opinions in every imaginable topic. This leads to the troubling trend of otherwise decent libertarians giving intellectual cover for some of the most awful, mean-spirited ideas on the right.

Libertarians argue for eliminating Social Security right in the party platform, for instance, and this idea has been hijacked by far more aggrieved and intellect-free groups like the Tea Party. The only benefit I see to this unholy alliance is that there might be entertainment value in the war between social conservatives and libertarians over control of the Republican Party. The debate itself squeezes libertarians into an ever-shrinking, rage-filled, political ghetto.

I have often remarked that libertarians get a few things right, such as social issues. Yet this cross-pollination with other parts of the right has hurt their credibility, forcing them into cowardice or capitulation on some issues. My favorite example is gay marriage. Instead of supporting “freedom to marry” many offer this gem: “the government should not be in the marriage business at all!” This is not the party line for some libertarians, but I’ve heard it firsthand from too many. Aside from showing deep cowardice, it lets conservative-minded libertarians have their cake and eat it too.

I used to enjoy libertarian books and lively discussions. As time passed, I noticed the philosophy and resulting policy suggestions were miles away from the reality that I lived every day. Along with conspiracy theories and an increasing disconnect with reality, I saw growth of unreasonable rage. Purity is bad enough, but when you add levels of impotent, unquenchable rage, you create toxicity that has become the libertarian brand.

It was inevitable. Rage defines all right-leaning movements in the Obama era. The existence of this hate, vitriol and disgust is beyond dispute. You see it on Fox News, in talk radio and permeating the internet. When they lose, they’re angry and even when they win they’re still pretty pissed off. Some random liberal writes a little article for Salon and libertarians release a torrent of hate articles, personal attacks, and rage filled podcasts. What a burden it must be to walk around so furious all the time. It’s almost a shame, because diversity of ideas in a democracy is a good thing, but when they are poisoned with hate, they can’t be taken seriously.

As I said at the outset, the easy move is to ignore libertarians, because they have no hope of winning serious office. Even the strategy of reshaping the GOP has limits. Rand Paul has to pretend he doesn’t want to reverse five decades of civil rights law just to be considered a “serious politician.” In fact there is also an undercurrent of racial animus that infects many libertarians. From Ron Paul’s lost racist news letters to the most current movement leaders, they just can’t seem to help themselves.

After my Honduras article, Tom Woods, noted libertarian “thinker,” called me out on Twitter. I called him a “hate-monger” and blocked him. I regretted it immediately. I didn’t know him well enough to sling that insult, so I apologized. A few days later, I read up on his work, and found out that my apology was the real mistake. Woods seems to hold a buffet of outlandish opinions. He is a neo-Confederate and founding member of the League of the South. In 2005, Reason, the flagship libertarian magazine and one I still enjoy on occasion, called him out for one of his books which seemed to express sympathy for the slave-owning, antebellum south. The libertarian undercurrent of sympathy for slaveholders makes it hard to swallow all that cheap talk about “liberty.”

Although I did not always feel this way, I’m opposed to letting corporate rights trump every other part of humanity, be it labor, government or poor people. At the same time, engaging libertarians gives no return on investment. As a political ideology, it’s bankrupt. There are also far more odious statements coming from the religious right every day, and they have an actual, terrifying shot at power. Meanwhile, milquetoast Democrats have failed to stem corporate money in elections and haven’t managed to slow the great hollowing out of the middle class. Dealing with real problems of real people is way more interesting and important to me than the libertarian obsession of hoarding gold and assault rifles.

Movements, like religions, must face competing ideologies, actual facts and “turncoats” like me. Politics isn’t a religious cult where the penalty for leaving is death, or at least it shouldn’t be. I still believe in liberty, personal responsibility and, most of all, freedom.  Libertarians don’t own these words, and they aren’t even that good at defending the values behind them. I don’t want to be “told what to do” any more now than I ever did, but I also recognize that we cannot live in a society of individuals without regard for anyone else.

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Categories: Media

Are Leaked Documents Safe With Canadian Reporters?

Alternet - Media Culture - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 12:28pm
Investigation finds only 37 journalists in Canada have begun using encrypted email with their work accounts.

[Editor's note: An earlier version of this story ran on Canadaland, March 19. Since then, dozens of Canadian reporters have begun using encrypted email. To learn how to safely leak and receive documents, see Electronic Frontier Foundation's tutorials here.]

Thousands of people in Canada have access to top secret government documents, but if any of them are considering following in the footsteps of Edward Snowden and leaking records to journalists, they will find comparatively few reporters in this country who are capable of protecting them.

Snowden, an NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower, leaked a massive trove of documents that revealed potentially illegal surveillance programs throughout the "Five Eyes" intelligence alliance of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Intelligence agencies in these countries not only monitor the communications of terrorists and foreign states, they also collect private and potentially compromising information from journalists and the public at large.

However, since the Snowden leaks were made public, only a handful of reporters in Canada have taken steps to secure themselves and their sources. Many investigative reporters and even some national security reporters in Canada are not equipped with email encryption.

A Canadaland investigation into over 100 Canadian media organizations, including all major papers and broadcasters, found only 37 journalists in the country have publicly begun using encrypted email with their work accounts since the first Snowden NSA stories in June 2013. This information was obtained using the MIT PGP Public Key Server, a sort of a phone book for PGP encrypted email contacts, to find journalists and other staff publicly using PGP encryption with their work email accounts. The number does not include freelance reporters, but it remains atrociously low when compared with journalists in the United States.

For example, in the same period from June 2013 to present, reporters at the New York Times alone registered 55 encrypted professional email accounts.

Only 12 media outlets in Canada have had reporters sign up for encryption since the Snowden leaks. The Toronto Star tops the list with seven new PGP users, Sun Media has six, and The Globe and Mail and La Presse tie the CBC with five new PGP users apiece.

Dozens of media organizations including Global, Maclean's and The Canadian Press, didn't have a single email address registered on a public key server. 

However, looking up the emails of media organizations on the public key server does not reveal all the journalists using encryption. Three categories of journalist do not show up: freelance journalists, reporters who have only encrypted their personal email accounts and those who have not listed themselves on the server.

For example, VICE Canada politics reporter Justin Ling uses PGP but hasn't uploaded his key to a public key server. His colleague, Matthew Braga, listed his personal account on the server in 2013, but only added his email address this February.

To increase the scope of our investigation, Canadaland set up an email account under a pseudonym, "Loqior," and contacted several Canadian journalists while posing as a source hoping to leak them documents through encrypted means:

"Is there a way to send you an encrypted message? I was not able to find you on the Public Key Server. If you are using PGP encryption, please send me your public key."

The email was sent to national security reporters, the winners of the most recent round of Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) awards and to investigative news programs.

Reporters who were already using encryption were not contacted. These included the CAJ award winners Amber Hildebrandt and Michael Pereira of the CBC, who are currently collaborating with Dave Seglins to report on Snowden documents. National security reporters Michelle Sheppard of the Toronto Star and Colin Freeze of The Globe and Mail were also already using encryption.

However, the majority of CAJ award-winning reporters did not respond to the email. Neither did the investigative news programs W5, The Fifth Estate and 16x9. Update: The Fifth Estate says a PGP key can be provided on its website.* Two national security reporters who were contacted -- Jim Bronskill of The Canadian Press and Ian MacLeod of the Ottawa Citizen -- were not using encryption but are planning to do so in the future. Both indicated that if the matter was urgent they would set it up right away.

'Encryption works': Snowden

On the other hand, some positive stories did emerge.

Glen McGregor, a reporter with the Ottawa Citizen, initially responded, "No, don't have anything like that but I suppose I should probably get one." Less than 30 minutes later he replied with a newly established public key.

Similarly, Tyee journalist David Ball replied, "There is now" along with a link to his public key.

Most impressive was the response from CBC's Ian Johnson, who replied to the email with the key for a "trusted colleague" and explained, "If necessary, we have access to an air-gap computer, use Tails and can also use other tools to help ensure privacy if the situation requires it."

Robert Fife, a parliamentary reporter with CTV, responded by saying the he did not use PGP encryption, but provided his BlackBerry PIN-to-PIN, another means of sending an encrypted message that is widely used in government circles. While much more secure than sending unencrypted messages, Blackberry PIN messages fall short of the security provided by other forms of encryption. The CSE states on their website that "any BlackBerry device can potentially decrypt all PIN-to-PIN messages sent by any other BlackBerry."

"Encryption works," declared Snowden, shortly after stories based on his leaks were first revealed. "Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on."

Whether through legal or illicit means, unencrypted emails can be read by a variety of parties, including internet service providers, email providers, law enforcement, spy agencies, and criminal hackers. Without encryption, a journalist has shut the door to sources who need a secure method of communication in order to protect their identity.

