Not even in the ballpark

Everybody is myopic to some degree about their own lives, families, careers, hobbies, and other niches. It’s human nature. But please, don’t be this guy:

CNN host Chris Cuomo said Thursday that, for journalists, being called “fake news” is “the equivalent of the n-word.”

“I see being called ‘fake news’ as the equivalent of the n-word for journalists, the equivalent of calling an Italian any of the ugly words that people have for that ethnicity,” Cuomo said in an interview with SiriusXM POTUS.

He called it “an ugly insult.”

CNN referred TPM’s request for comment to Cuomo’s publicist, who did not immediately respond.

“You better be right if you’re going to charge a journalist with lying on purpose, and the President was not right here and he has not been right in the past,” Cuomo said. “When he says something that is false or as you say demonstrably false, that matters.”

It is an ugly insult–except for those occasions, which do come up now and again, when it’s a legitimate critique. But let’s try to have a little perspective, please. Cuomo managed to publicly step on his own dick here and, to boot, to obscure what was otherwise a fair criticism of the way Donald Trump tries to delegitimize negative news coverage.

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Fake News and the March to War

Fake news and war have been partners in (literal) crime several times in American history–Remember the Maine, the Gulf of Tonkin, the mushroom cloud smoking gun, etc.–so it’s deeply traditional for a mostly fake news outlet like Fox to commemorate the rise of our first Fake News President by bringing us another entry in war-mongering Yellow Journalism. In this case, a Houthi naval attack on a Saudi frigate in the Red Sea yesterday was apparently MEANT FOR A US WARSHIP BREAKING FLASHING RED LIGHT EXCLAMATION POINTS. Yes, the Houthis were actually trying to blow up a US vessel but mistakenly hit a Saudi one instead, somehow.

How do we know this attack was MEANT FOR A US WARSHIP OMINOUS FLASHING PREPARE FOR WAR TEXT? Because one of the Houthis shouted “DEATH TO AMERICA” while carrying out the attack. He did this while reciting the Houthi slogan…which includes the phrase “DEATH TO AMERICA.” So in reality this means nothing, but because you can’t get the war you want unless you’re prepared to invent some justifications along the way, the Republican Party’s favorite fake news outlet took this ridiculous Pentagon invention and happily published it.

Rather than do a line-by-line debunking here, I annotated the Fox report at Genius. I know it’s shouting into the void, but annotating it helped me stop being mad, and these days that’s about all you can hope to accomplish.

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Who whines about the whiners?

Here’s New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, on NPR’s Fresh Air today:

GROSS: When someone questions whether The New York Times is balanced or not during the campaign, for example, in its coverage of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, do you do like accounting where you count like the number of stories that have investigated Hillary Clinton versus the number of stories that have investigated Donald Trump? Is there like, you know, a metrics analysis of fairness or do you measure fairness in another way?

BAQUET: No. In fact, I think balance is sort of a – is a – and I’m not sure I buy the constructive balance. To me, it’s fairness. You should always ask yourself – you would never say I’ve done 17.3 stories that the Clinton campaign isn’t going to like, and I’ve only done 14.7 stories that the Trump campaign isn’t going to like. So let me do 3.6 more that the Trump campaign isn’t going to like. I think you’ll – your – not only will your head explode, but that’s imbalanced coverage because to do that, you’re actually having to turn up the volume on other stories to make them equal to the others. No. I think you say we want to be fair.

Fairness could mean that some candidate gets tougher coverage. Fairness could mean, you know, that you look at Hillary Clinton’s record on foreign policy. And we actually did a two-part series on Hillary Clinton’s role in shaping Libya policy which is her most important foreign policy endeavor. We didn’t do a two-part series on Donald Trump’s foreign policy. He didn’t have one. We did much, much more reporting on Donald Trump’s finances because the Clinton – we did much reporting on the Clinton Foundation. We didn’t do much reporting on the Clinton’s finances because their personal finances were not in the league with Donald Trump, and they weren’t running as successful business people.

I think once you get into the actual measurement of metrics, you make yourself crazy, and, in fact, you’ll actually end up being unfair because you will have to do more of something and less of something else. And the rule to me is – this is going to sound weird – but the rule is you want each campaign to think you were really tough on them, and that’s what happened in this case. That’s for sure. I don’t think any candidate of the Republicans or the Democrats from Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump thought we were not tough on them. I think they all thought we were tough on them and said it.

This kind of “if you’re getting it from both sides, you must be doing a good job” bullshit is the reason why the mainstream media in this country keeps walking squarely into the same right-wing trap over and over again, and frankly it is mind-boggling that the executive editor of the New York Goddamn Times is too dumb to see it.

