Media

'Clipboard Man' Shows Media Figures Didn't Get the Memo About Ebola Transmission

FAIR Blog - Fri, 10/17/2014 - 11:13pm
The story of "Clipboard Man" created a panicky sensation on Wednesday, and shined a light on the media's failure to inform us about the danger Ebola actually poses to the average American.
Categories: Media

FAIR TV: ABC's Factcheck Fail, Chuck Todd's DQ, and Malala's Message

FAIR Blog - Fri, 10/17/2014 - 5:55pm
ABC botches an easy ISIS factcheck, and NBC's Chuck Todd "disqualifies" a Senate candidate who gave an iffy response to a trivial question. Plus Malala Yousafzai wins the Nobel Peace Prize--but US media doesn't seem interested in her peace message.
Categories: Media

A Most Interesting Man: Did Maddow Really 'Tar' Rand Paul on Civil Rights?

FAIR Blog - Fri, 10/17/2014 - 5:44pm
The new issue of Time magazine declares Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul the most interesting man in politics. Maybe that says something about Time, or about the state of American politics.
Categories: Media

The Media's Ebola Coverage: The More You Watch, The Less You Know?

Alternet - Media Culture - Thu, 10/16/2014 - 4:03pm
The fact that Americans have such a weak grasp on the facts doesn't speak well for the quality of coverage to date.

A new poll last week revealed disturbing trends about the increasingly dire media coverage of the Ebola story in the United States. Measuring the rising anxiety among news consumers, a Rutgers-Eagleton poll of New Jersey residents found that 69 percent are at least somewhat concerned about the deadly disease spreading in the U.S.

The truly strange finding was that people who said they were following the story most closely were the ones with the most inaccurate information about Ebola. The more information they consumed about the dangerous disease, the less they knew about it. How is that even possible?

Poll director David Redlawsk cast an eye of blame on the news media. "The tone of the coverage seems to be increasing fear while not improving understanding," Redlawsk told a reporter. "You just have to turn on the TV to see the hysteria of the "talking heads" media. It's really wall to wall. The crawls at the bottom of the screen are really about fear. And in all the fear and all the talking, there's not a lot of information."

While the Rutgers-Eagleton poll was a statewide survey, not a national one, it's reasonable to assume that the Ebola information phenomena documented in New Jersey is happening elsewhere, as a series of nationwide polls have highlighted just how little Americans understand about the rare virus.

"Reporters can be part of the problem or part of the solution," Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings announced at press conference on October 2, as the city began to deal with its local health crisis following the disclosure that an Ebola victim was being treated in a city hospital. 

Two weeks later, what's the verdict?

It's not fair to suggest most of the Ebola coverage to date has been overly hysterical, or that none of it has served an important purpose during the time of a possible health crisis. But too much of it has been based on fear and hypotheticals and driven by a weird look-at-us-now undercurrent. "It's almost like they're crossing their fingers for an outbreak," noted Jon Stewart earlier this month, mocking the wildly overexcited television coverage.   

CNN actually invited onto the network a fiction writer who wrote an Ebola thriller in the 1980s to hype unsubstantiated fears about the transmission of the virus. CNN's Ashleigh Banfield speculated that "All ISIS would need to do is send a few of its suicide killers  into an Ebola-affected zones and then get them on some mass transit, somewhere where they would need to be to affect the most damage." And colleague Don Lemon lamented that government officials seemed "too confident" they can contain the Ebola scare.

Of course, abetting the culture of Ebola misinformation is Fox News, which has served as a cauldron of fear mongering and anti-government paranoia in recent weeks: 

Elisabeth Hasselbeck of Fox News literally demanded that we put the country on lockdown, banning all travel in and out. In a bit of race-baiting, Andrea Tantaros of Fox suggested that people who travel to the country and show symptoms of ebola will "seek treatment from a witch doctor" instead of go to the hospital. Fox host Steve Doocy suggested the CDC is lying about ebola because they're "part of the administration". Fox also promoted a conspiracy theorist who is trying to claim the CDC is lying when they caution people not to panic.

The hallmark of overheated rhetoric and almost cartoonish mistrust would suggest there might be a ratings motivation lurking behind the coverage; a willingness to jack up the fear factor in order to lure viewers in. That's something PBS science correspondent Miles O'Brian touched on when he urged journalists to "take a breath" on the Ebola story. "Unfortunately it's a very competitive business we're in, and there is a perception that by hyping up this threat, you draw people's attention."

But the attempted ratings grab hasn't led to an increase in public understanding. In August, a Harvard School of Public Health poll found that "Two-thirds of people (68%) surveyed believe Ebola spreads "easily" ("very easily" or "somewhat easily") from those who are sick with it."

That, of course, is inaccurate.

Fast forward to October Rutgers-Eagleton poll, and despite the enormous amount of recent Ebola news coverage, those who followed the story more closely were more likely to believe Ebola can be spread easily, even though the disease cannot be spread like the flu.

Even more recently, according to a Harrison Poll survey, "Three out of four of those polled said they are concerned that people carrying Ebola will infect others before showing symptoms themselves." As Medical Daily noted, "This is a medical impossibility." (Ebola cannot spread until the symptoms present themselves.)

The Ebola virus is clearly being treated as one of the biggest, most important on-going news stories of the year, especially by cable news outlets. The fact that Americans have such a weak grasp on the facts doesn't speak well for the quality of coverage to date.

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Categories: Media

'New York Times' Journalist James Risen Prepared to "Pay Any Price" to Report on War on Terror

Alternet - Media Culture - Thu, 10/16/2014 - 2:15pm
Risen, who could face prison time, says that "without aggressive investigative reporting, we can’t really have a democracy."

In an interview with Democracy Now!, New York Times journalist James Risen talked about the investigative reporting surrounding the NSA that has put him in the center of a major press freedom case. The Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, who had just released a new book titled "Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War," told Amy Goodman:  "You cannot have aggressive investigative reporting in America without confidential sources — and without aggressive investigative reporting, we can’t really have a democracy. I think that is what the government really fears more than anything else." Risen also detailed revelations he makes in his new book about what he calls the "homeland security-industrial complex."

Below is an interview with Risen, followed by a transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: Today we spend the hour with the journalist at the center of one of the most significant press freedom cases in decades: veteran New York Times investigative reporter James Risen. In 2006, Risen won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting about warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency. His story would have come out right before the 2004 presidential election of President Bush over John Kerry. It might have changed the outcome of that election. But under government pressure, The New York Times refused to publish the story for more than a year, until James Risen was publishing a book that would have had the revelations in it. He’s since been pursued by both the Bush and Obama administrations in a six-year leak investigation into that book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.

James Risen now faces years in prison if he refuses to testify at the trial of a former CIA officer accused of giving him classified information. In June, the Supreme Court turned down his appeal of a court ruling forcing him to testify in the criminal trial of ex-CIA analyst Jeffrey Sterling, who prosecutors believe gave him information on the agency’s role in disrupting Iran’s nuclear program. In State of War, Risen showed that instead of hampering Iran’s efforts, the CIA effectively gave Iran a blueprint for designing a bomb. James Risen has vowed to go to jail rather than testify at Sterling’s trial, which is set to begin in January.

In a story broadcast Sunday, General Michael Hayden, who led the CIA until 2009 and, before that, led the NSA, told Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes he does not think Risen should be forced to divulge his source.

MICHAEL HAYDEN: I’m conflicted. I know the damage that is done. And I do. But I also know the free press necessity in a free society. And it actually might be that I think, no, he’s wrong, that was a mistake, that was a terrible thing to do, America will suffer because of that story. But then I have to think about: So, how do I redress that? And if the method of redressing that actually harms the broad freedom of the press, that’s still wrong. The government needs to be strong enough to keep me safe, but I don’t want it so strong that it threatens my liberties.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, the Obama administration must now decide if it will try to force James Risen’s testimony and risk sending one of the nation’s most prominent national security journalists to jail. President Obama has already developed a reputation as the most aggressive in history when it comes to targeting whistleblowers. His Justice Department has brought eight cases so far, more than all previous administrations combined. On Friday, federal prosecutors hinted they may decide not to press for Risen’s testimony, under new guidelines issued earlier this year that make it harder to subpoena journalists for their records.

James Risen’s answer to this saga has been to write another book. Released today, it’s titled Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. He writes the book is his answer to how, quote, "to best challenge the government’s draconian efforts to crack down on aggressive investigative reporting and suppress the truth in the name of ceaseless war."

James Risen, welcome back to Democracy Now!

JAMES RISEN: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us.

JAMES RISEN: Thanks.