"As a reporter, you are holding yourself out to the public as someone who sources can trust" says Lex Gill, a Montreal based activist and law student, who has organized training sessions, dubbed 'crypto parties,' aimed at helping the public learn to use encryption tools. "In this day and age it is irresponsible for anyone who is communicating with vulnerable sources, or has sensitive documents, to not be using encryption. This is a matter of journalistic ethics."

If any CSE employees are disturbed by their agency's current activities, they may not feel safe approaching many media organizations in Canada. That's because the handful of journalists using PGP encryption on its own this is not enough to protect sources with highly sensitive records.

The new manilla envelope

In 2013, The New Yorker began using SecureDrop, a system designed to allow sources to send journalists records with considerable protection.

The following year The Guardian, the Washington Post and many other media outlets began using SecureDrop. However, it wasn't until earlier this month that the Globe and Mail became the first organization in Canada using the tool.

"SecureDrop is the 21st-century equivalent of the manila envelope," said David Walmsley, The Globe and Mail's editor in chief, when the newspaper announced earlier this month that it had adopted the technology.

Sources can upload encrypted data to SecureDrop, but the system is only accessible through Tor, a tool that allows users anonymity by routing their online traffic through multiple computers across the internet.

Journalists then receive the encrypted data from SecureDrop and transfer it via a USB key to an air-gapped computer -- a machine without an internet connection -- to prevent external access. The data is then decrypted on the air-gapped computer, which uses Tails, an operating system that runs off a USB key and leaves no trace on the computer running it.

The Globe and Mail, however, is not the only media organization in Canada that is capable of secure communication beyond PGP. Some reporters at CBC are capable of decrypting messages on an air-gapped computer running Tails. The problem is that the broadcaster doesn't publicize this capability, and potential sources have no way of knowing.

The handful of CBC reporters using encryption are likely a product of the broadcaster's current collaboration with Glenn Greenwald, one of the reporters first approached by Edward Snowden, and his publication The Intercept.

On Oct. 21, 2014, Greenwald visited CBC's Toronto headquarters to talk about his reporting on surveillance. On that same day Dave Seglins first registered an encrypted email account. Soon after Amber Hildebrandt and Michael Pereira would also encrypt their emails, and a few weeks later the CBC began publishing stories on Snowden documents related to CSE.   

While any number of spy agencies around the world may be targeting journalists covering national security, reporters covering other beats are not immune from risk.

"The government isn't the only party who has strong incentives to monitor your communications: everyone from the private sector to organized crime might pose a risk to journalists," says Gill, the Montreal based law-student.  

She is convinced encryption is integral to the future of journalism, and encourages reporters to not only learn to use PGP encryption but to also use other tools that are designed to encrypt their phone calls, chats, text messages, and the data that is stored on their computers. She thinks it is particularly important that reporters are encrypting their notes, and other sensitive documents.

"Learning basic encryption is not difficult," states Gill, "reporters have no excuse for not using it."

*Updated Friday, March 27 at 8:10 a.m.

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Categories: Media

What It's Like to Be a Liberal Guest on Right-Wing Radio

Alternet - Media Culture - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 9:32am
Many hosts only invite you to their shows so you can be their liberal punching bag.

This past week I found myself at the headquarters of Fox News in midtown Manhattan. I wasn’t there as part of some post-Occupy Wall Street protest; I’d actually been invited to the studio to be a guest on Fox radio. This wasn’t one of those talking-head screaming matches where Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly try to rip the “crazy” liberal guest a new one. Instead, I was invited onto the Fox liberal oasis, the Alan Colmes Show. If you’re not familiar with Colmes, he was the non-Hannity portion of the long-running Fox show Hannity & Colmes. In a brilliant piece of “fair and balanced” casting, the skinny, nerdy-looking Colmes was pitted against squared-jaw Sean Hannity, both to act as his punching bag and to give the liberal perspective on news stories. Because he survived, I guess, they gave him his own radio show.

So last Monday, I trekked to the News Corp building on 46th Street and Sixth Avenue to talk about the state of hate in America and my experience infiltrating hate groups, including white supremacist organizations, the Westboro Baptist Church, and various anti-immigration groups. The show ended up going great, and I got this wonderful tagline about my work from the host: “Telling tales of extreme hatred with a smile on his face.”

But that’s not always the case when you’re on right-wing radio. It usually ends with the host attacking you and placing the blame of all things liberal on your back. This forces you into the position of defending an entire cross-section of society, even if you’re really just there to promote a book or something. The first time I was on conservative radio, I was booked as a guest on the Michael Medved Show—the conduit for one of America’s top right-wing talk radio hosts. Medved, author of The Golden Turkey Awards, used to be a famous movie reviewer; then, somewhere along the line, he transformed into a staunch conservative and radio host. 

Our rapport wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared. During commercial breaks I took the opportunity to question him on his statement that Plan 9 From Outer Space, according to The Golden Turkey Awards, was the worst movie of all time. We would chat cordially about movies, and once we were back on the air he’d take digs at me for not being conservative. But I kept it funny and lighthearted, and he seemed genuinely intrigued by some of the weird places I’ve infiltrated. But while Medved wasn’t so bad, his listeners were horrible. When he opened up the lines for calls, a stream of angry conservatives screamed at me simply because they had a liberal available to scream at.

Many calls boiled down to, “You liberals are living in a dream world! The right to have a gun is in the constitution! Blah blah…Ted Nugent…blah blah.” I hadn’t said a single word about gun control in my conversation with Michael Medved, but that didn’t matter to the callers. Another listener referred to me as a “moonbat Bay Area leftist.”

All of this was a cakewalk compared to being a guest on the “most listened-to Christian radio show in Michigan," the Bob Dutko Show on WMUZ-The Light. Dutko refers to himself as “the fearless defender of the faith.” The other guest on the Bob Dutko Show the same day I was booked was a guy who claimed to have "scientific" proof that the Earth is only thousands of years old. As host Dutko quipped on air: This is a statement "which, by the way, scientifically, I agree with. Not just because the Bible says so, but that's what the science actually says. We're not going to deal with emotion, we're going to deal with fact and science!"

After the show's theme song, a Christian version of Tom Petty's “I Won't Back Down,” Dutko introduced me as a “flaming liberal,” already making an effort to get under my skin. It seemed Dutko only invited me on the show to be a liberal punching bag, without having read anything I’ve written. He used unrealistic, extreme comparisons to make his points, arguing against teaching schoolkids about homosexuality, especially in a positive light, and using that as a jumping-off point to explain why it is okay for Christians to shun gays. "You want a Hindu to be a good Hindu? Do you want Hindus to now start eating cows?” he asked. "If you respect other people having their beliefs, why not respect Christians having their beliefs as well?"

I slowly realized this was like talking to a guy who thinks Spider-Man really exists and can point to all the exact Marvel comic issues to back up his claim.

Another tactic the “fearless defender of the faith” used was to act as if the group he represents, no matter how massively powerful, is actually the poor victim of the opposition.

"Let me bring up something I consider to be one of the ultimate ironies in the liberal-versus-conservative debate," Dutko began. "That's the use of the word 'censorship.' It amazes me that liberals in this country will point their fingers at conservatives and accuse conservatives of being the book burners and the censors and the ones  denying free speech."

He said evil liberals are censoring the voices of those who oppose homosexuality and support abstinence-only education and Intelligent Design theory in schools. "Those people are silenced!" Dutko exclaimed.

My response was, "Do we let Scientologists come into our schools and teach that we all evolved from volcanoes?"

His response: "Teaching that we all evolved from rock and sand, you don't think that's mythology? 'Cause that's what's being taught in our schools right now. We all evolved from rocks. Rocks and sand! Do you think that's mythology or do you think that's sound science?"

I learned that it shows weakness if the host gives in to any points of the opposition. Bob Dutko avoided this by being really patronizing while repeatedly cutting me off. 

"Would Jesus want his message to be told through Christian black metal—the heaviest of heavy metal?" I asked, referring to one of my stories.

"I'm not a fan personally," Dutko replied.

"So would you not see the satire and irony and humor in that?" I ask.

"Weeeeelll, see now, I don't get the irony 'cause ..."

"What about Christian hardcore punk? Punk originated as anti-establishment, anti-religion. Now it's used to spread the word of Jesus. Would you find anything funny in that?"


One thing Bob Dutko did find funny was the Promise Keepers, a non-profit Christian organization for men: "I've poked fun at Promise Keepers from time to time." Explanation: "Sometimes it gets around to guys in a circle of five crying on each other's shoulders. I've poked fun before, saying they turn into Promise Weepers. It’s not a good rally if somebody doesn't cry."

My response: "So you're saying Promise Keepers are the only Christian arena I'm able to poke fun at?"

"I don't have a problem with you poking fun at it."

The final right-wing pundit tactic Bob Dutko used was to pose a large, extreme question in the last few seconds that couldn't possibly be answered articulately with time running out, thereby making the guest seem incompetent.