Maybe a hypothetical would help. Continue reading

Fact-free checkers

I watched last night’s VP debate despite my deep personal desire to, you know, not do that, and while I don’t really think there’s much of anything substantive to say about the debate itself (Pence won because, despite lying virtually non-stop from beginning to end, his performance was not as unpleasant to watch as the seemingly jittery Kaine), something came up in the fact-checking afterward that should be getting more attention.

Full disclosure: I think the advent of fact-checking journalism is one of the worst things that’s happened to the media in my lifetime. Not only does it absolve regular journalists from having to check facts, thereby enabling them to safely retreat into safe, lazy, “shape of the world: views differ” stenography, but you have to deal with the added problem that the fact checkers are frequently terrible at checking facts.

So it was last night, specifically with respect to an exchange that Kaine and Pence had around the Iran nuclear deal:

KAINE: Do you know that we had 175,000 troops deployed in the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan? Do you know that Iran was racing toward a nuclear weapon and Russia was expanding its stockpile?

Under Secretary Clinton’s leadership, she was part of the national team, public safety team that went after and revived the dormant hunt against bin Laden and wiped him off the face of the Earth. She worked to deal with the Russians to reduce their chemical weapons stockpile. She worked a tough negotiation with nations around the world to eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapons program without firing a shot.

PENCE: Eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapons program?

KAINE: Absolutely, without firing a shot. And instead of 175,000 American troops deployed overseas, we now have 15,000.

Now, as Ali Gharib writes at LobeLog, the sentence I’ve bolded above should be rated “false.” But the reason it should be rated “false” is because, according to every available intelligence report, Iran didn’t have an active nuclear weapons program to “eliminate.” Whatever nuclear weapons program it may have had was halted in 2003, and even work on “dual use” technologies seems to have stopped around 2009. But here, per Gharib, is how the fact checkers at ABC and The New York Times handled the exchange: Continue reading

Terror attacks, and how we Americans approach them

A Syrian refugee who was reportedly denied asylum and was about to be deported detonated a backpack bomb outside of a crowded festival in Ansbach, Germany, yesterday evening. Fortunately it appears that only the terrorist was killed, but 15 others were reportedly injured in the blast–he was apparently denied entry into the festival before he blew himself up, so this could have been much worse. Video found on the bomber’s cell phone shows him making a pledge to ISIS, so unlike the as-yet unproven motives behind the Munich shooter, this guy’s motives seem pretty clear. It’s possible that the decision to deny him asylum, which happened a year ago, contributed to his radicalization, but it’s equally possible that the decision to deny him asylum was made because he’d already been radicalized–although it’s hard to figure out why he’d been allowed to stay in the country for another year if that’s why his request was denied. German authorities say that he’s been in and out of psychiatric care and had tried twice before to kill himself, but frankly I think you can start to parse these things too finely. The guy pledged himself to ISIS before he tried to explode a bomb inside a venue packed with other human beings. He’s a terrorist.

Also, in Baghdad, an ISIS suicide bombing on Sunday killed at least 21 people and injured another 35 in the predominantly Shiʿa neighborhood of Kazimiyah (often–and incorrectly in my opinion–transliterated as “Kadhimiya”). And this morning, another ISIS suicide bombing in the town of Khalis (about 80 km north of Baghdad) killed at least 16 people. Khalis is located in Diyala province, which is shifting demographically but is still mixed confessionally, and the target per ISIS’s announcement was military, though women and children were among the victims. ISIS’s continued ability to strike inside territory controlled by the Iraqi government, particularly its ability to continue striking Baghdad despite having lost its nearby staging area in Fallujah, is troubling enough that the government of Haider al-Abadi might be well-advised to put a hold on its plans to keep advancing towards Mosul and put some additional resources into cleaning up its own backyard.

Also also, in Afghanistan, a new report released today found that levels of violence there continue to climb: <!–more–>

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan hit a record high in the first half of 2016, the UN has said, with a particular surge in the number of children killed or wounded.

The report, released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on Monday, said there were 5,166 documented civilian casualties in the first half of 2016, an increase of four percent in total civilian casualties as compared to the first six months of 2015.

One-third of casualties between January and June were children, with 388 killed and 1,121 wounded, 18 percent more than in the first half of 2015, a figure the UN described as “alarming and shameful”.