AMY GOODMAN: So, your new book is Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. You’re quoting John Kennedy here.

JAMES RISEN: Yes, yes. And I think that’s what we have done since 9/11. We’ve paid an enormous price in the name of what we—we started this war after 9/11, this global war on terror, in order to seek justice or retribution or whatever you—however you want to characterize the attitude of America right after 9/11. But today it’s become essentially a search for cash, and there’s lots of people involved in the war on terror today who are doing it because they’re ambitious, because they want status or power or money. And I think of it kind of in the historical sense. The historical context is kind of like in the Middle Ages when you had the Thirty Years’ War or the Hundred Years’ War in Europe, where you developed a whole new class of mercenary soldiers, who all they did their entire careers is go from one country to another to fight wars for money.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, as you expose a great deal in Pay Any Price, you yourself are under, as I just documented, enormous pressure.

JAMES RISEN: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you continue to write these front-page pieces for The New York Times, write this book, Pay Any Price, as you face the possibility of years in jail?

JAMES RISEN: Well, it’s what I do. It’s my job. You know, it’s what keeps me sane, is to keep going. If I just gave in to them, then I would be, you know, failing in what I want to do. I want to keep finding out the truth. It’s the thing I’ve tried to do my whole life, is be a reporter and be a writer. It’s the only thing I know how to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, in a moment, we’re going to talk extensively about these stunning revelations in Pay Any Price, but if you could go back to what you revealed, before Edward Snowden, and how it eventually came into The New York Times, that won it and you a Pulitzer Prize?

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, well, the—I guess you mean the original NSA stories. We, in 2004, Eric Lichtblau and I, had a number of different sources who began to tell us early on in 2004 that they were very—they knew something really big, they knew the biggest secret in the government, but they couldn’t tell us, because they were so nervous. They were very tortured by what they knew. And it took months of kind of patience and talking and reporting for Eric and I to figure out exactly what it was that they were talking about, and finally we were able to piece it all together. And in the fall of 2004, we had the story ready to go.

I had a great confrontation over the telephone with Michael Hayden, who you just saw, where I read him the—I got him on the phone kind of by bluffing the PR person at the NSA and said, "I need to talk to him right now." And I was shocked that he got on the phone. And I read him the top of the draft of the story, and he goes, "[gasps]." And that’s when I knew we had it. And so, we had the story ready. But then, by, you know, then, Hayden and the government started to crack down on The New York Times and pressured them to hold the story ’til—even though it was ready about two or three weeks before the election, in mid-October 2004. And then, after the election—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, wait.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you just explain, what does it mean when the government pressures, you know, the leading newspaper in the United States?

JAMES RISEN: Well, they—

AMY GOODMAN: What does that look like? Do they march through the offices of The New York Times into Bill Keller the executive editor’s office?

JAMES RISEN: No. Well, usually what they ask is for us to go to them. The first meeting was between—I think it was probably early October, late September of 2004, between me and the Washington bureau chief at the time, Phil Taubman, and John McLaughlin, who was then the acting CIA director, and his chief of staff, John Moseman. And we met at the CIA director’s downtown office at the old executive office building. And it was a very funny meeting, because at that time they didn’t want to acknowledge that the story was right. They didn’t want to officially acknowledge. And so, they had all these hypothetical—we had this very weird hypothetical conversation, where they kept saying, "Well, if you were to—if the government was doing what you say they were doing, it would be very bad for you to reveal that." And then they—then, that was just the beginning of a whole series of meetings with the editors and us, the reporters, in which they said that this is the crown jewel of the U.S. counterterrorism operation, and that if you reveal this, this will damage national security. And so, that was essentially the argument that they used then and they used throughout the entire process.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it went higher than you and the Washington editor.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, it kept going higher and higher and higher.

AMY GOODMAN: And the election is coming closer and closer and closer.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, yeah, and they met with Taubman and Keller. And then we had—you know, we in the newspaper, the editors and reporters—met to discuss the story, and Bill Keller decided to hold it. And then the election—you know, so he decided to not run it before the election. And then, after the election—

AMY GOODMAN: I mean—

JAMES RISEN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think it could have changed the election? I mean, explain the nut—

JAMES RISEN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —of your revelation.

JAMES RISEN: Basically, the story was that we found out that the U.S. was spying on Americans—the NSA was spying on Americans electronically, listening to their phone calls, international phone calls, back and forth with people overseas, and gathering lots of—doing lots of data mining on their phone and email, and also getting the content of their email, and doing that without court approval. They were going around the FISA court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, which had been set up specifically for that purpose of providing secret warrants for spying on—for eavesdropping on spies and terrorists or suspected spies and terrorists. And the government had decided to go around the law, go around the courts, and not tell anyone else that they were doing that, except a couple hand-picked people in Congress, who were like the chairmen of the intelligence committees. And they were keeping this secret from everyone so they could do it on a vast scale. And we believed that what we were—the people who talked to us about it believed that it was unconstitutional. And that’s why we were pursuing it.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Bill Binney for a minute, who we had on Democracy Now! William Binney was the National Security Agency whistleblower, spent nearly 40 years at the NSA, but retired about a month after September 11, 2001, due to concerns over unchecked domestic surveillance. Speaking on Democracy Now! in 2012, Binney explained what happened.

WILLIAM BINNEY: After 9/11, all the wraps came off for NSA, and they decided to—between the White House and NSA and CIA, they decided to eliminate the protections on U.S. citizens and collect on domestically. So they started collecting from a commercial—the one commercial company that I know of that participated provided over 300—probably, on the average, about 320 million records of communication of a U.S. citizen to a U.S. citizen inside this country.

AMY GOODMAN: What company?

WILLIAM BINNEY: AT&T. It was long-distance communications. So they were providing billing data. At that point, I knew I could not stay, because it was a direct violation of the constitutional rights of everybody in the country. Plus it violated the pen register law and Stored Communications Act, the Electronic Privacy Act, the intelligence acts of 1947 and 1978. I mean, it was just this whole series of—plus all the laws covering federal communications governing telecoms. I mean, all those laws were being violated, including the Constitution. And that was a decision made that wasn’t going to be reversed, so I could not stay there. I had to leave.

AMY GOODMAN: That was National Security Agency whistleblower William Binney. So he leaves, and he ultimately has a gun put to his head by federal authorities in his shower—he’s a diabetic amputee—his kid and his wife also being held at gunpoint.

JAMES RISEN: Right, yes, unfortunately, and I have a chapter in my new book about the NSA whistleblowers early on, including Bill and Diane Roark and Tom Drake and some of the others. And it’s remarkable what happened to them at the NSA. What we found out, years later—I did not know Bill, I didn’t know Diane or Tom. They were never our sources. But what we found out was, the government thought that they were our sources for our New York Times story, and they were persecuted as a result, even though they had never come to the press. And I detail in the new book, Diane Roark, in particular, suffered amazing persecution. And she tried—even though she tried to go through the channel—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain who she was—is.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, Diane Roark—along with Bill, Diane Roark was the House Intelligence Committee staffer in charge of oversight of the NSA, and right at the time of 9/11. And Bill, right after he found out about this new program, went to her, her house in suburban Washington, and told her what he had heard about. And Diane was outraged and shocked, and she couldn’t believe that it was authorized. She thought this must be some kind of rogue program that nobody really knew about. And so, she went to the chairman of the—she went to her bosses, the staff director of the House Intelligence Committee and the minority staff director, to warn them that they’ve got to tell the chairman and the vice chairman of the committee what’s going on.

And then she gets this message back: "Don’t talk about this anymore. Don’t investigate it. And keep your mouth shut." And she realizes that the chairman and the vice chairman already know about it and are keeping it secret. And so, she then tries to—goes on this long odyssey within the government of going to all these powerful people that she knows inside the government to try to warn them about this illegal and unconstitutional program. And every time she goes to someone that she respects and who is very powerful, she realizes they already know, they’re in on the secret, and they’re keeping their mouths shut. And finally, about a year later—a couple years later, after our story comes out, the government thinks that she’s our source, and they raid her house, and they raid Bill’s house and a few other people, like Tom Drake.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the piece doesn’t get published before the election. You try again right after the election.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, we convinced the editors, well, if you’re not going to run it now, let us try again after the election. And so, after the election, they said OK. And so Eric and I go start working on the story again. We get it re-edited by our editor, Rebecca Corbett, and we have it all ready to go again. You know, we do a lot more reporting. I remember we, Eric and I, knocked on doors, and we went to this one guy who we knew, at his house late at night right before Christmas—we knew he knew about this, and we knock on his door, and he just starts yelling at us for bothering him. And he was clearly scared. He didn’t want to talk. But we had the story ready to go by mid- to late December of 2004, and then the editors killed it again for the same reasons, that it’s national security.