Sixty seconds left and Bob Dutko had an argumentative epiphany: "Why should the Promise Keepers be criticized for their supposed oppression of women when in Islam and throughout the Middle East women are treated far worse than anything the Promise Keepers do?"

He then asked: "Do you find it ironic that Promise Keepers is made out to be this anti-women group?"

"So, wait, you're giving me 30 seconds to give a little sound bite on that?"

"Mr. Leon, I know we don't see eye-to-eye, but I do appreciate your willingness to come on and go round and round on some of these issues."

"I would suggest before you have someone on as a guest, maybe read something they've written," I retorted.

This is just some of the fun you can have when you’re a flaming liberal moonbat booked onto right-wing talk radio.

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Categories: Media

Jon Stewart's Replacement as 'Daily Show' Host Finally Announced

Alternet - Media Culture - Mon, 03/30/2015 - 8:20am
South African comedian and 'Daily Show' contributor Trevor Noah will take over the show later this year.

After months of rampant speculation, the results are in. The New York Times  reported this morning that 31-year-old South African comedian Trevor Noah will take the reins at the Daily Show when host Jon Stewart retires later this year. Noah, who joined the show as a contributor in December 2014, retweeted the link to the Times story as confirmation of the news.

He has made only three appearances on the show since joining the staff, according to BuzzFeed News, making him a much less likely contributor than other potential candidates to replace Stewart, including Jessica Williams. Clips from Noah's appearances are posted below.

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Bill O'Reilly's Jesus Film is Filled With 'Truthiness' Problems, Too

Alternet - Media Culture - Sun, 03/29/2015 - 4:44pm
The Fox host confuses religious interpretation with facts.

Killing Jesus - the adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s book premiering on 29 March - is not history. This might seem like an obvious statement, but it bears repeating, given how the three-hour “television event” is being pitched to viewers: as a restrained Biblical history, suitable for believers and non-believers alike.

We rarely think and talk about “Bible movies” as products of artistic interpretation - instead, we often treat them as “historical” or “religious” films. But Exodus is a Ridley Scott movie; Noah is a Darren Aronofsky movie. If we’re to go by the same guidelines here, let’s call Killing Jesus not some generic “history,” but a “Bill O’Reilly movie.”

 O’Reilly, the American pundit with a long-running show on conservative Fox TV, is virtually synonymous with “opinionated.” He makes his living using those opinions to bully anyone who disagrees with him, including guests on his show. Recently, O’Reilly’s disregard of facts has been especially well-documented. 

A Catholic self-described “traditionalist,” O’Reilly can’t be trusted notto confuse religious interpretation with historical fact. Thus, if we see Killing Jesus as a Bill O’Reilly film, that should remind us that it can’t be an impartial, historical film at the same time. 

Much is being made of the show casting a young Muslim actor of Middle Eastern descent as Jesus, possibly in hopes of avoiding charges of Christian bias, or as a way of emphasizing the human qualities of Jesus. (Islam considers Jesus human, and prophetic, but not divine.) Promotional videos tout the “real authenticity” gained by filming in the Moroccan desert. The show’s credibility is buoyed by its association with the National Geographic Channel, which also produced other O’Reilly TV movies, such as Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy. 

At least Lincoln and Kennedy are within the scope of recorded modern history. Jesus is not. As the devout Catholic author James Carroll writes in Christ Actually: “the empirically identifiable Jesus, focus of historians’ quest, and the interpreted Jesus of the Gospels, focus of theologians’ contemplation, are not the same Jesus”. 

Even the critics are confusing the issue. Bryan Lowry writes of Killing Jesus in Variety: “Along the way there are discreet miracles, but this represents a more historical approach to the material”. More historical than what? Miracles, by definition, no matter how discreet, cannot be counted as fact. 

O’Reilly’s telling takes as fact a number of time-worn myths that have been repeatedly disavowed by scholars. Characterizing the apostle Paul as a Christian is an anachronism: Christianity didn’t begin until a century after the crucifixion; Jesus and all his apostles died Jews. Scholars have noted with irony that in depicting the Pharisees as legalistic, hypocritical evildoers, O’Reilly, ironically, picks up on a caricature originally created by Reformation-era Protestants to ridicule Catholics. Even the show’s air date belies its historical, universalist veneer. If Killing Jesus is supposed to be history suitable for Christians and non-Christians, why on earth does it premiere on Palm Sunday, the start of the Holy Week leading up to Easter?

It may be true that Ridley Scott, whose company helped produce the film, learned from the critical response to Exodus that Bible movies should make greater efforts at Middle Eastern atmospherics. Scott was accused of racism and inaccuracy for casting, for example, John Turturro as the Egyptian Pharoah. But I’d prefer a Bible movie with more greasepaint and special effects that billed itself as the blockbuster entertainment it was over a Middle Eastern-looking Bible movie that thinly masks Gospel theology.

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Twitter Pounds Indiana Gov. Mike Pence for His Absurdly Discriminatory 'Religious Freedom' Act

Alternet - Media Culture - Fri, 03/27/2015 - 5:44pm
Lots of celebrities get in on the act.

While the state of Indiana is taking a beating across the country for passing the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,”  allowing businesses and individuals to deny services to gays on religious grounds, Governor Mike Pence has come in for an extra heaping of scorn on social media.

In a speech following the signing of the bill, Pence defended his actions saying, “If I thought it legalized discrimination I would have vetoed it.” Across the country many disagreed with the governor, once believed to harbor national aspirations, and expressed themselves bluntly.

A host of celebrities, including Broadway star Audra McDonald, Larry King, Harvey Fierstein, Miley Cyrus, and popular Indiana-based author John Green took shots at the governor, while others jumped on Pence’s Twitter account to express their contempt and displeasure with his decision to sign the bill into law.

A sampling of comments below Pence’s Twitter announcement of the signing the bill attended by a group of observers he has, thus far, refused to identify by name:

















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Mega-Merger Gives Comcast Too Much Control Over Broadband

Hear Us Now - Fri, 03/27/2015 - 5:42pm

Should one giant corporation be allowed to control more than half of the high speed broadband in homes across the country?

That’s a key question at the center of the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable.  And it’s a big reason why the merger has generated so much public opposition.

If Comcast gets the green light to merge with Time Warner Cable, it will control 57 percent of the broadband market, giving the company unprecedented power over what we see online and how much we pay.

Comcast is notorious for charging high prices and delivering less than stellar service.  At Consumers Union, we’ve heard from hundreds of consumers frustrated with the lousy service they’ve experienced with the company and the lack of better options.  Long waits with customer service, technicians who fail to show up as scheduled, and billing mistakes are some of the more common complaints.

So why don’t their customers just switch to another company?  The answer is simple.  Most people don’t have meaningful choices when it comes to high speed internet service.  Of course, whenever there’s a lack of competition, prices go up and service suffers.

Last year, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler noted that nearly three-quarters of Americans have just one choice when it comes to broadband providers.  Consumers benefit when they can effectively bargain with their residential broadband providers.   But to bargain effectively, they need the ability to take their business elsewhere. And in many areas of the country, there is already little or no opportunity to do that.

Wheeler pledged that the FCC will do all it can to foster more competition.  That’s encouraging.  A good place to start would be to reject the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which threatens to stifle competition and make things even worse for consumers.

Help us keep up the pressure!  Urge the FCC to stand with consumers and reject Comcast’s broadband takeover scheme.  We can’t afford to let one corporation have so much control over our choices and our rights to connect and communicate.



Categories: Media

What Have Whistleblowers Done for Elite Journalists Lately?

FAIR Blog - Fri, 03/27/2015 - 5:39pm
One of the most important things that corporate media do to shore up power is to define "news" as things that people in power want you to know but haven't told you yet.
Categories: Media

Woody Allen's Disgrace Is Not the Only One: 9 Other Beloved Artists Accused of Doing Terrible Things

Alternet - Media Culture - Fri, 03/27/2015 - 4:55pm
The cognitive dissonance of loving the art but hating the artist.

Few of us are likely shocked by recent “revelations” -- if allegations of Woody Allen’s sexual impropriety can still be considered revelatory -- from actress Mariel Hemingway. In an exerpt from her new book, Hemingway recounts how a 44-year-old Allen romantically pursued her then 18-year-old self, including asking her to come share his bed in Paris. Though her parents “lightly encourag[ed]” her to take the director up on his offer, an unnerved Hemingway ultimately put an end to Allen’s courtship. Her allegation rests atop a pile that includes charges of child molestation by Allen’s adopted daughter Dylan and, at the very least, a highly questionable relationship with ex Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. (The two have been married since 1997.) Mariel, famously, played Allen’s teenage girlfriend in “Manhattan,” arguably one of his very best movies. It’s a film that has grown far creepier in hindsight.

And that’s the thing. Allen is proof that there are people who have made brilliant art, who have cultivated such loveable public personas, that we forget one essential truth: We don’t know these people. Not really. Artists whose songs soundtrack our adolescence and whose films have given us joy are rarely who we imagine them being. They’re just people. And some of them have done some pretty gross things.