The number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan keeps trending in the wrong direction:


Source: UNAMA

None of these stories has managed to break through the “RUSSIA HACKED THE DNC” story that’s currently dominating the day’s news, but of the three I probably don’t have to tell you which one has gotten the most coverage in the US. This is a phenomenon to which I keep coming back here, but this time, via LobeLog, you can read FAIR’s Adam Johnson discussing it instead, and with actual facts to boot:

A survey conducted by FAIR of US media coverage of ISIS or ISIS-inspired attacks in Europe and the Middle East reveals a disparity of coverage, showing that European deaths are roughly 1,800 percent more newsworthy than deaths in the Middle East.

For the purposes of this survey, both articles and video reports were included. We chose the three most-circulated “traditional media” newspapers and Buzzfeed, one of the most popular newsites for “Millennials,” to get another perspective. The list was compiled using a combination of the Nexis news database and Google.

Building on a survey of media mentions from March (AlterNet, 3/31/16) of mass attacks on civilians that are either connected to or perceived to be connected to ISIS (note: The Nice attack has yet to be confirmed as an ISIS-inspired attack), one finds that a death in Europe, broadly speaking, is seen as 19 times more newsworthy as one in the Middle East. Setting aside Baghdad, which one could categorize as a “war zone” (unlike Turkey or Lebanon), deaths in non-Western attacks are nine times less likely to garner news coverage.


Baghdad attacks kill almost 100 people

Three car bombings, all claimed by ISIS, killed at least 93 people in Baghdad today:

In the largest attack of the day, a car bomb ripped through a commercial area in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City Wednesday morning, killing at least 63 people and wounding at least 85.

Later in the afternoon, two more car bombs killed at least 30 and wounded 80, police officials said. One bomber targeted a police station in Baghdad’s northwest Kadhimiyah neighborhood, killing 18, of whom five were policemen, and wounding 34. Another bombing In the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Jamiya killed 12 and wounded 46.

The death toll is likely to rise. It’s the bloodiest day in Baghdad this year. So far.

By way of comparison, the Paris terror attack in November killed around 130 people, and the Brussels attack in March killed around 35. They were horrible. So is this. I know it’s becoming cliche to ask why those two attacks consumed American media for days and weeks afterward while today’s–every day’s–violence in Baghdad warrants barely a blip. But until we as Americans either figure out how to have the same empathy for Iraqis as we do for Belgians, or at least acknowledge the reason why we don’t, then I think this is a question that still needs to be asked, over and over again.

So nice they published me twice

I’m grateful to the folks at LobeLog for publishing me twice today, and I’d be grateful to you folks for heading over there and checking both pieces out. First up was something I’d been working on last week with Jim Lobe, the “Lobe” in LobeLog, on what Donald Trump’s rise in the Republican Party (and his likely upcoming matchup with Hillary Clinton) is doing to the neoconservative movement. A lot of them are really quite unhappy with Trump as Republican nominee. They’ve spent a great deal of effort trying to sway Republican voters against him and, now that it appears to have all been for naught, many leading neocon voices are saying they won’t support Trump in the fall:

But Kagan isn’t the only prominent neoconservative to express his dissatisfaction with Trump. In early March, former Bush administration official Eliot Cohen wrote a letter denouncing Trump that was signed by over 100 influential Republican foreign policy thinkers, nearly all of them neoconservatives. Then, in another Washington Post editorial written after Cruz and Kasich had dropped out of the race, Cohen declared that “it is time for a third candidate, and probably for a third party.” In an interview with in March, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Max Boot said “I disagree with Hillary a lot less than I disagree with Donald Trump” and called Clinton “vastly preferable.” Elliott Abrams, formerly on Trump rival Ted Cruz’s foreign policy team, told Politico that he would be “unable to vote for Trump or Clinton” if those were the two nominees. Columnist Charles Krauthammer recently told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly that “I don’t think I’d be capable of voting for Donald Trump.” Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens wrote on March 28 that “Trump is Obama Squared” (he didn’t mean it as a compliment), though he’s not yet said whether he could support Trump in November.

Robert Kagan, one of the most influential figures in neoconservatism over the past couple of decades, has already said he’ll vote for Clinton in the fall. Stephens just today wrote a column openly rooting for a Clinton victory, though where Kagan sees Clinton has preferable to Trump Stephens seems to be looking at it in terms of the survivability of movement conservatism. A Clinton presidency gives them all something to rally against, you see, while a Trump presidency would simply wreck everything. You have to assume for the sake of Stephens’s argument that Donald Trump isn’t the literal embodiment of all of the grossest, most hateful and xenophobic, aspects of movement conservatism. He is, of course, but Stephens won’t even admit that to himself, much less to his marks readers.

My second piece of the day was something I wrote on the fly this morning, in response to a profile in The New York Times Magazine last week of White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes. Continue reading