And so, by that time, the story was dead. I knew it was—they were not going to run it at all. And so, I had a previously scheduled book leave to work on my book, State of War, and so I decided I’m going to put it in my book. And so I did. And then, when I came back from book leave in the summer—spring or summer of 2005, you know, and I finished the book throughout the summer, and I think by late summer, I told the editors, "It’s going to be in my book, so you should think about running it."

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to Bill Keller in 60 Minutes with Lesley Stahl, when she asked him, then the executive editor of The New York Times, about a meeting he was summoned to at the White House that made Keller decide not to run James Risen’s story.

BILL KELLER: The president said, you know, "If there’s another attack like 9/11, you know, we’re going to be called up before Congress to explain how we let that happen, and you should be sitting alongside us." It was, in effect, you know, "You could have blood on your hands."

LESLEY STAHL: He was saying, if anything goes wrong, we’re going to blame you.

BILL KELLER: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times. What was your answer to him? I’m sure he said that to you.

JAMES RISEN: Well, we had lots of talks over about 14 months. And actually, their talks—you know, the talks we had, me and Eric had, with the editors were very high-minded. It was an interesting debate. And we debated kind of this issue of national security versus civil liberties in a lot of ways. I always thought afterwards, you know, you could have put those debates we had inside the paper on television. They were pretty interesting. But ultimately, what really, I think, convinced Bill was, in the fall of 2005, when they were—after I told them it was going to be in my book, and they decided to re-engage on the story—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, that’s putting it politely. It’s going to be very embarrassing—

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, right.

AMY GOODMAN: —as their top national security reporter reveals his revelations not in the pages of the Times, but in your book.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, yeah. Well, what they said was, "We’ll think about putting"—after I told them it was going to be in my book, in the late summer of 2005, what they said was, "OK, we’ll think about putting it in the paper." But they weren’t committed to it. They wanted to negotiate again with the government. And so, there were a whole series of new meetings with the government, and which was very frustrating to me. What the government told them that fall was: "Risen and Lichtblau have it wrong. We’re not listening to anybody’s phone calls. We’re only getting the metadata, you know, the calling data." And when the editors came back and told us that, we told—Eric and I said, "They’re lying to you." And finally, after a while, Eric and I were able to convince them, you know, that they were being lied to, and I think that had a major impact on their final decision to run the story.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, the story comes out, and you win a Pulitzer Prize for your book. But there is something else that the Times decided not to publish—

JAMES RISEN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —that is what you are being prosecuted for now.

JAMES RISEN: Right. There was another story, a CIA operation involving the Iran nuclear weapons program, in which the CIA had used a Russian defector to give nuclear blueprints to the Iranians. And the idea was that they were supposed to be flawed blueprints that would then send the Iranians down the wrong track on building a bomb. But the Russian told them immediately, "Oh, I can see the flaws," because he was a scientist, he was a nuclear scientist. He says, "I can see the flaws. The Iranians are going to see the flaws." And then he sent a letter. When he gave the blueprints to the Iranians, he gave a letter to the Iranians saying, "You’re going to see that there are problems in these blueprints." And so, it’s quite possible that the Iranians were able to—by being tipped off, were able to find good information in them and ignore the bad information.

And that was in my book. I had written that for the paper in—before, and the editors had decided not to run it because the White House asked them not to on national security grounds. And after my book came out, the government began leak investigations of both the NSA story and other things in my book, including that story. I think they finally decided not to come after The New York Times on the NSA story, because it would have meant a major constitutional showdown. And I think they decided to find something else in my book to come after me on, to isolate me from The New York Times. And they picked the Merlin operation.

AMY GOODMAN: And they want to know your source.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, they want to know who my sources are for that story.

AMY GOODMAN: Did it surprise you that it went from the Bush administration to the Obama administration?

JAMES RISEN: Yes. I thought that once the Obama administration came into office, that the whole thing would be dropped. And I was very surprised that the Obama administration continued to pursue the case, when, in 2009, they issued a new subpoena. And they’ve continued to pursue this ever since.

AMY GOODMAN: You told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, President Obama is "the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation"?

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, I think that his record speaks for itself. He’s gone after—he’s prosecuted more whistleblowers and gone after more journalists than any president in history. He’s done—I think that record is going to be a major part of his legacy, of trying to erode press freedom in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist James Risen. He has just published a new book—it’s out today—called Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. When we come back, we’ll talk about what he calls "the homeland security-industrial complex." Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re spending the hour with James Risen, investigative journalist with The New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. His new book, just out today, is Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. You’re being pursued by the U.S. government. Will you reveal the name of your source?

JAMES RISEN: No.

AMY GOODMAN: Because?

JAMES RISEN: I just think that the—you know, you cannot have aggressive investigative reporting in America without confidential sources. And without aggressive investigative reporting, we can’t really have a democracy, because the only real oversight for the government is an independent and aggressive press. And I think that’s what the government really fears more than anything else, is an aggressive investigative reporting in which we shine a light on what’s going on inside the government. And we can’t do that without maintaining the confidentiality of sources.

AMY GOODMAN: Has President Obama, Eric Holder or anyone else in the administration signaled to you that they may not demand that you testify and reveal your source?

JAMES RISEN: No.

AMY GOODMAN: These reports that were in The Washington Post on Friday, and Michael Hayden saying, former NSA head saying, that perhaps you shouldn’t be prosecuted, do they encourage you?

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, well, I’m glad to hear that, but we’ll see. I don’t know what’s going to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: In June, Attorney General Eric Holder met with a group of journalists to discuss press freedom issues and was asked about the Justice Department’s subpoena of you, of James Risen, to testify in the trial of ex-CIA analyst Jeffrey Sterling. According to the Times, Holder said, quote, "As long as I’m attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail. As long as I’m attorney general, someone who is doing their job is not going to get prosecuted." James Risen?

JAMES RISEN: Well, we’ll see. I’m not sure what that means, you know, and it’s all still in the courts right now. So...

AMY GOODMAN: And Holder is resigning.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, yeah. So, we’ll see. It’s very unclear what’s going to happen next.

AMY GOODMAN: Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, you have a series of stunning revelations. Why don’t you begin by laying them out?

JAMES RISEN: OK. Well, you know, I set out to—to me, what the war on terror became, as I said earlier, this enormous search for power and status and cash. And I began to realize that what we had in the war on terror was we had deregulated national security. That’s essentially what Dick Cheney meant when he said the gloves come off. That means deregulating the whole national security apparatus, taking all the limits off of what we can do in national security. At the same time, we poured hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars into brand-new counterterrorism programs. And the FBI, the CIA and the new Homeland Security department, all the—and the Pentagon, they all had more money than they knew what to do with. And so, they began—to me, it’s kind of like the banking crisis. You had enormous money going into a deregulated industry, meaning the counterterrorism industry, and you had lots of unintended and bizarre consequences. And so, that’s what I’ve found, is the crazy programs that developed; the bizarre nature of the whole war on terror, if you pull up the hood and look inside of it, is just stunning.

And I open the book with this, to me, kind of a metaphor for everything that we have, what’s going on now, is, in 2009, there was a small ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 60, which is where the dead of the Iraq War lay buried. And it was a small group of pro-war people who were celebrating the sixth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, and which they—what they call Iraq Liberation Day. It’s the day that the statue of Saddam was pulled down in Firdos Square. And I saw Paul Wolfowitz there. And the woman who ran that—who was sponsoring that day’s ceremony was Viola Drath, who was an aging Georgetown socialite. And she was very pro-Iraq War. And then, two years later, she was found murdered in her apartment—in her house in Georgetown. And her husband, who had been going around Washington dressed as a general in the Iraqi army, was arrested for her murder. He had claimed that he had been named a general in the Iraqi army by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. And after he was arrested, the police found a receipt from a printing place in Washington where he had counterfeited the letter and the certificate of being a general in the Iraqi army. And he was a total fraud. He’s now been convicted of her murder. And I thought that was a metaphor for the fact that this war on terror is—a lot of it is just a fabrication, that we are now trying to unravel and deal with.

And so, I began to look and to see all of the various things that have happened in this war. One of the first things I came across was how the United States had airlifted billions of dollars to Iraq for use by the Iraqi—the new Iraqi government, and billions had been stolen and moved to Lebanon by Iraqi leaders. Then I began to look at the case of Dennis Montgomery, who was a—

AMY GOODMAN: But before you go to Dennis Montgomery—

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —the billions of dollars from the U.S. went from Iraq to Lebanon.