Here’s a list of folks who fit the bill. While lots of stars have been involved in scandals (from Roman Polanski to Chris Brown), those noted here might be considered particularly intriguing figures. What’s more, their alleged bad behaviors have left them relatively unscathed. In some cases, charges may have seriously marred their reputations. But by and large, they’ve either managed to live them down or, at the very least, evaded prosecution. In any case, here’s 9 Beloved Artists Charged with Doing Terrible Things.

1. Sean Penn. Over the last 10 years, Sean Penn has become a man after our own bleeding hearts -- saving nearly 40 people from rising floodwaters during Hurricane Katrina, dedicating much of his life to doing aid work in post-earthquake Haiti, and making jokes about Dick Cheney being an “embittered bacteria of humanity.” (It’s funny ‘cause it’s true!)

And yet. There remains the nagging issue of Penn’s alleged violent behavior and spousal abuse. In the 1980s, outside of movies, the actor was fairly well-known for being “camera shy,” which is a nice way of saying he beat up paparazzi on the regular. In 1985, he landed in court for assaulting two British journalists; In 1987, he served 33 days in jail for attacking an extra who’d taken his picture on set. That same year, then-wife Madonna reportedly went to the hospital for “an X-ray after Penn apparently hit her across the head with a baseball bat.” (She’s said to have refused to file charges because he was already due to jail for the aforementioned incident.) In late 1989, Madonna filed a report with the Malibu sheriff’s office stating that Penn had essentially broken into their home and held her captive:

When she told him she was leaving the house, he tried to bind her hands with an electric lamp and cord. Screaming and afraid, Madonna fled from the bedroom. What followed was a nine-hour ordeal which left her deeply shaken. Penn chased her into the living room, caught her and bound her to a chair with heavy twine. Then he threatened to cut off her hair. According to the police report, Penn was 'drinking liquor straight from the bottle' and the abuse went on for several hours, during which time he smacked and roughed up his victim.

In the midst of all this, Penn reportedly went out to get more booze, came back a few hours later, and picked right back up where he left off. Per the report, he finally removed the ties “after [Madonna] agreed to perform a degrading sex act on him,” at which point she escaped to her car. Malibu PD then-Lieutenant Bill McSweeney is quoted as saying, “I hardly recognized her as Madonna. She was weeping, her lip was bleeding and she had obviously been struck.”

Penn faced battery charges until Madonna withdrew the complaint a few days later. The couple divorced shortly thereafter. Madonna reportedly said, “God bless and keep him -- but far, far from me.”

In speaking about his life with Madonna, Penn has recently stated, "I was an angry young man. I had a lot of demons and I don't really know who could've lived with me at the time.”

2. Gary Oldman. Almost no one has been as awesome in as many cool movies as Gary Oldman. On the other hand, as it turns out, Oldman allegedly beat up his ex-wife and definitely thinks Mel Gibson was just saying what we were all thinking when he made all those anti-Semitic and racist remarks. Which is much, much less awesome.

According to reports culled from a 2001 police report, Oldman was quarreling with then-wife Donya Fiorentino when she called the cops. In the midst of the call, the actor “allegedly pulled the receiver out of her hand and punched her with it,” striking Fiorentino in the face. Not yet sated, Oldman allegedly then “began to choke the victim.”

A little over a decade later, Oldman decided to use a Playboy interview as an opportunity to speak in defense of Mel Gibson and the million shitty things he’s said. Stating that “political correctness is crap,” Oldman suggested that those offended by Gibson’s numerous rantings learn to “take a fucking joke.” Then, clearly having forgotten the value of the phrase “speak for yourself,” he went on a bit of a tear, rhetorically asking:

The policeman who arrested [Gibson] has never used the word ‘nigger’ or ‘that fucking Jew?’

Clearly you have, Gary! He then paused to defend Alec Baldwin’s use of “fag” (more on that later) before really letting ‘er rip:

Mel Gibson is in a town that’s run by Jews and he said the wrong thing because he’s actually bitten the hand that I guess has fed him -- and doesn’t need to feed him anymore because he’s got enough dough. He’s like an outcast, a leper, you know?

Oldman stopped to briefly bemoan that fact that satirists like Jon Stewart can say things he can’t (“Well, if I called Nancy Pelosi a cunt -- and I’ll go one better, a fucking useless cunt -- I can’t really say that.”) as if we weren’t watching him say precisely what he wants throughout the entire interview. Then there was this bit:

At the Oscars, if you didn’t vote for ‘12 Years a Slave’ you were a racist. You have to be very careful about what you say. I do have particular views and opinions that most of this town doesn’t share, but it’s not like I’m a fascist or a racist. There’s nothing like that in my history.

Sure. And then there was the non-apology apology, which ended thusly:

I hope you will know that this apology is heartfelt, genuine, and that I have an enormous personal affinity for the Jewish people in general, and those specifically in my life. The Jewish People, persecuted thorough the ages, are the first to hear God’s voice, and surely are the chosen people.

I would like to sign off with “Shalom Aleichem” -- but under the circumstances, perhaps today I lose the right to use that phrase, so I will wish you all peace...

This seems like as fitting a place as any to close.

3. Alec Baldwin. There may be no better “SNL” host and guest than Alec Baldwin, and the man was straight up consistently genius on “30 Rock.” His self-mockery after getting kicked off a plane for refusing to turn off his phone and end a game of “Words With Friends” was brilliant. Conservatives hate him, which makes it difficult not to love him, deeply and passionately, by default. Except for, you know, a few trouble spots.

There was the time he left his ‘tween daughter a voicemail where he called her “a rude, thoughtless little pig” and told her she didn’t “have the brains or the decency as a human being.” A message that went on like this:

I don't give a damn that you're 12 years old, or 11 years old, or that you're a child, or that your mother is a thoughtless pain in the ass who doesn't care about what you do as far as I'm concerned.

There were other moments of public hot-headedness, too -- flare ups with paparazzi and such -- but the most problematic aspect of those incidents was Baldwin’s repeated use of a homophobic slur. As New York Magazine recounts:

In 1992, Baldwin called a horse-drawn-carriage driver a "faggot" for supporting the expansion of carriage rides outside of Central Park. In September of 2011, Baldwin referred to a Starbucks barista as an "uptight queen." In June of 2012, Baldwin called Daily News editor-in-chief Colin Myler an "English Queen." In June of 2013, Baldwin called Daily Mail journalist George Stark a "toxic little queen" who would "dig it" if Baldwin stuck his foot up his ass.

And in late 2013, Baldwin was accused of calling another photographer a “cocksucking fag,” though the actor swore he’d actually called the man a “cocksucking fathead.” In any case, the incident got him him fired from his late night MSNBC talk show “Up Late with Alec Baldwin." It also inspired a lengthy piece penned by Baldwin himself in which he called Rachel Maddow a “phony,” Anderson Cooper “the self-appointed Jack Valenti of gay media culture,” and TMZ honcho Harvey Levin a “cretinous barnacle on the press.” (That last one seems not far off.) He also said MSNBC was “ full of shit” and that he now “loathe[s] and despise[s] the media in a way [he] did not think possible.”

4. Bill Murray. In a career spanning more than four decades, Bill Murray has become an icon of both comedy and cool, appearing in at least one of everyone’s favorite films and generally behaving like a lovable, avuncular kook. (Crashing total strangers' bachelor parties, dancing to “Turn Down for What” at Average Joes’ birthdays, and randomly popping up at kickball games.) So this is going to be rough, but let’s get right down to it, shall we?

In a 2008 divorce filing obtained by The Smoking Gun, Murray’s ex-wife Jennifer accused her then-husband of “adultery, addiction to marijuana and alcohol, abusive behavior, physical abuse, sexual addictions and frequent abandonment." More specifically, Jennifer alleged that in 2007, Murray had “hit her in the face,” and that he “told her she was 'lucky he didn't kill her.'"

She also requested a restraining order against her estranged husband, who she said “repeatedly...left threatening voice messages on the home telephone which the minor children have heard." She also said that Murray frequently went on trips, both domestic and international, without mentioning his travel plans to her. She stated that on these overseas trips, “he engages in public and private altercations and sexual liaisons."

The allegations were ultimately withdrawn, but the couple’s divorce was granted in June 2008.

5. Bill Cosby. For a good while there, Bill Cosby was “America’s Dad.” The Huxtables owned television from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, and in reruns, "The Cosby Show" became an even more cherished national treasure. Cosby -- peddler of Jell-O products and, later, respectability politics -- was a cultural icon. Though there were rumors about the comedian and sexual assault for many years (going back decades, according to some sources), the dam didn’t break until a bit by comedian Hannibal Buress went viral in late 2014. In it, Buress called out Cosby as a “rapist” and encouraged everyone to Google it, which the entire country apparently did.

In the months since there has been a deluge, and then a slow but steady trickle, of women coming forward with allegations of rape and sexual assault against Cosby dating back 50 years. Most of the stories are remarkably similar, and involve Cosby slipping drugs into women’s drinks, then sexually abusing them. With two new women having come forward in just the last few days, Cosby’s tally stands -- we think -- at 37. It makes you wonder how he ever found time to make comedy or appear on TV.

6. Morrissey. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a t-shirt that was popular in alternative music scenes which read: “MORRISSEY IS A TWAT.” The founder of the Smiths, indie god and “Pope of Mope” has always been a tiring mix of musical visionary and needling provocateur. Here are some quotes from Morrissey over the years, which speak for themselves.

  • Writing about racism in 1977, according to Johnny Rogan’s biography: "I don't hate Pakistanis, but I dislike them immensely."
  • Speaking about “black music” in 1986: " to me the most racist music in the entire world. It’s an absolute total glorification of black supremacy. But, ultimately, I don’t have very much cast iron opinions on black music other than black modern music, which I detest. I detest Stevie Wonder. I think Diana Ross is awful. I hate all those records in the Top 40 -- Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston. I think they’re vile in the extreme. In essence this music doesn’t say anything whatsoever."
  • Speaking on Britain’s "immigration explosion" in 2007: “If you walk through Knightsbridge on any bland day of the week you won't hear an English accent. You'll hear every accent under the sun apart from the British accent. England is a memory now. The gates are flooded and anybody can have access to England and join in." (Note that, despite having no actual quibbles with the quotes as presented, Morrissey sued the NME for framing his remarks as racist.)
  • Speaking about animal rights in China in 2010: “You can't help but feel that the Chinese are a subspecies.”
  • Speaking on eating meat in 2014: “I see no difference between eating animals and paedophilia. They are both rape, violence, murder” and “If you believe in the [slaughterhouse] then you would support Auschwitz. There's no difference."

7. R. Kelly. Simultaneously a darling of R&B and indie audiences, R. Kelly has recorded some of the most recognizable music of the last quarter century. He has also managed to maintain his career despite a long and well-documented history of alleged sexual abuse toward very young girls. Only recently, when the case was revisited by music writer Jessica Hopper in a 2013 Village Voice piece, did the charges against Kelly gain traction in a notable way. Even so, that same year, he headlined the Pitchfork and Bonnaroo music festivals and recorded a song with Lady Gaga.

According to several sources, in 1994, Kelly married late R&B singer Aaliyah. She was 15 and he was 27, though the marriage license were falsified to state that she was 18. In the press, the two maintained that they weren’t married, even as Aaliyah filed to have the record expunged. The marriage was ultimately annulled after Aaliyah stated, on the record, that the two had lied about her age.

And then there are the countless charges made by very young women across Kelly’s hometown of Chicago. Former Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis conducted an exhaustive investigation of Kelly’s alleged sexual involvement with girls as young as 14, compiling them into a lengthy list as early as 2000. Among the evidence cited was a video showing Kelly performing various sex acts on what appeared to be an underage girl -- acts including peeing on the girl’s face and in her mouth. Kelly would ultimately be tried, and acquitted, on 14 counts.

The singer will likely never face another trial. But DeRogatis has been an unwavering advocate for Kelly’s alleged victims, recounting stories of attempted suicide, abortion and depression as part of the fallout from the singer’s predation. Hopper’s article renewed interest in the case, and the Internet facilitated its proliferation in a way it never had before. But audiences remain divided on the charges against Kelly. And DeRogatis, in attempting to understand why the charges -- which had been well-known for many years -- were shrugged off by so many for so long, attributes it to racism and misogyny. Said the writer in 2013:

The saddest fact I've learned is: Nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody. They have any complaint about the way they are treated: They are "bitches, hos, and gold-diggers," plain and simple. Kelly never misbehaved with a single white girl who sued him or that we know of. Mark Anthony Neal, the African-American scholar, makes this point: one white girl in Winnetka and the story would have been different.

Kelly’s last album, 2013’s "Black Panties," debuted at Number 4 on the Billboard 200 chart.

8. John Lennon. Look -- no one’s denying that John Lennon wrote a bunch of fucking brilliant songs, both with the Beatles and as a solo artist. But he was also, self-admittedly and according to multiple sources, a really huge asshole.

For starters, he beat his first wife, Cynthia. This isn’t tabloid rumors or conjecture -- John admitted so himself in a 1980 interview with Playboy. Lennon said, quote, “I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically -- any woman. I was a hitter. I couldn't express myself and I hit.” He also said, “I will have to be a lot older before I can face in public how I treated women as a youngster.”

And by most accounts, he was a shitty father to his oldest son, Julian. In the aforementioned interview, John said that Julian’s existence was the result of either “a bottle of whiskey or because they didn't have pills in those days.” In court papers filed during the demise of Lennon’s first marriage in 1968, housekeeper Dorothy Jarlett stated that “John seemed too severe with Julian” and “would often smack him.” In her 2006 book John, Cynthia suggested Lennon could be cruel to son Sean as well, and gave a more detailed picture of his callousness toward Julian:

“John's erratic behaviour around Julian continued -- fun one moment and violent anger the next. And he could be like this with Sean too, reducing the little boy to tears of terror. Fred Seaman, or sometimes Yoko, would act as a buffer when John lost his temper. Julian was constantly on tenterhooks, sensing that an eruption was coming and retreating to his room in the hope of avoiding it.

One incident in particular did him lasting damage. The whole family had been having fun, making Mickey Mouse pancakes and fooling around, when Julian giggled. John turned on him and screamed, ‘I can't stand the way you fucking laugh! Never let me hear your fucking horrible laugh again.’ He continued with a tirade of abuse until Julian fled once again to his room in tears. It was monstrously cruel and has affected him ever since. To this day he seldom laughs.”

In recent years, Julian has called his father a “hypocrite” and, on the subject of love, said, “[h]e sang about it, he spoke about, but he never really gave it, at least not to me as his son."

Lennon’s second wife and widow Yoko Ono has been the fall gal for pretty much everything that didn’t go right with the Beatles. We’ll never know the full truth about their relationship (or any other famous people’s, for that matter) but it seems less likely that Ono was the “dragon lady” stereotype of lore, and more like Lennon was a controlling and obsessive spouse. In a controversial 2008 biography for which she was interviewed, Ono reportedly stated, “People said I followed [John] to the men's room, but he made me go with him. He thought that if he left me alone with the other Beatles even for a minute, I might go off with one of them." In another interview, Ono said she and Lennon were “so close John didn’t even want me to go to the bathroom by myself. ‘I will come with you’ he would say. And this would be in public places like the EMI recording studios.” As with Cynthia, he was unfaithful in sexual relationships both sanctioned and unsanctioned by Ono.

9. Eric Clapton. They should really create a new word -- one slightly more damning than “asshole” -- for Eric Clapton. Clapton was in lots of bands, including two of the most indispensable to rock history, The Yardbirds and Cream, and was praised as “God” in iconic graffiti all over the world. He also subjected us to “Promises,” and really kind of takes the cake for being awful.

You could make the case that going after one of your best friend’s wives is kind of uncool, as was the case with Clapton and Patti Boyd, wife of George Harrison. You could also make the case that essentially writing an album of love songs -- with “Layla” being the pinnacle -- for her and releasing them publicly, is extremely uncool. Boyd and Harrison eventually divorced in 1977 after 11 years of marriage. She married Clapton two years later. In later years, Clapton admitted that he beat Boyd and raped her during the marriage, stating, “There were times when I took sex with my wife by force and thought that was my entitlement. I had absolutely no concern for other people.” He attributed such awful behavior to alcoholism, drug abuse and severe depression. Boyd divorced him in 1989, citing years of “infidelity and unreasonable behavior."

There’s also the matter of Clapton’s drunk, racist speech while onstage at a concert in 1976. Enoch Powell was a right wing UK politician whose thoughts on immigration reform would make the Tea Party look like the Weather Underground. Clapton reportedly stated, “I think Enoch's right ... we should send them all back. Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!" And the hits keep comin’:

I used to be into dope, now I'm into racism. It's much heavier, man. Fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch will stop it and send them all back. The black wogs and coons and Arabs and fucking Jamaicans and fucking [indecipherable] don't belong here, we don't want them here. This is England, this is a white country, we don't want any black wogs and coons living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome. England is for white people, man. We are a white country. I don't want fucking wogs living next to me with their standards. This is Great Britain, a white country, what is happening to us, for fuck's sake? We need to vote for Enoch Powell, he's a great man, speaking truth. Vote for Enoch, he's our man, he's on our side, he'll look after us. I want all of you here to vote for Enoch, support him, he's on our side. Enoch for Prime Minister! Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!