JAMES RISEN: Right. It was stolen—

AMY GOODMAN: Where?

JAMES RISEN: It was stolen from Baghdad and moved secretly to a bunker in Lebanon, where it was being held by wealthy and powerful Iraqis, because they wanted to steal it and use it for themselves, and also probably with some Lebanese money launderers who were watching over it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this billion dollars of taxpayer, U.S. taxpayer, money is—

JAMES RISEN: Well, it was actually Iraqi government money that had been held in the United States, but the U.S. government was airlifting it by the U.S. Air Force. So, it was just a—you know, no one was doing any oversight of any of these programs.

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Montgomery?

JAMES RISEN: Dennis Montgomery is a fascinating character, who—he was a computer software person, self-styled expert, who developed what he said was special technology that would allow him to do things with computers that other people couldn’t do. One of the things that he developed was this imaging technology that he said he could find images on broadcast network news tapes from Al Jazeera. He said that he could read special secret al-Qaeda codes in the banners on the broadcasts of Al Jazeera. And the CIA believed this. And he was giving them information based on watching hours and hours of Al Jazeera tapes, saying that "I know where the next al-Qaeda attack is going to be based—is going to happen." And the Bush administration and the CIA fell for this.

AMY GOODMAN: And it was in the news zipper at the bottom of the Al Jazeera broadcasts?

JAMES RISEN: Well, he says it was in the banner. But anyway. And so, it was this great—if you talk to him, he argues, well, they—that’s what they were looking for. You know, they convinced him to look for this. You know, it depends on who you talk to. But it was one of the great hoaxes of the war on terror, where they actually grounded planes in Europe, the Bush administration, based on information they were getting from Dennis Montgomery’s so-called decryption of Al Jazeera broadcasts.

And then there’s a whole number of other things, like Alarbus, which was this covert program at the Pentagon where a Palestinian involved in that was actually trying to use the bank account set up by the secret program, Pentagon program, to launder hundreds of millions of dollars. And the FBI investigated this, but then tried to keep the whole thing quiet.

AMY GOODMAN: How much did the U.S. government give to Dennis Montgomery?

JAMES RISEN: Millions of dollars. And then he used—he was a heavy gambler and eventually, I think, had a lot of financial problems as a result of that. So, it’s a strange—to me, the Dennis Montgomery story is one of the strangest, because what it shows is, early on in the war on terror, as I said, the CIA and all these other agencies had so much money to spend on counterterrorism that they were willing to throw it at everything. They were so afraid of the next terrorist attack that they were willing to believe anybody who came up with some idea. And I called that chapter about Montgomery, you know, "The Emperor of the War on Terror," because nobody wanted to say that the emperor had no clothes.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it had very real effects, aside from spending all that money.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: For example, planes being sent back.

JAMES RISEN: Yes, yes. There were planes grounded. International flights between the United States and Europe and Mexico were grounded. There was talk at the White House even of shooting down planes based on this information.

AMY GOODMAN: Because they could be used, as with September 11th, as weapons?

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, as missiles or whatever. And so, it was crazy. It was absolutely insane.

AMY GOODMAN: And it was only the French government who then did a study?

JAMES RISEN: Yes, yes. Yeah, the French government finally—you know, the U.S.—the CIA and the Bush administration didn’t want to tell anybody what was really happening, where they were getting this information. You know, "This supersecret information about Al Jazeera, we can’t tell you." And finally, the French intelligence service and the French government said, "You know, you’re grounding our planes. You’ve got to tell us where you’re getting this information." And they got—they finally shared the information with them, and the French got a French tech firm to look at this, and they said, "This is nuts. This is fabrication." And after a while, the CIA was finally convinced maybe the French were right, and they stopped talking about it. They didn’t do anything else. They just like shut it down eventually, but never wanted to talk about what had really happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Then Dennis Montgomery, revealed as a con man—

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —in jail for that?

JAMES RISEN: Well, no, he’s not in jail. But it was a—he actually got more contracts after that, with the Pentagon and other agencies. And he continued to operate for a long time. You know, he kind of went from one agency to the other.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to James Risen, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist for The New York Times. His new book, just out today, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War. When we come back, war corrupts, endless war corrupts absolutely. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We’re spending the hour with James Risen, the investigative reporter for The New York Times who won a Pulitzer Prize for his book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. It also won him, well, becoming a target, not only of the Bush administration, but of the Obama administration, for year after year, right through to today. He could face years in jail for not revealing a source on one of the stories that he has exposed around a program called Merlin and the U.S. giving flawed blueprints for a nuclear trigger to Iran. This issue of facing years in jail, how are you preparing for this?

JAMES RISEN: Well, as you said, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. And it bothered me a lot more at first. I was more nervous about it when it first started. But now it’s just like kind of background noise in my life, and so I’m just kind of used to it now, because I know exactly—I have no doubts about what I’m going to do, and so that makes it pretty easy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re covering the very people who could put you in jail.

JAMES RISEN: Yeah, sometimes, yes. As I said earlier, that’s the only way to deal with this, is to keep going and to keep—the only thing that the government respects is staying aggressive and continuing to investigate what the government is doing. And that’s the only way that we in the journalism industry can kind of force—you know, push the government back against the—to maintain press freedom in the United States.

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Pan-Africanist Scholar Ali Mazrui Dies at 81; Watch 2009 Democracy Now! Interview on Obama Election

Democracy Now! - Thu, 10/16/2014 - 2:02pm

The renowned Kenyan scholar Ali Mazrui has died at the age of 81. For nearly half a century, he was considered an intellectual giant in African studies. In 2005, Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines named him among the top 100 public intellectuals in the world.

At the time of his death, he was an Albert Schweitzer professor in the humanities and director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

Born in Mombasa in 1933, Mazrui studied in Manchester, New York, and Oxford before becoming a professor at Makerere University in Uganda. In 1973, he was forced into exile by then-Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and taught in the United States and other institutions across the world ever since. He was the author or co-author of more than 20 books on African politics, international political culture and political Islam, including "Islam Between Globalization and Counterterrorism."

In 2009, Mazrui appeared on Democracy Now! to discuss the election of Barack Obama, the first black president in the Western world.

"We've had great individuals in African history, like Menelik II of Ethiopia or Ramesses II of Egypt or even a more recent one like Kwame Nkrumah. Those were powerful within their countries or their regions. They were not globally powerful in the sense in which a president of the United States is," Mazrui said. "He's easily the most powerful single black individual that's ever walked planet Earth. And that's a major breakthrough in race relations."

When asked to respond to critics such as Glen Ford who at the time challenged that Obama "will provide U.S. empire with a black face, and that could be very destructive," Mazrui was optimistic.

"It is a risk, really, because sometimes people are swallowed up by the position they occupy. I would hope Obama would help reshape the position he occupies, the presidency of the United States. … [T]he one thing I hope he will avoid is initiate another military conflict for the United States, because since the 1930s, every single American president has initiated a conflict … So, my hope is he will break that tendency for the American presidents to feel the way to be really presidential and commander-in-chief is to be ordering an army into action on another society."

"My dream was he will be the first president not to start a conflict."

Categories: Media

And by 'Traditional Voters,' the New York Times Means White People

FAIR Blog - Thu, 10/16/2014 - 1:00pm
For a piece that is crafted around the idea that white Democratic votes are really in play, it would have been helpful to point to some numbers--though it wouldn't have much helped the piece. I
Categories: Media

WATCH: Jon Stewart Gets Bill O'Reilly to Admit that White Privilege Exists . . . Sort of

Alternet - Media Culture - Thu, 10/16/2014 - 9:48am
O'Reilly: "It's a factor."

Jon Stewart only wanted one thing from Bill O'Reilly on the Daily Show last night: An admission of the existence of white privilege. It is a fact of life that the Fox peronsality has steadfastly denied, despite overwhelming evidence.

Bizarrely O'Reilly first countered that then Stewart had to acknowledge that Asian privilege exists, because Asian Americans make more money on average than other groups.

"You're missing the point," Stewart said.

O'Reilly continued missing the point, and the two sparred on. O'Reilly acknowledged that slavery and Jim Crow might have been bad, but "that was then, this was now."

Stewart noted that there were more recent examples of racism: for instance that the neighborhood in which O'Reilly grew up (where his family was able to get a cheap mortgage thanks to the G.I. bill), Levittown, did not allow blacks. Stewart also noted that although whites use drugs in higher numbers than blacks, blacks are disproportionately arrested and imprisoned for it. O'Reilly acknowedged this and continued to insist that "if you work hard and are honest" in America, you can make it.

But, O'Reilly conceded towards the end of the segment, white privilege or racism is "a factor."