You almost have to admire the balls it takes to bitch about “Jamaicans” and “blacks” when your career is built on blues corruptions and a hit cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff.” Clapton’s little speech was catalytic in the launch of the Rock Against Racism campaign. Unlike other stars who flirted with Nazi imagery and fascism at the time (I’m looking at you David Bowie and nearly every mid-1970s punk rocker), Clapton has never apologized or recanted. In fact, in 2004, he reasserted his admiration for Powell, calling him "outrageously brave" and saying his "feeling about this has not changed." Ditto in 2007.


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Amy Goodman Questions Ex-CIA Director Porter Goss about Torture at George W. Bush Conference

Democracy Now! - Fri, 03/27/2015 - 11:34am

When questioned by Democracy Now! host and executive producer Amy Goodman, former CIA Director Peter Goss said the bipartisan Senate Committee Report on the CIA's Use of Torture was "not the full truth" and criticized Sen. John McCain for defending it.

Both Goodman and Goss spoke Tuesday during a conference at Hofstra University that assessed the George W. Bush presidency.

As Newsday reports:

Goss criticized the committee's report as a "partisan political study" because it was called for by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who serves as vice chairwoman of the committee.

Goodman countered that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), once a prisoner of war in Vietnam, had defended the report, saying the use of torture "damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world."

Watch the exchange in the video above.

Former national intelligence director and U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, also spoke at the event, and later said, "Boy, I need a stiff drink after that one." See more here.

Watch Amy Goodman's full remarks at the conference here.

See all of Democracy Now!'s reports on CIA torture.

PORTER GOSS: In the interests of fairness, would respond a little bit on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence study on rendition, detention and interrogation—was a partisan political study. It was not two-sided. And there are further facts that need to come out from those who are able to, I think, correct some of the misstatements in the Senate study. That has not happened yet. I hope it will happen, because I do believe the American public needs to know the truth of all of this. The Senate study is not the full truth.

AMY GOODMAN: Was there any truth in it?

MODERATOR: Could you say again?


AMY GOODMAN: Was there any truth in it?

PORTER GOSS: Of course there was some truth in it. It was a cherry-picked, selective presentation of information to support a narrative that was made before this report actually even was started. The announced purpose of the report, of the study, if I'm correcting Chairman Feinstein—if I'm quoting Chairman Feinstein properly, was to make sure this never happens again. I'm not sure what the "this" was, or neither are a lot of people. But apparently, as you go through the report, as you go through this study, there are a series of observations that involved information that the decision makers could have provided to the people doing the report and would have given a fairer and more complete understanding of what happened and why. If you want to know why something happened, it's a good idea to go back to the people who made the decision and ask them. They calculatedly and determinedly avoided going back to anybody that they thought might spoil their narrative. So, consequently, yes, there is some information that is cherry-picked, some out of context and some actually factually correct, as far as I know. I have not read a word of the report. I have not read a word of any of this stuff, because, to me, it is purely partisan political. And a politicization of intelligence in this country is going to hurt only one person, and that's every citizen in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: I just wanted to quote Senator McCain, who—

PORTER GOSS: I love Senator McCain, and I would certainly agree with you that Senator McCain is the icon of prisoner of war conduct. He has suffered greatly for our country and made great sacrifices and deserves to be listened to. But he does not have all of the information either.

AMY GOODMAN: He said, "It is a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose—to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the U.S. and our allies—but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world."

PORTER GOSS: He is welcome to his opinion. I doubt he's read the report. And in any event, he has certainly not asked the people who were involved in this activity what they think, because they have all indicated that he has not asked them. So, even he is dealing with less than a full deck.

Categories: Media

"I Need a Stiff Drink After That": John Negroponte on Being Questioned by Amy Goodman over Iraq War

Democracy Now! - Fri, 03/27/2015 - 11:08am

During a conference Tuesday at Hofstra University that assessed the George W. Bush presidency, Amy Goodman asked panelists if senior administration officials should be tried for war crimes. Her question to former national intelligence director and U.S. ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, drew this response:

Amy Goodman: "Do you think that, Mr. Negroponte, that knowing what we know today, the Iraq War was wrong? And do you think torture is wrong?"

John Negroponte: "Look, well, torture is never right. And ..."

Amy Goodman: "Do think the Bush administration was wrong to engage in it?"

John Negroponte: "I say torture is never right. That's my first point. But my second point was, I'll just stick with the way I felt during the time I lived through those events. And you can find quotes of what I said when I was ambassador to the U.N. I was asked if I thought we should use force in Iraq. And I said, well, in questions like this, I think we ought to approach the issue with a great deal of caution."

According to The Wall Street Journal, Negroponte continued to think about Goodman's comments after the panel discussion was over. The article about the event ended with this remark:

"Boy, I need a stiff drink after that one," Mr. Negroponte told a small group of people after the panel on which he and Ms. Goodman served. "Double martini."

Click here to watch Amy Goodman's full address at the conference, along with a response from another panelist, former CIA Director Porter Goss.

AMY GOODMAN: Just a quick question. Mr. Goss said, "If we knew then what we know today, we might have done things differently," which I think is a very reasonable thing to say.

PORTER GOSS: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that, Mr. Negroponte, that knowing what we know today, the Iraq War was wrong? And do you think torture is wrong?

JOHN NEGROPONTE: Look, well, torture is never right. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Do think the Bush administration was wrong to engage in it?

JOHN NEGROPONTE: I say torture is never right. That's my first point.

But my second point was, I'll just stick with the way I felt during the time I lived through those events. And you can find quotes of what I said when I was ambassador to the U.N. I was asked if I thought we should use force in Iraq. And I said, well, in questions like this, I think we ought to approach the issue with a great deal of caution. I also said that we ought to—and I felt that we ought to—allow the inspection process more time to do its work. I was disappointed that it wasn't allowed. But, you know, you have one president at a time. He's the commander-in-chief. He's got the constitutional authority, and that's what he decided to do.

The last point I would make, to your issue about Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, Blix and I had a chance to reminisce about this a little bit later on. And I said to him, "It's amazing, you know? We set up this inspection thing, and we never found anything. And, you know, what the heck happened?" And Blix said, "You know, it's—that's right." But he said, "I can't—I still don't understand why Saddam behaved so guilty." And maybe that's why he had some doubt, because he was—Saddam sort of emitted, emanated, this sort of sensation that he had—that he was hiding something. Now, some people have speculated—and I think it was an FBI agent who had interviewed him extensively—that, actually, he wanted some people to think that he had WMD in his neighborhood in the wake of the Iran-Iraq War, and so that maybe this was part of his strategy. But it kind of—if indeed it was his strategy, it boomeranged.

Categories: Media

Conservative Whines About Minority 'Female Privilege' After Rapper Azealia Banks Sends Him Nude Pic

Alternet - Media Culture - Fri, 03/27/2015 - 8:27am
The writer, who works for Glenn Beck's website, says, 'Liberal women are operating in a void without any standards of basic decency.'

A conservative blogger claims he has been “sexually harassed” by contentious rapper Azealia Banks because she sent him a photo of her genitals.

Matt Walsh, a writer at Glenn Beck’s website, was so upset by the experience he went on to write a 20-plus paragraph screed decrying “female privilege” and urging liberal “minority” women to “check their privilege” in arguments with conservative, white, heterosexual men like himself.

Banks, who is no stranger to online shouting matches, having famously quarreled on Twitter with everyone from former Wilhelmina model and white rapper Iggy Azalea to faded R&B chanteuse Erykah Badu and gossip blogger Perez Hilton, aroused conservative ire when she appeared in Playboy magazine this month and made several controversial statements.

“I hate everything about this country,” Banks told Playboy. “Like, I hate fat white Americans…All the people who are crunched into the middle of America, the real fat and meat of America, are these racist conservative white people who live on their farms…Those little teenage girls who work at Kmart and have a racist grandma — that’s really America.”

Walsh was one of the many conservative commenters up in arms about the remarks, writing a blog post titled “Dear Azealia Banks, Please Feel Free To Leave America And Never Return” in which he offered to personally buy Banks a ticket to leave the country.

“It goes without saying of course that if your skin complexion were a few shades lighter, and your venom aimed at skin complexions a few shades darker, your comments would be headline news, there would be boycotts all over the country, and you’d be forced to apologize amid a sea of death threats,” wrote Walsh.

“This country made you rich,” he fumed, “it protects your right to say even the most idiotic of things, and as a young black woman, if anyone breathes even the slightest suggestion of a thought that might be perceived as insulting to you, they will be condemned, silenced, and publicly flogged.”

However, he said, “I don’t want you to be punished for your hatred the way any white person would be punished for the same. You have free speech, which is a patently American sort of thing. A thing codified into law by white guys.”

Banks responded by tweeting Walsh a photo of her vagina with the caption, “If you guys look closely enough you can see the future.”

Now, Walsh is in high dudgeon, complaining that Banks is bullying him by doing things that would be considered beyond the pale if they were done by a white man.

Liberal women like Banks, he pointed out, are granted a set of free passes by the culture at large that gives them the upper hand when arguing with someone like himself.

“They whine about ‘privilege,’” he wrote, “but they have just claimed the most profound privilege of all. They have invented a moral get out of jail free card, and they get to play it as many times as they want.”

“And the privilege for liberal women extends beyond mere words. If a man sends unwanted pictures of his privates to women, he’s a creep, a deviant, and possibly a sexual harasser,” said Walsh.

“Female privilege is profound, but specific,” he said, warning that “[i]t’s also an extreme hazard.”

“Liberals, particularly liberal women, are operating in a void without any standards of basic decency. They know society will allow them to say or do whatever, so there is a much greater temptation to descend into downright barbarism,” he wrote.

He concluded, “So these last few days have taught me what I already know: that the rules don’t apply to liberals, and even less to liberal women, and even less to liberal minority women. They indeed have the unmitigated privilege to speak with hate and act without self-control, but maybe, in the end, that’s not much of a privilege at all.”

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Jon Stewart Rips Into Fox for Accusing Other News Outlets of 'Rushing to Judgment'

Alternet - Media Culture - Fri, 03/27/2015 - 7:27am
'Okay, you're the caution and sober reflection network,' Stewart joked.

If Fox News is good at one thing, it is self-congratulation. Though progressive watchdog groups like Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting devote much of their time to debunking Fox falsehoods, and the Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote in 2010 that Fox should “stop pretending to be an objective news source,” the network clings tightly to claims of journalistic integrity.

In the most recent incident of Fox News back-patting, anchor Megyn Kelly spends an entire segment congratulating the network for its accurate coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings. “Will the mainstream media ever hail us as heroes for this?” she asks. “They got it right three times in 10 years!” replies Jon Stewart. “Those are solar eclipse numbers, people. Which is why I think it’s recommended that you only watch Fox through a tiny pinhole in a piece of cardboard. You can’t look directly at Fox. It will burn your soul.”

Stewart then runs an extended montage of Fox anchors applauding themselves and their outlet for being “the only network that’s telling the truth right now.” Stewart’s response: “I get it now. Your network launched in 1996, you’re 18 years old. Just like every other 18-year-old, you have a massive ego and spend 24 hours a day jerking yourself off.”

The Daily Show
Daily Show Full Episodes,  More Daily Show Videos,  Comedy Central Full Episodes


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A Few Words on the Least Surprising Op-Ed of 2015

FAIR Blog - Thu, 03/26/2015 - 6:05pm
By "inattention" and "failing to act," John Bolton just means we haven't bombed Iran yet. That's what paying attention is to him.
Categories: Media

America Can Afford To Increase Social Security, Despite What The Washington Post Says

Alternet - Media Culture - Thu, 03/26/2015 - 5:19pm
WaPo's editorial page editor's wrong math and wrong-headed argument.

"It's simple math," is the refrain often uttered by those seeking to explain why cutting, not expanding, Social Security is the choice to make. A variation of that phrase, "arithmetical realities of an aging society," appeared in Fred Hiatt's recent opinion piece ("Never-Compromise Wins Again," Washington Post, 3/23/15). The math is simple, but Mr. Hiatt gets it wrong.

In an effort to show that Social Security will be unaffordable in the future, Mr. Hiatt points out the misleading fact that there used to be a larger number of workers, in comparison to Social Security beneficiaries, than there are now, and there will be an even smaller number in the future. But this "simple math" leaves an important variable out of the equation: productivity. The worker to beneficiary ratio doesn't prove unaffordability any more than affordability is proven from the equally true observation that the total dependency ratio (workers compared to seniors and children) was much higher in the 1950s and 1960s than it is now or will be through most of the 21st century.

The appropriate measure to assess affordability, one that takes into account productivity, is the percentage of our Gross Domestic Product--the total value of all goods and services--represented by Social Security. Currently, Social Security represents about five percent of GDP. In the future, at its most expensive, it will represent about 6.2 percent. Many other industrialized countries spend a much higher percentage of their GDP on their counterpart programs right now than we will at Social Security's most expensive. Compared to that 6.2 percent of GDP, for example, Austria today spends 11.9 percent, Germany, 10.7 percent, and Japan, 9.8 percent.

The question of whether Social Security should be expanded, fully funded at its current level of scheduled benefits, or scaled back is not one of math or demographics, but one of values- how we choose to spend our combined wealth. Confusing this question is some other wrong math.

Like one of those fifth grade math word problems involving percentages of pies, advocates of cutting Social Security portray federal expenditures as a pie, and then complain that too much of it is going to seniors. What is missed in this analysis is that there are two pies. One pie is Social Security- disability insurance, life insurance, and joint and survivor annuities financed from its own dedicated revenue paid primarily by insured workers and their employers. That pie cannot borrow or deficit-spend. The other pie is the general operating fund of the United States, financed primarily through the federal income tax.

Past Congresses have tried to make it as clear as possible that there are two pies, going so far as to enact Public Law 101-508, which unambiguously states that Social Security "shall not be counted...for purposes of...the budget of the United States Government." While the federal budget has a large deficit, Social Security has a large and growing accumulated surplus. Cutting its benefits would shrink the Social Security pie, but not increase the general-fund pie.

Mr. Hiatt and others are missing other important math. Social Security benefits average just $14,600 in 2015. That math is the one that too many Americans are scribbling on the back of envelopes, or neatly entering in Excel spreadsheets. It is the math of hard choices - do I pay for my medications this month, or buy groceries? Forgo heat or pay my phone bill?

These are not questions that people should have to ask themselves when they live in the wealthiest country in the world, at the richest time in our history.

Mr. Hiatt and others imply that cuts would affect only the wealthiest beneficiaries, but that math doesn't work. There has not been a single serious proposal to cut Social Security that is so limited. The Bowles-Simpson proposal supported by Social Security opponents would cut benefits of workers earning around $40,000 by almost twenty percent, according to Social Security's Chief Actuary. Those earning more would see their benefits cut by higher percentages; even workers earning just $11,000 would see substantial cuts.

Social Security Works proudly stands by our opposition to cutting even a single penny from our earned Social Security benefits. The American people agree with us;according to the National Academy of Social Insurance, "71% of respondents would prefer a package of changes that increases Social Security revenues, pays for benefit improvements, and eliminates the projected financing gap."

Now is the time to expand our Social Security system. It is deeply popular, and it is profoundly wise policy. It's simple math.


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Exposing Anti-Islam Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Latest Deception

Alternet - Media Culture - Thu, 03/26/2015 - 5:19pm
One of America's most prominent Islam bashers has a long history of making things up.

Update: Read Max Blumenthal's overview of the neocon network's mobilization against the facts contained in this article. His response to the National Review's allegations of a "lie" are included.

While promoting her new book, Heretic, on a March 23 episode of "The Daily Show," Somali-born author and anti-Islam activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali made a staggering claim: “If you look at 70 percent of the violence in the world today, Muslims are responsible,” she told host Jon Stewart.

Stewart did not demand any evidence and Hirsi Ali provided no citation. However, she made a strikingly similar statement in a March 20 essay previewing her new book for the Wall Street Journal: “According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies,” Hirsi Ali wrote in WSJ’s Saturday Essay, “at least 70% of all the fatalities in armed conflicts around the world last year were in wars involving Muslims.”

I contacted the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a leading British foreign policy think tank, to inquire about the source of Hirsi Ali’s statistic. According to IISS Media Relations and Communications Officer Kat Slowe, IISS did not explicitly state such a figure in its research.

“I have spoken to a number of our experts and they cannot identify where this statistic may have come from,” Slowe told me.

“Their best guess is that the journalist in question [Hirsi Ali] may have access/a subscription to the [IISS] Armed Conflict Database and may have calculated this statistic independently. There are some concerns that it could be misleading as, without Syria (near 200,000 total deaths, and almost half of last year’s global conflict deaths) the figure would look massively different (and of course, this conflict did not have its root in religion),” Slowe added. 

Hirsi Ali’s AHA Foundation did not respond to my request for a citation on the statistic, nor did the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute that employs Hirsi Ali as a resident scholar. My email query to Hirsi Ali’s personal account at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, where she serves as a fellow, also went unanswered.

Around 24 hours after my initial query, Hirsi Ali publicly backed off her claim that Muslims are “responsible” for most of the violence in the world. “Depressing that 70% of fatalities in armed conflicts around the world last year were in wars involving Muslims,” she declared on her personal Twitter account

Hirsi Ali linked to a survey of casualties in global conflicts by IISS’ Hanna Ucko Neill and Jens Wardenaer which made no reference to Muslims or religiously inspired violence. Apparently Hirsi Ali calculated the statistic on her own by using an IISS report that documented fatalities in conflicts in territories from eastern Ukraine to sub-Saharan Africa to the Middle East to Mexico, where drug gangs fueled widespread killing. The IISS's Slowe noted that year's surge in conflict-related deaths occured thanks to the fighting in Syria, explaining that Hirsi Ali's claim "could be misleading" because "this conflict did not have its root in religion."