Stewart was exultant.

Watch:

The Daily Show
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WATCH: Florida Gov. Rick Scott's Bizarre Boycott of a Live TV Debate

Alternet - Media Culture - Thu, 10/16/2014 - 8:47am
The Republican incumbent gets hot under the collar over his rival's attempt to stay cool.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott refused to take the podium during a debate with his Democratic rival, former Gov. Charlie Crist last night because event organizers provided Crist with a fan.

At the start of last night's debate at Broward College, it was announced that Florida Gov. Rick Scott would not debate because of Crist's fan, citing their copy of the debate rules stating there could be no fans on stage.

As the broadcast began, former Gov. Crist took to the stage, tardy by a few seconds. But there was no sign of Gov. Scott. The debate moderators told the audience that the governor was in the building but would not be participating.

“Our incumbent governor and the Republican candidate for governor is also in the building,” said moderator Eliott Rodriguez of Miami’s CBS4 station. “Gov. Rick Scott? We have been told that Governor Scott will not be participating in this debate.”

The cameras then focused on a small, black fan on the floor behind the lectern which was turned up and apparently running and blowing upward. Crist, is well known for using portable fans during public appearances and interviews, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The moderators began to ask Crist whether he was, in fact, allowed a fan, to which Crist shot back: "Are we really going to debate a fan? Aren’t we going to debate about education, the environment, and the future of the state?”

"This is remarkable over a trivial issue no matter which side you're on," said Frank Denton, editor of the Florida Times-Union, one of the debate monitors.

After about several minutes of confusion and impromptu commentary about the fan, Scott finally took the stage and the debate began. Watch the video from MSNBC's All in with Chris Hayes:

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Categories: Media

We Need Medical Boots on the Ground Now

Democracy Now! - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 9:31pm

By Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan

The headlines shift hourly between Ebola and ISIS. The question is often asked, “Should we put boots on the ground?” The answer is yes — but not in the Middle East. We need tens of thousands of boots on the ground dealing with Ebola: boots of doctors, nurses, health professionals, dealing with this wholly preventable global health disaster.

Ebola is a small virus that is revealing very large problems with the world’s public health systems. The few known cases here in the United States have provoked a climate of fear and a growing awareness of just how vulnerable we are to a virulent illness let loose in our society. Imagine how people feel in the impoverished West African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where the number of cases is in the thousands, and the infrastructure is simply incapable of dealing with the burgeoning number of infected people.

“This is an international humanitarian and health crisis. It threatens the stability of the region politically, economically, and, of course, human health matters most,” said Lawrence Gostin, faculty director at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. Speaking on the “Democracy Now!” news hour, he said, “For the second time in the history of the United Nations, the U.N. Security Council called a health threat—AIDS was the first, Ebola is the second.” He was speaking as news arrived that a second health worker in Dallas tested positive for Ebola. “We should be mobilizing much, much more,” he said. “We should have done it earlier. We should do it now.”

The World Health Organization announced the latest Ebola outbreak in Guinea on March 23 of this year. The outbreak grew, spreading to neighboring countries and jumping over several to reach Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. It killed tens, then hundreds, but largely stayed off the world stage until two white, American aid workers contracted the disease. Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol were separately flown back to the United States. With the first Ebola patients ever to set foot in the U.S. shrouded in isolation suits, the disease became the lead story across the country.

Remarkably, as people were dying en masse of Ebola in West Africa, these two Americans survived, treated to some of the few existing doses of the experimental drug known as ZMapp. These are positive outcomes made possible with a well-funded healthcare system.

Enter Thomas Eric Duncan. He, too, had been infected by the Ebola virus. His illness progressed quite differently. His nephew, Josephus Weeks, summed it up eloquently in a piece published by The Dallas Morning News:

“On Friday, Sept. 25, 2014, my uncle Thomas Eric Duncan went to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. He had a high fever and stomach pains. He told the nurse he had recently been in Liberia. But he was a man of color with no health insurance and no means to pay for treatment, so within hours he was released with some antibiotics and Tylenol.”

Duncan went home to be cared for by his family, but got progressively sicker. Two days later, he went back to the hospital, where he was admitted with suspicion of Ebola. He rapidly declined and died on Oct. 8, as Weeks wrote, “alone in a hospital room.” Within days, we learned that one of his health-care workers, critical-care nurse Nina Pham, had contracted Ebola. Then another nurse, Amber Vinson, showed symptoms. Hours before she was diagnosed, she was on a plane with more than 130 people, flying back from Cleveland to Dallas. What if we had a health-care system that guaranteed thorough treatment, regardless of whether or not patients have private health insurance?

Click here to read the rest of this column posted at Truthdig.

Listen to Amy Goodman's weekly podcast on SoundCloud.

Categories: Media

Chuck Todd Disqualifies a Senate Candidate

FAIR Blog - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 4:01pm
NBC's Chuck Todd "disqualifies" a Kentucky Democrat based on an inconsequential "gaffe" that says more about him than anyone else.
Categories: Media

How One Innocent Slip Turned an Online Security Expert into a Spam Magnet

Alternet - Media Culture - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 1:59pm
How a little bird made me the target of hundreds of email scam artists.

I’ve got nothing against spam…so long as it’s clogging up someone else’s inbox.

But when you waste my time trying to sell me all kinds of crap or, worse, sucker me into wrecking the security of my computer or bank account, I’m going to do everything in my power to avoid you. And I have.

Since I first wrote and advised consumers about spam for Consumer Reports way back in 2002, when spam was still in its infancy, I’ve learned a lot about how to minimize the time spam wastes. For example:

• Don’t post your e-mail address publicly, especially not on a website.

• Don’t open a spam and don’t respond to it.

• An off-beat e-mail domain makes you less of a target (e.g. kool51.com)

• Using e-mail filters helps you get your important mail sooner

I’ve used these, and other techniques, to keep spam under control for many years. Not eliminate it; just keep it down to a tolerably low level. Until this past spring, that is.

There I was in March, coasting along with only 3 to 5 spams per day, nearly all of which my e-mail client, Outlook, was catching. (Yes, I know that webmail can do a better job of foiling spam. But I prefer client-based e-mail, as I explained in 4 reasons not to use webmail for Consumer Reports.)

In April, without warning, my spam experienced an uptick. By May, I was averaging about 15 per day. As the chart below shows, month by month it climbed until, by mid-August, I was often getting 150 to 200 spams per day.

Loose Lips

Where had I slipped up?

After a little research I learned that, in the course of doing me a favor, a friend had unwittingly included my e-mail address in a single tweet. That’s it. One tweet. Some 8,000 spams later, I have a far greater appreciation for that old World War II era caveat, Loose lips sink ships.

Still, how was it that spammers got hold of that tweet? It’s possible that one of my friend’s many Twitter followers was actually a spammer who jumped on that tweet. More likely, though, the tweet was picked up for a reason of which many Twitter users may not be aware: All public tweets are posted on the web and are as accessible to spammers as if they were posted on the front page of NewYorkTimes.com.

To see how many others might be revealing personal e-mail addresses through their tweets, I used Google to find some of the most common e-mail addresses on twitter.com. (You can find e-mail addresses buried with tweets this way, too. Just use the search term: “@gmail.com” site:twitter.com and substitute the domain or address of your choice between the quotes).

For you would-be spammers, here’s a handy list of how many hits I found at Twitter.com for some of the largest e-mail domains. The actual number of unique addresses and users exposed this way is likely to be far smaller. But this still shows that many e-mail addresses whose owners think they are private are publicly available to spammers.

• Yahoo.com, 230 million

• Gmail.com, 102 million

• Hotmail.com, 7.5 million

• MSN.com, 2.5 million

• AOL.com, 303,000

• Comcast.net, 148,000

What to do about it

If you don’t relish the prospect of having your e-mail address harvested by spammers combing through your (or your friends’) tweets, don’t disclose it via your tweets. And ask your friends not to use your address that way, either: “Friends don’t let friends tweet their e-mail address.”

As for me, I’ve got two choices now:

1. I can stick with Spam Assassin, the server-based spam blocker from my e-mail provider, which works very well. But if I do so, I will be forced to forever update my “white list” of contacts (now numbering 165) to keep Spam Assassin from blocking them. And because I make new contacts fairly often, I will still have to regularly comb through hundreds of spams on the server just to make sure its Junk folder doesn’t contain an important e-mail.

2. Using a domain that I own, I can create an entirely new (and hitherto unknown) e-mail address and switch my entire online life over to it, which I’ve done before. In the long run, that would probably save more time than would choice #1. Provided I keep a tight lid on the new address and make sure none of my friends tweet it 

 So here’s fair warning to my friends: Do not tweet my new e-mail address. If you disregard this request, I may be forced to take drastic measures–such as tweeting yours!

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Categories: Media

Why We Need to Put an End to the 'Sexiest Woman Alive' Franchise

Alternet - Media Culture - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 1:09pm
You can celebrate a woman’s sexiness in ways that don’t involve comparing her to meat.

“If you want to feel like the world’s most judged man, sit down at a table in a restaurant with the Sexiest Woman alive,” writes Chris Jones in his profile of Penelope Cruz in the November issue of Esquire. There’s no doubt that Cruz, the titular honoree, is beautiful, incandescently so, but it’s a little ironic—and by ironic, I mean kind of tone-deaf—that Jones feels so self-conscious about the assignment. After all, the “sexiest woman alive” franchise has been a staple of magazinedom for decades.

In the parlance of the magazine industry, Esquire falls short of what’s called a “lad mag,” the British-born term for glossies like Maxim, Gear, Loaded, and FHM that are more or less the paper version of a frat bro doing a keg stand. Esquire, like its newsstand brother GQ, is no less enamored of hegemonic masculinity, but goes about it in a more self-consciously chummy, upwardly-mobile way. One of the magazine’s regular features is “A Funny Joke From a Beautiful Woman,” which asks up-and-coming Hollywood starlets to crack wise while also posing in underwear, the ultimate nod to cool-girl élan. And the Sexiest Woman Alive has been an Esquire feature issue since 2004; previously, it was part of the annual Women We Love issue, itself a tradition that kicked off in 1987.

Past SWAs have included inaugural winner Angelina Jolie (2004: “In the course of the evening, she will allow me to moisten the tip of my finger with my tongue and try to wipe off the makeup, under which had once been written BILLY BOB.”), Rihanna (2011: “She grabs her own radiant ass — she handles it, offers it — like it’s a rump roast.”), and Sexiest Woman two-timer Scarlett Johansson (in 2006 and 2013: “She looks like a woman. She exudes womanness.”). In the issues preceding the announcement of the SWA, photographs of disembodied parts of the chosen one—an ankle one month, some sideboob the next—are teased to readers: Can you guess the sexiest woman alive by pictures of body parts conveniently presented for your consumption? For the wagering type, there’s even “Sexiest Woman Alive Madness,” a monthlong bracket in which lucky ladies from categories like “Television” and “Music and Fashion” and “Sports” are advanced in a battle royale from which only one will emerge victorious.

The judgment of women—their bodies, their faces, the fleshy and bony and waxed and colored components of each, as well as their voices and manners, their appetites and clothing choices—is not specific to Esquire, but the province of a unisex spectrum of media. One could theorize, really, that it’s the baseline raison d’etre of much of media itself: the phenomenon of selfies and Ask.fm, the premise of game shows like Hot or Not? and tabloid-magazine staples like “Who Wore It Better?”, the bread and butter of The Bachelor and Real Housewives franchises, and, while we’re at it, the entire E! network.

What sets Esquire’s Sexiest Woman Alive stakes apart is how emphatically the magazine wants to be something other than, well, a magazine that judges women, and the often inadvertantly comical ways this manifests. And that brings us to the ludicrous piece on Cruz, which is presented oh-so-artfully, almost after the fact, as intercuts in a long disquisition on a bullfight in Madrid.

This would be cringeworthy enough—yes, Cruz is Spanish and so are bullfights, but you really don’t have to stop there, celebrity journalists, you really don’t—and it gets worse. Jones is laboring under the first law of men’s-mag journalism about women, which is that wordy rumination on a macho subject like bulls or beer or leather will give depth to what would otherwise be summed up as “Mmm, boobs.” (The accompanying photos of actual boobs will eventually give the game away.) It seems certain that Jones thinks there’s something super-deep in contrasting his florid descriptions of the bull’s death (“The blade missed the bull’s spine but found its heart”) with those of Cruz polishing off a bone-in rib-eye steak (“She picks her splattered white napkin off her lap and rises from her chair. All that remains on her plate is a bone and a puddle of blood”). One can almost picture him, gleeful over his laptop, murmuring, “You think I’m comparing Penelope Cruz to the bull, but ha-ha, motherfuckers, she’s the matador!”

The gimmick is a double-down of self-conscious celebrity smarminess. In SWA terms, Jones is in good company there: In 2007, the feature was styled as a screenplay starring honoree Charlize Theron and interviewer Tom Chiarella, who makes his slightly nebbishy nervousness and his insistence that the interview not be conducted at the Chateau Marmont the focus of the story. In 2009, the year of Kate Beckinsale, Chiarella worries about his masculinity in the face of the buff action heroine, which is compounded when they meet at “one of those places where women meet other women for lunch.” In the course of the interview, he asks her to punch him. She refuses.

That so many SWA profiles vibrate with this kind of gender anxiety reflects, possibly, the inexorably changed identity of Esquire itself. The magazine was once an elite property among New York’s smart set; its closest competitors were The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, rather than Details and Maxim. It was also, interestingly, one of the first mainstream magazines to give voice to the second wave of feminism: Gloria Steinem penned pieces for the magazine on contraception and work-family balance; Germaine Greer appeared on the cover in 1971, cradled Fay Wray-style in the arms of an ape-suited Norman Mailer. And, as Carol Polsgrove notes in the 1995 book “It Wasn’t Pretty, Folks But Didn’t We Have Fun? Esquire in the Sixties,” in 1973 the magazine devoted a special issue to the women’s movement that included a mea culpa for the magazine’s “perfectly rotten attitude toward women.” Such past offenses were brushed off on “a different set of editors…a long time ago.”

Like People’s annual “Most Beautiful People” issue and Rolling Stone’s “Hot List,” Esquire is codifying sexiness, rather than quantifying it, and tweaking the routine trajectory of celebrity PR in a way that aids its own brand. Like all the celebrities that have come to replace working models on magazine covers, Esquire’s have timely projects to push (in Cruz’s case, two upcoming movies) and philanthropic goals to raise awareness and money for. It’s no accident that the advent of the Sexiest Woman Alive issue was in 2004, when mainstream magazines and their ad dollars were first seeing the shadows of the digital revolution transmogrify into actual newsstand threats. With print still in peril, sales success and nuance—particularly when it comes to gender roles—seem ever more inversely proportional.

And in a time when the celebrities who value their privacy, like Cruz, are increasingly on guard, turning rote profiles into grabby stories isn’t always easy. As Buzzfeed writer and Doctor of Celebrity Gossip Anne Helen Peterson noted in a Storify of tweets about the Cruz interview yesterday, Jones was likely granted 20 minutes or so with Cruz. “He had to make something of it, somehow — and the only way to do that is to rely on platitude, often sexist ones,” Peterson wrote. Compare a woman to an animal and/or a cut of meat while bowing to the power of her beauty, throw a little cultural reductiveness in there—Jones probably felt like he nailed it. In the end, though, the Cruz profile is not just a story about a beautiful woman who makes the writer worry about how he measures up as a man; it’s also the story of a magazine grasping for eyeballs, trying to balance the one thing it knows will always be marketable (boobies!) with a resistance to the very idea of marketable (bull blood, I guess?).

Furthermore, the choice of Cruz is notable, if not unexpected, in the wake of “In Praise of the 42-Year-Old Woman,” written by Tom Junod and published by Esquire this past summer; the now-notorious essay asserted that “men”—namely, the 56-year-old Junod, and Hollywood, sometimes—are now cool with sexualizing women who are the precise age of 42. The article kicked off by noting that “Let’s face it: There used to be something tragic about even the most beautiful forty-two-year-old woman,” and went on to celebrate the suddenly exciting age shared by, among others, Sofia Vergara, Leslie Mann, Cameron Diaz, Carla Gugino, Jennifer Garner, and Maya Rudolph.

Given the media buzz around Junod’s new appreciation of women of a certain age, crowning a 24-year-old slip of a thing Sexiest Woman Alive really wouldn’t be the move right now. And though the 40-year-old Cruz has two years to go before hitting Junodian peak older-lady sexiness, it’s a safe choice to celebrate her now: By the time she hits 42, Esquire may well have decided that women of that age are back to being tragic.

Would Esquire be better if it dispensed with the literary pretensions it employs when writing about the women whose legs, breasts, and other parts it presents to readers in neatly apportioned parcels? Would it be more appealing if the writers just came out and wrote, “The main thing of interest about this woman is that she’s an object that I would like to bone”? Probably not. After all, Maxim still exists for just that reason. But a heads up to Esquire: You can celebrate a woman’s sexiness in ways that don’t involve comparing her to meat.