Instead of responding to my question about her statistic, Hirsi Ali’s AHA Foundation forwarded my email query to the Washington Free Beacon, a right-wing publication with its own history of Islamophobic tall tales and hoaxes. In a currently un-bylined article about the query, the Free Beacon accused me of anti-Semitism.

History of fraud

Hirsi Ali’s highly suspect statistic is only the latest deception by one of the world’s most prominent opponents of Islam. While other anti-Muslim activists like Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller have marginalized themselves on the fringes of the far-right, Hirsi Ali remains a darling of the American mainstream media. In Heretic, a polemic recycling many of her past arguments against Islam, she calls for the emergence of a Muslim Martin Luther — the authoritarian 16th-century zealot who called for burning down the synagogues of Jews, whom he compared to a gangrenous disease. With the book's release, Hirsi Ali has been welcomed with open arms by the BBC, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and a relatively accommodating Jon Stewart. ABC News has even run an excerpt from Heretic, while the New York Times Book Review hosted her for an interview filled with hardball questions about her favorite children’s books. 

Hirsi Ali’s power to persuade lies in her dramatic personal story and the public persona she has constructed. She has marketed herself as a expert native informant who has emerged out of the dark heart of radical Islam and into the light of Western civilization. Her tale is an uplifting, comforting one that tells many Westerners what they want to hear about themselves and their perceived enemies. With anti-Muslim attitudes at their peak across Europe and the US, her sweeping critique of Islam as an endemically violent faith has enormous cachet. The only problem is that like her writings on Islam, much of what she has told the public about herself is questionable.

In May 2006, the Dutch television program Zembla thoroughly debunked the dramatic story Hirsi Ali had told to advance her career, concluding that Hirsi Ali had sold the Dutch public “a story full of obscurities.”

Born Ayaan Hirsi Magam, she migrated to the Netherlands in 1992, changed her name to Hirsi Ali, and lied to Dutch authorities about her past. Contrary to the story she told the government, she arrived in the Netherlands not from war-torn Somalia, but from Kenya, where she lived in a secure environment and under the protection of the United Nations, which funded her education at a well-regarded Muslim girls’ school. Though she told immigration authorities and the Dutch public she had fled from civil war in Somalia, she left that country before its war broke out. Indeed, she did not live through a war there or anywhere else. Thanks to her fabrications, Hirsi Ali received political asylum in just five weeks.

Hirsi Ali told astonished audiences on Dutch talk shows that her supposedly devout family had forced her to marry a draconian Muslim man, that she had not been present at her own wedding, and that her family had threatened to kill her for offending their religious honor. However, Zembla told a drastically different story. Hirsi Ali’s brother, aunt and former husband each testified that she had indeed been present at her wedding. It turned out that Hirsi Ali’s mother had sent her brother to a Christian school, not exactly an indication of Islamic fanaticism.

“Yeah, I made up the whole thing,” Hirsi Ali admitted on camera to a Zembla reporter who confronted her with her lies. “I said my name was Ayaan Hirsi Ali instead of Ayaan Hirsi Magan. I also said I was born in 1967 while I was actually born in 1969.”

Hirsi Ali’s claim of honor killing threats also appears to be empty; she remained in touch with her father and aunt after she left her husband. In fact, her husband even came to visit her in the Dutch refugee center where she lived after leaving him. Even though he had paid her way to Europe on the grounds that she would join him in Canada, Hirsi Ali’s husband consented to the divorce she sought. (Watch the full Zembla program on Hirsi Ali.)

Fabrications that toppled a government

In 2003, just a decade after gaining political asylum in the Netherlands, Hirsi Ali was elected to the Dutch parliament on the ticket of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy. VVD leadership knew that the story Hirsi Ali told on her immigration forms was a gigantic lie — she had told them as much — but covered up the fraud and even advanced it to propel her career.

“She’s witnessed five civil wars in her youth, and has fled with her family many times. She’s made of iron and steel,” the VVD’s Neelie-Smit Kroes said of Hirsi Ali at the time, reciting claims her party knew were false.

A year after joining the Dutch parliament, where she said she attempted to ban Islamic schools in the Netherlands, Hirsi Ali teamed up with Dutch director Theo van Gogh to produce a documentary called Submission. The film portrayed violence against women in Muslim communities as a logical result of Islamic belief, relying on actresses to portray abused women and featuring semi-nude, niqab clad women with Quranic verses scrawled across their torsos. Van Gogh, a filmmaker and columnist who had taken to calling Muslims “goat fuckers,” was gunned down and stabbed to death soon after the film’s release by a Dutch Islamist radical. Before fleeing the scene, the killer pinned a note to van Gogh’s body threatening Hirsi Ali with death. Hirsi Ali’s persistence in the face of the episode helped earn her hero status across the West, particularly in post-9/11 America, where Time magazine named her one of its 100 Most Influential People in 2005.

Zembla’s revelations of Hirsi Ali’s lies in May 2006 interrupted her ascent and threw the Dutch government into chaos. No one was more damaged than her friend and close party ally, Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk. Nicknamed “Iron Rita” for her ruthless anti-migrant crackdowns and her demagogic appeals to xenophobia, Verdonk was shamed by the revelations of Hirsi Ali’s deceptions. When she announced her intention to strip Hirsi Ali of her citizenship, however, she was skewered in parliament and forced to relent.

Days after Zembla aired its exposé, Hirsi Ali announced her plans to leave parliament and take up a position with the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington-based think tank that housed many of the neoconservatives who helped orchestrate the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In the immediate aftermath of the furor she caused, Verdonk introduced the so-called “Law on Integration,” one of Europe’s harshest anti-immigrant bills. Only one member of the Dutch House of Representatives opposed it. However, the governing coalition soon collapsed because of the scandal Hirsi Ali’s deceptions inspired. With a new coalition seated in February 2007, and without Verdonk and Hirsi Ali in power, the government was able to adopt a more tolerant approach to immigrants.

Winning a Harvard fellowship, defending Breivik

Upon her relocation to the US, Hirsi Ali was embraced by a coalition of liberal interventionists, neoconservatives and “New Atheists” like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Bill Maher. With extended appearances on the Christian Broadcasting Network of Pat Robertson, who blamed homosexuality for the 9/11 attacks, self-proclaimed feminist Hirsi Ali won droves of fans among the Christian right. Despite her views on Islam, which she called a “destructive, nihilistic cult of death,” or perhaps because of them, she received a fellowship from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

As she rose in prominence among America’s intellectual elite, Hirsi Ali’s history of lying tumbled conveniently down the Orwellian memory hole. In promotional material for her best-selling 2007 memoir, Infidel, Hirsi Ali’s publishers at Simon & Schuster have pushed the discredited claim that “Hirsi Ali survived civil war.” More recently, conservative pundit Peggy Noonan glossed over the reasons behind Hirsi Ali’s flight from the Netherlands, writing, “Ayaan Hirsi Ali got death threats and eventually fled to America.” Few, if any, American outlets have noted that Hirsi Ali left the Netherlands as her public credibility collapsed and her anti-immigrant party fell into crisis.

With support from across the American ideological spectrum, Hirsi Ali sharpened her rhetoric against Muslims. In a candid 2007 exchange with Reason Magazine, she declared that the religion of Islam had to be “defeated.” “Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful,” Hirsi Ali stated. “It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now….There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.”

Junketed to Berlin in 2012 to receive the Axel Springer Honorary Award from the right-wing German publisher, Hirsi Ali appeared to blame liberal defenders of multiculturalism for the killing spree committed by the Norwegian extremist Anders Breivik, claiming they left Breivik with “no other choice but to use violence. (Breivik cited Hirsi Ali’s work in his 1,500 page manifesto explaining his plans to commit a series of terrorist attacks across Norway.)

“[T]hat one man who killed 77 people in Norway, because he fears that Europe will be overrun by Islam, may have cited the work of those who speak and write against political Islam in Europe and America – myself among them – but he does not say in his 1500 page manifesto that it was these people who inspired him to kill. He says very clearly that it was the advocates of silence. Because all outlets to express his views were censored, he says, he had no other choice but to use violence.” (Her words were met with an extended standing ovation.)

When Brandeis University canceled plans to award Hirsi Ali an honorary degree in April 2014, it appeared that her increasingly vitriolic tirades against Islam and its adherents had caught up with her. But then came the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, a seemingly clarifying moment that Hirsi Ali and fellow anti-Islam activists seized on as confirmation of their darkest prophecies. Two months later, she released Heretic.

Having rebranded herself a brave “reformer” following in the footsteps of the Selma marchers, Hirsi Ali has found her way back into the mainstream limelight. While American media demonstrates an endless appetite for her polemics about Islam, holding her to account remains taboo.

Editor's Note: Cat Slowe's official title with IISS has been clarified -- her official title is Media Relations and Communications Officer.

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