 

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Categories: Media

7 Most Absurd Instances of GOP Fearmongering (ISIS Is Coming!)

Alternet - Media Culture - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 11:36am
Amid economic progress, the party's candidates are looking to frighten voters in the coming elections.

The GOP is scared its 2014 “wave” isn’t materializing, so it’s trying to scare voters. How? Pretty much with anything in the news cycle.

By now the GOP was supposed to be well on its way to taking a solid Senate majority, along with another big chunk of the House. Things aren’t turning out that way: all the Senate races that were supposed to by settled by now instead remain neck and neck; the states the GOP was eyeing for expansion, like Minnesota, have turned back to the Democrats; and new vulnerable states like South Dakota and Kansas have opened up.

To make matters worse, the standard bludgeons that the GOP used in 2010—namely spending and the economy—have been subsumed by progress. The unemployment rate has dipped below 6% in half the time Mitt Romney promised he would effect as president, while the deficit continues to plummet (actually faster than is good for the economy). Meanwhile Obamacare has been effectively neutralized as a campaign issue.

This has left the GOP with nothing but fearmongering. Thanks to distant but dramatic enemies like ISIS, which present searing optics that burn through sober analysis, and the eternal nebulousness of the U.S. border, Republican candidates have had no shortage of fodder for grainy ads warning that the world is about to descend into dystopian chaos unless they’re elected to lead it.

1. The ISIS Beheading Club

Just days after ISIS released its horrific video showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley, GOP challenger Allen Weh was using it to scare up votes. In an ad attacking New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, Allen Weh intercut clips of Obama talking about the personal sacrifices he’d make for the office and Udall praising Obama’s “diplomatic path” with a still from the video showing Foley’s executioner brandishing his knife.

After harsh criticism, Weh defended the ad the next day. “Out of respect for the Foley family, no picture of James Foley was used,” a campaign spokesperson said, using an interesting definition of respect. “Tom Udall’s feigned outrage over the inclusion of a now familiar image of this Jihadi terrorist, who is clearly the face of the evil that threatens our nation.”

The ad was a desperate ploy from a candidate unlikely to win his race, but it set the tone for the GOP ads to come. Another GOP candidate, Wendy Rogers, used footage that included images of Foley in her ad before surreptitiously editing it out. Still, the campaign defended the ad despite swarms of bad press.

The inclusion of the Foley video is even more noxious given Foley’s family’s plea not to spread it. "Please honor James Foley and respect my family’s privacy,” a family member asked after the video was released. “Don't watch the video. Don’t share it. That's not how life should be."

2. Scott Brown

With little to recommend his actual campaign, Scott Brown has taken up the mantle of “national security.” Brown has been hitting the claim hard in the past few weeks, running ads accusing opponent Jeanne Shaheen of skimping on protecting America by leaving our border exposed to Islamic militants

This is a rich claim given that Brown skipped every single one of his national security meetings on defending the border when he was on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, including one titled “Border Security: Moving beyond the virtual fence.” So either the border somehow became a dangerous porous militant free-for-all in the months since Brown left the Senate or he didn’t care about its national security impact until it was no longer his responsibility.

3. NRCC

Despite Brown’s chutzpah in making the claim, the “OMG ISIS on the Border” narrative formed a template for ads around the nation. The National Republican Congressional Committee seized on it for an ad in Arizona against Democratic representative Ann Kirkpatrick.

“Evil forces around the world want to harm Americans every day,” a scary voice proclaims over footage of advancing militants. “Their entry into our country? Through Arizona’s backyard.”

There’s no evidence that “evil forces,” even so loosely defined, are anywhere near Arizona’s backyard, but the ad plows ahead anyway, accusing Kirkpatrick of voting against sending the National Guard to the border, an odd claim given that border security has been significantly beefed up under the Obama administration.

4. Dan Patrick

Texas Lieutenant Governor candidate Dan Patrick is more specific. “While ISIS terrorists threaten to cross our border and kill Americans, my opponent falsely attacks me to hide her failed record on illegal immigration,” Patrick says in the hurried ad.

Of course ISIS is a regional group, and can threaten all it wants. Intelligence officials don’t believe it has any capability to strike via the U.S.-Mexico border, and warn that if ISIS does get designs on a homeland attack it will likely be through U.S. citizens who join the fight and fly back to the U.S. That doesn’t make for a good attack ad against Leticia Van de Putte though, so Patrick goes with the claim without evidence.

Patrick also attacks Van de Putte for opposing Governor Rick Perry’s plan to send the National Guard to the border, something that was opposed by local law enforcement agencies as well, but was nonetheless done at significant cost so Perry could look good ahead of a 2016 presidential run.

5. David Perdue

At least Arizona and Texas border Mexico. Over in Georgia, David Perdue is running to replace retiring Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss by accusing opponent Michelle Nunn of being a sponsor of terrorism who would open up the borders to ISIS. “If a county can’t protect its borders,” Perdue asks in an ad called “Secure our Borders, “what can it protect?”

Perdue’s claim of the “border breakdown” is based on a sentence fragment from a report from the Texas Department of Public Safety that warns nameless militants “could” breach the border, while the “supporting terrorism” claim was based on a 1,000-chain guilt-by-association move linking Points of Light, a charity established by George H. W. Bush to an Islamic charity that once had a bank account that so on and so forth. The claim earned four feared Pinocchios from Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler, and was so outlandish that Neil Bush, chairman of Points of Light, which had endorsed Perdue, called it “shameful and disrespectful.”

“It really makes my blood boil to think that someone would make that kind of an allegation, whether it’s an independent political group or a candidate for office,” Bush said. “Anyone who makes that claim needs to understand the facts and then they need to denounce those claims. To attack an organization founded by my father, whose integrity is unimpeachable, to smear our organization for political gain, is in my opinion shameful.”

And that’s from a Perdue supporter.

6. Cory Garnder

Not every GOP candidate has looped the border into their fearmongering. For some, merely the specter of ISIS is enough to make them sound the alarm.

See, for instance, Cory Gardner’s attack on Colorado Senator Mark Udall, in which he accuses the Democrat of leaving America vulnerable to ISIS attacks. His smoking gun: a clip of Udall saying, "I said last week that ISIL does not present an imminent threat to this nation and it doesn't.”

Never mind that this comports with the intelligence community, which doesn’t believe ISIS has the desire or means to attack the United States. And never mind that Udall uses these assessments to wisely question whether the United States should once again commit thousands of troops to military operations in the Middle East — the exact sort of misguided foreign adventurism that gave rise to ISIS in the first place. In the GOP’s world, anybody who doesn’t call Islamic extremists the gravest existential threat the U.S. has ever faced is guilty of opening the gates and inviting the barbarians in.

7. Thom Tillis

Ditto Thom Tillis, whose underperforming campaign tried to hit at North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan for missing a solitary Senate Armed Services Committee meeting on ISIS.

Hagan’s campaign quickly shot back that Hagan had chaired three subcommittee hearings on just that topic, while pointing out that Tillis literally does not know what he would do about ISIS. Sure enough, Tillis told the Charlotte Observer that he would have voted to arm the Syrian rebels, but only because the bill was attached to a larger spending resolution.

“I actually don’t know if we should or shouldn’t,” Tillis told the paper. “I would have to know that these arms would not get in the hands of people who would want to take over the Middle East.” Maybe he should attend one of Hagan’s subcommittee hearings to learn more.

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Jon Stewart Puts Media's Ebola Alarmists in Their Place

Alternet - Media Culture - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 7:26am
“There have been experts on your own channels telling you that this is not appropriate.”

Now that a Dallas nurse has become the first person to contract Ebola within America’s borders, the media are amping up their scaremongering about the spread of the disease. Even though, as Jon Stewart points out, “there have been experts on your own channels telling you that this is not appropriate.”

The fact that Ebola can only be passed on through bodily fluids and is difficult to contract isn’t enough to curb the fear of people like Texas Congressman Pete Sessions, who is in favor of stopping all air travel from West Africa to the U.S.

“I’m a member of Congress from Dallas, Texas—from the United States of America—and my job is to speak for and help protect Americans,” Sessions said in an interview with CNN. Yeah, because who cares about the rest of the world.

Stewart’s diagnosis? “Congressman Sessions is carrying a dangerously mutated sanity-resistant strain of fear that has now gone airborne!”

Check out the rest of the clip below. 

The Daily Show
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'Homeland' Star Nazanin Boniadi on Hijabs and Tackling Prejudice on TV

Alternet - Media Culture - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 4:53pm
The Iranian-born actress shares her experiences.

Nazanin Boniadi is describing her first scene in Homeland. Last season, in an episode called Uh...Oh...Ah, her character Fara Sherazi walked into CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Wearing a hijab, the rookie analyst hit a wall of silent judgment. “I saw all these white people looking at me,” says Boniadi. “It felt like I was getting analyzed and assessed, like they think they know everything about you based on your attire. There were two layers to the discrimination: racial and religious.”

It was a snapshot of everyday prejudice rarely seen on TV, which is why Boniadi believes her character – an intelligent, independent Muslim woman in a high-profile drama – is so groundbreaking. In person, she seems as fiercely intelligent as Fara. Unlike her character, though, she does not wear the hijab and defines herself as a “non-practizing Muslim.”

In researching the role, Tehran-born Boniadi turned to the Muslim public affairs committee for guidance. “My question was, ‘How do I play a hijab-wearing American Muslim without falling into cliches?’” She says the "Homeland" writers treat Middle Eastern issues delicately and for her, Fara “poses questions that maybe audiences across the world in the Muslim community have been asking.” It is perhaps surprising, then, that Boniadi defends an outburst from CIA division chief Saul Berenson in which the previously mild-mannered character calls her hijab “a big fuck-you to your co-workers.” Many viewers were appalled.

“I do think it was out of character,” she says. “But it was justified in that situation. He’d just lost a ton of colleagues and was thrown into being director of the CIA overnight, so he was stressed. Fara didn’t respond because she saw he wasn’t talking from a rational place.”

Boniadi is also keen to defend "Homeland" against the argument that there is an anti-Muslim sentiment running through it (Salon called it “TV’s most Islamophobic show”) for which Fara is just a foil. “I completely disagree. She’s not a foil for anything. That would be the case if she was glorified, but she’s not. She has weakness. She’s not vilified either, which is why audiences are wrongfooted.”

By the end of season three, Fara has gone from being a naive newbie to sacrificing the safety of her Iranian family at the behest of the CIA. “When you’re devoted to a greater freedom in the world,” says Boniadi, “you’re willing to compromise something you love.” The fourth season has her continuing down this path. “Her devotion to the CIA has become the most devout relationship in her life. Fara has left behind the repression in her homeland and doesn’t want it to happen in the rest of the world. She wants to protect the American way.”

Boniadi says viewers are so numb to seeing Muslim stereotypes on TV they can’t figure Fara out. “She just is. She’s just Muslim. For the first time, we have a woman with a headscarf who’s neither good nor bad. She’s just an agent. If she was portrayed as positive in everything she did, I would feel uncomfortable. To make her ultimately human and Muslim is groundbreaking.”

Though she may be breaking through a glass ceiling on "Homeland," Boniadi is encountering depressingly familiar problems elsewhere. She mentions some of the other actors who have appeared on "Homeland" including Omid Abtahi and Navid Negahban, “because there’s a source of actors who rotate in shows needing Middle Eastern characters.” She talks, too, about the problems encountered by Desert Dancer, her new film, which tells the story of an Iranian choreography company fighting to survive in a country where dancing is banned.

“They struggled to make the film because it was about brown people, if we’re being literal. It’s hard to get a film that’s about kids in Iran and led by Reece Ritchie and Freida Pinto financed.”

Perhaps in light of this, Boniadi says she feels very lucky with Fara, but doesn’t like to overanalyze it. “I can’t let myself think about the responsibility. If I did, I might pass out.”

 

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WATCH: Noam Chomsky Speaks at United Nations, Q&A With Amy Goodman

Democracy Now! - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 4:27pm

This livestream has ended and the video is no longer available. Click here to see all of Noam Chomsky's interviews on Democracy Now!

Watch Amy Goodman moderate an audience Q&A session following a lecture by MIT Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky on the prospects on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The event is hosted by United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

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Missing Malala's Message of Peace: Drones Fuel Terrorism

FAIR Blog - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 4:04pm
The new Nobel Peace Prize winner had some choice words for another Peace Prize winner's wars. But most media aren't telling us about that message of peace.
Categories: Media

ISIS in Texas?! ABC Fails an Easy Factcheck

FAIR Blog - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 2:45pm
ABC This Week mangles an easy fact check, after a Republican politician claims that ISIS fighters have been caught at the Texas border.
Categories: Media

How Seeing the Internet as Reality Fuels Murderous ISIL Success and Recruitment

Alternet - Media Culture - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 11:33am
It isn't ISIS that radicalizes Muslims before they head off to Syria, but the Internet.

Ever since the Pentagon started talking about Isis as apocalyptic, I’ve suspected that websites and blogs and YouTube are taking over from reality. I’m even wondering whether “Isis” – or Islamic State or Isil, here we go again – isn’t more real on the internet than it is on the ground. Not, of course, for the Kurds of Kobani or the Yazidis or the beheaded victims of this weird caliphate. But isn’t it time we woke up to the fact that internet addiction in politics and war is even more dangerous than hard drugs?

Over and over, we have the evidence that it is not Isis that “radicalises” Muslims before they head off to Syria – and how I wish David Cameron would stop using that word – but the internet. The belief, the absolute conviction that the screen contains truth – that the “message” really is the ultimate verity – has still not been fully recognised for what it is; an extraordinary lapse in our critical consciousness that exposes us to the rawest of  emotions – both total love and total hatred – without the means to correct this imbalance. The “virtual” has dropped out of “virtual reality”.

At its most basic, you have only to read the viciousness of internet chatrooms. Major newspapers – hopelessly late – have only now started to realise that chatrooms are not a new technical version of “Letters to the Editor” but a dangerous forum for people to let loose their most-disturbing characteristics. Thus a major political shift in the Middle East, transferred to the internet, takes on cataclysmic proportions. Our leaders not only can be transfixed themselves – the chairman of the US House Committee on Homeland Security, for example, last week brandishing a printed version of Dabiq, the Isis online magazine – but can use the same means to terrify us.

Stripped of any critical faultline, we are cowed into silence by the “barbarity” of Isis, the “evil” of Isis which has – in the truly infantile words of the Australian Prime Minister – “declared war on the world”. The television news strip across the bottom of the screen now supplies a ripple of these expressions, leaving out grammar and, all too often, verbs. We have grown so used to the narrative whereby a Muslim is “radicalised” by a preacher at a mosque, and then sets off on jihad, that we do not realise that the laptop is playing this role.

In Lebanon, for example, there is some evidence that pictures on YouTube have just as much influence upon Muslims who suddenly decide to travel to Syria and Iraq as do Sunni preachers. Photographs of Sunni Muslim victims – or of the “execution” of their supposedly apostate enemies – have a powerful impact out of all proportion to words on their own.

Martin Pradel, a French lawyer for returning and now-imprisoned jihadists, last week described how his clients spent hours on the internet with a preference for YouTube and other social networks, looking at images and messages marketed by Isis. They did not – please note – go to mosques, and they drew apart from family and friends. A remarkable AFP report tells of a 15-year-old girl from Avignon who left for the Syrian war last January without telling her parents. Her brother discovered she led parallel lives, with two Facebook accounts, one where she talked about her normal teenage life, another where she wrote about her desire to go “to Aleppo to help our Syrian brothers and sisters”. Mr Pradel said the “radicalisation” was very quick, in one case within a month. It reminds me horribly of the accounts of American teenagers who lock themselves on to the internet for hours before storming off to shoot their school colleagues and teachers.

Online, Dabiq – named after a Syrian town captured by the jihadis which will supposedly be the site of a future and apocalyptic (yes, that word again) battle against the Western crusaders – is a slick venture. But print it up and bind it – I have such a copy beside me as I write – and it appears very crude. There are photographs of mass executions which look more like pictures of atrocities on the Eastern Front in the Second World War than publicity for a new Muslim caliphate. There is the full text of poor James Foley’s last message before his beheading which – on paper – is deeply saddening.

“The Dabiq team [sic] would like to hear back from its readers,” the editors say at the end, providing email addresses and advice to be “brief” because – they add, with perhaps unintentional humour – “your brothers are busy with many responsibilities and therefore will not have the time to read long messages.”

But that’s the point, isn’t it? Be brief. Keep the length down. No aimless arguments or the letter may be “modified” (that’s the word the editors actually use in English).

I will not dwell here on the failure of the West’s “mainstream” press – another word I loathe – in defining Isis; Dabiq’s publishers have cleverly mimicked many of its faults. But those who are gripped by the messages of the internet – pictures of the chemical gas victims in Damascus last year have clearly had a tremendous influence – are not going to be swayed by us journos any more. In this new world, we can lose our heads, literally. But remember the internet. Clearly, Isis has.

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